Chapter 10: Doctor
Once Jasper was convinced that Alice was really there, he clung to her so tightly and so desperately that I wondered if he was sane enough not to hurt her, even believing she lived. They were murmuring to each other, but I couldn't make out the words, and they probably weren't any of my business. I kept my distance. Charlotte peered at me, curiosity gleaming in black eyes.
"Are you Elspeth?" Charlotte asked me, as though she was asking if I was a sasquatch.
I nodded. Charlotte didn't have Daddy's and Alice's excuse of having been force-fed. I'd never met a friendly deliberate-person-eating vampire before, only vegetarians and Volturi and their prisoners. But I wasn't a human, and she wouldn't eat me, and Mama had met friendly person-eating vampires before and even gotten one to stop eating people... I decided it would be okay to talk to Charlotte. And she was really a stranger, not someone who ought to be family and wouldn't act like it, and that was something I felt like I needed in the absence of a real friend. "You must be Charlotte," I said.
She nodded and tiptoed closer to me, not blinking. I felt like a museum piece. "Y'know, I wouldn't've believed you were real if Alice 'n Jasper hadn't mentioned you before he went bonkers and she seemed prob'ly dead," she said. She spoke in such a casual drawl that I decided she had to be affecting it deliberately. "You're nifty. Say, there's this one time where Jasper was babbling about seein' Bella but then he made up his mind she weren't real, or real but not Bella. That really her?"
"Yeah," I said. "He tried to kill her."
"What." That was Daddy, cold anger taking over his face instantly at the idea that Mama's life had been in danger.
Jasper hissed and backed up, ushering Alice behind his back as though to shield her even though she wasn't the one Daddy was mad at.
"Did you try to kill my wife?" Daddy demanded, stalking in Jasper's direction.
"She got away!" I exclaimed. "He didn't try very hard, he was completely out of his mind, she got away, Daddy!"
Daddy didn't approach Jasper any closer, and Jasper didn't try to answer the question - or not out loud, anyway. He could be thinking an answer. Daddy let out a small hiss and looked to Alice, who was peeking under Jasper's arm. "Alice," he said. "We had a deal. Where is Bella?"
Oh, I thought, of course, I'm not with Mama, Alice will be able to see her. I didn't need to speculate about where she'd go after all.
"Looks like... Canada, maybe Saskatchewan or something, but I'm guessing from plants, there aren't any signs," said Alice, wrapping her arms around Jasper's waist. "She'll be in Denali in a couple of days if she doesn't stop or change her mode of transportation." Alice paused and wondered aloud, "Why is she bald?" Daddy's eye twitched.
"Did she try calling the family?" I asked.
"I don't see her doing it, so she's not going to, but I can't tell you whether she did already," said Alice. "Is the reason she's bald something that will make Edward angry? Because if so, go right ahead and don't mention it."
I nodded, clamping down on my thoughts as best I could. "Do the Denalis expect her?"
"Nope," said Alice. "They're going to be very surprised - barring interference from us, of course. Kate's going to try to knock her over as a test - it won't work, Edward, calm down. I guess we could beat her there, if we take another plane, but I can't... think... how we got on the first one..." She furrowed her brow. I couldn't quite figure out how we'd managed it either. The process had been pretty trivial, no significant obstacles to anyone noticing us and objecting to our stowing away.
"I helped," said Allirea, fading in. Jasper, Peter, and Charlotte all startled.
"Will you stop fading out when it's not necessary?" demanded Daddy.
"That is my state of rest," Allirea replied. "It requires effort to fade in. I will expend that effort when it is necessary but not otherwise. I can get three, perhaps even four of you onto an airplane," she went on, "but six will be difficult, if these will join us." She nodded at Peter and Charlotte.
"Alice, can you see Carlisle and Esme?" asked Daddy. "Where are they? Is it a house we know the numbers for...? You never looked at them while we were -"
"Well, I was a little busy watching Jasper," she snapped. She closed her eyes. "No, it's a new house. Either that or Esme completely remodeled the Montana place and knocked down most of the trees outside. I think it's a new house." Jasper ruffled her hair fondly and she purred, then went on, "Carlisle's at work. Hospital is called... aha, they're on Prince Edward Island."
"Do you see the hospital's number written down anywhere?" Daddy asked impatiently. "We could have him paged - without getting ahold of him there's no obvious way to get plane tickets -"
"Tickets? So these two will join us?" Allirea asked, tilting her head. "Why?"
"I agreed to no such thing," said Peter, sounding taken aback. "Edward, what are you thinking?"
Daddy smirked. It was not a nice smile at all. "The Volturi have vastly overstepped their bounds."
"If you're trying to pull us into an open rebellion because they tried to kill your wife -" Peter began.
