Disclaimer: Not mine; no copyright infringement intended.
Special thanks to my beta who has been a rock and has given this story a superfast turnaround and excellent second set of eyes! Also, I'd like to thank my new pseudo-beta who I picked up along the way and dragged into this fandom from my previous one.
Thank you to everyone who has provided feedback and added my not so little story to your lists. I appreciate it more than you know! Thank you for reading.
Well, it's done, stick a fork in it. Thank you for being so supportive of my first foray into writing in this fandom. I have more to come, I promise.
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Exploring my shield is becoming a bit of an obsession.
It's a good thing that nobody needs to sleep because we've been at this for days. At the moment, it's all that anyone wants to do. They're a little riskier with their tests when Edward isn't around. I'm not sure why they bother with that since as soon as he returns, he can see in their heads what they've tried to do.
I'm getting a feel for it, but I haven't touched upon its full potential in the least. Viewing my shield as a bubble seems to work the best. I can almost see it. I imagine it forming a strong but thin, invisible layer over my whole body. I envision it sliding away to 'drop it', as Kate refers to it, in order to feel her talent. She promises that she is using her 'low' setting when she shocks me, but I'm skeptical of that.
We're taking a break right now. Jasper, Kate and Eleazar are discussing what the shield might be able to withstand. I've been very careful around Edward because I haven't decided what I want him to hear as my first thought to him. I think I know how to do that. I envision the shield tugging down and the crown of my head peeling through first. Things feel a little different to me then, when it's, what I assume is, down. I feel exposed. It's an odd sensation to explain, but it is definitely something that I've never felt before.
Edward is sitting on the front steps. He's watching the 'discussion' the others are having, as it plays out, with disdain. He doesn't like me being attacked naturally. He has a hard time resisting the urge to defend me. He's repelled by how quickly the others can fall into battle mode where I'm concerned. I can't blame them for their curiosity, as I am just as curious to see how it works, but I also can't blame him either. I still forget the kind of thought transition he has had to make with my transformation.
I sit down next to him and he drops his chin to his hand and balances his elbow on his knee.
"They're getting awfully creative over there," I note, hooking a thumb over in the direction of the others.
"It's nothing compared to the ideas they're not giving voice too," he mutters.
"I'll bet," I chuckle. There are days where I could quite frankly kill to hear the things Edward does, just for an hour or so; to find out what people really think. It must be pretty enlightening; though Edward tends to see it as more of a burden or defense mechanism than a gift.
"Emmett's ideas are the most grand," Edward continues. "He's hoping that by contact with others, you'll be able to project their gift by filtering it through you and directing it at others. In his perfect world, you can project numerous gifts at a time."
"That's…ambitious," I decide. That would be some kind of powerful vampire. I can only imagine the lengths Aro would go to in order to acquire that person's talents for his trophy case.
"Yes," he says dryly.
"Well, I'm pretty sure that I can't do that."
"It doesn't matter to me what you can or cannot do," he insists.
"I've always appreciated that," I say with a smile. I lay my hand on his cheek, overcome with gratitude by his continuing ability to see things in me that I've never been able to; to see beauty where it hadn't existed.
"Don't be ridiculous," he rolls his eyes and turns away and my hand drops.
"Hmm? What's wrong?" I ask.
"It is I who is grateful for you. I always have been. I never really believed you could be meant for me."
My eyes go wide in surprise. "What did you say?"
"This is the endless argument between us. You never see yourself clearly. You never believe that you have anything to offer anyone else --" He begins a familiar rant, but I place my hand on his forearm to cut him off.
"No, I mean why would you say that?"
"You brought it up."
"No, I…" I shake my head as the pieces fall into place. "Holy crap! I think he heard what I thought!"
"Holy shit!" he yelps, hopping up and I grab his hand automatically.
"Edward, really, must you swear?" Esme gently chides. But he doesn't hear her. He's looking down at me incredulously. He looks like he can't believe his eyes. I don't remember ever seeing this particular expression on his face. He looks around at the family, all of whom have stopped to look inquisitively at us.
