Chapter 14: Self-Control
I boggled at him.
"Well," he said uncomfortably, "I was born in 1901."
"Riiiight," I sighed. "And the fact that it's not 1901 anymore leaves you unmoved?" I wriggled against him, just a little. He took a very deep breath.
Edward laid his palms against my cheeks and kissed me - carefully, chastely, not at all like the passionate delight in the hallway. I tried to follow his face with mine when he pulled back, but didn't fight against the steady pressure of his hands, even though I could have easily knocked them aside and tackled him. If he wanted to be married first and I couldn't talk him out of it - well, Alice was planning a wedding anyway. I could be a little patient. Maybe. If I absolutely had to.
I looked at his darkened gold eyes, which smoldered at me. A fresh bolt of desire struck me, and I couldn't restrain a sad little whine. Oh, this was going to be hard.
"Trust me," he said with a wry smile, "if the fact that you exist leaves me unmoved - well, it doesn't, but I suspect the difference isn't relevant for your purposes - then the date isn't going to do anything."
"I can't possibly convince you?" I pleaded.
He bit his lip, looking apprehensively at me. "I'd really rather you didn't try," he said.
"Because I'm not sure if you can... but if you can... then that would be contrary to my current preferences." His eyes were almost quivering - like he wanted to look down, but caught himself before doing it every time. His wobbly gaze stayed locked on my own eyes.
My eyebrows knitted together. I was pretty sure I could resist the impulse to knock him over and have my way with him. Could I avoid even trying to encourage him?
"I've been waiting and waiting for this day, so it would be safe," I complained, "and you're springing this on me. You never said "oh, by the way, Bella, unless we actually get married instead of just pretend, you will be obliged to live like a nun". I am not pleased with this surprise." I deliberately attended to the feel of the wind, the smell of the forest, trying to distract myself from said displeasure - it would be very embarrassing to throw an outright tantrum at so inopportune a time.
He gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry. I truly am." He passed his thumb gently over my cheekbone, which did not help.
I pouted, and then closed my eyes and gradually forced my face into a more neutral, less coaxing expression. "Okay," I managed. "I'll do my best. I'll... I'll learn a lot of languages and read all my computer files and clear the area of moose and I will try very hard to wait." My jaw clenched a little. I'd probably need to avoid spending too much time even near Edward to obey his wishes. Maybe I'd fling myself into wedding planning and oust Alice. She'd be irked, but it wasn't her wedding.
Suddenly, Edward dropped to one knee before me and took both of my hands in his, clasping them together. I stared down at him. "Edward?"
"I want to do it properly," he said in a low voice, and freeing one hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a little black satin-covered box.
"How long have you had that?" I gasped.
"Since my mother died. It was the one my father gave her," he murmured.
"How long have you been carrying it around in your pocket?" I clarified.
"Since you said you loved me," he said, looking up at me with those bronzed, darkening eyes. My lips parted slightly in shock. "I was waiting for the right moment," he explained, a little sheepishly. "I'm sorry it's this moment, instead of some candlelit setting where I haven't just offended you by having failed to communicate... but I have to ask, Bella," he said fervently. He didn't physically tremble with anxiety, but I could hear it in the cadences of his voice, that perfect voice...
He flicked the box open with his thumb. His mother's ring was a thing of ensnaring beauty, and my eyes locked onto it, watching the light catch fire in each tiny diamond latticed against the golden oval. The band was thin, delicate, barely enough to support the net of gems.
"If you don't like it, I can get you something else," he told me. It sounded like he found it very urgent that I like my ring, as though that could be an important deciding factor.
"I like this one," I said at once, and he smiled in relief and plucked it from the box.
"Isabella Swan," he whispered intensely, still gazing up at me, still holding my hands in one of his. I was suddenly and acutely aware that I was standing ten feet away from the corpse of an exsanguinated wolf, wearing torn jeans and a barely decent t-shirt, and spattered all over with blood. He didn't seem to care. "I love you. I will love you for every moment of eternity. Will you do me the honor of marrying me?"
There was nothing else to say -
Edward slid the ring onto the correct finger, beaming up at me more brilliantly than I'd ever seen. His smile was full of ecstatic victory. When the ring was in place, fitting perfectly, he bent his head forward and kissed it. And then he was on his feet instantly, arms around me, pulling me towards him with force that would have destroyed a human but that only felt secure and perfect and right to me. I hugged him back, careful as I could stand to be with my newborn strength; if I squeezed him too hard, he didn't complain.
He kissed me, and kissed me, and kissed me - I heard a quiet purr in the back of his throat. I resigned myself to the fact that this would be all I'd get until my ring had a companion. But it was still wonderful - still more than what I could have had unturned, when he'd had to exercise so much caution. I drank in the kisses greedily. All of forever wouldn't contain enough of them.
We moseyed back to the house - the main house, not our little cottage. He had expressed a desire to carry me across the threshold in the traditional manner, and I'd said, "Oh, well, as long as I'm waiting for everything else, may as well wait to see the house too," and he'd looked too thrilled for me to take it back.
When we got to the yard, Alice was waiting for us. I thought her grin would split her face open. "Bella!" she cried. "Come inside and try on your dress!"
Had someone delivered it? I sniffed the air - there was a mouthwatering scent that might have been the remnants of a brief visit from a human during my first hunt. Convenient timing, that he or she was gone. I took a fraction of a second to fight the urge to follow the lure, to hunt down its owner. I hoped it wouldn't cling to my wedding dress - that it had been wrapped up in plastic or heavily starched or something, enough that it would smell only like itself.
