(A/N): So sorry I'm late! I was on vacation and of course when I got back it was with a cold. As many of you know, I've got two kids, so it was a long couple weeks of running around passing the germs back and forth between us all. I'll be trying my best to get back to my every other week schedule now!

Also, I've created a facebook page (linked on my profile) where I'm posting teasers... please pop on over and give it a like.

And the best news yet - the so very talented 4Padfoot has made a trailer for this story and it is so amazing that I watched it on loop for like a day straight. It literally feels like my story in video format. Find the link for it on my profile - it's on my wordpress page where all of the goodies ffnet bans can be found. Happy reading!


"My love has concrete feet
My love's an iron ball
Wrapped around your ankles
Over the waterfall"

Florence + The Machine - Heavy in Your Arms


Chapter 23: Verbal Smackdowns

Previously...

"Love you," she breathed as he ran out, nothing more than a blur to her poor human eyes.

There was a long beat of silence.

"So did you like my present? Do you forgive me? Heard what you did with Eddie's hand – bad ass, Bells!" Emmett spoke, each word tripping over the other in his enthusiasm.

Bella glanced at Jasper whose expression held a faint hint of told ya so.

She couldn't wait for Damon to come home, even if he was bringing his brother with him for some group therapy detox. It was going to be a long day.


Her hand toyed with the chain of her lapis lazuli necklace, the weight and feel of it in her palm reassuring as she ignored Emmett's persistent questions. Bella kept her gaze locked on the silver vervain bracelet that sat in deceptive innocence atop the carpet, afraid that if she lost sight of it something bad would happen.

Silly, she scolded herself. Damon's right – we'll figure it out. Calm down.

"Are you just going to ignore us the whole time?" Rosalie's snide voice interrupted Bella's thoughts.

While her mind was still reeling from the vervain implications, Bella couldn't help but smile at Rosalie's predictable venom. Some things never changed, she supposed.

Shrugging, Bella answered, "Not much to say now is there?"

Rosalie arched a brow. "How about thank you for coming to babysit me?"

Instead of anger, a small bubble of amusement rose within her. There would have been a time those words would have cut her down, made her feel as incompetent as a toddler playing chess. Now, however, Rosalie's opinion held no sway over her self-esteem and if anything, Bella had faint stirrings of pity for the blonde barbie for having to put others down in order to validate herself.

"No one is forcing you to be here, Rosalie. The door is that way if you want to leave – don't let it hit your ass on the way out."

Rosalie's lips curled in a silent snarl. "You are such an ungrateful brat," she hissed.

Bella gave her a scoff caught between disbelief and amusement. "I've been called many things before, but ungrateful? Really?"

"Now Rosie," Emmett tried to soothe his wife who grew even more irate at Bella's reaction.

"No, no," Bella's grin widened when she saw Jasper's mouth twitch upwards as well. "This I've got to hear – lay it on me, Rosalie. What's your deal with me – enlighten me on how I'm being ungrateful."

The vampire huffed, her tense body going lax as she started talking. It was obvious to Bella she'd been holding the words in probably since they first met. "You have your whole life ahead of you – one of possibilities. You can find someone, fall in love, have children – you can grow old, Bella. You can live instead of merely exist and yet you're throwing it all away. First it was on Edward and now with this new vampire, who's a real jerk if you ask me. Tell me, are you so desperate for immortality that you'll just throw yourself at anyone who can give it to you?"

"Rosalie!" Emmett gasped, horrified at her innuendo.

But before he could continue, Bella cut him off with a barely contained giggle. "Really? That's just... well, that's just rather fucking ignorant of you, isn't it?" She shook her head with another smile and said, more to herself than anyone else, "I'm the youngest person in this room by several decades and it's like I'm about to explain to a toddler why the sky is blue. I can hear the never-ending follow up of 'why?'s now."

Rose started fuming again and as if she was a spinning top, Bella could see her begin to wind up for another whirlwind rant. "Now pump your brakes there, Barbie," Bella said with a very Damon-like smirk. She could already feel a migraine developing from the woman's grating voice. "It's my turn to explain some things to you, not that I owe you any sort of explanation."

