Stephenie Meyer owns all of Twilight, as always. I do own whatever is left in this story, don't copy.
Thank you to PTB and my permanent betas silentnc and cyber-sarah for sticking with me through this adventure. Love you, ladies. Love you.
This probably makes sense even if you haven't read Tangled Web. Kind of.
It's a complete, long-ass one-shot. Bring cookies and a beverage of your choice. I'm a champagne/sparkling wine kind of gal myself. Love those tingly little bubbles.
Yes, it's written in third person. Yes, it does include the third person account from Bella's point of view of their initial meetings in Paris. Yes, I know.
Had some formatting issues - sorry. This is the best I could wrangle.
1901 - 1918
In the late summer of 1901, Rachel and Collie Swift had a daughter they named Belinda. She was a content baby with large, wide eyes that took in the world around her. Belinda – or Bel, as her parents called her – grew into a lovely young lady. She was quiet, a little shy and reserved, but made friends easily. Collie was a night watchman at one of the large factories that had sprung up all over the city of Chicago in recent years. He made a comfortable living, but by no means excessive. The Swift's lived in a firmly middle to lower class neighborhood, but they were surrounded by friends and Rachel kept a tidy, comfortable home.
In early 1918, when Bel was sixteen, the Swift's idyllic world was shattered, as were many families of all social and economic status in the city. A devastating outbreak of Spanish Influenza swept the population, killing indiscriminately, leaving survivors here, and wiping out entire families there. During the height of the epidemic Rachel became sick, and it quickly became apparent that the disease was progressing beyond the care that her husband and daughter could provide at home. She needed to be taken to a hospital despite the overcrowding at those facilities, where exhausted doctors and nurses fought the merciless advance of the disease day after day.
Bel held her mother's hand while Collie begged and pleaded for a bed in the building that was filled beyond capacity. Tears tracked down Bel's face as her mother tossed and turned in a delirious fever, the disease ravaging her mind and body. Collie's voice rose in agitation as Bel hunched over her mother's pale form, one hand clasping her mother's to her chest while the other fluttered helplessly over her scorching forehead.
"I'll take her, Mildred, there's a bed that's opened up in my ward," came a beautiful, melodious voice, interrupting Collie's distraught arguing and the clamor of the busy corridor.
Bel lifted her head to search for the source of that sound, so out of place in the ugliness that had invaded the medical facility. She saw an otherworldly figure standing next to her - tall, blond, and so handsome amidst all the unpleasantness that it was almost painful to look into his face. He stood close to Bel, leaning over her mother, his hands doing a quick, competent exam while two large men moved forward to lift her cot. Bel inhaled, staring – even his scent was wonderful, almost drowning out the stench of the dying.
"Are you an angel?" she breathed, and then blushed furiously at her silliness.
The blond doctor smiled kindly, motioning for her and her father to follow as the orderlies moved her mother into a large, open room filled with beds – all occupied by influenza victims.
"I'm Dr. Cullen," the would-be angel introduced himself. He didn't offer to shake hands, as most people had a distrust of touching anyone else with the epidemic in full force.
"Thank you, Dr. Cullen," Collie said fervently. "I'm Collie Swift, this is my daughter Belinda. Rachel…Rachel's my wife." His voice broke.
Dr. Cullen put his hand gently on Collie's back. "How long has your wife been ill?" he asked gently.
"Th-three days." Collie swallowed audibly, twisting his hat in his calloused hands.
Dr. Cullen's features did not change, but his hand now circled sadly, comfortingly, on Collie's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"Is there – is there nothing you can do for her, then?" Collie asked, his brown eyes glistening.
Dr. Cullen hesitated, looking down at the woman on the cot. His kind, golden eyes rose to meet the stricken gaze of the man before him. "I'm afraid there isn't much we can do for any of them, except make them comfortable and give them every advantage. I've seen those that appeared hopeless recover, and those who didn't seem quite as affected fail and pass away. I can't tell you anything for certain, but I'll do what I can to help your wife, and make her comfortable."
Collie nodded as Bel choked back an anguished sob, her shoulders shaking. Her father held out his hand for hers, and she took it, seeking any small amount of comfort. She moved to stand beside him as he knelt at his wife's bedside.
"I'll see what I can do about getting you a chair." Dr. Cullen spared a sympathetic glance for the young girl, and left to see what he could do to make the family more comfortable.
Rachel passed away two nights later, with her husband and her daughter by her side. She had been moved into another ward as her disease progressed without any signs of improvement. Her ravaged body had nothing left with which to fight, and she quietly succumbed. A doctor Bel had never seen before came to pull the sheet over her mother's thin, almost unrecognizable face, and she dimly wondered where the handsome Dr. Cullen was. She'd seen him often during the past few days, she'd been an almost constant visitor at her mother's bedside, and she wanted to thank him for helping them. She felt a need to do something, and she wanted to leave her father to his private grief and final moments with his wife.
With a quiet, murmured "I love you," and a kiss to Rachel's forehead, which felt cool to the touch for the first time in weeks, Bel left the oppressive room to stumble down the crowded hallway. She dodged nurses, doctors, patients, and other distraught family members, drawn, for some reason, to the large room where her mother had initially been admitted. She paused in the doorway, feeling an intense ache in her stomach. It felt like anxiety, excitement, fear, and…hope, all rolled in to one. She pressed a hand to her belly, wondering if grief and shock could cause her to feel such a strange, almost sickening, swirl of emotions.
A blond head caught her eye on the other side of the long, large room. It was Dr. Cullen - there was no mistaking his bright head of hair, his height, or his distinctive grace. He was pushing a bed with a still figure on it, a figure that was covered with a dingy white sheet, and Bel suddenly felt a cramp, a vicious tug low in her abdomen. She actually cried out, stumbling forward, her hand reaching toward the doctor and his sad burden. He made no indication he heard her across the expanse of the room, over the noise of all the people, as he continued to push the gurney with quick, steady steps. His head was bent, his attention focused on his task. Bel began weaving her way toward him, needing to stop him for some undeniable reason that was quite beyond her comprehension.
Dr. Cullen leaned forward over the body on the rolling bed to push open a double door, and the sheet fluttered with the press of his body. A horrible sound, half wail, half growl rumbled up from Bel's chest, startling her with the intensity as she caught a glimpse of dark, reddish hair under the fabric before Dr. Cullen disappeared from her sight. By the time she fought her way across the room to the door, there was no sign of him. He had disappeared. Bel lowered herself to the floor, against the wall, and finally let her grief flow in agonized, heartbroken sobs.
A week later, Collie brought the sweating, trembling form of his daughter back to the hospital. He asked for Dr. Cullen, but was informed that he was no longer there. Collie overheard talk in the halls and sick rooms that Dr. Cullen had just left one night last week and never returned. The nurses speculated the incredible number of senseless deaths had finally taken its toll on the young, handsome doctor.
Collie knew how he felt when Bel passed away three days later.
1918 - 1934
It was late winter of 1918 when Rina and Chad Swale's daughter Cybelle was born in Rochester, NY. Her birth was a gift to the couple as they had thought themselves unable to have children. Chad had recently been promoted to Detective in the Rochester Police Department, and was relieved that the new position allowed for slightly more regular hours for his new family. They knew they were blessed when the Great Depression hit the country, for they had each other and the security of Chad's job and income.
Their luck did not last. In 1930, when Cybelle – or Belle, as her parents called her – was twelve, Rina cut her hand on a rusty piece of metal while working in the yard. Three weeks later she was dead of a blood infection. Chad was grief-stricken at the loss of his wife, but rallied stalwartly for his beloved daughter. Belle grew up quickly during that time – Chad did his best to raise her, but even as a detective his job consisted of unpredictable hours, and Belle was often left to her own devices. The neighboring families – most of them consisting of policemen themselves – all pitched in, the wives and friends and relatives that made up the close knit neighborhood. Belle was rarely left alone for very long, but always felt lonely without her mother, who had been her best friend.
Belle grew into a lovely, self-sufficient young lady. Chad took her out to a comfortable but fancy - for them - restaurant to celebrate her sixteenth birthday in 1934. They had a wonderful dinner together, and Belle was as happy as she could remember being since her mother died. Chad took in the pretty, softly glowing face of the young woman before him, and reached across the table to take her hand.
"Happy birthday, Belle. I just wanted you to know, I love you." He fought the tears that threatened to fill his dark eyes, so much like his daughter's. "I think – I know – your mom would be proud of you."
"Thanks, Daddy." Belle leaned over the table to throw her arms around her father in an impulsive hug. "I love you, too. This has been a great birthday."
Chad raised an eyebrow skeptically as she settled back in her seat. She grinned in return, fingering his gift to her, a delicate gold heart charm that dangled from a bracelet.
