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Temporal Tide

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Bella

Don’t scream.

I repeated that mantra over and over as the venom raced through my veins, changing, molding, and compressing the cells of my body into a substance harder than diamond.

Don’t scream.

If I started now, I’d never stop. What was left of my sanity would be consumed as greedily as the acid that, even now, destroyed my last vestiges of humanity.

Don’t scream.

Abandoned. It was the only way to describe the way I’d been unceremoniously dropped from the lives of my ex-boyfriend and his family.

‘You’re no good for me Bella.’

For months those words haunted me. I was broken. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep; I barely breathed. There was nothing of me left; he’d taken it all with him. Then it happened. I was lying in bed, only vaguely aware of my surroundings when I heard it.

Weeping.

It was a stilted, jagged thing. Filled with the kind of hopeless despair I was all too familiar with. Slowly, achingly, I rose from the mattress and padded down the stairs. What I saw in the living room pierced through my fog of pain with the deadly accuracy of a .22 caliber round.

My father – my lovely, awkward, devoted father – was crying. Not the quiet tears he usually shed, but the full and heartrending sobs of a man at the end of his rope. For the first time since he left, I really looked at my father. Charlie’s hair was disheveled, and it appeared that he hadn’t shaved in weeks. His eyes were rimmed and red; a half empty bottle of vodka was clutched in his fingers as he cried into his hand.

Like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, I realized what I was doing to the people who loved me. I’d been so consumed in my own loss, I’d forgotten about the others I still held dear. I was the only one to blame for reducing my father to this mess.

“Dad.” I croaked; my voice hoarse from disuse as my eyes filled with tears. Charlie’s head snapped up, his expression a combination of fear and relief. Haltingly, I crossed the room to his side, and before I knew it he had me in his arms. We were both crying tears of love and heartbreak. All the feelings I’d kept bottled inside came rushing out as I grasped my father’s shirt.

When I woke the next morning I felt empty, drained, but it was the good kind of empty. I felt renewed, like it was the start of a new life. The gaping hole he had left behind still hurt, but I was healing. Suddenly, the possibility that I’d one day be complete didn’t seem like an impossible dream.

‘It will be as if I’d never existed.’

If only that were true. If only his absence was all it took to completely erase all trace of the supernatural from my life. Unfortunately, his promise meant nothing to Victoria. With the same abruptness that he’d left with, she entered.

She didn’t care that he’d gone.

She didn’t care that I’d finally scraped together some semblance of a life.

She simply didn’t care.

As inescapable as the weather, she found me. I was alone at the time, sitting in the middle of Edward’s meadow. Yes, Edward’s meadow. I could finally speak his name without a sharp jab of pain. The very fact that I could stand in the middle of what I once considered our meadow without curling into a little ball of grief was wonderful, freeing - even blissful. Now that I was clear of the emotional quagmire of Edward’s leaving, I could finally see his actions objectively.

He left to protect me.

Of course, he broke my heart when he did, but I could understand his reasons even if I didn’t agree with them. I loved him truly, deeply, but if he’d ever loved me as I’d loved him; he wouldn’t have left in the first place.

As always, I was so oblivious to my surroundings that I didn’t notice her proximity until it was far too late to think of doing anything about it. Not that any action on my part would have won my freedom.

I first spotted her as she calmly glided across the clearing toward me. My breath hitched as the sun came out, reflecting off her skin like multifaceted diamonds. Every move and expression screamed ‘predator’ and while one part of me realized I was about to die, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful form it took. Tears streamed down my face as I began to laugh. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Edward leaves to keep me safe, but unknowingly hands me over on a silver platter. The universe sure had a sense of humor.

Poor Charlie, who would take care of him when I was gone?

I guess my sudden laughing fit confused Victoria, because she halted and stared at me with a peculiar expression. 

“I’m sorry,” I sniffed, wiping my eyes with my arm. I tried not to think too much about why the hell I was apologizing to my would-be murderer. “I didn’t mean to laugh. I was just thinking about the irony of the situation.”  Her face twisted into a visage of anger and grief before she had me dangling by the throat.

“What’s so funny?” She growled; her crimson pools the color of dried blood.

 “Just,” I choked, barely able to breathe because of her vice-like grip. “He leaves to save my soul and keep me safe from vampires, but here you are anyway.”

“They’re gone?” Her voice was curiously devoid of emotion. I nodded, afraid of what this change in her attitude would entail for me. “He left?” she clarified again. Once more I nodded. “So you’re telling me, that he killed my James for nothing?!” Victoria roared in rage and suddenly I was airborne. I closed my eyes as the earth rushed up to meet me.

 I came down hard.

A vicious ‘crack’ filled the clearing and suddenly there was pain shooting up my right arm as I skidded across the ground, stray rocks shredded my fragile human skin before I came to a stop. Panting and moaning in agony, I made no effort to get to my feet. Escape was futile, and I didn’t want to prolong my suffering. Blood was trickling from the scrapes covering my back and sides when Victoria flashed toward me. Her eyes were as black as a moonless night. Before either of us could do or say anything, Victoria whipped her head around, her eyes focusing in the distance. I thought I could hear the sound of wolves howling. Odd. In half a second her gaze was back on me as she glared hatefully.

“I’m not done with you yet.” She hissed, before scooping me into her arms. I screamed as pain flared all along my body. I could feel my broken bones grinding against each other before I fell into blessed unconscious.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

I awoke to fire.

Burning, spreading, it ate away my flesh with invisible flames. I convulsed as a fresh wave of torment rippled across my nerves. I knew this pain. I’d experienced it once before in the ballet studio after James bit me. I had vampire venom in my veins. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry and shout and yell, but instinctively I knew I’d lose myself if I did.

Through the haze of pain, I noticed I was lying in an abandoned factory. Broken pottery and outdated machines filled most of the space. Glass windows on the roof let in the moonlight. It was because of this, that I was able to spot Victoria at all, quivering as I was on the floor.

Sauntering over, I noticed she held a used syringe as she crouched down beside me.

“It’s alright to scream Isabella,” she cooed; her words like honey with an underlying hint of malice. “I know I did. I screamed for three days.” Victoria paused as she rolled the needle between her fingers, and it was only then that I noticed the remains of what looked like an amber liquid in the barrel. “I tried very hard to think of the most horrible things to do to you when I finally got you, but nothing could ever hurt as much as vampire venom.” The grin she gave me was cruel and tinged with madness. “I wanted to bite you myself, but unlike James, I don’t have the control necessary to stop. It wouldn’t do for me to kill you prematurely.”

Without warning, she reached out and wrenched my broken bone back into place. The additional pain almost broke my self-control. Instead I shook, badly, tears running down my face as I fought to hold on to my frayed sanity. Victoria tsked, disappointed with my reaction.

“It’s nothing personal, you understand.” She went on to explain, before tossing the needle to the side. I heard it shatter somewhere in the distance. “You’re only a means to an end. Your mate is the one I really want.” A growl escaped porcelain lips and her fingers tore gouges in the concrete near my head. Chuckling darkly, she locked eyes with me as I struggled not to get dragged below the surface of my agony. “It’s beautiful really, you provided me with the idea you know. Your mate must be a religious man. My James never was. I thought, what better way to take revenge than to damn the ‘soul’ of the woman he loves. I’m sure he’ll agonize over how you suffered, and how you’ll continue to suffer in the hell he’s condemned you to. Of course, you won’t be around to witness it. By then you’ll be a pile of ash on the floor, but I thought I’d let you think about it.” The smile she gave me was far too sweet for someone speaking such awful words.

Eventually, I was unable to keep my eyes open, and retreated into myself. Lost to the pain, I focused on my heartbeat. An eternity later, I felt my last claim to mortality shudder and cease. The flames were gone.

A snarl broke my reverie and caused my instincts to take over. I launched myself off the floor and across the room as a staggering boom rocked the foundations of the building. A cloud of pulverized concrete billowed from the place I’d laid not seconds before.  I hissed, a reaction born more from confusion than actual anger.

Then I saw her, the demon with flame-red hair. Something clicked in my brain and suddenly I knew who I was, and why I was here. I felt good. I felt strong, no, better than strong. I felt powerful. However, despite my newfound confidence, I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance against a seasoned vampire. No matter what, I was still just Bella. Walking correctly seemed beyond my expertise let alone fighting. I tensed, prepared to flee, when Victoria did something that would change my life forever.

As she crouched to spring, her foot shifted, breaking shards of clay beneath her feet.

The sound reverberated. It caused something to resonate in my chest. A high pitched ringing filled my ears and I clutched at them, disoriented and afraid as my body began to fade in and out, like a ghost in a B class movie. 

“No!” The shout came as if from a long distance. Everything felt muted, dull. Even my sight got blurry before everything turned white.

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Hungary - 1003 A.D.

I wish I could say I ‘woke up’ in the way a human does, but it is more accurate to describe my experience as a slow return of the senses. Opening my eyes, I found myself in the middle of a huge forest. Beech and fir trees stretched as far as the eye could see. It was winter and a thick layer of snow covered the ground and surrounding vegetation. Night had fallen, casting eerie shadows by moonlight.

What happened? Where was I? How did I get here? Most importantly, where was Victoria? I glanced around warily before taking stock of myself. I was still wearing my jeans, running shoes, and ripped hoodie. In fact, my hoodie smelled good. Like really good. Reaching around to pull at the material on my back, I accidentally ripped off my sleeve.

Obviously I still wasn’t used to my strength. I was going to have to be very careful or I’d end up breaking things, or worse, people. Examining my sleeve, I found several dark stains on the cloth. After a moment of examination, I realized what it was.

Blood.

My blood.

Suddenly my throat burned with thirst. I would compare it to drinking a cup of acid and it was all I could do not to rip apart the cotton in a frenzy of bloodlust. Then I remembered how Edward used to deal with this problem and stopped breathing altogether. I really needed to get new clothes. I also had to figure out how to hunt if I wanted to get close enough to a town to find out where I was without massacring the settlement. God, I really hope Alice will see this and help me out of this situation. Not that she was around when Victoria showed up, I thought somewhat bitterly. Even now it pained me to think badly of the pixie, but then again I wasn’t the one who left her best friend alone and defenseless against a homicidal vampire.

Leaping with instinctual ease, I climbed the highest tree I could find and took a look at the surrounding area.

Trees as far as the eyes could see. I didn’t recognize any of the mountains. Where the heck was I?! Then, I spotted an orange glow in the distance. My spirits lifted. Civilization? Dropping soundlessly to the ground, I decided to try my hand at finding prey. Part of me felt bad for having to kill defenseless animals; but the burn was insistent and I wasn’t about to kill a person if I could help it.

Listening intently, I breathed deeply, honing in on a herd of heartbeats not far away. A tangy pungent smell filled my nostrils and I frowned at the unappealing scent. The only way I could describe it was like eating a fruit that had barely passed the line from ripe to old. Unfortunately a starving man cannot be picky, so I ran toward it. Breaking through the tree line, I spotted a herd of elk huddled for warmth. Letting my body take over, I sprang onto the back of the closest buck and sank my teeth into his warm neck. Blood blossomed in my mouth and I drank greedily. Despite its initial repugnance, I drank every drop. Two more deer died in this manner before I felt confident enough to brave the town.

Running in the direction of what I assumed where city lights, I came to an abrupt halt when I was close enough to see the source of the glow.

Houses were burning.

I use that term lightly, because they were more like straw and mud huts than houses, but the thatched roofs of every home were ablaze with deadly flames. Men and women were screaming down below, scrambling to put out the blaze as men with red crosses on their chests smashed what looked like clay tablets against rocks and homes. They were all yelling in some strange gibberish that made it painfully obvious I wasn’t in an English speaking country anymore.

Digging my nails into the nearest tree to avoid descending upon the masses of excited villagers, I watched as a family of four escaped the boundaries of the town. One was a relatively young man and his wife, who was carrying a toddler in her arms as a five-year-old boy scampered around her legs. They looked European, with fair skin and hair. They were all wearing thick animal skin boots and coats, their breath was clouding the air and it made me all the more aware of my immunity to the cold. To me it felt like a fresh spring night.

I was just about to return my attention to the fires when the toddler caught my gaze. Eyes like a summer sky peered out at me from under her coat. Her head shifted and a few curls tinted a reddish-gold escaped her cap to frame a small dainty face. Undoubtedly, she was the most beautiful child I’d ever seen.

Hesitantly, I raised my hand and waved. The shy smile I got in response was like warm sunlight on a cloudy day. Unable to hold my gaze, she hid her face in her mother’s cloak as they disappeared into the night.

I barely noticed when I faded away.

Chapter Text

Bella

I became aware.

I was back in the warehouse where Victoria had taken me. Daylight streamed through the glass windows, illuminating dust particles floating through the air. I took a deep breath.  A scent reminiscent of vanilla and ginger lingered faintly in the air, causing my body to tense when my instincts told me it belonged to Victoria.

However, there was no sign of the red haired vixen.

When I calmed down enough to think, I could only wonder what the hell was going on.

How did I end up in a forest and then suddenly back in the warehouse? Where was Victoria?

Whatever happened, I was alive as a result, and I firmly considered that a plus.

Taking a moment to marvel at my enhanced senses, I found it increasingly hard not to become distracted by the ease and clarity with which I experienced the world. As a human I’d always been clumsy, awkward, so moving with the grace I now possessed seemed miraculous.

Never the less, I eventually made it to the door. I hesitated to open it, the sun was shining outside, but when I realized I couldn’t hear any heartbeats in the area I pushed on the door.

It blew off the hinges and flew ten feet before coming down with a crash.

My jaw dropped.

I really needed to work on controlling my new strength.

Fortunately, it appeared that my little scene had gone unnoticed. The factory seemed isolated, but I wasn’t about to stick around and find out for sure.

Holding my breath, I darted outside and into the surrounding tree line, heading as far away from civilization as I could. The Cullens had told me what it was like to be a newborn and I was not eager to become a murderer.

I ran until all signs and sounds of civilization ceased. I didn’t know where I was, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was in one of the national forests near Seattle, perhaps Wenatchee or Mt Baker. All in all, I was completely alone except for the sounds of nature around me.

The burn was back, licking silently at my throat, but wasn’t quite bad enough to send me into a frenzy.  I wanted to explore the world that was at once completely different and exactly the same.

As I looked around, I noticed now much more I could feel now. Textures were enhanced, smells were sharper. It was a lot like seeing the world in HD for the first time when before you were looking through smudged glass. I always thought that becoming a vampire would dull my sense of touch. Wouldn’t having diamond hard skin make it difficult to sense things through my nerves? Really, I wasn’t more pleased to be wrong.

Inhaling the air, I followed the clean scent of water to a small pond. I was a little surprised, because the Cullens were always talking about how gross human food smelled, but so far I hadn’t really noticed any changes like that. Water smelled fresh, and plants seemed the same as they had when I was human. Then I remembered the way the elk had affected me. I’d never been close to an elk when I’d been alive, but I was pretty sure they hadn’t smelled pungently tangy.

I hadn’t smelled a human yet, but Edward had always said my blood was fragrantly divine. So logically they must smell very good. Obviously I never felt the urge to gnaw on a person as plain ol’ Bella, so why were some aromas different and some the same?

Sitting down, I dipped my feet into the water and marveled at how warm it felt considering it was late November. Intellectually I knew the water was freezing, but it still felt pleasantly temperate.

Perhaps it was merely animals that now smelled strange. Most dishes had animal products; that was bound to change the odor of foods to my new nose.

Leaning out over the water, I was arrested by the reflection I saw there. My face stared back at me, but it was a countenance that had been rid of imperfections. Flawless alabaster skin and pink carmine lips were framed by thick auburn hair. As a human my locks had been a dull brown, now it was the color of rich chocolate with subtle red highlights. My torn hoodie did nothing to hide smooth ivory limbs and a supernatural poise. All this, as I stared at myself with crimson iris’s.

I was beautiful.

Lovely.

Exquisite.

My eyes burned and I let out a heart rending sob. With all the excitement there hadn’t been time for the reality of my fate to truly sink in, but once I saw that unnaturally beautiful face, I could no longer deny the truth.

I was a vampire, and I had an eternity of nothing to live for.

 Victoria’s revenge was more complete then she knew.

My life was torn to pieces, my dreams for the future shattered. My relationship with Charlie, which had just started to flourish, was over. How could I go home when even the slightest proximity would have me tearing him limb from limb?

I couldn’t seek out the Cullens, first of all because I had no idea where they were, but also because I refused to crawl back to the family that had so easily thrown me away. I knew it was done out of a misplaced care for my wellbeing, but the fact of the matter was they abandoned me.

Despite claims that I was a lover, a daughter, a sister; it took them less than a week to cut me from their lives.

I’d been alone.

Alone in Forks with a homicidal vampire.

No, I would not be asking the Cullens for help.

Days passed as I secluded myself in the forest, too afraid to venture out, but as I did I learned the limits of my new strength, and trained for the day I would eventually have to leave.

It started with control.

If I ever wanted to depart without hurting someone, I first had to control my instincts. With that in mind, I started with deer. First I tried to stop drinking from an animal without draining every drop. Several weeks and many corpses later, I decided that maybe I was trying for too much too fast.

So I began with baby steps.

1: Catch a deer without accidently pulverizing it.

2: Once deer is caught, hold the deer without biting it.

3: Drink from a deer without killing it.

The Cullens had always led me to believe that being bitten by a vampire is the end all. You either died, or were turned. However, if that was the case, Edward wouldn’t have been able to remove the venom from my blood stream in Phoenix.

It should be possible, with enough control, to drink from an animal or a human without killing them. After all, I’d been proof that it could be done.

Theories were all well and good, but obtaining that restraint was the crux of the matter.

Day and night I disciplined my mind, practicing with small animals for weeks as I learned how much pressure to use without injury or death.

When I was capable of holding a rabbit without harm, I moved on to larger animals.

After two months of dedicated application, I achieved a feat that should have been impossible for a new born.

Lying on the forest floor, my body held a wolf immobile beneath me. I breathed his musky scent, I listened to his pounding heart, I touched his course fur; and I did it all without violence. 

Venom was filling my mouth at an alarming rate, and I was almost positive my eyes were pitch black, but I held the wolf and I let him go.

Elated and triumphant, I decided it was time to brave town in search of new clothes. I’d tried to keep my garments as clean as possible, but two months of grime, dirt, and blood had made them grotesque.

 Leaving the national forest, I prowled the edges of Leavenworth, trying to avoid notice when I stumbled upon a house nestled on the outskirts of the town.

As luck would have it, the owners set their clothes out on a line to dry. Remembering how the scent of my own dry blood nearly sent me into a frenzy; I held my breath as I crept closer. I could clearly hear the sound of voices coming from inside the house, and three heartbeats pulsing from within.

Closing my eyes, I swallowed my venom. As long as I didn’t breath, this was no different than resisting the wolf. Easier even, because their hearts weren’t pounding with fear.

Darting forward, I grabbed the first thing I saw off the line, before dashing back to cover, faster than the eye could see. Hiding behind a tree trunk, I waited for any sign that they’d spotted me. When there was none, I looked down at what I’d stolen.

It was a white empire dress, plain but elegant.

Part of me wished I’d gotten something that wouldn’t show blood, but two months of training had made my eating habits fairly neat. In other words, I wasn’t constantly getting blood on myself, so I had a fair chance of not ruining the garment strait off.

Discarding my ruined jeans and shirt, (my hoodie being shred long ago) I slipped on the dress. Although the fabric was tight in some places, particularly under the arms, it was a close enough fit. Until I had enough preparation to venture into town, I might have to liberate clothes from them again in the future.

For three months I acquainted myself with the family in the house, trying to build a tolerance for the human scent. When they left for school or work, I would frequently break into the dwelling and take their dirty laundry.

Before my new life could really begin, I needed to learn restraint. I wasn’t willing to hide out in the forest for a decade. So I used their garments to slowly introduce myself to whatever out of control impulses I was positive I’d encounter.

The first time, I’d gorged myself on animal blood. I made sure I was surrounded by nothing but forest; and I sat on the ground with the article of cloth resting on my lap. I was starting to get an uncomfortable ache from holding my breath for so long, but I wanted to be confident I wasn’t going to go on a homicidal rampage with anyone around.

Steeling my nerves, I inhaled deeply.

My hands clenched involuntarily, ripping through the fabric, as I experienced the most mouthwatering scent I had ever encountered. Venom filled my mouth and I swallowed, trembling slightly as the vitriol burned its way down my throat.

I’d expected this to happen to a degree, but I hadn’t counted on my bodies’ visceral response. Despite being bloated on animal blood, every cell of my body thrummed with need, urging me to track down the source and soothe the burn.

Yet…

It wasn’t nearly as attractive as my own blood had been, back on the moonlit night I’d witnessed a village burn.

I could resist this. I would resist this.

A rumbling growl worked its way up my chest as I fought with my inner beast. Every breath was torture, but I held every muscle of my body frozen in place.

I was more than my impulses, and newborn or not, I was going to prove it!

Snarling, I thrust the shirt away, watching as the wadded cotton flew for several yards before fluttering to the ground.

Fleeing the area, I ran until my mind was clear.

I felt like all my progress in control had just been thrown out the window. Obviously humans were in a whole other ball park.

It was trying, but each week I practiced made resisting just a little bit easier. Eventually I was able to lie on the roof of their home, listen to their heartbeats, inhale their scents, and keep myself from creeping into their house and murdering them in their sleep.

I also grew fond of ‘the Greers’, and I found emotional attachments helped police my homicidal yearnings nicely.

Still, I remained unfulfilled. So I returned my not inconsiderable brain toward the strange experience I had the day I’d woken up from ‘the burning’ as I liked to refer to it. In the months following my change, I’d pushed the incident to the back of my mind.

When I was human, I dreamed of an eternity with Edward; becoming a vampire was merely a means to an end. Somehow I never gave thought to whether I might gain a talent in the process, or even the real hardships to becoming one of the ‘undead’.

As it was, I was completely at a loss.

What had happened? As I replayed events in my mind, I remembered being attacked, a sharp ringing in my ears and my world fading to white. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by miles of forest while homes burned nearby. How did it happen? Why was I there?

Still, teleporting (if that is indeed what I did) could be a helpful ability. I grew excited as I thought of all the amazing things I could do with a gift like that.

I remembered the fear, the disorientation. The way my chest vibrated before my vision blanked out. Was my transportation a result of my emotional state, or was there some other unseen trigger I had yet to recognize?

I decided I needed to know more, and the Greer’s computer was just the tool for the job.

Judging from the position of the sun, it was some time around noon. A good time to break in, since the family would either be at school or work.

Swiping the spare key from its unoriginal hiding spot beneath the pot on the porch, I was about to unlock the back door when I heard the distant sound of a car. Since the house was fairly remote, there was only one reason for traffic. Someone was coming home.

Faster than the human eye could follow, I replaced the key and sped into the surrounding foliage, hiding myself from view.

The Greer’s dark blue Gran Cherokee pulled into the driveway, the wheels crunching on gravel before rolling to a stop.

I felt anxious; there should have been no reason for anyone to come home.

The driver’s door opened and John, Mr. Greer, stepped out of the car. Walking around to the passenger’s side, he helped a small boy out of the vehicle.

Recognizing him immediately as Derrick, John’s twelve year old son, my eyes focused on the cast encased around his arm.

Something vibrated in my chest and I felt my eyes dilate, but I seemed unable to look away. Faint ringing began to fill my ears, like a never ending dial tone that just got louder and louder the longer I stared, until everything went white.

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Hungary – 1006 A.D.

I fell face first into a drift of snow.

For a moment I stayed there, stunned, before I pushed myself off the ground to get my bearings.

I was in a forest.

Again.

Which didn’t really tell me much. Was I back in Wenatchee, or someplace new? Someplace familiar? My mind flashed back to the burning village and a pair of bright blue eyes.

Odd.

Should I remember the hue so clearly?

I took a deep breath as I brushed the snow off my new dress, marveling at how much cleaner the air smelled then it had a second ago. Fresher, almost pure. 

I was about to climb the nearest tree when I heard laughter.

Children’s laughter.

Holding my breath, I drifted toward it.

Hoping to retain my anonymity and clue into my surroundings, I hid myself in the bough of a nearby tree.

Two small children were shrieking with glee as they used a crude wooden sled to slide down a sharp hill. Both were young, no more than six and eight respectively; and heavily wrapped in furs.  The oldest, a boy, was coaching the younger girl to sit on top of the sled.

They were speaking in a language I’d never heard before, but it was obvious that the girl was eager to get moving by the way she kept kicking at the snow. Her voice was high and sweet as she pleaded with her companion, containing a strange melodic lilt unfamiliar to my American ears. A wide smile donned her features, and as she glanced away from the boy I recognized the profile of her face.

My jaw dropped in surprise.

It was the toddler I’d seen just a few months ago, cradled in her mother’s arms.

Impossible.

This girl couldn’t have aged three years overnight.

Right?

But the more I studied her, the more sure I became. As illogical as it seemed, it was the same person. Frozen with disbelief, I watched as the boy (who I now recognized as her brother) jumped on the sled behind her and their combined momentum sent them hurtling down the hill.

Halfway down, their sleigh jerked, probably hitting a rock hidden beneath the snow; and sent both children flying off their craft and tumbling into the snow.

A cry pierced the air and I felt my chest clench and twist as I fought the urge to rush to their aid.

Covered in white powder, the girl cried and clutched at her ankle. Large fat tears streamed down her cheeks as her brother tried in vain to soothe her.

Gently touching her ankle, the boy asked her a question in his strange language, to which she replied through hiccups and sniffles.

Frozen in place, I watched as the boy tried to help his sister stand, only for her to whimper and collapse.

Genuine worry covered his face as he glanced at his sister, then away into the forest. The boy ran through the snow to check on the sled, but the wood was cracked down the middle. Obviously deliberating what to do, he seemed to come to a decision and resolutely dug around in his furs before producing a crude iron knife.

Kneeling beside the girl, he handed her the blade before nodding to the woods and speaking with hesitant determination.

Gripping the handle, the girl nodded bravely; although I could see her eyes fill with fresh tears.

Then, without another world, he marched off into the woods.

For several minutes I stood vigil over the child. Several times I contemplated following the boy, since he would probably lead me to civilization, but every attempt was half-hearted at best. A part of me I never knew existed rebelled at the mere thought.

As much as I wished to comfort her, I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea. I was a vampire, and despite the progress I’d made in restraining my urges, I wasn’t confident I could withstand such intimate contact. Still, every whimper stabbed at me like jagged knives, and watching her small form shivering in the snow broke my heart.

It was sunset when I heard the wolves.

At first it was from a distance, and I enjoyed the mournful howls, until I began to notice that they were closing in.

Six solid heartbeats announced their arrival with growls. Since I was downwind, and as still as death, they didn’t notice my presence.

My hackles rose as they surrounded my charge, their appearance causing the girl to shrink and brandish her knife.

I’d been able to rationalize my inaction with the thought that my icy skin and bloodlust would only exasperate the situation.

That was no longer the case.

From my place in the tree, I let out a deep growl.

The wolves paused, confused and unnerved as they glanced around the clearing. Still, their bodies were lean from hunger, and their defenseless pray was too much to pass up.

I’d hoped that would scare them off, but obviously I’d been too optimistic.

Launching myself from the tree, I landed so lightly I barely disturbed the snow blanketing the ground. Startled, the wolves momentarily scattered before one brave canine lunged. 

Snarling, I snatched the wolf out of the air by its scruff and flung it away. I didn’t wish to harm the animal, it was only trying to survive, but there was no way I was letting it rip apart a child. It hit the ground with a yelp. Three more wolves met the same fate before, realizing they were outclassed; they beat a hasty retreat.

Relaxing my defensive stance, I turned to check on the girl when I got pinned by sky bright eyes. Awe was written all over her face.

It was only then that I realized what I’d just done.

I revealed my existence as a vampire to a human child. Fear flashed through my veins and I almost fled the spot, but the knowledge that the wolves would return if I left kept my feet planted firmly to the ground.

For several long moments we contemplated each other in silence, before she asked me something in her language.

Obviously I couldn’t understand her, so I merely cocked my head to the side, perplexed. I had the strong and sudden urge to speak with this strange girl, but caution held me back. Since becoming a vampire I’d never been this close to a human before. So far I was doing ok, but I didn’t want to risk inhaling her scent.

I would never forgive myself if I killed her.

Then, in the most trusting move I’d ever seen, she lifted her hands to me from her place in the snow. Her eyes were calm and expectant, and I could only stare in astonishment.

Like a skittish animal I approached before reaching down and picking her up. Her arms snaked around my neck and she settled on my hip as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The girl’s small body was warm, and despite the chill of my own cold limbs she buried her face in the crook of my neck.

My heart melted.

There was no way I was leaving her out here on her own to wait for help.

Pivoting to the direction I saw her brother leave in, I followed his tracks with the girl tucked firmly into my side. Following his scent would have been easier, but I dared not breathe.

Eventually I came upon a small hut that could only be their home. It was constructed of mud and clay, with a simple thatch roof. I heard no sounds of life inside, and the tracks I’d followed showed that the boy had arrived at the dwelling and then left again in another direction. No doubt to find his parents. Pushing aside the flap blocking the entrance, I carefully set the girl down in one of the bundles of fur on the floor.

She shivered and looked up at me with pain filled eyes.

Since she’d already seen my supernatural strength and speed, I didn’t bother to move slowly as I collected firewood from outside and set about filling their small hearth with kindling.

I was sure to be very careful when starting it, because I knew fire was one of my only weaknesses.  I had no idea how flammable I actually was.

The small blaze quickly warmed the small enclosure and I glanced over at my young ward, who was watching my every move with hawk-like intensity.

Once more, she spoke to me in her language, but I just shook my head incomprehensibly. Her brows furrowed in the most adorable manner, until her eyes brightened and she pointed at herself.

“Tatyana.” She spoke slowly before pointing at me expectantly.

A sort of befuddled helplessness overcame me. I wanted to tell this child my name, very much so, but did I dare take a breath to form the words?

 No, I couldn’t.

Instead I gave her my best apologetic expression.

Frustrated, Tatyana repeated her name and jabbed her finger at me imperiously. I almost laughed as she pouted.

The sound of running feet interrupted my mirth, and I knew it was time for me to leave. They were still far enough away for me to remain undetected if I left now. For some reason the thought of leaving Tatyana filled me with a hollow sadness, but I turned to leave anyway.

I’d taken no more than a step when a cry of dismay stopped me short.

“Angyal!” Tatyana called, her hands reaching for me, eyes desperate. “Ne menji el!”

It was easy to see she was anxious about me leaving.

Crossing the small room, I brushed her strawberry blonde curls from her face and gently kissed her forehead.

Unable to stay longer, I dashed outside and hid in the woods surrounding the hut. I watched from a safe distance as a large man and Tatyana’s brother came into view. For a moment it seemed like they were going to pass the house altogether on their way to ‘rescue’ Tatyana from the hill her brother left her, when the distressed noises inside the dwelling caught their attention.

“Tanya!” The man called, before rushing into the hut, the boy close on his heels. Animated talking soon followed.

For the first time since awakening to my new life, I felt the stirrings of hope in my chest. Vampirism didn’t have to be the curse Edward always made it out to be.

I saved a life today.

I could do good things. Things I hadn’t the strength to before.

My time on earth didn’t need to revolve around death, although I was not naïve enough to believe that I could avoid it altogether.

Still, I could make something of myself. More than a half existence.

My smile didn’t leave, even when I faded to white.

Chapter Text

Bella

I faded into existence in the woods behind the Greer home.

Since I could hear voices from inside the house I retreated further into the wilderness, more than a little shaken by the revelations the day had brought me.

Safely back in my familiar hunting grounds I let myself breathe.

My breath hitched and I involuntarily groaned as I swallowed a mouth full of venom. A sweet fragrance reminiscent of raspberries and almonds wafted from my clothes; two subtle and rich flavors blended into one perfect aroma.

Lifting the collar of my dress to my nose, I inhaled again, my eyes fluttering blissfully closed.

This had to be Tatyana’s scent because I’d touched nothing other than deer all day. Surprisingly enough, despite being such a beautiful fragrance, I felt no more hungry than usual.

As a newborn, I was always thirsty. The craving for blood was as constant and eternal as I was.

Like any other human, Tatyana’s scent incited my bloodlust.

Yet…

It also made me feel calm; euphoric even. Almost as if two separate parts of my nature were in intense conflict. At this point I’d almost gotten used to my body’s desire to kill every human I ran across, but this was different and I had no idea why.

In fact, my whole experience with Tatyana was bizarre to the extreme. Not because of any action on her part, but how and why I’d ended up ‘blacking out’ and running into her in the first place.

Originally I thought that perhaps I had developed some sort of teleporting power, but now I was no longer certain that was the case.

Her crude clothes, not to mention the primitive construction of her dwelling were all strange and out of place. It all seemed more suited to something from the middle ages than the 21st century.

That didn’t even take into account that Tatyana seemed to have aged at least three years in the few months since I’d last encountered her.

I didn’t understand what was happening.

Closing my eyes I tried to sort everything out in a logical manner.

The first time I ‘faded’ I was under a lot of emotional stress. I was running on instinct. Perhaps something triggered it? A sound, a scent?

There was a winter forest, a burning village, fleeing families…

A little girl.

The second time it happened I was looking at Derrick. He’d broken his arm. Next thing I know I’m face first in a pile of snow; yet another wood, but no village.

So far the only reoccurring themes seemed to be winter, forests, and Tatyana. However, the first two could simply be coincidence, while the third seemed more than a little suspicious.

If Tatyana isn’t also the product of coincidence, what is her significance?

Trying to puzzle the whole thing out was making my head hurt. Finally, I decided that I should wait until I had more information before jumping to conclusions. If and when it should happen again, I would deal with it then.

Meanwhile, there were things I could do to prepare, should it I find myself in a similar situation. The first was crossing the language barrier.

Obviously I had no idea what tongue Tatyana spoke, but if I wanted to communicate with her, I needed to learn fast.

Decision made, I waited until the Greers were out of the house to make use of their computer.  Being extremely careful not to break the keyboard or mouse I eventually found out that Tatyana and her family had been speaking a Hungarian dialect.

It was a little stunning because, although I’d had my suspicions, the proof that I’d magically crossed an ocean in the blink of an eye both terrified and intrigued me.

Leaving the house exactly as they’d left it, I ran back into the forest to hunt. Taking down an aged buck to slack my thirst, I ran back to what I was quickly coming to think of as ‘my lake’ to clean the blood and dirt from my skin.

Nearly half a year had passed since I first started stalking these woods and in that time I’d made leaps and bounds in my control. My eyes were now the honey gold that I’d found so captivating in the Cullens. My chest ached faintly every time I saw my own reflection, but I was slowly learning not to associate topaz eyes with the family that left me behind.

Refreshed from my dip in the lake, I concluded that it was time for me to try and brave town. Leavenworth wasn’t large by any stretch of the imagination, but if I planned on furthering my education, I needed things I couldn’t obtain in a forest.

After spending so much time becoming accustomed to the Greer’s I was fairly confident that I could spend at least a short amount of time among a larger populace. Enough time to obtain a few things at least.

While over the past few months I’d been surreptitiously taking items from their house I knew that it would be a bad idea to try the same thing in town. There would be too many eyes and cameras to worry about. So I would have to procure money of some sort.

This was a real problem because I had no form of identification or a bank account. All of that was still in Forks.

A part of me was tempted to return to my home there, but I was afraid that Charlie would be put in danger if I tried to contact him. As far as I knew Victoria was still out there looking to put a permanent end to me.

Right now I didn’t have the skill to protect my father from myself, let alone a homicidal red head.

Still, I could at least claim my legal papers from the house. I was eighteen, and undoubtedly posted as missing, but if I wanted to find a job the state wouldn’t have any reason to deny me. Not that I would be capable of holding a job anytime soon. My bloodlust took care of that, but it was nice to think that I would have the option at some point.

Running to the edge of Leavenworth, I swiped a pair of sandals off the porch of an outlying home and cautiously walked into the business district of town.

Breathing shallowly I had to grit my teeth against the sensory overload.

The stench of exhaust, gasoline, rubber and concrete overwhelmed the natural aroma of pine and moss that I’d grown accustomed to the past few months.

Venom burned like petrol in my mouth at the multitude of human scents, and I had to close my eyes and lean against a building to regain my composure.

Every time a car passed me on the street I flinched at how loud it was on my sensitive ears. Frazzled and a little feral, I knew I had to leave when a concerned pedestrian tried to approach me.

Growling to myself, I fled the area before my instincts caused me to rip some innocent bystander apart.

Once I’d had time to collect myself, away from the noise and the people, I realized that I’d been foolish to try this in the middle of the day when everything was at its busiest. I needed to try again when things were calmer. Maybe early in the morning or at night just before the stores closed.

Unfortunately I was going to have to acquire some cash before I could buy anything. As much as I loathed the idea, I was going to have to steal to supplement my needs.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

Several stolen purses and wallets later (taken at vamp speed so they never even knew what happened) I managed to amass around five hundred dollars.

When it got darker, and the streets less crowded, I shored my courage and walked into the first sporting goods store I found. The moment I stepped inside a wall of scents washed over me. I twitched and froze as I tried to deal with the faint but lingering pheromones of hundreds of men and women. If I was still human I had no doubt I would have broken out in a sweat.

Repeating one of the meditating exercises I learned from Renee’s ‘yoga’ phase, I held my breath and went around the store quickly gathering the items I needed. A small two man tent (to keep my things dry) and a few solar powered lanterns later, I was ready to leave.

Rushing to the register, I paid for everything and exited the store as swiftly as I could.

The moment I was outside I let myself relax slightly.

Stashing my stuff at the edge of the forest I went back three more times, in short intervals, to obtain new clothes, shoes, a CD player, books (and audio books) about the Magyar language, an abbreviated history of the Hungarian nation, and some light reading to help pass the time.

As I was leaving the last shop, a small bookstore that looked like it had seen better days; a newspaper advertised at the desk caught my eye.

Death Toll in Seattle Rises! Dozens Missing due to Gang Wars!’

Without really knowing why, I felt a cold wash of dread. Before I knew what I was doing I added the news edition to my pile of books.

By the time I made it back to my favorite spot by the lake, it was already night. The air was damp with precipitation and I wanted to get the few meager possessions I had into the tent before it inevitably rained.

Fortunately the moon was out, and with my acute vampiric eyesight I was able to set up the simple abode with little hassle.

Since I was mostly sated from hunting only hours prior, I settled in the tent for the night and calmly popped an ‘English to Hungarian’ learning language disc into the CD player.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

As the days passed I split my time between testing the limits of my control and writing what I’d learned on any clear patch of dirt I could find.  

It’s really amazing how much of linguistics is memorizing words. As long as I took the time to understand how sentences came together in addition to past and present tense, my photographic memory took care of the rest. I didn’t have to spend countless hours ingraining vocabulary into my head.

For the most part I had no trouble understanding spoken Hungarian. Writing in Magyar was more challenging, but even that wasn’t too difficult.

If I’d still been plain ol Bella Swan, it would have taken me months if not years to make the same amount of progress. It didn’t hurt that I spent most of every day studying.

I quickly found that not having to sleep for eight hours every night left one with a lot of free time; too much even. I studied just as much to relieve my boredom than I did because of an actual desire to learn.

When I wasn’t reading I spent hours trying to leash my blood lust.

Meditation became a big part of my daily routine. Taking the time to police my impulses and keep myself centered went a long way. It was very useful when I tested myself by spending hours in the scent saturated home of the Greers. Smelling a human was no longer the agony it used to be.

It wasn’t easy, I was still constantly tempted and endlessly thirsty, but I no longer felt like I would go on a berserk rampage if I breathed near another person.

My ultimate ambition was to someday be able to feed off animals without killing them. Taking non-fatal amounts of blood from several sources rather than draining a single deer.

Spending so much time in solitude gave me a lot of time to think, and I came to the conclusion that I (and any other vegetarian vampire) will eventually be unable to sustain our current lifestyles.

Wild game becomes more and more scarce with overhunting, destroyed habitats, and industrialization. If I was going to live forever, I was going to have to start taking responsibility for making sure there would be a future for me to live in.

Perhaps I could buy an animal farm, where I could raise my own prey without worrying about decimating the wildlife.

Or manage a blood bank.

If I really wanted to get creative, investing in a company working to mass produce clone blood would be smart.

Unfortunately, all of those things require money, of which I have little to none. However, I was confident that wouldn’t always be the case.

In the meantime, while I lacked the control to keep from killing my prey, I had the ability to prepare for the day when I could.

As such, I bought a rust resistant knife and several animal anatomy books. Although the thought of practicing creating non-fatal wounds made me nauseous, I forced past my initial revulsion. It was bad enough that I had to kill on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, further mutilating the poor animals only served to make me feel guilty and monstrous.

Still, I assuaged my conscious by reasoning that they were going to die anyway, and that even medical students needed to practice on cadavers before they could become fully fledged doctors. Hunters worldwide skinned and gutted animals every day for sport!

It only marginally helped.

However I discovered that although my teeth and nails were more than capable of creating a wound from which to draw blood; the injury was always too large or jagged to heal cleanly. That wasn’t even taking into account the venom that would be injected into the creature if I bit them.

All considered; a knife seemed to be the best choice.

Time caused my skills to grow along with my confidence, but more and more I found myself yearning for human interaction. I’d spent over half a year in solitude and while I’d been grateful at first, now I was merely lonely.

To help alleviate the monotony of my everyday existence, I resolved to take a walk into town. 

Changing into a pair of comfortable jeans and a casual long sleeved blouse, I was rifling through my tent in search of sneakers when I came across the newspaper I bought days ago.

Looking at it now, the same feeling of unease crept over me. Turning the page to read the full story, the article went on to describe the rampant violence that had started popping up in Seattle. What was unusual was that people were disappearing with little to no evidence of what happened, and the bodies that had been discovered were usually mangled and bloodless. The police were chalking the absence of blood up to the bodies being moved from the original murder site but something about it didn’t sit right with me.

I wondered… was it possible I wasn’t the only vampire in the area?

Disturbed at the prospect, I tossed the paper on the floor and prepared to leave once I’d put on my shoes.

Just as I was about to head out, I heard a sharp snap, followed by a squeal of pain to my left. Whirling toward the sound I crouched defensively, startled and on edge. I couldn’t immediately spot anything, but listening hard I could hear something thrashing around the underbrush a ways away.

Walking towards it, the scent of blood reached my nose and my breath hitched. Swallowing my venom I eventually came across a snow white rabbit with its foot caught in a snare.

The poor creature was weakly thrashing around, frantically trying to escape and unknowingly making its predicament worse. Blood stained the snow crimson, and I could tell that the wire had already made it down to the bone.

Rushing forward, I pinned the struggling animal to the ground to keep it from flailing. Its little heart was beating a mile a minute as it stared at me with huge frightened eyes.

 I wondered what hunter set snares this far out in the reservation and realized that the only ones who would were poachers. Not that I had a right to judge, I was hunting in a National Preserve too.

Stroking it fur gently, I snapped the wire around its leg when I felt my chest pulse. My vision grew hazy and a loud ringing filled my ears. I’d experienced this phenomenon twice before but I still felt a shock of fear when my entire world turned white.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

Hungary – Spring 1007 A.D.

I came back to myself in the middle of a shallow stream.

