I was very close to going out of my mind.
No matter what I tried, EJ refused to be calmed. He squirmed and wailed, desperate to find Bella and protect her from 'the shouty man' as he had affectionately dubbed Charlie. He tried everything: kicking, wriggling, hitting; he even bit my hands and arms several times, his sharp little teeth digging into my skin like the prickle of lots of tiny needles. His jaw wasn't strong enough yet to break through or do any major damage, so it was only serving to frustrate both of us even more. That frustration built up alongside the strain of blocking out the conversation outside in an effort to give them some privacy, as well as my own desire to be with Bella, the internal battle with the many insecurities that Charlie's rant had brought back in full force, and the general stress of the whole situation; while EJ's tantrum wasn't my most pressing concern, it certainly wasn't helping matters.
Esme, Rose and Elizabeth all tried to help me calm him down, but he only wanted Bella, craved the comfort that only her gentle arms and soft words could bring him, and he snapped at them too. When he came within millimetres of biting Elizabeth, I decided enough was enough. EJ was venomous, but the girls weren't, and we had no idea how venom would affect them; if they were like the wolves, as they were in so many other ways, it wasn't likely to be good. I understood EJ's frustration – he was extremely protective, as he'd shown when Irina came to visit – but he was going to hurt someone if he wasn't careful, and whether it was Elizabeth, Nessie or himself, that was only going to make him more upset. He just needed a little time away from everyone else, either to collect himself or just to let off some steam until I could get him to Bella, without the risk of injury.
I stood up from my seat on the couch, holding him tightly as he once again tried to use the opportunity to wriggle away.
“I think EJ needs a little fresh air.” I said softly to no one in particular. “We'll just be a minute or two.”
Without waiting for any answer, I carried him out of the room, through the kitchen into the backyard. I stopped there, careful to keep away from where those in the living room would be able to see us through the window. I planned to take him around the house to Bella soon, but there was something I needed him to understand before I let him within reach of humans again.
“EJ,” I said, quiet but serious, so that he knew that I meant business. He didn't listen to me; the wide expanse of the lawn was calling to him, promising freedom if he could only get to it, and that freedom was a chance to go and find his mother.
“Edward Jacob Cullen.” I said, more harshly this time, frustration breaking through. That got his attention. We had never really disciplined the children – they were fairly well behaved and there wasn't usually any need to – just giving them stern warnings now and then if their games got too rough. Honestly, I didn't like it, and neither did Bella. I certainly didn't like the startled, frightened look on EJ's face at that moment, so I worked to make my voice more gentle.
“You are being very badly behaved today. You know that you can't get what you want by throwing tantrums, and you know that we don't bite people for any reason. Right?”
He nodded furiously, his face still anxious and upset. It was an expression that would melt anyone's heart, and it definitely worked on me. I sighed.
“Good. I don't want to be mean or get angry with you EJ,” I explained carefully. “But you have to understand that there is a correct way to behave, particularly when we have visitors, and you haven't been behaving that way at all. Don't you want to show Momma's parents what a nice little boy you are?”
Another enthusiastic nod was my answer.
“But you haven't been doing that, have you?”
EJ shook his head slowly, his little face thoughtful. His mind was churning, thinking over everything that he had done in the past half an hour and what kind of impression of him it gave people.
“Ebawessed.” he finally murmured sadly. I’m embarrassed. I’ve embarrassed you.
I hugged him close and kissed his hair. “No you haven't. I understand that you just want to make sure your Momma is okay. I want to as well. But she needs time to talk to her mommy and daddy, to help them understand us and accept the ways she's changed.”
But we have to protect her from the shouty man, he insisted, using his thoughts rather than trying to get his tongue around such a complicated sentence.
I shook my head. “He can't hurt her. He won't try. He's her father, and he loves her, but he's confused and afraid, and he doesn't know how else to react. But I think we will go and see them now. She may need my help explaining things and hopefully it will calm you down a little.
“Mama?” he asked, perking up a little.
I smiled. “Yes, Momma.”
That made him smile widely and start bouncing up and down in my arms.
“Mama, Mama, Mama!” he crowed excitedly, and I chuckled, turning toward the corner of the house.
Our momentary mutual good mood evaporated as we got closer to the corner and we began to listen for sounds at the front of the house. There was shouting and arguing; even when the volume lowered, the words were hurtful. What disturbed me most was not Charlie's words but his thoughts – the things he left unsaid that were so much worse. I was extremely grateful for the support and confidence that Renee’s presence gave Bella; I could tell that it was helping her.
