Once the shock wore off of Alice's declaration, the family tried to make sense of her vision.
"Tell us everything you saw," Carlisle said.
"It's not very clear. We rush outside. We're waiting for something. We're just standing there, and then it's gone. Everything is gone!" Alice's hysteria rose with each word she spoke. Jasper placed his hand on her back.
"Is there anything else?" Jasper asked. "A date or time?"
"It's light out. Morning. Early morning. Two days from now."
"What leads up to it?" Carlisle asked.
Alice shook her head. "I don't know. It isn't clear."
"Where are we?"
"On the lawn. In front of the house."
"Who's there?" Jasper added.
"All of us. Well, minus Edward and Bella. But that doesn't mean they aren't there too."
"Anyone else? A third party? Emmett or Rosalie?" Carlisle asked.
"No, just the four of us."
"Could it have something to do with Bella?" Esme asked in a cautious tone, hopeful there was a simple explanation to Alice's vision yet not wanting to upset either Edward or Bella. "She blocks Edward's future. Perhaps she starts to block ours."
Bella glanced at Edward, worry coloring her expression. This was what she feared—being detrimental to the family, being asked to leave. Edward wrapped his arm around her waist and gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
Alice shook her head again. "Possibly, but I don't think so. Maybe if we were all just sitting around, then yeah, it could be Bella. But something draws us outside. We're all standing there." Her eyes widened. "It's like when Edward came back from hunting, before…" She trailed off, gesturing to Esme. "I saw that there would be a confrontation; I just couldn't see what happened because it concerned Bella."
"Maybe it's something similar to that. I'm sure everything will be okay," Esme said.
"But your futures didn't disappear then. Now they do. Every one of us!"
"Alice," Edward interrupted. "When Jasper was helping Bella earlier, could you see his future?"
"So the only future she affects is mine?"
Silence fell around the room as everyone absorbed that piece of information.
Jasper cleared his throat. "You realize you're telling us we're all going to die?"
"I never said that."
"But you're saying it can't be her, which only leaves one option!"
"Calm down, Jasper," Carlisle said. "There could be any number of reasons Alice sees what she does. It doesn't mean we cease to exist." He turned to Alice. "What about Emmett and Rosalie?"
Alice zoned out as she peeked into the future. "I see them. They're in Alaska still. They'll be fine."
Carlisle retrieved the phone from his pocket. Everyone stared at him as he hesitated, thumb hovering over the screen.
"Carlisle?" Alice asked.
"I have to let them know."
"Why, so they can die with us?" Jasper snapped.
"What would you have me do?" It wasn't often Carlisle raised his voice, but when he did, he demanded attention. Jasper closed his mouth mid-protest. Alice jumped. Even Edward stood a bit straighter. "I would never ask any of you to die for me, or for anyone else. I may have given you this life, but I don't expect you to give it up for me. I owe it to them to let them make their own decisions. I won't ask them to offer support, but I will explain what Alice sees."
"How would you feel if you found out we were all gone? What kind of guilt would you live with knowing you may have been able to help?"
Jasper looked at his feet.
"That's what I thought."
He dialed and held the phone to his ear.
Edward tightened his hold on Bella.
But I just found her.
"It's that nomad," Edward hissed. "I know it. It has to be."
"Do you really think one vampire could be detrimental to us?" Esme asked.
"Maybe it was naïve of us to think him alone," Jasper said.
"You don't think…" Esme gulped and looked around. She lowered her voice to a whisper, as if someone could be eavesdropping, listening undetected from afar. "We violated the rule with Bella. Could we have been found guilty of some sort of capital offense?"
"She's a vampire now," Edward said. "What would it matter?"
"Her father's not," Alice said.
"Is my dad going to be okay?"
Alice's eyes glazed over for a split second. She gasped as the future changed.
"What is it?" Jasper asked.
"Carlisle, tell them not to come, please," she begged. "Their futures are gone now too!"
Carlisle opened his mouth to speak. No sound came out. He closed his eyes and hung his head. "Okay, see you both tonight." He disconnected the call and pocketed the phone. "They said they don't care. They're leaving right now." His voice was hollow, sad. He believed telling them was the right decision, but he wished they would have made a different choice.
