Chapter 1: The Tracker
Though it was four against one, soon to be seven on one, I kept my eyes trained on Laurent as we waited. Sure, I could feel the genuine guilt and unease coming from Laurent, but that didn't really change anything, in my eyes. This vampire and the coven he traveled here with had not only killed nearby, but they had tried to kill Bella. The other two, James and Victoria, were still trying to do just that. And, to make matters worse, James was a tracker. Laurent had confessed that much to us… After James and Victoria had taken off, without him. I growled at the thought and Laurent flinched. He, now, stood in the center of our living room, surrounded by Carlisle, Rosalie, Esme, and myself. Carlisle shot me a warning look, but I ignored it. He didn't want me lashing out at Laurent, since he had surrendered, but I was in no mood to play nice. If Laurent had told us James' true intentions sooner, we could have contained him and Victoria before they ran off. We could have destroyed them, then and there. Laurent had been too cowardly to cross James, though, so James was back on Bella's trail. And Alice was with her… I growled, again. If any harm came to Bella or Alice, there would be hell to pay.
I heard the sound of two cars turning up the dirt drive and I let out the breath I had been unconsciously holding. Bella's truck was closest. The unmistakable roar of that iron monster could be heard from this distance by human ears. Emmett's Jeep was following close behind. Laurent's unease spiked as the sounds drew closer. He was already heavily outnumbered, and our numbers were about to double. I didn't feel one shred of pity for him. Not even a full second after the roar of Bella's truck cut off, Emmett barreled into the room, carrying Bella in his arms. Edward and Alice entered about a nanosecond behind, flanking Emmett. Emmett's eyes locked on Laurent and he growled as he set Bella down next to Edward.
"He's tracking us," Edward announced to the room, also glaring daggers at Laurent. The nomad shifted slightly under all the glares he was receiving and he frowned.
"I was afraid of that," he said. I almost growled, again, just hearing his voice, but I was distracted by Alice. She quickly came to my side, emitting strong waves of reassurance, trust, love, and protectiveness. Then, she quickly whispered in my ear:
"You and I are going to run Bella south, to Phoenix, while the others deal with James and Victoria, here. Bella told Charlie she's going back home. James overheard, of course, but Edward, Emmett, and Carlisle are going to lead him off on a false trail. Esme and Rosalie will do the same with Victoria. We'll stay with Bella for a few days, then Edward will come get her." I grabbed Alice's hand and ran upstairs with her while she was still saying that last sentence. I could hear Carlisle talking to Laurent as Alice and I ran into our room, but I tuned it out. I was sick of hearing that slimy nomad babble, and I had been issued my orders. I focused on my task.
"What, exactly, have you seen, Alice?" I asked her as we sped around our room, packing a few necessities into bags small enough to pass as carry-ons, on a plane.
"James won't try attacking, right away," she said. "He's waiting to see if we'll leave her alone. You and I will take Bella to Phoenix, to hide her. As soon as she's clear, Edward, Emmett, and Carlisle are going to hunt James. I'm not sure what Victoria will do, she hasn't decided, yet. Bella's father will be safe, though. Bella and Edward put on a pretty convincing farewell show for him, and Esme and Rosalie will protect him."
"You said the tracker overheard Bella telling Charlie she's going to Phoenix. Why are we taking her there?"
"Because, as Bella put it, 'he knew that we knew that he was listening, so he'll never believe she's actually going where she said she's going.'"
"Bella came up with this plan?" I asked incredulously.
"Most of it, actually," Alice said, sounding very proud of Bella. "Edward, Emmett, and I were arguing over what to do, and her plan pretty much shut us all up." If the situation were not so serious, I was sure Alice would be laughing at the irony. I had to admit; I would be laughing, too. As much as I had been opposed to Edward bringing Bella into our lives, at first, the human girl was very quickly growing on me. She was such a brave, constant, perceptive little thing. A fierce fire flared in my chest, and it had nothing to do with thirst. I would be in very close quarters with this human and her luscious scent, but I would be okay. I cared for her too much. She was part of my family, now, and I let no one harm my family. No one.
