What Have We Done?
Chapter 22: Inevitable
A/N: The second to last chapter of COS1, and a long one, rated M for a reason. Bella's POV. Song: "Atlas" by Coldplay, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I'd originally intended to use a song by Hurts, but as I wrote this chapter, certain lyrics from "Atlas" kept popping up, and I decided the song fit the chapter really well. Because the chapter is so long, there's some refreshing lemonade waiting for you at the end. If you don't care for lemons, avert your eyes after Bella gets a scratch on her back from a tree, but at least read the last few paragraphs (after the fox), because the cause of Bella's "active changing" is explained there. Enjoy, and please leave a review. :)
The plane ride home from Volterra was unbearable. I could only imagine how terrible it was for Jasper. Though he'd hunted right before boarding, his irises were already black from the vampire version of fatigue. This was one of those moments when I pitied him for his empathic abilities. I tried to keep my own pain and anger under control, but I wondered if any of the others were doing the same. Jasper wasn't their mate, he was mine. Alice was his ex-wife, though, so she probably kept a hold on her emotions out of habit, and Carlisle and Esme were so used to accommodating their children, I would imagine they kept their empathic son's well-being in mind even as they grieved the loss of their telepathic son, their Edward. Their Edward… at one point he'd been my Edward. Even now, I suppose he was, but not in the romantic sense. I felt like everyone else on the plane did, like I'd lost a family member. In our own ways, we all did grieve. We'd misjudged Edward. We'd had it wrong all along; Edward was never the bad guy, but another puppet. He was a victim, and the circumstances of his death just made everything worse. We were confused, we were blind-sided, we were angry, we were devastated and guilt-ridden, and Jasper felt it all.
"Jasper?" I whispered, nudging him lightly. "Let me help. How can I help? I've tried shielding you, but my shield doesn't work on your gift…"
"It's a buffer," Jasper murmured distractedly, not looking at me. "I can feel a slight difference when you try; it softens the blow of incoming emotions, but I still feel them, and you can't shield me from my own emotions."
"It might help if you let some of it back out. Stop straining yourself. You've already burned off all the blood from your last hunt-"
"No, Bella," Jasper said firmly, but I wouldn't back down. I could almost hear his teeth grinding under the strain.
"Then we'll try my amplification," I pressed. "Maybe if I amplify your power enough, you'll be able to keep all this pain at bay for a little while and rest."
"The amount of amplification that would take would knock you out," Jasper growled softly. "Then you wouldn't be able to help at all, and we'd all worry about your condition on top of everything else. That would only make things worse, Isabella."
Isabella? It wasn't spoken condescendingly, but in a detached, formal tone. The whites of his eyes were darkening. The Major was resurfacing, but I did not fear the darker side of my mate. The fact that Jasper's version of a shield was emerging only made me more concerned for him. That said, I could actually use the presence of his less emotional, more tactful side to my advantage if I could just get him to listen to my new idea… well, I could tell him part of it, but I'd have to spring the rest on him…
"Carlisle, didn't we bring some emergency blood bags with us?" I asked without looking away from Jasper. I leaned forward so I could look him in the eye and plowed on without waiting for Carlisle's response; I knew the answer was yes. "Major, will you at least drink some blood for me? It's killing me seeing my mate in pain. If you won't let me help you with the emotional pain, will you at least feed, so you aren't dealing with the burn as well? Plus, it will strengthen you again, especially being human blood. It's just a little; I know you won't relapse. Please let me care for you in this one way?" Jasper frowned for a moment, but then he nodded. Carlisle had already risen, but I scrambled to my feet to block the isle.
"No, Carlisle, I was just asking if we still had some," I said. "Really, please let me get it. I need to help him. The bags are in the mini-fridge in back, right? I'll warm up a cup." Carlisle nodded and sat back down. The deep sadness apparent on his angelic face was another stab in my still-beating heart, but it was the realization that every other vampire's expression mirrored his own that gave me another idea; another bold move, but perhaps the best course of action now was to shake things up a bit. A distraction, that's what we needed. "In fact, if I'm going to open a bag, maybe I'll try a couple sips myself." As I expected, surprise broke through the masks of sadness everyone wore, then Carlisle's brow furrowed in concern and a small smile began forming on Emmett's lips.
"We already know she can drink animal blood from the source, Carlisle," Jasper interceded on my behalf before Carlisle could argue. "And the smell doesn't sicken her anymore. It makes her thirsty, like any of us. It's just a small amount, and you can't tell me you aren't curious about what will happen." Thank you, alpha-male Major! "Her eyes have also darkened, if you'll take notice. I don't want her to suffer from thirst any more than she wants me to endure the burn unnecessarily." Carlisle reluctantly nodded and a small twinkle actually came back to Emmett's eyes. Rose rolled her eyes at her husband even as Eleazar scooted forward in his seat a little, his curiosity undeniable. As I walked toward the back of the sleek private jet, I saw Alice's eyes begin to glaze over and I lightly slapped her shoulder in passing, shaking my head infinitesimally when she turned to look at me. I didn't want the real surprise to be spoiled prematurely. I wasn't sure if Alice would stop me if she knew my plan, but some of the others might if she clued them in.
