Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight. It belongs to Stephenie Meyer.
A/N: Thanks to Amusewithaview for awesome beta-ness. Thanks, darlin'.
After they find her in the woods, she sleeps.
Only, not really. She lies in bed, curled up tightly, like a butterfly in a cocoon, trying to hold it all in, to stop her guts from spilling all over the place, to keep her insides from falling out onto the floor, like the tangled, squirming mess they are. But her eyes remain open, fixed on the wall. It's dark and blank and soothing and it reminds her of… of so many things.
Those hurt the most.
Charlie is worried. She knows that. Her sits with her every free minute and tries to make sure Jacob is there when he has to go to work. He talks to her, begs with her, pleads for her to wake up.
She's not sleeping.
She's just not ready yet. She doesn't know what to do. She needs… she needs a little time.
But Charlie worries.
He leaves her be for a week, maybe two before he stops asking and starts commanding. He yells and she flinches because it's so loud. She's never liked loud and it's only gotten worse in the company of the cold ones, without heartbeat, without breath. They barely ever made a sound and Edward was the quietest of them all.
And Charlie yells, "Damn it, Bells, I know you're sad because that bastard left you, but you've got your whole life in front of you! There's something out there for you, someone who actually deserves you! The whole damn world's waiting for you! So stop moping!"
He's scared for her. Terribly scared. She blinks at his heaving frame, blinks again. Something waiting?
Yes, that sounds right. Something waiting. She just has to find it.
She goes back to school and she talks to Angela and Ben and lets Jessica and Mike look at her funny. She aces her classes and sometimes lets Jake drag her out to the beach or the movies.
She eats, breathes and sleeps and spends every moment in between looking. Waiting. For that thing that's coming for her.
She makes out with three different boys under the bleachers and lets Jake touch her boobs once before excusing herself with a smile he doesn't buy.
It doesn't feel right.
Charlie asks her once what made her come out of her funk and she hums low, at the back of her throat, and says, "Something's waiting for me, right?"
She makes it a question but she already knows the answer.
He nods. "Right."
She doesn't count the days since they left because it doesn't feel right. It feels like she should be counting down to zero, counting toward something. Not away. Something's waiting for her.
The certainty of that statement rises with every repetition and her own low, thoughtful hum echoes in her head, a vibration that agrees with her.
So she doesn't count. Months pass on their own, seasons come and go and she waits. She gets really good at waiting.
One day, she has no idea how long it's been, she stands at the top of the highest cliff in the rez, staring down at the curling, swirling sea below.
The hum at the back of her mind grows louder, deeper. Warningwarningwarning. Down that cliff is the wrong way.
She turns back towards the steep path and makes her way to Billy's place, where she has hot chocolate and sits on the porch with Jake.
"Why didn't you?" he asks after she tells him that she wanted to jump so badly.
"It was the wrong direction," she answers and he shakes his head.
"Bells, don't get me wrong, I love ya, but sometimes I think that bloodsucker seriously screwed up something in your head."
She shakes her head. Jake thinks she's got a few loose screws because she sits still a lot and says things that make her sound like the after party special in the loony bin, but it wasn't Edward that put the crazy in her head. She thinks it's always been there.
It just broke loose when he left, like a bad case of the rash. Mental rash. She smiles into her mug secretively and Jake clucks his tongue and shakes his head some more.
As an afterthought she adds, "I love you, too."
Graduation comes and goes and she hasn't applied to a single college. She wants to travel, she tells Charlie. She needs to find the right direction.
She shrugs and tugs on the hem of her shirt. "You said there's something out there for me. I have to find it, Dad."
He doesn't like the idea of his only daughter giving up her education in favor of traveling around the country, looking for something so elusive it doesn't even have a name, isn't so much as an idea. But it's her life and she thinks he can see the fire in her eyes. For the first time since she curled up in the woods, she's found something to fight for.
So he sighs and runs a hand over his head, giving in. But there are rules.
She calls at least once a week. He always wants to know where she is. She has to swear, up and down, that she'll call if she needs help, no matter how small and she's not allowed to leave the country without talking to him first. She needs to work, not waste her youth and she needs to give up her truck and get a more reliable car. She promises all those things and gets access to her college funds in return.
