Chapter 12: Norway

After entirely too much travel, I arrived back home in Forks, alone in a car with Carlisle. Esme and Edward had gotten out and were running home to prop up my preposterous story, although Edward had promised to come by and see me soon.

When I got in the door of my house, it was almost ten p.m. (Friday) local time, and I was even about the right amount of tired. Charlie was waiting up for me, and engulfed me in a tremendous hug when I lurched through the door. "Bells, you're home! I missed you."

"I missed you, too, Dad," I said with a watery sort of smile.

"I called your mother," Charlie went on, and I winced; "she's expecting you to get on the phone with her tomorrow, but I convinced her to leave you be tonight."

"Thanks, Dad."

"Why didn't Dr. Cullen warn us that you'd sleepwalk ahead of time?" he asked, looking over my head at Carlisle, who was sitting in his car in the driveway. Carlisle waved, smiled, and drove off, having confirmed that I was safely home.

"Uh, it's a really rare symptom," I said. "I guess he didn't think it was worth worrying us about."

"Hmph," Charlie said. "Well, I'm glad you're better. You've looked under the weather for weeks."

I hadn't thought Charlie had noticed - Rosalie's drug schedule, and the fortunately-complete-before-I-was-kidnapped egg extraction surgery, had left me a little less than my best, but no one had commented. Well, Edward had commented, mostly to see if there was anything he could do for me, but he knew what was going on - no humans had said anything about it.

"I feel fine now," I assured him. "Just kind of tired - lots of travel."

Charlie nodded, patted me on the head, and released me from the hug. "Get a good night's sleep, Bells," he instructed, and I nodded.

When I got up to my room, Edward was already there.

"Your father would have turned me away if I'd gone by the door," Edward explained. "But I did say I'd drop by."

"Soon, you said, not immediately," I laughed softly, not wanting to alert Charlie to the fact that I was having a conversation.

"Immediately is soon," he countered, pulling me into another hug. He smelled so nice. All of the vampires did, although there were variations - Esme reminded me of vanilla, for instance. I leaned on him sleepily and inhaled.

"I'm tired," I announced.

"All right," he said, kissing my forehead. "I'll leave you be to rest; James isn't after you anymore, thankfully, so you don't need constant supervision."

"You could stay anyway," I suggested, half conscious, and then Edward tucked me into bed and I was out like a light.

I woke up still in the clothes Gianna had given me. Edward was lying next to me, on top of the covers that I was tucked under; I could feel his arm around me. Through the blanket, I could barely tell that he was cold.

"Morning," I yawned, burrowing my head a little deeper into the pillow. It was Saturday, nobody was trying to kill me, and I could lounge in bed all day if I wanted to.

Interestingly, my exciting week didn't prevent life from going back to normal. Or rather, what had become normal in recent months. After Emmett and Jasper went on a road trip to truck David up to Denali, I was able to resume my visits to the Cullen house. Alice decided that she needed to plan my wedding - "after all," she explained, "even if you decide not to actually get married when you tell everyone you are, you'll have to send home convincing photos, so that means decorations and cake and clothes!" She had a point, and I turned the responsibility over to her after securing veto power over anything I found absolutely tasteless.

Gianna took ten days to reply to my first e-mail, which I sent the Monday after my return. It had been a brief thing - "I'm home safe, how are you, thanks again for the clothes, what's up in Volterra". I was fishing for tidbits with which to start some more substantial exchange, and from there I hoped to segue into asking the questions that really itched at me.

Dear Bella, her reply began. Apparently she was in the habit of treating e-mails like letters.

