"Why do we fall down?"
"To learn how to get up." A little voice answered.
"Why to we hurt?"
"To learn how to be strong." The same little girl, her voice stronger, full of conviction, these were the truths I taught her. Hard lessons I'd once learned and now drilled into her. Some would say to let her be a child but I knew, she needed to learn now, that teaching her was protecting her, leaving her to learn them on her own was cruel. I'd learned about life and love without guidance and nearly died for it, nearly died several times over. I didn't, I finally learned and I owed it to him.
I smiled down at her and started the last line, "Never apologize…"
Immediately she picked up and finished it, "…for who you are."
I smiled and I tucked her bear into her arms then kissed her forehead and turned out the light, "Good night."
"Good night Fire."
I smiled gently as I shut the bedroom door.
"Fire?" The girl standing across the hall questioned softly.
"The name of my studio gallery. Phoenix Fire."
"We aren't in Phoenix."
I chuckled as we began walking down the hall to the living room where the others were hanging out. "I lived there a long time, almost died there once but the name comes from the bird, not the city."
"A mythical bird that didn't die but burst into flames to be born again out of the ashes." A male voice spoke up.
The girl smiled at him and looked back at me, "Is it ok if I stay a little longer?" She asked in a small voice.
I smiled at her with a nod, "It's the home of lost and broken souls, you can stay as long as you need to."
"How…" Her voice trailed off in hesitation.
"Don't hesitate to ask a question, you might not get an answer but can always ask and see."
She smiled and then it fell, "I don't want to be rude." I shook my head and motioned for her to ask anyways. "I was just, well, I was wondering how you afford this?"
I laughed, "I don't. I get by and contribute what I can, all of us who can, do and all of those who've passed through, whether they could help at the time or not, give back."
"I don't have any money." She told me quietly.
I nodded, "We'll help you get on your feet."
She swiped at the tears stinging her eyes and moved over to the others. I nodded to them and left the house. I walked the distance to my home, shivering against the cold. It was a small loft apartment over my gallery and studio. I was an artist, my medium mostly glass. I made enough to get by and to help out at Lockwood House. Clara, the girl friend of the artist who'd gotten me started, and I had begun the home several years previously. It was a refuge of sorts; it hadn't started out that way, it was just Clara and Sophie.
Clara and Sophie had been looking to adopt, and struggling as lesbian partners, I had met them through the adoption agency and I knew they'd raise my son well. It wasn't just my baby they took in though, it was me as well. All through my third trimester they took care of me, inviting me to live with them and encouraging me to stay even after a seventh month miscarriage. Sophie, an artist who dabbled in glass through her sculptures got me started and helped me until I'd been able to open my open small space five months ago.
The night my son should have been born, we went out and got blind drunk and I spent the next afternoon learning to channel everything into art, into glass. It was three weeks later I found Amy on the street. I brought her home and Clara and Sophie opened their hearts and home to the lost eighteen-year-old who left us with the five-year-old Savannah last year, to go to college, then Mark and Hannah and so many others since. We helped out here and there and word seemed to spread; now the lost and wounded youth just seemed to find us. The only rules were simple, no drugs, no underage drinking, no violence, mutual respect and help out where, when or how you can. It had been two years now. I'd finally moved out, over my studio but I went back to help with little Savannah, Amy's blind daughter, who like my own son was the product of violence rather than love. It was a strange and ever-changing family, one that rarely asked for more personal information than was readily given but was always a quiet support for however long its transient members remained.
I didn't bother to turn on lights as I moved through my studio and up the back stairs to my loft. I went into the kitchen to make tea and froze. Something wasn't right. I set the kettle on the stove and turned. My heart skidded into my throat and I stopped breathing.
"Breath Bella." She smiled at me; it was a sad smile but still radiant.
"Alice." I breathed out her name, to shocked to think, to afraid to say it louder and have her disappear. It had been three years. Three long years since she'd disappeared.
She waited, patient and still for me to process, and neither my mind nor heart were quick about it. "Alice." I repeated her name, just a little louder and my voice higher than usual.
She nodded, "Hello Bella."
"What? Why are you here?" I finally asked her long silent pain lacing my voice.
"I came to see you." She told me with a wide smile.
