Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

Darkest Before the Dawn

Summary:
The door opened behind me, with a cold gust of wind suddenly sweeping through the room, rustling the papers on the desk and carrying that scent! I froze. Not again!...I sensed nothing...The fragrance was maddening. I slowly turned my head, following the scent, and there she was. Standing, back pressed against the back wall, waiting. She was haunting me. A reimagining of Twilight from Edward's perspective, starting from the very beginning...The First Time - and continuing on beyond where Midnight Sun ends. NOMINATED: 2009 Bellie's category Canon that's Better than Canon NOMINATED: 2009 Indie's Top 10 Best Canon Disclaimer: All characters, settings, and a great majority of the dialogue are the property of Stephanie Meyer.


Notes:
I wrote the first five or so chapters of Darkest Before the Dawn before I knew about/read SM’s Midnight Sun. I have since read it, but have tried to stay true to “my” version of Edward, as well as staying true to SM’s original dialogue and plot line.


13. Chapter 13 - Resolve

Rating 5/5   Word Count 8542   Review this Chapter

Chapter 13—Resolve

There was a reason we stayed out of the sun. The unnaturalness of our skin was striking in the bright, bare sunlight. When the direct sun reflected off the smooth, hard surface, it created glittering rays of light—as if made of tiny diamonds, our skin literally sparkled. We cast a spectrum of colors, like a crystal with thousands of facets—a scintillating prism that created an eerie dappling of color around us. I could see each individual color in the spectrum, each wavelength its own shade—even some that I knew Bella could not. If it wasn’t so monstrous, so very unreal, it would almost be lovely.

She stared at me, shocked by the sight of it. My sleeveless shirt, unbuttoned several buttons down, exposed the skin on my chest and arms as well as my face. The effect was to look as if I was beaming out from underneath my clothes. She slowly continued walking toward me, speechless. I held still, waiting for her reaction. As she reached me, she paused about a foot away, staring at my chest and my arms and looking at me as if she expected me to disappear like a mirage. She reached out and gently touched my hand.

“Beautiful,” she said very softly, almost as if she hadn’t meant to say it out loud. A smile curled up on my lips and I realized that I had unconsciously stopped breathing. I took a deep breath, sucking in her scent now that she was standing very close to me and it hit me again—the scorching throat, the feeling of the monster rising within me. I could so easily reach out and pull her to me…I moved away from her a little and walked past her, looking back and inclining my head to let her know I wanted her to follow. We walked to the center of the meadow, my favorite spot in all its symmetry. I lay down, immersing myself in the gently blowing grasses just as I had before, when I had come here thinking of her and imagining the rightness of loving her. To have her here with me was filling me up with the most amazingly wondrous feeling, as if I was having some beautiful dream—the kind that felt more real than reality itself.

She curled down to the ground, knees tucked up under her chin, and stared at me without speaking. The gentle wind blew her hair in wispy waves around her face. Contentment filled me as I lay there. I closed my eyes, imagining that this perfect moment would last longer if I did. Her lullaby rang in the back of my mind, the perfect accompaniment to the meadow and the moment. I didn’t realize I was singing it until she finally spoke.

“What are you doing?” she asked, eyes alight with curiosity when I looked up into them, staring down at me.

“Singing,” I said, softly, not wanting to break the spell. The wind carried her scent to me in bursts, as the direction of it softly ebbed and flowed over me. She was close, but not too close. I closed my eyes—the fiend inside was quietly growling his impatience.

Suddenly she was touching me, a fiery line drawn across the back of my hand as she stroked it with one of her fingertips. My eyes snapped open and the fiend roared his approval. There was no thirst today. The burning in my throat was just an echo of that first day we met, but the fiend’s desire for her was just as strong. I watched her as she continued to run her finger back and forth across the back of my hand, etching her essence into me. I loved it, as if I was being branded by her—truly belonging to her now. Her lack of fear, her total trust, was beguiling me.

“I don’t scare you?” I asked playfully, but seriously wondering what she was thinking of this encounter with the monster in the meadow.

“No more than usual.”

I smiled broadly, utterly charmed. She inched closer, stretching her whole hand now to trace the contours of my forearm with her fingertips. Her fingers were trembling, giving a light vibration to that delicious touch, and making my body hum with that electric feeling that she generated in me. The fiend was picturing how much more mouthwatering it would feel with her entire body pressed against me in that final death grip that would bring an end to everything—I closed my eyes and pushed that picture away, replacing it with a vision of her face gazing down at me.

“Do you mind?” she asked.

“No,” I said, keeping my eyes closed, concentrating on the electric feeling and the pure human hunger for her that her gentle touch was firing inside me. “You can’t imagine how that feels,” I said, sighing.

She lightly trailed her hand over my arm, tracing the inside up to the crook of my elbow. With her other hand she pulled at my hand, trying to turn it over. I flipped my hand over so it was palm up. I must have startled her, moving far too quickly, because her fingers froze on my arm for a second.

“Sorry,” I murmured, hoping desperately that she would continue. I glanced up at her, checking to see that she wasn’t scared. She was staring down at my hand, and then looked up at me—I closed my eyes again. Somehow, it was easier to contain the beastly thoughts percolating deep inside me when I wasn’t looking at her. “It’s too easy to be myself with you.”

