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...
4. The Deal
Rating 5/5 Word Count 7641 Review this Chapter
Midnight Waltz: Chapter 4
‘A promise made is a debt unpaid.'
-- Robert Service
x x x
For what seemed like an eternity, nobody moved. I barely even dared to breathe. I knew Alice certainly wasn't. My muscles were rigid with anticipation. I couldn't tear my eyes away from Jacob's cold stare, and he stared right back. The expression ‘if looks could kill' ran through my mind at that instant, a shiver bolting down my spine. I knew Jake well enough to know that all that anger was just a façade. I'd hurt him deeply. More so than I had in any pitiful squabble we'd had in our time as friends; the echo of his pain rang loudly in my chest...although I knew Jacob had seen our relationship as something much more. And he was right...to an extent.
Only this time I couldn't quite see how he would forgive me.
I could see that he was almost daring me to break eye contact, glaring at me with accusing eyes. The guilt swirling in my gut was almost overpowering. Embry was looking away and Jared and Paul were glowering at Alice with baleful expressions, just waiting for her to try and move. They'd be on us in an instant if we tried running away. I gulped. We had to get on that plane, but I didn't quite see how it was going to happen now. My eyes darted to the door and I watched the last few passengers filter through-some turning to give us one last look like we were crazy-before they disappeared from sight.
Jacob's body jerked upright, like a bolt of lightening had shot down his spine. "Don't even think about it, Bella," he spat. I flinched at the malice in his tone. His muscles rippled again, his entire frame shaking with rage. I felt Alice instinctively tighten her grip around my waist, a feeble growl vibrating in her chest. She wasn't her usual calm self, I noticed...but then I realized that it probably had something to do with the uneven numbers. I still remembered Jacob telling me about the time he and his pack found Laurent in the meadow-how easy it had been to kill him.
I didn't want anything like that happening to Alice. They wanted to talk to me, after all. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to her. Treaty or no treaty, there was still a chance that these boys could lose control in a public space if given the right incentive. I had to calm them down.
"Let me go," I told her in a hoarse voice, trying to turn around in her concrete arms so I could see her face.
"No," she said through clenched teeth, her eyes never leaving the pack.
"Alice...we don't have time."
She didn't say anything at first...and then hesitantly, she let me go, one arm lingering on my shoulder. She squeezed it tightly. "You are not to leave my side, understand?" she whispered intently, voice darker than I'd ever heard it before. I was worried about how she might look if I turned around, so I merely nodded.
I approached the boys slowly, my eyes never leaving Jacob's. Alice matched me step for step, her arm still clamped over my shoulder. The closer we got, the angrier Jacob seemed to become; his anticipation and fury were almost tangible. I honestly didn't know what to do...what to say. No simple apology would fix this.
The others were having trouble keeping their cool, too...but I suspected that it didn't have all that much to do with me. They had eyes only for the vampire at my side, but she only ignored them.
We were about half-way there when Alice decided to make her daring move.
Her hand dropped from my shoulder as we were walking and securely latched itself around my waist...and then the next thing I knew I was flying at an incredible speed towards the boarding gate for the plane, everything else that was once clear turning into one big blur.
But even the speed of a vampire wasn't enough to get us through those doors in time. It was only two seconds later that I felt my body being ripped out of Alice's protective embrace and being carried off in another direction altogether. I heard Alice's defensive snarling fade quickly; the arms that held me now were burning hot and holding me especially tightly-so much so that I found it hard to breathe. I couldn't see his face, but I'd already recognized the scent rolling off his muscles-that same strong and musky smell that I'd gotten to know so well over the past year.
A short grunt told me that was the only way he would acknowledge me at the moment, obviously too furious to do or say anything else. It wasn't much later that he rounded a corner into a hallway and came to a complete stop. His arms loosened, catching me roughly by my wrists just before I hit the ground. I was about to thank him, but the words stuck in my throat as he stepped forward, trapping me against the wall, his eyes burning holes in the back of my skull. I swallowed loudly.
"Talk," he ordered sharply, his arms resting on either side of my head. I watched as he struggled with keeping his bitter mask in place, the betrayal he felt frequently leaking throughhis calm exterior...and every time it did, I felt a huge surge of remorse flood through me.
What had I done to my best friend...?
"Wh-what do you want to know?" I asked him meekly.
That did it.
The façade was wiped away in an instant and replaced with a sort of regretful anger.