"Tell me, Peter," said Daddy scathingly, "what exactly do you think kept Alice away from Jasper for more than five years? I thought Bella was dead; Alice didn't have that problem. You don't think she was spending all that time sunning herself on the beach without a care in the world?"
And then Daddy explained where he and Alice had been, and Jasper, clutching at his mate like she could be perfectly protected if only he held her close enough, let a truly awful snarl erupt from his throat, making the air buzz with anger. I felt a little alien flare of it in myself, and wondered if he was letting his empathy push it into the world accidentally. Or on purpose.
Peter was backing away, and Charlotte trotted to his side, but Jasper twisted his head about to look at them. "I am calling in my favor," he said.
"I, I think we may've more than repaid you these last years," volunteered Charlotte, dancing behind her mate. "Weren't a picnic, y'see -"
"I would have done the same for either of you if it had been either of you," said Jasper implacably. "That was because we are friends. This is because I am calling in my favor."
"Jasper," Peter began.
"Peter," mocked Jasper, fury in his eyes. "They tortured my Alice for five years to have the use of her power when she wouldn't work for them. If they'd done that to Charlotte -"
"For the love of God, don't say such things," cried Peter. "And I haven't a favor to call anyway and Charlotte's no witch!"
"I have," said Jasper. "Alice is. I'm calling it. I will have your help in getting revenge on those who hurt my Alice."
"What favor...?" I asked blankly.
"Oh - oh," said Charlotte helplessly. "He - he let us run away, when I was near done being a newborn, Elspeth." She gulped. "When he was s'posed to kill me, he let me go with Peter."
"I don't quite follow..." I said.
Jasper cut in. "It was once commonplace, especially in the South, to settle disputes between covens by creating armies of newborns. I was turned for that reason, and kept on by my creator to manage newer vampires because of my gift. Peter was one who lasted a bit longer than most; by and large I was obliged to destroy the newborns as they came to the end of their strength. Peter was helping me with that task one night, but he didn't like it when I called Charlotte over, and he told her to run and followed after her. I didn't chase them," he said. "Our creator wasn't happy with me at all, but I let them go. Five years later, they came back for me. I left with them, because I was beginning to think my creator would turn on me, and Peter said..." Jasper turned to look at Peter. "He said that I had saved their lives, that they owed me, that if I needed anything above and beyond the normal support and companionship of a coven I was entitled to a favor. And I didn't call it in, and then I found Alice and we left to join the Cullens, and I still hadn't called it in, and then we came back, and now I know what I want, Peter."
Peter passed his hand over his eyes and sighed. "Damn you, Jasper, all right."
"The hospital's number, please, Alice," said Daddy, "and your phone, Charlotte, if you don't mind."
Daddy started to dial the number, then handed the phone to me at the last minute. "Perhaps you'd better talk to him," he said. "It would probably cause a delay if Alice or I had to personally explain to him what Chelsea did. You're unaffected - and haven't spent the last several years insane." I took the phone and finished dialing, though my fingers felt numb.
"Souris Hospital," said a human woman's voice, mechanical and bored. "How may I direct your call?"
"I - I - I need to speak to Dr. Cullen, please," I said. "I'm - tell him it's Elspeth. Please."
"Dr. Cullen is with a pati- Doctor?" said the woman. "I thought you were down the hall with Mrs. -"
"May I have the phone?" asked Grandpa's voice, firm but full of gentleness even in his hurry, and I imagined he'd heard my name from farther away than he should have let on and abandoned his work lest I hang up and never call again.
"I can transfer her to your office," offered the human, and Grandpa said that would do, and she told me, "One moment please," and a moment later he was actually on the phone.
"Elspeth?" he asked softly. "Is that really you?"
"It's really me," I said. And then words came out of me in a great rush, and every sentence was accompanied by the relief of the secret's death. I had grown up so smothered by secrets, even when I was very small and only had to pretend in front of neighbors, there were always things to hide or omit or just lie about and I hated that, it wasn't natural, and in spite of everything I could not completely regret the events that were letting me tell tell tell every bit over and over to everyone I loved.
I told Grandpa that Mama had taken me, not some unknown kidnapper. I told him how Mama had survived, how we'd lived together in hiding. I told him how we'd been separated and how I'd found Jacob's pack and what had happened there and about Pera. I told him about Cody's departure and our trip to New York and how we'd been caught. Allirea faded in long enough to let me explain how I'd escaped, how I'd found Daddy, and how we'd caught up to Alice and stowed away on a plane to Tennessee and found Jasper. It was such a long story, and it was so good to tell it all; my magic was practically purring with contentment somewhere in the back of my mind.
Grandpa listened to it all, and asked only the briefest of clarifying questions, sounding stunned but capable of handling it. I drank in the quiet noises of sympathy he made at the right places, just like when he'd been the one to comfort me when I was little and I broke one of my toys or got my hair caught in something and cried.
