The sky was just beginning to adopt stray stretches of the orange lighting of sunset when the three of them stepped out of the house and climbed into the waiting taxi cab. Silence filled the small space, broken only when James spoke softly to the driver; the short cab ride felt like a lifetime sitting between the two of them. When they pulled up at the drop-off for the small airport, James got out first and made his way to the driver's window. He paid the fare and, as Bella crawled from the cab, Edward mumbled a few things to himself in a language Bella didn't recognize. She stood up and shut the door, turning just in time to see James slowly raise his eyes to Edward; a low, menacing growl parted his lips but he kept it quiet enough that humans couldn't hear. Clearly, James understood whatever language Edward had been speaking. She kicked Edward in the shin as he stuffed his hands into his pockets and headed into the airport; he ignored her and continued on.
James walked around the cab and came to her side, tossing his arm around her shoulders as he did so and stepping forward. When Bella didn't start walking with him, he turned and studied her face carefully. She dropped her shields and watched understanding creep into his eyes; while she knew his actions were only idle affection, small gestures between two people who were used to providing comfort to the other after a fight, Edward would see it as James staking a claim or attempting to influence Bella.
There was nothing possessive about the way James had his arm around her shoulders, but it wouldn't matter. James dropped his arm and averted his gaze; but Bella had seen something there, something shifting in the green traps of his eyes. A prowling anger, she'd never seen it before.
James blamed Edward for everything. For ever responding to his name in the street, for irresponsibly rushing head-first into the first situation with the Volturi, for not being powerful enough to keep a possessor out. He saw Edward as a handicap to them, someone who wasn't of the same rank or capacity and who would, in all likelihood, only slow them down or risk their lives. James wasn't mad with her because he was shifting guilt onto someone else.
And it pissed her off. Edward hadn't done anything wrong. He'd rushed into the Volturi situation the first time because she'd been rushing into it; if anything, he'd been the only reason she hadn't just lit them all on fire and brought Jasper home. Edward had been the one to reference the benefit of keeping her gifts a secret. Clearly the Volturi knew that she was powerful, but they couldn't know what. And it sure as hell wasn't Edward's fault that he couldn't keep someone out of his head. The analytical observation about Edward's usefulness may well be true, but Bella wasn't prepared to write him off for it. The fury swelled in her chest and she slammed her shields back into place. Her vision took on more light, as if the contrast had just gone up; a tell-tale sign that her eyes were giving her away.
It didn't even matter that he'd been able to feel the push of anger before she cut him out of her thoughts; he would have known just by looking at her face, regardless. Sandy vortex eyes, or not, James would have known.
She pushed her way through the doors of the airport and groaned inwardly when she found Edward standing, facing the glass doors, with his arms crossed over his chest and a look of sheer loathing all over his face. He was glaring at James. Bella didn't even have time to open her mouth.
"Drop it, kid; I didn't mean anything by it and it's clearly over, all right?" James sighed and clasped his hands behind his back.
Edward shot him a final unfriendly look before his face became expressionless. He addressed Bella, "the pilot is waiting."
She nodded and they began the brisk, though human, run to the private terminal at the back of the airport. Edward had as many contacts as, if not more than, James; and he'd used it to his full advantage. He'd made a single phone call and had booked a private jet to take them to Italy.
The pilot was named Ethan, and he was a vampire; he had a peculiar gift, however, that, by association, worked with his jet. Ethan could cloak, himself and his jet; and it made him undetectable to any forms of tracking or scanning. It also helped that he was a brilliant jet-engine mechanic and had gotten his jet's capability four times farther than the U.S. government.
They would land in Italy half an hour after boarding the jet.
Bella shifted uncomfortably on the couch. She wasn't particularly fond of private jets; they seemed like too much of a grand waste of funds. Who really needed TV screens as big as the one she was sitting across from on a jet? Not to mention the full bar at the back, or the Jacuzzi in the bathroom.
She sighed to herself, mulling over the recent events in her life. It seemed unfair how things were always backfiring. She glanced at Edward, sitting on a couch facing the back of the jet, on the other side of the aisle. She studied his features, the way his eyes darted back and forth as he looked out the window. He was hunched over in his seat, his elbows on his knees, and he seemed tormented. She thought of James, sitting farther back in the jet, out of her sight. It was odd that they'd picked the same side of the jet to sit on, and even odder that they chose to face each other.
