Twilight is Stephenie Meyer's, not mine. Unfortunately.
This was my contribution to the Easter Bunny Twilight Fic Swap. I wrote it for FrankieLynn and I know how much she loves Jasper/Bella, so I really hope I was able to capture what she liked. A huge thank you to Alley Cat for all her hard work organising the swap and writing a lovely story for me too. I really enjoyed being a part of it. Also, giant hugs to TheaJ1 and OrAreWeDancers for their wonderful beta skills and unconditional support.
This is an AU where Alice does not exist and the Cullens never moved back to Forks. It contains violence and references to abuse that occurred in the prior to the beginning of this story. But it no longer contains Christmas Crackers, which made me a little sad, but apparently they would have been very out of place!
The emotional blend was a unique one. Fear was dominant and all-consuming but it was uncomprehendingly underpinned by confidence and power. It was like nothing I had ever experienced and I was drawn to it, I think mostly out of curiosity, but there was something deeper too; something that I was struggling to identify. It was an internal battle that was already lost. My common sense, although defeated and overridden, was screaming at me to turn around and head the other way and avoid this powerful emitting torrent of emotion that was becoming more difficult to endure the closer I got to it.
When the fear was throbbing in me as if it were my own, I knew I was very close. The area I found myself in was mostly deserted. Whoever was feeling this way had veered just far enough away from the crowded chaos spilling out from the tourist-ridden bars, to a much more ominous industrial area that was probably bustling during the day but had been abandoned once darkness set and the humans scurried as far away from work as they could. I stopped to listen but could make out only one voice which was confident, cajoling and condescending; he could not be the source of the mystery emotional amalgam. There were several heartbeats that were all racing, yet that gave me no hint as to what was transpiring. I let out an almost silent growl of frustration, continuing to ignore my now incredulous rational side, asking me why on earth I cared about these humans. I hoisted myself effortlessly onto the roof of the lowest building and keeping to the shadows, I edged around the structures protruding from the rooftop until I found a good vantage point of the yard below.
I blinked. This in itself was unnecessary and very uncharacteristic for me, as rendering yourself sightless for even a fraction of a second could prove fatal and I was usually much more cautious when in unfamiliar surroundings and would never lower my guard for even a fraction of a second. But what I was seeing was so inconceivable that it evoked that redundant reflex in me. But once my eyes reopened, the scene in front of me was as incomprehensible as the emotion that had drawn me here.
Backed up against the wall was female vampire that even by the standards of our species was incredibly beautiful. She had long, wavy brown hair and her almost flawless complexion caused the battle scars that marred her skin to leap out at me. The bite marks of several different vampires covered her neck and wrists, proving she had fought others of our kind more than once and survived to walk away. Yet, it was a human male who had her pinned against the bricks and it was from her that this fear, mingled with many other contradicting emotions, was emanating.
Why was she allowing herself to be held in such a position, especially as it was causing her such severe emotional distress? She could break free with a single shove and disappear before he even had a chance to react. Or she could snap his neck with a flick of her wrist. Then it registered that her eyes were so black that she must be almost starved. Why didn't she simply drain him? I wondered if the burning sensation in her throat was the cause of her fear and pain…but that made no sense either. Only a newborn would be affected that way by their thirst, but she could not new to this life, because if she were, her eyes would not be so black and the pulsing of his heart would have been irresistible to her; he would not have survived getting anywhere near as close to her as he was right now. She must know exactly what she needed to do to release herself from him and quench her thirst at the same time, so why was she resisting?
"You really shouldn't have run from me," the man leered, stroking her hair lightly with his nose.
"Leave me alone," the vampire whispered, her voice trembling.
He let out a course laugh in response. "It's too late for that and it's too late for you. I have made promises that I intend to keep."
His statement would have been cryptic if I could not sense two other humans secluded in the alleyway that accessed the yard. They were huddled in the shadows, emotionally crackling in anticipation, letting their accomplice take all the risk and hoping to reap the rewards. From the way they were feeling there was no doubt in my mind exactly what they were anticipating. Humans were truly sickening at times, making even something like me seem less of a monster. As the human ringleader pressed hard against her, the female vampire's fear increased exponentially.
