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Before the Dawn

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1.

The University of Washington campus was beautiful in the early fall, trees still in full bloom and fountains spitting high into the sky, but the brunette first-year paid them no mind as she rushed to class.

Bella swore and checked her watch again. Her randomly assigned roommates Jessica and Lauren had spent the night before their first classes giggly and drunk, and Bella and Angela had buried their heads under their pillows in order to sleep. At least Angela seemed nice, and knew the other two from high school. The three wanted to stay together and had Angela roll the dice on their fourth roommate. Bella hadn’t really had a choice - moving from Phoenix to Seattle meant she had to be the randomly assigned roommate, as none of her almost-friends from high school were leaving the state.

The Science building was the furthest from Bella’s dorm, of course. She could spy the glassy building looming in the distance, and she quickened the pace.

Despite her haste, she arrived five minutes late, and burst into the auditorium mid-lecture. Heaving, she saw that her professor seemed to be bemused and not angry. She gave thanks for small miracles.

“As I was saying-” he continued as a beleaguered Bella looked around for a seat. Her stomach began to knot as she realized almost all the seats were taken. She had known BIO 101 was in high demand, but she didn’t think a lecture at eight in the morning would be an issue.

She was sorely mistaken.

“Can I help you?”

Bella startled and saw with horror that every head was turned in her direction, including the professor’s. She knew with certainty that her face must be beet red. She shook her head, looked down, and hurriedly climbed the stairs to get to the few open chairs in the back. Thankfully, she heard the lecture resume again behind her.

She noticed that there were exactly two open seats next to two students. As Bella got closer, she slowed. There was a reason no one was sitting beside these two - they looked more like models than students. The boy was tall, Bella could tell even though he was sitting down, with reddish auburn hair and a very chiseled jawline. He seemed to be sketching something in his notebook, paying the class no mind. The girl sitting beside him had strawberry blonde hair and a heart-shaped face. Her pouty pink lips were perched atop the matching pink eraser of her pencil as she stared with striking tawny eyes at the professor. Bella was more conscious than ever of her unbrushed mousy brown hair and her plain features. She bit her lip and pressed on.

Bella quickly slipped into the folded lecture seat beside the boy and winced when it squeaked, but he didn’t look up. The girl on his other side leaned around him to see the new arrival and Bella froze, transfixed by the gaze. She felt her cheeks heat up and swore she was being judged. In a flash, the girl smiled and winked before looking back at the professor.

Bella found herself watching the boy as he sketched for the remainder of the class. He was drawing a young deer with careful, light strokes. He had almost finished it when the student in front of Bella cleared his throat and she startled. She took the stack of syllabi waving in front of her face and held the pile out for the boy to take. Instead, the gorgeous girl at his other side who had winked at Bella earlier reached out to accept the stack, taking one for herself and one for the boy, before passing it onwards. She pursed her lips in thought and Bella tore her eyes away from them and down to her paper.

She flipped through the pages and her stomach dropped. Week 10: Blood Typing. Bella had excelled at Biology in high school, but blood was one thing she couldn’t deal with. She’d pass out at the sight and embarrass herself. She shakily tucked her hair behind her ear and started brain-storming ways to get out of the class. Maybe she could talk to the professor after class?

“Any questions?”

“You’ll have to change the course plan for week ten,” the boy beside Bella began without any preamble. She startled at his voice, deep and husky, and noticed with slight admiration that he was still deeply engrossed in his sketch as he spoke. “I have hemophilia and won’t be able to participate.”

“Oh.” The professor sounded taken aback. “Well, if it’s just one student-”

“Sorry, two,” the blonde girl piped up in a sing-song voice. “I also won’t be able to participate. Are you sure you aren’t able to change the lesson?”

Bella was sure that even across the hall, the professor was affected by the girl’s imploring gaze. He stuttered and quickly agreed he would find another lesson that fit, then ended the class.

Swallowing and gathering up courage, Bella stood and turned to her neighbors. “Uh, I want to say,” the girl snapped to face her and the boy stopped sketching, but didn’t look up. “That is, well, thank you. I can’t, it’s embarrassing, but I can’t do blood.” She gave a nervous laugh. “So. Thank you. See you next class?”

The girl nodded, smile softening. “See you on Wednesday.”

The boy finally looked up. Bella gaped. He had smouldering brown eyes, and if Bella stared at them too long, she was worried she’d fall into their dark depths. “See you.” He murmured.

Bella nodded, turned around, and very nearly tripped down the stairs. She caught herself on the railing, swore, and rushed out before she made a bigger fool of herself.

2.

The quad was equal parts beautiful and terrifying at night. Bella clutched her room keys between her knuckles and willed them to be sharper and longer than the dull decades-old keys that she knew them to be.

She’d been studying with Angela until her roommate had yawned one time too many and Bella had all but tucked her in. They’d been pulling too many late night study shifts, Angela for psychology and Bella for biology readings and lab prep. Angela had mentioned a love for cranberry granola bars, Bella was hoping she could snag a few and leave them on her roommate’s nightstand as thanks. She’d have to see what the cafe had to offer when she reached the student union. She hadn’t ventured outside her dorm for food yet, the small dorm cafeteria suited her just fine. Her other roommates, who burst into the shared apartment in a loud whirlwind at all hours of the night, the 24 hour cafe made excellent mocha-frappe-whatevers. Bella just needed a simple coffee.

The walk had started out nice, but she could imagine Charlie’s outrage at her being out by herself at night. When he had happily moved her in - he was practically ecstatic to have her only three hours away, which for Charlie meant a few smiles here and there and a tight momentary hug before he left - he had warned her about all the awful cases he’d come across at the campus in Forks.

After jumping at every small noise and walking quickly past other late-nighters, Bella finally reached the hub and stepped inside, finally allowing herself to relax as she stuffed her keys back in her pocket. She wouldn’t become one of her father’s scary stories today.

The student union was a modern building with plenty of warm woodsy coloring and glass walls. While it was pretty to look at, Bella preferred more of a simple homey scheme. The log cabins she’d shared with her father during their summers together came to mind. The glass walls and windows around campus were certainly beautiful, but they also felt sterile and honestly gave Bella the creeps.

The cafe was easy to find, and the midnight crowd wasn’t too bad. She quickly stepped into line and pulled out a crinkled five dollar bill after her order of coffee with cream. She tucked the change into the tip jar and looked around for a table.

No way.

In the back of the cafe, nearly hidden in the shadows, sat a blonde girl and a ginger-haired boy. Bella started walking towards them before she could stop herself. She hadn’t seen them in class on Wednesday, but she was really hoping they would be in her lab section on Friday. She supposed now would be a good time to ask.

“Uh, hi.”

Their heads snapped up at her mumbled greeting, and the blonde girl gave her a familiar welcoming smile that made her feel warm. The boy stared at her, gaze unreadable, although his brown eyes seemed strangely lighter than on Monday. No. That couldn’t be right. Bella shook her head.

“I, um, missed you guys yesterday? I could share my notes if you would like.” She half-expected them to laugh at her in pitch-perfect tones. Instead, the girl offered the chair she had been using as a footrest and held out her hand.

“We’d love that,” she beamed. “I don’t think we ever exchanged names, I’m Tanya.”

“Bella.” She reached out and received a surprisingly chilly handshake. Her hand must still be cold from outside. She stuck it back in her pocket and tensed her fingers nervously. The red haired boy didn’t look up, scribbling once again in some kind of journal.

Tanya sighed, but it sounded fond instead of exasperated. “This is Edward. You’ll have to excuse him, he’s in the middle of composing right now and hates to lose his rhythm.” Her lovely mouth twitched at her joke, and Bella gave a good-natured chuckle as she almost fell into the hard plastic chair.

“What kinds of songs does he like to write?”

“Classical,” Edward answered in his deep voice, sliding his pencil behind his ear. He looked up and met Bella’s eyes and she was sure - his eyes were lighter. They had to be. “I mainly write for piano, but I like to branch out. Do you play?”

Bella gave a surprised laugh. “Me? Oh, no. My mother took lessons, for a while, so we had a piano in the house. But I think the best I could accomplish was Chopsticks.”

“Oh I’m sure with practice you could play well.” Tanya propped her chin on her folded hands. “In fact, maybe Edward could find time to teach you.”

Bella’s smile dropped, sure she was being teased, but Edward nodded with a crooked grin. “I have plenty of time.”

Clearing her throat, Bella decided to change her subject before her cheeks got any redder. “Why weren’t you in class?”

“The weather was beautiful.”

“We like to go hiking when the sun’s out,” Tanya agreed. “I’m from Alaska, so it’s nice to be somewhere slightly more tempered. I want to get out as much as possible before the winter starts, and it sounds like we may be able to count on you for notes while we’re out.” At Bella’s nod, Tanya clapped her hands together in delight. “So, where are you from?”

“Phoenix,” Bella answered quickly. “But, um, my dad’s nearby in Forks. He’s the police chief.”

Tanya jostled Edward lightly with her shoulder. “No way. Edward’s father lives there too! Have you heard of Dr. Cullen?”

