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What Music They Make

Summary:
When an unexpected conflict with the Volturi brings Jacob back into her life, Bella finds that being a vampire only makes it even more complicated for her to be in love with two people.


Notes:


10. IX: Non Troppo

Rating 5/5   Word Count 8318   Review this Chapter

chapter IX non troppo


The sun rose in the morning with surprising ardor, completely transforming everything beneath it that Bella could see in its light and warmth rather than bringing the kind of lazy dissolving from night into a lighter shade of sky that she was used to the start of another morning in Forks being. A sunny day. Naturally, Alice had not been wrong.

Of course, it was the first thing Jacob noticed as the bright sunlight gradually pried his eyes open not many hours after he had finally been able to sleep. He first looked to his right side, away from Bella and at the sky and the trees surrounding them, and even though the feeling of waking up was something from her murky, intangible past now she thought she recognized in his reaction the disorientation of waking up somewhere that is not your own bed. But as soon as that quickly passed, he went very still, and she could imagine there were other things to settle back into his mind. Things he might not yet be used to that were going to still be true every day he woke up to from now on.

After witnessing him finally waking up, Bella went back to resting the way she had been before, one of her arms stretched up with her head lying back on it and her eyes closed. With her arm up this way it made her shirt come up from her pale midriff a little, and she just lay with her whole body facing the warmth pouring down from the uncovered sun, every part of her skin that was bare feeling it as something very foreign and unusual but pleasant.

She opened her eyes when she heard Jacob move beside her again, and when she turned her head to the side he was upright leaning on his elbow a little and looking at her. He had an expression of slight wonder in his eyes, and she understood why. He had never seen her in the sun.

She turned onto her side as well, facing him, and her expression stayed mild as they looked at each other. “Freaky, huh?” she muttered softly, smirking dryly for a second.

His face did not change as he stared at her a moment longer, casting his eyes briefly away from her face to look down and take in the view of all of her glittering iridescently where her skin was in the light. Then as he looked up and down her whole figure, he seemed to notice other things that looked quite different than when he had last seen them, and he looked around with some surprise at where they were. The little clearing where they remembered so many nightmarish things happening in the dark the night before almost looked like it could not possibly be the same place now. In the illuminating daytime it looked so harmless, even with the signs of the violence that had taken place there still present like the dark spot on the ground with no grass left where Jane’s body had been burned and the trails of blood. With everyone gone but just the two of them and everything quiet, it was actually a very peaceful and pretty place.

He then looked down at the grass right around them. He reached out and picked one of the little white flowers that were all over the place, one that was perfectly shaped like nothing had ever touched it. Bella stayed still but her mouth made a delicate smile as he casually reached for her and put it in her hair, tucking it behind her ear where it looked very bright in the sun, completely pure and clean white against her dark hair.

Then he just stared at her this way, as if he had just completed some kind of picture that was missing something, and his face changed almost unnoticeably to hold the smallest tired grin. As soon as she had seen the tiny change in his expression, he relaxed back on the ground again, staring up at the clear sky. She did the same, for a short moment reaching up and gently touching the flower in her hair only once he was no longer watching her.

“Looks like you were able to behave yourself all night,” he commented.

She smiled. “Were you actually worried?”

“No. Nothing you haven’t been able to handle before, right?” he asked with a teasing edge to his voice. “Though maybe not for a whole night.”

Her eyes slowly widened as she was taken completely by surprise. When he looked to the side and saw her expression, he laughed lightly.

“Did you really think I wouldn’t be able to tell you’d been there?” he asked.

“I…certainly worried you’d be able to,” she said, starting to sound a little embarrassed.

He just smiled a little.

She swallowed. “Sorry. I just thought…maybe this whole thing bothered you enough as it was. But the more I’m around you the easier it will get to control myself. It can help me a lot.”

He nodded. “I figured it had something to do with that.”

She didn’t know what to say. “I’m…sorry,” she said again. “I know it wasn’t right to be sneaking around in your territory like that.”

“If I had a problem with it I would have said something,” he said. “The only thing is that it’s been kind of a pain keeping that from everybody. I know the rules might be kind of out the window at this point anyway and I may not mind, but I just don’t know how happy the others would be to know about that.”

She nodded. “That’s why I didn’t mean for you to know.”

He gave a solitary, somewhat mocking laugh. “Is that really all? Tell me, is this whole ‘singer’ business the only reason you’ve been avoiding me?”

She looked taken aback. “I haven’t been avoiding you,” she said, thinking that didn’t seem like the right way to put it.

“This is the first time we’ve really been able to talk,” he pointed out.

“Well. Long-distance friendship, remember?”

He laughed a little again. “What more harm can it do? Besides, we've been getting ready to go into battle. We might never have gotten another chance."

