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...
2. Midnight Conversations
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Midnight Waltz: Chapter 2
A Midnight Conversation
"Upon the plains of hesitation bleach the bones of countless millions,
Who when on the dawn of victory paused to rest, and there resting died."
-- John Dretschmer
x x x
The rain started as we sat there in a comfortable silence; the harsh white noise of a downpour created a reassuring hum in the background of our conversation-the weather a constant reminder that there really was a vampire sitting here in front of me. I wasn't creative enough these days to conjure up storms in my dreams.
"So...why are you here?"
My guest sighed vehemently, making me flinch. It wasn't like Alice to jump to anger so quickly. Clearly whatever it was that had upset her had been very bad. "I'm just...tired," she whispered eventually, voice saturated with pain. I watched her as she gazed out at the rain and when she saw my confused expression she quickly elaborated, and I had to strain my ears to catch her words. I assumed then and there that all vampires spoke quickly when they were upset.
"I'm tired of Carlisle second-guessing every decision he makes-he never smiles anymore. I'm tired of Esme grieving all the time. I'm sick to death of Emmett constantly harassing me because he's doesn't have a partner to race or wrestle with. I don't like it when Jasper asks my opinion on something philosophical because most of the time, I don't understand and I have to listen anyway...and I hate it that Rosalie seems so smug about our family falling apart. But most of all..."-she took a deep breath, the pent up frustration flowing freely now-"I'm tired of having nobody who really understands me. I love Jasper. Really, I do...but the only one who's ever really understood how I work is Ed..."
She cut herself off abruptly, golden eyes flashing to my face to make sure she hadn't disturbed me, I assumed. I tried to keep my face as blank as I could. "It's okay," I reassured her, hoping that she would believe me. My voice didn't carry any conviction at all, I noticed with a grimace. Of course she didn't seem all that convinced, but thankfully let it drop; sinking back into her thoughts. But what she'd said unnerved me. Why wasn't Edward at home with his family? And from what I could gather so far, that's why Alice was here...but she was here because she needed me. What did I have to do with all of this? I let out a breath I didn't even realize I was holding.
"I think I understand," I told her after a few minutes silence, waiting for my voice to even out. "But...what does all of this have to do with you coming to Forks?"
Alice watched me seriously...warily for a moment, before she whispered, "You miss him too, Bella. I can see it."
I frowned. Was I really that obvious? But in any case, it didn't matter if I missed him or not-it was irrelevant. "So what?" I asked her. "It doesn't mean anything. He...he didn't want me anymore."
Her eyebrows knitted together, the creases in her forehead seemingly permanently etched in her marble skin. "And you believed him?" she asked me incredulously. I just shook my head, about to answer when I saw her nostrils suddenly flare in disgust as she cringed away from me ever so slightly.
"I'm sorry, Bella...but you stink. What on earth have you been doing?" She made a point of widening the space between us, shifting back an almost imperceptible distance on my bed.
I was miffed. "Nothing," I told her truthfully, puzzled as to why I could possibly have a bad smell. "I was at work all day and then Jacob came and picked me up and we went back to his place for awhile before Charlie took me home. I swear that was it. That's all I've done. That's all I ever do these days."
"Who?" Alice inquired, her beautiful voice burning with curiosity.
"Ummm...Jacob Black. He's my...best friend," I said sheepishly. Strangely enough, I felt kind of guilty as I said that because I felt like that title didn't do Jacob enough justice. He really was so much more than friend to me. Over the last few months, he'd become essential to my survival-like a life support system.
Alice noticed that I refused to elaborate and raised a suspicious eyebrow. "What is it that you're not telling me here?"
"I..." It was alright to tell her, wasn't it? I'd told Jake everything there was to know about the Cullens, so surely Alice deserved to hear about Jacob...it was only fair.
I sighed in defeat. "Jacob he's...kind of a werewolf," I told her quietly.
