Much thanks to sweeneyanne for the beta and aerobee82 for the usual pre-reading insano-ftldhasthenerves-prereading. Also, thanks to LilHB for appeasing my crazy by pre-reading as well. Flove you ALL!
And thank you to everyone who reviewed even though I went MIA for a bit. I didn't get a chance to thank everyone personally, but I really did appreciate it.
Side Note: Have we all heard the new Tegan and Sara? Isn't Now I'm All Messed Up just the greatest thing ever? *goes all googly eyed and listens to it again*
Chapter 17 - Bury Me
To say Peter was furious to find Edward sitting at the small table tucked into the corner of my motel room was putting it mildly.
"What are you doing here?" Peter raged the moment I opened the door to him, looking for all intents and purposes, ready to rip Edward's head clean off. I wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't. He stormed into the room and rattled the generic painting hung across the room with the force of his boot kicking the door closed. "What sort of an idiot are you? The point was to keep you two separated."
I'd been ready for his anger—what I wasn't ready for was the sight of crimson shining from his eyes. I'd kind of gotten used to the orange. It made sense; Peter couldn't meet with any agent of the Volturi with evidence of his brief foray into another diet so clearly on his face. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, but it was less of an issue than I would have thought six months ago.
"If Bella is in danger, then the only place I am willing to be is with her."
Peter shook his head and snarled. "Mere luck is the only reason you are still alive. Or have you forgotten about Demetri?"
Edward argued, "If Demetri was searching for me, Jasper would have been a lot more upfront when he suggested I start running."
I wasn't about to let the two of them get into an actual argument over this—it'd be days before either of them would concede, if ever. I crossed the room to stand between them and faced Peter. "What happened?"
Peter shook his head. For a split second I caught a spark of pity in his eyes. It sent fury racing through me. "Don't look at me like that."
Peter set his jaw and nodded. "You're out of time."
"How long before they expect you to find me?" I asked after a moment, unwilling to draw the conversation out any longer than necessary. We both knew this was where all this talking was headed.
"A week, if you're lucky. I'm not the only one looking." Peter jerked his head toward Edward. "Although, to be fair, the rest are only looking for him. If they can't find him, they'll use you as bait."
Edward let out an audible breath behind me.
"They are not happy. I've been offered a lot of money to take care of you."
"What's the order?" Edward asked, far more comfortable with this type of planning than I was.
Peter's face hardened into something terrifying. "Dead or alive."
"They asked you to kill her?!" It was incredibly startling to see Edward lose his cool so quick.
Peter didn't even flinch. "She must serve as an example of what happens to those who defy them. Aro would prefer her changed, living in servitude—but if it proves to be difficult, I'm to kill her. If you stand in my way, I'm to make it particularly memorable."
"There's something else," Edward said. He narrowed his eyes at Peter. "What aren't you telling us?"
"We'll talk about it when Jasper gets here."
"We'll talk about it now."
Peter sneered. "Sure, now that you've already fucked up half the contingencies we had to keep the two of you breathing, you want to discuss it."
"Just spit it out, Peter." I was a little impressed with myself for managing to growl out the demand so forcefully.
Peter glanced at me before raising his chin toward Edward. "It's worse than we thought. They won't be satisfied with Bella's death. You had to have known this might be the case. Your head, your coven, they're on the line, too."
"Aro wouldn't order my execution," Edward said. I supposed his arrogance was warranted, after all, Aro had made his invitation toward Edward and Alice clear—but still, it bothered me. Some insecurities would never disappear it seemed, and Edward's position firmly above me was something permanent.
"No, but he would destroy everyone you care about, one by one, to make you compliant. They'll go after those you love, and they're starting with Bella. This order, it's only the beginning. In the end it's not Bella who has flouted their authority. It's you. They may not care if she dies, but you are to be captured. Alive."
