Chapter 1 – When the Dam Breaks

A/N:

Evening, my loyal followers! So, I started writing this a while ago and decided to begin posting it. It’s a little different from my other stories- I wanted to experiment with writing in the present tense. Turns out it’s harder than it looks and I probably won’t be attempting it again, lol. It was still fun to try.

Just to give you some background, this begins the summer before New Moon, sometime after Bella’s cast has been removed. Please remember that I only write what I want to read, so spare me the flames if you decide you just want to burn it. Hit the back button instead, because there are literally thousands of other stories at your fingertips.

I think this fic will probably be shorter than my others, fyi. I’m thinking no more than ten chapters. It actually started out as a two-shot that kind of exploded. The first chapter’s pretty emotional, but it’s ultimately meant to be a fun fic. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga belongs to Stephanie Meyer. I just have a soft spot for danger and the people drawn to it.


It’s a lovely, sunny afternoon in mid July. Summer has finally conquered the rainy, little town of Forks, which means Bella’s favorite vampires will be staying inside, dutifully avoiding the sunlight. She loves the warmth the sun provides, always has, and it saddens her that the Cullens rarely get to enjoy it.

Sheltered from the sun’s rays by the tinted windows of his Volvo, Edward picks Bella up to take her to the Cullens’ house. After the incident with James, she’s been steadily growing closer to the family as a whole and often spends her free time there. She’s blindingly happy and loves them all dearly, even if she secretly fears she isn’t good enough for them.

There’s a small, quiet part of her that suspects Edward will leave her one day. It makes her tentative around him, unsure. Bizarrely, her lacking confidence draws out a more forceful side of Edward. He’s become more possessive and orders her around more than he used to. The more she wants to spend time with his family, the more he wants her all to himself. She often has to fight for her time with them, but Bella’s okay with that.

She knows they’re worth it.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that Edward immediately escorts her to his bedroom when they arrive, isolating her from the others. She spends a couple hours listening to music with him before Alice decides to steal him away, asking him to accompany her on a quick hunt just after the sun finally sets. Edward’s reluctant to leave Bella’s side, but his throat burns like fire and his eyes grow darker the longer he’s with her. Though he’s been slowly adjusting to the tempting call of her blood over the last few months, it still occasionally overwhelms him at times. The fact that Alice is insisting he hunt with her tells him how badly he needs it. She only insists when she sees a vision of Edward succumbing to his building thirst.

Agreeing to the request, Edward deposits his girlfriend in the living room before departing. Esme volunteers to entertain her, but gracefully retreats to her studio when Bella shows her the book in her hands. Playfully giving Emmett a high-five as she passes him, she takes a seat on the couch. He’s sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, his gaze intently trained on the video game he’s playing. It’s some type of war game and Bella eyes it longingly for a second, wishing someone would teach her how to shoot. The idea has always secretly appealed to her.

“Where’s Rosalie, Em?” she questions as she gets comfortable.

“Port Angeles,” he says distractedly, “picking up a part she ordered for the Jeep.”

Seeing how invested he is in his game, Bella leaves him to it and starts to read, immersing herself in the dark imaginings of Edgar Allen Poe. She usually prefers the English playwrights, but her recent involvement with vampires has inspired her to broaden her horizons. She gets a small thrill out of knowing that the things that go bump in the night are not only real, she’s friends with a few of them.

Slowly, Bella becomes aware of eyes on her. She attempts to dismiss it at first, but finds it too distracting. When she can ignore the sensation of being watched no longer, she looks up and unexpectedly locks gazes with Jasper. Puzzled, she wonders why she hasn’t noticed his presence until now. He’s sitting on the sofa directly across from her, a Civil War book in his lap, and there’s a slight look of confused surprise on his face. Maintaining eye contact, Bella tilts her head questioningly and Jasper’s expression morphs into one of uneasiness. She gazes back at him in bewilderment, trying to pinpoint the source of his alarm.

Bella’s always liked Jasper. There’s something about his demeanor she finds incredibly soothing. After what he said to her in Phoenix, she intended to get to know him better and it suddenly strikes her as strange that she’s never followed through.

