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Prologue: Victoria

 

They killed him.

The man I had spent ages with, the man I had looked to spend ages more with, who had always given me the strength to stand firm in the face of forever - that man is gone. Torn to pieces and set on fire like some disobedient newborn. Even though I hadn’t been there to witness his demise, everytime I close my eyes I can almost see his beautiful face turning to ash in those flames.

They killed him.

They killed him and now I am alone.

As I run, I can feel the blood that drenches me. It slides down my face and falls to the ground behind me. All I’ve been doing since I realized what happened is eat. I eat and eat and eat. I’m not careful - I let the blood of my meals soak into my clothes and my hair as I drain the fools slowly. Their screams as they die echo the screams I am letting loose inside my head. Only theirs are brief and mine will never stop, not for all of eternity.

I am alone.

I am alone and I cannot stop the screams in my head.

They must pay. He will pay. But I cannot allow myself to formulate any plans or plots. I will decide nothing so they do not see whatever it is my revenge will be until it is too late. For now, I run to the soundtrack of screams in my head and leave a trail of blood and carnage behind me. Eventually, my path will take me to my revenge, and then I will find peace.

I am alone, but James, I will not let go without sharing this endless grief and regret with the fool who killed you.

Chapter Text

Bella

 

"Congratulations, Bella, I can officially say that you are fully healed," Carlisle murmurs as he marks down some notes in my ridiculously large medical file. Glancing up at him from where I'm perched at the edge of a hospital bed, I give him a double thumbs up. It’s about time! I'm so sick of casts and bandages and overprotective, hovering boyfriends trying to wrap me in a protective bubble. The doctor comes over and sits in the chair next to my bed. As he settles, he looks at me and gives me a small grin. "Healed at least until you leave here and manage to trip and fall down a flight of stairs."

"Hey!" I laugh, but I can't even really pull off a good 'pretend indignation'. The good doctor has a point after all. The official story behind the injuries that I'd received earlier this summer had been a tumble down a particularly nasty staircase. And not a single person who knows me had any trouble believing that cover. Any why wouldn't they have believed it? This was the first time in my life that the cause of my injuries had not been anything even remotely resembling an innocent accident.

Glass shattering, bones breaking, red eyes filled with hunger and amusement…

I really should have learned by now not to follow my thoughts when they run down the rabbit hole leading to my memories of that frantic trip to Phoenix just weeks ago. Suddenly, the fear for my mother and anxiety that led up to the attack down south start resurfacing. The memories of when I had stupidly faced down a vindictive vampire in the dance studio played in the forefront of my mind. I’m back there, lying on the floor, bleeding and burning from the vampire venom coursing through my arm.

The sound of fire and screams fill my ears, even over the haze of the pain I was in. It is like nothing I'd ever-

"Bella."

My eyes snap to Carlisle's golden ones. They are filled with such strong understanding that the memories quickly fade back to catacombs of my silly mind. A burn in my lungs suddenly makes itself known and I gasp in a deep breath of air. Apparently trips down memory lane result in forgetting how to breathe. Good to know.

Beyond saying my name to bring me back, Carlise remains silent and lets me gather my thoughts. His silent presence is just what I need right now. No hovering and touching and hugging, no asking how I am and waiting for me to lie and say I'm okay, just understanding silence and space to breathe.

In and out. In and out.

For the first time since I got out of the hospital several weeks ago, I feel like I'm able to start processing what had happened. I don't need to comfort Carlisle the way I have to comfort Charlie or Edward. I don't need to be strong or okay. I just need to be… alive.

In and out. In and out.

I'm home. I'm safe. I'm with my family - both of blood and of love. I'm not alone.

Finally calming down, I open my eyes with a smile. I look at Carlisle calmly sitting in his rickety chair beside me and feel a swelling of gratitude towards the old vampire. I launch myself from my perch at the edge of the bed and throw my arms around his neck. Gravity also seems to want in on this moment of loving, and I giggle as we land on the floor. Carlisle's old chair skitters across the floor and comes to rest against the wall.

Suddenly I'm overcome with a crazy realization - Carlisle fell with me. He was caught off guard! This puny human managed to surprise a three hundred something year old supernatural vampire! Victory tastes so sweet. It also helps chase away the last remnants of my memories.

The cold hard rock that is the good doctor's chest starts shaking beneath me. I start giggling again when I realize the shaking is from Carlisle quietly laughing below me. We remain sprawled on the floor of the hospital for several minutes - two slightly unhinged fools unable and unwilling to contain their laughter. This is great, I haven't laughed this freely since the time a couple years ago when Renee tried to turn our thanksgiving turkey into a hat.

"Dr Cullen? Is - is everything okay?" a high voice squeaks from the doorway. I manage to calm myself enough to open my eyes and see an older nurse wearing a shocked and slightly worried expression as she stares at the two of us. I can't help it, she looks so baffled that I start laughing harder than before. I barely notice as Carlisle leans me against the base of the bed and stands to go talk to Nurse Worried. I try to imagine how he's trying to explain this - I've no doubt there will be some crazy gossip about the cool and elusive doctor Cullen circulating the break room this evening. I kind of wish I could hear it.

I wonder if I could pass as a nurse if I stole some scrubs...

My laughter slowly dies and I realize that the nurse left at some point. I crane my neck and look at my vampire-pops. Yes! Victory again, his oh so perfect hair is totally mussed. He may as well be dancing around in a feather boa and g-string, the sight of sloppy hair looks so out of place on him. I wish I had a camera. Perhaps Alice saw this in one of her visions and can draw it for me - I'll have to remember to ask her later.

I carefully stand and stretch a bit. I feel lighter than I have in a while. All the anxiety I've carried with me since James has faded. Maybe it's temporary, but I'm going to enjoy this mood while I can. I look at the vampire in front of me and give him the most sincere smile I can.

"Thanks, Carlisle."

 

…..

 

Since Edward was out with Alice and the others hunting this afternoon, Carlisle had promised to keep me company until he returns. Lately, Carlisle promising to babysit me has been the only way to get Edward to go take care of his own needs. So here I am, preparing some dinner for myself with Esme while Carlisle sits nearby at the kitchen table reading.

Judging by the amount of ingredients Esme has been pulling out of the fridge, we'll be cooking enough to feed the entire Cullen clan even though I am the only one who will be eating any of it. I've gotten used to her excess and we've worked up a system of leftovers. And I have to admit, cooking with Esme is always a blast. Her motherly instincts, curiosity and vague human memories war with her disgust at how the food smells to her vampire senses. It's like watching a tennis match, all back and forth from one extreme to another.

After pulling out some cutting boards and reluctantly handing me a knife, the topic changes from the menu for the evening to the events of today. "Carlisle mentioned that you're officially cleared for duty, Bella. I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear that," she smiles at us both, "It's great to know you'll be all better in time for your birthday next week."

"Ugh, don't remind me," I groan. I've been trying my best not to think of my upcoming eighteenth birthday. "Alice has been constantly talking about what I should wear and how I should do my hair at my party next weekend - and I never even agreed to have a party!"

"You've got to let us celebrate you, Bella. Alice means well," Carlisle chimes in from the table. Mock glaring at him, I can see the humor in his eyes; he knows perfectly well how I feel about both being the center of attention and of parties.

"I know she does. And full disclosure, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a tiny part of me that's flattered by it all." Not wanting the others to think this means I'm giving up the fight I quickly continue, "But it's all too much! I mean, my actual birthday is the next Tuesday, so it's not even appropriate. And I really don't need anyone making a big deal out of it."

"Give us the day, dear. You know you won't be able to out stubborn us on that. And while the boys are out on their hunting trip at the end of the week, it will be just Alice, Rose and myself planning. And I promise to do my very best to reign in some of Alice's more extravagant ideas."

I snort, "I trust Rosalie in that more than you. She's not my biggest fan, so I think she'll be more than happy to burst Alice's party-for-Bella bubble."

"Give Rose some time, dear," Esme whispers. I smile at her, to let her know I'm not upset by what I said about Rosalie. Everyone knows we aren't besties - we're just different. And we hardly know each other.

Smiling, the woman adds, "Though you are right, in this case. Part of the reason I'm involving Rose is that I know she won't tolerate letting Alice go too crazy for you." Carlisle lets loose a snort from where he's sitting and I grin.

I let the topic rest, and for a few minutes we're silent as Esme and I chop vegetables. My thoughts happily speed away from the dreaded birthday party and drift back to my victory this afternoon in getting Carlisle to lose a bit of his composure - I seriously think trying to surprise the doctor could be my new favorite game. And it's time to rope in another player. I set down my knife and turn so I can see both Esme beside me and Carlisle sitting and reading behind her.

"I knocked Carlisle flat on his back, Esme."

The end of my sentence is punctuated with the snap of Carlisle's book closing.

"You two… fought?" Esme asks. I can hear the confusion and doubt oozing off of her words - she has no idea what to make of my story.

"Don't worry, love, we didn't fight," the doctor says quickly. "Bella simply caught me by surprise earlier."

"So she what, tackled you?" Esme sounds even more confused now. Understandably so, with a vampire's strength, grace and reflexes, it's a cold day in hell when a puny, clumsy human can knock a vampire of his feet. Or chair, as the case here is.

"She did, love. I had just finished her checkup when she tackled me in my chair with what I assume was supposed to be a hug. I was surprised and fell backwards out of the chair."

I don't even try to repress my snort at the memory. Esme looks like she's trying hard to hide her own.

"One of the nurses walked in and saw us sprawled on the floor. Unsurprisingly, the rumor mill was very busy in the hour before Bella and I headed back here. The gossips are having a field day with the news of my torrid affair," Carlisle tries to pass off the rest of the story with a roll of his eyes, but I'm going to assume that I see a bit of embarrassment in his posture too. I don't know him well enough - yet - to know for sure, but hey, a girl can dream!

"What's this - I have a new mother?" An amused voice drawls from the doorway. It's a voice I haven't heard much, but its slight southern accent is unmistakable - Jasper. Jasper is the one Cullen I am even more unfamiliar with than Rosalie. Beyond our ill fated flight to Phoenix, I have had almost zero interaction with the elusive Cullen. I know he's an empath, is a bit newer to the vegetarian diet than the rest, and has some kind of relationship with Alice, though apparently they aren't tied by the old ball and chain like the others are. But beyond that… Jasper is pretty much a complete stranger.

Well, there is only one way to change the whole 'stranger' thing. I muster every ounce of social courage I have and raise my finger to point at him. It doesn't even waver as he raises an eyebrow at my pointing.

"Young man, you'd better start showing your mama some respect or it's off to boarding school!"

Shit, that was dumb, I can't believe how stupid that sounded. Why did I say that? I keep staring at Jasper, with the mock glare frozen onto my face. Seconds tick by, and I'm sure Jasper is aware of how nervous I am.

He blinks. He smirks. "Sorry, mother dear, it's just a bit of a surprise is all."

And just like that, my nerves are gone. Well, most of them at least. Enough for me to function like the somewhat sane human I am.

"You can apologize, by finishing up the chopping for myself and your other mother. Actions speak louder than words, you know!" I smile, carefully holding my knife out for him.

Before I can blink, Jasper is at my side and wrenching the knife out of my hand. Probably sensing my flare of discomfort from the exchange, he sends me a wry grin and a quiet "Sorry, darlin'." Then he gets to work chopping the rest of the vegetables two feet from where I'm still leaning against the cupboard, humming something under his breath.

I glance over at Esme and smile at the happy but slightly baffled expression on her face. Apparently she is a bit surprised by Jasper deciding to join in on family time with the human. Noticing my gaze, she gives me a quick wink and starts up the stove.

 

…...

 

Dinner is done half an hour later, and my slight bemusement at suddenly having the most elusive of the Cullen clan hanging around grew as he sits down with Carlisle, Esme and myself at the table. Having long gotten used to being the only one eating when I was at the Cullen house, I only hesitate briefly before digging into my dinner - humming at the delicious taste of the veggies while I contentedly listen to Carlisle and Esme discussing something about gardening.

I'm halfway through my dinner when I finally brave a glance at Jasper. He's been totally silent since our brief exchange earlier. He has his eyes closed and a small smile on his face. Remembering his empathic abilities, I can't help but wonder if he finds sitting together with family even more relaxing than I do.

"So is a happy family meal like empath-crack?"

Apparently my brain to mouth filter is taking a vacation.

I can't tell what happens quicker - his eyes snapping open, or my face turning a terrifyingly bright shade of red. I'm dimly aware of silence falling on the other side of the table as well. What is it with me and my big mouth and my awkward brain today? Though, I also think I may have scored another victory on the 'surprising Dr. Cullen' scoreboard, so at least I can take that to my embarrassment-induced grave.

"Yes," The answer is brief and accompanied by a smirk as Jasper closes his eyes once again and relaxes further into his seat at the table.

Not quite sure what to do with that, I look over at Esme and see her hand on her face and her shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. Carlisle looks similarly amused.

And what the hell, while we're on the topic of asking ill-advised questions….

"Can you guys like… all hear it when I'm peeing here?"

Esme lets out a loud shriek of laughter at that one.

 

….

 

Dinner is done, dishes are washed, and Carlisle and Jasper have long fled from my barrage of unrestrained questions by the time the rest of the Cullens arrive back at the house. I had planned on heading home after packing up my leftovers, but the look on Edward's face as he approaches me and gently takes one of my hands clues me in that I'm not going to be leaving without his overprotective tendencies rearing their head again.

As we walk into his room, always a bit chillier than the rest of the house, Edward immediately rushes to his window and grabs a familiar blanket. "Here Bella, before you are too cold," Edward whispers into my hair as he wraps the blanket around me. It's such a familiar action, I smile at his thoughtfulness. He always seems hyper-aware of my more human needs, like staying warm and sleeping.

"I think I should skip the hunting trip, so I can be nearby when you need me," Edward murmurs as he guides me to sit down.

I can't help but cringe a bit at the wording there, and brace myself to try and out-stubborn the vampire behind me. Giving myself a moment to prepare a strategy, I stride over to Edward's couch and settle down on it, curling my feet underneath me and looking up into darkening golden eyes.

"You've taken such good care of me this summer," I begin, and a sincere smile comes onto my face at the thought of how amazing that attention felt at first. "But now it's your turn to be taken care of."

Edward drops to his knees in front of me, grabs my hands and I quickly continue on before he starts speaking, "Let me finish, Edward."

The vampire doesn't look happy about being silenced, but I barrel on before he can decide not to let me finish.

"I need you to listen to me, Edward. I. Am. Fine. I am safe. James is gone, and you don't need to hover over me all the time waiting for his ghost to appear and seek revenge." Edward looks about ready to speak, so I quickly give him a peck on the lips and continue, "Esme, Alice and Rose will all be here, if I need anything. And you won't be any use if you don't feed and keep yourself healthy, Edward. As much as you want me to be safe? I want you to be too."

Edward sighs and drops his head, "You know I just worry, Bella. You'll never be safe in this world. I love you, but I'm not good for you. I'm-"

"For fuck's sake, Edward!" I hiss, jumping off the couch and whirling around to face him. "I'm in this world. I'm not leaving this world! So… can we just… move forward?"

The room is silent for a long minute, the sounds of evening filtering in through Edward's open as I stare into Edward's golden eyes. He looks like he is struggling with his thoughts, and I'm not sure what else to say, so I stand there and wait for him to be ready to speak.

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"I'll try. I'll go hunt and try to not worry about you and to not think about you in danger. I'll see how it works." Edward finally concedes.

I give him a small smile, and the rest of our conversation passes without drama. Before I know it, I'm waving him goodbye as I leave the Cullen house, trying to pretend I don't know that he will follow me home and keep watch over me while I sleep.

 

.....

 

After what I really hope is a 'leave me alone' dismissive wave at Jessica and Mike as I walk into the art room, I hurry to my seat in the back of the class and throw my head upon the tabletop. Tomorrow is the day that Edward and the other Cullen men are leaving on their three day hunting trip - the first time that Edward will spend any real time away from his protective stance at my side in months. He is still not happy about that. All day he's been plastered to my side to the point where he almost followed me into the restroom between classes earlier.

I loved all the attention he gave me after my injuries at first. I still do, to an extent. But… this is getting to be a bit much. I can't even pee without him knowing where I'm going. I love Edward, but I'd be lying if I said I'm not thrilled he's going to be out of town a few days. And once he's back and realizes I am fine, I can't help but hope that he'll let up on the coddling. We can go back to being equals. Or as much of equals as we ever were. Were we? Surely we were...

I bang my head on my desk a few more times for good measure. I just want to do something spontaneous, something that I don't ask permission for or have to explain to anyone.

And that's what I'm going to do.

Seconds before the bell to start class rings I leap up from my table, grab my bag and sprint out the back door. I'm across the campus and piling into my old truck shortly after.

"Wohoo!" I yell, slapping my hands on my steering wheel. The engine chugs to life and I let out another whoop for good measure.

Now what? I've never actually cut class before. I'm not sure what the expected course of action from here is. But, I guess this is one of those 'learn by doing' moments.

I pull out of the parking lot and start driving down the streets of Forks without a destination in mind. At least my indecision has the advantage of hopefully keeping Alice in the dark about my sprint to freedom. It's no good trying to play hookie from my loving but overprotective boyfriend if his sister lets him in on my plan before I even fully know it myself. But maybe Alice will just keep it quiet till the end of school. If she sees me needing this, then I'm sure she will.

Feeling a bit more solid about my not-plan I focus back on the road. I let out a laugh as I realize that I've instinctively been heading towards the secluded Cullen house. But really, that's not a terrible plan. I've always felt safe and more or less welcome here. Emmett's supposedly off at college now along with Rosalie and Jasper, so he hangs around the house a lot. Maybe we can watch a movie or something. And if he's not here I'll just nick one of Carlisle's books and read for a while.

I'm so excited about my plan that my truck has barely stopped before I'm jumping out and running up the front steps. Without even knocking I step inside and head towards the faint sounds of a TV coming from the living room. There I am met with not one, but three pairs of golden eyes. Crap, I'd been excited to see Emmett, but hadn't realized that would likely mean that Rosalie and Jasper are here too. They're all still staring at me seconds later, and I realize I should say hi or something before they think something is wrong. Instead I blurt out "I skipped class!"

Emmett is lets out a bellow of laughter, picks me up, and spins me around. Once he'd done, he carries me over to the couch and sets me down. "I'm so proud of my baby sister!" Emmett croons.

"So, mother dearest, what brought this on?" Jasper questions from where he's sprawled in a sofa chair.

I open my mouth before I realize I'm not sure how to explain. Luckily, I'm saved from explanations by Rosalie of all people.

"... 'mother dearest'?" The beautiful blonde questions, perfectly sculpted eyebrows raised in a look of scornful incredulity.

Did I say saved?

And Jasper, the prick, just smiles and unpauses the game he and Emmett were apparently playing. He takes a few cheap shots against Emmett's character before Emmett realizes the game is back on. I stare at the TV with about as much focus as Emmett until the match is over, hoping that will be long enough for Rose to give up her questions. But it's just my luck that when the match ends and I brave a glance over at her, she is still staring at us with the same expression. Curse vampires and their immortal patience.

"Oh, didn't you hear? Carlisle's leaving Esme for Bella - it's all quite scandalous and-"

It's my own hand on Jasper's face that cuts off his next words. My other hand is grabbing the chair cushion and beating him over the head with it before I think it though.

Jasper stills below me, and I meet his eyes that suddenly seem a bit too focused. That's when I realize I've practically shoved my arm into the mouth of a vampire who still struggles with his blood cravings. I slowly remove the hand and stand. Jasper stays still and doesn't break the eye contact. Suddenly wanting to apologize, I instead lift up the pillow once more and hit him over the head again, before retreating back to my previous seat on the couch by Emmett.

This time, I really am saved by Rose. She's the one brave enough to break the slightly awkward silence by getting up and putting a movie into the DVD player and turning it on.

I don't even get too embarrassed when I realize the movie she's picked is American Beauty.

 

 

As soon as school ended, Edward shows up at the Cullen house, looking both frantic and displeased as he takes in the image of me lounging on the couch with his siblings. The rest of the evening since has been spent with Edward to calm him down and assure him once more that it is fine for him to leave on the hunting trip.

The next morning, as I get ready to sit through one last school day before the weekend, I run into Charlie in the kitchen. Usually he'd be at work by now, but he must be going in late to give him time to prepare for his weekend fishing trip. I remember him saying he'd be leaving right from work today. Expecting to have some cereal for breakfast, I'm excited to see that Charlie has somehow managed to scramble some eggs for the both of us. Eggs were one of the three dishes my father can cook without ruining, so I don't have to put on a brave face while I eat.

We eat in silence. Ever since Phoenix, I haven't been sure what to say around Charlie and he always seems more than happy to just let being in each other's company convey his thoughts.

"Well, Bella, I'm off." Charlie says warmly as he the empty dishes to the sink. After quickly rinsing them and putting them in the washer, he looks over at me. "You be good, okay, Bella?"

I smile at him - so happy I don't have to assure him that it's okay to leave me alone. Then I walk over and give him a big bear hug, just because I can.

"Love you, dad." I whisper. Than I push him out the door so he won't be late.

 

 

History is much more interesting to me ever since I met the Cullens. I mean - they were alive during these events in my textbook! Someday I'm going to remember to ask them more about their early lives and what life was like all those years ago.

But even as interesting as I find the subject now, there is only so much studying I can do on a Friday night before my attention wanders.

Alone in the house for the first time since I returned from Phoenix, I find myself feeling in an oddly reflective mood. And like most times I get in this mood, my mind wanders towards my future.

What will my life be like now that I have entered the world of vampires and legends? I think I'd like to be changed by the Cullens one day. But I've some to realize that I don't need it to happen right now. Or next year. Or the year after that. Being human a bit longer won't hurt anything, and I'm going to make the most out of these next few years. Once Charlie gets home, I'll talk to him about maybe letting me go spend Thanksgiving with mom. I should probably stop by and assure her I'm fine and healthy after my 'accident'. Hell, maybe I'll even ask to go with Charlie on one of his fishing trips. Though hopefully I'll talk myself out of that one before I bring it up.

Hunger getting the best of me, I head into the kitchen and grab a bag of chips then head back into the living room. When I return, the bag of chips quickly falls from my hands to the ground as I find myself staring straight into bright red eyes.

The vampire is at my throat before I can think to scream.

Chapter Text

Rosalie

“If I have to spend one more minute listening to you debate about if we should go with a dark or a light blue tablecloth for Bella Swan’s birthday, I will rip out your tongue and toss it in the fire.” I growl, glaring daggers into my sister’s wide golden eyes. 

“Rosalie does have a point, dear,” Esme chimes in, stepping between the two of us to assure there will be no vampire bitch fights in the mall. “You know how Bella feels about us making too big a deal out of her birthday. Besides, her favorite color is forest green and I already bought the perfect one.”

Alice’s attention immediately focuses on the bag in Esme’s hand. Before the girl can demand to see it and whine about not seeing the purchase in a vision, I step forward and grab the bag. “I’m taking this to the car and leaving in 30 minutes, with or without you two.”

I don’t even wait for an answer before I’m off heading towards the parking garage. Enough is enough. I do love shopping, but shopping for the human has gotten old very fast.

Besides, there is something I need to do and I sure as hell don’t want Alice or Esme to see it. If I’m really lucky, Alice is so focused on seeing Bella’s perfect party that she won’t get a glimpse of my next task in her visions. Emmett has whined and begged me all week to do this, so here I am - I have to get Isabella Swan a birthday gift.

Life sucks.

It’s not that I hate her, I just don’t like her very much. Sure, her lack of fear when surrounded by vamps like us is refreshing. And I admit to being impressed by her ease around Jasper even after she’s been warned about his fragile control. But as soon as my dear brother Edward comes in, she’s all doe eyed and spineless. It’s disgusting. It’s too close to certain things in my own past that I sure as hell am not going to let myself think of again.

Stupid human needs to grow a spine and stop trying to take me down memory lane.

Alright, let’s get this over with.

 

……

 

Three hours later find me helping Esme decorate the dining area while Alice is busy getting out the fine china in the kitchen. I’m finding myself more and more eager for tomorrow to come, if only just so this birthday party can get itself over with and I can stop hearing about it every other second.

A loud crash from the kitchen has myself and Esme running over as quick as we can.

Alice is in the middle of the room, surrounded by broken crystal and gazing into the middle distance as she does when hit by a particularly powerful vision. In the blink of an eye, Alice is out of it and in full on panic mode.

“No, no, no! How could I not have seen this?!” the petite girl croons as she falls to her knees and claws at her face. Esme is by her side in a flash and holding onto Alice’s arms as the girl continues to moan.

I fall to her other side and grab her face between my hands. “Alice, what is is? Is it Emmett? Jasper?”

There is no response from Alice, and I meet Esme’s concerned eyes over Alice’s head. I drop Alice’s face and run to get my phone from the dining room table. I’m about to dial Emmett when Alice lets out a scream and rushes out the door. I throw my phone into my pocket and run after her, Esme coming up right beside me. Alice is running faster than I’ve ever seen her move, and I’m finding it harder and harder to remain calm. If something happened to the boys, to Emmett -

Suddenly I realize that we are not running deeper into the woods but towards town. That calms me a bit - the boys are all in the opposite direction, so they must be safe. They had better be safe.

They had better be safe becomes my mantra for the rest of the agonizingly long sprint. But then we’ve arrived at our destination and relief mixes with exasperation. The Swan house is a destination I should have expected as soon as I realized we were headed to town, yet I’m still vaguely surprised to see it. What has the girl gotten into now?

Alice has come to a grinding halt outside the house, a hand clamped over her nose. I take a sniff and feel a surge of hunger at the overpowering smell of blood that fills my nose. I stop breathing immediately, and fight the urge to turn around and leave. I don’t know if I trust my control around so much blood, but ….

I look at Alice and Esme beside me, both shocked and still. Horror is written plainly across their faces. No doubt that they are imagining what the inside of the house must look like.

“You can wait here,” I whisper to them as I slowly head towards the open back door.

The house is quiet, but I can hear a faint heartbeat straight ahead. I walk through the kitchen and into a small sitting room. And there she is - the birthday girl, lying in a pool of blood, skin ripped open around her neck, arms, legs. God, she looks like she was mauled. I close my eyes briefly, the memory of finding Emmett looking similarly torn apart in the forest so many years ago flashing in my mind.

A dry, tearless sob brings me back to the present and I see Esme has entered the house and is standing by my side. Steps behind me signal Alice joining us as well.

“She’s alive.”

We all know this, Alice. We all can hear her quiet heartbeat. But I guess I can understand the desire to confirm the truth out loud.

“She’s changing.” Esme’s wavering voice sounds very certain, and I realize she must have smelled something under all this blood. I envy her control, but won’t risk trying to verify that myself.

“Yes.” Alice acknowledges, slipping her small hand into mine and squeezing for comfort. I allow it, and look at her to continue. “My vision … It was Victoria. She was here, screaming about James and the pain and revenge.”

That… doesn’t make sense. “If she wanted revenge for Edward killing James, why not kill Bella? Why turn her?”

Alice doesn’t answer, staring at the broken girl in front of them and looking lost. I just shake my head - why doesn’t matter for now. We have a newborn vampire on the way.

“We don’t have time for this. We need to get Bella somewhere safe and remote.” Esme declares, calming down and starting to plan. “We need a crime scene to explain no body as well…”

“You two can deal with killing human Bella. Meanwhile I’ll take her.” There are two pairs of shocked eyes staring at me, but I can’t even take a moment to bask in having surprised the prescient Alice. Though Alice’s expression quickly morphs into one I am familiar with - the far-off look she gets when in a vision.

While my sister is otherwise occupied, Esme tried to work out how to ask what we both know she wants to ask, “Rose, dear, why....”

A miserable groan from Bella cuts of Esme’s question and we both stare at the changing human. It really hasn’t been too long since I was changed - not even a century - and I can remember that burning pain all too well. Bella quiets again and I softly try to answer what Esme was wanting to ask, “Why me? Why me, when everyone knows I’m not particularly fond of her? Whether I like it or not, Bella has been accepted into the family and I need to get used to it.”

“Rosalie,” Esme starts, as she comes over and places her hand on my arm.

“It doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is that I’m supposed to be off at college with Emmett and Jasper. No one will notice if I disappear because no one knows I’m even still here.”

“It will work,” Alice chimes in, startling both Esme and I. I hadn’t realized she was out of her vision. She looks a bit more grounded now - I bet any vision is a comfort for my sister after being blindsided by this mess. Though there is something about her knowing look this time that is sadder than normal. She grabs a blanket from the couch and places it over Bella, smoothing a miraculously blood-free lock of the girls’ hair from her face.

“I will work,” she reiterates. “It will be a hard road, and some things will change, but it will work”

And for now, that’s all we really need to know. I snap into action, going to Bella and picking her up. I try to keep the bloody bits covered by the blanket, but it doesn’t do much good. Luckily, the smell of the venom in her bloodstream has already started to change her scent - her blood is tempting but not excruciatingly so.

I stalk back toward the back door, calling out to my family behind my shoulder, “I’m taking her up to the Alberta house. You two clean up the loose ends here.”

When I’m back in the cool night air I pause a moment. What have I just signed up for, I can’t help but wonder as I feel Bella shift in my arms. Just before I sprint off into the woods behind the house I hear Alice call out, “Emmett and Jasper will be on their way to you as soon as they are back!”

I don’t bother to respond and in less than a minute, I am out of hearing range and sprinting as fast as I can back home. It feels like mere seconds later when I’m in our garage and piling the human into the back of Emmett’s jeep - no way in hell am I ruining my car by giving its leather interior a human blood coating. We’ll have to burn the Jeep later - this smell will never come out.

I don’t want to risk leaving her alone even for the shot time it would take me to pack a bag. So I simply jump into the driver’s seat, start the car, and pull out into the night.

Chapter Text

Jasper

 

A wave of unease launches into me as our house comes into view. "Well, fuck me" I gasp, momentarily taken by surprise by the strength of the emotion.

"What's that Jasper? " Emmett crows, loping along beside me, "You still sore about losing that bear to little old me?"

"I lost the bear because I caught scent of a cougar. You just settled for second best," I correct, my brother's distraction allowing me to regain my equilibrium after hitting this wall of emotions. That's Emmett for you, every now and then his idiotic comments are perfectly timed to help distract me when I get caught by all the feelings filling the air.

Emmett grumbles about the hunt as we near the front porch but I pay him little attention. Instead I concentrate on the unease coming from inside; Alice and Esme are the source. Nothing at all from Rose, which means she isn't there. Shit… if she's run off in a huff again we're going to be dealing with a morose Emmett for weeks. Not my idea of a good time. Though considering how Rose's been forced to join the Bella-party-planning parade, I shouldn't be surprised. It can't be too much worse than this - I mean if it was, surely Alice would have seen and said something. Though our little pixie has always kept her cards close to her chest. Even with as close as the two of us have been over the years - both as friends and more-than-just-occasional lovers - I'm often finding myself surprised by what she doesn't share until the events are practically crawling up our asses.

Now the real question, should I warn the others about whatever shit storm we're about to encounter inside?

"Come on Jazz! I wanna see my Rosie!"

And Emmett's running inside the house, Edward close on his heels - too late for warnings then. This should be interesting.

I grab Carlisle's arm as he makes to pass by me as well. As he looks towards me with confusion, I send him a wave of the unease I'm feeling from inside the house. Pursing his lips he nods and together we follow the others into the house. Inside, I see everyone - except Rosalie - is gathered in the living room. Alice is nervously hovering behind the couch, grasping desperately onto the sitting Esme's shoulders. Both look a lot graver than I expected.

"Why are you blocking me?" Edward growls.

Emmett chimes in now, catching both the tension in the room and the absence of his wife, "Where the hell is Rose?" Shit, at this rate, we'll never hear what's going on. I send out a strong wave of calm, causing both of my brothers to quiet long enough for the girls to steel their nerves. Esme looks at Edward, and the unease finally gives way to strong sorrow and guilt. That is never a healthy combination. Carlisle is sitting at his wife's side in an instant. Taking her hands in his, I feel their combined love and support giving her the strength to speak.

"Bella's been bitten."

Edward's rage hits me and in a flash am beside Edward and holding him back from whatever crazy physical display of distress he'd been about to launch into. I practically sedate the room with the strength of my calm-the-fuck-down waves, but still it takes a couple minutes for Edward's struggles and growls to quiet.

"Who?" Emmett asks.

"Victoria."

For an instant, my surprise at Esme's words cause me to waver and the calm I'm projecting shatters. Edward is instantly snarling beneath me and I have to start the process of forcibly calming him down all over again. It takes even longer this time for the room to quiet, but my calm isn't going to keep this level of rage and pain at bay long. "If Victoria went after Bella, it would be for revenge - the girl'd be dead, not changing," I point out.

At this, Alice finally speaks up, unusually subdued, "I… I didn't see it until it was too late. Victoria must have been acting purely on instinct up until then. I saw her-"

A scream from Edward and I call over Emmett to help me restrain him. Impatient idiot must've taken a look into Alice's mind to see for himself. I turn up the calming waves I'm sending out. Any more and everyone else will be catatonic, but my stupid brother is fighting the influence with every emotion he has. Together, Emmett and I lower Edward so he's laying sprawled on the floor. Emmett promptly sits on him, but with a lot less joy than he would have under normal circumstances.

Alice sends me a sad smile and continues, "I saw Victoria decide to kill Bella. Then I saw her decide not to kill her. I don't - I don't see intentions or thoughts or emotions, so I can't tell you why. I just know that she stopped the attack and left. When Rose, Esme and I got there the change had already started."

There is silence in the room as we all digest the news. There are a million questions still to ask - What now? How do we make Bella disappear? Where is Bella? Where is Rose? - but I can tell no one is ready to talk further. And by no one I mostly mean Edward.

"She's dead." a heartbroken moan breaks the silence.

"Fuck, Edward, were you listening to Alice? Bella's not dead, she's turning," I growl.

"Turning! She's turning!" Edward moans again, struggling underneath Emmett. "She's gone!"

I don't have the patience to deal with Edward's misguided self-hatred about vampirism right now. So I try to ignore his moans and look at Carlise, silently demanding he take control of this. "Rose took her then?" the doctor asks, arms around both women to provide comfort. I briefly wonder if I should be over there with him to help calm Alice, but it is better provide a barrier between Edward and the others should he squirm out from under Emmett.

Esme and Alice quietly explain Rose taking Bella and the work the girls did to turn the Swan house into a burning tomb that will explain the tragic death of the human known as Bella Swan. Edward grows more agitated as the story progresses. As soon as it is over, Carlisle looks at me and I sense a wave of resignation from him as he leaves Esme's side and crouches by Edward.

"Come with me, Edward," he demands in a tone that my brother would never argue with. Emmett carefully stands up and in a flash Carlisle and Edward are gone from the house and Edwards howls of rage and despair echo in the distance.

There is silence in the house following Edward and Carlisle's departure. Esme and Alice are still clinging together on the couch and the morose emotions that have been swirling around since we returned are finally starting to get to me. I need to make a quick exit while I can still think through this fuckin' pain everyone is throwing my way.

"Pack your and Rose's things, Emmett. We've got a long drive ahead of us," I tell my brother as I disappear towards my own room. It doesn't even take me a full five minutes to pack enough to keep me for the next few months. As I turn to leave the room, Alice arrives in the doorway holding a few books I assume she took from the store of things I leave in her room for when we're more 'on' than 'off'.

She sends me a weak grin as I take what she's offering and I send her a wave of calm and pleasure in return. Turning around to toss the books in my duffel I feel another bag hitting the back of my head.

"That's for Bella," she says to me as I swirl around and grab the offending bag off the floor. I can feel her conflicted emotions swirling within her. The guilt, however, is one I need to nip in the bud.

"Alice," I say, as I move to cup her face in my hands, "you may see glimpses of the future, but you're no god. What happened tonight is nothing you could have prevented. Your vision… it wasn't too late to save Bella. It was soon enough to allow us to save the situation. You know what could have happened if a human had found her."

I sense her doubt and give her a quick kiss. Pulling away I smirk at her, "Right now, you're the hero of the hour." Alice smiles, removes her head from my grasp, and smacks my arm just hard enough to hurt. But the guilt is fading.

That's my pixie.

I turn around and zip up my bag, hoisting it and Bella's bag on my shoulder. Emmett downstairs saying his loud goodbyes to Esme. It's time to go.

Before I head down to meet him, I see Alice slipping into one of her visions. Her emotions fluctuate and flash by so quickly I can't identify each one before it's gone. Then she speaks.

"Jasper," she trails off after saying my name and her emotions settle on an enticing mix of excitement and uncertainty. I send her a wave of curiosity and concern, silently asking her to tell me what it is she saw. Excitement wins out and she lets out a small laugh. She looks into my eyes and beams. "It's going to be great," she whispers to me.

 

…..

 

Emmett is uncharacteristically quiet for the first three hours we drive. I don't need to evaluate his emotions to understand - this certainly wasn't how I was expecting the weekend to go.

Dawn is breaking and Emmett is taking a turn at driving when he finally speaks up.

"Edward's an idiot."

I snort and send the big lug a wave of amusement, too laze to verbalize a response.

"Yeah yeah, I know. No news there. But seriously… he better get his act together before he meets back up with us in June."

I don't know what to say to that. Edward's issues with being a vampire have plagued the boy for his entire existence. And I've been able to feel the depth of his feelings about vampires for long enough to be justifiably concerned about how he's gonna react when he reunites with Bella.

The conversation ends there and silence fills the car for a while before Emmett speaks again. "It might be too soon to admit to this…" Emmett starts, looking a bit uncertain. I just grunt slightly to urge him to continue.

"I'm kinda pumped about Bella finally being one of us!"

"She's gonna be somethin', that's for sure."

Emmett laughs and reaches to turn on the radio. Mood lightened, he spends the next hour singing enthusiastically along with every song that plays.

 

…..

 

It's dawn again when we finally can see the Alberta house through the trees. Emmett floors the gas and the car flies the last few yards towards the front of the house. As soon as the car is parked, Emmett is out of the car. Rose appears at the door and is in Emmett's arms before I make my own way out of the car. I take a moment to vicariously enjoy their reunion before a sense of pain from deeper inside the house draws my attention.

I walk past the reunited fools and follow the feeling into a cozy room on the first floor.

Bella.

Rose cleaned the girl up and must have changed her into a set of old pajamas that must have been left here last time we stayed. The girl's clean, pale skin makes it very easy to see the marks that changed her - I couldn't be more glad that Edward didn't come with us.

"They won't fade, will they?" Rosalie asks from behind his shoulder, as both she and Emmett join me in the room.

"No, they won't," I reply as I step closer to take a look at the bite marks that litter her neck arms and legs. Vampire bites cause scarring, and it looks like Victoria made damn sure that Bella would turn and would remember the event. I'm sure I won't be forgetting either.

I sit in the chair by her bed and stare at the girl. From what I can sense, she's got about a day left of burning before she'll be fully turned. It's been a long time since I've dealt with a newborn, and I've never done so since I left Maria's army, so this should be….

Well, it should be interesting to say the least.

Chapter Text

Interlude: Alice

 

Bella is alive.

Bella is alive and safe in Canada with Rose, Emmett, and Jasper. I know that, yet as I stand here in my black dress, it's easy to forget. It's easy think of how easily this funeral could have truly been the end of Bella Swan, had Victoria not changed her mind at the last moment.

Edward has barely said a word since he heard the news. Anyone looking at him would see a boy grieving as fiercely as Charlie and all the other mourners gathered here today. I can't tell how much - if any - of his grief is faked. I'm afraid that he won't adjust well when he and Bella are reunited and he sees her as a vampire. And by 'afraid' I mean… certain.

I close my eyes, and let another vision wash over me. I've been having a lot of them these past two weeks. My vision plays out in my mind, and I realize that maybe these people aren't wrong to sob and sniffle and mourn. Bella will still be Bella, but no one is the same after changing. Not entirely, at least.

Looking over at Edward I sigh. Discovering who Bella will be won't be easy for all of us, but she will bring out the best in our family. That much I do know. Focusing on that knowledge is all that's getting me through this day.

The people around me begin singing a soft, solemn tune. The sound they create is chilling - broken voices crying out words of hope, doused in sorrow. I let out a low whine as the song draws towards the climax and Angelina from school collapses into full blown sobs. Carlisle's hand comes to rest on my shoulder and I lean in towards him.

The song comes to an end and just like that, the ceremony and life of Bella Swan is over. Edward wastes no time in turning and staggering off to the car, Esme and Carlisle following close behind him.

I stay put a while longer and try to memorize this scene in case Bella ever asks. In case she never asks.

