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Thistles and Thorns

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The old, wooden stairs didn't creak as Noah Swan ascended. He'd navigated the silent path years earlier, sneaking downstairs to watch TV or grab a snack while his family was asleep. Though he'd only returned to this house a few weeks prior, the footfalls came as naturally as if he'd never left.

Mug of tea in hand, Noah shuffled down the upstairs hallway, grateful he hadn't woken his father— based on the snores coming from Charlie's room, his efforts had been fruitful. However, mere steps from his bedroom, he was caught.

"Tea, really? This late?"

The door to Bella's room was closed, so she couldn't have known he was outside. Unless—

Noah groaned. "Stop using your boyfriends super-hearing to spy on me!"

There was joint laughter from inside as he re-entered his own room, peeved. The tea was placed upon his desk, beside the stack of clothes he'd set aside for the next day: a sweater and corduroys, per his usual appearance. Glancing at the snow falling out his window, Noah vowed to add thick socks to the ensemble in the morning.

Hung above a few drawings he'd taped to the wall, the clock was disheartening; it was too late, for Noah to feel this alert. The slow process of making tea, albeit decaffeinated, usually pushed him towards sleepiness. Tonight, it eluded him. With school in the morning, Noah determined this to be unacceptable.

He reached into the drawer of his nightstand, fishing around for the right bottle; it rattled as his fingers clumsily bumped the cap.

"Pills, Noah?" Edward was, suddenly, leaning in the doorway.

Hand over his heart, Noah feigned surprise. "Why, Mr. Cullen, what on Earth are you suggesting?" His voice hovered at a low whisper.

Edward arched an eyebrow at the boy, coolly.

"It's melatonin, Sherlock Holmes. Not Oxi." Noah swallowed the pills dry, but crossed the room for his mug of tea on the desk.

"Can't sleep?"

Noah smirked. "It's good stuff, maybe y'all should try some." He took a tentative sip of the tea, grimacing as he determined it too hot to drink. Nonplussed, Noah set the mug on the windowsill over his bed; it joined a few small, potted succulents, and the cactus he'd carried with him to Washington. The cactus which, save for a few feigned tears in Terminal 5 at Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport, was only barely saved from security.

His bed was unmade, though the duvet was still relatively unwrinkled. Though Charlie had repurposed some old slat-crates to form a frame for the mattress, it was still low enough to the ground that Noah had to kneel down, in order to get in bed. The side of the blanket which touched the wall was cold— an unfortunate combination of poor insulation and a February frost.

 "I don't think we share similar breeds of insomnia, but the thought is appreciated." Smiling softly, Edward reached to close the bedroom door. "Lights off?"

Noah nodded. "Night, vamp."

There was a snort, as the lights flicked to darkness.

— 

Five weeks, three days. That's how long it had been since they boarded the plane on the Phoenix tarmac. And, uncoincidentally, as long as it had been since Noah had heard from Renee. As he lay curled in the warmth of his blankets, his sleepy mind couldn't help but return to his mother's silence; it plagued him.

"Are you up?" Bella knocked only once on the door before entering. "You're going to be late." Her hair was damp— meaning the shower was up for grabs.

Noah groaned feebly, peeling off the covers. "I'm up. I'm up."

His sister merely laughed.

Grabbing the pile of clothes off his desk, Noah paused at the framed photograph propped to the side. Charlie and Renee, over a decade prior, smiling with their two young children; still in diapers, and therefore prior to the divorce.

Offhandedly, he flipped his middle finger at the happy family, making his way to the shower.

— 

That afternoon, Bella was the only one actually eating at the Cullen lunch table. Though she'd been in Forks for over a month, and Edward's girlfriend for a few weeks, the practice of coexisting with vampires was still fairly foreign. She always half-expected them to consume lunch like the dozens of other students in the cafeteria.

“That’s your brother, right?” Rosalie’s voice lacked the majority of its usual disdain; she gestured with an uneaten stalk of celery.

In the entryway, Noah appeared to be searching for something. One hand gripped the strap of his backpack, as he glanced around the bustling room. “Since when has he had this lunch period?" Alice wondered.

“He doesn’t.” Bella frowned, eyes trained on her obviously-stressed brother.

From across the room, the siblings locked eyes; Bella waved. Noah wrapped his free hand around the other strap of his Jansport, and crossed through a sea of other students towards their table.

Near the salad bar, he accidentally bumped arms with a rather large senior. Though Bella's human hearing wasn't strong enough, each of the Cullens heard the kid snarl a slur at Noah as he passed. His shoulders slouched almost imperceptibly further. There was a collective wince from the vampire's table.

By the time he reached the table, Noah looked exhausted, but relieved. “Can I sit here?”

Bella pushed half of her sandwich towards Noah on a lunch tray, but he waved it away. Before anyone had a chance to ask, the boy explained— “Mrs. Cope switched around my class schedule, again. Again! Realized I didn’t have gym, so she took me out of art.” He grimaced, placing his new schedule on the table.

“Last period?” Emmett leaned forward, a devilish grin spreading across his face.

Noah shook his head. "No, next. Coach Clapp is gonna eat me for lunch."

"Oh! Jazz and I have gym then, too. This will be perfect!" Alice, excitable as always, reached across the table for the print-out of Noah's classes.

"Don't worry about it," Jasper shrugged, "we're playing indoor kickball this week. It's pretty boring." He clapped a hand on Noah's shoulder, rising as the bell rang to signal the end of the period. "Wanna walk?"

Offering the older vampire an unenthusiastic smile, Noah stood to leave.

"Hey—" Bella grabbed his wrist. "It'll be fine. Just be yourself."

With a feigned gag, Noah redonned his backpack. "Gross, stop. You sound like Renee." He turned to Jasper. "Let's go before she tells me to have fun."

Not five steps out of the cafeteria, Alice appeared beside her partner. "Noah, just ignore the asshole from the cafeteria," she instructed. Now that they'd left Bella's earshot, it felt safe to discuss.

The boy had instructed, quite clearly, for the vampires to conceal such interactions from his sister. Distracting, he'd labelled it. She's going to be upset, and it'll just be distracting. Noah had insisted on being able to handle it. Yet, as the weeks wore on, the problem only seemed to grow worse.

"I don't care, Alice," he conceded gently. "It would suck more if it weren't true, I think."

"Ok, but he still shouldn't call you—"

Noah stopped in the middle of the hallway, facing the vampires. "What, a faggot?" He'd spoken slightly too loud; a few students turned away from their lockers, to glance briefly at the trio. They continued walking.

"It's not the end of the world, guys. I'm really not that bothered by it." Swallowing a small lump in his throat, Noah offered them a smile. "I wore a t-shirt with a rainbow on it last week. Discretion isn't exactly in my wheelhouse, anyways."

Jasper sighed. "I guess you're right. Just, let us know if it starts to get out of hand. Emmett and I can take care of them."

"We'll take turns!" A bounce returned to Alice's step. "Besides, it's my honor to protect you— I've always wanted a gay best friend!"

Noah rolled his eyes, accepting the hand offered by Alice, to hold. "We've only been vogue for like, the last decade. I can't imagine it being trendy in like, the 1940s, Alice."

She swung their arms. "You'd be surprised!"