Chapter 11 – The Best Laid Plans
The growl emanating from Rosalie startled me out of my protective cocoon. "That bastard!" she snarled, leaping off the couch in one graceful bound and storming towards the small table just inside the front door, her beautiful face distorted by anger.
"Rose, dear, let's not do anything rash. Please, try to think of Bella," Esme said, pulling me tighter into her side.
"I am thinking about Bella," Rose snapped, roughly yanking open one of the table's drawers. She started snatching items out of the drawer and slapping them down onto the table top. From within my fog, I was mildly surprised she hadn't broken anything yet. "I'm not going to let him get away with this," she muttered angrily, sorting through a pile of IDs and pulling out several.
"Rosalie," Jasper said, taking a step towards her, his hands held up. "Just take a breath, this isn't about—"
"Look at her!" she said, cutting him off. "Really look at her. Who does that remind you of?"
The room went silent, and I felt Esme exchange a worried glance with Carlisle over the top of my head.
"He lied to her, betrayed her, abandoned her, and left her to die," Rosalie continued. "And I am not going to let him get away with it. I'm going to bring him home and make him face what he's done."
Somewhere deep inside, buried beneath all my walls and stifled by the emotional blanket Jasper had woven for me, I wanted to argue with her, to tell her not to go, not to disrupt the family further on my account. But I couldn't seem to find the will to speak.
"Rosalie, please, we need to talk about this," Carlisle said from his seat on my right. His voice sounded sad and tired.
"I'm sorry, I can't," she said, shaking her head and gathering up the IDs and credit cards she had laid on the table. "I can't just sit here and talk, I have to do something. I'm sorry, Bella," she added quietly, then slipped out the front door and closed it behind her.
Emmett stood, shrugging. "I'll go with her, keep her from doing anything too crazy. But I can't say I disagree with her," he said, then followed Rose out the door.
The room suddenly felt too big, with just the five of us left, and everyone was silent for a long moment. Finally, Carlisle sighed. "Alice?" he asked.
She looked up at him, her tiny face sad, and I watched as her eyes unfocused and refocused quickly. She shrugged and shook her head, then looked away again.
"And yet I have to try anyway," Carlisle said, standing, his tone at once resigned and rueful. "Esme, would you do me the honor?"
"Of course, my love," she replied softly. "Bella, will you be alright for a few minutes?" she asked me. I nodded in response and shifted away from her slightly so she could stand. Together she and Carlisle climbed the stairs silently, hand in hand. A moment later I heard the door to Carlisle's office close. The living room grew exponentially.
Alice stood and crossed the room slowly, coming to sit beside me on the couch. I wanted to ask her what Carlisle intended to do, but I couldn't seem to find my voice.
"They're going to call Edward," she said quietly, answering the question I wanted to ask, and curled into my side with her head on my shoulder. "Don't worry, he won't answer. Carlisle just wants to make the effort, again. I didn't tell you before, because I thought it would upset you, but he never answers our calls."
"What was all that talk about calling him earlier, then?" I whispered, resting my head on top of hers. My throat felt dry, though I couldn't decide if it was because I needed to hunt, or because of the emotional marathon I had just run.
"We would have to do something to get him to call us back," she clarified. "The question was if we should try to contact him at all, or wait for you to tell us you were ready." She sighed, her thin frame shuddering. "I've made a terrible mess of this," she whispered, hiding against my shoulder; out of the corner of my eye I saw Jasper circle around behind us in a slow arc, and I could feel the calmness seeping out of him. "I was so distracted after your birthday, I missed what he planned – I missed the obvious. And his lie was not only believable, it was also just the right kind of hurtful to make me not question it."
I flinched. Just the right kind of hurtful. I pushed the thought away.
"He told me you wanted a clean break – from me, from all of us," she continued, her voice muffled against the fabric of my sweater.
"He told me he convinced you a clean break would be best for me," I whispered in reply. Somehow it was comforting to know that Edward had lied about why Alice hadn't said goodbye.
