A Life Lived in Dreams
While Edward Masen is consumed by his own dreams, Bella Swan is haunted by those of others. Only together can they find a way out of their waking nightmare. AH, rated for dark themes & language.
Originally written for TR Dancer in support stacie auction
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I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.
I want to reconcile the violence in your heart
I want to recognize your beauty is not just a mask
I want to exorcise the demons from your past
A Life in Dreams
When Bella Swan was twelve years old, she stopped going to slumber parties. It was a Saturday afternoon and she had just returned from a night spent at Anna Baker's, a girl in her class who'd thrown a karaoke-centric, sugar-infused party to celebrate her 13th birthday. No less than fifteen girls had been invited, and they'd all been instructed to wear something 'pink and sparkly'. Bella, not owning such an item, had unwillingly borrowed a bracelet from her mother, which she'd promptly discarded minutes after stepping over Anna's threshold.
Bella sauntered into the light-filled kitchen of her house in Arizona, where her mother was busy cleaning.
"Hello, sweetheart," Renee said, her hands decked in sunny polka dot rubber gloves as she sprayed sanitizer all over the surfaces. "Have you only just got back?"
"I went to the library," Bella said, opening the fridge and helping herself to a bottle of coke. She uncapped it and relished the soft hissing sound it made, watching as the bubbles surged up, threatening to overflow. At the critical moment she took a sip, preventing it from spilling onto the newly sanitized faux marble surface. Then, drink in hand, Bella settled down on a stool in prime position to watch her mother.
"How was the party?" Renee asked absentmindedly. She wasn't really listening for an answer; she was focused on removing a rather tough looking stain from the draining board.
"It was okay," Bella replied, sipping her soda. "I don't really like Anna that much. She made us watch while she opened all her presents, and then cried when she didn't get the lipgloss she wanted."
"Sounds lovely," Renee murmured, clearly not listening to a word. Her hand was moving back and forth, back and forth over the stainless steel, the cloth making an annoying squeaking sound. Bella watched her, and decided that this was the moment to drop her bombshell.
"Which is why I don't think I'm going to go to any more slumber parties," she said, waiting to see if her mother had heard. Judging by the way she turned round and caught Bella's gaze, she had- albeit only the last part. Bella internally wondered at the power of Renee's ability to hear selectively.
"What did you say, darling?" she asked, pulling off her gloves and dumping them in the sink with a flourish-I've had enough of cleaning today- "Something about parties?"
Bella looked carefully at her mother's face, wondering how this would be received. "I said I don't want to go to them any more." As predicted, her mother's expression became stricken.
"You don't want to?" she asked, confused. "Why on earth not?"
Bella opened her mouth, trying to come up with an explanation… and then closed it again, when she realised that she didn't really have one. Not one she could tell Renee, anyway, and the truth definitely did not come under that category. However, even with that aside, Bella doubted that she would be able to find an excuse that her mother would deem acceptable, because Renee Dwyer was, and always had been, a consummate socialite. As a child, she was continually out for play-dates; as a teenager, kids queued up to sit with her at lunchtime and boys itched with the chance to ask her to dances; at college she been elected student president in just a year. Renee loved people; she lived and breathed for communication. Gossip was her currency and parties her solace. It was perfect that her new husband, Phil, was a semi-successful baseball player, because his career brought her even more ways to network. Therefore Bella knew that no matter what excuse she came up with, no matter what story she spun, it would never satisfy her mother.
It's not like they'd ever seen eye to eye anyway. How ever much Renee loved her daughter – and she did love her - she could never quite understand her. Bella was so much more like her father, Renee decided. She preferred books to people; she could go days without watching television; she'd never expressed any interest in clothes, or fashion, or make up. She loved Vanity Fair… but the novel, not it's flashier, trashier counterpart. So, really, Renee wasn't as surprised as she was dismayed by Bella's announcement that she was foregoing the number one form of pre-teen socialisation. If there was one thing Renee could count on her daughter to do, it was behave in the exact opposite to how she had done as a child.
"I don't know, Mom," Bella said, her eyes downcast, fiddling with the peeling rubber of her sneakers. Renee hated it when she wore those things. She'd lost track of how many times she ordered her to bin them. "They're just not fun anymore." She paused, looking up and staring straight into Renee's eyes. "I'm sorry, I really am."
And they both knew that she was talking about much more than a stupid slumber party.
Much later, Bella sat on her bed, staring blankly into the darkness. It was past midnight, she knew, but beyond that she had no idea of the exact time. The street outside was quiet, except for the occasional murmur of a passing car at the crossroads ten blocks down. Renee and Phil were asleep. But, as usual, Bella didn't even try to close her eyes. There was no point. She was waiting for the moment she knew had to come.
