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Contest Entry for Lyrics to Life Contest
Title: Hidden Seam
Word Count: 7,730
Beta/Pre-reader: Luna Di Sangue Eighty-Five (beta) and Le Crepuscule (pre-reader)
Song: Hidden Seam by Lisa Knapp
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Bella feared that she would suffer from the same mental illness as her mother – and then she starts hearing a voice speaking through mirrors. Will she believe it is all a delusion, or will she discover a hidden truth she never imagined?
"You been sleeping, kid?"
Bella flinches at the question, her hands twitching against the cloth of the bar towel, murky green eyes darting to the round, kind face of her oldest uncle, Ben, as reality filters back to the forefront of her mind. He appears concerned – and for good reason. Bella feared that it was happening to her, too, just as it had happened to Ben's sister, her mother. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to watch two generations fall to the psychosis. Part of her was ashamed that she came to Ben when the symptoms first appeared, but she'd had no other choice; her father was gone, her mother was absent, and any friends she might have had disappeared when she started hearing voices in the lecture halls.
Her hand clenches the cloth weakly, pushing against the smooth, worn-in wood of the bar top to clean the already spotless surface. Bella's eyes watch the movement, her mind half-removed, as if she isn't really there, as if she isn't really moving her own hand. "I'm fine, Ben," she answers gently, looking back at him again, though, not directly at him, her eyes settling on the dilapidated mirror behind his head.
Odd, she thinks as a shadowy movement crosses the face of the reflective glass. It looks like there's someone in there.
Forcefully, Bella pushes that thought away; she was a step away from believing that a person could live inside a mirror and she did not intend to encourage such delusions. As if she had any choice in the matter.
"…just checking because Angela noticed that you lost some weight," Ben says, catching her gaze.
Bella shakes her head, frowning, trying to piece together what she had actually heard. "No, I'm fine. Really," she insists, glancing towards the familiar faces that shuffle into the diner, the sharp smell of fresh fish blowing into the large room. "Welcome to Ben's," she greets.
The patrons are like most others that come to Ben's Diner – anglers carrying the sharp smell of fish, and skin weathered by salt water and long days in the sun. These men in particular were older, well seasoned, and were followed by significantly younger men around Bella's age. She dared not to stare too long at any of them, because she felt that sometimes her murky eyes made people feel strange, though that might have been a delusion, too.
"Marcus," Ben says, thankfully turning his attention towards his customers. Bella uses the reprieve to gaze at the scratched and tarnished mirror, head tilted to the side, ears absently cataloging the conversation. "How is it out there?"
"Crab season," Marcus answers by way of explanation. There was no more to say - crab season in Maine never changed.
"Pull up a seat, then. It's a slow day," Ben replies.
Marcus raises his bushy graying brows. "Is it? Even with a pretty young girl working here?"
Bella's face heats, blood rushing to her cheeks as she struggles to refocus her mind away from the dilapidated mirror. Her eyes dart to the two younger men who were settling into a table in the middle of the diner, one of whom seems to be suppressing a smile as he looks up at her. She is embarrassed, and looks away.
Ben seems to notice a modicum of her distress. "You said it yourself, Marcus. It's crab season."
Marcus smiles kindly in a way only an older man can – completely non-threatening, so sweetly that Bella exhales softly in response. "Why don't you go out with my grandson tonight?" he suggests.
Bella blinks, murky-green eyes darting to the men at the table. "I don't know…"
"Good thinking," Marcus' friend says. "Except my grandson would be a much better choice."
Marcus looks skeptical. "And how do you know that?"
"He's on the football team at his college."
"She doesn't like football," Marcus scoffs. "A pretty girl like this likes smart boys."
"My grandson is taller than yours."
"Height doesn't matter!"
Bella turns wide eyes to her uncle, unsure of how to proceed while the two men argued over which of their grandsons would be the better date – as if she was actually going on a date with either of them. Ben rolls his eyes and nods his head towards the kitchen, and Bella gratefully escapes through the swinging door.
She turns towards the sound of her aunt's voice, offering a half-smile. Away from the mirror, the weight of the growing delusion was suddenly on her shoulders, heavy, hot, and inescapable. She wanted to go home and go to sleep, as if sleep would make the symptoms of the psychosis go away.
"You taking off for the day?"
"I think so," Bella nods, warily glancing at the swinging door. "I still have things to unpack."
Angela throws an amused glance towards the door, rolling her eyes. "Go. I don't blame you for wanting to duck out. But eat something, okay?"
Self-consciously, Bella tugs at her thin shirt, which truly did seem to be much looser than it had been a few weeks ago. She had lost weight, and that thought made her insides churn. When her mother's delusions started, extreme weight loss had been the first notable symptom, and the phrase was plastered over the medical files.
