Actions

Work Header

The Twilight Remix

Chapter Text

I'd had good reason to contemplate my death before, but I generally tried to not be so morbid. If I had imagined how I might die, it certainly wouldn't have been like this. I would have been older, for one thing. And I would have hoped for a painless death. But it wasn't so bad to die for someone I loved. It was certainly nobler than anything else I had done in my life.

My skin crawled in revulsion as the hunter smiled at me, baring his white teeth. His clenched fist twitched. I repressed a shudder and lifted my jaw defiantly, refusing to let him see my fear. The room seemed to stretch out to infinity, though I knew it was just an illusion. I was trapped. I would die here. I had nothing with which to defend myself – and I wasn’t deluded enough to believe that I stood a chance against him.

None of this would have happened if I hadn't moved to Forks, but I couldn't bring myself to regret that. I had made friends in Washington, created a place for myself. My life might not have been very long, but I thought it had been pretty good.

The hunter took a step towards me, still smiling. I stood my ground and waited to fight for my life.

Chapter Text

My mom flung the door open of our house when she saw me coming up the path. "Bella!" she cried, looking slightly frantic. "You're home early!"

"It was my last day; the staff threw me a party and let me go." I slung my diner uniform over my shoulder and frowned at her. "What's going on?"

People always told me that my mom and I looked alike. We had the same light hazel eyes and the same heart-shaped face. When we smiled, we looked like the same woman transplanted in time, although there were some noticeable differences. My mom liked to keep her dark hair long while I cropped my hair short -- not to mention the fact that it was currently purple, the result of a bet with my soccer teammates. I brushed a greasy lock of hair of my eyes and raised my eyebrows at my mom.

"Nothing's going on!" she exclaimed, waving her hands. "But – do you want to, I don't know, get some ice cream? Maybe get a coffee?"

"No," I said slowly, eying her. There were two spots of hectic color on her cheeks. "Mom, are you all right?"

"I'm fine!" she insisted, but there was an edge of desperation in her voice. "Really, Bella, I'm fine –"

I pushed past her to get inside the house, hoping to figure out what was wrong with her, and was immediately assaulted by the sound of at least twenty people shouting variations on, "Surprise, Bella!" I froze in the doorway, staring at the grinning crowd of my friends that were standing in our entry hall.

My mom scurried up next to me and grabbed my bag and uniform out of my hands. "Surprise, sweetie," she whispered, kissing my cheek. “We weren’t really ready for you to be here so early, but oh well. Go on.” She gave me a light push.

I tottered forward a few steps, totally stunned. Eliza, my best friend, came forward and wrapped me in a huge hug. "Bella, baby, the soccer team is going to miss you."

I hugged her back, some of her red hair getting in my mouth as I said, "I'm going to miss you!"

"You're going all the way to Washington," she said mournfully, releasing me. "How will I ever survive without you?"

"Well, Eliza," I said dryly, "There's this nifty invention called the internet and you can use it to send me messages. I think it works in Washington."

She laughed and wiped at her damp eyes. "Very funny, Bella." She linked her arm through mine. "Come, everyone wants to say goodbye."

The girls from the soccer team had bought me a brand new soccer ball and they presented it to me with a flourish. "Can't let that kick go to waste," our goalie told me earnestly. I grinned and tossed it to my mom, who promptly fumbled it before going to put it with my suitcase.

“They won’t know what hit them,” I promised my team, and we indulged ourselves into one last repetition of our team chant before high-fiving each other.

A minute later Eliza tugged me aside and leaned in, looking sheepish. "So look, I let your mom do invitations –"

"Oh no," I said, my eyes widening. "Who did she invite?"

"Hey, Bella," said a male voice, and I looked up to see my ex-boyfriend Nate. "Uh, sorry that you're moving."

Eliza, traitor that she was, detached herself from me and scurried off, though she had the decency to look apologetic. I glared after her, then looked back at Nate, who was smiling awkwardly, his hands shoved deep into his jeans pockets.

"Hi," I said a little brusquely, crossing my arms. "Thanks for coming."

"Yeah, of course." He bit his lip. "Can we – can we talk in private?" He gestured vaguely toward the yard.

I eyed him warily and said, "Fine, okay." I led him outside to the backyard and shut the French doors behind us. I leaned against the glass pane and looked at him. "Talk."

Nate fidgeted, a lock of blond hair flopping down across his forehead. "I'm sorry about the way things turned out," he said after a moment. "I know it didn't end well, but I really liked you, Bella."

I sighed and rubbed at my temple. "Nate –"

"No, hear me out." He spread his hands apologetically. "I liked you a whole lot. You made me really happy. And I didn't deserve you."

"Come on, Nate," I said softly. I wanted to be annoyed by his sudden remorse, but he sounded genuinely sincere. "Don't be like that."

He shook his head, smiling slightly. "I'll miss you, Bella." He stepped closer and gently slid his hand around to cup the nape of my neck. When he leaned forward to kiss me, I didn't turn my head away, though I thought about it.

The kiss was mercifully brief, just a brush of dry lips. I patted his chest as he pulled away and lied, "I don't blame you."

He smiled then, for real, and I remembered why I had dated him. I smiled in return, then headed back into my house to continue saying goodbye to my friends.

*****

After the last of my friends had gone home, my mom and I packed up the last few items I would need up north. Charlie had promised he would take me shopping for weather-appropriate clothes once I got to Forks, so I was traveling fairly light. I carefully placed the soccer ball in my suitcase and patted it fondly before zipping my luggage closed.

The house was almost entirely boxed up; Mom was flying out to Florida the next week. Her new fiancé was already there, setting up their house while he trained with his team. There were a few boxes of clothes that were to go to Goodwill, but most of it was moving with her.

"I'm sorry you have to move like this," she told me as we lugged a box out to the car. "You're still welcome to come to Florida with me and Phil. I'm gonna set up a room for you there no matter what. Just say the word and I’ll call Charlie to tell him I’m keeping you."

I widened my eyes playfully at her and said innocently, "But Mom, I don't want to ruin your honeymoon bliss."

She swatted me, grinning, and said, "Get in the car, silly girl."

The weather was unseasonably gorgeous outside; the sky was a perfect blue, not a cloud in sight. I leaned against the door of my mom's battered Ford and tapped my fingers against the window. The glass was cool to the touch. I heard my mom make a small, choked noise. I straightened up in my seat and glanced over at her, concerned.

My mom was looking at me, her eyes shiny with tears. "Oh, Bella," she said sadly, and she reached out to brush my cheek. I leaned into her touch for a second, then reminded her to keep an eye on the road. She let out a watery chuckle and turned back. "Did you enjoy your going-away party?"

"I kinda wish you hadn't invited my ex-boyfriend," I said, but I smiled at her to let her know it had gone all right. She giggled and wiped at her eyes.

"I'm sorry you're getting shipped off like this," Mom said after a moment. "When Charlie and I worked out the custody, the idea was that you'd live with me and see him over summer. It wasn’t supposed to -- I mean, you don't even know him all that well. The last time you went to Forks was, what, five years ago?"

"That's only because we go to LA for the summer instead," I pointed out reasonably. "I know Charlie well enough. I mean, what's there to know? He's a sheriff, he gets pretty good vacation time, and he's my dad. I'm sure we'll figure things out."

Mom didn't look particularly reassured by this and, honestly, I didn't blame her. I had no great love for Forks, and I didn't try to hide it. It wasn't that Forks was in the middle of nowhere, though that didn't help. It just wasn't home to me; it never had been.

"If you're sure," Mom said dubiously. "If you change your mind, you can always tell me. Remember, you're coming down to Florida in May for the wedding."

"I'm the maid of honor, how could I forget?" I smiled at her and waggled my eyebrows. "I have to throw you the bachelorette party. I’m thinking Chippendales.”

"Oh God," she groaned, palming her face. "I have not raised you right."

*****

Mom almost wouldn't let me go when I was checking into my flight. "I'm going to miss you, baby," she whispered in my ear.

I squeezed her and said, "I'll call."

"You'd better." We separated, and she rubbed away a few stray tears. "Say hi to Charlie for me."

"Yeah, okay." I shouldered my duffel bag and headed to the security line. "I'll call you when I land," I called back over my shoulder.

"Bye!" she called, waving. I waved back until I lost sight of her in the crowds of people heading home from winter break.

The flight was fairly uneventful, with a typically crappy film and even worse food. The teenage boy sitting next to me spent most of the flight watching episodes of television on his very tiny laptop. I tried to nap and managed to grab a few snatches of sleep, but I’d never had much luck with sleeping on airplanes.

I had to take a transfer plane from Seattle to get to Forks. The flight was only an hour long though, not long enough for a film or even a quick snack. Charlie was waiting for me at luggage claim when I landed, standing in his street clothes rather than his uniform. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his ancient jeans; it, along with his faded blue parka, was a familiar sight.

"Hey, Bella," he greeted me, wrapping me in a slightly stilted one armed hug. I patted his back awkwardly with my free hand. "Nice hair,” he added, tugging at a strand.

I winced in embarrassment and explained, “I lost a bet.”

Charlie just gave me an amused look. “Let me take your bag." He hefted my duffel bag over his shoulder. I shifted my backpack so that it settled more evenly against my back. "Did you check anything?"

"Yeah. Carousel 1." I pointed to where the thirty or so people from my flight were standing. "I have two bags."

"All right." Charlie set off in the direction I had indicated. "I got you all registered for school," he called over his shoulder. "You're taking pretty much the same schedule you were at home, except it’s too late for you to try out for the soccer team, so you're in regular Phys Ed."

I winced again. As good as I was at soccer, I wasn’t very gifted at any sport that required the use of my hands. "Great."

"Yeah, I know." He stopped at the edge of the carousel and looked at me.. "You're gonna have to tell me which bags are yours."

"Mmm." I glanced out the doors and saw that it was drizzling lightly. "Can I grab that duffel?"

He handed it over, and I pulled out a sweatshirt that I belatedly recognized as one of Eliza's. I smiled fondly and tugged it over my head. It was a little too big -- Eliza had three inches on me and never let me forget it -- and smelled like her house. I inhaled deeply and bit my lip to stave off the sudden sharp pang of homesickness.

"How's Renee?" he asked after an awkward pause. The carousel's light lit up, and the first suitcase came sliding down the ramp. "Is she doing all right?"

"Yeah, she's doing just fine. She says hi, by the way." I pointed as a battered green suitcase slid down the ramp and was carried towards us. "That's mine."

He hefted it up and over the edge of the carousel. "Jesus, Bella, what've you got in this thing?" he grunted. "Cement?"

"Books." I reached out and snagged my second suitcase before it could pass us. "Okay. We're good, we can go."

"I thought you were gonna buy stuff out here," Charlie said as we headed out the doors into the cool air. "What's all this?"

"Stuff from Phoenix. Mom's moving, she can't take all my crap with her." Charlie stopped in front of a green hybrid car and unlocked it. "Nice car."

“I guess." He opened the trunk and helped me lift my things into the back. "It's certainly gained me a lot of points around town."

I snorted. From what I remembered, people in Washington were very eco-friendly. "Sure."

"Speaking of which, your car." He shut the trunk and opened the driver's side door. "I found a good one for you."

I raised my eyebrows; a 'good one for me' was not necessarily a good car. "Yeah? What is it?"

"A Chevy pick-up truck. I bought it off Billy Black from La Push."

"Who?"

"He used to go fishing with us. He's from the reservation?" Charlie looked at me hopefully, but it had been a long time since I’d been to Forks, let alone La Push, the reservation on the coast.

“No, sorry.” I climbed into the passenger seat and waited for Charlie to get in. “It’s been a long time.”

Charlie nodded, though he gave me a slightly reproachful look, as though he was disappointed I didn’t remember. “Billy’s in a wheelchair now, so he can’t drive the car anymore. When I mentioned that you were moving here, he offered to sell it to me.”

“How does it run?” I asked as Charlie started up the little car. He didn’t look at me as he answered, his expression turning a little sheepish.

“He’s done a lot of work on the engine, but he bought it in 1984.” He fell silent, and I waited, sensing that there was more. Finally, he admitted, “It was probably built in the late fifties, early sixties. But –“ and here he held up his hand to hold off my complaints, “it’s a solid car. It was cheap, and I’ll pay for any mechanical problems you run into.”

“I could probably do a little of the work myself,” I told him. “One of my friends back ho -- in Phoenix worked on cars.” I realized a second later that he had probably been expecting a different response. “Thank you,” I added belatedly. “I appreciate it.”

“You’re my daughter,” Charlie said in an attempt to brush off my thanks, but he turned a little red. The conversation lagged at that. I leaned against the glass of the window, staring out at the gorgeous landscape. One of the things Forks had going for its sheer beauty; as much as I loved Phoenix, the endless desert did get rather depressing sometimes.

As awkward as the silence was, I found it impossible to break it. I couldn’t think of what to say to him; I didn’t even really know what we had in common. When I’d visited Charlie in LA, we had mostly gone to the beach and visited tourist places. It was beginning to occur to me that my mom had been right to say that I didn’t know my own father.

Neither of us spoke for the remainder of the journey to Charlie’s home which was the same house he’d always had – a grey, two-storey building with a blue front door. Parked in the driveway was a monstrous red pick-up truck, the kind that can get into a horrible four-car accident and emerge unscathed.

“That’s gorgeous,” I breathed, forgetting my earlier concerns as Charlie pulled into the driveway next to it. I clambered out as soon as he hit the park button. The paint was faded, patches of rust here and there, but it was beautiful and it was mine. I laid a hand against the side and smiled.

“You like it?” Charlie sounded pleased. “Because we can always find you a new one.”

“No,” I insisted, turning to face him. “No, I love it. Thank you.”

Charlie smiled then, awkward on his thin face. “Come on,” he said gruffly. “Let’s get your stuff upstairs.”

He helped me lug my things up to my usual room, across a narrow hallway from his. My bed was already made, the desk set up. Once he was sure I had everything – including keys – he left me alone to unpack, for which I was grateful. I needed some time to gather my thoughts and adjust. For all my insistence that I was fine, I was beginning to feel the first stings of homesickness.

I shelved my books first, then unpacked my clothing and laid down on top of my new bed. I looked around the room thoughtful. It wasn’t anything like my room in Phoenix; but maybe that would be a good thing.

“I can do this,” I said out loud, and I went downstairs to see what Charlie was up to.

*****

It rained particularly loudly that night, and I lay awake from a combination of nerves and restlessness. I wasn’t used to the noise and it was a constant reminder that I wasn’t at home. I finally managed to drift off around two in the morning, when the rain lessened and ceased pounding on the roof.

When I awoke the next, a thick fog had replaced the rain. I clattered down the stairs after showering and getting dressed. Charlie was already eating breakfast in the kitchen, dressed in his uniform. He looked up when he saw me and tried a smile. It came out pretty well.

“Hey, Bella,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”

I shrugged and sat down at the tiny table. “The rain kept me up.”

“Oh.” Charlie took a sip of coffee. “I can give you some earplugs, if you think that might help.”

“That’d be great,” I admitted. I pulled the cereal box towards me and poured out a bowl for myself. “You gotta get to work soon, don’t you?”

Charlie glanced at the clock and muttered something under his breath. “Yeah,” he agreed, louder. “You’ll be okay getting to school on your own? Put your fog lights on.”

I rolled my eyes and smiled at him. “I did take driver’s ed.”

Charlie ducked his head, embarrassed. “I know, I just – worry.” He stood up and said, “I’m gonna go now. Good luck today.”

“Thanks,” I said, waggling my fingers. He waved awkwardly before taking his hat and exiting through the front door. I picked up my cereal bowl and wandered around the house while I ate. The kitchen was small, with green-painted cabinets and wood floors. I remembered it seeming a lot bigger when I was a child; now, I thought that if I held out both arms, I’d hit a wall.

I headed into the living room and stared. It looked exactly the same as it had when I was a kid, down to the furniture and photographs on the mantle. Mom and Charlie’s wedding picture was in the middle, flanked by photos of me as a baby. I touched the photograph from their wedding; they had gotten married on a beach in California, near where they had gone to college. They both looked so happy; I wondered if that was why Charlie had kept it.

I had always known in a vague, abstracted way that Charlie hadn’t really gotten over my mom. He had always asked about her when I came to visit and had seemed sad when I told him she was getting remarried. Being in his house only made it more obvious that he was holding on.

I finished my breakfast and grabbed my backpack before running out to the car. The air smelled strange to me, moist and rich rather than dry and arid. I climbed into the driver’s seat and took stock. The leather seats had clearly been recently reupholstered, and there was a fairly modern entertainment system in the dash, but the car smelled faintly of tobacco and gasoline. It was actually oddly comforting.

I started the engine, and it roared to life, startling me. I fiddled with the radio, and found that both the tape deck and the radio worked fine, although the CD player seemed to be on the fritz. I made a mental note to find an iPod hook up as I guided the car out onto the street.

The local high school was just off the highway, like most things in Forks, and it didn’t take me long to find it. It was much different from the one I’d gone to in Phoenix – much more homey, built with red bricks rather than institutional cement. It was surrounded by a small forest of shrubs and trees; the sign that read ‘Office’ was nearly hidden by the foliage.

I parked in front of the office and walked up the path into the building. Inside, it was warm and brightly lit, made comfortable with several cheerful paintings of animals and warmly colored furniture. A bulletin board covered in notices dominated the right wall. The left hand side of the office was taken up by a tall wooden counter, beyond which were several desks that were currently unoccupied. A moment after I entered, a woman came in from a door at the of the office. She saw me loitering awkwardly by the door and smiled.

“Hi,” she said brightly, coming up to the counter. “Can I help you?”

“My name’s Isabella Swan,” I told her. Her eyes lit up with recognition. I stifled a sigh; I hoped that she only knew my name because I was new and not because I was Charlie’s daughter, but it was a faint hope. Forks was a small town with only about three thousand people and my dad was the sheriff – I was doomed to be a curiosity for at least the first month. I had resigned myself to that. Simply being the new girl would have made me interesting. The fact that I was the daughter of the sheriff meant that people would want to gossip about me.

“Yes, I’ve been expecting you.” She reached down for a small stack of papers with a small spiral bound planner sitting on top. “This is your schedule, your locker number and combination, some guidelines, a school calendar, your planner, and a map of the school. Would you like me to show you how to get around?”

“Please,” I said, surprised at the offer. She smiled and bent to highlight the best route to each class, explaining as she did so. Then she passed over another sheet of paper that I needed each teacher to sign and bring back to her at the end of the day.

“If you want to change a class, you’ll need to get the signature of both your current teacher and the teacher of the class you want to switch into before I can do anything.” She smiled again and said, “Good luck.”

I thanked her absently and headed back out to my car, looking at the map. The student parking lot was a little further down, so I drove my car about half a block to where the other students were arriving. No one gave me a second glance, which I found mildly reassuring. I shoved all the papers the receptionist had given me into my backpack and slid out onto the damp asphalt. Students milled around me, talking and laughing with friends as they headed into school. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that they were teenagers just like me. I had nothing to worry about.

I followed the crowd into the locker hall, where I located my locker and managed to get it open without issue. I shoved my coat and my extra belongings into it, then consulted my schedule for where to go next.

I found my first classroom easily enough and handed my slip to the teacher, who signed it without comment before sending me to the back of the class with a reading list in my hand. I sat down at an empty desk and scanned the list quickly. It was mostly books I had already read – Shakespeare, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, some other miscellaneous authors. I debated printing out and fixing up some of my old essays from Phoenix, but decided that I’d just wait to see how the teachers at Forks High taught.

I zoned out while the teacher – Mr. Carson – gave a lecture on the symbolism in Hamlet, occasionally soliciting input from the students. I kept my head down and didn’t raise my hand, taking only minimal notes in my notebook.

When the bell rang, the boy sitting in front of me turned around and beamed. He had a wide, friendly face and a shock of white-blond hair. He was cute, in a kind of a boyish way. “Hey,” he said warmly. “You must be Isabella Swan.”

The people near us shot me curious looks. I stared them down until they turned away. I glanced back at the boy as I gathered up my things. “I go by Bella,” I told him a little frostily, annoyed that he’d called attention to my presence.

Unperturbed, he continued smiling. “I like your hair. Why’d you dye it?”

I blinked and reached up to run my hand through the short strands. “Thanks,” I said after a beat. “It's kind of a long story and it involves some dubious moral decisions.”

He laughed and held out his hand. “I’m Eric Somberg,” he said, shaking my hand. “Do you need any help finding your next class?”

“Uh,” I said, wondering how I should react. After a moment of hesitation, I decided it couldn’t hur tto take Eric up on his offer. “Sure?”

“Great. I’m on student council,” he explained as we walked out of the room. “The principal told me you’d be coming and that since I was in your first period, I should show you around.” He winked conspiratorially and added, “Plus, now I have an excuse to be late to class.”

Involuntarily, I smiled, and he crowed in success.

“I got a smile!” he cried. A couple people turned to stare. He waved enthusiastically at them and their faces relaxed, grinning back at him. He turned back to me, eyes bright and curious. “You’re from Phoenix, right?”

“Yeah. Born in Forks, though.”

“Sucks,” he pronounced. “Forks is totally boring, I’m so sorry you got stuck here.” He patted my shoulder in a vaguely comforting manner. “By the way, where are we going?”

“Uh, US History,” I said, pulling my already crumpled schedule out of my pocket. “With Patterson.”

He nodded and steered me left towards a slightly newer looking building. “Okay,” he announced when I had spotted the room number that I wanted. “We got here safely. My mission is complete. See you later?”

I looked at him and his hopeful smile, then said, “Yeah, sure.”

He grinned and said, “Find me at lunch!” before heading off towards the building on the far end of campus. I watched him go, feeling slightly overwhelmed by his forceful enthusiasm, then went inside the classroom, smiling to myself.

Most of my classes were pretty uneventful. The history curriculum was behind my class in Phoenix by about a week, so I was safe for the time being. My Pre-Calculus class was the only one where I actually had to introduce myself, and I felt incredibly awkward the entire time. The preppy redheaded girl at the front stared at my band shirt and ripped jeans as though I’d offended her personally. I made a point of giving her a wide smile before I was allowed to go to the last empty desk.

There were a couple of kids who were in more than one of my classes. One of them, a girl with jet black hair and neat red glasses, offered to walk me to lunch. “I’m Kaitlyn,” she said, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “You like The Smiths?” She nodded to my shirt.

I said, “Nah, I’m just wearing this shirt for the hell of it,” and she laughed.

“Yeah, whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Should have known you were just a poseur.”

I decided that I liked her. “I figured this was the best way to get all the boys,” I said dryly. “I mean, doesn’t everyone like Morissey?”

“Wrong team,” she said, smirking.

She walked me to the cafeteria and waited with me in line, where I got a rather dull-looking salad. When I mentioned my promise to Eric, she grinned, walking quicker through the cafeteria.

“Eric? You mean this kid?” She pointed at the boy in question, who was sitting at a lunch table with several other students – two boys and a girl. Eric looked up at the sound of Kaitlyn’s voice and broke into a wide grin.

“Bella!” he cried excitedly. “The exotic Phoenix flower, come to grace us with her perfume.”

“You’re such a weirdo,” the other girl at the table said, rolling her eyes. She waved at me and added, “I’m Marlena. Ignore Eric, he’s in one of his moods today.”

I smiled at her and placed my tray across from her. “Good to know.”

“How dare you malign me, Marlena!” Eric exclaimed, clutching at his chest dramatically. “Care to take your knife out of my back?” He mimed dragging a knife from his back, and Marlena flicked a grape at him.

The other two boys introduced themselves as Dave and Lucas, and they quickly returned to a conversation about a computer game that I only knew a little about. Kaitlyn leaned in and asked something about mods that went completely over my head, so I tuned them out in favor of eating. It was while I was eating my salad and half-listening to Eric and Marlena bicker that I noticed them.

There were five of them sitting at a table by themselves. None of them was sneaking glances at my table, which was a welcome change from the glances from curious students at the tables around me. They seemed to be talking quietly amongst themselves, and they had left their food completely untouched – not that I blamed them. Some of the food had looked pretty dire.

They were odd-looking, pale and sickly under the harsh cafeteria lights. While there was certainly a variety of looks among them, there was also a bizarre unity to their appearance. I squinted at them, trying to figure out what it was. One of the girls reach out to poke the blond boy in the arm, and I suddenly realized that they all moved the same way – a little too fluidly, a little too quickly.

“Are you looking at the Cullens?” Eric asked, interrupting my thoughts. “Or, shall I say, the Cullens and the Hales?”

I glanced at them and saw that he was staring dreamily at the table, his chin propped on his hands. “What?”

Kaitlyn leaned towards me and explained, “They’re this sort of makeshift family. The two blonds are Rosalie and Jasper Hale, the dark-haired ones are Emmett, Edward, and Alice Cullen. They all live with Dr. Cullen and his wife.” She nodded discretely. The one I took to be Alice was drumming her fingers impatiently on the table while the blond boy – Jasper – tried to soothe her by stroking her hair. Rosalie, who was devastatingly beautiful with softly rounded features and a plush mouth, had her head bent towards a veritable bear of a man – Edward or Emmett.

“And they’re all together,” Marlena put in, affecting a tone of moral outrage. “Rosalie and Emmett, Alice and Jasper. Not Edward, though, he’s never dated anyone.”

“Damn shame, too,” Eric said dreamily. He gave me a look, as if he had just remembered I was there. I just shrugged at him, and he visibly relaxed.

“Which one’s Edward?” I asked, looking back at the table.

“Uh, the gorgeous one?” Eric suggested. “The one with dark hair who doesn’t look like he could destroy a car in his fist?”

I immediately saw who he meant. The boy in question was angled slightly away from the rest of them. His eyes moved restlessly over the students in the cafeteria as he absently shredded the lone bread roll on his tray. I guessed I could see why Eric thought he was beautiful; there was something oddly compelling about him, though his eyes were a little too closely set, his mouth a little too wide, and his features just a little too sharp for him to be called conventionally handsome. His hair was an odd coppery color – not quite red, but not quite brown either. Just as I looked at him, his eyes met mine for a sharp instant, and then dropped away almost instantly.

I frowned, something tugging at my thoughts, but was distracted by Kaitlyn saying, “They’re all adopted. Dr. Cullen and his wife are both really young, but they took in the Hales anyway – they’re, like, her sister’s kids or something – and then they adopted the others. Foster kids. Edward and Alice are our age, the others are a year ahead.”

“That’s nice of them,” I said absently. I racked my brain for memories of any Cullens when I visited before, but nothing came to mind. “Have they always lived in Forks?”

Eric shook his head. “Moved here from Alaska about two years ago.”

Suddenly, the dark-haired girl – Alice – leaped to her feet in an uncannily graceful movement before darting for the door. Jasper hauled himself up with a resigned expression and followed her outside. The other three, seeming to take this as a signal, rose to their feet and took their untouched lunches to the trash.

“Alice is a bit…odd,” Marlena said unnecessarily. “I think she might be a little…” She twirled her finger next to her temple in the universal sign for ‘crazy’.

On her other side, Lucas broke off the conversation to groan, “Are you talking about the Cullens again?” Marlena flapped her hand at him to tell him to shut up; they were walking past us on their way out.

As they passed, Edward Cullen gave me another sharp glance, as though he was trying to figure something out. I raised my eyebrows at him and he looked away hurriedly, as though embarrassed to be caught looking.

It was then that I realized what had been bothering me – his eyes were black, with no trace of any color around the pupil.

*****

Marlena was in my Biology class and she walked with me, babbling cheerfully on about the spring musical, which apparently Eric had the lead in.

“You don’t care that he’s gay, right?” she asked suddenly, giving me a hard look. I stared.

“Did I give you that impression?” I inquired, somewhat perturbed. “Of course not!”

“No,” she said, relaxing. “Just checking. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t okay with it.”

“Well,” I muttered, “I don’t know about surprised.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but we had reached our classroom. She went to her seat while I went to get my paper signed by the teacher. Edward Cullen was sitting by himself at one of the lab tables, staring at the smooth black surface. As I passed him, he started, looking up. When he saw whom it was, his expression changed to a bizarre mix of fury and curiosity. I glared back at him.

The teacher signed my slip and told me to take the empty seat – the one next to Edward Cullen. I sighed, but did as he said. I sat down on the stool next to him and he flinched away, as though I’d raised a hand to him. I wanted nothing more than to demand what the hell was wrong with him, but I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I turned my back on him while the teacher started talking.

I glanced over at him a couple of times during the period, but he didn’t relax once. His muscles were tensed to the extreme and he was gripping onto the edge of the lab table so tightly that his knuckles were white.

Finally, I grew tired of pretending that nothing was happening and hissed, “Is something wrong?”

It took him a moment to register that I had said anything and then he offered something that might have been a smile. “Just stomach cramps,” he said, but his voice was tight with anger and something like revulsion. He had a slight accent to his voice, the way people in old movies always seemed to have an English accent.

I snorted. “Whatever you say,” I muttered, and proceeded to ignore him for the rest of class.

When the bell finally rang, Edward was up and practically out the door before I’d even gathered up my notebook. I shook my head; it seemed like Alice Cullen wasn’t the only crazy one in that family.

“Man,” Marlena said, materializing at my shoulder. “What the hell did you do to Edward? I’ve never seen him act like that.”

I shrugged. “Hell if I know. What do you have next?”

“Gym. You?”

“Same.” I shouldered my bag and walked with her from the class. “So he’s not usually like that?”

Marlena shrugged. “He never really talks to anyone, if that’s what you mean. He’s kind of – private. Like people around here aren’t good enough for him. The whole family is kind of stuck up – except Alice, but you know. She’s strange.” She changed the subject to tell me some ridiculous story about the gym teacher and a raccoon that I protested couldn’t be true, but she swore it was. I knew she was probably changing the subject to make me feel better about Edward giving me the cold shoulder and I appreciated the thought.

The gym teacher found me a uniform and assigned me a locker. “We’re playing volleyball this week,” he told me and I winced.

“I’m better with my feet,” I told him and he laughed, clapping me on the shoulder.

“I feel you, Miss Swan. We’re getting to soccer in a week, don’t worry.” He let me sit out for the day and I watched as Marlena kicked ass with her team. Luke was in our class as well, and he repeatedly called foul on Marlena, who just stuck her tongue out at him.

After class, I waved goodbye to Marlena before heading back to the office to return the paper my teachers had signed. The wind had picked up and I wrapped my arms around myself. I was grateful to go inside the office - until I saw that Edward Cullen had gotten there first.

He was arguing with the receptionist about changing his fifth period class – the one he had with me. “Please,” he said, his voice soft and persuasive. “I cannot be in that class any longer.”

“Unless you give me a reason, Mr. Cullen, I’m afraid I cannot transfer you,” the receptionist said, frustrated. The door to the office opened and an underclassman came in to hand the receptionist a note. A gust of wind came with it, knocking my hair into my eyes. Edward Cullen stiffened and turned around, his face gone even paler.

We stared at each other for a minute. I wasn't sure sure what he saw on my face, but I saw fear and anger and disgust on his – all of which completely mystified me. I lifted my chin and met his gaze evenly, trying to tell him I wasn’t intimidated him.

He turned back to the receptionist and said in that smooth, carefully modulated voice, “Clearly it is impossible. I am sorry to have wasted your time.” Then he turned and left, carefully angling his body so that he didn’t brush any part of me. I resisted the childish urge to stick out my foot and trip him, telling myself that it was beneath me. I settled for rolling my eyes.

I stepped forward to give the receptionist my sheet. She took it with a smile.

“How was your day, Miss Swan?” she asked as she filed it. “Good?”

I shrugged. “Informative,” I said, and then I headed out to my car, ready to put all thoughts of Edward Cullen from my mind.

Chapter Text

Charlie was still out when I got home, so I made myself a snack to eat while I looked over my homework. I was working my way through the Pre-Calculus assignment when Eliza called, demanding to know how my first day had gone.

“I have to live vicariously through you, Bells, I’ve never been the new kid,” she explained. “Was it dramatic? Did you make any friends?”

“A couple, I think.” I put my pencil down and sandwiched my cell phone between my ear and shoulder. “It’s probably too soon to tell. But there is one thing.” I explained to her what had happened with Edward Cullen and she made little tutting noises.

“What an asshole,” she said matter-of-factly. “If he doesn’t want to be your friend, fuck him.”

Despite myself, I giggled and felt a little tension seep out of my shoulders. Eliza laughed and began telling me about soccer practice that day.

After talking to Eliza, I finished my homework and gave my mom a call. She didn’t pick up, which wasn’t all that surprising. She was terrible at answering the phone. I left a quick message telling her I’d gotten in okay and that school had been all right.

Charlie came home not long after that and we ate dinner – spaghetti and meatballs – mostly without talking. The extent of our conversation was that he asked me how my day went, I supplied a nondescript answer, and he told me a little about a strange animal mauling he had seen on the beach earlier in the day.

“Never seen anything like it,” he said, buttering a slice of white bread. “Dr. Cullen said he was pretty sure it was an animal -”

“Wait, wait,” I said, holding up my hand. “Dr. Cullen? Is he the adoptive father of all those kids?”

“Yeah, that’s him,” Charlie nodded, mouth full. He swallowed and eyed me. “You meet the kids?”

“In a manner of speaking,” I muttered. I waved my hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it, just wondering.”

Charlie looked like he wanted to say something, but he mercifully decided to leave me alone and even did the dishes. I headed up to bed not long after, even though I wasn’t actually all that tired. I lay awake listening to the sound of the wind outside and wished I had taken Charlie up on his offer of earplugs until I finally fell into a dreamless sleep.
*****

The next day was a good. I woke up later and had myself a nice, leisurely breakfast, Charlie having already left for work. On the fridge, he had pinned a note asking me to pick up some groceries, a wad of money taped to the note. I grinned; at least I wouldn’t have to remind Charlie to buy food, unlike Mom, who’d forget to eat if I wasn’t there to nag her about it.

I started out school with Eric, who came and sat next to me. Whenever the teacher had his back turned, he passed me a note detailing the lurid sex lives of our classmates, complete with stick figure illustrations.

Kaitlyn walked with me to lunch again, chattering about the upcoming spring formal. When we entered the cafeteria, I reflexively glanced over at the Cullens’ table only to see that they were missing their fifth member – Edward was nowhere to be seen.

I felt a little bubble of relief rise in my chest and I slid across the table from Dave and Lucas with a little more energy. Dave asked me about Phoenix and when I mentioned having been on the soccer team, the three of us got to talking about sports until lunch was over. I felt oddly elated by the success of our interaction, as though I’d passed some sort of test; I’d been accepted by all the members of the group.

Edward wasn’t in Biology, either. Marlena giggled when she saw my pleased expression.

“Luckily for you, I guess, the Cullens as a whole tend to miss a lot of school.” She shrugged. “Who knows why, we don’t tend to ask. So you won’t have to worry about him snapping and trying to kill you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Somehow,” I deadpanned, “I don’t find that very reassuring.”

She slapped my shoulder playfully. “Come on, Bella, you need to lighten up. You know what, we’re going to the beach in a couple weeks and having a bit of a party. You should come.”

“Will the weather be like this?” I asked, glancing out the window to the misty sky.

Marlena grinned. “If it is, so what? We can still have fun.” She bumped my shoulder on the way to her seat and I ducked to hide my smile.

Even volleyball couldn’t dim my happiness. I managed not to hit anyone, though the insides of my arms were sore by the end of class – I hadn’t quite gotten the knack of hitting the ball with the soft part of my arms.

I started up my car with a deafening rumble. I couldn’t help but wince a little; when it was just me around, it was charming. When other people were turning to stare, my car’s idiosyncrasies were a little more embarrassing. I waved cheerfully at Lucas, who was passing by. He mouthed, ‘Nice car!’ and gave me thumbs up.

I went to back out, but was cut off by a slick silver Volvo. I glared at it, annoyed, and met the eyes of the beautiful Rosalie Hale. She glared right back at me, then gunned the car out of the parking lot at practically light speed. Jasper, Emmett, and Alice were riding with her, I noticed. As they passed, Alice pressed her face to the window and stared at me, her eyes wide and a little odd. I stared back, confused, and then I lost sight of her as their car rounded the corner out of the lot.

I shook my head in disgust and backed out. When I thought back, I remembered seeing the quality of their clothes - not particularly flashy, as such, but certainly expensive. It seemed a little unfair that the kids in that family had gotten both money and looks, but I knew better than to believe that the world was fair. The only consolation, as such, was that they didn’t seem to be well-liked even with those not inconsiderable assets.

But then, I reasoned as I turned down the highway towards the grocery store, maybe people had tried to befriend them and had been rebuffed. I had seen first-hand how Edward Cullen reacted to people, or at least to me. If they acted even half as rudely – and bizarrely – as he had, then it was no wonder they were ostracized.

I wandered through the store with my headphones on, picking out enough food to last us a couple weeks. There was something soothing about being in a supermarket; pretty much no matter where you go, all supermarkets are the same. It was almost like being home again.

I headed back to Charlie’s place and did my best to unload all the groceries in the correct places, though I wasn’t sure of Charlie’s organization method. I had bought a few ready-made meals and I put one in the oven so that I could do my homework.

Just as I was settling in to start my essay on Hamlet, my cell phone rang. I picked up and my mom said, “Oh my god, Bella, I’m so sorry I missed your call! We were still in the process of moving and I -”

“Relax, Mom,” I said soothingly. “Don’t worry about. I’m fine, the flight was good, and school is just fine.”

“Oh, good.” She let out a breath. “So things are okay? You’re getting along with Charlie?”

“Yeah, things are just fine. I have a car, my classes are fine, I’ve made a few friends. Don’t worry about me, Mom, you just concentrate on being happy.”

I heard her saying something quietly to someone else and then she said, “Phil says hi. You’re still coming down for the bachelorette party?”

I rolled my eyes. “Of course, Mom. Tell him I say hi back.”

“Is it cold?” she asked worriedly. “I know that February can be kind of cold up there -”

“Mom, seriously, I’m fine. Charlie’s treating me well. If I need anything, he’ll get it for me.” I paused and then said, “He says hi.”

“Oh,” my mom muttered distractedly. “I’m so sorry, Bella, I have to go. The movers put some of our things in the wrong room.” She sounded kind of frazzled and I decided to let her go.

“Go, sort it out.” We exchanged goodbyes and I hung up. I was almost done with the first draft of my essay when Charlie came home. He sniffed the air cautiously as he hung up his gun belt. When I was little, he used to always remove the bullets from his gun before he’d hung it up, I remembered suddenly. I looked down at my papers and swept them up, getting up to grab plates.

“What’s that smell?” Charlie asked, taking off his jacket. “Something you picked up at the grocery store?”

“Yeah, I’m not so great at cooking,” I admitted. “I can do a few things, but you know what I’m really great at? Heating up premade meals.”

Charlie smiled wryly and said, “Like father, like daughter,” and let me serve him a helping of the store-made lasagna.

Unfortunately, he then decided that we needed to chat about my day. I’d always disliked that parental tradition, even with my mom. What made it worse was that Charlie wasn’t particularly good at it.

“So, uh, you make any friends?” he asked hesitantly. “Meet any nice kids?”

I looked at him over the top of my soda can and answered cautiously, “Yeah, a few.”

“Like who?” he asked, not looking at me. I sighed and set my can down.

“Eric Somberg,” I said. “A girl named Marlena, another girl named Kaitlyn, a couple guys named Dave and Lucas.”

“Kaitlyn Sasaki?” he asked. “Her family’s very nice. Her father’s a lawyer, a damn good one at that.”

“They’ve all been nice,” I said, wondering what he was trying to get at. “Eric especially.”

“The Sombergs are awfully nice,” he said, picking at his food. “A little – misguided at times, I think. Eric is a good boy. Sometimes I think they’re a little too hard on him.”

“What do you mean?” I set my fork down and frowned at him.

“Oh, nothing.” Charlie shook his head. “They just have a hard time accepting Eric. A few people around here did, we had to stop him from getting assaulted a couple times.”

I stared at him, shocked. “Are you kidding me?” I demanded, horrified. “That’s sick!”

“That’s Forks,” my dad muttered. “Take the Cullens. Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon. He could go anywhere in the world and make five times as much as he makes here. We’re lucky that his wife was willing to live here. Those kids, they may be adopted but he treats them like his own. I’ve never had any trouble out of them and the way they stick together should be an example to families out there. But just because they’re outsiders and a little odd, people have to talk.” He came to a stop and took a breath.

“Wow,” I said after a beat. “That’s the most I’ve ever heard you speak in one go.”

Charlie looked at me and then started to chuckle. I couldn’t help but join in. We ate the rest of the meal in a companionable silence before taking the dishes to the sink. He washed and I dried. He looked like he wanted to say something, so I waited him out. Finally, he broke and said, “I think it’s because they’re such an attractive family.”

“And maybe because they’re rich,” I suggested. Charlie inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“That too. From what I understand, Dr. Cullen has to work hard to keep the nurses at the hospital from throwing themselves at him.” He chuckled. “Too bad for them, his wife is a beautiful, kind woman. He’s a lucky man.”

I shook my head and clapped Charlie on the shoulder. “They seem nice enough,” I told him, only partially lying. “They just keep to themselves. Maybe that’s why people don’t like them.”

Charlie looked at me. “You’re a smart kid, Bella,” he said after a moment. He ruffled my hair, ignoring my aggrieve squawk. “Go, do whatever. I’ll finish up here.”

I headed up to my room and surfed the web for a while. On an impulse, I searched Cullen on Google, but the only results were for people that had died centuries ago. Frustrated, I exited Firefox and picked up a book, curling up on my bed to read. I reached over to turn on the light and knocked against something soft. I looked over.

On my bedside table was a pair of earplugs, sitting on top of a note from Charlie – Sorry, almost forgot you wanted these. Sleep well. I smiled and popped them in, dimming the noise from the weather outside and the television from downstairs.

I was beginning to think this whole Forks thing might work out.
*****

I wasn’t sure what to say to Eric about what Charlie had said, so instead I mentioned it to Marlena during Biology. She shook her head when I told her what he had said.

“It’s not a big deal, it was just a couple of older kids who graduated already.” She patted my arm. “Thanks for worrying. Please don’t mention it to Eric, he’s a little sensitive about it.”

“Yeah, no problem,” I agreed. The seat next to me was still empty.

The week was mostly uneventful. Edward Cullen didn’t return to school, though I occasionally caught Alice or Rosalie looking at me oddly. One time, Alice smiled and waggled her fingers in greeting only to be shuffled away by Jasper. I shook my head and decided Marlena was right in calling Alice a little strange.

Most of the week was spent by Dave waxing lyrical about his plans to go to the beach at La Push Ocean Park. I was repeatedly assured that it would be a ‘blast’, and I in turn assured them that I wouldn’t miss it.

As grateful as I was that Edward wasn’t around, his absence niggled at me the way a loose tooth would. Stupidly, I half-wondered if he’d left because he hated me so much; when he hadn’t been able to switch out of Biology, maybe he’d dropped out of school just to avoid me. When I related the theory to Eliza, she laughed at me and told me I was being ridiculous.

The weekend was uneventful. Kaitlyn came over and we watched a movie before working on homework together. It turned out that she had an almost photographic memory, which was both incredibly cool and incredibly helpful. I read some more, curled up on my bed as it rained outside. Now that I was more used to it, the soft sound of the rain against the roof was actually kind of soothing.

I drove by the local library, but it was pretty small. I decided to drive to Seattle as soon as possible to check out some bookstores; maybe Marlena or Eric would want to go. I made a note to ask Charlie for a credit card or something so I would be able to pay for gas – I winced when I imagined how much gas the truck would need.

When I came into school on Monday, I was surprised to find Eric waiting for me. He grabbed my arm and said, “Bella, please tell me you read the assignment for English.”

“Yeah, why?” I gave him a look and he grinned guiltily.

“I heard we have a quiz today,” he confessed. “Could you give me a quick rundown? I forgot to read.”

I rolled my eyes, grinning, but gave him an abbreviated summary of what he had missed. As we got to class, he clapped my shoulder and whispered, “Thank you,” before heading to his seat.

The quiz was pretty easy; even Eric seemed happy after it was done. I zoned out for the rest of class, doodling little illustrations of the play in my notebook. When we left the classroom, little white flakes were falling from the sky. One landed on my nose and melted. I yelped and rubbed at my nose, wishing I had gloves.

“Hey,” Eric said delightedly. “Snow!”

“It doesn’t look like how I pictured,” I said, looking up. “Man, I wish I’d dressed warmer.”

“You’ve never seen snow?” Eric shook his head. “Never mind, of course you haven’t. You moved from Phoenix.”

I grinned and leaned down to scoop up a handful of snow. “Doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use it,” I said, and I threw it at him, smacking him in the middle of the chest.

“Oh, no you did not,” Eric said excitedly. I waggled my hands and ducked his snowball a moment later, running to my next class before he could get me.

On the way to lunch, Kaitlyn and I were bombarded in a stealth attack from Dave and Lucas. I whacked Dave with my notebook when he came over to laugh. Kaitlyn rubbed a handful of snow into Lucas’s hair and pushed him into the cafeteria ahead of Dave and me.

“Gross,” I muttered as we entered the cafeteria. I plucked at my wet jacket in disgust. “I wish I had a spare.”

I looked up then and froze. There were five people sitting at the Cullens’ table.

I looked away almost instantly and took my lunch from the server, nodding and muttering my thanks. I followed the others to our customary table, wondering what I would do in Biology. I thought maybe I should skip – then reconsidered. I didn’t want to be a coward and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t want Edward Cullen to think he intimidated me.

I glanced back at their table, and saw that they were smiling and laughing. Emmett was shaking out wet hair while Rosalie giggled. The expression changed her entire face, making her even more extraordinarily good-looking. Alice was picking snowflakes out of Jasper’s hair with a slightly creepy single-mindedness, but Jasper was indulging her by sitting perfectly still.

Edward was watching them, a smile on his face. He looked different, somehow - a little healthier, a little less pale. There was something else that I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but I didn't want to stare. I shook my head and looked back at my lunch, resolving to figure it out later.

Marlena looked past me, wringing out her hair, and giggled. “Bella,” she said quietly, “Edward Cullen is staring at you.”

I blinked at her, confused. “What?”

She raised her eyebrows and jerked her head towards their table. “Edward. He’s staring at you.”

“Does he look angry?” I asked worriedly. “Like in Bio the other day?”

She snuck a glance and shook her head. “No. He just looks – curious.”

I glanced back over my shoulder and saw him jerk his head away hurriedly. I rolled my eyes and muttered to Marlena, “What a creep.”

She snickered and dug into her rather frightening looking pasta.

Dave announced that he wanted to have snowball fight in the parking lot after school. “It’s going to be such a blast,” he told us. “I’m thinking teams.”

I bowed out as politely as I could. “Maybe another time,” I suggested, “like when I’m wearing warmer clothes.”

“Wuss,” Eric said mockingly. I threw a breadcrumb at him, grinning.

Unfortunately for Dave’s snowball fight plans, the snow had been replaced with rain, washing away all the snow. I made a face and pulled up the hood of my jacket, sprinting with Marlena until we were under the roof’s overhang.

We got to class ahead of mostly everyone else and I shucked off my jacket so it could dry. Mr. Lewis handed me a small stack of slides along with the assignment paper and told me to get the microscope out from underneath the lab table. I reached down and pulled it out, setting it on the lab table.

“Hello,” a low, musical voice said from my right side.

I let out an involuntary gasp, my heart rate spiking, and looked over. Edward Cullen was sitting in his seat, an amused sort of smile on his face. I noticed that he had pushed his stool as far away from me as he could, but he was sitting angled towards me. His hair was wet, plastered against his pale forehead. “Jesus Christ,” I muttered, slamming my notebook down on the desk. “Scare the hell out of me, why don’t you?”

He eyed me carefully, then laughed politely. “I apologize. Allow me to introduce myself, as I did not have the manners to do so last week. I’m Edward Cullen.”

“So I heard,” I said, wondering what the hell was going on. “I’m Bella Swan.”

“So I heard,” he mimicked. “Charlie told my father you were moving to town. It’s nice to finally meet the girl behind all the stories.”

“That’s a little creepy,” I informed him. “I can’t say I particularly like the idea of you knowing things about me.”

He looked surprised. “I’m sorry; what I meant is that Charlie is very fond of you and has on occasion spoken about you to my father, since we are of the same age. I didn’t mean to imply –”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Whatever, Cullen. Let’s just do the lab, okay?” I bent over the paper Mr. Lewis had passed out, skimming the instructions quickly.