A frown settles on her face as she considers just how apathetic she’s felt towards him lately. She can’t understand why she lost all interest in him after what happened in the ballet studio. Jasper helped Alice and Emmett destroy James. He protected her from a tracker determined to kill her. His willingness to kill someone for her should’ve made her more determined to get to know him, not less.

Then it hits her. Jasper’s an empath. He can control her emotions. If she feels apathetic towards him and can’t understand why, then it’s likely because he wants her to.

Time stills for one painful beat and then something shatters.

Jasper somehow loses his emotional grip on her and what Bella feels is indescribable. While she has no memory of feeling the emotions Jasper altered and manipulated, the echoes of them linger. She takes in a strangled breath, knowing deep in her heart that those echoes are proof Jasper has been controlling her emotional state. She has no idea how long he’s been using his gift on her. It’s entirely possible that he’s been subtly influencing her ever since that day in Phoenix.

Tensing, Jasper keeps his golden eyes trained on hers as he scrambles to regain his hold on her emotions. The empath concentrates harder on her emotional state than he ever has before, but it’s no use. Bella’s emotions are falling away from him, slipping through his grip as easily as water through his fingers. While he can still sense them, they no longer bend to his control as easily as they did just moments ago.

He doesn’t know how she’s doing it. She’s never resisted his influence before. No one ever notices his manipulations if he doesn’t want them to.

Stunned, he stares at her disbelievingly, his spine stiffening when he sees the look of realization flash across her face. She knows. She’s awake and she knows what he’s done. Somehow, she’s connected the dots and figured out that he’s been suppressing some of her emotions.

Bitter betrayal grips Bella by the throat and Jasper twitches at the intensity of it. His gaze sharpens and she can almost taste the regret leaking into the air. He hadn’t realized how badly she would take it, she assumes. He didn’t know she would reject his emotional tampering so fiercely. She almost pities him for it.

Almost, but not quite. She’s too furious to pity him.

Emmett finally notices the tension in the room and pauses his game to look at Bella. Her heart is racing, thundering loudly in his ears. It’s beating so fast that it unnerves him. He’s no doctor, but even he knows it can’t be healthy.

“Calm down, Bella,” Jasper commands, earning himself a furious glare from the pretty brunette. Instead of calming, her anger skyrockets. It beats at him like a battering ram, aimed solely at him. She’s nearly choking on it, she feels so angry and betrayed. He’s rarely encountered the kind of fury she’s projecting and it cuts him to the core.

“Calm down?” Bella repeats slowly, angrily getting to her feet. Tossing her book aside, she plants her hands on her hips and starts to pace back and forth in front of the couch, desperately trying to think. Emmett’s wide eyes bounce between them like a pinball and he wonders uncertainly if he should step in. Bella doesn’t even acknowledge his presence, her eyes are glued to the presumptuous empath that dared to screw with her emotional state for months.

The more she thinks about it, the angrier she grows. Blinded by her fury, she starts to advance on him. “Calm down?! I’ll show you calm, you manipulative son of a-“

Bella cuts herself off when she feels the featherlight brush of his gift against her emotions. Emmett stares at Bella in shock, torn between trying to soothe her and laughing because she’s so livid she nearly swore at Jasper, who she rarely acknowledges. He’s never seen the girl so fiercely passionate about something before and it’s an oddly nice change from the timid submissiveness she exudes around Edward.

He has no idea what’s causing her to react this way, but he’s a bit too fascinated by the behavioral shift to try to interfere.

Bella is shocked into silence by Jasper’s sheer gall. She can’t believe he’s actually trying to manipulate her emotions again, knowing full well that it’s what has her so pissed off in the first place. Jasper’s face is set in deep concentration and Bella can almost see him reaching for her anger, trying to steal yet another emotion from her. A sudden, crazed desperation builds in the core of her very being, a need to protect herself from him at all costs, and something snaps. The last bit of control Jasper has over her emotions fractures and the calm he’s attempting to force rebounds. He jerks back, flinching violently at how forcefully she’s thrown his fabricated emotions back in his face.

Bella’s across the room and leaning into Jasper’s personal space before he fully registers the fact that she not only repelled his influence, she’s completely destroyed the tenuous hold he had on her emotions. His mind reels in shock and it’s the only reason Bella’s able to close the distance between them without him noticing. He finally meets her blazing, brown eyes and, for one surreal moment, he feels like their roles have been reversed. Bella is now the predator and Jasper her prey.

