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A Matter Of Time

Summary:
A TLYDF Recommendation, Nominated for Immortal Cookie Award, Won Best Imprint in the Silent Tear Awards Two weeks and the whole world can change. Caius and Jane led an insurrection against Aro and are making a mad power grab. Renegades from the wolf pack, unhappy with the treaty with the Cullens, are attacking vampires at every opportunity. Jacob and Renesmee are struggling with the paradox of imprinting. Edward, Bella and all the Cullens must come together to protect the world they've come to love. A tale of action, deceit, intrigue and sexual awakening.


Notes:
Stephanie Meyers owns all things Twilight. My thanks to all the wonderful people at PTB who helped with this story.


21. Chapter 21 Play Ball!

Rating 3.7/5   Word Count 4054   Review this Chapter

Bella

The night was warm, humid and sticky, like only August nights in a city can be. Occasionally the sky would flash with a distant lightning strike, making the air seem pregnant with expectancy. Clouds hung above the city, heavy with unexpressed rain.

We stood on the sidewalk outside of a nightclub on Lansdowne Street in Boston. Across the street, the high walls of Fenway Park, the baseball field, loomed. The two bouncers standing outside the door to the club eyed our group as we talked among ourselves.

“You’re sure, Alice?” Carlisle asked.

“We find Caius in there. That’s not in doubt.” Alice shook her head. “What happens after that, I can’t see.”

“Why do you think that is?” Edward asked her.

Alice rolled her eyes and sighed. “If I knew that, I could probably see. It might be there are werewolves, it may be Caius hasn’t decided, I don’t know. I just know that it gets fuzzy and confusing all of a sudden.”

We’d all arrived in Boston earlier this afternoon, following Caius; Carlisle and Esme flying in separately from the rest of us. Garrett was still with us, so the seven of us stood in a clump on the sidewalk, keeping our voices low while we discussed our options.

“This could be a trap,” said Jasper. “We have no way of knowing what Caius has planned. He may be expecting us.”

“We have a lot of strength on our side,” Garrett said. “Bella almost single-handedly brought the Volturi down last time.”

“Well, I can protect you against Jane, but this firestarter that Renesmee saw in Alaska, I won’t have any defense against.” I was glad to be able to contribute to the defense of the family. I just wished there was more I could do. I seemed to be the most concerned one in the group. The rest of them seemed so much more matter-of-fact about the upcoming conflict. Jasper must have sensed my distress because a wave of calm and confidence washed over me.

Carlisle stood with his hands on his hips, his eyes down. “Well, we don’t have a tracker. I think we should take this chance to see if we can’t stop Caius here.” He looked up at us, surveying our faces. “Does anyone disagree?”

No one spoke. “Alright then,” said Carlisle. “We should stay together. Jasper, Garrett, if the firestarter is here, you should go for her first.” They nodded.

Carlisle pressed a few bills into the hands of the bouncer at the door who let us in without comment. The club was dark, noisy and crowded; the music deafeningly loud. I could feel the bass beat throbbing in my diaphragm. The main dance floor was full, the strobe lights suspended from the ceiling licking over the crowd in random patterns.

We started to pick our way through the crowd, searching the faces. I’d gotten used to the smell of humans in small doses, but the massive waves of their scent coming from the dance floor washed over me, making me feel giddy and light-headed. Edward grabbed my hand and held on as we weaved through the crowds at the edges of the dance floor. I chanced a glance at Jasper who seemed unfazed by the smell and the heat of the bodies. He’d come a long in control since my eighteenth birthday. On the other hand, as a newborn, I still struggled with it daily, especially in the midst of the tantalizing smells of strangers. It seemed ironic; I was now the one having troubles in resisting the call of blood.

I caught a glimpse of a white suit and ponytail the same time as the others. On the side of the stage where the DJ was spinning, for the briefest of seconds, I saw Caius and then he disappeared behind the scrim at the back of the stage.

