Finding Patience – Bella

Carlisle and Esme went inside to check on the children, and leave us to get reacquainted.

So I started to go over the rules.


Every time I had to go through my list of expectations and demands on how my supposed family needed to treat me and my children, I found myself getting worked up all over again. It should be understood, these things I was expecting, and yet each time I laid out the rules, I got incredulous looks, questions, and so much push back it made me wonder all over again how I ever put up with this back in Forks.

"Rule #1 – No private conversations or decisions being made or considered that impact the wellbeing of myself, or my children, including," I said with emphasis as I stared Alice down, "keeping visions from me, lying about visions, trying to force me to do something because of a vision that you haven't revealed, or anything else that in any way takes the decision-making out of my hands. This is my life, and those babies in there are my children, and I will be making all decisions about their future. Do you understand?"

Jasper nodded. Alice scowled.

"Alice?" I pushed. I needed her to comply, as this rule was made especially for her and Edward.

She answered me with a huff. "You act like we are out to get you, Bella. I never had anything but your best interests at heart," she replied petulantly.

Apparently, Alice was very sorry about Edward's treatment of me, but less concerned about her own. That simply wouldn't do!

I felt my rage bloom as I stalked towards her. "If that were true, Alice, you would have consulted me every time there was information that I needed to know. My best interests are for me to be an active participant in my life! My best interests are to be treated like the intelligent, competent person that I am!"

She nodded, but wasn't backing down. "I know you think that, Bella, but there is so much that you don't know – even still! So much that you can't possibly appreciate! And before, well… before you were just so fragile!"

I started to interrupt her, but she held out her hand, halting me, and continuing in her rapid speech.

"I mean, I know that when you are 18, you feel like a grown-up, and technically, I guess you are, but Bella, you have barely even begun! You've been on this earth 18 years – we just have so much more experience than you! And besides, so much of what I see is gruesome and painful and scary – my interpreting visions and making small corrections in behavior avoids so much hurt and pain – you simply have no idea!"

I almost couldn't breathe through my fury. I moved so that I was standing toe to toe with Alice, and even though he couldn't feel my emotions, Jasper sensed my anger, and took a step towards Alice in protection. She, however, was cluelessly watching me with a self- satisfied look on her face, smug in all the things she thought I couldn't understand.

"OH, REALLY, Alice?" I declared, my tone cold and strong as I stared her down.

"Do you have ANY IDEA what I've been through in the past couple of years? No, of course not, as your perfect visions aren't actually so perfect, are they? Let me ask you this, Alice – in all your years of experience," I threw out, with sarcasm dripping from my words, "have you ever had your mate tell you he doesn't love you and walk away without any explanation – any word of where he was going or when you'd see him again – if you'd see him again?"

Alice shot a look at Jasper. "No, but we've been separated, and while it wasn't good, we got through it."

"Separated?" My tone was rising, as her blasé attitude towards my pain began to get under my skin.

"I wasn't separated from Edward, Alice. He walked me into the woods, told me he didn't love me, told me I wasn't good enough for him, and told me that he was moving on to other distractions. He told me, and I quote, 'it will be like I never existed.' Can you imagine Jasper saying anything like that to you? Can you imagine him turning, walking away, and then skipping town with his family, with no cell phone, no email, and no forwarding address? Can you honestly tell me that you understand what that feels like? What that does to your self-esteem? How that makes you feel like the family pet that the Cullens enjoyed while they were in town, but who got sent back to the pound when they'd had enough? Can you really relate to that, Alice?"

"He didn't really say it like that. You're exaggerating!" She declared, eyes narrowing at me in disbelief.

"Alice," Jasper began, placing a hand on her shoulder with a scolding tone. He was trying to stop her, but it was too late.

"You know what, Alice? Forget it. Go home. Go back to Mississippi or wherever the hell you have been hiding. I don't need to justify myself to you or anyone else, and I'm done trying to make you understand. You don't respect me. You don't love me. You are no sister to me. And as such, you are not welcomed here. We are done!"

I turned my back to her, and moved towards the door. I was absolutely done.

