A/N: Finally! I'm back with a new multi-chapter fic! This is almost entirely written at this point, so I'll be updating fairly frequently.
For those of you who've read my other fics, this will be a departure. It's AU (yes, vamps!). I tried to keep the characters close to canon (with some common sense modifications), and although the story starts as canon, it rapidly departs. I always make myself try something new with each fic I write and this time I tackled several new things at once. I'm sure I failed plenty, so be kind! Also, this is a really slow burn. Jsyk.
Now that I've told you all the reasons you won't want to read this, I hope you actually will read it and let me know what you think.
Many, many thanks to the incomparable arfalcon for beta'ing and friendship. And thanks to MsTalullahBelle and JLPinNYC for early pre-reading.
Disclaimer-I'll only post this once; it applies for all subsequent chapters: Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters and plot that may appear in this story. No copyright infringement is intended.
He looked down just as she looked up. The air between them crackled and snapped. His hand, resting just next to hers on the shelf, curled into a fist as he resisted reaching out to touch. He wanted to touch. He could feel the heat of her, shimmering into the space between them, the heavy perfume of her, swirling into his head, making him feel drunk. Her dark eyes were bottomless in the dimly lit room. He could see a tiny sheen of moisture on her perfectly shaped upper lip. He wanted to trace it with his fingertip, or maybe his tongue…
Decades of experience had taught Alice that her visions had a definite ebb and flow. Some days, depending on the tenor of events around her and the lives of those close to her, they came fast and furious. Other days when nothing much changed or happened—and there were many of those days when one lived forever—her mind was almost peaceful.
The first day back from winter break at Forks High should not have been a busy day. The family had lived in Forks for several years. The "kids" had been students at Forks for the last two of those years. Everyone in the family was at peace, relaxed after a quiet holiday spent at home. They had at least another two years before they started to think about moving on. No problems, no big projects, no changes on the horizon. That cold, overcast Monday morning should have been a quiet one in Alice's head. But it wasn't.
In the cold dark of the pre-dawn hours, scattered visions began to flash through her mind.
After so many years spent examining her visions, and trying to make sense of them, Alice was adept at telling one kind from another. They varied in intensity, duration, almost in flavor. Minor ones involving those she was closest to came through as sharp as a film, and just as precise. That was why, when Carlisle made a decision to shut down his computer and go home, Alice could tell Esme exactly when he would walk in the door, down to the second. She was bonded to Carlisle and the vision was a simple one, not prone to much outside influence.
Things grew fuzzier when dealing with those not as close to her, and she rarely got a vision about someone she didn't know at all, thank God. That would hardly be practical. Her head was filled to overflowing as it was.
The visions also changed in feel when they were just a mere suggestion of what could happen, when too much time and too many decisions, big and small, lay between now and then. They were like photographs. The snapshots of Carlisle leaving the office at the end of the day, or of Rosalie choosing her red sweater instead of the green one, were crystal clear and hyper-saturated in color. The others—the hints and future possibilities—were like underdeveloped Polaroids, with washed out color and obscured details. No amount of squinting would bring them into focus until they were ready.
Alice expended a lot of mental energy turning these pale visions around in her head, trying to make sense of them, making one connect with another. Like putting together a complicated puzzle of the sky, every piece nothing but blue, with no clues to tell you how they were supposed to fit together. Her family relied far too much on those ambiguous snapshots. Edward had been inside her head and seen them for himself, and he always tried to mitigate their expectations, pointing out that her visions were imperfect at best. But the lure of future knowledge was strong, and Alice often succumbed to it herself. Alice was very good at puzzles.
Her head was full of those pale, overexposed future shots that morning. Some things she recognized, others were an absolute mystery.
Edward smiling, just for a second. Except not the way he usually smiled. This was soft and there was something in his eyes she'd never seen before. But there was nothing else, just Edward's smile and happy eyes, which—while pleasant—wasn't terribly helpful.
