It wasn't until the sun rose and I knew that Renesmee would soon be stirring under my hands that I wondered for the first time what could possibly be taking Alice so long. I'd hoped to know more before I was faced with my daughter's curiosity. To have some answers. Some tiny, tiny portion of hope so that I could smile and keep the truth from terrifying her, too.

My face felt permanently set into the fixed mask it had worn all night. I wasn't sure I had the ability to smile anymore.

Jacob was snoring in the corner, a mountain of fur on the floor, twitching anxiously in his sleep. Sam knew everything - the wolves were readying themselves for what was coming. Not that this preparation would do anything but get them killed with the rest of my family.

Thesunlight broke through the back windows, sparkling on Edward's skin. My eyes had not moved from his since Alice's departure. We'd stared at each other all night, staring at what neither of us could live through losing: the other. I saw my reflection glimmer in his agonized eyes as the sun touched my own skin.

His eyebrows moved an infinitesimal bit, then his lips.

"Alice," he said.

Thesound of hisvoice was like ice cracking as it melted. All of us fractured a little, softened a little. Moved again.

"She's been gone a long time,"Rosalie murmured, surprised.

"Where could she be?" Emmett wondered, taking a step toward the door.

Esme put a hand on her arm. "We don't want to disturb ..."

"She's never taken so long before," Edward said. New worry splintered the mask his face had become. His features were alive again, his eyes suddenly wide with fresh fear, extra panic. "Carlisle, you don't think - something preemptive? Would Alice have had time to see if they sent someone for her?"

Aro's translucent-skinned face filled my head. Aro, who had seen into all the corners of Alice's mind, who knew everything she was capable of -

Emmett cussed loud enough that Jacob lurched to his feet with a growl. In the yard, his growl was echoed by his pack. My family was already a blur of action.

"Stay with Renesmee!" I all but shrieked at Jacob as I sprinted through the door.

I was still stronger than the rest of them, and I used that strength to push myself forward. I overtook Esme in a few bounds, and Rosalie in just a few strides more. I raced through the thick forest until I was right behind Edward and Carlisle.

"Would they have been able to surprise her?" Carlisle asked, his voice as even as if he were standing motionless rather than running at full speed.

"I don't see how," Edward answered. "But Aro knows her better than anyone else. Better than I do."

"Is this a trap?" Emmett called from behind us.

"Maybe," Edward said. "There's no scent but Alice and Jasper. Where were they going?"

Alice and Jasper's trail was curling into a wide arc; it stretched first east of the house, but headed north on the other side of the river, and then back west again after a few miles. We recrossed the river, all six jumping within a second of each other. Edward ran in the lead, his concentration total.

"Did you catch that scent?" Esme called ahead a few moments after we'd leaped the river for the second time. She was the farthest back, on the far left edge of our hunting party. She gestured to the southeast.

"Keep to the main trail - we're almost to the Quileute border," Edward ordered tersely. "Stay together. See if they turned north or south."

I was not as familiar with the treaty line as the rest of them, but I could smell the hint of wolf in the breeze blowing from the east. Edward and Carlisle slowed a little out of habit, and I could see their heads sweep from side to side, waiting for the trail to turn.

Then the wolf smell was suddenly stronger, and Edward's head snapped up. He came to a sudden stop. The rest of us froze, too.

"Sam?" Edward asked in a flat voice. "What is this?"

Sam came through the trees a few hundred yards away, walking quickly toward us in his human form, flanked by two big wolves - Paul and Jared. It took Sam a while to reach us; his human pace made me impatient. I didn't want time to think about what was happening. I wanted to be in motion, to be doing something. I wanted to have my arms around Alice, to know beyond a doubt that she was safe.

I watched Edward's face go absolutely white as he read what Sam was thinking. Sam ignored him, looking straight at Carlisle as he stopped walking and began to speak.

"Right after midnight, Alice and Jasper came to this place and asked permission to cross our land to the ocean. I granted them that and escorted them to the coast myself. They went immediately into the water and did not return. As we journeyed, Alice told me it was of the utmost importance that I say nothing to Jacob about seeing her until I spoke to you. I was to wait here for you to come looking for her and then give you this note. She told me to obey her as if all our lives depended on it."

Sam's face was grim as he held out a folded sheet of paper, printed all over with small black text. It was a page out of a book; my sharp eyes read the printed words as Carlisle unfolded it to see the other side. The side facing me was the copyright page from The Merchant of Venice. A hint of my own scent blew off of it as Carlisle shook the paper flat. I realized it was a page torn from one of my books. I'd brought a few things from Charlie's house to the cottage; a few sets of normal clothes, all the letters from my mother, and my favorite books. My tattered collection of Shakespeare paperbacks had been on the bookshelf in the cottage's little living room yesterday morning....

"Alice has decided to leave us," Carlisle whispered.

"What?" Rosalie cried.