They told me it was all the fault of the fish oil vitamins. Who would have thought, with all the ways that I was already tangled up with the alter-natural, that my ultimate path to where I am now would begin with something so mundane as vitamins?
It was two weeks after Jacob gave me back my motorcycle. I was still grounded, of course. That meant nothing to Edward, of course, only that the only time of day I didn't see him was during the afternoons just after school. I couldn't see Jacob at all, and that sucked.
The fish oil vitamins, like everything else, were part of Charlie's way of trying to make sure I was okay, after the mess I had put him through before abruptly leaving for Italy. I wasn't happy about any of it, but at breakfast one morning I saw how tired and haggard he looked and how he kept peeking at me from the corners of his eyes. I suddenly felt terrible for him - what must it be like, to come home and find your teen daughter has gone to Italy without saying anything?
I got up, walked over to the pantry, grabbed the bottle of vitamins, and gulped one down with a swallow of milk.
Charlie looked up when I put down the glass. "Look, Cha- Dad," I said. "I'm sorry, okay? I just - I really can take care of -"
But Charlie was staring at my feet. "Bells?" he asked in a voice that tried to be calm and wasn't.
So I did what I think anyone might have done. I looked down.
Something was happening - some strange, back-like black stuff was sprouting up from the floor over and around my feet and ankles. Nor did it stop there, but it rapidly spread up my legs toward my waist.
"Uh, D-Dad -" I began to panic, and tried to bend down to reach my legs. But there was no time even to bend over, for the black cocoon was over my hips now and spreading up my chest and back. "Dad! -"
Charlie had sprung to his feet and was trying to pull the stuff off my body by force. But whatever it was made of, it wouldn't come off, and my limbs wouldn't budge. Then, almost before I had time to think, the cocoon had enveloped my arms and my neck, and in another moment had surrounded my head and covered my face.
Oddly enough, I found it was actually quite comfortable inside the cocoon. Although I couldn't move, I didn't feel the need to. Even breathing seemed for the moment completely unnecessary.
And then, after a few seconds, the cocoon broke. I felt it cracking around my fingers and my ears first, and just as quickly as it had appeared, the whole cocoon crumbled and fell off in pieces.
I felt hot, my skin was tingling, my stomach churned, and something about the air around me felt somehow different even though everything looked the same. Everything, of course, except for the floor around my feet, which was strewn with the strange, dark stuff.
Instantly Charlie's arms were around me. "Bella?" he gasped. "Bella, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I panted, trying to steady myself. "I'm fine, Dad, really -"
Someone banged on the door, and Charlie looked around irritably. "Who the hell -"
I sighed. "It's probably Edward."
His face tightened, but he went to the door. It was indeed him, and my racing heart slowed a little at the sight of his bronze hair and honey-colored eyes, even though anxiety was written in every line of his slender figure.
"What are you doing here?" huffed Charlie.
I leaned sideways so that Edward could see me around Charlie's shoulder. "Hey," I said.
Charlie whirled around, scowling, but Edward had already relaxed. "I'm sorry, Chief Swan," he said politely. "I won't bother you again." And he withdrew with a momentary glance back at me.
In spite of all my protests, Charlie took me to the hospital. My only comfort was that I was lucky enough to have Carlisle come to look at me after a nurse had taken my blood pressure and temperature.
The moment he came into the room, I knew something was wrong. He was staring at me and trying not to stare, and as he came up to the bed he hesitated.
"Carlisle?" I said. "What is it?"
He glanced at his papers, up at the monitor beside my hospital bed, and then back down at me. "Bella," he said slowly. "I don't know what's happened to you, only that it's nothing I've ever encountered before."
"What do you mean?" I asked anxiously.
"Your body seems to be surrounded by a layer of some kind of energy signature that's sending all our systems haywire - it's very hard to get any kind of electronic reading on you. All we can tell for certain is that your heartbeat is easily three times higher than it should be."