She sighed in a long breath, getting ready to admit it. "I guess I'm just ridiculous. This whole time we've been preparing ourselves to go into a fight against the most vicious and powerful vampires in the world, what I’ve been afraid of as much as anything is seeing you again...I was afraid of the way you would look at me now."

He appeared momentarily stricken to hear it so blatantly said out loud at last, but then he smirked darkly. "What a coincidence. I was afraid of the way you would look now."

Neither of them said anything about whether or not it was as they expected. Bella did not tell him that it had been his bitter, angry mask she was fearing the whole time, the face that spat "bloodsucker" and other cutting red words, an even more detached version of it than she was used to. Instead, every time he looked at her it was just her Jacob, the vulnerable and injured one, and this was even worse.

“And I just didn’t know…” Bella hesitated, not seeming sure of how to say it. “I didn’t know how hard it would be for you. If it would be more fair to just keep my distance.”

He was quiet a while, clearly not quite able to refute that. Finally he sighed and said, “Yeah, I know. This isn’t how I would have wanted it to be. But actually…I might never have expected it, but now that we can just talk like this…it’s good to see you again.”

She did not look directly at him, but her face started to look very content after she heard this. Her right hand was lying relaxed on the ground with her palm up, and he took it and squeezed it a moment.

“And I’m really glad you’re okay,” he added softly.

He seemed to notice something as he kept loosely holding her hand and he lifted it up in his to look at it, seeing the bracelet there on her wrist and the carved wolf still attached to it. He allowed himself a brief, self-contained smile as he dropped her hand again and let go of it. Then he wrinkled his nose with a new thought. “Even if you do stink like nothing else…God, how did I just stay asleep through it all those nights?”

“Probably because you could sleep through a hurricane demolishing your house,” she said in an annoyed tone.

“True.”

“Vampires smell amazingly good to normal humans, you know,” she said a little haughtily.

“Really? What about to other vampires?”

She seemed surprised by the question. “They smell…fine.”

For some reason he laughed more enthusiastically than she could remember hearing him laugh for a long time.

“Well, I think it’s our venom that has that smell to people,” she explained. “It’s one of the many ridiculously excessive adaptations that makes it easy for us to catch humans. But to me it’s just like saliva now.”

He sighed. "You know, don‘t take offense, but I'm kind of glad I'm not attracted to you in that way since I'm a wolf. It's just kind of weird, you know. Feeling drawn to someone because it's their nature to want to have you for lunch."

"But it doesn't bother you that I feel drawn to you for the same reason?"

He thought about it a moment. "At least that isn't completely crazy,” he decided. “Wanting to eat, as opposed to wanting to get near something that's going to eat you."

She just shrugged.

As she looked away, Jacob was able to just stare at her for a minute, shamelessly taking in the way she looked as she was so close to him. He knew that all he should see was the vacant corpse of the girl he used to know. She was not the soft and warm, vulnerable, clumsy human he had fallen in love with. She had been turned into something that could only hurt him anymore; there was something new and alien in her that wanted to hurt him. To him she now might as well be like something made up entirely of broken pieces of glass, all sharp edges like teeth which could only leave him bleeding if he touched her. Even speaking to her now was perhaps ridiculous, only dangerous to him in so many ways.

He knew it would be easier, at least, to be able to see her only in this way. But when she spoke, even though her voice now had a hint of a very smooth texture like gently coursing water that was not familiar to him, it was unmistakably her. Even though she was alarmingly more beautiful, too beautiful, so much it was painful to look at her, everything about her still had the same modesty as before.

Maybe he should have been able to despise her just because of his very nature, because of what she was now. She had chosen to join the side of those who were his enemies, to enter a terrifying world that was the Hell of everything supernatural they had both come to know about. But in a strange way, she was still closer to his world than any other girl he might ever get to know.

As he thought about what they had just said again and wondered about something, he started to look a little curious. "How does my blood smell to you, exactly? Sweet?”

“No,” she answered. “Not at all, actually. It’s almost not even a nice smell. It’s kind of bitter, and just really strong, like…coffee, maybe. With you it’s so different from the way humans usually smell good to me it’s like a similar but different kind of food or something.”

He rolled that around in his head a while, looking a little surprised. “So I do still kind of smell different to you as a werewolf?”

Her brow drew together, making her look a little confused. “Yeah, I…guess.”

He shook his head slowly. “Jeez,” he sighed. “This is just all kinds of messed up, isn’t it?”

She could have a laughed a little because of the way he said it, but it rang a little too true for her to be able to.

“But you’re not actually too uncomfortable being right here?” he asked, looking at her closely. She showed absolutely no sign of struggle as he had become used to seeing when she was near him.

