The "Ho Hey" Contest

Story Title: All the Blood That I Will Bleed

Pen name: april09-tw

Pairing: Bella x Edward

Rating: T

Word Count: 8061

Summary: Edward doesn't return after he flees from biology lab on the day that he first meets Bella. Five years later, Alice begins to have visions of a certain brown-haired beauty once again. "Now she is seeing herself from above, an image of floating, with another super-imposed image: him."


She stares at the water in front of her, just starting to freeze over the shallow man-made pond. In a week or so, it will be strong enough for her to walk over, just like she did last winter, marveling at the scattered brown leaves and twigs that were frozen in the several inches of water. For now, there are still patches of moving water, rippling slightly in the bright sun, almost black in appearance.

She draws a cool breath in as her phone signals an incoming message: an email. Or a text. She fiddles with her new phone, not sure of all the buttons yet, having finally broken her ancient flip phone. Even Charlie had a smartphone, Jake had insisted, laughing. In the end, her distance from all her loved ones is what finally made her buy the high tech phone.

Ironically, it's a friend request, from someone she has never been friends with. Someone she would count as a passing acquaintance, if that. Maybe just a previous classmate. Alice BWC. Otherwise known as Alice Cullen.

Can a vampire even have friends?

-o0o-

The water is darker, a vast literal sea of dark blue reflecting the sky. Except the sky above her is a nondescript gray right now, an endless stream of cloud cover. The water above seems to be churning white and runny brown bubbles, sea spray and cresting waves creating spots of light in the darkness. It's as if she's watching herself from above instead of experiencing the plunging, freezing, ice-like water. It holds her, still like a statue, a popsicle frozen in its molecules.

The moment before she was flying. Hair streaking above her, feet below. Not exactly defying gravity, but attempting to anyway. Cliff-diving. Now she is seeing herself from above, an image of floating, with another super-imposed image: him. She reaches out to him, but his fingers, his body, his face, his…smile disappears as she is about to make contact. A swirl of pixilation. Pixie dust. One touch, he disappears, bleeds out like fading strokes of a watercolor painting.

She emerges from the deeper waves, coughing and spitting out briny water and breathing lungfuls of air while a heavy arm yanks her towards the sand.

-o0o-

She isn't surprised that the image of his sister on her phone juxtaposed with the semi-frozen pond in front of her has taken her mind back to her first time cliff diving at La Push. After all, she doesn't have many memories with him, just their initial meeting—if you could call it that—in biology lab. And her hallucination of him the second time she almost died.

Bella would recognize Alice anywhere, whether her last name was written out on Facebook for real, or the seemingly random letters she uses in lieu of Cullen. In fact, it's not even a profile picture per se, just a close-up of part of her eyes. Bella sees the smile in them even if her lips aren't pictured. There's something about the shine in the unique tawny color, well, unique to the Cullens, anyway.

"Sisabeyya? Beyya?" a squeaky voice calls over to her, just as she is about to click on Alice's friend request email to see if there's a personal message attached. To see if there's some rhyme or reason for her to reach out to her, after so many years, other than the mere fact that she can. "We're ready!"

Bella turns her attention to the little girl scrambling in front of her, clad in a bright pink puffy jacket and new snow pants. Her brown curls are tumbling out of her matching pink beanie, sprinkled in parts with tiny bits of snow.

"Looks like you started without me, Ivy," Bella teases as she takes her sister's mittened hand in her own naked one.

"I know, but you have to take a pic-ture," Ivy responds and leads Bella back to where her parents are waiting. Renee is lying down on the packed snow, a human with the outline of an angel. Phil is standing next to his abandoned angel that is holding hands converted into wings with a tinier Ivy-shaped one.

Bella smiles and obediently takes a picture of their trio of angels, with and without them inside their outlines.

-o0o-

Ivy falls asleep holding her sister's hand as they swerve the twisted road going down the mountain. Bella smiles as she slips her hand carefully from Ivy, taking care not to wake her. She maneuvers her phone open, clicks "confirm" then closes her eyes.

When she wakes up, Ivy is singing loudly to a movie soundtrack and stuffing her face full of dried mango.

"Your phone beeped a few times, honey," Renee says, passing her the bag of dried fruit.

"Thanks, Mom." She blinks a few times around her, darkening skies and red lights surrounding them. LA traffic. As much as Bella has warned Renee before their visit about the frustrations of driving in LA, her mother has still packed every single day of their visit with activities ranging from Big Bear to surf lessons to trendy restaurants in Brentwood, insisting that they see it all.

Several days later, after they've enjoyed tidepooling at the beach and a balmy day at Disneyland, the rain clouds descend, lightening and thunder in tow. Bella and her mom browse through racks of second hand clothing at a pricey vintage shop on Melrose.

"I think I had a shirt like this," Renee exclaims, holding up a blue button down with red and white daisies.

