Days of Lead : Bella keeps nearly dying. AU.

Note: if reading about the death of a domestic animal is something that will really upset you, you might want to skip this story. This is not beta'd so please excuse any typos or mistakes.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow-
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go. – Emily Dickinson

The first time she's close to death she doesn't even realise it. Something's going on, that much she knows. Black eyes and clenched fists and copper hair and strange reactions are not normal. She doesn't feel afraid but her instincts are making her cringe into herself and away from the boy at her biology table. There are lots of reasons a person acts weird -drugs and mental illness and family problems and general creepiness. She may be self involved but she doesn't want to believe this extreme reaction is about her. She didn't do anything wrong.

But when Edward Cullen doesn't return to school and his family glare at her in the cafeteria, she can't help but feel responsible for driving him away

The next time, Bella is too busy tip-toeing on icy ground (she's already fallen once this morning) and basking in the warmth of Charlie's fatherly gesture to see it coming. She's not used to people doing things for her. She's not used to letting them. She's the doer. So her throat is kinda tight and her eyes are a little overwhelmed with unshed tears when she sees the skinny, shiny snow chains wrapped around her tyres.

There's a screech; the kind that makes a whole body wince and then a great hulking van is careening towards her. Bella freezes. She should move or duck or run or something but the speed and the fear is so great that she knows she is hopeless

Instead, she looks at where the four remaining Cullens are lingering by a giant white Jeep. She's struck by the stillness of them; how the horror on their faces serves to make them more beautiful. She blinks and starts to feel faint and when she looks in their direction again, there are only two.

The van doesn't hit her. A split second before the impact, she's pulled beneath the truck. The clash of metal on metal drowns out the snap of her wrist breaking and the tear of her skin against the asphalt.

There's a massive commotion all around, as high school students tend to cause, and Alice Cullen is under the truck too.

Alice Cullen just saved her life and instead of looking triumphant or even a little pleased her expression is...sheepish.

Bella just looks at her, not knowing what else to do, and Alice's golden eyes turn black right in front of her. Her lips press together and her nostrils flare and she slips out from under the truck without a word.

Those happy tears finally fall from her eyes but now they're full of shock and confusion. They stream down her face, stinging the torn flesh there and washing away the grit. Bella stays like that until the paramedics find her and she grips her father's hand the whole ride to the hospital.

Then there are some near misses. A faint the day they blood type in Biology. Consciousness becomes too hard to manage on the way to the nurse's office and she ends up hitting the pavement. Just before her head cracks off the kerb, Bella looks around half-thinking a Cullen will come and save her. They're not in school that day so she winds up with three stitches, a concussion and another trip to the ER.

This time, Dr. Gerandy sees to her. He apologises while the nurse shaves the hair that's matted in the wound and Dr. Cullen stops by to admire how her cheek is healing. He sewed her up after the van accident and assured her the scars would be minimal.

They try to get her to stay overnight. Bella refuses. She's had more than her fair share of concussions and she knows the drill. She's rather be in her purple bed with rain pounding and her father cooking bacon downstairs.

Another day, she's chopping vegetables (it's soup weather and she knows Charlie will be cold after his day on the fishing boat) when the knife slips. It takes a chunk out her right palm and just misses the artery.

Cut hands and teenage girls always lead to probing questions so Bella has to omit some truths when she's asked what happens. She doesn't tell them how she was distracted by daydreams of a pretty, angry boy with muscles in his forearms. She can't say she thought she saw a flash of copper and a too-fast shadow behind her house. They'll think she's crazy.

Sometimes, when her dreams are filled with Edward Edward Edward and words like gothic and unreal, Bella thinks her sanity might be slipping away.

At school, she's not as invisible as she'd like to be. People want her to sit with them and swap notes and try the cookies their moms made. It makes her feel inferior. She hates that she can't be that friendly, sharing girl.

The Cullen's table gets too much of her attention. Jess tells her to stop being a stalker and Bella starts to get paranoid. She could swear Rose is laughing at her and Jasper is glaring at her. Alice hasn't spoken to her since the accident. Bella never got to thank her and any attempt garners a polite smile and nothing more.

