Stephanie Myer is the owner of the rights to the Twilight Saga. I don't own anything, claim anything or earn any money off this story.
"Forgetting isn't the key to moving on. Remembering is, because only once we've remembered can we forget."
― Emma Hart
There is a difference between 'giving up' and 'moving on'.
The first week of living in Ithaca was hard. Edward had commanded Alice not to use her gift to see into Bella's future, to completely stay away from the girl in every way possible, and she had only complied because he threw the multiple times he had moved without complaint on behalf of their entire family in her face.
It seemed that she was the only one who hadn't really wanted to move. Rosalie was only annoyed because she hadn't been able to finish high school again, so she would be forced back into it at the next human settlement. Emmett didn't care – he was happy to go along with the flow simply because he was an easy-going kind of guy. Carlisle had let himself be persuaded by his love for Edward as his first son, and Esme went wherever Carlisle went. Alice didn't want to think about Jasper – she loved him, sure, but he would never fit into their lifestyle and so she had put her mind to it and purposefully twisted those feelings around to disappointment.
Carlisle hadn't wanted to, but their coven was a democracy, not a monarchy like the Volturi. Edward, Alice and Rosalie had voted against him staying, claiming he was a danger to their lifestyle and all humans they ever met – hadn't he proved that time and time again? - Emmett had refrained from voting and Carlisle and Esme had been the only two to vote for him to stay with them. It was close, but because of Emmett's refusal to be involved in something that broke apart the family even a small bit, Jasper had been politely asked to head the opposite direction and not trouble their coven anymore.
So the first week away from Forks was hard. She not only had to refrain from thinking about Bella, in case Edward caught wind of it and went into one of his moping spats again, she had to refrain from occasionally checking on her best friend via her gift and she had to deal with the small ache that came with purposefully falling out of love with her mate.
It was nothing like the 'be all, end all' bonds she had read about in fictional stories – a vampire's bond with their mate was only because they loved them, but because they were eternal, vampires felt deeper than any humans. Vampires were slow to change unless they truly put their mind to it, which was why the sudden unexpected death of a mate and the grief that followed often drove the vampire to insanity with the need for revenge against the one who killed their mate, and grudges generally stayed with a vampire for eternity.
She had chosen to break their bond. Jasper had been upset, true, and he would probably be lost until his friends from the Southern Vampire Wars collected him – she had no doubt that Peter already knew what had happened, he had a way of just knowing things like that. She also knew that his hurt would translate to a grudge, raw and angry, against her. But it had been the only option in Alice's mind for their family to continue the life they had chosen without the constant fear of discovery or the death of Jasper, especially with the technology humans were creating nowadays. It was becoming harder and harder to cover up an accidental death and start over new somewhere else. And she knew he was too much of a southern gentleman to try and hurt her intentionally. No, it was more likely that he'd just completely ignore her if they ever bumped into each other.
The second week started like the first, but halfway through Edward left to go on an extended trip around the world and Alice managed to find herself far out of Edward's reach with his gift. She only hesitated for a moment before casting her thoughts to Bella.
She had no response.
Alice tried again and again, her panic rising as still nothing appeared in her mind's eye. She carefully blanked her mind and wove a layer of distracting music underneath the silence – enough to keep Edward out of her surface thoughts if he came back unexpectedly at any rate – and ran back to their Ithaca house, almost pushing Rosalie out of the way as she raced to the computer.
Alice was quick to jump online and search the obituaries for Forks, and failing any results from them she combed through the death records for the past month of both Washington and Arizona, in case Bella had gone back to her mother. There was nothing.
The next thing she searched for were missing persons records, and then the records of any Jane Doe's awaiting family members for identification, but there were surprising little for once, and none matched Bella's description.
Slowly, her panic turned to confusion. She couldn't see Bella's future, which meant she had to be dead, right? But she wasn't anywhere a potentially dead person could be – which meant she had to be alive.
The puzzle turned over in Alice's head for the rest of the week. Edward came and went, and she made sure to always think of some inconsequential thing whenever he was around, until she had an idea. Perhaps her gift wasn't working because of the same reason Edward's gift didn't work? Which meant she had to start looking for information on a living human another way.
It was depressingly easy to hack into the Forks High School administration network. From there, she merely looked up the attendance and grades of the students on file, and smiled triumphantly when Isabella Swan came up. She'd had a few days absent after Edward had left, which Alice put down to moping like all the other teenage girls seemed to do after a break up, and then the last two weeks she had attained perfect attendance. Even the overall scoring on her essays and a few of her tests had slightly risen, so she had to be getting better.
Alice smiled to herself in relief. Bella was still living, and it looked like she'd moved on after a few days of moping, focusing instead on her studies which was good. She wasn't able to see her future any more, but that wasn't too much of a surprise – Edward hadn't been able to read her mind from the get go, so maybe whatever it was that stopped him had simply grown stronger over time. And the experience of getting over a break up usually meant that the person came out stronger mentally, which could easily translate into her ability to stop vampire gifts being stronger. It just meant that Edward would never be able to ask her what Bella's future was like anymore; not that he spent much time with the family nowadays.
Somehow, she didn't think he would anyway.
In Forks, it was a different story to what Alice believed. Bella slipped into a depressed stupor, her mind trying to think of why he'd just left her like that while her heart cried for the memories to never be remembered and Bella herself was terrified of forgetting that the family of vampires existed. The last moments kept playing in her mind, as though it was just a dream and if she woke up he would turn back to her and say; "I'm sorry, it was all just a terrible joke."
It continued like this for four months, the stupor never lifting. She moved mechanically, not listening to anything anyone said, going through the motions and focusing on her studies as a way of keeping her mind away from the day in the forest.
She only came out enough to think rather than float along when Charlie threatened to send her back to Jacksonville, to a place far away from Forks and Edward and all the things that reminded her of their family.
"We both know what's going on here, Bella, and it's not good for you." Charlie argued. He took a deep breath and rushed his next sentence. "It's been months. No calls, no letters, no contact. You can't keep waiting for him."
Bella glowered at him. She could feel the heat in her blood wanting to rush to her cheeks, but it had been so long since she had blushed with emotion. She wasn't sure her cheeks knew how to blush any more.
"I'm not waiting for anything. I don't expect anything." She replied in a low monotone. The subject was forbidden, but he tried to press on.
"I have to get to school. " She interrupted. Her chair scraped loudly as she stood and practically threw her untouched breakfast into the sink. She threw her bag over her shoulder and strode out of the house, calling back over her shoulder; "I'll make plans with Jessica. Maybe I won't be home for dinner. We'll go to Port Angeles and watch a movie."
Bella was out the front door before Charlie could react.
She didn't end up driving to school though. Halfway there, she threw the truck into a U-turn and sped the opposite way, driving towards the edge of town, along a road that she was only too familiar with. He'd removed everything from her life that was proof he'd even existed but she had to see the house. With its large windows and white panelling outside, sitting nestled amongst the trees and next to the river, she doubted if he'd be able to get rid of it without anyone noticing a thing. No one had mentioned it, but then, most people didn't even know it was there, so it was likely that they'd simply left it where it was for a future visit. Some time when Bella was long gone and the people of Forks wouldn't remember the Cullen family.
She broke through the tree surrounding the old dirt road suddenly and had to slam her foot on the brakes as emotion choked her. It was there, slightly worse for wear with untrimmed gardens and all the curtains were drawn, but still proof that the Cullen's had existed. He hadn't been able to completely remove his existence from her life.
She climbed out and slammed the door on her truck shut, standing there for a moment as she breathed in the scent of the river burbling past and the forest around her. It was quiet – it had always been quiet, she realized, the birds and other small woodland creatures didn't hang around the house. She supposed that they must have been able to sense the danger that lived in the house. Something she'd never been able to do.
Bella took a deep breath and held it, deliberating in her mind. It was strange, the clarity of thought she had whilst standing in front of his house when she'd been sunk so deep into nothing for so long after he'd gone. When she took a few steps closer, she felt like her blood had finally started moving again after being stagnant for so long. She continued walking closer, until she was standing just in front of the large front door.
She knew that theoretically the front door would be locked, so she wasn't surprised when the handle didn't turn under the pressure of her hand. It was a good thing, Bella supposed. Her memories were already sitting heavily behind the wall she had built between them, like a dam waiting for a crack to appear, and she didn't want to know what would happen if she went inside. She abstractly wondered if they had taken all their furniture with them, or if they'd just covered everything with white sheets and left it behind like they did her.
She didn't know which one would be worse.
She drove home early and was there before Charlie came back from work, just in time to pick up the phone. It was the school ringing to ask why she wasn't there, and she quietly told them she was feeling sick. They left her alone after that, and she flopped onto the couch to burn time until Charlie got home.
He stopped at the sight of her, sitting in front of the television idly flicking through channels.
"I thought you went to school." He stated. Bella shrugged noncommittally.
"I went for a drive instead. Took a bit of time to clear my head." She offered. She glanced up at him and his eyes widened as though he saw something surprising reflected back at him.
"Did it help?" He finally asked.
Bella shrugged again and turned the station over the sports channel, where a football game would be starting in half an hour. She left him in the lounge room, not having answered the question as she didn't truly know herself.
That night as she lay awake in her bed, she was aware of the burning, freezing, gaping hole that was left in her chest after Edward left, more so than she had been in the last few months. It was still the crippling, throbbing wound that didn't seem to heal no matter how much time passed, but she found herself surviving more than she had been. She was more alert, she felt the pain of his desertion more, but it seemed to be more manageable than it had been the previous night. It wasn't like it had lessened in any way, but rather that she'd somehow grown just a tiny bit stronger than she'd been the previous night.
For the first time in months, Bella found that she was uncertain what the morning would bring her.
She didn't ditch the next day, or the next. In fact, it wasn't until Saturday night, after Mike suggested for her to leave work early and go home, that she finally returned to the Cullen's house. It was night time and it was dark and cold, raining heavier that she'd felt since he'd left – though considering her overall range of attention to the world outside her own mind since then, that wasn't really saying much. She allowed her truck to run for a while as she stared up at the large white house in the light from her headlights before she turned off the engine, leaving the headlights running, and walked up the shadow-strewn pathway. She knew it was a waste of battery, especially considering her truck was a monster of a beast and could potentially die out here, and then where would she be? But Bella found that she didn't care. She just wanted to walk up to the front door again, see if the handle turned, and then possibly head home and get there around the same time Charlie got there so she wouldn't have to sit at home alone and deal with her pain.
This time, as she turned the handle, the front door clicked and opened with a creak that would have been creepy any other person. Instead, Bella felt curiosity, muted as it was beneath the slowly thinning fog in her mind. It had been locked last time – was there someone still around? Or had someone broken in?
The thought of Esme's prized china stolen by a thief stirred another foreign emotion – anger – and she opened the door fully and stepped in, dripping water all over the pristine floorboards inside.
It was quiet. And dark. The light from her truck was muted behind thick curtains, the sharp shadow of the doorway framing her thin shadow as it reached inwards towards the staircase. From what she could see, everything was covered with a white sheet and gathering dust. The floor was clean, but the furniture itself was dusty, which confused her until she decided to ignore it and strode further into the house.
Her fingers searched the entry wall for the light switch she knew was there somewhere, and Bella flipped it. To her surprise, the lights flooded on, filling the large house with warmth and light and reflecting of almost every surface. She hadn't expected the electricity to still be connected, but supposed that since the Cullen's were obviously rich, they didn't really have to worry about paying electricity on a house they were going to move back into in forty or fifty years.
She didn't step any further in to the house, simply standing in the entryway and looking around. They'd obviously cleaned up after her disastrous party – there wasn't a single rose petal laying around or a burnt out candle tucked into any nooks. The thought of her party made her heart constrict, and she clutched at her chest in an attempt to stem the pain as she carefully rebuilt the walls around her memories. A few slipped through the cracks, and tears escaped as she remembered the obvious excitement on Alice's face, the soft smile from Edward, the enjoyment in Esme's eyes…
"No." She whispered to herself. If only they'd listened to her when she said she didn't want a party. If only they hadn't bought her gifts. If only, if only, if only.
If only Edward was still there.
She wasn't aware that she'd been sobbing, pressing her face into the polished wooden floorboards of that big white house by the river as she slowly, slowly reigned in her memories and built her walls back up around them. It was only when she finally subsided into hiccups and leant back on her heels, staring up at the wall covered in graduation caps, that she realized how emotionally spent she was. It was just so hard, continuing on without him. It was so hard, trying to continue living for Charlie, like she'd promised.
He'd promised her something terrible too, she remembered, out in the woods that day. He'd promised to remove his presence from her life, make it as though he'd never existed. What a stupid and impossible promise to make! He had stolen her pictures and reclaimed the gifts from his family, but he hadn't been able to put things back the way they had been before she'd met him. The physical evidence was the most insignificant part of the equation.
Bella had changed – her skin was sallow, pale with dark shadows around her eyes from the sleepless nights and terrible nightmares. Her eyes and hair contrasted sharply enough from her skin that she might even be mistaken for a vampire from a distance. His memory lingered in the school halls – everyone had seen the supernatural family and she still occasionally heard about 'that Cullen boy who'd broken the Chief's daughter's heart', and no one at school used the parking space he'd used simply out of habit. Her heart ached for him fiercely – more fiercely than she'd ever have imagined it could.
'What a terrible and impossibly stupid promise to make,' she thought to herself bitterly. 'You can't just erase yourself from someone's life like that.' It was a promise he'd broken as soon as he'd made it.
She stumbled to her feet, turning off the lights as she left the Cullen's house, the thought resounding around her head even as she started the truck up again – apparently she somehow hadn't drained the battery by leaving the lights on, though she wasn't sure if it would work in the morning – and drove home.
The next day was Sunday, and it crept through her window with a red dawn. It seemed the clouds had lifted after dumping their entire weight on the small town last night leaving the day clear and sunny, and she found herself idly remembering a similar day in the forest meadow, marvelling over the sparkling reflection of light coming from her boyfriend's skin. It was a memory that was good, and she found herself smiling over breakfast because of it. It was only a few seconds long, and she didn't place it back behind the walls in her mind.
It was a good memory.
Charlie noticed the smile and returned it with one of his own, and Bella could see the relief in his eyes. It was probably the first real smile he'd seen since they left, she realized. The thought made her uncomfortable, and she dropped the smile as she stared down at her breakfast. Charlie's smiled dimmed also, but she could still see the smallest glimmer of hope in his eyes.