Bella leans over and feels the fabric, an itchy, non-breathable polyester. "In the seventies?"

"Haha, Isabella," she retorts. "You know I was just a kid then."

Bella shrugs.

"I think I'll get it," Renee decides. "You can go ahead, Bella, I'll catch up with you."

"Okay, Mom. It's to the right when you exit here, okay?"

Bella walks out the door, smiling to herself as she walks outside into the uncharacteristically gray day. She looks up at the sky, trying to discern if it will actually rain on them, when she shivers suddenly. She feels a bit disoriented, a sense of déjà vu, and she looks across the busy street suddenly, but although there are many cars driving through the area, there isn't much foot traffic. Inwardly she smiles, thinking about how Californians have such thin skin, running inside at the hint of bad weather.

"We got ice cream!" Ivy cries as she crashes into her sister. Bella laughs; it seems like she's not the only one in the family who is clumsy.

"Be careful, sweet pea," Phil says, holding an ice cream cone in each hand. It only causes Bella's smile to widen. Though her mother had said she didn't want any ice cream, her husband knows her well.

Ivy tugs on Bella's sweater. "See, I got chocolate! Uppy!"

"Ivy?"

"Uppy, pwease?"

Bella obliges and carefully picks up her sticky little sister. Still, the two scoops of ice cream on her cone teeter to the left and when Bella veers to the right to save them, the top one falls flat on the ground. Ivy looks back and forth between her intact scoop and the one on the floor, deciding whether or not to cry.

"My ice cream?" she says.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Bella replies. "We can—"

"Ivy, you still have some on there. It will be okay."

Bella and Phil are talking over each other, and in all the commotion, Bella realizes they are blocking the sidewalk when someone loudly clears her throat behind her. She sidesteps to one side, while turning her head, and freezes. Alice's warm smile greets her and her hands clap loudly together in surprise. Though her dark inky hair is still short, instead of the spikes that Bella recalls from high school, her hair is curled around her face, almost like she's from ninety years ago instead of the present. Her clothing is nothing like a flapper's, however, with her worn combat boots and bright blue tunic with leggings. More noticeable to Bella is her companion, who is intently staring at the ground, possibly at the half-melted ice cream. His hands are in his pockets, but his tell-tale unruly coppery brown hair gives him away.

"Bella Swan is that you?" Alice says, in jest.

"Alice, what…are you doing here?"

"Spring Break," she shrugs.

"But how—"

"You remember my brother, Edward, right?" she interrupts.

At the mention of his name, Edward looks ups and Bella can't help but feel mesmerized by the brightness of his eyes, the welcoming smile on his face. Such a vast difference to the boy sitting next to her in biology who looked upon her with a murderous gaze. Or so she believed at the time. It isn't until later that she'll reflect on the fact that his eyes had changed color, more in line with his family's eyes: a dark amber.

"Hello, my name is Edward Cullen," he says softly now, reaching his hand out to shake hers and then retracting it when he realizes that she is holding Ivy with both arms.

Alice's responding giggle and roll of her eyes, accompanied by a swat on her brother's arm makes any attempt Bella had of keeping her own laughter at bay moot. "Why so formal?" the dark haired girl asks, while Bella breathes out "I know who you are, Edward."

"Of course," he murmurs.

"You're pretty," Ivy says, tilting her head.

"Thank you," Alice responds.

"I meant him," Ivy corrects, and again Bella can't help her laughter.

Bella makes the introductions after setting Ivy down, and then repeats them again for Renee's benefit when she joins them almost immediately after. Ivy tugs on her mother's arm and says "My ice cream fell" sadly with a pout.

Something about her trying to be so grown up and not have a major tantrum makes Edward smile. He squats down next to the little girl and chats quietly with her before turning towards Phil and Renee. "You know," he says as he straightens himself up. "I was craving some ice cream myself. Shall we?"

Ivy smiles happily at him, while holding her cone at bay, just in case her new friend isn't thinking of getting his own cone.

"Why not?" Renee shrugs, taking her own cone from her husband.

Edward gestures Ivy ahead, and despite his gentlemanly offer, he sweeps his arm across the front saying, "After you, Miss." Ivy falls in line with Alice who both start chattering away at each other immediately and Renee and Phil follow them.

"So," Edward says, turning to Bella with a grin. "I thought at first Ivy was your daughter."

Bella stops walking, uncertain if he's teasing her or not. He seems to be looking at her intently, but she can't really discern what he is thinking. Is he just socially awkward? Up ahead she can hear Alice's laughter, like a soft peal of bells. Though she is staring down at her sister, Bella can't tell if Alice is laughing at Ivy or at her own brother. She doesn't even know whether Alice has heard what Edward has said—whether he has a filter or not—but she assumes that they both must have a heightened sense of hearing. After all, wouldn't that help in the hunt?

