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Survival of the Soul

Summary:
The trauma suffered by Bella for three years has left lasting mental scars. Surrounded by the support and love of the Cullen family, Bella begins to grow and finds out there is more to life than simply surviving. sots banner


Notes:


17. Chapter 17

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3146   Review this Chapter

Survival of the Soul

Chapter 17

By: Lady Saffir

Story Rating: R

Chapter Rating: PG

DISCLAIMER: I own no rights to the Twilight universe. That would be the talented Stephenie Meyers.

Thanks to the wonderful Megami for looking over every chapter and giving honest feedback. And yes, I realize this chapter is short and it stops at a horrid place, but that was where the chapter wanted to end. Bella was done with me poking around in her head for one day. That and this chapter would end up almost 30 pages long, so it was split. Sorry! Also, for those of fanfiction.net, I can only send you sneak peeks if you log in so that I can reply to your review.

“To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none.” Francis Bacon, Sr.

************

“Thank you for the call, Tanya. I appreciate the notice and for being able to inform you of our newest family member,” Carlisle spoke into the phone. “We’ll look forward to seeing you in a few days.”

Hanging up the phone, Carlisle turned to regard Esme as she stood in the doorway.

“How is everyone?”

“Provided Kate isn’t in a mischievous mood, everyone is well,” Carlisle replied. “Apparently she’s been working on controlling her ability again, much to everyone’s dismay. And Irena has found her mate,” he continued.

“She is bringing him, I hope.”

“Tanya said that she is and that they’ll be arriving a day or so after the others. He apparently wants to stop in Seattle and see an old acquaintance first.”

********************

Bella stared at the clock, knowing that Carlisle’s friends were to arrive any minute. Despite the repeated assurances that the Denali coven would be nothing but friendly, Bella had her doubts. She was sure they would question why Carlisle and Esme had taken her in. There were still times that she questioned their judgment in the matter, even though she was happy to be a part of the family.

At least Edward didn’t seem too thrilled about their company, though he had insisted he would be glad to see everyone. His fist had flexed several times when anyone mentioned Tanya. When Emmett had begun to tease Edward about where Tanya would keep her luggage the picture had become complete. Apparently this woman kept making advances on Edward, even though he had rebuffed her.

Bella frowned. Anyone that would try to push themselves on another person didn’t deserve to call the Cullen family friends. She would try to keep an open mind but she had a feeling she wasn’t going to like Tanya much.

********************

The Denali coven had spilled through the doorway in a flurry of activity, greetings and embraces exchanged rapid fire. It had been some time since the two families had seen each other and everyone was more than happy to make up for lost time. It was several moments before everyone realized that two of their numbers were missing.

“Where’s Bells?”

“Up in her room,” Alice replied. “For that matter, so is Edward.”

“Edward’s in Bella’s room?”

“No, I’m not in Bella’s room,” Edward’s exasperated voice floated down the stairs. “We’ll be down in a minute.”

The party moved into the living room, everyone seating themselves even as they continued to talk. Esme kept half an ear out, listening as Edward tried to coax Bella down the stairs, his feet continuing on alone when she murmured an excuse about needing to use the bathroom first. Esme smiled at Edward as he moved into the living room, slipping past him and up the stairs.

Esme paused at the open door, looking in to find Bella standing at the back wall, staring out into the darkening forest. Her arms were wrapped around herself, one hand idly playing with a lock of hair. The tense set of her shoulders told Esme everything she needed to know.

“Is everything alright, Bella?” Esme asked softly.

Bella whirled at Esme’s voice, attempting a reassuring smile. “I’m fine. Really,” she insisted, at Esme’s skeptical look.

Esme knew better than to listen to the words. The tight skin around her daughter’s eyes and her elevated heart rate betrayed her nervousness. She moved swiftly across the floor, reaching out and pulling Bella into a hug, thrilled, as always, when the gesture was returned. “What’s bothering you?”

Bella pulled back, staring at Esme for a moment. She opened her mouth as if to speak, then hesitated, thinking better of it. She disentangled herself from Esme, reaching over to her desk to retrieve a pen and notebook. She scribbled a short note, holding it up for the older woman to read.

‘Do they know?’

Esme bit back a smile at Bella’s way of avoiding the others in the house from hearing their conversation. She took the pen and wrote her own answer, handing the notepad back.

