When you're a vampire struggling with the "vegetarian" diet so much more than the rest of your adoptive family, sharing a house with a bloodthirsty newborn probably isn't the best way to cope. Jasper's POV. ExB & AxJ.
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"Is it better to out monster the monster, or to be quietly devoured?"
The rain slammed hard against the glass of the windows, the harsh wind of the storm making the panes rattle loudly in their wooden frames. I watched as Bella stared longingly out through the downpour, observing with no small amount of anxiety as the better half of my family - her constant guardians these past incredibly tumultuous weeks - slowly disappeared amongst the trees as the car slipped down the driveway, beyond her greatly improved senses, until she could not feel them at all anymore.
Pushed to the extremities of their thirst, Carlisle, Esme, Alice and a rather resentful Edward, had finally left the house for what was to be their first proper hunting trip in nearly six weeks. Bella - excessively strong, reckless and thirsty as she was when newly turned - had taken up every nuance of their time. Edward seemed especially determined to make sure he was always touching her...always watching her. Always by her side. It had been extremely hard to convince him to leave. Carlisle almost had to drag him away when he still couldn't appeal to Edward's common sense - that his being so thirsty did nothing to improve Bella's restraint. Of course Edward had protested, and that smallest of provocations had been enough to cause an uproar.
In short, this past month and half had been anything but easy.
Determined as Bella was to never harm another human being, there had still been a handful of instances in which she had required restraint - the faint scent of human blood drifting on a breeze through a window only days after her change had been enough to set her off; screeching, growling, struggling...her brilliant ruby eyes were reeling - frantic, wild and beyond any sort of reason or control. It had taken the combined effort of Edward, Carlisle and Emmett to fully restrain her on those occasions, with the addition of Alice and Esme's soft reassurances to console her hysterics until she was herself again. It went on like this for what seemed like eternity - I honestly thought it would never end. The entire atmosphere of the house was charged with so many conflicting emotions all the time that I felt like I was suffocating: Edward's intense guilt and sorrow; Carlisle's underlying nervousness; Alice's general overzealous concern; Esme's motherly worry; and the most disconcerting of all was Bella's constant thirst for blood. True, it was better controlled now - slightly - but the primitive instincts that howled so loudly in her mind weren't so easily stifled, and I had no choice - not being able to block it out - but to listen. To feel. Her hunger, combined with everyone else's steady decline in self-control, scratched mercilessly against my rationality. The climate of emotion in the house had exploded into nothing short a vicious storm...and I was caught in the middle of it. Most of the time, I felt like I was teetering on the brink of insanity.
I felt like I'd been thrown back in time fifty years, to the first time I joined this family and started to abstain from human blood. It was the one instance where I could sympathize with what Edward had been going through when he first met Bella. I remembered all too well the difficulty...the agony of the first few months. Resisting the urge to drain a human dry to the point where it actually caused me physical pain...
And I couldn't standit.
Alice, realizing my distress, tried to convince me to go to Denali. She promised to come with me, of course, even though I knew how worried she was about leaving Bella and Edward right then.
I had been the weakest in this family for too long, and I hated that even more than I hated how Bella's uncontrollable urges made me feel. It wasn't her fault. I knew that, but acknowledging that fact didn't make it any easier for me to control my urges. Yes, it seemed I was always thirsty now - more so then usual - but I could not bring myself to run away. My pride was already bruised because it took so much more effort for me to keep myself in check than it did for the rest of my adopted siblings...and I still felt the sting of what I had done at Bella's eighteenth birthday party. I still felt wretched about slipping so easily. Fifty years I had been practicing, and all it had taken to completely demolish my restraint was one drop of her blood! I couldn't deny either that I was, at least on some level, to blame for both Edward and Bella's pain and in turn, everyone else who suffered because of those two were apart from each other for so long.
Edward never blamed me for attacking Bella. I wished he would. He knew that I certainly did. I had run away then, unable to bear Edward's guilt and mine combined. Denali hadn't offered much relief. Not for Alice, anyway. It hurt her to be away from our family for so long, and now that Bella had joined our coven - a girl who was just as precious to Alice as a sister as she was to Edward as a wife - I knew it would be close to impossible for her to leave now, especially with the condition Bella was in. It had hurt a lot know I was the reason my beloved was suffering, and I didn't think I could live with myself if I forced her to make that choice again.