Her thoughts have gone a mile a minute and when they suddenly catch up to her, she instinctively runs ahead without answering Edward and steps between Alice and Ivy to hold Ivy's hand. She doesn't know if her actions are an admission of anything—clearly Ivy is her sister and not her daughter as she looks like both Renee and Phil, with the exception of her hair, which is the exact same color as Bella's. Her only thought is to protect her sister at all costs. How could she have introduced vampires to her family?

The clouds that have been thickening and threatening all morning seep over to send a smattering of rain drops down towards them and the group runs quickly into the empty ice cream shop. Edward immediately walks over to the register and speaks with the woman there.

At once, she has a new scoop of chocolate ice cream in a cup set up for Ivy. Edward bends down to hand the cup to Ivy, who has just about finished her first scoop. They work together to place the new scoop carefully onto her cone.

"And a triple scoop of Cherry Garcia for my sister, please" Edward adds after standing back up. "In a chocolate-dipped waffle cone. Would anyone else like something? Bella?"

Despite herself, Bella steps forward to look through her options, again placing herself between Ivy and the Cullens, just in case, noticing that Alice is suddenly glaring at her brother.

"I'm sorry about earlier," Edward says quietly to Bella.

She smiles at his words, and chooses a flavor that has bits of waffle cone swirled into the ice cream itself. "Thank you," she pauses. "What…what made you think-?"

"It's not any of my business, in either case," he interrupts earnestly. "I just…I saw pictures of the two of you together."

Bella nods in understanding. "On Facebook?"

"Yes. Alice….well, Alice had left it open to that page." He laughs, nervously it seems to her, as he pulls out his wallet to pay for their ice cream. She starts to dig through her bag, but he places his hand on hers briefly. "Please allow me."

After the first few moments of awkwardness, they all sit out the storm at a table near the window. In the end, Edward gets a large sundae despite his protests and Ivy's eyes widen at how quickly he eats it. Alice eats her three scoops just as quickly, almost as if she's racing her brother. Bella is mildly amused despite the fact that she is wondering if the human food messes up their special diet.

"What brings you here, anyway?" Bella asks, suddenly realizing that even though Alice had 'friended' her on Facebook earlier in the week, she had made no mention of their trip. Though, she does acknowledge that Alice may not have known where Bella lives.

"We've had this trip planned for a long time," Alice says cryptically, playing with one of her curls and placing it back perfectly into position, slightly on her cheek.

Is this how they seek out their prey? Social media? Bella holds in a laugh at the random thought and reminds herself that if they had wanted to kill her, drain her or whatever, they could have done so five years ago back in Forks. She determines to chalk up the meeting as a coincidence. After all, she likely will never see them again after they leave the ice cream shop, or maybe not until they run in to each other again, perhaps in another five or ten years.

When the storm has abated slightly, Phil runs out to retrieve the car so his family doesn't have to brave the elements. Bella ushers Ivy into the backseat and Phil gets out of the car to buckle her in. As Bella settles into her own seat, the rain trickles down to tiny specks and mist. She watches the siblings through her window, squinting through the fogginess and raindrops. Edward's hands are in his pocket, his leg casually against the wall of the building. Alice is leaning against the building as well, but turned towards her brother and talking so rapidly; no one would be able to read her lips even if they tried.

Edward's eyes are boring into Bella, through the short distance, through the rain, the fog and the glass. She blinks and he blurs, an impressionistic painting, a thing of beauty and of danger. She has to remind herself about the danger with a soft sigh of wistfulness. Soft bronze, luminescent white, dark denim blend into the grayness of the day, clouds continuously working to pour their contents into the sky.

-o0o-

That night Bella dreams of her old bedroom back in Forks. It feels so real, even though the room is completely different now, Bella is immersed in the dark purples that she so loved when she was a teenager. Dark purple comforter with a slightly lighter flower print, mahogany wood, lavender and silver curtains. The shadows and silhouettes are illuminated from her single reading lamp. Instead of the usual darkness that surrounds her nightmares which stem from that period in her life, she feels…hope.

She sees herself sitting crosslegged on the bed, talking intently to someone whose features she can't quite make out. He—for she is certain, at least, that it is a male—is a blur next to the image of herself. The shadows elongate, the shapes shift positions on the bed, and the night moves on, both in her dream world and in real life.

When she awakens, there are deep orange streams of light coming in though her window as the sun begins to rise. She is grateful that no one has to shake her from her usual tightness, screaming while curled into a tight ball. Her roomate is out of town, anyway; she is all alone.

-o0o-

They're making their way through the crowds and all Bella can think of is how easily the Cullens blend in, while at the same time, they don't at all. The crowd parts before them, a figurative Red Sea, perhaps strangers sensing danger. Or importance. Or, simply recognizing the beauty of the Cullen siblings.

When Alice called earlier in the day about the concert, Renee had been right next to Bella and could overhear their conversation. Bella's instinct was to say 'no', but her mother had been so excited about seeing the band live, so excited that Alice was able to procure tickets to the sold out show, so wanting to have a girls night out, even if Alice's brother would be there as well. She often was home with Ivy when Phil was on the road, and her nights out were few and far between. How could Bella say no to that?

