"Bella," Edward began, watching the yellow shine of lamplight off her dark hair. "Would you like to go on a date tonight?"
Ridiculous, he told himself contemptuously. He shouldn't be so nervous. It was just-she'd been refusing him on all counts recently, she didn't want to take his ring or his hand or anything he tried to give, and he could only assume that she was losing interest in the relationship. The next logical step was for her to... leave.
So maybe Edward was right to be nervous after all.
He traced the flower-patterned coverlet, concentrating on the slip of rough fabric beneath his fingertips instead of the tension coiling inside of him as she hesitated. Her heartbeat was the rhythm to which he'd set his world, so when it quickened, he caught his breath.
"All right," Bella said finally, her voice scraping a little bit on the words. She was speaking slowly enough that Edward had to force his mind not to wander. "We could see a movie, I guess."
She didn't sound all that excited. Edward shoved the thought aside.
She'd said yes.
It was just-he'd never liked movies. A vampire wouldn't be fooled by the best of human actors: talent was laughable against supernatural eyes that caught every facial tic and delayed reaction, the most minute of expressions and deviations in tone. The flashing lights and amplified sounds were hell on vampire senses, and spending two hours in a room filled with pulsing human blood and warmth and worse, their thoughts, was the furthest thing from fun he could imagine.
But Bella had said yes, she wanted to go with him, and there could be nothing better in the world. Edward was at her side before her heart had time to beat, hugging her as tightly as her body could stand.
It was that same feeling that he always got when she smiled at him, a tangle of love and relief and joy, the thought-I don't deserve this, but I'm damn well going to savor it while it lasts.
He smiled against her hair and felt warm from the happiness that she'd said yes, she'd chosen him. The sunshine beamed warm golden through his closed lids and Bella's scent was fire and sweetness, lying heavy on his tongue. Edward felt dizzy with longing and love.
She was so beautiful and she'd chosen him and he would do anything in the world to make it last.
Edward sighed, shifted on the family room couch, and sighed again. His skin was too sensitive to be fooled into thinking the cushions were soft or the fabric smooth, and he could count the denim fibers in his jeans by feel alone. The air felt gritty in his lungs.
The rest of the family had gone hunting but Edward had begged off, and from a distance of a few miles their thoughts were almost overwhelming. He saw the lush green forest over and over again through their eyes, smelled the fecund soil and damp rotting leaves, tasted fresh blood on his tongue. Instincts and longing burned molten in his chest, the desperate need to hunt.
His throat burned and he closed his eyes, letting the world filter in through them.
It seemed like no time at all before his siblings came clattering in, bringing a rush of laughter and energy that was only ever possible when warm blood ran through their veins. Edward rested his head against the couch back and looked upside down at them, wondering if they would seem more human from that angle.
Four people done in white and gold, all smooth lines like they'd been drawn by a talented artist's hand. The scene might have been idyllic if their designer clothes hadn't been drenched in blood.
Rosalie's shirt was sodden and slipping off one shoulder, her wet hair hanging in a thick golden rope down her back, and she was scowling horribly. Emmett had pushed her headfirst into a stream when her back had been turned, and her seething rage had only made him laugh. Then he'd done it again.
Edward had never actually understood the union of Emmett and Rosalie.
"I hate you all," Rosalie announced, sending a glare around the room. "I hate you and I'm going to kill you all."
"I'm going to state the obvious and point out that we're already dead," Jasper said mildly, pushing damp hair away from his face. He leaned against the wall like he was posing there, unbothered by the fact that he was dripping with blood. Jasper could usually get away with blaming Emmett for any property damage.
Glowering, Rosalie made an effort to storm upstairs, but Emmett caught her by the elbow and smiled goofily down at her. Their minds fell into sync with alarming speed. Clean bed sheets, smooth skin, the feel of his lips against hers.
Edward turned to them with eyebrows raised to derail the train of thought. "All? What'd I do?"
Rosalie looked pensive. "Well, nothing," she admitted. "I just don't like you."
