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What Music They Make

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.


14. XIII: Diminuendo

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chapter XIII diminuendo

Bella’s hand found itself at her throat, touching the hard diamond heart worn there, as she walked up the porch of the house and went inside. The entire home was tensely quiet, and though everyone who was downstairs to see her come in looked at her with expressions of relief they did not move to embrace her or even say anything after her entrance. A quick look around and a moment taken to listen closely to everything happening in the house told her that Edward was up in their room.

As she went up the stairs to meet him, realizing that he probably knew just about everything that had happened between her and Jacob in the past few days now, she wondered what he would do without really having any doubt that she already knew. Maybe she wished she could expect or be afraid of something else. Maybe she wanted him to react in a more unreasonable and passionate, human way, Othello strangling Desdemona. Shout at her. Call her some horrible words. Grab her and shake her violently, why why why. Go get a gun hidden somewhere in the house and go after the son of a bitch and shoot him. Or shoot her. As if, if only. Maybe if he would at least get angry with her, it might make her feel half as alive as she used to always feel with him.

Having heard her coming, Edward was standing in the middle of the room waiting with his arms crossed when she came in. She faced him and froze for a second before reaching back and closing the door behind her, as if that alone would make much of a difference in how private this conversation would be.

They looked at each other. Edward was guarded, expectant. He looked prepared for anything. Reluctantly but completely accepting. Somehow, it made her almost furious.

Him. Him. He used to be everything. Everything, and yet he couldn’t even hold onto her. Never completely. Things were never going to go back to the way they were at the bright, innocent beginning of love. The fairy tale was over. Perhaps it had never been true in the first place, but now all the belief in it was lost.

"Why did you have to leave me?” she demanded suddenly, hardly even knowing where it was coming from.

Edward just kept looking at her in silence, his face looking stricken.

“Why did you have to do it?" she said, and though the words were accusing her tone was completely calm, sad instead of heated with anger. "If you hadn't, all this never would have been a problem. If you had just been willing to discuss with me why you had problems with me being turned instead of deciding for me it wasn't right and keeping the subject closed. I wasn't a child."

"I know," he said quietly. This was nothing that both of them hadn’t known for quite a while, but that was not that point. Neither of them had ever said these things before.

"I had to find out from Carlisle why you had such a big problem with it,” she went on, shaking her head. Even as her voice started to rise a little, she sounded like she was too tired of thinking back on these things to be truly angry about them anymore; the time to be angry about it had been missed and then passed. “I remember. You just made the decision for me. You can't do that! And then Jacob happened. Jacob Black...He'll never go away!"

He finally looked deeply hurt for an instant, and she knew she didn’t even have to say this; he knew it, and he would always accept it. He would always forgive.

Even now, in the stretch of silence during which they just kept looking at each other regretfully, she knew that he could not be given all of the blame at all. She had been just as ridiculous as him. How much of her love for him had always only been so strong because of the absence of love she had for herself? If it weren’t for all that, he could have eventually come back just to see how she was and found her with Jacob and doing reasonably well. He would have stayed away from her for good. But she had thought she was nothing without him. She had never thought she could possibly be good enough for someone else after she had been ruined by him, that she was capable of loving anyone else or had anything to give on her own. She knew she would have realized she was in love with Jacob a lot sooner if she had believed she could be.

Edward shook his head as he stared at her. “Please tell me what you are thinking,” he said sadly.

She looked down at the floor a little absently. “I assume Alice was already able to tell I’m staying.”

“Yes,” he sighed.

Bella gave a tiny, unenthused shrug, shaking her head a little. “And that’s it, I guess. I’m still here, but I don’t...”

She could not look at him anymore then. She turned and walked over to the couch, sitting down on the arm of it with her head bowed down looking at the floor. “I don’t know what to tell you now. I feel like I can only hurt you by being honest with you anymore...”

He was suddenly in front of her in a heartbeat. She still did not look up at his face, but her head fell against him as she closed her eyes. He touched her hair gently as she reached up and grabbed onto his shirt. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered against him.

“So am I,” he said softly.

“I wish...There’s nothing I want more than to be able to tell you it was harder to run away than it was to turn around and come back. But I’m still so afraid I can’t even tell you...”

He sat down next to her, but now he was the one who would not meet eyes with her. He seemed to take a moment to gather himself together and prepare himself to say something, and then it came out in a delicate whisper. “You are so unhappy now...”

