Title: Transfiguration

Penname(s): reagan o'connor

Rating: M (language)

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight. I like killing her characters.

WARNING: HEAVY ANGST. And if you want straight canon, go read fucking "Twilight."

Summary: Bella wants nothing more than to become a vampire, but Edward refuses. What will happen when she goes behind his back to get what she wants?

Submitted for the 'To Kill a Cullen' Contest

Please check out the other entries here :

http://www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/To_Kill_a_Cullen_Contest_Community/76759/

--Inappropriate touching and groping to my BFF AzureEyedI for her mad beta skillz.--

Her eyes were closed.

The air was clean and moist, and she breathed carefully, differently; when you're used to breathing in rainstorms, it's difficult to inhale air without expecting raindrops to hit the back of your throat, choking you.

The sun lit the insides of her eyelids with a brightness that surprised her, filled her with contentment. She stretched out on her blanket and opened her eyes.

She marked the wind as it brushed through treetops and grasses, moving towards her gently, steadily. She blinked as it caressed her face, this welcome respite from the rain. She sat up and turned to look at Alice.

Alice sat behind Bella beneath a gigantic oak tree at the edge of the clearing, just out of reach of the sun's rays. Her legs were tucked primly beneath her, her eyebrows pinched as she concentrated on her sketchbook. Bella smiled at the sight; the wisp-haired sprite of a girl looked perfect even with a look of total concentration on her sweet face.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but… I really miss the sun." Bella sighed, a little surprised at the honesty of her words. A dark-haired girl with pale skin that burned easily, she had dodged the sun as much as possible growing up in Phoenix. Being a resident of wet, rainy Forks Washington for almost three years had her missing its bright warmth more than she would have expected.

"Like that girl from that science fiction story."

Bella shook her head. "What story?"

Alice's eyes fixed on Bella's. "You never read that story? The Ray Bradbury one?" She closed her eyes, searching through the files in her vast memory, looking for the information she desired.

To someone that didn't know her, Alice's perfect stillness was disconcerting. Over the past few years, Bella had grown accustomed to these behaviors. One by one, the Cullens had let down their guard, and now none of them felt compelled to keep up the 'human' charade with Bella around. They moved at speeds that they found comfortable, never breathed or blinked or fidgeted, felt free to sit still as statues for interminable amounts of time.

The one thing, the only thing, that she had been denied, was to go along on the hunt.

Alice's eyes snapped open.

"'All Summer in a Day.' Ray Bradbury. Published in 1954. The story of a class of schoolchildren who live on Venus. It rains constantly on the planet, and the sun only comes out once every seven years. One of the children, Margot, was born on Earth; she was from Ohio and remembers what the sun is like."

Bella shook her head. "Nope. Never heard of it. Not a big scifi fan, you know."

"That's right. You prefer trite romantic novels, the fodder of every typical American English Lit class." Alice easily dodged the clump of grass Bella threw at her, and continued. "Margot writes a beautiful poem about the sun and the other children don't believe that she wrote it. They bully her; she's an outcast, and when the teacher leaves the room, one of the boys convinces the other children to lock her in a closet."

"Nice."

Alice nodded and picked up her pen. "The teacher returns just as the rain stops, and takes the children outside to enjoy the sunshine. They watch flowers bloom, feel the heat and light of the sun, run and play.

"It begins to rain again, and they run back into the school, crying because they've finally seen the sun, and they won't see it again for another seven years. Then they remember Margot, and let her out of the dark closet."

Bella didn't say anything. "Wow. The one who needs the sun the most, who yearns for it the most, is deprived of it." She shook her head. "That Ray Bradbury guy had one ironic sense of humor."

Alice smiled sweetly. "Maybe you should branch out in what you read. There are a lot more books out there than 'Wuthering Heights.'"

Bella gave Alice a sour look and rolled her eyes. She turned her face again towards the sun and took a deep breath.

"Don't you just love the sun?"

She was surprised by the unladylike snort that came from behind her.

"You don't like the sun?" Bella asked.

Alice's grimace was comical on her flawless face. "Let's just say I'm not exactly a fan."

"Why, Alice, I don't believe I've ever seen you sparkle." Bella reached back, laughing, and grabbed playfully at one of her manicured feet. Alice shifted away without appearing to move and gave Bella a wry look. "Have you ever seen me looking less than perfect, ever?" Bella thought for a moment before shaking her head.

"No, Alice," she sighed. "You are always absolutely perfect."

Alice smiled and inclined her head at Bella's reply, but her eyes were serious.

"That's why you've never seen me sparkle."

Bella's brows knit in confusion. "So, you don't go in the sun because you think it makes you ugly?" She shook her head. "I can't believe that you'd think of it that way! I mean, the way I've always seen it, the sparkling sets you apart, makes you different, makes you special."

Alice weighed her response carefully. She was dealing with a human teenager, after all; one who had no concept of things beyond her own experience. She believed in fairy tales and vampires as the good guys. How little she understood of the real world.

"To me, sparkling is a weakness. It's one of the few things that we cannot mask, cannot explain away to the humans. When it comes down to it, it's a danger for us. And it's a reminder of what we are… and what we are not." The wistful note in her voice was lost on Bella.

"But you're so strong, so beautiful, so perfect. Everything about you is perfect! I wish I could be you."

Alice tried to hide her smile at the forlorn, petulant tone.

How human, she thought.

Alice made her voice light. "Well, it really is in your hands, you know." She had finished making notes in her sketchbook and was now digging around in her bag.

Bella's countenance darkened with irritation. "I know. But I want it on my terms."

