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Heaven in the Middle of Hell

Summary:
A parallel track, a slight alteration in events, with lots of fluff. It begins on New Moon page 485 (in Volterra), follows Edward and Bella along a slightly different path, and then joins back into New Moon on page 522 (back in Forks).


Notes:


1. Heaven in the Middle of Hell

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 5789   Review this Chapter

Demetri left us in the cheerfully opulent reception area, where the woman Gianna was still at her post behind the polished counter. Bright, harmless music tinkled from hidden speakers.

"Do not leave until dark," he warned us.

Edward nodded, and Demetri hurried away. Gianna did not seem at all surprised by the exchange, though she did eye Edward's borrowed cloak with shrewd speculation.

"Are you all right?" Edward asked under his breath, too low for the human woman to hear. His voice was rough—if velvet can be rough—with anxiety. Still stressed by our situation, I imagined.

"She's going to pieces," Alice said. "We should make her sit."

It was only then that I realized I was shaking, shaking hard, my entire frame vibrating until my teeth chattered and the room around me seemed to wobble and blur in my eyes. For one wild second, I wondered if this was how Jacob felt just before exploding into a werewolf.

I heard a sound that didn't make sense, a strange, ripping counterpart to the otherwise cheery background music. Distracted by the shaking, I couldn't tell where it was coming from.

"Shh, Bella, shh," Edward said as he wrapped me securely in his arms and kissed my hair. "You're okay now. We're going to be okay."

"I think she's having hysterics. Maybe I should slap her," Alice suggested.

Edward glared at her, and turned to Gianna. "Listen, in a castle this size there has to be somewhere more private than this room where we can go to wait until evening." He rubbed soothing circles on my cheek, still holding me as firmly, and as tenderly, as if he were both support and shelter. Gianna had already risen from her seat and was walking up the corridor. I continued to tremble in Edward's arms as he pulled me along behind her. I tried to glance around him to make sure Alice was following, but his hold on me was too restrictive; I could hardly turn my face to the side, let alone twist around.

She stopped in front of a large wooden door, identical to a few we'd already passed on either side of the corridor, and turned the handle. "This suite is currently unused," she said with what really looked like a knowing smile. "I hope it will be acceptable?" But her tone of voice indicated that she was sure it would be.

"Thank you," Edward muttered hastily, and as we turned to the door I saw Alice still standing down the hall, beside the reception desk, her hand raised in a sort of wave.

"But, Alice..." I sputtered through my chattering teeth as he closed the door.

"Alice is fine," he said. Faster than I could see, he tucked the cloak around me and then set to building a fire in the huge stone grate which was the focal point of one tall wall. Opposite it was another heavy wooden door like the one we'd just passed through, and, at just the perfect spots on the walls, there were tasteful pieces of art. The large window, high ceiling, and immense stone mantle all testified that we were still within the castle, but there was thick, dark carpet on the floor, and the walls, not stone, were perfectly smooth and painted a deep, muted red. The color made me shudder again, too easily linked in my mind to the poor screaming people we just left; so I tried to focus instead on the three overstuffed brown leather sofas that were grouped around an ornately carved table, facing the fireplace as though nothing more sinister than hot drinks and pleasant conversation had ever entered this room.

Edward was working at vampiric speed, so my mind didn't have long to wander—long enough, however, to reason that he'd asked for this room so that, after my hysterics were over, he could remind me in privacy that he still didn't want me, that he didn't want to have to pretend to be human, that what we'd shared had been temporary and was still just as over as it had been that September day in the woods behind Charlie's house. And then my hysterics could start again. I could still hear the pale echo of his voice that day, could almost see the golden flint in his eyes, as I recalled his words: "You're not good for me, Bella."

The memories were bad enough; now I'd have to hear it again from him and watch his face as he dismissed me. I wrapped my arms tightly around myself and squeezed my eyes shut, the pain nearly unbearable, and I panted almost at the same pace I was trembling as I tried to keep myself in one piece.

"Bella." His whisper was so quiet I wasn't sure if I'd imagined it or not. But the next thing I knew I was against the wall beside the now blazing fire in the grate and Edward's lips were on mine—urgently, almost frenzied. He slid me slowly upward until our faces were on a level; and then his cool hands were everywhere—on my face, in my hair, running down my sides and cupping under my thighs—as he persistently, relentlessly applied his lips to mine, effortlessly keeping me in position with the gentle pressure from his body. This kiss was nowhere near as careful as the others I remembered, which suited me just fine; if I was to have one last kiss before he left again, if I was going to rip myself up further, I might as well get as much in trade as possible.