She packs a duffel and a back pack, clothes, her laptop, her ipod, a few books she can't possibly be without. The hum is back again, bouncing around her head like a trapped bee.
This is the right direction, she thinks and smiles quietly as Fork shrinks in the rear view mirror of her new-old jetta.
She makes it to Seattle and even though it's only hours away from Forks, it's a different world. Here there is no Charlie to offer unwavering support, no Jake to hug her close and call her crazy, no wolves to protect her. Here she's a teenage girl without a past or future, looking for something she can't name.
It feels amazing.
She finds a job in a café and it's good enough for her. She lives in a motel for two weeks before finding a room she can afford. Her books go on the shelf above the bed, her clothes in the dresser, her toothbrush into the tiny bathroom.
She works the morning shift and hates the uniform but gets good tips because she's about twenty years younger than all the other waitresses there, who all take a shine to her. It's a bit like having half a dozen stern mothers all of a sudden and it gets overwhelming for the girl who didn't even have one mother growing up. Let's face it, she loves Rene, but the woman has always been more of an accident prone younger sibling than a mother.
But these women, with their rouged cheeks and apple-pink, aging lips, they call her 'sweetie' and make sure to take over her tables when someone gets ideas in their head and their hand on her ass.
They all tell her she should sign up for classes, should make something of herself. Something that won't have her ending up right where they are, old, wasted and poor. She smiles at them and tells them that this is only one step of a journey. They ask if she wants to be a star and she shakes her head and changes the subject.
Calls with Rene become seriously awkward.
Rene is the last person on Earth who would ever begrudge her the crazy urge to throw away her future in order to search for some nameless thing. But she keeps asking for her baby girl to come to her, visit her, maybe tour with her and Phil for a while. Search together.
But she can't. Charlie let her go, unhappy but willing. Rene wants to cling, to hold on, and she needs to fly right now.
The guy in the apartment next to hers intentionally forgets to buy onions every time he goes grocery shopping, just so he can come over and borrow one from her. She's pretty sure he has a whole bucket full of onions rotting in his kitchen by now, but she never calls him on it.
He has stars in his eyes when he looks at her and she feels old and jaded because she looked like that at someone, once upon a time. And she thought it was the best feeling in the world, thought it would last forever.
So she smiles a lot and lets him have his onions.
She's been in Seattle for almost six months when she walks down the street and passes a travel agency with a picture of the Grand Canyon in the window. She stops, head cocked to one side, studying the picture.
The humming returns.
She quits the next day, packs her things, gives her starry-eyed neighbor the entire contents of her small kitchen along with a chaste kiss on the cheek and then leaves the city behind without another thought, singing along to the sound of a million bees in her mind.
She does the sky walk, sends Jake a post card and calls Charlie just to tell him that she's happy. He laughs with her as the wind whips around her and the earth splits in front of her and she thinks this is okay.
The humming fades to almost nothing and she finds a job in one of the nearby tourist traps and a room above a Laundromat. The uniforms are better this time and the rent is cheaper and during her second months there, Jake comes to visit.
He wants to see the hole in the ground he says and she shows him. They laugh a lot and get drunk illegally and somehow they end up kissing because she hasn't kissed anyone in almost a year and Jake still hasn't imprinted on anyone and what does it matter?
He rolls away from her eventually and asks, "Have you found what you're looking for, yet?"
She runs a finger over his temple and cheekbone, trailing it down to his chin, tapping it once. "No," she tells him.
Four months and the humming starts again, refusing to stop until she's on the highway, the nose of her jetta turned east.
Grand Junction sounds like just the place for a girl passing through, and this time, she decides against a diner and gets herself a job in a bookstore instead. She has yet to touch her college fund and Charlie is prouder of her for that than he probably should be.
She finds a place to stay with a coworker who's looking for a roomie while her sister is touring Europe for six months. That suits her just fine and she moves in, books, clothes, toothbrush and settles into a nice routine with Annie, the coworker.
They do things like watch movies together and have girl talk, something that she's never really done before. Not with someone she saw as her equal anyway. Annie is shocked to hear she's a virgin and teases her for 'saving herself'. She wants to protest, but she's not really sure she can. She is saving herself. For something. Whatever that may be.
They get into mock fights while resorting the romance section after hours and they bake cookies together after midnight just because they feel like it.
