Chapter 30: Mother
I knew the feel of that hand on my hand. It disappeared when I sat up, but when I turned my head, there was the familiar face.
"M..." I stammered, but decided it was ridiculous to choke on calling my own mother what I'd always called her, Chelsea notwithstanding. "Mama."
"Good morning, Elspeth," she said, softly, warmly. She sounded perfectly normal, but there was a strange sparkle in her eyes. Not exactly happy, but like she'd been fumbling around for something for a long time and finally caught an edge of it. She'd apparently been watching me dream, and I couldn't think why I wouldn't have noticed her holding my hand instantly on waking instead of a second later. I decided it was just a familiar sensation, one I'd woken up to daily for five years and wouldn't necessarily react to at once.
"What are you doing here? How did you find me? What's going on?" I asked, rapid-fire.
"Long, long story," she said. "Are you all right? What are you doing here?"
"I'm fine," I said. Lazily, I summarized at her. I glanced over in Jake's direction. He was sleeping soundly, sprawled half in and half out of his sleeping bag. "Your turn," I prompted, after she'd blinked a couple of times.
"Where do I need to pick up from?" she asked. She was looking me over minutely, as though I could be concealing some terrible wound that she wouldn't have noticed already and that I would have been able to lie about when I told her I was fine.
"I know you were running to Denali as of May 30," I said. "And that you didn't arrive."
She nodded. "Well, I met - you see -" She nodded her head over her left shoulder, like she was pointing out something in that direction.
"Huh?" I said.
She stared at me for a moment, then got to her feet, spun a quarter-turn to her left, and shouted... apparently not at me... "Will you unfade? This is ridiculous. I can see you whatever you do, Elspeth is harmless, Jacob is asleep. What earthly reason -"
"It is my state of rest," said Allirea, and I did a double-take as it occurred to me that she'd been standing there from the beginning.
"Well, guess what my state of rest is? It's not shielding you from your stalker. It would be very relaxing to just stop trying to do that. Do you want me to? Don't play mind-games with my daughter," my mother snapped.
"Are you shielding me now?" Allirea asked, shifting from foot to foot edgily.
"I was until I was so rudely distracted by your concealing your existence from someone I was trying to have a conversation about you with," my mother said sharply. "I managed to keep you under shield during the entire plane ride here, though, so you can wait a little while before getting paranoid again. Stay. In. View. Please."
"...So you've met," I said, blinking and looking between my mother and Allirea.
"Yes, we've met," my mother said, sighing tiredly. "I encountered her on my way in towards Denali. Eleazar was taking her out hunting - she couldn't walk yet then, she'd been beaten up pretty badly in the fight where you last saw her, and he was the only one with a prayer of keeping track of her, so he was babysitting. To summarize what was actually a long and awkward encounter during which I learned that Eleazar - along with his mate and sisters - were traitors, it wound up with Allirea inspiring me to try to shield someone else. Specifically, her. My power doesn't work flawlessly against Eleazar's, but it's some protection, and combined with hers covering me, we were both sufficiently unobtrusive that I was able to pick her up and carry her away before I lost my hold on the shared shield."
"Yes, and she still cannot maintain it for long," said Allirea snidely.
"And you can't shield me when you sleep," my mother hissed at her, "that was a fun little crisis, wasn't it -"
"That was not my fault!" exclaimed Allirea. "You insisted on choosing the flight, you never specified that we would be flying east, of course I fell asleep early!"
My mother rolled her eyes. "At any rate," she said, "we've been traveling together. Allirea insists on being almost constantly on airplane after airplane in order to throw off Demetri, since I can't maintain my shield around a second person for long. But we've been wandering around for well over a month now, and my ability to cover her seems to have thoroughly plateaued, and it's still not reliable enough that we can just walk into Volterra and get your daddy out, so we thought we'd try the family houses, but found nothing. So we came back here. If nothing else, I could probably hold off Eleazar and Kate just barely long enough to let Allirea take out Tanya and Carmen, and then it would be a near-even fight and we could get out if we had to - it wouldn't be a guaranteed death sentence like getting caught half-shielded in Volterra - but we smelled wolf on our way in from the airport."