Taking a moment to gather her thoughts and conviction, Bella mentally chanted her old mantra 'what would Damon do' three times before she began, her tone as cold as her husband's ice blue eyes whenever he faced off with a foe, "Let's get something settled right now; I am not you. I have my own wants and desires, my own vision of what living looks like and I don't appreciate you trying to foist yours upon me. I get that when I was with your brother I may have seemed impulsive, ignorant even, though that was largely because he worked to keep me that way. I was too eager to prove my love for him, to win his love in return, that I always dismissed the whole future and kids thing so flippantly just to prove I was ready. I can see how it looked like I never truly considered it, though it's something I agonized over."

"Agonized? Really?" Rosalie sniffed.

"Absolutely," Bella returned, unfazed. "I think your perfect memory has failed you, Rosalie. You remember the fantasy you had for your human future, you cling to it like a child to her favorite blanket. A husband and children... it's not all sunshine and rainbows. It's responsibility and pressure. It's never-ending effort for people who depend on you for everything. It's hard work and sacrifice and yes, it is entirely worth it to those who are willing to pursue that path, but I've never wanted that. I practically raised my mother and I have no desire to live for someone else again - I live for me. Not for you, not for Edward, not even for Damon. I choose my own path and I make the future I want. You can't live vicariously through me and it isn't my fault you feel like you're stuck only existing; life is what you make it. You get what you put in and it's not my fault all you put in is bullshit."

"Why you little-!"

Bella cut her off again, the words what would Damon do running in loop in her head. "What really has your panties in a bunch, Rosalie? Are you just jealous that when I transition at least I'll still have a beating heart unlike you," she said with a pointed lift of her brow. It was a low blow, but necessary to make her point. "Relationships are about compromise. Damon is unable to physically change for me, but I am able and willing to for him and so I will. That's love. If he was in my place, he'd choose the same thing. Don't tell me that if you had the chance to be human again you'd take it and give up everything for that foolish fantasy of yours, because if so, I feel sorry for Emmett and you really are a miserable bitch."

There was a stunned silence that had Bella blushing even as she held Rosalie's gaze. It was so quiet that the steady drip of the kitchen faucet was audible even to her poor human ears and she made a mental note to tell Damon to fix it.

"Well damn, darlin'," Jasper muttered.

"Well nothing," she smarted back.

"You're different," Rosalie said and Bella was quick to retort with a dry, "Thank you Captain Obvious."

"I like this new you better but it doesn't change the fact that you're choosing wrong," and though her tone was slightly more conciliatory the condescending airs set Bella's teeth on edge.

"You're within your right to think so," was all she said, refusing to back down. "But know that I don't give a damn about what you think. You've spent all of five minutes in my company, today aside, and you think you have the right to tell me how to live my life? I don't fucking think so – no one takes away my choices or forces me into something I don't want."

Rosalie looked mildly taken aback at that, her honey eyes widening as she brought a hand to her chest before they dimmed, lost in some distant memory. Whatever one it was couldn't be pleasant because venom tears welled up in her eyes and her breath hitched before she collected herself again and eyed Bella with what could've only been grudging respect.

"I would never take away someone's choices or f-force them to do anything," she said, her words as quiet as a feather as she stuttered ever so slightly over them.

Bella knew she'd hit a nerve. Something about that last bit resonated and Bella had the sensation that she may have unknowingly stabbed at an old wound. The thought was reinforced when she saw Emmett reach out and take Rose's hand and she latched onto it like a life preserver, her grip so tight Bella could hear their hands grinding together like two stones.

"Listen," Bella decided to end this pointless conversation once and for all. She certainly didn't want to unintentionally re-open old wounds so it was time to put an end to the futile argument. "I'll agree to step down from my soapbox if you agree to come down from that pedestal of yours and keep your opinions to yourself. I've heard your case so you've fulfilled whatever misplaced sense of duty you've got going on here. To be honest, I've got more important things to worry about than your issues."

Another moment of silence.

"Isabella Swan," Jasper said in quiet amusement and shaking his head in disbelief as he stared her down.

A grin pulled at her lips. "That's Salvatore now."

"A fitting change, if I may say so," Jasper acknowledged.

Her grin widened. "I agree."