I'd never thought that the Volturi would consider Edward to be the guilty party. My legs gave out from under me and I sank to the creaky motel mattress. It made so much sense. I'd understood that to them I was basically nothing. I was human. Lately I'd even come to terms with just how little say I had in how my future would play out. The change on the horizon would come and I was powerless to stop it, but I hadn't put all the pieces together. I hadn't realized that my ineffectualness meant the blame would fall on someone else. I hadn't once thought that Edward would be the one to hang for my knowledge of the supernatural world, regardless of whether or not I was punished, too.
"How do you know all of this?" I asked with an unnecessary force. I wasn't about to let them carry on this conversation over my head, as if I wasn't even here.
"I have connections in the guard."
Peter shook his head. "Plausible deniability."
I muttered. "You just love to say that, don't you?"
Peter ignored my little jab in favor of issuing his own to Edward. "You should keep as far away from this fight as you can. Leave the Volturi to those with experience handling them."
Edward growled. "I swore I would do everything within my power to protect Bella, to keep my family safe. There is nothing you can say that would convince me to walk away."
"Just keep in mind," Peter said as he took a threatening step toward Edward. Even I flinched. "I only promised to keep her out of their clutches. Not you."
Edward glared right back, and I watched with rapt attention as Edward tried to pull something useful out of Peter's head. I was betting he wouldn't be able to. Nearly five minutes went by before I'd had enough.
"As amusing as this is, maybe we should get back to the issue at hand?" I tried to come off as sarcastic, but mostly I sounded afraid.
"That's probably best." Peter turned toward me, and his angry stance relaxed. "You need to make a decision now."
Terror wound its fingers in an unforgivable vice around my heart. My answer came before I had adequate time to think through it, but it was the truth. I used to have the illusion of months. Now I had days, hours. There would never be enough time to do all I wanted to, and now there might not be enough time to do the one thing I'd promised I would. I'd known it on some level for a long time now. I couldn't leave Charlie blindsided. The silly thought floated through my head that I never even got to buy a dress. "I can't do it."
Edward's reaction was noticeable, so I knew he hadn't been expecting my response. He looked pleased, but worried; no doubt sifting through his vast collection of knowledge trying to figure out how to pull this off without changing me. I wasn't surprised; Edward had always been very clear about his ideal version of my future.
What did surprise me was Peter. I'd expected him to be angry; to growl in my face and tell me I knew nothing about the world and how it worked, and then force me through all the logistics to make sure I understood exactly what it was I was doing. Peter did none of this. He stared at me for an uncomfortable minute and then crouched to my level. My vision fixed itself right above the television to the right, and he tilted his head until I gave up trying to avoid his stare.
"Is this the kind of thing that you can't do on your own, so you need me to? Or are you refusing?"
This was probably a subject best talked about when we were alone, but I couldn't make myself brush it to the side for later. A tear spilled down my cheek as shame bloomed in my chest. It was bittersweet to finally find some of the perspective I'd been hunting; that it wasn't being human that made me weak, it was this constant indecision I couldn't escape. Even after all this time, after so many second and third chances, I still couldn't resign myself to the fate I'd once chased after. "I refuse. I'm not ready. There are still things I have to do."
"Do you know what you are asking of me?" Peter's face was unreadable. His eyes bore into mine with more intensity than I ever imagined could exist. He didn't look taken aback at all; maybe he'd seen it coming.
"I understand." And I did. I knew exactly what I was asking him to do, and I knew that it was selfish and unfair.
"Okay," Peter said. "We'll come up with something."
"I'm so sorry."
Peter shook his head, and for a moment I caught something raw lingering in his eyes. I blinked, and it was gone. "Why should you be sorry?"
I whispered, "This is all my fault."
"How? How in the hell could any of this be your fault?"
"I should have just done what they wanted in the first place. It would have been easier on everyone. I should have held up my end of the bargain."
I nodded. Peter looked confused, and then anger started bleeding in.