It was as I was thinking about that, of course, that I was hit by a wave of baleful fury from downstairs. For me to pick up on it from this distance, it had to be very strong. The worst part was; I had a feeling I knew who it was coming from. I focused on the voices downstairs, again, and, sure enough, I heard Rosalie hiss.
"Why should I? What is she to me? Except a menace; a danger you've chosen to inflict on all of us." Apparently, she was speaking to Edward. I braced myself for another wave of fury, expecting Edward to retaliate, but the fury didn't come.
"Esme?" He asked calmly.
"Of course," Esme responded. Not two seconds later, Esme ran past me and Alice, carrying Bella.
"Trading clothes, to confuse the scent," Alice murmured. I nodded once, before I felt waves of anger flooding up from downstairs, again.
"Wait for Esme and Bella," I told Alice. "I'm going down there." Alice nodded and I ran downstairs.
"This is why we told you to stay away from her, Edward!" Rosalie was hissing at Edward, again, when I got to them. She almost seemed to be deliberately trying to provoke him. He was still unresponsive to her tantrum. He wasn't getting angry. It only took me a moment to realize why. Love, shame, worry, love, self-loathing, anxiety, love… Of course. He was far too busy worrying about Bella and blaming himself for getting her into this mess to bother with Rosalie. I sent a wave of calm through the room first, concentrating most of it on Rosalie. Then, I focused on Edward and added encouragement and pride to the mix. Those feelings were the opposites of the shame he was feeling, and I hoped all that self-hatred would be drowned out. He looked up at me and shook his head.
"Don't bother, Jasper," he said. Rosalie shot a glare at me, but I ignored her, too. Edward, this isn't your fault. Stop beating yourself up. Bella was having fun in that clearing, watching us play. She finally felt like she was really being included in the family. She wasn't feeling that way, when you brought her here, earlier. She was happy earlier, but she still felt unwanted and unworthy. She's still feeling some of that, now, but it's better. She just wants to feel like she belongs in our family, and she does. She does belong in our family, Edward. Rosalie is just being Rosalie, but the rest of us wouldn't have it any other way. Just feel this! I thought back to what I was feeling about Bella before Rosalie first went off: The pride, the protectiveness, the appreciation, and the continually growing love. I let it all fill me up again, then I threw it at Edward as hard as I knew how. He blinked and staggered a step back.
"And that's just me," I said aloud. "I would feed you what I've been picking up from everyone else, all at once, but now really isn't the best time to overwhelm you that way."
"What's going on?" Emmett asked, coming into the room wearing a large backpack. Carlisle came in behind him with a few cell phones in hand. Emmett was looking warily between me, Rosalie, and Edward. After a moment of contemplation, he went over to Rosalie and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Rose?"
"It's nothing, Emmett," Edward cut in, before Rosalie could start, again. Then, Edward turned to Carlisle. "Is everything ready?"
"Yes," Carlisle answered just as Alice and Esme came down the stairs with Bella. Bella looked as though everything that was happening was finally catching up to her; becoming real. Her haggard appearance was only made worse by the way Esme's clothes hung loosely on her body. Her own clothes were very close-fitted on Esme. I sampled the emotions coming off Bella while Carlisle handed out the cell phones he was carrying:
"Esme and Rosalie will be taking your truck, Bella," Carlisle told her as he passed. Bella automatically looked at Rosalie. Hurt, worthlessness, concern. "Alice, Jasper, take the Mercedes. You'll need the dark tint in the south." Bella looked at me and Alice while we nodded to Carlisle. Awe, concern, anxiety, worthlessness, gratitude. Bella's eyes flickered between Carlisle, Emmett, and Edward, and a new string of emotions surged forward: Surprise, concern, anxiety, and the strongest wave of fear I had felt from her, yet. She was more concerned about them than herself. Worthlessness. This girl was unbelievable.