“Let’s go,” whispered Carlisle, but it was enough for our vampire ears. To the people surrounding us, if they had been watching, it would have seemed like we disappeared, when in fact we started to move so fast, human eyes couldn’t track us. To us, it seemed like the crowd froze in place, when we moved this rapidly. It was easy to pick a way between the bodies.

We dashed up the stage, and behind the scrim as Caius had done, passing the few people loitering back stage so quickly, they only perceived a rush of air. Down a twisting hallway we raced, to where an emergency exit door was still opening. Out into the hot sticky night we went, Carlisle leading us.

We ran down an alley and back out to Lansdowne Street, following behind Caius as he took the corner around the ballpark’s walls that towered above the street. We turned the corner milliseconds after him, but he was nowhere in sight. The clanging of a metal gate caught our attention. The security gates to the ballpark had been broken open, the chains still swinging. We ran inside after him.

Inside, the large concrete space was dark and cavernous except for a few security lights providing small pools of light. We were in the concessions area under the stadium. The concession stands were all wrapped up tight, their windows covered with metal shutters. The sour smell of garbage and stale humanity saturated the air. The large, wide corridor we were in was easily thirty feet wide and curved gently to the left, following the contours of the park above it. The ramps leading to the seating area around the field were dark and gated, but a brief illumination from a lightning flash showed the sky above the gates.

It appeared deserted; there was no sign of Caius. Listening to the silence, I could make out several faint heartbeats, likely the security guards. There was a scrape of fabric against fabric off to my left, the seven of us swung around to see the source of the noise. Edward hissed under his breath, “It is a trap.”

Instinctively, the seven of us pulled together, facing outward in a circle. I heard a rumbling growl come from somebody within our circle as I threw my mental shield around my family. I felt its force stretch from me to encompass our group. My nerves felt like piano wire, singing with the tension. Every sense was heightened, every noise seemed amplified.

From down the corridor, three vampires strode into view. I’d seen at least two of their faces before, it had been in the field in Forks when the Volturi came. They’d been part of the Volturi witnesses, but I had never known their names. The third vampire, a dark-skinned man wearing a full length tunic, held an unconscious figure in its arms. He threw the body at our feet.

The figure grunted as it hit the floor, his flesh making a dull slapping sound as it bounced on the concrete. He was alive, but just barely; I could hardly hear the erratic beat of his heart. His long black hair partially concealed his face, but there was no mistaking that he was a Quileute. I had not seen him before on the reservation, but there was that distinctive shape shifter smell. There were bruises and marks all along his face and arms, and judging by his stupor, I guessed he’d been drugged.

From the corridor to our right, two more vampires appeared. Their faces were hard and determined as they strode towards our circle. Again, I recognized them from the field in Forks. Both groups of hostile vampires stopped some distance away from us. They were waiting for something, some signal. Outside, the rain started in earnest and the concrete halls started to echo with the pounding of the rain as it hit the stadium and field above us.

From the darkened hallway in front of us, four other figures materialized, one of them struggling in the grasp of another. My eyes went first to Caius; he came towards us with a half-smile on his face. To his left was another face I had not counted on seeing. I heard gasps from Esme and Alice as they recognized the face, too.

It was Zafrina, the Amazon, dressed in her familiar hides and leathers. She had stood with us in Forks against the Volturi. Why would she stand with Caius now? Her face was bleached with stress. She looked almost apologetic, her face grimacing with distaste as she turned it to the side to avoid our stares.

I checked my mental shield around the seven of us, making sure it had no holes or weak spots. Zafrina had the gift of illusion, she could make victims see whatever she wished. One could be standing in the heart of a city and her illusion could convince that you were in a deep jungle. We had counted her a powerful ally when she had stood with us in Forks for this reason. Zafrina could incapacitate vampires, rendering them helpless. You couldn’t fight what you couldn’t see.

