A/N: Apologies for the slight delay! I struggled a little with this chapter at the start because I wanted to keep the high pace, but once I realized forcing the pace to continue was never going to work, everything flowed much easier. It may feel a little bit of a 'filler', but I assure you it's just as important as the previous chapter.
Thank you to all of you who reviewed the last chapter – I was nervous upon posting it and was so happy to read your responses. Every one of them was appreciated and treasured. You're all amazing.
I hope the next chapter won't take too long to get out, but I've got a lot of overtime at work coming up so we shall see!
High dive into frozen waves where the past comes back to life,
Fight fear for the selfish pain - it was worth it every time…
Clarity – Zedd
'Plan B' was easier to enact than we'd first hoped. It only took us a day to prepare everything, but despite Bella's apathy at being told we were leaving, when we loaded everything we needed into the trunk of our car, I noticed she had disappeared. I found her in her parents' old bedroom, emptied of Rosalie and Emmett's things, running her fingers over a framed photo of her mother and father.
She didn't even look up at me when I approached, but when I took the frame from her hands and told her we could take it with us, she leaned in to my side and closed her eyes. A silent thank you.
Her apathy continued even as we began the long journey down to our destination, gaze fixed on the window but not really seeing. Emmett offered to take the first driving shift and we managed to make good time leaving Washington, crossing the state line just after dark. I held Bella's hand for the entirety of the first six hour shift, declining the others' offer to stretch my legs at a gas station while they grabbed some food and prepared to switch drivers.
When Jasper took the driver's seat, Emmett switched to the passenger side without needing to be asked, leaving Rosalie to sit in the back with us. She tried to make small talk at first over 'dinner', making sure to include Bella, but she grew quiet after a few minutes, opting instead to ask Emmett to put the radio on.
I didn't know what station had been set, but the songs managed to ease the tension slightly, even if Bella's state remained unchanged. I tried to encourage Bella to share the bag of chips Emmett had bought us, but she just closed her eyes, lip quivering slightly.
Once we had passed through Oregon and were halfway across Idaho, I offered to swap places with Jasper.
"You're both tired," I cut across, gesturing to Emmett, who had fallen asleep in the passenger seat. "Let me at least get us past Utah."
"Edward, honestly, it's-"
"This is a twenty-five hour journey without breaks," I pointed out. "If you keep going, we'll have to stop at a motel so you and Emmett can get some proper sleep before the car crashes. Let me take the next shift, and if it gets too much, I'll pull over and rest for a while."
"What about…" Japer trailed off, but I caught his meaning.
"Bella can take the passenger seat," I replied, glancing down at Bella. Her eyes were closed, but I knew she wasn't asleep – her body was too tensed for her to be anything but wide awake.
"Alright, we'll switch in half an hour."
And we did.
Crossing into Utah was draining - after the first hour, my shoulder started playing up, but I didn't let it slow us down. Bella was curled up next to me in the passenger seat, fingers absently stroking her stomach as Emmett's light snores filled the silence. Even Jasper had fallen asleep, despite his protests that he wasn't tired.
"Baby?" I murmured softly. Bella's eyes fluttered open, but she didn't look at me. "Please eat something."
She bit her bottom lip.
"I packed your vitamins in your bag," I continued, hoping maybe thoughts of the baby would spur her into moving. "They're in the front pocket, and I think there's some juice from the store in the bag by your feet."
"Please," I begged.
She reached down and pulled the bags into her lap, fishing out her vitamins and the apple juice before hesitating.
"The food's yours too," I told her.
She unwrapped a sub, face twisting as she looked at what was inside it.
"I thought you liked…" I trailed off as Bella reluctantly took a bite out the sub, chewing almost mechanically.
It reminded me of how she was those first few days after she woke up, lacking an appetite, reluctant to eat or drink anything, then feeling sick when she did. But I had to give her time to process – if I pushed her too fast, she would retreat further, and that was something we couldn't afford. Instead, all I needed to do what remind her I was here, that I wasn't going anywhere… and even if I failed, the back-up plan wouldn't.
"I'll wake Jasper up once we get to St. George," I said absently, more talking to myself than her. "He can take us the rest of the way."
I glanced across to Bella, who was frowning.