Cursing, I leapt effortlessly to the bank, trying to shake the water from my sneakers. Thankfully the water had only been up to my calves, but I was a little annoyed that I might have ended up ruining the only foot ware I had.

Taking off my shoes so they could dry, I looked around in an attempt to gauge my location. Once more I was surrounded by trees, but this time the area was bursting in vegetation. The air was warmer and there wasn’t a hint of snow in sight.

Wringing the water out of the bottom of my jeans, I was still getting my bearings when I heard voices speaking in low tones on the opposite side of the brook I’d just appeared in.

Curious, I silently jumped over the water and landed quietly on the other shore. Moving seamlessly through the foliage, I listened harder and gradually recognized the voice as a man’s.

It also happened that the gentleman in question was very definitely speaking Magyar.

With a flush of triumph I realized that I could understand most of what he was saying. Still, the dialect was different than what I was used to hearing on my CD player and I was a little uncertain about the exact translation in some cases.

His voice was rough and gravelly, like he spent a lot of time drinking and smoking, but retained a certain soft kindness.

–ow you tie a knot. Place the loop carefully, and hold it in place with sticks. Make sure they are stuck firmly in the ground.

Damek, this is especially important for you to remember. A Korsak should excel at whatever he puts his mind to. When you have a family of your own they will count on you to bring in food and pelts.”

Yes, Papa.” A boy answered dutifully.

Tanya, one day you might have to help your future husband with this. Normally it would be wrong to teach a woman skills meant for a man, but out here sometimes this is the difference between life and death.

I froze, not completely surprised but taken unaware by a strange anticipation. I wanted to be closer; I wanted to see if little Tatyana had stayed the same. Creeping silently forward, I eventually got a clear glimpse of the trio.

They were all huddled up with their backs to me, bundled in fur and hunched over a snare made of leather and braided horse hair. The man’s movements seemed sure as he instructed them step by step. I felt relieved to notice that neither Tatyana nor her brother seemed older in any significant way.

Again I caught wind of Tanya’s raspberry-almond scent and had to shake my head to rid myself of the daze I’d fallen into. With an effort, I consciously tuned back into their conversation.

Soon we shall have another mouth to feed, and you both must learn to take care of your new brother or sister.”

Having finished the snare, the man slung a string of game over his shoulder, a detail I’d failed to notice earlier.

Come. Let’s go home. I’ll teach you how to skin a rabbit without ruining the pelt.”

Obediently the two children rose with their father and padded after his lumbering form. Letting them walk a ways away, I moved forward to examine their combined handiwork. I doubted I would ever have cause to use an animal trap, but I figured the knowledge couldn’t hurt.

Prey would never be able to out run me, but there was something appealing about using ones wiles instead of brute strength.

Finished with my inspection, I followed the sound of their heartbeats back to the small dwelling I’d seen the last time I’d been here.

I caught sight of them just as Tanya’s father began to gut one of the rabbits, spilling its intestines into a bucket as he slowly peeled back its skin.

Simultaneously, I discovered it was possible for a vampire to feel both extreme revulsion and bloodlust at the same time. Covering my nose and mouth with my hand, I averted my eyes as I tried to control myself.

It was easier because the animals had been dead for at least a few hours, but as a newborn easier didn’t really mean easy.

When I managed to compose myself they’d finished their task and Tanya was ordered to dump the viscera into the nearby stream. That little girl scooped up that bucket without even blinking.

 I don’t know how she did it. As a human I used to feel faint at the sight of blood, let alone a pail full of entrails.

Still, I followed Tatyana to the brook and waited until she had finished washing her hands to step out of concealment. I was nearly to her when she finally caught sight of me from the corner of her eye. Startled, she jumped, tripped over her own feet; and would have ended up in the water if I hadn’t shot my hand out to catch her.

Large sky-blue eyes fixed on my face as little Tanya’s mouth dropped. Her expression was so priceless I couldn’t keep my mouth from twitching in amusement. She only managed to pout for a moment before Tatyana’s expression blossomed with excitement and she eagerly clutched at my blouse.

Before I knew what was happening I was being bombarded with rapid fire questions. All of it spoken so quickly it practically blended together. I only understood every third word or so, so without aplomb I simply covered her mouth with my hand.

Tanya’s chatter instantly ceased.

Slowly.” I enunciated, trying to get her to realize that I was not a native speaker. A grin worked its way across her face, revealing a gap toothed smile.

Hi.” She said, her head tilted way back to look at my face.

Hi.” I replied, a little charmed by the simplicity of the introduction.

You’re back.” A statement.

Yes.”

Are you here to look after my little brother or sister?” I blinked at the unexpected turn in conversation.

Why would you assume I’m here for your sibling?

Now it was Tatyana’s turn to be confused, as she cocked her head to the side and gazed at me consideringly.

Isn’t that what guardian angels are for? You protected me. Is it my little brother or sister’s turn?

I stared, nonplussed, before slowly shaking my head.

I’m not here for your brother or sister, and I’m sad to say I’m also not an angel.”

I considered letting her continue to make assumptions, but doing so might have disastrous results if she ever ran into another vampire. People claimed to see angels more often than vampires, and while doing so might keep word from reaching the Volturi, ultimately it wasn’t worth putting Tatyana at risk. I had a strong compulsion to keep this girl from harm.

Then why are you here?” she asked, innocently curious.

I don’t know. I wish I could tell you.” Tanya peered at me as solemnly as any six year old could muster, her hands reached out to grasp my fingers.

It’s ok. Mama says that God works in misterous ways, and we all have a purpose.” Smiling gently, I crouched to her level and affectionately rubbed her tiny hand with my thumb.

Your mother sounds like a smart lady.” I replied, and Tanya nodded like it was all very self-evident.

What’s your name?” she inquired; her face a picture of anticipation. I hesitated a moment unsure if I should give her my real name before settling on a half-truth.

“Marie. You can call me Marie.” Since technically Marie was my middle name you couldn’t say I was lying, but some instinct of mine warned that using my given name would be a mistake.

Mari.” Tanya copied, not quite getting the pronunciation right.

“Marie.” I repeated, more slowly.

Mari.” Tanya said again, more confidently, a joyful gleam in her eye.

“Close enough.” I muttered in English, to which she cocked her head.

Having gained a name to call me by, Tanya finally seemed to notice what I was wearing, and inspected my foreign clothes with fascination.

What are you wearing?” Tatyana asked, rolling the fabric of my blouse between her fingers. “So soft,” She murmured, apparently in awe at the quality of the fiber. It was a common cotton shirt, but apparently something she had never seen before. “Aren’t you cold? Why are you dressed like a man?”

Frowning at the implications behind that last question, I glanced down at my apparel.

I’m not dressed like a man; women wear this where I’m from.” Tanya’s face clearly expressed her skepticism. Affronted, I playfully tugged on a lock of her strawberry blonde hair. “What? You don’t believe me?

Tatyana giggled and enthusiastically shook her head. Standing up, I backed up a few paces and struck a pose.

Now, try and imagine your father wearing these clothes. Wouldn’t he look silly?” I asked, trying to do Alice proud by showing off.

She nodded shyly.

Well if the clothes look good on a woman and silly on a man then they’re not men’s clothes.”

Tanya appeared to consider my words before making a noise of affirmation.

Where do you come from Mari?

Somewhere far away from here, across the ocean,” I replied.

What’s an ocean?” 

Pausing, I tried to think of a way to describe it so that she would understand.

Have you been to a lake before?”  Tanya nodded happily.

Every year Papa takes the pelts to town for trade, sometimes he takes Damek and I with him. It’s right next to Lake Orava.”

“Lake Orava huh?” I mutter to myself while making a mental note. “Try to imagine that lake, only it’s so big that it stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. If you can do that, you might be close to imagining what an ocean looks like.

Whoa,” she breathed; eyes wide with awe. “That’s big. I bet even King Stephen would be afraid to cross that.”

I felt a chill run down my spine. Something about that name tickled the back of my mind.

King Stephen?” I asked. “As in, the first King of Hungary?

Humming in acknowledgement, Tanya nodded, rocking back on her heels as she tried to make sense of my reaction.

“Oh God,” I whispered, suddenly feeling the need to lean against something. The name was familiar because I’d read about him in the history book I’d gotten at the bookstore. Unfortunately, King Stephen’s reign was over a thousand years ago.

I wasn’t just in some forest on the other side of the globe; I’d somehow managed to slip through time itself.

Chapter Text

Bella

Feeling a little shaky, I tried not to appear too affected by my revelation despite the fact that if I was human I probably would have fainted by now.

If the concerned look on Tanya’s face was anything to go by, I was failing miserably.

Are you alright?” she asked softly, clutching at my shirt.

I-I’m fine, just a bit farther from home than I originally thought,” I replied. Tanya didn’t seem to understand, but that was fine with me.

At the moment I was seriously freaked out. In every movie or book I’d ever seen, bad things happened to people who changed the past. Even slight changes in history could have resounding consequences. Who knows what I’d already done even inadvertently.

I really needed to get back.

Like, right now.

Unfortunately, it seemed that fate was unwilling to oblige.

Little Tatyana looked ready to ask another question when the gruff voice of her father broke our staring contest.

Tanya! Stop messing around and come help your mother with the stew!” Like a child caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to, Tanya jumped.

Yes Papa!” she yelled, before scurrying toward the hut.  Stopping abruptly, she turned to face me, her eyes wide and eager. “Are you going to be here tomorrow?” she asked.

I’ll try,” I answered, unable to promise that whatever power had whisked me here wouldn’t do it again. Nodding happily, Tanya took off, waving a distracted goodbye as I watched with an amused expression.

Settling myself a ways from the hut, I sat down in the grass as I listened to the chatter inside the dwelling.  It was interesting to note the differences in cadence and accent of speech compared to the audio tapes I had been learning from, but I found that I enjoyed it more.

Just from listening I learned that Tanya’s father was named Yakov and his wife was Elya. They seemed like very Russian names to me, but since I wasn’t familiar with Eastern Europe I couldn’t say how correct my intuition really was.

This whole situation felt very familiar to me because I spent a lot of time listening to the Greer’s talk too. It served the dual purpose of training and relieving the endless monotony.

At one point Elya left the abode and I got my first glimpse of Tatyana’s mother. She was dressed very simply, in linin clothes and fur, and she had a hand woven basket filled with laundry tucked under one arm. She looked young, still in her twenties, but lines of a hard life were etched on her face. Elya shared the same red-gold hair as her daughter and I could just see the beginning of a swell indicating pregnancy.

Tanya came out close on her mother’s heels and it became clear that they were supposed to wash the clothes while their meal cooked. Tatyana kept glancing around, no doubt looking for me, but I decided to remain covert.

If I really was in the past, than I was resolved to do as little damage as possible. I’d already been revealed to one person, I wasn’t about to risk the ripples of what might happen if I interfered too much.

From how Tanya and Elya interacted I could tell that Elya was a stern but loving mother, although the thinness of her arms and face concerned me. You wouldn’t guess by looking at her children, but Elya had the pallor of someone undernourished. I wondered how many meals this woman missed a day in order to keep Tanya and her brother as healthy as they both appeared.

For a woman who was supposed to be eating for two, this was especially alarming.

For several minutes I listened to Tanya chatter with her mother, somewhat soothed by the sounds of other people, when one of her questions caused my ears to perk.

Mama,” Tanya asked, dunking one of her furs in the stream. “When will Papa take us to the lake again?” The older woman stopped scrubbing to glance at her youngest child.

If you’re good and patient, he might take you next week. Last time, you fidgeted the whole way and your Papa doesn’t have time to deal with misbehaving children. We’ve been fortunate, since spring started game has been plentiful, so we have a lot of pelts to barter.”

I couldn’t help it,” she whined. “It takes so long to get there!” Elya snorted, obviously not moved by Tanya’s complaints.

You were told it was a day’s ride to the south, but you wanted to go anyway. Hopefully next time you’ll think about it more seriously.

Yes Mama,” Tanya muttered, listlessly rubbing sand into the linen.

Despite any dejection Tanya was feeling, I felt like I’d learned a valuable piece of information. I still knew how to tell east from west from Renee’s one disastrous attempt to get me to join the girl scouts. So I was fairly confident that I would be able to locate the aforementioned lake. Seeing an actual community would solidify whether I had actually time traveled or if Tanya and her family were just strange isolationists.

No matter how backwater some people might be, it couldn’t stop the human drive for progress. If the community near the lake had paved roads and electricity I would write the whole thing off as paranoia. Being isolated in the woods for so long could not be good for my mental health.

Slipping away from the duo, I climbed a tall tree to get my bearings. Once I knew what direction I was going, I set off at a jog. Occasionally I repeated the action to reaffirm my sense of direction. Unless it started to rain I should be able to follow my scent back to the house if I get lost.

Eventually I caught an audible lapping of waves and honed in on the sound. A moment later I broke from tree cover onto a gently sloping hill that dipped into blue-green waters.  Yellow sand lined the shore a good ways up the beach, which surprised me, because every lake I’ve ever seen was rimmed with mud. I’m amazed at how large it is, all things considered.

Training my eyes down the edge of the lake, I can faintly see light coming from the opposite shore. Chances were good that it was the settlement Tanya and her mother were talking about. It was astonishing that I’d managed to span a distance described as a day’s ride in less than half an hour.

Dashing along the lakeshore, I made it to the town in record time.

There I found a community straight out of the middle-ages. Every building was small with thatch roofs and fire pits. The streets were muddy, and there wasn’t even a hint of power lines or cars.

If that wasn’t enough, the rank smell of human excrement pervaded everything, and it was easy to see that people were just throwing their waste out in the road. Clearly sewers and indoor plumbing were not concepts these people were familiar with.

On the Brightside, the stench of excrement and body odor was so strong I felt absolutely no compulsion to feed on the people tucked away in their homes or hawking their wares at various stalls outside.

To my knowledge no country in Europe would allow such huge health and sanitation violations. Ironically that, more than anything, convinced me that I was temporally misplaced.

Unwilling to stick around longer than necessary, I followed my trail back to Tatyana’s residence. I was almost upon their dwelling when the burn in the back of my throat told me it was time to hunt.

Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to slake my thirst, but knowing that I’d somehow traveled back in time made me weary about making any permanent changes to the environment. What if the animal I killed was vital to some future event and by ending its life I manage to screw everything up?

On the other hand, I had no idea how long I was going to be here. If I don’t feed, will I lose control? If I lose control will Tanya and her family die as a result? Exterminating an animal was bad, murdering a human would probably be infinitely worse.

Thinking about it that way, I felt that I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. I wasn’t willing to risk killing someone no matter what era I might be in.

Inhaling deeply, I let my awareness expand. Every sense and smell became sharper and the sound of two heavy heartbeats told me that prey was close by.  Breaking into a brisk jog, I quickly converged on the source, my body tense with anticipation.

Two large moose, one a buck the other a doe, were grazing on fresh spring grass. Now that I was in visual range, I could faintly hear another weaker heartbeat from the doe. Being pregnant automatically discounted the female as prey, so that only left the male. He was huge, literally towering over my head by several inches with magnificent antlers that could easily gore a man.

Regrettably, he didn’t stand a chance against a vampire.

Swallowing a mouthful of venom, I was just about to pounce when I remembered the knife strapped to my calf. Now was just as good a time as any to resume training; I slipped my knife out of my leg sheath. Finishing my preparations, I surged forward, tackling the buck to the ground and dropping my weight onto his front legs so he couldn’t try to stand. The doe screamed and fled as I pinned down the bucks neck with one hand. I used my other arm to swiftly slash its throat with the blade.

Unfortunately, I was too eager in my execution and sliced deeply into the jugular. Fresh ruby blood poured from the wound and I ardently drank. When I had my fill, I wiped my mouth with my hand and licked what remained from my fingers. There wasn’t a nearby water source I could use to clean up, so I would have to wait until I returned to the stream near Tanya’s house.

I was just about to walk away and leave the corpse to the wolves when I paused.

A moose was a large kill, and this one had a beautiful rack. The meat from this beast could feed a family for a long time.

I recall the gauntness of Elya’s cheeks and wonder how long it will take before Tanya and her brother suffer the same fate; not to mention the baby growing in her womb.

Crouching, I brought my face close to the slit in the cadaver’s neck and took a cautionary sniff. Blood (thick and coagulated), musk, and dirt were all that greeted my nose. I couldn’t detect even a whiff of venom, which was good because I wouldn’t risk feeding Tatyana meat tainted with the stuff.

It was impossible to predict what effects it might have on a human.

Using the knife was a good idea if for no other reason than that.

Hefting the buck over my shoulders, I awkwardly carried the creature back the way I came. Its antlers and legs dragged along the ground as I ran.

Eventually I reached the small abode and set the carcass next to the entrance when I was sure no one was watching. Flashing to the small stream near the hut, I washed my face and hands before returning to see the family reaction.

Yakov was the first to come across my ‘gift’. As he lifted the cloth in the doorway to come outside, he must have seen the moose from the corner of his eye because he jumped back with a surprised yelp. Suppressing the urge to break into laughter, I covered my mouth with my arm. It was especially hard not to snicker when I watched him examine the body in spooked confusion.

At his exclamation the rest of the family came rushing out of the home and had similar reactions, although Tanya seemed more curious judging by her intense scrutiny.

“Is anyone out there?” Yakov called nervously. When I failed to reply, he looked to the moose and out into the woods several times before coming to a decision. “This is a good pelt. It’s a healthy elk, lots of fat and meat, and the rack will sell well. Fortune has smiled upon us, let’s get to work.”

 What followed were several gruesome hours of skinning, gutting, tanning, smoking, and carving of every part of the animal. I couldn’t watch most of it.

Charlie used to bring back the fish he caught when he went on trips with Billy, so I was somewhat familiar with the process, but this was on a whole other level.

Still, it was worth it when I saw how heartily everyone ate. Warm affection filled my chest and I found myself wanting to adopt the Korsak’s as my own. Unlike the Greers, where I was merely a passive observer, I felt needed. More like I was making a significant impact on their lives.

As the days passed and I failed to return to my own time, my instincts to protect and nurture only grew.

Often I found myself helping Elya with chores that were unsuitable for a pregnant woman, and I did it all when she wasn’t looking. It almost became a game to see how much I could accomplish while her back was turned; whether it was moving heavy sacks of grain, stacking wood, or hauling water.

 Sometimes I would let Tanya catch me in the act, at which point I’d put my finger to my lips and smile as she giggled.

I guess I was a little too blatant in my actions because soon thereafter Elya and Yakov started to leave offerings of food outside.

When I asked Tatyana about it, she told me that her parents were under the impression that I was a Domovoi, or house spirit, and that they were thanking me for my hard work.

Much to my dismay, it only took four days for me to run out of things to do. Fortunately I only ever had to wait for Tatyana to finish her chores for entertainment. Normally she would spend most of her time with her brother, but since Damek was the only son, he was devoting more and more of his time to learning his father’s trade.

As a result Tanya was often left to her own devices, and we regularly spent the day playing games.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

I’d been lying next to the stream for half an hour when I heard the unmistakable patter of little feet on dry leaves. I had my back to the house, my legs dipped comfortably in the water, as I patiently awaited my companion.

Drawing near, my quarry (though they knew it not) made an attempt to soften their steps. Their breathing became more subdued as they crept up behind me. I closed my eyes with a smile and resisted the urge to shake my head. Even if I hadn’t been a vampire, this sneak attack would have failed.

If I had a doubt as to the identity of my would-be attacker, their raspberry almond scent gave it away almost immediately. 

Suddenly they pounced, their arms wrapped around my neck as they barreled into me; shouting with triumph.

Grahhh!” Tanya roared, or tried to, in an attempt to catch me off guard. Her childish voice failed to conjure even the slightest form of terror. “I got you!

Ahh, oh no, what ever shall I do?” I said, completely monotone as I struggled to keep my face straight. Unfortunately the faintest of smiles made it past my lips.

Pouting slightly, Tanya’s whole body slumped and she ended up sliding down my back despite the fact that I was sitting.

Mari,” Tanya whined. “I’m bored… play with me!” she exclaimed, bounding to her feet with renewed energy.

I smiled indulgently. Despite being stuck somewhere in the eleventh century I was really enjoying myself. Human beings were by nature social creatures, and I wasn’t living a solitary existence in the woods because I liked being alone with my thoughts.

 I had a greater understanding of why the Cullen’s spent so much effort trying to integrate into society. Not that they really took advantage of all their hard work. As far as I could tell they shunned any type of friendships with normal people, so it was a wonder why they bothered at all.

Their interactions with me seemed to be a rare exception; and that probably only happened because Edward couldn’t read my thoughts.

Looking into Tanya’s sky blue eyes, I couldn’t regret getting to know this adorable little girl.

What would you like to play?” I inquired.

How about hide and see-,” Tatyana paused, mid-sentence, and snatched something tucked into the waistband of my jeans. “What’s this?”

Startled, my body moved without thinking and shot to my feet. Turning on my heel, I turned to face my charge and noticed that she was holding a miniature English to Hungarian dictionary in her hand.

My eyes widened in surprise as I gaped at her. I had completely forgotten that I had that on me! I’d made a habit of tucking it into the back of my waistband as I studied, since my pockets were too small.

Plucking the book from Tanya’s grasp, I flipped it open and let her study its contents. Her fingers traced over the pages as her eyes drank in the unfamiliar characters.

Is this… a book?” Tatyana asked, her mouth open in an ‘o’ of undisguised awe.

Amused and a tad perplexed, I nodded.

Yes, it helped me learn your language. It shows me all the words you use; and its corresponding word in my language. It’s very helpful.”

I’ve never seen a book before. Papa says only nobles and priests know how to read, and that it’s not a skill a regular man needs to learn.”

As a freethinking woman of the 21st century, more horrifying words could not be spoken. I loved books. I lived and breathed literature; indeed, it was one of the things that attracted me to Edward. Until that point, I’d never met a guy who had shared my enthusiasm for the written word.

To speak of them as bothersome and unnecessary skills caused my very soul to rebel. 

Would you like to learn how to read and write?” I queried, determined to give Tanya any advantage I could. While men in this era may not believe that education was suitable for the masses, let alone a woman, I wouldn’t let Tanya’s mind go to waste if I had any say about it.

A large part of me felt responsible for Tatyana. Like she was mine to protect and nurture. I’d never been prone to maternal instincts, but I felt that this was probably as close as I was ever going to get.

Can I?” Tanya murmured shyly.

Yes.” I smiled widely and Tanya’s face flushed. She seemed a little dazed and I thought that I might have dazzled her on accident. The Cullen’s used to do the same thing to me on several occasions.

We spent the rest of the day learning the alphabet, both in Magyar and English. It occurred to me that Latin was probably what she should really be learning, but since I didn’t have a shred of knowledge regarding the subject, Tanya would have to make do with what I could teach her.

To my delight, Tatyana was a fast learner, and I was astonished by her willingness to dedicate herself. I couldn’t remember being anywhere near as happy to study. Perhaps it was the opportunity to gain a skill she might not ever have the chance to otherwise, but I found myself impressed.

Our lessons also gave me a new found appreciation for my own upbringing. I’d taken my ability to read and write for granted. For me it was expected that everyone would have such skills, but here in this time it was a privilege afforded only to the Church and the Nobility.

Several afternoons where spent in this manner when I noticed that Yakov was piling pelts and furs into a wagon he kept away from the dwelling. Elya meanwhile was hooking up one of their old mules to the cart.

Counting up the days in my head, I concluded that Yakov was leaving on the trip Elya had spoken to Tatyana about. My deduction was confirmed by the way Damek and Tanya kept scampering around his legs like overzealous puppies.

Papa!” they chorused “Can we come?

Tatyana was especially ardent, because as a member of the fairer sex, she was far more likely to be left behind.

Pleeeaase,” she begged, breaking out the doe eyes. “I promise to be good.”

Yakov grunted and looked at his daughter appraisingly.

Will you stay close and refrain from pestering me?

Yes, yes, I promise,” she nodded frantically.

Then you may come. Get in the back, your brother will sit next to me.”

Shouting gleefully, both children scrambled into place as their father secured the latch on the back of the cart.

It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be left behind, so I kept pace with the carriage from a distance. Tatyana and her brother seemed to enjoy the ride for the first hour or so before the novelty wore off. After which they fell asleep curled up under the pelts in the back.

Part of me wanted to run ahead, I’d become more impatient as a vampire, but the other half kept me anchored to the wagon. Every time I tried to leave I kept imagining something horrible happening.

By the time we arrived in town, a small place called Ruzinov, I was just about ready to find out if a vampire could die of boredom.

Still, the trip was almost worth it just to see little Tanya groggily poke her head out of the furs, her hair a tangled mess.

Swiping a wool cloak from a nearby cottage, I slipped the garment over my head and shoulders just in case the sun decided to come out. It also had the added bonus of obscuring my features. I had the distinct impression that an inhumanly beautiful woman dressed in strange clothes would prove to be far too interesting and memorable for a village where some of the inhabitants literally slept in pens with their pigs.

Trailing the trio as discreetly as possible, I made doubly sure to keep an eye on Tatyana. The girl kept drifting from her father’s side, and I could only imagine the trouble she would get in if left to her own devices.

Yakov was haggling with a merchant, arguing back and forth about the value of his pelts when Tanya caught a glimpse of the lake. Almost immediately her face scrunched into this cutely anxious expression as she clearly fought the urge to run to the water.

Chuckling to myself I knew it was only a matter of minutes before she broke, and sure enough shortly after Tatyana was tugging on his coat.

Papa,” she whispered, trying to catch her father’s attention as unobtrusively as possible. Yakov glanced at his daughter briefly before continuing to barter. “Papa,” Tanya repeated the motion, this time a bit louder.

What is it Tanya?” he distractedly asked.

Can I go down to the lake Papa?

Fine, go, just stay out of trouble.” Yakov impatiently waved her off.

May I go too Pa?” Damek interjected, just as eager to be away as his sister.

No, you’re nearly a man and this is something you must observe. Your sister is a child and a woman, and therefore does not have the capacity to learn my trade.”

Damek pouted, but dutifully stood by his father as Tanya happily ran off.

The longer I stayed the harder it was getting to reign in my disgust with the attitudes of this century. I knew it was just a product of the time, but the blatant disregard for a woman’s worth was already starting to wear on me.

Unfortunately there was nothing I could do to change those ingrained prejudices. Indeed, the process would take centuries and even in my day and age hadn’t completely disappeared. 

Following Tanya to the beach I found her huddled on the shore hands submerged in the sand.

You don’t want to go in the water?” I inquired, stalking up behind the girl.

Part of me was curious as to why she hadn’t immediately jumped in. Tanya jumped, startled by my sudden appearance, before her mouth broke out in a grin.

Mari!” she shouted my name and ran up to embrace my waist. Her face was buried against my side and my heart melted a little as she nuzzled against me. I’d seen her just a little while ago but she always greeted me like I’d been away for months.

Hello Tanya,” I laughed, ruffling her hair. “Did you enjoy the ride to town?” Shaking her head Tatyana peered at me solemnly.

It was long.”

“Isn’t that the truth.” I muttered to myself. Ducking down to her level, I looked from her to the lake and back. “Now, why haven’t you gone for a swim in the lake? The water looks perfect.”

It’s too cold.” She mumbled, scuffing her boots in the sand. Dipping my hand in the water, I thought it was pleasantly warm. Then again, temperatures felt different to me now, so my estimation of what was comfortable to swim in was probably off.

It feels warm to me.” I stated. It was spring, and I had the vague feeling the water was probably brisk but good enough to play in. Just as I suspected, a pout crossed her features and she pushed a strand of red-gold hair out of her face.

I don’t know how to swim,” Tanya shamefully admitted. I blinked with realization. Of course that was the reason. Living an isolated existence in the middle of the forest, where the closest body of water was a day away, wouldn’t give a person much opportunity to learn.

Do you want me to show you how?” I questioned. Since I was already teaching her to read, what was one more thing to add to the curriculum?

Tanya’s gaze tentatively shifted from the ground up to my eyes, like she was trying to determine if I was serious or not. Eventually coming to the conclusion that I was sincere, she hesitantly nodded.

Alright,” I clapped my hands together and examined our proximity to the village. We were far too close for me to risk removing my ‘borrowed’ cloak, so moving away from prying eyes was a must. “We’re a little too close to town so come here and I’ll take us further along the shore.”

Without hesitation Tanya grabbed my hand and I scooped her into my arms.

In less than a minute we were a mile away from the settlement. It was close enough that I could still hear everyone in the village but far enough that we were unlikely to be intruded upon.

Gently placing my charge on the ground, I watched as she stumbled slightly, her eyes wide with awe.

You’re fast! I had to close my eyes, I was so dizzy.” My mouth twitched as I fought not to smile. It seemed like such a simple thing to be impressed with now, but I remembered feeling the exact same way not to long ago.

Discarding my cloak and stripping down to my underwear, I dove fearlessly into the lake, knowing that I couldn’t feel the chill.

Tanya shifted nervously and toed the edge as she watched me tread water.

You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get in the water. Leave your furs on the beach, you’ll be cold when you get out and dry clothes will help.” Obediently shedding her outer layers, Tanya was left with a loin wrap and a breast band.

Stepping into the shallow end, Tatyana squealed and jumped back, shaking her head furiously.

Mari,” she whined. “It’s coldddd.”

Wading into the shallow end, I crouched down and extended my arms, beckoning her forward.

Come on, I know you can do it. You’re the bravest girl I know. You faced down wolves, compared to that a little water won’t hurt you. I promise I won’t let you drown.”

You promise?” she whispered.

I promise.”

Latching onto my arms, Tanya let me walk her out into the lake. She shivered a little at first, but once her metabolism kicked in she seemed fine. Although she was clinging to my neck fearfully once we got deeper in.

Mari…” Tatyana whimpered as I soothingly rubbed her back.

Shhh it’s alright, I got you.” I let a few minutes go by as I allowed her to get used to the water. “Ok, now I’m going to take your hands and walk backwards. As I do this I want you to kick your legs. Have you ever seen a frog swim?

Tanya nodded.

I want you to kick your legs just like a frog does. Do you think you can do that?” she shyly nodded again. “Then let’s give it a try shall we?”

Time passed quickly as I built her confidence in the water. Once Tanya got over her initial fear, she was excitedly paddling around. It didn’t take very long to wear herself out however, and before I knew it she was back to clasping my neck.

Deciding that she’d probably had enough for the day; I carried her back to the beach and used the cloak I’d procured to dry her off. I made a concentrated effort to dry her hair because I didn’t want to risk her catching a cold.

Once all our clothes were in place, I hefted her onto my back and ran back to the village. Despite being gone for a little over an hour, it seemed her father hadn’t even noticed her absence. It was an observation that both upset and angered me. How anyone could fail to mark her presence was beyond me.

Regardless, it seemed my timing was perfect because shortly thereafter her father began his walk to the shore to retrieve his daughter. Hiding myself in the foliage near the woods, I waved to Tanya as they disappeared into a nearby inn.

I barely had time to wring the water from my shirt when I faded to white.

Chapter Text

Bella

Stumbling into the side of my tent as I reappeared in the 21st century, I felt a wash of disappointment. I didn’t want to leave Tanya just yet. Sad as it may be, she was literally my only friend.

As I straightened it occurred to me that I had probably tripped or lost my balance more than any vampire alive, thanks to my power. I had no idea why I’d been sent back, after days in the past, but I was definitely starting to build a greater understanding of what was triggering my episodes in the first place.

Broken pottery, an injured limb, a trapped rabbit; there were always connections, even if at first they seemed unimportant. However the one large theme was Tanya and I could only guess as to her role in things. Why would my power send me a thousand years to the past to interact with a little girl? I was unable to provide an answer.

To my aggravation, there didn’t seem to be a way to predict or avoid when I would cross another ‘trigger event’.  There was no rhyme or reason.

I was also afraid that the abruptness of my ‘episodes’ would cause problems. In fact, it already had. Tanya was in possession of my dictionary so she could study it, now that I’d returned to my own time, it seemed unlikely that it would ever be recovered.

It was impossible to guess how that little book might affect things. Still, there was a part of me that couldn’t regret leaving it. Tatyana might be able to learn something from it.

Slipping into the tent, I changed out of my damp clothes and into a pair of women’s cargo pants with a tank top. I donned a hoodie as well to fit in with the colder weather. It was difficult to believe that seven months have come and gone since I was turned in February, and that the winter season was upon us once more.

Not that the seasons really mattered anymore, but it would hinder my efforts to blend in if I didn’t pay them at least a little attention.

Deciding I wanted to reacquaint myself with all the wonders of modern civilization, I head into town to buy a few more books. Not only that, but a nice belt satchel to keep things in. Just in case I make another random trip to the past.

A couple hours pass as I speed read through wilderness survival, basic medicine, and hunting/tracking guides. If seeing Tanya is going to be a regular thing, then I’m going to do my best to help her in a society that still thinks ‘bleeding’ your patients is a good way to get rid of infections. I truly shudder to imagine what would happen if she ever got sick.

Thanks to all the time I’d spent in close and consistent contact with Tatyana, I was doing a lot better in public. I didn’t feel like I was on a hairs edge waiting to tip over and massacre everyone. I still struggled, but unless someone started bleeding I was fairly confident I wouldn’t lose my cool.

I’d gotten all my purchases and was walking out of town, merchandise placed in my new belt satchel, when a news report coming from inside a nearby bar caused me to freeze in my tracks.

“-n other news, small town Police Chief Charles Swan was admitted to Forks General Hospital yesterday after being brutally attacked in his own home.”

Knocking open the door, I rushed inside, unmindful of the surprised looks I was getting. All of my attention was focused on the TV situated over the bar.

“Investigators are unsure what prompted the assault, but police from all over the county are lending a hand to try and catch the culprit. There is some suspicion that this may be linked to the tragic disappearance of his daughter Isabella Swan. We’ll have more on that as details become available.”

Staring blankly at the screen, I felt a familiar numbness settle over me.

Charlie was hurt.

He’d been attacked in his home.

He’d been attacked in his home and I wasn’t there to protect him.

Grief and regret washed over me like a tidal wave, drowning me in a sea of self-loathing. It was obvious who was behind Charlie’s hospitalization. As far as I knew only one person had the capability and motivation.

It had been my hope that cutting all ties with my father would keep Victoria from taking her vendetta against me out on my father. A hope, I now realized, that was entirely too foolish.

Placing my hands on the bar, I let my head fall forward, obscuring my face from the rest of the patrons as I tried to figure out what to do next.

My first and almost immediate response was to run back to Forks, but something about the whole thing seemed off.

Why was Charlie alive? Victoria must have known I’d had no contact at all with my father, and she could have simply killed him when she realized she wouldn’t be able to ascertain my whereabouts from him.

She didn’t seem particularly merciful, if my own torturous dealings with her could be relied upon.

So why?

The answer hit me like a cold shock of water.

I’d been in this situation before, except I was remembering a ballet studio not a hospital in Forks. Victoria was using Charlie as bait in an attempt to draw me out. She was obviously counting on me to fall into the same trick I had with James. Only this time she didn’t have to pretend she held my father’s life in the palm of her hand.

It seemed likely that she’d gotten tired of waiting for me to show up and decided to make a more active approach.

Unfortunately as I was dealing with my conflicted emotions, a drunken patron decided that now was an excellent time to sidle up to my side and place his hand on my ass. He didn’t even get a chance to whisper whatever dirty pickup line he had in my ear before I snapped.

Snarling, my eyes black as night, I whirled on the man faster than he could blink. Placing one hand on his chest I shoved, hard.

The guy flew back, crashing into a table that upended itself with the force of my blow. Glass shattered and the other occupants scrambled to get out of the way. Rooted to the spot, my chest was heaving, I tried to reign in my anger. My fists and teeth clenched as I watched his head loll unsteadily, but the man wisely remained down.

The establishment was dead silent as every pair of eyes in the room watched me, frozen like rabbits. It was almost as if their long dormant instincts were screaming they were in the presence of a predator. Gazing around the room, I glared challengingly before walking out.

Running back to the forest, I uncaringly tossed my purchases into the tent as I paced the lake. I didn’t know what to do. I had no doubt that I didn’t stand a chance against Victoria alone, but on the same token I couldn’t leave my father to her tender mercies either.

Tears of frustration welled in my eyes as I forced myself to take a deep breath and think.

If I couldn’t match Victoria in a fight on my own, how could I even the odds? My mind immediately flashed to the Cullens, but I dismissed the possibility along with the sharp pain in my chest. For Charlie I would swallow my pride and debase myself for their help, but the fact of the matter was that I had no idea where to find them. By the time that I did, it may be too late for my father.

I could try to contact the Volturi, but they were on the other side of the world. Not to mention I was afraid of what might happen to me and the Cullens. If the Volturi discovered that the Cullens knowingly left me alive and human for those few months before Victoria changed me, who knows what punishment would await them.

As upset as I was with my former family, I had no desire to see them die.

But who was left?

My mind was blank, and just when I started to panic all over again, I remembered one seemingly trivial thing.

Throughout my relationship with Edward, before it had all ended in disaster, he had mentioned another coven of vegetarian vampires in Alaska. It was a little fuzzy, but I even remembered him saying Jasper and Alice were heading up there after my disastrous birthday party.

I recalled feeling guilty; it was my fault he was being sent away from his family.

If I wasn’t so clumsy, if I hadn’t gotten that paper cut…

My life was filled with ‘if only’ moments. Unfortunately, the only additional thing I could recollect was that they lived somewhere in Denali, Alaska. Truth be told, I was reluctant to interact with anyone with ties to the Cullens, but at this point they were probably my single remaining hope.

However, first things first; I had to try and get Charlie out of danger first. Even if it meant kidnapping him from the hospital, although I was anxious about that plan because I didn’t know the extent of his injuries. The News hadn’t been specific and I couldn’t rescue Charlie if unhooking him from some vital machine would result in cardiac arrest.

Now that I thought about it, even if I did manage to get into the hospital and snatch my father, would I be able to outrun a vengeful red-head while carrying him to safety? Again, my first thought was ‘no’.

No matter how I thought about it, it was a lose/lose situation.

Regardless of the risk, I knew I at least had to make an attempt.

Taking only the things I would need in case I took another trip to the past, I left the rest in the tent and hoped it would remain undiscovered. Despite being tempted to pass through Seattle, being the quickest route to Forks, I knew I wasn’t ready to face the droves of humanity I would face if I did. So, much to aggravation I took the long way around. Circling around Washington’s galling amount of bay’s and inlets, I passed through the outskirts of Olympia and straight through the Olympic park.

When I finally reached Forks my shoes were worn to scraps, the legs of my pants were coated in mud, and my hair was a windblown mess. Frankly, I looked like a wild woman straight out of a Tarzan film.

Not a bit of it mattered as I approached the hospital.

Before I could get within a hundred yards, a cloying scent stopped me in my tracks.

Vanilla and ginger, accompanied with a sweet tint of the supernatural, swirled in my senses.

Victoria was nearby.

Or at least, she had been recently. Glancing warily around the area I concealed myself behind a nearby building as I debated what I wanted to do.

Was there any way I could get Charlie out of the hospital without going in directly? Then it hit me, Charlie had been alone in Forks for several years before I moved here. As a police officer, it would be important to have someone to make medical decisions for him, in case he was ever injured and unable to make his own.

There was only one person in Forks I could think of that my father would trust in that role.

Billy Black.

Even if Charlie was still able to medically make his own decisions, there was a chance I could convince Billy to have him switch hospitals. If I’m lucky Victoria wouldn’t even realize I was making a play before it was too late.

Having made up my mind, I retreated from the hospital and began my run to La Push. I had almost crossed onto the reservation when a pungent scent brought me to an abrupt halt. I had to resist the urge to gag it was so awful. It was like someone had decided to combine wet dog with compost and two weeks of body odor.

What kind of animal smelled like this?!

I covered my mouth and nose with my hand as I fought the instinct to run in the opposite direction. Before I could make a decision one way or the other, a low growl filled the air and I tensed as six gigantic wolves melted out of the forest in front of me. A twig snapped at my back and I whipped my head around to see four more cut off my escape route.

Every one of their teeth were bared as they boxed me in, but the growl was emanating from the chest of the lead wolf. A monster of a canine with black fur.

It was only now, faced with wolves the size of horses, that I remembered that bonfire so long ago when I learned of the cold ones. What I’d obviously overlooked was the part where the Quileutes descended from wolves, and conveniently forgotten that vampires were their mortal enemies.

Terror streaked through me, and I thought it was entirely likely that I was about to die without getting the chance to save my father’s life.

Slowly pulling my hand away from my nose, I put my hands up in a gesture of surrender.

“Please,” I said. “I don’t want any trouble. I just want to speak with Billy Black, and then I’ll leave.” The lead wolf blinked with what could only be confusion. His growl eventually tapered off, but his eyes remained hard as stone. “My name is Bella Swan. I just want some help for my father. I promise not to cause any problems.”

One of the wolves made a choked sound from behind me, but I didn’t dare turn around to look. I did flinch however when one of the wolves began to approach. It was almost as big as the lead, but with beautiful russet colored fur.

Nervous, I allowed it, despite the urge to hiss and run.

The wolf’s eyes were dark, almost black as it roved my features with undeniable intelligence. We locked gazes and I found myself unable to look away. I knew those eyes.

“Jacob?” I asked with strangled disbelief. The wolf huffed before turning its head to peer at the Alpha. The tension eased somewhat, but I remained rooted to the spot as they disappeared into the trees. They weren’t gone for long however, because not long after ten muscled Quileutes stepped out in their place.

Most of them were shirtless, only wearing tattered shorts or jeans, except for the lone female among the group; who I recognized as Leah Clearwater.

I felt my eyes fill with unshed tears when I singled Jacob out of the rest. His face was lined with sorrow as he gazed back. Cut off from friends and family for so long, I hadn’t expected that the sight of a familiar face would affect me so deeply.

“Bella Swan.” A voice broke my reverie and I turned my attention to the muscled man at the front. “You cannot be here. As a vampire you are unwelcome on our lands. It is only out of respect for your father that we haven’t killed you outright. As such, we will give you this one opportunity to leave in peace.”

“Sam!” Jake interjected, his body trembling slightly. “We should at least hear her out. It’s our fault she’s like this in the first place. If we hadn’t failed that day in the woods…”

The man, Sam, twitched but otherwise seemed unaffected by Jacobs words.

“We did our best to save her. The red headed vampire was too fast. There was nothing we could have done.”

Massaging my forehead with my fingers, I frowned and vaguely recalled my encounter with Victoria in the meadow. I remembered hearing wolves howling.

“That was you?” I interjected, my eyes widening with astonishment. “I remember hearing wolves when she took me, but I never thought…” I trailed off as I watched the regret on Sam’s face.

“We couldn’t reach you in time. I’m sorry we couldn’t keep you from becoming a monster, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a danger to our people.” He firmly reiterated.

“Sam, she has gold eyes.” Another muttered, a boy it took me a moment to remember as Seth.

Immediately his eyes sharpened and zeroed in on my own. A look of bafflement donned his features, as if it was a surprise that I wasn’t a rampaging murderer.

“Have you been in contact with the Cullen’s?” he barked.

I shook my head.

“I’ve been hiding in Wenatchee National Forest for the past seven months. I’ve been too afraid to venture out until recently, out of fear that I would hurt someone if I did. I’m only here now because I heard Charlie was attacked, and I needed to talk to Billy.”