"Jacob," I surmised.
"Exactly," she replied. "So we followed the trail, and... here you are." She stretched out a cold hand and brushed some hair off my face. "You cut your hair..." She sounded disappointed.
I nodded, ignoring the tone of the statement. "Why didn't you just let Demetri find you," I asked, "and then kill him?" This seemed like the obvious thing for Allirea to demand.
"I couldn't take him in a fight, he's much too skilled and doesn't rely on his witchcraft the way, say, Kate does," my mother said. "And Allirea has to be quite physically close to someone to fade them, so it wouldn't help quite enough that he oughtn't be able to notice me through her power. I could get in one good hit from concealment before he threw me forty feet away out of sheer reflex and she lost the ability to keep up, and then I'd be done for or at least no longer able to shield her."
"Oh," I said. "Well, you're... in luck, I guess. You don't have to beat up the Denalis."
"So it would seem," my mother agreed.
"I would like to know what is going on too," Allirea said, and I absently sent her the same summary.
"You shouldn't go to the Denalis' houses," I said. "Allirea will block Alice, or at least might, Alice isn't sure how that works with her... and they don't want to look suspicious, at least not yet, so you shouldn't even go alone, Mama. I expect somebody will visit me today and you can talk to them then if you want."
My mother nodded, then frowned suddenly, with the unfocused look in her eyes that told me she was reacting to a memory I'd sent and not something she was actually looking at. "Chelsea..." she murmured.
"I warned you," said Allirea. "I did warn you."
"I know you did," said my mother absently. "Elspeth, sweetie, remember when I told you that I had never killed anyone and have a general policy of not killing anyone?"
"Yes," I said.
"I'm going to try very, very hard to make an exception," she said abruptly, hands clenching with a grating sound at her sides. "Possibly several. But at least one."
I wriggled the rest of the way out of my sleeping bag and sat hugging my knees. "Tell Siobhan," I said. "Chelsea's not very good at fighting." She nodded and started pacing. "Allirea told you about my father, right?" I asked.
"Of course I did," said Allirea. "I am not stupid. If Isabella had ever found out some other way that I knew her mate was alive and I had not informed her, just how long would I be likely to live?"
My mother's jaw clenched and her eyes pressed closed. Her hand went to the locket around her neck, which she flicked open; the piece of ash she kept there tipped out into her palm. "She told me," she agreed. "I suppose this is... from Irina?"
"Yes," I said, piecing together Aro's memories and what I'd been told about my mother's own observations of the day in question.
She looked at the ash a moment longer, then put it away in the locket again. "I suppose I could give it to her sisters," she muttered.
"They would probably appreciate that," I said.
"He thought I was dead, didn't he," she said after a moment. "All this time he thought I was dead."
"Until I told him different," I said. "I think at some point you must have become immune to Marcus, or he would have been able to see the mate bond whenever he looked at... Dad... which he couldn't. That probably happened without you noticing after you became a vampire, since Marcus could see your relationships when you were human."
"Mm," she replied distantly, biting her lip the way she always did when she was distracted by something that made her unhappy.
"Do you want me to show you -" I began.
"Yes," she said at once.
"Let me finish," I said, and she frowned apologetically. It struck me all of a sudden how young she was, and how much younger than that she looked. She could have claimed me as her twin sister and anyone would have believed her if they didn't know better. Seventeen forever, like my father. It was easier to see when I wasn't so accustomed to her anymore, and when the part of me that automatically conferred her an assumption of respect and maturity had been carved away with everything else Chelsea had felt like cutting.
