AN: This is the first chapter of the story I wrote for chloe9, the winner of my third Support Stacie Auction. She requested that I write an AU of Twilight, and so I've written my own version--basically, what I would have done differently if I was Stephenie Meyer. The first 1,000 or so words of this are actually directly Stephenie Meyer's, and the change comes after the first line, and it's fairly obvious.
The story is named for the song by Muse, and I suggest you listen to it at least once--it complements the song amazingly well, and I've used lyrics from the song at the beginning of each chapter.
Thanks to my awesome beta, Trinity, and also to Chloe9, who was such a fantastically patient reader :)
"I know you've suffered, but I don't want you to hide.
It's cold and loveless;
I won't let you be denied."
This was the time of day when I wished I were able to sleep.
Or was purgatory the right word? If there was any way to atone for my sins, this ought to count toward the tally in some measure. The tedium was not something I grew used to; every day seemed more impossibly monotonous than the last.
I suppose this was my form of sleep—if sleep was defined as the inert state between active periods.
I stared at the cracks running through the plaster in the far corner of the cafeteria, imagining patterns into them that were not there. It was one way to tune out the voices that babbled like the gush of a river inside my head.
Several hundred of these voices I ignored out of boredom.
When it came to the human mind, I'd heard it all before and then some. Today, all thoughts were consumed with the trivial drama of a new addition to the small student body here. It took so little to work them all up. I'd seen the new face repeated in thought after thought from every angle. Just an ordinary human girl. The excitement over her arrival was tiresomely predictable—like flashing a shiny object at a child. Half the sheep-like males were already imagining themselves in love with her, just because she was something new to look at. I tried harder to tune them out.
Only four voices did I block out of courtesy rather than distaste: my family, my two brothers and two sisters, who were so used to the lack of privacy in my presence that they rarely gave it a thought. I gave them what privacy I could. I tried not to listen if I could help it.
Try as I may, still... I knew.
Rosalie was thinking, as usual, about herself. She'd caught sight of her profile in the reflection off someone's glasses, and she was mulling over her own perfection. Rosalie's mind was a shallow pool with few surprises.
Emmett was fuming over a wrestling match he'd lost to Jasper during the night. It would take all his limited patience to make it to the end of the school day to orchestrate a rematch. I never felt really intrusive hearing Emmett's thoughts, because he never thought one thing that he would not say aloud or put into action. Perhaps I only felt guilty reading the others' minds because I knew there were things that they wouldn't want me to know. If Rosalie's mind was a shallow pool, then Emmett's was a lake with no shadows, glass clear.
And Jasper was... suffering. I suppressed a sigh.
Edward. Alice called my name in her head, and had my attention at once.
It was just the same as having my name called aloud. I was glad my given name had fallen out of style lately—it had been annoying; anytime anyone thought of any Edward, my head would turn automatically...
My head didn't turn now. Alice and I were good at these private conversations. It was rare that anyone caught us. I kept my eyes on the lines in the plaster.
How is he holding up? she asked me.
I frowned, just a small change in the set of my mouth. Nothing that would tip the others off. I could easily be frowning out of boredom.
Alice's mental tone was alarmed now, and I saw in her mind that she was watching Jasper in her peripheral vision. Is there any danger? She searched ahead, into the immediate future, skimming through visions of monotony for the source behind my frown.
I turned my head slowly to the left, as if looking at the bricks of the wall, sighed, and then to the right, back to the cracks in the ceiling. Only Alice knew I was shaking my head.
She relaxed. Let me know if it gets too bad.
Reflex reaction. I turned to the sound of my name being called, though it wasn't being called, just thought.
My eyes locked for a small portion of a second with a pair of wide, chocolate-brown human eyes set in a pale, heart-shaped face. I knew the face, though I'd never seen it myself before this moment. It had been foremost in every human head today. The new student, Isabella Swan. Daughter of the town's chief of police, brought to live here by some new custody situation. Bella. She'd corrected everyone who'd used her full name today...
"Jessica Stanley is giving the new Swan girl all the dirty laundry on the Cullen clan," I murmured to Emmett as a distraction.
He chuckled under his breath. I hope she's making it good, he thought.
"Rather unimaginative, actually. Just the barest hint of scandal. Not an ounce of horror. I'm a little disappointed."
And the new girl? Is she disappointed in the gossip as well?
I listened to hear what this new girl, Bella, thought of Jessica's story. What did she see when she looked at the strange, chalky-skinned family that was universally avoided?
I heard nothing, though I listened close beside where Jessica's frivolous internal monologue continued to gush. It was as if there was no one sitting beside her. How peculiar, had the girl moved? That didn't seem likely, as Jessica was still babbling to her. I looked up to check, feeling off-balance. Checking on what my extra 'hearing" could tell me—it wasn't something I ever had to do.