A few months in, a couple with blood red eyes comes into the store. They looks a bit run down and Annie keeps a skeptic eye on them, but they do nothing out of the ordinary. He heads straight for the history section, while she picks up a few maps and travel guides. They converge on one of the reading couches and she lingers close to them, fumbling around the New Age shelf.
Annie comes over eventually and asks, "Do you know them?"
The two of them stiffen on their couch and she shakes her head no. "Alright. What's got you acting all stalker then?"
"Nothing," she says and flees for the safety of cooking and baking. She's happily fiddling with 101 Muffin Recipes when they rise to leave.
She puts down the books she was stacking, wipes her hands on her jeans and steps right into their path as they head for the exit. They both stiffen, the female slipping behind the male, who crouches lightly. They're on edge and she's playing with fire. Red eyes. Red eyes.
"Don't go south," she says.
"Don't go south. Head north. You'll find who you're looking for there."
Eyes narrow and she can already feel her blood trickling away. Firefirefire. But she can't walk away. Not now. Not ever. People walk away from her, not the other way round.
"And who would we be looking for, little girl?" the male wants to know, his accent strange and lilting. Beautiful. They are all so beautiful.
"I don't know," she admits with a shrug. "Just go north."
She uses their confusion to slip away, past Annie, toward the back where she leans against the wall and closes her eyes, breathing deeply.
Footsteps. "What the hell, roomy?"
"I thought you didn't know them."
"I don't," she says and regrets that things will be awkward now.
She has a theory.
About the screws that a certain family's leaving shook loose in her head. She thinks that maybe she's a bit psychic. She thinks that all vampires with gifts are really just psychics 2.0.
They are the butterflies to her caterpillar.
Alice and Edward and Jasper and all the others. The most obvious symptom being Alice's visions, even before she was turned. But she bets that both Edward and Jasper sometimes looked at people, just looked, and knew what they thought, what they felt.
Just like she looks at people and knows. Two years from now, Annie's gonna have a baby. Jake's imprint's name will be Leila, Charlie is dating Sue Clearwater, Edward left because he was scared and the man in the biology section knows his wife is cheating on him but can't stand the idea of losing her.
So yeah. She's pretty sure she'll make a very gifted vampire one day.
They come back the same day Annie meets the father of her future child and spends the rest of the day gushing about him.
It's a rainy day and they enter the store soundlessly, dripping water on the dark blue carpet. It's late and they're closed already, but what vampire has ever been stopped by a locked door?
Annie sees them first and freezes, panic rattling through her skull. "We mean no harm," the male says, standing in front of the female, like before. But this time there's another one, a black male with eyes that are fire-engine red. The female holds tightly onto his arm, whispering to him constantly, calming him down.
The male turns to her and asks, "How did you know?"
She shrugs. "I just did. It's not a big deal."
He shakes his head. "No. We have found a new member for our family. That is indeed a big deal. We owe you thanks…"
She hesitates only a moment before answering, "Swan."
She finds it ironic, that she's named after an animal whose song only turns beautiful in the throes of death. It fits her, the girl in love with death and the dead. It fits her so very well.
Nomen est omen.
He nods. "Swan. Carver, Annabelle and Jordan," he declares, pointing at himself and his companions in turn. "Remember those names for we are in your debt."
He bows and is gone, taking the other two with him. She looks at Annie, who is clutching both hands to her heart, panting like she just ran a mile. Time to move on, she thinks.
The bees agree.
She writes Rene post cards from everywhere she goes, the text always the same. I love, you miss you, still searching.
Two days later her car breaks down just beyond Colorado Springs and she calls Charlie at work to inform him that her 'more reliable' car is a piece of shit and she would really like her old truck back right about now.
He laughs and finds a number for her online. An hour later a guy in his mid twenties comes with a tow truck and introduces himself as Mike. She smiles at him, shakes his hand and makes small talk while they ride back into town, her poor, dead car hogtied in the back.
Once they get to the garage, she listens to a litany of strange words come out of Mike's mouth before he says, "I can get it fixed today, but it'll take me a few hours. There's a diner just across the street and a mall a few blocks from here."
He gives her directions and sends her off. She heads for the diner instead and sits in a window seat, reading a worn paperback, occasionally looking across the street, where Mike is crawling around under her car.