"I'm happy that you're happy, Bella," Emmett said. Though his smile was sincere, there was a shade of sadness over it that hinted at regret. "I wish I'd done things different, but I'm happy you've found where you really belong and I hope you'll still have a place for me in your life."

"Oh Emmett," Bella sighed at the big lug. As much as she wanted to leap up and hug him, take the foreign frown off his usually grinning face, Bella remained seated. "I know there was likely extenuating circumstances that had you leave me, but still, your actions are your own. When we first met I gave my trust blindly and paid the price for that. I refuse to pay it again so if you really want to be in my life, you'll have to earn my trust back and I can't say it'll be easy. My rose-tinted glasses are long gone now."

Emmett stared at her with a serious expression before a glimmer of light flickered in his eyes and she could tell he was trying not to smile as he said, "So you're saying there's a chance?" in a really bad Jim Carrey impersonation.

Despite her resolve, Bella snorted a laugh. Visits to the Cullen home after she had her walking cast put on after the Phoenix incident had been interesting. The weeks had been long as she healed, but while Edward had wanted to place her in bed surrounded but giant pillows as he read to her so she wouldn't strain herself, Emmett had taken a different approach. He kidnapped her from Edward's oppressive mothering often so they could watch stupid comedies together, a guilty pleasure of hers that Edward never outrightly disapproved of even though his frown had been telling enough.

Their favorite had always been Dumb and Dumber and they quoted it often together, much to the annoyance of everyone else.

"Sure Lloyd," she smiled. "Never say never, right?"

"It was the bear, wasn't it?" Emmett grinned. "I told Jasper I knew you'd like it!"

Bella snorted. "You're lucky you didn't personally deliver it. Damon would have torn off one of your arms or something even more vital."

"He's got quite the temper, that one," Jasper agreed.

"And he can back it up," she said with a pointed glare to the three of them. "So if any of you plan on pulling some of the same shit Alice and Edward did then you can leave now."

"I think we're all more afraid of you at this point, darlin'," Jasper smirked. "What with what you did with Eddie's hand..."

"Bad ass, Bella," Emmett cut-in like an eager child. "Never woulda' thought you had that in you."

"He deserved it," she muttered, slightly embarrassed. "And speaking of, what is the rest of your little family up to?"

"They're long gone, not to worry," Jasper reassured her, picking up on her mild trepidation. "Safe to say, Edward finally got your message."

Bella snorted. "Do I have to worry about retaliation?" she asked. No point beating around the bush as it was one of the many things on Damon's radar when it came to her safety.

"Not from Carlisle or Esme. Probably not even Edward," he said, and Bella caught his meaning right away.

"Alice never was one to let things go, eh?"

"'Fraid not, darlin'," he smiled, but it looked a little sad to her perceptive eyes.

As much as she now resented Alice, Bella refrained from making the snarky remarks her inner Damon was whispering in her ear – like the little devil sitting on her shoulder, she suppressed a smile. It was the man's wife, after all, and while Damon would've had no problems insulting her, Bella felt rather sad for Jasper. She wondered how much of their relationship was owing to genuine affection and not Alice's overwhelming personality and manipulations. She knew if it had occurred to her, then Jasper must have thought on it too, especially considering his ability. Clearly he was a smart cookie and she couldn't help but wonder what it was that kept him with the demented little pixie, as Damon dubbed her. Habit? Apathy?

She looked away from the man with a mental shrug. Not her business, she supposed.

"Hope your being here won't cause too much friction between the two of you then," was all she said, not that she really cared. While she didn't wish Jasper trouble, she also didn't feel any loyalty to him. At one time she may have felt grateful for his assistance in the Victoria matter, but now all she felt was justified. It really was the least they could do as the whole mess had been their making to begin with.

Still, she didn't like the thought of Alice on some sort of misplaced retribution mission. Her gift wasn't infallible but it was still formidable. She'd have to warn Damon about the possibility – yet another thing on their growing list of dangers to her, she huffed an inward sigh. Eyeing Jasper speculatively, she opted not to say what she suspected he already knew. If Alice showed up making trouble then Damon would take her out in the permanent sense.