Sam’s posture seemed to relax a little, the suspicion easing from his face.

“Why do you need to speak to Councilman Black?” he asked.

“I’m hoping that my father made Billy his medical agent. I’m sure that Charlie was only attacked to lure me out of hiding. The red haired vampire you chased, her name is Victoria, and she has a grudge against me because the Cullen’s killed her mate in my defense.

I’ve just come from the hospital, and her scent is all over the place. I’m afraid if she realizes I’m nearby she’ll use my father as a hostage or at worst kill him. I need Billy’s help to get him out of the hospital so I can take him somewhere safe. Just until I can find help to deal with Victoria.”

The wolves growled, clearly incensed with the news that a vampire has been sneaking into Forks under their noses.

“This is more complicated then I first thought.” Sam sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’ll allow you on our land for now. I must consult with the council before I make any decisions, but we don’t want any harm to come to Chief Swan as much as you do. We will escort you to my home, but be warned that if you attack a human your life is forfeit.”

“That sounds fair,” I mumbled. “I do not wish to hurt anyone, but I still occasionally have problems controlling my impulses. My only request is that you at least attempt to restrain me before you decide to take my head.”

Grunting his assent, the pack took off on foot through the trees. I meekly followed, although it was hard not to grimace with the wind blowing their scents in my face.

Eventually we came up to this small worn house that must have been grey at some point, but had been worn away in parts by the weather. There was a single window on the front, with a flowerbox below filled with fragrant flowers. Next to the window was a beaten old door painted a charming shade of blue.

As we neared the house, the Quileute’s converged around me, hemming me in with their bodies like I was a prisoner being taken to the gallows. It was a pleasant sensation but I endured. I could tell that the house was empty even before knocking on the door, because I couldn’t hear a heartbeat or the sounds of shuffling coming from inside.

Without pause, Sam opened the door and ushered me inside, although a few of the wolves grumbled about getting my scent all over the furniture. For the most part I ignored them, because it wasn’t like they were a fresh bed of roses to me either.

Pointing to a chair in the kitchen, Sam indicated for me to sit, which I did out of politeness.

“Now,” he stated. “Tell me everything that’s happened to you after Victoria kidnapped you.”

Slanting my eyes across the room to Jake, who gave me an encouraging nod, I explained what I’d been doing over the past few months. For reasons I couldn’t explain I left out the fact that I’d time traveled, but told them at random intervals I would disappear only to show up in unfamiliar places hundreds of miles away.

I told them about Victoria’s motivations, and how I’d only started interacting with people this past month. I made sure to explain the series of events that had lead me to learn Charlie was hurt, and that Victoria was definitely the cause.

At the end the entire room was silent as they digested all that I’d told them. Sam’s face was more compassionate as he looked at me, and I felt more assured that I wasn’t going to die at any moment.

“You are very brave Bella, and I commend you for having the control to isolate yourself as you did. As Alpha of the Quileute pack, I vow to help you dispose of the vampire threatening Forks. There are ten of us and only one of her, bring Charlie here and we will protect him from the red haired leech.”

With those words I felt like a weight had been lifted off my back. I had allies. Allies who would keep my father from harm when I couldn’t.

“I thought you said you needed to speak to the council?” I hated to bring it up, but I didn’t want him making decisions he would simply break later on. Still, if I could get their cooperation I didn’t have to run all the way to Alaska for help. Truth be told, it was a meeting I hadn’t been looking forward to.

“In this matter I do not need their council. What we shall do about you is another. Paul!” he shouted, looking at one of the shifters in the room. “I want you to call Billy and invite him over. We’ll see what we can do about devising a strategy to take this leech out.”

I opened my mouth to make a few suggestions when I heard the front door open. As one, every gaze turned to the front. If I wasn’t already on edge I might have found the situation funny.

A young woman, in her mid-twenties, walked into the living room. She was carrying two bags of groceries in her arms. Except for the three jagged scars running across the right side of her face she was stunningly beautiful.

I cracked the table.

Every pair of eyes fastened on me as I kept a vice grip on the chunk of tabletop clutched in my hand. I wasn’t breathing and I’m sure my eyes were the color of obsidian.

Sam began to growl low in his throat, and the camaraderie that had pervaded the room was instantly gone. The girl, who had obviously picked up on the mood, was staring at me nervously. Several wolves were already inching in front of her in case I lost control and attacked.

Closing my eyes, I grit my teeth and tried to regain a semblance of control.

“She’s bleeding.” I choked out, trying to give an explanation for my actions. Sure enough, the attention went back to the woman, who was blushing to her roots.

“I started my period this morning.” She mumbled, but I didn’t hear because a familiar ringing had started in my ears.

Jacob met my eyes across the table just before I faded out.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

Hungary – 1013 A.D.

When I came to, I was spread eagle on a lakeshore. Water was lapping at my bare feet and I took a moment to center myself by staring at the sky. It was bad enough to be surrounded by ones natural enemies. Adding bloodlust to the equation, even menstrual blood, pushed my already strained instincts too far.

Taking a deep breath of the clean air, I noticed how thick and humid it seemed compared to my last visit. The sun was high in the sky and that, coupled with the heat, told me that I’d probably arrived in the middle of summer. Sitting up, I confirmed that I was lying on the beach of Zlaté Piesky.

Considering the nature of time traveling, I was a little apprehensive of what changes I might find. Walking along the shore in the direction of Ruzinov I felt my heart sink when I noticed that the small village had grown considerably. It was at least twice the size it had been previously, but I tried not to jump to conclusions.

My vampiric memory came in handy as I recalled the route to Tatyana’s abode. Since I didn’t have to keep pace with a cart, I arrived in a matter of minutes.

The village wasn’t the only thing to change. Tanya’s dwelling had expanded to include additional rooms.  The construction was sturdier and better designed.

The rhythmic ‘thunk’ of an axe striking wood attracted my attention. Moving around the side of the home I caught sight of a young boy, perhaps fourteen or fifteen, chopping a pile of wood. Against the side of the house was an impressive stack of logs and I noticed how practiced the motion was for him. To my annoyance, I was unable to catch a glimpse of his face due to his long hair.

Hoping to identify him through scent instead, I took a deep breath.

For the third time that day I was shocked into stillness.

The young man in question shared a scent with Damek, Tanya’s older brother. Despite knowing that many years had passed in the day I’d been gone, what really had me worried was the lingering aroma of blood.

Not any blood.

Tanya’s blood.

In a panic, I held by breath and dashed inside. A whimper coming from one of the side rooms was all it took for me to throw aside the cloth partition. My Tanya was curled up on her cot, clutching her stomach and the red stain on her linens.

Yet it wasn’t the Tanya I knew.

This Tatyana was long limbed and gangly, on the cusp of puberty. She looked no more than twelve or thirteen and appeared to be entering the awkward phase where all your appendages are clumsy and every protruding surface is a daunting challenge not to trip. Unfortunately, unlike most other adolescents, I never grew out of the clumsiness.  

Having sensed my presence, Tanya opened her eyes and pierced me with her remarkable blue eyes. A whimper escaped her lips, and I felt my heart ache with sympathetic pain.

Mari,” she cried. “I think I’m dying.” My eyes grew to impossible proportions as I tried to put together what was happening. “I’m bleeding,” Tanya moaned. “on the inside.” To illustrate her point, her hand reached down to touch the blood on her thighs. It had also soaked the seat of her white dress, painting a ghastly image of violence.

For a moment I was frozen, unable to ascertain what was happening.

Like a brick, comprehension struck me upside the head, and I felt my shoulders relax as I figured out what was happening. Tanya had started her menstrual cycle. Nothing to worry about.

However, I guess Tanya hadn’t gotten the memo because she still seemed rather freaked out. Was it possible that she didn’t know what was happening to her? I wanted to help, but I wouldn’t be much use unless most of the blood was cleaned up.

Grabbing a blanket, I wrapped Tatyana up and ran her out to the stream. I could have taken her there as is, but I didn’t want to risk any of the blood getting on my clothes. I’d have to burn them if I did, and a good way to avoid temptation. Damek was so absorbed in his work he didn’t even look up.

Setting her down gently on the water’s edge, I retreated a few yards upwind to regain my composure. Even holding my breath, reigning in my inner vampire was no easy feat.

Mari, why are you so far away? Do you hate me now?” Tanya’s voice was a weak groan, but they sliced into my heart like a knife.

No Tanya. I don’t hate you. I just need you to wash off the blood. I don’t feel well when I smell it, and I might attack you if I’m not careful. I never want to hurt you, which is why I’m standing so far away.”

Struggling out of the blanket, Tanya waded into the stream and sat down. Since the water wasn’t very deep it only reached to belly button. Dashing over to the blanket I inspected it for blood and found it clean. Laying it out on the ground I took a careful sniff of the air.

I could still vaguely smell a hint of copper and salt but it was greatly muted by the water. Meanwhile, Tatyana was staring pitifully at me from the brook.

What’s happening to me Mari? It hurts.”

Oh, sweetheart,” I murmured. Entering the stream I sat beside her; unmindful of my soaked clothes. “You’re growing up. This happens to women when they’re old enough to have babies.” Gathering Tanya in my lap, she wrapped her arms around my neck and hid her face against my collar. “It’s called the menstrual cycle, and it happens every month. The only time you shouldn’t bleed is if you’re pregnant. Hasn’t your Mama told you anything about this?” I inquired.

I mean, I knew sex education wasn’t very comprehensive back in the 11th century but there was no reason I could think of why Elya wouldn’t have told her daughter. Actually, considering how ignorant people were at this point in time, I might have to look up some ancient methods of birth control.

Slowly Tatyana shook her head, her eyes filled with tears.

Mama died a few seasons ago bringing my little brother into the world, but Papa said that God loved them so much, he took them back to heaven.”

Tightening my arms around her frail form, I kissed the top of her head and murmured my condolences against her hair.

Come on, let’s get you out of the water,” I soothed; hoisting her out of the stream and carrying her to shore. Placing her on the blanket, I flashed away and gathered some kindling to start a fire. In no time at all I had a nice little blaze going, and I carefully placed some smooth stones from the brook among the embers to heat up.

Helping Tanya to dry off, I bundled her up again as we waited. Tatyana leaned against me, her strawberry blonde hair falling across my shoulder to mix with my own auburn locks.

If your mother is gone, why didn’t your father explain what was happening to you?” I gently inquired, puzzled about the whole thing.

When I told Papa he told me to stay in my room until it stopped. He said it was improper for a man to be around me right now, and he wouldn’t let Damek visit me.” I felt a growl rumble in my chest, and it took a supreme effort of will not to box Yakov about the ears. The only thing that kept me from doing so was the knowledge that people were very superstitious and taboo about a woman’s reproductive cycle at this point in history.

It wasn’t an excuse, ignorance didn’t make it right, but it made me fearful that such a sweet girl was living in such a backward time.

Your father was wrong to do that. It’s not improper. It’s a natural part of being a woman and not something you should be ashamed of.” I muttered, unwilling to scare Tanya with the full measure of my displeasure.

Deciding that the stones had been in the fire long enough, I used a stick to maneuver them out of the small blaze until I had a small pile of them.

Pushing my ward onto her back, I draped the blanket in a few layers over Tatyana’s stomach. Picking up the rocks, which felt hot but didn’t burn my diamond skin, I carefully deposited the stones on top of the cloth.

Tanya sighed as the warmth filtered through the fabric to alleviate her cramps. If I wasn’t afraid the stones might singe her, I would have instructed her to put them directly on her skin. Heated stones weren’t as good as a heating pad, but it seemed to work well enough.

We sat in companionable silence for a while, enjoying each other’s company, although part of my mind was focused on my father.

Are you going to leave again Mari?” Tatyana eventually broke the quiet, her voice softly tinged with hurt.

I sighed, wondering how I could possibly explain my situation to this young girl.

I wish I didn’t have to Tanya. I have a power that I can’t control. It randomly sends me across the world in the time it takes you to blink. It feels like trying to keep from sneezing. It’s a neigh impossible feat.

Still, I can’t regret it. It’s only because of this talent that I met you, and that’s something I can’t regret. It’s also the reason why I could unexpectedly disappear at any time. I want you to know that I don’t go away because I hate you, or because I don’t want to see you anymore. It’s just something that’s beyond my control.”

She nodded solemnly and seemed to think deeply about something.

I bet you were cursed.”

Cursed?” I repeated, a little startled by the turn in conversation. “Who would want to curse me?” I questioned, but regretted the words the moment they left my mouth. I could think of at least one red-head who might try.

It was probably the man Papa brought to the house yesterday.” She grumbled, crossing her arms as she played with the frayed edge of her dress. I frowned.

Why would you think that?

I don’t like the way he looks at me.” She uttered uneasily. “He looks at me the way Papa always looks at his pelts when he’s trying to figure out how much they’re worth. Papa says I should be respectful because he’s a nobleman and wears nice clothes, but I don’t like him.”

The way Tanya was describing this man left me edgy and unsettled. He sounded like a pedophile or some sort of psychopath.

I think you should follow your instincts. Avoid him when possible and make sure the two of you are never alone.”

 It was times like these that I wished I had taken Charlie up on his offer for self-defense lessons, just so I could teach her a few moves. Taking lessons at this point would be dangerous unless my teacher was another vampire. There were too many opportunities for me to hurt someone if I ever tried to participate in sparring. Still, maybe learning through observation and practicing on my own would yield results.

I’ve been practicing my words like you taught me.” Tanya eagerly conveyed, seemingly forgetting the subject of our earlier topic. “I wrote every word in that book you left.”

Oh really?” I exclaimed dramatically, unable to keep from smiling.

Yes! And Papa is always bragging to other people about how I can read and write. Damek even came and asked me to teach him how to write his name.”

And did you?”

She nodded.

Well. I’m very proud of you.” I wanted to expound on the issue, but the smell of blood was getting strong again, and I had to hold my breath. I really needed to find a way to overcome this whole bloodlust problem.

Gently tracing Tanya’s features with my eyes, I thought it was rather bittersweet that I was already missing so much of this girl’s life; it would pain me to miss more because I couldn’t control myself. Maybe I could overpower the scent of blood with something stronger. It would require some thinking.

I was wondering what Tanya would look like when she was older when I felt the pull.

Trying to ignore the ringing in my ears, I tenderly pressed my lips to Tanya’s cheek. My body was already starting to fade. The last thing I saw was Tatyana’s wide frightened eyes as she tried, and failed, to keep me.

Chapter Text

Bella

Awareness returned to me along with the sensation of cool wooden flooring. Blinking my eyes, I looked around and realized I was back in Sam's kitchen. My gaze eventually landed on the two women staring at me with a deer in the headlights expression.

The woman with the facial scars and Sue Clearwater were preparing dinner when I'd decided to crash the party. My eyes darted to the calendar and clock on the wall. If they were anything to go by, I'd only been gone a few hours.

Listening intently, I could tell that aside from the two women in front of me, there was no one else in the house. In other words, there were no wolves around to protect them. I guess their stunned and fearful expressions made more sense now.

Knowing that the younger woman would undoubtedly still be bleeding, I ceased my breathing immediately. I had just enough air in my lungs to grit out a question.

"Where is laundry room?" My words were choppy to save air. I needed another scent to distract me, and I needed one pronto.

Sue merely pointed with her finger and I flashed over to the door she'd indicated. Wrenching open the handle, I beelined to the bottles of chemicals arranged on the shelves and pulled down a bottle of bleach.

Twisting off the cap, I slopped some of it onto my hand and promptly smeared it on and under my nose. Setting down the bottle, I braced my hands on the washing machine and took a cautionary sniff.

I yelped.

My olfactory senses burned with the sharp toxic smell of bleach. The sensation was painful in its intensity, it was only now that I remembered Edward telling me that a vampire's sense of smell was dozens of times more powerful than a blood hound's.

Moaning with misery, I walked back into the kitchen and washed my hands. As tempted as I was to get rid of the chemical stench covering my face, I no longer had to worry about losing my control around scar girl.

Once I'd washed my hands, I finally noticed that Sue was on the phone and that the other woman was eying me like I was a strange and exotic creature.

Wiping my hands on my shirt, I nervously extended my hand.

"Bella Swan. Newborn Vampire. Vegetarian. It's nice to meet you." The girl burst into laughter, although it had an edge of hysteria, before she extended her own warm palm to clasp mine.

"Emily Young. Human. Omnivore. The pleasure's mine." We smiled at each other while Sue appeared to be under the impression that we'd both lost our marbles. "So may I ask what you were doing in my laundry room?" The tone was congenial enough, and since I couldn't smell a damn thing, I decided to relax my guard a bit.

"I was using your bleach. It's completely killed my sense of smell, and it burns something fierce, but it keeps me from detecting any other scents so I'll put up with it."

"Oh," Emily seemed to digest that bit of information. "Is it because of my period?" I shrugged, but it was fairly obvious it was a big factor. "Thanks."

I scuffed my feet against the wood and nodded, feeling a little shy at the praise.

Before anything else could happen, Sam, Jacob, and Paul burst into the house. They looked around wildly, and judging by the way their eyes honed in, I was probably about to become acquainted with the floor. Fortunately I didn't have to fight off a bunch of crazed wolves, because they recognized neither of us were tense or agitated.

Not so subtly placing himself between me and Emily, Sam stiffly looked me over.

"Where did you go leech? You disappeared into thin air." I sighed, largely aggravated with the day I'd been having.

"I told you already. I end up getting transported somewhere else entirely. The people usually don't even speak English."

"So you're a teleporter or something? That's awesome." Jake interjected, gracing me with a wide grin.

"Something like that." I muttered, knowing I wasn't telling the Quileute's the whole story. It was kind of crazy anyway, and even on the off chance they believed me they might start asking me to change things.

"Councilman Black will be here in a few minutes, I suggest you find yourself something more appropriate to wear." Looking down at myself, I was reminded of my haggard appearance.

Emily left the room and came back with a change of clothes for my wet and muddied attire. We weren't exactly the same size, so she gave me one of those dresses you just tie around the middle to fit your form.

When I returned to the living room, I could only assume I'd been restored to a vampires regular flawless state if the stares were any indication. While I could no longer view myself as plain, I also found that I couldn't take any enjoyment in the looks of appreciation my new features afforded me. I didn't feel like I'd earned it. It was a side effect of my nature and not a result of my character.

I think that's why I'd loved Edward and the Cullens so much. In my opinion, they loved me despite how un-extraordinary I was.

Or had, at least.

A knock came from the door, breaking the trance cast over the room. Paul started, and walked to the door. Billy Black wheeled himself into the room with a worn and melancholy expression. I knew Billy as a strong man, a man who didn't let the fact that he was bound to a wheelchair keep him down.

In the months since I'd gone missing he'd transformed into an old Quileute with too many wrinkles and the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The moment his gaze landed on me, tears filled his eyes. Sorrow passed over his face as he took in my new appearance.

I shifted in discomfort because the way he was looking at me was similar to how one would peer at the face of a deceased family member. In that moment I became painfully aware that Billy truly thought that I was dead. Not just physically, but that whatever part of me that had a soul no longer inhabited my body.

In his eyes, I was just a husk wearing the face of his best friend's daughter.

Stiffly meeting his gaze, I nodded a greeting despite the fact that all I wanted to do was run. No matter how Billy felt about me now, I needed to know how my father was.

"How is Charlie?" I whispered, and watched as he shivered at my saccharine voice.

"Your father is badly injured, but as long as he doesn't receive any further injuries he will live. Whoever worked him over broke his leg, one of his wrists, four ribs and gave him a concussion to top it all off. He still hasn't woken up, but the doctors are confident he will soon."

Covering my eyes with my hand, I tried to compose myself as relief, anger, sadness, and guilt warred within me. I couldn't deny that while Victoria was no doubt responsible for Charlie's injuries, I felt a large part of the blame also rested on me.

If I'd never gotten involved with vampires in the first place, Charlie wouldn't have been a target. While I'd been reining in my emotions, Sam and Jacob got Billy up to speed on everything that had been happening. When they finished, I impatiently interjected.

"So how are we going to get my father out of Forks? Victoria has been hanging around the hospital. She could kill him at any time, I – We can't risk him coming to harm." Looking thoughtful, Billy silently appraised me.

"You were smart to inquire about who Charlie made his medical agent. He did, in fact, appoint me to make decisions for him in the event that he is unable to. As such, I can have him transferred to the hospital here on the reservation. It will be easier for the boys to protect him. The staff won't like it, but they'll comply.

After that, with your help, it should be a simple matter to hunt down the parasite. You have golden eyes, and the Cullen's unofficially adopted you while you were human. Since you're a vampire now, if you gave us 'permission' we could hunt her in Forks and on their land."

My heart only ached a little when he called the Cullen's family, but if it would keep my father safe I wouldn't reject the moniker.

"We should leave as soon as possible," I said. "How many wolves can you spare to help me pick him up? I'm sure Victoria will attack if she figures out what we're doing and I would like to have numbers on my side."

Billy and Sam exchanged glances, before Sam spoke up.

"We have ten pack members right now. I'm not willing to leave the reservation completely undefended, so two of them will stay to patrol the border. The rest of us will accompany you. Once Billy gets his transfer approved, you will transport Chief Swan in Billy's van. We will follow on foot until he's safely within La Push."

Nodding in assent, I looked uneasily out the living room window. The plan was straightforward, and not even Victoria could take on eight wolves plus one vampire at the same time.

Still, I felt uneasy.

If she was anything like her mate, Victoria would definitely have something up her sleeve.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

The ride back to Forks was tense.

Whoever thought it was a good idea to cram eight wolves and a vampire into an enclosed area obviously wasn't thinking straight. It was easy to see that being in such close proximity to something their instincts were telling them was an enemy was setting every wolf on edge.

That wasn't even including me, who had to fight the urge to lash out like a cornered animal. Even Seth, the youngest and most accepting Quileute, was setting off my fight or flight impulses.

When we reached the outskirts of town, everyone but Jacob and Seth piled out of the vehicle. They were going to phase and wait, since Victoria probably wouldn't attack in town with so many witnesses. I let them out with no small amount of relief.

After we reached the hospital I took Jake's seat behind the wheel as I waited for them to bring Charlie out. As much as I wanted to rush inside to see my father, we decided that it would be better for me to avoid temptation by waiting in the car.

My eyes and ears were continually scanning the area, but I didn't see hide nor hair of Victoria. Her scent still lingered faintly, but I could tell she hadn't been around in at least a few hours.

I wasn't given the chance to brood over it however, because I caught a glimpse of Jacob and Seth wheeling my father out on a gurney.

Charlie was a mess. Every inch of him was wrapped in gauze or trapped in a cast. Mottled bruises covered the majority of his face and chest, and I could tell there were some in places even I couldn't see. Anguish welled in my chest and I nearly cracked the steering wheel I was so upset. A big part of me wanted to rush over to see him, but as they got closer it was clear that he was still unconscious. Judging by the bag hooked up to his IV, he was probably also doped up to his eyeballs.

A doctor was trailing beside the duo, giving frantic instructions and obviously displeased that we were moving his patient. I appreciated his dedication when it came to the welfare of my father, but necessity dictated he be moved.

Quil and Sam gently loaded Charlie into the back. The smell of starch and antiseptic filled the van, and it took a supreme effort of will not to anxiously glance to the back as I pulled out onto the road. My driving habits as a human were still firmly ingrained, so I wasn't quite up to Cullen style recklessness while driving.

Jacob sat next to me in the passenger seat, while Seth stayed in back with Charlie. The moment we hit the city limits I noticed the shadows of giant wolves following us in the trees on either side. Their presence relaxed me enough that I wasn't jumping at anything that moved.

We were little more than halfway back to the Rez when I heard six wolves snarl simultaneously. Without pausing to let us know what was going on they all rocketed forward, leaving our car in the dust as they made a beeline for La Push. Jacob leaned forward in his seat, anxiously staring as his pack mates quickly disappeared.

"Something's wrong," He whispered. "Sam and the others wouldn't take off like that for no reason. Seth, Bella, keep your guards up."

Jacob barely finished his sentence before something slammed into the side of the van. I watched in slow motion as we were plowed off the side of the road. Seth scrambled to keep Charlie on the gurney even as he was thrown against the wall by the impact. The side windows shattered, pelting Jake and I with glass. The car's momentum rammed his head against the side door.

A flash of red catches my attention and before I know it, I've lunged through the driver side door, tearing through metal and seat-belt like tissue paper.

High malicious laughter caressed the air, and I was abruptly faced with three vampires. Victoria, flanked by two nearly rabid newborns. While Jake and Seth recovered in the van, my adversary bared her teeth in a vicious grin.

"Do you think I'm stupid Bella?" She hissed, her fingers curling into the semblance of claws. "Did you think I wouldn't notice your fumbling attempts to hide your presence at the hospital? That I wouldn't follow you to the fleabag infested coast? I overheard your little conversation in the woods, so I decided to bring a few friends along to play. I hope you don't mind.

By the way, if you're wondering where the rest of your little mutts went, they're racing to protect their pathetic little village from a couple of my acquaintances. It's too bad they've left you here all alone."

Jake crawled out of the car, blood streaked his arms, but he didn't seem to notice. His whole body was shaking.

"Well," Victoria amended. "Almost."

She snapped her fingers and both of her companions descended on Jacob as he exploded. Before I could come to his aid, Victoria was on me.

She struck like a snake, all lightning fast strikes. Every time I tried to fend her off she'd bat aside my attacks with a skill and ease born from centuries of practice. Several times I barely managed to dodge a fatal blow, and my newborn strength was the only thing keeping me alive.

As dangerous as Edward had always made newborns seem, I was now coming to realize that the only danger they really posed was their strength and unpredictability. I wasn't a fighter; I had no training in self-defense. My instincts were the only saving grace I had.

From the corner of my eye I noticed Seth finally scrambling out of the back of the vehicle, clearly torn on who he should assist. Just as he was about to move to help Jake, I noticed Victoria's eyes gleefully dart to the van. If my heart still beat it would have stopped with the fearful certainty I experienced in that moment. The second Seth left, Victoria would strike.

This is why she waited to finish off Charlie. She wanted me to know the agony of watching my loved ones die, while I remained powerless to stop it.

"Seth!" I shouted, ducking a blow to the head. "Take Charlie and run!"

The young Quileute paused, uncertain, but Jake took the opportunity to dispatch one of the newborns. His russet fur bristled as he pounced on his second crazed opponent.

"Please!" I yelled, unable to dodge a swift kick to my chest that sent me careening across the asphalt. Victoria pinned me the ground. As I struggled, I caught a glimpse of Seth scooping my father into his arms before Victoria bit into my shoulder.

Screaming in pain, I thrashed in an attempt to buck her off. My marble skin begin to crack and tear when Jacob barreled into Victoria, flinging her into the woods from the force of his blow. I struggled to my feet and noted that at some point during my fight with Victoria, Jake had defeated his other enemy.

Snarling with rage, Victoria noticed she was now outnumbered, her companions strewn across the road like so much rubble.

"This isn't over," she growled, before racing off into the woods. Jake made a move to follow but I grabbed a fist-full of fur to keep him from pursuing.

"Stop! We don't know if she has anymore friends, and you have to go back to defend the reservation." Jacob huffed, but allowed me to pull him back. "Go help Sam. As soon as I finish burning these bodies, I'll join you."

Shaking his big furry head, Jacob phased back, giving me an unexpected eyeful. Averting my eyes, I would have blushed if I'd still been capable.

"No need. The others dispatched the vampires on our land. Sam told me to personally make sure these ones won't be a problem anymore. Paul and Jared managed to hold them off before the others arrived, but they still killed five people."

Dismayed, I felt my shoulders slump.

Five people were dead because Victoria needed a distraction.

Five people were dead because of her vendetta against me.

In a way, I was responsible for those deaths. They never would have gotten involved if I hadn't run to the wolves. My only consolation was that Seth had escaped with my father, and was undoubtedly on the reservation by now.

Starting a fire on the side of the road, the two of us gathered up the remains of the newborns and watched as they burned. Plumes of purple smoke curled into the sky, and I counted myself lucky that this stretch of highway was seldom used.

Pushing the shattered wreck of the van further into the forest, I hoped that it would conceal the accident long enough for us to dispose of the evidence.

Once the deed was done, Jake snuffed out the fire and we both ran back to La Push.

The atmosphere, when we arrived, was stifling. Grief hung in the air like a thick cloud, and I had to hold my breath when I noticed blood stained sheets covering the victims' remains.

Sam and the others were huddled around the injured forms of Paul and Jared, who held off three newborns by themselves. Considering they weren't trained to fight vampires, I thought they'd done pretty well.

Much better than I had, I thought with a touch of bitterness.

The moment the pack caught my scent, they all tensed and snarled, their heads whipped around in unison. Apparently they were still on high alert, because it took a noticeable effort for them to reduce their shaking. At this point, any vampire seemed like a threat.

"Bella," Sam grunted, acknowledging my presence. "Seth just called from the hospital. He got Chief Swan there safely, but he decided to stay and help with the wounded they're bringing in. The locals aren't sure what's going on, but they're calling in the police. You might want to leave before they get here."

I nodded shakily. Questions would be asked if the missing daughter of the injured police chief reappeared in the middle of a massacre.

Before I could gather myself enough to leave, Leah stormed over and aggressively seized a fist-full of my collar.

"This is your fault!" She thundered. "Those people would still be alive right now if we'd just left you to die in the first place!" Tears streamed down her face. "My father would still be here if it weren't for you…"

"I'm sorry." I whispered, fully expecting her to tear me to pieces. Leah's face twisted and we stared at each other for several moments before she pushed me away and stormed off. I stood and watched her leave when Jacob placed a hand on my shoulder.

"It's not your fault Bella. We all knew the risks when we decided to help you. Leah is just upset right now. Her father was one of the first to fall. She hasn't told Seth yet. Come on, I'll show you where they're keeping Charlie."

Emotionally numb, I let Jake lead me away.

I managed to shake off my quagmire of mixed feelings when we reached the emergency room Charlie was staying in. Bypassing the front desk, Jacob showed me to my father's room, although I just had to follow the smell of wet dog to find it.

Quil was standing guard at the foot of my father's bed. He nodded to us as we entered, and seemed to take it as his cue to leave. Jake followed soon after when he realized I wanted a moment alone.

Taking a seat in the chair next to him, I reached out and gently stroked the back of Charlie's hand. It was amazing how frail he looked. His skin felt paper thin.

Before becoming a vampire, I never really gave a thought to how delicate an existence it was to be human. We go about our days with a weird sense of invincibility, where bad things only happen to other people.

The reality was much different.

"I'm sorry." I breathed, resting my cheek against his warm palm. I could only repeat the word; to Leah, to my father, and to myself.

I'm unsure how long I stayed there, hunched over Charlie's bedside, but eventually the sound of an approaching nurse caught my attention. Unwilling to answer the questions that would follow if I was discovered, I hid myself behind one of the partitions.

A young man in scrubs walked through the door and began performing checks on Charlie's condition. His pen scratched loudly against the paper on his clipboard and I felt my heart resonate in response. Clutching a fist to my chest, I tried to fight the sensation. I couldn't leave now. Charlie needed me.

For a brief second I thought I succeeded, until I was yanked ingloriously to the past.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

Hungary – 1016 A.D.

My eyesight returned slowly, bringing my surroundings into hazy focus. It had never taken this long for me to recover my senses during previous episodes, and I had to wonder if it was a side effect of fighting the pull.

Eventually I recognized the walls and pallet belonging to Tatyana's room. Sure enough, just a small whiff of the room confirmed Tanya's raspberry-almond scent. Although, I was puzzled by how old the marker was. Tanya hadn't slept here in several days.

Voices from the main room of the dwelling caught my attention, and I used my index finger to push the cloth partition blocking the door open just enough to peer through.

Two men stood on opposite sides of the table in the center of the room. I recognized one of them as Yakov, the other was a well-dressed man in his thirties. Unlike Yakov's gruff exterior, he was fairly handsome. His fine features and poise complimented his dark hair and pale skin.

As I watched, the stranger bent over and scratched his signature onto a piece of parchment with a quill. Lifting the document, which I couldn't read at this angle, he carefully blew on the ink.

"There," he spoke. "As agreed, in exchange for a year of barley, three horses, and a pig; you give me possession of your only daughter with the promise that I properly feed and care for her. Now that our business is concluded, was there anything else you needed to discuss?"

"No, Baron Szendrey. I believe everything has already been said." Yakov grunted.

"Good. I am eager to be home. I'll have your things delivered within the fortnight. I'll have the barley delivered once a month for the remainder of the year. Normally I wouldn't have paid such a high price, but your daughter's literacy is a valuable skill. I doubt another woman within a hundred leagues has that knowledge." Yakov didn't seem very pleased by the comment, but he held his tongue. "Good day Trapper."

With those parting words, the man swept out of the small abode. I stood behind the curtain, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Did I just witness Yakov selling off his thirteen year old daughter as if she were chattel?

Blind rage swallowed my reason and before he could even blink, I'd seized Yakov by the throat. Lifting him into the air, I snarled and trapped him against the wall.

"Why?" I roared, watching as his face turned red from lack of oxygen. "Why would you do this to your own daughter?!" Yakov's fingers scraped ineffectually against my arms and I loosened my grip enough for him to speak.

"Who are you? Why are you he-" My grip flexed, cutting him off mid word as a growl rumbled up from my chest. A look of stark terror crossed his face at the sound, and his bowels released as a result. Disgusted, I leaned away from him slightly, but kept him pinned.

"You haven't answered my question." I hissed, tearing gouges in the wall near his head with my fingers. Tears fell from Yakov's eyes, and I could tell he thought he was going to die from the way he was shaking.

"Please don't kill me. I only did what I had to. Damek is a man now, he needs a wife, but he cannot provide a bride price. Game has been scarce and the father of the girl he's been courting won't allow the union without one. This was the only way I could provide for my son and ensure a good match for my daughter. Baron Szendrey will take care of Tanya, she will always be kept warm and well fed.

I cannot do the same. I won't watch my little girl waste away and die in childbirth like her mother. Please, understand."

With a snarl of frustration I slammed Yakov into the mortar and wrenched myself away. I didn't want to sympathize with a man who would sell his daughter like a possession, no matter his reasons. The cool winter air outside helped cool my fury as I dashed after Szendrey.

Easily catching up to his horse, I followed him for two days as he traveled the roads, knowing he would lead me to Tanya. My patience was rewarded when we eventually came to a township in the early evening. It was much larger than Ruzinov, practically on the verge of becoming a city. The signpost labeled it as Bratislava, and I wasn't surprised when the Baron rode his horse through the gates of a giant two story mansion perched on a hill overlooking the nearby lake.

Unlike the hovel Tanya used to live in, this place was made of sturdy brick, with clay tiles for the roof. The grounds were expansive, with lush flowers, trees, and vegetation. The entire property was surrounded by a high perimeter, to discourage thieves.

It didn't pose even a passing challenge as I vaulted over, keeping out of sight as much as possible.

The inside was as lavishly decorated as I suspected, with plush rugs, tapestries, and ornate furniture. Listening closely I could make out several voices scattered throughout the household. None of which I recognized as Tanya's.

Slipping up to the second floor, I sighed with relief when I finally caught her scent. I tracked it through the house, ducking around corners and hanging over ledges to avoid people as I went. Inevitably drawn to one of the doors, I pressed my hand against the wood and cocked my head.

One heart beat in the room beyond.

Turning the handle, I snuck inside, my back to the occupant as I closed the door. From the corner of my eye I could see I'd entered a bedroom. It was a large living space, with a bed piled with soft furs and an armoire. A large bronze mirror was hung on the wall across from the bed, which struck me as strange because I was used to glass. However, when I turned around it was not the opulence of the atmosphere that caught my attention.

Beauty was sitting at the windowsill.

Sixteen and lovely, with creamy rose tinted skin; Tatyana gazed through her open window. Red-gold hair tumbled around her shoulders in wild curly locks, framing soft elegant features. The awkwardness of adolescence had melted into a lithe and ample figure. She was garbed in an ivory roman dress, her arms bared at the shoulders. A style popular in Greece, but spread throughout Europe in noble circles.

I stood, unable to move or even breathe, as this young woman I barely recognized twisted her head to lock gazes with me. Joy sprang, instantly, to her face. If my heart still beat, it would have shuddered to a stop. Her happiness was as guileless and pure as it was reflected through her eyes when she was six.

Without speaking, Tanya leapt from the sill, ran across the room, and threw her arms around my neck. Shakily, I returned the embrace, still partially stunned. This was not the thirteen year old girl I was expecting. This Tanya was practically a woman. She even topped me by an inch.

Pulling back, she tenderly touched my face, her fingers wonderingly brushed over my cheek.

"You haven't aged a day." She murmured, and her tone snapped me out of the weird trance I'd fallen under. Clasping her hand, I tugged it down between us.

"I never will. I'll always be like this." I said with a hint of sadness. Now that I had eternity I realized how lonely it was watching the people you care about age and pass away while you stayed the same. I was experiencing it first hand, in fast forward, through Tatyana.

Tanya's sky blues openly appraised me, but she chose not to comment. It was only in the silence that I noticed how rapidly Tatyana's heart was pounding; there was a slight flush to her cheeks. Her gaze kept darting down to our hands, where our fingers were twined together.

Feeling suddenly awkward, I made to let go, figuring that she was uncomfortable with the contact. But the second my fingers loosened, Tanya immediately tightened her grip. Touched, I gently squeezed her hand in return.

"I overheard your father and the Baron talking. I came straight here the moment I knew where you were."

Tanya's countenance dimmed. Releasing my hand, she crossed the room to sit on the bed.

"My father has 'gifted' me to the Baron. It's a good match. Father says I'll never want for anything. To my great misfortune, I don't even have the privilege of being his recalcitrant wife. Instead I'm to be his reluctant mistress." She smiled bitterly. "I'm too lowborn to marry."

Spanning the room in a single stride, I gripped Tanya's shoulders, my eyes bored into hers fiercely.

"Say the word and I'll take you far away from here. Someplace they'll never find you. You don't have to stay here."

As I watched, Tanya began to cry. She shook her head as she wiped away her own tears.

"Where would we go Mari? Who will take me in and not expect my body in return? What will I do when you disappear again and I'm all alone? How will I survive?"

Stricken, I turned away in shame. Tanya was right. I could make all the promises in the world, but I couldn't keep myself from leaving.

Ironically, Tanya was the one to comfort me. Enfolding me in a hug, she stroked my hair and made soft soothing noises.

"It's alright Mari. I've had several years to become resigned to my fate." She smiled weakly. "It's better than being a whore on the streets, or starving in the cold. The Baron hasn't been unkind.

I've only been here a day, but he's already put me in charge of the household finances. I've even learned Latin. A few years ago a man of god came to Ruzinov to preach, and since I already had some skill, he was kind enough to teach me. I used to help him copy and translate scripture."

Tanya's eyes were bright and animated as she spoke, but the uncertain tilt of her mouth gave away her true feelings. She was trying to be brave, but my soul ached that she even had to. The little girl who had charmed her way into my heart deserved better.

Before I could utter a word, there came a knock at the door. Tatyana instantly tensed.

"Who is it?" she called.

"It's the handmaid, miss. M'lord has requested that you join him for dinner."

"I'll be right there." She said faintly, but the maid must have heard her, because I noted her retreating footsteps. "I have to go." Tanya spoke, turning to me.

"I know." I unhappily stated. An unbearably shy expression appeared on Tanya's features, and she seemed to be struggling to ask something.

"Will you be here when I get back?" It was the tone of a small child who was afraid of being abandoned. Nodding jerkily, for once I was glad that I was incapable of shedding tears.

"I'll try." And I meant it. If the future tried to call me back, I'd fight tooth and nail to stay.

x=x=x=x=x=x

Evening turned to night, and candlelight was the only thing illuminating my restless pacing. Dinner was hours ago, and Tanya still hadn't returned. My anxiety was ratcheting up by the minute, and I was a hair's breath from tearing the mansion apart when two pairs of footsteps approached from down the hall. They stalled on the other side of the door, and a prolonged quiet filled the air.

"Goodnight Anya. I'll see you tomorrow." A masculine voice softly whispered. A voice I recognized as Szendrey's.

Cloth rustled briefly, and the sound of his receding steps filled my ears. After a moment, Tanya entered the room white faced and trembling slightly, her clothes and hair in disarray. The scent of sex and despair clung to her clothes like a perfume. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.

Tatyana's hands fumbled as she slid the bolt home and leaned against the solid oak. I was beside her in an instant and pulled her into my arms as she slid to the floor. For the first time in my life I felt the beginnings of hate curl in my stomach.

I wanted to kill a man.

Not just as a byproduct of instinct and addiction, but of genuine malice.

The only thing keeping me bound to the room was the way Tanya clutched at my shoulders as she wept into my neck. My urge to alleviate her suffering was stronger than my need for revenge.

I cooed and rocked Tatyana for several minutes before she finally found the nerve to speak.

"I didn't fight." She breathed through hiccupping sobs. "I didn't say no. There was no point. He owns me already. The thought of churning out his bastards for the rest of my life disgusts me. I can't do it Mari. I just can't." Her voice tapered off into soft whimpers that only made me clutch her tighter.

"You won't." I fervently promised. "I'll make sure of it."

When Tanya eventually fell into a fitful slumber, I carried her to the bed and gently placed her beneath the covers.

Within a minute I was standing at the foot of Szendrey's bed. All the candles were out, blanketing the room in darkness, but I had no trouble making out the form of the Baron under the furs. He slept so easily, his arms and legs sprawled across the pallet, completely unconcerned about what he'd done.

My fist clenched as I imagined how to kill him.

I could crawl across the bed and press down on his throat. How satisfying would it be to watch him struggle as he suffocated?

If I was feeling merciful, a quick blow to the head would also suffice. To a vampire, the skull is but a fragile egg.

Or, if I wanted it to seem like an accident I could make it appear that he fell off his balcony. The two story drop would surely kill a man if he landed on his neck.

Gruesome imagery ran the gamut of my thoughts until I wondered, what would happen to Tatyana when the servants found him dead?

Would they cast her out on the streets?

Or perhaps return her to Yakov, where she'd be bartered off to the next man who took an interest in her?

The more I thought about it, the less certain I became. Would killing Szendrey really make her life better, or was I just being selfish?

I realized the decision to kill him didn't lie with me. I wasn't the one who would live with the consequences. Reining in my homicidal impulses, I swiped a purse from his side table and traveled into the night outside.

After a few inquiries, I ended up knocking on the door of a medicine woman. It was late at night and I could hear grumbled curses coming from inside as she shuffled to answer the door. An elderly woman finally came to call, squinting with annoyance as she took in my strange countenance.

"Are you the herbalist?" I asked in the politest voice I could muster.

"Come back in the morning, we can discuss business then." She made to slam the door in my face, but I held it open with only the slightest pressure from my thumb and middle finger. Surprised, she gaped at me when I held out the coin purse I'd stolen from the Baron.

"I can pay you. Handsomely."

The herbalist was much more accommodating as she ushered me into her home. Various plants and spices hung from rafters, filled baskets, and assorted bowls were littered all around the small living space. The smell of dried herbs overpowered the scent of stale unwashed sweat that was common to this time period.

I've never been so glad that I engrained proper hygiene into Tatyana during that week visit I had with her as a child.

"What do you need Milady, that couldn't wait till the morning?" The woman asked as I sat myself at her table.