I was flooded with an overwhelming desire to rush to her aid. Even though she should be more than capable of protecting herself, I could no longer stand by and watch this unfold. But as I flexed in preparation to spring into the yard, something shifted in her emotions. She sucked all the fear inside herself bottling it up and letting the determination bubble to the surface. She smiled at the human, taking him by complete surprise and it was almost as if he could sense the change in her, as I had done.
"You think that I am defenseless but your misjudgment will prove fatal," she warned in a low, steady voice that was only meant for his ears.
In one swift move she clamped her hand over his mouth and pulled him closer still, sinking her teeth into his jugular. Despite her thirst, she took slow languid pulls, prolonging his suffering and he fought hard against her. To the human onlookers it must have appeared that things were going according to their own plans and that it was her struggling for her life and not him struggling for his. Their gleeful anticipation was ramping up and their patience dwindling, they emerged from their hiding place and made their way forward to take their turn. They smugly stopped close by to watch and wait and after a few seconds they shifted uncomfortably, beginning to realize all was not as they thought. At this exact moment the vampire threw their accomplice's corpse onto the ground between the two other men, his blank gaze staring through the one on the right. They both stumbled back a few steps, gaping at him and then at her. She offered them a wide smile, her teeth stained bright red with the blood of their friend. They took off in panic like something out of a cartoon, scrambling to push each other back and gain the advantage of making it out first and tripping over their own and each other's legs as they did so. Even someone with no supernatural advantage would have no trouble outmaneuvering this pair of idiots.
She was in front of them before they had even made it a few feet, with her left hand she grabbed one of them and held him at arm's length, his feet dangling and kicking out for purchase, probably breaking toes each time they connected with her. He had to watch as she drained the second of the trio and his panic mounted and he scratched off his fingernails by wrenching at her hand around his throat. When his second friend landed dead at his feet he began silently pleading for his life, unable to force air over his vocal chords to make sounds because of the pressure on his throat. She showed him none of the mercy that he begged for.
It was impossible not to be intrigued by her. As she surveyed the damage she had done her emotions were practically unreadable. This was such a sharp contrast to the way she had previously acted as an emotional siren to draw me here.
I dropped into the shadows of the alley the men had hid in, a considerable distance from her so as not to startle her, and wondered how to introduce myself in such a situation. Why hadn't I just left? No idea, except that I was drawn to this vampire and her complex and indecipherable emotions and affected by her in a way that no one had ever affected me before. That should be more than enough reason not to entangle myself, but yet again my intense curiosity overrode my desire to keep my existence simple.
Even with my light landing and my intentional distance, she became instantly aware of me and I was impressed with her attentiveness and her lightening reflexes when she dropped into a crouch and spun on me with a low, threatening growl. Despite her overt aggressiveness, I could feel the fear coursing through her. This time there was no complexity to it, it was simply raw, pure and intense. I was impressed by her yet again that none of this fear was evident in her demeanor or her expression. She had obviously immediately identified me as a vampire and a threat, but knew that in such a situation showing any weakness could be deadly to her.
I closed the gap between us, preparing myself for her reaction when she saw me but it was not what I expected. As her sharp eyes appraised me relief flooded her and although still wary, the intense fear immediately dissipated. I was a little insulted actually; usually once a vampire got a close look at my scars their fear intensified whether or not they instantly recognized me for who I was. That she was reassured by my appearance was baffling. She cocked her head at me, waiting for me to state my intentions.
"I'm new to the area," I told her. "I wanted to check if the territory was claimed before I started hunting." This was at least partially true. I was new to the area, but territorial disputes did not concern me. I avoided Maria's territory and others tended not to challenge me. If they did, they regretted it and I relished it.
"I don't know anything about territories. I never stay in one place for very long." She was still wary and on alert, but honest in her answers.
"You're a little far south for a nomad," I probed. Most nomadic vampires tended to stay out of the sunny states so that they could move freely during both the day and the night.
"So are you," she threw back at me and I couldn't fault her. I was skirting the gap between the northern nomads and the southern soldiers, mainly because I was taking a break from travelling with Peter and Charlotte and I was trying to avoid others or our kind in general. Which led me again to wonder again what I was doing seeking her out and perusing this conversation.