Bella ducks her head and waves at her aunt. "Tell Uncle Ben I'll see him tomorrow morning."
Bella had grown up extraordinarily poor, clothed in second-hand items from the Goodwill and relying on her father's measly disability checks to make up for the lack of funds after her mom was caged into a New York mental hospital. When she was old enough, Bella had worked odd jobs around her neighborhood, eventually scraping up enough saved money to take the SATs, which had eventually led to a scholarship at Columbia. A year ago, when she was eighteen and new to the college scene, Bella had lucked out at an auto-shop as part of her work-study program for engineering, and The Beast had become her work project as well as her pride and joy – the one thing in the entire world that was hers. The Beast wasn't new; in fact, it was a hideous thing of a vehicle, antiqued from the 70's, the color some horrible mix between blood orange and rust, and half the paint missing. She'd put countless hours into the engine and The Beast still backfired more often than not, but she wouldn't change anything about her truck. Bella worked hard for The Beast, almost as hard as she had worked to overcome the stigma of being a child of two disabled parents – one without the use of his legs, the other without the use of her mind.
She doesn't sigh when the clutch sticks on first gear, or when a plume of smoke from the tailpipe follows the tread of her tires. She quite enjoys the rumbling, bouncing vibrations of the cab as she drives down the darkening Maine coast, which was thick with trees and the salty smell of the ocean. She hardly cringes when her engine roars and stutters as she pulls into the little driveway of the bungalow she was renting.
Much like The Beast, the one bedroom, one bathroom bungalow was chipped and withering, settled deep into a stumped clearing, with dirty, cloudy windows that Bella had yet to clean. The bungalow's owner was in the middle of renovating the home and only let Bella stay there because he knew that Bella had "fancy education" in engineering, thus providing free electrical work; she wasn't quick to inform him that she'd had to drop out halfway through her sophomore year. Inside, exactly four boxes contained all of Bella's worldly belongings, which mainly consisted of old clothes, tattered books, and familial keepsakes that she couldn't bring herself to open. The door slammed behind her with a creek as she flicked on yellowed lights, illuminating stained shag carpets.
Despite Angela's reminder to eat, Bella bypasses the pea-green kitchen in favor of the half-demolished bathroom, which had both the only working sink in the house, and the only mirror. She went directly to the mirror without much thought, staring at the glass with unwavering attention.
"Is anyone in there?"
The mirror doesn't reply.
Of course not, it's a mirror. I really am losing my mind.
Bella leans away from the mirror, craning her neck back to look at the water-stained ceiling, fingers curled around the edge of the sink. Her mother used to talk to her reflection, too.
The faucet turns on with a splurge of protest, the water icy as it coats the skin of Bella's hands and face. She uses the soft flannel of her shirt to dry her face, almost cautiously looking back at her reflection. It wasn't particularly spectacular. Bella wasn't average in many ways and especially not in her appearance, which was attractive in an offbeat way; an up-turned nose, small chin, and high cheekbones, all of which were almost overwhelmed by her slightly-too-large lips and wide, round eyes. She preferred the long, loose curls of her dark hair to fall across her face, partially to hide the freckles that made her stick out as a child. She didn't think of herself as pretty; in fact, she was sure that most people thought exactly the opposite after a cursory glance, because her looks required time to get used to. And, if anything, the absent-daydreaming quality of her personality made people more reluctant to interact with her. Growing up, she had resented those factors – but now that she was losing her mind, she embraced them.
She smoothed her expression, looking for her mother in her own face, and finding familiar features. When people look at me, I wonder if they see the schizophrenia. Is it the shape of my eyes? These are my mother's eyes.
Bella leans forward again, examining the exact shade of her eyes, which, most days, she defined as murky green, like a swamp. Today, though, they seemed brighter and flecked with amber. She shakes her head and the eyes in her reflection darken again. "Back to normal, that's good. If only I could stop seeing…things in these mirrors-"
"You Gatekeepers," a voice suddenly complains, his tone thick with exasperation. "Always thinking that you're crazy. It's terribly inconvenient."
Bella jumps back, spine slamming against the peeling wallpaper. Her hands shake as, right before her eyes, an apparition of a face appears in the mirror, the features unclear – but undeniably there. "Oh, God. I really am losing my mind."
"That's what they all say."
She huffs out a surprised, incredulous laugh. "The delusion is snarky!"
"That's offensive," the voice quips. "I'm no delusion."
It talks back. I'm having a conversation with a figment of my imagination.
"Then who are you? What are you?"
The blurred face in the mirror seems to smile. "Those are the kinds of questions Gatekeepers should be asking! You wouldn't believe how rare it is. Usually, you all just scream and cry, and it's such a bore. I have more important things to do than listen to you whine about how mad you are."
