Title: The Stolen Child
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Stephenie Meyer.
Summary: There's a fine line between reality and imagination. You just have to dig deep enough to find it. Oneshot, Alice/Bella
A/N: I find this story a bit odd, but that's just me. I decided to finish it anyway after letting it rot on my computer for a few months.
The majority of the story takes place in the past, when Bella's just a child. Nothing romantic is going on between her and Alice at this point. Don't fret. I'm really not into that kind of stuff. And only a portion of it is in her perspective – Bella's, that is.
Sooo… I guess I should get my ass back to work on everything else.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
- William Butler Yeats
Renée Swan looked with satisfaction at the sleek tiled floors of her kitchen, a content smile threatening to break out on her face. She was tired and worn from the hours of scrubbing she had to endure, but the results were adequate… pleasing if she were to compare it to the previous image that had taken a permanent spot upon her thoughts. Thoughts that made her cringe.
But this time she could finally say that she was proud of her home and the occasional disasters it would bring along. She was, after all, the mother of a seven year old girl, and that alone was a tiring job. Just this morning she had spotted a dark, purple stain occupying the left side of the couch – one that hadn't been there the night before – and it was in that brief second that she immediately determined who was at fault.
After hunching over for twenty minutes, trying desperately to remove what she could with the remainder of her cleaning supplies, Renée took it upon herself to not punish her daughter for something that must've been an accident. Isabella was and always will be a rather clumsy child, so there was no reason to penalize her for her flaws.
Instead she chastised the girl for keeping the secret to herself, and after much thrashing and whining and yelling – almost to the point of a migraine – Renée finally surrendered and lowered the restrictions. She took a nap that same morning with a relieving dosage of Advil.
Shrugging off the tempting idea, Renée sighed as she gave the kitchen one last glance before turning off the lights and heading upstairs. Tomorrow was Sunday, which she was eternally grateful for, but that still didn't rule out her desire to shower and check up on her daughter, even if she was too exhausted to perform either role.
She came to a halt in front of her door, contemplating her options, and in a snap decision chose to cross the hallway, around the table and outside the door where her daughter slept. There, Renée grabbed the doorknob, only to stop dead in her tracks at the sound of the girl's voice seeping through the cracks.
Renée at first discarded the notion and all the ridiculous suggestions her brain summoned, but she found herself hesitating, gripping the knob tightly beneath her fist and pressing her cheek against the cool wood. Her breath hitched.
There. It was muffled, like someone trying to speak through a pillow, but it was unmistakable. Her daughter was talking, though babbling was more like it, but to who… that was the question. And considering no one but the two of them inhabited the small, three bedroom household, Renée had every reason to panic.
Hastily turning the knob, Renée stumbled through the open door and readily positioned herself, seeking her daughter with wide, unseeing eyes. She found herself struggling with the lack of light, but a flick of the switch solved the problem and, there, sitting cross legged against the headboard of her bed, was a young Bella Swan.
Bella grinned at the sight of her mother, all sweaty and disheveled and she didn't have to fight back too hard to stifle a giggle. All it took was a little curiosity, and perhaps a tiny bit of fear to how her mother will react once she discovered it was way past nine o'clock.
Scooting closer to the edge of the bed, Bella's smile faltered as she took in her mother's worried eyes and said, "Hi, mommy."
After it finally dawned on her that her child was safe, uninjured, and not in the presence of an intruder, Renée visibly relaxed. "Bella," she murmured, drawing out a relieved breath. "Wha –" A shake of her head. "What're you doing, sweetie? Who were you talking to?"
Bella, unlike her mother, wasn't in the least bit frantic over the oddity of speaking into an empty room because, for one, it wasn't empty. At least not then. Now it was, yet somehow it occurred to Bella that telling her mother this wasn't the brightest of ideas.
That still didn't stop the happiness from bubbling up in her chest, causing Bella to lift her chin up and break out into a wider, more pronounced grin. "My friend," she answered easily, albeit excitedly. "M'sorry if I woke you," Bella continued and then, in a measured whisper, added, "I'll be really quiet next time. I promise."
Renée quirked an eyebrow at this, feeling the relief drain from her muscles and once again break into a rush of unreserved tension. She knew, from the little knowledge she had of child psychology, that it's best to play along with a child's imagination, all the while probing for the answers. Indirectly, of course. It wouldn't do to corrupt a young mind simply by being blunt.
Strands of dark, wiry hair fell over her face as Renée sat herself on the bed, hands on her knees and eyes set on Bella's petite form. "Really?" she acknowledged. Bella replied with a brisk nod. "Could it be… Melissa?" Renée leaned forward and clutched onto the ragged doll lying beneath the sheets – its clothes were worn from over the years, soiled and discolored, yet it was still her daughter's favorite toy.
Bella shook her head.
