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After the Vote

The end of New Moon imediately after "Vote" from Edward's point of view. Does Edward really believe, like Carlisle, that he has a soul? Why did Bella refuse his proposal? And what is Alice thinking? Written for Novel Novice's July-August challenge.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The characters and plot are the property of Stephenie Meyer. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

1. Chapter 1

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After the Vote

N. T. Lupin

Bella turned to go shower, leaving me feeling breathless. I needed to go home and get myself cleaned up, too. I hadn't had a proper shower since I left her so many months ago. I smelled like a strange combination of musty attic, Volterra sewer, and Bella's house. Although I would never forget a second of the last few months, I wanted to remove the obvious reminders. Cold water always helped clear my mind and focus my thoughts, seeming to wash some of my stress and confusion away. Maybe this time I would try hot water; Bella might be surprised to find me warmer than room temperature. Of course, I would be back before she ever finished her shower.

I dove out the window and ran through the woods towards my home. It was good to have a home again. Bella gave me a lot to think about, and I did some of my best thinking while I was running. I relished in the familiar green setting. Bella had once complained that Forks was too green. She had a point, I supposed, but for now, green meant home and Bella. Green was alive.

I found a large doe quite near the Swan house. It had been too long since I hunted. Without thinking, I snapped her neck before she was even aware of my presence. I greedily sucked down the warm blood. Although I was no danger to Bella – I never would be again now that I knew the feeling of loosing her – if Charlie started yelling at her again, I – yes, I needed to hunt.

As I sucked the lifeblood from the deer, I considered the last thing Bella told me. Did I really believe Carlisle? On the one hand, I knew the horrors of a vampire's life. We were the eternally damned. There couldn't be any hope for us. On the other hand, Bella was right. When I felt her in my arms in Volterra, I truly was convinced I was in heaven. If that wasn't hope, what was it? It was a thin strand of hope at best. But, I realized, I had been clinging tightly to that thin strand during those long hours that I believed Bella was dead. It was the only thing I had to cling to, and I had clung tightly. It still hurt to think about, even when I had her safely back in my life. Did I have hope, then? I wouldn't go so far as to say I believed Carlisle's view, but I could no longer say I was certain about my views. I supposed that was close enough to hope. I would have to give it more time. And I had more time now. The thought made me smile.

I hid the empty carcass in a too-green hollow where no hiker could stumble across it. Bella's shower water probably wasn't even hot yet. The thought of Bella's shower made me smile too, but I refused to let my mind wander down that path. I started running again, but I didn't push myself. I needed the time to think.

I had to figure out how to make Bella give me more time. My attempt at compromise hadn't exactly gone according to plan. Sure, I had started out trying to bribe her with something she already had, my teeth biting her instead of Carlisle's. Almost immediately after that ridiculous vote, I had decided that I would be the one to change Bella. I imagined Carlisle pressing his lips to her throat, and I had to fight back a snarl. Both of the monsters inside me roared that she was mine. The vampire swore that every drop of her blood was mine, and if he couldn't drain her, he was getting every drop he could. The man in me screamed even louder that no other man's lips would ever touch her, not even my father's, not even for that.

So it wasn't exactly honest of me to use that as leverage, but what else could I offer the girl who refused gifts? I wasn't ready to change her. I was terrified. What if she changed her mind? What if she hated me forever for taking her life and her soul? Okay, fine. Soul questionable. Still, it was risking her soul. I wasn't prepared to deal with that. I needed time to make sure she understood what she was asking. Hours ago in Volterra, she seemed horrified at Gianna's desire to become a vampire. I thought she had finally understood, but she was still stubbornly determined to become one of us. Didn't she realize that we were all the same – killers – deep down? She needed more time to be sure of her decision. I sighed. My mind had been running around in this same circle for hours.

Next I had to think about my disastrous proposal and what I was going to do to fix it. I couldn't live without Bella, and I couldn't live without her as my wife. She didn't want to marry me. I didn't know why. What had I done wrong? What hadn't I done wrong? I remembered our conversation with chagrin.

“If you want me to be the one, then you'll just have to meet one condition.” The easiest one of all, so I thought.

“Condition? What condition?” She didn't trust me. Of course, I wasn't exactly trustworthy.

I was giving in completely, and at the same time begging for the thing I wanted most. “Marry me first.” I was such an idiot. I didn't even have her ring with me.

She paused. “Okay, what's the punch line?”

