A/N: Thanks all, for sticking with me so far. I hope you'll find the results worth the wait.
Many thanks to sherryola and to ContentedTwiCow for guiding me down this path. This story is much better because of you.
Many, many thanks to Katmom - beta extraordinaire - for helping me mold the clay into something intelligible, and helping me fill in the blanks. Hugs and kisses to you all!
Thanks so much to everyone who has read and left feedback, favorited and set alerts. I enjoy your comments very much and you guys make this effort all worthwhile.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all the characters, I'm just horsing around her corral. No copyright infringement is intended.
Ch. 14 – Education
"It's all right, love, I'll be fine."
Edward lay on our bed, propped up on pillows, wearing soft pajama bottoms only. Fresh, venom poultices were applied to both sides of his body, as I had re-injured his ribs and given him a matching set on the right side. He patted my hand and tried to reassure me after I had apologized for about the hundredth time.
This was a new, personal hell. Since I was no exhibitionist, I was absolutely mortified that we had been caught in an intimate situation. Alice had seen me undressed before, but the Denali clan was still essentially strangers to me. And for them to see me like that – nothing more than a wild animal – I had no words to describe the depths of my shame.
Furthermore, I had experienced another episode, one not triggered by rage. Just like those incidents, I had no clear memory of the details – only impressions of desire and heat. And now that I had injured Edward again, I didn't think my brain had any more room for the guilt. My fears of him getting hurt – originally by Victoria or the newborn army – had been realized…by me.
"Does it hurt?" I asked in a small voice. Carlisle had instructed us over the phone how to create a dressing of venom to help Edward's healing. I knew it would help, since Edward had been on his feet quickly after the first injury, but the guilt still held on to me, clawing at my chest.
"I'll be all right. You didn't know what you were doing." His evasion basically answered my question, and he reached over and gave my bicep a gentle squeeze. "Didn't I tell you you'd be stronger than Emmett?" He said that with a wry twist to his smile, and I couldn't fault him for trying to cheer me up. I just wasn't ready to forgive myself yet.
"Yeah, but that's the problem," I objected. "If the others weren't around, who knows how badly you might have been hurt?"
Edward fell silent for a moment, his eyes calm, and his face somber. "But they were there. We're here to help you, so try to put that out of your mind."
"I know, I just–" I opened and closed my mouth a couple times. "I just wanted you so much, that was all I could think about."
He shrugged, then grimaced as the movement caused a spasm of pain. "Don't worry about it, love. You just need to wait until the newborn instincts wear off and you get your self-control back."
"No hugging for a while, that's for sure." I frowned at the mess of bandages, and my tide pool of guilt lapped that much higher.
Not only had I hurt him again, but he had waited for me for so long already. The little taste we had on our honeymoon was one human memory I had no trouble recalling, and it bothered me that because of my lack of control, he would continue to go unfulfilled. When I had resolved to forgive him, I'd been relieved that my overwhelming desire for him had not gone away with my humanity. But now I couldn't do anything about it, without injuring him. I certainly didn't have his level of iron control. That thought tickled a fuzzy memory.
"Mmm?" His eyes were closed and his head lay against the pillow.
"You were able to resist the smell of my blood after a while, weren't you?"
Amber eyes opened to mine. "Yes," was his guarded response.
"Remind me how you did that?"
An ironic snort escaped Edward's nostrils. "It wasn't anything I did."
I cocked my head and waited, my expression expectant.
He swallowed briefly, his Adam's apple bobbing. "When I mistook Harry Clearwater's funeral for yours, I honestly believed that you were dead. The anguish was so debilitating, the only thing that motivated me was to reach Volterra and make it stop. That agony was far greater than any impulse caused by the desire for your blood. To avoid that experience again, it was almost easy to stop myself from hurting you."
The crease was between his eyebrows at the remembered pain, and I stroked his hand to soothe him. "Sorry I brought it up," I said quietly. I was also disappointed, as I didn't have any experience of that kind to help deter me.
Edward raised his head for a moment, staring off into space, then scratched his chin and spoke. "When I first met you, I tried to desensitize myself to the scent of your blood. I stayed in your room and essentially wallowed in it, taking deep breaths to try and get used to the burn. It did seem to help me stay near you, because when I would see you after a brief time apart, I would have to start over and struggle again."
"But you weren't a newborn."
"True, I wasn't." Edward grimaced as he said it. "When I was newborn, the ability to see Carlisle's motivation in his mind – the abhorrence he had of killing humans – helped bolster me. I so did not want to disappoint him."
I dropped my gaze and looked down at our hands. "I don't want to disappoint you either," I said quietly.
Edward's gentle fingers on my chin raised my eyes to meet him. "Don't do that, love, you're not a disappointment to me. Far from it, in fact, so please don't think that way, all right?"
The warmth and caring in his gaze washed over me, a gentle balm that eased my wall of worry a little bit. I gave a little smile and nodded, while his thumb gently caressed my cheek.
"That's not to say my newborn period was easy," Edward continued. "You may have noticed, I sometimes have a temper. I was very quick to anger back then, so it was some time before we were able to try and re-integrate with human society.
