Before I start, thanks for clicking that little link and giving this a shot. For anyone following me over from "Sway", thanks so much! Hope you enjoy this one as well, even though the two stories are nothing alike.
Thanks to The Muselets for your never ending support in all things, even when I tease you with a prologue and leave you hanging. Love you gals!
Biggest thanks go to Natty! I'd been sitting on this idea for months, had some things written and planned, but only collecting dust until she got her hands on it. I can't even begin to explain how much better she made this. I should really give her co-writer credit for as much work as she has put into this, but she'd just wave it off and say something self-deprecating.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind"
The street was silent, bathed in the darkness that accompanied the hours just before dawn. The crunch of gravel was the only sign of life as houses aligned side by side sat behind perfectly manicured lawns in absolute stillness.
A flame flickered, cupped behind the hand of the only man awake on this street. He struggled to block the breeze long enough to light the cigarette held between his lips. His posture straightened as he took a long drag, eyes scanning for something, unsure as to what—or whom—he was looking for. He stayed vigilant despite the lack of useful information, searching for anything out of the ordinary or any clue he could take back with him.
He walked slowly, always keeping to the shadows, even though the dark of night was a sufficient cover should any of the residents wake up and look out a window. It was hours later that another set of footsteps joined his.
"Anything?" a young woman asked him. Her voice was quiet, barely more than a whisper, but she may as well have been shouting as much as it contrasted with the silence of the past few hours.
He shook his head and sighed, dropping his most recent cigarette to the street and stubbing it out with the toe of his boot. "Not a fucking peep."
The young woman looked around, taking in the nondescript uniformity of the standard suburban neighborhood. "Yeah, I didn't have any luck either."
"It'd be a hell of a lot easier if we had more to go on," he grumbled, cautious not to raise his voice enough to wake any of the neighbors.
"It would, but you know it doesn't work like that," she said, trying to placate him. "He was only able to track to a general area. This person is around here somewhere. There aren't too many more places to search. There's no way someone can hide the fact that they're telekinetic indefinitely, especially if they're powerful enough for him to pick up on it without even trying to look. Whoever it is will slip and we'll be here to catch it."
The man scoffed, frustrated and jaded. A month ago he'd been sent to watch a group of five, to study them and learn their weaknesses so that his bosses could swoop in and take control of the independent faction, and finally bring them into the organization's fold.
At least back then he'd known exactly who he was looking for. However, two weeks ago it was discovered that a sixth person with a unique talent was living nearby, and priorities had shifted. The organization needed to find their new target before the existing five managed to make connections with the individual. While he understood the need to make contact first, he couldn't help but grow bitter with each night that he was required to disappear into the shadows, watching and waiting. Finding nothing and feeling like a failure meant that their wrath would come down on his head if he wasn't successful in his hunt.
"We'll try a different area tomorrow night. Maybe we'll move closer to campus. You know how these things work. This new person was drawn to this area for a reason… well, five reasons. Odds are there are more similarities than just being talented. Whoever this is most likely is around the same age. I've been saying it since the beginning that we should focus on the college campus. I'd be willing to bet that's where we're going to find our target."
The man nodded, not looking at the young woman. "Logic," he scoffed. "Seems they've forgotten all about that. They're all too dependent on their own powers to acknowledge the obvious. Tomorrow we'll start at the dorms. Classes start in a few days, so whoever this is may have just moved to town for the new semester."
The sky began to lighten by degrees, and signs of life started to make themselves known. The two walked to the end of the street before slipping into a car at the corner and driving off into the dawn, heading back to rest so that they could start all over as soon as the sun set.
Bella tapped the pen in her hand against the desk, just for something to do. The fist tucked under her chin was the only thing keeping her head upright as the professor droned on and on. If his excessively meticulous explanation of the syllabus was any indication, this was going to be a long semester.
She looked around the room to find that she wasn't the only student struggling to stay awake. In fact, one guy a few rows over had lost the battle entirely and had happily embraced the concept of the afternoon siesta. The weather wasn't helping things, either. As her gaze turned to the row of windows on the far side of the room, she found herself entranced by the steady fall of rain as it pelted rhythmically against the glass. Dark clouds had rolled in, making the afternoon look more like early evening, and Bella started wondering what in the hell she had been thinking by coming back to Washington.