Bella’s jaw dropped. “Oh my god, you’re one of Carlisle’s kids?” After a beat, Tanya and Edward burst into deep belly laughs.

“Yep,” Tanya confirmed, “she’s definitely heard of Dr. Cullen.”

“Sorry.” Bella stopped gaping, but felt her cheeks stay warm and red. “Charlie, my father, just talks about him all the time. I guess all the nurses are in love with him, and half the town too. But he’s devoted to his wife and adopted children who are all over the country.”

Edward nodded, still smiling. Bella found that she really liked his smile. “My brothers and sisters are older than me, and actually a few of them are overseas. It was just the three of us until I graduated high school.”

Bella nodded for him to continue. She’d always dreamed of having siblings. She sipped her coffee carefully as Edward talked about his family, and she pictured four ethereal beings traipsing over the world, wooing people in their wake. Then Tanya took over, speaking at length about two sisters she obviously adored. Bella thought of them as demi-goddesses as well, breaking hearts with a flip of their golden hair. She was so involved in their stories that it took her empty coffee cup to break her from her reverie. She checked her watch and gasped.

“What’s wrong?” Tanya looked genuinely concerned, and Bella worked quickly to dispel any worry.

“It’s almost three, and I’ve got a morning class tomorrow. I should start heading back to my dorm.” Bella stood slowly, regretting that she couldn’t just sit forever with these otherworldly people. “Can I give you my number? Maybe we can get coffee and chat again.” She felt silly even asking.

“Definitely,” Tanya ageed, standing also. “And we’ll walk you home.”

Bella opened her mouth to protest, but Edward was already donning a gray pea coat. It seemed there would be no arguing, and she was secretly elated.

The three of them walked back across the barely-lit campus, Bella sandwiched between Tanya on her left and Edward on her right. She felt like one of those oreos with barely any filling, and felt a little sad at the thought. There wasn’t much chatter, and much sooner than she wanted, Bella was home.

She walked slowly away from her protectors and over to the entrance loop in front of her dorm. She raised her hand in a pitiful wave and then froze. She heard what sounded like a rumble, and looked to her right just as a loud screech sliced through the silence of the early morning.

And then she was on the grass.

It all happened in less than a second, and Bella was trying to wrap her head around it. One moment, waving to Edward and Tanya; the next, almost three yards away, on the grassy yard of the dorm, Tanya’s body pressing her down and arms bracketing her head. Past her, Edward stood beside a sports car with a bent fender - the bend in the shape of a body - shouting into the driver’s side.

Bella was abruptly aware that Tanya was speaking to her.

“-alright?”

Bella nodded, shell-shocked, as the girl helped her stand and wrapped an arm around her shoulders to keep her close. Edward was stomping towards them.

“Idiots had their lights off. Going four times the speed limit,” he spat.

“Drunk?” Tanya questioned. Edward inclined his head and she stiffened. “They could’ve killed her.”

Edward held out his hand and Bella stared blankly at it. “Your ID.” He stated, voice cold. Bella opened her mouth to object. “With all due respect,” he started, “I won’t be able to leave until I see you’re safe and in your room.”

Bella wordlessly handed her ID over as Tanya rubbed her back slowly and led her towards the building. Edward held open the door for them and Bella mumbled her room number. At the door, Tanya reached into her hoodie pocket and pulled out her phone. Bella tapped in her password and Tanya fiddled with it before handing it back.

“Call us if you need anything,” she implored, her lips pulled into a soft smile but her eyes hard.

“Sleep well,” Edward murmured, handing her ID back.

Bella nodded as the two left, then unlocked her door with trembling fingers. Once inside, she shut the door and slid down until she was on the floor, arms wrapped around her knees.

What had just happened?

3.

Situated in between two cafes was a little independent bookstore painted navy blue with cute little signs in the windows. Bella double-checked the address on her phone to make sure she had the right place before stepping in.

After her near-death experience in front of the dorm, life had been excruciatingly normal. Tanya and Edward had refused to talk about it, feigning ignorance, changing the subject, and Edward had even suggested she’d hallucinated the event due to sleep-deprivation.

Bella was an avid journal-er, and she knew she wasn’t crazy. One second, Tanya and Edward were ten feet away, and then milliseconds later Tanya was on top of her - after pushing her? Bella was still working out the details - while Edward had made a man-sized dent in someone’s car. She’d written it all down after getting over her shock. And since her would-be saviors weren’t giving her anything to work with, she’d taken to the internet. She’d felt silly at first, but a few days later she noticed the bruises on her arm in the shape of fingers and she needed answers.

Tanya had moved faster than humanly possible, and Edward had dented a car. Of that much she could be certain. Starting with that, she’d slowly been including more observations - the two had cold, hard skin; their eyes varied in color, light tawny some days and brown - almost black others; and she’d noticed something specific to Edward - the man could be completely involved in a sketch or composition and still manage to answer any question the professor threw his way - much to the growing embarrassment of their Biology professor. Bella didn’t know what that meant exactly, but she included it in her notes.

The answers the internet spat back at her ranged from outrageous to not helpful in the slightest. Zombie-ism, iris pigment deficiency, marvel superhero lists, and a possible instance of adrenaline rush. But then there was one word she kept coming back to.

Vampire.

She felt like an idiot for considering it, but then she’d delved into the lore. There were millions of different myths from all over the world. Some were dated and irrelevant but others, well, some made a little too much sense. She’d found a few books that matched her notes the closest, and wanted to do some further reading before things got too out of hand.

Things were out of hand already.

She found the books easily and flushed with embarrassment as she handed them to the cashier. He’d given her a knowing smile.

“Another writer, eh? Doing some research?”

“Yes,” Bella answered, a little too quickly, “Yes. Definitely that. Thank you.”

She threw the books quickly into her backpack and headed back out into the night. The bookshop had been about a fifty minute walk from campus, and the sun had set on her way over. She tugged her straps a little tighter and set off in the dark.

It was early in the evening, but it was a Friday, and the bars were already spilling into the streets. She had to walk in the street to avoid some drunken groups, and noticed some familiar frat and sorority symbols from campus. She garnered a few hoots and calls, but most paid her no mind.

It wasn’t until she was halfway home that she realized she was being followed.

A quick glance over her shoulder revealed four drunken frat boys stumbling along behind her. She clenched her jaw and ran across the street when there was a break. She heard some noise behind her and turned to see that the boys had followed. She tried to reassure herself that they could just be continuing to the next bar, they weren’t necessarily following her, but dozens of horror stories from Charlie were running through her mind. She had pepper spray and a small baton in her backpack, but it would take a moment to grab them, and while they might work against one attacker, she wasn’t so confident about four.

She reached for her phone in her pocket, dialed 911, and hovered her thumb over the call button.

In a last-ditch effort to make sure it wasn’t just paranoia, Bella made a quick turn down the next street. It was small, dark, and one-way. She breathed out a sigh of relief that lodged in her throat when she heard the boys turn as well. A quick check over her shoulder confirmed that they had followed her down the alley.

“Hey, where’re you going?”

Bella gulped and her shoulders tensed with fear. She ran.

They followed, and their yells got closer.

Bella was never an athlete, and she was far from a runner. She was out of breath by the next intersection, and before she could take another step a hand grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back.

The four men were equal parts tall, muscled, and absolutely reeking of beer. They laughed when she tripped on her feet and fell, landing hard on her lower back and elbows. She winced, but had little time to recover as she was hastily pulled back upright.

“Hey, you go to the U too?” One of them slurred.

“She has to,” another argued, “she’s so small.”

Bella swallowed thickly and tried to run, but the grip on her arm was too tight. She remembered her phone and reached for it with her other hand, but another meaty hand grabbed her wrist. Bella felt tears gather at the corner of her eyes and with little else she could do, she screamed. Another hand clamped over her mouth.

Bella struggled and prepared for the worst, wondering if kneeing one of her attackers would help or harm her further when she heard tires squealing.

A mid-sized car peeled into the intersection and stopped mere feet from Bella and her attackers. As they scattered, she fell back to the ground in shock. Driver and passenger doors flew open and a familiar blonde and redhead emerged.

“Get the fuck away,” Edward snarled, and Bella shivered at the intensity. Tanya said nothing, but ran right past Bella and suckerpunched the asshole that had been the first to grab her. He went straight to the ground and before his friends could help, Tanya hissed something too low for Bella to overhear, but the frat group froze. The next moment, they were barrelling back down the street to the main strip.

Edward tugged Bella to her feet and she fell bonelessly against him, suddenly exhausted.

“Tanya, you drive.”

Tanya nodded and caught the keys as Edward tossed them. He bundled Bella into the backseat and wrapped her in his peacoat as Tanya drove them away. Bella was suddenly aware that she was shivering, and that Tanya and Edward were speaking.

“-got their names?” Tanya was asking.

“All four,” Edward confirmed. “I’ll send them to Jasper when we get home. His man can get them, campus will be useless.”

“Good,” Tanya replied, turning onto a well-lit street.

