How on earth is it possible that this girl has managed to sustain her life thus far? She can't walk five steps without finding something to trip over! - I mused to myself as I led the excruciatingly slow path through the dense forest.

I had never before encountered a human being so prone to accidents as the seemingly ordinary girl stumbling along behind me. I prayed desperately that her ungraceful gait would not result in any form of an open wound, immediately regretting the thought as it resulted in a pool of venom beneath my tongue. I swallowed it back quickly, not wanting to let it linger any longer than it had to for fear of endangering her life any more than I already was by suggesting this hike through the woods.

I should have made her turn around the moment I found out that no one knew she was with me. I shouldn't have brought her out here. I shouldn't have placed this much faith in myself.

My train of thought was disrupted by a fallen tree obstructing the path ahead. On a normal basis, I wouldn't have even given this tree a second thought, but with Bella following me, I was more or less obligated to lend my assistance seeing as it was my lack of reasoning which had led us out here in the first place. I turned sharply and extended my hand, which I noticed a slight degree of trembling in, and grasped her elbow gently to steady her as she climbed over the thick tree trunk. I could feel her pulse thundering beneath my grip and at my alteration in proximity, I could hear her heart speed up and her breathing thicken. The moment that my skin made contact with hers, it was like lightening. A shock ran through my entire body, just as it had before, and I released her as soon as possible.

My thoughts, previously tormented by my own regrets and self loathing, were now riddled with decoding whatever reasons there could be for my reaction to such a seemingly insignificant creature. Why was I drawn to her so much? Granted, her blood sang to me like I had never dreamed possible, but why should she be so different. She was a human. I had encountered many of those in my years and never had I felt such a desire to learn about any of them before now. It was strange and uncharted territory, this attraction I felt. It was more than just the expected lust for her blood. I also desired her in human ways. Ways that I, until very recently, had not believed that I could entertain. I wanted to touch her. I wanted to kiss her, and let my hands roam freely over her body. I wanted to talk endlessly with her about everything. It was foreign to me to be this curious. Even though I had the capability to gain an insight to other's minds, I had never been so keen to learn more about them than in this instance. I did my best to pass that off as a side effect to my inability to read her thoughts, a mystery which I found plagued me constantly, but a small part of me still believed that even if I could read her mind.. It would interest me more than others. She was very unique in the way she thought about and reacted to things.

As I considered all of the qualities about her that had placed me in this position, I chanced a few peeks backward at her. As yet further proof of her little respect for her own self preservation, I noted that each time I glanced back at her, she was staring at me. She hadn't seemed to take her eyes off of me for a minute. She seemed to be admiring me, almost as if I were a piece of art. It made me slightly uncomfortable to be scrutinized like that, which was again, another mystery. I had lived most of my existence with people staring at me, but for some reason, for her to be looking at me like that sent my mind racing through so many different and unfamiliar emotions. It was a bad idea, on her part, to focus on me. If I were her, I would have been intently studying the ground that I was walking, or in her case, stumbling over, for safety precautions. She, however, seemed much more intent on studying my backside.

The hours wore past slowly, and little by little, the sunlight that I had predicted began filtering through the green canopy above us.

"Are we there yet?" at the sound of her voice, an unexpected smile curled the corners of my mouth.

"Nearly." I responded. "Do you see the brightness ahead?" I knew she couldn't, but I asked anyways, just as an excuse to hear her voice again.

"Um, should I?"

I felt an increase in the definition of my smile as she spoke. "Maybe it's a bit too soon for your eyes." I bragged slightly.

"Time to visit the optometrist." She said the words as she scowled, but I could tell that she meant it in a playful way.

A few moments passed before she saw the faint glow of the meadow ahead of us. Once she caught sight of what she assumed was our destination, her pace quickened and soon she was right beside me, instead of trailing behind. She smelled tormentingly delicious, and I swallowed down another pool of venom as the wind tousled her hair gently in my direction.

Remembering with a start the meaning behind our journey, I halted at the corner of the meadow, safely in the shade of the tree's as she ventured forward into the circular field. Her hair shimmered beautifully in the sunlight as she delicately picked her way through the tall grass and flowers, letting her hands stretch out beside her and her fingers skim gently through the top of the foliage. She seemed totally at peace, and in that moment, I was sure I had never seen anything as beautiful as her.

Seemingly remembering that she wasn't alone, she spun and squinted through the sunlight to find me lurking just out of the suns reach. She beckoned for me to join her and I raised my hand to signify my request for her patience. Her hands fell to her sides as she stared, waiting intently, in my direction. Half hoping that she would come to her senses and scream and run when she witnessed this, I closed my eyes, took a deep, unneeded breath and stepped forward into the sunshine.

The screaming never came. I heard her gasp in astonishment as the sun glinted off of my skin like a thousand airborne diamonds, but when I opened my eyes, the adoration that I had seen in her eyes before had only multiplied.