Chapter Text

Bella

 

Hunger.

Oh god, it burns. I need to eat.

I need… I need….

My eyes snap open. Or… they've always been open? Where am I? Does it matter?

Hunger.

Hands in front of my face. They're mine. But they don't have what I need. I need… I need to eat.

There is a sound in my ears. It won't stop. I turn and there it is. A … him. He's not food. He doesn't have food. Family? Not a threat at least. Or is he?

Another sound… another him appears. Bigger. Not food. I growl now, frustrated. Don't they understand, I need to eat!

First him grabs me roughly. Lifts me as I scratch at his face. Hungry!

Air hits my face. Outside? Food? I smell something. Or hear something? It's…. It's…. There!

Hunger.

Hunger.

I crash into something and hear an animalistic scream as I finally find the food I needed. It is not… not perfect, but it is food. I eat.

 

….

 

I keep hunting, but I can tell know that hunger is not everything that I am. I think. As blood runs down my chin a word fills my mind.

Bella.

I shake my head and use my fingers to catch some of the blood on my face. A word does not satisfy my hunger. Whatever Bella is, it does not matter.

I know the faces of the others. The one who helps me hunt, I know he can feel my emotions, my hunger. There is also the big one and the beautiful one, who hunt with me. They are not food. They are 'family'. I know that is important, but I can't remember why.

For now, I am fine with this… 'family'... being here. As long as they do not keep me from satisfying my hunger.

 

…..

 

I scream in rage and launch myself at the one who helps me hunt. How dare he?! How dare he chase off my kill?!

The man snarls at me and forces me down on the ground. I want to rip out his throat, but the nagging sense of 'family' keeps me still.

"Bella"

That word. I know that word. Shaking my head I growl once more. All that matters know is this man who dares restrain me.

"Bella Swan, listen to me." The one who helps me hunt is still holding me down. I scream in his face to try and get him to leave me alone. I don't care to acknowledge his words. I just want to hunt! I am hungry!

"You will not eat again until you listen to me," the one who hunts snarls in my face. I look around for the big one and the beautiful one - surely they will help me escape. But they are not nearby. I snarl in displeasure and turn back to meet the other's golden eyes.

"Bella Swan."

I growl and try to bite his stupid nose.

"Bella, darlin'."

I refuse to admit to the hitch in my growl. I am probably weak from hunger.

"Bella."

My eyes close, and I let go of my grip on the hunger. That word. That name. My name. It sinks in and other thoughts begin to fill my mind. It hurts - the hunger is so much easier. But, it is also… good?

"Jasper."

The one who helps me hunt - Jasper - smirks and then is off of me. I leap to my feet and run off, catching the scent of food and intent on my hunt once more. Jasper can share I guess, if he keeps up.

 

….

 

It becomes a trend. Jasper will stop me from hunting, force me to remember things from before this hunger. I don't like it. But I know now it is important. The more I remember, the less I want to forget. The hunger gets easier to manage the more names and events I remember.

Human - that is what I was called. I was human, and I had family, and friends, and desires beyond this hunger. Now, laying on the carcass of the lion I devoured mere minutes ago, my thoughts are clear, and almost feel like… like someone again. For the first time since I woke, it feels possible that I may one day be more than this hunger.

The beautiful one - Rose? - she is here too. Sitting on a boulder nearby and watching me. I don't mind now. I know she will not steal my food and I remember enough to know she is a 'Cullen'.

My family.

My friend?

No, not a friend. But maybe later, when the hunger is smaller she will be.

My face does something weird as I look at her. Smile. That's what it is called. And she looks surprised. And she smiles back.

This is nice. I can almost forget for a second the eternal, gnawing hunger that defines me.

 

…..

 

Emmett looks sad. The bear I eat is large, and my hunger has faded enough for me to pause. Licking the blood from my lips, I stare at Emmett. I think… maybe he wanted the bear?

That sounds right to me. I remember… Emmett likes big things. He likes bears.

I let go of the bear. It is dead, but there is still food left inside of it. I turn towards Jasper, who is still on the edge of the clearing, opposite of where Emmett is. He says nothing but raises his eyebrow at me. I growl at him and all he does is smile.

I turn back towards the bear, but before I bite it once more, I think again of Emmet. Fine. Snarling I stand and rush over to Emmett. The big man tenses but stays still as I move behind him. Quickly, before I change my mind, I push him towards the bear.

He takes one step forward then stops.

I snarl and push him again, harder, forcing him down on top of the bear. Then I turn around and leave the clearing.

He can have the rest of the bear. I'm not that hungry right now. And he shouldn't be sad.

 

….

 

It used to be cold.

I remember that. I remember snow - sitting in it wrapped up in clothes and cold and wet and happy.

It's not cold now, this snow. It is still wet, though. The snow where I've moved is red from the old food that covers my clothes. The sight makes me remember something about eating snow. Was it about eating red snow? Or… yellow snow. Right, I shouldn't eat yellow snow.

I snort at the stupid though - snow is not food. I won't eat any kind of it. It does nothing for my hunger. But I'm not so hungry now. Now I just want to sit. I want to sit with the others. Where are they?

"Jasper?"

No answer. I growl. Where are they?

"Emmett?"

Still no answer. Why am I alone?

"Rose?"

Quiet. I don't like quiet. It is too quiet. I don't want to be alone. I'm not hungry, and I'm not around my family. Where are they?

I let out a loud scream.

Before my scream finishes I feel a hand on my shoulder. Jasper. He looks upset. Good. I turn my head and stare at his hand. I bite it. Hard.

Don't leave me alone, I try to convey.

Another hand lands on my head, even as I keep my teeth locked down on the one on my shoulder.

"Sorry, darlin'."

I whine and my teeth clench around the hand harder.

Don't leave me alone.

 

Chapter Text

Jasper

I'm not sure if December has some surprisingly fast or surprisingly slow. Dealing with Bella as a newborn has been an experience for all of us. I'd forgotten how strong the instinctive drive to hunt is for a newborn - a drive that's kept me, Emmett and Rose running through the woods for months, keeping an eye on Bella as she slowly learns about herself again.

When I'd dealt with newborns in the past, it was in the middle of a war. Their training was violent and if they failed it was no big trouble to just burn them and find a replacement. Before now, before Bella, I've never cared much about any specific newborn, or paid attention to their development beyond how well they were learning to fight and listen to orders. Working with Bella, keeping her safe and isolated as she settles into her new life, it's so different from my past experiences with newborns as to be totally unrecognizable. I have to admit I've been enjoying it more than I expected.

She's done well too. Back in November, when she'd shared her kill with Emmett, well… that was pretty fuckin' surprising for such a fresh vampire. Emmett had sure been thrilled after he'd gotten over the initial shock. He didn't shut up about how sweet his little sister was for a week. I'm surprised Rose didn't rip out his tongue.

And she hasn't really hurt any of us yet either. Even on day one, instead of lashing out at potential competition the way I'd anticipated, she just… processed and ignored us. I'd underestimated how deeply she thought of us all as family before.

To top it off, her emotions have started registering as things other than 'hunger' for longer and longer periods of time. Today, for the first time since she woke up, she hasn't yet hunted. Here we are, the moon high in the sky and Bella is still showing no inclination to chase down a meal. Instead she just stares at the sky, a puzzled look on her face. Curious, I tune into her emotions - all I get is a muddled mix of soft emotions too faint to distinguish. Probably lost in thought, which is a good sign for her progress. Thinking about things isn't something vampires do when consumed by hunger.

I glance over at Emmett and Rose curled together nearby. They seem relieved to have had a quiet day, Rose especially. While she has taken to Bella-sitting better than I expected, it's obvious that the constant outdoors, running and lack of opportunities to clean up back at the house are wearing on her. She's also having a harder and harder time not scrunching up her nose at Bella, who smells pretty much exactly what you'd expect from someone who hasn't bathed in months and almost daily is covering themselves in blood. The girl reeks, but there isn't much we can do about that yet.

With that thought, I take a longer look at Bella. Her hair is matted and caked together with months of mud and blood. Her skin is so dirty she could probably walk through the sunlight without a single sparkle coming through. I wince as I notice that her shirt is looking like it will fall apart any moment now. Changing her clothes has been an experience for sure. Last time she scratched up Rose's face so bad the blonde girl threw the newborn into a tree then sulked for an entire week.

But expected lack of hygiene aside, she's doing well. And I've got to admit, even though it's still ninety percent pure predator instinct, it's nice to see the girl acting so free.

I tense slightly as I notice Bella standing up. The others also notice her sudden movement but remain where they are - Rose and Emmett learned quickly to let the newborn make the first move. No one likes a panicked newborn. I stay still as she wanders over to where I'm leaning against a tree. I say nothing even when she roughly grabs my arm and starts pulling me over to where Emmett and Rose are warily watching.

When her feet are right by Rose's legs, she sits down, pulling me down with her.

This… this is new.

Bella has mostly avoided physical contact with us since she changed. Only allowing it briefly when she was feeling distressed. But this is not distressed. I focus on her emotions and still feel the same murky mix of not-much-anything-specific.

Bella locks eyes with me and slowly leans down to lay her head on Rose's lap. I almost feel like she's daring me to stop her. Or maybe she's looking to me to reassurance this is okay? I give her a small smile and she finishes laying down her head. Then she reaches an arm over her head and grabs Emmett's knee before breaking eye contact and staring at the sky once more.

I look at Rose and Emmett, who both still look a bit shell shocked at suddenly having a lap full of Bella.

Emmett meets my eyes and quietly whispers, "Dude… did you know newborns cuddle?"

….

By the time January has arrived, Bella is spending a bit more of her time lucid and in control than she is lost in the haze of hunger. She still has a long way to go - we haven't been able to lure her into the house or into a change of clothes, for example. But she is getting closer and closer to being who she used to be. Who she will be.

Ever since that strange day in mid-December, Bella has decided that cuddles are a necessity in her life. Often after hunts or during the long nights of Canadian winter, Bella will only relax when we are all huddled together. It's been a bit odd for myself and Rose. While Emmett loves what he calls 'puppy time', neither Rose nor I have ever been very physically affectionate, especially not with people we aren't sleeping with. But after being forced into a cuddle pile other over and over by a very grumpy newborn who tends to bite, we've gotten used to the strange new tradition.

I let out a small laugh, thinking about the look on the others' faces when they arrive this summer and see a giant cuddle party. Thinking about how apoplectic Edward will likely be at the sight be makes it even better. Then I wince, thinking about Edward is not a fun pastime lately. admit I'm sure as hell not lookin' forward to him meeting the new and improved Bella. Fireworks are sure to fly if the fool acts as idiotically morose and clingy as he has a tendency to do. Since she woke up, Bella has lost all shyness and reluctance about stubbornly standing her ground. She almost rivals Rose in how strongly she projects an air of 'you are only here so long as I allow it'. It's beautiful. I mean... it's just nice to see.

Damn, I can't get Bella out of my head these days. I guess that's expected when I'm around her almost 24/7, watching her grow and develop. But at least I'm not the only one totally immersed the the fuckin' joy that is raising our newborn. Emmett beams like a proud parent every time she speaks these days. She doesn't speak often, and it's usually quite disjointed, but I swear Emmett is proudly memorizing every word he hears. And as much as her face doesn't show it, Rose can't disguise the sharp surges of excitement and happiness I pick up from her when she sees Bella exploring things that don't have to do with eating. The blonde didn't even bite off Bella's hand the way I'd half been afraid of back when Bella stuck her filthy, bloody hand right into Rose's mouth to inspect my sister's fangs. No, instead Rose had just rolled her eyes, obediently opened her mouth, and tried to pick some twigs out of Bella's hair.

A Bella driven by instincts is refreshing. Ever since Phoenix, she'd seemed to dampen her feelings and personality under a layer of uncertainty whenever Edward and Alice were around. Here, she's not hiding anything from anyone. This is Bella at her purest.

I look over to where she is now - Rose and Emmett are wrestling with her in a snowy pile. Their so called 'genius' plot to try and clean her up a bit, since she we still can't get her to the house and its bathroom. She looks happy. They all look happy. For one more moment, I just close my eyes and let their happy, bubbly feelings fill me. Then I open my eyes, get up and dust some snow off my pants.

It wouldn't be very gentlemanly of me to leave Bella alone to fend off both of my siblings.

Hold on darlin', we'll show those two.

….

The landline starts ringing as I'm getting out of the shower. Fuck, forgot it was about time for the half of us still in Forks to call and check in.

"Hey there," I say into the phone as I pick it up and swing my damp towel over my head.

"Jasper! It's been awhile since you've been around for a call. How are you dear?"

Esme's voice is warm and welcoming on the other end. Damn, I didn't realize how much I missed her. I swear the woman is a saint, with her endless patience and quiet acceptance.

"Finally got a chance to head back here for a shower, so feelin' better than I was an hour ago," I admit. After all my years with Maria, I enjoy being clean and dry even more than Rose and Alice.

"I take it Bella is still staying away from the house then? How is she?"

"About the same as she was last week, I'd guess," I'm not entirely certain what she wants to hear, in terms of updates. I could wax poetic about how gloriously feral and free Bella is when she's running around, but I'm really not sure if Esme would see it as positive a sign as I do.

"Jasper, I need details!" Esme scolds. "The last three weeks of updates have all been from Emmett. And, well, he talks like a proud parent. While it's wonderful to know he cares so much for her, I'm not sure his obvious bias makes him a very accurate source of news."

That is a very good point. I admit as much to Esme and get a bright laugh in return.

So how is Bella, in ways I can explain to Esme?

"She's…"

Well damn, now that I'm trying to put words to Bella's state, I honestly have no idea what to say.

Esme doesn't seem to have the patience for my sudden inability to form a sentence. She quickly interrupts with a more direct question. "Emmett says she's been feeding you all? Surely that's not quite accurate…"

Ah. Now that I can answer. "She sure is," I also apparently can't hide the smug pride in my voice. Being provided for by a newborn is strange as fuck, but now that it's happening, it fits that Bella seems to be trying to take care of all of those she cares for the only way her instincts really can deal with right now. She's always wanted to care for those around her. Even those of us on the fringes of her word, like I was before she was bitten.

"Oh." Esme's surprise comes over the phone, and I let out a snort. "Pretty much sums it up," I tell her.

Now that I have a simple topic, I spend the next five minutes telling Esme about Bella's hunting habits lately, including the times she's allowed (forced) us all to share. Once storytime is over, Esme says a quiet goodbye, promising to call again next week.

It's not until I've hung up the phone and collapsed on the couch that I realize that Esme didn't mention anything about how the others are doing - more specifically, she mentioned nothing about how Edward is doing.

Huh.

Now that I think about it, Emmett hasn't mentioned our other brother lately either. I can't deny feeling uneasy when I imagine how he might be coping - o refusing to cope - to the idea of Bella being one of us. Though, knowing Alice, she's got her third eye laser focused on Edward right now to keep tabs on his stability. She'll give us a heads up should any angsty drama be headed our way.

I'm able to finish drying my hair and changing clothes when I pick up on a surge of familiar excitement - Emmett's nearby. I don't have the energy to deal with him yet, so I just sprawl on the couch and quietly will him to leave me be a bit longer. Even when I hear Emmett enter the house, I don't move from my place on the couch. Seconds later, he's next to me and pulling the towel off of my face. Sighing I glare up at him as I tune into his emotions again - excitement and ... nervousness? Dear fuckin' God, what now?

I push him away as I rise up to a sitting position, raising an eyebrow in question. Emmett just sits down on the couch right next to me and swings an arm around my neck. The excitement I'm feeling from him grows.

"Emmett," I growl. This is the first time in over a week I've been back at the house, and as much as I've been enjoying Bella-watch, it's now mid-February and spending the entire winter out in the mountains has been a bit exhausting. I want to enjoy couches and towels and being dry while I can.

"Rose is bringing Bella in."

What? How the hell is she going to manage what we haven't been able to do in almost 5 months?

But as I open my mouth to ask, there is a crashing by the back door, followed by a screech I'd recognize as Bella's anywhere. Rocketing towards the noise and into the kitchen by the back door, I stop and stare.

There is a buck on the ground, thrashing out as it dies while Bella's teeth sink into its side.

There is a buck in the kitchen.

I look up towards the door, blinking. Rose steps inside, looking smug as she closes the door firmly behind her.

"Rose, you are the most amazing woman I've ever known," Emmett croons from my side. He then stupidly risks pissing off Bella by jumping over her in order to get to Rose. Bella doesn't even twitch at the intrusion in her space, remaining purely focused on her kill.

Everyone's satisfaction and amusement mix together and wash over me in waves. Before I know it I'm crouching over and laughing. Then I have a newborn's hand around my elbow. Caught off guard, Bella managed to throw me onto the ground where my head lands on the dead and bloody buck.

"Shut up and eat." Bella snarls at me.

Wow.

My laughing tapers off and I stare at the girl who is twitching at my side. Reaching forward I ruffle her ratty, tangled, bloody hair before leaning down and take a long sip from the buck. As soon as I do, Bella is gone and Rose and Emmett are thrown down beside me, similarly admonished to eat.

Bella settles on the other side of the buck, staring at us solemnly as the rest of us share the remainder of her kill.

….

After some grumbling, Bella graciously allows Emmett to haul the buck outside. Lucky bastard got the easy task. While he's cleaning up the kill and the kitchen, Rose and I get to try to lure Bella into a bath.

Already, two doors, the soda and a sink have been broken. And that's the high point of this situation.

Rose and Bella are screaming at each other and I'm having a hell of a time focusing with their raging emotions hitting me. Anger, frustration, uncertainty, disgust all undercut with a strong sense of affection. Not that affection is helping convince Bella to get into the bath tub.

A particularly shrill curse from Rosalie has me wincing and closing my eyes. Then a thud makes me fling open my eyes again. Why yes, Jasper, that is Bella's fist in the wall. Before I can move forward to help her ease it out, she yanks he hand out herself and waves her fist at Rose. The blonde just glares and takes a deep breath, signalling another loud tirade.

Alright, that's enough.

For the first time since Bella has turned, I project an emotion towards her.

Calm, calm, calm.

Rose instantly stops bristling, but if anything, Bella flies even more into a fury.

Damn. I know projection doesn't work well on newborns, but I had hoped that by now-

Suddenly there is a fist in my face and teeth in my shoulder.

I let out a snarl of my own and wrap my arms around Bella. The pain sucks, but at least with her this close it's harder for her to cause trouble. I quickly pick her up off the ground and waddle towards the tub. Before Bella realizes what's happening, both of us are in the tub and Rose is turning on the shower spray.

"Thanks Jasper," My sister says, reaching for the soap on the counter.

Bella has gone oddly still under the spray and her teeth are still firmly lodged in my shoulder.

"Keep her still Jas," Rose commands as she reaches for Bella's shirt and pulls. I refuse to feel awkward as Rose undresses the girl trapped in my arms. I do admit I'm glad vampires can't blush though. Surprisingly, Bella doesn't seem to mind and is instead... Chewing?

I crane my head to get a better look, and - yes, Bella is mellowly chewing at my shoulder. Focusing on her emotions, I feel a mix of resignation and contentment. Huh.

Soap is poured over her head, yet she doesn't even twitch. As the blond begins to scrub Bella's hair, Rose's eyes meet my own. "Shouldn't chew toys squeak?" she smirks.

"Shut up."



It took one hour, two bottles of shampoo, half a bottle of conditioner, a bar of soap, four t-shirts and two pairs of pants, but for the first time in months, Bella Swan is blood free and wearing a full set of clean clothes.

She's a bit grumpy now that the bath is over, but is still letting Rose brush out all the tangles in Bella's hair as the newborn sits at Rose's feet.

Seeing that the girls are settled and unlikely to start screaming at each other again, I retreat upstairs to my room to dry off and change. Once my wet shirt is off I prod at the new bite on my shoulder, wincing slightly as the skin knits together. I can't bring myself to be bothered by the new scar - the bites I've gotten from Bella are the only ones that aren't a result of rage and war.

"Woah, she really tore into you, Jas," Emmett states as he walks in and plops down on my bed.

"It's not that bad," I retort, swatting at the man with my wet shirt before dropping it on the floor.

"I want one."

What?

I turn and look at Emmet.

I read the emotions coming off him, and sense pure earnestness.

What?

Emmett must read my face, because he explains his crazy statement. "She does it cause she likes you! She's our adorable, grumpy puppy. Even Rose has one - from that time with the fish and the pine tree back in December. But what have I got? Nothing! She likes me, right?"

My brother is insane. But, I can't help but smirk. If these nasty bites are Bella's rating system for affection, that means I'm the favorite.

"Next time you can give the bath, maybe she'll give you a sign of her love then too."

Emmett jumps off my bed, "I can't wait that long, man!" He runs out of the room and I hear him stomp downstairs and insist on taking over the brushing. As I head back to the sitting room, I hear Emmett yelp and Rosalie laugh. Sounds like Emmett has joined the club.

…..

Getting Bella inside the house was a turning point. For the last month, we've spent more and more time with Bella in the house. This last week, we only spend two days out in the woods before Bella led us back to the house. She even let us help her into the shower without a fight. She'd probably even be willing shower on her own now if she could control her strength enough to work the taps without breaking them.

And as if being in the house has reminded her more of what it was to be human, she's started speaking more. While overall she's still pretty quiet, every now and again she brings old up memories or mentions desires other than hunger.

One night, curled up next to Emmett while he plays a videogame, Bella turns to Rose and asks, "Are we friends now?" Rose smiles, says she guesses so, and joins the two on the couch.

A few days later, after a hunt, Bella looks at the buck she just killed. "I guess I can't really feel so bad for Bambi anymore." Emmett's laughter doesn't stop for a long time after that.

The next time we return to the house, Bella keeps trying to take plates out of the cupboard. After half of them are broken, Rose goes over and takes the rest out, placing them at the table. Once Rose is done, Bella sits down on top of the table and stares at the empty place settings for several minutes.

"I miss Charlie."

None of us know what to say to that.

Chapter Text

 

Bella

 

I throw the shirt at the wall so hard it actually leaves a dent. I hadn’t realized shirts could damage walls, but if I’ve learned one thing since I was attacked, it’s that almost anything can dent a wall.

I feel more and more myself these days. I still eat a lot, at least once every other day, but I’m spending less time overwhelmed by my hunger. Of course, then I try something simple like putting on a shirt by myself and am reminded just how far away from normal I am.

“Bella, calm down and try again.” Rose says, from where she is perched on my bare mattress. Jasper and Emmett finally gave in and removed the bed frame after the third time I broke it by plopping down too hard.

Sighing, I carefully pull another shirt from the pile by my feet. But my fingers tear through the material like it’s tissue paper before I even figure out which way is forward. My vision goes red and I let loose a scream of frustration. I feel a wave of calm reaching out from the other room, and while it doesn’t directly change my emotions, it does remind me to take a deep (unnecessary) breath before I lose control and break another wall.

“Again, Bella.” Rose says calmly.

I try again.

And again.

And again two more times before my frustration bubbles up to nuclear levels.

“Rose, I can’t do this!” I whine. The stupid yellow shirt in my hands feels like it’s taunting me, and I tear it into pieces.

“Like we’re going to let you run around naked for all of eternity. Or dress you forever. You aren’t our baby.” The girl snipps back at me. Flicking her hair over her shoulder she sends me a commanding look. “Try again.”

Why do I like her again?

Deciding not to fight it, I do try again. Four more shirts bite the dust. I manage to get the fifth over my head before in one piece. Then I pull it down too hard and yank the material clean off my body. “Ow.”

Despite still not having managed to put a shirt on, Rose looks pleased by my progress. I’m glad someone is. I’ve been at this so long that the fact that I’m standing here, flashing my boobs to the beautiful blonde fails to even register on the embarrassment scale. Besides, it could be more awkward - Jasper could still be here.

He’d been the one to start the ‘learn to put on clothes again’ lessons this morning. I can vaguely remember him helping me shower when I was still more than half-feral over the winter, so I know it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. But seeing him standing there with his mentor face on trying to show me how to put on a shirt while I stand in front of him buck naked made me so mortified I lost control and broke his nose in my hurry to push him out the closed window and outside.

Then when Emmett rushed in to see what was wrong and got an eyeful, I vaulted out the window and ran into the woods. It took one dead buck, three felled trees and an exasperated Rose promising the boys were banned from the house for the rest of the day before I’d come back. And here we are, standing in a room filled with tattered cloth and little to show in the way of progress.

“Hey Rose,” I start, as I pick up another shirt. “Was it this hard for you? Things like getting dressed, I mean.”

Rose nods, “It takes time for all of us to get used to it. I don’t remember much about when I was a newborn, but Emmett was a disaster. He ran around totally naked for the first six months, refused to even try to learn to put on shirts after his first few failures.”

I laugh at how easy it is to imagine it, and the shirt I’m holding rips in half. I pick up another without thinking about it as Rose continues.

“Eventually, Esme got so tired of seeing him naked she went out one day and came back with leather pants and shirts. She painted them so they were covered in unicorns and hearts. The leather was thick enough that Emmett could put it on, but he looked ridiculous. He didn’t seem to mind the hideous clothes, but I was so embarrassed I used every ounce of sway I had over him to force him to learn to dress in regular clothes.”

By the time Rose was done with her story, I had a shirt over my head, but couldn’t figure out how to get my arms in without ripping the fabric. I rolled my eyes and simply tore the shirt off me and grabbed a new one.

“One more time,” I’m determined to do better than Emmett.

Rose grins at me triumphantly and launches into another story about Emmett the newborn.

 

…….

 

We practiced another half hour before Rose finally helped me finish getting dressed. I’m  about ready to rip out something’s throat by this time, so I try to calm myself down by focusing on the tedious task of taking the remnants of my torn shirts into the sitting room. While I work, Rose disappears outside with a book - I kind of hate her for her ability to hold books and turn pages. I really miss being able to read.

When Emmett and Jasper return hours later, they find me buried under a mountain of cloth confetti. Still feeling agitated by our last interaction this morning, I just glare at them and dare them to say anything.

Jasper kicks off his boots and takes off his jacket, then starts heading over to my confetti nest. I growl at him, embarrassedly remembering the morning. “Easy, darlin,” he practically purrs as he settles down next to me, reaching into the cloth and finding my head with his hand.

I will deny leaning into the head scratch if anyone asks - I’m still mad at him.

But it does feel nice.

I look around for Emmett, and hear him and Rose talking outside. Without any other witnesses, I give in and scootch over, allowing Jasper to settle further into my nest.

“Sorry about embarrassing you this morning.” he says quietly.

I grumble under my breath and turn onto my side, so I’m facing away from him and resting my back along his leg.

“Rose able to help?”

I gnaw on my lip, wondering how much to say. “I still need more time,” I finally admit.

Jasper hums at that, and pats my shoulder where it rests by his knee. “We’ve got nothin’ but time, darlin’, so don’t worry.”

At his words, I relax a bit more in my nest. It’s hard to stay embarrassed when everyone around me is being so supportive. And when I have so many stories about Emmett’s newborn days to prove that I’m not the only one having a hard time.

Speaking of newborn days…

“Do you remember it? Being a newborn like me,” I ask.

Jasper’s hand tenses on my shoulder, and it’s only then that I remember a vague memory of Edward mentioning Jasper coming from a more violent past. “You don’t have to answer-”

“No, it’s fine darlin’.” Jasper says quickly, cutting me off. Though his hand remains tensed. “It’s just been a while since anyone’s asked about my past.”

“Why?”

“It’s not a pleasant story.” Jasper whispers.

I think about it for a moment. I don’t want to make Jasper uncomfortable, but at the same time, “If you want to tell it, I want to hear it.”

Jasper takes a deep breath, and I wonder what he’ll decide. Then he starts to speak.

“I was turned back during the Civil War. I was a soldier for the Confederate army. Then I was turned by a vampire named Maria in order to be a soldier in her own personal army. It… Well it wasn’t by choice.”

Already I can tell I don’t like this Maria.

“She was fighting for territory around Mexico, and over the years turned many people for the sole purpose of raising them to fight for her.” Jasper is quiet, and it sounds like every word is painful for him to say. I lie there in silence, afraid to look at him and see his face right now. I don’t know if I can handle seeing the expression that matches this tired, traumatized voice. It doesn’t fit.

Jasper continues, “It was violent. They trained us by withholding food unless we won fights. They threw us into battles fought by newborns who had little control over their bloodlust. With my … unique… skills, I was able to use those feelings against my opponents. But I also was overcome by those same feelings.” He trails off for a moment, lost in thought. “Eventually, I trained others with the same tactics.”

A whine escaped me as I press my back closer to Jasper, distressed by the thought of him being in such a situation. I feel my temper ignite as the story continues.

“I was hard and cold and bloodthirsty. The violence of my transition means I don’t really remember much from when I was human. Just my name and a few vague memories. It took a long time for me to escape who I had become under Maria. It took a long time for me to want to escape it.”

I let out a quiet growl at the desolate tone Jasper’s voice has taken by the time he stops talking. And I keep growling, louder and louder, as his words swirl in my mind and my eyes cloud over with the a hot rage spawned from someone I view as family being hurt. I don’t know what to do, so I don’t fight the rage as it reaches into the more instinctual aspect of my mind.

I jump out of my nest, and grab Jasper. I pull him out of the house and past Rose and Emmett. Racing into the woods, I don’t let go of his arm, barely possessing him calling out my name behind me.

Maria.

Bitch! How dare she treat my family like… like…

Jasper is an empath! I let out a whine at that realization. What must it have been like for someone who can feel emotions to be forced to live and breathe in a warzone for years? I let out a scream and pick up the pace. My grip on Jasper’s arm tightening.

I finally scent it - a bear - and let go of Jasper as I surge forward for the kill. The bear is still clumsy, just waking up from hibernation and tasting stale, but it will do. As soon as it stills, I let go, not taking a single drink.

I’m not hungry.

I turn around, looking for Jasper. Unable to form any words through my rage, I move to where he stands on the edge of the clearing. It takes little effort to nudge him over to the bear. He looks at me, seeming to gauge my intentions, before finally sinking to his knees and starting to eat. I crouch beside him and rub his back while he eats.

“Bitch better be dead,” I murmur, finally calming enough to form words again. It’s all I can do to sit still and make sure that my family is here and safe and fed. “Dead.”

 

…..

 

After pushing Emmett into a tree once more, the big fool lets out a laugh. “Ah man, this reminds me of a time I was hunting with the guys, and we’re on the trail of this big-ass moose. So I try to get to it first, but then out of nowhere, Edward comes and pulls me in…”

Edward.

I stop in my tracks as a slash of memory rips through me.

Golden eyes staring into my own. Deeply intense and full of mystery, I cannot look away.

Emmett continues talking, but I don’t hear the rest of the story.

A smile, a kiss, cold hands against my face as I melt into strong arms. “Goodnight, Bella,” a familiar voice whispers.

How could I have forgotten Edward? We were… we were...

“You don’t want to be like me. Vampires are soulless monsters,” that voice says again. Frustration and agitation as I try and fail to fight against his own delusions.

It’s all too much. The memories of him are intense, a jumbled mix of desire and longing and guilt and frustration. And among all those conflicted feelings is the clear memory of just how crazily protective he had become before I changed.

I let out a shuddering breath as I try to figure out what exactly it is I’m feeling. I can’t… I just can’t deal with this now. I’ve been happy, these past few months. I’ve felt alive and free and full of energy. I’m not ready to dive into the strangely mixed feelings these memories are giving me.

“Shut up, Emm,” Rose’s crisp voice rings through the drone that Emmett’s story had become. I latch onto the sound, desperate for something to pull me away from these thoughts. “Bella, let’s go hunt.”

As the blonde races out of the clearing, I wonder for a moment if she knows where Emmett’s words had sent me - if she had known I need a distraction. Then the thrill of the hunt surges through me and I willingly let my instincts take the wheel.

Time to eat.

 

…..

 

“Do you want to talk to the others?”

The question comes one morning as Jasper and I hang out on the porch watching the sun rise. I ran out here to find Jasper and show off my mad shirt-putting-on skills about an hour ago. It was the first time I managed to get a T-shirt on all by myself. Since then, I’ve been happily sprawled on the back porch, still giggling off and on as I think of my victory.

“Rose told me about what happened yesterday. She said you seemed… confused. If you want to talk to any of them, well, we’ve got a phone,” Jasper continues, smiling wryly at the me. Thinking about his offer, my happy glow fades a bit. I sit up and look at Jasper, a surprising revelation sinking in as I stare into his golden eyes.

“I… I don’t think I do.”

Jasper just nods, and while I’m sure he can feel my panic and confusion and guilt, he doesn’t push the issue. Instead he just says “Okay”.

Unsettled by my own admission, I jump off the porch and run into the woods. I’ll find Emmett and Rose. We’ll wrestle or hunt or race, and I won’t have to analyze any of these feelings.

 

…….

 

“You should hold the phone,” I state nervously, as I look at the phone in Emmett’s hand. It’s been a week or so since the idea of calling the rest of the Cullens first was brought up, and since then the idea of it has been following me like a demented stalker. I remember spending time with Carlisle and Esme, shopping with Alice and being held by Edward. A Bella who barely knew Rose and Jasper. But those memories feel different… they belonged to the Bella who was human. The Bella who didn’t bite her friends and tear apart animals and houses. I still don’t know who I am now.

Am I her?

Do I want to be?

All week I’d been spending as much time as possible with the others. Rose told me more stories about Emmett’s early days as we continued our strength training lessons. Emmett wrestled with me and raced me around the woods. Jasper let me cling to him like a barnacle and helped clean me up every time I lost it during a hunt. I love these three so much. I couldn’t do this without them.

And I think I want that with the rest of the Cullens. And I’ll never learn if that’s still possible or not if I don’t reach out. I say as much to the others, and here we are - curled together on the ground in front of the sofa. With Emmett pressed up on one side, Jasper on the other, and Rose’s head lying across my lap as she elegantly sprawls over Emmett’s lap, I feel as secure as I can be.

But still...

“Why am I so nervous?” I wonder out loud.

Jasper hums and scratches at his nose, “We can’t answer that for you, darlin’.”

“I think…. They knew me better before. When I was human? But I’m not sure if that me is this me. And… I’m … here...” It sounds right to me so far, but it’s hard to put my vague nerves into words. I’m not sure I want to put all of what’s been swirling around into words, if I’m totally honest. I just want to go back to enjoying the freedom I’ve felt these past few months, being a hundred percent myself with these three, even when ‘myself’ is a crazy feral vampire or a stubborn bitch.

“Don’t worry, sis. I’m dialing now!” Emmett yells - putting any chance of my changing my mind to rest as the phone starts ringing.

“Emmett,” Rosalie groans from below us. Solidarity sister! I really hope she makes him pay for barrelling into this without letting me finish.

The phone ringing suddenly stops, and my eyes widen as I hear a very familiar voice over the phone.

“Hello, this is Carlisle speaking.”

Vampire-pops!

The phone is held in front of my face and I feel Jasper’s arm slide across my shoulders.

“H-hey, Carlisle. This is Bella,” I stammer.

“Bella! How are you doing?”

Before I can answer he continues. “Hold that thought, I hear Esme and Alice heading over. Edward is out hunting, but the girls are-”

“Bella!” Alice’s squeal of delight comes through the phone loud and clear.

“Bella sweetie, how are you doing?” Esme sounds at matronly as always, the calmness is her voice carrying over the phone.

I smile a bit, but am unable to fully relax and slightly unsettled by how relieved I feel knowing that a conversation with Edward won’t be happening today. “I’ve been adjusting, I guess. It’s harder than I expected.”

“Don’t worry, we’ve all gone through this. It does get better, Bella.” Esme assures.

“Yup! And don’t worry Bella! I’ve seen how awesome this will be. Just hang in there!” I’m not sure if I find Alice’s vision-based assurance comforting or not. For all I know, she’s seen me five hundred years from now.

Five hundred years….

Oh my god.

I’m immortal. I’ll be around then, if things go well. I’ll be…

“Bella, darlin’?” Jasper’s voice snaps me back to the present as his arm tightens around me.

“Sorry, just got lost a minute,” I say towards the phone. “What were you saying?”

Carlisle’s the one who responds. “We were asking about how the woods are up there this time of year. It’s been awhile since we’ve been up to the house when it hasn’t been summer.”

“Oh. They’re… nice I guess. I haven’t really paid much attention to them.” I admit. Who has time to nature walk when they’re overcome by hunger every five seconds?

“Well, we’ll just have to see for ourselves later on. We’re so looking forward to meeting up with you in June. We miss you all.”

“Thanks Esme,” I say, still distracted by the thought of eternity. Jasper must sense my emotions roiling up, because he takes charge of the phone call, skillfully guiding it to a close. After some emotional goodbyes, the phone is turned off and let out a sigh of relief. Not so bad, talking to them.

But not so easy, either.

 

……

 

Closer… closer… I can smell my prey, hear it just over this ridge.

My feet practically fly over the ground as I race to my meal. This meal smells different, it smells stronger, more delicious, more….

I take a deep breath, savoring the new scent as it fills my nose.

My hunger ramps up and I begin to move even faster. The ridge is falling away behind me, I am almost there.

I can almost see my prey now - through the trees, I’ll be on them in seconds. Almost there-

A weight crashes into my side and I’m thrown to the ground. Leaping to my feet, I turn and let out a snarl of rage as I face Jasper. How dare he stand between me and my meal! Why now, when he never has before?!

Before I can make up my mind to attack or not, he is on me again. My strength isn’t enough anymore to overpower him - not with his skills. Not without hurting him, and even through my rage, the thought of rending his flesh with the intent to harm feels wrong.

Instead, I just snarl in rage as I’m picked up and carried in the opposite direction.

After a ways, once the trail to my prey has faded and I pick up the familiar scent of a bear, I finally break free from my captor. I scream into his face then rush after the bear.

He’d better not try to stop me again.

 

…..

 

Once I fed on the bear, my hunger and rage faded and I realized just what prey it was that Jasper had stopped me from taking down.

Humans.

As I stare at the carcass in front of me, it almost seems like the bear fades into the body of a defenseless human. Fades into the body of Billy, or Phil, or Renee…

“Jasper?”

“Here, darlin’.” He replies quietly, somewhere behind me.

I don’t know how to express just how grateful I am that he was there to stop me. That he let me scratch and bite and scream and rage in order to stop me from doing something I would later regret. That he helped to show me just how seriously I need to take my isolation while I learn to temper my instincts.

I try to focus all the gratitude I’m feeling, hoping that he can pick up on the depth of the emotion behind my whispered, “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Bella

 

This morning, Jasper and Emmett decide to head into town to buy bulk supplies of everything that I ever touch. While I’m getting better and better at tempering my strength, I still break walls and furniture the instant I forget to be careful. I also go through an embarrassing amount of clothes - piles of clothes ruined by either my new strength or by a caked in coating of blood. Not even Jasper has been able to explain to me why I am such a messy eater, or why I sometimes am overcome with the urge to intentionally cover myself in my lunch.

So, the boys pile into the truck and headed into town, leaving Rose and I at the house. Together. Just us.

While Rose and I have gotten along fine these days, this is the first time we’ve ever been alone together. At least that I’m conscious for. So I’m not terribly surprised by the fact that I’m a bit nervous about this.

As soon as the boys leave, I head off into the woods. I’m not hungry, but the fresh, spring air feels nice. IRose runs beside me in companionable silence for hours. I’m surprised sometimes, when I think back on my slightly-hazy human memories, how much I’ve grown to like Rose. But I realize now she’s often just the company I need. Feeling my eyes on her, Rose glances over at me and gives me a small smile and picks up the pace. I match it and soon we are racing neck and neck through the trees.

After a while, my hunger begins to grow again and stop racing and start hunting. Once I’m standing over the drained body of a small deer, I look over to the blonde.

“You should go hunt. If you want to, that is.” While her eyes aren’t dark, I can’t remember the last time she ate something I hadn’t taken a piece out of first. And I understand all too well now how natural the hunt feels.

“You know, I think I will,” Rose says with a smile and a flip of her stupidly gorgeous hair. “Stay nearby, I’ll be back once I find something that wasn’t scared away by the racket you made taking down that deer.”

In a flash, Rose has faded away into the shadows of the trees. A few seconds longer and my ears can’t pick her up any longer. I shrug, knowing Bella-babysitting duty means she won’t stray too far away.

Now what to do with myself…

The silence around me feels like it’s closing in and I shiver. The longer I’m capable of coherent thought without my instincts taking over, the more off I feel. And now, with Rosalie hunting and the boys out in town, there is no one to distract me from my own head. Being a newborn has let me put all my issues on hold, but the time is coming soon that I’ll have to deal with everything that it means. Charlie, Renee, Edward, Victoria…. shit….

