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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:


19. Chapter 18b

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3686   Review this Chapter

A continuation of chapter 18.

**********

Esme hated the way Bella’s breathing caught and her body tensed when Edward turned to face the river, his face expectant. There was hardly any perceptible loosening when he had reassured Bella Laurent was not among the returning vampires.

Alice danced through the door, Jasper trailing, straight to Carlisle. She linked her arm with his, smiling up at him.

"It isn't going to be a problem," she announced.

Jasper smiled at the relief that coursed through almost everyone in the room.

"Just give him a bit and he'll tell you," she continued. "Edward, please stop glaring at Laurent like he's about to attack Bella."

"I haven't done anything," Edward protested.

"Yet," Alice added, sticking her tongue out at her brother.

It was a little less than an hour later when Edward turned his head sharply to stare outside before turning to face Bella.

“Bella-“

Bella cast a panicked look out the window before rising hastily.

“I-um….I…good night!” she blurted, moving toward the stairs while not meeting anyone’s eyes.

Esme pursed her lips, turning to look at Carlisle, before following her daughter upstairs.

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

Laurent caught the look Bella sent his way as she fled upstairs, Esme at her side. He sighed, patting Irina's hand in comfort when she growled softly at the child's behavior.

"We're going to miss you," Tanya said, surprising Laurent. "Alice has already told us you would be leaving us tomorrow."

"My thanks," he replied, tilting his head in the petite woman's direction. "Yes, we'll be leaving in the morning. I was hoping perhaps we could spend the evening getting to know one another, and allowing Irina the chance to catch up on all the latest gossip," he added, smiling.

"That shouldn't be a problem," Carlisle replied. "And I have to add, that I am sorry that the two of you won't be with us for Christmas. But-"

"But your daughter comes first, I understand," Laurent interrupted.

The remainder of the evening passed, for the most part, pleasantly. Emmett restrained himself to only one more thinly veiled threat, feeling he got his point across after pummeling Laurent during the game. Edward remained downstairs, playing quietly on the piano while occasionally adding a comment of his own to the conversation. Esme had returned to the group after Bella fell asleep. She settled next to Carlisle, aware of every rustle and sound Bella made as she slumbered.

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

The dreams began rather abruptly.

The first indication was Bella's whimper, and Esme was upstairs before the sound died completely. There was a pause as the visiting vampires looked quizzically to Carlisle.

"Bella suffers from nightmares still," he explained.

"Every night?" Carmen asked.

"No. We usually know when to expect them, but they come for no reason we can discern, at times," Carlisle continued.

"The poor thing. Can you give her nothing to ease her slumber?" Eleazar asked.

"She's rather stubborn," the smile betrayed the fact Carlisle found the trait endearing. "She refuses to resort to medicine, for the most part."

"She's more of a suffer in silence type of person," Emmett offered.

"I would hardly call this silent," Kate refuted, frowning up at the ceiling.

Edward continued playing, switching to Bella's Lullaby, listening to the conversation and thoughts around him. "Jasper, Esme would like your assistance," he murmured. He was only half paying attention to the thoughts of his companions, noting the compassion in Carmen’s mind as she thought of the struggles they all faced daily.

He should have been expecting the sour thoughts he overheard, but their rancor had to be addressed. His fingers crashed down onto the keys, the discordant notes causing everyone to turn and look at him in surprise. He glared at Irina, beyond being polite. She had insulted Bella too many times for this thought to pass.

"She doesn't need to be committed. It's called PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's fairly common in survivors of abuse. She can't help her reactions, and I assure you this is much harder on Bella than it is for any of us. We can sit here and listen to her pain and have the understanding of why she's in pain, but we can't truly feel her pain, Jasper excluded," he continued. By now everyone was staring at him in amazement. He continued on, not caring. "Yes, we hate having to hear her cries throughout the night, or worse yet, the memories that are still too vivid. But that is because we sit here, useless. We can only offer her support and comfort and time to heal herself."

Edward stood, closing the piano. He ignored Carlisle's silent rebuke and Alice's smile, as well as Rosalie's silent clap showing her appreciation. He ignored Irina's displeasure and Laurent's wish they had never agreed to Christmas. He ignored everyone, even Esme, but he could not ignore Tanya's thoughts. He had turned to leave when she brought him up short, her thoughts so wild he could only swing around and stare, his mouth in danger of hanging open.

"That's...absurd," he all but sputtered.

"Is it?" Tanya arched one eyebrow. You're quite the ardent supporter, Edward. I'm just curious as to why.

"That's hardly...besides...that's insane," Edward decided. He went upstairs to his room, turning on some music, and ignored everyone's thoughts as to what Tanya had suggested. Some were close to guessing and others wildly off the mark. Esme, he noted, was oddly silent before she went back to thinking of Bella.