Alice shook her head. "Bella, I don't think you realize how much you're asking. If you only understood what this was doing to him…"

Bella turned her back to Alice and reached for her book. Wuthering Heights, yet again. How many times had she read it? She had committed entire chapters to memory; sometimes she would dream entire scenes of from the book, with her face perched atop Catherine's nineteenth-century dress, and Edward's face in the place of the dark, brooding Heathcliff's. What did she expect? To find some enlightening passage this time around? One that would explain Heathcliff; give him depth and beauty despite his cruelty?

She pushed these thoughts through her mind, aware of Alice's eyes on her back.

Alice's voice was quiet. "It's time to go. They're on their way now."

* * *

"So, Alice, what will Charlie say if I ask to spend the night tonight?"

The sky was changing, darkening slightly, hinting at nighttime. The girls picked their way through the woods towards the house, Alice moving slowly to accommodate Bella's human pace.

Alice was quiet for a moment before responding. "He'll make a show of this being the third weekend in a row that you've been gone, grumble that he doesn't get to spend any time with you, then tell you to go ahead. Just make sure that aren't late to work on Monday."

Bella rolled her eyes, but did so with a smile. Charlie was so predictable, she needn't have asked Alice. She grimaced when she thought of work on Monday and wished, and not for the first time, that she hadn't taken the job at the Clallam County Court. It had seemed a safe bet; a whole building away from where Charlie spent his days at the Forks Police Department, and an opportunity to save money for college. Her days were filled with data entry, filing, typing up warrants and court summons, answering phones and transacting court costs. Judge Rohrer was nice (he brought bagels in every Friday for the staff) and Bella's boss, Sabrina, was nice as well. She didn't have any complaints, other than the fact that the job bored her stiff.

She felt guilty at her irritation, since she was lucky to have this job at all. Mike Newton's aunt, Sarah, had started working at the court right after graduating from Forks High School in 1992. She had her third baby six months ago and had decided not to come back after her maternity leave, since the babysitting alone would cost more than she brought home each month. One day this past spring, Charlie had been fishing with the Judge and Artie Anderson, one of the councilmen-at-large, when talk turned invariably to the goings on in the court. It had come up that Sabrina would be looking for someone to replace Sarah, and Charlie offered up Bella's name. Four days later she was wearing a skirt and sweater borrowed from Alice and taking a tour of the court building.

Another reason she was secretly glad for the job was that it gave her a bit of a break from Edward. As much as she loved him, he could be somewhat… suffocating. Her cell phone usually rang at 4:35 (she clocked out at 4:30 and was in the truck by then most days) and he chatted with her about her day while she drove home. In the evenings she studied for the Introduction to Linguistic Thought course that she was taking online through the University of Washington. Unless he was hunting with Emmett and Jasper (or if she wasn't speaking to him for some reason) he usually stayed the night with her. She always looked forward to seeing him, but sometimes his intensity was… well, too intense. Occasionally she found herself wishing that she had a normal boyfriend; one who would forget to call when he'd promised to, want to hang out with his brothers on Saturdays, or bring over a pizza and watch a ballgame with Charlie.

Occasionally Bella would come home from shopping with Alice to find Edward sitting on the couch, commiserating over a bad call or a lousy pitch. Baseball was probably the one thing that Edward and Charlie had in common, aside from Bella. In fact, Edward had told Bella he planned on giving Charlie tickets to a Mariners game at his last birthday. Considering Edward's penchant for over-the-top gifts, Bella thought that baseball tickets were a safe bet, until she found out that by 'tickets' Edward meant 20 tickets in a private suite at Safeco. Charlie had protested at the expense, but Edward claimed that the hospital had given them to Carlisle, who was out of town and couldn't use them, and perhaps Billy and maybe some of his officers would enjoy a day out at the ball park?

Bella was suspicious, but she couldn't get a straight answer out of Edward. A few weeks later Alice spilled the beans that she'd gotten to plan the catering menu for what she called 'the little police shindig.' It had certainly gone over well with the officers who'd been lucky enough to be off-duty that day; even now, months later, she would hear a detective or patrolman rehashing what a great time they'd had. From the sound of it, it had been a wise move for Edward to rent a shuttle to take them back and forth to Seattle.

"Penny for your thoughts." Bella smiled. Alice was never comfortable with too much silence, and on the slow walk back to the Cullen house, made slower by Bella's lack of speed, it must have proved to be too much for her.

Bella shook her head. "Just thinking about when Edward bought those Mariners tickets for Charlie."

Alice sighed. "He agonized about that for weeks. Had to have the exact game that he wanted, on a Saturday afternoon, so that enough guys were off-duty and it wasn't a problem for them to be on the shuttle bus for six hours." She raised her chin. "The food was excellent. Or so I've heard."

Bella laughed. "You know they're still talking about it at the courthouse? The guys who got to go are always rubbing it in to the guys who didn't. And they always talk about the food." Bella glanced sideways at Alice, her heart lightened by the satisfied smile that she saw on Alice's face.

The path turned, and they walked out into a clearing just beyond the edge of the driveway. Edward's car sat in the drive, right behind her truck. Bella sighed as she remembered back over the last three years to all of the times she had seen his car, either here or at her own house, and how the butterflies took flight in her stomach. Just knowing that she would be seeing her beloved Edward in a few mere minutes was enough to remove all hunger from her body for hours. But lately, they'd been arguing more than they'd been talking, and seeing Edward's car was a reminder of the stress that their relationship had been under.

She could see Alice eyeing her out of her peripheral vision, but she ignored it. No sense in creating any more drama in her life.

They crossed the drive, walked into the garage (she never used the front door anymore; she used the garage entrance just like the rest of the family), and went inside.

* * *

He was in his room, as she knew he would be. Stretched out on the long couch, Strauss on the stereo, flipping through an enormous stack of CDs, she was struck again by his beauty. It still unnerved her, the perfection of his face and body, the oddity of his attraction to her averageness. There was a small part of her that feared that he was blinded by his desire for her blood, though she could not – would not – ever speak her fears aloud.

