Actions

Work Header

welcome to wonderland

Chapter Text

Common sense tells her that they're human.

Of course they're human, she knows this. What else would they be, if not human? No. Nothing else is possible, the world doesn't work that way, so she shoves the very thought from her mind and instead focuses on the things that everyone else does. How beautiful they are, how quiet they are, how isolated they are, how perfect they are, and how perfectly out of reach they are. What does it matter that they don't share genetics but somehow share the same eyes, when those eyes are the colour of gold? When precious minerals shine back at the world where dull eyes should sit? What does it matter that she has seen those eyes, those golden eyes looking at her with intrigue one day, and glaring at her, darker than the abyss the next?

It's her mind playing tricks on her, she knows this. Her subconscious fear of, what, rejection? Does she fear them taking one look at her and deeming her unworthy of their attention, like everyone else at the school? Perhaps. She likes to think she's above the petty mindset of her fellow teenagers, that her worries run a little more deeply than oh no, the popular, pretty kids don't like me, but if not that, then what else does she fear? It's all in her mind, either way. Giving perfection an imaginary flaw, to humanize them or to make herself feel better, she doesn't know. She just knows it must be in her head because no one else comments on it.

They talk about how Edward turned Jessica down again this week, and how that makes it five times now. Once a day, for every day the Cullens had been at school since arriving on Monday. "I don't know what his problem is," Jessica grumbles down at her lunch tray.

They sit around their table by the door and it's the perfect angle. The perfect angle for what? Watching the Cullens. That's all Bella seems capable of lately - and yes, she knows how pathetic it is, but she's very good at masking it. Her glasses are thick and reflect the lights, people usually can't see her eyes unless they're up close at the table... and the table is too busy staring at the Cullens to notice her anyway.

Nobody would blame her, either way. Not when every other head in the cafeteria is angled towards the back, each student, teacher, and lunch lady/man sneaking peeks at the table of supermodels.

Not when a pixie dances through the room to that very table, twirling and spinning, all while balancing a truly tragic looking lunch on her tray. There wasn't a soul on the face of the earth who didn't find that utterly charming and captivating. Bella was confident her argument would stand in court.

So she stares - watches, she watches the Cullens. She's still not entirely sure on all their names. It's only been a week and as much as she's obsessed with them, she's actually pretty bad at partaking in gossip. It's unusual to catch Bella Swan without her headphones on and if they aren't, they're usually hanging around her neck, playing music just loud enough to be heard.

Admittedly, everything about Bella Swan screams fuck off, but that's neither here nor there, because her friends seem to ignore it anyway.

Bella inspects the toes of her boots (they're big and black and police issue, perhaps her most treasured hand-me-down from Charlie) before shifting her gaze half an inch up, dark eyes flickering over the Cullen table again. "Maybe he's gay," she says diplomatically.

Amber eyes blink and - they're on her, staring at her, through her, to her very depths. Probing, curious, bewildered, and then frustrated. She swallows, rough and large and awkward in her throat, trapped in a gaze more powerful than any she's ever encountered before.

He sees her. He sees her, and she's freaking out. Because beyond the curiosity and intrigue, there's something else. Something dark and twisted, growing, morphing, overtaking the bewilderment, and... yup, those are black eyes. Those are black eyes glaring at her from across the cafeteria and she's going to die.

Of this, she is absolutely certain. There is not a single shred of doubt in her mind. This is not a person staring back at her, this is the epitome of hunger and desire, of true want, this is what craving looks like, and it's terrifying. Bella will never look at addicts the same way ever again, her appreciation for their struggle has tripled because if they felt even an iota of what she sees in his gaze... her heart goes out to them.

She's about to tell Angela to clear her browser history once she's dead, that she wants her father to remember her as he does now - pure and not the shameful, awkward owner of a bunch of lesbian porn. She doubts her claims of research, it's purely for scientific research purposes, I'm not really sure what I am, would hold up with, well, anyone. Maybe Renee, but Renee was always a wild card. Trying to anticipate that woman was like trying to anticipate... insanity, she guesses.

Alas, the universe has her back - today, at least, and someone else at his table shoves his lunch tray into his chest. Edward blinks, breaks his horrifying gaze to scowl at the large boy across the table from him. Bella also finally blinks and it feels like dragging sandpaper over her eyes. She let's out a small, shaky breath, and watches on.

The large boy is frowning slightly and for some reason it looks foreign on his face. His lips move quickly, too quickly for Bella to read - not that that's something she can do, but damn it all if she doesn't try. Edward also frowns, but his is more pronounced and full of guilt, full of grief. He hangs his head and doesn't look up from the table for the rest of lunch.

Common sense tells Bella that the Cullens are human, because everything else is impossible, but...

Bella's never been very good at listening to her common sense.

.

.

.

Common sense tells Bella to avoid the Cullens.

It's not that wild of a request, especially when it appears that the Cullens are actively avoiding everyone else. All it requires is Bella not putting in the effort of seeking them out, and not putting in effort is something Bella excels at. By the following Monday, Bella is committed to her faze out the Cullens plan because she's decided that she doesn't want to be involved in the obsession that is sweeping the school. She doesn't want to be that girl, so she won't be.

She does well, better than she thought, in fact, by mostly humming and hawing her way through conversations that centre around the Cullens. She catches another name - Rosalie, but she doesn't think that counts. Knowing their names and knowing the thread count on their shirts that day, were not the same thing. Every now and then Jessica asks if she's seen Edward's hair today, or Mike tells her to check out Rosalie's rack - ah, that's how she knows her name, Mike's been gushing for the past ten minutes.

Nose in her book, meticulously shading her latest sketch (while somehow standing beside her friend's locker in a bustling hallway, it's a miracle), Bella sighs. "Yup, it's a nice set of boobs, Mikey. A solid eight outta ten."

Somewhere off in the distance there's a disgruntled huff that Bella can feel.

"Come on, Bella," Mike whines lightly and slams his locker door shut. She feels him turn to look at her and pours more of her focus onto her art. "You don't care about them at all?"

Her brows furrow, curiosity pulling her into a conversation against her will. "What, her boobs?" she asks as she looks up at him, head tilting to the side.

"No, not-" he harrumphs, giving her clunky headphones a pointed look until she turns the volume down just a little. "Not her boobs. The Cullens! Any of 'em."

"Well," she closes her books, shifts them under her arm and stuffs her pen and marker in her back pocket, "why would I?"

"Because they're beautiful!"

"So?"

"No, like, really beautiful. I've never seen something so beautiful before."

She shrugs. "I have."

"Pfft," Mike scoffs, nudges her shoulder with his own, and they start down the hall towards the cafeteria. "Where? Who was it?"

Heaving a sigh, Bella fishes her phone out of her pocket with her free hand, fingers sliding across the screen to unlock it. It's even more busy in the cafeteria but at least it's spaced out and she has room to breath. She sticks close to her friend's side anyway. Someone bumps into her despite this and she curses under her breath, too distracted to scowl at them, and shifts her notebook to her mouth. Clenched between her teeth, she can use both hands to play with her phone. "Oooh! 'ere! Hith nerm urth-"

"Can't understand you, Bella," Mike laughs, turning around to motion towards his mouth and the notebook hanging from hers. She offers her phone and he grabs it, staring down at the image while she tucks her notebook back under her arm. "Yeah, see, it's nice but I'm not all artsy like you. I find people much more beautiful."

Huffing, Bella grabs her phone back and shoves it into her pocket. They shift further down the lunch line and she plucks a chocolate milk from the buffet counter, spinning it around and around in her hand. "Ah, whatever. You'll appreciate it more when he's dead."