They finished their meal, and walked out to the car. Chad put his arm around her shoulders and gave her an affectionate squeeze as he opened the passenger door and helped her settle into her seat. When the police radio mounted on the dashboard crackled and squawked, Belle sighed and rolled her eyes in good natured teasing. Chad shrugged apologetically, picking up the hand receiver.
"Go ahead, Base."
"Detective Swale, the Chief said to let you know as soon as the medical examiner's report came back on the King murder case. Dr. Cullen has it ready – he said he'll be at the hospital for a little while longer this evening if you want to stop by and pick it up."
"Okay, Mary. Thank you. I'm on my way."
Chad slanted another sheepish grin at his daughter. "Sorry, Belle. I'd wait until tomorrow, but…"
"It's okay, Dad," she assured him. "Let's go."
She had heard about the King murders – who in Rochester hadn't? It was a terrible tragedy for one of the wealthiest and well-known families in the area. The story actually went back about a year, when Royce King's beautiful fiancé had disappeared. She'd never been found, but the police were certain she had meet with foul play after finding blood and signs of a terrible struggle on a street near her home. Nothing else had been discovered, and the case had languished in the unsolved files.
A little over six weeks ago, Royce's friends, those in his close, intimate circle, had started disappearing, as well. One by one, four of his closest friends had gone missing. After exhaustively searching the area surrounding the city, two of their bodies had been found. Belle didn't know all of the details, only what she'd heard in the news – Chad wouldn't tell her anything no matter how often she asked – but the reports had been vaguely sinister. Belle gave an uncomfortable shudder at the thought.
Chad caught the subtle movement out of the corner of his eye. "Do you want me to take you home first?" he asked in concern.
Belle shook her head. "No, I'm fine."
Just about one week ago, Royce King, the golden son and treasured heir himself, had been murdered, despite the private guards his family had hired and all of their protective measures. The police had found his body almost immediately, along with the guards, almost as if the killer had intended them to be discovered. Belle had overheard Chad talking, and knew that Royce King's body had been 'strangely mutilated', but no more details of the horrific crime were forthcoming to the public. Chad and the other detectives had all been working frantically to discover any information on the case. The Kings were a powerful, influential family in Rochester, and they were grief-stricken, demanding answers from investigators about the death of their only son.
After a short drive, Chad pulled up to the doors of the hospital – being a detective did have some advantages.
"Do you want to come in?" he asked Belle, turning to her in his seat. "I don't like leaving you out here by yourself, though." The entire city had been especially alert and careful with a vicious murderer on the loose.
She stared up at the large building with trepidation. She hadn't been back inside since her mother had passed away within its walls. She took a deep breath – she didn't want to go in, but she didn't want to cause her father any more worry. His face looked fatigued, worn, and haggard in the dim light.
"I'm okay." She managed a small smile for him. "Let's go."
He returned her smile, patted her knee, and got out of the car. He walked close by her side as he led the way into the building and into the elevators that would take them to the floor where Dr. Cullen's office was located. Dr. Cullen was a physician, and also the city's acting Medical Examiner.
Chad stopped at the desk at the end of the hall, presenting his badge to the nurse. "I'm Detective Swale, here to see Dr. Cullen. I'm pretty sure he's expecting me."
"Of course, Detective Swale." The nurse gave him a professional smile and picked up her phone. "You know where his office is. I'll just call and let him know you're here."
Chad nodded, pocketing his shield. He laid his hand on Belle's arm as he moved down the corridor, stopping in front of a partially opened door to rap on it with his knuckles.
"Come in, Detective Swale." A smooth, melodic voice came from inside the room.
"Dr. Cullen." Chad pushed open the door and stepped into the office. Belle halted in surprise as the doctor stood, smiling at them in welcome. She barely suppressed a gasp – Dr. Cullen was one of the most beautiful people, man or woman, that she'd ever seen. He was tall, golden, and glowing, his teeth flashing almost oddly white as he smiled at her. He paused a few feet away, and Belle could swear he knew the affect he had on people. He seemed to be waiting for her to come to her senses. There was also an enticing, teasing scent in the room, faint, lingering in the background. It was an amazing fragrance, oddly sweet and fresh and…she inhaled deeply, trying to draw more of it through her nose.
Chad gave her arm a subtle bump with his elbow as he introduced her. "Dr. Cullen, this is my daughter, Cybelle – Belle. Belle, meet Dr. Cullen."
"How do you do?" she murmured politely, trying not to stare. She held out her hand, and he took her fingers in his. His grip was gentle but firm and she vaguely wondered why doctors all seemed to have such cold hands. She took another careful inhale, but the lovely perfume didn't seem to be coming from the doctor.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Belle," he greeted her with a kind smile before his gold eyes lifted to meet Chad's.
Chad shifted, a little unsure. "It's, um, Belle's sixteenth birthday today. We were out for dinner, and I thought I'd stop by as long as we were out."
"I'm sorry for interrupting your celebration, then." Dr. Cullen's strangely beautiful eyes moved back to Belle. "Happy Birthday."
"Thank you," she murmured, blushing for some reason and looking down, away from his mesmerizing gaze.
"It's okay, we were on our way home, and I wanted to get the report as soon as possible. Thank you for waiting for me," Chad explained.
"Oh, it's no problem." Dr. Cullen's hand swept gracefully toward his desk, where tall stacks of files waited. "I still have some catching up to do before heading home myself."
Belle's eyes fell upon a lovely antique frame on his desk. In it was a photo of a stunning woman, obviously his wife. Dr. Cullen noticed her admiring stare.
"My wife, Esme," he explained. "We have a…son, about your age."
There was a slight hesitation, a miniscule tightening of his features. Anyone other than an observant police detective wouldn't have noticed.
"I didn't know you had a son," Chad commented lightly, watching the doctor curiously.
Dr. Cullen's face was perfectly smooth, perfectly amiable when he met Chad's gaze. "Yes, my son, Edward. He's been gone – traveling – for a while. He's just recently returned home. It's a relief to have him back again."
"Traveling?" Chad inquired with the idle curiosity of a cop. He didn't think Dr. Cullen looked old enough to have a son Belle's age, but…one never knew.
"Yes." Dr. Cullen turned to his desk. "We had something of a philosophical disagreement. But he's back now to stay, I hope. Edward was just here, as a matter of fact."
"Teenagers," Chad commented, with an amused, sidelong glance at his daughter. She rolled her eyes.
"Teenagers," Dr. Cullen agreed with a wry twist to his mouth. "Well, I have the completed report here. There are a couple of points I'd like to discuss with you, if you have a moment…" His voice trailed off and his eyes swung to Belle.
With a slight cough, Chad turned to her. "Could you excuse us, please, Belle? It won't take long, I promise." He didn't want his daughter to see or hear any of the atrocities that were in that file.
"There's a lounge at the end of the hall," Dr. Cullen informed her. "Just go out and to your right. It's at the end of the corridor."
She nodded, her gaze going from Chad's to Dr. Cullen's. "It was nice meeting you, Dr. Cullen," she said politely, turning to the door.
"You, too, Belle." She smiled at the handsome blond man one last time before stepping out into the hall and shutting the door firmly behind her.
She sighed, glancing left and then right, and started walking to the door of the lounge she could see at the end of the hall, exactly where Dr. Cullen had indicated it would be. As she got closer, a strange feeling of urgency knotted her stomach. She frowned, rubbing at the tight band forming in her belly. Her footsteps sped up, her breath starting to come in short, anxious pants, until she was almost running down the hall. The nurse at the desk looked up at her in askance as she darted by, heading for the door of the small lounge area. She wondered if she was having some sort of delayed reaction to being in the hospital, some sort of anxiety attack, as the feeling of urgency, dread, and despair intensified.
She flung open the door of the room, practically gasping for air as she darted to the windows that looked out onto the parking lot. She pressed a hand to her heaving chest as her eyes searched frantically for…something. Was she having a claustrophobia attack? She'd never felt the like before, but why else was she so very frantic to take in the wide, open space below?
A movement caught her eye as a sleek, exotic car pulled out of its spot in the parking lot and rolled toward the street. As it drove past the front of the building Belle could see that the top was down on the outlandish vehicle, the lights on the hospital illuminating the gleaming gold and red hair of the driver. She got an impression of a pale, angular, masculine face as he drove away, and a gut-wrenching sob shook her as she pressed her palm to the glass.
"No!" The cry rose from the very depths of her, unbidden. Her hand fisted and hit the window. "No, no…"
She sank to the floor below the window, sobbing and shuddering. Chad burst through the doorway a moment later, followed closely by Dr. Cullen. She couldn't stop the pitiful sounds coming from the depths of her being as her father picked her up off of the floor. Only brief snatches of their conversation could be heard through her heartbreaking cries.