He moved his legs and patted the spot on the couch that they had just vacated. Without a word she moved across the room and sat down, putting down her book, steeling herself for the coldness that she was still not completely used to, then relaxing against him as his arms snaked around her and pulled her close.

"When did you get back?" She rubbed her hand along the cool stone of his arm.

He nuzzled her hair. "Not long before you and Alice came in."

"Good hunt?"

"Mmhmm." She imagined the oddity of their conversation to an outsider, but for them, it was as normal as if they'd been discussing a day at work or her most recent class assignment.

She breathed in his cool, fragrant breath and turned her face towards his for a kiss. He obliged, meeting her lips gently, delicately with his own. He ran two fingers through her hair and settled his hands on her shoulders, running his thumbs along the side of her neck. She sighed, moving closer, deepening the kiss. He responded in kind, and soon she was breathless, her skin heating with a flush.

He groaned and turned; in a split second she was sitting atop him, straddling him, feeling a hardness beneath her that was more than just his marble skin. She breathed him in again and ran her hands down his chest, leaning down, meeting his eyes with her own.

They sat, eyes locked, his gaze heightening her already rapid pulse. She licked her lips, aching to kiss him again, but wanted him to be the one to move, to be unable to wait any longer, to pull her down and devour her mouth with an insatiable hunger…

The heat she felt made her move against him in a sudden need for friction, reaching to feel him beneath her, but he moved faster, placing her upright gently on the couch next to him, patting her. Like a puppy that was too rambunctious.

She flushed again, this time with anger and embarrassment. Every time we start to move beyond the kissing, he throws up the roadblock. She reached for her book, muttering under her breath, "Don't know why I bother." She moved to stand, but his hands were on her.

"Don't do this, Bella. You know why I can't."

She slumped forward. "Please, Edward. I cannot bear to do this again with you. And since I have such a terrible effect on you, why don't I just go home? I'll talk to you tomorrow." She didn't move, knowing that it would be pointless until he took his hands off of her. His touch; light as a feather, heavier than a millstone.

He didn't move.

Bella, the impatient one, spoke first. "You aren't going to hurt me if you kiss me."

She could hear the smile in his voice. "It's not the kissing that worries me."

Bella rolled her eyes. "You aren't going to do anything more than that, Edward. You know it. You may as well wear a chastity ring, since that's what this whole thing amounts to."

He moved his hands off of her shoulders, but she didn't move to stand. She watched him, his brows knit in what could only be described as pain.

"Bella, how many times do we have to discuss this?"

"I don't know. Depends on how many times you are going to refuse to have sex with me."

His brow smoothed as he closed his eyes. His voice was quiet, so low she had to listen to hear him over the opera drifting from the hidden speakers.

"Bella, you know I do not want to refuse you. I want to give you everything you want, everything you desire."

Ach, ich darf nicht hin zu dir! (Ah, I cannot come to you!)

Bella's eyes hooded seductively. "So you want to give me what I want? You know how much I want you, don't you? How I long to feel you against my bare skin, to take you inside of me, to make you cry out in pleasure?"

Und du sehnst dich so nach Ûmi (And you are so longing to see me)

Edward gritted his teeth. "Bella, it is not wise to say such things."

Her gaze dropped to his trousers, where she saw the obvious affect her words had on him. She smiled. Six months ago, she would have been embarrassed by this, but now it was almost like a game to her; how far could she push him? How much agony and sexual tension could she create before he lost control?

She dropped her voice. "Do you know how long I've waited to take you into my mouth? To lick you, to taste you, to hold you between my lips…"

Bella heard the strangled sound that escaped his throat, and she was suddenly against the wall, both of her hands held above her head in one of his, his mouth on hers, his body against hers. She responded, the thrill of victory coursing through her veins, grasped his hand with both of hers, pulled herself up to wrap her legs around his aching hardness, writhed against him, matched his need with her own…

"Stop!" He was on the other side of the room. Without blood, he could not flush as she did, but his face had decidedly less pallor than normal, his eyes black with desire.

Ist verkauft man und verraten,da verliert man die Geduld. (One is sold short and betrayed, making one lose patience).

Bella slid to the floor, her eyes pricking with tears, her sexual and emotional frustration complete.

"My God, Edward!" She bellowed. "Why don't you want me?"

His eyes met hers, the blackness in his tempered with steel. "You think I don't want you? That there isn't a dark place in me that desires your blood and your body so strongly, it causes me physical suffering every minute of every day?" He laughed, a bitter sound. "You think I don't want to know you carnally? As only a husband has the right? That every time I am alone with you, I think about draining your blood and changing you? Owning you forever? Keeping you with me always?" He closed his eyes.

He pointed to a spot on the wall above her head, and she looked up. A crack in the plaster ran from where her head had been all the way down to the floor. She looked back at his face, which was contorted in agony.

"I cannot trust myself with you. One split second of weakness, and your neck could be broken. I cannot take that risk."

Nur Geduld! (Just be patient!)

Bella smiled. "But if you break my neck, then you could just turn me into a vampire. That would solve our problems."

His face was dark, thunderous. "Don't even joke about that, Bella. I refuse to be the one who subjects you to this life. It's not a life at all, and I will never allow myself to be responsible for you becoming a monster like me." He paused, the anguish in his eyes palpable. "As much as I love him as my father, there is still a part of me, and a part of Rosalie and Esme, that has never forgiven Carlisle for taking away our humanity. I can't bear for you to feel that way toward me. "

Bella shook her head vehemently. "Edward, there is a colossal difference between your situation and mine. You weren't given the chance to choose; I have been around you for three years, and you have shared everything with me. I know what I'm choosing to get myself into."

