Chapter 10: Coven

The next month was nearly uneventful.

On the first Thursday in March, Edward and I cut Biology together: he warned me that the lesson plan involved blood typing. Although he remarked that hanging around me as much as he did, he had probably developed the ability to tolerate other blood just fine even if it were exposed to the air, there was no sense in taking the risk with as much of a pass to skip as he had. And I would likely have passed out - which I explained to the teacher the next day, in apologetic tones that avoided me detention.

The subsequent Saturday, my human friends and I took our planned trip to the beach. I wanted to invite Edward along - with Mike and Jessica finally having declared themselves mutual significant others, and Eric and Lauren vaguely wending that way, it looked a little couple-y apart from Angela. But Edward wasn't allowed on Quileute land, and First Beach was in the relevant area.

Some Quileute kids turned up while we were there; Jacob, among them, made a beeline for me. I complained conspicuously about Edward's absence after greeting him. This prompted Jacob to tell me "scary stories" about the Cullens, once he realized that it was that particular Edward whom I was dating. They added no factual data to my supply, except for the tidbit that it remained against tribal law to kill wolves. I did get him to flesh out the cast of characters a little: Jacob was descended from tribal elders, and pointed out others on the beach who also had interesting ancestry. I was pretty sure they could all become wolves under the right conditions, assuming the genes had stuck around. What I didn't know was whether this was a good sampling of young-enough Quileutes - it was possible that potential wolves hung around together more often and that was why this group had arrived together.

On the thirteenth, a Sunday, I visited the vampires' baseball field again, this time to watch it used for its customary purpose. The Cullens all liked baseball, but because a vampire hitting a ball with all of his or her strength was very loud, they elected to play only when there was thunder nearby to cover their activity. Constraining game dates also by the desire not to be rained on where they played, this left them with precious few appropriate days, but Alice was well able to predict them in advance. Edward picked me up at my house to convey me there (by car most of the way, and carrying me himself from the house to the field).

As the resident psychic had predicted, the field was completely dry while Forks proper was deluged in torrential rain and illuminated by lightning. I sat on the grass, beside Esme, who refereed while the others played, leaving even teams of three. Vampire baseball was about what I'd expected: too fast for my eyes to follow. I mostly enjoyed the expressions on the players' faces when they were still between moments of action - variations on frustration and triumph. Sometimes they heckled each other, coming up with reasonably creative insults (although I had no way of knowing if they were original to this occasion). Esme and I chatted idly when she didn't need to call out declarations of safety and outness.

Fifteen minutes into the game, Alice froze in place between first base and second. Emmett tagged her out, actually knocking her over with his momentum. She hopped to her feet again, looking frustrated and shooing Emmett and his protests away. Edward, in the outfield, flashed in closer, to stand by his sister. "Alice," he murmured. I saw their lips moving, and I knew the other vampires could hear what passed between them, but I couldn't. She was seeing something and he was watching it and it alarmed them both...

Edward appeared next to me. The others approached more slowly, forming a loose semicircle. "Bella," Edward said, "there are three other vampires, not our friends, in the area. Alice saw them before but they firmly intended to head north without getting very near, until they heard the game and could tell it wasn't thunder. They're curious. I can't travel as quickly carrying you as I can alone. Even if I could, your scent would still be on the field, obviously new, and the last thing we want is for them to start hunting you." He said all this barely slowly enough for me to keep up with the words, and as soon as he'd finished informing me he turned towards his family and they began talking very rapidly. I caught a handful of the words.

"...thirsty?" said someone's voice, possibly Esme's. Edward shook his head - I thought at that question - and that seemed a small relief.

"Only three..." scoffed Emmett.

"How soon?" I thought this was Carlisle. The answer contained the number "five", but I didn't catch the unit - minutes were most likely, I judged...

"Everyone," said Carlisle over the hum of agitated chatter, and the others quieted. "Let's just continue the game. Edward said they are simply curious."

"Esme, you catch," Edward said in a hard voice. "I'll call." She didn't protest, and flitted over to her place. Edward positioned himself in front of me, looking furiously into the distance, at the direction I guessed the other vampires would approach from.

"Is there anything I can do to smell less obvious?" I asked.

"Take your hair down," Edward said, growling under his breath - clearly anticipating a fight. I pulled it out of my ponytail and shook it down over my face. I huddled as small as I could under my coat. Look undelicious, I told myself, but I didn't know how to do that. If it came to a fight, the Cullens would win, I thought - by the numbers - but there could be casualties. Someone could die. Edward could die. I looked up at him, peeping through the gaps in the curtain of my hair, and knew he'd do it without hesitating if it would save me.

