The next few months were hectic, to say the least. Edward and Rafael went about the arduous task of eliminating the surrogate recruitment centers, turning most of the real estate over to charity and founding several women's shelters. I was in charge of following the money trails, ensuring that no stone was left unturned and all evidence of their existence and Dr. Lee's experiments were systematically destroyed.
Emmett, Felix and Rafael had been assigned to Bella's personal guard, which she needed more than ever, as surviving resistance members were showing up on an almost daily basis to declare their love and devotion and throw themselves at her feet. For the most part, she gracefully declined their advances, then Emmett and the guys would interrogate them, ensuring that they were not dangerous and had no aspirations of picking up where the Romanians left off. Occasionally, they would get a bad feeling and Edward and I would be brought in to assess the situation, and one or two unfortunately had to be eliminated, but it was rare. Aro, Marcus, and Carlisle made themselves available to anyone who questioned how the Volturi really worked, which helped open a lot of eyes to the lies behind the Romanian's propaganda machine.
For the most part, however, Edward and I were banned from the throne room when she was receiving visitors each day, and I couldn't understand why. Edward seemed to know more than I did, but he wasn't divulging any information.
Heidi and I were together again. It wasn't perfect; I still found myself thinking about Bella far too often, but Heidi seemed much more patient with me now. She knew how hard I was trying, but seeing Bella each day, I couldn't help but feel the urge to go to her, wrap my arms around her. God, how I loved Heidi, but she was right. Bella had a personal throne in my heart and that's where she was going to stay.
"I did it! I did it!" Bella came running into the annex where Edward and I were updating Carlisle, Aro and Marcus on our progress. She ran over, grabbing Marcus by both his hands and dragging him up out of his seat, which fell backwards behind him from the force of her. "Come see...double check... I really think I did it!" Marcus smiled at her like a proud papa that understood exactly what her ramblings were supposed to mean. Edward and Carlisle were throwing off a shitload of pride too. I seemed to be the only one in the dark as we all shuffled behind her and Marcus into the throne room.
An older vamp, physically about Carlisle's age, was sitting at a table, Emmett and Felix silently on either side of him, smiling. No one was talking, but I didn't need my powers to know he was feeling extremely confused and a little disoriented. What the hell was going on?
"Are you sure?" Marcus asked, and Bella's head bobbed up and down frantically.
"Yes, he was most definitely, um... amorous... when he first came in here. Brought a ring and everything," Felix replied. Emmett chuckled under his breath, and a quick glance to the man's hands revealed he was indeed holding an engagement ring that he was staring at intensely, as if it were some new species of animal that had never been seen before.
"Hmmm..." Marcus pondered for a moment. "Well, this is intriguing. The bond is still there, no doubt, but it is quite weak, and most definitely more in the platonic range."
"Does this mean...?" I asked, almost afraid to say it.
"She dialed the dude DOWN, man. It was awesome. There were a couple other guys I thought it was starting to work on, but they fought back, almost as if they didn't want dialed down. But this guy, it worked almost right away," Emmett explained, as if that cleared everything up.
"This is the reason Bella agreed to this whole 'holding court' thing. She has been attempting to control her powers, dial them back down as Emmett put it, and has been attempting it with each 'gold card member' she has seen since your return." I smiled gratefully at Carlisle for filling in the blanks. "She didn't want you or Edward there to distract her, and we convinced her to keep it a secret until we saw if it worked. It was a long shot."
"Still is," Edward interjected. "Could be an isolated incident." Aro nodded in agreement. Bella seemed to lose a little wind out of her sails at that, which Felix would not let happen.
"Try me, sweetness." Bella turned to him quizzically. He had never once complained about his feelings for her, and Kelly had the least issues with it of any of the women. "My dearest Bella, I adore you, and I am certain I always will. You will always be sweet, and beautiful, and magnanimous in my eyes. But I love Kelly, and she deserves to have all of me, which I can never give her as long as I love you. Please, sweetness. Try me."
Bella put her hand on his cheek and smiled, nodding before she fixed her eyes on his. She was in deep concentration, staring in his eyes as if searching through his soul. They stayed that way for what seemed like forever.
