29 DEFECTION

We sat there all night long, statues of horror and grief, and Alice never came back.

We were all at our limits—frenzied into absolute stillness. Carlisle had barely been able to move his lips to explain it all to Jacob. The retelling seemed to make it worse; even Emmett stood silent and still from then on.

It wasn’t until the sun rose and I knew that Renesmee would soon be stirring under my hands that I wondered for the first time what could possibly be taking Alice so long. I’d hoped to know more before I was faced with my daughter’s curiosity. To have some answers. Some tiny, tiny portion of hope so that I could smile and keep the truth from terrifying her, too.

My face felt permanently set into the fixed mask it had worn all night. I wasn’t sure I had the ability to smile anymore.

Jacob was snoring in the corner, a mountain of fur on the floor, twitching anxiously in his sleep. Sam knew everything—the wolves were readying themselves for what was coming. Not that this preparation would do anything but get them killed with the rest of my family.

The sunlight broke through the back windows, sparkling on Edward’s skin. My eyes had not moved from his since Alice’s departure. We’d stared at each other all night, staring at what neither of us could live through losing: the other. I saw my reflection glimmer in his agonized eyes as the sun touched my own skin.

His eyebrows moved an infinitesimal bit, then his lips.

“Alice,” he said.

The sound of his voice was like ice cracking as it melted. All of us fractured a little, softened a little. Moved again.

“She’s been gone a long time,” Rosalie murmured, surprised.

“Where could she be?” Emmett wondered, taking a step toward the door.

Esme put a hand on her arm. “We don’t want to disturb . . .”

“She’s never taken so long before,” Edward said. New worry splintered the mask his face had become. His features were alive again, his eyes suddenly wide with fresh fear, extra panic. “Carlisle, you don’t think—something preemptive? Would Alice have had time to see if they sent someone for her?”

Aro’s translucent-skinned face filled my head. Aro, who had seen into all the corners of Alice’s mind, who knew everything she was capable of—

Emmett cussed loud enough that Jacob lurched to his feet with a growl. In the yard, his growl was echoed by his pack. My family was already a blur of action.

“Stay with Renesmee!” I all but shrieked at Jacob as I sprinted through the door.

I was still stronger than the rest of them, and I used that strength to push myself forward. I overtook Esme in a few bounds, and Rosalie in just a few strides more. I raced through the thick forest until I was right behind Edward and Carlisle.

“Would they have been able to surprise her?” Carlisle asked, his voice as even as if he were standing motionless rather than running at full speed.

“I don’t see how,” Edward answered. “But Aro knows her better than anyone else. Better than I do.”

“Is this a trap?” Emmett called from behind us.

“Maybe,” Edward said. “There’s no scent but Alice and Jasper. Where were they going?”

Alice and Jasper’s trail was curling into a wide arc; it stretched first east of the house, but headed north on the other side of the river, and then back west again after a few miles. We recrossed the river, all six jumping within a second of each other. Edward ran in the lead, his concentration total.

“Did you catch that scent?” Esme called ahead a few moments after we’d leaped the river for the second time. She was the farthest back, on the far left edge of our hunting party. She gestured to the southeast.

“Keep to the main trail—we’re almost to the Quileute border,” Edward ordered tersely. “Stay together. See if they turned north or south.”

I was not as familiar with the treaty line as the rest of them, but I could smell the hint of wolf in the breeze blowing from the east. Edward and Carlisle slowed a little out of habit, and I could see their heads sweep from side to side, waiting for the trail to turn.

Then the wolf smell was suddenly stronger, and Edward’s head snapped up. He came to a sudden stop. The rest of us froze, too.

“Sam?” Edward asked in a flat voice. “What is this?”

Sam came through the trees a few hundred yards away, walking quickly toward us in his human form, flanked by two big wolves—Paul and Jared. It took Sam a while to reach us; his human pace made me impatient. I didn’t want time to think about what was happening. I wanted to be in motion, to be doing something. I wanted to have my arms around Alice, to know beyond a doubt that she was safe.

I watched Edward’s face go absolutely white as he read what Sam was thinking. Sam ignored him, looking straight at Carlisle as he stopped walking and began to speak.

“Right after midnight, Alice and Jasper came to this place and asked permission to cross our land to the ocean. I granted them that and escorted them to the coast myself. They went immediately into the water and did not return. As we journeyed, Alice told me it was of the utmost importance that I say nothing to Jacob about seeing her until I spoke to you. I was to wait here for you to come looking for her and then give you this note. She told me to obey her as if all our lives depended on it.”

