Adrift - Doubling as a Floatation Device
Disclaimer: All characters and locations are the property of respective show or book creators, other than the ones that are all mine
Author: Princess Alexandria
A/N: This is a reposting of a story that is part of an arc of stories. It can be read on its own, but you if decide you want to learn more about my character Christy Taylor, you will want to read her Xmen story Not Myself. A version of her (or several) also appear(s) in 500 Miles. I have taken the character I created for the Xmen universe into other fandoms and they are all a part of the Adrift series of stories, of which this one is part of. I have put her in Star Trek Voyager, True Blood, Twilight, and Once Upon a Time so far.
Author: Princess Alexandria
A/N: There are countless realities, endless subtle and not so subtle differences, and few are able to see or experience the full range that all realities can offer. Christy Taylor is one woman who can open the door to any reality she may want, but she isn't able to be sure what will face her when she gets there. In the Endless Possibilities, countless versions of herself are crossing worlds to try and find a place to call home, as she finds herself evicted from her original home. This is one story, one possibility, as she finds herself in a reality she'd seen in books and movies.
Prologue – In an Xmen World, far far away.
Christy took a form that was a good twenty years younger than what she was, because most of the people here were in their early twenties, but clearly not all. As a young college nerd, wearing dark glasses and an Xfiles tshirt she made her way into the convention.
"Miss the X on your clothes?" A blonde woman in her late twenties walked up beside her and spoke quietly, with a slight smirk on her lips. They both pretended to be looking over the list of upcoming panels. Christy took in the True Blood tshirt and tight jeans, before looking away again.
"Not too much." Christy glanced around subtly. The xmen turned on her, for the most part, when her dark past was revealed six months ago. "Which one are you?" She asked, but seeing the wicked tilt of the blonde's lips Christy followed it up with her guess, "Esme?"
"Not too bad shape shifter." Esme nodded and started to walk further into the convention, pretending to glance at the tables of materials. "We're all here. Annie has us guarding all the entrances." Esme picked up a Xena magnet and glanced at the price. "She's not happy with your idea."
"I don't have much holding me here anymore." Christy muttered and wandered away from the telepath on guard duty to try and work her way to the girl she'd taken in ten years ago. Her heart ached at the fact she had to call Annie for help, but Annie's luck power gave Christy the best chance she had to start over. It was Christy's own luck that even though Annie was shocked at the stories she'd heard, she was still loyal and caring.
Christy walked passed people dressed in Star Trek costumes, around tables selling Twilight materials, and their huge display of the wolves of Twilight were nothing compared to the werewolves Christy had seen, they were just extra large wolves. She made her way around a lifesize mannequin of a Terminator as she went deeper into the convention. It was hard to appear happy and excited about the Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention she was walking through, but she did slow her pace near some tables to appear to belong. She caught the eye of another blonde, this one wearing an faded looking Team Alice Cullen tshirt and wondered briefly if that was Sophie or Phoebe, both were Annie's lovers, but when she just got a nod she moved on to try and find Annie herself.
Every where she looked another table sat, more people with costumes, and posters filled with characters from movies or shows. A woman with black hair falling in waves to her mid back started to walk alongside her. Christy glanced to the side and was a little surprised to see the light green skin, out in the open. "I blend in better as myself here." Annie explained and glanced down at her Star Trek costume. When Christy glanced at it she noticed Annie blushed for a moment, before her face became more controlled and her eyes trailed over the floor below, from the balcony they'd stopped at. "I don't want you to leave."
"It's hiding or prison for me here." Christy spoke softer, seeing the young girl she'd taken in, hidden in what had become a rather confident woman before her. "I can count the number of people who want me to stay here on one hand Annie, and none of them can be around me when I have such a target on my head." Christy was surprised Annie even asked, even cared, with the disgust so many had voiced about Christy's past. Christy had carefully kept her past to herself, not even letting Jean know about it, but that new mutant had the power to project her greatest secrets into the night sky and they'd all seen her at her worst. Maybe if she'd admitted to it before then, but she hadn't, and now the Xmen were out for her blood, as if she could bleed for them. Her powers changed her body so much she didn't even know if she could die for them, but she was worried they wanted to find out. "I can't win this battle here." She spoke softly to the woman next to her. "And I'm just so tired of defending myself from them, and the government. Even if they decided to stop this now, it's too late. Once Scott called the government on my crimes, it was over. I can't ever go back."
"Scott and the Professor called me to ask if I'd seen you." Annie told Christy as yet another blonde came toward them, this one in a Team Victoria shirt, so Christy was going to bet this was the second lesbian sister and Annie's other lover. All the sisters looked identical, so it took work for Christy to tell them apart. "I told them no."
"Christy," The telepath spoke softly and then shared a concerned look with Annie. "If you want there to be lots of proof you've left, the news crew will be set up in a few minutes to film the convention." Christy wanted the audience, so that the government wouldn't keep looking, because she knew how they'd work. She didn't want the few people she cared about captured to try and lure her to surrender, and if she weren't there to surrender it would be worse.
"That's perfect." Christy muttered and Annie grabbed her hand, squeezing it tightly.
"I want to try something." Annie's eyes seemed to plead for Christy to agree and Christy was startled when two people she didn't know started to come right toward them. "Raine can copy some powers and transfer it to another person, for a little while." Annie nodded to the redhead coming their way. "And Doug can boost people's powers, he can boost hers so you get more of mine." Annie turned to stare Christy in the eyes. "I want you to have some luck, bring it with you, to get you started in your new life. I want to give you that, so I don't have nightmares of what might be happening to you." Annie knew her too well, Christy thought, as the one argument she couldn't ignore was giving to her. "It's a longshot, but that's what I'm good at. Maybe this will help." Annie gave her a partial smile.
Christy wanted to hurry before they were caught, to make sure that the news caught her on tape leaving, and there were hundreds of witnesses to prove it, so that the new peace the mutants of this world had finally gotten from the American Government didn't end in the Governments greed for unlimited resources that Christy could give them. Her ability to open portals to other realities had already come up, and Mystique told her that she had better not be captured if she didn't want the government to turn her into a lab rat as they tried to mine other worlds for resources. Still she nodded her head for a questionable experiment that might not even work on her, as Annie looked at her with pleading eyes.
Raine held Annie and Christy's hand, and Doug stood behind Raine, apparently gripping her neck in a large hand from behind, resting on her vertebrae and hair. Christy didn't know these two, and wondered if Annie had hunted them down for her, because Annie didn't seem to hold that normal open expression she held near friends with them.