"I need a herb that will render a woman unable to bear children." I stated, upfront and uncompromising.

The medicine woman looked at me with a knowing expression before scuttling off to retrieve a bowl filled with small prickly seeds.

"These are wild carrot seeds. Chew and swallow a handful of these within half a day of laying with a man and no child will quicken in the womb. If your teeth are bad, crush instead of chew them. Take no more than a handful every three days otherwise you will become sick."

Thanking her with several pieces of silver, I took the large bag of seeds she handed me and left without a backward glance.

When I snuck back into Tanya's room through the window, I found her awake and staring into space. She startled when she saw me, but couldn't hide the look of relief that passed over her features. Embracing me firmly, her body seemed to relax when she realized I was really here.

"I thought you left." She mumbled, and I delicately rubbed her back in a calming gesture. It hadn't occurred to me that, waking alone, Tanya would jump to the conclusion that I'd 'disappeared' again.

"I just had to pick something up from town." I replied, before showing her my bag full of seeds. Peering at them curiously, she looked to me for an explanation.

"These are wild carrot seeds. They will keep you from having children as long as you eat them regularly." Scooping a small handful of seeds out of the pouch, I effortlessly crushed them in my hand; and offered them, palm out, to Tatyana.

Glancing at me shyly, Tanya tentatively placed her fingers on my wrist and ate them straight out of my hand. Flustered and a bit embarrassed by the sensation of her lips on my skin, I swiftly withdrew my hand, trying not to notice the way Tatyana's pulse quickened as she stared at me.

Instead I relayed the medicine woman's instructions and, when prompted by Tanya, lied on the bed beside her. Seeking my reassuring presence, Tatyana pressed herself against my front and tucked her head beneath my chin.

Combing my fingers through her wild tresses, she was almost asleep when I felt the pull. Sitting up, Tanya jolted to wakefulness as I grit my teeth and struggled to stay. My body kept wavering between solid and transparency. Gripping the linens, my nails tore the cloth as I concentrated, but in the end it wasn't enough.

I faded with a bitter taste of failure.

Chapter Text

Bella

I was surrounded by a familiar scent.

Cracking open an eye, I confirmed what I'd already come to suspect.

I was standing in the middle of my room in Forks. Despite my seven month absence, my scent, the scent of my past life still lingered in the air. Nothing had been touched.

Charlie hadn't disturbed any of my things, and I felt a pang in my heart when I realized he was preserving the room for when I came back.

My father hadn't given up on me. I felt my eyes water with tears that would never fall before flinging myself onto the bed. I missed my old life, where running and surviving weren't a part of the everyday. I really was carefree back then, taking my privileges for granted.

I didn't know what to do.

I couldn't ask the wolves for more, after they lost five of their tribe. The fact that they were even willing to protect Charlie against a homicidal vampire was more than I could hope for. I didn't want more lives lost on my behalf.

As much as I hated to do it, I would seek help in Alaska.

Before that, I would prepare as best I could.

Shedding the clothes Emily had given me, I'd forgotten the purse of gold and silver coins tied to my sash until it made a heavy 'clunk' when it hit the floor. Gazing at it thoughtfully, I placed it on the bed to be taken with me once I changed. If nothing else, I could probably sell the coins to a jeweler for its metal worth.

Once I took a shower, I rifled through my old clothes for something new to wear. Slipping into a pair of worn jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoodie I found my old backpack and began stuffing clothes into it. Considering how quickly my old ones seemed to get ruined, taking a few extra sets was a good idea.

Tossing the pack onto my bed, I went downstairs and retrieved my wallet. It still contained my driver's license and school ID, along with various other cards. I was just about to head back up to the second floor when I remembered that if I was going to establish a life somewhere else, I was going to need my birth certificate, social security card, and passport.

Finding the relevant documents, I put them in a folder and walked back upstairs to place it safely in my bag along with the coin purse.

Gazing at my old bedroom one last time, I snagged a few pictures of Charlie. Turning to leave, I misstepped and accidently cracked one of my floorboards on the way out.

Cursing lightly, I bent down to inspect the damage and paused when I caught sight of something through the break. If my heart still beat, it would have been pounding as I slowly pulled up the damaged board.

All the CD's and pictures I thought Edward had taken with him when he left were here. I felt my heart prick with sadness as I pulled all my forgotten treasures out into the open once more. Brushing the dust off the photo paper, I drank in the sight of the beloved family who'd left me.

Bitterness still lingered faintly, but I felt myself smiling as I flipped through the images. Alice and Jasper, Carlisle and Esme, Rosalie and Emmett were all on display. I took time to study their faces, and I realized something I'd been unable to in the depths of my despair.

They looked happy.

Those expressions were too genuine to be faked.

Logically I knew they'd loved me, but the hurt of their abandonment had caused a small part of me to always wonder. Did they truly care?

It seems they had.

Pulling out the next picture, I paused. It was a photo of Edward and I, just before he left. We stood awkwardly near each other, and I thought back to how distant he had seemed at the time. The hole in my chest when I thought of him was gone, replaced by a nostalgic form of regret.

Picking up the CD labeled 'Bella's Lullaby' I popped it into the player and gently pressed play. The hauntingly sweet tone of Edward's piano drifted onto the air and I closed my eyes as I listened to the melody.

When the last few refrains came to a close, I felt something inside me clench and release. A weight I hadn't even known I'd been carrying was lifted from my back, and I felt a profound sense of peace. The last dregs of heartache I'd carried for Edward broke up and drifted away.

Smiling softly, I removed the disc and replaced it in the case. Gathering up all the photos, I placed everything back in the space under the floor.

Edward wanted our past buried and forgotten; so I would honor his wish.

Slinging the backpack around my shoulders, I returned to the ground floor and checked to make sure all the doors and windows were locked. I didn't know how long it would be before Charlie returned to the house, and I didn't want anyone getting into the house in his absence. It wouldn't deter a vampire, but it would probably keep thieves out.

Passing the kitchen on the way to the door, I froze when the calendar on the wall caught my eye. The last day Charlie had crossed out on the calendar before the attack was September 13th.

A full year had passed since my disastrous birthday party.

I was nineteen and I didn't even know it. Victoria attacked my father on my birthday. She'd seen my school records when she and James hunted me to Phoenix, so it wasn't a stretch that she'd remembered it.

I'd wondered why she'd assaulted Charlie after leaving him alone for so long. Now I had my answer.

My hands trembled as a growl worked its way up my throat. Why were my family always the ones to suffer in my place?

Lifting a shaky hand to my face, I struggled to calm down. I didn't want to decimate my father's home in a fit of rage.

Victoria was up to something, and if the rocketing violence in Seattle was any indication, it was something big. I knew this the same way I knew she would never relinquish her grudge against me; I felt it in my bones.

If that was the case, leaving Forks might not be enough to keep everyone safe. I needed allies, and I needed to warn the Quileutes.

Crossing to the phone, I dialed in Jake's number, hoping he still carried one considering he was a wolf half of the time.

"Hello?" Jacobs voice was gruff and tired sounding.

"Jake." I said, hoping he would recognize my voice.

"Bella?" he groggily asked. "Are you ok? We looked for you after you disappeared in the hospital, but we couldn't find anything."

"I'm fine Jake," I replied. "I'm at Charlie's right now. I just wanted to let you know that I'm alright, and that I'm heading up to Alaska to see if I can get some more help. I've read a few articles about gang violence in Seattle, and I wouldn't be surprised if Victoria and her new friends are behind it. She's up to something, so keep on your toes ok? Take care of Charlie for me?" There was a pause on the other end.

"Of course Bella, you didn't even have to ask. We'll make sure to stay alert. Be safe."

After exchanging goodbyes, I hung up the phone.
Through a combination of running and hitchhiking, I managed to cover what should have been a two day drive in a little less than twelve hours.

When I finally crossed the Alaskan border back into American territory, I found myself at a loss when I consulted the map. Edward had always specified that Denali was where his cousins resided, but the travel map I'd picked up a few hours back only listed the state park.

No matter how hard I searched, there was no dot on the map to point me in the right direction.

Deciding to do the smart thing and ask for directions, I ran alongside Highway 2 until I came across a quaint little diner that obviously catered to tourists and travelers.

Looking straight out of a 50's movie, there were only a few patrons inside, which didn't surprise me considering the early hour. The middle aged waitress behind the counter didn't notice me come in, so I gently cleared my throat.

Startled, probably because of my natural vampire stealth, the woman jumped and nervously laughed.

"Good morning, I'm sorry, I didn't notice you come in. What can I get you?"

I nearly wrinkled my nose at the thought of actually ordering food, but managed to paste on my best smile.

"Hi, I'm just in here for some directions, but since I'm here… do you make coffee to go?" I figured it would look more normal if I bought something, and a capped beverage would make it easier to hide that I wasn't actually drinking anything.

"Sure thing Hun," Cheerfully writing down my order, she put on a pot and got down to business. "Where do you need to go?"

Taking the map out of the pocket of my blue hoodie, I unfolded it and laid it out on the table.

"Well, I'm trying to find Denali, but I've had some problems locating it." The waitress leaned over the counter, and I had to swallow at how close she was. Suddenly I was very aware of the fact that I hadn't fed in several days. With everything that had been happening recently, the thirst had been the least of my problems.

"You mean the Park? Just keep heading down this road and you'll reach it." Coughing to clear my throat, I couldn't keep a raspy edge from creeping into my voice.

"No. I'm searching for the city not the park." The woman looked perplexed for a bit before she burst into laughter.

"Oh you poor thing. No wonder you're lost! There is no city or town named Denali in Alaska. The closest thing we got is a small tourist area near the park, and that place is completely boarded up and deserted in the off season."

My jaw dropped and I felt a wash of annoyance roll over me. It figured that Edward would mislead me even in this. Now what was I supposed to do? I'd already made the journey here; I couldn't go back empty handed. Sighing deeply, I rubbed my hand over my face as I tried to figure out my next move.

"If you're looking for a town to stay in that's close to the park, you might want to try Fairbanks or Anchorage. Anchorage is farther away, but it's more of a city. Fairbanks is the closest thing you'll find to Denali National Park, but it doesn't have as much to do. Still a nice little town though." The waitress added, sliding a cup of coffee to me from across the counter. "Your total will be $2.59. You need anything else Sweetheart?"

"No," I said, slipping the waitress a five. "You've been very helpful. Thanks for the coffee and keep the change." Taking my hot beverage outside, I sat on the curb and mulled over the new information.

It was more likely, considering that the Denali's were supposed to be vegetarians; that they were living in or around Fairbanks. It had a smaller population; it was closer to the park, and more out of the way. Tossing the coffee into a nearby trash receptacle, I decided to begin my search there and pray I got lucky.

As I traveled, I admired Alaska's singular beauty. Everywhere I looked I could see majestic mountains, rolling hills and vast lush forests. Even the air smelled cleaner. I could only imagine what this was like a thousand years ago, and part of me almost wished I would get the opportunity to find out.

Half an hour later, I was walking into Fairbanks. It had a lot of charm, what with its colonial style architecture, and I could see how it would appeal to a vampire. This town had history, and it hung on the air like ripe fruit.

Since I had no idea where I was going from here, I decided to wander around town and enjoy the atmosphere. I'd only spent an hour taking in the sights when I caught a faint whiff of a scent that could only belong to a vampire.

It was sweet and definitely exotic, like someone had managed to crossbreed mangos and apricots. The trail was old; probably at least a few hours, but it led me straight to a martial arts dojo. Pushing open the door, the fragrance only got stronger.

Whoever it was, they clearly spent a lot of time here.

Peering around the establishment, I could see a class already in session. A wave of sweat and body heat rolled over me and I grit my teeth against the temptation to massacre the humans inside. Fortunately the vampire's mango-apricot scent kept my beast on edge, and me from losing my cool.

I observed the class for a few moments, memorizing their movements before the instructor teaching the lesson caught my eye.

She was a gorgeous woman of average height, decked out in a karate gi. Her long corn silk hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she moved with grace as she walked among her students, correcting stances and giving advice as she did.

It was blatantly obvious that she was a vampire, even if her sharp yellow eyes hadn't given her away.

Standing in the entrance way, I was there for only a minute or two before the vampiress noticed me. Giving her class instructions to continue their exercises, she slowly made her way over. By the manner her eyes appraised me; I could tell she was trying to decide if I was a threat.

As she drew closer, a slight frown pinched her features, and from the way her nostrils flared I could tell she was scenting the air.

A strange expression settled on her face when she finally stopped a few feet away. Suddenly feeling shy, I smiled nervously.

"Hi." I started, and immediately wanted to kick myself. I probably sounded like an idiot. The mortification I was feeling was probably written all over my face, because her lip twitched with amusement. "Er… I mean, hello."

"Hello." The vampiress teasingly responded. I could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she was enjoying my fumbling attempts at conversation too much to help me take my foot out of my mouth.

"Umm…" I tried again. "You wouldn't happen to be a Denali would you?" It seemed evident that she was, but it was polite to ask.

"As a matter of fact I am, Kate Denali, to be precise. What can I help you with?"

"My name is Isabella Swan, and I need your help."

"Oh." She muttered, looking slightly disappointed. Alarmed, I asked what was wrong. "It's nothing, you just smell very particular. I thought you were someone else for a moment." Then Kate's eyes widened suddenly and she did a double take as she finally processed what I'd said. "Wait. Bella Swan? Edward's Bella? When did you become a vampire?"

I winced slightly at being referred to as 'Edward's Bella' but didn't bother to correct her.

"It's a long story. Is there anywhere we could go to discuss it in private?" I inquired, gazing pointedly at the curious glances we were receiving from her students. Peering over her shoulder at them, Kate resolutely nodded.

"My class will be over in half an hour. If you're willing to wait, we can talk back at the house." Signaling my agreement, I settled down on a nearby chair and watched Kate focus her attention back on the lesson. I held my breath, but allowed my eyes and ears to soak up everything I could.

I hadn't forgotten how easily I'd been trounced by Victoria.

It wasn't long before the class ended and I sat passively as everyone filed out. Kate took the longest, because she was putting away all the gear and locking things up for the next instructor. Picking a duffle bag off the floor and casually swinging it over her shoulder, Kate motioned for me to follow as she left the building.

"Come on, we'll take my car. Do you have anything other than your backpack?"

I shook my head.

"Alright, shouldn't be a problem then." Clicking one of those car remotes, the lights flashed on a black 2006 dodge viper. It was the newest model, and I was sharply reminded of the Cullens' propensity for fast cars. Seems it ran in the family.

Putting my pack in the trunk, I slid into the passenger side. I barely had time to make myself comfortable before Kate peeled into the street.

For the first time I understood why Alice or Edward always laughed when I used to freak out about their driving habits. Even at 100mph my senses were easily adapted to those speeds. What would have looked like a blur as a human, now passed at a sedate pace. It was no wonder they always got so impatient with my driving.

I didn't get long to enjoy the ride however, because before I knew it we were pulling into a long driveway that led up to a stunning three story lodge. The entire building was composed of giant redwood timbers. The first floor was built into the side of a hill, with beautiful mahogany doors polished to a shine. The second and third floors were just as impressive with wide glass windows. From the thickness of the glass I was willing to bet they were soundproofed too.

Unlike the Cullen home that had been about open space and modern decor, the Denali's abode felt warm and cozy. It gave the impression the people inside were more likely to curl up by a fire with a good book than throw a lavish dinner party.

All in all it had just the kind of atmosphere I needed.

Kate pulled into the garage, and gave me a wink when she noticed my gawking. I guess I hadn't been too subtle in my admiration.

Flustered, I quickly exited the car and retrieved my backpack. At this point I just wanted to get the introductions out of the way.

Leading me up to the house, Kate flung open the double doors with great aplomb. Despite her dramatic entrance, I decided to wait on the threshold before entering just yet.

"Honey, I'm home!" Kate called into the house with a grin, and I could hear a muffled groan come from upstairs before a platinum blonde appeared at the foot of the stairs. She was shorter than me at 5'2, with the same pale skin and mesmerizing looks as every other vampire. Her hair was cut straight at chin length, and her eyes were a somber gold.

"Kate!" she scolded, "Must you do that every time? I knew letting you watch that 'I Love Lucy' marathon was a mistake…" She trailed off when she realized her sister wasn't alone and turned her attention to me. "Who do we have here?"

"This is Isabella Swan," Kate said, placing a hand on my shoulder.

"Please," I interjected. "Call me Bella. Isabella sounds so old fashioned."

"Bella," the vampiress repeated. "It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Irina. You wouldn't happen to be the same Bella who-"

"Is associated with the Cullens?" I interrupted once more, not wanting to be paired with Edward again. "That would be correct."

Irina hummed and gave me another once over.

"It figures that Edward's taste in women would lean more toward brunettes." I sighed lightly. "No matter, what can we do for you Bella? Are you here on a friendly visit or…?"

Irina paused, giving me the chance to fill in the blank. Before I had the opportunity however, Kate decided to answer for me.

"Isabella is here because she needs our help with something."

Two expectant faces turned to look at me, and it made me fidget slightly.

"Uh, not to be rude or anything, but aren't there supposed to be more of you? I would prefer not to have to repeat this story more than absolutely necessary."

Kate and Irina both laughed and nodded.

"Carmen and Eleazar are out hunting, and our eldest sister is currently in Europe. She should be back within the week." Irina graciously informed me.

"I see," I mumbled. "Would it be alright to wait until the other two come back from their hunt at least?"

"Of course!" Kate said, smiling warmly. "We hardly ever get visitors, so you've given me the perfect excuse to show off the house."

Caught up in Kate's enthusiasm, I stepped inside only to wrinkle my nose in displeasure at the sterile chemical smell. Seeing my expression, Kate gave a short bark of laughter and a sympathetic expression.

"Irina had the house cleaned yesterday. She's been a bit OCD about cleanliness ever since the black plague, which is ironic considering we're vampires and can't get sick."

"You don't need to be OCD to enjoy an orderly house!" Irina yelled from another room, and I chuckled as Kate rolled her eyes.

Kate managed to show me the majority of their home before Eleazar and Carmen returned. The couple who entered had similar features, with pale skin that had just a hint of an olive tone. They shared dark brown hair, and Spanish features. Eleazar was very tall at 5'11, with straight collar length locks. Carmen on the other hand was 5'5, and her hair was a crazy mass of wild curls that ended at mid-back. As with all vampires, they were both very striking.

The moment Eleazar caught sight of me; he immediately stopped and did a double take.

More than a little apprehensive, I shifted from foot to foot.

"What?" I asked, as he continued to stare and the rest of the Denali's looked on with curiosity.

I must have shaken him out of his daze because he blinked and finally focused on my face.

"Madam, please forgive my disrespect." He spoke, in lightly accented English. "It's just, you have a talent unlike anything I've ever seen." A sinking feeling of dread began to form in my stomach.

"What do you mean?" I questioned, but Kate was the one to answer me.

"Eleazar is very gifted. He has the ability to see and identify if another vampire has a power. Congratulations, you're one of the lucky few who do."

"Your gift hangs around you like a shroud," He continued. "It's chaotic and it clings to your skin like static. It makes you very hard to read. Normally I can instantly discern the particulars of a person's talent, but the only thing I can tell about you is that the fabric of reality bends around your body. It's very strange, and the implications are fascinating."

I was suddenly very glad that Jasper wasn't around to rat out the sudden panic I was feeling. The Denali's appeared to be nice enough, but there was no way I was ready to trust them with any knowledge regarding my recent trips to the past.

It didn't help that everyone was peering at me with intense interest.

It looked like Eleazar wasn't done however, because he went right on talking.

"Really, it's no wonder Edward couldn't read your mind. The distortions in your aura would have made getting a clear signal nearly impossible."

I blinked in astonishment. I'd always wondered why I'd been the one exception to Edward's gift, but it turns out that it was a mere side effect of my true talent.

"Huh," I murmured, deep in thought.

Irina fished out her cellphone and rapidly typed in a series of numbers before wiggling the phone at Kate.

"I'm going to fill in our most beloved sister in on the situation." I could detect a hint of playful sarcasm in Irina's voice, and the two of them shared a smile at what must be a private joke.

"I can't wait to see the look on her face when she meets Edward's mate." Kate chuckled, and again that feeling of awkward displeasure stirred in my breast.

"Please don't call me that." I stated, and everyone turned to look at me in surprise. "Edward broke up with me a year ago. Despite what I thought, he obviously isn't my mate."

Sympathetic smiles met me from all around, but unsurprisingly Kate was the one who spoke up first.

"I'm sorry Bella, we won't call you that again. Other than your name, it was the only thing our cousins told us about you. We all got used to referring to you as such."

"It's fine, now that you know." I hastened to reassure everyone.

Uncomfortable with the scrutiny I was experiencing, I clumsily tried to redirect the conversation.

"So, when will your sister be back?"

Kate's face fell slightly, and her smile turned bittersweet.

"She'll be back next week; she just had some business to attend to in Germany."

Suddenly feeling like I'd inadvertently stepped on a landmine, I decided to let the matter drop.

"Well," I continued, clearing my throat. "Since you're all here, let me explain why I've come." Over the course of two hours I filled the Denali's in on the last seven months of my life, not including my trips to the past. "-and that's why I need your help."

Mixed expressions of anger, astonishment, and empathy adorned the faces of the surrounding vampires. However, it was Irina who seemed the most emotional about the whole thing, because she immediately pulled me into a hug.

"I'm so sorry you had to go through that! I really feel like knocking some sense into our cousins. Not only did they hurt you, but they put their entire family in danger. If Victoria had decided to go to the Volturi while you were still human, they'd all have been put to death!"

"We won't abandon you in the same way my dear." Carmen spoke for the first time. "You must forgive our cousins; in many ways they are still like children, ruled more by passion than reason. With the exception of Carlisle, none of them have even reached their 200th year."

There were several nods all around, and I felt vaguely insulted. After all, compared to the Cullen's I was still a child myself. However, I knew that they meant no harm by the comment, so I let it slide.

"So does this mean you'll help me?" I queried.

"Of course," Kate interjected, eyes shining at the prospect of a fight. "Unfortunately, if we're going to make a move, you're going to have to be able to defend yourself. From how you described your last fight with Victoria, you lost. Badly. So I'm going to train you until our sister returns, at which point we can decide what to do next."

I nodded reluctantly. I was grateful Kate was willing to teach me, and understood why we were waiting, but I felt like immediate action needed to be taken. Every moment I languished here, another person could die.

I felt directly responsible for every one of those victims.

"When do we start?" I questioned.

"Right now," Kate replied, grinning fiercely.

"Hold on a second!" Irina interrupted, walking back into the room. Startled, I gave her my full attention while Kate pouted. "Before you two get completely distracted, I need to bring up a topic none of you have had the courage to ask." The room fell silent and I felt slightly anxious.

"What is it?" I asked.

Irina turned serious topaz colored eyes in my direction.

"If this is going to be a full out war, as you've led us to believe, having the six of us might not be enough. It's possible that one or all of us might die as a result. Knowing this, I still want to ask your permission to contact the Cullen's. They're all good fighters, and I would feel better adding their strength to ours, but I won't inform them of what's happening if you're not ok with it."

My heart dropped into my stomach at the thought of seeing my old family again. Part of me longed to see them, but the other part couldn't quite let go of that hurt and insecurity.

"I-I'm not ready to see them," I stammered. "but I know that the coming weeks won't be easy without their help. Still, with your consent, I would like to wait until after your sister arrives. Then, once we have a plan of action, I won't object."

Irina nodded respectfully and gave me an encouraging smile.

I barely had time to blink before Kate was dragging me outside.

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The following six days were a grueling test of my mental and physical capabilities. Kate was a relentless teacher, not hesitating to use her shock power to zap me if my mind wandered or my stance was sloppy. Despite her uncompromising obsession with perfection, she was a good teacher. She never got angry with me if I didn't understand something, but wouldn't tolerate inattention.

My martial skills grew in leaps and bounds, but I still wasn't a match for Kate. Watching her fight was like watching poetry in motion. Every movement was smooth, precise, and rang with power.

Were it not for her encouragement, I could have been ashamed to practice in front of her; I keenly felt my inadequacy. Still I felt better when I heard that Kate had been practicing martial arts even as a human.

On the few breaks I had between sparring sessions, I spent bonding with the others. After months of isolation, being around people was refreshing.

I found Carmen to be a gentle, mild-mannered women; who reminded me a bit of Esme. Until I inadvertently brought up a topic she was passionate about, at which point she launched into an hour long tirade. I couldn't help but get swept up in her enthusiasm however, and we spent several nights discussing a wide variety of topics.

What I loved most about the evenings was watching Carmen and Eleazar dance. They both loved to dance, and they did so every night for hours on end. No form of dance was beyond their skills, but they especially loved to tango.

Eleazar was a man of intellectual pursuits, so I was unsurprised to learn that as a human he used to be a professional painter. Much to his dismay, most of his works were lost or destroyed one way or another over time, with the exception of a very few.

He said he thought it was his attention to detail, that he learned as a painter, which gave him the ability to see other people's talents.

What surprised me the most however, was that out of all the fascinating individuals in the Denali household, Irina was my saving grace.

There was nothing that woman couldn't do, and she was rapidly becoming one of my closest friends. Irina was a strange mixture of intelligence, compassion, and blunt straightforwardness. At first, as I got to know her beyond my initial impression, I thought she was standoffish. I'd begun having Rosalie flashbacks when I finally understood what was happening.

Unlike Rosalie, who was blunt and sometimes harsh on purpose, Irina was merely being brutally honest. She could be sweet and playful just like the others, but I discovered she often had no patience for tact. If she had a problem, she came right out and said it, and she expected the same from everyone else. Once I discovered that facet of her personality, we got along great.

With Irina, what you see is what you get, and that was really what I needed.

I hadn't realized it until I started interacting with vampires again, but it was hard for me to take them at their word. I analyzed everything they said, searching for hints that I would one day be left alone again.

I'd just finished an eight hour sparring session with Kate when I decided to check in on Irina. Carmen and Eleazar were doing things I'd rather not think about on the third floor and I needed a good distraction. Walking into their main office, I followed Irina's passion fruit-marigold scent and discovered her with my legal documents spread out on a table.

"Uh, what are you doing?" I asked, slightly alarmed.

"Forging documents." She stated in a rather blasé way, not even bothering to look up from her work.

"Why?" I queried, moving up to the desk she was working at.

"Because you're a missing person, and we can't have you interacting with humans who knew you before. They'll notice that you're physically not the same, and it will arouse suspicion. Nothing catches attention like sudden inexplicable change."

That was true, but I couldn't help but feel a little sad about it. Irina must have detected my unease, because she shot me a reassuring smile.

"Not to worry, I'm only changing your last name and place of birth."

"What are you changing it to?" I said curiously.

"Your name is Isabella Schwan, and you were born in Phoenix, Arizona instead of Forks."

"Seriously?" I stated, incredulous.

"Seriously. I thought it best to keep it simple, just a few small changes, and since you're already familiar with Arizona you won't struggle to make up details about it."

"O-kay." I said a bit skeptically. "Well, you're the expert so I won't argue."

"It's for the best." Irina stated; her voice was so perfectly deadpan that I couldn't help but burst into laughter. The smile that quirked her lips let me know that she'd done it on purpose. Once I'd calmed down, I asked a question that had been nagging me for a while.

"So, I'm kinda curious, but did Laurent ever show up here? I know Carlisle sent him this way, but I wasn't sure…" I tapered off when I noticed Irina wrinkle her nose as if she smelled something bad.

"Yeah he showed up. He and I even had a bit of a romance going on for a while."

"So what happened?" I gently inquired, trying to be sensitive about what might have been a bad breakup.

"I caught him feeding on an eight year old boy, so I tossed him on his ass and threatened to kill him if I ever saw him again. I mean, I may have been a murdering seductress for about six hundred years, but I never harmed a child. Even vampires have lines they shouldn't cross." I blinked.

"Wow, well for what it's worth, I think you did the right thing."

"Thank you Bella." Irina stated, her eyes doing more than her words to express her gratitude. "Still, you better get back outside; I think Kate is getting impatient."

Groaning good-naturedly, I dragged myself back outside. I spent the rest of the night in training, but my grueling taskmaster graciously gave me the day when light broke the horizon. Their sister was arriving later that night, and they wanted to get the house ready for her return.

If Irina and Kate were anything to go by, I'd probably enjoy her company just as much as I did the others.

Eleazar was watching some show on PBS in the living room, so I flopped onto the couch beside him and commandeered the laptop sitting on the coffee table. Since I'd arrived at the Denali's, I'd gotten into the habit of checking Seattle news sites for anything suspicious. Kate and Irina had long since confirmed my theories of vampires in Seattle, being intimately familiar with hunting patterns of newborns, and tried to interpret what was actually happening behind each story.

I also called Jake on a regular basis for updates on Charlie's condition. Thankfully he'd woken up the day after I'd left, and was making a steady recovery. Since Charlie was a cop the state was taking care of most of his medical expenses, but I wasn't sure how long that would last.

I needed to dispose of Victoria so that I could take care of my father.

Scrolling through the page of recent news, I stopped when a headliner caught my eye.

'Tragedy! Gang War Claims Yet more Lives!'

It went on to read that a family of four was found dead in their vehicle, where their bloodless bodies were discovered the next day.

The youngest victim was a child of two.

A loud crack of crumbling plastic filled the room, and my hands shook as I let the remnants of Eleazar's mouse fall from my fingers.

This had gone on long enough.

I was leaving for Seattle now.

I was halfway out the door when Kate stopped me with a restraining hand on my collar.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, where are you going?" I growled lightly, but her grip just became more firm. "Calm down. What's got you so riled up?"

For several seconds I had to fight the rapid mood swing that told me to lash out.

"I'm going to Seattle." I stated flatly.

"No you're not." Kate nonchalantly replied.

"Yes, I am." I frowned, trying to keep a petulant note from my voice.

"No, you're not." Kate repeated resolutely.

"Yes I am!" I shouted, fuming at the thought that anyone would tell me what to do. God knows I'd had enough of that with Edward.

"Bella, be reasonable. You cannot travel to Seattle alone, there is no way of knowing how many hostile vampires are living there. It's suicide! Just wait a little while. Our sister's plane comes in tonight, and we can finally start making plans. Please don't do anything foolish."

Gritting my teeth, I jerked my head in assent.

"Fine. I'm going hunting." I spoke in clipped tones. Looking at me warily, she released her hold, and I sped into the woods.

Massacring the closest buck I could find, I absently wiped blood from my mouth as I considered my situation. It didn't matter that going alone was dangerous, people were dying and it was my fault. However it was clear that the Denali's would only try to stop me, so I just wouldn't come back from my 'hunt'.

Washing myself in a nearby stream, I ran back toward Washington.

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I made good time, arriving sometime around seven at night.

My investigation had to be quick because I was sure Kate and the others were only three hours behind me at most.

I'd only managed to penetrate the edge of Seattle when the first vampire scent hit me. The deeper into the heart of the city I went the more scents I came across and the more nervous I became. So far I hadn't had any confrontations, but I knew it was only a matter of time.

Unlike in Fairbanks, where I was able to follow Kate's scent straight to the source, there were traces of vampire pheromones all over the city. It crisscrossed nearly every street at some point or another, and it made any attempt to discover their lair by scent alone a long and aggravating task.

Regretfully I didn't have time to play around. I was certain that one of my new friends would drag me back to Alaska the second they found me.

Wracking my brain, I tried to think of places that vampires would normally hang out. If I were living in a city, I know I would stick to abandoned or low populated areas. Derelict, run down places or slums would be perfect for a nocturnal hunter looking to lay low.

Decision made, I wandered around the poorer areas of Seattle when I finally stumbled upon a fresh scent. Unable to contain my excitement, I pursued the trail until the sound of music registered in my ears.

In an open square, a small jazz festival was being held. Beautiful melodies were floating on the air and there were lights hanging from strings to light up the place. A modest crowd was sitting or dancing near the stage, and it had an upbeat, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere.

For a moment I let myself get lost in the music before I remembered that I shouldn't allow myself to become distracted with an unknown vampire nearby.

Scaling a nearby building, I finally found the owner of the orange and clove aroma I'd been tracking. He was big for a vampire, nearly rivaling Emmett in musculature. He was attractive, with tight curly blonde hair. However, unlike Emmett, he held a quiet air. As expected his eyes were crimson red, but unlike what I expected from a newborn, retained a reserved intelligence.

He hadn't noticed me yet.

Riveted by the music, his eyes were fastened on the players below.

A smile stretched my lips; he was so earnestly immersed in the jazz that I couldn't muster even an ounce of anger. Deciding that it was rude to continue keeping my presence a secret, I politely coughed into my hand.

Startled, the vampire whirled to face me and I felt a sudden and unexplainable revulsion wash over me. I gagged and took three steps backwards before I realized what was going on.

"Quite a strong gift you got there." I choked out, my eyes watering with the effort not to move away. "Would you mind easing off a little? I mean you no harm, and I won't be able to enjoy the music if I feel like retching every five minutes."

The feeling eased somewhat, and I no longer felt the urge to run away as fast as humanly possible. I still couldn't approach, but at least it was something.

Smoothing down the front of my shirt, I made eye contact and shyly nodded.

"Hi. My name is Bella."

Eying me strangely, he hesitantly returned the gesture.

"Fred."

"Do you like Jazz?" I asked, deciding that if I got on friendly terms with him, he might be willing to fill me in on what was happening in Seattle.

"Yes." He continued to speak curt, one word answers.

"I really like Stan Getz. How about you?" Fred's mouth twitched and I thought I saw a hint of a smile.

"I'm more partial to Duke Ellington."

I made a humming sound in the back of my throat and we both took a few minutes to enjoy the last few minutes of the performance below. I clapped along with the audience, but my companion just stuck his hands in his pockets and watched silently.

"You have golden eyes." He stated suddenly, seemingly out of the blue.

"Yes," I remarked. "It's a side effect of drinking animal blood." My comment seemed to take him off guard because he turned to look at me fully. Returning his gaze, I contemplated my next words. "I came here to kill you."

Other than the slight widening of his eyes, he didn't seem surprised.

"I saw that story on the news about the two year old found dead with her family in their sedan." I continued, and I immediately saw the look of anger and sadness that flicked across his face. "But I'm thinking that wasn't you, was it?"

Slowly, Fred shook his head.

"Do you know who did do it?" I softly inquired.

He positively jerked his head.

"Will you tell me where I can find them?" I asked, my words hung thickly between us.

"There's a derelict apartment building, near the docks…" he started, pointing me in the right direction. "We rest there during the day."

I let out a long shaky breath.

"Thank you." I whispered. As I turned to leave, Fred spoke up again.

"There are twenty of us. You shouldn't go alone."

Pausing, I looked over my shoulder at the man who peered silently back.

"You should leave Seattle." I suddenly decided. "Your kills are too public, and if you continue this way you'll attract the Volturi."

Fred merely gave me a puzzled expression. Sighing quietly, I went on to explain.

"The Volturi are vampire royalty. They're in charge of making sure that we don't expose ourselves to humans. You're gaining too much attention. When they come here, they'll kill every last one of you." If it were possible for a vampire to get paler, Fred would have achieved it. "If you want to learn how to live a more compassionate lifestyle, there's a coven in Alaska who will welcome you."

With that said, I dashed off in the direction of Forks.

No matter how much I wanted to hunt down the bastards who would stoop to killing children, I wasn't suicidal enough to take on twenty vampires by myself. I needed to talk to the Quileute's about organizing a possible offensive before heading back to Alaska.

I was nearly out of the city when a blood curdling scream caught my attention. Skidding to a stop, I could hear men laughing, and another pleading for his life.

The pungent aroma of vampires was heavy on the air.

Indecision caught me unawares, until another scream split the night. Like a rocket I dashed toward the source, managing to sneak up on two vampires who were taunting and torturing a man for fun.

Before I could react, one of them hauled the injured pedestrian up by his hair and sank his teeth into his throat. Blood spurted across the newborn's face in bright red rivets and for a moment I was too shocked to move. It was the first time I'd ever seen a vampire feed on a human.

The man's weak struggles broke me out of my stupor and I instantly held my breath. Just seeing the crimson vitae was stirring my inner beast, but I was determined to stay focused. Using the week of training I'd received under Kate, I pounced on the unsuspecting vampire. Wrenching him away from his victim, I wrenched off his head in one practiced move.

The other vampire, distracted by the blood and completely feral, immediately attacked. My eyes flashed to the prone figure lying on the ground as I sidestepped the lunge. My chest grew tight as a familiar ringing started in my ears.

Panic shot through me.

If I faded now, the man on the floor would undoubtedly die. I needed to end this fast.

Baiting my opponent, I used their momentum to slam them into the ground when they swiped at my head with their fist. A quick blow to the throat was all it took to crack the skin, and I mercilessly separated his head from his body.

I had just enough time to notice the glazed empty eyes of their victim before I faded away.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

Hungary – 1024 A.D. – Kuchajda Lake

Disoriented, I stumbled and collapsed into soft green grass. I was on the edge of a lake. The moon was shining and the crickets were humming with the promise of spring.

I hadn't the faintest idea where I was, but I couldn't bring myself to care.

A numbness I hadn't felt since the Cullens' abandonment was slowly enveloping me. Even with the mental capacity of a vampire I was still struggling to process the events of the past five minutes.

I'd just killed a man.

Correction, I'd just killed two men.

I hadn't even hesitated.

What was disturbing was how easy it was. It had been like breathing.

Instinctual, natural, inevitable.

I'd only just begun to wallow in the horror of my actions when the wind shifted.

In that moment, two things were immediately clear.

First: There was a vampire nearby. Gardenias and Plum blossom mixed with the sharp aroma of a predator.

Second: Someone was bleeding. Someone who smelled like sweet raspberries and almonds.

Pure, unadulterated terror exploded in my breast.

I sprang to my feet so quickly I broke the sound barrier.

Bolting into the forest, I came upon a scene that chilled me to my very core.

A vampire had her teeth sunk into the jugular of a woman who could only be Tanya. She was older, her figure fuller, her limbs more sensual. The vampiress was tall at 5'8 and shared the same red gold mane I'd only seen on one other person. Something about her nagged the back of my mind.

However, these details barely registered in the fraction of a second it took me to hone in on the threat.

I lose all reason as complete animalistic rage takes its place.

Roaring in fury, my voice resounds like a gunshot; loud, guttural, and inhuman.

The vampire only has time to withdraw her teeth before I knock her into the forest. I can hear the crack and yawn of collapsing tree's as the vampiress's body is propelled through them from the force of my blow.

Crouching protectively over Tanya's shuddering body, I hiss like an enraged cat.

Tanya begins to scream.

In my moment of distraction, my opponent recovers and tackles me to the ground. For several minutes we grapple with each other, biting and clawing trenches in the other's flesh as we fight to gain the upper hand.

Thanks to Kate I have a slight edge and eventually I manage to pin her face down in the dirt. My knees are keeping her arms immobilized as I straddle her shoulders.

I reached down, my nails digging into the marble flesh of her neck when a choked cry catches my attention.

"Mari." It's a gurgling rasp, and my eyes lock with Tatyana's. Blood stains the grass around her. Too much blood. She whispers my name before I'm ripped from the past.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

I hit the ground and rolled. Jumping to my feet with a snarl, I found myself in the Denali's backyard. It was night, but it didn't matter that I'd just crossed thousands of miles in the blink of an eye.

I'd just left Tatyana in the hands of a bloodthirsty vampire.

She was alone and bleeding, with a creature who undoubtedly snapped her neck the moment I was gone.

The little girl I'd watched and nurtured into a young woman was dead.

A wail of pure despair issued from my throat as I collapsed on their back lawn. Sobbing uncontrollably, a pain a thousand times more devastating than my abandonment by Edward wrapped around my soul.

"Please." I whispered over and over again. Wishing, praying that I was wrong. Hoping that the universe would transport me back to that moment, so that I could save one of the few people that meant anything to me.

This heartache wasn't something I could survive.

A twig snapped in front of me and my head automatically snapped up with a growl. What happened next was beyond my ability to predict.

Alice Cullen stepped out of the woods.

Her hair and clothes were disheveled, the circles under her eyes darker, and her shoulders slumped with the weight of the world.

"A-alice?" I whispered incredulously. The smallest Cullen's eyes honed in on me like a beacon and her whole face was transformed in an instant.

"Bella!" She cried joyously, and jumped on my prone figure.

"Alice!" I wept, throwing my arms around her neck as I sobbed into her shoulder. No matter what had happened in the past, at this moment in time, Alice was exactly what I needed.

Drawing me into her warm embrace, she gently crooned in my ear until I was left a drained, hiccuping mess.

When she was sure I wasn't about to fall to pieces again, Alice pulled back and full out slapped me in the arm. Flinching, I recoiled sharply. I didn't even have time to complain before Alice was full on ranting at me.

"Isabella Swan! Do you know how long I've been looking for you?!" She yelled, her high bell-like voice reaching decibels unheard by the human ear. "I thought you were dead!"

"Shouldn't I be the angry one in this situation?" I grumbled, rubbing my arm as my other hand covered the gaping wound in my heart.

"I travel all the way from England to save your sorry ass, only to discover you'd been murdered by Victoria! If I hadn't had a vision of you hunting in a forest the very next day I would have given up and gone home right then! As it was, I tracked Victoria's scent across the Canadian border before I lost it due to rainfall.

I spent the last six months searching every track of Canadian forest I could find before I realized you'd been in Washington the entire time! If I hadn't gotten a vision of your trip to Leavenworth I'd still be there! The entire time I do you keep randomly disappearing from my visions and somehow end up in Alaska!"

Tears welled up in Alice's eyes and I felt my heart pang at the thought of the hardships Alice must have endured.

"I just arrived a little while ago and the house is empty, but I finally found you Bella!" Alice sniffled and flung her arms around me again.

The emotional quagmire of my own recent loss was killing me slowly, but I still had it in me to comfort my favorite pixie.

Suddenly, Alice froze.

Her eyes glazed over, and I recognized her expression as the one she gets during a vision.

Snapping out of it, she gave me the most peculiar expression I'd ever seen.

"What is it Ali?" I tiredly asked.

"Come with me Bella." Alice abruptly demanded, grabbing my hand and dragging me to my feet.

Lacking the willpower to protest, let alone fight, I allow her to pull me around the side of the Denali mansion. Alice leaves me near the side of the house as she walks down to stand in the driveway.

We're barely there for a moment when I spot approaching headlights. An unfamiliar white Lamborghini pulls up to the house and idles for a second.

A woman steps out of the car.

The supernatural grace with which she moves immediately pegs her as a vampire. With gorgeous strawberry blonde hair and bright yellow eyes, she nearly rivals Rosalie in beauty.

This could only be the last Denali sister.

Alice tenses beside me, and I watch with concern as the vampiress's gaze lands first on Alice. A perplexed expression crosses her fair features, and she opens her mouth to speak when she finally notices me.

Whatever she'd been about to say died a quick and sudden death. Every part of her stilled as her eyes burned me. I felt like every part of me had suddenly been laid bare, and I nearly fled the sensation was so abrupt.

Without speaking, without tearing her gaze from mine, she took a step forward.

"Stop!" Alice shouted, stepping between us and breaking our line of sight. I nearly sagged with relief when the newcomer's eyes landed on Alice. The glare she directed at the pixie could have melted steel.