Pathetic. Loser. Obsessed.

These are the words that scream in her brain.

So she agrees to take a trip to First Beach. They sit by a bonfire and Jacob Black natters about trucks and rabbits and it's like dealing with an overenthusiastic child. He asks her to go look at some rock pools but she has to decline. Can't risk any more accidents.

It's disappointing, really. This place that is so homey to Charlie makes Bella feel on edge. There's too much nervous energy in the air. She leaves when they start to share some tribal legends about the Cold Ones. Bella doesn't like the direction the stories take her thoughts.

That morning under the truck, she could see her warm breath cloud the cold air. She can't remember seeing Alice's.

There's a trip planned to Port Angeles and Bella's nervous. Dress shopping and over-priced spaghetti are so not her thing. Despite weeks of lunches with them, she still doesn't know how to relate to Jessica and Angela. However, she still hasn't got transport so she tags along in the hopes of finding some decent reading material. None of her old favourites can hold her attention.

The names make her heart clench.

She's surprised at how free she feels during the drive down. The girls giggle and listen to silly songs and she hardly stumbles (verbally or physically) at all. Forks is too much sometimes; too oppressive. The twee streets and shiny department stores take the edge off her emotions.

Until the conversation turns, as that of girls in fancy dresses inevitably does, to the topic of cute boys and butterflies.

"Never," she tells them. "No-one ever asked me."

"Hello? Are you aware of what century it is?" Jessica questions as she flips through rails of satin. "Women have suffered and fought all through history for our right to choose who we want to date. You need to, like, man up and get pro-active. Think to yourself; what would Madonna do? If you like someone, you march up to them and ask them out. It's not rocket science. "

Bella can hardly tell them the only boy she ever liked took one look at her and ran for the hills. So she nods, tries to conceal her blushes and makes her excuses to leave for the bookstore.

It takes her a while to find the store. This should be her place of solace. She loves browsing through the aisles and flipping through the titles. She loves the smell of the paper and the calm atmosphere. She decides to grab a few books that have been on her to-read list forever . She's considering a brief history of the women's rights movement when the local section catches her eye. She's drawn to it and those same legends the Quileute's spoke of the other night are in front of her in black and white.

Pulse pounding, she goes through the yellowed pages until the words blur together. She doesn't feel the time passing until the clerk tells her the shop is about to close. Bella shoves the book back onto the shelf and follows him to the register. Around the self-help section, she changes her mind and goes back to retrieve it.

"I'm sensing a theme here," the clerk comments while her rings up her purchases. "You're dead right to read these first. So many girls just go delving into the PNR section without even considering the forefathers of the genre.


He nods at her books in a lazy way and the message sinks in. Bram Stoker. Ann Rice. That Swedish book her mom didn't read for her bookclub that time.

"It's for a research project," she snaps.

"Whatever. No judgement here." The clerk sighs and half-nods at the open sci-fi book face down on the counter. "That'll be twenty eight dollars please."

She pays in a hurry. Her cheeks are on fire.

Bella tries to reason with herself. She has to be adding two and two and coming up with five.

Or else she's becoming one of those obsessive freaks they do specials about on talk shows. Great.

The skies have darkened and she gets turned around a few times on her way back to meet Jessica and Angela. The quaint touristy streets give way to shadowy industrial buildings and panic sets in. The rattle of a chain fence makes her jump. A barking dog makes her heart pound. The glimpse of her reflection in cracked window makes her angry. Where did the independent, self assured girl from Phoenix go?

She starts to hear footsteps behind and voices, loud and slurred, echo. There's a moment of relief at these signs of activity until the steps grow faster and shadows catch up with her.

Men call out. Her stomach turns. When she ignores them, their words get nasty and demanding.

There's a break ahead of her, where the alleyway rejoins the street and if she can just get there she knows she'll be ok.

