Chapter 32: Tender

Heavy smoke rolled down the hill, but not near enough for Jake to breathe much of it. I sat near his head and attempted to fan away what little of it wafted towards us. Esme offered me her cardigan, which made a more efficient fan, and Carlisle approached soon after.

"No stitches," I muttered to my grandfather, waving the sweater through the air with my good arm. "It didn't help when Santiago tried it with Eve, the venom melted them and then there were just more holes in her to heal and she died anyway. He shouldn't phase back if he can avoid it. Because of the body mass to venom ratio. Embry phased once after getting bit and nearly died on the spot and didn't have the energy to phase back again and..." I paused for breath. "But if there's a way to get the fur out of the wound, if you have scissors or something, that's good. If you have painkillers that's good. They've had some luck with blood transfusions but there's no one else here with blood except me and I don't know what half-vampire blood would do, they never had a chance to try it with Cody and probably wouldn't have dared anyway because he's venomous, but it's a last resort, I suppose, if he takes a turn for the worse. He'll sleep a lot if he's lucky. He won't want to eat but he's got to. Meat. He's an obligate carnivore in this form. Don't bite the animals, they can't have venom in them. And water, he needs lots to drink. At least he isn't going to get infected or run a fever beyond his normal body temperature..."

During this babble, my grandparents were joined by my mother, who refrained from trying to hug me while I was fanning the smoke away. "Carlisle, maybe you'd better go fetch your med kit," she said, and he nodded, and went. "Esme, something for Jacob to eat and drink, maybe? Elspeth, I can do that," she offered as Esme left too, indicating the cardigan. "You shouldn't move around too much with your shoulder." Her voice was brisk, but anxious. She wasn't ready to relax.

I handed the sweater over and let myself drop to the ground again while she carried on blowing the smoke away. I remembered Pera, turning, and I put my hand on Jake's face under his scarcely-open eye and sent him nothing. Until Carlisle is back with something for the pain, I explained. A little of the motionless tension drained out of Jake. His breathing evened out some.

"Elspeth," said my mother, still fanning the air with Esme's cardigan, "is his pack going to -"

"Jake," I murmured, "open your eyes once if you've still got packmates, twice if you don't." His eyelid rose once, fell, and rose again. "His sisters can talk to him but only voluntarily," I murmured. "They can't even tell he's phased if he doesn't talk to them. We're okay. But - but how did Demetri catch up with you and Allirea?"

My mother's jaw clenched. "I don't know," she said.

Allirea drifted down the mountain towards us, a serene expression on her face. "Your parents-in-law are gone, Isabella, and Elspeth has already seen me fade, and it does not look as though her wolf will notice me either way; do you object if I relax now? I am as good as my word - you enabled me to kill him, so I will continue to help you as best I can. Although I would like the chance to visit Montevideo at least and see as soon as possible if I can catch up with my more restless child."

"Let's figure out how to answer my daughter's question first while she can still remember you exist," my mother replied, "since your existence just might possibly be relevant thereto. Then I want to talk to Siobhan before we start planning flights to Uruguay or anywhere else."

Allirea shrugged. "You did not shield me constantly. He may have noticed that we were going to airports near houses belonging to your family and anticipated that we would be near here soon, and then when you dropped the shield, he was able to follow us more precisely."

"Or he could have gotten in touch with somebody from Volterra and picked up a clue from how they talked about Eleazar's behavior that Allirea was here," I offered. "He doesn't - didn't - usually get help, but he might have been stumped when he couldn't track you the usual way consistently."

My mother frowned. "The second possibility is somewhat worrying..."

"As long as Allirea was faded during a conversation like that, anybody Demetri talked to would have written it off as him being obsessive about his weird hobby if he mentioned anything about her," I said. "She probably shouldn't actually unfade too much, Mama, it'll give them the chance to remember her..."

"Fine, Allirea," sighed my mother, "go ahead."

"Who are you talking to?" I asked.

"Doesn't matter," muttered my mother. The fire up the mountain died down to a low smolder, and the smoke started thinning out; she kept fanning it away regardless, untiring.

"Oh," I said. "Mama... are we going to find Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Renée, and tell them we're alive, after all this is over?"

"Assuming that we can in fact tell them that," she sighed, "yes, I think so. Is Jacob likely to be all right?"

"Probably," I said, closing my eyes and continuing to offer him the soothing nothingness. "Probably. If he can stay put and keep food down. But he can't fight and shouldn't move or phase for the next few days." I wasn't sure, but I thought he might have fallen asleep. I kept the sending ongoing anyway - I didn't want him to wake up from suddenly unmuted pain if I could help it - but made a mental note to check in with him later, make sure that it didn't keep him from sleeping well by shoving aside normal dreams or anything strange like that.

