AN: I own nothing; Stephanie Meyers owns everything. I DO own (the services of) a kick-ass black market beta by the name of JaspersDestiny, whom I purchased at the Fandom Gives Back auction and love dearly.
This story takes place post-wedding in Breaking Dawn. Isle Esme never happened, Renesmee never happened, and the Volturi never came to visit. Bella and Edward moved to Alaska to supposedly attend college. In reality, they were joined by the rest of the Cullens at a house in the remote wilderness, Bella's change went off without a hitch, and she and Edward began their Happily Ever After.
* * *
"What did you see? Is it Bella?" Jasper asked Alice for the fourth time that day. Sometimes it seemed like that was all any of them said anymore. "What did you see?", or its twin sister, "What did she see?", if the questioner was not directly addressing Alice. Or maybe its cousin, "Have you seen anything?", if the questioner had been away for any length of time. In the beginning, they had rarely left each other alone, but as the days dragged into weeks, and the weeks into months, and now the months approached almost a year and a half, they had been drifting into something that almost resembled their pre-tragedy routines.
They may have stopped asking the question, but it was never far from any of their minds. Jasper wasn't a mind reader, but he could tell just from their emotions. When Carlisle had returned from Italy - empty-handed, as it were - the family had decided to remain at the Alaska house. None of them felt capable of faking a life amongst humans, and remaining at the retreat they'd set up to deal with Bella's newborn year had seemed like the best answer. No real ties to the surrounding area, no jobs, no fake identities at the local school, no cover stories needed. So there they'd remained, isolated from humans and their own kind. The Denalis had been to visit, of course, coming to hunt with them every few weeks. But, other than that, they'd seen no one; human or vampire. As time went by, though, even sitting with the stillness only a vampire could achieve wore thin. Emmett started it by beginning to play his video games again - habit, no doubt, but still... A few days later, Jasper had joined him – he seemed to be in less pain than the rest, and Jasper gravitated towards ANYTHING that resembled less pain. Then the women went into town to go shopping, ostensibly to replace the controllers Jasper and Emmett had broken. Then one morning, Carlisle announced that he was filling in at the nearest hospital – 60 miles away – for one of the doctors who had gone on maternity leave. Then Esme began a remodeling project in the basement of the house.
Except nobody played the piano in the corner. And Bella, who'd not been with them long enough to have established herself in any one single aspect of their lives, nonetheless left a gaping hole in all of them with her absence. To an outsider, things appeared to be returning to normal – as normal as a family of vampires could be. But they knew it was a lie.
And then Alice, who still checked several times a day for any sign of their missing sister, finally, after months of seeing nothing, saw something. At Jasper's question, the others silently appeared in the room, instantly dropping whatever they'd been doing.
"It's Bella," she whispered, and if possible, they all became even more still, watching Alice ride out the vision. It was brief, over in seconds.
"It was Bella," she repeated, her eyes clearing and refocusing on those around her. "She's alive."
Silence continued to reign for a split second, then pandemonium. "YES!" Emmett shouted, pumping his fist in the air, then picking Rosalie up and dancing around with her. Esme grabbed Carlisle in a hug, and if she could have cried, she would have been. Jasper, well, feeling the shock of positive emotions hitting him for the first time in months, almost passed out – if that was possible.
After a few moments, though, Carlisle shouted, "Enough!", and everybody quieted again, turning back to Alice, who was dancing around in the center of the floor, a real smile on her face for the first time in a long time. Jasper was so relieved, so happy – not just about her seeing Bella, but to be able to see his mate happy again. "Alice?" Carlisle asked. "What did you see? What can you tell us?"
The dancing stopped and Alice turned to face her waiting audience. "It was Bella. She's alive," she repeated her words from a moment ago.
"Are you sure?" Carlisle asked.
"Positive," Alice nodded. "She's all alone, and she doesn't look very good, but she's definitely alive."
"Why now? Why all of a sudden can you see her again?" Esme asked.
Alice shrugged. "Something must have changed. She had to have made some kind of decision, some kind of conscious decision, for me to have seen her. She hasn't made any kind of decision since..." her voice trailed off, and Esme winced, nodding. Bella hadn't made a conscious decision of any kind since Edward had died. In fact, they couldn't be sure she had actually been left alive herself. All they'd had to go on was the fact that Alice had seen Edward killed, but had seen nothing of the sort involving Bella. Well, that, and one glimpse, months after the tragedy, that they couldn't even be sure was a vision of Bella, though Alice had insisted it was...
