Author's Note: Hi everyone! Thank you so much for all of the positive reviews. I've got about a month before the Fall semester at University begins, so I'm going to try to get as much writing as possible done. I'm also working on The Island right now, so my attentions are a bit divided. Nevertheless, I shall soldier on, as they say. This story is close to my heart, and all of the wonderful things you guys have had to say have made it a top priority. Now, I'll try not to waste any more of your time with my pointless drabble. On with the story!

The Midnight Carnival

The darkness was complete and impenetrable, almost tangible in it's thick, suffocating blackness. Her only guide was the warm, strong hand clasped firmly onto hers, pulling her away from the pounding footsteps that followed and further into the mysterious ally ways of the city ahead. She had no idea where she was, no idea who her savior was, and no idea what was going to happen to her. To her ears, it sounded as if the footsteps were still just as loud. The other two men were keeping up, only ten yards or so behind if she had to make a guess. At the rate that they were going, it was going to be a battle of endurance, and she wasn't sure her wobbly legs would hold out for much longer.

Her heart beat loudly inside her chest, hammering against her ribcage, made worse by every single second that they ran. Her body wasn't used to such strenuous activity, and only adrenaline and fear kept her going. An agonizing pain began to dully ache in her side, and her lungs felt like they were on fire. How far had they run? It didn't seem like they'd been running for long, but she had never pushed herself this hard before. The firm hand holding hers gave her no chance to slow down. She felt that if she stopped, the man holding on to her would not stop and she'd merely be towed along like a kite refusing to fly in the wind that instead bobs fruitlessly against the ground, catching it's sharp corners at every chance.

"I can't… keep… going!" she panted quietly to the man cloaked in darkness. She still hadn't seen his face and had no idea who he was. A part of her worried he might be just as crazed as the ones before that had cornered her in the ally. Maybe more so. But what alternative did she have? She could either trust him or go back to the drunken men who chased her. At least with the one holding her hand she stood a chance.

A sudden jerk pulled her against the cold cement wall of one of the buildings lining the ally, and a warm hand covered her mouth and smothered the cry of surprise that burst from her lips. He'd been so quick, she hadn't had even a split second to prepare for the sensation of suddenly being pressed roughly against the cold exterior wall. Her breath caught in her throat and she didn't think she could have made a sound of protest even if he wasn't covering her mouth with his hand. She was frozen in shock, her mind not working fast enough to keep up with all that was happening.

She could feel the man's body against her own and her eyes bulged in fear, her body going tense, getting ready to try and pull away from him. The hand over her mouth was firm and unyielding. His body felt lean and hard and warm beneath the clothing that separated them, and she could feel his steady heartbeat, their proximity was so close. Her worst fears had been right, she realized, a whole new wave of panic setting in. This man didn't mean to help her. He had just wanted to get her alone for god-knows-what. And now that warm, guiding hand was covering any screams she might have made. Even though she couldn't see his face, she felt fear bubbling up in her belly as she imagined oddly menacing features where the shadows obscured his face.

The sound of the pounding footsteps against the asphalt behind them grew louder as the two men approached, and the man covering her mouth got even closer, pushing her further into the shadows. Their bodies pressed tightly together, and she was wedged there, unable to make a move. Her back was to the cold wall and her front was to the warm body of the man in front of her. He was taller than her, and the top of her head only reached the bottom of his chin. She could smell the linen of his shirt, the aroma of his cologne- a sharp contrast from her previous pursuers. This man didn't smell like alcohol or stale smoke, or anything like she thought a criminal would smell. He smelled like the rain in Washington and crisp soap and sandalwood and the way a fresh notebook smells when you first open it. Bella frowned at the irony of it all. She'd have never thought she'd be murdered by a man who smelled like heaven.

The footsteps reached a crescendo as her quiet breathing became shallow with anxiety and fear. They were going to be seen, and she was going to be ruthlessly murdered while suffering a panic attack, she was sure. The two pursuers would surely see them, would discover their ill-concealed hiding place. But the steps got louder and then began to fade away as they kept running, and she realized with a start that her two pursuers had run right past them without even realizing her rescuer and her were tightly pressed together in the murky shadows of a nondescript building. The powerful thudding of her heart evened out ever so slightly, and the hand over her mouth loosened then dropped to the man's side. She could feel him press his forehead to the wall beside her in a moment of relief, and their faces and bodies were very close. His warm, sweet breath tickled the fine hairs along her neck and she shivered in the warm, muggy night. He sighed quietly, his face almost touching her shoulder, and then released her from the confines his body had created. Her body was still tense with anxiety, unsure if the real danger had passed yet. Perhaps this one was the worst of them all- a wolf in sheep's clothing that was taking advantage of her already naïve and gullible nature. Who knew what sorts of perverse things the man pressed intimately against her had in mind.

