After days in agony—acute pain that burned white-hot and nitrogen-cold in thousands of prickling, cruel shards—my mind is drifting, trying to float softly on top of the molten stream and lift itself up from the burn.
When the pain drops off, plummeting out from beneath me, it leaves me gasping and bewildered. My throat is sore and thirst itches and burns down to my stomach, where hunger prowls like a caged animal. My back and neck, taut and arched in an exquisitely curved expression of pain, relax. I blink rapidly as my fingers unfurl from the dented bedpost, raining slivers of metal onto crumpled sheets.
My eyes focus on a painting on the wall, and I gasp. Although the room is dimly lit, I can see each minute brushstroke and each subtle shift in hue stands out from the next in fine detail. An ordinary landscape is intricate perfection to my new eyes.
I wince. Edward's velvet voice is almost unbearably loud, and it presses against my aching head in heavy waves.
"Ow…" I whine softly.
He moves from the sofa across the room to my side in a flash. Except now my eyes can track his movement more easily and he is less of a blur than he used to be.
He sits on the edge of the bed, making it dip slightly. I groan quietly again. Each cell of my body feels tender and bruised, although the pain is ebbing slightly even as he takes my hand and presses it to his lips. His hand is warm around mine, and his lips feel soft as they brush against my palm.
"It's all over," he murmurs.
"Bella's awake!" I hear Alice call from somewhere downstairs. There is a rush of nearing movement and in the next instant there is a queue of Cullens crowding the doorframe.
My new family.
I feel a rush of excitement that is not all my own, and I tilt my head to the side and smile at Jasper.
His returned smile is slightly sheepish, and I feel the fever-pitched anticipation level out somewhat.
Carlisle comes forward, and Edward lets go of my hand reluctantly. He stands off to the side with Alice. She's talking quickly, hummingbird soft, but I manage to catch every word on the sluggish air.
"How do you feel, Bella?" Carlisle asks.
"Thirsty," I croak.
He nods and leans forward to pull one of my lower eyelids down. A kind smile tugs at the corners of his mouth as he examines my other eye. Edward chuckles, and Alice joins him a moment later.
I feel a sense of discomfort and embarrassment. Why are they laughing? Did something go wrong? What's wrong with me?
Jasper elbows Edward.
"Your eyes are blood red," Edward explains a moment later, moving to stand at Carlisle's shoulder.
"Blood. Get it?" Emmett says, and he laughs loudly. I wince again, because the sound echoes and ricochets from ear to ear.
"Ungh," I groan and lift a pale hand to my temple.
"Sorry," Emmett rumbles.
"We'll come back later, Bells," Alice says, and they leave me with Edward and Carlisle for the moment.
Carlisle asks me to open my mouth, and he examines my teeth intently before saliva pools around my tongue and I splutter. He pulls his gloved finger from my mouth with lightning speed.
"Well, your venom glands are working," he says wryly.
My eyes widen with realization, and I run my tongue around the inside of my mouth experimentally. It doesn't taste any different. Should it taste different?
I swallow, and the venom seems to ignite the burn down to my stomach, like rubbing salt along a raw wound.
Carlisle stands up and Edward sits on my bed again, holding my hand, before I can blink.
"We'll all take you hunting tonight, Bella," Carlisle says.
I nod, still not entirely absorbing what that will mean. Before I changed it was an abstract concept, but now the reality of hunting is here. Will I be able to deal with it?
Carlisle leaves the room, and my focus turns to my husband, who is gazing down at me with equal parts concern and relief.
Edward flexes his fingers suddenly, and I realize I am squeezing them rather tightly.
"Sorry." I smile apologetically. No warming flush rushes to my cheeks.
"That's okay," he says gently. He smiles. His smile is still so beautiful—even more so now, because I see the tiny imperfections with new eyes: faint, little worry bite marks on his lower lip where his own venom has left whitish scars. I forget about the hunting for now as I remember something I want to do.
"Open the curtains please, Edward," I ask.
He tugs one of the curtains aside, letting a shaft of afternoon sunlight spill across our bed.
I slide my hand along the covers to where the light swirls with motes, and I hold my breath as I pause at the boundary for a moment.