He snorted to himself. Tanya was absurd, thinking he was attracted to Bella. He was simply defending her to those that didn't know her as well. That was all.

*********

Alice was once again perched on the end of Bella’s bed when she awoke. She had seen that Bella would dally in her room, afraid that Laurent had not left as promised. She had watched her sister and friend sit up in her bedroom, unaware of the attention she would draw from the Denali’s. She had seen the way the others would treat her, as if she were broken and fragile, and knew that Christmas would be a disaster and Bella’s recovery would be set back severely.

Unhappy with the vision, Alice had made multiple decisions to change that future, envisioning ways for Bella to descend downstairs. She had gone so far as to decide that Emmett would be the one waiting for Bella.

She winced in remembrance. That future had begun as a comedy, with Emmett playing a prank on Bella to wake her, and descended into tragedy, with the downstairs in shambles and their relationship with the Denali’s practically destroyed.

So instead she had sent Esme to the kitchen to make waffles and bacon, one of Bella’s favorites, and headed upstairs to wait. They had a group outing planned today, the women going on a last minute shopping spree. It was the twenty-third, and the crowds would be heavy, but she had seen that Bella would preserver and make it through the day-incidentally showing her backbone to their visitors.

The first order of business though was to get Bella downstairs and through breakfast.

“Good morning, sleepyhead!” Alice chirped, ripping the covers off.

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

“This is turning into the shopping trip from hell.”

Rosalie stopped so suddenly she caused Alice to bump in to her. “What did you say?” she asked, incredulous.

Alice huffed. “I said, this is the shopping trip from hell,” she repeated. “Tanya has needled Bella so much about Edward’s protective nature that she’s going to blow up tomorrow at dinner. Bella’s afraid the gifts she bought everyone are horrible and keeps making decisions about exchanging the gifts that are getting crazier with each thought. Esme seems to be considering a family ski trip for next Christmas, and I can already see Bella with a cast on her leg. “

“And?” Rosalie asked, knowing there was more.

“And Edward just decided that Esme needs a Porsche and all I can see is it sitting in the garage, unused! She isn’t even going to enjoy it,” she groused, folding her arms over her chest. “I want to go home.”

Rosalie started walking again, her gaze trained upward.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking for the flying pigs that should have started as soon as you said this shopping trip was a bust.”

“Ha-ha, smartass.”

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

Bella moved as quietly as possible down the stairs and into the kitchen, hoping she had evaded Tanya’s notice. Yesterday had been horrible. The other woman had asked her questions all day, most of them geared around Edward. How close were they? Did he always act as her protector? Why did she never wear make-up? Weren’t teenage girls supposed to wear make-up and worry about their hair? If she wasn’t interested in Edward, did she have a boyfriend?

Rosalie had come to her rescue, shoving a sweater into her arms and ushering her into a dressing room. When she had finally emerged, Tanya appeared to have lost interest in her questions, making Bella wonder if she had been told to back off.

Not sure if that was the case, Bella had muttered thanks to Rosalie, which could have been taken as a thanks for the sweater, if that was all she had done.

Bella was brought back to the present as she tried futilely to reach a mixing bowl on a high shelf. She could just barely brush the rim with her fingertips, but was unable to hook the bowl to grab hold. Her back was turned to the kitchen, so the voice, when it came, was a shock.

“Need a hand, shortie?” Emmett teased, laughing when Bella let out a surprised squeak as she whirled. He moved to her side, hardly extending his arm to reach the bowl in question. “Here ya go. Making anything good?”

“Fajitas.”

Emmett frowned. “I’m pretty certain Mexican isn’t a traditional Christmas meal,” he mused. “Is it?”

Bella shook her head.

“Then why have it? I thought it was ham and turkey and a ton of desserts and side dishes.”

Bella shrugged, her answer soft. “It’s easier to make fajitas for one than to make an entire Christmas meal.”

“Nope, not good enough,” Emmett decided, taking the bowl back.

“Emmett!” Bella protested. “I don’t want a big meal. Give that back.”

“Nope. You’re having a traditional meal, even if I have to eat with you.”

“That’s gross. You’ll just have to throw it back up later.”

“So?”

“That’s wasteful.”

Emmett rolled his eyes. “Yeah, cuz the food budget is really tight around here.”

About to retort, Bella was interrupted when Tanya entered the kitchen, amusement written on her face. “This is quite the sibling argument,” she said. “It’s good to see you with some spirit,” she addressed Bella. It was meant as a compliment, but by this time, Bella’s dander was up and she was in no mood to hold back her thoughts or feelings.

“I have spirit. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean I don’t have it. And leave Edward alone!” The last thought, seemingly random, came on the heels of the knowledge that Tanya had most likely been pestering Edward before sticking her nose into the argument. Bella stormed out of the kitchen, ignoring Emmett’s call.

