Chapter 15

After a real hunt (we snagged a few of those deer we had passed up,) and a hot shower, Jasper and I took separate activities out to the backyard. Jasper started rereading "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" while I resumed work on my sword.

One side was nearly clean, the smooth metal reflecting a distorted image of my face, set with a pleased expression, as I ran my hands up the length of the sword. As accomplished as I felt looking at the results of many, many hours of hard work, I sighed wistfully as I turned the blade over, looking at the opposite side that I had barely touched. In fact the only part that was clean was the lily that Dick had managed to reveal.

With another sigh I began the process of cleaning the blade.

I waxed, wiped, oiled, and scrubbed the sword over and over again. The tedious, repetitive action left my hands and wrists feeling numb. I carried on for hours, until I finally paused.

I frowned over the sword, tossing aside the filthy cloth, and stared down at the blade. The areas outside the two parallel raised grooves ("The fullers," I reminded myself,) that ran up the face of the sword were nearly clean. It was the area within the fullers that were proving to be such a challenge to clean.

I gently began picking at the thick coating of rust and grime that remained a few inches above the hilt, just next to the flower. Little by little I peeled away bits of filth, and inch by inch another flower, the same lily, a partially blossomed, star-like shape, revealed itself. Stems entwined, the lilies formed a garland up the blade.

I absentmindedly reached out for an oily cloth, resuming scrubbing over the lightest portions of dirt. I was more than halfway up the sword when I finally stopped, unable to ignore my curiosity.

"What is with all these flowers?" I asked aloud.

"Huh?" Jasper asked, looking up from his book.

"There are flowers all the way up this sword," I said, setting the sword aside.

"Interesting choice," Jasper said, craning his neck so he could get a better view of the sword sitting beside me. "Are those lilies?"

"Yep," I nodded. "I'm supposed to research its meaning," I said, looking down beside me and staring at the flowers.

"Aren't they supposed to have something to do with purity and innocence?" he suggested, leaning back.

"You don't think he gave me this sword because he thinks I'm pure and innocent, do you?" I asked with a frown. I didn't like the idea of Adrien thinking that. It brought back memories of being treated like I was made of glass. A stray memory of Edward cradling my hand carefully in his flashed across my mind's eye. I blinked and focused my eyes on Jasper.

Jasper snorted. "I doubt anyone would think that."

I narrowed my eyes.

His eyes widened for a moment, then began to dart around as he scrambled for words. "Err, I mean, uh, you know I bet Ciarán would let you borrow his laptop to research it more. I'm hardly an authority on flowers," he said hastily before disappearing behind his book.

I raised an eyebrow as he squirmed lower into the chair, staring resolutely at the pages.

"Yeah…I'll ask him," I said, rising. As I walked by him I nudged his chair playfully with my hip.

I heard him chuckle as I headed inside.

Upstairs I found Ciarán frowning over the cell phone in his hands.

"You alright?" I inquired.

"What?" he asked absentmindedly, tossing his phone away to the end of the bed. "Oh, yes, I'm fine."

I looked away, not feeling inclined to pry. I opened my mouth to ask him my favor, when he sighed loudly.

He glanced over at me. "You know sometimes I think she just likes to torture me," he said angrily.

I nodded, though I didn't really understand who or what he was talking about.

His phone buzzed again and he seized it with a great sigh. His lips moved as he read, until his head went back. He stared at the ceiling, growling. "No, I don't think, I know she likes to torture me."

"Who?" I asked finally.

Ciarán looked back, startled. "I would have thought they'd have told you by now."

My brow furrowed as I shook my head.

"Christ," he said, shaking his head before he leaned forward onto his elbows. After a moment his expression changed, his scowl replaced with a resigned look. "Well you might be the only person who doesn't think I'm completely idiotic."

I sat down on the long, cushioned bench, across from the bed, and waited for him to continue.

He met my eyes. "I'm seeing someone, but she uh, she isn't a vampire. Human," he said, looking down at the phone clutched in his hands.

Human? That was definitely interesting. I straightened up a little straighter. "Oh?"

"Yes; which, as you might gather from your own experience, is fraught with complications."

I gave a hollow laugh. "Just a few. Does she know about you?"