She wore even the glint in her eyes like another piece of fine jewelry, and Edward snorted. Sometimes he wondered what would have happened if the two of them had followed Carlisle's plan and gotten together. The relationship would have ended in murder: the only question was how long they'd have been able to hold out.
"At all," Rosalie added as an afterthought.
Edward sat up and twisted around in his seat to better roll his eyes at her. "I don't like you either, actually."
"Your eyes are black," she sniped back. "You should've come hunting with us. Idiot."
Jasper, who had been sending out ineffective waves of happiness and love for the last two minutes, let them fade with a sigh. "You're all hopeless," he said heavily, pushing his way upstairs. "Move, Em."
Edward gave up on scowling at Rosalie in favor of sinking back into the couch with a shiver. The air was cold, and the cushions pressed to his skin were even colder, the temperature creeping through the air like a mist.
Edward closed his eyes again, reaching out blindly and grabbing a pillow to shove over his face. He felt the disturbance in the air and the dip in the cushions as Alice sat beside him.
"Seriously, you'd better drink something before Carlisle gets home. You know how much he hates to see us with black eyes."
"I will," Edward told the pillow before Alice yanked it away with an impatient huff, bringing the world back into view. Edward stared. For a moment everything looked all wrong, lights turned into darks. Their eyes and Rosalie's swinging hair and Emmett's white pants, which he had worn against all Alice's instructions to the contrary.
He blinked and the world returned to normal, though the first picture was still printed on the inside of his lids like a negative.
Jasper had come downstairs to lounge against the banister, and was looking at him oddly.
"You all right, Ed?"
"Yeah, fine," Edward said quickly, his voice catching on the words. He shook his head like that would dislodge his own thoughts and turned back to Alice, who was looming over him like a thundercloud. Edward would be forever in awe of the fact that Alice, who generally ended a hunt with her clothes and the forest around her in shreds, had never once gotten a single strand of hair out of place.
"I'm getting pretty tired of this, Edward Cullen. You always smell of her." There was something suspiciously gentle about her voice on the last word, like she was overcompensating for some strong emotion.
Edward sat up, frowning at the way Alice-well, her thoughts weren't exactly pleasant. "I thought you liked Bella, Alice."
Alice pressed her lips together hard. "I-do," she said slowly. "I know I'll love her someday. But I can't say she isn't trying my patience with her attraction to that mutt."
"Jacob's her friend," Edward told her reflexively. "And-look, he has a name."
Alice snorted. "Yeah, okay. And I suppose he calls you Edward as polite as can be?"
Rosalie finally managed to make it upstairs with Emmett trailing behind disconsolately like an abandoned pet.
Edward shrugged, closing his eyes again and leaning back. His head felt too heavy to hold up. The leaves outside thrummed loudly as raindrops hit them, and the sound was terribly distracting.
"You could look at me when I'm talking to you!" Alice snapped. And they were supposed to be less prickly once they had fed.
Edward grinned, trying to look repentant. "Sorry, Alice."
Her mood shifted rapidly to the other end of the spectrum as she smiled at him, eyes warm. Honestly, vampires were worse than the wolves when it came to mood swings. They were just better at hiding it.
And in a family of the undead, the most peaceful atmosphere could become a bloodbath in seconds.
Jasper, wincing at the lust beginning to emanate from Emmett and Rosalie's bedroom, sat heavily on the couch and snatched up the remote in one long-fingered hand. The TV took almost a full second to flicker on, and he tapped his fingers against his thigh impatiently while he waited.
Jasper liked reality shows, though it was one of the best kept secrets of the family.
Instead of leaving the room as he normally would, Edward fixed his gaze on the TV and forced himself to watch. A dull headache began to build immediately from trying to look past the pixilation to the images beneath, but Edward ignored it. He didn't-if Bella wanted to see a movie, then he wanted to really watch it with her, not just pretend.
It wasn't a big deal or anything. He just didn't get the feeling they had much in common, and he wanted to. He wanted to like what she liked.