Sam’s face was grim as he held out a folded sheet of paper, printed all over with small black text. It was a page out of a book; my sharp eyes read the printed words as Carlisle unfolded it to see the other side. The side facing me was the copyright page from The Merchant of Venice . A hint of my own scent blew off of it as Carlisle shook the paper flat. I realized it was a page torn from one of my books. I’d brought a few things from Charlie’s house to the cottage; a few sets of normal clothes, all the letters from my mother, and my favorite books. My tattered collection of Shakespeare paperbacks had been on the bookshelf in the cottage’s little living room yesterday morning.…

“Alice has decided to leave us,” Carlisle whispered.

“What?” Rosalie cried.

Carlisle turned the page around so that we all could read.

Don’t look for us. There isn’t time to waste. Remember: Tanya, Siobhan, Amun, Alistair, all the nomads you can find. We’ll seek out Peter and Charlotte on our way. We’re so sorry that we have to leave you this way, with no goodbyes or explanations. It’s the only way for us. We love you.

We stood frozen again, the silence total but for the sound of the wolves’ heartbeats, their breathing. Their thoughts must have been loud, too. Edward was first to move again, speaking in response to what he heard in Sam’s head.

“Yes, things are that dangerous.”

“Enough that you would abandon your family?” Sam asked out loud, censure in his tone. It was clear that he had not read the note before giving it to Carlisle. He was upset now, looking as if he regretted listening to Alice.

Edward’s expression was stiff—to Sam it probably looked angry or arrogant, but I could see the shape of pain in the hard planes of his face.

“We don’t know what she saw,” Edward said. “Alice is neither unfeeling nor a coward. She just has more information than we do.”

We would not—,” Sam began.

“You are bound differently than we are,” Edward snapped. “We each still have our free will.”

Sam’s chin jerked up, and his eyes looked suddenly flat black.

“But you should heed the warning,” Edward went on. “This is not something you want to involve yourselves in. You can still avoid what Alice saw.”

Sam smiled grimly. “We don’t run away.” Behind him, Paul snorted.

“Don’t get your family slaughtered for pride,” Carlisle interjected quietly.

Sam looked at Carlisle with a softer expression. “As Edward pointed out, we don’t have the same kind of freedom that you have. Renesmee is as much as part of our family now as she is yours. Jacob cannot abandon her, and we cannot abandon him.” His eyes flickered to Alice’s note, and his lips pressed into a thin line.

“You don’t know her,” Edward said.

“Do you?” Sam asked bluntly.

Carlisle put a hand on Edward’s shoulder. “We have much to do, son. Whatever Alice’s decision, we would be foolish not to follow her advice now. Let’s go home and get to work.”

Edward nodded, his face still rigid with pain. Behind me, I could hear Esme’s quiet, tearless sobs.

I didn’t know how to cry in this body; I couldn’t do anything but stare. There was no feeling yet. Everything seemed unreal, like I was dreaming again after all these months. Having a nightmare.

“Thank you, Sam,” Carlisle said.

“I’m sorry,” Sam answered. “We shouldn’t have let her through.”

“You did the right thing,” Carlisle told him. “Alice is free to do what she will. I wouldn’t deny her that liberty.”

I’d always thought of the Cullens as a whole, an indivisible unit. Suddenly, I remembered that it had not always been so. Carlisle had created Edward, Esme, Rosalie and Emmett; Edward had created me. We were physically linked by blood and venom. I never thought of Alice and Jasper as separate—as adopted into the family. But in truth, Alice had adopted the Cullens. She had shown up with her unconnected past, bringing Jasper with his, and fit herself into the family that was already there. Both she and Jasper had known another life outside the Cullen family. Had she really chosen to lead another new life after she’d seen that life with the Cullens was over?

We were doomed, then, weren’t we? There was no hope at all. Not one ray, one flicker that might have convinced Alice she had a chance at our side.

The bright morning air seemed thicker suddenly, blacker, as if physically darkened by my despair.

I’m not going down without a fight,” Emmett snarled low under his breath. “Alice told us what to do. Let’s get it done.”

The others nodded with determined expressions, and I realized that they were banking on whatever chance Alice had given us. That they were not going to give in to hopelessness and wait to die.

Yes, we all would fight. What else was there? And apparently we would involve others, because Alice had said so before she’d left us. How could we not follow Alice’s last warning? The wolves, too, would fight with us for Renesmee.