I sigh and fall backwards. I land with a loud thunk - I can’t get over how doing things like falling flat on my back isn’t painful at all. Though, even as a vampire, it’s not very comfortable to lie with a bunch of rocks digging into my back.

Eager to avoid my issues some more, I close my eyes and try to just relax. I focus on the feeling of the sun shining down on my face. It doesn’t feel warm anymore, but it does feel… like something. Something nice. Nice and mind-numbing. I can figure my brain out some other time. Maybe Jasper can help me make sense of all these mixed feelings I’m having. He’d probably get a kick out of it.

The sun feels nice and lulls me into a mellow puddle of relaxation. Doing my best to keep my head clear, I just lay here and let the sounds of the woods filter into my ears. I hear the birds in the distance, the yelp of a buck - Rose must have found food - the gently swishing of the breeze through the trees, the harsh snap of a twig nearby.

Wait…

My eyes open as I rocket to my feet, spinning to face the sound. Dread builds in the pit of my stomach as I meet an all too familiar red eyed gaze.

Victoria?

“Hey there, Bella. Looking good. A little too scarred for my taste, but immortality suits you,” the vampire croons, stepping even closer.

I open my mouth to retort, but nothing comes out. I should run, I should yell. But I can’t tear my eyes away from Victoria’s. Memories of the pain and the fear of the last time I saw those eyes flash in my mind. My screams. My blood. Burning.

Victoria’s oddly civil smile stretches into something more sinister as she takes another step closer to me.

“Cat got your tongue, dear?” She croons. She’s within arm’s reach now, and reaches out to brush a thin finger along my jaw. “I know I left your tongue in there, so you should be able to speak. You must just be… shy.”

I take an unnecessary, shuddering breath as Victoria steps away from me. Our eyes are still locked. My body is still frozen in place. I try to speak again, but all that comes out is a small whimper.

“Oh, don’t mind me, Bella. I’m not here to hurt you. I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d come appreciate my handiwork. Revenge is no fun if I can’t stop by from time to time to see it play out.”

My memories of the last time I was alone with Victoria still hold me captive. I remember how teeth ripped into my arms, my legs, my neck.

I remember how laughter rang out as I tried to fight off the monster in front of me.

I remember how mockingly gentle hands wiped at my panicked tears and how a voice crooned in a twisted take on comfort while I bled onto the floor.

As terrifyingly familiar red eyes continue to bore straight into my own, I remember every last detail of that night.


“I watched you for months, you know. You and that murderer,” Victoria smirks cruelly. “I almost killed you right away. There were many perfect opportunities - I was the one who killed that tourist by the drug store, you know. The one that made your father leave to go to work in the middle of the night while Edward was away hunting.”

Another whimper leaves me. I don’t know how she managed to hang around without any of the Cullens noticing, but the fact that she managed it is terrifying. I want to run, I want to surround myself with the others and hide forever, I want to shower and get the revolting feeling of her gaze off my skin. But I still can’t get my stupid body to move.

And Victoria, the monster that lives in the shadows of my memories, she knows just how afraid I am. I can see it in the way she pauses and smiles at me before continuing, “As you can see, I didn’t kill you.”

“W-why didn’t you?” My curiosity manages to get the words out before terror clamps down my throat again.

“Edward,” Victoria practically spits the name,” killed my James. He destroyed me by taking away the love of my life. And I want to do the same to him.”

“I’m still-”

A loud burst of laughter stops me mid-sentence.

“Edward doesn’t love you, you stupid bint. It was never you he loved. It barely took me any time at all to realize that. What he was in love with, was your humanity. And that is what he lost.”

No…

“Now you’ll both live forever, and every time he sees you he’ll be reminded of the great love that he can never fully have again.”

No!

Rage and denial and terror finally build up enough to restore to me the use of my limbs. I let out a wordless cry and launch myself not away from danger, but towards the redheaded menace. All I want is for her to shut up. I feel my fingers tear into something, before the force of Victoria’s arms throw me off of her and into a tree.

Grunting in surprise and pain, I drop the handful of red hair in my hands and launch myself at her again. I don’t know how to fight. I’ve never so much as slapped someone before. But my instincts are raging and I claw mindlessly at the nightmare in front of me.

She laughs as I slash her face. Then suddenly I’m thrown away from her again. As I land on the ground, I hear another scream. Glancing up, I see Rose jumping into the clearing, mouth smeared with blood from what I guess was her interrupted meal. Then the blonde barrels into Victoria and the two vampires tumble to the ground in a snarling surge of limbs.

Rage and fear boil under my skin as I see Rose struggling against the threat. Rational thought fades as I run to Rose’s side and try to help her fend of Victoria.

Slash. Punch. Scream.

The cold skin of a vampire parts like butter as my teeth dig into a pale shoulder.

Fall. Get up. Scream.

The feel of the bones of my arm knitting together makes me hesitate only for a moment before I’m leaping back into the fray.

Protect. Scream.

When Rosalie falls, I’m on top of her. Victoria’s nails dig into my back as I lean over my sister.

Get up. Bite. Grab. Scream.

While Rose gets a firm hold of Victoria’s torso, keeping the redhead pinned to the ground, I latch onto the pinned vampire’s head.

Pull.

In the end, it’s surprisingly easy to rip her head off of the body Rosalie is holding. As the imminent threat of Victoria fades, so does my rage.

Gross…

I look up at Rose, to see what I should do next. She’s grimly tearing the rest of the body apart. “Hold onto that head,” She commands before stalking to the trees, ripping off some branches, and returning. “I’ll build a fire. You just…. hold on to her.”

 

…….

 

It’s a beautiful bonfire. Knowing that the terror who attacked me and tormented me is fueling the fire actually makes it even more beautiful. It’s an enormous relief it is to see proof that Victoria is dead and gone and will never jump out of the shadows to attack me with her fangs or her words again.

But, even as I bask in her funeral pyre, I can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for her. Despite everything, I know that it’s grief that drove her to this. Who knows what I’d be capable of if I lost someone I cared for that much. But as another memory of her sharp fangs plays in my mind, it’s easy for me to squish down my sympathy and hide it in a far corner of my mind.

“Bella.” I turn to look at Rosalie, as she settles down on the ground beside me and takes one of my hands in her own. “I heard some of what she was saying. About Edward, that is.”

“Oh,” I wait for Rose to comfort me, to tell me that there’s nothing to worry about. I mean, surely that can’t be the truth, after all the time Edward and I-

“I don’t think she’s wrong.”

The words ring out in my mind a few more times.

“Rose,” I gasp, staring into the girl’s eyes, “Edward wouldn’t. He’s not. I mean, it doesn’t… I… He….”

Why can’t I say it? ‘Edward loves me for me.’ Say it, Bella! It should be so easy to say. When was it that I no longer felt sure of the truth of that statement?

I think back on all the time Edward spent taking care of me. Feeding me, making sure I was warm, that I slept. Ever since Phoenix, the bulk of our interactions revolved around him trying to keep me safe. When was the last time we did something fun - something that didn’t revolve around Edward trying to take care of my needs?

Shit.

“Rosalie,” I try again. To say the words. But instead what comes out is, “I… I’m not sure she’s wrong either.”

Rose squeezes the hand she is holding, and places her other hand on my wrist. She rubs a hand over a smooth stretch of skin, just above one of the knots of scars left from Victoria when she turned me. Then she bites down. She doesn’t hold the arm in her teeth long, and when she lets it go, it’s a much cleaner looking mark than any of the ones from Victoria.

Arm wraps around me and pull me closer to her. I breathe in the familiar scent of Rosalie and close my eyes.

“No matter what, whether she’s right or wrong, you’re family. You don’t need a man to belong with us. You’re a Cullen just as much as myself, now.”

I return the hug with desperate firmness, and let out dry, tearless sobs as Victoria’s pyre crackles in the background.

 

……

 

I wish I was hungry. I wish I was starving and lost in a haze of instinct - anything to rescue me from the exhausted numbness that’s set in since Victoria’s visit.

Rose and I return to the house and she helped me wash off the filth from the fight. Then we hear the rumble of the tricker signalling Jasper and Emmett's return and she leaves me to get dressed on my own. I’m glad Rose volunteered to handle that conversation, because I really can’t deal with anything else today.

So here I stand in the bathroom, staring at the mirror. As my eyes track the angry-looking scars on my arms and legs and neck, I realize that I haven’t really taken a look at myself since the change. Looking past the ugly scarring, I see how pale my skin is, how much more vibrant my hair is. My face looks unfamiliar. It’s a bit more… sharp? And my eyes are bright and eerie - halfway between red and golden. And they look sad.

I’m different.

I’m a vampire.

I was attacked, I was taken away from the life I had and I can’t go back.

“What?!” The loud yell my brain processes as Emmett cuts through my self pity.

“Emmett, calm down, and let me - Jasper!”

The bathroom door explodes inwards, shards flying all around. Turning my head, I see Jasper standing in the doorway. A thunderous look is plastered on his face and his gaze raking over me. Then he’s right in front of me, pulling me in a protective embrace and tucking my head into the space between his neck and shoulder.

“Bella, darlin,” he’s saying, as I start to relax into his arms. “Bella, I’m so sorry. I should have been here.” The strain in his voice nudges me firmly out of my mind and into the moment. Into the safety of being in his arms, into the guilt and relief and anger I feel but am not feeling.

I realize in an instant the strange overlay of feelings is Jasper projecting - but given the specific emotions, I can’t believe that he’s doing it on purpose. I pull away slightly, tilting my head to meet Jasper’s dark eyes. They’re too open right now now - raw and feral.

“Jas-” I whisper, needing to reassure him that I’m safe. That while I’m not okay, it’s not because of anything he could have prevented. I don’t know how to explain it though, so I instead speak the simplest truth in my mind right now. “Rose is a badass.”

Jasper gives a small chuckle at that and I hear a louder laugh from Emmett, somewhere behind Jasper. As the big bear and Rose both crowd into the bathroom, Jasper pulls me firmly into his arms again. Then Emmett’s arms are around us both and Rose is squeezing into the group hug as well. We stand there, together, for a long moment.

The emotions Jasper was projecting mellow down and fade away. He and Emmett begin bickering over my head about Emmett stepping on Jasper’s foot and Jasper hogging ‘the Bella’. Despite everything that happened today, a small smile finds its way onto my face and I relax into the arms of the family that still hasn’t let me go.

Chapter Text

Jasper

 

Things changed in the week that followed Victoria's return. I made damn sure of that.

Victoria showing up and revealing she'd been lurking around Forks for months without any of us catchin' wind of her was a hell of a reality check. In the past, when I was fighting in the wars, no vampire would have been able to intrude on my territory for so long without my knowledge. But living so peacefully with the Cullens has made me complacent.

That complacency came around to bite us in the ass last summer with James. And again last September with Victoria. And then again last week. I should have changed things the instant James and Victoria first passed through, but I was stupid. But I'm not going to let some upstart punk get the drop on my family like that again.

"I'm not sayin' we need to become soldiers, but we need to hone our skills to have a better awareness so we can protect our territory."

The others all nod as I finish telling them my plan to train - I'm not the only one shaken by recent events. "She was watching me for months. I don't want anything like that to happen again," I fight a wince at the wounded quality that's been hidden in Bella's voice this last week.

The girls haven't been telling us the whole story of the Victoria encounter, I'm sure of that. But that's a topic for another day. For today, it's time to just get everyone on board with this. "I've hidden some things I've had in storage, left behind by some old friends. They're vampires whose scent won't be familiar to you. The scent's old though, so it'll fade in a few hours. Better find them quick." I end with a challenging smirk.

Bella perks up at my words, it probably sounds more interesting to the fidgeting newborn than more strength training with Rose and Emmett. Lord knows the girl has ripped up enough shirts and made enough firewood.

"You have friends?" She asks, and I feel a wave of honest curiosity from her. That's... certainly not the part of my instructions I'd expected her to fixate on. The others, lacking my empathic abilities, focus on the poor word choice and start laughing.

"Oh man, Jas, I'm with Bella here - you have friends?" Emmett chuckles. He slaps my back as I roll my eyes and growl.

"Shut up, idiot. You've heard me talk about Peter and Charlotte before."

"What are they like?" Bella's curiosity has ramped up even stronger, and I don't bother to fight the warmth that fills me chest at her interest in my friends.

"Someday we can all go meet them. They'd probably get a kick out of you lot."

Bella grins then jumps up. "I'm going to find their stuff first. And then I get to pick the movie for tonight!" And she's off, crashing into the forest with the grace of a puppy. Well, honestly she's pretty damn graceful now, but her eagerness is still puppy-like. Emmett barrels after her and Rose follows with her game-face on. None of them can resist a good challenge. Especially not with the threat of being subjected to Bella's taste in movies hanging over them.

As for me, I take out my book and start reading again, letting the dim sensation of the excitement of the hunt from the others wash over me as they run around the fringes of my awareness. Bella's excitement, in particular, allows me to relax enough to focus on my book - the guilt and regret and lingering fear I've felt since Victoria's visit fading away.

 

…..

 

"I can't believe you have some guy's dirty underwear just lying around," Bella laughs, as she tries to pick the shredded remains of Peter's boxers out of her nails.

"You'll learn when you meet him, that it's best to listen to Peter," I say, grabbing her hand and helping her get the fabric off her skin. It does smell a bit too much like parts of Peter I'd rather not smell. And if I find the idea of the smell clinging to Bella's hands disturbing, well… no one here has to know.

"So, what? He just handed you a bag of his unmentionables, told you to hang onto it and you said okay?" Bella's face is a prime example of exasperated disbelief.

"Pretty much," I admit.

"Jasper." Bella's hands turn in my grasp and grab my own. She leans forward, staring into my eyes and I dimly register a sudden surge of excitement coming from her. "I HAVE to meet him."

Well fuck me.

Now that I consider it, I'm slightly terrified of whatever explosive combination Bella and Peter might make.

 

….

 

"...did you know? That she'd be here?"

Emmett and I both pause just outside the back door as we hear Bella's voice through the doorway. I share a look with my brother and the curiosity in his face matches my own. With unspoken coordination, we both remain quietly outside the house listening in.

"I see," Bella speaks again. She must be talking on the phone, an unusual event in and of itself. But given the shadow of Victoria's visit hanging over us, I don't need more than one guess to figure out who must have called for her. I admit, I've been wondering myself if Alice had seen Victoria's arrival. From what Rosalie and Bella had told us, it seemed the psychotic woman's actions were much more premeditated this time around.

"I guess. Yeah." The newborn's emotions are too subdued for me to pick up on many specifics, but I can feel enough to know that Bella isn't sure how to take whatever Alice is saying. "Sure. Bye, Alice."

The click of a phone signals the end of the conversation and Emmett and I both reach for the door at once. Once inside, we quickly spot both Bella and Rose perched on the kitchen counter. Rose is carefully putting the phone away in its cradle while Bella frowns towards the floor.

"What'd Alice say?" Emmett shows no hesitation to admit we were eavesdropping as he heads over to the girls.

"She saw Victoria coming. She didn't see many details but was able to tell that things would work out. So... she didn't tell us," Bella's voice is disturbingly monotone.

"Things did work out," Rose agrees, patting the smaller girl's knee. "Doesn't mean we won't give Alice some grief later on for not warning us."

"Damn straight!" Emmett booms.

Years of being around the pixie and dealing with her visions has me instinctively speaking out in defense of Alice. "Alice has her reasons when she keeps quiet about visions. She just forgets sometimes that we don't all see those reasons. Or agree with them"

Rose is glaring at me. I'm too busy staring at Bella to see it, but I can feel the heat of it in her emotions. I fight the urge to wince - just because it's not a truth anyone likes doesn't mean it's not still a truth. "I get it," Bella says quietly. She still won't look up at us as her fingers tear a hole in her pants. Right now, she'd the picture perfect depiction of a subdued puppy.

My hands clench at my sides as I fight the urge to scream. I force myself to calm before I speak again. "Alice hates pinecones."

And there it is. Bella's gaze locked on my own as she gives me a tentative smile.

"We can find lots of those!" Emmett crows, clapping me on the shoulder and beckoning the girls to get up off of the counter top.

Without any more debate or discussion, all four of us head out to collect a pile of pinecones. As our collection of pinecones grows, Emmett and Bella brainstorm ways to put them in Alice's path once she finally arrives. It's a petty revenge, just the kind that fits a disagreement between siblings. The pixie will suffer a bit for keeping her silence, but it seems like the others have already forgiven her. Remembering the horror I felt when Rose told me about the fight in the woods, I wonder when I'll be able to do the same.

 

…..

 

Eventually the novelty of my training begins to wear off. Rose, Emmett and Bella seem more resigned than excited whenever I throw off their day with an impromptu scavenger hunt, ambush or other 'goddamn evil' (Emmett's words, not mine) training exercise. Which is why today I've promised no surprises or exercises.

As soon as I promised that, Rose pulled Emmett out of the house and into the Jeep. I ran Bella around the woods for a few hours, riling her up until she took down an elk and practically ripped it in two in her excitement to eat. And when the two of us settled down to watch a movie, I didn't even bring up the possibility of her doing one of the various strength control exercises we'd started challenging her with. Instead, we just watched the movie in silence, relaxing as the familiar scenes flicker across the screen.

"So, where'd you stand on the whole 'ceding from the Union' thing?"

I turn to stare at Bella in surprise at the non-sequitur. But, hell if I won't answer her random questions - her curiosity can be quite entertaining. "I didn't have much of a stance on it. While some fought because of any cause or set of beliefs, I fought because the war showed up on my doorstep. I don't remember much from before I was turned, but I can tell you that much."

Bella hums thoughtfully and stares back at the television set for all of five seconds before she looks back at me and asks a follow-up question, "Corsets, yay or nay?"

I project a wave of amusement at her. "Can't say I've ever tried one."

There's a pillow in my face and a petulant newborn gnawing on my finger. She's not breaking skin, which my 'newborn-Bella' mental behavioral encyclopedia tells me is just her equivalent of projecting amusement.

"Nhaw vut assit," she tries to speak around the finger. Then she lets go and tries again, "Not what I asked. Jerk."

"Darlin', that's exactly what you asked," I give her my best smirk and move my hand out of chomping range. Bella just sniffs and gives a clumsy hair flip in my direction.

"You should have Rose practice that move more with you if you want it to be effective." The girl stills. Then flips her hair in an exaggerated manner that ends with my having a faceful of damp brown strands. We're both laughing as I separate her hair from my face.

"Have you ever seen the musical?" She asks, once we've both calmed down.

"What musical?"

Bella smiles over at me. "Civil War. The Musical."

I snort and roll my eyes. "No way in hell is that a real thing." Then I'm almost drowning in smug glee radiating from the girl beside me. The kind of smugness I always feel from my sisters when they want to dance around yelling 'I'm right and you're wrong'. I let out a deep sigh and close my eyes.

"It's a real thing, isn't it?"

A giggle from the girl and a gleeful "Yep!" leaves me to wonder what kind of crazy person thought that up. A musical about a traumatizing war? Fuck.

"It's quite serious, actually." Bella says quietly, probably realizing how disgusted I am with this revelation. "My mom took me to see it when I was younger. I learned more about what a seriously messed up time it was from that musical than I ever did in history class." I sigh again. Many rounds of high school education have taught me that 'better than history class' is a low bar.

Bella pats my knee and says in a patronizingly sweet tone, "Don't worry, I'm sure we can find the CD."

Oh, hell no.

I lunge over to her and toss her off the couch. She lands on the ground in a pile of blankets we use for our Bella-dictated cuddle parties. She's laughing and jumping up. Then she opens her mouth and sings loudly and off tune something about 'damn Yankees' before barreling into me so hard the couch flips over. We both skid into the entryway of the house.

By the time Emmett and Rose return an hour later, Bella is lounging around in the wreckage of the dining room table as I finish carrying the broken sofa, lounge chair and coffee table outside to the woodshed. We have a lot of work to do to fix all of this, but the contentment radiating off of Bella is so calming I really can't bring myself to give a damn.

Rose just stares at the empty room and calls out for Emmett, "Em, looks like you have a new project."

Then with nothing more than a passing nod in my direction where I'm holding half the coffee table, Rose is pulling up Bella and they're both disappearing into Bella's room. As it closes I hear Rose begin to tell Bella that they are stepping up their getting dressed training followed by a loud groan from the newborn.

 

…..

 

Emmett and I spend the rest of the daylight hours cleaning up the broken furniture and starting in on fixing the sofa in the woodshed. We work well together now, after months of repairing furniture that can't quite handle newborn enthusiasm. It's a relaxing way to spend time with Emmett as well - manual labor always seems to lull Emmett into a calm sense of tranquility.

"This is nice," Emmett says, breaking the silence for something other than a short 'pass the hammer' or 'hold this down' for the first time all evening.

"Fixin' furniture?" I ask as I finish fitting a solid board to replace the one that was just splinters.

I hear Emmett snort. "You know what I mean. This!" Emmett igestures around the wood shack with his hammer.

"Again - fixin' furniture?"

The hammer is easy to dodge. Emmett telegraphs his moves far to clearly. Another thing for us to work on.

"Don't be a jerk, bro. I mean being out here. The four of us. It's…" the man trails off, staring through the small window towards the house before continuing. "We've known each other for decades, but I feel like we've gotten closer these last six months than we ever did in the years before this."

"Nothing like a demanding newborn to force people together," I say. Honestly, I'd noticed the same thing While Emm, Rose and I had gotten along in the past, we've never spent so much time together. But now we know each other's habits, share our kills, and seek out each other's company daily.

"Rose, well, you know she's never really been comfortable hunting." I had known it. Or guessed it, at least. "She didn't like to eat, even around me."

"Oh?" I ask, that was news. And not at all what she was like lately, which probably is what Emmett's getting at.

"She hunts with us now. She eats with us. It's nice. It's new." There is such a strong sense of joy and love from Emmett as he talks about his lover, I have a hard time thinking for a moment.

"Bella, she likes the hunt," I say. "And she likes hunting with us. It could be that seeing her instinctive joy when she hunts has made Rose more comfortable."

Emmett's nodding at my words. Gesturing broadly as he agrees, "Alice and Esme, they're both more solitary hunters as well. They usually head off alone at the tail end of a hunt and stay clean. Rose's never really seen a girl roll around in mud and blood while hunting before this."

"True. Not sure if it's a good sign that we're seein' a barely stable newborn vampire as a role model, though." I state wryly. Emmett laughs at my statement and agrees, "She's a great one though. She's …. Freer here, I think. Now that she's more herself again, she seems a lot more relaxed than we ever really saw her. And I think Rose is too."

Emmett's totally correct - everyone's emotions have been much mellower overall out here. At least, when Bella isn't being a brat and causing trouble. "It is nice." Because what else can I do but agree with the truth?

 

….

 

Dawn's approaching by the time Emmett and I get bored fixing furniture and return back to the house. We've fixed the couch and sofa chair and brought both back with us. The rest can wait for another time - I mean, really, what do we need with a kitchen table?

The girls are still closed off in Bella's room and I automatically reach out to sense their emotional states as I sit down with Emmett as he puts a Playstation disc into the console and tosses me a controller. Pleased, smug, excited, fond, slightly frustrated. Feels like the lessons must be doing well. Emmett turns the volume on the TV up as the game starts - a habit that that allows more privacy by drowning out the girls' hushed conversation.

We spend the next few hours beating the crap out of each other. Virtually, of course. For now. I really do need to do something about how easy Emmett is to read when he's fighting in real life, so I plot new training exercises in the back of my mind while the matches continue on. We're tied 6-6 when Rose throws open the door to Bella's room and holds out her arms. I pause the game after taking a cheap shot at Emmett's avatar.

"Gentlemen," Rosalie begins, arching an elegant eyebrow at the two of us.

We both wait for her to continue, but she seems to be enjoying drawing out the silence. I cave in first, "Yes, ma'am?" I ask her, throwing every ounce of southern charm I still have into my tone. It never seems to phase Rose but it is fun to try sometimes.

As expected she just raises her eyebrow higher. But she does continue talking, "Gentlemen, it is my honor to present miss Isabella Swan Cullen." I can't even deny the jolt of excitement I felt hearing the name Cullen tacked on after the Swan. Emmett can't hide it either. Even without my empathy I'm sure I'd be able to feel the wave of happiness that bursts from him. "Bring her out!" He hollers, vibrating on the couch, which creaks ominously.

Then Bella is out of the room and standing in front of us. Hair brushed and braided, light makeup framing her golden eyes, and a very flattering forest green dress hugging her curves. Shit, I hurriedly return my eyes up to the girl's face from where it had been raking down her body.

Let's not go there, Jasper.

She's biting her lip as Emmett lets out a wolf whistle. And I'm totally fuckin' sincere when I meet her eyes and admit, "Lookin' beautiful, darlin'."

"Thanks," Her embarrassment and pleasure fills the room, and I project my feelings of affection out so she can feel there's nothing to be embarrassed by. Not for her, at least.

"There's more," Rose states, disappearing into Bella's room for a flash before coming out with a piece of paper.

"Ooh! Is that the secret trip?" Emmett asks, making a grabbing motion with his hands. Rose doesn't hand the mystery paper over.

"What secret?" Bella and I both ask at once.

"I picked something up at the post office earlier today and made Emmett wait in the car. He's been trying to figure it what I got ever since." Rose says with a grin. Then she flips the paper around so we can all see it. It begins: 'Isabella Swan Cullen has been formally adopted into the household of Carlisle and Esme Cullen...'

Adoption papers.

Very official adoption papers. We all have had them before, but this is Bella's first batch. I look over to her, where she stands and stares at the paper in silence. Her emotions are subdued, but I can feel relief and happiness warring with a powerful sadness. I can understand why - she may Cullen now, but that also means she's no longer a Swan.

After a long moment she puts a smile on her face. Emmett lets out a loud whoop and scoops the girl in his arms, swinging her around and around. And she keeps smiling as Rose tries to fix her mussed hair, and as I give her a quick hug. She keeps smiling for the rest of the night while we celebrate.

But that soft sadness underpinning her joy isn't something I can forget.

 

Chapter Text

Bella

 

"I've watched all the movies we have. Most more than once. I've hunted all the mammals native to the area. I've had history lessons from Jasper and beautification practice from Rose. I've wrestled with you, Emmett, and dealt with all of Jasper's crazy underwear-themed training demands. I've even graduated to being able to hold books and turn pages without ripping them apart." Rosalie and Jasper both snort at that and I quickly amend my statement, "Well, almost never ripping them apart. Like, fifty-nine percent of the time."

"Congratulations, darlin'." Jasper drawls from where he's sprawled below the sofa at Emmett and Rose's feet. I don't even try to suppress the snarl that escapes. I am totally, utterly certain that the jerk knows exactly what I want to say. He probably has been feeling it for days.

"The point is, I've done pretty much all there is to do around here. Multiple times. And with longer and longer stretches between my 'rawr hungry' losses of control, I have a lot more time to fill. And I can't sleep!"

"Or get to the point, apparently." The empath is having too much fun with this. He always does seem to get a kick out of when I ramble. To shut him up, I stalk from the doorway where I'm standing and plop down right on his stomach. Jasper's only reaction is to roll over fully onto his back, giving me a more comfortable and stable seat. Jerk.

"What do you want to do, Bella?" Rosalie asks, as she runs her fingers through my hair and picks out some leaves.

"I want to sleep!" I yell. It's really been bugging me lately, never falling asleep. No matter how bored I am or how tired I feel.

"What do you want to do that's possible?"

I've been thinking about this a bit lately. And I do have a plan that should at least help me burn a few extra hours a day. "I want to get a GED. And a treehouse."

Rose pats my head and stands up. "C'mon Emmett, let's go get a few computers. I have a feeling we'll go through a couple."

I flash the girl a smile as the couple heads to the door. Rose meets my eyes and returns the smile as Emmett waves and shouts his goodbyes across the room.

"They weren't surprised at all, were they?" I ask Jasper, looking down at my living chair. His eyes are closed, but he smiles at the question.

"Rosalie just won the betting pools. Both the 'when' and the 'what'." He states.

"She guessed treehouse?" I question, a bit terrified of Rose's diving ability if that's the case. I'd just decided on it two minutes ago, myself.

"GED and pillow fort study room, which is the closest."

"What did you and Emmett guess?"

Jasper laughs and rolls over, causing me to be relocated to the floor with his stomach pressed against my back. "We all agreed on you wanting to get your GED. Emmett thought you'd want a wrestling ring. I guessed swimming pool."

I let out a gasp and stare at the man, "I could have asked for a swimming pool?!" Crap, I should have thought of that.

Jasper finally opens his eyes and smiles at me, "Next time, come to me first. We'll plot together." Then he closes his eyes again. Glaring at his still form, I get up enough to plop down onto his side. Not a comfortable chair, but smug jerks deserve to be furniture.

 

….

 

The others spend the next week gathering all the supplies we'll need to build my treehouse. Unable to accompany them on their long trips into town, I instead focus on studying.

Or, I try to focus on studying.

Rosalie and Emmett brought back five computers and when I saw them all, I was cocky enough to think that would be more than enough. But I'd forgotten how frustrating calculus can be. Those computers hadn't even lasted two days. So for the time being, I've been delegated to book work.

I'm in the process of shredding yet another chapter of AP Spanish between my fingers when Emmett's loud voice calls out, "Oh Bella!"

I don't even pretend to hesitate before abandoning my nearly destroyed book and rushing outside to see what's up with Emmett. Once I'm out in the back, I see not only Emmett, but Rose and Jasper standing with smiles on their faces and armfuls of building supplies in their hands.

"It's time?" I shout excitedly. I am so freaking ready to make my treehouse. I've never had one before and I've gotten used to being out in the woods these days. It will be my own little territory!

"We even found the perfect tree!" Emmett calls as he beckons me over. As soon as I'm in range, Rose is dumping her load of tools in my arms with a casual claim of it being for strength control training. I don't complain - I'd carry all of their tools if it meant we could start building.

"Let's go, kids," Jasper calls. He'd moved halfway across the yard when I wasn't looking. Emmett seems to take Jasper's sneaky head start as a challenge, as soon he's running and yelling. It takes all of a second for both boys to disappear into the woods.

"Hey Rose?" I ask, looking over at the blonde woman. She raises a sculpted eyebrow at me and I continue. "How much of a head start do you think we should give them?"

The laugh Rosalee gives off is high and merry. Then we both hurl off into the woods after the boys.

 

 

Rose is the one who ended up winning the race to the tree. I had managed to get to second place before I crushed half the tools I was carrying in my excitement. That distracted me long enough for Jasper to catch up, scoop me up in his arms, and toss me off into the nearby stream. While I was spluttering angrily and shaking water out of my eyes, both boys managed to get a solid lead.

I'm still damp as I sit obediently on a stump and watch the others finish organizing the building site. Emmett already had to go back to the house to grab replacements for the gear I'd destroyed, so I've put myself in timeout. I want to get to building part, so I figure it's best if I keep out of everyone's hair long enough for that to happen.

It feels like I've been waiting on this stump for fifty years already, but finally Emmett looks over and calls for me. I'm over by his side in less than a second. "Oh man, Bells, I know you're excited, but what did that stump ever do to you?" He calls out as I reach his side and eagerly pick up a plank of wood. A glance over my shoulder shows me the remnants of the stump I'd been sitting on - cracked down the middle, with one side completely crushed.

"Oops."

"Maybe you shouldn't be dealing with any of this wood quite yet," Jasper says as he tries to take the plank I'd grabbed out of my hands. Growling I tighten my grip to keep hold of my prize, only for it to snap in half. Both of us stare at where the wood shards land.

Glaring at the splinters, I frown and step obediently away from the wood pile. While I want to help, it really does look like I'm nowhere near controlled enough right now to do construction.

"Don't worry Bella! Here, see this pile? Take these pieces and break them in half, okay?" Emmett demonstrates what he means. "Just like that. Doesn't have to be perfect - Jas and I'll be cutting them down further after." I flash him a big smile and go over to the pile he'd motioned me to, grateful to have something I can contribute. Very, very carefully, I begin trying to break the wood.

While I work, the other three begin building the skeleton of the treehouse. They're really quick with it. By the time I get through my pile - only about a quarter of the wood smashed beyond being usable! - the structure in the trees is already looking like a building.

I flop back onto my wood pile, pretending I didn't hear the ominous crunching sound below me, and stare up at the others as they work. Rose and Jasper are arguing over what to start on next. Emmett is ignoring them both and starting work on the floor. By the time Jasper and Rose realize that Emmett made the decision for them, I'm starting to get a bit antsy. I need to do... something. My fingers twitch as I see Jasper and Rose both giving Emmett hard time about not listening to them.

And idea pops into my head and my twitching fingers reach for a chunk of wood. Since Emmett - my newly minted brother - is being ganged up by the others, I aim for the slender empath when I toss the wood.

Thunk.

That… was not Jasper.

Everyone falls quiet as Rosalie turns around. She peers down into my wide eyes. "Sorry?" I yell nervously. I really wish I'd realized that even as a vampire my aim sucks before I'd beamed the blonde in the head with a splintered piece of wood. Panicking slightly, I try again. "I was aiming for Jasper! I'm sorry, Rose!"

Rose still isn't saying anything. She's just staring down at me with a still intensity that has me bracing to run. Then, between one blink and the next, she's jumped down and over to where I'm still sprawled on the woodpile. Her hand shoots out and hauls me to my feet. I trip over the wood pieces in my haste to go along with whatever she'd going to do.

"I really didn't mean it, Rose!" I gasp as Rose moves to stand behind my shoulder.

Another piece of wood is shoved into my hands. "Try again," She demands, rotating me until I'm facing the boys. "That kind of aim is pathetic and I refuse to let it stand. You'll never be any use to us in baseball matches if that's the best you've got."

Not daring to argue, I pull back my arm then throw the wood towards Jasper again. The jerk doesn't even twitch as he sees the wood sail closer and closer… Oh who am I kidding? It doesn't get anywhere close to where the boys are both perched on the treehouse frame.

"You can do better than that, darlin'!" Jasper taunts, wearing a huge grin.

Alright, Jasper. You wanna play? Let's play.

I grab the next piece of wood that Rose is holding up for me and try again.

 

…..

 

It's almost June.

I come to the realization out of nowhere. I'd been sitting on the porch with a textbook draped over my lap when suddenly I realized that it's summer. Ever since I woke up, time hasn't meant a thing. It's just me me and Rose and Emmett and Jasper and eternity. It's been our own little world. But now, life is about to start back up again.

I'm not sure if I'm ready.

The phone rings inside and Rose heads to answer it. I hear her greet Alice before I slip off the porch and out of hearing range. I still can't bring myself to talk to the others on the phone that often. Besides that brief call with Carlise, Esme and Alice a few months ago and another call with Alice after Victoria's return, I've made sure to avoid being offered the chance to talk to them over the phone. I just... want to meet them again in person first. I want to be sure they know they're talking to present-Bella and not to the memory of human-Bella. After what Victoria said, I have to be sure.

I grunt and shake the brooding thoughts from my head. The sun is bright, the birds are chirping, and my skin is shining like a disco ball; it's too nice a day to waste with being anxious about things that are going to happen. June will come and things will work out. Somehow.

"Emmett!" I call as I spot the big vampire nearby. "Race you to the treehouse!"

"You're on sis!" He calls, as he rockets off towards the almost-completed structure. Laughing, I follow right on his tail. Then I put on even more speed and rocket ahead of him.

As the wind created by my dash buffets my face, I close my eyes and smile. It really is a nice day.

 

….

 

I can just barely tell where Jasper is.

Perfect.

For the last week, he's been challenging me to try and skirt around where he's located when I hunt. Yet another one of his training exercises, he says. It seems to be working though, at the very least I've become hyper aware of whenever the others are within my sensory range. Though, when Rose and Emmett get frisky, I regret being so unconsciously tuned in to them. Something a girl just doesn't need to know about her friends.

I keep moving, so as to make sure that I remain just on the edge of Jasper's range. If I let him get too close, I lose the game and he'll rush up and scare off my meal. Same deal if I get too far. So, I skirt around the edges of his senses, trying to remember the perfect distance from the faint scent and sound of Jasper I hear in the distance. I don't know how he expects me to catch a meal if he keeps me moving like this.

Suddenly, an amazing smell filters into my nose. I groan softly and my hunger spikes. Is that mountain lion? No, smells richer than that. Maybe some new type of animal wandered into the area. My hunger wins out over my common sense and before I know it I'm abandoning my game with Jasper to pursue that scent. Maybe if I'm quick enough I can catch it before Jasper realizes I just lost the game and comes to scare my prey off.

Faster and faster I run, approaching the delicious morsel. I cannot wait to devour it. It smells completely amazing! I crest a ridge overlooking a small clearing, my prey is there, I can see it.

I can see her.

A human.

A fragile human hiking through the woods with no idea the dangers. A delicious human. God, she smells amazing. My hunger hasn't burned this fiercely in months.

I tense, ready to spring. Then I see her face. Her eyes. Beautiful brown eyes and a young unblemished face. She could be me. She could be my friends from school. One day, she could have been my daughter.

I don't dare move. I don't dare blink. If I do, I'm afraid this rationality will lose to the hunger that still burns. No, don't think of hunger, Bella. Just stare at her. Look at those eyes. She's having fun. She's exploring her horizons, opening up her world.

"Jasper," I whisper, hoping he's followed near enough to hear. I can't risk dividing my focus and trying to detect his location right now. And even if I could, I don't know that I'd be able to pick out his scent underneath the powerful and alluring scent of this human. The girl takes out a camera, photographing something in the clearing and giggling to herself. She looks so harmless. She smells so delicious. My mouth waters as I force myself to stay absolutely still.

Don't look away Bella. She is your friend. Your daughter. Your past. Your future.

The hunger burns and I don't know how much longer I can resist my instincts.

"Jasper!" I whisper, louder and more desperately than before.

Then cold hands are on my arms and gently pulling me away from the clearing. Soft words of nonsense are whispered in my ear and waves of calming emotion wash around me. Jasper's been unable to make his projected emotions my own ever since I awoke, but feeling the calm around me helps to steel myself against my hunger. After a tense eternity, the girl is out of my line of sight.

As soon I lose sight of the girl, my instincts surge; I snarl and lunge forward, seeking to return to my prey. But Jasper is there, firmly holding me back. I don't fight him as hard as I had in the past, even as I rage against the loss of my meal.

We keep moving away from that clearing, further and further, until the scent is long gone. We find a bear and gorge ourselves on it. Just the memory of that human's scent spoils the taste of the bear. The fresh blood tastes bland and stale in my mouth.

But, I did the right thing.

As I swallow down the unpleasant meal, as my taste buds mourn the loss of a delicious meal, I hold on to that knowledge.

I, Bella Swan Cullen, was strong enough to do the right thing.

 

 

I've been clinging to Jasper since the human scare, unwilling to wander off and find myself in a similar situation again so soon. This was my second close encounter with humans, and both times the unwitting humans had barely escaped. I'd thought I was handling my cravings for blood much better these days, and thought that my pursuit if the hikers all those months ago was something that was a passing issue, tied to the early days of my new life.

All it had taken was one puny girl to remind me that nothing was so simple.

I've dragged Jasper back to my newly finished treehouse. Only when we are both settles in a corner do I finally speak. "How do you do it? I could barely keep myself from killing her. And with those hikers before I didn't even try. How do you surround yourself with humans and …"

"Not rip out their throats and gorge on their blood?" Jasper finishes my sentence for me.

"Uh, yeah."

"I used to. Hunt humans without thinking about it. When I was freshly turned by Maria, my hunger and bloodlust was used to keep me in line. Hunting humans was my reward for obedience." I shiver at the reminder of that bitch and scoot over closer to Jasper. He wraps an arm around my shoulders and continues. "When I left, I was freein' myself of Maria's control. Part of that became freein' myself for being ruled by my instincts. I still struggle with it - unlike some of the Cullens, I know exactly what I'm missin' out on. But every time I treat a human as a person and not like a food source, I'm puttin' more distance between me and the weapon I used to be."

The weapon he used to be…

For a moment, I lose myself in wondering what exactly he'd had to endure. An empath turned into a ruthless soldier. Using the pain and fear he feels to do his mistress's bidding and staying loyal due to the food she provides. I can see it far to clearly. I can see how the Jasper I've come to know and rely on and care for could be trapped in that sort of situation. And I'll be damned if I ever let that happen again.

"You're so freaking strong," I growl, irritable from the thought of Jasper's past and needing an outlet.

"And you're pissed," Jasper chuckles. He stands and drags me up with him. "Let's go find another bear."

