Disclaimer: The Twilight universe belongs to Stephenie Meyer.
A/N: Thank, as always, to Guardgirl12 and alybee, for the tremendous beta work and unbelievably fast turnaround. You guys are the best.
Chapter 8 – We Believe as We Tremble
The phone was taunting Bella. She wondered if she was feeling some shadow of what Jasper felt when he was waiting for word from Alice the last time she was in Italy. She couldn't take her eyes off the phone for more than a moment. She only let her eyes dart away for the span of a breath, for the brief moment it took to smile reassuringly at her daughter, to lean into Emmett when he hooked his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.
Neither of them had been exactly thrilled to let Edward and Rosalie go. Bella had kept her feelings quiet. She'd taken one look at Edward and knew she wouldn't be changing his mind. She knew he wanted to help Jasper, knew he felt responsible for Aro's awareness of Alice's power, knew he couldn't stand the thought of his best friend in danger. Bella felt all those things too.
But Bella going was entirely out of the question. Edward told them Aro's desire for Alice was only matched by his desire for Bella. She swallowed down a lump at the thought and Emmett squeezed her shoulders a little tighter.
His gaze was vacant, staring through the phone, his lips curving ever so often as if he was remembering some funny story, some happy memory. His curls were in disarray from fingers that had combed through them again and again. Bella wondered what he was thinking. He had protested when Rosalie said she was going, but once the decision was made, he'd been a rock. He didn't seem paralyzed by fear. She knew he was worried but she thought he seemed confident, steady in his belief that Rosalie would come home to him.
She leaned tighter into his side, wishing she had Jasper's ability. She wished she could steal from Emmett's confidence.
Jasper seemed to be steadfastly avoiding the phone. He'd inched it away from him, just two or three inches down Esme's prized dining room table. His fingers trailed on the smooth wood, his eyes trained on the table as he spelled out his thoughts with meandering lines. And then, as if his mind couldn't leave it alone, he'd push at the phone again, scooting it another two inches away.
They'd been silent since he told his story. They'd tried to plan at first, but they all knew that it was useless until they heard from the others. So they sat and stared at the phone. Seth had let himself into the house at some point, had taken in the sight of the assemblage in the dining room and inched in, keeping the vigil with everyone else.
They all jumped when the phone finally rang but Jasper just shoved at it, sending it closer to Esme, farther from him. Bella didn't fully understand his actions. She wondered if he was simply afraid of the answers the phone call would carry. What would he do if the Volturi had harmed Alice? What would he do if Alice's memory was gone for good, if their shared life had been wiped away in an instant? What would he do if the answers took his hope? Bella couldn't stop a shudder at the thought.
Esme pressed the speaker button on the phone and leaned forward, her voice trembling slightly. "Hello?"
"Esme," Edward said, sounding somehow breathless and relieved all at once. He always had a different tone when he was speaking to Esme, as if he had set aside the weight of the world in favor of simple comfort.
"Are you safe, Edward?" she asked, her voice still not fully steady.
"Yes. Yes, we're all fine. Eleazar is driving. We're trying to put some distance between us and Volterra." Smiles erupted all around the table. Carmen leaned her elbow on the smooth surface and dropped her face into her hand.
"Rosalie, Eleazar?" Esme glanced from Carmen to Emmett, seeming to know that they needed to hear their mates' voices.
"We're here, Esme," Rosalie said. Emmett let out a breath and Bella tried to remember if he had been breathing at all. She was startled to think that he had been holding that breath in the whole time, that the strength he was projecting was all for her and Nessie and Jasper.
"I'm here, too," Eleazar called. He sounded far away, the road noise a little louder, as if Edward was tilting the phone from the back seat. Carmen lifted her head, her smile wide and her lower lip trembling. She caught it in her teeth as Kate took her hand and clutched it tightly.
Bella felt somehow numb, somehow detached from the scene. She felt an unbelievable rush of relief knowing they were all alive, knowing that Edward was safe. But she knew him so well, she could hear the hitch in his voice, the frantic quality even through the softness with which he spoke to Esme.
Jasper must have heard it too. He leaned forward and cleared his throat. "Did you see her?" he asked quietly. His words were rushed as if he craved and feared the answer in equal measure.