"Sophie." Annie spoke as the blonde's eyes widened.
"Military, coming in fast. We also sense the Xmen. This is going to be a battle if we don't move now." Sophie told them and Christy nodded, before giving Annie one last hug.
The scream of her power startled all the people on the floor below and Christy stood up on the railing, as the portal she could create to another world opened up above their heads. She waited until the cameras of the tv crews moved around to focus on the swirling light of her portal, and took one last look at the people of this world, dressed up as if from other worlds, and leapt at the portal, trusting the luck Annie filled her with to pick her destination. From a place like this, with reminders of so many different realities, which the people assumed were fictional worlds, Christy could end up almost anywhere.
Christy didn't want to land in something nearly what she'd just been in, didn't want to stare into familiar faces and wonder if they'd hate her like these people had. Christy wanted a completely different world. No more mutants. Thoughts of all the possibilities filled her mind and for once, she appreciated what her power could offer her.
The light around her finally changed as the exit to her ride approached.
In the past week she'd not slept at all, and she'd stared at her red eyes several times. Her body looked like she had at twenty, and while she didn't age herself anymore, yesterday she learned that her current body sparkled in sunlight so Christy was pretty sure she'd managed to body snatch her double's body. The 'symptoms' told her all she needed to know. There wasn't a teenage girl who hadn't read Twilight in her last world, and most of the female teachers at the school, when she worked there, had read all four books. Apparently the 'her' of this world had been turned and when Christy came to this world she ended up as a vampire.
Christy tucked small boulders into the body she was about to toss into the water. Using more strength than she'd had in her own body, Christy tossed him out passed the end of the dock and hoped he'd be pretty decomposed before anyone found him. She walked away, counting the money she'd taken from his wallet. Several hundred dollars stared back at her.
That much money was enough for a cab ride, and that seemed a better idea than a bus or stealing a car. The cabby barely even looked at her when she got into his vehicle, and she just leaned her head against the side window after telling him, "Forks."
Christy was used to having powers, more strength and speed, somewhat better senses but what she had now was beyond anything she'd dreamed about. She was still adjusting to that and to the loss of her shapeshifting powers. Her mind drifted to the fact that she'd now eaten two people as a vampire and she'd need to eat a lot more to match her past record on her home world. She wasn't looking forward to that, to the need to kill to survive again. She was pretty sure she didn't need to eat as often as she just had, but she wasn't going to pass on the opportunity to help that woman, remove that monster, and perhaps avoid being hungry when she was surrounded by nothing but decent people. She was more than willing to kill rapists, but she was going to have to figure out if she could live on animal when rapists weren't available.
It made sense to her to try and find the Cullens, to see if they could teach her more. She also wouldn't mind meeting them, seeing if they were like her impression of them. With the Xmen, she'd anticipated the problems just as they happened, her mistake had been arrogance once she realized that no telepath could read her. Jean had tried and failed, so had the Professor. She'd kept her dirty laundry to herself and it bit her just as bad as she'd expected when it got out. Here she knew some Cullens might have trouble understanding her need to keep to the natural diet, or how she'd killed as a human, but they couldn't really condemn her like the Xmen had. Some of the Cullens had experience with killing people, and she was hoping to use that to build some acceptance.
"Where in Forks?" The cabbie almost startled her by talking and Christy raised her head from the window to glance at him. Once she saw he was glancing in his rearview mirror, she looked down so he didn't see her eyes.
"Just drop me off in town, main street, or whatever." She told him, and then finally noticed the freeway offramp that sparked his question. They were almost there. The book had been way too vague about where the Cullens would be, but the high school would be easy enough to find tomorrow, and the Volvo should stick out like a sore thumb. Christy smirked a little, imagining the golden eyed vampires faces when they came out from school and found Christy leaning on their car. A nice public hello seemed the safest thing to do. "You think they have a hotel?" She asked the driver and his grunt was not helpful. Christy grimaced, a shower before meeting might have been nice. She was also wearing the clothes she'd had on when she took over the body, and who knew how long her double had been wearing them before then.
He let her off on the street and Christy found herself staring at the ground as two different groups of people walked passed her, before she just ducked into a store to see if they had sunglasses. Better to look like an idiot wearing sunglasses in November, than advertise her red eyes and startle people, she thought.
The sunglasses were the first purchase needed, and she found some sitting on the counter at the front. Christy moved to check them out, looking for very dark lenses. The cashier glanced over at her as she was pulling a pair off the rack and the intake of breath was enough to draw Christy's eyes over in spite of herself.
The brunette girl looked pale, and Christy wondered about drugs for just a fraction of a second, because the teenager looked sick, washed out, and had bags under her eyes to make the permanent darkness under Christy's new eyes seem like she was well rested. She noticed all this before she took in the pure shock in the girl's eyes as she stared at Christy.
"Albino." Christy gave a weak smile and hoped it worked, even as she put the sunglasses on and glanced at the mirror on the rack. The sun glasses covered her eyes pretty well.
A pounding heart made her frown, and she glanced back at the girl, before noticing her nametag read "Bella". Christy's eyes widened and her head whipped around too fast to be human as she found the name of the store above the door. Newton's Outfitters.
"I don't hurt good people." Christy whispered, trying to get Bella's heart to stop pounding like that, once she realized why it might be doing that.
"You're, you're," Christy watched as Bella stammered and just sighed. If she'd really just been some vampire wandering through, Bella's reaction would make it impossible to ignore her. It wasn't a good move on the girl's part.
"Looking for some clothes too." Christy interrupted softly and glanced around, listening for any other humans in the area. "Nothing fancy," She thought about Alice and Bella's reaction to shopping. "But I've been wearing these too long. Any ideas?"
Bella blinked a few times, just staring. "Clothes?" Bella seemed to be trying to shake herself out of the fog that Christy suspected she was in. Christy was guilty of reading every last book too, and Bella clearly knew Christy was a human drinking vampire, that set this after Twilight, because her leg appeared to be okay so she'd healed up. Christy glanced at the pale skin and dark circles under Bella's eyes and could see the pain in her eyes as Bella took in the vampire in front of her. It made Christy's heart sink as she placed herself in the timeline, and it wasn't a good time to drop by at all. Christy had landed in New Moon territory, and there were no Cullens to help her now. "Ah, we have some really basic stuff here, but nothing," Bella looked pained. "fashionable, nothing at all." Christy could guess what vampire Bella was thinking about at that moment.
