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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.


14. Chapter 14 - Bedtime

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Chapter 14 – Bedtime

The sun was starting to set as we drove Bella’s incredibly slow and painfully loud truck back to Forks. And yet, even the nuisance of crawling along the road couldn’t dampen my mood. In fact, I barely noticed the truck, the road, or anything other than that I was with Bella, holding her hand on the seat next to me, her warm hand searing evidence of our love into mine. I glanced at her, studying the way her hair blew out the open window, the golden hue of the setting sun reflecting off her pale skin and bringing out the reddish highlights in her hair. She was mine.

I had tuned the radio to an oldies station that I liked, and they started playing one of my favorites—I sang along, jubilant in sharing that simple thing with her. I was determined that I would share everything with her now.

“You like fifties music?” she asked.

“Music in the fifties was good. Much better than the sixties, or the seventies, ugh!” I shuddered. “The eighties were bearable.”

“Are you ever going to tell me how old you are?” she asked, tentatively.

I smiled, reminded again of how young she was. Fifties music was ancient history to her. I remember dancing to it when it was new—granted, it was mostly with Alice.

“Does it matter much?”

“No, but I still wonder…” she grimaced. “There’s nothing like an unsolved mystery to keep you up at night.”

“I wonder if it will upset you,” I thought out loud. I gazed into the setting sun, thinking of how many more sunsets I had seen than Bella—how much more of the world, and life, and death. Would she begin to see me as the ancient person that I was, instead of the seventeen-year-old body that I occupied? Will it make her uncomfortable? Knowing Bella, it would probably make her feel inadequate in some way—as if she would not be able to measure up in years of experience, or be wise in the ways of the world. How little she would guess that she had already taught me so much more about the world, about life…about being human, than I had known in the ninety odd years before I met her.

“Try me,” she said, bringing me out of my thoughts.

I sighed, looking into her eyes, searching for some sign that she would not shrink away. I saw a burning curiosity—one of the things we shared that I so loved about her. Well, I couldn’t rightly deny her anything now, on any account. I looked back at the setting sun.

“I was born in Chicago in 1901,” I said, pausing to glance at her and see her reaction. She was waiting patiently for me to continue. I smiled before going on, “Carlisle found me in a hospital in the summer of 1918. I was seventeen, and dying of the Spanish influenza.” At that she made a small gasp, and I looked down into her eyes again, measuring her. “I don’t remember it well—it was a very long time ago, and human memories fade.” Sometimes I wondered if I would be better, more human, if I could remember those human times. I was so young then, so ready to take my place in the world…so much like Bella was now. There was so much that I missed, that I never even knew…and now Bella was bringing that all back to me. I was determined, now more than ever, that Bella would live, would have all those human experiences that I missed and could only rediscover now, as a fiend. She should know that it would not be something that she should ever want…”I do remember how it felt, when Carlisle saved me. It’s not an easy thing, not something you could forget.”

“Your parents?” she asked.

“They had already died from the disease. I was alone. That was why he chose me. In all the chaos of the epidemic, no one would ever realize I was gone.”

“How did he…save you?”

How much did she need to know? I didn’t want her to think badly of Carlisle, that he was impervious to the pain of the transformation. And I didn’t need her sympathy, just for her to understand that it was nothing she would ever want to do, something I would avoid for her at all costs.

“It was difficult. Not many of us have the restraint necessary to accomplish it. But Carlisle has always been the most humane, the most compassionate of us...I don’t think you could find his equal throughout all of history…for me, it was merely very, very painful.”

She was quiet, no doubt pondering what I was saying. I wanted her to understand how our family came to be, without thinking that that would ever be a possibility for her.

“He acted from loneliness. That’s usually the reason behind the choice. I was the first in Carlisle’s family, though he found Esme soon after. She fell from a cliff. They brought her straight to the hospital morgue, though, somehow, her heart was still beating.”

“So you must be dying, then, to become…” she seemed hesitant to name it. Good.

“No, that’s just Carlisle. He would never do that to someone who had another choice.” The respect I had for Carlisle was profound. I hoped that my strength with Bella today would be something he could be proud of. “It is easier he says, though, if the blood is weak.” This was more than she needed to know, the details. I stopped talking about it.

“And Emmett and Rosalie?” she asked, pressing, ever curious.

“Carlisle brought Rosalie to our family next. I didn’t realize till much later that he was hoping she would be to me what Esme was to him—he was careful with his thoughts around me.” I rolled my eyes, thinking of that time, and the comical lengths to which Carlisle tried to not let me know his intentions for Rosalie. “But she was never more than a sister. It was only two years later that she found Emmett. She was hunting—we were in Appalachia at the time—and found a bear about to finish him off. She carried him back to Carlisle, more than a hundred miles, afraid she wouldn’t be able to do it herself. I’m only beginning to guess how difficult that journey was for her.”

I looked pointedly at her and took our hands, still twined together, and brushed the back of my hand across her fiery cheek, thinking how fortunate I was that we did not have to face a similar trial—I would never have made it.

“But she made it,” she said, looking away from my intense stare.