One piece of the puzzle kept popping into my head, and I was spinning that metaphorical piece around and around, trying to make it fit. Whether or not the piece would fit, it finally occurred to me what the fragmented picture on its amorphous face depicted: a bleeding lip. My lip had been bleeding when Edward kissed me, right before he got that dazed look on his face, right before he fled the room looking horror-stricken. 'Tell her I never knew what she was, that I love her, and that I wish her and Jasper well.' That final message Edward conveyed to me through Irwin kept replaying in my head. Minutes before, he'd been growling accusations at Jasper and trying to take me away from him. After tasting my blood, he took it all back and wished us well. Were my gifts bloodborne? Did they work differently when ingested than when projected? I had to find out. All I needed was a bloodbag, a knife, two towels, and two cups…
Not one of the eleven vampires seemed suspicious when I came out from behind the curtain that veiled the kitchenette. No one even raised an eyebrow when they saw me carrying the hot mugs with towel-wrapped hands, assuming as I hoped they would, that the cups were too hot for me to carry barehanded. No one seemed aware of the fact that the slightly thicker of the two towels covered a small, fresh cut on my hand. The smell of the piping-hot bagged blood masked the scent of my own, so much so that the few drops of my own blood I'd mixed into Jasper's cup went completely unnoticed until he actually began to drink. One, two, three good swallows before he paused. I stalled by turning to Emmett and raising my own cup. "Cheers!" I called, smiling and knocking back my smaller cup of blood like a shot. Hmm… not bad. The taste reminded me of hay or cornhusks somehow, with a touch of sweetness. Emmett whooped and applauded.
"Isabella." Yep, the Major was still out. I stuck my chin out stubbornly and turned to face him again. "What on earth possessed you to mix your own blood into this? Notes of honeysuckle and hay, with mild but distinct notes of freesia and lavender?" He somehow managed to sound darkly dangerous and lovingly scolding at the same time. Still, I knew I had no reason to fear any aspect of my true mate.
"Bella, please, Major," I said steadily. "You know I don't care for my full name." The Major blinked, startled, but I continued on evenly and openly, "I did it to test a theory, and to help you. Yes, the latter being done despite your protests. What's done is done, though, so if you'll please drink the rest of the blood, I'll continue with my explanation." The Major blinked again, clearly unaccustomed to being instructed to do anything by anyone other than Maria or the Volturi, but he didn't seem angered. Mates were exceptions. He quickly gulped down the remaining blood in his cup, and then he nodded for me to continue.
"You'd gone so feral when it happened," I began, "you might not have noticed, and everyone else was busy restraining you or searching the future, but something clearly happened to Edward after he kissed me, after he licked my blood from my lips: He looked dazed, like Irwin did when he met Alice and Chelsea's hold on him was broken. Then Edward left looking horrified, and according to Irwin he suddenly started calling himself a monster and made a desperate play for redemption. Try something for me now, Major. I'm not projecting now, and I won't try to do so. You try projecting different emotions to some of us, on your own."
"Anger," Tanya suddenly hissed.
"Happiness," Alice called from her seat beside Tanya. Jasper was following my instruction, and with every new emotion called out, the whites of his eyes lightened.
"Irritability," Eleazar added, shifting uneasily.
"Lethargy," Carmen murmured, dropping her head onto her mate's shoulder.
"Peace," Carlisle and Esme both sighed gratefully. "Peace," was then echoed by every vampire around me. The Major had withdrawn completely; the whites of Jasper's eyes had cleared and his irises were a light amber, with only a faint hint of red. He looked so much more relaxed. I breathed a sigh of my own, genuine relief. The very air in the cabin felt so much lighter.
"My gifts are bloodborne," I declared confidently. Wherever this piece fit into the puzzle, it did fit, and it was crucial. "It is puppetry," I reiterated. "Someone was controlling Edward and messing with his mind, and Chelsea had bound him to the Volturi, if nothing else. Chelsea hasn't been able to affect our bonds through my shield, but when I projected my shield onto Edward, nothing happened. Whatever was done to him was planted so deeply within him that my shield couldn't touch it, but when he tasted my blood, taking my shield inside him, it all came undone. We all know what Aro told us about Edward being, by definition, a member of both our covens because I, his chosen mate, am in this coven was bullshit. He was killed because whatever was done to him was going to come out if he was left alive. That's why they didn't even wait for him to regain his senses or mobility…" I trailed off when a flicker of intuition made my stomach flip. I couldn't even put my finger on it, but some elusive thought in the back of my mind was making me nauseous. For the time being, I shook the feeling off. I dropped the towel covering my injured hand and offered it to Eleazar. "Prove me wrong," I challenged.
The small cut on my hand had clotted and sealed itself, but after shooting a respectful and reassuring glance at Jasper, Eleazar gently took my hand and licked away some of the dried blood staining my skin. He paused for a moment, frozen. He shook his head in denial, but he didn't release my hand or move away. His mouth hovered an inch from my skin. Another pause, then he slowly closed the gap, this time opening his mouth wider and gently grazing the sealed cut with his teeth, not biting or injecting venom, but scraping away the tacky seal of hardened blood. He sucked at the reopened wound gently. Jasper rapidly stood and flashed over to me, grabbing my shoulder, but I covered his hand with my free hand, telling him I was okay. After drawing four long pulls of blood, Eleazar sealed the cut with one more lick and released me. Jasper pulled me farther back, wrapping me in his arms. I leant into him and let him feel that I felt no pain or fear at all, but then Eleazar raised his head slowly, and I saw a painfully familiar look of horror on his face.