"...stone walls. Some sort of, I don't know...pit? Dungeon? There were no windows, no doors." Alice looked at Carlisle, who nodded.
"There are such places in Volterra," he said slowly, unwilling to admit that she was being held by his former friends, especially when Aro had denied all knowledge of such a thing when Carlisle had accused him, months ago. "Built to hold our kind...when they don't want to destroy them out of hand..."
"But, how can they contain a vampire?" Esme asked, puzzled.
Carlisle shook his head, glad for once that no one else in his family had Edward's abilities. "There are ways, Esme," he said, and it was clear that he was not going to elaborate.
That glimpse had been nine months ago.
"Can you tell where she is?" Jasper demanded, cutting to the important part. The rest of their questions didn't matter right now. Alice shook her head, and he growled in frustration, unable to stop it before it slipped out. Alice just winked at him and ignored the growl.
"It looks like she's in some sort of...cave. A natural cave, not a dungeon now." Esme winced again at the reminder of the last time Alice had seen Bella. "There's light. It looks like natural light, but I'm not seeing an entrance...just rocky walls."
"Well, then, that shouldn't be so hard," Emmett said, still excited. They all looked at him like he'd lost his mind, even Carlisle.
"What?" he asked, getting defensive. "You remember back when the army was looking for that bin Laden dude, and there was that video of him and a cave, and all the experts got together and thought they knew where he was 'cuz of the type of rocks the cave was made of..." he trailed off as the family continued to stare at him.
"Well, yeah, that would be a great idea, Em," Jasper said, "if Bella's cave was lined with Gucci bags or designer gowns. But geology has never held much of an interest for Alice." He shot a wave of apology at his mate, and she smiled back at him, not offended in the least.
"Jasper," Esme said, reprimand clear in her voice.
"No, Esme, he's right." Alice sighed. "I can draw a picture of the rocks around her, but that's about it. The POINT is, something has caused her to make a conscious decision of some sort – even if it was only to open her eyes and acknowledge her surroundings...but it's a start. If she's done that, she might do more." She paused, her eyes unfocusing a bit – in thought, not vision this time – and added softly, "She HAS to."
* * *
Bella's eyes snapped open. Something had changed. Something had made a sound...something had been in here with her, something had invaded her sanctuary. Her den. Her grave. Slowly, without turning her head, her eyes scanned the cave she sat in. What had the sound been? She tried to recreate it in her head, but couldn't. That was odd. She thought vampires had perfect recall. Was she so far gone that that was no longer true? She remembered Carlisle's story, how he said vampires couldn't starve to death. So, even if she felt like it - even though she refused to hunt - she couldn't really be dying. She couldn't be fading away, even if that was what it felt like. Even if that was what she wanted.
Some sort of animal, perhaps...she inhaled deeply, taking in the air around her for the first time in a long time, savoring the scents, and trying to interpret them without much success. Dirt. Stone. Cold, dry air that carried very little information about anything on it. Something alive – some sort of small rodent, very faint. And there...even fainter...something else. Something unfamiliar. Something that stirred fear in her, instinctive fear. What should she do? She didn't know what to do. She searched her vampire memories – few as they were - for anything that might help... Nothing came to mind. She decided to wait, to see if it came again, whatever it was. After all, what did she care?
She didn't have long to wait. She wasn't sure HOW long she waited, as she'd slipped back into her trance, but the temperature of the air around her hadn't changed, so she knew it hadn't been long. There was the faint sound of footsteps coming from the direction of the cave opening, and she was hit with the mysterious scent from before. Strong this time. Closer. And then the light changed, and she knew whatever it was had entered her cave. Without conscious thought, a growl erupted from deep inside her. A warning. Stay out. Stay away.
It was met with an answering growl.