She thought about the battle that they seemed to be having with each other. Neither seemed to consider her at fault for anything, which she found strange. She was as much at fault for any of this as either of them was, and she didn't like being discounted from that. She preferred to shoulder her share of the guilt. Speaking of guilt, she thought, I'm certainly to blame for the uneven distribution of knowledge between them. She frowned, staring out the window at the passing ground. Vampire vision was good for that. What was she supposed to do about the unfairness of the situation? James was overall more powerful, was it really fair that he knew something about Edward that Edward didn't know about James? She supposed not.
James knew Edward was telepathic; it was only fair that Edward know James was as well.
Without letting herself debate the morality of her actions, she shut down James' telepathy and focused on Edward. She was relatively certain that James allowed her to do it, as opposed to her simply being powerful enough; and she often wondered why he allowed such things but it wasn't in her nature to question James. Just as it wasn't typically in his nature to question her on her actions.
In the back of the jet, James lifted his eyes from his entwined hands and watched Edward closely. There was a ringing silence in his head; it was alarm enough.
'Edward,' Bella thought.
He scratched his neck. He'd heard her. She was pleased she recognized the gesture codes that he used to use with Alice. She was impressed that he'd thought to use them now.
'I thought you should know that James is a telepath.'
He rubbed his nose lightly with his finger, never lifting his eyes from the window. He knew?
So it hadn't mattered that she told him? She wondered how he knew, but a conversation like that was too difficult for gesture codes. She threw her shields back up and restored James' telepathy to him; no harm, no foul.
James stood from his seat and walked the short distance to the empty spot on the couch beside her. He sat down, not looking at her, and crossed his ankle over his knee as he leaned back against the couch. He looked directly at Edward, but he spoke to Bella. "Telepaths can sense each other."
He leaned forward and snatched a magazine from the table in front of them without looking at the title. He opened it up and flipped idly through the pages. "You should know that I remember everything you remember from your time around Edward those twelve years ago, Bella. I know the gesture codes." His voice was flat, toneless and unassuming. He wasn't accusing her, he wasn't being arrogant. He wasn't being arrogant or boasting.
He was being honest.
James studied a page of the magazine, an advertisement for some make-up or other, before he turned the page again. Bella looked back out the window. "Oh," she said. His eyes flicked to her but did not remain; he quickly refocused on the magazine.
James didn't keep things from Bella. It was that simple, and occasionally, that complicated. He was on her side, regardless of her decisions, and he saw it that way alone. Bella was precious to him, and every mistake she made could put her in danger.
Allowing anything that could potentially put her in more danger than she put herself in naturally was unacceptable. There was no in between. This was black and white, Bella's safety or Bella's life. He wouldn't risk losing her.
It was who James was. He was honest, dedicated. Loyal.
The rest of the flight went by quickly, and when they landed they met with the pilot at the exit door. Edward shook Ethan's hand and thanked him. "Ethan, I was wondering if it isn't too much trouble, if you could wait for us to finish our business before leaving. We shouldn't be long."
Ethan seemed about ready to decline, Edward could hear it, so he added "I could provide for your accommodations and entertainment. We really shouldn't be long; tomorrow evening, perhaps the next morning before dawn at the latest."
Ethan studied Edward carefully, but eventually he nodded. Edward wrote him a check for a sum Bella couldn't see, and they got off the plane. Bella strode ahead as the men caught up with her, James matching Edward's stride. "That was rather rude of you, Edward, don't you think?"
Edward glanced at James once before looking ahead once more. "I don't know what was rude about it."
"You read his mind without his permission. That's an intrusion, Edward; it's quite discourteous."
Edward shot James a less tolerant look. "Well some things can't be helped; why don't you just mind your own business?"
Bella stopped a few yards ahead of them and turned around, her hands on her hips as she glared at both of them. "Why don't you two just agree to disagree? You can fight it out later if you must."
James looked genuinely perplexed by how the conversation seemed to go. "All right; my apologies, Edward. I was simply making an observation."
Edward ignored him and continued walking. James caught up quickly and the three of them navigated the streets of Italy in silence for a stretch of about ten minutes.
"They know we're coming," James said.
"The precog?" Bella asked; she hated precogs – they made her life difficult.
There had been a few gaps in their planning before; clearly none of them were at their best.
Edward spoke up, "how powerful is this precog?"
"Powerful enough, I suppose. She's more reliable than your Alice, though Aro's arrogance allows him to believe that is untrue. That may work in our favor." James clasped his hands behind his back. They'd stopped walking.
