Chapter 11: Soldier
When I first went to Denali, I was five days old. I learned to walk in the front hall of the white house that Irina and Laurent used to live in, which was used as a guest house for the time I spent there. Carmen taught me to hunt for rabbits in the park. Eleazar looked at me consideringly and announced that I was "special". David had a jigsaw, and after he convinced Grandma that I couldn't possibly cut myself on it, he taught me to make my own puzzles out of doodles on cardboard. I swiped pastels from Kate's art supply kit to do that, and she chased me around the yard without really trying to catch me when she found out. Tanya found it amusing to hide small objects - sometimes my puzzle pieces - around the center house and send me on scavenger hunts.
This was where my hair got long enough to braid, and where Rosalie first pinned it up. This was where I spoke my first words, and where Grandpa first answered them. This was where I read my first book, and Emmett first handed over my bedtime story to let me finish it myself. This was where I celebrated my first monthly "birthday", and Grandma first lit a candle to mark the occasion.
This was the one place I'd lived longest. Four days in my birthplace Norway, four months here, a month and a half in Oregon and a month in Michigan, then five years in constant motion.
When the three buildings, still familiar, came into view, I should have felt like I was coming home.
It was partly the company, I decided. I was traveling with five people I barely knew, and that would have offset the comfort of any place we could have gone.
But it was also that I didn't have a home, unless it was in Mama's arms dashing from place to place. A few months at a time was a good chunk of my life, but still not all that long, and we'd always been guests in Denali. Even though the Alaskan coven lived secluded enough that my growth could have been hidden from humans indefinitely, and it would have made some sense for me to grow up there, they were only ever extended family.
By the end of the fourth month, Rosalie and Tanya had started bickering, and Eleazar and Grandpa would occasionally have solemn, quiet arguments on topics way over my head that lasted for hours and left them both politely exasperated. Kate "accidentally" brushed against Emmett while charged up one too many times, Carmen started hinting that I might be tired of the scenery and stagnation was not good for a growing mind, and soon we were packing our things to end what was emphatically just a long visit.
I had cause to be glad, later, that it wasn't home to me.
David was standing outside in front of the houses to receive us; I recognized him from a long way off despite the utter nondistinctiveness of his appearance, average in every dimension. I flung myself out of Daddy's grip when I saw him and ran over for a hug. He looked slightly bemused, but he smiled. "Elspeth, I presume," he said, patting my hair.
"Mmhm," I said, grinning.
"Good to see you, coppertop. You went and got bigger while I wasn't looking," he accused. "Hey, all," he called over my head, and started pointing at unfamiliar faces to confirm their identities. "Jasper and Edward I recognize. Peter? Charlotte? Good to meet you. Oh, Alice, Kate wants a private word with you about something. She said to tell you she's by the tree you thought looked like a stork."
"Private?" asked Alice uncomfortably, leaning on Jasper, who wrapped her up in his arms and didn't look inclined to let her go.
"That's what she said. Also why she's so far away," David added, with a nod in Daddy's direction. "I don't know what it's about."
"Where's everyone else?" Daddy asked.
"Carmen and Eleazar are hunting - they wanted to stick it out and be here to meet you but they heard some bears coming through and didn't want to miss them, it's been all small game for the last few months, run of bad luck. Tanya's... in town, plying her trade," David said with a glance down at me.
"I'm five and a half, I know what a succubus is," I said, trying to sound grown-up.
"Do you now? Right. Tanya's off being succubus-y," David said. "So I'm Mr. Meet-and-greet. Alice, are you going to go talk to Kate or not? She seemed to think it was important."
"Well..." Alice looked up apologetically at Jasper, who leaned over her to kiss her on the forehead. "She does realize that I'm probably going to be within five miles of Edward again at some point in the future, right?"
"I'd bet on it. If I had to guess what it is, she wants to apologize or something - maybe she wrote off a clue about what the Volturi were doing?" David suggested, shrugging. "And wants to apologize but doesn't want an audience while she does it? I'm just making that up, though."
"All right, then," sighed Alice, and she twisted in Jasper's arms to receive his very enthusiastic send-off before dancing off between the houses and into the trees. Jasper tensed up and looked like he was forcing himself to stand still rather than follow her, but Peter clapped him on the shoulder and that seemed to help.
Daddy made a grumbling noise. I thought that he might be annoyed that Alice had left before telling him where to go meet Mama, and he caught my eye and nodded before scowling at a perfectly harmless shrub.
"Holding up okay, coppertop?" David asked me, glancing sympathetically between me and Daddy. "I heard Tanya talking to your granddad. Sounds like you've had a rough week-and-change, huh?"