"What the hell you think you're doing! What is a Cullen doing back here? Why you're running off with her. Why I had to find out from someone else that my best friend was planning to leave me without any intention of telling me. Why oh why, Bella are you doing any of this?..."-he suddenly grabbed me by the arms, shaking-"...have you completely lost your mind?! Do you even know where she's taking you?"
I was trying to forge some kind of coherent response, but Jacob's burning grip and furious expression was making it extremely difficult to say anything that wouldn't upset him further. The more I squirmed, the more restricting his grasp became. When I didn't answer, he continued with his interrogation; voice low and urgent.
"Where are you going? When were you planning to come back? How do you even know she won't eat you? How do you know that this is all a trick? Why aren't you angry with them? They left you, Bella! Left you for dead!"
"I know!" I shouted at him, his face only inches from mine. Not the calming response I was looking for, but his finger felt like hot-pokers fresh from the fire against my skin; warm breath almost suffocating me; grip so tight that I thought he was going to cut my arms off. It was all too much...
"Then why are leaving with her! I don't understand! What am I supposed to tell Charlie! Did he ever come into this idiotic equation of yours?" he yelled even louder, pushing me even further against the wall. Jacob's furious voice echoed loudly in the all-but abandoned hallway, eyes searching my expression intently for an answer. He was struggling to keep his hands from shaking with the anticipation and frustration of it all.
This wasn't the kind of conversation to have with Jacob. He would always react violently whenever the Cullen's were mentioned. It was all for my benefit, I remembered absently, but I was trapped, out of breath and feeling incredibly hot...too hot...and the plane was about to leave soon. I couldn't miss that plane. I loved him dearly, and hated seeing him so upset...but I knew if I gave up leaving Forks now...if I went home with Jake to keep him happy, I'd torment myself for the rest of my life with the ‘what if's' of what could possibly happen if I did go with Alice... and that thought alone, for so many reasons, was something I just couldn't tolerate.
I had to be...I would be on that flight. I would get to Italy.
"Bella...please don't do this," he asserted. "I don't know exactly what she's planning, but I think she's going to try and..."-he struggled with his words for a moment, his whole face twisting in disgust-"...I think she's going to try and change you." He was evidently appalled by the prospect; his voice was cold and seething with disapproval. It was almost offensive.
When I eventually found my voice again, my tone was just as icy as his. "That's none of your concern, Jacob Black," I snapped, glaring at him as best I could.
I certainly wasn't prepared for his reaction.
His entire body jolted, almost like he was having an epileptic fit. His eyes flashed to mine, the pain in them so intense I had to bite down on my lip to keep myself from screaming and wrench my eyes shut. I felt him snap his arms around me and wrap them around his head, trying to force himself to calm down, breathing deeply. Incidentally, he wasn't taking it well and when he dropped to his knees, really battling to control his anger, I thought for a moment that perhaps I'd pushed him too far.
I had to get out of here.
"No...Bella...don't. Please..." I saw Jake reach up to grab my hand, his eyes pleading with me. "Don't go."
Alice was there an instant later; scooping me up roughly in her arms and making a dash for the gate... and Jacob's hand promptly fell from around mine. I wasn't so blinded by the tears that had started unconsciously forming in the corners of my eyes that I didn't see Jake's face crumpling in pain as we left...I hoped he knew that I didn't mean to hurt him. I was pretty sure that the next time he saw me, he was going to hate me for what I'd done.
We made it just as the gates were closing.
I wasn't relieved.
I waited anxiously for one of the werewolves to burst onto the plane and snatch me away. My eyes were wide and my heart was beating erratically in my chest, the adrenaline only now just starting to kick in. My nerves didn't relax even as I watched a hostess lock the door securely-the loud ‘click' of the leaver being pulled back only made me jump a mile in my seat. I knew werewolves could carve their way through steel easily enough with their claws if they really wanted to.
Eventually, the plan began to roll lazily away from the departure gate and down the runway, and only then did I notice the small, soothing circles Alice was rubbing on the base of my neck. She obviously didn't see a threat from them anymore. We were safe. Jacob really wasn't going to try and rip me kicking and screaming from my seat and take me home. I would get my wish-I was going to Italy with Alice.
...So why then did I feel even worse as the plane took off?
‘I'm so sorry, Jake.'
x x x
I was sleeping when the plane landed in Seattle. I wasn't really comfortable; I felt like I'd curled up on a rock. Something cold pulled the hair away from my face and when I opened my eyes, an amused and beautiful angel was looking down dutifully at me. "Morning sleepy-head," Alice chuckled, helping me sit upright. Oh. I'd fallen asleep in her lap.