"Twisted," he warns.

She silently mocks him, mouthing twisted with a dumb face behind his back. "Angie said I'm allowed to talk about death as long as I stopped talking about my own."

"We both know it's a slippery slope for you."

Resting her forehead against his back, Bella heaves a long, tired sigh. Truly tired, this one is more genuine than the last. Her exhaustion creeps up around her edges, rearing its ugly head, reminding her of its presence. As if she could forget, as if she dared to think that, perhaps, just this once, she'll actually go home and get a good night's rest. "You know me too well," she says into his back instead.

"Happens when you've been best friends with someone since you were in diapers," Mike laughs and they step forward in line again. "Which is how I know that you care more about the Cullens than you're letting on."

She groans and wraps her arms around his waist, hands full with her book and chocolate milk, leaning more fully on him. "First of all," she mutters into the back of his shoulder. "We had a solid five year gap when I went to live with Renee briefly. And secondly, I don't care about the Collins."

"Cullens."

"So I guess you don't know me as well as I thought."

Mike tosses a couple bills onto the counter for his lunch and Bella's milk, grinning at the lunch lady and pulling Bella along to their table. He can hear her dragging her feet and rolls his eyes. "It was three and a half years," he corrects her.

"Felt like five."

"So," he eyes her mischievously as she pours herself into one of the chairs, resting her face against the table, and sets his tray down to stare over at the Cullen table. "Which one of them has captured your interest?"

"Ugh, grow up, Mikey. None of them. My life does not revolve around pretty faces."

He snorts and sits down, but does not stop scrutinizing the table. They always look so stiff and uncomfortable, he often wonders why they even bother showing up for lunch. They obviously know everyone is staring at them, and if it bothers them that much, why wouldn't they just avoid it? "You've got an artist's eye, so it's either Alice or Edward."

"Which ones are those ones?"

Mike grins, looks back over at his friend who still has yet to lift her face. "The little one and the redhead."

"His hair is bronze."

"So it is Bedhead?" he clarifies with intrigue, blonde eyebrows shooting up. "I suppose that makes sense, you guys were locked into quite the staredown on Friday."

Finally, Bella shifts her position until her eyes peek up over her arms that she crosses in front of her face on the table. They squint up at Mike before flickering down towards the Cullen table. "That dude was gonna eat my face. It wasn't a staredown, it was a duel."

"I take it that you won."

"My face is thus far intact, yes."

He shrugs and starts poking at his soup with one hand, the other shoving Bella's chocolate milk into the side of her arm until she groans and sits up properly. Part of him still breaks each time he has to remind his dearest friend to take care of herself. "So you gonna ask him out?"

"What the fuck, Mike?" Bella spits out, looking at him in a mix of disbelief and annoyance. He stares at her with wide eyes until she relaxes and lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. "I don't know, maybe."

"Really?"

"No."

Mike deflates, clicks his tongue when she smirks. "Why do you do this to me? Why can you never just answer a simple question?"

"Why do you keep asking me simple questions? You never ask me what the meaning of life is, man." She shakes her head, clicks her tongue, like she's disappointed in him. "When's the last time we had a conversation of substance?"

He sighs. He sighs and gives up, takes the bait, even if he knows where it's heading. "What's the meaning of life, Bella?"

"Forty-two."

"Fuck's sake," he mutters into his soup. He glares at her out the corner of his eye, sees the twinkle in her eye, and softens. It's nice, when she's in these moods. When she comes to life, when there's a spark in her usually dull eyes. It's enough to distract from the dark bruises under her eyes and he can pretend that she actually sleeps at night. "I'll ask you a meaningful question when you give me a meaningful answer, how's that?"

"Deal," she agrees amicably. She sighs again, a mask to cover her yawn, or maybe that's her way of yawning these days. Scrubbing her hands down her face, she leaves smudges of ink on her cheek and jaw, dropping her head into her arms again. Glassy eyes stare across the cafeteria. "What's the dancer's name?"

He follows her line of sight. "Alice."

"Alice." Bella tests the name out on her tongue, unaware of the shiver that rolls through deceptively delicate looking shoulders across the room. Ink stained fingertips drum against the top of the table while she considers this new piece of information, and she can feel her friend's gaze on the side of her face. Coming to a decision, she shifts to lean back in her chair, pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. "Alice. I like it. Do you think she knows how well her name suits her?"

A chuckle shakes Mike's shoulders that he shrugs moments later, spoon in his cheek. "You could ask her."

"What's the deal here, M-Dogg?" Bella half-demands. She leans forward again, propping her elbow up on the table. "Why are you so desperate to get me to talk to them? Why don't you go talk to them?"

"I just like seeing you out of your funk and these new kids seem to be really good at pulling you out."

"My funk is charming," she scoffs dismissively. "You wish you had a funk like mine. I'm going to class."

"We just sat down for lunch," he points out without looking up from his phone. He knows Bella well enough that he's aware her internal alarms are blaring; he got too real. She's in Fight or Flight mode now and he also knows she hates fighting, hates confrontation, despite how surprisingly good at it she is. Even better, is she, at running away.

Her chair scrapes against the floor as she gets to her feet, already cranking up the volume of her headphones around her neck to block out the world. "Who knows, maybe I'll bump into one of your precious Collins on my way."

"Cullens!" he calls after her.

She ignores him, well, she scoffs and keeps going. A couple kids glance up at her as she passes, and she knows they do this sometimes. She's not entirely sure why, as she's never stopped long enough to ask, or lingered long enough to listen, but she's noticed the looks. Any time she asks Mike, he just tells her they're jealous that she gets to hang out with him so much. She suspects it's something less flattering, but doesn't dwell.

The cafeteria doors swing open, or they start to, and she's already walking through. Entering doors are mostly instinct at this point, as they are for most people, so she doesn't put much thought behind it. From then on, she promises herself that she will, if only to spare her nose from exploding in pain again.

"Motherfucker!" she snarls into her hands that are cupping her face, staggering forward in the hall to lean against the wall while she blinks the stars from her eyes. She only has enough wits to leave the cafeteria, lest the majority of the student body witness her pain and embarrassment (her eyes are watering from the sting, she's not crying, fuck you). "Oh my god, that hurts so bad!" she exclaims in wonder, tilting her head back while she massages her nose. "Oh man. I don't think I'm bleeding. Holy shit. Ow. Ow, dude. Wow. Okay. Are you - are you okay?"

Bella blinks the tears from her eyes until she can see, until she's peeking over her fingertips that are still pressing against her face. And then she's blinking up into a pair of burning amber eyes boring into her, enough that she shrinks back against the wall again.

Rosalie is terrifying, evidently.

"Watch where you're going," Rosalie snaps at her, reaching for the door again.

Later Bella will blame a possible concussion for her actions, but in the moment she can't stop herself from sliding in front of the door and pressing her back against it. Her brows lock down over her eyes in her own glare, mood officially soured from this encounter. "Excuse you? You just busted my nose and I asked if you're okay. Some manners would be nice."

"Pay attention to where you're walking and your nose won't get injured next time."

Dark eyes widen in disbelief. "Are you kidding me right now?" Bella looks around for the hidden cameras. "Is this really happening? In real life? Can you be more of a cliche?"

"Move."

"Apologize."

Rosalie's lip curls back over fangs, fucking fangs, and Bella's instincts flare. Something primal, something deep down in the very core of her being, is begging her to run the other way. To stop poking the bear.

Common sense is telling her to back down...

But Bella's never been good at listening to her common sense.