"Would you rather stop at a motel instead?" I wondered. Again, I didn't expect her to reply, but hoped her body might give me an indication either way. "I know your leg probably feels stiff."
"Arizona," Bella mouthed slowly, realization finally sinking in.
My mouth dropped open slightly in surprise, but I quickly recovered.
"Yeah," I confirmed. "We're going to Arizona."
Bella closed her eyes, chin dropping to her chest. I reached out and took her hand, twining my fingers with hers.
"Unless…" I hesitated. "Unless you'd rather we didn't?"
Bella shook her head and squeezed my hand tightly.
"I'll keep going then," I assured her. "But you'd better eat up – you'll need your energy for when we get there."
She nodded, pulling her hand from mine so she could uncap the apple juice before drinking some of it. She took her prenatal vitamins quickly, then had some more of her sub, though I could tell it was tough for her to eat more than a few bites.
I turned my attention back to the road, not wanting to make her feel pressured by watching her.
As we approached St. George several hours later, I could feel my eyes starting to burn from lack of sleep, and knew it was time to stop. Bella had lightly dozed after she'd eaten, but the moment I turned off Interstate 15, her eyes fluttered open again and she looked at me warily.
"Time to swap," I murmured, thanking the Gods as a gas station came into view. I pulled up to one of the pumps and stopped the car, taking a moment to breathe.
"Anyone need a quick break?" I asked, loudly enough to wake the others without startling them too much.
Emmett grumbled under his breath as he awoke and nodded sleepily, nudging Rosalie awake before exiting the car with her right behind him. Jasper stretched his arms above his head, taking only seconds to become alert again.
"Where are we?" he wondered.
"St. George," I replied. "I would have continued, but-"
"No, that's more than far enough," Jasper cut across. "Is your shoulder okay?"
I rolled my shoulder back slowly and grimaced.
"It'll be fine," I hoped. "May be worth going to a clinic though."
"Peter's wife, Charlotte, was a nurse – I can ask him if he can bring her when we meet up?" Jasper offered.
"That would be safer."
Jasper nodded, then sighed softly, shooting another worried glance at Bella before he, too, got out the car.
"Want to stretch your leg a little?" I murmured once Jasper closed the door behind him.
I took the keys from the ignition and got out the car, then quickly walked round to Bella's side and opened the door for her. She hesitated briefly, then held her hands out for me to take, gingerly stepping out of the car on shaky legs.
I held her close to me to support her, carefully moving her out the way of the door so I could shut it. Jasper held his hand out for the keys, then started to fill up the gas tank, moving just far enough away that he wouldn't be intruding on anything. Emmett and Rosalie were standing a few feet away from the car, talking in hushed voices, and I quickly realized they, too, were trying to give us some privacy.
"Only six or so more hours to go," I said softly as Bella burrowed against my chest, arms sliding under my jacket so she could get ever closer. I ran my hand up and down her back, then let my cheek come to rest against the top of her head and closed my eyes.
"I love you, Bella," I murmured.
She lifted her head to look into my eyes, like she was searching for a lie. When she didn't find one, she trembled against me, gaze turning watery as her hands curled into my t-shirt.
"I know you can't talk about it right now," I whispered, pressing my forehead against hers, "but I want you to know I understand."
Tears rolled down her cheeks, but I quickly wiped them away with my thumbs, cupping her face in my hands.
"I love you," I repeated, more slowly this time so she would listen, not just hear. "That will never change."
I pressed my lips to hers, expecting nothing more than a chaste kiss, but Bella tilted her head slightly, lips moving with mine as she pulled me closer. After several long moments, she moved back a little, leaning her forehead against mine again.
"I-…" Bella started, but I felt her frown as the words got caught in her throat.
Instead of letting her worry, I pulled her in for one last kiss, lips lingering against hers before moving up to her forehead, where they stayed until Rosalie and Emmett approached the car again.
"We okay to go?" Emmett asked. "Or do you two need a sec?"
"We're fine," I replied, smiling reassuringly. Bella's hands dropped from my waist and she toyed with the edge of her sleeve while I moved to the back passenger door, taking care not to bump her with it as it swung open.
"Ready?" I murmured, reaching for Bella's hand. She wrapped her fingers round mine and carefully shifted round the door, wincing slightly as she put her weight on her bad leg.