"Came to see me." I repeated slowly. "After three years?" I questioned, "You never even said goodbye." I reminded her painfully.
She nodded, "That's because it was never goodbye Bella. We're best friends, sisters, we don't have goodbyes."
"You left. You disappeared. Abandoned me." I wished there was anger in my voice but there was only sadness.
She nodded, her expression serious. "I did and I'm sorry. Bella we all make mistakes. You'll forgive me though, because you still love me and you know I love you too. You just have to listen, let me explain and then, well then you'll forgive me and in time, we wont be hurt anymore. Then we'll be like before, more even, in the future." Her voice was sad and hopeful and there was a trace of pain there. It didn't escape that she said we wouldn't hurt and not, I wouldn't hurt, it was as though she was saying we'd hurt each other but how had I hurt her? What had I done?
She nodded to the table, "Can we sit? Talk? I'll make you some tea."
I nodded and moved to sit at the table, we were silent as the water warmed and Alice had tea made before I could react to the first hiss of the kettle.
She looked at her hands and then, dark amber eyes met mine. "Jasper left me."
My heart stuttered in its second shock of the night and as with the first she waited patient and silent for me to process.
"I, Alice." I breathed, my heart aching for her.
"I loved him before I met him. I saw him, so strong, beautiful, wounded. I saw that he needed me and the more that I saw, the more that I loved him and I saw that he would love me too." Venom coated her eyes as she shook her head gently, "I never saw that we weren't mates."
"Alice." It was part question and part comfort; it was everything I had no words to say as my eyes met hers.
"I saw the Cullen's but I had seen Jasper too. I saw meeting him and I fell in love with him. I decided to wait for him, I decided." She licked her lips and took an unneeded breath. "The future can change Bella, it can always change, depending on the decisions we make. I saw him and I loved him and it changed things. I wasn't supposed to love him." She told me brokenly. "Maybe I was but he wasn't mine. Even after I knew it, I saw that it would hurt him. I couldn't do that Bella. "
"I saw my mate Bella. I saw him." Her words came out sobs. "I love Jas, so much and I never wanted to hurt him. I promised him, I swore he'd never have to be what he was, that I would always be there, always love him. I do and I will but."
Pure pain laced her voice, "Edward saw in my head, he saw that I had a mate, that it wasn't Jasper."
"You cheated on Jasper?"
"Never!" It was part growl and part plea to believe her. "I never even met my mate. Not yet. I saw him, I've seen him. Edward was so angry with Jasper, he was so angry with me, I know he didn't mean to hurt us, he loves us. Sometimes it's the people we love that we hurt most."
"He told him what you saw."
"Edward told Jasper he wasn't my mate. Jasper left me."
"He just wants you to be happy Alice, to find your mate." I tried to comfort her.
She nodded, "I know. I know, I do. I never wanted to hurt Jasper. I love him Bella. I do. I promised him and I failed him. I failed you too."
"I was so wrong about so many things. I need to fix it. I wish I could fix it. I know its all my fault."
"I knew he was hungry, Bella, I knew Jas needed to hunt but I was so sure, he would never, never, not you. It hurt, it hurt but I knew, since Phoenix I knew, I just didn't see. I thought, I wasn't, god Bella, I was so blind."
"In Phoenix. It started in Phoenix. When we started to get to know you, he was intrigued by your emotions. As soon as he stopped seeing you as a threat, a danger to be taken out, when he really let himself see you, feel you, he was," she took another breath, "he was changed." She sent me a sad smile; "He meant what he said to you in the hotel room Bella. To him, to all of us, but more to him, you were, you are worth it."
"I know he stayed away but he always felt you, protected you." She closed her eyes and a shiver ran through her body, "You, not even the Cullen's knew, how much he protected you."
She nodded, "He loved you." I shook my head but she just nodded, "He did Bella. He didn't even know how much. Jasper is so good at feeling and recognizing emotions in others but he so rarely sees himself as clearly." She smiled softly and quietly added, "He's like you that way." Silence fell for just a moment, I wasn't sure what to say but Alice just continued. "At your birthday, I was so sure, he would never hurt you and I didn't see, I should have seen. Jasper's never forgiven himself but Bella," her eyes bored into mine, "you should know, he didn't leave you."