“Hey! I thought we were making dinner?”

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

Carlisle had been attempting to find a moment of peace and quiet. The house had been a war zone in the past two days, and he had barricaded himself in his office, hoping this would alert everyone to the fact that he wished to be left alone. And now this…

Carlisle buried his face in his hands, scrubbing his forehead with his fingertips, as if to erase a headache. What had happened to their house? Alice had spent the last twenty four hours glaring at Edward, and he was sure he didn’t want to hear her thoughts. Esme was worrying herself to death over the fact that everyone was clashing over seemingly minor things. Edward is playing hide and seek with Tanya, and Tanya was convinced there was something going on between Edward and Bella.

And now Bella was yelling at Tanya. While a part of him was thrilled that she wasn’t afraid of another vampire and found the courage to speak her mind, a larger part of him was shaking its head in consternation. When had Bella stopped becoming predictable?

The knock on his door was unexpected. Carlisle took a deep breath, reaching deep within himself to find his calm voice. “Yes?”

The door opened to reveal Tanya. “I was wondering if you would walk with me?” she asked.

From other parts of the house, Carlisle heard Alice snicker and Edward groan, and found himself actually having to refrain from rolling his eyes.

“Certainly. Is there something the matter?”

There were outside and moving through the sparse undergrowth before Tanya answered. “This isn’t quite like our other visit,” she mused, laughing at Carlisle’s expression. “Not to say that’s a bad thing,” she added.

“I apologize, Tanya. I would say I have no idea what has gotten in to everyone, and that would mostly be the truth, but we all find ourselves very protective of Bella,” Carlisle began.

Tanya laughed, linking their arms. “It has been most interesting, seeing the changes in everyone. I never thought to see Rosalie more protective of anyone other than Emmett.”

“Rosalie empathizes with Bella,” Carlisle explained.

“Yes, I know. But still…it is also good to see that Jasper is able to tolerate the constant presence of human blood.”

“Yes. We were concerned, at first, for all of us,” Carlisle hurried to add.

“But Edward….” Tanya trailed off. “I think he is the most changed by all of this.”

“What do you mean?”

“Before, he would always distance himself. I always had the feeling that he never felt truly involved. And now,” Tanya sighed, “now I see him watching this human girl and it makes me wonder.”

“Edward and Bella?” The thought was staggering. Carlisle turned the idea over in his head for a second, unable to make heads or tails of such a thing.

“Perhaps not in that way,” Tanya allowed. “But I see him more involved, more aware of others. Before he wouldn’t spend much time in our company, and now, if she is in the room, so is he. Is this not normal behavior for him?”

Carlisle took the time to think back over the past eight months. It was true that while Edward had initially shunned any contact with Bella, more and more he was present and engaging her in conversation. Could he be interested in her, in that way? His son would have a very tumultuous path to walk if that were the case, he allowed.

“Edward is Edward,” Carlisle sighed. “Why he does what he does is known only to him.”

“Ah.”

They were now looping back through the trees towards the house, still far enough distance away to not be overheard by anyone. The creatures that typically roamed the woods at night gave them wide berth, falling silent until they had passed.

“Why would Bella warn me away from Edward?” Tanya finally asked.

Carlisle sighed. “Ah. Well. You’re referring to earlier, I presume?” he stalled.

“Yes.”

“Bella,” he began, trying to choose his words wisely, “Bella suffered extreme physical, sexual, and mental abuse. There are a myriad of paths survivors of such abuse can travel. Some become promiscuous, and see nothing wrong with this behavior. Some lash out violently to those nearest and dearest. Some choose the route Bella is taking. She is wary of newcomers, and it took us months before she would begin to understand that Esme and I meant her no harm,” he lectured. “It took quite a while before she could not only tolerate being in a room with multiple vampires, let alone males. And slowly but surely she’s coming to see herself as a part of this family. She’s closest to Alice and Emmett, as siblings. I believe she sees Esme as a mother, and I hope myself as a father figure. And even though she knows that physical appearance means nothing to our kind, I think she can’t help but look at Edward and see someone her own age,” Carlisle explained. “So when she hears that you are interested in him and she sees you pursuing him, I’m afraid that all she sees is an adult propositioning a minor, and I think she sees it as you trying to take advantage of Edward.”

Tanya mulled over her friend’s words, turning them over and over in her head. How would it look, from an outsider’s perspective? They wouldn’t see two consenting adults, but rather an older woman after a younger man, one who supposedly was not yet the age of majority. Put that way….

“I think I can understand,” Tanya eventually said. “I still think there is something there, though,” she added, holding one hand up to stop Carlisle’s protests. “I have a feeling Alice has seen more than she’s told you. And I think she’s keeping whatever it is hidden from Edward.”