"Just wait," Alice pleaded, holding her hands up defensively. "Not everything is as it seems." Pointing a finger back at me, Alice continued. "This is Isabella Swan."

The vampiress hissed, crouching slightly as she shook her head.

"You're lying!" she snapped, her low melodious voice was beautiful even in anger.

Still, I couldn't let this woman get away with thinking it was alright to hiss at Alice, so I growled low in my throat and moved to stand protectively behind my ex-best friend.

Like a light being switched, all traces of anger evaporated from the blonde's face as she stared at me with an oddly wounded expression.

That, more than anything, threw me off. Why would someone I'd just met, a complete stranger, look at me as if I'd just stabbed them in the back?

Taking a closer look, I examined her features more carefully.

Dawning hope and realization blossomed in my chest as I took in a single, sharp, breath.

"T-Tatyana?" I whispered fearfully, cautiously stepping around Alice.

The moment I spoke her name, something in Tanya snapped.

Before I know it, I'm swept into an embrace so tight, my bones would have snapped like kindling if I'd still been human. Sobbing with relief, I return the hug as the soul crushing grief I'd experienced not minutes before broke up and fluttered away.

Tanya was chanting 'Mari' continuously as she soothingly stroked my hair and back.

"I thought you were dead." I whispered, and Tanya blessed me with a strangled laugh.

"Not yet." She murmured.

After about half an hour I pulled back, and my breath hitched at the way Tatyana observed me. She was unabashedly drinking in my features with a joyful adoration that left me unable to speak.

Reaching up, Tatyana gently tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, and I felt a sudden and unexpected shock of electricity race down my spine at the touch.

I stood, unable to move, as her fingers lightly brushed my inner arm. She was leaning closer to me, and I only had time for a mild feeling of alarm before she paused.

Confusion shot across her eyes before she suddenly yanked my right arm up. Turning my forearm left and right, a frown was growing across her face as I looked from her to Alice in confusion.

"What?" I asked, perplexed by her behavior.

"Where is your scar?" She replied, staring me in the eyes.

"What scar?" I stated in bewilderment. She looked at me incredulously.

"What do you mean, 'what scar?'"

A sigh of impatience broke our train of conversation, and we both turned to peer at Alice.

"I think we should go inside." She stated simply, a look of weary resignation settling behind her eyes. "Bella has a lot to explain."

Chapter Text

Tanya

Another fruitless search. Another wasted day.

How do you find someone who has no identity?

No address, job, car or acquaintances.

How do you find someone who can cross an ocean in the blink of an eye?

These were the obstacles I faced as I scoured Europe. Every contact and skill I'd acquired throughout a thousand years was put to use.

As always, my efforts were in vain.

Closing my laptop with a sigh, I peered outside the coffee shop I was sitting in to the misty German streets outside. Nurnberg was a quaint little place, with cobble roads and beautifully aged architecture. The air was heavy with the weight of history, and I felt right at home wandering its rustic streets.

The status reports I'd been reading from my numerous hired detectives and informants were carefully, and respectfully, written ways of saying all of them had found neither hide nor hair of Mari.

My phone began to ring, a light airy tune that Irina was fond of, and I withdrew the offending device from my pocket in a dour manner.

"Hello?" I dully asked, not much in the mood for conversation after my latest failure.

"Tanya," Irina's dulcet tones issued from my cell. "Where are you?"

"Nurnberg." I answered bluntly.

"Any luck?" she cut straight to the point. One of the reasons I loved my sister, but sometimes an annoying trait.

"No." I mumbled, running a hand through my red-gold mane. "I wasn't really expecting much, but I had to try."

There was a pause on the other end, and I could tell my sister wasn't sure what to say.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I'm just calling to update you on things here. Quite a bit has happened in the last hour."

I perked up, my attention fully focused. Over the years, we'd all become somewhat jaded, and it was sometimes difficult to put any significance into everyday affairs. An event that was noteworthy enough to call me about while I was on one of my 'hunts' was usually pretty important.

"I'm listening." I replied, slipping into my role as coven leader with a subtle shift in tone.

"Isabella Swan has just shown up at the house." A frown marred my brow, and I felt more than a little surprise. What was Edward's pet human doing out of Washington, let alone in Alaska. "Not only that, but she's a vampire."

Once more I felt a mild shock.

As far as I was aware, Edward was still of the opinion that we were all damned creatures, and I had a hard time believing he would willingly turn this girl, mate or no.

"How is that possible? You know as well as I do how Edward feels about vampirism." God knows he made it clear with his attitude. I always got the distinct impression he looked down on my sisters and I because of how completely we embraced our natures.

If it weren't for what happened to our creator, we might still be living off humans, completely untroubled by morals. My own half-hearted attempts to seduce him were just one of the ways I liked to keep him off balance. The boy was so obviously inexperienced that any overtures made him distinctly uncomfortable.

As a pleasant side effect, Edward tried hard to ignore anything going on in my head, just to avoid 'seeing anything indecent or vulgar'. Still, I probably wouldn't have turned him down if he'd decided to take me up on my offer. He was attractive, and the centuries had only honed the sharp ache of loneliness in my breast.

"Kate is getting the story out of her as we speak, but it seems that Edward wasn't the one to turn her. Truth be told, I was surprised when I saw her, I was under the impression Edward was secretly gay…" I smirked, understanding what she was getting at.

"Anyone would. After all, he never showed any interest in us, or even Rosalie before she met Emmett. It's hard to imagine that he wouldn't have been tempted by at least one of us."

"Well, Bella is a brunette, so maybe he just doesn't like blondes?"

"Lemme guess," I sighed. "She's the picture of a wilting flower."

"I wouldn't say that…" Irina spoke slowly. "She definitely seems shy, but from what she's gone through, I think this girl has more steel than any of us could guess."

"Interesting." I mutter, but my mind has already returned to the laptop and my quest to find Mari.

"Tanya," Irina's voice drifts gently over the speaker. "You should come home. We need you here."

I shake my head because I already know where this is going.

"I'll be back at the end of the week." I coldly reply, tired of hearing what she'll say next.

"How long are you going to keep searching Tanya? You've been doing this every other year since the industrial age." She softly questioned.

I huffed.

"Fine," Irina continued. "since before then too; but at least you stuck to the same continent."

I let my silence speak for me.

Exhaling exasperatedly, Irina knew better then to continue the topic. I'd gotten very touchy over the centuries about anyone questioning my dedication to finding Mari.

"Just-" She hesitated. "stay safe."

"I will." I remarked, my icy demeanor thawing slightly. "I love you."

"I love you too, no matter how aggravating you are sometimes." Irina shot back with amused annoyance.

Once we finished exchanging goodbyes, I hung up and took a little time to contemplate what was going on back in the States.

When I'd first heard of Isabella Swan, my family had an uproar. The fact that a human knew of our existence, and worse, that they were allowing her to live was inconceivable. I'd come very close to flying down to Forks to kill or turn her myself. Alice's vision of Isabella as a vampire, despite Edwards wishes, was the only thing that held me back.

I both liked and trusted my smallest cousin, and her reassurances were enough at the time.

Ever since the death of our surrogate mother at the hands of the Volturi, we'd all staunchly upheld the law.

Still, it appeared that things hadn't resolved themselves in a happy way, and now my sisters and I were sucked into the Cullen's disputes.

Putting Isabella Swan from my mind for the time being, I continued my search. Unfortunately, time passed too quickly, and before I knew it, it was time to board the plane back to Alaska. Since I'd reserved first class tickets on the fastest plane available, it only took twenty hours instead of the standard thirty eight to make it back to Anchorage.

Standing in the airport, trying to ignore the many stares I was receiving, I slung my bag over one shoulder and turned my cellphone back on.

Three missed calls and a voice message, all from Kate, blinked up at me from the screen. Curious about what could be so important that she'd call me three times within the span of ten minutes, I pressed the button to access my voice-mail.

Kate's voice, slightly breathless and more than a little pissed off, graced my ears.

"Tanya, I know you're on the plane right now, so I'm leaving a message to tell you that we can't meet you at the gate. Bella has run off to do something stupid in Seattle, and we're going to try and catch her before she gets herself killed. Please wait at the house just in case a miracle occurs and she comes to her senses. With luck, hopefully I'll see you soon."

I stared at my phone blankly, before shaking my head and tucking it away in my jacket. I wasn't worried, I was sure my sisters could handle anything they encountered, but the fact that Edward's mate was putting them in a dangerous situation in the first place was aggravating.

Retrieving the rest of my luggage, I recovered my white Lamborghini from the airport garage and began the drive back to Fairbanks.

Cranking my car stereo up, I listened to Nat King Cole's soulful voice.

The air was sweet and silent as I drove up the wooded path to our house. Being away from my family for so long was always taxing. Germany was a beautiful country filled with wonderful sights and people, but nothing gave me as much joy as my sisters.

Except, perhaps, Mari.

Lost in my thoughts, I was already out of the car before I noticed her.

Alice was standing in the driveway.

Her face was set into grim lines and for a moment I felt a brief spark of fear. Had something happened? Were my sister's alright?

Before I could voice my concerns, a slight shuffle of cloth caught my attention. Turning my head, I stared at a face so familiar to me; I knew it better than my own reflection.

She was exactly the same.

Logically I knew she would be, but some part of me had expected the weight of our years apart to leave a physical mark.

Her hair was the same rich auburn, framing her heart shaped face in subtle waves that brought attention to her clear topaz eyes. The lips I'd spent centuries remembering, the top slightly fuller than the bottom, fit my memory perfectly.

A tidal wave of emotions crashed over me in one overwhelming jumble. Elation, joy, relief, and love were the strongest among them.

Before I could think; my body was moving on its own, drawn inexorably toward Mari.

However, I hadn't taken more than a step in her direction when Alice threw up her hands and shouted, freezing me in place.

""Just wait," Alice begged, as I glared at her. What was so important that I couldn't greet my mate, who I hadn't seen in the last sixty years? "Not everything is as it seems." My eyes narrowed as she lifted a finger to Mari. "This is Isabella Swan."

"You're lying!" I hissed; my denial so automatic and ingrained that it'd escaped me involuntarily. Did Alice think I couldn't see? That I lacked eyes? Even Mari's honeydew-jasmine scent remained the same. Implying that my Angel belonged to another, or worse, that she belonged to Edward grated on my instincts.

The protective growl that issued from Mari's throat stopped me dead in my tracks. The fact that she was growling at me, lanced my heart. Why was she defending Alice?

Unable to stop my wounded look, Mari's growl eventually faltered, and a strange mixture of confusion and recognition crept across her features.

"T-Tatyana?" she stammered, moving toward me. Her eyes conveyed such hope and joy, that any hesitation I felt vanished in a second.

My arms slid around Mari so naturally it was almost like the years of heartbreak hardly existed at all. Just thinking about it had me tightening my embrace, desperately seeking the closeness I'd been denied for so long.

"Mari." I cooed, burying my face in her hair as she sobbed on my shoulder.

"I thought you were dead." She muttered into my shirt, and I couldn't stop my strangled laugh. She was the one that thought I was dead? Irony, thy name is Mari.

"Not yet." I replied, murmuring into her ear.

Eventually Mari pulled away slightly, and I took the opportunity to lovingly study every inch of her face. As a vampire I could never forget the slightest detail, but everything about Mari needed to be cherished and noticed.

I never took any moment I had with her for granted, because I couldn't know how long I would keep her. Unable to resist touching her, I tenderly pushed a strand of hair out of her face. I savored the brush of my fingertips on her skin, and let them linger just behind her ear.

My Angel seemed to twitch slightly, her eyes darkening slightly as she gazed at me. I had to repress a grin.

I recognized that look, even if she didn't seem to realize she was doing it.

Tingling with anticipation I began to lean forward, my eyes fastened on her lips, when I felt something that made me stop.

Mari didn't have a scar on her forearm.

It was such a little thing.

Most people wouldn't have noticed it.

However I wasn't most people; and this was a very memorable scar.

Jerking her arm up, I carefully studied her skin, but it remained unmarked.

Scowling, I turned my gaze to Mari, who was looking at me in bewilderment.

"What?" She inquired.

"Where is your scar?" I demanded.

"What scar?" Mari replied as I stared at her in disbelief.

"What do you mean, 'what scar?'" I asked. How was it possible that she'd forgotten?

Alice sighed loudly, and I jerked my head around to scrutinize my cousin.

My clairvoyant cousin.

I suspiciously narrowed my eyes. She must know something.

"I think we should go inside." She spoke bluntly, despite being a vampire she looked worn. The circles under her eyes were deeper, a sign of fatigue. "Bella has a lot to explain."

Unable to argue, I nodded and laced my fingers with Mari's, unwilling to part from her for a moment more than necessary.

It seemed she didn't object, because she lightly squeezed my hand. Warmth spread throughout my body at the contact, and I didn't fight the quiet joy I felt as a result.

Leading the others into the house, I directed everyone into the living room. Mari took a seat in one of the armchairs and I moved to stand beside it. I'd long since overcome any societal pressure to 'sit' in another's company, and holding my lover's hand was more important by far.

Alice flopped down onto the couch opposite Mari, and eyed us with thoughtful curiosity.

"Tanya," She began, resting her eyes on me. "Let me reintroduce you." Alice flipped her hand out, indicating the woman beside me. "This is Isabella Swan, affectionately named Bella."

I frowned; peeved that Alice was bringing this up again. I knew who she was; I'd confirmed it with my own eyes.

This was Mari, my Mari.

"Alice, you are my cousin and I am very fond of you, but you are mistaken. Her name is Mari not Isabella." I gently chided, sounding slightly like I was scolding a child.

However, my confidence wavered when I noticed the sheepish expression across my Angel's face.

"Uhh, technically you're both right." She mumbled, slanting me an apologetic glance. "My full name is Isabella Marie Swan."

I blinked in surprise, a little hurt and definitely confused. Mari (Bella?) seemed to read my expression because her eyes grew even guiltier.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I had a good reason for that."

Glancing between Mari and Alice, I felt my face shut down slightly.

"Can one of you please tell me what's going on? I'm getting tired of being left in the dark." I growled, unable to keep my nerves under control.

Mari opened her mouth to reply when Alice held up a hand to forestall anything she might have said.

"Before we get into this, Tanya, could you please call the others in Seattle? I would prefer that they come back before they get into any trouble."

Grudgingly I pulled out my phone and dialed Carmen's number, since she was the first one on my contact list.

Carmen picked up on the first ring. I could hear the wind blowing past the speaker and the sound of numerous pairs of feet, so they must still be in transit.

"Tanya?" Carmen's Spanish accented voice drifted over the receiver.

"Come home." I spoke; a hint of authority tinged my words.

"Did something happen?" She automatically asked, tone laced with concern.

I paused, struggling with the knowledge of Mari's new identity.

"Isabella is here, along with Alice."

Shocked silence met my declaration and I could hear the others in the background speculating on how Mari had managed to get back so quickly. To their knowledge, they were still hot on her trail.

"We'll go to the nearest airport and take the first flight back." Carmen promised, before politely hanging up the phone.

Reassured that my coven wouldn't be running into a deathtrap, I tucked my cell away and coolly appraised my cousin. From the moment I made eye contact with Mari from across the driveway, I'd been Tatyana Korsak. Now, I was slipping into the role of Tanya Denali, leader of the Denali coven.

"I have done as you asked, so I expect answers Alice."

Sighing, Alice and Mari exchanged glances, before Alice gave Mari an encouraging nod.

Haltingly at first, but with greater coherence, Mari began to recount the series of events that led to our reunion just a short while ago. I listened in silence as she recalled her trips to the past, her confusion, and adversity.

Some of it was familiar, and slightly unbelievable, but as I recalled the incidents in question things began to make sense.

Mari's strange clothing, her attitude, and level of education were all glaringly abnormal for the era in question. My child's eyes had been blind to the small inconsistencies that only now, upon reflection, were clearly incongruent.

A feeling of dread began to fester in my gut the longer she spoke, and my feeling proved correct when Mari's narrative ended just after her recount of the day I was turned.

I held my breath, waiting - praying – that she would continue; but she launched into her explanation of how she met my sisters.

I felt my heart break.

Every expectation and hope I had cracked and shattered under one very sudden realization.

This wasn't my Mari.

My lover no longer existed; or to be more precise, had yet to exist.

I stoically sat and listened, but all I wanted to do was retreat to my room and curl into a ball of emotional agony. It was no wonder I hadn't been able to find Mari in the years between her visits. She literally hadn't been born yet.

The only thing that kept me from breaking down right here was my growing anger.

Edward Cullen seduced my mate.

Edward Cullen broke her heart.

Edward Cullen left her unprotected.

Make no mistake, I also held the rest of the Cullens to blame to one extent or another, but Edward was the focus of my ire. Alice's obvious remorse, and the fact that Mari seemed to want her around, was the only thing keeping me from throwing her out on her ass.

As fond as I was of my extended family, Mari ranked far above them in importance. If she asked me to, I would disown the lot of them.

Still, despite their shortcomings, it did seem like they'd saved Mari's life on more than one occasion. She could have died and I would have been none the wiser. For that I would be forever grateful, but right now the two feelings were sharply contrasted. Still, this was the least of my problems, because two important factors remained.

One: Mari had been, or might still be, in love with Edward.

Two: Mari had no memory of being my mate.

Now that she was a vampire, would she seek him out? Jealousy borne of my sudden insecurity was immediately injected into the mix, and it was getting harder to keep my emotions under control. My instincts were telling me to possessively keep my Angel away from everyone else, but the rational part of me knew that wasn't possible.

I was drawn out of my increasingly dire mood when Mari asked Alice a question.

"Alice, why were you in Canada? What happened after you-" she paused; "left." Mari's voice was a weak whisper, and her eyes seemed to shine with remembered pain. I nearly growled aloud just from seeing it; I was so sensitive to her feelings.

Alice's eyes flickered to me with trepidation, possibly because it looked like I was about to attack her. Making a visible effort to calm myself, I waited for Alice's reply.

"You have to understand Bella," Alice began pleadingly. "None of us wanted to leave; I tried my hardest to convince Edward that his decision would end badly. For you, for all of us; but he was so stubbornly insistent that you would be better off. He was convinced that we were soulless blood-thirsty monsters that would only cause you misery and pain."

Bella closed her eyes and became completely still as she listened. Sadness was etched across her features, but otherwise she seemed calm. Encouraged by the lack of anger, Alice continued.

"We moved back to England, but things weren't the same anymore. Our family was fractured. Edward took off by himself. Carlisle and Esme tried to go on as normal, and keep us together, but eventually it all fell apart. Rose and Emmett moved out to escape the gloomy atmosphere, and Jazz has been blaming himself for the whole ordeal.

We were broken, but when I started getting visions of you moving on, I thought it was too late for us to make it up to you. Then I got that vision of you and Victoria, and Jazz and I took the first plane back to Washington, but by then it was too late. I thought you were dead.

I tracked Victoria's trail to the edge of Canada. Jazz and I were going to avenge your death, when my gift showed you hunting in a forest.

Since Victoria had gone into Canada, I figured she must have turned you there, and you were in one of the large forests they have. We searched for months. Jazz decided to try and track down his friends Peter and Charlotte to help us find you.

I only realized you were still in Washington until I got a vision of you visiting Leavenworth. However, by the time I got there, you were in Forks, and when I got to Forks, you were in Alaska."

Mari looked slightly sheepish. Alice rose from the couch and took both of Mari's hands in earnest supplication.

"We aren't complete without you Bella. Please come back with me."

I scoffed, loudly, but my Angel appeared conflicted. Her eyes pled for help, so I took it as permission to voice my opinion.

"Alice, you are family and I love you very much, but you have a lot of nerve asking Mari to up and forgive you for leaving her and her father at the mercy of a vengeful vampire."

The pixie wilted at my harsh tone, but there was a gleam of determination in her eyes. Obviously the same determination that had her scouring Canada for months. However, she was clearly underestimating my own fortitude. I had, after all, spent the better part of a thousand years searching for Mari.

In an attempt to keep myself from glowering, I wrenched my eyes away from Alice and caught Mari staring at me intently. Her eyes were bright and focused as she scrutinized my face, before she turned back to Alice.

"I'm sorry Alice, but things won't be the same. Edward broke me. You all did. I've just managed to put myself back together. I may someday forgive, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust any of you again."

Mari said with fierce conviction.

Alice's eyes glazed over, and she must have seen that Mari was serious because her shoulders slumped dejectedly.

"Even if you can't trust us Bella, let me call the rest of my family. We are at least partially to blame for what's happening with Victoria. Let us help protect you. Give us a chance to earn your forgiveness."

Alice's eyes were so soulfully large, if she'd been standing on a mound of corpses in full daylight, even the Volturi would've had trouble convicting her.

Unfortunately for Alice, I had too many years under my belt to be more than mildly phased.

"Absolutely not." I immediately rejected the proposal. "After hearing that story, there's no way I want your coven distressing Mari. Outnumbered or not, my sisters and I have more than enough experience to deal with a bunch of newborn. I'm only tolerating you now on her behalf."

Alice grimaced, and I could tell my words had hurt her. The severity of my reaction made it seem like I was cutting familial ties.

Mari, on the other hand, appeared less tense now that she wouldn't have to confront the family who left her.

"I know you have the best intentions Alice, but I'm not ready to see the others. I'm not ready to see Edward." Mari mumbled, staring at the floor.

I loathed the way her words caressed his name, like he was still precious; like he hadn't ripped her heart out and tossed it on the lawn.

"I don't mind if you call Jasper," she continued, "but I ask that you do no more than that."

Sighing dramatically, Alice inclined her head.

"Alright Bella. I'll honor your wish for now, but if things get bad I can't make any promises."

"That seems reasonable to me." Mari replied, somberly returning Alice's disappointed glance.

"You look worn Alice, if you like you can use one of our guest rooms to freshen up. Feel free to call your mate." I interjected, playing hostess despite my misgivings.

Nodding her head in thanks, the pixie flashed upstairs. A moment later the sound of the shower came on.

Like a switch had been flipped, Mari sagged against the couch. It was easy to see that the events of the day had been too much for her. Vampires couldn't wear out physically, but mentally, she was beyond tired.

My immediate instinct was to curl around my Angel and offer what comfort I could, but I hesitated. I couldn't rely on my instincts because they told me to treat Mari more intimately then she was prepared to deal with.

I stood next to the couch, standing uncertainly, when Mari made up my mind for me. Without opening her eyes she patted the cushion next to her.

Wasting no time, I slid onto the couch beside her, and was pleased when she leaned her body against me.

Breathing deeply, I luxuriated in Mari's jasmine-honeydew scent. Against my will, my arms wound themselves around her shoulders, pulling her closer. One of my hands gently massaged Mari's scalp, and a deep purr vibrated in her chest. I couldn't help but mirror the sound of contentment.

After a few minutes, Mari languidly opened her eyes. Her gaze ghosted over my face with an astounded sort of wonder. Reaching out, Mari gently grazed my cheek with the tips of her fingers; as if to test I was real.

"How did you survive?" She whispered, casting a heavy stare at my neck. It took me a moment to realize she was speaking of the day I was turned, rather than the interminable centuries I spent without her.

"I wasn't attacked." I stated, meeting her golden eyed regard with my own. Sitting up, Mari looked at me in disbelief.

"Tanya, I was there. I saw you. That vampire was in the process of draining you dry when I got there. So don't sit there and tell me you weren't attacked." Her last three words were practically a growl, and her eyes had darkened from the strength of her emotions.

"As I was saying," I continued, rubbing soothing circles on Mari's back. "I wasn't attacked. I asked her to turn me."

I received a blank stare at this proclamation and it was obvious I was going to have to explain further.

"The vampire you fought that day was my creator. She was in the process of turning me when you interfered. In fact, Sasha thought you were doing the exact same thing. She thought the scent of my blood had driven you feral and that you were going to kill me.

It's rather amusingly ironic upon reflection, but at the time it was pretty horrible. I'm just glad you didn't kill her before you faded, otherwise I would have been a newborn out in the wilderness without a mentor to guide me."

An awkward silence descended on us when I remembered that Mari went through that exact situation. Regret filled my breast. I should have been the one to help Mari through that painful transition, or failing that, one of the Cullens. Their failure to be there for her was unforgivable. At least I had the excuse of ignorance, not that it soothed my conscience much. Mari, bless her, decided to continue the conversation.

"She seemed very familiar, how did you two meet?"

"Sasha was technically my great aunt on my mother's side, which explains the resemblance. She went missing when my grandmother was a young woman. It took her a while to track down my mother, and eventually my father pointed her in my direction. She was my constant companion for a year before she decided to turn me."

Mari cocked her head to the side, and a few strands of her rich auburn hair fell into her face as she watched me curiously.

"Why would you want to be a vampire? The Cullens always made it sound like a curse, and I only wanted it when I thought it would bring me 'forever' with Edward."

Inwardly, I flinched at the proof of Mari's former devotion.

Outwardly, I kept my expression calm and even.

"I wanted to be like you." I breathed, imparting the words like a forbidden secret.

A shocked and heartbroken expression crossed Mari's countenance, and she drew away from me slightly.

"Why?" she asked, uncomprehending. "Why would you submit yourself to that kind of torture, just to be like me? If I'd had any idea what I'd be subjecting myself to when I was human, I never would have gone through with it." Mari's voice was a flat monotone, and her eyes were glazed with remembered pain. I too, recalled that particular brand of agony, and couldn't fault her logic. So I gave her the only answer I could.

"I loved you." I spoke, peering earnestly into her eyes. "You were my savior; really, the only good thing in my life. You were a beautiful, intelligent, independent women and Sasha gave me the opportunity to be the same. Unlike the women of this century, if I hadn't become a vampire I probably would have died in childbirth or succumbed to the common cold.

My sisters and I saw vampirism as the price we paid for freedom, and it's one I would gladly pay again."

Mari's eyes narrowed into a frown, but I could tell she understood my reasoning. She had seen first hand how life was like back then.

Before I could open my mouth to say anything further, Alice zipped into the livingroom like a mini hurricane. Freshly showered, and bouncing with energy, her eyes were riveted to the door.

"The others are back!" she sang, and sure enough, I could hear the sound of crunching gravel in the driveway.

My sisters were home.

Chapter Text

Bella

In a blur of motion, four vampires rushed into the room. Each one had an expression of anxiousness that eased the moment they each set eyes on me.

One individual, however, wasn't satisfied with acknowledging I was safe.

Teeth bared and extremely pissed off; Kate stalked toward me with a singular purpose. Alarmed, I took a step back, but before I could flee or attempt to defend myself a low warning growl split the air.

Kate stopped.

Immediately.

A look of shock was frozen on her features as she stared at Tanya in disbelief.

When I turned my gaze in the same direction, I could see why.

Tatyana's eyes were black. Her face was set in such ridged stone, I felt like she was a hairs breath away from attacking her own sister.

Dismayed, I tried to decide whether I should attempt to calm her down, or put some space between us. I had no idea what had prompted such an immediate and visceral reaction from her.

However, the part of me that remembered a little girl with sky blue eyes eventually won out and I tentatively placed my hand on her shoulder.

Tanya's growl eventually tapered off, but her gaze remained focused on Kate's every move. The tension in the house was stifling. In an attempt to ease the atmosphere I tried to approach Kate. I hadn't managed to so much as shift my foot before Tanya's fingers snagged my shirt.

A measure of clarity had returned to her features, but her expression clearly said that she didn't want me going anywhere near Kate.

Gently unfolding her vice-like hold on my clothes, being especially careful not to rip the fabric, I ran my fingers across her knuckles in what I meant to be a soothing gesture. I must have been successful because her body became less tense, but I could tell Tatyana still wasn't pleased.

Meekly closing the distance between myself and an angrily bewildered Kate, I lowered my head in contrition.

"I'm sorry I broke my word and ran off. Upon reflection, you were right. I shouldn't have recklessly endangered myself, and by extension, you as well."

Kate considered me for a moment, her eyes drifting back and forth between Tanya and I; before scowling intimidatingly.

"Do it again and I'll be forced to pummel some sense into you." Kate huffed, crossing her arms petulantly.

Wincing at the imagery, I reluctantly nodded my head in agreement.

While I'd been busy dealing with Kate however, Irina had been studying Tanya and I very closely. Tilting her head slightly, her eyes narrowed and focused like laser beams.

"Tanya, I see you've already met Bella. I apologize for not picking you up at the airport; and that you had to come home to so much drama." In a flash, Irina had her sister in a hug. Watching their reunion, I felt a sharp jab of envy at the easy way they relaxed into each other. "How did your search go?" Irina murmured as she pulled away.

Tatyana shot a glance in my direction and smiled faintly at her sister.

"Well; I seem to have found what I was looking for."

Before I had more than a moment to try and puzzle out Tanya's meaning, Kate gave a short bark of laughter beside me.

"I knew it! I thought I recognized Bella's scent, but that was several hundred years prior, so I assumed I was mistaken since she was human less than a year ago."

Smiling wryly, Tanya replied with no small hint of irony, "Apparently things like deductive reasoning can be bypassed if you possess the ability to time travel."

The room became dead silent as every pair of eyes turned to look at me.

"Uhh," I mumbled; raising my hand slightly, "guilty as charged."

"Why did you never tell us this?" Eleazar interjected, frowning worriedly.

"No offense, you're all really great, but I've only known you for about a week. That and I wasn't sure how everyone would react to the news." I held up my hands in a placating gesture.

"That doesn't explain why you never told me." Tanya whispered, her arms crossed across her chest as if to ward off the hurt that was so clearly written across her face. My heart throbbed with pain just seeing it.

"Please understand," I spoke softly, taking her hands in mine. "It's not that I don't trust you, but I felt it was for the best. I wasn't sure if telling you would somehow change the future, and I was afraid of the consequences of doing so. I've read enough science fiction to know about the butterfly effect, and I felt it would be a bad idea to mess around too much."

Tatyana reluctantly nodded, but I could see that she was still upset.

"When was the last time you 'traveled' back in time?" Irina asked, tilting her head questioningly.

"I call it 'fading' and the last time I went back, I got the pleasure of watching Tanya turn." I spoke with more than a hint of distaste, simply recalling the event made me shudder. "When I got back, I met Alice and Tanya here at the house."

"And that was your absolute last visit?" She reiterated.

"Yes," I spoke slowly, drawing out the word in my puzzlement. "Are you saying there are ones after that?" I asked.

Irina closed her eyes and raised her hand to her forehead.

"In a word, yes."

I digested that piece of information, but somehow the news didn't surprise me. I had yet to gain control of my talent, and I was unsure if I ever would. It made sense that I would fade again at some point. Obviously the others had encountered me at those times in their past, which was technically my future, otherwise they wouldn't have mentioned it.

Just as I was about to open my mouth to ask a few questions, something seemed to occur to Carmen, because her hand flew to her mouth and she gasped. Her large sorrowful gaze landed squarely on Tatyana.

"Tanya, I'm so sorry."

Completely lost, I darted my eyes to Tanya for clarification, but she just seemed sadly resigned. One by one, the others seemed to understand what was going on and they all converged on her. Each one touched her shoulder or arms in consoling gestures, which Tanya acknowledged with quiet nods or a squeeze of the hand.

Meanwhile, I felt completely out of the loop, and stood awkwardly to the side; unsure if I should do or say anything.

"Bella," Tanya spoke, her voice like sultry silk as she broke the tense atmosphere. It was the first time she'd spoken my true name, and I felt an odd flush of pleasure at the sound. Unfortunately, it was followed by a conflicting stab of guilt. Despite being many centuries older than me, it was hard to see her as an adult and not the sweet little girl I'd grown to love.

"Y-yes?" I stammered, trying to get ahold of myself. Tanya cocked her head slightly at my reply and a knowing smile slid across her mouth.

"Would you please tell the others what you learned in Seattle? I think it would be best to get them up to date so we can talk about what we're going to do next."

"Right. No problem." I stated briefly in my nervousness. "When I got to the city, I found multiple vampiric scents all over the area. Eventually I came across a fresh trail and tracked it down to a newborn. He was alone, and seemed fairly rational so I had a brief conversation with him. He confirmed that he was one of twenty newborns in the city." Several gasps where heard after that announcement, but I continued in an effort to get it all out at once.

"As I spoke with him it became clear that he had no knowledge about the Volturi and indeed no idea that it was possible to feed on animals. I advised him to leave the city and told him he could come here if he needed to." I paused and looked briefly around the room, "I hope it was ok for me to do that?"

Irina gave me a strained smile and nodded.

"We won't turn away anyone who wants to learn our lifestyle, just be more careful about who you give our address to in the future. We've had to defend our territory from nomads in the past."

I blinked, nonplussed. Despite my run in with James and Victoria, it never really occurred to me that territory battles were an actual concern. I guess my way of thinking was still rather human, and I just took it for granted that other vampires wouldn't try to kill or steal from us. Some of them might simply try because they could, or because they were bored as was the case with James.

"Well," I hesitated as I thought back, "he didn't seem aggressive. He was much bigger than me, so he might have been able to overpower me if he wanted to, but he didn't even try. I don't think it will be a problem, but I'll keep that in mind for the future."

"Just so we know not to attack him on sight, what does he look like." Kate interrupted.

"His name was Fred. Tall guy; big like Emmett but with blonde hair. He didn't speak much. Also, he had a talent that made you feel revulsion if you got close to him. I almost ran away the first time I saw him because of it, the feeling was so unpleasant." Eleazar perked up at that, very intrigued, but it was Irina who seemed the most fascinated.

"At any rate," I went on, "he told me that they're all staying in an abandoned apartment building down near the port. I thought about checking it out, but even I'm not suicidal. On the way back I ran into two vampires, who I dispatched, before I got pulled to the past. After which I ended up back here at the house."

The atmosphere in the room was grave, and I could tell they were all trying to make sense of what I'd just told them.

"Someone is making a newborn army." Eleazar broke the silence, "the question is, what for?"

"I can probably answer that." Alice smoothly interposed. It startled me slightly, because she'd been so quiet I'd almost forgotten she was in the room. "Based on what Bella told Tanya and I earlier, I think it would be safe to assume that Victoria is the one behind all this. She all but admitted it to Bella when she attacked Charlie. She is probably trying to muster enough fodder to take out our family."

"You mean your family," Tanya coldly added. "After what you did to Mari, I'm not sure I want to claim such close familiar ties." I was slightly taken aback at her venom, but a small part of me was warmed by her support, even though I didn't want to be the cause of any bad feelings between her and the Cullens.

"No, I mean our family!" Alice growled, glaring fiercely at Tanya. "Even if you are angry at us right now, we are still family. We consider Bella family. I know Victoria believes the same. So even if you want to leave us to fend for ourselves, consider that Victoria obviously wants Bella dead, whether you help us or not!"

"Guys! Please calm down." I pleaded, stepping between Tatyana and Alice. "This isn't the time for fighting. We need a plan to deal with this."

Grudgingly, both parties backed down.

"Now," I continued, taking charge of the conversation. "Right now we are severely outnumbered, but I know that we can count on some of the wolves in La Push to help us if we need it. Right now they're ten strong; although again I'm not sure all of them would be willing to help." I admitted, thinking of Leah.

Alice wrinkled her nose at the suggestion, while the others looked somewhat surprised.

"When you say 'wolves' are you referring to werewolves, or is that a euphemism for something else?" Tanya asked; her face and body language curiously stiff.

"I'm not sure?" I hesitantly replied. "They're natives who can turn into giant wolves. Is there a difference?"

"We should go and check it out, just to be safe." Irina reluctantly suggested. "The Volturi won't be lenient if they're actual werewolves and we didn't do anything about it."

Scowling, I decided I didn't like what that statement implied.

"What do you mean?" I asked, hoping I was just imagining things.

"By Volturi law, werewolves are supposed to be killed on sight. Supposedly the last one died about four hundred years ago, but the law is still the law." Kate solemnly stated.

"What?!" I exclaimed, aghast at the very notion. "You can't kill them just because of what they are! They haven't done anything wrong!"

"Bella, Bella," Carmen soothed, stepping closer to rub her hands up and down my arms. "Calm down, this may all be a misunderstanding. We certainly don't plan on doing anything until we know for sure."

I stared at Carmen as if she'd suddenly grown a third head.

"The Quileute's are not werewolves. Carlisle believes that they are actually shape shifters, because they don't feel the compulsion to change on the full moon and their gift is passed genetically not through a bite." Alice finally decided to chime in.

"Excuse me if I decide not to take your word for it." Tanya stated coolly, her eyes like sharp topaz.

"No." I declared, punctuating the statement with a sharp sweep of my arms. "We are not talking about this. End of discussion." This was all getting to be too much, the tension was too high and I could feel my emotions begin to broil over. One thing I hated about being a newborn was the drastic swings in mood and I needed to get out of the house. Now.

Having made up my mind, I stormed out of the house.

"Bella, where are you going?" Alice cried behind me.

"Out!" I shouted, not bothering to look back.

Darting into the forest, I ran for several minutes before honing in on a heartbeat nearby. Targeting an elk, I pounced, drawing my knife across its carotid in one smooth motion. I didn't even try to keep my restraint, I was too upset.

Before the beast could collapse, I grasped its upper body in a firm grip as I placed my lips to the wound. Halfway through my meal, I noticed the presence of another vampire. Their sweet scent of raspberries and almonds invaded my nose, and I had no doubt as to who was nearby.

Eventually I eased my prey back to the ground. Wiping the blood from my mouth, I turned around to stare defiantly at Tanya, head back, eyes focused and challenging.

She was standing under a tree, arm resting lightly against the bark as she made no effort to hide. Tanya's expression was soft but intent, as if nothing gave her greater joy then watching me hunt. Seeing that look, knowing it was directed at me, caused the majority of my anger to douse in an instant. Unfortunately, I then became angry that I was no longer angry, and ended up feeling mildly aggravated instead of furious.

"I won't let you hurt the Quileutes." I dictated, unwilling to budge. After all the help the wolves had given me, after saving Charlie, I refused to repay kindness with murder.

"Mari…" Tanya sighed, a sound caught between exasperation and fondness. "I don't make the rules Angel, I merely follow them." She murmured to me in her native tongue.

"I don't care about the rules, sometimes the rules are stupid." I hissed. "The rules would have had me stand by while a little girl was ripped to shreds by wolves! Screw the rules! It was worth it, every second of every day, I know it was worth it!" I cried, impassioned and furious. Tatyana blanched, but her gaze was getting more and more intense with each word I uttered.

"So what if the Quileute's may or may not be werewolves?" I continued in English, determined to get it all out before she could get a word in edgewise. "They saved my life, more importantly; they saved my father's life. They guard him now against a threat I brought against them! Five of their tribe are dead because of me! I owe them more than my loyalty, more than my life, and certainly more than betrayal!"

"I know, I understand, and I'm thankful beyond words;" Tanya's voice is low and fervent, in stark contrast to my raised shouting. "But I lost a mother because of those 'laws' you so eagerly dismiss. If given the choice between my family and a bunch of strangers; I choose you every time!" Tanya's tone rose slightly at the end before dropping back down to a whisper. "I don't want to lose anyone else Mari. I've lost too much as it is."

My throat felt tight, and my eyes burned as I regarded the grief that burned through her eyes. I could not even begin to imagine what other heartaches she'd had to endure throughout her long life.

Emotionally overwhelmed and heedless of the fact that we'd been arguing just a moment ago, I walked forward and wordlessly pulled Tanya into an embrace. Burying my face in her neck, I shamelessly released all my pent up anger, sadness, and stress. Until this moment I didn't realize how much I'd been holding back; holding in since that moment I woke up to my new life. Seeming to sense I just needed a little catharsis, Tanya wrapped me up in her arms and held on fiercely, protectively.

Eventually my crying subsided, but I remained locked in Tatyana's arms, unwilling to part from their comfort so quickly.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you" I sniffled quietly, smiling at Tanya's slight chuckle. "I'm still not helping you kill the Quileute's though." I added. Tanya sighed again, and merely shook her head.

"You're getting ahead of yourself Mari. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever this impatient at this age." Tanya whispered mischievously. Pulling back, I laughed and wiped away invisible tears before lightly smacking her arm. I admit I was slightly embarrassed that I'd ended up a sobbing mess in front of Tanya twice in one day, if I was still human I probably would have ruined her shirt by now.

"Shut up you, just because you're old and boring doesn't mean the rest of us are." I gleefully commented, delighting in the way her face scrunched up in mock offense.

"Walk." Tanya playfully growled, pointing in the direction of the house "or I'll show you who is old."

Instead of dashing back to the house, we both decided through unspoken agreement to take our time, and strolled at a leisurely pace. For the most part Tanya was kind enough to give me space to sort out my thoughts. Every once in a while she would remind me of her presence by some casual caress of the arm, or a friendly bump of the shoulder.

The transformation of the child I'd known into the adult beside me was both an amazing and jarring experience.

Tatyana had grown up; she was a woman now with her own opinions and priorities. The last time I'd really seen her, except for those few seconds before I fought her creator, she was only sixteen. Technically I was only three years her senior, but at the time I'd felt ancient, weary. Being a vampire aged you in a way that would never touch the flesh.

Physically, she had changed quite a bit. Before she was a girl, now she was unmistakably a woman. Her hair was longer, but still curling locks of red-gold. I could state with almost no envy that she was definitely curvier; more feminine than she was before, as impossible as it seemed to be.

Instead of the fresh supple beauty she possessed as a teenager; Tanya was now confident, sensual, and sultry in every action and gesture. She even moved differently. It wasn't exactly new, both Kate and Irina were the same in subtler ways, but what was normal and accepted in them was foreign and flustering in Tanya.

Mulling over our previous conversation, there was something that stuck out to me that hadn't before.

"What did you mean when you said that you lost a mother because of Volturi law? You told me she died in childbirth." I curiously directed to Tatyana.

"I was not referring to my birth mother when I made that statement. As you know, Elya died when I was very young. Sasha became like a second mother to me. Indeed, my bond to her was stronger because we spent several lifetimes together." Tanya's smile was sadly resigned, like an old wound that only ached when it rained.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I gently asked.

"Not right now. I've had a long time to come to terms with it, but it's the reason why my sisters and I are very strict about following the law. We have experienced the power of the Volturi first hand, and it is not something we are keen to be reacquainted with."

Tentatively, wanting to repay any small measure of comfort I could, I slipped my hand into hers and brushed my thumb against her wrist. I felt a shy smile work its way across my features when she entwined our fingers and returned the gesture.

When we got back to the house the others were still debating the next plan if action. They were all congregated around the dining room table as they poured over a map of Washington.

"Look," Kate interrupted, slamming her palm down on the table to emphasize her point. "No matter what else we decide today, we need to go to Forks. The simple fact of the matter is that whatever Victoria and her newborns are up to in Seattle, we won't be able to react in time from Alaska. Simply put, we need a closer base of operations, and Forks is already a convenient location."

"She's right." Irina agreed, peering around the table. "It will also give us the opportunity to get a feel for these werewolves. If they aren't children of the moon, we might be able to establish a temporary alliance until the threat is dealt with. If what Bella said is true about Victoria attacking their people, I'm sure they will be eager for revenge."

"I would like to avoid getting them involved if possible, I feel bad enough about the losses they've accumulated already, but I understand that we are severely outnumbered here." I mentioned as Tanya and I walked through the door. Irina and Alice both sent me worried looks, but otherwise simply moved to make room at the table.