Instead of sitting by the window as I expected, Bella moved in front of me and climbed in first, shuffling to the middle seat and leaving me to climb in last. I did so without hesitation, closing the door behind me before buckling my seatbelt and helping Bella do the same.
The moment I was comfortable, she leaned in closer, one hand resting on my thigh while the other curled round my upper arm. She let her head drop to my shoulder, then breathed out a soft sigh before closing her eyes. I smiled, grateful for the brief glimpse of normalcy, then closed my eyes as well, only vaguely aware of the others getting into the car before we began moving again.
At some point, I must have fallen asleep because, what felt like only moments later, there was a loud buzzing, and when I opened my eyes, Jasper was driving us through a garage door.
"Where are we?" I asked blinking to try and wake myself up. Bella shifted against me, then slowly sat up at the sound of Jasper's reply.
It turned out that 'home', more specifically, was an average-looking house just outside Phoenix. Looks were deceptive, however, because past the plain exterior was one of the best security systems I had ever seen outside the compound. The layout was pretty simple, but as Jasper gave us a brief tour, it quickly became clear that they'd armed themselves to the teeth – knives, guns, traps… they were strategically hidden around the house, and once Jasper assured us that all the windows were bulletproof, I found myself relaxing.
We would be safe, here.
Bella held my hand as we walked through the house, squeezing tightly whenever she saw a photograph of Jake on the wall or a coffee table. The only time she let go was when we reached the top of the staircase on the way to the spare rooms, and she caught a glimpse through one of the doors on the other side of the hallway.
"Is that…" I trailed off as Bella reached out to touch the door, eyes fixed on the toys that littered the carpet inside.
"Jake's room," Jasper confirmed. "Alice is just getting him from school, so they'll be here soon."
I nodded, feeling my chest tighten with emotion at the hopeful expression on Bella's face. But, just as soon as it had arrived, it was gone again, morphing into worry and unease.
"Hey," I breathed, stepping up behind her and placing my hands on her waist. Bella shuddered, then turned to face me, arms wrapping around my body so tightly it was almost painful.
I held her close, expecting nothing more than her to need a hug, but instead she surprised me.
"I-… Wh-…" she tried, barely audible even though her lips were right by my ear. "Forg…"
"Oh, baby," I murmured, kissing her cheek. "He hasn't forgotten you."
Bella let out a relieved breath, then pulled her head back so she could meet my gaze. She smiled weakly, and I could see how hard she was trying to fight.
"I'm proud of you," I told her softly. Bella shook her head and tried to look down, but I coaxed her head back up and pressed my lips to hers, showing her it was true.
"Let's get our room set up, then we can go and wait for Jake, okay?" I suggested, aware that the others had kept walking to give us some privacy.
Bella took my hand again and nodded, a little more confident than before.
We didn't have to walk far to our room; it was just down the hall from Jake's – a deliberate choice on Jasper's part, I was sure. Rosalie and Emmett were in the room opposite us, and there was a bathroom at the end of the hallway, which turned out to be the only one upstairs.
"I know it's a pain, but we mainly built this with family in mind," Jasper apologized. "Alice and I have an en suite, so at least there's that."
"It's perfect, Jasper," I replied. "Thank you."
He smiled. "If you guys want to get settled, I'll get some coffee on. Alice should be back any minute."
"Thanks," Emmett said, shooting us a grin before opening their door and guiding Rosalie in first with a gentle hand on her back.
Bella and I didn't have a whole lot with us, just the essentials and a few sentimental items from the house, so it only took us about five minutes to unpack. The room was a similar size to our old one in Forks, but the bed was a little bigger and we had a proper wardrobe as well as a vanity, making everything seem more homely.
It almost reminded me of our suite in the compound, but I quickly pushed that thought aside and focused on Bella, who was placing her photos from home on the vanity, in clear view of the rest of the room. There was a picture of her parents together on the left with Jasper's photo of Jake to the right of it, but the middle photo was what meant the most. Our scan of Elizabeth.
"We need one of us," I mused quietly, stepping close behind her.
Bella leaned back against me, fingers tracing her stomach through her dress.
I wondered what she was thinking.
Before I got the chance to ask, loud frantic footsteps echoed from down the hall, and just as I spun round to face the door, it swung open and a small hurricane rushed into the room.