“Yes,” I murmured. “She saw something in his face that made her strong enough. And they’ve been together ever since. Sometimes they live separately from us, as a married couple. But the younger we pretend to be, the longer we can stay in any given place. Forks seemed perfect, so we all enrolled in high school.” I laughed. “I suppose we’ll have to go to their wedding in a few years, again.”

“Alice and Jasper?”

“Alice and Jasper are two very rare creatures. They both developed a conscience, as we refer to it, with no outside guidance. Jasper belonged to another…family, a very different kind of family. He became depressed, and he wandered on his own. Alice found him. Like me, she has certain gifts above and beyond the norm for our kind.”

“Really?” she interrupted, suddenly intrigued. “But you said you were the only one who could hear people’s thoughts.”

“That’s true. She knows other things. She sees things—things that might happen, things that are coming. But it’s very subjective. The future isn’t set in stone. Things change.” I glanced at her quickly, and then looked away. Did she guess that Alice would see her future? That she had already seen the future I was desperately trying to change?

“What kinds of things does she see?”

“She saw Jasper and knew that he was looking for her before he knew it himself. She saw Carlisle and our family, and they came together to find us. She’s most sensitive to non-humans. She always sees, for example, when another group of our kind is coming near. And any threat they may pose.”

“Are there a lot of…your kind?” She seemed surprised to realize that my family were not the only vampires that existed.

“No, not many. But most won’t settle in any one pace. Only those like us, who’ve given up hunting you people,” and I gave her a wicked glance, “can live together with humans for any length of time. We’ve only found one other family like ours, in a small village in Alaska. We lived together for a time, but there were so many of us that we became too noticeable. Those of us who live…differently tend to band together.”

“And the others?”

“Nomads, for the most part. We’ve all lived that way at times. It gets tedious, like anything else. But we run across the others now and then, because most of us prefer the North.”

“Why is that?”

We were parked in front of her house now, and I turned off the truck, rendering the cab of the truck suddenly silent. It was relatively dark—there was no moon tonight, and her porch light was off, so Bella would feel the darkness more than I. Night was my least favorite part of the day, but I didn’t mind it as much when I was with her.

“Did you have your eyes open this afternoon?” I teased, wondering how she could miss the obvious. “Do you think I could walk down the street in the sunlight without causing traffic accidents? There’s a reason why we chose the Olympic Peninsula, one of the most sunless places in the world. It’s nice to be able to go outside in the day. You wouldn’t believe how tired you can get of nighttime in eighty-odd years.”

“So that’s where the legends came from?”

“Probably.”

“And Alice came from another family, like Jasper?”

“No, and that is a mystery. Alice doesn’t remember her human life at all. And she doesn’t know who created her. She awoke alone. Whoever made her walked away, and none of us understand why, or how, he could. If she hadn’t had that other sense, if she hadn’t seen Jasper and Carlisle and known that she would someday become one of us, she probably would have turned into a total savage.”

And then her stomach growled. How thoughtless I am! “I’m sorry, I’m keeping you from dinner.”

“I’m fine, really,” she said, seeming not to want to go inside.

“I’ve never spent much time around anyone who eats food. I forget,” I apologized.

“I want to stay with you,” she said, warming my cold heart. I knew her father was not in the house—didn’t she realize?

“Can’t I come in?” I asked.

“Would you like to?” What a silly question, my Bella.

“Yes, if it’s all right,” I said, politely, swiftly leaving the car and opening her door on the passenger side.

“Very human,” she complimented my manners.

“It’s definitely resurfacing,” I smiled. I walked next to her on our way up to the door, matching her pace, not really wanting to be separated more than necessary. I wondered if I would ever get over this need to be near her. As we approached the door, I swiftly grabbed the key from under the eave, unlocked the door and returned the key. I opened the door for her as she reached it. She paused halfway through the frame.

“The door was unlocked?”

“No, I used the key from under the eave.”

She stepped inside, flicked on the porch light and turned to look at me with raised eyebrows. She clearly realized I had been using the key before to gain entrance to her house. “I was curious about you,” I explained.

“You spied on me?” she asked, but only seemed slightly upset about it.

“What else is there to do at night?” I asked rhetorically, completely unrepentant. I wouldn’t trade my nocturnal visits with Bella for anything, and could hardly feel regret for the time I spent here. She let it go and went down the hall to the kitchen. I was there before her, sitting in the kitchen chair. She stared at me for a moment, apparently startled by my sudden movement.

She turned and busied herself with getting something for dinner, taking last night’s dinner from the fridge and heating it in the microwave. It revolved around in the microwave, filling the kitchen with a rather repulsive smell of Italian food. She was unnaturally interested in watching the food rotate, freeing me to stare openly at her. I had spent the entire day with her, and still her beauty captivated me. Her dark hair falling softly on her bare shoulders reminded me of how soft it had felt when I had held her before…when I had kissed her. In spite of the unfortunate end to that kiss, I could still feel the heat of it on my lips as I thought about it. She was pursing her lips in an unfortunate grimace as she stared at her food.

“How often?” she asked.

“Hmmm?” I wondered. Were we talking about something that I missed?

She didn’t look at me, still concentrating on the microwave. “How often did you come here?” Oh. I guess she hadn’t really let that go.

“I come here almost every night,” I said.