“Oh really?” Charlie was asking Bella, voice sarcastic, as we came around the side of the house. “Please enlighten us then. What is so dangerous that you felt you couldn't even tell your own parents the truth?”
EJ cut off Bella’s answer with a loud plaintive cry; the unfriendly atmosphere and the hostility Charlie was showing toward Bella had built up his anxiety all over again.
All of them turned to look at us. Renee seemed upset, Charlie was clearly angry, and Bella just looked obstinate and determined; she was obviously having no trouble holding her own against her father.
“Mama!” EJ whimpered, reaching out towards her with frantic hands, his little fists clenching and unclenching. Her expression changed instantly to one of concern, and she crossed the grass so quickly that Charlie and Renee wouldn't have seen her move even if they'd tried. In a flash, she was beside me, gently taking EJ as I passed him to her. Straight away, he buried his face in her neck, and her arms folded around him, holding him securely to her chest. I put my arms gently around both of them, feeling a sense of relief as I was finally able to physically protect my wife even as I sought to ignore what was threatening her.
“Is he alright?” Bella asked me quietly over EJ's head, just a touch of panic in her voice.
“He's fine.” I assured her. “He was having trouble calming down and I thought you might be able to work your magic. I'm sorry for interrupting.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Don't apologise. I probably need some time to calm down too.”
She pulled away from me gently and turned to face her parents.
“I'll be right back.” she said, just loud enough for them to hear, then crossed the lawn again, going to sit under one of the big trees at the edge of the forest before she focused entirely on comforting EJ.
I went and sat down on the top porch step, watching them and listening.
“Have you been giving Daddy trouble?” she asked him teasingly, lifting him up so they were face to face. He gave her a cheeky grin and waved his arms, kicking his feet excitedly.
“Mama, Mama!” he crowed, and she laughed, cuddling him close again. I couldn't help smiling, glad to see both of them free from stress for the moment.
Renee came over and sat beside me. She was still a little tense and very unhappy with Charlie, but seeing Bella happy never failed to make her happy too, and there was a tiny smile on her face. Charlie was glaring at me, his mind still spewing out angry vitriol, as it had been since I appeared, but I just continued to ignore him.
“He's certainly a clingy little thing.” Renee said, and I chuckled.
“We like to think of it as protectiveness.” I said, smiling. "But yes, he is, especially when it comes to his mother."
Not hard to see where he gets that from, she thought to herself, comparing EJ's reactions earlier with the way she remembered me acting around Bella. He's just like his Daddy.
She looked sideways at me with a smile, knowing, since Bella had told her, that I would hear what she was thinking
I grinned back at her. “That's what Bella’s always saying.”
Charlie huffed angrily, and I knew the carefree interlude was over. I sighed heavily, then looked up at him; I could feel the tiredness on my face.
I was about to speak, but Renee beat me to it.
“If you're going to start yelling again Charlie, I think it would be best if you kept quiet. You've caused more than enough unrest in this house today.”
He glared at her, seething, but did as she said and spoke calmly.
“I just want to know the truth. What's going on here, what is Bella’s part in it, and what did she mean about danger? That's all I’m asking for, all I need – just a little honesty.”
I nodded. “I know. That's not an unreasonable request in most circumstances. But ours is a very delicate situation. We are not the only people involved. I will tell you what I can, but you must understand that it can go no further. Nobody else can know.”
Charlie seemed to hear the seriousness in my voice; he was still frowning but looked a little less angry.
“Explain.” he ordered.
I nodded again, taking a deep breath before beginning. “Well, to start with, you're right about what we are. We're vampires, all of us. But there isn't much beyond that which you have right. All the myths and stories, the books and movies; they have very little in them that is even close to the truth. You think of us as vicious, murdering monsters, and in the vast majority of vampires that would be about right, but not for us. We've all made a commitment to abstain from human blood for various different reasons, but mostly because we don't want to be those monsters.”
“So you aren't the danger.” Renee said, a statement rather than a question, seeming pleased.
“Not in theory.” I corrected her. “But there is always a risk, if we are particularly thirsty or especially tempted. We do our best, but it is a struggle sometimes. Jasper often has difficulty – though he's much better at controlling himself than he was – simply because he lived a more traditional vampire lifestyle for a long time before he met Alice. And Bella... I can't be sure, since she doesn't show it, but from my own experience I can guess that this morning has been very hard for Bella.”
“Why?” Charlie asked, utterly perplexed.
“Because she is so new. She's only been one of us for just over a week, and though she is far more controlled than most of us were at her age, she will continue to struggle with her thirst for at least the first year while she adjusts to this life. Honestly, we're all surprised that she hasn't snapped and gone for your throat yet, particularly when you seem to be going out of your way to make her angry.” I smirked a little. “Making a newborn angry is never a good idea.”