According to the paper, the slides he had given us were out of order. We were supposed to sketch them out and determine which stage of mitosis it was. I couldn’t quite restrain a small smile; we’d done mitosis before winter break back in Phoenix and I was pretty sure I could do it.

When I was through, I passed the paper to Edward, who read it just as quickly, then nodded. “Ladies first?” he suggested, sweeping out his arm in a mock bow.

“And they say chivalry is dead,” I deadpanned. I switched the microscope on and slid the first slide into place. I focused it and began to sketch it out quickly onto the back of the lab sheet. “It’s prophase,” I told him.

“Do you mind if I take a look?” he asked politely. I raised my eyebrows at him, a little insulted.

“You doubt me?” I inquired. He smiled and shook his head. The smile helped his looks out, making him seem truly handsome. I thought he should probably do it more often.

“Never hurts to double check.” He held his hand out expectantly and I pushed the microscope towards his side of the lab table. His fingers brushed against mine as he steadied it and I jerked away; his hands were freezing cold, as though he, too, had been throwing snowballs.

I looked down and finished sketching out the drawing of the slide. A moment later, he murmured, “Yes, prophase. Would you like me to draw the next one?”

I passed the sheet over without comment and he drew an almost perfect circle in one go, smiling a little smugly. God, he was insufferable. “Anaphase,” he pronounced after a look at the next slide. “Care to check my judgment?”

And so it went, us passing the lab sheet back and forth while we double-checked each other’s work. Between the two of us, we were done before the period was half over. He went up to hand the paper to Mr. Lewis and sat down, still smiling that vaguely creepy smile.

It was then that I realized what was different about him – his eyes were no longer black, but a hazel color, almost golden in the light. I frowned. “Did you get contacts?”

He blinked, surprised. “I beg your pardon?”

I gestured towards my eyes. “Your eyes – they, are they a different color?”

He hesitated for a mere instant before answering, “No.” I glanced down and saw that his hands were curled into fists on the desktop.

So, I thought a little triumphantly, you aren’t as Stepford as you seem. Just then, Mr. Lewis came over to us, our lab clutched in his hands.

“Did you cheat?” he asked us, frowning. “This work is impeccable. I can’t fault any of it.”

“Just simple teamwork, Mr. Lewis,” Edward said, honeyed voice carefully modulated to be the right mix of subservient and insulted. “Bella here identified three out of the five.”

“Hmm.” He eyed me for a moment and then nodded tersely. “I suppose you covered this at your old school.”

“Yes,” I confirmed. “Just not with an onion root.”

“Very good,” he said. “Maybe you’ll consider tutoring, Miss Swan? I think there are a few students who could benefit from your knowledge.”

I shrugged. “Sure. If anyone needs help, direct them my way.”

Mr. Lewis nodded thoughtfully and wandered off down the aisle. Next to me, Edward shifted uncomfortably, then blurted out, “Shame about the snow, huh?”

“For you, maybe,” I said dryly. “I hear you’re from Alaska, the snow must make it feel like home.”

“You don’t like snow?” he asked curiously, ignoring my comment about Alaska.

“Dude, I’m from Phoenix,” I pointed out. “If I had been a little more prepared for it, maybe I would have enjoyed it. As it is, I am freezing my ass off every time I go outside. It was cool for like the first ten minutes and now I’m ready to go home and dry off.”

“Why did you come to Forks?” he asked bluntly. He folded his long, elegant hands on his lap as though he couldn’t decide what to do with them. He seemed oddly nervous, which sat in contrast to his smooth voice and cool composure.

“Wow, nosey much?” I turned off the microscope and began packing away the equipment. “It’s kind of a long story and really none of your business.”

“I apologize. You’re right, it’s none of my business. It’s just – your father said that you sent yourself here, but why would you bring yourself here if you didn’t like it here?” Edward sounded genuinely interested and I sighed, relenting a little.

“Short story? My mother remarried and I wanted her to enjoy being with her husband. Plus he moves around a lot for his job.”

“That doesn’t seem fair,” he observed. “You sacrifice your happiness for your mother’s?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” I snapped, “and frankly, who are you to question my motives?”

Edward tilted his head to the side thoughtfully and I turned away, assuming the conversation was over. Suddenly he asked, “Am I irritating you?”

“My goodness,” I said sarcastically, shooting him an incredulous look, “whatever gave you that impression?”

He raised his hands defensively. “It’s just, I’m usually very good at reading people, but you – I can’t seem to get a handle on you at all.”

“I think I prefer it that way,” I informed him. He stared at me with an unreadable expression on his handsome face for a long moment, and then he burst into laughter. People near us turned to stare; I didn’t think Edward was particularly well-known for laughing.

“Alice was right about you,” he said, mystifyingly. “You really are an interesting girl, Bella Swan.”

Mr. Lewis interrupted our conversation by switching the lights off and turning on the slide projector. I slid my seat over a few more inches to be away from Edward. When I chanced a glance to the side, I saw that he was back to gripping the edge of the lab table as though his life depended on it.

Yep, I decided, Edward Cullen was still weird.
*****

Edward, once again, was out of the door practically before the bell was finished ringing and Marlena fell into step beside me as we exited the class.

“Man, I suck at Biology,” she groaned mournfully. “I don’t suppose you could help me out? I heard Lewis asking you if you could tutor.”

“Yeah, of course.” A thought occurred to me. “You didn’t happen to overhear me and Edward, did you?”

Marlena grinned. “Nah, you guys weren’t that loud. It looked like you were telling him off, though. What did he do?”

“He was being nosy,” I said loftily, tossing my hair. She laughed, as I had intended her to, and she dropped the subject.

Gym was uneventful, save for the fact that I made a spectacularly successful serve, which took everyone – including me – by surprise. Soccer had been put off because of the snow, but the coach promised me after class that we would get to it.

After classes were over, I headed out to my car and sat in the driver’s seat with the heater blasting until my hair was dry and I could feel my fingers again. The rain had lightened up, but it was still cold outside and the wind had picked up a little. I fingered a strand of hair and decided it was time for a change; I would ask Marlena to help me dye it in exchange for tutoring help.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the familiar silver Volvo. Edward Cullen was leaning against the back bumper, staring at me. I glared at him and gave him the finger before throwing my car into reverse. As I drove out of the parking lot, I thought I saw him laughing. I ground my teeth and tightened my hands on the wheel. What a bastard, I thought, somewhat murderously, and pressed my foot harder against the accelerator.

Chapter Text

When I woke up the next morning, it had stopped raining, and there wasn’t a trace of fog. Instead, there was a thick blanket of snow covering the ground, my car, and the road. The whiteness was so shockingly bright that it almost hurt my eyes to look at it. The rain from the previous day had frozen in interesting patterns on the trees; I wished Eliza – an avid photographer – could see it. Out in the distance, I could see a snowplow traveling down the street, behind which there was several miles of cleared road.

It looked like Charlie had shoveled the driveway before he’d left, I noticed, which was good news for me. I stretched luxuriously, relishing the crack of my spine, and got dressed, taking care to dress warmly. I’d never worn more than two layers before, and it took some trial and error to see how things would fit over one another.

I ate slowly, knowing I would have to wait for the snowplow to finish clearing the road before I could get to school. When I had called Mom the night before, she had sounded jealous of our weather. “Oh, that sounds beautiful,” she had said wistfully. “I do miss the snow sometimes.”

Eliza had been more interested in the continuing saga of Edward Cullen. She drank in my description of our conversation and, when I was finished, gasped, “I can’t believe you said that!”

“If you’d been in my position,” I had defended, “you would have had the same reaction.”

“Probably,” she admitted. “Make sure he doesn’t try to steal a lock of your hair or something.”

I had laughed, but the truth was that, as stupid as it seemed, Edward Cullen was still bothering me. He had lied about his eyes changing color, though I didn’t for the life of me know why. He had apologized for his strange behavior, but he hadn’t offered an explanation for his rudeness or his subsequent absence. I resolved to press him for an answer during Biology and finished breakfast before heading down to the truck.

Charlie had, in addition to clearing the driveway, put snow chains on my tires. They were shiny and new; he must have bought them recently, just for me. I made a note to thank him when I saw him later. Mom never would have remembered to do anything like that.

The snowplow had cleared my block, and my path to school was free of snow. I managed to make it to school without incident while I ran over my classes in my head to reassure myself I’d done all my work the night before. I parked in my spot and braced myself to leave the warmth of my car. I could see Eric heading in my direction, grinning, so I let out a sigh and opened the door.

“Isn’t it fabulous?” he asked as I got out of the car. “It’s so cool that you got snow in your first month here!”

“Yeah,” I said dryly, “freezing to death is something I've always wanted to try.”

“Oh, stop being so whiny,” Eric groaned, shoving at me good-naturedly. We walked across the parking lot towards the building, talking about our homework assignment from the night before. We were drawing even to the next row of cars when I heard a strange sort of screeching noise. A second later, someone shouted something that sounded like my name.

I turned my head to the right and saw several things in a single, crystal clear instant. Edward Cullen was standing at his car parked six spaces down. His eyes were wide with horror – he was the one who had shouted. Marlena and Kaitlyn were standing not too far away with their mouths open in shock; several other students were staring with stunned expressions. But what I saw clearest of all was the blue van careening across the icy asphalt towards Eric, who was a couple steps ahead of me and completely oblivious to the danger.

I shouted his name and leaped forward to push him out of the way, throwing all of my weight behind the shove. He went stumbling forward and a split second later, something hit me with astonishing force and slammed me into a white Honda. I stared up at the cloudy sky, struggling to breathe. Something heavy and cold was lying across my chest.

In the next moment, I saw the bumper of the blue van in my line of vision – it was still coming towards me. Someone swore – and I recognized the voice, of course I did, because it was Edward Cullen. He sat up from where he had landed on me and thrust his arms out, skinny white forearms and pale hands slamming into the hood of the car before it could hit us. I gasped, unable to believe it, but he didn’t cry out and his arms didn’t snap. Instead, the metal of the car crumpled like paper, and the van momentarily slowed.

Before I could wrap my head around this, he had put his arm around my waist and dragged me clear, just as the blue van hit the poor white Honda with a sickening crunch. With a groan of metal, the van fishtailed over where we had been lying, hitting another car before finally coming to a stop. There was a horrible noise of shattering glass, and then the engine cut off, leaving us all in total silence.

Then someone screamed, and all hell broke loose.

Someone – it sounded like Eric – was yelling my name. “Bella!” he shouted, sounding frantic. "Bella, are you okay?" I tried to get up, but Edward was still keeping me in place with his arm, his pale face hovering over mine.

“Are you all right?” he asked urgently, frowning at me worriedly.

“I’m fine. Is Eric all right? Let me see Eric.” I was startled to hear how strained and hoarse my voice sounded. I struggled to sit up, my back already protesting.

“Don’t sit up too quickly, I think you hit your head.” He helped me, hand gentle on my back. I had to swallow down a sudden wave nausea. I reached up and touched the back of my head, finding a spot that was already a little tender.

“Ouch,” I murmured. Edward, unbelievably enough, laughed. I frowned and tried to tug away from him, but he tightened his grip on my waist.

“We have to get you to the hospital,” he told me in a patronizingly pedantic way. “You could have a concussion.”

“Let me go,” I said, pushing at him ineffectually. “I want to see Eric, is he okay?”

“Don’t worry about him,” Edward said dismissively. I felt a little bubble of anger expand inside my chest. “Just stay here, I’ve got you.”

“Let me see my friend, asshole!” I snapped. The little group of people that had gathered about three feet away from us fell silent. Edward released me immediately, looking shocked, and I struggled to my feet before stalking away from him.

Eric was sitting up on the edge of the sidewalk, with Marlena and Kaitlyn holding him up. “Hey,” he said weakly, waving. There was a thin rivulet of blood running down his arm. “You saved my life.”

I crouched down and took his hand in mine, ignoring the sick feeling in my stomach as the blood rushed from my head. “You owe me big time,” I said teasingly. “Come on, let’s get you up.”

The three of us managed to get him on his feet; he had clearly hit the ground a bit harder than I had, but he was alive and conscious, so I considered that a win. Edward was staring at us, ignoring the people around him that were helping the driver from the van. I heard a siren, and a trail of ambulances appeared a moment later, followed closely by the sheriff’s car.

“Dammit,” I muttered, seeing Charlie’s worried face through the window. I was going to get hell for this. I looked at Eric and sighed. "Let's get him to an ambulance."

Edward grabbed my upper arm as we came closer. “You shouldn’t be up and moving,” he hissed, gold eyes bright with frustration. Past him, I saw the rest of his family looking on with disapproving expressions with the exception of Alice, who seemed terrified. Her mouth was moving as though she was saying something, but none of them was paying her any attention. "You hit your head -"

“You shouldn’t have been able to shove the car away from us,” I said in a sharp undertone, “but you don’t see me bothering you about it.” I could see the imprints of Edwards hands on the front bumper of the van as they shifted it away from the white Honda, though I knew no one would believe me if I said something about it.

“What?” he asked in a fearful tone, eyes going wide. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t try that with me, Cullen,” I hissed. “You weren’t anywhere near me, and then suddenly you were shoving me away and thrusting the car away from us. There is no way you should have been able to do that. And don’t tell me that it’s because I hit my head, I know what I saw.”

He regarded me expressionlessly for a moment, then nodded tersely. “Fine. Whatever you say. But please, just drop it for now.”

“Promise me you’ll explain later,” I ordered him. “Promise me,” I added, seeing him about to protest.

He gritted his teeth. “I promise,” he said, voice pained. “Now will you please just allow the nice people to take you to the hospital?”

“Fuck you,” I responded promptly and helped Eric walk towards the ambulances.

The EMTs collected the boy from the van first, and then came to take Eric. I tried to duck away, but Edward shoved me forward and said, “She hit her head, you might want to take her as well.”

Charlie got out of the car and started forward. “She what?” he demanded of Edward. “Bella, are you all right?”

“She saved Eric’s life and put herself in danger,” Edward said as though I couldn’t answer for myself. “I got her out of the way in time. No, I’m all right,” he added as an EMT tried to touch him.

“Come with me and explain what happen,” Charlie said to Edward, and they got into the squad car, leaving me to be herded into the back of an ambulance with Eric.

He leaned heavily against me; he was clearly a little out of it. The hair at the back of his head was a sickly reddish color from where he had hit his head on the curb. I rubbed his shoulder gently and stared at nothing, trying to come up with a sane, rational explanation for how Edward had pushed the car away from me, or for how quickly he had moved towards me.

We were brought into the emergency room after a short ride. Eric and the boy from the van were hustled into rooms immediately, their injuries being much worse than mine. A nurse came after a few minutes and ushered me back into the emergency room and one of the curtained off areas, but not before I’d caught a glance of the boy from the van; his name was Tyler and he was in my History class. He was unconscious, and the doctors around him were hurriedly examining him.

The nurse sat me down on the bed and had me undress before taking my vitals. She shone a light into my eyes, humming under her breath, then sent me in for an x-ray to check for broken bones. The table was cold through the thin hospital gown, and I stared blankly at the ceiling while the machine moved over me. They wheeled me back and the nurse let me get dressed, writing something on her clipboard

“The doctor will be around in a moment to talk to you,” she told me. “I’ll open the curtain if you want to see your friends.”

“Please,” I said, nodding, and she pulled the curtains open. In the bed next to me, Eric was sitting up, bandages on his face and arms from where he’d hit the ground. He smiled when he saw me.

“Bella!” he exclaimed happily. “You’re all right?”

“I’m fine, just a little bruised. How’s Tyler doing?” I peered across the room and saw that Tyler had been taken away.

“They told me that he hit the steering wheel pretty hard when he crashed. His brakes cut out.” Eric tilted his head thoughtfully. “How did you get out of the way in time? If you shoved me out of the way, you would have been right there, wouldn't you?”

I hesitated for a moment before deciding to lie. “Edward Cullen ran over and pushed me out of the way,” I said. “Well, really, it was more like a tackle.”

“Really? Perhaps I should take up football,” came the quietly amused voice of Edward Cullen from behind me. I whipped around and saw him lounging against the wall as though he thought he was some sort of model.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, my tone coming out ruder than I had intended. “And how did you get out of being checked up?”

“The answer to both of your questions is that my father is a doctor here. I have connections.” He smirked, raising his eyebrows. “You should be glad that they didn’t let your father in.”

“Oh god,” I sighed, picturing it. “Did he harangue the nurses?”

“Only a little,” Edward said with that little secret smile he always seemed to have on his awful, smug face. “Then my father reassured him that he’d take care of you.” He shifted upright suddenly, his face lighting up. “Speaking of whom –”

I turned to see what he was looking at and saw an astonishingly handsome man who I presumed to be Dr. Cullen talking to the nurse that had done my x-rays. He looked to be in his early thirties, with very pale skin and hair. His looks were more classically handsome than Edward’s, but his movements had the same strangely fluid quality as his children’s. He headed over to Eric and me when he finished speaking the nurse, offering us a tired smile. Up close, I saw that he had slight lines around his eyes and mouth, as though he smiled often. His nose was slightly crooked, like he had broken it when he was younger, and his eyes were the same strangely golden shade of hazel as his son’s.

“I understand you two have had quite an exciting morning,” he said in a warm baritone. His accent was even more pronounced than Edward’s, bending his words in a pleasant way. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Eric and I chorused. Dr. Cullen raised his eyebrows skeptically at Eric, who blushed.

“Considering that you have a concussion, Mr. Somberg, I find that a little hard to believe.” He checked Eric’s bandages and then patted his shoulder paternally. Eric looked a little starry-eyed, not that I blamed him; Dr. Cullen was certainly very handsome, like an old movie star. “You’ll have to stay here until your parents arrive, but I think you’ll be fine.”

“What about Bella?” asked Edward, an edge of laughter in his voice. “She hit her head.”

“Well, no broken bones according to the x-rays, and it doesn’t look like she has a concussion, either.” Dr. Cullen gave Edward a look that I couldn’t quite read before turning back to me. “Bella, let me see your head.”

I obediently let my head drop down, and he probed at the back of my head until I let out a hiss as his fingers encountered the bump. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t think it’s serious, but if you have any severe headaches or vision problems, you’d best come back here.”

“So I can go?” I asked eagerly.

“As long as Charlie says it’s all right, I have no problem with it.” Dr. Cullen signed my chart and handed to a nurse who was staring at him worshipfully. “You’re a very lucky girl, Bella.”

“Yes,” I said dryly, watching him closely. “Lucky that Edward was right there.”

Dr. Cullen coughed, abruptly looking a bit cornered. “Yes, I suppose. I’m going to go speak with your father.” He high-tailed it out into the waiting room, and I knew then that Dr. Cullen knew exactly what had happened in the parking lot.

I slid off the bed and grabbed Edward’s arm. “Come on, Cullen,” I muttered, shooting a glance back at Eric, who was being fussed over by one of the nurses. “You owe me an explanation.”

I towed him out to the waiting room, past Charlie and Dr. Cullen, and into an empty hallway leading to the main part of the hospital. I had the distinct impression that Edward was allowing me to drag him along; after his stunt with the car, I knew full well that he could easily get free if he wanted to.

“What is it that you want explained?” Edward asked when I released him. His voice was deceptively pleasant, but he looked frightened, his eyes wider than usual.

“Explain to me,” I said in as calm and clear a voice as I could muster, “how you managed to travel at least two hundred feet in a matter of seconds. Explain how you were able to shove that car away and get us to safety in a second.”

“You’re mistaken,” he replied frostily, but it sounded forced. “I was at the next car over.”

“No,” I hissed. “I saw you. You were standing at your car, which is parked six down from where we were.”

“You counted how many there were?” Edward asked, sounding surprised.

“Not the point!” I exclaimed. “You’re lying to me and I want to know why.”

“No one will believe you,” he said instead of answering me. “If you try and tell anyone about this, I mean. It’s ridiculous. How could I have pushed a moving car away?”

“The imprints of your hands on the front bumper present a pretty compelling argument.” I crossed my arms. “I’m not going to tell anyone, if you’re going to be that precious about it. I just want to know for my own curiosity.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he insisted, somewhat desperately. “Bella, please. Stop asking.”

I raised my hands in defeat. “Fine. I’ll drop it. For now. I’ll even lie for you so that people don’t ask how you got over to me so quickly. Are you satisfied?” I stalked away without waiting for his answer, irritated by his persistence in maintaining the lie.

“No,” Edward called after me. I stopped and turned to stare at him in disbelief. “I saved your life,” he continued. “Surely I get more than that.”

I stared at him for a long moment. “Fine,” I said eventually and a little grudgingly. “Thank you, Edward.”

He nodded once, curtly. “You’re welcome.”

I almost turned to go when a thought occurred to me. “Why did you do it?” I asked him. “You hated me the first time we met, or at least it seemed like you did. I don’t think I’ve exactly endeared myself to you since then.”

He smiled then, and answered, “You’re wrong there. I don't hate you, not in the least.” He let me digest that for a moment before adding, “As to your first question – I honestly don’t know.”

I groaned and threw up my hands in disgust before stalking back into the waiting room. Charlie rose awkwardly to his feet when he saw me. “Bella,” he said, sounding relieved. “I was so worried. Dr. Cullen said you’re all right, but are you?”

“I’m fine, Ch – Dad.” I didn’t duck his arm as he reached out to pull me into a one-armed hug. It was actually kind of nice to get a hug; I was feeling a little shakier than I wanted to admit. “Honestly. Nothing wrong.”

“Edward told me what you did, shoving Eric out of the way.” He smiled fondly. “I’m proud of you.” He squeezed my shoulder gently, then released me. “Let’s get you back to school. I’ll call your mother, but you’ll need to talk to yourself once you get home.”

I sighed, nodding. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dr. Cullen talking to a nurse. “Hold up, I want to talk to Dr. Cullen,” I told Charlie. I headed over to the doctor, who smiled wanly when he saw me approaching.

“Bella, you’re free to go,” he said to me. “Unless you want to know something?”

“I just wanted to ask how Tyler’s doing.” I resisted the urge to lock my hands behind my back like a nervous child. “Is he all right?”

“He has a couple broken ribs, a concussion, and he's covered in contusions and abrasions, but he’ll be fine.” Dr. Cullen gave me a slightly forced smile. “Goodbye, Miss Swan.”

I took the hint and let Charlie drive me back to school. I got back in time for fourth period, sliding into my seat just as the bell rang. Kaitlyn shot me a curious glance, then tossed me a note that asked, everyone okay?

I caught her eye and nodded. She smiled, looking relieved. Our classmates kept glancing over at me curiously during class. I ducked my head and tried to avoid making eye contact with any of them. The moment class let out, Kaitlyn grabbed my arm and hustled me out of the classroom before any of them could work up the courage to ask me about what had happened.

“Come on,” Kaitlyn said, glancing over her shoulder. “Let’s get away from the jackals.”

I snorted and allowed her to tow me to the cafeteria. Marlena waved enthusiastically and grabbed my hands when I sat down.

“Oh my god,” she breathed, eyes wide. “I can’t believe that happened! Are you okay? Is Eric okay?” She took a deep breath. “And is Tyler okay?”

“Yeah,” Dave put in, leaning across the table. Lucas, next to him, looked only slightly interested; he was more preoccupied with staring at a girl across the cafeteria. “Will he be okay for track? He’s our best hurdler.” Kaitlyn rolled her eyes at him.

“Dr. Cullen said that they both should be fine, but Tyler broke a couple ribs.” I took a bite of the salad, but I wasn’t feeling all that hungry. There was a headache building between my eyes. “I don’t know if that affects anything.”

“Dr. Cullen treated you?” Marlena put in, eyes widening. “Oh my god, I bet Eric loved that. He’s gorgeous.”

Lucas suddenly looked back and scowled spectacularly. “He’s not that good looking,” he complained.

“Yes, he is,” Kaitlyn said in a bored tone of voice, picking at her lunch. “You’re just jealous." They started jokingly arguing, which degenerated in ‘your mom’ and ‘that’s what she said’ jokes. I tuned them out and looked over at the Cullens’ table, wondering how they were dealing with the day’s excitement. I was startled to see that none of them were there; their usual table was empty.

I turned to Marlena and asked quietly, “Do you have any aspirin?” I was starting to feel the bruises. She nodded and rummaged in her bag before producing a bottle. She tipped two pills out onto my hand, then held her finger to her lips. “Shhh,” she teased. “Don’t tell anyone.”

I grinned and excused myself to go find a water fountain. There was one set into the wall of the building adjacent to the cafeteria in between the bathrooms. I bent down to drink some water and heard the soft voice of a woman. She sounded angry, a slight growl in her otherwise pleasant voice.

“I can’t believe you, Edward!” the woman snapped; she sounded like she was around the corner of the building. “You risked everything for that girl and you don’t even know her!”

“Calm down, Rosie,” rumbled a deep male voice. “Let’s hear what Edward has to say.”

There was an expectant pause, and then Edward’s familiar voice responded, almost too quietly for me to hear, “I don’t know why I did it.”

“Great!” cried Rosalie, sounding infuriated. “So you risked exposing -”

“I didn’t see it.” This voice was also female, but higher and almost singsong. “I didn’t see it coming. I have seen so little of her, yet I know she is important and Edward, I am so sorry I – she’s -”

“Shhh,” said a fifth voice – Jasper. “Alice, it’s not your fault. You can’t know everything.”

“But there’s something important about her and I can’t see it!” Alice sounded frustrated. “Edward -”

“I don’t care how damn important she is, Edward was stupid!” There was a sound like Rosalie was stomping her foot. “And she’s not an idiot, she knows something is going on -”

“Should I have just let her die, Rosalie?” Edward’s voice was icy. “Should I have just let that van hit her?”

“Maybe. It would have been the safer option.” Rosalie’s response was immediate and completely devoid of emotion.

There was a brief silence. I stood there, frozen in shock, and waited to hear what Edward say.

“Fuck safety,” Edward said crisply, and there was the sound of footsteps coming in my direction. I swallowed my water and darted into the girls’ bathroom, closing the door as quietly as I could. I watched through the crack of the door as Edward stalked past, his expression stormy. I took a step back and forced myself to breathe normally, even though my hands were shaking.

The Cullens were hiding something; I knew that for sure now. What they were hiding was another matter. I wished I could tell someone without sounding crazy, but I knew this was something I would have to keep to myself.

Once I was sure Edward was gone, I stepped back out of the bathroom and returned to the cafeteria as though nothing had happened. Unsurprisingly, Edward wasn’t in Biology, but the class was a lecture anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to interrogate him anyway. Afterwards, I went to gym, but the coach told me just to go home.

"You were in an accident and you might have gotten a concussion," he said. "Go home. I'm not risking you getting more hurt."

I drove home as slowly as I could, a little more paranoid about hitting ice. When I called Mom, she answered in a panic; Charlie, apparently, hadn't been reassuring enough when he'd called to tell her I was fine. It took me fifteen minutes to calm her down and convince her that, yes, I really was all right. Finally, she asked, “How on earth did you avoid getting hit?”

I hesitated before lying, “A classmate pulled me out of the way. We hit the ground pretty hard, but we're all right.”

“I’m almost tempted to say screw Forks and have you come live with me and Phil,” Mom said in response, sounding a little huffy. “But if you say you’re all right –”

“I am,” I insisted. I carefully omitted the fact that I wanted to figure out what was up with the Cullens before I came home, knowing she wouldn’t believe or understand me. I knew Eliza would get it – like me, she had a healthy curiosity – but I had decided to honor Edward’s unspoken request to keep what had happened a secret. I just called her to let her know that everything was okay and that I wasn’t dead.

“If you died, Bella Swan, I would bring you back and then kill you myself,” Eliza promised. “You’re not allowed to die until we’re both old biddies telling kids to get off our lawn.”

I laughed, but she persisted. “Promise me, Bells. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” she insisted.

“I promise,” I said solemnly. After hanging up, I took another aspirin and headed up to bed, setting my phone to wake me in an hour (even though Dr. Cullen had told me I didn’t have a concussion, I wanted to be sure – plus I had just promised Eliza I wouldn’t die just yet, and I didn’t want to break that promise so soon).

I slept until Charlie came home, then ate a quiet dinner with him. He promised to wake me every couple of hours, just to be safe, and I went back up to bed where I slept and didn’t have any dreams that I could remember.

Chapter Text

Edward wasn’t at school the next day, which was a mixed blessing. While it meant I didn’t have to see him, it also meant I couldn’t try to glean more information from him. His siblings were still there, though, and Rosalie made a point of giving me a truly nasty look when I passed by their table in the cafeteria.

Eric was back, a little banged up, but mostly all right. People kept coming up to us and asking us about the accident. I let Eric field most of the questions. He seemed to thrive on the attention, coming up with ever more absurd stories of how he’d seen his life flash before his eyes, or that everything had slowed down in the instant before I shoved him. When I casually mentioned Edward pushing me out of the way, people frowned and said they hadn’t even seen him, only confirming my suspicion that Edward was full of crap.

The day was mostly uneventful,  and after school I returned home, did homework, and went to sleep.

That was when I had my first nightmare about Edward.

In my dream, he was crushing cars with his hands, a strange look on his face. I watched without saying anything and then he suddenly turned and looked at me.

“I shouldn’t have saved you,” he said clearly, and his eyes were black as coal. I took a step backwards just as I heard the squeal of tires and looked straight into the headlights of an oncoming car.

I woke up, breathing hard, and scrubbed at my face with the corner of my blanket. I squinted at my clock and saw that I still had an hour before my alarm was due to go off. I sighed and threw off my blankets, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.

I took a longer than usual shower, hoping the hot water would help wash away the strangeness of the dream. By the time I got out, I was feeling a little better, though I was a bit tired, and I clattered down the stairs in time to catch Charlie before he left for work.

“Hey, Bella,” he said with an only slightly awkward smile. “How are you feeling? You’re up earlier than usual, is your head bothering you?”

“Had a weird dream,” I said, sitting across from him and reaching for the cereal box. “I’m feeling a lot better, thanks.”

“That’s good.” He finished his toast and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Let me know if you need anything.”

I looked around for the milk and found that it was by my right hand. I poured myself a glass and set the carton back down on the table. “I’m sure I’m fine.”

“I know, just.” He took a sip of coffee and glanced at the clock. “I’d better get going.” He reached out as if to pat my shoulder and then dropped his hand a moment before he touched me. “See you tonight.”

I raised my hand in farewell as he took his gun and hat and headed outside. I took my time with breakfast and scavenged the remainder of the coffee for myself. I found a thermos in one of the cupboards and poured the coffee into it. I sipped at the hot liquid gingerly as I collected my things for school. By the time I was ready to head to school, I was feeling slightly more alert and I had almost completely forgotten the dream.

Eric met me as usual, hair blowing in the light breeze. “So people are already chatting about the Spring Formal in March,” he told me conversationally as if we were in the middle of a discussion. “Marlena spent most of last night telling me how much she wants Lucas to ask her.”

I raised my eyebrows, grinning. “Should you be telling me this?”

“It’s not as if it’s a secret,” Eric pointed out. He leaned in closer and whispered, “Tyler Crowley’s back at school.” He nodded and I followed his look to see Tyler limping into school, his good looks marred by a black eye and scratches across his cheek. “He apologized to me five times in two minutes,” Eric continued, sounding oddly excited.

“Is he all right?” I asked him as we started towards our class. “Should he be back at school?”

“Well, he’s here,” Eric pointed out, grinning. He looped his arm through mine and led me into the classroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward Cullen staring at us, his expression unreadable. I resisted the urge to glare at him and let Eric drag me into the classroom.


*****

Tyler cornered me in history and started apologizing profusely the moment I walked through the door. “I’m so sorry Bella, my brakes just gave out and I couldn’t stop, the emergency brake only made me skid -”

I let him continue for a bit before I held up my hand and said, “Tyler, don’t worry about it.” I paused, then added, “Edward pushed me out of the way in time. I’m fine.”

“Edward Cullen?” Tyler frowned in confusion. “I didn’t see him. Was he there too? Oh god, I suck, I’m so sorry -”

He went on in this vein for a bit until the teacher called the class to attention, which allowed me to time to smirk smugly to myself. Edward Cullen’s ‘oh I was right there beside you’ explanation was utter crap. Now I just needed to know why he was lying.

Lunch was notable only because Dave started a conversation with me about soccer, and we argued about who would win the next World Cup. Tyler had decided to sit with us, as though it would help him get over what he did, and he joined in every so often to add his two cents. I decided that I liked him, which was good because Eric kept grinning at Tyler sort of unconsciously before catching my look and turning red.

Marlena kept throwing longing glances at Lucas, who ate his lunch obliviously. I supposed I could see his appeal; he wasn’t unattractive, with good features and dark blue eyes. He was wearing glasses, which he would shove up his nose every so often, and every time he did, Marlena sighed a little.

After lunch, Marlena was unusually silent, playing with the end of her long brown braid as we walked to class. Finally, she burst out, “I just don’t get him, sometimes.” She looked at me plaintively, as though I could offer any sort of enlightenment. When I didn’t say anything, she sighed. “He acts jealous when I talk about other guys, and he seems to like me, as a friend at the very least, but sometimes -”

She broke off, frustrated. I patted her shoulder as we entered the classroom. “Dudes are weird,” I quipped, hoping to lighten the mood. It worked; she giggled and whispered, “Thanks,” before heading to her seat.

I turned my gaze towards my seat and met Edward Cullen’s gaze. He was staring at me with strange, disturbing intensity. “Take a picture,” I said, a little nastily. “It’ll last longer.”

He narrowed his eyes and looked down.

That was the extent of our interaction for the rest of the week. I ignored him, and he ignored me right back. I would occasionally catch Rosalie or Jasper giving me an odd look, but that was all.

Dave started to flirt with me in earnest when it became apparent that Tyler hadn’t joined our table for my sake. I did my best to discourage him; my relationship with Nate back home had sort of soured me on dating, and I preferred Dave as a friend, even if he was kind of cute.

Tyler continued to sit with us, and I noted that he spent most of his time talking to Eric, who continued to be pleased by this development. The snow melted later in the week, although it remained mostly overcast, and I finally got to play some soccer. Once the kids in my class realized that I was actually pretty good, I was the first one picked for teams every day. Talks about a beach trip started up again, and I said I was game for anything.

The weekend came, and Marlena came over to help me dye my hair back to its normal brown. “I like the purple, though,” she said sadly, tugging at the end of a lock. “It looks so cool.”

“It’s time for a change,” I said firmly and bent my head over the sink so she could work the dye through the strands.

Another week passed uneventfully and we sailed right into February. People started going Valentine’s Day crazy, panicking over cards and flowers and candy. When the day came, I was surprised to find cards from Marlena, Dave, Eric, and Tyler in my locker. Kaitlyn had announced firmly the day before that she didn’t give out Valentines. Kaitlyn instead had bought everyone chocolate bars – a most welcome substitution. Lucas said that he didn’t believe in Valentine’s Day and went off in a rant about commercialism that left Marlena looking incredibly depressed.

“Sometimes,” Kaitlyn said when Lucas had finished, “you’re a real dumbass.” He gaped as she rose to her feet and swatted him across the head. Marlena followed a moment later and the two disappeared out of the cafeteria.

“What did I do?” he asked plaintively. Eric and I snorted in unison and spent the rest of lunch gossiping while Dave and Tyler tried to explain to Lucas what he had done wrong.


When I got to Biology, Marlena looked as though she was feeling better. “I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised,” she said fatalistically. “I know he’s a dick sometimes without thinking about it.”

“He just reads too much and mistakes pretension for intelligence,” I said soothingly. I heard a snort and glanced back to see Edward turning away quickly. I frowned; he was too far away to have heard us, but I didn’t know who else it could have been.

I headed back to my seat and rummaged for a pencil. When I looked back up, I found Edward staring at me and for once, no peppy comeback sprang to mind. I just stared back, frozen, until the bell rang, signaling the start of class.

I turned away hurriedly, confused. It was as though something – some power – had been holding me in place. I filed that thought away with my other observations about Edward’s strangeness and took notes for the rest of class without looking up.

I high-tailed it out of class as quickly as I could, but I had barely gone three feet when Edward called, “Bella, wait.”

I turned and pursed my lips when I saw him drawing closer. Marlena shot me a questioning glance as she passed and I waved my hand to tell her not to worry. She nodded and headed to class, leaving Edward and I staring at each other in silence.

I broke the silence first. “So are you acknowledging my existence again?”

“I never denied it,” Edward said, sounding a little surprised.

“You know what I mean.”

Edward tilted his head in acknowledgement. “Yes.” He paused, then said, “This is not an overture or an apology.”

“Then what do you want?” I readjusted my bag on my shoulder and resisted the urge to walk away. Curiosity – one of these days it would kill me.

“I realize I’m being incredibly rude,” he started, and I snorted before I could stop myself. “I do,” he insisted, a little petulantly. “It’s just – it’s better this way. Really.” His expression was utterly serious.

“What do you mean?” I demanded.

“It’s better that we aren’t friends.” He shifted a little, adjusting his grip on his textbook. “Really. It is.”

I had heard similar things in the past, just not quite phrased in that way. Nor had it ever come from someone like Edward – as in someone I had never considered a friend. “I hadn’t realized we were friends.”

“We aren’t.”

I felt unreasonably insulted by that. “Then why are you even bringing this up?” I hissed. “I was perfectly content to go on pretending that you don’t exist. What, do you dislike me that much, that you have to tell me we can’t be friends because it’s better that way?”

“I don’t dislike you,” Edward said in an exhausted voice.

“Then why have you been avoiding me like I have leprosy? Not that I mind, understand. Just – enlighten me.”

“I can’t explain it.” His usual smooth, calm tone was strained, as though he was exerting great effort not to yell. “Really, Bella.”

“Is it because you regret saving me?” The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop myself, and I clamped my mouth shut.

Edward took a step back as though I had slapped him. “I – what?”

I sighed and admitted, “I heard you talking to your – sister – after the accident. She said you shouldn’t have done it. Do you agree with her?”

Edward was silent for a long moment. Then he said, “Rosalie didn’t know what she was saying.”

“She sounded pretty damn sure to me,” I snapped. We glared at each other for a moment.

Finally, Edward shook his head. “I don’t know how you could believe that I could regret saving your life,” he said softly. “What kind of person do you think I am?”

“I don’t know anymore,” I confessed. He looked at me with an inscrutable expression on his face, then made to brush past me. His shoulder brushed against mine, and he dropped his book.

He muttered a curse under his breath and knelt to pick it up. Just as he reached for it, the book slid a few centimeters along the ground to bump against his fingertips. We both froze, staring at th ebook.

“What the hell?” I whispered, staring. He looked up at me, his eyes wide in shock

“Did you do that?” we asked simultaneously. I frowned and pinched the bridge of my nose; I could feel a headache starting.

“You know what, Cullen, fine. We’ll play it your way. We’re not friends. Happy?” I turned away from him and hurried away from him.


*****

The coach let me sit the class out because of my headache. By the time school let out, it had become a full-blown migraine and I was considering going to a doctor. I headed out to the parking lot, ready to just go home and maybe take a nap. Just as I was pulling out, a familiar silver Volvo pulled out of the space two ahead of me, blocking my way. I leaned on my horn, but Edward just waggled his fingers.

“Great,” I muttered, glaring at him. He had effectively blocked the whole aisle, and in my rearview mirror, I could see a line forming. A few people started honking, and I rolled down my window to yell at Edward, but Dave came jogging up before I could.

“Bella!” he said breathlessly, smiling widely. “Hey! So, I was wondering, since it’s Valentine’s Day – do you want to go to the Spring Formal with me?”

Valentine’s Day, I decided, was the worst holiday ever. “Dave, I -” Inspiration struck. “I’m going into Seattle that day.” Not totally a lie, since I had been planning to go soon anyway. “I’m sorry.”

Dave frowned. “Can’t you postpone the trip?”

“No,” I said flatly, giving up any pretense of civility. “Dave, look, I’m just not – I’d prefer to be friends, okay?”

“Oh,” he said despondently. “I’m – god, this is embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said comfortingly. “We can pretend this never happened if it makes you feel better.”

Dave rolled his eyes. “Thanks,” he said sarcastically. He patted the side of the truck. “But – maybe we could go to prom? As friends,” he added hurriedly.

“If you still want to go with me in May and neither of us have other plans, then sure.” His face lit up, and I tried not to feel guilty for getting his hopes up. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dave.”

“Okay. Bye!” He waved and headed back to his car. I looked back at the Volvo and saw Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, and Alice sliding into the car. I met Edward’s eyes in the rearview mirror and I gave him the finger. He laughed and I tightened my hands on the wheel, resisting the urge to rear end his pretty, pretty car.

He sped away before I could even take my foot off the accelerator and I drove out of the parking lot in a rage, trying very hard not to go over the speed limit.

I vented by calling Eliza and telling her the events of the day, except for the bit about the book moving. She laughed at the story of Dave asking me to the dance and shyly confessed that her crush – a girl named Rachelle – had asked her out for a date that weekend.

“That’s great!” I exclaimed, grinning. “I guess Valentine’s Day went all right for you, then.”

“I didn’t have creepy boys telling me that they didn’t want to be friends with me, so I guess it’s better than yours.”

“It was certainly a unique experience,” I said dryly. The memory of our conversation still bothered me; I just didn’t know what to make of Edward.

“So you aren’t going to your Spring Formal?” she asked, changing the subject. “Why not?”

“It’s just – you know.” I shrugged, even though she couldn’t see me. “Nate kind of…put me off all of that. I just want to make friends right now.”

“You can go with someone as friends,” she pointed out, not unreasonably. “Or just go by yourself.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I told Dave I was going to Seattle instead. If I show up alone or with someone else, he’ll be insulted.”

“True,” Eliza admitted. She sighed. “I just hope you aren’t alienating your friends, Bella.”

“I’m trying not to.” I listened to her breathe, the muffled sounds of her younger siblings trickling through the phone line. “I miss you,” I said finally.

“I miss you too,” she told me and I could hear the smile in her voice.


*****

By the time Charlie got home, I had heated up some frozen dumplings from the freezer and made rice from a box in attempt to keep myself from brooding over the day. He had brought cookies from a bakery nearby.

“Happy Valentine’s day,” he said when he came in, sliding the box across the kitchen table. “Anything exciting happen?”

“Not really.” I sat down across from him and poured myself a glass of water. “So I’ve made plans to go into Seattle on the Saturday of the first week of March. Is that okay?”

“Why?” he asked, digging into his food. “What do you need?”

“Books, mostly. The selection is pretty limited out here. Also, I was hoping to pick up some more weather-appropriate clothing.” I held my breath, waiting for his reaction.

“Hmm.” He swallowed. “Do you think the truck can make it?”

“I can stop off for gas,” I pointed out. I winced mentally at the thought of the expense, but just smiled and passed him the rice.

“Are you going by yourself?” He sounded a little suspicious, though I wasn’t sure why. Maybe he thought I had a boyfriend I wasn’t telling him about.

“So far, yes.”

“Are you sure you’ll be okay? Do you want me to come with you?” Charlie looked at me earnestly.

“You don’t want to come with me,” I told him. “I’ll be in dressing rooms or bookstores most of the time. And don’t worry, I’ll go during the day, and I can take care of myself.”

“Will you be back in time for the formal?” he asked, taking another bite of rice.

I stared at him. “How did you hear about that?”

He shrugged. “A couple guys at the station have kids who go to your school.” He set his fork down. “You aren't going?”

I winced, not wanting to tell him about Nate and my ‘issues’. “I just – it’s not my thing.”

“Fair enough,” he conceded, and he offered me the box of cookies.


*****

The next day, I parked as far away from the Cullens’ silver Volvo as I could, in hopes of avoiding the temptation to bump it – just a little, I told myself, eyeing its pristing bumper longingly.

I slid out of my car and fumbled with my keys. They fell into a puddle at my feet, and I sighed, leaning down to pick them up. A pale hand flashed into my line of vision just before my hands closed around the key ring. I straightened and glared at Edward, who was leaning against the hood of my car nonchalantly.

“Give me my keys,” I said, holding out my hand. He held out his hand and there was a moment where it seemed like they flew from his fingers. The keys landed neatly on my palm with a soft jingle. I frowned at him. A startled expression flashed across his face to be quickly replaced by a smirk. “And stop doing that,” I added, moving past him.

“Doing what?” he asked, falling into step beside me.

“Appearing out of thin air,” I snapped. “If you’re gonna pretend to be normal, you should really try harder.”

“I can’t help it if you’re just exceptionally unobservant, Bella,” he replied smoothly, more than a hint of amusement in his voice. His eyes were a lighter hazel than before, I noticed, more gold than anything else.

“Sure, whatever,” I muttered. “Why’d you create that traffic jam yesterday? I thought you were going back to ignoring me, not trying to irritate me into murdering you.”

“I was helping out your friend Dave,” Edward said, as though it was obvious. “He wasn’t going to work up the courage otherwise.” He smiled thoughtfully up at the cloudy sky.

“Excuse me?”

“I saw that he was having trouble getting the chance to ask you to the formal.” He shrugged elegantly, a smooth, liquid motion that was somewhat unnerving. “And I didn’t say I was going to ignore you.”

“Then what the hell is your deal?” I demanded. “I don’t get it. First, you say you don’t want to be friends with me, but then you try to help me get a date? What exactly is that you want, Cullen?”

“You’re so demanding,” he muttered. “Bella, I don’t – I don’t know how to deal with you.”

“The feeling is mutual,” I assured him. “Will you please just leave me alone?”

“Bella, I want to ask you something.” He grabbed my arm. I yanked away as fast as I could. He held up his hands. “Sorry. What's wrong with you?”

 

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I snapped, walking quickly away from him. He kept pace beside me. “From day one you have acted strangely around me. First you act like a total freak when we meet, then you apologize. You save my life, then tell me we can’t be friends.” I stopped and stared at him suspiciously. “Do you have some sort of mental illness?”

“Don’t be absurd,” he scoffed.

I rolled my eyes. “What exactly am I supposed to think, Cullen?”

“Whatever you like.” He shook his head. “I didn’t mean to argue, Bella. I wanted to ask you – the first week of March, you know, that Saturday?”

“The day of the dance?” I asked dryly. “Yeah? What about it?”

“I heard you were going to Seattle -”

“How did you hear that?” I broke in, startled. Unless Dave or Charlie had gone around telling people what I’d said – which I doubted – there was no way Edward could know that.

“I hear things,” Edward said evasively. “I was just wondering if you would like a ride.”

That was so unexpected that I actually took a step back. “Excuse me?”

“I was wondering if you would like a ride to Seattle,” he repeated patiently.

“With you?” I asked incredulously.

“I was planning on going to Seattle anyway and I’m not sure if your car can make it on just one tank of gas. We might as well carpool.”

“How eco-friendly of you. Nice of you to worry, but no thanks. I’d rather not be stuck in a car with you.” I tried to walk away, but he called me back.

“Bella, I’m trying here. Let me take you to Seattle.” He looked at me pleadingly.

“Honestly, Cullen. I thought we weren’t going to be friends. What the hell is going on with you?”

“I said it would be better if we weren’t friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be.” He tucked his hands into his pockets and smiled. It was charming, I had to admit it, but I was still suspicious.

“You can maybe understand why I misunderstood.” I gave him a nasty look, and he flinched. I smiled slightly, pleased with my success. “Please, explain the difference to me?”

“It would be more prudent for us to not be friends.” He smiled, then. “But I’m tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella. You’re too fascinating to ignore.” He put an odd sort of emphasis on the word fascinating that made me feel vaguely on edge.

I stared at him in disbelief. “Fascinating.”

He smiled again. “Yes. Now will you go to Seattle with me?”

I considered my options. I could say no and undoubtedly deal with Edward bugging me about it, or I could say yes and maybe get the opportunity to figure out what his secret was.

 

Ultimately, my curiosity was too much to ignore. “Fine,” I said grumpily. “I’ll go to Seattle with you.”

He flashed me another quick smile. “You really should stay away from me, Bella,” he advised me. “See you in class.”

He started walking away from me, and I shouted, “I would love nothing more, but you won’t leave me alone!”

“Whoa,” Eric said, coming up from behind me. “What was that about?”

“Nothing,” I muttered crabbily. “Let’s get to class.”

Chapter Text

Eric took my word about the conversation with Edward and didn’t pester me about it. I had another headache, not as strong as before, but still persistent. When Eric started talking about the beach trip again, I barely managed to mumble in response.

Kaitlyn offered me Advil as soon as she saw me, which I accepted gratefully. I dry-swallowed it, too eager for relief to go to the water fountain. The pain receded to a more manageable level after about fifteen minutes, and I was able to concentrate on class, even though it was predictably dull.