Emmett deciding to take the Jeep this morning instead of the Jag. An easy one. That meant she and Jasper would ride with him instead of cramming into the Volvo with Edward.
The black night sky, so full of pinprick stars. And snow. So much snow. Alice recognized that one immediately. It was Alaska, where they'd lived before they came to Forks.
Dark hair. A girl…woman. Carmen maybe? The lack of detail frustrated her no end.
Rain and bright green, but not Forks. Brick buildings. And a city, nearby. But so faint, so far off into the future, or maybe it would never happen at all.
Tanya in the snow, her pale skin shimmering under the aurora borealis. The air was so clear. This was sharper because Alice knew Tanya and knew she was in Denali. Tanya wasn't alone and Alice wanted to turn her head and see the rest, but that's not how it worked. She could only see the lit-up night sky reflecting off of Tanya's diamond skin.
Dark hair and warm skin. That could be half the senior class of Forks High alone.
Edward, alone in the snow.
Alice blinked, focusing on the real Edward in front of her, not the hazy possible-future one in her head.
Edward was still staring at her. She could feel him gently nudging at the edges of her consciousness, trying to peek in at what had her so distracted, but he was also trying not to be pushy about it. She let him see the more mundane stuff. It's not like it made any difference anyway. But she obscured the rest with her mental diversionary tactics. Decades of living with Edward coupled with the almost limitless abilities of her mind had made Alice an expert at concealing any thoughts she didn't want him to see.
"Are you coming in with us?" he asked, hooking a thumb towards the low brick bulk of the high school behind him.
"Of course," she smiled brightly, then looked back over her shoulder for Jasper. Edward sighed, more for expression than need, and turned to go in. She looked at Edward, retreating alone towards the school. He was tall and straight, with the long, carelessly elegant stride typical of their kind. His untamed hair looked dull rust under the heavy gray sky. He had a prop backpack slung over one shoulder and his eyes were studiously focused on the ground. Alice watched as the teenaged females of Forks High surreptitiously held their collective breath as he passed, marveling at his beauty. Edward was, as always, uninterested.
They were losing him. He'd never been exactly cheerful, even when she and Jasper first joined the family. But as the decades slipped past and Edward stayed his exact same, perfectly alone, seventeen-year-old self, he seemed to live more and more in his own head. Alice couldn't imagine how hard it must be for him, having the thoughts of the world constantly thrust at him. And he willingly chose to live with the family, surrounded by humans, when it would be so much easier for him to go it alone as a nomad like so many of their kind. Alice was afraid that soon he would choose that path and their family would fracture around him.
The repetitive grind of their long immortal lives and his own loneliness—even when surrounded by loved ones—seemed to be driving him further away from them and into himself. Alice didn't know what to do about it. She just kept scanning her sky-blue puzzle pieces, looking for the key to Edward's happiness.
Snippets of visions, more useless fractured images, continued to flash in her mind all morning. Her eyes stayed unfocused as she stared into the middle distance, hoping to make some sense of something.
In their shared English class, Jasper kept glancing over at his wife in concern. He might not be able to read her mind like Edward, but he could read her mood. The rapid-fire visions, some clear, some faint, some ordinary, some tantalizingly unfamiliar, were making Alice increasingly unsettled. Change hovered around the corner. She could almost taste it. Events were shuffling and falling into place. They could unfurl into some sort of wholly new pathway. Alice kept straining, trying to decipher what the visions were telling her.
Dark hair. Carmen again? If only she would turn around so her face was visible. From the back, it could be Carmen. She didn't know who else it would be.
Mrs. Cope, the office secretary, scowling at a card in her hand. "No, that won't work. I'll have to change it. I'll send her a note at lunch." Change what? And did it matter?
Lauren Mallory, raising her hand in a classroom. "Mr. Banner? It's so hot in here." And Banner replying that the thermostat was broken. He'd see what he could do.
Edward running so fast through the woods. No help at all. Edward always ran fast.
Tanya in the snow….