Chapter Text

Jasper

 

Two days ago, the school year in Forks High school ended. Edward and Alice graduated again, and the family packed up their lives. Then they left Forks, telling friends and employers they are moving to Los Angeles, where myself, Rose and Emmett are supposedly studying. Any time now, Alice, Edward, Carlisle and Esme will arrive here instead.

In a turn of events that should really surprise me more than it does, everyone here - including myself - has been a writhing pit of anxiety the last few days.

It started with Bella, as most things do these days. The darlin’ newborn had been flipping between excited and terrified for days. She was undeniably excited to see the others again - probably dying to see Edward. But she was also hesitant, the same way she had been during the few times she’d called the others. Can’t blame her, she’s a vampire now, not a human. She’s different even as much as she’s the same. She’s glorious, but also still wrapped up in instincts and the petulance of a newborn.

Rose had been the next of their little group to ramp up the anxiety. She was easy to figure out though - my dear sister was jealous of the future. While she may not have cared for Bella much when she dragged the dying girl up here, they’re very close now. And if I’m reading Rosalie right, she’s afraid that she’ll have to compete with the others for the time of her new friend. Honestly, I doubt she has much to worry about though. Bella and Rose fit together quite nicely. A terrifying bundle of stubborn and sassiness that kept us males on our toes.

Emmett was even simpler to figure out. The man may not be an empath, but he is tuned into the feelings of the women in his life. And with both his wife and his adopted sister either moping around the house or hunting with exceedingly vicious accuracy, he knows something is wrong.

And then there’s me. I’ve been feeling all the emotions around this last week, including my own. I admit I’ve grown attached to this little offshoot of our family. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt free to run around the woods, to tear up my shirts, to laugh and wrestle and act like the semi-wild animal we are. And…. I’m going to miss the hell out of Bella when Edward and the others are back to reclaim her time.

It’s funny, the others always have said that Rose and I are similar. Looks like that extends to jealously hoarding the time of our family as well.

“Jasper!” Bella’s cry brings me out of my head as I look over to where she’s running across the back yard. Feeling something wrong I rush over to her, catching her form between my hands and staring at the small form she has clutched in her hands.

It’s a fish.

It’s a fish?

“Bella, darlin’...” I trail off. I have no idea what to even ask.

“I need to do something to stay busy and you’re going to help me. Take this,” Bella steps out of my grasp and forces the limp fish into one of my hands. Then the punk wipes her hands off on the front of my T-shirt.

“Bella,” I scold, glaring lightly at her. She smiles back at me, but her anxiety levels remain high. She really does need a distraction. So I guess it’s time to ask about the fish. “What exactly is this for?”

Bella freezes. Her emotions close off the way they do when she’s startled. Realizing what this means I laugh. “You have no idea, do you?”

The girl’d likely be blushin’ now if she were still human. But then again, if she were human she wouldn’t have instinctively hunted down a fish to combat her anxiety. And that’s the beauty of this new Bella. All the caring and kindness of her human self, with a bit of crazy vampire thrown in. “Let’s go throw it at Emmett,” I suggest. And when she smiles and cackles at the suggestion I won’t deny the wave of smug satisfaction that briefly overrides my anxiety. That’s my girl.

 

…….

 

The fish fight hadn’t lasted long. Bella threw it so hard at Emmett’s face the poor fish burst into paste. Emmett had been so busy laughing at the sudden fish slap that it had been Rose who retaliated with a spare couch cushion. Soon, all four of us were having an epically silly battle that lasted just long enough for ust to get the edge off of our nerves.

Now, we’re all curled up on the floor in front of the sofa, movie playing softly in the background. Bella and Rose are sprawled across myself and Emmett and all of us look a bit worse for wear. A stinging in my shoulder reminds me of the fresh bite I got there from Bella as we settled down. It’s the good kind of sting, but reminds me of yet another layer of awkward this reunion is going to entail.

How the hell are we gonna explain Bella’s fixation of biting the three of us in a way that Edward won’t deliberately overreact about? Typically, these types of bites do have an… intimate connotation to them. Hopefully he’ll notice the bites on Rose before the ones on myself and Emmett.

“Shhh,” Rose scolds, elbowing me in the side. “You’re thinking too loud. This is the best part.”

Knowing better than to go against an order from our blonde princess, I force my attention back on the movie.

 

……

 

Showtime.

The movie’s on its final act when the four long-absent Cullens enter the range of my senses. I place one hand on each of the girls’ arms, hoping that they’ll still be feeling somewhat relaxed once they hear the company approaching.

Rose is the next one to realize the Cullen reunion is mere moments away. She eases her arm around Bella’s shoulders and pauses the movie. Leanin in, my sister whispers something into the newborn’s ear so softly I can’t pick up on what it is. Bella springs up, pulling Rosalie with her. Before I can blink the two are sequestered in Bella’s room having a hushed conversation.

“...nothing to… don’t need to say it...”

“… not sure how… what if he…”

“...Esme will love… why don’t we just…”

“...Edward won’t...”

A sharp exhale of breath right into my ear causes me to flinch. Irritated at being distracted from trying to make out what was about to be said, I punch Emmett’s stomach. He let’s out a loud grunt but doesn’t stop leaning heavily on my shoulder.

“It’s rude to eavesdrop bro,” the irritating vampire grins as he chides me. I just scoff, he’s one to talk. I don’t think there are numbers high enough to count the amount of times I’ve caught him trying to listen into conversations. “Hey, just cause I’m a hypocrite doesn’t mean it’s not rude. Bella’s on edge enough without thinking we’re acting like creeps.”

Grimacing, I realize he has a point. A very good point.

And it looks like the chance to listen in on the conversation has passed, anyways. With one last glance at the closed door, I push Emmett off of my shoulder and head to the door. Feeling like something is ending, I open the door just in time to see Carlisle, Esme, Alice and Edward getting out of their respective cars.

“Jazz!” Alice is the first one to notice me, sprinting up the walkway and landing in my arms. I laugh and give her a squeeze - I admit I have missed having her around. Then she’s gone, heading inside and yelling, “Bella! Bella!”

I decide right then that a trickle of introductions may be for the best. I move to block the front door before calling out to the others, “Hey. Good drive?”

“Man, you guys have missed so much!” Emmet adds as he leans on my shoulder - again. I really should remind him I’m not his fuckin’ armrest. My irritation fades when I realize that he’s helping me block off the entryway with a casual ease.

Straining my ears and my senses, I hear a door open and close inside. So one of the girls let Alice into Bella’s room. I don’t sense any strong emotions besides Alice’s excitement, so I quickly refocus on the party in front of me.

“Jasper, dear, it’s so good to see you again!” Esme calls out. As soon as she is close enough, she reaches out to place a hand against my face and gives me a warm smile. God I love this woman - I like to imagine that she is like the mother I can’t remember but am sure I must have had. “And you too, Emmett!”

“Yes, it really has been a while. Always good when the family is back together.” Carlisle is next to Esme in a flash, hand on her shoulder and similarly welcoming smile in his eyes.

That just leaves….

“Where is she?”

Edward’s voice is quiet, but it’s no difficulty to hear it despite the fact that my brother is still standing by the car.

A admit I’d been imagining his reaction on arrival to be more similar to Alice’s. The fact that he hasn’t tried to barge in past me and Emmett has me immediately on guard.

“I have some self control, unlike some,” Edward says with a scowl.

Damn, I’d forgotten how much of a pain having a mind reader around can be. I start mentally humming a song in the forefront of my head - it’s been so long since I’ve been around Edward I forgot to keep up my practice with the usual tricks. While the boy tries to give us some privacy, when he gets in a temper he can be a bit invasive.

Behind me, Emmett shifts, cocking his head as we all catch a soft laugh from inside the house. Good, no disasters inside yet.

“Sounds like the girls are catching up,” Carlisle says with a nod. He looks at me and Emmett, question in his eyes.

“Maybe you should go join them, Esme,” I move slightly aside as the woman instantly nods. She slips past me and into the house.

This time, I don’t hear the door close again after it opens.

I listen for a moment longer, trying to hear the quiet conversation happening inside. But then a sudden sharpening in Edward’s emotions brings my attention back outside. Glancing at him, I see his eyes locked on a bite peeking out from under the sleeve of Emmett’s shirt - the gift from Bella he’d received that first day she’d come into the house.

“What is that?”

A part of me wants to smirk - I’ve got more bites from Bella, though fewer that can be seen around my clothes. And Edward is so used to not looking too closely at my skin - her bites aren’t the only scars I carry - that he’s likely not to notice them. For a while at least.

“Oh, that? That’s my Bella Club Card!” Emmett’s voice is filled with pride as he responds. My smirk can no longer remain hidden as I feel the wave of pride and smugness that radiates from Emmett.

“Your…” Carlisle trails off, eyebrows creased. Can’t blame him for looking confused, honestly. “Bella did that?”

“Sure did! It was awesome! Hurt a bit, though. I’m still bummed I was the last one to get one though.”

“Bella bit both of you?” Edward sounds confused, but his emotions are even more complicated - jealousy, unease, fear? Fuck, man. I mentally hum my tune louder so the mind reader doesn’t pick up on the less than company appropriate words I’d like to call him at this moment. I’m gonna have to have a talk with him about his messed up head soon, but right now is not the time.

Emmett nods, oblivious to the strange emotional undercurrent behind Edward’s question. “Rosalie too. It’s how she shows she loves us.”

“She’s- She’s not a rabid dog!” Edward exclaims. His unease rockets and I quickly start projecting some subtle, calming waves before chiming in, “No one said she was, Edward. Emmett’s just excited by almost anything Bella does.”

“Well don’t be,” The vampire snaps petulantly, finally flashing over towards where the rest of us are gathered on the porch.

“Edward.”

Carlisle’s voice is gentle, but also managed to convey a quiet reprimand. The oldest vampire in our little family, the good doctor’s always been the only one who can get away with treating Edward like the teenager he still tends to act as. As Edward has fallen back into his odd and sulking silence, emotions flickering through him so quickly I can’t keep up, Carlisle is the one to pick back up the conversation. “So how is she doing? You all have settled in here nicely?”

“Yes, the last few months especially, we’ve all been pretty comfortable,” I say. Beside me, I can feel Emmett move - probably nodding along with my statement before chiming in with his-

“It’s been a blast, really!” There is is. I really am grateful to have the eager bulwark that is Emmett by my side. At least he’s able to faceplant right into awkward situations and lighten the tension. “We built a treehouse a couple of weeks ago, which was a nice change from fixing the same sofa over and over.”

“Why would you-”

“Boys! Come in and say hi!” Esme’s warm voice rings out, cutting off whatever it was Edward was about to say. I haven’t been listening to the conversation the girls have been having, so I can only hope that Rose made sure we weren’t summoned inside before Bella decided she was ready. But knowing it has to happen eventually, Emmett and I both slip inside, Edward and Carlisle just a few steps behind us.

Even if I wasn’t an empath, Bella’s facade of calm wouldn’t fool me for a second. She looks about two seconds from bolting out the nearest door or window. Right now, she looks more like an instinct driven newborn than she has in months. Rose is a solid shield to one side of her, and Emmett quickly plasters himself on her other side.

Meeting the girl’s golden eyes, I give her a smile and project out a small surge of comfort and calm. Then I lead against the wall to one side of the room, firmly between her and the new arrivals.

“Bella,” Edward whispers, as soon as he’s in the room and has clear view of her. He takes a few steps towards her, either not caring or not noticing the way she tenses at his sudden approach.

Watch it, brother.

Edward’s steps falter and he sends a glare my way. Good, he caught that then.

“Why don’t you come sit down by me, Edward,” Esme says before my brother can resume his walk towards Bella. “You remember how wary newborns can get around strangers, dear.”

I wince at the sudden spike of anger I feel coming from Edward. “We’re not strangers,” he says coldly. Then he turns and takes another step towards Bella. “Bella.”

“We’re strangers in that your scents and presence is all new to the vampiric instincts. I’ve seen it before, when a human I knew was turned. We were great friends, but he almost bit of my hand the first time I visited him after the change.” I swear I could kiss Carlisle right now, seeing the man take charge and gently pull Edward over to where Esme was sitting. “It is very nice to see you again, Bella. But please know that we won’t get any closer than you are comfortable with. We can save the hugs for another time.”

Edward may have sat down under Carlisle’s firm hand, but he has not looked away from Bella for an instant. Sensing his gaze, Bella is doing her best to stare a hole into the floor to match the one we still haven’t filled from her fists of fury. Alice is bouncing on her heels next to Esme’s seat and both her and Esme look like silence is the last thing they want right now. Rose looks possessively menacing, and Emmett is unconsciously flexing his muscles. It’s all painfully awkward - I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room filled with so many people dying to say something and all unable to bring themselves to speak.

“So… this is nice?” I speak, annoyed that no one else seems to know how to break the awkward silence that has fallen over the room.

“Jasper, why don’t you tell everyone how Rosalie taught Bella to throw?” Alice chimes in with a grin. I give her a halfhearted glare, but I was hopin’ that someone’d jump in after my decidedly shit attempt at a conversation starter.

“You saw that, I’m guessing?” Rose jumps in with a wave of relief. As much as she’s mastered the strong face, she hates family tension almost as much as I do. “It was quite glorious. It took her about fifteen tries, but eventually she managed to hit Jasper right on his smug nose. Of course, as I’m still her mentor, she’ll have to be on my team next time we play ball.”

“Well, I’m not too worried about your newest teammate yet,” I send a smile over the Bella. “It takes more than one lucky throw to win a game.”

Bella doesn’t smile or growl at my words. Shame, I’d hoped my normal teasing would at least break through some of her tension. And unfortunately, it seems like the light topic is causing Edward to run out of patience.

I tense a second before the boy surges to his feet.

“Bella, I just want to-” Edward is cut off as Bella jumps to her feet with a snarl. She feels caged and cornered, and I shoot a meaningful glance over to Rose. The blonde gives me a nod before whispering in Bella’s ear and motioning towards the girl’s room. The mere suggestion of escape calms Bella almost immediately and she wastes no time pulling rose towards the room.

The firm snap of Bella’s door closing behind her and Rose kills the conversation in its tracks.

Emmett’s the brave soul who tries to break the tension that’s still drowning us all in this room. “So, how’d graduation go?”

 

……

 

It’s been a long drive for the others, so Carlisle insists they all go hunting before settling in further. Emmett and I wave at the four as they disappear into the woods. Once I’m sure they’re out of hearing range, I give a long sigh and shake my head.

“That could have gone better,” Emmett says, releasing a sigh of his own.

“Sure could’ve.”

The big vampire claps my shoulder and heads inside. I’m close on his heals. Neither of us bother pretending that we intend to go anywhere other than to check on Bella. She hadn’t come out of her room since she’d retreated into it, no matter how many words had been directed at her through the door by the others.

“Bells! Open up!” Emmett calls as soon as we are in front of her room. The door doesn’t budge.

My brother tries again, “Bella! Rosalie!”

Still doesn’t budge, though I can feel a strange surge of humor coming from the direction of the girls now. It manages to override the stress and anxiety Bella’s been exuding since the others arrived. While I’m pleased the girls are easing out of their tension, the humor has me a bit worries. “What are you up to?” I ask quietly, knowing they will hear me.

“Let me in!” Emmett chimes in. “I want to be up to something too, girls!” Finally the door opens to reveal Rose’s smug face and…

I had totally forgotten about all the pinecones.

Emmett and I amble into the room and sit down by the pile, matching grins on our faces. This is just what we need to relax after a stressful reunion.

 

…..

 

The four of us are tucked away on the second floor room that Rose and Emmett claimed as their own. We’d spend an hour decorating the entire house with pinecones, giggling like the children we were acting like, before Bella’s humor faded. As soon as her anxiety rocketed back up, we bundled her off to the room where she’d curled up like a burrito in one of Rose’s soft blanket.

“You rip that blanket, I’ll have you practice dressing in silk and lace for days,” Rose warns the newborn, breaking the silence we’d been sitting in.

“Yes, your majesty,” Bella purrs as she snuggles deeper into the covers.

“Emmett made this for me.”

The vampire in question beams at the reminder. His jolt of pleasure hits me so suddenly that I let out a small gasp of surprise. “Tone it down, would you?” I groan at him before rolling over and grabbing a pillow to throw at my brother’s head. Emmett is great, but sometimes his intensely single minded emotions drive me crazy.

“Emmett made this?” Bella asks Rose, both girls ignoring us.

“Yes. Emse helped him. It was a great secret, so of course I knew the whole time. We all used to sneak nearby to watch him work. It was a beautiful disaster.” Rose’s smile is soft and very unlike the one she normally wears around others. “Emmett is much better with things less delicate.”

The story makes me pause in my harassment of Emmett. “Was that before Alice and I arrived? I don’t remember it at all.”

“You didn’t show up on our doorstep for another few years after that.” Rose answers.

“Huh,” Bella says as her head pops out a bit from the blanket. “It’s weird… I’d never really realized before how long you guys have known each other. It’s so easy to forget that you guys are older than my grandparents would be.”

“Oh man!” Emmett cries, pushing up from where I was half-heartedly holding him down and rushing over to the pile that is hiding Bella. “I just realized, I’m not the baby anymore!”

Then he’s squeezing Bella - blanket and all - and laughing. “Hey! Let me go!” Bella’s cry is muffled by being pressing into the big vampire’s chest. A moment more of struggling and I feel Bella’s lighthearted frustration sharpen into a true surge of temper. Any moment now….

“Ow!”

There it is. Emmett quickly lets go of the newborn, rubbing his chest where Bella’s teeth had managed to sink in for a moment. Rose laughs and pokes the healing wound. “Serves you right.”

We all settle again into thoughtful quiet. The exchange has managed to distract Bella for a time, but already it’s obvious that her anxiety is building again. A few long minutes pass and I focus on the emotions that are slowly growing. Finally, Bella asks what’s been bothering her.

“Why is this so hard?” She pulls herself into a sitting position. Rose and my eyes dart to the small tear in the blanket when Bella moves. But reading the situation well, my sister says nothing about it for the moment, letting Bella continue. “I know them! And I like them. But I feel so weird with them around… it doesn’t feel… safe…”

“It’s normal. You took a long time to really trust the three of us once you woke up. Since then, it’s just been us. And remember, the only other vampire to enter our territory was a threat. Your instincts are telling you to be wary, and your emotions are telling you that you need to get to know them again.” I try to explain as well as I can. I don’t want Bella to feel guilty over something that we all expected. Well, Edward may not have expected her reaction, but that’s a whole other set of issues we need to plow through eventually.

“Besides, we know better than to crowd you and get in your space,” Rose says as she pushes Bella aside and wraps the edge of the blanket around them both.

Emmett laughs and joins in, “Right!” He picks up both girls and maneuvers so he’s sitting behind them. “We’d never pop your personal bubble, Bells.”

What can I do my roll my eyes and head over. Propping my back against one wall, I settle down in the pile. Bella squishes against my side and Rose tosses her legs over me like I’m just some common footrest.

As we all settle down again, I just pat the girl’s head. “Give it time. Things’ll settle, darlin’.”

 

…...

 

I ease out of the pile in Rose and Emmett’s room as the dawn light starts to filter through the window. The owners of the room are curled together whispering softly and don’t even twitch as I slide out from under the blonde’s legs. Bella’s eyes - finally without any red muddling the golden glow - track my movements as I head to the door. I flash her a reassuring smile as I slip out of the room. Reaching out for her emotions, contentment is outweighing the unease that dominated her feelings yesterday.

I’ve been watching the sunrise from the deck for a few minutes when Alice emerges from the treeline, back from her hunt. She smiles and heads over to where I’m standing. “It’s good to see you, Jazz.”

I can feel Alice’s sincerity at the words. But it is mixed with a complex flux of emotions that have been circling the woman since she arrived: happiness, sadness, resignation, elation.

“It’s been a while,” I reply.

“Jazz, I just,” Alice starts, pausing in the doorway and looking back at me. “Just don’t worry about it, okay? No hard feelings, when it happens.”

What?

Before I can ask what the cryptic pixie means, she’s slipped through the back door - a clear sign that this conversation is done. That’s the problem with living with a seer, sometimes they give cryptic messages just for the hell of it. Her words stick with me though, as I pull out a book and stare blankly at the words in front of me. So many things they could mean, but given how solemn the girl had been, most of my initial ideas are ruled out.

I decide to take her advice at face value for now. I’m not going to worry about it - whatever ‘it’ is.

“Augh! What is this?!” Alice’s distressed yelp rings loudly from inside the house, followed by a more muted, bellowing laugh.

I’m half tempted to go see Alice’s face as she takes in the pinecone-coated house, but I don’t move from my seat. I look back at my book and try to focus on the words even as a part of me continues to chew over Alice’s earlier words.

Chapter Text

Bella

 

“You know one of the hardest things about seeing visions of the future?” Alice asks. She’d joined me and Rosalie on the porch a while ago - sitting a on the other side of the deck and not saying a word. The sun had set and the stars had come out before she’d finally broken the silence with her question.

“Seeing things you can’t change?” I answer after thinking about it a moment.

“No. The hardest thing is seeing things I don’t want to change,” Out of the corner of my eye, I see Rose straighten and look over towards Alice. I wonder if she is feeling as surprised as I am by Alice’s answer. “I see things that are likely to happen before anyone else. When they are things that are ultimately good, I never want to risk changing them. So a lot of times I’ve had to process and prepare myself for these changes on my own. Because even if it’s a good thing, change is always a little bit hard.”

Seeing things you don’t want to change…

Being alone and terrified of changing whatever you hope will happen…

I hadn’t ever thought of that, when I’d thought of Alice’s visions before.

“But you know what the best part is? When those events happen, I’m already prepared to deal with the change. I’m ready for it. So in the end, I’m in a much better place to help everyone I love deal their own reactions to the events.”

I may still be getting used to Alice again, but that answer warms something inside of me. It just sounds so much like something the Alice I remember would say. Before I realize it, I’m sliding across the deck. My shoulder bumps against Alice’s as I settle down closer to her.

“Bella,” Alice says, looking to the side and meeting my eyes with her own golden ones. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you from Victoria. But know that I’m here now and ready, whenever you’re ready to talk.”

I’m tempted to think she’s just offering to be a shoulder to cry on when needed, but given what she just revealed, I’m pretty sure there is something more to her words than that. But I don’t know what it is - yet, at least - so I just give the small vampire a small smile and bump against her shoulder one more time before standing and retreating back to the other side of Rosalie.

 

……

 

I’m still not comfortable with everyone. I’ve been skirting on the edges of everything, doing my best to avoid interactions where I can. I know I’ll have to talk to everyone eventually, but it’s a lot right now. So after my conversation with Alice, I slip away from the house to hunt. Rose follows at a distance, but seems to understand my desire to be alone right now and keeps to the very fringes of my awareness.

And I do want to be alone. I push my awareness of my new sister away and open my ears to listen for the now familiar twitches and shuffles that give away the location of food.

Nothing...

Nothing...

There!

I lunge into action, moving through the trees with an ease that still surprises me. I’m on the trail of the buck for only a few minutes before I catch sight of it. Then it’s down and I dig in. There is still quite a bit of blood left when I feel someone approach. I tense up as I realize it’s not Jasper, Rose or Emmett.

Ripping my mouth from the buck I spin around, defensive and ready to attack the newcomer if needed.

“Bella,” Edward says softly, staring at me with a lost look on his face. Blood flows down my chin and falls to the ground. Edward’s eyes follow it.

“You’re a vampire.”

My hunger is sated enough that I don’t growl at the obvious comment. Much. Edward doesn’t seem to notice it as he instead continues to stare where the blood landed by my bare feet. The silence drags on and my hunger wars with the knowledge that Edward is here and obviously needing to speak.

I sigh and straighten our of my defensive crouch. I’ve never been able to ask him to leave when he acts like staying is all he needs. “Edward, are you okay?”

“I…,” Edward’s voice breaks and he pulls at his hair. “I’m so sorry, Bella. If I hadn’t gone on that stupid hunting trip- God, I never should have left you alone!”

Seeing the obvious misery on his face, I shiver. Victoria’s words ring through my mind.

‘Every time he sees you he’ll be reminded of the great love that he can never fully have again.’

Back when I heard the words, despite how much those words had hurt to hear, I had heard the truth in them. I had felt she was right, but I hadn’t known it. Not for sure. Here and now, staring at Edward…

The truth of her words is written in every line of his face.

I push my own irritation and hunger down as much as I can. The smell of my interrupted meal still pulls on my mind, but I know that I need to tread carefully here. Edward is two steps from breaking. I’d like to think that I’m not so cruel as to push a grieving man further into the depths of despair. Even if a part of me really wants to lash out at him.

“She would have found me alone eventually. It’s nothing you could have prevented.”

“I would have! If I had kept you close, if I hadn’t been distracted by my own damn hunger-” Edward’s voice cracks. “I failed you, Bella. I didn’t protect you the way I promised. And now, God, I’m so sorry. I never wanted this. Not for you.”

“Edward, stop,” I snap. He falls silent, blessedly silent, and I take a deep breath to speak. But what do I say? How do I tell him the truths that neither of us want to admit?

Edward doesn’t love me.

And I don’t love him.

Wow. There’s something I’ve been putting off admitting for a long time now. Even before I was changed, I was starting to feel the truth of Edward’s feelings - I just refused to think about it. And now, seeing him here, heartbroken and lost, it’s so clear. My chest tightens in pain, but I guess sometimes truths are just sad and depressing. And they have to be said. So when I continue speaking, I say the most honest thing I can. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“My loss?” Edward’s face contorts briefly in confusion before reverting back to the desolate mask of despair that he’s been wearing. “Don’t you see, Bella? My failure has ruined you!”

“Ruined?” I whisper, feeling a curl of rage. Why should I be the only mature one, the only kind one in this freaking clearing? I feel my anger loosening the control I have over my actions and I’m too pissed to care. My voice is deadly quiet when I continue. “I’m not ruined. I’m strong. I’m surrounded by family. I’m me! I’m Bella fucking Swan Cullen!”

Edward may say something after that, but I’m not listening. I’m too busy spinning on my heels and running wildly into the woods and away from this conversation.

Ruined?!

Who the hell does he think he is?

There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing less about me now. If anything I’m stronger than ever - I survived Victoria! I’ve overcome my newborn instincts enough to find myself again!

Ruined. Yeah, right.

It’s just his grief talking. I won’t take anything he says to heart.

Ruined.

God, why won’t that stupid word stop echoing in my head?!

Ruined…

My mad sprint falters as the very recent memory of the girl in the woods comes to mind. My hunger had been so strong I almost killed that innocent girl. I had almost wanted to kill her. Even as I saw myself in her, I had barely been able to control myself. If Jasper hadn’t come when he did…

Could Edward be right? Am I really the monster he sees in me?

I fall to my knees, curling over my stomach and moaning.

“No,” I whisper into the leaves. I taste the delicious tang of blood still on my lips from my kill as I speak. Shit, it tastes so good. The twinge of hunger that the taste sparks within me has me heaving out a dry sob. “No!”

I’m not ruined.



…..

 

I don’t know how long I wander before I end up here in my treehouse. I don’t know how long I’ve been here before the familiar presence of my family slips into my awareness. They’re approaching steadily, but seemingly not in any huge hurry. I sigh and curl up a bit tighter in the corner of my treehouse. They’ll come in when they feel like it.

Ignoring the sounds of their approach, I stare at the wall of my treehouse. There’s a knot in a board near where my nose is pressed against the wood. It’s dark and ugly and if I had any energy I’d be tempted to reach out and rip it out of the wall. But instead I just angle my head towards the floor so I don’t see it anymore.

A creak in the floor signals Jasper’s arrival inside and soon I can tell he’s crouching over me.

“What can I do, darlin’?”

The voice is quiet and calm and eases away a bit of the tension I’d been carrying since my blowout with Edward.

“Mmf me mrubmle,” I grumble into the flooring.

“What was that? I didn’t catch it?” The familiar voice of Emmett calls out from below the treehouse. “Ow! Rose!”

While Emmett and Rose have a hushed argument outside, Jasper gently rolls me over until I’m laying on my back staring up at his worried face.

Ruined. Ruined. Ruined.

Edward’s words still echo in my mind - casually cruel and tainted with his own sorrow.

“Jasper?”

“Yeah, darlin’. What can I do?”

“Am I…” Ruined. Crap, I can’t say that stupid word outloud. I try again. “Am I less now? Than I was before?” If my heart still beat, it would be pounding in my chest. I’m so afraid of his answer, so upset by this self-doubt that has wormed into my head I can feel a phantom ache in my chest.

“No.”

There is no room for compromise in his voice. His words are firm and confident. I open my mouth to try and reply - assuming I can form the words I need to. But before I can say anything, Rosalie is crashing through the entrance to the treehouse. Wood splinters are still flying through the air as she settles besides me and takes my hand in her own. “What the bleeding fuck makes you ask that?” Her voice is dangerous and reminds me of the fury I heard in it when she was fighting Victoria.

“Edward said…” I start. I know it’s stupid, but it’s hard to admit to the encounter. I feel terrible at the pain I caused him, and furious a the pain he is causing me. “He apologized. For killing me, for not being around and letting me get turned. Victoria… she was right. He’s lost his Bella. The human one. He…” I’m breathing too roughly to continue. So I trail off and stare at the floor, unwilling to look at the others.

All three of them are so still I barely can tell they are still here. Then Rosalie leans forward and bites my wrist in the same place she had after Victoria’s attack, kisses my forehead and turns to Emmett. “C’mon Emm, we’ve got to go talk to our brother.” An instant later, Emmett’s teeth lock over the same place Rose’s had. Then he’s following Rosalie out of the treehouse. As he jumps down, I notice how tightly his fists are clenched and realize how odd it is that he hadn’t said anything before leaving.

Meanwhile, Jasper hasn’t moved from where he’s crouched nearby. He hasn’t so much as breathed and his face is still and hard. I wonder if this is the same face he put on when he had to fight in the wars, all those years ago. Then between one instant and the next the hardness slips out of his expression. He sighs, sits down on the floor and speaks. “I don’t know if you remember, but when you first entered our lives I wanted to kill you.”

“Yeah. I… I remember.”

Though I’d never expected him to bring it back up after all this time.

“It wasn’t anything personal, but I saw you as a danger to my family.” Jasper glares at the wall in front of him and gives it a grim smile. “And almost everything that I was afraid of happenin’ has happened. Your presence led my brother to run away to keep from loosin’ control. My family’s attachment to you drew unwanted attention from other vampires. Your rash decision in Phoenix made a dangerous situation worse. Your continued existence ended up motivating that bitch Victoria to act against us.”

With each matter of fact word, I feel a part of me shy away. A dry burning in my eyes lets me know that, were I still human, I’d be crying. I know all of this. But hearing them said out loud… It hurts even more than Edward’s words had.

“But let me tell you something,” Jasper finally looks over at me and I shy away from his gaze. “Killing you then would have been one of the worst mistakes of my life. And believe me, darlin’, considering how I spent my early years as a vampire, I’ve made a lot of mistakes.”

“Wha-” My voice breaks before I can even finish a single word.

“All of us have put each other in dangerous situations. And we’ll continue to do so for the rest of our lives. But you… Bella you’ve brought out some amazing things in my family. You gave Alice a friend, you gave Esme a daughter, you showed Rose it’s okay to roll around in blood every now and then. You’ve reminded me that our instincts aren’t always bad.” Jasper’s hand comes to rest on my shoulder his earnest expression captures my attention almost as much as his words do. “You’re amazin’, Isabella. And you are the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time.”

And just like that, the cruel echo of Edward’s words stops ringing through my head. A dry sob of relief echos through the treehouse. Then another and another.

Thank you, Jasper.

 

…..

 

Edward has run away. Again.

It took me two days after Jasper found me in the treehouse to work up the courage to return to the house and face Edward and the others. I’d sent Jasper ahead, wanting to be brave enough to walk on my own. But when I’d returned to the house, instead of having the chance to finish my conversation with Edward, a subdued Carlisle had been there to inform me that Edward had left.

Well, his actual words were ‘gone to visit our friends in Alaska for a while’. The same place he’d run to last time he didn’t want to be around me. Carlisle also told me that Esme and Emmett went with them. It’s a good combination - Esme can support the coward emotionally and Emmett can keep him from doing something stupid.

I’m not sure how I feel about the abrupt disappearance. There are still things I need to say to him. He left with these wounds gaping open on both of us. It’s not fair for him to run away - again - with only his own pain in mind. But at the same time, I’m glad to not have to face him again so soon. Maybe by the time he’s back, we’ll both be in a better place to finish our conversation. Maybe he’ll even apologize for treating my like shit just because I’m different now. Maybe… maybe not. But I do know one thing for sure. “When he’s back, I need to talk to him. We can’t be together anymore. Not as a couple.” I admit to the remaining Cullens. Then I shut my mouth with an audible snap. I hadn’t meant to say that out loud like that.

“Of course you can’t,” Rose responds matter-of-factly. Even though my sudden panic at my admission, I can’t help but smile at her tone. “Honestly, you two haven’t been much of a couple since before you were changed. He just never gave you the chance to realize that and tell him.”

Oh.

Huh.

That’s… maybe not totally inaccurate. I did start spending more time around the Cullens without him, and even looking forward to being away from his overbearing presence. I had been pulling away from him. Now, in hindsight, I feel a bit dumb for not realizing it.

Still unable to respond myself, I just stare at Rose, working my jaw, until Alice smiles and speaks instead. “Don’t worry Bella. No matter what, you’ll always be a Cullen. Nothing and no one will change that. Trust me.”

Honestly, as nice as the words are to hear, I don’t need to hear assurances from Alice and Carlisle right now. I need to hear it from my Cullens.

“He’ll probably be a brat about it, but we’ll make sure he respects your decision, darlin’. And don’t worry about us, you’re stuck with us.” Jasper smiles warmly at me, and the knot in my chest loosens.

“And if he pulls any of that crap again, like what he said in the woods, I’ll rip off his balls and keep them locked away for a decade or two.”

Carlisle flinches a bit at Rose’s graphic threat, but Jasper just laughs. “Honestly, I’m not sure he has any to begin with. He does run away a lot.”

Hearing that, I’m almost able to laugh as well. Not quite, but it’s something.

Baby steps.

 

….

 

Rose and Alice brought home a new load of computers last night. If I were to guess, they’re trying to keep me distracted from the elephant in the room. Or rather… the elephant that threw up on the carpet then ran out of the room before anyone could process what happened.

But I can’t deny I’m not happy about the distraction.

Taking a break from studying, I stare at the computer thoughtfully. The internet is here at my fingertips, just waiting for me to look. How is everyone? How are my father, my mother? I’m sure this curiosity could be something I regret later on, but suddenly I just have to know. The other Cullens didn’t tell me anything about how Charlie is doing when they arrived. But then again, I didn’t ask.

Ignoring the slight trembling in my hand, I do a quick internet search for Charlie. There are a number of local news articles talking about him, and about me. I open an article from a week ago and stare at the photo underneath the headline. He looks a bit older, but he seems healthy enough. He’s also apparently started a new program for fire preparedness in residences. It takes me a moment to remember that a freak fire is how Esme and Alice hid my disappearance.

“Hi dad,” I whisper to the photo.

I don’t look any deeper then that. It’s for the best if I don’t look too closely at the mess I may have left behind. Charlie is moving forward, and I need to as well.

“Now, mom, how are you?” My mom has always avoided computers and technology where she can, but maybe I can snoop some news about her if I look up Phil. I’m honestly a lot more afraid about how she’s coping after hearing about my death.

Don’t go down that road, Bella. You didn’t cause this. It’s not your fault.

God, I wished it was so easy to put aside all my doubts. But I admit, I almost believe the little voice in my head this time. Maybe if I make it sound less like me…

We’re makin’ the best of a bad situation, darlin. And grief will heal.

Hmm… not my best mental impression of Jasper, but it does make me feel a little better. Still, I carefully type Phil’s name into the search bar. Just one quick search and I’ll let this go.

My hand crushes the mouse underneath it before I can click on the first search result. I scream in frustration and lunch into the box of extra supplies to find another mouse. “C’mon, c’mon,” I growl as I dig as carefully as I can through the fragile box of plastic. Finally I find a mouse and ease it out of the box.

I’m not sure how, but I manage to plug in the flimsy thing without destroying anything else. Then carefully, I click on the search result and read through the local news article I’m taken to.

Minor League Baseball Star Phil Dwyer Killed in Tragic Accident

Traffic accident… May 24th… Dead on impact… Well loved by his fans and team… Survived by his wife Renee Dwyer…

I let out a sigh of relief as I see those words. She’s alive. My mom’s alive.

My relief is short lived though as I realize the situation my mother is now in. As far as she is concerned, her daughter died less than a year ago. Now, her husband is dead too. She has no other relatives, no one to support her.

I let out a shaky gasp before reigning in my panic as best I can. “No.” I state with a confidence I’m trying hard to feel. I know I can’t do anything myself. But I refuse to abandon my mother.

Pushing away from the table and standing on legs that feel shaky and useless, I call out, “Carlisle!”

The blond vampire is in the room in a flash. “Bella? Is something wrong?”

“Carlisle, I need a favor,” my voice is much steadier than I feel.

“What is it?”

“My mom. I need you to go to Florida and check on her.” I blurt out my request before I can overthink it.

Carlisle’s dismayed look is not reassuring. “Bella, I know it’s hard but you need to let that go. You can’t get involved with your old life anymore.”

“I know that! That’s why I’m asking you to go, Carlisle,” I snap angrily. “Phil died. That’s two people she’s lost in one year. I need you to go find her. Make sure she has people, tell her something - anything! Be a doctor and make sure she is moving on!”

The old vampire stares at me for a long moment. I finally open my mouth to try and convince him again. But as soon as I do, he raises a hand to stop my words. “I understand. I’ll go.”

“Thank you.”

“I have one condition. I’ll go as long as you promise that no matter how she is, you can’t get involved.” I’ve never seen Carlisle looking so serious. I know he’s right though - no matter what he finds out in Florida, I can’t interfere. Can I bear that?

“I promise.”

 

…….

 

Carlisle leaves the next day.

With just me, Rosalie, Alice and Jasper at the house, I’m feeling a bit more relaxed. I’m still wary of Alice, keeping a bit more of a distance than I ever did before, but I think I’m getting used to having her around.

The three of them work together to keep me busy and distracted from thinking about the Cullens in Alaska and my mother in Florida. I go on long hunts with Jasper, have tentative conversations with Alice, and finally - finally! - get Rosalie to say that I’ve mastered the art of getting dressed once more. I still have to be careful, but it’s a relief to have that bit of normalcy in my life again.

I’m heading outside to meet Rose - we’d decided to have a ‘girl’s day’ and go hunting together - when I run into Alice in the sitting room.

“Good morning, Bella,” She says with a smile. I smile back, then head towards the back door. I’m turning the knob and about to step outside before I sigh and let go of the door. Besides that morning on the porch, I haven’t made much of an effort to break down the rest of my wariness around her. It’s long past time for me to make an effort here.

“Alice, come on,” I call out, ignoring the slight quaver in my voice.

Alice is behind me in a flash, “What’s up, Bella?”

“Haven’t seen it, then?” I ask, genuinely curious at why Alice looks so surprised.

Alice just shakes her head, “I don’t see everything, Bella. Especially not when it comes to you.” The last bit is said so quietly, if I was still a human I’m sure I would have missed it. As it is though, I can’t help the twinge of guilt I feel at the words. I know Alice blames herself for not seeing Victoria’s first attack, yet I haven’t really talked to her about that at all.

I haven’t really talked to her about much of anything besides the weather and my lessons.

“Rose and I are going hunting. You’re coming with us.”

Then I’m out of the door and rushing over to where Rose is waiting patiently. She doesn’t even pretend to not have been listening in when she calls out to Alice, “Hurry up! I’m starved.”

Hunting with Alice is a bit unnerving. She’s the first person besides my Cullens who I’ve done this with, and I as much as I’ve gotten used to her closeness around the house, having her so close to me while I’m hunting is setting my on edge. But every time I feel my control slipping away, feel the instinctive urge to lash out at the ‘stranger’ I just look at Rose.

Rose has positioned herself firmly between Alice and me, and seeing my sister so at ease even with Alice right beside her helps me relax.

My sister trusts Alice.

I trust my sister.

Everything is okay, Bella.

I repeat the mantra in my head over and over, and by the time I catch the scent of an animal worthy of being my prey, I think I almost believe it.

So I pick up the pace and lunge into the large stag that’s in my path, snapping its neck instantly and tearing at its throat with my teeth. I take just one large gulp before stepping away and grinning at Rose. “Want some?” I ask, relishing the feel of the warm blood flowing down my chin.

Unlike some, Rose finds my messiness endearing.