"Alice," Carlisle asked, "will they take the bait?" Alice closed her eyes and became perfectly still, completely focused on her visions.
"He'll track you," Alice said, when she opened her eyes. "The woman will follow the truck. We should be able to leave after that." She was certain. We could all tell.
"Let's go," Carlisle said, but I felt a sudden explosion of desperate love in the room. Edward darted to Bella's side and pulled her clean off the ground, holding her to him while he kissed her. Bella's feet were dangling in the air, but that didn't stop her from kissing Edward back with the same desperate fire. For those few seconds, we all stared at Edward and Bella. Well, all of us but Rosalie. She turned away with a disgusted look on her face. All the rest of us were completely engrossed, though. It was truly a private moment, but none off us could look away. For those few seconds, none of us saw a vampire kissing a human. We saw our brother kissing our sister, or, in Carlisle and Esme's case, their son kissing their daughter. There was no going back, now. Human or not, Bella was one of us.
Then, it was over. Edward set Bella back on her feet, while keeping a hand on her face. He stared down at her for another second, and then he turned away. The feeling was excruciating. Edward and Bella both let loose devastating waves of love, longing, devotion, and pain. True pain. Separating like this was not just emotionally, but physically painful for them, as well. Edward turned away and ran out the door with Carlisle and Emmett, and the emotions coming from Bella worsened threefold: Love, longing, devotion, pain, sadness, fear, anxiety, horror, worthlessness… It was awful. She started crying heavily, though almost silently, and I had to look away, as did Alice and Esme. It was painful to watch and it felt too private.
Esme's phone vibrated, then, and she brought it quickly to her ear. "Now," she said. Rosalie stalked out the door grudgingly, but Esme paused by Bella, on her way out, lightly touching the girl's tear-stained cheek. "Be safe," She whispered to Bella. Then, she was gone, too. Bella's truck roared to life outside and sped away as fast as it would go. Six seconds later, Alice brought her phone to her ear even before it began to buzz.
"Edward says the woman is on Esme's trail. I'll get the car." She darted out the kitchen door, then, leaving me alone with Bella. I was standing across the room from Bella. The emotions flowing out of her instinctively made me want to move closer to her. It was a very human instinct, and it surprised me a little. I thought of my thirst, though, and I stayed where I was. I would be very close to her in the coming few days. Best not to push my limits too much, now. She looked at me, though, and I couldn't do nothing. Even if I couldn't feel her emotions, her eyes said it all. Those brown pools of emotion were surely what kept Edward sane, since he couldn't hear her thoughts. They made her thoughts pretty clear.
"You're wrong, you know," I told her quietly.
"What?" She gasped. Surprise, confusion, alarm, shyness, anxiety, worthlessness… My point, exactly.
"I can feel what you're feeling, now and you are worth it."
"I'm not," she mumbled. "If anything happens to them, it will be for nothing."
"You're wrong," I repeated, smiling at her. Such a constant little thing. Alice reappeared, then, and she walked towards Bella, arms outstretched.
"May I?" She asked. Leave it to my sweet little Alice to ask, when half of our family had snatched up and carried Bella, by now, all without so much as a word of warning.
"You're the first one to ask permission," Bella responded wryly. I never thought I'd hear a human speak so calmly about vampires passing her around like a rag doll. This girl was definitely worth it.
The following drive was painful. Alice sat in the back seat with Bella for a large part of the drive. For the first few hours, she just tried to comfort Bella while she cried. Eventually, Bella's head ended up against Alice's neck, as she cried all her pain out, until her eyes finally ran dry. Bella was exhausted, by then, and I tried to send her waves of lethargy, to put her to sleep. She sat up ramrod straight, in response, and practically begged me not to put her to sleep. She told me that, if she slept, she would dream about things she didn't want to think about. I felt the fear and unease coming off her as she gave me that explanation, so I didn't press the issue, nor did Alice. So, Bella stayed up all night, and most of the following day. I was driving at least triple the speed limit, all the way to Phoenix, so we made the journey in less than twenty-four hours, and Bella didn't sleep at all.