"Eventually she figured it out. I didn't really intend for this to happen, but after we'd been together for a several years, she made the decision to become one of us. Only things have recently gotten complicated, so now I don't think either of us know what's going to happen."

I nodded, knowing all too well. "Do you want to turn her?"

"Yes, it's what we both really wanted. But now she's not sure she's ready to give up everything about being human."

"If it helps any, having a choice doesn't mean you're not free of worries and questions, but there are a few things you have to be absolutely certain about before you decide to embrace this..." I trailed off before finishing, searching for the appropriate word, "existence."

"Mmm," he murmured, nodding, staring down into his hands.

"I thought having a choice was rare," I said, squinting at him.

"Well you've been reading the Archives. How many vampires gave their human lovers a choice?"

I thought back over all of the books I'd read. I was almost through the entire Archive. "One I can think of. Why is it so rare?" I asked, settling back against the wall.

"It's just not done. Cuts down on having the secret of our existence get out or having to kill someone if they refuse. I've actually known someone that's happened to, but she was only trying to build up numbers."

"I guess that makes sense." I waited for a moment before speaking again. "So, uh...what changed?" I fumbled.

He sighed. "Her mother is ill, cancer, and Abby's her only family. So basically it all depends on how fast she gets well," he glanced away, "Or doesn't. She'll decide then." His eyes searched the floor uncomfortably before meeting my eyes again. "Will she still remember she loves me after she's changed?" There was a tone of vulnerability in his voice, something I had never heard from him before.

I sucked on my teeth, staring down as I began talking to my kneecaps. "When I was changed I remember seeing two paths in front of me. The first was letting myself give into insanity from all of the pain. It was only because I remembered how much I loved Edward that I chose the second path, to remember who I was." I looked up and saw a look of relief on Ciarán's face. "I don't remember everything about my human life. There's a lot that's cloudy or sometimes completely gone. But the clearest parts are those that include him."

He nodded in confirmation.

We silently regarded each other for a few minutes.

His phone buzzed in his hands. He tore his gaze from me and looked down at the message. He chuckled before looking back up. "I think I'm going to grab some blood, see if I can get someone stumbling back on a walk of shame. Did you uh, come up here just to hear me bellyache about my love life, or did you need something?"

I smiled wryly. "Actually I wanted to ask if I could borrow your laptop. I need to get one of my own, but I want to research my sword."

"Yeah, sure," he said, reaching under his bedside table and pulling out his thin, silver computer. "Just don't look at my porn."

I chuckled.

"No seriously, it's on my desktop," he said, his face showing no hint of kidding as he stood up.

"Okay then," I replied with raised eyebrows. "That won't be a problem." I reached out and accepted it. "Thanks. I'll leave it on your bed when I'm done." I followed him out of the room, bade him goodbye, and headed into the bedroom I shared with Jasper.

I sat down in the window seat, flipped open the laptop, and waited as it booted up. I noted the folder labeled "Very Personal" on the desktop and could see a few tiny thumbnails on the front that I didn't care to examine too closely.

"I really need to get a laptop," I murmured as I opened an internet session and began to search.

One website went into great detail about the Greek mythology behind lilies, which were said to be created from the milk of Hera, after it was spilled upon the Earth. I didn't think that sounded very relevant. Another site expanded on Jasper's recollection of the flower being a symbol for purity and innocence. But Christianity had also associated it with the Trinity, in addition to assigning it as a symbol for countless saints—notably not Genevieve, which I thought for sure would be my answer. Then there were the differing associations that varied from culture to culture: Egypt, fertility; China, luck; France, the Divine rule of the king; American Indians, medicine and food. The list went on and on.

The more I researched, the more frustrated I became. I began keeping a list of words I started to see over and over again to see if there was a pattern: Purity, innocence, remembrance, transitioning, cleansing, motherhood, becoming, chastity, faith, were all on the list, all crossing multiple cultures.

After two hours of searching I shut the laptop, returned it to Ciarán's room, and trooped back downstairs, my list tucked into my back pocket.

Reflecting on all of it, I didn't feel any closer to an answer. Taking a brief inventory of the house told me I wasn't able to demand any answers either, as Adrien was not home at the moment. Having to wait only annoyed me more.