He looked away from her, his eyes distant, his voice morose. "There is a part of me that wants nothing more than for you to find a nice, normal man and settle down, have a family, live a long, full life. But that part of me is always overcome by the monster; the part of me that wants you all to myself. It's why I wanted to die, Bella, when I believed you to be lost forever."

Bella felt her chest tighten, as it always did when they had this conversation. She didn't want to talk about what happened the last time he left her; the devastation, the fear, the Volturi.

She took a deep breath and made her voice sound as even as she could. "Then change me and neither of us will ever have to face that again."

Edward closed his eyes. "It's not that simple. It never was, but… especially not now."

Bella turned her head. What? What was different? What had changed?

He opened his eyes, gauging her expression. He sighed and moved towards her, sitting down to face her on the floor.

"To change you would mean breaking our treaty with the Quileute. You know that they make no allowances for whether or not you are willing." Bella felt her heart break a little; she had done her best not to think about her best friend, Jacob Black, member of the Quileute tribe and one of the wolves in the tribe pack, since she had disclosed to him her desire to become a vampire. Jacob hadn't spoken to her in months, and she felt a void where their friendship used to be. She nodded.

Edward continued uneasily. "But now, there's more. After Jasper's little loss of self-control a few years ago, Carlisle made an edict; if any one of us bites a human, he or she will be banished from the coven forever. No exceptions."

Bella shrugged. "So what? You turn me, and we'll go off by ourselves. I'm sure we can convince Alice and Jasper to come stay with us occasionally."

Edward's eyes clouded with pain and he shook his head. "It's more than just that, Bella. I told them… when Carlisle reconfirmed his position… I told them that if any of them change you, there will be retribution."

Bella's brows knit in confusion. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Edward forced his eyes to meet hers, and the pain in them was exceptional. "It means I will kill whoever changes you."

Bella stilled, frozen. In her mind, the same thought looped over and over:

He won't do it. He won't change me. They can't change me. I'll never be a vampire.

Statt das jetzt die Sach' beendet, hat's doch schlimmer sich gewendet, und daran ist der nur schuld. (Instead of the matter being over, it's changed for the worse and it's all his fault.)

Her mind continued to race, though her body was still a statue. He wanted her to live as a human, find someone… have children? A family? Live apart from him? How could she ever….

The blackness, the memory, the void he had left when he Went Away rushed back. Never seeing him again? Never feeling the comfort of his cold embrace? Never waking to fell his smooth lips and smell his sweet breath? And worse; being forced to 'move on' and find another? To have alien hands touching her, feeling heat when she craved only coldness?

The days after Edward had left – how had she survived? Taking her own life would have required too much effort, been too much to plan and execute. It was the sole reason she was still in existence.

"Bella." Edward's voice was sharp.

She felt the coolness of his hand on her arm.

She had been rocking.

His eyes were clouded with worry. She relaxed slightly, glad (and not for the first time) that he couldn't read her mind. He would have seen the despair, the darkness within her. She put her hand over his, patted it, then stood. He was on his feet before she could blink.

"It breaks my heart that you will not give me the one thing I want."

"You are the one who has refused to become my wife. That one step would demonstrate that you –"

"Why do you want to force me into marriage? It's so stupid." Her retort was swift and heated.

His eyes were angry. "Why do you want to force me into taking your humanity?"

Bella rolled her eyes. "Apples and oranges, Edward."

Edward shook his head at her. "No, you just don't want to answer the question. And I am not forcing you into anything. I just want a commitment from you beyond consenting to be my girlfriend."

Bella waved him off. "Well, I have a little more experience with modern marriage than you do, Edward. A ring on your finger is no guarantee of anything. Look at Charlie and Renee; they didn't even make it five years before they were divorced. If I were a vampire—"

"No."

"You don't have the right to tell me how to live my life!"

"And you don't have the right to tempt me into taking your life." He shook his head. "Bella, this is so selfish of you. It's like dangling a glass of wine before a recovering alcoholic, just to see if you can get him to drink it because you don't like to drink alone."

"But nothing about this is bad or wrong, Edward!" She hated the wheedling note in her voice, but she couldn't stop herself. "It's the only thing I want, there is nothing else. "

"It's the only thing I must refuse to give you."

Beruh'ge endlich diese Wut; verurteilt bist du, nun denn gut! Ergib dich drein, und nach fünf tagen, schon nach fünf Tagen ist die G'schichte abgemacht. (Calm at last this fury; you have been sentenced, and that's that! Make the best of it, and in five days – in five days, the story will be played out.)

Bella was quiet, contemplative. She picked up her book and walked to the door, and then turned to look at him, shook her head, listened as the notes of Die Fledermaus soared out of the speakers. "I can't do this, Edward. I can't face your daily refusals, your unwillingness to give me the one thing I want more than anything else on earth."

Edward looked at her with dejected eyes. "Then we are at an impasse."

* * *

The drive home was quiet. Bella watched out the passenger window of her truck while Edward drove. They pulled into the drive, and Bella noticed that the porch light wasn't on; Charlie must be working afternoons today. She reached to open her door, but Edward was already there, as always.

"Will you be coming back later?" She asked, but she already knew the answer.

He kissed her quickly and shook his head. "I think I'm going to give you some space for a few days."

She was surprised at the bit of relief that crept into her heart at hearing his words. "Are you going hunting with Emmett and Jasper?"

He shook his head again. "I think I'll take a trip to Denali. Just for three or four days. Give me some time to think."

She nodded, reached her face up towards his for one last kiss. He touched her lips gently, sweetly, and she felt both love and sorrow in his tender caress.