"I can't hear anyone," he says softly.
"Edward's gone deaf?" Emmett asks. "That'll be damn inconvenient."
"No, I…" he stammers.
"He can't hear what they think?" I drop my hand from his arm and stand up, stepping up a step higher so I can meet his eyes. "Are you all right?"
He looks at me like he's never seen me before, then his expression turns to one of intense concentration.
"What's going on?" Tanya asks. "What are the rest of us missing?"
Carlisle, Eleazar, and Jasper step closer to us curiously, but everyone else stays rooted to their spots.
"No, I can hear you now, Carlisle," Edward says, keeping his eyes locked with mine. "And I can't hear her."
"There's nothing coming from you again," he sighs. "I was so hopeful." He cocks his head in the direction of Eleazar, but continues to look at me like he's never seen me before, running a gentle finger down my cheek. "Yes, Eleazar, it's very interesting. You may be right."
"Enough of the carnival show, what's going on?" Rosalie demands with a snap.
"Well, it seems that Bella must have somehow covered Edward with her shield and while he was covered, he couldn't hear our thoughts, but could hear hers," Carlisle marveled. "The connection is lost now. She seems to have gone back to her default setting of blocking."
"It went away when she stopped touching me," Edward murmurs.
"Did you feel any different?" Esme asks Edward.
"I didn't register anything," Jasper says, "anything other than shock that is."
"Bella, touch me," Alice demands marching across the yard to me, holding her forearm out. "Try and recreate what you just did."
"I'm not sure what I did," I reply softly.
"Try it first without contact," Jasper suggests impulsively. "Just stand next to her."
Alice stands before me and looks at me expectantly. What is everyone expecting? What am I expecting? I recall what I was thinking about when I was just talking with Edward. I was envisioning what my shield looked like; the bubble. I envisioned the clear bubble around me, but subconsciously I must have also envisioned it around Edward, so I try it with Alice. I see in my mind's eye the two of us surrounded by some sort of shimmering film, gliding delicately over us. Closing my eyes in concentration and trying to hold the image there, I hear Alice speak softly.
"I've called you in my mind twice now, Edward."
"I haven't heard a thing," he replies
"It can shield more than just herself," Eleazar states.
"So far, just one," Rosalie pipes in.
I see the bubble ripple around Alice and myself. I can feel that I'm losing it in the distraction. "That's interesting," Jasper says.
"Everyone just shut up for a second," I order with authority and Emmett snickers. I want to see how long I can hold this. How much time do we have in a fight? Why would not allowing Edward to hear others be a good thing? As usual, answers only conjure more questions.
I open my eyes; the bubble pops.
"It's gone now." I say needlessly.
"Alice felt more and more secure the longer she was under Bella's shield," Jasper says.
"Alice, did you happen to see anything?" Carlisle asks.
"More experimenting with Bella," She says, looking at me thoughtfully. "After a break though, she's tired and would like to speak with Edward - alone."
"I do?" I ask, and look over to Edward. The others slowly drift away and Edward and I are left alone. Wordlessly, we sit back down on the steps.
"That just figures," I grumble, dropping my head into my arms. He gently hooks his finger under my chin and raises my face to his.
"What's wrong?" he asks in his beautiful velvet voice. "You're doing wonderfully."
"Well, I've been wracking my brain trying to think of what the first thought of mine should be that you hear and you got 'Holy crap, I think he just heard me.' Of all the memories that I wanted to show you, when we first met, our first kiss, when you first played me my lullaby…"
I let my voice drift off pathetically and he stays silent. When I look over at him, he looks sheepish…almost guilty.
"What?" I ask skeptically.
"That wasn't the first time that I heard you," he blurts quickly. My eyes widen and he rushes to elaborate. "I wasn't sure at the time that it was really you, I thought I was delusional, I know how you hate it when I hear things that you didn't intend me to!"
Well, I was never a fan of him hearing the things that I said in my sleep, that's true. But nothing could be done about that.