“No, it’s pretty tolerable right now,” she said, “because we’ve been together for hours.” She waited a while before she continued less easily. “Actually, in a weird way it’s kind of relieving being close to you…It’s hard to describe because at the same time, it’s difficult and we have to be careful, and I know it’s not the best idea…But while I’m actually here it’s easy to think that it’s not that bad. If that makes any sense.”

Something very serious came into Jacob’s eyes as he looked at her and heard this. Then he said quietly, “Yeah, I think I kind of know how that is.”

They looked at each other a long, silent moment, both of their expressions darkening with something sinister they both knew he was thinking of. Something that might even have been hiding behind her last words before without her realizing it. She looked away from his gaze a little anxiously.

“We shouldn’t be talking like this,” she said.

“Sorry. You’re right.” He said it quickly and then, trying to forget it, went on to address something else. “So I haven’t seen you in a few years. How’s your new life working out for you? Besides everything going on right now, I mean.”

“Just fine,” she said.

As he had asked the question his voice had been so deliberately casual, and he couldn’t help but look at her a little doubtfully now.

“Really,” she said. “It’s been fine. Great. A lot of things were pretty difficult at first, of course. But being a vampire is something you really get used to, after all.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of what scares me about it.”

She gave a sigh that somehow sounded a little sad.

“I’m…kidding,” he said awkwardly.

“No, you weren’t,” she said, though she didn’t sound very accusing.

“I’m sorry. No, honestly…it’s good to be able to hear that.”

She looked at his completely sincere face and said quietly, “Thank you.”

He gave a small nod and looked back up at the sky. “Obviously you weren’t completely out of your mind, then,” he said after thinking a while. “And I guess you really do love him more. Or…differently, at least. I don’t know if I ever could have actually wished you felt that way about me anyway. It’s kind of like Sam with Emily. It’s just too much. You’ve destroyed yourself with that love.”

She went silent and he felt a little regretful, almost apologizing for saying that even though he couldn‘t help but see it that way. But as he looked at her face after she heard it, she did not look hurt or argumentative.

After remaining silent like this a long time, she resolved to say in a careful and delicate tone, “Yes. It’s…different. I wouldn’t destroy myself or hurt anyone else to be with you….But I would to keep you safe,” she added as she slowly realized it.

As he kept watching her he did not look particularly surprised, just thoughtful. “Do you ever think there’s at least a part of you that actually loves me more?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t you start,” she warned. “I’ve got a considerably better right hook than I used to.”

He smiled. "I just mean because I'm only human. You can't have me forever, no matter what you do."

"That's not true,” she argued. “I could have done something to change that last night if that was really what I wanted. I didn't have to save you from becoming like me."

“But you would never want that for me. Your love for me is selfless.”

She thought of that a moment and then remembered the completely unreasonable, violent sting it made her feel just to imagine any other woman touching him. She sighed and said, "Not completely."

He shrugged. “Well, what kind of love ever is?” he said dismissively. Then he thought of something else and looked at her again. "Do you think Edward still loves you just as much as he did when he had to worry about protecting you from everything?”

She just glared at him with an intensity that was actually a little intimidating with her piercing, jewel-like eyes. The look on her face seemed to make him first realize what exactly he had just asked.

“Okay,” he said quickly. “Pretend I didn’t say that. Damn, I guess I’m the one misbehaving. I apologize.”

She did not look angry anymore, but she kept looking a little uncomfortable as she went on talking. “What about you?” she asked. “How have you been all this time?”

He shrugged. “Oh, you know. Haven’t been great. Haven’t been miserable. Actually, in a weird way it almost doesn’t even seem like any time has passed since you left. Not for me. It feels like all around me everybody else is starting the jobs they want to have their whole lives and getting engaged and married, even having kids…and I guess I’m just the same old me. And there isn’t even anything in particular that I want or am waiting for just now.” He looked over at her meaningfully. “Now that my…most important conquest has failed, I suppose.”

She shook her head, looking very sadly at him. “Oh, Jake, I really hope you don’t just feel like everything in your life is going to work out like that did. If you could try…

“No, it’s not like that,” he said. He added with a small laugh, “Don’t worry. If I haven’t found the one yet it’s not because of anything having to do with you. Although…” He frowned a little and hesitated to admit it. “I know this is wrong, but I guess the more time goes by the more I just look back and can only think that…you were it. That I just missed out on that. As much as I know how stupid it is, I can’t seem to give up seeing you that way…”

She sighed. “I think you idealize me.”

He smirked as if she had just something very funny. “Are you kidding?”

“You haven’t seen me at all during all these years you’ve kept thinking that. And did you ever think it’s just some guilt thing? If I was just dead now from some accident that had nothing to do with you, maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal.”