And then I felt it.
And so did Marcus.
And so did Felix.
He wrapped his arms around her, spinning her in circles with her feet flying out behind her. "You did it! You did it! Oh, Bella, I love you! You did it!" Felix kissed all around her face.
"Wait a minute," Adrian said. "If it worked, why are you telling her you love her? Why are you getting her face all wet?"
"I'm kissing her in thanks, you dolt. And it did work. And I love her even more for it, if that makes any sense. Maybe it doesn't, but that's the way I feel. I still care for her, I still can honestly say I love her. But the constant undercurrent urge to run away with her, make love to her in the olive groves, is gone. Well, I still wouldn't kick you out of my bed, sweetness. If you ever want to join Kelly and I for the evening, I certainly wouldn't object..." Bella rolled her eyes. "But I'm free. Thank you, Bella." Felix excused himself to tell Kelly the good news.
Rafael was quick to step up to the plate next and it worked, faster than it had with Felix. Now that she had unlocked the secret, she was quickly getting the hang of it, it seemed.
"Don't even think about using that backwards shit on me, Tinker Bells. I've no interest in getting dialed down." Adrian said firmly. "You're my sister, and my best friend, and I love you with all my heart. I would die for you, and that's the way it's staying."
"Same here," Emmett agreed. "Not an option." Aro, Carlisle, and Marcus were all nodding their heads in agreement.
Bella hugged them each, then turned to me, biting her lip with a question in her eye. Did I want her to try it on me? Did I want to lose this connection with her that I'd carried with me for a quarter of a century, treasured like the greatest gift I had ever been given, even when it felt like a curse?
Not knowing what to say to her, I panicked and ran.
I ran to the woods and hunted, then sat down and leaned against a tree. I stayed there for three days. I relived every moment I'd ever shared with Bella, from the very first time I snuck into Edward's room and taught her how to touch herself, the amazing night we shared together at Charlie's when we were trying so hard to play by Alice's rules and say goodbye when all we wanted to do was love one another. I thought about the day we had a picnic with Alice and Adrian at the baseball field, and Bella saw my scars for the first time. The motorcycle rides, the nights we spent making love at our house at Ohio State. She brought out the best in me, and I in her, and we were so good together. I ached for those days, every day I miss them and wish for them back.
Then I thought about the night Edward gave her the NDNF necklace, and how hurt I was that she accepted it. Or the night we argued about her going to 'Hotel Edward'. I should have known then, as much as she loved me, he was never truly gone from her heart. Like Heidi and I. As much as I loved Heidi, Bella was never truly gone.
It's not the same. It's her power, bonding me to her. Marcus said that I would have loved her anyway, that what we shared was real, but we couldn't deny the effect of her abilities.
I tried so hard to hold onto her, but despite my love for her and hers for me, I lost her anyway. Heidi picked up the shattered pieces of my heart, showed me peace and happiness. She deserves the world, she deserves to be adored and worshipped for eternity. I love her desperately. I thought about the Halloween party, where she held my hand and let me cry. I thought about teaching her to hunt animals, running and laughing and feeling so carefree. Then I thought of all the times I hurt her because I couldn't stop myself from checking my email to see if Bella had written me back. I knew in that moment what I needed to do to ensure I never saw that look of hurt in Heidi's eyes again.
I had to see Bella.
I found her in the palace gardens walking with Esme, who kissed us both on the forehead and quietly excused herself to give us some privacy.
I took Bella by the hand, and wished I could cry at how good it still felt in my own, and led her to a stone bench to sit down.
"Bella. Help me, please. I am so conflicted. I love you so much..."
Bella leaned forward and kissed my cheek. "I love you too, Jazz. More than words can say. More than I should. But Edward is my mate, and not just in the vampiric sense of the word. I love him, Jazz. So much. He is my soul mate, he is the one I am meant to be with."
"I know..." I choked, my eyes dropping to a pebble on the ground at our feet. Bella lifted my eyes to meet hers.
