AU: A year later and Bella is still living in Forks with Charlie, alternating her time between the Newton's store and spending time with her best friend, Jacob. She didn't jump from the cliff. Alice had no vision. Edward never returned. But now, tired of having to endure her family's suffering, Alice schemes to solve the one problem at the center of all the turmoil: the burning question of Bella's mortality; the ultimatum that's divided the entire Cullen household. Edward won't do it. Carlisle won't do it. Alice can't do it. So who does that leave...? But when things start to take a turn for the worst, Bella and Edward come to face a grueling decision. It's not easy to pick your battles when you're intent on winning them all...
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Midnight Waltz: Chapter 1
‘You want me to act like we've never kissed...
You want to forget; pretend we never met,
And I've tried and I've tried but I haven't yet...
I think of you and I fall to pieces.'
-- Pasty Cline
x x x
There comes a time in your life when you realize that you can't keep fighting. You can't keep running. You don't have the energy...or the will to continue, even if you wanted to. I wish now-more than anything-that things didn't have to come down to this. But when you got right down to it, I was the one in the wrong. I was the one who had made a deal and then gone back on my word. It would be lying if I said I wasn't expecting this, but still...there was a small part of me that hoped I would get away with it...that they would never find us and I could live my happily-ever-after with the one I loved for the rest of eternity.
God, was I naïve.
There was no doubt in my mind that we'd been tricked. They had waited for us to let our guard down before they struck. We had no chance. There were at least fifty men standing here. There were too many to fight. I didn't want to fight them. That was all I had been doing non-stop for days and now, I was tired. In so many ways, this had been the best week of my life; more than I ever could have hoped for...it was unreasonable of me to grieve now that it had come to such an abrupt end. But I did anyway.
Enough was enough. I had a family to protect; if giving up saved them, then I was all for it. They had put in so much time and effort to keep me hidden in hopes that this would all blow over. Now it was my turn to do something for them. I had to do this. My own life meant nothing in comparison to their safety.
I watched as the guards closed in around me, hesitating as they came closer. So they knew what I could do...figured. But I knew that even if I attacked the ones directly at the front, the row behind would charge me and I would be defenseless. They would take me easily anyway. There really was no hope of escape. By surrendering I would be breaking the promise I'd made not twenty-four hours before...but I couldn't see there was any possible way to keep it...
‘Promise me...promise me you'll never let anyone take you away from me again, understand?'
It didn't seem to matter what I did nowadays. I always ended up going back on my word. If I kept one promise, I broke another...
‘I'm so sorry. Please forgive me.'
I didn't resist when they finally reached forward and grabbed me.
x x x
It was the same schedule again today. Wake up. Get dressed. Eat. Work. Jake's house. Home. Bed. It was the same everyday.
And as I stood there behind the counter watching a couple of hikers check out the equipment at the Newton's store, I realized that I would probably be doing this for the rest of my life. I had no desire to leave Forks after all. Not now. Not ever if it could be helped. College could have been an option, but I couldn't imagine a life away from this tiny, inconsequential town these days. I'd had plenty of time to fill in applications, but I didn't bother. It all just seemed...pointless. I could see that Charlie was half hoping I'd go - I knew he wanted me to do something spectacular with my life, but I could also see that he was hoping I would stay as well. I suspected he'd be lonely if I left...it was all the more reason for me to stay, I'd rationalized.
I couldn't deny the real reason why I'd stayed though. My life without Jake was what I really shied away from. I couldn't even bare to think about it. He was the only person who could keep me together. The only person who made life bearable. It still hurt to be away from him - it still seemed Jacob felt compelled to continue his runs with his pack, even though there had been no signs of Victoria in nearly a year. I still worried about him a lot; the thought of him coming up against the blazing haired vampire was still absolutely terrifying.
I'd spent all of my spare time since my graduation at Billy's house, or sometimes Jacob would come over to Charlie's and help me cook, chatting away animatedly about his day while I did my best to offer him useful advice. He'd crack a joke or two to make me laugh. He was always smiling...always so delighted to see me. I couldn't help but feel gratified; it was a pleasure to be able to make him so happy.
I was content with my life in a twisted sort of way, but my happiness at being with Jake couldn't stop the nightmares, and in those now rare moments when I wasn't in his company, my mind would wonder and the hole in my chest ached, memories of a time when I was euphorically happy with my life picking viciously at the edges. It had been over a year now since the Cullens' had left, and I could see that now this was a wound that would probably never heal...