Christy leaned forward, her voice quieter, "I'm currently a bit of a nomad. I'll take durable over fashionable." Christy couldn't help but get the scent of the girl, and it was a bit better than the normal, but thankfully Christy was full, so she wouldn't have to struggle not to eat Bella Swan of all people. That would pretty much destroy her life in this reality. Christy glanced down at her shoes, which were not lasting very long. Running vampire speed destroyed shoes.
"There's hunting gear in the corner." Bella muttered before the girl's eyes widened and her skin paled even further.
"I guess there is that." Christy tried to wipe the small smile from her lips, but watching Bella's wide eyes was a tad amusing. Bella was clearing uncomfortable thinking about Christy and hunting in the same moment. "Okay, I'll check it out." Christy touched her sunglasses. "Should I pay for these first? I don't really want to take them off."
"Ah, you can wait." Bella looked like she didn't quite believe she wasn't dreaming, as Christy just nodded her thanks and moved to find the hunting clothes.
Christy was not too picky in her own world when there was nothing to be had, but she wasn't overly thrilled with the idea sticking out too much in this world, so she combed through the selection carefully for durable clothes that wouldn't look too odd on her. It didn't help that these were clearly men's clothes and getting her size was going to be a huge issue.
She smelled the girl as Bella moved away from the register and was standing awkwardly down the aisle from Christy. Looking as subtly as she could Christy watched a wide eyes Bella stare off to the side a little, before shaking her head and focusing at Christy again. Christy pulled a pair of pants off the rack to look at the side as she watched Bella hesitantly start to walk toward her, before stopping and standing still, looking confused , before she continued on toward her. "Um," Bella spoke so Christy turned to look at her. "Are you moving to Forks?" Bella asked and her heart was pounding again.
"I was considering it." Christy wondered if she should just say it, to spare the girl from the bravery she was about to try and show.
"This place has good people in it." Bella proved braver than she should be, and Christy found herself leaning back a bit into the rack of clothes behind her as she studied the girl standing up to the blood thirsty vampire. Edward was an idiot to think this one would keep herself safe, if there was even one person for Bella to try and save. "I know what you are," Bella looked like she might well get sick as she admitted that.
"You should never admit you know these things Bella." Christy scolded her softly. "I won't hurt you, but it could get you killed if you told the wrong person." Bella's eyes widened. Christy glanced over to see an older human looking at them, and it looked like the manager. "Do you think this place has any pants even close to my size?" She spoke a little louder, and then quietly added. "We're about to have company, and I really don't want to stick out anymore than I already do."
Bella stuttered a little, as she helped look through the pants, pulling out the smallest waist size she could find. "Is this close?" She asked as she handed it over.
"Good customer service Bella." The manager smiled over at Bella as Christy pulled the pants, along with a solid colored shirt, toward the single changing room. It didn't take long at all to determine it wasn't the best outfit in the world but it was better than what she had on. "We're rather slow right now, so if you want you could go home." The manager told Bella and Christy slowed her movements and spent some time just tidying her hair, to give Bella time to leave the place and feel secure that she wasn't being hunted.
Christy wasn't sure what to do now, and she sighed heavily at that while she made her way up to the register. It was November, it would be months before a Cullen set foot here again, and Christy didn't want to wander off and find a different vampire to talk to. She paid for her things on automatic as she also considered the problem of the wolves. They might not attack her if she claimed to be a friend of the Cullens, but she wasn't sure she could pull that one off.
She found a motel, the only one in town doubtlessly, and Christy checked in. She'd spent her entire week in this world wandering and figuring out where she was. Now she needed to plan. She took a long, hot, shower. She hand washed the clothes she'd had, and hung them to dry, before moving to sit, towel clad, on the bed and turn on the television. While she tried to catch up on the local news, for any hints to anything she might need to know or deal with, Christy flipped through the phone book that had been in the night table, and jotted down notes on the paper that had been left out with the free pen. Forks was tiny, but Christy was going to have to see what she could make of it. It did have a library, probably horribly tiny, but it might give her access to the internet.
It took two days of looking to find it, because the Cullens hadn't listed their address anywhere she could look it up. Given how girls responded to Edward, that was probably a good idea, but it meant that Christy had to resort to looking at a map and going over the land square by square, because the writer of the damned story only said it was on the outskirts and far off the road, so the only thing Christy could cross off in her search was the town itself. At least she'd only had to look at a third of the mapped area before she caught the old scent of something, which she assumed was other vampires.
The white house, the large windows, and the fact it was empty all told her she had the right place. The lack of electricity, the missing running water, told her she was camping there and would be bathing in the stream. Still, this would support her claim she was a friend of the Cullens and wolves shouldn't kill her.
The large home itself had lots of natural light during the day, it had some cloth covered furniture, and some of the closets had clothes that were clearly left behind, purposely. Christy went through the clothes and tried to find anything she could wear, even if she had to sew to make it work. She wasn't the best at that, but apparently Rosalie was her waist size, with longer legs, so it was something she could work with. There were some stains on some of the pants, but with shortening the pants a few would be salvageable. Looking at tops she ended up taking more from Esme, as Rosalie either stained hers or took them with her and Alice was too tiny. She also took some of Jaspers shirts, but even though Edward left a few she didn't take any of them. She might see Bella again and she didn't want to be wearing Edward's clothes when she did. That would send the girl into a complete mental break.
While she did steal out of various closets, she didn't snoop around, because she knew they would make her pay for that when she came back. Instead, Christy moved into Alice's room, the most likely to forgive, well other than Esme, but Alice's room got more natural light. She put her adjusted clothes in the monster closet, and they looked lonely in there, but it was going to be enough to last a while. She then closed up all but the living space, the library, and this room and its adjoined bathroom.
Once she had a place to stay and clothes to wear, Christy started with the second part of her plan. She went back into town to find some free internet access. She found out what she could about the her from this world and found her body was twenty one, and had been a vampire for thirteen years. She, herself was in her forties now, so none of her ages matched. She found a few potential leads for the Cullen's slightly underhanded lawyer type, so she would just need to amass some money and he'd hopefully be able to help her develop an identity. She looked for hints for where the Cullens were, and found nothing.