Bella reaches out for Renee's hand behind her, not wanting to lose her as the seas coalesce behind them. Similarly, she reaches in front of her for Edward's arm, sliding her hand down his denim jacket until she twines her fingers with his. She's not even surprised that they are cold, seeming to remember that from a previous encounter with one of their kind. The three of them are like a train, following Alice's lead.

As the descend the steps toward the front of the arena, Bella squeezes her mom's hand once in excitement, while at the same time rolling her eyes at just how good their "last minute" seats are.

"Here we are," Alice turns towards them, clapping her hands together and then spreading one arm out as if to display their seats, front row center except for the standing only admissions section.

"What, couldn't get us into the pit?" Bella asks sarcastically, but she can't help but punctuate it with a smile. Despite herself, her excitement is getting the better of her.

"Bella!" Renee admonishes her, almost accidentally calling her Ivy at first.

"No. Edward doesn't do mosh pits."

Of course not. Too many bodies close in together. Bella is unsure how they control their urges in contained spaces like this; sweat dripping off everyone. Do vampires sweat? she wonders.

"No," Edward laughs, eyes crinkling at the corners just a tiny bit even though there are no wrinkles present. Bella has to shake her head inwards, as if he's read her mind, plucked her unspoken her question right out of it. He looks light, happy, something Bella has never seen before. "Not since last time."

"Last time?"

"Emmett. He loves to stage dive," Alice shrugs.

"So?"

"He convinced Edward to as well…."

"But no one caught me." Edward finishes quietly, one end of his lips lifting up slightly.

"Can you blame them?" Alice teases.

"Yes. Well, I can blame Emmett, at least."

Alice convinces Renee to wander off to the concession stand with her and Edward and Bella make awkward small talk until they return, each nervously fidgeting in their own way until they find common ground: music. It turns out that Edward has eclectic taste, hating much of the music of the 50s, 60s, and 80s, but very much enjoys classical music and music of the 70s and 90s, something Bella was raised with. She can't help but wonder how much of the music they've been talking about was new music for him, how much of those eras he was alive for. For all she knows, he could be fairly new to this life.

"Were you hurt?" Bella asks suddenly. She's not sure why she's asking. Does she want him to be truthful? Is she trying to catch him in his lies? Vampires are indestructible, falling from a mere six or seven feet wouldn't do anything.

"What?"

"When you stage-dived?"

"No, ah, just my pride, I guess." She supposes that it's a truthful answer, or as much as she is going to receive.

When they return, Renee places a beer in Bella's hand and Edward lifts his as well when Renee requests a toast.

"Where's yours?" he glares at his sister.

"I'm driving," she smirks back, showcasing her bottled water.

"To live music," Renee toasts.

"To live music with friends," adds Alice, smiling widely.

-o0o-

The next day, Renee and Bella watch the sunset together, the bleeding pinks and lavenders the perfect backdrop to Phil and Ivy's sandcastle building.

"He's lovely," Renee muses as the orange sun steps down into the horizon.

"Who?"

"Edward," she smiles, knowing that her eldest daughter knows exactly who she's talking about. "He's a lovely person. An old soul, like you."

"I guess."

"How had you never talked about him before?"

"We weren't really at Forks High together."

"What?"

"I mean, not at the same time."

"So….he's younger? Like mother, like daughter?" Renee laughs before Bella can correct her. It's easy enough to believe since Edward could pass for seventeen even now when they are twenty-two.

"No." Bella explains how they shared a Biology class for exactly one day before he moved away, leaving his family behind. She frowns. She never did find out where he went in the interim. Not that it's any of her business.

"So you haven't seen him since then? Before this week, I mean?"

"No," Bella hesitates. "This week is the first time I'd even heard from him or his family." She falters over the last word, knowing that 'family' is what they refer to themselves as, but uncertain really what that means for a group of immortals

.

"You're like magnets," Renee muses, tapping her chin thoughtfully. The sun has sunk even lower, casting a bright orange glow across her face.

"Huh?"

"You and Edward."

"Hmm," Bella responds, not exactly agreeing or disagreeing with her mother.

"Not finding each other again. But…it's odd…when you're in the same room together, you're like magnets. He moves, and you move to adjust to his position. You move, and he adjusts."

Bella stifles a laugh now and nods her head. She knows what her mother is referring to; it's not that she's afraid of Edward, if he wanted to hurt her, he's had the opportunity. Still, she keeps her distance, knowing it must be tough to keep his instincts under control. That is, assuming the Quileute stories still ring true.

-o0o-

"Hey Dad."

"Hey, Kiddo. How're you holding up?"

"Just fine," she smiles.

"You mother's not driving you crazy yet?"

"No."

"Uh. Well, that's good."

