A/N ~ Hello everyone! Yes, I am alive. Hopefully lots of you either read Doctor Who, or Stars, so at least you got something out of me since...heaven only knows the last time I updated this fic. The good news is, the reason I haven't updated is generally because I've been too happy to! I wrote this fic at a seriously stressful and depressing part of my life and it was a bit of a challenge to get back there. I'm not sure I did it 100% but I kinda hope I didn't because I want this chapter to have the slightest edge of optimism. It is the last one after all, which hopefully doesn't come as too much of a shock.
Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed it. Insofar as enjoy is the right word.
In my gratitude and apology, I will write a oneshot for anyone who asks on Twilight, Harry Potter, Sherlock, or Doctor Who. In less than a fortnight from the ask. I promise!
Ok, done sucking up now:
The Volturi arrived, attacked everybody, and ended up killing Charlie before disappearing. Victoria met a grisly end at the hands (or rather, claws) of the amorous Jacob Black, but it was too late for Bella and she was changed. Following this, there was a frightful incident where she escaped the Cullens and attacked the hospital, only to (thankfully) prove her outstanding sense of self control by getting to the blood bank before anything too serious happened.
But a close call is a close call, and with vampire-werewolf relations becoming increasingly tense, it's time for the Cullens to leave Forks. Bella makes a stupid decision (which she doesn't realise the gravity of, not knowing about the treaty and all) but Edward stupidly agrees, and the family all end up outside the Blacks' house where a tense conversation goes down.
Enter serious prose.
"What are you doing here?" Jacob demanded in a snarl. His ferocity surprised me, though I should have been expecting it, but the predator in me told me to fight rather than flee: I strengthened my position.
"Jacob, calm down," I insisted, yelling to get through to him even though I was unavoidably acutely aware of our highly tense audience. "I came to say goodbye. We're leaving, okay?!"
"They're organising a funeral for Charlie. I don't think we picked a good time, Bella."
"Jake," Billy warned, "Give them the chance to leave. That's all they want to do."
"Why won't they stop?" It was almost a whimper.
And in the forest, all the shouting between the wolf minds softened to a dull murmur, and the racing footsteps and cracking vegetation turned into a soft and unrushed padding through undergrowth. And then two of them, the two closest, transformed into their human shapes and emerged from the trees.
Chapter Twenty One
I reached an arm out, in front of Bella, and scooped her to my side. Esme edged closer as Carlisle took a careful step forward. I watched his graceful step and felt a fraction less tense. My fingers loosed a little on Bella's arm and I heard Esme let out part of a baited breath. Around us, the wolves' heartbeats slowed, just a fraction, enough for them to notice perhaps, but not to suspect anything - good on Jasper. The man knew his risks.
Carlisle was not as adept at assessing situations like these; brilliant though he was, he was an idealist at heart, and determined to believe that everyone had intentions as well-wishing and harmonious as his own. From the looks on their faces, the two wolves who had transformed had other plans. They strode right in between Jacob and our family. One was a short, springy young boy, perhaps about 14, with a rock hard glare on his face and a redness around his eyes that gave away what his overtly tough stance was trying to hide. The other was a tall, lanky young woman with eyes like flint. She looked like she was ready to spit fire at Carlisle – and in her head, she was.
"Leah Clearwater," she introduced herself scathingly. "I spent the afternoon dressing my dead godfather. Anything to say for yourself, leech?"
Carlisle could only hold out his hands in a gesture for mercy.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry for the trouble we and our kind have caused. I'm sorry about Charlie. I know he was a dear friend of yours."
The wolves were unscathed, though Billy inched forward. He was contemplating taking control of the situation. Could he really do that? As a non-wolf member of the pack, did he have any actual authority? Of course they respected him, but defending the Cold Ones was probably on the list of taboo subjects for a respected leader of the Quileutes.
"Please," Carlisle continued, wringing his hands for a moment before noticing his own tic and stopping himself. "Please let us do something to help. Money perhaps? Not much by way of compensation, I know, but-"
"Thank you," Seth said gruffly. In his head I saw him hugging his knees on the Swans' living room floor, sobbing. His eyes passed over mine and he looked away, crossing his arms over his bare chest. "C'mon Leah," he mumbled. "I wanna go."
