Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight, nor any of its characters or franchises, I am not making money for this, so please don't sue me.
A/N: Readers interested in knowing the status of any of my stories can check my profile. x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x
I opened my eyes to a familiar living room.
Without taking time to pause, to think, or feel about being back in the Cullen home; I dashed to the nearby phone and dialed Tanya's cell. I would have dialed her on my own cell, but it had been lost in my scuffle with Leah and I had no idea if my coven was still in danger.
It rang, and rang, and rang until Tanya's lyrical voice spoke in my ear asking me to leave a message.
Frustrated, I hung up and tried to call Irina instead.
She picked up on the first ring.
"Bella?" she spoke into the phone, voice laden with worry and hope. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard Tanya arguing with someone in the background.
"Rina, is everyone ok?" I anxiously asked, fearful that something irreversible had happened in my absence.
"Guys! Bella is ok!" Irina yelled away from the phone, no doubt to put the others at ease. I still couldn't help but wince at the pain it caused my sensitive hearing though.
All arguing on the other end abruptly stopped.
"Where are you Bella?" Irina urgently demanded.
"I'm back at the house. I'm a little battered but if you guys are in trouble say the word and I'll start running back." I stated, completely prepared to sprint over there in a moment's notice.
I heard a brief scuffling noise on the other end and then a sound like someone had fumbled the phone before Tatyana's satin voice came through the line.
"Mari, Mari are you alright?" She blurts in hurried Magyar, completely ignoring the fact that I was almost 100% sure she just stole the phone from her sister.
Remembering what had just happened mere moments ago in the past, I shifted and tried to keep any awkwardness from my voice, although it took a concentrated effort.
"I'm fine Tanya, a little frayed around the edges maybe, but nothing I couldn't handle." I soothed, trying to keep her calm. "Do you want me to come back? What's happened with the Quileutes?" I replied in the same language, confident that the wolves wouldn't be able to understand what we were saying even if we were overheard.
"Leah has been restrained by Sam and the others, and talks have resumed." Tanya explained with a growl.
"We did have to smash a few heads first though." Kate smugly interjected, obviously listening in.
"If I didn't need their furry hides for cannon fodder I'd have put an end to each one of them." Tanya continued, completely ignoring her other sister.
"Try not to be too hard on Leah." I spoke softly, feeling a brief swell of guilt. "Her father was one of the ones who was killed in the Newborn attack on the reservation. I understand why she acted the way she did. I'm not sure I would have acted any differently in her position."
Tatyana was silent for a while, and I waited patiently for her to digest my words.
"I'll try to keep that in mind." She muttered, finally switching back to English. "All things considered, I believe it would be best if you stayed at the house. I don't want your presence to inflame Leah again. We will be back as soon as everything is concluded satisfactorily."
"Alright. I'll see you soon." I murmured before hanging up the phone.
Now that I didn't have to worry about the safety of my new family members I finally took a moment to gaze around the living room of the Cullen manor. The others had cleaned up the place while Tanya and I had been on our run.
All the sheets had been taken off the furniture and piled in a corner, and there was a fresh scent of orange-glow in the air that I had no doubt was Irina's OCD influence.
Aside from a thin layer of dust on some of the ceiling lamps, everything seemed exactly the same. It looked like my former family had only taken time to close up the house before they'd abandoned me completely.
Conflicted, I walked across the living space to stand next to Edward's grand piano. Lifting the cover, I ran my fingers lightly across the keys before pushing a single note.
The sound was out of tune.
I remembered how Edward used to spend long moments meticulously tuning his piano to the perfect pitch. I used to admire his dedication, although I was sometimes impatient with how long it took.
The corner of my mouth twitched with amusement as I closed the cover.
Somehow, it seemed fitting to leave it that way.
Clambering up the stairs, I grabbed my bag from its resting place at the top and slipped into Alice and Jasper's old room.
Discarding my tattered clothes in their bathroom trashcan, I took a shower to thoroughly scrub the blood and grime from my skin. After I slipped out of the water, I quickly donned a fresh set of clothes.
A pair of cargo pants, an old U2 t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers later I was once more ready to face the world.
Draping a towel over my head I quietly exited their room; making sure to take their bathroom trash bag with me. It would be rude to leave my blood soaked clothes in their room as a welcome home present.
As I made my way down the hall, I paused for a moment at the entrance to Edward's room. The door was slightly ajar, and I stood there for a long moment, before gingerly pushing the door open.