When we went to lunch, Marlena was waiting for us, a big grin on her face. She bounced on the balls of her feet lightly, practically vibrating with excitement.

“Guess what?” she exclaimed brightly when we joined her. “Lucas asked me to the formal!”

“Congratulations,” I said with a smile. She grabbed my arm and towed me into the cafeteria, only letting me go so I could grab a sandwich. “Was he nice about it?”

Marlena launched into a hurried, whispered description of how, exactly, Lucas had asked her to formal. I tried to concentrate, but my headache was back, a little more insistent this time.

We headed over to our table where I sat down next to Kaitlyn. I sipped at my water, hoping that it would help with the headache. Eric leaned forward after a minute.

“Honestly, what did you say to Edward?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “He’s staring at you again.”

I rolled my eyes in exasperation and turned to look at Edward. He was sitting alone at his usual table, only an apple in front of him. When he saw me look his way, he smiled and beckoned.

I huffed out an irritated sigh and turned back only to find the whole of my little group staring at me.

“What?” I asked, a little freaked out.

“Is he beckoning you?” Marlena asked in disbelief. “I thought you hated each other!”

“What does he want?” Dave demanded harshly.

“I think he wants Bella to sit with him,” Kaitlyn said matter-of-factly. She speared a piece of lettuce on her fork. “Well?” she said, raising her eyebrows at me. “Don’t you want to see what he wants?”

“Go,” Eric urged. “And then tell us all about it.” He grinned and winked.

I sighed and stood up, taking my sandwich and water with me. I stalked across the cafeteria and settled across the table from Edward. “Desperate for company?” I asked dryly.

“Mmm. I must confess, my family’s absence has more than a little to do with my invitation today. But, as I said,” he added, propping his chin on his hand, “I find you fascinating.” He contemplated me thoughtfully. “I have to admit, I miss the purple hair.”

“So much for ‘prudence’,” I muttered and dropped my head into my hand. My headache intensified; it felt as though someone was reaching inside my head and rearranging my brains. I massaged my temples gently.

“Are you all right?” Edward asked.

“Just a headache,” I said dismissively. I flapped a hand at him. “Now, why this change?”

“I just thought that I’m already going to hell; I might as well do it spectacularly.” He leaned back in his chair and picked up the apple in one hand, playing with the stem.

“You sound like a serial killer,” I informed him.

He gave me a totally creepy smile. “My apologies. I didn't intend to frighten you.”

The pressure behind my eyes increased. I pushed my lunch away from me; the headache was making me nauseous. “You still haven’t answered my question, though. What brought on this bout of friendliness?”

“Like I said, I’ve given up trying to stay away from you, despite my better judgment.” He tossed the apple from one hand to another absently. “I’m just going to stop worrying so much and do what I want.” He sounded a little belligerent at the tail end of his statement, glaring at the table.

“Your sister read you the riot act?” I guessed, remembering the way Rosalie had chewed him out.

Edward arched an eyebrow, but he didn’t seem surprised. “You see – and hear – too much. That’s one of the problems.”

“What’s another?”

Another one of those lightning fast smiles flickered across his face. “I talk too much around you.”

“Hmph.” I eyed him warily. “You realize you don’t make any sense half the time anyway?”

“To you, maybe.” He smiled condescendingly.

“Is this your way of making friends?” I demanded incredulously. “If so, it’s really no wonder everyone thinks your family is weird.”

“I’m not a very good friend.” His voice was warning. “It’s too dangerous.”

“For you or for me?” I asked.

He smiled thinly and leaned forward, a lock of hair falling across his forehead. “Both.”

“Look,” I snapped, frustrated. “If you want me to stay away from you, why do you keep approaching me?”

Edward smiled bleakly. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s entirely my fault and I shouldn’t be so contradictory, I realize that.”

That silenced me for a moment. Then I regrouped and asked, “What are you?”

His head jerked up, pale eyes wary. “What do you mean?”

“Right now, I’m gunning for genetic experiment. Maybe Dr. Cullen broke you out of some government facility where you were grown from a test tube. Is that why you’re so bad at making friends?”

He gritted his teeth for a second, then forced a laugh. “My,” he said stiffly. “You have quite a vivid imagination.”

“Occam’s razor?” I suggested. He rolled his eyes.

“That’s far from the simplest explanation,” he remarked, quite correctly.

“Then give me a better one,” I suggested.

Edward didn’t say anything for a moment, his head cocked to the side. “Dave is wondering if he should come over and interrupt us.”

I blinked, startled by the non sequitur. “What?”

“I read people.” He nodded at my table. “Your friend is staring at us, and he looks like he wants to come save you. He’s easy, more than most.”

“But I’m not,” I said, remembering our first conversation in Biology.

“No,” he said, sounding oddly annoyed. “No, you’re not.” He toyed with the apple a bit, and then abruptly asked, “Aren’t you going to eat?”

I shook my head. “No, I have a headache. Why, you want it?”

Edward laughed as if at some private joke. “No, I’m not hungry.”

I decided not to mention the fact that I had never seen him – or his siblings – eat anything. “So how long is this going to last?”

“How long is what going to ask?” he asked pleasantly.

I gestured between the two of us. “This. You being – friendly. Because last time, it lasted two days.”

“I’m hoping it will last as long as you allow it to.” He looked down, then glanced up through is eyelashes in a way that was probably meant to make me melt into a puddle.

I couldn’t give him that satisfaction, so I changed the subject. “So if you’re not a genetic experiment, then what’s the deal? Radioactive spider? Mutant?”

“No, and I’m not allergic to kryptonite either,” he said.

“What about a magic green ring?” I asked, faux-hopefully.

“Bella, I’m not a superhero,” he said tiredly. I shrugged, switching gears.

“Fine, not a superhero. So then, acid? Nah,” I said thoughtfully. “You strike me as more the Lex Luthor type, but he isn’t actually super-powered, is he?”

“This isn’t a joke,” Edward snapped. “You don’t get it, do you?”

“Oh, I get it,” I replied. “You’re trying to tell me that you’re dangerous, which I kind of already figured out considering that you crushed an oncoming car with your bare hands.”

“No, that’s not it,” he said. “Well. Yes, it is. But I’m also trying to tell you that I’m not a good guy.”

The bell rang. I rose to my feet, grabbing my food so I could throw it out. “As much as I dislike you, Edward, I find that hard to believe.”

He raised his eyebrows skeptically. “Oh? May I ask why?”

“You may be an annoying, pretentious, condescending know-it-all who alienates himself from others, but you risked yourself and your secret, whatever it may be, to save my life. That’s not the kind of thing a truly evil person does.” I jerked my head towards the door. “Now come on, we’re gonna be late for class.”

Edward stared at me for a long moment, his expression completely unreadable. Then he said quietly, “You go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute.”

I lingered a moment longer, then decided not to wait. I headed for the door, where Marlena caught my arm as I headed out into the hall.

“What did you talk about?” she asked excitedly.

I hesitated, then said, “Superheroes,” and headed to class. Marlena let out a surprised laugh.

“That’s weird,” Marlena said from behind me. “I wouldn’t have expected that.”

I chuckled and swung into the classroom. Mr. Lewis was sorting through a box of slides at the head of the classroom, another box sitting beside it. He looked up as the bell rang and set the boxes aside.

“Carly, could you come pass these out?” he asked a girl at the front of the classroom. She leapt to her feet and bounced forward to grab the boxes off the table. “Okay, class. There are some things you have to take from here.” He pulled on a pair of latex gloves, snapping them loudly. “First, an indicator card.” He held one up; it was a square card with four boxes marked on it. “A four-pronged applicator,” this looked a bit like a fork, “and a sterile micro-lancet.” He opened a small plastic tube and the lights overhead glinted off the metal of a needle.

“I’ll be coming around with water to prepare your cards with, so don’t do it yourself,” he said over the murmurs breaking out over the classroom. He gestured a boy from the front row forward. “You’re going to carefully prick your finger,” he said, pricking the boy’s finger, “put a drop of blood on each of the prongs, and apply it to the card.” He demonstrated and held up the card, bright red blood stark against the whiteness of the card. I was suddenly hit by the smell of blood, rich and coppery. I swallowed hard, nausea rising in my stomach. My head throbbed, and I swayed a little.

Carly dropped the supplies on my desk and gave me a look. “Are you feeling all right?” she asked quietly.

I didn’t say anything, just tried nodding. She seemed to take this as a sign that I was all right, as she moved on without saying anything else. I laid my head against the cool surface of the lab table, breathing deeply, but it seemed like all of my senses had intensified. I could hear every tiny sound in the room, from the sick sound of flesh splitting under a needle to the whispers and giggles of the other students. Each breath brought the thick, heady scent of blood.

Mr. Lewis was still talking. His voice sounded too loud to my ears. “The Red Cross is having a blood drive in Port Angeles next week, so I thought all of you should know your blood type.” He continued speaking, but I couldn’t pay attention any longer. I took another breath, this time taking care to breathe through my mouth.

“Bella?” Mr. Lewis said suddenly, much closer. “Are you all right?” He sounded alarmed.

“I already know my blood type,” I told him without opening my eyes. My voice sounded weak even to my own ears. “Can I step out?”

“Are you feeling ill?” Mr. Lewis stepped away and called out, “Can someone please escort Bella to the nurse?”

Marlena said something and a moment later, she was at my desk, hooking her arm under my elbow and helping me rise to my feet. She wrapped an arm around my waist and said, “Dang, Bella, you look awful.”

“Thanks,” I muttered, opening my eyes to slits so I could see. The colors around me seemed too bright, as though someone had turned the saturation up. We stepped out of the classroom, and I drew in a deep breath of cool, clear air. I immediately felt a little better, and I straightened up. I could still hear too much – the other teachers’ lessons, the questions of other students – and the colors still seemed a little too bright, but at least I wasn’t being bombarded by the cloying smell of blood. Marlena helped me down the hall, mercifully remaining quiet.

“Bella?” came the stupidly familiar voice, and I groaned in annoyance. “What’s wrong, are you hurt?”

“I think the blood upset her,” Marlena said in an undertone.

I shook my head, wanting to contradict her – blood had never bothered me before. I had been smashed in the face with a soccer ball just four months ago, and I’d had a bloody nose for almost an hour, but it hadn’t bothered me in the slightest. The movement reminded me of my headache, and I raised my hand to pinch the bridge of my nose.

“Bella?” Edward asked quietly. He moved into my line of vision, a pale blur against the vivid rusty red of the brick walls. I blinked and focused on him as he reached forward to tilt my chin up. “Can you hear me?”

“Unfortunately,” I muttered. He laughed lightly.

“That’s my girl,” he said fondly. I resisted the impulse to smack him – for one thing, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hit him in the state I was in.

“I’m not your girl,” I said heatedly, but Marlena was already telling him, “I was taking her to the nurse.”

“I’ll take her,” Edward said immediately. “You can go back to class.”

“Only if Bella says it’s okay,” Marlena said, and she gave my elbow a gentle squeeze. I blinked again and shrugged.

Edward seemed to take this as unqualified acquiescence, as he then scooped me up as though I was no heavier than a child to him – which, given what I knew about his uncanny strength, was probably the case. He held me slightly away from his body, as though he was afraid to bring me too close to him.

“Must you be so dramatic?” I demanded as he began to walk. Each step jarred me a little, making my stomach slosh uncomfortably. “You couldn’t just escort me?”

“This way is faster,” Edward pointed out. “You don’t like blood?”

“I’ve never had a problem with it before,” I snapped. “Did you notice me fainting after the accident?”

Edward inclined his head to concede the point. “So why did you faint this time?”

“I didn’t faint, I just – I suddenly felt really sick.” He stopped and let me slide out of his arms to land gently on my feet. “Thank you,” I added grudgingly.

He nodded and opened the door to the nurse’s office, helping me inside. I must have looked pretty bad, because the nurse leapt to his feet and said, “What happened?”

“She fainted in Biology,” Edward said, flashing a sly grin at me. I rolled my eyes as the nurse took my arm and helped me over to one of the brown cots. “They’re blood-typing today.”

“There’s always one,” the nurse – whose name was Peter, according to the nametag on his desk – and he made me sit on the edge of the cot. “Lie down.”

“She didn’t eat lunch earlier,” Edward continued, “and she had a headache. Do you still have it?”

I looked up, startled, and said, “Yes,” without thinking. The nurse pushed at my shoulders again, and I obediently lay down, the pillow pleasantly cool against my face.

“I’ll go get you some crackers and juice,” Peter said, and he bustled off. Edward sat on the edge of the cot, eyeing me thoughtfully.

“This has never happened before?” he asked, a little suspiciously.

“I never even used to have headaches like this before I came here,” I complained. My hearing and vision was slowly returning to normal; I could only faintly hear Peter’s footsteps as he went off to get me food.

Edward was silent for a moment. Then he said, in a low voice, “I was frightened there, for a moment. You looked so pale.” There was an edge of an emotion I couldn’t identify in his words.

“Why didn’t you come to class?” I asked suddenly. “Did you know we were doing blood-typing today?”

“Someone told me,” he said easily. “And I don’t particularly enjoy that experiment, so I thought I’d bow out.”

“Where were you?”

Edward hesitated before admitting, “In my car, listening to a CD.” It was such a normal response that I was actually taken aback. Before I could think up a reply, Nurse Peter was back with a small bottle of grape juice and some saltine crackers. He dropped an Advil into my hand.

“Do you need anything else?” he asked politely and I shook my head. “If you need anything, just let me know,” he added and he headed back to his desk. I opened the juice and swallowed the pill before slowly opening the crackers and nibbling at one.

I heard the door open, and Marlena’s voice said apologetically, “We have another one.” I breathed in and nearly choked as the smell of blood hit me again. I looked over and saw that Edward was sitting very still.

“We should move,” he suggested, and he helped me to my feet. We hurried out as Marlena herded Sam Winters past us, his face pasty and a little sweaty. Both Edward and I flinched as the blood scent wafted towards us. Edward wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pushed me out of the nurse’s office.

We both leaned against the brick wall, breathing in the fresh air. “I hate that smell,” I said eventually. Edward looked over at me, a questioning look on his face. “Blood,” I elaborated. “Or at least, now I do.”

“You smelled it?” Edward sounded surprised. “You must have good senses.”

I shrugged. “It made me feel – odd.”

“Odd how?” Edward asked, a little sharply.

I stared at him, then said slowly, “It was like all my senses were on overdrive. Why?”

Edward pursed his lips and didn’t answer me. I huffed out an annoyed breath, but tried to calm myself. The headache was finally receding, and I didn’t feel nauseous any more, which was a blessing.

The door banged open a moment later, and Marlena came out. “You look better,” she said, seeing me. “You gonna go home?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I’m feeling better, but who knows?”

Marlena smiled, darting a curious glance at Edward. “You still coming to the beach this weekend?”

“As long as I’m still invited,” I said agreeably. She smiled brightly.

“Of course you are,” she giggled, poking my arm. “We’re going to meet at Lucas’s house at ten, okay?”

“Sounds good,” I agreed.

Marlena hesitated, then turned to Edward. “You’re welcome to come too, if you want,” she said tentatively. “I mean, if you and Bella are going to be friends, then we should be too, right?”

Edward looked at her for a moment without speaking, making her twitch nervously. He shook his head. “No, but I appreciate the offer, Marlena. The beach…isn’t really my ‘scene’.” He smiled sarcastically on the last word; I could practically hear the quote marks.

Marlena threw me a wry look. I stifled a laugh. “No hard feelings. See you later, Bella, Edward.” She nodded to him and headed back to class.

I turned to Edward and raised my eyebrows incredulously. “Not your ‘scene’?” I asked, trying to repress a grin. “Who are you trying to kid?”

“Not you, apparently,” Edward muttered, clearly not intending for me to hear. “Are you seriously going to go to gym?”

I shrugged. “I feel better,” I pointed out. “Plus we’re playing soccer.”

“You’re going home,” Edward told me firmly. “You’re not well. Hold on, I’ll go talk to Peter.”

I opened my mouth to stop him, but he was already through the door. I groaned and stomped my foot on the cement childishly, just to get my frustration out. I opened the door and followed him in.

“- I just don’t think Bella should go back to class,” Edward was saying earnestly. Peter looked ridiculously charmed, his blue eyes wide as he nodded in agreement.

“Yes, of course,” Peter said, already scribbling a note. “And what about you, Edward?”

“My teacher won’t care,” he said dismissively. “I’ll drive Bella home.”

“I can damn well drive myself home,” I snapped, crossing my arms. Behind the desk, a picture frame fell off the wall and shattered on the ground.

“Just let him take you home,” Peter said exhaustedly. He knelt down to clean up the glass. “Go on, you can leave.”

“Can you walk?” Edward asked, widening his eyes in false concern. “Or do I need to carry you again?”

“I’m just fine, thanks,” I said irritably, pushing past him back out into the cool outside. He caught up to me with a couple long strides.

“Most people would be glad to get out of school,” he remarked, a little accusingly.

“I’m not most people,” I informed him.

“I’ve noticed.” He kept pace with me easily as I headed towards the locker hall to grab my things.

I came to a stop in front of my locker and opened it up. “So why aren’t you coming with us this weekend?” I asked. “Too good for us ordinary mortals?”

“What exactly are you doing?” he asked. “Marlena simply said the beach, but I’m afraid that could mean any number of things.”

“La Push,” I said, slamming my locker shut and putting my books in my bag. “First Beach.” If I hadn’t been watching him closely, I would have missed the way his eyes narrowed slightly at the name.

“I don’t think I would be welcome,” he said vaguely, looking down.

“Marlena invited you,” I pointed out.

“I didn’t think you liked me,” he observed. “Why are you trying to get me to come with you?”

“I’m not. I’m just wondering why you have to keep acting like you’re so much better than us.”

“I don’t think I am,” Edward said after a pause. “Not in the slightest. I turned Marlena down simply because I didn’t think the invitation was sincere.”

“How so?” I demanded as we headed out towards the parking lot.

“She invited me because I was there and it would have been rude to exclude me. I don’t think that you – or your friend Dave – would be too pleased to have me there.” He sounded a little self-deprecating, which grated on my nerves more than it should.

“I don’t hate you,” I told him. “I just wish you’d act like a normal person. You don’t seem to have the first clue about how to deal with other people.”

“I don’t,” Edward said. I sighed and veered off in the direction of my truck. He caught my arm just before I got out of range and said, “No, I’m driving you home. I promised.”

“What about my truck?” I asked.

“I’ll have Jasper drop it off after school.” He tugged me in the direction of his car. I yanked my arm free and fell into step beside him.

“You’re really pushy, you know that?” I grumbled. He flashed a bright grin and pulled out his keys, unlocking the doors. “I can drive myself home!”

“Just get in the car, Bella,” he sighed, sliding into the driver’s side. “Your father will be upset if I let you drive yourself home after your little sickness incident today.”

He had a point. I opened the passenger side door and perched on the slick leather seat. “This is unnecessary,” I told him.

He shrugged carelessly and began fiddling with the knobs on the front. He finally got it set to whatever specifications he wanted and he pulled out of the parking lot as the soft strains of music started up.

I blinked in recognition. “Is this Sigur Rós?” I asked, startled. I had half been expecting classical – Tchaikovsky or maybe some Mozart. Something pretentious and old-fashioned, anyway.

He glanced over at me in surprise. “You know Sigur Rós?”

“They’re one of my favorite bands,” I said, sliding back a little on the car seat. “My mom really likes them.”

Outside, the scenery was whooshing past; a quick glance at the speedometer told me we were going well over the speed limit, not that Edward seemed to care. I tried not to wince as he took a curve at roughly three times the speed I usually went.

“What is your mother like?” he asked me.

“Flighty,” I said after a moment. “But she’s smart, really smart. She’s just really bad at showing it. She’s nicer than I am. But much less practical.”

“How old are you?” he asked suddenly. I turned and raised my eyebrows.

“Why are you asking?” I wanted to know.

“You just – you seem older than you probably are.”

“I’m seventeen,” I told him, “but people usually think I’m in my twenties.” I eyed him and said, “It’s not like you act like a typical high school junior.”

He changed the subject. “Why did she get remarried?”

“Because she’s in love?” I said, frowning. “Frankly, I don’t know. And it’s none of your business.”

“I keep prying, I apologize. It’s not my place to ask.” He tilted his head to the side and glided to a stop in front of Charlie’s house. “Do you approve, though?”

“He makes her happy,” I said honestly. “And he’s kind to her. They – they make each other better people.”

“That’s very generous of you,” Edward remarked. “Do you think your mom would do the same?”

“She has,” I said. “She didn’t like the idea of me having a boyfriend, but Nate made me feel so – alive, in a way I hadn’t really before. We were good together.”

Edward frowned. “Nate?”

“My ex.” I waved my hand dismissively. “I think she’d only object if she thought if I was in real danger.”

Edward looked at me, and I remembered what he had said about being dangerous. “Do you think she would approve of me?”

“If you’re trying to ask me out, this is a really crappy way of doing it,” I informed him, a little annoyed. “Let’s talk about your family, why don’t we?”

His face closed up, but he asked, “What do you want to know?”

“Dr. Cullen and his wife adopted you?”

“Yes.”

I hesitated a moment before asking, “What happened to your parents?”

“They died when I was a child,” Edward replied easily.

“I’m sorry.” I fiddled with the strap of my bag for a second. “But they’re good to you?”

“Yes. I don’t really remember my parents,” Edward said without looking at me, “but I can’t imagine two better people than Carlisle and Esme. They’re my parents in every possible way except biologically.”

“And you love them.” There was a deep warmth in the way he spoke his parents’ names that told me that he did, but I wanted to hear him say it.

“I do. I’m very lucky.”

“And your siblings?” I prompted, hopefully.

He looked at the dashboard clock and said, “Are going to be annoyed if I don’t pick them up from school on time.”

“Where were they during lunch?” I asked, frowning. I had thought that they were absent.

He smiled. “I asked them to eat elsewhere for the day.”

“So you could talk to me?” I hazarded.

“Indeed.” He looked at me again. “I won’t see you later this week; Emmett and I are taking an early weekend up at Mount Ranier. Hiking.”

“Fine,” I said, opening the car door to get out.

“And Bella?” he called. I looked back in and he grinned. “Have fun at the beach. And – be careful. You seem to attract trouble.”

“And you’re always right there when it happens,” I pointed out, irritated. “So I should be safe, if you’re not there.” The car door slammed shut and I stepped back onto the sidewalk as Edward sped away.

I stood there for a little longer after he’d left. Then I felt stupid and went inside, locking the door firmly behind me.

Chapter Text

I settled in my room to read Hamlet, though I kept an ear out for the sound of my truck. I heard the familiar rumbling about half an hour after school let out, and I looked out my window in time to see Jasper Hale get out of the driver’s seat – and I really should find out how he was able to drive my car, I realized, as I hadn’t given Edward my keys. I scowled. I was going to have to have a very serious talk with him about boundaries.

I glanced away for a moment, and when I looked back, Jasper was gone. I craned my neck so I could see down the street, but he was nowhere in sight. I sat back in my seat, frowning; it seemed increasingly likely that Edward’s siblings shared whatever strange gifts he possessed.

I added that to the list of things to talk to Edward about. It was starting to get very long.

*****

As soon as I got to school the next day, Eric said, “So what happened with you and Edward yesterday? Marlena would only talk about how you fainted in Biology.”

“I didn’t faint,” I grumbled in annoyance. “I just felt sick, is all.”

“Like that’s any better,” Eric scoffed, grinning. He patted my back. “Don’t worry, I hate blood too.”

I couldn’t think of a way to describe what had happened that wouldn’t make me sound crazy, so instead I said, “Edward kind of rambled on about nothing in particular, and then we talked about superheroes.”

“That is so not exciting,” Eric said with a dramatic sigh. “If you’re going to tell that story you need to add some more drama to it. Some pizzazz!”

“If it happens again, I promise I’ll lie and make it interesting.” I followed him down the hall, holding in my grin. “Happy?”

“Delighted.” Eric was quiet for a moment before he said, “You know, I’ve never seen Edward sit with anyone but his family before.”

“I’m not surprised. He doesn’t have very good people skills.” I pushed open the door to our class and gestured him in.

Eric sighed and flounced inside. “It’s such a tragedy,” he said petulantly. “Anyone that beautiful should be charming as well.”

“I don’t doubt he could be if he tried,” I remarked, recalling the way he had gotten the nurse to do what he wanted. “I think he just doesn’t know how to deal with me.”

“Because you’re so fantastic and unique,” Eric agreed, kissing my cheek. I laughed and swatted him away as the bell rang.

*****

Edward hadn’t lied; when I got to lunch that day, he and Emmett were nowhere to be seen. Jasper looked up when I came in and met my gaze solidly before nodding once, curtly. Alice seemed confused for a moment, then she grinned widely and waggled her fingers at me before Rosalie grabbed her hand, throwing me a glare over her shoulder.

“Wow,” Kaitlyn said softly from behind me. “What the hell is that about?”

“I don’t get it either,” I told her, sliding in to sit next to Marlena. She bumped shoulders with me gently. “Rosalie just really doesn’t like me or something.”

“Sorry I told everyone that you fainted in Bio,” Marlena whispered, but she was grinning. “Just, you know. You don’t seem like the type to faint at the sight of blood.”

“I didn’t faint,” I groused, but I couldn’t stay mad at her. “So,” I said changing the subject. “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

Dave lit up and started expounding on how the weatherman said the next day would be warm and sunny. “At least,” he added, “it’s supposed to be in the low seventies.” I had to resist the urge to laugh.

“Sounds like fun,” Eric said, glancing sidelong at Tyler. “You coming too?”

Tyler shrugged, clearly going for nonchalant but falling far short. He was trying to hide his grin, but he was obviously pleased by the invitation. “I’d love to.”

Lucas wrapped his arm around Marlena’s waist and said, “We’ll pick up some food along the way. And don’t forget beach towels, we’ll need somewhere to sit.” Marlena immediately started bickering with him about what food we should bring. I tuned them out and ate my lunch. For the first time in what seemed like ages, I didn’t have a headache, and it felt great.

*****

Charlie was oddly excited about my trip to La Push, more than I thought was strictly warranted. I suspected he felt guilty about leaving me to my own devices most of the time. He had become accustomed to bachelorhood in the years Mom and I had been out of the house and didn't really know what to do with me. He knew all the kids going, of course, and probably their entire families as well. He was slightly less enthusiastic when he learned that Tyler was going (“Bella, he almost killed you!” “Dad, it was an accident.”) but he accepted it after I distracted him with take-out menus.

During dinner, I asked, “Hey, so I heard some kids talking about camping on the foot of Mount Ranier.”

Charlie put his fork down. “Please tell me you don’t want to do that too.”

I shook my head. “No, nothing like that. I was just wondering – is it safe?”

Charlie nodded, looking relieved that I didn’t have an interest in it myself. “Sure, as long as you stay in the right areas. There are some areas that are really meant only for hunting – lots of bears and stuff.”

“Oh,” I said, filing this away with my many other questions about the Cullens.

Charlie and I watched Die Hard on TV – though to be honest, the TV-friendly editing kind of ruined the magic of the film – and then I went to sleep, intending to sleep in a little. I was woken earlier than I wanted by sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window and across my face. I sat up and went to the window, staring at the clear blue sky and the vast expanse of brightly lit landscape. I slid the window open and tilted my face up towards the sun, enjoying the warmth on my face for the first time since I had arrived in Forks. I took in a deep breath and smiled.

*****

Lucas’s family lived on the north side of town in a gorgeous house that made me sigh in envy. A young girl, about eight or nine, answered the door when I rang and asked, very prettily, “May I help you?”

“Hi,” I said, smiling. “I’m Lucas’s friend Bella. Is he here?”

“Yes he is,” she answered, and she turned, yelling, “Lucas! Bella’s here!”

Lucas arrived at the door a moment later, looking a little mussed. “You’re early!” he exclaimed, a little wild-eyed.

“Yeah, I woke up early. Is that a problem?” I hunched my shoulders a little, embarrassed. Lucas shook his head, though he still looked a little dazed.

“No, not a problem. Come in.” He shut the door after I stepped inside and turned to the girl. “Clara, go upstairs.”

“Lucas has a girlfriend,” Clara told me, widening her eyes up at me. “I like her. She’s nice.”

“Clara!” Lucas cried, turning red. “Go upstairs!” Clara, with all the gravity of an eight year old, sighed and rolled her eyes before turning and heading up the wide wooden stairs.

“Little sister?” I asked, amused, and Lucas rolled his eyes.

“She gets worse every year, I swear,” he muttered. “Come on, Marlena’s already here.”

He led me to the den where Marlena was straightening her hair and shirt, trying to look like they hadn't been fooling around before I had barged in. She blushed when she saw me.

“Did I interrupt something?” I asked, waggling my eyebrows suggestively at Marlena. She pressed her hands to her cheeks and giggled. Lucas flopped onto the sofa next to her and pulled her into his lap. She shrieked and batted him away, laughing.

“Oh my god, don’t!” she said. “You’re gonna give Bella the wrong idea!”

“So you’re dating now,” I said, and they exchanged rueful looks. “Good,” I told them. “I’m happy for you.”

“Really? Thank you so much,” Marlena said and she grinned so wide I thought her head might split in half.

Eric, Tyler, Dave, and Kaitlyn showed up in Katilyn’s car about ten minutes later, followed by another car of some people I didn’t know all that well. There was a girl with red hair who kept glancing at me, and I heard her say, “Edward Cullen and her?” in a snotty voice to one of the girls from my Biology class.

I rolled my eyes, resisting the urge to correct her misunderstanding, and instead followed Marlena and Lucas out to Lucas’s car. “I told you it would be sunny,” Dave hissed as I passed him, grinning triumphantly. I rolled my eyes and flapped my hand at him.

"It still isn't Phoenix warm," I told him, and he shook his head in disappointment.

A couple of people I recognized from around school joined us and introduced themselves as Paul and Olivia. They were both friendly and apparently knew Marlena from some kind of theatre group. Olivia had a gorgeous camera with her, and she took pictures of the greenery as we drove to La Push. I rolled down the window and let the sun stream in. Olivia snapped a picture of me, and I groaned, covering my face while she laughed.

I had been to La Push before, back when I used to spend my summers in Forks, so the mile-long crescent of First Beach was familiar to me. The water looked gorgeous, but I knew better than to think it would be pleasant to go in; even in summer, it was pretty cold. The beach was mostly rocky until it turned into sand a few yards from the water, but the rocks gleamed under the sunlight and I couldn't help thinking it was beautiful in a way LA beaches weren't. Driftwood littered the beach, from small pieces to large trunks that were clearly used as seating by groups like ours. Dave led the way, picking his way across the rocks to where we could sit or lie out depending on our preference.

There was a light breeze coming off the ocean, bringing in the fresh sea-salt smell, and I breathed in deeply – one of the few things I’d missed about Forks was that smell. Behind me, Lucas and one of the other boys started working on setting up a fire pit, bickering companionably about Boy Scout training.

“Have you ever seen a driftwood fire?” Olivia asked, suddenly at my shoulder.

“I don’t think so,” I admitted, watching as Eric tossed a lighter to Lucas.

“You’ll like it – watch the colors.” She raised her camera to her face as Lucas lit a smaller piece of wood, setting against the others. The wood reluctantly caught flame, then seemed to burst, flaring blue and green.

“Wow,” I breathed, stepping closer. “It’s gorgeous.”

“The salt does it.” Olivia sounded just as awed as I, though she must have seen it at least a dozen times before. “Gorgeous.”

Marlena looked up and gestured me closer when she saw me standing off to the side. I sat between her and Eric on their piece of wood. They were gossiping about someone I hadn’t met, so I just watched the flames lick at the air.

A bag of marshmallows were passed around and I took some along with a coat hanger skewer. Eric’s promptly caught fire and he blew at them frantically, trying to get the fire out and moaning over the loss of his marshmallow. Tyler doubled over in laughter before finally blowing them out for Eric. I popped one of mine in my mouth and smirked at them.

After a while, Dave announced that he was going to the tide pools. Kaitlyn and Olivia immediately volunteered to join, as did some of the boys.

“Come on, Bella,” Kaitlyn wheedled, holding out her hand to help me up. I laughed and allowed her to haul me up. I hadn’t seen tide pools since the last time I’d been at La Push – years ago – and I remembered loving them. Dave grinned and slapped my back companionably.

The hike wasn’t very long, through the lush green woods, rich in color and scent. Though it was sunny, it still smelled damp and strangely alive. I breathed in deeply, the richness of the woods and the crisp ocean scent mingling together. Olivia was taking pictures practically every other step, her face alight with fascination and wonder.

When we stepped out into the sunlight again, the few remaining clouds had dissipated. It was low tide, but the tide pools were still full. Ahead of me, Dave let out a wild whoop and leaped over one in a graceful motion.

“Track stars,” Katilyn muttered to me, rolling her eyes. She delicately picked her way around the first tide pool, gazing into it. I wandered through them, catching glimpses of bright anemones, pastel shells, green algae, all beautiful. There was a nicely placed rock by the largest of the tide pools, and I sat cross-legged on it, gazing into the shallow depths as tiny crabs traversed their tiny world and tiny fish darted around the pool, waiting for the tide to come back in and take them back out to sea.

Olivia joined me after a while, sitting next to me and taking pictures with a practiced eye. We spent about half an hour there, the boys leaping over the pools and jumping from rock to rock, but eventually they tired and announced it was time to head back for lunch, so I slid from the rock and followed them back to the campsite.

Our group had acquired some more people – it looked like kids from the reservation, all dark hair and smooth, tanned skin. Eric introduced us to them as we returned, saying, “And this is Olivia Winters and Bella Swan.”

At my name, a handsome boy with long hair looked up curiously, but didn’t say anything. The oldest of the visitors introduced them, though I only caught the name of one particularly pretty but forbidding girl - Leah - and the boy who’d looked up at my name - Jacob.

Food was being passed around now, and I ate one of the ham sandwiches quietly, watching everyone else. Eric and Tyler were in their own little world, talking quietly to each other and ignoring everyone else. Kaitlyn had gotten into an enthusiastic conversation with one of the reservation kids, and Olivia was taking pictures of everyone.

People started drifting off as they ate lunch – a few of the boys headed down closer to the water to skip rocks, and some others headed back to the tide pools. Marlena and Lucas went up to the village to ‘shop’, though I suspected they just wanted a little alone time. I sat, lost in thought, and didn’t notice that Jacob had sat next to me until he cleared his throat.

I jumped and looked over at him. “Sorry,” I said, offering a smile. “I was kind of lost in my head.”

Jacob smiled, flashing even, white teeth. He was remarkably good-looking, his cheekbones high and eyes warm. I thought he was maybe a year younger than me, though I couldn’t say for sure. “It’s not a problem. You’re Bella Swan?” He had a pleasant, husky voice, warm and rich.

“Yeah,” I confirmed, a little wary. “Why?”

“You bought my dad’s truck,” he told me with a smile. He held out a slim hand. “Jacob Black.”

“Oh,” I said, taking his hand with an answering smile. His palm was cool and dry against mine. “You’re Billy’s kid? I’m sorry, I probably should remember you.”

Jacob shrugged, still grinning. He released my hand, and I dropped it back to my side, feeling strangely bereft. “I didn’t expect you to. You hung out more with my older sisters when you used to come here – Rachel and Rebecca?”

“Oh yeah,” I said, suddenly remembering the two quiet girls. They were nice enough, but they were shy, and we hadn’t really had all that much in common. By the time I was eleven, I had put up enough fuss about fishing that Charlie stopped taking me, and I hadn’t seen them since. “Are they here?”

“Nah,” Jacob said, reaching up to tuck a rogue strand of hair behind his ear. “They’re both in college – Rachel went to Reed College and Rebecca headed out to Hawai’i.”

“Wow,” I said, a little jealous. “That’s pretty great.”

He nodded, still smiling. “How are you liking the truck?”

“It’s great,” I enthused. “It’s just right for me.”

He leaned in, lowering his voice. “I was so glad when Charlie bought it,” he confided. “Dad wouldn’t let me start building another car until we got rid of that one.”

“Hey, don’t be mean to my baby,” I warned him. “That there is fightin’ talk.”

He laughed and held up his hands. “Didn’t mean to offend you. I just want something that goes a little faster. Though, in its defense, it’s a tank. No way you’ll die in that thing.”

“I hope not,” I said. “So you build cars?”

Jacob nodded. “When I have the time. And the parts. I don’t suppose you know where I could find some?” He didn’t sound particularly hopeful.

“Sorry,” I said. “I wish I could help.”

He flashed another bright grin at me. From across the fire, Eric called, “Bella, who is your friend?”

“Jacob Black,” I told him, smiling at Jacob. “We go way back.”

Jacob rolled his eyes, laughing. “Something like that.”

“It’s too bad the Cullens couldn’t come,” the redhead girl from earlier said in a sly voice. “Don’t you think? Marlena said she invited them.”

“Do you mean Carlisle Cullen’s family?” the oldest of the boys from the reservation asked. He was really closer to a man, probably in his early twenties. He had a rich, deep voice that rumbled like distant thunder.

“Yeah,” she said, arching her eyebrows snidely. “Why, do you know them?”

“We know of them,” the man said, forbiddingly. “The Cullens do not come here.”

I thought it was an odd way to put it and opened my mouth to say something, but the boy stood up to leave, effectively ending the conversation. I frowned; there was something more to that story, I could tell. I glanced over at Jacob, but he was looking down at his feet pensively. I wondered idly if I could convince him to tell me why the other boy had seemed so upset by the mention of the Cullens and decided to give it a shot.

“Jacob,” I said, touching his arm gently. He looked up, startled. I smiled carefully. “You want to walk down the beach with me?”

“Sure.” He clambered to his feet, sweeping his hair off to the side. He fell into step beside me as I jammed my hands into the pockets my worn black hoodie. “So what’s up?”

“You’re, what, sixteen?” I asked curiously, looking up at him. He nodded, smiling.

“Just a week ago, actually.”

“Happy birthday, then,” I said, smiling. He ducked his head shyly. “Do you come up to Forks much?”

“Not as much as I’d like to,” he confessed, “but once I get the car I’m working on up and running, I’ll probably come to town more often.”

“Cool.” I fell silent for a moment, contemplating how to phrase my next question. “So,” I said carefully, “who was that boy who left? The older one.”

“That’s Sam. He’s going to a local college,” he said.

“What was he saying about the Cullens?” I asked innocently, looking up through my eyelashes in a way that had always worked on my ex-boyfriend.

“The Cullens? Oh, they’re just not allowed to come to the reservation,” he said, and then he tripped over a rock. I grabbed his arm, steadying him. He looked at me guiltily. “I’m not really supposed to say anything about that.”

I smiled as charmingly as I could. “I promise I won’t tell,” I wheedled, hopeful.

The corner of his mouth twitched, and he sighed, lifting his eyes heavenward. “Do you like scary stories?”

“Love them,” I said.

“Come on,” he said, taking my hand. I obediently fell into step and went with him to another collection of driftwood, a pale tree like a beached whale on the sand. He sat on the trunk, patting the spot next to him. I sat, and he turned to me, eyes serious. “This is a story about my tribe, the Quileutes. This area is sacred to us. That island -” he pointed out to the dark shape far out in the water, “- is a burial place for our chiefs. We are careful about who we allow here.”

“You let us here,” I pointed out, gesturing back towards the kids from school. Jacob nodded.

“Because you pose no threat.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “Did my dad ever tell you any of our old stories, about where we came from?”

“Not that I can remember,” I admitted.

“Well, there are a lot of legends. One story goes that there was a flood that sent our only kin away, south of here, and we were surrounded by strangers, the other tribes in this area. But our creation story – that is what is important.

“It is said we were once wolves, turned into humans by a wandering Transformer. They are our brethren. It is against tribal law to kill a wolf. That is our birthright, our heritage. And our natural enemies are the cold ones.” His voice dropped at this last, and I shivered involuntarily. A rock at my feet abruptly broke loose and tumbled down the shore, landing at the edge of an oncoming wave.

“The cold ones?” I asked, almost in a whisper.

Jacob smiled, but it had little humor in it. “The stories of the cold ones go back as far as ours, perhaps even further. And there are some that are much more recent. According to our tribal legend, my great-grandfather knew them and made a treaty that would keep them off our land.”

“Your great-grandfather?”

“Yes. He was a tribal elder, like my father. They – the cold ones – are our enemies, because we are – changed wolves. What I suppose you could call werewolves.”

“Werewolves.” I didn’t bother trying to hide my disbelief; I could hear it echoed in his own voice. “Really.”

He grinned. “I know. But that’s the story. Anyway, the cold ones are traditionally our enemies, but the pack that came here during my great-grandfather’s time was different. They – chose to be different than the rest of their kind. They didn’t hunt the same way; they weren’t as dangerous. So my great-grandfather made the treaty with them – if they promised to stay off our land, we promised not to expose them to the – to you.”

“But if they weren’t dangerous,” I said, trying to stall him while I worked through the implications, “then why ban them?”

“Humans are always at risk around the cold ones,” Jacob said matter-of-factly. “Even the special kind.”

“What?” I asked. “Special?”

“There’s are other stories,” he explained, “about witches. Mages. They can withstand the cold ones; they have special abilities. But they died out a long time ago, though sometimes humans show flashes of that old gift. We kept the cold ones away to protect everyone – you never know if they’ll get too hungry to be ‘civilized’.” He spat out the word ‘civilized’ as though it offended him, and I jerked back involuntarily.

“What do you mean?” I said slowly. “Civilized?”

“They claim they don’t hunt humans. They prey on animals instead.” Jacob wasn’t looking at me anymore, which I was grateful for. The pieces were lining up for me, but I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even think the word; I was willing to accept genetic experiments and radioactivity, but magic?

“And how do the Cullens fit in?” I asked as calmly as I could. “Are they like the cold ones your great-grandfather met?”

“No,” Jacob said, turning to look at me. “They are the same ones.”

I shuddered, my mind shrinking from the evidence he was unknowingly laying out in front of me. He continued on, clearly interpreting my reaction as disgusted fascination. “There are more of them now, a new male and a new female, but the others are all the same. There are legends in my tribe of their leader, Carlisle – he’d been here long before your people came and settled the west.”

“So the cold ones,” I said. “They’re -” I stopped, unable to bring myself to say it. It was ridiculous.

“Vampires,” Jacob filled in. “They are what your people would call vampires, yes.”

Vampires. “You’re a good storyteller,” I said faintly, rubbing at my arms.

“Pretty crazy, though, right?” Jacob said, smiling. “You can probably see why they tell us not to talk about it. It makes us sound like a bunch of superstitious natives.”

“I’ll take it to my grave,” I said solemnly. Jacob laughed.

“I guess I just violated the treaty,” he remarked. “Oh well. Just – please don’t mention it to your dad? He was already pretty mad when he heard that some of us weren’t going to the hospital any more when Dr. Cullen started working there.”

“I promise,” I repeated. I looked down and saw that my hands were trembling. I slowly curled my hands into fists. Another rock dislodged and rolled down to join the other.

“Bella!” Marlena called from behind us. We jumped and turned to see her and Lucas clambering down the rocks. “There you are, I think we’re gonna be going soon!”

“Hold on just a minute,” I called back, then I turned to Jacob. “Thanks, Jacob. When you get your license, you should come to Forks. We’ll hang out or something.”

“I’d like that.” He smiled, and I was struck again by how handsome he was - a more natural, real beauty than any of the Cullens’, and far more friendly.

I impulsively pulled him into a quick hug. His hair smelled strangely woody and musky, a heady combination. I stood and shoved my hands back into my pockets. “And when Charlie comes to visit Billy, I’ll join, okay?”

“Yeah. Bye, Bella.” He waved, and I hesitated for a moment before nodding awkwardly and running up to join Marlena and Lucas. Marlena hooked her arm through mine, beaming.

“Oh my god, he’s cute!” she exclaimed in a hushed voice. “Who is he?”

“An old friend,” I said, smiling. “He was just telling me some local legends.” Marlena giggled and fell silent, for which I was grateful. I could feel another headache coming on, and I was still reeling from Jacob’s story.

By the time we got back to the cars, everyone else had finished packing up. I climbed into the back with Paul and Olivia and leaned my head against the glass, allowing myself to acknowledge what Jacob had told me. Edward and his family were vampires.

Vampires.

Shit.

Chapter Text

When I got home, I told Charlie that I’d had fun, but that I had a lot of homework. He was preoccupied by a basketball game on television, so he just nodded, waving me on. I went upstairs to my room and pulled out my iPod. I curled up on my bed and listened to it on shuffle, cycling through David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Britney Spears, any number of artists and songs.

For a while it worked, driving all thoughts of vampires and werewolves and magic from my mind, allowing me to lose myself in beats and rhythms and melodies. Then a song from Sigur Rós came on and I remembered Edward driving me home in the rain.

Frustrated, I yanked the headphones from my iPod and made myself go to sleep, concentrating as hard as I could on just breathing, steady and constant.

I dreamed, then, of the forest by the beach. The light streamed through the leaves, green, warm, and full of life. I could hear the crash of waves past the trees, steady and insistent. I made to go out onto the sand, but Jacob was there, taking my arm and pulling me deeper into the trees.

The woods changed, then, darkening to black. I twisted out of Jacob’s grip, slipping out hands together instead, and I asked, “Where are we going, Jacob?”

He looked at me, his face dark with an emotion I couldn’t read – a little anger, maybe even fear. “Away. You aren’t safe here.”

“What do you mean?” I demanded, frightened. “Jacob, what’s wrong? What’s going on?”

He released my hand and shoved me forward, sending me tripping over the roots. “You have to run, Bella!” he shouted and deep in the forest, out of the darkness, someone called, “Bella, come on!” It sounded like Eliza.

“What’s going on?” I demanded. “I can help! Jacob, I can stand up for myself!”

Jacob shook his head and shivered, a full-body shudder that sent him falling to the ground. I tried to move towards him, but I was frozen in place. “Jacob!” I shouted and he screamed, throwing his head back. He shuddered again and, in that instant, transformed. There was no way to describe it; one moment he was there, and in the next he had vanished, a wolf standing in his place.

The wolf was beautiful, all red and grey fur, but it was growling at something I couldn’t see yet. Eliza’s voice called my name again, but I didn’t go, because something was coming. I could feel it thrumming in my bones, rattling me down to my core.

And then from the beach came Edward, the light refracting off him oddly. He smiled first at me, then at the wolf at my feet. His canines were longer than in reality, sharp and pointed. He opened his hands and said, “Please. Trust me.”

“Jacob,” I whispered, and I reached forward, burying my hand in his fur. “Jacob, don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

Edward’s smile widened, and then he reached out one hand to me. I placed my free hand in his and Jacob’s growling slowly faded. Edward seemed to relax incrementally and he said, “This is truth, Bella,” and then I woke up just as my light bulb shattered.

I slowly pushed myself up, staring at the shattered glass that littered the floor at the foot of my bed. “What the fuck,” I said blankly. My head ached, and my stomach rumbled uncomfortably, angry about me not having eaten dinner.

I glanced at the clock; it was five twenty in the morning. I groaned and slid out of bed, kicking off my shoes and my jeans, pulling on a pair of sweatpants instead. I knew that I had no hope of getting back to sleep. Instead, I went to my computer and started it up. While it booted, I went to the bathroom and scrubbed my face, sighing.

I padded downstairs and rummaged through the stuff in the garage until I found a broom and a dustpan. I went back to my room and carefully swept the broken pieces of light bulb into the dustpan, dumping it out into the trashcan. That task completed, I sat down at my desk and opened up my internet browser. A quick glance out the window told me Charlie had already left, probably fishing. I stared at my Google homepage, the blinking cursor in the search box telling me I had to make a choice.

I stared at it for a long moment, then got back up. I wasn’t quite ready to I headed downstairs and looked in the refrigerator for something to eat and found a pie that Charlie must have bought the night before. On top of it was a note, reading, Bella – didn’t want to wake you up. Here’s some apple pie you can eat for breakfast. Love, Dad.

I smiled and pulled it out, carefully slicing off a piece and putting on a plate. There was coffee already brewed, and I poured myself a mug, taking it and the pie upstairs with me. I set them down on the desk next to my computer, opened up iTunes, and chose something innocuous.

Then I switched to my web browser, took a deep breath, and typed vampire into the search bar. Unsurprisingly, the first link was to Wikipedia. I browsed through it, but only saw stuff I had read about when I’d read Dracula in seventh grade. I had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer religiously when I was in elementary school; I guess it was suitably ironic that I was now faced with vampires of my own.

I pulled off a post-it note and wrote down, stake, garlic. Just in case, I thought, and I scrolled down the Wikipedia page, reading through the list of beliefs by culture.