I nodded emphatically and hugged David again. He chuckled and hugged me back. "Should've dubbed you "hug-bug" instead of "coppertop". Were you this snuggly when you were a titchy thing? I guess Rosalie carried you practically everywhere you went and you always had your arms 'round her neck when you weren't "talking" to her. Hey, do you still do the thing where...?" He patted his face, and I put one hand on his cheek.
"Yeah, that thing," he laughed. "Man. I know I'm approximately a cousin, is all, and it couldn't have hit me as hard as it did your grandad and grandmother and aunt and uncle when you disappeared, but I missed you. I ever tell you that you reminded me of my niece?"
"I would've visited, but..."
"Yeah, I know." David waved off the apology I tried to begin. "It's all right. It's good you were with your mom."
I smiled sheepishly at him. Jasper said, "David, do you have any idea how long Kate wants to speak privately with Alice?"
"Relax, the tree is six miles away, Alice probably isn't even there yet," said David affably. "I don't think it'll be that long. Sheesh," he added, elbowing me and speaking in an undertone, "vampires with mates, huh?"
"Uh-huh," I agreed. Although to be perfectly fair to Jasper, he had only gotten to be with Alice for a few hours after a separation of several years during which he believed she was dead but in fact she was being tortured and exploited. It was probably sensible for him to be a little clingy. Mama would probably be the same way, later.
"I guess I'll just have to go around with a blindfold on if I ever want to travel without risking it," David said dramatically, resting the back of his wrist on his scalp as he flung the opposite arm out. Then he laughed and ushered me into the center house, suggesting that I looked like I could use a change of clothes and would probably fit into Kate's. "Now that you're so tall, you weed, you. She won't mind. Bet you anything that after their chat she gets Alice to buy her a dozen more outfits, as a first step in reconstructing the friendship," he said.
I found Kate's room by memory and browsed the closet, humming to myself and taking plenty of time. I felt more relaxed than I had in days; even on the airplanes, with nothing urgent to do, I'd been cramped and bored and anxious.
David was a little bit different than I remembered him, but he'd been a newborn then, still. So he'd been all edgy and tended to drop into instinctive behaviors at any provocation. Even then, he'd been mostly okay around me without other people around. I wasn't a threat or food, which meant he didn't have many instincts about me and could just have a personality instead.
Some fifteen minutes later, I'd just gotten into a borrowed blouse and a pair of Kate's jeans when I heard Daddy yelling my name.
I ran to the nearest room with a window that showed the front yard - Kate's studio, which was just across the hall from her bed-less bedroom - and tried to figure out what was going on. I opened the window to hear better what Daddy was saying; I hadn't made out anything but "Elspeth" and a lot of unclear shouting.
"- traitors!" Daddy was roaring, crouched threateningly towards David, who had his hands up and was backing away slowly. Daddy jerked his head up to look at me. "Elspeth, get down here, we need to go, now." Peter and Charlotte seemed to be holding Jasper, who was struggling mightily; I heard Charlotte murmuring "you can't win, you can't, stay back -"
I hopped out the window and looked at David, who was open-mouthed in astonishment. "I didn't know," he said. "I didn't know -"
Daddy seized me around the waist and took two steps at a run before Allirea suddenly reasserted herself. "Wait. Is Demetri with them?"
Daddy actually stopped. "No," he said. "Can you kill them fast enough? Without them getting away with Alice?"
"Kill who?" I exclaimed, at the same time Jasper shouted, "Over my dead body does anyone risk Alice -"
"Who the hell are you?" David cried, boggling at Allirea.
"Allirea's a half vampire who can make herself seem inconsequential," I filled him in. "Daddy, who would she be killing?"
"Wolves," Daddy said. "Ten wolves and their handler Santiago and our traitor cousins. On their way here, rather quickly, so if this isn't going to work we need to go."
"That won't make her able to touch Kate," cried David. "Kate's always charged up -"
"Eleazar might see you, too," I warned Allirea. "He senses powers, I don't know if you can make that fade with everything..." I forgot who I was talking to. "Else," I said, just to complete the sentence.
"What the hell are we still standing around for?" Daddy muttered, and he took off, me still in tow. "Yes, David, you can come, you were an idiot but you didn't betray us on purpose. Jasper! They won't kill Alice! She's too valuable, but you aren't, do you want to run in and get yourself killed and do that to her? She'll be able to tell if you're alive! Keep your head and we might be able to get her out again!" Jasper calmed down marginally, and Peter and Charlotte let him go, and he caught up to us.
We bolted to the Denalis' garage, where David tore the door off rather than wait for it to crawl open. He grabbed the keys to a station wagon off their hook on the wall. I was thrown summarily into the backseat, Jasper on the other side; Charlotte and Peter climbed into the cargo area while David took the wheel and Daddy rode shotgun. "Rosalie modded this for me, back when," David muttered, and he gunned the engine and I got to know, for the first time, what Mama meant about vampires driving like maniacs.
