Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight
The constant beeping near her head was what woke her up. Bella inhaled deeply, smelling the unmistakable scent of a sterile environment...the kind that feels like you're breathing in machinery and disinfectant, not regular air.
"Good morning, Bella."
It was Carlisle's voice. Bella commanded her eyes to open and they finally did after some effort. Carlisle materialized in front of her. Before she had a chance to speak he held a light to both her pupils, temporarily blinding her before she readjusted and looked back at him.
"Welcome back," he greeted her warmly.
She smiled weakly and tried to shift so she could sit up, but Carlisle stopped her. "Don't move, please. You have a fractured rib and a broken arm. Not to mention you took quite a few hits on the head. There's no permanent damage but you will need some time to heal."
Bella nodded and breathed deeply, this time noticing the difficulty with which her chest moved, and she winced in pain. Ow. A hand laid itself across her own right hand. Esme smiled gently from beside her but said nothing.
The door across from the bed burst open and Jasper, Alice and Emmett tumbled through grinning down at her. Edward followed them in and stood stoically by the door.
"Hey Bella Bear! Nice to see you out of hibernation!" Emmett shouted happily.
"Hi guys," she smiled back. "How long was I out?"
"Four days, nine hours, and 22 minutes," Alice supplied.
Surprised, Bella noted their cheerful countenance and she slowly nodded. She looked at them again, tentatively this time. "Did anyone die?" She whispered.
"Only James," Esme spoke. The dead vampire's name lingered in the air like a cloud of poison, and immediately Bella shivered from the tension. The relief she felt however, was palpable. No one died...Thank god.
"What happened?" She asked. The last thing she remembered was the cavernous room beneath the gymnasium floor about to collapse on top of her and Billy. The burning, searing figure of James as he screamed and floated in front of her flashed across her eyes and she had to close them for fear of the Cullens seeing the deep satisfaction and pleasure she felt from his prolonged torture.
"Can you tell us what happened on your end first?" Carlisle asked. "It would help us piece together the full order of events and answer your question with more conviction."
Bella sighed and looked away. Hindsight had 20/20 vision, and looking back now she could see that she should have told Alice and Jasper what she suspected that day in the cafeteria. She didn't value her own life to fear for it, but so many things could have gone wrong which could have resulted in catastrophe. So many lives had hung in the balance that night.
"I started to suspect I was setting the fires in my sleep..." Bella began. The Cullens, to their credit, stayed still and silent and let her explain herself without interruption. As briefly as she could make it, Bella relayed everything that happened from the moment the first message appeared to the moment she woke up in their care. The details of her encounter with James however, she skimmed over without any specifics. Bella was determined to take his words with her to the grave.
"...and then the fire surrounding him burned strangely for a few seconds, there was a loud popping sound, and then I woke up here," she finished.
Carlisle was the only one who showed any human signs of comprehension. He nodded, crossed his arms and leaned against the railing of her hospital bed while the others sat without moving so much as a hair. They all exchanged looks with one another. Bella tried not to look at their faces and instead kept her eyes trained on the headboard. A gnawing pain that had nothing to do with broken bones started swelling in the pit of her stomach. Why wasn't Rosalie here?
"Alice, why don't you start," Carlisle suggested.
"I couldn't see you!" Alice blurted out, downcast. "I'm so sorry Bella."
"Alice, it wasn't your fault," Bella calmly comforted the girl. She had a feeling Alice would react like this. "I'm hard to see. That makes it my fault."
She shook her head and, after letting Jasper calm her down, spoke again.
"We decided to check up on you an hour after you left. We texted, called, but everything went straight to voicemail. So Jazz, Edward and I drove to Charlie's house. Edward heard the nomads' thoughts before we sensed them. From him we learned there were two vampires in the house with Charlie, that Charlie was still alive but knocked out, and that a third vampire had taken you somewhere."
Jasper stepped in. "We informed Carlisle and Esme immediately. Rosalie and Emmett were in a dead zone and didn't get our calls until much later."
"Carlisle and I went through town looking for you," Esme said. "We caught a whiff here and there but the scents kept us going around in circles. After a while they disappeared altogether."
"If James is as good a tracker as he claimed," Carlisle added, "it's possible, if not probable he found a way to mask your scent. I believe he deliberately left confusing trails all over town and managed to erase the true lead to the school."