"Jacob!" Bella gasped, shock overcoming her fear. She crouched down slightly and Jake rushed into her arms, laughing happily as Bella lifted him up despite her bump getting in the way.
"I missed you, Mommy!" Jake cried, clinging to her like a monkey.
Bella let out a quiet whimper, and closed her eyes as tears spilled down her cheeks, but I could tell she was beyond happy.
"Don't go away again, 'kay?" Jake put his hands on Bella's cheeks, eyeing her with a serious expression, which melted away when he saw her tears. "Why you cryin', Mommy?"
"I love you," she forced out, voice cracking.
"I love you, too," Jake replied, but he was still frowning. "Mommy, please don't cry."
Bella laughed, blinking back more tears, but a few still escaped.
Jake smiled, then looked over Bella's shoulder at me before whispering, "Mommy, is that your special friend?"
Bella turned slightly with Jake still in her arms and smiled at me.
"Tha-at's Edward," she told him. I beamed back at her. That's my girl.
"Jacob!" I heard a woman's voice call. "Jacob!"
Moments later, a petite woman with dark, short hair appeared at the door, her eyes widening in shock as she let out a loud gasp.
"Oh, my god," she whispered, taking a shaky step forward. Bella lowered Jake to the ground, but he wrapped his arms around her leg, refusing to let go. "It's really you."
"A-Ali-…" Bella managed to say, but before the name was even fully out of her mouth, the woman had rushed forward and thrown her arms around Bella, hugging her tightly.
"I hate you so much," Alice hissed through her tears. "Don't you dare ever do that to me again, or so help me…"
Bella let out a soft sob, squeezing Alice even tighter.
"Oh, God!" Alice cried, pushing Bella back by the shoulders and looking down at her belly. "Oh, my God!"
Alice looked disbelieving, and Bella's expression was suddenly nervous.
"You're having a baby," Alice breathed, hand reaching out to stroke the bump. "Father said you were, but… Oh, Bella."
"A baby?" Jake asked, eyes full of wonder.
Bella looked down at him and nodded, laughing under her breath as Jake reached forward slowly, like her stomach was the most precious thing in the world.
"Mommy, can I touch him?" he pleaded, hesitating just before his fingers made contact.
"Her," Bella corrected, voice slightly stronger now.
"It's a girl?" Alice whispered, watching as Jake's hands pressed against Bella's dress.
Bella nodded, biting on her bottom lip. Alice smiled happily and brought her hand up to Bella's cheek. "I'm so happy for you."
Bella smiled back at her, but then Alice's brows furrowed as she finally saw me standing behind Bella, her expression now wary. Bella reached behind for my hand and coaxed me forward.
"I'm Edward," I told her nervously.
"You…" I flinched, expecting her to mirror Jasper's reaction when he first met me, but all she said instead was, "You saved her."
"I…" I frowned, unsure of what to say.
"Thank you," she breathed, and suddenly I had my arms full and Alice's hair was in my face. "Thank you, Edward."
"Easy, darlin'." My head shot up at Jasper's voice. "Don't break him."
"Sorry," Alice muttered, taking a step back.
"No need," I replied, still shocked. Bella squeezed my hand reassuringly and pulled me tighter behind her as Alice moved to stand closer to Jasper. Jake was still touching Bella's bump, almost transfixed by it.
"Coffee's downstairs," Jasper let us know. "Shall we move somewhere more comfortable?"
Bella hesitated, looking down at Jake, then nodded.
"Come on then." Alice held out her hand to Jake. "Let's go make some hot cocoa."
"But…Mommy?" Jake looked up at Bella, who seemed conflicted between letting Jake go and holding on to him forever.
"Go," I urged softly. "I'll get Emmett and Rose and join you in a sec."
Bella pressed her lips to mine for a moment, then smiled gratefully before taking Jacob's hand and following Alice out the room.
As their footsteps moved away, I let out a long breath to calm myself, suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed by everything. Seeing Bella as part of her old family almost made me feel out of place, but I knew I was where I belonged – with her. It would take me time to adjust, sure, but part of me already adored Jake. He was sweet, and seemed fully prepared to just accept my presence like it was no big deal. The same went for Alice, but how much of that had to do with Jasper, I wasn't sure.
I could handle this.
