Ball

Epiphany

This took far longer than I wanted. I sort of lost all inspiration after Breaking Dawn…. Hopefully, the coming chapters don't take nearly as long.

Disclaimer: I am not, nor will I ever be Stephenie Meyer. Though, after Breaking Dawn, I'm not sure I'd want to be…. Either way, these characters belong solely to her.

A/N: Thank you, thank you, thank you to the magnificent NoMoreThanUsual. Her encouragements, suggestions, and comments helped me more than I think she knows. Go read her stories—they are very nearly as amazing as she is.

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I have seen many beautiful places in my time on this earth, and I have ceased to be impressed by much, but even I could appreciate the beauty of the ballroom. The floors were a deep, rich mahogany, and the vaulted ceiling soared high above our heads. + The room was divided between a reception area and the dance floor by huge white pillars, and a delicate pattern of hand- painted vines and flowers encircled them, flying to encompass the entire room. The walls themselves were a delicate, antique gold that matched my Alice's eyes tonight. A large, low platform occupied the center of one wall. The musicians who would provide the night's entertainment were already set up and playing when I entered, Alice resting her arm comfortably in the crook of my elbow. Opposite the musicians, a set of wide French doors led out onto a lovely terrace that overlooked a large, well –tended garden.

A group of men stood near one of the pillars, and I could see a single chair standing in the midst of the group. As Alice and I drew closer, the crowd thinned to the point where I could read the sign that had been taped to the back of it. "No Heel Plates or Hobnails Beyond this Point", it announced, and a roll of silver duct tape rested prominently on the seat. One of the men stood awkwardly on one foot, sticking a piece of tape over the plates of his brogans. He then moved cautiously out of the way, freeing the space for the next man in line.

"Hold your breath, you'll be fine," Alice whispered conspiratorially, a mischievous grin on her lips. "Now get over there," she giggled, "you don't want to hurt these pretty floors with those horseshoes in your soles!" I could hardly contain the excitement she felt, actually being here. And then I felt a slight spike of something like vindictiveness. My wife had seen something, again. I knew better than to ask exactly what she'd seen, however. When she looked so downright sinful, she would never share.

I took one last deep breath, feeling the burn of the venom deep in my throat, and resigned myself to the hell that came of not breathing. It was, however, a lesser hell than smelling the humans at every turn. It was easier than I had thought it would be, but I knew it would get more difficult as the night progressed; as the humans around me grew warm with the exertions of the dances, and I was forced to actually bring my skin in contact with theirs.

As I walked back to my Alice, I began to gain an inkling of what she may have seen. Leather-soled shoes and wood floors are not the most stable combination… those bits of metal in the soles of a pair of brogans were really the only traction they had. It was a bit like walking on a wooden floor in stocking feet, and the humans here were far clumsier than I was.

There were a few couples dancing as reached my Alice again. With a grin, I bowed to her, my hand held out, and, using some of the precious, clean air I held in my lungs, I drawled, "May I have this dance, Mrs. Whitlock?"

"Of course," she replied, the musical lit of her voice sending a flash of desire through my entire body.

Gracefully, she set her small hand in mine, and we glided out onto the floor. I gathered her close to my chest near the back of the room, and we began to twirl together, in perfect time to the music. I couldn't help but compare this dance to the last dance I had publicly shared with Alice. There, we had been surrounded by the vile teens of Forks High School, and the emotions of every man in attendance had turned to raging lust when they had set eyes on my wife and my sisters. That night, it wasn't bloodlust that had bothered me. It had been jealousy, pure and simple. Alice had been beyond beautiful, as usual, in that dress, but I had hated every moment she spent before their eyes. The music had been horrible, the dancing atrocious, and the attention disconcerting.

Here, we still drew eyes, but the emotions were so much calmer—most of those in attendance were not hormonal adolescents, and a large number of the men were happily married. Their eyes, and desires, drifted occasionally to my wife, but they rarely lingered, for which I was grateful. And, somehow, dressed in the styles of my youth, Alice was even more beautiful to me than she'd ever been before. Together, we circled the room, our eyes focused on one another, completely content. Almost content. I hated that I had to hold my breath, that I couldn't fill my head with the unique scent that was Alice. I wanted her scent in my head more than I wanted the warm blood that surrounded me. I danced her toward the far corner of the room, as far from the humans as I could manage. Then I buried my nose in the little indent between her neck and shoulder and inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with her scent. It swirled in my head, further blocking the humans from my mind, from my attention.

Alice looked at me as I raised my head, one eyebrow lifted slightly.

I grinned at her, feeling like a little boy who had been caught misbehaving by someone he knew wouldn't punish him.

She couldn't keep the answering grin off of her face. Both of us laughed softly as we continued to waltz together.

We only broke apart when we noticed the other couples begin to take their places for the Grand March. I kissed her cheek swiftly before we took our own places.