Rose comes over and begins to feed from the deer. As she eats I look over at Alice, seeing her snap out of a vision included trance with a look of awe on her face. I recognize the look, it’s the same look she wore way back when, right before she told me we were going to be great friends.

“Eat,” I say, motioning to the stag.

Alice takes a step away, holding her hands up as if to refuse. I don’t give her the chance, stepping forwards, grabbing her hand, and hauling her over to where Rose is. “Eat.”

And she does.

It’s only a few minutes later before all three of us have drained the stag. Rose is the first to stand, wiping a spear of blood from her mouth, but not bothering to fix her slightly dampened hair. “I’ll catch the next one,” She claims before streaking off into the woods.

Giving her a head start, I instead turn to Alice. The small vampire is busy wiping her mouth and trying to hide the excited glow in her eyes. There is still some uncertainty in me, some instinctive hesitation, but it no longer feels like a huge barrier between us. My instincts are starting to recognize her as part of my family.

Alice and I, we’ll be fine.

 

…...

 

It’s just past dawn a few days into July when I hear the crunch of a car on gravel.

“Carlisle,” Jasper says quietly. The eldest Cullen had called in two days ago to tell us that he was heading back, so I’ve been hovering around the house the last day waiting for him to return and tell me the news. I had refused to be told anything over the phone. Alice and Rose have both gone hunting - giving me some privacy to hear whatever news Carlisle will be bringing back with him.

I hope I don’t need it.

Jasper stands quickly and gives me a hand up as well. “Ready, darlin’?” He asks, hand releasing mine before coming to rest on my shoulder.

“Do I have to be?”

“Not really much of a choice,” Jasper assures me. I elbow him in the side for his trouble before looking over to the door that has just opened to reveal the doctor.

“Bella, Jasper, good to see you two again.”

“Welcome back, Carlisle,” Jasper greets warmly from my side. I smile at both of them weakly. But I can’t wait any longer to hear the news.

“How is she?”

Jasper nudges me over towards the sofa. I resist for a moment, not wanting to delay Carlisle’s response. But then I sigh and move over to my favorite corner of the sofa. Carlisle sits a distance away on a chair Jasper had bought in town a week ago - close, but not close enough to set me on edge.

“Your mother is pregnant,” Carlisle drops the bomb as soon as I stop squirming to get comfortable.

What?

“What?” Jasper’s the one who voices the question, not me. I’m too busy staring at Carlisle with wide eyes.

“It’s Phil’s, due in about two more months. A boy.” Wow. I’m going to have a brother. Or… I would have had a brother.

Carlisle continues before I can get stuck on that thought. “Your mother is grieving and not in the best shape. But having the baby on the way has helped. She’s teaching at a school, and the other teachers have taken her under their wing. She’s struggling, but she’s in good hands.”

“That’s… good?”

“She’ll pull through,” Carlisle agrees quietly.

And that’s all I can bear to know for now. It’s not enough, but at the same time it’s too much. “Okay.”

I stand before I realize I’m planning on standing. Than I take a step forward towards Carlisle, wanting to hug him, wanting to let him know how grateful I am for what he did. But two steps later, I pause. It’s still no good. I still don’t feel right around him. Instantly my relief vanishes to frustration. I don’t want to act this way around Carlisle - he’s only ever been kind to me. But something inside of me still isn’t ready to let him back in.

“Thank you.” I say, dropping my hands to my sides and stepping back. Before anything else is said, I turn around and leave the house. While I hunt down my next meal, Jasper by my side, I try to keep pretending that I didn’t see the hint of pain in the smile Carlisle gave me in return.

I’m sorry Carlisle. I really really am.

Chapter Text

Bella

 

“Hello, nice day, isn’t it?”

The unfamiliar voice startles me out of the daze I’d fallen into while watching the clouds pass by overhead. Surging to my feet I see a strange man standing under a nearby tree.

“Why didn’t I? Wait… you smell… there’s something really familiar… oh my god!” It suddenly clicks - the reason why I’d ignored the scent of this strange vampire as he approached and assumed the sounds I was hearing was Jasper on his way for more training. “Are you Peter?!”

“Sure am. I assume Jasper’s shown a photo, for you to recognize me?”

“No, but waives your dirty underwear around a lot.” Peter’s face twitches as he takes that in. A part of me realizes that statement and reaction could be funny, but I’m not about to let my guard down around this stranger. Especially a red-eyes vampire that only has a newborn’s sense of smell and some old stale underwear to vouch for his identity.

Peter steps forward, arm extended. I take a step backwards to keep him at a safer distance. The man just keeps smiling and drops his hand before speaking. “Well, Jasper has always been an odd one. So, which of the lovely Cullen ladies might you be? I’ve met Alice, so that would make you Esme? Or Rosalie? Or perhaps Edward is a lot more feminine than I always assumed?”

The mention of Edward makes me twitch a bit, but I refuse to let myself get distracted from the potential threat in front of me. I open my mouth to introduce myself, when I suddenly realize how stupid I’m being.

A strange vampire I’ve never seen before is coming closer and closer.

I’m all alone.

Why haven’t I started running?

Making up my mind, I lunge to the side and crash into the treeline. “Jasper!” I scream as I towards where I last saw him and Carlisle earlier this morning. “Jasper! Verification!”

It takes me only a few minutes to catch the scent of Jasper and Carlisle, and only a few more to spot Jasper in the trees up ahead. I speed up and shout once more, “Verification, please!”

Carlisle reaches out and grabs me as I threaten to overshoot where he and Jasper are standing. I don’t have to look over my shoulder to know that Jasper has put himself between me and the approaching stranger. “I think it’s Peter,” I say loudly as I hear the slow approach of the other vampire.

“Well, I know it’s Peter,” the stranger says as he comes to a stop by a tree nearby. “Hey there, Jasper. Carlisle, so nice to see you again. And considering that this little one ran straight into your arms, I assume she must be your Esme?”

“Esme…?” Carlisle’s baffled statement suddenly reminds me of a human memory I’d all but forgotten.

I look at Carlisle calmly sitting in his rickety chair beside me and feel a swelling of gratitude towards the old vampire. I launch myself from my perch at the edge of the bed and throw my arms around his neck. Carlisle falls with me - I giggle as I realise he was caught off guard.

"Dr Cullen? Is - is everything okay?" a high voice squeaks from the doorway. I manage to calm myself enough to open my eyes and see an older nurse wearing a shocked and slightly worried expression as she stares at the two of us. I can't help it, she looks so baffled that I start laughing harder than before.

I’d completely forgotten that day in the hospital, when Carlisle helped me get over a panic attack and reminded me how good it feels to laugh. Suddenly, all the wariness I’d been feeling in his company since he arrived at the house seems totally ridiculous. This is Carlisle! He’s my other father.

I won’t let myself forget again. Suddenly I bite down as gently as I can on the shoulder Carlisle has me pressed against. As the old vampire lets out a startled gasp, I increase the pressure of the bite then let go and slip out of his grasp.

Then I turn around and face the stranger and bare my teeth. “I’m Bella. And I’ll rip your head off if you’re trying to lie about who you are.”

I sudden wave of pride and amusement washes over me, but I don’t break my gaze away from the strange vampire. Jasper’s lack of wariness is a comfort, but I still need to hear him say it before I’ll believe it.

“Bella, I’d like you to meet my old friend, Peter,” Jasper finally says. “Peter, this is Bella Swan Cullen, a newborn.”

I’m not sure whether to be embarassed or proud that Jasper thinks it necessary to warn Peter about me. At least, that’s what I assume Jasper is doing by calling out the fact that I’m a newborn.

“You didn’t tell me you had a newborn. I think I’m going to have to give you another lecture about just what ‘keeping in touch’ means, Major.” Peter says, scowling at Jasper before looking at me. “I Nice to meet you Bella. Does the lovely Esme know you’re running around biting her husband?” The strange vampire seems a little less enthusiastic about meeting me now, though I guess if he thinks he walked in the middle of some vampire relationship drama his sudden lack of enthusiasm is understandable.

“I believe Esme will just be sad to find that I beat her in receiving my - what did Emmett call it, again? - ah yes, my Bella Club Card.”

While Carlisle speaks, I edge over to Jasper. Nudging his arm with my elbow until he looks down at me, I then whisper, “You’re sure this is your Peter?”

“I’d never mistake Peter for anyone else, darlin’.”

I’m as satisfied as I can be with Jasper’s assurance. At the very least, I can be a bit sure that Peter won’t be a threat to one of my family members. “Fine. Hello, Peter. Don’t think being Jasper’s friend will keep me from ripping off your head if you hurt my family.”

Jasper’s laugh breaks through the silence my statement causes. Peter is staring at me with an expression I cannot read while Jasper fights to calm his laughing down to my side. Wanting him to hurry up and take Peter’s attention off of me, I kick Jasper and try to project to him just how unamused I am by his distraction.

He straightens quickly after that, and when he speaks I know he got the message correctly. “Sorry darlin’, but that is something I’d love to see.”

“Well I wouldn’t,” Peter grumbles. He crosses his arms and scowls in my direction. Without thinking, I bare my teeth at him and let loose a growl.

Before the conversation continues, Carlisle cuts in. “Is Charlotte with you, Peter?”

Peter’s attention finally leaves me, as he glances over towards Carlisle. “I left her in town when the Jeep got a flat. I had a feeling it was a nice time for a stroll. You know how it goes.”

Jasper scoffs at that, “No one, not even yourself, really knows how it goes with your crazy urges, Peter.”

Carlisle cuts in before Peter says anything else, bringing the conversation I couldn’t really follow to a halt. “If your wife is on her way to the house, I think I’ll head back and the girls know we’re about have company. Good to see you again, Peter. See you in a bit, Jasper, Bella.”

I reach out to Carlisle as he walks past Jasper and I. The older vampire smiles when he notices and steps forward gingerly. I’m as tense as I figure he must be, hoping that my instinctive wariness doesn’t rear its head again. As Carlisle squeezes my shoulder, those instincts do come back a bit, but I’m able to fight them down. “See you,” I say, with honest eagerness in my voice.

Then Carlisle is gone and it’s just me, Jasper and Peter.

So I do the only sensible thing and drag Jasper a bit further away from Peter and push as his shoulder until he sits down. I glare at Peter until he does the same over where he’s at. When I sit, I place myself slightly in front of Jasper, scowl still firmly on my face. Something about Peter is really annoying me and I’m not going to risk letting my guard down until he earns some trust.

“So, a ‘Bella Club Card’? Quite a statement. Bite people often?”

“You’ve got red eyes. Do you?” I snipe back at Peter. God, his attitude is starting to really rub me the wrong way. I can hardly believe this is the same Peter I’d hoped to meet one day.

“Oh no. A dig at my perfectly natural and healthy eating habits. How cruel,” Peter drawls in the least convincing monotone delivery I’ve ever heard.

My already thin patience is thinning further. But as I tense for a retort - a physical one - Jasper’s hand is on my shoulder. “Peter,” I recognize that commanding tone of voice from my more troublesome newborn tantrums.

“Yeah yeah, I know,” Peter waves a dismissive hand at Jasper and I. “No picking on the diet. It’s your choice and kudos to you for it. Yadda yadda, you know the deal.”

Jasper lets out a huff behind me - I guess he’s as amused by Peter’s retort as I’m trying hard not to be. “Not that it isn’t great to see you, but what brings you all the way up here?”

“Pretty much what I told Carlisle - I felt like a stroll. And before I felt like a stroll, I felt like a dive.”

The oddness of that explanation has me confused enough to ask, “How does that explain anything?”

“Well, we have forever. Why shouldn’t we act on our whims?” Peter grins at me. As much as the answer makes an odd sort of sense, I get the feeling that it’s not at all the truth. Probably because I hear Jasper sigh behind me.

“Peter’s like Alice, darlin’. We think, at least. He tends to get random compulsions that - when acted on - inevitably lead him to something important.”

“Weird.” The response is out of my mouth before I think about it.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Peter agrees. I twitch a bit at his casual tone. “But back to the matter, babysitting a newborn, Jasper? I thought you’d had enough of that back in the wars.”

Peter’s apparent habit of jumping back to old conversation threads has be confused at the statement before his actual words sink in. He did not just compare me to one of that old bitch Maria’s newborns, did he?! “I am not some cannon fodder nobody!” I’m yelling and on my feet before I know it, staring down at Peter as best I can without getting any closer to him.

The vampire just smiles up at me. His eyes rake up and down my form, and I’m suddenly very conscious of the visible bites that litter my arms and legs. “Aren’t you?”

“Bella was a family friend, before she was turned.” Jasper’s calm voice - and the matching calm emotions I can feel him projecting - help me to settle back down. “She drew the attention of some nomads. One of them died, and the other turned her as revenge.”

“Interesting revenge. Terror and death is more the style of those types. Though I guess that explains a newborn with so many scars.”

I stare at the ground and awkwardly try to hide one of my arms behind my back and away from Peter’s sharp gaze. “They’re both dead now, so their intentions don’t really matter anymore.” Jasper finishes talking and rests on my shoulder once more, thumb rubbing at one of the raised bites hidden by my thin T-shirt.

I try to relax a bit under the calming touch, but Peter is still staring at me. I stare back and the moment drags on longer and longer. Then Peter shakes his head. “Don’t worry, Bella dear. I was changed due to the whims of a psychotic vampire as well. It happens.”

“Wait… were you one of Maria’s too?” I ask, startled by the idea. I knew these two were old friends, but I’d never thought that meant they shared that part of Jasper’s past.

“Jasper told you about Maria?” Peter asks with wide eyes. Then he answers my question, “Well, yes, I was one of hers. Until Major here helped me and Charlotte get out. We repaid the favor a few years later.” With the admission, suddenly I’m seeing Peter in a whole new light. Here is one of the people who helped Jasper escape that hell he was kept in back then…

Looks like I can’t hate him after all.

I groan, shrugging Jasper’s hand off of my shoulder as I stand. Then I march over to Peter and before I can question my sanity, I reach out and grab his arm. Even after I help pull him to his feet, I keep a hold of his hand. Both men have gone quiet, probably wondering if the newborn is about to start a fight. Boys. I roll my eyes then look dead straight into Peter’s bright red eyes.

“Thank you.”

Then I let go of Peter’s hand and push him back to the ground, where he sprawls in shock.

 

…..

 

We all head the the house so that I can be introduced to Charlotte. I admit that I’m not as excited by the prospect of being introduced to another strange vampire as Jasper seems to be at the idea of introducing me. But, knowing that I managed to make it through meeting Peter without losing my temper too much - and knowing that Charlotte is the other vampire I have to thank for helping Jasper leave his past life - helps give me some confidence.

When we reach the back yard, I see four figures sitting on the back porch - three family members and one small woman with wild, curly blonde hair.

I take a step closer to Jasper as we approach, then relax a bit more when Rose comes over and stands on my other side. With my sister’s arm holding my shoulders gently, I finally relax a bit and regain some of my confidence about my people skills.

“Peter, you cannot just leave me on the side of the road to change a tire on my own without a single word. Don’t talk to me right now.” Charlotte’s quick words have Peter snapping his mouth shut and cutting off whatever greeting he’d been getting ready. “Hello, Jasper, good to see you again. And you must be Bella, the others have been filling me in. It’s nice to meet you.”

Even as she greets Jas and I, her voice sounds stern. I have a sudden vision of Charlotte as a stereotypical, no-nonsense teacher and gulp nervously. “Hi.”

“Hey Charlotte, sorry I’ve been outta touch.”

“You sure will be,” The small woman glares at Jasper. “I’ll just have to get the news from Bella instead. How about it, you have some good stories to tell?” Charlotte looks over at me and cold expression melts into a mischievous smile. Suddenly she seems much more approachable.

I grab Rose’s blouse in one hand to remind myself she’d there and return the smile. “I have some stories, yeah.”

 

……

 

Two days after Peter and Charlotte arrive, and already I’m finding myself almost comfortable with them. I’m not about to invite them to hang out one on one and tell them my deepest darkest secrets, but I don’t mind them being around. Well… I might take that back. Peter can be super annoying.

The boys have gone off to go do whatever it is they do, so Rose, Alice, Charlotte and I settle in for a girl’s night. With Rose and Alice acting as a buffer between me and the newcomer, I’m almost relaxed as I lean on Rose and listen to the others idly gossip about shared acquaintances.

Then the sound of a car pulling up the drive has us looking towards the front door. Doors slam and steps race towards the house.

“Rosalie, babe!” Emmett’s familiar voice rings out through the room as the front door blasts open and straight off its hinges. Before the door hits the ground, Emmett’s lept over the couch and swept his wife up and spun her around a startling number of times. “Hey Bella! Alice! Stranger!” He calls over to where Charlotte, Alice and I are sitting. Then he’s leaning back towards Rosalie and kissing her in a decidedly not PG way.

By now I’m used to giving them at least the semblance of privacy when they get too handsy, so I obediently turn away from their reunion and towards the door.

I’m excited to see Emmett again, but if he’s back then that means the prodigal son is returning as well.

As if summoned by my thoughts (which I’m so glad to know that he still can’t read), Edward and Esme appear in the doorway.

For a moment, I’m sure that Edward is going to say something to me, but as soon as he opens his mouth he closes it again. Then he rushes past the sitting area and up the stairs. The sound of his door opening and closing assures me that our next conversation is not happening right away.

Which means more time to psych myself out about it, I guess.

“Well that wasn’t awkward at all,” Charlotte says calmly. The small woman stands and goes over to Esme. “Good to see you again, Esme.”
Ever since Carlisle let me know you arrived, I’ve been hoping we’d return before you and Peter left. We have quite a bit to catch up on since the last time we met,” Esme is as warm and welcoming as the most proper of hostesses. “And please don’t mind Edward. He’s… he’s had a lot of thinking to do lately. I’m sorry about that, Bella.”

As Esme looks over to me with the last sentence, I just give her a smile. Edward’s an adult, and I’m not about to blame her for his behavior. “Don’t worry about it,” I assure her. And I really do hope she doesn’t need to worry.

 

…..

 

“Bella,” Edward’s familiar voice breaks the silence I’ve been sitting in. I look over to see him hovering at at the bottom of the staircase. “Can I… I need to talk to you.”

There’s a large part of me that is relieved by Edward’s statement. Ever since he returned last night I’ve been both dreading our next conversation and impatient to get it over with. It’s time to say goodbye to Edward - at least as far as romance is concerned. I’m not going to let him run away again before I say what I need to say. “Let’s take a walk,” I tell Edward, fighting to keep my voice calm. Then I stand and head towards the back door.

Edward falls in step with me by the time my feet leave the back porch, then he pulls ahead. He always used to walk ahead of me, showing me where to go, where to step. I don’t need that though. So I turn quickly to my right and call over my shoulder, “This way.”

As we walk, I keep taking random turns, forcing him to follow me instead of the other way around. Perhaps it’s a bit childish of me, but I can’t help but feel that it’s past time for the actual teenager to be the petulant one for a change.

We walk in silence until we’re a ways away from the house. I pretend not to notice that Rose and Emmett are both following at a distance. Edward doesn’t let on that he notices them either, though I’m not sure how far his mind-reading range is and he hasn’t been run through the Jasper training gauntlet like us, so it’s possible he doesn’t even realize they’re close. It’s a weird thought - that I might sense something better than the vampire beside me. I spent so long in awe of his superhuman abilities, and now I’m at his level.

Edward sends me a questioning glance when he hears the bemused “huh” that escapes me at the thought. I just give him a slight smile and look ahead once more.

But Edward doesn’t let the silence return, speaking quietly. “Do you remember, last time we walked through the woods and we had that picnic? I figured out your favorites and filled a basket full of fruits and sandwiches. You ate them under that big pine tree near the creek, laying in the sun.”

“I…” I don’t remember that. One of the memories that I lost during the change, I guess. But I don’t want to ruin the peace now. “Yeah, I do.”

“Of course you’d remember. That was a good day. You were so tired from the hiking. When I brought you back to your house, you fell asleep almost instantly. You slept so deeply that night - no tossing or turning at all.” Edward continues.

“Edward, stop. Can you just stop and listen to yourself for a moment?” I snap suddenly. His voice is is so wistful and sad, and I can’t let him talk his way back down the rabbit hole again. “Everything your saying, it’s lovely. But it’s not about me. Not really. It’s about food I ate, times I slept, just normal human things! Don’t you see? You aren’t thinking about me, when you think back on those times. You’re thinking of humanity. That’s what you love, what you miss.”

“No! That’s ridiculous, Bella. I loved you!” Edward’s eyes widen at the slip. “Love. I love you.”

“Edward,” I suddenly just feel tired. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of reliving this conversation, this realization. I’m ready to move on, and I just need Edward to be as well. “Edward, listen to me. I know you have a hard time with that, but for once I need you to really listen.”

“Bella, this is-”

“Edward.” I take a moment to capture his eyes with mine and make sure I have his full attention. “Is there anything about me that you still can love? I need you to really think about that, because I don’t think there is. And that’s … that’s okay, as long as you just let it go. If you don’t love me as I am now, you need to let me go.”

“Bella, what are you saying? Why are you saying this? We’re… I love you! I do, I swear. You may not be… you may be… you’re…”

“You can’t even say it! I’m a vampire. Just like you and the rest of your family. And you know what?” I pause and take a breath. “I’m happy about it!”

Edward is quiet, staring at me as silence falls around us after my admission. I know him, and can tell that he is trying to think of what to say, how to handle this. My frustration fades away and I run my fingers through my hair to calm down. “I can’t be with you anymore, Edward. That’s what I’ve been trying to say. I can’t be the lifeboat you hold onto - especially not when you can barely delude yourself into thinking you still want this. I deserve better than that, and as much as you’re really not acting like it now, you do too.”

“Bella-”

“Don’t. Not right now. Just say ‘okay Bella’ and go back to the others. Say goodbye and let’s move on.”

Edward and I stare at each other for a long moment. Oddly enough, with all I’ve wanted to say out in the open now, the distance between us seems less of a gulf that it had during our last few encounters. “I’ll see you back at the house,” Edward says, wearing an expression I’ve never seen on him before and have no idea how to interpret.

Then he’s gone and I’m left wondering if he finally listened to what I was trying to say. Or if we’ll have to reprise this conversation again and again for all of eternity. But whether or not he heard me, I said it. It’s like a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders.

I turn and run towards where I can tell Rose and Emmett are waiting for me, a smile on my face.

Right now, I feel free.

 

…..

 

“Hello, Bella,” Esme’s voice carries easily over the soft music I have playing in my room. I look up from the books I have spread over my bed and look at her. “Would it be alright if I came in?”

“Sure.”

I surprise myself with my own words. But I guess it makes sense that Esme doesn’t register as any sort of threat at all - she’s one of the gentlest people I’ve ever met. It’s a huge relief to know that I’m on my way to being comfortable with almost all the Cullens again.

Esme comes and sits in a chair in the corner of my room after closing the door behind her. It’s a nice distance, a safe distance. I kind of hate it.

So I give in to my instincts happily, getting up and dragging Esme over to my bed. I settle her in comfortably sitting against the headboard I’d helped Emmett build a few weeks back and put one of my blankets over her lap. Then I crawl in on the other side, sitting near her feet, one hand resting lightly over Esme’s knee.

“Thank you, Bella,” the woman says with a quiet waver in her voice.

Feeling a bit embarrassed, I just nod and push one of the books scattered around us off the side of the bed. The loud thunk it makes when it hits the ground distracts me from my emotions enough to ground myself again.

“Bella,” I look back up at Emse. “I just… I wanted to see how you are doing. We haven’t really had a chance to talk since everything happened. First things with Victoria and now things with Edward…”

“It’s okay, Esme.” I scratch idly at one of the messy scars on my wrist left by the red headed vampire. “It’s been a lot to deal with. And I’d probably be a mess if it was just me. But Jasper and Rose and Emmett… they’ve been there with me the whole time. There’s a big part of me that’s happy about all that happened because it’s given me a chance to get closer to them.”

“I’m so glad to hear that. I just wish we all could have been there with you, together the whole way.”

Esme’s words sound sad and wistful at the end, and I know where she’s coming from. But at the same time - where would I be now, if everyone had been here the entire time? If I’d been exposed to Edward’s grief and Alice, Esme and Carlisle’s well meaning but still preconceived notions about who I was and who I should become again?

I honestly am glad I don’t know the answer to that.

“It was probably for the best,” I tell Esme, patting her knee a bit awkwardly.

“Probably,” Esme says quietly. Crap, I feel bad by her obvious sadness at the idea. So I blindly grab one of my my textbooks, hoping to change the subject to something safer. Unfortunately, in my haste I forget my strength - the book rips down its spine, sending the front half of the book blasting into the wall by Esme’s head.

“Oops.”

But my unintentionally fierce topic change worked. Once Esme’s laughter dies down, she helps me pick up the scattered pages from the book and we spend the next hour discussing 20th Century American poets.

 

…..

 

I don’t see Edward much after our latest encounter in the woods. I know he’s around - I often hear him talking to Carlisle on the other side of the house, or catch his and Alice’s scents as I run through the woods - but he’s being careful to stay out of view.

I guess it’s an improvement over running away completely.

“His emotions are all over the place, darlin’,” Jasper says one afternoon as we sit together in the treehouse. He’s carefully helping me glue together the things I need for my spontaneous craft project - a beaded hat for Emmett. Hopefully it will be garish and ugly enough for him to get a kick out of it. Jasper’s help is a huge relief since I still lack the minute control I need for all of these tiny beads. “When Edward gets like this, there isn’t much use in worrying about it until he figures himself out.”

“I can see that,” I admit as I struggle to brush off the squashed remains of another bead from my hand.

Jasper reaches over and helps. Once the purple plastic is safely removed he pats my hand and gives me one of his patented jerky grins, “It’s once his emotions stabilize that you should worry. Should be interesting, to say the least.”

From there, our conversation drifts back towards my hat. We’ve only made it through half the object but it already it looks as dreadful as I’d hoped. And if I ‘accidentally’ glue a few beads to Jasper’s hair when he’s not paying attention, well… he did give a newborn glue.

Chapter Text

Bella

 

Peter and Charlotte have been guests here for a while now. And as much as I enthusiastically (for Charlotte) and begrudgingly (for Peter) find myself enjoying their company and stories, well… I’m getting a bit tired of all the ‘catching up’ he and Jasper have to do. Especially when Peter’s practically latched himself onto Jasper’s side, leaving me stuck at a distance. I’m certainly not going to get within grabbing distance of the new arrivals.

Tacked on to my petty jealousy of Peter is my growing frustration at the vanishing act that is Edward. While things are a bit less tense now that I’ve spoken with him, he’s still skulking around out of sight. Every time I walk into a room and see him leaving it, I feel both guilty for making him uncomfortable and pissed that I feel guilty.

Then there’s my growing realization that every day I’m not a ravenous monster, is one day closer to when I need to figure out how I think about the elephant that’s been hanging out in the room for a while - this is the beginning of forever. And while forever seemed super romantic and glamorous when I was blindly in love with the mystery that was Edward Cullen, now… well…

It’s not that I’m not happy about how things have turned out. But, standing on my own two feet and looking ahead, eternity suddenly looks really really big. And intimidating. And… something that almost makes me wish my early newborn days were back.

Basically, I am in desperate need of a distraction. And I’m a big enough person to admit that the distraction I sought out is influenced by my own pettiness and inability to cope with frustration.

So here I am, staring at the ridiculous ‘masterpiece’ in front of me.

It might be childish, but as the bucket I’d carefully placed over the doorway falls, coating Peter in mud and gunk I’d collected after yesterday’s storm, I can’t honestly say that I’m sorry. It’s actually the opposite. As I sit on the sofa and smile at the sight of Peter standing in the doorway, gaping and blinking sludge of of his eyes, I’m already plotting more.

 

…..

 

Standing right at the scene of the crime and laughing my ass off after that bucket fell means that Peter instantly knew exactly who was responsible for the silly trick. And it takes a few days, but I finally know how Peter feels about it.

Oh yes, he’s made himself very clear - my room is full of bunnies.

Bunnies wearing collars and nametags.

Adorable, floppy eared bunnies that are hopping around not even realizing they’re in the bedroom of an apex predator. Even as I stare at the herd of bunnies, a small black one hops over to me and starts bouncing on one of my feet. Blinking, I reach down and pick him up. “Tulip” I murmur, reading the name tag attached to this one with a bright red ribbon.

As I’m holding the unfortunate Tulip, the house suddenly fills with most of the family returning from the various tasks that had left the house empty all afternoon.

“Bella, why does the house smell like food?” Emmett asks, heading over to where I’m standing. “Is there another- woah. That’s a lot of bunnies.”

Instead of answering, I gently give Tulip a kiss on the nose, then give it a quick death. Its blood is warm and a bit gamier than I’m used to. It also is drained so fast my hunger is fully unsatiated when I’m done.

“Can someone please bury Tulip?” I ask, holding out the small body as the hunger for more begins to burn in the back of my throat.

“What? Oh, of course dear.” Esme’s confused voice is requesting more information about what is going on, but I’m distracted by my hunger and the increasingly strong smell of so many bunnies in my room.

As soon as Esme has Tulip outside, I set to work trying to sate my hunger. As I eat, the bunnies don’t even seem to notice what’s happening to their peers. I try to do it as quickly and painlessly as I can, but the nametags taunt me as I eat.

Bacon.

Fuzzball.

Morrigan.

Talula.

I look at the tag in the next bunny I grab, and feel a jolt of rage as I read the tag.

Renee.

Fucking bastard.

My rational mind tells me Peter wouldn’t realize that was the name of my own mother, but accidental or not, Peter just crossed a line. I toss the bunny into Emmett’s hands, and stalk out of my room.

“Eat them all, Emmett! Every single drop!” I command as I grab Jasper’s hand and haul him out of the house. “I need a bear.”

 

…..

 

Peter’s back at the house when Jasper and I return from our hunt. The thrill of the chase and the size of our prey helped me to calm down. Now that they aren’t in front of me, Peter’s prank - while still more than a bit dark - is kind of funny. Not that I’m going to forget about the misguided name.

He smiles up from where he’s sprawled on the couch as we enter the room. “Emmett was telling me about your roommates, Bella. Hoarding food for winter?”

“Never name my food again,” I growl at him with the most serious and threatening voice I can pull off. It’s not terribly effective if the widening of Peter’s grin is any measure.

Suddenly too grumpy to remain in his presence, I stalk over to my room. It’s clear of animals, but the smell of them and their blood lingers. Great, it will probably be days before my room doesn’t smell like a rodent buffet.

“We’re airing out your room, but it’ll take a while to air out,” Emmett calls from the seat, eyes focused on the video game he’s playing.

“Figured that out, thanks,” I call back before stalking upstairs. As Jasper settles on the couch between Peter and Emmett and picks up another controller, I head into his room and burrow under his covers.

 

……

 

A few hours later, the boys head into town. I’m still feeling sullen from the bunny prank, and seeing Peter take Jasper somewhere I can’t follow along rankles more than it should.

But at least with Peter out of the house, I can plan out my next move. I consider my options for all of two seconds before I go to find Esme. “Hey Esme,” I greet her as I crouch next to the flower bed she’d weeding.

“Bella,” She replies with a smile. She adjusts the brim of her hat, the shade it casts shifting and leaving her nose sparkling in the sun. “Recovered from your unexpected food basket?”

I groan at the reminder and am glad I can’t blush like a human anymore. “Kind of why I came out here,” I admit. “Do we have any more craft stuff?”

Esme puts down her trowel and sends me a mildly disapproving stare. “Peter is a guest, Bella.”

“Peter is an asshole and seems to be enjoying himself anyways,” I bite back. Nice, Bella, real mature.

But my argument seems to miraculously work, as Esme merely responds, “You are right about that. He couldn’t get enough of hearing Emmett describe your reaction to the bunnies. He seemed surprised you actually ate some of them.”

“What else was I supposed to do with them? They smelled good.”

The other woman stands up at my words and holds a hand out for me. I only hesitate a moment before taking it and letting her help me to stand as well. “I’ll show you what I have,” Esme says as she lets go of my hand and heads inside.

 

…..

 

The buzz of the dryer sounds and I rush to the back laundry room excited as a puppy. It’s done!

Esme laughs from the table and Charlotte just rolls her eyes. Peter’s wife didn’t seem to mind too much when I asked her for Peter’s suitcase - I’m beginning to realize Charlotte is the type of woman who is fine with letting her man get himself in and out of trouble on his own. As long as we keep her out of it, it should be fine.

I shudder a bit a the thought of Charlotte joining in this war and one of the shirts I’m holding rips. “Crap,” I growl, balling it up and throwing it into a bin near the washer. Hopefully Peter doesn’t realize he’s lost a shirt. I fold up the rest of his clothes a lot more carefully then head to the room he and Charlotte are using and leave the laundry on the bed.

The beautifully tye-dyed laundry. Esme and I even dyed socks and underwear.

I’m sure the spiraling greens and purples will bring out the red in Peter’s eyes.

 

…...

 

Peter manages to sneak up on me later that evening when I’m hanging out in the back yard. I look over at him, smiling a bit at the image of the muscular man wearing tie-dyed pants and shirt. He had not been pleased when he’d arrived back only to have me accidentally dump him in gunk again. He’d been even less pleased when he went to change and realized how slim his options were. With my prank going off perfectly, I’m ready to forgive him for the bunnies.

“I feel obligated to ask you a question,” he says, with no other greeting. Sitting down a bit closer to me than I’m comfortable with, he stretches his arms then continues. “Do you want to eat animals?”

“What?” This is definitely not the topic I had expected from the man.

“Just because you’ve been raised around the Cullens and it seems none of them have thought to ask you, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to decide for yourself. All of them did, after all. So think about it, do you want to eat animals?”

Peter’s words send a shock through me. He is right - none of them did ever ask me. But then again, did they really need to?

I run my hands through the dirt in the ground by my feet, staring at the mess I’m making thoughtfully as I think about his question. “I… There was a girl in the woods. I saw her and even though she smelt amazing I didn’t want to eat her. Jasper helped me get away when I asked. So, I did make the choice.”

“He wouldn’t have judged you if you hadn’t left, you know. He doesn’t judge Charlotte or me,” Peter says with a fond smile.

“I know,” I state. And I’m not surprised at all to realize that I fully believe my statement.

Peter laughs. “Man, this is going to be fun.”

Before I can ask what he means, he’s standing up and dusting off the dirt from his pants. “If you ever decide you want to try out red eyes, you come to me and Charlotte. We’ll take care of you. Jasper has few friends, so we’ve got to stick together.”

I want to dismiss the offer, assure him it will never be needed, but I know the allure of human blood now. And, as my mind keeps reminding me, I have no idea what ‘forever’ will be like. “I will. Thanks.”

Peter nods then picks at a loose thread in his T-shirt. Seemingly happy with letting the strange conversation end, he says something more along the lines of what I’d been expecting him to say when he found me. “You suck, Bella. I look ridiculous.” Then he turns and saunters back to the house.

“Yeah, well, I still have Tulip’s fur stuck in my teeth.” I mutter at his retreating back.

Peter just raises his arm and gives me his middle finger.

 

…..

 

Two pranks later, and Emmett jumps into the fray.

At first it’s all great fun, having the big vampire helping me saw off chair legs and attempt to lure Peter into traps. But it becomes clear very very quickly that Emmett’s overenthusiastic retaliation is dangerous.

I’m just glad the prank that backfired, leaving a quietly seething Charlotte with muddle brown hair, was one that I was in no way involved in.

Honestly, who messes with a girl’s hair?! Accident or not, years of living with Rose should have taught him to be more careful.

A few hours after the prank, hours in which Charlotte’s quiet anger is getting more and more terrifying, Jasper all but kidnaps me. We head to the safety that is my treehouse. Without even talking about it, we both know we’re going to hole up here until Charlotte gets her revenge - no way and I going to risk getting stuck between Emmett and a woman who can keep freaking Peter in line.

Talk about terrifying.

Not to mention how we’re all doomed if Rose ends up caught in the crossfire. I really don’t want to know what would happen if Charlotte and her ended up at odds, but I’m pretty sure it would end in bloodshed for pretty much everyone.

As soon as we reach the safety of the branches, Jasper flops onto his back, sprawling across the floor. “Way to share the space, Jas,” I laugh. The vampire in question just grabs my arm and pulls me down on the floor as well. I squirm around until my head is rested on his stomach and my feet are resting on one of the nearby walls.

“So, how dead do you think Emmett is?” I ask Jasper. He’s known Charlotte for ages, so he should be able to answer the question easily.

“Hard to say. She’ll retaliate, but also won’t take things as personally as Rose would.” My Jasper-pillow shakes as he speaks. “Though honestly, she wasn’t really mad so much as exasperated. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s just as fed up with Peter as she is Emmett. Maybe with you too.”

“Me?”

“Well, you did start it.”

Jasper speaks the truth, as usual. I groan and roll over, burrowing my face into Jasper’s stomach. “Dnnf lurff mmmneh kay?” I mumble.

“Sure thing, darlin’,” Jasper says in response to my incoherent mumble.

 

……

 

Jasper and I pass the next day playing cards and lounging around.

Free from the drama that I’ve felt trapped in lately, I find my mind wandering to the future. The distraction of my ridiculous fights with Peter is gone out here and the concerns that had been bothering me are starting to echo in my head again. I open my mouth to speak, but close it again right after. Speaking my worries just makes them real, right?

Bella Swan Cullen, maybe it’s time to grow up a bit.

I sigh, knowing my inner voice is right. And since when am I afraid to let Jasper know how I’m feeling? When I was a freshly turned, I never hesitated to let him know exactly how I felt at any moment. That openness is why we’re so close now.

Here goes nothing.

“How do you keep interested in things?” I blurt out. Staring at the rotten hand I dealt myself - not a single pair or run in the whole hand - I try to pretend nonchalance as I continue. “Carlisle seems to have a career he goes back to, but what does everyone else do?”

“I’m not just an eternal student, if that is what you’re trying to get at.” Jasper answers as he picks up a card from the deck. I wait both for his discard and the rest of his answer, hoping that at least one will be helpful. “I run investments. It’s a way to pass the time and it keeps me paying attention to what’s going on in the world.”

“Investments.”

The vampire just smiles at me and discards. Two of clubs. Great.

I draw my own card and growl again. “And that keeps you busy? It gives you something to work towards?”

“Bella,” Jasper puts his cards down and looks at me. I can feel the seriousness of the moment, and a part of me is pleased that Jasper takes me seriously enough to know how important this question is. “Humans set goals to get them through life, workin’ to accomplish what they can before they inevitably die. It’s different for us after a while. We don’t have the pressure of time to keep us movin’ forwards. We have all the time in the world, if we’re careful.”

All the time in the world.

The key to my current round of insecurity and unease.

“It’s hard to imagine that. How long I’ll be around,” I admit when Jasper pauses. As romantic and alluring as forever sounded to me when I was an infatuated human teen, it’s my reality now and I’m not sure how to deal with it. And now that I’m spending less time lost in hunger and isolated from others, it’s finally starting to feel real. “I never even thought about where I wanted to be in four years, let alone what I’d want to do in four hundred years. Well, not beyond being with… well... ”

“You have time to figure it out.” Jasper nudges my crosses legs with his own, saving me from having to admit out loud how blindly single minded I’d been at times around Edward. “And you have thought about this. Maybe not as much as you would have eventually, and maybe the thoughts were always biased towards one outcome, but don't sell yourself too short.”

“Just a little short?” I grumble, catching the slight insult he’d slipped in there.

Jasper smiles and nudges my leg again. “Everyone’s a teenager at some point.”

I pick up that two of clubs Japer discarded and chuck it at his face. Of course it flies in almost the opposite direction, but I figure he should realize my point. “I’m studying for my GED, but haven’t actually thought about doing anything with it. From what you all told me, you don’t stay in one place long enough for a real career.”

“That’s ridiculous. Carlisle is a doctor, darlin’. You have any idea how many years of training goes into that? We’ve got ways of getting papers and all the background for careers. We may have to switch identities, but we don’t switch knowledge or passions.”

“I thought he’s more of an exception.”

“If he is, it’s because he chooses to be.” Jasper’s voice is so matter of fact, devoid of its usual teasing, he almost sounds like a different person. “We could all choose to be if we want. Every time we move it’s a new start for us, we can continue as we were or press reset and start again. I don’t know if you realize what a gift that can be for some of us.”

I scoot closer to Jasper. I always hate when the specter of his past comes up - I hate the useless feeling of being unable to ease suffering that already happened. But at least he’s in a good place now, one that let’s him have the reset he needs. As many times as he needs.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I…

“I… I’m scared.” I whisper, staring down at the ground as I admit the truth. “I’m seventeen years old, I can barely comprehend thirty! I-”

“I know, darlin’.” Jasper grabs my head and forces me to look at him. “But trust me, we’re in this together. I’ll make sure you don’t lose interest in life and you can do the same for me.”