I'd spent a couple of hours, as a human, paging through bridal magazines with Alice so she wouldn't veer completely into left field when trying to select elements of the event. I'd pointed out elements of dresses I liked and didn't. But I wasn't prepared for the sheer perfection that was my own white gown.
Alice had it displayed in the front hall on a dressmaker's dummy. It had to be custom made. There wasn't a thread out of place or a bead I didn't approve of. Everything I would have wanted in a dress, if I'd decided to spend a month designing one, was there. A triangle of crisscrossing ribbons pointed down the low back. It had a wide strap over the right shoulder and left the other bare; there were no sleeves. The drapey, shimmery fabric gathered at a rosette at the left side of the waist. Rows of round, crystalline beads, glinting in every color up to and including my new favorite, bordered every carefully placed fold and edge, and clusters of them, rose-shaped, spiraled out from the rosette to a radius of a foot and a half. The skirt looked like it would be ankle-length on me - I had made it clear to Alice that I did not approve of long dragging trains that would inevitably get dirty. It didn't have bulky extra layers or come with a jacket: it was clearly a summer wedding dress, for all that I could have crossed the Sahara in an anorak without experiencing discomfort.
"Alice, it's gorgeous," I declared, and she smiled broadly at me. I noticed that Edward hadn't followed me in, suspected superstition about viewing the dress, and added in a louder voice that I meant to carry outside, "Edward! Just how likely is it that you're going to avoid seeing what it looks like in Alice's head until - when will it be, Alice?" I inquired.
"Next week," she reported, entirely chipper. "Wednesday. I thought at first you'd ask Carlisle to perform the ceremony, but then you were going to decide that it'd make it look to your parents less like you suddenly eloped. So the official story is that you're bringing only me to witness and getting a court official to handle it, although really of course we're all going. To Ukraine, by the way, because we know your parents know how old you are and it would be easy to look up minimum age laws, but we can tell them Edward's just turned eighteen; his Forks paperwork has an early June birthday on it if anyone looks. I rented a plane so you don't have to be cooped up with humans."
"Who is it who flies?" I asked.
"Edward," Alice told me. "Emmett started, but he ate his instructor and we had to run."
"Such charming family anecdotes we have," I said, grimacing. "Edward, I really am very skeptical that you can avoid learning what this dress looks like until Wednesday! I'll give you a hint! It's white!"
I heard a low grumble from beyond the front door.
"It's not the dress itself you are traditionally not supposed to look at, anyway," I said reasonably, "it's me in the dress on the day of the wedding. Come in, please?"
The door opened, and in meandered Edward, looking oddly long-suffering. "You are the most persuasive creature on Earth," he murmured.
"I don't think anyone's told me that before," I said thoughtfully. I sifted through misty recollections. "I need to read my notes; I don't like having to think so hard to remember things that happened when I was human. Alice, do I have to actually try on the dress? I'm sure if you ordered it, it fits perfectly."
"Please put it on? For me?" pleaded Alice. She looked at me with huge eyes.
"Are you sure this isn't the most persuasive creature on Earth?" I bantered to Edward, pointing a thumb at his sister.
She laughed. "You'll try it on."
I tilted my head, wondering about the flimsiness of Alice's predictions, and her face fell. "Oh. Maybe you won't." She looked so sad - and then suddenly she lit up again - and then she looked annoyed at me. "Stop changing your mind!" she demanded. "I can't use aspirin, you know!"
"Okay, okay," I said. "I'll try it." I picked up the display dummy by the neck, carried it up the stairs, and headed for Alice's room again, since it was her request and I'd agreed to stay out of my cottage until Edward could carry me across the threshold. He was full of silly old-fashioned preferences like that - but they added up to a certain aesthetic about the whole thing that I could learn to like, I supposed.
It was part of Edward; he wasn't going to stop being from 1901 no matter how much I rolled my eyes. If I pushed him into breaking or giving up a superstition or a cultural more from his origins, he might bend, he'd absolutely forgive me - but I didn't want to abuse his willingness to make me happy like that. It would be immature, it would be wrong, to traipse about running on every whim and every desire except the desire to make Edward happy simply because he'd settle for anything I threw his way.
And so, I reflected, as I shut Alice's door behind me, I'd be patient.
As patient as a newborn vampire could be.
Even a vampire has a little trouble reaching a zipper right in the middle of her back. But eventually I got dressed without making up my mind to request Alice's help, and so she didn't appear. I turned around in front of the full length mirror that Alice had set up in her room since I'd last visited it. The dress fit perfectly, and I liked the look of me in it, although I could have easily tolerated waiting a few days to admire myself if it hadn't been for Alice. I liked the look of practically everything. Colors were more vivid, textures were not only tangible but visible, sounds from miles away could catch my ear with distinct edges and timbres, everything bore its own smell -
The clothes I'd changed from when I'd put on the ruined blue silk were still in Alice's room, and unlike Esme's clothes, they weren't ripped. (Such a track record I had with garments already. It was lucky that Alice would consider it an immense personal favor to her if I asked her to pick me up a few things.) However, they still bore my old human scent. I put the wedding dress back on its mannequin and picked them up.
Bella-the-human smelled unbearably appetizing. My thirst flared to life as I moved the outfit through the air, wafting it towards my nose. All my control over myself was poised to snap; it held only because the desire had no direction. There was no Bella-the-human present to spring at, to tear open, to desiccate of life.