He looked a little confused. “So Bella’s the danger? She kind of implied that it was something dangerous to her as well. “
“Well, she would certainly be very upset if she ever hurt you, even accidentally.” I assured him. “But the danger she is talking about comes from somewhere else, from another group of our kind.”
“I'm guessing they aren't like you, are they?” said Renee.
“Not at all.” I agreed, then became deadly serious. “They call themselves the Volturi, and they have been established as the ultimate rulers of all vampire-kind for several thousand years. They are comprised of a core coven of five – three male leaders and two wives – protected and served by a guard of about twenty others hand-picked by the supreme leader, Aro. They keep track of vampire activity around the world, and enforce our one most paramount law, carrying out judgement and punishment as they see fit when one of us disobeys.”
“What is the law?” Charlie asked, already feeling a sense of foreboding. Even laid back Renee was tense at my side.
“Don't tell the humans.” I said simply. “That's what it boils down to. We just have to keep our existence a secret from the rest of the world.”
“And if you don't?”
“If we tell someone and the Volturi find out about it... if they feel that it may compromise our anonymity as a species,” I said slowly. “then they would kill us all. They might not even pause to hear our side of the story before exacting their brand of justice.” I grimaced, making it obvious what I thought of said 'justice' and the Volturi as a whole.
“So,” Charlie began, trying to understand. “By telling us all of this, you've condemned yourself and us to death.”
Renee let out a little choked sob, and I saw that there were tears in her eyes.
“Only if they find out.” I assured her. “And as long as we all keep quiet and they don't find a reason to visit us, that won't happen.”
“Are they likely to find a reason?” she asked tearfully.
I shook my head. “Not very. Carlisle and Aro count each other as friends – he lived with them in his younger days – but they have never been very close because they have such different views on a number of issues, the importance of humans being the foremost of course. They're unlikely just to stop by for a friendly get together; the leaders rarely leave their home in Italy at all. They might send a small group of the guard to check on Bella, in which case Alice would see them coming and we would have some control over the situation. It wouldn't be necessary to bring up your knowledge of us, and they wouldn't be any the wiser.”
Renee gave a sigh of relief, but Charlie was still frowning unhappily. He was worried about why the Volturi would come to see Bella, and more than a little annoyed that his daughter had apparently already been exposed to such a dangerous group
“I'm sorry.” I murmured, startling him a little. “I've done everything I can to keep her safe, though she often makes it shockingly difficult. You cannot imagine how guilty I feel that it was often my actions that put her in danger, that I exposed her to them in the first place. I don't have words to express my apologies.”
I looked over at Bella, and she was looking at me, smiling sadly. She shook her head, mouthing “Not your fault.” so that even EJ in her arms would not hear her.
“She's met them then?” Charlie said, his frown deepening even more.
I nodded, too ashamed to meet his eyes.
He was racking his mind, trying to figure out when Bella would have had the time to go all the way to Italy. Of course, he could only think of one incident.
“Yes, it was then.” I replied. He jumped again, but I carried on, hoping to get it all out before I broke down. “She told you Rosalie passed on the news of her cliff jumping to me, and that she made it sound like she attempted suicide, and Alice took her to LA to calm me down. While that story is fairly close to the truth, it isn't entirely accurate.”
“Bella said Alice can see the future.” Renee chipped in. “Did that cause the problem?”
I nodded. “It's why she came back to Forks in the first place. She saw Bella jump off the cliff, but since she can't see the Quileutes, she didn't see Jacob jump in and pull her out. She rushed here without thinking, hoping to be able to help Charlie in some way, and was very surprised to find Bella alive and well. The problem arose when she failed to relay this fact back to Jasper and Rosalie, who she'd left behind with only a brief explanation. I was somewhere in Brazil at the time, sitting in an attic, not even trying to ignore the pain of being separated from Bella. Rose called me, told me that she was... dead,” I choked out the word and shuddered. “and I lost what little remaining will I had to live. I travelled to Italy and asked the Volturi leaders to end my life.”
There was a moment of heavy silence as they processed my words. I watched Bella; she was cradling EJ in her arms, rocking him gently back and forth and humming 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow' to him. He seemed calm, his eyes closed in a peaceful sort of half-sleep, but her shoulders were tense, her expression worried and unhappy.
“You really love her don't you?” Charlie murmured gruffly, breaking the silence between us. “I don't think I've ever truly understood how much until now.”