She waited expectantly for me to finish my question, so I did. "Do you want just my memories of when I was talking to him, or his memories too up until May 26 of this year?" I asked her. The summary would explain why I had those, and why it wouldn't take me 110 years to give them to her. "They're mostly pretty unpleasant - he's usually unhappy - especially the last five years. I could just send January through late October of 2005. That's where most of the happy parts were," I warned before she answered. Those months had been the period of time where my parents had been aware of each other's existence. Before that they hadn't met. After that they both thought the other was dead.
She kept chewing on her lip, gingerly. "This trance-like thing it induces will take me how long to recover from?"
"I don't know," I said. "Siobhan got a full blast and was up and about after fourteen hours. But I don't know if it actually takes less time to process a century than a couple million years. She definitely didn't consciously process everything during that time."
She closed her eyes. "Start me with the good parts version," she said finally. I picked a beginning and an ending for my father's memories, and isolated the clump of my own, and sent them along. My mother reeled for a couple of minutes, but didn't fall, and finally murmured a perfectly lucid "Thank you."
"You're welcome," I said politely.
"Do I still need to be unfaded?" complained Allirea.
"I think," I said before my mother could say yea or nay, "that you need to be unfaded so anybody who might come to visit me - especially Siobhan - isn't diverted by your power. You might be able to take breaks as long as Mama warns you when someone's coming ahead of time; she can hear better than us. Siobhan especially has to be able to plan with you in mind, since her plans are magic, and if I remember right she'll be able to remember you whether you're faded or not until and unless she interacts with you faded. Right?"
"Yes," said Allirea.
"Siobhan's not a -" my mother began, and then she scrunched her eyebrows together. "Oh, I suppose she must be. This is different, having everything transmitted all at once instead of in real time..."
"Oh," I added, thinking back to one of the few snippets of Allirea-related conversation I'd bothered to remember on the airplane, "she was thinking of contacting your kids, Allirea, to see if they had a way of getting in touch with you. She probably thinks you'd be very important to have around, if she was going to such lengths to try that..."
"It would not have worked anymore, anyway," Allirea said, looking away.
"I know. She probably thought of that during one of the parts where I wasn't paying attention," I speculated, recalling something from the swath of memories I'd disregarded before -
- He will find me. I know eventually he will find me. I am not swift enough. I would stow away on a space shuttle if I had a way to live in a vacuum, but I don't, and I would not prefer death to being dragged away with him... or at least not yet. Perhaps I will think differently, later.
So, he will find me. I could not force myself to stay awake to escape nightmares of the ordinary sort, as a child. I cannot hide from this one either, not for long.
But I do not have to make it easy, and I do not have to encourage him to involve my children. That would be exactly the sort of thing he would do: imagine that I should love nothing more than to bring them into the hell he has created for me. Better to cut them loose. Better to make it look to all appearances like I care nothing at all for them. After this once, I do not have to visit them, do not have to let him find me simply by waiting at the correct airport before I have even set out. Do not have to tempt him to kidnap them, too.
They will not miss me, at least.
I hope I can get to each of them in time. If I am clever, he will never realize that I have children at all. He will never think that these cities are important to me. He will never cross these thresholds.
My eldest, my son. In San Juan I find his house. I walk right in. I hug him without him noticing that I am there; I kiss his hair without him being aware that there is anything of moment going on; I peel the delicately-labeled emergency contact information so carefully stripped of attention-diverting detail off from the wall. I tear myself away.
My daughter, my middle child. She lives in Montevideo, but she is not in her new home when I arrive. She moves so often, how will I find her later when it is safe, if it is ever safe...? She is married, pretending to be human, she has children, precious bright-eyed little ones of her own. I do not know what she means to do when she is too obviously young. She has never tried this experiment of settling down like this before. But she has made me a grandmother. I want pictures. There are pictures of them, everywhere, that I could take - and then he would catch me with them. Then this would be for nothing. He would assume that because I want pictures of my grandchildren I must want my grandchildren around me. And I would. But not with him. I excise my nameless self from her address book. I leave the pictures where they are.
