I felt disoriented. Didn't I already know my gift? I had my super-self-control that had allowed me to skip right over the horrifying newborn year. Vampires only had one extra ability at most, right?
Or had Edward been correct in the beginning? Before Carlisle had suggested that my self-control could be something beyond the natural, Edward had thought my restraint was just a product of good preparation - focus and attitude,he'd declared.
Which one had been right? Was there more I could do? A name and a category for what I was?
"Can you project?" Kate asked interestedly.
"Project?" I asked.
"Push it out from yourself," Kate explained. "Shield someone besides yourself."
"I don't know. I've never tried. I didn't know I should do that."
"Oh, you might not be able to," Kate said quickly. "Heavens knows I've been working on it for centuries and the best I can do is run a current over my skin."
I stared at her, mystified.
"Kate's got an offensive skill," Edward said. "Sort of like Jane."
I flinched away from Kate automatically, and she laughed.
"I'm not sadistic about it," she assured me. "It's just something that comes in handy during a fight."
Kate's words were sinking in, beginning to make connections in my mind. Shield someone besides yourself she'd said. As if there were some way for me to include another person in my strange, quirky silent head.
I remembered Edward cringing on the ancient stones of the Volturi castle turret. Though this was a human memory, it was sharper, more painful than most of the others - like it had been branded into the tissues of my brain.
What if I could stop that from happening ever again? What if I could protect him? Protect Renesmee? What if there was even the faintest glimmer of a possibility that I could shield them, too?
"You have to teach me what to do!" I insisted, unthinkingly grabbing Kate's arm. "You have to show me how!"
Kate winced at my grip. "Maybe - if you stop trying to crush my radius."
"You're shielding, all right," Kate said. "That move should have about shocked your arm off. You didn't feel anything just now?"
"That wasn't really necessary, Kate. She didn't mean any harm," Edward muttered under his breath. Neither of us paid attention to him.
"No, I didn't feel anything. Were you doing your electric current thing?"
"I was. Hmm. I've never met anyone who couldn't feel it, immortal or otherwise."
"You said you project it? On your skin?"
Kate nodded. "It used to be just in my palms. Kind of like Aro."
"Or Renesmee," Edward interjected.
"But after a lot of practice, I can radiate the current all over my body. It's a good defense. Anyone who tries to touch me drops like a human that's been Tasered. It only downs him for a second, but that's long enough."
I was only half-listening to Kate, my thoughts racing around the idea that I might be able to protect my little family if I could just learn fast enough. I wished fervently that I might be good at this projecting thing, too, like I was somehow mysteriously good at all the other aspects of being a vampire. My human life had not prepared me for things that came naturally, and I couldn't make myself trust this aptitude to last.
It felt like I had never wanted anything so badly before this; to be able to protect what I loved.
Because I was so preoccupied, I didn't notice the silent exchange going on between Edward and Eleazar until it became a spoken conversation.
"Can you think of even one exception, though?" Edward asked.
I looked over to make sense of his comment and realized that everyone else was already staring at the two men. They were leaning toward each other intently, Edward's expression tight with suspicion, Eleazar's unhappy and reluctant.
"I don't want to think of them that way," Eleazar said through his teeth. I was surprised at the sudden change in the atmosphere.
"If you're right - ," Eleazar began again.
Edward cut him off. "The thought was yours, not mine."
"If I'm right... I can't even grasp what that would mean. It would change everything about the world we've created. It would change the meaning of my life. What I have been a part of."
"Your intentions were always the best, Eleazar."
"Would that even matter? What have I done? How many lives ..."
Tanya put her hand on Eleazar's shoulder in a comforting gesture. "What did we miss, my friend? I want to know so that I can argue with these thoughts. You've never done anything worth castigating yourself this way."
"Oh, haven't I?" Eleazar muttered. Then he shrugged out from under her hand and began his pacing again, faster even than before.
Tanya watched him for half a second and then focused on Edward. "Explain."
Edward nodded, his tense eyes following Eleazar as he spoke. "He was trying to understand why so many of the Volturi would come to punish us. It's not the way they do things. Certainly, we are the biggest mature coven they've dealt with, but in the past other covens have joined to protect themselves, and they never presented much of a challenge despite their numbers. We are more closely bonded, and that's a factor, but not a huge one.
"He was remembering other times that covens have been punished, for one thing or the other, and a pattern occurred to him. It was a pattern that the rest of the guard would never have noticed, since Eleazar was the one passing the pertinent intelligence privately to Aro. A pattern that only repeated every other century or so."
"What was this pattern?" Carmen asked, watching Eleazar as Edward was.