But then two more men are there in front of her and she realises she's trapped. This is a moment, a situation, she never thought would happen to her and now she's backed against a wall and no-one's coming to save her.

She fumbles for her mace (and remembers it's under her bed at home) and resolves not show her fear. She can't win, that much she accepts, but she can be brave.

"You think you're too good to talk to us?" One guy demands, getting to close for comfort. The other makes a grab for her shopping bag. She holds it tight; it could be a weapon.

Bella's deciding which one she should try kick in the crotch and whether or not she should shout fire or help when headlights appear and fancy black car comes towards them. It goes slowly, careful to avoid the dumpsters and the men all freeze. In the bright lights, their faces are younger than she imagined.

It comes straight at them, forcing some too go back against the opposite wall and halts to a stop.

Bella worries about being put a trunk and plans to run until the black windows roll down.

Dr. Cullen's in the driver seat, as handsome and calm as ever.

"I thought that was you," he says. "Would you like a ride?"

"Yes. God, yes." She rushes into the car and doesn't look back.

"Would you like to call your father?" asks Dr. Cullen and Bella shakes her head. He's not looking at her, hardly looking at the road. "Did they hurt you? Take anything? It is advisable that you go the police station and make a report."

She shakes her head again and for a reason she can't imagine, Dr. Cullen appears to relax. He asks her, in the same professional manner she recognises from the hospital, how she feels, if she feels sick, dizzy, cold anything at all and she insists she's fine.

She doesn't know why she's not more shaken up.

"Thank you for stopping," Bella says. "I don't know what would have happened if you didn't come along."

"You don't have to thank me," he replies, flashing one of those dazzling smiles. "I was in the area. Can I offer you a ride back to Forks?"

"MY friends are waiting back on Main Street. They're probably worried..."

"It's best I drop you there then."

Rush hour traffic has them crawling along. Bella takes a moment to look around the car and realises she hasn't felt this shabby since she left Phoenix. The windows are open and Bella pulls her cardigan around herself. Dr. Cullen's shirt sleeves are rolled up and he doesn't seem to feel the cold. She's still clutching her bag of books and she won't let go. She doesn't want him to see the titles.

"Your wounds are healing well," he comments.

Bella nods. "The nurses did tell me how skilled you were at stitches. Several times, in fact."

The doctor smiles off her joke. "Almost everything heals in time, Miss Swan."

"I guess."

"Can I offer you some advice?"

"Sure," Bella agrees, expecting to be told to keep warm or mind her scars or to tell her dad about her near miss.

"Don't forget how vulnerable you are. This is not a safe world for you; for anyone. Stay out of the woods. Avoid the dark places. Avoid going out alone after twilight. Trust your instincts, they're more aware than your brain sometimes. If you feel scared; believe it's not in your mind. There's probably good reason. If you find yourself in danger get somewhere public. Anywhere public. Be safe, Miss Swan, and be patient. "Dr. Cullen turns the weight of his gaze at her, golden eyes glowing in the dim car. "Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

"I...I think so." She's more chilled now than she was in the alleyway. This isn't advice. It feels like a warning.

"Good," he gives her a practised, easy smile – all the tension slips away like a mask. "Look, your friends are there."

He swerves out of the traffic and pulls up outside the restaurant. Jess and Angela are pacing outside.

"Thanks for the ride and uh, everything else." Bella stutters.

"You're welcome, Miss Swan. Please remember my advice." He indicates back into the flow of traffic. "And tell the chief I said hello.

She nods and goes to explain herself to the girls. "I got lost. Dr. Cullen gave me a ride back here."

"I'd let him give me a ride anytime," Jessica says with a giggle.

Angela pretends to be shocked.

"He's like a movie star," she says.

Bella agrees, silently. All that charm, the ease in which he converses with people. Those winning smiles. The measured words, the smooth tone.

He's just like someone playing a part.

All the Cullens are playing roles. The pillar of the community. The lovable jock. The reserved scholar. The ice queen. The quirky pixie. The perfect housewife.

