Chapter 13: Newborn
The pain was nonsensical. For the first moment of consciousness, my brain examined the sensation and rejected it as obviously preposterous: it was not the sort of thing that happened. There could not be that much agony all in one instant. My nerves were obviously sending defective reports which could be safely ignored.
But the fire was more persistent than that, and apart from the first split second, I was very aware of what was happening.
It was everywhere - there was no refuge, no cool place to focus my attention and escape. My eyes were cooking in their own fluids, my blood was boiling in my veins, my skin was baking and browning and turning to ash, my bones were dissolving in acid, my lungs were turning every shallow breath I compulsively swallowed into superheated plasma, my organs were twisting and roiling in a bath of magma.
I tried to jerk my body away. It was purely a reflex action - there was no "away" - but I was in no condition to fight the impulse. Dimly, I recognized that I hadn't moved. My muscles worked. Even in their screaming, melting contribution to my anguish, they would tense and release when commanded. I could twitch my fingers, but not flail myself across the room in a vain attempt to escape the burn.
He was holding me, as he'd promised - keeping me still. He'd been right after all - the coolness might as well have not been there. There were no bands of reduced scorching where his arms wrapped around my body. But I knew he was with me.
The pain didn't diminish at all. It would have more than consumed the brainpower I'd had available - before. But the change was well underway, and there was more room in my head...
There was just a little corner of space left, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I could use to think.
"Time," I demanded, biting out one syllable before clamping my jaw shut again, and hoping he knew what it meant.
"You slept through the first thirty hours and fifteen minutes," he whispered in my ear at once. I focused every bit of attention I could on his voice. I wasn't sure if I was hallucinating or not when I thought I could hear more nuance to it - were my ears already improved? They were part of the conflagration with everything else. Ear-shaped furnaces on either side of my head. They could pick up sound anyway - and his voice was tense, miserable, but committed. He hated that I was in pain. That I was awake to hear what he said. But he would stay. "It's a quarter after four in the morning. Thursday. It should all be over at ten p.m. tomorrow if you're on time - you might be faster with all the venom in your system." He spoke through gritted teeth.
Tomorrow. Over tomorrow.
But not yet.
It took almost a full hour after my awakening before I truly wanted to die.
This desire was almost as alien as the pain had been. (Now the pain was familiar, which meant only that I could individually dread each of the thousands of minutes that remained of my torment.) I had never previously wanted death, my flippant remarks to Edward about what he'd do if I begged to die notwithstanding.
But nothing was worth this. I couldn't do anything in a millenium that would be worth another hour, even if it would then end. I couldn't do anything with the rest of eternity that would be worth the dozens that actually remained.
At five o'clock in the morning on Thursday, I hoped with every fiber of my wracked and broiling being that he had lied when he'd said he wouldn't kill me, even if I begged.
Choking on the words, hating the air that I formed into pleas, I asked to be killed.
"No," said Edward, sounding like he was in as much pain as I. Impossible. "Bella, no. It will be over soon. Tomorrow."
I hissed. Somewhere along the line I'd acquired vampire sounds, or at least that one. "Please," I screamed.
"No." I thought I heard him moving; maybe he was hugging me tighter. I couldn't tell. Everything was fire and agony; nothing as trivial as Edward holding me was worth sending a message through my fried and shattered nerves. I didn't want him to hug me unless he was doing it to crush me to bits, to end it, to make it stop...
I emitted a wordless wail.
Time passed. I begged for death, intermittently, but Edward always refused. Sometimes his denials were weaker or tireder than others, less resolved, and then I thrashed and cried and sobbed. Maybe if I hurt him enough with my pain he'd want me to stop, want to let me have the only thing I could remember ever wanting.
There was no such mercy. He didn't wrench my head free of my shoulders, didn't plunge his hand past my ribs to remove my inflamed, still-beating heart. He wouldn't kill me.
After a few fruitless tries to convince Edward to salve my pain, I started calling for others. Alice, Carlisle, Esme, Jasper, Emmett, Rosalie. I could hear footsteps when they came. I heard each of them say no. Alice added a reassuring description of myself in the future, whole and strong and a vampire. "You're going to be beautiful," she promised before she left. Edward sighed in relief, when she said it. Some pretty vision. Not pretty enough to be worth this.
But when I called Rosalie, she hesitated for just a moment after I asked.