I had voted ‘yes' for Bella's immortality for a very simple reason. It was the only practical solution left now that Edward was planning to stay with her no matter what. If he wanted any kind of satisfying relationship with her, it was the only logical choice. I wasn't stupid, and sometimes I wondered if Edward and Bella had forgotten what my abilities allowed me to see. Not that I or in fact, anyone in this house needed to be able to feel emotions to know how much those two wanted each other. The air around them was always filled with a blatant, intense static charge; humming so loudly that I honestly wondered how they could go about their business as if they couldn't hear it. As if nobody else could hear it.
Bella's restraint still couldn't be trusted as of yet for fear of what may happen if she were to come into contact with a human's scent, and so she was often fed very carefully, under very controlled circumstances. Usually, Alice or Edward would always bring something to her so she could be taught how to restrain and manage herself, as well as be reassured that her family were there to stop her should anything suddenly go wrong.
And although we all knew how much it pained Bella to be so beyond her own control, it seemed that this was all that bothered her in the scheme of things when it came to her newly acquired immortality. Most of the time she seemed blissfully happy with her situation, and we were all struck with a range of feelings, all of them varying degrees of surprise, happiness, hopelessness and horror (in Rosalie's case), at how...accepting she seemed to be of this life - a life she had actually chosen. A life that, had any of us had an alternative, were sure to probably never even consider.
I had been previously trying to read - if only to pass the time - but now found it impossible to continue with my newly-turned sister in such a dejected state of mind. Her evident depression and uneasiness at Edward and Alice's departure had filled the atmosphere with an incredibly powerful negative buzz, making it extremely difficult for me to concentrate on anything else but her feelings. I did my best to placentate her nerves with a wave of calm. It worked to some degree; she looked away briefly from the window to smile timidly at me in appreciation. I smiled back as best as I could.
To be honest, I was quite uncomfortable about being with her alone. I certainly wasn't the only one in the house; I was no match for Bella as a newborn. The sound of Rosalie and Emmett's indistinguishable murmurings upstairs floated past my ears, and I relaxed slightly. Talking as they were, I could sense that their minds were not so completely distracted - their underlying alertness to Bella movements as she made her way about the house was easy to feel, and I was comforted all the more by it. Edward had left us with very specific instructions, and if there was one thing I was more anxious about other than Bella's unpredictable instincts, it was how Edward would react were we to not keep his wife protected from herself. They were matched like that in a strange way. Those two were harder on themselves than anyone else they knew and yet, when one was upset or depressed, the other stepped forward to shoulder all the blame in the hopes that if they suffered themselves and managed to hide it from the other, their partner would be happy.
"Jasper?" a small voice mumbled quietly, taking me completely by surprise. Dragging myself unwillingly from my thoughts, I looked over at the window and found Bella walking slowly towards the sofa that was facing opposite the chair I was sitting on. She sat down with the usual graces of our kind (although I had to admit it still looked unnatural for her. I expected her to trip over at any moment), and met my eyes, her blood-red ones shining with a kind of cautious curiosity.
"Yes?" I whispered.
She swallowed, suddenly nervous. Again, almost instinctively this time, I tried to make her relax. When she eventually spoke, her voice sounded much stronger. "Can I ask you something? I'm just curious is all," she said, shrugging and then adding more quickly, "you don't have to answer if you don't want to."
I smiled a little, hoping that would reassure her. "Ask away."
She nodded and then her eyes dropped to the floor. "Have I been...making things...harder for you? I mean, with your ability to feel emotions and everything...are you...okay?" Even with my hearing, I could barely make out what she said. I was almost lip-reading.
I kept the smile in place with some effort. It took me awhile to answer. "I'll manage," I said eventually, barely managing to keep my voice even. I didn't fool her.
She winced at that, averting her eyes and then glancing up at my face out of the corner of her eye. "I'm sorry," she mumbled, and the wave of guilt that washed over me had my insides twisting in somersaults. "Really I am."
