35: Part Three, Chapter Seven

Word Count: 4520, First Published 31 December 2022, Australian time

Happy New Year y'all. May 2023 bring many blessings.

And as always, thanks to Ms Meyer for permission to play with her characters and mess up her sand pit.

Many, many thanks to my pre-reader and cheerleader triinityz. It is largely thanks to her influence that you are seeing this chapter now. It is with NO thanks to long covid, which has basically allowed me to do not much more than work and sleep since I had COVID earlier this year.

So you know, there are three chapters to go after this (and maybe an epi), which is probably somewhere between 15,000-20,000 words. About 15000 words of that is written, BUT I am back to work on Tuesday, so there are no guarantees that you will see those chapters soon, sorry! It depends how things go. I am definitely getting better, but it is slow.

Thanks also to Lee Kadiva and Green Eyed Lana Lee who pre-read an earlier version of this chapter.

I'm sure there are still typos though, so feel free to tell me!


Chapter Seven - Training

"Belloula," Marcus began, patient as ever, "try thinking of it as something more nebulous. You said you saw it as a clear shield that you reinforced by painting layers and layers of glue over it when you were using it to protect yourself. I want you to take that picture and imagine the glue becoming soft, still thick, but something someone could push through. Can you imagine that?"

Bella closed her eyes, as she had done when she was sitting in her corner and focussing all her mental energy on keeping people out. She reached out with her mind and tried to imagine the shield softening, a sticky glue that she could wade through, if need be. She took her time, going over and over one spot in her mind until she thought it was as soft as it could be.

Then, knowing this was the real test, she started to expand it, keeping her eyes closed and her mind focussed, she pushed that one spot towards the place her vampire senses told her Marcus still stood, intending to push it right over him, bringing him inside her shield. She pushed as hard as she could, if she'd still been human she would be breaking out in a sweat despite the fact that the energy expended was purely mental.

"Uh, Bella." Marcus's voice was surprisingly light, and she opened her eyes to see what he was amused by. He was pushed flat against the wall, hands up as though he could hold back the invisible barrier pushing into him. Instead, he was starting to make cracks in the wall behind him.

Horrified, she allowed her shield to snap back into place around her. That part, at least, had become easy.

"Sorry!" she exclaimed, but Marcus only laughed.

"Do not worry, kórā mou, you will get there. You have amazing control already for one so young. Expanding your shield to include others will be a boon, but it is not your most important task. If we are to take you out into the world within your newborn year, reinforcing it to block sound or smell would be far more valuable."

"Yes, but we've been working on that for a week and I haven't succeeded in doing either of those things, either," she said, despondently. She hated that he was still speaking of her newborn year. As if she could wait even half that time. It had already been forty-one days since Victoria had dragged her out of Forks. She didn't think she could stand to wait much longer.

"No, but you have made progress in your general control over it. More progress will come with time and practice." Marcus's response was only slightly reassuring.

"I suppose so."

"Indeed, you can be assured I am correct. We have trained many vampires to develop their gifts over the centuries. Each one is different, but each one requires practice to understand. So—practise. Practise seeing your shield in all the ways we have talked about." Marcus picked up a small box he had left at the door when he arrived.

"I have a present for you," he told her, placing the box on one of the room's two armchairs. "I told you, you will also need to practise moving as a human, managing your strength and speed."

"I thought I was doing okay with that," she said. "I haven't broken any of the taps yet, like you said I would!"

He laughed at that, and she couldn't help smiling in response. He had been so serious during her first weeks in Volterra, but he seemed to laugh more often now, and it made her happy to see it.

"No," he allowed. "And you only broke the door handle twice." He chuckled again. "I suppose you are doing well, but there isn't much breakable in here, and generally, once you perfect something once, you should have it perfect forever—an advantage of the vampire brain."

He stooped down to open the box and started pulling out a seemingly random selection of items.

"What is all this?" she asked.

"A whole selection of different things for you to practise with," he said. "You have perfected dressing yourself and turning taps on and off. Now you may try handling a pencil, paper, play dough, modelling clay—" he lifted each one out and handed it to her as he mentioned it, finishing with a bottle of bubble mixture "—and this will be fun I think. First you may practise blowing bubbles. Then, you practise catching them." He pulled out some paints and paintbrushes next, along with a few glass jars and another handful of pencils, and placed them all on the other chair.

"You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I have some kind of artistic skills," she says wryly. "I assure you, I don't!"

But Marcus only laughed again.