The waitress comes and goes, smiling secretively at her. She smiles back, agreeing that yes, the mechanic is hot. Eventually she gets bored and gets two coffees to go. She hands one to Mike and asks him about the garage and his life, telling him a bit in return.
He smiles in all the right places and doesn't seem to mind having company while he works. He wants to know where she's headed and she shrugs ad tell him she'll know when she gets there. He frowns, telling her that's dangerous. She shakes her head. "Nothing's going to happen to me."
And it won't.
He fixes her car around closing time and shuffles his feet for a moment before asking her if she'd like to go for dinner.
She shrugs. "Too late to get back on the road now anyway."
Mike is good to her. He hooks her up with a job in the diner and she brings him coffee and conversation every day during her break. He takes her out in the evenings and never asks for anything and he kisses like he means it and when she goes a bit crazy on him he pecks her on the forehead or pats her hand and calls her 'loopy girl'.
Being with him is easy and she sometimes thinks of another Mike she knew and how complicated everything was back then. Love and love and love, all burning so hot inside of her, making her blind for anything else. She wonders if the other Mike would have been this easy, if she'd ever given him the time of the day.
But she didn't because she was caught up in Edward. It's understandable she thinks. She was seventeen, uprooted, alone, an outsider. And he was dazzling and mysterious and strong.
She tells Mike about him one night and he frowns and tells her that it sounds like Edward was controlling her. Trying to change her. She concedes the point because it's true. Jake, her truck, her birthday party, their kisses.
But he loved her, and she loved him until it ended. And a part of her will love him until the day she dies, she knows. Because he was her first and he looked at her like she was beautiful. That's how first love works, Mike explains with a chuckle, telling her about a girl called Abby, who broke his heart when he was fifteen.
They've had dinner and a movie when she stops in the middle of the street, waiting. The girl appears out of nowhere, tiny and blonde, a little thing of maybe sixteen.
Her eyes are red as blood and she's hungryhungryhungry, eyeing Mike like a piece of meat.
"No," she tells the girl, stepping in front of him as he tries to pull her back.
That reptile gaze fixes on her and there's fire in it. "Who the hell are you?"
She could say nothing. She could say her name. What leaves her mouth instead is, "Swan."
The girl, visibly taken aback by her answer, hesitates for a moment and she uses it. Has to, because the humming is making her head feel like it's going to burst. "He's caught your trail. The one who's after you." The vampire's eyes widen and this time there's fear in them. She's being followed by her maker, her master. She escaped, just barely. She didn't choose this life anymore than anyone else. All the predators were once victims.
"Go south. If you can slip through the front lines and make it to Mexico, he won't follow you. He doesn't set foot in the southern territories. But you have to go now and you can't stop."
Mike is confused and getting angry behind her, because he doesn't understand. He's human and he thinks he needs to know the how, the when and why. The vampire simply accepts the words. The dead know there's more to the world than even they understand, she figures. Or maybe they can taste the truth in what she says, smell the freakishness on her.
"Why are you helping me?"
Because she can. Because she knows these things for a reason. Because that vampire was once a scared girl called Emily. Because she wants to. Because she needs to.
"It's what I do."
She doesn't know where it comes from, this cryptic shit, this playing with words and meaning. Loose screws and after party specials.
The vampire nods her silent thanks and disappears into the dark. Mike spins her around by her arm and barks, "What the hell?"
Books, clothes, toothbrush.
The next one is a male that tries to get picked up as a hitchhiker. His eyes are dirty orange and he looks like a junkie, arms wrapped around his middle, panting and growling. She tells him of a coven in Alaska and a more peaceful way of life.
She kicks him out of her car in a wooded area, suggesting he find some food and stay away from any other humans. He nods and exits the car before turning back and asking, through the window, "Why didn't I eat you?"
"You weren't supposed to."
Yup. She's getting really good at this cryptic stuff.
Now if only she could figure out who is supposed to eat her. Because that something she's looking for? She's pretty sure it's got fangs.
She turns twenty in bumfuck, Montana, waiting tables with a headache that's been plaguing her for days.
It's a cloudy day, rain in the air, when the door opens and two tall, dark skinned men push into the small bar and grill, filling it with their presence, death, menace and hunger. They're both dressed poorly, obviously nomads, but they carry themselves with the pride of kings. It confuses people, scares them. All except her, the dumb little lamb who never quite figured out when to run for her life.