What I wasn't prepared for was her response. "What?" she screeched suddenly, her voice deafening in the midnight silence of my room. I ignored her outraged expression and tried to listen desperately for some sign that Charlie was still asleep. I shouldn't have worried too much. I knew Alice would hide if Charlie was to check on me and I could always blame the screaming on my nightmares. He would believe that without question. My heart rate slowed as time passed.
"He woke up for a moment, but then rolled over and went back to sleep." Alice's voice drifted past my ears in a muted whisper. I looked up at her to see she seemed confused about something. She turned her scorching butterscotch eyes on me. "He heard me. He knew someone screamed. Why didn't he come running to check on you?"
As much as I loved Alice, that was something I didn't really want to tell her-that would reveal the true extent of how much I had missed them all and I didn't want to frighten her away with my obsession. Would she leave me again when we had finished this conversation...?
I wiped that thought from my mind swiftly. I didn't even want to think about it-it was too painful.
"I have nightmares a lot," I told her, pretending to be fascinated with twisting my bed sheets. "I scream almost every night...so he's just learnt to live with it, I suppose. I know it upsets him that he can't do anything for me." I involuntary shuddered as I remembered the emptiness...the nothingness from my dreams.
She noticed my reaction. "You mean like the one you were having when I came in?" It wasn't really a question. Her tone was apathetic. She sounded almost bored by the prospect.
"I told him it was stupid," she muttered heatedly under breath, turning away towards my window.
I laughed-it was a hollow sound that bared no humor. I continued to look everywhere but her face. "Well it's not like you all left for my benefit, was it Alice?"
I could feel her eyes on me then, trying to get my attention. I heard her sigh in exasperation. "Leave it to you, Bella to go out and find yourself in the middle of a pack of rabid dogs the instant the vampires leave town. Only you could manage to put yourself in even more danger." She rolled her eyes. "You're lucky that I came when I did." She was angry with me, no doubt; that much was obvious.
"There's nothing wrong with Jake...or Sam, Embry, Jared, Paul and Quil for that matter. I owe them a lot," I whispered, stung by her critical tone. "They've protected me for months from Victoria..." I trailed off when I saw her staring at me eyes wide, lips slightly parted in shock. Whoops. Guess that was something else I'd conveniently forgotten to mention.
"Victoria?" she hissed, eyes suddenly ablaze. "How did she get involved?"
I pointed at my chest. "Danger magnet, remember?"
She shook her head, still obviously startled by the news. Carefully, she went about rearranging herself elegantly on my bed, biting her perfect lip. "Us leaving Forks didn't do you any good at all, did it?" she mumbled.
I didn't...no, I couldn't for the life of me answer that question.
Her eyes suddenly flashed to the clock on my dresser-reading two AM-and then back to me. She muttered something unintelligible under her breath.
"What?" I asked.
"We don't have much time...not if there are werewolves nearby. This changes everything..." she was suddenly frantic, indecision plaguing her beautiful face. I waited patiently for her to continue.
"Bella...I need your help," she said finally. I watched her jump up from my bed and pace back and forth about my room, lost in thought.
I didn't even hesitate with my answer. "I'll do anyth-" I started, but she cut me off.
"I knew you'd say that," she said, smiling slightly while holding up a dainty finger. "But I really think you should hear me out first."
A streak of lightening rumbled across the sky, illuminating my room and everything in it for a few short seconds. Alice was ridged in her position-a beautiful marble statue in the centre of my bedroom. Her eyes were fierce as they waited for my answer.
"Okay," I breathed, my voice quivering.
"Alright, then. I came here tonight because there is a very good chance that you're in a lot of danger." Her voice was serious-she meant what she was saying...and I knew all too well from experience that Alice was hardly ever wrong. I shivered, wrapping my blanket more securely around my shoulders.
"What kind of danger?"
"Well..."-and as she spoke I could tell that she was picking her words very carefully-"Did Edward ever tell you anything about the Volturi?"
"Yes," I gulped, my mouth suddenly going dry. My mind was already wandering back over those two years to a time when I was much happier-more so then I knew I would ever be again. It was a time when I would have bet everything and more, that he really loved me.