I smiled slightly. “I really do, with all my unbeating heart and the soul which she has convinced me I still have. When I met Bella, she made me feel in a way I haven't experienced in ninety years of this life... perhaps even in the whole of my long lonely century on Earth. She makes me happy, and by the grace of God, I make her happy too. I pray every day that I will continue to be worthy of her love, and I am so very thankful that she granted me forgiveness after I was inexcusably cruel to her.”
Renee unexpectedly slid her hand into mine and squeezed my fingers. I looked at her, a little surprised, and she smiled at me.
“Tell us what happened in Italy.” she said softly. “I think you need to talk about it, get it off your chest. Have you told anyone else?”
I shook my head. “Alice told the rest of the family what happened. Bella and I don't like to talk about it...”
Charlie sat down on the bottom step, and both of them waited patiently while I stared across the lawn and collected my thoughts. I saw Bella smile and nod encouragingly. I sighed.
“Alright,” I began, looking down at my hands. “Well... I went first to the Volturi leaders and asked for them to kill me. I told them what had happened, every detail, hoping they would take pity on me. They sent me away while they deliberated for a few hours. Alice would have seen me go as soon as I made the decision, before I even left South America, so I assume that she and Bella were already on a plane by that point. I started coming up with back-up plans, in case they refused... things I could do that would put me in breach of the law and force them to end me. And when they finally called me back, and Aro told me that he wouldn't kill me because it would be 'a waste of my talent', I went into full on planning mode. There was a festival on, rather ironically celebrating the expulsion of vampires from the Volturi city, and I decided to step out into the main square in the midst of it all. The place would be crowded with humans, and I was guaranteed to be seen. Our skin reflects sunlight like a crystal; it would be obvious that I was something more than human. I knew they would never let me actually do it. I would be stopped before I could expose us. I hoped it would be quick and painless. But the walls of the city are high, and the sun is only fully over the square at midday, so I had to wait until then to carry out my plan. I felt as if every moment that I waited was a lifetime. I wished time would go faster, so that I could see her sooner. I didn't know that she and Alice were on their way, already aware of my plan and determined to stop me. Alice knew I wouldn't believe her if she told me Bella was still alive, that I would think she was lying to get me to come home, and she knew the only solution was for me to see Bella with my own eyes before I stepped into the sun.”
I shook my head at the memory, still completely in awe of how close I had been to death.
“It was almost too late.” I whispered roughly. “But she reached me just in time. At first I thought that I had literally died and gone to heaven when I found her in my arms so suddenly. It took her a minute to convince me that we were both still alive.” I shook my head and laughed softly at myself. “And then, right when I realised what was going on, two of the Volturi guard showed up, demanding that we come back to see the leaders. I tried to get her out of it, but they insisted that she had to come too, and then one of their most formidable guards turned up and we really didn't have a choice any more. We had to go to them, all three of us knowing that there was a very good chance we wouldn't make it home.”
“But you got out.” Charlie stated, no question in his tone. He looked rather shell shocked, as if the gravity of the situation was only just beginning to hit him.
“Yes,” I sighed. “But only by promising Aro that we would change Bella in the near future. If we hadn't made that promise, or we hadn't followed through and they found out, they would have killed her.”
Just saying the words felt like it might be more than I could bear. I buried my face in my hands, shuddering at the very thought of losing her, my heart pierced with a pain I thought was gone for good. Even with the awful sensations the retelling of the story had conjured up, I did feel a little lighter for having got it off my chest; I didn't realise just how much I had been holding inside. The twinge of guilt brought on by the fact that I had shared something so personal with Bella’s parents before I told her was soothed by her presence on the other side of the lawn, the sure knowledge that, just as I could hear her, she could hear me.
A moment later, I felt Bella’s arms wrap tightly around me and the closeness of her body on my right side. EJ's warm weight was settled in my lap, and his little fingers wrapped around mine, trying to pull my hands down. Bella kissed my cheek softly.
“I'm here.” she whispered, quiet as a breath. “It's alright. I won't let anything separate us.”
Her voice held the distinctive ring of a promise, and I could not doubt she meant it when I looked into her wide, honest eyes. She was smiling softly, so beautiful; I still had trouble believing she was really mine sometimes. I was so wrapped up in her, I barely cared that Renee and Charlie were still there, listening.
“I love you.” I told her, trying to convey in mere words how much she meant to me.
She smiled wider, her eyes shining with love, reflecting it back at me. “I know you do. I love you too.”
“Me!” EJ crowed, and we both laughed.
“Yes, we love you too little man.” Bella cooed, reaching round to flutter her fingers against the back of his neck, a spot where he was particularly ticklish. He cringed away but giggled happily, squealing with delight when I tossed him lightly up into the air.