I blinked. "Does that mean something's wrong with me? Do I have to tell Charlie goodbye and -"
"All it means is that we can't say much of anything for certain," said Carlisle. "I'm afraid you're going to be here for a little longer than anticipated."
"Do I have to?!" I moaned.
"Yes, you have to," said Carlisle firmly.
Charlie, of course, was less than satisfied with what Carlisle had to say. "What do you mean, you don't know what's wrong?" I heard him shout.
"I'm sorry, Chief Swan," said Carlisle, his voice a barely audible murmur. "We need time to run more tests. Right now we're unable even to ascertain her temperature."
Charlie rubbed his forehead. "Do whatever you have to do," he said. "Just make sure nothing happens to her." I heard his voice catch. "She's all I've got."
Then he came around the curtain and sat by my bed and refused to leave for hours. Edward and Alice came later, much to his displeasure, and they also refused to go anywhere. Alice kept on peering anxiously at me as if she expected me to disappear at any moment.
As if I wasn't already uncomfortable enough, half the kids from school dropped by in ones and twos. Angela and Jessica stayed longest of them all, Jessica to talk my ear off and Angela because that was just her way.
But worst of all was when Jacob showed up. Charlie was still there, and so were Edward and Alice, and of course Jacob couldn't hide his scowl when he came in. Edward, however, made no protest at his entrance. Alice just quietly threw up her hands and muttered something under her breath (I knew this because I saw her lips moving at vampire speed).
"Jake?" I asked tentatively. I hadn't seen him since he'd confronted me and Edward about the treaty, and he had never returned any of my calls.
His scowl vanished as he looked at me. "Bella," he said, and a multitude of expressions flitted over his face. "You - you smell different," he blurted out.
I blinked at him. "Wh-what?"
Jake shook his head, looking perplexed and angry and miserable all at the same time. "Sorry," he grumbled, with a dark look at the two Cullens.
Charlie gaped at him. Edward cocked his head as if hearing something in Jacob's mind that he found interesting enough to distract him from wanting to tear Jacob's head off (I had not forgotten about the conversation we'd had!).
I turned and looked at all three of them. "Can you please give us a minute?"
Charlie scowled. "Five minutes, Bella. I mean it," he said and stomped off. Edward and Alice followed even more reluctantly.
I stared unhappily at Jake. Jake stared accusingly at me.
I caved first. "Just say it already!" I huffed. "I know you hate me, okay?"
His expression changed. "Bella, how could you think that?!"
"You don't?" I asked doubtfully. Edward had said as much, but . . .
"No!" cried Jacob, and abruptly he stopped and shut his eyes briefly. "No," he repeated in a quieter, more broken voice. "I don't hate you - I just -" He flung up his hands. "Why, Bella? Why the bloodsuckers? Why do you have to be one of them?"
I recoiled. "Okay, Jake, listen up," I said angrily. "You can hate me as much as you want. That's up to you. But," I held up my hand to stop his protest. "but understand that you are never, under any circumstances, allowed to call the Cullens bloodsuckers again, am I clear?"
Jacob huffed and puffed. "Fine, the vampires," he grumbled.
"And while we're on it," I continued. "We still haven't discussed your blatant misuse of the terms of the treaty and how it applies to me -"
"I didn't make the treaty, Bella!" Jacob shouted. "I just -"
"Careful," I said. "You'll be breaking the treaty yourself in a minute if you don't lower your voice."
Jacob clenched his fists, shut his eyes, and trembled for a full five seconds. "I didn't come to talk about the treaty," he said through clenched teeth. "I just came to put my eyes on you."
"Who told you anything was wrong with me?" I grumbled. "You know I don't like getting hospital visits."
"My dad told me," said Jacob sullenly.
Which meant Charlie had told Billy. I would have to make sure Charlie knew that wasn't allowed to happen again. I stifled a sigh.
"Well, why didn't you return any of my calls when I was trying to talk to you before?" I asked accusingly.