"We saw her, Jasper," Edward said. "Rosalie even got to speak with her."
Bella watched a ghost of a smile flit across Jasper's face before he sobered and returned to drawing his patterns on the table. "Then what?" Jasper asked, his eyes still boring into the table. Bella knew what he was asking. Why the frantic tone? Why the breathlessness? Why the need for distance?
Edward knew too. There was a long pause before he spoke quietly. "They have Benjamin, too."
Bella felt her eyes widen, felt her stomach clench. "What?" she breathed.
"What do you mean?" Carlisle asked; his voice uncharacteristically sharp.
"Rosalie saw. She saw him."
There was a stunned silence as they all took in his words, as they all considered what they meant. Garrett leaned over Kate's chair, his hands firm on her shoulders, as if he was trying to hold onto her, as if Aro would come claim her power. "Rosalie saw him?" he asked. "What about Aro's thoughts?"
"He was being careful. He was thinking about Alice. I don't think we were supposed to find out about Benjamin."
"Was Tia there?" Kate asked. She lifted her free hand and wrapped it around one of Garrett's, squeezing gently, a wordless gesture of reassurance.
"I didn't see her," Rosalie said softly. "I only saw Benjamin for a moment. There was a girl behind him but she looked much younger than Tia."
Jasper swallowed, his eyes narrowed as if he was pulling up a memory. "Did she look about twelve or so? Curly blond hair?"
"Yes," Rosalie replied.
"She was with Jane and the others when they came for Alice."
Carlisle pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. "Eleazar, what about the new guard members?"
"I never saw the girl. I only saw the other, but I didn't need my power. Carlisle, it was Eion."
Carlisle lifted his head and opened his eyes. He glanced at Kate and then at Tanya with stunned expression. "Eion?" he asked with a gasp.
"Eion is back with the Volturi?" Tanya asked, sinking into one of the ornate chairs in the corner, as if her legs could no longer support her.
Bella wanted to ask who Eion was but Edward again spoke up. "Not willingly."
"Is Maggie – " Tanya asked haltingly, looking around as if she had already said too much. "Did they – do they know about her?"
"Yes," Edward said.
"Eion told me they figured everything out." Rosalie's voice was hesitant, as if she didn't understand the message she was delivering.
Carlisle's face was set into a deep scowl. He stood and paced. "You have to go tell Siobhan. Bring them all back here."
"What does Maggie have to do with anything?" Emmett asked. "And who is Eion?"
"He was in the guard when I was," Eleazar said. "He...he has a strong gift. He can imprison the mind, strip away memories and thoughts."
Carlisle sighed. "We should tell them everything, Eleazar. If Aro knows everything, what difference does it make now?"
There was a pause, as if Eleazar was considering the request. A shuffling noise took over the line and Bella imagined Edward handing Eleazar the phone. "You are right, Carlisle. You are right."
Jasper knew his brow was furrowed, that his fingers had long-since stilled on the table. Who was Eion? He slipped his hand into his pocket as he listened to Eleazar clear his throat. Jasper fingered the note from Alice, running his trembling fingers along the edges of the tightly folded slip of paper. Tell me about Maggie, he thought. Tell me what Maggie has to do with all of this.
"Like I said, Eion was in the guard when I was," Eleazar continued. "He and his brother. They had matching gifts but they were extremely rare, especially with their level of control. We used to call them 'keepers,' but really it's just a different kind of shield. Eion can separate the conscious mind from the subconscious. He can make it so that a person will follow simple orders blindly but their conscious mind is in the dark. The longer he uses his power on someone, the more likely they are to lose their mind entirely. They lose their memories and become a shell of themselves."
Jasper hissed and Eleazar paused. "Jasper," Edward said, "she's fighting it. Her mind is too strong this time. She won't lose herself again."
Carlisle kept pacing. "Tell them the rest, Eleazar. Tell them the whole story."
Eleazar swallowed audibly, perhaps hearing the tension in Carlisle's voice. "Eion and Malcolm, Eion's brother, were very important to Aro. They could turn anyone into a mindless tool. Chelsea could sever ties, but Eion and Malcolm could sever personalities and memories. They made sure that anyone that Aro wanted, no matter how strongly bonded they were or how opposed to the Volturi they were, would come willingly. When I left the Volturi, Eion left as well."