"Do you want me to carry you, Bella?" she teased. "You still look pretty tired."
"I'll be alright." And just to prove my point, I jumped to my feet and grabbed the small backpack she had packed for me from the over-head locker.
She smiled; the first sign of enthusiasm I had seen from her since we were talking in my bedroom. "Let's go."
We didn't have to rush for our international connection, a fact for which I was grateful. Alice surprised me when she whipped out two passports as we were passing through immigration. I raised a curious eyebrow, but she ignored me, blinding the man behind the small counter with one of her beaming smiles. As soon as we were out of earshot, I just had to know.
"How'd you manage to get me a passport?" I asked in amazement.
"I forged it, obviously," she said, rolling her eyes at me impatiently. "I didn't actually think to ask you if you had your own. A pity, really. It would've saved me a whole lot of trouble." She frowned, the lines in her forehead creasing.
Something only occurred to me just then. "You've been planning this a long time, haven't you?" It wasn't really a question and when she didn't answer, I took that as conformation.
"My family doesn't approve of me interfering," she said in a tone that clearly showed she disagreed with that decision.
"Interfering in what?"
She didn't meet my eyes when she answered. "Your life. Here's the gate," she announced, pointing to the virtual message board poised above the door. I decided to file away that comment for now and ask about it some other time when she wasn't so uncomfortable...but I still had a lot of other questions.
"Hey, Alice?" She could hear the wariness in my voice, and so I wasn't surprised that when she looked at me her butterscotch eyes retained the same amount of caution. "How did you...ummm...‘destroy the evidence'?"
She relaxed immediately, a mischievous grin creeping its way onto her elfin face. "I drove the car off a cliff."
"What?" I asked her incredulously.
Her eyebrows furrowed, evidently confused by my reaction. "Well, I don't want your father coming after us, Bella. Or any other kind of police if I can help it. The FBI I'm sure will be getting onto this case if..."
"That's not what I mean! How could you run a car off a cliff and still be alive?" She took one look at my flabbergasted expression and laughed her silvery little laugh. "I wasn't in the cab, Bella. I merely positioned it and then threw a rock down on the accelerator. Easy."
"Oh." I felt rather embarrassed now at my outburst.
She beamed at me, still chuckling quietly to herself. "Silly Bella," she chided, leaping forward and quickly pecking me on the cheek. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really," I told her honestly. What I didn't tell her was that my stomach was already full - of knots. I was riddled through with guilt, but I was trying very hard not to think about that now. "I'll eat on the plane if I do get hungry."
"Okay," she chimed. I smiled; her happiness was infectious. "I just have to make a quick phone call..."
I was surprised at the well of emotion I felt at her words. She noticed. "I'm not calling anyone in my family," she corrected quickly. "Sorry. It's just a...business call of sorts."
My face fell. I nodded, watching her curiously as she pulled out a small, silver cell-phone. Alice dialed the number, her fingers moving in a blur across the keypad. She held the small phone to her ear, an almost anxious expression on her face. "Hello, Gianna...this is Alice Cullen speaking," she said in a swift, polite tone. "I'd like to make an appointment for tomorrow if that's alright." There was an unmistaken hint of uneasiness about the way she spoke.
"I realize that your masters are busy," she continued, slightly irritated. "But I'm sure that if you tell them it's pertaining to Edward Cullen, they will make an exception."
There was an unintelligible reply from the other end of the phone.
"Yes, thank-you." Alice sighed and snapped the phone shut without another word. I already had a petty good idea of what she had been arranging, and I felt my heart pound loudly in fright.
She heard. "It'll be okay, Bella. I won't leave you," she soothed, wrapping a comforting arm around my shoulder and drawing me in for an awkward hug.
"I promise." The certainty in her voice quelled the initial fear welling up in my throat...for now, at least.
I took a deep breath. "Alice?"
"Yeah?" I felt her lean her cheek against my hair, her cool breath making my scalp tingle.
"Do you think...that my friends and family will ever forgive me for leaving them?" A well of memories opened up in my mind at the question; images flashing at me behind my eyelids-moments I cherished: Jacob holding me as I cried pointlessly against his chest as we sat curled up on my sofa, the rain pouring down outside. His jokes, his laugh, his smile...his pain - the pain I caused.