The more she thought about it, the more the realized perhaps she was better off without them here for now. Edward would have had them driving her off so she wouldn't be near Bella, and Christy needed to create some connections to create some sort of life. Of course, if she needed to make sure she wasn't driven off she'd need an ally, Christy considered, as she walked passed Newton's Outfitters on her way back to the house.
Stopping in front of the store, she glanced around and saw the old truck Bella drove. With a heavy sigh Christy wandered back into the store. Bella wasn't immediately visible, but her scent was in the air, so she was there somewhere. Christy wandered the aisles, seeing if there was anything else that would make living in an abandoned house more bearable. Perhaps a battery operated radio, she thought as she spotted one.
Her supply of money was getting low, but then she was probably going to go hunting in a few days and she'd see if her dinner had some cash. She was going to try drug dealer and see if those were edible, it would be another service to society to wipe them out.
"Hey." Christy spoke softly when she found the brunette stocking a shelf of bug repellent. Bella turned and her eyes went wide, her arms jerked toward her body and a rain of bug repellent sprays started to fall. Christy didn't even think about it, she moved forward quickly, grabbing the cans out of the air and putting them all back.
The pounding heart behind her almost distracted her from the last one. "Sorry," Christy turned to look at Bella's wide eyes. "didn't think you needed to get in trouble for me startling you." Christy glanced around and shoved her sunglasses up on her head, so she could see Bella without the color tint of sunglasses, and the girl was still an unhealthy pale.
"Ah, thanks." Bella stared at the shelf and then back at Christy. "You stayed."
"Yep." Christy didn't know what else to say, but she glanced around the store. "Found an empty house and I'm squatting for now." Bella looked puzzled at that. "Once you're a nomad it's hard to get out of that. I'm going to try and develop an identity soon, but that takes money."
"Why are you talking to me?" Bella sounded confused and a bit scared, so Christy tried to look friendlier.
"I get lonely." Christy sighed, thinking of how Bella was the only one she had any type of conversation with. She needed to get out more. The library didn't count, no one talked there either. "And I, apparently, don't have to lie to you."
There was an awkward, strange moment where Bella stared into her eyes. Christy wasn't sure what to think about that until the girl muttered. "Your eyes are getting darker."
If she could have blushed, Christy was sure she would be doing that. "Yeah, well, I'm still learning. I'm not sure how often to hunt. I don't want to eat too much." She gave Bella a weak smile.
"Are you a newborn?" Bella's eyes widened again.
"Eh, yes and no. It's complicated." Christy could hear someone coming closer and put her sunglasses back on. "So I need a battery operated radio. I'm roughing it and the silence is starting to get to me." She tilted her head at Bella and watched the girl's understanding grow.
"They are right over here, but you might want to go to the drug store for batteries. They are having a sale." Bella led her to the correct aisle. Her voice lowered. "You won't hunt here, right?"
"I was thinking Port Angeles or Bremerton." Christy muttered, thinking the best hunting grounds would have been Seattle, but she wasn't risking that city with Victoria there. She didn't see anything on the news to say she was there, but given the future, there was a good chance she was. "Course I'll need a map to find my way, I have to run. I don't have a car." She glanced around. "You have maps too?"
A half shocked laugh, that sounded more like a cough came from Bella's throat. Still she lead Christy to the maps after Christy grabbed up a radio. "You really don't lie to me, do you?" Bella muttered, sounding stunned, as she rang up Christy's purchases.
"No point, and I need someone to talk to." Christy planted that seed and smiled, before leaving Bella in the store. Her own honesty was a bit extreme, but it would draw the girl to her, she was relatively sure.
"Now this is what I'm talking about Annie." Christy smiled as she stared down at the wallets she'd opened and put on the table. It felt too lucky that these men had apparently not dropped off their money for a few days and she thanked Annie's powers for her good fortune. She glanced up and looked around the room, taking in the damage she'd done. Three bodies littered the ground, but really, once she'd smelled the blood these men spilled she'd had a bit of trouble reining herself in. She'd have to burn the bodies to hide how vicious she'd been. They'd killed some guy, and she'd killed the two who did it.
It was a drug deal gone bad, and Christy glanced at the two bags and three wallets in her possession now. The bags of drugs were going to have to be destroyed, but the cash was a nice thick wad and she wished she had electricity or needed real food, because she didn't know how to celebrate her windfall now. She'd end up putting it in one of the dozens of shoeboxes at the house and waiting for a need. Perhaps she could see a movie or something? Get out of the house for a bit. Christy listened for cops or anyone, and then took a moment to count out the cash, before she slipped out to find something flammable enough to get things started.
Christy was never a fan of fire, so once the blaze got going, she moved to leave, her pockets filled with cash. She'd dumped the drugs on the bodies, to get rid of all the trash at once. Rapists were a bigger civil service, but Drug Dealers were better financially. Christy was going to have to remember that.
She made her way through the forest again, paying a lot of attention to where people were so she could avoid them, and also using the map. She had the money for a cab if she got lost, but she wanted to make sure she could get around. Logan had taught her how to use a map and get around, so she was walking up to the house by dawn, more confident in her ability to find the tiny town.
With little else to do Christy found the yard tools and spent some time raking up the leaves, and she considered that this could be why the majority of the vampires that used to live here went to school. Maintaining the house was really barely a one vampire job, and the boredom was nearly fatal. After she'd completed her work she started to think about that pile of cash she'd found and wondered what stores were in town. She wasn't a shopper so it was a surprise for her to find herself looking forward to checking out the other stores with some excitement.
This explained so much, Christy thought as she filled her tattered wallet with some money. The odd hobbies the vampires had in the book, Alice's odd obsession with shopping, it was all boredom. Christy was going to need to find a cheaper hobby than shopping, but she stepped out of the house in search for ideas, and perhaps some nice candles.
She ran through the woods for awhile, before stepping out to walk along the street closer to the town. She had time to kill, so she started to study the houses as she passed by, checking for names to see if she recognized any. She took in the yards and compared them to what she'd just cleaned up, and she listened for what shows were on the various televisions.
A rumble of an old piece of shit car turned onto the street from behind her and Christy moved to walk closer to the side of the road. The truck passed her and pulled into a driveway two houses down. Christy could smell how the truck was burning too much oil, and she could see the red rustiness of the thing. Her legs moved a little faster as she noticed the brunette hair and she smiled just a little. A police cruiser was parked on the street, but Christy knew it meant Bella's dad was home.