"No?" Renée inquired, and placed the doll back down. Forehead creased with wrinkles, she quickly scanned the bookcase sitting against the wall, looking for another doll to suggest. Humming thoughtfully, she tried, "Okay. How about –"
"My friend's not a toy," Bella stated, halting Renée's words before she decided to list all the names of her stuffed animals. And she had a lot of those. Better to save her mother the trouble of guessing all night.
Renée settled back onto the bed, eying the small girl with something akin to alarm. Her frown deepened. "It's a person?" she deduced and, at Bella's nod, cautiously confirmed, "All your friends are at home, sweetheart. Sleeping. No one could've been in here without me knowing."
"She came in through the window," were Bella's next words and in an instant, Renée felt her blood run cold. She whipped her head around and suddenly became aware of the chilly breeze filtering in through the curtains, skirting away from the window and revealing the open latch.
Normally Renée wouldn't have to worry about an open window, as Bella did have a tendency to unlock things without permission. But not this window. No. This window was too rigid for someone like Bella to open. It took an incredible amount of strength just to get the bar halfway up, much less move it at all, so they both decided to keep it closed at all times.
So then why, she asked herself, was it pushed all the way up?
Renée paused, sweeping her fingers across the glass – she didn't know when exactly she had gotten up – and, using all of her strength, attempted to ram it back down. Nothing.
She abruptly turned around. "Did you do this?" she asked Bella, failing to hide the desperation in her voice. She couldn't even if she tried.
"No," Bella answered, shyly playing with the hem of her shirt as she looked up through her lashes and said, "Alice did."
"I just… I don't know what to do anymore," Renée explained, exasperated, having seated herself near the kitchen counter with the phone clutched tightly by her ear. "She doesn't understand that there's no one there."
There was a pause on the other line, followed by a strange gravelly noise that sounded suspiciously like a sigh. "I think you're overreacting."
"Overreact –" Renée scowled. "And do you know what I think? I think you're missing the point."
Resisting the urge to slam the phone down, Renée exclaimed in frustration, "That this is Bellawe're talking about! Your daughter, Charlie! The one you insisted didn't have a single creative bone in her body!"
Charlie didn't seem particularly agreeable to this. "Now, I never said –"
"And now you're claiming that this is all normal? That she's making up imaginary friends at this age?"
It wasn't like Renée to lose her cool so quickly and aimlessly over a single problem – she was, after all, a very blasé person. Many would even consider her a teenager at heart in those moments where she would become a bit too blasé. But there was one person who could always bring out both the best and worst in her, and that person was Charlie Swan.
She couldn't say she had left him on good terms all those years ago, as it took them exactly eight months to get into contact again, and that was after the man fell into a deep, alcohol-induced depression. But within a few years the two had reawakened a spark. Granted, it was nothing compared to what they had had the first year after high school, but it was enough to keep their friendship intact for Bella's sake.
The only negative aspect of this relationship was his tendency to make Renée very, very angry at some points. And he didn't even have to try.
Charlie's second sigh was small and knowing. "She might be a bit too old… but she's still just a kid, Ren," he supplied. "Let'er have her fun."
Renée could practically hear the silent 'before the boys come in' at the end. Deciding she would agree with the man just this once, she pointed out, "And the window? How do you explain that?"
He offered a quiet but noticeable grumble before saying, "Maybe it was loose when she opened it? It doesn't matter. If Bells was in any danger, you'd know."
Before Renée could argue against this, he continued, adding a deliberate emphasis to his next words. "Just give it some time, Ren. That's all ya need."
And Renée did.
For the next few months, throughout the summer and beyond Bella's eighth birthday, she gave the situation the time she believed was needed. And with this time came no change.
It happened once or twice a week, sometimes even more, where she'd find herself sitting on the couch downstairs – a book in hand or her favorite soap opera blaring from the television – and the sound of scattering footsteps could be heard from the floor above, followed by a door slamming and Bella's soft laughter echoing through the walls. Renée stopped checking for herself after the first four times she'd find Bella alone in her room, a quirk of a childish smile etched on the young girl's face. It was always that same mysterious grin that Renée would see, and soon afterward she put a halt to any and all noise past seven o' clock.
The newly enforced rule did what she had hoped – put a limit to the amount of door slamming and overall chaos… but it did nothing for the excuses.
"Bella, when I say dinner is ready, that doesn't mean come down five minutes later," Renée called from over her shoulder, chastising the girl as soon as she came in through the kitchen entrance. "What were you doing up there?"
Though she hung her head low from her mother's scolding, there was still an air of delight around the child's person, something that had become quite common over the last year.
As Bella seated herself in her traditional chair, she gave a halfhearted shrug and simply said, "Alice was teaching me some new card games," before digging into her meal.
It was that same night that Renée could hear the gentle whispers of the word 'gofish' drifting in through the walls.