‘Only that we saved you from another vampire and that you’re aware of our true nature.’

Bella stared at the paper, biting her lip. After a moment she wrote another question.

‘What if they don’t like me?’

Esme couldn’t help the chuckle that slipped past her lips. “We have yet to find anyone that has that problem,” she smiled.

Bella wrote one short word.

‘Rosalie.’

“And she told you why she had issues in the beginning. Bella, sweetheart, it will be fine,” Esme reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind Bella’s ear. “Now, come downstairs and meet everyone. I have a feeling you and Kate are going to get along wonderfully.”

“Why?”

“She can be a prankster,” Esme admitted.

Bella unthinkingly groaned aloud, flushing when laughter rang out. She and Esme rounded the corner into the room, the teenager automatically checking her gait at the curious gaze of so many strangers. Esme kept her arm about her shoulder as she introduced Bella to everyone.

“Bella, I’d like you to meet Tanya, her sister Kate, and Carmen and Eleazar,” she pointed out the seated individuals.

“Hello,” Bella greeted everyone, flushing under the scrutiny of the new vampires. They returned the greeting pleasantly, easily able to see her unease with the attention. Kate turned to Emmett and began to argue about various football teams and their play-off chances, while Tanya and Alice began a spirited discussion of fashion.

“Dinnertime, Bella?” Esme questioned. She wasn’t surprised when Bella accepted the distraction easily, slipping out of the room gratefully.

******

Esme had come to treasure the ritual of preparing dinner. It was a wonderful way to spend time with Bella, to judge her moods and simply listen. Bella was completely unlike Alice and Rosalie in the way she approached her problems. Her two oldest would let nothing stand in their way, mowing down opposition easily, while most of the time Bella tried to downplay any issues, frowning whenever one of the others would rat her out.

This time, she knew what the problem was but had no real way to fix it. Esme fretted even as she kept her expression easy while she and Bella prepared her meal. How would the addition of so many new vampires affect Bella’s recovery? What setbacks should they expect? How would she keep Bella from hiding in her room the entire time without giving a direct order?

The appearance of Kate in the doorway had Esme hoping that perhaps if Bella became acclimated to their visitors in a one on one fashion, she would cope more easily.

“What are you making?” Kate asked, bending down to peer into the oven.

Bella cast a quick look to Esme before answering. “Lasagna.”

“Is it difficult to make?”

“Um…not really.”

Bella knew she was fidgeting while Kate talked with her, asking her various questions about life and school. What did she want from her? Was she trying to find something to make fun of her?

“Do you think living with vampires has given you a different outlook on the high school experience?”

The question stopped Bella’s musings, making swing around to stare at the blonde woman curiously.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, isn’t high school supposed to be the prime of your life even while preparing you for adulthood? That’s how it’s portrayed in movies,” Kate mused.

By now the lasagna was finished and Bella had moved to the table to eat, her inquisitor trailing along. Bella hesitated a moment, chewing on her lip as she decided how honest of an answer to give. She started off slowly, her words picking up speed.

“I don’t really like high school. Too many people…and they’re mostly immature. They don’t take anything seriously,” Bella replied.

“What? You don’t go to any wild keg parties?” Kate teased, her humor falling as she watched Bella’s face drain.

“I-I would never,” she stammered, her heartbeat picking up as she looked at Esme. “I wouldn’t drink, I-“

“Bella, it’s okay,” Esme soothed, patting her daughter’s hand. “We know you wouldn’t. But if you wanted to go to parties, we’re okay with that. Just promise you’ll never get in a car with someone who’s been drinking.”

Bella was still stammering her denials of wanting to go to any parties when the dining room suddenly became crowded.

“We can get Bella drunk? Sweet,” Emmett decided. “Bells, would you say you’re more a mixed drinks girl or a beer girl?”

“That would be a bad idea, Emmett,” Alice disagreed. She and Edward both trailed into the room, wincing at a vision.

“You shouldn’t be encouraging underage drinking,” Rosalie scolded her husband.

“I-“Bella’s attempt to speak up was lost, as usual, when arguing broke out among the siblings.

“They’ve perfected their teenage act,” Tanya murmured, laughing at Carlisle’s aggrieved look.

“Emmett, that isn’t what I said,” Esme said.