"In the emergency room after your car accident," he says. "And then after your surgery and right before I changed you. You just said my name, except one time I think you asked me to stay with you."
"Why didn't you tell me?" I shake my head.
"I thought that I was losing my mind." He shrugs. "I thought I was so distraught that I was imagining it, but the last time, right before your change, I just knew and went on instinct, thank God for that." He cups my cheeks in his hands and kisses me lightly. The only thing I can think of is that you were so vulnerable, that your defenses were completely down." He winces at the end. "Are you very angry?"
"Angry? No, of course not. You didn't do anything wrong."
I rest my head on his shoulder and wrap my arms around his. He presses a kiss to my forehead. "You should be excited now, Bella," he says. "This is a very exciting time for you. It's supposed to be crazed with need, but instead it's packed with discovery. Don't push yourself, just enjoy it. I know I am. Every time I see you learn something new about yourself, I want to burst open with pride and joy. You make the last 80 years of loneliness worth it."
"Edward," I whisper, truly touched by the genuineness of his words.
"Not one of us chose this way of life. Only Emmett seems to really have embraced it, whereas the rest of us seem to be endlessly trying to make up for the more sinister qualities of our species. But now with you, seeing how well you adapt and take all the good and make the bad virtually non-existent, I look forward to it, and I can truly allow myself to because you're here and it's no longer a distant hope or idea. You make me want to be better at this, Bella. You've made nearly all of us re-evaluate our own theories on our lives; that's for certain."
I lean in to kiss him, letting my emotions tell him how much he means to me. It feels wonderful to finally be able to experience him entirely as he is, he no longer has to hold back and until recently, I couldn't appreciate just how much he had to. I let him relieve some of his tension in the kiss and release some of my own in return.
I keep my eyes closed and tip my forehead against his. "There has never been anything bad about you to me. Ever. I have no regrets; I couldn't possibly as long as I have you."
He drops his head to my chest, wrapping his arms around my waist and inhales deeply. "Don't stop yet," he whispers.
Bella's inner voice falls around me like silk. The magnificent sensation of it is almost unbearable. All this time, the one person I have wanted so desperately to hear, craved it, coveted it, begged higher powers for it, finally her voice rings through my head like a lullaby; softly soothing and creeping its way into the darkest corners and bringing light.
I stay in my spot, tucked against her chest as she recalls all the memories she has saved for this moment. Tapping into a vault deep within her and conveying them as meticulously as she can.
This is the first time since my own transformation that I have truly felt protected and loved. Of course, being able to see the thoughts of my family I have known that they love me, but from Bella, right now, I feel cherished as well. It is amazing. Since I met her, she has never stopped amazing me.
I flinch in reflex when suddenly her pain the day I tried to leave her in the forest pops through. "Oops, sorry," she apologizes quickly.
"No," I respond. "Let me see it. I'm too greedy not to see everything that you'll show me."
"I'm not sure how long I can keep this up."
"I'll take whatever I can get."
"And I will give you everything that I can."
I sigh deeply. I have never encountered a creature that can give as much as Bella can. The voices of our family are gone while I'm under the protective wrapping of her shield. I can't see it; and I'm not sure I can feel it, but I have total faith in it. I reach a hand out anyway and grab at nothing, not moving my head from her chest as her fingers stroke through my hair and her mind remains blissfully open to me.
"What are you doing?"
"Just trying to figure out how the shield works," I reply. "It just seems like I should be able to feel something tangible is all."
"You're the son of a scientist." She chuckles.
"Or it's my insatiable need to devour every detail about you that I can."
"And what will you do once you have?"
"That's impossible," I assure her confidently. "Every day I'm more enchanted by you. For all the studying I have done over the past decades, I have learned the most from you in the last year and a half."
"Mmm…I don't know. You've unlocked the chamber now," she teases me. "You know what they say about too much of a good thing…"
I look up at her and frown. The voices of my family swirl back into my mind and hers is gone. She's a little vixen, but I smile at her game, all the more intrigued. She can be very coy and flirty when she puts her mind to it.
Alice comes flying out the front door.
