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The Road Not Taken

Summary:
Epilogue: “She didn’t really seem like that sort of girl,” Tanya commented, her tone just a tad sour, and Demetri quirked a smile.

“I get the feeling there’s a lot more to her than we’ve suspected.”
Sequel to The Road Less Traveled by Daintress of tm_switzerland.The Road Not Taken


Notes:


6. Chapter 6

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2382   Review this Chapter

Running through the woods was exhilarating. Bella had spent a lot of time in the woods since first moving to Forks, and it brought back so many memories – most of which made her sad for one reason or another, but some of which were embarrassing. Like every time she’d tried to move independently. She reveled in the ease with which she could avoid the trees.

She knew from the beginning that she wasn’t as fast as Edward, and probably never would be. It was hard to say if that was because he just had a better build for running, or if it was some leftover hesitancy on her part. But he waited for her rather than running ahead, as patient with her shortcomings now as he’d been when they were much more pronounced.

Once they were far enough from civilization, Edward stopped abruptly. Bella tried to do the same, but she overbalanced, unused to the speed. She stumbled, and then caught herself without actually falling – an improvement, to her mind. Looking up, however, she noticed the amused light in Edward’s eyes, and his lopsided grin. She set her jaw and looked away. “Some things never change,” Edward commented, unable to help himself. She threw him an exasperated glance, but didn’t answer. The truth was, she couldn’t imagine Alice or Rosalie EVER being so uncoordinated as to stumble over nothing. So, clearly she would always be the klutz of the family. She tried not to let it bother her.

“What do I smell?” she asked, determined not to discuss her mishap. She definitely smelled something that seemed edible to her. The blood of the creatures around her was not filled with the same metals as human blood. It smelled…cleaner, somehow. She decided that ‘vegan’ would be a better way to describe the Cullens’ diet.

Edward chuckled, both at her desire to ignore her stumble, and the unconscious posture she’d adopted that told him plainly that she was ready to hunt. She’d hidden her thirst well before she’d scented something she liked, but now she was definitely tensed for the hunt. “It smells like wild boar to me,” he said easily, enjoying himself for the first time in recent memory. “Three of them will probably hold you a few days, or there are brown bears here, if you want just one kill to last a while.”

Bella cringed at the word ‘kill,’ but nodded. “Bear, then. It’ll give us something to write Emmett about.” Her voice was a little weak, but her nose was already trying to determine which of the many scents around her might indicate that there were bears nearby. It was frustrating, not knowing.

“We’ll go a little further, then, toward the mountains.” He set off again, and she noticed he moved slower than before. She grimaced in annoyance, but couldn’t pass him up. She needed his experienced nose.

She could feel the bloodlust and it was strong. Often she was distracted by a nearer scent of blood, though she couldn’t tell what kind of animal it might be. She had no way of knowing the size of the animal she scented, so she continued to follow him, occasionally hissing with impatience when she had to turn away from something that seemed viable. Venom filled her mouth, and it tasted odd. She recalled Jacob’s description of a vampire’s scent – sweet and icy. That was precisely the taste of the venom.

Edward glanced over at her often, and her expression was fearsome. It made him grin. For all the strangeness of her taste in blood, she was still a newborn, and she needed to feed. He slowed, catching the trail he’d been looking for, and heard her hiss again, frustrated. She always had been rather impatient. The thought brought to mind something else she’d been impatient with him for, and he felt his face go carefully blank for a brief moment. There’d been a time when she’d wanted him more than blood, and he’d wasted his chance to know what that felt like. Jacob had received that in his place. He felt his own thirst sharpen, and he registered the other large animals nearby – wolves. How he’d love to hunt them instead.

But he knew better. She might be giving herself over to the hunt right now, but if he tried to feed on a wolf, there would likely be the argument to end all arguments. And he wasn’t ready for this to end now, when he was only just getting another chance. He suppressed a snarl and turned away from that trail to continue tracking the bear.

As they began climbing into the rocky regions, the breeze brought the sent of lynx to his nose as well. He smiled slightly in anticipation. Once she had her bear, they would hunt that. He was thirsty as well. And long ago, she had asked to see him hunt.

Bella made a mess of her clothes in her effort to subdue the bear. Edward explained patiently that she’d not been quite fast enough, and probably should have snapped its neck FIRST, instead of waiting until after it had shredded her shirt. She would have been annoyed with him for stating the obvious, but as he had already given her HIS shirt to wear, she found she couldn’t. At least she wouldn’t have to go back to the Volturi with her chest exposed. She could hear Aro’s laughter already, knowing he would inevitably share all of Edward’s thoughts on the hunt when they returned. That would be plenty embarrassing enough.

They still had three hours until dawn, and her thirst was much more manageable as they headed back toward Volterra. She hadn’t realized, as she sat in her room writing all evening, just how strong it had been. She counted that a blessing, as they couldn’t possibly have hunted in the daylight anyway. She glanced at Edward’s bare chest, and then her eyes flickered to his. He was watching her carefully, trying to gauge her reaction to his state of undress, she supposed. She held his eyes for a long moment, then looked forward again. It was unnerving to her to run with her head turned, even though she was fairly certain she knew where the trees were. But she found it difficult to look away from his eyes, and she knew she was going to have to tell him why.

Her thoughts were a mess on this subject, though. Edward truly believed he had no soul. How would he react when she told him she could see it? Would he even believe her? If he didn’t, would he be angry? Accuse her of lying to him? She was also more than a little nervous about Aro finding out right away. Once he was aware, the others would know it, too. And she was ALREADY nervous about the others. Caius, Jane, and Felix, especially. She knew they disliked her, and each was powerful in their own way. She was almost certain that Aro was truly in control, and she and Edward would be left alone so long as he desired their presence. But that didn’t mean that interacting with the others would be pleasant in any way.