On the other side of Caius stood a short Asian vampire, his face as set and hard as the others. He held pinned against him a human security guard, who was struggling weakly beneath the arms that bound him like iron cords. The guard was clawing at the arm that crossed his neck, trying to free himself enough room to breathe.

Carlisle spoke. “Caius, it doesn’t have to be like this.”

“Well, what does it have to be like then, Carlisle? Should we all just wait around until you decide you’re tired of hiding in your damp forest and decide to move against us en masse? Going to convert us all to your ‘alternative lifestyle’?” Caius spit the words out.

“Caius,” Carlisle pleaded. “You know me. You know that would never be my intention. I have no wish to dominate others.”

Caius rubbed his temples. “At least be honest, Carlisle. We all wish to dominate others. It is in our make-up, our core. Blood and violence and death. That is what we are. Look, you even rule your own coven.”

Edward stepped forward. “We follow Carlisle for reasons other than power or fear. Reasons you couldn’t even begin to understand.”

Caius rolled his eyes. “Love?” he asked simpering. “A human myth, constructed to put some meaning into their useless lives.” Caius stepped forward, his hands clenched. “Underneath it all, Carlisle, you are as violent and brutal as the rest of us. It will only be a matter of time before you realize that.”

Edward growled low and deep in his chest, the sound barely audible above the pounding of the rain. “He has some surprise to spring on us,” he murmured to Carlisle. “He is too confident.” From my left, Jasper murmured in agreement.

“Violent, brutal, that may be my nature,” Carlisle answered Caius. “But I am not welded to my nature. I can choose to act above it.”

Caius’s body whole body tensed. “Why?” he roared at Carlisle. The words echoed back at us from the concrete ceiling and walls. “Why? Why do you try? This is what we are! Accept it!”

“I accept it,” Carlisle said softly. “But I am not ruled by it.”

Caius’ face was a study in contempt. “If you weren’t so incomprehensible, you’d be pathetic.”

Carlisle turned to Zafrina, who had her eyes on the floor. “Zafrina?” he asked.

She turned her eyes to him, the sadness in them overwhelming her face. “He holds Senna,” she whispered. Senna was her sister; I guessed that Caius was using Senna to coerce her into helping him. “I am so sorry. I’ll make sure they don’t let you suffer.”

Her words electrified me. The moment of confrontation was upon us, we all could feel it. I checked my shield once more, knowing the lives of my family depended on my ability to keep them protected with my mental gift. Beside me, I felt Edward on my right and Jasper on my left start to curl into a defensive crouch.

Caius grabbed the struggling guard from the vampire to his right and with a single move, drew the guard’s sidearm from his belt as he kicked the guard toward me. I heard Edward yell “No!” but he was too late. Caius shot the guard through the back, as the guard stumbled towards my stunned and open arms. The bullet passed completely through the man’s body and bounced harmlessly off me.

It took me a second to realize I had been spattered with gore from the guard. The guard slowly slid out of my open arms to slump on the floor, but not before his bleeding wound smeared my shirt and hands with blood.

There it was, before I had the presence of mind to stop breathing. That aroma, that incredible, heady, intoxicating aroma. It was the fragrance that spoke of life and completion, joy and ecstasy. Why had I ever thought this was repugnant when I was human? It was metallic and organic, thick as concrete and ethereal as a cloud. The smell slammed into me, driving all other thoughts from my brain. Some small part of me registered the fact that my shield snapped back into place around me, leaving the others unprotected.

Without conscious volition, my tongue slipped between my lips and tasted the drop of blood that had spattered there. It was just the smallest taste, but it was enough to set the thirst raging in me like never before. There was no way I could say no to this. My whole body burned as rivers of fire ran through me to concentrate in my throat. It was a pain I had only felt once before and that had been on the surgical table at Forks. It had been the unbearable pain of my transformation from human to vampire.

But now there was an answer, a balm and a cure for that pain. I raised my hands in front of my face to see the red rivulets of blood on my fingers. I brought them to my nose and inhaled deeply. Oh, that perfume. It was rain to the desert, food to the starving, cessation of pain to the tortured.