As I stepped inside, my mind filled with warm but hazy memories of this place. Nothing had been moved. Edwards space still had the giant shelves filled with books and music, the state of the art sound and entertainment system, and the single couch situated in the middle.
Standing behind the couch, I breathed in, but smelled nothing but dust and household cleaner. Not even his scent lingered. Reaching out, I gently caressed the practically velvet material of the furniture.
Edward and I used to spend so much time in this room, sequestered away from the others and wrapped up together on the cushions. I remember I used to lean back into his chest as we listened to Debussy and he would stroke his fingers over the back of my hands in time with each key. Like he was playing his own silent concert on my skin.
It had been a perfect moment.
It was a beautiful memory.
But that's all it was.
A fond but distant memory.
Laughing to myself, I exited the room, carefully closing the door behind me with a soft click. Hopefully my ex-boyfriend wouldn't mind my brief intrusion.
Before I could do more than take a few steps, I heard the front door open.
My heart leapt.
Tanya and the others must be home. Eager to greet them after my trying day, I dashed to the top of the staircase. I opened my mouth to issue a greeting when I stopped dead in my tracks.
There was a man I didn't recognize in the house.
A man who was tall and lean, with long white blonde hair and bright ruby eyes. He dressed from the West. Worn jeans, cowboy boots, a red and white flannel shirt paired with a vest.
The man also paused, seemingly surprised to see me. Was he not expecting anyone to be home?
A low growl started in my chest as I widened my stance, trying to look as intimidating as possible. I was alone in a house with a male vampire of unknown strength, skill, or power. It was a dangerous position to be in and I wanted to try and avoid a direct confrontation if I could.
"Who the hell are you?" I demanded, splintering the wood on the bannister slightly as I flexed my fingers.
Was this the man who broke into my room?
Had he been planning on riffling through the Cullen home as well?
My growl grew deeper at the thought and bared my teeth slightly at the intruder.
"Answer!" I barked, unable to control my territorial instincts.
Then, to my surprise, the vampire raised both his hands in a gesture of surrender and took a big step back.
"Whoa, whoa Miss, please calm down. I apologize for intruding. My friend and I mean you no harm."
"Friend?" I questioned, relaxing slightly but still wary.
"Yes. Jaz can you come in here?" he hollered behind him without taking his eyes off me.
I felt my heart leap into my throat when sure enough Jasper Whitlock walked into the Cullen foyer.
"Bella?" he stated with surprise, looking me over from head to toe. Jasper had the same curly honey hair, the same charming southern drawl as before; but now almost every inch of his face, shoulders, and arms were crossed by silvery crescent scars.
My instincts had me freeze, recognizing on a primal level that I was in the presence of a true predator.
I almost hissed, the urge was so strong.
We both became caught in a stare off as I struggled with my impulses, but eventually I managed to reign myself in.
"Jasper?" I whispered, feeling the venom well in my eyes.
"Hey darling. It's been a while." Jasper replied, smiling weakly.
Leaping from the stairs, I practically tackled him in my rush to wrap him in a hug. I admit, I didn't know Jasper too well personally, but Alice had spoken about him so often when I was human, I practically knew him by proxy.
To my surprise and delight, Jasper gladly returned the hug, flooding the room with happiness. A sigh of bliss to my left reminded me that we had an audience, but if he was a friend of Jaspers I figured he would forgive my rudeness.
"It's good to see you Jasper." I murmured, pulling back to examine him a bit more thoroughly. I can't believe I'd never noticed all his scars before, but then again my eyesight as a human had been weak in comparison.
"Vampirism suits you Bella. You've never looked lovelier. I'm just sorry that my actions at your birthday party sparked the chain of events that led to this mess." Jasper contritely mentioned, looking down in shame.
"Jasper," I said, compassionately grasping his arm. "I never blamed you for what happened. Now that I'm a vampire and have experienced the same blood thirst, I hold you even less accountable then before. Considering you were probably also experiencing everyone else's bloodlust on top of your own, its practically a miracle I'm still alive. Please, I don't want you feeling guilty for anything.
Jaspers face slowly transformed into a light and genuine smile, and I could see why Alice loved him so. Even with the scars he was a mesmerizing man.
"Bella, let me introduce you to my friend Peter." Jasper said, motioning to his companion.
Tilting my body to face the other vampire, I nodded a greeting and extended my hand for a handshake.