My heart pounded out a jagged, disjointed rhythm while my fingers moved hungrily to his hair and to the perfect smoothness of his face. His cold stone lips were firm, but not punishing. His tongue lightly traced my lower lip, and I threw my arms around his neck—crushing myself even closer to him. When Edward moaned a velvet sigh, I parted my lips and I could taste his scent on my tongue.

So of course, he pulled my face away from his, breaking my grip with ease. It was strange the way everything had changed and nothing had changed at the same time.

I greedily gulped in air as he worked his way down my neck, running his icy lips along my collarbone, his voice an indistinct, whispering murmur. When his kisses traced the path from the hollow of my throat up to my ear, I finally caught some of what he was whispering: "Oh, Bella—my Bella," over and over again.

His chest was heaving as much as mine was when he pulled back, his obsidian eyes burning while his fingers caressed my cheeks. He untangled my legs where I'd clamped them around him and gently set me on the floor. "Oh, Bella," he gasped. "How did I ever convince myself I could exist separated from you?" His lips feathered over my cheek, my eyelids, and his words were a cool breeze on my skin. "What made me think that I could carry on somewhere else—without seeing you, without smelling you, without touching you?"

His fingers were a blur as he opened one button of my shirt, then he gently skimmed along the skin below my throat, his angel's face glowing with ecstasy. Then his marble brow puckered and he glowered at me. "And how did I convince you, Bella? What were you thinking? After all the thousand times I've told you I love you, how could you let one word break your faith in me?"

That agonizing day on the forest path, and every agonizing day since, all crowded with their emotions into my already overloaded heart. The tears gathered in my eyes and began gushing down my cheeks almost instantaneously; Edward, twining his fingers into my hair, moved his marble lips so softly and quickly around my face that at first I didn't realize he was kissing the tears away.

"I could see it in your eyes, that you honestly believed that I didn't want you anymore. The most absurd, ridiculous concept—as if there were any way that I could exist without needing you!"

I was too shocked to form a rational response. His words were incomprehensible because they were impossible. I couldn't reconcile the absence, the aching, with the unconcealed tenderness I saw in his gaze.

"I've had practice, Bella, at saying whatever I must to get what I want. I'm a good liar."

Here my muscles locked down as if for impact. The fault line in my chest rippled, and the pain of it took my breath away.

Edward noticed. The look of intensity—affection—in his eyes quickly became anguish. "But for you to believe me so quickly—!" He winced and closed his eyes, an exquisite stone carving of torture. "That was excruciating."

The tears continued to trickle down my cheeks, and Edward all but carried me to the sofa nearest the fire, where he settled me across his lap. He brushed the tip of his cool finger back and forth across my bottom lip, and then cradled my face in his hands.

"Bella," he breathed, watching my eyes and looking—I thought longingly—at my lips.

As I stared at his too-beautiful face—trying to make sense of what he was saying, what he was doing—I felt vast relief that I was really here, in Edward's arms (however fleetingly), and that we were not—at this exact moment—about to be killed. Alice and I had made it in time. We were safe. He was safe.

"Oh, Edward," I cried, and I was sobbing again. I hadn't seen him for six months, and I didn't know for sure what would happen after sunset. We'd progressed well beyond the realm where anything made logical sense, or where I could predict what might happen next. But it was such a stupid reaction! The tears were too thick for me to see his face again, and that was inexcusable.

"What's wrong?" he asked. A tone of quiet anguish was beneath the velvet of his soft voice.

"Look at me—I've traveled half-way around the world without my father's permission, I'm captive in a vampire castle in Italy, I narrowly escaped the fate of all those other humans..." I shuddered at the memory of the panicked face of the tiny woman with the rosary.

Edward rubbed my back with gentle pats.

"And despite all that, in the middle of all that—" I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged myself closer to him. "—is it really sick for me to be happy right now?"

"I know exactly what you mean," he whispered, holding me.

"But there's something I need to take care of. I have...a problem," I said.

His thumbs started drawing tiny circles by the corners of my mouth. He drew in a breath that sounded almost like a gasp, but his features were carefully blank. "Is it Jacob Black?"

"What?" His question was so unexpected that my tears stopped mid-trickle, like a faucet turning off. I especially was surprised because I'd noticed the effort it cost him to keep his voice calm.