She made a strange little hiccupping noise, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "He made me promise not to contact you, not to look for your future, to give you space. When you showed up in Denali I was so happy to see you, so thrilled that you had changed your mind, that you wanted to be friends again. I thought you blamed me for what happened…"
I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, pulling her close to me. "It isn't your fault, Alice," I whispered back. The love and support flowing out of Jasper was like a physical presence. "And the last thing I ever wanted was to be separated from you."
She hugged me back fiercely. Outside, the sun was rising behind the clouds. I wondered where the night had gone.
Rosalie and Emmett returned shortly before noon, going straight into the garage. Emmett left again soon after, but from the noises coming from the garage I could tell Rosalie was working on something. Carlisle and Esme had retired to their room after their failed attempt to call Edward, and Jasper had taken over comforting Alice when I had run out of ways to tell her she wasn't to blame, so I was feeling decidedly useless when I finally ventured out to the garage to see what Rosalie's version of doing something had turned out to be.
To my unending surprise, I found her lying on the floor, half under my truck. She was wearing coveralls but no shoes, the bright red of her toenail polish making the truck look even more faded and rusty than usual.
"What are you doing to my truck?" I blurted out, more than a little alarmed.
She slid out from under the carriage, a bland look on her oil-smudged face. "I'm fixing it," she said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
I blinked at her, dumbfounded. "But isn't that the engine? Over there on the floor?" I asked, pointing.
"Wow Bella, I wouldn't have pegged you for a girl who could identify an engine block," she said, grabbing a wrench from her toolbox and sliding back under the truck.
"How can it be fixed without an engine?"
"That hunk of scrap metal can hardly be called an engine. By fixing it, I meant I replaced the engine with a 383. Duh." She slid out from under the truck again, sitting up to wipe her hands on a rag. "I had half a mind to take the engine out of Edward's Aston Martin and put it in the truck," she continued, "and stash that piece of junk under the hood of the Martin. Would serve him right. But it would be such an insult to the car itself I couldn't bring myself to do it."
I shook my head, amazed again at Rosalie's new attitude towards me. "What's that?" I asked, nodding towards what looked like an old painter's van parked haphazardly behind my truck.
"That," Rosalie said, already sounding proud of herself, "is our kidnap-mobile. I'm completely rebuilding it, put a 383 in it as well. I sent Emmett out for a few parts I'm missing, but once I'm done it's going to be great. Not much to look at, I admit, but we'll blend in better that way."
"Kidnap-mobile?" I repeated, my stomach clenching. I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
"You really think he's just going to come back on his own?" she asked, giving me a piercing look. "Maybe Carlisle or Alice will be able to talk him into coming home, but just in case – kidnapping is always a good backup plan."
"You mean… Go get him?" I whispered, the words sticking in my throat.
She shrugged. "Emmett thinks if we can get him to answer his phone, we can use the signal to figure out where he is. So if he won't come home on his own, we'll go to him and make him come home. I meant what I said – he needs to get back here and face what he's done."
"And then what?" I breathed, the chasm of my chest echoing hollowly.
"And then… That's up to you." She shook her head almost angrily, staring off into a far corner of the garage. "Look," she said suddenly, sighing and toying with a wrench. She didn't meet my eyes as she spoke. "You know that all I want is to track him down and kick his butt for the next decade, right? But Emmett keeps reminding me that you aren't me, and Emmett is usually right." She sighed again.
"I killed them, you know," she continued a moment later, her voice quiet. "My fiancé and his friends, the men who attacked me. They're the only humans I've ever killed, and I think it's the one thing that let me get over him, get over what he did to me. And I can't help but think violence would help you, too."
She stood and paced away, wiping her hands on the rag again, more for something to do than out of necessity.
"I'm going to bring him back, for you and Emmett and Esme and Carlisle," she said then, staring out the open garage door into the steady drizzle. "But if you say no butt kicking, then I can respect that, no butt kicking. But just say the word, Bella."