She had spent the past four years of her undergrad in Florida, taking advantage of her mother's residency status for the in-state tuition rates. She was tired, though, of the oppressive heat, hurricane warnings, and those damn love bugs so she decided, as an escape, she'd return to the state where she had spent the final year and a half of high school.
She clearly didn't think it through; Bella had simply traded the sporadic Florida downpours for the dreary steady rain of Seattle. At least in Florida, she only had to deal with the storm for a whopping ten minutes before being treated to hours of sunshine. Here, it could take days—sometimes weeks—before any evidence was found that the sun even existed.
Maybe she should've gone back to Phoenix where it was nice and dry, she thought.
A shuffle of papers brought her out of her thoughts, and Bella noticed that the professor was starting to send more information around, seemingly finished detailing the syllabus. She took the small pile from the student in front of her, grabbed the top sheet for herself, and handed the rest behind her. She looked down and quickly scanned the title of the article that he had copied before promptly zoning out again.
She watched with her head resting on her open palm now as her pen rolled back and forth across the surface of her desk. Though Bella had always tried to be discreet about her unique ability to move things without touching them, she had a bad habit of unthinkingly making small movements.
Her fingers—spanning the length of the pen—flexed up and down in a rolling motion, but always staying an inch away. It was subtle; nobody ever thought much of it if they had caught her. Her hand stayed close enough that should someone see what she was really doing, it could be explained away as having seen the action at a bad angle and it had simply appeared as though she wasn't touching the pen. It was a believable lie and worked the few times Bella had been caught; nobody ever thought to question her explanation. Who would believe otherwise?
A small gasp from the next desk startled her. She slapped her hand over the pen, immediately halting it in its place. Bella looked over to see a small girl with short, almost black hair arranged in artful spikes. Had she been wearing the wrong clothes and no make-up, the girl could've easily passed for someone in her early teens, but Bella was sure that they had to be about the same age.
She was prepared to offer her canned response, but the look on the girl's face stopped her before she could utter the first word. Her heart pounded in her chest as a numb feeling washed over her while she pondered the implications. There was recognition in her neighbor's eyes, and although there was no reason for Bella to think that the girl could be certain of what she saw, she somehow knew that her standard explanation wouldn't be blindly accepted.
Bella turned her head to face forward, looking at the professor but with her attention focused intently on the person next to her. From the corner of her eye, she could see the figure sitting stone still. The girl still hadn't taken her eyes off of Bella, and the longer she gaped, the more unnerved Bella grew. She wanted to lash out at her, she wanted to ask her what her problem was, and she wanted to remind her that it was impolite to stare, but Bella was too scared of confronting her and finding out that she hadn't been as discreet as she had thought. So instead, Bella sat in her seat, unmoving, until the students were dismissed from class.
She noticed that her hands were shaking as she stuffed her things back into her messenger bag, and wondered if she was overreacting. Bella had always been good with subtlety when she did use her gift, having learned over time how to use smaller motions while concurrently increasing precision. There was no way that this girl—this stranger—could've seen enough in that moment for Bella to have given herself away.
She turned her head slightly so that she could watch the girl in her peripheral vision as she slipped out of the room. Bella breathed a sigh of relief that the girl didn't try to talk to her. For now, Bella would pretend that nothing had happened. She would be extra careful in class to make sure that she didn't slip up again. And if the girl did try to bring the subject up, Bella would attempt to convince her that she had been seeing things.
Bella stood from her seat and pulled the strap of her messenger bag over her head, settling it on her shoulder. Grasping at the strap where it crossed her chest, she stepped quietly out the door of the classroom while her eyes darted frantically in every direction, clearly anticipating an ambush.
Bella found the girl almost immediately, but she hadn't noticed Bella yet. She was talking to a guy who was significantly taller than she was, almost comically so, with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes only for her.
"I found her," the girl whispered loudly. Bella averted her eyes, unreasonably afraid that the girl would feel the stare and turn her attention to Bella. She didn't want the girl to know she was there, and she certainly didn't want her to know that she was eavesdropping.
"Are you sure?" Bella heard him ask her at a normal volume.