Bella's brows rise. "Who are you?" she repeats, back still flat against the wall, because, quite suddenly, the delusion seemed real. Perhaps, though, it only felt real because her growing irritation was visceral.
"Me?" the deep baritone inquires. "I'm a Guard."
"A Guard," she repeats flatly. "A Guard of what?"
"Why would you guard me? I mean, surely even my delusions should have a good reason for-"
"Don't you listen?" he interrupts. "You're not crazy. You're a Gatekeeper."
"You like to repeat things. Are you a parrot?" he asks, mirth flowing through the mirror. "Or are you just slow?"
Bella ignores his taunting, intent on finding the source of the delusion. Something she read, maybe. "What is a Gatekeeper?"
"That's the golden question now, isn't it? You lot, you Gatekeepers, never know who you are and we, the Guard, always know," he tells her. "We have to know in order to do our jobs – not that we actually need the help of a Gatekeeper, by the way. Guards are perfectly capable of guarding the Gates under normal circumstances. We usually don't need you."
Despite what many people assumed, Bella was quite intelligent, even if she didn't actively broadcast that trait; her skills of deduction were admirable and, as such, she was able to quickly read between the lines – as she should be able to, given the source of this entire conversation was her own malfunctioning mind. A single brow rose as she stared at the blurred face. "If you don't need me, Guard, then what are you doing here?"
He exhales heavily. She imagined that he might have rolled his eyes – that is, if delusions could have eyes. Bella wasn't completely convinced that she wasn't having an episode. She would stand by that assumption until proven otherwise.
"It's not exactly normal circumstances, right now. A Gate of the Seventh Dimension was opened by a-"
"-demon and he's gone around turning people to stone like a lunatic. You just can't trust demons these days-"
"-not that they were ever very trustworthy to begin with, you know? Signing contracts with blood was never a good idea. And the loopholes in those blasted things! You try to tell people and they ignore you! What ever happened to sensible people? Hmm? Did they escape to that world in the Third Dimension-"
"-because I've been there, and the people are actually very reasonable. Anyway, we Guards have to round up you Gatekeepers to stop this maniac. Are you listening to me?"
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"Great. At least there's no crying this time."
Bella placed her hands on the edge of the sink, her head hanging down between her shoulders, and she breathed deep, even inhalations, trying – and failing – to ignore the weight of eyes on the crown of her head. It is silent for several minutes until she feels like she has a grasp on reality, and then she looks up at the mirror again, wary, only half-surprised to find a blurred face still staring dispassionately at her.
"Are you quite done?"
"I think so."
"Great. Now, if you'll just step through the Seam."
Bella shakes her head. "What is that?"
The blurred face seems to frown. "I've never gotten far enough to explain that, actually," he claimed. Bella didn't find this particularly shocking, given his personality and his delivery, and she was fifty percent sure she made him up. She wondered if he wanted her help at all, or if he was under orders from some sort of unnamed authority – that is, if he was real and something far from ordinary was happening right now. "The Seam is almost like a Gate, but not quite."
"That explains nothing."
"I don't have time to expound on it. Just trust me. The Seam is safe for everyone. Just step through."
"Step through what?"
He made it sound very easy – perhaps too easy.
But Bella was never a coward, and she didn't feel like there was anything to fear at the moment. This was her own delusion, after all; to an extent, she should be safe in this daydream. Her mother usually was.
Bella traces her finger on the gold-tarnished edge of the mirror. "This mirror? Not something bigger?"
"The Seam expands," he explains briefly. "Come on. We're wasting time."
"Right," Bella nods, bracing herself as she puts her hand in the middle of the mirror. "What's the worst that could…happen…?"
To her amazement, her hand literally passes through the mirror, as easily as if she was pushing through water instead of glass and polished metal. Too easy was right, because when she tried to pull her hand back, her entire body was pulled forward instead – and Bella slipped through the mirror with a whoosh of air and a thud of her landing on unforgiving ground, knees pressed into dirt and twigs.
She looks up.
I have very attractive delusions.
He was younger than she expected, appearing only a few years older, and much taller, built lean, but sturdy. His face alone was otherworldly, with fine angles and straight planes, a sharp, square jaw, an angular nose, intense brows settled over mint-green eyes; his hair was a curled riot, brighter than a new penny. His clothing was odd, a remembrance of both past centuries and fantasy movies, with mocha leather pants tucked into brass-buckled boots, a crisp off-white shirt with laces on the sleeves and the collar, a vest two shades darker than his pants, and a weathered cloak of the richest brown. A dagger was strapped to both his left thigh and right upper arm. Everything about him was vibrant – all vivid eyes, bright hair, and tanned skin, brass, bronze, and copper.