After giving the bedroom a quick check, I went across the hall and knocked on Rosalie and Emmett's door, calling out that coffee was ready before heading down to join Bella and the others.
I found them in the living room; Bella and Jake on one sofa, while Jasper and Alice were sat on one opposite, leaving another in the middle for Rose and Emmett. It was three sides of a square, with the television making up the fourth side and a table filling the space between. It was cozy but elegant, much like the rest of the house, and I stood there for a moment, listening to Jake tell Bella about school until she ruffled his hair affectionately.
"Mom!" Jake protested with a pout, pushing her hand away and fixing his hair again. Bella smiled widely, then turned her head in my direction, almost like she knew I was there.
"Hey," I said softly, moving into the room and sitting down beside her. She immediately took my hand and pulled me close, our thighs pressing together as I kissed the top of her head. As I glanced up, I saw Alice's face turn soft, a small smile gracing her lips.
"Edward, do you like Cars?" Jake asked, climbing into Bella's lap and staring at me inquisitively.
"Cars?" I wondered, unsure what he meant. Bella laughed under her breath and curled her arm round Jake, like it was the most natural movement in the world.
"Lightning McQueen?" Jake raised an eyebrow. "Mater?"
"I…" I looked to Bella for help, but she just smirked and shrugged.
Jake let out an exaggerated sigh, reminding me so much of Bella it was hard to remember he was only her 'adopted' son. "Momma Alice, can we watch it?"
"I don't know if…" Alice looked at Jasper, her eyes questioning. He gave her a meaningful look.
"The grown-ups need to talk soon, honey," Alice sighed. "I don't think…"
"That can wait?" I said softly. Bella squeezed my hand. "After dinner, maybe?"
I shot a meaningful glance at Jake, and Jasper nodded in understanding. Talking would be easier without Jake here.
"Please?" Jake begged, oblivious to what was left unsaid.
"Sure," Alice agreed after a moment. "Jasper, honey, shall we go get it?"
I caught the look that flickered between them, but tried not to focus on it too much. Instead, as they stood from the sofa, I turned my full attention to Bella, who was more relaxed than she had been in days.
"I love Cars," Jake told me excitedly. "When Mommy's baby's born, do you think she'll like it too?"
I laughed quietly. "I'm sure she will."
His brow furrowed slightly. "If Mommy is my mommy, and Mommy is the baby's mommy too, will she be my sister?"
He looked between me and Bella, expression hopeful.
"Yeah," I assured him, smiling. "Of course."
"And you'll be my daddy, right?" Jake wondered. My chest tightened suddenly, and my mouth fell open, but no words came out.
"Yes," Bella whispered, eyes slightly teary as she turned to look at me. "Yes, he w-will."
"That's so cool!" Jake grinned toothily. "Maya at school has two mommies, and Ryan has two daddies and mommy, but I have three mommies and three daddies now."
My brow creased in confusion, and it took me a moment to work out who his third parents were… Billy and his wife, the ones who had been close to Bella's dad – Jake's birth parents.
"You're a lucky boy, aren't you?" Alice said too cheerfully as she and Jasper came back into the room, closely followed by Emmett and Rosalie. She looked a little strained, but acted like nothing was wrong as she put the disk in and waited for the film to load up.
Bella leaned into my side as Jake snuggled up to her, and I forgot all about the tension on Alice's face until a little while later, when we were all sat round the table for dinner.
Alice had made a simple, but delicious, lasagna, and all of us aside from Bella made light small talk as we ate. Nobody dared breach the topic we all knew had to be spoken about at some point, but it seemed like none of us really cared, either. Jake had pulled his chair close to Bella's and captivated her attention, never letting her focus on one of us for more than a minute before drawing her into conversation with him again.
It made me smile to see her look so happy; her eyes lit up every time he spoke to her, but even though I tried to focus on that joy, my gaze was constantly drawn to Alice. The same tension from before had only grown throughout dinner, making the conversation strained at points, but nobody had called her out on it yet. It could have been me misreading things, but she seemed on edge, more than the rest of us, though I couldn't place why.
When she excused herself to get dessert, I took my chance. Muttering something about needing to use the bathroom in Bella's ear, I slipped out the room and quickly made my way into the kitchen, where Alice was stood by the window with her arms crossed.