I clamped my lips down on the words I wanted to say, provoked by the danger - it was not a good time to have that conversation; it would be dramatic, but not clever, and I didn't want to be dramatic if it would put anyone in more danger...

The game proceeded tensely. The batters all bunted, not wanting to send anyone running after a ball that careened out of the field as most of the solid hits did. The outfielders stalked the edges of the clearing, paying less attention to the game.

And then the other vampires arrived. There were three: a nondescript male with sandy hair entered the clearing first, then fell back to let a darker-haired, more muscular man with an odd olive hue to his chalky skin take the lead. Last to arrive was a woman with brilliant orange hair, which was long, curly, and full of forest debris. All of them had feral, catlike gaits, obviously predatory, and wore backpacking outfits but no shoes.

Their eyes were a dark wine red.

Carlisle approached them with his arms spread non-threateningly; Emmett followed slightly to his left and Jasper on his right. It was a small comfort to notice that the leader of the unfamiliar coven was just Jasper's match in size, and dwarfed by Emmett's great bulk. I wasn't sure how much that mattered, but it looked like it did. The visitors (I kept forcing myself to choose alternatives to the word "enemies" in my mind - they hadn't yet proven themselves that, not so directly) dropped into more casual poses, and the olive-pallored leader smiled, showing off bright and even teeth. Between stabs of fear, I had a vague intellectual interest in watching the covens meet; it was the sort of thing about vampire behavior I'd need to know later - if I didn't die then and there.

"We thought we heard something interesting," the dark-haired one said. "I'm Laurent; these are Victoria and James." He indicated the flame-haired woman and the ordinary-looking man beside her. Victoria and James exchanged a look; I had the sudden intuition that they were mates, with Laurent either without one of his own or separated therefrom.

"I'm Carlisle. This is my family, Emmett and Jasper, Alice, Rosalie and Esme, Edward and Bella," Carlisle said. He waved towards us in vague groups, avoiding drawing attention to individuals. I was momentarily surprised that he included me in the family - but of course he didn't want to pick me out as a mere future in-law for Laurent's benefit.

Laurent took in the baseball equipment. "Do you have room for a few more players?" he asked, sounding friendly and inquisitive. I wondered if I looked suspiciously unvampiric, crouched under my jacket when no vampire would have been bothered by the cold. None of them had yet tried to eat me. I tried to hold still the way I could if I were inedible.

"Actually, we were just finishing up," Carlisle said, matching Laurent's tone, sounding vaguely regretful as though he'd have liked nothing more than to have a catch with the anthropophagic creatures standing before him. "But perhaps another time. Are you planning to stay in the area for long?"

"We're headed north," said Laurent, "but were curious to see who was in the neighborhood. We haven't run into any company in a long time." Except for their dinner. Dinner probably made terrible company, though, gibbering and begging for its life, and that was if you paused to let it talk...

"This region is usually empty except for us and the occasional visitor, like yourselves," said Carlisle. Laurent's coven looked relaxed and casual; I wondered if Jasper was leaning on them, and decided to thank him fervently if he were.

"What's your hunting range?" Laurent inquired, tone casual. The question didn't assume outright that the Cullens hunted humans - they had to have seen the gold eyes, but did they know what that meant?

Carlisle described the environs of Forks, covering the La Push area in his claim even though the Cullens didn't venture there, and then said, "We maintain a permanent residence nearby. There's another permanent settlement like ours near Denali."

"Permanent?" asked Laurent, looking interested. "How do you manage that?" Had they still not noticed I was human? My scent was supposedly strong on the field - the wind had been wrong, but they would supposedly have smelled me even if I were gone.

"It's rather a long story," Carlisle said, and then he invited them to their home - I had no idea what he was thinking. There was no way for me to get out of that field without revealing human clumsiness or being implausibly carried. Was he planning to take them there in a splintered group while Edward circled around via some other direction with me? Did he think he had Laurent intrigued enough to avoid hunting me as long as there was information to be had? Laurent did look curious - James and Victoria less so.

Laurent said the invitation was welcome. Carlisle then put in a request that they not hunt in the Cullens' range, on the grounds that they needed to stay inconspicuous. Laurent agreed readily; his coven had just eaten. (I restrained a shudder.) And then as Carlisle began to say something else, a breeze wafted by me in exactly the wrong direction...

Edward went entirely stiff and James was suddenly, as though under a strobe light, posed facing me in a hungry crouch, teeth bared, nostrils flaring wide.