"I was also intrigued by your hunting technique," I knew that being as honest as possible was the fastest way to earn trust and currently there wasn't the slightest inkling of trust in her. She shrugged, noncommittally. "For a moment there I almost believed you were afraid of them."
"They taste better," she told me and I waited for an explanation. "Those type of people prey on the weak and truly deserve to die; it makes me feel less like them when I choose them for sustenance."
It was an interesting concept and it set off a spark in my mind. I usually hated to endure a human's emotions as they died. I experienced the suffering I was causing them and more and more frequently it haunted me. However, as these three humans died, I had found it easy to distance myself from their suffering. Was it simply because I was not the one causing it, or was it because I felt a vindictive sense of justice applied to the situation? I chose my prey indiscriminately, but if I were more judicious maybe the impact I felt would be lessened. I smiled at her and as I considered the implications of this, it was impossible to not to let my hope radiate.
"Seeing as we are both here, would you like a little help with the clean up?" I offered. Her eyes narrowed at my suggestion and I could still feel the distrust rolling off her. "No strings attached," I reassured her quickly.
She cast a quick glance away from me and to the bodies at our feet. I could sense her coming to the same conclusion I had that delaying and leaving the corpses littering the ground was not the best idea. It had been long enough already.
"I didn't except there to be three of them," she murmured, almost to herself. "I hope I haven't drawn too much attention." Anxiety clouded around her again, quickly escalating to a near panic that once more was completely disproportionate to the situation.
"As long as we destroy the evidence of cause of death, there will be nothing to draw the Volturi here," I reassured her, hoping to dispel her concern which had rapidly become uncomfortable for me.
"Volturi?" she was confused and they had obviously not been her concern, but if not the Volturi, then whose attention was she so fearful of? At least it had had the desired effect of distracting her. "I can manage," she informed me.
"I'm sure you can, but it will be quicker with my help."
She already had a disposal plan in place and it was a simple matter of executing it. It was well thought out and no one would ever find their bodies, they would be presumed missing rather than murdered. I was fascinated with her thoroughness and attention to detail, but was becoming more and more curious about what made her so very cautious. When we had finished, I had not learned anything more about her and she was as much as a mystery as ever. I didn't even know her name. She had not dropped her guard at all, always keeping me in sight and under a ready and watchful gaze.
"Thank you," she offered awkwardly, suddenly almost shy and I could feel the genuineness of her gratitude and I felt another pang of something unidentifiable within me. She was about to leave and I was at a loss as to how to stop her.
"I'm Jasper, Jasper Whitlock." There was no flash of recognition when she learned my name. My reputation sometimes preceded me, but it was clear both my name and my appearance were meaningless to her. I think I was more relieved than disappointed.
"Bella," was all she offered me in return, before beginning to back away and preparing to disappear into the night.
"Have you got anywhere to spend the day?" I called out to delay her departure. She looked at me as if I were crazy; of course she had. "It's getting late and I haven't got time to get back to where I was planning to go," I lied. "Any chance you could put me up?"
I could tell instantly she was going to say no and I infused her with as much trust and compliance as I dared without risking alerting her to my manipulation but it was barely enough and she didn't capitulate as completely as I had hoped.
"If you can keep up!" she challenged before darting away without warning, leaving me only able to follow her scent. Whether intentional or not, chasing her across the city set a new type of burning inside me. As I closed the distance between us, I could tell it was unintentional on her part and therefore did my best to quell the desire coursing through me.
Bella was waiting outside a generic hotel chain and if she were not standing in front of it, I would have been sure she had tricked me in some way to throw me off her trail. I tilted my head to the side in silent question, but she responded with an equally quizzical gesture, seemingly unaware of the reasons for my disbelief. I let her lead me through the bland lobby which was manned by a bored receptionist who didn't even look up as we passed. Bella's card key accessed the elevator and the stairs and she opted for the stairs despite the number of floors we were ascending.