"Well," he says after a long moment, looking down at her with an unreadable expression. "I've never seen a Gatekeeper so slight."
She frowns, standing, dusting off her knees and inspecting the fresh hole on the knees of her jeans. "Did you just call me short?"
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Bella looks over her shoulder, turning on her heel, looking for something to explain how and why she's no longer in her bathroom. All she can see, however, is thick forest and underbrush, remarkably tall trees, moss, and fog. The sky is a peculiar shade of purple-grey. She wondered if she was creative enough to think something like this up in the first place. "Where-"
"The Seam is closed now," he cuts in, dismissively gesturing his hand. "Only Guards can open a Seam, by the way, so don't go trying any magic."
"Yes, magic. It will be explained later," he pauses, sighing. "You can't be wearing that."
Bella, more than a little confused, tugs at the hem of her shirt. "And now you don't like my clothes?"
"I've no problem with them," he argues, eyes quickly examining the slender curves of her body. "I quite like the tight trousers. But the material is wrong. We don't want the demons knowing you're here yet."
"Because, of all things, my clothing will give me away," she mutters dryly.
"No, they can smell you, too. I wouldn't be surprised if they knew you were here already," he says, holding his palm out towards her. It was too casual for Bella to feel safe. "Hold still."
Before Bella could even think of protesting, golden, shimmery light shot out from the center of his palm, directly at her. She shut her eyes quick, anticipating pain in the wake of such utter brightness, but felt only a tingle of warmth, right down to her toes. Opening her eyes, Bella is pleasantly surprised to find herself dressed similarly to the Guard; coffee-colored leather pants, chocolate boots with silver buckles, a porcelain-hued billowing shirt, unlaced on the collar, but laced tightly at her wrists, and a cloak a shade darker than his. Bella quirks a brow. "A fairy Godfather?"
"What? Stop talking nonsense," he orders, thrusting his hand forward as he steps closer. "Take my hand."
For a moment, Bella wonders if she could refuse. It was her delusion, right? Certainly, she would have some free will or control of the details – but, oddly, the entire situation seemed out of her control. It seemed too real. But what did she have to lose? If the delusion was, in fact, not a delusion, then it would probably be in her best interest to trust this Guard who had the only answer to her returning home – and he did bring her through the Seam for a reason. The least she could do was humor him.
She reaches toward him, her palm sliding over his as strong, long fingers wrap around her wrist. His hold is firm and warm, hotter when the shimmery golden light erupts from his palm again. And then Bella is weightless and the world seems to be rushing around her and with a distinct, low pop, her feet meet the ground again. Her eyes, which must have closed at some point during transit, snap open, taking in the low rolling hill covered in bright grass and the steep rocky stairs that appear to be leading into a hidden entrance.
"Do hobbits live here?"
The Guard offers a dry expression with a shake of his head before he wordlessly lopes down the stairs. Bella follows, observing with wide eyes as the stone doorway seems to collapse in on itself when the Guard stops before it, muttering a word in a language she couldn't identify. After a second of hesitation, Bella steps over the crumbled stone that built back up after she crossed the threshold, much to her shock.
"Stop gawking," the Guard demands. "You're making us late."
"Late for what?"
The Guard doesn't answer – but then, Bella hadn't expected him to, anyway. She was beginning to understand his personality, which was as off-putting as his looks were inspiring; a tragic combination if there ever was one. The more time she spent around him, the less sure she was that the entire ordeal was a delusion. Everything felt too real, more real than her life had ever been, and she'd only been here for-
"Hey," she says, rushing after the Guard who had left her behind in the stonewalled tunnel. Her footsteps sound dry and she can feel the condensed pressure of the earth around her, indicating her location as being underground. "Won't anyone be missing me at home?"
The Guard glances back at her. "I doubt it," he answers bluntly. "Time passes differently between dimensions. Here, an hour might go by, and it would only be seconds to your world. You could be here for a hundred years and only be missing for a few days."
Bella could hardly wrap her mind around such information and, truly, she doesn't get a chance to, because soon the Guard is leading her into an open space, circular and made of clean slate stone. The ceiling is domed with a large, spectacular frosted glass skylight, which bathes the room in pure sunshine. Standing in the middle of the room is a middle-aged man with golden hair and wise, ocean-hued eyes that were too old for his face, dressed in a flowing, drab grey robe.
"Greetings," the man says.
"Lord," the Guard says with a bow of his head. "I've brought a Gatekeeper, though I fear for her mental health. She might be slow."
Bella glares at the penny-haired Guard, sure that if she had dreamed up this delusion, she would have created someone much kinder.
"Hush, Edward," the Lord admonishes tiredly before turning his wizened eyes on Bella. "I apologize. He has always been rather…caustic."