I'm glad you got home okay, and I hope everything continues to go smoothly for you. I'm doing fine. Today I finally found out why Santiago goes by a man's name - it's not her name at all, it's the city she's from. She didn't tell me her real name, though, and I try not to ask too many questions in a row, because it makes them suspicious. Maybe I'll find out the next time I talk to her. But she seems to prefer to go by "Santiago", so I'm not sure how useful that would be. I have heard that Carlisle, from your coven, lived with the Volturi long ago. Perhaps he knows. Sincerely, Gianna"

This read to me like either an out-of-place bit of dwelling on Santiago's name - I hadn't even known it wasn't a girls' name - or a subtle direction to go to Carlisle, not Gianna, for info on the Volturi. That was all well as far as it went. (And it might also mean they were reading her mail.) But Carlisle had lived in Volterra before Gianna had even been born, and it was her I was most interested in learning about.

Dear Gianna, I wrote a few days later, following the convention she preferred. I asked Carlisle and he says Santiago is a more recent addition to the guard, so he doesn't know her name. During the entire time he was there, in fact, no one new arrived. So he only knows a few things about how they normally bring in new people. Apparently they go out of their way to add witches, or rather vampires with extra talents, but not everyone in the guard has one. How do people without extra talents get admitted to the guard? Sincerely, Bella

We went back and forth at a snail's pace - short, oblique e-mails every week or two. It was frustrating. I eventually gave up on figuring out the details of how Gianna had come to work for the Volturi or whether she expected to join them one day. I settled for newsy personal exchanges. We both stuck to innocuous information that her bosses wouldn't care about: I never told her if Jasper came close to slipping up in public or anything about Quileutes. Gianna would mention if she traveled internationally, but never specified city and only sometimes told me the country. She often told me in glowing terms about her favorite restaurants in Volterra, which was the very safest of topics and was frequently mouthwatering to read.

Edward offered me once to tell me what he'd read off Gianna's mind when he'd been nearby. I asked how much he'd listened to, and it wasn't much - enough to answer a fraction of my questions but not all of them. He hadn't heard enough to know whether Gianna had a good reason to be cagey, and that was the part that made me refuse. I had no idea how often Aro read her, or how little it would take to turn her into a snack. If the Volturi were reading the correspondence, and I accidentally hinted something I'd learned from Edward, they could think she'd spilled the beans some other way. Refusing information was hard, but it was the sort of thing I'd need to be able to do if I was going to spend any time with Edward.

The school year plodded on. Despite my weeklong absence and increasing restlessness about the unstimulating work, I went on pulling good grades. I was able to contain the story about my departure via pickup truck - among my classmates and teachers the blanket explanation for the entire five days was "Bella was sick".

Edward and I continued brandishing our relationship at anyone who wandered past. If anything, we had gotten more over-the-top. I started talking about rings - in the abstract - with Jessica, and by the following afternoon, the rumor was that Edward had already proposed.

He hadn't. In fact, ostentatious couplehood aside, nothing had changed except that Edward had started staying overnight most days - lying awake next to me and listening to me (apparently) talk in my sleep. I made him tell me what I'd said, every morning after the one on which he informed me I'd been mumbling. It was usually names, Cullens and family members and classmates. Sometimes it was incomprehensible fragments like "don't the cake" or "prawns, where the rainbow is".

When his nighttime visits had been the only change by the end of April, I was pretty sure he was disobeying Alice: he wasn't going slow, because he wasn't going at all.

We had been dating for months and he still hadn't told me he loved me.

I knew perfectly well that he did. That was the thing - I'd have been in a far different sort of situation if Edward hadn't fallen for me.

I'd been informed that the Denali sisters brought random human men into their beds all the time (previously to eat them in the style of the praying mantis, lately just to have fun and send them home alive, albeit bruised). They didn't rearrange their lives around those men, because they didn't love them. But when Laurent had shown up, he and one of the sisters, Irina, had been magnetically drawn to each other, and then no more soft and warm boys for her - a rather significant lifestyle change for one of the inspirations of succubus myth. If I'd just looked like a good time, while also being Edward's "singer", he'd have left town. It wouldn't have been worth the risk of my exsanguination (and the ensuing investigation into my death).