"Bloodlust never truly goes away, only your ability to control your own impulses grows as you get older. Eventually, you can stop yourself from giving in to the hunting instinct. If you wanted to try desensitizing yourself, as I did, I can have Carlisle send up a few units of whole blood. With your extra-sensitivity, it may take longer, but, well, were you in any kind of a hurry?"
Edward finished with an ironic tilt of his head, and a quiet smile escaped me. "I'd like to try that," I agreed.
Desensitizing myself might help with getting back to society, but didn't address my other control issues. We sat silently, and I slowly clasped his hand in mine. If only he could hear me coming, so he could fend me off if needed. Then even if I wasn't in control of myself, he would still be safe...
"Hey!" I exclaimed.
Edward raised startled eyes to me. "What's wrong?"
"You should learn from Eleazar with Jasper! When you're feeling better, of course."
"I already know how to take care of myself," he objected.
"He said he didn't need to see or hear to do what he was doing. That would be perfect for you and me."
"You've lost me," he admitted.
"You can't hear me coming," I said, feeling more positive about the idea the more I thought about it. "And you said Eleazar wasn't thinking about what he was doing, just reacting. If you can do what he can do, it won't matter if you can hear me or not. You'd be able to feel my strength and neutralize it without having to hear my mind. Then I don't have to worry about hurting you anymore."
He thought about it silently, his lips pursed as he considered.
"It couldn't hurt, and if it means you're safe from me..." I ended breathlessly. "I just want you to be safe."
"That's not a bad idea," he agreed. "Anything to make you feel better."
I breathed a sigh of relief. If he could keep me injuring him again, that would be one less thing I had to worry about. It didn't help the other feelings, though. Even wrapped in bandages as he was, with his shirt off and the lean, muscled planes of his stomach and chest in plain sight, he still made my breath catch and my hands itched to feel those–
I quickly closed my eyes and took a breath. I needed to get away from the temptations he presented to me.
"You need your rest. Can I get you something to read? Maybe the sisters have something you haven't read."
"Yes, that would be nice. And could you bring the laptop over here, please?"
"Sure." I got up to oblige him. "Fiction or non-fiction?"
"Non-fiction, please. See if they have anything from the Renaissance."
= = CR = = CR = =
I had to screw up my courage before I stepped outside. Alice had handed me a fresh shirt after we brought Edward into the house so I was decent, but the last time Eleazar and Jasper had seen me, I was half-dressed and...well...not myself. However, this errand was for Edward, so I set my shoulders and pushed the door open.
Eleazar was working hand-to-hand with Jasper in the middle of the front yard, standing face-to-face with him. Their feet were stationary but spread moderately fore and aft, while they repeatedly pressed forward and settled back as their hands and arms pushed, shifted and turned in a never-ending dance.
Jasper glanced my way as I approached, and the two of them stopped working and relaxed. "How is he?" Jasper asked.
I winced with the guilt and a little embarrassment. "He's resting, but he's in pain. I hope he'll be better soon."
Jasper gave me a confident pat on the shoulder. "He will be. He was up and around fairly quickly the last time, remember?"
"Yeah, but this is both sides of his body."
"Even so, he'll be fine. Takes more than that to stop a vampire."
"Maybe, if he didn't have such a crazy wife, he could get better and stay better," I muttered, then raised my eyes. "Eleazar? When Edward is better, do you think you can teach him, too?"
One aristocratic eyebrow rose slightly. "Does he wish to learn?"
"Yes, he does. And, well, I want him to learn, too," my words tumbled out. "He can't hear my thoughts to warn him when I might do something to hurt him. If he can just feel what's coming and react, he could stay safe from me, right?"
Eleazar nodded. "Yes, I believe so. Certainly, I'd be glad to show him when he's on his feet again."
I smiled in gratitude. "Thank you. Meanwhile, do you have anything non-fiction he could read while he's healing? Maybe something from the Renaissance?"
"Of course. There is a section on the third shelf from the top, east wall of the living room."
= = CR = = CR = =
I found a book on the Medici family in Eleazar's collection and brought the book to Edward. He was typing quickly on the laptop as I entered the room, but he stopped and smiled up at me. I approached and sat carefully on the bed, making sure not to jostle him.
"I spoke with Eleazar," I began. "He said he'd be happy to teach you."
"All right," he said, evenly. "We'll see how far Jasper progresses by the time I heal."
"What are you working on?" I wondered.
"Just drafting an e-mail to Carlisle, letting him know we arrived safely. Esme will want to know too."
"Asking him to send blood?"
Edward nodded, his forelock of hair falling into his eyes. I figured he would tell Carlisle all the things that had happened on the trip to Alaska, as well as after we arrived, but I resisted the temptation to look at the screen. There weren't many secrets in this family, so I shouldn't be surprised if he did tell them everything. Maybe Carlisle could advise him on how to handle me. I set the book down next to him.
"Here you go. The story of the Medici family. Have you read it yet?"
He glanced down. "Not this particular one, thank you."
His answer made me pause. "Have you ever reached a point where you felt you've seen it all, read it all and wondered where to go from there?"