“Why?” she asked, sounding a little more outraged, and finally whirling to face me.

“You’re interesting when you sleep,” I said, faintly amused, thinking of the many times that I had spent gazing all night at her. “You talk.”

“No!” she gasped, suddenly flushing brilliant pink. She grasped onto the kitchen counter as if she was about to fall over. Oh no. I was instantly sorry I had been so casual about it.

“Are you very angry with me?”

“That depends!” she gasped, sounding like she had lost her voice. I was starting to get more alarmed—I hadn’t anticipated this reaction at all. I waited for her to explain, but she just looked aghast.

“On?” I asked.

“What you heard!” she wailed. Truly alarmed now, I was instantly at her side, carefully taking her hands in mine.

“Don’t be upset!” I pleaded, looking for a way to make this better. I dropped my face down to hold her gaze, but she was too embarrassed and looked away from me. I desperately wanted her to understand that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, that I loved that time with her.

“You miss your mother,” I whispered in her ear, trying to soothe her with the innocence of the things she spoke of. “You worry about her. And when it rains, the sound makes you restless. You used to talk about home a lot, but it’s less often now. Once you said, ‘It’s too green.’” I laughed softly, lovingly, hoping that she would see how much I loved her nighttime revelations and that she should not be offended that I know this part of her.

“Anything else?” she demanded. Of course, I knew what she meant. “You did say my name,” I admitted, softly, hoping she would see how that touched me.

She sighed in defeat, apparently finding the thing she dreaded. “A lot?” she asked.

“How much do you mean by ‘a lot’, exactly?” I asked, not wanting her to think it was more than it was.

“Oh no!” she hung her head, and my heart sank—that time was precious to me and I didn’t want her to be embarrassed about it. I pulled her to me, holding her against my chest, whispering in her ear to soothe her. “Don’t be self-conscious. If I could dream at all, it would be about you. And I’m not ashamed of it.” I hoped she heard the utter love that I felt for her in those words.

Then we heard the sound of tires on the brick driveway and saw the headlights flash through the front windows, down the hall to us. Had I not been concentrating so intently on her, I would have heard Charlie some time ago. She stiffened in my arms, self-conscious at having me in her house.

“Should your father know I’m here?” I asked, wishing to be that casually in her life, but unsure if this was the time. Charlie would certainly be shocked—his thoughts were filled with expectations for dinner with Bella.

“I’m not sure…” she said, hesitating, giving me my answer.

“Another time then…” and I left her side quickly, ghosting away before she knew what had happened. She seemed shocked by my sudden departure, and hissed “Edward!” before I was up the stairs. I laughed lightly, letting her know I wouldn’t be far. I made my escape into her room just a moment before Charlie’s key turned in the door.

“Bella?” he called.

“In here,” she replied, sounding distinctly nervous. Did she think I would reappear when she did not wish me there? I laughed again, perversely delighted in her anxiety. I decided to linger in her room, where I could overhear them—if they happened to come in, I could always resort to hiding in the closet. I grinned, thinking about the last time I was there and how different things were now. Before, I was a pathetic fiend, lurking and watching her sleep—now, I was not unlike any other teenage boy, hiding from his lover’s father. I grinned even wider.

Charlie was thinking mostly about dinner and the smells that were coming from the microwave dinner Bella had prepared. “Can you get me some of that?” he asked. “I’m bushed.” Scraping sounds from the kitchen sounded like he had taken a seat there. Bella must have complied, because a minute later he said, “Thanks,” as she placed his food on the table.

“How was your day?” Bella asked in a rush. I wished, for the hundredth time since I have known the mystery that is my Bella, that I could read her mind and know what she must be thinking. She had spent the entire intense day with me, and was now facing her father, who was oblivious to our relationship.

Charlie didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. “Good. The fish were biting…how about you? Did you get everything done that you wanted to?”

I had to restrain my laughter to a low chuckle, so they would not overhear it downstairs. I wondered if we had accomplished everything that Bella had set out to do today! I know that we had done all I could have wanted, and a whole lot more. My elation at being able to touch, to kiss, Bella, had still not subsided.

“Not really—it was too nice out to stay indoors,” replied Bella, peaking my interest. Would she lie to Charlie—or artfully mislead, as she had before?

“It was a nice day,” he agreed. Mmm…nice, indeed. Charlie’s thoughts took an unexpected turn—he was…suspicious? He wondered why Bella was so hurriedly chugging her milk and gulping her dinner. I smirked. Are you in a hurry to see me again, my love?

“In a hurry?” Charlie asked, wondering if he had stumbled across some secret plan of Bella’s. His thoughts flashed back to their previous conversation about the dance, and he was not convinced that she wasn’t still planning to go somewhere—for some reason, without his knowledge. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Bella. He thought she was eminently sensible—it was those other kids, especially those teenage boys that he did not trust. He didn’t want her to get into anything that he would not be able to rescue her from. I smiled again, thinking how Bella had already survived the most dangerous afternoon of her life.

“Yeah, I’m tired. I’m going to bed early.” Yes, please, Bella. I smiled.

“You look kinda keyed up,” Charlie noted, his suspicion growing. Bella usually kept to a very regular routine. Going to bed early on the night of the dance triggered the police chief’s skepticism.