Again, my gaze locked on those same wide brown eyes. She was sitting right where she had been before, and looking at us, a natural thing to be doing, I supposed, as Jessica was still regaling her with the local gossip about the Cullens.
Thinking about us, too, would be natural.
But I couldn't hear a whisper.
Inviting warm stained her cheeks as she looked down, away from the embarrassing gaffe of getting caught staring at a stranger.
The emotions had been as clear on her face as if they were spelled out in words across her forehead: surprise, as she unknowingly absorbed the signs of the subtle differences between her kind and mine, curiosity, as she listened to Jessica's tale, and something more... fascination? It wouldn't be the first time. We were beautiful to them, our intended prey. Then, finally, embarrassment as I caught her staring at me.
And yet, though her thoughts had been so clear in her odd eyes—odd, because of the depth to them; brown eyes often seemed flat in their darkness—I could hear nothing but silence from the place she was sitting. Nothing at all.
I felt a moment of unease.
This was nothing I'd encountered before. Was there something wrong with me? I felt exactly the same as I always had. Worried, I listened harder.
It was unbelievably frustrating! I could clearly see that it was a strain for her to sit there, to make conversation with strangers, to be the center of attention I could sense her shyness from the way she held her frail-looking shoulders, slightly hunched, as if she was expecting a rebuff at any moment. And yet I could only sense, could only see, could only imagine. There was nothing but silence from the very unexceptional human girl. I could hear nothing. Why?
"Shall we?" Rosalie murmured, interrupting my focus.
I looked away from the girl with a sense of relief. I didn't want to continue to fail at this—it irritated me. And I didn't want to develop any interest in her hidden thoughts simply because they were hidden from me. No doubt, when I did decipher her thoughts—and I would find a way to do so—they would be just as petty and trivial as any human's thoughts. Not worth the effort I would expend to reach them.
We got up from the table and walked out of the cafeteria.
Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper were pretending to be seniors; they left for their classes. I was playing a younger role than they. I headed off for my junior level biology class, preparing my mind for the tedium. It was doubtful Mr. Banner, a man of no more than average intellect, would manage to pull out anything in his lecture that would surprise someone holding two graduate degrees in medicine.
In the classroom, I settled into my chair and let my books—props again; they held nothing I didn't already know—spill across the table. I was the only student who had a table to himself. The humans weren't smart enough to know that they feared me, but their survival instincts were enough to keep them away.
The room slowly filled as they trickled in from lunch. I leaned back in my chair and waited for the time to pass. Again, I wished I was able to sleep.
Because I'd been thinking about her, when Angela Weber escorted the new girl through the door, her name intruded on my attention.
Still, from the place where Bella Swan stood, nothing. The empty space where her thoughts should be irritated and unnerved me.
She came closer, walking down the aisle beside me to get to the teacher's desk. Poor girl; the seat next to me was the only one available. Automatically, I cleared what would be her side of the desk, shoving my books into a pile. I doubted she would feel very comfortable there. She was in for a long semester—in this class, at least. Perhaps, though, sitting beside her, I'd be able to flush out her secrets... not that I'd ever needed closer proximity before... not that I would find anything worth listening to...
Isabella sat down, rather clumsily, the chair sliding back with a curdling screech on the cracked linoleum. She looked up with a blush on her cheeks, aware, no doubt, that the entire classroom was intently focused on her.
Her backpack flopped on floor next to her chair and she dragged out a notebook and a pencil. She toyed with the lead end for a second before sweeping her long brown hair back, exposing the white, nearly translucent skin of her neck to my gaze for the first time.
I tensed, waiting for the thirst to inevitably hit, but instead... nothing. My throat remained dry, but not parched, and the venom that seemed to pool so easily with every other human didn't fill my mouth.
Just as the intricacies of her mind were closed to me, the only smell rising from her was the faint scent of freesia and strawberry--as if my vampire senses were hyper aware only of the outer packaging of Bella Swan, not the blood pumping through her veins.
She turned and smiled me, and I was still so struck dumb by my body's numb reaction to her that I could only gape instead. Frowning at my response, she turned back to the pad in front of her with a little shake of her head. It was almost as if... she was disgusted at my unfriendliness. Not because of what I was--she couldn't possibly know; could she?--but instead at how rude she thought me. I closed my eyes and let the scent of her waft over me, determined to discover exactly what Isabella Swan was.
She couldn't possibly be human. Not without the scent of her blood permeating my senses. I could smell every other human's blood in this room--twenty or so individual variations on the same theme--but Bella's body was as closed to me as her mind. She wasn't vampire either, or werewolf, or any of the other various mystical creatures I'd encountered over the years. The only possibility was that she had to be something otherworldly that I had yet to encounter.