Edward snarled like some sort of animal, not the harmless little grumbles I'd heard the vampires make - it was a threat, full of menace, a declaration that Edward was prepared to kill if James took one step too close. I had so many reasons to be afraid: My boyfriend can sound like that. Those vampires might kill me. They might kill Edward. He might kill them. If they have friends and he kills them, they might find us...

"What's this?" asked Laurent, clearly astounded. He didn't seem to have caught my scent as strongly as James - and Victoria barely reacted at all except to fix her attention on her mate - but he clearly knew the situation now.

"She's with us," Carlisle told them, aiming the statement more at James than Laurent.

"You brought a snack?" Laurent asked incredulously. His foot moved forward. Edward's lips curled back, showing all his teeth, and he let out another, more ferocious snarl.

"I said," corrected Carlisle sharply, "she's with us."

Laurent was dumbfounded. "But she's human." He didn't sound hostile - but nor did he make a move to check James, who still looked ready to pounce. Emmett shifted position a little, and James slowly straightened up, but went on staring at me - Edward didn't budge.

"It appears we have a lot to learn about each other," Laurent said, trying to defuse the hostility. If Jasper was using his talents, they were not as effective as I'd imagined.

"Indeed," said Carlisle tightly.

Laurent went on. "But we'd like to accept your invitation. And, of course, we will not harm the human girl. We won't hunt in your range, as we said."

James looked at Laurent unbelievingly and then glanced to Victoria, whose eyes were flicking from face to face without settling in any one place for more than a moment. She looked edgy, but not very interested in eating me - if I was reading her right.

Carlisle looked steadily at Laurent, and then said, "We'll show you the way." And then he called Jasper, Rosalie, and Esme to join him and the foreign coven. They formed a line that blocked me from view. Alice appeared at my side as soon as it was clear he didn't want her with the larger group; Emmett fell back more reluctantly and kept his eyes on James as he backed towards us.

I was still sitting on the grass, rigid with fear. Edward picked me up without ceremony and clutched me so tightly that it was almost uncomfortable, but it was better than huddling in my coat. The four of us were off through the forest. Under the trees, it was pitch black; not even the tendrils of cloud-filtered sunset that had lit up the field were visible through the leaves. Edward normally seemed exhilarated when he ran, but not this time - he was running off pure rage. I wondered how difficult it had been for him to avoid attacking James the instant my species had been revealed.

We reached Emmett's gigantic Jeep, and Edward tossed me into the backseat. Emmett slid in beside me, Alice took the passenger seat, and Edward was starting the engine.

"Where are we going?" I asked in a low voice, when I'd found where my vocal cords had gotten to.

"Away," said Edward tightly. He sounded like he didn't want to answer me, he was just mechanically answering me because I had to be answered. The speedometer was overtaxed by the crazy velocity he was undertaking. I couldn't tell where the car was hurtling in the dark. "We have to get you far away from here. Now."

"Why?" I asked. "That doesn't make sense; Laurent said they wouldn't hunt in your range, it's safer for me to stay here."

"James won't abide by that agreement," said Edward tightly, forcing each word through his throat with immense effort. "He's a tracker."

Emmett reacted to this word considerably more than I did, going stiff in his seat. Alice seemed to recognize it too. I said, "A what?"

"He's got a power," Edward said. "Hunting is his passion, his obsession. And he wants you in particular. You're the most irresistible sort of prey - a single vulnerable element in a large coven of protectors. He's committed to the hunt now and he can't be stopped unless we kill him."

"Then why run? If he'll follow me wherever I go until he's dead or I am," I said, "then it will come to a fight, won't it? There's got to be some advantage to having it out on your turf. Or do you mean he'll stop when I'm turned and you need to put me in a bunker in Alaska where I can be hidden for the three days it'll take me to vamp up ahead of schedule?"

"He's no match for us, Edward," Emmett said. He sounded like he relished the possibility of a fight.

"The female, she's with him," Edward said. "And if it turns into a fight, their leader will go with them, too."

"There are enough of us," scoffed Emmett.

"I'm sure you could beat them," I said, "but I'm not sure you could do it without casualties. Edward, will he lose interest if I'm turned? Is that the plan, or were you just thinking I could live the rest of my life on a series of airplanes until there's a chance to put me on a space colony or something?" Edward didn't answer. Perhaps he didn't know - his brand of mindreading picked up only surface thoughts, and could leave gaps like that.

Alice said, "I don't see him attacking. He'll try to wait for us to leave her alone."

Edward growled. "It won't take him long to realize that's not going to happen."

"If he finds it interesting to hunt protected, vulnerable people, what would be the point of waiting until you left and then finding me at home or someth-" I choked on the rest of that word. "Charlie. If he crosses my scent anywhere in town he'll find Charlie."