Edward gives me an encouraging smile.
I inch my hand forward, and the sunlight reflects off the facets in my skin like a jewel; bright spots of light dance on the walls and the ceiling.
As I turn my hand in the light, squinting against the blinding dazzle of light, I feel emotion well up inside me. I breathe out shakily, but my eyes don't get moist. I realize that I'll never cry again, not in the traditional human sense. Another wave of emotion swells over the last, and I bring my knees to my chest, sobbing dryly.
Edward pulls me into his arms and stretches out next to me on the bed. He strokes my hair and talks quietly to me as I calm down, like all the excess energy has drained into him. In a way it's true. Edward has always tried to bear the burdens he can.
"Shh," he says, kissing my earlobe with warm lips. "It's going to be alright."
I sigh into his chest and then lift my head. "It's just difficult to…"
He smiles and kisses my cheek. "Take it all in?" he suggests.
His lips drift to mine, only now his kiss is completely different because he doesn't have to fear hurting me any longer. Unmindful of sharp teeth and venom, he sucks gently on my lower lip before opening his mouth against mine.
I whimper in protest when Edward ends the kiss with a brush of his lips against mine, followed by a lingering, close-mouthed kiss of affection.
"Rest, Bella," he says, pulling me a little closer. "Rest until it gets dark."
The strip of light has retreated to the window sill already and as my lust recedes, my thirst burns again.
So thirsty, I think. Like a fish out of the ocean.
Each breath burns, so I try to practice not breathing for a while, but it's difficult to break life-ingrained, patterned behavior.
I can hear the rest of the family talking, moving, laughing, and I can even smell the wildflowers that Alice carries in from outside.
I open my eyes but close them again when I can see the weave of the material in the canopy of the four-poster bed. My head feels crowded: full of noise and scent and the minuscule details of life.
My throat begins to itch madly, and I scratch absently. Edward grumbles softly when I turn this way then that, uncomfortable in my new marble skin. It feels like the old hole in my chest has been turned inside out—it's eating my stomach now, clawing its way up my throat.
I sit up abruptly.
"What is it, Bella?" Edward asks, frowning his worry.
"I'm going to get dressed for tonight." I slide off the bed and stand. The pain has faded to a barely noticeable twinge, and I open a drawer in the dresser. The knob comes away in my hand.
I make a sound of frustration, but Edward only chuckles.
I turn, scowling, and he's smiling at me, amusement evident in his eyes. "You still have to learn your own strength."
I snatch a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and blur into the bathroom, barely managing to stop before I crash into the sink.
Edward's renewed chuckle makes me consider slamming the door.
I decide that might not be the best idea.
There's a moment after I look in the mirror when I think that Alice is playing a trick on me, perhaps hiding behind a clear sheet of glass.
But the white-pale vampire in the mirror has scarlet eyes. "Oh," I say softly. The red eyes are freaky, yes, but I had been expecting them I suppose.
The vacuum of silence from the bedroom probably means that Edward is listening intently, wondering if I want to do this alone or not. He's such a worrier, my beautiful man.
I touch the smooth, hard curves of my face, amazed. "I look like I belong now," I murmur.
"You've always belonged." Edward's answer is a whisper on the air, gossamer soft.
I smile and zip up my jeans slowly and careful fingers. "Whew."
After I'm dressed, I pull my hair back into a ponytail. It's dirty and stringy from the change, but I expect I'll need a shower after the hunt tonight.
Thinking about the hunt again has an unexpected effect. Instead of feeling slightly ill, the burn in my throat intensifies, like I've been walking in the desert for days with nothing to drink.
I twist the cold tap open and drop my head to drink. I keep on swallowing, trying to quench the burning thirst. Streams of water dribble down my shirt, and it sticks to my skin wetly.
Vaguely I can hear Alice call, "No, Bella!"
She and Edward arrive at the bathroom door together, and Edward takes my shoulders and tries to pull me away from the tap.
I snarl—a wild, feral snarl—and I tighten my grip on the tap. It breaks off and water fountains into the air, gushing against the mirror and pooling onto the floor.