Charlie as he watched his games, throwing a warm greeting over his shoulder as he heard me come home...his appreciative grin every night when I cooked him dinner. Or Renee-the woman who had practically raised me. I still remembered when she'd tried one of her unpredictable recipes, and I'd been stupid enough to let her. We both spent the night together on the bathroom floor, laughing at the idiocy of the resulting food poisoning. It could've have been so easily prevented. I felt horrible the whole time, but it was one of the best moments of my life with her.
I loved them all so much...
...Which was why I had to let them go.
"Well," she started, oblivious to my revere, "from what I've seen, families, friends and parents in particular want nothing more than happiness for their love ones, right?" She looked to me for conformation, but I was feeling rather depressed, and only managed a small nod. Alice continued anyway. "What I mean is, Bella...look at me...!"
I did so reluctantly. "...Your family and that boy..."-she snarled the word and I knew exactly who she meant-"...all care for you deeply. If they knew what I knew...what my family knew...if they could see what I see; how your face lights up whenever you're with...us, then I believe that they would forgive you, Bella. Really I do. Because they want you to lead the life that makes you the happiest."
"But what if Edward doesn't want m-" she cut me off with a disapproving grunt, her expression very serious.
"It'll all work out, Bella. Trust me."
And I couldn't for the life of me bring up any kind of protest. I had no reason not to believe her...I would trust her with my life without a second thought. But my heart was just a shadow of its former self. It couldn't take anymore damage. If this didn't work out, I knew I would probably fall to pieces. The repair work Jacob had managed was still incredibly fragile. It would only take the smallest amount of pressure for it all to implode...and I couldn't really see how I would survive it this time.
I had no choice but to trust her...I wanted to trust her...to believe her when she said that everything would be okay.
‘But you know that if he doesn't want you after all of this it'll be so much worse because you're letting hope start to build and he could crush it really easily. Because you will have given up what little you had left of a life for nothing...and there'll be no easy way out because you'll be immortal.'
The things Alice saw could always change...what she saw wasn't necessarily what would happen in the future. I'd seen that aspect of her visions in action. It took only the smallest thought...the smallest act...
I gulped, trying to stop the burning in the back of my throat. "Okay...I trust you."
She beamed at me, momentarily blinding me as her teeth flashed in the sunlight. "Glad to hear it." She started humming after that, obviously happy with how everything was working out...and I stayed silent, trying to fight back the doubt nagging at me from where I'd crammed it at the back of my mind. I would burn that bridge when I came to it, I decided. There was no use in crying over the possibility that I mightspill my glass of milk...it did me no good by agonizing over it.
We boarded the plane this time without interference, and also without anything terribly exciting. Alice sat very quietly in her seat with her eyes closed as her whole face scrunched up in severe concentration. I watched her for a few moments before I was distracted by the hostess bringing around snacks. I nibbled away at my bag of chips, not noticing when Alice had snapped out of her meditating stance.
"Are those actually any good?" she asked me casually.
I shrugged. "They're alright," I told her, shoving the last of them in my mouth before tucking the packet into the seat pocket in front of me. She seemed much more relaxed now and there wasn't any way for her to avoid my questions when we were thirty-five thousand feet in the air...unless of course she just refused to answer.
"So," I started lightly, "who was on the phone before?"
Her smile vanished instantly and was replaced with a somber expression. "Gianna. She's the Volturi's secretary of sorts," she explained in an off-handed tone. "I had to make an appointment for us to meet with them. You can't just turn up, usually. Not unless it's an emergency or you're a ‘friend' of the family." I could hear the quotation marks in her voice.
I raised a curious eyebrow. "Are we ‘friends' by any chance?"
She grinned sheepishly. "Yes...sort of."
"Ah," I stated lamely, starting to trace patterns with my fingers on the tray table under my arms. I remembered that Carlisle had spent time with them before coming out to America...and also just recently with Edward as well...which brought me to another question. "Hey, ummm...why doesn't your family want you interfering in my life?" I asked perhaps a little too eagerly.
Alice looked like she didn't know whether to be sad or angry. She watched me carefully. "We promised Edward that we wouldn't," she said flatly. "When I pressed him about you being in danger if we left, he told me that you'd promised you wouldn't do anything like that. Not intentionally, anyway."
I focused all of my energy on remaining in the present; trying very hard not to remember that night in the forest. She was right. I had promised...but she didn't know about my cheating it seemed, and for that I was grateful. I would have to be very careful to make sure that information didn't just pop out. I knew she was disturbed enough already by my werewolf best friend. No need to add to that list of worries.