Hope that she would be okay.
The thought made her want to cry. She wouldn't be okay, she knew, until he returned to her. It was unfair on Charlie, but even when she'd tried to pretend for him, to stop him from being hurt by her hurt, he'd seen straight through it. He always had known her rather well.
For being a man of little words, he more than made up for it with keen eyes.
"I'm going to Port Angeles." Bella announced abruptly, pushing away from the table and grabbing a little used purse hanging from the hook beside the door and her wallet. Charlie stared after her in surprise.
"Are you going to meet someone there?" He asked. Bella shrugged.
"I'm not sure. I'll just go see a movie or something, and if I meet someone, we can hang out." She offered. He obviously wasn't satisfied, but nodded anyway. She knew her offer was better than nothing to him. "Bye."
The trip there was boring. Her truck was silent – she'd pried the radio Emmett had installed out of her dash with her bare fingers, rendering them bloody and breaking her nails, but since he'd gotten rid of her old radio she had nothing to replace it with. It left her free to just concentrate on the road. She wasn't sure she wanted to listen to the radio anyway – most of the songs nowadays seemed to be about being in love or being heartbroken after a bad break up. She didn't want to listen to either.
Port Angeles wasn't as clear as Forks had been, but it was still classified as sunny by the weatherman so a lot of people were out and about, enjoying the Sunday. She wandered away from the main part of town, not wanting to be surrounded by so many people clearly enjoying themselves, and found herself walking amongst the docks where not so many people were hanging about.
She wasn't sure how long she wandered for – she didn't eat as much as she used to, so her hunger wasn't really an effective way to keep track of time – but she found herself following the sound of hushed whispers through an alleyway and the rattle of spray cans. Stepping through a hole in a fence, she found herself behind a group of kids a few years younger than her spraying a mural on the back wall of a warehouse, out of sight of the general populace.
One of the kids turned around to change spray tins and dropped the can in shock, yelling in surprise at seeing her.
"Shit!" The other exclaimed. There was a mad rush to gather their tools all of a sudden, most of them pulling hats low over their faces and tugging collars up to hide their identity even as they threw bags over their shoulders.
"Wait," She found herself calling out to them. "Can I have a go?"
She wasn't sure why she'd said it, but the furtive looks they'd been throwing around sent the same tingle down her arms that she'd felt standing in front of the Cullen's house and the thought of holding the can and defacing something belonging to someone else had her heart speeding up just a little bit. The kids looked at her as they shared glances, obviously debating how trustworthy she was, until one of them stepped forward and thrust a tin of black paint in her hands and pointed at a blank section of the wall.
"You can paint over there. But rat any one of us out, and you'll be sorry!" His threat was almost funny to her, threatened as she had been by human-drinking vampires like James and Victoria only a year ago, but she nodded anyway.
She'd never been particularly artistic, but she was able to use the can well enough to work in the small space and do a rough sketch of a girl with long hair like her own, desperately trying to fit two halves of a heart back together. It wasn't anything special, especially when she stepped back and looked at it next to the elaborate mural the group was painting, but her heart pounded in her chest at the thought of someone coming upon them like she had done and calling trouble upon them all.
The boy who'd given her the can scrunched his nose up at her attempt but shrugged. "Not bad. A bit complex for a newbie like you, but whatev's. You should tag it."
"Tag?" She asked him, and he pointed to where one of the other as writing a ridiculously complex word into a tiny space just below the section he'd been working on.
"Sign it." He stated. Bella hesitated before drawing a pair of stylized bells in the corner. She didn't want to write her name, as her dad was the police chief and she didn't want to make trouble for him, but she'd been called Bells enough that she could claim it as her signature. The kid shrugged in acceptance and took the can back off her, tagging his own work with another elaborate scrawl that Bella couldn't make heads or tails of, before suddenly the whole group was packed up and gone.
Bella stared at her picture, separate and yet somehow part of the group mural that the others had created, and finally realized that the sky was turning orange with the sunset and it was probably time she went home. As she stepped back through the opening in the fence she'd come through, she glanced back over her shoulder. Somehow, the size and shape of it reminded her of Edward's piano, stashed away in the Cullen's house.
"Is that paint?" Charlie asked later that night, staring at the line on her jacket sleeve. She hadn't noticed it, but somehow a long line of black paint had crossed her arm, striking through the green and grey stripes boldly. Bella stared at it in surprise.
"Oh. Um," She bit her lip as her mind struggled to come up with an excuse. "I helped a group of kids with an art project this afternoon. I guess on of them must have accidentally brushed me."
Charlie stared at her for a moment, and Bella shifted in her seat. She didn't really want to get the kids in trouble after they'd trusted her with their can and given her a spot to paint all by herself.
"Did you have fun?" He asked finally. Bella found herself almost smiling and nodded her head. "Okay then. Okay."
The silence after that was comfortable. Charlie hadn't mentioned anything about Jacksonville after her first visit to the Cullen's house, not that he knew she'd been there, and by the slowly relaxing worry lines on his face she didn't think he was going to do so again unless she slipped back into being a robot.
As she climbed the stairs to her room and Charlie settled himself in front of the television to watch a game, he called after her. "I don't want to hear anything about the word 'Swan' or 'Bella' appearing anywhere they're not supposed to, alright?"
Bella allowed herself a small smile. "You won't."
She closed her bedroom door behind her and allowed herself to remember the way her heart had pounded again in her chest at the thought of being caught by someone doing something illegal. As she remembered the kid's threat and remembered the fright James and Victoria had made her feel and the constant reminders from Edward that he wasn't good for her health, and her own thoughts that she wasn't good enough for him, she felt the fog lift a little bit more.
Her sleep that night wasn't filled with a search through the forest for nothing, but instead with a girl desperately trying to glue a glass heart back together as the blood from the cuts on her fingers mingled with the glue and turned the cracks in the clear glass red, and behind her a grand piano played itself.
She bought a stack of spray cans and canvas sheets the next weekend, loading them into her truck and driving out to the Cullen's house again. It was the only place she could think of where no one would see what she was doing, where she could practice her skills with the cans without someone tattling on her to her Dad. She knew he would be unhappy if he found out she was practicing with the use of spray paint – he had enough trouble with kids from the city coming out to Forks and putting graffiti all over the place without having to worry about his own daughter getting involved.
It was illegal to do what she'd done last Sunday, Bella knew that. She didn't own the building the kids had spray painted and she seriously doubted that they'd had permission to be there, with the way they'd almost bolted when she walked through the fence, but the thrill she'd gotten at being involved in an illegal activity as well as getting away with it had her feeling more alive than she'd ever felt in recent months.
She didn't think when she painted – she just let it all pour out through the hiss of the aerosol can and mold itself into whatever it wanted to and when she was done she didn't even look at it. Bella didn't want to see what her subconscious painted – it would no doubt have something to do with Edward leaving her, and she didn't know if she could deal with a visual confirmation of his desertion. It was bad enough she didn't have any pictures of him, she didn't want to know how badly she couldn't draw him as well.
She stored them in the entryway to the Cullen house. The front door was always unlocked now, and she didn't want to think about what that meant. She never saw any signs of anyone else in the house, except for the way the floor was always impeccably cleaned and sometimes she thought she saw a shape through one of the gaps in the curtains. She never went any further into the house either. If she did and it turned out that Edward had never left but merely holed himself up in the house alone, or if he had left and taken absolutely everything that belonged to him whilst the others had left it all behind, she didn't know how she would take it.
The pain may have become easier to bear, but it hadn't become any less painful.
A month later, she found herself trudging through the drizzling streets of Port Angeles again, this time with a bag slung over one shoulder filled with all the different types of spray paint she had. She had even found a tin of white that had glitter inside, and her heart clenched every time she thought of the way the sunlight reflected off the glittering paint, so very similar to how the sun had played over the pale skin of a vampire.
She started small – a silver heart with red cracks, a stylized vampire that looked like Dracula which she giggled over, the words Hate, Love or Broken shimmering in the sunlight, all signed with a pair of stylized bells that reminded her of Christmas cards and wedding bells. It was the end of the March when she decided to do something bigger. She chose a relatively untagged stretch of wall nestled amongst the warehouses of Port Angeles, where no one seemed to walk much, and pulled out her cans with a sense of determination stronger than anything she had felt for a while.
She started with the base sketch and lost herself in the sensation of her feelings pouring out through the aerosol can, allowing herself to do something she hadn't done since Edward left.
She let herself remember.
As she remembered, she found her emotions fluctuating. She was both sad and angry with everyone, with the world, with herself. She raged in her mind, asking herself why he wasn't satisfied, why he'd left her, what she'd done to drive him away. Her thoughts circled around and around, the memory of that terrible day in the woods, the night afterwards playing over in her mind. She analysed every move he made, every word he said, and always came back to the thought; 'I was just a pet to him'.
The silence was deafening suddenly and she realized that she'd finished her mural. Staring back at her was the cold face of Edward Cullen, the paint sparkling in the soft light reflecting off the clouds. Behind him, a girl with long brown hair was cutting her fingers on the shards of a glass heart, the blood running between the cracks as she tried to hold it together. He was walking away from her.
Bella felt her heart break even more. She had to acknowledge it now, with the evidence in front her face – Edward had left, and he wasn't coming back. He didn't love her the way she had wanted him to – and he sure as hell didn't want to spend the rest of eternity tied to her.
She packed up her paints once more, but dumped the bag in an industrial garbage bin as she passed it. She didn't need the release or the thrill graffiti gave her anymore – she just wanted to punch something instead. Preferably Edward's face, but she'd probably break her hand on him. She could feel her emotions properly once more, and her mind was clearer than it had been in months.
Charlie was right. She hadn't been handling it before. It was only the threat of being forced away from everything that reminded her of him that she had finally started to heal and move on. She'd given up after he'd left, simply going through the motions, but now, finally, she might be able to move on.
That night she looked in her closet and fingered the clothes she'd worn to her party. They'd been cleaned, though the jacket had been thrown out ages ago once Charlie discovered the tears in the sleeve, and she found herself hating them. She hated all of it actually. All of it reminded her of Edward, and the good times, and the knowledge that to him, she was just a pet that he grew bored with. Suddenly, she didn't want to be surrounded by memories of him.
She went shopping the next weekend, using the funds she'd been saving up for college. She dragged Jessica and Angela along, wanting the help of the two girls for fashion forward ideas but also an honest opinion on what would and wouldn't look good on her. She'd lost weight; that much was obvious when she looked at herself in the change room mirrors, but she bought clothes that were a few sizes too big anyway. She didn't plan on staying quite so thin after this.
The anger coursing through her veins kept her focused and made sure that she enjoyed the day, buying clothes that were so completely different from what Edward had seen her wear. She bought tight pants and tops, and even allowed Jess to talk her into buying a couple of flowing dresses for casual wear instead of formal-only wear. She bought clunky jewellery and even allowed Jess to drag both herself and Angela to a beauty salon to learn the basics of doing make up.
That afternoon, after Jess and Angela had gone home, she'd bought herself brand new sets of pyjamas and lingerie, as even they reminded her of the nights spent cuddled up to Edward like a child seeking comfort.
Once she got home, she put her new clothes in the washing and bundled up her old ones into a pair of old duffle bags and threw them in her truck again. Charlie stared after her as she strode through the house, livelier but also angrier than he'd seen her.
"Bells?" He asked cautiously, and Bella stopped for a moment to calm herself down.
"Sorry Dad," She smiled at him, and he smiled back. "I just decided I wanted a whole new look. I'm going to get rid of all my old clothes now, okay?"
"Okay?" The confusion was evident in his voice, but Bella ignored the question hanging in the air and strode out of the house again.
Bella bought the biggest terracotta pot she could carry and a packet of matches from the hardware/gardening/outdoor living store in town and drove out to the Cullen's house for what she hoped would be the last time.
She honestly wasn't really thinking at the moment. All she knew was that all of her clothes reminded her of the times she spent with him – she didn't really own many, so most of them had been worn around him at least once - and she wanted to remove his memory from around her. She wanted to get over him, to move on rather than wallow in denial like she had been for the last six and a half months, and her anger was making her slightly irrational.
The front door of the Cullen's house was still unlocked, and she pushed it open with a small bit of difficulty due to the large pot she carried in her arms. Once inside, she hesitated, not really sure what she was doing there, but soldiered on. She wanted to get rid of his influence on her life.
The best place she could think to do that was in his room.
It was the same as the last time she had been in here, which seemed much longer than six months. There were the same white sheets everywhere to protect his belongings from dust. His piano was a large white lump in one corner, and she yanked the protective cover off the musical instrument after placing the pot in the centre of his room. She quickly dragged up both duffle's containing her clothes and opened the window so the room didn't fill with smoke before putting the first few clothes in the pot and lighting a match.
As she dropped the match into the pot and the first lot of clothing slowly caught alight, a voice in the doorway made her jump.
"Bella?" The slight southern twang confused her until she turned around. Standing there, with confusion furrowing his brow as he stared at her, was Jasper Hale.
"Jasper? What are you doing here?" She asked in surprise. She stepped away from the pot as a particularly odorous cloud of smoke rose from her clothing, the polyester more melting than burning.
"I could ask you the same question." He retorted. She shrugged.
"Getting rid of memories." She told him honestly. "Are the others here?"
"No." Jasper said shortly.
"Where are they?"
"Ithaca, I believe." He obviously didn't want to talk about them, but Bella pressed on.
"Why aren't you with them?"
"I…" He paused for a moment, and Bella finally realized that his eyes were more orange than topaz, like the other Cullen's had been. "I was politely asked to go my own way. They felt I was too much of a risk to their lifestyle to continue being a member of their coven any longer."
Bella was shocked. She had always thought that the Cullen family would stand by each other no matter what, and to hear that they had cast out one of their own for a simple mistake even she didn't blame him for despite being the blond vampire's target, something that all of them had done more than once, cast a large shadow over their interactions.
"But…what about you and Alice? I thought you were mates?" She asked. Jasper hissed in displeasure and grimaced.
"We were. But vampire mates aren't eternal and unbreakable, as most would have you believe. Vampires are slow to change and feel deeper than most humans, but we can change." He explained. Bella could feel his anger radiating away from him, and guessed that his strong feelings were the cause of the lapse of control over his gift. "Alice's feelings changed enough that she was no longer in love with me, and she made that abundantly clear when I was asked not to bother their coven anymore. I travelled west for a few days, and then they left Forks and I came back."