"I will bust my fucking nose on your face again if you don't apologize in the next five seconds, I swear to god."

Hard eyes stare at the human, Rosalie looking for any shred of doubt, any signs of a bluff, any uncertainty. She's surprised at the resolute determination that greets her and, personally, a little impressed. She rolls her eyes instead. "Sorry you're too dumb to walk through a door properly."

"Oh my god, I have to hit Barbie in the face-"

"Just relax," Rosalie says when a fragile human fist clenches tightly at the girl's side. Her disgruntled expression melts into something mildly amused, much to Bella's surprise and alarm. "Cool it, Rocky. You clearly were not paying attention, I should have waited for you to leave the cafeteria first. I'm... sorry, I guess."

The air leaves Bella in a relieved whoosh, hands on her knees while she gathers herself again. "Oh man, thank goodness. I've never punched anyone before, I'm not sure I even know how. I feel like I'd break my hand? There's gotta be a technique in there, right?"

"You're an odd little person," Rosalie tells her seriously. Bella only lifts an eyebrow, staring up at the blonde curiously. The vampire shakes her head, clicks her tongue, and reaches for the door again. She waits until she's through before looking back at Bella. "A blind odd little person; they're very clearly a ten."

"Nine and a half," Bella counters as the door closes. She pops up in the window with a grin, sees annoyance flash across the blonde's face, and smiles even wider. "Always room for improvement," she shouts through the window.

.

.

.

The room fills up around her, students trickling in like the rising of the tides. Bella feels her anxiety levels mimic the tides, she sucks in a shaky breath through her teeth while she steels herself against it. Sometimes she wishes she was just a little bit like the other kids, the others who don't even seem to notice each other, who don't blink at the thought of being surrounded by strangers. By people.

But then she remembers Renee telling her that people are different and that's what made them so great, that's what made Bella so special. That she wasn't like anyone else. Why be them when you can be you, Bella? It was too complex and abstract a question for a little kid to try to answer, that she had to assume Renee was correct. It was better to be her than them. She supposes, looking back on it now, that that was her mother's goal the entire time. Convince her daughter that it was better to be herself than someone else.

It's gotten her this far in life, she's still somehow convinced it's better to be Bella than not be Bella, and sometimes she's impressed with Renee's mothering skills. Not the typical mom, not much of a mom at all, but damn it all if she didn't get some things right.

A shadow falls over Bella's sketchbook and her brows furrow, a frown marring her face, and she's getting ready to tell whoever it is to fuck off outta my light, Tree. She hopes it isn't Mr. Banner again, she really can't afford another suspension.

Words fail her when she looks up into Edward's curious, pained face. She blinks as he stares, neither saying a word, neither making a move. The room buzzes around them with white noise, but the music from her headphones creates a bubble of peace between them, acting like a barrier between them and the real world.

Danny Devito sings about the hardships of training demi-gods and witnessing their downfalls, and Bella can't stop her knee from bouncing along to the tune. Golden eyes glance down to it and she swears a ghost of a smile flashes across Edward's Adonis face (great, now she's thinking in Greek Mythology analogies).

"What?" she snaps, more annoyed at herself than the boy but he's there and it's gotta be healthier to take out your frustrations on someone else other than yourself. Wait, that doesn't sound right. She shakes her head, desperately trying to get out of her head and focus on the world around her again.

He's watching her curiously still, but the frustration is creeping back in. He looks confused, perplexed, and a little fascinated. But... but like it bothers him, too. "I beg your pardon?"

"What do you want?" she repeats, a little more politely, but slow enough that her displeasure of the exchange is clear.

Finally Edward moves and she flinches, she tries really hard not to, but after that day in the cafeteria she's a little on edge around the guy. He stills his movements, bushy eyebrows twitching up, and makes sure to move slower when he points to the chair on her other side. "I would like very much to sit down now, please."

"Find another spot."

He opens his mouth before slamming it shut. Golden eyes fade to a darker amber in the time it takes Bella to blink, his frown becoming more pronounced. "That is my spot," he tells her while trying very hard to keep the growl from his voice.

"Since when?" she asks and looks over her shoulder at the spot quickly.

Edward's giving her a disbelieving look when she glances back, a hand running through his hair. "Since last Monday, since we've arrived to Forks. I sat there all last week, did you... did you really not notice?"

"Well, I..." Bella brushes her knuckles against her chin and looks at her table again. She tries to picture last week, if it looked a little more full than usual, if she remembers sitting next to someone. "I suppose there could have been a person... there." She gestures to the space next to her without looking, still staring down at the table.

His face is open again, friendly. Much nicer than the scowls and glares, the probing frustration, the mild hostility she was slowly becoming accustomed to. He leans forward slightly to tap a pale finger next to her hand that's resting on the table. "That is a refreshing change."

They stare at each other again, both acutely aware of how awkward this whole interaction has been, but neither really knowing why or how to make it stop.

"I was a drab little crab once," Bella sings under her breath because - fuck, this is her favourite song right now and it's unreasonable to expect her not to sing along, but damn it, Universe, this is really not the time. "Sorry."

The chair scratches the floor as she slides in closer to the table to let Edward skirt around behind her to his spot. "My sister is obsessed with that movie," Edward tells her. His voice is fond and Bella assumes that he has a good relationship with his siblings, his sister at least, and smiles.

She used to wish she had siblings. Until she realized Mike was basically her brother anyway, so technically she did.

"Alice, right?" she asks. For some reason she can't picture Rosalie being obsessed over a kid's movie. And yet, she is, so now she feels a little self-conscious about it. Maybe she should stop watching kids movies. Fuck that, I'll stop watching them when they stop being excellent.

Edward's nodding and placing his pencils out next to his papers. He's a very neat guy, very organized, she notices. From his crisp, pristine clothes to the way that his pencils are sharpened perfectly and his name is scrawled at the top of his page like a computer did it.

Her own writing looks more like someone dipped a chicken's feet in ink, placed it on a paper, and electrocuted the poor fowl. Something Mike, Angela, and Renee have been teasing her about mercilessly throughout the years. You're an artist, Bella, your work is breathtaking but how is your writing so atrocious?!

"Yes, Alice," he answers and looks up at her again. Amber eyes study her intently, trace over her face, until she shifts awkwardly and lets her hair fall down between them like a dark curtain. "I think the two of you would get along well."

"I thought your family was too good to associate with outsiders?" Bella can't stop herself from snarking, not that she would if she could. Poking people is a hobby of hers, she's a bit of an asshole.

She feels Edward still again, wonders why he does that. People don't just... freeze like that. She's pretty sure he even stops breathing when he does it, and it's weird.

Her mind whispers that something isn't right, again, but common sense tells her that it's fine. That he's normal and life is regular and don't think too hard about it. But thinking is all she has because it's either that or talk and fuck talking, talking just advertises the fact that she's weird and a bit of a fool and a bit of an asshole and just, she doesn't want to advertise anything about herself. Not when she's such a mess of a person, not while she's still working on the mess, trying to refine it into a reasonable individual.

Edward turns to her finally. "We keep to ourselves to in an attempt to battle the overwhelming reception we often received everywhere we go. It's... tiring."

She considers this and nods, though her focus lies elsewhere with her sketching again. "I can see that," she says thoughtfully while she smudges some of her pen with her thumb. "You're all this school can talk about and it's been a week now. I can feel everyone looking over here."

"Yes, it's quite unpleasant," he agrees softly. He reaches out to touch the edge of her paper before she holds up her hand, as if to stop him, and he pauses. "Why do you draw in ink? You cannot erase your mistakes, should you not use pencil first?"