Edward roared. Had he been that terrifying when he'd snarled at James? It might simply have been my hearing, more powerful with each passing minute of conflagration, picking up some layer to the sound I'd missed before. But I knew what it meant. She'd thought about it. She'd considered killing me. Emmett's blessed angel, truly, perhaps to deliver me -
"Rose!" I screeched, seized with hope, convulsing in Edward's grip. "Rose Rose Rose Rose Rose Rose Rose -"
"NO!" howled Edward. "Rosalie, get out of this room. I'll tear you to pieces if I hear that thought ever again, I'll do it - go."
"Roooooooooose," I moaned. But her swift steps were receding. I thought I might have heard her leap out of a window.
"Bella," said Edward. He was speaking very fast - I could keep up now, though it took most of my spare mental capacity. "Bella, please don't ask any more. I'm begging you. I can't stand it. I'll do anything you want but let you die. I can't do it. Anything else."
"Can," I fought to utter several different syllables in a row, bereft of the chance Rosalie had almost offered, "can, you, break, my, spine."
"It... will heal. But I'll - feel - less - till - then," I gasped, and then helplessly I screamed again. "Maybe," I panted.
There was a still silence for a quarter of a second. (Durations of that length were becoming acutely important to me, and agonizingly distinct.)
Then there was a tiny sharp pinch at the base of my neck, and everything from my shoulders down went limp and blissfully numb.
I breathed, still, and I could hear my own heartbeat, but there was no sensory information from anything below the break. Edward's medical knowledge to the rescue - he'd known just what to sever. My neck and head burned still, unimproved, but the loss of torso and limbs was such a dramatic relief that I felt as though I'd been plunged into a tub of ice water.
"Oh," I sighed.
"It won't last the rest of the transformation," Edward warned. "And I can't do it again. Once it heals, it has to stay that way, or you might not come through properly."
"How long?" I asked softly.
"I don't know. Maybe a few hours."
A few hours. A few hours in which only my throat and face and scalp and skull would be razed by the venom. But it was something.
I wished I could sleep. But I would never sleep again.
I was nearly lucid until my spine healed. I was able to open my roasting eyes and look at Edward's face, drawn and haggard with concern but still beautiful. I could emit complete sentences with only a few extra pauses for difficult, unrelieving breaths.
"I'm sorry," I huffed, "for asking."
He bent to kiss my blazing forehead. "I forgive you." He didn't repeat the plea that I not do it again, after the lower part of my body was back. Maybe he knew I wouldn't be able to resist.
"I love you," I said.
"I love you," he told me, looking intensely sorrowful. No "too". He'd never appended the word. Once I'd asked him why - I tried to conjure up the answer - it was too difficult. No memories were still clear through the haze of pain. I doubted I could remember my parents' names. I'd written everything down...
Two hours, thirty-four minutes, and sixteen seconds after the break, my spine welded itself back together and I was plunged back into the unrelieved full-body agony.
Once again, I screamed.
I could feel my mind becoming more capacious. It was like a fractal pattern, slowly sprouting new nodes. I came to have an ever more nuanced appreciation for each individual lash of fire that flayed my body, and every moment of the experience was indelibly recorded in my crystallizing perfect record of my vampire life. But the little space in the back of my head, which wasn't focused on the pain, also grew.
Edward talked to me. I clung to his voice like a lifeline. I could still barely feel his arms around me, or the occasional kisses he touched to my skin, and I kept my eyes clenched firmly shut, but I could hear him, better with each elapsing hour. He gave me tips on controlling my thirst once it came. He read off Alice's weather forecast for the next month. He recited books. He promised me, over and over, that I had been right, that I would love being a vampire, that Alice saw it, that her vision was solid as rock, that everything would be fine and that he loved me and that it would be over soon.
I tried to believe him. Tried to believe that there was some way that, on the other side of the pain, there was something worth it all. Tried to believe that, after I came out of the kiln, I'd have been fired and glazed to such a sheen...
At eight in the evening on Friday, I felt my toes and fingertips cool ever so faintly. The fire receded languidly, taking its time. But as it pulled back from my extremities, it collected in my heart and my neck. The centers of my pain folded in on themselves until they were worse than ever, and even my newly cool extremities didn't quite compensate. My heartbeat fluttered faster. My throat ached. "It's almost over, Bella," Edward whispered. "Almost over."
I hadn't even finished changing, and I was already thirsty. Before I might have been boiling - now I was clearly devoid of liquid. My parched throat demanded relief. I knew what Edward had meant when he'd speculated that some vampire must have tried drinking water. Anyone who came out of the transformation alone, confused, far from sweet-smelling humans, would find it the logical thing to try.