I had smelled only traces of humans. My own clothes and the dissipating presence of whoever had delivered my dress. In neither case had there been an enticing heartbeat, a telltale sound of needful breath, or anywhere near the intensity of fragrance a live, present human would put out. I wasn't sure what I would do if I met one - what I could do.
I didn't think I could get all the way to Ukraine without meeting one. If nothing else, Alice had implied that the service would be conducted by a human. I didn't think the Cullens had any vampire friends there with the authority to officiate weddings that they'd just conveniently neglected to mention.
I could hear Alice relating the story now, to some inquisitive future addition to the family: "Oh, we're all married. Except Edward and Bella. She ate the justice of the peace, and we had to run."
I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. I brought my shirt up to my face. I took a deep breath.
What do I want?
Blood. That wasn't even difficult to acknowledge. I'd known to expect it, and it manifested itself with a desperate intensity that overrode any discomfort with the notion.
But not just blood. I wanted other things. I wanted to make it through my wedding without slaughtering any defenseless Ukrainians. I wanted to avoid attracting the Volturi with conspicuous mistakes. I wanted things unrelated to blood - to be with Edward, to see the world, to learn things, to find a way to activate wolves and turn vampires as a life-preservation measure on a large scale without getting anyone killed or pissed off.
I didn't want to want blood.
The problem was balance. My obedient, responsive vampire body didn't care all that much what I wanted to want. That wasn't the sort of impulse that called for my arm to extend or my foot to twist; no physical act would manage it. My muscles would seize what I wanted seized, even if I hated the fact that I wanted it - unless I could contradict that first want with another, stronger, object-level preference.
I breathed again. So luscious - and worse for Edward, far worse - and he'd resisted, hadn't swallowed the succulent blood from my dying body even given every opportunity. What had he wanted, more than that taste? More than the relief from that aching burn in his throat, fueled with every breath he took while I was near?
That I be alive, and happy, and not still and empty on the ground, of course. Once he knew me, once he loved me. But not at first. What had held him back when first we'd crossed paths? Why, after sitting through the most agonizing biology class of his life, had Edward not offered to escort me to my next class, led me astray, taken me out to the woods, and drained every drop?
Perhaps I ought to inquire.
I put on my tantalizing clothes, infused with insistently ambrosial Essence of Bella, and went to locate my fiancé.
Edward was still in the front hall; I could hear him talking to Alice before I'd gone down enough stairs to see either of them. He was confirming some detail about his own wedding outfit, using unfamiliar words that must have been technical tuxedo-related terms.
They heard my footsteps, although I walked very softly. "Bella!" exclaimed Alice, once my toes touched the first floor. "Do you like your dress?"
"It's perfect, Alice," I assured her. "Is there anything else I need to do in that vein?"
She shook her head. "Everything's all set. There's not going to be cake and only a few flowers that I can get last-minute from a place in Ukraine. It can't look for the pictures like you planned this ahead of time, and we can't eat a cake."
"You mentioned a cake, earlier," I recalled, with some difficulty. "When you first asked to plan things..."
"It was possible then that you'd have gotten married, or taken pictures to make it look like you did, while still human, and you could have eaten a cake," Alice explained. "Now you can't. Well, you could swallow pieces of cake, but you wouldn't like it. So we're skipping that." She sighed. "It would have been fun to go shopping for a cake, though..."
"Actually, speaking of shopping," I said. "My clothes all still smell like... me. I can live with that... but I'd rather not have to do it twenty-four hours a day. And it looks like I'm going to be destroying them pretty fast, so I'd feel bad about borrowing more from Esme. I was wondering if you'd mind going into town and getting me some things."
Alice was already nodding by the time I was halfway through the third sentence. Her grin was entirely too manic. I continued: "Normal clothes. That blue dress was pretty, but if I'm going to destroy things I'd rather destroy jeans and stuff, you know?" She pouted at me, and I rolled my eyes. "Why do you like putting me into such fancy clothes, anyway? You don't go around in evening gowns all the time yourself."
"I mostly just like buying them," she admitted sheepishly.
"Start a charity where you donate prom dresses to deserving high schoolers, or something," I proposed. "But I want pants and shirts and whatnot - you know what I wear." She was still pouting. "They can be nice pants and shirts and whatnot," I conceded, laughing a little, "if you really want. But I don't expect to attend a cocktail party any time soon."
"Okay, fiiiine," she grumbled, but there was a glint in her eye. "I'll be back in a few hours." And with that she was out the door.
I turned to Edward.
"Let's go look at the fjords," I said. He nodded in assent, and we ran to the shore.
Fjords were more beautiful when they weren't stark, inaccessible features of the landscape.
I was outrageously distractable, really. Having intended only to go to a private location to ask Edward potentially awkward questions, the first thing I did when confronted with a sheer cliff as a vampire was to swan-dive off of it, whooping with laughter all the way down.
I landed in the water, where I quit breathing. Inhaling water wouldn't do me harm, but it would mean I'd have to cough it up before I could breathe air normally again. I was less buoyant than I remembered being as a human; however, it was easy to stay at the surface of the water as I preferred just by kicking. I stroked easily over to the cliff and climbed up it, grabbing every handhold surely and scooping out my own when I felt like it. The rock came away easily when I clawed at it. It felt a little like packed brown sugar - stiff, but readily yielding to pressure from my hands.
I reached the top in about six seconds. Edward was smiling indulgently at me. I swung myself up over the side and, soaking wet, lay down on the cliff edge in the sunshine to dry off. I looked up at him. "Oh, right," I said. "I wanted to ask you something."
"What's that?" he asked, sitting down beside me and picking up my right hand.