The first appearance of vampires appeared to be in Persia, I read, where images of blood-drinking demons appeared on pottery. The most interesting part to me, though, was the mention of Slavic beliefs. According to them, vampires could have children, who would have special powers that allowed them to become vampire hunters.

Many of the beliefs were strange and incredibly varying, and none of them were particularly helpful. Perhaps, I thought, I was reading too much into everything. Vampires didn’t – couldn’t – exist.

I ran through the checklist of things that I’d noticed about the Cullens: super strength, seeming indestructibility, changing eye color, unnatural paleness, and possibly some kinds of other powers. Not entirely out of the realm of vampires, I acknowledged. Drusilla in Buffy had visions; maybe that was what Alice meant when she said she couldn’t see me.

Christ, I was accept Joss Whedon’s word as gospel.

I could hardly believe I was simply accepting it as truth, but Occam’s Razor applied. No other explanation seemed forthcoming, though this one forced me to accept things I’d previously assumed to be mere fantasy. I wondered idly if werewolves and the “witch-gifted” were real as well, then shoved the thought from my mind. I had enough on my plate working out the truth about the Cullens.

It could very well be that vampires were real, I decided, though that raised a whole slew of new questions. Why could the Cullens go out in daytime? Admittedly, I’d never seen them in direct sunlight, but Buffy and Dracula had been very adamant on the idea that vampires could not go out during the day.

I sighed and put my computer on standby. It was too much to think about. I finished off my coffee, then went to take a shower. When I got out, it was raining again. I stood at my window, staring out at the wet landscape, and decided that I would go out anyway. Better than sitting in my room and brooding.

I grabbed my iPod and headed downstairs after getting dressed. I got in my truck, the engine coughing to life asthmatically. I had no particular destination in mind, so I just headed down the highway. Few people were out this early on a Sunday morning, and I mostly had the road to myself.

The highway wound through heavily tree-lined areas, beautiful and lush, but a too-present reminder of my dream from the night before. I still didn’t know what to think about it – why had I accepted Edward’s hand? Why had Eliza been calling to me?

Eliza, I remembered with a start. What on earth was I going to tell her next time I called? I couldn’t very well tell her that I thought Edward might be a vampire. At best, she would think I was joking. At worst, she’d think I’d gone crazy. Neither response would be particularly helpful.

And I still didn’t know that he was, though the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. He and his siblings never ate, as far as I could tell, and all of them moved with a strangely restrained swiftness, as though they were trying to hide how fast, how fluidly they could really move. It could explain why they only came here recently, because they likely didn’t age – which also explained Edward’s ready knowledge of high school curriculum. He ditched class during the blood test, though that could just mean he didn’t like blood. He spoke oddly, as well, with that hint of an accent and the phrasing of someone slightly out of his time. He kept warning me that he was dangerous, that it would be dangerous for us to be friends. And when I’d mentioned La Push, he’d reacted ever so slightly.

What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t exactly tell anyone my suspicions, or they’d think I was nuts. I could avoid him, I supposed, that would be easy enough. Except he made it hard to avoid him and I still wanted to know the truth, for once and for all.

As annoying as I found him, I couldn’t bring myself to think of him as something necessarily evil. At the very most, there was a disturbing tendency within him that had the potential to harm many people and he kept it in check. That was something to be admired. And he had saved my life. Even if he had been kind of a dick about it.

“This sucks,” I said out loud, clutching my hands around the steering wheel. “This sucks.”

Morrissey went on singing through my speakers, uncaring. I sighed and pulled off the road so I could turn around. I had been driving for almost an hour, I noticed, looking at the clock. It was nearing seven in the morning, and the morning commuters were starting to fill up the road. I got back on the highway headed back towards the house and forced myself to think about the essay I had due in English instead of the freak show that my life had become.

I worked on homework for a few hours, and then started cleaning up the house for lack of anything better to do. Charlie came home around noon with a fish that he made me help him clean and gut. It was disgusting, but strangely soothing at the same time. It was very straightforward work, and I apparently had a real knack for it.

“So what are your plans for Seattle next week?” Charlie asked me as he slid the fish into the frying pan. I jumped, startled; I had almost forgotten my promise to Edward.

“Nothing as of yet,” I said, going to the refrigerator to grab a soda. “How was fishing?”

Charlie made a face and for an instant, I could see the man my mom had fallen in love with. Charlie wasn’t bad looking; he’d aged well, with dignified salt and pepper as opposed to unattractive patches of gray. I wondered why he’d never remarried – had he ever even dated? I didn’t know, I realized. I didn’t know anything, really, about my own father.

“It was fine until it started raining,” he grumbled, somewhat playfully. “I still got a nice catch, though.”

“Yeah.” I opened the refrigerator and looked inside. “What should we eat with it?”

“We have potatoes,” Charlie said, reaching past me and pulling out a Tupperware. “Should go well together.”

I shrugged, not really knowing anything about it. “Sure.”

Dinner was ready after about fifteen minutes and we ate mostly in silence, punctuated only by the clink of cutlery and glasses. I thought about what I wanted to ask Charlie and when we had finished eating, I helped him carry the plates and glasses to the kitchen.

“What do you like to do?” I asked him as he passed a plate to me to dry. “Besides fishing, I mean.”

Charlie looked at me sidelong and shrugged. “Watching sports, I guess. I like my job. I like figuring things out. Why do you ask?”

“I just don’t know much about you,” I said, looking down at the plate I was drying. I set it aside carefully and accepted the next one. “It’s weird.”

“I don’t know much about you,” Charlie pointed out. “This is a learning experience for both of us.”

I smiled at him and asked, “Do you want to watch another movie?”

We settled on an old film showing on TV, and I curled up next to him on the sofa as the opening credits played. About halfway through, he wrapped an arm around me, and I settled into him, smiling. He wasn’t anything like Mom, but he was still my dad.

“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” Charlie asked as the credits rolled. “Even if you think it’ll make me feel uncomfortable.”

“Yeah, I know,” I assured him. “But it’s nice to hear you say it anyway.”

He laughed and clapped me on the back. “Go to bed. You have school tomorrow.”

I mock-saluted him and headed upstairs, making a brief detour to grab some cold meds. I downed them in one swallow, and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

*****

When I woke the next morning, the rain had cleared back up and the sun was shining brightly. I thought about the soccer ball Eliza had given me and decided that if the weather stayed nice, I’d go kick it around behind Charlie’s house.

I showered and dressed, clambering down the stairs in time to catch Charlie before he left. “Good morning,” I said cheerfully, going to the cupboard and grabbing a mug. He poured me a cup of coffee and nodded.

“Nice day out,” he remarked. “You gonna do anything today?”

“I was thinking I might kick around my soccer ball,” I said, reaching into the cupboard for some cereal. “If it stays nice, that is.”

“Sounds like fun,” Charlie said. He glanced at his watch and muttered something under his breath. “I have to go. See you later.” He leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Bye.”

“Bye, Dad,” I said, waving. He smiled and headed out, leaving me alone. I ate breakfast at a leisurely pace, basking in the sunlight coming in through the kitchen windows. When I was finished, I went outside and lifted my head up so I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

I got to school earlier than usual. Eric wasn’t there to meet me, so I sat on one of the benches outside, pulling a book out of my bag to read. I had read half a chapter by the time I heard Eric calling my name.

“Bella, isn’t it great?” he asked cheerfully. He was wearing a thin white t-shirt and shorts, even though it wasn’t all that warm. “It’s gorgeous out today.” He offered me a hand and I accepted, letting him pull me upright.

“It’s the nicest it’s been since I got here,” I agreed, shouldering my bag. “You look cute.”

He grinned and struck a pose. “I know,” he said brightly. “So what did you do yesterday?”

“Worked on that essay,” I told him as we headed towards class. “I’m writing it on the portrayal of women in Hamlet.”

“Ooh, that’s a good topic,” Eric said jealously. “I’m writing it on sanity versus insanity. Kind of cliché, right?”

“Probably, but I’m sure it’s good,” I said reassuringly, clapping him on the back. “What did you do yesterday?”

Eric grinned a little guiltily. “Uh, I hung out with Tyler. We went to a movie.”

“Ooh,” I teased. “Anything exciting happening there?”

“Not yet.” Eric perched on the edge of my desk as I sat down. “A boy can dream, though, right?”

“Go on, dream,” I said with a smile. He beamed and headed to his seat as the bell rang. My smile slid off my face and I sighed. I had never been one of those girls who needed a boyfriend to feel worthy, but it did feel kind of lonely to be the third wheel to Lucas and Marlena or Tyler and Eric. At least Kaitlyn and Dave were still single, I thought to myself, and I shook my head. There was no use feeling sorry for myself; I had been the one to decide that I wasn’t ready for another relationship so soon after Nate.

*****

“Hey, I know you aren’t going to the dance, but Marlena and I were thinking of going to Port Angeles tomorrow night to shop for dresses. You want to come?” Kaitlyn leaned against my desk, her long, dark hair brushing the surface of my desk. “It’ll be fun,” she pressed.

I shrugged. “I’ll have to ask my dad, but sure. It’ll be nice to get into a city.”

“Yeah,” Kaitlyn agreed. “Okay, well let me know as soon as you’ve figured out. I’ll drive, Marlena’s crap at driving.”

She started telling me stories about Marlena’s nightmarish experiences with driving and I remembered suddenly that I might have to see the Cullens. It was sunny, though; if they weren’t there, would that mean they were vampires? I wasn’t sure what I wanted – for them to be there and disprove my crazy, insane theory or for them to be there and prove that I wasn’t insane, that my theory wasn’t crazy.

My gaze instinctively slanted over towards their table. It was empty and I noticed that the other students were giving it a wide berth, as though it were cursed. I shivered and jerked my eyes away, taking a seat next to Marlena, who was chattering happily about the proposed trip to Port Angeles.

Edward wasn’t in Biology either, which didn’t particularly surprise me. It was one more item on the list of reasons that Edward Cullen might be a vampire, but I was still far from proving anything. But who would I prove it to? No one would believe me. If I said something to Edward, who knew what he might do?

We played more soccer in gym. By this time, everyone in the class had figured out that I was actually pretty good at it, so I was the first one picked. There was something refreshing about sprinting through the slightly damp grass, the sun shining down on the back of my head. I kicked the ball hard, sending it curving into the opposing team’s goal. Marlena shouted enthusiastically and jumped on my back, pumping her fist in the air. I grinned, laughing. I had missed this, the thrill of just playing, of doing something I knew I was good at.

I headed home and kicked around my soccer ball for almost an hour, working through my old drills from my team back home. By the end, I was sweaty and breathing hard, my legs shaky with exhaustion. I trekked upstairs for a shower, washing the sweat and grime off.

When I came back down, Charlie was home. “You’re home early,” I remarked, rubbing at my damp hair. “What’s the occasion?”

“I thought we’d try something,” Charlie said, and he lifted a bunch of grocery bags onto the kitchen table. “We’re both pretty bad at cooking, so I thought we’d try maybe cooking something together? Pasta?”

He’d found a recipe somewhere as well, and he read off the instructions carefully as we proceeded through. We managed, through much trying and muttered swear words, to make a passable, if not particularly attractive pasta sauce.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m proud of us,” I said, looking down at the saucepan. Charlie grinned and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, squeezing gently.

Charlie asked about my day, and I told him about soccer, which then segued into stories about my soccer team back in Phoenix. When we finished eating, I got up to help him wash the dishes, but he waved me away. “Go, do homework or whatever.”

“Okay,” I said after a pause. I turned to go, but then remembered Kaitlyn’s invitation. “Oh, Kaitlyn and Marlena wanted to know if I could go to Port Angeles with them tomorrow after school.”

“What are you guys going for?” Charlie asked, scraping the leftover food into a container.

“They’re shopping for dresses and I’m consulting.” I leaned against the wall and waited.

Charlie nodded sagely. “Ah. Girl time. I get it. Sure, of course. Just don’t get back too late, okay?”

“Yeah, of course.” I hesitated, then took a few steps forward to peck his cheek. “This was fun, Dad.”

Charlie smiled at me, his face softening, and I grinned back before heading upstairs. A quick email check told me that I should call my mom, so I did.

“Bella,” she said brightly. “How is Forks? What have you been up to recently?”

I told her about our trip to the beach – leaving out the part about vampires and werewolves – and my upcoming trip to Port Angeles. She sounded excited that I had made some friends and told me to pick up a dress for the bachelorette party while I was up there. She chattered a little bit about wedding plans, and then had to go – it was nearing ten o’clock in Florida.

Eliza was eager to hear about what had happened at the beach and we spent almost an hour gossiping about people we knew back home and the people I had met in Forks. She had gone on her first date with Rachelle and said it had gone really well.

“I really like her, Bella,” she moaned despairingly. “What if I ruin it all by being stupid? What if I screw it up?”

“Just don’t be stupid, then,” I said, very unhelpfully, and she laughed.

“So what’s going on with that guy, Edward? He still being a creeper?” She giggled again. “I bet he has a crush on you and that’s why he’s been acting so weird.”

“I doubt it,” I told her. “He just – he’s weird. He hasn’t been at school for the past few days, actually. It’s kind of nice.”

Eliza laughed. “Damn, girl, you are heartless.”

I didn’t say anything for a long moment, and then I said something meaningless and playful so that she’d change the subject. Heartlessness wasn’t something I particularly wanted to discuss at the moment.

*****

The next morning, I dressed in lighter clothes that I hadn’t been able to wear since I’d arrived in Forks. Eric whistled when he saw me. “You look nice, Bella. Taking advantage of the sun?”

I tilted my head up and grinned. “Damn right.”

The Cullens weren’t at school again; I was growing increasingly convinced that my theory was right, but at the same time, I was convinced that I was going crazy. Marlena was bubbling with plans for our night out to Port Angeles, which only reminded me that I was supposed to be going to Seattle with Edward at the end of the next week. I had been trying to avoid the thought as long as possible.

I went through the rest of my classes mechanically, and then headed home to shower off the sweat from gym. Kaitlyn and Marlena showed up at my house around three thirty and we headed out of Forks.

Chapter Text

We made it to Port Angeles by four fifteen, mostly due to Kaitlyn’s driving, which was erratic, at best. It was nice hanging with girlfriends again, though. We listened to cheesy 90s pop and sang along loudly, rolling down the windows when we weren't on the highway and laughing at people we passed.

Marlena talked a little about Lucas and how they were getting along, smiling the whole way through. She asked Kaitlyn about the dance, teasing her about bringing someone, but Kaitlyn insisted she was going stag. “All of the guys at our school suck,” she said dismissively. “Or at least that’s what it seems like. I’m gonna wait until someone interesting comes along.”

“Good luck with that,” I muttered, and Kaitlyn laughed.

Port Angeles was a pleasant, attractive tourist trap with extraordinarily clean streets and storefronts. Luckily, the girls knew their way around; Kaitlyn drove right past the boardwalk of small knick-knack stores and boutiques, and headed up a few streets to an ordinary department store.

Inside, there was a huge selection of dresses for teenagers in every color of the rainbow. We just wandered through at first, looking in awe at the bright colors and patterns. The dance had been described as semi-formal, which was frustratingly nonspecific and hard to define. Kaitlyn browsed through the dresses, bending her head to look at the choices, while Marlena tilted her head to the side and looked at me.

“Really, Bella, why aren’t you going?” she asked plaintively. I fingered the hem of a bright blue dress thoughtfully; I could never pull off the color, but it was beautiful.

“It’s just – I told Dave I was going to Seattle that weekend and if I went with anyone else, he’d feel insulted.” I looked down and sighed. “Besides, dances aren’t really my thing.”

“They’re everyone’s thing,” Marlena said firmly, thrusting a slinky silver dress into my arms. “Got try that on.”

“I’m not even going!” I protested. “I need something for a wedding in Florida, not – whatever this is for.” I shook it out and stared at it, bewildered.

“Just humor me,” Marlena ordered and she shoved me towards the dressing room.

I slid it on and I had to admit that it did look nice, though it bared more of my back than I was strictly comfortable with. When I came out of the room to model it, Kaitlyn whistled, impressed. Marlena crossed her arms and eyed me critically, gesturing for me to turn around.

“Yes,” she pronounced finally. “You should get that.”

I paid for the dress while Marlena and Kaitlyn tried on what seemed like every dress in the store. Kaitlyn eventually settled on a simple peach-colored dress that complimented her skin while Marlena chose to be daring and wear green.

The shoes were on the next floor up and that took almost hour. I had a serious weakness for shoes that was a little embarrassing at times. I stopped myself after the second pair of heels found their way into my arms and instead helped Kaitlyn and Marlena find shoes that matched their dresses.

“Okay,” Marlena said when we finally staggered out of the store, laden down with bags. “Let’s drop off our stuff and then – it’s too early for dinner, maybe we’ll go down to the bay or something?”

I remembered seeing a used book store on the way in and said, “I was going to go look at that bookstore. You wanna meet up in like an hour? We’ll meet back at the car and then go to the restaurant.”

“No, it’ll be more convenient for you if we just meet there.” Kaitlyn outlined where the restaurant was before adding, “Are you sure you don’t want to come down to the bay?”

“I need some books,” I said. “Don’t let me hold you back. We’ll meet in an hour?”

“Yeah, okay,” Kaitlyn agreed. She waved and the two of them headed off in the other direction from me, kindly carrying my bags to the car.

The stores were delightfully picturesque and I took my time wandering down the boardwalk, passing by a couple cute little boutiques and one new age store that smelled like incense even from outside. The bookstore itself was almost completely deserted and smelled wonderfully musty and dry. I set my phone on silent so that it wouldn’t ruin the atmosphere if Marlena or Kaitlyn called. There was something sacred about the silence of bookstores, and I hated to ruin it. I wound my way through the narrow aisles, scanning the broken and worn spines for anything of interest. I found myself in the science fiction and fantasy section, browsing the Kurt Vonnegut books with an eye to pick something up. I ended up reading almost a fourth of Cat’s Cradle before realizing that I needed to make a decision and meet Kaitlyn and Marlena at the restaurant.

I took the Vonnegut and a couple of Agatha Christies to the register, and the attractive young cashier rang up my order. “Nice choices,” he complimented, smiling at me.

I felt the corners of my mouth curve up in response. “Thank you,” I said, accepting the plastic bag from him. “Hopefully I’ll be back soon.”

“Agreed,” he said, and he winked. I headed out of the store, smiling, and headed out in the dusky evening. The last wisps of sunset were visible in the sky above the water, reflected on the smooth surface of the ocean.

I shoved my purchases and wallet back into my bag and started heading towards the restaurant. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a silver car. I jumped involuntarily, turning to look. A silver BMW drove past, driven by a blond woman with her eyes hidden by large sunglasses. I shook my head in disgust at myself; Edward wasn’t lurking around the corner ready to pounce on me.

But someone else might be, I realized a moment later as a group of about four young men rounded the corner out of the alley ahead of me. They were dressed kind of scuzzily, ill-fitting jeans and dirty t-shirts. They were laughing loudly, stumbling a little. I thought they might be drunk.

I stepped sideways to give them room to pass me by. This turned out to be a miscalculation; one of them whistled and said, “Hey, pretty thing.”

“Bite me,” I muttered under my breath, picking up my pace.

“Oh come on, girlie,” another one said. “Don’t be like that!” They burst into laughter, and I rounded the corner with a sigh of relief.

I continued for maybe another ten feet before something prickled at the back of my neck. I listened hard and heard a double echo to my steps. I glanced back into the window of a darkened shop and saw two of the men from the group in the reflection. I palmed my cell phone out of my pocket and let my thumb hover over speed-dial for the police. I didn’t have much cash, but I hoped it would be enough if they tried to mug me. If they tried anything else – I shut down that train of thought quickly before I could panic.

There weren’t many people still out, though I could see some people out in the distance, in the direction of the restaurant. I quickened my strides, and reached into my purse for my pocketknife, something I’d bought for myself after several girls at my school in Phoenix had gotten mugged.

Suddenly, the other two men from the group emerged from behind a building. I stopped short, my heart suddenly thumping hard in my chest.

“Sorry we didn’t stop to chat earlier,” said the taller one, with a leer. “We thought we’d take a shortcut so we could get to know you a little.”

I could feel the two behind me closing in, and I dropped my bag to the ground to have both my arms free. “Stay away from me,” I warned them, clutching my knife in my palm.

“Oh, baby, come on,” said the one who’d first spoken. “We just want to be friends.” He took another step towards me. I flicked open my knife, holding it out in front of me as I spread my legs to brace myself.

“Whoa,” one of the guys behind me said, sounding amused. “This one’s got spirit.” I turned so that my back was to the storefront behind me.

The tall one lunged for me, and I struck out, the tip of my knife catching the inside of his wrist. He cursed and fell back. I saw headlights approaching out of the corner of my eye, and I prayed that whoever was driving would see and stop to help, even though I knew it was unlikely.

The tall one was clutching his hand and glaring at me murderously, but the other three were hanging back a little, cautious now. I smiled, a little, and tightened my grip on the knife.

The car pulled over in a screech of tires, and I had barely a moment to see that it was Edward’s silver Volvo before he was flying out of the car. I wondered for an instant where he’d come from or how he had managed to be in the right place at the right time, but then I was overcome with a deep feeling of gratitude and pushed aside my feeling of unease.

“What the hell is going on here?” he demanded loudly. My assailants turned as one. I grabbed my bag up and sprinted for the car. Behind me, I heard shouts, but I didn’t look back. The door to Edward’s car was already open and I threw myself inside, slamming the door shut and locking it.

Edward jumped in a moment later and pulled away from the curb. I looked back and saw the four men lying on the ground. “Did you do that?” I asked Edward, not looking at him.

Edward didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he said, “Put on your damn seatbelt.”

I turned to stare at him in disbelief, but he wasn’t looking at me, his jaw clenched. I rolled my eyes and closed up my knife, dropping it in my knife before exaggeratedly pulling the seatbelt across my lap and snapping it into place. “Happy?”

“Certainly not,” Edward hissed, his hands flexing on the steering wheel. “Are you kidding me, Bella? You just almost got -” He broke off and took a deep breath. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, now,” I said. My hands were shaking and my head ached, but I was fine. Physically, at least. “Thanks to you.”

“You’re welcome,” Edward said stiffly. Another moment passed and then he said, “Please, distract me. I need – I need to calm down.”

I stared at him and considered my options, but it wasn’t the time to tell him of my suspicions. If anything, that might exacerbate the situation. I shrugged and looked out the window; he had already driven us out of Port Angeles. “I was supposed to meet Marlena and Kaitlyn for dinner.”

“What were you doing out here?” he asked me, though he sounded as though the words pained him.

“They were buying dresses for the dance,” I said. “I bought something for my mother’s wedding. It’s going to be weird because Phil’s best man is going to be a lot older than me. I don’t think my mom’s picked anything out yet, either, even though the wedding’s not far off.

“I bought a couple books,” I continued, looking down at my bag. “Cheap. I like used books, especially when someone wrote in them before you. When they wrote something profound in the margins. It’s like you’re talking to the past.” I paused, then asked, “Why am I talking again?”

“Sometimes,” Edward said after a moment’s pause, “I have a problem with my temper. I realize it would not be particularly productive or indeed wise for me to go back and explain to those thugs how very stupid they were, but – I’m finding hard to convince myself.”

I looked at the speedometer and said carefully, “Maybe you should slow down.”

He looked and blinked. “Oh, I apologize.” He eased off the accelerator and we slowed to eighty miles per hour. “I suppose I should probably take you back.”

“Marlena and Kaitlyn will be worried,” I said pointedly. He nodded, seeming distracted. He made a smooth u-turn and we headed back to Port Angeles.

“Where did you learn to fight?” he asked me. “Not that one tiny knife would have done you much good.”

“It held them off long enough,” I pointed out. “I took a self-defense class a few years back.”

He nodded and suddenly we were back in Port Angeles, weaving our way through the slower-moving vehicles. He pulled smoothly into the parking lot where Marlena and Kaitlyn were standing by Kaitlyn’s car. I slid out of the Volvo and called their names. They turned and hurried over to me.

“Oh, Bella,” Marlena said breathlessly, “we were worried! What took you so…” She trailed off and I felt Edward come to stand at my side.

“Bella’s had a bit of an ordeal,” Edward said smoothly. “Luckily, I was there.”

“I had it under control,” I snapped, knowing it was a lie. Edward gave me a look that told me he knew I knew that. Infuriating. I looked back at Marlena and Kaitlyn. “I’m so sorry. I hope you guys didn’t wait.”

“We ate without you,” Kaitlyn said, looking a little guilty. “We tried calling you, but you didn’t pick up. We thought maybe you’d gotten caught up in reading.”

“My phone was on silent,” I said. “We should go home.” I glanced up at Edward and said, “Thank you. I’ll see you at school?”

Edward frowned. “You should eat something,” he said reprovingly, and my traitorous stomach rumbled in response. He smiled slightly and suggested, “Why don’t you get your things from Kaitlyn’s car and I’ll take you home?”

I fought the urge to flat-out decline and instead said, “Okay.” This was my chance to confront him about – well, everything. Kaitlyn turned to go back to her car while Marlena tried to make small talk with Edward. Kaitlyn returned and handed me my purchases from earlier, which I put in the Volvo.

“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” I assured them.

“You have to tell us what happened tomorrow,” Marlena hissed at me before Kaitlyn pulled her away. I waved them off and turned back to Edward, readjusting my bag on my shoulder. The penknife was back in my pocket, safely within reach.

“Where to?” I asked. He stared at me inscrutably, then waved me on. We fell into step beside each other, but he didn’t say anything.

A few minutes later, we reached the restaurant I was supposed to have eaten at with Marlena and Kaitlyn. Edward took a quick step forward and grabbed the door before I could, holding it open for me. I nodded to him and took a step into the foyer of the restaurant. It was a cute little Italian place and I could smell tomato sauce and garlic, rich and delicious.

Edward came to stand beside me, maintaining a careful six inches between us. The hostess rounded the corner a moment later and pulled up short. She had bleached blonde hair and a nose ring, heavy dark eye shadow caking her eyelids. She smiled at Edward and said, “Can I help you?”

“Table for two,” Edward said and for once, I detected hardly any hints of him trying to smooth-talk her. The hostess’s gaze slid towards me and she rolled her eyes dismissively, but she gestured us inside.

She led us to a little table in the corner, away from the rest of the crowd. He thanked her and if I hadn’t been watching closely, I would have missed the bill that discretely made its way from his hand to hers. He smiled then, and I could tell that it was carefully calculated to get her to do things his way. She blinked slowly and then stepped away, stumbling a little. “Your server will be with you in a moment,” she whispered before fleeing back to the kitchen.

“You shouldn’t do that, you know,” I remarked, picking up the menu the hostess had set on my plate.

“Shouldn’t do what?” Edward asked, sounding honestly confused. I raised my eyebrows at him over the top of my menu.

“Seriously?” I asked incredulously. “You know. Your whole glamour routine. Where you bat your eyelashes and get your way. You dazzle people.” I overlaid that last with heavy sarcasm.

“You’ve noticed,” Edward said slowly, eyes narrowed slightly. “But it doesn’t work on you.” This last was said almost accusingly. I shrugged and lowered my gaze back to the menu.

“Maybe you’re just not as good at it as you think,” I suggested a little nastily.

“No,” Edward said, without a trace of arrogance in his voice. “I am good at it; you’re just – immune somehow.”

Before I had a chance to say anything else, our server materialized at the tableside. She beamed when she saw Edward; undoubtedly, the hostess had tipped her off. “Hi, welcome to Piangi’s. I’m Lisa, I’ll be your server. Can I get you something to drink?”

“Diet Coke,” I said loudly. She flicked a disdainful look at me, then looked at Edward who merely nodded and said, “Same.”

“Two Diet Cokes, coming up.” She shot Edward another smile before flouncing off. Edward leaned forward and propped his chin on his hand.

“Are you feeling all right?” he asked me carefully.

“A little hungry,” I admitted, taking stock. I had a slight headache, but not too bad, and my hands were no longer trembling. “Why?”

“I was hoping – that, well. That you’re all right. You just almost got -” He broke off and shook his head. “It’s not worth thinking about.”

“That’s what I thought,” I agreed. The waitress materialized at the side of the table and set two glasses down in front of us. She set a small basket of bread down between us and smiled brightly.

“Have you decided what to eat?” she asked Edward.

“I’m not hungry, but Bella…” He raised his eyebrows at me. The waitress turned to look at me and nodded tersely.

“The lobster ravioli, thanks.” I handed her the menu and looked at Edward. “Not hungry, huh?”

He smiled slowly and said, “Not for Italian?”

“Is it the garlic?” I suggested, eying him closely. He met my gaze steadily, as if daring me to say what I was thinking. I chickened out and added weakly, “I know a lot of people don’t like garlic.”

His smile widened and he shook his head. “No, it’s not the garlic.”

The door to the restaurant opened and a draft blew back to our table. I shivered involuntarily and rubbed at my arms. Edward’s eyes narrowed. “Are you cold?”

“A little,” I admitted. Edward immediately shrugged off his handsome blue blazer and passed it to me. I sighed, but accepted it, draping it around my shoulders.

It was the first time I’d really taken notice of anything Edward was wearing; he wore a neat, button-up shirt with pinstripes, though the collar had come loose at some point, exposing the hollow of his throat. It was incredibly good quality, and I wondered again how wealthy the Cullens were. It seemed at times that they had bottomless wealth.

“Did I say thank you?” I blurted out suddenly. Edward’s eyes snapped up to mine, and I saw that his eyes were even paler than usual, a purer shade of gold than the usual muddy hazel. “For helping me.”

“Not directly,” Edward said with a small grin.

“Well,” I said stiffly. “Thank you. I very much appreciate it.”

“Good to know.” He stared at me thoughtfully. I glanced away and took a piece of bread, nervously tearing it apart on my plate. “Why aren’t you more upset?”

I looked up in surprise. “I’m safe now,” I pointed out. “Should I be upset?” Edward muttered something under his breath, brows contracting. “Usually you’re in a better mood when your eyes are this light,” I observed.

He blinked. “Excuse me?” His voice was politely incredulous, as though he couldn't believe anyone had noticed.

“I can make basic observations,” I snapped, a little petulantly. “You’re crabbier when your eyes are black. I actually have a new theory about that, by the way.”

“Is this one also cribbed from a comic book?” he asked, a little amused.

“Well, it was a comic book at one point – but actually, no. Not really. I came up with it sort of on my own.”

“And so?” Edward prompted when I didn’t continue.

“I don’t think we should talk about it here,” I said, seeing the waitress approach. “Later.”

“I’m going to hold you to that,” he threatened as the waitress set my plate down. She glanced at Edward hopefully.

“Do you want anything, sir?” she asked politely. “Anything at all?”

“No, thank you,” he said without looking up. She sighed and walked away, muttering darkly to herself. “But I bet you have questions.”

“You’re damn right I do,” I answered, poking at a ravioli with my fork. “In a minute though, I want to eat.” I speared a ravioli and took a bite; it was delicious, buttery and rich. I inhaled about half my plate before I began to feel a bit more like myself. I set my fork down to take a break and drank half my soda in one go. “Okay,” I said with a sigh. “So easy question first. What are you doing in Port Angeles?”

“Not answering that,” Edward said bluntly. “Sorry.” He shrugged slightly, not looking sorry at all.

“Fine,” I said, a little annoyed. I considered my options for a moment, then said slowly, “Say there’s this guy – we’ll call him John – who can read people well. Maybe even read their minds – with a few exceptions.”

“One exception,” Edward corrected, a wry smile on his face. I had to suppress a grin; he was playing along.

“So, hypothetically, how could he know anything about his exception? Like, how could he know if his exception was in trouble and be there instantly?”

“Hypothetically?” Edward asked with a sardonically raised eyebrow. “Well, if…’John’ was paying attention to the area around his exception, he wouldn’t have needed to come to the rescue. He would have been able to head the trouble off at the start.”

“That doesn’t really answer my question,” I pointed out. “How did you know?”

“I thought we were speaking hypothetically,” he said with a smile. I rolled my eyes.

“Whatever,” I muttered. “Look, you can trust me. No one would believe anything I could say, anyway.”

He stared at me, his eyes thoughtful. He bit his lip in a strange nervous tic and then said slowly, “I suppose I can risk it. You’re much too observant for your own good, you know. It would be safer if you didn’t know.”

“You keep saying that, but you don’t seem to be putting in much effort to change anything,” I pointed out. He smiled wryly.

“You’re a magnet for danger,” he said. “If there’s anything within a five-mile radius that could be remotely dangerous, it’s somehow drawn to you.”

“Never happened before I got to Forks,” I muttered. “Never happened before I met you.”

“You’re probably right,” he admitted. “Which brings up another question – why is it that I changed things for you? Or even stranger, why are you my…exception?”

“Why are you asking me?” I asked. I suddenly realized that I was leaning forward, and our faces were much closer than before. I sat back in my seat, disturbed, and my foot bumped up against his. I jerked my foot back and took a sip of soda to hide my shaking hands.

“I followed you out here,” he confessed suddenly, his words bumping against each other in the hurry to escape his mouth. “I’ve never tried to keep a specific person alive before and it normally wouldn’t be so difficult, but…you’re a blind spot. And I know that this is creepy and weird,” he added as I opened my mouth to complain, “and I can’t explain it, but I know I have to keep you alive. I can feel it.”

“Funny, because I’m pretty sure you wanted to kill me the first time we met,” I reminded him, remembering the way he’d clenched the lab table and gritted his teeth.

“I didn’t understand you, then,” Edward said. “I wouldn’t say that I understand you now, because I don’t, but I know that you’re different than anyone else I’ve ever met. And you’re different in an important way.”

“Important,” I repeated, raising my eyebrows. “And you knew how to find me, how, exactly?”

Edward’s eyes flicked down to my plate, then back up. “Finish your plate and I’ll talk,” he bargained.

Reluctantly, I picked my fork back up and speared another ravioli. He nodded, satisfied, as I ate it. “Keeping track of you is complicated,” he explained slowly. “I can’t track your thoughts the way I can with others, so I have to rely on the people around you, or the little blank spot in my consciousness where you belong.

“I was keeping tabs on Kaitlyn, just to be on the safe side. I realized that you had gone off by yourself, so I decided to head up here in case anything should happen. I drove in circles for a while, but I didn’t know where you’d gone.

“Then, someone thought about you – the clerk in the bookstore, probably – and then four people were thinking about you.”

“The men,” I said. I belatedly realized that I had frozen, my fork suspended halfway between my plate and my mouth. I set the fork back down. “And?”

“I heard what they were thinking,” Edward said coolly, but his slender hands were clenching into fists. “I knew what they wanted to do to you and – I couldn’t let that happen.” He leaned forward suddenly and wrapped his hand around mine. I jumped at the touch of his skin, cool and oddly textured, smoother than normal human skin. “I am sorry, Bella, that I invade your privacy like this. It’s – I don’t know why I feel compelled to do it, but there really is something special about you. Something different.”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If I let you come with me to places,” I said after a moment, “will you stop following me in your downtime? Will that satisfy your…compulsion?”

“I hope so,” Edward said. “Is that a sincere offer?”

“You’ve saved my life twice now,” I pointed out. “I’m beginning to think it’s a good thing to have you as my own personal bodyguard.”

Edward smiled at that, as I had intended – and I had to wonder at myself, why I didn’t want to see him be unhappy. Perhaps, against my own better judgment, I was growing fond of his odd ways of showing interest in my well being. He wasn’t acting like a deranged stalker, to my mind; more like an overprotective boyfriend, if anything. It was ridiculous, I knew, but if I gave him the chance to help me out legitimately without stalking me and invading my friends’ minds, then it was worth the sacrifice of spending time with him.

“I’ll give you a chance to prove that you’re not just a stalker,” I offered. “Because I don’t think you are. I just think you have a difficult time actually expressing what you want to say.” I tilted my head to the side and gently tugged my hand from his. “Just, please don’t ‘keep tabs’ on my friends anymore?”

“Deal,” he agreed readily. “Are you ready to leave?” I nodded and he gestured the waitress over, slipping a bill into her hand. “Keep the change,” he told her, and he offered his arm to me while the waitress stuttered awed thanks.

Edward curved his arm around my shoulders, but didn’t actually touch me. I slid my arms through the sleeves of his jacket and hugged it close; the wind had picked up and the evening was a little chilly. He opened the door to his car for me and gestured me in. He got in himself and turned on the engine before starting the heater. He pulled out into the limited traffic and we drove for almost a full minute before he said, “Okay, Bella. Now it’s your turn to talk.”

Chapter Text

“Can I ask one more question?” I asked him politely, not quite ready for him to start questioning me.

“That’s one,” he pointed out pedantically, but he nodded anyway. He didn’t look at me though, his eyes staying fixed on the road in front of the car.

“How did you manage to follow me, exactly?” I asked. “Once I separated from Marlena and Kaitlyn, I mean. You said that I’m a blank spot. How did you know which way I went?”

“That’s two questions,” he said, avoiding the questions.

“Come on,” I complained. “I thought we were past this.”

He snorted wryly and admitted, “I followed your scent.” I started, thumping my head against the seat. Even after everything that I thought I knew about Edward, he still managed to take me by surprise. He glanced over at me, concerned. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I rubbed the back of my head, then said, “And I know I said only one question, but.” I paused, unsure of how to word my question. “How does the mind-reading thing work? Can you read anyone’s mind? How does it work? Can your…siblings do it too?”

Edward didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then, he said, “It’s just me, in my family at least. It’s difficult to explain what it’s like. I can’t hear anyone at any distance. If I’m familiar with someone, it’s easier for me to hear them from far away. And if I…attune myself to a specific person, or a specific thought pattern, I can hear it from far off. No more than a few miles, though.” He paused as he executed a turn at breakneck speed. Once we were back to cruising straight along, he continued, “It’s like being in a crowded room with everyone talking at once. There are some people who are yelling and some people who are very quiet.

“I can block them out, but only to a point. It’s usually easier to just let it wash over me. If I pay attention to the thoughts I hear, I sometimes answer someone’s thoughts rather than their words. It makes it hard to seem…normal.” He said the word like it was poisonous.

“Why do you think you can’t hear me?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. There are some people whose thoughts are harder to hear than others – my family’s, for example, though I am so accustomed to them that they seem loud – but I have never met anyone as shut off as you. It’s like you have shields up or something.”

“So there’s something odd about my mind,” I said slowly, “that blocks you out somehow. Is that bad or good?”

He looked for a moment as though he wanted to say something else, but he stopped himself. “Probably good,” he admitted. “Now, enough evasions, tell me your theories.”

I glanced out the window, the blurring of the trees telling me just how fast we were going. “Why do you drive so fast?” I complained, stalling.

“Look, I’ve never been in an accident,” Edward said, sounding irritated. “And just because your dad is a police officer doesn’t mean you can police me. Besides, I have a built-in radar for telling if anyone’s coming towards us.” He tapped his head and grinned. “Come on, Bella.”

“Just because you can’t be hurt doesn’t mean I can’t,” I muttered under my breath. “Fine. Just promise you won’t get upset.”

“Is your theory that bad?” he asked teasingly. “Afraid you’ll offend me somehow?”

“It’s possible.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll start from the beginning. Bear in mind I didn’t come up with this entirely on my own; I just put the pieces together from what I know and from what I was told.”

“Noted,” Edward replied, voice warm with amusement. “Begin. What got you started, a book? A movie?”

“Sort of indirectly,” I admitted, “but actually, no. It was an old family friend. Last Saturday, when I visited the beach.” His face went blank, and I knew that I had struck a nerve. “I ran into Jacob Black. His dad is friends with my dad.”

“So?” he prompted, but I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Billy Black is one of the Quileute elders,” I explained. Edward tensed. “Jacob and I – we went for a walk and he told me some of their myths. About – well, he was trying to scare me, I think. He told me about his tribe’s origin myth and their stories about the special people and – the Cold Ones. Vampires.”

“And you thought of me?” Edward asked lightly. He was trying to come off as blasé, but his hands were wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, his knuckles white.

“He mentioned Dr. Cullen,” I said softly. “He said that the tribe doesn’t like to go to the hospital because he’s there.”

Edward growled low in his throat. “I know.”

“He thinks it’s just a silly legend,” I hastened to say, eying him warily. “He didn’t think anything of it. I made him tell me about it because one of the older boys said that you weren’t allowed to the beach.”

“You made him?” Edward asked, raising his eyebrows.

I raised mine right back and deadpanned, “I used my womanly wiles on him.”

Edward laughed and shook his head. “Fair enough. What did you do after you had this information in hand?”

“I did some rather shoddy research on the internet,” I admitted. “But I was also a bit of a Buffy fanatic in elementary and middle school, so I know a fair amount already.”

“But that was enough to convince you?” Edward asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “It all seemed a bit much. Vampires, really? Just – I don’t have any better explanations and I hate not having explanations.”

“Does – will you be telling anyone?” It wasn’t an admission, but I knew then that I was right, that Edward was everything I’d suspected.

“Of course not,” I snorted. “Who’d believe me? Vampires? Please, no one believes that they exist. Besides, I think that if you were going to do anything horrible, you would have done it already.”

“So you trust me?” he asked skeptically.

“Hardly. I’m still going to keep an eye on you, but if you decide to do something, there’s very little I can do to stop you.”

“So it doesn’t matter,” Edward said.

“You really need to learn to listen to what people are saying,” I told him sharply. “It does matter, how could it not? It changes things, but not in a significant way. It simply provides me with an explanation for why you are the way you are.”

“You’re insane,” Edward informed me. “Any sane person would be running in the opposite direction and yet you’re here in a car with me. I could – I’m a monster, Bella, don’t you get that?”

“A monster isn’t made,” I said. “A monster comes slowly into being and I’m sorry, but you haven’t shown me that you are a fundamentally evil person – being. You fight against the darkness that’s inside of you, and that’s admirable.”

Edward didn’t say anything for a moment. Finally, he said, “I suppose I can see your point of view. I still think you’re mad, though.”

“Fair enough,” I responded. “Can I ask you some questions now?”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “I feel as though we’re playing twenty questions,” he remarked wryly. He gestured me to speak. “Go on, ask away.”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen,” he replied promptly. I gave him an unimpressed look, and he admitted, “I was actually turned when I was nineteen.”

“And how long ago was that?”

His hands flexed for a second. Then he said, “A while.”

“How long ago is a while?” I pressed.

He shot me a glance and shook his head. “Put it this way: when I was alive last, small pox was still big.”

I sat back, taking this in. “So I’m guessing the daylight thing is bullshit.”

“To a point,” he agreed. “We don’t die if we go out in sunlight – it’s just, it’s obvious. I can’t really explain. Maybe I’ll show you one day.”

“Do you sleep in a coffin?” I teased.

He laughed. “I don’t really sleep,” he confessed. “I can – rest, sort of, but I don’t sleep in the same way that you do.”

“Fair enough.” I paused. Even after everything he had willingly acknowledged, I was still hesitant to ask him the most pressing question. His eyes were on me, though, and I knew he was waiting for me to ask him. I took a breath and asked quietly, “What do you eat?”

“Blood,” he said, and I flinched involuntarily. The word came out almost seductively, the way an alcoholic can make a martini sound dirty just from the lust in his voice.

“Not human blood,” I said.

“No,” he agreed. “How did you know that?”

“Jacob told me that your family doesn’t hunt humans. That you’re different. That you’re not as dangerous as others.”

“We’re still dangerous,” Edward warned me. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking of us as innocent lambs. If anything, we might be more dangerous because the longing, the temptation is around us all the time and yet we refuse to give into it.”

“But he was right,” I prompted. “You don’t drink human blood.”

Edward gave me the barest hint of a smile. “Your friend’s people have a long memory.”

“And yet they still don’t trust you.”

“They’re right not to. This, right here, this is a mistake. This is dangerous.” He gestured between us. “We make a point of avoiding friendships with humans. It can be…misconstrued. As grooming for a turning, or perhaps making it so that the human will not be missed when we finally decide to give in to temptation.”

“Have you done that before?” I inquired, a little nervously. Edward bared his teeth in a sickly smile.

“I don’t play with my food,” he informed me.

We both fell silent after that and Edward leaned forward to turn up the CD – I had barely even noticed it playing. The soothing chords and clear vocals washed over me and I relaxed into the seat, finding the rapidly passing landscape oddly lulling.

“Tell me something else,” I suggested languidly.

“Like what?” Edward asked absently.

“Like why you only hunt animals.”

Edward shot me an incredulous look. “I don’t want to be a monster.”

“What’s it like, though? It’s hard, you said it was.” I leaned my head against the window and looked sidelong at him.

“I can’t remember what it’s like to eat normally, but I’d imagine it would be something like eating meat for years and then becoming vegetarian – something is always missing. We call ourselves vegetarians because Rosalie thought it was charmingly ironic. We’re never fully satisfied, I supposed, but it’s enough.” He paused. “It’s more difficult for some than others. And sometimes it is very difficult indeed.”

“Is it difficult right now?” I asked softly.

“Not as much as I’d thought it would be.” He shrugged. “There is something alluring about your scent – I don’t know what it is, but I’m not the only one who’s noticed. It makes you a vampire magnet. But somehow – you have some sort of resistance. It might help that I was hunting with Emmett this weekend.”

“I thought you must have been,” I nodded. “You’re not as crabby as before.”

Edward laughs. “You should have seen me when we were hunting. You frustrate me, Bella. I can’t figure you out. You figured me out faster than anyone has, ever, yet I still don’t know anything about you, really.”

“What is there to know? I moved here from Phoenix, I play soccer, I like explanations. I’m an ordinary girl.”

“But you’re not,” Edward pressed. “You’re special, and I don’t know what it is that makes you special.”

“I feel like I’m Buffy and you’re Angel,” I said, a little irritated. “You’re being so maudlin, Edward, really.”

“You realize you just compared us to one of the most famously romantic vampire-human relationships,” he remarked, amused. “Is there something you want to tell me, Bella?”

“Oh, shove off,” I sighed. “You catch my meaning. Just because you have a pretty face doesn’t mean I’m going to fall in love with you.”

“That’s probably a good thing,” he said, abruptly serious. “You’re already more involved than I’m comfortable with. Rosalie is going to give me hell for this.”

“So you’re siblings – they’re like you?” I asked to clarify.

“Yes. And of course, we aren’t really siblings, but I suppose you figured that out.” Edward shrugged. “Carlisle is practically the ringmaster of the traveling circus of lost and lonely young vampires.”

I snorted, amused despite myself. “And I suppose you’re the main attraction.”

“In a matter of speaking.”

“So you’re going to tell them? That I know, I mean.”

“I don’t have much of a choice.” Edward reached up to tuck a stray lock of hair back behind his ear. “We have to tell each other these things. We’re our own protection. If people knew the truth about us – it could be very dangerous indeed.”

“Has anything like that happened before?”

“Not to us, but we’ve heard of it happening to others. Not so often nowadays, but if anyone – like your Quileute friends – should suspect that we’re doing harm and they know how to deal with us, we could be in real trouble.”

I curled my feet up under me and asked, “Do you know anything about the other things Jacob said? Like the werewolves or the special people?”

“The special people?” Edward frowned, confused.

“I think Jacob called them witches.”

“Ah.” Edward shrugged. “They died out centuries ago. The true ones, anyway. Occasionally you get abilities that crop up – like mine. I could read minds before I was turned, though not very well. It was amplified once I became – well. You know.”

“Do your siblings have abilities?”

“Some of them do,” Edward said, but he didn’t elaborate. For once, I didn’t press. We fell silent again and I looked out the window, listening to the music.

Edward said something. “What?” I asked, turning to look at him.

“When I came earlier,” he said. “What were you thinking? You didn’t look scared.”

“I had my knife,” I pointed out, patting my jeans pocket. “I was hoping I’d be able to hold out long enough to get away and maybe call for help.”

“Why didn’t you run?”

“They blocked off my exit. And I would have screamed, but I didn’t think anyone would hear me.” I shivered a little then and I curled up further into myself.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” Edward reached out to touch my shoulder, then seemed to think the better of it. He dropped his hand back to his side. “We’re almost to your house.”

“Okay.” I glanced at him. “Will you be at school tomorrow?”

“So long as the weather’s bad.” He smiled, quickly. “I’ll save you a seat at lunch.”

“That’s not necessary.”

“I want to.” He pulled up in front my house and parked. The lights were on, spilling out to illuminate the driveway and my truck. “I like you, Bella.”

“I’m beginning to think you’re not so bad yourself,” I admitted reluctantly and Edward smiled brilliantly, wider and more sincere than I’d ever seen him smile before. The effect was, frankly, a little dazzling.