No one commented. No one said anything at all. Bella waited for someone to blame her, to tell her it really was time to go. Edward, too, if he wanted to argue.
"What do we do now?" Esme asked.
"We wait, I suppose. What else can we do?"
Bella didn't know what to do or what to make of Alice's vision. All she knew was that in two days' time, she would still be alive. Because when Alice had seen their futures vanish, Bella saw herself running into the woods, carrying a lifeless body in her arms.
"You seem nervous."
Bella stopped pacing and eyed Edward, who sat sideways on the couch. She took in his easy expression and relaxed posture.
"You're not?" she asked.
"Should I be?"
"They're the ones who wanted to kill me. I drove them out of their own home."
Bella continued wearing a path in the carpet. Edward held up his finger.
"Technically, Rosalie suggested to kill you, and it was me who drove them away, not you."
"Comforting," Bella muttered.
"It should be. They didn't leave because of you. They left because I was…" Edward shook his head. He lowered his voice. "Crazy."
Bella approached the couch. Edward swung his feet to the floor and patted the spot next to him. She sat, and he slung his arm across her shoulders.
"What's done is done," he continued. "They'll accept you. They'll do it for me."
It wasn't until he said the words that Bella realized acceptance was exactly what she was worried about. It was ridiculous. She shouldn't care about anyone's opinion of her, especially people she didn't even know.
But she did.
Ever since her change, she'd felt scrutinized by everyone. Every move she made, everything that came out of her mouth, even the way she acted toward Edward—she'd been under a constant state of judgment. She was finally becoming comfortable in her own skin, finally felt like she wasn't under a microscope. She wasn't ready to start over again with someone new.
She didn't want Edward's family to dislike her, whether she was here against her will or of her own accord. And she absolutely abhorred the idea of making anyone feel uncomfortable in their own home.
"Maybe so, but what if… what if whatever is about to happen is because of me?"
"Don't be silly." Edward smiled as he tugged a lock of her hair.
"I'm serious. Do you really think it's Theodoros?"
"I don't know, but I hope so."
"So I can finish him off. Besides, if it's not him—" Edward shook his head. "I don't know what else it could be."
"What do you think he wants with us?"
"I'm not sure," Edward lied.
He won't take her from me.
Bella's mouth dropped open. Edward's eyes widened in response.
"You think he wants me?"
"No," Edward answered before the question was completely out of her mouth.
"Yes, you do!" Bella argued. "You think he wants me. Literally. I heard you."
"Let go of me!"
Edward hadn't realized he'd taken her by her upper arms. He loosened his hold, but he didn't release her completely.
"You know I won't let anything happen to you. As long as I'm breathing, you belong to me. I will protect you or die trying."
Bella thought about Alice's vision. All of their futures stopped. Every single one of them.
All but hers.
"Maybe that's what I'm afraid of."
Edward's face softened. He slid his hands down her arms, until his fingers encircled her wrists.
"I don't know what makes Alice's talent work, but I know she's been wrong before. I've seen it. And now, with her emotions so high, she's probably missing something."
"So you don't believe everyone is going to die?"
"I refuse to accept that outcome."
Bella pushed away from him. "That doesn't mean it won't happen, Edward!"
The defeat was clear in Edward's voice, in his eyes. Bella's heart sank. This was a man she should rightfully hate, but all she could feel was sorrow. She might not have wanted this life when she was human, but now that she had it, she didn't want to lose it. She couldn't imagine living for over a hundred years in pristine health—as a superior being—only to be faced with the possibility of dying.
She would end up alone after all, but the thought of that didn't have her as upset as the thought of Edward being gone.
Actually gone. No longer of this world.
Edward reached for her. Bella didn't hesitate to move closer, to let him fold her in his arms and hold her like it might be the last time.
"How does a vampire die?" she asked. "I know you lied before."
She couldn't tell if it was a warning or a plea for her to stop.
"Please. I want to know."
Edward took a deep breath and expelled it through his nose. Bella closed her eyes as it fanned across her hair. She didn't want to know the answer, but she had to.
"I didn't lie, technically. Decapitation is the only way to immediately incapacitate a vampire. Arms, legs… you can break them down, but it takes longer that way. A vampire ceases to function without a head. There's a sense of awareness, but nothing else. No sight, sound, smell. It's quite miserable, actually."