Our plan was to find a hotel near the airport, just in case we had to make a quick escape, faster than we could run or drive. I didn't really know where to begin looking, though, and Bella was the only one I could ask for directions. Pulling over to ask someone else was out of the question. It was too sunny out. I held in a sigh of frustration. I hated the south. I was wary of asking anything of Bella, though. Not only had she been awake for about forty straight hours, but I had been unable to detect any strong emotions from her in a while. She had gone somewhat numb and apathetic. A human coping mechanism, I guessed. She really was holding up amazingly well, all things considered. The fact remained, though: I had no other option.
"Which way to the airport, Bella?" I asked as softly as I could, while still remaining audible to her ears. I saw Bella flinch, in the rear-view mirror, and I felt a jolt of alarm fire out of her, before her emotions settled, again.
"Stay on the I-ten," she answered quickly. "We'll pass right by it." Her apathy faded a little and I could feel more emotion coming form her in the following seconds: Disorientation and confusion, mainly.
"Are we flying somewhere?" She asked wearily.
"No," Alice answered her. She was sitting in the front of the car, with me, at this point. "But it's better to be close, just in case."
Apparently, the little amount of energy Bella used to speak to us was the last of her supply. Moments after I began driving the loop around Sky Harbor International, she finally fell asleep. About five minutes later, I found a Hilton adjacent to the airport parking lot. I pulled completely into the shade in front of the hotel, before getting out of the car to deal with the valets and bellhops. I checked the three of us in while Alice helped Bella walk through the lobby, holding up as much of Bella's weight as she could without completely carrying her. That sight would not go over well with the humans in the hotel. Alice was too small for that. Once we were in our room, with the door safely closed and locked behind us, Alice lifted Bella completely into her arms and carried her to one of the two bedrooms in the suite. Alice and I, of course, didn't really need a room, as we didn't sleep, but we had to keep up appearances. While Alice tucked Bella into bed, I went around the suite and closed all the curtains, blocking out the sunlight.
Alice came up behind me when I was putting the 'do not disturb' sign on the door to our suite. When I closed the door and turned to face her, she looked morose. She wrapped her thin arms around my waist laid her cheek against my chest. "What's wrong, Alice?" I asked her softly, rubbing her back soothingly and sending calming waves into her.
"Why doesn't Edward want her changed?" She asked me. The question was rhetorical. She knew why Edward did not want to change Bella into a vampire. He had told her many times over, during their recent arguments over her visions of Bella. "The physical toll these last two days have taken on her…" Alice continued softly. "She's exhausted, she's hungry, her eyes are going to be puffy and red for at least a day or two, between her lack of sleep and her crying… She doesn't have to be in this condition."
"Honestly, I'm not sure I can agree with that," I said, pulling Alice over to the couch and sitting down with her on my lap. "I mean, I do agree that he should change Bella. I just know that she, unfortunately, does need to stay as she is, right now. We can't properly care for and a newborn vampire while we're dealing with this tracker. You know that." At the mention of newborns, Alice automatically reached up to lightly trace her fingers along some of the bite scars on my neck. The marks of my past which were virtually invisible to Bella's human eyes, but clearly evident with our sharper vision.
"Is it difficult for you?" Alice asked me. "Being in the south, again?"
"I won't say I haven't thought about it," I answered honestly, "but it's not that bad. Texas, New Mexico, Mexico… Those are the areas where most of the memories are. Arizona is a little more tolerable, though close."
"Edward…" The low whimper came from the room where Bella slept, as did a strong wave of both love and fear. I thought she'd already awoken, but Alice reached up and ran her fingers through my hair.
"Edward told us she talks in her sleep, remember?" She asked. I nodded. Several weeks ago, our family had pulled Edward aside, to ask him why he was spending every night at Bella's house. His explanation was that he liked to watch Bella sleep. He found it fascinating. He told us she talked in her sleep. Quite a bit, actually. He mentioned how she tossed and turned a lot, especially when she seemed to be having a particularly bad dream. He just enjoyed watching the nightly show.