And even if that hadn't been the case, Edward was really obvious. The way he looked at me just screamed that he loved me. The way he touched me, the presents, the way he zipped about making sure that everything I wanted was in place whenever I expressed preferences - everything. It was the plainly missing piece every time he spoke to me.

And he wouldn't say it.

The traditional way to elicit a profession of love was to offer one oneself. I was sure that would get him to reply in kind. But I wasn't sure it was true. I suspected it... but didn't know how to be sure.

I was tempted to just wait another month, get turned, and then have a magical guarantee that I wouldn't be lying. But it didn't just bother me that it had gone unsaid - it bothered me that there was something this significant that I didn't know about myself.

I didn't want to be witnessed at this particular exercise, so I found a thick quilt to cover me and the laptop. I picked a Tuesday afternoon when Jessica had canceled our study plans, and so Edward didn't expect to monopolize me. I ensconced myself in my room and typed.

I put my thoughts right after the long, thorough diary entry I'd made about the days I'd spent in James's control. (Unpleasant as it had been, I didn't want to forget about it entirely when my human memories were occluded by newer, sharper vampire ones: therefore it had to be written down, where I could read it later and retrieve everything about the description with perfect fidelity.)

Thinking about whether I loved Edward was unfamiliar and difficult. It was like I was wading through mud. Laboriously, I typed. I certainly at least liked Edward. I enjoyed his company - he went to considerable lengths to make sure that I would - and I was attracted to him. I didn't know how that added up to love, if it did, or if there was something else that was supposed to be involved. Was there anyone I could ask?

The vampires were all out. They were all cases of love at first sight or close to it (beforehand, for Alice), which I definitely hadn't experienced. Their recognition of the state wasn't likely to be informative to me. I didn't really want to have a conversation with either of my parents that would throw my planned elopement into doubt, and their marriage had ended in divorce anyway (although things seemed to be working out for Renée and Phil so far).

I wondered if any of my human friends from school would be useful. Jessica and Mike were still together, but they had a fractious and not particularly intellectual relationship. Being Jessica's boyfriend meant being Jessica's status symbol and her designated source of makeouts and free dinners, and not much else. Angela had eventually gotten together with the object of her affections, a boy named Ben. Their relationship seemed more like mine than Jessica and Mike's. Angela and Ben were content together, and did small things to make each other happy, and seemed secure in their mutual affection.

The "secure" bit seemed important. That was possibly the thing I liked most about Edward - he was safe in the way no one else ever could be. He couldn't get sick of me. He couldn't cheat. He couldn't hurt me - well, accidents were possible, but only accidents. He couldn't even want to do any of those things. He'd protect me with his life, if that was what it took; he was resisting temptation I couldn't even comprehend in order to be near me, and he did it perfectly every time.

Being with Edward was peculiar in many ways, simply because he was a vampire, but in a sense, it was uncomplicated.

After I'd gotten this far I started feeling vaguely uncomfortable about picking the subject apart by myself. It seemed like it might be Edward's business, how I felt about him, and it was uncommonly challenging to plow through this mess - someone to talk to might help.

I poked at my keyboard for a few minutes more, disconsolate about my inability to sort things out myself. I wished I'd dated more - well, at all - in Phoenix, so I could say, "Oh, this is different, these feelings are stronger/dissimilar, they're more intrusive/altruistic/abstract/frequent/full of sex/whatever, aha, perhaps I am now in love." No such luck. I'd spent my time single. I'd focused on the more diverting schoolwork offered by AP classes, the endless rotation of Renée's new obsessions, and books. Even the romance novels were unhelpful: the characters didn't act like any real human beings I'd met at all, and if I wasn't prone to comparable dramatic exhalations about my uncontrollable ardor, it didn't mean anything except that I wasn't meant to be watercolored on the cover of a mass market paperback containing borderline porn.

The prospect of talking to Edward about whether I was in love with him or not sounded extremely awkward. It would probably hurt him, I'd probably trip over my tongue a lot, and it might not even lead me to a definite conclusion. I could just put it off, just a bit longer.