I frowned, "I, I don't understand."
"Jas, he stayed, well, he ran for about two days and gorged himself on every animal he caught scent of then there was the scene with Edward, and we learned he'd left you. After that, Jasper ran straight to you."
"Jasper?" I was trying to wrap my head around it all.
"He watched over you, he told me once, the pain was great, it was all he could to absorb it and make you numb but he was afraid his own pain at having done that to you, having caused it, was making things worse for you. He wanted you to heal and not feeling the hurt wouldn't help you heal. It was then, he scented her."
"Victoria. She was James's mate and intent on killing you." I could feel all the color drain from my face. "She sent Laurent for you but Jasper killed him and then her. He said that you were healing, living again and he'd made sure you were safe. I know he's checked on you though. I did to. Once in a while. Just a quick look through my gift. When I saw, I called Jasper but it was too late, the vision came to late. He stayed with you the night of Charlie's funeral. He never got the chance to avenge your father, not after Rosalie found him, there wasn't enough left of him to identify after what he'd done to you."
I sat stunned as she told me how the Cullen's had watched over me from afar. Keeping their distance, letting me live my life. In one way or another, they had each touched my life in the three years since I'd seen them, it was nothing overt or controlling, they just did what they could to make whatever choice I made easier. Like Esme buying my building through a company name and renting it to me as a studio and newly furnished loft at a cost I could afford. Carlisle making sure I was seen by the best doctors after the assault and all through my pregnancy. Emmett, donating the very headstone that marked my fathers grave and even Rosalie, I could only imagine what the drifter looked like when she was done with him. I was glad; he had shot Charlie and then waited in our home for me. I'd always been afraid of vampires like James, I'd forgotten there were human monsters too. Human monsters that Charlie once arrested, that held grudges against a cop who'd helped an abused wife escape her fate.
"Why?" I felt numb, unsure of what to think or even feel.
"We love you Bella. We've always loved you." She told me softly.
"You left me." I reminded her quietly. I met her eyes and my voice broke as I said it again, "You all just left me."
"We made a mistake."
"You abandoned me."
"We were trying to do what was best for you. What Edward said you needed."
"It wasn't Edwards choice to make. It was my life, my happiness, my heart."
"It was all of ours Bella. All our lives, happiness, all of our broken hearts."
"Do you know what it is to want to kill somebody you love? To know you can protect them from any evil but yourself? Only Carlisle had the strength to withstand our nature Bella. Your birthday reminded us that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how much we loved you, we cannot change what we are. Edward only pointed out to us what we already knew but struggled to accept."
"What?" It came out half plea and half demand.
" That if we truly loved you, we would let you go to live your life. It hurt all of us, but we loved you enough to do that."
"You couldn't change what you were Alice, you could have changed what I was." My voice was pain laced with accusation.
She nodded her head, "I wish I had."
"Alice?" That stole all my anger, even the pain and I was left unsure of what to think or feel again.
"I love you Bella." She told me again. "You're my best friend, my sister, I always wanted you with us forever. So did the others. They trusted in my vision Bella, I trusted in it. We were sure that you would be one of us, one day soon, we trusted Edward would not stay away, a couple weeks and we'd all be together and he'd accept that you were meant to be one of us, that you had to be."
She shook her head, "No, he didn't. He didn't and we couldn't."
"I've never changed anyone Bella, Rosalie she could never have lived with herself for stealing your humanity even if she'd been capable but she's never so much as tasted human blood. Emmett would never risk it, he'd as easily crush you as drain you. Esme, well no one would ever guess that she struggled so hard with the diet but that's why she was the least around people, you were different for her, the one thing she would never hurt, her child."
"Carlisle could have changed me."
She nodded, "Carlisle or Jasper, both have done so before." I just nodded and she smiled sadly, "Carlisle struggled, he wanted to change you but you were, are young and healthy and alive. Edward convinced him you would one day regret it and resent and hate him for changing you."
Alice nodded, "He did love you Bella." She told me gently. "He loved you so very much. Just, not the way you needed to be loved. You were a beautiful and delicate bird that he wanted to protect from the world by placing in a gilded cage." She gave a half smile, "You are beautiful and delicate but so strong, a bird born of fire." Her eyes drifted to the glass bird rising out of glass flames on my table, my signature pieces.