We would fight, they would fight, and we all would die.

I didn’t feel the same resolve the others seemed to feel. Alice knew the odds. She was giving us the only chance she could see, but the chance was too slim for her to bet on it.

I felt already beaten as I turned my back on Sam’s critical face and followed Carlisle toward home.

We ran automatically now, not the same panicked hurry as before. As we neared the river, Esme’s head lifted.

“There was that other trail. It was fresh.”

She nodded forward, toward where she had called Edward’s attention on the way here. While we were racing to save Alice…

“It has to be from earlier in the day. It was just Alice, without Jasper,” Edward said lifelessly.

Esme’s face puckered, and she nodded.

I drifted to the right, falling a little behind. I was sure Edward was right, but at the same time… After all, how had Alice’s note ended up on a page from my book?

“Bella?” Edward asked in an emotionless voice as I hesitated.

“I want to follow the trail,” I told him, smelling the light scent of Alice that led away from her earlier flight path. I was new to this, but it smelled exactly the same to me, just minus the scent of Jasper.

Edward’s golden eyes were empty. “It probably just leads back to the house.”

“Then I’ll meet you there.”

At first I thought he would let me go alone, but then, as I moved a few steps away, his blank eyes flickered to life.

“I’ll come with you,” he said quietly. “We’ll meet you at home, Carlisle.”

Carlisle nodded, and the others left. I waited until they were out of sight, and then I looked at Edward questioningly.

“I couldn’t let you walk away from me,” he explained in a low voice. “It hurt just to imagine it.”

I understood without more explanation than that. I thought of being divided from him now and realized I would have felt the same pain, no matter how short the separation.

There was so little time left to be together.

I held my hand out to him, and he took it.

“Let’s hurry,” he said. “Renesmee will be awake.”

I nodded, and we were running again.

It was probably a silly thing, to waste the time away from Renesmee just for curiosity’s sake. But the note bothered me. Alice could have carved the note into a boulder or tree trunk if she lacked writing utensils. She could have stolen a pad of Post-its from any of the houses by the highway. Why my book? When did she get it?

Sure enough, the trail led back to the cottage by a circuitous route that stayed far clear of the Cullens’ house and the wolves in the nearby woods. Edward’s brows tightened in confusion as it became obvious where the trail led.

He tried to reason it out. “She left Jasper to wait for her and came here?”

We were almost to the cottage now, and I felt uneasy. I was glad to have Edward’s hand in mine, but I also felt as if I should be here alone. Tearing out the page and carrying it back to Jasper was such an odd thing for Alice to do. It felt like there was a message in her action—one I didn’t understand at all. But it was my book, so the message must be for me. If it were something she wanted Edward to know, wouldn’t she have pulled a page from one of his books… ?

“Give me just a minute,” I said, pulling my hand free as we got to the door.

His forehead creased. “Bella?”

“Please? Thirty seconds.”

I didn’t wait for him to answer. I darted through the door, pulling it shut behind me. I went straight to the bookshelf. Alice’s scent was fresh—less than a day old. A fire that I had not set burned low but hot in the fireplace. I yanked The Merchant of Venice off the shelf and flipped it open to the title page.

There, next to the feathered edge left by the torn page, under the words The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare , was a note.

Destroy this.

Below that was a name and an address in Seattle.

When Edward came through the door after only thirteen seconds rather than thirty, I was watching the book burn.

“What’s going on, Bella?”

“She was here. She ripped a page out of my book to write her note on.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know why.”

“Why are you burning it?”

“I—I—” I frowned, letting all my frustration and pain show on my face. I did not know what Alice was trying to tell me, only that she’d gone to great lengths to keep it from anyone but me. The one person whose mind Edward could not read. So she must want to keep him in the dark, and it was probably for a good reason. “It seemed appropriate.”

“We don’t know what she’s doing,” he said quietly.

I stared into the flames. I was the only person in the world who could lie to Edward. Was that what Alice wanted from me? Her last request?

“When we were on the plane to Italy,” I whispered—this was not a lie, except perhaps in context—“on our way to rescue you… she lied to Jasper so that he wouldn’t come after us. She knew that if he faced the Volturi, he would die. She was willing to die herself rather than put him in danger. Willing for me to die, too. Willing for you to die.”

Edward didn’t answer.

“She has her priorities,” I said. It made my still heart ache to realize that my explanation did not feel like a lie in any way.