But Edward was, above all things, safe to talk to. That wasn't true of anyone else, and I wasn't getting very far on my own -

And I wanted to hear him say it.

I did my homework, reassessed my intentions for another minute, and then called Edward. He agreed to come over as soon as I told him Jessica had canceled and asked if he'd like to. Minutes later, he was at the door, buttering up Charlie with gentlemanly formality and then slipping upstairs to me.

As soon as he crossed into my room, his arms were around me and his lips planted on my forehead. "Hello, Bella," he said, drawing his face back an inch to look me in the eye.

"Hi, Edward," I said, simultaneously soothed to see him and anxious about having the conversation I was about to prompt.

He noticed, of course. "Bella, what's wrong?" He pulled me to sit next to him on my bed, one arm around me and the other holding my hand.

I dropped my head onto his shoulder. I decided to start with him instead of myself, my motivations somewhere between wanting to work up to it and wanting to simply put it off. "Do you love me?" I asked.

"Yes," he said at once, in a low murmur.

"You never say it."

"I didn't want to push you," Edward sighed. "You'll let me hold you, you'll let me spend more time with you than I would have dared to ask for - I don't want to do anything that would jeopardize that. It's already so much more than I deserve."

I picked my head up and stared at him. He met my gaze calmly. Did he really think that? That I was "letting" him be near me? That my permission was a fragile thing he had to tiptoe around? How could he think that?

"Edward, I love you," I said, and I knew as I said it that it was true.

There was a silent moment, and then Edward was kissing me, and I had just enough time to think oh, I guess we can do that after all before my brain shut up and let me enjoy myself.

Kissing Edward was a lot like everything else about being with Edward - sweet and easy. I had no idea how to be any good at kissing, but there wasn't any need for me to be. It just worked. The conflict between kissing and breathing meant I eventually had to pull back to inhale another lungful of lilac-scented air. Then I kissed him again. On my second attempt I discovered the useful habit of breathing through my nose.

He was still cold, but this reminded me more of ice cream than anything unpleasant. In one way, it was good that it hadn't come up that this activity was safe until April. The weather was warming up a little, leaving me comfortable even snuggled up to my vampire boyfriend as long as I had a hoodie on.

"You know," I said after a break several minutes later, "I'd been under the impression that there would be some venom-related issue. I should have asked, I suppose."

"Really?" he asked. "How long ago could this have happened if I'd mentioned that it was safe? Although it would be a bad idea for you to open your mouth," he acknowledged, furrowing his brow. "In case you had a cut or something."

"Months ago," I told him, and he looked at me incredulously and then kissed me again. A few minutes later, I said, "So as long as I'm kicking myself for not asking about this... Alice implied once that it would probably not be safe while I'm human to..." I made a vague gesture.

"She implied correctly," said Edward, making another one of those complicated faces. Impatience? Sorrow? Frustration? It was hard to disentangle.

"But Emmett makes enough lewd remarks that I surmise that afterwards..." I trailed off.

Edward nodded again, smiling slightly. "Emmett and Rosalie were very hard to be around for the first decade after he joined us," he said, wrinkling his nose. "I couldn't stand to be within five miles of them. Esme and Carlisle kicked them out - nicely, of course. Esme built them a house."

I giggled. I couldn't help it. "I'm going to love being a vampire," I predicted ecstatically, and then I kissed Edward.

April ended, and May began. School wouldn't end until mid-June. I decided to ask Charlie's permission well in advance to go on the tour of Europe with the Cullens, to give him more time to get used to the idea. I didn't think he'd refuse, and he didn't, although he made me swear up and down to keep in regular phone contact. I agreed readily. There was no good reason to cut off my family just because I was going to turn into a vampire.