"She's mellowed a lot since she had Ivy, you know that."

"Yes. I know."

"What is it, Dad?"

"She didn't 'mellow out' when she had you," he says gruffly.

"She was almost twenty years younger then!"

"I know. But your Gran thought she would."

"Hmmm," Bella says nothing. She knows what her Gran would say, but Bella won't rub it in her dad's face, the fact that he and her mom just weren't meant for the long haul. Gran would call them 'ephemeral' in every sense of the word. Gran was her dad's mom and she has fond memories of visiting her along the coast of Oregon.

Each year Gran's non-fruiting pear tree would house a pair of mourning doves, whom Gran would dub as 'sweethearts'. When Bella was younger, she'd name the doves—sometimes they were girls, sometimes they were boys, sometimes one of each, but they were always, always sweethearts mated for the season, perhaps for life. When she was ten, she didn't know what 'mated' meant, so the birds weren't always a mommy and a daddy.

"Bella, dear," Gran would say. "Look at the bird calling for its sweetheart." They'd pass the days on the front porch, reading books on the swinging bench and watching as the birds would feel more and more comfortable around them, as if Gran and she were part of the surrounding environment.

The same pair came to Gran's tree for six years, until one year Bella noticed that the wing pattern was different on the next couple that cohabitated on the pear tree. Instead of the pretty black teardrop shapes on gray feathers, this pair had more globular-shaped black specks. "Is it still a mourning dove?" Bella asked. "Even if it has no tears?"

What ensued was a long debate about morning versus mourning doves and the sad tones in their mating calls. Bella still isn't sure what the correct reason is for the terminology of their names; even though she knows she could look it up, she likes to think that both she and her Gran are correct. She thinks of her whenever she sees a pair or flock of the omnipresent birds.

Her most memorable image is driving to Gran's funeral in her dad's non-work car on a cold winter day. The snow hadn't come yet that year but the tree branches were bare and waiting. And at the corner leading up to the cemetery, there was a plain but many-branched tree. Bella had no idea how to identify it without any leaves or flowers. Perched on each branch was a single mourning dove, perhaps a dozen of them in all. Each one was sitting down, feathers puffed up against the cold, and eyes seemingly closed in sleep. Waiting. Whether they were waiting for her or not, Bella wasn't sure, but their presence brought up memories of sifting flour in Gran's warm kitchen, swinging slowly with well worn paperbacks on the porch, and stories of Gran and Grandpa when they were younger and he was courting her.

This is what she takes with her—a bit of sweet with the sorrow. Grandpa picking up dandelion flowers to take to Gran during the Depression. Gran patching up her sister's hand-me down dress to wear on a special walk with Grandpa, the one in which he proposed. Gran describing what it meant to have a 'sweetheart' in her day, and loving him until the not so bitter end, even if she didn't follow him into the afterlife until almost two decades later.

What Bella has never voiced was the one question that always bothered her: why would the doves be so sorrowful if they had found their mate?

-o0o-

The night after Bella's family leaves to return to Florida, Bella talks on the phone with Alice. It's a new routine of sorts, Alice checking in with her at night, especially if she and Edward had not joined them in their touristy outings for the day. Bella does not miss the fact that they skip out on the sunny days, claiming to visit various graduate programs in the area.

"You miss her?" Alice asks.

"Yes, already, isn't it crazy?" Bella laughs, absentmindedly stirring cookie dough in a mixing bowl. Though she could place the phone on speaker, she has it wedged between her ear and shoulder. She hesitates for a moment, wondering if she should bring up something that's been bothering her all week. She sets the metal bowl down and rinses her hands before holding the phone to her ear and settling on the couch and taking a deep breath.

"There was a meadow, of sorts. Long green grasses, bright purple flowers amongst all the green moss and brown tree trunks." She pictures the swaying grass, dew drops on edges, barely touched until she stomped in suddenly, flattening pathways in her wake.

"I'm sorry if they were your friends," she continues, eyebrows furrowed, suddenly concerned that this may be the reason Alice had seeked her out.

"What?" Alice asks, almost shrilly, if shrill sounds could be musical as well.

"Your friends? The trio?"

"What are you talking about, Bella?" Now Alice's voice is low, so low that Bella can't help but take her seriously. There's a crash in the background and the sound of someone shooing someone away from the phone.

"They looked like your, um, family. Your kind."

"You know?" Alice whispers now. There's a click and then dial tone.

The nightmares will return tonight, she thinks. Dreams like every horror movie—flashes of her running frantically away, tripping, falling, screaming, but running, always running from every camera angle. Mud caking her boots, slowing her down, making her drown in its grainy, sticky browness. The wild grass blowing peacefully in the breeze.

-o0o-

There is a knock on her door, quiet but insistent. Though Bella is ready for bed, clad only in her pajamas, she reaches for her hoodie on the back of her door and heads out to the living room. There's only one person who it could be.

