A/N: hey everyone, here's another oneshot. It takes place in the summer between Twilight and New Moon, so possible spoilers to Twilight and Midnight Sun, but nothing major. I'd love it if you review - it only takes a second and they make me super happy :)
Disclaimer: the characters and a few quotes I used are the property of Stephenie Meyer, I mean them no harm. I borrowed the title from a song in the musical West Side Story.
"Tell me something," I ask him. My voice is breaking ever so slightly, on the verge between sleep and wakefulness. We're up in his room because our going up and down the main staircase at the Cullens' place has completely worn me out. Carlisle has said it would make my leg stronger now that the cast is finally off, but by the time our third trip downstairs ends, my entire body wobbles with fatigue, and Edward has to carry me back upstairs.
I lay on the sofa with my head on his lap. My eyes are closed, and I concentrate on getting my heavy breathing under control. His fingers thread in my hair, gently combing through it. The motion, along with the way raindrops trail along the glass wall, lulls me to sleep. We've been sitting there for a few odd minutes, or hours, unmoving, barely speaking. My words, not louder than a whisper, disrupt the comfortable silence that wraps around us.
"What?" Even in a whisper, his voice is velvet.
I open my eyes and find him gazing down at me. "Tell me what it was like before I came here."
His expression is one of confusion, but his body gives him away as it goes rigid beneath my head.
"Alice must have seen me coming," I add a little timidly. My cheeks feel warm; I know I'm blushing.
He's quiet for a long moment. I watch him as his jaw clenches and unclenches. His forehead creases with a frown. He closes his eyes, then opens them. They reflect a cross between sorrow and apathy as they bore into mine. "Surely you'd rather I'd sing you to sleep."
I make out hope behind the feigned nonchalance of his suggestion. Any distraction on my side will be triumph on his. I shake my head, clearly to his dismay, with my eyes still locked on his, and watch as he flinches ever so slightly. I know the first few days of our acquaintance, and probably even before that, are not a topic he likes to bring up. No matter how things have turned out to be, the possibility of it all ending up differently still lingers in the wings all the same. It's a dark time in his life, one he longs to leave behind him.
Having all that in mind, I still want to know. I need to.
"I'll ask Alice to tell me, if you don't," I point out, trying to be stubborn yet gentle. He doesn't reply, and the silence encourages me. He didn't refuse me right away, which has to mean something. Surely with a bit more effort on my end… "How bad can it be?"
I realize it's the wrong thing to ask when his face is contorted with a type of agony I'm not familiar with. Reluctance is visible all across his expression. Finally, with difficulty, he says what I already know. "It's not something I like thinking back of, let alone speaking about."
"Don't you think I deserve to know, all the same?"
"What difference will it make?"
"Probably none," I admit sheepishly. "I'd still like to know."
He cringes. His lips press into a thin line of discontent. It isn't like me, to be so assertive, and we both know it. He locks his eyes on mine again, as if hoping to deter me that way. I hold my own, never flinching beneath his gaze, until finally, he surrenders with a soft groan. "Alright. I'll tell you."
Alice's announcement didn't have the dramatic effect she had been aiming for. She remained standing at the bottom of the main staircase like an actress on a stage, waiting for applause that was yet to come. Her mental huff of discontent was perfectly clear in my head. I sniggered under my breath as my fingers flew across the keys of my piano, effortlessly shifting from Bach to Debussy. Emmett, intently watching some random wrestling match, didn't even acknowledge her. Instead, he was thinking what a total showoff I'd been. Jasper, at the farthest end of the room, turned another page in the book he was reading.
"Hello? Did you hear what I said?" Her voice was a high pitched screech, her eyes narrow with annoyance. She crossed the living room in four angry strides – deliberately slower than her usual pace as if to make a point – and promptly stood in front of the television. Although she wasn't high enough to block the screen from his view, Emmett burst into a series of vile protests all the same. I heard Jasper chuckle to himself without raising his head from his book.
Alice, all innocence, moved aside and sat beside Emmett, unaffected by his glare. She didn't say another word, just sat there in silence beside him. I didn't need access to his mind to know he would soon become irritated with her. I hated it when she'd given me the silent treatment; Emmett had been even less patient than me. As I went on playing, I was mentally calculating how long it would take before he cracked.