“God, Tanya, the things these guys were thinking-”

“Edward,” Tanya snapped, light eyes flashing to the rearview mirror. “Bella, are you hungry?”

Bella opened her mouth. Nothing came out.

Tanya nodded like she had answered. “Good, I know just the place. Edward, can you channel your brother right now?”

“Right, sorry.” Edward pulled Bella into his side and wrapped both arms around her. His arms were hard and assuredly cold, but Bella felt flooded with warmth and it felt almost natural to lean on his chest. She closed her eyes and when she opened them, they were stopped.

Tanya got out of the car and opened the back door for them. Edward removed his arm and shuffled out of the car, guiding Bella out behind him. Bella shook herself when she was upright, acutely aware of Edward and Tanya’s probing stares.

“I’m good.” She was trying to be reassuring, but her voice shook. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I’m good.”

Tanya smiled and nodded in a way that said she in no way believed her, and Edward was looking away, but quietly threaded Bella’s arm through his elbow. Bella let him, and followed the two into a Vietnamese restaurant.

“Beef pho is like a universal cure, I think,” Tanya said as soon as they were seated. She was in the booth next to Bella, boxing her against the wall, but Bella felt more protected than cornered. Edward threw his menu onto the table, grabbed his phone, and promptly left them.

“Beef pho sounds nice.” As she returned to her body fully, Bella remembered why she had left campus in the first place. She turned to Tanya. “What are you having?”

“Edward and I ate earlier,” Tanya answered without missing a beat. She smiled and scooted a bit closer to Bella, reaching up to draw imaginary shapes on the tabletop. Bella watched her finger fly across the surface, hypnotized. “So, far be it for me to judge, but why on earth were you out alone? Always have a buddy Bella, didn’t you read the first-year intro pamphlet?”

“I don’t think anyone read the first-year intro pamphlet,” Bella retorted, feeling almost like herself again. She ignored the phantom grip lingering on her arms. “I just popped out to buy some books.”

“Oh? Anything good?”

Before Bella could answer, their waiter stopped by and asked them for their order. Well, he asked Tanya. Bella doubted he even knew she was there. Tanya placed the single order and handed the menus back with a flirtatious smile. She chuckled as their waiter stumbled off and Bella shook her head. “Do you know the effect you have on people?”

Tanya laughed her usual tinkling laugh. “What a silly question, Bella. Of course I know the effect I have.” She winked.

Before Bella could get her thoughts back in order, Edward returned to the table. He slid back in and seemed much more cheerful than when he had left.

“Does Jasper work over the phone now?” Tanya grinned.

“No, and you know that,” Edward replied dryly, “but he’ll have everything taken care of, and he says hi. Actually, uh, Alice says hi too. To both of you.”

Tanya snorted and Bella felt like she was missing out on several counts, but she remembered the names from their late night coffee chat. “Your family knows about me?” She knew her face must be flushed, but she couldn’t do anything about it.

Edward shrugged. “I kind of share everything with them. They share everything with me.”

“It’s hard not to,” Tanya said with a knowing smile.

“For some.” Edward’s eyes rested on Bella and she wriggled in her seat under the scrutiny without really knowing why.

Her pho appeared before anyone could add, and Bella realized she was famished. She dug in and Tanya and Edward switched to making polite conversation as she ate. They kept talking when the food was gone.

“Hey, I think you might know my roommates, Edward,” Bella interjected when their conversation drifted back to Forks. “Jessica Stanley, Lauren Mallory, and Angela Weber?”

Edward rolled his eyes. “Sorry you have to deal with Jessica and Lauren. They can be a handful.”

“They’re…” Bella struggled to find words and gave up. “Well, you’re right. But they’re excellent at making coffee and Lauren knows the best cure for puffy eyes. She always keeps four spoons in the freezer for us.”

Tanya laughed. “I think you just have something nice to say about everyone, Bella.”

Bella shrugged, flushing. “I think everyone’s got some good in them.” She pushed her memories from earlier in the night to the back of her mind. She noticed the soft looks both Tanya and Edward were giving her, and another thought popped in her head. “I’ve got a question - actually it’s more of Jessica and Lauren’s question. It’s really strange, sorry.”

“Strange is good,” Tanya chirped, “shoot.”

“Are you two… together?”

Edward’s eyes flew to Tanya and his lip ticked up in a crooked smile. Tanya outright laughed. It took her a moment to pull herself together, and Bella sunk in on herself in embarrassment, planning to berate Jessica and Lauren for badgering her nonstop after every Biology class.

“Sorry, Bella,” Tanya wiped her eyes of nonexistent tears, “a long time ago - sometimes it feels like years - Edward and I were together.”

“It didn’t work out,” Edward chimed in. “We were missing something.” His gaze was heavy on Bella. She squirmed again.

“Hey it’s late. We should be getting Bella home.” Tanya got up and asked for the check. She beat Bella to paying, but Bella insisted on taking the tip. Tanya allowed her with a bemused smile, and they piled back into the car.

Edward got his keys back from Tanya and started the car. Tanya got in the back and insisted Bella take the passenger seat. It was a short, quiet drive home, filled with many yawns from Bella and pleasant chatter from her companions. When they rolled up to her dorm, both popped out of the car. Bella gently protested, but easily gave in and allowed her protectors inside. They left her at her door with friendly goodnights, and then were gone. Bella let herself back into her room and was immediately faced with two of her roommates.

“Oh my god, what were you doing with Tanya and Edward?” Lauren demanded.

Bella sighed. “We got dinner.” She side-stepped the girls. “They’re not dating, by the way.”

Jessica gave a startled laugh. “I can’t believe you asked!”

Angela rolled her eyes and lowered her textbook from where she was sitting on the couch. “Of course she asked. You two have been bugging her about them for weeks. Maybe you can give Bella a break now?”

While they sputtered, Bella gave Angela a thankful smile and ducked into her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and upended her backpack onto her bed. Spacing the books apart, she grabbed her journal from the bedside table, flipping to a blank page. She began writing the events from the night, underlining the section where Edward had mentioned what her attackers were thinking.

She was going to figure this out.

4.

They had to be superhuman. There was no other explanation.

Bella struggled to catch her breath as she took another step. She had thought it would be a great idea to confront them face to face, to let them both know that she knew what they were. To do that, she’d need them away from other people, and away from campus. She’d found a remote hiking trail only a little bit outside of the city. When Tanya had texted her the day after pho to check in on how she was doing, Bella had taken the chance and planned the hike to be the next weekend. After an hour on read, Tanya replied that she and Edward would love to go hiking.

The past week, Bella had been reading, highlighting and writing inside her new books. She had a lot of information to back up her claim of vampirism, and it was feeling less silly and more real every day. She was friends with two vampires. Hell, it was more than that. She had the hots for two vampires.

Maybe she was truly insane.

Tanya hopped back down the path and reached out a hand to Bella. She gladly took it, hoping the other girl wouldn’t notice how sweaty she was.

“Hey,” Tanya started, “Edward and I were thinking it might be fun to go off-path. What do you think?”

Bella looked up at the sky and noticed the clouds were clearing. She’d expected the two to cancel when she saw the weather was going to be chilly but fair, but they’d shown up outside her building at ten on the dot with some muffins and granola bars. She gulped as she took in the implications and nodded her agreement. “Yeah sure. Sounds fun.” Her attempt at normalcy sounded more strangled than anything else. She hoped Tanya chalked it up to her inability to hike and not any nervousness.

Tanya led her over to where Edward was already standing under the cover of trees. He quirked a quick smile and then began leading the way uphill through the foliage. Bella noticed he had slowed his pace, and Tanya stayed beside her, pushing aside branches and twigs before Bella could be swatted or tripped.

After long minutes of tromping through the woods, Bella decided that it was now or never. She stopped, and Tanya and Edward froze in their steps and turned to face her.

“I asked you both to come today for a reason,” Bella couldn’t look them in the eye as she spoke. She tangled her fingers together and stared at her feet. “I’ve, um, I’ve noticed some things about the two of you. I’ve put it together. I know what you are.”

The silence hung in the air like an oppressive force. Bella swore she’d be able to cut it with a knife. She took a deep breath before almost whispering the next words.

“You’re vampires.”

There was a beat of silence, and then Tanya was laughing. Bella looked up, shocked, and saw the beautiful blonde had her head thrown back. She quickly realized the woman wasn’t laughing at her, and instead she seemed to be relieved. Her shoulders, usually squared and straight, had sagged and she was shaking her head slightly. Bella looked past her, at Edward, who was unnaturally still and seemed catatonic.

“Well then, why on earth are we moving like snails if you already know?” Tanya spoke once she had finished laughing, and then was beside Bella before she could blink. “Edward, catch.”

Bella felt a moment of weightlessness, and then her breath was forced out of her body as she hit something hard.

“Hold on tight,” Edward murmured, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, and moving her legs to hook around his thighs. Bella closed her eyes and buried her head in the space between his shoulder blades, and then they were off. Her hair whipped behind her as Edward ran at impossible speeds, and then he left the group and Bella felt them moving up. He stopped moving, and after a moment Bella opened her eyes and gasped.