"What's wrong?" I asked her. She startled at the sound of my voice, then turned to face me, fixing a smile on her face.
"Nothing," she protested, moving to the freezer and pulling out a tub of ice cream.
"You're a worse liar than Bella."
Alice laughed. "Bella's actually pretty good at lying… but you already knew that."
I frowned, taken aback by the sudden hostility. "Wow, Alice."
"I'm sorry, that was uncalled for."
"Kinda," I agreed. Alice sighed softly, then busied her hands with getting an ice cream scoop out a drawer.
"I thought she was dead, you know." She turned and set the scoop on the counter, taking a moment to calm herself. "She wrote me this letter before she left, and I knew what she was going to do, but… When Carlisle told me what had happened, that she had called Code Black? I convinced myself I was never going to see her again."
"I thought I would have to raise Jake, that I would have to explain to him that yet another parent had died on him, but now she's here, and…" She gestured to her stomach, brow furrowed deeply. "She's pregnant. Do you know how fucking weird that is for me? To think she's dead, only to find out she's actually creating a new life inside her?"
I didn't know – all I would have felt upon hearing that was relief, not weirdness, had I been in her shoes.
"She is my best friend," Alice told me softly, "and I am so happy she's here, that she's safe, but… When I look at her, it's like she's not my Bella anymore, and I… I know I'm not making sense, that I sound like I'm not happy to see her – and I am, trust me – but… She hasn't even spoken to me."
"When we first got her back, she couldn't speak for days," I told her. "She's not refusing to speak to you. She's barely able to talk to anybody.
"She spoke to Jake," Alice pointed out. "But she's hardly looked at me since I hugged her."
"She hadn't spoken in three days until we arrived," I told her. "Even to me."
Alice seemed surprised at that.
"She shuts down sometimes," I continued. "But you'll relearn how to read her, just like I did."
"I've been trying, but… I just wanna hug her and talk to her, you know? I want my Bella back."
"She's still there," I promised. "It's just complicated."
"You must think I'm an awful person," Alice said sadly. "I sound so selfish."
"I know it must be hard for you to see her like this," I replied, trying to comfort her a little. "But don't take it personally. She has changed, but she's still Bella. Just give her time."
"I have," Alice protested, eyes filling with tears.
"We've only been here a few hours, Alice," I countered. "Look, I don't know how much Jasper told you about Seattle, but until then? She was doing amazingly well. After what happened… She's taken a few steps back. So give her a chance, okay?"
Alice looked down at her hands, which were turning the ice cream scoop over repeatedly. After a moment, she frowned.
"Did she really kill Alec?" she wondered.
I hesitated, then nodded. She took a moment, then looked up at me.
"She always feels guilty," Alice breathed, seeming to understand more. "She puts the blame on herself, even if they deserve it, and if what Jasper told me about her… time in the compound is true…"
"It was worse than he told you," I said softly. "What she went through is unimaginable, and she's having nightmares about what she did to the twins in Seattle."
"She can be her own worst enemy," Alice muttered. "Probably regrets that you witnessed it, and hates herself for inflicting that pain on someone else, even if they were the one who did it to her first."
"Seems like you know her as well as I do." My lips curved up into a small smile.
She looked at me strangely, then let out a sad sigh. "Not anymore."
Grabbing the ice cream and scoop from the counter, she strode out the kitchen and back into the dining room. I followed quickly after her, and carefully took my seat as she put the dessert in the center of the table with a forced smile on her face.
"Alright, Jake, it's getting late," she said, keeping her tone light. "Bed time."
"But Momma, ice cre-" Jake began to protest.
"No, honey," Alice said firmly.
"Alice," Jasper began, but a sharp look cut him off.
"Come on, Jake, time to go," she insisted. "Say goodnight."
"Goodnight," Jake muttered miserably, climbing down from his seat. He shot a desperate look at Bella, who looked just as confused as he did.
"Mommy, will you come too?"
Bella looked up almost nervously at Alice and opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.
"Please?" Jake begged.
Bella swallowed audibly, glancing at me for reassurance when Alice didn't say anything to accept or reject her. I smiled and tilted my head in the direction of the door. She hesitated, then nodded and took Jake's hand, allowing herself to be pulled into the hallway with a disapproving Alice following close behind.
"I'll show you my room, Mommy!"
