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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:


20. Chapter 20

Rating 5/5   Word Count 4484   Review this Chapter

Survival of the Soul

Chapter 19

By: Lady Saffir

Story Rating: R

Chapter Rating:PG-13

DISCLAIMER: I own no rights to the Twilight universe. I’m simply playing with Stephenie Meyers creations.

Many thanks to Megami for being a wonderful beta, and JokesOnJane for my banner. J The May craziness is almost over so I can really resume my normal writing schedule. Weddings, especially if they aren’t your own, take up way too much time. If you want to hear my reasoning behind the end of this chapter, come join me over on Twilighted in the SotS topic under the Alternate Universe tab. I’ll post my theory Thursday evening.

“The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears.” Francis Bacon, Sr.

“I am a woman in process. I'm just trying like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience, and learn from it. Life is never dull.” Oprah

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

Carlisle eyed the stack of papers sitting on his desk. In the past, his signature had been forged on any papers requiring parental permission. He had been lucky to find out that the others would be going on a field trip the day it was to occur.

Now, though, with Bella in the house, he received every school notice, every slip needing signed, in octuplet. He had been informed this was to make Bella feel like she was a normal teenager in a normal family. Regardless of the reason, Carlisle had the amusing mental image of everyone trooping into his office, single file, and dropping the papers off, the last person neatly stacking the pile and aligning the edges before turning out the lights and closing the door.

What was it this time, he mused, shifting the papers around. It was obvious as to who had carried each paper. Edward’s was neat, having been placed in a folder to keep it safe. Rosalie’s held traces of her perfume, and Alice’s usually came with stock market predictions attached. Jasper would draw whatever his current mood was in the top left corner and include the appropriate quote. It was always the hardest to distinguish between Emmett and Bella’s, both haphazardly shoving the papers into their backpack. Scent was usually the easiest way to detect the difference, though sometimes the doodles around the edges gave it away, Bella being prone to random tracings, while Emmett usually drew caricatures of fellow classmates.

Parent-teacher conferences. Well, he imagined that they would be attending this year’s. He noted the date and entered it on his date book, forwarding the date into Esme’s book as well.

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

Jasper watched Bella from the corner of his eye. She was chewing on her bottom lip, staring at the door that Carlisle and Esme had just disappeared through. He had no idea why she would be anxious about their attending parent-teacher conference. Did she actually think she would receive a bad report?

“Knowing her, yes,” Edward murmured. “She doesn’t want to disappoint them, I’m sure.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Jasper argued, too soft for Bella to hear. “Tell her she has no reason to worry.”

“Me? Why don’t you tell her.”

“You’re both being ridiculous,” Rosalie sighed, raising her voice. “Bella, you aren’t actually worried, are you? I’m sure everything will be fine. It isn’t as if you skip class like we do.”

Bella blushed, stammering an answer before retreating upstairs to her bedroom.

**********

The first year in a new place, when the others were masquerading as high schoolers, Esme and Carlisle were always careful to play the part of concerned and involved foster parents, attending meetings and volunteering to be chaperones on trips. They gradually tapered off such activities, citing a strong home life and need to focus on college prep for the older ‘children’ and their own careers taking off.

It was also pointless to attend parent-teacher meetings, only to hear how wonderful the children were and how the teachers hoped they would attend Ivy League schools and become the next Albert Einstein or Marie Curie.

Having thrown Bella into the mix required their renewed participation in such events. Principal Marcus had kept them abreast of any issues, such as the lunch fiasco earlier in the year, but Carlisle and Esme both felt they needed to meet with her individual teachers and discuss any problems that might occur.

So far, all they had heard was that Bella was coming out of her shell, slowly but surely, and that she was a wonderful student.

“Bella seems to have a wonderful grasp on the true dynamics of the Civil War,” Mrs. Hammock stated, mistaking the smile on Esme’s face for one of happiness. In fact, it was more of a smirk, as Bella had been receiving help from Jasper while writing her paper. She had listened to him for almost an hour, taking notes as he recounted his life as a soldier. Esme sharpened her focus as the woman hesitated, carefully choosing her words.

“She seems to be more willing to engage the other students and will participate in group discussions,” Mrs. Hammock continued. “I must admit, when Marcus first told us about her past, I was quite concerned about how she would handle regular life. However,” the hesitation was quite evident in her voice.

“Is something the matter?” Carlisle pressed.

“She seems to have taken a step back since returning from Christmas break. I don’t mean to intrude, and by all means tell me to mind my own business, but did something happen?”

