...not as bad, notasbad, not as bad.... The phrase had begun repeating in Edward's head six hours or so ago, and it had taken him twenty minutes to figure out where it was coming from.
1. Equally Talented
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The phrase had begun repeating in his head six hours or so ago, and it had taken him twenty minutes to figure out where it was coming from. There was no one new in the house, and it didn’t sound like any mental voice he’d ever heard before. It was the ‘never heard before’ part that helped him make the connection.
He sat beside the bed where Bella shook and screamed, her face tense with pain and her eyes forcibly shut. ...not as bad, notasbad, not as bad...
He had never expected to hear her thoughts. If anything, he’d thought her talent for privacy would somehow be magnified by the change. But plainly he was going to be able to hear everything. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
In six hours, that was the only thought that had gone through her head – over and over. He’d sat with Rosalie and Emmett both, as they’d gone through the change, and he found Bella’s reaction to be markedly different. Rosalie had been afraid, but she’d been coherent enough to pay attention to Carlisle’s explanation of what was happening to her. She hadn’t believed him, but she’d at least given it some thought. She’d considered what it would be like to be a vampire – immortal and unbreakable. And when she awoke to her new life, she’d accepted it all pretty quickly.
Emmett’s mind, throughout his transformation, had simply been filled with creative vulgarity. There had never been a moment of true fear, only pain. Edward had never admitted just how entertaining that had been. Of course, as the hours dragged on, the big man’s creativity had waned. But to this day, when Edward was particularly frustrated it was always one of Emmett’s curses that he muttered under his breath.
But Bella was different from them both. She was not afraid. No concern about the future registered in her thoughts. And she was clearly resisting the pain – as if just saying ‘not as bad’ in her mind would CAUSE it not to hurt as much. He couldn’t be sure, but it certainly didn’t seem to him that it was working. He squeezed her hand, and there was a pause in the mental onslaught as it registered in her mind that he was there. Edward. And for just an instant, her body seemed to still, and her throat fell silent. It didn’t last.
“I’m right here.”
Edward glanced at the clock, willing time to move more quickly. The transformation was only half-complete. ...not as bad, notasbad, not as bad... And while Bella seemed to be holding up well enough, he wasn’t sure he could stand to see her in so much pain for another day and a half.
“I’m alright,” Bella whispered in response, through gritted teeth, her mantra still repeating in her mind, rapid-fire as the strain of trying to talk increased her pain. “I’m going to be alright.” She squeezed his hand, and he noticed that she felt stronger than she had before. Already the power of her grip was increasing. Long hours from now, when she squeezed his hand, she would crush it, and then he would know it was almost over. He looked forward to it, remembering how it had taken his hand a few days to go back to normal after Emmett had nearly pulverized it to dust at the end of his transformation.
The hours passed, and Edward sat with a pained expression on his face, trying to think of anything but the pain Bella was suffering. He failed. It wasn’t until she opened her eyes and looked over at him that he came back to himself. “Shhhh,” she whispered.
Edward’s eyebrows came together. He hadn’t been making any noise. “Bella, love, I haven’t said anything.”
“Everyone’s so loud!” This she all but shrieked, unable to contain her screams long enough to say it normally. “Why? Why?!”
“CARLISLE?!” Edward called, and though his voice truly was loud, Bella didn’t flinch. A day remained in her transformation, and Edward was suddenly panicking. What if something went wrong now? What if she was dying? There could be no going back....
“I’m fine. This is normal,” Bella rasped just as Carlisle opened the door. Edward’s expression fell from panic to confusion again. He looked helplessly at Carlisle.
“She’s right, this is a perfectly normal side effect of the transformation – for a mind reader.”
Bella had already turned her attention away from them, and Edward made to let go of her hand, so that he could stand up to speak with Carlisle. NO! He decided against it, and just turned in his chair, instead, his thumb rubbing soothing circles over the back of her hand.
...not as bad, notasbad, not as bad...
Edward tried to block out Bella’s pain-induced thoughts so he could have a meaningful conversation with Carlisle, but could not. He talked over them instead. “You think she has the same talent I do?” he asked incredulously.
“It certainly seems possible. I’ve conjectured for a while about whether Aro would have been able to read you when you were human. It’s probable that keeping one’s mind closed and opening it to the minds of others all happens in the same area of the brain. I’ve often wondered if your abilities wouldn’t be similar.”
Edward nodded, but then suddenly went tense and turned his attention back to Bella. Her constant mental streaming had just cut off abruptly. He was out of the chair, leaning over her instantly. “Bella?!”
“Same area of the brain,” she whispered, and then his mind was flooded again. ...not as bad, notasbad, not as bad... He seated himself slowly, meeting Carlisle’s eyes and noting the raised eyebrow.
“She can control it. Turn it off –“ Edward whispered wonderingly. He wondered if he should be embarrassed that she’d learned to do something with his talent before she was even fully transformed that he hadn’t learned in almost a century, but he couldn’t manage the emotion. What he felt instead was awe, and an overwhelming desire to learn it for himself. What would it be like not to HAVE to hear everyone’s thoughts all the time? Would she be able to pick and choose? Hear his thoughts and no one else’s? His mind raced through the possibilities until Bella’s mental voice disappeared again.