From the lack of heartbeats and the stale human smell, I could tell we were in a mostly unoccupied section of the hotel which was a huge relief and I wondered if it were luck or judgment on Bella's part. Once inside the room it was pretty uncomfortable. It was small with no way to avoid each other's proximity and Bella's scent swam around me intoxicatingly. I could no longer deny to myself that my attraction to her was the main reason for continuing to press my company on her, but she did not reciprocate these feelings and I could tell that concern was her dominant emotion. She was almost definitely wondering why she had agreed to let me tag along with her in the first place and I had to emotionally support her to ensue she didn't panic again. This was both tiring and unethical. Usually the ethics of a situation played no bearing on my decision making, but somehow it felt very wrong to manipulate Bella in such a way. I kept trying to convince myself that I should find shelter elsewhere but I was unable to pry myself away. Once the sun rose, the decision was out of my hands.
She watched me warily for some time before eventually deciding I had no immediate plans to attack her.
I watched in fascinated awe as Bella plugged in a laptop and began typing furiously. I was dying to quiz her about so many things but I could feel her continued fear and hostility towards me and didn't want to irk her. I watched television for a while but couldn't focus. Every one of my senses was focused on Bella. In the end I felt compelled to try and talk to her, no matter how resistant she was to the idea. I decided to start simple, short and sweet.
"What are you doing?"
"Working," she replied without looking up. Would anything about this vampire ever make sense? She was utterly intriguing. It took a fair bit of cajoling but I finally managed to get out of her that she held down several jobs that she could do entirely online. They seemed to range from some form of technical support to freelance writing. I had never considered working and I know most other nomads would not either. On reflection, it seemed quite callous that when my clothes were getting too old, my next victim would be the same height and build as me and would be chosen on the basis of whether or not I liked what he was wearing. Also, I had seen nothing wrong with alleviating the three bodies last night of their cash, after all they would not need it were they were heading. They didn't seem the type to worry about paying the boatman and even if they were, I don't think he takes dollars. I had thought it strange when Bella hadn't checked for cash and stranger still that she had told me to keep it when I offered it to her.
"Do you always stay in hotels?" I asked her, with every passing second more curious about her life.
She shook her head, "I'm not usually anywhere with this much sun and this many people," she told me while still typing and applying most of her concentration to the screen, "so I don't have to be so careful about ensuring I have somewhere private to go during the day."
"So why here and now?" I rephrased my earlier question, hoping to get a better response this time.
"Family wedding," she murmured absently, her focus still elsewhere. I gaped at her, searching her emotions for sarcasm or deception, but found none.
As the sun set, Bella began to gather up her things. She stowed the laptop carefully into a weatherproof backpack and then shoved in her few clothes around it. I watched as she unmade the bed and ran the shower, dampening the towels. Faking human habitation.
"You're leaving?" I asked in as light a tone as I could manage, although I felt a cold dread seeping through me at the prospect of her moving on.
"Never stay in the same place twice," she told me as if that should have been blatantly obvious. "I always book in for two nights and then only stay one," she added as an afterthought.
I wasn't ready to let her go yet. There was still something drawing me to her and the idea of her leaving this room and me never seeing her again was abhorrent. I wanted to broach the subject but something was holding me back. I finally realized it was nervousness. It took me a while to identify it as I think it was the first time I had ever experienced true anxiety since becoming a vampire.
"Would you like company?" I asked awkwardly. "To your next hotel…or wherever you're planning to go." She seemed shocked by the question, completely disarmed. Her defenses tumbled and she looked at me with wide, crimson eyes. I hurried on, so as not to waste my opening. "There are many advantages to travelling together." She looked baffled as to what those advantages might me, so I was forced to elaborate. "It's nice to have company and not to always be alone and it offers better protection against exposure and against others like us."
"I'm terrible company and travelling with me is incredibly dangerous. The exact opposite of protection," she said sadly. I wanted to tell her that I hadn't meant protection for me but I knew that would probably not be helpful. I could feel her crushing despair and loneliness and the tiny drop of hope my offer had added. She desperately wanted to accept, but she wouldn't allow herself to. It was so frustrating. I wanted to demand to know the cause of her concern and allay her fears but she was showing no outward sign of either and to call her on it would be to reveal my gift and could cause her to shut me out completely. I wasn't ready to risk that.
