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...
7. Escape Strategies Gone Awry
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Midnight Waltz: Chapter 7
Escape Strategies Gone Awry
"Any one can give up; it's the easiest thing in the world to do.
But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that takes true strength."
-- Walter Winchell
x x x
"Should I start tracking them, Sir?"
Demetri watched his master staring thoughtfully out of the newly-blown hole in the side of their fortress, frown lines wrinkling the pale, flawless skin of his forehead. His lips were curved down in a very characteristic pout. Demetri rolled his eyes when Aro didn't respond. He was always so caught up in his own world all the time - a world he was sure didn't extend past the imaginary capabilities of a ten year old...
He caught himself on the borderline-illicit thought, wincing when he realized it was too late. The next time he came to deliver his report on how things were progressing on his various assigned missions to his master, Aro was sure to punish him for the transgression.
Speaking of missions, he still hadn't been given orders yet. "Sir?"
Aro blinked, turning to meet his guard with wide, curious eyes. "Yes, Demetri?"
The bodyguard couldn't help but sigh in annoyance. "The Cullens, Master. Should I start tracking them?"
Aro seemed to ponder this over for all of three seconds, a wicked smile bursting across his face. "I wouldn't worry about it too much for now," he said, the milky-redness of his eyes shimmering in excitement. "Let them have their fun. Besides, who would have thought Edward would have reacted so strongly! I knew he would be upset that Bella wasn't being treated as a "vegetarian", but I had no idea he would do that! And the rest of the Cullen family, no doubt! I didn't know they all cared for her so much. A curious business, considering they were the ones who left her." He stared eagerly at the hole once more, obviously mulling various ideas over in his head.
"Keep an eye on them, Demetri," Aro decided suddenly, "and give me your updates on their location, significant or not."
"I understand." Demetri bowed formally before turning to leave the room. He disappeared in a flash of movement that Aro had no desire to follow.
He watched as the sun started to peek just over the horizon; the beautiful rivers of gold streaming down the vast, green hills of the Italian countryside. He exhaled, relaxing as the warmth found his skin, making it glitter like diamonds. It was truly a pity that vampires were forced to stay out of the sun when in the midst of humans - cold as they were, the sun was the only warmth they knew. Rarely were they ever solely in the company of their own kind and outdoors in the sunshine at the same time. Then again, perhaps they were extremely lucky. It was good to know that they weren't allergic to daylight, as myths and legends condoned. Yes. If anything, vampires took the sun for granted.
He was pulled gently from the circle of his thoughts when the town-center's clock chimed loudly out across the small village; the signal of new day starting.
Or in the case of the Cullen's, the signal to begin the race.
Aro looked down at his sparkling hand, making one last attempt to enjoy the warmth before he left the room - people would be about soon and it did him no good to be standing in the sunlight when they finally started to stir.
Yes, the race. He would let them have their fun - their freedom - for now. It was amazing how much feeling the newly turned Bella seemed to stir in the family. She persuaded siblings to risk the strong possibilities of fall-out's with each other, and for lovers to take on an entire vampire army, all in the hopes of keeping her to themselves.
He probably would have thought it to be a courageous feet had he not already staked a claim on her as well. She would be extremely useful on the guard, no matter what power she developed. Of this he was certain. While his was a claim that was certainly far more blatant and less affectionate than the others, it was a claim all the same - a claim that Bella had promised to honor and while she may have had no intention of keeping her word, Aro did.
‘After all, a deal's a deal, Bella. I hope you have fun for the next few days, because it'll be the only fun you'll have with your family for the better part of a century.'
x x x
I sank to the ground, my legs turning to jelly beneath my body as the horror washed over me like a tidal wave. Human blood. I'd been drinking...Oh, God, what had I done? I hunched over, my hands tight around my stomach as if I might be sick. I tried putting my head between my knees and just breathe, but I seemed to become more hysterical at the lack of air rather than calming down. How much blood had Aro given me? I wasn't even half conscious for most of it, so I couldn't be sure. Five packets? Ten? Twenty? How many people had I ultimately killed...murdered - no matter how indirectly or unintentionally - by drinking that much?
I felt a cool, strong hand smooth my hair - fingers brushing down the right side of my face until they were locked firmly underneath my chin - starting to coax my gaze upward. Edward's face twisted horribly when he read the obvious distress in mine. "It'll be alright," he said softly, pulling his lips half-heartedly in a small, sad smile. He leant down on the grass and pulled me into his lap in one swift, graceful movement. "It wasn't your fault, Bella. There was nothing you could have done. There was no way of knowing."