"How did you avoid killing me, the first day we met?" I asked.
Edward's hands tightened around mine, and he didn't seem to like the question much. "Why do you want to talk about that?"
"I have to know how to handle being around humans. You're the only one who's encountered a singer without killing - and that's having tasted human blood before - so your control is probably what I should be trying to emulate. I'll talk to Rosalie, too, since she was a newborn when she killed those people without eating any, so that's something. And Carlisle. But I wanted to start with you."
He nodded slowly, appreciating the sense of the request, and closed his eyes. "I didn't get a whiff until you walked in front of the vent in the classroom," he remembered. "For the first half second or so I was just... reeling. It was like nothing else. And then you looked at me. That saved you - that I suddenly had to remember that you were a person - and I could see my face reflected in your eyes. I looked like a monster. A monster I didn't want to be, that I was anyway."
Edward paused, reflecting. "You mentioned that in a vampire mind, there is room for emotions to expand, but that as long as you catch them before they do, they aren't very hard to deal with. When I first realized what you smelled like, my thoughts were too full of murder too quickly for me to control them, or do the sane thing and hold my breath. The only reason I didn't attack you instantly was because I was trying to come up with a way to do it without extending the collateral damage outside the students and the teacher in the one classroom. I was trying to choose a route to go by while I killed them all that wouldn't let anyone see me coming with enough time to scream. The need to destroy evidence is deeply ingrained - I'd been following that rule for long enough, consistently enough, that it managed to stick. The more people I killed, the harder that would be to do.
"Someone closed a folder, on the opposite side of me, and I got one breath of air that wasn't full of your scent," he continued. He seemed to be shedding some of his discomfort with the story as I looked up at him, undisturbed, undamaged. "It gave me a second in which I could think clearly. I didn't want to disappoint Carlisle, to kill a room full of children, to destroy everything my family stood for, to undo a lifetime's worth of denial just because a stranger with horribly desirable blood had wandered into an unlikely town. I stopped breathing. It was the scent that was the problem - I could remember it, and perfectly, but I didn't have to add to the temptation."
I asked, "Was that all? Getting ahold of yourself for a moment so you could hold your breath?"
He shook his head. "I fought my way through that hour by focusing on everything but imagining how you'd taste. I - This part is hard to talk about."
"Tell me," I insisted.
"I hated you," he admitted, sounding like he was confessing sins to a priest. "I can barely imagine, now, but I did - if I hated you, it was at least something to think about that didn't bring me closer to killing you. I imagine Rosalie will tell you something different. But she only killed, didn't drink, and hatred helped her draw that line. I didn't want you dead, exactly. I only hated what you caused in me. I thought I hated you, but really, what I hated was myself."
I nodded, accepting - I knew he loved me in this moment; if he'd hated me for something I hadn't even done before we'd spoken a word, it didn't hurt me very much.
"I was impatient for the hour to end," Edward continued. "At this point I was imagining I'd get you by yourself, at least not kill so many - but Mike Newton was aware of you, he would have paid attention if I'd led you off somewhere. So I made up my mind to wait two hours, cut my last class - hid in my car. I was planning to go to your house after school; I knew your father wouldn't be home until later."
Right, I had a father - I really should get to the computer soon, send him and Renée e-mails, maybe tell Gianna my news...
"When you weren't right there, and I could breathe air that didn't smell like you," Edward continued, "I was saner, I could think more clearly. I thought perhaps I could just avoid you without fleeing, that I shouldn't have to rearrange my life, or disappoint Carlisle and hurt Esme. I'm still not sure if it was lucky or unlucky that Alice saw nothing. She was focused very carefully on Jasper that day, on his short term choices. He'd had a hard moment at lunch. And so when I'd been certain I'd kill you, she didn't see the aftermath.
"I tried to change out of the biology class," he went on. Even telling this story, about how he'd almost excised himself from my life and cut off the universe of wonder I now inhabited, his voice was beautiful. "It turned out not to be possible - and then you walked in. That office is very small, kept very warm - I couldn't not smell you, if I inhaled. I used the last of my air to excuse myself and bolted. The others were already in the car; once I had Alice's attention she saw one of two futures. You dead, or me, driving north, alone.
"I went north. Close to where the Denali family lives. I didn't actually visit them, although Tanya found me and we talked very briefly before I went back to Forks."
"Why did you go back?" I asked.
He was silent for a few seconds. Then, slowly, he said, "We have perfect recall - not eidetic memories. We can call up what we noticed in the past, flawlessly - things that pass without notice are lost."
"Why do you think you went back?"
He considered, no doubt sifting through all the thoughts he'd noted at the time. "I think I wanted to prove myself to my family," he murmured, "and to be the kind of person who wouldn't need to run."
I interlaced my fingers with his. "If that's what you wanted, nice work," I said, gently. He still looked like the topic wasn't one he preferred, but his example was valuable, and if I didn't learn to handle myself, lives were in danger. Maybe not next week. If I had to, I could ask a Cullen to call in some old favor from a Denali, ask them to fly in and perform my ceremony far away from any humans. Posing, for photographic purposes, without Charlie prone to recognizing the face on the "minister". But eventually, I'd have to be near humans, have to not sink my teeth into their throats.
"Mm," he said, noncommittally. "Anyway - when I went to biology after coming back, and you'd changed seats, and when I heard the thoughts of the people you'd told about how I looked at you - I panicked. I could barely form sentences to ask the teacher about it. I think I attributed it to curiosity at the time, although I know better now. I had wanted to talk to you. It drove me up the wall that I couldn't hear what you were thinking, that I had to guess.
