Disclaimer: All characters, etc. are property of Stephanie Meyer.
Cannon-Bard Theory: A psychological theory developed by physiologists Water Cannon and Philip Bard, which suggests that people feel emotions first and then act upon them. These actions include changes in muscular tension, perspiration, etc. [It] is based on the premise that one reacts to a specific stimulus and experiences the corresponding emotion simultaneously... the perception of [an] emotion influences the person's reaction to the stimulus...
The theory sparked much controversy in cognitive circles due to its suggestion that emotions lack a mechanism. 
Maria stood surrounded by five other vampires, staggered into a loose V formation with their leader at the center. It reminded me of Canadian geese, the one in the front struggling the hardest against the headwind.
The parking deck was quiet, and behind me I could hear blood dripping off the bumper of Bella's car. I was so overwhelmed, still tensed and on edge from the sudden fight with the crazed vampire, that it took a second for the sound of all the mental voices to focus and intensify in my head.
I wished for a moment that I was still human. When I had run into Jasper in the M.E.'s office, what seemed like a lifetime ago, all of my extraneous thoughts had faded away, drowned in the flood of natural chemicals, forcing every cell in my body to focus on trying to survive.
But now my never-ending multitasking vampire mind was still ticking away happily, drudging up old memories of watching Westerns with my mom as a kid, the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly playing along, a disturbingly bizarre soundtrack to the thoughts projecting from the six vampires in front of me, all while still cataloging the rate at which Bella's blood was dripping onto the cold concrete ground.
I couldn't make out what most of vampires were thinking; all but three were thinking in Spanish. I was glad I'd taken French in high school; I didn't think I wanted to try to discern that much information all at once.
The thoughts of the three I could understand were disjointed and jumpy, and I could see they were looking at both the still-twitching, headless vampire lying in the concrete rubble and Bella's unmoving body propped against the blood-soaked trunk of her car.
I couldn't understand Maria's train of thought, but I could see that she was picturing Jasper. She was also thinking of the vampire I had killed moments earlier. In her mind's eye she was thinking of that vampire, but he looked different in her mind, somehow. I realized that she was picturing him as a human.
Dozens of scenes were flashing through her mind, different locations, but all with the dirty, frail, weak human version of whom I had just killed. Although I didn't understand what she was thinking, I was picking enough 'mierdas' to know she was upset.
"What..." I started to ask, and all of the vampires snapped to attention. I suddenly felt very exposed. I swallowed; my mouth was dry.
"Who was he?" I continued.
The images in Maria's mind shifted, and she was picturing Jasper, but in this memory Jasper was hurt, somehow, in some way I couldn't understand.
"He was a gift for Jasper." Maria stepped forward. She had no real discernible accent, and it was disconcerting to hear her mental voice in Spanish running in parallel to the English she was speaking out loud.
"A gift?" In my peripheral vision I could see the others shifting back and forth, looking at me, calculating which limb they were going to grab. I could tell that for most of them this wasn't the first time they had ambushed someone.
I took a step back, but then realized that would draw them closer to Bella. I leaned a bit to the right, trying to calculate how far I was to the back door, past the collapsed concrete pillar.
"Hmm, yes, you must know about Jasper's gift. It's very powerful. But, you see, it can also be very damaging. Some feelings he can't keep out, if they are strong enough. It caused us a lot of trouble in the first few battles, the rage, the anger that he couldn't help but absorb. If it was too much for him, it completely overwhelmed him, and he would project it onto all of us." Maria took another step closer as she spoke.
She was light on her feet, even for a vampire, and I felt like a wild animal that she was trying not to startle.
I shifted a little more to the right, and I wondered how many steps it would take to clear the wooden pallets on the ground between the collapsed concrete and the door.
"Overwhelm him?" I asked. I thought of all of the stupid action movies I had seen as a human, how the hero always tried to keep the villain talking while they planned their escape.
"Oh," I said out loud as what Maria said suddenly clicked in my mind. Her thoughts of the crazed man, why she had dragged him along with her to Seattle, and the memories of Jasper in pain. "He would have driven Jasper insane?"