She thought I was joking? I would never joke about something so vitally important. I sighed; I needed to keep it light. “You're wounding my ego, Bella. I just proposed to you, and you think it's a joke.” If only I weren't such a good liar, she would believe me now. Of course, then she never would have let me leave in the first place.

“Edward, please be serious.”

“I am one hundred percent serious.” I wished again that I could read her mind. Why didn't she believe me?

“Oh, c'mon, I'm only eighteen,” she said, sounding slightly hysterical.

“Well, I'm nearly a hundred and ten. It's time I settled down,” I retorted, trying to make her laugh and trying to keep my own emotions in check.

Why was she panicking over something as simple as marriage when she had been begging to become one of the eternally damned just moments before? I thought this would be easy. Shouldn't she have been happy and excited? Oh, right, Bella never reacted the way I thought she should. She looked away. How was I supposed to guess what she was thinking when I couldn't see her eyes? Was she trying to torment me? I knew I deserved it, but –

“Look, marriage isn't exactly that high on my list of priorities, you know?” No, I didn't know. “It was sort of the kiss of death for Renee and Charlie.”

“Interesting choice of words,” oh you who were begging for the kiss of death.

“You know what I mean.”

I knew that her parents marriage had not worked out well, but I didn't understand how that applied to us. I sighed. “Please don't tell me you're afraid of the commitment.”

“That's not it exactly. I'm... afraid of Renee.” After all the vampires, werewolves, and other things that could have killed her in the past year, she's afraid of her mother? “She has some really intense opinions on getting married before you're thirty.” Ooh, terrifying.

“Because she'd rather you became one of the eternally damned than get married,” I said sarcastically.

“You think you're joking.”

“No, you think I'm joking, remember?” I muttered too low for her to hear. I fought to keep my voice even. “Bella, if you compare the level of commitment between a marital union as opposed to bartering your soul in exchange for an eternity as a vampire...” I didn't understand her at all. “If you're not brave enough to marry me, then–”

“Well,” she cut me off, “what if I did? What if I told you to take me to Vegas now? Would I be a vampire in three days?”

She was still a rotten liar. “Sure, I'll get my car.”

“Dammit, I'll give you eighteen months,” she muttered.

She was offering more time, and saying no. I won, but I lost. I forced myself to dwell only on the winning part. I forced myself to smile, but part of me was crushed. “No deal. I like this condition.” Actually, I was desperate for this condition.

“Fine, I'll have Carlisle do it when I graduate.”

Even though Bella was a horrible liar by comparison, I still had to quickly suppress a growl. That would never happen, not that she knew that. “If that's what you really want,” I shrugged, demonstrating a proper bluff.

“You're impossible, a monster.”

Very true – the monster part, anyway – but she didn't believe it. I laughed. “Is that why you won't marry me?” I was still blocking the pain of her rejection.

She just groaned in response.

Pain shot through my stone heart. I was not above begging. I leaned in, trying to dazzle her. “Please, Bella?” I asked, breathing on her face.

She just shook her head.

“Would this have gone better if I had time to get a ring?” As if I didn't already have one. I should have thought of this earlier and brought her ring with me. Idiot!

“No!” she shouted. “No rings!”

And then Charlie woke up.

Why did hers have to be the only silent mind I'd ever encountered? I still didn't know what went wrong. Would she have said yes if I had gotten down on one knee with the ring? Or would she still have screamed at the ring? Why would she be afraid of marriage, but not afraid of becoming a vampire? Did she want immortality more than she wanted me? Was there someone else? Was she just afraid of me? But why would she want me to stay with her? Did she just need more time? Time, time, it all came down to time.

As I drew near the house, I heard Alice running toward me. Her mind was such a jumble of thoughts that I couldn't read anything coherent from them, and then she slammed into me.

“Eeeeeek!!! Congratulations Edward!” she squealed.

I looked at her blankly, trying to make sense of her thoughts. They were spinning fast enough to make me dizzy. Then I saw the visions that had her so excited. No, It couldn't be. How had she seen that? It wasn't going to happen.

“This is going to be so much fun!” she trilled. “The flowers! Roses and freesia, of course, but what else? The invitations will be perfect. I know we don't have a date yet, but I can print them up both ways if you want. Should we have it at the house? Or outside? The ball field? As soon as you set a date, I'll let you know about the weather. We'll need a photographer. Oh, and music! What are we going to do about music? You can't play, obviously. Maybe Rose? I don't know if we'll need human food, or just the cakes for show. Who are we going to invite? The Denali clan, of course, and –”

“Alice,” I called. She still hadn't paused for breath. As fast as her words poured out, her thoughts were running even faster.