"Take the house," Carlisle suggested – almost pleading as he held the keys out to the young wolves. "Sell it if you l-"
"He said thank you."
Leah stepped up until she was right in Carlisle's face. She breathed heavily, though his scent was choking her, just to make him uncomfortable, but Carlisle scarcely showed a mark of it. She snatched the keys off him, and tossed them somewhere over her head, behind the Blacks' house.
"We don't need your charity, vampire," she spat. "You have until midnight and the treaty is void."
She glanced at Jacob for validation, and he nodded, lifting his eyes to cast a bitter glare over the rest of us.
"Let's get outta here, Seth." They took one last look at us and leapt back into their wolf forms, shredded fragments of clothing blowing across the driveway for a moment of silence. Carlisle dropped his eyes at last, and retreated. Jacob flashed a vicious smirk at his victory – barely acknowledged as his mind still reeled with guilt and anger and hatred at us for what we had brought upon his life, his friends and his town – and disappeared inside the house. Billy nodded once to Carlisle, and my father nodded back before turning and gesturing for us all to leave. Rose, Emmett, Jasper and Rose were quick to listen, wheels already screeching back around the corner before Carlisle had taken two very deliberate steps. Esme sat in the passenger seat of the Mercedes, humming Toreador in her head, trying to calm a jumble of thoughts and emotions about the last couple of days, and pretending that she could not see or hear the goings-on in front of her.
Carlisle let his eyes linger over Bella and I. He was shaken, and understanding, and perhaps even a little mad, but he was also very obviously disappointed. Bella pressed closer to me. I clenched my fist and looked Carlisle straight back in the eye. Out of sight, Alice pressed her foot harder on the gas, and she and Jasper disappeared from my hearing – and we from Jasper's emotional manipulation. He didn't need any more of our negatives.
"That was very foolish," Carlisle chastised. "You are not the only ones who have lost something today and you are certainly not the only ones experiencing emotional turmoil. You had no right to do this – to breach the treaty, on impulse, with none of the rest of us even informed? What were you thinking!"
He looked from me to Bella, who lifted her face from my shoulder and stammered, horrified with herself, "I'm sorry."
As they were want to do, Carlisle's eyes softened and he touched Bella's cheek gently for a moment. Like calming a frightened animal, this coaxed her to stand straighter, though still close to my side. Under other circumstances, he might have smiled, but we were still standing too close to the fire for his comfort. He rested his eyes on mine once more.
"I expect you both to think more carefully about this family's welfare in the future," Carlisle finished. "Now let's go."
Green, mountainous American forest meandered past our windows at nearly 100mph, and at some point changed into green, mountainous Canadian forest, and I stared out the window in silence, chin on my hands, shoulders collapsed. I could feel Edward looking at me every few seconds. Once, I looked back, but we missed each other and so I resumed staring. My ruby red eyes gleamed back at me, distracting me from the scenery, reminding me of all that I had done, all the trouble I had gotten my family in. My whole family.
I came away from the window, and covered those eyes with my hands for a long moment.
"...Bella?" Edward inquired carefully.
"I'm sorry," I said again – I hadn't said it nearly as much as I needed to. "I didn't mean to be so – emotional."
"It's not your fault." Edward shook his head. I gave him a sceptical glare and he added, "not entirely. You were emotional that's just it, not actively trying to get us in trouble."
"Get you in trouble?!" My hands nearly shredded my skirt. I buried them in my hair instead and pulled. "I nearly got you killed. I nearly got your family killed. What if Carlisle- What if Esme?!"
His hands tightened on the wheel.
"It's not your fault," he repeated, more solemnly this time, and a little stiffly. "You've had a lot to deal with. Losing Charlie must be hard. It is making your newborn state extremely volatile. Perhaps if you'd had the opportunity to psychologically prepare it might have been better but you've come to it under difficult circumstances. As it is, you are behaving absolutely remarkably."
I sunk in my seat, a cold, salty sadness washing through me like the ocean as I saw Charlie's lifeless face before me again. I had been so angry...that fire seemed distant now. I wondered if this is what they meant when they said unusually strong emotions, because my heart and lungs were feeling colder and colder and it felt like I might actually drown, and the scenery around us and the car, and even Edward, began to lose their shape. I remembered Charlie and all I could feel was this stormy grey ocean.