“Let me get your door,” he said, and he was out of the car and around to my side before I had a chance to protest. He opened my door and offered his hand to help me out. His hand was cooler than normal human temperature, but it felt human enough. I handed him his coat back and I picked up my bags, ready to go inside.

“Bella.” Edward’s voice called me back and I turned to look at him. Half-lit in the light from the house, he looked oddly sinister. “Don’t go into the woods alone. Your friend’s stories are only the tip of the iceberg.”

It took me a moment to realize what he meant, and I took a step back towards him. “You mean werewolves? Or something else?”

“Just – be careful. I know you’re smart, I just. I’d hate for anything to happen to you.”

I couldn’t quite hide the smile that crept across my face. “Why, Mr. Cullen, watch your words. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you almost cared.”

Edward rolled his eyes in what was easily the most human gesture I’d ever seen him do. “Goodnight, Bella. I’ll see you in school.”

“Thank you for driving me home. And for -” saving my life “- helping me out.”

“You’d do the same for me, if I needed it. I think we could be friends, Bella,” Edward said. “Even if maybe it isn’t the wisest of choices.”

“You’re a teenager,” I pointed out, even knowing that he was far from adolescent. “It’s the time for rebellion.”

He laughed at that, loud peals that echoed down the street. “Right,” he said once he had regained his composure, though he was still chuckling a little. “Next time Rosalie gets mad at me for something, I’ll use that excuse.”

“I would,” I told him. “Goodnight, Edward.”

He took a step towards me, then smiled sheepishly, shaking his head. “Yes. Goodnight.” He turned sharply on his heel and headed back to his car. I headed for the door and unlocked it. When I looked back over my shoulder, Edward met my gaze and nodded before zooming off down the street. I shook my head and went inside the house.

Charlie was in the kitchen, reading the paper and eating frozen dinner. “How was shopping?” he asked when he heard me come in.

“Pretty good,” I said, dropping my things off on the table. “They both got dresses and I found something for Mom’s wedding.”

“That’s good.” Charlie folded the paper and set it down. “Do you want anything to eat?”

“We ate in Port Angeles.” For some reason, I felt disinclined to mention Edward to Charlie; I didn’t know what I could say without it sounding strange. “I’m just going to go to bed.”

“All right. Have a good night.” I nodded and accepted a kiss on the temple from him before I collected my bags and headed upstairs.

Once there, I called Marlena and Kaitlyn to let them know that I had gotten home all right. Marlena bugged me about what Edward and I had talked about and Kaitlyn just made thoughtful noises. I made a note to ask her what she thought was going on, just so I had a heads-up for how people at school saw me.

I took a shower mechanically, trying not to think about how radically my world had shifted, and fell into bed. As I drifted off to sleep, I realized that I knew three things: One, Edward was a vampire. Two, he on some level thirsted for my blood. And three – we were starting to become friends.

Chapter Text

I had another strange dream about Eliza that night. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her shouting my name, gasping and desperate. I was in a darkened room, shadowing figures moving in the periphery of my vision, and then I was running, my feet slapping against the wooden floors loudly, but not loud enough to drown out her voice.

“Eliza,” I shouted, looking for her telltale red hair. “Where are you?”

“Bella! Don’t, it’s -”

I woke with a start, my heart racing. I was covered in cool sweat, and I started to shiver almost instantly, my teeth chattering. There was a small crack in the glass cover of my clock, I noticed. Maybe Charlie had knocked it over.

I climbed out of bed, still shivering, and went into the bathroom, turning the shower on as hot as I could stand. I stood under the spray until I felt a little more human, then quickly scrubbed myself down, trying to scrape away the dream. The shower took longer than I had intended, and I ended up running late. I grabbed a jacket and clattered down the stairs to the kitchen before snatching up my backpack and an apple, intending to eat on the way to school.

I stepped out of the house into the thickest fog I had ever seen. It wisped around my knees like a blanket. I could hardly see two feet in front of me. I groaned and wondered if I would be able to drive myself to school; I had never driven in fog of any kind before. I headed down the driveway towards my truck, but before I reached it, Edward materialized out of the fog.

“Good morning, Bella,” he said pleasantly. I jumped, the apple flying from my hand and hitting him in the chest. He caught it instinctively, the too-quick fluid motion of his gesture even more pronounced than usual. “Sorry. Did I startle you?”

“Jesus, you think?” I held out my hand. “Can I have my apple?”

“Yes.” He handed it back to me, his lips quirked as if a private joke had occurred to him. “I thought I’d offer you a ride to school. I don’t think you’ve ever driven in fog like this.”

“I haven’t,” I admitted. “Thank you for the thought.”

“I feel like I need to make up for a lot with you,” he explained. He took my elbow gently to guide me to his car. “I think we got off on the wrong foot and have since been dancing off-beat from each other.”

“So was last night the song change?” I suggested as his car emerged from the mist. He released me so I could open the passenger door.

“Something like that,” he agreed as he headed around to the other side. I slid inside the car and tucked my bag between my feet on the floor. He started the car and pulled out of the driveway at his usual breakneck speed. “I’m surprised you were willing to come with me.”

“Why?”

“I’d hoped that a night of thought would have made you want to avoid me.” He flashed me a self-deprecating smile. “I’m rather selfishly glad it didn’t.”

“Those seem like two very contradictory desires,” I pointed out, amused.

“I know,” he admitted. “It’s just – I want the best for you. But I also want to be – friends with you.”

“Hmm.” I eyed him thoughtfully as we zoomed down the highway. “I’ve been wondering – why do you drive so fast?”

He snorted, a remarkably undignified sound from him. “To be honest? We have to be so closed in with the rest of our lives, but this is the one area we can take risks in. And our reflexes are fast enough that we’re in no real danger.”

“So all of you drive like this?” I asked as Edward weaved through a pair of slow-moving Hondas.

“Well, Alice doesn’t drive and Esme’s a bit more sedate, but – yes.” He laughs. “Actually, Rosalie’s a far more aggressive driver than any of us. She’s driving them to school today. It should be interesting.”

“You usually drive?”

“My car is more subtle,” he said as if that were an explanation.

This is subtle?” I demanded incredulously. “Compared to what?”

He grinned again, and I noticed that the skin at the corners of his eyes crinkled slightly when he did. “You’ll see.”

We pulled into the parking lot, and my eye was instantly drawn to a red Maserati, glossy and pristine. People were gaping as they passed; it was a toss-up whether they were more stunned by the car or by Rosalie, who was wearing a beautifully patterned dress that made her look like an angel that got lost on the way to the choir. She glanced up when we pulled in and made eye contact with Edward. I saw a muscle in Edward’s jaw twitch as he stared back, and then he broke eye contact.

“She’s pissed, isn’t she?” I asked knowingly. “Was she reading you the riot act?”

“It’s so much more annoying when it’s inside your head,” he muttered, turning smoothly into a parking space. “And yes, she’s upset. She doesn’t think this is safe. We’re drawing a lot of attention to ourselves recently.” He paused and corrected, “I’m drawing a lot of attention to us.”

“It’s not like you really blended in before,” I informed him. I opened the car door and climbed out. People’s heads turned, including Eric’s, and he hurried over to us, eyes wide. He grabbed my hand insistently.

“Bella!” he hissed, eyes darting past me to look guiltily at Edward. “Bella, what’s going on? Kaitlyn and Marlena said -”

“I’ll see you at lunch, Bella?” Edward asked from behind me, and I turned to say goodbye. He offered Eric a smile. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Eric said faintly in response. He squeezed my hand and I bit my lip to keep from making a sound. “I’ll go, it’s okay. I’m gonna see Bella next class anyway.”

“Wait, Eric -” I protested, but Eric was already gone. I glared at Edward. “Thanks for scaring him off.”

“I intimidate him,” Edward said thoughtfully. “Because I’m ‘beautiful’.” I could hear the quotes around the word.

“You’re not bad,” I allowed, though he was indeed fairly attractive. “Not as extraordinary as, say, Rosalie, but better than average.”

His mouth quirked up. “Thank you, Bella, that means ever so much.” I laughed, and he grinned impishly back. He didn’t seem quite as stiff and unfriendly as he had before when he was smiling. “What are you going to tell him and your other friends?”

“That we’re friends?” I suggested. “Is that so hard a concept to understand?”

Edward tilted his head to the side, a vague look on his face. A moment later, he said, “They think we’re secretly dating.”

“Hey, don’t read my friends’ minds,” I protested, a little angrily. “It’s rude.”

Edward blinked and looked startled. “I just thought I’d get some information.”

“I get that you’re used to it and you’re used to having no consequences from your…power, but – please don’t do it to my friends,” I said. “Or, at least, don’t tell me you’re doing it.”

“I apologize,” he said after a moment. “You’re right.”

“Thank you,” I said, somewhat mollified. “Now, what should I tell them, if you think I shouldn’t tell them we’re friends?”

“I suppose your idea is good enough,” he admitted, a little sheepishly. “But I’m sure they’re going to hound you about what you think of me.” He raised his eyebrows at me. “Better?”

“A little,” I allowed. “And I can deal with that.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He started walking to class and I followed him. “Just as a forewarning, I’ll be listening to hear what you say.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” I said tiredly. “It’s an invasion of privacy.”

“If I could turn it off, I would,” he said defensively. “I’m too used to it now.”

I sighed and turned away. “Fine. Whatever.”

“I’m sorry, Bella,” he called. “Let me make it up to you. Have lunch with me.”

“I’m making no promises,” I warned him, opening up the door to the classroom. I stepped inside and was immediately confronted by Eric.

“Tell me everything,” he ordered me, grabbing my arm and dragging me to my seat. I sighed and dropped my bag to the floor.

“There’s not all that much to tell. We ran into each other yesterday, he bought me dinner, and then drove me home. He drives fast.” I shrugged with studied carelessness. “It was no big deal.”

“It’s a hell of a big deal!” Eric insisted. “Edward never talks to anyone! He must really like you.” He raised his eyebrows at me significantly. “What about you, you like him?”

I hesitated, remembering that Edward was listening, and said, “He’s not too bad when you get to know him.”

“I’ll take you word for it,” Eric sighed happily, leaning back. “You are so lucky.”

“I guess.” I leaned back. “He’s just a normal guy.”

“Yeah, so you say,” he muttered, waving his hand at me. “You’re the one who gets to hang out with him, and just look at him…”

I shook my head, grinning, and sat back in my seat as the bell rang and the teacher came in. Eric pointed at me. “Don’t think you’re getting out of this,” he warned me.

He was right; before I got to lunch, Marlena grabbed me and tugged me aside, Kaitlyn trailing behind me. Eric showed up a moment later, grinning.

“So what did you guys talk about?” Eric demanded.

“Uh, life? School, a little. His family.” I flattened my hands against the brick wall of the cafeteria exterior behind me and tried to come up with a convincing lie. “Small talk, really.”

“Did he kiss you?” demanded Marlena excitedly. "He looks like he'd be a good kisser."

“It isn’t like that,” I protested. “We’re just friends, honestly. He thinks I’m funny.”

“Well, did he flirt with any other girls?” asked Kaitlyn, practical as always.

I thought about it and said, “No, but the waitress was trying to.” Kaitlyn raised her eyebrows at me and I shook my head. “Honestly, we’re not dating!”

“I think he likes you,” Eric teased, linking arms with me. “Come on, let’s go inside, don’t want to keep Edward waiting.”

“He’s so intimidating,” Marlena said as she trailed after us. “I don’t think I’d know what to say to him.”

“Is it because he’s gorgeous or because he’s so smart?” Kaitlyn asked dryly.

“Both!” Marlena and Eric said in unison and burst into laughter.

“But do you like him?” Eric asked earnestly. “You always seemed to hate him.”

I hesitated, then said, “He’s not as annoying as he used to be.” I hoped, rather vindictively, that he was listening. “He’s stopped being so weird.”

He was waiting inside the cafeteria, looking as though he was trying to suppress a smile. Eric released me when he saw Edward and I sighed, trying to hide my own small grin of amusement.

“Hello, Bella,” Edward said warmly, beckoning. I followed him over to the line and we stood in silence for a moment, and then he murmured, “Annoying? Really?”

“You have no idea,” I informed him. We picked up our trays and headed for the table we had sat at last time. “I hoped you’d pick that part up.”

He laughed and shook his head. “You’re like no one else I’ve ever met, Bella,” he told me with a wry smile. We sat down amid whispers and stares. I rolled my eyes.

“Don’t you ever get sick of people staring everywhere you go?” I asked him, lifting my slice of pizza to my mouth.

“I imagine it’s something like being a celebrity,” he said in amusement, toying with the apple on his tray. “People care more about my life and my romances than they have any right to.”

“Are you gonna eat that?” I asked, nodding at his apple. “Can you?”

“Always so curious,” he remarked, lifting the apple to his lip. Staring me in the eye, he took a deliberately large bite out of the apple, chewed it, and swallowed. “Ta-da.”

“Quite a magic trick,” I deadpanned. “What’s it like, though?”

He set the apple down and shrugged. “I suppose it’s a bit like eating paper, but without the indigestion. It really doesn’t provide any sustenance and it doesn’t taste particularly good. Really the only reason to eat normal food is to, well, look normal. Or, occasionally, to have something to bite.”

“Do you ever eat steak?”

Edward grinned, displaying his teeth. “Rare.”

“Of course.” I ate the rest of my slice and licked the grease from my fingers. “I have to say I pity you. I love the sheer variety of food.”

“Well, you-know-what tastes different depending on who or what you get it from,” he said, “but I do miss food, sometimes.”

I glanced over his shoulder and saw Marlena staring at us intently. She met my eyes and grinned, mouthing something at me.

“She’s watching me so she can analyze my behavior later,” Edward said, watching my face. “She thinks I have a crush on you.”

“Do you?” I asked idly, not expecting him to answer.

“Maybe a little,” he admitted, and I looked up, startled.

“Why?” I demanded. “You know that you could easily have any straight girl – or gay boy, for that matter – in the world that you wanted. They fall over themselves to impress you, or flirt with you, and you pick me?”

“You’re not like them,” Edward explained softly. He leaned forward on his forearms, looking more open and honest than I had ever seen him before. “You’re so strong, Bella. You’re not afraid of me at all, not even intimidated by me. You aren’t bowled over by looks, you call me on my bullshit. And you still give me the time of day even though you really shouldn’t.”

“You need to stop being so goddamn self-deprecating,” I told him. “You let people tell you you’re a monster when you’re not. You work against it. You tried to keep me safe, you’ve saved my life – I don’t know why you keep insisting on this myth that you’re an evil person.”

“This is what I mean,” Edward said, smiling. “And I’m constantly amazed that you spend time with me. You didn’t hear what everyone here was thinking the first day you were here. You’re so distinct. Everyone wanted to be your friend, even the ones that pretended they didn’t.”

“Oh, please,” I snorted. “I’m not anything special.”

Edward raised his eyebrows. “If you say so.” He tilted his head to the side and asked, “Did you really have to go to Seattle this weekend, or was that a ploy to get away from your admirer?”

“Yeah, thanks for that,” I said sarcastically. “I did want to go, but it was mostly a way to get out of it.”

“If I’d asked you, would you have said yes?” he asked quietly, looking down.

I hesitated, then answered honestly, “At the time, I would have said no. I thought you were obnoxious.”

“And now?”

“I’d probably still say no.” I shrugged. “I don’t really do dances. Why are you asking, anyway?”

“Well, I was wondering if you were still set on going to Seattle or if you’d be open to doing something else.”

“Only if I drive,” I said. “Your driving would scare another few years off my life.”

“The thing that scares you about me the most is my driving,” he muttered with thinly veiled amusement. “Typical.”

“What were you planning?” I asked curiously.

“The weather is supposed to be nice this weekend, so I thought I’d spend some time in the sun, out of the public eye. I know you were curious, so I thought you’d want to come with me.”

“Sure. I could use some sun.”

He smiled again. It was beginning to look natural on his face. “Wonderful.”

I looked around the cafeteria and caught Alice looking at me, a strange look on her face. When she saw me looking, she beamed brightly until Jasper elbowed her in the side. Rosalie shot me a suspicious look and Emmett just nodded, and then as one they looked away from us.

“Your siblings kind of freak me out,” I confessed to Edward. “Will I ever get to meet them?”

“Let’s give it some time,” Edward advised. “They’re still getting used to the idea of me being friends with a human.”

I picked at the remainder of my lunch absently, then asked, “So what were you hunting this last weekend? Charlie said there are a lot of bears there.”

“You’ve answered your own question,” Edward said, grinning. “Grizzlies are Emmett’s favorite.”

“Bears? Really?” Edward nodded. “And what’s yours? Favorite, I mean.”

“Mountain lion,” he told me. “We try to stick to animals that are overpopulated and can stand predation, though that means sometimes we have to go fairly far away. We just went because the bears are beginning to come out of hibernation, and Emmett likes them when they’re irritable.”

“Is that why he’s dating Rosalie?” I asked before I could stop myself, and I slapped a hand over my mouth, horrified by myself.

Luckily, Edward laughed, loud and boisterously, drawing attention from people around us. After a moment, I allowed myself to relax and chuckle a little. “That’s a good one,” Edward said once he had stopped laughing. “She is something of a bear, isn’t she?”

“To be honest, she’s the one of your family I’m most terrified by.”

“Same with most people,” he admitted. “She’s pretty intimidating.”

“So how do you hunt?” I asked, changing the subject. “No weapons? Just your bare hands?”

“Don’t forget teeth,” Edward reminded me. “We move fast and we’re stronger than we look.”

“I’ve noticed the way you move,” I reminded him. “You’re not very good at moving normally. You all do it – move a little too quick, a little too fluidly to be entirely human.”

“That’s the hardest thing to hide,” he agreed. The bell rang and he rose to his feet. “Hopefully you’ll never be anywhere near when we’re hunting, though.”

“Why?” I asked, though I had a fairly good idea. “Too dangerous?”

“Something like that,” he admitted. “Otherwise I’d take you out so you’d understand just how dangerous we are. Then maybe you wouldn’t be so blasé about this whole thing.”

“I did my freaking out about a week before you confirmed things for me,” I pointed out, getting to my feet and following him out of the cafeteria. “We’ll continue this later?”

“Later,” he promised. I knew I would hold him to that promise.

Chapter Text

When we walked into Biology, Marlena widened her eyes at me, looking impressed. I shrugged and took my seat, ignoring people’s mutters as Edward followed me. He sat closer than usual, close enough that we could whisper to each other if we wanted to.

Mr. Lewis showed up a moment later, carrying a DVD. He put it into the player and turned the projector on. The movie started and we all groaned as we realized that it was The Miracle of Life.

“I’ve seen this movie ever since it came out,” Edward muttered to me, sounding long-suffering. “It never fails to be disturbing.”

“I never want to have children,” I announced quietly. “It seems too horrifying to contemplate.”

“It makes sex look like a horrible ordeal,” Edward agreed. There was a piece of paper tucked underneath his arm and he pulled it out, reaching down for a pen. He drew a series of lines and drew the beginnings of a game of hangman. “Play you?”

I nodded and glanced surreptitiously up at Mr. Lewis, who was ignoring all of us in favor of something on his computer.

“World of Warcraft,” Edward whispered in my ear. “He won’t be paying attention to us today.”

“He plays WOW?” I asked, not very surprised. “A.”

Edward wrote in three a’s and said, “Next letter.”

We passed the hour by playing hangman and, when that got boring, Pictionary. Edward was a terrible artist and I wasn’t much better, so we spent most of the time insulting each other’s drawings.

“That’s what you call a sheep?” Edward asked in astonishment, pointing at my doodle. I had to admit that it looked more like an angry storm cloud than a sheep. “Perhaps if Picasso fell asleep after taking some sort of illicit substance and then drew it while he was sleeping, that could be a sheep.”

“It’s not as bad as your ‘piano’,” I retorted, poking my pencil at the misshapen blob in the corner. “Even Jackson Pollack would be ashamed to call that art.”

We spent the rest of the class in a similar vein, and I found myself liking Edward much better than I had before. He had a unique, dry wit and a vast amount of knowledge – no doubt accumulated over the course of his long life.

“You’re a lot more fun when you pull that stick out of your ass,” I remarked as we left the classroom. He laughed sheepishly and scratched the back of his neck.

“I have more fun with you than I’ve had in a long time,” he acknowledged. “It’s hard to be myself around people who aren’t my family and they all have people in their lives to go to.”

“It must get lonely,” I remarked.

Edward smiled sadly. “A little, sometimes.” We came to a stop, and he took my hand in his chilly fingers. “Until after your gym class?”

“You need to give me a ride home, so sure,” I said, ignoring the way my heart sped up slightly at his touch.

His mouth quirked, and he kissed my knuckles with a flourish. “Milady.”

I mock-curtsied in return. “Good day, sir.”

There was a strange feeling coursing through my body – it wasn’t quite the feeling of attraction, though it was similar. It was more like adrenaline, and I wondered if I was belatedly reacting to the whole vampire thing. I turned away to keep Edward from trying to read my expressions and hurried to class, catching up with Marlena on the way.

“He definitely has a crush on you,” she said the moment she saw me. “He’s so attentive! I’ve never seen him be that friendly with anyone before.”

“He’s actually kind of funny, when you get to know him,” I told her as we headed into the locker room. A couple of girls were giving me funny looks. I looked right back until they looked away, embarrassed.

“I don’t envy you,” Marlena shuddered. “All those people, snooping?” I raised my eyebrows at her, and she said defensively, “At least I’m your friend.”

“True enough,” I admitted.

We were playing basketball in gym, which I was fairly decent at. Lucas was on my team and we worked together well until we played against Marlena’s team, when he very unsubtly let Marlena steal the ball from him and score a basket.

“That was nice of you,” I said in an undertone after the game. “Things going well with you two?”

“As far as I know,” he said, looking after her with a vaguely dreamy look in his eyes. “She’s so much more than I realized, Bella. We’ve been friends forever, but I never knew that she could design web pages. Did you know that?”

I had to admit that I didn’t, and Lucas shook his head.

“Riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in utter gorgeousness,” he said mournfully. “I’m totally doomed.”

I clapped his shoulder and said, “Might as well surrender now.”

After class, I tried to freshen up a little so that I wouldn’t be sweaty when I sat in Edward’s fancy car. Marlena and Lucas headed home together and I went out to my locker, where Edward was waiting.

“Have fun in gym?” he teased.

“Shove off,” I groaned, shoving at his shoulder playfully. “Weren’t you listening?”

“I made a point of not doing so,” Edward said, an unexpected note of seriousness in his tone. I looked up at him and he smiled faintly. “You were right. It is an invasion of privacy. I can’t turn it off, really, but I can at least not intentionally listen in on people.”

“That’s…good of you,” I said slowly, mind whirring. Edward had changed something, something fairly major, about himself because of something I had said.

Out in the parking lot, a group of boys were loitering and staring at Rosalie’s car with jealousy in their eyes. I couldn’t blame them; it was gorgeous. Edward looked as though he was suppressing a grin as he slid into the front of his comparatively more sedate car.

“Rosalie’s car is a good distraction, yes?” he asked as he turned the key in the ignition.

“I should say so.” I tilted my head against the window. “I’m sorry mine’s not as wonderful, but I’m still not letting you drive this weekend.”

“Fair enough.” He smiled toothily. “I’ll be at your house bright and early on Saturday, before the sun has time to out me. I won’t even bring my car.”

I eyed him closely and then asked, “Is this ‘later’ enough?”

It took him a moment to realize what I meant, and he sighed. “I suppose. What did you want to know?”

“Why shouldn’t I be around when you hunt?” I asked. “I get that it’s dangerous, but how, exactly?”

“When we hunt, we…have to let ourselves give into our senses,” he explained. “We let ourselves go and if you were anywhere near when we did that – if any human was near when we did that – it could lead to…accidents.”

I shuddered, remembering some of the stories Charlie had told me about animal maulings. I could only imagine how much worse a vampire attack would look. “All right, I understand.”

Edward pulled up in front of Charlie’s house and said, “I thought you would. Now, tomorrow.”

“What about it?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him.

“It’s my turn to ask questions,” he informed me, grinning brightly. “Be prepared, Miss Swan.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “I’m always prepared.” I slid out of the car, grabbing my bag before heading up the walk. “Think of some challenging ones, okay?”

“I’ll try,” he replied, and then he zoomed off down the street.

*****

Charlie came home earlier than usual, looking tired. I had attempted a meal from reading a recipe off the back of a box, and it had turned out okay, though not particularly fantastic. We sat down across from each other and ate in silence, both of us lost in our own thoughts.

“So are you still going to Seattle this weekend?” Charlie asked, breaking the silence.

I swallowed, deciding that honesty was the better path. “I’m actually hanging out with Edward Cullen that day.”

“Really.” Charlie looked surprised. “I didn’t know you were friends.”

“We’re not, at least not yet. We’re getting used to each other.” I set my fork down and shrugged. “ I dunno. He’s okay once you get to know him.”

“But you’re not dating.” He took his plate to the kitchen sink and called back, “Right?”

“Right,” I called back. I picked up my plate and followed him into the kitchen. “It’s no big deal.”

“Well, at least you’re hanging out with someone, not going by yourself.” He accepted my plate and put it in the sink. “Have fun, all right?”

“Yeah, okay.” I patted his shoulder, then escaped upstairs to avoid any further questions. I didn’t know if Charlie knew that I’d dated before, but I was pretty sure Mom had told him at some point. He hadn’t gotten upset that I was hanging out with Edward, which was nice. I suspected it was more because he felt bad for the Cullens than anything else, but I was willing to take what I could get.

*****

I didn’t sleep well that night, plagued by vague dreams of Eliza's old ballet classes and my empty house back in Phoenix. When I got up the next morning, I was still exhausted, both mentally and physically.

I showered and ate, then head outside to find Edward waiting at the curb, his arms crossed. “Good morning,” I called, heading down the walk.

“Good morning,” he replied courteously, opening the passenger seat door to the car. “You look tired.”

“Didn’t sleep very well, that’s all.” I slid inside the car and leaned back in the seat.

“Neither did I,” he teased, sitting in the driver’s seat. I rolled my eyes.

“Okay fine, I slept more than you, but that’s not really saying much. What did you do instead?”

He held up a finger. “It’s my turn to ask the questions, remember?”

“Fine, fine.” I spread my hands invitingly. “Go ahead, ask away.”

He started the car and pulled away from the house. “What’s your favorite color?”

I snorted. “Is that seriously your first question?”

“It’s just as valid as any other,” Edward protested, but he was grinning. “Come on, tell me.”

“Purple,” I said. “In case that wasn’t obvious.”

“I did like your hair,” he remarked. “Why did you dye it back?”

I shrugged . “It was just time for a change.”

“Fair enough.” He paused as he executed a lightning-quick turn. “What are you listening to currently?”

“The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.” Eliza had given me a ton of their CDs for my birthday.

“Favorite movie?”

“That’s a hard one!” I protested, but he pressed me until I gave him a few answers.

It continued for the rest of the day. He met me after every class and questioned me about every tiny thing, from my favorite food (pasta) to my favorite television show (probably Buffy). Places I had been, books I had read – we spent a lot of time talking about books. At lunch, he asked me about past boyfriends.

“Just one,” I confessed. “His name was Nate.”

“How long did you go out for?” Edward asked, his face going blank.

“Almost six months.”

“Why did you break up?”

I sighed and leaned back in my seat. “I just got sick of having to do all the work in our relationship. He didn’t put any effort into it and when I pointed that out, he got pissed and accused me of some things that he probably shouldn’t have.”

“He sounds awful,” Edward remarked, frowning.

“He wasn’t as bad as all that,” I protested. “I really liked him and it was good for a while, but I think it’s better that it ended.”

Edward didn’t say anything for a while, and then he said softly, “I’m glad you’re not dating him anymore.”

I stared at him, not knowing what to say. Before the silence could become too awkward, the bell rang and we had to head to biology. Edward, again, sat awfully close to me, though this time he didn’t say anything, remaining conspicuously silent instead.

Halfway through class, he asked, “But he was your only boyfriend?”

I jumped; I hadn’t been expecting him to speak. “Yeah. Yeah, he was.”

“Okay.” He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I just – he sounds like a jerk.”

“He really wasn’t that bad. I’m making him sound worse than he is.” I pulled a pencil out of my bag and began to doodle on the corner of the desk. He grabbed my hand, stopping me.

“Come on, use a piece of paper.” He pulled a sheet of printer paper off the stack on the counter on his side and passed it to me. “I’m sick of seeing drawings on desks.”

“That reminds me,” I said. “Why do you come to school? You don’t have to, really.”

“People ask questions. And, well. It’s something to do. We don’t travel all that much anymore. Ever since Alice joined us, it’s been more difficult.” Edward took the pencil from me and drew a stick figure on the paper. “She needs stability.”

I didn’t know what to say in response, so I just accepted the pencil when he offered it back and drew a matching stick figure next to his. After a bit, I remarked, “Too bad. If I had everlasting life, no way would I stay in Forks.”

“We have to stay places where there’s not a lot of sun,” he pointed out. “It’s sad, I know there are many beautiful places on Earth I’ll never get to visit.”

“You have so much more time to do it, though,” I replied, drawing faces onto our stick figures. “It seems selfish to waste all that opportunity.”

“I suppose. We do usually take a year or two between schools to travel and we go on vacation during summer.” He took the pencil back from me and drew hair on the stick figures. “You know, this day was supposed to be for me to learn about you.”

“Funny how things work out, huh.” I smirked at him and he rolled his eyes. The bell rang before he had a chance to respond and I stood up.

“You’re not getting out of this,” he warned me as I headed out the door, rising to his feet. “I’ll meet you after Gym.”

I shook my head and headed out to the gym. We were still playing basketball, and I managed to make a three-point basket during one of the matches. Lucas high-fived me and slapped my back.

Edward was indeed waiting outside once class was over. He fell into step beside me and we headed out to his car. “How was gym?”

“I made a three-point basket,” I said proudly. “I realize that probably doesn’t seem that important to you, but I’m pretty terrible at most sports that don’t involve me kicking something.”

“Hey, no, that’s impressive. We mostly play baseball around my house. I don’t think we could play basketball.” He opened the car door and said, “Ready for the inquisition?”

“Bring it on,” I dared him and I got inside.

His questions this time were more about what I missed about home. I tried to describe Eliza and why she was my best friend, what it was about her that made her special. I talked about my mom and how close we were, about my job at the restaurant and how much I’d hated it but how fun it could be at times. He was fascinated by all of it, from my descriptions of the wide, open desert to the city streets of Phoenix.

“It sounds like a nice place to live,” he said enviously as we pulled up in front of my house. “And you loved it a lot, didn’t you.”

“I don’t think Forks is a terrible place,” I pointed out. “I’d prefer to be back in Phoenix, but that’s partially because it’s home. I just miss the sun.”

“So do I,” Edward said mischievously, but with a real edge of sadness to his voice. I looked away from him and got out of the car, heading up the front walk. Edward followed me and we sat on the porch steps together, looking out over the green landscape.

“It is beautiful here,” I admitted. “Just in a different way.”

“I like Forks,” Edward said thoughtfully. “Out of the places we’ve lived, I think it’s my favorite. Maybe it’s because of the company,” he suggested and he gave me a smile.

I rolled my eyes. “Did someone once lie and tell you that you’re smooth?” I asked dryly. He pushed my shoulder gently in retaliation.

“I’m being serious, Bella. I haven’t had friends who weren’t my family for a long time. The fact that we’re able to be friends is mostly a testament to you getting past every weird thing about me.”

“Like your stalker tendencies?” I inquired sneakily, and he threw back his head, laughing. It was oddly familiar, sitting with him on the porch and talking as though we had known each other for years.

The sun had set while we had been talking, and the dying light filtered through the green foliage. “It’s twilight,” he noted once he’d quieted. “The safest time of day for my kind, but I think it’s the saddest. Un jour j’ai vu le soleil se coucher quarante-trois fois.”

“What does that mean?” I asked curiously. “Is that French?”

“It’s from Le Petit Prince,” he explained. “One day I saw the sun set forty-three times.

“I don’t think I’ve ever read it,” I said, though I remembered Eliza saying something about it when she read it in French class.

“We’ll read it one day,” Edward promised me with a quick smile. He rose to his feet and offered me a hand. “Come on, you should go do your homework.”

“Are you done with your questions?” I asked as I unlocked the front door. “Or do you have more?”

“Oh, I definitely have more, but I imagine you do as well.” He smiled and backed up down the steps. “I should be heading home, though.”

“Sure.” There was a flash of headlights from further down the street and I glanced over. Edward tensed, jaw clenching.

“I have to go,” he said suddenly. “I’m sorry, you’ll understand in a moment.”

“Bye -” I started to say, but he was already down the walk and in his car. The engine revved and the car zoomed off down the street. The other car pulled up to the walk and I heard a familiarly husky voice call out my name.

“Jacob?” I called back, frowning. No wonder Edward had left, I thought, and then I saw that Billy Black was in the passenger seat, his familiar dark eyes staring at me with a strange look on his face. I tried a smile, but he just frowned, looking as though he was trying to work something out.

Jacob climbed out of the car and head up the walk as Charlie’s car came down the street. “Hey, Bella,” he said cheerfully. “Your dad invited us for dinner.”

Charlie was helping Billy out of the car and into his wheelchair, but Billy was still looking at me. I wondered if he knew that the Cullens were vampires – and if he thought I was in on it. From what Jacob had said, Billy believed in the old stories.

Chapter Text

Charlie wheeled Billy up the walk and gave Jacob a look. “Driving already, Jacob?”

“I’m legal, I promise,” Jacob laughed, holding up his hands.

“I made him get his license as soon as he could. How else was I supposed to get around?” Billy’s voice was familiar in the same way most of Forks was familiar; it reminded me of being young and spending summers with Charlie.

“I’ll get the door,” I said as Jacob went to help Charlie with his dad. I unlocked the front door and held it open while Charlie and Jacob got Billy up the porch steps.

“Thanks, Bella,” Charlie said, then he added to Billy, “Are you going to stay for the game?”

“I think Dad was hoping we could,” Jacob teased. “Our television is broken.”

“And Jacob wanted to see Bella,” Billy said, a little mischievously. Jacob flushed and ducked inside. I grinned to myself and followed them in, shutting the door behind me.

“Dad, I’ll make some dinner. You talk with Billy,” I said, lingering by the door. I was wary of Billy now, worried that he would see through me and know that I was friends with Edward.

“Oh, thanks,” Charlie said, brightening a little. “That’s great of you.”

“I’ll help,” Jacob volunteered and he followed me into the kitchen. After a minute of debate, we settled on pasta, as we were less likely to screw that up. I started boiling the water as he washed the tomatoes. “How are things with you, Bella?”

“Not bad, actually. Yourself? You get that car fixed up?” I came over to the sink and pulled out the cutting board and a knife.

“Not yet.” He grinned sheepishly and handed me a tomato to slice. “That reminds me, who was driving that car I saw pulling away from here? It was nice.

I froze, not knowing what to say. Jacob continued, not seeming to notice. “It’s funny, I know most of the kids around here, but I didn’t recognize it. My dad seemed to know it, though.” I didn’t say anything and he finally looked over at me. “Bella?”

“Um,” I said and I looked away. “Actually, that was Edward Cullen’s car.”

“Huh.” Jacob laughed briefly. “No wonder. Don’t mention it to my dad, okay? He still isn’t too fond of the Cullens and your dad chewed him out pretty bad last time about treating them better. Tonight’s an apology of sorts.”

“I wasn’t planning on mentioning it,” I said honestly. I changed the subject then, and asked him about things that had been going on at school.

We spun off into a conversation about movies and books and nearly burned the pasta because I’d run to get my iPod. I ate dinner in the living room and watched the game with them, though I was a little fuzzy on the rules, and then Jacob and I goofed off watching videos online for about an hour.

Jacob was interesting; though he was certainly very open, at times I felt like there was an extra layer he was hiding. I tried to get him to talk about himself more, but he persisted in talking about me, school, his friends – hardly anything about himself.

“Do you think you’ll be coming back to the beach anytime soon?” Jacob asked curiously, leaning back in my desk chair. “Now that you’re friends with Edward, I mean.”

“I don’t know. Is it a problem that I’m friends with him?” I raised my eyebrow and smiled to let him know I was teasing. Jacob grinned and sat back up.

“Not to me,” he assured me in a warm voice. I opened my mouth to say something – who knows what – but Billy called up, “Jacob! We should be going now!”

“I’ll come down with you,” I said, getting to my feet. Jacob flashed me a quick, warm smile, and followed me out into the hall and down the stairs. Charlie had wheeled Billy towards the porch, but he needed Jacob’s help. They got the wheelchair down to the ground in one big motion, and then Billy and Charlie were saying their farewells.

“I’ll see you, Bella,” Jacob said cheerfully, waving.

Billy looked at me, eyes serious, and said, “Take care.” I forced myself not to shiver and I nodded, once, then looked away. Charlie was looking at me oddly, but he didn’t ask.

We cleaned up together in silence, until Charlie asked, “So you and Jacob seem to be getting along well.”

“He’s a good kid,” I said, wiping off one of the plates and setting it down. “Really nice.”

“Yeah, he is.” Charlie didn’t say anything else for a few minutes, but then he asked, “Was that Edward Cullen I saw leaving here?”

I flinched, my hands freezing on the plate I was drying. I forced myself to relax, but when I set the plate down, I saw that it had cracked down the middle. “Um, yes. He’s been giving me rides to school.”

“That’s nice of him,” Charlie said carefully. “Is that plate broken?”

“It’s going to real soon,” I replied, stepping back so he could get a look. “I’ve gotta go get my homework done.”

Charlie nodded absently, waving his hand. “Go, go. Don’t let me keep you.”

I lingered a moment longer and then I fled upstairs. My hands were shaking, though I wasn’t sure why – perhaps the stress of the day had finally gotten to me. Instead of doing my homework, I curled up in bed and tried to go to sleep, but all I could think about was the way Billy had cautioned me to take care.

I slept fitfully, tossing and turning as I dreamed in fragments – images of a woodland clearing, broken glass scattered over a wooden floor. I woke late and had to hurry out of the house, hair still damp from my shower.

Edward grinned when he saw me. “Overslept?” he teased, opening the door to his car. I rolled me eyes and got in.

“How was your night?” I asked him. “Fun?”

“Oh no, it’s still my turn to ask questions.” He started the car and pulled away. “Talk to me about soccer.”

I grinned and began to talk enthusiastically about my sport. Edward sat there with a grin on his face as he listened to me babble. As we pulled into the parking lot, my rambling came to a halting, self-conscious stop. “Uh.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind, I asked for it.” Edward smiled and parked the car. “You really love soccer, don’t you?”

“God, yes,” I said fervently. Edward laughed and opened the door to get out.

He peppered me with other questions as he walked me to class – what classes I liked, what I had done back in Phoenix, my friends both in Phoenix and in Forks.

We met again at lunch and I sat down across from him, staring at his nearly empty tray. “You’re really terrible at blending in,” I informed him before picking up my sandwich and taking a huge bite.

“I should have let you drive yourself,” he said suddenly, watching me eat.

I swallowed. “Why?”

“I’m leaving with Alice after lunch.” He bit his lip, looking annoyed. “I almost completely forgot.”

“That’s all right, it’ll be a nice walk.” I took another bite of sandwich. “Don’t worry about it.”

He frowned. “I’m not going to make you walk home. We’ll get your truck and leave it for you.”

“Dude, that’s a little creepy. Look, I appreciate the offer, but stealing my car, even with my permission, is a little strange.” I set my sandwich down and raised my eyebrows at him. “Come on. Do you really think I want you digging through my stuff?”

He paused and then nodded. “You have a point. I apologize, I wasn’t thinking.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just – remember that we’re not all like you, yeah?” I tilted my head to the side and asked, “So where are you going, anyway?”

“Hunting, just as a safety precaution. If we’re spending the day together tomorrow, it’s best that I keep temptation as far away as possible.” He tried a smile, but it was weak and unconvincing. “You can always cancel if you wish.”

“You’re the one who wanted to spend the day with me,” I reminded him. “And you promised you’d show me what you meant about the sun. How am I supposed to resist that?”

He rolled his eyes, but he was smiling genuinely now. “I suppose.”

“What time will we be leaving tomorrow, then?” I took a sip of my water while I waited for him to reply.

“Whenever you’ll be up. Same time as I pick you up for school?”

“How about an hour later? It’s Saturday, I want some sleep.” Edward nodded, seeming to make a mental note. “Where are you hunting tonight?”

“The park. We’re going for whatever we can find.”

“And you’re going with Alice? Why her? I thought she was a little…” I paused, unsure of how to phrase my question politely.

“Crazy?” Edward asked dryly. “Yes. But – she has her moments of lucidity. And she’s better when she’s hunting. Besides, she’s the most supportive of our friendship.”

“What of the others?”

“Confused,” Edward replied after a moment. “And incredulous.”

I looked past him towards his family. Alice was darting quick glances towards our table, her fingers drumming restlessly on the table again. Jasper was holding his head as though it hurt and Rosalie and Emmett had their heads bent toward each other, focused on each other. “They don’t like me, do they,” I guessed.

“I wouldn’t say they disliked you,” Edward contradicted. “They dislike the idea of you more than anything. And they don’t know why I can’t just – why I can’t just leave well enough alone.”

“You’re stubborn,” I observed. “Your family turned against you like that – most people would cave.”

He shrugged. “Given the talent that I have,” and he tapped his temple to convey his meaning, “I understand human nature fairly well. Even if I were to lose my ability, I think I would be able to predict most people fairly well. People are predictable. You, though – you’re less so. You’re strong, independent – and there’s something about you that just doesn’t feel normal. You feel…special.”

At that moment, Rosalie’s head jerked up to look at me, and I met her fierce gaze. She narrowed her eyes at me, then slanted her gaze towards Edward. Edward jumped, startled, and then made an angry noise under his breath. Rosalie frowned and looked away, but her slim hands clenched into fists on the tabletop.

I looked over at Edward. “I thought you said they didn’t dislike me,” I said, raising my eyebrows.

“She’s just worried,” Edward explained. “She knows you know about us and…if I hang out with you and something happens -” He gave one of his elegant shrugs. “It’s dangerous, is all.”

“I suppose so. A little selfish of her, though, to be thinking merely of your safety?” I suggested. Before he could reply, I shook my head. “But in her position I’d likely do the same. She doesn’t know me, I don’t expect her to be concerned for me.”

“It’s not that she doesn’t care,” Edward protested, “just – you’re not family.”

“No, I understand,” I assured him, then I changed the subject. “So you’re leaving now?”

“Yes. I’m sorry I’m abandoning you in Biology – hopefully there’s no lab today.” He grinned teasingly and I rolled my eyes.

Alice was standing up at the other table, her filmy dress fluttering as she moved. She was the worst of them at passing for human, I decided as I watched her stand, her movements far too quick and fluid. She glided over to us, rapid and light on her feet. Her hair was in disarray, her dark eyes wide and curious. She looked saner than I had seen her before, her mouth quirking in a smile as she looked at the two of us.

“Hello,” she said, her voice light and musical. She, like Edward, had a slight accent, though hers sounded more nasal, like perhaps she’d come from the east coast.

“Alice,” Edward said without looking over at her. “This is Bella. Bella, this is Alice.”

“It’s a pleasure,” I said, holding out my hand. She took it after a moment’s hesitation, squeezing once before letting my hand go.

“Mutual,” she told me, smiling. “I have heard so much of you, I feel. I feel I almost – well, not as much as if I had seen anything of you, but I do feel as though I know what you’re like.”

Her words made little sense, but I nodded anyway. Edward looked up at her and said, “I’ll meet you at the car?”

“The mirror says there’s no way out,” Alice said by way of reply, and she left, loping away in long, too-graceful steps.

I looked at Edward, curious, and he sighed. “I’ll explain Alice tomorrow,” he told me. “For now, I have to go.”

“Should I say ‘Have fun,’ or is that not quite the right tone?” I asked as he got up from the table.

“I suppose it’s as good as anything,” he said. “You be safe, all right?”

“I can take care of myself,” I assured him, but a shiver went down my spine as I recalled Billy saying the same thing to me the night before.

“Until tomorrow,” he said and I replied absently, “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” with heavy sarcasm. He laughed and reached out to touch his hand to my face for an instant; and then he was gone, almost too quick to see.

I went to class afterwards, but was distracted by my racing thoughts. I knew that Saturday would be important – if Edward wasn’t strong enough, I could very well be in danger. But I felt that he gave himself too little credit. We had been alone many times and he’d resisted then. I resolved to be on my guard, just in case.

In gym, Marlena cornered me. “Are you sure you’re not coming to the dance?” she asked, eyes wide. “Not even with Edward?”

“No, I’m not,” I told her. “I’m hanging out with Edward tomorrow, though.”

She broke into a huge, sunny smile and hugged me quickly. “Bella, that’s so exciting!” she exclaimed and then she went off on a tangent that I lost the thread of almost instantly. Lucas took her off my hands once class started, recruiting her for his team.

After class, I walked home in the afternoon mist, listening to my iPod. Forks was beautiful, I realized once again. As much as I loved Phoenix, I could never see the sunlight filtering through leaves or watch birds flutter between trees back home. Though I missed the sun, Forks was still gorgeous despite its absence.

I did homework once I got home, then heated up the leftover pasta for dinner. Charlie came home early and ate in absent-minded silence. When I hazarded a question regarding why he was being so quiet, he said, “There’s just been a troubling case at work, is all.”

I nodded, understanding, and left him to it. I headed upstairs to call Eliza and we talked for almost an hour about her and Rachelle (going well, she said) and me and Edward (she was inordinately excited about my weekend plans).

“I mean, you and Nate – like, you never had a rebound or anything, I was never sure if you were really over him.” She paused. “Are you? Over him, I mean?”

“I’ve been over him,” I told her. “I don’t care about anything he said, I really don’t.”

“Good,” she said firmly. “He’s normally a great guy, but he was kind of an asshole to you.”

She wasn’t wrong, but I didn’t need to say anything – she knew I knew. I changed the subject and talked about other things until she had to go. I gave my mom a call and discussed wedding plans before exhaustion overtook me.

*****

The next morning dawned, a thin layer of clouds the only cover in the sky. I showered and dressed before heading down to eat a quick breakfast. I was finishing up when there was a soft knock at the door.

I answered it to find Edward standing on the doorstep, dressed more causally than usual in a simple button down and a pair of jeans. He smiled. “Good morning. Are you ready to leave?”

“Let me just grab my keys,” I said and I ducked back inside to grab my jacket and my car keys. I came back out as I threw my jacket over my shoulders. “Let’s go.”

He approached my car with a martyred expression on his face. “Do we have to?”

“I don’t see your car,” I retorted, looking around pointedly. “Anyway, we had a deal.”

“Fine,” he sighed, getting in. “It pains me to have to get in this thing.”

“Snob,” I accused, starting my car. It roared to life and I saw Edward jump, the first time I ever saw him startled.

He laughed and gave me instructions for where to go. I pulled onto the highway and soon left civilization, houses replaced by thick foliage. Finally, we reached what seemed like the end of paved road and Edward said, “Okay, stop here.”

“What now?” I asked, putting the car in park.

“We hike,” he said, getting out. “I hope you wore comfortable shoes.”

I had, but that was beside the point. “Don’t you think you might have told me this sooner?” I suggested, pocketing my car keys.

“I didn’t think you were one for impractical footwear,” he remarked, which I had to admit was a fair assessment. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Where are we going, anyway?” I asked as I ducked under a tree branch.

“A place I like to go when the weather’s nice.” Sunlight was filtering through the trees now, the clouds having dissipated somewhat. “People know you’re here with me?”

“Everyone knows, it seems,” I laughed. “Charlie’s pleased, he’s glad that someone has befriended you. He feels sorry for your family, you know. He hates how alienated you are.”

“We do it to ourselves, out of necessity,” Edward pointed out. “Not that he knows that, of course.”

“So how far is this place, anyway?” I asked, following after him.

“About five miles.”

I drew to a stop. “Five miles? Seriously? Five miles uphill?”

“It’s not that bad,” he protested, glancing back at me. “What are you, afraid?”

I glared at him and said, “Hell no.”

The walk really wasn’t all that bad; though it was uphill, it wasn’t very steep, and the surroundings were absolutely beautiful, especially as the sunlight grew stronger. Edward occasionally threw out a random question, about childhood pets or toys or even pet peeves. The hike ended up taking about an hour and a half, but it felt nice to stretch my legs.