"The thing is, Bella," she went on, gazing distantly out the window. "I was so certain that in the beginning, he wouldn't be able to keep himself away from you for very long. As much as it hurt me to see both of you so upset...I still believed that he'd be back. Emmett even bet on how long he would last." She laughed bitterly without a single trace of humor. "Days became weeks and weeks become months, and we all watched, unable to do anything, as he slowly began to disappear inside himself. Esme always fretted, and Carlisle seemed to lose all of his natural confidence. I still hoped, waiting for him to realize how immature and stupid he was being...but he never did. He always refused to return to Forks..."
‘...Because he didn't want me anymore...but he might want me again once I'm beautiful and strong and fast,' I added, trying to stay positive.
"...And then he left. He was ‘tired of causing us so much pain' he told me." She rolled her eyes playfully, but I was taken aback when she mimicked his voice perfectly, and I felt my heart lurch painfully in my chest in response. Alice must have heard it, too because her eyes flickered to mine for a minute, watching. When I smiled back in a pathetic attempt at reassurance, she kept going. Obviously, the chance to vent her frustrations was too good an opportunity to pass up and I was more than willing to listen.
So Edward left because he felt guilty for leaving me? It was the only reasonable explanation. He shouldn't feel guilty. I was only human, after all. I wasn't surprised I didn't appeal to him anymore. I really wasn't anything but some klutzy, normal human. I wasn't beautiful, I wasn't talented. How could I fault him for losing interest in me?
"...But things just got worse," I heard Alice say. "Esme was crying all the time; Carlisle never smiled and always second-guessed his every move; Emmett and Jasper annoyed Rosalie and I to death with their own little quirks. Jasper with his philosophy quizzes and Emmett with his practical jokes...our family was falling apart, Bella! I just had to do something!" She grabbed my hands suddenly, her eyes pleading with mine. "You understand, don't you?"
"Of course." I smiled.
She grinned back in relief. "Jasper certainly didn't agree with me...Emmett seemed enthusiastic about everything, but I just couldn't bring myself to tell Carlisle or Esme. I was worried that if I did, they would somehow convince me otherwise." I didn't miss that she avoided saying anything about Rosalie. It didn't matter. I had a pretty fair idea of how well it would have gone down with her, anyway. I didn't need to be able to read minds or see the future to know that...which incidentally reminded me of something else.
I was about to ask when her eyes suddenly glazed over, tawny eyes swirling with a vision I couldn't see. Alice's jaw strained, a string of profanities pouring from her lips so quickly that I couldn't understand. I didn't have to see what she just did to know that something was wrong.
Great. Another unplanned complication.
Alice blinked several times, her usual calm features twisted in worry. "Edward's on his way home."
Crap. "What do we do?" I tried to keep the anxiety of my voice but I wasn't very successful.
"Well...all we can do is hope that Emmett, Jasper and Rosalie keep their thoughts hidden long enough. It shouldn't be a problem. It will take him a couple of days to get home...and we'll be well and truly there by then...but he's bound to find out sooner then I planned." Alice continued to chew her lip thoughtfully, obviously frustrated by another intrusion. "Things weren't supposed to be this difficult," she sighed.
"Well they are," I replied. "Edward's going to be furious when he finds out, isn't he?" It wasn't really a question and she didn't answer.
"He'll get over it," Alice said, waving a hand in the air dismissively, but I could tell that she was worried about how this whole ordeal would affect their relationship. Apart from Jasper, Edward was the one she was closest to. She was risking everything for me, I realized...and I felt the tears stinging in the corner of my eyes.
"Why are you doing all of this for me?" The abruptness of my question caught her off guard, but she recovered from the shock quite quickly.
Alice gave me the warmest smile I'd ever seen. "You're family, too," she said as if it was obvious. "And when it comes to my family, I would do anything and everything in my power to make them happy."
I felt ridiculous when I burst into tears, but I hadn't felt this good about anything in my life for so long. "Thank-you."
Alice's answering smile was dazzling. "You're welcome," she said simply, moving to catch me in a comforting embrace.
We stayed like that until our plane landed. I couldn't remember when I'd dozed off, but Alice's soft, angelic voice was the first thing I heard when I came to.