She lifted my hand, turning it around, inspecting it. I enjoyed the feeling of her looking at me, not with horror but with fascination. She pulled my hand closer to her face so that I could feel the heat pulsing from her cheeks as it rolled over the palm of my hand.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” I whispered, opening my eyes. I stared up at her, aching to know what she thought of all this—if she felt as completely entranced and light-headed as I did. She slowly tore her eyes away from her investigation of my hand and those deep warm eyes were staring intently at me. “It’s still so strange for me, not knowing,” I added.

“You know, the rest of us feel that way all the time,” she said.

“It’s a hard life,” I said, wondering if I would ever get used to not knowing her thoughts. I regretted more than ever not being human, not having that essential thing that would let me be easily with her. I would trade immortality and mind-reading in an instant to be human again, with her. “But you didn’t tell me.”

“I was wishing I could know what you were thinking…” she hesitated.

“And?”

“I was wishing that I could believe that you were real. And I was wishing that I wasn’t afraid.”

“I don’t want you to be afraid,” I said, very softly. I wanted to tell her she didn’t need to be afraid, but she did. The fiend reveled in her closeness, looking for his chance to seize control. She had more to fear from me today, as close as we were, than any time since the first day we met—but I still did not want her to be afraid. All that time that I spent pushing her away, trying to instill some sense of self-preservation in her, seemed like a fool’s errand—I never really wanted her to be afraid. I wanted her to trust me…to love me…and to deserve that love.

“Well, that’s not exactly the fear I meant, though that’s certainly something to think about.”

She feared something else? Quickly, not checking my speed, I sat up. Propping myself up on my right arm, I left my other hand still lying in her delicately warm grasp. In sitting up, I had closed the space between us, my face now only a few inches away from hers. I stared deeply into those liquid brown eyes, wanting to know the absolute truth from her.

“What are you afraid of, then?” I whispered, breathing softly on her face and at once inhaling that amazing scent from her. Her heat and fragrance were assailing my face, and penetrating my body as I breathed her in. The fiend was rising in response and I fought to hold my breath, but instead was greedily breathing in more and more. Then she moved—straight towards me, inhaling my predatory scent lure and nearly touching my face with hers. The fiend thrilled, screamed to be let out, and I felt myself moving involuntarily—starting to move my lips towards the pulsing heat of her throat. Horrified, I flung myself backwards across the meadow, back into the deep shade of a huge fir tree.

The fiend screamed at me in frustration. No! I will not do this to her! I growled back in my mind. I locked my body in place as I wrestled to contain the bloodthirsty urges inside me. I could see the shock and hurt on Bella’s face as I inexplicably left her in the meadow, only to hide in the shadows again.

“I’m…sorry…Edward,” she whispered. As if this was her fault! My anger at myself peaked and helped rein in the insanity.

“Give me a moment,” I called, just loud enough for her to hear. I wanted her to know this was not her fault—that I could control it—but I needed to have the demon completely contained before I could approach her again. I waited. The demon growled his displeasure and frustration and slowly subsided. Fresh meadow air blew through my shirt and across my face, only lightly flavored with her perfume. She was sitting very still, waiting for me. I slowly walked back to her, stopping several feet away and sinking to the ground, crossing my legs and facing her. I watched her eyes the entire time, measuring to see if she understood what had just happened—and if she was afraid. She seemed calm—too calm—waiting for me to speak.

I took two deep breaths, breathing in her delicious scent again, and smiled in apology. “I am so very sorry.” I hesitated, unsure how to explain what happened. “Would you understand what I meant if I said I was only human?”

She nodded, not really smiling at my sad joke. Her heart was racing and she was afraid, as she should be. I was an incredible danger to her—and she needed to know that. She needed to finally know the monster that I truly was.

I smiled mirthlessly. “I’m the world’s best predator, aren’t I? Everything about me invites you in—my voice, my face, even my smell.” I was becoming angry at the thought of it—the thought of how all that Bella found attractive in me was just an artifice, a lure to draw her in for the kill. “As if I need any of that!”

I leapt up and ran—in less than half of a second I had circled the meadow, arriving back at the same tree I had just hid under a moment ago.

“As if you could outrun me,” I laughed bitterly.

I reached up with one hand and ripped a two-foot-thick branch easily from the trunk of a spruce. I balanced it for a moment and then threw it with inhuman speed, shattering it against another tree on the far side of the meadow. It shook and trembled with the blow. In another instant I was in front of her again, standing two feet away, still as a statue.

“As if you could fight me off,” I said gently, sensing that I was truly frightening her now and not wanting to see that fear in her eyes. She didn’t move, just stared at me with wide eyes, heart pounding ferociously in her chest. Her eyes were locked with mine, like the predator and prey that we were meant to be. The demon licked his lips again, growing excited at the prospect. I continued to stare at her as I fought him back down again, stuffing him back inside the deep blackness of my heart. Seconds passed—when I was calm again I became very sad that I had let her see that part of me, and that I had truly frightened her.