"Bella," Jasper said quietly, "please don't go. Don't do this."

I rounded on him, furious. "Do this? Me! I'm not the one standing here, accusing my sister," I nearly bit the word out, "of lying, while being completely unwilling to treat her with a modicum of respect. I am not the one 'doing' anything, Jasper!"

He sighed. "Please understand, Bella. We heard something entirely different from Edward. We're trying to make sense of it all, and meanwhile, our family is in upheaval and we are dealing with guilt and frustration and just want to make things right and move on. I don't think Alice was trying to be disrespectful – I think it's just a lot to take in."

I looked at him for a long time without saying anything, my anger building. Alice watched us silently. Jasper gazed back at me, with an expression of patience mixed with concern on his face. I knew in their own warped and twisted way, they thought they understood and that it wasn't a big deal.

Well, it was a big deal to me.

"You know what's a lot to take in Jasper? Being abandoned by your mate. Being left without a word by your family. Having your self- esteem crushed into oblivion by the one person you never really felt good enough for, thus proving your low worth. Realizing that your pain is causing pain to your father and friends, and is impacting their lives. Learning that you are pregnant with a vampire baby and having absolutely no one to talk to about it, except of course, the friendly pack of werewolves that are split between killing you to prevent the birth of their nemesis offspring, and trying to help you by delivering your child through some medieval caesarean section."

I stopped to take a breath, not because I needed it, but for emphasis. Jasper's eyes were still fixated on mine, but I could tell he was really listening, perhaps even absorbing what I was saying. Alice's eyes were wide and nearly popping out of her head, but I still wondered if she really processed the complexity of what I've been through.

"It's also a lot to deal with when your body is growing with the vampire child at an abnormal rate, so you have to lie, leave home, and hurt those same friends and family all over again, only to live in the home of the very people who abandoned you, simply because you have no other choice. It's a lot to walk those halls, surrounded in memories of happier times, and plan for a child that you can in no way plan for. It's a lot to feel kicks come from within that are strong enough to crack your ribs, and leave bruises on your skin. It's a lot to have to figure out how to survive, knowing that if you don't, your werewolf friends will probably have no choice but to kill your vampire offspring. It's a lot to make the decision to change into a vampire, knowing that you will spend that eternity without your mate, and utterly alone, apart from your children."

"It's a lot to plan your own autobiography so that you will have memories of your human life, and arrange the circumstances of your change, and to then be conscious and in agonizing pain, as you undergo the most atypical birth ever. I watched my best friend slice into my belly in the form of a giant werewolf, and then use his big hands to pull open my insides so that the babies could be retrieved. I felt myself nearly bleed to death, and what's more – I remember it! I changed all alone, with no one there when I woke up, and with no guide as I learned to hunt and avoid humans, and make my way as a parent and a vampire. I have been raising two children on my own, while working, without any support, and you want to talk to me about what is a lot for you to take in?"

"Fuck you, Jasper! You can head out with Alice. I don't owe you anything, and I've already given you more than you deserve by way of an explanation. If you don't want me to completely lose my cool, you will walk away right now!"

I was livid, and I could actually feel my shield fluttering against the side of my mind. It seemed almost anxious to reach out and help me end them.

Jasper pulled Alice away from me with the hand still on her shoulder. With eyes still fixed on mine, they both took several steps back from where I was, still fuming and trying to control my anger.

"Bella," Jasper beseeched, trying again to make amends.

I was too angry.

"Get out of here, Jasper. For your own good. Take Alice with you. I'll send Carlisle or Esme along after you. If you press me right now, I cannot promise I won't hurt you. And as much as I might want to tear your limbs off, I'd like to have nothing to regret. I certainly wouldn't want to carry the guilt of knowing I hurt my own family around on my shoulders. I bet it's a pretty heavy load to bear." I said pointedly.

Jasper nodded, and tugging at Alice's arm, moved towards the side of the property until he felt safe enough to turn and run. Once they were out of sight, I let my shield release, and a tree on the far edge of the driveway met with a great boom, and then toppled into the yard.

I felt better. Marginally.

I stayed outside until I had calmed down a bit, and then wandered in to ask Esme about going to speak with Jasper and Alice.