"But… why?" Bella asked. Jasper didn't answer, instead gesturing to the pot which had gone out in the time they had been talking.
"Why are you burning clothes?" He asked instead. Bella scowled.
"Edward broke up with me – he told me that he didn't want me, didn't love me and was tired of pretending to be human. He had grown bored of me." She told him. His face was impassive, but she liked the thought that the twitch of his eyebrow was because he was angry on her behalf over Edward's treatment of her. "He broke my heart and left, taking everything that showed any evidence of the Cullen's having existed in my life. I gave up for a while, but recently I've started to move on. I just wanted to get rid of the memories of him."
"I see." Jasper stated lowly. Bella nodded to him and turned back to the pot to set the next handful of clothing alight. "And burning clothes helps you with this?"
"I wanted a new look." She explained mildly. "I wore all of these clothes at least once around him, and I wanted a clean break. Like he told Alice when they left; 'a clean break would be better for me'. This is my clean break."
"And the ash settling over his piano?" He asked, motioning towards the uncovered grand piano. Bella smiled sheepishly as she watched ash settle in between the keys and slip into the inner workings.
"That's a bit of petty revenge." She admitted.
Jasper shrugged. "Whatever."
He turned and walked away, and Bella knew he had gone back into his room when a door opened and closed, leaving the young woman alone. She turned back to the pot, standing back far enough that she wouldn't choke on the ash and smoke curling out of the pot, the breeze coming through the open window sweeping it away before it could reach her.
It was dark by the time she finished, though the fire lit up the room enough that she didn't need to turn the light on until after she'd burnt the last blouse. She hesitated, not wanting to have to carry the heavy pot with all the ash, which she had just emptied out on the rug when the pot got too full, back down to her car. Maybe she would leave it here, so that years in the future Edward would return to a room full of ash and dust, a ruined piano and a mould from the open window. It wouldn't measure up to the pain he'd caused her, but it was about all she could really do to him at the moment.
She turned the light off as she left the room and was instantly bathed in darkness. The rest of the house was silent, and combined with the soft, damp breeze outside and lack of animal noises because of Jasper's presence made shivers go down her spine.
"Jasper?" She called softly into the darkness, knowing that even if nothing else heard her, he would if he was still in the house.
There was a pregnant pause and Bella debated whether to just chance the darkness and feel her way along the wall for the light switch, because Jasper either wasn't around or he was ignoring her. She had just taken a few steps with her hand on the wall when the sound of a door opening further down the hall made her pause.
"Yes, Bella?" He asked. She didn't know much about the vampire, but in the darkness his voice sounded slightly melancholy with hints of suppressed anger. Since she couldn't see him she couldn't tell if she was just imagining it, but the thought was there in her mind.
"Can I come in?" She asked out of the blue. The silence that returned held hints of surprise.
"You're already in the house and have been in many times over the past two months; why bother asking now?" He retorted. Bella flushed – and it felt strange to blush once more when she hadn't done so for so long – but took another careful step to where she thought Jasper's voice was coming from.
"I meant into your room." She stated. "And I'm sorry. I really should have asked before coming into the house like I did all those times."
"I left the door unlocked for you on purpose." Jasper told her, and she blinked in surprise. It seemed he was closer than before, and she jumped out of her skin when cold fingers touched the hand which was keeping her balance against the wall. She took them gratefully and followed his soft, miniscule tugs, puzzling over the thought that he'd let her into the house all those times but hadn't said anything to her. "I'll turn on a light for you."
"You don't have to." She told him absently, but she heard him flick the switch and suddenly she was blinded by the brilliant light above her. She only caught a glimpse of a study lined with books and a comfortable looking lounge chair opposite the large curtained window before she had to close her eyes and let them adjust. "Why did you leave it unlocked? I thought you wouldn't really want to have me around after the fiasco at my party. And then why didn't you say anything to me before now?"
She felt Jasper's hand in hers move in a way that meant he was shrugging as he tugged her further into the room and pushed her down into the lounge chair. It was as comfortable as she thought it would be, with large cushions that seemed to swallow her.
"You looked lost that first day you came over after the others had left." He explained. "And I was under the impression that you wouldn't want to be around me after I almost killed you."
"Didn't Alice tell you?" She asked in confusion. "I didn't blame you – I know that you have trouble sometimes, and I was bleeding. Edward could barely control himself, so I can't blame you. And there's the whole 'feeling everything everyone else feels' gift you have."
Jasper chuckled almost bitterly, and Bella cracked her eyes open to see a rueful smile grace his face. "No, she didn't. But then, I suppose with everything else that happened just after the party, it must have simply 'slipped her mind'."
He sounded almost bitter, and Bella remembered what Alice had said about him; he hated feeling weak. "Oh. Okay."
They lapsed into silence, Bella taking her time to open her eyes and let them adjust to the brightness of the room after the darkness of Edward's fire lit room and the hallway. She looked around the study, as she couldn't really call it a bedroom due to the lack of anything remotely resembling a place for sleeping, taking in the large amount of books stacked in the bookshelves. Nestled in one corner was a dresser and a desk covered in writing tools; the rest of the space had been turned into a veritable library. It was dark and calming, contrasting with the light wood of the floorboards, but looked simple and nice.
"You are strange, Bella Swan." Jasper's voice broke her curious thoughts suddenly, and she glanced back to him in confusion. He was sitting at his desk chair across the room from her, studying her with an intensity she hadn't seen since Edward had first studied her a week after she moved to Forks.
"What do you mean?" She asked.
"When we first met, my gift worked on you no worries. I could feel you like everyone else, I could influence you like other people, and due to my poor control I was told to stay away from you. I'm sure you were told to be cautious of me as well." He murmured, still watching her with his dark orange eyes. "But here you sit, in my study no less, with no one to protect you should I decided that I don't care what Edward wants. And your emotions are there, but they feel as though a thick wall has been raised between us, as though they are a murmur just below hearing – I know they are there, but I do not fully understand them. The same could be said for influencing them."
A wave of frustration reached for her, but Bella could almost clearly define where her emotions stopped and his started. She could let the frustration affect her if she wanted, but it was her choice. She shrugged. "I don't know, sorry. Maybe it's like with Edward – he couldn't read my mind either."
Jasper hummed in thought as he watched her.
"Perhaps. It might be because you have grown stronger mentally during the last month and this has translated to your ability getting stronger. If you were to become a vampire, I'm sure it would be even stronger." He offered. "When you arrived on the doorstep two months ago, you were nothing more than a black hole of loss, grief and depression that threatened to swallow me whole. Now, you are muted."
Bella shrugged again. She didn't know that much about vampire gifts so she couldn't be of much help on the subject. Edward had tried to puzzle her out too, and gotten nowhere. That was likely one of the reasons why he grew bored with her – too much time with no results meant that there was no reason to continue studying her as only frustration would arise from the attempt.
"Would you turn me if I asked you to?" She asked. Jasper cocked his head at her, studying her.
"Perhaps not right now. You still carry a good deal of hurt and anger, which would make for a destructive newborn year until you gained some control of yourself. Vampires take a long time to change, though if they truly put their mind to it they can force a change in a short period of time, so you would stuck feeling like this for a good couple of centuries." He explained. "But later, when you have finished healing from whatever Edward said, I think I would. You are a liability to vampires as you are now, anyway. It is against our laws for a human to live with the knowledge of vampires."
"Laws? Vampire have laws?" Bella asked in surprise. Jasper raised an eyebrow.
"Edward never told you about the Volturi?" He asked.
"I think he mentioned them. Something about not irritating them unless you want to die?"
"The Volturi are the ones who keep the vampires in line – if not for them, humans would be dying everywhere and living in fear every day of the vampires. There would be wars like the Southern Vampire Wars all over the world, humans would be hunted to extinction, and the world would be a very different place." His voice was serious and respectful, with a hint of gratitude. Bella didn't she had ever heard him talk like this before. "It is thanks to them that we are able to live the way we do, that humans do not know about vampires and there aren't wars all over the world between armies of newborn vampires whilst the humans are hunted to extinction."
Bella shuddered at the thought of a war torn world where every day could be the last for humanity. Jasper nodded in agreement and continued his explanation.
"It is against the Volturi laws for a human to know of vampires and be allowed to live for longer than a few minutes at most – they must either be killed or turned. Edward went against this law when he refused to turn you after you discovered our secret. If the Volturi caught wind of this, you would either be killed or turned along with anyone close to you who might know as well, and Edward would most likely be imprisoned within the Volturi guard for risking our way of life for you. You wouldn't be allowed near each other for a good half a century at least."
Bella was horrified at the thought of how close she had been to eternal death rather than eternal life – how close she was to oblivion simply because Edward refused to turn her. He'd implied that he thought of her as a pet when he'd left, but to simply disregard the threat to her life, the life of anyone around her who might happen to guess what the Cullen's were because of her, hammered home how little he really thought of her. She wished she'd done more than leave a pile of ash in his room, potentially destroyed his piano and left the window open.
She didn't want death – she wanted eternal life. She thought she'd wanted it with Edward, but now she just wanted to punch him in the nose. At least if she was a vampire, she'd be able to without doing more than potentially bruising her wrist. And she definitely didn't want Charlie or any of her school mates to die simply because of association with her.
"But if you change me, I won't be killed outright? And no one else will be killed?" She demanded.
"That is true." Jasper acknowledged. "But as I said before, your emotions are too volatile now for me to consider changing you. Perhaps later, when you are more secure in yourself and have a better outlook on life. As you are, you would have a difficult newborn year."
Bella let the subject slide. He made sense when he put it like that – much more than Edward ever had with his talk of souls and throwing her life away for no reason. They lapsed into silence as Bella thought over her latest emotional changes. She'd been thinking of Edward a lot lately, and rather than the depression and denial that had filled her for so long at the memory of him, she felt anger and frustration at how long he had strung her along and played with her.
It was not an unwelcome change – she had been getting tired of the overwhelming pain from the loss. It was there, but now rather than crippling her, it drove her towards becoming someone different to the little girl who had loved Edward with everything that she was.
She wasn't sure what time it was until her phone rang, breaking the silence. She flipped it open without checking who it was, still thinking deeply about her recent change of heart. "Hello?"
"Bella! Where are you?" Charlie demanded on the other end, and Bella blinked in surprise. Jasper pointed at a small alarm clock sitting on his desk, and her jaw dropped at the time. It was almost eleven at night. No wonder Charlie was worried.
"Sorry dad, I met up with a friend and went over his place for the night. We got talking and I didn't realize the time." She told him. "I'll be back tomorrow morning though."
There was silence from the other end of the phone before Charlie huffed in relief and resignation at the same time. "Alright, Bells. I was just worried, that's all. I'm glad you're spending time with friends though. Just – call me earlier next time, okay?"
"Okay dad." Bella agreed easily. "Bye."
She hung up and stared at the phone for a moment before glancing back up at Jasper. His mild amusement was projected out towards her, not that she couldn't tell by the small smile playing around his lips.
"Staying the night, are you?" He asked mildly.
"I – Um, if you don't mind?" She asked. He shrugged before standing and rummaged through his chest of drawers of a moment and pulled out a pair of flannel pyjamas.
"You can borrow these if you want. None of the beds are made, so you'll have to make do with the couch, I'm afraid." Bella watched him in surprise, and he smiled ruefully. "It gets boring in this house alone. I could have company in the way of a few of my friends from before the Cullen's, but I declined when they rang after the first month. I'm sure they'd come if I asked, but I wanted time alone to think. I don't mind having you here for the night."
"Thanks." She finally replied, taking the pyjamas and allowing him to lead her to the only bathroom that was in use.
"I'll leave the hallway light on for you after you're done. If you don't mind, I'll read a book in my study while you sleep." He offered. Bella shook her head.
"It's your study – I don't mind." She glanced over her shoulder as he turned away. "Thanks for letting me stay and talking to me, Jasper."
He didn't answer her, but she didn't really think he needed to.
The mirror in the bathroom was huge, and she couldn't avoid looking at herself as she changed into the pyjamas. The sunken pit where her stomach used to be made her cringe, and the dark circles around her eyes made them seem too big for her face. Whereas before Edward had left Bella had merely thought of herself as plain, now she looked hideous. She wasn't slim, she was a stick figure full of angles and sharp bones jutting out at her hips. Her skin was sallow and dry, her lips were chafed and her eyes looked sunken in her head.
She pulled Jasper's clothing on hurriedly, not wanting to see what he had done to her anymore. It made her blood boil, how she had simply let herself go because he decided he was bored of her. There was a bathroom scale tucked away in one corner, and she contemplated stepping on it.
'I might as well find out what the damage is.' She thought to herself and dragged it out into the centre of the room.
She staggered at the weight displayed on the small electronic face. Despite trying to eat normally during her first four months, and even eating a bit better now that she was more aware of the world around her, she had still lost fifteen kilos which put her terribly underweight. She had to tighten the flannel pants until they were terribly bunched around her hips, and the shirt hung from her frame like a giant potato sack.
She was quiet on the way back to Jasper's study. He had thrown a soft woollen blanket over the couch and the cushions were piled at one end for her head. It was nothing special, really, but Bella found herself wanting nothing more than to collapse into the pile of cushions.
Jasper sat in his desk chair, idly flicking through a book. He looked up as she entered and made herself comfortable, but didn't speak until she had finished fidgeting.
"Was there anything else you needed?" He asked. Bella shook her head and he grunted in acceptance. "Goodnight, Bella."
"Night, Jasper." He turned off the lights, leaving only the small desk lamp behind him to illuminate the pages of his book. The arm of the lounge shielded her face from the light, and she found herself dozing pretty quickly. The only sounds were her own breathing and the occasional turn of a page, which lulled her into a dream-like state far easier than she had found over the past six months.
"Jasper?" He hummed as she spoke up sleepily, almost completely asleep. "Why are your eyes orange?"
He didn't answer for so long that she believed he wasn't going to answer, and she buried her head further into the cushions to hopefully catch a few hours of decent sleep until her nightmares woke her up.
"I fed from a human not long after the Cullen's left." He finally murmured. It was low enough that she almost thought she had imagined it in her dozing. "A single sip turns a vampire's eyes red, but it takes a full year for the animal blood to wash human blood out of the system."
