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welcome to wonderland

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The wind whips at their coats and hair, threatening to carry off Alice's scarf altogether, and if Bella could fight the wind, she would. The audacity it has to try and take anything from her girlfriend.

 

But the wind is the wind and Bella is trying to learn that even she has limits to what she can do. That, and she'd really rather not embarrass herself in front of Alice by taking a swipe at nothing. Besides, this is neither the time nor place, and it's a moment Bella won't disturb.

 

Her eyes scan over the headstone again, tracing that old, familiar name. She wonders what Alice thinks, how she feels in this moment. How you're supposed to mourn someone you knew and don't know. A sister you cannot remember anything about. She wonders if that might make this easier or if it isn't harder because of it. Grief is a terrible burden. She can't imagine complicated grief. 

 

"There's no date, when did she…?"

 

Bella crouches down to pull some of the autumn leaves from the face of the stone. "Nearly twelve years ago. I didn't attend in person, I went myself later, in case you'd ever like to go yourself."

 

"Was it-"

 

"Peaceful," Bella says with a soft smile, glancing up at the pixie and her stoic face. "She had a long and happy life full of children and grandchildren, with a loving husband who adored them all. It was a good life."

 

Glittering obsidian shifts to Bella, scrutinizing her like a puzzle, and if not for the spark of warmth inside that gaze, Bella might feel threatened. "And what of our father?"

 

"Oh, that. Tragic luck. Seems he succumbed to a terrible bout of paranoid schizophrenia. Delusions of a red-eyed demon hunting him. Poor widower got himself locked away in a dark little hole to rot the rest of his days."

 

Alice's lips curve up ever so slightly. "Bella…"

 

"What? Nothing to do with me," she murmurs, oh so innocently. Bella stands back up, brushing off her hands and looks down at the grave. "All the years I knew her, she had this… familiar twinkle in her eye." Bella glances over at the calculating pixie and nods, pointing at her face. "Yes, that one. As if she knew something I didn't. What are you scheming?"

 

"In due time, my love," Alice coos and holds out her hand, lacing their fingers together. “For now, we have far more pressing matters to attend.”

 

“Like our first date.”

 

Alice’s head tilts and her sad smile turns to something much more fond. “Technically, yes. Literally, it will be our… well, you’d know better than me. But we’ve been dating for one hundred years, darling.”

 

“If you wanna melt your brain trying to define and quantify our relationship through actual time travel, be my guest. I gave up before I died and I have no interest in taking up the mantle again,” Bella grumbles. “Pretty sure it literally gave me a nosebleed.”

 

“Besides,” Alice sings and rolls her eyes. “I was talking about one of the other many, many loose threads that still need to be dealt with. Victoria?”

 

Bella holds up one finger as she begins to count. “She and Anne are going to travel back to England. Something about a fresh start, to finally pick up where they left off, and find Malia.”

 

“Did you turn her?”

 

“Hell if I know. I don’t think so? England was full of vampires back in the day, though. A Pale Face hotspot, it was the country that went bump in the night. Only one I’ve ever known to compete with their numbers was China.”

 

Alice’s eyebrows bump up. “Please tell me you don’t have any loose threads with the-”

 

“The Red Scale? Maybe. But! In my defense… I was super depressed and technically human at the time. Second!” Bella holds another finger up and decidedly ignores Alice’s incredulous look. “I’m pretty sure Willowdean is my little, eh, progeny? So we have to go visit her and have a conversation at some point.”

 

Shaking her head, Alice lets a heavy sigh heave her shoulders. “Anne was crossed off the list, as was I. We’re keeping an eye out for someone named Henry.”

 

“Oh, I forgot about him. That dude almost killed me.”

 

“Bella-”

 

“So did Rosalie, you can’t hold it against him.”

 

“She did not try to kill you.”

 

“She kicked me really, really hard.”

 

“You have to let that go, darling-”

 

“Over my cold, dead body!” Bella declares loud enough to make one of the graveyard groundskeepers give her a weird look. She shrinks back down and takes up Alice’s hand again, walking at a more brisk pace. Her next point is a little more sensitive and needs to be broached with tact but tact has never been Bella’s strong suit. She waits until they’re back in the parking lot, staring at Alice over the top. “Jasper sent me another text requesting we go see him at his place.”

 

The rigidity with which Alice had been slowly losing from her shoulders comes back. She looks up at Bella sharply when the girl mentions his name, to the point that Bella holds up her hands in surrender. “I don’t-”

 

“I’ll tell him to get fucked,” Bella rushes out and drops into the seat. She waits for Alice to get in, the engine roaring to life. “If you want me to. If you want to see him, that’s okay, too. We’re all taking this at your pace, Alice.”

 

“And if I asked you to rip his throat out?” she grumbles darkly.

 

“He’d be without a throat in the forty-three minutes it took me to run there.”

 

The pixie stares out the windshield for a long moment, her hands on the steering wheel. Thoughts churning like gears in her head, that darkness creeping back in. A new crack that, while isn’t bleeding anymore, still hurts. Haunts her, in the memories that were replaced. Jasper changed her from who she was. That betrayal, the lie… it’s the burden they all have to carry now, to make this possible. Being here. 

 

But it still changed them all. Marked them.

 

Alice shakes her head and takes a deep breath. “I’m not ready to deal with that yet. I gave him seventy years, he can give me a few weeks.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“What else is on the list?”

 

Bella hums and pulls out an actual little notepad from her coat, flipping through the pages. “Alphonse needs help moving his bar across the city, Edward asked me to look into what the hospital did with his mother’s body because he and Carlisle had to leave in a hurry. Am I going to have to steal her body?”

 

“It was before my time,” Alice frowns and reaches over to pat Bella’s thigh. “Mass body burning isn’t unheard of in-”

 

“Wh-”

 

“Best not to think of it now, sweet thing. Rosalie and I will go with you. Think of the date instead.”

 

Bella’s head tilts to the side and in the same moment, she’s pulling her sleeves up to study the ink etched into her skin. Her eyes narrow. “Which date?”

 

There isn’t an immediate answer and after a few moments of searching and waiting, Bella looks up again to see Alice watching her. The smile on the pixie’s face is fond and warm, and the sympathetic tension Bella was carrying in her shoulder eases. She merely lifts a questioning brow and Alice sighs softly. “My, but if all of that hasn’t been worth this, here…” she muses gently. Her hand reaches out, tucking a lock of Bella’s wild, dark hair behind her ear. “You make me happy, darling.”