"He just said something about them being a very influential family. He showed me the portraits in Carlisle's office." It wasn't hard to talk about him...not as hard as I thought it would be, but I suspected that Alice's presence here had a lot to do with that.
"Yes. They are the leaders of our kind. They enforce the rules of our society. As you probably already know, Carlisle stayed with them for a number of years while he got back on his feet. He went to stay with them again a few weeks ago as well..." I watched her eyes tighten, her jaw strained shut.
"And?" I prompted.
"...He took Edward with him-a chance to catch up with him if you know what I mean. He hasn't been around us lately. He only checks in every now and then to make sure everything is okay before he's gone again."
I didn't understand what she was trying to tell me. "What? Why? Why isn't he at home? Does it have something to do with going to see the Volturi?"
"No, you misunderstand me Bella," she said, flouncing over to take my hands tightly in her hard, cold ones. She bent down on her knees and looked up at me, eyes begging some unknown question. "While Edward stayed with the Volturi, Aro, the spokesperson for the family, read Edward's mind."
I still didn't get it.
"He saw you," she said more firmly this time.
"And that's a bad thing, why?"
"Think about it," Alice insisted, her grip tightening on my hands as she looked up at me intently. "You're a wonderful smelling human who knows that vampires exist. There's really only one rule when it comes to being a vampire and I'm sure you could guess it. It's actually quite obvious."
I thought about it for a moment. "Nope, sorry."
"We just have to keep our existence a secret from mortals," she told me matter-of-factly. Huh. It really was obvious.
"Makes sense." I shrugged, trying to sound indifferent, but I couldn't keep the hysterical edge out of my voice. "So does that mean they want to kill me?"
Alice gave my hand another gentle squeeze. "Don't worry, Bella," she soothed. "I won't let anything happen to you. But, yes, it's a possibility. Even though Edward assured me Aro gave his word that he wouldn't kill you-that it was all simply innocent curiosity-I certainly have my doubts."
I noticed the way she spoke that last sentence...and realized what she was getting at. "You think he might try something else?" I asked, my voice raising several octaves. My heart was pounding away loudly in my ears, my breath hitching in my throat. What could be worse than killing me?
"Shhh...Bella...shhh..." She gathered me comfortingly in her arms, pulling me against her cement-like chest. Her wonderful, mouth-watering scent assaulted my nostrils, and I started to feel my body instantly relax.
Alice held me there for a few moments as we both listened to my heart-rate even out. When I felt like I could control my voice again, I just had to ask. "Why me?"
"It's hard to say," Alice started, pulling back slightly to look at me. "But I think it has something to do with the fact that Edward can't read your mind." She growled then, the sound rumbling softly in her chest.
"Aro's curious I suppose...to know if he can do what Edward can't. His power is very similar to Edward's, you see. He can read minds too, but unlike my brother, he must have physical contact. But then again, he can read every thought you've ever had. Edward can only see what's passing through a person's mind at the time. He finds you fascinating, Bella...and Aro's not one to sit idly by and not act on his curiosity. Even if he says he won't, eventually, it'll get the better of him and he'll come looking for you."
"Oh." I felt like it was a bit of an understatement, but I couldn't think of anything else to say.
"So," I started to elaborate, still trying to get my head around all the information, "because Aro's seen me in Edward's thoughts...there's a good chance that he'll want to kill me for knowing that vampires exist...or he might instead try to...?" I trailed off waiting for her to fill in the blanks.
"Let me ask you something first," Alice insisted and I could tell by the too-innocent look on her face that she was trying to avoid telling me what she knew might happen. "If there was a chance you could be changed into a vampire, would you take it?"
That caught me completely off-guard. "I..." Would I take it? This wasn't the first time I'd thought about it. Perhaps if I was as beautiful, strong and fast as Edward, he would finally notice me. Perhaps I wouldn't bore him anymore. I'd be immortal, too. I could join my heart in chasing after my fickle Romeo and I would have all the time in the world to do it...
But what about everyone here in Forks?