"…lost her mother here…"
"…knew I shouldn't have brought her…"
"…sorry, let me give her…"
Her father carried her from the room, and her body shook with sobs as her hand reached out toward the window, the parking lot. She felt as if she'd just lost her most precious possession, she felt as if she'd just lost her mother again. It was indescribable, unexplainable, but she just hurt. She was overwhelmed with loss.
A week later, Dr. Cullen stared, shocked, at the victim of a drunken driver that had just been brought in to the Emergency Room. The young girl had been beyond anyone's help, even his, having expired on the scene. He slowly pulled the sheet over her still body, finally turning to look at the nurse who stood sadly beside him.
"DOA," he murmured. "Time of death, 1534 hours."
He stood over the body for a moment, remembering the lovely young girl that had visited his office only last week with her father. For some reason, even there were no physical similarities at all, she had reminded him somehow of his Edward. He sighed, knowing the next steps. He set his hand over the permanently still form, and turned to return to his office to place the phone call he detested making to Detective Swale.
1934 - 1952
Annabelle Sweeney was born in the summer of 1934. Her father, Chet, was a Marine, and an instructor at the Marine Rifle Range, La Jolla in southern California. Her mother, Rennie, was active with the other military wives and their families; there were many of them located in the military housing area in which they lived. Annabelle, or Belle, as her parents called her, had numerous other children to play and spend her time with. The wives kept themselves and their children busy, filling their days with play dates and a variety of activities carefully scheduled around the routine of the military. It became quickly apparent that while Belle had a special and definite talent for singing, the more physical activities were not her strong suit. A disastrous attempt at dancing class had ended in Belle's sprained ankle and minor injuries to the other students. She stuck to voice lessons after that incident.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed their lives, as it did most Americans. Chet's unit was one of the first to be shipped overseas, and the day he left was the last time Belle and Rennie ever saw him. He was killed in action in 1944. Belle, at ten years old, understood death at a basic level. She was sad and distraught as only a young child could be, but Rennie was devastated. She had lost her partner and her best friend. She was determined Belle would not forget her father, who he was and how he had sacrificed selflessly for them and their country.
In 1952, when Belle was eighteen, she joined the United Service Organizations. The Korean Conflict had renewed the call for the organization and the need for entertainment to lighten of the spirits of the US and UN military personnel. She had become an accomplished singer, and was readily welcomed as a backup vocalist for famous acts that volunteered their time and talents to entertain the troops. Rennie was reluctant to send her daughter overseas into an active conflict and battle zone, but she understood Belle's need to be involved, to do something for the men fighting overseas, in memory of her father. With a conflicted but proud heart, Rennie saw her daughter off for Korea, much like she had seen her husband leave eight years before.
Belle was thrilled and excited to travel with the regulars in her troupe, to meet the famous and talented actors and singers who generously volunteered their services. It was a whirlwind of activity and shows, she found herself cramped in planes and in lodging with the likes of Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor, and on a couple of very memorable and exciting occasions, Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe. She loved performing, loved the lift in spirits the USO shows gave the soldiers, but was saddened by the conditions and atmosphere of uncertainty, almost desperation, that surrounded the young men. In her more fanciful moments she imagined her father as one of the members of her audience. It made her heart feel heavy, seeing some of what his experience was like fighting so far away from home and family.
Her troupe performed almost every day, sometimes staying in one place for a week or more before moving on to new locations as the troops marched and the battle lines changed. They had spent the last few days in a small town outside of Seoul, the closest their particular group had been to the front lines. The accommodations were better than adequate, and their performances were packed and enthusiastic. Belle was exhausted but content, as were all the other performers, knowing the brief distraction they provided from the fighting and living conditions was not only welcomed, but eagerly received. They had a constant influx of new men in the audience which made performing fun and refreshing. The knowledge that the men were constantly being shipped out to fight, however, tempered the pleasure of new spectators.
Belle's troupe received notice that they were being sent on to a new location - the North Korean army was on the move and the site they had been using for their show was needed for a makeshift medical staging area. It was sobering to all the performers that the space that they had been occupying for entertainment was about to see a much grimmer use, and they were all subdued as they packed up their simple bags and prepared to move on with their show. Belle's sensitive soul ached to see the men quietly moving in behind them, bringing in equipment and items necessary for the wounded that were inevitable.
Her troupe was bused to a small airstrip, where they boarded a plane that would take them to their next location. She helped organize and load their small amount of baggage, laughing and joking with her friends and colleagues. As they were making sure they had all of their belonging, a strange feeling began to settle in her stomach, almost like pressure – a pull – to stay, here, where they were. It grew stronger, almost painful, and she held a hand to her stomach, wondering if she was becoming ill.
"Are you okay, Belle?" Angelina, one of her good friends and a fellow singer, touched her shoulder, frowning in concern.
Belle managed a smile and shook her head. "No, I'm fine. It's just…I feel…" Her voice trailed off and she shook her head again.
"Can I get you something?" Angelina asked.
"No." Belle smiled gratefully at her friend. "Thank you, Ang, but I'm okay. It's just that…I feel like…almost like I don't want to leave. Like I should stay here." She shrugged, embarrassed.
Angelina smiled. "It was kind of nice to have a halfway decent place to stay for a few days, wasn't it? Who knows where we're off to now, or what it'll be like. I don't blame you."
Belle frowned, rubbing her stomach absently. "Yes, but...it's almost like I'm forgetting something. Or waiting for something, like it isn't here yet."
"You have your bag?" Angelina asked, and grinned. "Not like we have a lot of stuff to forget."
Belle returned the smile, but then looked around as the feeling persisted. "No, I've got what little I have with me." Her eyes went to the gate that opened onto the runway. "And all of us are here, no one's missing. It just feels weird." She shrugged again and managed a smile for her friend. She tried to ignore the sharp tug in her abdomen and she hooked her arm through Angelina's. "Come on, let's get on board before they take off without us!"
Laughing and singing, they made their way up the stairs, smiling and blowing kisses to the men helping them aboard. Once in her seat, though, Belle's hand went back to the almost-cramp in her stomach, and she frowned, turning her head to stare out the small window. Her anxiety increased as the engines of the plane grew louder in preparation for take-off from the airfield. Her eyes went back to the gate that they had recently come through, seeing a line of jeeps and medical vehicles filing through onto the tarmac, recognizable from the large red crosses on white backgrounds. She watched, frowning, as the vehicles came to a stop a distance away from the plane. She was overwhelmed by an urge to call out to them, to leave her seat on the plane and run across the pavement to where they were industriously unloading. A gasp left her lungs and her hand pressed to the window as a feeling of apprehension and despair left her panting. It frightened her. Was she having a delayed anxiety attack, or some kind of weird premonition?
The feeling intensified, and she half stood, halted abruptly by the low ceiling. Her eyes frantically took in the men scurrying around the vehicles before being drawn to a tall figure sanding slightly off to one side. She noticed him due to his absolute stillness amid the flurry of activity. He seemed to be staring at the plane, head tipped to one side as if in query. As she stared, one hand slowly came up to sweep the helmet off of his head, and the other ran through the auburn thatch of hair it exposed. A whimper left her as tears filled her eyes, and she dimly wondered if she was losing her mind. She hurt, deep inside - she had no idea why, and a tear slipped down her cheek as the plane began to move forward. She rapidly blinked the wetness away, her eyes straining to see the motionless figure that seemed to almost shimmer through the moisture in her eyes. He grew smaller and smaller as the plane carried her away, and she collapsed back in her seat, tears streaming down her face.
"Belle, what's wrong?" Angelina asked in concern from the seat next to her. Her expression grew even more alarmed as she saw the wet tracks on Belle's face. "What is it?"
Belle, shook her head, wiping at her cheeks. "I don't know!" she cried. "I don't know what's wrong with me."
She began to sob in earnest, her shoulders slumped and shaking as a terrible sadness filled her. Angelina wrapped her arms around her friend's shoulders as best she could as the plane took off into the sky. She sat rocking and holding Belle, resting her cheek on her head as Belle cried out her strange sense of loss.
Later that day, word spread around the world that a plane carrying a USO troupe had crashed in the remote mountains in Korea. In the United States, Rennie held the telegram, blank and empty with the shock of loss, and the realization she was now alone in the world, her family gone. In Korea, a tall, bronze haired medic who was not human heard the news, and knew that the plane that had gone down was the one he had sensed such a pull toward that morning. He wondered if he was developing some of his new sister's talent of seeing the future, thinking that perhaps he had known on some level the fate of that particular plane. He'd felt such a strange compulsion to stop it, to start pulling the humans off until he found…whatever was wrong, whatever was on that plane that caused such a powerful draw toward it. The urge had been so strong, so strange…almost like hunger. He shook his head and with his singular strength of mind put the memories of that plane and the unusual sensation out of his thoughts. There were other things to worry about, especially for a vampire doctor in the midst of a war.