"Bella? Are you okay?" It took me a minute to realize that it was Mike who was asking.
"Yeah. I'm fine." I turned to give him what I hoped to be a reassuring smile, but he didn't look all that convinced.
He watched me for a minute, leaning casually up against the counter. "Alright then. Can you help me close up?"
I grinned. "Sure."
As I stepped outside, I felt the usual rush of cold air against my face and I suddenly felt much better. It had only taken us fifteen minutes to close up the store and as I locked up the last door, I heard the loud purr of Jacob's Volkswagen Beetle pull up to the curb. I couldn't stop the smile creeping onto my lips. I turned to Mike-suddenly relieved-and tossed him the keys, now in a hurry. "Bye Mike," I said quickly, almost running to the little white car waiting for me on the side of the road.
I jumped in without a second glance, and felt myself smile easily at the sight of the driver. It was much warmer in the cab. "Hey, Jake."
His answering smile was brilliant. "Hiya, Bells. How was work?"
My face fell a tiny bit. "Fine, I suppose. How was your day?"
He groaned. "Annoying. Quil and Paul have gone running with Sam, so because you were at work, I've been stuck with Embry all day..."-he playfully rolled his eyes-"...honestly, he just doesn't shut up. Sometimes I wonder why I put up with him!"
I had to giggle at that. It was endearing to watch those two fight all the time because I could tell that despite their complaining, they really did care about each other.
Jacob was pretending to be indignant. "If you think it's so funny, why don't you spend an entire day with him then? I'm telling you; you won't be laughing afterwards!"
"I'd like that. Embry's funny."
"Pfft," Jake snorted. "You say that now Bella, but once you get him started, there's no stopping him," he said in a mockingly serious tone, eyes bright with amusement. "You'll be begging me to save you from him after a few hours."
I reached over and lightly slapped him on the arm. "And who says I need saving? I can look after myself you know."
He raised his eyes in disbelief, a wicked grin playing on his lips. "Sure sure. Looks like someone's in denial."
I continued to laugh quietly to myself, enjoying the light, airy feeling that was bubbling up inside me. My eyes gazed out at the heavy grey clouds pilling up on the horizon. Jake was abruptly, strangely quiet beside me-usually he was more chatty when we were driving, anxious to banter and joke pointlessly until we got home. I felt his eyes on me though as I continued to stare out the window.
A year later and I was still undecided on what to do about my relationship with my best friend. Over the past few months, Jacob had become much more confident; reaching for my hand or an embrace in public, every now and then giving me a quick peck on the forehead. That didn't bother me; it felt nice and warm like it always did, so I never pulled away. I didn't have the strength to deny him anything that would make him happy these days.
It was going any further that was the problem. I just didn't see how I could make Jacob understand: I had no heart to give him. It wasn't there anymore. But at the same time, I didn't see how I would be alive right now if it wasn't for him. I couldn't imagine a life without Jake now; I shuddered away from the idea...but I didn't have anything left to give him to make him want to stay. Edward had taken everything there was of me in his flight...
I didn't clutch at the hole; there was no need with Jacob so close. And just like always, he was on the same wavelength of my thoughts. He drew a deep breath. "I missed you today, Bella," he said, his husky voice unnaturally soft. I heard the unsaid words behind his comment and sighed.
I kept my eyes focused on the horizon, watching the last signs of light disappear behind the clouds. My voice was a little unsteady. "I missed you too." A second later I felt one of his large, warm hands intertwine with my own small one. It felt so feeble in his grasp. I turned to smile timidly up at him, enjoying the heat radiating into my body. I always felt cold these days. He beamed back, his usual jovial mood returning. "What do you want for dinner tonight?"
"What are you having?"
He laughed. "Probably another secret Black's recipe that's been pasted down from generation to generation..."
I raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Oh? This ‘secret-Black's-recipe' wouldn't happen to be that spaghetti that's been in your fridge for three days now, huh?"
He smirked. "Maybe."
"Charlie coming?" I asked.
"Nope. In fact, I think he picked up Billy and took him back to your place for some basketball game. I think it's just us tonight." His grip instinctively tightened on my hand and I predictably flushed.