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

Christmas Day itself passed quickly, everyone waiting for Bella to rise before opening gifts. The gifts were the usual sort the Cullen family was prone to giving each other, though they seemed extravagant to Bella. One truly was outstanding, and earned a good laugh from everyone.

They were almost finished when Alice suddenly threw herself at Edward, exclaiming, “thank you, thank you, thank you! I love it!”

Edward laughed, pulling a single key from his pocket. “Glad to see my little trick worked,” he said smugly.

Alice smacked him on the shoulder, in too good a spirit to truly be upset. “Yes, yes, you’ve found a weakness. Now give it here!” she demanded. Not waiting, she ripped the key from his grasp, running upstairs at top speed and reappearing downstairs in the blink of an eye.

“Jasper! Come on! We have to go, now!”

Amused at his wife’s exuberance and wondering what exactly Edward had chosen to give her, he followed her outside, catching up with her on the other side of the river. They were out of sight before Bella could understand what had transpired.

“Edward, what in the world?” Esme asked.

“I decided I was going to give you a Porsche for Christmas,” Edward explained. “Except, at the last minute, I decided to give it to Alice instead.”

“Nice,” Emmett praised, reaching over to bump knuckles with his brother.

“Where did you stash it?” Rosalie wondered.

“It’s in Seattle.”

“So they should be home in a little over an hour,” Carlisle mused.

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

Rosalie watched as Bella talked with Carmen and Kate, the two women having joined Bella at the dinner table as she consumed her Christmas meal. Emmett had offered to join Bella once again, but Rosalie had put her foot down. There was no way she was going to kiss her husband with the taste of human food still lingering on his mouth.

Bella appeared to be handling the new vampires fairly well, the incident with Laurent notwithstanding. She hadn’t been so confident that her sister could tolerate their presence for more than a day, but she was happy to see she was being proven wrong.

And it seemed as if yelling at Tanya had helped. It was rare for Bella to let known her own needs or wants, let alone raise her voice and deliberately chastise another, so Rosalie supposed the family should be thanking Tanya for her continued pursuit of Edward.

“Rosalie,” Edward growled, having intercepted her thought.

“Stay out of my head if you don’t like my thoughts,” she snapped back, embarrassed at having been caught evaluating Bella’s progress.

“It isn’t something to be ashamed of.”

“Damnit, Edward, I told you-“Rosalie bit off the remaining words. Comment again on one of my thoughts and the Vanquish is so much scrap metal.

Edward winced but remained silent.

Not wanting to continue her train of thought, not when she knew Edward would be listening, Rosalie distracted herself by going out to the garage to give Alice’s car a more thorough inspection.

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

“This has been quite the memorable trip,” Tanya expressed.

The Denali’s were saying their good-byes, only a day after Christmas. Given the amount of tension and drama that had occurred since their arrival, everyone agreed it best they head home early.

“It was good to see all of you again,” Esme said, hugging Kate.

“Just wait till next time, I’m sure we’ll have a lot more fun,” Kate responded to Tanya’s words, missing the wince that crossed Bella’s face.

“I’m sure that will be quite the event,” Carlisle replied cautiously.

Bella started when Carmen appeared before her. “It was good to meet you, Bella,” the older woman said, giving her a quick hug before she could evade.

“You too,” Bella muttered. She moved to Esme’s side, hoping to avoid any further physical gestures. She liked Carmen, and Kate, and Eleazar, but she didn’t want them touching her.

Sensing her distress, Esme put her arm about Bella’s shoulder, making it impossible for anyone else to give such an intimate gesture.

At last all the good-byes were said and everyone piled into the car. The Cullen family watched the vampires they considered their extended family drive away before turning to each other and sighing in relief.

“Thank god that visit is over,” Alice muttered.

“Agreed.” Rosalie seconded.

“Alice, Rosalie,” Esme chided. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Esme, you have no idea how many close calls we had,” Alice stated. Edward agreed, shaking his head in disbelief and running a hand through his disheveled hair.

Her arm still around Bella, Esme felt the blush rising in her cheeks. “Bella?”

“Nothing,” her daughter mumbled. “I’m…going to go work on my English paper,” she said, worming out from under Esme’s arm and disappearing into the house.

The seven vampires watched their human family member as she fled inside, each upset over her actions.

“And that is why this visit was a disaster,” Rosalie declared. “They had no idea how to act around Bella, and she was terrified of misbehaving around them.”

Emmett snickered. “Not too terrified, if she could tell Tanya off for stalking Edward.”

“Tanya,” Edward began, stopping his thought before he could continue. He wasn’t going to share her crazy thoughts with the rest of them.

Carlisle sighed, gratefully putting an arm around his wife when she leaned into his side. “Let’s just chalk this up as not one of our better Christmas’ and leave it at that,” he suggested.