"William and Catherine…" Eleazar's pained whisper was almost inaudible to my ears. For such a formidable man, Eleazar looked very near the vampire equivalent of tears. "They were my friends, and I turned them in… I betrayed them to their deaths. They didn't quit…" Eleazar shook his head slowly. "They didn't quit. They were executed. When I went to Aro, I truly didn't expect them to be punished so harshly for gossip, but I came to their trial as a witness against them. I seem to remember having it in my head, after the trial, that they'd probably been double agents working for the Romanians anyway; that they were trying to cause more trouble since their coven was destroyed… The day I left with Carmen, though, almost all my memories of them disappeared entirely. It's true. I don't remember how it happened or who did it to me, but someone altered my memory…" Eleazar visibly shuddered. No one else spoke. I think I was the only one breathing. We all just watched in silent shock and horror as the steadfast vampire before us came apart at the seams. He shuddered again. "So many things are coming back… It's true, what Edward told Irwin. I feel I do remember what it's like to dream now, but it's from unspeakable nightmares that I awake. Gods above forgive me! What have I done?"
"You can't think about it as what you've done," Jasper finally spoke, his voice dark and distant. "Do that and the guilt will eat away at you forever, until there's nothing left. I didn't create the Major deliberately, but when all the hatred, bloodshed, and guilt became too much for me to bear, he emerged. My subconscious created an alternate personality to protect me and help me cope. The alternate personality stayed with me beyond the wars, and in times of peace I learned to restrain or release him as needed, but you don't actually need an alternate personality to protect yourself in a similar manner. Think of the Volterran puppet you once were as a separate entity and place any blame for what you did back then on him, not on whom you are now. You are an entirely different man now. You are good, honest, steadfast, loyal to those you willingly honor with your loyalty, and loving. You would give your life to protect your beautiful mate, and she genuinely returns that fierce love and loyalty, expecting nothing in return. You are a crucial part of a large, humane, vegetarian coven. Name the puppet you once were what you like and curse their name for what they did, but do not insult my old friend Eleazar in such a way. You are a good man. You were a victim, and now you are free."
"And I'll never let them make a puppet of you again," I promised, viscid tears forging trails across my skin. I lunged forward and hugged Eleazar tightly. "With projection, blood, and venom if possible, I'll protect all of you from Edward's fate. Human or vampire, I'll keep you safe," I sobbed. "With everything I have in me, I'll keep you safe…" Still crying, I clambered back over to Jasper and hugged him with all my part-vampire strength. "I'll help the Major keep you safe. You have two shields now."
Jasper pulled back ever so slightly and gently lifted my chin so my eyes met his. "And one that I love with all my heart, mind, body, and soul." He kissed me soundly before pulling away once more. "It'll be next to impossible keeping this from Aro, but whatever happens, I'll protect you with everything I have in me."
"As will I," Eleazar pledged, reaching out and touching my shoulder.
"As will I," Carlisle vowed, touching my other shoulder.
"As will I," Esme and Carmen echoed at the same time, each touching the same shoulder as their respective mates.
"As will we," Emmett and Rose said together, both taking my right arm.
"As will we," Tanya, Irina, and Kate promised, lightly touching my back.
"As will we," Alice said, coming over and taking my left arm. I looked at her quizzically. "Yes, Irwin will feel the same way. I just need a blood sample to give him next time we see each other." Emmett snorted and I rolled my eyes. Great, now I'm a power keg. That's when we all heard a cowbell. Jasper pulled out his phone and read the text aloud:
"I don't know what just happened, but I saw y'all doing some kind of hands-in thing with Bella in the middle. Whatever it is, count me and Char in, too. Life's been a little dull over the last few decades. From what the pups and pet-sitters tell us, life's never dull with your girl around."
Emmett, naturally, was the first to crack. He snorted again and said, "That's an understatement." That got a laugh from Rose and Kate, then Jasper started chuckling, and soon we were all laughing. We laughed and laughed until the reality of what we were all saying really took hold again. We might be able to stall the inevitable for a while, but there was no way out of this now, and there was no way it would end well. It would surely come to a fight, and people would surely die, but with that sense of inevitability came a strange sense of relief. It was the question of what the catalyst would be that put everyone on edge. We could hear the time bomb ticking, but we couldn't see the clock. How much time did we have left before the explosion?
Our reception at Sea-Tac Airport was a surprise, to say the least. Two violet-eyed vampires I assumed to be Peter and Charlotte were leaning casually against the wall just outside the parking garage. Peter could easily pass for Jasper's older brother. He looked about twenty-eight, standing at approximately the same height as Jasper, though Peter had a slightly leaner build, and his blonde hair was straight and cut shorter. Charlotte looked like a living porcelain doll, taller than Alice, but shorter than me; about five-foot-two I'd guess. She had a petite frame, with small curves only slightly more prominent than mine, and her blonde hair was almost as pale as her skin, cut in a shoulder-length bob with straight-cut, heavy bangs, the sharp angles of the cut balancing out a round face, very full lips, and large almond-shaped eyes with long lashes. She appeared to be about twenty-three years old. Charlie and Jacob stood next to the two new vampires. Okay, this should be interesting…
"So, you went to Alaska this time, Bells?" Charlie asked. "Isn't it still pretty chilly up there in spring? Where were you camped?"
"Not so much camped as housed," Carlisle laughed easily. "It's actually been even colder than usual for this time of year. Our favorite campsite was closed due to the weather, so we dropped in on some relatives of ours. Charlie Swan, meet Eleazar, his wife Carmen, and their daughters Tanya, Irina, and Kate. Eleazar is Esme's cousin. It's so rare that we all get to see each other, so we decided to extend our visiting time by bringing them back with us. I see you've met Peter and Charlotte…" Carlisle tactfully trailed off for a moment, giving Charlie a chance to fill in the blanks so cover stories weren't crossed.
"Jasper and Rosalie's cousins, yeah," Charlie supplied. "Erm, well, their cousin Peter, and his wife Charlotte," he amended awkwardly. "They called me from your house yesterday, said they decided do drop in on their cousins and found the place empty. They found our number and called to ask about you. Didn't want them to have to wait for you alone, so I invited them to crash at my place last night."
