“I can’t win, Alice. You can’t guard everyone I know forever. Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s not tracking me at all. He’ll find someone, he’ll hurt someone I love. He’s flushing me out… Alice, I can’t -”
“We’ll catch him, Bella,” said Alice.
“And what if you get hurt, Alice? Do you think that’s okay with me? Do you think it’s only my human family he can hurt me with?”
Alice looked meaningfully at Jasper. A deep lethargy washed through Bella, dragging her eyes closed. It tried to pull her down like a puppet’s strings cut in mid-air. Until it didn’t. Until she cut her own strings and landed on her feet, metaphorically at least.
“Don’t do that,” said Bella, stepping away from Jasper. Anger rapidly replaced the lethargy. “I want to trust you, Jasper. Alice. But I can’t do that if you try to manipulate me like that.”
She stood ramrod straight, for possibly the first time in front of either vampire. Her shoulders back, her chin up. She shifted her weight, settling into herself. This wasn’t the Bella they knew in Forks, lost without the responsibility for her mother. They were in Phoenix. This was home.
This was the Bella who at eight years old, lifted her chin and convinced a teacher to not set up a parent-teacher meeting over her grades because she could take care of herself.
This was the Bella who at thirteen, got into a fight with her mother in an antique store, of all places, over a chair and took over handling the expenses.
The Cullens, they didn’t know any of this. She hadn’t really, in the short-long time she’d known Edward, Bella hadn’t explained that this was what it was like to grow up with her mother.
“I told you, Bella, that I wouldn’t lie to you,” said Alice, sounding genuinely hurt. “We’ll catch him. We catch him in every possible future.”
“But at what cost, Alice?” Bella softened, just slightly.
“I’m doing my best to see everything I can,” Alice reached out and gently clasped Bella’s hand between her own, before seeming to change her mind, and pulled the girl into a hug as well. “A little lost time and money is nothing to us. Not compared to you and your bright potential.”
“I know I’m young,” said Bella, scowling and full of bitterness - briefly. She pulled away from Alice, the woman letting her put that little bit of distance between them. “I can handle this. I will handle this.”
Moving backward until she could sink onto the couch, Bella caught Jasper’s eye. He said nothing but nodded in acknowledgement.
“So, he’s going to go after my mother,” said Bella. She breathed in and breathed out slowly, trying to convince her body to calm down. “What are we doing now?”
“For now, we do nothing,” said Jasper, instead of Alice. He crouched down, putting himself on the same level as Bella. “We wait. James isn’t in Phoenix yet, and the sun hasn’t gone down yet. We’re also waiting on the others; they’re flying in from Seattle.”
Bella frowned, trying to push gratitude towards Jasper. From his smile, it felt like he might have received it. It would be so, so easy to fall into a fugue state, hedging all her bets on Edward and the love they held for each other.
James was threatening her parents.
“There are still decisions to be made,” said Alice. She stared at the wall, a statue.
“So we wait,” said Bella. She sank into the couch, eyes trained on the TV and her breathing methodic. Vague plans hovered on the edge of her mind. Nothing concrete. Not yet, not if Alice could, somehow, see what Bella decided on.
If there was time later, Bella decided to ask Alice how that worked, exactly.
A hour passed in relative silence. Only Bella and Jasper remained in that main room. At some point, Alice had moved into the bedroom to concentrate.
“Jasper,” said Bella, quietly. She banked on Alice being too focused to overhear their conversation. “Can I ask you some questions?”
Jasper cocked his head, looking at her. He moved across the room at a slow pace, even by human standards, and sank down to sit on the coffee table in front of her. He spoke just as softly as Bella had, “with how much you’re putting on the line because of us, I think a few answers is the least I can provide.”
“What’s the endgame for this? Not just James but,” Bella paused, frustrated and searching for the words to explain what she meant. Jasper let her. “The whole situation. When Rosalie, when she said that I was putting you all in danger, she didn’t just mean because of James, did she?”
“You’re far smarter than we give you credit for, aren’t you?” asked Jasper, huffing out a tiny laugh. “In short, yes.”
“Oh.” Bella closed her eyes and tried to brace herself. You can breakdown later.
“How do I put this,” said Jasper, leaning his elbows against his thighs. “There’s a group that, for lack of a better phrase, rules over vampires - keeping us in line. You’ve saw the painting in Carlisle’s study, correct?”
“Yes, the, uh, vampires in Italy?”
“Good,” said Jasper, smiling again at her. From anyone else but especially from Edward, it would have felt patronizing. “The one law, the main law that we follow is that humans aren’t allowed to know of our existence.”
“And I know,” said Bella. She crossed her hands in her lap, twisting her fingers together. “What happens if they find out?”
“Alice will be upset if I tell you this,” said Jasper. He leaned back a little, tugging at the cuff of his shirt. “But you have the right to know. If they find out that we let you in on our existence and let you live, they would kill us. Carlisle, Alice and Edward are favorites of theirs, so we might get a little leeway. But, eventually the law must be kept.”
“I see,” said Bella, drawing in a deep breath. She clenched her teeth together, fighting the urge to look away. Unbidden, her eyes welled up with tears. “So, either I die or you all do?”
Slowly, a hazy plan began to form for her.
James had to lure her to him for it to work.
Bella was going to make a sacrifice play.
“If the Volturi, the ruling group, find out, chances are yes. Carlisle, Edward and Alice would live. Maybe Esme as well. But,” here Jasper paused to frown. “They wouldn't let me live. Don't go planning your death yet. If we lay low and handle this quietly, they might never notice. Then, you will have the choice.”
“Do I really have a choice? Edward loves me and I have to stay with him, love him back, forever.”
Jasper paused before speaking and Alice entered the room again. She was saying something, too low and too fast for Bella to comprehend.
Jasper nodded. He pushed off his thighs to stand in an entirely useless motion, but for Bella it was almost comforting in its familiarity. “I'm sorry, Bella, but it looks like we'll be moving to the airport soon. I'll handle that.”
“That's fine,” said Bella, shakily breathing in. She didn't know what she was feeling, couldn't parse through the violence mix. “The less distance between us and the airport the less chance of exposure, right?”
For a moment, Bella felt a foreign sense of pride before it faded. She tried pushing her gratitude back at him again, smiling sheepishly.
Jasper nodded, again. He flashed towards the door but paused before he left, “don't lock yourself into something you don't have to do, yet. We're greedy creatures, Bella. We'll all care about you, no matter what.”
And with that, he was gone.