"Well, we'll talk to Siobhan and see what she has to say about that," my mother replied softly. She paused. "You've gotten very attached to him."

"He's mine," I said.

"Clearly." She didn't sound judgmental, exactly, although that was the nearest adjective I could come up with. She sounded like she wanted to be judgmental but knew perfectly well there was nothing to judge me (us) about. "He probably saved your life."

I nodded, and my shoulder twinged.

"I'm glad you have him," she decided. "There was a split second, when Demetri kicked me away - I thought you were going to die, Elspeth. It was as if..." She paused, thinking, and asked, "Do you have Harry and Sue Clearwater's memories, by any chance?"

"Yes," I replied, although I'd never had cause to think of them before. "Up until a couple of minutes before they were killed."

"I'm curious if... Well, I thought you were going to die, and for that split second I think I might have traded Edward for you if that had for some insane reason been an option on the table." She hesitated again to measure her words, then proceeded. "I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. Either way I would have regretted it for the rest of my life, actually, so that may be irrelevant. But I might have done it. Some interaction between the fact that I was already a vampire when you were born and didn't lose half your childhood in a fog, and the fact that you're Edward's daughter too, and for all I know the fact that I'm immune to Chelsea is in the mix - my point is that I love you, and you don't have a way to remember directly how much, and I imagine at this point looking at Edward's memories of the five days we had you would be a little soured for you. He could have behaved better when he met you, Chelsea or no, though I can't say I'm not just bewildered that anyone lets her - look at me, saying "lets her" like anyone lets her, but that's what it looks like to me, so I'm not a good judge of whether he could have really behaved better or not." She sighed. "The next obvious thing to look at, to understand, would be Harry and Sue, if it's the same, which I'm not sure of. But it might be. They stayed to fight - they each let the other stay to fight against hopeless odds - but not before they sent Cody away to relative safety."

"I know you love me, Mama," I said, looking away from her and fixing my eyes on the stark landscape.

"I know you know that I love you," she said. "I'm not sure if you know how much. I don't know if you meant to include it in the summary or not, Elspeth, but I did notice a distinct undercurrent of wondering how I'd balance you and your father. I am not incapable of putting other things ahead of him if - if I have to. In a perfect world I wouldn't have to. But I don't live in a perfect world, I never have, and in all likelihood I never will. So if I have to prioritize, I can. I may have mentioned once or twice that I consider this an important skill. And just because now I know he's alive, he does not automatically win in every contest. I'm a mother, too, not just a wife. If you need anything from me, you can ask." She looked at Jake, and said, "If you'd rather depend on him, now, I... will understand."

Detachedly, I supposed that "will understand" was, coming from my mother, a confident version of "try to understand" rather than a rephrasing of "do understand". She was pretty sure that if she tried she'd succeed, so she didn't bother with the weaker word "try", but she hadn't tried yet.

A few seconds went by without either of us talking. The only sounds of import were the whoosh of Esme's sweater, and breathing, and occasional popping and crackling from the diminished fire up the hill. "Should I look at Harry or Sue first?" I asked.

"Either," she said. "I'm not sure... I didn't keep in touch with them much after Cody was born. Harry might have some complications around his feelings because Cody could have killed Sue, and they wouldn't have been really in a position to get to know their son until he was three days old. Some combination of the two, and the most charitable interpretation you can muster of your own first days from your father's perspective, I suppose."

I shrugged my good shoulder. "I don't know if I can look at them in full and do this at the same time," I said, pointing my chin at where my hand rested on Jake's face. "I know what happened when I think about it, though. Harry and Sue... hm. I don't think they loved Cody more than Leah and Seth, which probably had something to do with what they did. They might've run if it hadn't been for their wolf kids."

"The odds were still impossible," my mother replied. "They were newborns, which can be an advantage, but not enough of one with Jane there, or Afton."

"Afton got Sue," I said distantly. "Jane and Demetri got Harry. They waited to burn them until Aro got there and decided there was nothing he wanted from them and no one who he'd provoke by killing them. More than they were already provoked, anyway." I blinked away some mist in my eyes. The fire, uphill, finally came to a complete stop, and my mother stopped fanning and tied the sweater around her waist. "Chelsea cut off Leah and Seth from them first. Leah... I think Leah genuinely would like Chelsea all by herself, just because Chelsea helped her about Sam."

"I could see that," my mother murmured. "Do you happen to have Sam's..."