I stop struggling with Edward, aghast at my behaviour.
Alice sighs and bends to turn the valve off. The bottoms of her jeans are dark with moisture, and her shoes are sodden.
I poke the discarded tap head with my foot. "Sorry," I mumble.
"Silly Bella," says Edward gently, and he kisses my temple.
Alice throws a towel onto the wet floor, and I watch with odd detachment for a moment before I put a hand to my mouth.
"Feel sick," I mumble through my fingers.
Edward rubs my arm. "All that water's going to have to come up, you know," he says. He gives the toilet a meaningful glance.
I whimper and pull away from him, gesturing for them both to leave.
I'm already on my knees, gagging, when I hear the door click closed.
A little while later, with water and bile and venom dripping from my open mouth, I lie with my head on the toilet seat, heaving slightly.
I lift my head, and back into the space between the bath and the toilet, mortified. I pull another towel from the railing and wipe my face.
The light is off, and the twilight drapes the bathroom in shadows of grey. I can still see everything in sharp detail, though, and I close my eyes, rocking myself gently.
I don't want anybody to see me like this—a pathetic newborn who forgets that she's not supposed to drink water.
I breathe in deeply through my nose, and the fire in my throat catches light again, fanned to full intensity from its dull smoulder.
A soft knock at the door has me trying to back further into the tiny space.
I don't want him to see me like this. Pathetic. All wet. Stupid.
The door creaks open a sliver and golden light pierces the grey gloom.
"Bella?" Edward sounds concerned and tentative. "Are you alright?"
I tuck my head against my knees and press my lips together. I feel like I want to cry again. I'm utterly ashamed that I make such a poor vampire.
"Bella?" His voice is more urgent now, and there's an edge of panic that tightens the velvet taut.
He flips on the light.
"Alice!" I wince as his voice seems to slam into my head from all directions.
Alice skids into the bedroom.
"Where is she?" he asks desperately.
"I don't know. She just disappeared a second ago." She's talking fast again; her words run and flow over each other like water.
I lift my head, confused. "I'm right here."
Alice and Edward have twin expressions of incredulity on their faces.
Alice blinks. "Well you've veered right back into the future," she says faintly.
Edward drops to his knees in front of me, and he pulls me into a tight hug. I cling to him, bewildered and bemused.
The rest of the household is crowded in the doorway again.
"What happened?" Rosalie asks sourly, obviously slightly put out that I'm attracting so much attention today.
"She can disappear," Alice says.
"From your visions, like the werewolves?" Esme asks, looking at me with concern.
"No...She went invisible for a while. And she disappeared from my visions, so yes," she amends.
Emmett laughs. "No way!"
Everybody except Edward leaves so that I can put on dry clothes. It's obvious that he'd feel anxious to leave me alone again. I'd love to wallow in misery, but I feel like I might ignite if I don't slake my thirst soon.
I can hear the others theorising in our bedroom as Edward helps me to button my shirt, touching my hair, my cheek, my neck, in silent comfort and reassurance.
"It must be an intensification of her mind protection she had when she was human," Carlisle says. "She was feeling afraid and vulnerable, and she didn't want us to see her." He hmm's softly. "Perhaps she can block out all sensory perception of herself. If so it's a very unique and powerful gift."
"She'll have to learn to control it," Rosalie says.
"In time, she will," Esme says confidently.
Edward and I step from the bathroom. I fidget under everybody's interested gaze. I try to swallow, but it only constricts my throat and makes it flame more intensely.
"Do it again, Bella," Emmett says with a grin.
"No...She's thirsty," Jasper says tightly. Obviously my thirst is fanning his.
"Let's go hunt," Edward says. He smiles at me. "We can figure out your disappearing act later."
When I step outside, I can feel my new body adjusting to the dark—my vision sharpens and my muscles tense—and I can scent game on the breeze. An involuntary snarl escapes my lips, answered by my family.
We disappear into the trees, pale blurs amongst the shadows.
This fic is complete, although I'm probably going to write it this "Twilight world" again.
The title is a song by Evanescence.
Thank you to my darling gelsey for keeping me company and beta-reading :)