After getting over the initial shock, she can't help the silly smile from spreading across her face as she reaches out, grasping his outstretched hand.
Their hands fit together like two puzzle pieces, the sensation so familiar and yet foreign at the same time. She recognises the contour and shape of his hand, feeling and confirming each bump, but his warmth is startling.
"Thanks for the catch." She nods at her microscope case and the colour in his cheeks darken slightly. Human Edward seems so shy.
"It's nothing," he murmurs.
The words knock the breath out of her lungs—they're an echo of the many different ways he's said it in a past that no longer exists. Even if he doesn't remember, he's still the same.
I've missed you.
As the handshake ends, her palm feels empty without his warmth. The urge to throw her arms around him and embrace him is so strong that she has to force herself to turn away. She takes a deep breath, telling herself to act normal.
Her hands are unsteady as she takes the first slide out and places it under the lens.
"Your name is Bella, isn't it?" He's looking at her again, his cheeks still flushed, and her heart speeds up. He's never looked more alive than he has in this moment. The tiny imperfections on his skin are beautiful and so is the slowness of his human movements. He's real and he's right here.
"Yeah." Her voice sounds thankfully normal.
He smiles tentatively. "It suits you." He clears his throat somewhat nervously and turns his attention back to his microscope, fiddling with the knobs.
There's so much she wants to ask him but she can't find the words.
Emotions in a turmoil, she adjusts her own microscope, scribbling down the answers. Prophase. Next slide. Metaphase. Half of her mind is on her task, the other half is swimming with questions for him. What's your favourite human food? Have you been happy? Did you find love?
She does her task on autopilot, barely realising that she's completed the entire exercise until she turns the page to realise that there are no more questions. A quick scan tells her that the rest of the class is still busy. She twists her fingers together nervously, starting to regret reading in advance. There's nothing distracting her from her feverish thoughts now.
Edward has also moved on from cell division, frowning at an ovarian follicle.
"Bella?" Her head snaps up at the soft sound of his voice calling her name. He glances at her finished exercise and then turns the eyepiece towards her. "What do you think this is?"
"Uh…" She scoots closer, staring at the cells. "Primordial follicle?"
"I don't know, the granulosa cells still look pretty flat…"
He scratches his head. "How flat is flat?"
She shrugs, smiling. "It could be a transitory phase. I mean, it's a cycle after all. One stage moving on to another…"
He's completely still, his eyes vacant, and then he shakes his head, leaning towards her. "I'm sorry, could you say that again?"
At this proximity, it would be so easy to lean in and kiss him.
"A transitory phase," she repeats, a little breathless.
"Transitory," he echoes, a slight crease forming between his brows. "It's transitory because…?"
His confusion is adorable but she doesn't understand why he's not getting it.
"Because it's one stage moving on to another, a cycle—…"
This time, his muscles lock down so visibly that she stops speaking.
"Edward?" she says uncertainly.
He's staring, those stunning emerald eyes intense, stealing all coherent thought from her mind before he looks away. "I'm sorry. It's just- you—"
Her heart begins to race but the sound of clicking oxfords approaches them and their professor's figure casts a shadow before their desk.
"Mr Masen, Ms Swan, how is it going?" Professor Banner is looking at their papers, adjusting his spectacles. His eyebrows quirk at the sight of her paper. "Excellent work, Ms Swan. Could you come up to the projector and explain your answers?"
Bella looks at Edward once more and then reluctantly, she tears her gaze away and rises.
The professor stops her again at the end of her mini-presentation, asking her to sign her attendance. He spends some time searching for the sheet, shuffling through the stack on the front desk and by the time she's signed, the rest of the class—together with Edward—is gone.
Her heart sinks.
Her next lab isn't for another two weeks. She packs away the microscope, slings her bag over her shoulder and tries to pull open the door. But it doesn't budge. She tries again and then peers down at it.
A magnetic lock.
Has the professor locked her in by accident?
Nervous now, she puts her weight in pushing instead of pulling it—and it works. The door flies open…
And smashes someone right in the face. It's Edward and he's holding his nose, blood trailing between his fingers.
Her heart tangoes in a confusing mixture of joy and horror.
"Crap, I'm so sorry!" She pulls out a tissue from her pocket, hurriedly handing it to him. "Are you okay?"
"S'all good," he mumbles, holding up a hand and pinching his nose. "Did the same last week…" His voice is muffled from the bleeding and she takes him by the elbow. Had she broken his nose?
"Should I take you to the infirmary?"
He shakes his head. "It's just a nosebleed. Look, it's already stopping."
"Sorry," she says again, inwardly smacking herself. It's been barely two hours and she's already injured him.
"It's all good." He wipes away the bit of blood and then shuffles his feet. "Do you have any more classes today?"
She swallows, her heart fluttering for the hundredth time. "No, it's my last one today."
He fingers his sleeves. "Great. Me too. I was wondering if—" He clears his throat. "Maybe, if you're hungry—…"
"I'm starving," she says eagerly. "Actually, I live on campus and I have something prepared at my place, do you want to um…"
What is she saying? Is it okay to invite him to her room on the first day? Does she sound desperate?
But his answering smile is dazzling. "I'd love to if it's not too much of a hassle."
Her heart soars. "Not at all."