Plans for the trip came together. We were, in fact, going to start in Scandinavia - Norway, to be specific. The Cullens just up and bought a house there - a big fixer-upper for Esme to play with in the middle of nowhere, where I'd be unlikely to run into any unsuspecting humans by accident while new. Houses in poor repair weren't that much of a problem for vampires who didn't get splinters, urgently need working plumbing, require creak-free places to sleep, or want electricity to see in the dark or maintain a kitchen.

Plans for my transformation, also, took form. Edward and Carlisle discussed, with very serious expressions on their faces, whether it would be a better idea to induce coma or just flood me with morphine before injecting venom. (Edward was already collecting it. I vaguely liked the idea of it being him who changed me, even with a syringe acting as intermediary.) Coma was eventually settled on, although they didn't know how much of the process I could sleep through with the transformation eating up the intrusive barbiturates.

Emmett wanted to tell me his story before I changed - it was his opinion that my change would resemble his more than anyone else's. He had, after all, been found and loved by Rosalie before she'd brought him to Carlisle - and she'd been there when he'd turned.

He'd been mauled by a bear, that I knew. When he had started to lose hold on consciousness, he'd heard what he'd thought was another animal, fighting with the original bear over his carcass. It was Rosalie, of course, making short work of the creature and picking up Emmett to rush him home with her. He'd felt like he was flying, and managed to open his eyes - and then fought to keep them there, transfixed by Rosalie's face.

He'd thought she was an angel, had been confused when she didn't take off into the air - "And then she brought me to God," he related, laughing. This impression of Carlisle (reasonable, I supposed, given that Emmett had lost a lot of blood, and had already taken Rosalie for an angel) led him to believe, when the transformation was underway, that he had been sent to Hell. But, he said, Hell wasn't so bad because his "angel" stayed with him - every time "God" came to see how he was progressing, Emmett had feared she'd be taken away, but she never was. In spite of the sensation of hellfire, he considered his fate merciful overall. And reacted, when it was over, surprisingly well to the whole "now you're a vampire" situation. Although (he chortled, somewhat inappropriately) he had some trouble adjusting to the Cullens' lifestyle.

When Emmett had finished telling me his story, I thanked him, and went straight to Edward. "When I'm turning," I said, "will you stay with me?"

"Yes," he said. He didn't hesitate, but it sounded like it was difficult for him to say the word.

I winced. "I know I'll probably be awful to be around, once I come out of the coma, screaming and crying and everything, but... it sounded like it helped Emmett."

Edward nodded, and pulled me into a snug embrace, which I leaned into gratefully. "I'll stay with you," he promised.

"And Rosalie said she could hear what you and Carlisle were saying to her, during..."

"I'll talk to you," he said, understanding what I meant. "It might help keep you distracted."

"And if it feels like fire..." I said, putting a hand against his cheek. "You're pretty chilly," I pointed out, feeling sheepish. "Has it been tried? Keeping turning people cold?"

"We haven't tried that, no," he said slowly. "It's not actually heat, you know, only the impression of it."

"Could it hurt to try? I'm sorry, I'm sure this is going to be as awful for you as it will be for me, but..."

Edward shook his head. "I'll hold you while it happens," he murmured, lacing his fingers through my hair.

May ended, and June began.

The school year began wrapping up. Final exam study guides were distributed. Yearbooks were sold. Summer plans were discussed with animated expressions of jealousy or sympathy, depending. My advertised trip to Europe with the Cullens elicited such dire looks of envy that I considered telling everyone that I also expected to spend three days being tortured by burning vampire venom. But of course that was a strict secret.

I told Gianna, though. Part of me hoped the Volturi were reading her mail and would be reassured that the date was set and I wouldn't go much longer as a human-in-the-know. I didn't tell her the address of the place in Norway, but I did mention that we'd be "just a bit north" of her and mentioned that my first meal was probably going to be moose.

Final exams marched by. End-of-year parties were held, and Edward and I showed up to some of them. Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper, all in senior year while Alice and Edward were juniors like me, graduated. We went to watch them, and I wondered how many times each had worn similar caps and gowns, listened to similar valedictorian speeches, walked across similar stages. I asked Rosalie, later, and she said, "Me? Ugh, too many times."