He wiped my tears, then very gently removed his hands from my cheeks and began playing with my hand in my lap. He looked intently at our twined fingers as he said, "Alice saw the affection and attachment between you, even beneath the argument. She saw that Jacob asked favors as though he had a right...as though he had some claim on you. She warned me that you might have moved on." He carefully avoided looking in my eyes, and though his perfect voice was smooth and quiet, there was an undercurrent of agony.

Which shouldn't have made me laugh; but it did. A small chuckle bubbled up before I knew what had happened, and then all my still-strong, still-jumbled emotions (which only moments before had thought tears were the best method of release) fought to escape through laughter. Before I was through I was red in the face and short of breath, and Edward was staring at me perplexedly.

"My problem is that I need a human moment. I drank a liter of water on the plane and it's been several hours, on top of the fact that I've been scared out of my wits repeatedly in the last hour, so I'm a little urgent actually."

His eyebrows flicked up in surprise, and then his features were carefully neutral again. He pointed to the door opposite the roaring fire. "Should be a bathroom through there."

"I'll just be a minute." I unfolded from the comfort of his lap, standing.

"I'll be here," he said, so quietly I had to concentrate to understand.

While I was in the bathroom I splashed my face and swished my mouth. I wanted my toothbrush and clean clothes, but I made do with what I had at hand. I combed my fingers through my hair, now futilely wishing for a ponytail holder. With a deep, fortifying breath, I straightened my shirt and turned back to face the vampire I loved, while trying desperately not to hope. He was standing in front of the door, waiting for me. His expression was serene, but there was anguish in his eyes. He stepped close—exhaling gently on me as his lips formed my name, unleashing half of his most irresistible smile, making my head whirl. He reached for me, and his icy fingers touched so lightly on my face that they felt like no more than a cold draft of air through an open window. It was like an electric shock to my long-dormant heart, and the sounds of its beating seemed to fill the entire room.

"Am I too late?" he whispered. "Have I hurt you too much? Have you moved on, as I meant you to? That would be...quite fair. I'll respect your choice, Bella, so don't try to spare my feelings, please—just tell me now whether or not you can still love me, after everything I've done to you." He was trembling and his breathing was labored. "Can you?" he whispered again. His fingers stilled on my cheeks.

I was completely befuddled. "What kind of an idiotic question is that?"

"Just answer it, please," he breathed. He dipped his face toward mine, but stopped a few scant inches away.

I was light-headed and thoroughly dazzled. I couldn't even muster the near-anger I felt that he could question the constancy of my love, after rejecting and leaving me. My reply came out as a breathy sigh, not at all indignant: "The way I feel about you will never change. Of course I love you, and there's nothing you can do about it."

"Jacob...?"

"Best friend. Just a friend. He knows it can never be more."

And then Edward pulled me tight against his ice-hard chest—so tight it was hard to breathe, even with my lungs securely intact—and his kiss was exultant. I could feel the joy, the unalloyed relief and elation, as his lips moved with mine. I knew nothing but that I was in his arms, and that I would always be his, whether he wanted me or not; moments later, when I found myself wrapped in his embrace on the sofa, my head tucked under his chin as he stroked my back, I hardly knew or cared how I'd gotten there. He lifted my hand and pressed his lips against my wrist, saying, "Believe the truth, Bella, and forget the lie," his voice low and raw and utterly (though unintentionally) seductive. "I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you. I belong to you as completely as any being ever can."

After sunset we left the castle, winding our way through the crowds in the streets of Volterra and out through the dark stone archway that was the entrance to the city. Alice had found a car for our return trip to the airport, and Edward slid into the backseat with me. Their relief was palpable as she joked about the paucity of choices in cars to steal and he promised that he'd buy her a Porsche for Christmas. They were smiling, laughing; all the tension was gone for them.

And I, even I, couldn't help but feel a little relief. I didn't know how long Edward would stay, or when he might remove himself from my life again; but for the moment, at least, I relaxed in his arms and doing exactly what I wanted most in the world to do.

"You can sleep now, Bella," he murmured. "It's over."

And I felt a little twinge, a pang of worry: what if it was over? What if, when we got to the airport—or to the United States, or to Forks, or to high school—he changed his mind again? But inside the gray cloak, I was warm and comfortable. More than comfortable. His whispered I love yous and tender, cold kisses on my eyelids and cheeks lulled me into a stupor of contentment, and to sleep.