"She's right," said Alice.

"And wouldn't it be interesting," I said, "wouldn't that make it so much more fun for James, if he had my father hostage and had me desperately working against you to get away from my protections in exchange for Charlie's life?"

Edward snarled again; I started to fear for the structural integrity of the steering column.

"So we'll pick him up," Emmett said. "If James is still waiting for us to leave her alone, that's safe, isn't it?"

"Turning Charlie isn't part of the plan!" I cried. "If we grab him, even if you manage to fake being human perfectly, the choices are still run forever or eventually fight James. And you don't think he'll come quietly, do you?" Charlie was far more closely tied to Forks than I was. He had a job he loved, longstanding friendships he cared about, he was on the Quileute reservation all the time...

Edward clenched his jaw. "The coven has visited the house. Laurent is still there, talking to Carlisle; James and Victoria looked around a little, and excused themselves," he reported. He was driving quickly but I supposed his family's minds might still be just in range. "They claimed to plan to continue their original route, and headed in the correct direction as far as Carlisle could see, but could easily have doubled back. Laurent is expressing an interest in visiting the Denalis."

"Look," I said. "We're going about this in a completely confused way."

"What's your idea?" asked Alice.

"I don't have one yet. Hang on." I took a deep breath.

What do I want?

I wanted to live. I wanted Charlie and all of the Cullens to live. In - I had to admit to myself to have the best chance of getting what I wanted - roughly that order. It felt awful to realize that I wouldn't die for Charlie, and I hoped never to be in a position where that was actually the tradeoff, but I knew Charlie would insist that I be the one to live if it did come to that, which was something of a salve for the guilt.

I felt less terrible about preferring myself to the Cullens. Edward, probably even more so than Charlie, would fling himself into any danger if it would give me a better chance. I half-suspected that he was sufficiently emotionally vulnerable that he literally could not live without me - that if I turned up dead he'd calmly douse himself in napalm, hoping, in his confused theological muddle, to somehow join me. The others were friends - Alice in particular was a good friend - but I simply hadn't known them that long. Also, they would not want Edward to feel compelled to napalm himself either.

If everyone's life were assured, I wanted everyone involved to have mutual knowledge of that survival. I wanted to stick to my original plan - finishing out the school year, dramatically eloping to Europe, and bringing my parents and friends into the fold one by one in any case where Alice said we could do it safely.

What do I have? And the sub-question, What do I know?

Edward's absolute top priority was my life - but he was susceptible to bad reasoning about what that meant and would not necessarily be easy to bring into an agreement about how best to secure it. Emmett was itching to fight. The other Cullens, as a group, were prepared to treat me as a member of the family and would probably defend me as well. There were seven of them; even split up in two groups, each half was at least an even match for Laurent's group.

James was a tracker whose purpose in life was to pick interesting targets and commit himself absolutely to getting them. At least under the condition where I remained human, he'd follow me until at least one of us was dead. He probably didn't know about Edward's and Alice's powers, although he might have an inkling of Jasper's. He had seen Edward's display in the field, and could likely figure out that there was an eternal vampy soulmate thing going on there, and knew that Edward (and by extension the entire family) thought he was a threat to me. Victoria had his back, the typically devoted vampire mate. Although apparently hunting was not her own hobby, or Edward would probably have been able to pick up similar intentions from her. Laurent was not personally hostile, but would take his coven's side in a confrontation.

As far as the Cullens were concerned, money was no object. I did not think it was possible for me to come up with a plan that didn't involve the outright purchase of a small country, which could tax their finances irrecoverably. As long as I got a Cullen, at least one of them, on board with whatever plan I invented, I could freely call for financial expenditure.

What is the best way to use what I have to get what I want?

Wild plans spun to life in my mind and I tried to sort them, dividing plausible from untenable.

At least one of two things had to happen in the reasonably short term, unless Edward was wrong about James's implacability: James had to die or I had to turn. Turning might not be a guarantee of deterring the hunter, but it would make me less vulnerable if he got through my protectors. (I did not expect to emerge into vampirehood equipped with expert fighting skills, but at least I wouldn't so closely resemble a melting marshmallow in texture and menace.) The process would take three days, but it might be possible for the vampires to move me while I was incapacitated.

"James hunts alone?" I asked Edward.

"Yes," he grunted. He was still driving absurdly fast. I had no idea where he was going.

"Alice, can you see if Laurent and Victoria are really going to Denali?"

Alice closed her eyes; I saw her in the rearview mirror, concentrating. "Laurent is," she said finally.