"Oh, for fuck's sake. Now it all makes perfect sense." Peter grabbed my chin and tilted my head up to look him in the eye again. "You did not make a deal with them. Edward did. He is the one who didn't hold up his end of the agreement. He is the one who will not be gifted a second chance. Not you. Killing you is Edward's punishment."
"What are you talking about?"
I had seen Peter angry. I'd seen him vicious. I'd never seen him like this. A feral growl ripped its way through the space between us, and I realized that I hadn't ever heard that from him, either. In the blink of an eye he turned on Edward. "How dare you not explain this to her!"
Edward addressed his reply to me. "I didn't want you to worry."
"You are such an idiot." Peter seethed. "What good does protecting her do when hiding the truth does nothing but place all the weight on her shoulders? Did you think that because you would be the one to bear the consequences, she wouldn't suffer, too?"
I wasn't surprised that Edward snapped, even though I'd never imagined it could happen before. Peter could get under anyone's skin if he put his mind to it. "All I have ever wanted was to spare her the nightmare you are so willing to subject her to!"
"Stop it." I couldn't take any more of this. "Please, just stop it."
"How can you be so calm about this?" Peter raged. What I didn't understand was how he wasn't.
"Because someone," I gave him a pointed look, "taught me to focus on what I can change instead of fixating on what I can't." It was immensely pleasurable to throw Peter's own advice right back at him.
Peter looked stunned but recovered quickly. "Right. Okay. We're going to need Jasper." He jerked to a stop and addressed Edward. "And you need to give us some time to discuss things."
Edward stood his ground. "No."
Edward opened his mouth to argue and I scrambled to my feet before he could say something to drive the tension even higher. "It's okay. Just give us some time to talk, alright?"
Edward looked like he wanted to put up a fight, but in the end all it took was another nod from me to see him out of my room. The second the door swung closed behind him, Peter rolled his shoulders and started pacing with all the subtlety of a caged lion.
Peter stalked back and forth across the small room, his movements so rapid I started to get dizzy. This was absurd. "You're going to wear a hole in the carpet."
Peter didn't miss a beat. "I'm thinking."
"Will you just calm down?"
"I do not want to be calm," Peter snapped. "I want to be very, very tense."
"You're not helping anyone acting like this." I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms, and fixed him with the most withering stare I could come up with. It didn't do any good.
"I don't care."
"Oh, for crying out loud." There was only one thing I could think of that could possibly make Peter stop acting like a crazed vampire out for blood. I marched forward, grabbed both sides of his face, and kissed him. The moment he froze I pulled back. There was no containing my amusement at the look on his face.
It only took him a few seconds to regain his composure. "You must be joking."
"I'm sorry," I said, sarcasm rampant in my tone. "I thought that was how we got each other to stop acting like lunatics."
I took two steps back and fidgeted for a moment before shoving my hands in my pockets. I supposed I should have felt more self-conscious, but kissing Peter was low on my list of things to worry about.
Peter took a long breath, noticeably calmer. "You need to understand that these measures we're discussing are not because of anything you have or have not done. To them, you are a pawn—a casualty of the power struggle they've been waging with Edward and the Cullens. You are not responsible for what happens."
"It really doesn't feel that way."
"It never does." Peter turned to stare at the door. "I don't like him, and I don't like that he is here."
"He can't follow directions," Peter added, as if he felt the need to justify his displeasure.
"This has nothing to do with me?" I asked, watching him carefully, trying to get an idea of how he felt.
"Of course not."
I frowned. I wasn't exactly surprised or displeased—I didn't want Edward and Peter arguing about anything—but it would have been nice if Peter could at least give me something.
"Don't make that face." Peter rolled his eyes and started pacing again. "I know where you and I stand. Why would I worry over it?"
I supposed when he put it like that, it was a better reaction that I'd hoped for. A bit of a smile broke loose, and I asked, "So, Alice is coming?"
Peter scowled, just like I knew he would. "Yes. She's probably what's slowing Jasper down."