“Do you see that light ahead?” Edward asked suddenly, pointing. I looked and saw that, indeed, the green light changed in quality further ahead, lighter. “That’s where we’re headed.”

I caught up to him and stepped towards the light. I could almost taste the fresh air, the sunshine, and I stepped out into a clearing, about thirty feet in diameter. The grass came up almost to my knee, flowers scattered throughout. The clouds had cleared and sunshine poured into the clearing, warm against my head and shoulders.

“This is beautiful,” I called back to Edward, sensing that he hadn’t followed me in. “No wonder you like coming here.”

Edward chuckled, the sound floating through the air. “I’m glad you like it.”

I turned and looked at him, still lingering in the shadows of the trees. He smiled, but it looked strained. I called, “Ready?”

He nodded tersely and hesitantly stepped out into the sunlight.

Chapter Text

Edward had rolled up his sleeves so that the sunlight could strike his bare skin. As he stepped into the warm, welcoming sunlight, his skin took on a strange, glistening quality. It didn’t refract light like normal skin; it looked almost like amphibian skin. In the sunlight, his profound paleness was even more obvious, even though he was a little more flushed than usual from the hunting trip the day before.

“Christ,” I said, stepping forward. “No wonder you stay out of the sunlight, it’s obvious you aren’t human.”

“And if we haven’t had blood recently, our veins aren’t visible and people notice that,” Edward added, stepping forward. “The myth about sunlight came about because we stay out of it as much as possible. Older myths – and by older, I mean far, far older than America or even most of Western Europe – will tell you that you can recognize vampires by the way ‘their skin sparkles like gemstones’.” He laughed, a little awkwardly, and sat down on the ground. “Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

I sat down next to him and tilted my face up to the air, closing my eyes. “I don’t think it really glistens like gemstones – more like scales.”

Edward laughed, loud and free. “I like that. Scaly, slimy vampires.”

“I didn’t say that,” I protested, opening my eyes. He grinned at me, looking amused. “I didn’t.”

“I know,” Edward agreed. He lay back on the grass, his shirt riding up a little and exposing more of his strange skin. “I love this place. I miss the sun so much sometimes. When it’s sunny, I come here. It makes me feel like I remember what it’s like to be human.”

“What about your family?” I asked curiously, propping myself on my hands to look down at him. “Do they come with you?”

“I’ve never told them.” Edward looked at me and smiled slightly. “You’re the only one I’ve ever brought here.”

I froze for a moment, unsure of what to do with that piece of information. After a moment, I answered, “I’m flattered.” I lowered myself to lie on the ground next to him, the grass cushioning me nicely. His hand bumped against mine, and he twined our fingers together hesitantly.

“I trust you,” he explained simply. “And I wanted to share this with you.”

His hand was cool against mine, but his skin felt just as real, just as normal as any human’s. I pressed our palms together and said, “I almost feel like you should feel slimy.”

“Mm,” he said absently. I glanced over and saw that his eyes were closed.

“I thought you didn’t sleep,” I remarked dryly, looking back up at the cloudless sky.

“I don’t. I just – like to pretend, sometimes.” He hummed something quietly under his breath and then he said, “But you can sleep, if you want.”

I made a noise of agreement, already drifting off from the warmth of the sun and the fresh smell of grass. The last thing I heard was Edward’s chuckle.

I awoke around half an hour later, feeling refreshed. Edward was still lying next to me, but his eyes were open as he stared up at the sky. “You’re awake,” he remarked.

“I am,” I agreed, a little groggily. I slowly pushed myself up and looked down at him. “You know, I’ve been wondering,” I said thoughtfully. “How fast can you move, exactly?”

He was suddenly sitting up in the blink of an eye. “Answer enough?”

“I suppose,” I conceded. Edward laughed and was on his feet in an instant. “And you’re strong.”

“Yes, you’ve seen that.” He threw his arms wide to the sky and spun. “God, I love this place!” He began to laugh again, and I was stunned by how open his face was. He offered his hand to me and pulled me up when I took his hand. He spun me under his arm and then curled his arm around the small of my back, as though we were waltzing.

“I don’t know how to dance,” I warned him, and he laughed again.

“I’ll teach you,” he said, and he nudged my foot back with his. “Like this.”

It took a few tries, but he finally got me to do a simple box step, and we waltzed around the clearing dementedly until I grew tired and called for a stop. He squeezed my hand once before dropping his arms to his sides and stepping back. “I apologize for my over enthusiasm,” he said, “but I cannot help myself, it seems.”

I reached out to squeeze his shoulder gently. “Don’t worry about it.” I sat back down and patted the ground. “Now, I want to ask you another question.”

“Certainly.” He sat cross-legged, which looked oddly out of place on him. “What is it you wanted to ask?”

“You once said that you were drawn to me for a specific reason,” I said. “Could you explain?”

He bit his lip thoughtfully. “It’s like – you have a smell. Like every human, you have a specific smell to vampires. And you smell so utterly…intoxicating that it was difficult to resist. It’s as if you’re a fine glass of brandy and I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

“And how have you been able to resist?” I asked after I digested that revelation.

“Will power,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “And – there’s something else. Some urge telling me no and I think that if I tried, I wouldn’t be able to. I don’t know why.”

“And your siblings – do I ‘smell’ the same to them?”

“Perhaps not to the same degree,” Edward explained. “For Jasper – he’s the newest to our family – it’s the most difficult. All humans smell pretty much the same to him. For the oldest of us, we can detect differences.” He paused and looked down. “And sometimes we fall off the bandwagon.”

“What are you trying to say?” I asked him dangerously.

“I’m saying that Emmett gave into his urges the one time he met someone who smelled as good to him as you do to me,” he snapped, meeting my gaze. “But it was different, it was a stranger. And he didn’t have the same defenses as you.”

“Defenses,” I said flatly. “What, that weird repelling thing?”

“You can resist some of our glamours,” he said. “If I tried, I don’t think I’d be able to lure you. You’re not as easy to trick as others.”

“But that first day, you didn’t know any of that. You must have been tempted.”

He sighed. “You have no idea. You walked through that door and it was like my own personal demon had been sent to torture me. I – I didn’t know what to do. I knew – or I thought I knew –that I couldn’t possibly be in the same room with you and expect to be able to resist my urges. So I tried to change classes, but then you were there.

“I decided then that I had to leave, so I went to the hospital and told Carlisle I was going. I left without a word to the rest of my family and fled to Alaska to visit some old acquaintances. Then I grew…discontent. I missed my family and I thought that I had grown weak, that I was allowing my weakness to rule me. So I returned home.

“I had no idea what you were thinking, so I didn’t know whether you thought I was a danger or if you were afraid – I quickly gathered that you were not too fond of me.” Here he grinned quickly before continuing. “And I resolved to let well enough be alone. By then I had grown accustomed to you. I was no longer so…tempted.”

“And the car accident?”

He winced. “That was…when I realized that things were different than I had imagined. I wasn’t thinking about my family, about potential exposure – when I saw that you were about to be hit, I knew that I had to save you. That’s all.

“The family was horrified, of course. They thought that I had put us all in danger. But Carlisle and Esme defended me – they thought I did what was necessary. And Alice…she told us that you were not a danger. So they decided that we did not have to leave Forks. And you kept your word, you didn’t say a word about what I did to anyone.”

“Of course I didn’t,” I whispered, fascinated. “No one would believe me.”

“And then as time went on,” he continued, “I got to know you and I knew that I could never hurt you. You’re – Bella, I care for you deeply, more than I should and I would hate myself if you came to harm because of me.”

The grass around us rustled in a sudden gust of wind as I sought to take in this new revelation. “You – care for me?”

“Very much,” he nodded, looking a little sheepish. “Emmett persists in calling it a crush. He enjoys teasing me.”

“A crush,” I parroted. “On me.”

He smiled slowly and nodded. “Yes.”

Before I could think about the consequences, I was reaching for his hand and bringing it to my neck, right where my blood pulsed under the skin. He froze, going completely rigid as he sought to regain control. When he seemed like he was back under control, I released his hand. He slowly allowed his hand to slip around to the base of my skull.

“You’re insane,” he murmured, his eyes downcast. “But – this won’t be so difficult again.”

Our faces were very close now and if he were human, I would have felt his breath puffing against my lips. I reached out and placed my hand along his jaw. He raised his eyes to mine questioningly and then I kissed him, gentle and chaste.

When I pulled back, his eyes were closed. “Bella,” he murmured. “What are you doing?”

“This is what a requited crush is,” I explained, trying not to laugh. I was about to continue when he closed the distance between us and kissed me, open-mouthed. I kissed back until I had to break for breath.

Edward flopped back in the grass, a goofy look on his face. “Bella, I think I love you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, we hardly know each other,” I snorted, lying down next to him. He snaked his arm under me and pulled me flush against his side.

“Well, I think I could very well love you, given the chance.” He pressed a kiss against my temple and shuddered. “How likely is it that I’ll ever find someone like you again?”

“I am pretty one of a kind,” I agreed, and he groaned good-naturedly.

“There’s no need to be glib,” he protested, jostling me. “I’m being serious.”

“I know you are.” I looked over at him, wheels in my head turning. “So if you have a crush on me, was this supposed to be our first date?”

“Now that you mention it,” Edward said, a little guiltily, “Carlisle did request that I bring you by after we’re through. Esme wanted to cook, so she said she’d make you lunch. It’s not like she often gets the opportunity.”

“You want me to meet the family already?” I asked with mock incredulity. “Moving a might quickly, aren’t we?”

“I want to,” he said, abruptly serious, and my stomach twisted up pleasantly at the feeling in his voice. “Do you want to meet them?”

Once again, my curiosity won out over all other considerations. “Yes,” I said. “Today?”

“As soon as we can, I suppose.” Edward hauled himself to his feet before offering me a hand up. “So we’re going to take a run. Do you mind piggy-backing?”

“Not really,” I said. He knelt so that I could clamber on, my legs sticking out ungainly, my arms wrapped around his neck. “What now?”

“Hold on,” he said, sounding a little smug, and then we were zooming through the forest at breakneck speed. The trees streaked by in blurs of green as Edward ran, light and effortless. I let out a loud whoop and pounded one of my fists against his shoulder in excitement. He laughed without the slightest trace of breathlessness, and then we were back at the car, all in a matter of minutes.

He lowered me to the ground, and I stumbled briefly before regaining my balance. When I looked at him, he was eying me warily. “Are you all right?” he asked worriedly.

I laughed, the adrenaline still pumping through my veins. “Are you kidding? That was incredible!” I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him, hard. “Better than any rollercoaster.”

His worried expression melted away and he smiled, bringing a hand up to cup my cheek. “Glad to entertain.”

I kissed him again, briefly, before turned back to the car. “Okay, so you’re going to have to give me directions to your house. And while we’re on our way – you’re gonna have to tell me how old you are, now that we’re – whatever we’re doing.”

Edward opened the passenger door and got in. “Fair enough. I know where you’re from and how old you are, but I did not grant you the same courtesy. I just wonder – will it upset you?”

“Try me,” I suggested, starting the car and pulling out onto the highway.

He gave me a couple quick instructions before leaning back and saying, “I was born in Manchester, England, in 1873.”

“Younger than I’d imagined,” I said when he paused. “Go on.”

He laughed. “All right. I was turned when I was nineteen. I – had been attacked. I was dying and I was brought into the hospital where Carlisle was working.

“I don’t remember much – it was a very long time ago – but I remember that I hated him for a long time because of it. He – he could have just cured me. Vampire blood – blood that has moved through our systems – can cure some things. My wounds weren’t so bad, considering. But he turned me instead. Bit me, fed me his blood. And it hurt like hell.

“My parents, my real parents, had been dead for some time. I was alone in the world, and so was he. Maybe that’s why he did it – loneliness calling to loneliness. He’s never really told me why he did it and he’s careful to shield his thoughts around me.

“Esme, now that was out of love. He saved her when she was brought in. She was on the brink of death, would have died if he had not turned her. And he loved her from the moment they brought her in. She looked into his eyes and said that she never thought she would see an angel.”

“He only turns dying people?” I asked curiously.

“Yes. If he can cure them, he does. He can heal, and his blood is more potent than most. But sometimes it’s too noticeable or sometimes they’re beyond that help. Like Esme - and Rosalie.

“He found Rosalie after we came to America and he brought her to me with the intention that I should have a companion, but we were always more like brother and sister. It wasn’t until a few years later that she found Emmett while she was hunting. He – he had been injured severely by a bear. She carried him to Carlisle and begged him to do it for her. I can only imagine what that must have been like, carrying his bloodied body for miles.”

“But she succeeded.”

“Yes. Emmett was…unhappy, at first, but when he learned that Rosalie was the one who wanted to save him, he was understandably a little happier.” Edward smirked. “They’ve been together for years now. They often live off by themselves as a married couple. Our routine – enroll in high school, etc – means that we can stay in one place longer. After they graduate, they get married and move away, which means that next year we’ll probably have to hold their wedding for the billionth time.”

“That’s oddly romantic,” I remarked, charmed. “And what of Alice and Jasper?”

“They developed apart from us. Alice found Jasper after he was turned; he was with another family, a very different one. He was unhappy with them and left. That was when Alice found him.

“Alice – sees things. She has visions, usually of the future. It’s…hard on her. She sometimes can’t separate her visions from what’s actually happening. She was a seer before she was turned, but the turning drove her almost completely mad.” Edward shuddered and covered his face with his hands for a moment before he was able to continue. “She doesn’t remember it, for the most part, but I think it was a much worse experience than I, or Emmett or Rosalie, had. She was abandoned after she was turned and she woke up with no understanding of what had happened. When she’s having her more lucid moments, she says that the only thing that kept her going was her visions of us, knowing she’d have a family.”

I didn’t know what to say in reply. Edward’s hands had clenched into fists as he struggled to regain control of himself. After a moment, he looked at me, waiting for me to ask my next question. “Does she see me?” I asked curiously, turning as he gestured at me to do so.

“No. She sees people talking about you – me talking about you, that was part of the reason she was okay with you. But she’s never seen you. She’s most sensitive to others like us. She knows when others are coming, if they’re a danger.” His face darkened. “There aren’t many of us, but most of them are dangerous. We’ve only ever found one other family like ours. They’re the ones who live in Alaska.”

“How do those vampires remain undetected?” I wanted to know. “Surely people notice if there are a lot of mysterious disappearances.”

“They mostly travel. We’ve all done it, though it gets tedious, especially the nocturnal living. That’s why most prefer the sunless north, though vampires with darker skin find it easier to pass in the sunnier areas of the world.” He snorted faintly. “We pale-skins get the raw end of the deal, in some ways.” He looked up and said, “Turn here. We’re almost there.”

The road led through a small copse of trees to a vast expanse of grass – a giant lawn. And out of the field rose an elegant building, well-proportioned, and completely unlike what I had expected. In the back of my mind, I had imagined some sort of Dracula-esque gothic castle, but instead I saw a beautiful building, with huge glass windows and whitewashed walls.

“This is beautiful,” I said, awed as I pulled up to the front of the house. “I hadn’t pictured it like this.”

Edward smiled again and opened the door, sliding out. He came around to my side of the truck to open my door and help me out. He took my hand in his and asked, “Are you ready to meet my family?”

“Yes,” I said surely, and we walked up the steps to the Cullens’ home together.

Chapter Text

The inside of the house was just as unexpected as the outside. The doors opened up into a wide, open space with pale wooden floors and giant windows along the whitewashed walls. A winding staircase in the corner led to the second floor and a beautiful black grand piano sat underneath.

“This is beautiful,” I said in a hushed voice, unwilling to break the silence. “Really, it is.”

“Thank you,” Edward said. He curved a hand around my elbow and led me further into the room, calling, “Carlisle! Esme, I’m home!”

“Edward,” a lovely, faintly accented voice said warmly, stepping out of a door to my left – the kitchen, I realized as I smelled food. “This must be Bella.”

I turned to see a beautiful woman standing a little way away from me, as though she was wary of getting too close. She had softly rounded features and thick dark blonde hair, wavy and rich. She was beautiful in the way of old movie stars, and she fairly exuded kindness and warmth.

“Esme, this is Bella Swan,” Edward said, a faint note of excitement in his voice. “Bella, this is Esme.”

“I’ve heard so much about you,” Esme murmured, stepping closer. “I’ve never seen Edward so excited about anything.”

“Esme!” Edward exclaimed, and I glanced over to see him ducking his head in embarrassment. If he were human, he would have been blushing.

“What? I’m only telling her the truth.” Esme smiled at me. “I hope you like pasta. I made more than we need. You can take it home with you if you like.”

“That would be great,” I nodded. “Both Charlie and I are awful at cooking.”

Esme laughed and said, “I haven’t cooked for anyone who really enjoys it in quite some time, so I can’t promise it will be any good.” She looked around, frowning. “Now where is Carlisle?”

“Here,” Carlisle said, appearing at her side. She jumped, startled, and pressed her hand to her chest.

“Honey, I thought I told you to stop doing that,” she complained, but she was grinning fondly. Carlisle pressed a kiss to her cheek and smiled cheekily.

“I love it when you’re annoyed with me,” he murmured in an undertone. Edward cleared his throat loudly, and they both looked back up at us sheepishly.

“It’s nice to see you again, Dr. Cullen,” I said shyly. “In better circumstances, too.”

“Call me Carlisle, please,” Carlisle protested.

“Carlisle, then. Your home is beautiful,” I enthused. “Thank you for inviting me.”

“Of course,” Esme said. “You’re always welcome.”

“Where are Alice and Jasper?” Edward broke in.

Esme rolled her eyes in fond exasperation. “They’re in their room, working on some experiment. Just follow the racket.”

“Alice wanted to see you,” Edward explained to me. “Would you like to go see her?”

“Sure,” I nodded and he linked our hands before leading me up the stairs. “They’re very nice.”

“They like you,” Edward said. “They’re glad I found someone.” He squeezed my hand and pulled me up after him.

At the top of the stairs, we ran into Rosalie and Emmett. I froze, staring at Rosalie. She looked at me, her lips pursed. Edward stopped, shifting from foot to foot nervously. “Rosie, Emmett, this is Bella.”

Rosalie stared at me a moment longer and then nodded shortly. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” I said faintly. Emmett grinned at me and gave me a lazy salute before following Rosalie down the stairs. I glanced at Edward. “She really doesn’t like me, does she.”

“It’s not that she doesn’t like you personally,” Edward explained. “It’s just – I think she misses being human. And she doesn’t understand why I can’t stay away from you.”

“What about Emmett?” I asked.

“He thinks I’m crazy,” he admitted, smiling. “But he thinks you seem nice enough. All the others like you, if only for my sake.” I digested this thoughtfully. After a moment, Edward tugged on my hand again and said, “Come on, let’s go see Alice.”

I nodded and followed him down the thickly carpeted hall. He knocked on an unlabeled door and called, “Alice? Jasper?”

A moment later, the door was yanked open and Jasper took us in. “Come in,” he said after a brief moment. “She’s waiting.”

I hesitantly followed Edward inside the room, which was spacious and incredibly messy. A large bed took up a good portion of the room, but the rest of the floor was mostly covered by piles and piles of books. Alice sat on the floor, the gutted remains of a laptop in front of her.

“Red and glass and mirrors,” she said when she saw me, and then she shook her head. “Hi, Bella.”

“Hi, Alice,” I said softly. “What are you working on?”

“Fixing. Making it faster, giving it more space. Upgrading.” She twirled a screwdriver between her fingers and then patted the floor next to her. “Come, sit next to me.”

I carefully stepped over the piles of books to her side and I sat, watching as she deftly removed a metallic chip from the computer. “You’re pretty good at this.”

“I’ve had some practice,” she said, sounding amused. “I feel like I almost know you, except that I’ve only seen what Edward says about you. I’ve never seen you and that’s strange.”

Jasper made a noise that sounded a little like, “Aha!” and he dove for one of the piles of books, digging through it until he found the one that he wanted.

“Has Edward played piano for you yet?” Alice asked as she exchanged her screwdriver for a smaller one.

“He never said he could play,” I told her, raising my eyebrows at Edward. He shrugged, an embarrassed little smile on his face.

“Esme taught all of us, but Edward’s the best. He always was. You should make him play for you.” She looked up suddenly and said, “And have him show you the library. You’ll like it.”

“Okay?” I looked up at Edward for help, but he shook his head.

“And Bella – beware the false prophet,” Alice said seriously, her eyes wide. I nodded, not sure what to say. She pushed at my shoulder gently. “Go, be with your boyfriend.”

I stumbled to my feet and made my way back to Edward. “Wow,” I said under my breath.”

“She’s pretty intense,” Edward agreed. “She was more lucid than usual today, though.”

“I can’t imagine what she’s like usually, then,” I said. “Even more cryptic, I suppose.”

“You could say that,” he agreed, laughing. “Now come on, I’ll show you the library.” He took my hand in his, skin cold against mine. “I think you’ll like it.”

I followed him down the hallway to a pair of double doors. He released my hand and gave me a small smile before throwing the doors open.

I couldn’t hold back a gasp as I stepped into a large, brightly lit room with floor to ceiling bookshelves. A long, comfortable-looking couch sat in the middle of the room, piles of books surrounding them. “Oh my god, this is incredible.”

“We collect books,” Edward said sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck. “Sometimes Esme writes under pseudonyms, too.”

I picked up a book off the top of a pile and read, Huckleberry Finn. The inside cover had a messy scrawl that looked suspiciously like “Mark Twain.”

“Is that?” I asked in a shaky voice, pointing at it. Edward grinned and nodded. I gingerly closed the cover of the book and set it back down on the title. “Are you serious?”

“This is how we make our money, a lot of times,” Edward explained, spreading his arms wide. “We buy books we think might be valuable later and sell them once they’re collectors’ items – keeping a copy for ourselves, of course.”

“That’s clever,” I had to admit. “This is incredible.”

“Well, we’ve had a lot of time to collect things,” Edward pointed out, a little dryly. “Especially Carlisle.”

“How old is Carlisle, exactly?” I asked, glancing back over my shoulder at Edward.

“He’s not entirely sure. He was born sometime in the late sixteenth century.” Edward shook his head. “He saw Hamlet at the Globe.”

“No,” I gasped, shoving at his shoulder. “Seriously?”

“I know,” Edward sighed, shaking his head. “Don’t you hate him for that?”

“I’m so jealous!” I exclaimed, throwing my hands in the air. “All of you have lived so much, seen more than I ever will.”

Edward smiled at me fondly and said, “And yet we are jealous of you, for your humanity.”

I rolled my eyes and said, “Shakespeare at the Globe.”

I browsed the books in the library a little while longer, Edward providing commentary when I asked about some of the stranger volumes. Eventually, he said, “We should probably go back downstairs – Esme’s probably almost done with lunch.”

“You still have to play piano for me,” I reminded him, raising my eyebrows at him. He sighed, but smiled and led the way back downstairs. I sat on the bottom step as he seated himself at the piano. He rubbed his hands on his jeans and then gently settled his hands on the keys, seeming to prepare himself. Then he began to play.

He played with utter surety, utter sincerity, and complete confidence. There was a richness of emotion in his playing and the music filled the room, rich and ethereal. I wrapped a hand around the railing of the stair and closed my eyes to take in the music completely.

The song wasn’t long, and it was over before I was ready. The last notes were left lingering in the air, seemingly unresolved. I opened my eyes and saw that the light seemed to have brightened. Edward was lit by a beam of sunlight, catching on his strange skin and making him seem even further away.

“That was beautiful,” I told him softly. “What is it called?”

“Suite Bergamesque, by Debussy,” he said, his voice just as quiet. “Have you ever played?”

“No,” I said regretfully. “I’m not very good with music.”

“Why don’t you give it a try?” Edward suggested, patting the piano bench. “I’ll teach you a little bit.”

I sighed and pulled myself upright to join him. I sat down on his right side and let him position my hand on the keys. “This will probably sound terrible.”

“This is what I want you to play,” he said, playing six notes slowly. I imitated him, watching my fingers closely. “Good. Now just keep playing that.”

I nodded and concentrated on not fumbling a note. He began to play something low in the bass, his right hand moving quickly up and down the keys. I felt myself get into the groove of the song and picked up the pace, Edward’s hands speeding up to match me.

“See?” Edward said triumphantly. “Not that hard.”

My fingers instantly slipped and I flubbed a note. “Ah, Christ,” I muttered, dropping my hand. Edward made an undignified snorting noise and then covered his mouth guiltily. I made a face at him and asked, “What was that, anyway?”

“Something I’ve been working on.” He stood and offered me a hand up. “I’m not very good at composing, but I figure the more I try, the better I’ll get.”

“It sounded nice,” I said. The smell of food was beginning to waft through the house and I took a deep sniff. “Man, that smells awesome.”

“Does it?” asked Esme from behind us. I jumped and turned to see her standing at the door to the kitchen. “I was so nervous that I’d forgotten how to cook.”

“It smells wonderful,” I said honestly. “Is it ready?”

“Yes, come eat.” I followed her into a large kitchen with tall seats at the counter along the back wall. I clambered up onto one, Edward taking the seat next to me. Esme spooned pasta onto a plate and set it in front of me, watching eagerly as I took the first bite.

They were just ordinary noodles, but she’d made a really good pasta sauce, with just the right amount of spices and vegetables. I gave her thumbs up and she beamed.

“I’ll just pack up the rest for you and you can take it when you go,” she said, and she turned away to give us privacy. I gave Edward a look and he laughed sheepishly.

“Like I said,” he murmured, “she’s happy for me.” I turned and watched as Esme quickly and efficiently put away the leftover pasta into Tupperware she must have specially bought for my visit. She glanced over at me, smiled, and left, shutting the kitchen door behind her.

“Tell me more about Carlisle,” I said after a moment. “So he was born in England, like you?”

Edward nodded. “Son of an Anglican pastor. His mother died in childbirth and his father became more and more fanatical as the years went on. He was a strong believer in witches, werewolves, and, of course, vampires. He led hunts for them. Probably killed a lot of innocent people along the way, but maybe he got some real ones, too.

“Carlisle went along with him on a raid, once. This time, they’d found the real deal – a coven of vampires. One of them caught him and Carlisle was bit. He knew that his father would burn him if he knew, so he crawled away and hid himself in a cellar until he was found by another vampire.

“He doesn’t know who that vampire was – he was weak from blood loss at that point and almost dead. The vampire – he, she must have taken pity on Carlisle, or something, because he was turned.” Edward paused and I knew that he was avoiding saying something. “After that is another story.”

“I’d like to know,” I said softly. “If you don’t mind.”

“I’ll take you to Carlisle’s study, we’ll look at his things.” Edward gestured at me impatiently. “Hurry up, hurry up.”

I rolled my eyes but ate as quickly as I could. When I was through, I set the plate in the clearly unused sink and followed Edward out of the room. On the way, we ran into Jasper, who stopped me with, “Bella, wait.”

“Yes?” I asked curiously.

“Have you been having a lot of headaches lately?” he inquired, apparently at random. “Or weird dreams?”

“Yes?” I ventured cautiously. “Yes to both.”

“Okay,” Jasper said vaguely and he wandered off, opening the book he was carrying.

“What the hell was that about?” I demanded of Edward, looking up at him. Edward shrugged.

“We’ll probably find out soon enough,” he pointed out. “Now, ready to go see Carlisle?”

“Sure, okay,” I said, and I followed him back up the stairs.

Chapter Text

Edward led me down the hall to Carlisle’s office. He knocked gently on the closed door and called, “Carlisle?”

“Come in,” came Carlisle’s voice, and Edward pushed the door open into a wood-paneled room. Light streamed in through the huge windows in the outer wall, illuminating the dust motes like stars. Books – mostly medical journals and biology books – were piled around the room, and I tried to calculate how many books the Cullens had in total. Hundreds, I thought, perhaps thousands.

Carlisle was sitting behind a large desk covered in papers, the light shining off his light hair. He was writing something down on a sheet of paper, a small frown of concentration furrowing his brow.

“Are you busy?” Edward asked politely. “We can come back later.”

Carlisle set down his pen, shaking his head, and said, “Just finishing up some paperwork for the hospital. What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to show Bella some of our history. Well, your history, really.” Edward closed the door and led me to the shelves against the wall next to the door. These shelves were covered in picture frames, some old, some new. I recognized Edward in a few of them, Esme in others. There were several versions of wedding photos for Rosalie and Emmett - I particularly liked the one that looked as though it came from the 1970s - and a couple of Alice and Jasper. I refrained from making a joke about vampires appearing in photographs.

“Ah,” Carlisle said, and I heard him rise to his feet. “Why can’t you tell the story? You know it as well as I do by now.”

“You tell it better,” Edward countered. He stepped back to allow Carlisle to come closer. Carlisle stood next to me and pointed at a small painting of a sixteenth century village.

“That’s where I’m from,” Carlisle said quietly, his light accent becoming more pronounced. “It’s called Bristol now. Not a particularly wonderful place to live, but it was close to London, and that’s where I ended up after a while.”

“What did you do?” I asked. “After…you know.”

Carlisle snorted quietly and said, “Yes, after.” He touched the back of my arm gently. “Come, sit down.”

Edward nudged me and I turned to sit in one of the obscenely comfortable chairs. Edward sat in the other while Carlisle returned to his seat behind the desk. He settled back, folding his hands thoughtfully. “After. It was – hard. I tried to kill myself, but that’s not easy to do. There are very few ways that we can be killed. I tried jumping off buildings, off cliffs, drowning myself. I didn’t feed, hoping to starve myself. I became weak, unable to control myself, so I stayed away from humans.

“I wandered, ended up in the north, and I realized that deer could serve as a substitute for humans. I found that I could live on animal blood rather than human and I realized that I could make this curse into a blessing. I had all the time in the world to achieve my dreams. I could study, learn everything I wanted to know. So I began to study by night, making plans for the future. Saw Shakespeare, gained a little bit of culture. And when I was ready to leave England, I swam to France.”

“You swam the channel?” I asked in amazement, then shook my head. “I guess it wouldn’t be as hard for you as for us mere humans, but that’s incredible.”

“It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that.” Carlisle flashed a smile. “It helped that we don’t technically need to breathe.”

“Of course, you have no blood to oxygenate,” I muttered softly. His smile widened. “What, I pay attention in Biology.”

“You’re very clever,” Carlisle said softly. “I can see why Edward is so fond of you.”

Edward cleared his throat, embarrassed. “So you went to France.”

“Yes,” Carlisle nodded, giving Edward an amused look. He glanced to his side towards a beautiful, brightly colored painting, depicting a number of people in bright robes in a marble city. He shook his head and continued, “I studied in universities all around Europe and I found myself drawn to medicine – to science, to helping people. I thought it was appropriate penance for what I had become.

“It took a long time, but eventually I was able to shut out the smell of human blood. It was…difficult, as I can imagine Edward has described to you. But I’ve always been…pig-headed, I suppose, or at least Esme would tell you that.” He smiled, a little self-deprecatingly. “So I taught myself to ignore the temptation and now I’m able to do what I love without worrying about my control slipping. I find it comforting.”

“I don’t think I could ever be a doctor,” I said frankly. “Losing someone would hurt me too much.”

“We’ve somewhat adjusted to that reality,” Carlisle remarked, but he sounded fond. He gestured to the painting that he’d been staring at before. “I was in Italy when I met them – another group of vampires. They were far more civilized than the ones I had met in London. Go, look.”

I stood and approached the painting, staring at the partially obscured faces of the robed figures. With a start, I realized that I recognized the blond man towards the right of the painting. “That’s you?”

“Artemisia Gentileschi was fascinated by the Volturi, which is what they called themselves.” Carlisle joined me at the painting and indicated a handsome man. “Aro.” Another, dark-haired man who looked almost like a pirate with his swarthy skin and cheeky smile. “Marcus.” Finally, a slender, young man who was clearly beautiful, though he was turned away from the painter. “Caius. They tried to ‘cure’ me of my aversion to my ‘natural food source,’ as they called it. I admired their intelligence and cultural refinement, but they had been isolated from humanity for so long that they thought themselves above all natural laws.”

“What happened to them?” I asked, fascinated by the bright figures. “Are they still in Italy?”

“Last I heard, yes.” Carlisle returned to his seat. “I was unable to convince them to see my way, so I left for America – still The New World, at that point, if you can believe it – and traveled, but was unable to find any companions. I returned to England and sought out my old hometown. Eventually – I found Edward.”

Edward shifted in his seat, eyes downcast. Carlisle’s gaze was directed at him now. “Would you like to tell this part?” Carlisle asked gently.

“No, you can.” Edward looked at his hands. “I’d rather not.”

“He’d been – attacked.” Carlisle made an aborted gesture with his hands, but I instantly understood what he meant. “He was bleeding, injured both physically and emotionally. I – I didn’t think. He reminded me so much of boys I had been unable to save and he deserved another chance. And I was lonely. So I changed him.”

Carlisle spread his hands. “I asked around first and found out he was an orphan. I didn’t want him to be on his own again, left with his own personal demons to wrestle with. I felt…pity.”

“And I hated you,” Edward whispered. “Oh, how I hated you. I was so reluctant to accept any kindness. I thought you wanted – something else from me. Even though your thoughts were so kind, so – sincere. I ran off, not long after, and lived on my own for some time, but I couldn’t after I accidentally listened to a girl –” He stopped.

“In any case, you returned, after I’d found Esme.” Carlisle reached out and Edward took his hand. “We were glad to take you back.” They shared a look and I knew somehow that they were communicating telepathically.

I felt a little awkward, as though I was an intruder. “Thank you for telling me,” I said softly. They glanced at me and smiled in unison. “I hope you realize how creepy that is,” I added.

Edward chuckled and brushed my shoulder with his hand. “Don’t hold back, Bella.”

“Shoo,” Carlisle ordered with an affectionate grin. “Go do couple things and let me do my work.”

“Fine.” Edward took my hand and helped me up. “What now?”

“You haven’t shown me your room,” I teased, waggling my eyebrows. Carlisle burst out laughing, his handsome face open and welcoming.

“You’ve picked a great one, Edward,” he announced. He waved his hands at us. “Go, go. Have fun, be careful, all that.”

“Yes, Dad,” Edward grated out in mock-annoyance before towing me out of the office and down the hall. “Did you really want to see my room?”

“A room is one of the most revealing things about a person,” I said wisely. “Now come on, what do you have to be ashamed of? Playboy, Penthouse? You can tell me, I won’t judge.”

Edward rolled his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous, porn is exploitative and frankly disgusting.”

“Now you’re just trying too hard,” I warned him with a grin. He made a face at me and pushed the door to his room open, gesturing me in.

It was large, though not as big as Alice and Jasper’s. And while he had plenty of books around the room, what was more impressive was the intimidating stereo system against the back wall and the huge shelf full of CDs and records. There were even some cassettes mixed in with them. An iPod lay on top of the stereo, a cable dangling from the headphone jack. There was no bed, only a red futon.

“Nice room,” I remarked, looking around. “Good acoustics?”

Edward grinned and headed towards the stereo. He flicked it on and the room filled with a song I vaguely recognized from something Eliza had sent me. “Yeah, pretty good.”

“Who is this?” I asked curiously.

“Broken Social Scene.” He sat down on his futon and watched as I browsed his CD collection. They didn’t seem to be in any particular order, but I suspected he had some obscure method of organization, so I refrained from taking any out. “I like music.”

“I noticed,” I said dryly, shooting him a smile. “I know I already said it, but thank you for trusting me with all that knowledge. It must have taken a lot of guts.”

“It’s only fair,” Edward murmured, propping his elbow on the back of the futon. “You’ve been incredibly understanding; you deserve to know the truth.”

“Stop treating it like it wasn’t a big deal.” I joined him on the futon and laid my hand against his chest, right where his heart should have been beating. “What Carlisle said – about what happened to you. I understand if you’re hesitant –”

“I’ve had more than a hundred years to deal with the trauma, Bella,” Edward interrupted. “But I appreciate your concern.” He curled his hand around my wrist and pulled me gently into a kiss. His lips were cool, but warmed under mine, and his hand slid to rest against my back. I kissed back eagerly; there was something so pleasing and comforting about a good kiss, and Edward, though he lacked slightly in finesse, had passion.

I had climbed half into his lap, my hands cupping his jaw, when there was a sudden knock at the door. We broke apart and I was pleased to see that Edward looked rumpled. I slid off him and tugged at my shirt as Edward said, “Come in!”

Alice and Jasper came in; Alice was grinning, her pretty face unusually clear. “I hope we aren’t interrupting anything,” she said mischievously. “You look a little…ruffled.”

“I figured it out,” Jasper said before Edward could reply. “I figured everything out.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Edward demanded, frowning. “Figured what out?”

“Bella.” Jasper directed his gaze at me. “I figured out about her.”

“What about me?” I asked, growing a little nervous. “What’s going on?”

“You know how Alice can’t see Bella? And you can’t read her mind, and I can’t influence her, and Carlisle can’t heal her.” Jasper looked at me. “This is why I asked about your dreams and headaches.”

“What is it?” demanded Edward. “Get to the point already.”

“She’s a mage,” Jasper said. “Bella, you have magic.”

Chapter Text

“What?” demanded Edward, his eyes opening wide. “Jasper, what the hell do you mean?”

“You know this store,” Alice said, rolling her eyes. “All the stories say it – there are three of kinds of supernatural beings. Werewolves, vampires, and witches. Our powers are mage-gifts – some of our ancestors were probably mages.”

“True mages have all but vanished – there are a few families rumored to live in Europe, but none in America.” Jasper gestured at the book he was carrying. “But Bella matches the descriptions – all the sources I’ve found say that mage-kind have natural defenses against vampires. They can withstand our glamours, our powers – Bella’s powers probably lay dormant in her family until she came in contact with one of us.”

I shakily groped for the futon, sitting down heavily. Edward looked at me worriedly; I waved my hand for Jasper to continue, making myself breathe evenly.

“That’s why I asked about her headaches and her dreams – usually mage children are given training from childhood to control their shielding and are taught to deal with their emerging powers, but Bella’s powers probably didn’t even emerge until she arrived here – when did you start noticing the headaches?” Jasper suddenly directed his sharp gaze at me, and I tried not to jump.

“Um, after the accident,” I said, thinking back. “I figured it was probably from hitting my head, but they’re pretty intense.”

“Makes sense,” Jasper muttered, flipping through his book. “The trauma and frequent contact with Edward likely accelerated the progression of your abilities. Have you noticed anything odd?”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like things moving, unexplained occurrences, probably when you’re upset?” Jasper suggested. “And your dreams, they probably are fragmented images, possibly visions of the future.”

“Sometimes things move when Bella’s upset,” Edward said slowly. “Those men in Port Angeles – I didn’t take them out, they fell. And there have been other things, too.”

I thought back and recalled all the unexplained things that happened to me – shattered light bulbs, moving keys. “He’s right. But what do you mean about these dreams?”

“Foresight is a mage-gift,” Alice said, pointing at herself. “Your dreams, they probably mean something.”

“Holy shit,” I breathed, pressing my hand to my head. “Holy shit.

“What does this mean for us?” Edward demanded, reaching out to lay a hand on my knee. “What do we do?”

“She’s going to have to learn to control her powers,” Jasper said. “One moment.” He vanished briefly, then reappeared almost instantly, carrying a precariously balanced pile of books. “These are all the sources I’ve managed to locate that could help.”

I accepted the pile of books, noting that most of them looked very old. “So you think this is a family thing?”

“Probably on your mother’s side,” Alice said, narrowing her eyes thoughtfully. “Sheriff Swan’s never shown any signs of it. It explains the darkness and the light.”

I blinked at her, then looked back at the books. Wychcraft: the practice and the art, the first one said in archaic script. “Maybe I should go home and read these.”

“I’ll take you,” Edward said immediately. He took the books from me and gave me a hand up. “Thanks for figuring all this out, Jasper.”

Jasper nodded, eying me as I passed. “I think this means something,” he told us. “It’s no accident that you and Bella found each other.”

“It’s the needle of the compass,” Alice said, eyes suddenly going vague. “A third balancing part.” She blinked and shook her head. “Be careful.”

Edward just stared at her for a moment, thoughtfully, then guided me downstairs. He kept shooting worried glances at me. Finally, he asked, “Are you all right?”

I considered the question and shrugged. “I guess? It explains things. I’m more worried about how I’m going to hide this from people.” I pulled out my keys and offered them to him. “Can you drive?”

“Sure.” He took them, balancing the books in one hand. “We should start reading and maybe start testing out your powers.” Edward opened the car door for me and handed me the pile of books. “Do you think you’re up to that?”

“Maybe the first part for tonight.” I started shuffling through the books as Edward headed around to the driver’s seat. “Man, some of these books are really old.”

“Study of mages sort of fell out of fashion in the past century,” Edward explained as he pulled away from his house. “There was a lot of dilution of the mage gift over the years and people have stopped believing, too.”

I opened the book that had landed on the top – The Mystickal Arte of Magick. There was a woodcarving at the front that showed a young man holding his hand out in front of him, sparks flying from his fingertips. “Do you think I’m dangerous?”

Edward didn’t say anything for a moment, staring at the road. Then, he said, “I don’t know.”

I ran my hand over the illustration thoughtfully. “I wonder.” I turned the page delicately and read the table of contents.

1. How to tell a wych-childe
2. Teaching the childe
3. Shield spells
4. Attack spells
5. Advanced spells

 

“I feel like I’m in Harry Potter,” I remarked, turning the page again. Edward laughed shortly as we entered the main part of Forks.

“I suppose it is a bit like that.” He glanced over at me and shook his head. “You’re taking this much more calmly than I would if I were in your situation.”

“Thanks to you, I am already predisposed to expect strange things.” I pointed at the chapter I had flipped to. “I guess we’ll need to read the chapters on how to teach children.”

“Mmm. We’ll need to hide those from your dad, too,” Edward remarked as we pulled up in front of my house. Charlie’s car was sitting in the driveway. “How do you want to do this?”

“If you distract him, I’ll take them up to my room.” I opened the door and slid out of the car, clutching the pile of books to my chest. “Talk to him about what we did today or something, he’ll probably ask.”

“Okay.” Edward was suddenly standing at my side; it hadn’t gotten any less unnerving, the way he could move so quickly. “So we’re going to do this. Introduce me as your boyfriend.”

I arched an eyebrow at him. “Unless you’ve changed your mind?”

Edward laughed and pressed a gentle kiss to my temple. “Of course not.”

“Well, then, yes.” I hoisted the books up a little and headed up the path to the front door. “You have the keys,” I told Edward. “Could you get the door?”

“Oh, sure.” He pulled the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door, pushing it open and bowing elaborately. I rolled my eyes at him and headed inside.

“Dad!” I called when I entered. “I’m home! And I brought I guest!”

“I’m in the living room!” he called back. I jerked my head in the direction of the living room and Edward nodded, tossing my keys onto the hallway table. I scurried upstairs and dropped the books on my bed before hurrying back downstairs.

Edward was sitting next to Charlie, watching basketball. When I came in, he looked up and said, “You know what we forgot? The pasta Esme made.”

“Crap,” I said, smacking my forehead. “And she made extra just so I could take some home.”

“That was nice of her,” Charlie remarked, smiling up at me. He patted the cushion on his other side and said, “Sit.”

“I’ll bring the leftovers to school on Monday, if you still want them,” Edward suggested.

“Definitely. Neither of us can cook.” I elbowed Charlie playfully and he nudged me back. “So, hey, Dad. Edward and I want to tell you something.”

Charlie looked up at my tone and muted the television. “What is it, Bella?”

Edward got up and moved so that he was sitting next to me. He took my hand in his and said, “Mr. Swan, we’re dating.”

Charlie didn’t say anything for a moment; then he grinned widely and said, “That’s fantastic. I’m very happy for you two. I guess you told Carlisle and Esme today?”

“They pretty much already knew,” Edward murmured, looking at me fondly. “I couldn’t stop talking about Bella.”

“Bella stayed pretty quiet about you,” Charlie told him, teasingly. “Ashamed, eh, Bella?”

“Oh, you have no idea,” I drawled, smiling up at Edward. Edward leaned down and pecked me on the lips, as though he couldn’t stop himself.

Charlie flapped his hand at us. “Teenagers. Jeez, go upstairs already and let me watch my game in peace.”

“Dad!” I exclaimed, scandalized. “Aren’t you concerned for your only daughter?”

“Not really.” Charlie fixed Edward with a stare. “I am the sheriff, after all.”

I bit back a laugh; Charlie had no idea what he was up against. Edward was shaking with silent laughter next to me. “We promise to be safe,” I teased Charlie, pulling Edward up.

“I’m going to pretend that you’re sitting across the room from each other and playing Pictionary, okay?” Charlie said, waving us on. “No, but seriously, be careful, guys. I’m not going to delude myself into forgetting that you’re not teenagers, but safety first.”

“Oh my god,” I said, totally horrified and amused by Dad’s antics. “We’re going now, goodbye.”

Dad waved goodbye to us and unmuted the television as we left the room. The moment we were out of earshot, Edward burst into hysterical laughter, clutching onto my shoulder for support.

“Your dad is amazing,” he told me once he’d somewhat regained control of himself.

“I know,” I said fondly. “He really is, isn’t he?” I patted Edward on the back and clambered upstairs, hearing his soft steps behind me.

My room seemed a whole lot smaller with Edward in it; he didn’t seem to notice, though. He picked one of the books off my bed and sat cross-legged on the floor, opening it to the table of contents. He made a couple of thinking noises and then flipped to a page about a third of the way into the book.

“Okay,” he said after a moment. “One of the most basic things – making things move. We already know you can do this, so let’s try to get you to do it intentionally.” He looked around before spotting my desk. “Let’s try a pen.”

I grabbed one from my penholder and sat down across from him, setting the pen in between us. “Right. So what do I do now?”

“Concentrate. Think about making the pen move.” Edward watched me closely as I stared at the pen, willing it to float into the air. I pictured it in my head, stared as hard as I could, shut out everything else.

The pen didn’t move.

I sighed and sat back. “I don’t think I get it.”

“Bella, I know you can do this,” Edward said reprovingly. “I’ve seen you do it before.”

“Well, I don’t know how I did it then, because I can’t do it now,” I snapped, annoyed. “It’s not like anyone ever explained this shit to me, it just came out of me!” There was something bubbling up inside, like water boiling, and suddenly the feeling burst inside of me.

The pen twitched, rose up on one end, and then fell back down.

“Holy shit,” I breathed, staring at the pen. “How did I do that?” I looked up at Edward, who was flipping through the book quickly.

“Of course,” he said as he skimmed one of the pages. “I’m an idiot for not realizing – every other time you did magic, it was when you were angry, or upset in some way. It’s triggered by your emotions, but you have to find some way of harnessing it without getting upset.” He looked up and met my eyes eagerly. “Do you remember what it felt like?”

“I think so.” I closed my eyes and concentrated on that odd bubbling feeling, pulling it to the surface. It didn’t want to come, but I pulled hard until it was bubbling right under my skin, ready to burst. I opened my eyes and stared at the pen, willing it to rise.

The pen rolled over and then slowly began to float up into the air until it was level with my eyes. I gasped, losing my grip, and the pen fell back to the carpet. My head began to ache, more intense this time. I pinched the bridge of my nose and hissed, “Shit.”

“Bella, that was incredible!” Edward exclaimed, delighted. Then he saw that I had hunched over and he touched my shoulder gently. “Are you all right?”

“I have a massive headache,” I muttered. Edward tapped my shoulder to get me to turn around, so I did. He began to massage my shoulders, pressing his thumbs into the knots at the base of my neck. “Oh, that’s good.”

“The book said that might happen,” Edward told me as he rubbed the knots away. “It takes a lot of your energy. The more you train, simple magic like that won’t drain you as much.”

“So I’m not dangerous, then,” I said, then hissed as he hit a particularly painful knot. “I mean, if I was super-powerful, then I wouldn’t be so tired after something so easy.”

“My guess is you’re probably midrange.” Edward’s hands moved up my neck towards the base of my skull. “I obviously haven’t done much research, but I caught a couple of things that make me think you’re probably about average. That’s not to say you’re not dangerous.”

“What do you mean?” I asked cautiously. Edward’s hands paused.

“Clearly, you’re more powerful when you’re emotional,” he said reluctantly. “If anything happened to really upset you, you could probably cause some damage.”

“Like those guys who tried to mug me,” I said, remembering the way they’d fallen back.

“Like them.” Edward dropped his hands. “You want to nap? I’ll read some of these books if you need some rest.”

“A nap might actually be really good,” I said, rolling my shoulders. I dragged myself to my feet and looked down at Edward. “Are you sure you don’t mind doing the research yourself?”