"And... and I guess that's it, mostly," I finished. "Um, we want to find Mama, and Alice says she's on her way to Denali, and she doesn't have a phone, and Allirea can't get all of us onto a plane - Peter and Charlotte are coming too." Peter grumbled to himself and Charlotte patted his arm.
"Do Jasper, Peter and Charlotte have ID that will get them onto a plane?" Grandpa asked. I looked at them, and Charlotte nodded. I passed on the answer. "I'll buy tickets for them, then, and Allirea can get you and your father and aunt on the flight in her way. We'll meet you in Denali. It... it'll be good to see you, Elspeth. Is your father there? Can I speak to him?"
"He... he..." I didn't know how to tell Grandpa this part without hurting him. "Chelsea..."
There was an awful silence.
Daddy rolled his eyes.
"I see," said Grandpa quietly. "Alice too?"
"Yeah," I whispered. "Um, Daddy still cares about Alice because she was right there and he could read her, and Mama of course. And Alice has Jasper. But... but that's it."
"I see," Grandpa repeated. "Of course. Are you all right, Elspeth?"
"I think so," I said. "It'll be good to see you too, though, Grandpa."
I heard keys tapping. "I've found you a flight that leaves in three hours. What last names are on their papers...?"
Charlotte took her phone out of my hand and concluded the business end of the travel plans on behalf of her coven. I heard Grandpa politely inquiring after her and Peter's motivations for coming along, and she muttered darkly about Jasper and revenge and favors and open rebellion. Grandpa's reply sounded mostly nonplussed, but he finished buying them tickets, and gave her the flight information. Charlotte snapped the phone shut.
Allirea went on another spree of theft, and brought back suitcases for the people she'd fade and colored contact lenses for those she wouldn't. It was really sort of weird to wait for her while she was faded. I knew I was waiting for something, and I remembered deciding to wait for her, but she didn't seem important enough to justify waiting all by herself, so I thought I must have had some other, more significant reason that I just couldn't call to mind. The others stood around and talked quietly about trivial things, and occasionally said something similar: "What is it that we're waiting for again...? I guess the flight isn't for a while yet..." Then Allirea came back and faded in, and I realized how dumb that had been, but it didn't stop her from doing it to us all again once we'd gotten into our suitcases and she faded out. But as before, I let myself be carried along and remembered thinking that it was all taken care of.
I fell asleep partway through this flight, too. When I woke up, I heard noises that made it sound like we were in the middle of changing planes - beeping vehicles and competing televisions and boarding instructions. There was an assortment of food in my bag, probably from the airport rather than the plane: a sack of donuts and a couple of plastic-wrapped sandwiches and three bananas and a bottle of juice. I gobbled it all up, hungrier than usual after so long without a proper drink of blood and only peanuts the day prior. I was pulled onto the new plane, where the captain announced a flight to Anchorage. Mama had made me memorize a map of Alaska once, in case I ever needed to find Denali by myself, and I guessed that it would be our last stop. We could have flown on to Fairbanks, but it wasn't all that much closer to the park and we'd make better time skipping the last hop.
Sure enough, my suitcase rolled out of the plane at Anchorage. I remembered Allirea existed, got out of my suitcase in the corner she deemed unobtrusive, and followed the group out of the airport.
We went through town at a jog, and broke into a flat-out run once we'd cleared the population center. Eventually Daddy decided we weren't going fast enough, even though Alice said we'd be sure to beat Mama by a good half a day at least and he couldn't possibly miss the Denali vampires, and so he picked me up and we went faster. I guessed he just hated moving any slower than he could be moving towards the place he'd see her again.
I wondered why he didn't just ask Alice to send him to meet Mama along her route, and Daddy said under his breath, "I think she might be annoyed with me if I left you alone with a madman, your forcibly estranged aunt, and two lifelong unapologetic non-vegetarians. And if I brought you along on an excursion like that, Alice wouldn't be able to see where we'd meet her, and you change my speed quite a bit."
"You could make up your mind to go at the speed you go when you carry me, only alone," I suggested.
He laughed hollowly. "No. I couldn't."
My invisibility to Alice made me think of something. "Alice," I said, peering over Daddy's shoulder at her where she ran hand-in-hand with Jasper, "you can see the Denali houses and the family, right? They aren't blanked out? I was just thinking that maybe the Volturi would expect us to come here..."
"It's clear," Alice said. "Visible, with only the designated people there."
Daddy said, "The Volturi know you haven't been in contact with the family since your mother found you. They know I grabbed you, and they could guess I'd strike a deal with Alice, but they don't have a reason to expect us to go to ground with family you haven't seen in years and we don't care about particularly any more. The only reason we are going to see them is Bella."