Surprisingly, I found that I was enjoying myself as we circled the room, the patterns of the dancing couples intermingling and growing steadily more intricate. The purpose of this dance was to see and be seen, considering that the balls of my time were one of the few events where young, unmarried people had a sanctioned excuse to be near one another. The first time we joined into a set of four, we were the inside couple, leaving the unsuspecting human man to catch Alice's arm. Thanks to his coat and gloves, he did not notice the unnatural coolness of her skin. I breathed a small sigh of relief as the couples separated again, only to realize that on the next circuit the positions would be reversed.

The shock to my system when the woman's arm caught my own was staggering. The heat seemed to shoot through every cell in my body, and the venom pooled in my throat. For just a moment I allowed myself to imagine how wonderful that warmth would feel, flowing down my throat—I could only imagine how wonderful she would taste. And then I caught Alice's pointed glare and felt a brief flair of annoyance. I breathed a mental sigh of relief when the pairs separated from one another. As we drifted away from our brief partners, Alice hissed, "Stop fantasizing! I can see when your control is wavering, and you know thoughts like that will only make this harder than it needs to be!"

"Sorry," I muttered, chagrined.

"Just don't let it happen again," she scolded with mock severity. Eventually, the Grand March ended, and the crowd dispersed while the musicians readied themselves for the next set. The caller, a short man with a graying beard stepped forward to welcome us all, giving a short speech about who he was and his goals for the dances of the night. He wanted us to dance some of the more common dances of the era, as well as attempting a few of the more obscure. We began with a Virginia Reel.

As the dance began, and I found myself lost in the steps, hardly noticing the humans clustered around me. I let myself get lost in the steps, lost in the quiet enjoyment of those around me. It was easier to ignore the blood than I'd ever dreamed it was possible to be. Of course, it helped that I never had to touch any of them. The reel was an exception to the rule—most dances featured a change in partners.

The next was one such. After a short pause, the music began again, and the caller began to announce the steps to the new set. About halfway through, I found myself no longer facing Alice, but one of the human women in our set. As I stepped toward her, I saw her eyes widen slightly as she took in my inhuman features, and I felt her instinctive fear for a long moment. She shook her head quickly, forcing herself to ignore fears that seemed irrational, and gracefully met me for the next part of the dance.

The shock of the warmth was even worse this time, but I forced myself to ignore it, focusing instead on thoughts of Alice and the rest of our family. After a long few minutes, I broke away from her, returning to Alice. She smiled at me, and focused on her approval. She was so proud of me, and her faith in me strengthened my resolve. I could do this. I would do this. The next time the dance called for a change in partners, I was better prepared for the shock of the woman's touch. By the end of the dance, I was much more confident in my own resistance. I knew I could trust Alice, and I was beginning to believe that I could trust myself. That confidence only grew with each successive piece.

During the next pause, three men stepped towards the side wall of the room, carrying three chairs with them. When the dancers saw them, the excitement in the room grew from a dull roar in my senses to a raging torrent, and the caller began to laugh. "I see you all know what's next," he called, as the men set the chairs side by side. Quickly, the attendees lined up again, men to one side, women to the other. The caller handed a simple silk fan to the first woman in line.

With a smile, she stepped forward, spreading her skirts carefully around her as she took a seat in the middle chair. As the music started, the first two men in line took their places to either side of her, both flirting shamelessly. She looked to the man on her left, handing her fan to the one on the right. Then, she jumped to her feet as the man who had been to her left grabbed her hands, dancing eagerly down the space between the two lines. At the end, they separated from one another, taking their places at the foot of the line. As they danced, the man on the right moved to the seat in the center, and two women came to sit on either side of him. The pattern continued without a hitch until one of the girls took her place between two more men. I recognized the girl, dark haired, and in a violently red dress, as one of the 5th Texas girls, and the man to her right was Billy Allen, of stolen brogan fame. The one to the left was a Yank. I could feel her indecision—the Yank was the more attractive of the two, but she felt a sort of loyalty to her unit. Billy Allen noticed as well. He leaned toward her, and I heard him ask, "You aren't really going to dance with a Yank, are you?"

The girl laughed, thrusting the fan at the startled Yank. She and Billy danced wildly, swinging into their places at the base of the line.

A few passes later, a small girl that I had not noticed earlier took the middle chair. She couldn't have been more than eight years old, and I could practically taste how proud she was that she'd been allowed to attend the ball like one of the 'big girls'. And then her excitement turned to disbelief. Somehow, the twins had managed to arrange things so that they ended up on either side of the small girl. She looked from one to the other, unable to decide between them. Nearly everyone was laughing at her confusion, and the hilarity only grew when the boys gave her identical sets of pleading eyes. Finally, the next woman in line leaned toward her, whispering, "You can take them both!"

The girl grinned, handing the fan to the woman who had saved her from the choice, and the boys each took one of her small hands in his own, actually skipping down the line with her between them.

Thankfully, when it was my turn, Alice was in the middle seat, and she took me with no hesitation.