“Don’t be afraid,” I murmured. “I promise…” I hesitated, needing something stronger. “I swear not to hurt you.” I couldn’t decide if I was convincing her or myself, but I mostly wanted to clear that expression of fear from her face.

“Don’t be afraid,” I repeated in a whisper, stepping very slowly closer. I sat, slow as molasses, only a foot from her.

“Please forgive me,” I said as politely as I could, determined to put the gentleman mask back on. “I can control myself. You caught me off guard. But I’m on my best behavior now.”

I waited, but she didn’t say anything. I was afraid that perhaps I had gone too far, trying to prove what a monster I was, and truly terrified her. I wanted…I needed her to forgive me, at least for that.

“I’m not thirsty today, honestly,” I said, smiling and winking at her, trying to lighten the mood and panicking slightly at her lack of response.

She laughed a shaky and breathless laugh. I sighed with relief.

“Are you all right?” I asked tenderly, reaching out very slowly and carefully to put my hand back into hers, wanting her to know that it was okay—she didn’t need to fear me now. She looked at my hand, and then my eyes, as if trying to decide something. Whether to run? She knew she couldn’t. Whether she had made a mistake, coming here? Clearly she knew she was in terrible danger. How could she possibly trust me now?

She looked back at my hand and then deliberately returned to tracing the lines in my hand with her exquisitely warm fingertip. She looked up and smiled timidly at me. I grinned broadly, elated by her trust and delighted by her touch. I was so thoroughly in love with her that it made me ache.

“So where were we, before I behaved so rudely?” I asked, gently.

“I honestly can’t remember.”

I smiled ruefully, ashamed that my lack of self control ruined the moment we had. I had not forgotten and I still intensely wanted to know. “I think we were talking about why you were afraid, besides the obvious reason.”

“Oh, right.”

“Well?”

She looked down at my hand, continuing to draw her unintentionally seductive design across my palm. The seconds ticked by and I was growing impatient with her silence.

“How easily frustrated I am,” I sighed, disappointed in myself for what felt like the hundredth time since meeting her. She looked up into my eyes, perhaps seeing how much like a child I felt around her. I was perpetually trapped in a seventeen year old body, the same one I had when Carlisle changed me. Decades had passed, but somehow with Bella I felt like that young, insecure boy again. These feelings that I had with her—they were all completely new to me. My mind reading crutch was useless with her. I was literally flying blind.

“I was afraid…” she started, “because, for, well, obvious reasons, I can’t stay with you. And I’m afraid that I’d like to stay with you, much more than I should.” She looked down at my hands as she spoke, avoiding my gaze. She seemed to have a hard time saying these words to me. I wasn’t sure I understood what they meant, but I could see the pain they were causing her.

“Yes,” I agreed slowly, my guilt dragging at me. “That is something to be afraid of, indeed. Wanting to be with me. That’s really not in your best interest.”

She frowned, and I felt like I didn’t really understand what she had said. So often I seemed to misread her, or not understand her.

“I should have left long ago,” I sighed, admitting my greatest weakness. “I should leave now. But I don’t know if I can.”

“I don’t want you to leave,” she mumbled, staring down again.

“Which is exactly why I should. But don’t worry. I’m essentially a selfish creature. I crave your company too much to do what I should.” How true that was, how selfish I am for bringing her here…

“I’m glad,” she said softly.

“Don’t be!” I said, pulling my hand away, but gently. “It’s not only your company I crave! Never forget that. Never forget I am more dangerous to you than I am to anyone else.” I stopped, staring away from her, thinking of the horrible injustice of that. Why couldn’t she have been someone else, someone I didn’t care for, like Emmett and his washer woman? Why couldn’t my Bella—my love—be someone who wasn’t so dangerously attractive to me, someone whose simple existence somehow brought out the worst in me.

“I don’t think I understand exactly what you mean—by that last part anyway,” she said. Of course not—how could she know? I smiled, looking back at her again.

“How do I explain?” I mused. “And without frightening you again…hmmmm.” My hand seemed to find its way back to hers, as if drawn there. She held it tightly, not the gentle touches that she favored me with before. It felt like I was being cocooned in a warm cloud of comfort.

“That’s amazingly pleasant, the warmth.” I sighed with the pleasure of it, completely distracting me from whatever I had been about to say…ah, yes…my Bella addiction…

“You know how everyone enjoys different flavors?” I began. “Some people love chocolate ice cream, others prefer strawberry?”

She nodded.

“Sorry about the food analogy—I couldn’t think of another way to explain.”

She smiled and I smiled ruefully back at her—another ridiculous conversation to have with her. “You see, every person smells different, has a different essence. If you locked an alcoholic in a room full of stale beer, he’d gladly drink it. But he could resist, if he wished to, if he were a recovering alcoholic. Now let’s say you placed in that room a glass of hundred-year-old brandy, the rarest, finest cognac—and filled the room with its warm aroma—how do you think he would fare then?”

I watched her, still trying to divine her thoughts, as pointless as that was. She sat staring at me, but not really seeming to understand.

“Maybe that’s not the right comparison. Maybe it would be too easy to turn down the brandy. Perhaps I should have made our alcoholic a heroin addict instead.”

