And then I had a thought that brought me up short. The half-drained elk dropped from my hands to the stony ground. Snowflakes vaporized a few inches from the warm body with tiny sizzling sounds. I stared blankly at my bloody hands.
Edward saw my reaction and hurried to my side, leaving his own kill undrained.
"What's wrong?" he asked in a low voice, his eyes sweeping the forest around us, looking for whatever had triggered my behavior.
"Renesmee," I choked.
"She's just through those trees," he reassured me. "I can hear both her thoughts and Jacob's. She's fine."
"That's not what I meant," I said. "I was thinking about my shield - you really think it's worth something, that it will help somehow. I know the others are hoping that I'll be able to shield Zafrina and Benjamin, even if I can only keep it up for a few seconds at a time. What if that's a mistake? What if your trust in me is the reason that we fail?"
My voice was edging toward hysteria, though I had enough control to keep it low. I didn't want to upset Renesmee.
"Bella, what brought this on? Of course, it s wonderful that you can protect yourself, but you're not responsible for saving anyone. Don't distress yourself needlessly."
"But what if I can't protect anything?" I whispered in gasps. "This thing I do, it's faulty, it's erratic! There's no rhyme or reason to it. Maybe it will do nothing against Alec at all."
"Shh," he hushed me. "Don't panic. And don't worry about Alec. What he does is no different than what Jane or Zafrina does. It's just an illusion - he can't get inside your head any more than I can."
"But Renesmee does!" I hissed frantically through my teeth. "It seemed so natural, I never questioned it before. It's always been just part of who she is. But she puts her thoughts right into my head just like she does with everyone else. My shield has holes, Edward!"
I stared at him desperately, waiting for him to acknowledge my terrible revelation. His lips were pursed, as if he was trying to decide how to phrase something. His expression was perfectly relaxed.
"You thought of this a long time ago, didn't you?" I demanded, feeling like an idiot for my months of overlooking the obvious.
He nodded, a faint smile pulling up one corner of his mouth. "The first time she touched you."
I sighed at my own stupidity, but his calm had mellowed me some. "And this doesn't bother you? You don't see it as a problem?"
"I have two theories, one more likely than the other."
"Give me the least likely first."
"Well, she's your daughter," he pointed out. "Genetically half you. I used to tease you about how your mind was on a different frequency than the rest of ours. Perhaps she runs on the same."
This didn't work for me. "But you hear her mind just fine. Everyone hears her mind. And what if Alec runs on a different frequency? What if - ?"
He put a finger to my lips. "I've considered that. Which is why I think this next theory is much more likely."
I gritted my teeth and waited.
"Do you remember what Carlisle said to me about her, right after she showed you that first memory?"
Of course I remembered. "He said, It's an interesting twist. Like she's doing the exact opposite of what you can.'"
"Yes. And so I wondered. Maybe she took your talent and flipped it, too."
I considered that.
"You keep everyone out," he began.
"And no one keeps her out?" I finished hesitantly.
"That's my theory," he said. "And if she can get into your head, I doubt there's a shield on the planet who could keep her at bay. That will help. From what we've seen, no one can doubt the truth of her thoughts once they've allowed her to show them. And I think no one can keep her from showing them, if she gets close enough. If Aro allows her to explain___"
I shuddered to think of Renesmee so close to Aro's greedy, milky eyes.
"Well," he said, rubbing my tight shoulders. "At least there's nothing that can stop him from seeing the truth."
"But is the truth enough to stop him?" I murmured.
For that, Edward had no answer.
"Headed out?" Edward asked, his tone nonchalant. There was a sort of forced composure about his expression. He hugged Renesmee just a little bit tighter to his chest.
"Yes, a few last-minute things...," I responded just as casually.
He smiled my favorite smile. "Hurry back to me."
I took his Volvo again, wondering if he'd read the odometer after my last errand. How much had he pieced together? That I had a secret, absolutely. Would he have deduced the reason why I didn't confide in him? Did he guess that Aro might soon know everything he knew? I thought Edward could have come to that conclusion, which explained why he had demanded no reasons from me. I guessed he was trying not to speculate too much, trying to keep my behavior off his mind. Had he put this together with my odd performance the morning after Alice left, burning my book in the fire? I didn't know if he could have made that leap.
It was a dreary afternoon, already dark as dusk. I sped through the gloom, my eyes on the heavy clouds. Would it snow tonight? Enough to layer the ground and create the scene from Alice's vision? Edward estimated that we had about two more days. Then we would set ourselves in the clearing, drawing the Volturi to our chosen place.
As I headed through the darkening forest, I considered my last trip to Seattle. I thought I knew Alice's purpose in sending me to the dilapidated drop point where J. Jenks referred his shadier clients. If I'd gone to one of his other, more legitimate offices, would I have ever known what to ask for? if I'd met him as Jason Jenks or Jason Scott, legitimate lawyer, would I ever have unearthed J. Jenks, purveyor of illegal documents? I'd had to go the route that made it clear I was up to no good. That was my clue.