She knows their names before she turns around to face them and the answer to their question. One of them, marginally older looking than the other, meets her gaze across the room.
Quinn, the bartender comes out from behind the counter and steps up to them. "Can I help you, gentlemen?"
One of them raises a long, muscled arm and points a single digit straight at her. "Are you Swan?" he asks.
They come looking for her now? That is new. She nods and weaves through the tables, feeling a dozen gazes heavy on her. "Let's go outside," she suggests, turning to Quinn to tell him she's taking five.
He shakes his head at her. "No offense, anyone, but you're not going anywhere with those two, hon."
She sighs and wonders why she has to draw overprotective males like a flame does moths. She meets red eyes and says, "Ask your question."
The younger looking one looks at her with something like amusement and does. "Where is our brother?"
She smiles. "Ajo is still in Canada. He'll meet you in Detroit." And then, because she's a bleeding heart – pun intended – she adds, "He's safe and unhurt."
And in front of her eyes, two killers turn into puppies, relief seeping out of their every pore. She almost laughs at the sight but doesn't because while she knows, in that strange humming place in her head, that she's safe, there are a dozen other people here who are not.
"Carver was right," the older one says.
"About what?" she wants to know. Quinn stands beside her, goggling stupidly, mouth hanging open.
"You," they say I unison before turning and leaving just like they came, silently and deadly.
After that, they just keep coming and with every impossible question she answers, she sheds a bit of the girl and become more of Swan.
Books, clothes, toothbrush.
She adds to her theory.
Vampires aren't only psychics 2.0.
She doesn't know what they are, but they are something more. Something that makes it so most of her hunches center around the undead. Something that makes it so they are drawn to her. They always find her and they never try to hurt her.
Distant cousins maybe. Pieces of the same, giant, cosmic puzzle that no-one sees or understands.
Maybe she's not just the clumsy danger magnet. Maybe the vampires found her because they were meant to, because of that hum inside her head, the knowledge that shoots into her from nowhere.
Maybe all this, every single vampire, every single question and answer, all the hurt, the broken bones, the fear, the exhilaration and the feeling of the cold, muddy forest ground under her numb body, maybe all this, leads to something.
The something she's waiting for.
Some of them come back, find her in her latest city, to thank her. Some come to show off what they have found. The older ones come to publicly announce the debts they feel they owe her.
One of them kindly explains a vampire debt to her. Blood he says. All about blood. She helps them protect their blood, they help her protect hers. She can call them to war and if she pleases, to death.
She usually asks for news instead.
They tell her many things, over the months. Some are interesting, some completely meaningless.
The Volturi have added to their guard. Marcus is growing more and more reclusive. The Romanians are stirring again, making their discontent heard. There's a red headed bitch by the name of Victoria, going round and trying to create an army. No-one likes that much. Maria is pushing further north than she's been since her Warmaker General left her almost a century ago. They say she's making a play for Houston, but everyone agrees that she'll be beaten back.
All the way back to the Mexican border, a lonely old nomad called Alphonse reckons. It'll take her decades to recover this time, if the Houston coven lets her. It's time, he says, for these Southern Wars to end. They've been going on far too long, even by vampire standards.
In the neighboring booth a mother's eyes grow wide ad she grabs her two boys, dragging them to the other end of the restaurant. She giggles and Alphonse smiles crookedly and her boss gives her the stink-eye.
Other bits of news hit closer to home.
The Cullens are falling apart and reforming. The soldier, they say, has left the fold. The telepath is touring Europe, the beauty and the beast are drifting on their own every now and then. They have two new members, a couple that almost died in a car crash.
They're waiting out the newborn year in Denali, with the coven there.
She thinks that maybe she should have driven her car into a ditch. Maybe then she would have been good enough for Edward to keep.
She pushes the thought aside and thanks the messenger. That bitterness, that's the girl talking, not Swan. Swan is not the girl. Swan brings glimpses of happiness into people's lives. A kind word, a right answer. Swan is serenely waiting for what she knows it coming for her.
Swan is lonely.
She turns twenty-one is a place that looks exactly like the one she turned twenty in, the one she celebrated her nineteenth in. All the same. Three years of waiting, two years of searching and what has she got to show for it?