"I haven't read everything in existence, but there was a time I felt I had played out almost all of my interests. I started to wonder about the futility and tedium of it all." Edward settled his head back against the pillow and gave me an indulgent smile. "That's about when you came into my life. I haven't had time to be bored since then."
I smiled and held my hand open to him. Edward took it, and raised it to his lips, brushing the knuckles like a moth's wing. As soft as it was, the bolt of heat that shot up my arm almost dazed me.
I cleared my throat. "Anyway, I should let you finish. Do you need anything else?"
"No, love. Thank you." He raised his chin and waited expectantly. I leaned close, kissed him softly on the lips, and slowly slid off the bed. Edward favored me with a gentle smile and turned back to the computer.
"Say 'hi' to the family for me."
I stood up to leave the room, needing someplace to think, but couldn't help stopping in the doorway, gazing longingly at him – his reddish-brown hair was tousled just right, and the light in the room cast shadows that made his muscles stand out. I sighed and left before I could do anything. I needed to do something about Edward and me. Everyone seemed to think everything would be fine after I finished being a newborn, but that was so far away.
When the thought of making love with Edward had first come up, I felt sure he could learn to control himself enough for us to be intimate. After all, he had learned not to bite me, so this was just another measure of self-control, right? It had taken our honeymoon accident to convince me to wait until I was immortal. And while Edward seemed to have incredible patience where we were concerned, I wasn't satisfied to wait.
But what could I do? What did other people do in this situation? Was there a doctor for this kind of thing? Could I talk to a friend or a family member? I clenched my jaw as the thought reminded me that I had two less friends. Though I hadn't counted Jessica as much of a confidante when she was alive – she tended to be on the gossipy side.
A therapist? That would have to be some kind of record, seeing a counselor after only two weeks of marriage. It would be the shortest session on record too, when I ate the therapist.
I decided to go look for Alice. Shutting my eyes, I let my sense of hearing reach out until I found her – she was speaking with Kate and Tanya about clothing designs. Turning, I followed the sound of her voice toward Kate's room. Before I reached the hallway, I heard Alice excuse herself, then she popped out of Kate's room. She had changed out of her travel clothes into a pink, sleeveless ruffled top with a dark grey, pencil skirt. Stylish, yet totally underdressed for cold weather. Taking me by the elbow, she steered me towards the back door.
"This way," she whispered. When we reached the door, I hesitated, since we weren't dressed for the outdoors. "Come on, it's night time, silly," Alice insisted. "Nobody comes up here, and if they did, they can't even see us."
The night air was chilly, but made no difference to us. We ran up the hill towards the wind turbines, crested the hill and kept going. After we had gone a couple miles, Alice came to a stop on a low knoll covered with scrub trees and bushes. Settling daintily on a largish, flattened rock, Alice cocked her head and raised an eyebrow as she sat. I folded my legs and sat on the ground nearby.
"That's one problem with a vampire family – the lengths you have to go, to get a little privacy. What's on your mind, Bella?" In the hushed night air, her wind chime voice seemed rather loud to me. The pale moonlight made her face stand out as her inky locks blended into the night.
I sighed and pulled my knees up, wrapping my arms around them. "Alice, what am I going to do? I keep hurting Edward and I have no idea when I'm doing it. Is there anything I can do about this?"
"Can you tell me what really happened?" she asked. "I only got the reader's digest version after we got up there, and I wasn't paying attention to see what went on before."
My nose wrinkled in disgust at the memory. "Ugh. It's kind of embarrassing."
Alice covered her mouth to suppress a laugh, then calmed herself. Eyes still dancing a bit, she spoke kindly. "Don't worry, I've seen you half-dressed before, Bella. It's not a big deal."
That was true, but she'd never seen me like that. I swear, I would be the first vampire in existence to break into a blush. "Uh, yeah." I took a deep breath and plunged in. "So, Edward brought me up to the top of the hill to watch the sunset and then the northern lights."
"After a while, he started kissing me, and one thing led to another…"
"It usually does," Alice smirked. Even in the dim starlight, I could see her eyes twinkling mischievously.
"And…I don't remember too much after that." I sunk my face behind my arms.
"Think, Bella. What were you feeling at the time? Were you mad?"
I hesitated as I thought. "No, not mad. I just…I just wanted him so much. I wanted him to hold me closer. I wanted to hold him closer."
"Do you remember tearing off his clothes?"
"NO!" My cry echoed off the distant landscape, mocking me before dying away. "God, no, I don't. I think I heard cloth tearing, but I can't believe I did that."
"Don't remember much, then?"
"Well, there's your answer." She gave a self-satisfied nod. "It sounds like the violent episodes you had back home, only it's coming from the other side of the emotional spectrum. Love, lust, rage and fear are all powerful emotions. Jasper said you were fairly normal as long as you don't lose it. You're going to have to avoid getting too aroused if you're going to stay in control around him."
The bottom seemed to drop out of my stomach at the thought. "But, how can I? I love him so much, being near him is like breathing to me. Do you mean I'll have to…stay away from him?" My voice broke on the last words.