I nodded, still unsure what to feel but perhaps understanding the past a little better. Except for one thing, "So why are you here now Alice?"
"Jasper needs you Bella. I need to fix what I didn't see."
"Alice," I hesitated, but continued, "I'm sure Jasper doesn't blame you for not seeing that you weren't true mates."
"He blames me only for keeping it from him. He has right to. If I hadn't he might have realized, I might have seen more clearly" fresh venom coated her eyes, "everything would have been different."
"I'm sorry. I loved him, I love him very much, I just want him, all of my family to be happy, to have beautiful futures."
"I know Alice." I comforted her. "They know too."
She gave me a weak and watery smile. "I think it still might hurt for a little while." Something told me she wasn't just speaking of the past, but of the future too. I nodded and we exchanged small, sad smiles. Then I was alone again.
I sat and sipped my tea in the dark, thinking, for a long while. When I stood, I knew sleep wouldn't come for me that night, so I went back down to my studio and worked until the morning sun was full and the world was again busy with life.
"Jasper needs you Bella" The words were in my head as I worked. He needed me but I had no idea what was wrong, how to help or even where he was. I shouldn't have worried. When I woke up from my late morning nap, I found a small square envelope in my box.
Charlotte and Peter Whitlock
Three days from today.
Both will have bright red eyes.
Neither will hurt you.
Try to relax and be confident.
Tell Charlotte you want to see Jasper.
Demand Peter to take you to The Major.
Remember I love you.
I smiled as tears stung my eyes. I spent the afternoon saying goodbye, closing my studio, organizing my trip, and working new pieces to sooth my anxiety.
I flew to Boulder the morning I was supposed to meet them. I checked into a hotel and showered, got dressed and paced nervously.
Night fell and I went to the bar. I glanced around and wondered what room I was supposed to meet them in. Alice hadn't said and there were so many different ones.
I was at the bar buying a drink when I saw them. He was tall, with broad shoulders and cropped blond hair. She had long wavy blonde hair and was tall and slender. I moved over to them, not wanting to give myself time to feel fear or even nerves about seeing Jasper.
"Peter Whitlock?" I asked, though his red eyes peaking through muddy brown contacts gave me no cause to second-guess my initial recognition.
He lifted a brow and looked me over before nodding in greeting, "How d'ya do?" His accent was southern, warm and rich.
I found myself smiling at him, "Not sure now I've found you two." I told him honestly.
His rich baritone laugh boomed out as Charlotte stepped closer to us. "Why are you looking for us then?"
I turned to her, "I'm looking for Jasper."
Her smile hardened and Peter stepped closer to me, his voice now glacial, "You found us instead, what do you want?"
I turned to him, my own smile falling, I wavered until I met his dark eyes, I took a breath and felt my features harden as well, "Take me to The Major."
Our eyes held for the space of several heartbeats, during which I barely breathed.
"Brave little human." Charlotte whispered. "Are you sure you want to find him?"
I nodded and finally broke eye contact with Peter to meet her eyes, "I need to."
"Why?" She tilted her head as she examined me, her tone gentle and curious now.
"He needs me."
Peter snorted and I turned back to him and lifted my chin in defiance, this seemed to amuse him and he smirked. "Yes, sweetness, I think he does."
"Peter?" Charlotte questioned him.
"This here is Bella Swan." Peter answered her, still looking at me.
I nodded my head and blushed a little, "I am."
"Oh." Charlotte responded softly.
"How did you know?" I asked him.
"I just know shit sometimes. Like I am ninety nine percent certain the pixie sent you here and about eighty that this is a bad-fucking idea. Then again I was seventy percent sure he wouldn't rip my ass apart and burn the pieces when I faced him to protect Char, about the same that he'd come with us when we went back and ninety that the pixie wasn't his mate."
"Are you always right."
He shrugged, "Usually."
"So this is a bad idea but you are going to take me anyways."
"Sugar, standing against him to protect me, going back for him and taking you to him are all bad ideas." Charlotte told me with a smile.
"Sometimes bad ideas are the best kind." Peter laughed, slinging his arm around my shoulder. "Let's get out of here."