She's got some serious waitressing skills and she freaks people out by knowing shit she has no right to know. Every other week a vampire pops up out of nowhere and scares whatever human company she manages to scrounge up. They ask their questions, take what they need and leave her with nothing but another move, another strip of road.
She lives from hand to mouth, from job to shower to bed, from yesterday to tomorrow.
And nothing ever comes for her. No-one stays. No-one cares. She's loopy girl, that name that Mike gave her, the one that lost all happy associations long ago.
She's a fucking freak that even the love of her life couldn't stand to be around, searching across the country for something that doesn't exist, for the fever dream of a broken girl.
And for the first time since Edward left her, she feels anger.
She hates her life.
She stops playing the game. When she knows a vampire's coming, she drops her things, packs her bags and hits the highway. No more questions, no more answers. Let them take care of themselves. She's not their human fucking oracle.
She's just a crazy girl who knows too much.
Let them find someone else to use, to jerk around.
The few that manage to catch up to her ask for Swan and she tells them she's dead. She tells them to leave. Some of them do, others she has to slip away from at high noon, like a thief, when she's the one that's being stolen from.
She stops unpacking her books.
She has a close call in one of the Dakotas, she doesn't even know which anymore. A coven, fairly big and organized, of three vampires. They come looking for her after her late shift at the diner, cornering her in a dark alley. They are looking for an enemy, one that hurt them, looking for him to tear him to pieces and burn them.
She ducks and weaves and twists, somehow gets away from them only because she knows which way they are going to turn before they do. One of them manages to grab her, bruising her arm so badly she thinks it will fall off. She rips free and runs, finding a populated area to disappear in.
At least here, in public, they won't dare hurt her and when they find her again she spits a lie in their faces and is three hundred miles away by sunrise.
She figures this is as good a time as any to finally visit Rene and she turns her car toward Arizona. The humming grows louder, more urgent with every mile she gets closer to her mother but she ignores it.
She always ignores it these days.
She gets there and Rene is so happy, all smiles and hugs and random bouts of happy tears. It gets so much that, on the third day, she excuses herself and goes wandering through the city of her childhood, glad to have caught her nomad mother here instead of in Florida. She passes her old school, the playground she played at as a kid, the park she liked to have picnics in with Rene.
Eventually her feet carry her towards the burnt out shell of the ballet studio. It's boarded up and sprayed on, an ugly warning to all who pass. She's surprised it's still there at all, but it is. She lingers on the sidewalk for almost an hour, intentionally not hearing the angry humming.
Red eyes looming over her, fire spreading from her arm, life bleeding from her thigh. She can't do this to Rene, to sweet, innocent Rene.
She's out of town by sunset.
She stops unpacking her clothes next and keeps to the south, where the sunshine limits their movements and keeps her exit routes open.
Motel rooms only, jobs for a week and often she bails before she can collect her paycheck. She dips into her funds for the first time and Charlie notices, calls, worries when she gives him a new location every time they talk.
"Are you in danger, honey?" he finally asks after a couple of months, unable to keep it in anymore.
She shakes her head at the phone and hastens to assure him that she's fine. He doesn't buy it. "I may be old," he says, "But I'm not stupid. You're running for something. Please, let me help."
"It's not… it's not him, is it?"
"No, Dad. Edward has nothing to do with this." Not anymore. "I'm not running," she repeats. "I'm searching. You know that."
He doesn't believe it and she can't fault him for it, because she doesn't either.
Some days, she tucks her toothbrush back into her bag right after brushing her teeth. She sleeps in her street clothes and dreams of gold and red in the dark, hunting her.
She wakes one day and knows that she has to call Jake. She tries not to, tries to ignore the feeling, the knowledge because that's not how she rolls. Not anymore.
But it's Jake and so she calls him for the first time in over a year and he tells her that they finally got the bitch. Victoria is so much ashes. Bella is free. Free to come home, he says.
She tells him she loves him and hangs up.
The second time one of them catches up to her she doesn't get away. He's strong and angry, firefirefire, looking for his mate, who disappeared days ago. Love, fear, possessiveness and rage make him burn and she never stands a chance.