"Edward!" He heard the thoughts of the new medic before he appeared in the door. "We've got wounded."
"On my way," he murmured, making sure his control was firmly in place. He went to put his medical degrees to good use, steeling himself against the overwhelming sight and scent of spilled human blood.
1953 - 1971
Bellarose Swain was born in the early spring of 1953. Her father, Chase, was witness to the birth, having gotten leave from the Air Force to be there for the birth of his first child. His wife, Reta, was tired from labor but happy and relieved he could be there with them. Her husband was often gone as part of his responsibilities with the military, and she hadn't been sure that he would be able to be there for the momentous occasion.
Reta was both excited and dismayed when Chase was transferred to the United Kingdom in 1969, to RAF Croughton where his expertise in communications for the Air Force was required. She was excited for the adventure of living in England, but the thought of leaving what was familiar with a teenage daughter in tow was a little concerning. Neither she nor Chase had any living family in the United States, though, so the idea of moving away was somewhat easier than it would have been if they had to leave close relatives behind. The three of them made the move, and Bell thrived with exposure to a new country and their customs.
When Chase was on duty, Reta and Bell would often travel to London for shopping, dining, and going to the theater, as much as their modest budget would allow. Bell always looked forward to their trips, London fascinated and delighted her. She anticipated each visit to the city - she always had a feeling that it held an elusive something, that something was there waiting for her. She was trying to talk her parents into allowing her to attend college in the city next year, sure that when she had unlimited time to explore she could finally satisfy the inexplicable draw that the city held for her. She hoped one day to find whatever it was she was looking for, the something that would finally still the itch, the jumpiness, the feeling she held in her heart that in London could be found the one thing she desired above all else. She wasn't sure what that thing was, but she was certain she would find it eventually.
During one of the pair's trips to London in the late fall of 1971, Bell found herself more restless and excited than usual, barely able to sit still in the pub they had chosen for lunch. Reta smiled indulgently at her daughter as she fidgeted in her seat, peering anxiously out the window onto the busy London street.
"What has you all wound up today? Is there somewhere else you'd like to go?" she questioned, pulling her wallet out of her clutch to pay for their meal.
"No," Bell answered, her eyes taking in the length of the street. "I'm just…excited. Isn't it an amazing day to be in London, Mom? I'm so glad we could come this weekend."
"You always do enjoy the city," Reta commented.
"Have you had a chance to talk to Dad about me attending college – university - here?" Bell asked as Reta rose from her seat.
"I've mentioned, it, Bell." Reta made a face. "He's concerned about you being all alone, so far away."
"I know." Reta sighed, pausing to smile at her daughter. "We'll talk about it more, when your father has some time off, at home. I promise," she added when Bell opened her mouth for another protest.
Bell scowled, sitting on her hands, her eyes going back out onto the street. "I'll be right back," Reta told her. "I'll pay, and then stop in the restroom. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Bell murmured, managing a smile for her mother. She was disappointed but she knew it would take some convincing for her father to allow her to go away to school in the city. She was fairly confident, however; Chase liked to bluster, but he denied her and her mother nothing if he could help it.
Bell sat chewing on her lip, waiting patiently, when her eye caught two figures standing in the cove of a recessed doorway across the street. They seemed to be having a deep discussion, their heads close together and hands gesturing elegantly. She wasn't sure what had caught her attention, perhaps their smooth, graceful movements, or the manner in which they held themselves. They were in the shadows, she couldn't see them clearly, but the tingle of excitement, of recognition, burned in her belly. She leaned forward in the booth, practically pressing her nose to the glass, staring intently.
The two men continued their discussion, one tall and lean, the other shorter and more stocky. She barely noticed the smaller man, her eyes were intently focused on his companion. She couldn't make out any details or distinctive features, but she saw pale, gleaming skin, dark hair, and heavy brows. She realized she was holding her breath, her eyes aching with the strain, and she let out a gusting breath. It was him, that him. Just…him.
She saw him still suddenly, his hands pausing in mid-air, his head tipping to one side, his entire body posed in a gesture of concentration. He touched his companion briefly on the arm, and they began to move fluidly from their private niche onto the street. He was leaving.
"No." It burst from her lips almost silently on the air she expelled from her lungs. She struggled with her purse, her coat and scarf, finally leaving them lying in the booth. She gave them no thought, gave her mother no thought, the only thing on her mind was finding him, not letting him get away after she had finally, finally found him. She darted through the lunch time crowd, pushing rudely past the patrons before shoving at the heavy door and almost falling out onto the busy sidewalk. She paused, glancing frantically at the spot he had been standing, only to find that he was no longer there. A sound close to a sob burst from her as she stood on tip-toe, searching wildly for a glimpse of him.
There – the tail of a long, dark coat disappeared around a corner. She began running, pushing through the mid-day crowd, finally making her way to the side street. She paused, once again searching frantically, but the street was dark, narrow, and quiet - and quite empty. She pressed a hand to her mouth, spinning and looking around wildly, but there was no sign of him. How could that be? How could he have just…disappeared?
No, she was certain she had seen him on this corner, heading down this street. She gave one long look of misgiving down the dark, almost sinister length, but shook herself. It was just a street, and in the middle of the day in downtown London, for crying out loud. She was sure she would be perfectly safe, and he couldn't have gotten far. She took a deep breath, and began walking down the alley.
The three vampires watched from the shadows of the fire escape, four stories above her. "Ah," the back-haired one sighed, almost rubbing his hands together in anticipation, "look at what we have here – the answer to our prayers." His mouth twisted at the phrase. "A snack, just when we were talking about getting lunch."
"I don't know, George," The oldest, the most experienced one, murmured, red eyes tracking the girl as she walked down the alley. She seemed to be looking for something. "The Volturi's Guard is very close. We just barely avoided them, and that won't last if we draw any more attention to ourselves. I don't know if we should risk it."
"But I'm hungry, Thomas," the youngest one, the newest one, whined, his eyes greedily taking in the pretty little dark-haired human as she stopped, glancing around nervously.
"Even if the Guard is here," George said thoughtfully, also watching the girl, "there's no way they can trace her death back to us, is there?"
Thomas grunted. "I believe they've sent their Elite Guard to investigate, there have been too many killings recently. It's a special team, Demetri's a tracker and Felix is a fighter – he's their one vampire clean-up crew, so I've heard. I've also heard they have a mind reader as part of their group. If they find us, they'll know we're the ones killing humans in the city. Indiscreetly, breaking one of the Volturi rules." He sent a glare toward the newborn, Gregory.
He got a scowl in return. "So what if they have a mind reader. We just have to make sure he doesn't get close enough to touch one of us and read our minds."
Thomas shook his head, his gaze going back to the girl as she started moving forward again. What was she looking for? "I've heard that this one is not like Aro. He doesn't need to touch you to read your mind."
They both stared at him in surprise. "Not touch you?" George blurted.
"Is that even possible?" Gregory asked, shocked. He was new to this life, but he knew the ability to read a mind without physical contact was just...scary. "Who is it?"
"That's what I've heard." Thomas understood their shock, that kind of talent was unheard of, even in their world. If the Volturi truly did have such a mind reader in their ranks, this new Elite Team would be one to reckon with. "I believe his name is Edward, I've never come across him, not like I have the other two." He sharpened his senses, reaching out, searching for the presence of vampires or other creatures. The other two did the same, and all three could tell there was nothing noteworthy in the immediate area, nothing except the particularly tempting scent of the girl.
With a reluctant nod, Thomas indicated the coast was clear. With a low, eager growl, the newborn Gregory slid forward, as elusive and silent as smoke. An instant later there was a small, abbreviated shriek and the wet sound of gluttony, followed by the mouthwatering scent of rich human blood.
"We'll need to hide the body well," Thomas said softly to George as they moved into the alley toward the two figures entwined in the mockingly sensual dance of death.
Bellarose Swain was never seen again, her body never recovered, much to the despair of her parents. Neither were the bodies of the three careless vampires; the members of the Volturi Guard's newest Elite team operated faultlessly and did their jobs extremely well.
1971 – 1987
Bellina Swell was born in Portland, Oregon in 1971. Her parents, Chas and Reese, were young when they met, young when the married, young when they had Bell, but had aged considerably by the time they divorced. Chas had worked for the police department in Portland as an investigator, and when he left Portland for Phoenix, he opened up what became a very successful private investigating business. Bell saw him on school breaks and occasional holidays, but after one incredibly hot and miserable month in Arizona, she gave up her summer break visits. As she grew older, she spent more of her free time with her mother and friends in Portland, seeing Chas less and less as time went by.