They were, after all, her family, and as the leader of that family, her responsibility.

With a sad smile, and a brief but heartfelt hug, Esme obliged, taking a laptop with the birth video in it with her. I think she thought that they needed to see first-hand what I had been through.

Carlisle watched me with his compassionate eyes, and when the door shut behind Esme, he moved over to me, and wrapped me in his embrace, sensing that I was about to have a meltdown.

He wasn't wrong.

My anger morphed into a sadness and despair that felt very much like physical pain. Though I could not literally, cry, the sobs wracked my body, as I clung to him and he attempted to hold me together. His strong arms and soft whispers and consolation were my life raft, as I rode out my first attempt at reasoning with the very unreasonable Alice.

Knowing it would not be long before the children awoke and I had to plaster on a smile, I tried to pull it together, and found that Carlisle was quickly becoming the balm to my heartache. In mere minutes, I found myself pulling away, with a small but grateful smile.

He smiled warmly back at me, and I felt a little flare of the dazzling that both he and Edward were so good at. It had been a long time since I'd allowed myself to be dazzled. I must have stared a beat too long, because he got a wide grin on his face, and he let out a chuckle as he asked, "I got you, didn't I?"

Knowing that he was teasing me made me laugh away my embarrassment , and it felt so good to release some of the anger and tension with that little bout of silliness. "Jerk," was all I replied, as I swatted his chest playfully with the back of my hand, and moved to sit on the sofa.

He joined me on the other end, watching to see if I wanted to talk.

I didn't. Not really.

After a moment or two of silence, he gently asked, "Will you try again with them?"

I sighed.

It was such a loaded question. They didn't deserve it, and yet… you love who you love. And I loved Alice and Jasper, even as I loathed them. Seeing them had confirmed that.

I nodded with another sigh. "Yes, but only on my terms. I won't back down, Carlisle. I'm not the fragile family pet that they remember, and I'm certainly not naïve or sheltered in the ways of the world. I know how brave I am, and feel like I can face anything – except the hurt that this family brings on me. The truth I can face. The Volturi I can face. What I cannot face is having my heart treated like an insignificant footnote on their eternity. Until I'm respected as an equal, they are not going to be a part of this new life. I won't have it."

"Fair enough," he said with a gentle smile.

And that was all we spoke about that.

It was three days before we would try again.

Esme gave them both a pretty good tongue-lashing, followed by a viewing of my DVD. After that, it was apparently rather chaotic over in the clearing where they were hashing things out.

Jasper had been overwhelmed by both the video, and both Alice and Esme's response to it. Guilt, anger, a renewed sense of betrayal by Edward, and lots of angst had been stirred up, and when Jasper is around, apparently it can take some time for emotions like that to calm down.

Which was good, actually, because it gave me some time to think things through as well.

The shock of seeing them had worn off, and I was more determined than ever to prove my independence and expectations when we met next.

Even if we only made it to the second rule before another fight broke out.

Which was possible.

So with Carlisle minding the children, I made my way out to the clearing, where Esme had agreed to moderate another attempt at reconciliation.

Stepping into the clearing, I found Alice and Jasper sitting on a log, while Esme moved to greet me. Alice and Jasper stayed seated, and Jasper's arm tightened around Alice's shoulders. Her eyes had not left the ground.

"Thank you, Bella, sweetie, for coming out here. We are all so pleased you've agreed to open up the line of communication again," Esme began, as she offered me a warm hug.

I had missed her hugs.

"Nice to see you, Esme," I replied, nodding in response to her greeting. Breaking away from her, I glanced at the quiet couple on the log, and offered, "Alice. Jasper."

It was as much of a greeting as I was prepared to give.

"Hey darlin'," Jasper replied quietly, making eye contact from the corner of his eye, even as he was fixated on watching Alice. After a pause, during which it was clear to everyone that Alice was supposed to say something, Jasper gave her shoulders another squeeze, and she whispered, "Hi, Bella," as her eyes darted up briefly, never making contact, before finding the forest floor again.