"Why did it take her so long to find out we were coming?" Something just didn't make sense to Bella. James looked at her and the beginnings of a grin teased at his lips.
Of course it would be you to think of the proper questions, Bella, he thought.
"Because she can only see what is already in action; Alice can see what has been decided. The difference seems insignificant, but it is not. There are no doubts to her visions, such as there are with Alice's."
Bella realized where she recognized James' actions from, a curiosity that had been bugging her subconscious since his arrival. He was acting the way he had when they'd first met. It hadn't bothered her now; but his knowledge made him arrogant on occasion, more frequently it made him condescending.
She was starting to get that vibe.
"So how do we get around her?" Edward was picking up her slack.
"Bella." James' answer didn't seem much like an answer.
"Me?" Bella's head was starting to hurt.
"What can Bella do?" Edward wasn't quite following and James frowned at him.
Occasionally, talking to people without his gift was tiring. Connecting the dots for them felt like it was something he shouldn't really be bothered with.
"Bella can nullify gifts, Edward; why wouldn't it work with the precog?" James crossed his arms over his chest.
"Because I can only nullify someone as powerful as, or less powerful than, me, James; I thought you would remember that."
"She isn't more powerful than you are, Bella. What makes you think she is?" James quirked an eyebrow at her, the dazzling sunset glowing behind him and making his hair gleam with a rich yellow light. She looked away from him.
"You said she was stronger than Alice," Edward said, "and doesn't Bella's nullifying gift only work on gifts that impact the mind?"
James' eyebrows lifted comically, though it didn't seem to be a joke. "No, absolutely not. Bella can nullify any gift that doesn't surpass her own power."
"But that doesn't make any sense, James, because I can nullify your telepathy but not your –" Bella cut herself off suddenly, biting her lip and looking down. "Other gifts," she mumbled.
Now she was confusing herself. Hadn't she assumed James had just allowed her to shut down his power because he didn't mind?
"Never mind, I don't know what I was thinking," she said. "Of course I can shut down your telepathy."
James looked at her, wondering if she was piecing the puzzle together or if she was assuming something different. "Why do you say that?"
"You allow me to, don't you? You just let me because you see no harm in it."
That baffled look was back on James' face. "Absolutely not! I would not interfere with your understanding of the boundaries of your gifts that way, Bella. It would be sabotage."
Now she was confused again.
"I do not understand," she growled in frustration. Edward glanced between them and spoke up.
"Why can she only nullify one of your gifts, James?"
James looked at Edward and his shoulders relaxed. Not because he was comfortable, but because he was getting exhausted by this conversation. "Because powers of the mind are her specialty, but they are not her only category. Bella can nullify my telepathy, not only because it is her specialty, but because we are bonded." His eyes shifted to Bella and he stared at her hard for a moment, not angrily, but intensely.
"Bonded?" Edward wasn't sure exactly what that entailed; and what was more important in the long run was just how bonded they were.
"She is mine," James said. It was that simple to him; he had created her, brought her into this life, provided her the blood of an ancient so that she could manage her own gifts. She was his, it really wasn't difficult.
Bella supposed they were communicating telepathically over the semantics of that statement, considering Edward had not lunged at James over the comment.
Bella walked up to James and fished inside of his pockets. They both watched her; Edward clearly confused and James simply waiting for her to find what she was looking for. He knew, of course, and part of him hated that she would find it; it showed that he had never really let go of their routines. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from his leather jacket pocket.
She hadn't brought her purse. She had two obscenely rich men with her, 'why would she need her purse?' she'd thought. Apparently, having James around allowed her to revert to her old habits of assuming their routines because the idea of having her cigarettes never crossed her mind. She had to open the pack to out a cigarette and let it hang between her lips; which meant he had purchased a new pack and put them in his pocket to replace the old, open pack that had been there when she left. James didn't smoke. She snapped her fingers and a small flame danced between them; she lit her cigarette and returned the pack to his pocket. She looked up at him and spoke softly, "hey, um; thanks."
She dropped the uncomfortable acknowledgement of how well tuned into each other they were and smoked herself into a less dangerous level of stress.
"So Bella can shut down your telepathy, even though you're more powerful than she is, because you sired her?" Edward seemed to be just as desperate as either of them was to get passed the moment that had happened between them.
"Correct," James responded. He hadn't allowed any response to the situation to cross his face.