"Of course there was!" I snapped, grudgingly pushing myself up and out of his embrace. I ignored the pain that sparked briefly in the depths of his butterscotch eyes. I didn't want to feel better about this yet, and Edward had an uncanny ability to make me forget about what I knew I'd done wrong - things that I should feel guilty for doing because of the pain I'd caused, even if logically there was no avoiding it.
Like Charlie, Renee and Jake. Jacob must loathe me by now, I thought mournfully. How much more could he possibly hate me if he found out that I'd been involved in taking human lives? Would he accuse me of being a monster just like Victoria? Why did that hurt? I winced, my hands balling into fists around the fabric of my dress. The thought of Jacob's certain revulsion was like being kicked in the chest; the pain left me aching and breathless.
"I should have known they wouldn't feed me animal blood - you'd told me they were different vampires: that they didn't believe in your way of life. And after the deal I made with Aro, I should have known he would do anything to keep me nearby." I growled in frustration at my own stupidity, anxiously running my hands through my hair.
Everyone was unnaturally silent for a long moment.
"Deal?" Edward asked flatly.
My eyes instantly flitted over to Alice for the briefest moment - her expression unreadable - before I looked back at Edward again. Preoccupied as I was with my current dilemma, it took me moment to realize that she must have left that part out when she was telling him how I'd come to be in this mess in the first place.
Edward realized, too.
"You mean that you actually agreed to let Aro have you?" he asked, clearly horrified by the idea.
"I had to, Edward," I mumbled. "He wasn't going to change me if I didn't, and he wasn't going to let me walk out of there if I said no. I would have been killed."
His eyes blazed with anger, but his jaw clenched shut, biting off any kind of remark. Livid as he was, I knew he knew that there was no alternative. His eyes closed as he took in a deep, shuddering breath; the tension in his face slowly smoothing out as he forced himself to calm down. When he opened his eyes again, they were calm, unreadable. He stared at me without saying anything; holding my gaze for what felt like forever. I found myself suddenly desperate to know what he was thinking, somewhat disturbed as his liquid gold orbs looked as if they were starting to freeze over and harden...
"We need to get moving," Rosalie said abruptly, promptly breaking me free from the spell of Edward's cold stare. I blinked my eyes rapidly, trying to clear the haze in my head. "They'll be coming after us soon."
"Yes," Carlisle agreed quietly. He'd been so quiet I'd forgotten that he and Esme were there as well.
"It wouldn't matter if they did come after us, you know," Emmett said eagerly. His confidence felt strangely out of place in this conversation. "We'd still beat ‘em."
Edward shook his head. "If it was only a few guards, then maybe." He was whispering so softly it sounded more like he was talking to himself. "But we've no chance against the entire army."
"Pfft," Emmett scoffed, still belligerent. "Why on earth would they send out the entire guard after us? Surely Bella's not that important to them."
Nobody said anything.
I swallowed hard, trying to ignore how the words ‘that important' were affecting my breathing. "What...what do we do now?"
"Uh, we leave?" Emmett seemed extremely annoyed at having to state what he thought was obvious.
"And where would we go?" Edward snapped, suddenly furious. "We could travel all the way to the Arctic Circle and it wouldn't matter. They would still find us!"
"Why are you always such a pessimist?"
Edward went on like he hadn't heard his brother speak. He looked right at Carlisle. "You know what Alec and Demetri are capable of. We can't fight that."
Carlisle hesitated and then nodded grudgingly, his face hopeless. "You're right."
I stood there, watching them all, unable to stand how devastated and desperate they all seemed. It hurt even more to know I was the cause of it, and the guilt once again had my insides twisting painfully. I averted my eyes, trying to hide my reaction. There had to be something I could do to help. I was the reason they were all in trouble, after all. I shuddered, Emmett's words still ringing loud and clear in my head. Was I important to whatever it was Aro was planning? Would he really kill my entire family? I found that hard to believe, especially when I knew what kind of people were on the Volturi guard. Aro was betting too high - that had to be it. It seemed ridiculous that he had so much faith in the way I would turn out...didn't it? I wasn't charismatic or strong or beautiful or even remotely psychic when I was human, so how did I stand any chance of turning into someone extraordinary now?