Bella got out of the truck and then was grumbling as she turned to face it and was picking up messy papers and shoving them into her bookbag. Christy made her way to the driveway and wondered if she should just pretend to not have found where Bella lives, if that would be better, but she was rather bored. When Bella fell backwards out of her car somehow, perhaps when she slipped on the leaves on the driveway that did it, but Christy was by her side quickly, catching her. "Careful." She muttered and Bella's eyes stared up at her, and continued to stare as Christy put the girl back on her feet.
"What are you doing here?" Bella whispered harshly and glanced at the police cruiser in the street in front of the house as if it were a disaster in the making. Christy got the sense that Bella didn't trust her around Charlie.
"I've already eaten." Christy sighed and leaned against the side of the truck as she studied Bella. "couple of drug dealers that had just murdered some doped up kid." She admitted, in case Bella thought it was something worse. She wanted Bella to understand she had standards for her kills. She always had, but that would be a longer and more unbelievable discussion, so for now they'd just talk about vampire things.
Bella seemed to pale a bit, but she gave Christy a searching look at the same time. "You try to only kill bad people?"
"I've told you this." Christy frowned as Bella seemed to hesitate for a moment.
"Have you ever thought about switching to animals?" Bella asked her and Christy was a bit surprised, but then the girl did know vampires before. She was adapting quickly to being able to talk about these things.
Christy was about to answer her when the front door opened. "Bella?" A man's voice yelled out even as he stepped outside. He looked over their way and then was clearly surprised Bella wasn't alone. "Oh." He took a few steps out. "You brought a friend home?" Charlie started to smile and Bella seemed to fidget a little.
Christy glanced at Bella and spoke quietly as her father made his way over. "My names Christy."
"This is Christy." Bella motioned to Christy as her father came to a stop nearby. Christy gave him a smile. "Christy, this is Charlie, my dad."
"Nice to meet you sir." Christy gave him a nod, but she could see he was put off by her sunglasses. It was still daylight out, but rather overcast. She made sure to push her sunglasses up as if she were still awkward about wearing them, but she said nothing about it. That was a trick she'd learned over the years, he'd see she was insecure about that and be less inclined to bring it up.
"You too." He studied her and then seemed to search Bella's features for something. "I don't believe we've met."
"I'm new here." Christy really wished she'd had time to talk to Bella more before this happened. Her needed cover wasn't something she could just blurt out in front of the girl.
"Do you go to school with Bella?" He asked and Bella let out a huff of air.
"No, I'm graduated already." Christy glanced over at Bella, and hoped this was going to work. "Bella's been really nice and offered to help me find the stores I need in town."
"Really?" Charlie's smile grew and Christy watched Bella blush, she could even smell her blushing. "Don't let me keep you girls, you have fun. Bella, you need any money?"
It almost looked like Christy's gamble was not going to work, as Bella looked stunned, and then it did work. "No, I'm fine, I don't need your money." Bella stared down at her bag. "I just needed to see if it was alright with you, because really, I have homework and we might miss dinner" Christy could see Bella was trying to get her dad to reconsider her permission to leave with her.
"No, don't worry about it. I'll order pizza. In fact, I insist you take some money and you two girls go out and get a bite to eat." He whipped out his wallet and Bella seemed to stand even more tense than she was before as he handed her twenty dollars, "You pay for dinner Bells, as a welcome to town gesture." Charlie looked very happy and glanced back at both of them a few times on his way back into the house.
"Does he often push you to spend time with strangers?" Christy asked as she stood there, wondering if Bella would find an excuse to not go now. She watched Bella taking a few deep breaths and staring off to the side and wondered if Bella was considering her dangerous. Perhaps too dangerous. "Oh, and you don't need to pay for my dinner, I couldn't eat another bite." She gave Bella a small smile and watched the girl blush.
"You want to go shopping?" Bella asked, staring at her.
"Not clothes, I'm good for those now." Christy watched Bella start to relax and wondered what the hell Alice did to the girl. "Just some candles, maybe I could find something to do with myself. I need a hobby or I'm going to be the first person to die of complete boredom. I didn't grow up in a time before electricity and I don't know what to do now that I am stuck without it."
"Do you like to read?" Bella asked and Christy gave a half hearted shrug.
"What do you do for fun?" Christy asked, while glancing into the truck. She could see the gaping hole that had held a radio that the Cullens got Bella and knew Bella would be stumped by that question. Maybe she could make Bella do something for fun, anything. Bella didn't answer her, but she did get back in her truck, so Christy smiled and ran at a human speed to the passenger side.
The truck of the car smelled strongly of Bella, but with Christy having fed recently it was just pleasant but not hunger making. She sat back and waited for the human girl watching her to start up her truck. "I really appreciate this. I was heading to do it by myself, but I haven't had anyone to talk to in far too long and this is always more fun with someone else." She glanced back as Bella backed out. Christy pushed her sunglasses up and relaxed into the seat as they took off.
"Why candles?" Bella asked as Christy was trying to figure out which candle smelled the best. She was having to work hard to distinguish one candle from all the others, so she was very absorbed in learning how to use her advanced sense of smell.
"The place is dark and creepy at night." Christy held out a candle to a very confused and lost looking Bella. "Do you think this smells good?" Bella took a tentative sniff and nodded, as if she really wished she hadn't been asked. "I can't get the electricity turned on, because it isn't my place, and I don't legally exist." The cashier of the shop was far enough away for Christy to say that.
"What about a flashlight?" Bella set down the small figurine she'd started to play with.
"All night?" Christy sighed. "I'm awake all damn night. I don't think I can tell you how much that sucks when I don't have anything to do. I've tried to learn to meditate to see if the time goes by faster, but it doesn't."
"You said you were a newborn?" Bella asked even quieter and Christy paused, considering how to answer this.
"That's complicated. How about I answer that one in the truck." Christy anticipated that wasn't something she could answer briefly, there would be questions, and maybe some disbelief, even though Christy didn't plan to go into more than she was from a different reality.
"Why don't you get a lantern." Bella asked and Christy gritted her teeth a little as she considered that. "You could read by that."
It was a better idea, she just hadn't thought of where she could find that. Every town had candles. "Do you know where to get one?"
"My work." Bella sighed. "But if Mike is there he's going to want to talk."
