After returning from the airport, Alice and I curled up on the couch in my bedroom, arm in arm, for her to tell me the unedited version of what happened in Volterra, and just how close we had come to losing a part of our family forever. This was one of those times when I was glad that Alice didn't always listen to me. I had asked her not to interfere, to obey Edward's wishes and to leave Bella alone. Thankfully, she paid no attention to me, and fortunately I am not one love short because of it. Or one brother.
Our family had been visiting in Denali when Alice had seen Bella's leap of death; our family minus one, who had been gone for months. For the past months while I had been studying philosophy at Cornell, trying to decipher the hows and whys of the human world, Edward was in South America, struggling to figure out the purpose in his own existence. An existence without Bella, without his cantante, his singer, as the Volturi called it.
I remembered a conversation that Emmett, Edward and I had after Bella Swan innocently stumbled into our lives and drove Edward to the point of fleeing to Alaska. Never had I thought that one human could alter the lives of our family so much, but now it was hard for me to picture ourselves without her.
On his return to Forks, we Cullen brothers had gone on a camping trip. A real one with minimal hunting involved. We travelled north to a mountain range, setting up camp in the dense forest with terrain too rocky for humans to come across us accidentally.
The first day, we caught Edward up on what he had miss while he was away, complete with a re-enactment of Rosalie and Alice's most recent argument over a pair of shoes where punches had been thrown and one of the cars in storage had been irreplaceably damaged. Rosalie now owed Carlisle a new Buick and she lost some shoes to Alice's wardrobe. We raced through the forest, creating little obstacles courses, chasing animals as we went. It was a day of fun, in celebration of the return of our missing brother. We were united once more.
On the second night it was different, and had a much more serious tone from the outset. We were sitting around the campfire and I could feel the tension coming off Edward in waves. He had the strangest combination of fear and excitement swirling around his body, signalling that we were finally going to talk about why he left Forks in the first place. I smirked to myself as the words crossed my mind, knowing that Edward would hear them. It's like you're getting ready for a first date.
Edward broke the silence of the forest with a snort. "It's a little more complicated than that, isn't it?"
Emmett looked away from the crackling fire and directly at Edward, grinning impishly. Emmett was used to starting in the middle of a conversation, after living with Edward for so long. We all were. He must have caught on to what we were talking about simply by the look on Edward's face. "Not really. Just don't kill her. We don't kill people all the time. Even Jasper hasn't killed anyone in years. If he doesn't have to kill people, neither do you."
"Might kill you in a minute if you keep talking." I picked up a jagged stone off the ground and flicked it at Emmett, smiling when it made contact with a satisfying crunching noise against his temple. Emmett scowled, which made my grin grow even larger.
"This is different. I'm not entirely sure I can explain. Her blood, its smell… it's calling to me, taunting me with its scent. A thousand times stronger than anything I've ever been near. Such a struggle to not sink my teeth into her…" Edward shook his head and swallowed "Just the thought of it now is driving me to the point of breaking, to want to go find her and…" He stood and started to walk around the circle, breathing deeply. He was right. I could almost taste the excitement and the thrill escaping from his body into the air. It was the feel we get from the hunt: the stalking, the attack and then the moment of ecstasy. He was trying to shake it off. "Have either of you had this happen? What makes her so unique?"
After living with the Cullens' for around 60 years, it still amused me that a bunch of misfit vampires had formed this family with such defined roles. Carlisle and Esme were the parents, the rest of us were siblings and despite being over 100 years old and being a vampire longer than each Alice, Esme, Rosalie and Emmett, Edward was forever the little brother. Maybe it had something to do with how unchanging vampires are and no matter what happens, part of Edward would always be 17 and a little lost in himself. As most little brothers do, he looked up to his big brothers for advice. In most traditional families, it was about girls. In our family, it's usually about blood. In this case, it's about both.
Sighing, I leaned back against the tree behind me, stretching my legs out in front, "I don't think I'm going to be any fountain of knowledge for you. They all smell the same to me."
At this Edward laughed, "Tasty?" though he took on a more serious expression when I shook my head slightly.
"Torture. What you are saying is what I feel like all the time. At least I hope so, because if any one person smells better than the rest, they wouldn't stand a chance." I looked back towards the fire to avoid looking at either of my brothers, "I'll slip". I hated being the weak one of the group. That's my familiar role: the black sheep. Alice always said that it was because of how I lived before in the south, but I'm not certain if that is true or not. Maybe underneath it all, I'm not cut out for this type of living. I want to be able to though, for Alice. "We're all lucky I wasn't nearby when you were overwhelmed by her. I wouldn't have been able to not kill her if your thirst was doubling with mine."