“But I don't feel guilty about what happened to you. I tried as hard as I could to stop you, didn't I? But I know it was hopeless, almost like...trying to save somebody who's already dead. You had your mind made up. It was like that Greek myth. The guy who went to the underworld to try to bring his lover back from the dead…”

"Orpheus?” she asked with a raised brow.

“…I guess,” he said with a shrug. “I think maybe you could have been saved, but not by anybody else. There was no possible way for you to make everybody else happy. You would have needed to just realize why not to do it for yourself...And don’t worry. You may feel really bad about it now, but I do realize that even if you’d chosen to stay human it wouldn’t necessarily have meant choosing to give him up.”

Her face turned very sad. “Actually, I probably wouldn’t have had any other option if I still didn’t want anybody to end up dying for me,” she said. “I guess it was sort of a double-edged sword. The Volturi wanted me turned or dead. As long as I stayed here or anywhere with Edward, they would have been able to track me down and everybody around me would have been in danger.”

“You think I would have cared about that? I would have protected you. I would have run away with you if I had to.”

“You would have quit school and left Billy and the pack to just run off with me to God-knows-where? What kind of life together would that be?”

“It would be life,” he answered before he could help himself. “It’s not like it would have had to be like that forever. Actually sounds kind of fun and exciting.”

“It would to you,” she sighed.

Jacob sat up and started stretching his arms. “I really need to go back to my friends…”

“Yeah, I have to go soon, too,” she said, but then added, “Jacob…”

He looked back down at her. “What?”

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you. But I’m afraid that it’s a really ridiculous question and that it should just be obvious…”

His brow narrowed together. “Okay. I’ll try not to look at you like you’re crazy or anything.”

She waited a moment, needing to think of how exactly to ask this. “When I found you here…before. You didn’t change back until you saw me…”

The look in his eyes changed to an almost vacant one as he remembered, immediately seeming to know what she was going to ask. She could tell just from how he reacted then that perhaps it wasn’t as obvious as it seemed and there really was something more to know…

“I just can’t help but wonder why exactly you…Did you actually realize there was a way I just might be able to save you? Or were you really hoping I could…kill you?”

He let out a quick, almost scared-sounding breath after she said that, shaking his head. “Oh, Bella, I really don’t know if I could have actually asked you to do that for me. And not when you still needed to help the others…”

“But when you saw me there…” She now was starting to sound strangely frightened.

“It’s not what you’re thinking. It’s not like I ever would have wanted that.” He shook his head, just looking as bewildered as her. “But I wasn’t hoping you could do anything. I wasn‘t able to hope for anything at that point. I was ready to have to die. My rational mind knew there was nothing to be done. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know what made me phase back at just the right moment. I wasn’t paying any attention to anything around me and it was like nothing existed anymore but the pain, but then suddenly I knew I wasn’t alone, and the first thing I became aware of again was seeing your face when I looked up, and then you were…”

He seemed to come out of some reverie, looking at her and giving a weak laugh. “This answer is a lot weirder than the question, okay?”

She just nodded.

He started remembering again and continued. “When I saw you, suddenly it was like you weren’t just with me, but you were…talking to me. Kind of like the way me and the other wolves can talk to each other. It was like you were in my head, but you weren’t saying any words exactly, just somehow communicating all these clear emotions to me. And when you saw me like that, I could feel how much you…you didn’t want me to die. It was like you were begging me not to die, and then I didn’t want to just give up anymore. I couldn’t not listen when I could feel the kind of desperation you had then. And then already it was like it didn’t hurt that much for a moment, and I was able to just naturally calm down with you there and change back, and just put myself in your hands even though I had no idea what was going to happen…It doesn’t make any sense now that I try to remember exactly what it was like, but it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”

Bella started to look a little troubled. “What if I made you do it? Without meaning to?”

He immediately shook his head. “After I realized what you must have done with Jane, that’s what I was thinking the whole time after you left. But now that you explained to me how it works, I really don’t think that could be it.”

“There’s no other explanation."

“But I knew it was you in my head thinking all that, not me. You said it doesn’t work if somebody has the chance to second-guess himself.”

She just kept looking doubtful.

“Bella, how the heck is it that nobody else even knows about this talent you have? You haven‘t actually kept it from the Cullens so you can use it on them?”

“No!“ she said. “But I haven’t been deliberately using it until now. I didn’t really…like the idea of being able to use people that way. I sort of still don’t like it but I just know it was necessary.”

“Are you sure that’s really all there is to it? Just as it is, it doesn’t really seem to reflect any important aspect of your personality. Isn’t that how it usually is?”

“I’m sure I’ve been this way for too long not to have seen some sign of everything it involves.”