During her winter break from school when she was sixteen years old, she was invited by friends to go skiing in Whistler, near Vancouver. Bell didn't ski, but her friends Laura, Jessa, and Anna enjoyed the sport. She loved the bustling resort town, loved to walk around and people watch, to look in the fun little shops and eat in the different restaurants. Reese's concerns were laid to rest when she found out there were other things for Bell to do other than ski, and that the Molloy's, Laura's parents, would be accompanying the girls on the trip. Bell wasn't a big fan of Laura's, but Jessa and Anna were her closest friends, and she figured she could put up with Laura for a few days.
They had a wonderful time, Jess and Laura spending much of it skiing while Bell and Anna shopped and went sightseeing. Everything went fairly smoothly, with only occasional sniping from Laura. Bell knew Laura was strangely jealousy of her; Laura liked Matt Newcastle at school, and Matt had been paying extra attention to Bell for some reason lately. Bell had no idea why, she'd never encouraged Matt in any way. Not that he wasn't cute or popular, because he was, he just wasn't…him. The right guy. Bell was frustrated with Laura's attitude – she had no interest in Matt, and if Laura liked him, more power to her, Bell wasn't standing in her way. For some reason Laura was still threatened, though, and made it fairly clear with her snide little comments and her attitude.
It all came to a head one morning when they had been in one of the shops. Bell had made a comment about the ski pants Laura had tried on, and she could tell her friend was less than pleased with her opinion. If stupid Laura Molloy didn't want to hear the truth about them, why did she ask? Bell thought irritably. It wasn't like it was her fault that they made Laura's ass resemble a stuffed tick, and somebody ought to let her know, right? Before she went out in public?
She should have been suspicious when Laura suggested they go for a hike together – Laura was not one for hiking, especially where she couldn't see and be seen. Bell had reluctantly agreed, along with the other girls, and found herself caught in Laura's retribution. Laura had quite deliberately gotten her lost, leaving with the others when Bell had sought a moment of privacy to relieve her bladder. Bell came out from behind the large boulder only to find her friends gone, with no trace of them on the narrow path or in the woods surrounding her.
She called for them and walked up and down the trail before getting frustrated, angry, and a little scared. She figured if she stayed on the path she would be fine, and sooner or later find her friends or the way back to the park from which they had started their hike. She eventually branched off from the original track, the path growing narrower and more overgrown, until she was certain she had gotten herself completely lost.
Bell grumbled under her breath, pushing aside branches and stumbling over hidden rocks. Okay, maybe she could have been more tactful about the ski pants, but there was no need for Laura to get so pissy. That was taking it a bit too far, in her opinion. Laura knew Bell was hopeless at hiking, her sense of direction non-existent. Laura may have been mad, but losing her purposefully in the wilderness was downright dangerous. Bell consoled herself with the thought that the main trail or the park and town couldn't be too far; not even Laura at her angriest would abandon her very far from civilization.
It felt like she had been struggling through the forest for hours. The light was getting deep and golden, and she didn't think it was her imagination that it was getting colder. It had been almost warm in the sun, but it was definitely sinking and she was starting to be able to see her breath puffing in clouds as she pressed forward. She felt a strong draw, an instinctual pull in that direction. She was pretty certain the main hiking trail for the resort was located this way, or people, or something. Surely that was why she felt it so very necessary she go this way, right? She began muttering swears as her feet grew heavier and her legs grew tired, and thirst parched her throat
There was a loud, sharp splintering sound, and a weird cry, followed by more almost methodical cracks and thumps. Bell froze, head tilting, as she tried to decipher the sounds. A wild hope rose in her chest – surely they meant someone was close. She began stumbling in the direction of the noise.
Demetri and Felix stared at the unconscious body of the human lying at their feet and the quaking vampire before them. A grimace of disgust curled Demetri's mouth as incoherent, pleading ramblings fell from the creature's lips.
"Shut up," he drawled. "You should have thought of that before you started recruiting humans as shills - to bring you others so that you could feed on them. Humans aren't allowed to know about us in any capacity, even as slaves. You know that. So stupid, breaking the Code of Silence just because you're too damn lazy to hunt for yourself. Did you think the Volturi wouldn't find out you'd broken the Code? Did you think they wouldn't send us after you?" He shook his head and stepped back. "You deserve what you get. Idiot," he muttered.
Felix crouched down to where the vampire was groveling on the forest floor. He shook his head in mock sadness. "You know better than to involve humans in your sordid little plans. You know it's against the rules to let them know about us, and let them live."
The vampire babbled, lifting his hands beseechingly to the larger, burly figure. Felix shook his head again. "We know it was you, so just give it up. Edward, the other vampire who was here? The tall one? Yeah, he's a mind reader. Guilty as charged." He made a gun with his thumb and forefinger, and fired it at culprit.
A look of shock and then anger crossed the vampires face, and then he snarled, baring his teeth. Felix rose lithely to his feet. "Doesn't take Edward's mind reading skills to know he's going to try to run for it. Goody." He rocked back on his heels and then forward on his toes, leaping at the hapless vampire as he did in fact attempt to escape.
With an almost bored sigh, Felix landed on his back, knocking the smaller vampire to the ground. He stood in a lightening flash of movement, gripping both of the vampire's arms and pulling them from his body. There was an abbreviated shriek before the head followed suit.
"Wasn't even fun," he complained, tossing the arms to Demetri, who stacked them and pulled a small silver instrument from his pocket. With a quiet click, he lit the limbs on fire. He placed the other body parts on top as Felix dismembered the creature and tossed them to him.
He was carefully stacking a leg on the pile, grimacing as he tried to avoid the strong smelling, thick purplish smoke, when he heard…something.
"Felix," Demetri hissed urgently, his head coming up as he stilled to listen. Felix was instantly at his side, the unconscious human dangling from his large hand, a drop of blood on the corner of his lip. They both concentrated on the sounds moving toward them.
"Human?" Felix murmured, absently bringing the one he held back to his mouth to finish draining him. "What?" he asked when Demetri gave him a disgusted look. "Did you want some?"
"What's a human doing all the way out here?" Demetri wondered. He glanced at the thick column of smoke rising into the sky – nothing he could do about that right now.
"Maybe it's one of the vampire's humans?" Felix questioned.
"Guess we'll find out," Demetri said grimly, as the source of the thrashing noises came closer, making no effort to be stealthy.
A pale, feminine face appeared between the trees, coming to a sudden and jarring halt when she saw them standing before her. They all three just stared at each other, dumbfounded, unable to move for the shock. Her wide brown eyes swept the two vampires, pausing to widen in horror when she saw the man dangling limply from Felix's grip, quite obviously dead, blood and gore trailing down his neck. Felix hadn't sealed the wound after eating, having planned to toss the body on top of the pyre. Her eyes darted to the smoking pile of limbs and body parts, before focusing in stunned horror at the head sitting next to the fire, titled at a macabre angle, its mouth opened in a silent scream.
A shrieking gasp left her as her hand came up to cover her mouth. Her body wretched, and she vomited before stumbling back and taking off at a shambling run, hysterical sobs tearing from her lungs. Felix rolled his eyes in disgust, throwing his meal on top of the fire and groaning.
"Fucking great. That's just…fucking great."
Demetri shrugged, and they began stalking the girl as she tried to run, making more noise than a locomotive as she charged through the forest. She was running blindly, stupidly, hysteria and horror taking over her senses. It made their job easier, if somewhat more messy. They were almost upon her when she fell, her foot slipping into a fissure of rock, wedging tightly, and she went down hard onto the boulder emerging from the ground. There was a hollow, wet thunking sound as her head hit stone and she was still.
The two vampires stood over her unconscious form, staring at her. A pool of blood was fast forming under her head, and her heart was beating light and fast, its steady beats fluttering into irregularity.
"Well," Felix said, putting his hands on his hips. "Huh. Now what?"
Demetri knelt, his fingers pressing briefly against the skin of her throat. "I don't think she's got long." He tipped his head, considering. "I'm not sure…we could…are you still hungry?"
Felix shook his head, but his nose twitched at the scent of fresh blood. "No, not really, but she does smell delicious. Has Edward eaten today?"
Demetri shook his head, but not in response to Felix's question. "Edward and Jacob took off right after he read the human and the vampire. We're close to Edward's old home, his family. He's having kind of a hard time with it."
"His family?" Felix wrinkled his nose in confusion. "Isn't Edward over a hundred years old? He can't have any family left."
"His vampire family." Demetri grinned at his friend. "His maker, his father, and those he considers his mother, his brothers and sisters."
"That's just wrong." Felix shook his head. "Always knew he was a little strange – you know, nothing good can come from drinking the blood of animals. Thankfully he's over that now."
Demetri returned his attention to the girl. He examined her more closely. "The other human – I don't think anyone will come looking for him. But her?" He took in her high-quality clothing; she was obviously well cared for by somebody. "Yeah, someone will be looking for her. We don't need to draw any more attention to what's been going on around here. Aro would really be ticked."
