It had been four years, two months and twenty-one days since I left Bella crying in the woods in Forks, Washington

Lights go out and I can't be saved
Tides that I've tried to swim against,
You've put me down upon my knees
Oh I beg, I beg and plead, singing

-'Clocks' (Coldplay)


It was four years, two months, and twenty-one days since I left Bella crying alone in the woods in Forks, Washington. I had spent much of that time wishing for death but I still remained strong in my belief that I had done the right thing for Bella. Even if it killed me, that did not matter as long as she was safe and well… and alive.

The one time I went back to Forks, I hadn't seen Bella, hadn't even tried to seek her out. The mere sight of her exquisite face would have tempted me to stay beyond my ability to resist. But there appeared to be nothing amiss in Forks, and Charlie's thoughts were of the average Charlie variety, so I felt certain she was safe and was able to leave the town with some peace of mind, at least. Bella never needed to know that I had been there, ready to reclaim my place in her life if she'd needed me, if anything was amiss.

I had gone back east, to New Hampshire, as far away from Forks… and my memories of Bella and our time together… as I could get. Eventually, I enrolled in Dartmouth, starting life as a freshman student for the…. how many times had I gone through university now? I'd lost count. Carlisle was overjoyed, both because he thought I was finally "getting over" Bella and moving on, and also because he'd heard rumours about vampires in Hanover. Since I was coming here anyway, he'd asked me to track them down and ask them to leave. I was to quietly and politely lay claim to Hanover and its surrounding territory as ours, in effect, thus saving the local citizens from becoming prey.

So here I was at Dartmouth, running late for my first class on my first day as a student. In addition to "enjoying" all the normal freshman activities I was experiencing for the umpteenth time, I'd spent my morning trailing the faint scent of others of our kind… at least one, maybe more… as they criss-crossed the campus. They were here, I was certain, but I couldn't track them down. They seemed to be everywhere. The faint scent even trailed into the building I was now entering: Sanborn Hall, home of the English Department and my Composition 101 course.

I followed my map and my nose into a large lecture hall filled with students, all chattering and laughing as they waited for the professor to begin the first lecture of the semester. Could the vampire I was following be a student? Might they actually be in here? It didn't seem so; the scent was much too faint for them actually to be present in the classroom, but it had been equally faint everywhere else I'd tracked it around the campus so I was unsure. And very confused.

I forced myself to tune out the thoughts of the students around me. It would be extremely difficult for me to get anything out of the class if I didn't block them out. All the mind-talk of parties and dating and deadlines was an impossible distraction, and probably would drive me mad with boredom as well.

'-la to sort that out for me today,' the Professor's mind droned. 'Perhaps she wouldn't be averse to grading these first few essays I'm about to assign. That could free me up for an evening with Tracey. I'll have to see if they'll unchain her from her desk in the Sciences Department to go out. Or we could stay in…'

Right, I thought, that's enough of that. I tuned out the ramblings of his mind and forced myself to listen to his words instead.

'I am Professor Wilson, and this is Composition 101, generally known as Bonehead English," the professor said with a grin. "If you are in the wrong class, please leave quietly. My office hours are from 8AM until 10AM, right before this class. If you need to see me and I'm not in, you can hunt up my grad assistant. Talking to her is as good as talking to me, people. She can help you with most problems, and if she can't, then I probably can't either.' He laughed lightly and then called out, 'Isabella? Where are you? Oh, there you are. Could you give the people a wave, please? Let them know what you look like?'

Isabella? I thought to myself, shocked. It couldn't be my Bella here. At Dartmouth. Could it? I forced myself to be rational. It couldn't be her. Bella couldn't be a graduate assistant. I didn't actually know where she'd ended up going to college, but no matter where she'd gone, she'd still be an undergraduate. Carlisle had, at my request, set up some sort of financial aid for Bella so she would be able to attend college but I'd also begged him not to tell me where she went. I hadn't wanted to know, hadn't wanted to be faced with the temptation. If I'd known where she was I might not have been able to resist finding her, going to her, crawling back on my cowardly belly to beg her forgiveness.