"I think I loved you already, then. I couldn't stand the idea that I might have mishandled things badly enough that you would hate me. That you would take steps to avoid me. Disappointing Carlisle and Esme would be terrible, but they would forgive me, I knew that - you, I had no idea. You could have disappeared entirely and never thought about me again and I couldn't bear the possibility when it confronted me like it did. I was rationalizing my reaction to that. I imagined you to be a suitable proxy for the average newcomer to Forks, that if you found me off-putting I wasn't doing my acting work properly. But if you'd been anyone else, some other singer, I think I'd have welcomed the avoidance.
"Alice realized you were significant in more ways than the scent of your blood, that afternoon. I think you might have seen us arguing in the parking lot after school. She knew you'd be her friend, her sister - she loved you already. She was certain that there was no way I'd be able to stay away from you. If you left somewhere, I'd follow. If I tried to leave myself, I'd always return. And of course she knew I loved you - that was interesting, hearing it from Alice before I was aware of it myself. But she also knew that even if I couldn't stay away, I could be rejected. The word she used to describe you was "prickly"."
"Prickly?" I giggled.
"That's what she said. That there were thousands of futures where I ruined everything with some small mistake - a lie, an interruption, a secret just a little too tantalizing, an advance just a moment too soon. She said there was just barely a chance that you would tolerate me." He related this with a faint humor. "If I toed the lines she laid out. I tried, very hard. I don't think I got it exactly right, but I guess I was within tolerances." He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed my ring. "Albeit at one time Alice's visions went so wild that I begged her to intercede with you on my behalf."
I remembered that, in broad strokes; I couldn't call any specifics to mind. "And the rest is history," I said, knowing there would be notes in my computer.
"More or less," he acknowledged.
We talked for a few more hours, and then I decided it was time to try moose. Edward hunted with me, this time, and he had much better table manners: not a spot of blood anywhere on him. He'd even managed to keep it off his face, or maybe he'd used a swatch of fur as a napkin or something. I was just as spattered, and my clothes nearly as torn, as I had been with the wolf. I looked down at myself in exasperation.
"How do you do it?" I asked. I felt a little sloshy with blood; moose were very big. I'd drained mine, but I most definitely didn't want seconds.
"Practice," he said. "You'll get better at it over time. There's no special trick to it."
I sighed. "I'm going to go through so many clothes. Maybe I should start carrying peroxide with me when I hunt, so it won't stain..."
"Alice is completely thrilled to serve as your personal shopper while you can't go into town," Edward promised me. "Even when you tell her to stay away from the satin and organza and lace. And you aren't going to hurt our finances by being a messy eater. Don't give it a second thought."
"All right, I'll just try to avoid wearing anything I'm particularly attached to, then," I said. "It's lucky that Alice's taste is a bit off-center from mine. Unless she's really agonizing over every item and checking up on my reactions, I probably won't fall in love with her entire shopping trip."
"Esme knows your aesthetics better, I suppose," said Edward. "Judging by your reaction to the house."
I nodded. "You've got a pretty good sense of my musical tastes, though," I said. "I want to hear music, like this..." I waved at my ear. And then I stomped on the ground. "I keep letting time escape without reading my files! I keep being annoyed that I can't remember things, or that they're too difficult or dim or blurry, and I have a solution, and I keep being distracted, and what good are twenty-four hour days if I can be distracted for half of them by how pretty colors are?"
"Well, then, perhaps that should be next," Edward said reasonably.
"I have to get clean, I'm covered in blood and moose spit and moose hair," I growled. "Why do we not just open a butchering facility? Those usually slit the animals' throats anyway and drain the blood, don't they? No one would care what happened to the blood afterwards. We could just drink it."
"We've considered it," Edward said, and he put his arm around my waist as we started walking back to the house. "It could be done, but one of us would have to be on site to retrieve the blood without arousing suspicion by asking a human employee for it. That means staying in one place as long as we want to use the facility, or at least within a close radius. Since we like to live fairly close to humans most of the time, that's untenable."
That seemed like a solvable problem, if I thought about it - but no, I had other things to do, and all the time in the world was suddenly looking like not enough. "Ah," I said, setting the problem aside for later, if the annoyance of hunting ever grew to the point where it was the best thing I could be doing.
Back at the house, I showered, changed into one of the serviceable outfits Alice had brought home for me, and then I unpacked my computer. Someone, probably Esme (responsible for whipping the house into shape) or Jasper (resident electronics guy) had already set up Internet.
I composed e-mails. One to Renée, apologizing for my incommunicativity: "I've been the sickest I've ever been," I said, not entirely untruthfully. "But Norway is amazing. I absolutely love it here. We're going to Ukraine next." Foreshadowing, I thought, and I chuckled softly to myself. Charlie got an almost identical message.
Gianna was the other person I wanted to contact. And she got more information. Maybe, with me a vampire, she'd think I was an appropriate audience for more details. I told her I'd turned, that it had sucked but afterwards everything was awesome, that I was going to get married on Wednesday.
Then I read my entire folder full of compiled notes and diary entries. This took me about five hours; I could read nearly as fast as the computer could page through the document for me. Once I'd read through it all, I effortfully forced myself to retrieve as much as I could directly from memory to attach to each line from the documents. That took twelve hours. When I had finished all of this, my parents had both e-mailed me back with requests for pictures of fjords, and Alice had e-mailed me pictures of fjords. I attached the pictures to my replies to Renée and Charlie, yelled a thank-you to Alice, and then shut my laptop.