 

The other eyebrow ticks up and Bella melts just a little bit. Her rough, sharp edges soften and smooth under her girlfriend’s gaze, and though her smile is small, it’s genuine. “Well… good, that’s. Honestly, that’s all I’ve wanted for a long time now.”

 

“I’m not sure I deserve you.”

 

“Oh, I’ve been an absolute shit to basically everyone,” Bella scoffs and chuckles just a little. Regret burns subtly within but she’s slowly making her peace with the past. "Besides. Who in life has ever actually gotten what they deserve? We take what we get and make it our own."

 

Alice's thoughtful face lights up with more of that warmth, of a small, glowing pride as she stares at her girlfriend. "What a very reassuring point you make. I suppose that makes you mine?"

 

"Always."

 

"Past, present, and future too, hm?"

 

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The grandfather clock at the end of the hall ticks and Bella can hear it echo all the way back to her, back to this office, with the two of them. She listens to it bounce off each wall and ring in her ears, feels it settle in her chest with a hum while she waits for the next one. How acutely aware she is of time, she has always been of time. Each moment, each second as it passes. When she was human, how agonizingly slow it went, each brutal hour she was made to endure, knowing thousands and thousands of more were next in line. Counting years until she could be done.

 

And now eternity stretches out before her. 

 

Forever.

 

They say time loses its meaning for an immortal. That once you escape its prison, you see it for the joke it was. The cruel, horrifying joke it was.

 

She suspects that there is a good chance she might be waiting for the punchline a long while. 

 

"It's a process, Bella. A commitment. There is no two-step fix for this situation because this situation is your life. You know it's never the same anger, it's new and different each time, for each occurrence. I'm not here to fix you, I'm here to help you cope with it, to help you live with it, and help lessen its impact on your life."

 

Carlisle's voice breaks through the barrier she never really intends on putting up and yet finds it up, all the same. The ticking fades away to background noise, buried under layers of life that fills this house. Of bustling vampires, of her mortal father awkwardly making small talk in the kitchen, of Sam meeting with Esme to update her on Council relations. Life thrives over, under, and within the noise. 

 

Life thrives.

 

Bella adjusts in her chair. She presses her fingertips against her chin, hugs her elbow against her ribs while she drags her crimson gaze over to her… father figure? Another father that isn't actually related to her? A future father-in-law? "Emmett told me your theory," she tells him patiently. Her issues, these issues, they don't happen to be his fault and he's gone out of his way to help her. The least she can do is give him effort. "That how you die stays with you for the rest of your life - unlife, I think, were his words." 

 

"It is one of many theories I have, yes," Carlisle agrees with a placating smile that rings just a little too genuine to be merely a therapeutic tool. There's irony, somewhere in here, being able to see that they actually do care about her. "From patterns that I have witnessed."

 

"Edward died in his depression, that's why he's…" Bella clicks her tongue and tilts her head to the side. "Like that. And Emmett was having a grand old time before he died, but he's just a little too skittish beneath all his bravado. Esme's heart was broken over her loss, that's why she loves so hard . You made your peace, you were ready, and Alice got a… clean slate," she all but growls.

 

His golden eyes watch her closely, study her. She can see the gears turning in his head just as surely as he must see her own. "I wouldn't disagree with those observations."

 

"Rosalie… I'm not sure anyone else is capable of such fury." A thought occurs to her and she sits up, reaches out to ghost her fingers along the polished corner of his nice desk. "Does she come here-"

 

"I help any who ask," is his answer. Confirmation or not, it's all he'll give, and she can respect that. "What about you?"

 

"What about me?"

 

He smiles in that faintly amused way of his, even as she grumbles and crosses her arms, sinking back into her chair. "Your… transition is fairly unique."

 

"I was at peace," she huffs. He simply waits, watching her, and Bella gets up from the chair. She makes a b-line for his bookshelf, feeling just a little more comfortable with his gaze on her back instead of her face. "I wanted to be at peace, that must count for something. I was okay with dying."

 

"Were you?"

 

"Yes." She runs her fingers down the spine of a title she cannot pronounce in a language she can't even name. "I think? I was before. Maybe… maybe I just wanted to be okay with dying, too." She drops her chin to her chest, squeezing her eyes shut. "When I was angry, I wanted to be over it. And when I wasn't angry anymore, I wanted to be. That's fucked up, isn't it?"

 

"We have very little choice in how we feel, Bella. Our control only comes in when we decide what to do about it," Carlisle tells her gently. "Do you want to be angry now?"

 

"No, that's why I'm here with you!" she turns to snap at him, feeling her eyes grow heavy with their own darkness. She clenches her fists and breathes deeply. Once. Twice. Until the pins and needles fade, until she can feel the red coming back to her eyes. "I didn't die angry so why am I always angry?"

 

Slowly, for her benefit or his, she's not sure, but slowly Carlisle stands up and clasps his hands behind his back. "I don't think you are."

 

Again, her head tilts, but it's confusion colouring her face, her brows furrowing. "I don't-"

 

"You said yourself, you wanted to be okay with dying," he explains and walks around the desk to lean against the end in a more casual, less heavy manner. "But you weren't. You weren't okay with dying, you weren't okay with us leaving, you weren't okay with Alice being with Jasper, you weren't okay with your life. It was too much or perhaps not enough. Whatever the cause, it was hurting you, and you were desperately trying to defend yourself."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

He shrugs very simply. "Your anger, reasonably so, became a tool for you to use to protect yourself. I suspect that's why you tried so hard to hang onto it even after you were no longer angry. I have seen you… pop out of rooms, arguments, fights, more times than I can count. And if you're not running, you're enraged. Spitting fire, as Edward has so delicately put it," he says with a little smile. "Bella, I don't think your anger is a problem, I believe it is a habit. I am of the mind that your issue lies in trust, in your desperate need to protect yourself, to defend yourself. Against it all, good or bad."

 

She steps back and watches his golden gaze drop to her shoe, like some kind of confirmation, and she forces herself to stay there. Some subconscious act of defiance that roots her to the spot. Keeping herself here, calm, not angry, and not fleeing. Trying to prove him wrong, but why? "I'm not… how do I… that's not something I can fix."

 

"No," he agrees and Bella feels her dead heart drop in her chest. Feels the walls set in just a little tighter, the air just a little less breathable. "It's something we broke, it will be something that we fix. With time and the extraordinary patience you seem to have, even as a newborn."

