Chapter 4: Ascent

Jasper was going over battle plans in his head on the drive to Forks; he was beyond thrilled to finally have something on a larger scale than a half-dozen bickering vampires . He swore he hadn't seen anything this exciting since Vicksburg.

I was still in a desperate fury when we arrived at the self-same Cullen Manor that I had visited to set this whole maelstrom of events into motion. It was curiously quiet, something that convinced me that they had absconded with my better half.

We were amassed outside the big white house where those bastard bride-thieves lived when I realized that, not only were several of the Cullens inside the house innocently tending to domestic tasks, but there were quite a few unfamiliar individuals coming towards us from the edge of the woods. I took a deep breath and then realized that my conviction that Carlisle had double-crossed me was gone. Vanished.

Also curiously missing from the scene was the one person I knew who could manipulate a fellow's feelings. My confidante, my best blood-buddy, my right hand, was suddenly not at hand.

But on-site was a large, malevolent, dark-cloaked mass of monsters. The Volturi were here, and they had me outflanked and outnumbered.

A long-haired, foppish fellow stepped forward and regarded me with amusement.

"You must be Edward," he said in a bored, affected tone with an unidentifiable accent. "A pleasure." He stretched his wickedly white hand, and I knew that this was Aro, the boss of the baddest of the bad vampires. I was in big trouble.

I took his hand, hoping that compliance would keep my head attached to my shoulders where I preferred it. He held my hand as he sucked the memories out of my head and gulped them down. When we parted, he shook an elegant finger at me.

"You've been naughty, Edward. You have an awfully large group of immortals here. What could you possibly need with so many friends?" I grinned at him with what I hoped was an endearing grin.

"I get lonely?" I shrugged my shoulders. Aro shook his head slowly and then gestured to his army of antagonistic-looking helpers. "Destroy them all." I looked at him, wide-eyed. "Except my new friend Edward, of course."

I watched in numb amazement as the Volturi guard took down every last member of my coven. I can't say that I didn't care, but most of my worry at that moment was wrapped up in the survival of my own precious skin and the welfare of my lovely wife. I still saw neither hide nor hair of Jasper or Bella. Carlisle strolled out of the house and onto the lawn of his little suburban battle zone, where Aro greeted him like an old friend.

"Carlisle, my friend, your neighbor here was approaching your family home with an alarmingly large group of thugs. Is there bad blood between you two?"

Carlisle regarded me sadly. "I didn't realize there was, until today." He looked at me with an expression of regret. "His delightful new wife was even staying with us. How could you, Edward?" I looked at Carlisle, bewildered. Frankly, I had no idea what was going on. I was utterly perplexed.

"Ah, yes. The lovely Isabella." Aro spoke with a sigh. I glanced at him sharply. I needed to know what had become of my Bella. As unlikely as it seemed, I actually found myself caring about the welfare of another creature, perhaps even more so than my own all-important well-being.

I was stunned to see Aro wave his hand to the pile of burning vampire parts and shake his head sadly. "An unfortunate necessity."

Bella was dead? I was devastated. I barely paid attention as Aro and Carlisle discussed what would happen to me. I slumped to the ground while they discussed me like an errant child.

"I don't want to destroy you, young Edward. You have such potential. It would be a waste. Don't you agree, Carlisle?" Carlisle nodded.

"I think that what I shall do is allow you to live, but I am putting you under the care of my dear old friend. That is, if you are willing to take him in?" Aro looked at Carlisle, who nodded seriously.

"I will do my best to see that Edward learns the error of his ways. He will, of course, have to adopt our diet and find a way to make himself useful to humanity."

"I have no doubt that he will rise to the occasion, my friend. Edward, if you separate yourself from Carlisle's care we will know, and we will make sure that no piece of you larger than a speck of dust remains. Am I understood?"

I nodded numbly and allowed Carlisle to lead me into the house, where I shuffled past the other Cullens - my new "family" - and up to a spacious bedroom that they had evidently put aside for guests and involuntary adoptees.

They told me that they would give me time to get myself together after the shock, and left me alone in my new room.

I lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. In the space of a few hours I had been deprived of my empire, betrayed by my best friend, tragically widowed, and told I would be posing as the son of a country doctor and would eat only wildlife for the rest of my never-ending life. I was a tad overwhelmed, to say the least.

I was musing on ways to end the suffering I was sure to experience when a familiar mind approached my door. I met my former best friend at the door with a growl.

"You." I said, pointing a finger at my ex-companion. "You betrayed me." I glared at him and tried to calculate the chances of defeating him in a fight. He smiled at me and held his palms out in a gesture of surrender.

"Aro's gonna come right back here if we're fighting, you know." At that moment a tiny, black-haired girl entered the room. I knew this must be Alice. The contents of her mind were like nothing I had ever seen. I saw events that had already happened that she couldn't have possibly seen: Bella kissing me in the penthouse, Jasper and I meeting to discuss abducting Bella from Forks. I stared at her in awe.

"Don't worry, dear. You and Edward aren't going to fight." She slipped under his arm, and I could see it in both of their thoughts: love. Jasper was in love with this little witch, and it had been going on for some time.

"You betrayed me for a woman?" I stared at him incredulously. Jasper shrugged at me. "I've been alone for a century and a half, Edward. I'm not saying that you weren't a good friend and a nice boss, but…" he gestured to her. She giggled and extended her hand for me to shake. I glared at it as if it were dog food.

"Oh, come on, Edward. We're going to be good friends in time. I've seen it!"

