For the first few days alone, she and Edward were awkward with each other. Their interactions were stilted and forced. Every conversation was like torture. But after about a week they settled into a routine. Bella still needed to eat twice a day, so she would go out in the morning and once in the evening. Some days Edward would join her, but most days he left her to go out without him, to have some time by herself, to think and be alone.
Getting to run free, to sprint and jump and hunt with nothing but her own reflexes and body and the sounds and smells and sights around her was in many ways invigorating and the most joyful part of her day. Testing her new body in a place where she could truly let herself run wild without fear of losing control for a split second and breaking the handle off of a door, or accidentally getting too near human population and ripping into someone was a release. She would sometimes spend hours in the woods, even after she was done hunting, pushing her abilities to their limits, finding the boundaries of her new body. Without another soul to interrupt her, she was able to really explore herself.
But she still couldn't think about Edward. Their awkwardness did not just come from being alone and newly aware of each other in ways they had never been able to be aware of each other before. It was not from the thickness of the tension that Bella was almost positive she could literally feel now. It was not even in the unending hours, unbroken by sleep or making meals the way a human's life would be, it was that she could not for the life of her decide how she felt about him, or even about herself.
There was nothing she could do about being changed; what was done was done. And she could not change their history together either, though if she could have willed it, she would have done everything in her power to simply forget about what had passed between them when she was human. They had all told her at one point that your human life will simply fade from your memory after the change. And that was true for her in part, she could no longer remember much in the way of details or events. But she could remember some things, the hazy outlines, and more importantly than that, she could remember her emotions. She could remember the pain, the debilitating ache she had felt deep into her human bones for years of her life. The hurt of it had infected her flesh like a disease she just couldn't shake, and now things were different, but not better. Years of that aching had left her, in some ways, crippled. She had been so hurt, and so angry for so many years, that she felt tattooed with all that terribleness. There was no shaking the anguish and the anger, but there was no ridding herself of the entanglement and counterintuitive draw she felt to him whenever they were in the same room.
She could feel him, wherever he was, and there was an inexplicable draw she felt to be wherever he was, even though sometimes that draw also made her weak and sick. They were careful, so careful, not to touch each other, but even being nearby was enough to make her stomach hurt. Humans got butterflies; vampires got churning oceans of confusion and nerves. She thought those types of things would have been over after the change, but there were some similarities to human/vampire physiology it seemed.
Edward seemed to sense her state of conflict, if not share it completely, and in most cases left her to her own devices unless she specifically sought him out. The house was big enough that they could know where the other one was, without needing to be in the same room. It was a comfort sometimes, to know he was there, even if he wasn't so close as to make her feel nervous.
When they did cross paths, on a hunting trip or passing each other in the house or when she had something she wanted to ask him about, Edward did his best to keep his distance and remain neutral. He might have been able to fool her when she was human, but she could see now, the miniscule expressions on his face, the slight changes in his voice, the infinitesimal hesitation in his otherwise smooth movements that betrayed a kind of larger hesitation and holding back. There was something he wasn't saying, wasn't doing, and it was beginning to show.
"Are you going for a hunt later?" he asked her one night, about an hour before she usually headed out. It was an unnecessary question; he knew she was going hunting as she always did.
"Yes," she replied evenly, trying not to show her suspicion.
"Would it be alright if I joined you? It has been a few days since I've been out," he said. He was staring at the window, watching her reflection in the glass, pretending to be watching the outdoors.
"By all means, I plan on leaving in an hour," she answered. He nodded, looking back at her and left her again, a book in her hands. She continued reading it distractedly for the next hour and then set it down right as Edward came down the stairs to find her. They went out the door together, silent. As soon as they hit the tree line, they started running.
There was something about running that made Bella feel free. She wasn't as fast as Edward, but she was damn close. They would weave through the trees, try to outstrip each other, be faster, more agile, and the first to find a meal. Edward was always faster, but Bella was a better predator. It might have been because she was still so young, or because Edward had spent so much of his life actively trying to suppress the part of his instincts that reacted to food with immediacy, but he was always a second behind her when she found prey.
It was an unspoken ritual to wait for the other, whoever was the first to finish. Bella was almost always the first one to finish, being the first to find something to eat. She sat, as she always did, cross legged on the ground, listening to the world revolve around her, waiting for the sounds of Edward coming back for her. It only took a few minutes, and then she started to hear the whispering sound of him moving back toward her. She opened her eyes as he climbed nimbly over the trunk of a sideways tree.
"Ready?" she asked. He nodded, and then took off toward home.
When they got back to the house, instead of going their separate ways as they normally would have, Edward paused in the doorway, looking pensive.
"Are you okay?" he asked tentatively.
"I'm fine," she replied absently, looking at him questioningly.
"I don't mean right now, Bella, I mean…here, are you okay here."
"I…" she faltered. How could she tell him the things she didn't entirely understand herself?
"You seem so…remote here, like I am far away from you even when I know you're right on the other side of a door. I see what joy you have inside you when we're out in the woods together, and then as soon as we come back here, you've already retreated again," he said. By the end of his words he sounded exasperated. His brow was furrowed, his eyes slightly narrowed and sad. He kept clenching and unclenching his hands, too fast for her to ever have followed as a human. She wondered if he had always done that when he was nervous or frustrated and she simply hadn't noticed.