They were at the top of one of the massive pine trees, from which Bella could see the expanse of the forest stretch out before them until it met the coast, and then the twinkling waters stretched out to the horizon. She gaped, and it hit her that she was right. The two ethereal creatures from her morning Biology lecture were vampires.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Bella turned to see an equally gorgeous sight, Tanya smiling at her from the other side of the tree. She deftly leapt to a branch beside theirs and helped Bella down from Edward’s back, who seemed reluctant to let her go. Bella stood on shaky legs with Tanya holding both of her hands. “Um, yeah,” Bella stumbled over the words when she realized the two were waiting for her to speak. “Beautiful.” She didn’t take her eyes away from the blonde.

Edward cleared his throat and their eyes flew to him. “So now you know,” he deadpanned. “And aren’t you curious about anything else?” He bared his teeth and gave an approximation of a growl. “What we eat?”

Tanya’s hands flew out from Bella’s grip to smack the man. “Don’t be rude, Edward.”

He shrugged. “I just think we should be taking this a little more seriously, Tanya.”

While they argued in low, muted voices, Bella stumbled from the loss of balance. She took a step back in an attempt to regain it, but instead her foot found only air. She gave a strangled yell, and then tipped backwards off the branch. She saw the startled expressions of Tanya and Edward, and then she was looking up at the sky.

She only fell for a moment. After hitting a few branches, she hit something more solid and was yanked back upright and pressed back against something cold and hard. She looked up and saw Edward’s unreadable expression staring back at her.

Like an acrobat, Tanya lightly swung down from a higher branch, smile shaky on her lips. “You all right?”

“You’re like a magnet for danger. Anything life-threatening will find you and try to kill you,” Edward stated, voice dripping with what sounded like annoyance.

Bella let out an explosive, exasperated shout. “You two put me, someone who you’ve seen trip on her own feet dozens of times, on a branch at the top of a very tall tree! I feel like this one isn’t on me.”

Tanya nodded thoughtfully, lips pursed. “You know what? I’ll give you that.”

“But the car and the boys still count,” Edward countered gruffly.

Bella sagged. “Fine. Can we please get down now?”

Edward nodded and quickly spun around, not losing his grip on her. Like it was natural, she hopped back onto his back and held on tight. This time she watched as the branches blurred around her, and they ran through the brush, Edward neatly maneuvering between trees and bushes. Bella wondered what it must be like to see as the two vampires saw. She wondered, with a stab of doubt, what they saw in her.

They finally stopped in a clearing and Bella’s jaw dropped. “So this is why-”

“Why we skip class when it’s sunny? Yes,” Tanya confirmed, almost glowing from the tiny beams of light refracting from her skin. “Sometimes it’s nice - I’ll skip makeup and just dance around the apartment like this,” she grabbed Edward, who had set Bella down, and began twirling around the clearing with him. She then moved onto Bella, twirling the her in a circle and adapting for Bella’s clumsy feet. Then she pulled her close. “But these past few weeks, when we’ve had to miss Biology with you, it’s been torture.”

Bella’s mouth went dry and she ducked her head shyly under Tanya’s scrutiny. “I, uh, I really missed you both as well. On those days.”

They were all silent for a moment. Then Edward spoke.

“What are you thinking?”

Tanya threw her head back and laughed. Bella was in love with the girl’s laugh, she realized. She flushed. “This drives him crazy,” Tanya started. “I doubt your books got you this far, so I’ll explain.”

Bella sagged to the ground, feeling suddenly drained. She remembered again that she was talking with two vampires. Who had just run her ragged and saved her from falling out of a tree. “Please do.”

“Some vampires, like our Edward, think that all the gifts that come with vampirism just aren’t enough. They have to be better.”

Edward rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I chose -”

Tanya kept talking. “So Edward can hear people’s thoughts. Every single person in a certain radius. How they’re feeling, what they think of their professor, who they want to sleep with, every single thought inside their head.” She paused and sat on the ground beside Bella, then tapped the girl’s forehead. “Except yours.”

Bella frowned and turned to look at Edward, sitting on her other side. “What’s wrong with me?”

This time, it was Edward who threw back his head and laughed. His body shook with the force of it. “Wait, let me get this straight: Tanya tells you how I can hear people’s thoughts and you want to know what’s wrong with you?”

Bella smiled sheepishly. “Well, I promise that there are thoughts in there.” She balanced her chin on her clasped hands and stared intently into the woods. “And what I was thinking just now was how much I enjoy being with the two of you.”

Tanya sucked in a quick breath and when Bella looked at her, she was staring at Bella with soft tawny eyes. “I have been alive for a long time Bella. I’ve loved and lost, and I thought when I loved Edward that nothing could eclipse that.” Her small lips pulled into a hopeful smile. “And then we met you.”

“Earlier,” Edward started, his hooded gaze resting so heavily on Bella that it took her breath away, “when we said that we were missing something when Tanya and I were together, I think we should amend that. I believe we were missing someone.”

Bella was quiet as the force of his words hit her. Then, before she could overthink it, she was clambering into Edward’s lap, grabbing his cold angular face, and kissing him. He wound his arms around her and kissed her back. She felt a presence at her back and when she broke away to suck in gasping breaths of air, Tanya was there, guiding Bella’s lips to hers for another kiss.

Bella wished, fervently, that she could stay an eternity in this clearing and kiss these vampires until she perished.

5.

“You shouldn’t be nervous.”

“How can I not be nervous,” Bella groaned, “I’m meeting your families!”

“We weren’t nervous about meeting Charlie,” Tanya pointed out unhelpfully from the back seat. Bella glared at her. “Oh come now, you were excited when we invited you.”

Bella narrowed her eyes. That was low. When they had invited her, Bella was tangled in their silk sheets, her head on Edward’s chest and her fingers pressed against Tanya’s plush lips, thoughts hazy from a midday nap. She would have agreed to anything. “You weren’t nervous about meeting Charlie because Edward told you he liked you both when you were still outside.”

“To be fair,” Edward interjected, “his thoughts are very quiet and it did take him a moment before deciding he liked us.” He sighed under Bella’s stare. “Fine, I acknowledge the stakes are slightly higher here.”

“Thank you.” Bella crossed her arms and sunk into the fabric chair of Edward’s blue pearl Subaru. When pressured, he’d admitted he’d traded in his Volvo for a safer car after Bella had nearly been hit that first night. Tanya had giggled as she revealed the hours Edward had agonized over how ‘soft and delicate’ Bella was and if they were going to be friends with her they needed a Bella-proof car. Bella had promptly pretended to trip on something and fell dramatically on the hood of the car. Edward didn’t think it was very funny.

Bella was so excruciatingly nervous to meet Edward and Tanya’s family because there was so much going on. They’d shared a lot with her the past few weeks. Bella had taken to spending almost all her hours, both waking and sleeping, at their shared townhouse off campus. In between kisses and touches they shared every aspect of their lives with Bella, music with Edward - he had written a song for Bella and she’d had to pretend like she wasn’t crying while Tanya held her - and binging old tv and movies with Tanya. And when they weren’t doing that, they talked. They had talked a lot.

Edward talked about his human mother and his first few years with Carlisle. He talked more about his siblings now that Bella was in on the secret, how his siblings Jasper and Alice also had a little extra than the average vampire. He spoke fondly of Alice, who could see into the future, and had recently latched onto a future where she was best friends with Bella. Edward warned her that time moved differently for Alice - sometimes if a vision was powerful enough, she would simply act like it was already happening. Bella was fine with that. A new friend, with no work on her part? Sign her up.

Tanya spoke of her sisters and her mother who she had lost. She shared that she and her sisters had stuck closely to the vampire law and governing body, the Volturi, for centuries before switching to an animal-based diet. They had met Eleazar and Carmen during their time of closely honoring and obeying the Volturi, as Eleazar and Carlisle had been in their midst for a while. Tanya quietly added that she believed the Volturi never forgave their loss, although they allowed the two to leave willingly. She thought it was only a matter of time before they made their move. Edward stayed silent.

Wait,” Bella had interrupted the girl’s musings. “Vampires have laws?”

If you break them you die,” Edward stated simply from across the room, working on a new sketch.

That’s so lame,” Bella complained. Tanya had laughed lightly, held her close, and switched from the stories of doom to a story about how her sister Kate had used her ability to shock one of the Volturi when they arrived to judge their mother. She’d promised that Kate would like her and her spunk.

Bella startled when Edward stopped the car. Tanya appeared at her door and let her out, slinging an arm easily over her shoulder. Edward joined them on Bella’s other side, and reached for her hand. Bella took comfort in the contact.

“We’re not running down?” She’d gotten used to one or the other picking her up and slinging her onto their back when out of sight.

“Nah, gives you more time to freak out.” Tanya giggled as Bella elbowed her - hard enough for her to feel it, not hard enough to hurt herself.