Her inner-vulnerability was gripped in an internal vice of control and wrapped in a self-generated strength and power. It was beautiful to behold and drew me to her once again. I felt my desire for her bubble to the surface and I realized I had moved closer to her, much closer than propriety or my own sense of self-preservation would've usually allowed. I lowered my face closer still, the desire to kiss her overwhelming. I could feel her attraction for me, at the forefront of her emotions for the first time and she was even more irresistible because of it.
As my lips touched hers I pulled her tight against me, anxious for more contact. Her panic erupted from nowhere and caught me completely unprepared. It was all-consuming and it immobilized me. Despite the fact that the panic was her own, she had no such disadvantage. She launched me across the room and I hit the wall so hard, I was showered in plaster and the dust momentarily obscured my vision, and then she was gone. In the few seconds it took me to shake her panic, clear my mind and my eyes and get some semblance of emotional balance she was long gone. I tried to follow but somehow she had masked her trail. I realized she could have lost me at any point yesterday, but really had chosen to let me accompany her. I cursed myself; I had ruined everything by pushing her too hard and too fast.
I should leave. My rational side was torn between disbelief that I was still here and hysterical laughter that a girl I had met barely twenty four hours ago had had such control over me. I sat staring out across the dark water, listening to sounds of the gentle waves lapping at my feet.
Bella obviously didn't want any sort of a relationship with me. Not friendship and especially not anything more. I felt the tightening in my chest at that admission. What was it about this girl? Of course she was beautiful, but that was a natural side effect of the transition to this life. Other than that, she was so uncommunicative it bordered on rude, she wasn't even slightly interested in me and her emotions were so negative and intense that it was actually painful for me to be around her.
But she was interested in you, a little voice at the back of my head whispered to me and as I remembered feeling her attraction to me, I had a sudden urge to hunt her to the ends of the earth and never let her out of my sight again. The more I tried to convince myself of all the reasons to leave and forget about Bella, the more I focused I became on all the things that I wanted to get to know about her. How could she function carrying such misery inside of her and what was the cause of it? Where did she get her strength, discipline and focus from? And family wedding? Really?
I was continuing and losing my internal battle of resistance when I felt it. It was distant and intense and in contrast to the previous night I recognized the source immediately. Bella was in serious trouble. Without conscious thought I was on my feet and running towards the anguish, despite my increasing emotional pain the closer I got. I barely even cared about exposure; I simply had to get to her.
It took all of my self-control and training not to burst in to the abandoned warehouse where I could tell that she was. There were several more vampires here and all of them were unfamiliar. Getting myself killed would not help Bella at all, and to be honest would also be a little embarrassing and completely desiccate my reputation.
Trying to make an acceptable balance between speedy and stealthy, I picked my way through the debris and warning signs. I was able to gain access through a slim hole in the second story wall and found myself on a makeshift balcony created by a gaping hole in the floor with a partially obscured view of the scene below, but it was ideal for gathering information as even through my view was hampered, I was well hidden.
Bella was forced down into a kneeling position with a vampire on either side keeping her arms outstretched and forcing her head bowed. It was a position of forced submission which would be very difficult to break free from and I had to swallow back my anger so as not to let it control me.
An incredibly smug vampire was commanding the other two and addressing Bella as he leisurely paced in front of them.
"Isabella, I'm disappointed," he goaded her. "You normally provide me with much more of a challenge, but today you practically ran into my open arms. What were you running from that was so bad that it brought you back to me?"
Bella glared up at him through her eyelashes, defiance dripping from her with no outward sign of her inner-turmoil of fear and dread. I could not allow her to continue to feel that way.
"She was running from me," I said making my presence known without breaking cover completely. The coven leader spun to look at me, unable to see more than my silhouette. He was wholly unconcerned.
"You'd best be leaving then. You're too late, she's with me now and we have prior business."
"I don't think so."
"Let me make this very clear to you. Isabella is mine." I felt a flourish of fury at his possessive claim and felt exactly the same fury mirrored in Bella.
"She doesn't seem to think so," I ground out, causing him to smirk at me.
"You're both wrong. Bella is a member of my coven."
"A member of your coven?" I echoed disbelievingly.
"That's right. I changed her and Victoria, Laurent and I guided her through her newborn year and gave her the knowledge she needs to survive in our world."