"Laurent's really only with them for convenience," said Edward. "I said he'd stand with them in a fight, but that's if they were all attacked together..."

"Someone should call the Denali group and ask them to keep Laurent occupied for a while if they can," I said. Emmett had a cellphone on him; he flipped it open and dialed a number, murmuring a summary of the situation and request to the friend on the other end once he was answered. "Where is Victoria going?" I asked Alice.

"It looks like she's going to sort of... loiter, north of where Carlisle said our hunting range was," Alice reported. "And wait there for James to contact her or come back."

"She'll wait alone?" I confirmed. Alice nodded. "How long will James wait for me to be left by myself before he'll change plans?"

"Maybe... two days? Three? He hasn't decided yet," she said.

"What would happen," I said, "if, in that time, you kidnapped Victoria?"

The car was filled with another hubbub of vampires talking too fast for me to follow, and I frowned, annoyed. Was it a good idea or not? If there was anything James cared about more than getting me dead, of course it would be Victoria - if we had a little leeway of time, five of the Cullens could go get her while two at home still left James outnumbered if he made an unexpected early move on me. And then there'd be leverage over James, or bait, depending - if I'd missed something important I wished they'd tell me. I listened harder. The words I did catch were names - Cullens and the other coven's members - and that told me almost nothing.

"Hey," I said. "I don't really appreciate being left out of a conversation like this."

"Sorry, Bella," said Alice. "We like your idea. We were discussing strategy - who should stay to watch you and who should go get her, and how to hold her once we have her, and then what happens next."

"Is there a way to hold a vampire short of, you know, actually holding her?" I asked, miming grabbing a wrist and hanging on.

"Not really - not without powers we don't have," said Emmett. "But two could do it, especially if Jasper's one."

"With Laurent out of the way, that leaves five more of us to split up between making sure he doesn't free Victoria and making sure he doesn't get you," Edward muttered. "If Jasper and, let's say Esme, hold Victoria, and Alice and I watch you, and Emmett, Rosalie, and Carlisle confront James in a group... One of them would have to stay on the phone with Alice so she could direct them. Or maybe Alice should go and Rosalie or Carlisle should stay with you..." He fretted, but he wasn't as obviously full to bursting with terror on my behalf and fury at James as he had been before. This was planning, not despairing flight.

"Where are we going?" I asked pointedly.

"Oh." Edward frowned and started to slow down. "I was driving to the airport. I suppose we should take you home. You can tell Charlie you want Alice to sleep over; I'll go in through the window," he suggested. The Jeep slowed enough to allow him to execute a safe U-turn.

"That works," I agreed. "How are we going to keep Charlie from getting taken hostage when I have to go to school? Should I fake sick?" Alice saw that as long as I got good long vampire hugs for a few minutes before telling Charlie I didn't feel well, I'd be easily cold and clammy enough to get him to let me stay in. She'd be able to stick by me openly by getting Carlisle's "permission" over the phone and protesting that I shouldn't be left home alone while Charlie was at work. Edward, of course, would be hiding.

"Should we even keep Victoria alive?" Emmett asked. "That's two fighters she'll tie up just by being kidnapped. I think we should kill her. Grab some hair first to prove we got to her, and maybe hang on to her long enough to ask personal questions and have Ed pull the answers so we can "prove" to James that we've got her someplace. But then - I mean, we're going to have to kill James, you know. She's not gonna put up with that. Sooner's easier than later."

Edward and Alice seemed to consider this a fair question. I felt a little queasy plotting Victoria's death. I knew she was a murderer, and probably had no realistic chance of ceasing to be one, and that she probably wouldn't nonviolently tolerate her mate's death, which was likely necessary for self-defense... but Victoria hadn't personally done anything to me yet, or even formed the intention to do so, and that seemed to put it on different footing. I didn't bring it up. I want to live, I told myself. And it was true: my discomfort over orchestrating Victoria's execution didn't compare to the sick fear I'd felt when James had looked at me like a delicious beverage.

Whoever she'd have eaten next probably wanted to live, too.

Edward drove less manically towards my house. Emmett called his wife while we were on the way, uttered some overdone mush to Rosalie so she'd have a good excuse to get out of Laurent's earshot, and then summarized the plan to her. We got to my place at about ten, and I bounced in, arm-in-arm with Alice, pleading with Charlie for a sleepover and leaning very hard on my limited acting skills. Alice was much better at it than me, and jabbered about painting our nails, and how she couldn't wait to braid my hair because hers wasn't long enough and Rosalie and Esme wouldn't let her do theirs, and she just had to dish dirt on her boyfriend to someone who didn't live in their same house and - Charlie finally waved us upstairs, overwhelmed by girly excitement. Alice followed me up the stairs with a gleeful squeal that I thought was probably uncalled for.