As Jake's once again excited voice faded away, the tension in the room only amplified, leaving us a little lost for what to say.
"That was…" Emmett began, but trailed off when Jasper let out a heavy sigh, rubbing his fingers across his forehead.
"Alice is…" He swallowed. "Conflicted."
"About what?" Rose wondered. "She's got her best friend back – what's there to be conflicted about?"
"When she found out what happened, she didn't take it well," Jasper explained. "Then when I went to help you guys, she was desperate to see Bella, begged me to take her too, and when she finally saw her, I think she was expecting things to be exactly the same as they were before Bella left."
Emmett huffed a laugh. "Sounds like Alice."
"Didn't she know what Bella went through?" Rose asked incredulously. "No offense intended, Jasper, but surely she must have realized…"
"I know," Jasper sighed. "But… she's Alice. She doesn't always see the bad when she's hoping for the good."
A silence settled over us, but it wasn't a comfortable one – we were all straining to hear what was happening upstairs.
"Bella does seem a little better, though," Rosalie said quietly after a minute, toying with the edge of her plate.
"That's because of Jake," I told her softly, sitting back in my chair and sighing. Rosalie nodded in understanding, then glanced at Jasper and Emmett before catching my gaze again.
"Has she said anything yet?" she asked, her expression betraying her concern.
"Not much," I replied. "But after what happened in Seattle…"
"I did expect it," Rosalie confessed. "But when she… To Alec… I didn't expect that."
"Rose…" I murmured. She put a hand up to silence me.
"I get why she did it," she continued. "But when Emmett was going to… handle Jane?" Emmett shifted uncomfortably, fingers tracing across Rose's shoulder as she spoke. "I couldn't watch, because I didn't want to see him be so violent, especially towards a woman, but… I wish I hadn't seen Bella do what she did to Alec, either."
"That wasn't her," I replied. "Not really."
"I know." She swallowed audibly. "But she scared me, Edward."
"She would never hurt you," Emmett assured her, frowning. Surely Rosalie knew that?
"That's not…" Rosalie sighed in frustration. "She scared me because it reminded me of when I killed Royce. The power I felt… That darkness? It felt good. And if Bella felt like that…"
"You've heard her screaming, Rose," I reminded her. "Every night, she dreams about what happened, but in the dream, she doesn't stop. Her nightmare is that she couldn't reign herself in and killed Jane like she wanted to."
Rosalie's expression softened into one of sadness.
"That power she felt? It scared her, too."
Rose nodded, then tugged her bottom lip between her teeth.
"She knows we're worried about her, right?" she asked. "I know we don't talk much anymore… but I hope she doesn't think that's because we don't care. Because we do."
"She knows," I replied. "But I think maybe she feels guilty for doing what she did when you were in the room, and now it's hard for her to be around you. She was so close to stepping over that line…"
"But she didn't." Emmett. "Edward, I know you're the best at understanding her, but maybe hearing the truth from a friend might help too? She needs to know we don't blame her."
I sighed, nodding. The transition from meaningless chatter to deep conversation was draining. "I can't speak for her – if she doesn't want to listen, I can't make her, but I agree. It might help her."
"I know you don't know us," he interjected. "But I like to think you trust us at least a little. So maybe we should all try and talk, to reconnect, before all Hell breaks loose again."
I hesitated, which Emmett mistook for protest.
"I'm not saying we stop planning," he clarified. "I just know that Rose and I are tired… and Jasper, I know you must be, too."
"So what's the harm?" Emmett continued. "Peter won't be here for a few days anyway, and we all need to breathe. But more importantly… Bella needs to be a mom again. She needs to recover."
"I agree," Jasper said softly. "But once Peter gets here, we need to focus. Time is not our friend, here."
Our heads flicked round to the door, where Alice was waiting, cheeks slightly damp.
"I think Bella wants you."
"Did she say anything?" I wondered, standing up from my seat.
Alice shook her head. "No, but… I'm not you. I don't understand her like you do. She… She's crying."
"Fuck," I muttered, then rushed past Alice and hurried up the stairs two at a time, panic welling in my chest.
I found her in our bedroom, sitting on the bed with both hands curved protectively over her stomach, head tilted back and eyes closed as tears spilled down her cheeks.