“Do I?” was all Bella managed in response. It sounded like she was vigorously scrubbing the dishes.

“It’s Saturday,” Charlie mused, hoping she would come clean with him about her plans. Bella didn’t respond. “No plans tonight?” he asked, giving up quickly on the indirect approach.

“No, Dad, I just want to get some sleep.”

“None of the boys in town your type, eh?” he asked, trying to play it cool, but obviously tipping his hand. I had to restrain my laughter again.

“No, none of the boys have caught my eye yet,” Bella said, and I thought I detected just a little emphasis on boys. Even though she was parsing words, and obviously trying to not tell the truth without outright lying to Charlie, I still felt a twinge. A part of me wanted to hear her profess her love for me to Charlie, all the while I knew it was ridiculous to want it.

“I thought maybe that Mike Newton…you said he was friendly.” Did she? I was suddenly overcome with a wave of jealousy as I heard Charlie’s fond thoughts of Newton, and how he was just the kind of boy he would like Bella to be with. That sudden rage took me by surprise.

“He’s just a friend, Dad,” she said, mollifying me somewhat.

“Well, you’re too good for them all, anyway. Wait till you get to college to start looking,” Charlie said, thankful that there was no one Bella was serious about, although the suspicions still lingered at the edge of his mind.

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Bella agreed, lying smoothly as I heard her light footfalls on the stairs.

“Night, honey,” Charlie called after her, thinking he would keep half an ear open for her possible attempts to slip out of the house tonight. Apparently, his suspicions were still alive and well.

“See you in the morning, Dad,” said Bella, and I leapt into the closet just before she reached her door. She came into the bedroom and shut the door behind her, a little louder than necessary, it seemed. She sprinted quietly, on her tiptoes, to the window. She threw it open and leaned out, peering into the darkness.

“Edward?” she whispered. I quickly moved to lay on her bed, behind her, completely unable to contain the grin on my face. “Yes?” I said, laughing quietly.

She whirled around, one hand flying to her throat, completely shocked to find me lying there. My hands were behind my head and my feet were dangling off the end of the bed, doing my best to look completely casual, as if I had been there all along. “Oh!” she breathed, sinking unsteadily to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to dampen my grin and look apologetic for having startled her, but not really succeeding.

“Just give me a minute to restart my heart.”

I sat up slowly, trying to move at human speed for a moment. I leaned forward and picked her up, gripping the tops of her arms like a child, and sat her on the bed next to me. It was wonderful to be able to touch her so easily, but it still felt stiff and awkward—she was so incredibly frail and breakable, I was almost afraid to handle her with anything but the softest touches.

“Why don’t you sit with me,” I suggested, putting my hand on her warm, pulsing one. “How’s the heart?” I smirked.

“You tell me—I’m sure you hear it better than I do,” she said, ruefully. I laughed quietly, shaking the bed with the joy of it. Her heart was pounding rather frantically, and we both sat quietly for a moment, waiting for it to slow. When it was more like the normal thrum that I loved to hear, she asked, “Can I have a minute to be human?”

“Certainly,” I said, having no intention of going anywhere else tonight. I gestured with my hand for her to proceed with whatever she meant by that.

“Stay,” she commanded, looking much like a stern kitten.

“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied, happily, holding still as a statute on the edge of her bed. She hopped up, grabbing pajamas from the floor and a bag of something off the desk. She slipped out and closed the door behind her. I heard her bang the bathroom door, again a bit louder than necessary, undoubtedly trying to convince Charlie that she was going to go to bed. Charlie’s thoughts were busy with the game on the television. Bella had started the shower.

The delight of the day was still washing over me, and I had a hard time believing that we had come through it—this day that I feared so much—with nothing but love on the other side. It almost seemed as if all my concerns about bloody ends to the day were silly, that this was how it was supposed to have been all along. I knew, of course, that wasn’t true, and that the recently caged beast within me still existed. He was, after all, part of me—the worst part, but a part nonetheless. That Bella was the inspiration that would bring out the best in me did not surprise me at all—that I could rise to the challenge, and overcome it, however, still left a feeling of disbelief. She was, quite literally, the best thing that had happened to me in my ninety-odd years of existence.

The shower had been going on for some time. I wasn’t sure if that was normal or not—it had been a long time since I had observed the daily routine of a human. I imagined that she was probably standing in the warm water, letting it run over her and wash away some of the excess nervous energy of our day together. Just thinking about Bella in the shower was giving me that warm, electric feeling. Suddenly the shower stopped, and I could hear faint sounds from the shower as she moved about, probably drying off, rubbing her towel all over her body…I decided I needed to think about something else, or I would be in no state to receive the real Bella when she returned.

I heard her open the bathroom door and lightly patter down the hallway and then down the stairs to Charlie. “Night, Dad,” she said.

“Night, Bella,” said Charlie, startled to see her ready for bed already. He was still unconvinced, though, and planned to check on us later that night. She came quickly back up the stairs and into her room. I hadn’t moved.

She smiled and I tried not to grin too wolfishly at her. My imaginings did not do her justice. Her hair was soaking wet, and she somehow made the large t-shirt that hung on her and grey sweatpants look surprisingly alluring. I raised an eyebrow. “Nice.”