When the little sky visible between thick layers of clouds had gone brilliant with sunset then faded into purple dusk, Edward found himself on the Swan's front stoop. He had been stupidly excited all day, his attention drifting constantly until four very irritated siblings had all but thrown him from the house.
He held his hand poised to knock, contemplated the likelihood of punching a hole through the flimsy wood, and rang the doorbell instead. The sound hurt his ears, so Edward flinched back as if a bit of distance would help.
Two heartbeats picked up on the second floor, and a fine wind smelling of fir blew hair across his eyes as he waited for the few seconds it took for them to come down the stairs. The air ruffled against his skin and he glanced up to see a lone pigeon in the sky. Its feathers were so waterlogged that each beat of its wings seemed to take an eternity.
There was something very exhausting about trying to slow himself to match the world's pace, Edward thought, staring up at the individual droplets of water collected on its wings.
Edward impatiently shoved the hair away with one hand, only to have it flop around, made heavy from the rain, and fall back over his eyes. He finally gave up just as Bella opened the door, dressed in jeans and a crisp new blouse.
Edward looked at her, hair going flat from the rain, her nose a little pink, and smiled.
"Hey," she said, her voice soft and sweet. "Ready for some crappy romance flick?"
It was amazing, when the world was so loud-people breathing and thoughts echoing and a heavy set of footsteps down the street-how easy it was to pick her voice out of the noise.
"Sure," he said, realizing she expected an answer.
Charlie lurked ominously in the background, glaring at Edward with silent threats spilling from his mind. He'd shuddered internally at the word 'romance,' and Edward bit his lip on a smile. Was this what Bella wanted? A normal, human romance with awkward kisses and actual dates?
He could-he could give her that. Anything.
Anything she wanted at all.
Edward stepped inside and felt the warmth of the house seep through him like melted butter through bread, combing through his damp hair with his fingertips and pulling his wet shirt away from his skin. Next time he'd need to remember to wear a raincoat. Charlie thought he was weird enough as it was.
He was careful to stay on the carpet so as not to damage the wooden floor with his muddy shoes, but Charlie didn't seem too appreciative of the consideration. Edward smiled at him anyway and turned back to Bella. He felt warmer already.
As he was helping Bella into her jacket, Edward heard footsteps and smelled the unmistakable scent of wet dog wafted through the open window. A moment later the front door slammed open, and Jacob Black stood framed against the sky.
Edward clenched his fingers around the shiny fabric of Bella's coat. Not now.
Jacob's mind wasn't set on any particular path, just a tangle of thoughts and half-formed plans. He was bored. He'd decided to pay Bella a visit in the hopes of separating her from her stinking leech boyfriend. Really, his timing couldn't have been better.
At least today he'd deigned to wear a shirt, though it was so tight Edward wasn't actually sure if it qualified.
"Hey, Bells," Jacob said, nodding. "Charlie." Leech, he added silently, eyes glinting with malice as they glanced over Bella and came to rest on Edward's face.
It was always disturbing seeing himself in the Quileutes' thoughts, his face pale as death with bloody eyes and fangs. Their awareness allowed them to see past the glamour of the undead to the truth-not physically, maybe, but when it came to character they were pretty much dead-on.
Looking particularly ugly today, sucker, Jacob thought, his mental voice focused and clear.
He crossed his arms, flexing slightly to make sure Bella got the full impact of his muscles, and Edward rolled his eyes.
Like what you see, leech?
As if, Edward mouthed back at him. Out loud, he said, "What do you want, Jacob?"
Jacob shrugged, which was apparently his response to everything and God, Edward just wanted to hit him. As if aware of the effect he'd had, Jacob smiled more broadly, sweeping the room with his gaze.
"I was just-" His eyes came to rest on Bella's half-zipped coat. "Hey, you guys going somewhere?"
Bella grinned at him, her cheeks gone brilliant with color. "Yeah, a movie."
Charlie snorted from his place on the stairway, his thoughts marginally more cheerful with Jacob's arrival. Ironic how in a room with a vampire and a werewolf it was the human man that was cast half in darkness, eyes glinting yellow like a monster's from the shadows of the hall.