"I don't want to hurt him," I said slowly, not quite sure how to respond.
Rosalie's mouth set into a tight line, and I could tell she disagreed with me. "Do you love him?" she asked.
My answer was immediate, but I couldn't find a way past the pain to say it out loud. I opened my mouth but no sound came.
"Don't think about it," she said, mistaking my silence for indecision. "Don't think about before, or what it would be like if he was here. Just right now, right this instant, do you love him?"
"Yes," I whispered, wrapping my arms around my chest.
She watched me for a long moment before nodding. "Then it's worth it. Whatever it takes to get him back here, however much it hurts, it's worth it."
After my conversations with Alice and Rosalie, I practically had to physically drag myself back into the house. The living room was empty – cavernous and huge and everything I had feared it would be when I couldn't bring myself to look in the window six weeks ago – as Carlisle, Esme, Alice, and Jasper carried out their mourning and comforting in private. I fled to my room, Rosalie's words still ringing in my ears, but at the top of the stairs I somehow turned right instead of left, my feet taking my unwilling body to the closed door at the end of the hall.
I stopped just outside, my fingertips grazing the doorframe. I knew the room beyond the door better than any other room in the house, though in my mind's eye it was blurry and indistinct, like a watercolor painting left out in the rain, gold carpet and black sofa and huge windows bleeding into each other.
What would it look like, if I just turned the door handle and pushed? What details had I never noticed before, or forgotten across five and a half months and my own death? How had he left the room, when he left? As messy and lived-in as always, or in careful neatness, as he'd been with me that last week? Did he box his things up for Esme? Was there anything worth taking with him, when neither I nor his family could tie him to this place?
Some part of my mind, I realized, believed that he was really just beyond the door, locked away like a time capsule. If I opened the door he would be there, stretched out on the sofa, listening to music and scribbling in a journal. He would smile at me as I walked in, like nothing had ever happened, like my life hadn't fallen apart. If I opened the door I could step through and it would be six months ago, and he would love me again. If I just opened the door…
The metal of the door handle under my palm shocked me out of my thoughts. I turned on my heel and fled back down the hallway to the safety of my own room.
The house seemed to come alive again when Emmett returned, his presence drawing us each out of our private pains and silently reminding us that the strength of a family is in each other. But even as we gathered, seven vampires trickling in from various corners of the house, the living room felt too big to me – too wide, and the faces too few and too somber. The others must have felt it as well, because Jasper calmly led us into the dining room before announcing it was time to devise a plan.
"A plan?" Esme repeated, the fragile hope on her face making my stomach twist.
"Given what Bella told us last night," Jasper said, and even without the way his gaze flickered quickly to mine and away again, I knew he was monitoring my emotions closely, "I think we can all agree that simply calling Edward, or convincing him to call us, isn't going to solve the problem. Nor is he likely to attempt to fix this on his own. Which leaves us with only one option: bringing him home by force."
Carlisle's golden eyes looked up from the table top finally. "There must be another option," he said softly, his words heavy with heartbreak. "We must at least give him the chance to right this himself."
"We'll give him the chance," Emmett said before Jasper could reply. "But in the off-case he doesn't do right by Bella, we'll have a plan ready to execute." Emmett's tone was mild, almost his normal joking self, but the threatening undercurrent in his voice sent a shiver down my spine.
"What do you propose?" Carlisle asked, sighing.
Emmett shrugged nonchalantly. "If we can get him on the phone, I can track his cell phone signal and figure out where he is – at least down to the city, give us an idea of which haystack to look in. Rose and I bought a van this morning, so if Edward won't come home on his own, we take the van to wherever he is, ambush him, stick him in the van, and bring him home. Easy." He shrugged again.
Everyone was silent for a long moment. "And if he chooses to come home of his own accord?" Esme asked softly.
"Then I'll be first in line to drive you to the airport to pick him up," Emmett replied, smiling at her fondly.
"How will we get him to answer his phone?" Carlisle asked, his voice still subdued.