I sighed, suddenly furious with myself for making her upset. "I know. It's not your fault, Bella. Don't blame yourself. I shouldn't have said anything." And I really meant that.
"Isn't there anything I can do to help?"
I had to smile at that. I shook my head. "No."
She growled under her breath, the vicious sound startling me. For one brief moment, I thought she'd picked up on the scent of blood somewhere, but she threw her head into her hands, evidently angry at herself, now. Her self-loathing was prickling painfully up my legs like thousands of tiny needles. I watched her reaction, confused. How could she possibly think that any of this was her problem? It was my fault I was so weak; I hated that, no matter how hard I tried, I suddenly seemed to be taking it out on her...And I wasn't unaware of the fact that every time I was somehow involved with Bella, I seemed to inevitably cause her pain somehow.
"Ugh! I hate this!" she hissed from in-between her hands. Abruptly, she was on her feet again, flitting about the room until she came to a stop near the door. Her hands were shaking, balled into tiny fists at her side, desperate to hit something. "It's bad enough that I have to suffer!" she snarled, almost shouting. "But to see everyone else hurting as well because of my choices..." - she sank to the floor, her voice dropping sharply to nothing but a murmur - "...I can't stand it. I thought...I thought it would be all over by now, but..." her voice trailed off as she bit down hard on her lip.
I was at her side in an instant, my hands resting lightly on her shoulders, making my calming effects much more potent and harder for her body to resist. Her guilt died instantly.
"Thank-you," she said, taking my hand as I helped her off the floor. "But that I'm sure won't make you feel any better." She sighed.
And then something occurred to me - a way to cheer her up. "There is something you've done for me, Bella. Something that makes me feel much better now that you're here."
"I'm not the weakest anymore," I told her, grinning.
She laughed. "Yes, well I suppose that's true. Glad that I can help there, at least. How many homicides would you like? Two? Ten? Fifty, maybe?"
Heavy sarcasm. I chuckled. "I'd appreciate any help you want to offer. I'm not going to be picky with numbers."
A huge, fierce smile stretched across Bella's face, her sharp teeth flashing in the dim light. I'd never seen her look even remotely threatening before. The expression looked strange on her face. "I'll get right on it then," she promised.
I watched as she turned and sat back down again, dutifully staying close by so I could keep an eye on her. It felt a little invasive, having to watch her every step like I was. She didn't seem to mind that much. She was as determined to keep her record clean as we were. I decided then it was a good time to ask her the question that had been bothering me lately; the question that had been bothering all of us. We all had to adjust, to accept - no matter how grudgingly - what we were. Of course this life had benefits: the speed, the strength, the intensified senses...and Alice, I thought happily. But just like Rosalie had said, we would never be sitting on a porch somewhere, old and dying, surrounded by our children and grandchildren. In a way I was content with immortality; I had seen the world grow and develop over the last two hundred years like I never could have imagined it would, and met my share of people that I liked spending time with whose company was easily tolerable (most of the time) and enjoyable. But still...it wasn't a human existence. I would always live with the inevitable guilt at having to kill innocents in order to drown my thirst; that horribly inhuman floor that gave me my greatest joy was also my greatest sorrow.
Could Bella really be happy living like this? I knew Edward worried about it frequently, but she had always given him the same answer.
She seemed distracted, as if I'd pulled her from another train of thought. "Hmmm?"
I hesitated, gauging her reaction. "Do you like being a vampire?"
"Yes," she said automatically; out of habit I was sure. I raised a suspicious eyebrow, urging her to elaborate.
It took her a moment to find the words. "Of course I do...I couldn't be happier. I'm with my family, now." She smiled, but it didn't touch her eyes.
The words sounded sincere enough, but I didn't understand her feelings. She was anxious and on-edge. Afraid, almost. Of the conversation? I couldn't be sure. I watched as she shifted uneasily in her seat, refusing to meet my eyes. I cocked my head to the side as I stared at her, baffled.
She could see how confused I was. "Don't misunderstand me," she said abruptly in a low, quick voice. The warning in her tone fizzled in the air, making me tense. The words started flowing very fast then; a reaction to agitation that she'd picked up from Edward. "I am happy. More so than I ever thought would have been possible. I was happy when I was human, too, but that didn't mean I wasn't afraid of certain things -"
I cut her off, trying to hide my smile as she became more and more defensive. "What are you afraid of?"