Come on, Jake, give that Cullen kid a run for his money.
"A movie?" Jacob made a passable attempt at appearing devastated by the news.
Watch this, Cullen, he thought loudly, and it was a pity that Bella wasn't a mind reader, because his cheerful mental voice completely undermined his expression. I can play her like a-what's the saying? Dude, she's gonna let me come with.
Jacob cast a laughing glance at him, too quick for the humans to see, before pouting again in Bella's direction and dropping his eyes to the ground. Really, he had her down to a tee.
Bella always had had a soft spot for dogs.
"Oh, Jake..." Bella sighed, her scent filling the room to the brim with fire. That and the loudness of Jacob's thoughts combined into a screaming hell-Edward lost control, just for a moment, and flinched back from the deafening sensations on all sides.
A spider skittered across the floor two rooms over and he heard the rhythmic thumping of the laundry from the basement. The oven sent heat pulsing through the walls, and when Edward closed his eyes, the world glowed red-hot.
In keeping with the theme, Bella continued as Jacob had known she would. "You should come with us, Jake," she offered, chewing her bottom lip. "Of course we'd love to have you." So that he wouldn't have to listen to her words, Edward watched the dizzying change of her lip from pink to white as she bit down.
Jacob sent a mental snicker Edward's way. The wolves really were used to communicating by thought-Edward had never met anyone able to do it with the same level of control.
"If you're sure it won't mess things up-I mean, I am kinda lonely..." Jacob trailed off meekly.
He was overdoing it, Edward thought dispassionately. Trying to play shy when insecurity was a bad fit on him, and it wasn't like Bella was his only friend. What, had he lived under a rock until she'd come to Forks? Bella couldn't possibly fall for his act.
"Of course we don't mind," Bella said earnestly.
So apparently she could.
Edward pressed his lips together on a frown and cast his gaze to the ground as Jacob had done seconds before, but Bella's eyes weren't on him and he was glad for that. Bad enough that he was pathetic enough to be upset by something as minor as this. She didn't need to be a witness.
In turning away from them, Edward's eyes met Charlie's, and they shared a quick, startled glance. Edward looked down again. The scent of blood was cloying and sickly sweet on his tongue.
Bella turned to him then, all bright eyes and a gentle smile. "Edward, you don't mind if he comes, right?" Rich blood gushing through her veins and Jacob's heart pounding like a drum and the steady whooshing of a thousand people's breaths.
His head was pounding. They were all so loud.
Edward forced a smile and tried to make it real. He was being a selfish idiot to want to keep Bella from her friend. So Jacob was good at manipulating her-Bella didn't want to hear it, and it was none of Edward's business. It was time he got over himself.
"Of course not," he said, fingers worrying at the hem of his jacket. The fabric might have been woven from metal wires instead of thread. He couldn't really tell the difference.
Jacob didn't try to hide his wide grin as they stepped outside.
Messed up your plans for the night, huh, leech. What, were you planning on sucking her dry? Ugh, you sick freak.
In the half-hour they'd been inside, the air had become freezing cold with stars glinting like ice chips in the sky. The skin of Bella's hands began to purple as she and Jacob puffed out warm breath. Edward watched, entranced despite himself. It was like little clouds of diamonds in the air.
He avoided looking at the space in front of him, where his own breath was invisible against the cold. Unnecessary.
Bella shivered and Edward hurried them to the warmth of her car. Of course she'd insisted on taking the truck, even though it would lengthen the drive by half again at least. Absolute loyalty to the thing despite the obstacles in her way: it was awfully familiar. And the new coat of paint stank of wolves.
He'd never liked red, anyway.
And here he was being an ungrateful bastard again, Edward chided himself. God, couldn't he go two minutes without doing something wrong?
"So obviously, I'm driving," Bella said as she wrestled with the door to the driver's seat. The handle was rusted shut. "And Jacob can sit in the middle, because Edward, I know your track record and it sucks. I don't think Jacob wants to find himself flying through the door because you accidentally elbowed him."
