Chapter 1: Beginnings

I looked out from my dorm room window, opening it as wide as possible to let in what little cross-breeze was available. The air was still suffused with the last vestiges of summer - enough to make moving in a hot and tiresome process. Well, for the humans, anyway. I was at least spared from being trapped within my tiny single by a thin but increasing layer of clouds that promised rain. I had no where to go, though, so I sat on my newly-made bed, with its familiar quilt, and watched the other freshmen scurry about outside in a mixture of excitement for their impending freedom, annoyance at the continued presence of their parents, and a dawning awareness of a little bit of separation anxiety. Charlie had not come with me to Dartmouth - ever since the "don't ask, don't tell" stage of our relationship, my interactions with him had been sparse at best. He was more than happy to let me go east by myself - his cursory statements of concern easily overruled (with poorly hidden relief) by my insistence on being capable of going alone. You can't leave the police-force short handed, I'd argued, I'll be fine, I promise. Renee had been more difficult, but fortuitous timing meant that Phil was returning after a long stint on the road, and I knew she'd be just as anxious to see him, and more willing to accept my lame excuses.

Being around all these new humans, though, was a bit of a challenge. I was under control, thirst-wise, but temptation would always be present to some degree. This must have been how Edward felt every time he started high-school, I thought, then quickly banished it. I can't believe it's only been a year. Nothing had turned out like I thought it would - although in a weird way I had gotten many of the things I wanted. Just not in the way I wanted.

There was a knock at my door. "It's unlocked," I said, "Come in." A tall girl with hair darker and longer than my own came part-way into the room, and then unconsciously took a step back. Isn't that always the way?, I thought wryly to myself.

"Hi, I'm Jennifer - I'm your Resident Advisor. You're Isabella, right? I hope you're getting settled in okay - well, it looks like you are. Anyway, I just came in to let you know that we're going to have a get-to-know you party tonight at 8pm in my room with the rest of the RA group. I live just down the hall." The words tumbled out in a single stream as her eyes were locked, unblinking, on my face.

"Excellent," I chimed. I could see her eyes widen a little at the sound of my voice. "And I go by Bella."

"Uh, great, uh, Bella - see you tonight." She was gone before I could make a reply.

I turned my eyes back to the window. Oh Edward, I thought sadly, I wish you were here. I tried to squash that line of thinking before it carried me away, but being in this new situation reminded me of those first few days in Forks, and all that had happened since. It was all going so well - until my 18th birthday. I hadn't fully comprehended at the time the chain of events that would cascade from a simple paper cut. The irony was not lost on me that of all my clumsy behaviors, it was the simplest, most common thing that had been the thread to unravel my life. Leading, of course, to Edward leaving me, pulling his whole family along (Alice! I miss you!) in his wake. A familiar ache began to build in my chest. Apparently becoming immortal didn't mean you couldn't feel like you were going to die. Before the pain became rending, crushing, I tried to latch on to something better. Jake. Someone who against all odds - and custom/tradition/nature, you name it - had stuck by my side.

Like I said, ironic. After Edward left, I was a wreck - not sleeping, not eating, not feeling. A zombie, for all intents and purposes. Jake was the one to pull me at least part of the way out of that hole, although I was only a fractured, translucent version of my old self. These human memories should be fuzzy, I thought, but I had obsessed over them so much that they were ingrained in me - maybe even sharper now than they were then. During that time, I had been, at best, managing.

Then Victoria returned.

The wolves noticed her first, of course, although they didn't know what to make of her until I told them about the conversation that I had with Laurent - before they saved me from him. From then on, I was under guard, even at school and at night. The wolf pack watched my house, they watched Charlie. I spent a lot of time in La Push, hanging out in Jacob's garage, or walking along First Beach, or visiting with Emily. She and I had become friends, although it was nowhere near the connection I had felt with Alice.

I sighed.

Everything was fine - well, fine enough - until Harry Clearwater's funeral, about a week after graduation. Most of the pack went, but I had been sick, so I stayed home. I don't think I could have been around that much concentrated grief at the time, anyway. Seth was running patrol by himself. I was on the reservation, so no one was particularly worried. They weren't far away, in any case. Somehow, though, Victoria knew. For all I know, she had a hand in Harry's death ... it's still hard to unravel exactly how far back her plans had begun. She had left a trail on the far end of the reservation, old enough that it didn't imply she was in the immediate vicinity - so, of course, no need to panic - but new enough to be worth tracking. So, Seth tracked it, as it led him farther and farther from the Black household, where I was napping on the couch. I awoke to being pulled off the couch by my hair, hanging and staring at Victoria straight in the face. Adrenaline had shot through my body - I remembered what Laurent had said about Victoria wanting to torture me. She stared at me for a long moment, no emotion on her face, before flinging me against the opposite wall. I brought the TV set down upon myself when I landed. I also heard the crack of my collarbone breaking. Still, I made no sound. I thought I would be panicking - and maybe I was in shock - but a part of me thought, well, ok, this is it. I can finally be done with this. It was almost a relief.

"Well now," Victoria said, in a conversational tone, "it is unfortunate that your vampires are gone, but I'll be sure to let them know what happened here. Don't worry - I'm not going to videotape this - I want to focus completely. on. you." She sauntered over, and ran a finger down my arm, where the glass from the shattered TV screen had cut it. She slowly put the finger in her mouth, making a low moaning noise. Some of the wildness I remembered from the baseball field returned to her face. Then she smiled at me, a harsh rictus. "I know what will make you hurt," she hissed. And before I could even process her statement, she was kneeling before me, pulling my hand into hers, entwining our fingers, and staring into my eyes as she brought our entwined hands up between our faces. And then she bit my wrist. I felt the slow burn begin, a flame getting hotter and hotter, until my hand was incandescent with pain. I screamed, I think - it was impossible not to. But she seemed disappointed by my overall lack of reaction. She grabbed my other hand, and pulled it up in between us, and paused when she saw the silvery outlines of an older bite mark. I saw fury, then, behind her mask of control. I had a brief coherent thought at that moment. In a weird way, I understood her - I felt that same sense of loss, only I had no one to focus it on. "I'm sorry," I whispered. She did not meet my gaze, but instead viciously bit my other hand, aligning her bite to match James's. I don't remember much clearly after that, but I know there was a crashing noise, and shouting, and I sensed that Victoria was gone.

"BELLA!" A voice bellowed. From under a haze of pain, I recognized Jacob's frantic tone. "Shit, shit, shit, shit!" I heard him shout over and over. I was having trouble holding on to conscious thought - the pain had started migrating up my arms. "Get her over to Emily's!" was the last thing I remember hearing - and then the fire burned me to ash.