The flames continued to pull inward, up my limbs, millimeter by millimeter. My throat didn't get any worse or better after the initial dry burst, but my heart did, as more and more of the agony drew towards it. Every beat came sooner after the previous one. It was vibrating like a hummingbird's wings.
The intake of pain sped up as my pulse did. It was as though the doomed organ was trying to escape, to beat its way out of my ribcage, to drill a hole through something and thrum away from me. My limbs were entirely comfortable, but I couldn't pay them any attention as the heat raced towards my frenetically pounding heart. It contracted and constricted, assaulting my last living organ as it thudded in panic.
By this time I was thrashing, unable to avoid the reflexive attempt to escape the pain in my chest. I keened an awful, shrill noise. Edward held me, and I couldn't get far. But then my heart skipped one beat, and spasmed one final time and released forever - and the pain was gone - and my pointless lunge in a random direction actually broke Edward's grip.
My limbs automatically arranged themselves beneath me as momentum carried me. I crouched low to the floor, fingertips splayed out to touch the wood. My balance was absolute and certain. My muscles were unprotesting: they would hold me in this pose for a hundred years if I cared to remain still. I noticed that I wasn't breathing, and pulled in a lungful of air. It smelled mostly of Edward, a scent I recognized instantly, although just as promptly I discarded all my earlier analogies to flowers - I knew no flower would smell like that to my newly precise nose. It didn't relieve a lack of oxygen, because I didn't need any such thing, but it conveyed information, and my breaths settled into a natural rhythm to tell me what was in the air around me.
"Bella?" murmured Edward, his voice tentative but filled with awe.
I opened my eyes.
I was facing the wall. But it took me a moment to realize that it was a wall I was looking at, because I was captivated instantly by the beauty of the sight. My eyes drank in every detail of the woodgrain with perfect clarity. I could see each splinter, detect every subtle change in the color of the wood, see each divot and patch of wear and uneven stain. It was intensely lovely, and I stared.
"Bella?" Edward said again.
As soon as I decided to get up and face him, I was on my feet, looking his way. My body responded to my commands with delicious obedience. It swiftly composed itself as I wished it composed. It didn't pitch me in a wrong direction, or let any part dawdle, or catch on invisible obstacles, or protest at any motion. I noticed as I whirled around that the turn didn't blur my vision at all: the boards in the wall spun past without losing any definition, even when they passed into peripheral vision. My change of posture was so fast that I'd had only a tiny fraction of a second to notice this advantage, but I was more than quick enough to pick up on it anyway.
Edward was spectacular.
I had been staring at the wall, thinking it pretty; I'd spent months as a human, looking at Edward, finding him appealing. Insanity. I'd seen only his shadow. With these eyes, he was like some kind of deity, radiant and sculpted. Like nothing I'd ever seen before. I enjoyed a moment's skepticism that even Rosalie, even seen with this new and astonishing sight, would be the aesthetic equal of the vision that was Edward.
I took another deep breath, tasting the air. Still mostly Edward. There was an unsatisfyingly damp, but alluring, smell under that, which made my throat itch and burn - myself as a human, having left traces? I tried to ignore it, and succeeded at shoving the thirst and the distracting odor into a little-used back nook of my expansive mind. I smelled more pleasant wafts from the direction of the door, heard more breathing than just mine and his. I turned my head twenty degrees to bring the others into my field of vision without losing the stunning sight of Edward. All of the Cullens were there, clustered together, looking at me with anticipation.
All right, Rosalie was still the most beautiful person in the world, I grumbled inwardly - and then I noticed the light glinting off Alice's teeth, exposed in a self-satisfied grin. The light bounced into my eye in a spectrum of eight colors, the last dazzlingly novel.
"No one told me," I said in a voice like the bells Charlie liked to nickname me for, "that we can see in ultraviolet."
When I spoke, it sent the others into a flurry of conversation and excitement. I could quite easily track the threads of their discussion: Carlisle wanted me to tell him everything I could remember about the transformation, to know how much help the coma and the broken spine had been. Alice wanted to put me in nicer clothes and get me in front of a mirror.
Edward thought I ought to hunt immediately to relieve my thirst (I wished he hadn't said that; it brought what had been a minor discomfort to the forefront of my mind, turning it into a consuming need, and I had to spend a fair amount of effort wrestling it back to the niggling irritation it had been).