"She doesn't seem that interested in continuing to associate with you," I pointed out.
"All I've asked for in return is that she plays a little game with me," he held open his arms, gesturing that he felt entirely justified in his actions. "It's a harmless game of hide and go seek. You see Isabella has a gift. She can block my gift. It makes the hunting so much more fun when the quarry provides you with some sort of challenge. She's only just getting good at avoiding me and that just makes my prize so much more fun to claim." He didn't need to say anymore. His emotions told me all I needed to know and I was absolutely sickened by him. A vampire sadist that had somehow managed to form a coven. I felt horrified for Bella knowing that she must have been tortured by him regularly since her change. It explained so much and I was even more amazed and impressed by her tenacity and her ability to survive.
It was in the moment that his death became inevitable. I would not allow him to walk away from this. The female, Victoria, raised her head sharply as wave of concern pulsed through her.
"James," she hissed urgently, giving this monster a name. He ignored her, as did I.
"Game's over," I told him unequivocally.
"Well you are certainly arrogant and over confident aren't you?" he sneered.
"I was thinking exactly the same about you," I retorted.
"And yet you are the one cowering in the shadows, ready to flee without even divulging your name."
"James!" Victoria interjected again. He shot her a dirty look and a brief silent exchange occurred between them. Whatever she wanted him to do, he was refusing to do it and was furious with her interruptions. She was getting more upset and antsy with each passing second. She felt betrayed that he was ignoring her council and Laurent seemed equally worried. Both of them wanted to let this go and leave but they were too conditioned by James, and Victoria felt tied to him by what was possibly a distorted mating bond.
"It's Jasper Whitlock," I identified myself and this time my name evoked the reaction I wanted. Victoria and Laurent both eyed their escape routes desperately, but a warning growl from James forced them to hold their positions.
"It's very brave of you to be throwing that name around. You should hope that he doesn't catch up with you, I'm sure he would deal with an impersonator such as yourself with swift efficiency," James was unshaken. "Even if you are who you claim, it would be foolish of you to think you can overcome all of us. There are three of us against one of you and none of us are naive newborns, we know how to hold our own."
"You have miscalculated. It is three against two, not three against one," I corrected.
I shot a jolt of betrayal at Victoria and Laurent, it played on their fears and had the desired effect; it caught them by surprise and they simultaneously loosened their grips. Without hesitation, Bella took full advantage; she flung Victoria hard against the wall and then whirled on Laurent. Before Victoria had recovered herself to assist him, Bella had her teeth at Laurent's neck. His attempts to protect himself were feeble in comparison to Bella's ardent desire for revenge.
"Look at that! Now it's two on two," I smiled maliciously at James who had finally realized that there was a chance that I was a danger to him.
"We have to go, now," Victoria urged him, no longer attempting to silently communicate. James did not want to flee this situation. He had too much pride to allow himself to scurry away and he stubbornly refused to consider Bella any sort of threat, despite Laurent's head on the floor by his feet. He barely gave Victoria a glance, his full focus on me. He intended to fight. Victoria let out a strangled cry, torn between protecting her mate and her powerful sense of self preservation. She chose her own life over his and sprung for the pane-less window. Bella screamed and leapt at her, their mid-air collision echoed around the walls and they clattered to the floor, a mess of flailing limbs.
I could not bear to watch Bella in danger and the urge to rush to her aid was almost irresistible. James obviously felt no such compulsion to help Victoria, instead diving at me. No matter how distracted I was by the other fight, James was no match for me. It only took me a few moments to subdue him. I pinned him face down to the floor, using my knee in the small of his back to secure him there and pulling his head back by the hair to force him to watch the fight. If Bella needed help then he would be dead in an instant but I could feel Bella's need to be the one to destroy her tormentors and I hoped that by doing so, she would be better able to cope with her past and move forward.
Victoria was a vicious fighter, but Bella was a sight to behold. Graceful and determined, she managed to always evade Victoria's blows and waited patiently for her to make a mistake and expose her neck, striking as soon as she did. James let out an ear splitting keen, and struggled harder against my confinement of him.
I met Bella's eye and silently offered her whatever she needed.