I stumbled into the bright Florence airport, still groggy, with my lids shuttered heavily against the light. But I had time to really brush my teeth and change clothes before the flight, and that made all the difference. Alice bought Edward clothes, too—he emerged from the airport restroom looking like a model. Nearly every female gawked at him, but his gaze was only for me; the brightest smile transformed his face when his searching obsidian eyes found mine.

The flight to Rome was so short that there was hardly time for anything but more good-natured laughter from my vampire escorts and nibbling at all of the food they'd bought to try to satisfy my human needs. With Edward's arm around me and with my aching emptiness filled, I was pretty hungry.

We settled into our seats for the much longer flight from Rome to Atlanta, and I asked the flight attendant if she could bring me a Coke. "Bella," Edward said disapprovingly. He knew my low tolerance for caffeine.

I didn't want to miss a minute with him, not knowing how many more I would have; but I grappled for the most plausible excuse. "I don't want to sleep. If I close my eyes now, I'll see things I don't want to see."

He deftly reclined both our seats and moved the armrest between us up and out of the way. "Bella," he said, wrapping me in a blanket before holding me gently, "I'll protect you from everything. Even your dreams." He began humming in my ear, my very own lullaby, while feathering cold kisses on my cheek and breathing contentment into me with his sweet, delicious-smelling breath. I snuggled in and drifted off to sleep again.

I don't know how long I slept, but what felt like the slow process of waking, I decided, must really be dreaming. Everything must have been a dream, from Alice's return to our crazy trip to Italy. Though it was probably too much to hope that jump off the cliff was just a dream. But the cold stone arms holding me close right now must be part of that dream, I reasoned. I lay with my eyes closed, hesitant to banish the pleasant sensation too quickly, when I felt a cold stroke along my cheekbone.

I opened my eyes, and Edward was watching me tenderly.

"You're really here," I said in wonder.

"I am," he responded, holding me even tighter.

"And...you really love me?" I couldn't keep the question out of my voice.

"With everything that I am," he said fervently, dipping his head quickly to give me a cold peck on the lips. He'd returned to his position before I could even react.

For the rest of the very long flight we had many revealing discussions. Our first topic was the day he'd left me on the forest path. "When I told you that I didn't want you, Bella, it was the very blackest kind of blasphemy. I was thinking of you, seeing your face in my mind, every second that I was away." He told me he'd tried his hand at tracking—"Victoria?!" my voice shrieked through two octaves, disturbing the quiet hush of the airplane cabin—but that most of the time he was totally useless, more or less curling into a ball and letting the misery have him.

My heart pounded, inflating like it was going to crack right through my ribs. It filled my chest and blocked my throat so I could not speak. I tried desperately to swallow while touching the smooth cold of his cheeks, staring into the depths of his eyes and seeing the adoration inside them.

"I wonder if this is what your voice was trying to tell me?" I whispered.

"My voice—?"

I told him about the extreme sports and the motorcycle, about how doing something dangerous or stupid made me remember him more exactly—how I could hear his voice as truly as if he were beside me speaking. "I wonder if the reason I could hear you so clearly was because, underneath it all, I always knew that you hadn't stopped loving me."

As I spoke the words brought with them a sense of conviction. Of rightness. Some place deep inside of me recognized the truth.

His whispered words came out half-strangled. "You...were...risking your life...to hear—"

I placed a finger over his lips. "Hold on a second, I think I'm having an epiphany here."

He watched me in impatient, irritated silence as I realized that there might have been another option, beyond option one: insanity and option two: wish fulfillment. What if you sincerely believed something was true, but you were dead wrong? What if you were so stubbornly sure that you were right, that you wouldn't even consider the truth? Would the truth be silenced, or would it try to break through? Option three: Edward loved me. The bond forged between us was not one that could be broken by absence, distance, or time. He was as irreversibly altered as I was—as I would always belong to him, so he would always be mine.

An irrepressibly wide smile broke across my face. "Oh!"

He smiled in spite of his anxiety to hear my thoughts. "It never gets any easier for me, not knowing what's in your mind." He snuggled in even closer, the scent of his breath swirling around me as he asked, "What was your epiphany?"

"That you love me," I marveled, convinced now that I was right.

"Truly, I do." He touched my face softly, longingly, and his hand was trembling.

"What's wrong?" I asked, placing my hand atop his as he smoothed my hair back from my face.

