Author's Note: This chapter has been improved and re-vamped on Oct, 12th, 2014 from the original chapter I first posted.
Disclaimer: All Characters belong to Stephanie Meyer. The plot is all mine.
Almost two weeks had passed since that awful trip to Italy. After Edward, Alice and I returned nearly everything went back to normal, as normal as it could be along the lines of comfortable and peaceful around Forks. The Cullens moved back into their opulent glass house, and sank into their façade human roles like they never left, and we all went back to living as though the last 7 months didn't happen. And aside from the Volturi's threat to make sure I was to be turned before I was deemed expendable much to Edward's utter dismay, things between him and I were stronger than ever. Now that I was guaranteed immortality, I had nothing to worry about. So I tried to enjoy what little weeks I had of my humanity with an extra spring in my step.
Today was a Saturday, and like a ritual that I had adapted recently into my life I dedicated this day to spending it with my soon to be vampire family. I was in-route driving to the Cullen's house. Upon my arrival in front of the big glass overlook of the residence, I parked my truck to the side and slid out of the driver's seat. Normally Alice would have been by my side in a heartbeat jumping very boisterously with a contagious sense of excitement. But today there was no such welcome, and though it was perhaps strange, I didn't dwell on it being in the realm of bad signs. Not until I closed the door to my truck and in the same second I heard a loud clash followed by a stream of growls. And the fact that it was loud enough that my weak human ears could detect was startling enough that I had to use the side of my Chevy truck to hold me on my feet. And worst of all is that what caused my skin to break out into goose bumps was when I realized the growling was coming from more than a single individual.
A normal person would have stayed put. A normal person would have gotten back into their vehicle and drove away in fright. And though I was overcome with fear, fleeing was the last thing on my mind as I shakily made my way inside the house. My eyes scanned the main living room as soon as I swung the door open, and when I found it to be empty I was going to make my way to the first floor, but before I could reach the stairs I heard voices coming from the dining room. Rather than pace slowly, I ran as fast as my feet took me, only to be frozen right at the entrance of the dining area.
An eerily new sense of fear paralyzed me when my eyes caught the sight of two pairs of crimson red eyes. It was a mighty feat in itself to look away from such riveting gazes, especially when they were grinning with unbeknownst glee the moment I appeared at the scene. But with much effort and a loaded sense of urgency that pulsed into my system probably due to the running and the release of adrenaline, my eyes began to frantically scan the room. First person that seemed to catch my attention was Carlisle, he was sitting on the other side of the dining table with his head in his hands and his fingers laced into his fine mane of hair, gripping it in way that should have ripped it right from the roots. Esme was the next person to catch my gaze, only because she was sitting next to her husband and had her arm draped around his shoulders in a gesture that could only be read as comforting. Even with her arm over Carlisle's back, she turned to me and while her face was unreadable, her eyes told another story as they glistened in the same manner as a person who was attempting to hold tears at bay. But in her case I knew those tears would dry instantly before they had a chance to fall across her perfect cheekbones.
Had I not been standing so far away then I would not have caught sight of more bodies behind the two parental figures of the Cullen family. When my eyes drifted beyond the Cullen matriarch I immediately registered the unfamiliar face of an extremely enraged Emmett. Next to him was Jasper, full of confliction in his eyes and pain in his features, as he and Emmett were holding back someone that I never expected in my wildest dreams to be a person that needed any sort of restraint whatsoever. Alice in that moment looked more feral and beastly than I had ever seen her, even worse than when she caught a tang of my blood on my disastrous 18th birthday. She was snarling and growling menacingly at the two red-eyed guests. And if she was aware of my presence in that moment then her focus was on a solitary path with no acknowledgement to my attendance.
My throat felt as dry as sandpaper and when I felt the need to clear it, immediately all attention was on me. Perhaps it was a foolish mistake for the human to offensively be so loud in the presence of predators, two of which were not following a solitary dietary path of animal consumption. But the moment that tiny little cough left my throat, Carlisle lifted his head up to stare at me in shock. Like a deer caught in the headlights, he appeared to be taken off guard in a way that could only say that I happened upon him undetected.
And if I assumed Alice was aware of me before then clearly I stand correct, because at this moment I was bathed under her awareness and her posture instantly relaxed as she went from her previous predatory crouch to a casual stance. Both Jasper and Emmett loosened the tightened hold they had on her, and I could clearly see that the fabric of her blouse ripped by the rigidity of their skin when it clashed together in a strong hold, although both men still had their hands on her shoulder like they didn't trust her completely to remain poised and mannered.