It took more than a few minutes, but they finally made it to a clearing. Bella stumbled over her own feet and managed not to fall only thanks to Edward and Tanya. She only spied two people all the way over on the other side of the clearing, but when she blinked, there were suddenly seven others. Tanya and Edward peeled off to greet their family, but Bella only had a moment to feel awkward before a blur rushed towards her and she was suddenly wrapped in a tight hug. Bella’s short assailant leaned back and took a deep breath, her pixie-like features were pulled into a wide grin and her eyes held a mischievous twinkle. Bella quickly guessed this must be Alice.

“Oh, Edward was right,” Alice chirped, her voice reminding Bella of a songbird, “you smell amazing.”

“Alice,” Edward chastised, shooting Bella an apologetic glance.

A muscular man stepped forward and gave a booming laugh. Alice ducked out of the way just in time for him to sweep Bella up in a tight bear hug. “What, Ed? She’s right and you know it.” He set Bella back on the ground and gave her an easy smile. “I’m Emmett, welcome to the family.”

Bella made her way quickly through the rest of the introductions, barely managing not to swoon under the piercing gaze of Carlisle - she fully understood why Charlie was always going on and on about the man - and brushing off Rosalie’s cold welcome. Tanya’s family stepped forward next and the first few introductions went easy, but then Kate stepped forward and Edward made a strangled sound and ran to her side just as the blonde vampire shook her hand.

“Kate, I will not hesitate to hurt you if you try that again,” he threatened, voice low and light eyes glaring daggers at the woman. Bella stared at him in confusion, her right hand sill firmly held in Kate’s grip.

Tanya’s jaw dropped. “Kate, you didn’t.”

The tall blonde rolled her eyes. “It’s not like it did anything. See, I’ll do it again.” Her grip on Bella tightened momentarily, then loosened. “See? Nothing, just like you said.” She turned as if to ask Eleazar to back her up, but the man shrugged and stayed out of it.

“Kate,” Edward warned, as Bella stood still as a statue, hopelessly confused. Then she remembered what Tanya had said about her shocking sister. She wasn’t too concerned, after all nothing had happened, but the air seemed to be growing tenser by the moment.

“Okay, kids.” Esme stepped forward and clapped her hands together. “How about we play some ball?” She gingerly stepped between Edward and Kate’s stare-off and took Bella under her wing in a motherly embrace. She led her towards a hastily crafted baseball diamond, that seemed about three times larger than any that Bella had seen. “Have you played before, dear?”

Bella chuckled at the question. “Uh, no. Charlie had me try out for softball when I was very little, but I haven’t touched a glove or bat since.” Probably to her benefit, she thought wryly. “I watch games sometimes, during the summer when I visit Charlie.”

“Oh excellent,” Esme gave her arm a quick rub. “Then we’ll have you umpire with Carlisle. He catches, I pitch.” She winked and gave Bella’s arm one last pat before letting her go. Again, before she could wonder about where to go next, her arm was looped through another.

“Don’t worry about the calls too much,” Carlisle advised, voice smooth like honey. Bella half-wondered if smouldering was his vampire super-power. “Esme has an outstanding knuckleball, but the kids can hit just about anything.”

Bella felt a drop on her arm and looked up. “Aren’t you worried about the-”

“The storm? Not at all,” Alice finished, having popped up in front of Bella without a sound, grinning impishly. “We’ll need it, you’ll see.”

The vampires split up into two teams as if they were used to it: Esme, Carlisle, Rosalie, Jasper, Tanya and Carmen on one team, with the others making up the opposition. Bella lamented that she’d have to cheer for both teams, but she only had a moment to consider that before Carlisle was gently nudging her backwards and dipping into a low squat. Bella knew for a fact that half of Forks would pay for such a sight. Hell, with what she’d heard, Charlie might.

Alice stepped up to the crudely drawn plate and grinned. “I can see you’re going to throw wide,” she teased, waving the bat at Esme.

“No cheating,” the woman chastised with a fond smile that belied the command, and then suddenly reared back and threw the ball faster than Bella’s eyes could follow.

A resounding crack filled the clearing just as lightning tore the sky to pieces.

Bella understood.

She wasn’t sure if the ball had been wide, or thrown inside or straight down the middle - it was quickly hurtling into the woods. She watched as Tanya, the outfielder, broke away from her position and ran for it. Bella stared as Alice rounded the bases in a blur.

“Homerun?” Bella mumbled, awestruck.

“Don’t be so sure,” Carlisle murmured, looking up at her with a knowing grin, “Tanya’s quite fast.”

Sure enough, Alice stopped suddenly at third base just as a muted thud sounded below Bella. She looked down and saw the baseball held tightly in Carlisle’s bare hand. When she glanced back up, she saw Tanya back in her spot by the treeline, and although she was far away, Bella swore she winked. “Wow,” she breathed.

Carlisle chuckled and Kate stepped up to bat. She managed to bring Alice home, but was tagged out when Irina, up next, hit a fly that was easily caught by Rosalie at third, and then thrown to Jasper at second who made the tag just before Irina could touch base. When Irina tried to dispute, all eyes flew to Bella.

Flushing bright red, she squeaked, “Out?” Irina’s glare was chilling, but Tanya shot her a quick smile and gave her sister a quick hug before sending her back to the line of tree stumps that served as the dugout.

Bella felt a cold peck on her cheek and saw that Edward was up to bat. “Irina’s a sore loser,” he shared, grinning crookedly when the girl in question exclaimed in outrage at the remark.

Bella tucked her hair behind her ear self-consciously and bit her lip as Esme reared back to pitch. “If you can get it past Tanya, I’ll sit for your next sketch.” Edward had been begging to sketch her for weeks.

“Deal,” Edward said, barely a whisper, and then he was gone. Bella realized with a start that the ball was arching high into the woods, farther than Alice’s earlier hit. She wasn’t sure Tanya would make this one, fast as she was. Bella watched as Edward rounded third and headed towards home, and a body burst from the woods. Instead of throwing to Carlisle, Tanya continued running hard. Carlisle ducked back just in time for Edward to pass in front of him - at the exact same moment, Tanya rammed into him and the resulting sound practically shook the ground. Bella yelped as an arm reached out and pulled her into the fray and she went down, tumbling with the two of them, until they came to a stop a few yards away from the site of the collision with Bella cocooned safely between them.

“Well?” Tanya prompted, grinning and brandishing the ball, still safely in her hand. She was above Bella, with Edward pouting petulantly from beneath her, arms wound tightly around their human.

“Sorry, Edward,” Bella apologized, turning her head to give him a peck. “I’ll still sit for your sketch, though.”

“Boo, pity prize,” Tanya complained with a wide grin, ducking down to give Bella a quick kiss and then leaping to her feet before Edward could retaliate. He slowly got up, helping Bella to her feet.

“Three outs!” Carmen called out, leaving first base. She motioned for Eleazar to take her place.

Bella gingerly returned to her position, this time behind Emmett who gave her a goofy grin when she got close. Alice stepped up to pitch and Carlisle was first at bat. Alice reared back to pitch, and then froze in place.

For a moment, no one moved. Then, Alice’s lips formed three syllables that Bella couldn’t quite make out, and Tanya and Edward were at her side.

“How many?” Carlisle called, moving to stand strategically at the front of the group. Eleazar flew to his side, and Carmen and Esme stood at their shoulders.

“Two,” Alice murmured, eyes far away, “they’re here now. I’m sorry I didn’t see them earlier, I haven’t been keeping track of them since-” she cut off and Jasper quickly guided her to stand behind Carlisle.

Bella swallowed past the lump in her throat, terrified and unsure why. She opened her mouth to question Tanya or Edward, but thought better of it when two figures emerged from the shadowed woods and began slowly crossing the clearing. They were both tall and muscular, and wore what appeared to be black velvet robes. There was a thick and intimidating aura rolling off the both of them, and Bella had to physically stop herself from recoiling. These two weren’t like Edward, Tanya, or their families. They were different, dangerous.

“Carlisle, Eleazar,” the taller of the two greeted. “I see you have a new addition, there.” He raised a hand and waved directly at Bella, baring his teeth in a poor imitation of a smile. His companion made no such attempts and narrowed his eyes before whistling low.

“Never thought I’d see the day the Cullen’s make their stand against the Volturi. Got yourselves a shield.” He shook his head and smiled in a way that made him look positively feral. “Wait until Aro hears about this.”

“She’s not a shield,” Carlisle defended, standing straight and tall, the very picture of a patriarch. Bella wondered, her thoughts far away, if this was the final straw that Tanya had been talking about. There was obvious animosity between Eleazar and Carlisle, and the two vampires across the field. Even Bella’s dull human senses could feel it crackling like static in the air. “She’s my son’s and Tanya’s companion. You can report that to Aro.”

“Then why can’t I feel her?” The man spat. “Can’t very well track her if I can’t feel her, can I?” His lips slowly pulled from a grimace to a smile. “Very well. No harm no foul. You obviously didn’t know she was a shield, so hand her over. We’ll take it from here.”

No,” Edward snarled, pushing past his father. Carlisle didn’t stop him, and instead placed a hand on his shoulder in support.