Jasper (I took a moment to be bowled over by his scars - so clear! They'd been unobtrusive, faintly raised crescents before - now they stood out, his most obvious feature, and told some instinct I'd sprouted that this was a dangerous fellow, to have survived so many fights, to have killed every enraged vampire who'd laid teeth on him) kept flicking his eyes in my direction nervously. Wondering when he'd have to intervene to calm me, perhaps. Emmett was laughing, sounding fraternally proud of me.
Rosalie had an apologetic look on her face - maybe she felt bad about having thought about killing me when I'd asked her. I would have to make sure she knew that I didn't hold it against her. I'd literally begged for it - and I normally did prefer that people act as I requested, so if her disposition to do so had gone a bit far, it wasn't the worst sort of vice. Esme was just gazing at me maternally. Part of her family now, for all time - I liked the idea of her filling that role, while Renée was necessarily distant.
While I didn't have trouble processing this information as it came in, it did fill up more of my mind than I wanted to have occupied with it. I wanted to look at the beautiful world, to smell the exquisite scents, to dance with my new docile body, to read every file on my computer, to hear what music sounded like with vampire ears, to learn Norwegian, and to take advantage of my being durable enough that Edward could touch me without that vigilant gentleness.
"Excuse me," I said, and then I smiled to myself, enjoying the timbre my voice had acquired. It was musical. Perhaps I could sing, now - I'd been hopeless at it before.
Seven pairs of eyes twitched over in my direction. "What is it, Bella?" Edward asked solicitously.
"I wasn't unbearably thirsty until you brought it up," I said. My irritation about that flared up, and Jasper leaned forward, but I shot him a look and - I was fairly sure without help - forced it down. My thirst was clearly not behaving normally, and so Edward couldn't have known what would set it off. It receded, although slowly. More room in my head meant more room for emotions to bloom and take over suddenly, it seemed. Once Jasper had stood back, I looked in Edward's direction again, smiling without meaning to as I watched his flawless face pull into a chagrined frown. "If you think it's a good idea to hunt soon, I'll do it anyway, but I think we have time to give Alice what she wants first," I went on. "I assume you have an outfit in mind?" I asked, turning to the smallest of the vampires.
Alice nodded rapidly, still wearing a broad, thrilled grin. "Come on," she urged, and she led me past everyone, out of the room and up the rickety stairs. Esme hadn't gotten to this part of the house yet - or perhaps she was waiting for parts. We reached the room that - to judge by the décor - Alice had chosen for herself. (As in the Forks house, Jasper was presumably a co-occupant, but his personality was not evident in the layout or objects.) Alice presented me with a sapphire blue silk dress; when she shook it out, I learned the lush smell of the fabric and the unique sound of its rustling.
"Alice, this is nothing like anything I'm liable to wear when I choose clothes for myself," I pointed out.
"Please, just this once?" Alice said coaxingly. "You only get to see yourself for the first time once. It should be in something pretty. It's just exactly your size - it won't fit anyone else. Too short for Rosalie and too long for me and too small for Esme. It's all yours. Please?"
I sighed and held out my hand for the dress, when I heard someone approaching up the stairs. I turned my head just enough to catch the sight in my peripheral vision: Jasper. He looked edgy, expecting something to happen.
"I'm about to change clothes, Jasper," I told him, a little annoyed - I clamped down on that emotion as soon as I noticed it, to prevent it from swelling and taking over the better part of my new and improved brain. "I'd rather you not be present, if that's okay." Sarcasm tinged the words. I really did not prefer that he follow me. I felt a snarl rising in my throat, but, with the help of the instinct that made Jasper's scars scream danger! don't challenge him!, I restrained it. That would only justify his nervousness.
He ground his teeth a little. "I would feel better if you had hunted," he muttered.
"I would feel better if people stopped bringing that up," I snapped, touching a hand to my throat. My skin was as cool as any vampire's now, I supposed, but I was the same temperature as myself - it felt normal to me. Only in temperature, though: it was incredibly smooth, and although I knew I'd have no trouble pressing my fingertips into my neck, I could tell that I was tough as rock to any non-vampire assault. "It makes it unpleasant. It's fine when I'm thinking about other things."
He frowned, still staring at me. I rolled my eyes, counted to ten lightning-fast in my head, and then shut the door on him. Alice giggled. "It's okay, Jazz," she called through the door. "Bella is just fine, I promise."