Alice nearly growled in frustration. All these visions of Edward and Denali had her worried but her mind kept getting cluttered up with meaningless background noise from an ordinary day in high school.
"Alice?" Jasper said, laying a hand on her arm to rouse her. Alice blinked once. The room was empty. English class was over. "What is it?"
Alice shook her head. "I hardly know. I can't tell. Something. But there's so much interference… I keep seeing all these things that don't seem to matter."
"C'mon, it's lunch. The others will worry."
He took her bag and tugged on her arm to pull her to her feet. Alice squinted as the visions swirled and refused to resolve.
Shelley Cope sent a student aide to the cafeteria to find the new girl and tell her to come to the office.
"So sorry, dear. I don't know where my head was. Your French class meets at sixth period, which of course conflicts with your Biology class. So I've moved you into fourth period Biology, right after lunch. You'll lose your Study Hall, but it's not as if you need it with those grades."
Mr. Banner finished his sandwich early in the teacher's lounge, and ran into Carter, the custodian, on the way back to his classroom. "Carter, it's hot as the blazes in my classroom today. Stupid heating system doesn't work at all or it goes into overdrive. Any chance I could get a fan in there for the afternoon?"
Carter adjusted his baseball cap and scratched his forehead. "Not a problem. I got one in the storage closet right outside your class. I'll go get it set up right now."
Rose and Emmett had left lunch early for their next class together, Sociology. Edward left shortly afterwards for his. Alice kissed Jasper goodbye just outside the lunchroom before he left for AP American History. Alice continued on to Spanish class.
She was already settled and was opening her notebook to get out her pointless homework (being fluent in Spanish as well as seven other languages) when her puzzle pieces suddenly started to slot into place with chilling clarity.
Dark hair. Blowing in a breeze. Not Carmen. Someone unknown.
And then….the scent.
Even through the vision of someone else's future, the scent, the illusion of it sliding through her nasal passages and down her throat, nearly brought her to her knees. It was unreal. It was luscious and intoxicating. It was forbidden.
Edward. His hands curling into claws. The table underneath his fingertips crushing into woodpulp.
Alice's mouth opened to call to Jasper and she was half-way to her feet before she remembered herself. School. Humans all around. Class underway. Can't run for help.
She unfocused her eyes and let the rapid-fire visions continue to sort, interlock, and set into clarity. They fell into place, one after another, creating a path into the future. Edward's path.
If Alice still had a functioning heart, it would be pounding and her pulse would be racing. All she could do was strain to see into the near future to determine what would happen next.
It was clear to her that all of this was happening just moments after she could see it. It had the immediate, raw feel of events very close at hand. Every time she pushed forward, trying to see ten minutes, even five, into the future, everything fractured and went hazy. Too many possible outcomes. Too many unknowns. Too soon to tell. Alice sat helplessly, letting it unfurl in front of her only seconds before it actually happened.
The fan catches her scent and carries it straight to Edward. Edward is floored. His eyes, already dark, go pitch black. His mouth fills with venom.
Mr. Banner hands her a textbook and points her towards the back, to the empty seat next to Edward.
Oh, God! Alice thought, I should have taken that class with him. He's alone!
She sits, casting a quick glance over at Edward through her hair.
The scent floods his system, fogs his brain. His hands dig into the table in an effort to hold his animal body still. The instinct rages. Every dead nerve urges him to do it, to take her, to bite, to drink and drain.
He bites nearly clean through the inside of his cheek over and over, desperately grinding his teeth together, fighting, resisting.
She shifts in her chair and a fresh wave hits him. A growl percolates in his chest, swallowed down with the flood of venom. He's almost choking on it, slick, sweet and burning.
Alice moaned softly in sympathy.
If anybody could resist, Alice told herself, it was Edward. After Carlisle, he had the strongest willpower of any of them. Alice closed her eyes and took several unnecessary deep breaths, trying to convince herself that what she was witnessing was only a near-miss, not a tragedy in the making.
For a moment, everything was quiet in her head. Just the same image, vibrating in its clarity, of Edward, gripping, not breathing, holding so still, trying so hard to resist.