She watched me for a moment, the indecision burning brightly in her eyes. I waited.
She took a deep breath. "Promise me you won't tell Edward. It would just upset him."
I didn't like that condition. I wasn't good at keeping secrets. Not from Edward, anyway, and as soon as he found out that I was keeping something from him about Bella, I was pretty sure that he wouldn't leave me alone until I told him everything. Possibly even threaten me. Nevertheless, I agreed. I was too curious to let the deception bother me. My eyes reflexively shot to the ceiling above our heads, suddenly aware that Rosalie and Emmett had gone very quiet upstairs, probably listening in on the conversation too. When I looked at Bella again, I could tell she knew as well.
I smiled ruefully at her. "Privacy a problem?"
"It used to be," she admitted, returning the expression. I imagined that had she still been human, her cheeks would have coloured. "But I'm steadily getting used to the idea that privacy doesn't exist for me anymore. For the most part, anyway." She made a face. "Now I know how Ja - the werewolves feel."
I noticed how she avoided her friends name, but ignored it despite how curious I was. I could already feel how much pain the reminder caused her; heat broke out across the back of my neck, constricting my breathing. "Please continue then," I urged.
She looked away, her sharply refined features relaxing into thoughtfulness. "Like I said before...I love my new life. But I'm afraid..."
"Of losing control?" I guessed.
"Not so much," she said, shaking her head. "I mean, it does scare me when I lose it. Not because I might hurt someone. I know Edward...I know you all would do whatever it took to protect a human from me. I get scared when I disappear. I'm always worried that when everything starts pulsating red and my body just takes over completely, without me being able to do anything that I'll never resurface. That I'll never be me again and that I'll be lost inside the mind of some raging..."
"...Monster," I finished for her flatly. She winced at the word, but said nothing.
"It passes, Bella."
She didn't say anything for a moment. "But it's such a struggle for control!" she insisted, her eyes brightening with her intensity. "It's exhausting and I don't...I don't feel like myself anymore. Physically, anyway. My body dictates my reactions to thirst, not me." She shook her head, suddenly terrified. "It's impossible to get used to. And then there's regaining control. How much you have to fight...It almost feels like I have to out-monster the beast inside of me to be even slightly reasonable, and that alone is a horrifying thought."
She was quiet then, her eyes drifting to the window.
"What are you really afraid of then?" I asked in a pathetic attempt to sidetrack her. I had to keep her talking. It hadn't taken me long to figure out that she wanted to get this all off her chest. She needed to. When she still hadn't said anything a few minutes later, I decided to give her a little help. I concentrated, focusing on making ever muscle in her body relax. I watched as the indecision gradually began to evaporate from her eyes.
"But all of that is nothing compared to what Edward could do," she said, looking up at me with a suddenly miserable expression. "You saw him today, Jasper. He wouldn't leave. Not even when he was so thirsty he would have killed the first thing he saw, human or not...And they were all like that. All because of me. Carlisle, Esme and Alice...and I had needed them all so badly that even when I knew how much pain they were in...I knew. I knew, Jasper...!" Bella was furious now. I watched as she jumped to her feet, her eyes such a startling shade of crimson, they almost looked like they were on fire. "...And I still begged them to stay. I had needed them all so much. I promised myself that I wouldn't let Edward see how much it hurt, but now I'm frightened that after seeing me like that, he'll never forgive himself for turning me. I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't, but I do anyway. I just can't win, can I? Somebody always has to hurt because of me." She took in a shaky breath, running her hands anxiously through her hair. She sounded like she was about to lose it, so I was surprised when she laughed.
"Nothing," she said, waving a hand dismissively. "Just an errant thought. I remembered what...what - Jacob..." she forced the word out, cringing as she did so..."said to me once, about being a cry-baby. Kinda know what he means now."
My eyes narrowed. Did that mean she wasn't as sure as she seemed?