She tiptoes to peek through the peephole, but it's Alice's brother who she sees instead of Alice herself. No explanation about why she hung up or didn't answer her phone again. Just her brother showing up on her doorstep.

"Bella, please," he pleads quietly, as if there is any chance that she would not let him in.

"Edward?" she croaks as she opens the door, glad that she thought to cover herself up somewhat. He's leaning on the doorjamb, both hands shoved in his jacket pockets, eyebrows furrowed. Underneath the bright fluorescent lights that no one looks good under, his skin is luminescent, almost ethereal. He's angry, but still beautiful.

"May I come in?"

"Do I have to invite you?"

He starts to step over the threshold, but pauses at her words, shaking his head quickly. "No, I…I just wanted to make sure you were all right."

Now she's just confused. "Why wouldn't I be?" She sighs. "Come on in."

He takes a few steps and freezes again, which confuses her. It's nighttime. There is no sunlight. Can vampires freeze or melt or spontaneously combust from the light of the moon?

"Edward?"

He doesn't respond, just shakes his head without taking a breath, so she assumes her scent must be too much for him.

"Shall I open a window?" She walks across the room and opens both windows wide before going to shut the door behind him.

"Who has been here?" His nostrils are flared, and he looks angry, much like, well, much like their first encounter at biology lab. But he's been closer to her than this before, so it can't be that.

"Oh. It's not my scent bothering you?"

"No."

"Um, just my family. My mom was burning incense earlier to ward off bad spirits…" she trails off, uncertain if that's insulting to him or not. "But, she doesn't know about your, um, family. And my roommates have been gone for spring break—"

"Who are your roommates?"

And there it is. It hits Bella suddenly that immortal creatures must have a heightened sense of smell, and this is the first time Edward has been to her apartment.

"Ah," she says, understanding. "The werewolf smells bothers you?"

"Your roommate is a werewolf? Wait. You know that your roommate is a werewolf?" If he were human, he would be shouting the words. As it is, Edward is cognizant of the consequences of someone overhearing their conversation, so his question comes out as a sort of whisper yell.

"I think you better sit down, Edward."

She doesn't tell him about how she found the meadow one spring day while Charlie was fishing. She was avoiding a school dance and secretly mourning the fact that the rest of the Cullen family had finally followed her mysterious lab partner.

Some say that Edward Cullen received a sudden scholarship to study music abroad, but that was one rumor that Bella did not believe. Why would he need a scholarship when clearly his family could afford it? Others claim that Edward was fleeing paternity allegations—another lie as she had found Angela herself, crying in the bathroom, confused as to why she was the target of such an off the wall rumor. Other say that Carlisle Cullen simply got a better job offer elsewhere and decided it was time to move on from the sleepy, rainy town.

Either way, when Bella's feeble attempts to google Edward Cullen on her ancient computer failed, she ran out to her truck hoping that the drive would clear her mind. She felt drawn to a turnoff off the 101, beyond the Calawah River, on the outskirts of town. Then, instead of hiking the marked trail, she veered off as if somehow being pulled by an outside force. Although she stumbled quite a bit through the overgrown roots, the moss-covered trees were inviting, welcoming her to the forest. The ever-present rain ceased and narrow streams of sunlight poured through the canopy and then she suddenly stepped out into a small overgrown meadow. Cornflower blue bell shaped flowers and bright white poppies were scattered among the reedy grass. Bella can't explain it, but she felt at home, like the meadow was a secret hideaway that she was meant to find.

She lay in the exact center of the field of grasses, wishing she had brought a blanket and a book to read. Instead, she watched a family of rabbits scurrying in and out of their burrow, searching for food amongst the cover of the tall grass. A handful of nondescript brown birds kept her company, chirping and flittering to and fro. And for one moment, Bella spied a deer, its large dark eyes wide as it looked up suddenly in surprise at her presence and then slowly inched away from her before darting back into the cover of the forest. Its white spots on its back swayed back and forth, pushing trailing ferns and lowered branches in its wake.

No, she doesn't mention anything about her meadow discovery or how she had trouble finding it again despite her repeated efforts, until one day the scent of lavender, honey and lilacs brought her back.

Only her skin rose in bumps and a blur of pale yet dark skin flashed before her, long tangled locks flowing behind.

"I was scared that day in the meadow," she says instead, and Edward turns to look at her, confused. She's uncertain if he believes her too much of a danger magnet to feel fear, or if there is something else bringing the look of…incredulity to his sharp features.

"The meadow?" he questions, but she doesn't reveal its history.

"That's where the Quileutes chased one of your….kind. Where I happened to be as well."

"The dogs," he nods.

"Werewolves," she corrects.

"Shapeshifters," Edward corrects in turn and she frowns at the term. "My father has known the tribe for years," he explains. "They…they seem to only shift into wolves, but not necessarily related to the phases of the moon."