“Of course I’m unhappy,” she said. “But don’t think that means—”

“I don’t want you to just feel obligated to me,” he said, cutting her off to get it out while he still could stand to say it. “If you really do not...need me now as much as you...”

He could not seem to finish, perhaps because there was absolutely nothing to do about it if his fears were confirmed anyway. But she didn’t give him a chance to finish, giving an exhausted-sounding sigh. “Don’t you get it yet?” she asked.

He looked up at her, his brow creasing in a perplexed look.

“I don’t need you,” she said, wincing innerly when his eyes filled with that sharp pain again. “Please — don’t look at me like that. If I really did need you, completely helplessly and unconditionally, then I wouldn’t have any reason to feel bad about what happened to Paul and Seth. The whole pack. Their families...But why does it matter? I want to be with you. I came back. I choose this. Shouldn’t that mean everything? Edward...it was so hard...”

All at once he was holding her, smothering her unreservedly, and as she buried her face into his chest she murmured, “I must smell so bad...”

“I don’t care,” he said calmly.

“I kissed him.”

“I know. I don’t care.”

Her words started coming out frantically and quickly. “How can I do this? I don’t know what I’m going to do. If he dies...”

“He won’t die.” It was the only thing to say.

“But if he does...”

Shhh,” he just said, rubbing her back.

They could no longer dissolve into each other like she thought she could remember they once did, until they became something completely new that hardly had anything left of what they each were on their own as individuals. She was still her and she still hurt. But it was enough then.

Jacob got a call from the bar in the afternoon.

“You just took off in the middle of your shift yesterday,” Scott said to him, carefully reserving judgment in his tone.

He tried to figure out quickly how to get around this. Scott had always liked him and it didn’t sound like he was fired just yet, so he knew he might have a chance to save himself.

“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that,” he said, innerly cursing himself because it was so impossible to sound like he sincerely cared about this at the moment. “I had a really bad...emergency.”

Scott was silent a few seconds before replying. “That really isn’t like you. Are you sure everything’s okay?”

Jacob let out a long, tired breath, resigning. “No, actually...”

He knew he should not have been entirely surprised when she showed up later that day. But it was still a strange shock for her to appear in this setting when someone knocked on the door and he saw through the window that Lilah was standing on his porch.

He opened the door and stared, a little speechless at first, suddenly aware of the floor under his feet again like the sight of her was waking him up from something.

“Hi,” she said softly, her arms crossed. She looked so unusually unconfident, and also very sad.

“Hey,” he said just as quietly.

“Um...I’m sorry for just dropping by. I know I should have called first but my phone isn’t...”

She seemed unable to finish, and he got the distinct impression that she was just now realizing how stupid this might be and wanted to just turn around.

“It’s okay,” he said, shaking his head.

Then they just looked at each other another awkward moment before she finally explained, “I heard...at work...”

He nodded. He had told Scott some story about two friends of his getting killed in a car crash. Of course the word had probably gotten around to everybody there by now.

“You want to come in?” he said.

Lilah had never been inside his house before. She only knew where it was because of one time he’d had to rush back here after picking her up for work because he had forgotten his wallet. As they went into the kitchen, he saw her stealing curious glances at photos that were hanging on the wall and taped up on his fridge.

Something about her looked so different and wrong. Her face was full of only partially registered shock like she’d just been hit in the face. Then when they were both leaning against the counter on opposite sides of the tiny kitchen, she looked up at him at last and looked strangely regretful.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Not quite so terrible now.”

He wondered right after saying it if that would sound like a weird thing to say. Of course, he couldn’t explain to her how things had all looked a lot worse yesterday.

She shook her head a little. “I’m really sorry...Were these...These were the two friends you had visiting you?”

He took a moment to remember. “Oh. No. Different ones.”

She sighed heavily, looking down sadly. “I feel like a real asshole.”

He raised his brow in surprise. "Why?"

“I don’t know. Part of me kind of doubted...I wondered if you were just making it up to get out of work or something. Even though I can't exactly see you doing that. I mean...Scott said you told him this happened a few days ago, but I’ve seen you and...”

He realized all at once how strange this must have looked to her. Something very different in her face...

“Are you...mad at me?” he asked uncertainly, knowing that the question was a little ridiculous but unable to think of another way of asking it.