"Why do you keep going to high school? College would be more interesting, wouldn't it?" I inquired.

"It is. Had a bit of a problem with somebody actually calling my imaginary high school alma mater once, though, so now I just sit through a year or two of this," she gestured in the direction of the school building, "and go with a partially real transcript."

Saying goodbye to Charlie was difficult, but familiar. I'd left him for long periods of time after comparatively short visits every summer I could remember - it was just usually fall, not summer, when I did it. This time, I knew something he didn't: that I might not see him in person again for years - if ever.

I hugged him an extra time. It was all I could do.

The Cullens put cloths over everything in their house and garage, protecting it from dust, and then loaded three rental cars with bags and cases and boxes. I asked how many houses, full of furniture and hard-to-transport possessions, they had scattered around the world.

"If you leave out the ones that we're renting out, and include the one in Norway," said Edward, "twelve."

I whistled. He laughed and kissed me. We were sharing a car with Alice; Carlisle and Esme were in another, and Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie shared the last. (I suspected that Jasper was not in our car because it would be challenging to share such an enclosed space with me for that long. Soon, there would be no such problem.)

We arrived at the airport, slipped through airport security with minimized suspicion, boarded our airplane - first class again - and flew to Norway. Our flight itinerary had several hops, finally ending in the Bergen Airport. All of the Cullens had learned Norwegian for the occasion to interact with airport personnel, although Alice informed me that their accents were terrible for the time being, having been learned only from books and limited recordings. I stayed silent and let them speak for me. There would be plenty of opportunity to learn the language far more efficiently later.

The house was a big wooden thing. Esme looked like she was in love with it as soon as we drove up in the rentals we'd gotten in the city. (Rosalie planned to go shopping for cars later on, but rentals were faster to obtain compared to the nice sorts of cars the Cullens liked.)

While Carlisle prepped a place for me to do my turning and unpacked the necessary equipment to render me comatose, Edward scooped me up and ran me out to the coastline nearby so I could have a look at the view.

The fjords were beautiful.

When Edward got Carlisle's mental message that everything was set up, he murmured in my ear, "Whenever you're ready, Bella."

Was I ready? I leaned on Edward and thought about it. I was pretty sure being a vampire would be excellent. I was afraid of the process.

Three days, minus the duration of the coma.

"There's no way to stop it once it's started, right?" I asked. If I could commit, now, to sticking it out, if I'd come through it whether I liked or not, whole and psychologically intact... that was fine. If there was some chance that I could beg and plead until Edward couldn't stand it anymore and undid the progress, then it would be for nothing.

"No," he told me. "Bella, you can back out now, if you want. I promise I won't let anyone resent you for it. It's entirely up to you. If you want to wait, or change your mind, we can really just go on a tour of Europe with your heart still beating. You don't have to do this."

"I want to be a vampire," I said. "I'm just not... totally unmoved by the steps I have to take to get there."

He kissed my hairline. "You don't have to do it," he repeated.

"I'm going to," I said firmly. And then, with less confidence - "You'll stay."

"I'll stay," he promised. I looked into his eyes. He would stay, because I'd need him, even though every time I so much as flinched it would hurt him too.

I knew I had recently been uncertain, because I'd written it down, but how had I not known I'd loved him?

"I'm ready, then," I said, "as I'll ever be."

Edward picked me up, held me tight, and brought me back to the house. I ate a square of chocolate - the last time any human food would taste good to me. I let it dissolve on my tongue slowly, and then I went to the room Carlisle had selected as the site of the transformation.

I kept my eyes closed throughout the entire procedure while Carlisle drugged me into unconsciousness. I knew that once I fell asleep, Edward would plunge a vial of venom into my heart, and more into major pulse points - the more venom there was, the faster the change would be over with. I slipped away into darkness.

I awoke in flames.