If I left I definitely could never come back. I'd never see Jacob, Charlie or Renee again...and that would hurt them all deeply. Their suffering was inevitable. I had a feeling that Jacob would have a very good idea about where I went-were I to go-and I was almost certain he would hate me for it for the rest of his existence, and I didn't want that. My life was here in this tiny little town-all the people I loved. Besides, what were the chances I would see Edward again without him running away from me? Minuscule. Impossible. Almost non-existent. There were so many reasons to say no...
Almost. That meant I still hada chance, didn't I? No matter how small.
I knew then and there that if I didn't take it, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
"Yes," I told Alice finally, a small, genuine smile creeping its way onto my lips at the sound of the word. ‘Yes...I will chase you to the ends of the earth if that's what it takes, Edward...'
"Good," she announced, her voice a strange mixture of apprehension and excitement. I couldn't imagine why. "Okay, this is where it get's a little tricky." There was that uncertainty again-only much more clear this time. It worried me a little because Alice was never uncertain about anything. She always knew what would happen. How could she not see that her plan would work out? I frowned.
"Carlisle won't do it because that would be going against Edward," she continued, oblivious to my revere. She was twirling about my room again, lost to her plans. "He has too much respect for Edward's capability to make responsible decisions to go against his will like that; especially when he knows how much he is against turning you."
I swallowed loudly. When Edward found out I was a vampire, (and I had no doubt he would) I was almost positive he wouldn't be very happy about it. That thought worried me more than I cared to let on.
"So where does that leave us?"
"If this is all going to work out the way I hope it will, then I think I'm going to have to take you to Italy."
"But-" I was about to protest, but she was suddenly there leaning over me, her finger pressed against my lips.
"No, listen. They won't leave you alone if I don't take you to them. Aro's kind compared to Caius and Marcus. There's no doubt that the other two would much rather have you killed then turned, but Aro's enthusiasm wears on their nerves quickly. If he keeps insisting that he should changes you-and I'm sure he will-they'll give in soon enough. They don't care as long as you're not a human. And besides," she continued, "Aro knows now how Edward feels about you. If he killed you, that wouldn't be very satisfying."
"Why can't you do it, Alice?" I begged. I didn't like her plan at all, even if she seemed convinced, I certainly wasn't. "Besides...the Volturi are different vampires, aren't they? What's going to stop them from draining me dry when they're not used to restraining themselves?" I was almost hysterical at thought.
"Believe me Bella, I would if I could. But you're too delicious. I don't think I'm capable of biting you without stopping. But the Volturi have had thousands of years of experience. You're certainly in no danger there...and once Aro sees how you turn out, he won't want anything more to do with you, I'm sure of it. And once that's all over, then you can come and live with us and we'll be one big happy family! Edward will come home and..."
"Woah, woah, woah," I interrupted, holding my hands up as if stopping traffic. She was getting way too ahead of herself. "What makes you think Edward would come back? He doesn't want me anymore...remember?" My voice was starting to shake. I was on the verge of losing it. What if I went through all of this and Edward still didn't want me? What would I do then? It would all be for nothing...
Alice surprised me with her huge smile. "It will all work itself out somehow, Bella. Don't worry..."-and then after a moment's hesitation, "you don't have to do this, you know. I would understand." I could see that idea hurt her, though she was trying very hard not to show it. I simply shook my head. I couldn't refuse. While this plan showed the possibility of a lot going wrong, a lot more could go right. I was scared about certain aspects, but I'd burn those bridges when I reached them.
"I can't back out now, Alice." I smiled-really, truly, hopelessly smiled. The expression felt odd on my face. "I have to do this...no, I want to do this."
"That a way," she beamed, leaping onto the bed beside me. "What's say we get going?"
"What? Now?" I asked her incredulously. "Don't you think you're being a little too hasty?"
"Nope," she said simply, her brilliant obsidian eyes burning with new found enthusiasm. "The sooner the better. It's raining, so that will cover up my scent from your werewolf friends. Although they're bound to find out that I've taken you eventually."