When we got to my room, Edward was waiting there - pacing. "Will you face one wall long enough for me to change, please?" I asked him pointedly. He sighed slightly and obediently looked at the door to my closet. I hopped into my pajamas gratefully - I kind of wanted a shower, too, but I wasn't sure Edward would tolerate me spending that long out of his line of sight until he'd calmed down a bit more. It could wait. If the vampires had a problem with how I smelled, it wasn't with the fact that I was gross. My outfit of the day had dirt on it from where I'd sat in the field, and it was covered with the sweat that apparently came with the immediate fear for one's life. I dumped it into the hamper.

As soon as Alice saw that Laurent had left the Cullen home, she called Esme and asked for an overnight bag (which was to contain a number of non-overnight-bag-ish contingency items, like several thousand dollars cash, in case we had to bolt). Esme was obliged to make two minutes of small talk with Charlie about how her silly daughter had spontaneously organized the sleepover without thinking to pack anything, ha ha, and she'd just take this upstairs and be on her way. She dropped it off with us, gave Alice and Edward each a kiss on the forehead, patted my hair, and then went out again. To go help kill Victoria.

I hoped Victoria wouldn't kill any of them.

Five vampires, including Jasper, should be enough to take down one who had no power or one so inconspicuous that neither Alice nor Edward had caught it. Should. And if they didn't die, but were merely torn to parts, they could be put together again - she wouldn't have the chance to grind them up into powder or the materials to set them on fire -

It hurt to think about it. I got into bed and buried my head in pillow. Alice stood by the window and Edward by the door, unsleeping, watchful, as I effortfully nodded off.

Edward and Alice were my near-constant companions for the next three days, which I spent entirely in my own room or five feet down the hall in the bathroom. (Edward glared at Alice when she suggested that perhaps I did not need to be accompanied to the bathroom when her sight was clear of James, and thereafter she went with me; I got accustomed to it after a while.) They hid when Charlie was nearby; luckily, he didn't go through my stuff.

On Monday, very early in the morning, Edward briefly traded his guard duties with Carlisle in order to enact Emmett's idea of retrieving personal information from Victoria without her enthusiastic cooperation. He was back a couple of hours later, grim but looking marginally more comfortable with the state of the world and its population of hostile vampires. Victoria had had a phone, but not a number with which to call James: he was supposed to call her first. So there was no immediate use for her as bait to lure James into a trap. She'd only be useful as a way to throw him off balance when the time to fight came.

Esme and Rosalie trailed my father as he went about his work, in case James tried for him. Carlisle went to work as usual and let out that all his children had some illness that he'd troubled to make medically plausible.

James was indecisive. The tenth time Alice growled to herself about headaches, I started to suspect that he somehow knew about her power. If he were such a great hunter, why would he make such fragile plans, and discard them so readily? It was thwarting us, and rather neatly, but it could only slow him down with most targets. Maybe he didn't care about being leisurely as long as he got to destroy his prey in the most elegant way possible.

But Alice did keep seeing fairly stable flashes of his immediate plans, too near at hand to conceal with indecision. And from these she was able to conclude, on Tuesday morning, that he was in Arizona.

Extracting this information from Alice was like pulling teeth. I knew she'd seen something, because she and Edward made faces at each other the way they did when he was reading her mind and he was talking too softly for me to hear anything, even an excessively rapid babble.

"Why," I asked, when I'd finally prodded her to give up this information, "didn't you want to tell me that James is in Arizona? It would be better if he were in Siberia, but relative to, say, Seattle, Arizona's pretty good."

"Because your mother lives in Arizona," Edward said reluctantly.

"Yes," I said, "but she isn't there now. She's in Florida, with Phil." One thing that was very easy to do without leaving my room (along with the homework that Angela brought me every day, forcing me to look convincingly sick) was keep in touch with Renée by e-mail, but the vampires didn't spy on my correspondence, apparently.

"Oh," said Alice, and she looked like she felt very silly.

"Then why would James be there?" asked Edward, flinging his hands up.