“So what you’re saying is, I’m your brand of heroin?” she teased, trying to be light about it. I smiled at her understanding, finally feeling like she grasped what I had been struggling with all this time.

“Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin.”

“Does that happen often?” she asked. I looked away from her, across the treetops. Bella always seemed to be able to ask the questions I wanted to answer least. It was as if she saw right through to the core of everything…including me.

“I spoke to my brothers about it,” I started, still not looking at her. “To Jasper, every one of you is much the same. He’s the most recent to join our family. It’s a struggle for him to abstain at all. He hasn’t had time to grow sensitive to the differences in smell, in flavor.” I glanced at her, realizing how horribly rude it was to talk about her as if she were a fine wine. “Sorry,” I said, apologetically.

“I don’t mind. Please don’t worry about offending me, or frightening me, or whichever. That’s the way you think. I can understand, or I can try to at least. Just explain however you can.”

It struck me that I did not deserve someone this understanding…I didn’t deserve her, and truly could not understand why she wanted to be with me. I was afraid that all that drew her here was the fiend’s lures—the looks, the scent, and the voice. I hoped desperately that there was something more that she saw in me, but I couldn’t imagine what that was.

I took a deep breath, looking away from her again, trying to find a way to explain without the horror that I felt about craving her blood. “So Jasper wasn’t sure if he’d ever come across someone who was as…appealing as you are to me. Which makes me think not. Emmett has been on the wagon longer, so to speak, and he understood what I meant. He says twice, for him, once stronger than the other.”

“And for you?”

“Never.” Never the scent, never the electric feeling, never the aching desire…

“What did Emmett do?” she asked, breaking into my thoughts and shattering them. I scowled, my hand clenching into a fist inside her light grasp. I tried to keep the image of the washer woman and Emmett out of my head, but she just seemed to be replaced by Bella, with my mouth at her throat…I couldn’t speak for fear of growling, or worse.

“I guess I know,” she finally said.

I looked up at her, pleading for her to understand.

“Even the strongest of us fall off the wagon, don’t we?”

“What are you asking? My permission?” she said sharply, a rebuke that tore into me. “I mean, is there no hope, then?” she continued, somewhat gentler.

“No, no!” What was I saying? ”Of course there’s hope! I mean, of course I won’t…” I didn’t want her to think that…that I had given up. I was here because I wanted, more than anything, to hold onto that hope. I looked meaningfully into her eyes. “It’s different for us. Emmett…these were strangers he happened across. It was a long time ago, and he wasn’t as…practiced, as careful, as he is now.”

I stopped, still staring intently at her. Did she understand that I wasn’t Emmett and she wasn’t some stranger—that it didn’t have to be that way for us? At least, I didn’t think it did…

“So if we’d met…oh, in a dark alley or something…” she trailed off.

“It took everything I had not to jump up in the middle of that class full of children and—“ I stopped abruptly, looking away from her again. Somehow it was harder to think about that day while looking at her, so close to me. “When you walked past me, I could have ruined everything Carlisle had built for us, right then and there. If I hadn’t been denying my thirst for the last, well, too many years, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself.” I scowled at the memory, knowing how close I had come to not being able to resist.

I glanced at her, my face still stricken with the memory. “You must have thought I was possessed.” It was strange to be finally talking about this with her.

“I couldn’t understand why. How you could hate me so quickly…”

“To me, it was like you were some kind of demon, summoned straight from my own personal hell to ruin me. The fragrance coming off your skin…I thought it would make me deranged that first day. In that one hour, I thought of a hundred different ways to lure you from the room with me, to get you alone. And I fought them each back, thinking of my family, what I could do to them. I had to run out, to get away before I could speak the words that would make you follow…”

It all had come out in a rush, and I was afraid I had terrified her again. I looked up to see a staggered expression on her face. My eyes burned into her with that hypnotic look that I once used, long ago. “You would have come,” I promised.

“Without a doubt,” she said, not looking anywhere near as calm as she sounded.

I looked away from her eyes, releasing her from my deadly stare before the fiend could get too excited by the fear in her eyes. I frowned as I felt compelled to continue recounting that horrifying day.

“And then, as I tried to rearrange my schedule in a pointless attempt to avoid you, you were there—in that close warm little room, the scent was maddening. I so very nearly took you then. There was only one other frail human there—so easily dealt with.”

I was horrified anew as I calmly talked about nearly murdering the receptionist. I could tell she was shivering, no doubt horror-stricken as well. I couldn’t bring myself to look at her. She would finally know how undeserving of her I was.

“But I resisted. I don’t know how. I forced myself not to wait for you, not to follow you from the school. It was easier outside, when I couldn’t smell you anymore, to think clearly, to make the right decision. I left the others near home—I was too ashamed to tell them how weak I was, they only knew something was very wrong—and then I went straight to Carlisle, at the hospital, to tell him I was leaving.”

She continued staring at me. I could feel her shocked and surprised look boring into me, but I still couldn’t look at her. I continued my confession.