Jasper was coming in through the backdoor, book in hand, as I slid past him.

"So?"

"So I still don't know what the hell the flowers mean," I said grumpily.

"What are you going to do?" he asked curiously.

"I'm going to finish cleaning the damn thing," I called over my shoulder,

I seized my sword from where I'd left it a few hours before, took a seat on my balance boulder, and began to vehemently pick away the caked on filth, which came off in large chips, exposing a dull metal beneath.

Within an hour I had cleared a majority of the dirt. All that remained were the edges on the engraved sides, which I began to scrub as I braced the pommel (the handle at the bottom) against the base of the rock, balancing the blade between my knees. The annoyance I felt egged me on. I kept a keen eye out for a weak place in the line of grime, furiously scouring until I found one.

"Keeping busy, are you?" a voice called some time later.

I looked up and saw Ciarán watching me, an amused expression on his face, which was considerably rosier than it had been earlier.

"Trying to," I said, looking back down and continuing my work. I was nearly done.

Wrapping my hand around the blade, I worked my hand up and down vigorously.

There was a deep sigh. I looked up again. Ciarán shook head as he turned away from me.

"What?" I demanded.

"I can't look at you while you're doing that and not make a joke," he said, looking as though he was trying very hard not to laugh.

"What?" I asked again, glancing back down, only to see the punch line in action, my hands moving repeatedly over the sword between my legs. "Oh. Well now you know how I keep Jasper around," I said sarcastically.

Ciarán put his face in his hands, looking down at me through his fingers as he snickered. "Right, well, thanks for making the joke for me." He let out a last shudder of laughter before sitting up a little straighter as he leaned against the balustrade that divided the patio from the garden. "So did you find what you were looking for then?" he inquired.

"I found plenty of information. The trouble is I don't know which information applies in this context." A thought occurred to me. "Hey, is this a woman's sword?" I asked brightly.

He leaned forward, accepting the sword into his outstretched hands, and turned the sword over. "I don't think so. It's certainly has the feminine flair with the flowers, but that doesn't necessarily imply that this sword is meant for a woman."

He held it out straight, the blade level with his eyes. "You know at this point you could probably wrap this in some cotton soaked in the oil, maybe a couple old shirts, and let it sit for a couple days. The rest would come right off." He brought the sword down. "You've done a great job though. I saw the thing before he gave it to you."

"Do you know where he got it?" I asked, taking back the sword.

"I think he just had in storage, but it's likely to have been owned by a vampire at one point or another. Almost all of the stuff he keeps in the warehouses is of vampire lineage."

"Hmmm," I murmured, glaring down at the sword, as though it was willfully withholding information from me.

"Cotton," he repeated. "I'll go grab you some."

Ten minutes later he was wrapping oil soaked strips of old t-shirts around the blade as I turned the sword over in my hands.

"Now that it's good and soaked, I should think you'll have a clean sword, ready for honing and sharpening soon enough," he said as he rubbed his oily hands together.

"He's not going to make me do that too, is he?" I asked anxiously, envisioning me attempting to use a large, spinning stone as it threw off sparks. In my mind's eye I saw the sword go flying across the room and embedding itself in a wall.

"Doubtful. That takes some real craftsmanship, specialized in these days."

We walked back into the house and began to take turns washing our hands.

"There used to be someone in each reasonably sized town who was capable of restoring a blade, but that's a vocation that's practically obsolete these days. Why bother restoring a blade when you can just buy a kni—"

I turned to look at him, to see why he'd suddenly gone quiet. The hot water suddenly felt much warmer as I felt a chill hit the room as Helena and Jubilee walked into the kitchen, returning home for the first time since the incident in the woods.

Helena glanced at Ciarán, who hissed quietly through his teeth. "Well this looks awkward. I'm just going to uh," he glanced back and forth from the doorway to the sink. "Uh, yeah. I'm just going to go," he said as he stepped around Helena and Jubilee and hastily retreated out of the room.

"Hey," I said, unsure of how to proceed.

Helena stared balefully at me for a moment. "Oh!" she gasped before hurling herself at me.