“Don’t you dare,” Bella snarls, sounding so menacing that Emmett immediately becomes concerned. A tremor runs through her and her hands curl into fists, like she’s tempted to actually use them on the empath. He and Jasper are both surprised by her ferocity. In that moment, they can easily picture the vampire she’ll one day become.

They think she’ll be glorious. It’s not a new thought for either of them. They’ve both seen so much potential in Bella from the very start, this is just another nail in her figurative coffin.

“Leave my emotions alone,” she demands forcefully, her expression fierce. “I’ve had enough of your manipulations for one lifetime. You keep your damn gift to yourself from now on.”

Jasper can do nothing but stare at her, his thoughts racing. There’s a part of him that wants to shrink away from the sheer anger and hurt that radiates from her, but another part, a darker part, is enthralled by her reaction. Bella’s only human, a tragically beautiful human, but a human nonetheless. She’s fully aware that Jasper can kill her with a mere flick of his hand, yet she’s going toe to toe with him anyway, challenging one of the most lethal vampires on the planet. She’s not even nervous; fear is a forgotten thing. There’s no room for it with the amount of anger pouring out of her.

He likes it. He likes that she doesn’t fear him, that she can hold her own against him so easily. She’s gorgeous like this, all righteous anger and indignation. Her cheeks are flushed with it and her eyes practically smolder at him, she’s filled with so much rage. She looks every inch a warrior and he doesn’t think he’s ever been so turned on by someone’s fury before. A heady need builds in the pit of his stomach, full of heat and desire and want. There’s an intoxicating possessiveness woven into her emotional state that calls to him. If she feels so territorial over her emotions, he can only imagine how possessive she’ll feel over a lover, how passionate. He’s always been drawn to strength and Bella’s just inadvertently shown him that a will of iron hides beneath her doe brown eyes.

It’s in that tumultuous moment that he realizes he’s been underestimating her. He thought it was only Edward’s gift she could block. Now he understands, he could feel and manipulate Bella’s emotions solely because she allowed him to. She trusted him on an entirely innate level. Now that he’s broken that trust, Bella instinctively views him as a threat. She won’t let him touch her emotions anymore. He has a sneaking suspicion the only reason he can still sense her at all is because Bella wants him to feel the depth of the anger, pain, and betrayal he’s caused her.

On some level, Bella wants to punish him.

“Bella,” he starts, raising his hands in a placating gesture. She cuts him off before he can even begin to explain himself.

“How long?” she fumes, her voice cutting into him like a knife. Jasper falls silent, reluctant to answer the one question that means the most to her. “How long have you been tampering with my emotions, Jasper? How long have you been influencing me?”

Alarmed, Emmett swiftly and gently pulls Bella closer to him, putting some desperately needed space between his enraged sister and his empathic brother. He doesn’t really understand what’s happening, but he knows Bella. She’s quick to forgive and slow to anger. If she’s furious with Jasper, then there’s a damn good reason for it.

But the idea that Jasper’s been toying with Bella’s emotional state? It’s not something that Emmett can comprehend. He stares Jasper down as the tension in the room mounts, silently begging his brother to say he hasn’t really done what Bella’s accusing him of.

The denial never comes and a deep rooted sense of dread takes hold of Emmett’s gut. Thinking quickly, Emmett knows if someone doesn’t get this situation under control, it’ll only escalate. While he thinks Bella’s entitled to her anger, confronting Jasper is a dangerous game. He’s lethal in more ways than one.

Keeping his voice too low for Bella to notice, Emmett whispers urgently, “Esme.”

Jasper slowly rises from his seat, his eyes fixed unwaveringly on Bella. He’s beginning to realize she won’t be letting this go anytime soon. From the sheer amount of pure wrath directed his way, he’ll be lucky if she doesn’t take a swing at him.

The movement unnerves Emmett and he forces Bella to retreat another step. When Esme finally joins them, the sheer relief he feels is absurd. In the absence of Carlisle, his mate has the final say on disputes within the coven.

Hoping she’s heard wrong, Esme enters the room with a concerned expression on her face. With one look at Jasper, she knows she hasn’t. She can see the guilt in his eyes. Crestfallen, she steps forward to rest a gentle hand on Bella’s shoulder and whispers, “Oh, Jasper, what have you done?”