“I traded cars with him—he had a full tank of gas and I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t dare to go home, to face Esme. She wouldn’t have let me go without a scene. She would have tried to convince me that it wasn’t necessary…by the next morning I was in Alaska.” I felt ashamed, admitting that I had run back into the arms of Tanya. My conflicted feelings for her seemed a century away. “I spent two days there, with some old acquaintances…but I was homesick. I hated knowing I’d upset Esme, and the rest of them, my adopted family. In the pure air of the mountains it was hard to believe you were so irresistible. I convinced myself it was weak to run away. I’d dealt with temptation before, not of this magnitude, not even close, but I was strong. Who were you, an insignificant little girl“—I grinned suddenly, thinking about how quickly Bella had become so much more than a girl to me, how she was the extreme opposite of insignificant—“to chase me from the place I wanted to be? So I came back…”

I stared off into space, thinking back to that time that seemed so long ago. So much had happened to completely turn my world upside down since then. She didn’t say anything, so I continued my forced walk through the past.

“I took precautions, hunting, feeding more than usual before seeing you again. I was sure that I was strong enough to treat you like any other human. I was arrogant about it. It was unquestionably a complication that I couldn’t simply read your thoughts to know what your reaction was to me. I wasn’t used to having to go to such circuitous measures, listening to your words in Jessica’s mind…her mind isn’t very original, and it was annoying to have to stoop to that. And then I couldn’t know if you really meant what you said. It was all extremely irritating.”

I frowned, pausing for a moment. I suddenly realized that I had fallen in love with her long before I knew it, even from the first time I felt compelled to talk to her—to have her forgive me, even then.

“I wanted you to forget my behavior that first day, if possible, so I tried to talk with you like I would with any person. I was eager actually, hoping to decipher some of your thoughts. But you were too interesting, I found myself caught up in your expressions…and every now and then you would stir the air with your hand or your hair, and the scent would stun me again…”

“Of course, then you were nearly crushed to death in front of my eyes. Later I thought of a perfectly good excuse for why I acted at that moment—because if I hadn’t saved you, if your blood had been spilled there in front of me, I don’t think I could have stopped myself from exposing us for what we are. But I only thought of that excuse later. At the time, all I could think was, ‘Not her.’”

I closed my eyes, exhausted by my agonized confession. Reliving the past weeks was making the journey to this moment in the meadow seem all the more inevitable. The gentle breeze blew through her hair again, wafting over me.

“In the hospital?” she said, her voice faint, encouraging me on.

My eyes flashed up to her. “I was appalled. I couldn’t believe I had put us in danger after all, put myself in your power—you of all people. As if I needed another motive to kill you.” We both flinched at that word as it slipped out. But I continued quickly on, wanting her to know that that was never an option. “But it had the opposite effect. I fought with Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper when they suggested that now was the time…the worst fight we’ve ever had. Carlisle sided with me, and Alice.”

I grimaced, thinking of Alice’s predictions, and how today’s events would decide their future course. I was still determined to find a future in which Bella lived. “Esme told me to do whatever I had to in order to stay,” I said, shaking my head indulgently at Esme’s motherly concerns.

“All that next day I eavesdropped on the minds of everyone you spoke to, shocked that you kept your word. I didn’t understand you at all. But I knew that I couldn’t become more involved with you. I did my very best to stay as far from you as possible. And every day the perfume of your skin, your breath, your hair…it hit me as hard as the very first day.”

I looked up into her eyes again, finally glad to be telling her the truth, baring my soul so that she would truly know me. I wanted her to know that I had wanted her all along, even when it seemed like I was cold and heartless and ignoring her. I wanted her to know how desperately I loved her.

“And for all that,” I said softly, tenderly, “I’d have fared better if I had exposed us all at that first moment, than if now, here—with no witnesses and nothing to stop me—I were to hurt you.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Isabella.” I said it carefully, softly, loving the feel of it on my tongue. I reached up and playfully ruffled her hair with my free hand. It felt just as I imagined it, soft as silk and smoothly slipping past my fingers. She seemed to like my casual touch as much as I did. “Bella, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don’t know how it’s tortured me.” I looked down, away from her again. I was ashamed of my inability to control myself, and how it made me so dangerous to her. “The thought of you, still, white, cold…to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses…it would be unendurable.”

I finally dragged my eyes up to her again, agonized at the thought of losing her. She had to know how I felt now. “You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever.”

I waited to see what she thought of my declaration. She seemed stunned and busied herself staring down at our hands, mine still held in hers.

“You already know how I feel, of course,” she finally said. “I’m here…which, roughly translated, means I would rather die than stay away from you.” She said this quietly, almost embarrassed to be saying it out loud. Then she frowned.

“I’m an idiot,” she said.

“You are an idiot,” I agreed, laughing, loving her intensely. She finally looked up at me, and then laughed as well at the impossibility of all this. She was delightful, wonderful, and everything that I wanted in this existence.

“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…” I murmured, lost in my love for her. She looked away from me, hiding her eyes from me.

“What a stupid lamb,” she sighed.

“Was a sick, masochistic lion,” I replied, looking away as well from the intensity of our love and our sad situation. I stared into the shadowy forest, thinking how profoundly my love for her had changed me…into something better. Something that I wanted to be, that made my existence worth living. Alice was right—I would rather die than hurt her—and whatever pain I had to go through, it was well worth the prize of having her here, now, with me.