I changed into the dress. It was fitted quite tightly, although the zipper was long enough that I could get it on without ripping it. I found I was very sensitive to how much tension I put on the fabric: I could always stop short of damaging any fibers, even though it would be nothing to my strength to tear the dress to shreds. Or the house, or a fjord. Interestingly, the hardness of my skin hadn't sacrificed any tactile sensitivity. It was improved with all my other senses. I could feel each thread of silk individually gliding along my hand when I picked up a fold of the skirt and let it fall.
"The sensations are so amazing," I breathed to Alice, and then I looked at the lightbulb in her room, marveling at the color. I picked up the pleat of my skirt again, let it brush my knuckles. "The silk is wonderful. Ultraviolet is beautiful..."
"You're beautiful," gushed Alice. "Come on, come on, Esme got you a mirror, it's in the room you changed in. Go down and have a look!"
I opened the door and, with a pointed look at Jasper, glided down the stairs. I couldn't wait to do something really cool with all my grace and speed and power, but it was new enough that even descending to the first floor was interesting. I stepped lightly. I was only a little heavier as a vampire than I'd been as a human, but much more capable of distributing my weight according to the strength of each step. My ears and my bare toes picked up enough information to tell me which places were best to place my feet.
The house smelled strongly of wood, of some kind, but I didn't know enough about woods to identify the type. It might be several kinds, I decided with another breath. I reached the bottom of the stairs - I hadn't rushed; large steps or sudden movements would stress the silk dress. I re-entered the room I'd spent the last three days in, noting the differences in the air between rooms - the circulation was different, the smells were confined in different ways, the small sounds of the house and the breathing vampires echoed differently.
"Bella," Alice prodded, rousing me from my enjoyment of the acute sensitivity to my surroundings.
"Bah, fine," I said, and I located the mirror and went to stand before it.
Oh. I really was beautiful. Every bit as lovely as Esme, or Alice, although I doubted anyone would confuse me with either. In fact, I was almost unrecognizeable. My hair was the same: brown, a bit past my shoulders, and very messy from all the thrashing about I'd done. I combed my fingers through it carefully while I continued to inspect myself, enjoying the soft feel of the strands and the efficient dexterity I could bring to bear.
My eyes were bright crimson. The color wasn't intrinsically unpleasant, but it still didn't seem like a good color for eyes - it meant I was full of human blood, albeit only my own. "How long will my eye color stay this way?" I asked softly, addressing the question to the room while I attended to my hair. Alice danced up the stairs and returned with a hairbrush, which she put in my hand; I switched without pausing.
"A few months," soothed Edward. "Animal blood will change the color faster than human blood would. They'll go amber, then gold - then they'll be like ours."
The word "blood" made my throat flare up again, and I frowned a little. I continued to examine the features reflected in the mirror. I supposed I still looked a little like myself - although memories of looking at my human face were hard to retrieve, even though I had only a few minutes of vampire memories to push them aside. But I thought the top lip was still a little too full to match the lower lip, as before. That was something. I tilted my head, turned to look at my profile. Alice laughed pealingly.
I heard Edward sigh.
I was facing him as soon as I'd registered the sound, hairbrush frozen at the nape of my neck. "What?" I asked.
"I'd been hoping, just a little, that after your mind became more similar to my own, I'd be able to read it," he admitted. "Yet here I am, mystified as ever."
I chuckled. "I don't think that's how it works. My power is supposed to get better, not work less." I pursed my lips in thought. "I wonder what I can do now. There's so much I want to try. So much."
"Such as?" Edward prompted, and I knew what he was hoping for. He wanted me fed. He imagined that I was swallowing a hot poker with every passing moment. I laughed again, sounding like music to myself, and gave him half the answer he wanted.
"I want to go outside," I said. "Are there any humans nearby I might accidentally run into?"
Edward listened for a moment - I'd never have caught the pause if I hadn't thought as fast as I did - and then shook his head. "The place is deserted within my range. You may wish to stick close to the house, though."
"Let me try something," I said, and then I pranced upstairs, returned Alice's hairbrush to her vanity, picked up the clothes I'd discarded, pressed my shirt to my face, and inhaled gingerly.
The lingering scent of a human no longer human was probably the safest exposure test possible.
Thinking deliberately about the flavor of the air, inhaling it so directly - it was the least pleasant thing I'd encountered since my last heartbeat. My throat erupted in flames; a fluid that wasn't at all wet (venom, I presumed) coated my tongue but did nothing to soothe the thirst.