“No,” she said, a little too quickly, shaking her head. “I just wanted to stop by long enough to say...you know, give you my...my...”

She gestured with her hands like she was trying to pull the right words out of the air, and he suggested, “Condolences?”

“Uh. Yeah. Shit.” She shook her head again like she despised saying it. “As weirdly...formal as that sounds. I don’t know what you say here. I just thought I should stop by and let you know that...I can be bothered with these kind of things, in case you actually need somebody to listen.”

“Sure...Sure,” he said. His brow creased as he peered closely at her. “Are you sure nothing’s wrong?”

She shook her head once again, looking down at the floor. “No. Forget it...”

“What?” he pressed.

Lilah shrugged, a gesture trying to make it seem like no big deal even as she looked clearly embarrassed, nervously running her fingers back through her short hair. “I told myself I wouldn't...It’s just that when Scott mentioned this to me he was assuming I already knew all about it. And he was surprised to see I obviously had no idea. I felt...kind of stupid. Because I’ve been talking to you the past few days having no idea, and...”

“Oh,” he said, sighing a little. “Listen, I would have said something, but—”

“No, it’s fine,” she said firmly. “I understand if you didn’t want anybody to know before. I do...”

Then he realized fully why this might be bothering her. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to be anybody. Or maybe she was. Maybe she was supposed to be here when he needed support from somebody or maybe she was expected to disappear in times like this when things got hard. They had never had a chance to figure this out before, and maybe without meaning to he had decided it for her.

“It’s just that I’ve been kind of worried about you,” she admitted with some obvious hesitation. “Everybody’s noticed you acting really out of it, and I figured you had to just be keeping quiet about something...But I never imagined it could be something this bad. I mean, if I was going through something like this, I might expect that you’d be interested to at least know about it...”

There was a slight dryness in her tone that was starting to make him cringe inside a little. “Stop it, Lilah,” he sighed.

“What?” she said, merely looking surprised by his reaction.

“Why do you have to make it sound so...? I mean...come on. I care a lot about you. Are you honestly surprised to hear that?”

She just shrugged again, more heavily. “I don’t know if there’s much at all that would surprise me to hear about you.”

That stopped him, rendering him silent for a second. “...Yeah,” he just said, like he was agreeing with it.

For a brief moment, he tried to imagine it, just to see if he could picture it at all. Just blurting it out, or even slowly building up to it. “Yes. I know. I know nothing about me seems to make any sense. That’s because you can’t even have any idea what really goes on in my life. My friends weren’t actually killed in a car accident. They got torn apart by vampires. Yes. Vampires. Real ones. And me...Well, this is the craziest part...”

It was almost funny to think about doing it. Almost.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be here,” he said quietly.

She stared at him, trying to read his face. She clearly knew he didn’t mean it was an inconvenient time.

“Why?” she asked, softly but fearlessly.

“Are you breaking up with me?” he heard in the distant past.

He crossed his arms, hesitating a while. “You’re a smart girl. You’ve noticed I don’t tell you that much about myself.”

She just raised her brow and gave a small nod.

“So don’t you ever worry about why I almost always seem to be keeping something from you? Maybe it’s actually something pretty bad. Maybe I’m not the kind of person you really want to be hanging around with.”

She actually started to look a little disturbed then, and he could guess it was because there was genuine-looking guilt on his face. “Don’t say that,” she said sadly; it wasn’t clear if she was trying to convince him or trying to convince herself, refusing to accept it. “I’ve...I’ve known really bad people. I don’t know if I'm just cursed that way or what, but I don't have a lot of decent people in my life, you know. You’re the only really good guy I know.”

His stomach clutched a little nervously after he heard the words. Crap. What if it was like that? What if he was her knight in goddamn shining armor? The worst thing...

“If I were that good, maybe I would have just left you alone a long time ago,” he said.

She shook her head, looking bewildered. “What are you talking about?”

He sighed, scratching the back of his head unsurely. “Lilah, is there...something more you want from me?”

As she kept looking at him, her face slowly changed as she realized what he meant. Then she also sighed, crossing her arms and looking to the side. “Oh, man,” she said, eyes flickering back up at him. “Are you asking me this? Now?”

“Yeah,” he muttered. “I’m asking you this.”

She just shook her head. “God. I don’t know...Right now, I think I’d like to be able to just give you a hug without that feeling too weird. Because...you look like you really need one. Do you think that would be possible?”