She looked at James, who was thrashing furiously against me now, spewing out profanities and practically digging a hole in the ground with his knees in his desperation to free himself. The hatred that Bella had for him was like nothing I had ever experienced before and it took supreme effort not to crumble under the weight of it.
"Wishbone?" Bella suggested and I furrowed my brow in confusion, not understanding what she could possibly mean. "Tug of War?" she offered again and this time I knew exactly what it was she was proposing.
I adjusted my hold, letting him think he had gained the advantage and then anchored him at the shoulder and hip. Bella literally ripped him in half, leaving him conscious for the bonfire that was to come.
Bella watched the fire intently, unmoving until there was nothing left but ash and dust and then her knees gave out and she collapsed, wracked with tearless sobs. I caught her before she hit the ground and simply held her, letting her cry herself out.
It was getting dangerously close to dawn before we moved. Without speaking Bella stood up, I waited for her to take the lead and when I followed she didn't object. She retrieved her backpack from where she must've stashed it earlier and checked us in to a different hotel. I watched her effortless exchange with the human on the desk. He noticed nothing about her except her beauty. He did not register any of the details that marked her as supernatural or the signs that were obvious to me that she was broken, but determined to reassemble herself. He only questioned the timing of our arrival, reminding her that she would have to pay for the night just passed as well as the night coming. I was relieved she had been able to pull herself together in time to get us here, because left to me, I would have chosen us very different accommodation for the day.
Bella spent hours in the bathroom. When she finally came out she came and stood directly in front of me, held my gaze and whispered, "Thank you." I wanted so much to kiss her, but I didn't know how she would react and I didn't want her to run away from me again.
"I would do anything for you," I told her and it was the truth. I recognized the attachment I felt for her for exactly what it was and the irony wasn't lost on me. I had never met anyone burdened with such pain. I had always thought that if I ever found my mate, it would be someone carefree, who would be a balm for my gift and allow me respite from it. But the idea of anyone other than Bella ever was absurd to me now. But I didn't think she'd be able to form that type of relationship, she was simply too damaged and as unchanging as we were maybe she would never feel it. But I should have known that the person I was destined to be with would have had to endure something awful and had the strength to come though it if they were ever to truly understand me and be my equal in every way. But how to move forward from here was a mystery to me.
"Do you want to talk about it?" I asked.
"I suppose you deserve some sort of explanation." I could see she was torn between her need to talk about it and her desire not to dwell and to never think about it again.
"You don't owe me anything and that's not why I asked. I have an idea about what I think you might have gone through and we can leave it at that, but if you want to talk, I'm here to listen."
"I can't work you out. Why are you so good to me when you barely know me?" she asked timidly.
"I'm not sure I know." I wished I could explain myself better, I really wanted to earn her trust, not have to cheat by supplying it to her, but I needed her to trust me now and to make the choice that would be best for her, not a choice that was based on her mistrust of me.
She closed her eyes as she relaxed into the safe buffer I was offering her. "When I moved in with my father I was nearing the end of school and I struggled to fit in. Something happened to me that was awful and no one really believed that the Chief of Police's daughter could have been so naive and allowed herself to get into the situation in the first place. I'm not sure if that's how they really felt or if I was projecting it on them but either way I became more and more isolated. I needed to get away so I spent my time actively avoiding people. I would stumble my way through the woods around my house until I found a clearing and then I would sit and read. I tried to find a new place every time which meant I was straying deeper and deeper in. Then one day, I came across James.
"I still remember the terror. It was instantly obvious to me that I was in trouble, although it turned out I was worried about the wrong thing entirely. He was laughing and teasing me and he said he'd give me a generous head start and I ran. It seemed like hours before he caught up with me and he was a terrifying mix of furious and excited. He was babbling about not being able to track me in the usual way and not having had to use the traditional methods for such a long time.
"I wish he had killed me that day and I think I've wished for that every day since. In the beginning I would ask him to kill me and I think that's the main reason that he didn't. He took perverse pleasure in my suffering. Victoria was furious that he'd kept me and they would fight about it, but he was always dominant. He was so disappointed in me that I was nothing like them and they would both punish me for different reasons and in different ways. I finally managed to escape them and run away. It was weeks before they managed to catch up with me, but apparently James loved the hunt and the challenge and that's when his games began for real.