Running her tongue along the back of her teeth, Bella leans back in her chair to look at him. Dark eyes flicker over his face, his perfect face, and down to his notes. Perfect notes. Everything about this dude was perfect. "You want the creative, artsy, cliched mistakes are beautiful and real and mean more than perfection? Or something a little more personal like I can't stand the sound pencil makes on paper, so I always use pens instead? Something in-between? I make a lot of mistakes but somehow manage to turn them into something good, something useful, and it's good practice for real life."

Pale lips press together in a line. Edward's eyebrows inch lower while he stares. "Which one is true?"

"They're all true."

"Okay, but which one is the true reason?"

"They're all the true reason."

He frowns harder, his hand back in his hair again. She makes a mental note of his tick, his tell. "Which one is the deciding factor that keeps you from switching to pencils instead?"

"Well right now, because I don't have a pencil on me."

Edward sighs deeply and they both feel his phone buzzing in his pocket, against the table. He rolls his eyes and pulls it out, shifting and angling away from his table partner. "You're frustrating," he tells her over his shoulder with a gruff voice.

"You're a little vexing," she replies and goes back to her sketch.

.

.

.

Another week passes and the two make small talk during class. Anything more and they start digging at each other, and sometimes their conversations end in venom and glares, but for the most part they get along.

She asks about his family but he's typically tight-lipped regarding anything personal. He talks about them at briefly, but there's always hesitation, as if they're just around the corner listening in and he's afraid they might hear. Through his vague, lacking stories, Bella finds herself more and more intrigued by the pixie. The pixie who she has yet to meet, despite a couple of fleeting glances in the cafeteria and hallways.

Edward holds her hand on the way to biology one day and she's startled enough that she doesn't smack him in the face. He looks awkward, eyes shifting from the floor to the ceiling to the lockers they pass, anywhere but her direction, and she stifles her laugh. It's amusing enough that she doesn't pull her hand away.

By the end of class, the school is abuzz with rumours that they're dating.

Mike throws himself against her locker when she shuts it, leaning down to catch her eye. He reaches out to steady her as she gasps and jerks back, glaring up at him like an angry puppy. "What the shit, dude?!"

"You're dating a Cullen?!"

"What?"

"Edward," he clarifies with a huff of impatience. He motions down the hallway to the lanky boy who stands beside his blonde brother, the one who always looks like he's in pain or going to be sick. Their eyes meet, she nods at him, he flashes her a crooked grin, and the blonde winces her way. When she looks back, Mike is astonished. "Holy crap, you're dating Edward Cullen."

"Am I?" she asks, and though it comes off a little coy because of her chuckle, she's honestly asking because... is she? Since when? How?

Her friend groans, smacks his forehead, and slings his arm around her shoulders. "Oh my god, Bella, I know I told you to go talk to them, but I didn't think you'd actually start dating one. They're so weird!"

"I thought they were pretty?" she challenges because just two weeks ago he was begging her to look at them. "What happened? Rosalie shoot you down again?"

"Hah, like any of us mere mortals could ever talk to her," he grumbles sourly and they start dragging their feet to the gym. "Besides, she's dating Emmett."

"Who's Emmett?"

He laughs again, shakes his head, and squeezes her closer to him affectionately. "You really need to start paying attention to the outside world. Emmett Cullen."

"Her brother?!"

Mike laughs harder this time and drops his arm to hold open the door. They walk through the gym, his sneakers squeaking on the polished floor, while her boots earn the ire of Coach Clapp (the man has learned better than to tell her to wear regular shoes. He's just happy she wears the uniform). "They're not actually related to each other. They're all adopted."

"Not related at all?" Bella asks. Thinks back to golden eyes and pale pallor. That same otherness they all carry.

He shakes his head. "Nope. Rosalie's dating Emmett, and Alice is dating Jasper. The only single Cullen is Edward... well, was Edward."

"Alice is dating Jasper?"

"Yeah, are you okay? You seem pretty out of it lately," he says quietly and tugs on her arm until she stops. She blinks up at him, uncharacteristically agreeable as she lets him lift her glasses so he can look at her eyes and the dark circles beneath them. "You look dazed, Bella. Shit. When's the last time you slept?"

She rubs her eye and let's out a deep breath, all before shrugging and stepping back to let her glasses fall back down onto her face. "I dunno. The day before yesterday? I think?"

"How many hours?"

Her agreeable mood sours and she roughly grabs the strap of her bag across her chest, scowling down at the floor. "I don't know! A couple hours - who cares? I'm fine." She glares back up at him. "How long have they been dating?"

"Who?"

"Fucking," she huffs and shakes her head, punching him in the shoulder, "who's dazed now? Jasper and Alice!"

He looks more and more confused as time goes on. "What? A while, I don't know, they joined the family last but sounds like since then, at least." He leans down to squint into her face, studying her. "Why do you care? You got a thing for your boyfriend's brother?"

"Excuse me for caring about my friend's family."

"You never ask if my brother's dating anyone."

"Your brother is a doofus."

Mike sighs but nods, looking out at the gym as they hesitate near the boys' locker room. "Yeah, he's kind of a dick. I don't know, man. Just... just do me a favour and be careful around the Cullens, yeah? I'd hate to bust Pretty Boy's face because he messed with the wrong Swan."

"I can take care of myself."

A snort tears from Mike's throat before he can smother it and he's dodging another punch, scurrying into the boys' locker room with Bella hot on his heels. A couple guys let out surprisingly shrill shrieks until one of the football players carries Bella back out to the gym over his shoulder, all while she curses her best friend in Italian.

.

.

.

They don't talk about the rumours surrounding their relationship status and Bella doesn't really know why. If it's because he's too awkward, she's too awkward, or it's just abundantly clear to everyone but her, so she also doesn't bring it up. Nothing else ever happens, either, so maybe there's actually nothing there and Edward just doesn't want to dignify it with a response.

He still holds her hand, though, and she still let's him, and she still doesn't know why, and she's still not sleeping.

She's considering maybe seeing a doctor about it, but she doesn't know which kind. If this is just in her head, and therefore a psychologist would better help her, or if there's some kind of chemical reaction happening in her body, and a medicine doctor would help more. So perhaps a psychiatrist, then.

Maybe it'll be easier to just ignore it instead, maybe it'll go away on its own, maybe it's just stress and she needs to calm down.

Maybe she won't wake up tomorrow.

.

.

.

Another month passes by before she ever talks to the other Cullens. They're sitting at their own table in the cafeteria, she and Edward, because Mike was out sick one week and Angela was studying in the classroom one day, and Bella had no one to sit with. So Edward sat with her. And he's been sitting with her since.

Mike's a good friend and didn't want to intrude, neither did Angela, but Bella kinda wishes they did. She doesn't say it aloud though.

A third tray drops to the table beside them as they sit across from each other. Bella jumps in her skin, startled out of her thoughts, and Edward pauses in the middle of his story. He looks frustrated and amused at the same time, and Bella's fingers twitch with the instinct of putting that look on paper.

She sketches Edward a lot, and maybe that's why people think she's in love with him, maybe that's why they keep telling her how cute her lovey dovey devotion to him is. She doesn't think it's love, she doesn't feel like she loves him, she's not even really sure she likes him, but she has to admit that she sketches him far too much.

It's just... he's fascinating to watch, his face is beautiful and holds emotion so well. Not just one emotion, either, it constantly looks like differing emotions are battling for space on his face. She's never met anyone who looks like they're feeling all their emotions at once, and such vastly different ones, to boot.