Jasper averts his gaze, unable to look Esme in the eye. “I did it for the coven, Esme, to keep it united.”

Esme shakes her head in denial. It hurts her to hear him use their family to justify his questionable actions. Bella tenses at the confirmation and a tear spills down her cheek. Protectively wrapping her arm around Bella’s shoulders, Esme pulls her in closer and urges, “Answer her question, Jasper. How long?”

Jasper finally locks eyes with Esme. She’s safer to look at than Bella is. He begins to understand just how badly he’s fucked things up when he realizes he can’t even bring himself to look at the girl. “Since Phoenix.”

A deep, tense silence cloaks the room as that sinks in. Bella smashes that suffocating silence with a broken cry, “Why, Jasper?! Why would you do that to me? Why not let me feel my own emotions?”

“Your emotions are dangerous!” he snaps, stunning the three of them. “You have this insatiable curiosity towards me, Bella,” he explains, a helpless look on his face. He doesn’t mention the admiration, respect, and attraction she’s also been feeling. “If I hadn’t forced indifference on you, you would’ve sought me out-“

Emmett interrupts him, his eyes wide with incredulity, “You forced emotions on her because she was curious about you? What the hell, Jasper?! Curiosity isn’t dangerous, it’s human!”

“Yeah? Tell that to James!” Jasper shouts at him. He sees the way the three of them recoil, but he can’t seem to control his mouth. There’s too much anger in the room and it’s affecting him heavily, making him say things he already knows he’ll regret. “That tracker felt the same level of curiosity towards Bella.” His eyes darken with every word. “Don’t tell me curiosity isn’t dangerous, Emmett.”

Bella feels like she’s been sucker-punched. Her chest aches with sheer hurt over being compared to a sadistic bastard like James. She’s sickened by it, an emotion she unknowingly shares with Esme and Emmett. Another tear spills down her cheek and a wounded noise escapes her throat.

Is the idea of getting to know her really that bad? Does he really dislike her so much that she reminds him of James?

The sound makes Jasper flinch. He finally looks at her, somehow appearing regretful and stubborn all at the same time. Clearly, he regrets hurting her, but feels justified in his actions.

That’s when the anger returns, like a flickering ember reigniting in her chest. It catches fire and burns. Heat climbs up her throat and finally bursts out of her mouth, “Damn it, Jasper! Wanting to get to know you is a hell of a lot different from wondering what you taste like!”

She can hear a pin drop in the ensuing silence, the room goes so still. Her entire face reddens as she belatedly registers how that sounds and Jasper gives her a look that makes her mouth run dry. There’s a wicked glint in his eyes that shifts to indifference so quickly she thinks she must’ve imagined it.

Jasper can only take so much. Bella’s a gorgeous woman and he’s still a man. What man wouldn’t feel a flare of lust at the thought of Bella Swan tasting him?

Emmett cracks up, feeling incredibly grateful the memory of a vampire is damn near photographic. He never wants to forget this moment.

Jasper ignores his brother’s laughter, focusing on the teary-eyed girl in Esme’s arms, “I know it doesn’t seem like it, Bella, but I also did it for your safety.” Bella gives him a skeptical look, not trusting a word he says. “I’m not controlled enough for you to approach me. If you’d caught me alone, just for a chance to sate that curiosity, I can’t guarantee you would’ve walked away with a pulse. And your death would’ve destroyed the Cullens. I couldn’t risk that.”

His justification for his actions does little to appease her. He says it with an expectant look, like his excuses somehow make what he’s done okay. He’s wrong if that’s what he thinks, because it doesn’t make her feel any better and it’s definitely not okay.

In that moment, Bella realizes that she doesn’t care why Jasper did it anymore, just that he did. She doesn’t trust him anymore, she barely even trusts herself. The fact that she hadn’t realized he’s been manipulating her emotions until now means she can no longer trust her own feelings. For the first time since she met the Cullens, Bella is unsure of not only herself, but of her love for their family. There’s no way to know for certain which emotions truly belonged to her, no way to know what was real. As a result, she’s starting to question everything she’s ever felt. If he’s willing to manipulate her to keep them united, then it’s entirely possible he sent her emotions to keep her quiet when she discovered their secret.