I licked the blood smeared across my palm, my eyes closed with the ecstasy of it. It was a taste of manna, food from the heavens. It promised to feed me in ways that I had not even known I hungered. It sang to me of cravings fulfilled, of longings soothed. I stared at the man dying at my feet, the blood leaking from him onto the grimy concrete floor. What a hideous waste. That should be mine.

Farr off in the distance, as if they were underwater, I could hear the cries of my unprotected family as the darkness that Zafrina directed descended on them. I heard my name in their clamor, but it was meaningless to me. Jasper on my left, struck my arm once, his arms swinging widely as his unseeing eyes gazed blindly about him. Esme and Carlisle had found one each other and they clung to each other, their free arms held defensively, trying to protect themselves from any unseen attackers. Alice stood straight, her eyebrows furrowed with concentration, trying to use her future vision to see any assailant. I couldn’t tell if the Quileute not far from her feet was hindering her efforts. Someone nearby was yelling my name but it fell on my ears with no effect.

I barely registered the fact that Caius’ vampires started approaching our group. Through the dream haze caused by the bloodlust, nothing mattered but the source of the crimson flow from the body at my feet. I could feel my emotions wavering from calm to fear. Jasper was trying to reach me, but it was useless. My focus was the blood and only the blood. I started to reach down to bring the body up to my mouth before any more of the precious fluid spilled uselessly on the floor.

A hand clasped my arm. My gaze followed the hand up its arm to the face above it. There was such a feeling of detachment, I knew that was Edward’s face, but my vision was filled with the images of the blood. My nose was filled with the aroma of it, my mouth was filled with venom at the image of the feast that was approaching and my skin tingled underneath the streaks of blood on my hands.

He chose the only sense the blood had not reached. I hesitated when I heard something familiar, trying to recognize the muted, beautiful sound. It was tickling at my brain, breaking my concentration. I shook my head, trying to clear it but it continued. It was a melody, haunting and poignant. It reached me when all the shouting of my name could not.

It was the lullaby that Edward had written for me. Somehow, it reached through the bloodlust that held me spellbound and gave me a corner to think, to remember where I was. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the notes.

Caius made his tactical mistake then. He came toward me to attack and kicked the body of the bleeding guard out of the way. My eyes flew open and instinctively, I moved to protect my meal. I snarled and flew at him. He stepped back, surprised by the ferocity of my counterattack. I snapped my shield back into place around the seven of us and suddenly the air was full of moving bodies as my family regained their vision and reacted to the enemies now within reach.

I clasped my hands together and using them as a club, I swung them up under Caius’s chin. His feet left the ground as he flew in an arc backwards. He sprang back up, bouncing off the concrete floor like it was a trampoline and came toward me, his face twisted into a terrible scowl.

Edward stepped between us and pushed me behind him. I fell to my knees, overcome with the battle going on inside my head. The bloodlust was beating against my will to keep my mental shield in place. I held onto the will to keep the shield taut and secure, but it left me no resources to think of anything else, other than the thirst.

I closed my eyes and started to chant to myself-anything to hold the bloodlust at bay for just one more minute at a time. Hold the shield, then you’ll drink.Hold the shield, then you’ll drink.

I felt my family members moving around, and I wrapped my shield tightly around each individual. Hold the shield, then you’ll drink. I didn’t know how the fight was progressing, I couldn’t spare a bit of my attention to check. It was all I could do to just hold the two parts of me together- the part that knew I had to keep my shield in place for my family and the part that demanded the thirst be satisfied immediately.