 

Bella nods, faintly, registers what he says but already she can feel herself trying to bury it. Trying to think of ways she can do it, on her own, and pretend that they helped her, that they did it. Because if she can fix it, it will get fixed or she won't fix it. Those are the two finite options.

 

But that's not the situation, that's not the case. It's not up to her alone, it involves the others. 

 

And who knows if they can fix it? Fix her? An unknown option, open-ended…

 

That's trust, isn't it?

 

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"So… you were a pirate, then?" Theo asks.

 

Rivia hooks her little elbow around one of the bars on the spinner, leaning up as she scrutinizes Bella. "Or she still is, if she can go back there whenever she wants!"

 

The vampire let's out a less than dignified puff of air and grabs at the bars, careful to most gently spin the ride for the kids gathered on it. Paul's little cousins squeal with excitement, clinging to the metal bars as the world blurs around them. Bella rests her hands on her hips. "I'm not sure I qualify, there's a dreadful lack of plundering. I'm also the world's most forgetful vampire and I keep losing my boat."

 

"Ship," Rosalie corrects across the empty park. Her eyes never leave the kids on the swings as she pushes them, ready to grab up anyone whose tiny hands slip from the chains. 

 

The irony of two blood-drinking vampires watching a bunch of children alone, yet those children never having been more safe in their lives, is not lost on Bella. "Boat, ship, same difference. They both float."

 

"That is why you are not a pirate," the blonde murmurs. "And your head was never meant for hats."

 

"I'm literally gorgeous."

 

"You look like a puppy anytime you put on a hat, Bull." Those golden eyes flick up in the same second they drop back down to the kids. "My puppy."

 

Theo watches her each time his side of the spinner comes around. He holds his cheeks in his palms, they're mushed up around his eyes, and he's got quite possibly the cutest pout Bella has ever seen in her life. "Well, now I need a new thing to bring in for Show And Tell," he huffs.

 

Bella grabs at the bars and spins it again, stepping on with unnatural ease. She sinks down to sit next to the little boy, looking out into the trees that surround the park. All the colours blurring together only if she unfocuses her eyes, reds running into oranges, into yellows. Autumn is beautiful. "Why's that?"

 

"I was gonna bring you in, I kept bragging about my auntie being a real life pirate! They're gonna make fun of me now."

 

She tilts her head to look down at the little fella. His little furrowed brows, the way they pinch together, the way his fingers curl into his puffed out cheeks. "Alright," she tells him with a heavy sigh. "I'm pretty sure I know where I can get my hands on the Scuttles Medallion."

 

"What-"

 

"The pirate king's necklace. Very fancy, very old. Would that satisfy your classroom critics?" she asks. Theo's eyes light up and he nods, watching her intently as she pulls out a marker and digs her feet into the ground. "This is gonna be complicated because, you know, time travel. But I want you to go to that tree over there and look for an X that marks the spot."

 

She's hardly finished saying the words before Theo tears off through the park as fast as his legs can carry him. He's halfway there when Rivia gasps in wonderment and claps her hands, watching Bella blip out of the park. "Here? Is it here?" Theo calls back to her and wilts a little when he doesn't find the vampire.

 

By the swings, Rosalie merely shakes her head.

 

But the boy is adamant and studies the bark of the tree closely. He drags his little fingers over it, searching for an X, scrutinizing each and every groove. The seconds tick by and his excitement dwindles, his shoulders slowly slumping. "It's not… it's not here…"

 

"Oh for f-udge sake," Bella grumbles and steps back from the tree… three trees down from his. She scratches at the back of her neck and cranes her head back to look up at it and over to his, comparing them. "I got the wrong tree. Well, same sentiment, at least," she tells him and holds out the old, muddy shovel in her hand. "Should be four feet down right… here."

 

At the click of her tongue, Bella looks up towards Rosalie who holds onto the chains of Sean's swing. "You need a better system."

 

"Hey! It's not my fault all trees look the same."

 

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They've got a nightly routine that Bella isn't sure who, exactly, is holding onto. Is it Alice holding onto a habit she developed with a human Bella, falling back on familiar mannerisms as they explore their new and exciting (scary? Scary.) relationship? Or is it Bella, ever forgetful, going through the motions for an Alice that is no longer human and no longer needs her to take care of her? Honestly, Bella doesn't have a fucking clue, she just knows that this is What They Do.

 

Each night or sometimes in the very early hours of the morning, when everyone has drifted off into their pairs, to their rooms or out for a walk, or on a date, Bella finds herself up in their attic room with Alice. Going through the motions of unwinding from the day, kicking off her pants to flop back in the bed and just breathe for a while. And each time, Alice gets ready for bed, like she might actually drift to sleep. She picks out one of her many ( many ) nightgowns, goes around turning out all the lights, brushes her fingers over the cover of her book on the bedside table, and settles in.

 

Usually, Bella will crawl or fling her way up to the pixie for cuddles, but tonight she merely flops onto her side to look at her girlfriend. "You've touched the cover of that journal every night for the past four months, Alice. Are you ever going to read it? Or tell me what it is? Is it another one of Henry's manuscripts? Is it yours?" 

 

"Yes, to all but one," Alice replies with an affectionate smile. Her hand reaches out to brush Bella's hair back out of her face before the pixie's palm is pressed hard to Bella's forehead and the taller girl is shoved off the side of the bed. "Bella, you are covered in mud! This bed was clean!"

 

She hits the ground with a solid thud, flabbergasted, and can only lift herself to peek over the edge. "Did you just kick me out of our bed?"

 

"I pushed you out."

 

"You kicked? Me out?"

 

"Pushed, darling."

 

"Of our bed? Our marital bed?"

 

"I see no ring on my finger." 

 

Bella shoots up to her feet. "The gall? The audacity? After all we've been through, and you just kick me?"

 

"You're not a cat, I'm not sure where these theatrics are coming from," Alice muses mostly to herself as she settles back against her enormous pillow. Once she's found her perfect spot, she looks up at Bella and lifts an eyebrow. "Are you quite finished?"

 

"Can I come back to bed?"

 

And those golden eyes roll to the ceiling. "Bella, you are absolutely filthy. If you insist on wrestling with the dogs, you have to shower afterwards."

 

"Oh, I see what this is," Bella says, her fingers tapping rhythmically against her hips. She sucks on a fang, a sly twist to her lips while Alice's eyes narrow suspiciously. "You're trying to get me naked, trying to lure me into your bed."

 

A startled laugh is pulled from the pixie who barely has time to cover her mouth, her eyes wide and dancing with amusement. "I thought it was our bed? Our marital bed."