"Well, I'm exhausted," I said quickly. I'll probably just sleep until Charlie comes to escort me home." It was true enough; I was so tired at this point that my usual fear of sleeping because of the nightmares was swept away by the overwhelming need to simply close my eyelids. I turned my attention to him, this time looking him directly in the eye. I saw excitement there; a sharp contrast to the black circles lining his eyes. "You need sleep, too," I told him, trying to sound firm. I didn't like seeing him so tired. It meant that he'd been working really hard on stopping Victoria-something I didn't want him to be doing in the first place because I worried he'd get hurt, but it also made me feel guilty...he had spent countless hours doing all of this for my benefit, and I was helpless...
"Okay," he said finally, allowing the fatigue to creep into his voice, smiling a little. "A slumber party it is."
When we arrived back at Billy's place, I managed to drag myself from the passenger seat, carelessly slamming the door as I stumbled up onto the porch. Jake was already there as usual. I never heard him anymore. It was still a little strange to see him move so gracefully. He had once been as clumsy as I was because of his impossible height.
"You coming in Bells, or are you just going to stand out there all night and freeze to death?" Jacob called from somewhere inside the house. I rolled my eyes and followed him into the minuscule living room, smiling as I stepped up in front of the small electric heater by the couch. He appraised me for a moment. "I'll run upstairs and get you some blankets and things, okay?" He didn't give me a change to answer before he disappeared.
I kicked my boots off and slumped onto the couch, letting my eyes close. It wasn't long afterwards that I felt something being draped over me. I smiled. "Thanks, Jake."
"No prob," he whispered, and I felt his burning fingers brush my cheek. "Night."
"G'night," I mumbled.
I heard him chuckle softly. "You are so spaced out sometimes, Bella."
"I know." I couldn't for the life of me keep the pain out of my voice-I was too tired. I forced my eyes open slightly then to gauge his reaction, suddenly worried that I may have hurt him, but he only smiled. It was a sad smile. "The hole still hurts, doesn't it?" He gently moved the hair from my face and tucked it behind my ear. It wasn't really a question, but the fact that even he could see that made me feel absolutely pathetic.
I felt the tears burning the corners of my eyes. "Yes," I muttered, my voice muffled by the thick fabric of the blanket. Ridiculously, my voice broke and the tears came then. Jacob watched-mortified-as they gushed miserably down my cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have brought it up," Jacob said hurriedly, his voice strangely bitter.
"It's not your fault," I sniffled, pushing myself up into a sitting position. My arms felt sluggish and they shook under the weight of my body. I looked at him from underneath my heavy lids. Jacob's face was torn, voice intense when he spoke. "You're not getting any better, are you?"
"I-" But I didn't even get to try and explain anything; Jake stiffened, removed his palm from my cheek and stood up, making his way over to the door. Eventually I heard Charlie's cruiser pull up in the driveway, followed by his booming laughter as he made his way up to the porch with Billy. I quickly tried to dry my eyes.
Jacob opened the door. "That was such a close game!" Charlie bellowed as he burst into the room, smiling. He seemed to have had a good time this afternoon. His eyes scanned the room until they found me, and the smile on his face vanished as he eyed my red, puffy face. "Bella? Are you alright?"
I didn't trust my voice, so I nodded. "Just tired," I whispered. Billy's huge, coal black eyes stared at me too only unlike Charlie's, they were full of pity.
"Huh" was Charlie's only response.
He turned to find Jacob quietly closing the door and asked, voice suspicious, "what did you kids do today?"
Jake kept his expression blank, eyes clouded with some indistinguishable emotion. "I picked Bella up from work and then we came home about five minutes before you did. She was tired, so she decided to have a nap." His tone was apathetic...and then his eyes were on me. "She told me she hasn't been sleeping well lately."
That certainly wasn't news to anyone in this room.
"Well," Charlie said, after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, "she's obviously too tired to drive home, so I guess I'll take her in my cruiser."
"Jake will drop her truck around tomorrow morning," Billy offered, already wheeling his way into the kitchen. Charlie followed. Without another word, Jacob came over and lifted me to my feet. I wrapped my arms tightly around his waist, leaning against his chest. "Can you walk?"
I nodded, but the second he let me go, the carpeted floor came rushing up at my face. He caught me just before I hit. "Guess not," he said in a disapproving tone. He hoisted me into his arms easily, and I struggled to keep my eyes open. "I'm sorry," I told him, but it just came out as an incoherent mumble. He seemed to understand though. "It's alright. Don't worry about it." I knew when we were outside, because of the drastic change in temperature-the wind was cold, but Jacob's hot skin insulated me against it. He lowered me into the seat, and I heard the seatbelt clip together. "You just get some sleep and I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."