"Volterra. Here we come."
x x x
"Bella! Over here!" she called, pulling out of the car rental area in a sleek, black BMW sedan. I rolled my eyes. I should've known she's go for a luxurious and conspicuous car. That was always her style.
I jumped into the passenger side without any further complaints. The fact that I was actually in Italy still hadn't registered yet; I was still rubbing the crusty sleep from my eyes. When I did eventually get around to really opening my eyes, I had to stifle a gasp at the scenery.
Endless pastures of green; hillsides covered in huge, beautiful trees. Small, white cottages dotted the countryside, the occasional farm rushing by as Alice drove maniacally down a straight road, effortlessly weaving herself in and out of the heavy airport traffic. I didn't realize I was tightly gripping the sides of my seat in order to stay upright until Alice reminded me to put my seatbelt on.
Acres and acres of green. Such a wonderful landscape...but it still made me sad.
Everything was green. Just like Forks.
"We'll be there soon, Bella," Alice promised. I couldn't actually tell from the tone of her voice whether she was saying that in order to get my mind off of the guilt...or whether it was a warning. Something about the way she was acting told me it was both.
When we did actually reach the city about ten minutes later, it seemed that it was almost impossible to get in. Giant, gilded wrought-iron gates protected the city's only entrance point with several guards manning a station. The line of cars stretched on for what looked like miles. I frowned...but I felt strangely relieved. I wasn't feeling all that excited about going in there and I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. Alice seemed to think we'd be safe enough, but that wasn't as reassuring as I thought it would be.
Eventually, we did make it past the gate, and Alice glided easily into a vacant spot on the side of the street. As soon as she hopped out of the driver's side, I immediately noticed she was very tense, her eyes darting to every dark corner of the city; almost as if she was waiting for someone to leap at us from the shadows. No wonder my nerves were standing on end.
"What do we do now?"
"We wait." Alice's eyes continued to scout the area-looking everywhere but my face.
"Who-" I yelped, jumping back when someone jumped out of nowhere right in front of me. Alice caught me easily.
The huge, looming figure laughed. "Ahhh...that never gets old."
"Hello, Felix," Alice said coolly, her grip instinctively tightening on my upper-arms.
As my heartbeat gradually slowed, I tried unsuccessfully to see the man's face. It was covered by a thick, grey hood.
"Alice," Felix acknowledged; the smallest hint of a smile in his voice. "What's it been? Forty years?"
"Are you going to take us to see your Masters or not?" Obviously, she wasn't in the mood for small talk.
"Oh yes, that's right. You've got this wonderfully delicious girl with you, too." He smiled down at me with appraising eyes. "So she's the sweet little morsel Edward was so up in arms over. And here I thought he'd just gone crazy." He turned to me. "You smell absolutely delightful." Felix made a point of licking his lips and I heard Alice's furious snarl building in her chest.
"Alright, Alright...calm down there. I'll take you. Jeez." He shook his head in mock disappointment. "No sense of humor."
He smiled wickedly before disappearing from sight. It took me a minute to realize that he was probably running...so that's how he was going to ‘escort' us. Alice danced up in front of me, bending down slightly with her back to me. "Come on," she urged. "Up you go."
Suddenly, I wasn't so sure this was a good idea.
She must have felt me shaking as I climbed up onto her back but she certainly didn't show that she noticed. Her legs instinctively flexed, and my hold around her neck became a death grip.
And then we were flying.
The terracotta walls of the city blurred; archways and window became indistinguishable as Alice ran. Her even breathing was the only sound or sight that remained constant. It had only just occurred to me that we were zooming through abounded alleyways, dashing through pools of shade. The usual terror that used to take hold when Edward had taken me on his runs had faded in wake of the exhilaration of it all. I had missed this supernatural adrenaline rush, I noted with surprise.
We stopped just short of the main town square. It wasn't crowded, but there were still plenty of people about. Felix was already waiting for us at the end of the alleyway, standing in the dappled shade of a small tree. He extended his hand towards Alice; a grey cloak similar to one he was wearing locked in-between his pale fingers. She took it from him without a word.
The two vampires stood on either side of me; Alice with her tiny palm on the small of my back, eyes constantly watching Felix.
As we made our way across he square, I noticed the tall, medieval castle turret tucked away behind a more dominant building. Beautiful as it was, I could feel the hairs on my neck standing on end. There was something very unsettling about the way it sat there, looking very unnatural on the horizon. It was clearly the oldest building in the city; the bricks were covered with a thin sheen of moss, making the turret look even darker and foreboding.