The Volturi tracker threw his head back and laughed. He looked around the clearing and nodded. “You’ve stepped too far out of line for too long, Cullen. We’ll be back. All of us.” He stared right at Bella, flashed a smirk that promised disaster, and then disappeared.

Carlisle swore.

Bella suddenly found herself swept into Tanya’s arms and quickly manhandled onto Edward’s back. She quickly wrapped her arms and legs around him, the routine familiar and comforting even as her heart hammered nervously in her chest.

“Carlisle,” Edward broke the silence in the wake of the men’s departure, and Bella could feel the deep timbre of her voice. In it, she both heard and sensed his growing dread. “What do we do?”

“Go back to the city, there’s nothing more we can do here,” Carlisle advised quickly, forehead creased in thought. “I’ll contact you when I have a plan. I’ll have to reach out to our friends overseas. This isn’t good.”

Emmett laughed, although the sound of it was tight with anxiety. “You don’t mean they’ll actually start something, do you?”

Rosalie’s icy eyes flashed to Bella, then Edward, the blame in them clear. “You shouldn’t have brought her here.”

“They’re starting now,” Alice murmured, lips barely moving. “This had nothing to do with Bella, they’ve been waiting for an excuse to break us apart. Each new addition, every time Carlisle and Eleazar meet… Aro’s rage grows.” Her pale lips pulled into a frown as she turned her unseeing gaze towards Carlisle. “I really am sorry, I’ve been trying to keep tabs on them since they saw Emmett join. I don’t know how, but they… slipped.”

“Don’t worry, dear, it’s like you said. It was a matter of time.” Esme consoled Alice softly, then turned her attention to Bella. “Deep breaths, sweetheart, your heart is beating like a little hummingbird’s wings. It was lovely to meet you.” She smiled momentarily, but it didn’t reach her eyes, which were wide with fear.

“I’ll get in touch with our acquaintances as well,” Eleazar promised, shaking his head. “Never should have left.” He pulled Carmen tight to his side, who buried her face in his chest. Bella looked away from the two and took deep breaths.

Tanya nudged Edward and laid a hand on Bella’s back. “Come. Let’s go home.”

Bella hid her head between Edward’s shoulder blades, unable to shake the feeling that something awful was about to happen and she was the catalyst.

As if to mirror her turmoil, the skies opened up and the downpour began.

I.

Bella finished filling up Lauren’s beat-up minivan and got her change from the sleepy attendant. She grabbed an energy drink and a granola bar, and then was back on the road.

It was nearing dawn, the lazy tendrils of the sun painting the sky a muted but glowing grey, and Bella drove twenty miles over the speed limit. Lauren’s mini-van groaned in response but, as if sensing her urgency, followed her command. She hadn’t asked her roommate for the car, just nicked the keys as soon as Lauren, Jessica, and Angela left for the annual pre-finals celebrations and dashed out the door.

It had been a little over a month since she’d met Edward and Tanya’s families, and a little over a month since the two Volturi had threatened all-out war. Edward and Tanya refused to tell Bella any specifics. They spoke in muttered, quiet voices, too low for Bella to understand. They held her close and helped her with her work, and engaged in all the same acts they had before, but every kiss was gentle and apologetic, and every touch felt like goodbye.

Bella tried to do her own research, but there was very little information available. There were strange and terrible tales stemming from Volterra, Italy about three saints whom people swore still lived. The basics that Bella gleaned were that this Volturi group were incredibly old and incredibly dangerous.

One night when Edward left to grab take out, Tanya had quietly recounted the details of the night her mother was killed in front of her, ripped to shreds for disobeying the self-proclaimed lawmakers. When Edward had returned with the single bag for Bella, he’d found the brunette sobbing and clutching a lifeless Tanya to her. He’d pulled the two into a tight hug and his body wracked with tears that did not fall.

Bella dashed her own, and reached for the radio to blast the rock anthem playing.

In the time that had passed, she had learned how to carefully control her breath so her vampires would still think she was sleeping. When she awoke, they went abruptly silent. She would carefully toss to the side, slow her breathing, and wait. After a few minutes, the conversation would pick back up, and they would occasionally drop their guard. She caught snippets: Carlisle’s friends arriving to an undisclosed location on the coast, far from Forks and far from any humans; Eleazar’s plans to bring them war in return, if that’s what they desired; and their enemies they worried about the most. There was Jane, who could send someone to their knees with a glance; her twin Alec, who removed all senses with a perceived black fog; the various Volturi guards who would work to break ties and turn the Cullens, Denalis and their friends against each other. The morning that Tanya agonized over those, Edward assured her that those abilities took time, they wouldn’t be able to work unless the battle took days. There were brief remarks about Aro’s personal guard, very powerful, but none of it was what Bella was looking for.

Then, one day, Tanya made the fatal mistake of naming the beach.

Bella checked the map on the passenger seat beside her and used the latest exit to find her location. She’d left her phone in her room - maybe the Volturi couldn’t track her, but Tanya and Edward sure as hell could with all the nonsense apps they’d added after Bella’s night incident. She was mere miles away from the beach Tanya had named, and not a moment too soon. The sun was slowly crawling over the horizon.

The fight began at dawn.

When she reached the beach, she swore. It was on the other side of a damn cliff, and a thick swath of trees stood between her and those cliffs. Bella had to ditch the car where the treeline began, and sprinted through the growth as fast as her legs could carry her. She tripped on several roots and fell more than once as branches tore at her skin, but she wouldn’t stop, even as each breath came heaving from her body.

She finally reached the cliff’s edge and stared down. A wave of vertigo hit just as she spotted lines of people - vampires - dotting the shores. After a moment, she identified Tanya and Edward at the front, beside Carlisle and Eleazar. She recognized the rest of the Cullens and Denalis, but the remaining dozen or so were all new faces.

Bella followed their gazes to the ocean, where there were suspicious flecks of black beneath the waves. Slowly, four dreadful lines of vampires emerged from the waves. They stood in tight, uniformed rows, not a hair or body part out of place.

It was unnerving.

A man in the middle of the first line stepped forward, and Bella guessed him to be the leader that the two messengers - Demetri and Felix, named by Edward while Bella pretended to sleep - named Aro. He spoke, and Bella watched from above, deaf to his words.

There was a ripple on the Cullen’s side, and then Bella’s chest grew impossibly tight. Tanya grabbed Edward’s arm and shook her head, and he waited until she let go before stepping forward. On the other side of Carlisle, Alice stepped forward as well. Rosalie placed a hand upon Jasper’s bowed back.

They were giving themselves up.

Carlisle tried to speak as his children continued forward, marching towards the Volturi lines. Aro held open his arms for them, completely ignoring the Cullen patriarch.

Bella shook her head, angry tears pooling at the corners of her eyes. She had to stop this. Edward had spoken about the possibility that the Volturi would avoid bloodshed if they could have him and his sister, but Alice was still deciding. Tanya begged him, in quiet and pained whispers, not to leave her. Bella had no doubt the Cullens had prepared, gathering a small and powerful army to rival that of an ancient royalty, but Edward was the kind to avoid bloodshed at all costs.

Well. He would have to forgive her.

Bella glanced down, saw that it was a straight drop into the waves, and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Stop!” She screamed as loud and as long as her lungs would allow. Of course, she could have whispered the command and the reaction would still have been the same. Every head turned in her direction. She could swear she saw outrage on Edward’s face, despair on Tanya’s. She turned back to the cliff’s edge, rose up on the balls of her feet, and jumped.

Her form wasn’t perfect, but she held her arms to her side and prayed her feet would plunge first. She hit the water with a solid splash, and clawed her way to the surface. She broke free of the roiling waves and took in one gulp of air, and then was hit from the side. She went back under, and two hands dug into her sides and pulled her deeper. Just when she let out a muted scream, the hands released and she was yanked back up.

“Well, you certainly know how to make an entrance, sister.”

“Emmett,” Bella breathed in relief, allowing the man to carry her free of the water. Her eyes took a moment to clear, and she glanced over his shoulder and gasped. “Behind,” was all she got out, before her attacker launched himself onto Emmett’s back and the curly-haired brunet threw Bella to the ground before clawing at his opponent.

Bella breathed wetly against the rocks that dotted the shore, most were like sharp gravel, and looked around. It seemed her distraction had allowed the Cullens to mount their own attack. Most of the strangers were locked in battle with the taller, muscular robed vampires, and most appeared to be winning. A dark-skinned woman at the rear of the Cullen’s, right up against the cliffside, was staring unseeingly at the sky. The Volturi around her seemed to be especially affected, swiping at their opponents as if blinded.

Bella was a bit surprised to see Jasper ravaging the Volturi near him, tearing them limb from limb and accepting any attacks that broke his skin with unfeeling indifference. A particularly savage lunge tore a chunk of granite flesh from his flank, but he barely winced, rounding on his attacker and easily wrenching his arm from its socket. When done, he turned to launch himself onto the next Volturi, but instead fell to his knees and clutched his head in agony.