“Hm,” he just said.

He stood up, and Bella quickly joined him by gracefully shooting up onto her feet.

“What time are you supposed to see them?” he asked.

“Eight.”

He nodded. “Give me a call as soon as you find out what’s going on. Remember these numbers.”

She only had to passively listen as he told her two phone numbers to immediately know them perfectly. Then he said, “Those are for the Clearwaters’ house and the Uleys.’ Try those if there’s no answer at my place.”

“Alright.”

She turned and dashed out of sight before he had even begun to leave in the other direction.

When Bella got home she went right in through the window of her and Edward’s room and went into the bathroom to shower before doing anything else. Dried blood ran off of her and swirled red in the water around the drain.

Edward was sitting downstairs just waiting for her when she came down with her hair slick and wet and immediately went to sit on his lap. When she leaned down toward him to kiss him he instantly drew his face back away in an uncontrollable knee-jerk reaction. When she looked at him questioningly, his face was apologetic.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You still smell like a dog all over.”

She just looked even more confused.

He didn’t seem to want to say it. “I can smell his blood in you,” he explained, and then looked away from her eyes a little uncomfortably.

As she just stared down at him, she could imagine he was wondering if that lingering stench was ever going to be out of their lives for good.

Finally he looked back up at her with a completely passive look in his eyes and pulled her forward close to him so that she was then holding his head close against her chest. He turned his head in toward her, lifting his face up to kiss her throat, and then as she ran her fingers through his hair he gave her a tight squeeze in his arms.

Then after a long time that they just sat holding each other this way in silence, she was almost about to ask him what he was thinking about when he asked her something in a very careful, quiet voice that answered the unspoken inquiry.

“You still love him a lot, don’t you?” he said.

She pulled away from him enough that he could see her face, but she looked down, not meeting his gaze. Her silence seemed to be the only answer he needed.

He was even more reluctant to ask the next thing. “Perhaps…even more than ever before?“

The hurt was unavoidably showing in his face for the split second she did look up at him again. She realized then, with so much shame it made her feel furious at herself, how much of his feelings about this he had just been hiding for so long out of consideration for her.

But as much as she knew he deserved an honest answer, as she tried to decide what was even close to the right way to explain it, she just ended up sighing in moderate frustration. "Differently," she said, failing to sound very sure. “And…also the same way as before. It's just...It's harder. It's harder not to think about it. To just ignore..."

It was the most she could bear to admit to him.

He waited a long time before saying anything, and even when he did he did not raise his eyes to look at her. "Then I suppose I am at least lucky that I cannot hear your thoughts if it is so difficult for you to keep from thinking about him."

She looked away at something far away in the room, not wanting to see his now stony expression any longer.

No, she thought decidedly. Her love for Jacob had not changed. Just as she had always feared it never would, in a way. But maybe her desire for him had.

Though perhaps the same thing could be said about her feelings for Edward now. She could remember it so well, though she would never be able to have it again: the way she used to almost think she could feel a magnetic attraction between them when she was human. There had been no feeling like it, being held by indestructibly strong arms that had pulled her out of the way of death like a knight in a fairy tale. It used to seem like she was never more alive than when her heart was pounding uncontrollably in response to him touching her, even the lightest and briefest kiss. It used to feel like without having that, there was no life. It had been so easy to be sure she loved and needed him more…

Edward groaned a little, looking up at the clock. She followed his gaze to see it was almost a quarter past 7:00.

“I wish Alice was here so I would know the moment she sees anything,” he said.

“Where did she go?” Bella asked.

He looked back at her, looking a little bothered. “It was Jasper’s idea,” he said. “He started wondering if this arrangement might actually be some kind of trick. If we tell the wolves that they are supposed to be meeting us here at a certain time, naturally they will never suspect and be ready for anything in La Push…”

She gasped a little as she realized what he was saying. “He doesn’t think they’re planning to just ambush them there now?” she said.

Edward shook his head. “I find it quite unlikely. I do not think even catching them that off guard would be worth risking that kind of attack in broad daylight. But just in case, he and Alice are just going to stay right around the boundary line until she sees something that assures her they are really coming here. If it starts to seem suspicious - if she still cannot see a thing they are planning when it is getting very near the time they should have come to a decision - then, well…treaty be damned. They are going to go in there and try to warn them something seems to be wrong and call us immediately. But as I said…I really don’t think we should be worried about it. We are just being very cautious.”

“So they’ve been out there all night?” she asked.

“Yes. Well, Rosalie was there with Alice for a while until Jasper joined her instead.”

Bella felt almost overwhelmed with affection for her family then. Helping the wolves did not mean nearly as much to any of them as it did to her, yet they really were willing to do absolutely whatever was necessary and seemed as dedicated to this as if it really were a cause close to their hearts. She wondered how much of it was all because of their loyalty to her.