"I don't know," I admitted, and I didn't. Of course it could have something to do with Renée, but he might have other tasks in his life that he wanted to accomplish. That involved going to Arizona, when he'd been headed north from Washington before... and which he wanted to do while his mate waited for him (so he thought)... and that didn't make sense after all. Maybe he thought Renée was there, and would leave when he found she wasn't. I tried to think whether there would be any way he'd be able to trace her to Florida. Perhaps his tracking powers wouldn't be deterred by airplanes, but neither of my guardians knew. There was no one she'd leave a note for. Evidence of Phil's occupation was scattered around the house, though, and could let a clever person determine his whereabouts - and hers by extension. It was a lead. More of a lead than I wanted James to have.

"Is he going to be in Florida?" I asked Alice, apology in my voice for the probable headache. "Or stay in Arizona for very long?"

She scrunched up her face, looking unhappy. "I... I see him in Florida. Yes. I can't tell where exactly, but... there's a sign. He's going to be in Florida."

I sucked in air through my teeth. "We need to get a detail on my mother."

"We're already too split up," fretted Edward.

"My mother, Edward," I snapped. "If someone might be trying to get Esme in order to hurt you, and she weren't a vampire herself, you'd want her protected."

This was inarguable. Eventually it was decided that Alice belonged as close to James as possible, to give that group the best chance at killing him and rendering all the guarding unnecessary. The same argument applied to Edward, really, but he refused to leave my side, so instead Jasper went with her. Emmett went too, as the physically strongest fighter. They left on Wednesday morning, which Alice promised would still put them in Florida before James's arrival.

When Carlisle wasn't at work, he hung around near my house. When Charlie wasn't at work, so did Esme and Rosalie. But during the day, it was me and Edward.

I could not help but notice that, by the time Wednesday afternoon rolled around, Edward's eyes were awfully close to black.

"You need to hunt, soon," I said. "Tonight, when the others show up."

Edward gritted his teeth. He had never liked being away from me and the fact that James wanted me dead wasn't improving his ability to function without me right there, visibly intact. But I couldn't come hunting with him, and if he got hungrier, he'd be nearly as much of a danger. So Edward slipped away in the night, taking the time to tuck me in first.

Besides, James was far away, in or on his way to Florida, being chased down by three vampires jointly four times his size.

And so of course it came as a complete surprise when he captured me anyway.

I was asleep when he nabbed me. I assumed, when I awoke and noticed I was tied up in the backseat of a moving vehicle driven by James, that there had been chloroform or something of that nature involved - or I would have woken up in the process. What I couldn't figure out was how James had gotten past Carlisle, Esme, and Rosalie. I also wasn't at all sure why he'd taken me alive.

As it happened, he hadn't gagged me, so I spent ten minutes forcing the mind-numbing terror into the background to let myself ask questions. If he wanted me dead I'd be dead, I told myself. I'm not dead. He's going somewhere. He won't kill me until he gets there. Dread is not useful in any way, shape, or form. I repeated the sentences to myself, letting them march across my mind in a loop, and tried to find a comfortable way to lie on the seat, which proved impossible. So did completely ridding myself of the fear. It was far too appropriate to the situation to be dismissed so easily. I could just barely shove it aside enough to let me think around it. And utter sentences, or parts of them, although they shook like gelatin.


James smiled. I was arranged at such an angle that I could see the rightmost corner of his mouth turn up. "Hi there, Bella," he said. "I bet you're curious. I'll tell you all kinds of interesting tidbits while I kill you. I'm planning to send your boyfriend the videotape, and it'll be more interesting that way. But I have no interest in repeating myself."

My brain flew into action.

I want to live. I have the power of speech. How can I get what I want?

And then I spoke the words.

"You don't know?" I asked, feigning surprise. I didn't have to conceal the terror in my voice - the lies I'd spun in a panic to protect myself didn't call for me to pretend to be invulnerable or to have a deathwish, so I could still act as fearful as I was insofar as that didn't interfere with speech. But I did need to overlay other things on top of that. "About the reward? But there's no other reason to kidnap me," I prodded, when James didn't say anything.

"What are you talking about?"

"Wait a minute - why did you think they were keeping me around?" I asked. "Didn't that seem kind of weird?"

"Not your boyfriend, then?"

I made a little snorting noise. "You thought that because he snarled at you? No, that would have been much pleasanter all around, I'm sure," I said. The wobbling of my voice between real fear and fake contempt made for an interesting effect. "He just wanted to turn me in undamaged to the Volturi, to get the reward."

"Mm-hm." James wasn't buying it - quite - but I wasn't done.

"They didn't tell me much directly - no reason to," I said. "But they talk around me. Not much choice since they never let me alone - I don't know how you got past them. They said I'm a witch, that the Volturi like turning witches. They got on the phone with someone with a funny Latin name - Caius, I think - and made a deal that they'd hand me over to those Volturi people."