Startled, Bella searched for the culprit. There, standing in the waves, was a hooded pale vampire that couldn’t have been older than her early teens. She was staring Jasper down with blood red eyes and a savage smile twisting her youthful features into something horrible and terrifying. Jane.

Although every instinct in her told Bella to run away, she planted her feet into the gravel and took off in the direction of the vampire. She moved painfully, humanly slow, but eventually got close enough to slam herself into the girl’s side. Bella’s body erupted in pain like she’d hit a brick wall, and she fell back and clutched her chest, certain she’d fractured or broken a rib.

Jane turned her attention to Bella, staring down as if she was seeing a particularly disgusting insect who had crawled too close and needed to be smashed. She narrowed her eyes, and bright blue veins bulged out of her chalky neck.

Bella frowned, certain the girl was trying to accomplish something, but unsure what.

Jane’s forehead creased in fury, and she looked like a child about to throw a tantrum. “What is wrong with you?” She whined, voice high-pitched and grating like nails on a chalkboard. “Why won’t you-”

She was cut off as a blur attacked from the side and brought her to the ground with it. The girl had only a second to stare up at Jasper in utter shock, and then her head was wrenched from her body.

Bella only had a moment of respite, as a cry of despair echoed against the cliffs. Her head snapped up and she saw a boy that had to be Alec. He couldn’t have been any older than the girl Jasper had just finished, and was glaring directly at Bella from only a few yards away. He began marching towards her, hands clenched into fists at his sides and teeth bared. She slowly realized that he was trying to do something - perhaps something like what the girl had been doing to Jasper - but all Bella could feel was a sense of dread that was waning by the second. As the boy’s expression changed from rage to confusion, Bella’s dread lessened to nothing, and she turned away when Jasper pounced.

Surveying the battlefield, she noticed many hooded figures lining the ground. The Cullens and their side stayed standing, although some seemed to be having issue - Carlisle was worrying too much over Esme, head twitching with constant movement to make sure that she was alright. He had a large crack in his forehead that extended to his jawline due to the distraction. Bella noticed Rosalie and Emmett facing the same problem, and a few other couples in the rear. Though most Volturi lay dead, the remaining were proving near impossible to defeat.

They couldn’t continue to fight for much longer.

Bella glanced around, searching for Edward and Tanya. She saw them on the other side of the beach, a decapitated vampire with long brown hair laying at their feet, and an enraged one with accents stitched into his cloak attacking them relentlessly. They fought well, both assured the other could handle themselves - Edward with his mind-reading and Tanya with her centuries of experience.

Bella’s gaze stopped at the vampire she had pegged for the Volturi leader, standing untouched in the center of the carnage, emotionlessly surveying the field. She watched in shock as a Cullen-aligned vampire with long brown hair charged towards him, and then suddenly froze for a beat before launching himself on a lesser Volturi member nearby. Bella zeroed in on the vampire almost hidden behind Aro, a tanned woman with sharp eyes and sharper cheekbones. She turned her gaze like daggers to Aro’s next attacker, a Cullen ally with piercing red eyes and a shock of white hair, and he too turned away and went for the nearest Volturi guardsman instead.

End in sight, Bella prepared to launch herself at the guardwoman as she had the vampire girl. She ran forward, braced for impact, and instead found herself on her back, breathless, the repeller leaning beside her.

“You may be immune, shield,” she sang, voice lilting and utterly terrifying. Each word wormed its way under Bella’s skin, “but you’re still just a human.”

And without another word, she bent down and bit deep into Bella’s neck.

An ear-shattering scream filled the beach, louder than the din of vampires warring, and it was only after a moment that Bella realized it had come from her body. Mortified, she closed her mouth with a snap and writhed on the rocks as her body seized with white-hot pain. She saw the woman still leering over her, lips and teeth smeared with her blood as they pulled into a self-satisfied grin. But Bella’s plan had worked. Her attention had been misplaced.

Behind her, Bella watched with wide eyes as Carlisle tackled Aro to the ground and twisted the vampire’s head to the side before wrenching it off his body completely. The leader’s body went limp.

Bella’s attacker was frozen for a moment, then her head moved in tiny jerks. “No,” she murmured, “that’s not possible. I- This clan is so young.”

Laughing, Bella responded in a mere whisper as she did her best to hold her spasming body still. “It’s over.”

The vampire turned back to her, as if to ask her what she meant, when two hands grabbed her shoulders and yanked her away. Bella stared upwards as the final cries of the Volturi filled the orange sky, and then there was only the sound of wood snapping and the distant roar of a fire.

“Bella,” came an urgent, anxious cry from her left side, “Bella, can you hear me?”

Her body was numb and heavy, although the pain was unabating, and her eyelids wouldn’t stay open. Bella performed the monumental task of shifting her gaze and saw Tanya leaning over her. She was surprised to see her hand clutched between Tanya’s - she couldn’t feel it.

“Carlisle, what do we do?” Edward appeared at her other side, eyes glassy with despair and eyebrows furrowed in anguish. Bella wanted to reach up and smooth them, but try as she might, she couldn’t get her arm to obey. The pain in her body was centralized to her neck, and she felt like a dying star that was blooming into a searing supernova.

Bella saw Carlisle join them, face still sporting shadows of the feral vampire that had ripped their ancient rulers to pieces. She saw his lips move, but heard nothing, and saw black. She realized she had closed her eyes when Edward gently shook her shoulder.

“Bella,” he started, voice thick with emotion, “you’ve lost a lot of blood. The venom is spreading. Is this what you want?”

Quick snapshots of her life flashed before her eyes: softball with Charlie, watching her mother play piano, study nights with Angela, a brief outing with Jessica and Lauren, meeting Tanya and Edward in Biology, sitting in the car with them after she’d been attacked, curling into Tanya’s cool side as Edward serenaded them, and Edward’s cool lips pressed against her throat as Tanya set up the TV and made popcorn for movie night.

The two of them, watching Bella awaken bleary-eyed and sleep-drunk, on a lazy Sunday morning. Sunlight filtering through the thin drapes to caress their skin and send little prismatic rainbows onto the walls and ceiling.

“No,” Bella croaked, trying to sound defiant and failing miserably. “Not yet. Please, not right now.”

Tanya nodded and clenched her hand so tight Bella swore her bones shifted. She opened her mouth to say something more, but let out a faint whimper instead when Edward buried his face in her neck. She faintly felt sharp teeth latch onto the wound, and she faded as he began to remove the venom. After an indeterminable amount of time, he wrenched his head away and Tanya leant over Bella’s body to take his place.

Bella turned to the side and saw the blurry shapes of the Cullens and their friends, fires silhouetting them, as they watched her suffer in silence. She closed her eyes, and focused on Tanya’s hands gripping hers, Edward’s hand on her thigh.

With all her heart, she trusted them.

Extra

A steady and clear beeping filled the room, and it was pleasantly dim when Bella opened her eyes. She took a moment to survey her surroundings and figure out where she was. The last thing she remembered was the beach, cold wet stones cutting into her skin as Tanya and Edward saved her.

It seemed that they had succeeded.

Her entire body ached, and her neck felt tender, but she was alive and she was human. It appeared she was in a room alone, although there were two uncomfortable hospital chairs pulled up on either side of the bed, with jackets thrown over the back. She settled deeper into the small hospital pillows behind her head and back as footsteps neared her room.

“-sure she’s okay?”

Bella perked at the sound, Charlie’s quiet timbre.

“Absolutely. In fact, she should be waking up any minute now,” Carlisle answered, and Bella’s lips pulled into a small smile, knowing that he had been able to hear her move about.

The doorknob twisted and the two men entered.

“Hi, Dad,” Bella greeted, voice hoarse. She cleared her throat as Charlie bounded over to her.

“Bells.” He carefully lowered himself on the bed beside her and reached out to hug her, only to abort the action and lay his hands gently on her shoulders. “Tanya and Edward explained everything, I can’t believe you went into the woods alone.”

Bella blinked. Of course they hadn’t been able to tell her dad that she was involved in a once-in-a-lifetime vampire war. She guessed she’d have to roll with whatever cover story they’d come up with. “Sorry. Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking.” She did her best to sound convincing.

“It’s certainly not your fault,” Carlisle chimed in from the doorway, peering down at a clipboard. “Tanya and Edward are usually good hikers and well-prepared, I can’t believe they forgot their portable chargers and their phones died on the first day of their five-day hike. If I had been expecting check-ins every night and didn’t hear from them for two days, I would have gone searching on my own as well.”

Bella nodded, grateful for the shared cover story. “Yeah, I just didn’t know what to think. I knew the general area they’d be in, and wanted to find them.”

Charlie shook his head. “Next time, you call me and I send out the biggest search party I can muster.” He huffed a laugh. “Just your luck a bear would find you. Thank god Tanya and Edward heard and came running.”

Bella couldn’t help herself. She laughed. A bear? Charlie frowned. “Sorry, you’re right. Not funny, just-” she let another peal of laughter escape her lips, “-of course a bear would find me.”

At that, Charlie’s lips pulled into a fond smile. “You’re a special kid, I’ll give you that. Glad you got two people to keep an eye on you. They’re mighty lucky.”