Right after her ninth birthday, there came a change in Bella's mood, one that Renée couldn't say she actually enjoyed because, despite her dislike for Bella's overly active imagination, it did bring forth a state of happiness in her daughter that didn't exist in the past. She seemed subdued all of a sudden, and when Renée found it to be more serious than a bad day at school, she sat her down and asked.
"Alice told me a secret," was Bella's response. Cryptic, as everything about this 'Alice' was.
"Oh?" Renée mouthed and, humming thoughtfully – as if she were actually considering this – she asked, "And what did Alice tell you?"
Shaking her head with a decisive firmness, Bella answered, "I can't tell you."
"You know I can keep secrets, honey."
"I know," Bella agreed, albeit reluctantly. "But she told me not to tell anyone. She wants to protect me from the bad ones."
"The bad ones?" Renée echoed, suddenly coming to the conclusion that perhaps the severity of the situation was much larger than she thought. Was she mistaken to have waited it out? Was Charlie mistaken?
Bella nodded. "Alice thinks she's like them… but she's wrong. The bad ones like to kill people," she explained before uncertainly adding, "And eat them."
Two days later, Renée made an appointment with Dr. Karol, the local child psychologist.
Things were a bit edgy at first as Bella was a particularly timid girl, thus getting anything longer than three words out of her was a bit of a challenge. But Dr. Karol was not only patient, but kind and determined, and soon Bella found herself loving the woman like a second mother. Bella never mentioned Alice throughout her three months of therapy, however, and when the subject was brought up, she would indirectly switch to a new topic.
A useful talent, according to Dr. Karol.
But it was progress, as indirect as it was. For an entire month, Bella never spoke of or even referred to her imaginative counterpart. It was as if the last two years had never happened. Renée was finally able to see her daughter have a normal, Alice-free life – happiness included.
It wasn't until disaster struck that things turned for the worse.
It was nearing Bella's bedtime when there came a crash from her bedroom – like glass breaking – and then a yelp that caused Renée to spring from her seat and up the stairs. When she burst through the bedroom door, the sight that greeted her eyes first was the shards of glass scattered all over the floor, remnants of the lamp that once stood on the nightstand. The second thing was the blood.
"Oh, Bella," Renée gasped, grabbing a nearby towel as she pulled her daughter close. The cut ran along the entire length of Bella's arm, gushing out enough blood to not only stain the floors with dark tinges of red, but completely soak through her clothing. It didn't look like it was about to stop anytime soon. "Are you okay, sweetie? What happened? Are you – oh, oh God, we have to get you to a hospital."
Resisting her mother's grip as she was being led toward the doorway, Bella cried, "M'sorry! A-Alice said s-s-she was thirsty, a-and so I thought – I – I didn't –"
Hearing that name again at a time of panic made something in Renée snap. She grabbed the child firmly by the shoulders, being extra careful of the wound, and shook her slightly as she pronounced with a resolute clarity, "I want you to listen to me, Bella, and listen closely. Alice does not exist. Okay? It's that simple. She's not real. And I want you to repeat it over and over again until you realize that all you've done is create something imaginary. Something that no one else can see or-or touch, because it's all in your head. Now repeat it to me. She. Is. Not. Real."
"Please, Bella," begged Renée, and stared at her with an intensity that stunned the girl beyond anything she ever experienced. "For me? Please."
Bella didn't want to, but the look in her mother's eyes made her repeat the hesitant, "She's not real."
"She's not real."
"She's not real."
"One more time."
This time the response was almost mechanical. "She's not real."
There was a brief pause in which Renée continued to eye her daughter with apprehension, expectancy, and a variety of different emotions that simply couldn't be summed up in words. When she found what she was looking for, she muttered a small, "Good," and tightened a cloth around the injured arm. "As long as you know that."
She wasn't sure if she did.
The night was still young by the time the two made it back from the hospital, stitches in place of Bella's wound. When her mother sent her off to bed, it wasn't with the feeling of anticipation that usually filled her up to the core, or that well-known urge to sit by her windowsill hours at a time and just… wait. Instead there was fear – a sort of heart stopping, stomach lifting terror that surged through her veins at a mile an hour. Every little noise made her jump; any shadow caused her skin to crawl and her palms to sweat. It was only when she heard the familiar creak of her window, felt the gentle breeze filtering in that she stopped breathing altogether.
"You're not real," Bella found herself whispering, shutting her eyes tight against the image that had formed in her head – the one that had been there for the last two and a half years and God, how she wanted to believe this really was real. That Alice was really there, ready to give her comfort and advice, ready to play games and tell her that she wasn't just an allusion. That her mother was wrong and she was right.
But her mother was always right.
And there was no such thing as Alice.