"Yeah, we had one big sleep over," Jacob added, rolling his eyes. "I guess we all missed the memo that April Fool's Day was Surprise Guest Day this year. My sister, Rebecca, showed up out of the blue too, and you know what a sardine can our place is. I gave Becks my room and asked Charlie if I could borrow yours. The Chief's apparently moonlighting as an innkeeper now."
While Carlisle apologized for his rudeness and put on an act of introducing Jacob to the Denalis, I read between the lines of the conversation so far. My guess was, after the fight, Jacob bolted to my house to keep an eye on Charlie, just in case another vampire showed up. Just because Annabeth disengaged from the fight didn't mean she wouldn't go looking for lunch. Once Edward was taken away by Irwin, Peter and Charlotte probably ran up to the Cullen house to establish their reason for being in such an insignificant little town, so they could move about openly. I wondered whether they meant to draw an invitation out of Charlie or not, but it was added protection, so I had no problem with the outcome. I just hoped Jake and the human-drinkers were able to play nice well enough in front of Charlie to avoid raising suspicion. He was a cop after all, and related to me. He seemed relaxed and happy, so that was a good sign. I jumped slightly when Peter leaned into my line of vision. He and Charlotte had edged closer to me while I'd been observing my father. When I looked up to meet Peter's gaze, he stood just a few feet from me, and my improved vision allowed me to clearly see his red irises hidden beneath slowly eroding blue contacts. Peter flashed a wide grin at me and winked.
"So this is the little lady the whole town's talkin' about," he said, and I instantly recognized the heavy southern accent I'd heard over the phone in Volterra. Charlotte smiled and elbowed him playfully.
"Don't worry, sugar, we don't believe a word of it," she laughed, her accent also heavy and her tone a warm contralto, a perfect complement to her mate's deep bass. "You don't know small town gossip until you've lived in a southern small town. That, and we know our cousin has impeccable taste in women and would accept only the best."
"Char's been chompin' at the bit to meet ya, sweet pea," Peter commented, holding out his hand as he did so. I shook his hand without hesitation and was rewarded with another wide grin. "I'm pleased to meet ya too, miss Bella. I'm Peter Whitlock."
"And I'm Charlotte Whitlock," Charlotte said, skipping the handshake and going in for a hug, "but you can call me Char. Between what Jasper and your friend Jacob's told us about you, we feel like we've known ya forever." When she said 'forever', she gave me a comforting squeeze. When she released me and stepped back, I was struggling not to cry. It was enough of a struggle that Charlie took notice.
"You okay, kiddo?" He asked, patting me on the shoulder.
"Yeah, just jetlag," I lied, shrugging and adding a big yawn for effect. "I'm tired, that's all."
Jacob, apparently unable to control himself any longer, strode forward and pulled me into a tight hug. "By the way, we missed you, Bella," he said, the emotion seeping into his voice not quite fitting the casually phrased comment. He'd been afraid for me. I'd feared for his life, too. I hugged him back fiercely.
"Missed you, too, Jake," I said, my voice wavering a little. Carlisle cleared his throat.
"It sounds like we're all ready to get home and get comfortable," he said. "I'm sure we'll find plenty of time to do more catching up." Everyone nodded in agreement. Peter turned and shook Charlie's hand.
"Thanks for your hospitality, Chief Swan, but we'll go on back with our family now. You and Jake take miss Bella home and see she gets some good rest. We'll see y'all again soon." Peter turned back to me and nodded once as he said that last part, and Jasper gave me a firm hug and a light kiss on my forehead. I would see them again tonight. Jake would stay with me in the meantime.
For show, I turned and briefly hugged all the other vampires around me goodbye, then I turned and left the airport with my oblivious human father and my edgy, protective wolf-friend. I had a feeling I was in for a long, uncomfortable ride home, and I was right. I just tried to stick to the script, telling Charlie about my comfortable but mostly unexciting stay with the Denalis. Jacob did pretty well, laughing at the right cues and inserting the occasional joke or wry remark. We both ran out of things we could say around Charlie before the car ride ended, though. We weren't exactly moving at supernatural speed. After about twenty minutes of awkward silence, Charlie took the easy out and commented on how good-looking Peter and Charlotte were, and how stunningly beautiful the Denalis were, particularly the three succubi. Jacob and I both resorted to feigning sleep at that point, but even that was uncomfortable, for me at least. I had to keep up the pretense well enough to avoid further conversation, but when I actually would start falling asleep, I struggled against the welcoming darkness, knowing that I would have terrible nightmares if I gave into that deceptively soothing void. The last thing I needed to do in front of Charlie was sleep-talk about evil vampires and wake up sobbing hybrid tears over Edward's death…
Edward was still handsome, but he looked human now. He felt human. When he reached out and took my hand, his hand felt soft and warm, and when I looked up into his eyes, they were green. We were surrounded by soft, warm white light, and nothing else. There was no real environment to speak of, nothing above us, nothing below us, and nothing around us. There was just an endless abyss of white light, but as we walked, the ground below us was smooth and solid. This was not the nightmare I'd been expecting. No words were spoken between us. We just held hands and walked. We walked for what felt like hours, but neither of us tired, and our path never ended. There was no danger here, no pain, no struggle or strife. We were safe. We were free. We were free… I looked up at Edward again, seeing his familiar crooked smile. He nodded once, his soft green eyes full of warmth and love. We were silent. We were still. He was free…
When I woke, I didn't scream, but my cheeks were wet and tingling from tears. I realized I was back in my bedroom, in my bed, and I was wrapped in a pair of cold arms. I rolled over and came face to face with Jasper. Looking over his shoulder, I saw Peter in my rocking chair and Char perched on my windowsill. "I was expecting nightmares," Jasper murmured softly, "but you continue to surprise me. I already sedated Charlie, and I was ready to either shake you awake or drown you in lethargy too, so you'd sleep dreamlessly, but you were so peaceful. I've never felt such welcoming, warm peace, in fact. You didn't sleep-talk, either."