"We can't all be amenable," a female voice says, drawing Bella's attention to a devastatingly beautiful woman, all curves and honey hair.
"Like you have ever been amenable for one minute of your life," Edward retorts grumpily.
"You're jealous that I found my Gatekeeper first."
Edward snorts. "Your Gatekeeper is weak. Mine is strong, and a child one of the Last Originals."
"Don't brag, you-"
The Lord holds his hands up and both of the Guards are silenced. "I'm sure you are very confused," he says kindly to Bella. "That is understandable, and now that you are here, we will be able to explain, just as soon as Alice returns."
"Where's she gone now?" the female Guard asks, leaning against the stonewall.
A low pop echoes in the room and a short girl with dark hair materializes beside a taller blond man. "I had to retrieve my Gatekeeper, too. I might add that I've done so faster than either of you."
"Showoff," the female Guard mutters.
"Rose," the Lord warns. "Retrieve your Gatekeeper.
Rose huffs, slinking into one of the shadowed hallways as Alice, the returning Guard, begins to communicate with the man she'd brought back with her. She used sign language, waited until he nodded, and then held out her hand, much like Edward had done in the forest. Alice's magic – or whatever – was shimmery and golden, too.
"All of you know that trick, then?"
Edward cuts his eyes to Bella with a shrug. "Easy magic. Pretty standard and the least we can do."
"What's the most you can do?"
"Open the Seam."
"What exactly is a Seam-"
"Excellent question," the Lord cuts in from the center of the room, where he had not moved. Bella thought he might have been content to stand there for hours without twitching a muscle. His eyes, however, are not on Bella; rather, his gaze is directed at a brawny teenager shuffling behind Rose, hands stuffed in his pockets. "Good day, Emmett."
"Yeah," the teenager answers sullenly. "It's great. Can I go home now?"
"I'm afraid not," the Lord replies. "The demon is still on the loose and must be dealt with swiftly."
Alice translates with lithe fingers.
Edward crosses his arms, leans against a wall, and glares up at the ceiling.
And Bella, fully ensconced in the events unfolding – regardless of whether they are real or imagined – steps forward, head tilted to the side. "A demon that turns things to stone."
"From the Second Dimension," the Lord confirms with a nod. "I'm afraid he was able to summon a Gate himself, most likely with black magic. If he had opened a Seam, we would have been able to contain the issue. But a creature that comes in through the Gate can only be returned through the Gate."
"Hold on," Bella implored. "You need to explain some things first. What is a Seam? What is a Gate, for that matter? And…dimensions? Are we…where are we?"
"A curious mind," the Lord observes. "A Seam is a ripple in space. Dimensions are connected by threads of space, distance, and time. Nine dimensions support intelligent life, one of which you are in. We call it Hidden."
"Essentially," Edward injects, his tone bored, head rolling to the side to watch at Bella idly. "Hidden is a limbo between the dimensions, the origin of both life and the Seams."
"Open a Seam, go to a dimension," Rose adds. "But it's only space and distance. I could open a Seam here, right now, to any dimension, and I would only be able to enter whatever time that dimension is in – I wouldn't be able to go backwards or forwards."
The Lord's ocean-eyes, sad and wise, cast an appraising look at the three apparent Gatekeepers in the room. "Gates, then, are ripples in time and space," he states clearly.
"Time travel," Bella breathes, her eyes wide. "You're talking about time travel."
"It's more than time travel," Edward argues. "It supersedes time travel. A Gate can transport you into the past, the future, or the present of any dimension."
The part of Bella's brain that had enjoyed the strenuous physics of her engineering degree worked very quickly – not necessarily performing mathematical tasks, but absorbing and interpreting the implications of what a Gate was. And her conclusion sent dangerous shivers down her spine. "That's a lot of power."
"Which is why there are Gatekeepers and Guards," the Lord says. "Gatekeepers are the only life forms in the entire universe that can completely control the Gates, and Guards are meant to teach and protect these select individuals. It is very strong magic and it can be deadly."
A question burned on Bella's tongue, which she did not hesitate to ask. "Gates are black holes, aren't they? Controlled black holes."
"Controlled by magic, yes," the Lord confirms, clasping his hands together.
Bella furrows her brows. "Magic," she repeats. "I've never done anything magical in my life."
"Yeah, me either," Emmett scoffs.
Alice's Gatekeeper, the deaf blond man, seems to agree.
"It is very specific magic. It has to be, for as powerful as it is. Gatekeepers can open Gates and correct time-specific issues. Guards are able to do anything else necessary," the Lord clarifies. "If a Gatekeeper could do anything a Guard could do, or vice versa, the balance of the universe and the dimensions would be thrown off significantly."