His emotional touch is so smooth and so subtle. How on earth is she supposed to tell the difference between what she genuinely felt and what Jasper made her feel?

“I see,” Bella says quietly, “the ends justify the means, right?”

Jasper stares at her uncertainly, trying and failing to interpret her reaction. When he gives her a stilted nod, she nearly lunges at him. Picking up on her temptation to slap him, Jasper takes an unwilling step back. It’s only the knowledge that she’ll break her hand that keeps her where she is.

“No,” she shakes her head, “no, they don’t. There were other ways to deal with the situation, Jasper. If you were really afraid I’d approach you alone, then why didn’t you just talk to me when the others were present? I didn’t need to be alone with you to get to know you, Jasper. You’re always around when I visit. You’re always here when I play games with Emmett or hang out with Alice. You’ve had so many opportunities to speak with me, but you never took them. You chose to manipulate me instead.”

Edward and Alice arrive in the middle of her scolding and she doesn’t notice. Her eyes never leave Jasper’s stricken face. It’s like he’s never even considered trying to get to know her and it stings more than she expects it to. She obviously cares more for Jasper than she thought she did, because the idea that he’s never even thought about it leaves her winded. Jasper’s clearly been suppressing a lot more than just her curiosity.

“What’s going on here?” Edward interrupts and Bella finally notices that he and Alice have returned.

She barely has a chance to register their presence before the question spills out of her, “Did you know?”

Alice stiffens the second the words fall from her lips and Bella feels it as keenly as a knife to the chest. Jasper makes a strangled sound, sensing how she feels about her best friend’s betrayal. Alice meets her eyes for a fraction of a second before lowering her gaze to the floor and the knife twists.

“Know what?” Edward wonders cautiously, trying to read everyone’s thoughts and maintain eye contact with Bella at the same time.

“That Jasper’s been manipulating my emotions,” she grinds out. “Did you know?

Edward tenses and it’s all the answer she needs. Of course he does, this is Edward they’re talking about. The Edward that snuck into her room to watch her sleep before they started dating and picks her up for school everyday because he doesn’t trust her enough to drive herself. The same Edward that constantly hides things from her, isolates her from her friends and family, and refuses to take her anywhere unless Alice sees it’s safe first. This is nothing new to him, just one more choice in a long line of choices he’s taken away from her under the guise of protection. It’s not the first time he’s done it and it certainly won’t be the last. She realizes that now.

He knows, he’s always known, and he let Jasper do it.

Her tears flow freely as she wraps her arms around herself, desperately needing the comfort. Edward reaches out for her and Bella flinches away from him. “Don’t touch me!” A wounded look flashes across his face and his hand drops, but Bella can’t bring herself to care. It hurts to breathe, she feels so betrayed. “You knew, Edward! You knew he was altering my emotions for months and you kept it from me!” She glares at Alice, who visibly recoils at the look on her face, and says accusingly, “You both did.”

A quick, searching glance at the dismayed expressions of Esme and Emmett tells her neither vampire were in on it, but that’s little comfort to her now. The two people that mean the most to her knew about Jasper’s manipulations and allowed it to happen.

“You don’t understand, Bella,” Edward attempts to defend himself, stepping closer to her. He stills when Bella shadows him; whenever he takes a step towards her, she takes a step back. Obviously, she doesn’t trust him anymore.

He’s right, too. Bella doesn’t trust him. She doesn’t want him to touch her either. Hell, she can barely stand to look at him. She wants him out of her sight. Whatever twisted farce of a relationship they have? It’s over now.

Alice cries out in shock, sounding as if someone has physically struck her, and Edward’s face crumples in pain. Bella doesn’t even notice; she’s too busy having a revelation of her own to register the fallout from her latest decision. Because it’s just hit her… does she trust any of them anymore? If Alice and Edward can betray her so easily, can she trust anybody in this house?

Alice rounds on Jasper with a snarl, fury on her face. “What did you tell her, Jasper?”

The two start to quarrel as Emmett cautiously pushes Edward to back up a step, his brow creased in concern. The bottomless black of his brother’s eyes unnerve him. Edward snaps at him for stepping between him and Bella, his frustration boiling over.