And sure enough, it had barely been five minutes before he grunted. He put the television on mute and turned to face her. "Fine. What's up?"
"Oh, I'm not quite sure yet," she replied, smiling sweetly at him.
"You're disturbing me for speculations?" he asked, enraged, already reaching for the remote again. I stopped playing at once, exchanging an amused grin with Jasper. This was just getting interesting.
"You know how it works," she reproached Emmett. "The particulars are still fuzzy, but something is definitely coming. She's coming."
Emmett's head perked up. "She?" he echoed, interested despite himself.
Curious myself, I tried to fish an image out of Alice's mind, but there was none, not a concrete one anyway; just bits and pieces, endless conjectures.
"Who is she?" asked Jasper.
"I'm not sure yet," Alice repeated, much to Emmett's aggravation.
"A newcomer? In Forks?" he asked, as though trying to make sure he understood Alice's excitement.
"It appears so."
"Why would anyone in his right mind…"
"Does that mean we need to stay on our guard again?" Rosalie, now in the room followed by Esme, asked. Her thoughts were bitter; she remembered all too well the last place we had been forced to leave when a newcomer appeared, a precaution, one taken based on Alice's vision.
"We must always stay on our guard, Rosalie," said Esme, and I saw Carlisle in her mind. Those were his words.
Rosalie nodded, but gave Alice an expectant look, where the question still lingered. We'd all been aware of the ongoing risks; she was hoping for a more explicit answer.
"Whoever she is, I sense her arrival is going to be big… for us."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"As I said, I'm not quite sure about the particulars yet. It's all fuzzy."
"That, or that your talent begins to deteriorate," Emmett teased her, and roared with laughter at his own joke. Alice pursed her lips. She made no comment; her face transformed into that angelic expression again. Then a moment later she jumped to her feet. Just when she reached the bottom of the staircase, she turned and flashed a sweet smile at Emmett.
"Your wrestler is going to lose the next round, so there's really no point for you to keep watching the match, Emmett."
A fresh string of profanities was swallowed by Alice's twinkling laughter as she danced her way upstairs.
We all forgot about this conversation by the time Carlisle returned from the hospital. Like human families, spending the hours of late afternoon together had given us a chance to hear about each other's day. As soon as dusk fell, there was distinct euphoria in the air, this liberating thrill. We weren't truly imprisoned here in Forks, but sometimes it certainly felt as if we were, at least under the strain of living behind a human façade throughout most of the day. We were truly at ease in our home, and only once darkness fell.
"Chief Swan came in for his annual tests today," Carlisle told us that evening.
Our acquaintance with Charlie Swan, the chief of Forks' police force, had been superficial. There was no reason for us, the Cullen kids, to be around him. Carlisle had usually been the one with the connections, in Forks as well as in any other town we had happened to settle in. He was bound to, as part of his job, and it had always felt safer for us to have someone in the know as far as human life around us went.
Charlie, I learned from Carlisle's stories, had been keeping mostly to himself. Never outspoken or outgoing, he had spent more time at the police station than in his own home. Through the years he had simply become part of the town's landscape, as though he had been there all his life, and always would. The image that rose from Carlisle's few stories was a lonely one; Charlie Swan had no wife or children, no family – none of which we had known of, anyway.
I looked around to ascertain that my siblings were indifferent to this piece of news as I was. Considering our minor relation to Charlie, I couldn't understand why Carlisle thought it would be of any interest for us.
"Apparently his daughter is coming to live here in a few weeks."
Indifference shifted into interest in a matter of seconds. Alice looked especially smug. Emmett and Jasper, like me, were thinking back of our short exchange from earlier that day. Was that the something she had been referring to? The thing that, according to Alice, was going to have some major effect on our family?
"I didn't know Chief Swan had a daughter," said Esme.