"And we wouldn't want that," Rose reasoned.
"Enough of this," Edward says impatiently. "Do you know where the demon is right now? Still in the Hidden?"
The Lord nods. "It is. He has left a trail through the last month and, from what we've discovered, the last mid-winter solstice. I would like you, Rose and Alice, to assist your Gatekeepers to these times," he directs.
"What about us?" Bella asks hesitantly, almost dreading the answer. Everything was too real, too serious, and made too much sense to be a delusion. She was very close to fearing for her life instead of her sanity now.
"As the child of the Last Original," the Lord tells her ominously. "You and Edward will send the demon back to his own time, and lock the Gate behind you."
Bella was delighted to discover that, if possible, Edward could be grumpier. He stomped through the thick forest, seemingly fueled completely by irritation. He did not stop to offer her a hand or open a Seam, which Bella thought might have been quicker and the most logical choice if he wanted to "get this bloody ordeal over with".
She didn't know what to make of him, or the situation, so she stayed quiet and thought about everything the Lord had told them. She felt like she was missing all sorts of information, and worked on clarifying all of it in her mind.
From what she knew, Gatekeepers were specifically magical masters of time and space, and Guards were their tutors, who had a side-job of being bodyguards. Seams were ways to jump through dimensions and Gates were timelines. And demons, apparently, came in life-sucking-turn-to-stone varieties who dabbled in black magic.
The more she thought about it, the more Bella felt like she must have hit her head. Hidden seemed to be some mix of Alice in Wonderland – without the colorful talking animals – and Lord of the Rings, both of which were books she'd read in the past week. She could easily explain it all as some psychotic break that she would eventually wake of from – at least, that is, until Edward stopped suddenly in the middle of the forest, arm thrown to his side, hand reaching for the dagger on his thigh.
Bella stopped, too, frozen in her tracks as Edward crouched low to the ground, movements graceful, hood flipped over his penny-colored hair.
He moves like lightening, then, striking out at something that is too quick for Bella to see. He curses – loudly – when the blur disappears, and looks down at his feet.
A stone rabbit, frozen in leaping motion.
"Great," he gripes. "We could have had him."
Bella ignores him and kneels beside the rabbit, hovering her hand over the tip of the ear. The animal looked so frightened and her heart ached.
"This is upsetting you." Edward sighs heavily and kneels down beside her. "You can fix this, you know."
He nods, mint-eyes assessing her critically. "This demon, he drains the time, the life, out of creatures. You have time-specific magic. Just think…reverse, or something."
"You make it sound very easy."
"That's because it is easy," he claims arrogantly. "Magic is an extension of will. You happen to have a lot of it, so magic should jump to do your bidding. Here." Edward slides his hand over hers and Bella thinks about how much more gentle his fingers were than they felt earlier. He guides her hand to touch the cool head of the rabbit. "Now just…will the time back."
Bella focuses on the specific grain of stone beneath her fingers and imagines what the rabbit must have been like before the demon drained it's time. Take your time back, she tells it.
And then, a strange warmth seems to shoot through her veins and Bella gasps, eyes snapping open. "I don't think I could have imagined this," she breathes, watching the silvery glow of her fingers, feeling the crisp heat licking at her palms, the shimmer of her magic – her magic – flowing over the stone rabbit. It appears as though the embers of the silver energy melts away the cold stone, revealing the soft texture of the rabbit's fur beneath her stunned fingers.
The rabbit's nose twitches once before it darts off.
Bella's hand falls to her side.
"I told you," Edward says quietly, standing. "You're not crazy. You're a Gatekeeper. Let's go. It's getting dark."
Camping with someone who did magic was odd – not that Bella had anything to compare it to. She'd never been camping a day in her life and what little she knew about it was from television sitcoms. She was sure, however, that not one of those campers, or any camper in her dimension, had ever found a clearing and simply waved his hand over the land to create two tents and provisions for a fire. When Edward did exactly that, he didn't even stop walking.
Bella was impressed.
And confused. "You can't make a fire with your magic?"
"Woman," Edward grinds out, his irritation manifesting into an exasperated glare. "Of course I can make magic fire. I'm not a child. There are some things I like to do the old-fashioned way."
"Children can do magic, too?"
"Yes," he answers shortly.
Bella wouldn't have ever said it to him, but she thought Edward was warming up to her. He didn't start conversations or even extend common courtesy, but he did answer her questions without cursing at her in his weird language. She took that to mean she was growing on him – which meant that she would be able to ask the question that had been burning in her mind.
She bid her time, kept as quiet as she was able as she followed him through the forest until he came across another frozen rabbit. He gestures an impatient hand towards it and crouches down, hands poised to catch the little creature as Bella uses her silvery magic to melt the stone away; Edward promptly and mercifully snaps the rabbit's neck, offering a silent nod, which Bella took as a "Well done, you annoying twit".