"Oh. Okay." She yawned to him, and dropped off on the next breath.
Her nightmare had changed sometime between finally acknowledging that Edward had left her and the anger-fuelled petty revenge that she had carried out in his bedroom. No longer did she search the forest behind her house for something she couldn't remember anymore, searching for nothing because there was nothing else for her outside the forest.
Instead she watched as Edward spun a delicate glass heart containing a small bubble of water between his fingers, the glass clear and free of imperfections. She watched as he looked at it this way and that, flicking it with his fingers as though trying to figure out where the water had been inserted into the heart, but there was no seam or bump to suggest it had been poured in and then sealed over.
He shrugged and tossed the glass heart away carelessly, and she lunged for it. But Bella had always been clumsy, and she fell just before reaching it, the small bauble glancing off her fingertips and shattering on the hard ground. She looked up from the pile of broken glass to see Edward walking away without a care in the world, but didn't get up to chase him. Instead, she scrabbled to find all of the pieces of the heart and started to glue them back together.
The glass cut her fingers though, and her blood mixed with the glue, running through the cracks in the glass and filling the bubble that used to hold water with her blood. She didn't know how long it took her, but she finally slotted the last piece into place and held it to the sun above, watching the red cracks reflect the sunlight and cast sharp, angry red lines over the world around her. The blood inside sloshed, and she felt sad that it was no longer the whole, pure thing it had been before.
She held it to her chest, where the gaping hole that Edward had left was visible through her shirt, and pushed the heart back inside her. The angry red cracks of the heart filled her mind with anger of her own, and she railed and screamed at the world around her, cursing the name Edward Cullen for eternity.
She jolted awake with a start. The lights were off, and she could see the light of false dawn tinting the white curtains a soft, misty blue. In the dim light of the room she could see the empty silhouette of Jasper's chair, and she wondered when he had slipped out of the room. The alarm clock on his desk showed that it was just after four in the morning, bathing that part of the room in soft red light.
Bella pushed the covers off her, stepping over to the window and pushing back the curtain. Jasper's room was eastward facing, and she could just see the last stars of the night fading from view over the treetops. 'Zodiacal light,' she remembered, 'is the technical term for false dawn. It is when the sun reflects off the dust in space, creating a hazy triangle of light that precludes either true dawn or dusk.'
Bella stood there, wrapped in the soft woollen blanket and watching the light as it spread further and further until finally the sun broke over the tree tops, filling Jasper's room with the fiery orange light. She saw Jasper come from the forest with a bag slung over one shoulder and waved hello when he paused at the sight of her standing in front of the window. He raised a hand in greeting before disappearing from her sight.
She barely had time to turn to his door before it was opening and he dropped the bag beside the lounge.
"I got some of your clothes and some breakfast food." He told her. She blinked at him in surprise. "It's only some stuff for toast – the toaster downstairs should work."
"How did you get my clothes?" She asked him. If he had her clothes, it meant he had to go into her house, and Edward had only ever come through the window. The thought of Jasper entering her bedroom through the window like Edward had so many times before sent shivers down her spine and made her heart clench.
"The back door was unlocked." He told her. "Charlie was asleep and didn't notice a thing."
"Oh." She shuffled her feet, occasionally glancing between the bag he'd dropped and Jasper, who'd taken his seat again and sat back with one foot crossed over his knee.
Bella had never really looked at Jasper before, too busy admiring Edward and being corralled around him due to his supposed danger to her, along with the knowledge that he had been with Alice at the time and she never looked at men who were taken. But in the silence that followed the break of dawn, with the room bathed in fiery oranges and the clouds tinted a dusky pink and outlined with gold, setting the pale roof and floors alight with colour, she found herself studying him.
He was blond – she'd known that before, but she'd never really paid attention to the small streaks of soft brown that made his hair seem more honeyed than Rosalie's golden tresses. Where Edward had been thin and lanky, muscled like a young man barely out of boyhood who had enjoyed track team in school, Jasper had muscles that spoke of a youth of hard work. If she compared Edward to a god of youthful beauty, then Jasper had to be compared to a god of men in their prime, all lean strength and strong features.
Edward was a boy, brooding and dark and perpetually almost-developed. He was a classical beauty, filled with sharp angles and full features and towering over almost everybody; but he was somewhat childish in personality. Jasper was a man, sure of himself and serious, quiet but observant and fully grown. Jasper was handsome and tall, with a rugged charm that made her think of fields under the sun.
"You have school today, don't you?" Jasper's voice broke her thoughts suddenly, and she shook her head.
"It's Sunday." She told him. He grunted noncommittally and she realised just how isolated out here he really was, away from everyone and everything he had known for the last fifty years. "I can call Charlie and tell him I'll be back later today if you want some company?"
He shrugged and turned away as though he wasn't interested, but Bella still thought she saw the lines of loneliness and isolation in the angle of his shoulders. A phone beeped with an incoming message and Jasper pulled it out of his pocket quickly, only barely glancing at the screen before he sighed and turned back to her.
"What do you want to do?"
The question was unexpected, even though she had offered her company, and she felt a smile creep onto her face. "We've got all day – we can do anything."
Time passed quickly again, but not in the same way it had when she was oblivious to the world. Now Bella took the time to look around, to observe the little things that she had been missing before. There were little jokes thrown in here and there at the lunch table that she would have missed before, but now she found herself catching them and chuckling along with everyone else.
New movies came out – she grouped up with everyone at school and went to whichever ones they all wanted to go to. It was surprisingly fun, more so than she thought it could have been without Edward. She paid attention in class, actually learning the material rather than only retaining it long enough to hand in her assignments. She spent her weekends that she didn't make plans with the others at school over the Cullen's house with Jasper, playing board games or making their way through Emmett's extensive stack of video games and movies.
Most of the games Bella sucked at, as she couldn't really coordinate her hands well enough to press all the buttons at the right times, but in the shooter games, she found herself calming. Jasper would play those with her, taking the front position while she covered him from afar with a sniper rifle. It worked surprisingly well, as he was good at estimating the view distance of computer generated enemies and how much cover he would have, and always picked out the best viewpoints for herself to cover him from.
They talked as well, about anything and everything. Well, Bella talked and Jasper mostly just listened. He never acted bored or disinterested, just silently studying her as she spoke of what she wanted from life now or told him about the latest movie the gang had been to see. Occasionally his phone would go off and he would glance at the screen, but he never replied to whoever it was.
"This is nice." She confided to him one Saturday afternoon. Jasper glanced at her from his seat on one of the arm chairs – they'd taken most of the protective coverings off the furniture, and the house looked lived in again even though it was really just Jasper and occasionally Bella using it. She gestured around the living room from her position laying across the lounge as they watched another one of Emmett's action movies. "This. It's friendly. Edward and I never did this."
"Didn't you?" Jasper asked mildly. "I would have thought that with how close you were, you would have sat and watched movies or played games together."
"Close. Huh." Bella snorted in derision. "And yet he told me he was bored of me, he didn't want me, he was tired of pretending to be something he wasn't; tired of being human. No, Edward used to take me to fancy restaurants and watch me eat, or he used to watch me sleep. He was always just watching me like I was some sort of experiment or puzzle that he could figure out. I guess he couldn't in the end, and that's why he left."
Jasper's eyebrows were furrowed as he stared at Bella. "Strange. I was sure that his emotions for you were deep fondness and affection. There was of course curiosity, but I just put that down to his inability to hear your thoughts."
"Yeah, well. It didn't seem like it." Bella retorted. She didn't want to think of what it meant if Edward had thought of her as more than just a pet but had still left her – Edward had said vampires were fickle but Jasper had contradicted that and said vampires were slow to change. "And you can be fond of and affectionate towards a pet. He never let me do anything either – he was always carrying me so I didn't hurt myself around him, always taking me places away from my dad or the other kids at school. I moved here to give my mom space in her new marriage and so my dad could get to know me after not even hearing from me for three years, and Edward was always there instead. I spent more time with him in the past year than I spent with my dad over the last five years."
Bella could feel her frustration rising – frustration with Edward for taking up so much of her time and dazzling her so she wanted to spend every moment with him; at herself for allowing him to sweep her off her feet like some kind of prince charming and dedicating everything she was to him. Bella had finally gotten to know some of her classmates, and she found they were just as interesting as the vampire family in personality – the only difference was that her classmates weren't immortal. They didn't make her feel like a child when she got something wrong or said something stupid. She rarely felt like she wasn't good enough to hang around them; with Edward, Bella had always felt inadequate. She was just the plain, simple human next to the god-like vampire.
What had happened to the girl who was independent, who made sure that the bills were paid on time, who raised her own mother? What happened to the girl who spent lazy Sundays indoors alone, reading books and watching comedy movies that she could throw popcorn at when it got ridiculous?
'She got swept under the rug when a beautiful boy paid attention to her.' Bella thought to herself. 'She was hidden out of sight in an attempt to be good enough for an immortal boy who only wanted to satisfy his curiosity, and when he couldn't he dumped her like she was nothing.'
The thought brought up a wave of the same self-loathing that she'd felt whenever she thought of how little she meant to him in the long run, the doubt in her own worth. Sometimes she didn't want to go to school anymore because she worried that the group she hung around would realise what Edward had realised – that she was uninteresting, not worth the attention, and they would leave.
Sometimes she worried that Jasper would do the same thing, and one day she'd come over to find an empty house and a locked door.
"I felt that." Jasper murmured, almost sounding surprised at the action. He hadn't been able to understand her emotions for a while now, so she supposed it would be surprising for Jasper to suddenly be able to know what Bella was feeling. He didn't move from his seat, but he did lean forward to lock his own ochre eyes – almost yellow again, she thought to herself idly – with her brown ones. "I don't know what brought it on, but I did feel it. And I will tell you again – you are worth it."
Bella's mind flashed back to the first time he'd said that to her; when James had first decided that he wanted her and Victoria had started to chase Rosalie and Esme in her truck and she had been so worried that something would happen to the family of vampires. Because she hadn't felt worth the effort then, and now she didn't feel as though she was worth hanging around for an extended period of time but she didn't want anyone to leave her alone again, to spiral back into the depression.
It sat at the back of her mind – the anger against Edward helped her fool her own mind, but she knew that she didn't want to be left alone like he had done. She tried to convince herself that she was fine alone now, but she knew the truth. She spent every moment that she could with friends, other teens that she was slowly getting to know and as much as possible with her dad, except when he went fishing or was at work, so that she didn't have to feel alone.
"How can you say that?" She asked him. The movie continued playing unheeded, but the explosions and gunshots only served to be background noise.
"Because I believe it." Jasper stated matter-of-factly, leaning back in his chair. "You don't need to be anyone but yourself Bella; you are an interesting and lovely young woman."
They lapsed back into silence as the movie climax burst onto the screen with much screaming and protesting the truth. Bella didn't pay much attention to the movie though, instead thinking about what Jasper said.
As he walked her to the door of her car, opening it for her like the gentleman he was, he leant down to look her in the eyes again. "I watched you that first week, you know. When Edward left, I wanted to know what was so dangerous about you that you drove the most controlled of the Cullen children to almost murdering an entire town to drink you dry. I saw an independent young lady who knew who she was and that she didn't fit in anywhere, but didn't care. She was content with her life."
Bella opened her mouth to speak, but Jasper held a hand up.
"And then Edward returned, and your personality did a complete turnaround. I saw an insecure young girl who tried so hard, too hard in my opinion, to be what an eternally young boy wanted. And when I saw you that first time after the Cullen's left, I thought to myself, 'How dare that boy take a self-assured young woman like you and break her.' I believe you are worth it because I saw you before Edward dazzled you, and I know that woman is in there, just waiting to come out again."
He rapped her softly on the forehead. Bella stared at him in complete surprise as he shut the door to her truck and turned back to the house.
"If I asked," She started hesitantly, rolling down the window. He paused to glance over his shoulder at her and she soldiered on once more. "Would you turn me?"
"If you found that woman again, sure." He called back.
Before Bella knew it, it had been eight months since Edward had left her. The first four had been spent in a stupor of non-living, a robotic daze where the only thing she knew was her own pain. The last four months she had found were brighter than any she could think of in the past year. She'd put weight on again; a difficult thing to do when every meal that she forced herself to eat felt like a lump of coal in her stomach, that even her own body didn't want to do anything like be healthy again now that Edward wasn't there.
Her sleep was better. Instead of being plagued by nightmares of the forest and waking after only a few hours of terror-filled sleep with a scream, she found herself now getting a few hours of peace before her newest dreams; these ones filled with her desperately trying to glue broken glass heart back together, filling them with blood. And even more recently, she dreamt of cool hands that enveloped her own and held the pieces in place while she placed the glue, resulting in less cuts and clearer glass. She never saw who the hands belonged to, but she hazarded a guess. After Jasper's most recent talk, she almost believed that he would come into her dreams and help her pick up the pieces of glass.
Her skin was healthier, and the rings around her eyes had been reduced to merely a smudge underneath her eyes now, which were also brighter and sparked more with life. The guys at school no longer looked just beyond her when talking to her; instead they looked at her, and she could see the relief in their eyes at the sight of healthiness. Charlie smiled more often, allowing himself to relax. Bella realised how terrible it must have been for him; he never knew if he was going to come home one day to find her broken and bleeding out on the bathroom floor, if he was going to get a call one day from the park rangers explaining how they found her body at the bottom of a cliff.
She found herself sitting at home alone one day in mid May; Charlie was out fishing and the guys from school were either working or studying hard for the finals, which were coming up in a month. Bella should have been studying, but she didn't really feel like it after devoting so much time to her grades recently.
A quick glance around the room lead to her eyes lingering on an old map book of the forests and trails around Forks, which were part of the Olympic National Park. She was sure Charlie had a compass around here somewhere, as he didn't really need it to go fishing with the guys from the reservation. She'd been thinking a lot more lately of the times she'd spent with Edward and one place she was curious to see again was the meadow where he had first shown her hard evidence of his supernatural status.
She grabbed the book and pulled on her boots, digging around Charlie's old camping stuff until she found an old compass that still worked. The meadow had a river or stream to the east, she remembered, so she should see if there's any clearings near a body of water. Then she could go looking.
Bella didn't think much before striding out her back door and stepping onto the trail that led her directly into the forest. It was only once she was past the tree line that she paused and glanced back over her shoulder.