"I know nobody wants to say this, but I feel obligated to point out that if we got the Cullens involved, it wouldn't be necessary to seek help from the Quileute's." Eleazar pointed out. "I know for a fact that Jasper is very experienced in this type of warfare, and Edward's gift would come in handy for a fight."

I felt my insides freeze up at just the thought of confronting my ex-boyfriend. While it was true that I was no longer heartbroken, I was still a little angry and hurt about the way in which he left me. No matter how noble his intentions; he still managed to crush my heart, self-esteem, and future in one fell blow.

The fact that I had still ended up a vampire, despite his best efforts, just made me slightly bitter about the whole thing. However, I was saved from having to say something by Tanya's vehement opposition.

"No!" She exclaimed, "I refuse to allow them as anything but a last resort. Jasper is Alice's mate and I won't object to his expertise, but I'm not going to go begging for help to the people who are responsible for this mess in the first place."

"Good to know you feel that way." Alice grumbled, pouting sullenly in her seat. "Jasper is already on his way to Forks with Peter and Charlotte. I called him after my shower and filled him in on the details. He is eager to see you again Bella." Alice spoke earnestly. "He feels responsible for what happened on your birthday, and wants to make amends."

"I never blamed him Alice." I said, meeting her gaze. "He wasn't himself that night."

"I'm sure he will appreciate hearing that Bella." Alice replied, smiling gratefully.

"As heartwarming as this is, can we please get back on track?" Kate frowned, "We really need a game plan."

"I'll call and let the Quileute's in on the situation, see what they're willing to do to help. Let them know we're coming down." I asserted, absently biting my lip in thought.

"We'll need to rent a private jet and airstrip. I doubt Bella could handle cramped enclosed spaces with dozens of humans just yet." Irina added.

Balking at the suggestion I shook my head.

"Guys you don't need to spend that kind of money, really it's unnecessary."

Tanya quirked an eyebrow at me skeptically.

"So you believe that you have the control necessary to stay confined in a small metal tube, for several hours, with a hundred people, where they recycle the air, in cramped confines?" she asked. Blankly returning her gaze, I eventually lowered my head in defeat.

"No…" I admitted. Despite how well I was doing for a newborn, I knew what she'd just described was a recipe for a massacre.

"Private jet it is." Tanya decided, "No worries Mari, Irina is an accomplished pilot. It will be a human free flight."

"Well, I do have to admit that is slightly more reassuring." I said as I watched everyone disperse to their rooms to pack their belongings. Tatyana stepped up beside me and I allowed myself to lean against her. "You know," I started "I was here a whole week before you came back and I never once suspected you were the same person. How is that?" I questioned as I looked into her face. "Am I just that unobservant?"

Tanya chuckled knowingly before she nodded her head for me to look around.

"Do you see any pictures on the walls? I'm not speaking of paintings, but family photos." Intrigued, I did as she asked. I couldn't find a single one. No candid photos or staged portraits. Nothing. Now that I thought of it, I couldn't remember seeing any pictures in any rooms.

"No, you don't have any family pictures. Why is that?"

"When I say that my sisters and I take the law very seriously, I mean we take it very seriously. We live forever. It would be careless and irresponsible of us to leave documented evidence that we don't age. I'm not sure what your experiences with the Cullen's were like, but my sisters and I haven't lived a thousand years by being careless."

I couldn't deny that she made a compelling argument.

"Ok, that explains the lack of visual evidence, but I should have been able to smell you the moment I walked in the house."

Tanya smirked slyly, her eyes twinkling with mirth.

"Please tell me you've noticed how often Irina cleans the house. She generally stays out of our private rooms, but everything else is fair game."

Grimacing, I recalled first walking into the home and being assaulted by how clean it smelled inside. If Irina had cleaned the house several times since Tanya was away, it was no wonder I hadn't come across her scent at all.

"You make a good point." I conceded, and allowed myself to savor the sound of Tanya's answering laughter.

"Come on," she said, tugging on my arm "Keep me company while I pack. You can make your call at the same time if you wish."

Allowing myself to be pulled along, I admitted to myself I was looking forward to seeing the inside of Tatyana's inner sanctum. Leading me up to the third floor, Tanya opened a set of thick French doors that led into a room that was about the size of a two bedroom apartment on its own. It was very warmly decorated on the inside, with beautiful hand crafted furniture and earthy accents. I could tell that some of Tanya's tastes still leaned toward the 11th century because there were a lot of fur rugs, along with a luxuriously canopied California king sized bed.

One side of the room was made entirely out of thick electric glass that looked out into the forest. Right now it was clear, but with the flick of a switch it instantly became opaque. I spent a good thirty seconds flipping that switch with almost childlike glee.

In spite of that, the most interesting design concept was that the room had no inner walls. Everything was out in the open. The kitchen, the shower, even the bathtub were right out in the open. The only concession for the shower was a six inch tall border, to keep water from spreading to the rest of the room. Otherwise, it was completely exposed.

I could appreciate the openness and space that the lack of walls afforded, but I didn't really understand not having the bathroom closed off at least.

Tanya must have noticed my confused gaze because she grinned and arched her brow at me.

"Go on." She teased "I know you want to ask."

If I was still capable of blushing, I would have; although in all seriousness I'm not sure why.

"Why don't you have any walls?" I voiced.

"Walls are for people who have something to hide, and in this place I have none. I'm not impractical. Sometimes people need their own space and privacy, but in the sanctity of my own room; I will be what I am. Open, free, and without shame."

I stood there, dumbfounded, as she threw things into a suitcase.

I had never thought of interior design as a statement about society before, but it was an interesting position to take. Never the less, I got the feeling that pursuing this line of conversation would only embarrass me, so I changed the subject.

"Would it be alight if I used your cellphone to call Jake? I haven't gotten around to getting a new one yet." I requested, easily catching the device she tossed my way.

Phones were so delicate, even by human standards; that I had to take extra care when I pressed the buttons. It literally took me two minutes to dial his number, and it didn't help that Tatyana was silently laughing at me the whole time.

Throwing a glare at my companion, I waited patiently for the phone to pick up.

"Hello?" Jake's scratchy voice eventually came on, and I winced as I realized I'd just called him at 3 a.m. Since becoming a vampire, the time of day had lost all significance, and I had forgotten that some people still needed to sleep at night.

"Jake, hey, I'm sorry to wake you."

"No, it's fine" He mumbled, and I could hear the sound of rustling sheets in the background. "What's up Bells, are you ok? Do you need any help?"

"Yes, of course. I'm fine. I just wanted to warn you and the others about some things I discovered, and ask how Charlie is doing." Out of habit I moved to sit on the bed.

"He's doing good, the doctors say he's healing well and that he should wake up tomorrow."

A sudden wash of relief came over me, and a tightness in my chest eased.

"Good. Good, I'm glad to hear that." I mumbled, trying not to get emotional again. "Listen Jake, I went to Seattle to check out the killings going on over there. It seems like Victoria is building a newborn army. They're already twenty strong and we don't know what she's planning on doing with them all. She might try to attack the reservation, and I'm afraid it will be a slaughter if she does." I heard a deep rumbling growl from the other end of the phone.

"Not if we have anything to say about it, we'll rip em apart if they even try." Jake threatened, and I wouldn't have been surprised if he was shaking.

"I know you will Jake, but I'm up here with the Denali's and they want to help get rid of the threat. We're going to come down soon and they want to talk to the elders about a temporary alliance until we can dispose of Victoria. Do you think they'd be willing to meet?" I inquired, trying not to let too much hope color my tone.

"I don't know Bella…" Jake hesitated. "I think they would be eager to get rid of the vamps that killed our people, but I'm not sure if they'll be willing to come to truce. Right now hatred for vampires is running really high; but I'll ask Dad about it. See if they'd be willing to consider something."

"That's all I ask Jake."

"Alright Bells, I'll call you back when I learn more. Is it ok to call back at this number?" Turning to look at Tanya, she gave me a nod of consent.

"Yes, that's fine. Feel free to call no matter what the time, one of the benefits of not having to sleep."

A bark of laughter came through and I couldn't stop the genuine smile that broke across my face. Jake always did have an infectious laugh.

"Ok. I'll call you back. Night Bells."

"Night Jake." I responded before hanging up the phone.

A pair of arms snaked around my neck from behind as Tatyana rested her chin on my shoulder. I hadn't even realized she'd climbed onto the bed behind me, but I instinctively relaxed, allowing my body to fall back against her marble frame.

"Do you want to talk?" She hummed, sliding her cheek against my own in an affectionate gesture. I shook my head, enjoying the contact. Being this close, I felt surrounded by Tanya's raspberry-almond scent, and it was lulling me into a blissful trance.

"Don't worry Angel," She whispered as her fingers gently massaged my scalp, "I'll protect you."

And somehow, I believed her.

Chapter Text

Bella

A knock at the door lulled me from my dream like trance.

“Come in.” Tanya called as I languidly opened my eyes.

Irina poked her head in and smirked when she saw our position. I could only imagine how it looked, but I’m sure it wasn’t flattering for me, considering I was practically play dough right now. I might have been embarrassed at my utter lack of dignity, but the way Tatyana’s fingers lightly scratched my scalp erased any scrap of self-consciousness I still possessed.

“I have something for you Bella.” Irina crowed, obviously amused at my predicament. I hummed curiously, as of yet incapable of speech. A rumbling purr from the woman behind me only exuberated my condition. Pulling something out from behind her back, I held out my hand and obligingly took the objects in question. “Carmen has already booked our flight; we should arrive in Port Angeles at around four.”

In a small stack I now held a new driver’s license, passport, birth certificate and various other legal documents. Suddenly more alert, I sat up as I flipped through the forged papers. Each one had my new ‘name’, Isabella Schwan, printed across the front.

Standing from the bed, I immediately pulled Irina into a grateful hug.

“Thanks, it means a lot to me that you’ve gone to all this trouble.” I whispered into her short blonde locks.

“Aww,” she cooed, gently rubbing my back in response. ”No need to thank me Bella, you’re one of us now.” If it had still been possible I probably would have cried, I was so touched.

“Do you have everything ready?” Tanya asked as she zipped up her suitcase.

“It’s all still in my backpack. Everything else I left in my tent at Wenatchee.” I said, giving Irina one more squeeze for good measure. Pulling away from Irina, I looked at Tanya from over my shoulder. “Tanya, would you mind texting Jake on your phone and letting him know when our plane lands? I don’t want to surprise them with our visit.”

“Consider it done.” She grinned, typing the message in at vampire speed.

“Show off.” I grumbled good-naturedly. Laughing, Tatyana sent off the message before slinging her bag over her shoulder.

“Come along Mari.” Tanya said, slinging her arms around Irina and I. “We have a plane to catch.”

x=x=x=x=x=x=x

The ride down to the airport was short and uneventful.

The airstrip in question was small but luxurious, nestled on the outskirts of town. It was just large enough for small charter jets and plane owners. It was plain to see that they catered specifically to the wealthy based on the small number of people and the over the top decor.

Thankfully, due to the exclusive nature of the place, it wasn’t required for us to go through a full body scan. According to Kate, while we could pass through metal detectors and pat downs without any problems, full body x-rays were a big problem.

“Why?” I asked, curious about the reason.

“As you know, as vampires our bodies become rock hard, an x-ray, which should be capable of easily penetrating a human simply bounces off us. In other words, we are too dense molecularly. If someone was concealing a gun or other detectable item, it would show up as a dark outline against a human body. When we get scanned, every part of us would turn up ‘black’. It would be very obvious we weren’t normal.” Kate explained, waving her hand in a nonchalant manner.

“Unfortunately, being immortal only gets harder the more technology advances.” Tanya added, directing me to sit in a waiting chair as she sat beside me. “I really do curse the day humans invented the camera. It was so fascinating in the early days, until people started putting them everywhere. Now it’s impossible to walk down the street without seeing one, and don’t even get me started on camera phones.”

Both Kate and Irina nodded knowingly.

“As much as I love the internet, it makes concealing what we are difficult, especially when people can record video on their phones and have it uploaded to the net within minutes. Many vampires have met their end at the hands of the Volturi, no thanks to Youtube.” Tanya continued with a sigh.

As I listened, I noticed a man at the bar watching us. He was relatively young, fairly attractive in a slick businessman sort of way, but the way his eyes lingered inappropriately got my hackles up. He seemed especially interested in Tanya, his gaze heavy and covetous.

Those eyes reminded me of another time, and another man.

Something dark bubbled inside me and I nearly bared my teeth in loathing.

Eventually he appeared to notice I’d caught him looking, but instead of taking a hint and averting his gaze; my attention only made him bolder. Abandoning his drink on the counter, he started to swagger over. The closer he came I began to notice a scent that hung around him like a cloud; pungent and sharp. The smell was revolting, and just breathing it in made my hackles rise.

I became more and more edgy the nearer he came until it caused something in me to snap, and I let out a low growl. It was too low for him to consciously hear, but his face paled, I got the feeling it had registered somewhere in the primitive part of his brain.

Without uttering a word, he turned around and left.

Once he’d gone an acceptable distance, I began to relax, only to realize that all of the Denali’s were staring directly at me. Each of them was poised as if to tackle me.

“What?” I grumbled, “I didn’t like the way he smelled…” I said as I slumped in my chair.

Kate burst into laughter, and the other Denali’s seemed to chuckle a bit as well. Kate slung her arm around my shoulder with a sly grin as she nodded in the direction of Mr. Sleaze.

“You do know what it was you were smelling, right?” she asked, her eyes twinkling.

“Kate…” Tanya murmured half-heartedly, but I could tell she found her sisters antics amusing.

“A bad case of B.O.?” I hesitantly ventured. I really didn’t trust that smile. Kate’s smile widened even further and she leaned toward me as if to impart a secret.

“That aroma was the scent of his arousal Bella. Welcome to the world of vampirism, not only do you have to put up with being visually assaulted, you get to breathe it too.”

“Oh God,” I moaned, slapping my hand over my nose and mouth. “I think you just scarred me for life!”

“I do what I can.” Kate chuckled, giving my arm a squeeze. “You might as well get used to it now, people get aroused around us often, and unfortunately you can’t growl at all of them. If you tried, you’d never stop. Still, it was cute how you were defending Tanya’s honor like that.” She cooed, and made a move to playfully pinch my cheek. Slapping away her hand, I huffed and gave Tatyana my best puppy dog eyes.

“Can you please do something about your sister?”

Tanya laughed and shook her head.

“I doubt there’s anything in this world that could fix what’s wrong with her.”

“Damn straight.” Kate interjected, grinning proudly.

“I’m surrounded by children…” I heard Irina mutter behind me, and I couldn’t resist tugging on a lock of her hair as punishment for her sass.

Before the good natured teasing could go any further, the announcer called our flight over the PA and we gathered our things and headed into the hanger. The plane was small compared to a commercial jet, but the inside was lavishly decorated with tables, lounge chairs, a few couches and even a mini bar. Why we needed a bar when we couldn’t even drink alcohol anymore was beyond me.

Kate must have caught my questioning look because she laughed and pulled open the mini fridge for my inspection. Inside, in neatly stacked piles, were rows of blood bags.

“We keep a supply in the plane for when we travel. Sometimes we like to visit places that don’t have a convenient food supply nearby, so we often use these to make sure we aren’t tempted to dine on the local populace.” Kate explained, before gently latching the fridge.

“Huh, that actually makes a lot of sense.” I remarked as I settled into a window seat. Kate just smirked and took the chair across from me.

Movement outside caught my eye and I turned my head to watch Irina do an inspection through the window of the plane.

Once everyone was onboard, I shifted my attention to Tatyana, who was lounging with a certain kind of graceful laziness on one of the couches.

“So…” I started, fidgeting a bit in my chair. “I feel a little stupid having to ask this, having been a vampire for nearly a year and all, but would you be willing to answer some of my questions? When I was human, Edward never really explained the specifics of being a vampire, and I’ve been a little unsure about certain things.”

“Like what?” Tanya asked, leaning forward a little in her seat.

“Well…” I begin, “like fire. Exactly how flammable are we? I know fire can kill us, which is why I’ve been very careful around open flames, but are there certain conditions? If I stick my hand in a fire right now will I immediately burst into flame or will it take a bit longer than that?”

Kate chuckled and shook her head.

“It doesn’t quite work that way Bella,” she interjected. “The Gods had a sense of humor when they created vampires, because we are both fireproof and extremely flammable. If you were to stick your hand in a fire right now, you would be completely fine. The heat, nor the flame, would bother you a bit.

It’s the venom inside our bodies that is so volatile, which is why you have to rip apart a vampire before you burn them, otherwise the flames will leave them unharmed. Our diamond skin protects us near perfectly, which is why only other super-naturals ever manage to kill us.”

“Kate is mostly right.” Tatyana added, slanting her sister a sideways look. “With the exception of our hair, we are practically invulnerable. Our scalps seem to secrete a small amount of venom which coats our hair and keeps it strong and looking like we just stepped out of a Revlon commercial. The downside is that it makes a vampire’s hair very flammable.”

I cringed at the imagery, and made a mental note to wear more hair ties.

“Okay,” I start, trying to dispel the image of vampires running around with their heads on fire. “How about feeding? What happens to us if we don’t or are prevented from feeding?”

“Well…” Tanya spoke, resting her chin on her knuckles. “It’s very hard for a vampire to get to the point where he or she is starving, simply because there really are very few things that can overpower a vampire. Not to mention no prison could hold us. However, I do know that the Volturi conducted experiments sometime around the 8th century.” She trailed off, wincing slightly at her memories.

“Basically, we go feral, and act much like rabid dogs. We attack anything and everything. Our skin gets weaker too, we’re still practically invulnerable. It would be similar to the difference between diamond and silicon carbide.”

“Do I want to know what these ‘experiments’ were?” I ask, looking hesitantly around the room.

“They restrained a vampire sentenced to death, tore off his arms and legs, and left him in a hole in the ground for a few years.” Kate mentioned tactlessly.

No beating around the bush with that one.

“Oh.” I murmured, feeling a little queasy.

Tanya shot me a concerned look, before reaching out to comfortingly clasp my hand.

“The Volturi are ruthless Mari, but as long as you stay on their good side and don’t break the law they’re usually content to leave you alone.”

Tatyana’s eyes echoed a deep pain, and it took a concentrated effort to swallow my questions. I had no doubt the Denali sisters were thinking of their mother in this moment.

Rising from my seat, I crossed the cabin to curl up on the seat beside her. I leaned my shoulder against hers in a show of support.

“Was it really bad, what happened to your mother?” I softly questioned.

“Very.” Kate interjected, static rolled across her fingers in agitation.

“However that is not something we can discuss.” Tanya cut in, her thoughts and expression once more shuttered from me.

“Why not?” I asked, frowning at the sudden rebuff.

“For the same reasons you never told me your real name; or that you could travel through time. I don’t know if saying anything will change what has happened, or will happen.”

I couldn’t fault her logic, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.

The rest of the flight to Port Angeles was uneventful, although I really enjoyed looking out the window with my new eyes. It gave new meaning to the phrase ‘birds eye view’.

Aside from the usual staring we managed to exit the terminal without any fanfare. As we exited into the lobby, I spotted Jake lounging in one of the waiting chairs. Waving my arm to grab his attention, he stood as I approached; a wide smile adorned his features.

“Welcome back Bella.” He murmured, wrapping me in a warm hug. At first I tensed. My instincts didn’t want me anywhere near Jacob; let alone hugging him, but eventually my common sense won out and I relaxed into the embrace.

I wish I could say the Denalis reacted the same.

Several sharp hisses were heard behind me, and as I turned my head I could see Irina fighting the urge to gag.

“Dear God, what is that smell?” Eleazar moaned, covering his face with his hand.

Pulling away from Jake, I put a little room between us before motioning to the Denalis.

“I’m sorry I forgot to warn you. Jake is one of the wolves I told you about. Unfortunately, he is what you smell. Jake, this is Kate, Tanya, Irina, Carmen, and Eleazar.” I said, introducing them each in turn. “Everyone, this is Jacob Black. He stood up for me when I went to get help for Charlie and I consider him a friend.”

Tatyana was the first to react, stepping forward regally she extended her hand to Jacob. I was impressed that she was outwardly showing no signs of discomfort with the proximity.

“It is a pleasure to meet you Jacob. Bella has only said good things about you and your tribe. As mentioned before, my name is Tanya Denali and I am the leader of this coven.” Her words were soft but clear, with a hint of command.

It was a little unnerving, but I felt like I was seeing a side of Tanya I’d never witnessed before, something strange and amazing. More and more I was beginning to realize that I didn’t really know much about the woman she’d grown to become.

All I knew was that I really wanted to.

“Jacob Black.” He said gruffly, obviously a little impressed despite himself. “The elders are waiting to meet with you in Forks. Unfortunately they won’t be able to greet you until later this evening, but they sent me to escort you into town.”

“Of course.” Tanya replied, smiling politely. “We appreciate their consideration. Please, lead on.” She motioned Jake toward the exit while stepping forward to drape one of her arms across my shoulder. The grip was loose; but possessive in the way she tugged me closer.

When Jake left to pull his truck around; Tatyana leaned toward me and sniffed slightly before grimacing and turning her head away.

Mari, you are definitely going to need to take a bath when we reach the Cullen residence. Your friend seems nice enough, but he got his scent all over you. Still, you’ll be happy to know that he’s not a werewolf. Werewolves don’t smell anything like this…” Tanya grumbled in Magyar.

My head immediately snapped over to her, and I stared intently.

How do you know?” I replied, “What is so different?

Werewolves smell like musk, death, and sickness. It’s very distinctive. While your Quileute’s are unpleasant to the nose, they mostly smell like wet dog and trash.” Kate interjected, swaggering over with one heavy looking suitcase in each hand.

Plus, he distinctly lacks the slightly sharpened incisors and hairy palms.” Irina added her two cents, dragging her rolling case behind her.

“I read about that but, well, a lot of the legends about us are wrong. I figured I wouldn’t be able to place the same trust in the one’s about werewolves.” I trailed off, switching back to English since I spotted Jake’s approaching truck.

“Well, these features made them easier to hunt down. They definitely looked less human then we did, and for that reason following rumors were fairly reliable. If a human saw us, generally they just mistook us for angels or extremely beautiful people. The same could not be said for werewolves.” Tatyana finished, swinging her suitcase into the back of Jake’s truck as he pulled up.

“Hey!” Jake cried indignantly, poking his head out the car window. “Werewolves can be beautiful too!” It was obvious he had only overheard part of the conversation so I reached over and casually flicked his nose. His small yelp of pain made me grin in relief.

“Be quiet. You should be grateful you aren’t technically a werewolf. Congats, your horrible B.O. just saved your life.”

“You’re so mean to me Bella.” Jake pouted, still rubbing his nose slightly. “So are you guys getting in or not?” he asked, gesturing to the bed of his truck. While the truck bed wasn’t bad by most standards, it was definitely dirty, with grease and scuff marks all over.

Irina’s expression of horror spoke volumes, but it was Kate incredulous smile that made me cover my face with my hand.

Thankfully, Tanya intervened before Jake could mortify me any further.

“As much as we appreciate your offer, our coven mate Eleazar is renting us a vehicle. If you are willing to wait, I’m sure he will be along shortly.”

Sure enough, moments later Eleazar came rolling up in a large, black, luxury van. After loading everything into the trunk, we piled in and entertained ourselves with a couple games of cards on the way into Forks.

It was only when we turned down a very familiar street and the Cullen mansion eventually came into view that I felt an unexpected wave of unease. After everything I’d been through, I thought that I’d gotten over this anxiety, but apparently my heart could not so easily forget the pain the memories of this house held for me.

It was a mere twinge, a feeling of discomfort and sadness, but it was enough to keep me on edge.

Strangely the house that used to feel so much like home, like a promise for the future, now only seemed like an empty building. A symbol for broken dreams.

It was a bittersweet understanding to come to.

As the cars rolled to a stop, I watched as a joyful Alice bounded out of the vehicle and darted into the empty home. At light speed she began throwing open curtains and doors, upsetting fine clouds of dust as she aired out the place.

I watched through the car window as the others began carrying their things inside, but I hesitated to do the same. Entering the mansion was beginning to feel like returning to the way things used to be, and abandoning the woman I’d grown to become. It was silly, it was stupid, but it was a notion that I couldn’t quite shake.

A pale hand settled on my thigh, and I glanced away from the house to focus on Tanya’s warm honey eyes.

“It’s ok if you don’t want to go inside.” She murmured, conveying her concern with a slight squeeze. “No one would think any less of you.”

Reluctantly, I returned my gaze to the building, struggling with myself internally.

“I would.” I muttered, shoring up my courage.

“Come on.” Tanya said, tugging me from the van. “Let’s go for a run, it’ll help you relax. The place will still be here when we get back.”

Uncertain that Tatyana wasn’t just giving me an excuse to run away, I dashed after her as she flitted into the trees.

My mind was so completely in the moment, in the wind, the speed and the freedom that it took me several minutes to realize where we were going. Somehow it didn’t surprise me that Tanya had led us to my old home.

Charlie’s house looked no worse for wear considering it had been abandoned for the past few weeks, but the mail was piling up on the porch and the normally well-kept lawn was overgrown and littered with leaves.

“Sooo” I drawled, stepping up beside Tanya as we both stared at the house. “You wanna tell me how you knew where I lived?”

Tanya huffed with amusement as she shot me a sideways look.

“Please; all I had to do was text your full name, age, and state of residence to my P.I.s and I had your life history within the hour. Considering how much I’ve been paying them for the last few decades, actually producing results was the least they could do.”

Frowning slightly, I raised my eyebrow incredulously.

“I guess that’s fair, considering how much I know about your adolescence.”

“Exactly.” Tatyana purred, her eyes leisurely devouring every inch of my childhood home. “In the spirit of fairness, I think you should invite me in.”

My mouth twitched into a shy smile as I retrieved the spare key from under a pot on the side of the house. For some strange reason I felt bashful about having Tanya in my childhood home. Still, I slid the key into the lock and gently swung the door open.

With liquid grace, Tatyana strode past me into the living room. Her eyes flit this way and that, taking everything in with unnerving intensity as she moved around the house. Often she would stop to examine an item she found particularly interesting until she froze on a picture of Charlie and I on the living room mantel.

It was a simple picture, back when I had just arrived in Forks, of the two of us out on the lake. In an attempt to reconnect with my estranged father, I’d volunteered to go with him on one of his fishing trips.

I remembered that it was a miserable day, rainy and overcast, and every time I tried to bait my line I ended up stabbing myself; but… Charlie had been happy. His whole face was suffused with delight as he patiently taught me the do’s and don’ts of fishing.

At the end of the day, he’s pulled me into a hug and taken a picture of us to commemorate the event. Looking at it now, his face steeped in pride, his arm around my shoulder as I self-consciously smiled at the camera; I didn’t regret it for a minute.

I was broken from my memories when Tanya gently caressed the picture with her index finger, her eyes lingered softly on my face.

“I always wondered what you looked like as a human Mari.” Tatyana gently whispered. “I don’t think the venom had much to improve, you were just as beautiful then as you are now.”

If I could have I would have blushed four shades of red, as it was I just scratched my cheek and tried not to duck my head in embarrassment.

“Thanks, I guess.” I mumbled, trying not to show how much her words had affected me. Taking in my expression, Tanya grinned playfully before turning her attention back to the picture.

“I’m assuming that the man beside you is your father, Charles?”

“Everyone calls him Charlie, but yeah that’s him. He’s a bit awkward, but a good man.” I smiled and affectionately touched the edge of the picture frame. My face dropped as I recalled that he was still currently in the hospital. I wanted to visit him, but I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea now that I was a vampire. Tanya, sensing my suddenly melancholy, reached up to gently cup my cheek.

“We will visit him as soon as we know it’s safe. Victoria will not get away with what she’s done. However until she’s been dealt with, I think it would be best to keep him off her radar.”

“You’re right.” Sighing quietly, I took Tanya’s hand from my cheek and held it in my own. “Come on, let me show you the rest of the house.”

Leading her by the hand, I gave Tatyana a tour, starting on the bottom floor and ending at my room on the top.

The room was a disaster.

In the weeks since I’d last been here it looked like a tornado had come through. The window lock was busted and all my clothes were strewn across the floor. Some of my trinkets were broken and the floor board I’d kept my pictures of the Cullens under was ripped up. Snapshots of my former family were littered here and there as if someone had thrown them away in anger or frustration.

Frozen with shock, I could only stare numbly as Tanya carefully stepped into the room. She delicately scented the air before carefully kneeling to pick up one of the pictures.

“Whoever did this to your room has been gone long enough for their scent to dissipate. They were obviously searching for something… maybe a clue as to your whereabouts? Still, from the look of things, they were probably either in a rush or got frustrated when they couldn’t find anything.”

Tanya’s analysis snapped me out of my stupor and I gingerly entered my former bedroom.

“My bet would be on the latter. I didn’t exactly leave a note telling anyone who came along that in was leaving for Alaska.” Tatyana frowned worriedly.

“This just reinforces the fact that it would be unwise to split our coven, especially if they’re already sending scouts this far from Seattle.”

Humming gently, I gazed around at the mess before deliberately closing my broken window. No need to let the elements in, even if it wouldn’t keep a vampire out.

When I turned around, I caught Tanya scrupulously studying my scattered pictures. When she realized I’d caught her, she gave me her most somber look.

“You looked happy.” She remarked, face pensive as she gestured to a picture of Edward and I embracing. Edward was wearing a somewhat smug smile as he gazed at the camera, but I was focused entirely on him. My face radiated the kind of rapturous contentment you only see in movies.

I felt my heart twinge slightly just looking at it, but it was a pain comprised mostly of innocence lost.

“I used to be,” I uttered, resting my chin on Tanya’s shoulder. “But now that I think about it, I know that I romanticized Edward too much. In my mind we were this epic romance and he was the Mr. Darcy who swept me off my feet and gave me a family.

I couldn’t see that he was just as flawed as the rest of us. It was that way of thinking that completely devastated me when he left; because if he was this perfect godlike being, then I must have been the reason he left.”

Tatyana’s face twisted with sympathetic pain and I didn’t protest when she wrapped me in a firm embrace.

“There is nothing wrong with you Mari.” Tanya fervently growled. “You’re one of the kindest, most amazing people I know. If anything, Edward is the one who doesn’t deserve you.”

It’s ok Tanya, its alright.” I cooed in Magyar, gently stroking her back. “It doesn’t hurt anymore. I’m not the same girl he abandoned in the woods last year. I’m stronger, and no small part of that is thanks to you.

After a long moment, Tanya pulled back. Her eyes, fathomless depths of gold, ensnared my own as her fingers lightly trailed down from my shoulder to caress my forearm.

I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but I felt caught. Like the whole world hinged on this moment and I was just about to tip into oblivion.

The phone rang.

The moment was gone.

Just like that I came back to reality as sharp Latin music blared from Tatyana’s pocket. Swallowing sharply, I took a step back and tried to get ahold of myself as Tanya somewhat reluctantly answered the phone.

“Yes? Tanya speaking.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but I thought you should be informed that the elders called. They’re ready to meet.” Carmen’s sweet Spanish accent lilted over the phone.

“Alright, we’ll be there shortly.” Tanya’s voice came out smoothly commanding. “make sure everyone is ready to go when we arrive.” Having delivered her orders, she promptly ended the call.

“Seems like the day never ends.” I winced, smiling weakly.

“One of the downsides of being a vampire.” Tanya sighed, a rueful smile gracing her lips.

“Well… at least I have you.” I breathed, slipping my hand into hers.

“Yes; at least we have each other.” Tanya replied, eyes twinkling with happiness.

And just like that, we were gone.

Chapter Text

Bella

Dusk was fast approaching when the Denali’s and I finally reached the Quileute border. I’d only spent a brief moment changing into a fresh set of clothes at my house before we’d rushed off to meet the others.

As one we stood at the border.

Tatyana was on my right, followed by Eleazar and Carmen. Irina and Kate were on my left; while Alice stood only slightly behind Tanya and I.

One by one the wolves began to materialize from the forest on the other side of the line; while the Quileute elders arrived in their various cars and trucks.

When everyone was present and accounted for, Tanya began introductions.

“Good evening, my name is Tanya Denali. I’m sure you are already acquainted with Alice of the Olympic coven. You probably know them best as ‘The Cullens’.” Tatyana gestured to Alice as she spoke, and many of the elders nodded grimly in recognition. “The rest of the vampires you see before you are a part of my coven. We are named after the territory we occupy, the Denali forest in Alaska. This is Irina, Kate, Isabella, Eleazar, and Carmen.”

Being introduced as a member of Tanya’s coven brought me an unexpected surge of warmth, and I took a moment to bask in my sudden moment of belonging. Unfortunately it didn’t last long because some of the elders began scowling in my direction the moment they recognized me.

“You leeches have a lot of nerve showing up here.” One of them spoke in a stony voice, “Five of our people are dead because of the trouble one of your coven mates brought on us.” I flinched at the accusation in his voice but didn’t feel I had the right to protest. I couldn’t help but think he was justified in feeling that way.

In response the others around me tensed sharply, and Tatyana’s face and eyes grew cold.

“Isabella had nothing to do with those deaths and you know it. Besides the fact, it was your own wolves who volunteered to help transfer and protect her father. You cannot hold her responsible for the actions of a psychopath.”

“They agreed to help against one vampire, but instead our wolves had to fend off five! One of which got away! I’m sure they never would have agreed to that had the truth been known!” Another elder shouted, causing a few of them to nod in agreement.

“Everyone calm down!” Sam barked, glaring at the elders and us in equal measure. “It’s true that we were unprepared for the leeches actual numbers, but that is not Bella’s fault. She was merely protecting her father, Chief Swan, who has helped our people many times over the years. I know some of you consider yourselves close friends of Charlie.” There was a little dissent among the elders and a few of the wolves, but overcall there were a lot of grudging nods.

“If you’re all quite done,” Tanya spoke coldly. “We are here to try and work out a temporary truce so that we can cooperate in dispatching our mutual enemy.”

“We still shouldn’t have to work with you damn leeches. You abominations will just get the rest of our tribe killed.” One of the Quileutes angrily murmured.

“If you want to play the blame game,” Kate interjected with a growl. “You should look in a mirror. If you hadn’t let Victoria kidnap Bella in the first place, those five people might still be alive. Stop blaming her for your own failings!”

Kate’s words must have struck true, because one of the wolves completely snapped. With a vicious snarl the wolf, a sleek grey creature, lunged at her with murderous intent.

What happened in the next few moments was something that, had I enough time to react on anything other than instinct, I like to think I would have been smart enough to avoid.

Like an idiot, I stepped in front of the Quileute bearing down on my coven mate.

Barreling into me with the force of a train, the wolf, who I now recognized as Leah; opened its jaws and snapped at my throat as it attempted to pin me to the ground. Knowing I wouldn’t last long if she managed to get me her teeth on me, I wrapped my arms around her neck and pressed myself to her chest. I hoped that the awkward angle would make it difficult for her to move her head to the side and grab me. As I shifted, I began applying pressure to the underside of her jaw to make any attempt at opening her maw painful.

Howling in frustration, Leah and I wrestled on the ground, both trying to get the upper hand. In an attempt to loosen my grip she began clawing at my clothes and shaking her head back and forth violently.

I didn’t want to hurt Leah, but I obviously couldn’t let her up and kill me either. As we grappled, I caught glimpses of Tanya and my coven facing off against the wolves. Each side wanted to intervene, but were unwilling to turn their back on their enemy. Several times Tanya or Kate tried to help, only to get routed by a snarling Quileute.

Relations between both sides were deteriorating fast, and if I didn’t end this fight soon I had no doubt we would have a full on war on our hands.

It was in that moment that I made my second serious mistake.

Instead of letting my opponent wear herself out before disengaging, I tried to adjust my hold on her windpipe so I could cut off her oxygen and hopefully knock her out.

Unfortunately, loosening my grip allowed Leah to turn her head and clamp her teeth around my arm. I felt a cold wash of fear as her jaw tightened. I felt my skin crack just as I felt a familiar thrum in my chest.

It was with no small relief that I faded to white.

x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x

Hungary – 1024 A.D. – Summer

The fresh scent of hay was the first thing that I became aware of as I phased back into consciousness. Opening my eyes I found myself staring at a ceiling of thick wooden timbers. Taking a quick look around, It became apparent that I was lying in a hayloft; and although I couldn’t see them I could hear the nervous shifting and snorting of livestock below me. Brushing straw from my hair, I immediately took stock of myself.

My jacket was shredded almost beyond repair, and the sleeve on my right arm was hanging by a thread. The cracks from in my forearm were noticeable through the tattered remains of my shirt and I winced as I touched it gingerly.

Thankfully it wasn’t too bad, Kate had given me worse during our training sessions, but I estimated it would probably take at least an hour to heal. I was fortunate that Leah hadn’t managed to do more than that, otherwise I would probably end up with a nasty scar.

My jeans had a few slash marks on my thighs, but their structural integrity remained intact.

I had never been so thankful I’d decided to wear two layers beneath my jacket, since even my shirt had a few noticeable holes.

Having established I wasn’t too seriously injured, I took a deep breath in an attempt to better scent my surroundings and get an idea of how I was going to proceed.

Almost instantly I was hit by the scent of blood.

Human blood.

Immediately I stopped breathing.

I felt my eyes dilate as a hungry whine escaped my lips without permission. Venom flooded my mouth and it took a concentrated effort not to jump from the hayloft and hunt down that mouthwatering scent.

Growling deeply, I closed my eyes and swallowed, grimacing at the acid burn.

Once I felt more in control of my instincts, I opened my eyes and cautiously peered over the edge of the hayloft.

Two men were laying face up on the floor, their throats savagely ripped open. One was younger, around my age, while the other was older. Perhaps in his 30’s or 40’s. Their eyes were glazed with the film of death, and their expressions were frozen forever in a mixture of shock and horror.

I felt my gut churn with nausea, and I had to look away.

After a moment I fortified my courage and took another look at the bodies below. At first I thought it might be an animal, just on account of the viciousness of their wounds. However looking closer, I noticed that aside from their throats, neither of them appeared gnawed on and they seemed to lack defensive wounds. If they’d been mauled by a predator, there would be bite and scratch marks on their arms and legs.

Unfortunately I had first-hand experience to back up my hypothesis. My arm still ached as a painful reminder.

Dropping silently from the hayloft to the dirt covered floor, I found that aside from the fact that they were clearly frightened, all of the horses and pigs were completely unmolested.

A feeling of dread was welling in my chest, and I didn’t like the conclusion I was coming to.

Dashing outside, I stood on the edge of a vast field of ripe grain. A gentle wind was blowing, making the stalks sway like a ripple of gold, but my attention was on the homestead I could see on the other side.

Flashing through the wheat, my vampire strength had me on the other side in a heartbeat.

It was a simple abode, constructed with wooden logs and mud, and a thatched roof. It was large and a bit mismatched, it was clear that several additions had been added after the original construction, giving it a somewhat patchwork look. A large pond, at least a hundred feet wide, stood off to the left of the entrance.

Creeping up to the door, I cautiously peered inside.

A crimson vision of death.

She was covered in blood.

Spattered across her face, running down her chin and dress like a garish horror movie cliché.

The woman at her feet was dead, throat shredded by incisors strong enough to cut through steel.

Tanya stood in the middle of the carnage with a casual indifference, languidly licking the blood from her fingers with a hedonistic expression of satisfaction.

I couldn’t move.

My mind literally stopped as I tried to process what I was seeing.

Tanya, covered in blood.

Tanya, standing over a corpse.

I didn’t get long, because it was only a moment later that two bright ruby eyes found me in the doorway.

Instantly, Tanya’s beautifully horrific visage twisted into a snarl. Baring her teeth, she hissed in surprise and outrage.

There was no recognition.

Not even a spark of reason in those eyes.

It was pure, unfiltered, instinct.

Before I had time to open my mouth to speak, Tanya had pounced. Grabbing my arm, she twisted her body and tossed me away.

The side of the cabin literally exploded outward as my body was flung through it.

Skidding across the ground, I rolled a few times before sliding to a stop in the mud of the nearby pond. Physically I was fine, but mentally I was still reeling.

From my place in the mud, I looked up at the giant hole left in the house from my violent exit. Tanya was standing in the wreckage, crouched aggressively among the ruined debris. Splinters of wood had managed to catch in her hair, lending her a wild and vicious appearance.

Clambering to my feet, I only had time to raise my arms to ward her off before Tatyana was on me again with a snarl. Using my training, I manage to deflect her blows, but each time my arms ached with the power behind her clumsy swipes.

With a cold shock, I realized that Tanya had a newborns strength.

It was becoming increasingly clear that although I didn’t want to use my training to hurt Tanya, if I didn’t she might end up ripping me to pieces.

Unfortunately my distraction cost me dearly, because I was ill prepared when she lunged at me suddenly.

Her teeth sank deep into my wounded forearm with a loud crack.

Screaming in surprise and pain, I twisted my body and slammed her into the ground. Thankfully she didn’t seem to be expecting the maneuver because she instantly let go. Hoping she was stunned, I attempted to grapple her into submission.

Regrettably, I wasn’t in a good position, and it left her in the perfect spot to counter attack. Curling her legs inward, Tanya placed both of her bare feet against my stomach and launched me into the air.

I came down in the pond, which erupted in a fountain as I hit the water.

Unwilling to continue the fight just yet, I took a moment to gather my thoughts as I sank to the bottom. Obviously this Tanya was in the beginning of her newborn phase, and since I was starting to exit mine, that left me at a disadvantage in speed and strength.

She didn’t seem to recognize me, although I hadn’t actually had much time to try and talk her down. It probably didn’t help that I’d interrupted her in the middle of a meal. Vampires could get very territorial in that regard.

Ripping off the tattered remains of my jacket, I decided that if I couldn’t subdue or reason with Tanya I would make a break for it.

After all, the better part of valor is knowing when to run the heck away.

Maybe once she had time to calm down I could come back.

Resigned, I kicked off from the bottom and let my head breach the surface of the pond.

Tatyana was waiting on the bank. Her eyes were glued to my features, a warning growl vibrated in her chest. Every part of her body was strained but she looked less likely to attack me on sight.

Slowly, painstakingly, I swam closer to shore.

Whenever Tanya’s growl grew in pitch, I froze until it went back down to a low rumble.

Warily, I eventually managed to stand in the shallows before her sharp snarl brought me short. Prepared for another skirmish, I hunched slightly in anticipation.

However, instead of assaulting me, Tatyana was now peering at me with a peculiar expression. Her nostrils flared, and she seemed to be confused as she tilted her head to the side.

I stayed absolutely still, unsure what to make of this new behavior. It’s not like my scent had changed in the last few minutes.

Except…

Before I’d faded in, I’d been wrestling with a Quileute.

No doubt Leah’s less than desirable scent had been rubbed all over me.

If that was the case, most of it had probably washed off in the pond.

Cautiously optimistic, I didn’t move as Tatyana slunk closer. Her eyes were black, wide, and dilated; teeth bared slightly as she sniffed the air.

Tanya was a mere five feet away when her growls guttered to a stop. She paused, eyes half lidded, and took a deep breath.

A soft purr escaped her throat and she finally straightened from her aggressive stance.

I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.

Perhaps it was wrong of me to relax, because the moment I did Tanya pounced. Caught off guard, she knocked me to the ground using the full weight of her body.