He smiled at her as he traced a finger along her cheek. "I'll see you in a few days."

And then he was gone.

* * *

Anguish, despair, desperation.

She held herself together by sheer will. Once inside the safe confines of her bedroom, she dissolved into tears, flung herself onto her bed, sobbed as she hadn't in years. She swiped the back of her hand across her eyes as she remembered the devastation she had lived through when Edward had left her before. She welcomed the pain, allowed it to remind her of the suffering, the loss. How could he relegate her to the land of the living, when he knew that all she wanted was to live alongside him, for eternity, as his vampire mate?

She thought again of that time, when the damage had been so thorough that she wanted to end her own life. She lacked the fortitude then, but…

But what?

Her tears slowed. Now was different from Then, when she had lost all hope of ever seeing his face again.

What if…

Her tears stopped as the thought pulsed in her brain.

What if she attempted suicide? If she could find a way to damage herself just enough, so that she couldn't recover as a human, but that would force him to turn her.

Her heart and mind raced with ideas.

Slit her wrists with a razor blade? Possible, but not realistic. Would Alice see as soon as she made the cuts? Would Edward get there in time? Would the temptation of her blood be too great for him? Would they send Carlisle to aid her, who was all but immune to the scent of her blood, could heal hear without a second thought?

Pills? Again, Alice would see it, and there would be time to pump her stomach. No need to change her.

Jump off a bridge? Too quick, too great a chance for instantaneous death. Yes, it had worked for Esme, but the risk was too much. She couldn't do it with Edward there, since he was too quick and so strong; he could easily overpower her if need be.

Charlie's gun? A definite possibility, but again, she'd have to do it with Edward in close proximity, and his speed and strength might keep her from being able to execute her plan.

Bella sighed, defeated. There wasn't a realistic way to force his hand. But what other option did she have? According to Edward, all of the Cullens had agreed to abide by the restriction that Carlisle had placed on them; none of them were to turn Bella.

Her mind continued to roll through possibilities, until she settled on the one fact she did not want to face:

She would have to find another vampire to do it for her.

* * *

"Define 'morphology.'

Bella sat, legs crossed, on Alice and Jasper's bed. She was tired, slept fitfully for the past several nights since her brain refused to shut down post-epiphany. Without Edward there, she couldn't get comfortable in her bed. She'd come over to the Cullen's right after work, stopping off for a sandwich at McDonald's. Edward had left for Denali three days ago, and Alice had agreed to help her study for her Linguistics exam. She was taking her job seriously.

Bella squinted towards the ceiling. "Um, the study of words?"

Alice turned in her chair and tapped her pencil. "…and?"

Bella squinted harder. "…and…how they morph?"

Alice grew impatient. "Now you're just guessing. 'Morphology' is the study of words and the rules for word formation in a language." She shook her head.

Bella shrugged. "Fine. Next question."

Alice scanned the page before her. "There are three types of morphemes. Name one."

Bella's face was blank. "Um, what's a morpheme?"

Alice scowled. "Have you even reviewed this material at all?"

Bella pushed herself off of the bed and stood, walking towards the French doors.

"Sorry. My mind has been on other things lately."

She watched the birds swooping in towards the feeders, thought of how they scattered and fell silent whenever any of the Cullens walked out onto the deck. It always made her laugh; the unexpected absence of twitters. As if they could hide.

"Have you seen any change in my future, Alice?" Bella watched out of the window as the black-capped chickadees plunged recklessly towards the feeders and away again, up into the trees.

Alice was quiet behind her. Bella knew she understood.

"Nothing has changed."

Bella turned, surprised. "Really? I thought, with Edward's little edict…"

Alice shuffled her papers, shook her head. "No. Usually I see me, and Esme and Carlisle, and I sense you, and…" she shivers slightly. "I don't know why, but there's anguish. Then it fades." She shrugged before looking up at Bella with her wide ochre eyes. "I know it's you – well, I assume it's you, because I cannot see you. I can sense you, though; it's that void." She smiled slightly. "I guess your little mental block is going to stay with you after you become one of us." Her smile widened, and Bella mirrored it, feeling her mind even out, as if the nagging thoughts of the past few days were being smoothed by a giant deburring machine.

"Thanks, Alice."

* * *

Bella purposefully kept her mind as blank as possible. With so much to think about and contemplate, it was a considerable effort to push her mind to other things. With Edward gone, it lessened her distraction, gave her more time to think. And since Alice's visions were subjective, based on concrete decisions, Bella did her best to keep the mental waters muddied. So Bella's job was to keep herself from making an obvious decision, to keep Alice from questioning her too closely.

She did some research on Washington State University; tabulated the costs of tuition, books, looked up the average cost of student housing. She wondered if Edward would move with her to Seattle so that the rest of the Cullens could stay in Forks. Or would they want to move and start all over again?

Will he even want to be with me when I go behind his back?

She shook her head to clear the thought. It didn't matter. He would probably be angry with her for a time, but ultimately he would forgive her. He would love her even more, since she would be like him; perfect, bloodless, unbreakable.

She checked a few flights quickly, noting dates and times but being careful to not make any final decisions.

Her cell phone rang. It was Alice.

Her pulse quickened, and she cleared her through before picking it up.

"Are you going to Seattle? Because I need some retail therapy in a big city."

Bella smiled. "Actually, I was thinking about going up this Friday since you, Esme and Rose are going hunting. The court is closed, so I thought I'd leave early in the morning and come back on Sunday. But I want to go check out the University; I didn't plan on doing any shopping, except for maybe hitting a bookstore or two."

Alice sighed. "Edward would probably want me to go with you, you know. Drive you up there. It's doubtful that your truck would even make it."

Bella bristled. Even when he's gone, the ties that bind remain.