The house was still visible, the way the trees framed the small building familiar to her. It had been eight months, but she could recall the conversation with perfect detail if she wanted to. The harsh coldness of his eyes, the inhumane planes of his face, the hard, unyielding way he stood just a few feet away from her. It was in that spot that he told her she was nothing more than a pet to him, a curiosity that he had grown bored of.
The old pain, mostly dulled now but still there, flared again, and Bella turned her head away from the house with tears in her eyes. She resolutely put the trail book in front of her eyes, balancing the compass on the central crease as she got her bearings. The nearest clearing was the wrong shape, but the one just north of that looked about right. Or maybe she should go east a bit then angle north-east? That clearing was a bit more symmetrical in shape and closer to a small brook than the one just north of her house.
She set the compass and set her mouth in a determined scowl. She'd aim for the further one today, and work her way north-east along the brook for a while.
She didn't know how long it took her – the forest started to close in after a while, reminding her of that desperate scramble after Edward had first disappeared, and she instead focused on her footing and the compass to make sure that she wasn't turning in circles. She turned north-east as soon as she heard the brook, as she knew that while the meadow clearing was close to a source of water it didn't have one running through it.
Then she lost herself to the rhythm of her breathing, the stomping of her feet as she made sure she wouldn't trip over any jutting roots or uneven clumps of grass and dirt. Time passed unheeded, her phone sitting in her pocket but completely ignored. It had been morning when she had set off on her journey, and it was only once her stomach growled that she realised hours had passed.
And then, with an abruptness that disoriented Bella, she stepped through a wall of chest-high ferns and found herself in the meadow. It was the same place – it was actually just over a year since Edward had first taken her to the meadow, and the wildflowers were only just starting to really get into swing with the end of spring in sight. Next month would be summer and the field would be abound with bees everywhere.
It was the place and yet it wasn't the same. It was still the same perfectly symmetrical shape, the stream nearby bubbled the same way, the flowers were the same colours and type as they had been when Edward had first taken her there, but it was different somehow.
It was because Edward wasn't there, she realised.
It was beautiful, but without Edward it felt lesser, not as magical somehow. The thought angered her and she threw the compass across the meadow with an angry yell. It all came back to Edward – the things she had once loved were tainted by him. Her old relationships with her friends at school; friendly but still not entirely inclusive, as though she might just slip away at any moment and they wouldn't really notice. Her bedroom; creepy in the dark, especially with the tree just outside her window that Edward used to climb and the window which she always kept locked and closed, curtained so she wouldn't have to be reminded of the way he used to steal into her room and hold her close.
She had spent half of her college fund buying a whole brand new wardrobe because her old clothes reminded her of him. Her favourite books made her think of how she used to compare their relationship to the ones in the stories. And even the meadow, which was an amazing place filled with natural beauty, was tainted because she had first seen it with him.
A figure stepped out of the trees to the north of her, breaking her internal raging and catching her attention with the way it stopped motionless. It was familiar, with the pale skin of a vampire and the unnatural stillness, but it took a moment for Bella to remember the black-haired man's name.
"Laurent!" She cried in remembrance.
"Bella?" He asked, looking more surprised than Bella felt at the sight of him. "I didn't expect to see you here."
He strolled towards Bella, his expression bemused as Bella quirked a smile at him. "Shouldn't it be the other way around? I do live near here. I thought you'd gone to Alaska."
"I did." He agreed, stopping about ten paces away from her and cocking his head. "Though when I saw that the Cullen's house was all closed up, I thought they'd moved on as well."
"They did." Bella told him shortly, still slightly angry with the way Edward had tainted the meadow for her now.
He hummed, and his eyes were filled with an innocent sort of curiosity that meant no offense. "I'm surprised they left you behind. Weren't you sort of a pet of theirs?"
"Of a sort." Bella grumbled. Her eyes glanced away for a moment but snapped back when he took another step closer. That's when she noticed something was wrong with the picture he presented.
His eyes were red.
In that moment, Bella took a step back in fear as she realised that he hadn't even drunk a little bit of animal blood lately to dilute the dark colour to a more orange sort of colour, as if he'd just slipped up like Jasper rarely did anymore.
"Victoria will be so disappointed." He murmured before tensing and leaping.
He never reached her though. In the next moment another pale blur streaked out of the shadows, much faster than the heavily muscled man, and crashed into him with the sound of boulders being knocked together by a giant. The pair of vampires tumbled north away from Bella, even as five extremely large shaggy creatures stepped from the forest and folded themselves around her. She stood in the middle of them all, frozen in fear and shock even as the creatures completely blocked her view of the fight between the two vampires.
It seemed to last forever, even though rationally she knew it lasted only a few moments, the sounds of granite being split, rocks pounding and scraping against each other echoing in her mind as she tried to make herself seem as small as possible amongst the horse-sized furry creatures. They were almost lupine in their build, with great shaggy coats that couldn't hide the impressive muscles completely, and they had surrounded her so completely that there was no chance of her slipping away while they kept an eye on the vampires fighting.
As suddenly as it had started, the fighting stopped. Footsteps echoed across the deathly quiet clearing, purposefully human paced. The wolves growled at the figure, but a fantastically familiar voice called out above the deep rumbling surrounding her.
"You know of the treaty between us." It was Jasper's voice. The southern drawl that she had only heard as an undertone before was starting to leak through more, but she knew his voice well. "I have kept it – and I am familiar with the human woman named Bella Swan. Let her pass, if she wants to."
The choice was offered to her; she watched as the wolfish creatures tensed before subsiding reluctantly, though only enough to let her squeeze between the monstrous russet beast and the black one. She did so eagerly, not wanting to be stuck in the middle of a pack of beasts that could tear her to shreds with just one swipe of their paws, glad that Jasper was there to rescue her. Though his request suggested that they had intelligence equal to a human, which boggled her mind.
She ran quickly to his side, tripping slightly on her own feet before she reached him, and hid slightly behind the tall man standing strong with his arms crossed, bright saffron eyes staring the creatures down.
"I will deal with the vampire known as Laurent permanently and ensure that Bella gets home safely – you may check up on her if you want. She will be home no later than six tonight." He commanded.
The monsters shuffled amongst themselves, some visibly having to restrain themselves from leaping to attack the blond vampire, before the large black one in front reluctantly nodded his head. As one they turned back towards the south, where they had obviously come from, and melded back into the shadows of the trees. Before they disappeared from sight completely the large russet beast she had squeezed past cast a long glance back to the humanoid pair still standing in the middle of the meadow.
It was a long and tense moment before Jasper finally turned back to Bella and looked her over. "Are you alright? Laurent didn't hurt you?"
"No – I - What the hell?" Bella demanded. "What the hell were those creatures? What the hell was Laurent doing here, obviously not drinking animal blood at all? What did he mean by 'Victoria will be disappointed'? What's this treaty you talked about?"
Jasper held a hand up to stall her questions and turned away. "I have until six o'clock to answer your questions, and I still have to deal with Laurent. Anything you want to know will have to wait until you are either safe at home or a later date."
He turned away for a moment before hesitating and looking back at Bella. "Do you happen to have a large garbage bag in easy access at home?"
"Oh – Um. There's a roll under the kitchen sink." She told him, taken back by the sudden change of subject.
"Don't move." He commanded and disappeared for a moment. Bella barely had time to turn around and take a couple of steps back to where she had first entered the clearing, intent on going home so she could demand her answers quicker, when he appeared again with three garbage bags in hand. "Laurent is this way – I'll have to take him back to the Cullen's house to dispose of him properly."
He led her a little way to the north outside the clearing, where Laurent had obviously been torn apart and strewn about separately. She took a step back in fright when his eyes snapped to her and he glared at her, despite having been torn apart. She could barely remember the fight against James as she been dying of blood loss and being turned into a vampire at the same time, which was more painful than anything she had experienced before, but she thought she remembered something about a fire and tons of white ash sprinkling the ballet studio with its snowy substance.
Jasper gather him into the three bags, making sure not to put anything that should be joined together in the same bag, and tied the off before offering Bella his back. "Climb on – I'll get you back home quicker this way, and then we can talk."
She did so nervously – the last time she had ridden a vampire's back was with Edward, and the offer of the familiar mode of travel made mixed feelings rise in her chest. Jasper placed one arm below her bottom, hooking it around her legs which in turn were clenched around his waist, whilst the other held the three bags containing Laurent close to his chest so they didn't hit any trees as they ran. Once he was sure she had a firm grip around his neck he took off.
Jasper wasn't as fast as Edward, but Bella found she didn't mind that fact. It gave her more time to admire the scenery as it flashed passed them, and he was still much faster than Bella would have been walking back to her house.
They broke through the tree line surrounding the Cullen property suddenly, and Jasper let her slide form his back before disappearing into the kitchen and emerging with a box of matches.
"Want to watch a bonfire with me?" He offered, a crooked smile letting her know he was joking as he showed her around to the rear of the house. The bonfire pit, which she had never seen actually used before, was only large enough to fit Laurent's torso in but that didn't seem to bother Jasper as he emptied the bag containing the rogue vampires limbs into the large cast iron bowl.
He offered the box of matches to Bella, who took them with confusion.
"Well, he did try to kill you. I thought it only fair that you get to return the favour, Bella." Jasper offered, gesturing to the fire pit. Bella stared down at the pile of arm and leg portions, noting with morbid fascination that the fingers and one of the knees were twitching.
She struck the match and held it over the fire pit, hesitating. "Edward… Edward would never have let me do this." She admitted, looking up at Jasper. His eyes were darker than they had been when he had spoken to the wolfish monsters and she wondered if it was anger or hunger making them dark. He didn't say anything, merely watching her as she spoke. "He would have said that it wasn't something a girl like me should see, let alone do."
She watched the flames slowly make their way up the thin stick, aiming for her fingers. The match was curling in on itself as the flames consumed it, turning black like the eyes of a hungry vampire or the dark circles around her eyes from nightmares. Suddenly she dropped the match, letting it fall onto the venom-covered pile of limbs. It caught alight almost immediately, bursting into flame with a ferocity that surprised her and she jumped back in alarm as large plumes of ash drifted upwards, quickly covering the back yard as though it was snowing.
"I'm not the girl he wants me to be." She finished. "And I shouldn't have to change for him to love me the way I wanted him to."
It was uplifting, she realised, watching Laurent go up in flames. She had finally realised that she wasn't the girl she had tried so hard to be, the girl that couldn't live without him because that was what it seemed like he had wanted. Loving him had been like striking a match where she was the twig that slowly withered away beneath his hungry flames. It wasn't healthy to devote yourself so much to someone that their departure basically ends your life.
It was time she finally moved on.
"I'm not angry at him anymore." She realised. "I saw the meadow and it made me angry, but then Laurent attacked and you saved me and brought me here, let me do this. I realise now that it isn't him I should be angry with. It's myself. I had become different for him, and if he had really loved me like I wanted him to, I wouldn't have had to change at all. I could have just been Isabella. Bella Swan."
Jasper smiled briefly at her and she turned to him suddenly, wanting to help the lonely vampire the way he had been helping her for almost four months, even if they had only really started spending time together in the last month. He had provided a safe haven for her to escape to after that first visit to the Cullen's, and she hadn't even noticed until now. "And you! You shouldn't let yourself be so depressed because Alice left! She obviously didn't feel the same way, or she forced herself to change like you told me vampires could, and she left you because you have a hard time controlling something that is completely instinctual to vampires! They've all made mistakes and none of them were told to leave, so why should you have been? She's the baddie in this situation, and you need to realise this and start moving on too, you know. Stop blaming yourself!"
Jasper opened his mouth to retort, but slow clapping broke their train of thought as a pair of vampires stepped from the woods behind the Cullen's house.
"Well said, Bella Swan." The male said. "And exactly what I've been telling you for the past eight months, Major."
Jasper stiffened at the sight of the pair before sighing in resignation, a sound unlike anything Bella had heard him make before, and she looked closely at the pair of vampires as they walked closer to the fire pit. They both had pale, white blonde hair, though the female was even shorter than Bella and the male was almost as tall as Jasper. They both wore a mismatch of clothing that said ease of movement was their main concern, with the man looking like he'd just come off a ranch somewhere down south while the woman looked more like she was going to hang out at the mall with friends.
"Peter," Jasper started, pinching the bride of his nose. "What are you doing here? I thought I told you I didn't want your company."
"That was months ago." Peter waved him off with a mischievious grin. "Besides, the lack of information was getting to me. I had to see the girl that's got the Cullen's all in a tizzy and spread halfway across the planet."
Now Jasper looked at him in exasperation, but Peter waved him away again and turned his eyes on Bella. She smiled nervously at them, her eyes not missing their red ones. "Hello."
"Hello yourself." Peter's grin grew wider, if that was at all possible. "I'm Peter Whitlock, very close friend of your good friend Major Jasper Whitlock's, and this is the love of my life – well, unlife – Charlotte Whitlock."
The small blonde waved from where she had tucked herself against her mate, and Bella eyed the way they just naturally fell together when standing next to each other. It reminded her of Renee and Phil, Carlisle and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett and what Jasper and Alice used to look like – but it also highlighted to her recently awoken mind that she and Edward had never fallen quite so casually together.
"Wait," Her mind backtracked a moment to the introductions and she turned to Jasper. "Major Jasper Whitlock? I was always under the impression your name was either Jasper Hale or Jasper Cullen."
Jasper grimaced. "Hale was Rosalie's birth name, and Cullen is the name all members of the coven use when around other vampires. Since I'm no longer a part of their coven, I'll start going by my birth name again."
"And you two are also Whitlock's by birth?" She asked Peter and Charlotte. Charlotte chuckled and shook her head.
"Oh no, we took his name out of respect and gratitude after he let us escape from Maria's coven and now we just don't think of ourselves as anything else." She explained. This didn't do much to help Bella's confusion, and she scrunched her nose as she tried to assimilate the information to everything else she knew about the blond. It wasn't much, she had to admit.
"Jasper, haven't you explained your past to Bella yet?" Peter demanded. Jasper grunted, turning away. "Why ever not?"
"Because to explain my past I would have to include how I joined the Cullen's." Jasper snapped back. Bella was taken aback by the reluctant irritation in his voice, but Peter waved it off with another flap of his hand. "Wave your hand at me like that one more time, and I'll take it off."
