At last, here is the next chapter of my little story. It took longer that I planned, and I'm not going to make any excuses for that. Thank you for putting up with me and my slow updates, though.
Disclaimer: Even after all this time, the Twilight world is not mine. That honor belongs solely to Stephenie Meyer. I have no claim to it.
A/N: Thank you once again to the fabulous NoMoreThanUsual. Her suggestions on this chapter helped more than she knows, and she has, once again, spared me the embarrassment of runaway quotation marks and breaches of canon while still making me laugh like a lunatic. She definitely deserves some praise for her own stories; they are as wonderful as she is.
"He's tracking us," I announced, glaring at him as my own thoughts echoed my brother's.
"I was afraid of that," Laurent replied, his thoughts focused on the shame he felt at being a part of James's coven. We made them a promise, and he was too selfish to keep it. He should have at least waited until she was out of their range.
Alice, meanwhile, had slipped to Jasper's side, explaining that he and she would be fleeing to Phoenix with Bella. At first, he was uncertain about the plan, worried about his own control, afraid that he would become the very thing from which we sought to protect Bella. Alice simply continued to talk to him. Her words showed her utter trust in him, her total belief that he would never hurt Bella himself. Once he was reassured, they disappeared upstairs to prepare for the trip.
Rosalie overheard enough of the conversation for her anger to boil over. She went to Emmett's side, her thoughts screaming abuse at both Bella and myself as she prepared to fight to keep her husband by her side. She's nothing; she's just a human. She has no right to divide our family like this – to upsetmy life like this. I won't let you take Emmett from me. Not because of her. And now we're all in danger. Just to protect a human who's going to die someday anyways. You should just let the tracker have her, Edward. She's nothing to us.
"What will he do?" Carlisle demanded coldly. He was angrier than even I have ever seen him. This coven is threatening my family. I cannot allow it.
"I'm sorry," Laurent replied. "I was afraid, when your boy there defended her, that it would set him off."
"Can you stop him?"
Laurent simply shook his head. "Nothing stops James when he gets started."
"We'll stop him," my brother said, supremely confident. There won't be anything left of him.
"You can't bring him down." I've seen many try. They all failed. And most of them lived for the fight, like James. Pacifists like these have no chance against him. These are not fighters. He'll destroy them all. I have to make them understand what they're going up against. I owe them that much. "I've never seen anything like him in my three hundred years. He's absolutely lethal. That's why I joined his coven."
Ah, now it was out. The show of leadership in the clearing was exactly that – a show, designed to let others underestimate James. That was one mistake my family would not make. Bella's life hung in the balance.
Laurent just shook his head, looking from Bella to Carlisle and back again. "Are you sure it's worth it?" I can't see how it would be. She's only a human. Nothing special. I don't understand why they have her here when they clearly have no intention of tasting her. They believe in that ridiculous 'diet' of theirs too strongly for that. Don't they understand? There's no need to fight James if they'd just take her now. No human, no fight. It's so much simpler. And she smells so delectable, especially with the smell of her fear surrounding her. L'arôme de la peur – c'est irresistible. (1)
I lost control of myself then, filling the room with an enraged roar. How dared he think of my Bella like that! His fear was strangely satisfying. Even his thoughts fell silent as he cringed away from me.
Carlisle's gaze was grave as he focused on Laurent again. "I'm afraid you're going to have to make a choice," he said, his voice calm but stiff with hidden iron. Please don't force us to make the choice for you. I won't hesitate to destroy you if it keeps my family safe.