As the dance went on, the participants got wilder. When the dark haired girl took the seat for a second time, she ended up sandwiched between two Yanks. With no preamble, she stood, tossing the fan down on the chair, and danced down the line by herself, declaring "Can't dance with a Yank!" as she went.

Jimmy MacGreggor and Beau, another of the Texas boys, ended up on either side of one of the girls, and proceeded to mock glare at one another around her head; the poor girl dissolved into giggles, finally deciding to dance with them both. They continued to glare at one another, each fighting to pull the girl away from the other until they reached the end of the line.

And then a few of the boys started dancing 'hoe down' style in their places, leaping from one foot to the other in time to the music. I caught sight of Alice giggling right before it happened.

Corporal Hastens forgot that his brogans had little traction on the wooden floor, and sprang a bit too enthusiastically. When his feet hit the floor, they slipped out from under him, and he seemed to hover above the boards for a moment. Then he hit the floor. He tried to rise, but he had no purchase on the slippery floor. He fell again.

Red and one of the cannoneers reached down to him, trying to drag him back to his feet. They got him halfway up before they, too, lost their footing. All three ended up on the floor that time. The room echoed with the laughter of the rest.

Eventually, they managed to regain their feet, and the dancing continued. This time, when it was my turn, I ended up in the middle chair, with Alice to one side and a tiny child to the other. Like the first girl, I had not noticed her in attendance, since she was tiny even for her five years. The small redhead was also a Texan, Opie's granddaughter, and her levels of excitement were even higher than that of the first little girl to dance. She was nearly vibrating with excitement, her small feet dangling a foot or more off the floorboards. I was in trouble. She was close enough to me that I could feel the delicate warmth of her body, and it tempted me in ways for which I hated myself. Yet another risk I dared not take, even though the prospect of feeling her disappointment hurt as well. I started to hand the fan to the excited little girl, not trusting my control with such a venerable specimen of humanity, but I was stopped short by Alice's pointed glare.

"Jasper Whitlock,' she spat, "If you do not give me that fan right now…." She left the threat hanging, but I could feel her perfect sincerity saturating every word. Whatever she had planned for me would not be pleasant.

So I did what any self-respecting, happily married man would do. I obeyed my wife. I gave her the fan, got to my feet, and held my hand out to the tiny girl.

Her answering smile was radiant, showing a gap in her teeth from where she'd recently lost one, and her bright blue eyes sparkled. She put her hand in mine with the absolute trust of a child who has never had to face the reality that there was evil in the world. I danced her carefully down the line, hyperaware of how fragile she was. But, through it all, I was proud of my restraint. She was even more helpless than the rest of the humans here, but the monster in me did not rear its ugly head. I didn't even have to hold my breath. In that moment, I knew that control was possible. I was, as Alice had put it earlier, stronger than I thought. I could be around humans; I could touch them. I didn't have to give in to my instincts.

I hardly even felt a twinge of jealousy as I watched another man dance down the line with my Alice in his arms.

The smile she turned on me when she was back in her place opposite me was absolutely radiant.

When the music for the fan dance ended, the caller announced that the next dance would be the final one.

The soft strains of a waltz filled the room, and I took Alice back in my arms, content to whirl with her, focused only on us and the euphoria that came with being close to her. My epiphany, that I was stronger than I had thought, only increased the feeling, until I felt as though I danced on air.

Alice stretched up slightly as we twirled. "I knew you could do it," she murmured, laying her palm against my cheek, contentment filling the air between us.

I realized then that she had seen this. It made her insistence and excitement understandable. She had wanted me to see this, had wanted me to feel confidence in myself and my ability to control the monster within me. Gratitude filled me.

"I should have learned to trust you by now, darling."

"That's right," she chuckled. "You should know it by now! I only wish I hadn't had to dance with someone else for you to realize it!"

My laughter joined hers as the last strains of the music came to a close.

I was strong enough to resist. I was drunk with the relief. I held my arm out to my wife again, smiling softly at her. I wanted to sweep her into my arms, swinging her around as I shouted my euphoria to the stars. I was strong enough. I could resist more than I'd ever dreamed I could. It was hard, so very hard, to stroll decorously out of the crowded hall, but it would not have been proper to give vent to everything I was feeling in that moment.

The darkness was comforting as we walked down the path, a few couples still surrounding us, the moon and stars shining brightly upon us. My joy at discovering my own strength mixed with the love and gratitude that I felt for this amazing woman beside me. With Alice at my side, there was nothing I couldn't do. I laughed as I felt my own high emotions reflected back at me from all of those within my range. Nothing would make this night better.

And then I realized that Alice had led us away from the rest. She came to a graceful halt, tuning to face me.

"Major Whitlock?" she purred. "Have you noticed that we're completely alone here?"

"I hadn't, ma'am, but what do you plan to do with me now?"

I smiled inside when Alice shivered in my arms, and I fought to keep control of another lust entirely.

"Remember those 'enjoyable activities' you offered me earlier?"