 

"So, you're asking me to perform wifely duties."

 

She can't stop the smile stretching across her face. "Bella, my darling, I was the one who made the one year rule-"

 

"But then you got thirsty."

 

"-and!" Another bark of laughter tinged with disbelief as Alice sits up. "Thirsty? Me? Oh, that is priceless, as if you didn't go stumbling through time for but a mere kiss from me, sweet thing."

 

"I-" Bella falters and looks away, up to the corner of the room as she uselessly points at her girlfriend. "Got me there. But I stand by my thirsty point, nonetheless. I've got my feminine wiles and you broke!"

 

"You're covered in mud, need I remind you. You have twigs in your hair like a preschooler's rendition of antlers." 

 

"You wanna hop aboard the Bella Train-"

 

"I'm certainly glad Esme helped soundproof this room, if only to spare my beloved such embarrassment."

 

"-a one way ticket to Boneville, backstage passes to the Swan Tour-"

 

"I am desperately, irrevocably in love with you."

 

"My ass is grass and you wanna mow it, you wanna pick up what I'm putting down, you'd like to taste my rainbow-"

 

Alice sighs softly, touching her chest over her heart as she sinks back into her pillow and reaches for the actual book she's been reading lately. "Are you quite finished now?"

 

"Yeah, I'm gonna go shower."

 

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It's a weird thing to be bonding over. Their relationship has never been normal, exactly, her entire experience with the Cullens, from the very beginning, has been… unusual. Her experience with Emmett? Maybe moreso, she thinks. He was Edward's older brother for most of her time as a human, big and intimidating and never allowed around her unsupervised. He was the apologetic smile after every interaction she had with Rosalie. The boisterous voice saying what everyone was thinking but knew to keep quiet. 

 

Then he was the puppy dog eyes trying to reel her back into their family. The face of loss where she least expected it, someone mourning a broken relationship where she thought none was. He was the reassuring grin in the face of an overwhelming time traveling list of absolute shit. And then he was the only other pair of red eyes she knew well, lived with.

 

Now?

 

A brother, maybe? 

 

Definitely a fellow stalker of the dark, Seattle night streets. Looking for mortals who think they're preying on people, who have no idea that they're even on the menu, never mind the next one up. He's the large, looming figure in the dark that rapists and murderers run from, into her own awaiting arms. He's…

 

He's doing a handstand on a fence.

 

"Not that I don't enjoy your antics immensely," she begins and walks towards the fence, stopping with her face just a few inches from his hands. "But what the hell are you doing?" 

 

"I almost joined a circus, you know."

 

"I don't, that's news to me."

 

He looks at her a second before that lopsided (and now upside down) grin latches onto his face. "That's right. New and old, all at the same time. That's you."

 

"Will wonders never cease?" she deadpans.

 

Emmett rolls his eyes and even that is made more charming in the middle of his gymnastic act. "You don't really know anything about me."

 

"Or do I know everything and have been keeping it to myself?"

 

His ruby red eyes stare hard for a few moments before he scoffs. Twists until he can sit on the fence instead, and they both listen to it bend under his weight. "No, you don't know. Not really, you know the everyday stuff. Nothing deeper." 

 

"I know about your singer," she tells him.

 

"Bah, everyone knows about my singer." Emmett hums and looks down at her. "My first kill."

 

There's a twist of shame in his voice, in his face. Bella knows (she does know him, not everything, not even a lot, but she does know him) that he doesn't have hard feelings about killing people. Killing is, as he's agreed with her, very easy. People die so easily, killing them is just giving a little push, just speeding up the process. It's the people they kill. The ones that die, and if they deserve it. That's where their morality comes into play, and she suspects that Emmett knows it wasn't his singer's time. It shouldn't have been her.

 

"It stays with you. Marks you," Bella comments. She's not telling him, not exactly. Just… talking. "I can still hear the ringing, it was so loud that it took me off my feet. It was so loud."

 

She can still feel the weight of the gun in her hand. Can still feel the warmth of his blood splattered across her face.

 

"Shitty, the things that we remember and the things that we forget," he says around a sigh. Bounces his heels off the fence a couple times. "I only know how many sisters I had because Rosalie told me. I can't remember their faces."

 

"Hideous, if we go by family resemblance," she muses, her hands framing his face.

 

He hops off the fence to shove her back, his laugh echoing down the alley. She ducks under his neck swipe, pushing him back into the fence. "Handsome enough for the most beautiful woman in the world."

 

She scoffs. "Thanks, but you're not really my type."

 

"I was talking about Rosalie."

 

"Now, she is my type."

 

He pats at her shoulder, yanking her into his side for a mini bear hug. "Imagine my horror when I realized that you're hers, as well. Lucky me, you're mesmerized by Tink." 

 

Bella pries her face from his immensely impressive pec, her fingers digging into his ribs as he crushes her against himself. An infuriatingly warm bear hug. "I wouldn't do you dirty like that," she grunts and drives her elbow between his ribs just enough so she can slip out. "Rosalie, on the other hand, I would do very dirty." 

 

"I'm gonna put the moves on Alleycat."

 

"You can't, you won't. She's your sister. Rosalie is my incredibly enchanting Maybe." Bella straightens out her coat and re-ties her hair back into a messy bun and eyes him. "Who's yours?"

 

"My Maybe? What is that, my maybe in another life?" he asks. The sigh heaves his chest and he glances away, deep in thought, reaching up to scratch at his jaw. "I guess that's Eddie."

 

"No way!" Bella gasps in surprise. "That's wild, dude! I was shocked to hell when he and Henry started dating, but you too? Wow…" 

 

The smile on Emmett's face is bashful but there isn't a lick of embarrassment to be found. He nods, like even he is a little surprised by it. "Yeah, I don't know. He can be a bit of a tool sometimes, when he gets all up in his mind reading nonsense. Gotta shake him out of it, think of something that makes him all flustery and run off. I like doing that. And when he isn't being a tool, he's actually super sweet and thoughtful. He's a good guy."

 

"Plus, Jess never let me forget how beautiful he is. Every single day, my god, every other sentence was about the dude's face." Bella thinks hard, tries to drudge up her old, murky human memories. "What did she call him, what was it… it's a shoe now. Fuck, it was kind of pretentious… A-Adonis, yeah, that's it."

 

"You thought she called him Adidas?"