"It is about the process, kórā mou, not the product," he assured her. "Though you may be surprised by how your skills have changed since you last held a paint brush or pencil."

"Okay," she agreed. It would be nice to have something new to try anyway.

"Good. Practise," Marcus said. "As you've already found, once you get the pressure right for any particular task, you will have it memorised. But playing with lots of different textures like this will also help you with other objects as you come across them."

"If it's so easy to memorise, why do I still make such a mess of feeding?" she asked.

"Ah, well that comes down to self-control. Something you have an enormous amount of, for a newborn, but still not as much as you need if you want to leave here."

She grimaced, but held her piece. She felt controlled almost all the time, and she knew she could stop herself from feeding if she had to—she had done it before after all—but her self-control while she was feeding wasn't something she could be proud of.

"Practise," Marcus said again. "I will see you tomorrow."

"Yes, Marcus."

.

Marcus had been spending more and more time with Bella as he attempted to train her to use her shield over the past weeks. 'Attempted' being the operative word, she thought wryly, as her success rate was, well, non-existent really.

She enjoyed his company though. He encouraged her to talk about both human lives she remembered. And not only about Jasper, or the Cullens, but about her families and friends as well.

Already she found some memories were hard to bring into focus. Marcus had explained that it was largely because all her senses were so much more acute now, it made all the sense aspects of her memories seem blurry in comparison. Once he explained, she remembered Jasper telling her something similar, when he'd first explained his not recognising her.

"But if you focus on the emotions," Marcus had told her, "and the story, if you like, of a memory, then you can cement those into your new improved brain space, even if the images are unclear."

So that's what she'd tried to do, and he was an expert at drawing the stories out of her.

When she tried to return the favour though, he either clammed up completely, or skilfully turned the subject. She felt she was getting to know him in some ways—she'd learned he was both kind and patient as a teacher, empathetic as a listener, and always encouraging as the friend and almost father figure he was becoming—but she had discovered very little of his personal history.

He was always happy to talk about vampire history in general though, and had even told her a little of how he, Aro, and Caius had ended up as the rulers of vampire kind. He'd also become much less formal over the weeks since he'd finally given in and brought her those first deer. She noticed that he'd even started to use more modern sounding English and the occasional Americanism, though he also still called her by what she now guessed must be Ancient Greek pet names. She wondered if he'd ever spent time in conversation with an English speaking vampire before. Carlisle had lived there for a time of course (though his English would have been closer to Shakespeare's than to hers, she supposed), but some comments he and also Aro had let drop implied that he hadn't been very sociable for a long time. Since Didyme had died, she supposed. And even now, if their conversations ever touched on his more personal memories, he immediately directed conversation back to her own story.

She wondered if it was because he'd lost his mate. Was it simply too painful to even touch on a memory that she may have been part of?

On one occasion she asked him to tell her more about the vampire concept of mates.

"Jasper told me that vampires tend to go crazy if they lose their mate, but he also promised he would wait for me to be reborn, if something happened before he could change me..." Marcus's frown was not encouraging, but he didn't shut her down, so she kept going. "I don't feel like I'm crazy...I was just wondering if it was hope that made the difference? And that's why he assumed he'd be okay to wait for me as well?"

"Bella," Marcus began, before pausing. "Kórā mou," he began again, "I really cannot guess at Jasper's thoughts. But it is possible hope is helping to keep you functioning. It may also be possible that you feel the bond differently, because it was formed when you were human, and not as a vampire."

"Oh." She hadn't thought of that. "But..." she trailed off. Why had she been reincarnated in the first place, she wondered? She was convinced that she wouldn't have been, if Jasper had stayed human, or at least not with the weird aspects to it, like looking the same, and being given almost the same name each time. Not to mention the dreams.

"I wonder if humans are reincarnated all the time, just without all the weird dreams to alert them to their previous selves?" she said aloud. "And if they are... I wonder if vampires are too?"

She looked at Marcus and saw that he'd frozen, much the same way she'd seen Jasper do under extreme stress, his face expressionless.

"Marcus?"

He unfroze and looked at her with a frown.

"I believe we should try again," he said. "You will never gain control over your shield without practice." Too late, she realised he must have been thinking of his own mate.

"Sorry," she said quietly, but he was already moving to the door.

"Felix," he called to the oversized vampire, as he opened the door, "bring Jane here. I think we may need her talents. And bring Gianna too."

It concerned Bella that he was involving the Volturi's human secretary, but she trusted Marcus not to do anything too dreadful. Didn't she? On second thoughts—"You're not planning on using Gianna's blood somehow, are you?"