Cursing my stupidity, I tensed and threw up both my arms ward off her strikes.

They never came.

Instead I felt warm, sticky lips nudge against my palm.

Hesitantly, I peered around my arm to watch, slack jawed, as Tatyana purred and rubbed her cheek and mouth against my hand and forearm. The blood coagulating on her face and jaw smeared on my skin and clothes as she did so.

My eyes turn an instant black as my thirst once more reared its ugly head.

Then, before I could think, Tanya used the full length of her body to press me into the ground. Easily bypassing my hands in my petrified state, she proceeded to nuzzle and nip my throat and jaw, further spreading her gory residue.

Against my will and to my horror, I begin to feel a slow heat of arousal burn and spread to my limbs. My vision began to tunnel as it got harder and harder for me to reign in my instincts.

My senses became consumed by blood and raspberry almonds.

I almost snapped under a sharp bolt of desire that shot down my spine when Tatyana began a languid sweep of her tongue on my throat. An involuntary moan vibrated in my chest, causing Tanya’s purr to deepen with pleasure.

Trying to keep my focus I banged my head against the ground, for all the good it did me, and tried to keep my cool.

Oh god, this was so wrong. I obviously could no longer deny the effect Tanya had on me, but the fact of the matter was I still couldn’t help feeling like some sicko pedophile for feeling this way. Yes, Tanya was clearly not a child.

She was so very definitely not a child.

That had never been clearer when Tatyana began lightly nibbling on my ear and it took all my self-control not to squirm.

However, I was having trouble reconciling the child I’d known less than a year ago and the now very attractive woman pinning me to the ground.

Still, even if I put my weird ball of attraction and guilt to the side, it still didn’t change the fact that right now Tanya wasn’t in her right mind. Giving in would be the same as taking advantage of someone who was intoxicated.

Unfortunately if I was going to put a stop to things, it had to be now; because Tanya sure as hell wasn’t showing any signs of ceasing. Her mouth was already trailing down my collarbone and heading straight for my cleavage.

Twitching sharply, I made a frantic grab at her hand when it started to wander up my shirt. Half of me completely mortified, the other half trying desperately to stifle the impulse to reciprocate. With a growl she batted my hand away and once more used her superior strength to restrain me.

I let myself go limp, hoping that in her feral state Tatyana would see it as a surrender and lower her guard. Sure enough, her grip on my wrists relaxed.

That was all the opening I needed.

Twisting my hips abruptly, I offset her center of balance while simultaneously shoving out with my arms. Tanya catapulted into the air before splashing into the pond.

Like a shot I rolled to my feet, and darted into the wheat field.

There was no way I was going to wait around for Tatyana to make her way out of the water.

I’d just reached the cover of the grain when I heard rapid footsteps approaching my location from the left. Alarmed, I immediately dropped to the ground and ceased all movement. I could hear Tanya still splashing her way to shore, so that could only mean there was another vampire in the area. Trying to fend off Tanya without major incident was hard enough. I had no desire to engage in another confrontation.

Hopefully the mud I’d inadvertently been coated in, would mask my scent enough to keep me hidden.

Tensed, I felt a wave of relief when I heard the rapid footfalls pass my position and head straight toward the cabin. Until I realized, with a sudden swell of anxiety, that Tanya might now be the one in trouble.

Mari!” a long plaintive call from Tanya.

Tatyana!” A rich feminine voice admonished, “What in God’s name are you doing?! Calm down!

A sudden splash and a low growl from Tanya had my muscles clench with the urge to rush from my hiding spot. I couldn’t see what was happening from the wheat, but I already didn’t like what I was hearing.

Crawling on my belly, I inched through the stalks of grain until I was able to peer through to the pond.

Tanya, and a vampire I immediately recognized as Sasha, where both sitting on the ground. Sasha was retraining Tanya from behind, who was weakly struggling, but looked on the verge of bursting into tears.

Sasha was making soft cooing noises in Tanya’s ear as she gently stroked her wet and muddy hair away from her face.

Shhh, shhh, calm my darling. What has you in such a state?

Tatyana trembled, face twisting in anguish as she gazed longingly in my direction, although I was confident she couldn’t see me.

Gone. Couldn’t control it. Drove her away.” Tanya’s voice came out in a rough, whispering moan. Eyes black as night, she winced and clutched at her throat; as if even those few words caused her esophagus to burn in pain. Her vocabulary was oddly stilted, like Tanya was having trouble thinking clearly.

If she was a newborn, as I suspected, it would account for her dulled cognitive processes.

The blood probably didn’t help.

Sasha seemed to straighten at Tanya’s words, before looking around and taking a cautious sniff of the air. Immediately her head snapped back to Tatyana and she took another sniff of her shoulder. Glowering at what she’d found, Sasha released Tanya and rose to her feet.

Brushing off her long linen dress, Sasha fixed Tanya with a stern stare.

You will stop this foolishness at once. Your ceaseless fixation on this woman has gone too far. She has abandoned you over and over again yet still you pine. The only true love in this world is the bond of love between family. Lovers are temporary distractions, take your pleasure from them, but never forget that family is forever.”

Scowling at Sasha’s presumption, I decided that I couldn’t let Tanya’s creator fill her head with lies about me or her misguided opinions on love. Sure, my first love was a colossal train wreck, but that didn’t mean romantic love was a worthless pursuit. Although, considering in this era women were bought and sold like cattle, perhaps her views weren’t unjustified.

Standing from my prone position, I stepped out of the wheat.

Tatyana and Sasha spotted me immediately.

They each had two very different but simultaneous reactions.

Sasha hissed, crouching in surprise and distain.

While Tanya’s smile was like the moment lightning strikes; a beautiful flash of heat too brilliant to comprehend.

I know I must have looked like a mess; bedraggled, covered in mud with torn and disheveled clothes. Yet the way Tatyana gazed at me, I felt like I’d usurped Rosalies spot as the most beautiful woman in the world.

Mari.” Tanya whispered, her eyes never leaving my face. Her eyes were still Ebon black, but there was a spark, a recognition that had been lacking before.

Trying to suppress the warm tingle I felt under the pressure of that stare, I glowered at Tanya’s surrogate mother as I strode up to them.

I would appreciate it if you would keep your assumptions about me to yourself. Especially when they have no basis in truth.” I spoke coldly; extending my hand to help Tanya up.

I’ll stop making assumptions when you stop proving them right.” Sasha snapped; grabbing my arm forcefully to pull me away from Tatyana.

I released an involuntary hiss of pain as Sasha’s nails unintentionally sank into my injured arm.

Before I had time to react, Tanya was on her feet.

Snarling savagely, she barreled into her creator, shoving her roughly away with a protective growl. Stumbling, Sasha barely caught herself as she stared at Tanya in complete shock. Her expression was a weird mixture of hurt and betrayal.

Cringing slightly, I cradled my arm close to my body as I stared daggers at my latest assailant. Tatyana must have noticed my defensive body language because she instantly began to hover.

Sullenly, Sasha crossed her arms as she regarded the two of us.

I’m surprised she didn’t rip you to shreds.” Sasha remarked to me with forced casualness. “Newborns generally don’t react well to other vampires when they’re feeding.

Slanting her an annoyed look, I absently rubbed the skin around my bite mark.

Well I didn’t exactly make it out unscathed now did I?” I sarcastically commented; but regretted it soon after when Tanya’s face fell. Tenderly taking my forearm in her hands, Tatyana leaned over and placed a reverent kiss on my cracked flesh.

Sorry.” She whispered, straightening with a look of torment.

At this point, Sasha was looking between us like I was some strange alien creature.

Uncomfortable at the scrutiny I lightly touched Tanya’s cheek in wordless reassurance.

It’s ok Tanya. You weren’t in control of yourself. Newborns feel everything much more strongly, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Besides,” I smiled comfortingly. “It’s not debilitating. If anything, the scar will be a part of you I can take with me wherever I go.

Tanya’s eyes gentled before they deepened with unspoken promises. Passion burned on the curve of her lips as she peered into my face.

Suddenly nervous, I quickly withdrew my hand and tried not to think about how stupid I was for not noticing Tanya’s attraction to me earlier. Being the object of such intense focus had my whole body tingling. I felt flustered, and I wasn’t sure how to act in this situation.

In terms of romance, Edward was my only real experience; and the way he’d pursued me had been a weird ‘push and pull’. He would seek me out one day and then avoid me the next. As far as I could remember he’d never really been direct.

As a result, I wasn’t used to someone looking at me with such blatant desire.

None of that now.” Sasha spoke from my right, just seconds before pushing me back into the pond. Sputtering, I shook my head as I surfaced and sent Sasha an annoyed glare. Tanya was crouched defensively as she faced down her mentor but Sasha appeared completely unconcerned.

What the hell was that for?!” I growled, flicking water from my clothes.

I can’t afford to have you riling Tanya up right now. If you spark her libido it will be days before we leave and quite frankly I don’t have the patience for that. Besides, you looked like you needed a bath.” She sneered, glancing over my now mostly mud free attire.

My mouth dropped.

I didn’t even do anything…” I muttered, and would have blushed if I’d been able. As it was, I simply clicked my jaw shut and tried not to embarrass myself further. It might not have been so humiliating if Tatyana didn’t look so amused with the whole thing.

Sasha surveyed me skeptically, but I ignored her in favor of wringing water from my clothes.

What are you wearing?” Sasha asked, wrinkling her nose slightly. I knew she was being passive aggressive because she felt protective of Tanya, but I was really starting to get irritated.

She’s wearing garments from her homeland.” Tatyana interjected before I could say anything; eager to share her knowledge.

Women there must be celibate, because I can’t imagine their men think those vestments hold any feminine allure.”

Insulted, I narrowed my eyes and bared my teeth.

Just because I didn’t want to use my training to harm Tanya didn’t mean I had any qualms about using it against her surrogate mother.

I disagree.” Tanya interjected, not even bothering to hide the way she drank in my appearance.

If this was how Tanya really was all the time, newborn Tanya hadn’t yet learned her older counterpart’s discreetness. Or maybe it was just one of the side effects of being a newborn; no mental or emotional filter. It wasn’t something I remembered going through, but then again I’d been by myself for most of my year as a vampire, so I hadn’t needed one.

The neigh of a frightened horse from the nearby barn broke the silence and I suddenly remembered the three people who’d lost their lives today. Fighting for my life only moments earlier had driven them from my thoughts, but the barn animals had reminded me.

Stricken at my insensitivity, sorrow welled in my breast and I turned my head to regard the large structure. There wasn’t anything I could do for Tanya’s victims, but I could at least let the animals free and give their owners a proper burial.

I wanted to be angry at Tatyana for their deaths, but I couldn’t when I knew all too well the temptation human blood posed. If I hadn’t known the Cullens, and been in a relatively isolated place when I woke up, I had no doubt I would have killed any man, woman, or child I’d come across.

I wondered if that made me a monster; that I sympathized more with the killer then the victims.

Three innocent people were dead, and while I felt sorrow at the horrific manner in which they expired, my loyalty was with their murderer.

Dashing over the the barn, I held my breath and let myself inside.

Ignoring my squeamishness, I carefully picked up each of the corpses and set them outside before releasing the animals. They probably would starve to death in their stalls if I let them be, and I saw no reason for more innocent souls to suffer.

Grabbing a shovel from one of the stalls, I stepped outside just as Tanya gently placed the woman she’s murdered next to her other two victims. Her expression as she gazed upon them was a conflicted combination of guilt and bloodlust.

Even though their corpses had cooled, the scent of blood still held allure.

Tanya’s eyes, as they flickered to me, had a hopeful look. Like she needed confirmation that what she was doing met with my approval.

Smiling faintly, I nodded and gently squeezed her arm.

What are you doing?” Sasha asked as she stood a little ways away, her face showing mild disbelief.

I’m burying the dead.” I stated with a frown. I thought it was rather obvious.

Why?” her voice was completely monotone, like she really couldn’t understand why I was wasting my time.

Because they were once human beings.” I growled. “Because it’s disrespectful to leave them to rot. If you have to take life, respect it. Don’t treat it like trash just because you can. We were just like them once, some of us more recently than others.

I shoot Tanya a meaningful look and she looks down, chastised and hurt, but silent.

Choosing a spot behind the farmhouse, using my vampiric strength I quickly dig 3 holes suitable for graves. Once I finished, I pilfered some clothes from a nearby clothesline and wrapped them carefully around the torn flesh of each of the victim’s necks.

Sasha watched on impassively, uncaring, but unwilling to interfere.

Without asking Tatyana began, one by one, to lower each of them into their final resting place.

Once it was done, it only took a few short minutes to cover each hole with dirt.

I met Tanya’s contrite gaze across the newly turned earth, and faded to white.

Chapter Text

Bella

I opened my eyes to a familiar living room.

Without taking time to pause, to think, or feel about being back in the Cullen home; I dashed to the nearby phone and dialed Tanya’s cell. I would have dialed her on my own cell, but it had been lost in my scuffle with Leah and I had no idea if my coven was still in danger.

It rang, and rang, and rang until Tanya’s lyrical voice spoke in my ear asking me to leave a message.

Frustrated, I hung up and tried to call Irina instead.

She picked up on the first ring.

“Bella?” she spoke into the phone, voice laden with worry and hope. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard Tanya arguing with someone in the background.

“Rina, is everyone ok?” I anxiously asked, fearful that something irreversible had happened in my absence.

“Guys! Bella is ok!” Irina yelled away from the phone, no doubt to put the others at ease. I still couldn’t help but wince at the pain it caused my sensitive hearing though.

All arguing on the other end abruptly stopped.

“Where are you Bella?” Irina urgently demanded.

“I’m back at the house. I’m a little battered but if you guys are in trouble say the word and I’ll start running back.” I stated, completely prepared to sprint over there in a moment’s notice.

I heard a brief scuffling noise on the other end and then a sound like someone had fumbled the phone before Tatyana’s satin voice came through the line.

Mari, Mari are you alright?” She blurts in hurried Magyar, completely ignoring the fact that I was almost 100% sure she just stole the phone from her sister.

Remembering what had just happened mere moments ago in the past, I shifted and tried to keep any awkwardness from my voice, although it took a concentrated effort.

I’m fine Tanya, a little frayed around the edges maybe, but nothing I couldn’t handle.” I soothed, trying to keep her calm. “Do you want me to come back? What’s happened with the Quileutes?” I replied in the same language, confident that the wolves wouldn’t be able to understand what we were saying even if we were overheard.

Leah has been restrained by Sam and the others, and talks have resumed.” Tanya explained with a growl.

“We did have to smash a few heads first though.” Kate smugly interjected, obviously listening in.

If I didn’t need their furry hides for cannon fodder I’d have put an end to each one of them.” Tanya continued, completely ignoring her other sister.

Try not to be too hard on Leah.” I spoke softly, feeling a brief swell of guilt. “Her father was one of the ones who was killed in the Newborn attack on the reservation. I understand why she acted the way she did. I’m not sure I would have acted any differently in her position.

Tatyana was silent for a while, and I waited patiently for her to digest my words.

“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” She muttered, finally switching back to English. “All things considered, I believe it would be best if you stayed at the house. I don’t want your presence to enflame Leah again. We will be back as soon as everything is concluded satisfactorily.”

“Alright. I’ll see you soon.” I murmured before hanging up the phone.

Now that I didn’t have to worry about the safety of my new family members I finally took a moment to gaze around the living room of the Cullen manor. The others had cleaned up the place while Tanya and I had been on our run.

All the sheets had been taken off the furniture and piled in a corner, and there was a fresh scent of orange-glow in the air that I had no doubt was Irina’s OCD influence.

Aside from a thin layer of dust on some of the ceiling lamps, everything seemed exactly the same. It looked like my former family had only taken time to close up the house before they’d abandoned me completely.

Conflicted, I walked across the living space to stand next to Edward’s grand piano. Lifting the cover, I ran my fingers lightly across the keys before pushing a single note.

The sound was out of tune.

I remembered how Edward used to spend long moments meticulously tuning his piano to the perfect pitch. I used to admire his dedication, although I was sometimes impatient with how long it took.

The corner of my mouth twitched with amusement as I closed the cover.

Somehow, it seemed fitting to leave it that way.

Clambering up the stairs, I grabbed my bag from its resting place at the top and slipped into Alice and Jasper’s old room.

Discarding my tattered clothes in their bathroom trashcan, I took a shower to thoroughly scrub the blood and grime from my skin. After I slipped out of the water, I quickly donned a fresh set of clothes.

A pair of cargo pants, an old U2 t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers later I was once more ready to face the world.

Draping a towel over my head I quietly exited their room; making sure to take their bathroom trash bag with me. It would be rude to leave my blood soaked clothes in their room as a welcome home present.

As I made my way down the hall, I paused for a moment at the entrance to Edward’s room. The door was slightly ajar, and I stood there for a long moment, before gingerly pushing the door open.

As I stepped inside, my mind filled with warm but hazy memories of this place. Nothing had been moved. Edwards space still had the giant shelves filled with books and music, the state of the art sound and entertainment system, and the single couch situated in the middle.

Standing behind the couch, I breathed in, but smelled nothing but dust and household cleaner. Not even his scent lingered. Reaching out, I gently caressed the practically velvet material of the furniture.

Edward and I used to spend so much time in this room, sequestered away from the others and wrapped up together on the cushions. I remember I used to lean back into his chest as we listened to Debussy and he would stroke his fingers over the back of my hands in time with each key. Like he was playing his own silent concert on my skin.

It had been a perfect moment.

It was a beautiful memory.

But that’s all it was.

A fond but distant memory.

Laughing to myself, I exited the room, carefully closing the door behind me with a soft click. Hopefully my ex-boyfriend wouldn’t mind my brief intrusion.

Before I could do more than take a few steps, I heard the front door open.

My heart leapt.

Tanya and the others must be home. Eager to greet them after my trying day, I dashed to the top of the staircase. I opened my mouth to issue a greeting when I stopped dead in my tracks.

There was a man I didn’t recognize in the house.

A man who was tall and lean, with long white blonde hair and bright ruby eyes. He dressed from the West. Worn jeans, cowboy boots, a red and white flannel shirt paired with a vest.

The man also paused, seemingly surprised to see me. Was he not expecting anyone to be home?

A low growl started in my chest as I widened my stance, trying to look as intimidating as possible. I was alone in a house with a male vampire of unknown strength, skill, or power. It was a dangerous position to be in and I wanted to try and avoid a direct confrontation if I could.

“Who the hell are you?” I demanded, splintering the wood on the bannister slightly as I flexed my fingers.

Was this the man who broke into my room?

Had he been planning on riffling through the Cullen home as well?

My growl grew deeper at the thought and bared my teeth slightly at the intruder.

“Answer!” I barked, unable to control my territorial instincts.

Then, to my surprise, the vampire raised both his hands in a gesture of surrender and took a big step back.

“Whoa, whoa Miss, please calm down. I apologize for intruding. My friend and I mean you no harm.”

“Friend?” I questioned, relaxing slightly but still wary.

“Yes. Jaz can you come in here?” he hollered behind him without taking his eyes off me.

Jaz?

I felt my heart leap into my throat when sure enough Jasper Whitlock walked into the Cullen foyer.

“Bella?” he stated with surprise, looking me over from head to toe. Jasper had the same curly honey hair, the same charming southern drawl as before; but now almost every inch of his face, shoulders, and arms were crossed by silvery crescent scars.

My instincts had me freeze, recognizing on a primal level that I was in the presence of a true predator.

I almost hissed, the urge was so strong.

We both became caught in a stare off as I struggled with my impulses, but eventually I managed to reign myself in.

“Jasper?” I whispered, feeling the venom well in my eyes.

“Hey darling. It’s been a while.” Jasper replied, smiling weakly.

Leaping from the stairs, I practically tackled him in my rush to wrap him in a hug. I admit, I didn’t know Jasper too well personally, but Alice had spoken about him so often when I was human, I practically knew him by proxy.

To my surprise and delight, Jasper gladly returned the hug, flooding the room with happiness. A sigh of bliss to my left reminded me that we had an audience, but if he was a friend of Jaspers I figured he would forgive my rudeness.

“It’s good to see you Jasper.” I murmured, pulling back to examine him a bit more thoroughly. I can’t believe I’d never noticed all his scars before, but then again my eyesight as a human had been weak in comparison.

“Vampirism suits you Bella. You’ve never looked lovelier. I’m just sorry that my actions at your birthday party sparked the chain of events that led to this mess.” Jasper contritely mentioned, looking down in shame.

“Jasper,” I said, compassionately grasping his arm. “I never blamed you for what happened. Now that I’m a vampire and have experienced the same blood thirst, I hold you even less accountable then before. Considering you were probably also experiencing everyone else’s bloodlust on top of your own, its practically a miracle I’m still alive. Please, I don’t want you feeling guilty for anything.

Jaspers face slowly transformed into a light and genuine smile, and I could see why Alice loved him so. Even with the scars he was a mesmerizing man.

“Bella, let me introduce you to my friend Peter.” Jasper said, motioning to his companion.

Tilting my body to face the other vampire, I nodded a greeting and extended my hand for a handshake.

“I’m sorry about earlier.” I grimaced apologetically. “We’ve been experiencing newborn problems and any other stranger probably would have gotten the same greeting.”

Peter laughed and clasped my hand in a firm grasp.

“That’s alright. I should have known better than to enter without Jasper. I know better than to encroach on another vampire’s territory without permission. I got cocky because I was with Jazz, but I’m not personally acquainted with your coven and I shouldn’t have presumed it would be ok.”

“It’s fine.” I smiled, charmed by his easy going attitude. “Alice told us you were coming, I just didn’t realize you would be here so quickly… Actually now that I think about it, isn’t there supposed to be another one of you?” I asked, gesturing between the two of them with my finger.

Peter smirked and nodded.

“My mate, Charlotte. She’s hunting in Port Angeles right now, and out of respect for Jaspers diet I decided to accompany my friend here instead of wait. My little Lotte has been to the Cullen residence more than a few times so she’ll just meet us here when she’s done.”

“I see…” I commented, once more taking in the ruby hue of Peter’s eyes with more than a little discomfort. Jasper, sensing my unease, hastened to reassure me.

“Peter and Charlotte live on a diet of murderers, rapists, and scumbags. We have differing views on the sanctity of human life, but if you’re not going to be a vegetarian, it’s a more ethical alternative.”

“Sort of like the vampire equivalent of only eating organic and free range meat.” Peter remarked with a sly grin. “It’s still murder, but slightly more acceptable murder.”

My mind goes to a sixteen year old girl who submitted to the will of a man who bought and paid for her. I think about living off the blood of men like that.

Any judgment I may have had for their lifestyle vanished in an instant.

If Peter and his mate were saving people from having to experience that kind of horror, I couldn’t bring myself to condemn them for it.

“Well…” I said, regarding Peter solemnly, “If that’s really how you feed, I suppose that’s a diet I can’t object too.”

Peter gave me a half smile, while Jasper looked at me oddly.

“Not that I’m not happy to see you Bella, but what are you doing here alone? I don’t need to remind you it’s not safe to be by yourself right now.”

Smiling sheepishly, I ran a hand through my hair and shrugged my shoulders.

“I didn’t mean to, but I got separated from the others by accident. I wasn’t quite sure where I was for a little while, but eventually I made my way back to the house.” I spoke, glossing over the details. I wasn’t sure how much Alice had told Jasper and I didn’t want to have to launch into a huge explanation right now. Not to mention, although I’m sure Peter was a perfectly nice man, I didn’t know him.

Friend of Jasper’s or not, I didn’t feel comfortable trusting him with my secrets.

A deep frown crossed Jasper’s features before he spoke in a flat voice.

“That was very irresponsible of Tanya, letting you wander off like that. I know you may not entirely comprehend the scope of the danger you are in Bella, but Tanya does. From a few of the conversations I’ve had with her, I know she’s had run in’s with newborn army’s before.

As coven leader, she is responsible for the welfare of everyone in her family. Considering your inexperience and Victoria’s vendetta against you, she should have been more vigilant.”

I felt my jaw drop in surprise before I felt a small surge in anger and indignation. Jasper had no right to judge Tanya. I felt confident she was doing everything in her power to assure my safety, and it wasn’t like either of us had any control over when I made my little ‘trips’.

I opened my mouth to vigorously defend her honor when I paused.

Wait… Did Jasper know about my power? If he didn’t then maybe his point of view wasn’t so crazy. Maybe a little douchy that he didn’t think I was responsible for my own decisions, but still.

“Jasper,” I said slowly, narrowing my eyes at him as he gave me a weird look. “How much did Alice tell you about what’s going on here?”

He blinked, glanced at Peter then back at me.

“She told me that Victoria had attacked and turned you into a vampire; that you were with the Denali’s, Victoria was building a newborn army to kill you, and we needed help to overcome the threat.”

“Is that it?” I asked with a raised brow.

“Essentially.” He asserted, gazing at me curiously.

With a sigh, I rubbed my face with my hand before peering at him through my fingers.

“Jasper, Tanya is not at fault for this. It was through my own actions that I accidentally got separated from the others.”

Jaspers mouth twitched as he ruefully shook his head.

“You don’t understand Bella. Tanya took you into her coven. When she did so, she took responsibility for your actions. Doubly so since you are newly turned. Any coven leader who takes in a newborn is considered responsible for that newborn for the first five years of their un-life. Any mistakes you make, any laws you break, she will also be held accountable for.

It’s why vampires don’t go around making newborns left and right. They know if they do and they lose control of their progeny, the Volturi will kill them as well. At the three year mark, if the vampire hasn’t done anything to get themselves killed, they are considered ‘adults’ and are then responsible for themselves.”

My jaw dropped and I stared at him incredulously.

“So wait, you’re saying that if I completely lost it and massacred a town or something, Tanya would get punished for my actions, regardless of whether she actually had anything to do with it?”

“Essentially.” Jasper solemnly replied.

That’s not something you’ll ever have to worry about.” A dulcet voice came from the doorway. As one we all turned to watch Tatyana glide through the doorway. Her clothes and hair were slightly mussed, but otherwise she looked fresh off the runway. If Kate hadn’t clued me in, I would never have guessed she was tussling with werewolves a short while ago.

Without even greeting the other two vampires in the room, Tanya walked straight over to enfold me in a tight hug.

Stiffening, I would have flushed at the way her body molded around me if I’d still been able, but couldn’t resist melting into the fierce embrace. Tanya’s delicious raspberry almond scent filled my senses, and I would have been happy to stay in that blissful haze, if I hadn’t caught sight of the weird expression Jasper was giving us over her shoulder.

Suddenly self-conscious, and completely aware of our audience, I gently withdrew from the circle of Tanya’s arms.

“Where are the others?” I awkwardly asked, stealing a glance at Peter and Jasper as I did.

“They’re on their way with the car.” Tatyana reluctantly answered before turning to acknowledge her guests. “Jasper, as always it’s a pleasure to see you. I regret it’s not under better circumstances.” She said before giving him a brief hug. “Your mate is on her way as we speak, I know how hard it must have been on you to be away from her for so long.”

“Our reunion will more than make up for the time we’ve spent apart.” Jasper drawled with a sly smile. Tanya laughed and smiled knowingly before turning her attention to Peter.

“Hello, I do not believe we’ve met. I am Tanya Denali, leader of the Alaska Coven.”

“Peter Kenny. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Jasper has spoken very highly of his cousins in the Alaskan wilds.” Peter politely remarked as he shook Tanyas hand.

Recognition flashes briefly over her features, before a more genuine smile slides into place.

“Yes, Jasper has told me much about you and your mate. If half of what he’s mentioned is true, you are more than welcome, anytime you wish to visit. My coven and I truly appreciate your willingness to help us with our newborn problem, your experience and expertise will be invaluable.”

Peter smiled somewhat bashfully in response, but Jasper was looking between Tanya and I carefully, like he was trying to figure out a puzzle. Feeling a flush of embarrassment at what he must be feeling from me, I tried - in vain – to wrestle my emotions into submission.

Tanya on the other hand must not have noticed his staring, or she simply didn’t care, because we all heard the telling crunch of tires on gravel coming up the driveway.

Before any of us even had a chance to really register that the others where back, a pixie sized blur burst through the door and threw itself into Jasper’s waiting arms. Laughing joyously, the Major spun Alice around in a circle like you’d see in a cheesy Hollywood movie, before they kissed passionately.

Averting my eyes, I wasn’t sure if I should feel embarrassed or jealous of their obvious happiness. Not that I begrudged either of them.

Thankfully, Kate, Irina, and the others took that moment to enter; providing me a much needed distraction.

Tatyana moved close to my side as the others came to welcome me back.

“Isabella” Irina admonished as she pulled me into a hug, “you’re a foolish foolish girl! What were you thinking, stepping in front of Kate like that?! You could have been killed. I love my sister, but she is more than capable of taking care of herself. One touch and Katrina would have had that wolf convulsing on the floor, you silly girl.”

Chagrined, I lowered my head in contrition.

“I’m sorry Irina. I wasn’t thinking, and simply acted on instinct.” I muttered.

“Well-“ Kate interjected, affectionately ruffling my still damp hair. “I guess if you have to do impulsively stupid things, protecting your family is one of the better ones.” Kate finished with a soft smile.

“So what happened after I disappeared?” I inquired, looking between Irina and Kate.

“Tanya completely lost it.” Kate deadpanned, shooting her sister a look. Tanya seemed embarrassed because she shifted from foot to foot and wouldn’t meet my eye.

“What Kate means to say,” Irina said, exasperated. “is that Tanya laid into Leah the moment you faded. If she hadn’t attacked you I would have felt sorry for the beating she took, but as it is the Quileutes are lucky we didn’t kill her.”

“I thought for sure the wolves were going to attack, but the Alpha, Sam, ordered them not to; on account of Leah’s uncalled for assault.” Carmen inserted as she joined the conversation.

Eleazar and Peter seemed deep in conversation on the other side of the house, and Jasper and Alice had vanished, undoubtedly somewhere a little more private.

Irina nodded her agreement before continuing.

“When Kate demanded to know why Sam hadn’t commanded Leah to back off, he looked guilty. Especially when he told us it was because Leah was the only one he would never ‘force his will upon’ because of what he did to her when he imprinted on her cousin.”

“It was basically a shitty situation.” Kate sighed, running a hand through her long corn silk hair.

“In the end, we worked out a temporary truce.” Tanya murmured from where she stood near my left shoulder. “Until the threat is neutralized, we will work together and keep each other informed of what’s happening.”

Nodding faintly, I suddenly felt bone tired. So much had happened today, and I really wished I had the capacity to curl up in a bed and let a good night’s sleep wash away all my stress.

On top of my mental fatigue, now that I was no longer in mortal peril, the burn of hunger that I had been ignoring since I’d appeared in the past was now making itself known. Being in contact with some much human blood had frayed what tenuous control I had on my instincts, and I needed to sate my hunger before I did something rash.

“Well-“ I started; laying a hand against my own throat. “I’m glad everything was resolved and that you’re all back safely, but I need to go hunt.”

“I’ll go with you.” Tanya immediately volunteered. “You’re recovering from an injury, and in your weakened state you would be vulnerable to attack if any scouts came upon you. I really should have taken you out right away. Sometimes I forget you’re still in the tail end of your newborn phase, and need to hunt more as a result.”

I froze.

Tanya wanted to go hunting with me. Alone.

Valiantly ignoring the shiver I felt remembering what had happened last time we’d been alone, I tried to keep my nerves from showing, and hesitantly agreed. The image of newborn Tanya was still fresh in my mind.

Bolting into the surrounding woods, I headed straight into the Olympic National Forest. I could hear Tatyana’s light footsteps behind me, but I concentrated on moving deep into the park. Eventually I slowed long enough to tune my senses to my surroundings.

Lifting my head, I scented the air and caught the musky scent of a stag.

Homing in on the scent, it didn’t take me long to track down my prey. With a quick lunge, I wrestled the struggling animal to the ground and fed.

All too soon the deer’s heart struggled to a stop, and I removed my bloodied lips from the corpse of the once majestic creature.

Turning my head, I was just in time to witness Tanya finishing up with her own kill.

Unlike the somewhat savage visage I’d been privy to watching newborn Tanya feed, this Tanya was completely different. She was predatory, as all vampires were when they hunted; but instead of projecting an aura of barely contained violence she moved with the smooth grace of a tiger. Even the way she held her prey, gently to her chest, fingers carefully buried in the fur of the deer’s neck; seemed tender. Even as she drank, it felt like she was quietly soothing them into the afterlife.

It was confusing, awe inspiring, and captivating all at once.

As I watched, I felt the still broken cracks in my arm slowly fuse back together as the blood from the stag reinvigorated my body. Glancing down at my forearm, all that was left was a jagged crescent scar. Running my fingers over the now smooth skin, I looked back up to find Tatyana watching me intensely.

Her gaze, which before had been fixed on my arm, slowly rose to meet my own.

Silence filled the clearing between us, but there was something growing in her expression.

Something bright and raw and filled with hope.

Gradually, in stilted faltering steps, Tanya crossed the divide between us.

Hesitantly, Tanya reached out and lightly brushed my newly formed mark with her thumb. Topaz eyes flicked between my scar and my face, an expression of relief and remorse settling into place.

“I’m sorry,” she began quietly, “for hurting you.”

“You already apologized for that.” I gently rebuked.

“I still feel responsible. Especially since it’s so fresh for you.” Tanya trailed off as she peered into my face. Her voice was so low and earnest, I felt something hot and fierce building in my chest, and suddenly I felt paralyzed. Caught in the memory of a warm breath against my neck, soft caresses, and a sweet scent of raspberry almonds.

My whole body ached as I slowly, deliberately, lifted my hand to cup Tanya’s cheek.

My breath left me in a shudder as she leaned into my palm. Her eyes closed briefly before gazing at me through half lidded eyes.

Haltingly, with my heart caught in my throat, I swayed forward and pressed our lips together in a kiss.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

----

Bella

Tanya’s lips were warm and smooth.

Her kiss was tentative, firm but slow. She gently laid her fingers on my waist and pulled me closer. The sweet scent of raspberry almonds filled my senses as I gradually pulled away, my head buzzed with warmth as I peered into Tanya’s face to gauge her reaction.

The smile she graced me with was full of fervent affection. Her eyes traced my features as she stroked my cheek.

“Is this our first kiss?” Tanya asked in a hushed murmur, her face suffused with soft joy.

I nodded shyly, more than a little speechless.

Leaning forward, she laid her forehead against mine, our noses touching slightly as we breathed in the same air.

“It’s even better the second time around.”

I blinked.

“Have we kissed before?” I asked in a stunned manner. After all, I’d kissed her on an impulse; it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might have done it before in my future – the past.

Tanya grinned at me through half lidded eyes as she gently bit her bottom lip.

“Among other things.” She answered with a seductive quirk of her lips.

Flustered and a bit conflicted, I wasn’t sure how to react. On one hand thinking about those ‘other things’ caused a tingle of desire to start low in my belly. On the other, I felt uncomfortable with the implication that I wasn’t in control of my future.

Like it was already set in stone.

Tanya must have seen the unease on my face, because she was suddenly hastening to reassure me. Fortunately, she seemed to have misread the source of my discomfort.

“I mean, our first kiss was great; but I’m afraid I bumbled it up a bit.” She replied with sheepish mirth.

Quirking my head slightly I gave her an inquiring look.

“I –ah, had a clumsy moment.” She said trailing off with a mildly embarrassed expression.

“You had a clumsy moment…” I repeated slowly, trying to wrap my head around what she was telling me.

She nodded.

“As a vampire.” I reiterated.

Pouting slightly, Tatyana again nodded.

“How is that even possible?” I asked, choosing in that moment to ignore all the times I’d stumbled and slammed into things in my second life. All of them had happened as I was fading in or out, so in my opinion they didn’t count.

“I was showing off… and got a bit careless.”

Laughing lightly, a slow grin inches across my face.

“Mind explaining how that happened?” I teased, unable to suppress a mocking tone.

“And ruin the surprise for you?” Tanya huffed playfully, brushing her nose against my cheek as she leaned in for another kiss. Every small caress of her lips sparked a cascade of tingles down my spine.

Before I knew what I was doing; I pressed further into Tatyana’s embrace. Slipping my arms around her neck, I deepened the kiss, a move that Tanya ardently reciprocated. One of her hands came up and cradled the back of my head, nails gently scratching the nape of my neck, and I felt myself melt.

A soft purr rumbled in my chest, and I felt Tanya pull back with a small laugh. Sighing quietly, I nuzzled into the crook of her neck and breathed deeply, enjoying the way our scents were beginning to mingle on my skin.

Neither of us spoke for several long minutes.

 “We should probably get back.” Tatyana murmured, making no move to release me from her arms.

“Probably,” I reluctantly agreed.

“Five more minutes?” she implored, gently kissing the sensitive spot behind my ear.

“Five more minutes.” I conceded with a happy sigh.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Moments later; Tanya’s cellphone decided to blare an obnoxiously upbeat pop song.

Groaning with disappointment, I reached into Tanya’s pocket and withdrew her phone. Peering at the call screen, I was greeted by a picture of Alice laughing and sticking her tongue out at the camera as the phone rang.

Unable to suppress a huff of amusement, I shared a glance with Tanya, before I tapped the answer button and brought the phone up to my ear.

“Belllllaaaa,” Alice’s chime-like voice immediately floated over the speaker. “We don’t have time for you and Tanya to dawdle in the forest for hours! We can’t finalize a battle plan until you both get back. Two minutes ladies!”

The distinct click as she hung up the phone had us both staring at it, nonplussed.

Regretfully hanging up the phone, I sighed exasperatedly before handing the phone back to Tanya, who looked as disappointed as I felt.

“I feel like we should just start ignoring her calls.” I muttered under my breath, instantly warmed by Tatyana’s melodic laughter.

“Maybe when we aren’t in the middle of a war.” She replied with a mischievous grin. “Come on, sooner we get back, sooner we can get this over with.”

The run back to the manor was short, and before I knew it we were both climbing the front porch into the entranceway.

As I passed into the living room, I noticed that in our absence another vampire had made their way into the house.

Everyone was gathered around the dining room table, pouring over what appeared to be various maps of Washington. The new addition was leaning into Peter; eye’s glued to a topographical map Jasper was gesturing at. I could only assume that this was Charlotte.

She was petite, only a few inches taller than Alice, with wild silver hair and doll like features. I always thought that Alice was the most delicate looking vampire I’d ever seen, but this woman was so finely boned she looked like the slightest touch might break her to pieces.

I only had a moment to soak up the atmosphere before Alice was dragging me toward the table.

“Bella!” she chirped, guiding me forward with her usual enthusiasm. “I want you to meet Charlotte, she’s a superb geologist and cave diver. This amazing woman was the first vampire to ever swim the Mariana Trench!”

Blinking in astonishment, my jaw drops a little as I politely shake her hand.

“Wow, that’s amazing! What’s it like down there? I don’t think scientists have ever actually reached the bottom.”

Charlotte smiles indulgently.

“It’s beautiful, dark, sometimes oppressive, and if you get down far enough; filled with magma.” Her voice is soft and mild; but there’s a spark in her red eyes that makes me think I’d have to revise my wispy first impression of this woman.

“Sounds a little scary. I know we don’t technically need to breathe anymore, but I’m not sure I’d have enough courage to do something like that unless my life depended on it.” I remarked, blinking owlishly.

“Courage in your new abilities comes with age and experience Isabella, I’m sure one day such a feat won’t even phase you.” Charlotte chuckled.

I didn’t get a chance to continue the conversation however, because Jasper cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention.

“Now that we’re all here, I would like to know what plans, if any, have been drafted to deal with the Newborns in Seattle.”

Tanya, who appeared to be examining the maps of major roads and landmarks of the area, sighed and slipped her fingers through her hair.

“So far, we’ve managed to negotiate a temporary truce with the Quileute’s, as well as wrangled a mutual promise of cooperation against the coven in Seattle. We’ve only just arrived in Forks, so we haven’t had much time to make plans.”

“Jasper mentioned that the one responsible for creating the army in Seattle is a vampire called Victoria?” Peter interjected, sliding an arm around his mate as he looked over the assembled faces. “If she’s the one in charge, we should stage a concentrated strike as quickly as possible. The longer we wait the more time she has to shore up her numbers. Don’t get me wrong, I realize the majority of us are seasoned fighters, but even we have our limits.”

“That sounds sensible to me,” I murmured, leaning into Tatyanas space to help calm my nerves. “But how are we going to take the fight to them in a city like Seattle? It’s got a pretty big population from what I can recall, and people are definitely going to notice a bunch of vampires and wolves tearing up the place.”

“There will definitely be a lot of human casualties.” Tanya murmurs, biting her lip in thought.

“We could minimize deaths and exposure by drawing them out. There’s gotta be somewhere in the surrounding land that we can use.” Kate hums as she points at several mountainous regions. “Maybe one of these areas? Somewhere we can set up a pre-emptive strike that won’t endanger the residents.”

Inserting herself into the discussion, Irina waves Kate’s hand away from the table.

“What we need is a trap. What do we have, that we know Victoria will not be able to resist?” Everyone’s eyes simultaneously turned to me and I got a sudden sinking feeling in my gut. “I think at this point, a chance at killing Bella or Edward would be the only things that could tempt Victoria from giving up the home advantage in Seattle.”

“Absolutely. Not.” Tanya snarls in Magyar, making the others around her flinch slightly. “Nobody’s going to use Mari as live bait; and there’s no way I’m trusting Edward not to mess everything u-.”

“I think the idea has merit.” I interrupted, tilting my chin up slightly as I obstinately met Tanya’s scowl. “If it is successful in drawing out our foes with minimal loss of life, it’s not a plan of action we can dismiss off hand. However,” I begrudgingly conceded. “that doesn’t mean I like my odds against 20 something newborns on my own. If we do decide on this, what’s the plan for making sure I don’t get ripped to pieces?”

There was a brief silence around the table before Alice sighed and chimed in.

“Look everyone, time is of the essence, but don’t hesitate to throw out any idea you have. My gift will help us weed out the bad ones, and who knows maybe we’ll have unexpected luck with an unconventional idea. My point is, we don’t have to wait for them to make decisions. We can plan our own and adjust it accordingly.”

Kate smirked and crossed her arms. “I guess we all kind of forgot about our clairvoyant secret weapon.”

Alice preened a bit under the attention and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes with fond exasperation.

“Alright, so what do we have?” I asked, making eye contact with my coven mates. Irina was the first to speak up.

“Well - history, and personal experience, favors guerilla tactics when a small force is faced with a larger enemy. We could slowly whittle down their numbers.”

“A worthy plan if this was a normal coven.” Jasper drawled, absently brushing his hair back with his fingers. “Unfortunately, this is a newborn army, Victoria doesn’t value her members. They hold no strategic value. They’re just cannon fodder. She’ll replace them as fast as we kill them.”

“The civilian population would also suffer greatly as she upped newborn creation.” Charlotte amends. “As you know, newborns are insatiable when it comes to blood, but the first few weeks are especially bad.”

“Okayyy” With a groan I rub my hands against my face as I try to think. “So guerrilla tactics are out. What else do we have?”

At that moment, Tatyana – who had been tapping her lips in thought – suddenly paused; a devilish gleam shined in her eyes.

“I agree that long term guerrilla tactics won’t be effective in this case; but a quick surprise attack, followed immediately by a retreat into an ambush would be perfect.”