"Anyway, while they searched for you, we tried to think of a way to surprise the nomads. We were worried that they might kill your father if they sensed our approach," said Alice. "That and as far as we knew, they were the only ones who knew your location. So we couldn't just storm in and kill them."
"Edward continued to listen and relay what he heard," Jasper said, smiling at the boy who stood deathly still by the door. "Their names are Victoria and Laurent. Victoria has been with James for centuries. Laurent is a newer addition. Victoria and James are...they were mates."
"They followed you down from Canada, just like you said," Edward spoke for the first time. "However James was the only one interested in you. The others did not share his obsession, especially Victoria."
Alice stepped in. "Victoria has a gift for evasion. She knew exactly how far to remain from the rest of us to stay hidden. James and Laurent followed her guidance, but James got bored. That's when he set the first fires. That's all we learned before Jacob got there."
"What?!" Bella exclaimed.
"We were caught by surprise too," Alice sighed. "He got there on his bike and of course the nomads heard him when he pulled up at your father's home. He almost crashed into the cruiser...he..."
"Jacob phased," Jasper said quietly. Bella gasped. "He phased, managed to turn back, and was looking for Billy to help him. He knew he was spending the day with Charlie."
"Oh god," Bella whispered. So it's begun. By now Jake must know the ghost stories of his tribe are all true.
"Jacob walked into the house," Jasper continued. "The nomads knew what he was the second they sensed him and they attacked. He's fine, Bells." He sent her a wave of calm to which she gratefully succumbed. "The three of us attacked too. They didn't even try to fight. Victoria sensed the danger and she and Laurent ran off."
"I left and chased after them," Edward added. "But they crossed into La Push before I could reach them."
"Meanwhile we were stuck in a house with a baby wolf. Your dad could wake up at any minute. And we still had no idea where you were," Alice shook his head. "You can imagine the tension. And what's worth, I couldn't see anything! Not even the rest of the family."
"And then Carlisle got through to me and Rose," Emmett finally spoke. "We high-tailed it out of there and ran straight back to Forks. When we got there Jacob was in the living room trashing the place-"
"He was panicking," Edward interrupted. "I could listen to him even in wolf form. The wolf could smell vampires, his natural enemies. He was surrounded and was going completely on instinct. We can't really blame him."
"Yeah, whatever." Emmett rolled his eyes. "I'm about to whoop some sense into him when Rosalie knocks me over and goes right for him. She actually touched him. Pinned him to the ground. He's about to whack her head off when she starts screaming at him. Telling him to get a grip, that he knows her, that she's Bella's girlfriend, and that Bella's in trouble. She was nose to nose with him, Christ..."
"Long story short, she calmed him down," Jasper said. "The boy had trouble phasing back so Edward helped us communicate. Jake had trouble with James' scent just like we did, but it was stronger for him than for us. But the breakthrough came when he sniffed out his father's scent."
Alice sighed. "We were all so focused on you it didn't occur to us that Billy might be in the same place. James didn't do as good a job on Billy as he did on you-probably didn't think someone would come looking for him so soon. We could track Billy's scent, especially with Jacob's help. And that led us to the school. Esme stayed behind with Charlie just in case the others came back. When we got to the gymnasium..."
Jasper looked down. "There were too many people," he said quietly, ashamed. "I'm so sorry, Bella. There were so many of them...too many racing heartbeats and sweat. I couldn't handle it and lost control."
"Jasper, it's ok," Bella gripped his hand as if to send out some calm of her own to him. "You shouldn't have had to put yourself in that situation to begin with. I'm the one who's sorry."
She's been helping him too much. Over the months, whenever the crowds got too much for Jasper, Bella shifted the wind to keep the worst of it from him. Maybe the best help for him was not to help him. Maybe if she hadn't, he could have withstood the heated crowd that night.
"Whatever," Emmett said impatiently. "Jasper lost it, and Alice and I had to get him out of there."
Carlisle stepped in. "Which left myself, Edward and Rosalie. Between the three of us, we convinced Jacob to stay at the edge of the forest. It was his first day as a shifter and we didn't know how a crowd of humans could affect him. He was also more likely to injure you or Billy if he tried to intervene, so new was his form. So he kept a lookout for the nomads on the outside, and the three of us went inside."
"We smelled the fire as soon as we walked in. It took a while to find the path James used to the basement, but we found it eventually," said Edward. "The screams we heard...that was James on fire?"