His eyes lit up softly with mild surprise at her answer. Then a tired half-grin slowly spread across his face.

“Sure,” he said. “That doesn’t sound too scary.”

She gave a light laugh, finally seeming comfortable again as she came forward. He only then realized it, but he and Lilah had never just hugged each other before. It felt very new and different to stand with their arms relaxed around each other a long moment, but comfortable. He could feel that this small, simple thing changed everything; there were only two different ways they could go from here. He had made it clear by now that one way was completely closed to him for now, even if she may never understand exactly why. They both knew this was the most they would ever touch each other again.

After talking with Carlisle in his office a while, Edward found Bella sitting downstairs, approaching her from behind as she just sat frozen in thought with her arms crossed. Before saying anything he just touched her head, smoothing his fingers through her hair.

“Hm?” she said softly.

“I was about to mention the situation with Emily Uley to Carlisle,” he said. “But I wanted to ask what you think first. I am not sure what would be best now.”

She turned her head around to look at him. “You mean...tell him that she’s pregnant?”

He nodded, his face very grave. “I thought...just in case something were to happen to us and Alice now...just in case...then maybe someone besides us should know about that, even if there may be more of a risk of Aro finding out that way.”

Bella’s eyes grew a little large with surprise. “You mean Alice has seen that?”

He nodded. “During all the time we have been involved in this, her sight has somehow become quite sensitive to everything happening with Emily. And her baby as well, in a sense...She sees a girl.” He smirked unenthusiastically.

Bella’s mouth dropped open a little. “Oh. Well...I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. It's not like Emily's a werewolf. Her baby might be someday, but...” Her shoulders shook with a dry laugh.

Edward went suddenly silent; when she looked back up at him standing above her, his eyes had gone wide. Assuming he was hearing something in someone’s head that worried him, she immediately rose from her seat and touched his arm. “Edward?” she asked.

But when he spoke, he did not echo her scared tone at all. “Sweetheart!” he said, taking both of her hands with a bright look of excitement in his eyes that was strangely contagious; as Bella saw him like this she could not help but already feel a little bit of hope for the first time in so many days. “That’s it! Of course!”

“What?” she asked, shaking her head in confusion.

“Oh, I am the biggest fool! I should have thought of this!”

To her surprise, he then dropped one of her hands and pulled her along with him to quickly run out of the house.

“I must not let the others hear,” he said, closing the door behind them and then taking her a considerable distance far out into the yard before finally stopping and turning back to her to explain.

“Tell me,” he said quickly. “The werewolves — they do stop turning into wolves at a certain age, correct?”

“Yeah. Well, it’s not so much at a certain age as whenever they can handle it, I think...”

“Right. This is what I should have realized before. Demetri, you see...The way he is aware of their minds is very different from the way he is aware of normal humans, just like vampires’ minds feel very different to him than humans’. The presence of a wolf in a massive crowd of other people would be very prominent and immediately noticeable to him. It is very similar to how Alice’s visions focus especially on other vampires and completely exclude their kind.”

“Okay....” Bella had never known this about Demetri’s tracking ability, but she was still failing to see why it was so important.

“So this is what we can do,” he explained. “You will go tell the Volturi that you are accepting their offer but need some time to prepare yourself before leaving — a few months, I suppose — and while we have bought them that much time, the pack can split up into small groups and get far away from here to go into hiding. It would probably be best for them to find largely populated areas to go. And then they will have to do everything they can to stop phasing in that time so they will no longer be werewolves by the time you would finally have to go tell the Volturi you cannot accept their offer after all. I am almost absolutely sure that in that case Demetri won’t be able to recognize them enough to find them again. Or at least it would be much too difficult to be worth it.”

Bella was shaking her head doubtfully. “But it isn’t that easy for them," she said. "They have to learn a level of self-control before they’re ready to last that long without changing and go back to normal.”

“But Jacob could have control over that as the Alpha, couldn’t he? If he had to, he could order all of them never to phase again.”

She looked taken aback. “Oh...I guess that could work...”

Edward glanced behind her toward the house for a moment. “Everyone is wondering what we’re talking about now,” he said with a small grin.

“Why did we have to come out here?” she asked.