Kate seemed to immediately grasp where Tanya was going with this, because she broke into a bloodthirsty grin.

“Tanya’s right. Newborns have little, to no, impulse control. After being suddenly attacked in their own territory, none of them would have the wherewithal to resist giving chase. If we were to lure them away from the city and have The Wolves wait in ambush...” she trailed off.

My eyes flickered to Tanya, who was examining a part of the map intently.

“What about here? Chester Morse Lake,” she said, pointing at a small spot on the chart. “It’s about an hour drive southeast of Seattle, secluded, and only accessible by small or private roads. Chances are good that it will be deserted.”

Jasper leans in to peer at the spot she indicated.

“From what I can see from this terrain, a vampire would be able to run there in about 15 minutes if they were sprinting in a straight line.” He said, tracing the route with his finger.

“That’s a lot of time.” Kate muttered, glancing worriedly around the room. “It’s never good to engage in a race with a newborn for extended periods. They are generally stronger and faster, and their mood swings make it hard to guarantee they won’t get sidetracked. Especially if we are relying on their impulsiveness to get them to follow.”

Tilting my head, I peered at Alice who seemed to have lapsed into a vision.

“It seems to work right up to the ambush, but then it goes blank. I’m not sure if that’s because something bad happens or because of the nature of the Quileute. Either way, it’s a very close thing. Away from the city, they start thinking clearly, and gain ground faster.

Plus, a few of them begin to break off the chase. We cannot have any of them escaping if we want to avoid attention by the Volturi.”

“Is there some way we can distract them, maybe keep them clumsy and unfocused?” I asked, eyes darting from face to face.

“It would certainly make springing a trap on them easier.” Kate muttered, crossing her arms with a sigh.

“Well,” I began hesitantly. “I know, without a doubt, there is one surefire way to distract a newborn. Blood. What if we hung blood bags from trees at certain intervals, and have the bait for the trap pop them along the way? It would keep them feral, and probably also keep them from wandering off.”

Everyone stared at me as if I’d just suggested we all drench ourselves in gasoline and light a match.

“Bella, that’s brilliant!” Alice chirruped, jumping on my back in her excitement. “Of course we would have to take precautions so that we don’t fall prey to the same instincts, but the idea definitely has merit.”

“A facemask stuffed with crushed cloves should do the trick.” Tatyana drawled, mouth twitching with mirth. I could only imagine how silly we looked with Alice dangling from my back like a monkey. Thankfully, any embarrassment I might have felt didn’t last long, because the pixie soon rejoined her husband. “It came in handy during the Plague when all you could smell in nearly every city, town, and village was rotting flesh.”

I scrunched my face in horror at the thought of ever having to experience that sort of thing.

“Speaking of scents…” Eleazar interjected, stepping closer to the table and examining the map more thoroughly. “If we are going to set a trap involving the Quileute’s, we will need to find a way to mask their scents. Quite frankly, blood crazed or no, I don’t think there is much that could keep a newborn running toward a scent like that.”

“I agree. We’d need to situate them down-wind and get them bathed with the scent masking shampoos the poachers I eat like to use.” Peter contributed, “Otherwise this whole plan is shot to hell.”

“So you’re saying we’re gonna have to give the mutts a bath?” Kate drawled, flashing a grin at the room.

We all chuckled a little.

“There’s still another issue regarding the wolves.” Irina spoke softly, garnering everyone’s attention. “While the lake does give us an advantage of keeping prying eyes to a minimum, it does present a significant risk for the Quileutes.”

“How so?” I asked, puzzled.

“The lake itself will be the danger. If a vampire manages to wrestle one of them into the water, it would take very little effort to keep them there until they drowned. We no longer need oxygen; they do.”

“Should we choose another location?” I wanted to keep the risk to the wolves as low as possible.

“No. It’s the best possible location in a short distance from Seattle. The wolves will just have to be careful and watch each other’s back.” Kate sighed, shaking her head.

“Alright, speaking of watching each other’s backs, shouldn’t we call the Quileutes and let them in on the plan?” I asked, looking to Tanya.

“It’s technically part of the truce we just worked out.” Irina interjected, trailing off when no one immediately volunteered for the job.

“I would do it, but my phone is broken.” I spoke up.

“I’ll do it.” Irina sighed, as she pulled out her phone and moved into another room.

“If you can provide an anticoagulant, we’ll take care of the blood.” Charlotte piped up with a disturbingly sinister smile. I felt sorry for her future victims.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult to get our hands on some EDTA. My sisters and I use it for the blood we store when we travel.” Tatyana mused, stroking her chin. “I’ll go pick some up now; and wish you good hunting when I return.” Her seemingly casual attitude while discussing murder was a little concerning.

“Coming Mari?” She asked, tilting her head to look at me. The way her eyes and mouth softened with affection would have sent my heart hammering in my ribs had I still been human.

“O-Of course!” I stumbled to reply, trying to avoid sounding breathless.

I think from the way Kate and Eleazar smirked, I wasn’t entirely successful; but the happiness that spilled across Tatyana’s features was more than worth it.

“Lets go.” I murmured, slipping my hand into hers.

Our fingers entwined as we walked out the door.

Chapter Text

 

Bella

As we step out of the house, Tanya leads me over to her white Lamborghini. I’ve never been in a car with doors that open up instead of out, and its an awkward experience for me. When I finally manage to close the door (ever so gently) I turn to look at Tatyana who was watching me struggle with a smirk.

“Ready?” She asked, revving the engine playfully. With a dead pan expression, and never breaking eye contact, I reached over and buckled myself in.

Tanya started laughing unreservedly as she put the car in drive.

“I’m not that bad Isabella.” She said with a wink. “Well, not unless you want me to be.”

“Are we still talking about driving?” I asked wryly, but I would have been blushing if it was still possible.

“You tell me.” She replied, slanting me a sultry look as she bit her bottom lip.

My skin began to tingle under the heat of her gaze, and it took all my willpower not to stare at her lips.

“Tanya,” I admonished her in a strangled voice. “Please don’t do that, you’re going to make me cause a car accident.” The plastic ceiling handle was already starting to groan under the force of my grip as I resisted the urge to lean across the divide.

Sighing almost regretfully, Tatyana shot me a fond smile.

“Worth a try.” She teased, before shifting her Lamborghini into higher gear. She reached over to entwine our fingers before we lapsed into a comfortable silence. I took this rare moment of peace to reacquaint myself with her features. My thoughts turned to the past.

Tatyana caught me staring at her and quirked her eyebrow questioningly. I hesitated to ask, but part of me still burned to know what happened to her in the years after I faded from Baron Szendrey’s manor.

“Did, um, did things get better for you in Szendreys manor? Before Sasha?”

Tanya’s face shuttered briefly, before she seemed to remember who she was talking to and let her face relax slightly.

“It,” she paused, “It didn’t get worse. You get used to things, learn to tolerate them until they become just a minor annoyance. The Baron married a few years after I was brought into his home. It helped relieve the burden, but his wife was young. Younger than me, and nervous; but she seemed taken with him, so maybe it was easier for her.” Tatyana trailed off slightly.

I felt anger and grief settle in my stomach like an iron ball. It took everything in me to keep a passive expression.

“At any rate, I think she eventually came to view me as something like an older sister, so when the Baron passed from a sweating sickness two years later, she relied on me heavily to keep the household running.

If she hadn’t been pregnant with the Barons child, I have no doubt one of his male relatives would have taken the household and turned us into the streets. That is, if they didn’t try to wed us themselves.

Sasha appeared not long after the child was born, a male heir. She made her offer, and I never looked back.”

Although her expression seemed blasé, I could hear a faint tone of remembered pain in her voice. Bringing our interlaced hands up to my lips, I gently kissed her knuckles and pressed them against my cheek. It was a small gesture, but I hoped it conveyed the comfort that I knew words would be inadequate to express.

Judging by the way her golden eyes seemed to brighten, I think I was at least partially successful.

“It’s ok Mari. It was a long time ago. I’ve had many centuries to come to terms with it.” Tanya murmured, caressing my cheek with her thumb as I continued to hold her hand.

“That doesn’t mean you should have had to.” I replied, bringing our hands back down to the center console as I tucked some of my hair back in thought.

“No, but life often isn’t fair. We’ve both experienced our share of that I think.” Voice gentle as she peered over the dash. “Looks like we’re here.”

I felt the car start to decelerate and eventually come to a stop as Tanya pulled into the parking lot of what appeared to be a very large pharmacy in Port Angeles.

“You, unfortunately, will have to wait in the car.” Tanya said turning to me. “This place caters to Labs and Physicians only, due to the restricted nature of some of the medications and devices stored here. They’ll let me in due to the Lab I own in Anchorage; but you don’t have the proper identification.” She remarked while pulling a badge out of her purse and clipping it to her blouse.

“Wait, what? You own a lab?”

Tanya laughed, a melodious sound that warmed my heart.

“Of course Mari, where did you think our emergency blood supply came from?”

I admit, I hadn’t even spared it a thought.

“It’s a fully funded operation specializing in developing a way to mass produce clone blood and cure rare blood diseases. All entirely above board of course.” The way Tatyana was talking about it made her eyes shine, and I felt another swell of affection. “So, stay here, and I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll wait for you.” I vowed, more solemnly than originally intended.

Tanya paused, her hand on the handle, before she turned and gazed at me with quiet yearning.

“Do you promise?” The whisper was soft, but earnest.

Recognizing the weight of the moment, I reached out and lightly caressed Tanya’s cheek.

“I promise.” I murmured back, feeling the resolve solidify in my chest.

For a moment, I thought I saw a glimmer of tears; but she lowered her head and turned to place a reverent kiss on the palm of my hand.

“I’ll be right back.” She breathed, placing one last kiss on my fingers before exiting the car.

For several long minutes, I closed my eyes and let myself absorb the significance of what had just happened. Tatyana’s raspberry almond scent hung heavy in the air, and I inhaled deeply to help ingrain the moment more deeply into my memory.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that. Perhaps I wasn’t thinking rationally. Perhaps…

But no. It was done. That feeling of surety had not altered.

Focusing through the car into the building in front of me, I could hear Tanya charming her way around the Pharmacy. The clerks were practically tripping over themselves to help her. One of them was being a little too persistent in his attention though. His heart was racing, blood pumping through his veins at a mile a minute. I could feel my eyes darken and my mouth begin to fill with venom just listening to it.

Tatyana was making her way out of the building, having put in an order for delivery, but the clerk was insisting on walking her out. I think he was hoping to ask her out in the parking lot. I decided that Tanya was being far too polite. I’d make it clear that he should get lost.

Sliding out of the Lamborghini, I leaned gently against the hood and crossed my arms as I faced the door. Running a hand through my hair, I ruffled it slightly to fully take advantage of what I liked to call the ‘intimidating vampiric beauty’ effect.

It was a technique I’d seen Rosalie and the Denali’s put into action more than once, and it was very effective once done correctly. Actually; looking back on my high school days, that was probably the only way for Rosalie to get through her classes without constant bombardment by entranced humans.

I felt guilt well up in me for not realizing it sooner.

Turning my attention back to the matter at hand, I felt my annoyance ramp up a notch as I realized the clerk was delaying Tanya in the lobby with bogus excuses about missing paperwork.

I was about to head inside to nip this problem in the bud when I heard a curious clicking sound. It happened multiple times, some in quick succession. It sounded so familiar, like the flipping of a light switch or…

I paused.

The shutter of a camera.

Whipping my head around, I scanned the area, looking for the source of the clicking. Eventually, I noticed it coming from an old, beat up Toyota about fifty feet away in the parking lot across the street. An older man, portly and balding, sat behind the wheel. He was holding one of those high-tech canon cameras with the giant lens.

As I focused in on him, he took three more pictures, and they were all pointed directly at me. I narrowed my eyes, and the click of the camera stopped. I could hear his heart begin to pound as he stared at me through the lens.

“What the fuck...” He muttered, nearly fumbling his expensive camera in his haste to put it down. “Fuck this shit.”

He turned the ignition, staring at me nervously through the dash as his car awkwardly turned over.

It felt eerily like one of those horror movies where the victims kept trying to start the car while the killer advanced on them. Except this time apparently, I was the killer instead of the dummy on the chopping block.

I didn’t move from my place beside the car, but I didn’t take my eyes off him. His window was down, he was sweating heavily. It wouldn’t be hard to track him.

“Tanya,” I spoke as calmly as possible, but there was still a slight growl to my voice. “Come outside please.”

With a roar, his engine finally jumped to life, and he floored it out onto the road. Tires squealed gratingly across the asphalt as he pulled away, but it took no effort to catch a glimpse of his license plate as he did. 

The car turned a corner and disappeared just as Tatyana emerged from the pharmacy.

Mari, are you ok? What’s wrong?

Someone was watching me. Taking pictures. As soon as he realized I’d noticed him, he took off. I have a bad feeling about it Tanya. I think we should follow him.”

Her eyes darted over me, double checking that I was unharmed.

Which way did he go?” She asked, her eyes sparkling with a dangerous light. I couldn’t suppress the shiver I felt seeing it, and I grumpily thought an expression that menacing had no right being so ridiculously attractive. 

I nodded my head in the direction his car had taken off in.

“He was parked across the street. We might be able to track him if we start from there.”

“After you.” Tanya swept her arm magnanimously toward the car, and I slipped into the passenger seat. Putting the car into reverse, Tanya peeled out of the parking lot and quickly made her way over to the lot I’d indicated.

“Think you can catch the scent?” Tanya’s hands were tense upon the wheel.

I rolled down the window and stuck my head out.

I could smell asphalt, rubber, deodorant, and - I breathed deeply; a very faint whiff of musky body odor.

“Got him.” I muttered, flashing Tanya a quick smile.

“Good girl!” She cooed, ruffling my hair. Batting away her hand, I scowled and narrowed my eyes at her.

“What am I, a dog?” I huffed indignantly, although I couldn’t keep myself from smiling slightly.

“Don’t worry Bella,” Tatyana purred. “I’ll be sure to give you a treat when we get home.”

The husky lilt at the end of her voice made me lose concentration on the scent, forcing us to turn the car around once or twice, until I picked it up again. Tanya’s knowing look didn’t help matters.

Eventually we tracked his car down to a coffee shop on the other side of town. Once I spotted his vehicle, I nodded for Tanya to park her car behind the fashion boutique across the street. The creeper was sitting at a table beside the floor to length windows, sipping a cup of coffee as he spoke into a phone.

“I followed them like you asked.” He grumbled, slurping noisily at his drink. “I mean, they’re gorgeous, I can see why you’d want photos; but there’s just something so damn unnerving about them...” He paused and seemed to shudder slightly. “Anyway, I expect my payment in full. I already emailed you what I got.”

A smooth and menacing voice drifted over the phone. A voice I was very familiar with.

“These are acceptable. I’ll need you to continue surveillance. I want to know where they are at all times.” Victoria’s voice sent a sharp spike of fear through me, and I couldn’t help but hold my breath.

Tanya sent me a worried look, her fingers curling around my arm as she gazed back at the coffeeshop.

“Were you followed?”

The man snorted into his cup, taking another giant swig before drawling back.

“Naa, I think they spotted me for a bit there, but I lost them.”

There was a long pause on Victoria’s end.

“Fool. You don’t realize you’re already dead. You will not be receiving your payment. No point now.”

I heard a sharp click and a dial tone.

The guy stared at his phone in disbelief before slamming his phone on the table and cursing up a storm. Swiping up his things, he barged out of the café, bee-lining for his car.

“Goddamn bitch thinks she can mess with me? I’ll show her a thing or two.” He growled as he started the car.

“Shall we follow him?” I asked Tatyana, glancing at her quickly.

Sighing, she nodded and quietly started the engine.

“Unfortunately. If he’s had us under surveillance, there is no telling how much he knows. We need to find anything he has and destroy it. The Volturi are not forgiving.” Tanya’s eyes were hard as she weaved her way through Port Angeles traffic; following the investigator at a distance. It was difficult because Tanya’s car was very eye-catching, but somehow, she managed.

I peered at her from the corner of my eye. Tatyana’s eyes were narrowed, her lips pursed with concentration. I’d never seen her quite so focused. I was nervous about what it meant.

After ten minutes of twists and turns, our target eventually pulled into the parking lot of a Sheraton. Tanya pulled to the side of the road just past the building as we turned to watch him take his things into the building. It was a large, fairly luxurious building, about nine or ten stories. Each outer room had a balcony and with my vampire senses I could, unfortunately, see and hear what most of them were being used for.

I jerked my head back to look over at Tanya, my eyes coal black, who just stared at me with an infuriating smirk.

“Shut up.” I muttered, pushing her face away with my palm. Her dulcet laughter filled the car before she grabbed my wrist and pulled me forward across the center console. Halfway in her lap, Tanya’s fingers slipped into my hair as she leaned forward, nuzzling my cheek with her nose.

“Bella.” She murmured into my skin, brushing her lips against the side of my mouth.

I melted.

My chest ached with warmth and yearning as she placed several lingering kisses all over my face.

Mari. Relax. I am with you. I won’t let anything happen. I know it feels overwhelming, but you can do this.

Hiding my face against her shoulder, I let her stroke my hair and neck as I swallowed the venom welling in my mouth.

After a few moments had passed, I pulled away, feeling calmer than before.

“Alright, lets go inside.” I breathed, rolling my shoulders as I prepared myself. Squeezing my hand, we shared a look before exiting the car.

Tanya slipped her arm around my waist as we walked through the automatic doors. I could smell hundred of scents, thick pheromones clogging the air despite the overlying aroma of chemical cleaners. I had to swallow several times as we strode up the front desk. Tatyana’s thumb stroked my hip reassuringly.

I hadn’t been in close contact with a human other than the Quileute’s (they hardly counted, smelling the way they do) for a little over a week, and it was striking to have to deal with this bloodlust again.

The man behind the counter smiled pleasantly, although I could hear his heart stutter and begin to pound, a common reaction to the beauty of a vampire.

“Good Afternoon Ladies, what can we do for you here at the Sheridan?”

Tanya flashed her most dazzling smile, as she pulled a black card out of her purse. The man blushed; all his blood rushed instantly to his face.

I clenched my jaw.

Tanya continued as if nothing was wrong, although I could feel her fingers flex slightly on my waist.

“I would like to rent the Penthouse for my fiancé and I. We’re here to celebrate our engagement.” She purred, pulling me more firmly into her side.

Playing along, I leaned into her, doing my best to smile; although it might have looked more like a pained grimace.

“O-Of course madam, I’ll book that for you right away.” He stumbled, taking Tanya’s payment as his eyes flicked between the two of us.

Tanya seemed to ignore him as she carded her fingers through my hair. The pleasant sensation was just distracting enough to keep my focus off the pulsing vein in his neck.

After taking our information and handing over two electronic keycards, we made our way over to the elevators. When we got inside, Tanya pushed the button for every floor so we could check each one for our quarry’s pheromones.

“We need to make this fast Tanya.” I said through grit teeth. “I’m not sure how long I can stand being here.” The higher we ascended in the elevator the stronger the scent of musk, sex, & booze got. Tatyana’s arm around my shoulder helped ground me, but the flames building in my throat where agonizing.

“Just hold on Mari. Once we reach our hotel room, you can get some air on the balcony.” Tanya consoled me, placing a kiss against my temple.

On the sixth floor we finally caught a whiff of him, and followed it past his room. Room 604. After scoping the layout, Tanya took my hand and began to lead me back to the elevator.

“Are we not going to break in?” I asked, puzzled. She winked before pressing the button for the penthouse, the room she’d rented for the evening.

“Of course we are, we just aren’t going to do it from inside the building. These locks are electronic, in order to get in we would have to hack it, or break the door. Since I don’t have anything capable of hacking it, we’d have to break it, and that’s not something we want to do with all those cameras in the halls.

I blinked.

I’d been so focused on keeping my cool, that I hadn’t even noticed all the security cameras.

“So, then what’s the plan?”

“The plan,” she started, enfolding me in a hug from behind. “Is to climb down from the penthouse balcony. Most people don’t bother locking their balcony doors. Even if they do, its not electronically locked or alarmed, so it will attract much less notice.” Tatyana’s breath felt warm against my ear, and I couldn’t help the shiver of arousal I felt being so close to her.

“That-That’s pretty clever.” I stuttered as she began nuzzling my neck, laughing softly at my reaction. Lacing our hands together, she nipped and nibbled at my throat until we came to our floor with a quiet ‘ding’.

The doors opened, and Tanya led me out of the elevator. She was doing a great job distracting me from all the scents and heartbeats, but at this point that might not be a good thing. My mind was starting to take on a fuzzy edge. It was getting difficult to focus on anything but the way Tatyana’s hair fell against her shoulder, the subtle sway of her hips, and the delicate curve of her lips.

I hardly noticed walking through the door to the Penthouse, although it was hard to ignore once you were inside. It was lavishly decorated with white marble and gleaming copper accents. Its size was probably 3 times a normal room, and included a king-sized bed, a lit aquarium, giant flat screen, and a built in jacuzzi. The sheer opulence had my jaw hanging open.

Tanya on the other hand, besides a cursory glance, completely ignored her decadent surroundings to bee line to the balcony. I however, having spent the larger part of my year camping in a forest, lingered a little.

I think Tanya could tell I was a bit reluctant to leave when she caught me caressing one of the silk robes hanging on the bathroom door. With a laugh, she sauntered back into the room, her fingers trailing over the back of the nearby couch as she invaded my space. One hand settled on my hip as the other tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear.

“Do you like nice things Mari?” She whispered, leaning forward to place a soft kiss against my jaw. “Anything you could possibly desire, I can give you.” Her voice was a silken murmur as she kissed my lips. The kiss was full and supple as Tanya pulled me in.

I couldn’t help the small sigh of pleasure that escaped me as I wrapped my arms around her neck. I’d never felt this consumed by a kiss before.

After several long moments, Tatyana pulled back with a hum of satisfaction, leaving me breathless and panting as she leaned her forehead against mine.

“You ready to go Bella?” she asked, her lips twitching with a smile.

I exhaled loudly.

“Not even slightly; but let’s go.”

With a joyful laugh, Tanya untangled herself from my side and glided back over to the balcony. Reluctantly I followed, only to witness Tanya hop up onto the railing with uncanny grace.

“Coming?” She asked, quirking her eyebrow at me.

“Yessss.” I droll, peering over the balcony ledge. Gosh that was high. I almost got vertigo just thinking about what I was going to have to do shortly.

Sure, I was a vampire now, but its hard to overcome thousands of years of monkey brain evolution that tells the human brain ‘High places bad’.

“Come on, you’ll be perfectly safe. I promise.” Tanya’s smile was just reassuring enough as I stepped up beside her. After a few moments of examining the outer wall, Tatyana made a clicking noise with her tongue and pointed out a balcony 3 floors down and 4 ledges over.

“There it is. This should be simple enough.” Cocking her head to the side, she seemed to be listening hard. “Well, good news, he’s currently in the shower. We should be able to grab his gear without detection if we’re fast. Bad news, he’s currently masturbating in said shower. Based on my experience with men, he probably won’t last more than a few minutes, so we should be quick about it.”

Resisting the impulse to gag at the mental image she’d just painted me, I was really not looking forward to this.

Looking over her shoulder at me, Tanya gave me a wink.

“If you’re feeling unsure about it, I can always go alone.” She crooned with false reassurance. I could tell she would tease me endlessly if I chickened out. I had a feeling this was Kates influence.

Narrowing my eyes, I made a running leap off the balcony.

My stomach plummeted as I found myself out in open air, but then something amazing happened. My instincts seemed to take over, and my muscles bunched and twisted, controlling my arc with hairline precision.

It felt as easy and simple as breathing.

With child like ease, I snagged the rail and used my momentum to flip up onto the balcony in a move that would make an Olympic gymnast feel envy.

Tanya touched down beside me a moment later, a happy twinkle in her eye.

“In we go.” She whispered, sliding open the glass balcony.

The room was much smaller, just a single with a bathroom. The sound of the shower running let us know that the spy was still…indisposed. However, that wasn’t what was noteworthy about this room.

Nearly every inch of every surface in the hotel room was covered in maps, pictures, cameras & surveillance equipment. I felt myself go still as I recognized pictures of everyone entering and exiting the Cullen abode. A laptop open on the desk showed a folder with dozens of grainy video files from hidden cameras in the trees.

Whoever this guy was, it was clear he’d been surveilling us for a few days at least.

One of the maps caught my eye, and I walked over to inspect it. The map in question an enlarged topographical map of Washington, with little red dots marked at places around the Cullen manner and La Push.

I felt my heart sink, but the feeling of overwhelming dread didn’t really start until Tatyana clicked on the most recent video file.

On it, we witnessed Charlotte and Peter drag an unconscious man around the side of the house.

I watched Tanya assess the room with a stony expression.

Closing the laptop, she seemed to search the apartment until she found the investigators suitcase. Dumping all of his clothes on the floor, she handed it to me.

“Mari, I need you to fill this with everything in this room. Leave absolutely nothing behind.”

With a nod I began with the laptop before starting in on the pictures and maps. I was almost half way through when I realized Tanya wasn’t helping me.

In fact, she was pulling off her clothes, and folding them neatly on the bed.

“Tanya what are you doing?” I hissed, glancing nervously at the bathroom door. I was trying very hard not to get distracted by this unintentional strip tease, but thankfully she stopped at her undergarments.

Her black, lacy, undergarments.

Blinking, I almost missed her next words.

“He knows too much Mari.” Tanya’s voice and expression were eerily calm as she began padding over to the bathroom.

Instinctively, I grasped her wrist before she’d gone more than a few feet.

“Tanya, we can just take all of his things. No one will believe him if he says anything. Please, we don’t have to do this.” I pleaded quietly, urging her with my eyes to agree.

The ice thawed from her expression, and Tanya’s eyes softened as she tenderly cupped my face. Stroking my cheeks, she reverently kissed my forehead.

“Go wait in the other room Bella.”

On the verge of tears, I watched Tanya silently slip into the other room.

I heard a muffled exclamation of surprise.

The sound of shower rings ripping. A brief scuffle.

A sharp crack, and silence.

There was nothing but the drum of the shower.

Unable to stop myself, I step forward, peering with dread through the open door.

The water was pouring down on Tanya, soaking her hair as she grimaces sadly at the naked corpse on the tile. His head was bent at a disturbing angle.

I heard a familiar ringing in my ears as I faded to white. 

Chapter Text

Bella

Hungary – 1026 A.D. – Slovakia Territory

When my senses return, I’m lying in a bed of soft moss. As usual, I’m surrounded by abundant greenery. The clean scent of nature invaded my lungs and I took a deep breath, enjoying air without the harsh chemical scent that is almost impossible to escape in modern civilization.

Nestled on the forest floor, cradled by the earth, I took a moment to process. I didn’t know how to feel about what I’d just seen. Conflicting emotions whirled in my stomach and I wasn’t sure how to resolve them.

How could I reconcile Tanya -the cold-blooded killer, and Tanya – the sweet, assertive, and attentive woman I was beginning to know. They should have been conflicting character traits. It shouldn’t have been possible for them to exist in the same person, but I was coming to a rude awakening.

I knew Tanya had killed before, I’d seen it first hand, but I’d always assumed it was a result of self defense or the vampiric need to feed. Both of which I could understand and empathize with. This, however, was straight up murder. No way around it.

No sugar coating.

No justification.

I can’t say that I liked the man who was spying on us, but I also couldn’t wave away killing him. He hadn’t hurt anyone, as far as I knew he wasn’t a rapist or a murderer. He was just a private investigator doing his job, and Tanya snapped his neck like a twig for his troubles.

We could have just stolen his evidence, and without it he would just be another raving lunatic spewing tall tales about mythical creatures.

I couldn’t hate Tanya, to a degree I understood her reasoning, but ethically I couldn’t condone it. I wasn’t sure what this meant for our burgeoning relationship.

With a sigh I opened my eyes.

Might as well get on with it then.

If this was anything like the other times, Tanya was sure to be nearby.

Jumping to my feet, I brushed off my jacket, t-shirt, and kakis. With all the excitement I’d been going through lately, I was surprised that they’d managed to stay intact.

A distant rumble of water echoed through the trees, and finding its source seemed like the best bet. The air felt warmer, and the flora was devoid of snow or ice, so I could only guess that it was either Spring or Summer. It was harder to tell when your diamond hard skin made you immune to the elements.

Dashing through the forest, I eventually came upon a small river, almost a creek; that flowed south from the crashing din of what could only be a waterfall. Large, slick boulders flanked it on both sides, creating a natural channel for the water.

I had to decide if I wanted to go upstream or downstream.

If only I had a coin to flip.

With a sigh I ran my hand through my hair, either way I’d probably eventually come across a settlement. Might as well pick the more interesting choice.

Jumping from rock to rock, I headed north. I barely managed to keep my balance on the slick stones, even with the help of my vampiric talents.

Sometime later, I found myself gazing upon a waterfall that roared loudly into a pool of water that fed the river. The pool itself looked deep, maybe fifteen feet, with a diameter of fifty to sixty feet. However, despite the beautiful majesty of nature I was witnessing, something else immediately arrested my attention.

Situated in the shallow end of the pool I saw two figures bathing in the water among the rocks. They were both clad only in their chemises, two piles of clothes on the nearby rock. Tanya was crouching neck deep in the water as Sasha stood behind her, gently washing her hair with soap. Scenting the air, I could tell that it contained a hint of clove.

Sasha’s motions were careful and affectionate. Her expression was alight with maternal love as she finished rinsing Tatyana’s hair.

I’d known intellectually that Sasha cared for Tanya, and Tanya had referred to Sasha as her ‘mother’, but I hadn’t seen real proof of their bond until this moment. Most of my interactions with Sasha had been laden with hostility, and I’d wondered on more than one occasion why Tanya was so attached to her.

The sun peaked out from behind the clouds, and suddenly their skin was awash with light, sparking and reflecting the sun like diamonds.

I felt my throat grow tight as I looked on.

Tatyana dunked her head underwater, rinsing out the last of the soap, before lounging on a nearby rock. She didn’t seem to have the motivation to pull herself completely out of the water. She was half-in half-out, waist and legs still submerged. I could hear her hum, eyes closed, as she soaked up the warming rays of the sun.

It was probably the most at peace I’d ever seen her.

My breath caught at how beautiful she was, like a nymph or a fairy, and I wondered what I was going to do.

Was it fair to treat this Tanya as I would the one in the present? I couldn’t punish her for actions she had not yet taken.

Pushing my feelings down to deal with later, I continued to watch.

Sasha slipped out of the water and began donning her clothes, her red gold hair hung in damp curls around her face and I had to begrudgingly admit that beauty seemed to run in Tanya’s family.

Édesem, I am leaving to meet my contact in town. Do you wish to accompany me?”

Tanya shakes her head, not even bothering to open her eyes as she does so.

No Anya,” Tatyana mumbled, “I am full and relaxed.”

Clicking her tongue in amusement, Sasha bent over and placed a kiss on Tanya’s forehead.

Very well my sweet, enjoy the sunshine while you can.”

With that, Sasha dashed off in a northerly direction, bounding up the cliff face near the waterfall with supernatural ease before disappearing into the distance.

After a few moments of silent observation, I quietly made my way toward the pool. The heavy crashing of the waterfall completely masked the sound of my footsteps.

As I approached, a bit of mischief occurred to me and I couldn’t resist diverting to the water instead. Being as silent as possible, I slipped under the surface where the roar of the river was now just a gentle hum. Surprisingly the water was clear, and felt cool against my skin. I so rarely felt cold anymore that it was almost a shock, and I realized that the water must be just above freezing. There was no doubt It was enough to give a human hypothermia.

Slicing through the pool, I swam my way over to where Tanya was still lounging on one of the rocks. Bracing my legs against the base of the stone, I grabbed her ankles and unceremoniously jerked her into the water.

Sputtering and flailing like a ragdoll, Tatyana twisted in the water lightning fast. Her face twisted in an angry snarl as she prepared to attack. The moment she saw my face she froze, her jaw dropping into a comical ‘o’ of surprise.

I felt my mouth twitch with mirth, and that seemed to break the spell, because suddenly she was pushing off of the muck filled bottom and rocketing at me like a torpedo.

We collided with, if we weren’t underwater, what would have been a deafening crack. Her arms slipped around my torso as she propelled us both to the surface. Tanya growled, her voice low and playful as we finally breached the water. I couldn’t hold back a peel of laughter as I dunked her head back into the pool.

For several moments we play fight in the shallows; wrestling and splashing until something shifts. Tatyana’s arms become softer, more pliable as she draws me into an embrace. The playful growl turns into a gentle hum against my ear. The breath catches in my throat as I push water laden hair away from my face.  

We lock eyes. Our bodies so close that we’re breathing the same air. I watch as Tanya’s eyes flick all over my features, but her gaze lingers on my lips the longest. Her eyes have darkened from a bright ruby to the color of garnets.

Tanya slowly raised her hand and rested her fingertips upon my cheek. Her eyes darted to mine as she gauged my reaction. When I made no move to object, she traced the curve up to just below my eyes.

“Such a beautiful color.” She murmurs, making eye contact with me. “Why are they different?”

Covering Tanya’s hand with my own I consider if I should be truthful or not. At some point or another she obviously switched to an animal diet, but I had no idea where, when, or why. It was impossible for me to avoid affecting time. Just existing in this timeline was theoretically altering an infinite number of variables.

There was no way I could account for everything. I would do my best, but at some point, I just had to let the dice fall how they may.

“It’s due to a difference in our diets.” I murmured, gazing into Tatyana’s blood red eyes. I paused. “Scientifically I can’t really think of a reason why.”

Tanya mouthed the word ‘scientifically’, her eyes distant and puzzled.

“I am unfamiliar with this word. What does it mean?”

I winced as I tried to remember when the scientific method became prominent, but tried my best to describe it in the most general terms.

“It’s the study of the natural world. It helps us explain why things are the way they are.”

Tanya hummed, only partially paying attention as she stroked my cheek.

“Isn’t that what the gods are for?”

It was becoming difficult not to get distracted by the gentle way Tatyana was caressing my face.

“Um, I mean, for some people. I never really followed a faith.”

Tanya hummed before speaking in a hushed voice. So soft I could barely hear her.

“I do not feel God. I do not feel him in my heart the way I’m supposed to,” She trailed off, her hand twitched against my cheek.

“I see you so much more clearly now then I did when I was mortal. The flecks in your eyes, the auburn in your hair, the way your skin glistens with the water.” She paused, her thumb tracing my cheekbone. “It feels divine. It feels holy and warm, the way priests said worship should feel, but I’ve only ever felt that way when I’m with you.”

If it were still possible, my heart would have been pounding in my chest. I could tell what she wanted, I could see her hesitation. This Tanya was just as young and uncertain as I was.

In a period where a relationship between two men or women was reviled and punishable by death; defying taboo would be difficult.

Sighing to myself, I gave Tanya a guileless smile before I mischievously flicked her nose.

The tension broke.

Tanya scrunched her nose and leaned back out of reach of my hands. Her eyes narrowed, and I couldn’t help my growing grin as I ducked out of her arms.

After a few more minutes of splashing and playfighting, I eventually pulled myself out of the water onto a large rock jutting out over the pond. I allowed myself to sprawl indulgently as the warm weather began the slow process of drying my clothes.

Tatyana leaned up onto the boulder from the water, her face a picture of warm content.

“I missed you.” She said, eyes closed against the sunlight.

“I missed you too.” I whispered; thinking of the cold calculation on the other Tanya’s face before I faded.

“Are you staying long this time?”

I met her gaze uncertainly. I could see the fear and insecurity lurking behind her eyes, casting a pall on an otherwise lovely day. I didn’t want to lie, but it hurt that I couldn’t soothe her worries.

“I’m not sure. I never am. All I know, is that my gift always seems to bring me to you.”

Tanya blinked; her answering smile practically glowed with happiness. Reaching up to clasp my hands, the expression on her face became more somber.

“Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for it every day.”

I squeezed her hands in gratitude.

“I can’t say that I regret it either, despite how frustrating it is at times. I’m not to fond of being dumped into completely unfamiliar places on a regular basis. Speaking of,” I made a show of looking around the area. “Would you be able to tell me were we are? It’s all forest to me.”

Chuckling to herself, Tatyana gestured grandly to our surroundings.

“We’re still in Hungary, Slovakian territory.”

I hum in acknowledgment before looking back up and over to the waterfall.

“Where is Sasha? I thought I caught a glimpse of her running through the trees earlier. Am I going to have to worry about her anytime soon?” I decided to leave out that I’d been watching them shortly beforehand.

“Not for a while in all likelihood. She ran north to a nearby hamlet. She needed to speak with a mortal regarding some entourage passing nearby.”

I blinked and cocked my head. I was definitely curious about why, but my instincts told me I might not like the answers, so I refrained from asking for now.

“Good to know, I might have to visit it later.” I muttered, rubbing my forehead as I thought about how I would obtain some less obtrusive clothes.

Tilting her face to me with a curious slant, a brief smile flitted across Tanya’s mouth.

“Are you hungry? We can go hunting there. Perhaps you can show me exactly what it is that you do differently.”

Startled out of my thoughts, I jerked my head around to gaze at Tanya in surprise.

“Oh. No. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. I don’t eat people.” I stated factually.

Tanya’s smile faltered into polite bewilderment.

“What do you mean? You made it very clear that despite our physical differences, we should never treat mortals like chattel.”

Lightly smacking my forehead with my palm, I tried again.

“No, I mean, I don’t feed on human beings. I only feed on animals. Its why my eyes are gold instead of red.”

The expression of disgust that donned on her face was so comical I couldn’t help but huff in amusement. It was the same semi-horrified look some people got when talking about blood sausage and meal worms.

“But why?” she asked in a strangled voice. “They smell so,” Tanya made a face as she trailed off.

“Don’t give me why.” I said, smacking Tanya’s arm. “You know why. You were once the reason why. Just because we are no longer fully human doesn’t change the fact that we used to be.”

It was actually pretty sobering to think about. Especially when I think back on the day I first met Edward. Looking back, if he hadn’t been a ‘vegetarian’ I probably would be rotting in an unmarked grave right now.

“In fact; if it weren’t for the self-control of a vampire like me, I would have been dead before you ever knew me.”

Having experienced bloodlust as a vampire, I now had a lot more sympathy for Edward. I struggled still with regular humans, I couldn’t imagine the level of willpower required to turn away from a ‘singer’. Tanya seemed to blanche at my reply, and if she’d still been capable, I’m sure all the blood would have drained from her face.

Her voice, when she finally spoke, was quietly subdued. “Was your sire an animal drinker?”

Looking at her pointedly, I shook my head. “Not even slightly.”

Tatyana seemed to lapse into a pensive silence.

I grimaced thinking about Victoria and the events leading up to my own transformation. It made me glad that Tanya’s experience had been somewhat less traumatic, and that she’d had someone around to help her afterwards.

“Will you tell me what happened?” she finally asked, gazing into my eyes with an earnest intensity. I hesitated a moment, unsure if I should speak. Sensing my reluctance, Tanya reached out and gently caressed the back of my hand with her fingers.

“You don’t have to tell me, but I would like to know you.”

I felt venom well in my eyes before I blinked it away.

“It’s not a happy story.” I whispered, closing my hand around hers.

“Neither is mine.” She remarked, smiling faintly. I paused to collect my thoughts.

“When I was human,” I started slowly, “I fell in love with a vampire. He was dark, brooding, and handsome. He loved music and books, and completely swept me off my feet. I thought we were in love.”

An expression of realization and resigned heartbreak was slowly seeping into Tatyana’s features, but she continued to hold my hand. In fact, her fingers seemed to tighten ever so slightly.

“But then one day, after we had faced a great foe together, he abandoned me.” Tanya’s eyes widened, and her mouth opened incredulously. “I was devastated. It took me nearly a year to recover from the heartbreak, but eventually I began putting my life back together.” I halted briefly at the piercing gaze I was getting from Tanya.

“Unfortunately, the enemy we had dealt with had a mate, and she came back for me. I had no one to protect me. She tortured me briefly, but my pain didn’t really start in earnest until I felt her venom course through my veins. My gift is the only thing that saved me from death when my heart stopped. I’ve been transporting back and forth ever since.”

Wearing a thoughtful expression, Tanya pushed off of the stone and began to backstroke through the water with supernatural ease. I suddenly remembered teaching a young Tanya how to swim for the first time, and couldn’t help my brief huff of laughter. Sitting up and sitting cross-legged on the stone, I turned to watch her swim.

“You’ve gotten good at that.” I comment, nodding at her as she glided across the pond.

With a smirk and a sly glance, Tanya began making her way back through the current. “Many things about me have changed since I was a youngling. My skill as a swimmer, least among them.”

Swimming up to my boulder, Tanya pulled herself halfway out of the water; arms locked as she leaned into my space. The water clung to her skin like refracted diamonds, Tanyas red-gold hair clung to her neck and shoulders like seaweed, every part of her was beautiful and otherworldly. She could have easily been mistaken for a mermaid.

My breath caught as her face came closer, her nose skimming past my cheek. As Tanya pulled away, she did nothing to hide the expression of deep longing etched across her face. I felt my heart twist with pain just seeing it.

Shyly, I reached out to touch Tatyana’s cheek. We locked eyes. Tanya seemed to freeze as I slowly closed the gap and lightly kissed her lips.

There was a sharp intake of breath, a moment of absolute stillness; before Tanya surged toward me. Flinging her whole body forward in her eagerness to reciprocate. Her lips were just the same, full and smooth and perfect.

As Tanya curved into me, pulling herself more fully out of the water, her entire weight came to bear on the rock beneath her.

I heard a sharp crack, and felt the stone beneath Tanya’s hands crumble under the pressure, dumping her back into the pool. As she fell, her chin caught on the ledge, taking another chunk off and nearly toppling me off my precarious perch.

For one heart stopping second, I forgot that Tanya was a vampire, and had a horrifying moment of certainty that she had just inadvertently killed herself.

I leaned forward to peer into the water, and spied Tatyana lying at the bottom of the pond. She had an arm thrown over her face, apparently mortified from what had just happened.

Laughter erupted from my lips as the hilarity of the situation finally hit me, not a polite or soft chuckle, but the full-bodied kind I hadn’t had since before - since before the Cullen’s left.

Tanya surfaced as I sat clutching my sides, pouting slightly at my mirth, but I could only shake my head as I continued to chuckle.

Sighing loudly, Tanya rolled her eyes, but couldn’t hide the curve of affection in her mouth.

When I finally calmed down enough, Tanya drifted close once more, before crooking her finger at me. Her head tilted up, as if requesting another kiss, her eyes dark and ardent.

Breathing out with a smile, I dipped toward her, only for her hand to seize the front of my shirt. Before I had a moment to register her movement, she yanked me forward, over her head and face first into the pool behind her.

Thrashing to the surface, I glared with false ire at Tanya; who merely smirked.

Growling slightly, I swam back to the edge and clambered gracelessly out. Shaking the water from my clothes, I began wringing the water from my hair when I glanced back over at Tanya.

Making deliberate eye contact, a slow mischievous smile spread across her features before she lifted her hand out of the water - and crooked her finger at me.

Through narrowed eyes, I did the only thing any reasonable person could.

I stuck my tongue out at her.

Tanyas renewed laughter was music to my ears. My attention was so completely captivated, that I completely missed the ghostly whisper of footsteps behind me.