It sounds so simple, put like that. Trust Jasper to be able to unwind my angst and lay it out in easy to digest pieces for me.

Trust him.

I smile and relax into his grasp, gently knocking my forehead against his.

“Okay. Deal.”

 

……

 

Jasper is in the middle of story about one of his early adventures with Peter and Charlotte - a bit funny, a bit sad, but wholly interesting - when he trails off. Before I can ask who’s on their way his hand rakes through my hair and he gently judges my head towards the opening that leads outside. I take a deep breath, sniffing the air for something I recognize. It takes a few more minutes, but finally I have it. “Rosalie and… Peter?”

“Frustration and relief. Likely tryin’ to stay out of things. Charlotte is definately one who can hold a grudge and make sure everyone knows it.” Hand still tangled in my hair, Jasper brings my head to rest against his chest. “What do you think, darlin’? Should we let them have sanctuary?”

I squirm more fully into Jasper’s embrace, making myself comfortable and ‘accidentally’ elbowing him in the stomach before I answer. “I may have started it, but if any pranks affect my treehouse I will end it in a way no one wants.”

“Roger that!” A masculine voice shouts from below, before two familiar forms vault into the treehouse.

I send Peter a half-hearted, grumpy growl and lean further into Jasper.

“Hello to you, too, Bella.” He smiles, sitting against the other wall.

I hold my hand out to Rose, and my sister comes and lays down beside me, head in my lap. “Hi, Bells,” She says before closing her eyes. Seeing Rose just wants to rest, I look back at Peter. His red eyes lock with my gold ones as I nudge Jasper.

“Finish your story.”

Jasper laughs. “Alright, darlin’. Well, after we left the commune, Peter insisted on leadin’ the way and we ended up at a dairy farm. Some day we’ll drive you by one - if you thought they stink as a human, wait till you smell it with your new senses.” I scrunch up my nose at the thought. “Exactly. Well, it took us only a moment for one of the farm hands to come over to us. Probably wonderin’ why three strangers had wandered onto the property from the middle of nowhere. And Peter just-”

“Wait, I remember this.” Peter suddenly speaks up, interrupting Jasper. His wide eyes and startled tone of voice definitely has me intrigued. “And you’d better shut the hell up before I rip out your tongue.”

All intrigue vanishes and I’m tensing up and growling at the threat in an instant. If Rose’s head wasn’t on my lap and Jasper’s fingers not still in my hair, I’d probably have been gnashing at Peter’s throat by now. “It’s fine, darlin’,” Jasper mutters, sending out a wave of the calm and comfort he’s feeling. I settle a bit, now that I’m sure he feels perfectly safe.

When Peter relaxes back against the wall I realize he’s tensed up as well. So I guess I’d made him a bit nervous. Good, I grin at him.

“I’d put the tongue back,” Peter mumbles, looking off to the side.

Actually, that brings out an interesting thought. “Could you switch tongues?” I blurt out.

“What?” Peter blinks in confusion and Rose mutters a quiet “gross” into the meat of my thigh.

“Say I ripped out your tongue and like… Edward’s tongue. If we put Edward’s tongue in your mouth, would it heal and reattach like your own would?”

“Lord I hope not,” Peter says, looking decidedly disturbed by the mental image.

I part of me quietly cackles in glee at seeing something finally visibly unsettle the vampire. “Maybe we should try it to be sure,” I suggest.

Peter opens his mouth to reply but Jasper sends out a wave of calm that has the man closing his mouth and practically melting against the wall. “Relax, you two,” he commands.

Peter lifts up a lazy thumbs up and mutters something I can’t catch.

We all lay in silence for a long moment. It’s Rose who breaks the silence. “Emmett tried it once, with his finger. Doesn’t work.”

 

…..

 

We’re lounging around, Peter and Jasper taking turns telling stories that don’t embarrass either of them, when Alice appears outside. “You guys are gonna miss something pretty memorable if you don’t head back now!” She calls out to us before rushing back the way she came. “It’s going to be great!”

Rose groans and sits up off the floor. “Oh, Emmett.”

“Ready to be embarrassed, Rose?” Jasper teases.

“Shut up,” the woman threatens before slipping down out of the treehouse. The rest of us are seconds behind her, all eager to return to the house and see the show.

 

…...

 

We arrive back at the house just in time to hear some sort of commotion coming from inside. Worry for my brother wars with my desire to not get involved, with worry winning out. I race across the yard, bounding up the porch and reaching for the door.

But before I can open it, it bursts open from the other side. My momentum propels me straight into a firm chest. Weird, it smells like Emmett, but also not... I quickly leap back, confused by my senses.

It is Emmett.

Emmett is pink.

Emmett is pink, naked but for a tiny towel around his waist, and smelling like he bathed in cotton candy.

Rose is going to be so pissed.

“Emmett!” Rose’s outraged yell rings out from behind me. Yup, I totally called that one.

“Rose, she made me pink!” Emmett yells, not sounding nearly as unhappy with the situation as Charlotte probably had expected. “Isn’t it great!”

Emmett bounds past me into the yard, yelling about how cool it is being pink. Charlotte is standing just past where Emmett was, looking confused and disappointed by the reaction. At least she managed to fix her hair. “I’m guessing Rose never told you about the unicorn patterned leather outfit,” I say with a grin.

“He’s worse than Peter,” She sighs.

“Sometimes, yeah.”

I have to admit, seeing Emmett running around in the setting sun’s light, completely pink and sparkling like a pretty pretty princess is probably my new favorite way to end the day.

Chapter Text

Jasper

 

I don’t remember much from my past.

When I say ‘past’ and think of my previous, human, life, that statement always makes me feel a pang of regret.

When I say ‘past’ and think of my early days as a vampire, that statement fills me with nothing but relief. And the awareness that I’m constantly denying just how much of those early days I really have forgotten.

And it’s because of those early days as a vampire that means seeing Peter is always a mixed bag - he’s my best friend, my oldest friend and means more to me than I can put into words. But he’s also the only one who really knows me from those days under Maria’s rule. And as much as I love Peter, being around him always reminds me about things I spend so much time trying to pretend I’ve forgotten.

I know it’s the same for Peter as well. As much as I can feel how happy he is to spend time with me, there is always the undercurrent of emotions present in him when we’re together - feelings screaming about past pain, fear and anxiety. We’re two peas in a pod - great friends who love each other’s company yet at the same time as we can barely stand to look at each other.

That’s why our visits are always brief. A week or two together before our shared past sends us runnin’ away from each other for another decade or so.

I should have guessed that Bella would throw a wrench in our usual habit of parting ways quickly. About the time into the visit where enough memories have surfaces to send Peter and Charlotte on their way, darlin’ Bella changed everything. With one bucket of mud she managed to break the built up tension that was signalling the end of the visit. Instead of running, Peter refocused on silly pranks for ‘revenge’. The distraction sent the tense emotions that haunt our interactions back into hibernation.

I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until Bella’s bucket of much that I realized that she was experiencing her own buildup of anxieties and tension. My head had been up my own ass, so distracted by my own memories resurfacing and playing out in the background as I spoke with Peter. But then even before I could step in and try to help with whatever battle she was fightin’, Peter retaliated for the prank. Turns out pranks are medicinal for Bella as well as Peter.

Lord help us all, for being saddled with such excitable immortals. I can’t argue against the results though. Two weeks ago I was bracing myself for another bittersweet goodbye. Two weeks ago I was blindly walking into another emotional rollercoaster of Bella’s adjustment period.

But now, I’m relaxing in the sunlight. Bella’s contentedly humming against my lap, fresh blood from out hunt dripping down her face. Peter followed us at a distance - uninterested in animal blood - and now sits across a stream in a branch critiquing our hunting technique.

Damn it if this isn’t a much better alternative to what I was expecting to happen, those two weeks ago.

“I’d like to see you take down a bear with any more grace, bastard!” I call over towards Peter with a grin, finally getting tired of his taunts about aim and the mess. The vibration from Bella’s soft cackle and the relaxed emotions she’s projecting has me just about melted into a pile of goo, though, so my words don’t hold much bite.

Glancing down at the newest Cullen, I take in her shimmering, scarred skin.

I really can’t get over how close we’ve grown. She bared herself to me these last few months so truly and sincerely, I feel like I’ve known her for ages. Even the fact that she’s been a newborn with little to no impulse control doesn’t cover how novel this experience has been. Sure she’s acted on her impulses, but it’s the base personality under all the chaos that has become a balm to myself and the others these last months.

Reaching down, I drag my finger through the blood on her cheek, idly drawing a big ‘J’ in the mess.

“Add a ‘B’ too,” Bella says softly when I start to take my hand away. Fighting down a wave of embarrassment over being called out about my doodling, I oblige her request.

A few hours later, we’re all getting ready to head back to the house. Bella returns from washing up and the sight of her face has me dropping my damp shirt down into the dirt. She cleaned up, certainly, but that darlin’ little vamp left the cracked, dried ‘B’ and ‘J’ right where I’d drawn them.

Peter just looks up and laughs.

…..

 

I’m headed back to Peter’s car when I catch a faint whiff of vampire. With so many of us coming here for supplies, it wouldn’t surprise me to catch my family's scent, but this… this sure as hell ain’t the Cullens, Peter or Charlotte.

I send a pulse of caution out towards where Peter is coming out of the Post Office. His reaction is slight, but as he casually strolls over to me, I can feel the wariness he’s now projecting. “Find what you needed, Major?” He asks with a smile as he comes to a stop beside me.

“Nah, but I did find somethin’ unexpected,” I reply with a grim smile.

Peter takes a deep breath before letting out a loud sigh. “Where too?”

I tune out Peter’s presence and focus on the scent I caught. It is faint, but I’m not so out of practice that I can’t track down a careless vampire. Back when… well… back when I lived a different life I stayed alive and irreplaceable thanks to my skills. I catch the scent again, and hold out my arm to Peter. When he gently grasps it like the southern gentleman he most assuredly is not, I take off on a casual stroll through town.

“Char’s gonna be mad you’re spoiling me, Major,” Peter teases. He leans into our linked arms slightly, carrying on the feigned casualness we’re both trying to project. “Treating me right like this, it’ll take her forever to retrain me to know my place.”

“Charlotte will give you one look and you’ll show her your belly like the lovesick puppy you are,” I tease back, barely noting my own words. I can tell we’re on the right trail, the scent isn’t getting any fresher, but it isn’t getting any older either. I breath in deeply through my nose, closing my eyes and trusting Peter to keep me from walking into a tree.

It’s almost there… I know this scent. I just need to figure out from when.

Another deep inhale and a piece clicks into place.

I know this scent from when I’ve been a Cullen, which drastically reduces the possibilities of who it could be.

Another deep breath and I hear Peter call out something in an upbeat yell - probably greeting someone nearby. Since his emotions are steady I stay focused on this scent and don’t pay him any more attention.

Inhale… Exhale… Inhale… Who is it?

I swear it’s on the tip of my tongue. We were in the woods… not too long ago… and Bella was there.

My eyes fly open and I surge forward, knocking Peter off balance as his arm stays tangled in my own. “Damn it.” I curse as the other man regains his feet and begins keeping pace beside me. Charlotte is running on the other side of the street, glaring at us through the corner of her eyes.

I didn’t want to make a scene before knowing who it was, I still shouldn’t make any sort of scene, but if Bella was there when I caught this scent there there is only one possible vampire it could be.

Laurent - the final surviving member of James’s coven.

“Damn it!” I curse again.

…..

 

The scent I’m following gets stronger and stronger until I reach the end of town. A series of deserted lots sits across from a truck stop featuring a bawdy bar. Easy pickings for a hungry nomad, though not as elegant as I’d expect from someone like Laurent.

Concluding that Laurent is in the middle of a hunt, it isn’t hard to figure out exactly where the vampire is likely biding his time. A condemned house with windows facing the bar is easy enough for Peter, Charlotte and I to slip into unnoticed. And there he is - the old, French vampire sprawled on a dusty sofa, eyes peeled on the view across the street, casually assessing his dining choices.

“Laurent,” I call out, words sounding oddly muffled among the dust of the room. Peter and Charlotte fan out, surrounding the nomad.

Laurent stands up quickly, spinning to take in Peter, myself and finally Charlotte. Letting his eyes rest on the only woman in the group, the nomad gives a smile. “Good evening.”

Two words in and I can already say I like him even less than I did the first time ‘round. Between his honeyed tone and the lust that he’s feeling as he rakes his eyes up and down Charlotte’s form, and I’m ready to gag. I really hate the ‘smarmy, Casanova asshole’ breed of vampire. Some types of people just do not need to be immortal.

“Thought you’d joined up with the Denali’s. Guess that didn’t stick.” I say coldly to the man. His dark, red eyes are nothing if not a testament to how much that didn’t stick. “But you should know better than to skulk around another coven’s territory unannounced.”

Laurent’s eyes narrow, and I fight back a smirk as I feel his emotions begin to churn. The darkness of his eyes tells me that he is feeling the burn of hunger. Staring at the vampire, elegantly groomed and so badly hiding just how much his hunger is affecting him already. Most likely, Laurent has lived his centuries by using his charm and nomadic lifestyle to satisfy his hunger every time it starts to prickle in his throat.

In other words, he’s a spoiled brat. And when brats get hungry, they get stupid.

“I heard about what happened to James.” Laurent says, glancing at me in irritation before turning his eyes back towards Charlotte. Holding his hands up as if to appear non-threatening, he continues, “I was worried about Victoria, they were so close those two. So I came to find her and ended up here.”

“Well, seems you missed her.”

Laurent shrugs and flashes a ‘charming’ smile towards Charlotte, “Maybe it’s not all a loss”.

Peter doesn’t react visibly to the words, but I almost flinch from the wave of fury I feel radiating off of him. “Easy, there,” Charlotte scolds taking a single step back and slamming the proverbial door in Laurent’s face.

I can’t tell if I’m feeling my own satisfaction at the sight, or Peter’s.

“Well,” Laurent hedges, taking a step back and finally really looking at my direction. “You found me so easily, surely you can tell me where my Victoria has gone.” His fingers twitch into a fist when he says Victoria’s name.

“Possibly,” I admit, eyes locked into Laurent’s and senses fully absorbed into detecting every single emotional shift the man feels.

“So then tell me where she’s gone,” Laurent snaps back quickly. There it is, a crack in the ancient man’s control. His hunger allowing his anger and impatience to override his survival instincts.

“Laurent, don’t you see? Victoria’s gone gone gone. Ash and dust.” I say projecting a sense of calm and resignation. “James came after us, he died. Victoria came after us, she died. You see the trend, right?”

My casual carelessness in telling the story seems to be the last push Laurent needed to snap. He lunges towards me, fingers like claws and fangs flashing in the dim light of the room. I brace myself for the impact of his weight, and flip him around when he crashes into me.

As I heave his body into the ground, Peter and Charlotte are both at my side, helping to hold the vampire down. Legs, arms, body restrained. The fight is won the instant it begins.

It’s with cold precision and a slightly rusty muscle memory that I rip Laurent’s head from his body. Peter’s pulling out a book of matches from his pockets and passing it to Charlotte. “Thank you dear,” The woman says as she lights a match and tosses it onto Laurent’s groin.

The flames spread quickly from where the match lands.

I stare down at Laurent’s body, curling and smoking the the flames Peter set. Even as I watch the vampire’s flesh smoulder and turn to ash, I feel a desperate rage. I’d stayed remarkably detached from the emotions during the fight. Now that it’s over and Laurent is dealt with, the rage finally settles in like a heavy weight inside of my mind.

This man. This man and James and Victoria were all threats to Bella. But this smarmy fool was the weakest of the three, the least likely to be a true threat. Bella could have easily ripped him to pieces on her own after all her training. But damn if it doesn’t feel good to put the last of James’s fuckin’ coven to rest with my own two hands.

“You back with us, Major?” Peter questions from a good ways away. I can feel both his exhilaration from the brutal execution and his anxiety now that it’s over. He’s right to worry, I’ve lost myself in the emotions of a confrontation more times than either of us can count at this point.

But this time, this time I never fell off that cliff into the depths of the emotions surging around me. No, this time I was laser focused on my goal. “Never left,” I admit, fearing that I’m admitting to something I’m not fully aware of.

“We’ll finish cleaning up here,” Charlotte says from where she’s perched under a nearby tree. “You should go let Bella and the others know what happened.”

Bella…

I’m running as fast as I can back towards the house before I even realize I decided to move.

…...

 

“Bella, darlin’, can I have a word?” I say, leaning on the doorframe and looking into the kitchen where she’d sitting with the girls.

Alice sends me a look and a nod, confirming that she already knows what it’s about. “Rose, Esme, you promised I get to pick the next movie and I’m picking Hocus Pocus!” She stands with a smile and ignores Rose’s groans while rushing to the TV. With the girls refocused, I hold my hand out. As Bella’s hand slips into mine, I give it a squeeze before leading her outside and sitting us down on the back porch.

“Is this about the vision Alice had earlier?” Bella asks once we’ve settled, facing each other.

“Probably. How much of it did she share?”

Bella shrugs, “Nothing. But we were together when it came on.”

For a moment, I’m not sure if I want to thank Alice for waiting to let me tell Bella yet another remnant of James came sniffing around, or curse her for not doing it herself. The moment fades quickly though - if anyone is going to break news like this to Bella, I’d much rather it be me.

“Laurent came to town looking for Victoria. He didn’t take well to finding out about what happened to her, and I didn’t take well to his attitude.” I pause as Bella’s hand lashes out and grabs at the front of my shirt. “Laurent’s dead, Bella. The last of James’s coven is gone.”

As the words leave me mouth, I stretch out every ounce of my awareness to try and pick up what’s going on underneath Bella’s frozen expression.

Worry. Relief. Sadness. Resignation. Guilt. Anger. Frustration.

Not the best combination for the young vampire.

“Darlin’?” I ask, hand coming to rest gently around the wrist of the hand that is grabbing onto my shirt. Her hand twitches and the fabric it’s fisted in rips. Before I can blink half my shirt is gone, but even then Bella’s face is stoic and her emotions remain tightly coiled. “Darlin’, don’t keep whatever it is in.”

Bella’s mouth quivers and she takes in a shaky breath. But still she remains silent.

“Bella.” Her hand unclenches enough to drop the shreds of fabric it’s holding onto before clenching again. I hold back a wince as her nails scratch at my skin.

“Just… don’t,” She finally whispers. I sag slightly in relief at hearing her voice. I bring my free arm around her shoulder and hum softly, projecting out a sense of calm and safety that is admittedly less stable and realistic than I normally manage. Guess I’m still shaken from the encounter as well.

We stay like that for a long while, just holding on to each other, lost in our own thoughts.

…...

 

“Heard about your little vampire roast,” Emmett says as he settles down beside me. I look up from my laptop and wait for him to continue. “The Denali’s will have to be told that their pet went astray.”

“Carlisle will take care of that, I’m sure,” I reply. Honestly I don’t give a fuck about how any of the Denalis feel about Laurent’s death. If Irina wanted to keep him as her eternal boytoy, she should have kept him in Alaska.

The sound of Esme entering the kitchen downstairs reaches the two. “Or Esme will just call Tanya herself,” Emmett grins. Nudging my side with his elbow and very obviously straining to try and hear what the woman is saying.

“Leave it, Emmett,” I scold him.

“You’re a lot less fun when you’re sulking like a southern version of Edward,” Emmett scowls at me. He does turn away from the door, however, so I let the jab slide. We fall into silence, the incomprehensible hum of conversations happening in other parts of the house washing over and around us.

Eventually though, Emmett’s seriousness starts to grate on me. I’m feeling too raw to seek out others’ emotions intentionally at the moment, but there’s always an awareness there. And even with me actively trying to shut out the feelings, I can feel the weight of Emmett’s emotions pushing in on me. “Emmett,” I grind out, teeth gritted in an attempt to hold back my frustrated temper. “Just tell me whatever it is.”

A wave of embarrassment and apology ripples over my skin as Emmett seems to remember how his especially single minded emotions can tax me. “Sorry, bro,” He mutters. “I just… damn it! Rose helped destroy Victoria, you got Laurent, and I’m… what? Just sitting on my thumbs being useless?”

I should have expected what’s bothering Emmett to be something that would seem so insignificant to anyone else. “Guess you just have to up your game,” I tease. Then, noting the tension in the big vampire, I sigh. “We all were there to stop James. And more importantly, you’ve been there to help for this entire Newborn transition. That counts for more than any sparklin’ bonfire.”

“True,” Emmett concedes. His emotions don’t lighten as much as his words would have made me expect.

“Still not enough?” I ask Emmett.

“Heh, no, it’s good,” He responds. He leans forward to rest his elbows on his knees, hiding his face in his hands for a long moment. “It’s good.”

“Liar,” I accuse. “Your emotions are definitely not feelin’ the way they should if you were ‘good’.”

“You’re a dude, Jazz. Maybe for once you should act like one and not call me out on my emotions.” Emmet playfully bats at my shoulder. Used to his half-assed evasive maneuvers after all our years living together, I just push right back.

“Emmett.”

“It’s not about what happened today,” The big man admits, tone low and serious. “Or not fully. It’s about… Bella. And all of us.”

“How so?”

“Real life is coming back. The others are here, and other vamps are coming by. It’s just…” Emmett trails off, but I know what he’s trying to say. Our little honeymoon period where we didn’t have to care about anything other than the moment is fading fast. Bella can hardly be called a newborn anymore, with her control growing daily. And with all these visitors lately, life is all but screamin’ that it’s ready for us to start payin’ attention to it again.

I sigh, taking in Emmett’s melancholy and mixing it with my own before projecting it right back. He scoffs when he feels the change in intensity - able to tell the obvious projection for what it is. “I really loved winter this year.”

“Yeah,” I whisper, closing my eyes and letting myself drift in the memories Emmett’s words brings to the surface. “I did too.”

 

Chapter Text

Bella


Except for Laurent’s appearance and death, the last few weeks have been quiet and relaxing. As much as I had to admit it, I’ve even come to enjoy the time spent around Peter. I refuse to ever tell him this to his face, but he’s not so bad. At least he’s got a sense of humor.

The boys think they’ve been so sneaky, but it’s obvious that the two of them have been trying to keep me occupied so I don’t think too much about Laurent. They’ve been pretty successful too - the prank war died out, but my days and nights are still full of hunting, swimming and way too many random activities the boys label as ‘vampire training’. At least with Peter involved, I don’t have to sniff out his unmentionables anymore - a good reward for my poor nose.

Helping maintain the relaxed bubble I’ve been floating in is the fact that I haven’t had to endure a real face to face encounter with Edward in the weeks since our official breakup. He’s been very good at moping around wherever I am not. If it wasn’t for my ability to smell him nearby, I’d almost think he’d gone back to Alaska.

But then I just had to go and open a door.

Distracted by a list of European History questions I have for Carlisle, I all but run straight into Edward’s unmoving chest. “Ow.” I groan, backing up a bit and rubbing at my nose. I knew the second I ran into him that it was Edward, but I’m not sure yet how to play this. I don’t have much experience dealing with ex’s, especially not when we share a family. “Sorry about that,” I say, trying to come across as casually neutral and totally not at all awkward.

Given how a moment later Edward is backing around past me and hurrying down the hall, I’m pretty sure my attempt at casual failed. I stare down the hallway after him for a moment, blinking in bemused shock.

“Bella,” Carlisle’s soft voice and firm hand on my shoulder snaps my gaze away from the hallway Edward had disappeared down. “It will get better.”

So everyone’s been saying.

Not wanting to get into this conversation - again - I just shrug and stomp into the room Carlisle has turned into his study. “I have some history questions for you.”

“Of course,” the man says, following me and closing the door behind him. I only tense a little bit as the barrier closes. “Though many of the answers I’d give you would make you fail your homework assignments.”

“Are the history books that innacurate?” I ask, a bit surprised.

“Not inaccurate so much as lacking key details.”

“I see,” I reply with a grin. I should have known that Carlisle would have some good stories - him being as old as he is. “What kind of details?”

Carlisle laughs and sits down in a comfortable chair. Then he begins to weave his tale.

…….

 

“I know we don’t need to sleep, but can you really say that neither of you’re tired yet?” Jasper’s warm drawl cuts into Carlisle’s latest story, leaning against the frame of the door he’s quietly opened. I was so caught up in what Carlisle was saying I didn’t even notice his arrival.

Carlisle looks out at the window. I follow his gaze and recognize the soft light of predawn coming through the trees. “Ah, I hadn’t realize I was taking up so much of your time, Bella,” the man states, looking almost embarrassed.

“Jasper! Has Carlisle told you about the opera singing vampires?” I ask, laughing a bit at the memory. “It almost makes some of the stories you and Peter told me sound tame.”

“Bella,” Carlisle scolds, covering his face with one hand. Jasper just raises an eyebrow at the man before coming over to the overstuffed chair I’ve curled up on. I only put up a token struggle when he lifts up my legs and shoves me over, but I do give him a kick in the side of good measure as he squeezes down into the chair beside me.

“I don’t believe I’ve heard that one darlin,” Jasper says. “Do tell, Carlisle.”

I laugh at the look on Carlisle’s face - I swear if he were human he’d be blushing head to toe right now.

…….

 

“It’s been five days since you last hunted, and your eyes are still not too dark,” Jasper says hand on my face and peering closely into my eyes. “Take a look, Carlisle.” He says, beckoning the eldest Cullen over. Carlisle doesn’t get as close - probably can’t with Jasper still holding my face still - but he leans in and nods satisfactorily at whatever it is he sees.

“Indeed, that’s still a nice, healthy, gold,” the doctor says. “Congratulations, Bella. Looks like we won’t be calling you a newborn for much longer.”

I smile at the idea, even if I’m not sure I share his optimism. I’m definitely not going to test myself around humans for a long while yet. But I am glad to have more constant control over my urges these days outside of that. “Thanks.”

Jasper let’s go of my face with a laugh.

He closes his eyes and the laugh keeps going and going. I look over at Carlisle, concern written on my face. “Did I break Jasper?” I ask nervously.

“No, darlin’,” Jasper says, catching his breath with a chuckle. “But Alice is very happy about your progress.”

“Why is that so funny?”

“Well-” Jasper is cut off by the vampire in question breezing down the stairs and out the front door without sparing a single glance in their direction.

“I’ve got the car keys!” Esme calls and she and Rosalie similarly appear at the stairs and hurry out after Alice. “See you later dears!”

Jasper, Carlisle and I stare at the closed door, listening to one of the cars out front start up and drive away. Then Jasper is laughing again and Carlisle starts chuckling as well.

Oh no.

No no no.

I groan and bury my face in my hands, knowing without asking, that my assumption is correct with the action just makes Jasper laugh harder and project out some of his amusement at me. He gets a punch in the arm for being a jerk. But I guess if I were him and he were me, I’d be laughing too.

Because it looks like there’s going to be a party.

Yippie.

…..

 

Today, Jasper and Peter went out to spend some quality time together. From what I gathered, they were heading to the nearest town to talk about the old days and catch up.

Needless to say, I wasn’t invited. Not that I would have wanted to go, even if they’d decided to go somewhere I’m allowed to follow. No, Jasper needs time to enjoy being Jasper, without any of us latching on. I know I’ve been more than clingy enough to guarantee him a century off, if he asked for it.

So with Jasper off with his oldest friends, I spend the day studying alone in the sitting room. Esme and Alice ask if I’d like to go out to the nearby pond with them, but I’m nore than happy to work my way through another few chapters of World History. Especially since it lets me write down my questions I have for Carlisle and Jasper about these events.

Knowing some old-ass vampires certainly has its perks.

I’ve just finished scribbling a second page of questions for later when I see Edward hoving at the fringes of the room. I’ve gotten so used to him ignoring me the past few weeks, that I’m not sure what to make of his appearance.

So I do what comes instinctively - I ignore him.

Or at least I try to. Waiting to find out what he wants is not doing my concentration any favors. By the time Edward moves again, I’m mindlessly flipping pages of my text book and not even pretending to read them. And after he does move, I stop flipping pages entirely.

Edward just came and sat down. There he is, willingly sitting in the same room as me. He’s as far away as he can be, and when I finally look up at him, he’s resolutely not looking my way, but he’s there. This is definitely a change from the sulking and hiding he’s been doing. I just hope it’s a good change.

Shrugging it off for now, I force myself to refocus on my book. I’ve got another chapter still to get through today.

…..

 

I’m not sure how she managed it, but somehow Charlotte ended up the only one helping me get dressed for the of so fun party Alice and the others have set up in the backyard.

Okay… I might have a slight idea about how it was managed. Scratching up Alice’s face, growling at Esme and giving Rose another grumpy (yet affectionate) bite may have helped chase off the other girls.

As Rose closes the door with a “suit yourself”, I keep my arms crossed against my naked chest and glare at Charlotte. “I’m tired of being a barbie. I can dress myself now.”

“Don’t want to look pretty for the boys?” Charlotte asks.

“I did already once. Rose helped me. Back when I was still kind of …”

“Rabid?” The woman asks with a smile. She moves from her perch on my desk and heads to my closet. “There’s no hard in dressing up every now and then. If not for them, then for you. There’s a power in looking your best.”

She hands out a simple, fitted blue Tshirt. It looks comfortable. “You’ll let me wear-”

“I don’t need to let you do anything. You’re an adult, now. As you said, you can dress yourself.” I grin at Charlotte’s response. Then I put the shirt on and move to glance in the mirror. “Besides, blue really is your color.”

………

 

The party is outside in the cool evening breeze, and despite my fears, Alice and Esme were pretty restrained when they decorated. I guess it goes to show how much the Cullens all care that they didn’t go too overboard. Soft music is playing from the speakers Emmett dragged outside, and everyone has been speaking and dancing and laughing. Edward even put in a brief appearance on the outskirts of the party before disappearing into the woods.

I step away from Emmett as a loud jaunty song comes to an end, head spinning a bit after all the twirling he had us doing. I stagger into Rosalie, who catches me and gives me a knowing smile. “Somethings never change,” the blonde says, holding me steady as my head stops spinning. “One of those things is Emmett’s dancing.”

“Sounds like my lady is eager for another spin!” Emmett yells into our ears as he grabs Rosalie and hauls he over to an open area of the grass, almost bowling over Carlisle and Alice. Without her holding me up, I fall to my back before I can regain my balance.

“Oof,” I let out. Then I giggle as I spread out on the grass and try to get comfortable.

“Alright there, darlin’?” Jasper asks, hand reaching down to grab my own. I’m on my feet before I can even blink. “Ready for another dance?”

I groan and put my free hand on his shoulder. “I doubt I’ll get out of it,” I reply.

And then Jasper is spinning me around - much more gently than Emmett had - guiding me into a simple dance. Luckily he moves slowly enough that I can easily follow his lead, giving me a chance to just enjoy the dance. “I kind of expected you’d dance a bit more enthusiastically, like Emmett does,” I admit.

“And why’s that, darlin’?” Jasper asks after he spins me out and back in again.

“Everyone’s having so much fun. That’s like catnip for you, right?” I ask, remembering how free and relaxed Jasper tends to get around happy family, thanks to his empathy.

“It is,” he admits. “But that doesn’t explain why you’d think I’d dance like Emmett.”

I look over at the big vampire in question. He’s laughing, having picked Rose up and started spinning in circles while holding her up. Rose scolds him when he runs them into Peter and knocks all three of them into the ground. “Yeah… now that I think about it, I’m not really sure where I was going with that,” I admit.

I’m jerked to a stop as Jasper leans into me, laughing loudly. “Darlin’,” he gasps out, before the laughter picks up again. It takes a while longer before Jasper’s laughing tapers off. Once he’s calm, he takes a deep breath before picking his head up off of my shoulder. “Bella,” Jasper whispers, hand coming up to touch my cheek. I smile, leaning into the soft touch.

I open my mouth to say something - anything - I’m not sure what really. But then Jasper is backing off slightly, coughing and picking up the steps again. “I definitely do not dance like Emmett.” He says, looking back over at where Emmett has bounced back up and dragged both Esme and Charlotte into some kind of line dance.

“I think this is better, anyway,” I admit. Then I force Jasper into a spin, laughing myself at how his shaggy hair flops around while he twirls.
.….

 

“Take care of yourself, Bella,” Charlotte says, squeezing me tight after I step forward and tentatively wrap my arms around her. “Hey, once you’re more in control, have Major take you down to see us. We still have to get the boys back for that last prank they pulled.”

It’s easy to like Charlotte. And it’s even easier to agree to her invitation. “Definitely,” I assure her with a smile, before twitching just enough to warn her to let me go. I look around to find Peter, only to realize that neither he nor Jasper are out here with everyone else. I wonder if maybe Peter forgot he was supposed to be heading out in a few minutes.

“Don’t worry, Peter just had to give Jasper a bit of a kick in the pants about something. They’ll be back before you know it.”

“About what?” I ask. I can’t think of anything Jasper might have done to make Peter need to give him a scolding or whatever. But instead of answering Charlotte just laughs and pats my cheek. “About what, Charlotte?” I try again. But Charlotte just laughs harder then heads over to say goodbye to the others.

Maybe it’s not so easy to like her after all…

“Bella!” Peter’s loud voice calls out behind me and before I can process any more than that he has me up in his arms and is swinging me around. Irritated, I instantly lash out and leave and angry scratch mark across his face. He yelps and drops me instantly and I skip a few feet away before stopping and glaring at him.

“You’re an asshole,” I growl.

“At least I’m not clawing at people’s eyeballs, Bella,” Peter taunts with a crooked grin. “Learn some manners, girl!”

“Says the idiot who sneaks up behind a newborn.” I cross my arms and try to glare even harder at the man. But he’s definitely not intimidated.

"Please, we just had a party to celebrate how you can't use that as an excuse anymore,” Peter pokes the almost healed scratch on his face one more time, then moves back into my personal space. Ignoring my irritated growl, he pats my head. “Happy anniversary, by the way. One year down, an eternity to go!”

One year… wow. I hadn’t realized it was so long. Or so short? Time doesn’t mean much living idly in the middle of nowhere, after all.

But I don’t think on it much more than that, because Peter is still patting my head like the irritating ass he is. “Stop that. Charlotte’s waiting, so get in the car and go.” I push at Peter, guiding him to his care where Charlotte is waiting patiently. “Drive safe, Peter.”

“Aw, you’re so sweet to worry, Bella,” Peter gives me a hug I certainly didn’t invite before starting to climb into the car. Before I can head back towards the house, he opens the window and beckons me closer. I roll my eyes but lean in to let him whisper in my ear. “Don’t let our Jasper hide, you hear?”

Nonsensical advice. Great.

I push Peter’s head back into the car and wave at him and Charlotte. The woman wastes no time starting the car and heading down the long drive. I wave at them until the car is long out of site.

Then they’re gone and I head to my room, where I burrow into my blanket nest and try really hard to pretend I’m not sulking.

I won’t miss them. Definitely not. Not much.

…..

 

Ever since Peter left, it feels like Jasper's been avoiding me. Which is weird - he's still around as often as before. But he's distant and distracted. I can be talking right to him, but he's zoned out like his mind is everywhere but in the conversation. At first I thought it was because he was sad to see his friends go, but it's been almost a week now, and it feels like trying to have small talk with a stranger every time I strike up a conversation.

Just thinking about Jasper's new asshole tendencies makes me want to… to… "Augh!" I shout, pounding my fists down onto the keyboard I'd been typing at. Seeing the broken hunk of plastic just makes me more frustrated. I leap to my feet and kick at the computer tower under the table. It shoots across the floor and hits the wall with a satisfying thunk, shattering into pieces and denting the wall.

I can't do this! I can't stand to have him ignoring me. Or- or acting like a distant relative or whatever the hell he's trying to do!

I want to be around him, to curl up next to him while I read and have his soft, comforting voice lull me into a relaxed pool of contentment when I'm agitated. I want to hunt with him again and race through the woods with him and just be with him!

I want...

Oh.

Oh dear.

Crap.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bella

 

I’m not really sure what to do with my little, horrifying revelation from yesterday. Every time I start to let myself think about it, one of the Cullens shows up. Even knowing that the one mindreader among them can’t hear my thoughts, I’m sure that somehow they’ll know what I’m thinking about. But there is one person I need to talk to about this as soon as possible.

I gnaw on my lip nervously as I find Alice reading on the sofa.

“Alice,” I call out. God, I don’t want to have this conversation with her. But I remember, in the first days she was here, how she told me she’d be ready to listen when I was ready to talk. I can’t help but think that this may have been exactly what she meant by that. And even if it isn’t, knowing the history between Alice and Jasper, I have to say it.

“Bella, how are you? You’ve seemed a bit out of it the last few days,” the smaller girl says. While I was lost in thought she’d put aside her book and walked around the sofa. When she reaches my side, she puts her hands on the side of my face and stares straight into my eyes. I resist the urge to back away from her grasp. It still beat, I’m pretty sure my anxiety would be causing my heart to just about burst out of my chest.

“Alice,” I start, before trailing off. My eyes leave hers as I look to the side in a moment of panic.

Once I say it, it’s out there. Am I really sure about this? I mean, look at what happened with Edward - my feelings for him were a passing infatuation that I grew out of really quickly. What if this is the same?

But then I remember this past year and everything Jasper did for me. He was always there, always encouraging me to explore who I was becoming and never judging me for it. I remember how I felt dancing and hunting and sparring and just being with him.

Yes, this is something I need to say.

I take a deep breath and look back at Alice, noting the soft smile on her face. “Are you ready to talk now?” She asks. With that question, I’m certain she knows exactly what I’m about to say. Only thing left to do now is rip off the band-aide.

Here goes nothing. “Alice, I’m in lo-” A loud crash cuts off my words as the front door flies off its hinges and two snarling vampires tumble inside.

Edward growls into the face of the vampire below him. The vampire I recognize an instant later as Jasper. Then Edward is flung backwards and into the doorframe. Splinters fly as the wall buckles from the force of the impact. “Get over yourself, Edward!” Jasper growls lowly, straightening his shirt and glaring at the other. Edward responds by lunging back towards Jasper, grabbing him around the waist and knocking them both to the ground.

Stunned by the unexpected and violent entrance of the two boys, all I can do for a long moment is stare at them both as they roll around on the ground hissing and spitting at each other. “Get off!” With a yell Jasper rotates his body below Edward, pulling up his feet and slamming them into Edward’s hips. Edward lets out a yelp as he crashes back out the hole in the wall he just moments ago entered in.

He wastes no time rolling to his feet and glaring back into the house. “Come out and fight me, you bastard! You think you can win? Or are you going to try and convince me we’re best friends? You think I’m as easy to win over as Bella? Unlike her I’m not a blind fool. I can hear your thoughts - I see right through you!”

What?

The enraged vampire in the yard spits onto the grass before taking a breath and shouting back towards the house again. “Was it your plan all along? Warp her mind when she’s just a newborn, turn her against us?”

Edward’s crazed words snaps me back to me senses. I’m not sure what exactly they’re talking about, but I’m not going to let Edward insult me or Jasper. Besides, if Edward is picking this fight because of how I hurt him, then it’s my job to stop this nonsense now.

As I open my mind to give Edward a tongue lashing, Jasper growls and leaps out into the yard. He’s barely landed in the grass when he’s grabbing Edward by the neck and forcing the boy to the ground. He simply grunts as Edward’s nails scratch and slash at Jasper’s arms.

What?

I mean… What?! Why on earth is Jasper humoring Edward’s ranting by fighting him? Even more shocked now than I was when they first entered burst through the wall, I look over to Alice. The expression on her face is about as surprised as I’ve ever seen it, so I assume she isn’t sure what’s going on either.

And as much as I like Alice, she’s never at her best when she’s surprised. I look back at the boys and square my shoulders, readying myself to jump into the fray and pull the two idiots apart. I squint at Jasper’s face - his nose is crooked and obviously broken. Even though he seems to have the upper hand in the fight, the thought of him being hurt changes my detached resolve into a hot instinct to rend the threat apart. I move towards the the pair, snarling.

But then fingers dig into my arm painfully hard, pulling me back away from the mess. My snarl turns to a high pitched whine and I spin to snap at the owner of the hand. Alice shakes her head at me. “Bella,” She whispers soothingly enough to break through my frustration and calm me a bit. “Bella, I think it would be best if you didn’t get involved in this one.”

“But-” I crane my head over my shoulder to look back at the boys, but Alice grabs my face with her free arm and forces me to look back at her.