I found Rosalie lounging on a towel. On the roof. She was sunning herself; she couldn't hope to tan, but she could reflect tiny rainbows and set up a mirror to look at herself. I wandered around the house, wondering if she'd used a ladder or if there was a trellis or something, but found no convenient way to climb up. I might actually have been able to make the jump, but would probably have reflexively caught the roof's edge if I'd just barely missed a neat landing. So instead I climbed a tree and sprang from that vantage point towards my sister-in-law-to-be.
"Hi, Bella," said Rosalie, glancing at me as I landed on all fours beside her. Her face was neutral, so I didn't know if she still felt bad about having considered killing me, but I decided to bring it up anyway just in case.
"I wanted to let you know that I don't blame you for what happened while I was turning," I said, arranging myself into a sitting position and hugging my knees. "Please don't feel bad about it, whatever Edward says. I did ask."
Rosalie regarded me evenly. "I don't think he told you all of it," she said, finally. "But I'm not going to, either."
Well... that was frustrating. But I did have other things to talk about with Rosalie, and did not want to spend the next thirty minutes running around and kicking things, so I told myself that Rosalie probably had a good reason to want to keep this to herself, whatever it was; that if I ever decided it mattered very much, Edward thought I was the most persuasive creature on Earth and knew all about it; and that regardless of the detail I'd missed, I was now alive and a vampire and in fine fettle.
Once I'd managed to get that emotion under control, I said, "There was something else I wanted to talk to you about, too." And I explained my project to learn from the best about how to prevent myself from eating anyone.
Rosalie's reply was more or less what I'd expected. She had hated the men she'd killed - well, not the guards, but they were protecting the one she'd hated most of all. She had not wanted to accept their blood as fuel. Rage and contempt and loathing had overwhelmed her thirst.
"What about the people you'd have passed on the way to them?" I asked. "They lived in Rochester, it's not a tiny rural community."
"I was very single-minded," she told me. "I didn't focus on little sensations and tasks like you've been doing - I only wanted to do one thing. The other humans were tempting, but the death I wanted to deal for its own sake was urgent."
Interesting. That was useful. If there was just something that I couldn't bear to interrupt, maybe I could ignore humans whose consumption would distract me from completing it.
That seemed to be all the wisdom she had to impart. I thanked her, and tumbled gracefully off the roof, spinning three times and landing on my feet without a stumble.
Carlisle was in his study, reading. His door was open, so I went right in, and he put down his book. "Hello, Bella. What is it?" he asked, looking at me in a very paternal manner.
I couldn't think how to feel about that. I had a father... on another continent who I hadn't grown up with and who I wouldn't be able to see in person for months, if not years, if ever. I supposed I could start thinking of Carlisle as my father-in-law, just a little in advance.
Come to think of it, hadn't Rosalie had living family when she'd been turned? Had she simply cut them off? What about Emmett? Edward's parents had died in the same plague that had nearly killed him - but Esme's? Carlisle's relatives were surely long dead by 2005, and given the origin story I already knew for him, I didn't think they'd have received him well after he was a vampire. I didn't know about Jasper. Alice still had plans in the works, yet untouched, to dig up her origins from the information I'd funneled her from James, but she wouldn't remember any kin she found.
But Carlisle was looking at me expectantly, and I filed away those questions for later. "I'm trying to pick up tips on how to not eat anybody," I told him.
Carlisle's story began with self-revulsion and a series of suicide attempts, which he described in low, calm tones entirely unsuitable for tales of jumping from heights, trying to drown, and even seeking death by starvation. That last was what had led to the epiphany: he'd gotten thirsty enough that a passing herd of deer had compelled his feeding, and he'd found that they could sustain his life. Finding this preferable, he'd exercised sheer strength of will to gradually develop what amounted to an immunity to the temptation of human blood.
I stared at him. That was no help at all. I loved being a vampire. I couldn't look at my moonlit skin with disgust, I wasn't repulsed by my speed and power and beauty. A solution to the bloodlust that relied on self-directed speciesism was not the one for me.
I thanked Carlisle anyway, and made my exit.
On Monday, it was decided - Jasper the lone holdout against unanimity - that it was a good idea to test my ability to hold up around actual humans in a lower stakes situation. Demonstrating my lack of control, if it was going to be a problem, was better handled under friendly circumstances and not in a courthouse somewhere in Ukraine.
Various ways of getting a test human to the house without arousing any suspicion were considered: requesting missionaries, ordering pizza, hiring a repairman for the master bathroom's sink. (It really didn't work, although Esme was capable of fixing it and had it on her list of improvements.) Eventually it was decided that none of these were sufficiently anonymous if things did... go wrong. The address of the last known destination of the deceased, should I eat our visitor, would be on record.
Until Jasper mentioned it, no one considered the possibility that I'd lunge for the human and be restrained successfully. I was stronger than any of the others, even Emmett, in my newborn year. While it was feasible to restrain newborns anyway, the techniques known all involved things like ripping their arms off. (Jasper's mood alteration could help, and I authorized him to use it if I looked dangerously lunge-y, but it was not powerful enough to even slow me down if I got going.) I was all for whatever newborn-wrangling tricks were available as an alternative to murder, especially since detached vampire limbs could be put back. But Edward snarled when Jasper made the suggestion. I couldn't calm him down until all of the others promised that I was not to be dismembered.
"Edward, do you think I am going to try to eat my experimental subject?" I asked testily.
"No, of course not, love," he said soothingly, switching instantly into reassurance. He patted my hand.