Carlisle nodded in agreement. “It’s very nice to see Edward and Tanya so happy.”

Bella flushed and dipped her head. She saw the chairs and jackets out of the corner of her eye. “Are they-” she was cut off by Charlie’s loud ringtone. He looked at the caller and winced, giving Bella’s shoulders a pat before standing.

“I’ve got to go pick Renée up from the airport,” he explained, bringing the phone up to his ear.

“You told her?” Bella questioned, aghast. Charlie shrugged his shoulders helplessly as he fled the room.

Carlisle walked up to her bedside and checked her vitals. “You lost a lot of blood,” he explained, voice calming as he reached for her arm to check the IV. “We had to give you a few transfusions and the wound on your neck will take a while to heal. Charlie thought it best to inform your mother.”

Bella groaned. “She’s going to freak out.” She peered closer at the doctor. “But I’m alright, though? No lasting… vampirism?”

Carlisle laughed, and returned her arm to the bed. “No lasting vampirism,” he confirmed, “what Edward and Tanya did is incredibly difficult, but they successfully stopped the venom from circulating. You’ll have a scar, of course.”

“Like Jasper?”

Carlisle’s eyes softened. “Yes, like Jasper.”

Bella reached up to inspect the thick gauze around her neck. Quietly, she admitted, “I think… I would like to become a vampire. Someday. I want to join them.”

The patriarch nodded. “Most of us don’t get to make that choice. Treasure it,” he advised. Then smiled. “Now, I think some people are here to see you.”

In a flash, the seats on either side of Bella were filled and Tanya was laying across her midsection, careful to apply no pressure; while Edward was more reserved, only holding Bella’s hand delicately between his own.

Carlisle finished writing something on his clipboard and smiled. “You two are lucky I secured the ward. You were able to grab a meal?” When both nodded, he smiled. “Good. I’ll be heading back to the house then, to continue the talks. Join when you can.” He looked directly at Bella and his face sharpened into utter sincerity as he spoke. “Bella, we could not have done this without you. You showed incredible bravery and strength, and you’ll be welcome at the talks when you’re ready.” He nodded one last time, as if to pull himself together, and then he was gone.

Tanya whistled low. “That’s practically a medal of honor, right there.”

Edward ignored the blonde. “Bella, are you feeling alright?”

Bella rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes. Now please, unplug me and get me out of this bed.”

“Where do you want to go?” Edward was already applying pressure to the inside of her elbow, preparing to remove the IV.

“Outside.”

Tanya perked up. “The roof?” Edward nodded, and Tanya quickly swaddled Bella in blankets and hefted her into her arms.

Bella opened her mouth to complain, but felt her neck throb as she was manhandled and thought better of it. Just for now, she’d let her vampires take care of her. As promised, the ward was empty and the three quickly made for the staircase, Tanya taking them several at a time and Edward behind, eyes constantly on Bella.

When they breached the roof doors, Bella took a welcome gulp of open night air. Tanya set her gently on the railing and sat beside her. Unwilling to let Bella balance on her own, Edward sat at her right side and quickly pulled her into his side, both arms wrapped around her. Tanya giggled, Bella pouted.

“A bear,” she complained, “really?”

Edward shrugged, moving her with the motion. “Emmett’s idea.”

“Edward and I were kind of losing our minds, thinking we killed you, so we just rolled with it,” Tanya chimed in. “Even though Alice kept promising you would be okay. But, like, you know her track record.”

Bella looked up in time to see Edward’s eyebrows rise practically into his hairline. “Always correct?”

“Yeah, but what if this was the one time.”

“Here, let’s change the subject,” Bella interrupted, voice muffled by Edward’s arms. “I’m fine, we’re fine, and the Volturi are all dead?”

“Super dead,” Edward confirmed.

“Watching Caius’ smirk disappear when Aro was killed was almost as good as watching you wake up in the morning with your hair plastered all over your face.” Tanya grinned when Bella pulled a face. “Hey, I’ve seen that smirk every time I closed my eyes for the past few hundred years. He laughed when he threw my mother into the fire. The vengeance was lovely, and yet-” her eyes melted as she stared at Bella for a moment, not speaking, “-there’s something incredibly special about being the last thing you see before you sleep, and the first thing you see when you wake. I’ll always be chasing the high of your elated, sleepy smile when you look up at me in the morning.”

Edward nodded and pressed a kiss to Bella’s head.

“Thank you, man of many words,” Bella gave the vampire’s back two pats and threw a lovesick smile Tanya’s way. Edward shrugged.

“I was just going to quote Shakespeare at you.”

Tanya gagged.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Bella is the sun,” Edward looked down, smile soft as Bella’s giggled drifted up to him. “Not a Romeo and Juliet fan? If music be the food of love, play on - give me excess of it; that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”

Bella’s body was wracked with embarrassed giggles. “Stop,” she begged, breathless, “stop, it hurts to laugh.”

“See, your romantic nonsense is painful to everyone,” Tanya snapped playfully, ruffling Edward’s hair. She leaned in close and rested her head atop Bella’s.

It was silent for a long moment, just the three of them and the gentle wind to keep them company.

“So,” Bella whispered, “what now?”

“All the vampires who fought with us stayed. Carlisle is speaking with them now to discuss a new governing system. As it turns out, he had been planning this for a while. With Esme’s guidance,” Edward began, “Vladimir and Stefan want to regain their place as rulers, but times have changed.”

“The Egyptians have an interesting spin on Carlisle’s very British parliamentary idea that would allow for new members and expansion over the years,” Tanya added, “and Alice and Kachiri have plans for non-invasive surveillance and new laws. Garrett and Kate-”

“Won’t stop making eyes at each other across the room,” Edward interjected.

“-are coming up with ways to reach out to other vampires for ideas and cooperation. Important things.”

“I can hear what they’re thinking, Tanya.”

The blonde rolled her light eyes. “So it’s being discussed as we speak. As Carlisle said, you’d be more than welcome at the talks.”

Bella scoffed.

“You’re on everyone’s mind,” Edward argued, “Jasper’s incredibly grateful for your help with Jane and without you, we would have never gotten past Renata to Aro.”

Bella was careful not to meet his gaze, and stared at her feet. “That’s just because of my weird shield thing.” She shook her head. “I’d be useless otherwise.”

Tanya’s single, outraged laugh pulled Bella’s gaze from her shoes. “You think you’re the first shield? I’ve met plenty, and none have even an inch of the courage you possess in your little finger. The Volturi despised shields, wanted them eradicated in case their enemies could sway them against the rulers. I’ve heard of frightened shields giving themselves in, only to be torn to pieces. Others, in hiding, shielding themselves from everyone until they petrified.” She shook her head vehemently. “No, the Cullens, my family, everyone else there saw what you did. They want you at that table because you’re Bella Swan.”

Bella blinked in shock, heard the sincerity in each of Tanya’s words. “Oh.”

Edward chuckled. He wrapped an arm around Tanya and pulled her back down. They stayed huddled together as Bella processed Tanya’s words and felt her insides glow at the praise. She had nothing to say in return, so she grabbed the woman’s hand and twined their fingers together.

After a while, Edward began to hum. Bella smiled.

“Is that your new song?” She asked.

Our new song,” he corrected, “and I have a demo.” Without jostling either of the girls, he freed his phone from his pocket and set it beside him. A flourish began the song, and then soft, even notes filled the air.

“Feels like a waltz,” Tanya sang, beginning to sway.

Edward grinned. “I knew you’d like it.”

Tanya jumped to her feet, her face lit with a warm smile. “Bella, dance with me.”

“No, I-” Bella protested, but Edward was already helping her to her feet and relinquishing her to Tanya. Bella snapped her mouth closed and prepared to make an ungainly fool out of herself.

Tanya placed Bella’s left hand on her shoulder and held her right in an interlaced grip. She moved her right hand to the small of Bella’s back and used the placement to support most of Bella’s weight. As she twirled, Bella felt like she was walking on air. The blonde vampire was obviously experienced, and Bella pictured her in a big red gown, breaking heart after heart as she twirled in the center of an extravagant ballroom.

Edward stood from the railing after a few minutes and held his arms out. Tanya switched Bella to his hold seamlessly, and they began to dance. Edward’s steps were slower, more deliberate, and Bella smiled when he dipped her low. She didn’t lean back, but she smiled up at him. Edward likely would have been more at home in a small dance hall, inviting the shy ladies against the wall in for a dance, and allowing them to flee as soon as the music ended.

When Edward’s new song did come to an end, Bella’s song began. She looked up and saw utter adoration in his light tawny eyes, her besotted expression reflected in them. Bella felt a presence at her back and Edward slowed their movement even more as Tanya’s arms snaked around her waist. She pressed a tender kiss to the corner of Bella’s lips and leaned her chin gently on Bella’s shoulder. When Bella turned to glance at her, ignoring the pain pulling at her neck, she saw overwhelming love in every inch of Tanya’s features.

The notes of Bella’s song carried into the air as tendrils of light creeped over the horizon, signaling the beginning of a new dawn.