She watches him skin the rabbit and start the fire with precision, and imagines that this was how he preferred to live – simple and off the land of the Hidden. She could imagine herself living quite comfortably like this, as well. She liked the way the setting sun brought out the copper in his hair.
It wasn't shocking to Bella that she felt something for Edward – he was magnificent and unattainable, just like every Disney Prince. The only thing she was certain of was the fact that she was no Cinderella.
"You said I was a child of the Last Originals," she says as they sit near the fire, the smell of cooked rabbit thick in the air. "What does that mean?"
He looks over at her for a moment, expression unreadable. "The Originals were the first conducts of magic," he says after a long moment. "The first Gatekeepers before there were Gates or Seams or Guards, when it was all just the universe and the Hidden. They had a humanoid shape, but their forms were insubstantial, just pure energy and magic. A time came when they discovered the Gates. But the Gates required extreme sacrifices of life to initially open and create. Most of the Originals were combined into the same body, and others became Guards by way of being too weak to be a Gatekeeper. It was a time of strife – of course it was, because great power calls for great sacrifice. By the time Gatekeepers were spread into the dimensions and worlds for their own safety, and Guards had been taken with them or assigned to Guard the Hidden, only one Original was left. The Last Original. The remaining Guards, my ancestors hundreds of years ago, opened a seam for the Last Original to flow through, still in the form of pure magic."
"If the Last Original was pure magic, then how…?"
Edward stops, turning the fool force of his mint-green gaze on her. "You have a magical signature," he says plainly. "The exact silver of the Last Original, actually. The other Gatekeepers are all golden, like the Guards."
Bella is silenced of her questions after that.
There are no answers to be found anymore.
Time passes differently in the Hidden.
According to Edward, the days are perpetually longer than the nights, which gives them time to trail the demon for hours upon hours. Bella's body seems to thrive in the environment, because she does not feel thirst, cold, or hunger as she practices her magic on time-stolen creatures. Edward seems to humor her each time they stop in order for her to return the time to the animals.
She believes he finds the task important, perhaps more important that the actual catching of the demon. There are certain habits he has, such as sticking to the well-worn paths in the forest and eating only fruits that have seeds which can be planted, that indicate he pays attention to the balance of life.
His grumpy act wasn't fooling her.
She wasn't sure it ever did.
Edward liked her.
He liked her.
This was…not bad per say, but not exactly good, either.
She was beautiful, the aura of her soul positively glowing with the infinite silver magic of the Last Original. She was the Last Original and she probably had no idea what she could do.
She did know how to drive him crazy, though. All those incessant questions. He was unused to the curiosity, because the people who raised him and the people around them already knew everything – they had no reason to ask questions.
But she did.
Edward found that, perhaps more than she liked asking questions, he liked answering them.
And that just wouldn't do, because she couldn't just stay in the Hidden. She would go, eventually, and he would stay, because he was a Guard and he could not leave.
So he covered up his attraction with layers of glaring and irritation.
And when she was not looking, he allowed his gaze to linger.
Bella had never run so fast in her entire life, and even then, her shorter legs were no match for Edward's, who seemed to fly through the forest. Had she the time to think clearly, she might have wondered if his speed was an attribute of his Guard magic.
The demon was right before them.
After days of searching, it was almost humorous that the demon had been only traveling in a confused circle. Edward, upon discovering this, had admitted that the design of the Hidden was created purely to create confusion; if you did not belong in this limbo, you were cursed to travel in circles. The demon's circle, in particular, was rather wide, but easily tracked once Edward understood the path. Bella didn't dare do anything but heal the stolen-time and follow his sure footpath. Her blood seemed to sing as soon as Edward detected the presence of the demon.
She was ready.
She was designed to heal this fracture of time and space.
The demon was everything nightmares dreamed up – dark, horned, glaring red eyes, half-man, and half-beast. It didn't speak or even attempt to. Instead, it seemed to salivate at the sight of, what Bella had to assume, was her magical signature, the silver one, and the magic aura of the Last Original.
"I'm the one with the dagger," Edward tells it, almost angrily, nearly possessive and downright protective. "Look at me, not her."
The demon doesn't listen.
It charges forward, aggressive, deadly claws out first.
Edward tackles it, managing to knock it onto the forest floor. "Send it back!" he yells, throwing one of his daggers at the demon's face with precision, though the hit seems to do nothing to the beast. It's red eyes are still trained on Bella.
She stumbles back, pushing her fear away ruthlessly. She's ready. Bella holds her shaking hands forward, relying completely on instinct as magic gathers between her palms. Make it go home. Make it go home and forget it ever came here. Make it forget that it can open a Gate.