The Christmas tree stood in the corner. Charlie lifted me over his head – and when I was too old for that, lifted me as high as he could – so that I could put the star on top of the tree. It was one he and I made together at the craft table. Is that still at his house? Will I ever see it again? Will Jake and the Clearwaters use it at the funeral?
I'm a bit older now. We sat in the diner, mum and him and me, and he laughed as I attacked my fries vigorously with the ketchup, and then turned it on him, pretending like I was shooting him. He lifted up the sausage on the end of his fork and shot me back, fake-radioing "Chief Swan calling for backup!" until Mum started throwing her peas at me.
Older again – was it this year or a lifetime ago? I would argue, both. I rolled into town alone and we sat and he didn't pressure me and we didn't need to talk because things between us just were. And since I got here, they were a little awkward, but he was always there and he always wanted only to save me.
To save me.
I looked up at the windshield and my red eyes glowed back at me.
"I was not ready for this," I murmured.
"Is anyone?" Edward challenged, unusually sharp. He closed his eyes for a moment when he saw me jump, and took a deep breath, relaxing his hands on the wheel and calming his tone. "What I meant, Bella, is that you are not the only vampire to come into this life unprepared. And not the only one to come into it with a difficult story. I'm sorry if I'm being curt it's just that I've got my family inside my head right now and it's...the things they're thinking about..."
He shook his head again.
"Should I...um...drive?" My eyes flickered to the speedo – over 100mph now and he was distracted and still driving perfectly. If my reflexes had improved to that level I was twice the vampire I was ever supposed to be.
Edward thought so too, apparently; he laughed. But a reconsideration of that laugh found it much more forced than I was used to. A little like the one from Port Angeles when he was trying not to go back and kill the guys at the bookshop.
"What- what are they thinking about?"
"Their stories," Edward replied. "You know, in films, when you're about to die and your life flashes before your eyes? That's now. For us. My mum died of Spanish Influenza, you know? And Carlisle made her a promise to protect me and he tells me all the time that that's the first thing he did in two hundred years that meant something to him. And- and Emmett he was mauled by a bear. Carlisle showed up at his funeral, tried to explain what happened to his parents. Not the real version of course. Jasper was in the army in the Civil War. He was talent spotted by a vampire army and recruited, and if you look, he's got scars all over him, like scales. He's got a thirst unlike any of ours and he fights it every single day and sometimes it nearly kills him, but he can't tell anyone else how he really feels because if he did we'd feel it twice over. Esme? Esme's husband. Abused her. For years. She thought she'd gotten away from him with World War One but when she miscarried the hospital reunited them again, isn't that lovely?"
He was bitter and sarcastic, unlike the Edward I know. I had only seen a few flashes of him like this, and they made Vampire Bella just as uncomfortable as Human Bella. Edward glared out the window and wrenched the gears unforgivingly as we surged over the crest of a hill and down the other side.
"That's why I jumped off the cliff, you know."
With a shriek I raked my hands through my hair, dragging it over my face. Rage and loathing and sadness battled and I sobbed until the sadness won out and turned me back into the drowning, whimpering Bella of a few moments ago. Edward, sufficiently vented at least to see what I needed of him, put a hand on my shoulder. Just like his rage, it was honest. It made me feel warmer, like the sun was rising over the ocean of my grief.
"I am a horrible human being," I sniffed. Which was of course, wrong. It only made it worse. I hiccuped sobs. How could vampires have no tears? How could I express this any other way?
"You weren't. And you aren't a horrible vampire either. We're simply scared, Bella, just like you are. We've been through a lot together and we've had too many close calls not to be a little tense." His tone softened as he began to draw small, light circles on my shoulder blade. "There are so many things about us you don't know, Bella," he whispered, as if it were a promise. "This family comes from dark, broken places. It's going to take a lot of learning before you can even scratch the surface of what life in our world truly means. But I love you, and you are a part of this family now. We will help you get better in time. All things shall pass."
I straightened a little, and he let his hand drop to rest on my leg. I put my closest hand over it, and together they sparkled in the sun.