Edward shook his head. “It’s fine. I might as well know this stuff too. And some of these books look like they might be difficult to get through.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said dryly, leaning down to kiss him. He tilted his head up to accept the kiss, one hand coming up to cup the curve of my jaw. “Wake me in an hour.”

Edward nodded and I climbed back onto my bed, curling up on my side so that I could see Edward. He looked very human, hunched over a book, hair curling softly over his face. I smiled and closed my eyes, letting myself drift off to sleep.

*****

I dreamed of mirrors again, and of wolves, growling and snapping at their reflections. I awoke with a start when Edward shook me awake.

“You were having a dream,” Edward said, eyeing me closely. “Do you have any idea what it meant?”

I shook my head and pressed my hand to my eyes. “No, but I’ve been having a lot of dreams about mirrors and wolves lately.”

“Hmm.” Edward frowned. “I doubt we’ll have any idea what they mean until they come true.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that feeling to,” I muttered, straightening up. According to the clock on my wall, it was almost six p.m. “You let me sleep for more than an hour,” I said accusingly. Edward grinned.

“You need your sleep, Bella,” he said sagely. “Anyway, I thought I’d go home soon so Charlie doesn’t try to offer me dinner. And before he realizes I don’t have my car here.”

“Smart move,” I said, sliding off my bed. He took my hand and pressed a kiss to the center of my palm. “Edward.”

“Today was really nice, Bella,” he told me seriously. “Thank you for going along with it.”

“Even the last bit?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.

“Even that,” he agreed. He kissed me, long and lingering. “Really, Bella. Today was one of the best days of my life.”

“Me too,” I said softly, giving in to the moment. “I’ll walk you downstairs.”

Edward nodded and took my hand. Dad came out of the kitchen when he heard us and frowned. “Leaving, Edward? Not going to stay for dinner?”

Edward shook his head regretfully. “I promised Esme I’d have dinner at home.”

“Of course, don’t let us keep you.” He waved his hands at us. “Thanks for coming by, Edward. You’re welcome any time.”

“Thank you, Mr. Swan,” Edward said politely, releasing my hand so he could shake Charlie’s.

Dad shook Edward’s hand, apparently not noticing how cold Edward’s skin was. “Please, call me Charlie.”

“Thank you,” Edward repeated, but he sounded pleased. He waved goodbye to Dad and we headed out to the front. He pressed another brief kiss to my lips and said, “I’ll see you on Monday, all right? Study those books, see if you notice anything that could be useful.”

“Sure,” I agreed. He smiled at me and touched my cheek for a brief moment before suddenly disappearing, a blur that quickly vanished down the street. I lifted my hand in goodbye, then headed back inside.

In the kitchen, Dad was peering at the instructions on the back of a pot stickers package. He looked up when he heard me come in and said, “Bella, come here. Do you want the pot stickers crispy or soft?”

“I feel like there’s less chance of us messing it up if we go with crispy,” I said. Dad nodded, grinning.

“Exactly what I was thinking.” He bumped my shoulder as he took the pot stickers out of the package. “So Edward Cullen, eh?”

I rolled my eyes, leaning down to get a pan from the cupboard. “Yeah, so what?”

“You just didn’t say that you liked him.” He handed me the vegetable oil and I poured some oil into the pan before setting on the stove. “And I’m impressed. He hasn’t dated anyone and I hear people talk – he’s not exactly hurting for admirers.”

I shrugged. “I think it’s because I don’t bullshit.” Dad laughed, pleased.

“You’re a good kid, Bella,” he told me as the oil began to sizzle. “Now, let’s try not to burn ourselves with this.”

I nodded and moved away as he slid the pot stickers into the pan.

Dinner was quiet, though Dad asked me a couple questions about what Edward and I had done (hung out in a park; visited the Cullens; studied). When we were through, I headed back upstairs. I was still feeling tired from earlier, so I stretched out on my bed, intending to shut my eyes for just a few minutes, but within five minutes, I was fast asleep.

Chapter Text

I woke up late the next morning to the sound of my cell phone ringing. I groped around until I found it and brought it to my ear as I rolled over onto my back.

“H’llo?” I murmured groggily.

“Oh my god Bella, were you still asleep?” Marlena asked, voice bright and far too loud for my comfort. “What did you and Edward do?” I could tell, even through the phone, that she was clapping her hands together.

“Nothing, it was just a long day.” I squinted at my clock and saw that it was a little past ten. “How was the dance?”

“Oh my god, you should have been there,” Marlena gushed. “Kaitlyn looked so gorgeous, all the guys were falling over themselves trying to ask her to dance and she was just so, so picky. But she could afford to be, she was the best-looking girl there, really. And Eric and Tyler had matching buttoners and everything, it should have been cheesy but it was just really cute.”

I let Marlena babble on as I sat up, rubbing at my face with my hands. I had slept in my jeans, but at some point during the night, I must have woken up and yanked them off because they were lying in an untidy heap next to my bed. I swung my legs over the edge of my bed and went rummaging for a change of clothes.

“So you had fun?” I asked, a little wistfully, when she finally concluded her story. Even though I hadn’t really wanted to go, Marlena made it sound like it had been really fun and I thought I could have enjoyed it with her and Kaitlyn and Eric.

“Yes,” she answered, definitely. “And you? Did you and Edward have fun?”

I considered the question for a moment and said slowly, “Yeah, I’d say we did.”

“Are you guys finally dating now?” she asked, sounding long-suffering. “He’s been making cow eyes at you since the accident, did you finally give in?”

“Um,” I hedged and Marlena started giggling.

“Oh my god, Eric is going to be so jealous,” she told me. “Edward Cullen, really?”

“Please don’t tell anyone yet?” I asked her. “I want to break the news myself.”

“Yeah, okay.” Marlena giggled. “Sorry for waking you up, Bella. Go back to sleep.”

“No, I’m up now. It’s good, I haven’t done my homework yet. Plus I got a ton of sleep last night, I should be fine.”

“Okay. I’m sure you’re just saying that to make me feel better, but okay.” Marlena laughed again and said, “Man, I can’t wait to see the looks on everyone’s faces on Monday!”

I rolled my eyes and bade her farewell before hanging up and going downstairs to make myself some breakfast. Dad was already down there, reading the newspaper. He looked up as I came down and said, “Edward let himself out last night.”

“Oh, good. I fell asleep. I was pretty tired.” I rummaged in the cupboard for a bowl and poured it full of cereal. “How was your night?”

“I slept well.” Dad glanced at his watch. “Billy and Jacob are coming over again today, around lunch time. That fine with you?”

I made sure to focus my gaze on my hands as I reached into the refrigerator and pulled out the milk. I wasn’t sure that I could look Billy in the eye with what I knew now, what I had found out about myself. “Sure. I’ll probably be able to get my homework done before then.”

I suddenly wished I had a phone number for Edward; I made a note to ask him if he had a cell phone and to make him get one if he didn’t. I didn’t know what I was going to do; I had totally ignored Billy’s warnings and now…

I just hoped he wouldn’t ask me too many questions.

*****

I tried to focus on homework while I waited for the Blacks to arrive, but I found it almost impossible. Same went for trying to read the magic books that Jasper had given me. They were so full of arcane language that I wanted to throw them against the wall and give up. But I remembered how it felt to lift the pen without touching it, and I knew that I needed to learn how to control my power.

Instead of reading, I sent off a quick email to Eliza, telling her that I now was officially dating Edward and filled her in on the details. At the end, I added, I know it may seem a little abrupt, I wrote, but we’ve been getting along really well now and he’s a really nice guy. I think he was just shy at first. I stared at the screen, wishing I could tell her the rest. I hated leaving things out, but there was no way she would believe me. I could hardly believe it and it was my life.

Around a quarter to noon, the doorbell rang and Dad yelled, “Bella! Billy and Jacob are here!”

I shut my laptop and got to my feet, taking a deep breath to steady myself. Then I headed downstairs, pasting on a smile.

Jacob wheeled his dad in and grinned at me. “Hey, Bella!” he called. I smiled back and headed in for a hug. He seemed surprised, but I was just grateful that he went along with it.

“Hey, Jacob,” I said warmly. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been good,” Jacob said, looking at me in confusion. Billy smiled at us and waved his hand.

“You two go talk, Charlie and I have some things to catch up on.” Dad shot me a curious look, but didn’t say anything as Jacob and I headed upstairs. Before Jacob came inside, I kicked the magic books under my bed and sat down on the floor, blocking them with my body.

“Is something up, Bella?” Jacob asked curiously, frowning. He sat down across from me and stretched out his long legs. “You’re acting a little weird.”

I sighed and rubbed my face with my hand. “I know. I was – well. You have to promise that you’ll keep this a secret. You can’t tell your dad, all right?”

Jacob raised his eyebrows. “Does this have something to do with Edward Cullen?” he asked knowingly.

I groaned and dropped my face into my hands. “Yes,” I replied, my voice slightly muffled. “I’m kind of…dating him.”

“Oh,” Jacob said, sounding a little taken aback. “That’s…unexpected.”

“You’re telling me,” I sighed, peeking through my fingers at him. “I really hated him until recently.”

Jacob grinned, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes, and said, “Isn’t that the plot of like every chick flick ever?”

“Oh, shut up!” I exclaimed, dropping my hands. “I did not need to be reminded of that. Now I’m going to feel like a cliché.”

“And of course I’m the commiserating male friend who offers to beat him up for you, right?” Jacob joked, looking a little happier.

We started talking about movies then, Jacob defending some of the more horrific romantic comedies that I hated. “I can’t believe you watch that shit,” I sighed when he admitted to liking How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days.

“I know,” Jacob sighs. “It’s a problem.”

Dad called us down for lunch shortly after and we headed down to see that (thankfully) Billy had helped with the cooking. Dad had made the salad, which was actually really good.

“I think we found your cooking niche,” I told Dad as I took another bite of lettuce. “This is good!”

“Yeah, Charlie,” Jacob piped up. “Delicious.”

Dad rolled his eyes at us but smiled anyway. “Thank you. Maybe we’ll start eating more healthily around here, eh, Bella?”

“God forbid,” I muttered, and Jacob burst into laughter.

I volunteered to wash the dishes and Jacob came to join me a moment later. He splashed me the first moment he got, and I gaped at him in astonishment.

“You’re kidding me,” I breathed, narrowing my eyes. He beamed at me with no trace of remorse, so I flicked some soapsuds at him.

It quickly devolved into us splashing each other and getting very little washing actually done. Charlie, when he came in to check on our progress, sighed indulgently and said, “Go, I’ll clean up after you.”

Jacob plucked at his sodden t-shirt ruefully. “I’m gonna get a clean shirt from the car.” He shook his head and grinned at me before heading out. I had mostly managed to avoid getting my t-shirt wet through calculated dodging, so I just shook out my hair and walked out of the kitchen.

I was promptly cornered by Billy, who moved pretty fast for a guy in a wheelchair. He stared me down and said, “I understand that you’ve been spending time with one of the Cullens.”

“Where did you hear that?” I asked carefully, mentally swearing that I would kill Jacob if he had been the one to spill the beans.

“Wilson Sasaki said his daughter mentioned it,” explained Billy. “Is it true?”

“Yes,” I said, deciding that honesty was the best way to go. “But I don’t see how it is any business of yours, no disrespect intended.”

“You’re right,” Billy agreed, “it is not really my business. But I thought you should know that the Cullens are not welcome on the reservation.”

“I am aware,” I said coolly. “However, seeing as they do not go to the reservation, I still fail to see why it should be your concern.”

Billy blinked; he clearly hadn’t expected that. “I suppose you’re right. You’re better informed than I thought.” He tilted his head to the side and asked shrewdly, “Does Charlie know about the Cullens?”

Everything that question encompassed hung between us, unsaid. I slowly shook my head.

“No,” I said. “He doesn’t.”

Billy smiled slowly and said, “I know that he would…be skeptical. But you should be careful, Bella. Think about what you are doing.”

“Believe me,” I answered dryly, “I hardly do anything but that.”

Billy and Jacob headed home not long after that, leaving me feeling somewhat like I had dodged a bullet. I headed upstairs and managed to get my homework down before collapsing into bed. I didn’t like lying so much.

*****

When I arrived at school the next morning, Eric took one look at me and said, “Oh my god, what happened this weekend? You look exhausted!”

“It was kind of a long weekend,” I told him, taking his arm and walking with him towards the locker hall. “I have a lot to tell you. But first, tell me: how was the dance?”

“Oh, it was wonderful,” Eric sighed happily. “I had so much fun. It would have been better, though, if you had been there,” he added reprovingly.

“That’s what Marlena said,” I replied, opening my locker.

“Bella!” I heard Edward shout and I turned to see him heading towards us, a smile on his face. “Good morning,” he added, swooping in to press a brief kiss to the side of my mouth. I blinked in surprise.

“Good morning to you too,” I said, bemused. “You’re chipper.”

“I had a good weekend,” he reminded me with a private smile. “Hey, Eric,” he added, turning his smile full force on Eric.

Eric grabbed my arm tightly and hissed, “That’s what you did this weekend?”

Edward laughed, free and loud, and reached out to squeeze my hand briefly before disappearing to class.

“Yeah,” I said to Eric. “Try not to pass out.”

*****

At lunch, Edward appeared at my side and said, “I thought I’d sit with you and your friends today,” before leading the way to where Marlena and Kaitlyn were already sitting.

Kaitlyn’s eyebrows shot up as Edward took a seat and she slanted a surprised look at me. I shrugged and slid my tray next to Edward’s (nearly empty) one.

“Hi,” Edward said to them, smiling. “Kaitlyn and Marlena, right?”

“Yes,” Kaitlyn said after a brief pause.

“Cool,” Edward said, bobbing his head a little, and he toyed with the apple on his tray. “So how was the dance?”

He paid rapt attention as Marlena grinned and started describing the dance in full. Kaitlyn mouthed, What? at me and I just shrugged in return.

Dave and Lucas, when they showed up, looked just as confused, but they went with it, Lucas sliding in next to Marlena and wrapping his arm around her waist. Eric looked like he was going to pass out from joy when he saw that Edward was sitting at our table, and he towed a slightly sullen Tyler over to sit down.

Once the initial confusion had faded away, everyone semi-relaxed, though Kaitlyn kept giving me looks. I knew I would have to say something to her; she was unlikely to go with it the way Marlena did. She would want a real, solid explanation.

Unsurprisingly, Edward charmed them all, showing a real interest in the stuff they were talking about. I made a mental note to check with him to be sure that he hadn’t been reading their minds, but he didn’t look all vague the way he usually did when he was.

As we were leaving the cafeteria, Kaitlyn grabbed my arm and said in a low voice, “I thought you and Edward didn’t get along.”

I sighed. “Yeah. I know.”

“So what happened?” she demanded, releasing me and crossing her arms.

“I said I was going to Seattle this weekend, remember? And he didn’t want me going by myself, so he volunteered to go with me. We ended up not going, but he’s –” Not what I expected, I wanted to say. Instead, I finished lamely with, “He’s nice.”

Kaitlyn eyed me thoughtfully, then nodded tersely. “All right. Let me know if he, I don’t know, makes you uncomfortable or something.”

“I will,” I promised her. “Thanks for looking out for me.” I gave her quick hug and hurried off to catch up with Edward and Marlena.

“What was that about?” Edward asked me in a low voice.

“She’s just worried about me,” I told him. “She’s looking out for me.”

“I’m glad you have so many people in your corner, Bella,” Edward told me, wrapping an arm around my waist and placing a kiss on top of my head. Marlena made a charmed face and cooed at us. I rolled my eyes at her, but didn’t shrug Edward off.

As we settled into our seats in class, I leaned into him and asked quietly, “You weren’t reading their minds at lunch, right?”

Edward looked at me, startled. “No,” he assured me. “I promised I wouldn’t.”

“Okay,” I said. “I trust you. I just – wanted to check.”

“Totally understandable,” Edward assured me. He patted my shoulder. “I need someone like you to keep me in line.”

“Yes you do,” I agreed, and ducked his playful (no doubt carefully judged) mock swing.

******

The week went something like that; Edward and I would see each other in school, then I would go home, talk to my mom and Eliza, do my homework, and read the spell books Jasper had loaned me. I was getting really tired of old English and bad printing by the time I finished the first one, and I didn’t feel like I was actually learning anything.

On Friday, Alice accosted Edward and me as we were leaving the cafeteria and said, “Rain’s coming. Not here, but close enough.” She tilted her face upward to look at the sky and I followed her gaze to see the approaching rain clouds. “It’s going to be a big one.”

“Your visions told you that?” I asked, impressed.

She blinked at me and said, “No, the internet did.” She turned her attention back to Edward. “Thunderstorm, Edward. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Soccer,” he said, grinning, and he hugged Alice around the shoulders. “Bella, you play soccer, right? You should join us.”

“Won’t that be dangerous for me?” I asked hesitantly, imagining a soccer flying at me at high velocity.

“We’ll either see if we can work out a shield for you or else we’ll be gentle.” He released Alice and grabbed my hands eagerly. “Please. Now that you’re here, we’ll finally have even sides without Carlisle playing.”

“He’s terrible,” Alice put in, shaking her head sadly.

“All right,” I said after a moment. “I’ll come. Just tell me the time and the place.”

“I’ll pick you up at –” Edward looked up, as if calculating in his head. “Nine sound good? We’ll figure out which of the spell books will help us build you a shield so you don’t get injured.”

“Won’t that keep me from kicking the ball?” I asked, confused.

“We’ll figure it out,” he promised. “This is going to be fun, Bella.” He ducked down to press a quick kiss to my mouth and then went off with Alice to go talk to Rosalie, Jasper, and Emmett.

I couldn’t quite contain my excitement; I hadn’t played soccer in what seemed like years and I really missed it.

I told Dad my plans and he nodded, smiling. “I’m glad to see you getting out and doing more things,” he told me. “I think you’re finally adjusting to Forks.”

“I think I am,” I agreed. “I mean, I miss Mom and my friends, but I really am liking it here.” I hugged him and kissed his cheek fondly. “And it’s partially because of you, Dad.”

“Just don’t kill yourself at soccer,” he told me when I let him go. “I remember how bruised you used to be when you came back from practice as a kid.”

“We’re working on that,” I promised.

*****

I woke up at eight to shower and then spent the forty-five minutes I had before Edward showed up looking for my shin guards. I had shoved them under my desk when I’d moved in and totally forgotten about them. They were unlikely to help in any real way, but I felt better once I’d strapped them on. I pulled on my shorts, even though I knew it was going to rain, and then added a sweatshirt on top, just to be sure.

Edward showed up precisely at nine and he rummaged through the spell books until he found the one he wanted. We climbed into his car and I flipped through the book, looking for information on a shield spell. “So why does it have to be raining when you play soccer?”

“People are unlikely to be outside,” he explained. “It’s better if no one sees us playing. We kick hard, we run fast – it’s pretty obvious that something’s up. And,” here he grins, “sometimes we get loud. The thunder helps cover that up.”

“What do you mean, loud?” I asked suspiciously.

“Emmett likes to shout when he’s not winning,” Edward said, but I could tell that wasn’t the full story.

“I’m going to find out in like an hour anyway,” I pointed out, looking back down at the book. “Oh hey, this one sounds good. ‘To make a shield, the practitioner’ – I guess that means me – ‘must draw the symbol on the part they wish to protect.’” I paused. “That sounds weird.”

“But it’s workable,” Edward pointed out. “We’ll try it out once we get to the house.”

I went back to reading. “‘Then the practitioner must recite the following words’ – there’s a whole bunch of Latin here – ‘and the ritual is complete.’”

“This is going to be weird,” Edward agreed, and we headed to his house in comfortable silence.

We ended up using a sharpie to draw the mark on my wrists, the back of my neck, and my ankles. As we did, I read out the words, hoping that it took. I felt the strange coil of magic tug in my stomach, and I said, “I think it worked.”

Edward reached out to touch me, but was repelled by the shield about an inch away from my body. “Wow,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”

“It’s going to be a bitch to get these off,” I remarked, glancing at my wrists. “How do I undo the spell?”

“Counterspell,” Edward told me, pointing at the next page. “Don’t worry, we’ll be able to remove it.”

“Thank goodness, I wouldn’t be able to shower like this,” I remarked. “Or kiss you,” I added as an afterthought. Edward laughed.

“I see where I rank,” he teased, reaching out and stroking his hand along the shield by my face. I could feel it as vague pressure, tickling my skin. It was bizarre, but oddly sexy.

“Hm,” I said as he dropped his hand. “So when do we start the game?”

“Now, I guess.” He led the way back out of his room and out of the house, into the wide field in the back of the house. “They’re further away so we don’t accidentally break the house,” he added wryly. “That happened once and getting the window fixed was a bitch.”

Alice waved at us and called, “We decided it’s girls against boys.” She pointed at Esme and Carlisle. “They’re gonna watch.”

“Are you ready for this?” Emmett demanded, grinning widely. Rosalie crossed her arms and arched one eyebrow skeptically.

“We’re going to kick your ass,” she promised with a sharp smile.

“Now, play nice,” Esme called. “We have a guest.” She gestured at me, then rolled the soccer ball to the center of the field.

Rosalie and Jasper played some complicated version of rock-paper-scissors to decide who got which goal, and then we went to our sides, Alice settling in the goal on our side, Edward in the goal on the other.

Then the game started.

I had forgotten how much fun soccer was. Admittedly, it was hard to keep up with the Cullens, because they could run faster than I could and they never tired. But I knew my stuff and we managed to keep it at an even zero for the first half hour. I figured out why they needed the thunder storms, though; when they kicked the ball particularly hard, it was pretty loud.

Finally, I managed to get the ball and I took it up the field, dodging Jasper and Emmett with ease. It was weird to have the ball bouncing off the force field rather than my foot, but I had adjusted to it and could feel where it was hitting the shield. Edward squatted down as I approached, arms wide, and I kicked it high over his head, the ball sailing easily between the two posts they had designated as the goal.

Rosalie shouted in triumph and streaked up to join me, patting my back in a rare show of friendliness. “Nice job, Bella,” she told me sincerely, smiling brilliantly.

Edward shook his finger at me. “I underestimated you,” he remarked ruefully. “I won’t be doing that again.”

“Something’s coming,” Emmett said abruptly, his eyes fixed on the woods in the distance, where the soccer ball had rolled. “Or – someone.” His nose twitched and he amended, “Three someones.”

“Human?” Carlisle asked, suddenly appearing behind us.

“I don’t think so,” Emmett said, and they all suddenly grouped together, even Esme. They were shielding me, I realized, and I shivered, but not with cold.

I could just see over Alice’s shoulders and out of the woods came three people – no, not people: vampires. I could tell by the way they moved, liquid and far too fluid to be human. There was one with dark, gorgeous skin. He wore his head shaved and he offered us a bright and not entirely friendly smile. The second male had longer hair and a slightly shifty look to him. He seemed almost to be twitching with energy as they approached us. But it was the female vampire that caught the eye: she was incredibly beautiful, with vivid red hair and curves that made me envious.

Edward shifted subtly to shield me more. I squinted over his shoulder as the vampires drew closer and saw that unlike the Cullens, their eyes were almost red, a strange auburn color that sent a shiver down my spine.

The woman smiled and said, “We thought we heard a game. Unusual, that. How do you manage to avoid humans?”

“You’re new to this area,” Carlisle said with studied calm, ignoring her question. “What brings you here?”

“We tend to wander,” the woman said, her eyes narrowing. “I am Victoria, these are James and Laurent.” She gestured to the men absently, indicating the one with long hair to be James and the dark-skinned one as Laurent. “Is this your clan?”

“My family,” Carlisle said stiffly. “Are you planning to stay in this area for long?”

“Afraid we will encroach on your hunting?” Victoria asked, but she didn’t seem upset. I guessed that Jasper was probably using his weird emotion-controlling gift to calm them down. I couldn’t say that I like the idea of his gift, but I was selfishly glad that he was using it. “Is this your territory?”

“Yes, we hunt in the Olympic Range.” Carlisle’s tone had become more forbidding, daring the newcomers to comment.

“Don’t worry, we’ve already eaten,” Victoria said, her smile widening, and I belatedly noticed a small red stain on the collar of her shirt. “We won’t blow your cover. You must have a nice little setup here.” She looks approving. “We’re just passing through.”

Just then, the wind picked up and caught along the underside of my hair. Edward stiffened and I knew then that our grace period was over. James sniffed at the air and his eyes widened.

“We have a guest,” he said, the faintest hint of a Spanish accent curving the edges of his words. “A human.” He bared his teeth, canines prominent, and I shuddered.

“She’s with us,” Edward said firmly, not moving.

“A human?” asked Victoria, startled. “With you?”

“Yes,” Rosalie snapped suddenly. I stared at her, surprised that she would be the one to defend my presence. “It’s kind of a long story and none of your business."

“Very well,” Victoria said after a moment, her eyes narrowed. “I can see that we are not welcome here. You have our word we will leave your territory untouched and we will not harm the human girl.” She sniffed the air. “I know her scent. We will leave her alone.”

“Good,” Emmett said and we all waited while Victoria turned away. The moment her back was to us, Edward turned to me.

“I am going to pick you up and run, okay?” he whispered. “Hold on.” I nodded and grabbed a hold as he tossed me onto his back, as if I weighed no more than a feather. The shield was still in force, so I wasn’t quite touching him, which was strange, but I managed to keep hold as he sped towards the house

“Where are we going?” I hissed into his ear. He dropped me to the ground and pointed at his car.

“We have to get you out of here,” he told me. “The one that smelled you, he’s a tracker. He’ll be able to find you wherever you go.”

“Okay,” I said slowly. “Then we have to do something about my dad. Can we shield him?”

“We don’t have time.” Edward chewed his lip thoughtfully. “One of us will stay with Charlie. You need to leave town.”

“I’ll tell him I’m going home to visit someone, it’s an emergency.” I slid into the passenger seat. Through the window, I could see Alice and Emmett approaching. They opened the backseat and threw themselves inside.

“We need to leave,” Emmett told us. “Now.”

Edward nodded and floored the gas pedal, speeding out onto the road.

Chapter Text

We arrived at the house and I leaped out almost before Edward had fully parked the car, jogging up the walk. Dad looked up, startled, when I thrust the door open.

“Bella,” he said, getting to his feet, and then looked even more surprised when the Cullens filed in behind me. “What’s going on?”

“Eliza’s been in an accident,” I lied, making it up on the fly. “Dad, it’s pretty bad. I’m gonna have to fly down there.”

“Now?” Dad blinked, surprised. “Bella, you have school.”

“Dad, she’s my best friend,” I pleaded, and I mentally begged Eliza to forgive me for using her. “I can’t let her be there alone.”

He sighed. “Fine, all right.” He gestured towards my little entourage. “What are they doing here?”

“Helping me pack,” I invented, and I gestured them up the stairs, out of my Dad's sight. I ducked in to kiss his cheek gratefully before following them. Once in my room, I began throwing clothes around and stuffing several of the magic books from the Cullens’ library into the suitcase from under my bed, no time for finesse. Edward helpfully rearranged things to fit. His face was drawn taut, mouth a thin line.

“One of us should go with her,” Alice said suddenly. “She shouldn’t go alone.”

Edward and Emmett exchanged glances and had a silent conversation. Edward sighed. “The tracker will expect me to be with her. And I want Emmett here. Alice, can you and Jasper go with her? I’ll lay a false trail for him if I can.”

Alice nodded. Her eyes were unusually clear and lucid. “I would be glad to.” She reached out and took my hand before moving forward to pack my suitcase for me.

“Where are you going to go?” Emmett asked Alice, looming huge in my tiny room.

“We’ll go to Phoenix,” I said decisively. “If you lead him on a snipe chase here, he won’t expect me to actually go where I’ve said I’ve gone.”

Edward shook his head, seeming like he wanted to argue, and then he stopped himself. “You’ll stay indoors, under false names?” he asked hopefully. “And you’ll stay far away from people who know you?”

“Of course,” I assured him, picturing leading James to my friends back home. If that happened, I would never forgive myself. “We’ll be careful.”

Edward stared at me, his expression conflicted, and then he crossed the room in two rapid strides and pulled me in for a brief but emphatic kiss. Alice let out a giggle, underscored by Emmett’s rattling chuckle, and he let me go. “Remember the shielding we learned,” he reminded me. “You may be able to use it.”

“Do you think I could shield my Dad?” I asked eagerly. “At least a little?”

“Give it a try,” Edward said. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”

“I’ll call Jasper,” Alice volunteered, pulling out a cell phone. Emmett picked up my tiny suitcase and I shouldered a backpack before heading out to the car. Edward lingered at the door while I said goodbye to my father.

“I’ll miss you,” I said, wrapping my arms around him. “Please, don’t burn down the house while I’m gone.”

He chuckled, the vibrations of it rocking me. I blinked back tears, trying not to think about how, if our plan failed, this could be the last time I saw him. I heard the dishes in the cabinets rattle faintly and I tried to relax, to pull my magic back in. “I’ll do my best, Bella. Tell Eliza I say hello and that I hope she gets better.”

“Will do, Dad,” I assured him, and I kissed his cheek, tracing the sigils from my book across his back with my finger as I did so. I whispered a phrase of Latin, prayed that it took, and said, “I love you, Dad. Stay safe.”

He smiled at me as I headed for the door. I lingered in the doorway for one moment longer, looking at him, and then I went out to the car.

Edward followed me out and gave me another quick kiss before blurring off. Emmett went to lurk around the side of the house, and Alice gestures me into the car just as Jasper appears, seemingly out of nowhere. He takes the driver’s seat and I curl up in the back, hugging my arms around myself and trying to ignore how Alice’s hair was blowing in the still air of the car.

“Are you doing that?” Jasper asked suddenly as we motored down the road. “Do you think you have any weather powers?”

“I haven’t thought about it yet,” I admitted. “We’ve been doing very basic experiments.”

“We should try some at the hotel,” Alice said. “Some more complicated wards. It will help you keep your mind off your father,” she added, glancing back at me. It was nice to see her less freaked out, and her serenity was reassuring. I had faith that Edward and Emmett could keep my dad safe, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t worry.

“I’m going to get some sleep,” I told them, resting my head against the window and closing my eyes. It took all my concentration to shut out the strange silence, and it was a while before I actually fell asleep.

I slept restlessly, catching flashes of dreams – Eliza shouting, me running through a dark corridor towards someone I couldn’t see, Edward whispering my name. When I woke up, we were outside state lines – I didn’t even want to know how fast they had been driving – and we were outside an outlet mall.

“We’re going to buy you some new clothes,” Alice announced, throwing the door open. “Throw off the scent. Come on.” She opened my suitcase to look. I hadn’t brought much clothing, which was good because she dumped them in a trash can. She gestured Jasper out and they dragged me into the mall.

Jasper helped me look for jeans and said in a low undertone, “Edward called. Laurent made contact with them.”

“What?” I demanded, caught off guard. Jasper smiled at me wryly, baring his teeth. “What did he want?”

“He warned us that James is a loose cannon. Victoria keeps him like some people keep pit bulls – starves him of affection and food until he’s raging and ready to leap.” Jasper shuddered and handed me a pair. “He’s going north, to find a new clan. He is sick of the games Victoria plays. She can’t even control her own people.”

I sighed and took the jeans into the dressing room. “So what are we going to do?” I called.

“We’re going to try to pick up a new car,” Jasper told me from the other side of the door. It was so late that there weren’t many people around and the dressing room attendant had gone off to get a coffee. “They know what this one looks like and we need one with tinted windows for Arizona.”

“Are we going to drive all the way there?” I demanded. “You know that will take days, right.”

“Carlisle is working on securing us a private flight. Off the books.” Jasper chuckles, low. “It’s amazing what money can buy. James probably won’t be looking to hunt you that way, but it’s good to take precautions.”

“So no disposable cell phones?” I asked dryly, shimmying into a shirt. I looked presentable enough, I supposed, enough to probably not raise any eyebrows.

I emerged from the dressing room in my new clothes – we had even bought new underwear, which had been a little embarrassing because Alice seemed to have little understanding of underwear and I had to ask Jasper for help.

“Nice,” he said appreciatively, his tawny eyes sweeping up approvingly. I struck a pose before heading towards the cash register with him. The clerk blinked at the fact that I was already wearing the clothes, but gamely scanned the tags. I glanced at Jasper and saw that he was concentrating on her, no doubt making her amenable to going along with things. I raised my eyebrows at him, but couldn’t deny the usefulness of his power, no matter how disturbing I found it.

We found Alice by the shoes, where she was looking at a pair of suede ankle boots with thinly disguised longing. “These would look lovely on you,” she told me. “Would you like them?”

“You guys are already doing so much for me,” I protested, but I wasn’t quick enough to stop her from going to the clerk and buying them. I sighed and accepted the box from her.

“I remember these,” she said softly, stroking her hand over the cardboard. “I saw them. Not you, though. Never you.”

Jasper’s phone rang and he ducked away to talk quietly and quickly. Alice looked at me sharply. “You had a bad dream,” she said. “I heard you, you were not sleeping peacefully. What was it about?”

“My friend, Eliza,” I said. “The one I told Charlie I’m going to see. I’ve been – having a lot of dreams about her lately.”

Alice made a quiet sound as Jasper came back. “That doesn’t sound good,” she said softly. “Does she have red hair?”

I looked at her curiously. “Yes,” I said. “How did you know that?” She didn’t answer. “Alice, how did you know that? What did you see?”

“There’s an airfield fifty miles from here we can use,” Jasper announced before Alice could answer. “Come on, let’s get going. We’ll pick up a new car once we land.”

Alice had gone silent again, her gaze distant, and I had somehow learned to read her face, to know when she would only answer in cryptic riddles. I followed them back to the car and sat in the back, shoving my purchases into my suitcase, and wondered if Alice had seen something. If she’d seen something happen to Eliza.

My stomach twisted into knots and I did my best to calm down, but I saw the wind pick up outside. I breathed deeply until I had calmed, and by the time we had reached the airfield, the wind had all but gone.

The plane we had requisitioned came with a truly intimidating pilot with close-cropped blonde hair and a bright red smile. She introduced herself as Nikki and gestured us inside. I sat down in the plush interior and muttered, “So this is how the other half lives.”

Jasper heard me and laughed, though it sounded strained. He guided Alice to her seat – she was shaking slightly – and said, “It does make up for some things.” He stroked a hand over her hair gently, his hand shaking.

“Are you all right?” I asked quietly.

He looked up and said, “I – I don’t like being pursued by other vampires.” There were layers of hurt underneath his words and I wondered what it must have been like for him as an empath to be around those kinds of negative emotions day in and day out. “And I worry about Alice a lot.” He looks down at her. “It seems every time she comes back a little less whole.”

I nodded and closed my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I said softly. “And I’m sorry you’ve been saddled with me. I can’t imagine that it’s easy.”

“It helps that I know you could hold me off,” Jasper admitted. “You’re stronger than you know, Bella. I think you have more untapped potential than you think.”

I snorted, but it came out with less conviction than I would like. I was drifting off to sleep steadily and Jasper chuckled.

“Go to sleep, Bella,” he said softly. “You will need it.”

Chapter Text

I woke up when we landed in Phoenix, remembering only snatches of dreams – mirrors, again, and wolves howling. Jasper helped me to my feet when I stumbled a little in tiredness and we exited the private plane to find a sleek black car waiting for us. Jasper got behind the wheel, and Alice slid into the back seat beside me. She took my hand in hers. Her fingers were freezing, but strong, and she squeezed gently.

We arrived at a hotel in downtown Phoenix and Alice took me upstairs while Jasper negotiated with the staff. They eventually shelled out for an exorbitant and somewhat ridiculous suite on the highest floor. Though I was tired, I took the time to leaf through my magic texts until I found a warding spell that looked like it would work.

My magic coiled out of me gratefully as I marked the sigils around the doorframes and windows. It was as restless as I, eager to be doing work. I felt the wards slide into place as I placed the last sigil on the front door to the suite and I let out a deep sigh of relief.

Jasper came to my side and gripped my elbow as I started to sway, exhaustion taking me by surprise. “You’ll need to rest,” he told me. “You’ve been through a lot today.”

“The room is protected,” I said, a little confusedly. I fought to keep my eyes open, but I was so drowsy that my vision was blurring.

“Yes,” Jasper agreed soothingly. “You did a good job. Now you need to sleep some more, Bella.” He helped me to the bedroom I had claimed for myself and shut the door behind me, leaving me alone in the dimly lit room. I crawled into the bed, not bothering to change clothes, and wrapped my arms around my knees, breathing deeply. I let out a low, shuddering breath, then stretched out onto the obscenely comfortable bed and forced myself to relax.

I fell asleep more quickly than I expected and this time I didn’t dream.

 

I awoke early the next morning and took a shower. Alice and Jasper were nowhere to be seen, but the door to their room was closed, so I decided not to risk interrupting them. I dug out my books and sat with them on the sofa, reading up on meditation techniques and easy spells to try. I was still feeling wrung out from trying so many wards the day before, but I managed to turn the lights off and on again by glaring at the light switch. Not the most impressive skill, but at least I had learned something new.

Alice and Jasper emerged a few hours after me. Alice was looking twitchy, but she relaxed as she came closer to me. “Are you hungry?” she asked, sitting down next to me. “We could call room service.” As if on cue, my stomach grumbled and Alice laughed, light and cheerful. “I guess that’s a yes.”

Jasper tossed me the room service menu and I flipped through it, trying not to wince at the prices. Alice bullied me into getting a steak because, “You need the energy, Bella, plus I bet it’s fantastic.”

“Have you heard anything?” I asked after I placed the order. I set the hotel phone back in its cradle and looked expectantly at Jasper, who shifted nervously.

“We haven’t heard anything yet,” he admitted quietly. “Carlisle promised he’d call us if there was news.”

“Is it a bad thing that he hasn’t?” I asked shrewdly, eying him.

Alice and Jasper exchanged glances. “Not exactly,” Jasper hedged. “But it’s not necessarily a good thing, either.”

“Great,” I groaned, dropping my head into my hands. “This is the worst.”

“Yes,” Alice agreed sympathetically. “Are you getting a little bored?”

“Yeah.” I reached for the television remote and flicked it on. “Anything you guys want to watch?”

“I don’t keep up with TV much,” Jasper said wryly and Alice giggled before holding her hand out for the remote. I curled up on the sofa while Alice flipped channel, eyes wide.

“I don’t watch television often,” she said after a moment after landing on VH1. “And now I’m beginning to remember why.”

I snorted in laughter and watched absently while she and Jasper bickered over television programming. My limbs felt heavy with tiredness, even though I was fully awake and didn’t feel inclined to sleep any longer. When the doorbell to our suite rang, Alice got to her feet to go get the door, leaving Jasper and me watching a rerun of Friends on TBS.

“Hey,” I said, and he turned to look at me, turning down the volume on the television. “Can I ask you something?”

“Are you sure you want to ask me and not Alice?” Jasper asked carefully, folding his pale hands in his lap.

“I’m sure,” I told him. “If I could, I would ask someone else, but I want to know now, given the situation, and – you’re less.” I hesitated, not sure what word to use. “Less fragile.”

“What’s your question, Bella?” Jasper looked wary now, his thumbs tapping together.

“What happens when a vampire bites you?” I said in a low voice.

Jasper looked at me with a blank expression, then sighed. “Edward won’t be happy if I tell you.”

“I want to know what to expect if things don’t go our way,” I said firmly.

Jasper looked like he didn’t want to answer, but he couldn’t deny the reality of the situation. “I’m sure Edward has made you aware of the many different abilities we have at our disposal – speed, acute senses, the Glamour – but what he probably didn’t tell you is that we have a more subtle weapon.” He bared his teeth and tapped his left canine. “These.”

“I didn’t think those were really subtle,” I said dryly.

He rolled his eyes. “Well, no. But we have a…venom in our fangs that we inject into our prey to keep them docile. It’s ultimately fatal after a period of a few days and it hurts like hell. The only way to cure it is with magic or by being fed vampire blood.”

“Which, in addition to having curative value, also turns you into a vampire,” I sighed, understanding. “Great.” I rubbed my arms.

“The problem is, we have no idea how it would a bite would affect you,” Jasper said, surprising me into looking at him again. “Alice and I looked, but we didn’t find anything on how a vampire bite affects full-blooded mages like yourself. I was just mage-kind – I didn’t have the full immunity that you do. It could kill you outright or it could do nothing. Or anything in between.”

“That is fantastic news,” I said sarcastically. “Can I ask, what exactly is going to happen if Edward and Emmett catch up with James?”

“You don’t want to know that,” Jasper told me flatly, and before I could interject, there was a crash from the front of the suite. Jasper was on his feet in an instant and running, shouting, “Alice!”

I got up and followed him and found Alice curled up on the floor, her arms wrapped around her knees. She was shaking violently, her eyes wide. The detritus of the room service tray was lying around her, but Jasper didn’t even appear to notice as he went to his knees next to her.

“The reflections,” she babbled, shaking, “a room, full of reflections, stealing the soul and a television showing memories, he knows about her memories.”

I leaned awkwardly against the wall, not wanting to intrude. Alice’s gaze found me anyway and she said, “He knows where you are.”

I froze, terror coursing through my veins, then said, “I’m calling Edward.”

“Do that,” Jasper agreed as he wrapped his arms around Alice’s shoulders. I turned and ran back into the living room. I fumbled the phone off its cradle and dialed Edward’s number, my fingers shaking with adrenaline. I paced back and forth while the phone rang and rang and rang.

Finally, there was a click and Edward’s voice said, “Hello?”

“Alice had a vision,” I said without preliminaries. “She says he knows where I am and she was saying something about memories and mirrors? And I keep dreaming about mirrors, Edward.”

There was a long pause and Edward said, “We lost him an hour ago. If what you’re saying is correct, he’s on his way to Phoenix now.”

“Should I leave?” I asked worriedly.

“Maybe. We’ll see if we can catch up with him. Now that we know where he’s going, we have a better chance of tracking him.” He sighed. “Carlisle called. The woman – Victoria – has been sniffing around Forks, but Rosalie says your wards are holding strong and your father is safe.”

“Thank god.” I let out a relieved sigh and sank down onto the couch. “What about you, are you okay?”

“I miss you,” he admitted. “And I’m worried. Stay with Alice and Jasper and you should call your friends in Phoenix.”

“Why?” I asked, now worried again.

“Just to be safe. Go back to Alice, see if you can get more out of her, and don’t discount any of your dreams, Bella.” He paused, then said, “And I’ll be in Phoenix as soon as I can.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” I clutched at the phone and wished I could listen to him breathe. “Bye.”

“Bye, Bella.” He hung up and I dropped the phone before heading back to talk to Alice. I knelt next to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. She blinked and looked up at me.

“Bella,” she said, her voice a little clearer. “A room, with mirrors, lots of mirrors, and wooden floors.”

I stared at her and thought it over. “A ballet studio, maybe,” I said after a moment. “There was one that –” I stopped, throat closing up as I realized what had happened.

“Bella?” Jasper asked, sounding worried. “Bella, what is it?”

“My best friend Eliza,” I said in a surprisingly calm voice, though I could hear the cabinets in the kitchen rattling. “She used to dance. I used to go watch her after school and I’d – they had me video tape them sometimes. For review.”

We all stared at each other for a long, tense moment. I clenched my hands into fists and forced myself to breathe normally, not wanting to lose it in front of them. “Fuck,” Jasper said emphatically after a moment. He slammed his hand onto the floor and I heard something crack. When he lifted his hand, I saw that there was a dent in the floor. “Call your friend, Bella. Make sure she’s okay. We’ll call Edward and tell him what happened.”

I nodded and went back to the phone, feeling sick to my stomach. Eliza was innocent in all this; she didn’t even know about the Cullens. I reached for the receiver with shaking hands and lifted it to my ear. I dialed Eliza’s home phone number, then her cell when no one picked up. Her cell clicked over to voicemail and I said in a voice that was still remarkably calm, “Hey, Eliza. It’s me. I need to talk to you as soon as possible and I need you to stay around other people, okay? Don’t go off with anyone you don’t know.” I paused, then added, “I know this sounds really weird, but I promise I’ll explain everything later. For now, please just stay with other people that you trust.” I rattled off the number of the hotel room, reading off the little label on the phone. “Call me.”

I hung up, then went to curl up on the sofa. I wondered how my mom was doing, if Dad had called her. I wished I had called her; I would have felt better just hearing her voice, but I didn’t want her to worry. Though, I thought a little ironically, maybe she should be worried.

I waited for the phone to ring, absently flicking through television channels. Alice and Jasper returned and Alice went to lie down, still looking out of it. Jasper sat down next to me and stared at the television screen unseeingly.

The phone didn’t ring.

Chapter Text

I dozed of halfway through a re-run of an old Star Trek episode. I slept fitfully, dreaming half-formed images of Edward, of Eliza, of my mother. It was hard to tell if any of the dreams were products of my magic and which were results of my own fear. When I awoke, it was dark outside and the clock on the DVD player told me it was four a.m.

Jasper and Alice were speaking quietly together while sitting cross-legged on the floor, Alice bent over a sheet of hotel paper with a pen in hand. Jasper looked up when I shifted and said, “Good, you’re awake.”

I got up and went to crouch beside them. “What’s going on?”

“Alice had another vision,” Jasper explained in a soft whisper. Alice didn’t say anything; she was completely focused on her drawing. “She’s trying to sketch it out to show you. She’s never been much of an artist, though.”

Alice turned the drawing towards me and I gasped, unable to help myself. Even though the drawing was rudimentary and childish, I instantly recognized Eliza’s bedroom from the many hours we had spent there, gossiping and giggling as children. “That’s,” I said, and my throat closed up. I coughed, blinking away tears, and said, “That’s Eliza’s bedroom.”

Jasper’s eyes widened. Alice seemed to still be under the influence of her visions, because she just stared at me without blinking before abruptly turning away.

Jasper took my arm and asked in a low, urgent voice, “Where does Eliza live?”

I rattled off the address and he got up in one eerily fluid motion to go call Edward. I sat still on the floor, paralyzed by my worry and fear. If Eliza died because I had been foolish enough – naïve enough – to let myself get involved with vampires, I would never forgive myself.

Jasper finished speaking to Edward and put the phone down, looking worried. “They’re on their way,” he told me. “They just got to the airport.”

“We can’t just wait for them to get here!” I protested. “If Alice is seeing Eliza’s bedroom, it means something, doesn’t it? Maybe he got her last night!”

“We don’t know that and we can’t risk you,” Jasper reminded me. “We promised Edward we’d keep you safe.”

“It doesn’t matter if she dies because of me,” I said stubbornly. “She’s like family, Jasper. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t do anything to help Edward, or Esme, or Rosalie.”

Jasper stared at me for a long moment, looking a little stymied by this. Then he gave a small laugh, shaking his head in what seemed like admiration. “You’re right. Of course you are. But that doesn’t change anything, Bella. Would Eliza want you to throw your life away?”

“I think Eliza doesn’t want to die,” I snapped.

Jasper gave me a sympathetic look, but I could tell that he had no intention of allowing me to leave. I sighed and went back to the bedroom I had claimed as mine to try to read my magic books. I couldn’t concentrate, though, and I felt drained of all energy.

I stared unseeingly at the page of one of the books and thought about Eliza, wondered if she were safe or if were some kind of trick, a distraction. I sat there for almost an hour before I heard the phone ring and I shot to my feet, the book falling off my lap.

I went back into the living room and saw Alice on the phone. “Oh, yes? Ah, yes, she is here.” She looked up at me and held out the phone. “It’s your friend.”

I dived for the phone and seized the receiver from her. “Eliza?” I asked frantically. “Eliza, are you all right?”

Eliza sniffed on the other end and my hackles went up immediately. “Bella,” she said in a hoarse whisper. “He’s – don’t do what he wants, Bella, don’t do it –”

My entire body went cold and my hand tightened on the phone as her voice cut off abruptly with the sound of a smack. A chilly male voice spoke now and said pleasantly, “There’s no need for your mouthy little friend to be hurt, my dear. If you do exactly as I say, no harm will come to her.” He waited for me to speak, but I was still frozen in horror. “Repeat after me and try to sound natural. Say, ‘No, Eliza, everything is fine. Stay where you are.’”

“No, Eliza, everything is fine. Please stay with you are,” I repeated mechanically. Somehow, miraculously, my voice was not shaking. I got up and turned my back on Alice and Jasper, not wanting them to be looking at my face while I lied.

“Very good,” he purred. “I know you have keepers, so why don’t you walk into another room? I’d rather they not try to listen in. As you go, say, ‘Please listen to me.’” When I didn’t immediately obey, his voice darkened and he said in a sharp bark, “Say it!”