"I might be able to get a good enough trace if he listens to his voice mail," Emmett said. "If not, I figured Alice might be able to see what we should do to get him to call us."
In the seat to my left, Alice sighed. "I'll have to try several scenarios, figure out what message to leave to get him to call us," she said, a shadow of her normal exuberant self.
I could feel myself folding inward, tensing and trying to become smaller, and I kept my emotional shield open by willpower alone. I had done so much damage to this family, so much disrupted on my account.
"We need to do as much planning and preparation as possible before we call him," Jasper said, drawing attention back to himself in the easy way of a born leader. "Once we have the trace on his location, we'll need to move relatively quickly, so we don't lose his trail. Rosalie, how long will the van take to complete?"
On my other side, Rose shrugged. "I need to completely rebuild it – what's in there is crap. But I have all the pieces now, so it's just an issue of putting it all together. I could be done by late tomorrow, if Emmett helps me and we work straight through."
"Of course, babe," Emmett grinned at her, squeezing her knee, his expression at odds with our treacherous plans.
"But even once it's done," she added, "We're not going to want to use it for long distance travel. So unless he's been hiding here in Washington the whole time, we're probably going to want to transport the van closer to wherever he is."
Wherever he is. I swallowed the thought in white noise, my arms coming up to wrap around my chest automatically.
Across the table, Jasper was nodding. "Esme?" he asked, turning towards her.
She looked up at him, her face paler than normal. "My pilots license is still valid," she said in a small voice. "I could arrange for a cargo plane, I would just need the weight of the van and our destination." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "There must be another way," she said, her eyes still closed. "I can't believe we're seriously considering kidnapping him."
Carlisle took her hand as Jasper touched her shoulder gently. "If there was any other way," Jasper said, "anything else we could do to bring him home and right this mess, we would do it in a heartbeat. But he's left us no choice."
No choice, no way to right this. I shook my head and added another layer to my mental defenses, all the while fighting to stay connected to the present. The tendons in my arms felt like tightly coiled springs.
"The missing piece still seems to be: exactly where are we going?" Rosalie said after a moment. "Alice, can you give us a rough idea—"
"No," Alice cut her off, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose in a gesture that reminded me intensely of her brother.
Rosalie's expression grew haughty, her upper lip curling slightly. "But you had a vision just last night!" she protested. "Can't you see—"
"I saw him here," Alice interrupted her again. "I saw him come to Forks, I didn't see a thing about where he is now."
"I can't see what came before, only what comes next!" Alice snapped, finally losing her cool. "He's in an attic, I have no idea where, and he has no intention of moving anytime soon, so I can't get any read on where he is!"
A dull roar filled my ears, drowning out Rosalie's snarled response, Jasper's impassioned defense of one point or another, Carlisle's attempt to bring some sort of order to our suddenly chaotic family.
I couldn't listen to this anymore. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and sing at the top of my voice. I wanted to hit something. I wanted to break something.
The others were caught up in the conversation, even Carlisle and Esme joining in as Rosalie and Alice leaned over the table, waving their arms as they said things I refused to make any sense out of. Everyone except Emmett. Emmett had leaned his chair against the wall, balancing on the back two legs as he listened with a detached look on his face.
"Emmett," I whispered, my voice harsh and desperate. He looked up at me; no one else seemed to notice. "I need to break something, very badly. Get me out of here."
The corner of his mouth twitched but he stood from his chair with a silence and grace that still surprised me. We were out the back door before anyone noticed.
Outside, I stood rigidly, my hands balling into fists and then opening into claws repeatedly. Every fiber in my body was tight, every nerve ending sang with a tension that I knew could only be released by violence. I can't help but think violence would help you, too.
Emmett gave me an appraising look, then looked out across the river. "See that tree there?" he asked, pointing. "The fir with all the crows in it?"
I looked and picked out the tree he meant. It was average height, blending into the forest behind it easily. There seemed to be a fairly open path between us and it. I nodded.