She looked back at the clock. The time, of course, was hardly any later than the last time she had just looked, but it seemed a lot more important now. “It’s getting pretty late,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “I expect they will be back with something to tell us any minute.”

As she kept staring at the clock, he put his hand to her face, smoothing his thumb along her cheek. “Don’t worry. Alice will see what is coming. She may already have.”

“She should be here.” She could not help but feel nervous even though she had a hard time believing that the Volturi would go after the wolves one-by-one at a time like this herself.

“She will be,” he assured her.

It was not until 7:35 that Alice and Jasper finally returned to the house. Their arrival alone was such a relief that Bella’s primary concern was not even to ask what exactly she knew now. But after hearing them come in, her heart sank when she and Edward came to meet them downstairs and she saw the looks on her and Jasper’s faces.

Bella froze where she stood, no longer approaching them, afraid to hear it. But Edward was only impatient to know.

“Let me see, Alice,” he said right away.

Alice looked at him with a fearful but controlled expression. Bella got the impression that in her effort to remain calm she could only push what she had seen out of her head, so Edward could not yet read it in her mind.

“Edward,” she suddenly said to him in a very level voice, as if she was trying to keep him from getting mad. “I am sorry.”

“What do you mean you’re sorry?” he demanded. "Why won't you-?"

“You will hear it from them,” she said. “There is nothing you can do. If I let you know what it is, I know you are going to get very…”

She did not finish, seeming to think it was not going to help things to tell him. Everyone had come to meet her, and they all just looked confused and lost. Bella looked at Edward, who was seeming to struggle not to argue and just somehow force it out of her, and could only wonder why in the world Alice was speaking directly to him.

Just as soon as she had thought this, Alice’s eyes then went from her to him, turning very sad. She came right forward to Bella, suddenly losing her composure a little as she threw her arms around her neck and hugged her tightly.

“Oh, Bella,” she whispered. "I'm so sorry. It's awful. It's awful for you, I wish it were anything but this..."

Bella held her shoulders firmly, not quite hugging her back. “What is it?" she asked, feeling barely able to speak. "What are they going to do?”

“As soon as we would be able to explain it to everyone, they would already be here anyway," she said as she let go of her. "They’re early.”

We?” she echoed the word in confusion. What did this have to do with her and Alice?

A few of them then tried to get it out of Jasper, who clearly had been told all about it, but of course, Alice was right. More than fifteen minutes before the Volturi were expected, they heard a group approaching and there came a strong knock on the door.

Sighing, Carlisle went to answer it and let them all in. Seven of them in all had come along, and they entered in a group of swishing coal-colored cloaks brushing against the clean white floor, dark shapes that filled their bright home like foreboding shadows: Aro, Marcus, Caius, the brown-haired male who had attacked Alice and then obviously managed to escape from Paul, Demetri, the female with long black hair, and Alec. All of them grouped together in front of the door as Aro came forward in front of them.

It was very different from the time some of them had been here before, a visit that had started out so well-mannered. All of them looked just as unhappy and distressed this time as all of the Cullens did. There was none of Aro’s usual friendliness in his voice when he began to speak, sounding fatigued and like he almost could not care about anything he was saying.

“I suppose you already know what I have come to say,” he said.

I don’t understand,” Edward suddenly said in a growl of rage.

Bella looked to the side at him, her eyes widening when she saw the look on his face. He looked both angry and completely daunted, shaking his head like something made no sense to him.

“This is impossible!” he said. “How can you-?”

“Just let them speak, Edward,” Alice said sadly.

“Actually, Aro, only a few of us have any idea about what you have decided,” Carlisle interjected, sounding almost as troubled as Edward. “You took quite a while to agree, it seems.”

“Yes, I’m afraid we did,“ Aro said. “And not very enthusiastically did we agree, in the end.”

“That is surprising.” Carlisle could not help but express his alarm; clearly he had not often known the Volturi to quarrel very much over anything.

Aro just nodded seriously, and then sighed. “I will get right on with it, then,” he said.

To Bella’s complete surprise, he looked right at her before he went on speaking.

“We have an offer to make you,” he said directly to her.

Dammit!” Edward shouted miserably, turning away from the both of them with his hands clawed into his hair, but he was only ignored as everyone was captivated looking at Aro and waiting to hear his next words.

“It is not like us to let a concern like this pass,” he continued, “but these circumstances have become very exceptional. After quite a lot of discussion, we have resolved to give you the option of making a deal with us. If you are willing to be cooperative in such an exchange, we would be willing to forget this entire matter with the werewolves.”

Bella just blinked looking at him and shook her head once, not understanding. “In exchange for what?”