"You know, Alice, I think I need to be alone. Three hours in the truck will give me time to think about school, the whole situation with Edward…" she trailed off.

"Six hours."

"What?"

"You mean 'six hours.' Three up to Seattle and three back."

Bella started. "Of course! Six hours. I meant three hours, one-way…" She decided to change the subject. "What do you think Edward would say about me moving up to Seattle for school?"

Alice was thoughtful. "I don't know. He's said in the past he'll never again attend anything less than an Ivy League school, but –" she paused. "—I would imagine that he would go just about anywhere for you, Bella."

Bella smiled ruefully to herself. If only that were really true.

"I was thinking that maybe it would be good for me to be on my own for a while, away from Charlie and able to concentrate on school. Edward could come up to visit whenever he wanted."

"I think it might be good for you to be on your own, Bella. I don't know if Edward could leave you alone, though. You know how he is."

Do I ever.

"Bella, why don't you take the Mercedes? Rosalie is driving us up to Flattery Rocks, and Emmett is driving the boys in the Jeep."

Bella accepted Alice's offer, knowing it would just cause problems if she didn't. She hung up with Alice, double checked the information online, and waited for Friday.

* * *

It was cold, for August, but as usual, the weather did not bother him. When he arrived two nights ago, there was frost on the ground despite being August. Being so far inland, Denali didn't have the warmth of the ocean to moderate its temperatures, so often the beginning of winter could often be found in September.

He lay back and watched the stars as they pierced through the expansive black sky. He knew he'd been looking at the same stars for over one hundred years, and yet he still found their beauty transcendent.

He adjusted his coat, thought again of how ironic it was that he did not need clothing to protect him from the cold; rather, he needed clothing in order to fit in with the humans. Bella never understood why the Cullens always wore such expensive clothing; she was satisfied with cheap tee-shirts and Wal-Mart jeans. He shook his head. She couldn't comprehend that their vampire senses were so heightened, the feel of shoddy clothing made their skin crawl. One of these days, she would understand—

He closed his eyes. It always comes down to this. He knows that one day she will be one of them. He's known this almost since the first day he met her, and yet he refuses to believe that he will be the one charged with taking her human life. How can he live with himself if he steals her humanity? Doesn't she understand why he wants her to marry him first? That one small step means so much—

"Quiet enough for you?" He had heard Tanya coming, sensed her mind approaching behind him. He smiled as she sat down next to him on the ground.

He nodded his head. "It is nice, so much quiet. No one for miles, no brains to filter out of my consciousness."

"How's Bella?" The question was a surprise, as Edward hadn't thought that Tanya particularly cared for her.

"We're working through some things." That seemed honest enough.

Tanya laughed quietly. "So she still won't marry you?"

Edward turned, surprised. "How did you know?"

Tanya's laugh was louder this time. "Seriously, Edward? Everyone knows about the situation between you and Bella. I don't understand why you don't just turn her and get it over with."

"Because she needs to take the first step." He gritted his teeth in irritation.

"Why?"

His look was incredulous. "'Why?' Because it shows that she comprehends what she's getting into, demonstrates a level of maturity, a willingness to compromise. But she doesn't see it that way. She's so jaded by her parents' divorce; to her, marriage doesn't mean anything. But marriage is nothing compared to what she wants from me… to turn her…"

Tanya shook out her hair. "Edward, even now, at one hundred and eight years of age, you don't understand women." She leaned forward and clasped her arms around her knees. "She wants a demonstration from you of your willingness to compromise. But every time she broaches the subject, you shoot her down. Can you blame her for planting her feet like a mule in the mud?"

Edward was quiet, contemplative.

Tanya spoke again. "She doesn't truly comprehend what she is giving up by asking to become a vampire… but she does understand what she's getting – you."

I know I'd give up everything to have someone like you.

Edward smiled and pushed Tanya with his elbow. She smiled and elbowed him in return, unembarrassed that he had heard her thoughts.

"Thanks for the compliment." He returned his gaze to the wide sky above them. "Do you think you would choose this existence? Even after losing your mother? Knowing the choices that you must make every day in order to survive, combating the thirst…" He trailed off.

"The loneliness makes it hard. I have my sisters, and Eleazar, but… I do not have a mate." The softness in her voice was surprising.

She turned to look at him. "I meant it, Edward. I would be willing to give up my human life if I had someone like you who loved me as much as you love Bella. Don't underestimate that love."

"If marriage is such a meaningless ritual to her, why can't she do it for my sake?"

Tanya shook her head. "She is strong-willed, Edward. That is one of the things that attracted you to her in the first place, remember? You must meet her halfway on this." She patted his hand. "At least, consider it."

Edward took a deep breath and expelled it from his stone lungs. He thought it strange how such human traits stayed with him, ninety years after he no longer needed to breathe at all.

"I guess there is no sense in waiting any longer, then. As much as it pains me to do it… it seems that it's the only thing I can do… otherwise, I risk losing her forever."

Tanya's eyebrows raised in surprise. "So, you are going to turn her?"

Edward didn't reply, just nodded.

She sat for a moment longer, then patted his shoulder and stood. "I hope all goes well for you. And please know I'm here for you if you need me."

He sat for a few moments after she'd gone. So much sky above him; so much beauty in the fire and ice of the universe. He stood, pulled out his cell phone, dialed as he walked.

"Bella. I'm on my way home. I've made a decision, and I think you'll be very happy. Please call me when you get this message. I love you."

No sooner had he hung up when the phone vibrated in his hand.

He checked the display. Alice.

He smiled. Of course Alice would already know.

"Yes, Alice."

There was silence for a second. Then Alice's voice, thin and questioning. "I think I just saw something… change."

Edward's smile widened. "I'm sure you did see something. I've just decided I'm going to change Bella. I think she will be pleased."