“Because if Jacob agrees to this when we tell him, which I expect we will get the chance to soon because he intended to come back to get his car later today, then I should probably not go with you to meet the Volturi. Carlisle and Esme can go with you, and we will not let them know what you’re doing. Aro will probably want to touch someone to confirm that he can take your word for it when you say you intend to join them later and that we are not conspiring like this in some way. He will probably be able to tell that Esme and Carlisle are surprised to hear you agree to go with them, but at least they won’t be in on the plan yet and he will have no way of finding out about it.”

Bella stared off into the distance for a long moment, carefully considering every aspect of his plan. It involved a lot of risks. They could not be completely confident it would work. But it still seemed to give everyone in the pack much more of a chance than they had otherwise. In a way quite against her usual character that was very unfamiliar to her, she felt mostly optimistic.

Very slowly, a genuinely happy, radiant smile spread across her face. The relief pouring from her made her give a soft, uncontrollable laugh. It made him so happy to see it that Edward reflected the smile, taking her face in his hands and peering right into her eyes. They kissed each other excitedly, their mouths staying in smiles a little, with a kind of warmth Bella felt like she had forgotten.

The next morning, Edward found an excuse not to go along with Bella to meet the Volturi and she headed off with Carlisle and Esme along the same trail of their scents she had been indirectly following the day before.

When Jacob had showed up at the house to get the Rabbit still parked in their long driveway, it had been Bella's intention to keep plenty of distance between them now for both of their sakes after how potentially hurtful being in each other's presence had proven to be in the past few days.

But as soon as Edward had told her he was approaching and they went outside to wait to see him emerge out of the trees after changing back into his human form, all she had been able to see was that look of complete hopelessness that was always in his eyes now. And suddenly all she had cared about was wiping that look off of his face, sharing with him her feeling of lightness and cautious, not yet complete happiness, and she could not wait to tell him everything. As soon as he was close enough to see them waiting on the porch, she broke right away from Edward's side and ran right to him, calling his name. She excitedly touched his arms as she started talking to him without thinking about it.

Once Edward had caught up to them and they were both explaining the plan Edward had come up with, Jacob had looked overwhelmed as he tried to keep up with what they said and completely register the logic of it. But ultimately, he agreed that it was too promising an idea not to try it, and soon he was smiling a little along with Bella.

By the end of their brief meeting Bella had not even noticed how Edward and Jacob were now speaking to each other with absolutely no trace of obvious hostility between them for the time being. But as she ran with Esme and Carlisle, her thoughts were thickly occupied with both of them, and she did remember the conversation and realize this. She remembered how uncomplicated everything had felt as she stood with both of them, never standing much closer to either one of them than the other. She had felt so unconflicted then, in a way so natural and passive she hadn't even noticed at the time.

The scent of the large group of vampires Bella and the others were following grew very strong, and instead of the distant scurrying of animals she could usually hear all around while running through the forest, she started to hear nothing but a dead, completely vacated silence in the area they had entered. Soon they could look ahead of them and see many graceful figures moving around. By the time they reached them, the Volturi had become aware of them approaching and many of them had moved to stand grouped together and watch the encounter, while others stayed carelessly lounging up in trees or sitting on the ground against them, murmuring to each other as if carrying on conversations just as before.

Aro, of course, came ahead the furthest to meet them while Caius, Marcus, and a few others stayed grouped a few feet behind him listening.

"Welcome," he said, bowing his head, as if the three visitors were entering his home.

"Hello," Bella said when no one else replied, only then realizing that she was standing closest to him, flanked by Carlisle and Esme. They had approached with her in front like an ambassador without thinking about it.

"Hm," Aro said, curiously looking around at the three of them. "Edward felt no need to join you? I suppose then I cannot be optimistic and already know your answer."

"You have a lot of confidence in Marcus' talent," Bella observed.

He smiled at her, almost warmly. "I do. You must know that otherwise I never would have thought I should bother asking this of you. But it seems with that certainty his talent could grant me I was mistaken. Are you really ready to condemn him and all the others to die?"

"Aro, must you?" Carlisle asked beseechingly, his voice sounding a little hardened.

Aro looked past her at his old friend's face with a brief strain of regret showing in his eyes, the expression seeming to show that he couldn't help himself.

She didn't know why she was waiting so long to contradict the assumptions he was making and tell him she was willing to accept their offer, but something made her draw this moment out. Perhaps seeing Aro's disappointment was a little too enjoyable.