Charlotte growled at the honey blond man, and he growled back just as fiercely. Peter ignored all of it though and pulled up one of the Cullen's outdoor lounges, obviously settling himself in for a story. Charlotte eventually copied him, still keeping an eye on Jasper who had stalked away silently to sit on the other side of the back patio, obviously not really wanting to listen to the story but not willing to leave Bella alone with two human drinkers when he had promised to get her home safely by six o'clock. That reminded Bella that she had to ask Jasper about what had happened before with the wolf-monsters in the forest.
"Okay then!" Peter started suddenly with a clap. "I'll keep this brief. Jasper here was a Major in the Confederate Army – lied about his age to get in three years early and became the youngest Major in the whole army rather quickly, and that's according to their records so take another three years off, and it's even more impressive – until he bumped into three lovely ladies by the names of Nettie, Lucy and Maria."
"Wasn't Maria-" Bella started, but Peter shushed her with another hand gesture. She had to agree with Jasper; it was kind of annoying after a while to be waved off like that.
"They turned him into a vampire when he was just nineteen and he quickly became the best soldier in Maria's army, helping her greatly in what is known as the Southern Vampire Wars." He continued. At her blank look he elaborated. "Vampire's down south came up with the idea of creating armies of newborn vampires and fighting each other for control of the human cities. The Volturi keep it under control so humans don't notice anything after a vampire named Benito started the whole thing so he could feed whenever he wanted to without having to fight other vampires to keep his kill and it started getting out of hand. The Volturi came in, wiped Benito and his army out, and the vampire wars since then haven't been nearly as devastating as what he started off with. Humans attribute the death toll to some sort of disease, I believe.
"Now, Jasper had the ability to keep control of the newborn vampires with his gift and keep them from fighting amongst each other – which was practically unheard of. He was put in charge of the newborn army, and under him they swelled in skill and size. Maria had a policy – newborn vampires were killed after a year of life, unless they proved to be exceptionally strong. This continued for decades. I was one of the vampires who proved useful enough to keep alive, and Jasper and I became friends during our time fighting together. Then a few years later, we were instructed to purge the newborns again, and I met Charlotte."
The little blonde woman squeezed his knee affectionately and he gave her a peck on the forehead before continuing the story. "I, of course, didn't want to kill her, though my pleading with Jasper didn't give me the chance to fold her into the ranks of vampires who live past one year. When it came time for her to be destroyed I yelled for her to run and took off after her. Jasper could have chased us both and killed us if he'd wanted to, but he didn't. We lived free from the wars in the north for five years, revelling in each other's company and the lack of fighting.
"Then one night, I snuck back down to see Jasper. I still thought of him fondly, you see, and I wanted to try to convince him to leave the world of war and death behind. To my surprise, he was easy to convince and we left that very same night. He stayed with us for a few years, but he never seemed to come out of the depression the war had left him in. I noticed that he was always worse just after he fed, as his gift meant that he could feel the emotions of his victims. He wandered away from us for a few years until he met up with Alice in a small diner, and she brought him to the Cullen's.
"Of course, you know the gist of what's happened since then." Peter sat back in the chair again, pulling Charlotte underneath his chin with an easy tug. Bella stared into the dying embers of the fire, letting the tale settle into her mind as the pile of limbs settled into a smouldering pile of ash. Sudden movement beside her made her jump as Jasper appeared in the circle again and threw Laurent's torso onto the last of the flames. It caught alight immediately, roaring into life with a ferocity the smaller limbs hadn't generated.
"You left out half the story." Jasper stated blandly, and Peter shrugged nonchalantly.
"I told the important parts."
"Wait," Bella started slowly, interrupting their banter. "If vampires usually use the last name of their coven to introduce themselves rather than their birth name, and Peter and Charlotte introduce themselves as 'Whitlock', which is Jasper's last name… does that mean you're the Whitlock coven?"
Peter stared at her for a moment before grinning. "You are an observant one!"
"We are technically," Charlotte explained, "Because we have bonds of friendliness between us and can travel and live together like what the Cullen's and the Volturi do. Jasper would be the leader of the coven because we use his last name, but our coven is an informal one unlike the Denali or the Cullen's."
"Oh." Bella subsided again, watching the three vampires turn back to each other. She watched as they teased and joked with each other as only the oldest of friends could. Jasper was still quiet and subdued, as he had been ever since Alice had left him and the Cullen's had cast him out, but watching interaction between friends had her hope for him rising. If she could somehow find a way to move on with the help of friends and family, she knew he would too.
She rubbed at the old scar from when James had bitten her, the skin cool against her warm palms despite the heat of the fire. It was never warm; it reminded her of a vampire's skin with its coolness, and sometimes she swore it glimmered in the light. She turned her wrist to observe it closer under the firelight, as dusk was falling rather quickly, and watched in curiosity as the crescent shimmered with the reflected firelight.
Glancing up, she realised that all three of the vampires shimmered in the firelight, but for a different reason than just their natural vampire skin. They were all covered in the same small crescent marks that marred her wrist, though Jasper easily had the most scars. They weren't very noticable under normal lighting conditions to her eyes, though vampires could see better than humans, and she knew they were constant reminders for the trio of when they had been in the Southern Wars.
He'd been a Major in the Confederate Army. That would explain how he had been able to face those beasts so calmly in the forest earlier and command them like he had. It was all part of an officer's training to be able to stand strong and issue commands in tense situations, and if he knew what they were beforehand and knew that he could reason with them, it would have been child's play.
"What happened earlier in the forest? What were those creatures?" She blurted out. Peter and Charlotte looked at her in confusion, but Jasper took a deep breath before explaining.
"They are shape shifters – one of the only natural predators for vampires." He told her. Peter almost jumped to his feet in shock, but Jasper held up a hand to calm him down. "They live down on the Reserve, protecting their own people and the surrounding land against vampires. They won't harm other humans though. The Cullen's have a treaty with them which means that neither group will attack each other. We will stay on our land and they will stay on theirs, and they will leave us be so long as we do not drink from any of the humans in the surrounding areas."
"And Laurent?" He was nothing more than a head now, glaring balefully from his position on the ground away from the group when his face wasn't screwed up from the pain of feeling his body burning. It honestly unnerved Bella to see the eyes flicking around the small gathering, obviously alive, when she knew that his body was currently being turned to ash. "What about him, and what he said about Victoria?"
"My guess," Jasper paused to organise his thoughts, "Is that he grew bored of an animal only diet, and Victoria wants her revenge on you. After all, she was mates with James and we destroyed him for you. Remember, a vampire feels extremely deeply and can quickly go insane with grief and rage, so revenge is a perfectly viable option to her."
"Oh." Bella slumped back in her chair at that. It was obvious now that she thought about, especially once she remembered what Jasper had told her about vampires and their feelings. Jasper pulled his phone out and checked the time, standing.
"I've got to get Bella home, or the shape-shifters will be here with intent to tear me apart." He explained to Peter and Charlotte, offering his hand to shake theirs. The blonde pair sighed before standing as well.
"I suppose." Peter said, clasping Jasper's hand firmly and patting his shoulder with obvious reluctance. "We were only passing through, wanting to drop by and see how you were doing since you won't return my messages."
"Take care of yourself, Jasper." Charlotte commanded him with a strong hug, and Bella had to suppress a smile at the authoritive tone the diminutive vampire used. She stepped over to Bella's seat and held out a hand. "It was nice meeting you, Bella."
"Likewise." Bella smiled at her, shaking the petite vampire's hand. The vampire took a deep breath in and shot her a grin as her eyes darkened slightly.
"Oh wow, you do smell nice. How does Jasper control himself around you?" Before Bella could react she let out a high laugh, dodging around the slow fist Jasper sent her way and darting back towards the forest. "I'll see you both later, okay?"
"Bye now." Peter gave a cheery salute to both Jasper and Bella, complete with an unrepentantly cheeky grin, before following his mate west. They disappeared into the growing shadows immediately, quickly leaving the pair behind.
Bella stared in the direction they had left and turned back to Jasper as he had dropped Laurent's head into the smoking bonfire. "Well, they were nice."
"They are." Jasper agreed easily. She could hear the lighter tone in his voice, and privately she thought their presence had already done a world of good for the reclusive vampire. "They're my best friends and Peter is like a brother to me. I'm grateful to them for getting me out of the situation in Maria's army."
Bella bit her lip, debating whether she should say anything before deciding to just soldier on and get it off her chest. "I meant what I said before. You shouldn't let Alice get you down – she lost out big time when she left you. It's time for you to start moving on as well. For what it's worth, I think you're worth it too."
He had initially frozen at her words but let out a dry chuckle when she threw his own words back at him. "I can try, I suppose."
It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing and Bella thought that maybe this was what Charlie had felt when he was trying to get her up and going again.
The trip back to Bella's place was taken in silence. She once again climbed onto Jasper's broad shoulders and he raced through the trees, occasionally stopping to point some small piece of nature out to her that she might have otherwise missed. It was nice, she thought to herself. So much of the little things she did with Jasper were nice actually, in a way that spending time with Edward hadn't been.
He let her off just inside the forest, where Edward had said goodbye all those months ago, only this time she didn't feel the pain his goodbye had brought her earlier in the day. Bella looked up at Jasper as she stood next to him on the trail, his saffron eyes darkening slightly due to her proximity, and smiled.
"If I asked you to," She began with a small grin, and he quirked his lips in recognition, "Would you turn me?"
He looked down at her, honey blonde hair catching the last of the sun's rays and setting strands alight as he watched her silently. For a moment she panicked, worried that she had somehow offended him with the question, especially after he had just told her that she was technically under the protection of the shape-shifters and he was treaty bound not to bite anyone. She panicked at the thought that he would leave her alone in the forest, just like the last man who had stood on this particular trail with her had done, until the slight uplift of the corners of his mouth turned into a small smile. "I would, because now you are even better than the woman I saw when you first moved to Forks, Bella Swan."
He pushed her softly towards her house, seemingly oblivious to the way her heart leap to her throat at the words or the way she had noticed the light catching his smile and his scars had played across his skin like fire beneath the last light of the sun. She stumbled towards her back door, glancing over her shoulder every few steps to make sure he was still there. He didn't leave until she reached her back door, raising a hand in farewell before melding with the shadowy forest around him.
That night, she dreamt of Laurent being set alight in the Cullen's fire pit, clouds of ash settling over the scene like macabre snow. Clenched in the palm of her hand was the bloody glass heart she had finally fixed, marred by the red cracks and filled with her blood. She held it tightly enough that she worried for a moment it would break apart again and all her hard work to fix it would be undone by her clenched fist.
As the fire died down a pair of pale hands covered in scars that danced under the light of the sun above her reached into the ashes and pulled something out of them, keeping it hidden from her sight. She looked up into the soft eyes of Jasper Whitlock, his topaz eyes highlighted with fire from the setting sun. He gently lifted her fist and unfolded her fingers, revealing the broken heart with the angry red lines that reflected the sunlight, and softly plucked it from her unresponsive hand. He dropped something cool into her hand as she stared into his eyes and closed her fist gently around it, tucking her broken heart away into his shirt pocket.
She glanced down and opened her fist. Nestled in the palm of her hand was a brand new heart made from glass, the same size and shape as her old one, with a bubble of blood in the centre instead of water. It wasn't the pure, clear thing her last heart had been, but it was whole and beautiful.
She awoke with salt water in her eyes and cried her last tears for Edward and the clear, pure heart he had broken.
Edward could remember everything he said to Bella the day he left her in perfect clarity; the panicked look on her face as his words finally sunk in, the pleas to take her with them. He had told her of the fickleness of vampires – what a brilliantly terrible lie, he thought to himself many times after they had arrived in Ithaca one member short. He had commanded her to stay out of trouble; for Charlie's sake of course, because he would never have admitted that he didn't want her to be hurt, he didn't want to leave her.
He had told her he was bored of pretending to be human, bored of trying to figure her out. He didn't think he could ever tire of watching her, trying to figure out what was going on behind that pretty little heart-shaped face of hers.
But vampires were dangerous, Jasper's attempted attack on her birthday proving him right once again, and so he had argued with the Cullen coven to leave her behind and travel to the other side of the country. Edward didn't think he would step back in Forks for three hundred years – any sooner and he might as well just go straight to the Volturi and beg for death to release him from the all-consuming depression he felt.
He had told her to move on. He knew she would forget him eventually anyway; human memories were patchy things at best and they were constantly forgetting even the most important things. Combine that fact with how young and beautiful she was, and she would have hundreds and thousands of men that would literally line up on her doorstep to have the opportunity of dating her. He knew that any thoughts he might have entertained whilst still living in Forks of the two of them happily together and married were guaranteed to be nothing but fantasy now.
He couldn't stop the small voice in the back of his mind that prayed for her to feel his absence as deeply as he felt hers; that she clung to his memory and never gave up on the chance that he might return for her. That he could visit Forks again after she had graduated high school and she would welcome him into her home with desperate, open arms, so very glad to see him again.
'Edward,' she would cry in joy, 'I'm so glad you're back. I don't want to be a vampire anymore – I just want to live the rest of my life with you. My soul will be safe, and we'll be happy together.'
He doubted that would ever happen, especially with the harsh words he had told her all those months ago.
He was home from his world-wide tour again, the trips overseas still not helping in any way to heal the hole in his chest where his heart used to be. Even though he referred to it as home, Ithaca never felt welcoming to him. In his opinion, home would always be wherever Bella was, and he would never be home again. Maybe in a century the hole in his heart where she used to reside would finally start to scab over. It would never heal though, he knew that much was certain.
He deserved it, he knew. It was a self-made hole, one befitting a soulless monster such as himself. It didn't stop him from desperately wishing he could be happy again. But the only place he could do that was by Bella's side, which he would never return to.
Alice was upstairs; he could hear her thinking about a new fashion project. She was trying to take advantage of the fact that they were in New York to launch a new fashion line that would run for three years and then go out of business. She hoped to wear the clothes as 'vintage' clothing in fifty years.
"Alice," He started, pausing in her doorway. Cutting of this seasons fashion littered the floor around her and she was sketching in one of her many fashion books. At his appearance her pencil went through the book itself and snapped in half, a rare display of anger on her part.