"I don't know what to tell you…I…I feel everything so intensely still, and it's all so confusing. I am scared and hurt and still so angry and I want you and I don't and I can't understand it, so I just…leave you alone," she answered quietly, looking at her shoes. She wondered briefly why she even bothered to wear shoes anymore. Habit, she supposed.
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked, finally. She glanced up and realized the sadness in his eyes was the truth of the things he had been holding back.
"I don't know. Yes. No. Sometimes?" she backed off the front porch, feeling angry and exasperated. She tore her hands through her hair as she walked off. She got to the tree line and pushed a tree out of her way. It felt satisfying to break something, to cause some damage. She picked up the tree, still shuddering from its impact with the ground, and threw it into the woods. It made satisfying crack and snaps as it broke other trees and braches. She felt the reverberation in the ground as it hit the ground, finally. The satisfaction didn't last. She crouched down and breathed deep, a human gesture of calming even though she didn't need to breathe anymore. She could smell Edward. She knew he was still by the door, watching her. She screamed out her anger. It didn't help.
She crouched there for a while, trying to calm herself. She felt him approaching, felt him stop less than a foot from her side. She stood back up.
"I'm sorry," she said, turning back around. She didn't think she had ever seen him look so conflicted.
"I didn't know you felt so…much," he admitted. "I didn't realize that you were so angry and sad still…I…I didn't know it was still so much a part of you. I thought that would fade over time, and it would seem I was wrong."
"We all thought it would, even Carlisle. We all assumed that the memories would fade away and all this…" she looked down at herself, as though what she was feeling was kind of physical deformity, "stuff would fade with it. But it hasn't. And I don't know if it ever will."
Edward reached out to her with human slowness, and then at the last minute, pulled his hand back. Bella was glad he hadn't touched her. She wasn't sure if she would have reacted positively to it. She wanted to most of the time, and that was the hardest thing. She wanted to want him again, to find her way back to just feeling neutral about him, even if she couldn't get back to reflecting the love she saw reflected in his amber eyes behind all his sadness. And there were moments, when she was most her new self when she felt at peace with him; when they were running and playing in the forest, it was like all her human conflict melted out of her. She could look at him then and feel nothing but calm, the closest thing to a true happiness she had ever known in this form, and she guessed the closest thing to happiness she had felt in a long time, even before the change.
But he was right; when they returned to their solitary life back at the house in the woods, suddenly she was too alone with her feelings, with her thoughts, were her inner turmoil. Sometimes, she could feel that same calm, and other times she would hear him sigh from the other room and she would want to throw her book through the wall at him. She was pretty sure she could assure accuracy, even through solid matter.
"Telling you I love you wouldn't do much to help, would it?" he asked, tentatively. Bella spun around and looked at him, somewhat closer to seething again.
"It doesn't matter! It doesn't," she paused, sighed, shook her head, forced down her rootless anger, "matter. None of it matters."
The next seconds were a blur. Her new eyes could follow him, but Edward was so damn fast. One moment she was standing, facing him, an arm's length away. The next moment he was there, right against her, and he had kissed her. Their mouths touched, and immediately, Bella was swept under a tide. She reached out and grabbed at him, pulling him closer to her desperately, like he was a life raft in a tumultuous sea. She kissed him deeper, feeling his arms wrap around her waist. For the briefest moment, she felt whole. She felt happy. Everything made sense again and her life was balanced. All that hurt and rage drained out of her and she was at this perfect place where nothing but the two of them existed, right then.
And then she tore away from him, like a frightened animal. As fast as the euphoria came, it was gone, and her insides were screaming that even though they didn't remember it, this was the man who had left her, who had left her and let her fester and burn and suffer for years of her life. This was the man that she loved, who said he loved her, but even though she couldn't remember it, he was also the man who had utterly destroyed her. She couldn't make it go away. The sky darkened. She smelled rain on the wind, which had kicked up considerably. She wanted to cry. She knew she couldn't.
She wanted to stop everything, stop feeling this way, but she felt like she was being carried out to sea. If she had a beating heart, it would have been pounding.
"Bella?" Edward asked. She turned away from him and held her hand out to him, palm out, other hand over her heart. The sky erupted. Rain fell like sheets. Lightning flashed. She heard him shout her name again over the sound of the thunder.
She realized then that she could never be happy with him there, not then, not when she was still so new, still so vulnerable to her own whims and changes. Every time he looked at her he was gambling; she could be filled with joy or affection, or she could be overcome with an ache so deep she could not have accurately described it. Or, she could want to tear his head off his shoulders, which she was pretty sure she could do if she tried. She wanted to pull him close and shove him away. She wanted to love him, and couldn't help but sometimes hate him. Everything was wrong. And as she pushed her sodden hair out of her face, she knew this couldn't last. He opened his mouth. She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, he was looking at her like he had suddenly come to the same understanding she had. He nodded at her fractionally.
She ran. She ran and she didn't stop.