It all seemed very unlikely.
But there was something about the way Aro had looked right at me - when he'd touched my hand. His enthusiasm made it impossible to doubt him. But that didn't mean he was right...right? I also recalled Marcus and Caius, and how utterly fed up they seemed of Aro's constantly positive attitude. Did that mean that he was wrong as often as he was right? Ugh. I suddenly realized I was coming up with more questions than answers...and I was also slowly coming to the conclusion that there was only one way to get an answer-
I stopped right there, acutely aware that Alice was standing not ten feet away. I risked a sidelong glance out of the corner of my eye, and I was both surprised and relieved by what I saw. Alice looked so deep in thought, her obsidian eyes glazed over as she stared out past the jade tree tops, seeing nothing.
Yes, I was relieved...but I also knew that this would probably be my only opportunity to make a run for it.
I didn't know how far I would get, even with Alice not paying attention. I was sure I could fight off one of them, but certainly not two or three. My head was screaming at my body to move - that this was my chance to save them all. My only chance.
But my heart. My heart. I'd only just found them all...after all this time. I didn't think I could bear the thought of losing my family again, and with no promise of when or where I would see them again...if I ever would see them-
"We're not just handing Bella over to these guys," Emmett argued, interrupting my disturbing conjectures. "Are we?"
Edward ignored him for the second time, and turned his speculative gaze on his sister. "Have you seen anything, Alice?"
I felt her start, but when she didn't answer, I hesitantly looked up at her face, and wasn't surprised by what I saw. It was blank, of course, as she stared off into space. I immediately turned my thoughts in a completely different direction, hoping with all my might that she hadn't seen what I'd been planning to do a moment ago.
She came to with a rapid blinking of her eyes, her head tilting slightly so that she could see him. I watched her expression carefully and I instantly noticed something was off; she suddenly seemed nervous or embarrassed about something. "No, I haven't seen anything. Aro hasn't given his guard the order to come after us yet. They're just...waiting. I don't know why."
For some inexplicable reason, Edward was frustrated.
"We shouldn't be surprised," Esme reminded him, speaking up for the first time. "It's still daylight out."
Simultaneously, every one's heads craned towards the thick canopy above us. It was keeping the majority of the sun out, which was good...And this part of the forest was as far as we could get from civilization; we wouldn't run into any townsfolk here. Small glimmers managed every now and then to break through the dappled shade, sending brilliant flashes of light shattering off my skin. I watched the different faucets on my suddenly crystal-like fingers fade and brighten as I moved them, fascinated.
"So we're trapped here then until nightfall?" Rosalie asked, incredulous.
"Nope," Emmett said, a sudden grin stretching across his face. "You didn't honestly think I would be that unprepared when breaking into a castle full of hostile vampires just before dawn, did you?"
"When you put it that way...I suppose not," Alice admitted, eyeing him skeptically. "What did you do then?"
He was still smiling. "I pillaged the Volturis' coat racks."
Nobody seemed to know what to say to that, and for a minute, I could see that just about everyone thought he was joking. Except Edward. His grin was abruptly just as big as his brother's - all traces of his previous distress had vanished.
I watched as Emmett shook something from his shoulders - a satchel. Strange, but it was the first time I had noticed him carrying anything. He opened it quickly and started pulling out what looked like large spans of thick, dark grey fabric, and throwing them at each of us in turn. When he got to me - the last in the small circle - his expression faltered.
"Oh, crap! Sorry, Bella!" he exclaimed. "I guess I forgot to get you one..."
I sighed, trying to quench the absurd irritation I could feel bubbling up in my chest. "It's alright, Emmett." I was just trying to reassure him, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do without a cape. "What should I do?"
"You can always share mine," Edward said as I met his eyes, his crooked smile knocking me breathless.
"S-Sure." I was trying desperately to control my abruptly unsteady breathing. The small part of my brain that was still working logically was still trying to comprehend why there'd been such a sudden change in his mood. He couldn't be as distracted as he seemed, and my intuition told me he was still working on heavy thoughts; his eyes were unreadable. The thought was forgotten, though, when he opened his arms wide, a gentle smile still resting on his lips.
I threw myself at him eagerly without thinking, surprised when the movement sent us both crashing to the ground.
"Whoops," I muttered, too happy where I was to be embarrassed or even remotely repentant. "Sorry."
