Humans don't understand night. I can't blame them. The little I remember of my human life, night was something to be avoided at best, feared at worst. Night was a time when enemy battalions might swarm the ridge and kill your friends, when animals could hunt down and kill beloved family members....when fathers might let drink get the best of them and rampage through your shack, hurting everyone you love. Forcing you to leave home, become strong...become a protector.
But that was lifetimes ago.
In vampire eyes, night is freedom. Night is the one time we do not need to fear. The one time we do not need to hide. Darkness means almost nothing to our eyes, our senses; shadows become gradation, dynamics, nothing more. In anything but the pitchest black, we can see clear as day.
Still, there are things that remain a mystery, even to our extra-sensory perceptions.
In the pristine home that Esme had created, in the room I shared with the light of my life, I waited, in the dark, unconcerned. It was only a matter of time.
Bella's breathing had barely shifted to the deeper draughts of sleep, a floor below us, when Alice traipsed into our room.
As usual, she glowed in the moonlight. As always, my unnecessary breath caught at the sight.
"Finished playing with the human?" My lips twisted up into what I knew was a loopy smile. When Alice was near and we were alone, I could never temper my adoration of her.
"For now." Her musical voice nearly shattered my thoughts, but that also was normal. Just being in the presence of my other half - and her indomitably sunny disposition - usually rendered me nearly insensate.
Still, something niggled at me. I concentrated on the one thought that had preoccupied me while I had waited. "Why do you bother?"
Topaz eyes turned toward me, narrowed slightly in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"You dress her. You play with her." I drew closer; I had little choice otherwise, when in the same room with my Alice. Her presence was intoxicating. "Bella might be Edward's choice, but she is still human. She could be gone at any moment." Humans were like leaves, here one moment, falling from the tree of life instants later. "Why do you bother loving her?"
Alice's forehead wrinkled and she turned away, drifting across the room like a breeze through grass. I followed solemnly, feeling her out.
"She's Bella," Alice finally replied, as if that explained everything.
I tasted the emotions of my mate, sorting them through. She was an endless tapestry of delicious mystery, roiling with the cumulative sensations of a hundred lifetimes at any given moment. It was deliciously impossible to predict the moods of my timeless creature.
She was angry, I finally decided. I reached out, wordlessly turning Alice to face me, my face creased with questions I didn't need to speak.
Her eyes blazed for the split second it took her to register my honest concern. Then she softened. Alice wrapped smooth, silky arms around me and drew me close; it was all I could do to concentrate on her next words.
"If I were human, Jazz, would you love me less?"
You're not, I started to say, but she read my mind. I'll never know how she does that, but the shift in her mood screamed at me to keep the shallow words to myself. Rolling with her insistent mien, I tasted her idea instead of arguing with it.
If Alice were human...
The silence that permeated the room testified to the breath that froze in my chest. Frightened, I imagined the worst possible scenario: Alice, warm and alive. Alice, pink, frail, and human. Alice, smelling like the most delicious meal I could possibly dream of....
Alice, dead in my arms, her blood singing in my veins as my soul crumbled into nothing.
Darkness threatened to overwhelm me. For a near eternity I rode its waves, plumbed its depths. Finally, delicate fingers stroking my face drew me back to the present. With utmost effort, I pulled myself together and looked into her eyes.
Golden and pure, full of a depth of love and understanding I will never fully comprehend, Alice soothed me with the symphony of her voice and the ocean of emotions that she wrapped around me. "She is precious, Jazz. Because she is human."
I pulled away. I had to. This was a difficult subject for me. Decades ago, my conscience had awoken; I had hated feeding long before I understood why. As much as I embraced who I was, what I was, something in me had refused to allow me to be a vampire without guilt. Never, not since I had left Maria, had I taken a human life without regret.
Still, I yearned for it. Desired it. Needed it. As much as my soul suffered with each life I took, the blood of humans called to me. The worst of addictions, I was the worst of junkies - desperately needing the fix, but agonizingly, uniquely aware of the cost. I still did not know how to deny my thirst for the sake of quenching my soul.
Alice's arms wrapped around me as she drew in behind me. Together we stood, looking through the full-length window of our room into the indigo night beyond.
She breathed, I did not. I hurt too much. The agony of the deaths on my hands fought with the eternal hunger, the acidic gnawing that ate through my innermost parts, the burning....
Below us, a sound. Bella's breath still drew deep and even, so it was not her human clumsiness creaking the floorboards. Edward, then. Standing before her door. Reading my thoughts, and taking precautions.
And making sure I knew of it.
I took a deep breath, and calmed my mind. Below us, I could feel my brother relax slightly.
Around me, Alice gripped tighter. Her mood tasted heart-breakingly empathetic. "Doesn't it ever get easier?"
I thought for a moment, and then faulted towards honesty. Edward would know if I didn't, and I never pretended the two of them didn't discuss me behind my back.
My tone was tempered steel. "No. Never. If anything, it just gets harder," I finished, barely above a whisper.
At that admission, I turned and caught a delicate chin with my fingers, tipping Alice's face up to mine. My eyes blazed with my resolve. "But I will do whatever it takes. I want you to be proud of me." I swallowed hard, fighting the thirst that haunted me, the shameful weakness it produced. Across the house, I felt an emotional twinge; Carlisle and Esme were listening in, hanging on our words as much as Edward was below.
But they needn't have worried. For Alice, I would do anything.
I swallowed again, forcing down the inferno in my throat that plagued my every moment of existence. I choked out the words I had to say, had to mean.
"I will do my best to love her, too."
The fire that lit my Alice's eyes nearly quenched the one that threatened to annihilate my soul. I dragged her lips to mine, devouring her in a kiss.
Below us, Bella slept on, oblivious.