 

"Dude, Renee cannot remember anything. She got me, six year old me, to remind her about her own doctor's appointments. I can't remember anything and that was before the head trauma time traveling." Bella sighs softly, arms crossed as she stares at the friendliest giant she knows. Sees the way the moonlight catches the red of his eyes, and realizes how weird this is. What they're out here doing, that they're hunting humans to kill , to drain. And talking about crushes. "Edward, though? Edward?"

 

"Hey, I didn't make fun of yours!"

 

Bella laughs and lifts herself up onto the fence, away from his massive grabbing hands. She wobbles unsteadily for a few seconds, holding her arms out to the side. "That's because mine is a goddess and yours is Edward. There's a joke somewhere in there about him being a daddy's boy." 

 

"And I'm the incorrigible one," Emmett scoffs. His eyes narrow and Bella doesn't have enough time to brace herself- he grabs her shoe and lifts it, tipping her backwards off the fence. "I'm telling Rosie you have the hots for her."

 

"She knows," Bella informs him casually from the other side of the fence, flat on her back. "I'm very open about my ogling, it feels more respectful that way."

 

"I'm telling Alice."

 

"You'll be a widower and she'll be a widow."

 

He chuckles and hoists himself over the fence, his boots landing beside her face. "Yeah, but who would she kill first?" 

 

"You are twisted, my friend."

 

"Maybe. Now, let's go rip this dude's throat out before the woman notices he's following her." 

 

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It's a cliche she finds herself partaking in more and more, that she's mostly on the fence about. On one hand, it's creepy and dramatic, tiring in the way that vampires always were to her when she wasn't part of the club. On the other? It's so stupid that it's funny and Bella has zero issues enjoying the small delights life has to offer. Life has, and always will, drag in the middle. The little things make it go faster, the small moments - big, too, but there are fewer of those, and they distract from how special the small ones can be.

 

So she's here, sitting on a chair in the darkest corner of an already dark room. Listening to the mortal drag his feet up the stairs, his heart beating in a steady rhythm. She can practically see the blood pumping through his entire body, running its track, straight through the wall. Her fangs throb as the bite in her throat burns, aches in its infuriating way.

 

(Carlisle has gone on and on and on about her self-control, about her mastery over her thirst. A mutant among vampires, that she doesn't suffer the bloodlust like everyone else does.

 

She doesn't have the heart to tell him that he could not be more wrong. It isn't patience or even some miraculous effect that keeps her from craving blood as much as the average vampire. She does , oh. Oh, she dreams of bathing the world in red, every mortal, every heartbeat runs the risk of having their throat ripped out just so she can soothe the ache in her own.

 

But she doesn't.

 

She won't.

 

Not because she's a saint, far from it. But because she's stubborn. She hates her thirst and has decided to make it the vampire in her's problem. Motherfucker wants to burn in her throat? Gonna burn and burn and burn then, asshole.

 

She's not sure Carlisle would understand even if she tried to explain that to him. Her offense at her own hunger is the only thing keeping the mortals around her alive.)

 

The door opens and light spills halfway into the room, though she remains untouched in her corner. She watches him fumble with his shoe, tossing it back at the door to close it again, and faceplant onto his bed. A tired groan escapes, muffled against the mattress, and his heartbeat slows ever so slightly as he begins to relax.

 

"You didn't set your alarm," she points out helpfully.

 

That slowing heartbeat kicks up into overdrive as the boy screeches and bolts up. His human eyes squint into the dark while he, ever so slowly, searches for his metal baseball bat in the dark. "Who the fuck-?"

 

"Me the fuck," she replies and sighs when he raises the bat. She lifts to her feet, stepping forward. "That's useless and you're going to hurt yourself."

 

He places her voice just a little too late, surprise across his face as he's swinging the bat down. "Bella?"

 

"Usually." The bat lands against her palm and she holds it there steadily. "That was kind of rude."

 

Mike's blue eyes blink rapidly, trying to force his sight to adjust to the dark. He let's go of the bat to instead grab at her shoulders, dragging her (dragging himself, really, she doesn't move. Forgets to move) into a hug. "Bella, what - how. You. I'm going to, to… fucking kick you! What the actual hell?"

 

Her own eyes squint as she tries to line up the dominoes of her life, her past. "Yeah, it's been a weird year for you, right?"

 

"Um…" The disbelief in his voice is palpable , and she feels kind of bad. Just a little. "Well, my best fucking friend disappears one day, just gone. Just gone , and the whole town spends weeks looking for you. I spend weeks looking for you. Thinking the worst because I'm the stupid idiot that knows you, knows what you became when they left you. Knows what you’re capable of doing to yourself."

 

"In my defense-"

 

Mike shakes at her shoulders and this time she does remember to move with him. "And then you turn back up and mostly nobody knows how, nobody knows what happened, we all just think you're back. But rumours start, someone hears from someone else that you're in the hospital because you look like death. Your disappearance starts to get weird in that Small Town kind of way. And then you escape from the hospital and disappear again. Not as long this time, but you come back even more different. No calls. No texts for me. You don't stop by, you don't say a word to me.

 

"You drop out of school? I think? You certainly don't show up, some people see you wandering around town sometimes but you're gone the next second. Some other students swear they see you out in the woods, drunk off your ass, swinging a gun around. And again, the stupid idiot I am, I go searching and again, of course, I never find you."

 

Yup. Yup, she definitely feels more than a little bad. Holy shit.

 

Mike sighs heavily and let's go of her shoulders, dropping to sit on the edge of his bed. He reaches for the lamp on the desk beside it, blinking against the light as he looks up at her. "Your dad stops looking for you, even when we all know you're not here. He must know where you are, he isn't losing his mind anymore. School goes back to normal, mostly. People still make up rumours about you, about the Cullens. That they're, like, fucking mormons or something and brainwashed you into joining their cult."

 

"I think I'm too gay for most cults."

 

He snorts, his eyes crinkling in happiness and familiarity, if only for a brief moment. But it fades, as does the smile on his face, and his shoulders slump. "You look so different."

 

Bella taps at her thigh, a comforting four beats. "Better?"

 

"Older. Impossibly," he says instead. "I know you."

 

"Yeah. Yeah, I couldn't hide this from you."

 

The room falls into a silence that isn't unbearable but far from comfortable. It stays like that for a little while, neither one knowing what to say, what to do. Bella tries to remember the hundreds of times she's been up in this room… but it feels like someone else's life. Far and distant from her, not hard to care about but. But like caring about a memory, like she's already made her peace with it.

 

They both have, she's pretty sure. He's not angry , he's just. Tired. 