"Race me there," he said. His tone was casual, mild, as though he was completely unaffected by the tableau we had left behind in the house.
"Running, you mean?" I asked, my forehead crinkling.
"Yeah. Just run full out at the tree. You can jump over the river if you want. Don't go easy on me, I'm not going to hold back," he grinned.
I shrugged, feeling the tension in my muscles begging to be let out. "Just say when." I dropped into a crouch and Emmett followed suit.
He looked at me for one long moment, his grin wide and his eyes sparkling. "When," he said finally.
I took off as fast as I could manage, using all the pent up emotion to propel me forward. I reached the river in less than a second, and vaulted over to the other side in one smooth leap that would have surprised me, if I'd given it any thought. I landed easily on the other side and was running again instantly, the tree set firmly in the center of my vision. The crows cawed angrily at my approach and exploded into the air just as I reached the tree, angling slightly to the left of it. I reached out my right arm and swung myself around the tree and to a halt, hearing a satisfying crack emanate from the trunk.
Glancing around to see if Emmett had beaten me, I finally spotted him fifty yards away still, running straight at me. I jumped to the side lightly just as Emmett plowed into the tree at full speed. Another crack echoed through the forest, and as Emmett took two steps back, light on his feet like a prize fighter, the tree swayed, and then fell away from us into the forest, landing with another satisfying crash.
I laughed suddenly, a loud bark of a laugh, at the absurdity of it all. Emmett laughed his booming laugh and punched me on the shoulder, which neither hurt nor unbalanced me.
"Throwing boulders into cliff faces is more satisfying, but you really have to wait for a thunderstorm for that. But a tree falling in the forest…" He shrugged. "Too many and we'll upset Esme, but one here and there won't hurt." He gave me an appreciative look then. "You've definitely got some speed in you, baby sister. Enjoy that newborn strength while you can," he grinned, "and we'll have to try this again in a few years."
I grinned back at him in spite of myself, in spite of everything. I liked his new nickname for me more than I would ever, ever let on.
Emmett turned towards the north, still smiling, and lifted his nose to sniff the breeze. "The others can handle things without us a bit longer. While we're out here, let's grab lunch, shall we?"
When Emmett and I returned to the house an hour later, dirty but full, the others were still gathered around the dining room table, though they sounded significantly calmer than before. Emmett left his muddy boots in the kitchen and padded into the dining room, but I slipped upstairs for a change of clothes before rejoining them. I still hadn't perfected the art of not getting covered in blood while hunting; I wondered idly if Esme could show me how to get blood out of wool.
Jasper looked up at me as I entered the dining room, something like relief flickering across his face for the briefest of moments. I settled back into my seat beside Alice, trying to catch up with the sentence Emmett was in the middle of, wondering what I had missed.
Before I could piece it together, Jasper was shaking his head. "There has to be some other option," he said to Emmett. "There are six of us, we can overwhelm him—"
"With strength maybe, but speed? The six of us? No chance," Emmett replied. "Besides which, he'll hear us coming. I'm telling you, this is the only way that makes sense."
"I will not allow—" Jasper started angrily, then stopped suddenly, glancing across the table at me. His gaze cut quickly to Alice and I followed, just in time to see the series of expressions that danced across her face: confusion, then the unfocused blankness of a vision, and finally a slow, wondering smile. She blinked and the expression was gone, replaced by a sympathetic twist to her lips.
"She'll be fine, Jazz," she said softly. The entire exchange had happened so quickly that I wasn't sure any of the others had caught it.
I looked from Alice to Jasper and then around at Emmett. "What are we talking about?" I asked.
"The exact method of kidnapping," Emmett replied, as off-handedly as though we were discussing strategies for a video game, and not what could very well be the point around which the rest of my life hinged. "Jasper seems to favor the brute-force approach, and usually I'd be right there with him. But having just gotten my ass kicked in a foot race and then watched you take down a bear five times your size, I think he's overlooking a key chess piece here." He winked at me, then shrugged. "Besides, you're the only one our dear brother won't hear coming a mile away."