I would have tasted delicious. I tried to imagine what I must have smelled like to Edward, and failed.
I was tempted to leap off the landing to get directly to the first floor and plumbing, but wasn't sure how sturdy the house was; I went as quickly down the steps as I dared. Between vague recollections from humanity of the house's floorplan, and my superior sense of smell, I located the bathroom - it bore a faint hint of the fruits and flowers and chemicals that dominated the aroma of shampoo and soap. I filled my hands with water and drank it.
It was not quite absolutely tasteless, as Edward had said when he'd first sipped a little. I could detect minerals in it. But it was close enough: it tasted like water, without having any of the thirst-quenching properties it had had when I'd been human. It didn't cool the heat in my throat. It did rinse away the venom, though, which I liked: it felt more sensible to feel thirsty when my mouth wasn't full of fluid. One swallow of water got rid of the excess produced by my whiff of my shirt.
Edward had followed me up when I'd buried my nose in my sleeve, and then to the sink. "What exactly are you trying?" he asked, when I'd taken a second sip of water and turned off the tap.
"Controlling myself," I explained. "Better to do it now, when there's no one edible to attack, right? The water's interesting," I said, waving at the faucet. "Everything is interesting." I grinned at him, then launched myself towards him to fling my arms around him in a hug. He smelled marvelous. Felt the same temperature as me - no longer icy.
"Um," he said, "Bella, ow."
I was momentarily confused, and then I put my hands behind my back. "Sorry. Don't know my own strength," I laughed. I twirled around, my dress flaring out around my knees with a soft whisper. "Oh, I love everything, it's amazing. I love you," I added, and I hugged him again, more gently. My turn to be careful.
"I love you," he murmured, sounding amused.
"I'm sorry I was so obviously miserable while I was turning," I said solemnly, leaning my head on his shoulder again. "I'd say I didn't mean to hurt you, but, uh, at one point I was actually trying to provoke you into killing me. I'm sorry about that. I feel awesome now," I promised. I didn't need to rest my head - my neck would never tire, it could hold my head and a few large rocks without any trouble for all time - but it was good to be close to him. Warm (warm!) and safe and comfortable.
He stroked my hair once, then put his hands on my face, lifted my chin, and kissed me. No further cause for caution. I could open my mouth, he could pull me to him as tightly as he liked without doing me harm -
And we were standing in the middle of the hallway. Emmett snickered from the stairwell. "Get a room!" he called.
I let an annoyed puff of air out through my teeth. "Do we," I asked Edward pointedly, "have a room?"
Edward looked uncomfortable. Probably he wanted me to hunt before anything else. "Esme converted an outbuilding into a cottage for us," he said slowly. "I think you'll like it. It'll be more private than a room here."
"Great! Let's go see it. I still want to go outside. Maybe eat a moose," I added, to placate Edward.
Edward led me by the hand out the door. I gasped at the landscape when I saw it. I could pick out each leaf - the veins on each leaf - of every tree within visual range, which was quite a lot. The colors were so bright, so intense. The wind carried smells towards me - plants, soil, a touch of the ocean. I didn't catch anything by scent, sound, or sight that I could identify as an animal. I remembered the dog that had hated James, vaguely - vampires had lived in this house for three days. All the wildlife was probably long gone from the immediate vicinity.
But the plants couldn't move a bit. I dashed up to the nearest tree trunk and stroked the bark, giggling at the weak roughness of it. It didn't pose any threat to my skin. It felt a bit like it would have been good to scratch an itch with, if I'd had any itches. I looked down at my dress in annoyance. It wasn't a tree-climbing outfit. But there would be time to race all over the three dimensions of the landscape later.
I twirled around to look at Edward again, grinning widely. "Okay, which way?" I asked eagerly.
He pointed, still with that vague discomfort, and then suddenly wore a playful smile. "Catch me, if you can." He took off.
Even to my recalibrated estimations, he was fast. But I had newborn strength working for me. If I just pushed off from the ground as hard as I could, perhaps I could make up for the fact that I likely wasn't as quick as Edward. I dug my shoeless left foot into the ground and kicked myself into the air.
My dress split up the sides all the way to mid-thigh: too snug to really run in. "Ugh," I said, landing some thirty feet away and stopping there rather than chasing him. He wouldn't have gotten far enough away to miss the sound of the tear or my annoyance. And indeed, he reappeared next to me a second later.