She's an artist and Edward is beautiful and she's pretty sure that's why she's sketching him, but she's been wrong about herself before, so... who knows.

"Good afternoon, Alice," Edward greets politely while he stares up at his sister.

The pixie drops into her seat with perfect poise, a brilliant smile on her face that she aims at Edward first. "Hello, brother," she chimes.

Bella's jaw clenches as a shiver rolls down her spine and dear god, that's what Alice's voice sounds like? She blinks her eyes heavily, stares down at the top of the table, while briefly glancing up at the other girl every few moments in a desperate attempt to not blatantly stare.

Alice looks much different up close.

Maybe not different, but her beauty is enhanced, it's right there, it's so close she could touch it. She could touch her. Alice doesn't seem real, Bella's pretty much convinced that she dreamt the girl up most of the time because people like that don't truly exist. They don't have eyes that literally sparkle, that make dark and enticing promises, the likes of which you never knew you actually desired. A voice so alluring that it kept whispering to you long after she stopped speaking. Her movements so graceful that she must be some Water Goddess that's mesmerized you into a trance.

Bella blinks and stares down at the table again, squeezing her plastic fork tightly in her clenched fist.

"You must be Bella! Edward has told me so much about you!"

She swallows roughly. "Yup," the word is forced out and it's awkward. She already knows, without looking up, that it's awkward. In fact, it's probably awkward because she hasn't looked up. "That's me."

"I'm Alice!"

"Right on."

Silence falls over them, kind of like a cow tipping sideways. Slowly, and then all at once. They're suddenly sitting there, nobody saying anything, Bella staring at the table as if she can light it on fire with just a look. She wants to fix it, she desperately wants to be charming and funny and friendly to Alice, she wants Alice to like her, but she also doesn't want to look up.

"It's so nice to finally meet you," Alice says and it sounds different. Bella can't tell (because she can't see her face and fucking hell, she's gonna have to look up soon, isn't she), but she thinks she can hear amusement and confusion. It's fair. This is one of the stranger introductions she's been part of. "Bella?"

"Hm."

"Are you ever going to look at me?"

Whether it was her intention to shock Bella out of this weird funk she was in, startle her into eye contact, or not... Bella can't tell, but it works either way. Her head jerks up, wide eyes locking onto bright golden ones that she swears flash in surprise. The surprise melts quickly, fades into delight, and Alice perks up in her seat. Wiggles her fingers in an adorable fashion. "Guess so," Bella replies absently.

"Hello there," Alice giggles and Bella melts. She's ooze, literal goo in her seat. "Darling, you look positively dead on your feet. Do you not sleep well?"

Bella's mind is still reeling over the term of endearment, playing darling on a loop over and over and over again. Her heart is trying to beat right out of her chest (she notices both Cullens glance down at it briefly), but she shrugs her shoulders and goes for nonchalance. "I sleep great. When I sleep."

"So you don't sleep often."

"Do you?" Bella asks before she can stop herself, fingers tugging at the dark circles under her own eyes as she motions towards them, too. Jasper and Edward's are usually the most pronounced, but Bella has seen each Cullen with dark circles at least as severe as hers.

Alice's head tilts while Edward's hand on the table clenches into a fist. She opens her mouth to say something before her brother jabs her in the side and Alice yelps, turning to look at him with wide eyes. He gives her a meaningful look and she smirks, but relaxes back in the chair.

"I sleep a reasonable amount for someone in my position," Alice finally replies ambiguously.

Bella points a finger at the pixie but even she can't fight her own amusement amidst the awkwardness that's quickly fading. For some reason she can't really pinpoint in the moment, Alice makes her feel very comfortable. Not like Edward, who appears as if she's stabbing him with a pencil most of the time. Alice is soft smiles and twinkling eyes, she's terms of endearment and giggles, she's darling. "I'm going to remember that."

"Whatever for?"

"Because it's sounds like one of those things that aren't supposed to be important but really are," Bella explains as her grin grows. A dark brow lifts over Alice's golden eyes, intrigue staring back at Bella. "I read a lot."

Edward is glaring holes into the side of Alice's face but the pixie is oblivious as she stares back at Bella with a thoughtful look, leaning forward onto her arms on the tabletop to peer closely at Bella. The human digs her fingers into the hard surface to keep from shrinking away. "You must already have cause to pay attention if it sticks out to you," Alice says, and her own lips twitch up into a smirk. "You were already looking for something, weren't you?"

"Your family is..." Bella considers this thought as the Cullens hang onto her words; Edward with anxious desperation and Alice with delighted curiosity. "Noteworthy," she decides in the end.

He's scoffing and shaking his head, leaning up in the chair to appear taller. His cold hand reaches across to her own warmer one on the table, patting in a suspiciously patronizing way. "No, no, we're nothing special, Bella. You're just bored. A creative girl of your calibre must find dreary Forks underwhelming, you're looking for adventure everywhere you turn."

She slowly slides her hand out from under his.

"Yeah, unless you're a mind reader I'd say it's a safe bet you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, so." Bella shrugs but it's mildly hostile even if her tone is sweet. Too sweet, perhaps. Edward's eyes widen and he's shrinking back but Alice looks like she's desperately trying to tame her ever growing grin.

The scowl on his face in impressive and, she's loathe to admit, kind of intimidating. It sends a chill down her spine, wipes the glare from her face, and she leans back into her seat again. There's something frightening about Edward, she's noticed. About all of the Cullens, but him moreso and she can't decide if it has something to do with him personally or just because she's spent the most time with him. Either way, she's glad when he aims that scowl elsewhere, turning to his sister. "Alice," he says quietly, harshly. "You've upset Bella."

Both girls look at him in disbelief, though Bella is more indignant because, fucking, again this dude is trying to tell her how she feels and what she thinks. Alice seems... used to it, her patience is learned, measured, practised. She smiles softly and shakes her head. "Just how have I upset Bella?"

"She was fine before you got here. Two minutes talking to you and we're fighting," he points out in an aggravated voice.

And Bella's just... she can't believe it. She can't believe it. She stares hard at the boy, incredulous, because... he... actually... believes his own words? He honestly thinks that she's upset because of Alice?

The pixie considers this. She holds her chin in her palm, pivots on her elbow, and looks over to Bella. Her brows are furrowed in thought, as if she's honestly considering that perhaps her brother is correct, and taps her perfect nails against her lips. "Am I upsetting you, Bella?"

"N - No, not - never!" The words are rushed and run together in Bella's haste to quash that thought right then and there because she's pretty convinced Alice could never upset her. That she's incapable of it, that Alice is perfect, that Alice isn't actually real, that maybe she's dreaming, or maybe she's dead.

She's not entirely convinced she isn't dead most days, but she doesn't tell anyone anymore. They give her weird looks and ask her to explain a feeling. How do you explain feelings?

The smile is back, or more accurately, the smirk is back, and aimed towards her brother again. Alice is delightful and mischievous and Bella can't breathe. "There you have it, Edward. Not never. Must be you."

"Impossible," he remarks with a shake of his head. He looks to Bella. "I haven't done anything upsetting, I am exactly how I was before she sat down."

"No, it's you," she informs him simply with a nod.

Alice snickers, caught in her throat as she covers her mouth with her hand and tries to muffle it. Edward shifts his confused look to her and back to Bella, inching forward in his seat. She can see the gears turning in his head and is surprised he does so well in class if it's really taking him this long to catch on. "You shouldn't be upset with me."

"Don't tell me what I'm thinking and I won't be."

"I - have you been talking to Rosalie? Did she tell you to say this?"