Jasper gave an appreciative nod towards her previous statement and stated, "Alice and I have parted ways. Long time coming, really. We were never meant to be together forever – I've always known that, no matter what she told me her visions said."

Well, that answered that, she thought.

"I'd say I'm sorry but something tells me you're better off," she said in all truthfulness.

He gave a noncommittal shrug and another awkward silence descended.

"Sooo... how 'bout this weather, eh?" Emmett said.

Rosalie came out of whatever memory had gripped her and whacked him on the arm. She was suppressing a small grin, though.

A sudden thought popped into Bella's head. "Hey, any of you ever hear of vervain?"

It occurred to her that when she'd picked up the bracelet there'd been no burn; it was only after securing it on her wrist over her bite mark that the sizzling ache began. Perhaps Damon was right and it had something to do with his blood and the scar combined, but maybe it was just the scar. As much as she hated to think of any part of James or even Edward lingering within her, the faint sparkle of the scar in sunlight and the unnatural hard coldness of it led her to believe that not all of the venom had been removed and minute traces of it likely lingered, frozen in the scar tissue on her wrist.

As horrifying as that thought was, especially the unknown effects it may have on her transitioning into a traditional vampire, it also brought a way she may be able to defend herself from Victoria and her cronies...

"Ver-what?" Emmett asked, and the others looked as equally confused. She supposed they were relatively sheltered in their life, constantly concerned with playing human while forgetting who they truly were. Giving Jasper a quick appraising glance found that his confusion was sincere. Of all of them, she'd have expected him to know something.

Another thought bloomed and with a small smirk, she asked, "Hey Emmett, can you grab my bracelet over there?" she pointed out the deceptively harmless bauble.

Eager to prove himself even in the smallest gestures, he popped up with a, "Sure thing, Bells," and walked over to the bracelet at a lazy human pace.

Ignoring Jasper's look of askance – there's just no hiding from an empath – Bella couldn't help but smile as the instant Emmett's fingers wrapped around it he gave a surprised curse, dropping it while shaking out his hand.

"Son of bitch! What the fuck is that shit?!"

"What did you do to him?" Rosalie screeched as she zipped over to her husband and held his hand carefully in hers. They studied the burn as it healed, frowns puckering their brows as they looked back down at the bracelet.

"That," Bella said. "Was a bracelet filled with vervain."

Jasper got up and knelt by it, his hand stretching out experimentally as his pointer finger grazed it ever so slightly before he yanked it back with a small hiss. "Fascinating," he said. "What is vervain – an oil or chemical?"

Bella moved to them and steeling herself, picked up the bracelet, careful to avoid hitting her scar. There was no burn and her tense shoulders dropped in relief. "An herb," she said in slight distraction, her mind whirling around the possibilities of using vervain against Victoria and what it meant that it only burned her scar.

"Did you know it would hurt him?" Rosalie asked, her tone sharp and accusing.

"No," Bella said, but then confessed, "Though I did suspect it would. Damon gave it to me in for protection against vampires, but I had a reaction to it against my scar. Got me thinking and I wanted to test a theory."

"Well you could've just asked," she huffed, but Bella shrugged her off.

"Easy Rosie, I'm alright," Emmett soothed. "And besides, how cool is it that something like that can actually hurt us?"

Rose glared at him. "You are a strange man."

Jasper looked calculating as his eyes darted from the bracelet, to Emmett and Rose then settling on Bella. "Perhaps it's best if we don't let this become widespread knowledge? I presume it works on traditional vampires and that's why Damon gave it to you."

Pressing her lips together, Bella's reluctance was obvious as she admitted, "Yes."

It wasn't a betrayal, she told that sensitive part of herself flooding her with guilt. She absolutely wanted to protect Damon and with that came guarding the secret of vervain from those unaware but she knew with absolute certainty he'd insist this new bit of information was worth spilling the beans. He was more than equipped to handle any of the Cold Ones in town, but knowing she would have some measure of defense against them on her own would lift the giant weight he carried on his shoulders over her safety.