I gaped at him, my mouth forming a small O of shock.
"I'm not sure it's wise to send Bella after Edward alone," Carlisle interjected suddenly, his voice soft and worried.
I cringed, but Emmett just looked down the table at him, his expression still bland. "We can prepare her before we leave, and she's already proven she can handle being near humans. Alice will see any disasters ahead of time, so why the worry?"
Carlisle looked at me with an expression like he was seeking permission for something. "Bella, I've been thinking about your… fainting spells," he said hesitantly. "Given that this appears to be unique to you, I began to wonder if perhaps it could be caused by your gift, your shield. Eleazar theorized that your ability to resist humans, even as a newborn, could be a result of a segment of your shield blocking your body's desires from your mind. It seems possible to me, then, that under extreme distress your shield could attempt to protect your mind so completely that it actually cuts off motor control, causing you to collapse."
I nodded slowly, focusing on his theory rather than on Emmett's proposed plan. "It feels a bit like that," I said, carefully reviewing my crystal clear vampire memories of the times I had collapsed over the last few days, "like my legs just aren't there anymore."
And then the full weight of what Carlisle was saying hit me. Under extreme distress. Two days ago I had collapsed at the mere mention of Edward – what would seeing him, going after him, all alone, do to me?
I could feel the panic bubble rising out of my chest, the walls in my mind closing down and shutting everything else out. And then suddenly, it was like someone was hugging me, though no one in the room had moved. The feeling settled into the pit of my stomach, warming me from the inside out. Across from me, Jasper was watching me intently, his eyes like candle flames in his scarred face, and under the table Alice's hand found mine and squeezed.
"It won't matter," she said quietly, after a beat. She chewed her lip, then glanced up at me sidelong, her small face sad. "None of us would ask this of you if there were any other way, Bella. I don't want to put you through this, and I wish there was some way I could go with you. But you're the fastest and the strongest of us right now, and the only one who can sneak up on him. Jasper and I will monitor you, and if something should happen…" She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "Everything is still very hazy, but I can guarantee this: if something were to happen to you, if you collapsed, it would give us the opening we need to capture him while he's distracted." She sighed again and shook her head, clearly hating to plan strategy around the weaknesses of people she loved. "But you will be okay, I know it. We'll be with you, even from a distance, and none of us will let anything happen to you."
The silence that followed Alice's declaration was broken by the single sob that bubbled up out of Esme. "I can't do it," she said, shaking her head and clutching Carlisle's hand. "I can't sacrifice one child for another. I can't ask Bella to do this. I won't do it."
I stared at Esme for a long moment, watching as Carlisle comforted her in soft, whispered tones. I couldn't escape the thought that this was all because of me.
Without conscious intent, my gaze found Jasper's. What should I do? I flickered my shield at him in a silent plea.
It's your choice, he replied, tapping his fingertip on the polished wood of the table in quick, nearly silent bursts. I'm with you no matter what, he added half a second later, his gaze flickering away from me.
I nodded, looking past him, out the window behind his shoulder, at the fir trees marching away into the curtain of misty rain. They were unchanged, the same trees I had gazed out at in happier times, out the windows of this house that had held so much love. We were supposed to be the unchangeable ones, immortal stone brought to life, and yet the trees stood firm while a few months tore our lives apart…
"I'll bring him home to you, Esme," I whispered, knowing it was true as I spoke the words.
Alice gripped my hand, smiling slightly though sorrow still clouded her face. "This is the way," she said. "That decision is what will lead us all out of this mess, and lead you back to Edward."
I shook my head, closing my eyes against the familiar burn of absent tears. "There is no back, Alice. I can't do this for me, on the hope that somehow he'll want me now. But he should be here with you, not hiding somewhere waiting for the pesky human to move on with her life." I opened my eyes again, looking around at the pale, anxious faces watching me. "I'll bring him home to you. Just tell me what to do."