She grimaced. “No, it looks good on you,” I repeated, unable to understand how she could never see this about herself.

“Thanks,” she whispered, and came back to me, sitting cross-legged beside me on the bed.

“What was all that for?” I asked.

“Charlie thinks I’m sneaking out,” she explained.

“Oh,” I said, wondering if she knew why Charlie was suspicious of her. “Why?”

“Apparently, I look a little overexcited.”

I lifted her chin, examining her face. Her skin was still flushed from the warm water of the shower, her soft skin like silk in my hand. “You look very warm, actually.” A different kind of warmth spread through me upon touching her. I bent my face slowly to hers, so as not to startle her, and lay my stone cold cheek against the delicate softness of hers.

“Mmmmmm….” I breathed, wondering if I would ever be able to get enough of the aching warm feeling I had when touching her. Our faces pressed together like this was reminding me of the meadow and how I had felt as if a part of her had been imparted to me, transferred by our touch.

“It seems to be…much easier for you, now, to be close to me,” she observed.

“Does it seem that way to you?” I murmured, my nose gliding along the hotness of her jaw to the corner, lost in the incredible feeling of her. Softly, with the gentlest touch, I swept her damp hair back from her ear, so I could reach the hollow behind her ear with my lips. The hot feel of her skin, mixed with the startling cold of her damp hair, created a delightful feeling in me.

“Much, much easier,” she was saying, as I continued to brush my lips, feather light on her neck, inhaling that incredible scent off her skin.

“Hmm…” One hand still twined in her cold hair, which amazingly was still as soft, but not as slippery, as when it was dry, I traced a line along the back of her ear with the tip of my nose.

“So I was wondering…” she said, trailing off. I heard every word she was saying, but my concentration was completely absorbed with touching her. I took my free hand and slowly ran it along the fine line of her collarbone, reveling in the fiery softness there.

“Yes?” I breathed my cold breath on the skin of her neck, causing her to shiver slightly. The pleasure from that was almost painful.

“Why is that, do you think?” she asked, her voice shaking from the shiver as well. I laughed lightly, sending more soft breaths over her neck, loving the effect I was having on her.

“Mind over matter,” I said, noting how well the fiend was contained with my lips at the very pulsing center of what he wanted most. I was very pleased with myself. Suddenly, she pulled back, and that sudden movement made me want to lunge back and bring the hot skin of her neck back to my lips. I froze as the fiend delighted in that momentary, instinctual tendency. My jaw clenched and I stopped breathing to contain the urge. We stared cautiously at each other for a moment, but the feeling quickly passed, and I relaxed. I was concerned, though, as to why she had pulled away from me.

“Did I do something wrong?” I asked.

“No—the opposite. You’re driving me crazy,” she explained.

I was driving myself mad with touching her, and I knew that she at least found it pleasant enough not to shrink away. I had no idea that I was generating the same aching pleasure in her as I was feeling.

“Really?” I asked, quite pleased with myself again, smiling triumphantly.

“Would you like a round of applause?” she asked, sarcastically. I just grinned wider.

“I’m just pleasantly surprised,” I explained, trying not to sound too gratified. “In the last hundred years or so, I never imagined anything like this,” I said, lightly teasing. “I didn’t believe I would ever find someone I wanted to be with…in another way than my brothers and sisters. And then to find, even though it’s all new to me, that I’m good at it…at being with you…” I was having a hard time keeping that pride out of my voice.

“You’re good at everything,” she pointed out.

I shrugged, not wanting to give away the painfully obvious fact that I was not good at everything, but still feeling rather pleased with my accomplishments of today. We both laughed quietly so that Charlie would not hear.

“But how can it be so easy now?” she pressed. “This afternoon…”

“It’s not easy,” I sighed. “But this afternoon, I was still…undecided. I am sorry about that, it was unforgivable for me to behave so.”

“Not unforgivable,” she disagreed, entirely too forgiving of me. But I was greedily glad for it, because without it, I would not be sitting here tonight.

“Thank you,” I smiled, looking down at her. “You see, I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough…” I picked up one of her hands and pressed it lightly to my face, loving the ease with which I could do that, and the warmth that it brought. “And while there was still that possibility that I might be…overcome…” I breathed in the scent off her wrist, a thrill going through me, “I was…susceptible. Until I made up my mind that I was strong enough, that there was no possibility at all that I would…that I ever could…” I didn’t even want to speak it, not that the words had any real power over me. It was a future that I was determined to permanently banish.

“So there’s no possibility now?” she asked.

“Mind over matter,” I repeated, smiling.

“Wow, that was easy,” she said. I laughed uproariously at this, throwing my head back, unable to contain the joy of it. I remembered at the last second to keeping my laughter as quiet as a whisper, to not arouse Charlie’s suspicions.

“Easy for you!” I added, touching her nose with my fingertip. It struck me how young and vulnerable she was. I was instantly more serious as I realized, once again, the risk I was taking with her. “I’m trying,” I added, my voice quiet and pained. “If it gets to be…too much, I’m fairly sure I’ll be able to leave.”