They plant ideas. The give careful smiles and practised excuses. That kind of beauty and wealth should shine a light on a family. But the Cullens do everything they can to avoid it.

Where does Edward fall? Is he the token angst –ridden teen? Do his parents make excuses and weak jokes about rebellion?

Or has he just stopped playing along?

Bella spends time (too much time) over the next few weeks observing and figuring out who they are. It's not exactly healthy but it's better than the alternative - obsessing over what they are.

Darkness falls later and later as March goes on so she's pretty sure she's got time for a quick trip to the store. Charlie's working late (again) so she's in charge of dinner (again.) Not to mention her day long craving for a tub of Hagen Dasz

She's been (secretly) following Dr. Cullen's advice and she should have made it home before dark.

If only her truck hadn't broken down. It's probably the battery. Or maybe the oil. She never cared to learn about these things.

But waiting by the side of the road like a sitting duck seems awfully scary so Bella decides to hoof the rest of the way home.

If she hurries, she should make it.

She's got her grocery bag over her wrist, her can of mace in her hand and a pounding heartbeat as she walks.

The woods are so dark, so full of shadows and empty places. Who knows what secrets they conceal? The trees can't be contained. They spill into the road. The high branches form a dreary canopy over her head.

She really does need to get a cellphone.

Anxiety turns to full blown panic when the rumble of an engine comes up the road behind her. She feels faint when it slows beside her.

"Bella?" When an unfamiliar voice calls her name, looking to see who it is terrifying. She doesn't feel the relief she should when she recognises a couple from LaPush.

Sam and Leah. They've been together so long, their names don't sound right not together. Bella remembers them splashing in tidepools and throwing tadpoles when she used to summer in Forks.

"We saw Billy's old truck back there. Need a ride?"

She's really tired of needing to be brought places. But she nods. It has to be safer than the road.

The rusty old civic is just like one Renee had when Bella was ten. Just two doors, so climbing into the back is awkward. She catches her foot in a seatbelt and stumbles in headfirst.

"You shouldn't be out on your own," Sam says with the air of a man twenty years older.

Leah shoots him a dirty look. "I doubt she's that delicate."

Bella doesn't feel like the other girl's sticking up for her.

"The truck died," she explains. "Battery, I think. I didn't want to wait there alone. I'll get my Dad to check it out later."

"Better leave it till tomorrow," Sam replies. "It's not safe...not with this bad storm coming."

It's quietly tense in the little car. Bella can feel her ice-cream start to melt against her leg.

"Well, thanks for stopping."

"Sam just loves rescuing people," Leah replies, sneering in the mirror.

"I'm just doing what anyone would do," Sam mutters and Bella starts to understand claustrophobia. The roof is too low, the windows are too small. The smell of stale cigarettes and wet dog clogs her nostrils. The driver's seat is pushed all the way back to accommodate Sam's massive frame and Leah's obvious disdain takes up the rest of the space.

"How's college life?" Bella asks, desperate for something other than the wipers to fill the silence. "Charlie told me you got a scholarship to U-Dub."

"I'm...on a break right now."

"He dropped out. Don't ask why, he won't tell you. I was meant to go there too after graduation. We were going to get an apartment and get engaged and now I'm stuck in La Push forever with a boyfriend who won't look me in the eye or tell me where he goes at night or even discuss –"

"Stop, Leah." Sam's knuckles are white on the steering wheel. It looks like he's shaking.

"Why should I?" She cries. "Why should I do anything you say anymore?"

"Please just stop, Leah. Shut your mouth for once in your life! I can't do this now."

Bella shuts her eyes and she's right back to the harsh rows her parents had as she grew up. It's awkward and sad and she feels like an intruder.

When she opens them, and looks around, it's not like an ordinary fight anymore. Leah's too close to Sam and his face is all contorted. The back and forth continues and Sam's words take on a desperate tone. It's like he's doing all he can to contain himself there's something off about the way he's holding himself.

Dr. Cullen's voice echoes in her head.

"Let me out!" she says. "Pull over and let me out now."

It takes a while for her to register with them. It's like they forgot there was anyone else there.