"Okay, so if I'm not going to try to eat him or her, then it doesn't matter what would happen if I did try, right?" I said reasonably. I wasn't so confident in myself, and wanted the precautions so that I could be stopped in the worst case. But if he was convinced I was perfectly self-controlled, then I could reason the same result out of him.
Edward scowled at Jasper, who must have been thinking some unapproved thought. "Bella, I have to listen to them thinking it, if they're planning to do any of those things," he said. "I have to see it -"
I remembered his roar at Rosalie. "So get out of range, don't watch," I said. "I don't want to kill anyone. If I have to spend four seconds without one or both arms to not kill anyone, then that is better than killing someone. If you can't stand being aware of that happening to me, then don't. But it is too important that I leave our visitor alive."
Edward hated the idea, but with the situation presented this way, he reluctantly acknowledged that, in fact, it was a poor choice to increase the risk of my killing my first sapient snack. He didn't protest further while Jasper told the others how to incapacitate me if I went for the human's throat.
The discussion returned to the provenance of the guinea pig. Eventually, we agreed that Alice should run out to a highway and pretend to need a ride home. She invented an elaborate little story about how her car had been stolen, full of narrative filigree and affected sad faces, which would probably convince anyone who stopped for her in the first place. Alice was the right choice for the job because she could see who was coming and reject cars with more than one occupant, keeping the scale as minimal as possible. She was also small and cute and could look helpless more readily than most of us.
A small part of me was screaming that this wasn't right, that if I needed to do a test then I oughtn't do a test, that I couldn't risk some stranger's life just so I could have my wedding a particular way and participate in society a little sooner, that it could wait -
It could wait, that was certain. I could continue to live in the middle of nowhere in Norway for a decade without ever seeing a human, if I liked. I could ask a Denali vampire to fly in and perform the ceremony. For that matter, I was pretty sure I could wear Edward down if I had to.
But in order for me to ever safely walk into a human society - if I wanted to go to college, or buy my own clothes, or have a proper tour of Europe instead of just the uninhabited parts -
Then I needed to do something like what I was doing. I couldn't just drive into Oslo and get out of the car and then discover, oops, I'm going to massacre that traffic jam full of tinned treats. Meeting one human in an isolated location, surrounded by more controlled vampires who would keep me in check if need be, was the safest way to test my limits.
The timing was still not forced. It didn't have to be this day. But Alice was as certain as she ever was of anything that I would be okay, and that decided me. Alice was never perfectly reliable, but at her surest, she was more likely to be right than guesses based on how long I'd been a vampire. She'd thought Emmett was all right, going to the last flying lesson his instructor ever taught, and he'd been past the newborn stage. If she thought I was all right now, then doing the test now wasn't significantly less safe than doing it in 2015. Since there were small reasons of convenience and preference that made me want to join the world sooner rather than later...
I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts on my strategies.
Edward's: hate the monster that feeding would make me, refuse to be that creature. Focus on everything but contemplating the taste. I had voluntarily cut culinary pleasures out of my life in exchange for the benefits of vampirism, and must not dwell on the loss. Must hold my breath. (Although I should take one small breath, when I thought I had hold of myself - I didn't know if I could get through all the vows in one lungful of air.)
Rosalie's: Urgently, intensely want something that wasn't compatible with drinking the human's blood. I was good at that sort of thing. What did I want...
I wanted to see my mother again. I knew it was only an outside chance that I'd be able to do it under the best circumstances - she'd know at once that I'd changed, when she saw me, and that wasn't safe for either of us - but if it ever became possible, I wanted to be able to go to her. If I ever ate anyone, even less than a week after turning, I'd never trust myself around any humans I cared about. Same with my father. If there was any possibility that they could be part of my life, properly, then I wanted to preserve that chance.
I wasn't too keen on the possibility of having my arms ripped off. I'd like to avoid that.
I wanted whatever hapless person Alice brought home to return to his or her family tonight, with no idea that they'd been in danger. I focused on imaginary characteristics of the person, knowing they were fictitious but finding them helpful anchors. Maybe she'd bring a mother of four, on her way home from buying the vanilla she needed to make her eldest a birthday cake. That vanilla needed to go in that cake and if I ate the poor lady, it never would. In fact, even if I didn't eat her, and she just saw something incriminating, she might not be safe - although if she didn't tell anyone, maybe it would be okay. But I shouldn't think that, shouldn't give myself leeway like that: she must not even see anything remarkable about my behavior.
I wanted a perfect record. Jasper had a hard time even with intact humans - everyone except Carlisle was iffy around exposed blood. If I failed this time, then it would be harder every occasion in the future. Getting it right every time was really the easiest thing to do, no matter how hard it seemed once there was a living breathing human standing in front of me.
I wanted control of myself. I wanted to, without Jasper's emotional help or physical restraint, behave in the fashion I chose to behave. I wanted freedom from my instincts except when I endorsed their directives.
Was that enough? I cast about for other things to add, anything that could bolster my resolve.
I didn't want to disappoint my family.
I'd started, tentatively, to think of them that way - my parents-in-law, my sisters, my brothers. My fiancé. I knew how they managed Jasper, I knew that they loved him in spite of his need to take such care. But I didn't want Edward to look at me the way Alice looked at Jasper when they were among humans. I wanted to be able to race around the world without needing to be babysat or worried about, without avoiding population centers.
I sucked in a breath and conjured a vivid mental image of the Cullens - my family - huddled around me, talking over each other in their eagerness to congratulate me for controlling myself so young, all of them full of pride and excitement. The smug grin Alice would wear, the vicarious fraternal joy in Emmett's laugh. Esme's warmly expressed delight, twin to Carlisle's quiet approval. Rosalie's wordless, wry acknowledgement and Jasper's envy. Edward's radiant admiration.