Maria smiled again. She didn't answer me out loud, but her memories of Jasper intensified. They were dark, disturbed, terrifying.
"But if that..." I looked at the corpse of the vampire to my left. "If Jasper... but... wouldn't that have been projected onto all of us? Wouldn't it have destroyed everyone?" I said, and I tried another small step to the right.
The six vampires were also moving slightly, shifting to the left, staying in formation, rotating slowly around. It made me think of the little dance Bella and I had done only twenty minutes ago, before I had... I couldn't think about that right now.
I looked quickly over at Bella, still unmoving on the trunk of the car, then back at Maria. I didn't want to leave her here. But I was a coward; I was afraid. I didn't want to die. I took another step to closer towards the direction of the door, away from the car.
Maria spoke again. "I'll admit, Jasper always was a better fighter than me. And with that little mind-reading bitch of his? But I always knew how to fight dirty. And it would be worth it to see him suffer."
Maria was thinking now of the one time she had run into Jasper and Alice, soon after they had joined the Cullens. Was this all that it was? Jealousy? I shook my head in disbelief. It was just too cliché. I would die, here in this shitty parking deck, because of some fucked up love triangle?
"I..." I didn't know what to say. I looked over again at Bella.
I didn't know why I was trying to buy time; I didn't know what I thought was going to happen. Maybe my time was up months ago, when Jasper got to me in the M.E.'s office. Were these last few months as a vampire only borrowed time, some surreal purgatory?
I thought of a book I'd read over the summer, where the entire plot of the novel (some metaphor-heavy, sex-crazed trip through Eastern Europe) was really just the dying thoughts during the last few minutes of the protagonist's life, after he'd been hit by a car in the first chapter.
There was nothing left to wait for.
I turned and started to sprint to the door. I felt like I was moving through Jell-o, like I was in some weird, dream-like state where I couldn't move as fast as I wanted to.
I cleared the crumbed concrete pillar, but I would need another few steps to get over the wooden pallets.
As my left foot hit the ground, I could see in the minds of the other vampires that Maria was only inches behind me. I could feel the air shift and move around me, and my heart sank as I realized that I couldn't move fast enough.
Maria's cold hand grabbed my right ankle, and she threw me back towards the others. I couldn't focus on where I was as I flew through the air, not with the vision of my body in the minds of all of the vampires surrounding me—it was too much. I couldn't process it fast enough, and I hit the floor face first.
I was confused; I didn't think that the impact would hurt as much as it did, and the pain seemed to be in the wrong place. I couldn't process the thoughts of the vampires around me; I couldn't concentrate. I didn't know where everyone was, and I didn't understand what was going on. The pain was in my left shoulder, but I hadn't landed on my side, I'd thought.
The pain suddenly was searing, bright hot white that was blinding and overwhelming, and I couldn't think about anything else. There was a noise, a horrific metallic screeching noise, and I was screaming.
I realized then that my left arm was gone, ripped from my body. I looked up to my left at the stocky newborn vampire, one of the ones whose thoughts were in Spanish, and he was holding my arm, clear venom dripping on the ground, and I could see the exposed, rounded head of my left humerus. There was pressure on my back, I realized now, that I hadn't felt a second ago.
I was being held down, someone pulling on my other arm. I twisted and tried to get the weight off of my back, but I couldn't get enough traction to move. The pain was too much, and for the first time since waking up as a vampire my mind was sluggish, slow and weird. I smelled something. Smoke, maybe? The air seemed warmer, and I wondered how or why someone could start a fire in a concrete parking deck.
I could hear someone calling my name in their mind. I wondered for a minute if it was my mom. I knew that didn't make sense, and I stopped thinking when the pressure on my right arm increased. Then I was moving again, and there was chaos in the minds of everyone around me. It was so confusing, and I was being dragged, but away from the heat, and there was just too much noise.