"I'll walk home. Just let me out. Please!"

Sam complies and she stumbles over Leah and out of the car. As she runs away, Bella hears a crush of metal and an inhuman roar.

She doesn't look back.

At home, she locks all the doors and prays for her father (and his guns) to get home soon. She worries for him, even moreso since they found those bodies in the woods.

It's true. The stories are true. And if one half is true, why not the other?

It's only when she sees her ice-cream is melted that she breaks down in tears.

Bella doesn't leave the house again until she departs for Florida.

Her senior year is full of sunshine. She makes good grades and eats a lot of cookies. Jacksonville is busy, bright and safe but she still heeds Dr. Cullens advice. She doesn't go to prom or homecoming but has lots of cosy chats with Renee and even helps Phil's Little League team out sometimes.

She's alone a lot but that's okay.

She's not lonely (or maybe she is but loneliness is better than fear) and uses those times to remember Edward. His eyes. His white skin under that fancy sweater. All the strange occurrences that seem to revolve around him.

She drives with the doors locked and imagines what it would be like if he was in the passenger seat.

She sleeps late at the weekend and has conversations in her head as the sun streams through the gaps in her curtains.

She slips in the shower. Falls down the stairs by the library. Scalds her arm on a tea kettle. The pain is so minor, it makes her smile. It's nice to be far away from death for a while.

Charlie comes to see her graduate. He cries when her name is called and talk ball with Phil at dinner. He tells her he stopped by the ceremony in FHS. Dr. Cullen asked after her health.


Why is she blushing? Renee will surely notice.

"Yep. He said he hoped you were safe down here and for me to remind you to follow his advice."

"What advice?" Renee butts in.

"Ten simple steps to avoid the ER." She directs her attention back to Charlie. "Did he say anything else?"

"Nope. His kid was hovering; looking like he was anxious to get out of that scratchy yellow gown."

"I thought Alice was the only one to graduate this year."

"Nah. The ginger one was there too – Edward."

"But...he left Forks."

"Not permanently," Charlie says. "I caught him speeding in April last year. You shoulda seen the car this kid has, Phil. A freakin Aston Martin. I was damn near sure it was stolen-"

"So he's been in Forks this whole time?" she interrupts.

"Guess so, kid. He came back right after you left." Charlie goes back to telling Phil about the car.

Bella tries very hard not to cry.

She thinks about staying in Florida. There are some good schools here (and some good financial aid programmes) but she winds up getting a scholarship she can't refuse.

She goes back north and bides her time.

She turns twenty on a Friday and takes a shuttle bus from her campus to the local mall. It's a public place. She'll be back before night fall. It should be fine.

There's a sale on her favourite notebooks so she gets three (she's been writing a lot lately and stuffing the pages beneath her mattress) and treats herself to creamy hot chocolate. She's content here, among the shoppers and the fluorescent lights, and doesn't feel sad at all about not celebrating her birthday in a more lavish fashion.

She hadn't expected to make it out of her teens. Not with all that knowledge dancing around her brain. She tries not to dwell on the things she knows. She wants to believe that an animal attack is really an animal attack. A missing person is just a missing person. She'd like to think the horrors people do to each other is the worst thing out there.

She can't.

Day time movie showings are generally quiet. Going to them alone is less pathetic than the date night equivalent. She pre-books her ticket online and prints it out at the little machine before stocking up on snacks . She takes an inconspicuous seat to the side of the theatre she settles in to wait for the showing.

She likes to watch the people come in; to give them stories and make assumptions about their lives. Some seems so free. Others burdened the hardships of living. She wonders where she fits in.

She blinks when they enter, doubting what her eyes show her. There's been so many hours (days and days worth of hours) spent with these people in her head it seems very possible that she's imagining things.

Emmett. Jasper.

She's never interacted with them. They have no reason to remember her.

Still, she slinks down in the faux-velvet seat and spies them taking their seats. They move unlike any other person here – with a grace and surety no other man of their size could muster. She wonders how she ever believed them to be human.