She saw him once, in Prague, just for an instant 30 years after she'd fled their home in the forest. The flash of bronze hair and delicately carved features had sent her running all over again. She had felt a thrill of excitement, but also of fear, and her fear won out. She realized with a sickness in her heart and her mind that she might not ever be ready to see him again.
She met Alice and Jasper in Buenos Aires a little less than ten years after that. They sat at a café at night, pretending to drink dark coffee drinks and chatting. The two of them had been touring South America for the past decade, exploring the ways of the humans who lived here, and visiting another pocket of vampires who lived like they did. Jasper added that the prey was more fun here. They all chuckled with knowing.
"What have you been doing for the past thirty eight years, Bella? You've checked in here and there, but for the most part the only way I've known where you were was in here," Alice said, tapping her temple. Bella smiled shyly.
"I've been here or there, Europe, Asia, and South America most recently. I was thinking of looking at a trip to Africa next. I've always wanted to see the pyramids. And for some reason I feel more…connected to things that have lasted so long," she answered, raising her cup to her lips, pretending to sip at her beverage.
"Well one day you could be as old as those relics," Jasper commented with a grin. She smiled back.
"Have you seen Edward at all?" Alice asked suddenly. It became clear to Bella that she had been trying to find a way to segue into that conversation, but had not found an entrance and decided to simply ask. Her fingers shook slightly and so she put down her cup.
"In Prague for an instant. We didn't speak to each other," she answered quietly. Jasper gave Alice a look of warning but Alice brushed him off.
"Well why not?"
Bella swallowed hard. Some human gestures were hard to shake even after almost 40 years.
"I wasn't ready," she whispered.
"He must have been early. I told him to be at that square at exactly 8:17 but he must have been early. If you hadn't seen him and run away, you would have bumped into each other. Things would be…different now," Alice said, looking off in the distance dreamily. Bella felt suddenly seething.
"You told him to come find me?" she demanded. Alice's eyes snapped back to hers and looked exasperated.
"I didn't tell him to do anything. I told him what I saw. He asked me where he needed to be and when and I told him. For both of your own goods I had hoped he would work it out, but apparently his error erased that possibility."
Bella felt inexplicably enraged and sad—angry that she felt like people were still trying to push them together after all this time, and sad that apparently it would have worked that time, and they had missed it.
The family had caught up with her after she had fled the house, mostly to see how she was faring, and make sure she was being safe. When Alice had seen her flee they had all been worried for her, and for Edward. After they realized she was okay, and not killing humans, they asked after what had happened with her and Edward, and why she had left. She had tried to explain it—the confusion, the resonating pain and hatred and love she felt coursing through her now stilled veins—but her words had seemed embarrassingly inadequate and no one seemed to understand her. Why couldn't she just be with him now, if she still loved him? What was the problem? Would not her human memories and feelings fade over time, leaving only her as she was now?
She had looked at them all, sitting and watching her, looking at her intently, and felt at once quailed and strengthened in her resolution. Much as she did now.
"In every vision of yours or his future I've ever seen, you've always been together. Always. And then after Prague, things started to ripple. And sometimes, you're both alone. For eternity. You were meant to meet and see him face to face and realize that all those things you had run away from held no sway over you anymore. You were supposed to realize that the love you felt for him was tempered by pain, and strengthened by it as well.
"But when you ran from the meeting you were supposed to have, instead of facing it, things started to change. Your chances of finding that happiness again are dwindling. There is still some slim hope if little moments work the way I see them working. I guess what I am asking you is, are you ready to be done with all this hurting and just be happy again?"
Bella sat on a bench in Central Park. She fussed with her hair, which was stubbornly disregarding her attempts to braid it back out of her face. She smoothed her dress over her legs for the thousandth time, afraid she was going to begin wearing on the fabric and it would appear threadbare. But for all her absentminded fidgeting, she was incredibly alert. She was waiting. He didn't know she was going to be here, but she knew where he would be. In approximately 37 seconds he would emerge from behind the two trees to her left and find the path and walk right past her. She counted the seconds in her head.
As ever, Alice was right, down to the last second.
Edward, dressed in dark colored corduroys and light fall jacket, stepped out of the darkness and into the overhead light from the street lamps that lit this path. A jogger ran past him, running in the opposite direction. He took two complete steps and began his third when his face twisted in a mix of confusion and curiosity. He suddenly looked around wildly and when his eyes lit on her, sitting calmly on the park bench, his whole body froze. His eyes were only things that changed, from alert to shocked and apprehensive and amazed and so, so happy. She broke the moment with a smile. She stood as he crossed the paces to her, faster than he should have in the open like that.
They said nothing, but looked at each other's faces. They were so much the same, but there were subtle differences in their faces and eyes. Bella wasn't sure what she felt in that moment, but she knew that none of it was bad. She sighed in relief of that realization. Her heart no longer registered the hurt and hate she had felt for so long. She felt only a calm recognition of another soul that she had not realized she so sorely missed.
She raised her hand and touched his face. His eyes closed and a light smile graced his perfect mouth.
"Hello, Edward," she whispered, almost imperceptibly. He opened his eyes. There was love in them.
Nothing else mattered.