"I'm sorry about earlier." I grimaced apologetically. "We've been experiencing newborn problems and any other stranger probably would have gotten the same greeting."
Peter laughed and clasped my hand in a firm grasp.
"That's alright. I should have known better than to enter without Jasper. I know better than to encroach on another vampire's territory without permission. I got cocky because I was with Jazz, but I'm not personally acquainted with your coven and I shouldn't have presumed it would be ok."
"It's fine." I smiled, charmed by his easy going attitude. "Alice told us you were coming, I just didn't realize you would be here so quickly… Actually now that I think about it, isn't there supposed to be another one of you?" I asked, gesturing between the two of them with my finger.
Peter smirked and nodded.
"My mate, Charlotte. She's hunting in Port Angeles right now, and out of respect for Jaspers diet I decided to accompany my friend here instead of wait. My little Lotte has been to the Cullen residence more than a few times so she'll just meet us here when she's done."
"I see…" I commented, once more taking in the ruby hue of Peter's eyes with more than a little discomfort. Jasper, sensing my unease, hastened to reassure me.
"Peter and Charlotte live on a diet of murderers, rapists, and scumbags. We have differing views on the sanctity of human life, but if you're not going to be a vegetarian, it's a more ethical alternative."
"Sort of like the vampire equivalent of only eating organic and free range meat." Peter remarked with a sly grin. "It's still murder, but slightly more acceptable murder."
My mind goes to a sixteen year old girl who submitted to the will of a man who bought and paid for her. I think about living off the blood of men like that.
Any judgment I may have had for their lifestyle vanished in an instant.
If Peter and his mate were saving people from having to experience that kind of horror, I couldn't bring myself to condemn them for it.
"Well…" I said, regarding Peter solemnly, "If that's really how you feed, I suppose that's a diet I can't object too."
Peter gave me a half smile, while Jasper looked at me oddly.
"Not that I'm not happy to see you Bella, but what are you doing here alone? I don't need to remind you it's not safe to be by yourself right now."
Smiling sheepishly, I ran a hand through my hair and shrugged my shoulders.
"I didn't mean to, but I got separated from the others by accident. I wasn't quite sure where I was for a little while, but eventually I made my way back to the house." I spoke, glossing over the details. I wasn't sure how much Alice had told Jasper and I didn't want to have to launch into a huge explanation right now. Not to mention, although I'm sure Peter was a perfectly nice man, I didn't know him.
Friend of Jasper's or not, I didn't feel comfortable trusting him with my secrets.
A deep frown crossed Jasper's features before he spoke in a flat voice.
"That was very irresponsible of Tanya, letting you wander off like that. I know you may not entirely comprehend the scope of the danger you are in Bella, but Tanya does. From a few of the conversations I've had with her, I know she's had run in's with newborn army's before.
As coven leader, she is responsible for the welfare of everyone in her family. Considering your inexperience and Victoria's vendetta against you, she should have been more vigilant."
I felt my jaw drop in surprise before I felt a small surge in anger and indignation. Jasper had no right to judge Tanya. I felt confident she was doing everything in her power to assure my safety, and it wasn't like either of us had any control over when I made my little 'trips'.
I opened my mouth to vigorously defend her honor when I paused.
Wait… Did Jasper know about my power? If he didn't then maybe his point of view wasn't so crazy. Maybe a little douchy that he didn't think I was responsible for my own decisions, but still.
"Jasper," I said slowly, narrowing my eyes at him as he gave me a weird look. "How much did Alice tell you about what's going on here?"
He blinked, glanced at Peter then back at me.
"She told me that Victoria had attacked and turned you into a vampire; that you were with the Denali's, Victoria was building a newborn army to kill you, and we needed help to overcome the threat."
"Is that it?" I asked with a raised brow.
"Essentially." He asserted, gazing at me curiously.
With a sigh, I rubbed my face with my hand before peering at him through my fingers.
"Jasper, Tanya is not at fault for this. It was through my own actions that I accidentally got separated from the others."
Jaspers mouth twitched as he ruefully shook his head.
"You don't understand Bella. Tanya took you into her coven. When she did so, she took responsibility for your actions. Doubly so since you are newly turned. Any coven leader who takes in a newborn is considered responsible for that newborn for the first three years of their un-life. Any mistakes you make, any laws you break, she will also be held accountable for.
It's why vampires don't go around making newborns left and right. They know if they do and they lose control of their progeny, the Volturi will kill them as well. At the three year mark, if the vampire hasn't done anything to get themselves killed, they are considered 'adults' and are then responsible for themselves."