I wanted that.
"Alice is on her way," whispered Edward.
Esme fetched me a pair of brown contact lenses. "It's not quite your own brown, but they won't know that," she assured me quietly. "The contacts won't hurt but they will be annoying - there are imperfections in the lens and you'll be able to see them. They'll dissolve after a few hours but will last long enough." I popped the little hemispheres into my eyes, interested to discover that I no longer had any impulse to flinch away from objects approaching them. Little flaws in the contacts drew my vision and my eyes refocused disorientingly; I blinked. I could see past them well enough to function, although I wouldn't want to try anything fancy with them in. Esme also handed me a water bottle.
Everyone tensed up, waiting for the human, ready to take me apart if I made a wrong move.
I held my breath.
Alice was saying something in Norwegian, outside the house. I hadn't started learning the language yet except a few phrasebook entries, having been too distracted by everything. I presumed she was trying to invite the person who'd picked her up in for a beverage or some similarly plausible. A voice - a man's, thin and lively, tried several times to demur, but she insisted.
The door swung open and she pulled him inside.
I looked at the human, blinking a few times in a reflexive attempt to rid my eyes of their obstructions. I could hear his heartbeat, his breath. The sounds signalled "food" - but weren't that unlike the pulse or panting of a non-human animal. The speed was a little different, but those things varied between species anyway. Without the smell, it was like he was something in Tupperware in the fridge - clearly edible just based on the package he came in, but not demanding that I pounce on him.
He's a person, I reminded myself. Before I took a breath, I used a little of my air, to ask Edward at a pitch the visitor wouldn't hear, too fast for him to see my lips move: "What's his name?"
"Nils," Edward replied, similarly unobtrusively. Okay. The not-to-be-eaten man had a name. Hopefully that would make it easier. Alice showed Nils into the kitchen, poured him a glass of water and one for herself. They made awkward small talk in Norwegian. He looked curiously at us, Alice's strangely still and silent relatives; Emmett, the clown, waved at him.
I made full use of my immensely parallel brain to fix in my mind his name, my competing desires, and everything else I could use to hedge out the thought of drinking Nils's blood.
I sucked in a tiny wisp of air.
It was like inhaling flames. My throat erupted in heat and thirst. Venom filled my mouth, coated my tongue, demanded to be used for its incapacitating purpose against my natural prey. It hurt, I could have swallowed a hot poker and felt no worse, and the relief was right there, pulsing through the human's arteries - Nils, I forced myself to think, he has a name, he probably has a loving family, I don't want to eat him, I don't want it -
I brought my water to my lips too fast, heedless of the need to act human while near one. Holding my lungs still, I washed the venom away. It replaced itself, but more slowly, and I took another gulp to clear it. My throat wasn't cooled at all. It still felt flayed and charred and in need of the balm that I could only get from one source.
I want to get married on Wednesday in Ukraine, I screamed at myself desperately. I want to see Renée and Charlie. I want Nils to go home to his loved ones. I want to be in control, I want to be perfect at this, I want my family to be proud of me. I want that more than this, more than this, more than this, I can't have them both, I don't want the blood enough -
I let another tiny gasp pass my gritted teeth.
Like swallowing molten iron. The desire for soothing blood flooded my senses; I didn't quite experience tunnel vision, but everything except the experience of my parched throat was irrelevant, passed without notice - not significant enough to be embedded in my perfect recall. I had my thoughts and my thirst. That was all.
I do not want to eat him -
Oh, insinuated the charming little voice of vampire instinct, but everything is set up to make it safe for you to have a sip. No harm will come to you if you just taste, it will taste so good, you know they will all forgive you, you know you might have to communicate with your family over the Internet only anyway, it will hardly change a thing... You know you want it...
A little whining sound squeaked out of me, but I hadn't moved from my seat. Nils was starting to look very uncomfortable; he clearly wanted to leave. I took another swallow of water and rinsed away the latest welling of venom. I took another breath of air.
Fire, again. But I knew what to expect with this breath. It was not getting worse. And I hadn't eaten him yet. I couldn't relax - but, holding myself rigid and fighting my urges with every passing moment, I could hold still. I could avoid leaping across the room at Nils and don't think about the taste preventing him from going home to his family.
Alice stopped urging him to stay. He put his water glass in the sink and started making his way towards the door, looking uncomfortably at us.
One more useful test, to see if I could not only be in the same room as a human but have a wedding performed by one. Which would involve uttering words, and looking pretty in pictures rather than tortured and struggling. I finished off the water in my bottle, filled my lungs with scorching air.
I smiled at Nils, monitoring every facial muscle that I had control over to make the expression natural-looking instead of a forced grimace. "Farvel!" I said. One of the phrasebook bits - "goodbye".
"Farvel," he replied, looking no less puzzled. He let himself out. I heard every one of his footsteps as he made his way to his car. I heard his heartbeat, rapid with nervousness. I heard his car door open, and slam, and his engine start up.
I waited to relax until I couldn't hear the car anymore. Everyone else waited to relax until I did.
As soon as I sighed with relief and settled into a more neutral standing position, Edward enveloped me in an intense hug. "Bella," he exclaimed. He sounded just as dazzled by my performance as I'd imagined.
I leaned into him and inhaled his soothing non-food scent. "I'm okay," I breathed, confirming it to myself as much as to everyone else. "I'm really okay."