"That's true." Bella recalls the many times she has been with the Quileutes, likely the only non-Quileute human to have encountered them. Her recollection of the meadow attack has jarred her, a bloody monstrous scene that taints what was once a respite for her. For the first time, she had felt like she was a part of the place, like she belonged somewhere in the vast damp greenness of the Pacific Northwest.

She picks up her empty mug and takes it into the galley kitchen that overlooks the small living room. Her hands are shaking slightly and she does her best to cover it up, but Edward notices.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

"Would you like some tea? Chai maybe?" she answers in return before realizing her blunder. Though he and Alice have eaten with them this week, surely that was all part of the façade. Now that it is just the two of them, and he knows that she knows what he is, surely he won't continue to eat and drink human food?

"No, thank you."

She pours milk into a pot, adding a cinnamon stick and tea bags, grateful for something to do, something to distract herself from the thoughts that they are alone, just the two of them. Just her and her vampire. No, just her and a vampire.

She has to remind herself that his family is not like the nomad trio, that she has never had reason to be afraid of him, except for the first day they met. Even then she was inexplicably unafraid, anger being the primary emotion she recalls, especially at the way he recoiled from her. No, fear—and even anger—wouldn't have been what sustained her interest? Obsession? Her indefinable something with him all these years. Could she have a crush on someone she spent one single hour with?

The milk bubbles due to her inattention, a thick film covering the top that she has to scoop out before pouring herself a glass. The cookie dough from earlier sits forgotten in its mixing bowl, a casualty of the night.

Edward waits patiently for her to return to her spot next to him on the couch. Likely she sits closer to him than she should, even though there is more than a foot of space between them, but she wills her heartbeat to slow down as she continues to warm her hands with her mug.

"Bella, it's dan—" he pauses over his words. "Isn't it dangerous for you to be living with a…a werewolf? They don't always have control of their emotions."

She notices that he uses her term for her Quileute friend, possibly because it does sound more intimidating than 'shapeshifter'. "Isn't it dangerous to have you here? Alone in my apartment? Around my family all week? Around my helpless baby sister?"

"Yes," he agrees, standing now. "I can see…that you are…safe tonight. I'll let myself out."

"Wait," she sets her mug down and stands up with him. "I…I know you won't hurt me, Edward." It's the closest to an apology that she'll give him.

He nods his head and walks towards the door anyway, and she lets him as the hour is late and she suddenly feels so drained. After just a few steps, he turns around and faces her, studying her face for what seems like a thousand years. "Is he…is he your boyfriend?" he asks, almost impassively as his face is like stone, unrevealing. "Your roommate, I mean? Is he your boyfriend?"

Bella laughs when she finally realizes what he's asking. She shakes her head with a semi-amused, yet irritated smile. Would it matter if she were dating a werewolf? "No. My roommate is a girl. Leah. And, uh, I don't have a boyfriend."

"Leah?"

"Yes." She understands his confusion. The tribe was just as bewildered when Leah started phasing, as female wolves had never been talked about in all the stories from time immemorial.

"Goodbye, Bella Swan."

"Goodnight," she responds instead even as she wonders if this will be the last time she will see Edward Cullen. She clicks the lock and it is silent in her apartment once again. The quiet does not comfort her.

-o0o-

Leah returns from Washington the next day on the last possible flight she could get into LAX. In anticipation of her return, Bella inexplicably cleans the apartment all day, scouring every surface and leaving the fans on and the windows open wide. She doesn't feel like answering any questions, especially about something that doesn't seem to matter. Someone who doesn't fit into her life anyway.

She holds her breath the second Leah enters the apartment, but Leah doesn't seem to notice anything different. Bella successfully scrubbed the vampires out of her house.

After a late dinner, Leah goes into her room to catch up on sleep and Bella sits on her couch flipping through the channels aimlessly. When she picks up her phone, she finds that she has several missed calls from Alice. She's surprised that she would continue to call her, but, in truth, she missed their nightly conversation. The phone rings again as she's holding it and she barely gets a "hello" out before Alice is talking non-stop.

"Bella, thank god, you're okay. You are okay, right? Are you at home? Can you come meet me? Can I come over?"

"Alice. Alice! I'm fine. I'm at home. Why are you so worried?"

"You…disappeared."

"I've been home all day except for going to the airport."

"Airport?"

"To pick up my roommate."

"Oh. Hmm," Alice seems relieved, but Bella is nothing but confused. "Well, if you're roommate is there, maybe you won't mind meeting me at the coffee house down the street?"

"Sure."

Bella is barely a block from her house when she can see Alice waiting for her at the corner. In a rush, she hugs Bella tightly yet delicately and starts talking. "I'm so glad you're safe. I know you don't understand that. But, I can sort of see certain things about the future and all of a sudden you disappeared. Again."

"What?" She can sort of get her mind wrapped around the fact that Alice has just admitted that she's psychic, but why would she disappear?