"I should probably tell you my cover story." Christy considered as they started to leave the store. Eventually someone was going to ask, and they should have this down. "But I'm concerned you won't like it." Christy stopped outside of Bella's truck and stared at her. "Is it cold?" Christy asked, as she saw Bella tug her coat tighter to her body.
"yeah." Bella gave Christy a hint of a smile, and unlocked the truck. Christy waited for Bella to reach across and unlock her side before slipping in. "So what's the public story?" Bella asked as they sat and Bella turned the truck on to get the heater running.
Taking a deep breath Christy decided how to approach this. "A lone vampire isn't always safe, even here. I need to claim to have some sort of a coven for protection." Christy spoke slower, conscious of what she shouldn't tell Bella yet, basically about the wolves. "I'm claiming to be a cousin of the Cullens." Bella started to lose some of her color. "And I'm squatting at their place to make it seem more real."
Bella curled forward, her arms wrapping around her torso in a way that looked more than slightly disturbed. Christy felt uncomfortable with how Bella's heart was racing. With Bella this lost in pain, Christy thought it best to ignore that she shouldn't know some things and get some things said now. "I need the safety of their name, I'm sorry. I know they hurt you, but if I stay in Forks, I need to be able to claim them."
"Do you know them?" Bella asked quietly, whispering it. "Do you know where they are?" it hurt Christy to hear the hope in Bella's voice was barely there, to hear how even saying this much seemed painful for her.
"No, I don't know where they are." Christy sighed heavily. "I'm not taking their name, I don't actually know them so that seems rude. I'm going to keep my own last name. It's been long enough since well," Christy frowned. Her policy of honesty with Bella was already overwhelming her. "I'm going as Christy Taylor." She stated simply, watching with concern as Bella was focusing on her own breathing. "Oh God girl," Christy didn't know what to say.
Bella was abandoned by her boyfriend and his family, Christy was abandoned by most of the people of her last world and was completely alone here. She had to remind herself that Bella was young, inexperienced, because the way she was falling apart seemed overkill for her problems. "I was driven away from my home by the people who claimed to be my friends. They were out to lock me up and wouldn't even listen to why I did what I felt I had to do. They abandoned me and hunted me until I finally had to leave to survive." Christy spoke quietly. "My life, the life I was starting to build with them, was destroyed in one night."
Bella didn't look at her, but she managed a weak question. "Why?"
Christy glanced down at her body, catching the irony of it just now. "Because they thought I was a monster."
Bella raised her head, and Christy could see her watery eyes. "You aren't a monster." Bella whispered and Christy was grateful Bella believed that. She hesitantly scooted across the large bench seat and tentatively touched Bella's shoulder in what she hoped would be a comforting manner.
"And you ARE special." Christy whispered back. She slowly rubbed Bella's shoulder, thinking of what Edward had done to Bella, how he'd, in his utter ignorance and thoughtlessness, cut Bella's self esteem to the quick and left her with no one to trust, to talk to, because the truth would need too much editing, no one would understand what she'd lost. It wasn't just that boy, it was her whole future. Christy had lost her whole future a few times. She carefully reached around and hugged Bella to her. "Very special." She muttered into Bella's hair and ignored how at this close even not hungry, Bella smelled very edible.
Once Bella made the least motion that she wasn't comfortable with Christy so close, Christy was on the other side of the truck. Bella's breathing started to get worse, rather than better and Christy watched it helplessly. "I wanted to be with him forever." Bella muttered, the word 'him' sounding awkward and wrong, as if the name had long since been outlawed, but there was nothing else to call him.
It was not her best thought out response, but Christy stared at Bella. "If you want him, I can't do anything about that, but if you want forever, I might consider giving it to you." Bella gaped at her in clear shock. "But you'd need to know what you were getting into. I'd show you everything, make you think about everything, and if after all of that you still wanted forever, it is your body, your life, and I would let you decide." Christy knew that Bella was going to be a vampire in less than a year regardless of what she did, but Bella deserved to have some control over her own life. Now Edward wasn't going to be able to hold it over her, because Christy wasn't going to let him dictate what she did for Bella, like his family did.
"I won't kill people." Bella stared at her and Christy almost smiled at the trust that question implied, because Bella talked as if it were a done deal.
"Then you are going to have to learn to identify endangered species, because I won't be a part of killing off an entire species." Christy spoke seriously, making Bella's head tilt in confusion. "I don't hunt animals because I have a moral problem with that. I thought about it, I considered it, and I dismissed it. I feel I'm doing more good for society by getting rid of those humans causing damage to the whole, I'm protecting their future victims. But I also have a problem with controlling other people, not letting them make their own choices. If you'd want golden eyes, and I'll admit," Christy grimaced and tapped her sunglasses. "They fit in better, then you just need to not decimate species that have done nothing wrong." Christy sighed. "But this is all pointless now, you need time and information to make a decision like this. Granted if you decide you want me to turn you, I will," Christy's willpower was extreme when she wanted it, "But it hasn't been decided you want that yet, until you can grasp all the drawbacks and," Christy could see some argument in Bella's eyes, "All the rewards."
"You would really do that?" Bella asked quietly.
"I've lost my own future a couple of times, watched my hopes and dreams burn, and I understand. If you decide that being a vampire was the path you belonged on, then I'll help" Christy answered softly. "but if you decide to stay human, I won't just disappear. " Bella took a shaky breath and Christy was surprised that Bella reached across the bench seat to take her hand. Bella's hand felt warm and fragile in her own. Bella's grip got stronger and Christy gave Bella as gentle a squeeze back as she could. Christy gave Bella a hopefully reassuring smile and let Bella think, even as silence filled the cab of the truck.
"I don't know if I'd want forever without him." Bella's voice cracked.
"And you don't have to decide without hearing all the details. I have time to give Bella, lots of time. So much time that I've even considered what would be good to do before being changed." Christy felt Bella tense.
"Human experiences?" She didn't sound overly happy with the term.
"No, just preparation." Christy shook her head. She understood Edward had painted humanity as the perfection he'd never achieve, but really, to assume all humans would want the same thing was ridiculous. "Give it time, think about it." Christy glanced at the street. "Let's get me a lantern, a hobby and you some dinner. We don't need to do anything more than that today."
Bella sat in the driver's seat, fidgeting and looking a bit lost, but Christy did notice with some satisfaction that Bella's eyes looked more alive, she looked more alive. That was what controlling your own destiny looked like, and it looked good on Bella. At her age she really should be seeing endless opportunities for her future, not the devastation of all her hopes and dreams.