She could see the scepticism on my face. "No," she said firmly, shaking her head. "There never was any choice. I can't imagine a life without Edward; not being a part of this life now that I'm here. But I do regret the pain I caused him. And that I had to hurt the people I love so much." Her voice broke on the last word, and I suddenly realized that I could actually feel her wounds. They were there in her laboured breathing - the ache in her chest from what she'd done to her...friend. The vampire inside me recoiled at the word. Friends with a werewolf? I never did understand the bond between Bella and Jacob Black, nor did I ever really understand why Edward let her spend so much time with him. I was very much tempted to ask, but I could see her injuries from their last meeting were still quite raw, and far from completely healed. I wasn't about to push her any further. She was on the edge of losing it as it was.
"You never did like having to work with the werewolves," she said flatly. It was a statement, not a question. My thoughts must have been very obvious on my face.
"No, I didn't," I answered honestly.
I shrugged. "They're our enemy, Bella. No one likes their enemies. Nothing can change that; it's rooted too deeply in our nature."
"But they trust us now," she challenged.
"True. We may be on better terms after that fight. They trust us not to kill them. That's about it, though. You can't just erase thousands of years of enmity like that," I told her, raising my hand and snapping my fingers together. "It's impossible. Even if we did manage to cooperate once, I have no doubt that were we to step over their lines tomorrow, they'd come charging at us for changing you."
She processed that for a moment. "No," she disagreed. "They wouldn't be mad. I talked to Jacob about it..." - she swallowed hard, her voice becoming thicker. Heavier - "...and he promised me that he would never hurt m - us."
It sounded like she'd changed what she was going to say right at the last second. I almost asked, but decided to just let it go. She swallowed again, squeezing her eyes shut tightly as she took another deep breath. I recognised the symptoms immediately. Decades spent observing the behaviour of newborns was making this part of the babysitting job easy. "Thirsty?"
"A little," she admitted. I watched as she seriously considered my question, distracted enough that the pain began to fade from her eyes. "Maybe a drink would help..." she mumbled to herself. I took that as conformation.
"Emmett?" I said quietly, knowing that he would hear.
Sure enough, he was there just as I was standing from my chair, the usual goofy grin spreading across his face as he eyed Bella on the other side of the room. "Hiya, Bells!" he called, much louder than necessary. "Hungry?"
"Y-Yes," she stammered. It had only been a month and a half I suppose, but Bella was still quite uncomfortable with feeding, and I watched as she rose from her chair and walked slowly over towards us.
If it was possible, Emmett's grin widened. "Well then, would you like to look at the menu? Or would you prefer the chef's special instead?" Bella glanced at me, smiled, and rolled her eyes at Emmett's pathetic joke. He'd always done this, in the hopes of making Bella more...accepting of drinking blood, I assumed. If that wasn't working, it did always make her smile at least, so she seemed to appreciate the effort.
"What's the chef's special?" she asked warily.
"Er...rabbit? Deer? If you want, I could bring you back a bear," - his smile turned fierce - "I wouldn't mind the challenge, actually. I'm dead bored."
"No, no. That's okay. Just whatever you can find will be fine. Actually, some deer would be nice," she added after a moment's thought, and then laughed.
"What?" Emmett and I both asked at the same time.
"I'm sorry. It just feels so strange to be talking that way about well, you know..." she trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
"Feeding?" Emmett said with a smirk.
Bella cringed, but nodded in agreement.
"Don't worry," he assured her. "You can just wait down in the garage. I'll be back in a giffy. You can even time me if you want. Do you wanna see if I can get your food and be back downstairs in the garage in say, oh...three minutes?"
I smiled, suddenly enlightened by the idea. "Is that a bet, Emmett?"
He smiled back, too but his grin turned condescending. "It sure is. Wanna match me on it, chump?" He popped his lips on the ‘P'. He knew me too well-my own little burst of irritation ignited.
"Sure," I agreed, keeping my voice cool. "But I don't think you have anything left to offer me, besides your dignity...oh no wait, that's right-you've already lost that to me as well," I teased.
Emmett growled, the humour evaporating from his face. Two can play that game, I thought with a mental smirk.