Laurent understood Carlisle as though he shared my talent. His eyes scanned every face, weighing his chances of getting away from us. He knew that the effort would be futile. Then he let his gaze sweep over the room. It's so bright. I haven't even imagined living like this for a very long time. Frankly, I'm a bit tired of being nomadic. I like the life they've created here, even if I don't understand it. It would be nice to come 'home' for a while. "I'm intrigued by the life you've created here," he said slowly. "But I won't get in the middle of this." Ce ne sont pas mes affaires. (2) It isn't my fight. She is none of my concern, and I won't risk myself. "I bear none of you any enmity, but I won't go up against James. I think I will head north—to that clan in Denali." He hesitated. It isn't my fight, but even I can't let them go against James unprepared. "Don't underestimate James. He's got a brilliant mind and unparalleled senses. He's every bit as comfortable in the human world as you seem to be, and he won't come at you head on…. I'm sorry for what's been unleashed here. Truly sorry." He bowed his head, but shot another glance at my Bella. Now if I could only figure out what makes an entire coven of vampires willing to risk their lives for a single human….
Edward, is he telling the truth about going to Denali? Carlisle asked me quickly. We can't let him go if he's lying to regroup with the others. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be outnumbered.
I nodded imperceptibly in answer. His thoughts were entirely focused on Denali, and what he would do once he arrived there. He wanted nothing more to do with James. Truthfully, if Laurent were lying I'd have already ripped his throat out.
"Go in peace," Carlisle said, his tone formal. Thank you for making that choice. I would have destroyed you, with no regrets had you chosen differently. I am grateful that I do not have to do so.
Laurent glanced around quickly one last time, and then hurried out the door.
When he was gone, a flurry of activity began.
"How close?" Carlisle demanded, looking to me. He was supremely calm, for which I was thankful.
Esme darted over to the wall; her fingers dancing over the buttons that would help keep our sanctuary whole. With a groan, the metal shutters began sealing up the glass at the back of our home.
"About three miles out past the river; he's circling around to meet up with the female." He was just barely within my 'hearing' range. That was far too close.
"What's the plan?" I assume you have one.
"We'll lead him off, and then Jasper and Alice will run her south." I explained Bella's plan. I still hated it, but my rational side knew that it had the best chance of success.
You're not going with Bella? I'm surprised. I didn't think you'd let her out of your sight. Then again, I suppose the tracker would assume the same thing. Out loud he asked, "And then?"
"As soon as Bella is clear, we hunt him." My tone was calm, but deadly. I wanted the tracker gone. He would not threaten my family, my love, for much longer.
"I guess there's no other choice," Carlisle agreed, his expression grim. As much as I dislike the idea, he will not give up. Hunting him before he can hunt her is the only acceptable option. I am joining in the hunt.
He caught my start of surprise.
Edward, did you really believe that I would let you do this by yourself? I do not enjoy conflict, but sometimes there is no other option. This is one of those times. We must protect our family.
I turned to Rosalie.
"Get her upstairs and trade clothes," I ordered. She stared back at me, unable to believe that I'd asked, no, commanded, that of her. She was beyond livid.
"Why should I?" she hissed, venom dripping from her tone. "What is she to me? Except a menace—a danger you've chosen to inflict on all of us." You were too weak to stay away from her, too stupidly moral to bite her. You brought her into our world, risked exposing all of us. I told you something like this would happen. Now we'll all pay for your brainless choice. Why should I do anything to help her? She is nothing to me! The sooner she's dead the sooner my life will go back to normal.
"Rose…," Emmett murmured, reaching out to touch her shoulder. Rose, please be reasonable. You might not like her, but that is no reason to condemn her to death….
Rosalie expected me to explode. She wanted Bella to see me lose my temper, in hopes of scaring her away and destroying my relationship with her. If there was anything left after tonight. That was doubtful, at this point. But I was so far beyond angry that such an explosion was impossible. Instead, I shocked my entire family by turning away from her, acting like she hadn't spoken, like she didn't exist. For Rosalie, it was the most hurtful thing I could have done.
"Esme?" I said calmly instead.
"Of course," she said softly. I don't want to see her hurt any more than you do, Edward. And you know that Rose really doesn't want to see her hurt, either.
A moment later, Esme disappeared with Bella in her arms.
"We need to get the tracker away from here before we can get her out," Carlisle said, his voice soft.
"The best option is to have Esme and Rosalie take her truck and flee in one direction, while you, Emmett, and I head off in another," he continued, outlining our plan.