"Where are we going?" I asked. "Are we going to find Mama -?"
"Can't, we don't know quite where she is and without Alice can't find out," David said regretfully. "We've got to go to the airport, head off Carlisle and the others before they walk into the trap."
"They'll expect that, you fool!"
"Look, Edward, I realize we weren't great friends even before you had all your natural affections surgically removed, but there's no call for that," said David, hurtling along the highway. Yeah, I thought, and Daddy glanced over his shoulder at me, annoyed. "I think we can get to the airport in time to meet them as they land -"
"And what if their plane is late," said Daddy, "and we waste half an hour letting them catch up? We should look for Bella. The only way to protect her now is to get her close to Elspeth, so they won't be able to use Alice's power to track her down." When he said that, Jasper scooted as far away from me as the confines of the car allowed. "Demetri is probably still tied up with other witches for now. Once we find Bella, we can worry about people they might not be actively trying to kill."
"I could call the airport, and ask them to give the Cullens a message," Charlotte proposed, and everyone fell silent in awe of her sheer common sense, or at least that was what it looked like to me.
"Do that," said Daddy. David rattled off the number, and took an exit at Daddy's direction. "How, how am I going to find Bella..." he muttered.
"Elspeth, hon, do you have any range?" Charlotte asked, not calling the airport right away. "Can you talk to her at a distance...?"
"No," I said regretfully. "All my best stuff has always been limited to touch - I can do some things with speech and body language, but that's no good if she can't see or hear me."
"Alistair," said Daddy, sounding desperate.
"Won't work," Jasper said. "Even if the man had a phone, even if you had the number for it, he wouldn't answer it, and he doesn't have the range to point you in her direction from England, and Bella is probably immune to him anyway."
Daddy growled in frustration. "Maybe we should turn back; we could at least pare down the wolves, they might cut and run rather than sticking around to wait for Bella."
"Ten wolves," said Peter. "Ten, Edward. Plus Santiago and probably the four Denalis including Kate." Charlotte had apparently finished composing a message to leave for Grandpa and the others, and dialed the airport.
"I don't understand why they'd do that," murmured David. "I just... don't understand."
"Right, it's incomprehensible," said Daddy. "The Volturi burned Sasha in front of them, then killed Irina too, and all this without raising more than a peep from Kate or Tanya; Eleazar worked for the guard for years and left amicably; who could have predicted that they wouldn't be interested in facilitating or even keeping mum about a revolution on the mere grounds that our beloved ruling class has been storing fragments of witches in the basement to let Addy copy them?"
"Wouldn't Kate be worried, and Eleazar...?" I asked.
"Eleazar's basically redundant next to Adelaide herself," snorted Daddy. "And if they ever decide they really want him back, there's plenty for Chelsea to work with there. Kate's electricity is touch-based. Even as gravel she could keep enough current to be really inconvenient to copy, and Adelaide couldn't use the power against witches anyway. Both of them are worth more to the Volturi as allies, even partial allies, than complete prisoners."
"Where are we going?" I asked again, when Daddy told David to make a turn.
"My best guess about where Bella would be by now," Daddy said. "I gave her driving directions to Denali years ago. She might be using the same route, or part of it, rather than working out a new one."
Charlotte hung up on the lady at the airport, who'd agreed to pass on the message "don't go to Denali, there are wolves around and your law-abiding friends won't shoot them; run and call Charlotte instead" when the family's plane landed. I thought it was a good way to get the warning across, without giving the human messenger enough information to hang herself with. I just hoped Grandpa didn't do anything like going into Denali and trying to reason with his old friends. It would be very much like him.
"Edward," said Jasper, "did it occur to you that if you bring Elspeth to Bella to protect her from Alice, in the same action you make her vulnerable to Demetri?"
Daddy's hands clenched in his lap. "She's already on her way to Denali," he breathed. "We have to find her first - Demetri is at least busy now -"
"They can't use Alice right away either," said Jasper, sensibly enough, although there was a crack in his voice. "She won't help them; they have to get her to Addy first, and Addy is probably helping retrieve witches in whatever order you think they'll use just like Demetri is. So you're thinking that the wolves will wait at Denali to catch Bella, and they'll be waiting for us at the airport if we decide to go there, and they'll be escorting my wife to wherever Addy is so Bella needs Elspeth right now? If I were Santiago, I wouldn't trust the Denalis farther than I could throw them even now. I'd keep all my pet wolves in one place for safety, and stick by my new allies to make sure they were clear on who they work for."
"What do you think we should do?" growled Daddy.
"Elspeth," said Jasper, "you said a wolf imprinted on you?"
"Yeah..." I said, unsure what that had to do with anything.