"Absolutely. She's here." There was an excitement in her voice that in any other context wouldn't have felt so foreboding.
Bella swallowed thickly, hoping that they weren't talking about her, but somehow certain that they were. On shaky legs, she sped to the door and headed outside. She didn't care that she was getting wet; her umbrella was gripped useless and unopened in her hand as she rushed to the parking lot. She just needed to put space between herself and the tiny girl from class.
The drive home was a complete blur; so much so, that Bella couldn't remember how she got from the parking lot at the university to the parking lot at her apartment complex. Her head was in a fog, her thoughts incoherent. She was dazed and unsettled, and nothing made sense to her.
She simultaneously opened her car door and grabbed her bag from the passenger seat, stepping right into a large puddle.
"Shit!" she yelled out as the water immediately soaked through her shoe. Using that foot to launch herself over the puddle so that she could keep at least one foot dry, she slammed the door behind her and tapped the lock button twice on the fob as she sprinted to the front door.
Bella fumbled with her keys, dropping them in her haste as her hands grew shakier by the minute. Paranoid, she looked over her shoulder and the feeling of being watched crept up on her. She saw nothing, not a single person visible in the complex. Her eyes attempted to focus beyond the tree line that signified the beginning of the woods just past the far edge of the parking lot, but the steady rain limited her range of vision.
Snatching the key ring from the ground and finding the right key, she jammed it into the lock and forcefully swung the front door open causing it to slam into the wall. She hurried inside, shutting the door behind her quickly and locking the deadbolt. Her eyes trained on the doorknob as if expecting someone to try to burst through at any moment, and she laughed at herself for allowing the paranoia to take over.
Toeing her shoes off, Bella kicked them to the side in the entryway and peeled off her socks, starting with the newly soaked one, and headed into her bedroom. She dropped her bag onto the desk chair, and made her way to the closet so that she could change into something dry.
The feeling of unease never dissipated from her, so after brushing the tangles from her hair and pulling it into a ponytail, she began to make the rounds to each of the windows in the apartment making sure each one was locked. The sliding glass door leading to the back patio unnerved her with how much access it gave to her apartment when the blinds were open. She moved quickly toward the door, checking the locks and tugging at the strings of the vertical blinds to give her some semblance of privacy. Of everything she was feeling, the impression of being exposed—wide open for all of her secrets to be seen—was the most unsettling.
In the few weeks that Bella had lived in this apartment she had enjoyed the solitude. For four years she had shared her living space with roommates—first in the dorms, and then in off campus housing. It was nice not having to dodge someone else's mess, or have to go to the library to study just so she could have quiet. Today, though, the silence was stifling. She felt trapped in her own head as she ran through various scenarios revolving around that girl from class and what her words could have meant.
I found her.
She had to have been talking about Bella. It was too much of a coincidence that she would react the way she did and minutes later make that announcement. But why was she looking for me? Bella thought. How did she know who I was? What did it all mean?
Who the hell am I?
She tried to make dinner, the act of cooking managing to distract her a little. She couldn't eat, though. Bella forced down a few bites, and the rest of the food was simply pushed around her plate before eventually being dumped in the trash.
She tried to watch TV. Mindless sitcoms managed to make her laugh a few times, but her attention wasn't fully on the screen in front of her.
She tried to go to sleep early, but found herself tossing and turning for hours before succumbing to exhaustion. Even sleep wasn't restful. She woke up more times than she could count, covered in a cold sweat and tangled in the sheets as the memories of the nightmares quickly slipped away and left only the feel of fear behind.
The next morning Bella was more exhausted than she had ever been before, and stood in the shower until the water turned cold. She resolved herself to not worry. Her imagination was getting the best of her, and although the day before had been strange, nothing that had happened indicated that she should be so afraid. She didn't know this girl, and there was no way that the girl could know her.
Though Bella had tried to convince herself that she had nothing to worry about, she couldn't help but be on the lookout as she walked around campus. She wouldn't return to that class until the next day, but being the first week of the semester, Bella had no idea whether or not her schedule would overlap with the girl's at any other point. The university was large, but the Masters programs were relatively small, and it wasn't unusual to see the same faces in multiple classes.
Much to Bella's relief, the girl wasn't in either of her Tuesday classes, giving her an extra day to prepare herself for seeing her on Wednesday.