"Don't even bother asking, Edward." She commanded, putting the book away and pulling a magazine towards herself. Her thoughts were focused on the clothes, but he would occasionally catch an angry undertone when she thought of colours and matching skin tones and hair. 'That blouse would have looked great on Bella' and 'Bella would have loved those pants' were common thoughts that popped up before she angrily squashed them again. "She's fine. She's doing well in school, the teachers have all noted that she seems much friendlier with the other kids in her classes, and she graduates in a few weeks. Probably with top marks."
"Probably?" He asked before he could stop himself. Alice's mind went blank and she carefully looked him in the eye. He never told her how creepy he found it when she was serious like that, her mind not giving any hints as to what she was thinking. Panic started to creep upon him; it was rare that she did that to him, but whenever she did it was usually bad news that she was unsure of how he would take it.
She was beside him in an instant, her arm wrapped around his and her tiny hand firmly holding his elbow strongly enough that he wouldn't be able to just run away if he wanted to – unless he wanted to hurt his petite sister, Edward would have to listen to her until she finished.
"I haven't been able to see Bella's future since the day we left Forks." She finally told him once she was certain he wouldn't leave. He jerked back and tried to extricate his arm from her hold, but she just wrapped herself around him even tighter. "I think it's part of whatever she does that stops you from reading her mind. Look!"
He finally stopped struggling to get away as Alice opened her mind to him again, and he dove into the memories gladly. A week and a half flew by, every minute spent in front of a computer screen as Alice scrolled through obituaries and death notices, missing persons reports and even the Jane Doe reports from Washington and Arizona and all of the states surrounding them. Then the night she hacked into the Forks High School administration computer network and the results they found. The daily attendance records as well as the weekly grade adjustments and the monthly teacher comments on each student.
Bella's was there, constantly being updated. Her records showed almost perfect attendance starting the week after he had left her, the steady rise in her overall grade. After there, Alice had checked everything that kept records of who had contact with them. There was even a parking ticket for Bella's monster of a vehicle from the Port Angeles Police dated sometime in February, which had been paid in cash and signed for by Bella.
He had no choice but to admit that Alice was telling the truth – somehow Bella's ability had grown even stronger since they had left, but she was still alive and well. There were no records of hospital stays or doctors' visits after they had left, and Edward grimaced. She hadn't been hurt since he had left; it was proof that he had done the right thing by leaving her. His whole family was bad for her health, and now they were gone she could focus on being a normal human.
It didn't change the fact that he still wanted to go back for Forks, even if just for one afternoon, and see her though.
"Don't let her see you." Alice cautioned him, disentangling her arm from his own. He grunted, still thinking about what he would say to Bella when he saw her again, but Alice begged him. "Please; I can't see your future, so I don't know what you'll do. I don't know what'll happen to you and that scares me. You're my favourite brother, Edward."
He could hear the worry in her mind, her thoughts chasing each other round in circles as her imagination ran wild, and he finally shelved the idea of revealing himself to Bella. "Fine. I just want to see how she's going."
Edward ran away before Alice could say anything else.
He arrived in Forks in the middle of the afternoon, glad it was surrounded by a national park that made it easy for him to slip close to the town without anyone knowing. It was a tiny town, so he found it extremely easy to slip form shadow to shadow in search of Bella's classmates.
Most weren't around, but Jessica Stanley was stuck at home working on a Calculus assignment and she was spending more time thinking about where she'd rather be than working on the last assignment before finals started.
'Just because Bella and Angela finished their assignment early,' she grumbled to herself, 'They didn't need to take everyone down to see that movie today. I wanted to see it. Why couldn't they have gone tomorrow or something? Argh, I still have to cram for my exams!'
Edward left Jessica behind as she threw her hands up in the air and slumped forward on her desk, quickly turning around and racing towards Port Angeles as fast as his vampiric legs would take him. It would normally be an hour's drive or twenty minutes at an easy lope for him, but Edward managed to cut the time down to ten minutes in his haste. He knew exactly where the cinema was, and also knew of a convenient alleyway that opened out just near the front entrance and cinema car park.
Bella's truck was parked next to the cinema, and when Edward cast his mind towards the building it didn't take long for him to find the sweet mind of Angela. The movie was about halfway through, a romantic comedy that made Edward's heart clench at the light and sappy romance which reminded him so strongly of Bella and himself.
He pulled away, not wanting to watch such a light hearted romance story unfold when his own love life was so tragic. Instead he curled in on himself, settling into a nook between a pile of empty boxes and an industrial garbage bin where he could watch the entrance to the cinema unimpeded.
It seemed like barely any time had passed before the jubilant roar of teens and young adults reached him, and he watched the movie-goers spill out onto the street in anticipation. Bella and her group of friends had hung back, waiting for most of the rush to disperse before leaving the cinema, and they did so with wide smiles and cheery thoughts.
Bella was flanked by Eric and Angela as she walked out, Angela smiling sweetly with her boyfriend of over a year now, Ben, and Edward felt his heart lurch at the happy look in their eyes. Eric and Mike were re-enacting scenes from the movie with gusto, inciting laughter from the whole group with their antics.
His eyes were only for Bella, and he stopped breathing as he drunk her in. She looked good. She was thinner than she had been, but she wasn't underweight. Just a few kilos difference between then and now. She looked taller too, though that may have been the clinging pants and flowing tunic which made her look longer in the legs. Her hair was done up in a fancy ponytail and she wore large, clunky jewellery that accentuated the defined lines of her face. She even wore a small amount of makeup to accentuate her full lips and make her eyes seem slightly upturned towards the corners, something she had been extremely adverse to before he had left her. It didn't hide the bags underneath her eyes completely to his eyes, but Mike had them too. The blond boy was grumbling in his mind about having to pull another all-nighter to finish an assignment and study for exams, and the undertone in the other teens minds were along the same lines. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume that Bella was the same – studying until late at night in an attempt to get the best grades possible come graduation.
She looked good, Edward had to admit it. She was somehow more open, more confident in herself than he had seen when they were together, and it was obvious to him that his departure hadn't caused her any strife. She was living her life as a human far better now than she had been before.
She had obviously not only moved on from him, but her entire personality had subtly changed. It may not be obvious to the idiotic teens who called themselves her friends, but to Edward it was like looking at night and day.
His heart felt like it was tearing in half in his chest. He knew it was his own fault – he had commanded her to grow up, to move on from him, to forget him. He had even taken back all of the gifts the others had given her to make it seem like the Cullen coven had never lived in Forks, let alone associated with her. He missed his Bella. The woman across the street from his hiding spot was not the girl he had fallen in love with, she was some alien creature who occupied the body of the girl he loved.
He had to leave before he did something stupid.
'Just a little longer shouldn't hurt,' He thought to himself. It may not have been his Bella, but she was still Bella nonetheless and the sight of her eased a small ache in his heart that had to do with not seeing her. The group split up while he watched them, Angela and Ben turning right at the entrance to the car park. They were parked further up the street, and they were walking hand in hand with their heads tilted towards each other, talking about the movie. Mike and Eric tried to stay around Bella for a little while longer but she waved them away and they finally left, thoughts on a late night mall that should have a new video game in stock.
Bella slid into her car with contented joy written perfectly visible all over her face, and Edward ached for her. He should have been the one making her that happy, not this group of self-absorbed teens. She should have been spending time with him, talking about things like her favourite romance stories and his latest compositions for the piano.
He heard her truck splutter as the engine tried to turn over, the usually deafening vehicle now making no more than a weak cough before dying completely. Bella grunted in frustration, her contentment disappearing as she tried again and there was no result. He could take her home – all he needed to do was step out of the shadows and offer, he thought to himself. It would be far quicker than waiting for someone to pick her up and take her home. She could tell Charlie where she'd parked when he dropped her home, and Charlie could organise a tow truck to take it to the wreckers. He'd told her so often that she should get a new car and dump the old piece of rust, but Bella was attached to the orange beast for a reason Edward had never understood.
He hadn't even noticed that he'd uncurled himself and was hovering in the mouth of the alleyway, still hidden by shadows but only just, until Bella climbed out of the truck again. She slammed the door shut behind her in frustration as she pulled her phone out of her purse and started walking back towards the cinema, dialling a number. He knew who it was as soon as Charlie said hello.
"Hey Dad," The words slipped from her tongue much easier than it had just a year ago, when she had had to remind herself constantly not to call him Charlie to his face, and Edward wondered when they had gotten closer. "My truck won't start. I'm parked outside the movies in Port Angeles; can I get a lift home?"
'Smart girl,' Edward thought to himself as she re-entered the theatre, and he could hear her letting the ticket sellers know why her truck was going taking up space in their parking lot until late. 'Going somewhere with lots of people and surveillance so no one could hurt her while she waited to be picked up, and calling her father straight away so he knew that she needed help.'
There was no way he would be able to talk to her tonight unless he snuck into her room. The thought made his heart constrict painfully. He used to do that while they were dating, and she would spend all night cuddled up to his side.
He turned to leave, intent on to head back to Ithaca. He would keep his word to Alice this time and not let Bella know he'd visited her.
A familiar shape at the other end of the alleyway pulled him up short. Standing there with his arms crossed was a familiar blond vampire, topaz eyes reflecting the lamp that flickered to life between them as Edward stared at him, showing just how well the man had managed to stick to the Cullen's way of life since they had left.
"Jasper." He hissed uncomfortably. In his mind he panicked. He hadn't been aware of Jasper's presence in Port Angeles, and was completely unprepared for a confrontation with the older man. He held no illusions about Jasper's feeling towards him; Jasper knew which of his supposed siblings had voted to remove him from the Cullen coven and Edward was one of them, and Edward knew that if it came to a fight he wouldn't have much of an advantage because of his gift. Jasper knew him too well and had too much experience fighting for a split-second heads up to help Edward defend himself effectively against an attack from the older vampire. "What are you doing here? You were told to leaves Forks and not bother the Cullens anymore."
"I did leave," Jasper spoke calmly, as though Edward were nothing more than a pouting child trying to get his brother in trouble. His mind was terrifyingly silent; Edward wasn't used to the old soldier knowing how to circumvent his gift. "And then you left so I came back. I wasn't exactly bothering your family if I stayed where you weren't, after all."
I don't like you. Jasper's mind whispered darkly, a completely contrast to the calm façade the blond man wore. Edward growled lowly in warning, but Jasper didn't change his relaxed stance.
"You were supposed to go somewhere else. The Cullens have a claim in Forks." Edward told him, and finally he reacted.
"If you're talking about Bella, then your claim has already been removed by others." Jasper warned him. "The shape-shifters have claimed her under their protection, and she is under mine as well. A good thing, too."
The last remark made Edward's ire rise, and he wasted no time diving into Jasper's mind when a memory rose through the silence. The memory terrified him more than he wanted to admit; Laurent had been right there, so very close to Bella intending to kill her and Edward hadn't known anything about it. It was only luck that Jasper had intercepted the vampire at the last minute, and that the shape-shifters had protected her from the fight between vampires.
He had to watch as the shape-shifters parted to let Bella leave their protective circle and run towards Jasper, her saviour, as Jasper watched her walk towards her back door afterwards, catching the wave she offered the dangerous man in thanks. He watched as more memories rose, of moments between Jasper and Bella just hanging out like a pair of teens; watching movie and playing video games. He could read how much easier Jasper found it now to keep to the animal-only diet now that he was away from the Cullens, and part of Edward was bitter that the man was obviously doing better after being exiled from their coven. The Cullens were supposed to be an example to strive towards; they weren't supposed to make it harder to control the bloodlust like Jasper had found.
"That's great!" He finally exclaimed as he let the memories go, not wanting to see Bella's happiness as she played around with Jasper anymore. He instead focused on the ease Jasper had in controlling his thirst, pretending as if he'd never seen the blond man share such good times with the girl he loved. "You're control is so good these days; I'm sure everyone would be glad to welcome you back into the family. Alice has been missing you greatly."
Even as he spoke it, Edward knew it was a lie. Alice wasn't missing her mate – he didn't know why, but the pixie-like vampire didn't even seem to notice that Jasper wasn't there anymore. She never spoke of him, always flitting away to find something else to occupy her attention whenever Edward tried to bring up how she coped with the loss as well as she did. He didn't understand it; he had heard the love they shared in their minds numerous times over the decades and he knew that by all rights Alice should feel something similar to the crippling pain he felt at Bella's absence.
Jasper was stiff at the other end of the alley, his eyes darkening with anger centred on the mention of the smallest vampire in the Cullen family. "Maybe you should ask Alice exactly how she managed to change her feelings towards me. How it was so easy for her to suggest my exile and walk away, and why she doesn't miss me now. Who knows? She might be able to help you move on from Bella."
His voice was harsh, but it was his thoughts and words that confused Edward. In Jasper's mind the words 'how she changed her feelings' kept repeating over and over, looping until they were imprinted in Edward's own mind.
"What?" Edward managed to gasp out, the shock at what Jasper suggested combined with the words looping around his mind staggering him. He'd always thought vampires were eternal, that their feelings didn't change easily or quickly, but Jasper's words suggested that Alice had somehow contradicted that. "What do you mean?"
"I think it's time for you to run home, Edward." Jasper stated instead of answering the question. Edward didn't want to leave, he wanted to punch Jasper in the face and demand answers form the blond, but Jasper didn't give him the chance.
Fear crept up his spine, slow but there and niggling at his flight or fight instincts. Rationally he knew it was being manufactured by Jasper but he couldn't do anything to stop it. Instinct warred inside of him against his rational mind, keeping him frozen in place as he stared at Jasper. In his fear, Edward's imagination started to run amok, deepening the shadows surrounding them until even his vampire sight couldn't pierce them, and in an attempt to ignore the thoughts his fear was conjuring, he locked his eyes with the brilliant topaz eyes of Jasper.
Edward had never cursed his inability to stop his gift so much before then. By focusing on Jasper, he focused on Jasper's mind and was witness to the sight of five gigantic shaggy beasts melding into the forest, hidden even from vampire sight after a few moments. He knew from Jasper's own thoughts they were capable of tearing a vampire limb from limb and their saliva was poisonous to their kind. If he got in a fight with the wolfish monsters, there was telling who would win.
A whisper, just at the edge of Edward's gift, tied itself around the image of the pack in formation and bristling with anger, seemingly directed at himself. They know of Jasper and have accepted him. To them, you are just another vampire that needs putting down. He knew he wouldn't survive an attack from the entire pack of shape-shifters.