"Jasper," said Daddy, "Bella would never want -"
"Bella isn't here, Edward. Okay, Elspeth," he said, leaning forward to see around the obstacle in the seat between us and fix red eyes on me. "Here's the thing. I'm not a wolf expert, but I did pick up on how serious the imprinting stuff is when I heard about the first run-in the family had with them. It's not just that whichever wolf is your pet won't hurt you. None of them will, or at least they'll hesitate."
"That's not true - Brady attacked Maureen -" I reached over and showed Jasper the memory of Cody telling me that.
Jasper watched it, but then said, "I think the kid telling you that story was either exaggerating for dramatic effect to impress you, or he misinterpreted whatever the Brady pup was trying to do. He might have just been trying to knock Maureen over, or startle her. Because if he'd actually hurt her, him and Maureen's wolf would have had to fight to the death. The Volturi have yours. They probably want to use him, which entails having you around to handle him, and I'm sure all the wolves they've got know what you look like now."
"...So... your plan is..."
"We cancel the message to our folks. We go back to Denali. You go in with us and you get in the wolves' way," Jasper said. "Move quick enough that they can't knock you over without injuring you, and they won't be able to stop you. Between the five of us, we can at least hold our own against the other five vampires until our backup shows, and that's if they all fight us - some of them might stand down, especially Carmen and Eleazar, maybe Tanya. We save Alice, which, incidentally, will let us find Bella, without this hit-or-miss approximation," he concluded, glancing at Daddy. Daddy twitched.
"That had not occurred to me," said Allirea, sounding impressed as she faded in. "You believe that you can handle... What is the electric witch's entire name?"
"Katrina," I supplied, as Daddy rolled his eyes.
"Oh," said Jasper. "You exist. That will help. Yes, if Kate's your concern, we can likely manage her - she's not a good fighter, apart from the shocks, and against a few decent combatants who can trade off she'll be in manageable bits soon enough. Eleazar can barely fight at all."
"Fine," said Edward, nudging David, who took the next opportunity to illegally U-turn on the highway and head back to Denali. "Charlotte, call your friend at the airport."
"Change the message, don't cancel it," added Jasper. "They should come in ready for a fight, not expecting a welcoming party."
Charlotte dialed obediently and told the messenger her revision: "careful in Denali, there are wolves around and your law-abiding friends won't shoot them, and Charlotte's about to be too busy to answer the phone". The lady at the airport sounded very confused, but promised to tell this information to the pale people Charlotte described.
"Does it matter if they're not in Jacob's pack?" I asked. "They're probably not..."
"Shouldn't," said Jasper.
"Do you really think our little coppertop can interfere with ten wolves, well enough to put the rest of us on even footing, without getting hurt?" asked David skeptically.
"With Allirea in there helping, yes," said Jasper. "Unless you've been up to something remarkably interesting in the last five years, David, I remain the person in this car with the most combat experience."
I thought I heard David mutter something about how he was the only adult in the car with his entire brain working, but nobody rose to the bait.
He drove us back to Denali, and we all hoped that Jasper was right.
He was wrong.
Here is how Jasper was wrong:
He thought he could fight, while Alice was hostage.
A couple of wolves held her, and whenever he tried to throw himself into the fray, a claw would pierce or a paw would swipe, and Alice didn't scream, but it didn't matter, because the injuries themselves made a metallic screech and he would turn his head, every time, to see what had been broken or damaged, and try to go to her - but that would distract him long enough for someone else to get a blow in, usually Kate.
He thought Eleazar couldn't fight.
Eleazar isn't a warrior, but he is a vampire, and Allirea isn't, and nobody thought to stop Eleazar while he wasn't actively attacking anybody important. She was sabotaged by her own power advertising her presence, and I would have thought it was ironic if I'd noticed she was there at the time.
He thought the wolves couldn't hurt me.
They couldn't -
But Santiago could. She realized what was going on with her wolves (it actually worked quite well for half a minute, all of them leaping back when I ran in front of them), so she broke my legs and tossed me to a smallish brown wolf with a cream belly to be pinned down. The wolves who weren't pinning people were in the fight for good after that. And then it wasn't much of a fight anymore.
I didn't have a good view and I could barely hear, with the wolf's dinner-plate paw planted on my ear and forcing my head to the ground, and my legs hurt, I could barely even make sense of it, I'd never had anything broken before, I hadn't really taken Saeed seriously when he'd threatened, and they just kept hurting. It wasn't the instantly healed flare of accidentally biting my tongue a little; it wasn't the sudden burst that led to nothingness like when I'd been chewing my way out of the net and someone had hit me over the head. It hurt and it went on hurting and then after that it still hurt, and even if I'd been pinned facing the fight, I wouldn't have been able to see a lot through the tears prickling my eyes.
Mama, change your mind and turn around, it's not safe, I thought, wishing I had range. Mama, come save me. Mama, run for your life. Mama, it hurts, I need help.
Mama, I don't want to be a grownup yet.