This time Bella is confused. "No? What the actual fuck, dude?" She shakes her head, stares down at the table while her mind whirls, before looking back up at him. "You keep telling me what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling, and you don't fucking know, you're not me. So stop. It's patronizing as shit."

"I am not, you're misinterpreting my words," he tells her. Alice's eyebrows raise and he blinks, pauses. She sees his head tilt ever so slightly, golden eyes flicking to his sister. Understanding floods over his face moments later, followed quickly by a sheepish look. "Oh, I didn't... I didn't realize. I'm sorry, Bella, forgive me. I - I mean, would you please forgive me?"

"Sure thing, kiddo," she says simply, her easy-going nature shining through. To be fair, Bella finds it hard to stay mad at anyone. That requires caring enough to give a shit, to actually be mad, and that's just not something she's usually capable of.

Her eyes slide back to Alice who watches her with mild fascination and while Bella is thoroughly pleased to have this much of the pixie's attention, she knows that she's bound to fuck it up soon and it's probably time to leave. So she get's to her feet, pushes her glasses back up the bridge of her nose, and jerks her thumb over her shoulder. "I gotta start heading to my next class."

"I'll walk you-"

Alice is up and next to her in an instant, effectively blocking Edward off from sight. "May I walk you to your next class?" she asks politely.

As if Bella could possibly say no to such a blinding smile.

"I guess," she replies with a shrug of her shoulders and the two head out into the hallway. The moment the doors close, Alice's hand is in hers, and Bella juggles her books in her free hand while she stumbles. "S-sorry," she mutters while Alice laughs.

"You're quite stiff," Alice comments with a giggle.

She's not really sure why but Bella looks down at her pants anyway, blushes, and looks back up. "No, I'm not."

"You're also odd." Alice leans against Bella as they walk, hugs the taller girl's entire arm. "I thought it was because Edward looked so uncomfortable holding your hand, that you couldn't relax around his intensity, but it's all you."

"Probably," Bella agrees with a disappointed sigh. "I don't like people touching me-" Alice starts to pull away but instinct has Bella tightening her hold. "-not you! I, um, I don't mind some people touching me. I don't mind you touching me."

They come to Bella's classroom, stopping just outside the door. Alice releases her more slowly this time, noting that Bella lingers closer, seems to be forcing herself not to follow. The vampire bites her lip, nods to herself, and looks up at the awkward girl. "That's good. It wouldn't bode well for my plans if you didn't."

"Plans?" Bella asks breathlessly at the teasing lilt in Alice's voice. Did that mean...? Was she...?

"Yes, silly," Alice bounces forward to boop Bella's nose, "you and I are going to be great friends."

Bella deflates.

Friends.

Friends.

"Right," she agrees absently. Her fingertips tap nervously against her jeans and textbook until she shakes her head and shuffles back another step. Distance between them. "Right, yeah, good friends."

"Great friends," Alice corrects and she sounds disappointed, but Bella can't think of why. "Have you met Jasper yet?"

"No." Bella runs her tongue along the back of her teeth and forces her mouth to form words. "He's your boyfriend?"

"Yes! He's lovely, I think you'll get along well. I'm very excited for you to meet the rest of the family, Bella, and I'm so happy that you and Edward found each other."

"Alice," Bella says and the girl perks up, eager to hear what the human has to say. Bella stares at her, at those large golden eyes, at that friendly smile, at a face that appears happy but feels deceptively sad. Her courage scatters, leaves her there alone and afraid and feeling very, very stupid. "You have a pretty name," she says and ducks into the room.

.

.

.

Jake stops hanging around her house and instead gets her to go down to the res, which Mike is happy to oblige with. They sit on his porch; Bella with her legs between the poles of the railing, feet dangling above the ground. Jake sits on the railing, while Mike is next to her and facing the house, leaning back against it.

"You don't actually believe those tales, do you?" Bella asks with a snort.

Mike huffs, glares sideways at her, and jabs her with his elbow. "You can't deny there's something off about them, Bella. You, of all people, should have noticed it by now. You're always at their house."

"Yeah, so don't you think I would have mentioned something by now? I'm telling you, they're normal. Okay?"

Jake is uncharacteristically quiet, his eyes stormy each and every time they mention the Cullens. He hasn't said a word since telling the tale of the Pale Faces. He just stares at Bella, his nostrils flaring, her old friend becoming more and more of a stranger as time goes on.

Sometimes she's convinced they're still friends only because of Mike.

Sometimes she thinks he lumps her together with the Cullens, that she's less friend and more foe these days.

He blinks and looks away, breaking their hold, and she lets out a ragged breath. A bottle is passed towards her without him looking up, something fruity and sugary and sour all at once. Her face screws up, eyes watering, and hacks once it's down. "The fuc-"

"You look dead," he says flatly and takes the bottle back. "Just making sure you aren't."

"I'm not so convinced," she murmurs.

Mike bumps his shoulder against hers as he takes the bottle from Jake. "Death jokes," he warns and she sighs, but a smile curls her lips. "Bleh. Energy drinks are... god, Bella, you might be better off dead." He coughs and pushes the bottle away again, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"I just might be."

.

.

.

Esme Cullen is the mother that Bella never knew she wanted but deep down knew she needed. Renee is a bit of a nightmare that Bella mostly puts up with because biology and law demand it, but a woman with whom she never truly identifies as mother.

Esme Cullen is a mother in each and every sense of the word, she simply oozes maternal instinct and nature, and sometimes Bella's heart aches when she thinks about it.

So it's natural that she gravitates towards the woman.

Escaping Edward in the Cullen Manor has become a bit of a game that she's particularly good at, and often her end location is wherever the matriarch of the family resides. Sometimes she wanders off to find Alice until the warm ache in her chest turns sharp and acidic and dark. The other Cullens are still... scary.

Emmett's big and fearsome, intimidating in stature, but he's got a boyish grin that Bella finds endearing. She suspects that the two of them could probably become good buddies, but he follows Rosalie around like a puppy and Rosalie is...

Terrifying. All around. There are no soft edges, no dark misunderstandings, no maybe she has a kind heart - Bella's certain she does but she's also certain the blonde would have no issue in ripping hers out.

Jasper is polite but-

Bella avoids Jasper.

And that just left Carlisle, the busiest man she's ever met. Being a doctor, that made sense, but Bella feels like he works maybe a little too much. He's never home and she wonders where he sleeps and-

Her reflection stares back at her in the shiny surface of the dark marble countertop. Often she sits at the kitchen island while Esme cooks or cleans. She prods at the dark circles under her eyes and thinks of the ones she finds on the Cullens sometimes. Not as often as her, but sometimes more severe.

She thinks I sleep a reasonable amount for someone in my position.

"Esme," Bella begins thoughtfully, listens to the woman hum in response, and props her chin up on her fist. "I don't suppose you're a vampire, are you?"

The dish in Esme's hand shatters and Bella has her answer in an instant.

.

.

.

Edward explains to her that they're mates. He takes her running and - okay, yes, it's the happiest she's been in a while. Not that she's unhappy. Well. Not always. But running with a vampire is a bit like flying and it's awfully hard to be unhappy when you're flying, so Bella's grinning and laughing more than he's ever seen before and he takes it as a good sign.

She sits on the highest branch of the tallest tree while he explains it. Explains Singers and bloodlust and Vampire Mates; Emmett and Rosalie, Esme and Carlisle, Alice and Jasper, he and Bella. He speaks of a bond so beautiful that tears come to his eyes, ones that will never fall, and she can - she can feel it. Big and full and in her chest, in her heart, she can barely breathe around it and she knows, she knows deep in her bones that she is a vampire's mate.