She tries to run but he has her by the throat before she's taken five steps. He slams her into the wall, feet dangling above the ground, choking. He pushes his face into hers, fangs glistening with venom, eyes dark with the desire to crack her open like an egg and pick the knowledge he needs out of her.
"Where is she?" he howls and she cringes, pulls at his arm without moving him an inch.
She's crying and her tears taste like salt as she struggles to get away, shaking her head no. She won't tell. She can't tell. She's that girl, that girl on the forest floor and she's so cold, so alone, so empty. She's eighteen and her insides feel like ice, she's twenty-one and there is nothing waiting for her anywhere, nothing but more loneliness.
Maybe this is the best way. The vampires that came for her never hurt her before but that was while she upheld her end of this cosmic bargain. If she keeps her mouth shut, if she bites her tongue, this one will end her and it will be all over.
No more waiting.
No more searching.
She looks away from his looming face, squeezing her eyes closed, trying to not hear the humming, trying to unknow all she knows. If she keeps silent now, this man's mate will be dead before sunrise, torn apart and set on fire. She'll be gone and he'll follow after her because he loves her and has since he set eyes on her in Chicago in 1923, where she was dancing with sad eyes and a sadder smile. He changed her and hasn't left her side since then. Not one day in almost ninety years.
Swan yells all that at her while the girl sobs in a corner, wishing that someone loved her that much.
"The red coven," she gasps. "They have her downtown, in the basement of an old warehouse. Hurry."
She stops running.
She stops hiding.
She stops packing her toothbrush every morning and sometimes she even pulls out a book.
But she stops laughing, too. And talking.
She spent half a year running and the humming never so much as faltered or changed, a constant warning at the back of her head. A reminder.
It used to give her peace, that thought. Now it makes her clench her fists and try to scrounge up hate.
So she plays the game again. Traveling, searching, soothsaying. But she takes no pleasure from it.
"Ask your question," she tells them.
And they do.
That is all.
No names, no stories, no news, no tales. No bonds. She's Swan and she's just passing through, an accumulation of all you never knew.
She calls Charlie and Rene alternately, one Sunday Forks, the other Phoenix. She knows the keep each other up to date about her and she can't work up the energy to do much more than let them know she's alive.
They don't understand, but she thinks the fear of losing her completely keeps them silent. She's sorry about it but doesn't change it.
"Why're you always so sad?" Hannah asks. Hannah is a coworker, nineteen and pretty fresh out of high school.
Those two years between them? They feel like a fucking life time. Hannah is so sweet and young, so willing to see the silver lining in every raincloud even though she's stuck in the middle of nowhere, waitressing to feed herself and her sick and dying mother, even though she'll never leave this place, or find her dreams. She smiles every time she pours a cup of coffee. Every. Single. Time.
Her cheeks hurt just watching.
But it's impossible to be angry with Hannah because it's real. That smile, it's real. So she just shrugs. "I guess I forgot how to be happy."
"You should do somethin' nice," the other girl says, refilling salt shakers.
"Something nice?" Dubiously.
"Yeah. Y'know, for yourself. Or for someone else. Just… do somethin' nice."
"Nice isn't always the way to go," she points out. She's been nice for years, helping, always givinggivinggiving. And what did it get her?
The only thing she really has to show for her good deeds is her continued health. And the jury's still out on what that's worth.
Hannah looks at her, sadly, blinking twice. Then she smiles and shrugs and goes to wipe down the tables, not sure how to deal with someone who's utterly ruined at the tender age of twenty-one.
Can't blame the girl. She doesn't know either.
She's finally old enough to work at a bar and hell, does she ever. She picks up bartending pretty fast after that, because the ass grabbing on the other side of the bar makes her want to break fingers. Better to have them leer at her cleavage but stay out of actual groping range.
There's this bar in… where the hell is she anyway? It's a moderately big city, she knows that much. Apart from that, one sign just blurs with all the others, leaving her a bit lost.
That's a metaphor.
There's this bar, medium sized, dark and always smoke-stale, even at high noon. It's comfy, even though the crowd runs towards the more dangerous end of the spectrum. Bikers and gangsters and she learns within her first week never to set foot in the back alley. She doesn't need to get pulled into some drug related business, thank you very much.
But the boss is a gruff old grizzly who takes care of his girls and everyone who sets foot into Malley's knows to treat 'em ladies right. And that includes awesome tips.