"I think it must be related to the wolves. Never mind, it's not important."

"Wait. Hold on, Alice. You tell me that you can see the future and it's not important?"

"No, I meant about the wolves…I think they must be messing with my…visions."

"Have you…have you seen me before?"

When Alice hesitates, Bella puts one hand on her arm, "Don't I deserve to know?" It isn't her words that convince Alice, but the gesture, the bravery in touching someone in such a friendly way when you know that they could easily kill you.

"That day, in biology," she whispers. "But after we left…to join Edward. Nothing. Nothing until this week."

"What did you see?"

"Bella," she leans in though no one is around. "I saw you die. And then you didn't…Edward's control…and then you and Edward…you and Edward were together. Happy."

Alice's words are half-strung together as if she's in a rush. "You need to explain that, Alice."

"I wish I could, but Edward's waiting for you. At the café. Can you meet with him?"

"Will he explain?"

"Yes."

They walk together in lapses of silence. Every time Bella opens her mouth to say something, Alice shakes her head, as if she knows what her friend is going to say before she says it. It's disconcerting to Bella, so finally she spits out, "What do you mean Edward and me together? He's a….you know. What if, what if that's not what I want?"

"Then it won't happen. The choice is yours. The choice has always been yours."

Up ahead, Edward is waiting for them just outside the café. Alice has one parting thing to say before she goes, one parting vision to her possible future. "Bella, don't choose him because you are afraid, choose him despite the fact that you are afraid."

Bella nods in understanding, uncertain if Edward has overheard his sister's words. It doesn't matter whether or not he knows. Though she has had nightmares about the attack from the nomad coven for years now, she knows that there is nothing scarier, nothing more you could fear than the freefall sinking feeling of first love.

-o0o-

The snow is powdery, white and fresh, no marks of footprints demarcating her trail, no smears of mud evident in the packed layers. In the center of the clearing, there is a single shape, highlighted in shadows by the light of the moon. There are evergreens and pine trees towering over the clearing, lined up like soldiers, guarding the lone figure. Bella.

The scene shifts and the physical figure disappears. The only thing that remains is red, blood red fluid, seeping into the freshly made snow angel, staining the snow and filling the center like a shallow dish. A small river of brightness in the dark, dark night.

All the blood that I will bleed, she thinks.

-o0o-

In the cool night air, Bella realizes that even though Edward appears as though he is breathing, the air surrounding them is reacting differently. Her warmth makes thick mist, smoke signals that fade with the next breath. He speaks, but no words come out, just a sigh of frustration, no puffs of air surrounding his cooler mouth.

"Hello, Bella," he says finally.

Despite the fact that they are right outside the café, neither of them makes a move to enter.

"Alice says she sees the future?" she blurts out.

He nods, not giving anything away.

"And she…she saw us." There. Keep it simple, she thinks.

He nods again.

"Tell me." She takes a few steps closer and he leans against the wall of the café with one knee bent, a similar stance she's seen from him before.

"The meadow," he whispers, just loud enough for her above the din from the cafe patrons inside. "She had visions of us there. Of me telling you about my family, about myself. Of us…" He looks down and she waits a long minute for him to continue.

"Together?"

"Courting," he nods.

She starts slightly at his use of the word, just like her Gran would say. Courting. Between a vampire and a human. He looks down at his left shoe that is now toeing the ground between the two of them. She touches his chin lightly and he changes his gaze to her. His eyes speak of hints of hope, of love, of sorrow and loss. It reminds her of the mourning doves that sing their sad songs that sound like mourning but really is part of their mating dance. Such sorrow in what should be a time of joy.

"And that's why you left?"

"To keep you safe. And yet, vampires entered your world anyway." Vampires. Though she has been telling herself repeatedly that that is what he is, this is the first time the word has left his lips. He spits it out like a curse word, like a curse.

"In the meadow?" she asks, though she is uncertain of exactly what she is asking.

"Yes."

"That's where we were when you told me what you are?"

"That's where we were when I told you what you are to me."

"Which is?"

"My mate." His words occupy the space between them, and he takes a presumably unneeded breath while shaking his head, almost as if he wants to take his words back. Though unspoken, she can hear the question lingering around them as if he is shouting it. What am I to you?

"Edward," she says slowly. The word drags softly from her lips, almost increasing in syllable, but there is no hesitation. "You're my sweetheart." As cheesy as it sounds in her head, when it pours from her lips and out into his ears, it only sounds right. He turns towards her, amber eyes wide, and nods his head. Acceptance. Understanding. Light and love.

He reaches for her, outstretching his hand in offering at the same moment that she reaches hers towards him. She doesn't know where they are headed next, only that the moment is theirs and theirs alone. Instead of intertwining her hand with his, she places one hand in the crook of his elbow and he complies.

It's not unlike walking on that frozen pond, uncertain, slippery, but something that fills her heart and makes her feel alive. The rest they can decide later.