Marcus frowned. "Of course not." He sounded offended.

"Okay, good. Sorry," she said.

They waited in silence for a while, and then Marcus seemed to rouse himself. "You've met Jane, but did Aro explain her gift to you, Belloula?"

"No," she replied. "He just told me he wanted to test something and then told them both to 'see what they could do'. Nothing happened, and they both seemed put out, but he just laughed, and then took them away."

"Hmm. I suppose he did not want you prepared, though it clearly made no difference."

"I assume they both have offensive talents?"

"Quite. Aro found them many centuries ago, when they were about to be burned at the stake as witches. I've never enquired what talents they had as humans to make people fear them, but Aro had already singled them out to be changed when they were older, so when they were threatened, he saved them and razed the village. As vampires, their gifts developed quite quickly, though their skills have deepened over time. Jane can cause extreme pain—or the illusion of it—and Alec can block the senses: all of them. So his victims are left in a void, unable to feel, see, smell or hear. They can't even feel their own bodies, to make them move."

Bella felt her eyes widen, and knew she would have felt the blood drain from her face if she was human. "Marcus, what are you going to have Jane do?"

He just chuckled. "Don't worry paidi mou, she won't do any permanent harm."

During the following hour, conversation was limited to Marcus barking instructions and Bella, Jane, Felix and Gianna trying to follow them. Or more precisely, everyone except Bella following them perfectly while Bella tried and failed to extend her shield to protect another person, over and over again.

Jane continually turned her power on either Felix or Gianna, and once even on Marcus, at his instruction. It was clear they suffered extreme pain each time she did so, but Bella was unable to cover them with her shield, no matter how many times she tried.

In the end her frustration got the best of her, and her shield expanded to push everyone away, as she screamed in fury.

"Stop!" she cried out. "No more, Marcus! I can't do it. It doesn't matter how much you have Jane torture them, I can't do it! And if you don't take Gianna away soon, I am probably going to eat her!"

Felix chuckled. "I'll believe that when I see it," he said. "You don't have it in you to eat her, even if you have let her be tortured with no remorse."

"Ugh!" She growled at Felix. "Go away, all of you! I'm sorry, Gianna, Felix probably deserves Jane's torture, but I would protect you if I could. But I can't!"

"It's not as though I was doing it at full strength," Jane muttered, frowning. "Maybe we should try that though."

"Don't!" Bella exclaimed, seeing the fear suddenly present in Gianna's grimace. "Jane, don't! I'm warning you. Unless you want to use it on Marcus!"

"Bella," Marcus gave her a mock growl. "I'm hurt."

"Yeah, well, you will be if you use yourself as a guinea pig, 'cause I won't even try at this point. You better find another way to train me Marcus. Don't bring Jane again. I won't cooperate."

"Thanks a lot," Jane said. "I guess I know when I'm not wanted." She turned her nose in the air in mock indignation and turned towards the door. Bella had a sudden sense though that her joking hid actual hurt.

"Wait, Jane," she said, impulsively. "If you wanted to come back without the others—just, you know...to chat or something..." She trailed off, unable to read the expression on the older vampire's deceptively young face. She looked almost shocked. Maybe that sort of thing just wasn't done. She hadn't had any exposure to the wider vampire population at Volterra, and really, it had only been Marcus or one of the other leaders who had spoken to her directly, before today. She took a deep breath, glad she couldn't blush anymore. "I mean...only if you wanted to."

But Jane was smiling now, if only slightly. "Sure," she replied. She looked to Marcus. "If that is acceptable, Master?"

Marcus looked a little dubious.

"What?" Bella asked, defiantly. "You said I'm not a prisoner, so...?"

Marcus studied her, and she stared back at him, wondering what he was looking for.

"Yes," he said eventually, "that is probably a good idea . But Jane, you will take care not to antagonise Bella. She is still a newborn."

"Of course, Master," Jane agreed. Bella frowned, somewhat offended by his lack of faith in her, but decided holding her peace was the best choice for now. It might be nice to make another friend here. And she had a feeling it might be nice for Jane too.

"For now though, Jane, please escort Gianna back to her desk. And Felix, you may go also."

Once they had left, he turned back to Bella.

"That was kind," he surprised her by saying. "But I imagine your throat is painful by now, paidi mou," he added. That brought her attention to the burning in her throat. It was a little worse, after all the effort she'd put in, but she thought it was perhaps not as bad as it had been even a week ago. Still, when Marcus indicated she could feed from the deer tied up in the corner, she welcomed the chance to have something soothing.