Carlisle sighed, linking hands with Esme and wondering how to explain. He looked over at his wife, hoping she knew how to give an answer that was simultaneously an explanation and yet respectful of Bella’s privacy.

Esme licked her lips before speaking. “Carlisle’s cousins came to visit,” she started slowly. “And unfortunately, one of his cousin’s…husband,” the hesitation before she switched the word husband for mate was brief, “reminded Bella of her past.”

Mrs. Hammock gasped, one hand going to her mouth in horror. “The poor dear! No wonder she’s been so quiet. Is everything alright now?”

“Yes,” Esme reassured.

“Well, in any case, I look forward to seeing how Bella continues to grow. Not that I don’t care as much about your other children,” the teacher hastened to add, “but I just feel….”

“We understand,” Carlisle said. “We all feel the same way.”

********

Mr. Banner proved to be the second most surprising on their evening rounds.

“All of your children are smart, as I’m sure you know,” he began, wiping his glasses off on his shirt tails. “None of them cause any trouble and always hand in their homework on time. And I never get the impression they’ve copied off one another, or had extra help,” he added, looking at Carlisle frankly. “I know some of the teachers here think maybe you give them extra tutoring or even do the work for them, but that wouldn’t explain why they’re able to get A’s on every test and assignment. I just think you’ve got a bright group of kids that are going to go a long way in life.”

He continued, not giving Carlisle or Esme a chance to respond. “I’m happy to see that Edward’s opening up a bit. He’s been a recluse these past two years. It’s wonderful to see how he is with Bella.”

“What do you mean?” Esme managed.

“He lets her lead but also encourages her. He’s very protective of her,” Mr. Banner mused. “He watches out for her, especially after that lunch incident. He won’t let anyone near her if he thinks she’s upset over something. I think you might have something brewing there,” he smiled.

“We keep hearing that,” Carlisle answered wryly. “I’m not so sure they see that as happening though.”

“The poor boy’s got his work cut out for him if that’s the case,” Mr. Banner agreed. “I won’t claim to know how abuse victims go on with their lives, but I imagine their significant others must be very patient.”

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

A meeting with a gym teacher might seem like a strange thing, but Carlisle and Esme had agreed to meet with all of Bella’s teachers, to get their take on how she was adapting to a normal schedule.

“I can only imagine what Coach Clapp has to say,” Carlisle mused, drawing a laugh from his wife.

“I’m sure Bella is doing her best in gym class,” Esme defended their daughter.

“Her best at injuring herself?”

“Carlisle!”

The shared laughter was interrupted by a gruff male voice.

“Mr. and Mrs. Cullen?”

As one, the couple turned to greet the gym coach. They were approached by a graying, middle-aged man, his form rather fit for a man of his age. They knew from Edward’s quick description of every teacher and how to handle them that Coach Clap considered the old saying, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ to be an idiotic approach to teaching. He worked out with the football team, goading the younger men into working harder by one up-manship.

“Coach Clapp, I presume?” Carlisle asked, striding forward to shake the other man’s hand.

“Yes. Well,” he jumped right in to his concerns, “I’ve been wondering if something’s wrong with Bella.”

Having heard variations of this all night, Carlisle began the now rote explanation. “A cousin’s husband reminded Bella of her past and-“

“I’m not talking about her mental health, though I have noticed changes,” Coach Clapp interrupted. “I mean physically.”

“Physically?” Carlisle and Esme shared a concerned look. “What do you mean?”

“The girl’s got no sense of balance,” they were told bluntly. “She managed to hurt herself and two others playing badminton a few weeks ago. Did she suffer some brain damage? Maybe an inner ear problem? I swear the girl gets a bruise just walking into the gym,” the older man grumbled.

Carlisle winced. “I’ll admit to not having done any head scans so I can’t rule that out, but I think she’s just, well, clumsy.”

“Well, she tries, I have to give her that,” the coach mused.

They talked about other things, the two vampires deflecting any mention of the others joining sports teams, and were about to leave when the coach brought up one more topic.

“I talked to Sharon- Mrs. Henderson, the school counselor,” he began, frowning to himself. “Every year I make the kids write a three page paper on abuse of some sort. I didn’t want to give Bella something that would upset her, but Sharon thought maybe I should get your take on it. If she can do it, fine. Otherwise I just want the same size paper on a health topic of her choice.”

Esme nodded. “Thank you for being so thoughtful. We’ll talk with her and see what she has to say.”

Coach Clapp nodded and bade the couple good night.