“Bella, please, don’t,” the small girl says firmly. Her face is as serious as I’ve ever seen it, and I wonder if she was as surprised by this as I had assumed. I hear Jasper groan, and I let out another whine. My eyes close as I fight the urge to rip the one who caused the groan to pieces. Edward did that. Edward, who I probably shouldn’t tear limb from limb. I sigh in defeat and stop straining against Alice’s grip. “Stay here,” Alice insists, pushing me against the far wall.

Then she’s heading to the gaping hole in the other wall. “Jasper! Edward! Stop it!” She yells, picking up a shoe that lay discarded by the front yard and chucking it at the fighting pair. It hit’s Jasper in the face and I’m halfway across the room before I realize it.

Stay here.

It takes all my strength of will, but I manage to retreat back against the wall. I have to trust that Jasper isn’t in any real danger here and that Alice told me to stay out of this fight for a reason.

Unless it’s because of our interrupted conversation and she isn’t as okay with what I was going to say as she’d led me to believe. Maybe she just wants me out of the way…

No.

“Stop it, Bella,” I scold myself. After my change, it took a lot of effort to learn to trust the Alice again. I refuse to throw that away just because my brain is freaking out.

The fight rages on while I watch, fists and jaw clenched. I perk up a little as I hear a car coming up the driveway. Soon it’s in view and screeching to a halt feet away from the fight. Emmett and Carlisle rush out of the front seats, Esme and Rose close behind. All of them are yelling at once.

It’s chaos.

I lose my desire to jump in and pull Jasper and Edward apart as I watch my family try to do the same. The yard surges with anger and curses and shouts. I can feel the waves of Jasper’s projected rage - riling everyone up even more, including me. Carlisle takes a punch to the face as he tries to calm down Edward. Rosalie grits her teeth and struggles to hold back Jasper while Emmett’s nose is cracked by the back of Edward’s head. Esme’s face has gotten scratched badly in the confusion, and she looks like she could cry if she could as she tries to yell over the curses.

Did I… did I do this? Did I bring this peaceful family to this point?

I’m the one who pursued Edward. Who helped him fall in love with the humanity I held. I’m the one who’s rubbing salt in his wounds by hanging around while he deals with his grief.

And I’m the one who fell in love with Jasper.

God, is that was this is? Did Edward somehow pick up on that? Maybe he heard Alice thinking it and…

I focus again on the fight in front of me just in time to see Carlisle fly through the hole in the front wall and land on the sofa. Then I turn around and quietly slip out the back door. Alice was right - Edward’s not going to calm down with me there. And I could use some fresh air to think until things cool down.

I hear a yelp that I recognize as Jaspers and my fingers dig into my palm.

Listen to Alice.

Don’t make it worse.

I keep walking.

…..

 

I knock a tree over as I pass. “Idiot!” I scream, not even knowing who I’m referring to with that comment.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

I was supposed to talk to Alice and she would tell me what to do about these feelings I have for stupid, wonderful Jasper.

Before that I was supposed embrace the end of my newborn year and get ready for eternity with my family. No complications, just a continuation of this last year forever.

Or maybe I was supposed to turn into a vampire after graduating high school, have no struggles with my new instincts and live happily ever after with Edward.

I take a deep, calming breath, but the familiar scents of my family - of Jasper - fill my nose and remind me of the sight I’m running from.

Nothing’s really happened the way I would have expected it.

I take another deep breath that turns into a big sigh as the faint scents of Jasper and Rosalie fill my nose again. We’ve all run around these woods so much their scent is everywhere. Which is not helping me remain calm and firm in my decision to lie low until Edward and everyone else has calmed down and figured out what happened.

I need space. I need to think. I need to breath without being reminded of how much I screwed up everything.

So I start running. Heading away from the familiar scents of Jasper, Rose and Emmett, I weave through the woods until the scents are faint, fainter, gone. Only then do I slow down, moving from a sprint to a slow stroll through the woods.

As I walk, the sunrise makes the cloud covered sky glow. Birds begin to chirp, prey begins to rouse from its slumber. It’s simple. It’s peaceful.

But now that I’m thinking of prey… I cut quickly to the side, vaulting over a boulder and onto a small buck just beyond it. The animal is dead and drained in moments. I’m too distracted to enjoy the hunt or the meal that comes after it. I rinse the blood from my face in a small pond nearby then am up and walking again.

This is good. This is what I need. I’ll take a walk, clear my head. Alice and Carlisle will calm down the boys and they’ll figure that shit out and by the time I get back I’ll have my head on right and everything will be fine again. This is good.

As I keep walking, I play the mantra in my head. Over and over. And over. And over.

But the sight of the fight keeps flashing behind my eyes, mixing with the warm fluttering I feel when I think of Jasper and the sad shadow of guilt I feel when I see Edward. I just want to go back to winter, when being a newborn kept me from having complicated feelings.

I laugh at the thought. Pre-change Bella would have never expected to miss being a newborn. I vaguely remember being secretly terrified of how it was described when I’d first heard about what the first year after a change was like. Then again, when I heard it I had no idea I’d have Jasper, Rose and Emmett helping me through it.

Jasper, Rose and Emmett who are, last I saw, fighting their own family in their own house.

“Gah!” I yell, kicking a nearby rock off into the distance and shaking my head.

I’m about to kick another stone when a soft giggle freezes me in place. Then suddenly, a warm weight hits me and wraps around my waist.

I gasp at the sudden impact, staring down at big brown eyes. Stunned I take a deep breath, unable to help but savor the delicious smell wafting to my nose. A familiar smell and now that I think about it, one that I must have been unconsciously following for miles.

The small child hugging me grins up at me, “You’re it!”

…..

 

As soon as I realize that I’m in the presence of an alive, human child, I stop breathing and start trying to think of the best way to get the hell out of here. I want to pry her arms off of me, but I don’t trust my strength enough not to hurt her.

I really don’t want to hurt her.

Oh god, don’t let me hurt her.

I look around, hoping to find some miracle to get me out of this mess. But a glance around the area makes the fear and panic even worse. Apparently I am a lot better than I thought at clearing my mind and not thinking about things, seeing as how I managed to walk into a full on party without noticing the sounds and smells many humans laughing and talking and playing.

The little girl laughs again, then suddenly lets me go and runs towards a group of kids nearby. “Rachel! Rachel! I’m gonna get you!”

Free from that fragile grasp, I waste no time trying to slip away while my fragile control holds. But as soon as I spin around a plastic bowl is thrust into my arms. Startled, I stare at yet another human seemingly intent on driving me towards a murder spree.

“Are you one of the cousins? It’s so good of you to come in for the birthday. Joyce seemed happy to see you. Be a dear and take these snacks over to the kids before they start eating each other!” The woman pushes me towards the kids, “Snack time!” As I stagger forward, still clutching the bowl, a horde of delicious children see me holding food and sprint over. It would time vampire speed to get away before they get over here, but with so many eyes on me I just stand helplessly as I’m surrounded by laughing and screaming kids.

I start handing out snacks, feeling an awful lot like that witch from the story of Hansel and Gretel. The laugh that escapes me at the thought is slightly hysterical. As I laugh, I breath in and the mouthwatering scent of the human blood around my causes the bowl of snacks to fall from my hands. The girl who grabbed me earlier dives down and picks up the bowl, taking a bag out of it then handing it back to me. “Here you go.”

I stare at the girl’s neck, I can practically see the blood flowing under her pale skin. Unbidden, my hand reaches forward and brushes some of the girls hair away from her skin. Then I’m leaning closer and -

The skin vibrates under my fingers as the girl releases a high giggle. “That tickles!”

My hand rockets off of her.

Don’t be creepy, Bella. And don’t eat the small children.

Desperate for a distraction, I reach into the bowl and hand her another bag of whatever is in the bowl. “Go play.” I get out, before forcing myself to stop breathing again.

“You’re weird,” The girls says, before running off over to the other kids who have already gotten food.

“And you’re lucky,” I mutter as I hurry to hand out the rest of the snacks so I can escape. I look at the other children, forcing myself to keep thinking of them as people and not food. “You’re all going to be lucky.”

….

 

I manage to pass out all of the snacks without losing control, but I can feel the burning pain of hunger building up in the back of my throat. Sighing in relief as the last of the kids runs off, I look around to find the best path to escape the party. Crowds of people and kids surround me on all sides. I make my way towards the fringes of the party, circling around the clumps of humans in my way. I’m almost home free when I realize I’m still clutching the nearly-empty plastic bowl in my hands.

Crap, what do I do with this?

I hesitate, and look side to side, hoping for some place I can put the plastic bowl. For all I know the ugly, colorful thing has sentimental value to someone.

“You look a bit lost,” I look towards the voice and see an older woman sitting at a card table, unwrapping plastic figures and candles. In front of her sits a cake that surely I would have craved a year ago. “Come and sit a minute. Help me finish decorating the cake.”

“Uh,” So much for a sneaky exit. I think about just running away, but I was raised to be polite to the elderly and running away from them is definitely not polite. Of course, tearing their throat out and gulping down their blood probably isn’t polite either.

“Don’t be shy, come on,” She waves me over and I hunch slightly in defeat. Slowly I walk over and try to assure myself that if I withstood the allure of a crowd of children, surely I can last through a short conversation with one old woman. As soon as I’m settled, placing the bowl on the ground next to my chair, the woman continues. “I don’t recognize you. Who do you belong to?”

All to aware of my status as an unintentional party crasher, I open my mouth to claim some relation. But I have no idea what side of the family she’d be on, so instead I tell the truth. “Well… no one. I kind of accidentally wandered in and then got roped into helping before I could leave.”

The old woman laughs, causing her glasses to slide down her nose. “Sounds like you met my daughter then. She’s always a bit frazzled when it comes to dealing with more than one kid at a time.”

Embarrassment causes the burn of hunger to scratch harder in the back of my throat. I refrain from answering in order to keep from taking a breath. Instead I pick up a plastic princess and place it on the cake. The woman adds a cowgirl next to the princess. Looking at the two plastic friends, I grab a little pink moose, placing him by the princess. Princesses always need an animal sidekick. Or a getaway ride.

“It’s unusual for young ladies your age to wander around outside of town alone,” The candle I just picked up snaps between my fingers as I’m pinned by the old lady’s piercing stare. I swallow heavily.

What is it about wrinkles that makes people so intimidating? Carlisle is ten times her age but isn’t half as terrifying.

“I… I should go,” I mutter hastily. “It’s getting late.”

The woman raises nods a bit and hums as she looks away from me and places another figure on the cake. I don’t stand up.

“My family is probably worried,” I say again. But still, my legs do not move. I risk another breath filled with the delightful scent of blood to try again.

“I’m love with my ex-boyfriend’s brother - a brother who also used to date a good friend of mine. Now everyone is fighting and I’m afraid it’s because they somehow found out how I feel.”

That is definitely not what I meant to say. But, saying it outloud felt… necessary. And saying it to a stranger with no personal relation to anyone involved might be helpful. Looks like I’m risking the party a little bit longer. Decision tentatively made, I look over at the woman.

As soon as our eyes meet, she bursts out laughing once more. This time she takes her glasses off to wipe the tears streaming down her face. I stare in silence, biting down an agitated growl. It really isn’t funny.

“Oh, I miss being young. Everything is the end of the world.” The woman sighs, gasping for breath as her laughter fades. She puts her glasses back on and pins me with a look. “Go on, continue, dear.”

Well, since she’s asking...

“I thought I loved Edward, but it was just an infatuation. Looking back, he wasn’t good for me. He kept me from being myself. But this… this is different. This happened so slowly I didn’t even realize how much Jasper mattered until all of a sudden it seemed the most obvious thing in the world. But how do I know if it’s real? How do I know if this isn’t the same thing as before? How do I know if it’s worth telling him about? How- How-” My breaths are coming quick and uneven, and a dry sob wracks out of my throat. I drop my head onto the tabletop, crushing something under it.

All the stress of the day just comes rushing back over me as I sob and sob and sob. Vaguely I’m aware of a thin hand patting my head as I gasp and cry.

Eventually, I calm down.

Just like usual, venting out my emotions has left me feeling lighter. A bit of the sick dread I’ve been feeling for a while has faded away. Or maybe I’m just too drained from my emotional outburst to feel too much of anything right now.

The hand pats my head again. I keep my eyes closed as the old woman starts talking again.

“You’re young and you’ve got a long life ahead of you. You have a lot to learn and a lot to experience, but humor an old lady for a minute and let me give you some advice.” The hand on my head rubs at my scalp gently, “Happiness is the most important thing you can find in life. And to find it, you have to trust your heart. If you’re in love, embrace it. And if hard times come, remember that after this Edward, you found a Jasper. Hope it lasts, but don’t live in fear that it won’t, because let me tell you, it won’t be the end of the world. Instead it could lead you to a Steve, or a Gregory, or a Sharon.”

I move my head, resting my chin on the table and looking blearily at the woman. I honestly don’t know if I like that advice or hate it. “I’m not saying it won’t work out. But take it from an old woman who’s broken hearts and filled others. It’s all worth it, the good and the bad.”

The woman pats my head one more time before taking away her hand and standing up. “Now come, I need you to carry the cake over to the kids. Then you just take a rest and think about it. Don’t head back until you’re ready.”

I shouldn’t risk surrounding myself with more people. It’s long past time that I got away from the temptation that’s causing a growing hunger in my throat. But I’m too tired to do anything other than pick up the cake and follow the old lady back into the throng of screaming kids.

I hold my breathe as they all sing, and smile at the old woman as she hands me a big slice of cake with a wink. Then I turn away and slip off into the woods, paper plate and cake in hand.

I’ve got a lost of thinking to do. And a lot of planning.

But first I need to hunt.

Chapter Text

Jasper

 

Carlisle’s mouth is set in a severe line as he fixes my nose to line up properly on my face again. A twinge of pain and Carlisle backs away. He sits down on the only other unbroken piece of furniture in the room - a wooden chair - without a single ounce of his usual good humor.

“Thanks, Carlisle,” I say, before getting up from the listing sofa.

“Sit.”

Despite the ruse we show the world about the Cullen family, there have been very few times in the last few decades when I’ve looked at Carlisle and felt like I was in the presence of a father instead of a friend and ally. But his tone right there, that has me sittin’ the hell down and gettin’ ready to start calling him ‘sir’.

“You too, Edward.” Carlisle says, glancing over at the mind reader who was half out the gaping hole in the front of the house. Edward hesitates and I bite back the urge to snarl at him. My tempter is still flarin’ and raw from the volatile mix of everyone’s anger - including my own. One more moment passes where it looks like Edward really will ignore Carlisle’s command. “Now.”

The punk comes over and sits down on the other end of the couch. I manage to keep my distaste from my face, but I can’t help but reach out to feel his emotions, pinpoint the twinge of guilt he’s feeling and magnify it ten times right back in his face. Edward’s shoulders slump as he shifts down on the couch and I bite back a grin.

Carlisle continues to sit and stare at us in silence. He’ll speak up when he’s ready - in the meantime I finally take stock of the rest of the family. Alice and Esme quietly clean up outside. I hear slight sniffles coming from one of them, mixed in with whispers so quiet I can’t make out the conversation. I feel a pang of guilt as I listen to them for a moment - I’ve got a lot of apologizing to do once things calm down a bit more. The guilt builds as I sense a bundle of tense, agitated emotions - unusual coming from Emmett - stalking off away from the house.

I turn my head to look at Rose. She remains firmly planted against one of the intact walls, staring at both Edward and I and making no move to follow her man. And Bella - “Where’s Bella?”

“She headed off into the woods while you lot were busy being idiots,” Rose says coldly. “Probably putting another dent in the deer population.” My fingers twitch. If I’m going to talk to anyone right now, it should be Bella. I know she was here when the fight started, and if she heard any of that bullshit the fool sitting next to me had been spouting, then she could probably use someone to talk to.

Carlisle picks that moment to speak up again, acting more like a mind reader than the actual one sitting beside me. “None of you are leaving until we talk.”

“Carlisle,” I start, ready to argue my way out of the house and to wherever Bella has holed up.

“Emmett went to find her,” Edward whispers, not looking at anyone. “Then he’s going to come back and punch us both in the face.”

If Emmett’s going to her, than I guess it’s best to stay and work things out here. I plaster a smile on my face - and turn my gaze from Edward back to Carlisle. “Alright, then. Let’s talk.”

Silence.

Edward says nothing.

Carlisle says nothing.

Well, it seems like I’m up. I take a deep breath and start talking. “I’m not sorry, Carlisle. If you’d heard the poison Edward was spouting about Bella, you’d-”

“Oh bull shit Jasper.”

At the interruption, I turn my glare over to Edward. I send a wave of irritation his way and open my mouth to ask what the hell he’d on about now. But then, as my eyes meet his own, my jaw snaps closed - if Edward wants to talk, then who am I to deny Carlisle to hear this crap first hand. So, instead of talking, I do as I’ve done several times over the years - I quirk my eyebrow, send the boy a challenging smirk, and wait for the inevitable explosion.

It takes only a split second before -

“You don’t care about protecting her! You’re the one who took an impressionable newborn and … and....” Edward trails off, looking wild-eyed at an unimpressed Carlisle and Rosalie. I nearly crack a tooth with how hard I’m clenching my jaw to keep my smirk on and my mouth closed. “I don’t see how none of you are concerned about this! You’ve seen her, you’ve been around her. She’s different now.”

His words remind me of a day, weeks ago, when Edward first arrived. Back when I found a heartbroken Bella hiding in her treehouse and asking if we thought she was ruined now. As the memory of her shining eyes flashes in my mind, my mouth opens despite my efforts to keep it closed. “Oh, get over yourself, you fuckin’ idiot. The only thing different is she’s more comfortable in her skin and being herself.”

“I think of all of us I’m the most qualified to know what she was like before, and it wasn’t like this.” Edward snaps, rocketing to his feet and waving his arms around. He ignores Carlisle’s demands to sit back down and keeps runnin’ his mouth instead. “She’s changed, and it’s you who did it. That’s what you did back in the war, right? Change defenseless people into monsters and train them to be good little soldiers. Is that what you’re doing to Bella too? Turning her into a perfect little grunt?”

“You’ve got to be kiddin’ me. Are we seriously having this conversation again?” I try to hold onto my own growing rage so as not to project it onto everyone else. But I swear, one more word and Edward will be hunting for his tongue for the next month. “We literally just had this conversation. Like I said, if Bella’s changed, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it because she did it herself.”

“You think I’d believe anything you have to say about this? You had her alone for months, and-”

“That’s enough, you two! Jasper wouldn’t do anything like that. Not that he even could if he did want to - Bella’s not some feeble minded floozy,” Rosalie cuts in firmly. “He’s in love with her - with every part of her. Unlike some other blind fool I know.”

What the bleeding fuck?

Seriously Rose? How… when…

I want to snap at her, for telling secrets that sure as hell aren’t hers to tell. But just like that, the secret’s out. Only, I don’t feel any shock or surprise comin’ from the others. Not even Edward feels that surprised. I rest my forehead in my hands - so much for my big secret.

I keep my head down for a long moment, both to process my embarrassment of having someone else expose something I’d tried to keep quiet. I also take the moment to breathe in and work to keep from letting my anger overwhelm what I’m about to say. Now isn’t the time to focus on my feelings for Bella. This isn’t about … that. It’s about making sure that Bella has an environment to be herself in without judgemental assholes making her feel like shit. This is her home.

I raise my head and look at my brother. His face is still, but his emotions are roiling in a twisted knot of agony. He’s torturing himself with his inability to move on, to accept change. Sighing, I realize that if Bella’s ever going to be fully at home here, than my stupid, idiot brother needs help too.

Edward needs to have his head screwed back on straight, before he loses his mind.

“You don’t know that,” Edward whispers to the room, whether in response to my thoughts, or someone else’s, I can’t be sure. But if he is tuning in to my mind, then I’ve got a few more things to say.

You need to learn to recognize the truth when it’s right in front of you, Edward.

I can tell Edward caught that thought - his face scrunches up in a grimace and he whips his head around to look away from my general direction. Seconds later I hear a snap from the couch armrest he’d been gripping in one hand.

“You need to stop,” I say, out loud this time. I hope I sound calmer than I feel. “Open your goddamn eyes and see Bella for who she is, not who you wanted to see.”

“You don’t know what-”

“Bella’s said it, I’ve said it and judging by Rose’s expression right now I’d guess she’s said it too. How many times is someone gonna have to have this conversation with you, Edward? Cause we’re gonna be around a long long time, and it’s already gotten old.” Edward opens his mouth but I’m not done yet. “Bella outgrew you. You weren’t great for her, she wasn’t great for you. You broke up. There’s no conspiracy there, just life.”

A wave of frustration rolls off of Edward and I tense up, ready to jump into action if Edward lunges at me the way he had outside.

“Boys, please.” Carlisle’s voice allows no arguments and both Edward and I snap our heads to look at the patriarch of the Cullen family. “You both are talking in circles, so I’m going to assume you’ve each said your part. Now I want you both to sit there and listen to me say mine.”

I’m silent as I wait for Carlisle to continue.

“Bella is a part of this family. She deserves our respect and acceptance of who she is now and whomever she may become. Beyond that, I will not tolerate either of you using another member of our family as a scapegoat for any issues you two have with each other.”

Carlisle stops for a moment. I don’t so much as twitch as I wait for him to continue.

“Bella broke up with you, Edward. That is that. She told you her piece, and you need to respect her decision.” Carlisle’s gaze turns from Edward’s and meets my own. “And you, Jasper. Well - it’s up to you to decide if want to tell her about your feelings or not. Though, in this family she’s sure to find out eventually. But that aside, you need to stop trying to fight her battles. She can sure as hell handle herself when it comes to family squabbles.”

Despite the stern tone, Carlisle’s thin mouth turns briefly into a small smile. I can’t help but flash a grin of my own in agreement. “Yes sir.”

Carlisle’s smile is gone when he continues to speak, though his tone is liss severe than it was moments earlier. “If you two want to fight each other, do it for yourselves, not for others. And do it in the woods where the house won’t get destroyed. Just know that you’re going to have to sit down and talk it out just like this afterwards.”

Silence.

As nice as it is to imagine a free pass to beat up Edward in the future when he’s being an ass, I’d rather avoid getting a dressin’ down like this ever again.

“Yes sir,” I repeat.

“I understand, Carlisle,” Edward says moments later. Then Carlisle is standing and sweeping out of the house towards Esme and Alice, winding his arm through Rosalie’s and pulling her along with him. He doesn’t say another word.

He doesn’t need to.

……

 

After Carlisle and the girls are out of sight, I finally stand up from the couch. “We should get started on the wall,” I say as I move over towards the planks Esme and Alice had stacked up outside.

I’ve placed a few planks before Edward appears beside me, grabbing the wood and holding it in place as I hammer it in. I saw nothing to the boy - I’m tired of talking, of pretending that Edward’s words aren’t cutting me deeper than they should.

Instead I find myself wondering how long he had known about how I feel about Bella. Edward sure as fuck isn’t someone great at keepin’ his cards close to his chest. And whose head had he gotten it out of, anyways? I only just recently realized myself when Peter all but shoved my face in the truth the day he and Charlotte roared out of here.

“Rosalie,” Edward says so quietly I almost miss it. “I got it from Rosalie.”

“Huh,” I grunt, not really sure what else to say to that. I’d much rather ask Rosalie when she found out then ask what exactly Ed got out of her head. So instead I try to keep my surface thoughts clear and free of words that Edward might be listening to pick up on. “Took you a while to blow up about it.”

“Despite what you all think, I’m not a child.” I do my best to contain my snort of disbelief at the reply. But Edward actually backs up his claims for once by ignoring the small sound that escapes me. “I tried to figure out what made her think that before I did anything.”

A small - very small - part of me can’t help but be proud at the sign of Edward finally showing some real signs of growin’ the fuck up.

“I hoped she was wrong.”

So much for growing up. I walk into the yard and grab another plank of wood, bring it back, and nail it in. I repeat this again before I feel calm enough to respond. “Well she wasn’t,” I admit. The second time I confess my feelings out loud, and it’s getting easier each time. Maybe by the time this whole encounter is oveer, I’ll be ready to finally sit down and have the chat I keep meanin’ to have with Bella.

“Why?” The boy’s questions is quiet and holds a lot more vulnerability than he probably wants. It reminds me that despite how fed up I get with this fool, I do care for him.

The fuckin’ joys of family.

I think about the question a moment before trying to answer. “Why do I love her? Or why don’t you?”

I don’t let Edward interrupt once I start talking. I see him open his mouth out of the corner of my eye and send a wave of irritation towards him as a warning to keep quiet. His jaw clicks shut and stays closed. “I can’t answer for you. I can’t even be sure that I can answer for me. But, I’ll try.”

I pause a moment - totally not for dramatic effect, I swear. “With Bella, I feel free. I feel accepted for every part of me, and I can accept every part of her in return. It’s a comfort. And a level of understandin’ and affection I never thought I’d be able to receive from another, not after the sins of my own past.”

And lord, I realize now I’ve never talked directly with Edward about my past. Whatever knowledge he has on my past were probably pieced together from my own torment filled memories and the fleeting thoughts of the others. Who know what Edward thinks I feel about my early days as a soldier. But I’m not quite sure that’s a box I want to open tonight. Maybe in another century or so we can talk about it more - once Edward learns to accept the idea of being a vampire and stop hating himself so much. I hope a century is enough for that…

I draw myself out of my thoughts and finally look over to Edward. His expression is serious and slightly confused.

“Edward,” I say the name slowly, trying to buy time to figure out what else to say. But as darkening brown eyes meet mine, I realize there’s nothing left to tell him. “I can’t explain myself to you, and I really don’t want to. But I can assure you, Bella is the last fuckin’ person in this world I would purposefully hurt.”

For a long moment, Edward looks like he’s about to break down. He keeps staring silently into my eyes, a challenge for truth, for honesty, for assurance.

You hear me, brother? I think firmly, wondering if he’s in my head even now. Her heart is safe with me, should she choose to trust me with it.

Edward blinks and turns his face away.

So don’t fuck with us. Figure out your own shit and grow up.

Edward picks up another plank of wood and gets back to work. I can’t bring myself to care whether he heard me or not.

If Bella will have me, I’ll repeat this conversation with Edward for all of eternity without caring.

……

 

It’s the middle of the night by the time we finish patching up the wall enough to weatherproof the house. Edward said nothing more the rest of the time we worked and his emotions went from pissed to guilty to numb and thoughtful as we worked.

As soon as the last planks of wood disappeared, Edward turns to leave. “Good night Jasper,” the boy whispers before disappearing into the night. It’s not much, but at least things between us seem to be a quiet sort of calm. Maybe things are ready to get better now.

I choose to be cautiously optimistic - ‘cause I am getting pretty sick of dealing with teenage angst coming from a ninety year old man.

I move to sit on the grass in the front yard, staring blankly at the huge dent we left in the door of the Jeep. The familiar presence of my sister pricks at my consciousness - a soft mix of frustration, worry and amusement. Moments later the blonde woman is by my side. “You holding up?” Rosalie’s hand rests on my head as she uses me as support while she lowers herself to sit on the ground besides me.

“Me? Shouldn’t you be asking Edward that? He seems to be the one with the most to freak out about,” my attempt at humor comes out a lot more biting than I intend.

“Jasper.”

“Yeah, I’m holding up.” Rose’s hand moves to knead my shoulder as she hums in response. I sigh as my muscles relax a bit under the firm grip. “Everyone already knew?”

“Oh, we’ve all had a pretty good idea of where things were heading with the two of you. Alice admitted to me the other day she saw it back when we first left to come here. But among those of us who don’t peek at the future, Emmett called it first back in February.”

Oh lord, if I was human my face would be red as a tomato right now. “Emmett?” I ask, slightly terrified about how I must have been acting if he picked up on it first. Besides… “I only just figured it out a few weeks ago!”

Rose’s hand pats my shoulder, mockingly sympathetic. “Don’t worry, brother dear. It’s adorable. And it’s right.”

Right.

Right?

Is it? Can it be?

I think back on a day a few weeks back, before Peter and Charlotte left. Bella and I had decided to take a break from the others and spent an entire day in her treehouse. We’d somehow ended up creating stories to fill in the gaps in my memory of my human life. She wrote them all down, drawin’ hideous pictures to go with the increasingly ridiculous youthful anecdotes. It had been very sill and a little sad. But it had also been…

I tip my face up towards the stars overhead, smiling. “Yeah.”

Rose’s hand moves and she wraps her slender arm around my shoulder. “Yeah.”

Rose’s phone rings, ruining the moment. She answers it with her free arm and leans into my side as she puts the phone on speaker. “Emmett.”

“Rose, hey. The other’s with you?”

“Jasper’s here. What’s wrong?”

“Uh, nothing,” Emmett’s voice sounds a bit high pitched and I can tell that i’m not the only one not buying his response.

“Emmett,” I growl with a threat in my tone.

“Nothing, I swear!” Emmett repeats. “Just wanted to let you guys know that Bella’s with me. We’re gonna hang a bit before heading back. We’ll be back later.”

Then the phone line disconnects. Rosalie’s lips pinch together as she stares at her phone, “He hung up on me,” she whispers. I can’t help but smile at the tone of her voice, amusement overlaying my concern.

“Come on, Jasper,” Rosalie stands and pulls me up after her. “They’ll be a while. Let’s watch a movie.”

I look out towards the woods as Rose walks inside the house - I want nothing more than to go meet the pair and assure myself that Bella is alright, but it’s probably best to wait for them to return on their own. Emmett may be a fool at times, but he wouldn’t lie about Bella’s safety. And he seemed to think she needs some time still before she comes back.

I could use a bit of time too. Today’s been exhausting and it would probably be best to unwind before I tackle my next tough conversation.

So I turn and walk inside.

Chapter Text

Interlude 2: Alice

 

As the yelling of the boys inside the house washes over my ears, I turn my head down towards the wood Esme and I are stacking in order to hide my smile. All those months ago, when Bella was first attacked and saw what that meant for our future, I’d only been shocked for a moment. After that, I was just excited. But in the long hours of the night, sometimes I’d go on a long walk through the empty streets of Forks,. Away from prying minds, I could admit super small part of myself that was nervous about seeing that vision come to pass.

But despite my guilty fears, this has all been so much easier than I’d ever hoped.

I knew it the moment I arrived. The joy and freedom on Jazz and Bella’s faces was so beautiful, any reluctance I felt just evaporated as if it had never existed. And it wasn’t just Jasper and Bella. No, Emmett and Rosalie also looked happier and freer than I’d seen in decades. Honestly, these days I just want to sit out in the sunshine and watch the people I love discover the happiness they have within their grasp.

My nose scrunches a bit as that last thought forms. While true, it does make me feel like the extremely old woman I’d be if I were human and somehow still alive. And I’m not comfortable being a old granny.

Rose’s voice rings out over the bickering of the boys and I tilt my head to listen. I catch the tail end, “... He’s in love with her - with every part of her. Unlike some other blind fool I know.”

I can’t help but laugh - suddenly the vision of Jasper’s stunned face I’d seen half an hour ago has the context it needs to make sense. Esme glances over at me, the same humor in her face as is in mine. “Boys,” she whispers with a small grin.

“Boys,” I agree. Then I go to pick up the last of the load of lumber we’ve been laying out. “Boys…” I allow myself a small twinge of sadness, just for a moment. Not because I’ll miss the more intimate side of Jasper’s company - that ship had sailed long before meeting Bella. But rather because I’ve never felt the depth of emotion I know Jasper is right now.

Romantic love…

It must be nice.

A small hand places itself on my shoulder, rubbing up and down my arm gently. Esme says nothing as we stand there together. Her motherly silence is why I often seek out her company when my visions get too strong. Basking in the comfort she offers, I feel the incoming of another vision. It washes over me, causing me to lean back more firmly into Esme’s grasp.

When I come out of it, my moment of sadness is over. How could I stay sad when I have so much entertainment to look forward to? Instead I smile and turn to face the woman beside me. “Esme, we have a few hours till we should be back. Want to go to town and catch a movie? We can make it a girls night!”

We don’t even bother to go inside and change, instead heading to the car Esme’s arrived in hours ago. Due to the chaos of the fight, the keys were left in the ignition so it’s easy to slip away.

Nothing is ever perfect, but this change has been easier than I ever hoped.

And so much fun.

Chapter Text

Bella

 

Emmett hangs up the phone and just stares. Not sure what to do, I stare back.

The silence stretches - I’m not sure I’ve ever been in silence with Emmett for so long. Okay, maybe when I was a freshly turned newborn, but the silence then probably wasn’t this same kind of awkward silence where neither of us are sure to say. I’m not sure how to handle a quiet Emmett.

“So… is now a good time to ask where the cake came from?” He finally asks, staring at the slice of cake sitting on the plate in my lap.

I look down at the cake as well. I can’t really say why, but I’d carried it with me back into the woods and towards familiar grounds. When I’d caught the scent of a bear, I carefully placed the cake on a rock before pursuing my prey. Then I’d returned and picked it up again after. It was a gift, kind of, and it seemed rude to just toss it somewhere.

“Um…” I start, suddenly nervous about how to explain how I ended surrounded by humans long enough to be given food. “I kind of went to a birthday party, I guess?”

Emmett blinks.

Then he blinks again.

I can feel my frustration building at Emmett’s confusion. Yes it was weird, but honestly, what other explanation could he have been expecting to explain me having a birthday cake? I growl. Then suddenly I feel a weird moistness around my hands. Glancing down at them, I see my fingers covered in frosting and cake. In my distraction, I’d crushed the paper plate and confection between my hands. I calm instantly, staring at the blue and pink frosting staining my fingers.

When I look up at Emmett again, I’m smiling.

“Bella?” He asks, eyes darting between my hands and my face.

“I did it,” I sigh, finally realizing how momentous this day has ended up being. “I was by humans and I didn’t hurt them. I controlled myself. I was able to be around them for a while and was able to get myself away when my control started to slip. I- I killed the cake, but no people! I did it, Emmett!”

“Holy shit,” Emmett breathes, as if it’s finally sinking in how I spent my time since leaving the house. “Holy shit!”

The large vampire looks like a weird mix of terrified, stunned and excited. I laugh at his shocked expression and lunge towards him. I wrap my dirty hands around his back and squeeze him with all my no-longer-newborn strength, “I did it!”

Joy. After such a hard day, and all the emotions that plagued me, I gladly let this feeling of joy and victory wash over me. Sure it’s not the end of my struggles, but I think I’ve earned a pat on the back for my first step back into society.

Emmett finally returns my hug. Laughing he spins me around and around. “Holy shit!” He repeats again as we twirl. Then suddenly we’re falling to the ground, both too busy laughing to avoid the fall caused by a stray root. We land with loud grunts and immediately I’m laughing harder than ever. I run my sticky hands through my hair and then laugh even more as I realize the mess I’m making.

It doesn’t matter - right now I feel good.

…..

 

“Bella,” Emmett starts, staring up at the dawn sky. “How exactly did you end up at a birthday party?”

I lift up my gooey hand to look at the frosting - now mixed with dirt and grass - in the light. As the sun hits the skin, it sparkles, catching the color from the frosting and leaving a surprisingly pretty sight. I smile at how fitting it seems. My hand is a mess, but it’s a pretty one. “I kept walking, trying to find somewhere I could clear my head away from everything,” I finally respond.

“You had to go so far?” Emmett’s voice is legitimately curious. His lack of accusation is one of the things I love most about my new brother.

“Yeah, though it wasn’t fully intentional.”

A loud laugh rings out across the clearing and Emmett’s fist thumps the ground near where my head is resting. “Sure it wasn’t.”

“Fine. It wasn’t consciously intentional,” I grumble. Was I really just thinking Emmett is lovable? Can I take that back? “I was so lost in thought, I was acting on instinct. But not ‘grr kill’ instinct. Just… girl instinct.”

“Girl instinct?” Emmett grins.

“Shut up.”

Emmett laughs before continuing with a more serious tone. “And the birthday party?”

“A little girl ran into me before I really realized what was happening. Things just kind of escalated from there.” I pause a moment, as I realize what ‘things escalated’ could mean when talking about a vampire surrounded by humans. “I mean, not in a bad way. I just got roped in by some stressed out adults to help manage the kids. I wasn’t really sure how to get away. Then once I realized I wasn’t going to go psycho cannibal right away, I realized that it was kind of nice.”

Emmett sits up and turns until he’s leaning over me. I can tell he’s trying to look serious, but his eyes are practically glowing with excitement and the corner of his mouth is all pinched. “Bella Swan Cullen, are you telling me that you willingly stayed at and enjoyed a party?”

Nu-uh. I’m not going to let Emmett say things like that - not when the vampiric females in my life could possibly hear. I swear their hearing it ten times sharper when it comes to topics like this.

I move with ease thanks to Jasper’s annoying training, driving the crown of my head into Emmett’s laughing face. I hear a small crack and a curse as the fool moves out of my space. As he writhes around on his back, I find it’s my turn to kneel over him.

“Never say such things again,” I growl. But my eyes meet Emmett’s and my growl tapers off into a giggle.

As my giggle fades, I move my weight back to rest on my heels, giving Emmett one more half-hearted mock-glare. And when Emmett sticks his tongue out at me, I don’t hesitate to wipe my frosting caked hand on it. His face - scrunched up and trying not to gag as he spits and sputters - is worth having to wipe his spit off my hand in the dirt.

“It was nice though, to be around people again,” I admit once Emmett calms down. “I never thought of myself as much of a people person, but I was there and realized after so long away from crowds how nice it can be sometimes to just be around strangers and not be noticed.”

Emmett moved to sit up, allowing our eyes to meet easily.

“Bella, are you okay?”

That is a good question. And one I’m not quite sure how to answer. “I… when I saw them fighting like that, I was just… I couldn’t help but think that me being around was driving you guys apart-”

“Hey, we’ve been having epic brawls before you even existed,” Emmett cuts me off, before I go any further. “It’s a family thing, especially one as close as this one. We butt heads and fight, then we take a breather, and come back once we’re calm again. Edward and Jas being idiots was not your fault.”

I give Emmett a small smile. “Once I calmed down, I kinda figured that. But I got caught up in the emotions of the moment. And… well...” I trail off, not knowing how to put the rest of my feelings to words. Not knowing if I want to put them into words right now.

“And you were worried about how we’d all react when we realized how you feel about Jasper.”

“W-what?!” I sputter, eyes wide and panicked. “N-no. No. No. No no no…”

Emmett’s eyebrow rises, causing him to look so ridiculous I can’t help but lose a bit of my panic. Suddenly, all the trust I developed for him before and after my transformation wells up, and I realize that I don’t need to deny things like this. Not around Emmett. So, I just take a breath and say, “A little, yeah.”

“It’s good to hear you admit it, but you realize you live with a mind reader, a girl who can see the future, and a bunch of people who’ve been around more than long enough to recognize the signs,” Emmett says gently. “Honestly, I’m pretty sure everyone knows. Except maybe Jasper, because he’s been too busy freaking out about his own… ah, nevermind. I shouldn’t be the one to say that. Anyways, it’s all gonna be fine, you don’t need to worry about anything when it comes to us, Bella.”

Oh. My. God.

I’m going to kill Emmett.

Jasper’s been freaking about his own … what?

What was Emmett going to say?

If I had a heartbeat, it would be thumping as fast as an engine as I think about it. Could it have been Jasper’s own feelings? Maybe… romantic type ones?

Is there a possibility that Jasper might feel the same as I do?

Oh. My. God.

I try to stop myself from getting my own hopes up, pinching my arm in an attempt to bring sense back into my mind. Emmett could have been referencing any number of things. Jasper’s been so dodgy since Peter left I could have missed something else. Maybe it’s his own… career? Memories? Boredom? Desire to run away and join the circus as a juggler?

“Don’t obsess,” I whisper to myself, forgetting in my distraction about the other vampire nearby.

“Obsess? I’m not obsessing. I’m just telling you that you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Not from us. As I was saying while you were zoned off in la-la land, we’re family. No matter what.”

Emmett keeps on rambling a bit longer, but I can’t seem to keep focused on what he’s saying. Instead, I go back to thinking about what Emmett almost said, and what I’ve noticed from Jasper myself. I think back on the moments we’ve spent together and things we’ve shared. As much as I try not to hope, one question keeps repeating itself over and over in my mind.

Could it be possible that Jasper loves me too?

……

 

It was a while longer before I turn to Emmett and told him, “Let’s go back.”

The sun is high in the sky, and the day is in full swing. It’s so peaceful I set a slow pace back towards the house. Emmett entertains me with stories of past family brawls as we walk. The stories are silly, and I’m sure at least half are far from true, but hearing about them make the one I witnessed seem less terrible. My favorite by far is the story of when Rose and Jasper got into a huge fight about twenty years ago. Apparently it had started with a petty argument about an old pair of jeans, and escalated into a full on throwdown right in the middle of Carlisle’s study.