"That doesn't make sense," I said. "Even if you don't care about them, they still care about you, and you know that, and know that you could expect to get help if you asked for it, even after explaining. Why would you pass that up?"
"They'd expect Alice to find her mate and stop there, since he was with a stable coven she could readily rejoin," Daddy said. "They're probably extremely confused about me. I didn't behave at all as they would have guessed." I remembered Daddy asking Adelaide if she'd kill him, and shuddered in his arms. "They may assume I'm in Tennessee for the same reason. But when I move up to the top of the priority list, they don't need to guess where I'll go, they can have Demetri lead the way."
"And you will kill him?" asked Allirea, fading in.
"I'm not going to go to any trouble to leave him alive," said Daddy, baring his teeth. "If nothing else, he stole my wedding ring."
"What?" I asked, bewildered, remembering what I'd heard about his ring. "Mama said she couldn't find it when she found her jewelry - when I was littler I used to think that meant you were alive -"
"Don't be ridiculous, Elspeth. I'm alive, yes, but my ring being missing is hardly a clue. Why in the world, if I had the opportunity to go back for my ring before she went looking, would I leave Bella's jewelry behind? She wanted my ring; didn't it occur to you that I'd have taken hers likewise?" He shook his head. "Demetri took it. He picked up Bella's rings too, but Allirea wouldn't have them, so he dropped them again."
Allirea snorted. "He thinks it is because I did not want secondhand rings, or wanted a ceremony of some kind. He will never believe the truth, so I have been frustrating him by pretending to have self-contradictory tastes in jewels and festivities."
"I wonder if he'd believe me if I just told him that you want him to leave you alone," I said.
"Perhaps. That seems to be something you can do," said Allirea neutrally. "I would have settled for that, before. Now I want him dead. I would not object if you chose to explain first, so he would know why he will die."
Since I'd originally suggested that I serve as a messenger in order to reduce the need for death, I didn't comment on that.
I decided I was glad to be a member of a species that didn't have permanent mates like full vampires. Mama seemed to have liked the bond. She seemed to want it for me, or at least seemed not be too upset about the prospect. But it did things to people, it messed with them. I didn't like the idea of being capable of the agony that had driven Jasper crazy (was he still crazy? I couldn't entirely tell), or left Daddy with the deathwish. I didn't like the idea of being so dominated by the perfect fantasy that I wouldn't be able to notice a reality like Allirea staring me in the face. (When she was noticeable, anyway.)
I wondered how Jacob was doing.
Then I wondered what had happened to Cody.
"Daddy," I began, about to ask him if he'd picked up anything.
"I don't have much," he said, annoyed. "They keep the wolves - and your friend Cody, I guess - a couple of miles from the compound. Yes, you guessed the reason, they wanted Adelaide to be able to see the future inside the walls."
"Doesn't Allirea interfere with that?" I asked.
"Not when she's faded out," said Daddy. "Or at least, not as far as I could ever tell. Faded in, she casts as much of a shadow as you do."
"I don't know whether she actually doesn't interfere when she fades out," put in Alice, "or if it just doesn't seem important that she does."
"Elspeth," said Allirea suddenly, "what is your mother's full first name?"
I remembered that Allirea didn't approve of nicknames. "Isabella," I said.
"She prefers to be called Bella," put in Daddy.
"Nobody's called her that in five years," I replied. "I don't think she'll mind if..." Allirea faded out again. "If she gets called something else." Nobody would be likely to call her anything else, except me if I counted, but I'd already called her "Mama" in Daddy's hearing, so he couldn't be upset about that. If he was, it was an awfully delayed reaction.
Daddy clenched his jaw. I wasn't sure why. That something about her had changed since he last saw her? That I'd dare claim to know something like that about her? I'd spent more time with her than he ever had. I'd called her more names and she'd said my name more times -
There was a twitch in his eye. I decided not to think things like that while being carried by a possessive mind-reading vampire. It wasn't really his fault that he'd been Chelseaed, and if I were being nice I had to assume that she was what let him be jealous of his own daughter over time spent with his wife.
"Alice," I said, "will we be there before Grandma and Grandpa and Rosalie and Emmett?"
"By a little bit, yes," she replied. "I suppose they had to arrange to take time off, or something." She wrinkled her nose. "Esme is going to try to hug me. I realize she means well, but what part of "Chelsea got me" is too complicated for her to understand? In what way does that not imply not hugging me?"
"You could just let her," I said softly. "It would make her feel better."
"I'm going to," Alice said, "much good may it do her. Edward's not. Edward is going to pace, as though that will accomplish anything."
"Mama would probably not mind if you left me with the Denalis, and went to meet her," I told Daddy quietly. "They're sane and vegetarian and not especially estranged. You don't have to pace."
He looked... surprised, maybe, or gratified. "Thank you," he said after a moment.
"You're welcome," I mumbled.