I was only half paying attention, but I heard it - a very familiar exasperated sigh. It took me moment though to realize it wasn't Edward. "I'll be waiting down near the cars," Bella announced, dancing towards the door to the garage. It was strange, how much those two were becoming more and more like each other...and a little worrisome. Absently, I wondered if I'd picked up on any of Alice's habits. I went through the list: a love of shopping, a tendency to be completely over the top, totally unscrupulous when it came to things I wanted...nope. Actually, that wasn't a bad thing, I decided quickly. Not when it came to what Alice wanted from me, at least. No. In fact, it was a very, very good thing.
I didn't take my eyes off Emmett. "So?"
"Three minutes, and you'll be eating your words...hot stuff." I could feel the smugness radiating from every pore in his body. It was almost suffocating.
I managed to keep my voice light and teasing with some effort. "You've got a deal...kid."
"Would you do the honours?" Emmett asked in a sarcastic, gentlemanly voice.
"Of course," I agreed, my tone mirroring his.
I left him there in the entryway only for a second while I raced upstairs to grab a stop-watch from the draw in Alice's room. When I got back, he didn't appear to have moved. Emmett was looking right at me with an expectant look on his face. It took me a while to figure out why.
"The door?" he prompted.
"Oh," I walked over to the other side of the room near the staircase and hit the button. I could hear the rush of cold air swooping into the garage as the door opened. It was unusually quiet, until I realized that it must have stopped raining a while ago. I looked outside the window just to check, and sure enough the thick, grey clouds that covered every inch of the sky were silent. It even looked as if they were beginning to thin out.
"Okay, Emmett," I announced. "Three minutes. A second over, and you'll lose more than your dignity this time. Ready?"
"Of course," he growled, already getting ready to make a run for it.
And then he was gone, the room even more silent than it was before.
It surprised me when the phone started ringing - the shrill sound making me start in the quiet after Emmett's departure. I caught it on the first ring.
"Jasper," Edward said, his voice beyond anxious. "Where's Bella?"
I sighed, a little irritated. I'd been expecting this call. "She's fine, Edward. Emmett's gone to get her something to drink now, actually -"
"I know," he interrupted, panicked. "Are you with her?"
"I'm not, no...but I've been monitoring her emotions, Edward. She's in no danger at the moment."
"You have to get her upstairs, now! The garage door is open, isn't it? Alice saw some hunters -"
That was when I heard the gunshot; the boom crackling loudly through the thick mountain air. I could smell them a millisecond later; a small group of bear hunters, probably if they were hiking through this terrain. Not 50 miles from here. One of them was injured...and it smelt wonderful. Just a little bit, I heard myself think. I won't kill them, I promise. Mine. My mouth flooded with venom as everything began to pulsate red, my legs aching to sprint. Some small corner of my mind that was still working tried to remind me that I never gave in this easily. That I was much stronger than this. That something wasn't right.
That was when I realized they weren't my thoughts or feelings...
Edward cussed, the sound of the car accelerating roaring from the other end...and then the phone went dead.
I didn't have to check - I knew Bella was already running.
"Rosalie!" I called, but she was already at the bottom of the stairs, watching me a disapproving expression.
"You, Emmett and your stupid gambling problems," she grumbled, before shooting out the door. I followed without hesitation.
We followed Bella's scent from the garage to where she'd disappeared into the forest, Rosalie running ahead to track down Emmett. I wove in and around the dull jade-coloured trunks, moving as fast as I possibly could. I wasn't surprised when Rosalie showed up not a minute later with Esme in tow. I'd never expected that Edward would stray too far from the area, no matter how thirsty he was.
"Emmett tried to restrain her," Esme told me as she set pace with me, and Rosalie tailing behind. "But of course she broke away easily. Carlisle, Alice and Edward have gone to help him. Edward's not mad, Jasper. You know how he gets. But you should definitely go and help them - they'll probably need your help to get her under control again."
"Okay." None of this was news to me.
"We'll be waiting back at the house," Rosalie said. They both disappeared before I had the chance to reply.