Alice let out her breath. He could do this. She was sure of it.
She started to relax, already figuring out how fast she could get to him after class, and where she could take him to recover, when a fresh new horror flashed into her consciousness.
Edward is on his feet, moving with lightning speed. The necks of the two students in front of him are snapped before the girl even blinks. Two blinks later and six more high school students are dead. She's shaking her head, confused by the bodies slumping off of stools all around her, confused by the sickening cracking sounds, because Edward is moving almost too fast for her to see. She can only see glimpses of a dark form and feel the air rush around her as he sweeps through the classroom, killing them all. Banner is facing the board and turns back just in time to register the carnage where his class once was before his neck snaps under Edward's hand.
Alice gasped and shot to her feet. Jasper. She had to get to Jasper. Emmett and Rose were closer, though. Maybe the three of them could handle him. Oh, God, was she too late? Had he already started? She could never get to him in time. He was going to kill them all.
"Miss Cullen," Mrs. Goff said, examining her over her glasses from the front of the room. "Is there a problem?"
Alice stood stock-still, eyes wide, staring at the air, but only seeing the horror in her mind. Her classmates observed her with a mild curiosity. Crazy Alice Cullen, acting crazy. Now there's a newsflash. Alice was deaf to their giggles and whispers, she could only hear the rustle of notebook paper as it settled to the floor all around Edward's feet.
He finally stops, only seconds after he started. They're all dead. Twenty five students and one teacher, lying in heaps, necks bent at odd angles, eyes staring into space. Edward turns back to look at her… at the girl. She sits as still as stone at her desk, trying to make sense of what's just happened, what's still happening. Fear hasn't even occurred to her yet. Her human brain can't comprehend the events quickly enough to trigger fear.
That's why she just watches Edward as he stalks towards her, every inch the predator they like to pretend they're not. There is nothing human about him now. He's beautiful and terrible and feral. With the nuisance of witnesses disposed of, he can take his time and let the burn of her blood fill him with anticipation. He licks his lips. His lip rolls back over his bright white teeth. She just watches, unaware that this is her last moment.
His hand comes out to grip her neck, pulling her to her feet. Her stool falls backwards with a clatter as her feet kick and she finally feels alarm, panic, even. Her hands scrabble ineffectually at his arm. Her fingernails bend back on his hard skin. She's fighting, but it's far too late. He turns her body with a twist of his wrist, pulling her back to his chest, curling himself over her, the instinctive, protective hunch of the predator over its prey. The smell of her blood fogs his mind, overwhelming his senses. His mouth is on her neck. It's so thick he can almost taste it, the line between the senses blurred by the intensity of the sensation. She whimpers as she feels the scrape of his teeth as his jaw opens and he angles his mouth over her artery. Already he's imagining the hot liquid rush in his mouth, the unimaginable ecstasy to come…
"Edward…" Alice whispered. "Oh, Edward."
She blinked as it froze. It all froze. Then it shifted. The feel of the vision changed, the colors bled out. Not reality anymore. Now it took on the quality of thought, or fantasy. Edward's fantasy that was almost his future.
Another vision bloomed and took over.
Edward still sitting next to her, still hanging on to the table, still grinding his teeth. The girl, safe and unaware, reading her textbook.
"Miss Cullen…Alice… what seems to be the problem?" Mrs. Goff asked again.
"The nurse," Alice muttered, hardly audible. "I need the nurse."
"She needs the psych ward," one of her classmates whispered to his friend behind her. There was a ripple of soft laughter, but Alice was unaware.
Mrs. Goff responded quickly, fishing the hall pass out of her desk and handing it to Alice. She chalked up the frisson of unease she felt to her teacher's instincts about a student in distress, but really, it was her primitive human instincts warning her that this thing in front of her was not like her, not a human girl… it was a danger. And getting the danger away was the best course of action. Either way, Alice took the pass and hurried to the door, telling herself to go slow, to look human.