"Such a disappointment," Peter drawled melodramatically. "Char and I heard the stories; we came for the show."
"Sorry, no refunds," I yawned. Peter and Char laughed quietly, but my smile remained peaceful, untainted by humor. Jasper's expression mirrored mine. I clutched at the feeling of peace from the dream, the feeling cycling between me and Jasper. I guess he was clinging to the feeling, too. We were silent and still.
"Spread it around, at least?" Char murmured softly. I knew Jasper had projected the feeling to the other two war wounded vampires when I heard their gasps. The gasps were soon followed by soft moans of pleasure that held not the slightest bit of lust. It was like the feeling was massaging knots of anger, fear, and pain away. I found myself echoing the sound. "Why on earth were you crying?" Char gasped breathlessly. "In relief?" She guessed. I nodded.
"I was with Edward, but he was human," I breathed. "He had green eyes and soft, warm skin. We were holding hands, walking through this endless abyss of warm, white light… Nothing could harm us there. We were safe and free. We never said anything, but he just walked with me, and he smiled and nodded once. He was telling me he was safe. He was free. There was only peace…"
Slowly, reality came crawling back into my body, clawing at my mind and biting deep into my heart. Jasper let out a low hiss that was echoed by his old comrades, since he was still projecting. Tears clouded my vision again, and when I cried this time, it wasn't from relief. "I didn't have a nightmare, but we're living in one," I sobbed, clutching at Jasper's shirt and crying into his chest. I heard fabric tearing and I immediately pulled back. I didn't think I'd been gripping Jasper's shirt that hard, but I could see that I'd torn it. I let out another loud sob, grateful that Jasper had preemptively sedated Charlie. Jasper pulled me back into his arms.
"Shh, it's okay, sweetheart," he murmured soothingly, stroking my hair and rubbing my back. "You're just getting stronger. It's all part of the change. You'll adjust, just like we all did, probably even faster because the change is happening slowly. You can make little adjustments as needed, instead of going straight from minimal strength to maximum strength."
"That's not why I'm crying," I sniffed. "I'm crying because my change, fast or slow, is under their control now. Despite my shield, they've already got their strings wrapped around us. They destroyed Edward before they killed him. Yes, if things hadn't happened the way they did, we probably wouldn't have realized we're true mates, but the price of that realization was his freedom, his innocence, and his life!" I sobbed.
"He's safe now, sweetheart," Jasper said in a tight voice, hugging me closer. "He's gone, but he's finally free and at peace. Before you, he was lonely and miserable in this life, and the Volturi enslaved him and broke him. He's at peace now, Bella. After a century of suffering that was only briefly eased by your love, he's finally completely free and at peace. You felt it. He was wrong about what awaits us after this life. It seems Carlisle's belief is closer to the truth. Deep down, Edward was truly innocent, and his pure heart is being rewarded. He's safe and happy now, Bella. He wanted you to know that."
"Just look at Eleazar, sweet pea," Peter said, coming over and sitting on the foot of my bed, massaging my feet gently through the comforter. "After you cut his strings, Jasper coached him in ways to cope with the atrocities he blindly committed, but now that he has his true memories and complete free will back, no matter what he does, what he's done will haunt him forever."
Charlotte sat beside me on the bed and brushed my hair away from my neck, lightly tracing the scar there with her cool, thin finger. "As you can see, these aren't goin' away," she said gently. "Even after your change is complete, they'll remain, 'cause they aren't human scars. We aren't as discontent with what we are as Rosalie is, but one big downside of vampirism is the permanence of every scar, physical and emotional. You know our story, sugar. Do ya know why Peter and I are able to live happy lives now, despite all we did when we were under Maria's control?" I shook my head, no longer sobbing, but blinking away silent tears that crept sluggishly into my hair as I looked up at Charlotte. "Because we have each other," she said simply.
"There'll always be bad days," Peter admitted, "when the pain hurts a little too much, or when the guilt cuts a little too deep, but your true mate will carry you through it and remind you that their love is just as permanent. Eleazar's hurtin' bad now, but he'll be alright, because he has his Carmen. As soon as Edward was set free, he realized the one he loved really was the true mate of another. Alice helped the Major a lot, but no one can see the change you've made in him better than us. He glows around you, sweet pea. Alice gave him hope, but you gave him peace. Even in violent times, he'll find peace in you, and you'll find the same in him. Edward had no mate to help carry him through his darkness. Sure, Tanya's always been interested, and I'm sure she'd've tried, but she wasn't his true mate any more than you were. No one could've helped him with the burden he carried, not enough. Only death gave him that reprieve. You did all you could for him, darlin', and he died doin' all he could for you. He went knowin' his final act was done for good. That's all any of us can ask for."
"How many more will have to go, though?" I asked almost pleadingly. "We don't need you or Alice to tell us our world as we know it is going to explode soon. Everything is going to change. People will fight, people will die, and the repercussions of what we do could change the world forever. What can be done now? Where do we go from here?"
Peter smiled, but even in the dark room I could see the shadows in his red eyes, and I felt a heavy weight settle on my heart. "You said you don't need me to tell ya a fight's comin', but I'm gonna tell you what I saw in my mind the moment I laid eyes on you."