"Shhhh... be quiet," I mumbled, closing my eyes as my face dragged along the cement floor. It was too noisy, and my shoulder where my arm had been ripped away hurt too much for me to try to listen to everyone. There was shouting now, mentally and out loud.
"It's okay, it's okay, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Edward. I had to wait; I'm so sorry..." There was a sweet voice in my ear, a girl's voice, Alice?
"Edward, I'm so sorry." Alice reached down and grabbed me around the waist, pulling me up so my back was flush against her chest. She continued to walk backwards, and I tried to walk with her, but I kept stumbling. The loss of my arm was so overwhelming that I couldn't keep my balance, and the pain wasn't subsiding. I couldn't focus my thoughts.
"Esme!" Alice shouted. I looked up and saw that the entire parking deck was now full of smoke. I could still make out the scene in front of me, but with the particulate floating in the air, it was like trying to make out shapes in one of those 3D posters in the mall when I was a kid. I saw movement, lots of movement, and realized that there were now twice as many vampires as before.
I could make out Emmett's hulking figure, and squinting, I saw he was holding someone to his chest, much like Alice was holding me. Rosalie was in front of him, leaning in, and then I heard that horrible metallic screeching again. Rosalie turned and threw something behind her. It was a head, I realized. I thought that maybe this should upset me, but I didn't feel anything, except the pain in my side. Following the arc of the disembodied head, black hair streaming behind it like a comet tail, I now saw the source of the smoke: someone had lit the wooden pallets on fire. The head landed in the center of the burning slats, and the flames sparked and hissed.
"We can't get out the back door now," I said. I still felt like I was processing everything about a minute too slow. The pain was getting worse.
"It hurts, Alice. I thought it couldn't hurt this bad."
"I know, I know." Alice tightened her grip around my chest as she continued to walk backwards. She stopped after another fifteen feet, and shifted me in her arms as she sat down. She looked at my shoulder, where my arm should have been, and I could see it in her mind.
I whimpered as she spoke, watching through her mind the jagged flesh outlining my shoulder tightening, and the cavernous hole under my clavicle, where the head of my humerus should insert, puckering slowly, like some high-speed nature documentary.
"Alice..." I started to panic, and tried to reach around with my other hand.
"Stop." Alice grabbed my hand in hers. "You'll only cut yourself. We need your arm."
"ESME!" she yelled again, and I followed her mind's eye as she looked up from my shoulder. If I couldn't keep up with the the fight before, there was no way I could follow what was happening in Alice's mind. The scene looked fuzzy, out of focus, and I realized she was not only watching the fight in real time, but in the future as well, each small increment of the future superimposed over the current moment. I closed my eyes; it was too much to take in.
Less than a minute later I heard movement directly in front of us, and felt the air shift. I smelled Esme's sweet scent, almost indiscernible underneath the reeking smell of venom and smoke in the air. I opened my eyes and saw her crouching in front of me, holding my arm.
"I'm so sorry, sweetie. I think you're missing a finger." I looked at my left hand dangling in front of me, four fingers twitching.
"It's moving," I said.
"That's a good sign, I think," Esme said. I looked up at her. Her neck was glistening with venom, and her t-shirt was torn. I reached up with my right hand and brushed it against her shoulder. We both winced, and I looked down at my fingers as I pulled them away from her jagged, torn skin. They were sliced open, the clear flesh identical to the epidermis, but moist and slightly smoother, like the inside of a gummi bear.
Alice shifted her arms, and then the pain was searing and sharp again, blurring the edges of my vision. I screamed again and pushed back, kicking, trying to dislodge Alice from my back. I could feel her fingers digging into the flesh of my shoulder.
"Stop it! Stop it, stop, stop, stop...." I was begging her. I didn't understand why she was doing this. I reached up with my injured right hand and grabbed her arm, trying to pull it away. Esme shifted in front of me and leaned forward, pressing her knees against my legs, straightening them out and holding them down. With her free hand she pried my fingers from Alice's arm, and laced our hands together.