"I'm merely at war with my impulses," he said so quietly that no one else but Alice and I could ever hope to hear.

I looked at the purple bruises under his very black eyes, and realized again how thirsty he must be. And how delicious I must smell. Involuntarily, my other hand covered my throat, and I'm sure my eyes were too wide.

He laughed exuberantly, if quietly. "Not that, Bella! I just..." And in an instant he was serious again, shifting up on an elbow so that he almost hovered over me. "I've gone far too long without holding you, and I want you to understand. Do you know what you mean to me? I had to do something, Bella; I was keeping you constantly on the edge of danger, risking your life every moment I was with you. If I hadn't thought you would be better off, I could have never made myself leave. Only you could be more important than what I wanted, what I needed."

I'm sure he could hear how my heart accelerated again, the rhythm fueled by the now blazing hope.

"What I want and need is to be with you, and I know I'll never be strong enough to leave again. If only you could see how completely I'm bound!" His eyes briefly roamed around our fellow travelers as he quietly added, "It was like my heart was gone, like I was hollow—like I'd left everything that was inside me here with you. I need you..." His voice trailed off uncertainly, and his gaze followed his fingers as they lightly traced the veins on my neck.

I reached up and ran my fingers through his soft, bronze hair. "What do you need?" I breathed.

With deliberate slowness he shifted us both so we were sitting upright, facing forward; but he still held me securely in his marble embrace.

"I honestly believed, Bella, that I wanted you to move on. I thought that if you found another person to fill my place, if you left me behind, I would rejoice for you and let you proceed along that path. But when Alice warned me about Jacob, my first and only thought was to do everything within my power to win you back. I have never felt such urgency—such desperation—to pursue what I wanted. To tip the scales in my favor." Here his fingers again began delicately drawing circles on my cheek, and he buried his nose in my hair and inhaled.

With effort, I raised my head to look into his eyes, my hands skimming the purple skin beneath. I couldn't be as quiet as he was, especially because of the fervor I felt. "And? I'm yours, Edward. I've always been yours."

He was just a blur as he dropped his lips to mine and murmured, "I've never needed your reassurance so much as I do now." The kiss, though brief, was a plea filled with longing, and the heat that coursed through me had nothing to do with the blanket on my lap or the climate controls in the plane.

I drifted off to sleep again somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, and Edward woke me gently when it was time to land in Atlanta. I smiled again at him in wonder.

"I'm here," he assured me—echoing the exchange we'd had hours earlier, "and I love you."

We'd handled all the deliciously mushy reunion stuff; the details about werewolves and a future visit from the Volturi would have to wait until we had more privacy than seats on an airplane could provide. So from Atlanta to Seattle, he was perfectly content to hold me in his arms, his fingers gently caressing my face again and again. He kissed my hair, my forehead, my wrists; for brief moments, he would lay his ear against my chest, listening to the thunderous pounding of my heart, and then breathe such a velvet sigh of contentment that I thought with the next pulse my heart might break. I drifted off again for the last bit of that flight—the anxiety of the previous days catching up with me, and the peace of being reunited with Edward allowing me rest—and when he woke me as we descended toward the Sea-Tac airport, his angel's smile was brilliant as he said, "I'm still here, Bella. And I still love you."

Neither Alice nor Edward was surprised by the reception that awaited us at the airport, but it caught me off guard. Jasper only had eyes for Alice. Carlisle and Esme both expressed their gratitude to me, and their mixed disapproval and relief at Edward's plan and its conclusion. Emmett was fully dimpled as he waited for us, leaning against the black sedan in the parking garage, and Edward stiffened when he saw Rosalie, eyes cast down, standing beside Emmett.

"Don't," Esme whispered. "She feels awful."

"She should," Edward said, making no attempt to keep his voice down.

"It's not her fault," I whispered, and Rosalie's eyes flickered toward us. Edward glowered at the absurdly lovely blond vampire waiting for us.

"Let her make amends," Esme pleaded. "We'll ride with Alice and Jasper."

Edward held me possessively in the back seat, ignoring Emmett's good-natured smiles and winks at me, and averting his eyes from the rear-view mirror and Rosalie's gaze. The car purred to life.

"Edward," Rosalie began.

"I know." Edward's brusque tone was not generous.

"Bella?" Rosalie asked softly.

My eyes flew to hers in shock. It was the first time she'd ever spoken directly to me.

"Yes, Rosalie?" I asked, hesitant.