"No, he got out of La Push with Jake's pack, and if Aro's ever read him it was since Addy's last update," I said.

"Don't interrupt me, Elspeth," she said, without heat.

"I knew what you were going to ask."

"And you knew that I wouldn't like it even so."

"Sorry," I sighed. "Why did you want to know if I had his memories, anyway?"

"I remember he was trying to see Emily as a sister, for Leah's sake," she said, looking between me and Jake thoughtfully, "and had no luck."

"I have most of Leah's memories, and Rachel's, and some of the rest of the wolves," I said. "They heard some of what Sam was thinking around the time he tried that. But it's sort of fuzzy. Wolf memories are much more like human memories than like mine or a vampire's. I just have impressions and some unreliable verbatim stuff. But they thought Sam was definitely trying. Except nobody was clear on what it would mean to try, exactly, to see an already-romantic imprint as a sister." I tilted my head. "I told you there was nothing creepy between me and Jake. It's true. I asked him about it and he said it was hard to even think about." Carefully, wary of stemming the flow of blankness from me to Jake, I offered her the memory of the conversation.

She watched it, closing her eyes. "All right," she said eventually. "I suppose at this point the only thing to do is wait and see... at least he's not liable to turn out like Demetri. That, at least, was never a complaint I heard about any imprinting wolves."

"...Killing people?" I asked, this being the only obvious misdeed of Demetri's besides simply working for the Volturi, which Jake had already spent time technically guilty of. "Yeah, I don't think Jake would kill anyone unless it was to defend me or -"

"Never mind. There's Esme," my mother said.

When I looked, I could just see my grandmother approach with a couple of Dall ewes slung over her shoulders. "Allirea," my mother called, and I noticed the other half-vampire sitting by Demetri's ashes, looking calmer than I'd ever seen her before. "Elspeth, can you see her now?"

"Allirea? Yes," I said. I debated whether to wake Jake up to offer him the food or not. The sheep wouldn't get any fresher. But he'd only just gotten to sleep.

Eventually I just backed off on my projection of nothingness to see if that woke him, and he woke of his own accord, a low whine in the back of his throat. "Jake, you need to eat something," I murmured. "Esme brought you some sheep." Esme came to a graceful stop near us, and set the animals down nearby. I pulled my good hand off Jake's face and reached for the nearer sheep. Esme leaned in to help, but I shook my head. "Don't, I can do it. This way the food part won't smell like a vampire." She'd brought down both sheep bloodlessly, quite intact except for snapped necks, and her scent adhered only faintly to the wool. I pulled the carcass nearer, bit it in the throat, and drew the blood out of it so it could be butchered with less mess, and then, working a little slowly with only one arm free, worked away some skin and pulled off a chunk of meat. "Jake," I said, offering it to him, "you do need to eat."

He made a whuffling noise, not pleased with this prospect at all.

"Please, Jake," I said. "For me?" It was manipulative and sappy and it got him to open his mouth. I repeated this process, painstakingly coaxing him to swallow most of the first sheep, before Carlisle finally returned with his medkit and a few gallons of water.

"Siobhan insisted that I tell her what had happened before I left," he said to explain his delay, and he shooed me away and gave Jake morphine and trimmed away the fur near the wound with a small scissor. When Carlisle was done fussing with that, Jake let me pour one of the gallon jugs into his mouth a little at a time, grudgingly finished the first sheep, and then went back to sleep, looking more comfortable.

"Why do the Denalis have jugs of water lying around?" asked my mother.

"Carmen took up drinking distilled water in place of tap water, and the others followed suit. They find the flavor, or rather lack of it, pleasanter, so now they buy it by the gallon and keep it on hand. Bella..." My mother turned to look at him. "Siobhan is nothing short of ecstatic that you have managed to find us, but she's confused about why you and Allirea would not have simply shielded each other, walked into the Volturi compound, and slaughtered anyone you found inconvenient. If you rescued David and Edward, the four of you could have likely opposed Demetri successfully if he caught up to you later."

"Because I can't keep up my shield over her consistently," my mother replied, rueful. "Sometimes I can keep it up for an hour or two, but more often it lasts a minute and then I drop it. I can't do it distracted, which I most certainly would be in Volterra, especially with Edward on the line. The mental fatigue stacks up awfully over time and the longer I keep it up, the harder it is to start again after I finally let go. Allirea's tricks to let her stay unfaded over long periods of time when she has to were mostly unhelpful, so I'm flying blind."

"Why didn't Siobhan follow you here?" I asked Carlisle.