"Why?" Jasper asked.
"There is nothing enjoyable about his power. If Jane was normal, she'd see her power as a burden. Kate understands. When your power harms, when it can be used as a weapon, it is a tremendous responsibility."
Kate nodded knowingly. "I spoke to Eion some years after he left the guard. He said to never let anyone force me to use my power. He said that the honor of being in the guard warped his sensibilities."
"Eventually, his conscience forced him to leave," Eleazar explained. "But Aro was angered by his decision. Malcolm was different than Eion. He was harder, more accepting of his circumstances. There was never much kindness in Malcolm. But Eion was the opposite. He was so tormented over being forced to use his power. Aro tried to stop him, but his mind was made up."
"Aro let him leave?" Esme asked. Esme touched Carlisle's hand in a comforting gesture, stilling his pacing. He offered her a tense smile and settled in next to her, his hand wrapping around hers, his body leaning close as if the pacing had worn him out, as if he needed her to be the stronger party for just a moment.
"Aro still had Malcolm," Eleazar continued. "He wasn't happy but...that was enough. Eion moved around a lot. I saw him a few times when I still lived in Spain and he sometimes stayed with Siobhan and Liam in Ireland. A couple of years after he left the guard, he met Maggie. She was living a nomadic lifestyle at the time. They met by chance and were inseparable after that. They settled down together."
Bella drummed her fingers on the table, her eyebrow twitching once in confusion. "How did she end up with Siobhan?"
"Malcolm was killed in a battle. It's rare now for guard members to be killed but that was when the South was still particularly wild. They spent much of their time trying to calm things down and there was a certain amount of turnover in the guard. Aro wanted Eion. It wasn't safe for anyone to try to bring him back by force. He only needs minimal contact to use his power. But Aro sent out Demetri anyway, not to bring Eion back, but to find out if there was anything they could use as persuasion."
Jasper knew at once what happened next. He knew because he'd do the same, because Edward or Carlisle or Emmett would do the same. "Maggie was in danger," he muttered.
"Yes," Eleazar said simply. "They'd use her to get to him. They had to make a decision. He brought Maggie to Siobhan and Liam. Liam had objections. If Aro found out that Maggie was Eion's mate, they'd be in danger. But Siobhan couldn't turn them away. And then Eion disappeared."
"He left his mate?" Jacob asked, a hint of incredulity present in his voice.
"He stayed with us in Denali for a couple of nights about a decade ago," Tanya said. "He was different. Leaving Maggie had really taken its toll on him. He told me that as long as he knew she was alive, he could survive. They were trying to keep each other safe. They were a danger to each other. Maggie couldn't allow herself to be the reason Eion was taken back into the guard and Eion couldn't let Aro threaten Maggie."
Kate leaned her head back against Garrett's stomach. "Eion thought that maybe someday something would change. Maybe the Volturi would fall or maybe they would find another keeper. He just lived on hope."
"That's so sad," Esme whispered.
Jasper glanced at Bella. He watched as she stilled her tapping fingers, as she stared at the table with sad eyes. He wondered if she was remembering all of her dim human memories, all those times when Edward tried to push her into keeping her humanity. He had been willing to live without her then to keep her safe. He had been willing to let her go, to let her be happy and normal and alive.
Bella met Jasper's gaze and then glanced away, clearly saddened by her thoughts, by the knowledge that Maggie and Eion had lived for decades without their other half.
"Why have we never heard this story before?" Esme asked.
"There were so few of us that knew about Eion and Maggie. We tried to keep it just between us," Carlisle said.
"What if Aro had touched you?" Peter asked.
"That was always a danger to them, one they knew about but one that could not be helped. Until Nessie, I hadn't seen Aro in centuries." Carlisle turned to the phone. "Do you know how Aro found out?"
There was a pause before Edward spoke up softly. "I think it was me. When Maggie came to witness for Nessie, some of you had stray thoughts about her mate. I didn't think about it at the time with everything else that was going on but...Aro would have picked those thoughts out." There was another pause, longer this time. "It all happened so fast but...in the clearing, when you stepped forward and offered to let Aro touch you, Carlisle, Maggie cried out in her mind. It must have been so easy for Aro to see it all in my thoughts."