"Slowly," Marcus added, but he needn't have bothered. She was determined to be slow and careful in her drinking this time. Maybe she couldn't control her shield, but she could work on her control in other areas.

.

After a few more days of feeding twice daily, Bella had gained significantly more control. "Well, kórā mou," Marcus addressed her in the familiar way she had become used to, although she still didn't understand the term of endearment. "That went well. I believe that was your most controlled feed yet. And while you are well fed and thinking clearly, there is something I need to discuss with you."

She looked down at herself and saw that there wasn't a drop of blood on her shirt, for the first time. Usually Marcus would have someone come and remove the deer carcass and she would shower and change immediately after feeding, but evidently he had something on his mind.

"Okay," she said, sitting down in one of the armchairs, and inviting the older vampire to take the other with a wave of her hand.

"Bella, I know you have said you need to go to Forks to see the Cullens mostly for closure —"

"And to find out if Jasper could have been reborn already. To make sure his family are looking for him," she interrupted. "I don't think they'll assume that he's coming back, but I'm certain he will. They need to know that."

"Yes, and that I do understand. But I'm concerned that...well, that you are hoping for something else. That you are hoping to find Jasper alive and waiting for you."

She swallowed convulsively. It was true. As much as she continually pushed the thought down, afraid of false hope, there was a part of her that refused to believe Jasper could really be gone.

"I'm worried," Marcus added, "about the effect on you when you arrive if that is what you're expecting. You know what happens to vampires who are deemed to be out of control."

"That won't happen, Marcus, I promise. I know what you're saying but—I'm prepared for whatever happens. I know Jasper will come back to me, one way or another."

Marcus looked at her, frowning. "You know, we don't have phones in Volterra—I've explained to you before, we prefer to communicate directly, so that my gift and Aro's can be used as needed—but I could have one of the guard procure a phone for you. Instead of going to Forks, you could simply call Carlisle—"

"No!" Bella's refusal was instant and unthinking. She had to go to Forks personally. She just had to. Besides, what if the Cullens didn't want to see her? What if they said that over the phone? Then Marcus would never let her return, or not soon anyway.

No, she needed to be there. And if—she mentally steadied herself—if Jasper was really dead, she'd rather be in Forks when that fact became real. Marcus might think there'd be more danger in her discovering that outside the safety of Volterra, but he was wrong. There, she could focus her grief into searching for his rebirth. And Alice would support her, she was almost certain. Alice wouldn't blame her.

And Alice must know she was all right, she'd probably seen Bella's arrival, if not visions of her at Volterra. So there was no need to call. She just needed to focus on developing enough control for Marcus to let her go.

.

Marcus considered the young vampire before him. She was so sure her mate would be born again, and indeed, if her memories were true it did seem that she had lived multiple times already. Was it possible? In all his centuries he'd never seen any clear evidence that reincarnation was more than a figment of human imagination. And the idea that a vampire could be reincarnated—it went against all traditional belief in the final death being just that: final.

But it was enticing. What if—he could hardly voice the thought, even to himself. But. What if it were possible? What if a dead mate could be reincarnated? What would that mean?

The idea that Didyme—it was still agonising even to think her name—could have been reborn endless times, never to find him... The very thought had him gripping his teeth and holding himself immobile, lest he destroy something.

But the possibilities that came with that idea...if he went out into the world, if he opened himself up to finding her again...could he do it?

Bella's experience was clearly unique, or at least highly unusual. If people made a habit of being reborn with identical faces, birthdays, similar names...not to mention her memories—if that happened regularly people would certainly notice. But what if those aspects of her situation were unique, but rebirth in some form wasn't?

What if she was right, that Jasper would be reborn and would find her?

Could Didyme also come back?

.

Alice was struggling with her inability to see the fight, Jasper could tell. Her emotions were all over the place, but frustration was high among them.

They all hoped that Peter's insight that some of the wolves (at least) would die without Jasper's training meant they would all survive, since Jasper had now involved himself. But their trust in Peter's knowledge was not at its highest, and besides, he hadn't explicitly assured them of that.

But it was also her lack of visions from after the fight that was eating at Alice. She'd seen glimpses, but nothing certain. The most the glimpses could tell her was that none of their deaths were a sure thing. But that could only be marginally reassuring, since the lack of visions also implied that none of their lives were assured either.