But it's not Edward's golden eyes she sees in her mind as he tells her about hearts bound together by destiny. It's not his smile that makes her heart flutter. It's not his laugh that catches her breath in her throat.

Telling him this is the responsible thing to do, the right thing to do.

Common sense tells her that honesty is the best policy. It's not complicated, and in the end it spares more than it hurts.

But a little voice in the back of her head counters this. They brought you in because you're Edward's mate.

I'm not Edward's mate.

They think you are.

The Cullens are wary of humans. Humans are dangerous because the Volturi are dangerous. So the Cullens go out of their way to avoid them, even as they blend in amongst them, grasping for some semblance of a life stolen from them.

They didn't start talking to Bella until Edward did.

"So, what do you think, Bella?"

Her mouth moves but no sound comes out. Water tracks down her cheeks and Edward melts, his adoration shines through, and he's brushing away the tears. "Who am I to fight destiny?" she laughs and the sound is watery. Edward is hugging her and telling her that if he could cry happy tears too, he would.

She tries to ignore the fact that her chest has been ripped open, her heart torn from its ribcage.

.

.

.

Alice avoids her for a little while after that. Bella notices, she does, she tells Edward but he insists that she's just busy, that she's a little... "Alice is unique, Bella, she's different from most people. Just be patient with her."

But Bella knows when she's being avoided - she's avoided enough people in her life to recognize the signs.

Rosalie's more disgruntled lately too, but Bella's not sure if she's done something wrong or if it's just the blonde's distaste of her flaring up.

.

.

.

Things go back to normal, or as normal as Bella's life allows. Alice comes back to her and they're closer than ever. Too close, sometimes, Bella's broken heart whispers. There's smiling and laughter, sleepovers, lingering looks, seemingly innocent touches here and there that feel... significant, but... ultimately nothing.

Just in her head, she realizes, as Alice gushes over yet another romantic thing Jasper had done that weekend.

Thankfully (she's aware and concerned that she's thankful about it), James comes around shortly after that. A fateful game of baseball and the Cullens quickly explain the dangers of travelling nomads and tell her to try and blend in among them.

Alice grabs her hand tight, holds her close, her energy bold and panicked and protective and anxious and all these other things that make Bella's head spin. Clutched tightly to Alice's side, she doesn't feel like Edward's mate.

James' eyes linger on her and Edward's head tilts, his defensive stance loosens as his curiosity grows, but it's only for a moment. Victoria laughs about something that has Laurent grinning and James licking his lips.

"Ah, but Fate is funny, isn't it?" she purrs.

"It's giving you a chance to lose twice," Edward declares and steps forward menacingly.

Though one of the smallest Cullens, next to Esme and Alice, Bella remembers that he's still more frightening than the others. She still can't place why, but she notices that these strangers seem to agree. Laurent shuffles back, Victoria sidles up next to James and watches Edward closely. Even James considers him, finally backs down, laughs, and they all leave.

Things happen very quickly after that.

.

.

.

Common sense tells her to stay with Alice and Jasper, that she's safe with them.

They're in a crowded airport and Alice is using that silvertongue and Cullen charm to get them tickets on the next flight. Jasper stands beside her, just out of reach but close enough, and he looks nauseous. Bella feels similar but she's not sure if it's because a vampire is stalking her, he might have Renee, or because Alice and Jasper have kissed in front of her six times on this trip now.

She pokes the back of his hand and he startles, looks down at her as if he's just remembering she's there. "Sorry," she murmurs in the noisy airport.

He shakes his head, swallows thickly, and inches closer. "I'm not used to people other than Alice and Esme touching me. I apologize."

"I get it," and she hates that she does. He smiles very slightly but it's tinged with that wonder that usually accompanies the looks he aims her way. "How much longer?"

He glances away, across the room to where Alice is leaning up against the desk and batting her eyes. A chuckle shakes his shoulders. "Not long. She's wearing him down." He looks back at her and winks. "It's very hard to say no to Alice."

"I've noticed."

His head tilts. "You are an echo, Bella."

"I - fuck. What?"

He laughs fully this time, loud and boisterous and tosses his head back. She watches him with wide eyes and can't help her lips from ticking up at the corners. "I think I would very much like to be friends with you, Bella, and I'm sorry my fragile control keeps us from it." She shakes her head in confusion and his smile softens. "Edward's gift does not work on you at all, Alice says you confuse her - or you confuse her visions, rather. I'm still not clear on how. But with my gift... you feel like an echo. I can feel you, but it's... delayed and," he clicks his tongue, shakes his head, "it's very hard to describe. Faint, like traces of an emotion that has come and gone, barely enough to register it. You feel..."

"Like an echo," she finishes.

"Yes."

Bella breathes in deeply, holds it, and let's it out slowly. "Okay," she agrees. Jasper chuckles again when she looks away, hands in her pockets. A moment passes, the conversation done, and her decision made. "I gotta hit the loo, text me if you move or if she gets the tickets."

"Should I..." he hesitates and makes a face. "I shouldn't wait outside the bathroom for you, should I?"

"I know you won't intentionally listen, Jasper, but-"

He shakes his head again and even steps back. "Yeah, I'll wait here. Just be quick."

"Will do." She salutes his back.

He watches her until she get's to the bathroom and averts his eyes politely, looking back towards the front where Alice is. Bella's gaze also lingers on the pixie, on the elegant slope of her neck, the brilliant upturn of her smile, the profile of her face.

She shoulders her way out the door and hails a cab quickly.

.

.

.

"We've played this game before," he taunts her.

Bella swallows down her scream and pulls the shard of glass from her thigh.

He holds the camera in her face, crouched down over her, his smile wide and teasing, his eyes fascinated. "Tell me you remember, Bella. You must. We had such a... wild adventure. Show me the scar."

She spits blood into his face, into the camera, and realizes that maybe that's not such a good idea when your enemy is a vampire. The growl it produces is entirely too hungry, too dark, and she rolls her eyes at her own stupidity. "I don't know you," she says to distract him.

"Liar."

Another finger snapped like a twig that he pinches between his own fingers. Her breath gets caught in her throat but so does the scream and-

And a little piece of her is proud. He wants a scream, she knows this, and she's proud he hasn't gotten one yet. "Fuck you!" she snarls instead.

"I don't think little Mary Alice would like that very much," James teases and circles her again. "Just as possessive now as she was then, hm?"

"Alice?" Bella echoes with furrowed brows.

"Yes, you always did drop the Mary part. Think, Bella, remember her. Remember me. Remember us."

"You knew Alice when she was human?" Bella asks. She knows it's a sore subject for her pixie; her lack of memory. A life stolen from her, completely, utterly, totally.

"Yes, we did," James says quietly. He stands off to the side with the camera, watching Bella intently. "Do you truly not remember?"

"I said no!"

She presses her hand against the wound on her leg, the pain making the room around her spin. James reflected back at her in each and every mirror.

"Mary had a little lamb,"

She prays the Cullens are on their way.

"With eyes black as coal."

Bella groans, her head lolling forward. "Can we not do the creepy villain routine?"

"Eyes with a rage that will swallow you whole."

Cold fingers dig into her jaw, James forcing her head back into the glass behind her, making her look up at him as she stares back at black eyes.

"Eyes that will consume your entire soul."

Her own dark, dizzy eyes blink up at him.

"Eyes that made lions fear the lamb."

Consciousness lingers long enough for Bella to feel James' teeth sink into her hand, long enough to feel him get ripped away from her. Long enough to watch Alice tear through the ballet studio like a tornado of carnage.