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

The entire family was well aware of the pitfalls of Alice's talent. It had never stopped them from relying on her to watch out for the family, to guide them through the dark times. Snap decisions couldn't be seen, and vague intentions often left Alice with what she lamented was a 'headache' from the hazy images she could hardly make out.

The human body proved to be yet another thing that could stump Alice.

It was the beginning of February, the latest snowfall slow to retreat. School and home life had once more settled into a predictable routine, and Bella was making more head-roads into her recovery. She had snapped at Rosalie the previous day and had been mortified into silence when Rosalie had snippily replied that they should throw her an ‘I found my backbone party’.

The two were currently racing Mario Kart, Rosalie muttering about handling capabilities and Bella chewing on her bottom lip and muttering the occasional, 'Ah! Stop! No!' to herself, as her bike veered erratically about Rainbow Road. Edward was seated at the piano, his fingers idly picking out melodies. Emmett was filling out Sudoku puzzles and Jasper was reading a psychology journal while Alice browsed online.

The scent of blood hit Rosalie scant hundredths of a second before the rest of the room, and she was already turning to block Jasper. They were due to hunt tomorrow and she was afraid the scent of Bella's period would be too strong for her brother.

Her guess was solid, as Jasper was snarling and leaping before Bella could even comprehend her life was in danger. She had a firm grip on Jasper, her fingers causing indentations on the skin.

From the corner of her eye, Rosalie saw Edward take a step towards them, his nostrils flared as he took a deep breath. Alice was at his side, tugging on one of his arms as she talked quickly, encouraging him to hold his breath and get outside.

Emmett was across the room and picking Bella up even as she stared, wild-eyed, at Jasper's snarling countenance. By the time she turned her head to look at Emmett, they were upstairs in her bedroom, the burly vampire setting her down and positioning himself in front of her.

"What...." Bella trailed off, unsure of what was happening. She knew it was irrational even as she considered it, but had her mutterings annoyed Jasper?

Emmett appeared nonchalant, his words flippant. "Never a dull moment, huh? Don't worry-" here he cocked his head as if listening to something, "Alice has him and Edward outside. Been wondering when that would happen," he finished cheerfully.

"When what would happen?" Bella asked.

"For Jasper's control to be tested. We've been lucky so far and he hasn't been around when you've had accidents. Knew it had to happen sometime.”

Bella was still trying to understand what exactly Emmett was talking about when Rosalie entered the room. She gave her husband an exasperated look.

"You're not helping," she informed him. "Why don't you go downstairs before you shove that size fourteen foot of yours any further in your mouth than it already is."

Emmett laughed off the insult, ruffling Bella's hair and giving his wife a quick kiss before heading downstairs, winking at Bella as he closed the door.

Bella still wasn't sure what was going on, but she knew that Rosalie would tell her, and most likely in a rather blunt fashion. Why couldn't Alice tell her what was going on? She at least found something humorous to lighten the mood. Rosalie believed in the direct approach, and never pulled her punch.

Rosalie looked back at her sister, knowing what she was thinking. Bella was nervously twisting her charm bracelet about her wrist, her bottom lip firmly captured between her teeth. Rosalie sighed to herself. Why did she have to be the one to have 'The Talk' with Bella? This firmly fell into Esme's realm, except she wasn't here. She and Carlisle were in Portland for the evening.

Esme owed her, Rosalie decided as she moved to sit on the window seat.

"Sit down," she ordered.

Bella sat on the bed, eyeing her warily.

"You can stop looking at me like I'm about to say something horrible," Rosalie sighed. "Esme should be doing this, but as she isn't here, I guess I will. I rather doubt you want Emmett doing this. You'll be scarred for life," she muttered.

"What's wrong with Jasper? Is he alright?"

Rosalie snorted. "He'll be fine. And what's wrong is you started your period and the scent of blood was a bit too much for him today."

Bella jerked back, almost toppling herself from the force of the movement. "What? You...you can SMELL that I started? That's...gross," Bella decided, muttering to herself. She could feel the heat of her blush and knew she was beet red. Why did she have to live with vampires? It was going to be horrible, she knew, every month. The entire family would know when she started and stopped and Bella didn't even want to think about how awkward life would be. Could she hide in her room during that time? Maybe go stay with Angela?

Rosalie's very unlady-like snort drew her back from her thoughts. "Of course we can smell that you started. We'll probably know every time before you do. It should save you any embarrassing accidents," she pointed out.

"I don't care about that!" Bella contested hotly. "Can we stop talking about this now?" she pleaded.

"You think I'm enjoying this? Think again," the other woman countered. "Now, I guess I need to talk about what you menstruating means.”