"Hm," Aro said, looking around at them all and coming closer. "Something seems strange here..."

Suddenly his eyes lowered right to Bella, then focusing on the necklace she still wore after running off with it on the day before, the large diamond shining over the smooth, bone-white skin at her throat.

"What a beautiful jewel," he said, his voice pleasant and almost casually conversational.

"Uh...Thank you," she said awkwardly, reaching up and touching it with surprise.

Aro smirked just a little. "I have never seen you with it before."

"...No," she replied, not knowing what else to say.

Tell him you've changed your mind! she commanded herself. That you just need some time first! But it did not yet feel like the right moment. She could not let it seem suspicious at all...

"I may not be able to read your mind," Aro said, "but I could swear I still detect some indecisiveness in you, Bella."

She just stared. Was he really able to suspect the reason she was still wearing something like her diamond at a time like this? She didn't get the chance to say anything in response before he looked past her at Carlisle again.

"Please allow me...I am only curious to see what made her come to this decision," he said, extending his hand toward him. "To acknowledge where our judgment failed."

Bella looked back at Carlisle, who met eyes with her a little unsurely a moment before reaching out and letting Aro touch him.

"Ah," Aro said almost right away. "I should have worried that Edward would pull something like that. There was certainly a reason we did not mean for the pack to...to know..."

As Bella watched him, Aro seemed to become distracted by his own thoughts he was processing from so quickly going through all of Carlisle's memories. Then he started to look very surprised by something.

"Well, that is unexpected..."

"What?" Esme asked, her voice full of tension.

Aro looked back up at Carlisle. "This pack of werewolves only exists because of your particular coven's presence in Forks? This is true?"

He nodded, looking a little perplexed by the question. "I never knew it until recent years, but they do seem to be right that us living here is what causes their transformations."

"You mean you had no idea about that?" Bella said to Aro, her voice rising anxiously.

Aro shook his head, looking a little overwhelmed by the realization of what this meant. "Certainly not. It...is actually quite a shame..."

Carlisle came right toward him, standing only a foot in front of him, as Bella's head started spinning wildly with new possibilities. "Why is it a shame you didn't know?" he asked.

"Well, we might have been able to come to some other kind of agreement..."

"So you only now understand that if we left, there would soon be no werewolves here anymore?" Bella asked, eyes wide with shock. But now that she really thought about it, perhaps they should have suspected that this never would have occurred to them...

Aro nodded, and instantly Carlisle said quickly, "Would you spare them if we swore to you that we'll leave?"

Many others behind Aro started muttering quick, surprised words to each other as he considered it a moment. He looked back at Marcus, who only shrugged, and Caius, who nodded to him stiffly.

"Very well," Aro said, looking back at the three of them. "However, you must give us your word that you will end this treaty of yours so that you can never live in this area ever again."

Carlisle extended his hand in a blur of fast movement. "It is a promise," he said.

Aro shook his hand, smirking tiredly as if the ridiculousness of this amused him a little. "We will send someone here to make sure you appear to be serious about keeping your word in a few months."

"We'll be gone without a trace by then," he assured.

And with that, Aro turned and motioned to the others, who in response moved to get ready to leave, and Esme immediately turned and grabbed Bella into a tight, exuberant hug. Bella was completely speechless and did not even breathe for a moment, staring wide-eyed past Esme's shoulder and feeling like everything was frozen still and finally at peace. She felt so light and free of burdens it was like she could float away if Esme let go over her.

It was over.

As soon as she felt like she could speak again, she got her phone out of her pocket and called Jacob.

After two rings he answered, "Hey."

"Jake!" she said. "You've got to call Sam. He can tell Emily to come home now. Everything's going to be fine."


"We made a different deal with them. All we have to do is relinquish the treaty and leave Forks. They had no idea that would make the pack no longer a problem. Not after your generation, at least..."

"But how did they—? Oh, never mind, I don't even care."

"I'll explain later. Go tell everybody."

"Yeah. Bella...thanks so much. I know you don't want to hear that, but at least pass it on."

She was actually able to laugh. "Bye."

The world finally slowed down again, at the same time that it seemed to come back to life.