Felix stopped us just outside a beautiful marble archway, the Greek-style columns on either side dominating the path. "Here we are."
Alice tensed up even more if that was possible, and I caught a look on her face that I was sure I wasn't supposed to see. She looked like she wasn't so sure this was the right thing to do anymore, and I couldn't tell if that was affected by a vision or just preservation instincts.
"Let's go, Bella," Alice said quietly.
I nodded, not trusting my voice. Felix led us into a rather bland hallway, bustling with various people from what looked like offices. We were guided into an elevator and as the door closed, I was caught off guard by the rather cheery music playing in the background.
I watched as Felix pulled a small card key from the pocket in his red-guard uniform and swiped it through a slot. Alice's arm snaked around my waist protectively. Something scanned his face, followed by a loud ping thatmade the elevator slow. When we eventually stopped moving, the doors opened into another hallway; this one was much more overly decorated then the previous one. The bright gold and red walls were certainly vibrant, and for a second I thought about how ironic it was for vampires to have painted the hallway such a color.
"Gianna will take care of you now," Felix said, smiling viciously. "I'll be seeing you later, Bella. Alice." He bowed politely before he disappeared. I shivered.
A beautiful girl with thick blonde hair looked up at us from her desk and smiled. She was very pretty, but it took me a moment to realize that she was actually a human. Strange...I thought vampires didn't want humans to know that they existed. "Master Aro will see you now," she called, extending her arm. "This way."
I felt like my feet were suddenly rooted to the ground, unable to move at all. Alice pulled me along patiently, leading me out into a huge reception room. I looked up at the huge, spiraling ceiling with awe.
"Beautiful, aren't they?" an elegant and enthusiastic voice alleged from the other end of the room. I turned in Alice's arms to see tall, willowy figure clad in a black robe, his raven hair flowing down way past his shoulders. His ruby red eyes were smiling down at me in a rather sardonic way, and it took everything I had in me not to run away.
"Ahhh...Alice! You bought Bella right to me! That was extremely thoughtful of you, my dear. How goes my dear friend Carlisle since I saw him last? I miss him already!"
"Not so good, sir," she said flatly, no hint of her previous tension evident in her voice or her face. "That's why we're here."
"Oh?" he said, not even trying to tame his curiosity.
Alice slowly released her arm from around my waist, and I stumbled slightly. I watched as she skipped forward to offer Aro her hand. He barely skimmed her fingertips with his, before both their hands dropped to their sides, simply staring at each other.
"Very, very interesting," Aro beamed. I realized a minute later that Aro had read Alice's mind. I remembered what Alice had told me about his requirement for physical contact.
"Will you do it?"
"Of course I will," he told her happily...and then he turned to look at me. "So you're the one who's stirred up so much controversy in the Cullen household. I must say, Bella, you smell absolutely mouth-watering." He floated over towards me, and while every instinct I had was screaming at me to run away, I stayed glued to the spot absolutely terrified. He didn't look anything like an ordinary vampire. His skin looked strangely fragile, and his features were too alien to be considered beautiful.
"If I may," he asked, extending his hand to me. I knew what he wanted, but my muscles wouldn't move.
"It's alright, Bella," Alice soothed, suddenly appearing at my side. "I'm right here."
I raised my shaky hand to meet his palm, and he took it eagerly. I assumed that he was trying to reassure me by smiling, but it didn't help. His skin wasn't the marble texture I was used to. It felt incredibly grainy-almost like sand-and incredibly fragile. His grin wavered, milky red eyes stirring. A flitter of genuine frustration clouded his expression for an instant...and then it was gone, and he let go of my hand.
"Very promising," he muttered to himself as he walked back towards his throne, and Alice came and wrapped her arm around my waist again for support. I relaxed a little.
"Alright. It's settled then," Aro announced swiveling around to face the both of us. "It's a deal, but I would like to ask a favor from you in return, Bella for your immortality." He looked down at me hopefully and I swallowed loudly as I looked up to meet his gaze. "Ye...Yes?"
"You must stay with here during the duration of the change, as well as the formation of your power. I am quite certain that you will have one, my dear."
"But...But that could take months!" Alice protested. "Years, even!"
"Yes well, I shall endeavor to make sure that she develops it as quickly as possible so she can scuttle off back to you, soon. If she proves herself to be useful, I may require her services on the guard as well. She would make a formidable opponent I'm sure!" He seemed very excited about it all, and Alice was appalled.