After a few moments she said, “Why…?”

I looked back at her and smiled at her loveliness. Whatever she wanted, I would gladly give her. Whatever she wanted to know, I would share. I was completely hers.

“Yes?”

“Tell me why you ran from me before.”

My smile faded. “You know why.”

“No, I mean, exactly what did I do wrong? I’ll have to be on my guard, you see, so I better start learning what I shouldn’t do. This, for example”—she deliciously stroked the back of my hand—“seems to be all right.”

I smiled brightly again. She was mine, and I was completely hers. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Bella. It was my fault.”

“But I want to help, if I can, to not make this harder for you.”

“Well…” I thought for a moment. Everything about her was so overwhelmingly attractive. “It was just how close you were. Most humans instinctively shy away from us, are repelled by our alienness…I wasn’t expecting you to come so close. And the smell of your throat.” I stopped short, looking to see if I had upset her.

“Okay, then,” she said flippantly, tucking her chin in. “No throat exposure.”

I laughed, charmed. “No, really, it was more the surprise than anything else.”

I raised my free hand and placed it gently on the side of her neck. It was amazingly warm and pulsating with the thrum of her blood coursing through her veins. She sat very still in response—trying not to surprise me with her movements, I suppose.

“You see,” I said, smiling. “Perfectly fine.”

I could feel her blood start to pick up speed, racing through her veins, and her heart pounding in response to my touch. The guilt I usually felt at causing this reaction in her had changed to a thrill coursing through me. A blush was rising in her cheeks, making my knees feel soft. It was good that we were already sitting.

“The blush on your cheeks is lovely,” I murmured. I freed my other hand from hers, and her hands fell limply into her lap. Softly, I brushed her cheek, feeling the heat of the blush tracing fire on my hand. I held her face, oh so gently, between my cold hands. Did I dare this? I wanted so much to…

“Be very still,” I whispered, and she held as still as a human can. Slowly, still looking deeply into her eyes, I leaned toward her. Quickly, but very gently, I rested my frozen cheek against the warm hollow at the base of her throat. The warmth of it was a shock to my face, but the sensation was incredible. I was held to her, like a magnet. Extremely slowly, I slid my hands down the side of her neck, rapturous with the soft burning of it on my palms. She shivered under my grasp and I caught my breath with the shock and pleasure of that small movement. I kept moving my hands down until they reached her shoulders and then stopped.

I moved my face to the side, skimming my nose across her collarbone. The intensity of her perfume, the heat off her skin…it was making me light headed again. I stopped with the side of my face pressed softly against her chest, listening to the racing sound of her heart beating loudly in her chest. It was the sound of my living, vibrant Bella.

“Ah,” I sighed, holding still and holding her. The beast within me was frantic to come to the surface, craving the blood that rushed in my ears and warmed my cheek—wanting to drink of the exquisite wine that was my Bella.

No, I said to him. Not the panic stricken, blood crazed NO! of that first day in the classroom. Not the urgent, frustrated No! as I flung myself away from the temptation of her throat. It was a calm, simple No—an icy wall of will, locking the demon away in his transparent prison, and refusing to let him have his way. I felt him sinking down, trapped in his glass coffin, deep into my mind.

We sat a long time without moving. Her pulse finally slowed as we were quiet, held together by my hands and her heart. We didn’t move or speak. I couldn’t think of anything, except that I was holding her, being with her…finally.

Eventually, I released her, looking into her gorgeous eyes.

“It won’t be so hard again,” I said, satisfied.

“Was that very hard for you?” she asked me.

“Not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. And you?”

“No, it wasn’t bad…for me,” she replied and I smiled at the inflection.

“You know what I mean,” I teased her. She smiled.

“Here.” I took her hand and placed it against my cheek. “Do you feel how warm it is?” I felt almost human with her hand on my cheek—they were nearly the same temperature, as if I had absorbed some part of her and we were one.

She had the strangest look on her face. “Don’t move,” she whispered and I went still, as only vampires can, and closed my eyes. Moving slowly, she caressed my cheek, softly touching my eyes, nose and lips. Her hands were ghosting over my face leaving trails of fire behind. When she touched my lips, I couldn’t help but part them, inhaling some of her fragrance off her fingertips as she traced, slowly and carefully, the outline of my lips. Too soon, she dropped her hand and leaned away.

I opened my eyes and stared hungrily at her, her touch having awoken some very human desires in me. Her pulse started hammering through her veins again, making me ache in the pit of my stomach.

“I wish,” I whispered, “I wish you could feel the…complexity…the confusion…I feel. That you could understand.”

I raised my hand to touch her hair again, carefully brushing it across her face. I felt as if I needed to touch her—be touching her—always.

“Tell me,” she breathed at me.

“I don’t think I can. I’ve told you, on the one hand, the hunger—the thirst—that, deplorable creature that I am, I feel for you. And I think you can understand that, to an extent. Though as you are not addicted to any illegal substances, you probably can’t empathize completely.” I smiled slightly.