"Should we just leave her here?" They could both hear her heartbeat falter and slow before coming to a sluggish halt, her body rapidly cooling.
"Probably would be best." Demetri came to his feet. "If anyone finds the body, they'll think she just had an accident – tripped and hit her head. It is pretty much what happened." He paused, taking one last look at the young girl. "Too bad. I wonder what she was doing out here all alone." He shrugged, and they moved back to the smoke to make sure all evidence of the vampire and his human had been eradicated.
1987 to Present
Isabella Swan was born in Forks, Washington in the fall of 1987. Her parents, Charlie and Renee, were young and foolishly thought themselves in love. They married young and divorced young. Renee felt caught in a trap; she wanted more than Charlie and the small town of Forks could offer, so she left when Bella was six months old.
Bella grew up with the fallout of their ill-fated decision to marry, and the fear that she was just like her mother. She, too, wanted more. All her life, she felt that there was something else out there, waiting for her. She just had to find it. She saw what her mother's leaving did to her father, though, and didn't want to ever cause that much lingering pain and sorrow in another person, so she did her best to stifle the yearning that was an intrinsic part of her. She tried her best to be content with what she had and ignore the part of her that insisted there was something more for her out in the world somewhere, just waiting to be discovered.
She lived with her mother in Phoenix, but spent most of her summers with her father in Washington. She liked the travel, and didn't have too many friends in either city, so she was mostly content to go back and forth between her parents. She endured high school, but college loomed ahead of her, rife with all sorts of possibilities. Bella had always been a bookworm; the written word her constant and cherished companion since she grew up mostly on her own, with few friends her own age. She did endless amounts of research on universities, knowing that she could spread her wings a little and take advantage of a good program in a location that would sooth her repressed need for the exotic. She examined schools in all of the places she had read and dreamed about, knowing her grades were sufficient to get her in pretty much anywhere she wanted. She was somewhat limited to where she could get a scholarship or grant assistance. Her parents had saved for her education, but both incomes were modest. Charlie was the Police Chief for the small town of Forks, and Renee was a schoolteacher. Neither career lent itself to a lot of extra money for college.
Bella had just turned eighteen and was a senior in high school when Renee was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Bella put her plans for college on hold while she helped her mother battle the disease. It was almost a year to the day of that first fateful doctor's office visit that Renee passed away. Bella would have been at a complete loss, losing her best friend and confidant, but Renee had been adamant in her last weeks.
"Take whatever money you get, from the investments and the life insurance," Renee had urged, stroking Bella's long hair gently as she cried. "Use it to travel, Bella, go see the world, like I know you've always wanted." Renee had given her a watery smile as Bella raised her head to meet her mother's eyes with a look of surprise. "C'mon, honey, you don't think I know you've always wanted to go see the world? I know you, baby, and I know you shouldn't waste the time you have on this earth. Go, travel, learn, do, and see. It's out there – the world, everything you've been looking for. I'll feel so much better knowing you're doing what you want to do, and that you're happy."
After Renee passed, Bella couldn't even consider using the money from her life insurance until both her father and her mother's boyfriend, Phil, convinced her it was what Renee had truly wanted. She knew that Phil had spent hours with Renee at the end, he had been a godsend – she didn't know what she would have done without his support and love. He was such a special man, in more ways than she could fathom. Phil had made some very wise investments for Renee as well, and Bella found that financial issues no longer had to concern her. After weeks of soul-searching, remembering, grieving, and loving her mother's memory, she decided that traveling and attending college where she pleased was just the thing to honor her mother's last request. She would try to be happy.
Her previous research had come in handy – she had looked into colleges all over the world. She kept coming back to the Sorbonne in Paris – the information and brochures just kept appearing in her hand, on her desk, on her computer. She'd always wanted to visit the wildly romantic city and the thought of living there and attending the prestigious university caused a sense of rightness she hadn't experienced for many years. She just knew that was the place for her to be, to finally find what she had been looking for – the one thing that would make her content.
She enrolled at the Sorbonne and was accepted into their Language and Literature College. Charlie had the usual parental misgivings of his offspring moving halfway around the world to a new and very strange city, but he knew Bella was mature beyond her years and undeniably excited to take on this new experience. She found an acceptable flat not too far from her classes, and settled into Parisian life with ease. She found she loved the city and its people, the shops and cafes and businesses in her neighborhood.
Her favorite little café was very near the campus, she made a habit of stopping in every day after her afternoon class to sit and relax, and soak up the sights and sounds of Paris. She'd found the quaint bistro one day purely in passing, and had felt such a draw toward it – it had appealed to her due to its unpretentious and comfortable atmosphere. It just looked like a good place to wait. And she seemed to always be waiting, waiting for something. She wasn't quite sure what, but she was certain she would know when she found it.
It was May, getting toward the end of her first term at the Sorbonne. She wore a simple yellow dress to celebrate the warm, sunny weather, and because she'd had to give a short presentation in one of her classes. She felt light and almost happy for the first time in a long while. The excitement of moving to a foreign city had helped with the depression she had been dealing with since the loss of her mother, but it always seemed to be hovering in the background. The yellow dress had seemed to fit her mood; she was determined to put the sadness behind her – Renee would be horrified if she wallowed in depression – and she was in Paris, after all.
The waiter – Richard – showed her to her usual table with a smile and courtly bow, taking her order and assuring her he would return shortly. She had realized recently that he was flirting with her – with her – and she really didn't know what to do about it. He was handsome enough, she supposed, but just not…right. She smiled to herself, deciding that even though he might not be exactly what she was looking for, the attention certainly was flattering. She pulled a book out of the leather satchel she had dropped on the ground at her feet, tipping her head back to enjoy the warm sun before opening it. The glowing pleasure she felt at the rays shining on her faded into a niggling awareness that someone was watching her. She concentrated on the warmth on her face for a few more seconds, but the feeling persisted. She brought her head forward, slowly opening her eyes and glancing around unobtrusively.
Her breath caught in her throat as she met the gaze of the man sitting a few tables away. A suffocating tightness banded her chest and her stomach took a swooping, dizzying dive for her feet. He was staring at her, directly at her, but that wasn't what stopped her lungs and froze her brain.
It was him.
She didn't know how, but she just knew. The world stopped spinning around her; the only reality was his tall, lean form sitting in the chair, his wild halo of rusty bronze hair, the shape of his jaw, the perfect bow of his lips. His eyes were strangely intense, there was something odd about the shape, perhaps the color, she couldn't quite tell at this distance. He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen, but that wasn't it, either. It was just him. He'd found her, in Paris, in a small street side café. It was him.
The corners of his sensual mouth lifted fractionally, and she realized she was staring, gaping like a schoolgirl. Her cheeks flamed, and she jerked her gaze away from his angel's face in embarrassment. The heat in her face increased as she realized she had been practically molesting him with her eyes, but it didn't lessen the impulse she had to run over and throw herself at him, wrap herself around his body and hold on forever. It was him; she recognized that at a basic, instinctual level. Surely he felt something, too, there was no way the intense feeling cramping her stomach could be one-sided. He had been staring at her first, after all.
He shifted in his seat, and the movement caught her eye. She glanced back up from under her lashes, determined to downplay the fierce, violent attraction, but her head came up and she blatantly stared once again. He had settled back in his chair, kicking out his long legs and spreading his knees slightly, clasping his hands and elegant fingers together just above his groin. It was a marvelous and purely sexual pose. Heat exploded through her, bringing an instant sheen of sweat over every inch of her skin, even as she recognized the move for what it was. He'd spread his colorful feathers, and she was as helpless against the pull of nature and instinct as any female in the presence of an alpha male. She tore her eyes away from his crotch with a sharp jolt of mortification when she realized she was staring, practically open-mouthed, her gaze shooting to his face to see if he had noticed.
Of course he had. Her eyes fell to her book, unseeing, as she frantically wondered what to do. Sprint over to him and jump in his lap as every impulse in her body was demanding she do? Sit and play it cool – like it wasn't way past too late for that…She peeked back up at him, wondering if he was disgusted at her blatant ogling. His eyes were still on her, his head tilted curiously…and he smiled. It was a full, inviting curving of lips that crinkled the corners of his eyes and lit his face with beauty and intensity at the same time.
She was struck dumb. She was enveloped in a haze of lust, of desire, of want. Of fear, for the powerful awareness and draw to this man. He was dangerous to her, she recognized that on a primal level, but he was also what her heart had been searching for her whole life. She had never been more certain of anything, right down to the depths of her soul.
Her body swayed unconsciously toward him, her fingers reaching up to touch her tingling, trembling lips. She no longer felt any embarrassment or any self-consciousness. It was him, and she wasn't about to let social niceties stand in the way of the one thing she had been waiting an eternity to find. As she steeled her resolve to be bold, be brave, for once in her life and to approach him, she felt a light breeze on her shoulders, lifting her hair and fluttering the strands across her cheeks and into her eyes. She heard a commotion as she impatiently brushed it off of her face, irritated that it would disrupt her view of the exquisite and compelling man.