"Shh," he warned very quietly, and his hand took hers again. He slowly pulled her forward, and it felt as if he was searching the wall for something. Bella's free hand too felt along the cement, but for balance. She couldn't even see her own hand in front of her face in the inky darkness of the night, much less where she was going. He, on the other hand, seemed very comfortable with their surroundings, as if he knew the area well. His hand was roaming the cement wall till he found the handle of an industrial sized door Bella would never have suspected was there, and he gently tugged on it, testing it. To Bella's astonishment, the door quietly opened and music spilled out from within. An amber wash of flickering light illuminated the stained concrete, but she wasn't quick enough to look up into his face. The man pulled her into the building, and she followed, too surprised to raise a protest.

The door shut behind them, and inside the music was deafening. Blue and red lights pulsed in the dark, open building, and she could see innumerable bodies throbbing to the music, dancing in an erotic rhythm. It was too dark to make out features, just a sea of skin and dark clothing. Sweat glistened on their young, beautiful bodies, which grinded together magnetically. It was an ocean, a tide of dancers crammed into the warehouse turned night club, and they had yet to notice the arrival of two uninvited guests. It didn't exactly seem to Bella like the kind of place that one just casually strolled into. There was a dark, menacing aura to the entire crowd of people, and the way they moved together made her stomach churn a little bit. She tried to look away from them, embarrassed by the way women rubbed like cats in heat against their partners, the way the men wore cold, cruel, calculating smiles, but her eyes were drawn to them like magnets. Bella's dark brown eyes reflected the changing lights, and then turned upward as the warm hand released her own. Something inside of her seemed to snap and she became more aware of herself, as if she had been half asleep before and had just woken up. She looked up into the eyes of her protector and was met with a gaze of simmering liquid gold.

She had seen those eyes before. Eyes like that were unforgettable, thought Bella, swallowing hard as she looked into the handsome face of Edward Cullen. At age thirteen, Edward had been beautiful to her. Now the word beauty still defined him, but it was masculine, it was more mature, it was captivating. Mesmerizing. He stared back at her, and she felt as if he was trying to read her, as if he could see right down into her soul. She felt as if her whole heart and soul were open to this man, this man she had thought she'd never see again. She squirmed uneasily under the intensity of his gaze until he finally lowered his eyes. It seemed as if he had been lost deep in his thoughts and hadn't realized how intensely he had been staring at her just a moment earlier.

How many times had her thoughts wandered to the mysterious boy in the attic? How many times had she thought of those piercing golden eyes and wondered what thoughts lay behind them? Her mind flashed with the memory of venturing into the strange, fairytale house, of the beautiful mother and the strange, dark-eyed sister. Of her blood in the snow, of the broken shards of glass from the window, of the red note that he had left for her, that had said nothing more than 'thank you' yet had spoken volumes. Oceans of sentiment had been spoken in those two words. Years ago she had tried to save him from the torment of her cruel, thirteen year old peers, and now he had saved her from the malicious attempts of the three men in the dark ally.

She opened her mouth to say something, but she wasn't sure what. Her lips parted and no sound came out. She longed for the right words to say, but didn't know what they were. She could hardly think over the roar of the music and felt claustrophobic in the tight grind of bodies, even though she was standing at the periphery next to the door they had entered through. She looked questioningly at Edward, confused as to why he had been there at the exact moment she needed him, but grateful all the same. She wanted to tell him she knew who he was, that she could never repay him, but those words weren't right. With the volume of the music she could hardly think straight. Even if she had the perfect words to say, it was doubtful he would hear them in the strange place they had stumbled into.