She suddenly felt a pulling sensation at the back of her eyes, as though they were being sucked backwards into her skull. Her surroundings completely disappeared, and a deafening roaring sound filled her ears, her pulse going into hyper-drive. Then, just as the sound and heat of the blood pounding through her heart were about to become unbearable, everything stopped. A completely pure silence hit Bella with the force of a car crashing into a wall. And then the images began to invade her mind.
Oh – there – yes, there –yes, yes...
Hands interlocking in the darkness, lips on heated skin, and then she's falling, falling into oblivion...
And then it was gone, and Bella was back where she had begun - alone in the darkness of her room. Only now she was paralysed by the familiar, yet still sickening, feelings of nausea and horror that represented the aftershock. There were tears, too, on her cheeks. That was common, but it was worse some nights. Nights like this.
Even if Bella lived to be a hundred, she would never get used to seeing her mother have sex with her stepfather in her dreams.
Bella couldn't pinpoint when it had started. She knew she hadn't always been able to see into people's dreams – because that was, Bella decided, the only explanation of what was happening to her. There was noway she was coming up with this stuff on her own - she was onlytwelve - but she couldn't remember exactly when it had all started. It wasn't like she went to bed one night and all of a sudden, BAM, she was watching a second grade porno, courtesy of Renee Dwyer. No, this power – this ability that Bella neither understood nor controlled – had developed slowly. As the years went by, her dreams had become stranger, sometimes containing people she'd never met or places she'd never been. Bella would usually see everything through the other person's eyes, but sometimes she was an outside observer. By the time she was eleven and a half – about eight months before Anna's sleep over – Bella had realised that her dreams were no longer 'hers'. They were stolen, spied-on fragments of other people's.
There was no constant to the dreams. Sometimes they lasted hours, sometimes only a couple of seconds. They could be sexual – and those were the ones that Bella grew to dread with a cold, sick terror – but more often than not they were just normal, boring dreams. Her mother's tended to be about parties or engagements with her friends, although when she was stressed they veered towards endless shopping lists and phones ringing continuously off the hook. Phil's were generally about him winning the Superbowl in some capacity, but he occasionally had nightmares which featured him being chased or back in a ninth grade chemistry lesson. Sometimes Bella wouldn't see their dreams at all, instead finding herself thrust into the sleeping minds of neighbours, or even people further afield. Once she had even been her seventh grade English teacher, Mrs Pickles. She lived on the other side of town.
There was no method to when she saw them, either. Despite them mainly coming at night – although they had been known to invade her mind randomly during the day – Bella had no way of knowing when the dreams would come to her. Sometimes she made it all the way through the night without having a single vision. Those nights were like gold dust to Bella; they were the only times she could sleep uninterrupted. Other nights, the dreams would assault her mind in a barrage of never-ending images, foreign thoughts and voices raining down on her like a sea of mental bullets.
Bella couldn't tell anyone about the dreams. Even at the age of twelve, she knew that her ability, whatever it was, was most definitely 'not normal'. People would think she was insane. Her mom would think she was insane. Bella didn't want to do anything to further damage their already strained relationship and, somehow, she knew that telling the truth would definitely come under that category. She could imagine the conversation.
Yeah, so you know how I said I don't like slumber parties? Well, the truth is that I can actually see into other peoples dreams and I'm finding it really traumatic, as a matter of fact, no I'm not crazy, and oh did I mention that I know that when you and Phil go to bed you do more than just sleep and it makes me want to throw up?
Yes, Bella decided that it was altogether safer to keep her secret just that – secret. It was easier to suffer alone every night in the dark and the silence than to let anybody else in. Because if there was one thing she didn't want to do, it was give the rest of the world proof of what she already suspected they knew to be true – that Bella Swan was a freak.
So, the night of the day after Anna's sleep over, Bella silently wiped away her tears with shaking hands. The cool night air that crept through her open window brushed against her cheeks, soothing their burning heat, easing the remnants of shame and disgust that lingered in her still pounding heart.
She took a deep, shuddering, breath, sank back against her covers and rolled onto her side. Then, with effort, she closed her eyes, waiting, in vain, for dreams of her own making to come.
Three rooms away, Phil Dwyer dreamt he hit a home run.
As Bella aged, she developed coping strategies. The 'no-slumber parties rule was to be the first of a long line of tactics adopted to try and minimise the impact of her power. She avoided cinemas, theatres, or anywhere else that involved being around large groups of people in the dark. She never drove after 6pm and took odd routes around school and other public buildings to make sure she wouldn't come into contact with the apparently ubiquitous sleeping security guard.
Despite her best efforts, however, Bella couldn't plan for every eventuality. She still had the visions on a regular basis – mostly when she was alone, at night, but occasionally it was worse. A couple of times she had been caught off guard by a classmate snoozing in the back of the room, and had had to fight to stop herself from being noticed as she blacked out and was overtaken by the familiar roaring noise that accompanied the dreams.