"You saw all of it. This is your doing." She could see the future. I saw how I had been fooled. My "winning" the two wagers, Bella asking to be here to change, Jasper putting the doubt in my head so I would expose myself in front of the Volturi. It was all a trap. Alice took a miniature bow.

"I can't take all the credit for changing your life, Edward. Jasper did his bit. As did Carlisle. And of course the whole thing would have been impossible without Bella."

I was reminded again of the terrible fate that befell my lovely Bella, and again tried to think of ways to end it all. Could I convince Jasper to help me out one more time?

"Edward, you big baby," Alice giggled. I wanted to kill her and I'd only known her for three minutes. "Why don't you wait, oh, I don't know," she looks at her watch, "three minutes before you swallow your service revolver." I glared at her. I just wanted to be alone in my misery, and she and her soul mate, my former best friend, were getting in the way of my wallowing.

"What difference is three minutes going to make?" I looked at my formerly fiendish friend and sniffed. "Jasper, with all due respect, can you and your precious little Ouji board get out of here and let me suffer alone?"

"We'll let you sulk on your own, boss," Jasper patted me on the shoulder and tried to pull that grinning little architect of my demise out of the room with him. She looked at me with a childish pout.

"I want to see it!" she exclaimed, and resisted his pull. She winked at me and then reached over and straightened the collar of my shirt. I flinched away from her. She shrugged and put her hands on her hips. "If you want to look like a slob when she gets here, that's your business!" she said with a nonchalant wave of her hand.

"What are you talking about?" I couldn't get anything from her head. It was almost like deliberate nonsense in there: exercise videos, images from a catalog, a scene from what looked like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Then I heard the rapid beat of footsteps and through the open doorway comes…my Bella. Alive and kicking. I could only stare at her white marble skin and ruby eyes. I'd never been so relieved in my life.

Without pausing, she threw herself into my arms, wrapping her arms and legs around me and hitting me with all the force of a flying newborn vampire. It sent me backwards several yards, but I stayed on my feet and wrapped my arms around her.

"Bella," was all I could choke out, burying my face in her brown hair. I glanced up to see Jasper and Alice over her shoulder, beaming at me. I didn't want to let my undead angel go, but I had to know what had happened because I just didn't think that my black heart could deal with any more surprises.

I pulled her away enough to look from her face to those of my new siblings. "Can someone let me know what I missed?" is all I could ask, bewildered and befuddled as I was.

"We hid Bella," Jasper said. "Aro wanted her destroyed before he met her, just to punish you, and Alice saw that if he met her, he would take her back to Italy. Because of her shield." Jasper tapped the side of his head to indicate the lockdown that was my baby's mind.

"So we hid her. Aro's goons are actually convinced that they got her, there were so many in your coven." Alice spoke up, looking fondly at Bella. This reminded me that Bella had been in on this deception. I held her out at arm's length and scrutinized her.

"How much of this did you know about, my sweetheart?" She looked at the floor sheepishly and then, peeking at me sideways through her long lashes, she said, "All of it. Do you hate me?" I stared at her, thinking of the implications.

"You knew that when you kissed me, it meant that you would become this?" I gestured to her, red eyes, exquisite, permanent, alabaster perfection.

She nodded. "I knew that I would save the lives of a lot of humans that you and your coven would have fed on." I started to turn away from her but she stopped me. "And I knew that I would be able to be with you forever. Alice showed me how much I would love you even before I met you." I looked back at her. She was watching me earnestly, afraid that I would reject her.

"That part was true?" I asked, breathless, not daring to believe. "You really fell in love with me?" She nodded.

I was strongly tempted to let her off the hook before I remembered something. "Then why did you wait to kiss me until the last day of the wager? I mean, you knew what was going to happen. Why make me suffer?" I tried to refrain from smiling but I couldn't. Neither could she. She gave me a broad grin and wrapped her arms around me again. I let her. She giggled in my ear.

"You kidnapped me. I had to have some fun with you." It was then that I realized that my ambition, my hunger for power be damned, I had been beaten, fair and square by this little girl. I had lost my Underworld kingdom, but I had gained a queen.

Now, I won't pretend that I'm happy about eating animals. Really, it's like having a warm dirt milkshake for every meal. Forever.

And living with the Cullens is not as cool as having my own Seattle penthouse. I have to listen to the thoughts of the same people day after day, without even the respite of sleep. Rosalie is just plain vapid and resentful, a horrific combination. Carlisle and Esme are sweet, but so stupefyingly good so much of the time it makes my fangs hurt. Emmett's thoughts make me feel like I'm living in an episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard."

I miss having other creatures at my beck and call. I had quite enjoyed being top dog and to suddenly find myself pumping my own gas and taking out the garbage was rather humiliating. And don't even get me started on high school.

Occasionally, I'll consider the life I had lost - the grandeur, the delicious malevolence, and the power - and compare it to my life now, with high school students and listening to Emmett and Rosalie have sex and having to eat things with fur. My beloved will notice me getting a little down at the mouth.

And then my Bella, my dark-haired Delilah, my supernatural Salome, will gesture to my new kingdom: the messy third floor bedroom of the Cullen's house, our bodies tangled up in the sheets of our bed, clothes torn in our haste to be naked together, furniture smashed to bits by our passion.

"I guess it's not much compared to being able to prance around Seattle being a big important vampire." She'll sigh and rest her head on my chest and I'll admit how crazy I'm being, and then I'll let her remind me why I wouldn't trade this for any world.

Ok, so maybe I just pretend to be sad so she'll have to cheer me up. You can't expect me to change overnight, can you?

a/n: Betham betas it, the poor thing. Thanks for all the love for this peculiar little story. xoxo JuJu