Alice shook her head. "I don't think you have to be isolated from him. You just can't get so involved. I didn't see that coming anymore than when you got angry, because it's not a long term decision you make. It just…happens…under certain circumstances."
"How long do you think I'll be this way?"
"I'm not sure." Alice shrugged. "I don't have a lot of experience with newborns. You should ask Jasper or Eleazar."
"I can't talk to Jasper about sex!" I squawked, mortified. "That would be just…gross!"
"Well, you can't call your mom. 'Mom, I try to kill people when I get turned on.' What's she supposed to say to that?"
My mom had given me 'the talk' when I was ten, but Alice was right – this was beyond Renee's world view. I just didn't think I could discuss this with Jasper; I could talk to Edward about it, but we were married.
"Anyway, you're not talking about sex." Alice rolled her eyes. "Anger and lust are emotional states. Who better to talk to about working with feelings than an empath?"
"Oh. Good point. Well, we'll see. I'll have to work up to that."
Alice got off the rock, knelt next to me and put her arms around my shoulders. "Don't worry, Bella, it'll be all right. I know it's still strange for you, but believe me, these things are all pretty normal in this world."
"Really?" I asked, skeptically. "Have any of you killed your friends?"
"Rosalie has, but she wasn't on speaking terms with him at the time. Jasper had to kill many vampires, some he knew well." Alice pulled back a little and examined my face. "Still bothering you?"
I nodded quickly, my hair dancing around my face. "Yeah, it still does. I was even blaming Edward for letting me kill them." I dropped my chin onto my knees again. "That was stupid, it's not his fault."
Alice pursed her lips and frowned. "Is that why you don't want to touch him?"
"Well, yes and no." I shook my head. "I mean, that's part of what I was feeling. I hate that I killed them, but he had nothing to do with it. Now I'm just afraid I'll lose it and hurt him again, maybe even kill him."
"At least you feel good enough to talk about things. The last couple of days I wasn't sure what to do about you."
I hadn't realized how unpleasant I would have seemed to the others, and felt another twinge of guilt. "Sorry, Alice. I still feel bad about it, but I guess most of the shock has worn off."
Alice let go and settled down next to me, hip to hip. She leaned into me, her shoulder only coming partway up to mine. Deep in thought, she drew her knees up and rested her chin on them, arms around her legs.
"I can understand that you're having a hard time dealing with things," she said in a kind voice. "But you do know that accidents happen. Didn't Edward tell you about this before?"
I vaguely remembered a story Edward had told me of Emmett. "I think so. Emmett came across somebody who smelled too good and he couldn't help himself."
Alice nodded. "So you knew this was possible coming into it."
I looked away from her. "Yeah."
"So what's the problem?"
I blew out a long shaky breath. "I didn't think that would be me. I wanted to be one of the good vampires."
Alice looked quickly at the sky in exasperation. "Bella, do you consider Jasper, Emmett and Edward to be 'good' vampires?"
"Of course I do."
"Do you know how many humans Jasper has killed and eaten?"
Alice's tone was flat and relentless. I had no idea, but her question hinted at a vast body count. I shook my head.
"Neither do I," she continued. "But that's not the point. It's part of who we are. Do you remember your 18th birthday?"
My eyes narrowed as I thought back unwillingly, and I nodded. It was one of my more significant human memories. Even though I had tried to repress them, the images of a cake, broken glass plates and blood came to mind fairly easily. Jasper's face, wild with bloodlust, still took center stage. Edward said that human memories fade. This was one I wouldn't mind losing.
"You know I loved you even when you were human, right?"
"Well, as much as I loved you, I had to leave the room, because I wanted to kill you, too. That's how much a part of us that urge is. You, of all people, should understand that. Especially being with Edward for so long, and being more sensitive to blood than the rest of us. This urge to kill isn't the mark of a bad person, it's just part of your life now."
I guess when you see something everyday, no matter how miraculous, you take it for granted. Edward had mastered the urge triggered by the scent of my blood. He hadn't needed to struggle to control himself around me in so long I had forgotten.
"Do you think you can forgive yourself now?"
Logically, it made sense. But emotionally, I still felt the guilt, like a hot lump of stone in my belly. It was like when I first realized Edward was a vampire. Logic had told me to run away screaming; emotion had said it was too late to run. Now emotion was telling me…
"Ugh," I groaned, let myself fall back onto the cold grass and threw an arm over my eyes. "I don't know. Physically wanting to kill somebody wasn't exactly an everyday occurrence with me, you know?"
Alice went quiet and I could hear her breathing.
"Bella, would you really have kept in contact with your friends after you'd been changed?"
I frowned as I sifted through more hazy memories. Jessica had gone over to the anti-Bella group of classmates up until graduation. Mike had gotten easier to be around once he had resigned himself to Edward's presence in my life, but he was no best friend. I moved my arm so I could see her. "Not really, but that doesn't mean they deserved to die."
"That's not what I'm saying. More that their impact on your life wouldn't have been that significant. From a human perspective, yes, it's a tragedy. Mike's parents have lost their only son, and Jessica's parents will never go to her wedding. But from a vampire perspective, they're only two in an endless string of human lives. Or would be if we weren't vegetarians.