“I KNOW what having my period means. I had this talk with, with my mom,” Bella stuttered over the memory before forging on. “It means if I ever have sex I could get pregnant. There, are we done now?” she implored.

Rosalie appraised her sister. “PMS suits you. Try to keep that attitude all the time and not just during your monthly.”

“Rosalie!”

Emmett’s booming laugh could be heard up three flights of stairs.

The blonde vampire rose from her seat, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “Fine, consider the talk had. And don’t even think you can hide up in your room for a week. We’re around girls on their period all the time at school; we can handle it with you in the house.”

***********

Sanity returned almost as soon as it had left, and Jasper allowed himself to be hauled outside by Rosalie. She gave him a sharp look before returning inside, leaving him alone with his guilt. How could he have snapped like that? And at old blood, at that. Was his control so poor? He should have been stronger, having spent so much time around Bella. His PILLOW had traces of her scent on it, for God’s sake. There was hardly a part of the house that didn’t have lingering traces of her floating through the room.

He shouldn’t have been so weak.

He fled then, ashamed of his weakness. He had almost ruined things. At the very least, Bella would never trust him again, now that she knew how close he was to the edge. He legs carried him to his favorite spot, a large cliff overlooking the river. He scaled an old Spruce easily, perching on one of the uppermost branches. He braced his back against the trunk, one leg straight out on the limb while the other dangled in the air.

Jasper didn’t acknowledge Alice’s presence for several minutes until he was done berating himself. Only when his litany had begun to repeat did he turn to his wife, remorse on his features.

“Alice, I’m-“

“Hush, Jasper,” Alice silenced him. “I know that you think you almost ruined things, but it wouldn’t have been you.”

“What?” was all he could manage.

“It would have been Edward that ended Bella’s life,” Alice said simply. “I didn’t See this particular scenario coming, but once it started, I Saw that you would stop yourself in time but Edward wouldn’t. Well,” she amended, “he would have stopped once he’d bitten her and you’d tackled him, but by then the venom would have spread.”

The thought of HIM being the one to stop another vampire from biting a human was baffling. He would have called the thought preposterous, but he could feel the sincerity Alice was radiating.

“I still need to apologize.”

Alice grinned, slipping into his arms. “She won’t want to hear it. In fact, she won’t want to discuss any part of this.”

“You’ve Seen this, have you?” Her light mood was infectious and he found himself smiling.

“No. I just know Bella. I bet she’s still beet red and we’re going to have a hard time prying her out of her room for the next few days.”

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

Esme knew something was wrong the minute they pulled into the garage and she noticed Edward’s Vanquish was missing. He only took that car out for special occasions, or when he needed to go faster than the Volvo would allow. What had happened?

Carlisle was appraising the empty spot as well, sharing a look with his wife before they hurried into the house. The faint scent of blood hit them immediately.

“Rosalie? Emmett?” Carlisle called. He could hear Bella’s heartbeat up in her room so he knew whatever had happened had been resolved, but why hadn’t they cleaned up the blood? There should be no trace of it left. Unless…

“How was she injured?”

“It’s nothing, Carlisle. Just the same ‘injury’ she’s going to have every month,” Emmett answered.

Carlisle frowned, not caring for Emmett’s indifferent attitude.

Rosalie gave her husband an annoyed look before explaining. “Bella started her period this afternoon.”

“Ah. I had been waiting for this,” Carlisle mused.

“Where is everyone else?” Esme questioned. “Nothing happened, did it?”

“Nope.”

Esme’s relief was short-lived as Emmett continued.

“Unless you count Jasper trying to jump Bella, and he and Edward both having to leave to get away from the smell.”

“Emmett! This is no laughing matter,” Esme scolded. “How close did they get? Is Bella alright?”

“She’s fine,” Rosalie waved off any concern. “And you owe me. I tried to have ‘The Talk’ with her and she wouldn’t listen. She swears she’s already heard it before, but I think she would have said anything to get me to leave,” she reflected.

“I should still check on her,” Esme decided.

“Bella’s a bit feisty right now,” Emmett called after Esme as she started upstairs. He continued on to Carlisle, “Don’t be surprised when she bites all of our heads off every month. She’s got quite the temper.”

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

“Bella?” Esme knocked on her daughter’s door. “May I come in?”

The muttered ‘yes’ was hesitant but Esme wasn’t going to give Bella a chance to change her mind. She opened to door to find Bella curled up on the window seat, her arms about her knees as she stared out the window.

“We heard what happened. Are you okay?” Esme asked, seating herself across from her daughter. Both the reply and the tone shocked her.