She wonders why he isn't with them.

The movie plays and the lights dim. Her coke goes flat, her popcorn is uneaten. She doesn't watch anything but the two Cullens. When they occasionally bring the straw to their lips, she can't help but question what's inside.

She should leave.

She doesn't.

She hardly notices the few other people in the theatre until a girl trips on the steps. She's maybe fourteen and her icy drink spills and seeps all over the floor. Bella feels for her. She's been that girl plenty of times .

Four rows up, two seats to the left there's a tiny storm of activity. The big one's got his arm stretched out, elbow to wrist across Jasper's chest. His other hand is clamped on his shoulder.

Emmett struggles to hold Jasper in his seat.

The girl limps past. Blood blooms on her knee.

Bella can't look away from the two...Cullens. Emmett's talking low in Jasper's ear and he's still holding him in place. Jasper's stopped straining and has gone completely still.

Seconds pass. Minutes, maybe. Emmett glances around and leads Jasper from the theatre as one would a child.

No-one else had noticed.

She should probably stay her seat and try enjoy the rest of the movie.

But she leaves the theatre, envying the girl who doesn't know how close to death she just came.

Instinct leads her to the farthest corner of the parking lot. There's shattered glass under the security camera. It crunches under her boots as she tries to stay in the shadows.

It's a redundant move, she knows, they will know she is there.

She hears a low growl, then a whimper, in the bushes that edge the asphalt. Jasper is hunched over (a passer-by may think him merely sick) and several feet away Emmett has his back turned and his phone to his ear.

Urgent footsteps come from behind her and Jasper whirls around. He's got blood on chin and the carcass of a large poodle cradled in the crook of his arms. Wet blood mats white fur and something fleshy dangles from an open wound.

A millisecond of relief passes and then Bella vomits curdled hot chocolate onto her feet.

She cannot count the people who pass her or the words they say. It's all much too fast. She can't keep up.

With great effort, she looks in their direction and is once again shocked at their beauty. Even in a moment of obvious distress, all five Cullens are stunning.

And she's hunched over in a pool of her own puke.

She doesn't feel the dread or fear she knows she should. It's more a sense of...timeliness that surges through here. This has been building up since that first day in Forks. It's almost a triumph.

In seconds, Jasper and Emmett have disappeared. Rosalie picks up the poodle in one arm (Neiman Marcus bags swing from the other) "I'll take care of this," she says to Edward. "You take care of that."

Bella cringes under her glare.

Alice throws her a familiar sheepish smile as she opens the trunk of a car. Rosalie dumps in the dog and they speed away.

She's alone with Edward.

At last.

He approaches her slowly, side-stepping the blood and vomit on the ground. He stops, right beside her, casting a long shadow over her. She feels obligated to stand and face him.

When she does, Edward Cullen holds out his hand and offers her a handkerchief.

There's something so earnest about the gesture that it breaks her heart.

The cotton is whiter than his hand. She wipes her mouth and clenches it her fist. She doesn't want to return it, all vomit stained.

It's his. She wants to keep it.

"I'm Edward Cullen." He doesn't extend a hand. "It's high time we were formally introduced. "

"Bella." She gulps. "I'm Bella Swan."

"I know." There's a hint of a smirk on his perfect pouty lips. Bella bristles.

" I knew your name already, too. I was being polite. You might try it some time."

"So, we're done with formality," Edward murmurs. "That didn't take long."

He kind of leans against a small fence concealing some recycling bins and nods like she should do the same. Bella complies, going along with this unnatural casualness.

"What now?" she asks, after a couple of silent moments where Edward stared intently at her.

"That depends."

"On what?"

"You. "

"What about me?"

"Do you always ask so many questions?"

"Do you always avoid them?"

Edward's exasperated sigh is a small victory.

"How do you feel?" he asks. He sounds just like Dr. Cullen in the car all those years ago.


"You're shaking. Your heart-rate is elevated. You just threw your guts up. Bella Swan, you are not fine."