"At least one of us is still watching for trouble," she mutters stopping in the driveway with Jasper right next to her.
"What's going on?" Rosalie asks emerging from the front door, followed by Emmett, Carlisle and Esme, the Denalis slide quietly out of the back of the house and come around to meet us.
I see the vision in Alice's mind. Jane is nearly here. Demetri is with her as well as other members of the Volturi guard. I can't say that I never expected them not to come and check on Bella.
"It's Jane," I reply with a growl. "And friends."
The panicked voices of my family immediately disappear and they're replaced with one solitary angry voice. "Devious little Jane with her devious little talent! She wants to inflict pain on my family? I'll show that little she-devil pain!" My eyes widen at the venom in Bella's thoughts. I truly had no idea that she could get this fierce. I am shamefully turned on when I should be on my guard. The new discovery of how her shield seems to work is definitely going to be distracting. Bella's inner rant continues and I roll along with her enthralled. "Finally! I can rip her shreds! How dare she harm him! Rotten little troll with her masochistic, sadistic, smug little face…"
It is my fascination with the tigress before me in the form of my wife that makes me completely miss Jane and the others emerging from the forest before us. Rosalie shoves me and points. I didn't hear them approach. I can't hear them now. Bella won't let me hear them.
"Bella, let me out," I quickly demand.
"No," she growls.
"Bella, they can't think for a second that I don't know what's coming," I urge. "You have to let me out."
"Not until she is gone." Her eyes are locked viciously on Jane's approach. She is remembering what Jane did to me in Volterra and she is steadfastly resolved that it won't ever happen again. Not when she is around.
This is very bad.
And an incredible turn on.
Though she is just as experienced with the Volturi as I, she is too young to know strategy. Her only urge is to protect now, which she apparently intends to do no matter what.
"What's going on?" Carlisle asks.
"Bella's shielding me from Jane," I quickly explain. "I can only hear her."
Bella's deadly red eyes remain trained on Jane. She finally has significant prey in her sights. The anger rolls through her and I glance at Jasper, hoping he will diffuse some of it so I can get through to her and make her understand that we're defenseless now.
Jasper steps over to her and takes a hold of her upper arm. "I hate when he does that!" She responds to his calming effect, long enough to listen rationally.
"Without Edward, Bella, we will have no idea what Jane is planning, who she is going to focus on. How will you know who to defend? How will you know who to help?"
He asked the right question at the end. She looks back up to me, and I'm able to hear again. It's an odd sensation having all the voices in my mind come back in a flood. The stimulation is almost overwhelming. She sticks to my side like she's fused there as we march forward to meet the guard.
"Welcome again, Jane." Carlisle nods. Though his tone remains polite, it lacks the warmth he showed on her last visit here.
"Carlisle." She nods in return. "I have been instructed to come and check on the progress with Bella."
"See for yourself." Carlisle gestures to us with a sweeping hand.
She arches a brow and sends a measured gaze over Bella. It's meant to show indifference, but even she notes Bella's perfection, the blazing red of her eyes, a reminder of Bella's strength now. She looks to me and I can see that they are also here to test her. Aro is far too curious a creature to stay back and wonder about the talent that lay dormant in Bella as a human.
"Edward, this is going to get ugly. Look." Alice jumps into my thoughts and I see Bella and Jane facing off. I tamp down the urge to tear Jane's limbs off right now. I would not be able to fend off the guard though and my family would have to get involved. I have no desire to fight with the Volturi – before, now or ever – but neither will I allow Jane to toy with my wife.
"Just get on with it," Bella says suddenly.
"Excuse me?" Jane arches an eyebrow at her. She is not used to anyone outside of her masters speaking to her with any air of authority.
"You've come for an experiment," Bella concludes. "Go ahead and try it, but I think we both know what the outcome is going to be."
"Why that insolent, little…" Janes seethes, but snaps her thought back when I growl at her. "So sure of herself, is she?" She returns the indifferent tone to her voice. "We'll get to that." SHE doesn't run things here! I don't know what Aro is so interested in. This Bella is entirely too headstrong for the guard. No one will be interested in her little opinions and morals. She cannot be anointed. There is no room for her."