I couldn't decide if putting Peter and Alice in the same city was going to be amusing enough to dispel some of the tension, or if it would just be another powder keg thrown on an open flame. I hoped for the former; I could use some funny.
"Are you sure about this?" Peter asked with an abrupt change in demeanor. "It's going to come to a fight either way, so don't assume your decision is a factor there, but are you certain this is the path you want to take?"
He didn't seem to care one way or another. It was probably the only thing that could have possibly made me feel better. "I'm sure."
"May I ask why?" Peter didn't look like he wanted to judge my reasoning; he simply looked curious.
Instead of answering his question, I asked one of my own. "You knew I'd never be ready, didn't you? I can't do this until I say goodbye, and I can't say goodbye until I absolutely have to."
Peter remained as steady as ever. "It's not really the type of thing that can be explained—or should be trivialized by something as weak as words."
"I promised my dad I would come home. I told him that if I was faced with a choice between doing something stupid and coming back, I'd come back. This isn't what he thought of when he asked, but it is what he meant. I… I can't break that promise." I squashed the latest round of tears begging to be set loose and confessed, "I keep thinking I should just run for Forks now. This might be my last chance."
"You can't go see your father," Peter insisted. "You're on the hook. The chase has begun. As soon as Aro realizes we're going after him, hell is going to rain down. If you go back home, you'll only lead them straight to his door."
My brain refused to process his argument. "But I could go now, before they start looking."
"We don't have time. They're looking for Edward, and that means they're looking in Forks. I didn't think they'd go after both of you at the same time. I assumed I'd be the only factor, but with the others searching for Edward…" Peter left the rest unsaid.
I couldn't believe I'd ever characterized what I felt after Edward left me as heartbreak. This was a hundred times worse. This obscene mix of lost, trapped, and out of control with every word I'd given Charlie hanging on the line—this was real heartbreak. I couldn't stand it. "I promised him."
Peter crouched to my level and swiped the hair out of my face. "I know, but you can't go to him now. It's just not possible."
"I've spent half my life lying to him." I didn't say it for any other reason than to give this one deep, aching regret of mine a voice. I'd spent so long deceiving Charlie—for his safety, for his own good, to avoid the things I wasn't mature enough to deal with properly—and here I was, about to do it again.
"That is the burden of the choices you've made," Peter said, simply, no judgement.
I couldn't think of anything to say. All I wanted was to curl up under the blankets and sleep this whole mess away. "This sucks."
"To be the one who has to decide is difficult," Peter said, echoing a conversation long past. I supposed it was his way of agreeing with me.
"I'm going home." I was determined to the point of insanity. There wasn't any other option. "I will make it through this alive, and I will go home to see my dad. Everything that comes after is after."
Peter nodded and tilted his head a little to the left as he thought. For once, I saw it coming.
The third time Peter kissed me was in a motel, just off the highway. His thumbs brushed my cheeks and his lips were soft. It was salty and tender, and it was real. The curve of his lips against mine for that brief moment said more than either of us could have expressed with our voices.
"I'm not acting like a lunatic." Except that maybe I was, a little, but he understood why.
Peter's hands lingered before he moved to sit next to me. "You know that's not the only reason."
"What am I supposed to do?" I didn't care that I was begging him for a solution.
"What if we can't pull it off?" I wasn't sure I even wanted to know.
Of course, Peter told me anyway. "Then I guess I'll have to kill you."
"That's not funny."
"No, it's not," he agreed after a moment. "No one to hold your hand and pretend it's all going to be okay this time. You sure you can handle this?"
I pressed my lips together and considered my answer. "No, I'm not. But I will."
He allowed half of a smile to cross his face in approval.
I found myself repeating Edward's sentiment. "It's never going to be the same again, is it?"
"What's so bad about that?"
I thought about it for a moment before deciding. "Nothing."
"Do you want to call him?" Peter asked. "Your father? You may not be able to see him, but that doesn't mean you can't talk to him for a bit."