They took me outside to a very large truck; I fell asleep as they drove.
I'm not sure how much later that I woke up and Charlotte told me it wasn't much further. It was at least half an hour before I finally saw anything outside but landscape.
"This is it." Charlotte told me as we drove up to the large house.
I finally felt my nerves attacking.
Peter parked and we all got out of the truck. Jasper was on the porch in the short time it took me to walk around from the side to the front.
"Jasper." I breathed his name like I had Alice's. I was prepared to see him. I should have been prepared to see him. I wasn't.
He stood perfectly still, "Bella."
"You killed Victoria."
"I killed a lot of people." I nodded. "Why are you here?"
"I missed you." The words came without thought or intention and I didn't realize how true they were until I spoke them. We'd never been close but he'd always been there. A silent presence always there when I needed him, comforting me, giving me strength but letting me make my own choices, live my own life. "Jasper?" I felt tears burning my eyes, "If I had asked, if I… would you have stayed?"
"I did stay." He told me quietly.
I nodded, "But not with me, only near me."
He shook his head, "I'm dangerous."
"So you wouldn't have come, if I'd tried to find you, if I'd called for you?"
His eyes met mine, burning black, "You didn't."
"I am." I stepped towards him.
His eyes held mine as I walked up the porch to him.
His hand lifted to my face to trace my cheekbone. It sent a slight shiver down my spine, he smiled gently and I could see, a little surprisingly, a ring of gold around the black of his eyes. He was still a vegetarian.
"I'm still dangerous."
I nodded, "I still don't care."
A smile slowly spread across his face and it was like the sun rising. He chuckled and nodded, "Come on in then Darlin. Just stay away from sharp objects and paper."
I laughed and nodded, following him into the cabin. He led me to a room and then turned around and left, leaving me alone with Charlotte, who'd followed us. She'd obviously moved faster than us and already been to her own room as she had clothes in her hand.
"We'll get your things tomorrow, for now you can sleep in mine."
"Thank you Charlotte."
She smiled and nodded handing me the clothes and disappearing. I crawled into bed and fell immediately to sleep.
When I woke up there was an arrow pointing to the bedroom door. I followed it and several others to a bathroom where I found my bag sitting on the toilet. They'd obviously commandeered it from my hotel. After I'd showered and dressed I found the main room and wandered to the kitchen. The cupboards were bare.
I moved to sit on the porch and was joined a little later by Peter who handed me a Styrofoam container and a large coffee.
"Eggs, sausage and potatoes." He told me.
"Chars getting a few human essentials. Jasper's still hunting."
"Fucker is going to burst if he keeps it up."
"Go on and eat then."
I took his advice and was grateful that while he kept me company, sitting on the porch chair next to me, he didn't watch me eat.
When I finished, I sat back, full. "Thanks."
"So why'd the pixie send you?"
"She said he needed me."
"The Majors never needed anyone."
"Well Jasper does."
He snorted and then laughed, "I like you human."
"My name is Bella."
"So now what?"
"You tell me, you came to us. What is it exactly you plan on doing?"
I shrugged, "Helping Jasper I guess."
I shrugged again and silence fell between us. After a while Jasper came out of the woods.
"All that and I bet she still smells good enough to eat." Peter shouted out at him.
Jasper growled but his eyes to turned me as I laughed.
"We spent days locked in a hotel room together Jasper, you didn't kill me then and you wont now."
"Forgetting your birthday?" He half growled.
My face fell, as pain shivered through me, "Never." I told him, our eyes meeting.
"I'm sorry." He was instantly in front of me, his hand reaching out to touch my face but stopping an inch away.
I moved into his touch, "You never had anything to be sorry for Jasper."
"Didn't he try to kill you?" A new voice interrupted.
Jasper growled, spinning around and I shifted to see the new vampire around him, I chuckled and shrugged, "Not really. At least, he didn't try very hard."
"Now why would you think that sugar?" Charlotte asked frowning at me.
I shrugged, "I figure if he really wanted to, then he would have."
Peter let out a deep laugh, "Damn smart this girl is Major." He turned and nodded to me, "I damn well said so myself. Fucker let the little boy stop him."
I smiled at him, "It'd be my guess."