"And Heidi is yours, Jasper. What we had, have, is special and precious and I thank my lucky stars every day for you. I am grateful for every moment we have shared together and treasure every memory, even the most recent one," she whispered in embarrassment.
"Why are you embarrassed by that? Bella, it was... amazing. Spiritual, even."
"I know, it's just that you weren't exactly yourself. I felt a little like I was taking advantage of you, enjoying what you were doing to me when you were essentially out of your mind."
I rolled my eyes in incredulity. "Bella, you saved me. Making love to you saved me. I might have been out of my mind, but my body knew exactly what it was doing."
"It always did," she whispered, and I laughed. This was us. This was Jasper and Bella. But she needed to go back to her husband, and I needed to be able to give myself to Heidi.
"Please, Bella..." I wanted to tell her I can never have a normal life while I am tethered to her, that I wanted her to free me so I can love Heidi the way without doubt or reservation, but I couldn't bring myself to speak the words. All I could say was "Please."
Bella took my hands, laid her forehead on mine, and breathed "I love you, Jazz," before focusing her stare on me.
I felt... nothing.
No life altering difference, no change, no dial down. Nothing.
I still loved her so much it hurt.
I told her it didn't work. Confused, she furrowed her brow and tried again, harder.
Frustrated, she huffed and took my hand, leading me inside to Marcus' quarters. "Why isn't it working?" she asked, exasperated.
Marcus looked back and forth between us for a moment, then turned to me, confused. "You feel no different? The pull is not gone?"
"No. I feel exactly the same."
"Well, that's fascinating, truly. But not really surprising when I think about it. It did work, Jasper. I told you many years ago that although her powers had affected you, the base of the love you two shared was natural, real and true. It would seem her abilities had even less of an impact than I thought."
"But... it's been 20 years... and I've never been able to let her go. I've always felt that pull to her. I've never stopped being in love with her. It's got to be her powers!"
"Hmmm... either that, or her ability was a convenient reason for you to rationalize not moving on. You didn't have to let her go. Everyone understood it wasn't your fault." When it was clear Marcus had nothing further to say on the matter, we excused ourselves, and I walked like a zombie with her to the nearest space we could have some privacy, which so happened to be the library.
"Jasper? Are you alright?" Bella was a little frantic, probably worried I might relapse again, so I forced a smile at her and pulled her onto the couch next to me. I clutched her to me desperately, as desperately as when I'd first awakened from my 'coma'. I couldn't explain it, but I needed her close to me more than ever in that moment.
"What does this mean?" I asked her.
Bella was silent and contemplative for a moment, with her head on my shoulder while I squeezed her to me.
"It means," she said after a long time, "that the only thing holding you back, the only thing that has ever been holding you back... is you."
I breathed her in deeply, then started to sing to her the way I used to.
You're the pills that take away my pain
You're the light that helps me find my way
You're the words when I have nothing to say
And in this world where nothing else is true
Here I am, still tangled up in you
I'm still tangled up in you
My singing dissolved into humming, which gave way to silence. I closed my eyes and saw Heidi looking back lovingly at me, and I smiled. I was finally free, not because Bella had let me go, but because I had finally let go. I didn't need to be here anymore. I needed to be with my girl. I stood to leave, but not before bending and kissing Bella on the forehead.
A/N: Well, there you have it. The last official chapter of the Lessons saga, two years and two days exactly from when I first posted the first chapter of ALIR. I had originally planned on writing an epilogue of Jasper and Heidi's wedding, but now that I'm here, part of me feels like this is where it should end. You tell me when you review. I want to thank my dear friend and beta changedbyEdward for everything, and I do mean everything. More than Romeo, bb! I also want to thank each and every one of you for every review, PM, tweet, Facebook note, kind thought, etc, you have ever sent me. I cherish you all. The song Jasper is singing is 'Tangled Up in You' by Staind.
I will be reposting Edward's Release by popular demand sometime in the near future.
Tricie and Jaspersmax, you reviewed anonymously, so I had nowhere to send the outtake. Let me know where to send it and it's all yours. :)