"Bella, you are early." I blushed slightly when I flinched at Carlisle's words because I didn't expect him to be the one to break the tense silence, as he seemed to have snapped out of his momentary state of shock.
It sort of made me think perhaps that I wasn't supposed to walk in on them and their guests. "Uhh .. yes, well, I didn't have any work today. I thought I would drop by early." Somehow in the middle of my reply the situation escalated a level in awkwardness. I just felt like for some odd reason I didn't want to be around and thought of the first excuse that came to me in order to make my exit and leave. "I'll go find Edward." I spoke softly as I lowered my head and attempted to turn around from where I came.
"Don't bother." I stopped before I managed to spin on my heels. "Rosalie took him hunting." Emmett said through clenched teeth.
"Isabella." Without even thinking I instantly turned at the sound of my name to the handsome smiling face of young Alec.
"Please, why don't you take a seat so we can fill you in on the details. You are as much a part of this as the rest of the Cullens. Well actually you are the center of the entire discussion." Alec said with a confident smirk as he rose from his place and gestured with his hand extended to the vacant seat next to him.
It goes without saying that I was a nervous person by nature's design. But the nervous spiders crawling inside my stomach gave me a shivering experience that I only felt when I was back in Italy. Never the less, I walked over to take a seat. However I choose a seat next to Esme instead of the seat next to Alec, because though he offered the innocent boyish smile in kind he possessed the capacity in sadism of a full grown adult, or maybe perhaps that was the charm of vampires and the miracles of venom that made their entire race look nothing like the age of their turning.
Once I took my seat, Carlisle went back to putting his head in his hands with Esme offering her own measure of reassurance. Alec, giving no consideration to my rudeness of rejecting to sit next to him, lowered himself gracefully to sit right back down. I sensed movement from the rest of the family members, and when I turned to look around me I instantly saw Jasper taking the seat to my left, more surprising was when he placed his hand on mine. Because if there was something that Jasper hated more than feeling other people's emotions was touching the warm pulsing skin of humans. But the heartening gentle strokes of his thumb running across my heated skin spoke differently, and if Jasper was bothered by it then his entire demeanor showed none. And when he took notice to how intensely I was gazing at our joined hands, Jasper looked over to me and smiled softly before he gazed ahead at the pair sitting right across from us.
Alice and Emmett came behind me and stood over me, and from a perspective of an outside onlooker it would seem like I was being protectively cocooned between the Cullen members currently present. But it was not offering any sort of placating affect, in fact it just turned the tension by a notch of fifty folds, and that was just from the physical body language displayed because until this point no one spoke a word. I turned my gaze to the "non-vegetarians" sitting across from us and they seemed to be beaming with delight. Like they were in their own boarder of total bliss, and we were dangling from a thin wire over our doom.
And in that moment I thought: to hell with it. If the only human present was going to be the one to say something then so be it. Because if it was up to them, I think all the immortals would have been satisfied being frozen this way until I matured gray hairs. Although in my mind I talked a big game, my voice spoke softly. "What is going on?" I asked looking toward the vampires in front of me. And when their eyes widened with bright interest I bit my lip, as I couldn't help the blush that colored my cheeks.
"We came here to offer a proposition for Carlisle and his coven." Demetri answered with a knowing smile. But all I could do was swallow the nervous lump in my throat.
"You see, Isabella, the Volturi will be providing the Cullen coven protection." Alec went on to explain. "They will be forever protected by us, as long as they meet our condition." The look on Alec's face as he said this seemed like he was fighting a great effort to keep on a straight face. Like an inside joke our side of the table was not privy to.
A few seconds of silence passed before I realized that there was no more to be said from the two Volturi Elite. Worrying my lip between my teeth, my curiosity got the better of me. "What is the condition?" I asked. I noticed Alec trying to hold back a smirk or a laugh, I couldn't be sure. But it was to the point where he felt the need to place his hand over his mouth because he couldn't reign in his features. And perhaps it was nothing to think too much into except when all the Cullens were growling and vibrating with fury that's when I sensed the relevance, aside from Carlisle who barely moved and spoke since I arrived.
"The Cullens need to give us something in exchange." Alec answered my query with a carefree attitude toward the individuals around me that looked ready to rip his head right off his shoulders.
I shook my head, not quit keeping up with the conversation. Because I felt like I was missing something vital especially when Alec made it very clear that the issue involved me. "I don't understand. What does any of this have to do with me?" I asked as I felt a prickle of panic in my chest, but it immediately vanished as Jasper squeezed my hand and bathed me in his calm influence.