Edward laughed quietly in my ear, his cool breath tickled. "Hmmm...I'll have to get used to that." His face disappeared underneath my hair and I felt his teeth graze my earlobe. I shivered, tightening my arms around his neck. One of his arms snaked its way under my legs, the other curled tightly around my waist. He moved - the sudden, strong breeze against my face the only indicator - and I was surprised once more to find him standing again amongst his family. Edward drew the dark fabric of his cloak over my body, pinning it shut underneath my head.
"Where are we going?" I mumbled, curling more willingly against his chest as he started to move.
"The airport," someone else answered on the far side of the circle. Jasper. I couldn't see his face, but he sounded doubtful.
"Isn't that a little predictable?" Alice asked dryly.
"Yes, but we have no choice at this point," Edward replied, his voice aloof. "We need to get as far away as possible."
"Maybe if we make it hard for them to find us, the Volturi will give up," Esme suggested hopefully.
It was silent for awhile after that as everyone considered her proposal. I didn't so much see as feel everyone's reactions. The air was tense with their reservations on that particular thought. I knew, even without seeing Edward's face, that he wouldn't accept the theory for even a second; his arms tightened protectively around my waist and legs.
"Let's go. Now. While we can," Carlisle whispered, his voice full of anxiety.
"Wait a second," Alice demanded. "We'll have to cut through the village, Edward. There's no other way around."
"And...?" she prompted.
"And what?" he ground out through clenched teeth.
I heard her sigh loudly in exasperation. "There will be people there, Edward."
I stiffened, suddenly realizing what she was talking about.
"I know that, Alice," he snapped.
"Edward," Emmett whispered as a quiet reproof. He didn't like Edward speaking to her like that anymore than I did. "She definitely has a point. What if Bella-"
"Bella," he snarled, taking an automatic step back, "will be fine. I won't let her go."
"You can't hold her off all on your own, Edward. You just saw what happened when we rescued her - she's got absolutely no control," Jasper rejoined.
I gulped loudly, horrified when I remembered who it was exactly I'd been attacking just a few short hours ago. I wrapped my arms tightly around his waist, as if it could hold me there in place. Jasper and Emmett were right. As much as I wanted to control myself, I knew I wouldn't be able to. And I also knew that they couldn't restrain me fully in public without creating a lot of unwanted attention. And while we were out of the main city square of Volterra, I had no doubt that the villages close by were equally well monitored and protected.
"Hold your breath, Bella," Alice whispered quietly from her position across from Edward. "Whatever you do, don't breathe in. Understand?"
"Yes," I agreed instantly. I felt Edward relax underneath my arms.
"And you, Edward..." Alice said more loudly this time, her voice echoing around us with a strange, fierce undercurrent that at first, I didn't understand. It took me a moment to realize that she was actually threatening him. "...Need to stop acting like everyone here is against you. All we want to do is help. Bella means just as much to us as she does to you. You know that. We all want to protect her just as much as you do, but if you keep ignoring us like you have been, then you...wewill lose her."
"No," he said, and his voice was absolute.
Alice glared at him with a strange, speculative expression, her lips pulling back ever so slightly over her sharp teeth. "You think I'm lying?"
I heard his teeth clench together with an audible snap. "It doesn't matter what you think, Alice. That will never-" but he never managed to finish. His voice cut off abruptly with a strange choking sound. I tore the coat off from around my head, horrified when I saw his face twisting in terrible pain. The agony in his eyes was almost overwhelming.
"Edward!" I shouted, panicking, but he didn't seem to hear me. I tried to pry myself loose from his arms, but every time I moved, his arms tightened exponentially around my waist and legs, critically affecting my movement. I clawed awkwardly at his shirt, shaking him as hard as I could - anything to generate some sort of response. "What's wrong with you? Edward!"
"Alice," Carlisle said firmly. I watched, relieved as Edward's face slowly began to smooth out, but he couldn't quite conceal the pain in his eyes. I was startled when I suddenly found myself curled tightly into a ball up against his chest. It was a good thing I didn't have to breathe because in that moment I couldn't have, even if I wanted to. Absently, I realized what Edward meant when he said it felt uncomfortable to go without a sense of smell. My empty lungs suddenly felt very heavy in my chest, and now that I couldn't smell anything, I felt like I suddenly didn't know where anything or anyonewas. Uncomfortable indeed.