My jaw dropped and I stared at him incredulously.
"So wait, you're saying that if I completely lost it and massacred a town or something, Tanya would get punished for my actions, regardless of whether she actually had anything to do with it?"
"Essentially." Jasper solemnly replied.
"That's not something you'll ever have to worry about." A dulcet voice came from the doorway. As one we all turned to watch Tatyana glide through the doorway. Her clothes and hair were slightly mussed, but otherwise she looked fresh off the runway. If Kate hadn't clued me in, I would never have guessed she was tussling with werewolves a short while ago.
Without even greeting the other two vampires in the room, Tanya walked straight over to enfold me in a tight hug.
Stiffening, I would have flushed at the way her body molded around me if I'd still been able, but couldn't resist melting into the fierce embrace. Tanya's delicious raspberry almond scent filled my senses, and I would have been happy to stay in that blissful haze, if I hadn't caught sight of the weird expression Jasper was giving us over her shoulder.
Suddenly self-conscious, and completely aware of our audience, I gently withdrew from the circle of Tanya's arms.
"Where are the others?" I awkwardly asked, stealing a glance at Peter and Jasper as I did.
"They're on their way with the car." Tatyana reluctantly answered before turning to acknowledge her guests. "Jasper, as always it's a pleasure to see you. I regret it's not under better circumstances." She said before giving him a brief hug. "Your mate is on her way as we speak, I know how hard it must have been on you to be away from her for so long."
"Our reunion will more than make up for the time we've spent apart." Jasper drawled with a sly smile. Tanya laughed and smiled knowingly before turning her attention to Peter.
"Hello, I do not believe we've met. I am Tanya Denali, leader of the Alaska Coven."
"Peter Kenny. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Jasper has spoken very highly of his cousins in the Alaskan wilds." Peter politely remarked as he shook Tanyas hand.
Recognition flashes briefly over her features, before a more genuine smile slides into place.
"Yes, Jasper has told me much about you and your mate. If half of what he's mentioned is true, you are more than welcome, anytime you wish to visit. My coven and I truly appreciate your willingness to help us with our newborn problem, your experience and expertise will be invaluable."
Peter smiled somewhat bashfully in response, but Jasper was looking between Tanya and I carefully, like he was trying to figure out a puzzle. Feeling a flush of embarrassment at what he must be feeling from me, I tried - in vain – to wrestle my emotions into submission.
Tanya on the other hand must not have noticed his staring, or she simply didn't care, because we all heard the telling crunch of tires on gravel coming up the driveway.
Before any of us even had a chance to really register that the others where back, a pixie sized blur burst through the door and threw itself into Jasper's waiting arms. Laughing joyously, the Major spun Alice around in a circle like you'd see in a cheesy Hollywood movie, before they kissed passionately.
Averting my eyes, I wasn't sure if I should feel embarrassed or jealous of their obvious happiness. Not that I begrudged either of them.
Thankfully, Kate, Irina, and the others took that moment to enter; providing me a much needed distraction.
Tatyana moved close to my side as the others came to welcome me back.
"Isabella" Irina admonished as she pulled me into a hug, "you're a foolish foolish girl! What were you thinking, stepping in front of Kate like that?! You could have been killed. I love my sister, but she is more than capable of taking care of herself. One touch and Katrina would have had that wolf convulsing on the floor, you silly girl."
Chagrined, I lowered my head in contrition.
"I'm sorry Irina. I wasn't thinking, and simply acted on instinct." I muttered.
"Well-" Kate interjected, affectionately ruffling my still damp hair. "I guess if you have to do impulsively stupid things, protecting your family is one of the better ones." Kate finished with a soft smile.
"So what happened after I disappeared?" I inquired, looking between Irina and Kate.
"Tanya completely lost it." Kate deadpanned, shooting her sister a look. Tanya seemed embarrassed because she shifted from foot to foot and wouldn't meet my eye.
"What Kate means to say," Irina said, exasperated. "is that Tanya laid into Leah the moment you faded. If she hadn't attacked you I would have felt sorry for the beating she took, but as it is the Quileutes are lucky we didn't kill her."
"I thought for sure the wolves were going to attack, but the Alpha, Sam, ordered them not to; on account of Leah's uncalled for assault." Carmen inserted as she joined the conversation.