"Blood makes me queasy," she explains. "The eviscerated corpse of someone's pampered poodle makes me positively nauseas. "

Edward doesn't respond.

"Your brother's a messy eater." She's so off-hand he flinches.

"You're mistaken. He came across the dog and tried to help. But there was nothing we could do..."

"Because he ate him. Look, I won't lie. I'm relieved it was a dog and not a person. He looked like he wanted to take a nice bite out of this girl in the theatre so a pet is a major an improvement."

"You don't know what you're saying."

"I know exactly what I'm saying. You're a vampire. He's a vampire. You are all vampires!"


"I don't know how it works," she replies.

"How. Do. You. Know?" His golden eyes are blinking furiously. His face is drawn. She thinks he looks older than he did before. Like he knows things now, too.

"I, uh, figured it out. I've known for a while. I guess I just got my confirmation."

Edward starts to pace. "This is...unexpected. "

"Yeah," she says, and unwinds the scarf from around her neck. She's folding it carefully into her purse when Edward stops her.

"What are you doing?" he demands. "It's cold."

"This was a gift," she explains. "My mother just sent it to me. She made it herself. I don't want it to get ruined. She'd like to have it back...after."

"Oh, give me strength," Edward mutters, seemingly to himself. "Put it back on. Take your hair down too. This is hard enough without added temptation."

Bella complies. She knows she's not in any position to argue.

Actually, there's a twinge of rejection as she covers her neck again. She wasn't going to try stop him from biting her.

"For the record," he states. "I'm not going to kill you. I haven't spent this long resisting to give in at the drop of a hat."

"It was actually a scarf I dropped."

His expression lightens a smidgen and Bella rejoices. It's a glorious thing, to have made Edward Cullen almost smile.

"I don't do that," he continues. "My family and I try extremely hard not to drink from humans."

"You sure look liked you wanted to kill me that day in high school."

"I did."

"I knew it!" There's been a fear of paranoia in the back of her mind all this time. The confirmation of her lack of craziness is a relief.

"Don't look so pleased about it. You had a very lucky escape."

"My life has been a series of lucky escapes ever since," she answers. "So what changed?"

"Don't get me wrong. I'd still very much like to drain you dry. You seem...delicious. But my desire to not kill you outweighs my desire to bite you. As difficult as it may be, I intend for you to live on."

She nods like she understands but her mind struggles to make sense of it all.


His eyebrows shoot up.

"You're thanking me for not killing you?"

"I guess."

"You do realise you should be screaming and running away from me."

"I'm not much good at the running thing. You'd know, if you stuck around Forks High long enough to see me take a gym class. Besides, I'd wager you'd out run me. If your slip of a sister could stop a van from hitting me, you chasing down an unfit girl should be a walk in the park."

"I could crush you before you took two steps." To demonstrate, he quietly stomps his foot and deep cracks appear in the ground.

Bella takes three deliberate steps, then winks at him over her shoulder.

"You're a very strange human," Edward says.

"I know." She's thinking about how attractive he is. How pretty his hair colour is. How pink his lips are. Normal girls wouldn't think like that and talk calmly about their possible death. She wonders can anyone see them. Are there shoppers in the main lot, thinking they're seeing a young couple having a chat?

"The thing is, Bella Swan, right now we've got other problems. Since you seem to know so much about my kind, can you tell me what our only rule is?"

"Don't talk about bite club?" she guesses.

He laughs a little; a thrilling sound laced with bitterness.

"Something like that. The nature of our kind is based on secrecy. For humans to know of our existence simply isn't an option."

"You don't expect me to believe I'm the first human to find out."

"Of course not, "Edward answers. "But none have ever lived to tell the tale."

"You said you weren't going to kill me."

"Indeed I did." He steps closer to her. She's dizzy with the scent of him. "Therein lies the problem."

"I won't tell anyone. I promise. I've kept it quiet this long, I've no intention of changing that."

"I believe you."

"You do?"

"Yes, Bella. I do."