Alice was quiet. Edward's smile faltered. "Alice, what is it?" He hated being so far away, unable to see what she was thinking, being forced to depend on the limitations of technology to transmit thoughts and emotions.

Alice's voice was strained. "Edward, Bella is gone. To the Volturi. She's going to ask Aro to change her."

The pain hit him square in the chest, fiery flames licking at his dead heart.

No. It's impossible. She couldn't…

His fear was complete.

He began to run.

* * *

Bella awoke with a start, groggy and disoriented. Within seconds the last 24 hours rushed back, an ocean wave crashing over her, bringing salt and noise and recollection.

The drive east to Seattle, where she fought to think only of college and tuition and off-campus apartments. She spent the afternoon with a college admissions counselor at the University, discussing courses and majors. Afterwards, she drove around Seattle, checking out the bookstores and coffee shops. She found her way to the long-term parking garage at SEATAC airport, courtesy of the Mercedes' GPS, parked, and made her way to the United counter. She was relieved to find out from the helpful ticket agent that there was still room on the flight, so she bought her ticket and checked her watch; she was cutting it close for an international flight. Since she only had her carry-on, and since it was evening, she made it through in record time.

"Passengers for United International flight 8718 from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany, your flight is now boarding…"

A wave of relief washed over her as she Bella stood in line, grateful that no vampire had rushed through the airport towards her. Her phone hadn't even rung. She hadn't been able to plan this carefully, but she knew that there was virtually no cell reception in Flattery Rocks. Even if Alice had seen the change immediately, Edward was too far away for her to send him a mental SOS…

She wasn't startled when her phone rang. She checked the display.

It was Edward.

This had surprised Bella; she would have expected the first call to come from Alice. She sat, watching the phone buzz in her hand, thinking of what she would say. Explain that he'd pushed her to do this. She opened the phone, but it had already gone to voicemail.

She shook her head and shut off her phone.

And now…

Now she was on another plane, a nonstop flight from Frankfurt to Florence, Italy. She had been in the air for almost a full 24 hours, and was looking forward to being on the ground for good.

She had been too wired to sleep; days of closing her mind against Alice should have rendered her exhausted, but the mental freedom she had on the plane caused her brain to whir at fantastic speeds; what she planned on saying to Aro, how Edward would respond, how excited Alice would be, how upset Carlisle would be.

She would smile through her perfect teeth and shrug her shoulders. "Take it up with Aro." What could they do, after all?

She didn't want to think about how the Cullens would react. Instead, she dreamed of having forever with Edward; time stretching before them like endless summers. No more court, no more of Charlie's rules, the freedom to get married whenever she wanted.

Freedom.

She sighed at the thought and prepared for landing.

* * *

The cab ride from the airport to Volterra was long, traffic congesting the narrow, winding streets that led to the city. The heat was oppressive, made it difficult to breathe, reminding her of Phoenix.

It was easier to gain access to the castle than she had thought. Gianna was still human, still the receptionist, and showed no surprise at Bella standing before her, requesting an audience with Aro. She showed her to the same large, ornately furnished room where she had met Aro the first time, after she had saved Edward from certain destruction.

The door opened and she stood, turning to watch as Aro glided effortlessly into the room, with Felix and Alec behind him. His hazy eyes lit up at the sight of Bella; he moved towards her on air, reaching for her hand, as one would greet an old, dear friend.

"Bella! To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit? Gianna advised me that you had urgent need of an audience." He bowed slightly. "I am here to serve."

Bella's heart began to thud; she detected a shift in Aro's posture, watched as his nostrils flared, taking in her scent. She steadied herself, took a deep breath.

"I want you to make me a vampire."

Aro blinked, the surprise not sitting comfortably on his countenance. "Certainly, you would prefer that Edward perform such a sacrament?"

Sacrament. As if becoming a bloodthirsty vampire was a holy event.

Bella had anticipated this question, knew to tread carefully. "I would prefer to have an uninvolved party do it. Eternity is a long time to blame Edward if I end up hating it, so…" she trailed off, shrugged.

Aro's face was thoughtful. Felix and Alec exchanged a glance.

"My dear, darling Bella, of course I would be honored to perform this service for you, and care for your needs during the course of your transfiguration."

Bella sighed with relief. "Thank you, Aro."

A smile broke across Aro's translucent face, crinkling his shale-like cheeks, not meeting his eyes.

"No, my dear. The pleasure is all mine."

* * *

There was a cup.

She sensed its presence before she even opened her eyes. She could hear the air moving around her as she lay, quiet, the fire within her burned out. She could smell the cotton of the sheets beneath her, scented with lavender water. She opened her eyes, her attention consumed by every crack in the Venetian plaster, every dust mote that fluttered through the air, every crackle of the fire burning in the courtyard below.

Her senses were knife-sharp, and there was so much to take in, just within her room; from the lush draperies at the windows to the way the silk gown she wore caressed her skin. She reached to run a finger across her midsection, and the silk tore away like ancient vellum.

The strength. She understood.

All of the distractions, the intensity of her newborn curiosity, were no match for the burning in her throat, the desire for the cup that sat on the table across the room.

The thirst. She understood.

She blinked and she stood before the table. The movement was faster than a heartbeat, faster than a candle flicker. It was the first conscious movement she made, and yet it felt comfortable to her, easy.

The door opened and she whirled, looked up, ten feet away from where the cup sat on the table.

Aro drifted through the door, followed by Jane and Alec. Bella studied them with her new eyes, her attention divided between them and the cup.

Aro smiled benignly at her. "My dear Isabella, how beautiful you are. It is such a pleasure to have you here." He gestured to the cup upon the table. "Please, it is imperative that you drink."