"Do you know why we never tried to get to know the kids in school? You were the only one to ever get close to us."
"They thought you all were too stuck up to be bothered with them."
Alice nodded. "And that's just fine with us. How many times do you think we've been to high school?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
She began ticking items off on her fingers. "First, we don't bother befriending people when there's the possibility of accidents. If you're an acquaintance of the deceased, the police always want to talk to you." Alice waved a hand in the air. "Second, even if there're no accidents, we'd eventually leave them behind and outlive them. We would move on and it would be too much of a complication to keep in touch. And third, frankly it's a little weird to befriend what would basically be our food supply."
I raised myself onto my elbows and stared at the landscape, absorbing Alice's words. If I got close enough to Angela, I'm sure the scent of her blood would be too much for me. But try as I might, I couldn't picture her as food. To me she was still my friend.
"To be fair to you, I didn't have your perspective when I was changed. All I can remember was waking up as a vampire with all the realities of vampire life. This amount of guilt you feel only makes sense if you're measuring yourself by purely human values. You need to learn to value yourself by vampire standards. Carlisle has taught us to value human life, but there will be mistakes. Carlisle forgives you. Edward and I and the rest of the family forgive you, too."
Alice reached over and stroked my hair back from my face. "Can you forgive yourself?"
I gave her a weak, half-smile. "Edward and Esme said pretty much the same thing," I told her.
"Well, they're not wrong," Alice said quietly. "Vampire values acknowledge the occasional accidents." She locked her eyes on mine. "I think the sooner you can accept this life for what it is, the sooner you'll be able to forgive yourself."
I looked back up at the stars, thinking. My eyes gravitated to the Big Dipper. "I was just so afraid I'd lose who I was when I got changed. When I woke up, I wasn't just a bloodthirsty maniac and that made me happy. I felt more or less like myself, except when I got mad or when we were hunting. I'm feeling that if I embrace the vampire life, I need to be a little callous about humans. I don't want to be a ruthless killer when it comes to people. I just don't know if I'm ready to give up the good parts of being human yet."
"Bella, what makes you think you give up your emotions?" she chided me. "If Edward lost the ability to love, you wouldn't be here. So you'll be a kind-hearted vampire. That's not a bad thing. Why do you think Jasper walked away from his previous life?"
"Because he could feel the terror of his victims, and he felt bad about it."
"And you still feel bad about this." It wasn't a question. Alice sighed. "If you can't stop feeling bad about it, maybe you should do something to make up for it. That's one reason Carlisle started down the road to medicine, to make amends for the predations of our kind on humans."
"That wouldn't work for a long time," I said with a little shudder. "Just catching that little whiff of those people at the gas station made me want to go after them."
"It doesn't have to be medicine. Just something that will satisfy this urge you have to make amends. Call it a long term goal, or even a penance if you like."
I liked the idea of making amends somehow. It wouldn't bring back Mike and Jessica, but if I could just make the world a little better…it would be worthwhile. Cheered by this thought, I rolled up to a sitting position and, remembering to use as little strength as I could, put my arms around Alice and gave her a hug. "Thanks Alice, that's a really good idea. I knew I could count on you."
"That's what sisters are for," she said, giving me a satisfied little smile.
The idea of doing something that gave back to the world really appealed to me. I wanted to be able to help someone, and know their life was the better for it. That eliminated my original thought of being a writer; it was too self-centered. Any good that it did for the world was too indirect for what I wanted.
Too bad our books and course materials wouldn't be arriving for another week. Now college and learning weren't just a cover story or a way to pass the time. They were the key to my future and my peace of mind, and I wanted to get started. Maybe not a doctor, but perhaps something else where there wasn't as much blood involved. It had taken Carlisle many years to gain absolute control over his bloodlust for humans. If it took me as many years, I would do it. Then at least I could do something to deserve this life I had chosen.
For now, I needed something to occupy my hands, and perhaps keep my mind off Edward. I decided to see what kind of help the sisters might need around the homestead.
= = CR = = CR = =
The air in the tannery was heavy with the noisome fumes of chemicals used to treat the animal pelts. Talk about an education. When I had asked Kate and Tanya if there was anything I could do to help around the house, they had apologized and said the only thing there was to do at the moment were some pelts that needed finishing in the workshop, but they wouldn't ask a guest to help with that. Really hoping for something to occupy my mind, I had enthusiastically volunteered. Little did I know. Fortunately, I didn't need to breathe, so it wasn't as bad for me as it might have been when I was human.
At first I had really needed to build up my determination to even approach Tanya and Kate, to ask what I could do to help. Tanya had immediately begun to razz me for being a greater succubus than she, and I wasn't sure if I were more embarrassed or angry. Kate, however, would have none of it. She had immediately silenced her sister, and reassured me not to feel embarrassed while growing through my newborn state – they had all experienced it, in one way or another. While I was still sensitive about my lack of control, I was very grateful for her support.