Bella returned to her apartment feeling much lighter than she had just the day before, and managed to actually eat something. Going through the day without issue had convinced her that she had simply allowed her imagination to take over and make her unnecessarily paranoid.
She had just settled onto the couch with one of her textbooks to read a chapter for class tomorrow when a knock sounded on the door, effectively eliminating all of the calm she'd managed to build throughout the day.
Bella stared at the door for a moment, hoping that her imagination had conjured up the sound. She didn't really know many people in the area. A few of her old classmates from high school were still in school here, but they were barely more than passive acquaintances, and wouldn't show up at Bella's doorstep even if they did know where she lived.
The knock sounded again, and she slowly unfolded herself to stand up and creep to the door. Her worst fears were confirmed when she looked through the peephole to see the girl from class and the guy she had been speaking to in the hall.
Bella's breathing accelerated immediately and she stepped back, moving away from the entrance, once again staring at the knob and waiting for someone to try and force their way inside. Without taking her eyes from the door, she blindly reached for the handle on the small coat closet just inside the narrow hall. Once it was open, she reached inside to grab the baseball bat that her father insisted she keep close if she was determined to live on her own in a big city.
"Look," a small voice called through the door. "We only want to talk. Please just open the door so that we can talk."
Bella's breaths came in short gasps. She couldn't figure out how the girl had found her. It just wasn't possible.
"You're scaring her," Bella heard the guy say softly. "She's terrified right now. Maybe we should leave."
Bella could hear them talking back and forth, but they were so quiet that she couldn't make out the words and was too frightened to come any closer to the door to change that. After a minute the girl spoke again, her voice gentler than before.
"I don't mean to scare you," she started softly. "It's just… there are some things that I think you should know. Please… talk to me."
Against her better judgment, Bella slowly shuffled to the door. She pressed her hands against the wood as she closed her eyes and breathed deeply in an attempt to calm herself. Bella unlocked the deadbolt, and slowly twisted the knob to open the door just a crack.
"Isabella," the girl breathed with a smile. Bella was momentarily shocked that the girl knew her name, but then remembered that the professor had read off each student's name at the beginning of class. She couldn't recall a single name that had been read, so she found it odd that somebody would have remembered hers, especially when the name was said long before she had drawn attention to herself.
"Bella," she muttered timidly, correcting the girl who smiled in response.
"I'm Alice," she said, introducing herself. "I'm in your—"
"Yeah," Bella said softly, not needing a reminder of where they'd seen each other before since it was all she had thought about for a full twenty four hours. "I know."
"Oh, and this is Jasper," the girl said, motioning to the guy next to her. Bella looked up to see him smiling softly at her and she smiled back, slightly uncomfortable. He seemed nice enough, as did she, and under any other conditions Bella was sure that she'd have been more polite and friendly. As it was, she was still scared, feeling completely in the dark about some big secret and just waiting for someone to fill her in. She had a feeling that moment was coming soon.
"Nice to meet you," Bella said, somewhat hesitantly. She wasn't sure how truthful the statement was, but she didn't want to be rude. Until she knew what they wanted, she couldn't afford to give them the benefit of the doubt.
"Can we, um, come in?" Alice asked cautiously. "I know that you'd probably be more comfortable somewhere more public, but the things we need to talk about are too private. It's not really safe to talk about with people around."
Bella nodded tentatively, thinking about how disappointed her father would be with her for going against her instincts and allowing these two strangers into her apartment, but she needed to find out what was going on and how she was personally involved if she wanted to find any sense of peace again.
She slowly opened the door and moved aside, motioning the two of them in.
Bella sat in the chair as Alice and Jasper sat side by side on the couch. Silence surrounded them; no one took the initiative to speak first.
Alice finally worked up the nerve and started the conversation. "I saw you in class… and what you can do." Bella started to jump in and try to deny, using her standard excuse, but Alice held up a hand to stop her. "I know what I saw, and I want you to know that you aren't alone. You don't have to hide it from us."
Bella's brow furrowed as she attempted to make sense of Alice's words. Jasper sat forward, elbows on his knees and hands clasped in front of him, and began to speak. "What she's saying is that we're unique, too."