She stared at me, wide eyed and surprised for an immeasurable moment before finally even blinking. I took the initiative to dart past her as her eyes closed and lay in the middle of the meadow. She spun, shocked to have found me gone in the blink of an eye, her heart beat thumping erratically for a moment before she spotted me in the middle of the meadow. My eyes closed, I heard her approach and fold herself down beside me in the tall grass. I lay there in silence for a short while, listening to the sounds of the nearby brook. The calming sounds gave me an idea for a piece of music, and without thinking about it - I began singing softly to myself.

Bella awoke me from my reverie with gentle curiosity about what I was doing. Apparently I was moving my lips at an inhuman speed. I simply stated that I was singing to myself, not mentioning that I was placing words to the song that she had already inspired me to write. After that, she watched me in silence for a few moments. I could feel her eyes on me, almost sense where she was staring. Suddenly, an electric shock jarred my eyes open. I looked over at her, cautiously extending a trembling finger towards me. She stroked the back of my hand gently again, and then looked up to meet my eyes.

"I don't scare you?" I asked, puzzled.

"No more than usual."

I smiled at her typically unpredictable response and closed my eyes again.

"Do you mind?" She asked hopefully.

There were so many ways that I longed to respond to her. 'Do I mind?', she asked. How on earth could she ever understand what her touch was doing to me. Every fiber of my being was more alive now than it had ever been before, and all because of this beautiful, extraordinary girl.

"No," I sighed, "You can't imagine how that feels."

At my admittance, she began trailing her fingers up and down the length of my entire exposed arm, tracing the veins so lightly, that a normal human may not have felt the touch. I felt it. I felt every nuancial move her finger made, I felt every beat of her heart, and I loved every single sensation.

Her intentions suddenly changed as her hand paused again over the top of my wrist and the tips of her fingers toyed hesitantly under the palm of my hand. For a brief instant, I thought that she was trying to hold my hand, but then, catching on to her true intentions, I flipped my palm upward and let it rest in her hand. I realized a moment too late that I had moved much more quickly than she had expected me to. Her hands froze on my arm and I peeked up at her startled face.

"Sorry," I apologized quickly before closing my eyes again. "It's too easy to be myself with you."

She relaxed a little, then, and lifted my hand in hers and began studying it in the light. Her hands felt so magnificently warm against my skin. I opened my eyes again as I felt her warm breath tickle my fingers to find her face just inches away from my hand studying it with pure, unjaded fascination. It frustrated me immensely that I couldn't decipher what she was thinking. Every time she creased her brow in thought, it sent my brain careening through the possibilities of her thoughts.

"Tell me what you're thinking." I whispered softly, "It's still so strange for me - not knowing." At my words, she raised her gaze from my hand and met my eyes.

"You know, the rest of us feel that way all the time." She smirked, a hint of accusation in her tone. If only she knew how discomforting it could be to have to be subjected constantly to the thoughts of others.

"It's a hard life." I shrugged, "But you didn't tell me."

She rolled her eyes, obviously regretting the fact that her attempt at changing the subject had been unsuccessful.

"I was wishing that I could know what you were thinking…" She trailed off. Something in the way she had said it gave away that there was more to the story.

"And?" I pressed.

She shot me an exasperated glance before continuing. "I was wishing that I could believe you were real. And I was wishing that I wasn't afraid."

The surreal honesty and vulnerability in her words elicited a gut-wrenching guilt within my frozen core. My voice was barely above a whisper when I responded - "I don't want you to be afraid." And I didn't. I didn't want her to feel afraid, but I knew that it would doubtlessly be in her better interest to fear me. It would be a great improvement on the condition of her safety if she were to run from me, the monster that I was, screaming. But the selfish part of me was glad that she chose to risk her life and accept me. I was determined to do everything possible to eliminate the threat that I was to her.

"Well, that's not exactly the fear I meant, but that's certainly something to think about." She murmured.

I frowned at her comment, not knowing exactly what it meant. I propped myself up on my available arm and stared deeply into her eyes, trying desperately to unveil her words meaning without having to ask, but to no avail. As soon as I made the motion, the nearness of her face crippled my every sense. Her pulse quickened in response to my proximity, causing her blood to taunt me further. Her eyes widened, but she made no motion to flinch away from me.

"What are you afraid of then?" I asked.

She gave no response, instead, she leaned in closer.

Immediately, my head spun with the torment that my instinct was causing me. The wind had blown at just the same moment she leaned towards me, stirring her hair in my direction. Thousands of images of myself, drinking the sweet nectar beneath her skin flashed through my head, all ending with the same picture of Bella - dead and cold. I felt my eyes turn black in a split second and I knew that I had to place a devastating amount of space between myself and Bella, fast.

In a half of a second, I was yards away from her at the other end of the meadow. I focused on breathing deeply, ignoring the scent of her wafting across the field.