My baby, my littlest girl, only twenty years old. She is in Port Elizabeth. No tempting family photos stare at me from her walls. I pluck her phone right out of her pocket, delete my number, put it back. I hold her. She stands in place, finding it unimportant that she is unable to walk away until I let her go, and then she proceeds with her business.
I am so tempted to tell her that I am here, and why, and what I have done. But she would not remember it anyway. She may think of me occasionally when I unfade for the odd hour to speak to someone besides him. But she must not know to find me in Volterra. I will not have her there, not at any price.
I kiss my baby's forehead once, and run again.
He catches me as I come off the plane in Greece -
"Stop," said Allirea, and the way she said it made it sound like she'd said it a few times and I'd only just heard. "Stop, stop."
I snapped out of the memory. "Hm?"
"I do not want you to look at anything about me," she said flatly. "I could make you stop if I faded, but Isabella would object. So I am asking. Please stop. Let it be."
"I'll try," I said, pushing the memories away. They weren't exactly tempting - not the recent ones, anyway. The ones from before she'd met Demetri were more pleasant, but I had plenty of stuff to look at that wasn't hers.
"I realize you didn't volunteer to accept all these memories," my mother mused, "but considering that you've got them, was it really best to offer them all up indiscriminately to Siobhan -?"
"If I hadn't given her all of them, then among other things she wouldn't know about Allirea," I pointed out. "I'd have just subconsciously left her out. And she can use them better than I can even apart from that, to plan stuff magically. We kind of need Siobhan, given Addy having her power."
My mother contemplated this for a moment, then shuddered as though shaking off a film of water. "You're right. Privacy concerns were shot to hell when Aro stole those memories in the first place, anyway..."
"And more so when Addy blasted everybody within range of the compound," I said.
"You know," she remarked next, "I really should have guessed that Sasha was framed. It didn't make sense. I commented that it didn't make sense when I first heard about it. But it didn't seem important at the time... and even if I'd thought of it I wouldn't have had a way to verify the guess."
"Fi' more minutes," came a mumble from Jake's sleeping bag.
I turned around. "It's okay, you can sleep," I said.
"Five -" Jake said, then he blinked and looked blearily at my mother and Allirea. "Ng?" He sat bolt upright, not taking his eyes off of them. "Bella? And who the hell are you?"
"This is Allirea," said my mother.
"The one Siobhan was talking about?" Jake asked, and I nodded. "Uh, nice to meet you, and what in the world are either of you doing here?"
My mother repeated the explanation she'd given me, and then said, "I hear someone coming - two someones - Allirea, do not fade."
"How long do you expect me to do this?" Allirea hissed, her voice starting to sound strained, although I couldn't tell if she was faking it or not. (I couldn't help but remember that she sometimes did that, though not always.)
"If you become absolutely unable to hang onto your noticeability, you can find someplace where you won't affect Jacob or whoever's visiting, go there, take a break, and come back when you're ready," my mother allowed, and then my grandparents came into view over the side of the next mountain.
My mother was off like a shot, flinging herself into Esme's arms without hesitation and then pivoting to embrace Carlisle too. "I missed you," I could just barely hear her sob from that distance, and then all three of them were exclaiming each other's names repeatedly, and my mother was babbling her story and her excuses for dropping out of their lives and her desperate apologies.
I was jealous.
Chelsea had never attacked my mother's relationships. She couldn't feel them in the first place. Even when my mother had been human and had a less comprehensive shield, even when Marcus could view all the streamers of light spraying away from her at his leisure, Chelsea could feel nothing from her at all. Chelsea had entertained the hypothesis that my mother simply didn't care about anyone at all for a solid minute and a half before admitting that she was really and truly blocked.
And so my mother got that reunion, she got the hugs that were meant on both ends, she got to be really glad to see them instead of vaguely awkward about feeling obligated to feel things she didn't feel. She didn't have to apologize for being Chelsea's victim, over and over.