“I don’t believe it,” Edward said. He didn’t say it like he was arguing with me—he said it like he was arguing with himself. “Maybe it was just Jasper in danger. Her plan would work for the rest of us, but he’d be lost if he stayed. Maybe . . .”

“She could have told us that. Sent him away.”

“But would Jasper have gone? Maybe she’s lying to him again.”

“Maybe,” I pretended to agree. “We should go home. There’s no time.”

Edward took my hand, and we ran.

Alice’s note did not make me hopeful. If there were any way to avoid the coming slaughter, Alice would have stayed. I couldn’t see another possibility. So it was something else she was giving me. Not a way to escape. But what else would she think that I wanted? Maybe a way to salvage something ? Was there anything I could still save?

Carlisle and the others had not been idle in our absence. We’d been separated from them for all of five minutes, and they were already prepared to leave. In the corner, Jacob was human again, with Renesmee on his lap, both of them watching us with wide eyes.

Rosalie had traded her silk wrap dress for a sturdy-looking pair of jeans, running shoes, and a button-down shirt made of the thick weave that backpackers used for long trips. Esme was dressed similarly. There was a globe on the coffee table, but they were done looking at it, just waiting for us.

The atmosphere was more positive now than before; it felt good to them to be in action. Their hopes were pinned on Alice’s instructions.

I looked at the globe and wondered where we were headed first.

“We’re to stay here?” Edward asked, looking at Carlisle. He didn’t sound happy.

“Alice said that we would have to show people Renesmee, and we would have to be careful about it,” Carlisle said. “We’ll send whomever we can find back here to you—Edward, you’ll be the best at fielding that particular minefield.”

Edward gave one sharp nod, still not happy. “There’s a lot of ground to cover.”

“We’re splitting up,” Emmett answered. “Rose and I are hunting for nomads.”

“You’ll have your hands full here,” Carlisle said. “Tanya’s family will be here in the morning, and they have no idea why. First, you have to persuade them not to react the way Irina did. Second, you’ve got to find out what Alice meant about Eleazar. Then, after all that, will they stay to witness for us? It will start again as the others come—if we can persuade anyone to come in the first place.” Carlisle sighed. “Your job may well be the hardest. We’ll be back to help as soon as we can.”

Carlisle put his hand on Edward’s shoulder for a second and then kissed my forehead. Esme hugged us both, and Emmett punched us both on the arm. Rosalie forced a hard smile for Edward and me, blew a kiss to Renesmee, and then gave Jacob a parting grimace.

“Good luck,” Edward told them.

“And to you,” Carlisle said. “We’ll all need it.”

I watched them leave, wishing I could feel whatever hope bolstered them, and wishing I could be alone with the computer for just a few seconds. I had to figure out who this J. Jenks person was and why Alice had gone to such lengths to give his name to only me.

Renesmee twisted in Jacob’s arms to touch his cheek.

“I don’t know if Carlisle’s friends will come. I hope so. Sounds like we’re a little outnumbered right now,” Jacob murmured to Renesmee.

So she knew. Renesmee already understood only too clearly what was going on. The whole imprinted-werewolf-gives-the-object-of-his-imprinting-whatever-she-wants thing was getting old pretty fast. Wasn’t shielding her more important than answering her questions?

I looked carefully at her face. She did not look frightened, only anxious and very serious as she conversed with Jacob in her silent way.

“No, we can’t help; we’ve got to stay here,” he went on. “People are coming to see you , not the scenery.”

Renesmee frowned at him.

“No, I don’t have to go anywhere,” he said to her. Then he looked at Edward, his face stunned by the realization that he might be wrong. “Do I?”

Edward hesitated.

“Spit it out,” Jacob said, his voice raw with tension. He was right at his breaking point, just like the rest of us.

“The vampires who are coming to help us are not the same as we are,” Edward said. “Tanya’s family is the only one besides ours with a reverence for human life, and even they don’t think much of werewolves. I think it might be safer—”

“I can take care of myself,” Jacob interrupted.

“Safer for Renesmee,” Edward continued, “if the choice to believe our story about her is not tainted by an association with werewolves.”

“Some friends. They’d turn on you just because of who you hang out with now?”

“I think they would mostly be tolerant under normal circumstances. But you need to understand—accepting Nessie will not be a simple thing for any of them. Why make it even the slightest bit harder?”

Carlisle had explained the laws about immortal children to Jacob last night. “The immortal children were really that bad?” he asked.

“You can’t imagine the depth of the scars they’ve left in the collective vampire psyche.”

