“But you won’t change me. You won’t make me your equal,” Bella said.
“I would think,” he said carefully, “after what you saw, that you’d be grateful for that.”
She recalled, with a clarity she hoped time would loosen, the sounds and sights of their visit with the Volturi had left her with.
“I want to be with you,” she said. “I love you.”
He breathed out, “despite everything I’ve done. I don’t deserve you,” he said, “but I love you. More than you could possibly understand.” He pressed his forehead to hers. “I won’t damn you, Bella. Not to this frozen half-life. No.”
She grimaced, but didn’t pull away. His touch still felt so tenuous. She wasn't’ entirely convinced she wouldn’t wake up and find this had been a dream. “I will grow old, Edward. I will die.”
“Yes,” he said, “but you will have a life between now and then. A long, beautiful life full of experience.”
She imagined the very short time they would be seen as a couple, to the world, anyway. Then she would be seen as his mother, and then his grandmother.
“What is it?” he said.
She shook her head. “People will think I’m your mother, Edward, and then your grandmother.”
“And when,” he said, “has what other people think ever bothered you?” He pulled back, hands still on hers, an eyebrow arched.
Her brow furrowed. “ That matters to me,” she said softly.
“Do we need the company of the world, if it thinks that way of us?” He asked, just as quietly
“Don’t you see how unequal this will make us, leave us?” Bella asked. Tears were close now. She had just gotten him back. It felt dangerous, having this conversation. What if he just left again? But...if he stayed, and she continued to grow, what then? A more vital fear struck her. “And the Volturi? They won’t forget what you promised.”
“No,” he said. His chuckle surprised her. “They won’t forget, Bella, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a good sixty years before they remembered to check.” Seeing her disbelieving look, he added, “think about it. They’ve been alive for thousands of years. Their concept of time is so distant to yours, it’s hard for me to explain. I’ve heard their thoughts Bella. Trust me. They are the least of your worries.”
But she didn’t trust him. Not with this. And not with his other judgement.
He pulled her closer, trying to move the conversation away from this morbid topic. “I love you, Bella,” he said softly.
She could barely speak, her heart was thumping in her throat. She felt like she could breathe again, having him here. Her hands traced his cheeks, and then his shoulders, his back. His own stopped hers before they could go further.
Then he leaned in and kissed her.
The world stopped.
A silence that subdued all other sensations descended, and all that there was, was him, there, and her, lips together with his, and the air between them shared.
It couldn’t last long enough, as far as Bella was concerned.
But it ended.
It always ended.
His eyes were a sparkling black. Deep, entrancing, and entirely lethal.
She hated to be separated from him, but knew he needed to hunt. Knew he’d denied himself to a point of wasting. “You need to hunt,” she said.
“I’m fine,” he said.
It was her turn to raise a disbelieving eyebrow. “I doubt it,” she said. “And considering your insistence on me sleeping, and eating, and generally taking care of myself, you don’t get to skimp.”
“I’m fine,” he said again.
She took in a deep breath, and let it out. She knew that her efforts on this front would be in vain. “Alright,” she said, “but I think I should try to get back to sleep.” She cleared her throat, “and I think having you here might be something of a distraction.”
Edward didn’t believe her for a minute, but accepted that she needed the space. He didn’t want to go far, but perhaps he could hunt a short distance away if she needed some time. He looked at her, his eyes marginally narrowed. “I’ll go hunt then,” he said, “if you’re sleeping. Alice,” he added, “will be nearby.” Seeing Bella’s eyebrows furl, he explained, “I don’t think there’s any danger, but I want to be certain. I’ll be back in the early morning.”
“OK,” Bella said, closing her eyes as he touched her face again. “Be careful too,” she said. “Don’t forget to come back.”
He smiled, whispering “see you soon,” and was gone.
Bella knew she couldn’t sleep. Wouldn’t be able to until the next night at the earliest, after how long she’d been out. She settled, instead, for the reliable company of a book, curling her legs up under her, and spreading out the pages in her hands. The text was a well loved one, and laid flat easily, its words skipping over themselves in familiarity.
After a good half an hour, Bella figured Edward would be well out of earshot. “Alice?” She whispered. “You there?”
“Yes,” came the soft reply, Alice’s form appearing silently in her room.
It was still startling, even having been with her in the last few days, to see her, and witness her silent speed.