“The dress! I've got to design the dress!” Hundreds of white dresses swirled through her mind. “You don't want your bride wearing something off the rack! True masterpieces take time. Oh, wait! You can't see that.” She tried to clear her mind by thinking of tuxes.

“Alice, she said no.” It hurt to confess that.

My sister froze. “How?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer to her pointless question, she flipped back through her visions. First she saw a fuzzy vision of Bella in an indistinct white dress walking slowly toward me. Judging by the lack of clarity, this vision was nowhere near certain. Then the vision changed subtly to Bella looking slightly more pale with deep red eyes wearing the same white dress, still walking toward me.

“Those are the only possibilities I see,” Alice explained, marginally calmer. “I thought the timing was the only thing undecided.”

She could see the pain on my face from seeing those visions. My emotions couldn't take any more. Over the past few days, I'd gone from miserable, but Bella's safe, to agony: Bella's dead, to rapture: Bella's alive and here, to torment: Bella's going to be killed, to hope: Bella's okay but afraid of me, to bliss: Bella still loved me, to pain: I'd have to take her soul, to desire: the disastrous proposal, to despair: she said 'no.' Was it any wonder I felt overwhelmed? I was afraid to hope, now.

“Cheer up, Edward,” she said brightly. “It will happen. I'm just not sure when. You work on the timing, and I'll take care of everything else.”

Work on the timing? What part of 'no' did she not understand? I couldn't bear to hope that she was right. I felt like fate was dangling a carrot in front of me. The thing I prized most in the universe seemed to be so close, but when I reached out for it, cruel fate jerked it away.

Alice was paying no attention to my anguish. Her imagination started running wild with designer wedding dresses, extravagant flowers and towering cakes. “Ooh! Maybe a destination wedding! Europe? Hawaii? Something more exotic?” Images of Bella, her porcelain skin draped in a shimmering white sarong and carrying exotic orchids, briefly pounded my mind.

“Alice, stop it! I can't take it right now,” I moaned.

“Edward,” she said, finally calm – well, calm for Alice – “this wedding will happen. I can see it. The only thing that's uncertain is the timing. Don't let it get you down. I've been without my favorite brother for far too long to put up with you moping over something that's going to work out just fine.”

I wasn't sure if she made me feel better or worse. My mind was still too full for me to feel composed.

“Actually, this wedding will be much better than fine by the time I'm done with it,” she trilled. Thoughts of flowers, music, and “something blue” whirled through her mind again. Not surprisingly, the thought of “something borrowed” never occurred to her. Her plans occasionally mixed with memories of her own wedding to Jasper. Well, it could have been worse; she could have been remembering Rose and Emmett's extravagant weddings. It didn't take her three seconds to decide what I should wear, and then the dresses came back. “Shoot! Get out of here.”

I was about to remind her that I lived here too, and I needed a shower, when she danced off into the woods, wondering how long it would take her to learn to play the trumpet fanfare.

As much as I would have liked to, I couldn't stay mad at Alice. I knew she was just trying to help me, but it didn't work. Sometimes, Alice annoyed the fire out of me, but she was still my best friend. Our easy, effortless friendship was as natural as breathing in and out, and I had missed her dearly. I couldn't live without Bella, and I missed her every moment when I was gone, but I missed Alice nearly as much. She was like my own personal sun: it would take several billion years to exhaust her boundless energy and insufferably bright cheeriness. Alice made life much more interesting, although this particular 'interesting' might end with me strangling a very small vampire.

I shook my head and walked up to the house at human pace. It was comforting to see the large white house appear through the trees. All the scents of my home and my family blew around me in the wind just as if I had never left. I was relieved to be home again. As I began to relax, I found I started to be comforted by Alice's confidence. Perhaps Bella was just as emotionally overloaded as I was, and reacted out of shock. I did spring the proposal on her out of nowhere. Maybe she just needed more time. On my way into my room, I grabbed the ring, thinking I could steal an opportunity check its size while Bella slept. After all, Alice was rarely wrong. Bella, Carlisle, and Alice had each given me more than enough to think about, and I was looking forward to that shower to clear my mind. I needed to hurry now so I could be back to Bella's house – my other home – before she noticed I had gone. I didn't plan to have Bella out of my sight – except for things like showers – ever again.