Had I not been practicing how to stay upright, I probably would have toppled over. Despite that, I was still thoroughly grateful for the counter directly behind me as I leaned against it under Helena's weight.

After a long pause Jubilee cleared her throat. "Get a grip, Hel," she said dismissively as she sat down on the scrubbed kitchen table.

Helena sniffed loudly as she nodded into my hair before she finally let go. The two stared at each other for a moment.

"I'll go first?" Jubilee suggested to Helena, who nodded in turn.

"How about I go first," I said, raising an eyebrow at them.

Jubilee opened her mouth, then closed it, nodding in assent.

I pushed myself up onto the counter. I took a deep breath, letting it out in a big, noisy puff through my lips. "I get why you did it. I didn't like it at all, but I understand why it was necessary. It was more necessary than you realize." I looked down at my hands before looking back up at them. "I'm grateful," I said, meeting their eyes briefly. I shrugged, unsure of how to indicate I was done speaking.

Jubilee finally broke the silence. "Well damn," she murmured. "There goes Helena's whole speech."

"Not all of it," she replied with a sidelong glance at Jubilee.

"Well she pretty much demolished everything you were going to say."

"Not all of it," Helena insisted. She waved a box wildly at Jubilee, giving her a look that clearly read, 'Duh!'

"Oh! Right!" Jubilee grinned.

Helena scooted off the table and extended a slender box wrapped in silver paper.

I tore off the paper, revealing a white box. Inside this was another box, velvet and hinged.

My stomach clenched slightly. They couldn't know of my dislike for gifts, especially expensive ones.

"Anything that comes in a box like this is going to be expensive," I thought.

I flipped open the lid. Resting on a cushion inside was a silvery gold chain.

"It's a bit of an upgrade," Helena beamed. "Not that your other chain wasn't lovely," she added quickly.

"We got that one repaired too," Jubilee interjected.

"But nothing says, 'We're sorry!' like platinum," Helena said brightly. "And we really are," she said, rubbing my arm.

I forced a smile as I let the box snap shut. "Thank you, both, for this..." I hesitated for a moment, "Very generous gift. But, it's not necessary."

"Nonsense," Helena said with an air of finality.

"Precisely," Jubilee said with a nod. "Well now that, that's all settled," she said, standing up and heading for the door. "I'm going to grab—"

"Hey, before you go, um I'm sorry about your arm," I said sheepishly.

Jubilee chuckled. "Oh, that?" she said, wagging her head toward her arm as she pushed the door open. "I've had loads worse. Besides, I would have been worried if you didn't fight back hard enough." She started out the swinging door.

"Jubie, wait," Helena called in an even voice.

I noted the tone as I squinted down at Helena, who was still beside me with her hand on my arm.

Jubilee let the door swing closed against her and leaned against the door jam. She looked curiously at Helena, shrugging when I gave her an inquiring look.

"Bella," Helena began in a tone usually reserved for the ill. "I know that ring, Edward's ring, means a lot to you, more than I could ever possibly grasp, but I think you need to consider what it's doing for you, to you, constantly keeping it around your neck."

My brow furrowed. "What are you talking about?" I asked, standing up straighter.

"Well don't you think keeping a token like that, a reminder of the loss of someone you love, might prevent you from fully coming to terms with what's happened?"

"You don't know what you're talking about," I murmured quietly, I reached a hand up to my chest before I remembered that the ring now resided in my pocket.

"Tell me that every time you touch that ring you aren't plunged into some memory about your lost spouse, and I will leave you alone."

"What? I-you-" I stammered.

"Because that's what happens with Jasper, when he holds her ring," Helena said in a rush. "It's so strongly projected, I don't even have to touch him to get a clear picture."

"Helena!" Jubilee gasped, coming away from the doorframe. "Jesus, I thought we were here to mend fences, not make things worse!"

"I just want you to be happy!" Helena continued, ignoring Jubilee.

"I understand you're trying to help, but this is off limits," I said with a tone of finality.

"She's right Hel-and she's being damn nicer than I'd be. You don't know what you're talking about and this is none of your business," Jubilee said, taking a few steps into the room.