“I’m fine. Every girl gets her period, so why is it such a big deal?” Bella groused.

“It’s a big deal because not every girl lives with a house full of vampires,” Esme replied gently. “Sweetheart, we try not to make things awkward for you, but there are certain things that we have to acknowledge and accept. And one of them is the fact that we can smell when you’re having your period. I’m sorry this upsets you but it can’t be helped.”

“Can we just stop talking about it?” Bella asked miserably.

“Of course. Is there anything you would like to talk about?” Esme was hesitant to ask. Now she knew what Emmett was referring to when he mentioned Bella was feisty.

“Jasper.” Bella latched onto a new subject matter eagerly. “Is he okay? Why would he have such a problem?”

“Jasper has a very different background than the rest of us, Bella,” Esme began. “Where we all abstained from human blood from the beginning, Jasper led a very violent life for decades. So he has trouble sometimes with the scent of human blood. We’ve been very concerned about the possibility something could happen to you.”

“But Jasper wouldn’t harm me intentionally,” Bella insisted.

“It isn’t about intentions, Bella. It’s the fact that you would most likely be killed.”

***********

Jasper heard Esme and Bella’s conversation before they had cleared the river, Alice jumping a split second before him. He was resigned to the fact that Bella would most likely avoid him and the chance of them growing closer had been killed. There had been enough danger in her life already; she wouldn’t want to be close to someone who was always a hair’s width away from killing her.

They were in the living room when Bella spoke the words that floored all of them.

“It’s okay if something happens to me. I just don’t want anyone feeling guilty if I’m killed because of them.”

“Oh, of all the…” Rosalie muttered.

“Typical Bella,” Emmett stated, earning mutters of agreement from the others.

Jasper couldn’t take it anymore. Someone had to show Bella just what she was living with. He was upstairs in a flash, striding into the room before Bella could turn her head.

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” he started roughly, hating the way she cringed back at his presence. “We’re all dangerous to you, Bella, but I’m likely the most dangerous. Killing was what I lived for. A few decades of peace won’t change my past.”

Jasper pushed his shirt sleeve up, thrusting his arm into the lamplight. “These were gained from countless battles. I was the coven’s master strategist for years before I left. There were times I drank so much human blood I sloshed when I walked.”

He pulled back, leaning against the wall, trying to keep himself away from Bella. He had scared her, he knew, her emotions betraying the calm façade she presented. “I have always been very, very careful around you, Bella,” he finished.

“But you were careful,” Bella returned. She had straightened in her seat, Esme’s presence forgotten as she focused on the man across the room. “I just…I don’t want to do anything to make this any harder on you than it already is.”

Jasper ran a hand through his hair, now understanding why Carlisle was constantly repeating that gesture. How did one make a stubborn human understand?

“There isn’t any point in trying to argue, Jazz,” Alice’s voice floated up to him. “She’s just going to keep arguing and you’ll go around in circles.”

Esme interrupted. “Why don’t we just leave it that we all need to be very careful, agreed?” At her children’s nods, she continued. “Shall we start on dinner, Bella?”

Bella shook her head, her blush re-blooming. “I’m not hungry.”

“Bella, I can hear your stomach easily.”

“I don’t want to eat right now.”

“Bella-“

The argument was interrupted by Emmett’s arrival.

“Cheer up, Bella. You’ve only got about twelve periods left and you’ll be finished for eternity.”

“What do you mean?” Bella asked, trying to work out what he meant.

Alice was upstairs, leaping onto Emmett’s back and covering his mouth. “Don’t. Don’t say it,” she ordered.

“Say what?” Bella was growing suspicious. What was Alice trying to hide? “Esme?” She turned, her fear growing every second no one answered.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit,” Alice chanted. At her husband’s look she shook her head. “Too late. It’d just cause even more problems.”

“What? What’s going to happen?” The anxiety in Bella’s tone was obvious, her body trembling as she fought not to run. She was trapped, her seat in the window allowing the vampires in the room to form a semi-circle about her. “Esme? Carlisle?” She asked. Carlisle had entered the room with Alice, and Bella knew she should have seen something in his posture.

Carlisle knelt before her. He tried to take her hands in his own but Bella pulled back, fisting both of her hands in her lap. He sighed, wishing the truth about the future hadn’t come out in this manner.

“What does Emmett mean?” Bella pressed, never taking her eyes from the man she had come to see as a second father.

Just like with his patients when he had to deliver bad news, Carlisle spoke evenly, looking Bella in the eyes as he spoke.

“Soon you’ll have to go through the Change, Bella, and become a vampire.”