"What did you see?" I asked when he let me breathe.
He shook his head slowly; not in refusal, but in denial. His eyes were still wide, staring out past the trees. My eyes darted around the loose circle and I could tell everyone else was just as curious about what had just happened. Alice was in exactly the same position as she was a moment ago. Her eyes seemed to be the only part of her body that was alive - glowering furiously at her brother.
Edward ignored everyone.
"That's not set in stone, Alice!" he said suddenly, almost snarling the words.
"It will be," Alice shot back, her tone mirroring his. "It will be if you don't change your mind right now and accept the fact that you can't do this alone!"
Neither of them said anything, and I assumed that they must have been continuing their argument in their minds. They both only seemed to get angrier as the seconds ticked by.
"That's enough!" Carlisle commanded. "We need to get Bella away from here as fast as possible. That's our first and only priority right now. Everything else can wait."
"Fine!" Alice snapped, turning an about face and storming off behind Jasper. Edward was still growling under his breath.
"Alice," Carlisle said in much softer - but still firm - voice, "call the airlines."
I watched as he quickly threw her his cell phone from the front pocket of his jeans. She flipped it open and dialed the number all within a second. I heard her speaking, but it was all in Italian, so I couldn't understand anything she was saying. "Everyone else," he continued, "I want you to stay close to Edward when running - we have to keep Bella from making us look too inconspicuous." Then he turned to look at me with a gentle smile on his face. "I know it's going to feel quite strange, but please, Bella. Try not to breathe, okay?"
"I'll try," I promised.
"Good. Now, we'll just wait until our flight has been settled and-"
Everyone froze when we heard Alice gasp. She stopped breathing completely as her face and eyes went completely blank. The phone slid easily from in-between her tiny fingers and into the grass. I could still hear the person on the other end chatting away.
"What is it, Alice?" Jasper asked frantically, seizing her by her forearms. "What did you see?"
But before she could say or explain anything, Edward was already snarling so loudly that I could barely hear anything else.
"What the hell is going on?" Emmett demanded, angry for no more than a second before he too, seemed to suddenly realize what was happening. He tensed, leaning into a defensive crouch in front of Edward and me. Everyone else turned at exactly the same moment towards the largest break in the trees, and my reluctant eyes followed suit. It didn't take a genius to figure out what was happening.
Someone was coming for us.
I dared to breathe in - it didn't look as though we were going anywhere away from here any time soon, after all - and was instantly confused at the change in the air. The previously woodsy, pine-ish smell this place had was no completely covered up entirely by a strange musky, sweet aroma, that at the same time had a bitterness to it that I couldn't define. Edward was holding me recklessly close, and combined with his own, incredibly delicious scent, it made it hard for me to concentrate on exactly where the smell was coming from.
I gasped when I saw something ghost through the trees. It faded just as quickly as it had appeared, making me shiver.
"Did you see that?" I whispered to Edward. His eyes were still glued in front of him.
"Yes," he snarled, much too loudly. It made my stomach drop to the floor. He wasn't monitoring is voice which, roughly translated, meant that we had no chance of escape.
He suddenly righted himself, standing perfectly straight and still as his arms relaxed their hold on my legs and swung me behind his back. He kept his arm locked around my waist, preventing me from turning fully to see what was coming.
"You can stop fooling around now," Edward ground out from in-between his clenched teeth. Amazingly, he was able to keep his voice even. I heard everyone's breathing simultaneously stutter to a stop, mine included. "We know you're there, Demetri."
A quiet, sinister chuckle danced through the air, putting everyone on edge. I struggled against Edward's hold until he finally loosened his grip. He didn't let go completely, but enough for me to turn around and see what everyone else could. Standing there, leaning casually against a nearby tree with an incredibly cocky grin on his face was indeed Demetri. His brilliant ruby eyes - so much a reflection of my own, I was sure - were a strange mixture of excitement and hunger. I knew exactly why he felt that way - he'd been waiting for Aro to give him the command to come after us...and he was obviously looking forward to the outcome. I glared at him, disgusted. He seemed to notice my stare; zeroing in on my position behind Edward, his feral smirk stretched back even further across his venom covered teeth. His eyes bored through mine with an overwhelming, frenzied intensity, and when he spoke, it felt like the challenge was for me and me alone.
"Up for a game of hide and seek? I'm not going to count for very long, so you'd better run now while you still have the chance."