“Edward . . .” It was still odd to hear Jacob use Edward’s name without bitterness.

“I know, Jake. I know how hard it is to be away from her. We’ll play it by ear— see how they react to her. In any case, Nessie is going to have to be incognito off and on in the next few weeks. She’ll need to stay at the cottage until the right moment for us to introduce her. As long as you keep a safe distance from the main house . . .”

“I can do that. Company in the morning, huh?”

“Yes. The closest of our friends. In this particular case, it’s probably better if we get things out in the open as soon as possible. You can stay here. Tanya knows about you. She’s even met Seth.”

“Right.”

“You should tell Sam what’s going on. There might be strangers in the woods soon.”

“Good point. Though I owe him some silence after last night.”

“Listening to Alice is usually the right thing.”

Jacob’s teeth ground together, and I could see that he shared Sam’s feelings about what Alice and Jasper had done.

While they were talking, I wandered toward the back windows, trying to look distracted and anxious. Not a difficult thing to do. I leaned my head against the wall that curved away from the living room toward the dining room, right next to one of the computer desks. I ran my fingers against the keys while staring into the forest, trying to make it look like an absentminded thing. Did vampires ever do things absentmindedly? I didn’t think anyone was paying particular attention to me, but I didn’t turn to make sure. The monitor glowed to life. I stroked my fingers across the keys again. Then I drummed them very quietly on the wooden desktop, just to make it seem random. Another stroke across the keys.

I scanned the screen in my peripheral vision.

No J. Jenks, but there was a Jason Jenks. A lawyer. I brushed the keyboard, trying to keep a rhythm, like the preoccupied stroking of a cat you’d all but forgotten on your lap. Jason Jenks had a fancy website for his firm, but the address on the homepage was wrong. In Seattle, but in a different zip code. I noted the phone number and then stroked the keyboard in rhythm. This time I searched the address, but nothing at all came up, as if the address didn’t exist. I wanted to look at a map, but I decided I was pushing my luck. One more brush, to delete the history. . . .

I continued staring out the window and brushed the wood a few times. I heard light footsteps crossing the floor to me, and I turned with what I hoped was the same expression as before.

Renesmee reached for me, and I held my arms open. She launched herself into them, smelling strongly of werewolf, and nestled her head against my neck.

I didn’t know if I could stand this. As much as I feared for my life, for Edward’s, for the rest of my family’s, it was not the same as the gut-wrenching terror I felt for my daughter. There had to be a way to save her, even if that was the only thing I could do.

Suddenly, I knew that this was all I wanted anymore. The rest I would bear if I had to, but not her life being forfeited. Not that.

She was the one thing I simply had to save.

Would Alice have known how I would feel?

Renesmee’s hand touched my cheek lightly.

She showed me my own face, Edward’s, Jacob’s, Rosalie’s, Esme’s, Carlisle’s, Alice’s, Jasper’s, flipping through all our family’s faces faster and faster. Seth and Leah. Charlie, Sue, and Billy. Over and over again. Worrying, like the rest of us were. She was only worrying, though. Jake had kept the worst from her as far as I could tell. The part about how we had no hope, how we all were going to die in a month’s time.

She settled on Alice’s face, longing and confused. Where was Alice?

“I don’t know,” I whispered. “But she’s Alice. She’s doing the right thing, like always.”

The right thing for Alice, anyway. I hated thinking of her that way, but how else could the situation be understood?

Renesmee sighed, and the longing intensified.

“I miss her, too.”

I felt my face working, trying to find the expression that went with the grief inside. My eyes felt strange and dry; they blinked against the uncomfortable feeling. I bit my lip. When I took my next breath, the air hitched in my throat, like I was choking on it.

Renesmee pulled back to look at me, and I saw my face mirrored in her thoughts and in her eyes. I looked like Esme had this morning.

So this was what it felt like to cry.

Renesmee’s eyes glistened wetly as she watched my face. She stroked my face, showing me nothing, just trying to soothe me.

I’d never thought to see the mother-daughter bond reversed between us, the way it had always been for Renée and me. But I hadn’t had a very clear view of the future.

A tear welled up on the edge of Renesmee’s eye. I wiped it away with a kiss. She touched her eye in amazement and then looked at the wetness on her fingertip.

“Don’t cry,” I told her. “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. I will find you a way through this.”

If there was nothing else I could do, I would still save my Renesmee. I was more positive than ever that this was what Alice would give me. She would know. She would have left me a way.

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