Jane ignores my knowing look. She is exceedingly jealous and she knows that I know it. She hates that I can see it. It is my turn to smirk smugly.
"You, you're Emmett," Jane says suddenly, changing the course of her interest. Fucking Felix.
"Felix wanted me to give you a message," she says, her voicing ringing innocently.
"And what's that?" Emmett asks.
"Oh, it's more of a demonstration, a physical retaliation, I suppose," she sings.
"What the? Oh great! This will be..." Emmett's thoughts break off when I hear Jane focus on pain. Everyone cringes, anticipating Emmett's agony at Jane's whim. But we're all surprised, and yet not, when he stands there waiting…and waiting. He looks at me, but I can't hear his thoughts.
Bella is shielding him. There's ten feet between she and Emmett. It seems that someone doesn't need to be right next to her to be protected.
"Well, would you look at that?" Jane whispers menacingly. She's not the slightest bit entertained by the situation, or Bella's apparent talent.
"Oh, thank God." Emmett is relieved. "I really wasn't looking forward to that."
"How intriguing," Jane hisses. "So you can project? Aro will be most interested. But you are not the only one with that ability"
What? She can attack more than one person at a time? That's something I didn't know. My family groans internally in unison. None of us suspected that. Jane's hatred and need to feel superior is outweighing her need to keep that part of her talent a secret. I don't believe that Aro will be too pleased with her later on. Jane is by far his favorite.
"Pick one," Bella suddenly pipes up stepping in front of me.
"What?" Rosalie shrieks. Jane correctly reads everyone's surprise and thinks Bella is bluffing. She's looking forward to wiping the smug look off of my wife's face. She won't bask in her glory long after that. They're outnumbered here.
"Bella, love," I mutter in warning, suddenly wishing she would shield me now so I can hear her idea and not at all comfortable with her position out front.
"Or more than one, if you'd like." Bella shrugs as if it could matter less to her which one of us Jane hideously tortures for however long she feels like it.
"Surely you've discovered for yourself that I will not be toyed with," Jane sneers at her. "I do not have the time, nor the inclination, to participate in your little games." She maintains her sinister mask, but she's not sure Bella isn't about to humiliate her.
"Aro sent you to test me, did he not?" Bella counters. "I would imagine he'd be displeased with you should he find out later that you didn't give him a full report." Jane can hardly deny that. Aro would see for certain, instantly upon Jane's arrival in Volterra, that she didn't fully test Bella's ability when she had the chance. At this point, given what just happened with Emmett, there would be no excuse.
"What makes you think that I won't pick them all?" It's a battle of wills. Neither one wants to a demonstration of just what the other can do. And I'm comfortable not discovering any of it in the presence of the Volturi.
"I'm sure that you will," Bella is sickeningly sweet.
"She'd better know what she's doing." Rosalie is scared.
"There's an awful lot of confidence coming off of her," Jasper thinks. "She's too young for this. She knows nothing of strategy."
"I'm going to enjoy this." It's the last thing that I hear from Jane.
The next thing is silence, and then Bella's images in her mind as she focuses on her shield – her bubble, as she's taken to thinking of it. She can see it cover everyone, a thin, shimmery sheen. But it's durable. It's not as remotely as delicate as it appears.
Much like Bella herself.
That's ironic, isn't it? Or maybe it was foreshadowing. Maybe we weren't paying close enough attention to the signs. Or it could be that we were studying them too hard and were missing the forest for the trees.
This is not a good time to discover just how easily distracted I am when I don't have every voice for miles running amuck through my mind.
"Finally!" That's Bella's triumphant voice. "I'm useful! What's the little demon think of that, Edward? Oh, damn. You can't tell. That's a disadvantage now, isn't it? I'm sorry."
She's sorry? She's saving us all from unspeakable agony and she's sorry? Only Bella.
Jane's face hardens as she, I'm sure, is discovering that everyone is safe from her as long as Bella is around. I assume that's what she's thinking, though I don't actually know and that's unnerving.