It hurts her to look at his face. There's such sadness there, such resignation. It's so wrong for those perfect youthful features to bear that pain. The silence is almost peaceful. She breathes in the smell of him, all sweet and earthy, and watches the darkening sky.

"It's getting late," she says. "I kind of have this rule where I don't go out after dark alone."

"Said rule, I'd wager, is in place to protect you from the likes of me. I've already promised not to hurt you."

She's taken aback. The idea that he wants to spend more time than necessary with her seems ludicrous.

"I have to be somewhere."

This catches his attention.

"Of course you do. How silly me of me to think otherwise. Where do you have to go?"

"Back to campus. There's a birthday party...but I can skip it."

"Whose party?" he asks.

"Uh...mine. My roommates are doing a pizza thing. No big deal."

"Today's your birthday." His voice is full of tenderness. "How old are you?"


"Still a teenager, then," he murmurs. "I forgot. You don't seem that young."

"My mom says I was born middle-aged."

"Aren't you going to ask how old I am?" He gives her a forlorn, closed-mouth smile.

"You were seventeen when I first saw you in Forks and I think you're still seventeen now."

"I'll always be seventeen," he confirms.

The certainty seems nice, she thinks, and keeps that to herself.

"If I don't go, I'll miss my ride."

"I'd offer," Edward says, "But my family left me without transport."

"How will you get back?"

"I'm very resourceful." He escorts her back to the main entrance. Bella doesn't want to say goodbye.

"I don't know how to say this without seeming creepy but you need to know that we will know if you tell anyone the truth about us. I can only guarantee your safety if you keep your silence."

"I swear, I won't tell anyone," she insists.

"Good. I'll be in touch, you see, to make sure that's the case. That's not a threat, it's a promise." He leans in close, his presence dazing her. "I do hope you enjoy the rest of your birthday."

Bella blinks and Edward is gone.

She wants to be a teenager forever, too.

It only took a few more meetings after that day in the parking lot and one terrifyingly amazing kiss to come to that conclusion. She suspects it took even less time for Edward to decide he couldn't be without her.

Death is always coming. It snaps at her heels every day. It's a nick of a blunt razor blade. It's being distracted by the memory of his touch as she crosses the street. It's broken mattress springs and smashed shower tiles. It's knowing too much about the dark side of the world.

So, Bella Swan wants to meet it head on. She's doing it on her terms, in the arms of the man she loves, on the eve of her twentieth birthday.

The Cullens (who seem to take to her almost as quickly as Edward did) have a cabin in the woods. Remote, naturally, for privacy. There's bound to be some screaming, some broken things.

There's a ring on her finger, and a matching one on his. Champagne bubbles make her feel warm and light. There's that luscious ache between her legs and the weight of his head on shoulder.

It's the perfect time to die.

She's declined clothes, a sheet will do, but Edward's pulled on pants.

"You're sure?" he asks.

"You know I am."

"I wish I could read your mind."

"I tell you everything."

"Tell me why," he pleads. "Tell me one more time."

"I want to be with you forever. I want to hunt with you and mate with you and never have to let you go again. I want for you to not to have to hold back. I want everything you are ..." She hesitates.

"Don't hold anything back. Not now."

"I don't want to be afraid of dying any more."

"Thank you." He lets out a long breath and kisses her knuckles. Bella twirls her other hand in his wild bronze curls. Her thumb smoothes the crease in his brow.

"I love you," she says. "That will never change."

"I love you, too," he replies, pressing a desperate kiss against her mouth. "Always."

Then Edward Cullen takes a syringe and stabs her in the heart. She gnaws her lip, breaking her own skin, as he makes short sharp bites in her ankles, wrists and thighs.

She screams as the venom blazes through her, burning through everything that makes her human. Edward curls around her, his chest to her back, in an attempt to cool her down. She screams louder. It's sheer agony.

He fills the bath with icy water and pulls her in with him. Anything to ease her suffering.

After a while, Bella stops screaming and Edward holds her while she dies.

She's still in his arms when she awakes as a vampire, not nearly dead, but fully.

Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think.