She was at the table before he finished speaking, the cup in her hands, drained in an instant.

Instead of sating her thirst, the fire in her throat burned with vengeance. She sniffed the air, felt the threads of an aroma curl around the heat, fanning the flames of her craving.

She licked her lips and looked at Aro with beseeching eyes.

"More."

Aro laughed, the sound genuine and mirthful. "Oh, my dear Bella, you do know what you need, do you not. Please," he waved toward Alec, who bowed his head and left the room, returning with another cup, which he handed to Bella.

She drank the next as quickly as the first, her desire temporarily slaked. "Thank you."

Aro inclined his head. "No, thank you. That was the last of your blood." He indicated the cup.

"That was… mine?" She was astonished. She had flashes of memory; lying inert on a table, robes swirling around her; tubing, a needle, and the pain of the bite Aro had placed—

Her hand flew to her neck, but there was no mark; only her alabaster skin, glorious and impermeable.

Aro was speaking to her, and she looked at him inquisitively. "You will require more, of course. We will provide for you all that we can."

An ancient thought swam to the surface of her consciousness. "It must be… animal."

Aro wrinkled his brow in distaste. "My dear, I must apologize, but we cannot provide that type of sustenance for you."

"Then I will hunt on my own," she said, her conviction complete.

Aro's face was impassive. "I am afraid I cannot allow that."

Bella's movement was swift, but Jane was swifter. She smiled her deadly smile at Bella, and Bella slowed, feeling the sensation of pinpricks along her forehead, across her cheeks, the corners of her eyes. Bella stopped, testing her sensitivity. She moved forward, and the pressure increased, but there was no pain. She had a wild thought; she pushed her mind outward, as if blowing a bubble with her brain, seeking to create a shield around her.

It worked. She could feel nothing of Jane's power.

Jane's eyes widened; she ground her teeth in anger.

Aro's reaction was most surprising. He began to clap. "Brava, Bella! Brava! What a fantastic display! Oh, we were right all along about you, weren't we? Your gift; so special." He held up his hand and Jane fell back several steps, head bowed.

His eyes fell on Bella again, and she returned his gaze. "We would like to extend an invitation to you to join us here at Volterra. You would be such a wonderful asset to our little family." His smile was wide, welcoming.

Bella shook her head immediately. "I wanted to become a vampire in order to spend eternity with Edward. I must go to him as soon as possible."

Spending eternity with Edward. She felt an indescribable joy at the thought.

Aro turned to look at Alec and Jane; Alec left the room without a word.

Aro turned back to face Bella, his smile forlorn.

"Ah, yes, well… there appears to be a problem with that scenario, my dear Bella. You see, there are consequences to our choices. Sometimes good, sometimes bad…" he trailed off, thoughtful.

"Do you remember our last meeting? Oh, what an interesting time that proved to be." Aro spoke as if remembering a reunion with a particularly loved nephew. "At that time, your Edward was given very specific instructions; he was to turn you into a vampire, and soon. That was… let me see, almost two full years ago? Time means little to us, ancient as we are, but we expected that our edict would be followed. And to find out that Edward has refused to change you, in direct defiance… well, that is simply unacceptable."

Bella's eyes rounded at Aro. "He was going to do it eventually. Alice saw it, even after he refused me…"

Aro's eyes narrowed. "You know as well as I do, that Alice's visions are not as clear as we were initially led to believe. " His gaze softened. "But his love for you… oh, the singing of your blood. He would stop at nothing to protect you. He has proven that over and over, has he not? Coming here, begging us to spare you—"

Bella's eyes flashed and peals of joy rolled through her. "Edward is here? Where is he?" Oh these emotions she was feeling, so strong compared to what she felt as a human.

Aro continued as if she had not even spoken, "—But, that is neither here nor there. For the price has been paid for his indiscretion, and we can all move on."

Bella watched as Alec returned through the door and handed something to Aro.

He looked down at the object with a forlorn smile, and sighed. "He showed me his intentions. I heard his words to you in my own mind. Alas, you did not receive his call."

Bella was truly a statue, her consciousness raging, her body the same immobile stone that she had loved for years.

Her voice faltered. "His call?"

Aro nodded sadly. "Yes, he showed me that he called you, leaving you a message." He looked towards the ceiling, reciting the words as if they were a Shakespearean soliloquy. 'Bella. I'm on my way home. I've made a decision, and I think you'll be very happy. Please call me when you get this message. I love you.'" He returned his eyes to Bella's. "He assured me that his intention was to turn you himself."

Bella's eyes widened. The thirst that was still nagging her throat, her mind, was pushed to the back as she absorbed his words one by one.

"What are you saying, Aro?"

Alec and Jane cringed, exchanging a look. She would dare refer to The Master by his given name?

Aro glided towards her, hand outstretched. "My dear, I am so sorry for your loss."

Realization began to dawn on her stressed consciousness.

Edward had come for her. And the Volturi had punished him for his refusal to turn her before now.

She thought wildly of Alice's comment to her the other day; "I see me, and Esme and Carlisle, and I sense you, and…" she shivered. "I don't know why, but there's anguish. Then it fades."

Bella's arm was disconnected from the rest of her body. She had no thought, no breath, no heart. It reached forward of its own accord, palm up, to accept what Aro placed in it.

No. It cannot be.

She tore her eyes away from Aro's onionskin face, willed her gaze to rest on the object in her hand.

It was a small band of leather, well-worn, a glint of mottled silver; the Cullen crest.

Edward's crest.

The scream that erupted from her throat was piercing, frightening the Grebes from their nests, turning the heads of the robed figures in the courtyard below. One by one they turned back to watch as the fire before them burned brightly, wax on gasoline on stone, the wind whipping ash into the air, swirling upwards and out of sight.