"I need to change if I'm going to do anything interesting," I muttered. "But all my clothes would still smell like me and I don't want to be distracted while everything's still new. Do you think I could borrow something of Esme's?" Her clothes would be only a little loose on me - perfect for active pursuits.
"I'm sure she won't mind," Edward said. "I'll wait."
I went back in, found Esme by the distinctive sound of her footsteps on the top floor, and picked my way up the stairs without doing futher damage to the dress. I asked her for jeans and a t-shirt, which she provided; I ducked into a bathroom to swap outfits.
Esme's new study, where I'd found her, had a large window that could unlatch. I eyed it speculatively for a moment, then opened it up and dove out. With no difficulty, I righted myself in midair, landed on the balls of my feet, and threw my head back and laughed. I felt omnipotent. To make up for my earlier constraint, I promptly shimmied up a tree. From this vantage point, I spotted Edward on the other side of the house. He was watching me, one of those mixed-up expressions on his face. I flipped myself off the treetop, spinning around three times in midair and landing on one hand. Everything remained clear, not a touch of blur, as I hurtled towards the ground. I understood at last how vampires never hit trees or got branches in their faces as they ran through closely spaced trees. I pushed off the ground with my hand and landed on my feet again.
Looking at a landscape where everything is accessible was a different experience from simply taking it in visually. If I liked the look of something, I could go to it - no matter what was in my way. If I wanted to tunnel through the dirt and down through the bedrock, I could do it. If I wanted to leap into the sea and swim across the Atlantic Ocean, I could do it. If I wanted to travel by brachiating through trees without ever touching the ground, I could do it. I laughed again, exhilarated. Then a bar of sunlight struck my arm, and I looked at the opalescent play of color, enthralled. Ultraviolet glints were among the complement of hues. I decided that ultraviolet was my new favorite color.
The ground around the house wasn't well-kept, yet, and it was full of rocks and sticks and thorny weeds. They were meaningless unless I chose to think about them. They couldn't hurt my feet. I jogged easily around the house to meet Edward, and, wanting to share my utter joy, hugged him again.
"That way, right?" I asked, after I thought I'd had enough hug to last a minute or two. I pointed the same way he had, and then with a wink I threw myself into the trees.
Edward was much faster than me. I could cover as much ground with one stride as he could with one, as long as I pushed horizontally instead of wasting momentum on airtime, but he could pump his legs blindingly fast and take more than three times as many steps as I could. He caught up with me, overtook me as though to simply prove he could, and then let me catch up to him so we could run together. I laughed again. I couldn't help it. I was going faster than I'd ever gone outside of an airplane or a car: Edward couldn't go top speed while carrying me and wouldn't have done it while I was human anyway. The scenery was full of rich color, it smelled marvelous, and I could see it all with miraculous clarity even as I raced past it as fast as I could. The wind pulled at my hair and whistled past my ears.
In no time at all we'd come to a little wooden cottage nestled in the trees, looking for all the world like it had been appropriated from an illustrated fairy tale. My hands flew to my mouth as I gasped in delight. It was the most adorable building I'd ever seen. Esme clearly had picked up on my taste.
"You like it," said Edward, sounding pleased.
"I love it," I exclaimed, flying forward to go inside.
"Bella," called Edward.
I stopped short of the door and turned. "What? I want to look at our house!" I almost squealed.
"Are you sure that's all you want to do?" he asked me in a patient voice, and my throat blazed again. I gritted my teeth.
"It's not that bad when I'm not thinking about it," I said plaintively. "I was all excited about the house and now I'm thirsty again." I put my hands in my pockets and mentally poked at the sensation of thirst, trying to make it fade into the background again.
"I'm sorry," he said regretfully. "But I really think you should eat something, soon. I smell a wolf," he coaxed, invitingly. "Carnivores taste better than herbivores."
I closed my eyes and inhaled, trying to find the scent he'd mentioned. There were a thousand to sift through, but eventually I caught something from the north that I thought might be a wolf. It smelled wet, and sort of unappealingly hearty. It wasn't as delectable a bouquet as my old clothes had. Not remotely. If humans smelled like succulent, perfectly ripe fruit, the wolf was like unseasoned and undercooked barley that had gone slightly off - but still food. What would herbivores smell like, to be less pleasant than that? Something with mold on it? I sighed heavily, perked up my ears to aid my location of the animal, and took off into the trees.