My world stopped when he waved to his left, to a student sitting in the front row. Long brown hair veiled her face and I could see small black eyeglasses perched on her nose. She shyly raised a white hand and gave a little finger wave to the hall. Sweet Jesus. It was Bella. My Bella.

I drank her in, revelling in the sight of her. It seemed a lifetime since I'd last seen her and to my eyes she had changed very little in that time. She looked a little thinner, a little more fragile to me now. Her beautiful mahogany hair was still a thick, straight curtain and she still hid behind it. The glasses were new and I decided instantly that they suited her very well. Of course, she could have been wearing a chicken suit and I would have thought her beautiful. She hadn't even looked up from her notes as she waved, so I knew she hadn't seen me. And even if she had looked at the class, I was sitting at the back of the large lecture hall and it would have been almost impossible for her to have noticed me in the crowd of students. But I would have known her anywhere. I took a deep breath, hoping to detect the scent that both tortured and sustained me. My body ached for a long-overdue hit of my most potent drug. Her scent had always been the most potent thing in the world to me and, no matter what, would always overlay any and all others in a room. When the inevitable reactionary burn didn't scorch my throat, I took another whiff.

I was shocked when I realized that the signature fragrance of the creature I had been tracking this morning was clearly present in this room, faint but definitely here. Looking back over at Bella, I watched as she took a deep breath and sighed, pulling off her glasses and baring her unguarded profile to my hungry eyes. God, she was beautiful. I could happily watch her for an eternity. Once more, I traced the curve of her cheek with my eyes and then forced myself to focus on the vampire I was supposed to be tracking. I reluctantly closed my eyes, instantly missing the sight of Bella's lovely face, and concentrated on the creature's elusive scent. It was very subtle, and yet, as I concentrated, I noticed that it was remarkably like Bella's – the intoxicating scent of strawberries and freesias almost buried beneath the other. It was her scent, but mixed with a sweetness that she hadn't had before. What could change, what could dilute a scent in this way?

I shivered as I thought about this vampire, possibly hiding in a roomful of students, just waiting to catch my Bella unaware. My Bella. I laughed to myself at my presumption; she wasn't mine. Not anymore. Any rights I might have had were given up when I left her in those woods. But she was still mine to protect and protect her I would. No matter what. I looked around carefully, searching for the tell-tale skin of another of my kind, for a pair of sunglasses worn even indoors to hide glowing red eyes. When I saw nothing and so I growled softly, knowing the other would hear it and understand the underlying challenge.

I froze in surprise and horror when, at the corner of my vision, I saw Bella jerk suddenly and turn to stare into the mass of students. I saw the vampire shine of her eyes even before I noticed the colour. Their liquid gold called to me like a siren, a thousand more times more potent than even her blood had been. As she saw me, I could see emotions reflected on her face… surprise, shock, longing and then well-deserved revulsion fluttered over her features before she turned her head away again. It seemed impossible, but I swear that I heard my heart break sharply in two in that instant. In a flash, she put her glasses back on and swung her hair around to hide her face.

My head spun as the truth hit me like a freight train. Bella was changed. She was one of us. The scent I'd been following was hers; still undeniably appealing, but it also undeniably vampire. I laughed grimly to myself as I stared at her with a mixture of hunger and dismay. Who had turned her? When? She looked no older than when I had left her, and yet the changes were there. She looked so very tiny and breakable, and yet I knew that her white skin would be as durable as mine, her muscles as hard, her body as cold, and her heart as still. The cadence by which I'd measured my minutes, the heat with which I'd warmed myself, the fragility I'd cherished and cared for… gone, all gone. I sat silently and mourned their loss.

And yet, even as I grieved for her mortality, for everything that made her human, some small part of me rejoiced. I could hold her properly, touch her without fear of breaking her spun glass bones. And kiss…Good God in Heaven! I could kiss her with all the passion I'd locked away, with every morsel of love that I had stored in my silent heart.

I allowed myself a moment to fantasize, to dwell on everything I wanted, the whole cornucopia of delights that I hadn't dared to indulge in, before reality came crashing over me again. Her one silent look had spoken volumes. She loathed me and I had earned that, every bit of it, many times over. I had lied to her, broken my promises to her, left her alone, and abandoned her to her fate. She was a monster now, like me, and she hated me for it. God knows I could understand. There were times that I hated Carlisle for turning me into this monster, despite my ability to read his thoughts and know just how earnest he was and just how much he loved me. And Bella hadn't even the love of her creator. Or had she?