As Carlisle recounted Charlie's story to the others, I saw it in his head. A marriage to a flighty woman nearly two decades ago. A baby that was born as a result of this hasty union, one who had left along with her mother years back. Since her parents' separation, she'd been spending the summers with her father in Forks until about three years ago. A fuzzy image materialized in Carlisle's mind, his version of how Charlie's daughter must have looked like. It looked nothing like the bits and pieces I'd pulled from Alice's mind a few hours ago.
"She has just turned seventeen in September," Carlisle ended a sentence I didn't hear him begin, being focused on the sound of his inner voice instead.
"Junior year," Esme murmured. Her voice, soft and sympathetic, reflected her thoughts. She found it odd that the girl was moving here not only in the middle of the semester, but so close to graduation. She was wondering what enhanced such decision, and if the girl's mother had no say in the matter. Her mental image of the girl was entirely different than Carlisle's or Alice's. "What's her name?"
It threw me off guard a little. I was expecting something more common – Rachel or Julie or Megan – not a name as outdated as my own. In an odd kind of way, it was laughable. With a name like Isabella, she could easily be associated with our kind.
"Is she hot?"
I was only partly aware of Rosalie's growl and Esme's soft reproach, both a response to Emmett's inquiry. Alice's voice was suddenly loud and frantic in my mind. Blurry images of a vision disrupted everyone's mental wonderings. I looked up only to be faced with her dark, glazed stare. I tried to concentrate on what she was seeing, but it was only glimpses, none of which made sense. By then, everyone became aware of her having a vision, and the occasional "What? What do you see?" broke the silence in the room.
Forever seemed to pass before Alice snapped out of it. She gasped, then blinked, and I felt myself tense when I caught sight of her expression. Her eyes were wide, partly with terror, partly with concern. I knew she was going to whisper my name mil second before she did.
I retired to my room shortly afterwards, in vain hope that in my sanctuary I'd make more sense of Alice's fragmented vision. There was no reason why it would have that much impact on me. She hadn't actually seen anything concrete. It lay too far ahead, still swimming in the hazy shadows of an uncertain future. She might as well be wrong. Granted, it would be a first if she did, but why else would she see me so tightly bound with the newcomer, and a human girl at that?
I couldn't shake off that look she'd given me. Very little managed to frighten Alice. Whatever it was that scared her, she managed to block it before I was able to get as much of a glimpse at it. Combined with her earlier words, I sense it's going to be big… for us, the possibilities unnerved me. Were Rosalie's concerns justified, then? Should we stay on our guard? Were we soon to move on because this human's arrival endangered us? Because I was bound to harm her in any way?
Someone was coming. I could tell the voice apart by the closer sound of his mind. Although I resented the interruption, I was somewhat relieved it wasn't Alice. "Come in, Carlisle."
He did, hesitantly, and came to sit beside me on the sofa. Neither of us said anything for a long moment. He contemplated on how to start; he didn't want to upset me. "I don't need to tell you that what Alice has seen is very little."
"It was enough," I said, keeping my eyes on the darkness outside.
Inwardly, I knew he agreed. He was just as moved by her expression. Openly, the need to soothe me was greater than his concern about the meaning of her vision.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that anything would happen."
But it might.
"It's just best to remain alert. We mustn't be complacent. We cannot allow ourselves that, ever. You know that."
Silence again. He sat there struggling to think how to break it.
"What do you think it means?" My tone caught me off guard. I wasn't used to fretting.
"I'm not sure. But Alice wasn't completely pessimistic, you know."
"What good can possibly come out of being associated with a human girl?" I snapped, more frustrated than annoyed. It was moments like this one when regret resurfaced, and bitterness towards the monster I had become. I should have died at the hospital that night decades ago. I should never have endured this feeble existence, or face conflicts that would jeopardize not only myself, but my loved ones as well. I hadn't known Charlie Swan that well; why on earth would I dream of hurting his only child, the single thing he had cared about in his life? I had accepted my being a monster, but could I truly be that cruel? Were there any circumstances in which I could?
If earlier I'd been somewhat excited about the notion of having a newcomer in Forks, anything to break our dreary routine here, now I not only dreaded it, but resented it. I found myself hoping with all my heart that something would come up, her mother would go back to her senses and realize that, as Esme had, moving so close to the end of the school year would be a mistake. I hated her, loathed her with every fiber of my being, before she even showed up. I was determined to defy Alice's vision, as childish – and even more so, as useless – as it had been. Despite Carlisle's attempted reassurances, I knew better. Nothing good could come out of it. Absolutely nothing.