"Well," Carlisle said carefully, "Maggie knew the dangers when they agreed to come. Eion will know that this is no one's fault but the Volturi."
Jasper stared at the phone. "What else happened, Edward? What was Aro thinking about?"
"Like I said, Aro was being careful," Edward replied. "He was thinking about Alice, about how she walked into the clearing while you were hunting. He seemed to want to convince me that she went completely willingly. Caius on the other hand was seeing war. He thinks Aro made a mistake by taking Alice. Even he thinks Aro was out of line." He paused. "I don't know how you knew to send Rosalie, but it was smart."
"She made a joke and Alice laughed," Eleazar said. "I've seen Eion use his power a thousand times but I've never seen consciousness seep through like that."
Jasper could feel his lips curving in a real smile. Trust Alice to have a brain that refuses to be damaged, that refuses to lose its memories again.
"Aro was mad." Edward said. "He let his thoughts slip then. He thinks Eion's power is failing. He is worried that Caius is right, that he made a mistake. And then Rosalie asked to speak with Alice." He laughed lightly. "I think only Rosalie would demand something of Aro."
"I have no threatening powers," Rosalie said. "I figured it was worth a try."
"He wouldn't have let me or Eleazar see her alone," Edward agreed. "Not with my power and his ties to Eion."
Jasper cleared his throat. "Edward, could you still see her thoughts?"
"Yes." He paused. "They're – it was strange. She is thinking about you, just you really. But she can hear what is happening to her. She could hear Rosalie and her mind seemed to come back together for a moment when she laughed but...everything is separate and scattered. But it's all there. She's fighting it."
"It's remarkable," Eleazar muttered.
Jasper felt Esme grip his shoulder and he offered her a real grin. "How was she when you spoke to her, Rose?"
"She's okay. I got Eion to let her go for a few moments. She asked about you right away. She gave me a message for you. I can tell you everything later. One thing that I noticed is that she held out her hand so Eion would take it. It's like she is using his power for some reason."
Carlisle nodded. "She could have thoughts that would help Aro. As long as Eion has her, there is less of a chance."
"Rosalie," Kate said softly, "how long did it take for Alice to come back to herself?"
"Once Eion let her go, I'd say a minute."
"Remarkable," Eleazar said again.
"Is there anything else?" Carlisle asked.
"One last thing, Aro is going to send out Demetri," Edward answered. "Caius knows we will use the wolves if we start an uprising. Demetri is going to keep an eye on us."
"All right," Carlisle said.
Tanya stood from her chair and moved to stand next to Garrett. "The Volturi have Benjamin and Alice and Eion now. Does anyone believe that Benjamin would go willingly?"
"He wouldn't let Amun turn him into a weapon. Why would he let Aro?" Edward said.
Tanya nodded. "So three. Three so far. We know that Aro has asked Bella to join and Kate and Zafrina." She shook her head. "I have no faith in their leadership any longer."
"So now what?" Rosalie asked.
There was a pause before Carlisle leaned forward, his long fingers still clutching Esme's in a white-knuckled grip. "What choice do we have? Now we fight."
Rosalie listened as Edward instructed Carlisle to take the phone off speaker, as Carlisle gave Edward hasty instructions to get to Siobhan's, and as farewells were exchanged. Edward pressed the button to end the speaker portion of the call and held the phone out to Rose.
She took it from Edward's hand, lifted it to her ear with a small smile. "Jasper?"
"Hey Rose." His voice was light, infused with something akin to hope. He sounded as if a new determination had taken hold.
"You sound better."
"I feel a bit better. You did really well."
Rosalie couldn't help but widen her smile. She wasn't used to being praised for her stubbornness. She'd done nothing more than crack a joke and make a demand but it had helped so much, had given them the evidence they needed to gather the allies and stand up to the Volturi. She hoped that all thoughts of Jasper joining the guard were entirely forgotten.
"She's really okay, Jasper. Eion seems protective of her. She was completely unharmed. Her uh – her eyes were red."
There was a pause and a ragged puffing sound, as if he had been holding in a special breath for that one revelation. "That's not so surprising," he murmured, seemingly trying to convince himself more than her.