I rested my elbows against my knees and folded my hands together, unsure of how to express my feelings on the proposal. "How do I tell him goodbye without letting him know something is wrong?"
"You don't," Peter said. "You lie. You break your heart to keep his whole for a little while longer. That's all you can do for him now."
Sometimes I really hated Peter's refusal to soften blows, but this wasn't the time for coddling and we both knew it. Besides, when had Peter ever coddled?
I had to tell Charlie something, it didn't matter what it was. I'd made up my mind long ago to be honest with him when I could, and whatever desperate, crazy plan we came up with, I couldn't stand the thought of losing my last chance to talk to him. I needed to know he was okay before I flipped the bird at the Volturi and waited to see if I would make it out alive.
"I wish you weren't right so often." I grumbled, but I was teasing a little bit, too. Peter cracked a smile, and the tension eased. It took nearly a minute of concentrating on nothing but my lungs, but it was less time than I thought I'd need to remember how to breathe. "Some day I'm going to teach you about the fine art of sugarcoating."
Peter got a look on his face that I remembered from rare occasions back when we met; some crazy combination of curious and baffled. He pulled himself together within seconds. "Teach all you want, but I know you don't need such nonsense. You're not that weak."
I wondered if it was kind of messed up that I took it as the most genuine and meaningful compliment I'd ever been given.
Peter didn't give me time to respond. "Now or later?"
"I'm thinking now." I stood and allowed myself a few deep breaths. This wasn't the time to focus on anyone other than Charlie. "Can't say 'later' forever, right?"
"Do you want me to go?" Peter asked, in a rare showing of blatant consideration.
I found his answer to be more amusing than it should have been. "Where you'll still be listening?"
Peter didn't argue the point. "You would have the illusion of privacy, and no one watching you."
"Stay." I nearly dropped my phone the moment it came out of my pocket. "I'm sick of illusions."
Peter nodded, not looking entirely convinced, and stood to lean against the wall near the door. I tried for a smile as I dialed.
Peter angled his ear toward me when Charlie answered on the third ring. I hadn't realized Peter really didn't know anything about Charlie other that he liked to fish and that he was my father. It made me nervous enough that the dread needling me for two days had to take a backseat.
I kept an eye on him all throughout the greetings and pleasantries, even though he gave nothing away other than undisguised curiosity.
"What's going on, Bella?"
My attention snapped back to Charlie. "Not much. I just wanted to call. What's been going on in Forks?" If Charlie didn't suspect something was wrong before, he certainly did after I asked that.
The abridged version of events Charlie gave me was more than I expected from him, but the quick run-down settled me enough to broach the topic we'd been avoiding ever since I left. I wasn't sure why I wanted to ask; only that I might not get another chance to, and that made me impatient. "What about Jacob? Is he home yet?"
"No." Charlie answered carefully. "But Billy's been talking to him. Says he's doing alright."
"Good." It was an unexpected source of relief.
"Anything new going on with you?" Charlie asked.
The sudden, violent revelation that even where it came to Peter, I could hardly tell Charlie anything seared through me. Sometimes it was so easy to forget who—what—Peter really was. I sat, paused, staring blankly ahead. Not so long ago I'd expended a ridiculous amount of effort figuring Peter out and only mildly succeeded—but I knew now. Peter only used to be human, but through sheer force of will had rendered that loss irrelevant.
Edward's quiet certainty that my feelings for Peter were greater than I was able to admit suddenly took on a whole new meaning. Whatever this thing I felt for Peter was, I was sure it was the kind of thing I should tell Charlie about, if only because it was the only thing I could tell him.
"I met someone," I said carefully. Across the room, Peter stifled a chuckle. Maybe I should have taken him up on his offer to give me some space; this was embarrassing.
Charlie exhaled into the receiver, and the silence that spanned the phone line was tense. "There's just no way for me to like that."
"Sorry. I thought you'd want to know."