She moved faster in the hall since there were no eyes to witness her preternatural speed. She stopped outside of Jasper's history classroom and finally let her distress and panic loose, hoping Jasper would feel it inside and understand.
"Help," she whispered into the empty hallway, knowing he would hear her. "It's Edward."
Alice immediately heard the scrape of his chair on the floor and the low cadence of his voice as he asked his teacher for the hall pass. It took only seconds, but to Alice, it felt like years. Once outside, she took his hand and pulled him after her down the hall, towards Mr. Banner's biology room.
"What is it?" Jasper whispered.
"Oh, God, Jasper, the smell. The new girl is in his class and her blood… he's going crazy. He almost did it. He almost killed them all to get to her."
"Damn," Jasper muttered under his breath, thinking—not for the first time—that they were making a mistake in their attempts to live so close to humans. This was all so much easier up in Denali, with nothing but woods for miles upon miles.
As they sped towards Edward's class, Jasper fired off a text to Emmett.
Edward's biology class. Now.
Just seconds later, Rose texted back.
We can't both leave class. Emmett is coming.
They stopped just outside the class, both listening to every breath and heartbeat inside, looking for any signs of distress. Alice refocused on the vision. It was the same, Edward fighting to hang onto himself. Emmett arrived just moments later and in one whispered exchange too fast for human ears to catch, Jasper filled him in on the situation.
"What should we do?" Alice asked.
"What do you see?" Jasper pushed her.
Alice shook her head. "The same thing. He's fighting it. It's so hard for him, but he's resisting."
Jasper gave a tight nod as he ran tactics and angles in his mind. "We can't get him out without a scene. Keep watching. We don't go in unless we hear him move."
Alice laced her fingers together. She looked away from Jasper and pushed her way back into her visions, as far into the future as she could go before it got fuzzy. It wasn't far, a few minutes at best. Everything still hovered on a knife-edge. It could still go so horribly wrong.
She gasped as a new one reared up in front of her, immediate and clear.
The bell rings and Edward turns to the girl, smiling and suave. "I didn't get a chance to introduce myself," he says, turning on the full seductive power their kind can wield when they choose to. "I'm Edward. And you're Bella?"
The girl nods, curious as to how he knows her name and flattered that he might have been asking about her.
"What's your next class?" The charming deadly animal Edward has become murmurs to her.
She blushes and he nearly growls out loud as her scent blooms in full, but the dazzling smile never falters.
"Phys Ed," she says, fully under his spell already.
Edward's predatory grin grows, but all the girl feels is attraction, not fear. "I'm headed that way myself," he says. "I'll walk you there."
He slides off his stool and gestures for her to walk ahead of them, like a perfect gentleman. Outside, he gently closes a hand around her elbow. "This way is shorter."
She smiles and follows him without question around the corner of the building, where no students ever go. No classmates are dead in this future, but Bella will be, once Edward's mask of seduction falls away and he drags her into the woods. He waits until they're alone and no one will hear her, but he still crushes her chest in his arms, her lung is still punctured by a broken rib, she still breaks two fingers trying fruitlessly to fight him off, he still rips her throat out with his teeth, draining her dry.
"He's going to try and get her into the woods after class," Alice murmured, straining to see if the vision is even still there or if Edward has already changed his mind and decided to do it differently.
"Well, he'll have to come through here and we'll stop him," Emmett said, moving closer to the door. Jasper was glad he was there because it might take both of them to deal with Edward if he was really so far gone.
Alice tried to see ahead. The class was almost over. She could only see Edward and the girl walking towards the woods to her doom.
Then the image wavered and dissolved. For a moment, there was nothing, then just phantoms of everything she'd already seen, all the other ways he had planned on killing her.
He reaches out to snatch her back as she starts to walk away from their table, burying his teeth in the back of her neck.
He's luring her to the woods. "Just come with me."
He's tackling her in the hallway like a lion, heedless of the crowds of teenagers between classes, her blood splattering their horrified faces as they watch him attack her.