There was an eerie quiet passing through the circle and I was shocked to feel an uncommon emotion coming off Emmett. He felt ashamed, which is something that until that moment I had thought Emmett was incapable of. He was usually an open book, and did what he wanted and never looking back on his decisions. He was always confident and sure, except for right now. Tearing my eyes away from the flames, I saw Emmett fidgeting under Edward's gaze and in even more surprised that Edward had now shifted into feeling compassion for our brother. Edward sat back down on the rock and his soft voice broke the hush, letting me into the silent thoughts coming from Emmett. "Twice?"
I was dumbfounded as Emmett grimaced, "I couldn't do anything to stop it. It was like their blood was on fire and it was consuming me. I couldn't breathe or think straight. In my head it was as if it was a kill or be killed type situation. It's just like Jasper said, no chance. They were goners. The first time, I was still young and a human crossed our path while we were hunting. Carlisle chalked it up to being a newborn mistake, but I can still feel it calling to me. That one was different than other humans that I had come across so far, but I couldn't explain it. At the time I just thought I had gone too long without hunting, but looking back I know it was more than that. The second time… it was a girl working at a hotel we were staying at in the 70's. As soon as I walked in the door I was floored by everything about her: the way she looked, walked, smelled; the whole kit and caboodle. I held out for a couple days, but literally, I sucked at it and no one saw her again. She was my prey and no one or anything anyone could have done would have stopped me." I was shocked to hear Emmett start chuckling when he continued "I thought Rose was going to kill me right then and there for it. It was one of our honeymoons, and there I was, lusting after another woman."
Edward was upset at the thought that the situation may be out of his control; that Emmett's experience was crushing. He could probably hear Emmett thinking about how the girl tasted, just as I was feeling his emotions that the memory evoked. As ashamed of his failure as he was, the jubilation at the thought of how the blood tasted was ridiculous and impossible to ignore. I attempted to calm Edward down, but he shot me a glare with clear meaning. He'd rather be upset than falsely calm. I resisted intervening. "Is there any real chance of me being able to do this then? When I end up back at the school on Monday, is there any way that I will be able to not kill Bella Swan?"
"If there is, please find it. I rather like Forks, and I don't think that you killing the sheriff's daughter will make us all that popular. We'll have to move again." I took the chance that sarcasm might lighten Edward's mood. The shock of anger bounced back at me proved my mistake.
Emmett, not privy to Edward's internal frustration, played along, "Don't be stupid, Jasper. He'd at least be sneaky about it."
Edward growled deep in his throat, silencing our prodding and proving that Emmett had crossed a line with his last jibe. "That isn't funny. I'm not killing her. I want to keep her safe. I'm not a monster. I can control this. There's got to be some way to overcome it. Perhaps if I hunt more frequently…" Edward lapsed into his own thoughts, leaving Emmett and I looking helplessly at each other. After this week without Edward, I knew we were both thinking the same thing; what we had been talking about all week. This is a bad idea, it's just tempting fate.
Edward's head snapped back up, golden eyes challenging, "What do you mean, tempting fate?"
Groaning at my lack of ability to keep my mind private, I decided to air my thoughts on the topic of Bella Swan, "I think this is a bad idea. You and your obsession with this girl is going to get us all into trouble. Just get out of that damn biology class and avoid her the rest of the time. Hell, skip biology for the rest of the year and merely take the final if you actually care about passing for the sake of appearances. Just leave her alone."
Edward stares at me darkly, "Alice saw something while I was away." It was a statement, not a question. "She saw me killing Bella when I came back." I could almost taste the feelings of failure and disgust coming of Edward, it was so strong. Suddenly I feel a kinship toward Edward that I don't normally have. I understand where he's coming from, the inability to not feel defeated before even being tempted. The potential for disaster was imminent. "I don't want any harm to come to her. Before I wanted her blood, I had an overpowering urge to protect her from the world. It really is cruelly ironic."
Before I could stop him, Emmett bluntly says "Alice said you don't kill her. You turn her." which sparks something in Edward's eyes, and I know immediately that Emmett should have kept his big mouth shut and tried to keep his thoughts hidden. Edward stands up and within an instant, he runs off into the thickness of the trees. Typical.