Helena pursed her lips for a moment before sighing. "Fine. I'm sorry for bringing it up, for upsetting either of you," she murmured before exiting the kitchen through the swinging door.

Jubilee and I watched the door swing back and forth until it came to a stop.

"Shit," Jubilee muttered, before glancing at me. "I didn't know she was going to do that," she said insistently.

"It's fine," I said, shrugging.

"It's not," Jubilee locked eye with me. "I would have felt the same way if I'd lost this," she said, patting her chest.

I raised an eyebrow, not comprehending.

She nodded and untied the silk scarf around her neck, pulling a long, silver chain up from under her shirt.

I remembered her husband and expected to see his ring dangling from the chain. Instead, there slid out a large, heavy pendant formed in the shape of a V, bearing two rubies and the crest of the Volturi.

I stared at it in shock. "Why..." I whispered.

"Because they were my world," she replied sadly, tucking the pendant back in her sweater. "And I can never have it back."

I continued to stare at her chest, as though I could see through her sweater to the necklace that was now hidden beneath it.

Jubilee chuckled bitterly. "Are you going to go weird on me now?" she snorted again. "Don't worry, you aren't the first. Being a former member of the Volturi doesn't exactly endear me to a lot of people. Oh the Christmas card lists I've been crossed off of!" she said with an air of mock theatricality. She began arranging the delicate scarf around her neck as she turned away. "Well I suppose I'll-"

My eyes narrowed as she turned, and I made up my mind. "Wait."

She looked up and met my gaze, her eyebrows raised.

"Practice later?" I asked.

She regarded me for a moment, her face expressionless, before she finally nodded. "Sure. I'll grab you when I'm ready." A corner of her mouth quirked up for a moment.

I gave a nod, then headed upstairs, the box with my new chain in hand. I dug into my pocket and pulled out Edward's ring. I studied it on the landing, examining the gentle curve of the smooth, white gold metal. In the dim light issuing from the windows at the end of the hallway, it gleamed ever so slightly. I could read the words on the inside. "Until the end of time."

I sighed deeply. "Time," I murmured.

I pulled the chain out of its box and strung it through the ring. I held the necklace and ring in my hand, contemplating the effect, closing my fingers over the ring as I walked upstairs to my bedroom..

Jasper was climbing in through the open window, book in hand, as I came through the door.

I raised an eyebrow.

"I was reading on that roof you ran off to," he explained.

"Pretty view," I commented.

"And it's comfortable enough. I don't have to worry about anyone spying a sparkly guy sitting on the roof reading American lit," he waved the book at me. His eyes drifted down to my hand. "Whatcha got?" he asked.

"Oh, Helena and Jubilee are back. They bought me a new necklace." I glanced at him and smiled, but in my mind I heard Helena's words. 'That's what it does to Jasper when he holds her ring.'

"That was thoughtful of them," he smiled.

I dropped my gaze. "Yeah, it was." I turned to the dresser, opening the top drawer.

"Hey, I was thinking maybe you and I could work on your hand to hand today, if you want." He reached over and traced circles along my upper arm.

Instantly I felt myself relax. I looked back up to meet his eyes and smiled. "Sure, I definitely need the help. Jubilee said she'd work with me too, when she's ready."

"Great," he said, leaning over to kiss my shoulder. "I'll see you downstairs. I'm going to put this book back, and then we can start."

"Yeah, I'll change my shirt," I said, glancing down at my shirt, which was stained with rust and oil.

I waited for the door to click shut before opening my hand. With a deep sigh and a tip of my hand, I let the ring fall into the open drawer, onto a pile of shirts. I changed into a fresh tank top before slowly closing the drawer. Leaning over the dresser, I stared at my reflection in one of the framed black and white photos on the wall.

"Time," I mouthed.

My hands shook as I stood up. I backed away from the dresser, not taking my eyes off the drawer. I was almost at the point of heading downstairs, when I lost my nerve, and lunged for the drawer, wrenched it open, and pulled out the necklace.

I removed the chain, dropping that back into the drawer. "Not yet," I whispered as I shoved the ring back into my pocket.

"Bella?" Jasper called.

"I'm coming!" I replied, shutting the drawer hastily, and bolting down the stairs.