"What hobbies are you thinking of?" Bella asked her and Christy smiled as she sat back and listened to the girl start up the truck.
"I don't know, I've always wanted to learn how to write or draw. I wouldn't mind learning an instrument." Christy had usually been busy with jobs and training, endless training. Her powers and position had demanded she learn a little about a lot of things. "What about you?"
"I don't," Bella sighed heavily, "I used to read."
Christy took note of a dance studio that had an advertisement for Tai Chi outside of it. "I think we need to start training your body, that would be good whether you stay human or not." Christy turned and grinned at Bella. "You want to look your best when you're changed. Be as strong as you can be, it can only help." And Christy knew enough to know that physical activity would help with Bella's depression too, so she needed to get that started as soon as possible.
Bella looked pretty doubtful, but Christy knew how to sell this. "Tai chi helps with balance." She didn't even mention the other benefits, she just let that stew. "I believe I saw lessons were starting up in January." It was early December, so that seed had a little time to grow.
"Oh God, do you think I'd be clumsy as a vampire?" Bella asked as they waited for the chance to turn at the light.
"That would be unfortunate." Christy smirked just a little as she stared out the window.
Once they got to the store Christy could hear the boy talking quickly to Bella as Bella stood by the register waiting for Christy to pick her lanterns and bring them up. Bella had been ready to go with her, but that Mike Newton was hissing his whispered questions louder and louder. It turned out to be a good idea to tell Bella her cover story. Christy slowly wandered up, hoping Mike would finish staring at her soon. The teenage boy was made of nothing by hormones, as far as Christy could tell.
"Hello, I'm Bella's friend Mike." He smiled at her and Christy resisted the urge to lower her sunglasses and scare the boy silent.
"Yes, well, I need this rung up." She pointed out her purchase and gave him a toothy smile, remembering that in the book the Cullens seemed to think that scared people off. Mike's eyes widened and he almost dropped one of the lanterns.
"Ring up three bottles of oil." Bella muttered and disappeared for a few moments. Still, Bella had time to go get what Christy forgot and come back before Mike managed to finish ringing her up. He had stopped his flirting and was now eager to get her out of the store. Christy didn't mind that. It also helped to keep him from bothering Bella as they left.
"That wasn't very nice." Bella spoke up quietly as they stepped outside.
"He didn't piss himself, so I think I was rather tolerant, considering he'd already imagined me naked at least twelve times." Christy sighed and pushed her sunglasses up as they moved to get into the truck.
"How did you know? Can you read" Bella's words trailed off.
"No, that's a guess." Was all Christy said as she carefully set the lanterns on the floor of the truck. "What do you want for dinner?" She did her best to pretend she didn't see Bella's stricken face, as Bella was reminded of Edward. Perhaps when he got back, Christy might try beating some sense into his head, but first she'd need to do that to Bella.
"I'm not really hungry." Bella whispered and Christy sighed and stared at the girl. She considered ordering her to eat, demanding it for what she was considering doing for Bella, but that was not a good route to take. Bella was wearing somewhat baggy clothes, that Christy suspected fit her two months ago. It was a tense silence, as Christy could see Bella waiting to be ordered around by the vampire. That's when she made up her mind not to do that.
"You feeling safe enough to park in some secluded place alone with me and hear why I am and am not a Newborn?" Christy had planned to give Bella the briefest version of the story, but decided to bare a little bit more. It wasn't really using guilt and submission to control the girl if she focused on the girl's need to help and compassion to get the girl to at least start to act like she was living, until she was actually living again. She'd tried for Charlie, stopped staring at the wall all day long in a catatonic haze for him, Christy read that in the book. Now Christy wanted her to take that to the next level, and do it earlier than she did in the book. Bella also had to see that people could lose a lot and still survive.
Christy had to consider that, and while Bella drove off to a park access parking lot Christy did. Bella, in the book, snapped out of it with Jacob, in her attempt to do enough thrill seeking to hear Edward's voice. That wasn't the route Christy wanted. Still, perhaps some strong emotions, some experiences that are well beyond Bella's norm, might be helpful. Christy would have to consider that as she worked on the steps she'd take to get Bella ready for the vampire life.
No one was parked nearby when Bella stopped, and Christy was a little impressed with the level of trust this remote of a location showed. Christy could kill Bella slowly out here and no one would ever hear it and yet Bella didn't seem to even consider that. It felt a little good to not have to earn her trust very much, to just be given it. Hopefully it would still be there after this talk, and if it was then Bella was going to be the first person Christy told even this much to voluntarily.
Christy had learned her lesson in her last world, and just a few allies from the start when the truth came out, just a few who might have known about it ahead of time, would have been able to stop the situation from escalating as quickly as it did. Christy hated to think that if she'd been able to deal with her shame and trust issues, she might still be living in her last world. Here, Bella was an odd choice for that person, but strangely she was the right choice.
"This isn't an easy story to tell, and it will sound like pure fiction." Christy sighed as she moved to lean her back against the door of the truck and curled her legs in front of her while she stared at Bella. Operation shock Bella into consciousness was going to start off with a Bang.
"Most people think vampires are fiction too. I'm used to strange." Bella gave her a hint of a smile while copying Christy's pose so they could talk face to face. Christy just gave Bella an indulgent smile, she thought she was in on more of the worlds secrets than she really was.
"First thing I need to do is explain how I can be both a new vampire and not." Christy sighed and stared into the brown eyes watching her. "I have a power that allows me to travel into different realities. I haven't used it too often, and I wasn't aware that if I showed up in a reality that had me in it, I could 'become' that me." Bella looked confused as hell so Christy took another shot at it. "When I traveled to this reality I merged with the vampire me that existed here. I took over her body and suddenly I am a vampire, so I'm new at this, but still this body has been a vampire for about thirteen years."
Bella was quiet for a while, and then she spoke, "So you possessed yourself?"
Christy smiled at that, seeing that Bella was getting it. "Yes. In a way I did."
"How are you able to travel," Bella looked a little paler to vampire eyes, but it might not be too obvious to a human.
"I've been to three realities now." Christy started to explain. "In my home world I was human, or I thought I was just human." She stopped. "Are you sure you want to hear this. It is really not a happy story." Bella looked sympathetic and somewhat apprehensive. "I still have nightmares from what I went through over ten years ago. You might not be able to sleep tonight."
"I barely sleep as is." Bella finally muttered, under her breath. "Go ahead."