“Again!” he cried when I caught him, so I did it again... and again, taking happiness of my own from his enjoyment. With each toss he went up a little higher and laughed a little more.
“Careful!” Bella exclaimed when he went so high that he nearly hit his head on the porch. I chuckled and caught him again, sitting him gently back on my lap.
“Nooooo!” he protested, wriggling. “Again!”
I smiled but shook my head. “Let's not attempt to give Mommy a heart attack today, okay?”
He huffed and pouted, but didn't argue.
The already dark sky had darkened further by this point, and the light wind that had been dancing through the trees suddenly picked up, blowing fiercely across the lawn. Renee shivered next to me and Charlie moved up a step to avoid the first drops of rain.
“Let's go back inside where it's nice and warm.” Bella suggested, standing up. “I want to make sure the girls are alright too.”
I nodded and stood up, holding EJ securely, and Renee stood too, wiping under her eyes to get rid of the last of her tears. She led the way into the house and I followed, but Bella paused in the doorway and turned to Charlie, who hadn't moved.
“Coming Dad?” she asked, and I was probably the only one who heard the nervous edge to her voice.
Charlie hesitated for a moment, then nodded, following us inside. He was less suspicious, more calm – thanks, in part, to Jasper – and had decided to observe us a little more and mull over everything I had told him before making any judgments.
When we got back to the living room, the atmosphere there had relaxed significantly too. Renesmee and Elizabeth were playing with their toys in the middle of the carpet; Nessie was colouring while her sister attempted to dress up a few dolls. She was having more than a little trouble with it, but that was probably because she kept trying to put the clothes on the wrong parts of the dolls' bodies. Jacob sat about a foot away, watching them, smiling and nodding when Nessie showed him her pictures. Emmett and Jasper had migrated to one corner of the room, where they were playing their own very complicated version of chess, which spanned four boards and had a set of rules that were forever in flux. Alice and Rosalie had gone to the computer to look at clothes, and Esme sat on the loveseat sketching, with Carlisle watching her intently. Phil sat awkwardly on the other sofa, looking more than a little out of place; he was relieved when he spotted Renee, smiling widely. She went and sat down beside him, holding his hand comfortingly.
Elizabeth was the first to spot Bella.
“Mama!” she called, waving her doll in agitation. “Hewp!”
Several people chuckled, and Bella smiled adoringly, going to sit beside her and helping her untangle the tiny garments. I followed, setting EJ down next to Nessie, then retreated to the couch to sit beside Renee, watching my family with a contented smile. Charlie flopped into the armchair between the couches with a huff, his eyes moving between the rest of us a little warily. Most of the others ignored him, but Esme looked up and gave him a warm smile, hoping to put him at ease. It wasn't as successful as it could have been; despite all our efforts, Charlie was still feeling rather on edge and paranoid, and he was having trouble trusting the welcome in the smile.
Renee started asking Carlisle some of the questions that were bouncing around her brain like demented bees, and Phil and Charlie listened intently to the answers, though Charlie tried to seem like he wasn't interested. Occasionally one of them would ask a question of their own, or someone else would chip in with part of an answer, but Bella and the children didn't contribute, seemingly lost on their own little world. I instinctively kept my focus mainly on them, only barely acknowledging that the others were there at all. It was fascinating, watching them, seeing how the children's different personalities were developing, how comfortable they all were with each other.
Despite Bella’s assurance the night before our wedding that she wasn't interested in having children, she was utterly in her element taking care of them. Her quiet words and soft smiles put them at ease as she gently explained who Charlie and Phil were, soothing worries and calming concerns until all three were happily playing once more. Her quick, sure hands helped them perform even the simplest of tasks as delicately and precisely as if she were handling precious historical artifacts, making sure to show them what she was doing so that they could learn. She gave encouragements and suggestions, she praised and laughed, she kissed and cuddled. Even having seen the change with my own eyes, it was hard to believe that this radiant, confident woman could possibly be the same shy, clumsy little human girl who had excited both my thirst and my curiosity in almost equal measure not even two years ago. She was made to be a mother, made to be a vampire, every moment of her life leading to the idyllic scene laid out before me now. I wondered how I had been deemed worthy enough to be the one to bring her into this life, and at the same time thanked God or fortune or whatever force it was that had granted me such an honour.
Nothing else mattered – not Charlie or the Volturi or anything else. Not even the nature of my soul – which I had been debating with Carlisle and myself for decades – was a worry to me now. Because Heaven and Hell didn't matter if you never died, and I wanted very much to live. As long as I had Bella and our little family, I had a reason to live. With them, I had found Heaven on Earth, and it was all the Heaven I ever wanted.