Demetri lays a hand on Jane's shoulder. She looks back at him as he steps forward to take over role of spokesperson. On instinct, I mutter to Bella to unshield at least me.
"But what if…"
"It's fine," I assure her.
"Aro won't be happy with this at all." I immediately catch the end of Jane's thoughts.
"Boy, she fucked this up. Finally, the golden child is in for a 'come to Jesus' meeting of her own." Demetri, while not happy with the show of power from Bella, is happy to see Jane uncomfortable.
"We're sorry for the intrusion," Demetri says. "Aro wished to follow up on Bella. You'll remember he was most interested in how she turned out. I'm afraid we've been remiss in sending you his well wishes, Carlisle."
"Yes, please return mine to him," Carlisle nods to Demetri. "Bella is doing very well. She constantly amazes us."
Demetri casts a sidelong look in my direction. "You'd do well to stay as far off the radar as possible."
A threat? It seemed more like a warning. I imagine after their report to Aro, he'll be making his acquisition plans. That's a problem for another day. This group is not strong enough to carry through with that today. They are merely reconnaissance.
"We'll be on our way," Demetri says with a nod to Carlisle. "Be well." He gives one last curious look at Bella, then a disgusted one at Jane, before he leads the party away. I expect we'll see a stronger show of force one day. There is too much talent here to simply leave us in peace. But again, that's for another day. I'm sure that Jasper will spend endless hours hatching defensive plans to cover every possible scenario.
The tension remains long after the Volturi are gone.
"This has certainly been an eventful trip," Eleazar finally says. A rumble of laughter slowly makes is way across the yard through us all as the tension breaks.
"Damn, Bells, that was great," Emmett says, striding over to her and plucking her up in a large bear hug. "I thought that you were going to make me suffer a bit as payback for something, but I never felt a thing!"
"You were amazing, dear," Esme says with a smile, placing her hand gently on Bella's face when Emmett lets her down.
"Yes, it was a nice change," Carlisle laughs. "In the end, it all came down to Bella." He looks at me with the gaze of a doting father, before taking note of how uncomfortable Bella is being the center of attention. "That's useful new information on Jane."
"Yes," Jasper says. "We have lots of new plans to make." He looks over at Emmett and nods towards the back yard.
"Yeah, we should start strategizing," Emmett says catching on. They lead Rosalie and Alice away to the backyard. Eleazar mentions the Denali family should see to preparations for return to Alaska and Esme and Carlisle agree to help them. Before long, Bella and I are alone out front.
"I can sure clear an area. Do I smell bad or something?" she jokes.
I throw a smile in her direction. I, not so suddenly, feel the need to act upon my earlier feelings of excitement and lust. "We need to work on our communication," I say waving a finger between the two of us
"We should develop some kind of handle signal," she murmurs in her thoughts, playfully stepping forward, letting her hand drift down my thigh making her point.
"I can get used to this form of communication," I say, trailing kisses down her neck.
"You don't want to strategize with your brothers?" she goads.
"I want to go to the meadow. I want to experience this new form of communication without you hiding your thoughts."
"The uncensored version? I don't think you can handle it."
She's saucy and playful, riding high on the vampire equivalent of adrenaline from her showdown with Jane. I'm evermore bewitched by her as I cover her lips with mine and she yields beneath me.
"Please, Bella. Please let's go to the meadow. I'll beg if I have to."
"How can you be sure they're really gone?" She breaks away, worry in her eyes.
"I don't give a damn right now." I groan, moving to her delicious collarbone.
"Alice, love. Alice will see it. It'll be embarrassing, but I'm sure we'll be fine."
She studies me for a long moment. "All right, but if Jasper and Emmett see me in a compromising position, you're a dead man, Cullen."
I roll my eyes. Only my love.
"They won't have the chance unless you let me compromise you," I growl lustfully.
Bella smirks saucily. "Never let it be said that I'm incapable of being compromised," she says as she winks and streaks away towards our meadow, with me in close pursuit.