"Exactly," I protested. "So why not leave tomorrow morning?"
She frowned. "Because they can stop us then, Bella. They'll discover I'm here and then they'll definitely make sure I don't take you anywhere. I imagine they don't like us very much as it is." Did I imagine the slight hint of frustration in her tone?
When I didn't answer, she took that as confirmation. I was caught off guard when Alice spoke again, her voice was abruptly harsh. "You know well what the price is of becoming a vampire, Bella. Nobody in our family had the privilege of having a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. You'll be no different."
"I know," I sighed. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright," she whispered, giving my shoulders a gentle squeeze before sliding elegantly off the bed and skipping over to the window. Carefully, she went about opening it and the instant she did, I was hit with an onslaught of freezing cold wind, the rain's quiet murmur suddenly jumped to a dull roar. There was so much noise coming from outside that for a moment I was positive it would wake Charlie.
Alice beckoned me over with a swift wave of her arm. I hesitated.
This really was my last chance to back out. I knew I couldn't do it...that I wouldn't do it, but the fact that I did hesitate didn't seem to make much difference to the guilt I could feel starting to swell up inside me. Charlie did deserve better, and I knew he wouldn't be getting it. If I didn't leave now, I'd missed my window of opportunity forever. I would never get a chance like this again...and there was no way I was going to let that happen. But at least if I had faked my death, there would be some closure in it for my family and friends. A small condolence.
And as for Jacob...
"Come on, Bella!" Alice called. Her voice was barely audible over the roaring storm.
I jumped off my bed for what I knew would be the last time, my hands brushing the sheets. My eyes shot around the room, anxiously trying to imprint every, single detail in my memory, before I screwed my eyes shut and leapt onto Alice's back, my mind working furiously to fight back the flood of emotions that was threatening to overwhelm me: guilt, sadness, apprehension, excitement. I felt Alice spring effortlessly from my windowsill and out into the storm. I was drenched through even before she hit the ground.
She was just starting to run when she suddenly froze, muscles completely rigid. I opened my eyes and at first, I could see nothing in the dark, the rain constantly running down and pooling in the corners of my eyes. Slowly, they adjusted and it was then that I could tell that something must have spooked Alice. She snarled softly at the blackness in front of us, standing on edge. In the dimness of the front porch light, I could see her raven hair glued against her alabaster skin, golden eyes swirling in anger. When I tried to hop down, she pressed her arms harder against my legs, pinning them to her waist.
A growl came from just behind Charlie's cruiser-not a real one, just a human approximation-and Alice bristled at the sound, her legs flexing. "No, wait!" I shouted as loud as I could over the storm, hoping that Charlie didn't hear me. She froze, watching me keenly out of the corner of her eyes. "Let me down," I told her, struggling against her strong arms to prove my point. She didn't move.
"No," she said, and her voice was absolute.
"Please Alice...it's alright, I promise."
She still didn't move, watching me silently for a moment. Finally, she sighed. "Alright, fine. But I'm coming with you. If they try to hurt you..." she trailed off, snarling louder this time.
She quickly loosened her arms and because I wasn't prepared for the abruptness of her movement, I fell with a very horrible sounding slosh right into a puddle.
"Ugh...warn me next time, Alice!" She didn't move-making a scene of being a perfect marble statue in the middle of the storm. Her eyes glued straight ahead.
It took me a few tries, but I finally managed to get to my feet. Soaking wet and with hair plastered to my face, I trudged over towards Charlie's cruiser. I knew Alice had said she would follow, but I didn't hear her behind me.
Gradually, the person came into view-long, tanned legs, grimy white shorts and bear chest. I knew immediately that this wasn't Jacob, although that fact did little to ease my trepidation. Jacob was much taller than this boy.
I suddenly ran forward, throwing my arms out in front of me. "Don't hurt her!" I yelled, knowing that he'd hear me perfectly well.
I nodded...and for some inexplicable reason, I felt the heat pinpricking at my cheeks.
I inwardly grimaced...couldn't go back now.
We'd been caught.