“But…” I traced my fingers over her lips, very lightly, amazed at how they were even softer than her skin. She shivered at my touch, bringing me another round of delight. “There are other hungers. Hungers I don’t even understand, that are foreign to me.”

“I may understand that better than you think.”

“I’m not used to feeling so human. Is it always like this?”

“For me?” she paused. “No, never. Never before this.”

I held her hands in mine—they were so delicate and beautiful.

“I don’t know how to be close to you,” I admitted, embarrassed. “I don’t know if I can.” But I so desperately want to…

She leaned forward very slowly, looking in my eyes to see if I was okay. She placed her radiantly warm cheek against my cold, stone chest. I continued breathing, although I felt as if her feather-light touch on my chest was burning a hole right through it.

“This is enough,” she said, sighing and closing her eyes. I put my arms around her and lightly held her. I pressed my face against her hair, as I had imagined doing so many times, and breathed deeply, inhaling her essence. It was nowhere near enough for me, but it was enough for right now.

“You’re better at this than you give yourself credit for,” she noted.

“I have human instincts—they may be buried deep, but they’re there.” I sighed again, enjoying the completeness that I felt just holding her. We sat like that for a long time again, unwilling to move and break the spell that held us together. We were as we were truly meant to be—not predator and prey, not distant admirers, but lovers holding each other. For once, I did not wonder what she was thinking. I knew.

The light was starting to fade, the afternoon waning, and the shadows of the forest were beginning to touch us. She sighed.

“You have to go,” I stated.

“I thought you couldn’t read my mind.”

“It’s getting clearer,” I said, pleased that I could finally say that I was beginning to know her. It took a complete baring of my soul, a total exposure of all that I am, but there were no barriers between us now. The euphoria of that was something I had never felt before, and a sudden excitement took hold of me. I wanted to share everything with her. I took her gently by the shoulders and looked into her face.

“Can I show you something?” I asked, my excitement no doubt showing in my eyes.

“Show me what?”

“I’ll show you how I travel in the forest.” She looked at me with trepidation. “Don’t worry, you’ll be very safe, and we’ll get to your truck much faster.” I smiled at her and her heart fluttered—oh, how I loved that sound!

“Will you turn into a bat?” she asked warily.

I laughed loudly, giddy with my excitement and entranced by her silly worries. “Like I haven’t heard that one before!”

“Right, I’m sure you get that all the time.”

“Come on, little coward, climb on my back,” I said, grinning. She just looked at me, slightly shocked, no doubt wondering if I was kidding or had lost my mind. Still smiling, I reached for her. Her heart made that delightful sputtering sound again as I lightly, carefully, slung her onto my back. I grinned at her surprised look and loved the feeling as she cooperated by clamping her legs and arms around me, clinging like a monkey.

“I’m a bit heavier than your average backpack,” she warned me.

“Hah!” I snorted and rolled my eyes. If she wasn’t so amazingly warm and enticing, and if I wasn’t so hyper-aware of her heart pounding into my back, I would have hardly felt her there at all. I grabbed her hand, pressing her palm to my face, rejoicing in the fact that I could so freely have her near me, on me, with the demon safely locked away in his cage. I inhaled deeply.

“Easier all the time,” I muttered, and then I took off running through the forest. The exhilaration I normally felt when running was nothing compared to the elation with which I streaked through the forest like a rocket with Bella firmly attached to my back. We were quiet, except for her pounding heartbeat, as we flew through the dark, thick underbrush it had taken us all morning to conquer. The wind whipped our faces, the cool dampness of the evening air starting to seep into the forest and cover everything with fine film of dew. If I could hold her like this, I wondered…too soon, it was over and we were back to her truck.

“Exhilarating, isn’t it?” I asked, excited to see what she thought of our newest adventure together. I waited for her to climb down, but she didn’t move. Her arms and legs remained locked around me. Something was wrong.

“Bella?” I asked, anxious. I knew that she could not be injured—we had never come close to the pine needles or branches as we flew past them.

“I think I need to lie down,” she gasped, and I realized that perhaps it hadn’t been quite the joyous ride I had hoped for.

“Oh, sorry.” I waited for her to climb down, but she still didn’t move.

“I think I need help,” she admitted. I laughed quietly, trying not to embarrass her, and gently unloosened her arms from around my neck. It was like pulling off a butterfly, her grasp was so light—having not spent hardly any time touching humans in decades, it was hard for me to remember how eminently breakable they were. I needed to remember to be very careful with her. I pulled her around to face me, cradling her in my arms like a child, trying to be as gentle as I could. The feeling of having her in my arms was such that I really did not want to put her down. But I could tell she wasn’t feeling well so, after a moment, I forced myself to carefully place her on the springy ferns that surrounded us.

“How do you feel?” I asked.

“Dizzy, I think.”

“Put your head between your knees.”

She tried that, and it seemed to help. Her breathing was slow and steady. I sat down beside her, concerned that I had not even thought about the effect that the speed would have on her. I watched her carefully—she seemed incredibly frail to me, sitting amongst the delicate ferns. Eventually she raised her head, looking a little better.

“I guess that wasn’t the best idea,” I said, remorsefully.