I sighed. Glancing at Esme, I moved over in their direction. I didn't want to sit with them – I liked lording over them. I gave her another glance, indicating that she might need to start us out.

With a small sigh, Esme stated, "So, I believe that when you last spoke, Bella was explaining her rules for engaging with her and her family. Does that sound right?"

I nodded.

Jasper nodded.

Alice's eyes moved up from the ground, glanced at me, and then swung to Esme. In a very soft, but strong voice, she asked, "Her family?"

Esme offered me a sad smile, and then addressed Alice in response. "We never offered Bella a place in our family prior to our departure, and she has had nearly two years alone to make her own family, both biologically and emotionally. As of right now, Bella considers herself to be the head of her own family, just as I am the head of ours."

Alice's eyes shot to mine at that news. "What? But you know you are one of us! Of course you are!"

My voice was cold and emotionless as I responded.

"How would I know that? Because you told me? Invited me to join you, either as a human or a vampire? Because you kept me in the loop for all family decisions? Because you took me with you when you left? Because you helped me when I was in trouble? Because I always knew how to reach you? Because I always knew you loved me?"

I shook my head and crossed my arms across my chest.

"No Alice, I have never felt like part of your family. You all love each other. Respect each other. Embrace each other's differences. Protect and care for each other. Communicate with each other. I was never involved in any of that. No, I have my own family. My human family with Charlie, and my vampire family with my twins."

Her face bubbled up, looking like she wanted to argue with what I was saying, but wisely, she chose to hold her thoughts, and instead slumped back into Jasper's embrace.

Esme cleared her throat. "So, Rule #1 – no manipulating Bella, or the truth, with visions, withholding visions, internal communication with Edward or Jasper, or practicing any deceit which in any way diminishes her control on her life or the lives of her children. Is that right, Bella?"

I nodded. "In a nutshell."

Esme turned to Alice and Jasper. "I understand how this rule might have shocked you, because it seems specifically directed at you both, and to some degree it is. Although I believe that Edward played a huge role in the necessity of making this rule, and as a family, none of us operated with full disclosure in the past. So while it's perhaps the most important rule for you two, it's not expressly about you, Alice and Jasper. Correct, Bella?"

Esme turned slightly in my direction, although her eyes were still on Alice and Jasper.

I nodded again. I couldn't help adding, "I did have you specifically in mind, Alice, when I designed the rule, but it applies equally to all. And I'm sure that Edward might have an even stronger reaction than you, should he ever had the opportunity to discuss it with me."

Esme gave me a small frown, and I understood – I was not making her job easy.

Too bad, Esme.

She sighed, and began again. "We've discussed Bella's reasoning for needing and deserving control over her own destiny at length, and you've now had an opportunity to see first-hand how much adversity Bella has overcome, and how quickly she has been forced to grow up, and I think we are in agreement that regardless of whether or not past decisions were justified, the Bella before us now does not need the same coddling. Is that correct, Alice? Jasper?"

I stared them down.

Jasper nodded. Raising his head to make eye contact with me, he offered quietly, "I agree to Rule #1, Bella. Without going into the past, I must say that I underestimated all that you've had to face, and am very impressed with how well you've done. I'm sorry for making you feel otherwise."

I held his gaze for a long minute, and then nodded once. "Thank you, Jasper. I appreciate that."

Moving my eyes over to Alice, I waited.

I waited for an acceptance that she was clearly struggling to give me.

Without raising her eyes, she quietly commented, "I can't believe all that you've had to do, Bella, and I'm so sorry that I didn't see it, and couldn't help. I hate that we weren't there for you. Really – I would have loved to have been there for everything, and I'm so sorry that I wasn't. I should have gone back for you. I should never have left. I just… I'm really sorry for all the hurt that we've caused."

I nodded, but pushed her. "Thank you, Alice," I said impassively, thinking about how she was singing a different tune only days ago. "I appreciate your recognition that my pain and suffering warrant your concern, and have made me into the woman I am now. But that's not what this discussion is about. This discussion is about Rule #1 – leaving me out of decision-making that I have every right to be at the forefront of. Can you abide by Rule #1?"

Alice shrugged. She shrugged!