Rosalie might be interested to know what a narcissist Edward is. She might have some competition.
"No, Edward! Don't!" Waves of love and fear continued to flow from Bella's room and I shifted under Alice. I felt like I needed to go calm Bella down.
"Just wait," Alice whispered, still running her fingers through my hair and tracing some of my scars. "Edward said it stops after a while, when she falls into deeper sleep."
"It's not just what she's saying, Alice," I said. "It's what she's feeling. I didn't know humans could put off that kind of emotion while asleep. It's almost as strong as when she's awake."
"Just wait," Alice whispered, again.
"Laurent said you can't… Stop… Come back... Leave Edward alone, Rosalie… Esme… Carlisle… Emmett… Alice… Jasper… Stop… I'm not worth it…"
"Why does she keep thinking that?!" I said exasperatedly. "Edward and I have both, quite plainly told her… She's so stubborn." Alice giggled softly at my reaction.
"I told you you'd grow to love her," she said softly.
"At least she stands up to Rosalie, in her sleep," I commented. Alice giggled, again.
"Leave Alice alone… Stop it! Stay away from her! Alice! Please… Where's Jasper… Leave her alone… James… Alice!"
Bella was trying to protect Alice, in her dream! There was no way I could not love that girl, now. A human feeling protective of a vampire was a little backwards, but it was so incredibly sweet. Bella loved Alice, so I loved Bella. That was that.
"Edward… Edward… Edward! NO! EDWARD! HELP! THE FIRE! NO! No, no, no, no, NO! Edward!" Alice and I both jumped up in alarm. I was almost knocked right back down by the wave of emotion that hit me, though: Pure horror. Terror and devastating sadness. "The fire! EDWARD!" Bella had not felt the burn of vampire venom, so there was only one reason she could be screaming about fire, in her sleep. She did know what had to be done to kill a vampire. She was dreaming that Edward was burning. In pieces, and burning.
I ran into Bella's room and Alice made no move to stop me, this time. She followed close behind. The second I had the door open, I threw one wave after another of calm and lethargy at Bella. I moved closer when she still continued to whimper softly and I carefully laid my hand on her arm. I poured calm, peace, and lethargy into her, where my cold hand touched her warm skin. Her heartbeat, which had been pounding violently inside her, quickly returned to its normal, steady rate. She did not stir, and she did not speak. I pulled my hand back from her arm and stepped away from the bed. I hadn't realized it until this point, but Bella's racing pulse had saturated the air in the room with her sweet, adrenaline spiked scent. I held my breath and rushed out of the room. Alice followed right behind me, shutting the bedroom door behind her. I pulled one of the windows in the room open for a moment, breathing in the fresh, though warm air. The sun was setting and the ruby light glinted off my skin, but I wasn't too worried. There was no one around to see it.
"It's okay, Jazz," Alice whispered, walking over to me and sitting on the thick windowsill. Her skin also sparkled, but she, like me, wasn't too concerned about that, just now. "You weren't going to hurt her. You were in control." I took one more gulp of fresh air and pulled the window shut, closing the curtain, again.
"I know I was," I said. "I was too worried about Bella for my thirst to bother me too much. I just wasn't prepared to smell her scent quite so strongly in there. She's never been that scared around us. The adrenaline made it so much worse."
"She was dreaming that Edward was burning…" Alice said sadly.
"She was dreaming about me, before that…"
"I know," I said, again, with more feeling. "If Edward does decide to change her, she's going to be a fierce little thing. If she's that devoted and protective in her sleep…"
"I know," Alice said. She sounded happy, again. I smiled down at her. She liked talking about Bella like this; like a true sister. We moved back to the couch and I hugged Alice close. She stretched her neck up to kiss me, lightly at first, then with growing passion. I responded with even greater enthusiasm. After two days of feeling so much anger and sadness, I was desperately craving love and happiness. Alice gladly helped me quench that thirst, while Bella remained quiet well into the night.