None of the visions would stick. He decided, yet pulled himself back from the edge over and over.
Then they heard a stool scrape back across the floor and rapid footsteps. Edward's footsteps in the still-seated class. Without a word, Jasper and Emmett moved to flank the door. The final bell rang, and the door was already opening under Edward's hand. His fingers left imprints in the metal handle.
Before he got all the way through, Jasper was on one arm and Emmett was on the other and they moved him as fast as they could down the hall towards the nearby emergency exit. Even though the small part of Edward's still-rational brain was grateful that they were there to help, to restrain him, the animal he'd just reverted to bristled instinctively at their touch. He growled and his teeth snapped as he tried to wrestle himself free to get back to the blood behind him that he couldn't live without. Emmett and Jasper gritted their teeth in grim determination and tightened their hold on his arms, hauling their brother forward and away from his own ruin.
No one else in Banner's class had even stood all the way up when the four of them shoved through the doors and outside. Once they were free of the building and witnessing human eyes, they took off at full speed, dragging Edward between them, Alice following close behind, in case he broke free. They didn't stop until they were two miles away, high up on the side of a nearby mountain.
Back in Mr. Banner's biology classroom, Bella Swan remained at her table, staring at the door through which Edward Cullen had just vanished.
What was that about?
She'd tried so hard to be cool. She'd already spotted Edward at lunch when he came in with his brothers and sisters. It would have been impossible to miss a boy so unbelievably gorgeous. She'd never seen somebody so beautiful in real life. Not even in the movies, for that matter. Then she'd been told who he was by that girl, Jessica. She'd also been told very decidedly not to even bother because Edward Cullen never dated high school girls. That was fine because Bella had no intention of bothering about him at all. There was clearly no point. She just couldn't stop looking at him. But she could hardly blame herself. Who could look away from that face?
When the teacher had handed her a textbook and pointed towards the empty chair next to him, she's hoped to at least make a decent impression. His good looks made her feel all flustered but she'd hoped to just stay calm and not make a total fool out of herself. At least they could be friendly if they were going to be sharing a table all semester. Friendly would be nice. Then that stupid fan caught her hair and blew it all over her face. She even got a strand stuck in her mouth and had to fish it out with her fingertip. Gross.
Not her most elegant moment, but it didn't account for what came next. When she got settled and looked over at him, ready to open her mouth to at least say "hi," he was glaring back at her with such hatred and disgust that it made her flush with embarrassment. She abandoned any plans of speaking to him and cut her eyes back to her book, praying he'd just forget she was even there.
She spent the next fifty minutes of class going over every single move she'd made in this room, trying to figure out what she'd done to piss him off already. She even tried to think about before class, out in the hall. Did she say something that he could have overheard and misunderstood? Could she have unwittingly offended this unbelievably handsome boy on her very first day of school?
It would have been hard to say something offensive though, when she'd hardly said anything at all. She hadn't had any conversations on her way to class because she didn't know anyone. There was nothing at all to explain why he was looking at her with such undisguised contempt. And there was no doubt that he was. He kept it up all through class.
How awful would this year be if the best-looking boy in school decided to shun her from the outset? Bella was frustrated almost to tears at the unfairness of it all. What did she ever do to him?
It was undoubtedly clear that he hated her, which was a new and unsettling sensation for Bella. Nobody hated her. She was entirely too innocuous to hate. Most of the time, people ignored her. Maybe not here so much, but that was just because it was such a small school and she was new. They'd get over it soon enough and she'd go back to fading into the wallpaper like she did in Phoenix.
As sad as that prospect sounded, right then she felt like she'd prefer it if Edward Cullen found her invisible. It would be better by far than the open hostility he seemed to have for her from the instant he laid eyes on her.
As it turned out, Bella never really faded into obscurity at Forks High the way she had in her big high school in Phoenix. And she didn't need to worry about the bad impression she just made on Edward Cullen either. By the next day, it wouldn't matter at all, because he would be gone.