"Afternoon? But you're dropping my truck off tomorrow morning," I complained.
He chuckled lightly. "I have to run tomorrow, Bella but I'll drop your truck off first. I promise."
I groaned. "Goodnight," he whispered, kissing my forehead.
I watched him leave, jumping up the front steps and through the front door before my eyes closed. I didn't remember the ride home, but I did recall Charlie's heavy footfalls on the solid wood of the staircase as he carried me to my room. I felt the cool sheets being pulled up to my chin and then nothing more...
x x x
I was dreaming again; running through the emptiness...there was nothing. I started to scream when it all began to implode on me, waiting desperately to wake up. Something cold touched my forehead and I automatically flinched away, the sensation caused another scream to build in my throat, but it stuck fast when I finally managed to wrench my eyes open.
I was still shaking; still breathing heavily...that was nothing new.
But I was, apparently, still dreaming-someone was sitting on the end of my bed.
There she sat; looking at me with a curious expression, her dark eyes anxious. She was the smallest person I'd ever seen-small, but still beautiful to an excruciating degree. Sitting there as the moonlight poured in from outside my window, she looked even more surreal. Dream-like. I had to stop all of this very quickly, I realized. I was barely sane as it was, and this wouldn't help me at all. I waited desperately for it to end. I was sure that work or Jake was waiting for me, anyway.
Just wake up Bella, just wake up...' I chanted in my mind like a mantra, waiting for it to take effect.
My guest looked even more alarmed then before. "Bella?" Her voice was exactly how I remembered it-that quirky, musical voice worthy of a top soprano. The hole began to ache...
"Please don't," I begged in a quiet whisper. "I just want to wake up-this hurts too much."
"Bella, you're not dreaming," she told me matter-of-factly, her features twisting in frustration. She crawled her way up towards me, settling a few feet away from me on the bed. "Everything will be okay. It's really me." She reached out and brushed her palm against my sweaty face-it was icy cold. The pain in my chest flared, making me wince.
I laughed at her-it was hard and bitter. "Sure it is," I told her shakily. "You're just trying to say that so when I do finally believe you-which I won't-then you'll disappear and I'll be left with the pain just like I always am."
"Bella...I'm so sorry. I missed you so much. We all have."
"Stop it!" I hissed and in a desperate attempt to run away from my hallucinations, I jumped from my bed only to instantly regret the action when I realized my feet were still tangled in the sheets. I began to fall, clamping my eyes shut as I waited to hit the hard wooden floor. I was surprised when I fell against something harder still.
"Bella, are you okay?" she whispered fretfully, pulling me upright.
She was still here. Did that mean...?
I opened my eyes and sure enough there she was, face hovering over mine worriedly. I'd landed in her arms.
I felt myself blush at how stupid I must have looked and reacted, the scent coming off her skin making my head whirl. "You really are here, aren't you?" I mumbled eyes wide. The words didn't sink at first.
"Yes," she said, watching me with a cautious expression. "I really am."
My body reacted before my mind could even process those words. I threw myself at her, the tears racing down my cheeks for the second time that night, but this time I was deliriously happy. It was such a strange feeling-one I thought I'd never feel again. It felt odd to act with such emotion. I honestly couldn't believe it. "You're...you're really here!" I gasped, wrapping my arms tighter around her neck.
She laughed her silvery little laugh in my ear. "I'd forgotten how enthusiastic you are sometimes."
I couldn't stop the question that bubbled up furiously to my lips. I pulled away slightly to look at her face. "Why are you here?"
It wasn't the right thing to ask. Her eyes abruptly darkened, her jaw strained...and then she was suddenly furious.
"I've had enough."
Alice reached up to take my hand in hers, the iciness of her touch oddly comforting. Gently, she beckoned me over back towards my bed and sat down across from me, her features suddenly torn with indecision. She looked up at me, eyes burning with questions so intense I couldn't look away. I felt her grab me firmly by the shoulders as she spoke.
"Bella. We really need to talk."
And I knew that just by her tone alone, she wasn't here to simply say hello. It was business-business that required my participation, no doubt. I didn't see any other explanation. I couldn't find the words to agree, so I nodded stiffly instead. Truthfully, I would have done anything for her at that point. Anything to make her stay.
"Good," she muttered, releasing me from her powerful stare. She turned away and sighed, and I knew then that it would be a very long night.
My intuition was right; a long night it was.
One that would change my life forever.