"Strange little human."
I turned back to the new comer as Jasper growled at him again, I sent him a fake sweet smile, "Tip of the ice burg leech."
Peter laughed again, "Bella meet Garrett, Garrett, Bella."
He nodded, grinning at me, "Nice to meet you Bella."
"You too." I felt my smile become more natural.
"How long you staying?"
"As long as Jasper wants me to."
"If he doesn't want." A female voice floated to me. I looked past Garrett to see two beautiful blonds.
"Then as long as he needs." I told them, my expression hardening.
"This is my mate Kate and her sister Tanya Denali."
"Denali?" I turned to look at Jasper and he nodded.
"Friends of Carlisle." He told me, his expression tight.
I reached out to touch his arm, "Jas?"
"Laurent was the mate of their sister, Irina."
I nodded, "Oh."
"Oh what?" Charlotte asked looking from me to Jasper to them and back again.
"Jasper killed him."
"Oh." She responded quietly, stepping nearer to Peter.
"For me." I added.
Her gaze moved warily to them as she and Peter both seemed to shift subtly into a crouch.
"We didn't come for a fight." Garrett said holding up his hands.
"Why did you come."
Irina smiled at Jasper and stepped closer, "To visit."
I shivered and moved closer to him, my hand unconsciously moving to the small of his back. I felt calm flowing out of him and through my fingertips. I sighed and stepped into his back, resting my forehead against him. He turned and lifted me into his arms carrying me inside.
We didn't say anything as he set me down on a counter. After a few minutes Peter and Charlotte came inside.
"You ok with them staying Major?" Peter asked, closing the door.
Jasper nodded, "They stay away from Bella."
Black eyes finally lifted to meet mine, I reached out and touched his face, "Why do you hide from me?"
"Give us an hour." Jasper half asked and half demanded. Peter and Charlotte simply nodded and disappeared. Jasper lifted me from the counter and carried me to the couch.
It took longer than an hour. The sun was setting by the time he was done telling me everything. I was so drained by the emotions, fear, sadness, anger, pain, gratitude, happiness, love. When he was done, we sat in silence; there were no words to speak. He didn't need me to assure him I wasn't afraid of him now, he could feel it. I wasn't about to run away in fear or disgust, he could feel it and I showed him, in the silence, I curled into his side, sighed and fell asleep against him.
Jasper held me while I slept, was still holding me when I woke.
"What are you thinking so hard about?" I asked him quietly.
"What about it?"
"I wanted to shake you until your teeth rattled, to scream and rage at you for running from me. I wanted to praise your bravery and the strength of your love, loyalty and devotion to your mother and my family. I wanted James to suffer for hurting you and I wanted to thank him for biting you. I wanted you to change."
"I wanted that to." I whispered.
His arms tightened around me, "I loved Alice with all that I was."
"I was always a broken man but she still stayed."
"She loved you, she still loves you."
"I couldn't leave you."
"I loved him so much. I gave him all of me and I've been broken ever since."
"He loved you too. I promise you that was real."
"Not enough to stay."
"Enough to leave."
"So what?" I asked as tears burned past my eyes and wet his shirt. "Will you leave me now?"
"I've never really left you."
"You never stayed with me either."
"If you wanted me too."
"If I wanted forever?"
"If I did?"
"Maybe we can start from the beginning?"
"It should have begun in Phoenix."
"It could have begun on my birthday."
"This time there wont be any stopping it."
"I've never wanted to stop it."
"I'll always love her."
"I'll always love him too."
"I think I loved you too."
"I think it should always have been us."
"This will hurt them."
"We can work it out," I smiled remembering her words, "In time, we'll all stop hurting from it and be a family again."
"We'll have an eternity to work it out."
She smiled up at him and his head bent to kiss her. His lips were cold and hard as ice but he tasted of crisp cold apples on a summer day. The world continued to move but time froze and for a moment that lasted an eternity, everything was right. Nothing that came before mattered, and yet it was all precious because it led them to this moment.
When he lift his head and black eyes met brown, there was no fear, only love and acceptance.
She felt his lips caress her neck and then his teeth pierce her skin. They would have an eternity to work everything out but now it was how it always should have been, the two of them, immortal and facing the future together.