She scowled. However, I was more confident than I let on, or I would not be sitting here with her, taking the risk that we were.

“And it will be harder tomorrow. I’ve had the scent of you in my head all day, and I’ve grown amazingly desensitized. If I’m away from you for any length of time,” I cringed just at the thought of it—I was so attached to her now, I was sure it would be even more painful to be separated—“I’ll have to start over again. Not quite from scratch, though, I think.”

“Don’t go away, then,” she responded, saying just the words I wanted to hear.

“That suits me,” I replied, smiling gently at her. Of course, I had no intention of leaving. “Bring on the shackles—I’m your prisoner,” I said jokingly, but very gently grabbed hold of her wrists in my hands, forming manacles for her. I would not soon, voluntarily, let her go.

“You seem more…optimistic than usual,” she observed. “I haven’t seen you like this before.”

“Isn’t it supposed to be like this?” I asked, smiling at the wonder of it. “The glory of first love, and all that. It’s incredible, isn’t it, the difference between reading about something, seeing it in the pictures, and experiencing it?”

“Very different,” she agreed. “More forceful than I’d imagined.” I loved that we were both new at this together. I became excited at the prospect of exploring our new love, as I imagined all lovers were.

“For example,” I said, my words coming quickly, “the emotion of jealousy. I’ve read about it a hundred thousand times, seen actors portray it in a thousand different plays and movies. I believed I understood that one pretty clearly. But it shocked me…” I grimaced, thinking of Newton. “Do you remember the day that Mike asked you to the dance?”

She nodded. “The day you started talking to me again.”

“I was surprised by the flare of resentment, almost fury, that I felt—I didn’t recognize what it was at first. I was even more aggravated than usual that I couldn’t know what you were thinking, why you refused him. Was it simply for your friend’s sake? Was there someone else? I knew I had no right to care either way. I tried not to care. And then the line started forming.” I chuckled as she scowled at the memory.

“I waited,” I continued, “unreasonably anxious to hear what you would say to them, to watch your expressions. I couldn’t deny the relief I felt, watching the annoyance on your face. But I couldn’t be sure. That was the first night I came here. I wrestled all night, while watching you sleep, with the chasm between what I knew was right, moral, ethical, and what I wanted. I knew that if I continued to ignore you as I should, or if I left for a few years, till you were gone, that someday you would say yes to Mike, or someone like him. It made me angry.”

“And then,” I whispered, “as you were sleeping, you said my name. You spoke so clearly, at first I thought you’d woken. But you rolled over restlessly and mumbled my name once more, and sighed. The feeling that coursed through me then was unnerving, staggering. And I knew I couldn’t ignore you any longer.”

Reliving those early moments of jealousy and my first realization that I loved Bella, gave me that sense of inevitability again. I could hear her heart pound unevenly, and was glad for it—that it was still beating, and that I could cause such a reaction in her with my professions of love.

“But jealousy…it’s a strange thing. So much more powerful than I would have thought. And irrational! Just now, when Charlie asked you about that vile Mike Newton…” I shook my head angrily, thinking of how much Charlie would prefer Mike, over me, even if Bella did not.

“I should have known you’d be listening,” she groaned.

“Of course,” I said, thinking she should know better by now.

That made you feel jealous, though, really?”

“I’m new at this; you’re resurrecting the human in me, and everything feels stronger because it’s fresh.”

“But honestly,” she teased, “for that to bother you, after I have to hear that Rosalie—Rosalie, the incarnation of pure beauty, Rosalie—was meant for you. Emmett or no Emmett, how can I compete with that?”

“There’s no competition,” I stated simply, smiling. I drew her trapped wrists, which I still held in my stone shackle hands, around my back, pulling her close to me. She tried to keep still, but complained into my chest, “I know there’s no competition. That’s the problem.”

“Of course Rosalie is beautiful in her way, but even if she wasn’t like a sister to me, even if Emmett didn’t belong with her, she could never have one tenth, no, one hundredth of the attraction you hold for me.” I thought for a moment about all the ways that Bella drew me in. “For almost ninety years I’ve walked among my kind, and yours…all the time thinking I was complete in myself, not realizing what I was seeking. And not finding anything, because you weren’t alive yet.”

“It hardly seems fair,” she whispered into my chest, her hot breath delightfully penetrating my shirt. “I haven’t had to wait at all. Why should I get off so easily?”

“You’re right,” I agreed, wryly. “I should make this harder for you, definitely.” I released one of her hands and gathered it in my other hand, so I was holding both of her wrists with one hand, freeing the other to softly stroke her wet hair, all the way down to her waist. “You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me, that’s surely not much. You only have to turn your back on nature, on humanity…what’s that worth?”

“Very little—I don’t feel deprived of anything.”

“Not yet,” I whispered, filled with a sudden sadness. She was so young, so naïve— she could not even begin to comprehend the things she would have to give up to be with me. If only we could live just in the moments that we had now, and not worry about the future…my thoughts were interrupted by Charlie’s sudden decision that it was time to check on Bella. Bella tried to pull back from me, but my hands had an unbreakable hold on her wrists.

“What—“ she started to ask, but froze when she realized something had happened. I released her and flew back into the closet. She seemed unsteadied by my sudden departure.