"What did you see?" I prompted.
"I saw you and Jasper, side by side, happy together." I half-laughed and lightly kicked Peter.
"Glad to hear it, but that has nothing to do with the fight to come," I grumbled. Peter shrugged.
"War is unpredictable, sweet pea. You can make plans and rally allies, but tactics can fail and strategies can crumble. I only see the inevitable."
The following days passed by in a series of bursts and lulls, so I lost all track of time. Some days were spent at school or with Charlie, playing human. At one point, I went to see another movie with Angela and Ben. Some days were spent with my growing vampire family. Peter cracked more jokes about the wolves than Emmett did, but coming from Peter it sounded more like affectionate teasing. On one of my days spent at the rez, I found the wolves also seemed oddly fond of Peter and Char both, despite the fact that they were human-drinkers. Peter said it was because he explained that they only fed from dangerous criminals or people already dying from other causes, but I was still skeptical. Maybe the feeling of camaraderie that came from fighting as allies was enough to change the pack's perception of them? Even that seemed like a stretch. Still, the truth was apparent. Though they'd been nicknamed 'Herculeech' and 'Xenaleech' by the wolves, it was clear that Peter and Char had, by some miracle, wormed their way into the pack's hearts. The wolves denied the bond vehemently when I called them out on it, but I knew they just couldn't admit to themselves that they actually liked any vampires. Well, all of them but Seth. He admitted it, much to his sister's chagrin. I actually found the whole thing entertaining as hell, but when they'd start guessing where Victoria's head was and what Annabeth was doing with it, I'd quickly become sick and leave the room. Finally, when our next trip to Volterra was only two or three days away, Alice and Peter called a family meeting.
"Jasper, I know you had a different plan in mind, but you need to propose to Bella now," Alice began bluntly. So much for surprise and romanticism. Very unlike Alice. Maybe something bad had happened when she gave Irwin some of my blood a couple days before.
"No, Bella. I gave that to Irwin with strict instructions not to drink it until the night before your wedding and your change." Alice obviously saw what I was going to ask.
"Alice, what's going on?" Esme asked, "What have you and Peter seen?"
"The only way to keep our legs from bein' cut from under us before the real fightin' even starts," Peter growled indignantly.
"The only thing Aro likes more than getting his way is getting his way faster, and on a grander scale," Alice said grimly. "Unfortunately, for the safety of everyone involved, all our original plans have to change. The fact that Bella's gifts are bloodborne changes everything."
"Because of what happened with Edward, Aro more than likely knows that already," Eleazar commented.
"Yes, but he doesn't know we've figured that out yet," Alice countered, "and he doesn't know that she already freed you, and that Irwin will soon be completely free as well."
"Soon?" I asked, "Just how soon are we talking about?"
Alice flinched. She actually flinched and stepped back and to the side, so she was slightly behind Peter. "A couple weeks," she squeaked out.
"What?!" I growled, jumping to my feet. "No offense, Jasper," I told him in a brief aside. "My answer is yes. Of course I want to marry you, but so fast…" I turned back to Alice and Peter. "What about graduating first, making my disappearance less suspicious? We knew we'd eventually have to fake my death, especially with Charlie being a cop, so he wouldn't get suspicious and start snooping around, but we were supposed to have more time together. I was going to call him for a while after leaving, gradually decreasing the frequency of my calls. I wanted to soften the blow!" I growled again, kicking my chair aside in my rage, not expecting it to go flying through the nearest window. I closed my eyes in humiliation and frustration. I was right. The Volturi already had their strings around us, and I could almost feel them tightening, one tightening around my neck like a noose.
"Aro's at his most dangerous when he's afraid," Eleazar commented again, the shadows in his eyes only making the noose feel tighter, almost to the point of choking me. "A bloodborne shield within Volterra could spell disaster for him. I'm sure he's very afraid right now."
"But the threat he fears only exists while blood still runs in her veins," Peter said gravely. "Moving up the time of her change will ease his fears, and maskin' the fact that we're doin' it against our will by combining it with a lavish wedding will further appease him, and that'll buy us a little more time to prepare for the inevitable fight."
"Most religious vampires are pagan," Alice explained, "and one of the most significant pagan holidays, Beltane, falls on the first of May in the northern hemisphere. It will be the cherry on top for Aro. He'll invite vampires from all over the world to celebrate Beltane in Volterra with the wedding and changing of a human Saturno, possibly the last of her kind. You'll hate just about every bit of the spectacle, Bella, but Aro will love it, and the short notice will keep him and every other vampire in Volterra so busy that it won't even cross his mind to read any of us for signs of deception or rebellion."
"We still have one obligatory visit to pay before then," I reminded her, "in just a couple days. Was it not just proven to us that things can go disastrously wrong in two days?"
"Only you, Jasper, Peter, and Char will go this time," Alice said decisively and confidently.
"Frankly, it was stupid of all of you to go with Bella every time," Peter said bluntly. "Your contract says only Bella has to come, but all who choose to come with her are bound to the grounds for the full forty-eight hours. Y'all know how suddenly the pixie's visions can change. I know y'all wanted Bella to feel safe and supported, but part of supportin' her is makin' sure her territory is secure." Peter looked directly at Jasper before finishing his little rant with, "Really, Major, I know our mates make us crazy sometimes, but what were you thinkin'?" Jasper growled softly, but he looked embarrassed. I loosed a louder growl at Peter and he raised his hands in surrender, though he rolled his eyes while doing so.