"Don't you want to be with the Cullens?" he spat bitterly. "I thought you wanted to be one of them."
"Of course I do! Nothing will change that, Jacob. But that doesn't mean I don't want to see you!"
He stared at me. "I can't be friends with you if you're going to be a vampire, Bella."
That cut deep. I turned away my head so that Jacob wouldn't see that I was fighting tears. "Then why did you come to see me at all?" I asked, hating the quaver in my voice.
"Because I heard you were in the hospital, Bella!" he shouted. "I had to see if you were okay!"
"Well, I'm fine," I said with a sniff. "So you can go back to hating me."
His face hardened. "I had to make sure the Cullens hadn't broken the treaty too," he growled.
I felt betrayed. "You just said -"
"I said I didn't come to talk about the treaty," said Jacob. "I didn't say the treaty has nothing to do with why I'm here."
I scowled. "Well, I'm still human," I said crossly. "I'm under house arrest too - thanks for that, by the way. Are you happy?"
Jacob sighed. "Look, I'm sorry about getting you in trouble," he said sullenly. "More trouble, I mean, 'cause you said you were already grounded -" Abruptly he stopped and scowled back toward the curtain. "Seriously? I thought we had five minutes."
But it was Carlisle, who stepped around the curtain first, though Charlie and Edward followed closely. "I'm sorry," he said politely. "I need to draw a blood sample if Bella doesn't mind."
Still scowling, Jacob withdrew to the corner. He threw Edward a dark look behind Charlie's back; Edward's eyebrow lifted rather scornfully. Alice, who still seemed to be on pins and needles with some trouble of her own, noticed and rolled her eyes.
Even though I was still trying to be angry at him, it still hurt to watch Jacob and Edward at odds.
I also felt guilty for not being kinder, because after all Jake was my best friend and I hadn't seen him for two weeks; in fact, even the topic of drawing blood was very quickly becoming a welcome distraction.
I looked resolutely up at Carlisle, who smiled apologetically down at me. "If you're ready, Bella," he said.
I grimaced and turned my head away. "Go ahead."
But the needle never pricked my arm. I felt Carlisle swab it with alcohol and then carefully grip my arm with one hand, but the needle never touched me. I actually felt Carlisle's other hand stop right where it should have for the needle to go in, but it never moved.
Then Carlisle gasped. "What on earth?!" he said in what had to be genuine surprise.
"What the hell?" cried Charlie and Jacob nearly together.
"Impossible. . ." breathed Edward.
Cautiously, I turned my head to look back at what was going on.
Carlisle was holding the needle with the tip almost touching my wrist, and seemed to be trying to push it in without success. On my arm was a tiny purplish sphere of light surrounding the point of the needle. It disappeared when Carlisle lifted the needle and reappeared when he tried to prick me again. Charlie was leaning forward, eyes wide as saucers; Jacob was staring with his jaw hanging; Edward and Alice were communicating silently with each other, Edward's lips moving swiftly and soundlessly.
"I can't seem to penetrate your skin," said Carlisle. "Whatever energy is surrounding your body also appears to be - well, to be protecting it. It's like nothing I've ever seen or heard before."
"So you're saying you can't poke me with a needle?" I asked hopefully.
Charlie gaped at me in disbelief. Edward's topaz eyes rolled up toward the ceiling and he appeared to pray for patience. Alice just shook her head. "Oh, Bella," she said.
"Seriously, Bella!" cried Jacob, flinging up his hands. "There could be, like, an invisible energy barrier surrounding you that nobody's ever heard of before and your first question is whether someone can poke you with a needle? This is, like, Avengers kind of stuff -"
Carlisle's eyes widened. "The index. . ." he murmured. "SHIELD's gifted index never claimed to be complete. . .but still, the circumstances through which the powered individuals attained their gifts. . ."
Charlie looked hard at Carlisle. "You saying my daughter's some kind of gifted or enhanced?"