“Your talent, of course,” he said. “Your service. We would like you to join our guard.”

At first, the whole house was arrested with complete silence. Then, to the surprise of many, some of the Volturi were the first to react with shock, and it became clear that their leaders had not yet shared with them what they were going to do.

“What?” said Felix a little vacantly to himself, just looking over at Aro like he must not have heard him right.

“Aro!” Alec exclaimed, suddenly looking furious.

“You will be silent, Alec,” Aro ordered calmly.

Not seeming to hear it, Alec went on with disbelief, “But I had no idea - I thought we were going to surrender.”

“You assumed.”

“How can you want her?” he asked, pointing at Bella with a look of disgust. “Do you think I would accept her as one of us? Do you think I would fight beside her? She killed Jane!”

The words seemed to tear out of him like they caused him pain. Bella found herself completely unable to move as all eyes in the whole room burned into her.

“And all in defense of one of those foul creatures, no less!” Alec added.

“Yes,” Aro said quietly, suddenly sounding deeply wounded. It looked like it took him a lot of effort to gather himself together and look back at Bella to keep speaking. “Precisely. She killed our Jane. Not an easy thing to do, especially with you right there at her side, Alec—”

Alec just turned away then, letting out a pained groan.

“And not an easy loss to replace,” Aro continued somberly. “Jane was beautiful and powerful. It is an invaluable fortune to find anyone with gifts as remarkable as hers.”

“This is ludicrous!” Edward cried, obviously unable to cooperate and stay in silence any longer. “I don’t understand — Alec was there? She said nothing of — Is this what you want out of some personal grudge because of what she did? How could you possibly be interested in her?

Aro’s brow raised in astonishment at the question, and he looked around at all of the Cullens, returning to his usual curious self for a moment. “Ah,” he said. “So you were not all just lying to me the night when I first asked about her abilities.”

“Bella?” Emmett suddenly said.

“What is he talking about?” asked Esme.

Bella finally looked away from Aro to turn her head toward Edward, and found his eyes full of overwhelming shock as he just stayed still, obviously seeing something very intricate and illuminating that Aro was remembering then. Then, very slowly, he turned and met eyes with her, his expression not changing. Bella swallowed deeply as he stared at her that way, as if he was not sure what he was looking at, feeling like there were multiple worlds in between the two of them then.

“Yes,” Aro said with a small grin, watching this. “You all should have seen her there as Alec did. It was like watching someone protecting her mate.”

Bella suddenly could not look at Edward’s face anymore, closing her eyes heavily a moment with a deep, hopeless sigh.

“You mean Bella actually survived facing Alec and Jane at the same time?” Carlisle asked. “We didn't know—”

“No, it seems she never told you a lot. I suppose it was quite wise of her, too.” Aro suddenly looked directly at Edward, who was still standing still and just seething. “Come now, Edward, it would not be so terrible. I understand how opposed you would be to being separated from her. Of course, if she agrees to do it, you are more than welcome to join us as well.”

No,” Bella gasped, the words getting the first strong reaction out of her since they had arrived. Edward just hung his head down a little.

“In fact,” Aro said with a small smile, “I must admit we are somewhat looking forward to that possibly being an extra part of the deal. But we are simply the most confident about her being willing to do it because…Well, I think you all know why.”

Everything went silent again. Aro shook his head as he looked at her, as if she was more impossible to comprehend than anything he had ever laid eyes on.

“You are quite an eccentric character, aren’t you, Bella?” he said, giving her a strong impression that he was trying to find a harmless way to word it. “I suppose in several ways this is your battle.”

What he was hearing in some of the others' heads then seemed to fuel Edward’s anger far beyond restraint. He looked right at Marcus and said, “Yes, and what do you think you could really want with a dog lover as part of your guard, then?”

“Edward—” Esme began in a calming voice.

“You are making a terribly foolish mistake," he said, looking back at Aro. "You could not possibly find the trade to be worth it. She would never last for—”

“Edward.” This time it was Bella who tried to silence him, and his face jerked toward her with shock when he heard her speak. She just stared at him with a contained, accepting expression, asking her with his eyes to let it go.

Then she looked back at Aro with a look of finality. "Do you mean indefinitely?"

He looked caught off guard by the question. "Well, not necessarily...It is only a few members of my guard who actually mean to stay with us forever. Hm. I suppose it is ridiculous we did not discuss this, but we have never taken anyone on for a set amount of time before..."

Caius muttered something to him that Bella could not hear. Then he nodded and said, "Yes, I think that seems fair." When he looked to Marcus a moment, who also nodded in agreement, he said, "Ten years for every wolf spared."

"...Eighty years," Bella confirmed quietly.