Alec stroked his chin as he exchanged a glance with Demetri. "Maybe I should rephrase my statement and clarify the details." Alec replied leaning slightly over the table, as his bright red mesmerizing eyes locked onto my brown ones. "The condition is that the Cullens need to give us someone in exchange for our protection." Alec stated slowly, taking his sweet time to make sure each word registered into my comprehension. And when the words truly sank into my brain, I felt a metaphorical click echo in my head. And if I weren't sitting straight before now my body tensed to a point where I felt my muscles would snap.
I didn't quite know what emotion was displayed upon my face, but I imagined it was something between shock, denial and disbelief all rolled into one. I stared at them with wide eyes and I feared the worst. Because the first thing that came into my mind was: Edward. Were they after Edward? Is that why Edward is not here? Did Rosalie take him and fled?
Not even Jasper's influence could erase the newly flourishing waves of panic gripping at my heart as my mind worked a mile a minute trying to piece the situation together. I shut my eyes as I tried to confirm my thoughts, my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my ribcage by the heavy rhythm it pulsed. "Who is this someone that you wish to get in return?" I asked. My voice breaking a little as I kept my eyes firmly shut, picturing Edward as he spends years away from me while he tries to outrun the Volturi, and I wondered if I was ever going to see him again. If our small peaceful time together was short lived and if I was going to spend the rest of my brief time as a human, and possibly the first years of being a newborn vampire without the one person I wished to share those experiences with the most ….
"It's you, Isabella." Like a dagger, Demetri's voice cut through the strings to my thoughts. My eyes instantly fluttered open as I stared at the taupe haired vampire. My jaw slacked in shock at his words. They wanted me? …. Me. Not Edward.
But then the situation slowly started to piece together in my head. The Cullens will be safe as long as the Volturi have me? I am to be offered in exchange for the Volturi to protect the Cullens. I tried to work and re-work this idea in my head. And for some reason it felt like it was too much to be true, especially about the part where I'm supposed to be handled like a bargaining item between two vampire covens.
"You will NOT have her!" Alice snarled, making me nearly jump in my seat. I never heard Alice use such a tone before.
Alec sighed, shrugging his shoulders. "I am afraid you don't have any other choice. When the Volturi presents an offer you don't turn your back on it without making us into your enemies. I presume that's the last thing you need right now especially with that rogue vampire killing in your town." He replied deviously. They knew about Victoria. And the look on their faces said they have been, and for some time. Because it didn't look like the news barely outraged them in the least.
"We can clean our own mess!" Emmett yelled slamming his hand on the table and it was a testament to his control that the wood didn't fall apart under his palm. Although I'm sure there would be an impressive fissure to witness when he lifts his hand, one that would displease Esme greatly had it been any other situation. For a moment I had to wonder why was I contemplating such an unnecessary thought so calmly when not a while ago I was as edgy as the rest of the people that I cared about around me.
"I doubt that. If you could then you would have done so already. Sooner or later she could cause our kind to be exposed and we cannot have that. She is already getting out of control and we need to ensure she is disposed of properly." Alec scoffed as he reclined back in his seat and folded his arms in front of his chest.
"Besides we heard she is killing a lot of innocent people. Wouldn't you be glad that once we take care of her the other humans would be spared from unnecessary death?" Demetri added quirking an eyebrow in amusement. He was baiting, maybe a little too condescendingly. But it was an obvious show to say that the Cullens cannot handle one single vampire all by themselves, and they should hand over that task to the Volturi instead.
I took a moment to ponder that. They would kill Victoria, ridding Forks and the innocent bystanders and the people I cared about from needless killings. In addition, Edward and the rest of the Cullens would be offered eternal protection from the strongest coven in the vampire world. And all they asked in return was that the Cullens would give me up. I would be a sacrifice so that my family can be safe. But they are obviously refusing to hand me over. Yet at some point during my thought process I came to the sudden realization that there are some things that need to be decided and that the Cullen had no say in the matter. Because in the end it all came down to what I would ultimately decide. And I knew I didn't have to think for long because right away my mind was made up. And for the moment I was thankful that Edward wasn't here for I knew he would stop me if he found out what I was about to do.
However I didn't expect a certain dark haired pixie to see through my plans. I suddenly jumped up from my seat when I heard Alice screaming her head off. It took me a few seconds to realize she was shouting at me. "NO! …. No no no no! Oh please for the love of god, Bella! You cannot be serious!" Alice pleaded to me before Emmett held her back, but her struggles were short lived as she slumped against his arm and began to sob in a way that made my heart break for her.