Had she just moved on, found the next vampire to wander through the Pacific Northwest, and persuaded them to bring her over? Or was she a hapless victim? Oh, if that were the case, I would find the one who did this to her and rip them limb from limb for daring to touch my Bella.

I needed answers, and I needed this class to end. Now.

The agony of frustration and impatience nearly drove me mad as the minutes ticked by like hours. Only once before could I remember time dragging like this. That first biology class had tortured me with fantasies of killing Bella; this class tortured me with fantasies of reuniting with her.

I memorized the way she sat there, hunched quietly over her notes. Her muscles were tensed and she was sitting on the very edge of her seat. It was obvious that she was waiting for the first opportunity to run from me. I drank her in with my eyes. Her sense of style hadn't changed at all. She was in her predictable uniform of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, with a hooded sweatshirt over it. She probably wore the sweatshirt out of habit, or perhaps to blend in, because I knew she wouldn't be feeling the cold. I saw her shoes and smiled – bright pink Converse. Cute.

Observing her more closely, I noticed the way she blended in was remarkable. There was no expanse of empty seats surrounding her as there was around me. Students willingly, comfortably sat next to her; one young woman even asked her for a pencil when hers broke. She handed over a spare with a polite smile. No one around her seemed to have any fear of her, subliminal or otherwise.

She was nothing like the rest of us, she was no predator with a thin veneer of humanity as a pitiful disguise. Except for the moment she had looked up at me, she appeared completely normal. Even her skin looked soft and pliable. It was very pale white, just like that of any of our kind, but it did not appear to be hard or uncomfortable for a human to touch.

And her scent! It was so faint that it was nearly undetectable. When I had been tracking her outside, her scent trails had appeared to be weeks old, even though some of them must have been laid this morning. How was she doing it? Did she even know she was doing it?

I tried to listen to her thoughts, but just like before, her mind was silent to me, as if she was not even there. It frustrated me as much as it had in the past, and yet the familiarity pulled at my heartstrings. She was still my Bella, despite the changes.

I smiled to myself when I thought about how excited Alice would be at the shopping opportunities. She'd loved shopping with Bella, dressing her up, and I knew she missed Bella terribly. She tried to keep her thoughts about it quiet for my sanity's sake but it still leaked out occasionally. My whole family missed her, in fact, even Rosalie, but even together they could not generate a tenth of the longing I felt.

The thought that I had left her for nothing filled me with a crippling regret. I had removed myself from Bella's life so that she could have all the things I couldn't give her: a life, love, children, maturity, peace from all the unnatural things to which I'd exposed her. It seemed that despite my sacrifice, the abhorrent and unnameable had found its way to her anyway. I was furious with myself. It was only my fault that I wasn't there to protect her. I should have been selfish and married her myself, watched her grow old, and then eventually died when she died. Why had I suffered so intensely? She had become a vampire anyway, which meant that I had hurt us both so deeply, so terribly, for nothing. Nothing.

I had no plan, no idea what to say to her, no idea what to do. Obviously, I had expected to ask the vampire I was tracking to leave the area but I certainly wasn't going to ask her to leave. God, I just wanted to talk to her, to fall at her feet and beg her to take me back. But judging by her reaction when she'd spotted me, that probably wasn't a good idea, although it was the most appealing one. Just to be near her, to speak to her, to hear her voice again... it was all I wanted. Perhaps I should ask her to speak to Carlisle. She had loved and trusted him and I was certain that those feelings hadn't changed, no matter how much her feelings for me obviously had.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and wished desperately for the class to be over.

"That concludes our class for today," Professor Wilson droned on. Finally. "I'll expect your papers next Thursday. Class dismissed."

Oh thank God! Making my way out of my seat to the aisle, I prepared to find my way over to Bella, but she exited hurriedly through a door at the front of the room. I raced down and nearly flew into the hallway but she was gone. I took a deep breath, but her scent was so faint that gave me no clue as to her direction. Damn.