Between training sessions Jasper spent most of his time in his room, staring at the wall, or cataloguing blades of grass through the window, to keep his mind as close to blank as he could. For hours of each day he gave in to the temptation to think of Bella. To relive their every interaction, right up until the day before Victoria took her. The last moments were off limits: of trying to protect her, desperately injecting his venom into her bloodstream, of having her torn away from him. Of realising that he'd failed her. As soon as his mind strayed to that morning the whole family knew, since he lost control of his gift and shared the anguish with them all.

The last two times he'd surrendered to the temptation to think of that day, Edward had been in his room talking to him, distracting him, almost before a moment had passed. He must be monitoring Jasper's thoughts closely, but the grief-stricken vampire couldn't find it in himself to mind. He simply tried to focus on his earlier interactions with her. As if reliving them over and over again could make the grief of her loss any less.

But in the lead up to training each night, he tried to rein his thoughts in, focussing on counting grass or cataloguing the family's emotions, not allowing himself to get lost in his memories. That was only allowed as a reward for participating in training.

During one period when he was focused on his family, Jasper heard Alice call Peter.

"How long Peter?" she asked by way of greeting. "Do you have any more clarity?"

"I think it will be soon." Peter's voice sounded almost as clear to Jasper's enhanced hearing as if they were in the same room. "The Denali's will be there soon?"

"Yes," Alice replied. "They've left Alaska already, but they're hunting on the way and travelling slowly. They should be here in a few days."

"Good. Char and I will head up there next week. Make sure those wolves are prepared for us, won't you?"

"They're ready. They're not happy about it, but they accept that you're on our side, and that having you there makes it more likely that they will all survive, so they're okay with it."

"Besides," Edward added, "they still feel guilty about..." he paused as though he didn't want to say her name. As though Jasper wasn't aware of why they felt guilty. As though the same guilt didn't eat at him for every second of every day. As though he might forget her absence if it wasn't mentioned.

As though he were the mind reader, Peter replied, "Yeah, their guilt over Bella is helpful in this context, though probably to them more than anyone. They're the ones with the biggest risk in this fight, for the most part."

.

As Jasper prepared for that night's training session, he thought over the conversation he'd had with Alice, after he had finally agreed to train the wolves.

"I would have thought you'd relish the chance for revenge against Maria," she'd said. "After all, she was the one who took you away from Bella in the first place, and very possibly she also gave Victoria the tools to create her army. And now she's coming specifically to kill you before you can join with your mate. Don't you want to take her out?"

He didn't care so much about Maria wanting to kill him, particularly. But the reminder that she had taken him away from Bella in the first place was the best way to motivate his ire. Not to mention the possibility that she had been involved in Victoria successfully killing her in this life as well. While he spent most of the day focussed on not thinking about Bella's death, as they headed to the training field he allowed himself to consider Maria's culpability, until he had worked himself into true rage.

He would destroy her, and anyone who stood with her. He allowed the rage to focus his emotions into a precision tool. By the time the wolves arrived, he knew they saw him as an ice tower. He'd overheard one of the younger ones commenting on his lack of emotion, but he didn't care. His fury was his strength. Whoever he was working with had his entire focus and he held back nothing, beyond the killing stroke. They would hold their own against Maria's army, and he would end Maria himself.


Author note & recommendations:

Thanks so much for staying with me and for all the reviews from the past 18 months asking me to update! I'm so sorry it has taken this long, but I am super grateful to anyone who is still here.

And welcome to new readers! Please do say hello!

If you're wondering when the next three chapters will be published, look at my author note up top.

Meanwhile, here are some recs for you. If you enjoy them, please leave a comment and tell them I sent you! As an author, I know it feels pretty great to know you are being mentioned. :)

A few WIPs I'm enjoying:

Sing me to Sleep by WellThisisSomething is a Bella/Rosalie story, with a twist. It's a bit slow to update, but not as slow as Repetitive Dreams, lol. Twenty-five chapters since it started in 2020.

Home is Where Your Teeth Sink, Love by bludaze is a (relatively) new Bella/Jasper story that is being updated regularly! It is a non-canon set up, and a very different Jasper. I am enjoying it a lot!

Beneath the Weeping Sky by CygnusRift is a Bella/Carlisle story. Again, a very non-canon set up. It is rather slower to update, but there have been 27 chapters published in the last two years, so that's a lot better than some of us…

And finally, some original fiction that is on Kindle Unlimited that I have absolutely loved this year – anything by Annette Marie, but especially her Red Winter trilogy. But seriously, I have read everything she's published and I love *all* of them!