He nodded. “You may have as much time as you think you will need to decide, of course."

Bella's first inclination was to tell him she needed two weeks. But she thought of Emily alone wherever she was, waiting, and said, “Three days.”

Edward gave a heavy, despaired sigh next to her.

Aro only nodded and said, “Then we will anticipate a visit from you then. You all should be able to follow our trail quite easily. We are staying about forty miles southeast of here.“

He then swiftly turned to leave, followed by the others. Bella stayed still as everyone else was already trying to make sense of this and talking to each other while the Volturi left.

But she was pulled out of her paralyzed state of shock when Edward suddenly turned to Alice and said angrily, “So this is what you have been taking so much care to keep from me.”

Bella’s eyes widened as she turned to them. “Edward, don’t be angry with—!”

“Somebody tell me what the hell is going on,” Emmett demanded.

Bella sighed exasperatedly, and suddenly Emmett turned around with wide eyes as he thought he felt someone hit him hard on the back as if to get his attention, only to find nobody there. “What the…?”

“It’s my talent,” Bella explained. “I can make people think things or feel things or hear things. I hadn’t cared to develop it before, but it turns out it's pretty useful for battle.”

“You knew about this,” Edward said to Alice, still sounding accusing.

Alice just crossed her arms defiantly. “It had to be kept from everybody for now.”

“But you — you must have had some idea this could happen, and you actually encouraged her to develop it?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, brother,” Rosalie sighed. “She could be dead now if she didn’t know how to do it.”

“And others, too, I suspect,” Alice added.

It seemed to start to calm Edward down a little. He glanced at Bella with a torn expression. “Yes. You’re right, of course…but…” He sighed frustratedly, just shaking his head at Alice. "You might have been able to entrust me with this information, if no one else."

"What for?" Alice said. "What do you think you would have been able to do to protect her from something like this happening? Try to lock her up somehow? She isn't just a helpless human anymore, Edward. You can't take advantage of that to try to make her stay safe anymore."

He gaped at her like he had been slapped. "That is a heinous insult. If you are actually suggesting I prefered her to be-"

"Stop it, you two!" Esme interrupted.

"And no, don't you start trying to make me calm down!" Edward shot at Jasper, ignoring her.

"Come on, Edward, you know she didn't mean it seriously," Emmett said.

“Alice,” Bella suddenly said, something restrained held back in her voice. Everyone turned to look at her as if in all the chaos over her they had forgotten she was standing right there. “What did he mean? How did you know this could happen? Had you seen when they first came here that they would have been willing to…?”

No,” Edward said firmly, answering for her. “That was not what I meant. They were extremely interested in you for a long time, and a lot of their hesitation to go through with this attack for so long had to do with how important it was to Aro that things remain as friendly as possible between us. He had such high hopes that he was going to meet you again and find an extraordinarily gifted specimen to add to his collection, so much that it was of much greater interest to him than the wolf pack and was probably the thing that finally motivated them to make the journey here. But I really do not think if you were honest about what you seemed to be capable of at first it would have meant that they would have made this offer to you from the beginning. They never would have imagined that there was any likelihood of you accepting. They first had to be able to tell that you…well, because of Marcus, you see…”

“Right,” she said quietly, relieving him from having to finish and unconsciously bringing her hands together to touch her bracelet for a second.

Everyone went momentarily silent once more, and suddenly extremely anxious, Bella could not stand there doing nothing for another second. A lot of them watched her as she walked quickly away from the group to go face the glass wall, taking her phone out of her pocket.

There was no answer at Jacob’s, and then she tried the Clearwaters’. The voice that answered was unmistakably his.

“Hello?” He sounded eager and nervous, obviously anticipating it might be her.

“Jacob, it’s me.”

“What happened?”

Somehow the words so naturally spilled out. “They see that this might take more time and effort than they were expecting, and now they really need to leave to take care of some situation in Texas soon. With us involved they know they can’t just spare any men to go take care of it while the rest of them stay here, so everything’s up in the air now. But they’ll be back eventually and we're not going to find out what will happen until then.”

She heard him sigh. “Great.”

She swallowed, feeling Edward’s eyes on her as he listened to the conversation, feeling horrible about what she was doing, not knowing what else she could do. “We'll just have to be in touch, then," she said, hoping the tone of her voice would not betray her.

“Yeah. Thanks."

"Bye."

When she flipped her phone shut, she found that everyone was watching her, though some more discreetly than others. She met eyes with Edward, the almost calm look on her face visibly affecting him as she was the only one who seemed able to accept this turn of events. He knew that saying any of the things he was thinking might be hopeless, and could only look back at her helplessly.

All seven pairs of eyes followed her as she left them in silence, going up the stairs and into her room.