And then I realized, every muscle in my body tensing for flight, she could be something dangerous.
Edward. My head rose at the sound of my sister's voice in my head. I could see the flash of her face in the window of the door. Alice had seen something important. I had to get out of here before Isabella--if that was even her name--decided to attack me.
I rose to my feet, interrupting Mr. Banner's droning introduction to rudimentary cellular biology, my haste causing the chair to clatter backwards just as Isabella's had. The room was abuzz with thought as to what I'd be doing leaving in the middle of class, and if it had anything to do with the new girl. Oh, they had no idea, I thought darkly.
"Sir," I said courteously, "I find I feel rather... ill. May I be excused?"
I could feel, rather than hear, the disapproval and disdain radiating off of the girl sitting next to me. As I packed my books, and hastily retreated out of the classroom with none of my usual grace, I didn't have to read thoughts to know that Bella was shooting dagger-like glares into my back.
Alice was waiting for me in the hallway, her expression impatient. "Took you long enough," she said snippily. "I've been waiting forever."
"Thirty seconds," I reasoned, as I searched her mind. She let me in easily, unfolding the visions to me as they'd been shown to her.
I stopped and she turned to face me, a smug smile on her face. "She's human? You're certain?"
Alice nodded. "It's almost as if... she's protected."
"Protected from a vampire..." The very idea seemed far-fetched to me, but perhaps Carlisle had heard of this phenomenon during his long sojourn with the Volturri.
Not just a vampire... I heard only the first fragment of the thought before Alice clamped down and I was abruptly lost in a Russian to French translation of War and Peace.
"Alice," I grumbled, annoyed that she was blocking me on something so important.
"It's nothing," she said lightly. "Go back to class. She won't hurt you. She's harmless."
It was hard to believe that, but Alice was the expert here. If Isabella Swan had come to Forks to cause harm to me or the Cullen family, she would have seen it.
I walked back to Mr. Banner's classroom, and took in his surprised expression when I opened the door.
"Recovered so quickly, Edward?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Banner," I said with as much charm as I could muster. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Bella Swan's reaction to my sudden recovery was a roll of her eyes.
I again sat next to Isabella, who pointedly refused to look at me, despite that I smiled at her. I heard Jessica Stanley internally grumble that she'd tried to get me to look at her for months, and that Isabella had managed it in one day--and on top of that, she wasn't even grateful. Her vitriol continued, but I blocked it out as best as I could.
Mr. Banner continued his mind-numbing treatise on cell forms, and normally I would have taken this opportunity to again fall into a sleep-like stupor, but today, with this unique creature sitting next to me, I was instead instinctively fascinated by her presence.
I'm sure if Isabella knew that I was expending my not-inconsiderable sense of smell to discover if I could detect even a hint of her blood, she would have been appalled. As it was, she already seemed more than a little annoyed at me. She kept moving her chair closer to the walkway, until finally, the front leg slammed into the desk with a metallic thud that echoed throughout the classroom. Isabella glanced up, a rather predictable flush staining her cheeks at her obvious attempt to get as far away from me as possible. In any other situation, I would have figured that her disease would have everything to do with reality of what I was, but in Isabella's case, the dirty looks she kept shooting me from under the cover of that long mahogany hair, that she just plain didn't like me.
It was becoming painfully obvious, even with the blocking ability I'd developed over decades of practice, that every human in the class was focused not on Mr. Banner and his stimulating lecture, but instead on the power struggle currently occurring between my deskmate and I. Jessica Stanley was spewing more mental hatred in the direction of Isabella--wondering, more than once, why any woman would want to move away from me. Jessica had already had several fantasies of what she would do if she was in Isabella's place; I barely managed to control my shudder of disgust as I heard the tail-end of the latest one.
Mike Newton was full of indignant anger. He didn't understand why after so long of abstaining from the collective game of girl-hopping, I'd finally decided to take an interest. He believed that it was rather unfair, and that I should give the rest of the boys in the school a sporting chance. Not being the most observant creature on the planet, he'd decided that Bella's apparent abhorrence of me would quickly fade under the onslaught of my charm.
I almost chuckled; the little bubble of laughter nearly escaping more because of my own surprise that it existed, rather than a lack of self-control. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd laughed. Human thoughts very rarely held anything of interest, nonetheless anything resembling humor. But, the situation between Isabella and I definitely held a piquancy that could be amusing.
Here was the one human I'd encountered in almost eighty years that I couldn't smell or hear, and so was safe territory, but she apparently loathed me on sight. Though I'd long since dismissed it as uninteresting, I decided that irony could be intriguing, in the right scenario.