She falls sideways as the room spins, her head connects with the ground and the blackness swallows her whole.

But not before she watches Alice twirl up James' body, wrap her legs around his neck, and bring him down to the floor hard enough to make the entire building tremble.

.

.

.

Everyone visits her at the hospital.

Renee is an air of annoyance, tells her that maybe it's time for her to come back to Phoenix. She plays the concerned mother roll long enough to appease doctors and nurses, until she's sitting in a chair across the room with her phone, and telling Bella about her wedding. Telling Bella that she needs to stop chewing her nails, that she's had the same haircut (or lack thereof) for too long now and it's time to spice things up, that maybe Bella wants to try contacts so she can lose the big clunky glasses.

Until she's picked apart everything in Bella's life and made her doubt it all, doubt herself, feel bad about the things she likes, until...

Esme chases her out.

Bella can breathe and Esme is hugging her the best she can without disturbing her injuries, telling her how scared she was when she heard about Bella's spill (their cover, of course, and Bella hates how believable it is). Esme kisses her forehead but refuses to let go of her hand - her good hand, that is. The one that isn't broken, that doesn't have a scar that has each Cullen wincing.

(Rosalie tells her sometime when Bella's not sure if she's totally awake or not, that a human who was bit but not turned is unheard of. That she may be the only human in the entire world with a scar like that.

It makes her feel a little better and Bella wonders if that was the blonde's intention.)

"Sorry for scaring off your mother," Esme apologizes but it feels hollow and she's smiling, a deviant glint in her eye. "It seems she does not share your affinity to ignore your human instinct telling you to run."

"It's cool," Bella says in a rough voice, one she hasn't used in a few days. "Where's Alice?"

Esme sinks into herself a little. She picks at Bella's blanket and avoids her eyes for a moment before looking up at her. "Processing. That man was... the only link to her past, and she was forced to end him. To burn that bridge."

"I'm s-sorry-"

The vampire hushes her with a serious look. "None of this is your fault, Bella, don't you dare try to blame yourself. Nobody else does. She's just. Dealing with it. Don't worry, Jasper is helping her."

"Right."

"Honey." Esme sighs and shakes her head. "Can I get you anything?"

Bella lifts her left arm, feels how heavy the cast on her hand is, and groans. "A new sketching hand?" she jokes and grins, happy to see Esme light up again. "No? I'll take a juice then, if I'm allowed."

"Absolutely. Give me two literal seconds."

With a wink and a kiss to her forehead, Esme is gone.

.

.

.

Honestly, with how quickly the Cullens disappear from a room, she should have guessed how fast they could disappear from her life.

It was like foreshadowing, when she thinks about it, a hint in the sick and twisted game they played.

Bella's not entirely surprised when they leave (they all distanced themselves before, it wasn't like she was blind, she just didn't know why. She thought maybe it was because they feared how she would see them after James' attack. Alas, it turned out to be because the attack changed how they saw her) but that doesn't stop it from hurting.

Doesn't stop her from falling to the forest floor.

Doesn't stop her from laying there for five hours, clutching her history textbook.

Doesn't stop her from screaming when she drives out to the Manor the next day to find it boarded up, everything covered in sheets, surrounded by a hollow home.

.

.

.

By now Bella knows she actively goes out of her way to tell Common Sense to fuck off, but even she doesn't understand why she's climbing up to the roof of the Cullen Manor. It's been almost a year, maybe a full year if she thought about it, but Bella doesn't think about it.

She tries very hard not to.

In fact, she thinks of them so little, she's not entirely sure what possessed her to do this in the first place. But she's up on the roof, her shoes in one hand and a bottle in the other. "This is a decidedly bad idea," she sings to the moon and tips the bottle towards the sky as if she's toasting it.

Her arms swing wide as she twirls on the roof and - she's flying again, up so high like that day in the tree. She can see well into the woods surrounding the tall mansion and it's the most exhilarating she's felt in a long, long time.

With a flick of her wrist, her shoes sail through the air and down to the lawn below. "I'll tell you something," she says to the moon quite seriously. "It hurt. More than the hand. It hurt bad. Still does. Sometimes I can't breathe."

The moon listens patiently and a smile slides onto Bella's face, wistful and bittersweet.

"I think I liked it better when she tore out my heart." Bella brushes her fingers over her chest, squeezes her eyes shut. "Hurts too much to have it back."

The trees around her spin and she takes another sip from the bottle to try and keep up.

Her toes hang over the edge of the roof and she holds her arms up, tilting her head back to the stars. "I bet you, even, that it would hurt more than falling off this roof."

"Let's find out."

Bella gasps and twists on the spot, looking over her shoulder. A flash of red has Victoria across the roof, the snarl on her face enraged and heartbroken, her clawed hand swiping across Bella's face and sending her over the edge.

Suspended in the night air, Bella waves her arms as the ground comes up quick. Her heart jumps up into her throat, the backs of her eyes burn bright like a flame is held to them, and her entire body feels like painful pins and needles.

She braces her arms over her face a moment before impact.

.

.

.

It did hurt pretty bad, she notes.

Worse than she thought it would, but at least she's alive. Well. She thinks she's alive. Only the living felt pain, right? If she's in this much pain, she must be alive.

It makes sense.

The sun on her face, warm and glowing against her closed eyelids, however, does not.

Bella blinks dark eyes up at the blue sky.

She closes them quickly again and her fingers rubs them under her glasses.

Blue sky greets her when she opens them and -

"Oh, shit!" Bella gasps and flings her arms over her face at the intruder.

"Finally, you're here!" a soprano voice chirps and Bella's stomach flips while her broken heart seizes in her chest. She cracks an eye open to peer up into a pair of electric blue ones and the brilliant smile that accompanies them. The human smile that accompanies them. "You kept me waiting, you know. Hi. You call me Alice."

"Uh..."

"Don't get up, I'll come down to you."

Alice drops to her knees - one on either side of Bella until she's straddling the taller girl, hands braced on either side of her head. Bella opens her mouth to ask if she's insane, ask just what the hell is happening, ask Alice why she left, why she's with Jasper, why Bella was ever born in the first place. Was she destined to hurt this much?

Warm, chapped lips capture her own instead. Bella's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, a strangled noise trapped against Alice's lips that move with hers surprisingly gracefully. The pixie pulls back before Bella can do much of anything.

"What was that for?!"

Alice tilts her head to the side, blue eyes flicking over Bella's face curiously and eagerly. "Because you kiss me when you land here."

"What? What?! Why?"

She sits back on Bella's lap, tapping her chin thoughtfully. With a grin, she swipes her tongue over her lips and hums. "You taste of alcohol, I think you're drunk."

"Or dead," Bella breathes, her hands on the pixie's hips.

"Not yet."

She rolls her eyes. "So dying."

"Aren't we all?" Alice counters with that damn mischievous smile Bella knows too well.

But it's different. It's human. Alice is human.

"Not you," Bella tells her softly. She sits up, holding Alice more in her lap while the pixie locks her hands behind Bella's neck.

Blue eyes trace Bella's lips, travel back up to her gaze with an intensity she's only seen on Alice's face a handful of times before. "Lucky me."

"What the fuck." Bella shakes her head. "Alice. Alice! Why are you human?"

"What else would I be?" Alice asks curiously.

"Not-" Bella bites her lip. No.

No...

Impossible.

No!

That's not... what the actual fuck. No. "No. You're. Okay. This isn't. Fucking hell, Alice, what year is it?!" Bella demands, if only to quash this idle thought then and there.

"Silly girl," Alice hums and taps her nose. "It's nineteen twenty."