“Too loud,” she explained in a tense whisper, when his attention was on her again.
The last day of her transformation passed in utter mental silence. Carlisle had left them alone again, but Edward knew that most of the family was hovering about on the third floor, waiting for some sign that it was finished. Just when he was expecting it would soon be over, Bella released his hand and balled both of her hands into fists, holding them out in front of her. Only then did it occur to him that she had probably been hearing his thoughts for as long as he’d been hearing hers. Only then did he truly realize how odd this situation was going to be.
Then Bella abruptly fell silent, and her arms collapsed to the bed at her sides. She took a deep, unnecessary breath, and opened her eyes. An instant later, she’d closed them again.
“That was strange. Seeing myself through your eyes like that,” she said quietly. Edward hadn’t realized that she ‘d opened her mind again. Now that her pain was gone, there was no constantly-repeated thought process to warn him.
“Look again,” he encouraged her. She sat up and opened her eyes. He took in the bright red of her irises and then concentrated on her whole face, enjoying the relief he felt now that her pain was over. And then she smiled and he caught his breath, which made her giggle. He was astounded that the pain already seemed a forgettable memory to her. It reminded him that he had a question for her. But as soon as he’d thought it, her mind closed to him, and her smile fell away.
“You don’t want to tell me what it meant? Not as bad,” he repeated. “Not as bad as what?” He kept his voice gentle, though of course, he’d spent a day and a half trying to figure it out, and he wanted very badly to know.
“It isn’t important. It got me through – that’s enough.”
“Will you teach me how to do that?” he asked suddenly, and she smiled again, her mind opening to let him know how she’d managed it. As soon as he was sure he understood, which only took a few short seconds, he tried again. “Not as bad?” he asked quickly.
Bella pursed her lips, but didn’t bother trying to close her mind this time. She didn’t guess she’d be fast enough to prevent her answer from slipping through anyway. Not as bad as when you left me. I was just reminding myself I’d been through worse. As she thought, her eyes turned toward the ground, so she missed when the mischievous glint dimmed in Edward’s eyes, and his face turned serious.
That will never happen again. Oh, Bella, I’m sorry for that every day. Edward had never been able to communicate with someone this way – thinking something and having another person instantly react. He couldn’t see why everyone was always annoyed with him for it. Bella looked up at him and smiled almost before he’d finished the thought. He didn’t even have to wait until he’d voiced it to put his arms around her. “Every day,” he echoed, turning his head to place a kiss into her hair.
“Well don’t be. I’ll forget it soon enough,” Bella replied, her tone only slightly sad at the thought. Edward pulled back to find her smiling at him, and he returned it, amazed that she could consider losing her memory to have any up-side at all. She truly was the most unique person he’d ever encountered. He knew, abruptly, that hearing her thoughts was going to be something he would treasure forever.
Bella pushed him backwards in what she obviously thought was a careful manner, but he could hear in her thoughts how surprised she was when he took that first involuntary step backwards. He grinned as she stood up. “They’re wondering what’s taking us so long,” he said, gesturing to the door before it occurred to him that she must already know what they were thinking. His uncharacteristic confusion made her giggle, and she reached for his hand and pulled him towards the door. But as he opened it, he heard the first hints of shyness in her mind. They will be so happy to see you.
...but annoyed that I’m in their heads, she finished. Edward nodded, still smiling, and opened the door.
Tanya and Rosalie were standing on either side of Emmett, neither of them smiling, but every other face was lit brightly, and Alice was bouncing, her mind going a mile a minute.
Edward kept up a stream of encouragement. They’re used to it. And they love you. It won’t bother them as much as you think.
“Hi,” Bella said shyly. She tried to smile at Rosalie, but it was clear that the taller girl thought she’d made the wrong choice and probably wasn’t going to forgive her for it any time soon.
Still, the smile caused several reactions that only Edward and Bella were aware of, and Bella dropped her head, a slight blush tinting her cheeks. It was nothing compared to the tomato-red she used to turn, but it, too, garnered a reaction.
Emmett laughed loudly, and his words echoed his thoughts so quickly that Bella could hardly tell she’d been listening to both. “Well, that hasn’t changed much, at least.”
Bella kept her head down, feeling more embarrassed by the second. They can’t help it if you’re the most beautiful thing that any of us have ever seen, Edward thought, his grin widening as she started and glanced up at him. He caught her chin with a gentle hand that didn’t feel at all cold to her anymore.
“Eh. They’re going to be so sweet it’ll make us all ill,” Rosalie complained sarcastically. Emmett frowned down at her, but Alice only laughed.
“Do you mean that?” Bella was whispering in response to Edward’s thoughts. She didn’t have to wait for a verbal answer before she was grinning.
“No, of course not, Rose,” Alice responded with a smirk. “We’ll all be annoyed to death by them finishing each others sentences long before we get ill from the sugar over-load.” Everyone laughed at this, and Bella joined in, shaking her head. Standing all together as they were, she looked at the Cullens and felt for the first time that this was exactly where she belonged. Her smile lit up the hallway. This was family.