"Dares not risk seeing a faded Allirea before she has to," Carlisle said. "Bella, she recommended that Elspeth blast you as soon as is feasible. Your ability to notice Allirea under all circumstances could prove essential at some point - it may eventually be necessary for Siobhan to operate in the same area as Allirea while the latter fades - and given that, you should have all the information you can get."

"Mm," said my mother. "Is there any reason not to do that now?" she asked.

No one thought of anything, and I said, "So shall I, then?"

My mother cast a look up the hill at Allirea. "Are you going to stay put while I'm out of it, or should we ask Eleazar out here to babysit you?" she asked.

"I would like to go to Montevideo, but I will not run away," said Allirea, not sounding particularly offended by the suggestion that she might. "You helped me. I told you that I would help you if you helped me."

"Why Montevideo?" Carlisle asked.

"My daughter," murmured Allirea. "I borrowed a phone, during my trip with Bella, and called her house, and the person on the answering machine was not familiar, so she has probably already moved. If I went there in person I could look in more detail for her trail."

I wondered why Allirea couldn't call her other children and get the middle daughter's contact information, but my copies of her memories provided the answer as soon as I wondered - none of the three got along with the other two, and typically they pretended to be only children rather than acknowledge their half-siblings. This estrangement was helped by the fact that their parent in common was usually impossible to remember.

"Well," my mother said, "all right then. Elspeth, have at it," she sighed.

I took a deep breath, and hit her with everything I had.

She looked at me expectantly.

Nothing happened.

"Elspeth?" my mother said.

"I don't understand, I tried it," I said.

She looked at me sternly. "Elspeth, I can still tell the difference between what it sounds like when you tell the truth and when you don't. But I'm very puzzled about why you'd choose right now to lie."

"She sounded truthful to me," said Esme.

"And me," said Allirea, and Carlisle nodded.

My mother stared around at the other witnesses, stricken. "Then... Elspeth, send me something, anything."

Testing, I offered.

"Say when," she added, after a moment.

"I did it already," I told her. I reached my good arm towards her, and she bent to touch her cheek to my fingertips. Testing, I sent again. "Did - did that work?" I asked.

"No," my mother said, and then she straightened, spun, and kicked the side of the mountain with a growl of frustration, gouging a hole in the rock with her bare foot. "Now my shield thinks you're a threat. Probably because the blast would have been incapacitating."

"Can you open up deliberately, as you did with Jasper...?" asked Carlisle.

"I don't know. Maybe," my mother said, grinding her teeth. "That's the only time I've ever managed the trick of letting someone through - Elspeth's always been an exception, I didn't have to allow her to communicate with me before - and I was somewhat desperate the last time I saw Jasper. When I shielded Allirea, it was like I was splitting my shield into two layers and getting her under the outer one - the inner one still protected me from her. I'm not sure if I was doing that, or something else, when I was flailing around trying to let Jasper read my emotions. I'll try it..." She bit her lip and closed her eyes in concentration. "I've got you," she murmured, sounding strained. "Quick, before I lose it."

Testing, I sent again. "Did -"

My mother let out a breath, scowled, and shook her head. "Nothing." She clutched at her forehead with one hand, emanating frustration. "I recognize Siobhan's expertise in the matter, but I'm not quite getting the impression that my life depends on letting Elspeth blast me, so I don't see how I can muster the desperation I used to give Jasper a way through."

"It's powered by desperation?" I asked. "That's weird."

"That seems to be the common thread between the situations when it does something unusual," my mother replied. "Well, that or the way it was when I added immunity to Jasper in the first place, which I did while sitting calmly in the Norway house puzzling over the inexplicable fact that such an immunity did not come factory-installed. When I was immune to Kate of all people, it just defies common sense... But yes, I was desperate when it reassembled me from flaming scraps, and I was desperate when I let Jasper through, and I was desperate when I ran into Eleazar and Allirea and she gave me the idea to try to share my protection."

"I mean that's weird, as in, most witch powers are not even sort of like that," I said. "If they're dependent on the witch's mental state at all, they're usually relying on something purely emotional rather than anything like desperation, which is more about circumstances. I would expect it to be more about something like fear, or anger... My point is that as long as you don't have a really good understanding of how you manipulate your shield, isn't it safer to assume that it's more like other powers that have triggers instead of perfect responsiveness to the will?" I was talking very technically, pulling a lot of the phrases directly from how Addy talked to herself in her more scholarly moments.

My mother looked at me blankly. Carlisle said, "Where are you getting this notion, Elspeth?"

"From Addy," I replied. I paused a moment, and said, "Mama, I think I have to be your Addy."