“I-“

“I just want Bella to know that if she decides to go all rebel on us we’ll support her and make sure she stays safe,” Emmett argued.

“Liar.”

“Am not.”

“Ha!”

“I don’t want to drink!”

Eleven pairs of eyes, ranging in golden hue, blinked in astonishment at Bella’s outburst. Realizing she had yelled, Bella scrunched down in her seat but looked determined as she repeated her statement.

“I don’t want to drink or party,” she reiterated.

“And that’s fine. If you aren’t going to let Bella eat, the rest of you need to leave,” Esme directed.

Kate laughed as she watched everyone trail out of the dining room, now debating the merits of leaving the legal drinking age at twenty-one versus the eighteen it had been several decades ago. “There are no dull moments around this house anymore, are there?” she mused.

Esme could only laugh and agree.

************

Bella was in the kitchen preparing lunch when Edward walked in. Tanya had been pleasant so far, only sneaking in one extended embrace upon her arrival. Her thoughts were also of a non physical nature for now, though Edward was sure that was to change. Not wanting to press his luck, he had escaped to the kitchen under the guise of assisting Bella in preparing her midday meal.

The sound of a car turning on to the drive and minutes later pulling into the garage heralded the arrival of Irena and her mate. Edward was already turned towards the door in welcome when the last Denali sister walked in, a tall man with black dreds following.

Bella’s frightened gasp and the clatter of a plate being dropped whipped Edward’s head around as he quickly took in her reaction. This was beyond the response she had shown upon the others’ arrival. She was shaking, her breathing erratic as she backed away, her eyes wide and fixed upon the man.

Edward moved to place himself between Bella and the others, one arm protectively sweeping her more securely behind him even as he demanded, “Who are you?”

*******

“Ah, that will be Irena and Laurent,” Tanya stated, watching the car pull around the house. Almost everyone was in the living room, at ease and talking of inconsequential things.

The spike of fear slammed into Jasper unexpectedly, his entire body going tense. He was halfway to the kitchen, the rest of the family staring after him confusedly, when Edward spoke.

“Who are you?”

Carlisle caught up to Jasper and they reached the kitchen doorway at the same time, taking in the scene hurriedly. Edward was shielding Bella, his muscles taut as he held himself ready to spring at the first sign of trouble.

“What is going on? Edward?” Carlisle demanded. Irena and her mate were motionless, hardly breathing as they waited for Edward to decide the next course of action.

“Ask Bella.” Edward’s voice was a low growl.

“Bella?” Carlisle thought that perhaps he understood Bella’s reaction, though it seemed more extreme then he would have expected. She had tolerated other males much better than this.

Bella swallowed, unaware she was leaning into the safety of Edward’s body even as she continued to stare at the newcomers. “Lau…Laurent?” her voice was so weak and soft even some of the vampires had trouble catching the name.

Laurent looked puzzled. “Do we – “recognition dawned as he took a breath. “Bella?”

At his voice Bella whimpered again.

Emmett shouldered his way into the room, angling his body was that he was between Laurent and Edward. Jasper moved slightly as well to obtain a better position, even as Carlisle spoke.

“How do you know Bella?”

Laurent eyed the girl, turning his gaze to Carlisle when Edward snarled. “I knew James.”

The name ripped off any veneer of civility the Cullen family was maintaining as everyone positioned themselves to better attack or defend, numerous snarls and growls issued at the newcomer.

“Stop!” Carlisle ordered. “Jasper, if you please.”

Jasper fought with his instincts, the need to protect his family warring with the request to provide calm to the situation. He struggled against the onslaught of emotions, working to bring Bella’s fear down first. With her in a calmer state, he had a feeling the rest of the family would be easier to settle.

Slowly Bella’s breathing and heart rate slowed, the myriad of emotions swirling through the room causing Jasper some difficulty to focus on only one person. Some color had returned to her features, even though she was still tense, one hand clutching at Edward’s shirt.

Carlisle stepped firmly in between Edward and Laurent, cautioning his son with his mind.

Calm down, Edward. We need to find out exactly what happened.

Laurent spoke, keeping his eyes locked with Carlisle’s.

“I never harmed the child.”

The simple statement didn’t do much to alleviate the tension in the air.

“Carlisle, this is not the sort of greeting we expected,” Irena spoke. “And what is wrong with the girl? You didn’t tell us she was…troubled.”