"There," he says softly, and his hand stills in my hair. I open my eyes to find his sad stare on mine. "Now you know everything."
I simply nod, overcome by emotion I can't quite pinpoint. He raises an eyebrow with what seems like surprise. "It's quite alright if you're horrified. I'd be."
"Horrified?" I echo, not understanding. I feel compassion, and sorrow, and endless love. Horror has no room in this tumble of emotion I experience as I lay there looking up at him.
"Unpredictable," he mutters, to himself as it appears. When he lets his eyes meet mine again, they're tortured, filled with pain. "I hate myself for thinking that way about you." He barely lets the words out. I suspect he'd cry, if he could. "With time, that abhorrence turned into indifference. At some point it was as if Alice's vision had never meant anything at all. I did what I'd been resolute on doing, pushing it to the farthest corner of my mind, telling myself I was stronger than what her vision had made of me. And then you arrived, and it's all gone to hell.
"I can't even begin to describe to you what it was like, those first days, that first moment. Your scent, that inner battle, the torture of having to sit through that damned Biology lesson fighting off the impulse to..." His voice trails, and he closes his eyes. He still looks shaken when he opens them again. "I can barely repeat all that to myself. My loathing towards you grew impossibly stronger. She would ruin me; I told myself that over and over again. And Alice's vision finally made sense to me."
I sit up, wrap my arms around his neck, push myself closer to him. "Alice was wrong," I whisper and bury my head in the curve between his neck and shoulder. I press a kiss to the hollow of his throat.
"No. She was perfectly right." His voice is calm now, composed. "You coming here changed all our lives, not just mine."
For the better, I'm about to say, but he speaks again before I have a chance to.
"But it is not to say this didn't have the chance to end badly." Wordlessly, he removes my arm from around his neck, and presses his icy lips to the scar on my wrist.
A part of me wants to argue, to tell him he is acting silly, but I know it is pointless. For every claim I attempt to make, he'll bring up four others to contradict me. So instead, I cuddle closer to his chest, content enough simply by the fact he isn't pulling away.
An eternity later, he shifts. "It's getting late. I'd better take you home."
I get up without a protest, and he fondly pushes me back to the sofa as he fetches my coat from where we've left it across the room. Then he helps me up, lays the coat on my shoulders, and reaches for my hand.
We're on the threshold of his room when I speak again. "Do you regret it, then?" I whisper before his fingers so much as graze mine. He starts as if my question has caught him off guard, but he doesn't hesitate before he replies.
"Sometimes I tell myself that I'm bound to," he says very softly, and something that resembles guilt darkens his stare. Then, not a second later, it's gone. "But I can't bring myself to."
He reaches for my hand again, and a delicious shiver goes through me at the sensation of our fingers intertwined, fire in ice. Then he chuckles to himself, and a ghost of a smile remains at the corner of his lips, that crooked grin I love. "Something was coming, alright," he says, letting his fingers flutter across my cheek. "It seems like I didn't have much choice either way."
"Exactly. And besides, it's too late to back away right now. You promised – at the hospital." But I regret the reminder as soon as I utter it, fearing it would send him into another dark contemplation. I soothe myself focusing on the words in my head. I'll be right here as long as you need me. Those have been his words, his vow, for all aims and purposes. I know he will never take it back.
Still with a hint of a smile on his lips – looking more forced now, but still visible – he nods and presses a kiss to the top of my head. "Where else can I go?"
He lets the question hang there for a moment before he sighs and leads me out of his room. I follow obediently, if not somewhat reluctantly. The change of atmosphere is there in our every step. He's contemplative now, but it doesn't feel exactly like the angst that overshadowed him earlier on. I can tell the difference by the expression on his face, more serene now, and by the way he holds me. Still, it's best to stay on my guard.
Which means I'll have to choose a different time to question him about Alice's other vision, the one in which she's seen me become one of them.