Jasper's fear won out, and Edward fled.
Edward started running and didn't stop running until he was almost fifteen hundred kilometres away, almost halfway to Ithaca and the other Cullens. The manufactured fear combined with the memory of the horse-sized wolves finally faded into the background enough for his rational mind to take over again, and he skidded to a halt in a field somewhere in the middle of South Dakota, leaving two long gouges in the earth where his feet had tried to gain the traction needed to stop his headlong sprint.
He almost turned back the direction of Port Angeles, intent on facing Jasper again and demanding answers, but remembered the shape-shifters at the last minute. Even if the fear was conjured, the threat was very much real and he would need more information before trying again. That meant he needed to talk to Alice – both to see what the future held for them with regards to the shape-shifters, but also to get answers on what Jasper had meant by 'changing her feelings'.
Vampires weren't supposed to be able to just change their feelings the way Jasper suggested she had done. They were supposed to be eternally unchanging, eternally damned.
Edward burst into the family home in Ithaca early the next morning, startling the student Esme was tutoring in the kitchen, but he ignored the sounds coming from that direction and listened for Alice. She was sitting in her room again, once more trying to design outfits but he could hear how her mind was only half on the task. The other half was listening to him walk towards her, equals parts resigned to the questions he would demand but hopeful he wouldn't ask them anyway.
"What did Jasper mean when he told me to ask you about 'changing your feelings?" He demanded before he'd even stepped through her doorway, only to be pushed back out into the hall. Alice ignored him, grabbing her keys and a coat as she strode out the door Edward had burst through only seconds ago. He scrambled after her, hopping in her car as she started the engine and reversed out of the driveway. He ignored the worried thoughts of Esme as she watched the pair drive away and the nosy thoughts of the girl she was tutoring, intent on getting answers from somebody.
"You know what he meant, Edward." She hedged around the question, her eyes resolutely focused on the road. She tried to discourage him with her thoughts but Edward was having none of it.
"No, I don't. Otherwise I wouldn't have asked." He retorted angrily. The second half of Jasper's statement was resounding in his head now that he had asked the question, and there was no way Alice was going to get away without answering his question. "Tell me what the hell he meant, and how the hell it ties into how I'm apparently supposed to just 'get over' Bella and her perfectly happy human life!"
"Vampires are eternal," Alice began after a long moment of silence. Edward made a noise of impatience, but a sharp thought from her had him reluctantly backing down enough to listen to her. "Our feelings are slow to change, and because of this we feel far more deeply than a human."
"I know all this, Alice!" Edward exploded in exasperation as she took another moment to sort out the whirlwind of thoughts in her mind. He just wanted her to skip the dramatic vampire lesson and get to the part that was relevant to his question. "I have firsthand experience in that! Bella doesn't even look like she missed me more than a week and has been buddying it up with all her idiot friends in school, while I have to deal with the constant heartache and depression from having to leave her for her own safety!"
"But what you don't know is that vampires can force a change, Edward!" Alice snapped. The words, and the conviction behind them, made Edward slump back into the passenger seat in shock. The implications were astounding to Edward, who had always thought that once a vampire developed feelings they would stay that way forever. "If the vampire in question is mentally strong enough, they can twist their feelings around in small ways, until they are completely different to how they once were. Carlisle told me that it's was Marcus Volturi did when his mate died to keep from going insane with grief – it's what I did with my feelings for Jasper. It's why I don't miss him like you miss Bella."
"But," Edward started hesitantly. Horror made his voice drop down to a whisper. "Why would you do that?"
Alice smiled, almost sadly but not because of what she had done. Rather, her thoughts were sad that she had to do it in the first place.
"It didn't matter what I did, what any of us did, his future always contained the death of the humans around him; the upheaval of everything we had done. And everywhere I looked, every path and choice eventually led to either the death of the entire coven or to combining of us and the Volturi simply so that we could continue our lives. He always caused the humans to discover us, or come so close that our only option was the Volturi." Edward could see the different paths mapping themselves out in front of her eyes as she had seen them, each worse than the last. "Every single time the Cullen's became Volturi, I say Jasper's eyes turn red and I saw him eventually tear himself apart in desperation. He wasn't just escaping his own self-hatred; he was escaping the pitying anger our family had for him and the poisonous feelings of the Volturi around him.
"So I twisted my feelings; I gathered up the small amount of disappointment I had every time he made a mistake and drank from another human. I forced myself to think that if he'd only been stronger, only been better, he wouldn't have done it. If only he'd applied himself more, had fed earlier, maybe he'd live up to my expectations. The thoughts started to come of their own violation after that, and the feelings naturally followed until he was no longer my mate but simply a man who did nothing but disappoint me. I buried the good underneath the bad, and suddenly he wasn't good enough for me; I felt like he would never learn to control his thirst – that he would never be a true Cullen like I wanted to be.
"I forced myself to let him go, because I saw the future the decision brought about and it was better than even the happiest future with him as part one of the Cullen's."
Edward stared at her in horror. He'd watched alongside her thoughts as she relived the memory of changing her feelings so completely, heard the thought process involved in doing so. It seemed so easy when she did it, and he watched the confusion and wariness on Jasper's face grow as he felt the changes occur. He saw the night they had asked Jasper to leave the Olympic coven through new eyes, and it both horrified him and fascinated him.
A human would never be able to do what she had done in only a day and a half, but a vampire's mind worked faster than a human's could ever dream of. She had been able to condense centuries of emotional adjustment into a thirty-six hour period by putting her mind to it and forcing the change through.
It brought Jasper's words to the forefront of Edward's mind again. Jasper had suggested that by using the technique, Edward would be able to get over Bella the way she had gotten over him without having to spend centuries moping. Sometimes he didn't know why he continued on, the pain in his heart threatening to completely overtake him and he'd contemplated setting himself alight more than once in the time since he had left the human girl behind, but it was always the thought of Carlisle and Esme that brought him back from that. He so desperately wanted to be happy again, if only so his parents were happy.
"Is there…Is there any way for me to be happy again if I don't do that to my feelings for Bella?" He asked, ashamed of the question but also desperate. The depression was too much for him alone, and seeing Bella obviously happy and so different from the girl he had loved had destroyed any hope he had for meeting up with her in a few years to restart their relationship.
Sometimes he forgot just how slippery a human's memory could be.
Alice shook her head in the negative, and Edward felt his heart constrict more. "Not for a few centuries at least, and even then you'll be still unhappy, just not as depressed. I can't see far enough ahead into the future to see if you ever become happy again naturally."
Edward screwed his eyes shut, wishing that vampires could cry like humans did. Alice patted his hand consolingly, but that did nothing to assure him that it would be alright in the end. He took a shaky breath in, letting it out in one big rush before repeating the process a few times and looking up at her. His voice was quiet, almost too quiet for her to hear him. "Can you help me?"
She smiled sadly. "Of course I can. It hurts me to see you this unhappy, Edward. You're my favourite brother – I just want you to be happy."
Silence reigned in the car for a moment before Alice continued, a lot more relaxed than she had been when she first started driving. "The first thing you need to do is isolate the emotion that made you fall in love with Bella in the first place."
"I was…" He cast his mind back over a year ago, back to the second biology class he had shared with her. Her big, doe-like eyes peered up at him and he remembered the curiosity and frustration he had felt at the lack of sound he could hear coming from her mind. "I was curious. And frustrated. I couldn't read her mind. I started talking to her, trying to understand why I couldn't hear her, and discovered that she was an interesting person. Everything just sort of flowed on from there."
"But was she interesting because of herself or because she was the only person you couldn't read the mind of?" Alice asked calmly. Edward didn't want to think of what the answer would be; he was afraid that he would realise that his feeling for Bella were nothing more than an obsession with the puzzle she presented, but Alice had promised to help him be happy again. He had to do this.
"It was… a little bit of both." He admitted finally. "But initially it was because I couldn't read her mind. She was a puzzle."
Alice nodded as if she already knew the answer, and Edward had a feeling she was looking ahead to see what his answers would be before he had even heard the question. "That is the emotion you need to change. Force your mind to think of her like you would a puzzle – one that you can't figure out and you never will. Bring in the frustration from all the times you tried to read her mind and couldn't. The frustration will overcome the curiosity because you haven't gotten anywhere with figuring the puzzle out, and the frustration will become boredom because you realise that you won't ever get anywhere.
"After you're bored with the puzzle, you'll need to shelve it, put it away somewhere you'll never find it until you do a big clean out. Then when you do your spring cleaning, you pass the puzzle into the junk pile and it goes off to be played with by someone else – in this case it's when you left her behind to protect her. At the end of it, you'll find that you have left her behind to protect her from the danger hanging around a vampire is, but also because you were getting nowhere with the puzzle that she represented and you couldn't be bothered spending any more time trying to figure her out."
"But that's not how I feel about her!" Edward cried in denial. Alice shook her head.
"No, but it's what you have to convince yourself is the truth," She explained softly. "It's the only way you'll be happy again any time in the next millennia."
"I-" He hesitated. A millennia was a long time to feel depressed over a human who would be dead by the turn of the century, and he had no indication of how much longer after that he would be unhappy for. He wanted to be happy again, to not feel as though every morning is a trial and that the world would be a better place if he just jumped into an active volcano. "Fine."
Alice smiled in joy and Edward allowed himself to see the image developing in the forefront of her mind. It was the Cullen family, all six of them standing out the back of a house in the early morning light of false dawn and laughing happily. As he watched, a noise caught the attention of the Edward in the vision and he turned, catching a woman with burnished copper hair that contrasted perfectly with his own bronze hair around the waist and spinning her gaily. The joy and love he saw in his future-self's face made his heart ache terribly, and he steeled his determination.
He would do this. He wanted to be happy again; he wanted the joy shown to him in that image of the future He wanted to meet a woman with bright copper hair that could make him smile like that, and he wanted to be whole when he did so.
"Okay." He nodded to Alice. "Okay. I can do this."
Alice smiled with obvious joy, the image staying bright and strong in her mind, giving him strength to continue. "Find your curiosity for Bella and think of how frustrating it was to get nowhere in regards to understanding the puzzle she presented."
Many years later...
"The Cullen's have invited us to the wedding of Edward Masen Cullen and Jemima Huntington. I guess Edward has finally met that woman he raved to you about last time you met him, after he took your advice and moved on from me." Bella flicked through the rest of the mail idly as she read the embossed card. From further in the house Jasper's curiosity reached out to her and she let her own amusement slip through her shield for him. "Well, that is to say that they invited 'Jasper Whitlock and One Guest'."
She heard Jasper's hum before she heard his footsteps, and he read the invite over her head. It still frustrated Bella sometimes when she thought of how tiny she was, even as a vampire. She'd always dreamed of gaining a few more inches in height once she had been turned, but no. Her height had resolutely stayed at five feet and four inches.
Jasper usually quieted her rants about that fact by stating how nice it was to be able to tuck her under his chin. He was almost an entire foot taller than her, and sometimes teased her about it. She got her revenge by making him get everything from the top shelf for her.
"I'm surprised that they haven't discovered the fact that you've been turned, darling." He drawled in amusement as he read the invite for himself. His old Texan accent was slipping through more often these days, after he'd discovered the tingles it sent down her spine.
Bella elbowed him in the kidney in jest, which was at the perfect height for her to do so. Another advantage of the height difference she loved to take. "You know Alice can't see my future. And the Cullen's have completely moved on from Bella Swan – she became just another human to them in the end."
Jasper wrapped his arms around the small woman, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "You were never just another human to me, darling."
"Oh hush. I know that." She slapped his wrist playfully, rereading the invite. "Should we go?"
Jasper stared at the card for a moment before pulling back to look Bella in the eyes. His topaz gaze caught and held her own with a slight mischievous glint. Bella could feel the amusement grow in him as he thought something over, and she cocked her head at him in question.
"Alice still can't see your future, can she?" He asked finally. As Bella shook her head he grinned cheekily. "What do you say to going early but keeping out of sight to watch her rush around in a panic because she won't be able to see how the wedding will turn out?"
"I would say that you should have outgrown petty revenge two hundred years ago, Jasper Whitlock." She mocked scolded him before giving a grin of her own. "But it does sound like fun."
"I thought you'd say that." He dropped a kiss on her lips before taking the card back to the den with him to write their reply.
Bella smiled in content. After she had finally moved on from Edward during the burning of Laurent she'd taken a bit to just enjoy life before Victoria came calling, intent on collecting her revenge against Edward for the death of James. However, the red-haired vampire wasn't expecting the Whitlock coven or the Quileute Tribe of shape-shifters to have joined forces and protect Bella. Even her newborn army was no match for a trio of vampires who had fought in the Southern Vampire Wars and they had trained the Quileute's in how to take down newborns quickly and efficiently.
It was after the battle that she had discovered her childhood friend Jacob was one of the shape-shifters. When she'd last been in contact with him he'd imprinted on a lovely young lady from Seattle; the shape-shifters version of mates.
She'd graduated high school with good marks, spent a year spending time with her father and then left on an extended trip around the world with Jasper that she simply never returned home from. She had traded letters with both her parents for years afterwards, never seeing them but hearing how obviously happy they were with their lives and how happy they were that she was doing something she loved. She actually had a series of nieces and nephews running around the world, along with a few grand-nieces and nephews, from the children Renee and Phil had had.
On the morning of her nineteenth birthday, in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, Bella had taken her first breath as a vampire. The first thing she could remember waking up that morning was the view of the false dawn that had lit up the sky. It felt like nature had made it just for her, and the magical feeling of that morning had continued for the rest of her vampire life.
As she sat on the front porch and watched the eastern sky light up with the zodiacal lights, another magical false dawn, Bella thought to herself; 'Life is good.'
AN: This story was a writing exercise I decided to do. I sat down either Monday morning and started writing it on my tablet. I finished the story Tuesday evening, and completed the final proof read Wednesday evening. Keep in mind that I also had work, travelling, eating and sleeping to do in this time.
This story is proof to myself that I can write a decent length story (I think almost thirty thousand words is pretty good), work through writers block (Twilight is not a subject I am familiar with. I only watched the first movie and read the books about six, maybe seven years ago?) and also finish it.
This story has been proof read by myself. Any mistakes are mine. If you see one, please don't hesitate to point it out (but also keep in mind that I am Australian, we spell words differently to Americans and some of the slang I am familiar with may be a foreign language to others).