Bella’s moan of pain pulled fresh snarls from Emmett and Edward. Jasper redoubled his efforts, closing his eyes to better concentrate. Every time he thought he had the situation under control, someone would distract him. He was grateful when Alice looped her arm with his, her calm allowing him to gain a better grasp of his own.

A blanket of peace settled through the room. Carlisle took a deep breath, turning to Bella. “Bella, I need you to answer me truthfully. Did he ever harm you?”

The tension level in the room decreased slightly when Bella shook her head.

“Perhaps we can all move into the living room,” Carlisle suggested, shooting meaningful looks at his family. They reluctantly filed out, except for Edward and Esme. Carlisle shared a look with his wife before following their guests into the other room.

“Bella, you’re safe,” Esme reassured her daughter as she moved to her side. “Bella?”

Bella’s breath fluttered out in a sigh as her legs gave way. Edward spun around easily, catching her frail form in his arms, cradling her much as he would a soap bubble. Her head lolled against his shoulder. Edward permitted himself one short, quick breath, the burn of freesia down his throat not as strong as he would have expected. Was this what Carlisle meant, when he said he distracted himself from the scent of blood? His worry of keeping Bella safe from any real or imagined harm kept his hands gentle as he shifted his grip on her slightly.

“Carlisle?” Esme’s anxious tone pulled her husband back into the kitchen where he took the scene in with a clinical eye.

“She just fainted,” Carlisle assured Esme. “She’s already starting to come around,” he pointed out the fluttering of Bella’s eyelids. “Go ahead and take her upstairs, Edward.”

***********

Jasper shot his wife a quick look as a feeling of joy, quickly repressed, flew through her. Why was she happy Bella had fainted? He touched her hand, raising one eyebrow when she looked. She merely gave a smile and a quick shake of her head before turning back to the matter at hand.

*****************

“She fainted? Is she really that weak?” Irena wondered, taken aback when Rosalie snarled at her.

“If you had any idea of what Bella has been through and survived, you’d know she’s a strong person. Though apparently some of us have a very good idea of what she’s lived through,” Rosalie sniffed, glaring at Laurent.

“Peace, Irena,” Laurent soothed, taking his mate’s hand. “They’ve every right to treat me with distrust. I’ve caused damage to the child.”

Emmett straightened from where he had been leaning against the wall. He took one step forward, his hands flexing. “I thought you said you didn’t hurt her?”

Carlisle reappeared, one hand on Emmett’s shoulder to remind him to calm himself. “Let us hear what he has to say.”

Laurent spread his hands, meeting each Cullen’s eyes in turn. “While I never touched the child, or tasted her blood, I did not stop James, or remove Bella. So I did cause harm, in a way, would you not agree?”

“Wise words,” Carlisle agreed.

“Carlisle, why? Why did you take her in?” Carmen wondered.

“I saw that she would be family,” Alice interrupted.

“But how did you get her away from James?” Laurent wondered.

“The Volturi interceded,” Carlisle began. A flurry of conversation sprung up around him.

“The Volturi?”

“Why would they come?”

“Do they know? Carlisle, do they know you have a human?” Tanya pressed, her voice overriding the others.

“Of course. Aro permitted us to bring Bella home after Alice showed him her vision.”

“They are allowing a human to live with you?” Eleazar sat back, stunned at the revelation. “She will be allowed to remain human?” he demanded.

Carlisle shook his head. “No. Aro is simply allowing us time to heal Bella before she is changed.”

“When?”

“After she graduates high school,” Alice spoke. “The exact date hasn’t been set.”

***********

Bella opened her eyes, surprised to find herself in her bed. How…the memory of what had transpired in the kitchen had her gasping and sitting up suddenly, one hand going to her head as the room spun.

“Shhh, Bella, it’s okay.”

Esme’s voice did not provide the balm it usually did. How could she sit there so calmly while that man was downstairs? Didn’t she understand? She flinched away from Esme’s hand, not seeing the hurt that flashed briefly across the other woman’s face.

Bella slid back down in bed, turning on her side to face the wall, her quilt pulled up and tucked around her head. She could only faintly hear Esme talking to her. She closed her eyes, willing herself to not think. She pictured herself outside, surrounded on all sides by the forest, the quiet drip as water fell from above her only companion.