Of course, when I thought about it, I realized that if the Volturi had captured me and found me shielded just like her, they probably would have killed me like they'd tried to kill her (and I was significantly less difficult to kill even if I supposed myself to have her shielding). Even Jacob wouldn't have been worth the inconvenience; Addy hadn't been making up the expendability of individual wolves. Brady had died simply because it turned out that Pera didn't recognize him as her mate and they didn't want him hanging around fruitlessly fawning after her.
So maybe it was better that I didn't have my mother's power after all.
But as she led her in-laws towards us I still felt a little jealous.
Jacob seemed to sense my discomfort and he laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. "You okay?" he asked.
"Mostly," I said. My mother introduced Carlisle and Esme to Allirea, who was starting to look very uncomfortable with all the attention she'd been forbidden to shed, but she spoke to them politely enough, and then asked me to explain to everyone the situation with Demetri so she wouldn't have to say it aloud again. I obliged. Esme promptly decided that Allirea needed a hug, which Allirea tolerated with surprising grace, although she didn't return it.
"If you can remain in sight, so to speak," Carlisle assured her, "we should be able to protect you if he arrives here."
"Actually," I said, "it would be really convenient if Demetri disappeared sooner rather than later. He doesn't stay in touch with Volterra while he's... looking for... Allirea, and he left less than a week ago and is often gone for two or three weeks at a time. That, and he always spends the entire trip blocked out for Alice because every move he makes is under her shadow. They won't have any way of figuring out that he's dead unless they try having Dwi contact him, and Dwi is a purely voluntary telepath - getting no answer could be interpreted as Demetri just not wanting to be interrupted. Or just not liking telepathic communication - that's why the Denalis were talking to the Volturi by e-mail instead of via Addy borrowing Dwi. There would be a long delay before anyone in Italy knew what had happened if Demetri showed up right here and... and got killed."
"Can others initiate conversations with Dwi?" Allirea asked. "That was never clear to me."
"No, he has to be listening for a message from a specific person first, they can't just get his attention," I said.
"How good a fighter is Demetri?" Esme said anxiously.
"Good," I said. "But not exceptional. He's practiced but not especially talented. Siobhan could take him out easy. Liam could do it. Kate could too. You and Grandpa and Mama together, maybe, but I'm not sure, and at least one of you would probably be hurt." I left Jake out because I didn't want him dying of a stray vampire bite. All the wolves' advantage was tied up in coordinating with each other so well that vampires had no time to bite anyone, but Jake was alone.
"I require a rest," Allirea murmured, and she ducked around to the other side of the mountain.
"Unfade before yelling if you need help, or anything," my mother said loudly, "so people besides me can notice it."
"Who are you talking to?" I asked her.
"Never mind, Elspeth," she sighed, "it doesn't matter," which seemed true enough, and then she hugged me. She gave Jake an appraising look, as though about to consider thanking him for looking after me the way Esme had the day before. Eventually she said, "I'm glad Elspeth has had someone to rely on through all this." Jake dipped his head politely, but she kept looking at him in a vaguely frustrated way that seemed familiar somehow, although I'd never seen it myself. I pinpointed the look after a moment's thought: this was the look she gave somebody when she wanted my father to read their mind and alert her if anything untoward was going on. They hadn't worked out an actual code around this, but he'd figured it out over time and never been steered wrong by interpreting it that way. I wasn't sure why she was making that face without him present. Maybe realizing he was alive was reactivating old habits.
Jake has been absolutely wonderful to me at all times and there is nothing creepy going on between us at all, I reassured her. Her face relaxed and she turned back to Esme and Carlisle. She insisted on being caught up on what she'd missed in the last five years that I hadn't been able to impart to her when she picked me up.
Carlisle was halfway through an anecdote about Rosalie's ultimately doomed attempt at opening an auto body shop of her own when all three vampires suddenly stood at attention, hearing something I couldn't.
And then, as I abruptly remembered Allirea again, something I could:
A helpless, enraged, desperate shriek that I remembered hearing from the inside a dozen times.