The loud music of the song ended, and rather than blending into the next, a spotlight suddenly appeared that illuminated a man on a platform at the other end of the darkened, mysterious night club they had staggered into. Bella shielded her eyes against the bright white light that blinded her after the near-darkness, trying to see better and simultaneously blend in with the backdrop. She subconsciously drew in on herself, her shoulders slouching in as she tried uselessly to take up less space, to be less obtrusive than she was already. She felt ill at ease in the strange nightclub. She wanted to get out of there, but she feared her attackers would find her. Her brown eyes adjusted and the blurry silhouette sharpened into a visible image. The man in the spotlight wore a purple suit and reminded Bella of a court jester. His wide, joker smile was aimed right at her, and a cold feeling of dread washed over her.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said the jester, his voice reverberating through the sound system. "It seems we have guests!"All eyes turned on Bella and Edward- dark, glittering, hungry eyes, and suddenly the spotlight was on them. Bella shielded her eyes against the bright light, and Edward glared into the blinding luminescence, his mouth a firm frown. Bella could no longer see the people's faces, just their silhouettes. They were cast into shadow, but she could feel their eyes roaming her body and face as if she was an item at auction. Her stomach writhed with a pit of unease. There was something very, very wrong with this place, thought Bella, eyes darting all around.

The jester in the purple suit left his podium and the crowd cleared for him like he was Moses parting the waters as he crossed the room and came to stand before Bella and her rescuer. His long hair, the color of weak tea, was tied back at the nape of his neck, exaggerating his long neck and the oddly sinewy look of it.

"Welcome, friends…" he said with a wide, sardonic smile. "to The Midnight Carnival!"

The crowd cheered and Bella cowered. She didn't know what was going on anymore, she couldn't see the faces of the people staring at her, and everything felt like it was a part of some strange, unbelievable nightmare. Who were these people and what was this place? Did Edward know where they were? Had he taken her here on purpose? Or was he as taken aback as she was?

The jester strode between them and threw his arms around both their shoulders. He was extremely tall and skinny, like a human scarecrow, and his ashy brown hair stuck out at off ends around his smiling face. Bella didn't trust that smile for a minute.

"What brings you two to the Midnight Carnival?" he asked, grinning back and forth between them. His voice boomed, loud and clear enough for all to hear. Bella realized that she and Edward had unknowingly become a spectacle, and now they were both a part of the 'show'. Bella glanced anxiously up at Edward, too frozen to speak.

"We were just leaving," said Edward briskly, his voice gruff. There was an excited murmur from the crowd of writhing, half-clothed bodies, and it set Bella on pins and needles. She had never been in such a strange place in all her life. She felt as if she was in a dream, or maybe a nightmare. Her palms itched and she wanted suddenly to hide behind Edward, but her feet felt like they were glued to the floor. Her whole body was petrified in fright.

"Oh, no, no, no!" laughed the jester. "No one leaves the Midnight Carnival without first having a little fun…"

The man's long, thin arms were surprisingly strong and suddenly pushed Bella and Edward apart and toward the crowd, which swallowed them up and into the tide. The lights darkened to a vivid maroon that made everyone around her look like demons, and all of them pushed her further away from her savior, touching her, caressing her, stroking her long, brown hair as she was carried away. For a moment she saw Edward's golden eyes searching for her, but then the gap closed and he was out of sight.

The music began playing, and the people languidly slid against one another, against her, grinding and weaving their bodies hypnotically. A cup of something was pressed into her hand, and she tried to give it back, but the person was already gone, and there was nowhere to set the drink down.

"Such a pretty girl," said one man, handsome and fair-haired. "Why were you out there by yourself?"

She looked up into his eyes, and she felt like they should be blue, but the strange lights turned them violet. "I- I have to go." she murmured, and pressed herself between two dancing people to get away, spilling her drink all over them and herself. She didn't stop to apologize. She just knew she had to get out. Instead of parting for her and letting her pass through, the crowd tightened around her, corralling her in. A nervous dread began to wash over her as she failed repeatedly at trying to press through and between people.

One man's hand stroked through her long hair, lifting a lock of it to his nose so he could take a long waft. Bella spun around, eyes wide in shock and fear, her mouth a tight line that slashed across her face. Worry painted her expression, betraying the fear she felt and tried to keep hidden. It reached the surface though, clear for all to see. The man's hand caressed her cheek and she shuddered away, but the crowd was at her back, trapping her next to him.

"Mmm, this one smells like a virgin," he purred, his eyes devouring her as if she was some rare morsel. The erotic figures around her cocked their heads in interest, cruel smiles on their lips.