The moment she felt it, that soothing presence of what she once thought as her guardian angel, she closed her eyes even tighter and covered her ears, chanting, "You're not real," over and over again just like her mother told her to. "You're not real. You're not real. YOU'RE NOT REAL. YOU'RE NOT REAL! YOU'RENOTREALYOU'RENOTREALYOU'RENOTREALYOU'RENOTREALYOU'RENOTREAL! YOU'RE. NOT. REAL."
An entire minute passed. Two. And then, finally, she stopped hearing her name being called, and all there was were the soft gusts of wind blowing into a vacant room.
There was no one there.
Bella wrapped herself in her arms, hugging her torso much like her mother did whenever she was upset. Her back contracted as she took in deep, lungfuls of air, and with it she let out a silent, almost rasping sob that shook her whole body. It was that one sob that led to the endless weeping that sounded into the night.
The window was never opened again.
Eight Years Later
"Hey, Char –" The name slipped halfway past her tongue before Bella winced and quickly changed it to, "Dad, where do you want this?" She held up a box of photo albums and a random assortment of shoes, which she had found in her closet after having cleaned out most of her old room.
"Just leave it by the stairs, kiddo. I'll get it later," was Charlie's absent-minded response. He was far too preoccupied with the T.V. to even spare a glance over his shoulder, causing Bella to sigh at the display. Figuring he'd want all of his stuff in one place, Bella instead dropped the box by the rest of his possessions near the entrance, which had grown to a rather large and dusty pile. She made a note to herself to help sort through the mess whenever she had the time, but for now she needed to get her own things ready. She was, after all, going to be living there for a while.
Bella didn't like Forks much. She never did, even as a child when she would come and visit during the summers. Back then it was because her childish mentality wasn't very fond of the rain, yet she didn't mind it so much now, as it brought with it a placid feeling every once in a while. What she hated was everything else – the streets, the people, the dreariness… the list could go on. It was pretty much the complete opposite of all that she had lived for back in Arizona.
Grabbing a cereal bar from the one of the kitchen cabinets, she made her way back up the stairs, crossing the stack of books she had brought with her on the plane. Aside from her clothes and said stack of books, most of her things were already unpacked, organized, and placed in their respective spots. She set aside the ones that would be going in the attic, taking the rest inside as she closed the door and placed them neatly on her bedside table. It was there that she stopped mid step once her eyes settled on the yellowed and worn out joker card sitting snugly between two pillows.
Bella couldn't recall seeing it there the first time around. In fact, she made sure she had cleared the bed off completely before starting on the closet, and that included old rubbish that had somehow made it into her bags. She shrugged off the feeling of déjà vu and willed herself to pocket it for later disposal, only to inhale sharply as she was hit with a sudden realization.
She used to play with this card when she was younger; this exact one, with its innumerable stains and faded print. She remembered the torn corners and the countless number of times she'd single out this particular card, because the other one was missing and Alice had said –
Bella gasped, this time a harsh pant that drove her mind into a whirlwind of emotions.
It couldn't be. She hadn't thought of – of her in so long. Why now? Why this?
The card fell from her hands as she staggered back and whipped her head towards the window, and then the closet, the paranoia growing deep in the wells of her chest. She felt the back of her legs hit the bed, and then slide all the way down until she could bring her knees to her chest and her hands to her face.
"No," she mumbled into her palms, clenching her eyes as hard as she could. "No, please God, no. No. You're not real."
But no matter how many times she recited it to herself, she could still feel that presence, hear the voice she had long ago hid away from.
Bella, please look at me.
She shook her head and choked, "I-I can't," before surrendering to the burning tears. "You're not real. Y-you're not –"
"Look at me."
Her face was red and tearstained when Bella lifted her head, struck partly in awe and the well acquainted dose of fear when she was greeted with the familiar sight before her. It had taken no effort to picture what Bella thought to be a mere figment of her imagination. But it was right there, right in front of her – from the perfect, porcelain-like skin, to the blazing hazel eyes that would haunt her dreams for years to come.
"Alice," Bella whispered, painfully aware of her potential loss of sanity. Her arm, once wrapped so tightly around her knees, now shook with vehemence as she raised it up and slowly brought her fingers to Alice's cheek. The intimate contact caused Bella to flinch back and shake her head in denial. This had to be a dream. "N-no. No, you can't be –"
But the words fell short upon the look on the other girl's face, one of knowing and remorse, and then came the question, "Does this feel unreal to you?"
It took everything within Bella not to react to the cool waft of Alice's breath brushing against her face, as all that everything had uncoiled, releasing a greater fervor and intensity than what originally plagued her. Memories of her childhood – of the card games, the talk and the sorrow, the late nights and laughter, of Alice – all of that flashed by her in a quick and lively moment; and it didn't matter whether it was all a fantasy, because Alice was here, with her. So when the distance between them was closed, all Bella could think was… yes. This did feel unreal.
And that made it all the more realer.