Bella slowed down when Edward swung wide of Volterra’s wall. “We can’t go in the way we got out,” he explained, matching her pace. “We’ll use the defunct sewers – like the first time – to get back.”

She nodded, then slowed further, until even a human could keep up with her. Edward looked at her curiously, but slowed again to walk beside her. She held his gaze until he looked away. She wondered if she would ever get her fill of looking into his soul. It was the first soul she’d ever seen, besides Jacob’s. As she’d spent the day writing, other parts of her mind had been turning over the mystery of the differences between their souls. Jacob was a spirit wolf. According to the Quileute legends, that meant his physical body had taken on the appearance of his spirit form when he made the change, so it made sense that his soul looked very much like he had looked in life.

She almost choked on the thought, but kept her expression blank, and hurried on. Edward’s soul had neither the color of his skin, nor any particular facial features she could discern. Of course, she could only see the makeup of it though his eyes. Perhaps it was shaped like him, but without the details of color and expression that Jacob’s soul had possessed. Because in color it was vastly different from Edward’s white skin.

Bella glanced over at him again to find him staring at her, sidestepping underbrush he wasn’t even looking at. His expression was one of impatience, and she recognized it well. She smiled at him and stopped walking. “Do we have time to sit and talk for a while?” she asked, her eyes still glued to his. She wasn’t sure what expression she wore, but Edward nodded and looked relieved. He took her hand and pulled her sideways until they stood between two trees, facing one another. Then he sank to the ground, crossing his legs. When she did the same, her back against the other tree, their knees touched.

It took her much less time to begin than it would have when she was human. Her new mind was capable of processing things much more quickly, so she didn’t have as much difficulty finding her words. Even as part of her mind formed the sentences she would speak, another part prepared her heart for the pain. This wouldn’t be easy to talk about. “You must have thought I was insane,” she started quietly, her expression neutral as she stared at her own hands. “But I wasn’t. It wasn’t a delusion I saw just after Jacob died. It was his soul.” She looked up warily, her breathing as even as she could make it. Jacob’s death would be a difficult topic for her for a long time to come. Souls were a difficult topic for Edward. So far, he appeared calm, and she struggled to keep herself that way as well. She didn’t look away.

“That was my first hint at what sort of ability I would have after becoming a vampire,” she continued. “I think that the only reason I could see his soul before the change was because I was already so acquainted with it. I think that, to a lesser extent than I can now, I was always capable of seeing something of a person’s soul in their eyes.”

Edward’s expression had morphed from calm concern for her pain to confusion. “You haven’t looked at a human since your change. How can you know if your ability is more pronounced now?” he asked carefully.

Bella smiled at him sadly. “Don’t you remember how obstinate I always was when you tried to tell me that you didn’t have a soul? I couldn’t prove it to you then. I could sense it was there, but not see it, the way I can now. But I remember looking into your eyes in the crowded cafeteria, and explaining that I could tell you were dangerous, but not bad. Do you remember?”

Edward didn’t move. He continued to stare into her eyes, confusion on his face.

She didn’t break eye contact. Behind his eyes, she could see the shining bronze light that had first captured her attention, when she’d emerged from the pain of her transformation. Dark, in some ways. He’d had his share of pain, and caused more than his share, maybe. But there was also the capacity for joy. For exceptional love. THAT is what she’d seen in him from the beginning. She recognized now that it was THAT she had fallen in love with, been dazzled by, even more so than his beautiful face. She couldn’t look away, but she sensed his impatience.

“You see thoughts, Edward. I see souls. Yours is very beautiful.” she finished quietly.

Edward didn’t blink or breathe. He felt frozen – not by fear or by worry, for once, but just by shock. It was a pleasant shock, something that didn’t happen very often. He had a soul? It didn’t occur to him to question her. She wouldn’t lie to him. If she said she could see it, then she could. His mind tried to process what it could mean. Did he have a chance at Carlisle’s heaven? Was it even possible, after all he had done? He didn’t know. He decided he’d figure it out later. He looked into her eyes until he registered that dawn was approaching, both of them sitting with perfect stillness in the shade of their trees. Finally, he closed his eyes. “We should go back. On the way, you can tell me about Aro’s soul. That’s why you recoiled from him earlier, isn’t it?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You covered it well.”

Bella nodded, and let him take her hand when he reached for it, following him at a human pace into a huge, circular opening in the city wall. He seemed to know the way and eventually they found themselves passing Gianna, who smiled at them pleasantly, though she looked wary. Apparently word hadn’t gotten back to her yet that Bella wasn’t a typical newborn. Bella forced herself to smile at the woman without looking into her eyes, and continued upstairs with Edward to face Aro. It was bound to be an unpleasant encounter. She had refused to discuss Aro’s soul with Edward, but Aro would see that part of the conversation, as well as the rest. She expected to spend quite a bit of time answering questions about a soul she never truly wanted to look at too closely.

Bella was very happy with the processing capacity of her new mind. She could parry Aro’s invasive questions while simultaneously worrying about what Edward thought of it all, and still spare a lot of her thoughts for Jacob. And she could do it all with a serious but not agonized expression. It really was remarkable.

After several hours, though, she was thankful when Aro abruptly decided that she and Edward were not to tell ANYONE about this ability, and then sent them back to their quarters as if they’d somehow broken an unspoken rule.