She stared at where he was sitting in astonishment. He seemed to be having a…seizure of some sort? She gasped in horrified reaction as he hunched forward, gripping the table hard, his face contorted in shock and pain. Tears filled her eyes as his entire frame shuddered once, rippling from head to foot, the muscles in his angular jaw flexing and tensing. She jumped up, on her way over to him, frantic and bewildered, when another large man appeared out of nowhere and grabbed his shoulders. His hands came up and clutched at the newcomer as he staggered out of his chair, his head bent with the effort to master the suffering that afflicted him. The second man threw some Euros on the table and dragged him across the patio, through the gate, and onto the sidewalk. Bella dashed out after them, calling hoarsely, but another very large, dark male had a taxi waiting with the door open, and they pushed his struggling form into the vehicle. The first man threw himself on his trembling body as the second leapt into the cab, and they were gone.
He was gone. Bella stood on the sidewalk in utter shock. She felt empty, numb, frozen. Her emotions had just run the gamut in the last few minutes, from curiosity to elation to a bone deep knowing. She had finally found the one thing that could make her whole, only to endure a shocking scene of pain and suffering, and lost…everything. Her body caught up with her brain and she ran out into the street, searching frantically for the taxi in the direction it had disappeared. A hand suddenly gripped her hard and yanked unceremoniously, snapping her head to the side and causing a sharp pain to burn down her arm. She turned to stare in surprise at the angry old man who had pulled her out of traffic.
"…almost got yourself killed – what were you thinking?" The rapid French slowly pierced through the numbness that had enveloped her along with the sounds of the blaring horns and shouting people. "Do you have a death wish, young lady?" The alarmed irritation faded from the man's face as he took in her shocked, blank expression. "Are you all right, miss?" he asked in concern.
A sob broke through her dimness. "No," she said, and then louder and louder, growing into frantic shrieks of denial. "No! No!"
He dropped her arm as if it burned him and backed rapidly away. She swayed and then fell to the sidewalk, unaware of what was happening around her. Gut-wrenching sobs of desolation shook her for many long minutes, until she gradually became aware of a warm hand on her back.
"Shh, shh, it is all right, calm down." She realized it was Richard, the waiter from the café, kneeling next to her and rubbing small circles on her back. His English was heavily accented and halting, but she could make out the words. "Are you all right? Can you tell me what happened?"
She stilled the burning, choking sobs, scrubbing at the wetness coating her face. She shook her head mutely, not able to manage much more than a choking sniff through her running nose. Richard took her arm and carefully helped her to her feet, his eyes anxious on her face.
"Cab," she managed, dimly surprised at the roughness of her voice.
He hesitated, still searching her face. "I do not think -"
"Please," she whispered. "Please. I just want…I need to go home." A new resolve began to grow in her, and she felt the frantic hysteria beginning to rise once again. She had to get home, get to a phone…she had to start calling hospitals, doctor's offices….She had to be sure he was all right. She had to be sure she could find him again. She had to be sure he was real.
She thanked Richard softly as he hailed a cab and settled her into the back seat. She gave the driver her address, and sat in anxious silence as he drove. She would start calling hospitals first, she decided, and if that gave her no information, she would pull out a phone book and start calling local doctor's offices and health clinics. But what would she say? Have you had the most stunning man in the world as a client today, one that may or may not have been having a seizure or attack of some sort? She frowned, considering. It really didn't matter, she had to find out somehow, and she could be very stubborn.
A few hours later, Bella jabbed at the 'off" button on her phone in frustration, and then did it again, repeatedly. It wasn't as satisfying as slamming the phone down, though, and she tossed it on the sofa in aggravation. No one had seen her bronze-headed seraph. No one. He had simply disappeared. She had to consider that he might not have sought medical attention; perhaps whatever afflicted him was a chronic condition, one that he treated himself. She sat forward at the thought, her hands pressing to her forehead as she fought back a sob of frustration. How could she find him, a stranger in a city the size and population of Paris? How could she be sure he was real, that her desperate imagination hadn't made him up completely or projected what she wanted, what she desperately desired, onto an entirely normal, average man? But she knew – she knew – it was him, the him, the one thing she had been waiting for all this time, her whole life. She had to try - she had to find him.
She put on her coat, desperate to do something, not able to sit passively in her apartment and let the grief of losing him consume her. She would find him; she would prove that he was real, that she had seen him and felt that incredible connection. Bella wandered the streets around the café, letting her instinct guide her, glancing searchingly at all the residential buildings, making note of any medical or health clinics that she hadn't phoned earlier. She had no idea how long she roamed, but eventually became aware that she was attracting attention from some of the more unsavory types out on the street this late at night. She dejectedly turned for home.
She dreamt of him, of course. Her subconscious recalled every excruciating, stunning detail - his height, his lean grace, the elegant length of his fingers and the size of his hands, the artfully tousled, remarkable bronze hair, the smoky, almost purple color of his eyes, the fine, aristocratic bones of his face, that amazing mouth. He appeared in her apartment, hazy in the distance in the weird way of dreams, slowly becoming clearer as he walked toward where she lay on her bed in her room. She could feel her heart pounding faster and faster as he approached, exquisite tensing coiling through her entire body, making her feel almost sick with anticipation and excitement. He was here with her, in her flat, finally, after all this time.
He paused in the doorway, his smoky eyes studying her curiously, but he did not speak. She frowned in disappointment, wanting him to come to her, wanting to touch him, wanting to feel his weight sink into the bed, pulling her to him. She wanted to feel the solidness, the reality of him on top of her, holding her down, holding her to him forever. She wanted. He just stood there, though, in the doorway, studying her with the most curious expression on his alluring face. She felt a cool breeze on her exposed skin, one that grew colder the longer he stood there watching her. She shivered, wrapping her arms around herself, wanting them to be his. She didn't understand why he wouldn't come to her. Surely he felt the same inexplicable pull, the same compulsion to be with her that she did toward him?
A sad, regretful look crossed his features, and he started to turn away. Bella panicked, a sharp cry rising from her chest, and she felt tears streaming hotly down her face. She tried to get up, to run to him, grab him and prevent him from leaving, but her body wouldn't obey her mind. She felt as though she weighed a thousand pounds.
His back was to her and he was fading, taking the light and all sensation with him. She could feel the numbness creeping back over her. She struggled, her arm feebly reaching out to him. She fought against the chill, the heaviness, and the paralyzing fear he would disappear forever.
"Don't…go…" she managed to rasp. Her body would be convulsing with sobs, shouts would be tearing from her chest if she wasn't frozen in her dream world. She thought maybe he heard her, thought he might have stopped and whirled around, but he was fading, becoming indistinct, his form wavering in front of her. She watched with quiet desperation as his image dissolved into swirling nothingness, and she was alone once more.
She managed to get up the next morning, her limbs heavy with fatigue and her head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton, side effects from the grief and maelstrom of intense emotions she had experienced last night. She was determined to go to class, to maintain the façade that everything was the same as it had been yesterday before she had seen him, before her world shattered. She needed to maintain the pretense that everything was normal if she was to make it through the day, or even the next few hours. She had decided she would go to class, use the time to consider her options and plan for what she could do to find him. She'd start by keeping to her usual routine – classes, and then stopping at the café as she did every afternoon. There was the small possibility that he would return to the cafe as well, and she would take advantage of every possibility she had of finding him.
Bella was tense and nervous all morning, trying to take note of everything around her, constantly looking for his striking figure. She made notes during her classes, things she could do to find an anonymous stranger in Paris. The list was depressingly short, but it was something, something concrete that she could look at, that she could see. She made it through her classes, for once not paying even a little bit of attention, anxious to get to the café. When her last afternoon class was finally over, she made her way out of the building as quickly as she could. She had the strangest urge to get there as soon as possible, and for the first time since she had seen him pull away in the taxi she felt hopeful.
One of her classmates stopped her on the steps, asking if she'd like to go have coffee with him. She smiled absentmindedly, declining the offer – she was in no shape to make idle conversation – she needed to get to her café and find him. She walked down the street, eyes continually searching in front of her, ever hopeful to get a glimpse of his tall form and distinctive shock of dark bronze hair. The anxious feeling inside of her grew stronger the closer she got to the café, until she was practically jogging, feeling wildly optimistic. She slowed as she approached the café, excited yet fearful, desperately, desperately needing him to be there.
Someone bumped into her from behind. She was so focused, so tense, that she jumped and let out a muffled shriek, her leather satchel slipping off of her shoulder to land on the ground. She huffed in frustration, but then froze in complete and utter shock as a masculine form bent to retrieve her bag from the sidewalk.