She still hadn't gotten over the time he'd dropped her copy of Wuthering Heights out the window. In retrospect, being what he was, Edward should have thought of a better excuse than clumsiness.
Jacob's attention was jerked from sorting through his fantasies, laying out the most graphic in crystal clarity for Edward to see. "You mean I'm sitting next to him?" That thing?
Bella laughed softly. There was no reason for her cheeks to be flushing red. "Uh huh. Learn to make nice with Edward for a change."
Jacob climbed into the cab of the truck like every move was a great sacrifice on his part. If leech-boy hadn't been there, he reflected angrily, then he would have been alone in the seat with Bella.
Bastard, he thought loudly, just in case Edward hadn't gotten the gist of his mind.
Edward tried and failed to ignore Jacob's thoughts as he settled into his own seat, unable to tear his eyes from Bella's face. The streetlight illuminating half of her with a soft glow while the rest was cast in shadow, skin stained silver in the light of the moon, hair threaded with starlight like tinsel wound among the strands. Heart beating out the rhythm of her life beneath her skin.
Kill you kill you kill you, Jacob snarled, distracted for the moment from his fantasies. His hackles rose and a growl rumbled from his chest. Get your filthy eyes off her, you freak, she's mine.
Bella started the engine, the truck chugging down along the street as the scent of gasoline grew almost overpowering. The air inside the cab began to heat up and dust motes spun like a thousand miniature galaxies.
Edward leaned against the car door so that the handle dug into his side. His clothes felt prickly and uncomfortable against his skin, the heated air was stale in his lungs, his hands felt brittle as ice. Through the window he could see the world, trapped behind glass like a butterfly with pinned wings.
The werewolf smell was hitting his gag reflexes, and he was tempted to curl into a sullen ball for the remainder of the drive. Instead, he looked over at Bella again, letting the fact that she was happy erase everything bad in the world. She was smiling at nothing, cheeks pink, the scent of her adrenaline in the air.
And he thought, she had to stay this way. Whatever it took.
The drive seemed to flash by in no time at all, and when they'd reached the bright lights of the theater, Edward got out of the car almost before it had come to a stop. Bright lights beamed out over the pavement, illuminating the street in a neon-colored mess. The stars were almost invisible now.
Edward didn't bother to look around when they entered the building: they were all the same. Obnoxious carpeting, overpowering stench of popcorn, couples making out in the back row of every theater. There was even the cashier sneaking one too many treats from the snack bar.
And the people. There were so many of them.
He hated crowds, always had. Throngs of people whose minds invaded his until he could barely remember his own name, a pulsing mass of blood and beating hearts and-life.
Edward swallowed hard, trying to push back the longing that was boiling inside of him.
"Edward," Bella called, her voice only audible to him over the din of the crowd. Even Jacob, standing a few feet away, couldn't hear it. "Edward, the tickets'll sell out!"
Edward nodded and followed her, trying to pay attention, but he was being pulled in a thousand directions at once, and his concentration was wavering like a candle flame.
It took a massive amount of willpower not to flinch back the moment he entered the theater, trailing behind as Bella went to find a seat and Jacob followed sulkily. Edward resisted the urge to cover his ears from the influx of minds, a wave of memories and feelings washing through him. His head was splitting, there were too many thoughts for it to contain, and he was-
Johnny, cool it with the stupid nicknames!
Come on put your arm around me just a little closer please-
I didn't pay to watch a half-hour of ads!
Ignoring the snapshots of memories flashing through his mind, Edward went to sit beside Bella on one of the cushioned plastic seats. Jacob had barely lowered himself down on her other side when the lights dimmed, casting the theater in darkness as the movie began. The colors lost some of their luster without light shining down, but apart from that-it could have been pitch black and he wouldn't have noticed a difference. Edward could see just as clearly as before. He gripped the armrest, staring up at the screen.
It was maybe ten minutes in when one of the couples in the back row decided to take it a step further. Trying and failing to keep her laughter down, the woman was struggling to pull off her boyfriend's pants. Edward felt the rough denim against his own hands, heard the muffled voices as if they were right in his ear. He tried to concentrate as hard as he could on the movie, but-his mind could focus on too many things at once, and it didn't help at all.