"After what happened during our last visit, no one will find it suspicious when the majority of us stay behind," Alice assured everyone. She actually cracked a small smile before adding, "And sending only Jasper, Peter, and Char guarantees our plans won't be exposed too soon." Peter and Charlotte chuckled lightly, and Jasper cracked a small, smug smile beside me. I elbowed him lightly.
"Wanna let me in on the joke?" I grumbled.
"Aro never tries to read my mind because he's afraid of what he'll see, not because he knows you'll instinctively shield me," Jasper said, laughing mirthlessly. "For such an evil bastard, he's just as disconcerted by our scars as almost everyone else. He likes to believe he's the most powerful and dangerous vampire around, so he's not too eager to see what Peter, Char, and I are capable of. He saw some of it when he read Edward's mind. He doesn't want to see the extended version."
"He's afraid of you," I rephrased his response. He nodded once, still radiating dark confidence. "If Aro's at his most dangerous when he's afraid, isn't that a bad thing?" I asked anxiously. Jasper's smile softened and the dark glint in his eyes disappeared, but I still felt his confidence when he pulled me down onto his lap and wrapped me in his arms.
"Not when he knows you and I are a package deal. He knows playing the rules-with-an-iron-fist card and killing Edward destroyed the good and fair ruler façade he was trying to lure you in with. This is puppetry and a chess match, and he knows he has to plan his moves as carefully as we do. Even while you're still human, we're the second largest and strongest coven in the vampire world now, and not easily trifled with. He wants you too much to do anything too drastic again, not yet. He has to do damage control first and lure you back in. I know you feel his strings tuggin' at you, but he's only got us in check. As long as we play our next moves carefully, we can survive in check for a long time."
"A stalemate," I offered, remembering my one chess match with Jasper that didn't end with me outright losing. It ended in a stalemate.
"Yeah, but this isn't a game that can be ended by a stalemate," Jasper said gravely. "This is a death match; we're playing for checkmate. Since we're the ones cornered right now, we just have to prolong the stalemate as long as we can and hope they slip up before we do."
"That… That doesn't inspire much confidence, Major," I said shakily.
I yelped when Jasper suddenly stood, picking me up and running outside with me. He ran for a good ten minutes, stopping several miles from the house, in the middle of the woods. He set me down gently, and he slowly pushed me back against a broad tree before leaning in close, his right cheek grazing my left. "There'll always be bad days, when the pain hurts a little too much, or when the guilt cuts a little too deep," he softly repeated Peter's words, his cool breath fanning across my cheek and ear, "but your true mate will carry you through it and remind you that their love is just as permanent." Jasper placed a light kiss on the spot where my cheek met my ear, and chills ran up and down my spine. "Excellent wretch," he quoted, the latter word not insulting but compassionate, "perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again." Jasper was projecting nothing, but the depth of emotion prevalent in his mellifluous words alone made my knees quiver. That said, I decided I needed to put an end to the Othello references. It really took quite a bit of effort on my part, but I shook my head and made myself push Jasper away a little.
"No," I said as firmly as I could, but Jasper had started projecting, and though he was careful to hold back a little, the love and lust washing over me had me clutching at the tree I was pinned against for more support. "No," I said again, and he eased up on the projection. I could think coherently again. "I'm not Juliet to Edward's Romeo. I'm not Desdemona to your Othello. While those are both great love stories, they're also tragedies, and after spending more time fighting for their love than enjoying it, in both stories the star-crossed lovers die in the end. I refuse to accept that. That won't be us. Though our respective dark times have been extremely different, I'm just beginning to see that I've dwelt in my darkness too long, clung to it even, but no more. Not now that I have my true mate with me. I don't want to be Juliet or Desdemona. I want to be Helena or Rosalind. I want to be like one of those strong, self-aware women who defied the odds and found happiness with their loves. I'm seeing things in a different light now, and I no longer see romanticism in sacrifice and following each other in death. I want to live with my love. Peter only sees the inevitable, and he sees us happy together. We can't know if that happiness will be short-lived or eternal, but we'll fight for the latter, because we're inevitable. Every step we've taken has drawn us together, so we are not star-crossed. We'll face any trials ahead of us and we'll carry each other through. We will not look at the bad hand we've been dealt, curse the fates for dooming us, and give up." It was not the noose around my neck that strangled me, but my own emotions that cut off my voice and left me gasping for breath. Jasper smiled softly and closed the distance between us again, kissing away the venomous tears sliding down my face.
"The object and the pleasure of mine eye," Jasper quoted A Midsummer Night's Dream, "is only Helena." This time, Jasper's lips crashed into mine in a hard, passionate kiss. The impact crushed me into the rough bark of the old oak behind me and I felt a slight sting on my back, but I returned the kiss with equal fervor, entangling my fingers in Jasper's windblown hair, ignoring the small pain. Jasper could not ignore it so easily. His nostrils flared, his eyes turned smoldering black, and he loosed a wild, unrestrained growl. I was bleeding. I could just barely feel the trickle of wetness below my left shoulder blade.
"Take it," I gasped, unafraid. "Jasper, Major, take it! I trust you, and it will heal you and protect you. I love you." Another feral growl ripped from Jasper's chest and he kissed me harshly and heatedly, the whites of his eyes beginning to darken. Jasper, Major, Othello, Demetrius, names meant nothing. All were one, and that one was mine, my true mate and my true love, now and forever. In one swift move, he ripped my shirt from my body, but his touch was gentle, even reverent, as he took my shoulders and turned me around.