"Alice," I said with a low growl. I felt my frustration mounting.

"I do not want to turn you away, but if you cannot compromise on my ability to make my own decisions – to lead my own life – then that leaves us nowhere! Why can't you grant me the independence that I seek after forcing it upon me years ago when I could have really used your insight! Are you trying to hurt me?"

Her eyes flew to mine at my last declaration, and she exclaimed, "No, of course not! I want to help you! Protect you! Keep you safe! That's all I've ever wanted! I love you, Bella!"

"If you love me, then you will respect my wishes!" I fired back. "You don't bully the ones you love, Alice!"

"It's my job, Bella," she cried, almost pleading with me, "my role in this family is to use my visions to help protect us, keep our secret, plan our future. It's what I do! I don't know how to do anything else! And I don't honestly know if I can stop it just because you don't like it!"

"I get that, Alice, and you do your job very well. But here's the thing – I'm not in your family, and I'm not asking you to prevent visions. I'm asking you to share the visions that are about me or my kids with me, instead of hiding or manipulating things. I don't see any reason why you can't do that! Especially since you're not currently having visions of me anyhow!"

Alice sagged back into Jasper's arms. With a shaky breath, she stared at me, and then whispered, "Fine."

I stared right back at her.

I had secured her agreement, which is what I wanted, but it didn't feel right. And it didn't feel real.

I turned to Esme, who was watching in concern from the sidelines. Addressing her, but waiving an arm in Alice's direction, I asked vehemently, "What am I missing here? Why is this so hard?"

Esme moved over to the log, and gently sat by Alice, putting a hand on Alice's arm. Alice's eyes closed in response, and Esme leaned forward to kiss her temple.

"Alice," she said softly, gently, "can you please try to explain why this is so hard for you? We want to understand. As Bella says, you can't actually see her much because of her shield, so we're a bit confused as to why you are so resistant to this request of hers."

Alice's eyes remained closed as she replied in a mere whisper. "It's not a request. It's a rule. A demand. I don't like demands. And…," she choked back a sob, "and if I'm not bringing my visions to the table, I can't help the family, and if I'm not helping, I just… I just don't know if it's okay for Jasper and me to stay. I mean, Carlisle didn't sire us. We're like the ugly adopted step-children."

Her words were spoken with barely a sound, and yet they seemed to suck all the air out of the clearing.

I felt my anger crumble as I realized that I was not the only one bringing issues from before my change, and possibly after, to the table. I wanted to say something, but as I opened my mouth to speak, the look I got from Esme shut me right up.

"Now you listen here, Alice," Esme began in soft but adamant tone, "Carlisle feels an incredible kinship towards all of the members of this family – those who are his sires, and those who are not. Did he not feel your pain in the forest when you and Jasper left in Ithaca? I know he did, for he came home in such despair. He only let you go in hopes of easing your suffering. And I sired no one in this family, and I love each of my family members the same – including the one who is refusing to accept her membership!" Esme added, sending me a cheeky smile and trying to lighten the mood.

Because I understood what she was trying to do, I let it slide.

"My darling, Alice, you are so beloved by us, all of us, not for your visions or Jasper for his emotions, but because of the very good and true people you are. Alice, you brighten everyone's day, every day. You are playful and inventive, both of which are so important in an eternity that can feel monotonous. You have such warmth, and you love so effortlessly. You have been a wonderful addition to our family – with or without your visions. We've placed a high burden on you by becoming reliant on them. Perhaps that's a discussion that we can have as a family on how to make you feel value beyond your gift. Please don't doubt how much you are loved by each of us, Carlisle and myself especially. You will always have a place in our hearts, and our family, my darling, beautiful girl!"

Alice let out a great sob, and moved her arms to wrap around Esme's waist. Esme held her close, and rocked her gently. Jasper looked on, with grief painted on his face, as well as determination. Though I could not feel it, I was certain he was sending her calming waves.

I stood quietly, taking it all in, and letting them have their moment.

I was reminded that this family broke long before Carlisle showed up on my doorstep, and I was just one piece of the puzzle that needed to be put back together again. Understanding that this was bigger than just my issues, I realized that maybe I was not being as thoughtful of Alice as I expected her to be of me.