With a pained frown, Esme anxiously wrings her hands together as she watches her family fall apart. She doesn’t know what to do or how to fix it. Glancing at the sole human in the room, she doubts fixing it is even possible at this point. There may be no repairing what her children broke.

Throughout all of this, Bella remains frozen. For the first time since she met the Cullens, she’s afraid of them. They’ve hurt her far worse than she thought they ever possibly could. She wants to flee, to retreat to the safety of her home, but Edward picked her up in his Volvo earlier and she isn’t sure she trusts any of them enough to let them drive her there.

She blinks and there’s suddenly a stunning blonde standing in front of her, sizing her up with a strange expression on her face, a bizarre combination of pride and concern. As Bella meets her cautious gaze, she realizes that, yes, she does still trust one of the vampires in this house. She trusts Rosalie, because Rosalie’s always brutally honest and makes no apologies for it. If there’s one vampire she can trust to tell her the truth with every fiber of her being, it’s her.

It’s brief, but Bella catches a flicker of something buried in the shadows of her golden eyes that feels strangely familiar, as if the blonde is a kindred soul she only just now recognizes. There’s a history there that feels just out of her reach, the echoes of an intimate brush with betrayal that tell her Rosalie probably understands what she’s feeling better than Bella does herself.

“Are you all right, Bella?” she questions, studying the brunette as if she doesn’t know what to make of her.

“I don’t trust myself anymore,” Bella blurts out and the arguing voices in the background immediately die down. “I can’t tell the truth from the lies. And I definitely can’t tell the people I should trust from the people I shouldn’t. I can’t even tell which emotions are mine, Rosalie.”

The Cullen house is as silent as a graveyard, its occupants watching in horror as Bella’s spirit seems to shatter right before their very eyes. The look she gives Rosalie is so helpless and desolate that it brings Esme and Emmett to the verge of tears. Her voice sounds painfully small and vulnerable when she whispers, “How will I ever figure out what’s real and what’s not with so many people trying to manipulate me?”

Rosalie isn’t sure what to say. Her mouth opens and closes a few times, but no words come out. Before she can pull herself together, Bella asks, “I can trust you, can’t I? You never lie, not even to spare my feelings. You’re so honest you’re borderline brutal.”

For the briefest moment, Rosalie entertains the idea of telling her no. If Bella thinks she can’t trust anyone in the Cullen house, then maybe she won’t come back. Maybe she’ll distance herself from the vampire world and pursue a human life. Maybe she’ll grow up, get married, have babies, and grow old with someone she loves. It never even occurs to her that it would be just another manipulation and Bella has already had more than her fill of people trying to control her.

Unsurprisingly, the idea tempts her… until Rosalie looks at her, really looks at her, and realizes how very lost and broken she is. If Rosalie allows Bella to believe everyone she’s grown to love in this house are liars, Bella will never trust another soul again. Any chance the poor girl has of living a happy life, be it as a vampire or a human, will be nothing but dust in the wind.

It’s a fate crueler than death and Rosalie won’t sentence her to it.

“I’ve never lied to you and I won’t start now,” she promises, nearly overwhelmed with relief when she spots a corresponding flicker of hope in Bella’s chocolate eyes. Surprising herself, she actually means it. If Bella really trusts her, then she intends to prove herself worthy of it.

“Did you know?” Bella wonders and Rosalie raises an expectant eyebrow. “That Jasper’s been altering my emotions?” She levels an accusing finger at Alice and Edward, “That they knew and kept it from me?”

Rosalie’s eyes are the color of obsidian as she throws a dark look over her shoulder at the guilty parties involved. She caught the tail end of Bella’s confrontation with Edward, but she hadn’t known what the fight was actually about. Her feelings on the matter are simple. Edward and Alice are definitely in the wrong, Jasper’s a moron, and she’s proud of Bella for sticking up for herself. The girl has always allowed the vampires in her life too many liberties and it truly pleases Rosalie to learn that Bella has some genuine fire hidden inside her.

Esme catches her eye and nods encouragingly, but not before Rosalie notices how devastated she looks. Emmett, too, looks utterly crushed. The blonde can’t blame them. Bella’s suffered so much betrayal in such a short amount of time that it’s wrecked her. Rosalie knows what that feels like and she knows Bella will have a long road to travel before she starts to trust herself again. It’ll be even more difficult to learn to trust in someone else.