I followed Esme's trail all the way to the edge of the forest where I found Emmett's Jeep abandoned on a remote dirt road, picked up on Edward's scent and followed it in. The forest was strangely silent as I ran; the only thing I could hear was the sound of my steady, unnecessary breathing. It gave me a chance to reflect on what had just happened. Ugh. What was I thinking? I should have known that monitoring Bella's emotions wouldn't have been enough. I should have stayed close. But what would that have accomplished? Even if I had been waiting with her, down near the cars and she'd caught the scent of blood, I wouldn't have been able to stop her. I was nowhere near as strong as Emmett was, and he couldn't stop Bella by himself either. Would my being there have made any difference at all? Maybe...or maybe-
"Bella!" Edward roared, the sound cracking in the air like thunder off the treetops.
I wasn't far behind now - I could see Carlisle, Emmett and Edward about three hundred yards ahead of me. I watched as they disappeared through a thick wall of trees, the sound of boulders colliding ricocheting loudly off the cliff faces just to the north. I felt the hostility before I heard it - the primitive anger popping like fireworks in my brain. The snarling reached my ears only seconds later, just before I broke through the barrier of tall shrubs. As soon as I was in the clearing, it seemed as if everything hit me at once.
Bella was on the ground - pinned there by the combined weight of Emmett and Edward's bodies, and even then she was still managing to put up a decent fight. Alice stood off to the side, trying to console Bella's mindless anger, but her reassurances were lost over the noise from the struggle. The potent combination of rage and desperation rolled off of her in great, stunning waves, the pain in my head sharpening as she focused it all on me. I could smell the blood now as well...could feel the thirst that was burning Bella's throat. She made a high-pitched keening sound, the call reflecting her innate frustration at being prevented from reaching her meal. The venom churned violently on my tongue, my entire body fighting against the amplified urge to dive into the forest after the hikers. Underneath it all, I could also sense Edward's growing concern, guilt and determination, and Emmett's...excitement. He had to use all of his strength and even then, he still couldn't overpower Bella. I shouldn't have been surprised. Emmett would be Emmett.
But for me, it was beginning to be too much. Beyond too much. I could feel my senses overloading with emotion, the impulse to simply run battering me mercilessly from all sides. I gripped the side of my head, trying to will the sudden migraine away.
"A little help would be appreciated," Edward growled through clenched teeth.
I nodded despite the pain, trying to ignore Bella's increasing hostility as I came closer. I reached a shaky arm out to touch her but she recoiled away, snarling in warning and baring her teeth.
"Alice," Edward hissed, his voice frantic. "Go and see what's keeping Carlisle."
She looked to me for a moment, her face torn.
"Go," I mouthed, watching as she hesitated briefly before disappearing.
"Try again, Jasper," Emmett said, shifting more of his weight forward against her torso. Bella made a small distressed sound in the back of her throat.
Edward, of course, instantly bristled. "Careful! You'll hurt her, you idiot!"
"Do you want her to calm down or not?"
"She can't calm down if you're crushing her!"
"She's fine, Edward. She's not a human anymore, remember? Bella's practically indestructible now," he said, chuckling.
"Hurry up, Jasper," Edward ordered, panicking again.
I shifted to the side, reaching for her lower leg even as she struggled against Edward's hold. I concentrated as hard as I could, fighting to quieten the thirsty beast that was howling in her thoughts. Gradually...slowly...her thrashing began to subside until she went completely still. My body relaxed as well, relieved when everyone's extreme emotional distress began to dissipate and a strange, sudden silence fell over everyone in the clearing.
Bella groaned a few seconds later, her eyes squeezed tightly shut as she fought to repress her thirst. She was much calmer now, but still incredibly thirsty.
"Bella?" Edward whispered, stroking her hair.
"Should I get off her now?" Emmett asked lightly with an easy grin.
"Please do," she croaked, pulling herself up and into Edward's lap the moment Emmett moved. Her fingers clawed at the fabric of his shirt, and my hand moved to the small of her back as she curled up against Edward's chest, yowling softly as she fought for some measure of control.
"I did it again, didn't I?" she mumbled, her voice cracking on the last word, her eyes still blazing. "I lost it completely."
"A little," I admitted, smiling at her in spite of the still incredibly tense atmosphere.
"I'm so sorry, Jasper. That wasn't fair on you."
"No, I suppose it wasn't," I told her, watching as Edward's eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. "But it isn't your fault, Bella. You're a newborn. Right up until recently, I wasn't much better than you, either."