"No," she replied. "I had considered the possibility. She wanted me to tell you to stay strong and to listen to your own mind. She said I'd see her soon."
Rosalie could hear the smile in his voice when he spoke again. "Well, who are we to bet against Alice?"
"Time to get her back."
"Yes. Thanks Rose. Really. You did great."
"Anytime," she said. "Can you give the phone to Emmett now?"
Jasper called for Emmett and handed off the phone. He started to move back into the dining room, anxious to begin the planning, but his feet had other ideas. They carried him instead toward the staircase, his feet automatically carrying him to their bedroom.
He pushed open the door, leaning against the door frame, his toes barely over the threshold as he took it all in. His bag was settled just inside the door where he'd tossed it in and sealed the room again. The room was littered with relics of their shared history, with photos and gifts and things they'd bought together.
Everything in the room was carefully carried from house to house by Alice. He'd avoided coming in the room, certain it would make him sad, sure it would cause that now familiar ache to spread, to intensify.
Instead, his lips were curving as his eyes scanned the room. Their bed was dominant, a sea of fluffy bedding and pillows, a haven where they'd spent countless hours reading and drawing and talking and making love. The floppy little stuffed dog Jasper had won for Alice at a fair decades ago was sprawled over her pillow, melting over the edge, its stuffing long ago loosened. Jasper grinned as he moved to the bed, forgetting his reluctance to walk in, forgetting everything but the memories assaulting him.
He picked up the dog, his grin growing as it seemed to mold around his hand. She had a habit of twisting the toy between nervous fingers, of flopping onto the bed and resting her chin on it like a pillow. Jasper raised the stuffed animal to eye level and inhaled. It smelled familiar, like her shampoo and his soap and whatever laundry detergent Esme favored.
Jasper sank to the bed, his fingers still clutched around the floppy dog. He held it close for a moment, his eyes flitting over to the framed pictures on her bedside table. A picture of the whole family was settled next to a recent one of the two of them. It was a candid shot from Garrett and Kate's wedding. Alice's hair was straightened and silky, her dress a slinky grey number. She was laughing up at him, one hand wrapped around the lapel of his jacket, the other flat against his chest, smoothing his tie as he grinned down at her.
Her eyes were happy, filled with secrets and futures she'd share with him without hesitation. His smile turned soft as he felt some lightness in his chest, as he suddenly felt like he'd see that look again, that he'd pull her away from Eion and she'd be his Alice again.
His family and friends were downstairs, were planning her rescue and others would join. So many people would stand with him, would give him a chance to have more moments like the one in the picture.
Jasper stood, depositing the dog on the bed, trailing steady fingers over the edge of the frame. He crossed to her desk and opened her sketchpad. He flipped through drawing after drawing, stopping on the first blank page. Jasper reached for one of her Sharpies, thinking of the countless messages he'd written her when he was bored in class, thinking of the jokes and innuendo he'd scrawled into the margins of his notes when he knew she'd be watching. He usually wrote things to make her laugh, instructions for where to meet, ideas for hunting excursions.
But this time was different. He smoothed his hand over the paper and cleared his mind, put aside all planning, buried all thoughts of Jacob and Seth and the other wolves. He thought instead of this one intention, of the careful letters he would make on the crisp paper.
And then he wrote. As much for him as for her, he scrawled large, purposeful letters, feeling lighter, more determined with each stroke of the marker. When he was done, he stood back with a smile and capped the marker, straightening his back into military stiffness as he read the words again and again, not sure if she would be able to see them, not sure if it mattered. If nothing else, the words gave him strength. He dropped the marker onto the desk and stalked out the room, ready to plan, to get moving, to get her back.
Aro scowled as he touched Alice's hand, as he watched her lips curve at the vision. A pen was dragged across white paper. Words were forming with purposeful care. Each letter of the message made him scowl deeper, made her smile more.
I love you, Alice.
I'm coming for you.
Note: A longer chapter! Sorry for getting off schedule last week. I should be back on schedule from now on, barring any further unexpected emergencies. Thanks so much for all of your patience and kind words.
Thanks also to everyone who reviewed or put me or this story on your alerts or faves. I so so appreciate it.
New chapter on Thursday! Please review.