Shimmering, silvery magic forms into a tight ball, which explodes, hitting the demon dead center and sucking it into a blindingly bright void. The demon disappears – but the void remains, growing darker into a true black hole, pulling trees into the gaping mouth.
A strong arm wraps around her waist, pulling her back against a broad chest, lips appearing at her ear. "Tell it to go away," Edward orders her, voice like velvet over silk, gently guiding one of her hands out, palm up. "Or it'll take this whole place with it."
Stop, now. Please stop.
Miraculously – magically – the black hole collapses on itself, as easily as sunrise, the silver magic absorbing right into Bella's skin. Naturally.
Bella leans back into Edward's chest, suddenly tired beyond all reason, but safe and secure in the arms of her Guard.
Her face erupts in flames. The threat was gone and now Bella was developing feelings for Edward, who probably didn't want a thing to do with her and-
Bella wasn't sure how it happened.
She didn't care.
One moment, she was panicking internally, the next, lips were on hers, ardent, demanding entrance, and she was helpless against them.
She had the wild thought that Edward was much like a little boy on a playground, tugging at the pigtails of the girl he fancied.
The thought, and many others, were pushed away by Edward's strong hands on her body, pulling at the cloak he fashioned from magic, caressing the curve of her breast. His lips found the juncture of her neck and shoulder as his hands found the ties on her shirt and pants.
For her part, Bella's hands were just as insistent and arguably more forceful, pent up, and repressed lust guiding the movement of her body, the path of her hands, the tightening of her fingers in the riot of his penny-colored hair.
She gasped into the twilight forest as her back found purchase on the ground, chin tilted up as Edward's passionate mouth found the most sensitive places on her body. He covered her completely, their considerable height difference shrinking her, making her feel more feminine than she had in her entire life. His fingers probed the slickness between her thighs, carefully examining every inch of her womanhood until she shattered twice beneath him, sobbing, clutching at his strong shoulders. His narrow hips settled into the dip of her thighs, his hands sliding around to arch her back, forcing their chests into close contact.
He entered her in one smooth thrust, punctuated by her shiver of delight and his groan of ecstasy. Edward holds her very close and pays attention to her cues, his eyes bright and iridescent as he gasps her name into the open air.
It was much later before Bella could speak, and when she did, she could feel how swollen her lips were – she quite liked the feeling. The moon is bright overhead and the night is still warm. "I didn't realize you liked me," she said into the firm muscles of his lean chest.
His large hand strokes the curls of her hair, the other tapping an unidentifiable rhythm onto her spine. "You weaken me," he says eventually. "I don't like that, but you are addictive, even with your inane questions."
She props her chin onto his collarbone, feeling weightless and happy and decidedly not crazy – and then she sees his suddenly panicked expression. "Edward?"
Only, when she speaks, she is no longer looking at the man who quite possible ruined her for all others.
Instead, she is gaping at her own reflection in her bathroom mirror, naked as the day she was born, lips bitten bright red, cheeks drained of color, dark hair matted.
And pushed into the corner of her bathroom are her clothes.
Her eyes are murky-green again.
She enjoys the time she is allowed to sit at the window. She likes the sunshine because it reminds her of a moment of happiness and adventure; she is quick to turn away at dusk, pained by the memories that were truly delusions.
With the medications, she no longer hears his voice and no movements are in the mirrors.
Angela and Ben visit sometimes, but Bella rarely remembers what they speak about.
She cries at the scent of pine and leather.
Time doesn't matter to one who was never a Gatekeeper.
Bella wakes up with a gasp, eyes wide, sitting straight on the cot-like bed in her single room. The door is open, as they always are in the mental hospital. The clock indicates the time as the middle of the night, right when the influence of the medication was the weakest.
There is a voice in her head, painfully familiar.
And in the mirror, mint-green eyes beckon her forward. "You're not crazy," he repeats, his voice cracked and dry, as if he has been saying this same sentence for hours or years or forever.
Bella stands from the bed, hospital gown hanging off her body. The mirror in this room is small and this time, Bella doesn't care if he's a delusion. "I've missed you."
"Come back through the Seam."
"You're not real," she argues, on the verge of a breakdown.
At this point, the argument is only reflex.
Edward is the most real person in her world.
"I am real. Come back."
Bella frowns, tracing the edge of the mirror, a repeat of history; she'd done the same thing the first time. "Why did I have to leave?"
"Lord said it had to do with using the Last Original's magic," Edward says dismissively, pushing his hand easily through the mirror. "Take my hand. You'll never have to leave again."
Bella smiles, her fingers curling around Edward's, as easily as breathing.
And she allows herself to be pulled into the Hidden, through the Seam.
"I love you."