 

"Bella, what the fuck, you're not breathing," he sighs and flings his hand out towards her. "What is that, what - do I want to know?"

 

"I mean, kinda? It's super fucking cool but also horrifying. I'm not sure," Bella fumbles with her words, wobbling her hand. "Maybe not."

 

“You’re hard to be friends with.”

 

The gravity in the room gets a little stronger, she can feel her shoulders being dragged towards the ground, and she slumps back down onto the chair. “Yeah, I’m an asshole.”

 

“No-” he pauses and lifts one of his shoulders. “Well, yeah, but that’s not why. I love you, you know that?”

 

Her hackles rise, just a little, and she looks off towards his tiny excuse for a bedroom window. Out into the street below, houses lined up and full of families, of people living their normal, regular lives. “That might be something I am vaguely aware of.”

 

“Always difficult,” he chuckles through a sigh and runs a hand back through his hair. “I have school in the morning, I need to sleep.”

 

Bella jolts back up to her feel like she’s been electrocuted. Feeling like… yeah, like she should leave. The conversation is done, things are - finished, in here. She makes it to the door, her hand curled around the handle when she stops. Stares down at her shoes. "Mike?” He grunts and she consciously takes care not to crush the knob in her hand. “Do you like your life? Besides the little things, the bullshit, do you like your life? At the end of the day, do you sleep easy?"

 

"Yeah… uh, yeah, I think I do." He flops back in his bed, kicking his other shoe off as he settles back.

 

She nods, once. Twice. "I was pretty sure. That's why I stayed away, why I'll stay away after this.” He sighs again and she opens the door, stepping into the light, unable to look back at him. “You're my best friend, Mike, and I will ruin your life. In the most extraordinary ways, and I know you'll never blame me for it. But I'll still do it."

 

“Bella,” he… just says her name. Almost helplessly.

 

And she gets it. She already knew, but now she knows. “You’re the one thing in my life I never broke, I never did wrong. I want - I need to keep it like that. I love you, Mikey.”

 

She waits another beat and finally smiles, closing the door behind her.

 

.

.

.

 

"The year is almost out."

 

Bella looks up from her book, turning to look over the back of the couch towards Alice tossing tinsel at the tree. Her brow quirks up as she watches her pixie dance around the enormous piece of fucking wilderness that these damn vampires call a tree. "...and?"

 

"Aren't you forgetting something?" she asks in that way. That way she does when she knows something that Bella doesn’t know - so pretty much the only way she ever talks, always talks. A sexy little Know-It-All, and Bella’s chest rumbles.

 

And then she registers what her girlfriend actually said, snorting to herself. "Is that supposed to be ironic?"

 

"Bella!"

 

Red eyes roll to the ceiling and she tucks her bookmark into place, setting the hardcover down on the couch next to her. She hooks her arm over the back of the couch, shifting her weight to lean there instead. "Yes, I'm forgetting something. I'm forgetting many things, that's kind of my deal."

 

Alice sticks her tongue out. Over a hundred years old and her go-to is tongue-sticking-out. "You are insufferable."

 

"And yet, you're madly in love with me. What does that say about you?” Bella purrs and smirks as Alice rounds on her, hand on her hip. Bella makes a smoochie face and Alice rolls her eyes this time, flinging a handful of silver tinsel. “The year is almost out, so it hasn't been a full year. I can't have missed an anniversary."

 

The pixie skips over with an amused chuckle, dextrous fingers helping pluck the tinsel from Bella’s wild mane of hair. "I don't know if I should enjoy watching you struggle or take pity on you and give it away."

 

"Keep your pity, wench. I'll figure it out."

 

She flicks Bella’s nose and turns away again. "Yes, I think I'll enjoy it twice as hard now, you absolute buffoon."

 

But before she can get too far, Bella reaches for her, snaking her arm around those hips to tug her backwards to the couch again. “It’s not an anniversary and I’m the only one who knows your birthday,” she hums into Alice’s ear, resting her chin on the girl’s shoulder.

 

Who reaches back with her hand, lightly slapping Bella’s cheek a couple times. “Are you, now? You know what they say about assumptions.”

 

“That I’m fantastic at them, of course,” Bella replies. She tilts her head down, kissing her girlfriend’s shoulder before bouncing her forehead off of it. Trying to think, trying to remember what she could be forgetting. “Is there a party we’re missing?”

 

“Darling, I never miss a party.”

 

“A dinner.”

 

“You’re getting colder.”

 

“Maybe you can warm me up?” she wiggles her eyebrows and Alice lurches forward, tugging Bella over the back of the couch, letting her scramble to her feet. “Alright, alright. I can take a hint.”

 

“I really don’t think you can. Even if I had a journal full of them and beat you over the head with it,” Alice laughs softly.

 

“I can too!”

 

She coos and cups Bella’s cheeks, lifting up onto her tiptoes to kiss that pout. “You are my favourite person.”

 

“You’re mine, usually,” Bella grumbles but cannot stop herself from melting for her pixie. Leaning into her, always pulled closer, needing to be closer, unable to look away. She’s beyond feeling embarrassed about how obvious the awe on her face is when she looks at Alice, the nauseating hearts in her eyes. “When you’re not teasing me.”

 

Alice hums and studies Bella’s face for a moment. Seemingly deciding something, she gives her girlfriend one last kiss before giving her a shove as well, sending her toppling back over the couch the other way. “I’m not teasing,” she sings and goes back to decorating the tree. “I’m dancing.”

 

.

.

.

 

She fiddles with the ribbon, staring down at the stack of cards in her hand. Stack is… relative, she supposes. She got a lot of strange looks in the store, and hiding these bastards has been a hell of a chore, but that’s all besides the point. This was a good idea.

 

“This is a horrible idea,” she whines and re-ties the bow. “This is a shitty present, I should have just bought her, like. A car. An island? Carlisle did that already, right? Is the moon purchasable? That’s weird, right, if I’m buying anyone the moon, it should be Alice. What if I tell Carlisle to buy Esme the moon and that can be my gift to her, giving her husband the most romantic idea ever.”

 

Edward watches her fret, a smile on his face as she lounges at the table. They’ve been spending more time together lately, particularly since he started dating Henry, and. They were wrong for each other romantically, nobody doubts that, and Edward is still a bitch sometimes.

 

Lots of times, really.

 

But their friendship is solid and she does find that she actually enjoys his company fairly often. He’s… nice to have around when he isn’t being a terrifying, possessive vampire boyfriend. 

 

He chuckles and hands her the scissors. “The bow is too big, and this is a wonderful present. She’ll love it, I know it.”