"Virgin…" sighed another, growing excited. More took notice and Bella slumped further in on herself, tightly closing her eyes and wishing she had a pair of ruby slippers to click together. Maybe this was all some terrible dream, her mind said, and she fervently hoped that it was.

"Virgin," the crowd began to murmur in excited whispers that gradually grew louder and louder.

Her eyes stayed tightly shut, refusing to see, and she began whisper to herself. "This isn't real, this isn't real, this isn't real." she repeated over and over again, her lips moving rapidly even though the sound was hardly audible. And in one great lurch, she felt her feet leave the ground.

Her eyes snapped open, looking around wildly and then looking down and realizing she had been hoisted above the crowd, carried along by the human torrent of hands high above their heads. She fought against them, kicking and twisting and trying to get away, but it was useless. She never stood a chance. Hands grabbed at her and pushed her further toward a mysterious destination, and suddenly she found herself on the raised platform next to the jester once more, staring wide eyed at the crowd below, searching for a pair of golden orbs to comfort her, but he was gone, or at least invisible to her.

The jester's long, wiry fingers wrapped around her shoulders and he towered thinly over her. "Dear friends, dear friends!" he called, getting everyone's full attention. "A true treat! The Midnight Club has just received a sacrifice!" he called out, and the crowd rippled and jostled in anticipation, muttering darkly to each other. Bella's stomach felt as if it had dropped out and she mentally tried to leave her body. Whatever was about to happen to her, she didn't think she wanted to be there for it. It was time to try and clock out.

"Who will have this beautiful, virginal Midnight Princess?" asked the jester, presenting Bella as if she were cattle. She shuddered, a tear slipping out from her tightly shut eyes. The crowd roared in approval, the voices mixing together and becoming warped, but all with a single goal: getting a piece of her. Her hands clenched into fists at her sides and her palms felt slick with sweat. She felt like the little mouse cornered by the cat, with nowhere to run but right into it's claws. She suddenly wished that she had taken her chances with the men who had assaulted her in the ally. They had reeked of booze and sweat and piss, but these new people, with their beautiful, cruel faces and twisting bodies, scared her even more.

"She's mine!" called one clear voice from the crowd. The other's hushed, turning to face the blonde haired man that had spoken. "Bring her to me."

"James, haven't you had enough?" asked another man, his voice deep and gentle, yet not one that Bella felt willing to trust. There was something about the amused tone in which he spoke that made her feel sure this man was a true threat to her. He was dark skinned, and his gleaming white teeth glowed in the darkness, full, dark lips parting in a sardonic smile.

"This one's… special," said the blonde haired one- James, they had called him. He smiled at her cryptically and she shuddered under the intensity of his gaze. The woman hanging onto his arm glared hatefully at Bella, her pale eyes narrowed, her red lips down turned in an ugly scowl that marred her whole, beautiful face. There was a dangerousness to her the likes of which Bella had only ever recognized in animals; the red haired woman had claimed the blonde haired man, and she saw Bella as encroaching on her territory. Bella wished more than anything that she could find her voice and tell the woman who stared at her like she was a disgusting insect that she didn't want James, or whoever he was. Not at all. She only wanted to leave, nothing more. The Jester's thin, strong hand yanked her roughly off the podium and the music resumed with a new intensity as the lights darkened. People all around her danced and grinded, giving one another dark, suggestive glances, licking their lips, grinding their hips. It was obscene and embarrassing, and Bella had never seen anything like it before. She tore her eyes away from a couple on the dance floor. The man's hands had been all over his partners breasts. Her hand had been massaging over the crotch of his pants. Bella felt slightly sick. People weren't supposed to do that sort of thing in public, she thought, cheeks turning red. That sort of thing was supposed to be private.

Strong hands steered her, and she was too confused and disoriented to raise protest, even though she had no idea where she was being taken. She was beyond the point of arguing with these people who wouldn't listen to her. They were stronger than her and she was severely out numbered. Her only hope was to play along until the right opportunity came along. She could only hope for a little chance, perhaps an opportunity to outsmart them and get away. Her eyes flickered to the door they had come through across the nightclub. It felt so far away, with so many people between her and it. These people were too content to play with her; they'd never let her just walk out. She needed to find Edward; maybe he would know what to do.

Where was he?