“Sorry,” she added. “Shall I ring the doorbell next time?”
Bella gave a small smile in response, but became more serious. “Can he hear us?”
There was no question as to who.
“No,” Alice said, “I told him to actually hunt properly. I doubt he will, but he’s far enough way to pretend he is.” She shrugged, but then looked at Bella, features solemn. “You sure you want to have the answer to your question?”
“I haven’t asked you a question, Alice.”
Alice was serious, though, and ignored her quip. “Are you sure?” She asked instead.
“Yes,” Bella said, just as firmly, sitting up fully, as Alice sat beside her.
“There is no chance, no,” she said softly. “Not from the decisions I saw him making.”
Bella closed her eyes, and swallowed, nodding.
“There is some good news, though.”
Bella snapped open her eyes quickly, turning her head to look squarely at Alice’s now yellow eyes.
“They won’t come looking for the next year, maybe more, but certainly not in the next year and a half. Maybe two.”
“Why?” Bella asked.
Alice frowned. “From what I could see, there are problems in the Sudan.”
“The conflict there?”
Alice’s face shifted into an apologetic smile, “war is an easy cover for our kind, run amok,” she said softly. “There’s already a lot of tension there between religious groups. It didn’t take much to foment it. But,” she sighed, “the Volturi are concerned enough with the elements at play to deal with it, so that will consume a good chunk of their time.”
Bella nodded, thinking.
“I meant it, Bella,” Alice said. “I will change you, if you want me to.”
“Thank you,” Bella said, putting her hand over Alice’s. “But...if he doesn’t want it, what’s the point?”
She pulled her fingers away to wipe her cheeks.
“Bella—” Alice started, a soft reprimand in her voice.
“No,” she said. “I’m right. If he doesn’t want me to be with him that way, it means he wants me to be human. That...perhaps he only wants me as a human. Not as an equal. And,” she blew out a sharp breath through her nose, “we’ve seen how that’s worked out.”
Alice could only agree with this last statement, her sympathetic smile curling up, but then wilting on her lips.
They sat together, each mulling over their own thoughts. Alice avoided looking at Bella’s future, trying to give her some privacy.
Bella’s next request, though, made Alice look at her wide eyed.
“Not at all?” She asked, blinking in disbelief.
“Only if I ask,” Bella said.
“And if Edward does?” Alice asked, tilting her head forward in emphasis. “I can’t just tell him I don’t see anything.”
“No,” Bella said, “I don’t expect you to. Tell him I asked you not to.”
It was Alice’s turn to sigh dramatically.
“I’m not trying to be difficult Alice,” Bella said, “but if he wants me to have a human life, then it needs to be a human life. One with surprises—and privacy, for me.”
Bella watched Alice thinking, the emotions playing out over her face.
“Do you not think I deserve that? If he wants me to be human?”
“Yes,” Alice said quickly, “I’m just...thinking about how I’m going to handle this. Sometimes, things just...come, unbidden.”
“Then they do. I won’t fault you for it. But, please, try to keep it to yourself.”
“Alright,” Alice said. “Speaking of which,” she said quietly. “You’re about to be interrupted—by your dad.”
She was there one second, and gone the next.
“Bells?” Charlie’s voice called from the door, a sibilant whisper.
“Yeah Dad,” Bella called back.
“You talking to yourself or something?”
“Yeah, actually, I was,” she lied. “Rehearsing my apology.”
He sat down beside her, giving a quiet snort, “I’ll say.”
He’d had a day and a bit to calm down since the night she’d returned home, and she’d slept through almost all of it. “You’re grounded,” he said succinctly, “forever.”
Bella nodded, mouth a grim line, “kinda figured,” adding, “Sorry, Dad, for frightening you. For taking off.”
Then he pulled her into a hug. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”
“I won’t,” she said, and meant it. At least, not for a year and a half. Or, until the Volturi found her, and killed her.
Or, she realized, with a more visceral horror, they came looking for her, and found Charlie instead.
“I should head back to bed,” Charlie said, “and you should probably try to get some sleep.”
Bella could only nod wordlessly, the horrors of what might be swirling before her.
It wouldn’t do, she realized, to wait on Edward’s choice. Not at all. She needed her own plan, and now that she had Alice’s promise of privacy, she had the means to make it.