There was also the added benefit that Bella finally felt like she could contribute something to the situation. While she had seen the wisdom in letting Damon fight her supernatural battles, just as she'd preached to Elena, it didn't change the fact that letting someone fight on her behalf left a bitter taste in her mouth. Especially as it was someone who shouldn't have to be responsible for cleaning up her mess. She harbored a large chunk of guilt for all the drama she'd brought into Damon's already turbulent life, though she was beyond the point of trying to leave for his benefit.

Bella supposed that's what love meant – being solely invested in another to the point that their crazy became yours. There was no hesitation on Damon's part to get his hands dirty on her behalf and Bella certainly wasn't going to run now that she was coming face to face with his drama. They were a united front against the oncoming shit storm.

"You said it reacted against your scar?" Jasper asked.

Pushing away her thoughts, Bella nodded. "Yes. Damon gave it to me to ward off traditional vampires but when I secured over my wrist with the scar I felt the same burn you all just did."

He tilted his head and studied her. "And that's what had you so upset when we arrived? It wasn't just the situation with Damon's brother?"

"Exactly," she said. "To be honest, it's been a really long fucking day."

To say the least, she thought. First that prick John, then Emmett's well-meaning but bad-timing gift, followed by Elena's phone call about Stefan's bloody shenanigans and the vervain...

The only thing good about the day was the marathon sex from the morning. She wished she'd joined him in the shower, after all. Or better yet, she wished they'd never left bed to begin with. There was only so much her fragile human sensibilities could take before she mentally snapped. Everything was in fast-forward after they'd arrived to town, one thing after another with barely enough time for Bella to catch her breath. Already jadedness was setting in and she was anticipating another attempt on her life before the day was out.

Any sane person would buckle under the fear, but Bella supposed she hadn't ever been entirely sane.

She was more of an optimist than Damon, though she was beginning to prescribe to his belief in Murphy's Law. Each second felt like she was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

A shattering crash sounded from upstairs.

Bella gave an inward snort. Looks like someone through the shoe through the window.

"Newborns," Jasper hissed.

"Oh look, someone's trying to kill me... must be a Thursday," she murmured as Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper circled her.

They ignored her.

"Ten, maybe eleven," Jasper hissed, and Bella realized he was using his gift to pinpoint their locations.

Emmett cracked his knuckles. "Piece of cake."

"Is there somewhere you can hide, Bella?"

"Downstairs, in the basement," she said, thinking of the vervain room Damon intended to lock his brother in until he snapped out of his bloodlust.

No sooner had the words fell from her lips than the world was a blur around her and she found herself deposited in front of said vervain room, a silent command to enter lingering as whoever whisked her downstairs zipped away.

With a tired sigh, Bella entered the room and locked the door behind her.

The room reminded her of one of those illegal marijuana greenhouses in someone's home. Sun lamps were turned on and a small misting system set up. Thankful it wasn't on, Bella worked herself into the furthest corner of the room.

There was a potent odor hanging the room, burning her nose and eyes. It was so strong that she had no comparison for it other than her Grandma Marie who loved to douse herself with copious amounts of various perfumes. The air around her had sometimes been a poisonous cloud almost visible to the human eye just like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comics and his dust cloud.

Making sure her scar was well and covered, Bella rearranged the tables to the best of her ability, creating a 'V' blockade as she backed herself up into a corner.

Once done, Bella slouched to the ground and picked at the hem of Damon's shirt, decidedly bored.

There was no telling how long she'd be quarantined in there and she regretted not grabbing a book or something on the way down. Over time, it seemed the fumes from the herb started affecting her scar and it began to burn and itch as her eyes watered and her head ached. She didn't think it had anything to do with the venom or Damon's blood, but rather was owing to the powerful fumes coming from the large quantity of the plant packed into a small space.

Her eyes started to feel heavy and thick, eventually falling closed as her breathing steadied into the rhythmic lull of sleep...

Only to woken minutes or maybe even hours later by the door being flung open and a sharp voice calling out, "Isabella? What the fuck? I can't leave for five minutes without some crazy bitch storming the castle?"

When she sighed his name, it was positively dripping in relief, love and reassurance. "Damon."

And even with her eyes still shut, she smiled knowing everything would now be fine.


(A/N): Boy, these kids just can't catch a break, eh?

Next chapter will have a little break for them even as I amp up a little more of the plot... Can anyone say Isobel? Mwahahahaha!