She didn't even know what to think of the person who had saved her- or at least had tried to. To Bella, it felt only like they had jumped out of the pot and into the fire. But he had tried, and he had gotten her away from three very dangerous men. She was curious about the boy she hadn't seen in years. He was all grown up, and seemed very different from the silent thirteen year old she had once looked for in the window of the attic every day. He was handsome, with pale, luminous skin and the same hypnotic golden eyes. She could get lost in those eyes, she realized. She'd have to be very mindful of herself around him… That was, if she ever saw him again.

Bella was led into a different room. This one was smaller and more intimate, with dark brocade walls and dark, plush carpet. People milled about and lounged on the seating that lined the room. The music was a dull thud. Sitting on the far end of the room was the beautiful, fair-haired man who had staked a claim at her. Beside him was the dark-skinned man with the white smile and the languorous voice. On his other side was the beautiful, sneering female. Her deep red curls framed a pale face. In the middle, James smiled welcomingly, but his eyes sent an unintentional warning. Nothing about him felt right to Bella.

"Come, sit with us." purred James, gesturing to a chair in front of the trio. Bella was pushed down into the chair with a thump, and she quickly righted herself, glancing nervously around her. The other people in the dark room had stopped to stare at them curiously.

"Tell me, how did you manage to find the Midnight Carnival on your own? We don't often have uninvited guests." said James, leaning back into the sofa on which he lounged, lazily crossing his arms across his well defined chest.

Bella swallowed, wondering what she should say. Was it better to go with the truth, or should she lie? She'd never been a very good liar- they'd probably see right through her. She nervously bit her lower lip and felt the pressure of their gaze. She realized they were still waiting for her response, and she was taking an inappropriate amount of time.

"I just… sort of wandered in." she said lamely. The dark skinned man laughed at her answer.

"What's so funny, Laurent?" snapped the crimson haired woman testily. Her jaw was clenched and her posture was rigid.

"She is so innocent." laughed the man, amusement sparkling in his eyes. "She is telling the truth."

"How does one just wander into the Midnight Carnival?" spat Victoria. "We're in an abandoned ally. She shouldn't have even known it was here."

All three looked curiously at her then, as if awaiting her explanation. Bella gulped. She suddenly wished very much that Edward was there, even though she didn't really know him. She was worried about where they had taken him off to. Was he okay?

"I, um, was in Port Angelus…. Um, with my… with my boyfriend." she supplied slowly, surprised by her own answer. They looked at her skeptically and she soldiered on, not quite sure where her lie was leading her. "Yeah, I was with my boyfriend. Edward."

She mentally cursed herself, wondering why she was saying all the things she was saying. She didn't want to admit her powerlessness to them though. "And we just wanted a place to…"

Her mind drew an absolute blank. A place to do what? She racked her mind, knowing the moment was drawing out uncomfortably. There was an awkward silence while they waited with frowns for her to continue, then she heard James chuckle.

"Ah, young love." he laughed. "Well, you've chosen quite the location to practice your amours."

"An accident?" asked Victoria, mouth tight. "You wandered in here on accident looking for a place to snog your boyfriend?" She sounded irritated. Bella nodded mutely, flushing bright red.

"Do you know what this place is?" asked James. His voice was almost a purr, and as Bella looked at him she was again reminded of a cat hungrily eyeing a little mouse or perhaps a bowl of milk. The way he eyed her made her uncomfortable, and she fidgeted uneasily in her seat.

"N-" she began, her voice catching. She cleared her throat and started over, blushing. "No. I don't. Like I said, we didn't mean to come here. We didn't mean to intrude. We can just leave." she said, trying not to sound so pathetically hopeful but not being able to help the helpless waiver to her voice.

The three glanced between each other and Laurent leaned forward, reaching for her hand before she had the chance to pull it away. His grip was firm and his hand was hot and dry. He looked her in the eye, smiling serenely. A shiver of dread and anticipation ran through her body the way a strong wind runs through a field of dry grasses, affecting first her hunched shoulders and carrying all the way through her frame.

"You, my dear, have just stumbled into a vampire night club."

Author's Note: Whew! Chapter four, finished. Yay! Every comment and review is very much appreciated.

Also, to the other writers on this site: when you upload a document, does it run all of your paragraphs together? I'm uploading using Microsoft Works Word Processor (I know, it's a bit outdated) and every time I upload my documents, they become jumbled together and I have to go through and fix all the paragraphs. Does anyone else have that problem?