“Lie down!” I hissed. She quickly responded by rolling under the quilt on her bed, balling up on her side, the way she usually slept. Just in time, as Charlie cracked the door open and peeked in. She started breathing like a laboring elephant, exaggerating the movement for Charlie’s benefit. I had to stifle my laughter to avoid giving us away. After a moment, Charlie left. I waited until he was safely convinced that she was asleep and had made his way back to his own room. I quickly left the closet and slipped into her bed, putting my cold arm around her, under the covers, just as I had imagined doing so many times.

“You are a terrible actress,” I whispered in her ear, blowing cold air in the warm confines of her bed. “I’d say that career path is out for you.”

“Darn it,” she muttered, her heart speeding up. I think she delighted in my being next to her, just as much as I did. I hummed her lullaby to soothe her racing heart. “Should I sing you to sleep?” I asked.

“Right,” she laughed. “Like I could sleep with you here!”

“You do it all the time,” I reminded her.

“But I didn’t know you were here,” she replied, her anger returning over my nocturnal lurking.

Her warmth was spreading rapidly to me, here under the covers with her. It felt intimate in a way that we had not been before, and I was relishing it. It was no time for hurt feelings. “So if you don’t want to sleep…” I trailed off suggestively, smiling in the darkness when I heard her breath catch.

“If I don’t want to sleep…?” she echoed.

I chuckled, delighting in making her uncomfortable. “What do you want to do then?”

She took a long time answering, torturing me with her silence. “I’m not sure,” she finally said.

“Tell me when you decide,” I said, taking matters into my own hands by sliding the tip of my nose along her jaw, inhaling her delicious scent and then blowing cool air on her.

“I thought you were desensitized,” she said, not exactly complaining.

“Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” I whispered, sending fresh waves of coolness over her skin. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender…or freesia,” I noted. “It’s mouthwatering,” I said, marveling at how literally true that was.

“Yeah, it’s an off day when I don’t get somebody telling me how edible I smell.”

I laughed lightly, and then gave a small sigh of pleasure.

“I’ve decided what I want to do,” she finally said. “I want to hear more about you.”

“Ask me anything.”

She paused for a moment, and then asked, “Why do you do it? I still don’t understand how you can work so hard to resist what you…are. Please don’t misunderstand, of course I’m glad that you do. I just don’t see why you would bother in the first place.”

I hesitated. It seemed we always came back to this. I hoped that one day, I could lie in her bed and the last question she would want to ask me was why I didn’t want to kill her. But for now, I would have to make do with satisfying only her curiosity. “That’s a good question, and you are not the first one to ask it. The others—the majority of our kind who are quite content with our lot—they, too, wonder at how we live. But you see, just because we’ve been…dealt a certain hand…it doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to rise above—to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can.”

She didn’t say anything for a few minutes. I wondered if she realized how I—or any of my family, for that matter—would give anything to be human again, and how incredibly important it was to me that she remain human, and have the things we could only long for. I didn’t think so. I didn’t think she could know what she would be giving up—she was too young to know. A guilty pang ran through me again, but I was determined to not let thoughts of the future ruin this day for me—not after all we had survived together today.

“Did you fall asleep?” I asked, when she was still quiet.

“No.”

“Is that all you were curious about?” I asked, hopefully.

“Not quite.”

“What else do you want to know?”

“Why can you read minds—why only you? And Alice, seeing the future…why does that happen?”

I shrugged, moving the quilt slightly. “We don’t really know. Carlisle has a theory…he believes that we all bring something of our strongest human traits with us into the next life, where they are intensified—like our minds, and our senses. He thinks that I must have already been very sensitive to the thoughts of those around me. And that Alice had some precognition, wherever she was.”

“What did he bring into the next life, and the others?”

“Carlisle brought his compassion. Esme brought her ability to love passionately. Emmett brought his strength, Rosalie her…tenacity. Or you could call it pigheadedness,” I chuckled. “Jasper is very interesting. He was quite charismatic in his first life, able to influence those around him to see things his way. Now he is able to manipulate the emotions of those around him—calm down a room of angry people, for example, or excite a lethargic crowd, conversely. It’s a very subtle gift.”

She was thinking quietly again. I waited, wondering what she could be thinking of my family. We had existed for so long in our own little world, insulated from, and irrelevant to, the outside world—it was hard for me to know what she would make of it.

“So where did it all start? I mean, Carlisle changed you, and then someone must have changed him, and so on…”

“Well, where did you come from? Evolution? Creation? Couldn’t we have evolved in the same way as other species, predator and prey? Or, if you don’t believe that all this world could have just happened on its own, which is hard for me to accept myself, is it so hard to believe that the same force that created the delicate angelfish with the shark, the baby seal and the killer whale, could create both our kinds together?

“Let me get this straight—I’m the baby seal, right?”

“Right.” I laughed, utterly charmed by her once again, and kissed her through her hair, on the top of her head. She was silent again, so I asked, “Are you ready to sleep? Or do you have any more questions?”

“Only a million or two.”

“We have tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…” I trailed off, euphoric at the idea, and thrilling to endless days with Bella.