At the Cullens' house later that night, everyone was no longer talking in such scared, uneasy, or quiet voices anymore but enjoying themselves and joking normally again. Eventually they would have to face the prospect of leaving this home they had all become so accustomed to, probably more than any other place they had ever lived, but for now the small sacrifice in comparison to what they could have lost only gave them reason to feel like celebrating and finally relaxing again. Alice and Jasper were swing dancing barefoot while Edward beat fast, lively tunes out of the piano, while in another room Emmett had put on a loud, explosive action movie and was occasionally filling the house with his booming laughter because of comments Rosalie or Carlisle made while passively watching it with him.

Bella eventually left the rest of them, going upstairs into her and Edward's dark room by herself. Somehow she found herself standing with her arms crossed, biting her lip thoughtfully as she looked down at the small piles of folded clothes that were still gathered on the couch because she had been planning to pack them and take them with her to a new residence in Italy.

Everything was not quite right again yet. Somehow. This instinctive awareness kept digging into every relieved and happy thought she had as she looked forward to having an untroubled life again.

For an unknown reason, some words Jacob had told her lately resonated in her head then.

"Live your own life, whatever that is now..."

She moved without thinking further. She went to get a travel bag out of the closet, walked back to the couch, and packed all of the clothes that were still sitting there ready for her into it. She added other things: her mp3 player and headphones, a few books she had been meaning to start reading, her laptop computer, and a fat notebook that was almost completely unused and blank. She took off the necklace with Elizabeth Masen's diamond and put it back in the small top drawer of her dresser, closing it up safely.

The bedroom window was already open, letting in the light night breeze, and she left through it. Alice would see her doing nothing in the near future and wouldn't have to ask where she was going. But beyond that, after that, Bella herself wasn't sure what she would see.

Jacob was half-asleep in his bed when something made him open his eyes. He looked up and found Bella sitting neatly next to him, her posture perfectly erect and still as she peered down at him.

They just looked at each other at first, Jacob quite calmly taking in the unexpected and sudden sight of her, while the clock ticked loudly on his nightstand. Finally he whispered, "Well...that was easy."

The dry irony expressed in his face made her give a single, light laugh.

Jacob let out a long sigh. "I can't believe that if they'd only known that..."

Bella shook her head. "I don't think it would have made any difference," she said. "Carlisle told me himself he never would have guessed that this kind of arrangement would have been enough for them. That's why we never even considered this kind of solution. They needed to see that they stood to lose a lot to become willing to give up this easily."

"Right," he said; she was relieved to be able to tell that it made him feel a little better to hear this. "I guess you saw to that."

She smiled dryly. "Yeah." She peered closely at his face as if trying to take something in now that she finally had the chance to. "How are you doing?"

He took a while to answer, finally just giving a light shrug. "I'll be alright...I guess."

Her eyes drifted away from meeting his, and after another long silence he asked, "How soon do you have to go?"

"We'll probably leave after a month," she said.

"...And then I guess I won't be seeing much of you again."

Bella wondered if he could see how her breath caught for a second, how she momentarily felt like she could not move just trying to think about it. Then trying not to think about it. Not yet...

"We'll see," she just said. "For now...I'm going away for a while."

He looked surprised. "Just you? Where?"

"To Florida. To see my mom. I don't have any idea how she is now."

The confused look on his face almost made her laugh.

"She won't know I'm seeing her," she explained.

He gave a light laugh. "Right."

He looked outside the window thoughtfully for a moment. "I guess a vacation will do you good now."

She laughed again. "I suppose you could describe it that way."

He looked back at her face and they met eyes again, examining each other. She knew he could see everything. He didn't have to ask why she might need a break from everyone else.

After looking at each other like this a while, she reached out and brushed his face and neck very lightly with the backs of her fingers, barely touching him. "Go to sleep," she said.

He kept looking up at her just a second before closing his eyes.

She did not feel like she had to say goodbye to him or explain. He would know anyway. He and Alice would both see her on a plane and be able to figure out what she was doing.

It would be the first time she had been separated from Edward in the whole time they had been married.

The world looks so different from up high, out of the window of an airplane. As Bella's flight started to take off, she felt more light than ever, weightless, almost like she did not even exist. Completely free of chains and weights and burdens, with just her raw and stripped self.

She was not even sure how she did it. She watched the world go away beneath her, leaving her alone. She turned away from the impasse, only to be met with another one. Then to look up and find an entirely different world, like a sky of a whole new color, and somehow rise away from everything else into it. Somehow she found the way out.