Their arousal was washing over him and he was them, it was he who was inside that woman, he who was kissing her boyfriend's neck, all tangled together in a mess of hot want that he shouldn't be a part of.
It was disgusting, they deserved privacy-well, all right, as much privacy as could be expected in a public place. But what he did-invading people's minds-it wasn't right.
Edward shut his eyes as if that would block out the images, trying without success to empty his mind.
Jacob reached behind Bella to prod his shoulder with a hand sticky from popcorn. "What, Cullen, not enjoying the movie?" he whispered, his hot breath washing over Edward. The distraction was actually welcome.
"It's great," he said quietly, leaning back and staring up at the screen. It was almost impossible to see the picture through its pixilation. There were too many confusing elements, lights and shapes and colors that made up the whole.
The air began to feel heavy in his lungs, the darkness of the theater weighing him down. He took a breath that felt empty, somehow, like he'd inhaled no oxygen at all. Like he-needed it. Edward froze.
Jacob looked at him oddly.
"Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?" he asked in a whisper. Stupid bloodsucking freak.
Bella was immersed in the movie, her lips moving along with the actor's words.
"Sorry," Edward muttered instinctively, dazed and confused. He didn't need to breathe, he reminded himself. Didn't need the oxygen, either. It was just that it was much too hot in the crowded room, the mingling smells confusing his senses, the sound of someone blinking like crashing thunder to his ears.
Too many people in too small a space.
Edward glanced down to see that his hand was shaking against the armrest, and realized with a shock that he was dangerously close to the edge. He excused himself and was out of the theater before Bella could do more than blink in surprise.
There were people milling around in the hallway-a movie had just ended, and half of them seemed to want to hang around and chat about what they'd seen. When several girls turned in Edward's direction, faces hazy with lust, he ducked into the closest bathroom. Their thoughts were just as clear from there, but a layer of plaster between them gave him at least the illusion of peace.
Edward looked around at the room-wet tiled floor, wall-to-wall mirror, marbled counter with three sinks and an overflowing trashcan in the corner. A few crumpled paper towels had missed their mark and were scattered on the ground, so soaked through with water that they'd gone almost transparent.
The door opened and let in a rush of warmth and the scent of blood. A man entered, heading straight for the urinal, so Edward went to the sink and pretended to wash his hands. Beneath the fingerprints covering the mirror, he could see his own reflection. His skin looked so white it was blue underneath the florescent lighting, and it darkened the shadows around his eyes, and he looked-wrong.
Like a monster. A freak.
Edward turned up the water until it was so hot it burned him, thinking that maybe the temperatures would balance each other out. His skin was always so disgustingly cold, and he knew Bella preferred the warmth.
And this was what she wanted, what she was willing to give up her life for.
Edward hadn't realized he was still holding the handle until it crumpled in his hand like tinfoil. He released it and stepped backward, staring, then turned around and left before he could do anything else.
In the doorway to the bathroom he bumped into Jacob, who thought through several sarcastic remarks while blocking Edward's way. Finally, he decided on, "What, had to pee? Or were you planning on sucking someone's blood like the freak you are?"
Edward bit his lip. "I just wanted some fresh air."
"I'd say the same, but you'd left the theater," Jacob responded quickly. "And you're stinking up the air out here, leech."
Edward paused, momentarily distracted as a man walked by with his iPod turned up all the way. The sound of his music was nearly deafening, and it continued long after he'd passed out of sight. The lights buzzed overhead. There was a fly at the other end of the hallway, and he could feel its wingbeats in the air.
For a moment, he forgot where he was.
"I was just leaving," Edward said, edging around Jacob's bulk. He left Jacob staring, stewing about something-Edward didn't know, it was all too loud to pick out a specific person's thoughts. And he'd tried to be polite enough, anyway. What did Jacob want from him?
Edward stopped at the doors of the theater to take one last breath of clean air, and then he stepped inside to where everything was darkness and fire and thirst.