She unlocks her bike and wheels it beside him, trying to find something appropriate to say. She looks up at him and feels a pang of guilt at the sight that greets her. "You're still bleeding. I'm really sorry about that."
"Don't worry about it. You were dealing with a Norman door." His eyes are sparkling unexpectedly as he dabs the trickle of blood away.
"A Norman door," he says, smiling. "A door that tells you the opposite of— well, it's a cool term for a bad door."
She mirrors his smile, feeling a rush of affection, and gives him a playful push.
"Nerd," she teases.
"Says the girl who gunned today's lab!" He chuckles, already becoming comfortable and she presses closer, unable to resist touching him, even if it is just their shoulders brushing. "You're probably the kind who sleeps in the library, aren't you?"
She gives him a look. "I'm sure you'll be right there beside me, Mr Norman Door."
He's not pulling away even though she's almost leaning on his shoulder and the air between them heats up considerably. "I just like art," he says softly. "Design. All that."
Human Edward likes art. She wants to know more. "Do you draw?"
"Yeah. Sketches and paintings." The lovely colour is returning to his cheeks, as though he's embarrassed. And now she's really interested.
He chuckles but it's a nervous sound.
"Come on, it can't be that bad, can it?" They're reaching her place and she unlocks the door, pushing it open.
"No," he says, looking around. "It's just…" His eyes are intense once more, and she slants her head—does he remember?—but then he doesn't continue, dropping his eyes. "Yeah, maybe it's bad."
She pauses, wavering.
"Edward? Do you…"
He meets her gaze and her mouth goes dry. What if she scares him away? She changes track, trying something less crazy-sounding. "Have you heard of Volterra?"
Her blood is thundering in her ears, heart in her throat as she waits, hoping…
"You mean that city in Italy?" he asks, entirely oblivious.
His words feel like cold water.
It must've shown because he looks concerned. "Is everything all right?"
She tries to smile. "Of course. Make yourself at home. I'll heat up the food."
She makes her way towards the kitchen, feeling foolish for having built her hopes so high. Of course he doesn't remember. She shouldn't be upset. Out of seven billion people… she's found him. They're lucky to have met.
Feeling somewhat lighter, she brings out the plate of mushroom ravioli and sets it on the table. He's sitting on the armchair, looking at her shelf—probably the only interesting thing in her minimalistic room.
"You like reading?" he asks, fingering the worn spine of Wuthering Heights.
"Yeah," she says, arranging the cutlery. "I almost picked literature."
He smiles. "What made you change your mind?"
She doesn't know how to answer him. After a hundred years, I want to heal instead of kill for a change. "I nearly died from a stroke once when I was seventeen," she says instead, opting for the generic answer. "There was a neurologist, Carlisle. He inspired me."
She doesn't know what she's hoping to achieve by mentioning Carlisle's name, but it doesn't evoke any reaction in him.
"You had a stroke at seventeen?" he asks, looking incredulous.
"Well, they think it's a stroke. No one found the clot but I was in a coma for two days," she says.
"Wow, that's pretty scary," he says, coming over to sit down. "I'm glad you're okay."
It's because of you.
They eat and continue the conversation. She finds out that he's from Chicago, that his mother's name is Elizabeth and that she's an architect. She finds out that he plays the piano. Their conversation runs smoothly and although he doesn't remember her, she finds herself liking human Edward more and more.
"Thanks for the food," he says, helping her bring the empty plates to the sink. "It's delicious. I think your mushroom ravioli is going to be my new favourite dish."
She laughs. "I'm flattered."
When she turns, he's right behind her, his stunning emerald eyes filled with affection. It's so similar to the expression her old Edward used to give her that she freezes, her eyes brimming with unexpected tears.
She blinks, dabbing at it with her sleeve. "Soap got in my eye."
To her surprise, he puts a hand on the small of her back and turns on the tap, scooping up some water and gently helping her wash away the imaginary soap.
"Does it still sting?" he asks.
"No." Her heart squeezes together. "Thanks, Edward."
He waves it away. "Sometimes when I'm painting, it gets in my eye too," he says, "And then I don't know, I'll panic. I have a complex with my eyes because at one point I kept having nightmares of being blind in one eye and—" He stops himself, looking slightly uncomfortable. "Sorry, this must sound really weird."
But she's staring at him. If she's wrong, she'll sound like a lunatic but it's too much of a coincidence. "Of being blind in one eye and then someone holding you down?"
He inhales sharply.
"A wasteland, an empty central park…" She comes closer to him, her voice a whisper. "Vampires?"
His pupils dilate, his breathing uneven and then the word that comes out is soft, unsure.
She can't hold herself back this time—she throws her arms around him, weeping.
"It's me," she manages to say between her ridiculous crying. "I've missed you."
His arms come around her without hesitation and in his embrace, she can't remember feeling happier.
"I've dreamt about you," he murmurs. "Of the cycles. Doing it over and over again… They've always felt real and when you walked in today..."
"It's real," she says. "It's all real. But I tried to ask you about Volterra, why didn't you tell me then?"
"I only remember fragments," he confesses. "But you're in every one of them. You're in most of my paintings, it's why I was afraid when you asked—"
She laughs, holding him more tightly. "I love you, Edward."
"I love you too."
It's music to her ears.
Holding him like this, knowing that he remembers, knowing the years they still have together, she lets herself sink deeper into his arms and finally feels home in the world.