* * *
"Bella," Alice whispered, and just as they had days earlier, they were almost instantly by her side, waiting for what she'd say. "It's the cave again. The same cave. There's...someone else. A man," she whispered, and everyone tensed. They didn't say anything, though, not wishing to disturb her. "Nobody I recognize. I don't know. He looks foreign, somehow. Dressed for hiking – carrying a backpack. He's speaking..." She frowned. "I can't understand what he's saying. Neither does she. Wait. He's speaking again – sounds like a different language this time. Now another. He's moving closer to her – he sounds worried. She's not moving, but she's watching. Oh...this isn't good, this isn't good..." Alice trailed off. "Leave, leave," she whispered. "Oh, this is going to end badly. Wait...he's speaking Russian now...I can understand a bit...he's asking if she's alright. She looks...bad. Really bad. Her clothes are all torn. She's wearing one of the outfits she took with her on her trip." Alice tensed. "Oh, Bella, don't..." she whispered, then flinched and cried out, "Oh, Bella!"
"Well," said Emmett, matter of factly, not looking nearly as horror-struck as the rest of his family did. "I guess she made a decision there, huh?"
* * *
Bella didn't move, but her eyes focused on the direction of the cave entrance and the growl coming from it. The sound increased as whatever was making it drew closer to her, and hers faded away to silence. A moment later, the figure came into view. The low light of the cave did not prevent her vampire sight from seeing what had found her.
Her eyes told her it was a man. A man in a very old, ragged-looking uniform of some sort. Her nostrils, however, told her a different story. She didn't know what he was, but he wasn't human. Or Vampire. Or a wolf, like the Quileutes back in Washington. He was unknown. And that made him dangerous.
Dangerous. What did she care if he was dangerous? That was a good thing, right? Her instincts told her he was a danger to her, and he was clearly angry. Angry enough to attack? Strong enough to kill her? Whatever he was, he was screaming at her now, pacing back and forth in front of her – not coming too close, staying far enough away that perhaps, given her weakened state, he could escape if she lunged. But why would she? She wanted death, didn't she? She wanted to end this existence. And look, right here in front of her, the answer to her prayers, pacing and screaming at her.
Edward had been so wrong. There was a god, and he clearly cared about vampires. Enough to send destruction to her door step, just as requested. What would she have to do, she wondered, to get him to attack instead of just yell?
She watched carefully as the man, or thing, or whatever it was, continued to pace back and forth. He was spitting in his anger now, and she thought fleetingly that he looked more than a bit like a rabid dog...rabid dog...that stirred some thought, deep in her memory...
She didn't have time to complete the thought - even with her vampire brain - because the thing was finally screaming a word she understood. "OUT. OUT. OUT!!!" he screamed, gesturing at the cave opening behind him. And then, much more quickly than he had appeared, he was gone with almost vampire-like speed.
* * *
"Well," said Alice. "At least she's not starving any more. Maybe she'll start moving around more now, and give us some idea of where she's at..."
"What was he saying? There at the end? Could you understand what he was saying?" Jasper asked, eager to have any information that could help them.
Alice looked at Carlisle and finally smiled, "Thanks to Carlisle's paranoia, yes, I got a fair bit of what he was saying once he switched to Russian. Looks like those lessons finally came in handy, 'Dad'."
The others chuckled, too. During the Cold War, Carlisle had insisted they all learn Russian. Just in case. There'd been several instances when Alice's visions had been extremely blurry about the outcome of various situations and Carlisle thought it was best to be prepared for anything. It had been language lessons that they'd rarely, if ever, had a chance to put to good use. The Soviet Union had always been low on their list of places to visit for a variety of reasons, in spite of its varied hunting opportunities.
"And?" Jasper finally asked, the impatience of all of them reflected in his voice.
"Well, he was just asking if she was all right, if she was lost, if she needed help. That sort of thing." While she spoke, she quickly sketched, the image of the man in her visions quickly appearing on the paper Rosalie had slid in front of her on the table.
"Hmm... Just looks like a typical hiker to me. No hints in what he's wearing. Well, it's obviously not winter, wherever she is – he's wearing shorts. No way of knowing when the vision is for, though, is there?" Carlisle asked Alice, looking hopeful.
Alice shook her head. "No. It could be now, it could be next week, it could be next month. I suppose it COULD be next year, but I usually don't see this random sort of thing THAT far out. I think we could safely assume, for now, that it is THIS summer. Which puts her in the northern hemisphere. Somewhere where the people would try several languages, other than English, to communicate – including Russian. Though I'd like to point out it wasn't his first language choice."
"Hmmm..." Carlisle said, looking thoughtful.
"Well, I hope we figure out where she is quickly," Esme said, still looking slightly horrified by what Alice had just seen. "So we can go get her before she slips again."