"Edward. Edward, look at me." I pulled my eyes up and met her gaze. Her normally soft features were strained and distorted.
"Alice has to open up the wound again—it was starting to close. We need to try to fit your arm back in so it can knit itself together. Hold still." Esme was still holding my hand, forcing my good arm down to my side.
As she continued to hold my gaze, out of my peripheral vision I saw her give my left arm to Alice. And then the pain was unlike anything I had felt before, like a white-hot poker being shoved into my arm, burning liquid glass pouring into the hole in my shoulder, and I helplessly tried to move away. Both Alice and Esme were holding me tight, keeping my left arm flush against my side. Esme's mind was full of pain and confusion, and she kept thinking hold on hold on, and I realized that I was biting her shoulder as she leaned against me. I gingerly loosened my jaw, and carefully pulled back. The pain shifted just a little bit, cooling by the slightest degree.
"It's starting to hold, Esme." Alice said behind me. "I've..." I could see her looking around, feel her shifting behind me as she looked around me and Esme.
"I've got to help Jasper..." her voice drifted off, and in her mind I could tell she was starting to play out dozens of different scenarios, shrouded by the thick smoke in the parking deck. Esme was moving me as Alice flitted away, and she propped my bad shoulder up against something cool and metallic.
"Don't move, all right? You've got to keep pressure on your arm for it to heal properly." She was now looking around, too, and I could see in her mind her picturing where she had left Carlisle ten minutes ago; he had been ripping the head off of the stout newborn that had been holding my arm.
"I'm going to go help the others, okay?"
"Wait..." I took a deep breath. The pain was still cooling, degree by degree, and my mind was starting to clear. "What did Alice mean by 'I had to wait'? She said, earlier..."
Esme smiled sadly at me, and I could hear play out in her mind the conversation between Alice and the rest of the Cullens during their drive into the city minutes earlier.
"Alice was under a lot of pressure. She had to protect Jasper; you have to understand that, sweetie. He couldn't have survived Miguel, the one you killed. It was the only way we had a chance of surviving this. If he had been exposed to Miguel's mind, it would have driven us all mad."
"But.. wait... how long did she...?"
I couldn't wrap my mind around all of this. Alice had known I would find Ben and Ange in the front yard? She knew I would go off on my own?
"How long has she known? When did she start planning this?"
"Honey, that's why she had Jasper turn you. With your mind reading and newborn strength, getting here first, was the only way we would have had a chance. I'm so sorry."
Esme leaned in and kissed my forehead, and then she was gone, back off into the dense smoke.
I sat there, leaning against the cool metal, stunned. Alice had known. My entire existence over the past six weeks was premeditated, planned out, I was just a pawn for Alice to use against Maria. I thought about our conversation a month ago, on the front porch, when I asked her if it was all a big chess game. I guessed it was.
I leaned my head against the metal, and I realized that it wasn't really metal, but dense, cool plastic. I was leaning against Bella's bumper. I tilted my head up and could see the outline of her elbow slightly extended over the edge of the trunk. I held my breath, and for a moment I thought I heard something faint, like the thrumming of a heartbeat, but fast like some small little mammal.
I tried to reach up with my good arm, towards Bella, but that shifted my left shoulder too much, so I just held still. The smoke was getting thicker, and it was harder and harder to make out what was happening with the others. After a few more moments things began to quiet, and I could barely make out any movement through the smoke.
Then I heard someone approach. The thoughts were blurred and fast, and I realized that they were in Spanish. I quickly reached around with my good arm, and tried to hold my left in place against my shoulder as I pushed my feet against the ground, trying to stand up, pushing myself against the body of the car. Maria was limping as she approached me, and I could see that a large chunk of her right thigh was gone.
She kept looking back toward the fire, trying to squint through the haze. It was still difficult to really make out anything from even a dozen yards away. I couldn't see any movement at all anymore. I wondered who was left. Maria looked resigned as she approached, like I was another chore to take care of. I could now see Bella in front of me, to my left. It almost looked like she was moving, like her hands were clenching.