"My world was normal, a lot like this one would be like if there were no supernatural creatures" Bella's attention was fully on her. "And one day the news broke that an Asteroid was heading straight for our planet. It was large enough to kill all life on Earth, and there wasn't anything that could be done to stop it." Christy focused on the facts and could tell her voice was losing emotion, but she left it at that, because Bella's eyes were widening in shock. "They told us too soon, and society collapsed. No one went to work, people started looting, there was violence." Christy shook her head. "I lived in Washington state, just a few hours from here actually. Many people moved away from here, because there was a rumor that there was a compound or something in the Midwest where the rich and famous were going to go to survive. I didn't believe that, and even if it was true I knew I wasn't going to get in." Christy sighed.
"My mother and I stayed at my house, keeping quiet so that the patrols that still went through the area wouldn't find us, because the military in the area became the biggest threat we had. They stole, raped, and killed where ever they went. The power went out, the gas for cars was used up, and no one was replacing anything. I scavenged for food in the neighborhood and at the store, rarely running into people, but it wasn't enough and mom got sick." Christy had to stop talking for a moment and took a few breaths. It was odd to feel that she wasn't making any tears when she could feel her bodies need for it, but her vampire body didn't do that. "She decided to make sure I had enough supplies to survive however long I could, by committing suicide. I buried her in the backyard." Bella had tears for her and Christy watched Bella's tears fall.
"My brother was trapped in California and so I was alone. Eventually I found a group of people to join, a tribe of sorts. There were a few tribes of people here or there, and we had around a hundred people." Christy swallowed hard for a moment. "And the military was still a threat. I was on a team where we scavenged for food. As time went it got harder and harder, and I had to watch people die, children die, because I couldn't find any food. I had to bury them in mass graves."
"Oh god." Bella whispered under her breath, and Christy paused to collect her thoughts and debate about what next to reveal.
"I had to become a monster to make sure I didn't have to watch anyone else starve." She stared down at her pale hand and gave a humorless chuckle. "There was no food, but even before I was a vampire, I knew one thing. Humans were edible." Bella gasped and Christy prayed the girl wasn't going to try and run. "I took my team out and we found the raping, murdering bastards that claimed to be our military and we killed them so that our tribe could survive. It worked. The deaths in our tribe dropped off, and we made it to see the asteroid hit the planet." There was so much more to the story, but no point in sharing it all, the worst was out there. "And that was when I found out I was something other than human, that I had the power to leave my doomed world."
Bella looked stunned and Christy stopped talking even though she wasn't at the end. She just stared at the girl, waiting. The longer she waited the more she started to wonder if Christy's story alone was enough to put Bella back in that catatonic state she'd been in right after the Cullens left.
After the silence went on for too long, Christy couldn't stop herself from whispering. "I only resorted to cannibalism for the others. I didn't want my life enough to do it for me. I became that monster for the people under my care, and for the longest time I lied to them about what they were eating. They banished me when they found out, but some people came with me, because this monster could keep them alive and safe. When I left that reality I landed in another world, and I didn't tell them, but when they found out anyhow, they too banished me. But they decided that wasn't enough and they started to hunt me everywhere I went, wanting to imprison me. They didn't even ask why I would do that before they started the man hunt. I had few friends, but when one of them got hurt trying to cover for me I realized that I now had to do something else for the people I loved. I had to leave, before anyone realized that all they needed to do to catch me was to go after the people I cared about."
When Bella still looked stunned, though she did move enough for Christy to figure she wasn't in danger of a catatonic episode, Christy sighed heavily. "Get something to eat before you go home, and you can tell Charlie you dropped me off at my place." Christy shifted to open the passenger side door and slipped out, before turning to look at Bella again. "You know where I live. If you want to see me, you can come there."
That had Bella looking into her face, but when Bella's mouth opened and nothing came out Christy gave up on getting any response today. Hopefully some day, but Christy had gambled for the first time and it wasn't looking good. "Bella, I know they hurt you when they left, and it felt like you lost everything, but I want to tell you that I really have lost everything, twice, and it can be survived." She closed the truck door solidly and then turned towards the woods. She'd find her house, but it would take a bit of work.
As she started into the forest, a truck door flew open and Bella's heart was racing. "Don't leave me, don't leave me." Bella's voice started as a whisper, but it grew louder and Christy turned to see Bella stumbling after her, eyes wide. The way Bella looked, Christy wondered if Bella was seeing Christy or remembering Edward walking away.
Christy stopped walking and watched with some concern as Bella moved faster and slammed into Christy's body, wrapping her arms around her neck to keep from falling. The scent of the girl enveloped her and Christy found herself wrapping her own hands around Bella's waist to keep the girl upright. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Bella muttered, and Christy's neck was getting wet with the girl's tears. "You told me it wasn't a happy story, but I had no idea." And it wasn't until Bella said that, that Christy believed that Bella even knew who was in front of her, who she was talking to.
Bella had raced after her like that, Christy thought with a bit of shock. The girl barely knew her and had just heard the worst of Christy's past, and she'd raced after her. Christy hugged Bella a little tighter to her own body after that thought went through her mind.
Bella tugged on Christy's hand, to try and get her to come back to the truck. "Please, don't leave. I didn't mean to not say anything. I just couldn't imagine anyone could hurt that much and still be alive. I'm so sorry that happened to you." Bella's eyes pleaded for forgiveness and Christy was still stunned at the response. She followed Bella back to the truck and got in.
"Thank you." Christy spoke softly as they stared at one another again. "What do you want for dinner?" Christy asked, as she found that hard conversation was over and neither of them really wanted to talk about it now.
Christy could see the comment of not being hungry cross Bella's eyes, but her mouth stopped it and there was an odd looking pause, before Bella spoke, "I could get a sandwich at the deli. It's right next to the art supply shop, and you could see if there is a hobby there for you."
With a hint of a smile, Christy nodded. "Good idea." Bella started up the truck and they went back towards town. Dinner was relatively quiet, and Christy was quick about buying lots of drawing tablets and supplies, along with a few how to books, because there was a time in every conversation when you knew it was time to just give the other person space and it was clear they'd passed that point, but Bella was afraid Christy would disappear if they didn't finish their plans for the day.
Bella drove her to the turn off for the Cullens, but seeing how the girl's hands shook, Christy took pity on her and ran up the driveway rather than make Bella visit the house the Cullen's left behind.