"Yes. And once we know that they are no longer near the house, Alice and Jasper will take her to Phoenix. It is the last place he will expect her to go, especially in the company of vampires."
Rosalie snarled, "I'm not going along with that plan. Why should we even care? She is a human. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, thanks to Edward's idiocy. Why should we risk ourselves for her?" The venom still hadn't faded from my sister's voice. She was absolutely livid.
So was Carlisle. "We will risk ourselves because it is our fault that she crossed their path. We have a duty to protect her if we can. She is an innocent in this, and I refuse to let her die."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Rose demanded. "She is not one of us; she should mean nothing to us. Humans die every day. Who are we to interfere with her fate?"
"Your brother loves her. She is, therefore, family. You will help save her."
"You will do as I say. Emmett, get your things together. We leave as soon as Esme comes back with her."
"Carlisle…." Rosalie began.
"Enough." Carlisle's eyes flashed with the same rarely- seen fury from earlier. "I will permit no more argument."
With that, Emmett and I scattered to grab anything we might need, stuffing it into a small backpack that Emmett flung over his back. It was then that Esme appeared at the bottom of the stairs with Bella in her arms.
My Bella looked a bit like a child who had decided to play dress- up in her mother's closet; everything was much too long for her. And yet, she'd never been more beautiful to me, bravery shining in her eyes. Leaving her would kill me, but at least I would be able to see her again in a few days.
As I stared at my Bella, Carlisle had retrieved and passed out several tiny silver cell phones, kept in case we needed to contact one another.
"Esme and Rosalie will be taking your truck, Bella," he told her as he passed. She nodded and flashed a quick glance at Rosalie, who was glowering still. Even she had more sense than to argue further with Carlisle, though. She would play her part in this, no matter what her personal preferences were. We didn't argue with the tone that had been in Carlisle's voice.
"Alice and Jasper—take the Mercedes. You'll need the dark tint in the south."
They nodded as well, having returned at some point during the argument between Rosalie and Carlisle.
"We're taking the Jeep."
My heart broke when I saw the fear flash in Bella's eyes. I wished I knew the words to ease that fear, but I felt too much of it myself to do her any good.
"Alice," Carlisle asked, "will they take the bait?"
Alice closed her eyes, seeking her visions. I saw it flash behind her eyes even as she did. It was going to work.
Finally, she opened her eyes. "He'll track you," she replied. "The woman will follow the truck. We should be able to leave after that." She was supremely confident, able to trust what she'd seen. I only wished that I could be so certain. I couldn't help but remember that Alice's visions could change in an instant. She wasn't infallible; a single decision could change everything that she saw.
"Let's go," Carlisle ordered, heading for the kitchen.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't just leave Bella to face danger without me. What was it she'd said earlier? 'It won't be all right when I'm not with you'. I understood exactly what she meant, and, for a moment, I was tempted to run with her on my own, to keep her with me. To keep her safe in my arms.
Then a new vision flashed through Alice's mind. We saw the tracker finding and destroying me while Bella watched, and then slowly torturing her before finally drinking her dry. I couldn't bear letting that vision come true, so I caught her tightly in my arms instead, pulling her face to mine and lifting her feet off the floor. I was barely aware of my family as I crushed my lips to hers for a brief moment. Too brief, but I didn't trust myself with more.
I set her down and turned away, wondering if I'd ever see her again. The thought of losing her hurt more than I'd ever imagined anything could hurt.
I strode out the door, unable to shake the feeling that I'd left my heart behind
French: "The scent of fear—it is irresistible". Also, "The spice of fear—it is irresistible." The word 'arôme' is a bit ambiguous.
French: "It is none of my business"; "It is not my concern"
Thank you for having the patience to continue reading, I appreciate it. I hope I don't disappoint anyone with my vision of what is happening here.
Hopefully, the next update won't take quite so long, but I'll make no promises. I end up breaking them most of the time, anyway.