For the next day after his injury, Edward had read and worked on his laptop. I had helped out in the workshop when I wasn't taking care of him. Granted, there was little I could do to speed his recovery, and he didn't really need a nurse, but I had to do something and I liked keeping him company. Then after his injuries had sealed and the bandages came off, I had a hard time staying away from him. Rather than risk getting into a situation where I might get carried away again, I spent more time in the workshop. Eventually, he was able to get up, and he went off to join Jasper and Eleazar.
The tannery was a large room off to the side from the main workshop, and it was separate for a good reason. When Kate described the ancient process of tanning – using urine and fecal matter to preserve animal skins – I had shuddered in disgust. I was glad they had graduated to modern methods. Ammonia and formalin weren't so bad in comparison.
Kate stayed with me, showing me what to do. I appreciated her patience as she explained the process of how they turned animal hides into clothing. In a way she reminded me a lot of Angela. She was calm and rather quiet, and very considerate.
Animal skins with the fur still on were stretched onto racks to dry, as I had seen in the main workshop. This began the preservation process by removing the moisture from the skins to prevent rotting or mold. Fortunately the dry Arctic air was well suited for this purpose.
Once dry, the skins were soaked in a salt solution to restore a certain amount of moisture to the skins and make them more pliable for working. Then they could be scraped to remove any remaining flesh, fat or connective tissue. That's what I was in the middle of doing. I had a long, curved blade in my hand, carving away the unwanted tissues still clinging to the hide. I spoiled one hide by carving too close and went all the way through it, gouging a large hole. Frustration at my clumsiness started to mount in my head but I was able to get it under control again before I could lose my grip. Thankfully, Kate's calm demeanor helped keep me from getting too excited and helped bring me back down.
I found it very easy to talk to Kate. Even though she knew why we had fled Forks, she was not judgmental, and we chatted easily while we worked. She promised me that making clothing out of the finished pelts was more pleasant than this and I would enjoy that more. I laughed and told her I didn't mind. It was interesting learning where leather came from.
Irina continued to be unpleasant, and after awhile, it was easier to avoid her than try engaging her in conversation. I held a vague human memory of Irina denying us help when Victoria's newborn army came calling, but still didn't understand why she would hold such a grudge. One day when Kate and I were alone in the workshop, I asked if she knew what Irina's problem was.
"It all started with Laurent," Kate began. "We were quite surprised when he arrived here, and more surprised when he said he had learned of us from Carlisle. He seemed to be a very charming fellow, and it had been a while since we had seen an unattached vampire, so naturally we let him stay. He seemed to like Irina the best." Kate gave me a rueful smile and a shrug. Then her brows drew together. "What happened with him down there? I never knew why he left, and then Irina heard that he was killed by werewolves. She has been upset ever since."
I wrinkled my nose, not at the smells, but at the unpleasant memories. "He was working for an old friend, Victoria, trying to see if Edward's family was still protecting me. If not, she was going to come kill me."
Kate looked up in surprise. "But why?"
"Her mate, James, almost killed me, but Edward killed him instead. She thought it would be fairer to kill me, and since I was human it would have been easier."
"He was spying for her?" Kate's voice came in a hiss.
I nodded, and shifted the hide I was working on around so I could get at a new section.
"I knew something wasn't right with him," Kate muttered. "But I never said anything."
We were interrupted by a knock on the tannery door. It was Jasper. "Bella, would you mind coming and helping us with something?"
"Me?" My voice squeaked with surprise.
"Yes. Eleazar said Edward needs your help."
I felt a moment of apprehension, not sure what I would be able to do for him. "All right, I'm coming."
I put down my scraper, washed my hands in the sink and dried them. On the way through the workshop, I had to pass Irina's workbench. She was studiously ignoring us as she cut patterns out of a finished caribou pelt. I stopped at her workbench, hoping to extend an olive branch.
"Irina? I'm so sorry about Laurent." I spoke hesitantly, not sure if she would be receptive.
As I feared, Irina turned an angry scowl on me, her black irises seeming to spark with her anger. "What do you care? You're all wolf-lovers! I thought he left me. But he never came back because of your cursed wolf friends!"
I stepped back in the face of her ire. "I'm sorry, but I was human and he was going to kill me! If it weren't for the wolves I wouldn't be here now!"
Irina's glare seemed to darken even more, if that was possible. She stood up from her workbench, shears clenched in one hand. For a moment, her expression flickered between anger and calm. Then she glanced at Jasper and settled for annoyance. "So you got him killed," she accused.
"No!" I objected. "I didn't know what they were then! I thought they might kill me if Laurent didn't, but then he ran away. I didn't even know he was dead until later."
Kate broke in quietly. "Irina. I didn't want to tell you, but there was more to him than just what we saw."
Irina turned on her sister. "What do you mean? Have they been telling tales to you?"
Kate's eyes narrowed at Irina's words. "No, I have my own eyes. I liked him, too, but he wasn't devoted to our way. He kept ties with his old friends, too."
Irina sputtered for a moment. "You're just jealous because he chose me. I won't hear any more lies about him."
"We're not lying," I said. I could feel some anger building, but Jasper wouldn't be able to take mine away. I took a deep breath and tried to keep my voice calm so I wouldn't get carried away. "He was spying on Carlisle's family for his friend, Victoria. I was hiking in the woods when he was out there hunting. He said he was thirsty and he was doing me a favor to kill me quickly instead of letting her do it."