"What were the Volturi offering?" James asked, starting to get curious.

"Let me think if I can remember the exact words... It was something about immunity from the rule about keeping themselves secret," I mused. "I guess they really like having a permanent settlement and wish it were... more permanent? That it would be okay for people to notice they don't age? They were talking all the time about how they'd have to make sure the word didn't get out too far, that it could just be the one town. But they still really wanted it. Enough to give me to the Volturi people. They had to wait a few days before taking me to Italy because the other two they didn't talk to on the phone, Aro and another Latin name guy... Marcus or something?"

James gave a slight nod, more invested in the conversation now. "Aro and Marcus," I continued. "They were out of their city dealing with somebody who broke some rule. The Volturi must be really powerful, huh?" I marveled. "I mean, those people who had me trapped, I would have tried to run away but there would've been no way I could do it. And there were seven of them. I don't know how you got me out, I mean wow. I can't imagine what would scare them, but they sure wanted the Volturi's permission before they did anything." I paused, for effect. "Wow. I bet the Volturi will be pissed if they can't have the witch they wanted after all. Maybe they'll kill all of them. Serves them right," I spat. The unspoken implication was that James, too, would be at the risk of Volturi wrath if he were responsible for the loss of the desired witch.

It was a bluff. An outrageous bluff concocted in too little time and too much adrenaline. But he knew I had every motivation to lie like a rug, and already planned to kill me and already had the means to do it. Anything I could tell him that didn't make him kill me sooner or slower was a potential improvement.

I would have backed off in a heartbeat if he'd shown any inclination to be annoyed with the fact that I was talking, or with the likelihood that I was telling tales. I wanted to set myself up as the useful object that could be destroyed or redeemed for valuable cash prizes, and I wanted him not to accumulate enough hate to pick the first option out of spite. It would be worse than useless for me to annoy him, or at least to appear to be the source of his annoyance or emotionally precious to that source.

But James wasn't annoyed. He'd gotten his target. He could have gagged me and hadn't. He could have told me to shut up when I started talking, and didn't.

The Volturi were the only group I could think of that could definitely kill James and might not kill me besides the Cullen and Denali covens. And James knew about them. I had not memorized any meeting places or things of that nature into which I could hope to lure him to good effect. And so I was hoping that the Volturi really did like witches. And that my witchy power was extensive enough that I could prove my claim to their mindreader.

"The Volturi have never done anything like that before," James remarked.

"It seems weird," I said. "I gather they've been running the vampires for, like, thousands of years." I was trying to sound a little stupid, too stupid to be deliberately tricking James. I wished I hadn't used the word "gather". I went on, more carefully, "Maybe they think the secret's all gonna go to hell anyway, since technology's getting so, you know, high-tech, and it's harder to hide. And they want to get more witches first so when it goes to hell they get to stay in charge."

James was smart enough to put this poorly worded supposition together. "Then it's not much of a reward, is it?"

"I guess. Those people who had me before really wanted it. But I mean, if you're immortal, I guess a hundred years or whatever isn't that long? I dunno. It could take that long for the immunity to be useless. It sounds like a long time to me."

"Was that the only reward the Volturi had on offer," he asked, "or did those people ask for it specifically?"

"I'm not sure. I know they were talking about how they already had plenty of money, and didn't need more," I said. "I don't know what all else the Volturi were offering... I don't know what they have."


"Hey," I said, "are you a witch too?"

He smirked. "Just a bit."

"Have you ever met the Volturi? What are they like?"

"They don't normally like to be disturbed," he muttered. "More trouble than it's worth to just go visit them..."

"Oh," I said, and fell silent. Needed to give his mind time to work.

There were a few things he could be thinking, and many of them worked in my favor. He could fear the Volturi, and want leeway within their rules as a valuable prize. He might admire them, and want to curry favor for its own sake. I could imagine that it would make hunting more interesting if victims knew he was coming and could try to resist him, although non-vampire resistance was unlikely to be particularly entertaining.

I decided - for the time being - not to mention Victoria. That would make him angry. I needed him curious, ambitious, risk-loving, not angry. And I didn't know how narrowly his taste for drama was beating his taste for blood, that he could calmly drive me around. Anger could not tip that balance in a good direction.

"Where are you taking me?" I asked after a few minutes.

"The airport," he said.

"Seattle?" I asked. "Or one of the little ones?"

"Seattle." The short answers didn't seem to be good green lights for continuing to chat, so I dropped my head onto the car seat and tried to fall asleep. I didn't quite manage it, but I did sort of half-doze until we got to the airport.

I was just able, in spite of being tied up, to cross my fingers.