“No, it was very interesting,” she said weakly.

“Hah! You’re as white as a ghost—no, you’re as white as me!” I laughed. Somehow she was entrancing even when she was sitting there, pale and shaking, trying to recover. It occurred to me, once again, how very brave my Bella was—and how very lucky I was that she was brave. Otherwise, we would never have had today.

“I think I should have closed my eyes,” she said, closing her eyes as she took a deep a breath.

“Remember that next time,” I warned her, teasing.

“Next time!” she groaned. I laughed, still exuberant. As I kept gazing at her, I thought of how soft her lips had felt when I touched them in the meadow. I moved closer to her, drawn in by the thought of touching her.

“Show-off,” she muttered, her eyes still closed.

“Open your eyes, Bella,” I said quietly. I was right next to her, a few inches from her face, gazing into her now open, liquid brown eyes.

“I was thinking, while I was running…” I paused. Do I ask?

“About not hitting the trees, I hope.”

“Silly Bella,” I chuckled, holding close to her. “Running is second nature to me, it’s not something I have to think about,” I whispered, breathing on her.

“Show-off,” she muttered again.

I smiled. “No, I was thinking there was something I wanted to try.” I took her warm face in my cold hands and moved even closer to her, drinking her in. She held her breath and I hesitated. I knew I wanted this, and I was fairly sure that Bella would not mind. But the fiend had just recently been caged—could I do this without losing control? Yes. Yes I could, and I wanted this more than anything I could ever remember wanting. Slowly I leaned toward her and gently, just a whisper of touch, I pressed my cold, hard lips against the amazing sweetness of Bella’s. It was just as I imagined…and then she grabbed me.

Gasping wildly, she knotted her fingers in my hair, clutching me to her. Her lips parted and she inhaled the breath out of me. The shock of it sent the fiend inside crashing his head against the ice barrier I had constructed for him. Slowly, careful not to injure her, I irresistibly pushed her face back with my hands, still holding her. The beast within screamed his frustration, but there was no danger of him bursting free. She opened her eyes.

“Oops,” she breathed.

“That’s an understatement,” I said, realizing that my jaw was clenched tight and I surely had a wild expression in my eyes as the beast continued to rage inside me. I held her close, just inches away. There was no danger.

“Should I…?” she asked, trying to move away from me. I refused to let her go, my body locked in place until I was sure. Yes. There was no danger.

“No, it’s tolerable. Wait for a moment, please,” I said politely, belying the struggle within. I waited until my calm had returned, and then smiled, very pleased with myself.

“There,” I said, with an impish grin.

“Tolerable?” she asked.

I laughed, with relief and giddiness in my new-found skill. I guess they—Tanya, Alice, and even Emmett—were right after all. “I’m stronger than I thought. It’s nice to know.”

“I wish I could say the same. I’m sorry.”

“You are only human, after all,” I teased her, feeling light headed in spite of my self control.

“Thanks so much,” she said, voice turning acerbic.

Quickly, I rose up and held out my hand to her. From now on, I was determined that we would touch—now that the monster was imprisoned for good. She placed her warm hand in my icy one, obviously still needing my support as she teetered a little as she rose.

“Are you still faint from the run? Or was it my kissing expertise?” I teased, supremely delighted that we could kiss and still live to tellabout it. I laughed and realized that I would never be able to be separated from her again, even for a short time. Not when we had this.

“I can’t be sure, I’m still woozy,” she managed to respond. “I think it’s some of both, though.”

“Maybe you should let me drive.”

“Are you insane?” she protested.

“I can drive better than you on your best day,” I boasted lightly. “You have much slower reflexes.”

“I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t think my nerves, or my truck, could take it.”

“Some trust, please, Bella.” Surely the least nerve-wracking thing to happen today would be the drive home!

She pursed her lips, deciding…and then shook her head with a tight grin.

“Nope. Not a chance.”

I couldn’t believe she would refuse me. I looked at her in disbelief. She started to step around me, heading for the driver’s side. She was absurd! Just as she was passing me, she wobbled a little, obviously still unsteady from the effects of the run. I captured her with my arm around her waist, greatly enjoying the ability to do that simple thing.

“Bella,” I said softly, holding her close, “I’ve already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive. I’m not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can’t even walk straight. Besides, friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” I laughed, still holding her in my inescapable grasp and loving it.

“Drunk?” she objected.

“You’re intoxicated by my very presence,” I said, playfully and quite delighted by that fact.

“I can’t argue with that,” she sighed. She held the key high and dropped it. I easily caught it on the way down. “Take it easy,” she said, “my truck is a senior citizen.”

“Very sensible,” I approved.

“And are you not affected at all?” she asked, irked by the apparent one-sidedness of her unsteadiness. “By my presence?”

Was I affected? Ah, my Bella…I bent my face to hers and slowly brushed my lips along her jaw, leaving a cool trace along the radiant warmth of her skin. I moved slowly from her ear to her chin, back and forth, inhaling my favorite intoxicating fragrance, my lips afire with her. She trembled, sending another wave of pleasure through me.

“Regardless,” I finally said, when I could find my voice again. ”I have better reflexes.”