Unique. What a nice, innocuous way to put it.
"How so?" Bella asked, suddenly curious.
Alice happily jumped in to explain. "Jasper, here, is an empath. He can feel and manipulate peoples' emotions."
Bella looked over at him and he nodded, confirming Alice's words. Bella looked back at her and waited for her to continue.
"I can see the future," she said, the words simple and to the point.
"You're psychic?" Bella asked, intrigued and a little disbelieving.
"I prefer the term pre-cognitive—psychic sounds too much like I should be burning incense and giving a vague prediction about your love life—but essentially, yes."
Bella chuckled at Alice's explanation but didn't respond. She had a hundred things running through her mind with no idea where to start, so instead she stayed silent.
"So, you're telekinetic?" Alice asked as if this was a normal topic of conversation, but Bella didn't answer right away. Alice dipped her head down in an attempt to urge Bella to make eye contact before prodding her to speak. "You can move things?"
Bella simply nodded, not used to discussing her ability and still strangely unwilling to verbalize it to another person.
"Um," she started, trying to figure out how to word her thoughts. "I overheard you in the hall yesterday. Since you're psychic, is that what you meant when you said you found me? Did you see me?"
Alice shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and Bella watched as Jasper rubbed her back lightly. "Kind of—that's what we're here to talk to you about."
Bella swallowed thickly. Alice's discomfort made her even more nervous. "Okay?"
Alice launched into her story, barely taking a breath. "Yeah, so, I did see you, but I didn't know it was you at first. My visions tend to be vague initially, especially if I don't have a familiarity with a person or place. It's better when I have a point of reference. So, I saw you, but I only had a general idea that I would—nothing too specific. Even your image was fuzzy, so I didn't immediately recognize you. I'm sure that now that we've spoken you'll be clearer to me."
She smiled at Bella as if that information was supposed to make her feel better. Bella simply nodded and waited for her to continue.
"But really, the only reason I knew to look for you in the first place was because… " she trailed off, once again uncomfortable as she searched for words. "We overheard others looking for you. We knew we had to find you first."
The way she said the word 'overheard' immediately caused goose bumps to erupt on Bella's skin. "You overheard someone talking about me?"
"Not really," she said quietly. "Ugh, this is all so complicated to explain."
Jasper, sensing her frustration, took over. "There are three more people with us. We all have different abilities. Through those, we've picked up some information that certain people are aware of you and are looking for you."
Bella's heart rate increased at the foreboding tone of his voice and was assaulted by nervousness. She could feel a slight pressure in her chest, an odd sensation she'd never felt before. She thought she heard Jasper whisper the word 'interesting', but when she looked up he had a confused look on his face and he continued his explanation as if nothing had happened.
"We don't want to scare you any more than you already are, but it's probably unavoidable. You need to know this so that you can be on guard, be aware of what's happening around you."
"Okay," Bella said cautiously. He was right; she was growing more and more frightened by the minute. "Please, just tell me. Whatever it is, just tell me and get it over with."
He nodded in understanding, and Alice spoke up before he continued. "There are certain people out there who like to find people like us and use us to their advantage. Somehow they found out about you, and consider you to be extremely valuable. They haven't figured out exactly who you are yet, but it's only a matter of time."
The fear was amplified at Alice's words, and Bella was sure that her heart would beat right out of her chest. She felt a small amount of pressure against her chest, just enough to be a nuisance. She looked up to see an intense look of concentration on Jasper's face. As his focus increased, she noticed the pressure growing to the point of extreme discomfort. It felt as if Jasper was pushing against her with all of his strength, even though he was across the room. Instinctively, her whole body went on guard, producing an equal but outward pressure in an attempt to deflect the invading force.
Immediately, Jasper slumped forward, rubbing at his own chest as if trying to will away an ache or pain and panting shakily. "Fuck," he muttered as he took steadying breaths. Alice looked at him, stunned, while Bella just furrowed her brow in confusion. She didn't understand Jasper's reaction or her own, and couldn't begin to comprehend what had caused either response. All she knew was that what she had felt was completely new and unlike anything she had ever experienced before. For a few moments they composed themselves, sitting in contemplative silence while they each considered the strange event that had just passed, trying to make sense of it.