"There has not been a single moment since then that I have not been looking over my shoulder. The better I got at keeping ahead of him, the worse it was when they inevitably caught up with me. I would try and fight back, but I failed over and over again. He made it so clear he would never, ever stop. I never thought I'd ever be free of them." She trailed off, having become more distant as she recounted her story. I hadn't interrupted her, but based on what she was feeling now, I needed to remind and reassure her.
"None of this was your fault."
"I have to go," Bella said once the sun was setting. We had spent the rest of the day talking about trivial things; comparing places we had been, ways we liked to travel and how we filled our own eternity. Without question, I had enjoyed my day cooped up in a tiny hotel room with her, more than I had ever enjoyed anything else. And all we had done was talk. At least I was finally getting to know her.
"Can I tag along?" I asked, hoping for a better response this time.
"I'm fairly sure it's not something you want to do," she told me wryly.
"Well, now you have me curious," I smiled.
She took me shopping and it was clear she was uncomfortable and unfamiliar with it as I was. We were both completely lost and out of our depth in the formal wear section of a huge department store that was still open this late.
"What are we doing here?" I asked her, unable to think of a single good reason.
"Well, I'm looking for an outfit for my sister's wedding tomorrow," she said. "I'm still not sure I understand why you're still here. I keep expecting you to run screaming from me any minute." She grinned at me and I could feel her genuine humor for the situation we were in.
"I have never run screaming from anything," I told her in mock indignation. Just then a sales assistant approached us. Bella's red eyes were hidden behind tinted glasses but my black ones would give nothing away, except my thirst. I held my breath to protect her life and was only able to nod and murmur, minimizing the use of the little air in my lungs.
We were stood a long way back from the ceremony in the deepest shadows we could find, but despite the distance we had no trouble hearing the vows. Bella's half-sister had been born after Bella died and was now physically several years older than her. Bella pointed out her mother and step-father to me and it was clear that this whole day was very bittersweet for her.
We were dressed for the occasion, only so as not to look out of place, not because we were a part of the celebrations. Bella had spent the previous night talking to me about her family and how she had watched their lives from a distance, mainly via internet stalking them. None of them knew she existed, they had given up hope of finding her alive and had buried her long ago.
As Bella watched her family, I felt her love for her mother, for her step-father and for the sister she had never had the chance to meet. She had managed to hold on to her love for them through her change and through all the misery she had endured since then.
We didn't linger long, turning to leave at our first opportunity once darkness had descended. As Bella slipped away, her mother spun on the spot and caught her eye for the briefest moment. Bella melted into the shadows and away, feeling a desperate need to escape. I was frozen though. This could be a disaster. If Bella's mother started to question the death of her daughter, then Bella could be exposed and the Volturi would be quick and decisive. After everything she had endured, Bella would be ended by them. I was prepared to kill her mother to prevent it, but Bella would surely never forgive me for it.
Bella's mother's shock quickly morphed into a peaceful contentment and I decided both her and Bella must share some sort of genetic trait to confound me. She smiled at her husband.
"Bella's spirit was here. I saw her watching over us and she looked exactly the same as the last time I saw her. She was as beautiful as ever," she told him almost dreamily.
Her husband smiled indulgently at her. "I could feel her presence as well. She'll always be a part of our lives." And then they shared a tender kiss of two people who were still very much in love.
I found Bella on the same beach I had been alone on just a few nights before. She looked beautiful in her dress and I was having a very hard time being on my best behavior. We stood facing each other and when she reached up and adjusted the flower in my buttonhole, I almost came undone. Every touch she offered me was precious.
"Thank you again," she told me. "I know that I was here for Ava's wedding, but I never for a second considered that I might actually be able to go to it. I wanted to be close but I could never have risked…" she trailed off. "If James had had even the slightest idea about them…" her voice tapered off again, stolen from her by terror. I pulled her into my arms and absorbed as much of her fear as I could.
"I meant what I said," I told her. "I want us to travel together from now on. You can trust me, Bella."
And she did trust me, without any inference in her emotions from my gift and despite that fact that she had been so hurt by others.
That was the first time I can ever remember feeling happy and the first time I ever had any hope for a better future.
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