“Please listen to me,” I said, going back into my bedroom and shutting the door.

“Ah, you’re alone now,” he said. “Very good. Do you think you can get away from them?”

I hesitated, wondering. “Maybe,” I hedged.

“You’ll have to try better than that,” he said reprovingly. “Think, Bella. Your friend’s life depends on you following every one of my instructions.”

I looked at my magic book lying flat on the floor. I knew, then, that I could distract them if I really wanted to. All it would take was a simple spell or two from me to knock something off a table in the other bedroom and it would distract them long enough to let me slip away.

I swallowed hard and said, “I can do it.”

“Much better.” He sounded pleased, almost eager now. “I’m sure you’re clever enough to do it. Let me warn you – if I get even the slightest hint that you’ve brought…company.” He gave a small, very nasty laugh. “Let’s just say it wouldn’t be good for your dear friend.”

“I understand,” I said through clenched teeth. I was shaking with increasing anger now. How dare he, I wondered. This should have been between the two of us. I wanted to tell him he was a coward and a bastard for involving someone else, but I had the feeling that he wouldn’t care.

“Excellent. You will go to your friend’s house. I’m sure you know how to get in. In her bedroom there is a disposable phone with a number programmed in. You will call that number and I will tell you where to go from there.”

I had the feeling I knew where he would lead me, but I would follow his instructions to the letter despite that. “Fine.”

“Before noon, my dear. I haven’t got all day.” He left a teasing hint of a threat in his voice.

Neither, I realized, did I. It wouldn’t be long before Edward and Edmund arrived. I had to be on my way before that happened, because if anyone could stop me, it would be Edward. “Understood.”

“You must avoid raising your…friends’ suspicions,” he continued. “Tell them that Eliza is safe and out of town. Tell them that she is visiting someone – her girlfriend, perhaps.” He must have heard my sharp intake of breath, because he chuckled darkly. “It’s amazing what people will tell you under the right circumstances,” he said in a low, dangerous voice.

“That’s wonderful,” I said tightly. “I will see you soon, after this is all cleared up.”

“Yes,” he purred, pleased again. “Very good, my dearest. Now hang up and I will see you soon.”

I hung up, my hands still trembling. I took a deep, bracing breath and composed myself before stepping out into the living room. Jasper and Alice were staring expectantly at me. “Eliza is with her girlfriend,” I lied smoothly. “She’s safe, it’s fine.”

Jasper let out a heavy sigh of relief, though Alice eyed me suspiciously. She seemed to dismiss her fears a moment later, because she turned away from me without asking any more questions. I went to set the phone back down in its cradle, and breathed out deeply.

“I’m going to go lie down,” I told them, and I returned to my room, where I sat, brooding. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I only had one real option. Letting Eliza die or be turned at the hands of that monster was something I didn’t want on my hands. As much as I loved Edward – and yes, I could say that, because I knew that even if I didn’t love him now with the fullness of true love, I would someday – I couldn’t prioritize his feelings for me over Eliza. He loved me, yes; but he was immortal. He had centuries to get over the pain of losing me. After a few decades, I would be a mere memory, a brief moment in his long life.

But Eliza was mortal and she was my greatest friend, my sister. I would never get over her death, not when I knew I could have stopped it.

The question was, did I have anything to bargain with? I didn’t have enough time to look up a spell to help me or even to ward myself. I would have to go in alone and unarmed.

I stood and went to the desk against the far wall of the room. I sat down and picked up the pen and the pad of hotel paper. I took another slow, deep breath to calm my shaking nerves, and began to write.

Edward –

I know you won’t understand and I don’t expect you to forgive me, but I can’t let her die. She’s more important to me than almost anyone in the world and I would never forgive myself if she died for me.

Don’t be angry with Jasper and Alice. They tried their best, but you know me at my most stubborn. Tell them thank you for their help and that they have been true friends. And don’t come after him, Edward. It would only make him happier to fight against you. He wants to prove something – I don’t know what – but I am just the start. I don’t want you to be hurt because of me.

If something happens to me, I want you to know that I care for you dearly and that I want you to be happy. There is no need to wait because of me. If I die, forget that I ever existed. It would be better that way. And make sure Eliza’s okay, please.

I am so sorry and I will miss you,

Bella

 

I folded the paper into thirds and wrote his name along the side. I left it on the desk and laid down on the bed for a while until my racing heart had slowed and I no longer felt like I was about to vomit. Once I felt I was ready, I got to my feet and made my way back into the living room, prepared to make my escape.

Chapter Text

I returned out to the living room and sat down on the sofa, doing my best to appear calm and collected. I had a window of only a few hours to make my escape, and the sooner the better. I had some money; I could catch a cab to Eliza’s house. There were bound to be a few idling out in front of the hotel, I reasoned. I would have to get downstairs quickly, though. I glanced towards the door to the suite and wondered if I would be able to block it somehow so that Alice and Jasper would be delayed.

I looked around as casually as I could and noted a chair that looked like it could be wedged under the door handle. I would have to move fast, though – and the distraction would have to be a good one.

I closed my eyes and leaned back on the sofa. I heard Alice get up and go back into her room, and I felt a tiny bit relieved. That made things just a little easier. I visualized my room in the suite as best I could, building a copy in my mind. Once I was sure enough time had passed since the phone call to avoid suspicion, I stretched out my magic, imagining it curling around the latch of the window. I pulled, imagining it opening, and thought I heard an answering scraping noise from the bedroom, though it could have just been my imagination.

It would have to do, I decided. I would know if the second one worked – it was supposed to be noisy. My eyes still closed, I moved my tendrils of magic towards where the lamp was and tugged, hard.

There was a crash inside the room. Jasper leapt to his feet and ordered, “Stay here.”

I opened my eyes and tried to look worried. He vanished inside the room and I acted immediately. I ran to the door on the balls of my feet, trying to make as little noise as possible, and grabbed the chair I had noticed. I dragged it out of the door with me, closed the door, and wedged the back of the chair under the door handle. I sprinted for the stairs without looking back.

I flew down the stairs as fast as I could, paranoid that I would hear Jasper call my name or hear Alice’s light footsteps. But I heard nothing.

I got to the ground floor and skidded out of the hotel. Sure enough, there was a cab idling outside. I knocked on his window and said, “I need a ride.”

“Get in,” he said, perking up at the thought of a customer. I slid into the back and pulled out my money to count. I had a fair amount with me.

I rattled off Eliza’s address and added, “If you get me there as quickly as you can, I’ll pay double.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the cab driver said and he peeled off from the driveway of the hotel. I leaned back in my seat and breathed deeply, trying to slow my racing heart.

The cabbie reached Eliza’s in less than ten minutes, which I had to admit impressed me. I pressed a wad of cash into his hands, thanked him, and sprinted up the path to Eliza’s front door. I reached into the plant on the windowsill to grab the spare key and I let myself in. There was a car in the driveway, but Eliza’s mother was often away on business. I was sure that she wasn’t around – and besides, she was used to me letting myself in.

I took the stairs two at a time to get to Eliza’s bedroom. It looked remarkable unchanged from the last time I remembered being there, save for the fact that her bed was rumpled in an unusual way. She must have put up a fight, I realized, feeling sick.

On the bedside table was the phone I had been promised. It was one of the cheap disposable phones, the kind cop shows referred to as ‘burn’ phones. I picked it up and opened up the contacts. There was only one number. I dialed and held it to my ear with shaking hands.

It rang exactly once and then that chilly voice said, “My, that was quick, Bella. I am impressed.”

“Is Eliza all right?” I demanded. Once again, I was surprised by the steadiness of my voice. “Can I speak to her?”

“Your friend is just fine,” he said, sounding a tad exasperated. “I have no quarrel with her. She doesn’t appeal to me. She is, however, my collateral.” His voice sharpened. “Did you come alone?”

“Yes,” I answered shortly.

“Excellent. I know you know the ballet studio where she once danced,” he said, and he sounded amused again. “Your camera work could use some practice.”

“I’m sorry I don’t measure up,” I said through gritted teeth. “What do you want me to do?”

“Come alone,” he said, echoing his words from before. “And come soon.” The line went dead. I dropped the phone in the pocket of my jeans, thinking it might come in useful later. I ran back out of the room and down the stairs. I spotted the keys to Eliza’s car hanging on a tack by the front door and I grabbed them, mentally asking her to forgive me.

I went outside and got into her car, starting the engine. The ballet studio wasn’t far, but it wasn’t exactly close, either, and I didn’t want to lose any more time than I had to. I slammed on the accelerator and turned onto the street.

I was lucky that it was still early enough for traffic to be thin. I weaved in and out of the few cars until I reached my turn. I nearly went up on two wheels as I jerked the wheel hard to the right and I threw the car into park even though it was positioned haphazardly across two spaces.

I leapt out of the car, took a moment to breathe deeply, then walked to the front doors of the ballet studio, and stepped inside.

When Eliza had been younger, I had made fun of her for ballet, because that’s what girly girls did. The two of us had always been quite proud of being tomboys, but Eliza had defended her love of dance. She loved the grace and beauty of it – and the girls didn’t hurt either. I hoped that this wouldn’t destroy her passion if she survived.

The lobby was dark and empty, but the doors to the studio were wide open and I could see a faint hint of light, like a flashlight or something. I rubbed my trembling hands together – they were so cold – and went inside even though my heart was hammering a warning against my ribs, telling me not to go inside.

The room was just how I remembered it. The floor was wooden, rough in places from where generations of feet had trod. The walls were mirrored, with barres around at waist height. I caught a flash of red hair in the reflection and I was hit with a wave of déjà vu so strong that my knees buckled slightly. This was what it had all been leading up to, I knew.

I forced my mouth to open, but the first words I tried caught in my throat. I cleared my throat and called quietly, “Eliza?”

“Bella?” Eliza sounded panicked, but there was a faint hint of relief in the way she said my name. I walked further into the room and saw her kneeling on the floor in the center of the room, her hands tied behind her back with what looked like a knee sock. She let out a soft cry when she saw me, and she started to get to her feet.

“No,” I said instantly, closing the distance between us in two rapid steps and dropping to my knees before her. “Stay put, okay? It’ll be – it’ll be better that way.”

“Bella, who is he?” she asked in a hoarse whisper. “What happened up there?”

“He’s crazy, okay? He just wants to hurt Edward and me, and he’s using you to do that. You’ll be all right, I promise.” I had no way of knowing if what I promised would come true, but I had to make it so. I kissed her forehead and stroked a strand of hair back from her face.

“How touching,” said the cool voice. I stiffened; I had not heard him approach. I looked up slowly to see him looming like a gargoyle behind Eliza, his smile stiff and twisted. “Such a very good friend.” He paced around us, looking thoughtful. His eyes gleamed like blood in the faint light. “I will never understand humans. I can see why your coven is so fascinated – as a species, you seem to have little understanding of self-preservation.”

“You were human, once,” I pointed out, a little defiantly. He was standing in the light coming through the open doors and I could see him clearly once again. He was handsome, in a way. He looked as though he might have been Spanish when he was human, and he had dark hair that he wore long. He was thin, and tall – not nearly as physically imposing as Emmett, or even Victoria, the redheaded vampire that he had been travelling with. But the air of malice that emanated from him was unmistakable.

“What are you talking about?” Eliza hissed, sounding worried now. I ignored her, all my attention focused on him.

He smiled thinly. “I suppose you’re correct,” he acknowledged. “But that is a distant nightmare now.” He tilted his head to the side. “You’re not going to tell me that your boyfriend will avenge you?”

“He’d better not,” I said. I knew he would try, but I hoped desperately that he loved me enough not to, to follow my wishes. “And he doesn’t fight my battles for me.”

“You’re hopelessly outclassed, girl,” the hunter snapped, seeming to lose a little of his cool. I just stared at him, waiting. He let out a long breath and admitted, “I was hoping for a bit more of a challenge, but two human girls isn’t anything at all.”

“Of course not,” I agreed, hoping to keep him talking. The longer he talked, the more likely it was that I could think of something to do – not that I had much hope. The best I could hope for was another distraction while I got Eliza and myself out.

“Victoria couldn’t get to your father – I must ask you how you did that later, not many things protect against us – and I knew you would leave. But where to?”

He smiled. “In the end, it didn’t matter. Phoenix was closer than your mother’s and I knew you’d come if your friend was in danger. And as it turned out, my guess was correct. That message you left on your friend’s phone was even more helpful. It didn’t take long for me to ask where that call came from.”

Eliza was shaking now, whether from shock, fear, or cold, I couldn’t know. I wrapped my arms around her and waited for him to talk himself out.

“So I am hoping your boyfriend is not as noble as you think.” He shook his head. “I will never understand those vampires that form attachments to humans. I knew one, once – you will appreciate this story, I think – who had a great fondness for a girl who had been institutionalized. She claimed she had visions of the future.”

I sucked in a breath, my eyes going wide. He chuckled at my expression and said, “Yes, your charming little friend. I was surprised to see her – and looking so lucid! When she was a human, she had smelled just as wonderful as you. But when her protector,” here, he spat the word like it was a curse, “realized that I had an interest, he spirited her away and turned her.” He chuckled nastily. “Poor thing went mad. She’s never been quite right since, has she?”

“Shut up about Alice,” I said in a low voice. “She isn’t why we’re here.”

“No,” he agreed, smiling thinly. “No, she’s not.”

In my arms, Eliza had stopped shaking and now she looked up, her eyes wide. I looked down at her panicked face and made a decision. Without pausing to think about the consequences, I pressed my fingers to the base of her skull and concentrated all my efforts on sending her to sleep. The hunter didn’t seem to notice Eliza at all, and when she slumped into my arms, he didn’t say anything, just paced towards me.

I let Eliza slide out of my arms to the floor, and I rose to my feet, clenching my hands at my sides. He smiled, showing his teeth, and I backed up nervously. I had no hope of fighting him, but I could feel my magic twining around my arms, my chest. It wanted to help, I could tell, so I let it fill me, a warm buzzing under my skin.

In one movement so swift that I could hardly register it, he flung himself towards me. I threw up my arms in defense and his foot struck my forearms. I felt it, but it didn’t hurt as much as it probably should have. It did send me skidding backwards across the floor. I adjusted my stance and watched him, trying to look for cues.

He looked astonished by my lack of injury, but he rallied quickly. His fist lashed out and I threw myself to the side. He still managed to clip me in the shoulder and I fell back into one of the mirrors. It shuddered ominously and I clawed myself upright. He punched again and I ducked just in time. The mirror shattered under the impact of his fist and shards of glass fell all around me. One cut my cheek, another sliced my bicep. I hissed in pain, and he breathed in deeply, looking satisfied.

“Ah,” he said. “I thought this room would make for a suitably dramatic final scene. The effect is quite pretty, don’t you think?”

I kicked out, hoping to hit him. I nailed him in the knee and though he buckled slightly, he didn’t seem to be troubled by it. “Not exactly what I was thinking,” I snapped, and I flung myself away from the mirror.

“You’re proving to be more of a challenge than I thought,” the hunter said in a pleased tone. “Has your boyfriend been teaching you some tricks?”

This time he was too fast for me to see and he caught me across the legs with a sharp kick. I collapsed to the ground and heard a sickening crack as he kicked me again. I was sure that my leg was fractured, if not broken, and I forced myself to breathe through the sudden, nauseating pain. He loomed over me, looking satisfied, and I covered my face with my arms.

I wouldn’t scream – I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction. He nudged by broken leg and I bit down on my lip to keep from shouting out. I felt my magic explode out of me in force, and I heard the sound of glass shattering all around the room. He swore, temper clearly breaking, and I knew I didn’t have much longer. I closed my eyes and prayed to anyone who was listening that my death would be quick.

Chapter Text

I heard a shout and a scream, then another sound that sounded like a roar of fury. There was a sharp pain in my hand, sharper than the throbbing in my leg. I opened my eyes and saw, through eyes blurry with tears, a familiar shape moving towards me.

I spared a moment to be annoyed that Edward had somehow found me despite my best efforts, then was merely grateful for the company as he fell to his knees beside me. “Bella,” he breathed, grabbing my uninjured hand. “Bella, what –”

“Edward, you shouldn’t be here,” I gasped out. “It’s what he wanted.”

“It’s taken care of,” he assured me. There was a hint of steel underneath his voice. I heard harsh, crude sounds of snapping bone and shouts of anger, though the sounds seemed distant and far away. “Bella, you’re – you’re hurt.”

“It’s not that bad,” I lied through the haze of pain. I blinked away tears to look up at him. He looked like he was trying to hide a rueful smile. “I promise.”

“Can you even stand?” he asked me. There was a louder shout, and I tried to look over in the direction of the noise, but he said sharply, “Don’t look.”

I looked back at him, startled, and he softened. “You don’t want to see, Bella, I promise you that.” He helped me sit up. “What’s wrong?”

“I think my leg’s broken,” I said, then gasped with pain as I jostled it. “And my hand.” I didn’t move it; I didn’t even want to look. “I think there’s something wrong with it.”

He looked over my body and hissed angrily. “I think it’s broken, too. He must have stepped on it.”

I wasn’t paying him much attention, though; I was looking over at Eliza. There was a circle of clear floor around her, but the rest of the floor was littered with shards of mirror. “Eliza,” I said faintly. “Eliza, I knocked her out so she wouldn’t have to watch –”

“Alice, check on Bella’s friend,” Edward called without looking up. He stroked my hair away from his face, his fingers pleasantly cool against my over-heated skin. “We’re going to have to get you to a hospital.”

“Get Eliza to a hospital,” I said sharply. “It’s not just me, she might be in shock, who knows what he did to her –”

“We’ll handle it,” he assured me. “Bella, what on earth were you thinking?” He pulled my letter from the back pocket of his jeans and waved it in front of his face. Now he looked a little angry, though he sounded more worried than annoyed. “You went after him alone! What did you think would happen?”

I met his gaze steadily and said, as evenly as I could, “Eliza’s like my sister. You’re immortal; you’ll survive without me. It’s not that I don’t love you –”

“Excuse me?” he asked, eyebrows going up.

“Shut up,” I muttered, and I giggled a little. I was feeling a little giddy with exhaustion now. I leaned into him and breathed out hard. “You should call an ambulance.

“We’ll get you to the hospital ourselves.” He looked around as though a car would pull up. “I don’t think –”

I reached into my pocket with my free hand and produced Eliza’s keys. I dangled them in front of his face to get his attention. “The car out front, parked across two spaces,” I explained. “It’s Eliza’s. I drove it here.”

“Okay, good,” he said and he took the keys. He hesitated, then picked me up, careful not to jostle my hurt leg and hand too badly. I couldn’t even bring myself to protest, just leaned weakly into him. He nodded to Alice, who picked up Eliza as though she weighed nothing, and the two of them carried us out to the car.

They placed Eliza and me in the backseat before getting in the front. I leaned over to buckle Eliza in and saw that Eliza was coming around, her eyelids fluttering groggily. She opened her eyes all the way and looked at me as I pulled back.

“Bella?” she asked weakly. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” I assured her faintly. I reached out with my unbroken hand and she took it in hers. I squeezed, grateful for the reassurance that she was safe, and leaned back against the window, breathing out.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Eliza asked, still sounding a little faint. “What the hell he was talking about?”

I looked at Edward, who was driving with his usual single-minded madness, and said softly, “Later, Eliza, I promise.”

At the hospital, I was rushed in past the waiting patients, some of whom protested loudly. One of the nurses recognized me from my numerous soccer-related injuries and said, “Wow, Bella, you really did a number on yourself this time.”

I rolled my eyes at him. Edward squeezed my hand and looked up at the nurse. “She does this a lot?” he asked, a perfect tone of nervousness in his voice.

“You just started dating?” the nurse asked. When Edward nodded, the nurse shook his head, chuckling. “Bella is one whirlwind of trouble, man. But she’s a good kid.” He patted my forehead affectionately. “We’ll get you sorted out real quick.”

“Can Eliza get put in the same room as me?” I asked before they wheeled my gurney away. The nurse – whose name, I remembered now, was Colin – smiled at me and nodded. Now calmed significantly, I reclined back and closed my eyes, waiting for the IV of painkillers to numb the pain emanating from my hand and leg.

 

When I awoke, I was lying in a hospital bed with my hand and leg in purple casts. I was exhausted, and I could feel the emptiness of my body – no food, no magic, no energy. I raised my eyebrows at the color of the casts; I wasn’t sure why purple had been chosen.

“I remembered that your hair was that color when you moved to Forks,” came Edward’s voice from my bedside. I turned my head with some effort and smiled at him. He was leaning back in the seat, one of my books sitting on his lap.

“Not a bad choice,” I allowed. I craned my head to look and saw that the cut on my arm had been bandaged. A tentative prod at my face confirmed that the slice on my face had been taped up as well. I looked over to my other side and saw Eliza sleeping peacefully on the other bed, her hair fanning out around her head like a halo.

“She’s fine,” Edward said in answer to my unasked question. “A little bruised, a little beaten-up, and she was going into shock, but she’s absolutely fine now. She kept asking me questions before she passed out from exhaustion.” He grimaced, but it seemed good-natured. “I can see why she’s your best friend.”

I laughed, a little weakly. I knew I would have to come up with some answer to Eliza’s questions and I was not looking forward to it. “What do you think I should tell her?” I asked Edward. “She heard him talking about – stuff.” I wasn’t ready to reveal what the hunter had told me about Alice, though I knew I would have to later. “I don’t want to lie.”

“Then don’t,” Edward said simply. “You trust her, yes?”

“Yes,” I said immediately.

“Then tell her. I trust you.” He leaned across the edge of the bed and pressed a gentle kiss to my lips. “I believe you if you say our secret is safe with her.”

I lifted my bare hand to his face and stroked my thumb under the curve of his cheekbone. “Do you want to be here when I tell her?”

“Only if you think I should be.” He watched me expectantly, his tawny eyes warm and kind.

I thought for a moment, my fingers moving restlessly against his cool skin. “I think I’d better do it alone,” I said finally. “She should hear it from me and me alone.”

He took my hand in his and kissed my fingertips. “Your wish is my command.” He nodded to the bed and I glanced over to see Eliza stirring. “I’ll go,” he murmured and he kissed my temple before leaving the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

Eliza sat up slowly. She took in her surroundings, then seemed to remember where she was. She looked over at me and when she saw me looking at her, she narrowed her eyes. “Bella,” she said in a low, slightly dangerous voice. “What the hell happened?”

“Eliza,” I said, taking a breath. “You are never going to believe this.”

Eliza got out of bed, clutching her hospital gown tightly around her. She sat down on my bed and looked at me expectantly. I could see a few bandages on her arms and one on her leg, but other than that, she seemed fine. She swept her bangs out of her eyes and fixed me with her piercing blue stare.

“So,” she said. “Explain.”

I hesitated, then said, “James, the man who kidnapped you? He’s a – he was a vampire.”

Eliza, who had been fiddling with the ties of her hotel gown, stilled. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Really?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” I said, “but I’m serious. The Cullens are vampires and so was James.”

Eliza pinched the bridge of her nose. “Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that your boyfriend and his family are vampires.”

“Yes.”

“Right.” Eliza dropped her hand and scowled at me. “Why, exactly, didn’t you tell me this before?”

“Because you had no reason to believe me. Now you’ve had at least some evidence that I’m not full of shit.” I waited for her to protest, but she remained silent. “Do you have questions?”

“Do I have – of course I have questions, Bella! You are going to tell me everything from the beginning and this time you are not going to leave anything out.” She resettled herself, crossing her legs, and looked at me expectantly.

I licked my lips and said, “Okay, but this might take a while.” She gestured for me to start and I began my story.

Chapter Text

It took almost an hour to tell the whole story, and I had to prove to her that I wasn’t joking about the magic. By the time I was through, Eliza was shaking her head in disbelief. “Jesus, Bella,” she said, laughing a little. “This would only happen to you.”

“Shut up,” I muttered, but I couldn’t help smiling at her. I felt ten times lighter; knowing someone else was in on my secret was a load off my mind.

“I’m glad you lot are up in Washington and not here,” she added. “And you have to promise me to be more careful, Bella. None of this adrenaline junkie bullshit.”

“I’ve always been like this,” I countered.

“True.” She got up from my bed and returned to hers. “You should know, by the way,” she said as she got underneath her sheet, “that I totally blame you for all of this.”

“As you should,” I agreed. “And Eliza, I am so sorry. I tried to stop this –”

She held up her hand. “Bella, I know. Now let me sleep, okay?” She waited until I nodded, and then she curled up onto her less injured side. I laid back and stared at the ceiling, letting my thoughts wander.

The phone next to my bed rang, shattering the soothing silence. I glared at it but picked it up anyway. “Hello?”

“Bella!” My mother sounded furious, though I could tell she was also relieved to hear my voice. “Charlie told me you got into a car accident with Eliza, what on earth were you thinking?”

I blinked in surprise and tried to think of an answer. There was a soft knock at the door and Edward peeked in. “Oh,” he said when he saw me, “you’re on the phone. I can leave again –”

I gestured him in, then covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “What’s this about a car accident?”

Edward nodded, looking abashed. “Yes, I meant to say something earlier. I told the paramedics that you were hit by a car while walking across the street.”

In my ear, my mother was still talking. “- and I’m very proud of you for pushing her out of the way, but getting your hand crushed! And your leg! You’re lucky you weren’t more injured!”

“You told them I pushed Eliza out of the way?” I hissed at Edward. “What on earth were you thinking?”

“We had to come up with a reason for your injuries!” Edward began pacing back and forth. “I couldn’t just bring you in her with injuries like those and not say something.”

I rolled my eyes at him and went back to listening to my mother.

“You could have been killed!” she continued. “And I’m all the way out here, I should fly there –”

“No!” I said instantly. “No, Mom, you have the wedding coming up. Don’t come out here. I’m fine, I promise you. I have Eliza and Edward’s here too –”

“Edward?” she said sharply. “Is that the boyfriend?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Is he there? I would like to speak with him.”

I looked up and held out the receiver to Edward. He frowned, confused, but accepted the phone from me. I leaned back on my pillows and listened to Edward answering my mother’s questions. Judging from his answers, she was asking him about whether he had a job, if he was doing well in school, and what his plans for college were.

When the interrogation was finally finished, he handed the phone back to me with a look of intense relief. I said, “Mom, I think you scared him off for good.”

“He seems like a nice young boy,” she observed. I barely managed to stifle my laugh in time. She continued on, oblivious, “Well, he seems like he’ll be able to get you home in one piece. I will call you again soon. Next time something happens, you call me and your father.”

“Yes, Mom. Love you.” She echoed the sentiment and I twisted to set the phone back on its cradle. Edward took the seat next to my bed once again and waited until I was settled to speak.

“Bella, I –” He hesitated. “You scared me,” he said finally, simply. “I’ve never been so terrified in my life.”

“Neither have I,” I admitted honestly. “I couldn’t let that stop me, though.”

He chuckled, though there was very little humor in it. “I suppose I understand.” He reached out again and took my hand in his. “How did she take it?”

“She seems to be fine,” I said. “I don’t think she cares much. I mean – she will always be my best friend, but we’re not a part of each other’s daily lives anymore, you know? It doesn’t affect her.”

He looked inexplicably sad at this and he sighed, stroking his thumb over the back of my hand. “Do you feel better for having told her?”

“Much,” I said truthfully. “Which reminds me – I have something to tell you.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“It’s about Alice,” I said, lowering my voice instinctively. “I – I found something out about her.” I recapped what James had said to me. As I did so, Edward drew back, his expression darkening.

“This is – not good,” he said after a moment. “But thank you for telling me.”

“Are you going to tell Alice?”

He rubbed his face and said, “I know I should, but I’m worried about what the information might do to her.”

“She’s strong,” I pointed out. “She’s hung on this long, hasn’t she? Maybe it will give her some measure of peace to know her past.”

“I hope you’re right.” Edward got to his feet. “I’m going to let you rest now. You need the sleep.”

I couldn’t argue with that; my eyelids were growing heavy. The last thing I saw before I fell back into sleep was Edward’s smiling face.

 

I woke up from a blessedly dream-free sleep to the sound of someone saying Eliza’s name. I opened my eyes and struggled to sit upright in time to see an attractive girl stalk into the room. She had dark skin and black hair that was cut around her elegant jaw. She made a beeline for Eliza, who was sitting up and looking vaguely terrified.

“Rachelle,” she said. “What –”

Rachelle crossed her arms and scowled at Eliza. “Explain to me why I had to find out about the accident from Facebook, Eliza.”

“I’ve been unconscious! I’m injured, look!” Eliza held out her arm to show off her bandages. “Rachelle, I’m so sorry –”

“You almost died!” The two of them stared at each other for a long moment. Then, in one sudden movement, Rachelle had seized a hold of Eliza and was kissing her with a fierceness and passion that made me feel uncomfortable.

I turned my head away and counted thirty seconds before chancing a glance back. When they gave no sign of either stopping or noticing me, I cleared my throat politely.

Rachelle jerked back and turned to look at me, her eyes slightly narrowed. Eliza was flushed, but grinning widely. “Bella,” she said cheerfully, “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Rachelle.”

“Hi,” I said, waving with my cast hand.

“Hi,” Rachelle said shortly. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same.” I grinned at them. “I’ll go get coffee or something.” I rolled out of bed and grabbed the crutches that were leaning against the wall. I had the feeling that nurses would not approve, but I went limped out in to the hall anyway. Edward was waiting outside, reading his book. When he saw me, he jumped to his feet.

“Bella, you should still be in bed,” he protested, hovering as I made my way down the hall. “You’re injured!”

“Yeah, well, Eliza’s girlfriend is here and I thought I’d give them some time alone. And I wanted some coffee.”

“The doctor said not to let you have caffeine,” Edward said nervously. “How about juice?”

I gave him an amused look. “If you insist, I suppose that will have to do.”

“I do insist,” he said firmly. He opened the door to the cafeteria for me and followed me in. “Go sit down, I’ll get you juice. What would you like?”

“Cranberry would be good.” I leveraged myself into a seat and folded my arms on the table. Looking at my cast, I reflected that the one good thing to come out of this would be that I would probably get some pretty amusing signatures once I was back in Forks.

Edward returned to my side and set down a cup of cranberry juice. He sat next to me and settled his hand over my casted hand. “Bella, I need you to trust me with things like this.”

“With things like what?” I asked, pulling the cup towards me to take a drink.

“You need to trust me to trust you,” he said. “I believe in you, Bella. I wouldn’t have wanted you to go after him yourself, but if you could have at least talked to me –”

“Don’t pretend you wouldn’t have tried to stop me,” I said sharply. “I know better than that.”

“Fair enough,” he said after a moment. “You are probably correct.”

“Only probably?” I asked, arching my eyebrows.

He laughed a little sheepishly, ducking his head. “Fine, I submit to your superiority, Bella.”

“As you should.” I stretched out my leg and let out a sigh. “So. Have I thanked you for saving me yet?”

“There is no need to thank me,” Edward said sharply. “It – it’s not something I need to be thanked for.”

“Even so. I was in pretty deep shit when you found me.” I nudged his ankle with my good foot. “So thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he said quietly. He looked at me for a long moment, then leaned forward. “Bella, you shattered every mirror in that place. Did you have any idea you had that much – ability?”

I looked down at my hands. “No. I wish I had known – maybe if I had been better prepared, I could have done a better job protecting Eliza and myself.” I squared my shoulders, determined, and looked up to meet his eyes. “Which is why I’m going to teach myself as much as I can. You can’t always be saving me. Sometimes, I’ll need to be able to save myself.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Edward. He wrapped his fingers around mine and squeezed gently. “Seeing you broken like that – it frightened me, Bella. Sometimes I forget how fragile you are.”

I nodded and looked down. After a moment, I ventured hesitantly, “What happened to James?”

“He’s dead,” Edward said flatly, his hand tightening on mine. “I wish –” He looked down. “But he wouldn’t have stopped, Bella. He would have killed you.”

“I know,” I said softly, though I felt a little ill just thinking about it. I didn’t want to think about what it would take to kill a vampire. We sat in silence while I sipped at my tea. After a few minutes, Edward leaned over and pressed a kiss to my temple. I leaned into him and sighed, slightly shuddery.

 

By the time my first day back in Forks was over, both of my casts were covered in signatures and doodles from my friends. Eric had drawn smiling flower on the ankle of my cast, which he claimed was for luck, while Kaitlyn had written a long string of chemical equations along the underside of my arm.

They, naturally, had all kinds of questions for me, mostly regarding why I had been in Phoenix to begin with and what had happened to me. I managed to dodge most of the questions and lied my ass off in response to the ones I couldn’t avoid. Edward was absolutely no help at all, which was really not all that surprising.

“It would be nice if you pretended I was traumatized or something,” I told him later, crossing my arms and glaring at him. “I’m going to have to create a timeline to keep up with the lies I’m spinning.”

“And that wouldn’t be a difficult lie to maintain?” Edward raised his eyebrows at me, a smile teasing at the corners of his mouth. “Honestly, Bella?”

I rolled my eyes at him, trying hard not smile.

At home, Dad insisted on waiting on me, since I was still adjusting to using my crutches while only being able to use one arm. He had clearly been out of his mind with worry while I had been in the hospital, so I humored him.

Eliza and I talked every night so she could ask me more questions. She took to sending me information she had scrounged up about magic, most of which was garbage. It was good reading, though, if only for humor’s sake.

Spring break came up faster than I was hoping and I flew down to Florida for Mom’s wedding. She clucked over my casts and repeatedly asked me if I still wanted to be in the wedding.

“Try to stop me,” I said, putting my hands on my hips. “I’m your maid of honor and that’s that.”

“Fine, all right,” she said, laughing. She hugged me again and kissed my cheek. “I’ve missed you, Bella. Do you think you want to move down here? Live on the go with me and Phil.” She grinned, a little sadly.

“Nah,” I said. “I’m kind of liking Forks.”

Chapter Text

“So how was your mother’s wedding?” asked Edward when I returned to school after break. “When I called, it sounded like you were having fun.”

“Yeah,” I said, drawing the word out a bit. “I, uh, kind of got trashed with some of my cousins. It wasn’t the best decision in the world.” From what I could remember, we had ended up singing along to 80’s rock music after most of the older folks had left the reception. Fun, yes, but I was pretty sure at least one of my cousins had caught it on camera, which didn’t bode well for the future.

Edward snorted and grabbed my backpack from me so I could limp into school. “Sounds like fun.”

“The ceremony was beautiful. My mom is really happy.” I sighed happily, remembering the look on her face. “But it’s good to be back. This is home, now.”

“Glad to hear it,” he said fondly. As we came towards my classroom, he stopped and turned to face me. “By the way, Bella – do you want to go to prom?”

“Prom?” I asked, surprised. “You really want to go? School dances are kind of…lame.”

“I haven’t been to all that many, shockingly,” he said with a slightly twisted smile. “Now I actually have a date.”

“Well, if you put it that way,” I said dryly. “I’m sure we’re going to have to be going as a group, though.”

He cupped my cheek in his hand and smiled down at me fondly. “I just want to spend time with you.”

“You’re a sap,” I said, but I turned into his touch, mouthing a little at his thumb. He let out a surprised chuckle and leaned down to kiss me. I grinned into his mouth.

Behind us, I heard someone wolf-whistle. I lifted my good hand and flipped whoever it was off. I heard laughter and recognized it as Eric’s, so I broke off and made a different obscene gesture at him that had him laughing hysterically and falling into Tyler with amusement.

 

It didn’t occur to me until later that going to prom mean that I was going to have to go shopping.

“What am I going to wear?” I cried, clutching at Marlena’s shoulder with my good hand. She started laughing, covering her mouth with one hand. “Marlena, this is serious! I have two casts, how on earth am I supposed to find a dress?”

“It will take some work,” she admitted. “But you said you’d be in for a boot soon?”

“That’s what the doctor said,” I agreed. I was looking forward to not needing someone to carry my bag for me. I was getting pretty sick of crutches; they hurt my arms and they made walking around incredibly inconvenient.

“Well, once that’s over and done with, we’re going shopping.” She gave me thumbs up and gave me a quick hug. “Oh, this will be great! I can’t wait.”

Her enthusiasm was infectious; I was usually pretty pessimistic about school dances – in my experience, they ranged from lame to exceedingly lame – but I couldn’t help but look forward to spending the night with my friends, even if it would be amidst terrible Top 40 music.

She took me shopping later that week and we found a dress that was easy for me to get in and out of. She grinned when she saw me and said, “You’ll be the prettiest person there. Except for Kaitlyn.”

“Ha ha,” I said, turning to look at myself in the mirror. The cuts and bruises had healed without leaving scars or marks, for which I was grateful, but I’d never be as elegant as Kaitlyn or Rosalie or even Marlena. Which was fine. I liked my muscles and my less than graceful gait. And Edward seemed to like it too.

“See, that’s not so bad,” said Marlena cheerfully, nudging me in the side. “Buy this. And it’s black, so it’ll look fine with your boot.”

“Maybe I’ll set a trend,” I joked, hopping back to the dressing room. “Everyone will have casts at next year’s prom.”

Marlena giggled and said, “God, I hope so.”

 

The last few weeks of the semester were so hectic that I forgot to think about prom. I was too busy balancing finals with teaching myself magic. I was unnerved by the amount of power I had unleashed at the dance studio and I knew I had to get myself under control. In between that, I talked to Eliza, hung out with Edward and his family, and tried to see my friends.

“I was never this busy in Phoenix,” I told Eliza late one night. I was sprawled out on my bed, exhausted from trying to make my pen write without touching it. “I shouldn’t have left.”

“Yeah right,” Eliza said dismissively. “Like you regret moving to Forks.”

I hated her knowing tone. “Fine,” I said grumpily. “Maybe it’s not that bad.”

“You love it, don’t even front.” There was a brief pause, and then she said, “Seriously, you’re going to prom?”

“Shut up,” I said. “Edward wanted to go.”

“You guys are so cute. Except for the whole magical creatures bullshit, that part is a little too True Blood for me.” Eliza laughed at her own joke and I made a face at the phone. “Don’t make faces at me, Isabella.”

“How did you know I was making a face?” I demanded.

“I know you,” she said. “Now go to sleep. You’re going to run yourself down and I want to have lots and lots of pictures from prom, so you can’t get sick.”

“Nosy,” I accused. She didn’t bother denying it.

 

The day of prom, I went over to Marlena’s house to get ready. Kaitlyn was already there, her long dark hair falling in thick curls around her face. She smiled when she saw me and said, “Ready for this?”

I let Marlena fuss with my hair until she was satisfied with the results. “Well, your hair is still too short to really do anything with,” she said doubtfully, “but I guess it’s all right.”

“Thanks,” I said. I shimmied into my dress and adjusted the straps until it was settled on me. I looked at myself in Marlena’s full-length mirror and made a face at my reflection.

Marlena knocked me in the shoulder. “Cut that out,” she said reprovingly. I made a face at her instead.

We took Marlena’s car to the restaurant where we were meeting our dates. Edward was outside, awkwardly talking to Lucas. When he saw me, his face lit up in a huge smile and he hurried forward to kiss me. Kaitlyn made a stifled noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.

“Are you going to be able to fake eating?” I asked in an undertone when he pulled back.

He rolled his eyes at me. “You’ve seen me eat.”

I poked him in the stomach and said, “Just want to make sure you won’t get ill.”

He grabbed my hand and brought it to his lips with a smile. “I’ll be fine. But thank you for your concern, my dear.”

“Always, darling,” I said.

True to his word, Edward ordered a salad and did a good job of eating it. Eric made a despairing comment of understanding why Edward was in such good shape. I snorted into my burger and Edward pinched me under the table, looking like he was hiding a grin.

We drove to school together and the girls rounded everyone up so we could take photos. I looked at Edward with a smirk and he elbowed me, hissing, “I’ll be in the photo.”

After we dispersed, I heard someone calling my name. I turned to look for the source and saw Jacob waving at me. Jacob had shot up at least an inch or so since the last time I had seen him, which was truly impressive. He had also buffed up quite a bit and didn’t look as baby-faced. Next to me, Kaitlyn let out an impressed whistle. I elbowed her and hissed, “He’s sixteen, come on.”

“A year’s difference isn’t so much,” she said, looking him up and down without any trace of embarrassment. Marlena snorted and then clapped her hand to her mouth, looking embarrassed.

“Bella,” Jacob said, gesturing towards me. “Please, I need to talk to you. I promise it won’t take long.”

I glanced back over my shoulder to where Edward was talking with the boys, then sighed and said, “All right.”

“Ask him if he wants to stay for the dance,” Kaitlyn whispers.

We went to stand a little apart from my friends. Jacob was fidgeting a little as though he were uncomfortable. After a moment, he said awkwardly, “You look nice.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Did you have something you wanted to talk to me about?”

Jacob winced and said, “Yeah. I’m sorry to interrupt your prom night, but my dad wanted me to talk to you.”

“Sure,” I said, though I didn’t know if I particularly wanted to hear another one of Billy’s warnings. “What is it?”

“He, um, wants you to – um. Break up with your boyfriend,” Jacob said really quickly. “He nearly had a fit when he heard about you getting hurt in Phoenix. He’s so superstitious – he thinks somehow it was your boyfriend’s fault.”

I worried at my bottom lip, debating what to say. After a moment, I said, “If anything, Edward saved my life. The Cullens aren’t bad people. Tell him I said thank you for his concern, but I have it under control.”

“I believe you,” Jacob said fervently. “It’s just – he also wanted me to say that ‘we’ll be watching you.’ The plural is his, not mine.”

I winced; I didn’t want the Quileutes worrying about me, though I appreciated their thoughts. “Right. Thanks.”

“Bella?” called Edward. I turned and waved at him. Edward came to my side and took my hand, squeezing gently. “Who is this?” asked Edward hesitantly, looking at Jacob with annoyance but clear curiosity.

“Right,” I said, shaking my head. “Sorry. Edward, this is Jacob Black. Jacob, this is…Edward Cullen.”

Jacob had gone a bit red when Edward had looked at him and he stuttered a little as he said, “Hi, um. Nice to meet you?”

Edward glanced at me. I raised my eyebrows at him in a silent plea for him to be nice. He offered Jacob a slightly stiff smile and said, “Any friend of Bella’s is a friend of mine.”

Jacob looked skeptical at that. “Right,” he said slowly. “I’m sure. Thanks for listening, Bella,” he added. “Again, I’m sorry that I interrupted your dance.”

“Don’t worry about it, Jacob, I understand.” I impulsively gave him a one-armed hug. “I’ll talk to you later, all right?”

“Yeah,” he said. He leaned in and whispered, “I can see why you don’t want to break up with him.”

When he pulled back, I raised my eyebrows, trying to hide my smile. He groaned and covered his face. “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything,” I said, giving up the ghost and grinning like a loon.

“I hate you,” he told me sincerely. “I really do.”

“Would you like to stay for the dance?” I asked. “My friend Kaitlyn thinks you’re cute.” I jerked my thumb towards where Kaitlyn was standing.

“I don’t think I should –” he started to say, but, to my surprise, Edward cut in.

“You definitely should,” he said. “I’d like to get to know you better, Jacob.”

Jacob looked at me. I gave him a reassuring smile and then elbowed Edward in the ribs the moment Jacob turned away. “What are you doing?”

Edward looked down at me. “I want him to see that we’re happy. And he’s your friend, right?”

“I don’t know him that well,” I hedged. “I think it’s more of a keep your enemies close thing.”

He shrugged, smirking. “Maybe,” he agreed. He held out his hand and led me inside the school gym. It actually looked sort of nice.

I danced with Kaitlyn and Marlena – or did my best. It was hard with the cast boot, but I had fun shimmying my hips. Then a slow song came on and Edward got up from where he was talking with Eric.

He wrapped me in his arms and said, “You’re a terrible dancer.”

“I’m crippled,” I shot back. “But no, you’re right. I am.”

“Apologies,” he said. “I will confess, I am not the best either, not in these times.”

“What do you do during the summer?” I asked Edward as we swayed sort of awkwardly on the dance floor. “I think even Forks has sun during August. You can’t stay indoors all day.”

Edward laughed. “We usually go on vacation,” he said. “Carlisle has been talking about visiting Italy.”

“Wow, Italy,” I said, impressed. “That sounds like fun. Though I don’t think it will really solve the sun problem.”

“We have people we can visit in Italy,” he said, his voice darkening slightly. “It was just a thought.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” I said. “Of course, I will pine endlessly for you –”

“I’m trying to be emotionally profound here,” he said, squeezing my hand. “Stop undermining me.”

“Never,” I said, tilting my head up with a smile. He kissed me, soft and perfectly chaste. “I really will miss you, but it’s not like I’ll die without you by my side.”

“You’ll be fine?”

“Of course I will. I lived seventeen years without you by my side.” I smiled. “And it will give me a chance to work on my magic.”

We both looked around to see if anyone was listening, but everyone else was dancing and absorbed in their partners. Kaitlyn and Jacob swayed two feet away from us, Jacob towering over her. Edward rubbed my arm and pressed his lips to my forehead.

“Just, you know,” he said. “Be careful.”

“I will,” I promised.

Chapter Text

I had to admit, when I'd moved to Forks, I'd never thought I'd end up at a private airstrip saying goodbye to my vampire boyfriend. But that's what I found myself doing a week after school let out. I stood on the runway while Emmett hoisted their bags into the plane, my arms wrapped around myself as I watched the Cullens get ready to leave.

Alice bounded over and gave me a light kiss on the cheek. "Be careful," she said seriously, her eyes wide. "And watch for wolves." Jasper nodded to me, a small smile on his face.

"Wolves?" I asked, but she was already halfway back to the plane, Jasper trailing after her. I sighed and rubbed my forehead with my uninjured hand. I was growing to hate Alice's cryptic messages; they made me nervous and wary. Edward seemed to notice my distress, because he came over from where he was talking to Carlisle and pulled me into his embrace.

"I'm going to miss you," he said softly, kissing my forehead. "You'd like Italy. It's beautiful there."

"I could always come visit," I suggested. "I could talk to Charlie."

"It's better if you stay here," he said darkly. "I don't trust the people we're meeting there."

"You be careful, then," I told him. "I know you're practically invincible, but still."

"I will," he promised. He looked around, then stepped back. The other Cullens, minus Alice and Jasper, were hovering, watching us. When we stepped apart, Rosalie came forward to shake my hand stiffly.

"Have a good summer, Bella," she said very politely.

"Thanks," I said as sincerely as possible. She gave me an unreadable look, then headed towards the plane. Emmett drew me into an affectionate bear hug and mussed my hair. I scowled at him, though I knew that I wasn't very convincing, and turned to say goodbye to Calisle and Esme.

"Give your father my regards," Carlisle told me, taking my hand and raising it to his lips. "And stay out of trouble."

"I never got into trouble until I met Edward," I said a touch irritably.

Carlisle laughed. "Fair enough." He released my hand and inclined his head. "I have great faith in your abilities, Bella. Do what you can and I will see if I can find anyone to help you with your gifts."

"Thank you," I said gratefully, annoyance dissipating. "I'd appreciate that."

He smiled and stepped back while Esme gave me a warm hug. "My dear, you have been such a breath of fresh air," she said softly in my ear. "Thank you for bringing a smile to Edward's face." She pulled away and I had to blink away sudden tears.

I waved to them as they moved back to give Edward and me some privacy. He took my hands in his and smiled at me, though it didn't seem totally genuine to me. He leaned in to press our foreheads together and said, "You're not going to forget me, are you?"

"Forget you?" I snorted. "That's never going to happen. You're not going to find some hot Italian model to leave me for, right?"

He looked affronted at the very idea. "Bella, love, you are one in six billion. I will not find someone to equal you any time soon."

"Romantic," I accused and his smile grew wider and more sincere.

"Yes," he admitted. "I am." He pressed a soft, lingering kiss to my lips. "I'll write you."

"Send me a postcard from every city you visit," I told him. "And I'll write you. It will mostly be, 'Laid on the grass today. Read a book. Had ice cream with Marlena.'"

"I'll hang on your every word," he promised. He kissed me again, longer this time, then hugged me tightly. "See you in the autumn, my Isabella."

I didn't protest the use of my full name. I laid my hand against his cheek and said, "See you in autumn."

I stood there and watched as he got on the plane. Every time he looked back, I raised my hand to wave, ignoring the prickling of my eyes. "Goodbye," I murmured as the plane's engines started. I waited until it was in the air before I went to my car.

I drove home, where Dad was waiting for me on the porch. He gave me a hug and asked, "Are you all right?"

I considered it for a moment, then smiled and said, "Yeah. I'm all right."