Turning her attention back to Bella, Rosalie shakes her head, “No, I didn’t, Bella. I would not have allowed it if I’d known.” There’s a hiss of irritation coming from Edward behind her, but Rosalie firmly ignores it. “Would it help at all if I told you Emmett and Esme didn’t know either?”

Bella considers that carefully, feeling more than a little relieved to realize it does. Rosalie won’t lie to her, ever, so she knows she can trust her word when she vouches for Emmett and Esme. She never really thought they were involved, but it eases her mind considerably to hear the blonde confirm it.

Bella nods tiredly and Rosalie gives her a beautiful smile. She smiles back for a second before her face falls and she asks, “Will you please take me home, Rosalie? I can’t be here anymore.”

“Okay,” Rose agrees and gently takes Bella’s arm to guide her toward the door.

Edward foolishly steps into their path before they can get there, “Bella, love, please just let me explain fir-“

It’s like a switch is flipped, the change in Bella is so drastic. Her back straightens, her spine stiffens, and her eyes narrow. The lost look on her face is quickly replaced by righteous fury. With a voice that’s harder than steel, she orders, “Get out of my way, Edward.”

Oddly enough, Jasper feels something inside of him uncoil at the sight. The fury that emanates from her is worlds better than the brokenness he sensed just moments ago. Despite the fact that he’s never taken the opportunity to get to know her, a fact he deeply regrets now, Jasper can’t stand the idea that he’s destroyed her. He cares for her more than he realized and he desperately wishes he could take it all back. He’s keenly aware that he’s erred greatly in his actions and is determined to learn from it. He wants nothing more to apologize for what he’s done, but he knows she won’t hear him out until she has a chance to cool down.

Edward, on the other hand, isn’t even ready to accept that he’s in the wrong, let alone apologize for it. He’s still attempting to justify himself to her and it’s that, more than anything, that makes Jasper realize the telepath is doomed. Their relationship will never recover because Edward refuses to admit he made a mistake.

The foolish vampire shakes his head, earning a warning growl from Rosalie, and stubbornly states, “Not until you know why I kept it from you. I know you don’t understand it right now, but approaching Jasper is dangerous. That’s why I decided-“

“Do you even hear yourself right now?” Bella fumes. Advancing on the vampire, she gives his chest an angry, futile shove, “That’s your problem, Edward. You. Decided. Well, I’ve got news for you, you jackass. You have no right to make any decisions for me! Those were my emotions. Mine! You don’t get to pick and choose which emotions I feel and you definitely do not get to choose which ones you want to conceal from me. Do you have any idea how controlling that is?”

Edward recoils from her as if she slapped him. Giving her a wounded look, he argues, “I was just trying to-“

“Protect me?” Bella finishes, pinning him with such an ugly glare that he’s honestly afraid to answer. “Yeah, you’re always ‘protecting’ me, Edward. I realize now that I need your kind of protection like I need a bullet to the head.” Emmett guffaws from somewhere behind her, but Bella ignores it. “This is not how you treat someone you love. You’ve taken the idea of protecting me so far that you don’t even realize that you’re hurting me instead.”

“I would never hurt you!”

“You already have! What do you think you do every time you lie to me?” she snarls and Edward freezes in surprise. “Every time you keep something from me? You’re not my protector, Edward. You know what you are? You’re a manipulator. You are so controlling.” Edward shakes his head emphatically and Bella laughs bitterly, “Yes, you are! You can’t seem to help yourself. You take all my decisions away from me. I can’t even drive my own car to school or sleep in my room alone! You were even trying to keep me from feeling my own emotions, Edward! Sometimes I think you do it because you can’t hear my thoughts and it frightens you. You make all my decisions so you don’t have to wonder what I’m actually thinking about.”

Edward falters and Bella realizes that she’s inadvertently hit the nail on the head. Backing away in disgust, she mutters, “Oh, wow. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why you’re so controlling. You can’t stand that you can’t hear me.”

The family cringes when Edward doesn’t deny it. He’s too lost in thought to consider how Bella will take his silence, wondering if she’s right. He’s never noticed just how many decisions he makes for her until she pointed it out and he’s honestly confused by his own actions. He’s never pushed his own wants and needs on someone like he has with Bella. He does make too many decisions for her and he can understand why she resents it.