Of all the things that Emmett could have said to upset him even more, that was the worst. It was bad enough that Edward had been thinking that he was going to kill this innocent girl, but now he had to deal with the thought that he was going to bite her and then have to see her everyday suffering in the personal hell that he created for her. Watching Emmett stare at the space that Edward used to occupy, it just slips out. "You really don't have any sort of tact, do you?"
"Nope. I call it as I see it. He'll be back." Emmett also stands up, evidently done with the topic of discussion. "Race you to the top of that tree? Use of thumbs only." And we are off, having a thumb race up a Douglas Fir, while my mind stays on Edward. I know that Emmett is right, and Edward will be back once he's thought things through. It is better that Emmett spilt what Alice saw now, rather than have him hear it unintentionally later when if flits through one of our minds. He could have said it a little more diplomatically, of course, but then he wouldn't be Emmett.
Edward comes back a couple hours later with a new look and feel of determination about him; he's practically oozing self confidence. He's obviously got a plan. "I'm going to tempt fate and prove Alice wrong, all at once. Bella Swan is going to stay alive. Stay human." Edward grins, "Jasper, you and I are going to be hunting. A lot. Everyday to start with. I think that if I stay sated, it will be easier to resist. I don't see a point of testing the limitations, as it will just be more dangerous for everyone." I have the feeling that he is trying to kill two birds with one stone, hunting with the weak link. Keeping me better fed will probably help him with this Swan girl, as he won't have to hear my thirst as well as his own. "Perhaps it will get easier over time? Being near her?"
I stayed quiet as it seemed that it was a rhetorical question, and I didn't have an answer for him anyway. I assumed that over time, it would have to. Edward's thirst for regular human blood had diminished over time, still present but less so, making me believe that this probably would too, but who was to say how long it would take. It could take decades for all we knew. We didn't have years. We had days. Whether or not he could or not didn't really matter to me, when I couldn't get over the question of why? Edward shrugged helplessly at my thought. He couldn't explain it either.
"Sure. You're a Cullen. We can do anything." This time, Emmett's unfiltered bluntness worked, and a smile broke onto Edward's face and he relaxed visibly, both internally and externally. It was exactly what he needed to hear. He didn't care that we didn't understand why, as long as we thought that he could do it.
Listening to Alice talk about Edward and Bella's reunion makes me wonder if I had met Alice before she was turned if she would have had the same reaction in me. There is no possibility that I could have been around her as a human – I wouldn't have had the strength. Would I have been able to stay away or to control myself? If I bit her would I have drained her or would I have been able to sustain myself to change her? Maybe I would have taken her to Maria to change. Perhaps I would simply do what Edward attempted, and just walk myself out of her life. No, I know that I wouldn't have been able to do that. To separate myself from the hope and love that radiates us when we are together would be impossible.
"Edward and Bella are on their way to the house." Alice giggles, "She's going to ask us to vote to decide if she should be turned into a vampire. Edward's going to be quite irritated."
I know without hesitation that I'll vote yes. Bella feels the same way about Edward that I feel for Alice, and I know better than anyone how strong that is. The day that Edward first brought Bella into our home, I could feel it; their connection. Devotion and love filled my body just being near them, and finally I understood my little brother's determination during our camping trip. Unlike the rest of my family, I don't refrain from killing humans because of morals or a claim on humanity. I do it for Alice, and I would do anything that she wanted of me, just so that I can keep her as close as possible. I shuddered at the thought of how close I had been to losing her while she was in Volterra, as I pulled her tighter into my arms. I don't know what I would do if I were to lose this. Suddenly, Edward's Volturi plan makes much more sense to me.
Alice spoke up suddenly, "You know, what? I think you're mine." I gave her a questioning look because in my mind I have always been hers, "My singer. I was pulled towards you. If I hadn't waited for you in that diner, we would have found each other at another time."
I'm continuously blown away by the hope that Alice floods into my soul. It can lift me up, spin me around and I'd give anything to be dizzy like this for the rest of our eternal lives. "I know. That's why I'm voting yes. There's no way that those two, like us, should be separated. I know that I wouldn't want that. Wouldn't be able to stand it." I leaned in and I felt my lips being met by Alice's, and in this moment we aren't vampires. I'm able to feel warmth spreading between us, and we are simply a young married couple in love. I love that unlike other couples, I can always feel that the feeling and power between us is genuine, and that nothing is stronger. Alice pulls back from out kiss, smiling at me with her whole body and I can feel mine mirroring her excitement.
I return the smile, and stand up, gently lifting Alice to her feet with me. "Come, love. They've arrived. We need to give Bella our blessing. Who are we to stop fate?"