“Are you sure you won’t vanish in the morning?” she asked, pretending concern. “You are mythical, after all.”

“I won’t leave you,” I promised, as if she could force me to go at this point.

“One more, then, tonight…” I could feel the heat rise up in her face before I could see it, even in the darkness. What was this? I was suddenly intensely curious.

“What is it?”

“No, forget it. I changed my mind.”

“Bella, you can ask me anything,” I tried persuasion first. When she didn’t answer, I just groaned, frustrated with her teasing. “I keep thinking it will get less frustrating, not hearing your thoughts. But it just gets worse and worse.”

“I’m glad you can’t read my thoughts. It’s bad enough that you eavesdrop on my sleep-talking.”

“Please?” I whispered, my voice heavy with honey-filled love, and desperate to get her to tell me. She shook her head in the darkness. “If you don’t tell me, I’ll just assume it’s something much worse than it is,” I threatened. “Please?” I pleaded with her, truly pathetic now.

“Well,” she began, but then stopped.

“Yes?”

“You said that Rosalie and Emmett will get married soon…Is that…marriage…the same as it is for humans?”

I laughed and laughed, finally understanding. After all we had been through, she was embarrassed to discuss the passion that we felt and where it would naturally lead—naturally if we were humans, and, apparently unknown to her, doubly so if we were vampires. “Is that what you’re getting at?” I teased.

She fidgeted around, obviously still uncomfortable. I grinned.

“Yes, I suppose it is much the same,” I said, not knowing first hand myself, but definitely familiar with the mechanics and details, having spent a ridiculous amount of time around three very amorous vampire couples. “I told you, most of those human desires are there, just hidden behind more powerful desires.”

“Oh,” was all she said.

“Was there a purpose behind your curiosity?” I asked, teasing her again.

“Well, I did wonder…about you and me…someday…”

I froze. I thought her curiosity and embarrassment were merely idle, an inquisitiveness into the strange world of the undead and the more lascivious aspects thereof. But no. She wanted to know if we could…if we would be able to…even I had not yet considered that.

“I don’t think that…that…would be possible for us,” I thought out loud, wondering madly if there was any possible way that we could, without harming Bella, without having some horrible end to it.

“Because it would be too hard for you, if I were that…close?” she asked.

“That’s certainly a problem. But that’s not what I was thinking of. It’s just that you are so soft, so fragile. I have to mind my actions every moment that we’re together so that I don’t hurt you. I could kill you quite easily, Bella, simply by accident.” I was whispering softly into her ear now, placing my cold palm gently on her warm, reassuring cheek. “If I was to hasty…if for one second I wasn’t paying enough attention, I could reach out, meaning to touch your face, and crush your skull by mistake. You don’t realize how incredibly breakable you are. I can never, never afford to lose any kind of control when I’m with you.”

I wished desperately there was someway that could not be true. Perhaps…I had become desensitized so quickly…but no, it was far too dangerous to even contemplate. There was no way I could be in control the way I needed to be around her in that kind of state. I realized that she had not said anything, making me anxious that I had disappointed her…or possibly frightened her. She probably did not realize that I was always, constantly, a walking menace to her. “Are you scared?” I asked.

She waited, and did not answer right away, stoking my anxiety. After a minute, she said, “No. I’m fine.”

It wasn’t hard to believe that Bella wasn’t scared by the prospect that I could instantly end her life, just by clumsiness or lack of sufficient care. Nothing ever seemed to frighten her. But, what about that other part—the disappointment. Would she not want to be with me, knowing that we would never be able to truly be a couple? Was that something that it would be intolerable to do without? Something she knew already, and would miss?

“I’m curious now, though,” I said, trying to keep my voice light, not betraying my nervousness for her answer. “Have you ever…?” I trailed off suggestively, certain she understood my meaning.

“Of course not,” she said, and flushed that radiant warmth again. “I told you I’ve never felt like this about anyone before, not even close.”

“I know,” I said, reassuring her, and reassured myself, as well as a little relieved. “It’s just that I know other people’s thoughts. I know love and lust don’t always keep the same company.”

“They do for me. Now, anyway, that they exist for me at all,” she sighed.

“That’s nice. We have that one thing in common, at least.” I wanted to reassure her that I, too, had waited to find the one that I loved. The irony was not lost on me that the one I had waited for, the one that I loved, may not be the one that I could finally have that kind of intimacy with. However, I was satisfied that, at least, we were on equal footing in that regard.

“Your human instincts…” she began. I waited. “Well, do you find me attractive, in that way, at all?”

I laughed and lightly rumpled her hair, which was nearly dry now. “I may not be human, but I am a man,” I reassured her. How she could doubt that was beyond my understanding. She yawned. “I’ve answered your questions, now you should sleep,” I insisted.

“I’m not sure if I can.”

“Do you want me to leave?” I asked, having no intention of doing so, even if she said ‘yes’.

“No!” she said, a bit too loudly. I laughed and began to hum her lullaby again, softly in her ear. She settled into my arms and soon was drifting off to sleep. Her heart slowed, her breathing became that rhythmic, hypnotic sound that I had spent so many nights listening to. Only now, I was in her bed, with her safely in my arms. My contentment was immeasurable.