"But I can only nullify people I can see, James; I don't understand how I'm supposed to nullify her." Bella dropped her smoked cigarette on the ground and stomped it out with her boot. James pulled the pack out of his pocket again and handed her another. Clearly he wasn't ready for her to go fishing for them herself again.
Edward watched Bella take it and light it up. He didn't understand how James knew she had wanted a second one. Had he been reading her mind? If she dropped her shields, he should be able to hear her as well. He could hear James, so she hadn't shut his telepathy down; and he didn't understand why she would have anyway. He glanced from Bella to James and James met his eyes.
James expression was carefully detached, he didn't give away anything and even though there was knowledge of Edward's curiosity clear in his mind, he made no effort to explain it. Even in his head. Edward stopped thinking about it, realizing they were wasting time, and re-focused on the dilemma.
James looked at Bella once Edward had stopped pondering about him and shook his head. "That is not true, Bella. You never allowed Alice to see you in her visions, so much so that she thought you were dead when we changed you. How is it that you managed that if you can only nullify the gift of a person within your sight?"
Bella thought about it for a second, taking a long drag and blowing it out through her nose. "Because I knew Alice; I was familiar with her and I kept a constant thought of her gift in my head because I was paranoid of her seeing me."
"So you defended yourself against the threat," James clarified. "What is stopping you now?"
"I don't know who to focus on." She lifted her gaze to him and sighed.
"Aza. Her name is Aza." James stuffed his hands into his pockets.
"That's not enough, James; how many people in the world could be named Aza?" She flicked the ash off the tip of her cigarette.
"521," he responded. She shot him a playful scowl.
"That was rhetorical."
James shrugged and Edward cleared his throat. Their familiarity was beginning to unnerve him. They spoke to each other in seeming half-conversations; like lovers. They communicated in other ways, it appeared, gestures and looks that he couldn't decipher.
"I could familiarize you with her, Bella. It is a rather measly dilemma we are debating." James was always so confident; she supposed it was because he really just knew everything he needed to know. She guessed that would make anyone pretty confident.
"Then do it." The challenge sounded strange as it left her lips; not at all appropriate for the situation, it seemed to be laced with innuendo. She hadn't intended it, but it probably didn't matter. James walked toward her and smirked faintly, the slightest shift of his lips – something only she would notice.
"It is not an action I can perform, Bella." He parted his arms, making room for her flat against his chest. She glanced to Edward, suddenly understanding the only way James could transfer such knowledge to her, and she swallowed hard. Edward didn't seem to understand just yet, but he recognized the gesture as something meant to bring her closer to James and it displeased him.
"Edward, I need you to pretend this isn't happening." She didn't really know what else to do. She had to do this if it would get them inside, but the strain that was between the two men was high enough as it was. He glowered at James; Bella accepted that as the best she would get. She stepped forward, into James' waiting arms, and sighed as his smell enveloped her. There was something so quieting about him, something that eased her mind and her soul and let her feel rested. She had to regain control of herself and focus. She stood up on her tip toes and bit down on his neck. Hard.
The flood of his hot blood entering her mouth was nearly faint-worthy; she sighed into his neck in a contented way. He tasted so good. Her body cried out for him, the way it always did when they fed from each other, and she smothered the images that entered her mind.
She couldn't think about that right now.
She drank from him until murky images of the Volturi building began filling her mind. "Red hair," James said; she could feel the sensations of his voice against her lips.
The image of a small woman with blood-red hair filled her mind; the woman was shriveled up, well into her fifties but freshly turned. In the vampire world, she was barely three years old.
Bella shut her down immediately; she wasn't risking the woman having a last vision of their actions beforehand. Removing her fangs from his neck, Bella returned the heels of her feet to the ground and gently wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. She never made a mess, but it was a good habit to check anyway.
"Let's move," she said, running a hand through her hair and taking the first few steps in the direction of the Volturi. James grabbed her by the crook of her arm and shook his head when she looked at him.
"There's one other thing."
She thought she heard Edward groan. "What is it?"
"The possessor will only have more power the closer we are to her;" he shot a look at Edward, clearly seeing him as a weak link, "he's going to be more susceptible to her."
Bella scowled at James and yanked her arm free. "So will you, James. Thanks for the warning," she snapped; then she turned and walked off.
Edward was beginning to catch on to the delicate way Bella had to phrase things to get real answers out of James. "What are all of your gifts?"
James stared at him for a long moment, his shoulders tense but his face expressionless still. "You will find them out shortly, I am certain. As you have already seen two of them, I do not feel the need to explain to you." He turned and began walking after Bella.