Eleazar and Peter seemed deep in conversation on the other side of the house, and Jasper and Alice had vanished, undoubtedly somewhere a little more private.
Irina nodded her agreement before continuing.
"When Kate demanded to know why Sam hadn't commanded Leah to back off, he looked guilty. Especially when he told us it was because Leah was the only one he would never 'force his will upon' because of what he did to her when he imprinted on her cousin."
"It was basically a shitty situation." Kate sighed, running a hand through her long corn silk hair.
"In the end, we worked out a temporary truce." Tanya murmured from where she stood near my left shoulder. "Until the threat is neutralized, we will work together and keep each other informed of what's happening."
Nodding faintly, I suddenly felt bone tired. So much had happened today, and I really wished I had the capacity to curl up in a bed and let a good night's sleep wash away all my stress.
On top of my mental fatigue, now that I was no longer in mortal peril, the burn of hunger that I had been ignoring since I'd appeared in the past was now making itself known. Being in contact with some much human blood had frayed what tenuous control I had on my instincts, and I needed to sate my hunger before I did something rash.
"Well-" I started; laying a hand against my own throat. "I'm glad everything was resolved and that you're all back safely, but I need to go hunt."
"I'll go with you." Tanya immediately volunteered. "You're recovering from an injury, and in your weakened state you would be vulnerable to attack if any scouts came upon you. I really should have taken you out right away. Sometimes I forget you're still in the tail end of your newborn phase, and need to hunt more as a result."
Tanya wanted to go hunting with me. Alone.
Valiantly ignoring the shiver I felt remembering what had happened last time we'd been alone, I tried to keep my nerves from showing, and hesitantly agreed. The image of newborn Tanya was still fresh in my mind.
Bolting into the surrounding woods, I headed straight into the Olympic National Forest. I could hear Tatyana's light footsteps behind me, but I concentrated on moving deep into the park. Eventually I slowed long enough to tune my senses to my surroundings.
Lifting my head, I scented the air and caught the musky scent of a stag.
Homing in on the scent, it didn't take me long to track down my prey. With a quick lunge, I wrestled the struggling animal to the ground and fed.
All too soon the deer's heart struggled to a stop, and I removed my bloodied lips from the corpse of the once majestic creature.
Turning my head, I was just in time to witness Tanya finishing up with her own kill.
Unlike the somewhat savage visage I'd been privy to watching newborn Tanya feed, this Tanya was completely different. She was predatory, as all vampires were when they hunted; but instead of projecting an aura of barely contained violence she moved with the smooth grace of a tiger. Even the way she held her prey, gently to her chest, fingers carefully buried in the fur of the deer's neck; seemed tender. As she drank, it felt like she was quietly soothing them into the afterlife.
It was confusing, awe inspiring, and captivating all at once.
As I watched, I felt the still broken cracks in my arm slowly fuse back together as the blood from the stag reinvigorated my body. Glancing down at my forearm, all that was left was a jagged crescent scar. Running my fingers over the now smooth skin, I looked back up to find Tatyana watching me intensely.
Her gaze, which before had been fixed on my arm, slowly rose to meet my own.
Silence filled the clearing between us, but there was something growing in her expression.
Something bright and raw and filled with hope.
Gradually, in stilted faltering steps, Tanya crossed the divide between us.
Hesitantly, Tanya reached out and lightly brushed my newly formed mark with her thumb. Topaz eyes flicked between my scar and my face, an expression of relief and remorse settling into place.
"I'm sorry," she began quietly, "for hurting you."
"You already apologized for that." I gently rebuked.
"I still feel responsible. Especially since it's so fresh for you." Tanya trailed off as she peered into my face. Her voice was so low and earnest, I felt something hot and fierce building in my chest, and suddenly I felt paralyzed. Caught in the memory of a warm breath against my neck, soft caresses, and a sweet scent of raspberry almonds.
My whole body ached as I slowly, deliberately, lifted my hand to cup Tanya's cheek.
My breath left me in a shudder as she leaned into my palm. Her eyes closed briefly before gazing at me through half lidded eyes.
Haltingly, with my heart caught in my throat, I swayed forward and pressed our lips together in a kiss.
A/N: Yes, I know I'm evil, but it was the only good place to end the chapter that didn't involve writing another five pages. I figured you would rather read this now and hate me for the cliffy then have to wait another gosh knows how long.
As always. Let me know what you thought.
Also, do you think it was too soon for that kiss? Part of me was going back and forth on it.