I’d love to have seen the oldest Cullen’s face when he saw that. And I’m definitely going to ask him if this particular story is a true one.

Emmett seems ready to launch into another story when a familiar scent on the wind draws both of our attention. “What’s he doing out here?” Emmett wonders with a slight pout. Then he turns to me. “Bells, you wanna go around?”

I seriously consider it for a moment. But avoidance isn’t going to make anything better. So I shake my head and instead come to a stop and wait. It takes only a few minutes for Edward to come into view. Moments more and he is standing within comfortable speaking distance.

“Bella, can I have a word?”

I usher Edward a few yards away - there’s no way I’m going far enough away from Emmett to truly prevent eavesdropping, but the semblance of privacy makes me feel a bit better. Then I just stop and look at Edward.

It’s odd, as I take in Edward’s drawn face and his mussed hair. I think this is the first time I’ve ever looked at him and seen him without any emotions clogging my sight. No butterflies from a crush, no needling dread, sorrow or frustration from trying to say goodbye. It’s a relief. It makes me think that whatever this conversation is going to turn out to be about, it won’t be as difficult as any of our recent encounters. Still, I don’t try to speak. I’ve said my piece already and I’m too frazzled from the emotional roller-coaster of the day to really feel like repeating myself

Edward glances over to Emmett, then back at me. Then his eyes fall to his feet, and to his hands. He runs his hands through his hair before looking at me again. Mouth opening, he looks like he’s about to speak before his mouth closes again and his eyes slide away from mine and look off into the trees. I hear Emmett shift his weight from foot to foot and let out a sigh. It’s probably killing him not to say anything to break the awkward silence.

“I’m going to go spend some time with the Denali’s again.” Edward’s voice is quiet when he finally speaks, but he does look at me as the words ring out.

I try not to react, instead waiting for him to continue. I assume he’s going to continue, at least.

“I need time,” Edward says quietly, after only a brief pause. “I… You were right. About most things. And I need time away to say goodbye and get used to the idea of meeting you again. This you, that is. And…”

“Edward,” I cut in, taking pity on him. Despite everything, I do know him still, and I know how hard it must be for him to admit to this. He’s a lot more stubborn than even I can be. “I get it. And it’s good. You do what you have to do. We’ll talk more when you’re ready.” And I have to admit - there is a big part of me that is relieved to know that Edward won’t be around while he’s working through his issues. I’m tired of feeling like I need to walk around on tip toe when he’s around.

Edward nods, and I see his shoulders sag a bit in relief. He backs up a step, nodding at Emmett before re-focusing on me.

“I think telling you now, before I leave, it’s not quite running away,” Edward says it as a statement, but I can hear the note of question in his voice.

It is definitely still running away. But in this case, I think it’s what both of us need. So I try to smile as I respond, “Right. See you around Edward.”

“Good-bye, Bella.”

And just like that, Edward is gone.

I know he’ll be back someday.

Maybe in a month, or a year, or a decade he’ll show up again and rejoin the Cullen family. But, I can feel it this time - the Edward that still wants to be with me will never return. He said he won’t come back until he’s ready, and I do trust him enough to know he means it.

Emmett comes and clasps my shoulder as I stand there staring as Edward disappears back towards the house.

…...

 

Emmett suggests we stop at the treehouse for a while. He doesn’t say so outright, but I can tell he wants to give Edward time to say the rest of his good byes and head out before we return. And I have no complaints about that.

Once inside, I move to sit at the card table, leafing through a history book Jasper brought me a while back. He and Carlisle have taken to buying them and annotating them with added facts or corrections before giving them to me. I’m quickly lost in reading some notes Carlisle left about his early days in the America.

“Hey, what’s this?” Emmett’s question pries my attention away from my book a short time later. I look up. In his hands is the envelope Carlisle had handed to me with a knowing wink just two days ago. I’d brought it here, intending to show Jasper first, but I’d gotten distracted by the whole ‘realization I’m in love with the man’ thing, and had forgotten about the envelope entirely.

“That’s my GED. I took the test online right after Peter and Charlotte left.”

Emmett agpes for a moment. “Bells! Bella! You got it already! You didn’t tell us? Bella!” He pulls me out of the chair to give me a tight squeeze, continuing to ramble on about his excitement all the while.

The hug continues, but I start getting antsy before Emmett seems inclined to let me go. I squirm out of his arms and move to sit on top of my table. “That’s enough.” I grumble as he obligingly backs off a bit.

“Sorry, Bells,” the big vampire laughs. “I guess a tense day like this it’s just really good to have something to celebrate. And you’ve given me two things! First not eating the adorable little kids and now graduating!”

I really can’t argue with that - I’m feeling much the same.

“Hey, you know what?” Emmett asks moments later.

“What?”

“You’re totally getting another party,” he whispers with a grin.

Trying to think of ways to tell the rest the news without Alice and Rosalie coming to the same conclusion about needing a party keeps us occupied for a while after that.

…..

 

It feels like moments after we left the treehouse that Emmett and I are arriving back at the backyard and find everyone (except Edward) waiting. I hesitate for a brief moment at the treeline, but then I see Jasper standing on the porch, a bit behind Esme and Rosalie. As soon as I catch sight him, I know what I have to do. I’ve spent the last day and change obsessing and sulking and freaking out about my feelings. I’ve spent a good portion of the walk back obsessing and questioning and hoping and wondering if they could ever be returned. And I’m tired of it.

I may not be a newborn anymore, but I learned a good lesson back in those wilder days - sometimes you’ve just gotta let yourself act the way you feel.

My eyes narrow in determination as I stomp across the yard and up the stairs. Ignoring the others, I come to a stop right in front of the frustrating blonde vampire. Jasper looks down at me, and god he looks tired.

I didn’t realize vampires could look tired. I wonder if… no. Focus. Questions later.

“I’m gonna…” I start trying to explain, but can feel my courage slipping away already. Instead of finishing my sentence I move forwards a bit more - pressing my mouth against Jasper’s as my hand reaches up to rest on his shoulder.

And suddenly, now that I’m actually doing it, I can’t imagine a world or a life where I’d never kiss him. Here I am, kissing the one person in the world who has supported me, helped me rediscover myself and gain confidence in my new life. It’s such a simple action, a simple touch, yet I feel like I’m finally embracing a truth I’ve been searching for for months.

I let out a small mewl and let my lips linger against his a moment longer before I pull back. Coming down from the high of the contact I wince a bit as look up into Jasper’s eyes. He looks… surprised? Shocked?

Oh my god.

“Was that okay?” I whisper, suddenly afraid I made a really awkward mistake. From what Emmett hinted at, Jasper was in the same boat, emotionally, as I am. But I’ve never seen him at a loss for words like this and he’s still not saying anything and he’s just standing there and that weird look on his face is really really really stuck there and he’s not -

Jasper’s mouth is back on mine, cutting off my growing anxiety with the most straightforward of answers. I feel strong hands move to cradle the back of my head, digging into my knotted hair and holding firm as cold lips move against my own.

Oh my god!

Then his mouth is gone and the warm breeze of a mid-afternoon breeze blows over my lips. “Was that okay?” Jasper whispers in my ear as he pulls back. As breathless and giddy as I feel, I still manage a halfhearted glare at the hint of laughter in his voice.

“Uh… y-yeah…”

Nice Bella. Smooth. So much for taking charge.

But Jasper just smiles at me, as brightly as I’m used to seeing and with that familiar glint in his eyes. Without looking away from me he speaks again, “Do y’all mind givin’ Bella and I some privacy? We’ve got some things to discuss.”

“Hurt my sister and I’ll rip off your dick and hide it so well it will take you weeks to find it again.”

“Rose,” Esme’s chiding is ruined by her soft giggle. I hear two sets of footsteps moving across the porch and into the grass, and more pairs moving through the yard, but don’t turn around. I’m too afraid that if I look away from Jasper now I’ll find out at this isn’t real. And I really really don’t want to wake up from this if it’s some weird dream or hallucination or whatever form of insanity vampires get.

“Can vampires go crazy?”

Not what I intended to say. And judging from the half-groan, half-laugh that comes from Jasper, I’m not sure he appreciates the timing. “Can we save that answer for a bit later, darlin’?” He asks, as his forehead comes to rest against my own. “Cause I think we’re overdue for a more important talk, here.”

My eyes flutter closed and I fight the urge to move my mouth to meet his own. But my impulse control can only last so long and I can only fight the urge a second longer before I cave. This kiss lasts longer than the first, mostly become I feel confident enough that I’m not hallucinating and this is actually happening that I’m not about to let Jasper go so quickly. When he begins to pull away, whispering something that may have been my name or maybe just a random sound, I growl and follow. I nip at his lower lip and grin when Jasper’s mouth to open slightly beneath my own in response. My tongue dives into Jasper’s mouth and I swear that round I hear now is him groaning.

We explore each other’s mouths for long moments - every point where we’re touching feels like it’s sparking and twisting and just plain on fire. Everything about the moment and the person I’m with is beginning to overwhelm me - the smell, taste, sound and simple presence of Jasper is just so much.

Maybe a bit too much until we have that talk Jasper kept mentioning a bit ago.

The thought calms me a bit. I still don’t want the moment to end, but I regain enough control of myself that I can convince my hands to release Jasper and my feet to back up a few steps. Standing slightly away, I try to catch breath I don’t even need to catch and stare at the man before me. I take in his mussed hair, dazed eyes and heaving chest and smile - my nerves are completely gone. Instead I just feel comfortable, free and safe.

As I look at his golden eyes, I realize there’s only one thing to say. And when I speak, it’s with all the confidence I’ve learned to hold.

“I love you.”

 

Chapter Text

Bella


I feel a surge of joy projected though the air around me, so strong I can't help but smile. The expression on Jasper's face matches the the feeling; I've never seen him look so completely happy and easy to read - he's practically glowing. And it's the weirdest, most stunning realization I've ever had to realize that I am the reason why.


Forget eating and hunting, this has got to be the best feeling in the world. So I say it again. "I love you, Jasper."


I'm crushed into Jasper's firm chest as Jasper's projected joy gets even stronger. I'm fairly sure right now that he doesn't even realize how heavily his emotions are leaking, but I'm not about to tell him and risk losing the heart-warming insight into his emotions. "Bella, darlin'," he whispers into my hair, but his voice is higher than normal and he doesn't continue to say anything after that. So I just wrap my own arms even tighter around him and content myself to settle into his embrace.


I don't know how long we stay like this. Honestly, I don't care either. How could I when I'm right where I want to be?


Eventually, though, I start getting fidgety. Jasper shows how well he knows me, because the instant I let out the slightest twitch his arms are letting me go and he's stepping back with a small smile. I wave my arms to let out some of my built up energy, then move in for one more quick kiss before retreating to the railing on the edge of the porch. Carefully, I perch on the top of the rail and begin to swing my feet back and settled on the railing a whole three feet away from where Jasper is still standing, the reality of this moment crashing down on me.


Jasper knows how I feel.


Jasper knows how I feel and seems extremely happy about it.


Jasper knows how I feel and I just casually kissed him because that's apparently a thing I can actually do now.


Jasper knows how I feel and he's right there and… oh, he's saying something. I shake my head a bit to focus and oh so elegantly ask, "Huh?"


"I said we really should talk a bit, darlin'," As he speaks, his hand twitches. It grabs his attention and he quickly raises the hand to run it through his hair. It's strange, and reminds me of what he was like when he got back to the house after Rose and I took care of Victoria. Agitated and barely holding himself back from... something.


"Are you alright?"


The hand freezes in his hair, as Jasper refocuses on me in an instant. His face is oddly unreadable as his eyes meet my own, and all the emotions he's been projecting vanish as he regains an iron grip his control. Then, between one nervous instant and the next, he's back and relaxing with a fond smile. "Darlin'," he whispers again. "I'm fuckin' wonderful. So much so I'm havin' a hard time believin' my luck."


"Hear, hear," I agree, amused by how we seem to be reacting the same way to this whole 'returned feelings' revelation.


"I've been around a while," Jasper says, smile dimming slightly and voice taking a more serious tone. I wait for him to continue, curious to see where this is going. But he just looks down at the ground and says nothing. As the silence goes from moments to a full minute, I lose patience.


"Over a hundred and fifty years. I'll do the exact math if you can tell me exactly what year you were born in."


My comment does what I'd hoped and brings Jasper's golden eyes back up to meet my own. "1844. But that's besides the point," A slight twitch of his mouth settles his expression into his familiar half-grin that I've spent so many conversations with him staring at. Good. "What is the point is that I've been around a while, and I've been in some bad places and good places. I've had some bad relationships and some good ones."


Alice's face comes to mind with the last bit and I do my best not to flinch. I know from my conversations with Jasper that despite what I'd once assumed, he and Alice hadn't been together like that for years now. I also know from his stories that neither had ever seemed to view what they had a romantic love. But a part of me still is afraid of hurting her with this.

 

Jasper seems to know where my thoughts have taken me. I hear him walk the few steps over to get close to me and his hands come to rest on either side of my face. "Hey, it's all right. She's all right."


I smile, knowing that he's right. Alice told me as much herself. "Yeah."

"All I'm tryin' to say is that, I've been around and felt a lot of things. And this… what I feel with you, Bella… it's new for me too. But very, very welcome."


Oh.

That's…

I hope the stupid grin on my face is enough of a response, because I don't think I can make words right now. Damn Jasper and his stupid, endearing, ridiculous admissions.

A crack of thunder distracts me from my gooey, love-struck thoughts. I pull out of Jasper's gentle grasp away and head inside the house. I'm not really in the mood to be having a heart to heart out in the rain. When I get to the living area, I stop and stare in shock. The room is a complete wreck. All but one chair are in pieces around the room, the Sofa is crooked and half broken. The TV has a wooden plank sticking out of its screen, my latest blanket nest is gone and there's a giant hole in the wall with only the basics of rebuilding at the front of the house. I'd seen some of the fight and the destruction, but it's still a shock seeing the aftermath.

"You are an idiot," I say as I take in the destruction. For a moment, I forget the warm, fuzzy feeling that's been filling me to the brim. Instead, I feel like crying and screaming - Jasper and Edward did this to my home. The place where I learned how to be myself again, to accept the changes and trust my new family is torn apart because of some stupid argument. The more I think about it, the more my emotions tip back towards the negative. When Jasper reaches out and touches my shoulder I can't help but snarl and spin around - punching him in his other arm and glaring.

"I know. I'm sorry, darlin'."

"You shouldn't have done it," I snarl again.

"Edward and I were goin' to have it out eventually. But we shouldn't have done it here," Jasper agrees. "We'll fix it up good as new, you can be sure of it."

I growl one more time, but it's not as acidic as the earlier ones. Jasper decides to try and rest his hand on my shoulder again and I decide to let him.

"I'm sorry," He says again.

I look over my shoulder at the room again then sigh. "We'll make it better than new," I insist.

The hand on my shoulder squeezes it gently, "Sure thing, darlin'."
...…

 

After shaking myself out of my sour mood, I leave Jasper with strict instructions to start cleaning all the splinters still littering the floor. While he meekly gets to work, I head to my bathroom and start to wash all the grime (and frosting) that I've collected over the course of my adventures. Watching the purple goo slide down the drain I realize I still need to tell Jasper about not eating the humans at the party. And about getting my GED. But as eager as I am to tell him all my good news, I take my time cleaning up.

That's totally not because I have a handsome man just outside the room who I want to impress.

Definitely not.

Oh, who am I kidding. Even though Jasper has seen me as an filthy newborn with knotted hair, even though he's told me he finds my post-hunt blood covered face adorable, I totally want to look and smell nice when I go back out there. So I keep scrubbing and brushing until I look about as good as I ever do. Clad in a soft set of pajamas, I take a deep breath then head back into the main room.

"Hey," I state dumbly as I find Jasper dropping a handful of wood shards into a bucket by the broken front door.

"Hey."

Oh god, this is awkward.

I gnaw at my lip, mind totally blank of anything to say or do. Jasper doesn't help, still crouched over by the door.

"Hey," I say again.

The man rolls his eyes and rises to his feet. Then he's walking towards me, grabbing both of my hands in his, and gently leading me over to sit on the floor by the couch. While I settle down comfortably beside him, I'm blessedly not feeling anxious. But as soon as I'm comfortably lying on the ground with my head on Jasper's chest I begin feeling awkward again.

"Hey," I say a third time, mentally slapping my head, but not knowing what else to say.

My pillow shakes as Jasper laughs. "We'll get used to it," He assures me once he calms down a bit.

I hum in agreement and let his amusement chase away my uncertainty. As I relax, I remember the very important news I still need to share with him. "I went to a birthday party by accident," I say. "I was around people for an hour and was okay. I think I was too distracted to feel hungry, though, so I'm not sure how much of an achievement this was."

"Huh," Jasper says after a long moment of silence. "It's a big achievement, darlin'."

"You think?"

"Yeah," Jasper replies warmly. I wish I could see his face, but I sure as hell am not going to move right now. "Now, tell me the whole story. I want to hear it all, darlin'."

I smile and do as Jasper asks.
…...

 

"Is it safe? Coast clear? Nothing to regret seeing?" Emmett's voice rings out through the house. If I were human I'd be blushing due to his insinuations, but at the same time… those insinuations… with Jasper…

Focus, Bella!

I shake my head, causing Jasper to twitch under my head. I can't help but let out a whine as he maneuvers both of us to be sitting, leaning against the listing couch just as Emmett bounds inside the room - the rest of the Cullens (barring Edward) right behind him. Emmett spots us on the floor and sends me a wide grin. In an instant I'm a Bella sandwich, squished between Jasper and Emmett as the big lug plops down on my other side.

As amazing as it's been to have some Bella-Jasper time to start to process our shared feelings, being surrounded by my family after everything is just as important. Looking up, I see Rosalie starting to settle on the ground with some pillows. The girl simply rolls her eyes when she sees my pleading look then crawls over and sprawls across our laps. Soon her head is resting on Jasper's knees and she's nudging at Emmett with her feet until he starts rubbing them.

Closing my eyes, I bask in the smells of the family I'd been so desperate to get a break from earlier. Now, with a clearer head and some much needed emotional processing our of the way, I can fully enjoy the thrum of mine! that still sings through me as I relax into the cuddle-pile. I'm perfectly content to stay like this for hours, but a strange sound causes me to open my eyes in surprise.

Did Carlisle just groan like a tired, creaky old man?

Esme is sitting in the only surviving chair, fiddling with something that smells like glue and wood. Carlisle is slumped at her feet, head leaning back onto her knees, rubbing his eyes with one hand. He looks tired. And human.

And holy crap, did anyone else know Carlisle's hair could get so messy?

Laughter rings out all around me and I realize that I must have asked that last bit out loud. "Nope!" Alice exclaims from where she's settles on Rosalie's deserted pillows. "Never even in a vision!" Now Esme's laughing as well, running her hands through her husband's locks and making it even more of a mess. Carlisle's mouth opens as if to object to the teasing, but after a moment he just shuts it again and leans into the touch.

As the laughter calms, we fall again into a relaxed silence. Alice pulls out her phone and puts on some music, humming along as she lays back and stretches. Rose fidgets on our laps, reaching for something under the couch and squirming until she pulls out some automobile enthusiast magazine that must have been knocked under the furniture in the fight. She settles back and starts flipping through pages and I can feel her leg muscles moving on my lap as she taps her foot along to the music.

I close my eyes again and take another deep breath, this time even enjoying the scents of Carlisle, Esme and Alice mixed in with the others. I turn my head and smile into the curve of Jasper's neck.

Perfection.
…...

 

Alice and I walk arm and arm through the outskirts of town. She leads me slowly through the near-empty streets until we reach a small park. I heard Carlisle say that it was a Tuesday, which would explain why it's not as crowded as I would have expected. Even so, I'm glad to know that everyone is sticking nearby to help keep me in check. The boys and Esme are out of sight, but I can smell them nearby.

"You doing alright?" Rose asks as Alice leads me down to a bench.

I take a deep breath, letting the delicious scent of the humans strolling across the grass to enter into my awareness. The venom pools in my mouth, but my craving for blood is still a faint echo in the back of my mind. It would be easy to focus on the feeling, to make it grow into an uncontrollable bloodlust. But it's not that bad. Not yet, at least.

"For now, yeah," I murmur quietly. Rose nods and turns to Alice. Together, they start talking about something. I'm not fully tuned into their conversation, so I honestly have no idea what the topic is. I just let their chatter wash over me and continue breathing.

I think it's about an hour before the burning in the back of my throat gets a bit too strong. I reach out and grab Rosalie's wrist just as I spot the familiar form of Jasper appear from around a parked car and jog over. "Time to go," I whisper to the three of them.

Five minutes later, Jasper and the girls are guiding me into a car. Moments later, the car rumbles to a start and Rose drives us quickly out of town. The entire drive, I lean my head against the headrest and do my best to remain calm. Now that the scent of human is fading, the hunger is growing. There is an increasingly loud part of me that is not happy about moving away from food just as my hunger is growing. A really, really loud part.

"Jasper," I groan as a strong wave of hunger rockets through me.

I hear him say something in return, but the words don't make sense in my head. Dimly I'm aware of the car slowing. Then a wave of fresh air hits my face and Jasper is trying to ease me me out of the car.

"No!" I cry out, resisting his pull. If I smell a human now, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to control myself. I'm not going to let that happen.

"Shhhh," Jasper says, and I growl as I feel a wave of projected calm try to wash over me. "We're far enough away. It's safe. Let's go hunt." I trust Jasper more than enough to believe it's okay when he says so. He grabs my wrist again and this time I do let him help me out of the car. Then I'm off, hauling Jasper along beside me as we disappear into the woods.

 

Jasper and I share all of our kills - two young stags are almost laughably easy to run down. The mountain lion I caught wind of was much more satisfying to bring down. The thrill of the hunt has me all but humming with energy and excitement as I finally feel the last of my hunger fade. I stand back and just watch as Jasper finishes off the last bit of blood from the lion. His bright golden eyes are practically glowing as he turns to face me. Deep red blood contrasts against his pale skin and Jasper's chest is heaving unnecessarily as he too rides the high of the hunt.

Holy crap, he's so beautiful.

I'm on him in a flash. My hands rip at his shirt as I lick the blood off of his lips before turning it into a proper kiss. Jasper wastes no time in returning the favor and we both fall to the hard ground. I'm barely away of us rolling around on the ground as our kisses grow more and more heated. I lose my shirt at some point, and I'm dimly aware of shredding off Jasper's jeans. But I really can't focus on much beyond the amazing sensation of Jasper's hands and skin and mouth.

When he pulls that mouth away, I growl a bit in annoyance. My attempts to guide it back are gently rebuffed as Jasper instead makes me meet his eyes. "Bella," He whispers. I can hear the question in the way he says my name.

It's a question I'm more than happy to answer. I arch my body against his and use the momentum to roll us over so I'm leaning down over Jasper. I move one of my hands to card through his hair, watching how it fans out on the ground below him. Then I lean down and give him a gentle, deliberate kiss.

"Jasper," whisper into his mouth as I look into his eyes.

He accepts my answer and we don't head back to the house for a good long while.

 

Chapter Text

Bella

 

That first intentional trip to town sets off a new stage of my ‘learn to vampire’ training. After that first visit some of the Cullens take me into town every few days. At first, we just go and sit in the park. Some days I last a long time, other days mere minutes pass before I need to leave. But after I manage five hours in the park three trips in a row, the Cullens decide to switch things up.

The next time I’m taken into town - with Emmett and Rosalie this time - I’m dragged into a clothing store and forced to try on different outfits. Unfortunately, my lack of patience with shopping and clothes does not help my ability to withstand the bloodlust of being around humans.

That particular trip ends with Rosalie pulling the fire alarm as a distraction while Emmett drags me bodily out the back and right into the Jeep. No humans were hurt, but I end up running through the woods on a days-long hunting splurge before calming down enough to go back to the house.

It’s another day after that before I remember where I’d thrown the pinky finger I’d torn off of Emmett while he’d fought to get me out of town unobserved.

Unsurprisingly, I’m shaken by the experience. It takes weeks of gentle encouragement and understanding conversations with various Cullens before I allow them to even discuss the idea of taking me into town again. And when I do finally go back, it feels like I’m back at square one. I spend thirty short minutes on edge, bracketed between Carlisle and Emmett before I demand to be taken home.

I’m too exhausted by the ordeal to argue against their insistence that it’s still ‘progress’.

I’m also too exhausted to deny to myself that they’re right.

So I try again. And again. And Again. And slowly but surely, I’m able to spend more and more time in town. Minutes becomes hours. Sitting tense on a bench becomes slow strolls down sidewalks. Just like Jasper and the others have done so many times since I’ve changed, they build back up my confidence with the patience of the immortal.

I feel like I blink and suddenly all of the trees have lost their leaves and snow starts falling from the sky. It’s strange, being able to stand out in weather like this with bare feet and a tank top and not feeling miserable. When I do go outside, the chill in the air actually feels nice against my skin - something I never thought I’d feel about cold.

Just another thing that’s changed.

It’s still sad to think of the things that are gone. Charlie, mom, sleep, pizza, I miss them all to varying degrees. But honestly, beyond the twinges of guilt and sadness that still strike me when I’m alone, overall I’m not sure that I’ve ever been happier.

I look up from the desk in my room, where I’ve been going through another one of my Carlisle-annotated history books, to see Alice and Rosalie standing in my doorway and grinning. I smile at them both in greeting, but then I catch sight of what they have in their hands. By now, I easily recognize both Rosalie’s basket of hair styling supplies and Alice’s container of makeup.

“Hey guys,” I say, not even trying to hid my suspicion as Rose stalks into my bathroom and Alice comes to flop over on my bed.

“Hi Bells!” Alice grins. “We’re here to get you ready for today’s trip into town.”

“Uh… why does a trip to town require getting ready?” I ask as I make a face at the heap of items Alice has dumped out at the foot of the bed.

“What use would going to town be if it’s the same every time?” Rose’s voice states. I can hear her unloading her basket around the corner and knowing she can’t see me, I risk sticking my tongue out at her. But she’s not wrong, so I can’t really say anything. Instead I just find myself closing my eyes and wondering if Rose has found the dent in the wall from last time she dressed me up. Emmett was supposed to help me fix it, but I kind liked it - it’s shaped like an apple and gives the room a little flair.

“Alright, Bella, turn around please.”

Surrendering good naturedly to my sisters, I turn my chair around until I’m facing Alice without bothering to open my eyes again. “Fine, make me pretty.”

“Please, you don’t need our help for that,” Rose scoffs and I feel her hand gently come down onto my head and gathering up my hair. “But a little dress up won’t hurt - you could use a good strut.”

In response, I simply reach out and brush my fingers along the scar I know Rose has on her wrist - one of mine that I gave her. I’m really not sure if should feel more embarrassed or guilty about all the marks I left on her, Emmett and Jasper when I was a newborn. Honestly I just feel warm and welcome as I feel the proof of the time we’ve spent together. I glance down at my arm and see the single mark she left on me - the careful bite she gave me months ago after we fought off Victoria together.

It says ‘family’. It says all the things I want to hear in assurance and want to tell her in return. But it was also given before everyone else came back and things changed again, and I suddenly can’t help the petulant twinge of doubt I feel. Are things still the same?

I raise up my other hand and smack it into Rose’s face as I suddenly lose my fight against the urge to chase down that assurance once more. “Ooph, Bella, what the hmpfff-,” Rose’s exclamation is cut off as I try to shove my wrist into her mouth as it opens. Her hands let go of my hair and start trying to pull my arm away from her mouth. Alice backs away and I use all my strength to try and keep the blonde from removing my hand. But I’m no longer a newborn and my regular-old-enhanced strength isn’t enough to compensate for the weird position.

Seconds later my arm is held captive by a frustrated Rose as the woman growls at me in exasperation, “What the hell, Bella? I’m just trying to do your hair, you don’t have to… what even were you trying to do?”

Too shy to put words to my actions, I just look down to the ground and mutter, “Nothing. Nevermind.”

Rose hums in response and drops my hand before putting her attention back to styling my hair. It doesn’t take long for her and Alice to strike up a conversation. I’m still feeling annoyingly put out by my failed attempt to be even stupider than normal, so I just sit back silently and obediently let the two girls dress me up to their heart’s content.

…..

 

Alice and Rose promptly kick me out of the car once we get into town. I smile and get out of the car before turning around and waiting for them to do the same. But instead of getting out to join me, they quickly drive away while Alice yells out the window, “See you later gorgeous!”

There’s a moment of faint panic as I’m left alone on the street - surely they didn’t just leave me without a vampire chaperone in a human-filled place? I’m doing better and better, but not that much better!

But before I can work my concern into a full on bout of worry, a wonderfully familiar scent fills me nose. I’m relaxing with a faint smile even before Jasper’s strong arms wrap around me. “You look amazin’, darlin’,” he murmurs into my ear before pulling away and spinning me around to face him fully.

He’s not looking too shabby himself. His normal T-Shirt and jeans combo has been replaced with a button down shirt and black slacks that highlight all too well the strong muscles of his legs. I think I stare at the sight a bit too long before looking back up at his smirk. “Hey.”

Jasper just laughs and grabs a hold of my hand, pulling me into a slow stroll as we start walking further into town. He stops us in front of a small building marked ‘Movie Theater’ and suddenly I’m hit with a realization.

“Is this a date?”

Jasper stiffens beside me and his eyes are wider than normal when he turns to look at me. “You didn’t know?”

I shake my head and Jasper sighs. “Damn, why’d I take that bet?”

“Bet?”

“Esme bet me twenty bucks that you wouldn’t realize it was a date. I told her she was underestimating your observational skills.” Jasper’s tone is playfully accusatory when he explains, bringing a smile out of me. Jasper gently cups my face and leans his forehead against mine. “To answer your question.. yes, darlin’. This is a date.”

“Cool,” Is all I can think to say. It’s enough though, if Jasper’s smile is anything to go by.

When we go inside the theater and settle down for the movie, I feel so giddy about being on an actual date with Jasper, it doesn’t even cross my mind to be nervous. As far as I’m concerned, no one else except the two of us exists right now.

…….

 

It’s dawn when Jasper and I make it back to the house. My hair is a mess, my makeup is probably hidden beneath all the dirt on my face, and I have blood on my dress. Yet I’m still walking through the woods feeling like the hottest thing in the world. It’s totally just because of how Alice and Rose dressed me up. Yup. This feeling totally has nothing to do with what Jasper and I got up to before - and after - that hunt.

No siree.

I glance over at Jasper and see a stupid grin on his face that probably matches the one I can feel on my face. “We look like idiots,” I finally admit, before giving him a kiss on his muddy cheek and cackling.

“I’m fine with that,” He responds, ruffling my hair and playfully nudging me towards the house again. I roll my eyes and jog ahead of him.

Rosalie is sitting on the porch, frowning up at the rising sun. Her subdued appearance immediately has me on edge and I rush over to her. “Rose?” I call, crashing to my knees in front of her and checking her for injury. If someone hurt my sister…

“Hey, no, I’m okay,” She grabs my face and pulls at it until I’m looking at it. “We’re all okay.”

“You sure, Rosalie? You feel…” Jasper trails off without finishing the sentence.

“Stupid? Guilty? Embarrassed?” Rosalie admits with a slightly less elegant eye roll than she normally pulls off.

“You forgot happy,” My man grins at her. I admit that one has me confused. She sure as hell doesn’t look happy. Rosalie shakes her head in dismissal then grabs my wrist in her hand - the wrist I’d shoved into her mouth like an idiot yesterday.

“Rose?”

“Sorry, Bella. It wasn’t until we dropped you off that I realized what you were trying to do. Or, what I think you were trying to do?” The girl is more hesitant as she finishes her statement with a question. I’d blush if I still had a beating heart, but I nod and admit the weird urge I’d had.

“No, I’m sorry. It was super weird, I know. Just forget-” I swallow down the rest of my words as a piercing pain shoots through my wrist. Eyes widening, I stare down in shock at the sight of Rosalie gently biting down on my arm, just beside where she’d bit me before. When the girl pulls away I look at my arm and the two clean and clear marks she’s left on me.

It calms me down, reminds me as it did back when we were watching Victoria burn, that I have family that loves me.

I think this is something I’d never have really understood back when I was human. I still don’t fully understand it now. But after all the stupid drama of the past few months, having Rose reaffirm in such an instinctive way that we’re family… well…

I think how hard I’m crushing the girl in my iron-grip of a hug says more than enough about how much it means to me. My arms tighten when I feel two sets of arms wrap around me in return. I close my eyes and let myself relax into the safe and loving embrace of Rosalie and Jasper.

“Emmett!” Jasper calls out above my head. “Get yer ass over here!”

The porch creaks as someone else - Emmett, I assume - comes outside onto the porch. Then there’s another in our group hug, making it even better.

…...

 

The group hug breaks up when Emmett asks what we’re all all being mushy about. I show him my arm, and he wastes no time insisting on adding his own marks beside Rosalie’s. I sure as hell don’t try to stop him. Nor do I try and stop Jasper when he adds a few bites once Emmett is done. In the end, I end up with a really weird looking bracelet of bite marks around my forearm.

Vampire fashion at it’s highest.

Emmett and Rose disappear inside and I find myself getting restless. Instead of following them inside, I ask if Jasper wants to go to my treehouse with me. He’s more than happy to join and we spend the next few hew hours chatting idly and messing around with the random projects I have scattered around the floor. During a lull in our conversation, my brain circles back to the through I’d been having yesterday.

“You know, I feel weird, almost like I should thank her,” I say out loud, too startled by the sudden thought to keep it in.

“Who, darlin’?” The tired mumble vibrates the chest I’m leaned up against.

“Victoria.” The arms around me tense and tighten. I can sense Jasper beginning to become upset at the thought of the bitch, but I don’t want to ruin the mood by falling back into old rage. So I hurry and continue, “I mean, it was crazy, and terrible, what she did. And I’ll never forgive her for the pain it put me and everyone through. Or for taking away my choice in the matter. But… but there’s a part of me that isn’t angry with her anymore, because… I’m happy. I can’t completely hate someone who led me here.”

Jasper sighs behind me, and the stoney tension in his arms relaxes slightly. Then he whispers, “Darlin’, with that logic, you know you’d have to be thankin’ Maria as well.”

Rage.

I wrench myself around in Jasper’s arms, and put all my weight into pushing him backwards into the ground. No matter how ambivalent I may have been feeling about Victoria, I draw the line at thinking of that monster with anything remotely approaching gratitude. “Never,” I growl into his face, before following up with a deep kiss.

“Suits me,” Jasper whispers in the brief moment our mouths part before he’s connecting them again.

…….

 

“Jasper?” I ask, turning my head so my chin rests on his shoulder and I can see the profile of his face in the moonlight.

He smiles towards the stars and runs his hand up and down my arm slowly. Then she squeezes me into his side gently and whispers back, “Yes, darlin?”

As the words leave his mouth, I feel a projected wave of his own content and happiness wash over me. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of feeling his emotions like this, when he’s so happy and relaxed he forgets his iron control and starts projecting. It makes me giddy and proud and feeling like I can’t wait for forever. I nuzzle further into his shoulder and brush the base of Jasper’s neck with a soft kiss.

“Thank you, Jasper.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue: Jennifer

 

Once, when I was a little girl crying over my daddy leaving for a trip without me, my grandma took my hand and led me up to her attic. Once up there, she pulled out an old shoebox. Inside, there were pictures of a pretty girl with long brown hair and nice eyes. Her daughter, Isabella, who died in a fire a long time ago. With each picture she showed me, she told about when it was taken.

It was the only time Grandma Renee ever spoke of my aunt in front of me.

Late that night, when everyone else was sleep, I snuck back upstairs and looked through the pictures again. Over and over I stared at my Aunt Bella, trying to memorize her face and comprehend the idea of her not being around. I never really knew why, but something convinced me that Bella would have been the best aunt ever.

From that night on, she became a sort of imaginary friend to me. Every now and then, I’d find myself wondering what my aunt Bella would have said, or thought, or done in various situations I found myself in. When I was feeling lonely, I’d imagine my aunt coming over and playing barbies with me or helping me with my homework.

Years passed and I thought of her less and less. That is, until days before my college graduation I got a phone call from my daddy telling me that grandma Renee had died. After the funeral service, I went up to attic and dug out the box of pictures. I was angry and sad and instead of holding on to the pictures like I had originally intended, I burned them all in a trash can outside. Then I cried and cried and cried, trying to remember her face and place it next to a smiling, younger version of my grandma.

Six months later, I married the most wonderful woman in the world. My grandmother wasn’t there to help me get ready, and my mother’s inability to stop making passive aggressive comments about my lifestyle decisions led me to politely tell her to get the hell out of my dressing room. I did my own hair and makeup, trying to hide the redness in my eyes and the crease in my brow. Thoughts of my Aunt Bella came to me again, as I pinned up my curls and stared into the mirror.

Would she smile and help me fix up my hair? Would she make sure my makeup was perfect and assure me that my mother loves myself and Emily, even if she is acting like an asshole? It was easy to imagine my mythical aunt as a serene, fairy-godmother like figure, since I had never met her and had no idea what she was truly like.

Warmed by the idea of a woman I’d never know, I finished getting ready and walked outside. And as I walked into the warm glow of the torchlights towards the beautiful woman I was about to marry, all the pain from earlier fell away. The ceremony went off without a hitch, and a part of my heart lifted when I saw the proud smile my father sent me.

Then, as my eyes slid from my fathers and into the darkness behind him, I saw her. The spectre of my aunt - even more beautiful than the pictures ever showed, and smiling within the embrace of a tall young man. It seemed crazy, but never really doubted what I saw - it meant too much to me at that moment to question it. Because it seemed like a sign that even through death, my family will always be there for me. My family will watch over me as guardian angels.

Tears welled in my eyes as I turned back to look at Emily, surging forward and kissing her before even being prompted, causing the audience and pastor to all start laughing.

 

Twenty four years after my wedding, it was my daughter Renee’s turn to walk down the aisle.

I cried as I saw her in her dress, leaning into my Emily’s arms as we comforted each other in the face of our dear baby growing up.

I smiled, happier than I’d ever felt, when I saw her meet young Benjamin in front of the church. And then I smiled even broader when the vows were exchanged and the wedding came to an end.

And that night, as the newlyweds and other young couples danced under the fairy lights, I stood in the midst of the wedding guests and looked around the outskirts of the party for my guardian angels.

And sure enough, there she was. I barely had glimpsed the young face of my Aunt Bella before the same young man had wrapped his arms around her and was spinning her into a dance of their own. I strained my ears when I heard a bright laugh - her laugh. “Jasper! Stop!” My aunt cried out with a smile, and the voice was even more joyful than I ever imagined.

More content than I could imagine to see the strange vision of my long-dead aunt happy, loved, and still watching over the family, I turned away from the couple and moved to grab Emily. I dragged her onto the dance floor where we spent the rest of the party.

…..

 

Today is my eldest grandson’s wedding. Named after his father, Ben Jr. has been a riot of nerves and sweaty palms all day. Though, looking at him now as he stands next to the his bride-to-be, he looks more a man than I’ve ever seen the little punk.

As the pastor speaks - unheard by me, as I forgot to put in my hearing aid before I left for the ceremony - I look across the people gathered, searching once more for my guardian angel. I can’t say why I still cling to the imagined figure I’ve always been so sure I’ve seen. But now I’m old, and allowed to cling to my silly beliefs without feeling embarrassed.

Wiping at my rheumy eyes, I smile and wish my Emily was here with me still. She had never seen Bella, but she had never doubted me my angels.

And sure enough, there they are, still as eternally young s the first time I saw them: my aunt Bella and her man Jasper. They’re curled together on a bench some ways away from the gazebo my grandson stands beneath. Bella’s eyes are glued to the ceremony, while Jasper has his eyes closed and head resting on her shoulder.

They are the picture of a couple madly in love, the perfect apparition for a wedding. It feels like a blessing from all the family that has come before. I turn my attention back to my grandson just in time to see him lean in to kiss the bride. I smile at the sight and can just barely make out the faint sound of cheering around me.

The couple leads the way into the reception hall. I stand to follow, my daughter Renee holding me steady. Just before I begin to walk away, I turn to give my angels one last look. If the doctor’s are right, this is the last time I will see them in this life.

“Goodbye, Aunt Bella,” I whisper before allowing Renee to usher me towards the bright light of the reception hall. I spend the rest of the evening basking in the company of my beloved family, knowing that all of them - alive and passed - will always be around to watch over things.