 

“Easy for you to say, Momma’s Boy,” she grumbles at him with a scowl on her face. “What is wrong with this bow?”

 

Edward sighs and lifts to his feet, gently pushing her to the side. He gracefully clips pieces off of it, bringing them together before adjusting the length again. “It’s too long and you’re strangling it more than you’re tying it,” he explains to her and goes through the motions of tying it himself. “There.” His eyes rise to hers. “Have you been practicing being gentle, with Emmett?”

 

“Yes.” He stares. She blinks. “Mostly, I have. It’s Christmas, I’m busy.” He keeps staring at her. “I… maybe got mad and sparta kicked him off a cliff - it’s fine, he’ll cool down. We’re fine, and I’m pretty good at being gentle now, anyway.”

 

“With people,” he agrees and juts out his hip. “How many cell phones have you gone through in the last month?”

 

“They’re made to break, Edward, it’s a scam by the phone companies!”

 

“Of course, yes, I believe-" Edward's head tilts to the side, listening to something she cannot hear. He presses the stack of cards into Bella's hands, a reassuring and touched smile on his face. "She's decided to start baking today instead of tomorrow, less to do while making the feast."

 

"Now? You want me to do this now?" Bella asks incredulously. It's happening, it's going to happen, it's-

 

No big deal, in the grand scheme of things. They're cards. Nothing overly fancy, even if it was one of the hardest things she's ever done. Hours standing in the store, going through every card. Driving to the next store to find others. And then sitting down to write in each? Finding the words?

 

Honestly, she'd rather fight Adam again. 

 

Edward grips her shoulders and gives her a little shake, bringing her back to the present. He always seems to know when she starts to spiral, and always brings her back. Perhaps one of the reasons why that relationship is becoming… important to her? Or at least - eh, improving? "Yes, now. It's not something that should have an audience when we're opening presents tomorrow. You can do this, Bella."

 

"I got this," she agrees quietly, staring at the hall that leads here into the kitchen. She's vaguely away that Edward takes Alice's window out instead, giving the two of them privacy, but her main focus is on trying to swallow her dead heart back down. "I got this. I do. I got this, I got this, I - MOM!"  

 

Why she shouts? No clue.

 

But it makes Esme jump midstep, her eyes wide and alarmed as she looks at Bella. One hand over her heart, the other reaching out as she blurs farther into the room, looking around. "What? What happened? Are you alright?" 

 

"No, I - well, yes, I mean. I'm not. I'm fine." Each word is a new undead bear she has to wrestle out, and part of her - the small, tiny rational part of her in the back of her head. It watches on in mild horror and macabre curiosity, like Frankenstein watching his monster take its first few steps. "Everything is fine, promise."

 

"Okay," Esme agrees with a small, reassured sigh. Her hand hesitates over Bella's shoulder, uncertain, as new nervous energy settles over her. "It's just that you've only called me… that a handful of times."

 

Bella nods and takes extra care not to crush the cards between her hands. She focuses on keeping her grip light and pops her lips a few times instead. "Yeah, I'm working on that. Apparently, I have trust issues."

 

"Take all the time you need," Esme is quick to reassure her and steps back.

 

So Bella steps forward. "No, I. Have something for you?"

 

"Honey, Christmas isn't until tomorrow."

 

"I know what day it is," Bella huffs with a roll of her eyes. Esme watches her. "Usually. God. Anyway, this is personal or whatever, okay? None of anyone else's business."

 

She all but shoves the cards into Esme's hands and blurs back a few steps, staring hard at her feet. In her peripherals, she can see Esme looking between her and the cards before she sets them on the table to untie the ribbon. She sucks in a quick, soft breath and ghosts her fingers over the cover of the first card. More delicately than Bella has ever seen her, Esme opens the card, her black eyes rapidly reading the first of many, many, many awkward inscriptions.

 

Each one ending in love, Bella.

 

Who flits anxiously on the other side of the table. "I was gonna get you something cool and new but you guys already have everything, so I tried to think of something you don't have, and then I realized that maybe there's something you haven't gotten this whole time… and, you know, you've been my mom for ninety-nine years even though I'm only… probably under thirty. So I just figured, uh, there was an outstanding debt for the cards that might make a decent present."

 

"Bella," Esme looks up at her with such potent, raw emotion that Bella has to look away, "these cards are… thank you."

 

The younger vampire clears her throat needlessly. "Yeah, maybe wait until card thirty-seven before you go thanking me. Your name rhymes with literally nothing and I am far from being a poet."

 

All it gets her is Esme wrangling her into a hug that is as tight as it is loving. She feels her feet lift off the ground and smiles freely, allowing herself to finally just… hug her mother. Nothing held back, just clinging to her as tight as she can. Holding out against the onslaught of memories of all the times she wished she’s had something like thing, had this to turn to growing up. Every single time she had needed a mother. Her mother.

 

Bella’s grip tightens and she chokes back her sob, burying her face against Esme’s shoulder as the woman coos and rocks them comfortingly. “I’m sorry,” Esme whispers in her daughter’s hair. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

 

The cracks don’t ever go away. They’re always with her, always there, a reminder of… everything. But another one seals up, another crack in her heart closing off. 

 

"Day,"  Bella gasps suddenly. "Way, may, hay, pay, fray. Lay. God, everything rhymes with your name!" 

 

.

.

.

 

"Vape?" Leah asks from her spot on the back deck.

 

Bella joins her, sliding her feet through the bars of the railing, hooking her elbows around to let her head hang out between. She kicks her feet back and forth, and looks over at the wolf in much the same position. Beneath them, the little kids of the pack are all bundled up while playful vampires and shifters run around them. Everyone having a good time in the fresh snow, multiple snowmen littering the yard (some successful, some immediately ordered destroyed before the children see, Emmett, come on ). 

 

The vampire smiles down at the scene beneath them, at all the warm breath curling like smoke in the air. She remembers when hers did that. She can still remember what it feels like to have a heart beating in your chest. To have life coursing through your body. "No thanks," she replies easily. "I'm dead."

 

"Jesus," Leah mutters. "You're so fucking dramatic - and I saw you drinking whiskey in there with Paul!"

 

Bella wobbles her hand, lifts her red gaze to Leah's confused one. "Liquid is different, we can still process it. Your vape is wasted on me."

 

"... so like, you still gotta… eh, number one? Whenever you drink?"