"I know you grieve for him, sister," Kate said. "But he was working for an enemy of our family. Who do you think sent the newborn army to destroy them?"
"I don't have to listen to this," Irina objected. She tossed her work on the bench and turned on her heel. The door swept open and banged against the workshop in her wake.
As the door swung back, I shook my head. "I just can't leave well enough alone, can I?" I asked rhetorically.
"She needed to hear the truth," Kate opined. "Come."
= = CR = = CR = =
Edward and Eleazar were waiting for us in the front yard. Time was beginning to become meaningless to me, but Jasper and Eleazar must have been going for at least two days. I did a quick calculation. For a human, if martial arts lessons were anything like ballet, one session might be two or three hours long. Then there would be two or three sessions a week depending on the student's schedule. If so, they had put in what would have been about eight weeks of work for a human.
"Haven't you guys taken a break?" I asked, and felt silly the minute I uttered the words.
Edward's expression seemed to be a little frustrated to me. The distraction of working out and the brief time apart didn't seem to have eased things for him. I would have to do something for him, and soon.
Eleazar chuckled. "You are still new to this life, yes? You will see. As long as an activity is of interest, we can go for a very long time. But, we come to beg your assistance." He indicated Edward and Jasper with an elegant gesture.
"Edward's gift is wondrous, but it hampers his ability to execute what I'm trying to convey. He still relies on that second hearing, so he is not reacting from his body, but his mind."
Remembering something Eleazar said, I asked, "I thought you said this takes no thinking?"
"I've never had a student like Edward," he replied. "Defense on my part takes no thinking. But apparently, offense takes some thought, although very little. Offense in this system is like throwing a bucket of water at a wall – the water flows of itself and finds its own openings. But even though we sense the openings very quickly, Edward still hears that. He is developing some very bad habits."
Eleazar paused when he saw my puzzled face. "What did you need me to do?" I asked.
"Edward cannot hear you. If you can be a training partner for him, it would be a great help to his training."
It finally dawned on me what they were asking. "So, to help him, would I have to learn too?"
"Yes, Bella. If you would not mind."
"Me! Learn karate!" My mouth hung open as I boggled at the idea. I'd never done anything like this in my life.
"Well, it doesn't have a name, but…yes."
"Eleazar taught me a little," Kate spoke up. "It's useful, but I have my own advantages so didn't go very far into it."
"But I might hurt him!" I objected.
"Not to worry," Eleazar soothed me. "Beginning exercises are very controlled, rather slow, and do not use power. By the time you need to use any effort, I expect he should have enough of an understanding to protect himself from you." Eleazar placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Edward mentioned some of your concerns. I think you will find it will also help with mental focus, and regaining your self-control."
Edward gave me a little smile of encouragement. "Did you have anything better to do until our class materials arrive?"
Faded memories of gym class and physical endeavors of all kinds came to mind, none of them very pleasant. But maybe my new mind and body would be able to handle it better. This wasn't exactly what Edward needed from me, but it was some little thing I could do to help him.
"Okay," I agreed. "But be careful. Jasper, if I'm going to lose control you better grab hold of me."
Jasper nodded. "Between Eleazar and myself, I think we can take care of one newborn."
I blew out a long breath, reached back and cinched up the hair tie on my ponytail. "All right, what do I do?"
Eleazar began again. This was his third time starting with a beginner, but he showed no signs of impatience. Once again he started with the basics. It was the second time I had heard it, so some of it actually started to make sense. As Eleazar began with me, Edward and Jasper stepped up to each other, and began some exercise where they crossed arms and pushed forward, and drew back, forward and back, hands moving to fend each other away.
The basic stance had one foot forward, feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed and knees slightly bent. The posture was upright, but not stiff or locked in. The intent was to create a framework that was grounded and strong, but remained flexible enough to respond to greater forces.
"When faced with the power of a newborn, you cannot stand against it head-on and expect to emerge unscathed," Eleazar said. "It is much better to be able to re-direct or neutralize their power."
"Can't you duck?" I asked, remembering Emmett's practice bout with Jasper, when Jasper had showed the assembled fighters how to evade a newborn's grasp.
"Go ahead," he said, and brought his fist around in a slow-motion hook. I ducked under it and his other hand tapped me on the shoulder. "When faced with a skilled opponent, if you give too much of your body to evasion, it can be used against you." He placed a hand on my elbow and raised me to my original position. "Better to keep one's attention focused on the opponent, so one can meet all the challenges they bring to you."
"That brings us to the next part. Follow me." He began leading me through what I had first thought were choreographed dance moves when he showed Jasper earlier. I realized they were the arm positions and movements of attack and defense, shifting the weight properly in the stance while maintaining balance. The movements were fairly efficient and compact, no wild swings or sweeping gestures. When I had run through them several times with him, he stepped back to watch me. To my surprise, I remembered them all and didn't miss one. The ability to process many inputs at once also helped, as I could pay attention to moving my arms one way, while keeping the knees bent, the waist turning in the correct amount, and how the whole body felt in the process.