Though Edward doesn’t deserve his help, Jasper gently assures her, “He does love you, Bella. Immensely. Your relationship isn’t all just some obsession with your silent mind.”

Bella’s gaze flickers to him and he winces at the indifference he senses from her. His word matters so little to her now that she feels nothing in response to it.

“It doesn’t really matter why he did it, Jasper,” she says flatly, her eyes boring into his, “just that he did.”

Jasper stiffens as her words hit home. She isn’t talking about just Edward and he’s smart enough to realize it.

Looking at Edward again, Bella chuckles hollowly, “I find it ironic that your greatest concern was hurting me, Edward, because what you’ve done has hurt me more deeply than biting me ever could.”

Edward’s horror slams into Jasper so powerfully that he feels his stomach roll. What makes him even queasier is the sincerity he senses from Bella. She truly means it. She feels the way Edward treated her is worse than any physical blow she could’ve suffered.

Worse than being drained.

The revelation shames Jasper so much that he struggles not to project it. Bella has always felt at an intensity that astounds him, he should’ve known that messing with those potent emotions was strictly off limits.

“You and I are done,” she says with finality. “Don’t you dare make anymore decisions for me, Edward. I will live my life the way I choose from now on.”

Edward struggles with that for a moment before his emotions swell with resignation. “I will never interfere with your life again, you have my word.”

Bella narrows her eyes at him, briefly giving the others the impression that she’s the mindreader between them. Scoffing, she realizes, “You’re going to try to take the family away from me, aren’t you?” When Edward doesn’t answer her, she turns to look at Esme and pleads, “Don’t let him do that to me, Esme. It’s just another form of control.” Edward protests and Bella raises her voice, speaking right over him, “He’s making another decision for me! Deciding who I can and can’t interact with! Please-“

Esme gently cuts her off, promising, “We aren’t going anywhere, sweetheart. You’re right. You are more than old enough to decide whether you wish to see any of us again. As long as you want us, Bella, we’ll be here.”

Jasper hides the shadow of a smile, deciding Bella’s new attitude agrees with him. He knows he has a lot of making up to do, but he’s undeniably pleased he’ll have the opportunity to at least make the attempt.

Alice suddenly shoots him a dark look, but Jasper doesn’t acknowledge it. The jealousy rolling off of her tells him that he has a greater chance of mending fences with Bella than she ever will.

He has a feeling that his wife won’t be his for much longer, not after the events of tonight. He’s strangely okay with that and he knows that the way Bella retook control of her life tonight has a lot to do it with it. Alice is every bit as controlling as Edward is. More, really, and it’s not a new revelation. He’s always known he gives her too much power, but honestly believed he needed her too much to do something about it. Tonight’s changed that for him. If the little human can find the strength to stand up for herself, then so can he.

Bella nods gratefully and finally turns to look at Rosalie, not sparing her fuming ex another glance. The blonde smiles proudly at her and gladly escorts her to the door. While Rosalie may not approve of Bella’s involvement with the family, she finally recognizes that it’s not up to her. Trying to force her desires on Bella would make her no better than Edward and that is an idea that Rosalie finds unacceptable.

To the family’s collective surprise, Bella hesitates at the doorway and thoughtfully looks at Esme again, “Esme, would you like to have lunch with me tomorrow? I know you don’t eat, but I would very much like to spend some time with you… away from the house.”

Edward huffs, but Esme is so pleased by the invitation that it fills Jasper with the embarrassing urge to purr. Smiling gently at the troubled brunette, she agrees, “I would love nothing more. I’ll be by to pick you up at noon, Bella, if you’d like?”

Bella nods and finally takes her leave. An awkward silence encompasses the house until Esme finally turns to eye the three vampires responsible for hurting her youngest daughter. Expression grave and eyes dark, she decides, “I think it’s time we all had a chat about privacy and what’s acceptable in terms of your gifts.”

Edward starts to edge away, still reeling over Bella’s decision to end their relationship, “Can’t we do this later, Esme? I really need a moment to process.”

Esme’s voice takes on such a stern, uncompromising tone that Edward freezes mid step, “Take a seat, Edward. Now.”

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