She was, after all, a girl who lost her humanity, her family, and worse still, her memories, and was now feeling somewhat lost and alone in the world. I could understand that. In some ways, I felt very lucky when I thought about what all Alice had been through – although I would never admit it.

With a sigh, I conceded that I might need to amend my approach.

I would stick by my rules, but I would try to find some patience in explaining them.

And work on my tone.

If possible.

I decided it was time for an olive branch, if for no other reason than I didn't want to be standing out in this clearing for the next two weeks.

"Alice," I said gently, "I'm very frustrated with you, but I do agree with Esme. From an outsider's perspective, you have always been the driving force in the family. Your enthusiasm, acceptance, curiosity, and eagerness all delight your family and bring outsiders in. You are definitely the most approachable, the friendliest, and the most generous in your family, both to them, and to everyone around you. You bring a lot to the table, Alice, and the family would not be the same without you."

Another – louder – sob ripped from the muffled confines of Esme's chest, and then Alice launched herself at me. Even as a vampire, I was caught off guard.

With her arms wrapped tightly around my waist, and her head pressed so tightly against my breast that I was certain she would eventually collapse my sternum, she squeezed me tight. "I love you, Bella! I love you! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I don't want to fight with you anymore! I'll do whatever you want! Don't be mad at me! I'm so sorry!"

I sighed, and wrapped my arms around her tiny frame. I gave her a squeeze back. Resting my head on top of hers, I quietly replied.

"I love you, too, Alice. I am beyond frustrated with you, but make no mistake. It is because I love you that I am so frustrated."

I felt more than heard her sigh. "I know," she squeaked, still pressed firmly against me. "I'm sorry I'm such a pain in the ass. I'll try to respect your wishes, I will. You'll help keep me in line, yes?"

I nodded, and pulled her back from my body so that she could see the seriousness in my eyes.

"I will hold you to your promise. If you start interfering or withholding, I will call you out, and I may not be able to control myself. I nearly tore your arms off three days ago, Alice. Please don't mess with me on this."

She nodded sheepishly. "Ok, Bella. I'll be on my best behavior."

I offered her a small smile. "I'll be very curious to see what that looks like," I answered with a chuckle.

We moved through the other rules much more quickly. Alice didn't really have as much of a problem conceding my independence as I expected. She just didn't like to have demands placed on her.

We were going to work on that.

Jasper was straddling the line between understanding my perspective and supporting his mate, and was handling it all pretty well. I could tell there were times when he wanted to snap at one of us over something, but he held it together nicely.

I think he was also trying to be on his best behavior around Esme.

And that fact, coupled with Alice's self-worth concerns, indicated to me that Esme had her hands full in repairing her family. I didn't envy her the task, but I knew that if anyone could do it, it would be her.

As the night fell, we reached an uneasy detente and made our way back towards the house. I could hear Carlisle talking to the children about dinner, and briefly considered waiting outside to see what he came up with for them to eat.

It seemed a little cruel, mainly to the kids, but it could be hilarious. However, Esme gave me a playful frown and insisted that I stop making fun of her man.

I couldn't help the wide smile that broke out on my face when I heard her defend him so vehemently over something as simple as using the blender. A week ago, I thought for sure she was going to literally tear his head off!

Things were changing, and change was hard.

But we were all – even Alice – curious about the future that lay before us.

AN: So, you may have noticed that I've been gone about 5 weeks? I'm pretty sure that you have, based on the messages I've been getting. I really appreciate the encouragement, well-wishes, and even the scolding, because it tells me you care – thank you so much. There is a long story, but in short, real life can be a real bitch.

I'm going to try and get back on a regular schedule – although I'm not sure what exactly that will look like, so bear with me while I figure it out. I will finish this story for sure though, and for those that have been with me from the beginning, you know – when I have the time, the writing comes fast. There was a period when I was updating 3x per week. I know I can't maintain that pace now, but I'm hopeful to get back to once a week. So stay tuned! And thank you – thank you – for not giving up on me!