"Oh, excusez-moi," he said politely, his voice deep, smooth, and caressing, a balm to her shattered soul. Her heart started pounding frantically and swelled so large she could feel it blocking her throat. She felt dizzy, like she was having an out-of-body experience, the taste of adrenaline a sharp tang on her tongue. "Pardonnez ma maladresse, s'il vous plait."
He turned to her with a smile. She couldn't breathe, couldn't move - she couldn't do anything. Her body and mind had locked down in shock, in terror, and in joy. She could do nothing for an instant but stare up at him in disbelief - he was standing right there, right in front of her, close enough to touch and smell and taste…
The smile curving his full lips was fading into a frown of concern. She gasped, his scent filling her lungs and swirling drunkenly through her head. Her entire being reeled in astonishment, and the sudden, terrifying thought that he would leave again roared through her. Her hand shot out to grab his sleeve, clutching the smooth fabric desperately, holding on to him. He jerked slightly away in surprise, loosening her grip, but she unconsciously followed, stepping toward him and inhaling deeply.
He made a sound from between his teeth as he watched her warily, and she realized she was probably freaking him out with her psychotic behavior. She couldn't help it, though; she was powerless against the lash of exquisite happiness, the relief and amazement that it was him. She had found him, and her world fell into place with an almost audible snap.
"It's you – are you okay?" she asked. She wasn't able to stop herself from reaching out and touching his sleeve again. She had to be sure he would stay, that he wouldn't disappear again like he had the day before. Her eyes locked on his, taking in his masculine face, memorizing every exquisite detail.
He made another muffled noise, and she frowned. His eyes were tense, his jaw clenched, his brows lowered ominously. "I'm sorry," she stuttered, wondering if it was her strange behavior that had put that look on his face. She forced her arm back to her side and curled her fingers tightly. He probably didn't want to be grabbed by a perfect stranger on the street.
Almost instantly his features cleared, shifting back into the amiable beauty she had first seen at the café yesterday. It happened so smoothly, so instantaneously, that she almost thought she had imagined the other expression – almost.
"You're American?" he asked in that smooth, melodious voice. It curled through her like a warm, physical stroke. His had almost no perceptible accent; she only faintly heard the flat vowels of the mid-west United States. He certainly wasn't French, although his previous apology to her in that language - when he had bumped into her - had been flawless.
"Um, yeah, I am." She tried to stop staring at him like an idiot. Concern for his health still consumed her, and she examined him as covertly as she could. He didn't look the worse for wear after his episode at the café. As a matter of fact, he looked a damn sight better than perfect. "You're all right?"
"All right?" He frowned down at her, and even confusion sat well on his features.
"Um, well, yeah." She felt herself blushing, and was even more embarrassed when he seemed to ease away from her slightly. She was being too forward, staring at him too blatantly. She was making him uncomfortable, and she was mortified. Plus, she was just about to admit to practically stalking him. "I, uh, saw you at the café yesterday. You didn't look…well," she finished lamely, not sure how to describe what she had seen.
He seemed to hesitate for the briefest of seconds, and her mortification increased. Why did she have to point out something that was obviously uncomfortable, if not downright embarrassing, for him?
"Oh, yes. A small problem. Bad…dairy," he replied in an odd, off-hand manner.
"Bad dairy?" she echoed incredulously. She unconsciously made a face at the banal excuse, her mind recalling in precise detail his extreme reaction to whatever happened to him yesterday. Bad dairy? She didn't think so.
He made a humming noise, it was neither a confirmation nor a denial, and she watched him quizzically. His eyes skipped over her face, focusing intently and then darting away suddenly. She realized he was doing the same thing that she was – trying not to stare. Hmm…
"I mean," she continued slowly, not able to really make sense of what he was saying – he'd had such a violent reaction to whatever happened yesterday, after all, "you looked really ill, or…"
His eyes met hers with a searing, breathtaking intensity. She barely stilled a gasp as he turned the full focus of his attention on her. Heat spread through her body, desire and bone deep recognition rippling through her being.
"Bad dairy," he repeated firmly, not taking his eyes from hers. "It was nothing."
Nothing? The ludicrous statement broke through the haze of lust that enveloped her. He may not want to reveal to a perfect stranger what had happened to him at the cafe, but that was just ridiculous. "It was pretty frightening," she pressed, almost against her will. "I know what I saw."
"What exactly was that?" He took a deliberate step toward her and she tipped her head back as he towered thrillingly over her. There must be something wrong with her, she thought dimly as another shiver of heat rocked through her. His expression was dark and intense, his stance should have been threatening, but she was incredibly turned on, her heart fluttering from excitement, not fear. The smell of his body hit her like a physical blow, sweet, warm, and absolutely delicious. She was discomfited to note that her mouth actually started watering.
"It looked like something more than spoiled milk." She didn't know what part of her brain was still functioning on anything other than a sexual level, but she was undeniably grateful for it.
He simply stared at her for another long second, and she realized she was panting slightly in arousal, in desperation for his scent. She had to get a grip on herself – he was practically a stranger, and they were on a public street.
"Well, I am lactose intolerant," he finally bit out, and he seemed to freeze before the perfect bow of his mouth lifted in an unconscious apology.
"Oh." She considered his words and expression. She didn't believe him – bad dairy, indeed - but she decided to let him keep his secrets. She didn't know him, not yet, and she didn't feel it right to press him in what was obviously none of her business. A faint frown still wrinkled her brow as he extended her satchel and she took it from him. She'd forgotten that he'd retrieved it for her. "I guess it's a good thing your friend was there to help you, then."
She realized they were both just standing on the sidewalk staring at each other, the bustle of Parisian foot traffic flowing around them. She barely stilled the urge to lick her lips, but couldn't prevent her eyes from traveling his broad, lean form, from the top of his mussed hair to the tips of his expensive shoes. He was absolutely beautiful, and she could see no after-effects of whatever had afflicted him.
"Anyway," she finally said, an awkward shyness filling her. She desperately tried to think of a way to keep him with her, to extend their time together. She was still amazed she had actually found him again, and there was no way she was going to let him go without getting something from him – his name, his phone number, something. She had no idea of how to go about doing that, though, except to just come right out and ask him. The thought made her stomach drop, but the notion of just letting him walk away was unbearable. "I'm really glad you're okay. I was…worried." A small smile curved her lips at that outrageous understatement.
His expression flickered once again, too quickly for her to see clearly. "I must apologize, then, for causing you concern. Will you allow me to make it up to you?" he asked in his strange, delightful, and formal manner.
She could only gape at him in disbelief. Had he just taken the dilemma out of her hands? What exactly was he asking – make it up to her? Make it up how? His brow arched over one eye in an incredibly sexy gesture, and heat flooded her cheeks before coursing through her body. She was in so much trouble. If a simple arched brow caused that kind of reaction in her, how could she possibly spend any length of time in his company without jumping him? She knew she was blushing furiously as she tore her eyes away in embarrassment, casting them down to her feet.
His jaw tensed and he looked away, his chest heaving slightly, an almost disgusted, pained look crossing his face. She wanted to die in an agony of embarrassment – could he read her mind? Could he tell the terrible, inappropriate things she was thinking about him? She knew her face was an open book, if her blushes didn't give her away, her transparent face always did. Oh, God, she just knew he could tell she was a crazy, unbalanced stalker that was completely infatuated with him. The worst thing was she was sure she wasn't the first.
"It's okay, you don't need to -" she stuttered, but he interrupted.
"I must insist. It's the least I can do for upsetting a beautiful woman." She felt her cheeks heat even more. Was it possible that he just called her beautiful? Him – this amazing creature standing before her? He was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her life – how was it possible he could find her attractive, her, Bella Swan?
"I'm Edward, by the way," he continued. "Edward Cullen."
"Edward Cullen," she thought reverently, not aware she had murmured it out loud. It suited him, his otherworldly beauty, his old fashioned manner. She smiled in pleasure. "Hello, Edward, I'm Bella Swan."
"May I buy you a coffee? Revisit the scene of the crime?" he asked, gesturing down the block to where the café was located.
"Okay," she agreed shyly. Holy crap, he was asking her out – was it a date? Something else? Whatever it was, she was beyond astounded that he wanted to spend time with her, that he seemed to feel the same need to prolong their encounter. She could hardly believe it, but there was no way she would let this incredible opportunity pass her by, no way would she let him get away again. She smiled in delight, determined that no one would take him like his friends did yesterday, no matter what happened, no matter what kind of episode he had. "But no dairy."
"No," he agreed. "No dairy."
She felt dizzy again as one corner of his mouth lifted in a devastating smile. He gestured her forward, falling closely into step beside her, his scent and presence enveloping her completely. Nothing had ever felt so right. The wait was over, and the relief she felt was immense.
She had been found.