During her third week there, the door gets pushed open around midnight and a hush falls over the place, interrupted only by nervous jitters. She'd smile at how all the big, bad criminals suddenly act like prey, if she could find anything even remotely funny in it. She just keeps preparing drinks, three beers, two Patron shots, one whiskey on the rocks. Double, because Marty likes his drinks like that.
She's pretty sure she's the only one in the joint still moving, apart from the newcomer. She puts the drink down in front of Marty and keeps her hands busy until he speaks. "Swan."
He's far too close, leaning over the bar, right in her face. He's half a mile beyond six feet, built in a way that would make Emmett think twice and he wants something from her.
She looks up, dishrag and glass stilling in her hands. "Yeah."
BobbyB, her boss, comes waddling towards her. She ignores him and tells the red-eyed vampire, "Ask your question."
"Antone Piaggo. Is he dead?"
Coven blood feud. Nasty stuff. Been going on for almost two hundred years. She nods. "Pile of ashes."
The vampire nods once, curtly, and spins on his heel, leaving. Slowly, movement around her picks up again but she keeps feeling eyes like daggers in her back. She looks at BobbyB, who's frowning at her.
"Want me to quit?" She knows this scene all too well.
He spins once on his axis, taking in the place, the people. Then he shakes his head. "Nah."
She becomes a bit of an attraction at Malley's. She's an assassin, a spy, a seer, a mob bride, a dealer, a cat burglar, a killer, an alien. She's the girl who knows the fucking creepy people.
For the first time, humans call her Swan with that same lilt, that undertone, that the undead have been using for years.
The humming just keeps growing louder.
"Ask your question."
"Two weeks. Then it's safe again."
"Ask your question."
The humming fills her mind like water does a bucket, fills it up, louder and louder and some days, she feels like her head is going to explode from the vibration.
"Ask your question."
"Go east. Don't stop."
She turns twenty-two at Malley's and Marty buys her a drink. BobbyB gives her an extra fifty. The vampire of the week doesn't care that she's officially a year older again. She just wants her information.
Afterwards she throws the dishrag over her shoulder and stands there, behind the bar, with her eyes closed, just breathing. She goes backwards, one birthday after another, sees herself grow softer, weaker, more naïve. Sees herself turn eighteen and believe in happy endings, sees herself turn seventeen and have no idea of what goes bump in the night.
Sixteen, fifteen, five.
She's changed so much.
She's all Swan now.
"Sugah," BobbyB asks in a broad southern drawl. "Sugah, what's it about you that's got all them freaks runnin' after ya?"
A shrug. "I'm just pretty."
He laughs and shakes his head, running a hand over his beer gut. "How'd your momma keep 'em off you, eh?"
"There was a boy," she tells him, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.
"There always is."
This time it's her who laughs and he pours two shots of vodka, raising one to her in a toast.
"To you, sugah. To you."
"Ask your question."
And louder still, filling her up like water.
"Ask your question."
She speaks with her back toward them, trying to decide which flavor of canned soup it's going to be tonight. Chicken? Tomato?
No response. They just stand behind her, half bracketing but not blocking, staring at her back. Eventually it gets awkward and she turns. The female is short and blonde, beautiful in a way that makes people stop and stare on the street. The male is tall and blonde, cut from stone. Soldier. Both have dirty orange eyes, not red, not gold.
"I'm Peter," the male says, pointing to himself and bowing deeply. Old school then. "And this lovely thing is my mate, Charlotte."
She weighs the chicken soup can in her hand and repeats, "Ask your question."
She has no interest in names, in small talk. In anything. The humming is a million bees inside her skull and all she wants is to close her eyes and just stop.
Peter mock frowns. "What? No conversation?"
Charlotte rolls her eyes and sighs a bit, but doesn't stop him.
She drops the can in her basket and drops her arm to her side. Waiting. Always waiting. Eventually Peter shrugs and takes a deep, unneeded breath.
Charlotte holds out her hand and they both smile brilliantly. In her head, the humming reaches a fever pitch, filling her ears, her thoughts, spreading down into her ribcage, hammering along her spine, blinding, deafening.
Louder, louder, louder.
Peter says, "Are you ready to go home, Bella?"