A small smile of satisfaction touched my lips. Edward wasn't kidding about the good memory and the abilities. My old gym teachers would be amazed at me. I ran through the set movements several more times, making sure I knew them all by heart. Occasionally Eleazar needed to correct my arm positions, stance or posture imperfections.
We worked as the sun peaked behind the overcast, then began to fall, casting a dim light on the valley. Eventually, my thirst made itself known again. I couldn't believe it was two days already. Jasper sensed it almost as soon as I did. This time, rather than fight it and get to the point of being ravenous, I asked for a break.
"This is good timing," Eleazar said, then gave us a guilty look. "I seem to have lost track of time. I should get back to my canvas anyway. Carmen doesn't always feel like sitting for me so I have to take advantage when she's in the mood. When you've returned, come find me. If Carmen is ready for a break, we'll resume."
This time, Kate came hunting with Edward, Jasper and I. Jasper and Edward were not thirsty, but came for me. Edward kept watch with his other sense. It was unlikely he would find anybody in this remote and rugged wilderness, but I was thankful he and Jasper were there.
Kate knew her lands and, like a good hunting guide, was familiar with the habits of the animals in her range. We located a herd of caribou less than five miles from the house, near a watering hole formed by one of the myriad streams. I took one down and this time I didn't make quite as much of a mess as in previous hunts. Kate also killed one of her own.
When the sisters brought down prey, they didn't hide the body, or leave it for the scavengers the way we did. Kate unsheathed a small hunting knife, and quickly field dressed it. Afterwards she handed the knife to me. I did my best to emulate what she did. Fortunately precision wasn't required, and I was used to gutting the many fish Charlie brought home. One side benefit of the vampire diet – field dressing wasn't quite as messy since the blood was already drained out of the carcass.
While I worked, I found Edward's eyes on me. When he caught my eye he quickly smoothed over his expression and tried a wry smile. "I never thought I'd see you doing something like this," he remarked.
"Well, when in Rome…" I said with a shrug. Soon I was finished. I stooped and lifted the dressed carcass across my shoulders like Kate had.
"Let me help you with that, love." Edward reached out, but I shook my head.
"That's okay. I'm stronger than you are now," I said to him with a smile, and was rewarded by his low laugh.
We brought the carcasses back to the workshop, and I was rather relieved not to see Irina working there just now. I wondered how we could stay in her house with her so upset at us, but Kate was steadfast in her insistence on extending their hospitality.
Skinning an animal was an art in itself, to get as much of the pelt off in one piece as possible. Thankfully, after my clumsy attempts at fleshing, Kate said she or the other sisters would take care of that. I might be able to bring down large game with my bare hands now, but in other ways I was still a city girl.
Eleazar was still painting when we returned. Rather than disturb him and Carmen, we returned to the front yard to work some more. Kate paired off with me, giving me the benefit of her knowledge.
"I'm curious about your gift," she said as she adjusted the position of my elbow.
"In what way?" I asked.
"Are you able to shield others without touching them?"
"I've never tried. I didn't know it would shield others until we found out by accident. Edward was first to discover my touch neutralized his gift."
"The reason I ask is because I was able to extend my ability, so perhaps you could as well. It might be useful." She gave me a knowing smile. "For example, no man touches me unless I wish it."
I laughed briefly with her. I had wondered what my special ability might be if I developed one. But my gift, as I now thought of it, had always been passive. It was there, it worked and I didn't need to think about it. It might be interesting to have an active gift like Edward or Jasper. "How did you do it?" I wondered.
"In the beginning, I was only able to do it with my hands. It felt like a tingling in my fingers, so I tried pushing that tingling out to the other parts of my body. It wasn't easy but eventually I was able to cover all of my body in it. Try it. Do you feel anything there?"
I stood still and closed my eyes. I tried to sense anything in my body that tingled. But there was nothing special, just the vampire body I was still getting used to. I opened my eyes and shook my head. "Nope, can't feel anything."
Kate shrugged. "Well, no harm trying. You'll have enough to learn to keep you occupied now anyway."
And she was right. Without even planning it, my life had fallen into a new pattern. Before, my days had been divided into five priorities: Edward, school, taking care of Charlie, Jacob, and work. Now Edward was still my first priority, and that meant regaining my self-control. The risk of an episode kept me away from Edward, as well as keeping us trapped here and separated from the family. School figured second as the means to assuage part of my emotional issues. Training promised to help things with Edward, if he could fend me off and keep me from hurting him. Not surprisingly, most of my life in some way revolved around Edward. Finally, helping the sisters in the workshop was more in the way of thanking them for their hospitality. It was also interesting work, though sometimes smelly.
I rather liked the lifestyle that the sisters lived here. The pace was slower and they lived closer to the land, which seemed to have a grounding effect on me. And while things were still not great with me, there seemed to be a path forward. I couldn't change how I felt like flipping a light switch, but I could work on the things that I could address directly. Perhaps in the process I would be able to work things out and once again be comfortable being close to Edward. I felt a little more positive now that I had some direction and a goal to work towards.
= = CR = = CR = =
To be continued...
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