I could smell the bleeding body of the guard; it was ten feet off to my left. The bloodlust demanded that I go after it and I had no choice but to comply. I started to crawl on my belly along the sticky, smelly concrete floor. Hold the shield, then you’ll drink. Somebody tripped over my body and landed with a thud beside me, then they scrabbled away. I heard screams and that awful shrieking metallic noise. I prayed that it was our enemies and not my family, but I couldn’t risk opening my eyes, every ounce of concentration I had I needed. Hold the shield, then you’ll drink. I was almost at the body. I knew I would lose my ability to maintain the shield once I had the body in my hands, but I was helpless to stop myself from reaching for it.

Somebody dragged me away from the body. No, that was mine. Keeping my eyes shut, I felt hands tearing at my shirt and I started to strike out at them. Cold hard hands grabbed my wrists while unintelligible voices yelled above me. My shirt was ripped from my body and more hands pried my fists open. I didn’t know what was happening, and I dared not open my eyes. If I lost my concentration, I could lose my family. I could only pray that they could handle the hand-to-hand contact while I kept them protected from any mental assault.

I was picked up off the floor and thrashing, I was carried away from the aroma of blood. I couldn’t fight too hard physically, lest I lose my focus on my shield. There was a metal clanging as gates were being broken and I gasped as cold rain hit my body. I was carried out on to the playing field, blindly twisting and fighting the iron arms that held me.

I broke loose from the grips that held me and slumped to my knees on the cold wet grass. We were in left field, the ballpark was dark and deserted around us. The rain was soaking my hair and pelting my shoulders. Gradually, the smell of blood started to clear from my nose and I began to think. My shield had been wrapped around each individual family member, two of them stood with me on the field. Several others remained under the stands and as I became aware of them, two others were reaching the limits of my mental range.

“Stop them, they’re going too far,” I moaned, my hands clutching at the dirt and grass.

Hands grabbed my shoulders. “Bella,” the voice I loved called to me. “Bella, its okay. You can stop now.”

I raised my head. Edward crouched in front of me, his face full of concern. Alice knelt next to him, her face a mirror of his. Rain dripped through their hair and their clothes clung wetly.

“What happened?” I asked.

Alice and Edward exchanged a glance full of relief. “We beat them,” Edward said. “Once your shield came back, we destroyed Caius. Esme and Carlisle are cleaning up now.” Back through the gates, I could see the warm glow of flames bouncing off the interior walls. “Two others, also.” Edward explained. “Jasper and Garrett are chasing down a couple others.”

“Zafrina?” I asked.

“She ran,” Alice answered. “Carlisle said to let her go.”

I picked up my hands and looked at them. They were streaked with dirt and mud now, instead of blood. I remembered how the blood had tasted on my lips. The memory of that would stay with me the rest of my existence. My chest started heaving with dry sobs. My throat started burning again. “The blood,” I whimpered. I still ached for it.

“I don’t know how you did it, Bella but you fought the bloodlust,” Edward said.

“That’s incredible for a newborn,” Alice chirped.

I knew they were trying to praise me, to raise my spirits, but I was too broken to take their words to heart. “It was the lullaby,” I whispered.

Edward and Alice exchanged a glance. “What lullaby was that?” Edward asked, smiling.

I looked at him in surprise. “You were singing or humming my lullaby. The one you wrote for me. It’s what gave me the…” I trailed off.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so.” He still smiled but his eyes flashed with concern again.

The two of us stared at each other, the rain dripping off our noses.

“Edward,” Alice prompted him, “give her your shirt.”

I looked down at myself. Above my jeans, I was wearing only my bra. “What happened to my shirt?” I asked confused, as Edward unbuttoned his oxford and helped me into it. It was wet and soggy.

“It had blood on it.” Alice explained.

I rolled the shirtsleeves up. “Where was Jane?” I asked. It was odd that I hadn’t had to fend off her mental spears of pain.

Edward and Alice froze. My throat closed as I realized what their stillness meant. Jane hadn’t been here.

“Alice?” I asked.

Alice’s eyes stared into the distance. “She’s traveling west.”

“And then what?” Edward demanded.

“She disappears,” Alice whispered.

That could only mean she was headed into Forks.