"I can't tell you not to be scared," Jasper said, breaking the silence. His mind was still reeling over what he had experienced. In all the time he'd been able to consciously manipulate others' emotions, he'd never had anything like that happen before. He had tried to calm Bella down but she had repelled his attempts, her true emotions somehow magnifying in the process. He wanted to keep testing this, intrigued that he could read her emotions but not affect them, but to do that they needed to gain her trust. "We're here because we want to help you. We need to stick together so that the few people who know about us can't take advantage of what we're capable of doing. I'm not sure how you managed to stay off their radar for so long, but it's not safe for you to be on your own anymore."
Bella stared at the floor as she listened to his words. As if they were tag-teaming, Alice continued. "These people, they have surrounded themselves with some rather talented individuals. That, I'm sure, is how they've become aware of you and your ability. We want you to stick with us—we want to keep you safe. We've dealt with them before and are pretty good at staying a few steps ahead of them. Please say that you'll come with us."
Bella looked between the two of them as they watched in anticipation of her answer. "Come with you where?"
"We share a house with the other three," Jasper answered. "There's plenty of room, and we can work with you to see what all you can do. I think you'll find that when people like us are together, our abilities tend to work in tandem and grow, intensify. We can test each other and find out how far we can push our abilities. Clearly, you must already be pretty powerful if they're looking for you, so I can't wait to see what you can do once you really try."
Bella was a little taken aback by this bit of information as well as the awe in his voice, but this was insane; things like this just didn't happen. It wasn't reality. "Wait, I just met you two and you're asking me to give up my apartment that I've just moved into to go live with strangers? All the while, I'm supposed to prepare to defend myself against some nameless, faceless villain who wants to use me just because I can move a few things?"
"You don't have to give up this place," Alice assured. "We would just like for you to come with us, to stay close, until we can narrow down the threat and eliminate it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I'm begging you. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if something happened to you and we weren't around to prevent it."
Her tone was pleading and sincere, and Bella couldn't deny that after the little bit of information that she had been given about this 'threat', that the idea of surrounding herself with people who knew what was going on sounded like a good idea. After all, she was completely in the dark about this secret facet of the world, but logic took over. She didn't know these people, and she didn't know how real the threat was or if it even existed. Though the frightened part of her wanted to take Alice and Jasper up on their offer, she refused to give in.
"No," she said and watched Alice's face fall. Bella lifted a hand to stop Alice from speaking. "This is completely ridiculous. Absolutely not. I'm not packing up and going into hiding."
Bella was resolved and insistent, with no plans to back down. Alice opened her mouth to respond, to beg Bella to reconsider, but Jasper quieted her with a hand on her shoulder. He spoke before Alice could get a single word out. "We understand." Alice shot him a look that would make lesser men quiver with fear, but he was used to dealing with her and knew how to convince her to ease up when she was becoming too demanding. "You need time to process all of this… time to think. We don't live that far away. If you change your mind or something happens, or if anything seems out of place, give us a call. We can be here in just a few minutes."
Bella nodded, thankful that he seemed to understand. Alice had even come around to his way of thinking, immediately requesting Bella's phone and entering her phone number followed by Jasper's. They left the apartment after requesting that she not use her ability—especially in public, until they had figured things out—and after saying quiet goodbyes they left Bella in a contemplative silence.
That night Bella had trouble falling asleep again. She'd been unable to slow her imagination down, constantly revisiting worst case scenarios based on the minimal information she had been given. The normal creaks and groans that accompanied any apartment—water running through pipes, the air conditioning switching off and on, or the shuffle of feet from her upstairs neighbors—put Bella on edge. Since the complex was so close to the university's campus, the vast majority of residents were students. While they weren't nearly as loud as the freshmen in the dorms, they tended to keep a later schedule and this meant that Bella could hear cars pulling in and out of the lot until very late at night, especially when the traffic picked up just after two in the morning when the bars closed. With each slamming door, drunken giggle, and loud conversation she worried, wondering if any of them marked the arrival of the person or people out to find her.
But it wasn't the doors, giggles, or conversations that should have concerned Bella. If she'd looked out her window—if her neighbors had been more observant and less intoxicated—the man pacing the edge of the woods on the other side of the parking lot would have stood out amongst it all.