"I do— I mean—just be careful, Bella. I worry about you." Charlie paused. "And don't you dare do something stupid."
I closed my eyes and willed the ache in my throat away. It would do no good to let Charlie think anything was out of the ordinary. I could cry later. Charlie deserved to have some hope, and it would do me good to have a reminder of what I was fighting for. "I was thinking about coming to see you in a few weeks."
"I don't like that it sounds like you'll just be visiting." Charlie didn't sound happy.
"I just miss you is all."
"I miss you, too, Bells." When I didn't answer he asked, "Is everything okay?"
"I'm fine. Tired. I've been busy."
"Alright." Charlie obviously didn't believe me.
"Love you, Dad."
"Yeah, love you, too."
I stared at the floor long after hanging up. Then, with an entirely fake smile that wasn't fooling Peter, went about my nighttime routine. Maybe in the morning the future wouldn't look so bleak.
I woke to the crash of my hotel room door colliding with the wall. By the time I opened my eyes, Alice was sitting on her knees, hovering over me. I blinked once, and she had hauled me up to crush me in a hug.
"I missed you! Oh, I missed you so much!"
She kissed my cheek and tightened her arms around me until I had to sputter a protest. "I missed you too, but I don't see how suffocating me is going to help either of us."
Alice loosened her grip, leaned back, and brushed my hair behind my ear with a somewhat manic smile on her face. If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn she was about to start crying.
"Look at you." She shook her head as her grin widened. "These months have been so good to you."
I glanced over Alice's shoulder to find Peter scowling as he walked through the open door, Jasper right behind him. I wasn't sure where Edward was, but I decided I wasn't going to ask. He could probably use some space; I knew I could. Instead I turned back to Alice and let loose a grin of my own.
"I should have called more, right? I know. I wanted to, but Jasper said not to." Alice flopped onto the bed beside me and scooted up to sit against the headboard. She huffed and shot a glare towards Peter and Jasper. "He insisted that I 'give you some space', whatever that means. Jerk. I don't know why I listened."
Jasper wasn't fazed in the least by Alice's little rant. He'd probably heard it dozens of times by now.
I tried to think of how to reply, but in the end just said, "I really did miss you."
"Not too much, I'm assuming." Alice made an exaggerated nod toward Peter. I imagined the look on my face was probably the same as his—eyes narrowed with a slight frown. Where in the world had she gotten that from? Alice laughed and tapped the side of her nose. "You smell like each other."
This was not a conversation I wanted to have with Peter and Jasper in the room. The only thing that made me feel better about it was that they both looked twice as uncomfortable as I was. I guessed that this was also something they'd heard before on the way here.
"I should be furious with you," Alice teased. "Taking sides with the enemy, how could you?"
I drew my lip between my teeth trying to stifle my laughter. I was going to have to get used to navigating Alice's spontaneous brand of conversation again.
"Oh my God, you're not even blushing." Alice turned and shook her head at Peter. "What did you do to her?!"
I would have found the whole exchange to be hilarious if I wasn't too busy being concerned for the way Alice seemed to be unable to let go of my arm. I hadn't thought she'd be affected by our distance, but clearly, she was. I was starting to feel guilty for keeping her at arm's length.
"Alice…" The stern note I tried to inject was ruined by the giggles I couldn't keep at bay.
"Yes, yes, I know. None of my business, right?" She somehow managed to both smile at me and glare at Peter at the same time. "At least tell me if this means I'm going to have to start being nice to him."
"Absolutely not." I laughed. It was impossible not to. "Somebody has to help me call him out when he's being obnoxious."
"So long as you have your priorities straight."
"Alice." With one word Jasper managed to convey so much.
"I know, I know." Alice huffed, giving my arm a gentle tug. I moved to sit closer to her, and the moment I was settled Alice hooked her arm through mine. "More important things to discuss."
"That's right," Jasper said. He gave me a small nod of acknowledgement before crossing his arms. "I hear we have a pest problem. Let's talk strategy."