She laughed once, although it sounded more like a dismissal. "You shouldn't be trying to make me feel better, Jasper. You're...the one that needs the reassurance." And yet I watched as she pulled herself closer to Edward, his arms winding tightly around her waist as she rested her head against his shoulder. She threw her head back sharply, the sudden movement startling everyone. Her breathing was ragged - which was perfectly normal - as her eyes squeezed shut as if in terrible pain. An incredibly long minute later, she groaned, throwing her head back against Edward's chest.
"Why does it hurt so much!" she screeched, her inhumanly strong fingers finally tearing through the fabric of Edward's shirt. "I can't stand it."
Alice appeared through the trees, distressed. Her eyes immediately went to her newest sister. "Bella..."
I looked right at her, waiting for her to meet my gaze. Eventually, she looked up, shaking her head slowly. "The hiker's injury is pretty bad, Jazz. Carlisle thinks he's going to have to call in a helicopter to get him lifted out of here. The forest is too thick to walk or even carry him out of here without looking extremely suspicious. He also doesn't think he can treat it without risking infection."
"How long will the helicopter take?" Edward asked, alarmed when Bella started rocking back and forth. Her hands had moved from his tattered shirt to the long, impeccably straight locks of her hair, her fingers tearing the strands. My thirst bubbled to life once again, Bella's distress intensifying the burning in my throat.
Alice hesitated for all of two seconds, her eyes shimmering. "It will arrive in about twenty minutes."
"We don't have that much time!" Edward hissed, jumping to his feet with Bella curled up in an impossibly tight ball in his arms. She'd started yowling again. "We have to get her out of here. We have to that hiker away from here."
"What are you going to do?" Alice asked quietly.
"I'm going to help Carlisle." He turned to me then, giving off a strange mix of apprehension and determination that prickled uncomfortably at the back of my neck. His arms extended slightly towards me. "You take her."
"You heard me."
My eyes scanned his face carefully, trying to detect where this was all coming from. I could only sense a slight disturbance simmering behind his otherwise expressionless eyes. "Why?"
He shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. "I'm the only one who can help Carlisle at the moment. You and Alice certainly can't. And..." his voice trailed off. I waited for him to continue, but he didn't.
"And?" I prompted.
"And," he started again, clearly annoyed at being pushed, "as much as you think otherwise, you're doing a great deal to help her through this. You're really the only one who can empathize with what she's going through, no pun intended. I appreciate it...and clearly, she does too."
I honestly didn't know what to say to that.
So instead, I held my arms out as he gently handed her over. I was surprised that she didn't put up a fight; it was almost always impossible to separate these two. I watched she curled in on herself almost immediately, her entire frame shaking as she keened softly in pain. I felt her entire body aching with her thirst - her proximity and actual physical contact making it worse - but she was determined to keep it properly tethered and tied down. Her eyes were still wild, glancing every few seconds over her shoulder at the forest behind us where I knew Carlisle was waiting with the injured hikers.
"Where do you want us to go?" I asked.
"Just keep running until she calms down," he assured me. "Take Emmett and Alice with you. I'll come and find you after I'm done here." His eyes drifted down to Bella one last time before he took off into the scrub. Bella made a small distraught gargle in the back of her throat at his sudden departure.
And so we ran, nobody paying any real attention to where we were going. It was sometime later before Bella finally started to calm down, slowly but surely returning to her normal self again. We stopped about twenty miles north of our original position by a small creek. Alice was instantly at Bella's side when I released her, leading her further towards the water. Emmett threw himself down on the bracken beside me, relaxed as he watched the other two talking quietly amongst themselves. I eventually joined him, too mentally exhausted to keep monitoring anybody. Emmett saw that. It was a while later when he finally spoke, his grin impossibly wide and menacing as he turned to face me.
"Fun day, Jasper?"
There was a loud crack, followed by a mini rock slide as Emmett smashed against the cliff side on the opposite side of the stream. He jumped to his feet easily a second later, shaking the debris off his clothes. I could feel Bella and Alice galring at me.
"What the hell was that for?" he asked, incredulous.
I gave him a feral smile, baring my teeth. "Your three minutes is up."