Bella usually managed this – barely – but there had been that one horrible time in tenth grade Spanish when she had regained consciousness to find herself lying on the floor of the classroom, being scrutinised by onlookers. Despite her protests that she had simply fainted from the heat of the stuffy classroom, Bella had still found herself rushed to the nurse and her mother had been called. Renee had driven over from work in the middle of the day to pick her up in a flurry of panic and, ever the over-dramatic, had diagnosed her with epilepsy on the spot. It wasn't until Bella had agreed, under duress, to visit the doctor and been given a clear bill of health that Renee finally calmed enough to drive them both home.
Apart from that one, horrible day, however, Bella's time at secondary school had passed generally uneventfully. By the time she was seventeen, she'd perfected the art of blending into the background. Bella didn't have friends. She never tried to talk to people and, though polite, she never encouraged anybody else's attempts to get to know her. In the eyes of her classmates, she was aloof, distant, cold.
Predictably, it broke Renee's heart. As Bella drifted through her teenage years and it became even more apparent that she would never show an interest in any of the things her mother held so dear – fashion, entertaining, socialising – the gap between them became even greater.
"Why don't you just go out?" Renee exclaimed, one Saturday night in December, at the end of Bella's first term of Senior year. Bella was eating cereal at the kitchen table, her head buried in a book.
"Excuse me?" She looked up in surprise at her mother's words; she hadn't noticed her presence.
Renee was standing in the doorway, her eyes hard and critical. "You heard me. It's a Saturday; school's just let out for Christmas. All the other kids your age are out having fun, but you're sitting here reading Jane Eyre," her face grimaced at the title, "for the fifth time in so many weeks. It's not healthy, Bella."
Bella didn't answer. Underneath her frustration and disappointment, Renee did look concerned. The emotion was there, buried deep under the perfect face of make-up and impeccable clothes. She was worried about her. Worried about how little her daughter was living.
"I'm fine, Mom," Bella said. It was the same sentence she always churned out whenever Renee started this argument.
"You are NOT fine!" she cried, her voice getting slightly higher, "You might think it's normal to live like this, without any real contact with people, but it's downright weird and –" Renee broke off her tirade. Bella had suddenly got up from her seat and was walking through the other door into the hallway, heading for the stairs. Her face was white and her hands were shaking, but Renee didn't notice. "You come right back here!" Renee shouted, but Bella kept going, her head down and face forced into an impassive expression. Her breathing had quickened and her hands were trembling. Renee's shouts followed her as she mounted the first step...
"You've got no consideration for how I feel -,"
second step, third
Bella could feel her eyes beginning to roll in their sockets
"- Or how your behaviour affects mine and Phil's lives -"
The roaring had started in her ears, but it wasn't loud enough to block out her mother's ranting below
"– how embarrassing it is when my friends tell me about how popular their children are -"
last step and on to the landing,
Bella turned right towards her bedroom. The darkness was descending and had to fumble her way, almost tripping on the rug
"– I didn't sign up for this when I applied for custody, I didn't think I'd be living with a robot -"
nearly there, nearly safe
Renee's shrieks were so loud now that they reverberated off of the walls of the hallway. Bella's throat was burning and in her mind she could see the blurry outline of pictures beginning to take shape
"– you make it so hard for anyone to love you, Bella. Do you think getting pregnant in college was how I planned my life? - "
two more steps, just two more steps
Bella dove blindly for the door, unable to prevent a gasp ripping from her throat as she felt her legs threaten to give way. She wrenched open the door and fell into her darkened room
"- Do you think I wanted it? Do you think I wanted this? -" Renee's voice broke and she began to sob.
On the floor above her, Bella's door slammed shut.
Across the road, while dozing in his chair, old Mr Bannerman began to dream of the day he had first learnt to ride a bike.
It was a nice dream.
But for Bella, it might as well have been a nightmare.
Needless to say, Bella wasn't happy.
She had alienated everybody at school; her own mother had admitted she was unwanted; the only time she was close to anybody was in their dreams.
She didn't naturally yearn to push people away – it was, like everything else in her life, a strategy. It was hard to form relationships with people when you knew their deepest, darkest desires. By the time she reached her teens, Bella had witnessed so many people's dreams that she was jaded. It didn't matter if the person was new – all people were fundamentally the same; their minds worked the same way, their mean thoughts and petty jealousies or spites were the same, their selfishness and egocentricity as uniform as if it was fresh from a mould. What was the point in talking to people? What was the point in getting to know the boy in maths, when she knew that the minute he fell asleep he would have the same lust-crazed, hormone fevered dreams as every other teenage boy in the world?
... Or at least that's what Bella told herself. Because pretending that all people were horrible made it easier to be alone.
Assuming they were identical would stop her from trying to reach out or make friends, and that was crucial, because if she got close to anyone, they would know her secret. And that would ruin everything.
At least, so Bella believed. So she told herself.
But then, she met him. And everything changed.