Maria followed my gaze to Bella's body. In her mind she pictured Bella walking through a parking lot at night. I had been right, I realized, in coming here. She had been following Bella. But I hadn't been able to save her.
"I'm sorry," I said out loud, to Bella, to no one.
Maria looked back at me. She was now only a few feet away, and I could see that she had other injuries, other missing chunks of flesh. I wondered if they were from Jasper.
Then she moved very quickly, almost too fast for me to follow, and she was flush against me. She was gripping my head with her hands, and I tried to pull her away with my one good hand. She was too strong, and I was still in too much pain to be able to move any faster. She leaned her head down, and I felt her mouth against my neck. It reminded me of Jasper in the M.E.'s office.
I tried to shift back, but I couldn't move. She was pressing me against the body of the car, the force of her body against mine denting the frame. Then I felt her bite down, ripping through muscle and tendons, and I tried to kick her, but I couldn't get enough traction, as she was lifting me slightly off the ground. I tried to dig my fingers into her face, attempting to reach her eyes, anything to pull her away.
The pain brightened and burned, and I looked over the top of her head at Bella, her long brown hair matted and stained with her own blood. I closed my eyes. Then the pain shifted, and I felt the flesh ripping away from my neck. I winced, bracing myself for her to bite down again, but then the pressure lifted, and something was moving.
I opened my eyes. I could still feel Maria's hands twisted in my hair, but her head was gone.
Standing behind her was Jasper, and he was holding her head in his hands. He had a long strip of flesh missing from his face, from his temple down over part of his left eye, and a small piece of his eyelid missing, making his face even more ghoulish and terrifying in the dark smoke. He turned, and threw the head towards the flickering blurred flames, barely visible in the distance.
"It's done," he said as he turned back towards me. "She was the last one. Are you okay?"
He reached up and started to peel Maria's fingers off my head. I felt him pull her body away from mine and saw him turn back to the smoke, dragging Maria's body behind him, towards the flames. I reached up to my neck, cutting my fingers open again when I ran them against the rough open wound on my neck.
When I tried to straighten up, I realized that my left arm was now sticking properly in my shoulder. I still couldn't feel it, really, but it was fused enough now that I could stop pressing my side against the car. I tried to take a step away and almost fell. I stopped for a moment, trying to regain my balance.
I looked around but couldn't see anything now but the billowing black smoke in front of me, millions of microscopic particles suspended in the air, millimeters from my eyes. It was difficult even to make out the Bella next to me.
I turned and reached down with my right hand until I could feel the hood of the trunk. I slid myself along the length of the car until I reached the bumper, blindly reaching around until I could feel Bella's soft body. I awkwardly grabbed her with my one good hand until I was gripping her under her armpit, and dragged her body towards me. But with one hand I didn't have a good grip, and I dropped her off the edge of the car.
Then I felt a pair of hands wrap around my waist. I tried to pull away, but then I heard Jasper's voice in my mind.
It's okay, Edward; it's okay now. He started to walk me forward, around the car.
"Bella!" I tried to turn back.
"I've got her, Edward." I could hear Alice's voice faintly behind us.
Jasper kept pushing me forward; ten feet, twenty feet, then we were moving up, and I realized we were walking up the ramp. The cool air hit our faces, and I could see again, the smoke dissipating out into the cool November night.
"Bella," I said again, and I turned my head around, looking over Jasper's shoulder. I saw Alice appear from the smoke behind us, cradling Bella's limp and bloody body against her own.
"Come on, Edward, we need to leave." Jasper pushed me forward again.
As we walked away into the dark I could hear the sound of sirens approaching, and I wondered what the firefighters would make of the sickly sweet smoke and the burnt corpses we had left behind.
I apologize for the long wait for this chapter! I had to finish my dissertation, and then I needed a few weeks of recovery time; my brain was completely fried.
Big thanks as always to Feisty, beta extraordinaire!
AND, this is the last 'real' chapter, I've got an epilogue planned and that's all, folks!
Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing!