"I don't suppose there's any chance that you've changed your mind?" Aro asked Edward hopefully. "Your talent would be an excellent addition to our little company."
Edward hesitated. From the corner of my eye, I saw both Felix and Jane grimace.
"Edward seemed to weigh each word before he spoke it. "I'd…rather…not."
"Alice?" Aro asked, still hopeful. "Would you perhaps be interested in joining with us?"
"No, thank you," Alice said.
"And you, Bella?" Aro raised his eyebrows.
Edward hissed, low in my ears. I starred at Aro blankly. Was he joking? Or was he really asking me if I wanted to stay for dinner?
New Moon, pages 476-7
The memories were intermittent, coming only as the pain subsided. Fire, sometimes so consuming she thought she would never survive. And then it would fall away to nothing; an absolute and utter absence of anything sensory. But there was pain, always pain. Fire licked at her body and memories tore at her soul as she fought through a living purgatory, unable to call or cry out. The darkness terrified her, for there was no one to ask, and no place to hide as her last human moments replayed over and over again.
The dark shrouded figures, swarming Edward and Alice. The small boy, Alec, the beatific smile on his face at odds with the chaos enabled by his talent. His sister, Jane, her dark burgundy eyes alight with the knowledge of what was to come. And Felix, one muscular arm pinning Bella in place, his free hand clamped on her face, preventing her from looking away.
She'd wanted to scream as the fire erupted from the ornate silver tool in Caius's grasp, consuming both Edward and Alice. She remembered screaming and fighting, trying desperately
to break free. But there was nothing to be done. As soon as it started, it was over and they were gone, smoking heaps of grey ash on the floor.
And before she could react, Aro's teeth dug into her neck, slowly draining the life out of her. How long had she wished to be transformed, to be granted the gift of immortality? But not like this, not without him. It was wrong, all so incredibly wrong.
Just when she thought she couldn't stand the emotional pain any longer, the fire would flare up again, consuming her body and eliminating the memories for a few blessed minutes. The pain was excruciating, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore.
Everything was lost.
"Please Caius, she is like one of my own," Carlisle argued. He was desperate to reach Bella, terrified that he was too late to save her. He refused to dwell on the grief that threatened to pull down the careful façade he allowed the Volturi see. He could not afford to fall apart now, not when those he loved were still in jeopardy. The only thing keeping him grounded was the steady presence at his side. Jasper fought valiantly to suppress his anger, to keep Carlisle centered and calm in the midst of so much malevolence, all while his own grief threatened to overwhelm him. Carlisle did not want to consider the emotional strain that it placed on his adopted son. He couldn't allow himself to think of anything but getting to Bella. It was the least he could do for Alice and Edward. He'd failed in so much where it came to Edward, his first, and in some ways his most loved. He had to save Bella, if for nothing more than a tribute to him.
"Peace, dear Carlisle. I mean the girl no harm." Aro's smile was sickeningly sweet, a blatant attempt to disarm him and make him complacent. Carlisle knew full well that Aro had plans for Bella. He didn't need to read minds to glean that. Nor did he miss Aro's covetous gaze fell on his next prize. Jasper had taken a great risk by coming here; exposing himself and his talents to a megalomaniac who acquired people like others collected stamps. To his right, his other adopted son, Emmett, stood sentinel, his arms tightly crossed in front of his body. In his own way, Emmett was as much of a warrior as Jasper. Both would fight for their family, for the small girl who'd become one of them.
While physically imposing, Emmett held no interest to Aro. He had nothing of merit, at least not in the way Aro gauged talent. Carlisle couldn't help but find irony in this. The strength of Emmett's character was ten times that of most men, and a greater asset than any mind trick or parlor illusion.
"If that is the case then let us take her home. We've lost so much already, Aro. Please don't take her from us too." Carlisle hoped that his pleas would meet with compassion. Once Aro had been a trusted friend. He prayed that still to be the case, for Aro's actions had been irrational.
Perhaps they'd always been and Carlisle had simply missed the motivation. An anonymous stranger was so different from someone he loved, someone he knew to be a good man.
But instead of responding, Aro steelpled his fingers in front of his chin as his index fingers tapping gently against dark red lips. Behind him, Caius fidgeted impatiently, clearly put out by Carlisle's demands. Too his left, the third of the ruling triumvirate, Marcus, sat impassive; his rheumy eyes focused on the Cullen men with something akin to curiosity. It was the first time Carlisle could ever recall Marcus ever expressing any type of interest or intrigue on Aro's fiendish games.
"The point is moot, my friend. The girl cannot move anywhere until her transformation is complete." Aro floated back up to his chair, settling down into the ornate wood throne gracefully. Once settled, Marcus held his left hand out, a casual gesture of familiarity in an otherwise formal environment. To most observers, it would be a gesture of affection. Carlisle knew it to be anything but.
Aro took Marcus's hand, their pale fingers twining together in a comfortable embrace as his gaze lost focus. After a moment, Aro's dark eyes darted up to meet Carlisle, a fiendish amusement sparkling in their depths.
"If you are so concerned as for her well-being, you may send someone to be with her and comfort her. I am sure she would welcome the presence of a familymember." Aro's gaze fell on Jasper, and Carlisle breath caught in his throat, the emphasis on family member now making sense. "Jasper, you have the most experience with newborns. I think you would be of great aid to her. When she comes round, we can discuss her options, and determine what Bella's future holds."
"Take me to her," Jasper replied without hesitation, and Carlisle couldn't help but wonder why his son would willingly go. But before he could stop him, Jasper strode out of the chamber, Felix following close behind.
Once inside a large suite of rooms, Jasper slid down against the stone wall, his head resting in his hands. Bella lay prone on a long table, which looked for all intents and purposes like a bier or funeral pyre. She'd been dressed in some elaborate gown, dark crimson silk contrasting against her ivory skin. The dress was the type of thing Alice would have chosen, elaborate and elegant, designed to set off dark hair and the palest of complexions. It was exactly the type of thing Bella would have hated.
Alice. He'd fought her going to Forks, insisting that it was something for Edward and Bella tofigure out on their own, and that Alice had promised not to dabble. She'd insisted it was all wrong, that Bella couldn't be dead. They all knew her visions were falliable; she had to see it for herself. He'd waited for twenty four hours, an unnamed dread settling into his bones. And then the phone call from the plane, Alice explaining that Bella was still alive, and that Edward was going to the Volturi to request his destruction. Jasper insisted he could meet her in Italy, that he would go with her. But Alice insisted there wasn't enough time.
How prophetic she'd been. There wasn't enough time. There never had been. So many things they were meant to do. Oceans to sail, jungles to roam, all the adventures they'd planned and yet never taken. It was all gone now. Alice, and Edward along with her. All because of Jasper's inability to control his lust for human blood. Everything could have been prevented if he'd just been strong enough, had enough willpower.
But he'd failed everyone. Alice, Edward, Bella. He'd set this all in motion long ago, and had zero ability to stop it.
The small form on the table moved, just a fraction of an inch. She was slowly waking up, her heart slowing as the venom laid claim to her body. All too soon, she would be awake, looking around expectantly for the one who'd been an anchor to her for so long. How would he explain that Edward was gone, and this time he was never coming back? Did she know that he had loved her, that he'd never given up loving her? Neither had Alice. The loyalty to their family, to him had forced Edward to push Bella away, in a flawed, noble attempt to protect her from what they were. And when Edward had mistakenly believed that Bella was gone, he chose not to go on without her. She would spend an eternity without the person she'd loved more than life itself, the one man she'd been willing to sacrifice everything for. How would she bare it?
He wanted to run, to turn away like the coward he was. Peter and Charlotte would welcome him back; never questioning what it was that drove him away. They were loyal to him, not the Cullens, and would never suspect that his return to their lives was in reality a defection from his own.
As much as he wanted to escape, to run and run, never looking back, he couldn't make the move to do it. He owed to much to all of them, and too himself. He'd come too far to revert back to that way of life. He couldn't abandon this girl, who had no clue what lay in front of her. It was the least he could do for his wife, for his brother. They'd loved this fragile little girl so much, and had done everything they thought they could to keep her safe, ultimately sacrificing their own lives in lieu of hers. Would their loss be in vain if he left Bella to survive on her own? And what of all the faith Alice had placed in him, that he could lead a good, compassionate life? How could he go back to that now?
There was no going back, only going forward. Time and the world rolled on, and with it, an eternity stretched out in front of him. One in which he would have to determine what came on his own, all precognition gone in a blaze of sacrifice.
Bella moved again, the motion more perceptible this time. A small moan followed, as if the girl, in waking, realized the grief she was coming back to. How would he explain? Why was he the one chosen to be here? It should have been Carlisle, Esme, Emmett. Anyone but him. She
would see him and react, lash out. Maybe he deserved that. His actions were the one that set this in motion in the first place. Were it not for him, none of this would have ever happened.
Maybe that Bella was his penance for what he couldn't contain. His way to atone for not being strong enough.
"Edward…" the girl murmured, and internally he cringed. So much pain that didn't have to be.
But before he could ruminate any further, she was sitting up, her burgundy eyes the same color as the silk of her dress, which moved with the lightest whisper. She searched the room frantically, as if looking for the one person who could make it all better, make the pain, the fear go away.
When her eyes met him, a long slow moan broke from her lips. She knew. She remembered.
"No no no no!" She shrieked, jumping from the table, her palms of her hand pressed against her temples, as if trying to suppress the memory. Jasper found himself reacting involuntarily, springing too his feet and flying across the room. His arms enfolded her shaking body, trying to protect her as she lashed out, her grief manifesting itself in the need to destroy. She tore at her dress, at her hair, at his shirt; anything she could use to gain purchase in her anguish.
"Why? Why him? Not me?" she shrieked, her hands pounding on his chest. "Why them?"
And then she collapsed, as if acknowledging that they were indeed gone had sucked all of the strength out of her. Bella buried her face against his chest as she gasped, dry heaving sobs wracking her body. She was verbalizing all the heartache he felt, yet was unable to articulate. He felt like a parasite, letting her emotions wash over him, using them as a way to purge his own grief. He had no way to manifest his pain, and lost himself in her agony. In some warped way, they needed each other to survive this loss. They could protect and support each other as no one else could. They were united in their anguish, the loss of Edward and Alice the only tie that bound them together.
Jasper was not sure how long she cried, wordless accepting the role he'd watched his father fill so many times. So caught up in her, he didn't realize they were being watched until a wave of arrogant happiness overwhelmed the despair that filled the room. He looked up to see Caius and Aro watching from the doorway, curiosity lighting up their ancient faces.
"You look lovely, Bella," Aro simpered, his eyes gliding up and down her silk clad body as if assessing a prize stallion. She shrank closer into Jasper, as if his proximity could protect her from Aro's covetous gaze. "Immortality suits you."
Caius tapped his walking stick on the stone floor impatiently, trying to pull her attention. When Bella didn't respond, he stepped forward, invading their personal space to establish his dominance.
"We are sending your family home. They will be leaving in a few hours." Caius kept his eyes glued to Bella, but Jasper could feel the anger and disgust rolling off of him. Caius found the Cullens revolting, and would be more than happy to be rid of them.
"No!" Bella shrieked, her body moving involuntarily, as if to flee through the open door, maybe to search out Carlisle or Esme. Jasper wrapped his arms tightly around her, rooting her to the spot. While he didn't have anything to verify that Caius was goading her on, Jasper had more than enough tactical experience to recognize a feint. They were gauging her loyalties, and most likely his too. They'd divided them for a reason. He and Bella were the only ones with talents or potential the Volturi might be able to leverage. They were splitting the herd, selecting those to keep and those to let go.
As much as he wanted to lash out at the Volturi, to lay waste to them like they'd done to Alice, Jasper held back, focusing all his attention on calming Bella. They were being provoked, and the only way he could control the situation was to calm her down. Calling on every ounce of resolve, he focused on the happiest memory he could find. A summer, years ago, playing baseball in Canada. Emmett knocked the cover off the ball, and Carlisle had faked him out, tagging Emmett with the empty cover as the innards of the ball unraveled somewhere over the mountains.
Instead of arguing, Emmett had surprised everyone, collapsing in laughter. His great barking laughs shook his body, causing him to drop to his knees as the sound filled the clearing. Soon they were all in fits and riotous guffaws. Esme, ever the proper lady, actually snorted through the laughter, and then hide her face in embarrassment.
It wasn't a day of great merit or great accomplishment. It was just a happy moment, something that had been all too few and far between in his life.
He felt Bella relax in his arms, her anger slowly ebbing away. He hated robbing her of her thunder, stealing away the fury that could have consumed them all. Bella deserved her moment in the sun, her opportunity to lay waste to those who'd robbed everything from her. But she also deserved a chance to define her own fate. He couldn't allow her to be consumed by a fire she didn't choose. It was the least he could do. For her, for Alice, and for Edward.
When Caius realized he would get no fight out of them, he turned away in disgust, the walking stick again tapping impatiently on the cold flagstones. Aro stepped forward, his hands clasped together as if in prayer or worship.
"Your family will be departing soon. They are eager to return to their home. You will be staying with us, Bella. I see so much potential in you." Aro dropped his hands to consider Jasper, a look of curiosity hazily masked in hospitality. "I think you might find a place here as well, my young friend. You have great knowledge, things that could be beneficial to us."
The self-satisfaction and intense lust for power oozed out of Aro like a noxious gas, polluting the air around them like the stench of putrid flesh. Already tired from the effort of keeping Bella calm, Jasper felt the sensations over take him, pulling him down into a dark cavern of arrogance and evil. He squeezed his eyes shut, fighting unsuccessfully to force back the sensations. He felt Bella stiffen in his arms as the emotions reverberated through the room. He couldn't control it, couldn't fight the darkness as it crept into his soul, distorting the world around him.
And then as quickly as it had consumed him, the sensations were gone. He felt nothing. No anger, no pain, no greed.
Before he could delve into the absence, to understand why he'd been spared, Aro resumed his ramble, oblivious to the silent power shift that occurred right in front of him.
"They will come and say goodbye, of course. But I think you will be staying with us. You'll have everything you need. Clothing, books, entertainment. I'll arrange for food to be brought to you soon."
Aro turned to follow Caius, who was already halfway out the door. The comment about food had been too cryptic, and Jasper knew he had to establish the ground rules, a way to enforce their preferences, or else Bella would never stand a chance.
The irony that he had to be the one to do it was not lost on him.
"No humans," Jasper called out. His declaration caused Aro to pull up short, sharply turning back to face them. "No humans. Animals are fine, preferably predators. But no humans."
Caius snorted in disgust, his mouth open to spew bile, but Aro placed a hand on his brother's shoulder, quieting him. "Very well, my young friend. We will secure them for her. But in exchange…" Aro held a hand out, an indication he wanted to touch Jasper; to read his thoughts.
Jasper understood what was at risk in this action. Carlisle had prepared them before leaving for Italy. By allowing Aro to touch him, Jasper would be exposed. All thoughts, emotions, experiences, everything he'd ever known would be laid out in a sort a topographic map of his life. But he had to do it, he had to protect Bella. All she knew was their way of being; she wasn't emotionally prepared to take a human life. The others would have made the sacrifice, given up their thoughts in exchange for her, he could do it too.
It was ironic, Jasper reflected. They were here because of his lust for human blood. And he was offering himself up to prevent that very thing from happening. He couldn't help but wonder if Carlisle and Alice would be proud.
He released Bella, who scrambled to a corner, curling into a tight ball, as if trying to ward off any physical assault. Turning to face Aro, he hesitantly grasped the man's fingers, finding himself intrigued by the texture of the ancient vampire's skin. Going off appearances, one would expect his skin to feel fragile or delicate, maybe like shale or slate. Instead Aro's hand was rock solid, with no sign of frailty.
His weakness was not of the body, but of the soul.
Aro's fingers tightened as he laid Jasper's life out before him. He felt the Aro stiffen in shock as the first wave hit him, then relax as one hundred and fifty years of thoughts, emotions and memories filtered through him. Maria, Peter, Alice, his family. The newborns he'd controlled, the friends he'd made.
The lives he'd lived.
When finally satisfied, Aro released Jasper's hand, his eyes wide with intrigue. "You are quite interesting, my young American friend. I would like to spend much more time with you." Aro clasped his hands back together, his fingers drumming as if in thought. "I will grant you your request for animals to feed off of, if, and only if, you commit to stay. Your knowledge of newborns would be a great help to our dear one here." His hand drifted towards Bella, who flinched and bowed her head as if trying to disappear. "I am sure she would be most…grateful for your company."
And with that, he was trapped. He could deny Aro, and walk away, but at what price? His actions brought them this far, and it was his responsibility alone. Bella had lost everything because of him. He was sure that Aro recognized the guilt tied to those memories, and that he would be the least likely one to form a bond with her. He was the safe option for so many reasons.
Bowing his head in disgust, Jasper indicated his acquiescence. This would be his penance, his way of making things right. He would not abandon her; that's all they'd ever done, and that was why this had happened.
Aro clapped his hands in delight, as if granted a new toy. "Most wonderful news. I will send your family in immediately to say goodbye. I am sure they'll be happy to know that Bella will have someone here they trust to…soothe her."
With that parting statement, he stepped through the open door. The click of the latch echoed through the large room, a staccato exclamation on the end of the life they had known.
Time moves strangely when you are immortal. Minutes move like seconds, and then crash to a stop, locking a moment in place, so that it's impossible to escape the memories or emotions
that threaten to pull Bella under. She'd asked so many questions, tried to understand so many facets, but her first hours as a vampire had been most shocking in their continuity, or lack thereof.
She'd not been prepared for the clarity that would come with her immortality. She'd always expected she would be out of control, desperate for blood, even irrational. She'd not expected to be consumed by the memories that precipitated her death. The images were hazy, as if viewed up through the water a murky pool, but the emotions connected to them were crystal clear and sharp, each one stabbing a hole through her soul.
Jasper tried valiantly to protect them, creating a small bubble of insulation, and for a small time, she'd escaped the pain, finding a modicum of peace. And just as she started to relax, it had been pulled out from under her, leaving her to founder in maelstrom of strange emotions she couldn't define. She felt out of control, bitter and euphoric. The sensations were crushing, and she struggled to fight the blackness and horror that swirled around her. This couldn't be the newborn blood lust she feared, for it had nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with greed, with arrogance. It clung to her weighing her down, crushing her soul.
In a fit of panic, she'd felt herself lash out, desperately grabbing onto the one thing she knew. Her fingers sank into Jasper's shirt as she fought the manic emotions that encircled them, trying frantically to push it away. And as quickly as it descended, the bizarre emotions receded, leaving her awash in her own memories.
The interactions continued around her, but she paid little attention, choosing instead to fold back into herself. She was so alone and afraid, a world spread out before her she didn't know. The people she trusted were gone. This time, there would be no one to save her.
There wasn't even a reason to be saved anymore.
"Bella, they're gone." A hand encircled her waist, pulling her up. She was limp in his arms, emotionally spent from their exchange.
"I need you to focus, and I need you to listen to me, because I don't know how long they'll leave us alone. Can you do that?" His wide, clear eyes bore into hers, and she found herself mesmerized by the crescent shaped mark just above his left cheek bone. It was silver and smooth.
He shook her, not too hard, just enough to pull her attention back. "Listen to me Bella, listen good. They are going to try and wear you down, tempt you with human blood. You have to resist. You have to fight back, okay? The animal blood won't taste as good, but take it, don't fight it."
She nodded robotically, registering his words, but not processing the sentiment behind them. She was riveted by the silver marks scattered across his face. She glanced down at the hand on her arm. More of them, all the same crescent shape. Just like the one on her wrist, the one where James had bitten her.
She should have been disgusted, revolted. The scars marred Jasper's body were a visual roadmap of his life before the Cullens. Yet she found them strangely beautiful. It made him more human, flawed in a way the others had never been; it made him feel real, the imperfection taking away some of the intimidation she'd felt around him during their time in Forks. It made him feel almost human, and with it so incredibly real; more than any of the others had ever been.
"I know I am the last person you want to see, but I'm the only one they are going to let get near you. I'll stay with you and keep you safe. But you have to listen to me, okay?" His dark eyes were filled with sadness. Jasper had lost something too. Hers was not the only grief.
He dropped his arms, backing away as if warding off an unwanted attack.
"Don't. Don't give me your pity or empathy. I don't want it. I don't need it." He was flush against the chamber wall now, the heavy stone preventing him from moving any further. "You can hate me; you can blame me, but do not pity me."
She frowned, realizing now why he backed away. The last time she'd seen Jasper was the day of her birthday. A paper cut, something harmless and everyday had set this all in motion. She knew he had no control over his reaction, just as she knew he would never harm her intentionally. He blamed himself.
Before she could tell him otherwise, the chamber door flew open, admitting Carlisle and Rosalie. Carlisle was across the room in a few quick strides, scooping Bella up into a hug that would have crushed her in her mortal life.
Bella hesitated for a beat before hugging him back. Aside from Edward and Alice, none of the Cullens had been overly demonstrative with her, and Carlisle's display of emotion made her uncomfortable instead of putting her at ease. Dropping his arms, he stepped back to assess her. Bella looked down, finding herself unnerved by the scrutiny of his stare.
"How do you feel? Are you okay?"
There were so many ways she could answer the question, each one of them requiring a different response. She doubted he would want to hear any of them, for the truth wasn't something that anyone wanted to address. To say it made things real, and once stated, they could never take it back.
"Come on, Jasper, we need to go," Rosalie insisted when no one made a move to leave. "Emmett is at the air field, and everything is ready."
"No." Jasper's response wasn't loud, but it rang through the room, echoing off the cold stone walls. "I'm staying here."
"No! I will not accept it!" Rose lashed out, her beautiful face a mask of anger. "She's already torn our family apart! I will not let her take you too!" Rosalie's words cut through Bella, ripping open the gaping wound in her soul. This was not her fault; she'd done nothing. She'd given up everything, sacrificed everything, lost everything. What had Rose ever lost? What sacrifice had she ever made?
Carlisle made a grab for her arm, as if anticipating Bella's course of action, but she was too strong to be contained. She stalked towards Rose, her hands clenched at her sides, wishing for once she had little Jane's power. She would have made Rose writhe on the floor; let her know what it felt like to be consumed by fire.
"I tore your family apart? I am the one taking people away?" Bella's words were venomous, and little flecks of spittle flew from her lips. "What did I ever do to hurt the family, Rose? Did I expose you? Give away your secrets? Tell me how I ever did anything to put the family at risk!"
Rose didn't respond, and crossed her arms over her chest in a nonverbal rebuke. It was clear by her action that she was not physically intimidated by Bella, yet she did not meet Bella's angry glare. "Come on, Jasper. Alice wouldn't have…"
"Don't you dare speak about what Alice would or wouldn't have done!" Bella hissed as she leaned in closer to Rose. "When did you ever think about what anyone else would or would not have done? It's always been about you! You are the reason we are here! You are the reason they are…"
Bella broke off, incapable of saying that word. None of them had been able to say it yet.
"Don't you dare blame this on me!" Rose hissed, her golden eyes narrowed in anger. "If it weren't for you, none of this would have ever happened. We would have continued on with our lives just like they'd always been, and Alice and Edward would still be here!" Rosalie shot back.
"She's right, Rose." Jasper's words froze Rosalie in her place. "You were the one who told Edward that Bella was dead. You set all this in motion. They died because of you. You didn't light the match, but you might as well have."
Rose took a step backward, her hands flying to her mouth to stifle a gasp. Jasper's words landed in a way that Bella's never could. Bella realized it was because she actually cared what Jasper thought, he who had never really questioned any of them in the past.
"I am not leaving, Rose. You destroyed our family. I love you all, but I will not go back. It's not home for me now." Jasper stepped forward, draping his arm protectively around Bella. She leaned into the gesture, feeling an odd sense of comfort in his gesture.
"Jasper, are you sure?" Carlisle beseeched, and Bella's heart broke as she realized the Cullen family was fragmenting even more.
"I'm not leaving Bella. We did that already. I won't let that happen to her again.
Carlisle nodded sadly, and clapped Jasper on the shoulder. They exchanged a look that Bella couldn't quite comprehend.
"You always have a place with us. Both of you. We love you." Carlisle kissed Bella's cheek, and she was startled to realize his lips were warm. She'd grown so accustomed to them always being so cold, she'd forgotten that she would feel exactly like them.
Edward's lips would have felt like that. His lips, his arms, everything would have been warm. But now there was only the cold space where he didn't exist. She would never feel Alice's arms wrapped around her in a gentle squeeze, or laugh when her fingers tugged at a loose curl.
They were dead.
Rosalie tried to argue, tried to convince Jasper that he needed to come with them, but Carlisle grasped her securely by the arm and led her out of the room. The door clicked shut behind them, effectively terminating Bella's connection to the family that had once upon a time been the Cullens.
Jasper was surprised when Bella willingly accepted his tutelage on how to take down one of the pumas Aro provided for their sustenance. He'd expected Bella to refuse. Instead, she followed his guidance to the letter, moving stoically through the process. The cat struggled against her, yowling and hissing as she slowly drained the blood from his body. When the cat was dead, she didn't drop it, choosing instead to keep it cradled in her arms as she rocked back and forth. She needed something to hold onto in death, even if it wasn't the ones she mourned.
They coexisted like that for weeks. Never allowed to leave their tower room, they passed the time staring off at nothing. Periodically, one of them would pick up a book flick aimlessly through television channels. Every few days, a 'meal' was arranged for them; always a predator as Jasper had requested. They were allowed their privacy as they fed, although Jasper kept his guard up, always anticipating the sudden presence of a human to tempt them. Aro was keeping his promise.
At least for now.
They had everything they could ever ask for: an opulent suite, the best clothing, an endless selection of books and magazines. Every offer was made. None were ever accepted. They lived in a state of suspended animation, never addressing what had transpired, never acknowledging
what could have been. For all the monotony, theirs was not an uncomfortable existence for Jasper found a peace with Bella, something he'd never known before. Whether she had the ability to mask her emotions now, or if she simply was too numb to feel, it afforded him an unknown respite, the opportunity to be alone with his own thoughts and emotions. It was a foreign concept; one he didn't quite know how to feel at ease with.
Aro danced around the edges of their world, his presence always felt, but never as bold as his interactions the first day. Jasper knew they were being lulled into a false sense of security, and that when he felt the time was right, Aro would spring whatever machination he was setting in place. It kept him on constant guard, and gave him a reason to keep his mind sharp as he imagined feints and counter attacks.
One dreary afternoon, after they were escorted back to what Jasper had come to consider their tower cell, they found a box placed neatly on the center of the table. It was not large, and there was no lid. Inside was a neat stack of new books.
Unable to contain his curiosity, Jasper retrieved one, and laughed mirthlessly as he read the title.
"Why is it that everyone assumes Texans enjoy Western novels?" he sighed, and tossed the book on the table. His voice felt rusty from disuse, and he was not sure the last time he'd actively engaged in extended conversation.
"What do you like?" Bella queried.
They'd existed side by side for weeks, maybe even months, yet they'd hardly spoken to each other, barely acknowledged anything outside the realm of their own grief. It felt strange to him, discussing something so simple after all this time.
"History. Philosophy. Nineteenth century mostly. I'd been studying philosophy at Cornell when…" he didn't finish the statement. They both knew what before meant.
He expected to feel a wave of grief from her, something that acknowledged the losses they shared. Instead, he was surprised to feel sadness…and strangely, empathy.
"I'm not willing to accept Rose's accusations, but I am sorry, Jasper. You of all people were wronged because of me. I don't deserve the kindness you've shown me."
He was shocked by her statement. He didn't know Bella well, and had always considered her a bit naïve. He didn't expect this level of perception or maturity from her.
"I want you to know that I never blamed you. I tried to tell…her that on our way here. I never blamed any of you. I just wanted you back." Bella's voice dropped an octave, as if speaking of what they'd lost deserved a marked reverence.
They sat in silence, the words hanging heavily between them. So much had transpired. Things they couldn't change. Yet she didn't blame him, didn't hate him. He'd been amazed when Bella erupted at Rosalie, and had expected the same type of response. from her. He'd never stopped to consider that she might not consider him at fault.
"I feel peaceful here with you," Jasper whispered, staring down at the box of books on the table. It was oddly humbling to articulate the very words that had been on his mind for weeks, and he was not sure how they would be met. "For the first time in I don't know how long, there is only one set of emotions to deal with, and they are the ones I have the least experience dealing with. My own."
He could hear the rustle of her jeans as she sat down behind him as the soles of her shoes grated against the wood of the window seat . Once upon a time he would have listened for an accelerated heartbeat, unsteady breathing, anything that would have indicated her distress. She didn't have any of that now, and he found it odd to read her.
"Sometimes I can feel it. Your pain, anger, or sadness. But a lot of time it's just…nothing. And it leaves me to figure out what I feel. I don't know how to process that. It's been so long since my emotions were mine alone. I don't know what to do with it."
"I spent months being numb, trying not to feel anything. When I did feel, it hurt too much. I guess I've just gotten good at pushing things away."
"Is that what it feels like, that you are pushing things away?" Jasper felt a spark of curiosity, a hint of normalcy that had evaded him for so long.
"I don't understand what you mean?" He could hear Bella shifting behind him, adjusting her position. He spun around, the speed of his reaction scaring her and causing her to recoil in the window seat.
"You push things away so you don't feel. Do you literally feel like that's what you are doing? Pushing?"
Bella frowned as he paced the room. "I guess. I don't really know how to explain it."
He continued to pace, going back over their first day in this room, their interaction with Aro and Caius. He'd been inundated by emotions, and then nothing. The insanity of the moment had distracted him from delving further into the situation, but he'd not forgotten the sensation. And all the peace since, all the moments where he'd been spared the anger, lust, greed or sadness of others, they weren't due to the absence of interaction with other people. There were still plenty of emotions running through the castle, ways to reach him without direct interaction.
The only thing that was difference was the presence of Bella.
He laughed out loud, a strange, slightly manic cackle that echoed through the room. What was the irony, he thought, of closing himself off for years trying to control emotions, when by simply being around Bella, he didn't have to try, he could simply be. It was something he'd never been able to do with Alice, with anyone. He'd always been inundated by the emotions of others, good bad or bad. And now, here, with the girl he'd almost destroyed, he'd finally been granted an ounce of peace.
It made him wonder if Alice ever saw this, ever speculated, ever questioned. He couldn't help but question if, where ever she was, Alice was happily clapping her hands and cheering them on.
The day the books were delivered had been a turning point for Jasper and Bella. Their schedule didn't alter, and yet they found ways to fill the time. The bridge was slow to be built, piece by tenuous piece.
They started with the simple things, speaking about what they'd enjoyed in their free time. They found a common language in their love of books. Bella's love for classic literature overlapped with some of what Jasper had been studying during his latest go round with college, which she found humorous. They spoke of the English writers, the poets, and the great works that inspired them. They dissected the tenants of philosophy found in the works of Jane Austen, as well as Emerson and Thoreau. Their discussions were often lively, and Bella surprised herself often, going toe to toe with Jasper and standing her ground. The self confidence startled her, for she'd never found that level of comfort or certainty when speaking of literature with Edward. His views had always been fixed, almost myopic, where as Jasper listened to the merits of her arguments, and often conceded points to her.
Fiction allowed them to slowly delve into other areas of their lives, introducing earlier memories and anecdotes. The first book ever read lead to details of summers during their respective childhoods. Jasper regaled Bella with his adventures growing up in Texas, where he'd climbed trees, made dams in creeks and caught crawdads. In turn, she told him about growing up with her mother, and the classes they'd taken together. It surprised her that these memories were not painful, and even more so, was amazed by the fact that some were in fact, pleasant.
"So there I was, standing in the middle of the ballet class. All of us in our pink tutus, and me with my gold cowboy boots." Bella found herself laughing at the memory. It was a sincere laugh, something she hadn't done in a long time.
"Oh I can imagine that had to be quite the sight," Jasper chided her, a small smile lighting up his face. "Although I have to admit, I really have a hard time seeing you in a tutu."
"The boots made it all me." Bella popped to her feet, dropping into a graceful plie, something she'd never been able to do when little. With her new sense of balance, she pushed up on her toes, laughing as she held her balance.
"Do you think you could spin me? I always wanted to do that," she asked, and before she could regret the request, Jasper was on his feet, his hands gently grasping her waist to turn her around. Unlike her human counterpart, she didn't get dizzy as he spun her faster and faster, and for the first time in ages, she found herself feeling light hearted, almost giddy.
She dropped her hands to his shoulders, catching her balance as she came to a stop. Jasper smiled down at her, his eyes alight with an emotion she could never recall seeing on his face. He looked happy. She watched the way the scar just above his left cheekbone moved as he smiled, the skin flexing and creasing slightly, allowing it to shift and take new shape.
"Yeah, well, maybe I should start wearing those cowboy boots again."
Before she could stop herself, Bella reached out to run a finger along the silver crescent. Jasper started, but didn't pull away.
"How did you get all of these?"
For a moment, she didn't think he would answer her. She knew Jasper had been involved in some strange things before joining the Cullens, but she'd never asked for details. She'd never asked about a lot of things.
"I had a life, one before meeting them." He was still unable to say their names. It hurt both of them too much. It wasn't simply the loss of Alice and Edward; it was all of them. "I did bad things, and helped bad people. It seems my life has been one long litany of poor decisions."
Her finger traced along the silver line again, searching for a pucker of skin or a ridge to define the damaged tissue, but there was none, only the visual representation to act as a reminder of lives past.
"I don't believe that, Jasper. If that were the case…"
The clicking of heels against the flagstones interrupted their discussion, and Bella dropped her hand, quickly moving back away from Jasper. A moment later the door to their room flew open, revealing Felix and little Jane.
"Aro would like to see you," Jane intoned sweetly. Bella's eyes darted nervously to Jasper's; it was something they'd discussed, something he'd tried to prepare her for, but she couldn't suppress her fear.
Nodding slightly, Jasper stood, sweeping his arm in front of him. "Ladies first." Bella stepped forward, falling into line behind Jane. She could feel Jasper behind her, the same warm comfort radiating off him from she'd come to know during their discussions about their childhoods.
Jane led them through the fortress like castle, down a long flight of steps into the room that Bella recalled from her first visit. The same three wooden chairs, elaborate like thrones, were clustered on a small dais. Aro sat in the middle, Marcus and Caius flanking him on either side.
"My young friends!" he exclaimed gleefully, his hands clapped together like an over eager "I do so hope you are enjoying our hospitality! Has everything been to your liking?"
Bella found she couldn't speak, her fear robbing her of any anger.
"We are comfortable, thank you," Jasper responded.
Aro pushed up off his chair and strolled leisurely down towards them, his eyes never leaving Bella's face. She had a fuzzy memory of her first day of high school in Forks. His stare felt familiar, like the ones she'd received passing by Mike Newton, Tyler Crowley, and the other boys. His desire was not sexual in nature, but it was covetous all the same.
"If you please, darling Bella," Aro extended his hand, palm up. It was an identical gesture to her first interaction, the one which had brought everything crashing down around her.
With a shaky breath, unnecessary but purely habitual, Bella raised her hand, placing it gently into Aro's palm. His face remained impassive, his eyes wide in fascination.
"Most intriguing. It would seem as though you are still silent to us, my little one." He released her hand, drifting back up to the dais. A quick clap of his hands, and the doors flew open behind them, a number of footsteps echoing on the hard stone floor. "Please, sit. We'd like you to stay and keep us company for a while."
Demetri stepped out from behind the dais, nudging them toward two chairs just to the left of the elevated dais. She darted a glance to Jasper, hoping to find reassurance, but his expression was neutral and revealed nothing.
Just as they settled into the chairs, the scent hit her. It was strong and rich, and she felt her stomach clench in response. She tried desperately to place the smell, riffling through her mind, wanting to match it to hazy memories that would hold no comparison. Chocolate chip cookies, warm bread, or the spicy tang of salsa. The scent grew stronger, and with it, a dull ache began to burn in the back of her throat, itchy and dry as if she'd run miles without water.
Jasper's hand shot out to catch hers as the newcomers entered the room. A tall, beautiful woman with long hair and even longer legs led a small group of what appeared to be tourists into the enormous chamber. They were dressed in bright, cheap clothes, camera bags and backpacks hanging awkwardly from tired limbs. Bella stifled a gasp of horror as she processed what the tantalizing scent was, and forced herself to look away. She wasn't fast enough, and found herself mesmerized by a small boy who gazed at her with an awed smile.
The doors clicked shut, and the group continued to chatter away, oblivious to the trap they'd stumbled into. Before anyone could say a word or react, the host of vampires loitering around the room launched themselves at the unsuspecting humans, tossing them about like lifeless rag dolls as the blood began to flow.
Bella clung to Jasper's hand, horrified as the vampires feasted in front of her. She tried closing her eyes, but the ghastly screams, disembodied in the darkness echoed through her brain, a million times worse than the visual destruction playing out before her.
When she opened her eyes, Bella found the little boy in a ball in the center of the room, curled up tight against a lifeless body in the hope that he would be ignored. A vampire Bella couldn't identify made a move towards the child, but was stopped by Caius, who glanced at Bella with a malevolent smile.
That's when she realized that the child was meant for her.
Jasper's hand tightened on hers once again, and she could feel the lust and frenzy slowly rolling off of him. She wouldn't be able to resist this carnage without him, and she couldn't lose him to the emotions that swirled in the room. She needed him just as much as he needed her.
Focusing on the back wall, she gritted her teeth, mentally pushing against the swirl of emotions. She visualized a great boulder, wide and heavy, to shove against. Slowly, ever so slowly, she felt Jasper relax, the air around them clearing as the mayhem receded.
The shout rang out, breaking her focal point on the far wall. Marcus stood in the center of the room, the small boy in his arms, the body limp and lifeless.
He was dead.
Before she could process what had happened, Felix grabbed her arm and ushered them back to their cell. No one spoke. No one needed to.
The experiment was over.
He'd expected a visitor. After the display earlier, it was unavoidable.
As the sun set through the tower window, Marcus quietly closed the door behind him.
"May I enter?"
Jasper glanced nervously at Bella, who'd not moved from the tower window since their return. She didn't acknowledge Marcus, her gaze vacant and lifeless.
"Please," Jasper indicated a chair in the center of the room.
Marcus gracefully crossed the room, settling himself elegantly into an antique wingback. "I am sorry for what transpired today. I stopped it as quickly as I could without arising suspicion."
Jasper had assumed the child was meant for Bella based on Caius's reaction, and was truly surprised by Marcus's choice to take the child. What troubled him was his inability to understand Marcus's motivation. There was no reason to help them, and yet he was here, and his motivation felt sincere.
"I too have lost," Marcus stated quietly. "My mate, Aro's sister, was destroyed years ago. When I lost her, I lost everything. My heart, my soul, my happiness."
The ancient vampire hesitated, studying the intricate pattern carved into the wooden arm of the chair.
"Didyme had a talent similar to yours, Jasper. Hers was more limited, in that she made people around her so very happy. I loved her, and we had all that we needed and more. We actually discussed leaving here, and going somewhere that we could find peace. But before we could make that happen, she was gone, and I was alone."
An odd mixture of emotions filled the room. Sadness, love, longing. They didn't have the flavor of regret that so often tainted such thoughts. If Marcus wished to change the past, it was not something that Jasper could sense. That alone made him curious.
"My happiness died when she did, although my life went on. That is what my brother anticipated with the two of you. He hoped that by keeping you together, you would fuel each other's grief, ultimately making you that much more malleable for him."
"I will never bow to him," Bella interrupted. Her words held no malevolence or anger. They were simple and factual, and spoken with great resolve. Jasper found himself in awe of her strength, and wondered how much he didn't know about her. His impressions had been based off the input of others, and he realized in gauging her in such a way, he'd obviously missed out on so much.
"As I watched the two of you today, I saw something that would disturb my brother were he to see," Marcus continued, never acknowledging Bella. "I saw a bond between the two of you,
unlike anything I've experienced. Aro expected you to turn on each other, to blame the other. But you've grown closer. Instead of betraying, you are supporting. There is a bond between you, something indestructible and extraordinary. He will never be able to break that, and because he can't break it, he will not be able to break you."
Jasper glanced at Bella. She sat in the same spot, still staring out into the fading sky. She had been a lifeline for him, something he'd not realized before. It would have been so easy to turn away, to abandon her. At first he'd stayed out of loyalty to Edward and Alice. But the thoughts of abandoning her had faded quickly, replaced by a loyalty he couldn't describe.
"I have made arrangements for you," Marcus interrupted Jasper's thoughts, standing to move towards the door. "Everyone else is distracted right now. If you could please follow me."
He stood, moving swiftly towards the door. Jasper understood what was unsaid, and leapt to action.
"Come on, Bella." He grabbed her hand, dragging her out of the window seat and towards the door. She followed mutely, her hand clasping his securely.
Marcus lead the in the opposite direction from their path earlier in the day, winding through rooms and narrow corridors. At a small door, he stopped, and turned to face them.
"Go down these stairs. At the bottom you will find a door that will lead you out into a courtyard. Your Emmett is waiting for you on the other side. He will take you home."
Jasper's heart leapt at the mention of Emmett. He'd given up on the concept of escape, and with it all unfolding around him, he couldn't afford to be lulled by a false sense of security or the promise of family he thought was long gone.
"Go. They will be aware soon." Marcus pushed open the door. "I can't promise they won't follow, but you stand a chance once you are out of here."
Bella stepped forward into the dark passageway, then turned back to face Marcus, a frown creasing her brow.
"Why are you doing this? Why would you help us?"
Marcus's smile was sad, and Jasper willingly accepted the emotions as they gently cascaded off the ancient vampire. Sadness, hope, and peace.
"I did not know how to find happiness on my own. My happiness was so tied to hers, and when she was gone, my ability to find anything more went with her. I don't want that for the two of you. Go find your happiness. Live a life I was never able to."
Marcus glanced back over his shoulder, as if hearing something that Jasper couldn't register.
"Go, go no. You must hurry." He pushed Jasper forward, closing the door behind them.
Without questioning, they ran down the dark flight of steps. Just as Marcus promised, at the end of the stairs was an old wooden door, the hinges squealing in protest as it was forced open to display a courtyard, long abandoned in the early evening dusk. Cobblestones flanked a great fountain, the water bubbling happily, oblivious to the carnage that took place inside.
A wolf whistle broke the silence, and Jasper saw an arm waving inside a car on the other side of the courtyard. The engine started, and he ran for the dark sedan, listening to make sure Bella followed close on his heels.
"I never thought I was going to see your sorry ass again!" Emmett boomed as they crawled into the back seat. The car peeled out with a shriek of tires, the sedan accelerating at breakneck speed through the dark city streets.
"How did you know?" Bella gasped, her eyes wide as she processed their sudden flight.
"Do you really think I'd leave you guys? Please, what kind of family is that?" Emmett didn't look back, but Jasper could see the indentation in his brother's cheek. "Carlisle is waiting for us at the airstrip. We may pull this off yet."
Within minutes, they were clear of the city walls, flying down the hill away from the lights. Jasper wanted to relax, but knew he wouldn't be able to until they were safely in the air, with Italy well behind them.
Emmett didn't speak as he drove, his eyes constantly darting to the rear view mirror. The quiet allowed Jasper the time to process Marcus's actions, and plan for any counter attacks by the Volturi.
"So we've got a small plane. It's enough to get us out of the country, but not enough to get us home. Esme was going to make arrangements for a bigger plane in Munich once Carlisle gives her the go ahead. " His eyes darted to the rear view mirror, this time looking at Bella instead of checking to see if they were being pursued. "We didn't want you to have to deal with people if we didn't have to."
Bella opened her mouth to speak, but Jasper cut her off.
"I don't think that will be an issue, Em. Not an issue at all."
Good to his word, the plane had been ready to go when they arrived at the airstrip. Emmett, Bella and Jasper scrambled into the back of the four seat Cessna, leaving the sedan on the runway.
"Don't you need to do something about that?" Bella enquired, her eyes on the car.
"It's my final tribute to Alice," Emmett murmured. "When in Italy, boost a car."
Silence filled the cabin as Carlisle steered the plane onto the runway, opening up the throttle and powering up for takeoff. As the ground dropped out from underneath them, Bella pressed her nose to the glass. From the sky, the terrain looked so benign, almost harmless.
She stayed like that for the duration of the flight, watching as Italy faded away. She was away, safe, with people who loved her. she played over in her had Marcus's words…
I did not know how to find happiness on my own. My happiness was so tied to hers, and when she was gone, my ability to find anything more went with her. I don't want that for the two of you. Go find your happiness. Live a life I was never able to.
As much as she loved Edward, she'd been no different than Marcus. Her happiness had been based on other people, and her place in their life. She'd never generated happiness on her own, for herself, at least not in a long time. Her happiness had always come from other people, basking in the light that was cast upon her instead of radiating from inside. She had a chance to do that now, and a world spread out before her, ripe with opportunity.
In her own way, she would always love Edward, but she realized now that life was about more than that. There were many types of love, some irrational and all consuming, in which she so easily lost her identity. Others encouraged growth, self discovery, a chance to learn, to be. Marcus had given her a second chance, one that she would not squander.
It was dark when they landed in Germany, the airstrip semi deserted. Bella stayed with the small plane as Emmett and Carlisle went to make arrangements for the next leg of their journey. Before departing, Emmett had given her a bear hug, lifting her up off the ground as he mock groaned against her insignificant weight.
"We would never leave you. You know that don't you."
She didn't answer, for she hadn't known. And the absence of Rose was too conspicuous to gloss over. Not everything was solved, but it was a start.
She sat down on the edge of the tarmac, fiddling with the strands of grass under her fingers. The patch of grass was littered with dandelions, a reminder that summer was in full swing. She'd missed graduation, and so many other things. And yet she was alive. She was free.
"So what happens now?" she asked as Jasper sat down beside her. "I'm guessing that going back to Forks isn't going to happen."
"Esme and Rose are in Canada, just north of Toronto. We are welcome to go back there, or we can go somewhere else. The option is yours."
We. The statement wasn't lost on her. Aro had banked on them being two individuals, who would ultimately bring about each other's ruin, but in the end they'd become something more than that.
"What do you want to do, Jasper?"
He leaned back on his elbows, his legs stretched out in the grass. She waited patiently for him to answer, almost afraid as to what he might say.
"Years ago, Carlisle bought Esme an island off the coast of Brazil. I was thinking we could fly down there and just be for a while. I've kind of gotten used to it being just the two of us, and I kind of liked getting in touch with myself." He reached out to trace the back of her hand, his touch hesitant. "I haven't felt peace for a long time, Bella, but you give me that. I am not ready to give that up just yet."
She nodded, unable to articulate her thoughts. They'd been through so much, and while they didn't escape unscathed, they were stronger. They'd lost, but they'd grown too. There was a life out there that they could build, maybe together.
Emmett's shout broke the quiet. "Let's go! Wheels up in twenty."
"Large child," Jasper muttered under his breath.
"It's what makes him Em." Bella stood, brushing off the seat of her pants. She held out her hand to Jasper, pulling him to his feet. Once standing, she didn't let go.
"Do they have decent shopping in Brazil?"
Jasper frowned at her, as if confused by her query. "Why would you ask that."
"Because I want to buy a pair of gold cowboy boots and a pink tutu. And western novels. Lots of western novels."
"I won't read them," he cautioned her, but she could hear the amusement in his voice. He liked the idea.
"I'll read them to you," she mocked, her eyebrows raised in amusement. "Bad accent and all. Wait 'til you hear me butcher ya'll and darling."
"I won't listen," he warned her.
"Yes you will. You always do."
The stood, inches apart on the dark tarmac, as the jet engine roared to life behind them.
"I guess we need to tell Carlisle we're making a pit stop, huh?" Jasper mused, the corners of his mouth turning up in a smile.
"Think he'll be okay with that?"
Jasper laughed, and slipped his arm around Bella's shoulders. She leaned gratefully into his side. Once it had been a way to feel safe. Now it was more than that. It was a place to feel happy. Not because she needed him to be happy, but because he allowed her to be who she was.
Jasper started up the steps to the plane, but paused, turning to look back at her as she stared down the runway.
She smiled, as she watched the first hint of morning light break the horizon. A new day was breaking, and with it, the start of a new life for her. For both of them.
"The sunrise is going to be pink and gold," she observed.
"You are transparent. I'll buy you the tutu and boots on one condition."
"You have to dance."
She turned her back on the horizon, and smiled up at him, focusing on Marcus's words. Go find your happiness.
"I will, but only if you spin me."
He extended his hand to her. She accepted it willingly.
"And let me read western novels out loud."
He sighed. It was melodramatic, and the emotions that accompanied it were warm, comfortable, all very good.
"Fine, just don't make me listen to country music. I hate that stuff."
"Well now, we wouldn't want to make you unhappy, would we?"
She climbed the steps into the cockpit, and he pulled the cabin door shut behind them. Just like the door closing in their tower cell, it clapped shut with a loud thud. But unlike in Italy, this was not a marker to indicate what had passed. It was an introduction, an ovation to what was yet to come.