Alec chuckled and I whipped my body around to face him because the disturbing sound of his joyful voice when my sister in many ways was sobbing made a chill rise within my spine. "It seems the girl has made her decision." Alec declared, clapping his hands together in a way that was somewhat a little too familiar.
Suddenly I felt a cold hand on my cheek and I turned around to see Carlisle standing right next to me with a look of vulnerability and confliction in his beautiful sun kissed eyes. But I was more stunned with the fact that he was not slumped in the same posture he was through this whole ordeal. He was so quiet and still that I almost forgot he was even in the same room with us. "Bella, my lovely beautiful daughter, I promise you that we will find a way around this. If it's the last thing I do." He promised with a broken voice that held a rasp of a sob that was threatening to break from his control.
I placed my hand over Carlisle's very hand that rested on my cheek, and pressed my head more into his touch. At that moment I understood Carlisle's anguish. He was the leader of the coven, yet he couldn't do anything to prevent what was happening, because you can never go against the Volturi. I felt saddened for the way my father figure felt, nestling my face more into his caress, which he seemed to welcome as his thumb stroked over my cheekbone. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes and spilling over, and for a moment I felt like I was crying more in his place than for myself. It angered me somewhat that of all the moments I could bond with Carlisle, this would be the moment for us to truly feel for one another, as a family should.
But like any bittersweet moment, this was frustratingly cut short. "Alright, enough wasting time. Since the girl has made her choice then we shall leave immediately. You may say your goodbyes to her." Demetri said as he and Alec rose from their seats.
My head whipped around frantically. "What about my father? How will you explain my disappearance?" I asked, looking at everyone.
"Don't worry about Charlie, my dear. We will find an excuse." Esme replied. And with that in mind, I nodded and walked along with Carlisle and the rest of the family behind us to the main room of the house.
We stopped before the door to the Cullen manor, and I noticed a black vehicle with heavily tinted windows parked outside when there were no other cars parked except my truck. At some point I thought I might be waking from this and it would all just be some very vivid dream gone wrong. But Carlisle's arm around my shoulder just cemented the fact that this situation couldn't have been more real.
I stopped and turned around to look at each member of the Cullen family, my family. And one by one they stepped forward for their goodbyes. Esme was the first one to hug me, she wrapped her arms and embraced me while she kissed my cheek very tenderly, and when she let go she dry sobbed as she stepped to the side. Carlisle gently pulled me into his arms and warmly rubbed my back, and before he released me he kissed me on the head as he reassured me again that he would find a way to bring me back while Demetri scoffed at my father-figure's promise.
Alice stepped up cautiously and wrapped her slender arms around my shoulders and kissed both my cheeks. She pressed her head next to mine and whispered, "Don't worry, I will come see you as soon as I can. You will not be alone in this." I smiled at all the love and affection she had for me. She really is a true sister, if not by blood then at heart.
Up to this point I felt like I was staying strong and holding a firm control over my emotions though it crushed my chest and squeezed my heart. But as soon as Alice released me, that control shattered when Emmett swiftly grabbed me and pulled me into his bear hug that always managed to knock the wind out of me. He nuzzled my neck and inhaled my scent like he always enjoyed doing, and I felt fresh tears filling my eyes and spilling over at the farewell I was giving my big brother, this probably hurt the most. I heard whimpers and it took me a second to realize that it was coming from me. Because prying myself from Emmett's arms was very hard to accomplish, especially when it was apparent that even he was reluctant to let me go.
I was surprised when Jasper approached me timidly and hugged me. He hugged me just as tightly as Emmett. I didn't think I was that close with him, but his embrace said otherwise. I found myself sobbing loudly knowing I had a family who loved me and I would be leaving them for their safety. But I knew that if I didn't feel this strongly about them then I would not have done so in the first place.
As soon as I said my last goodbyes to all my family members, with the exception of two, I made my way to the door with Demetri and Alec hovering very closely by my side. It felt erroneous in some way because I knew it drew a line and I was standing on the wrong side of it. Before walking out, I turned around once more and tried as best as I could to memorize the faces of my vampire family, to hold me strong until the next time I saw them. If there was even a hope of seeing them soon or in the future, because right now I was stepping forward blindly, and I would not have the aid of Alice's visions to guide me.
I bit my lip and for a second I hesitated to say the words that were caught in my throat, but I didn't know if I was going to have a chance to ever say it so I threw my insecurity out the window. "Tell Edward I love him." I said. And with their unanimous nods, I walked out of the door chocking back a fresh wave of tears as Alec and Demetri escorted me to the waiting car.