"You trust me with the elixir of your life and all the power it bears," my love whispered reverently indeed. He unclasped my bra and I let it fall down my arms. When his cool tongue caught the drop of blood running down my back, I gasped and braced my hands against the tree I faced. He moved slowly upward, lapping away the small trail of blood until he reached the small scratch from which it came. As Eleazar had done much less intimately, Jasper lightly grazed the clotting cut with his teeth, coaxing a little more blood from the wound. His cool lips encircled the source of the sting I felt, and he gently sucked at my heated skin, the sensation making me moan.
"Jasper," I breathed, rising up on my toes and bending forward slightly at the waist, giving him easier access. He growled again, but he only took a couple more mouthfuls. I heard more fabric falling, and I was distracted by speckles of pink and gold light dancing across my skin and illuminating the wonderfully textured bark above my head. I turned to face Jasper and found him stripped completely bare before me. The sun was setting and the clouds had parted. The captivating colors of the sunset shattered off his scarred skin and illuminated my skin, making my own scars sparkle. I kicked off my shoes and pulled off my socks, then I unbuttoned my jeans and pushed them down, catching my lacy boyshorts as I went and stripping myself of them, too. Jasper took me in his arms as soon as I kicked the denim and lace aside.
"You are so beautiful," he said softly. His eyes were still Major-black and his accent was thicker, his tone deeper. Still, I just saw Jasper, and his beauty nearly brought me to tears. He gripped the backs of my thighs and lifted me, and I automatically wrapped my legs around his waist and braced my hands on his scar-textured shoulders. I closed the gap between our faces and kissed his lips softly.
"We're beautiful together," I said against his lips, barely and only briefly breaking our tender, loving kiss. I licked his full lower lip and he opened for me, letting me taste the sweetness inside his mouth while he shifted my hips until I felt the tip of his hard length press against my wet and ready entrance.
"I love you, Bella," he said, and he pulled my hips down and thrust his hips upward, sheathing himself in me to the hilt in one swift move.
"Jasper!" This time I screamed his name. "Major!" I cried out in ecstasy as he quickly set a hard, fast pace. I ran my fingernails firmly across his upper back and across the base of his neck, eliciting a groan from him that turned into a loud growl when I tilted my head down and lightly bit the side of his neck. He lightly grazed my neck with his teeth and pulled out of me, setting me back on my feet and turning me around again. He gently pushed me down and forward until I was on all fours before him. I heard and felt him kneel behind me, and I felt his cool shaft align with my entrance again.
"Bella!" He roared as he took me from behind, drowning out my gasps and moans of pleasure. His thrusts were slower now, but harder and deeper. He reached around me and began playing with my clit and I came hard. His pace remained steady, and he continued teasing my most sensitive spot with his fingers, and my screams of pleasure turned to whimpers. It was almost too much. Still buried deep inside me, he pulled me up by my shoulders, so I was straddling his thighs where he knelt, my back pressed against his chest. His hands moved up to lightly fondle my small breasts.
"Jasper," I whimpered again. "Too much. You finish." I rose up on my knees and slid back down his shaft. Jasper groaned, grabbed my hips, and lifted me up again. He pulled me back down roughly and growled at the feeling. The vibrations sent me over the edge again and my inner muscles clamped down on him hard. After a few more frantic thrusts, he came with me, growling my name once more. He gently slid out of me and I sprawled out across a patch of soft, young grass, utterly spent.
It took me a moment to realize Jasper was nowhere to be seen, but when I did notice, I didn't worry. A strange tugging sensation in my chest told me he was still close. A couple minutes later, he emerged from the surrounding trees, still in all his sparkling naked glory, carrying a dead fox. "Thank you for your life and blood, may you find peace in death," I murmured the blessing I'd come up with the day I fed from that first lion.
"Thank you for your life and blood, may you find peace in death," Jasper echoed, nodding to the fox in gratitude. He liked my way of hunting. So did the rest of our vegetarian family. They all thanked their kills for sustaining them now.
Though the fox was small, Jasper and I still shared it. We found feeding from the same animal highly intimate and erotic. By the time we were done, he was visibly ready for round two. I laughed at him and picked up the dry fox, carrying it over to a thick cluster of ferns and easing its body under the sheltering leaves, petting the little animal once more in gratitude and blinking back a couple tears that tried to escape. Jasper walked over and kissed away a single tear that did slip by, then he kissed my lips softly and pulled me away from the fox, guiding me back to that soft patch of grass.
"I just thought of something," I giggled as we stretched out across the fragrant spring blades.
"What?" Jasper asked, grinning widely as my lust-laced humor washed over him. His eyes were amber and white again, all traces of the Major gone.
"I'm actively changing because I am still getting small doses of venom," I said, wiggling my hips suggestively. Jasper blinked, and then he burst out laughing.
"I hadn't thought of it that way," he laughed, "but you're probably right. Vampires have been having sex with humans for a thousand years, but sex is usually followed by a bite, either changing the human or making a meal of them. Tanya, Kate, and Irina are the only other exceptions I know of, and the humans they've been with haven't been bitten beforehand. You were bitten six times while you were still a virgin, and now you're probably absorbing small amounts of venom from my saliva and seed, so to speak."
"I'm guessing I get larger doses when I give you oral," I commented casually, as if I was talking about the weather. Jasper groaned. Smiling mischievously, I crawled over to Jasper and straddled his waist, sitting well above where he so clearly wanted me. "By the way," I murmured, batting my eyelashes seductively and tapping my left shoulder with my fingertips, "do I taste as good as I smell?"
Jasper didn't answer with words, but he growled hungrily and pulled me in for another searing kiss.
A/N: So, who do you think got the best monologue in this chapter? Were you moved by Jasper's explanation of the birth of his Major persona? Did Peter's speech about mates tug at your heart strings? Or did Bella's long Shakespearean analogy make you want to applaud our grown up heroine?