 

Her face twists up in repulsion and amusement. "What? No. No more mortal bullshit like that, it's. Uh, okay, so we drink blood and our body takes the fuckin, the white blood cells and iron and whatever, it takes the vampire nutrients , we'll call them. Then the rest has to go somewhere, obviously, but we don't mess around with… all that. Something about venom and stomach acid and, I dunno, dude, it like. Boils away? Burns away? Evaporates?"

 

"Oh. So… gas?"

 

"No, that's so mortal. It's - you know what, gimme the vape. I'd rather needlessly suck on this than explain vampirism," Bella grumbles and takes a deep pull. She waits a beat and passes it back, tilting her head. "The whiskey burns nicely, still. It's how I deal with my version of munchies."

 

Leah's brows furrow as she pieces it together. "Bloodlust?"

 

"The lust makes it sound sexy."

 

"I thought vampires are sexy. The sexiest of monsters."

 

Again, Bella wobbles her hand. "Some get it down to an art. Alice? When I was human, I would have paid her to kill me. Others range from Awkward Feeding Face to Was There A Fucking Blood Tornado?"

 

A curious hum escapes the wolf's lips as she considers this and eyes her friend. "So which are you?"

 

"I'm." Bella closes her eyes. Thinks back to each and every startled gasp cut short, every scream. The trembling voice of every asshole who begged for their cruel little lives. "A nightmare to those who deserve it."

 

"Honestly, drama has to be a prerequisite for the fangs," Leah scoffs. She swings her foot to the side, knocking against Bella's shoe. Ignores how endearing the dead girl's pout is. "You look better now."

 

"Right? I could stop a truck with this face."

 

"No," she laughs and kicks harder at Bella's shoe. "You're such a fucking dork. I mean you look, you know, happy or whatever. Being human didn't suit you."

 

"It was killing me," Bella agrees with a grin just a tad too sharp. "I really thought the pack would take more issue with it. Some kind of mini supernatural war between groups."

 

The wolf waves that idea off. "Nah. I mean, maybe? If it was a different circumstance. We knew you before, we know you now. It's an improvement. An adjustment, understanding all that shit, the hunting habits of you and the big one. But, yeah, if anyone can try to see things from another's perspective, my money is on the group of people forced into each others' heads."

 

"I hadn't considered that."

 

"Yup. Imagine if Sam and the others were assholes. Real assholes," she clarifies. "How much damage they could do around here. Technically, he can force his will on any of us in the pack."

 

"Yikes." Bella blinks and looks over at her. "He ever get close to that?"

 

A lazy grin spreads across her face. "He sneezed so hard once that we all sneezed together, but that's the closest he ever got. Makes him uncomfortable, I think, because of how controlling his dad was."

 

They sit there on the deck for a few long, quiet moments. A comfortable silence between the two of them, neither one feeling the pressure to actually talk. Or pry , jesus, Leah might be the first person in Bella’s life who just lets her be , who doesn’t ask questions all the time. Doesn’t try to drag issues to the surface to air them out.

 

It’s a friendship she hadn’t expected she’d value as much as she does.

 

Still…

 

“He sneezed and you all sneezed back?” Bella asks.

 

Leah snorts.

 

.

.

.

 

“You really try my patience, do you know that?” Alice asks.

 

The others are all downstairs, everyone crammed into the house yet again. So soon after Christmas, but now the house is done up for New Years. The thrumming of music has the very walls of the house beating like a heart all around them, Bella can feel the vibrations through the soles of her shoes, to the very tips of her fingers. 

 

She adjusts the little pointed hat on her head, stepping out of the bathroom again. “I didn’t even spill it, Colton did. Dude can’t dance, he’s just swinging his arms around down there,” she says self consciously. Looking down at the wet spot on her t-shirt where she rinsed the vodka cranberry from. “Should I just change completely?”

 

“Yes, but-” Alice shakes her head, her palms against Bella’s shoulders and shoves her back into the bathroom, knocking the door closed behind her with an equally impressive and threatening height of heel. It’s one of the few times the two have ever been so close in height, especially with Bella pressed back against the wall to catch herself. “That’s not what I’m referring to in this moment.”

 

Bella’s head tilts to the side, confusion on her face that Alice cannot resist. Her deceptively slender hand strikes out like lightning, a gentle but firm grip on Bella’s jaw as she holds her still. The pixie brushes her nose against the side of her girlfriend’s, hooded eyes fluttering as Bella breathes in deeply, delirious on the bubblegum scent that is Alice. Her own hands find their way to Alice’s hips, fingers digging in. “If you wanted to steal me away, all you had to do was ask,” she chuckles under her breath, pushing forward.

 

Their lips brush only briefly when Alice pulls her chin back, just out of reach. Her own smirk winning over Bella’s pout. “I do believe it was you who stole me,” she points out.

 

“Nuh uh. You did plenty of stealing as a human.”

 

“I did not.”

 

“You did. I was there, I’m the only one left who remembers it.”

 

“You are not!” Alice laughs.

 

Bella feigns dramatically, the back of her hand against her forehead. “How tragic I am, to be the only one who remembers what a scoundrel you were.”

 

“A scoun-” Alice gasps and actually steps back in disbelief, shaking her head. “You are just full of lies, how did I never notice?” Bella opens her mouth and Alice points at her sharply. “Ah! If it’s a lie, I’m biting your tongue.”

 

Slowly, one of the younger vampire’s eyebrows begins to rise, a glint in her eye. “In my defense, in the face of such heinous accusations of me stealing you away… you made the first move.”

 

Alice’s brows furrow. “I did not, I was very patient waiting for you.”

 

“Oh, please, my first jump you were all over me-”

 

“It was one kiss, and you were drunk! And tried to kick me out of my own bed!”

 

“Well, it was a hell of a kiss, it left an impression on me!” Bella huffs, her hands on her hips. Her mind - quick and sharp, finely tuned with immortality - it stumbles over a realization that has her face scrunching up in confusion again. “Wait, how do you know I kicked you out of your bed.”

 

“I said tried , nobody kicks me out of my own bed.”

 

Bella’s eyes widen, her hand brushing over her heart as she looks at Alice again. Really looks at her this time, sees her standing there. A bold confidence tucked into the very center of uncertain edges. An understanding in her eyes that wasn’t not there before, it just hadn’t gone as deep. But now she reads Bella like a book, like a journal-

 

Like a journal. 

 

The pixie’s smirk softens into a more intimate smile, her hand coming to rest on her hip. “I’m still waiting for you to blow my mind with that fifth proposal.”

 

“Alice, do you remember me?!”