"Baby?" I croaked, pushing the door half shut behind me as I rushed to crouch in front of her, hands instinctually covering hers. "What's wrong?"
Bella let out a soft sob, then opened her eyes and looked down at me, a smile breaking out across her face as she entwined our fingers and held them tightly to her stomach. I stared at her, searching for some indication of what was happening, but then… I felt the slightest movement between my fingertips.
"What the…" I frowned, staring at my fingers.
"Kicking," she whispered. "I thought, b-before… I felt s-s-something, but… you feel that?"
I nodded, amazed. "Just."
Bella breathed out a happy laugh, meeting my gaze. The smile on her face was breathtaking.
"Edward," she sighed, then reached up with one hand to cup my cheek. "She's kicking."
I felt myself smile, utterly amazed. "Alice said-"
"She d-doesn't underst-stand why I-" She flinched, throat closing up.
"Hey," I soothed, pressing my forehead to hers. I felt Bella smile sadly.
" I'm sorry," she croaked. "I'm tr-trying."
"It's emotions," I murmured. "Whenever you feel anything bad." I kissed her, just barely a touch of lips. "So focus on the good."
She nodded and closed her eyes, sliding the hand on my cheek into my hair as the other still pressed my fingers to her stomach, even though Elizabeth's kicks seemed to have died down.
"I love you," she breathed after a moment.
"I love you, too," I sighed, pressing another chaste kiss to her lips.
"Thank you." The words were whispers against my mouth. "For keeping me here."
I kissed her again, more deeply this time but just as soft, unable to understand why she felt the need to thank me. I wasn't willing to argue with her, though. Instead, I simply sighed as she leaned closer, her fingers curling in my hair as she tilted her head and coaxed my lips to part with her own.
At the sound of Jake's unsure voice, Bella pulled back and looked over my shoulder as Jake pushed open the door and quietly padded into the room.
"Yes, sweetheart?" she managed to say, reaching out a hand for him as I stood up and moved to the side. Jake hesitated for just a moment, then almost ran into her arms, wrapping himself tightly around her.
"I'm scared," he told her sadly. Bella swallowed audibly.
"You're okay, honey," she assured him, leaning her cheek against the side of his head.
"Can I stay with you?" he pleaded against her neck. Bella brought a hand up to cup the back of his head and closed her eyes, breathing him in.
"Of course," she promised, then opened her eyes to catch my gaze. I smiled at her in understanding before moving towards the door to give them the moment together.
Bella's free hand shot out and grabbed my wrist. "Stay?"
I paused, unsure of myself.
"Please?" Jake said, turning his head to look at me. "You can keep me safe, too."
My heart squeezed painfully at the worried look in his eyes. He thought we'd leave him, that Bella would disappear and he would be alone again.
"Okay," I breathed, nodding at them both. Bella's hand dropped to mine and held on tight in a silent thank you.
Happier now, Jake climbed off Bella's lap and onto the bed, settling himself beneath the covers before looking up at us expectantly. Bella pushed herself to her feet and moved over to the drawers, pulling out one of my t-shirts and a pair of sweatpants before tossing me something to wear myself.
Bella hurried to the bathroom to get changed, getting herself ready in half the time it usually too. As she crossed the room to the bed, she pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail, then carefully got in under the covers and shifted across towards Jake.
He rolled onto his side to face her, fingers curling in her t-shirt, and I smiled to myself as she wrapped her arms around him before excusing myself to the bathroom to change and brush my teeth.
When I came back a few minutes later, I ran my hand through my hair nervously, noticing how Jake had already fallen half asleep in Bella's arms. I almost felt like an intruder, but then she looked over her shoulder at me and smiled. I smiled back at her, then closed the distance between us and climbed in behind her, rolling onto my side so I could lay one arm across her waist.
I kept some distance between our bodies, not wanting to overstep any boundaries, but Bella reached back and pulled me closer, tilting her head so she could kiss me. Once we parted, she gave me a small smile, then closed her eyes and let her head fall back to the pillow, her entire body relaxing.
I watched her and Jake's breathing eventually even out, and felt my own body start sinking into sleep too. I didn't fight it, even though part of me wanted to.
Instead, I just let myself settle fully behind Bella, nose barely brushing her neck, and closed my eyes.
Bella didn't have nightmares that night. Neither did I.