"Don't be. I'm glad once was enough to get it out of your system." Edward's teasing mood didn't last long. He sighed. "We heal quickly, but Carlisle believes there's a window for reattaching body parts. He's seen too many vampires with missing arms or hands to assume they were human injuries. And unless the body part is destroyed, what else would keep it from adhering?"
"So how can you be sure if you've actually killed someone?"
"Well, for starters, not many vampires who lose their heads have a companion to reattach them. I'm probably a rare case. None of us have ever seen anyone with a scar like mine. But if you want to be absolutely sure, you have to destroy them. We like to use fire. It removes all evidence of life."
"Got it. Next time I leave, I'll take your head with me."
Bella waited for Edward to laugh. He didn't.
"I've told you, little newborn." He spoke so softly, Bella found herself straining to hear. "You'd better find a way to kill me when you decide to go, because I can't live without you."
"You would rather die than hear the voices? If you were a human, they'd lock you up."
"I'm being serious, Bella."
Bella shifted in his arms. Edward allowed her to reposition herself and then held her tighter.
"I wish I'd been strong enough to handle things differently when I found you. I let my instincts take over, and I fear I've ruined any chance at having a meaningful relationship with you. I used to think if I could keep you, if I could have your silence, then nothing else mattered. I thought you'd forgive me in time. Bella, you mean more to me than anything else on this Earth. I would take it all back if I could. I would gladly listen to every thought for the rest of my existence if it meant you would be happy."
"Edward, don't," Bella interrupted.
"No. I have to say this because I might not get another chance. I'm sorry. For everything. I'm not sure if I could have resisted taking you that day, but I shouldn't have kept you like I did. I shouldn't have forced this life upon you. You were willing to compromise, and maybe you wouldn't hate me as much if I'd agreed. Maybe we'd have a better relationship. Maybe we wouldn't have one at all; I don't know. I do know one thing, though: I didn't deserve you for the span of your human life, and I sure as hell don't deserve you for the duration of mine."
"Please just… don't," she said again.
"Why not? I'm trying here, Bella. Or does my apology mean nothing to you as well?"
"I don't want your apology!" Bella pried his arms from around her and stood. She resumed pacing the same path she had all afternoon. "I don't want you to be sorry. I don't want you to wish you'd made a different decision!"
Edward frowned. He couldn't imagine why she wouldn't want him to be sorry for what he'd done.
"I don't understand."
"I forgive you, Edward! I forgive you because you made me believe you didn't have a choice! You were the one who said we were meant to be together, that it was fate. Now you're telling me you were wrong?"
Bella's eyes pricked with invisible tears. Her throat even tightened like it had when she was human.
"What was the point?" she continued. "What was the point of everything if you decide now that you made the wrong choice? That I was the wrong choice?"
Edward cursed and rubbed his face with his hands. He wanted to scream and cry and break everything in the house. He couldn't do anything right by her.
"You asked me once which I wanted more, you or your silence." He looked at Bella, waiting for her to interrupt, to tell him to stop again. She paused mid stride and met his eyes. Edward took a deep breath and swallowed against the lump in his throat. "I want you. But I don't get to choose one or the other. I get all or nothing, and I would rather you be happy than be with me and be miserable."
"But you tell me all the time you don't want me to leave."
Edward cracked a sardonic smile. "Haven't you learned? I'm a selfish man. I'll take whatever I can get." He lowered his eyes, and the smile faded from his face. "Don't misunderstand. I meant every word I said. We were destined to be together, one way or another."
"Wow, just when I start to think maybe you aren't as creepy as I originally thought, you go and say something like that."
"Damn it!" Edward punched the arm of the couch, leaving a dent where his fist made contact. "Do you ever take anything I say seriously?"
"Not typically, no," Bella said without missing a beat.
"If I told you to jump, you'd sit your ass down on the floor."
Bella turned away so he couldn't see her smile. "Just because I agreed to stay doesn't mean I'll make it easy on you."
"So I've gathered." Edward dropped his head back until it rested on the couch. The girl was still as infuriating as ever.
And he liked it.
He felt his lips curve into a smile.
"Do you really forgive me?" he asked.
Edward didn't know what the immediate future would hold, but for the first time, he was confident that things between Bella and him would be okay.