And then Rosalie apologized, her every word laced with wretchedness. She thanked me—so earnestly I couldn't doubt her sincerity—for saving her brother despite what she had done. Her bottom lip trembled delicately; even in anguish she was the most beautiful creature on earth.

"I forgive you, Rosalie," I said, grasping at any chance to make her hate me a little less. "It's not your fault at all. I'm the one who jumped off the cliff and started the entire mess; of course I forgive you."

Emmett grinned at me through the rear-view mirror, beaming his approval and glancing at Edward.

"It's been a long flight, and an even longer separation," Edward reminded them, but his voice was a little warmer. He kissed my hair and pulled me closer. "Let's not talk about this now, when things are going right for once." He kissed my cheek and inhaled deeply.

So Emmett filled the quiet space inside the car with all the amusing things Edward had missed in his self-imposed exile from the family while we hurtled, laughing, across Washington.

Edward knew Charlie was relieved to see Carlisle's car pull up in front of the house, but his relief turned to cold displeasure when he saw Edward emerge from the back seat. In seconds, Charlie stormed out the front door with his scowl firmly affixed.

"I can't believe you have the nerve to show your face here!" Charlie bellowed.

"Stop it, Dad," I hissed. I slipped my hand into Edward's and clung with entwined fingers.

"Don't tell me what to do!" Charlie yelled. "Get your hands off her, Edward!" Charlie yanked on my arm.

"Cut it out, Dad. Be mad at me," I insisted; but with a squeeze of my hand and a fervent look into his eyes, I released my grip on Edward.

"You bet I will be," Charlie promised. "Get inside."

Edward and I stepped forward at the same time.

"Not you!" Charlie pointed threateningly at Edward.

"Dad, please. Don't do it this way."

"I know you and Charlie need to talk, Bella, and I know you need rest. I'll leave."

I was weary, but I was even more worried—that he might really leave. I'm sure my panicked glance told him as much.

"I won't be far," Edward promised, whispering so low in my ear that Charlie didn't have a hope of hearing.

The grounding Charlie gave me looked more like house arrest; he stopped short of forbidding Edward to ever pass through the door again because I told him Edward and I were a package deal, and I'd move out rather than give Edward up. In the end we both made the threats, and the compromises, that we each felt comfortable with. Charlie stomped out the door to the cruiser, and—emotionally and physically drained—I took the quickest, hottest shower possible and fell into bed.

I awakened many hours later in the pitch black of night with stone arms wrapped around me. "I'll always be here, Bella," he whispered. "And I will always love you." He stroked my hair. "You should probably know," he informed me, "that I'm breaking the rules right now. Well, not technically, since he said I was never to walk through the door again and I came in the window... But still, the intent was clear."

I couldn't repress a smile as I ran a finger along the arch of Edward's eyebrow, and then pulled myself closer to his hard chest. Now, in the quiet privacy of my bedroom, Edward and I discussed the continued presence of Victoria, my association with werewolves, the impending visit of the Volturi, and his plans to protect me. As though we'd never been separated, we had the same old argument about my humanity versus my desire to become a vampire. We had maintained, through the months of separation, our same positions; but even when we glowered, we held onto each other.

"These plans," I whispered sharply while cupping my hand behind his neck, "all center around me remaining human?"

One of his cold hands stroked up and down my arm, while the icy fingers of the other hand pulled me closer. "Naturally." His divine face was arrogant.

I took a deep breath and disentangled myself from his heavenly embrace so I could sit up.

"Do you want me to leave?" he asked, and it made my heart flutter to see that this idea hurt him.

"No," I told him. "I'm leaving."

He watched suspiciously as I climbed out of bed and fumbled around in the dark room, searching for my shoes.

"May I ask where you're going?"

"I'm going to your house," I told him.

He was there blocking my way when I crept to the door, but he did hand me my shoes.

"This isn't just about you anymore. You're not the center of the universe, you know." My own personal universe, yes; but that was a different story. I turned to the window and tried to gauge the distance to the ground.

"Okay," he sighed. "I'll give you a ride."

I shrugged. "Either way. But you probably should be there too, because I know you have opinions that you won't keep to yourself."

"Opinions on which subject?" he asked through his teeth, each word distinct.

"If you're going to bring the Volturi down on us over something as stupid as leaving me human, then your family ought to have a say. I'm putting my mortality to a vote."

He was not pleased, that much was easy to read in his face. But without further argument he took me in his arms and sprang lithely from my window.

The End