She turned to me, more anxious then I'd ever seen her before. "You don't have to do this, Bella."
"I'm afraid she does," Aro corrected. "You are free to leave as you wish, Alice, but I'm afraid Bella can't. As a human, she knows far too much about our kind. She's dangerous as she is right now."
"That's rubbish and you know it!" Alice snarled.
"It's the law," he warned her in a low voice, "and you know it."
Alice was about to say something, but shut her mouth again quickly. "Don't worry," Aro assured her, holding up his hand. "I promise she will receive every possible care available. Bella?"
His eyes were on me now, as were Alice's. Was he really asking me what I wanted? Why did he bother? I didn't have a choice. It was either this or be killed...and I sure as hell hadn't sacrificed everything I had left in order to come here and choose the latter. "I can go back to the Cullen's afterwards, right?" I asked him in a meek whisper.
"Yes, of course! As soon as I'm ready to let you go." I didn't like how he said those last few words, but what choice did I have?
I would return to the Cullen's...to Edward. If he wanted me. That's all that mattered.
"It's a deal," I agreed, the finality of my words ringing in the giant hall.
"Come along then," Aro beckoned keenly. "Every second counts."
I made myself move, stiffly placing one foot in front of the other. Alice followed wordlessly at my side, clearly panicking over what could happen next. I assumed that this was another miscalculation in her infamous plan. Everything seemed to have gone absolutely haywire when she discovered that werewolves were involved...
Is that why nothing was going according to plan?
As walked past Aro to the giant wooden double doors behind the throne area, he stepped in front of Alice, blocking her from coming any further. My eyes widened in dread. He wasn't going to let her through.
"I'm sorry, my dear," Aro said in a regretful tone. "But I can't allow you to come with us. I wouldn't want you trying to break her out of here or anything."
"But I promised Bella-"
"Yes, yes. I'm sure it was all very heartening," he waved a hand dismissively. "But this is for security reasons. Bella could prove to be very important and after spending all the time training and caring for her as she develops, I'd hate for someone to take her away."
"I would never-"
"Yes, but I don't want to take the chance. You're more than welcome to wait out the three days here. You'll be able to see her afterwards, I promise." His voice did carry the seal of a promise in it, but Alice still looked hopeless. Something else just occurred to me then.
"I can have visitors?"
Aro thought for a moment, and then smiled his sinister smile. "I don't see why not. As long as you don't leave." He frowned.
"Alice...can you bring your family here to see me when I wake up? All of them?" She knew what I was insinuating.
I could've sworn her eyes her eyes were about to fall out of there sockets. "I can't leave you alone here!" she hissed, evidently horrified by the prospect.
"Please, Alice..." I begged. "I'll be fine, and your family really are the first ones I want to see when I wake up."
She bit her lip for a moment, considering...and then, realizing that she probably had no choice anyway, she agreed, albeit she seemed to see it more as a defeat. "Alright. I'll do my best."
"Thank-you," I whispered, giving her a sad smile before Aro ushered me through the doors. I caught one last glimpse of the pain on Alice's face before he closed the door. I swallowed my emotions hard, and turned away.
This was my choice. My consequence...and it was time to face it.
x x x
Jasper was sitting in his bedroom, reading when he heard the whisper of a noise; a feathery knock, followed by the soft closing of the front door down stairs. The voice that drifted up the staircase was all too familiar, and sent his mind into a frenzy as he tried to cover all of his worried thoughts about where Alice could possibly be.
"I'm home." It was almost painful to hear him speak. There was no emotion in his voice at all. Jasper heard everyone race downstairs to greet him, and hoped that Emmett and Rosalie were masking their thoughts well.
Edward was back...and all hell would break loose if he suspected even for a second where Alice was.
The small silver cell-phone sitting next to him on his couch vibrated, and he picked it up eagerly without thinking.
"Where are you?"
"I'm on my way home. You'd better pack for Italy, Jasper. See you when I get there. It's not going to be pleasant."
And with that, she hung up, leaving all of the questions on the tip of his tongue unanswered. What did that mean? Had something happened to Bella...?
"What!" A ferocious voice boomed up the stairs, causing Jasper to visibly flinch at the sudden anger he could feel steaming up from downstairs.
And it took less than that for Edward to storm his way upstairs into Jasper's room, his black eyes burning with rage.
Whatever had happened, Alice was right. This wasn't going to be pleasant.
It was going to be an outright nightmare.