Isabella hunched over the desk, apparently aware of my interest, and doing anything she could to dissuade it. Her notebook was open in front of her, and she was scribbling away furiously in it. Somehow, I doubted that the drivel that Mr. Banner was currently spouting was of such interest that she was determined to capture every word of it. Thus, I concluded, she was writing something else.
I angled my chair backwards, attempting to penetrate the shield of hair that Isabella used to hide her notebook from my sight, but I still could not see it. She kept it absolutely hidden, yet her pen scratched over the pages with remarkable consistency and rhythm. She was not taking notes, clearly, but instead was transcribing something that flowed from her thoughts effortlessly.
The secret, I thought with sudden clarity, lay in the notebook--in the pages she filled with her words. I had to see it; had to know if the fascination of Isabella ended with her shielded mind and body, or if she miraculously possessed something more than the mediocre and mundane thoughts of every other human I'd ever encountered.
However, it wasn't just the words pouring from her that fascinated me. I was completely unmanned at how pleasant a human could smell when I wasn't in agony of the scent of their blood. I found as I studied her, out of the corner of my eye, that she was also lovely. She wasn't stunning like Rosalie or ethereal like Alice--but then they'd had a bit of help in that department--instead, Isabella was beautiful in her imperfections. Her hair had a beautiful sheen of mahogany, almost like the finish of one of Esme's favorite antique dressers, and her features were delicately formed with just the slightest of human irregularities.
I wondered if I would have even looked twice at Isabella Swan if she hadn't been so unique, and decided that no, I would have ignored and dismissed her like every other human. Still, I was dying to understand her thoughts--if the silence of her mind was hiding something vastly interesting or if she was just quiet through a quirk of nature.
But before I could attempt to penetrate the defenses of that long hair, the bell rang, releasing me from the strangest hour I'd spent in decades. Isabella shot to her feet, managing to collect her bag and get to the door before the rest of us even awoke from the normal biology stupor. Just like that, she was gone, from my sight, and the brief respite I'd enjoyed from the regular thirst ended. I was beginning to understand how quickly I could shift from finding Isabella intriguing to something else entirely. Being with her would be a completely unique experience. I found most vampires too predatory for normal friendships. The Denali coven, while technically vegetarian like us, was still a trifle too animalistic for my tastes--especially the woman, Tanya, who hated taking no for an answer. I'd somewhat resigned myself to being alone for a long, long time, if not forever, when suddenly and unexpectedly, a solution had presented itself. Isabella, with her closed mind and shielded blood, could potentially very interesting indeed.
The rest of the day passed in the normal blur of already-learned information and furious mental speculation about what made Isabella Swan so incredibly unique.
After school, the four of us returned to the house and while Alice told Esme what had occurred, I paced in my room, waiting for Carlisle to come home from the hospital so I could interrogate him about his past experience with humans such as Isabella.
Carlisle came straight up to my room as soon as he arrived. He was still wearing his white lab coat, the starch as crisp and new as if he'd just shrugged it on. "You are saying," he said with amazement in his voice, "that you could not smell her?"
I shook my head. "The scent of her blood was totally closed to me. And Alice was sure she was human."
Carlisle looked just as confused as I felt. "Perhaps it is true then. She is protected from those such as us. Her mind is blocked, as is her body."
His thoughts revealed that he was hiding nothing--in fact, he was interested in examining the girl, if only on a purely medical level. Perhaps, he mused inwardly, there is some protective charm in her skin.
"No," I snapped, surprising my father. "Don't approach her."
"Edward, please. I would not. You know this." His voice was firm with reprimand, and I fell silent. He continued. "I know this girl... intrigues you... and this is perfectly understandable. But I must caution you--human or not, she is not to be used because of the protection she carries."
In that moment, I understood how Mike Newton had felt today in Biology. My new toy, shiny and fresh from the packaging, was being snatched away unceremoniously, after it had been dangled in front of my greedy eyes. I tried to tell myself that Carlisle understood the difficulties inherent in being alone--after all, he himself had been alone for more than two hundred years before he'd found Esme. But, on the other hand, he had never had to endure a houseful of sexually active vampires coupled with the ability to hear every single lewd thought. I wanted, for the first time in my life, to be the one on the inside, instead of perpetually being forced to sit outside and stare through the window at the happy, warm couples that were beyond my reach.
"I am not forbidding you from interacting with her, of course," Carlisle added hastily. "Within reason, feel free to speak to her, interact with her. I would be interested in seeing what you could learn about her. Knowledge is always useful."
The issue with this, I thought after Carlisle had left, was that my motives for befriending Isabella Swan were not precisely scientific in nature. I'd seen a light at the end of a dark, endless tunnel, and it was going to take discovering something truly horrific in her personality to dissuade me from exploring it. As much as I hated to admit it, I'd been alone for what seemed like forever, and faced with the possibility of Isabella, there was no way I could resist exploring her.