Hunting the wolf was messy. I chased it a few miles up, loping after it slower than I had to be, too full of nerves to spring. Eventually I did attack, and immediately I regretted borrowing clothes: they'd never be fit to wear again. For all that the beast's claws and teeth did nothing but make an unpleasant noise against my marble surface, they were still quite capable of shredding ordinary denim and cotton. I was veering close to indecent by the time I'd gotten enough blood out of the wolf - some down my throat, some onto Esme's outfit - that it stopped struggling.
The wolf's blood was unappetizing. I thought back to the square of chocolate I'd had before turning: I knew I'd liked chocolate, but even the memory of it held no appeal anymore. Even tangy, unpleasantly musky wolf blood was better than anything humans made a habit of eating, now. And it did soothe the thirst, even when I was thinking about it. It didn't completely eliminate it - it would never go away entirely - but it was easier to push it into the unobtrusive corner of my mind, and less raw and insistent when it crept out and bothered me.
"Happy?" I asked Edward, raising one eyebrow and turning to my supervising boyfriend. "Delicious wolf, om nom nom - can I go look at our house?"
Edward's eyes lingered a little on the tears in the clothes. I smirked and posed for him; he blinked rapidly and looked me in the eye. Just a little disappointing. I was all sturdy and indestructible now; there was no particular reason he had to fight the temptation presented by my newfound gorgeousness.
"Are you sure you don't want something else? A moose? There are moose," he prodded.
"Why do you want me to eat so much so soon?" I asked. "Yeah, I'm thirsty, but I'm going to stay that way for all eternity and might as well get used to it, right? The entrée took the edge off. I can check out the salad bar and the dessert cart tomorrow. Besides," I added suggestively, "we have a room to which I believe we were told to get."
Edward pursed his lips together. There was a silence; I waited expectantly for his answer. "You're not acting at all like a newborn," he murmured.
"We knew I'd be extra-special," I pointed out. "Alice is pretty good at noticing that kind of thing. I'd be filling up more enthusiastically if there were anyone around I might hurt, but you said there wasn't. I mean, let me know if someone wanders by, but it's still my first hour of being a vampire! There's so much to do!" I waved my hands at the forest around us. "Everything is beautiful! I can do anything I want and not fall on my face! I can hear for miles around!"
"It's not just that you aren't as thirsty as you should be, or rather that you don't want to eat as much as you should," Edward said, choosing his words carefully. How often had he picked through his vocabulary like this without my having noticed, the hesitations too brief to register to human ears? "It's that you're too... rational. Even things other than thirst usually can overwhelm newborns. Mood swings are - almost universal."
"Oh, I have been kind of moody," I said.
He stared at me incredulously. "No, you really haven't. You should have heard what Jasper was thinking. He has more experience with newborns than any of us - he knows how you're supposed to work. But you've been reining in errant emotions with the self-possession of a vampire decades old, not minutes."
"I mean compared to how I was when I was human," I clarified. "I don't have any newborns handy to measure myself against. It's like there's a lot more room for emotions to expand, and if I let them get too big, they're hard to put back where they belong - I mostly managed at first because I really don't want Jasper to mess with my head. But if I just don't let them get bigger than they could have when I was human, then they're much easier to deal with, because I have more resources to use to handle them. Also, there's so much to distract me," I exulted, making another expansive gesture. "If I fill up all the space in my head with happiness and beauty that's hardly dangerous, is it?"
Edward listened to this speech with some amount of astonishment. "I can read minds, and it took me years to get that kind of clarity about how the vampire psyche works," he murmured.
"I can read my mind, even if you can't," I said, self-satisfied. "I know what I want. Right now, moose is not at the top of the list. I promise you'll be the second person to know if it makes it up there."
"What is at the top of your list?" he asked, spreading his hands in a defeated sort of gesture.
"You," I sang, and a flash of discomfort crossed his face again. I was confused. I had just drained a wolf. Evidently my earlier conjecture had been wrong or incomplete. "What's wrong?" I asked. "I'm remodeled and reinforced for our mutual convenience. I love you. You love me. We have," I added, "a house. And I saw you peeking," I teased, waving at the rips in Esme's poor destroyed shirt. I probably couldn't have walked out in public without getting arrested, sunshine notwithstanding.
Edward mumbled something. I actually couldn't make out the words - apparently vampires could mangle language so thoroughly that even other vampires couldn't decipher it.
I propelled myself to his side in a flying leap and wrapped my arms around his neck, pressing in close. "I didn't catch that," I purred, finding that I could actually purr.
"We aren't married," he muttered, just barely clear enough for me to comprehend.