Bella nodded, again feeling a disturbing warmth spread through her body as she pictured his body convulsing from the pain. What is wrong with her?
"We couldn't take chances," said Carlisle. "I pulled the fire alarm before we found the door. All the kids had evacuated in time, but it was a close call. There were a few minor injuries though. Rosalie pushed through just as the floor of the gymnasium started to cave in on you. We saw James' body in pieces just before the fire consumed him. You were unconscious and Billy was next to you, screaming for you to wake up. We all ran to you and kept the ceiling from crushing you, then got you out of there. And we brought you here."
At Bella's questioning look he added, "you're in our home. I had this equipment shipped here."
She nodded, processing it all.
"What about Billy?" She asked. "And...and Charlie? Does he still think it was me?"
"You were never the arsonist and Charlie knows that now. As a matter of fact," Carlisle smiled, bemused. "You can thank Billy Black for that."
Emmett chuckled at her shocked expression. "Billy was conscious the whole time after we got you out. He knows what we are. Carlisle took him to the hospital, Jake in tow...well, on a leash would be more appropriate...and fixed him up. Jake phased back and stayed with him, and Carlisle, Edward and I gave them a very edited account of what happened. We were worried everybody would blame you but...you must have made one hell of an impression on the guy."
"Charlie was back in action by then," Jasper said. "Esme tipped the department off and another officer came to his house and freed him. They went to the school when that call went off, then the hospital. Billy, the only eyewitness as far as anybody knew, gave a detailed account in which you played absolutely no part, Bella. He described a man in his twenties, gave a physical description, and insisted that man had confessed to him his hand in all the recent fires in Forks. And when Charlie and the fire department examined the building's basement, they found the burnt remains of a man who perfectly fit that description."
"I...I thought there wouldn't be a body," Bella said, confused.
"Ah, yes," Carlisle spoke up hesitantly. "That is correct. I'm afraid I had little choice but to place a body, a human one to take James' stead for the police's sake. There was a John Doe in our morgue. No one has claimed the body in over six months and he was due to be taken to the state crematorium later this week. I gave Billy his description and brought the body, which I burned, to the crime scene, exactly where James was killed."
A tidy ending to a blistering mess. Except Bella still felt like something less than what she was. She felt...empty. Empty, and afraid of what would come back to fill the void.
"Charlie knows I'm here?"
"Yes," Carlisle answered. "We took you to the hospital at first, after we cleaned you up and determined there was nothing life-threatening. Then I transferred you here. I told Charlie that Esme could look after you more this way. He did not object."
"Wouldn't have made any difference if he did," Esme mumbled.
She nodded and looked around at the faces of her family. Heart pounding a little faster, she asked the question she wanted to ask the moment she awoke. "Where's Rosalie?"
No one said anything for a while, but the discomfort in the room was clear.
Emmett reached for her hand. "She didn't leave your side the entire time you were here, Bells," he said gently. "But this whole thing really freaked her out. She's having trouble dealing."
Bella swallowed hard and tried not to let her tears fall, but vampire eyes saw it anyway. She wiped at her face.
"What do you mean?" She whispered.
"Rosalie is the strongest person I know," Emmett said sadly. "But she really thought she'd lost you for a while there. We all did. She...She doesn't like feeling helpless. And that's how she felt this whole time until you finally woke up. She just needs a little time, then I promise she'll be back by your side."
Bella nodded slowly, but only because that's what they all expected, and because really, what else could she do? Rosalie was a complicated person, Bella knew that. And in a way, she understood what Emmett was trying to tell her. But...Bella still felt her absence like a knife to the heart.
She blinked through the tears and nodded again.
"Thank you," she said. "For everything you've done. I'm sorry you had to put yourselves in danger because of me."
They all started to protest but Bella closed her eyes and burrowed deeper under her sheets.
"I think I need to sleep a bit more," she whispered and squeezed Emmett's hand. "Goodnight."
One by one, they left the room. Emmett lingered by the door, whispering "she'll be back soon," before he shut it gently behind him.
Bella was left alone with her thoughts.
Author's note: Have a Merry Saturnalia, boys and girls! I'll try to post before the new year, but in case I fail in that endeavor...Happy New Year! Oh, I just left you a present under the tree...aka a new chapter. Please, won't you leave me something in my stocking? Like, oh I dunno...a review?! :)