"I'm sorry, Edward." She whispered.

"Give me a moment." I called out reassuringly. I took a few more moments to collect my thoughts before returning, very slowly, to sit a painful 4 feet away from the temptation that was Bella.

Her eyes wide, she regarded me cautiously, as if she was willing herself not to be afraid.

"I'm so very sorry." I apologized. "Would you understand what I meant if I said I was only human?"

She nodded curtly, but made no other move. She sat there, a look of fear masking her features, and I realized that I could use this moment to my advantage, or, her advantage, rather. If I could make her afraid… then she would be safe. It would near kill me to have to force her away like that, but it was for her own good.

"I'm the words best predator, aren't I?" I smiled. "Everything about me invites you in - my voice, my face, even my smell. As if I need any of that!" I knew that my words alone weren't going to convince her of danger, and I needed her to know the peril that she placed herself in by coming with me today. I hoped desperately that it didn't drive her away from me, but if it did, I would accept it as what was best. I just needed her to understand, and believe that I was a hazard to her.

I bounded away, back to the same corner of the field I had fled to the first time, only, with different intentions. To emphasize my point, I circled the meadow at an inhuman speed first before stopping and turning back to her with a sly grin, "As if you could outrun me."

I reached up the trunk of the tree and closed my hand around a two foot thick branch before easily snapping it off of the tree and then shattering it against another. I returned to my position, though a little nearer this time, by Bella.

"As if you could fight me off." I spoke softly.

It only took a moment to recognize that I had succeeded, maybe a little too much, in frightening her. I immediately felt remorse for the lengths I had gone to and I knew that I had overdone the dramatics a little bit.

"Don't be afraid," I murmured apologetically, knowing full well that it was far too late for that, "I promise… I swear not to hurt you." As I said the words, I knew they were true. If I could have hurt her, I would have done it already. I had made up my mind to protect her at any cost, and that is exactly what I would do. "Don't be afraid." I repeated as I crept slowly closer, so as not to frighten her more than I already had. I sat a mere foot from her, balancing my thoughts as I did so.

"Please forgive me," I requested gently, "I can control myself. You caught me off guard. But I'm on my best behavior now." I waited a moment before adding, "I'm not thirsty today, honestly."

That seemed to do the trick. She laughed weakly, but it was improvement from her previous terrified stare, anyways.

"Are you alright?" I asked softly as I replaced my hand in hers. It took her a moment to compose herself, but after she had, she resumed the process of tracing lines into the back of my hand with her amazingly warm fingertips. I returned her smile before continuing.

"So, where were we, before I behaved so rudely?" I pressed conversationally.

"I honestly can't remember." She admitted.

"I think we were talking about why you afraid, besides the obvious reason."

"Oh, right."


She seemed to think about her answer for a minute before aimlessly returning to the patterns on my hand. I exercised my patience as much as I could before finally voicing my discomfort.

"How easily frustrated I am." I sighed. She snapped her head up as if she had forgotten my presence and rendered me immobile beneath the gaze of her warm and beautiful eyes.

"I was afraid… 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 avoided eye contact as she spoke, focusing intently on the designs she was tracing with her pleasantly warm touch.

"Yes." I agreed, choosing my words carefully. "That is something to be afraid of indeed. Wanting to be with me. That's really not in your best interest."

She didn't look at me, still, but her frown was visible nonetheless.

"I should have left long ago. I should leave now. But I don't know if I can." I thought aloud.

"I don't want you to leave." She protested softly, a slight blush creeping to color her cheeks as she spoke.

"Which is exactly why I should." I argued, "But don't worry. I'm essentially a selfish creature. I crave your company too much to do what I should."

"I'm glad." She whispered timidly.

"Don't be!" I rose my voice, a little too much, perhaps, and pulled my hands out of hers gently, forcing her to look up at me instead. "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." As I said it, I knew it would require an explanation. Bella had no idea the way her blood sang to me. She was, until now, blissfully unaware of how completely and devastatingly difficult it was for me to restrain my instincts when she was near me. Especially when she was blushing so beautifully, as she was now.

After a moment of thought and careful sentence construction, she spoke again. "I don't think I understand exactly what you mean - by that last part anyway,"

I smiled to myself as I considered all of the different ways I could explain this to her. Should I be a hungry lion, and her the stack of raw meat? No, too gruesome. Maybe a recovering alcoholic? No, not nearly as serious as it should be."

"How do I explain?" I frowned, "And without frightening you again… hmmm." I replaced my hand into hers and she gripped it tightly, as if making some previously determined futile attempt at holding it there.

As if she could fight me off.

"That's amazingly pleasant, the warmth." I considered aloud, grinning slightly.

I thought for a moment before landing on a metaphor that seemed to possess the most potential.

"You know how everyone enjoys different flavors?" As soon as I said it, I felt moronic. How could a food analogy possibly depict my struggle. Not to mention, referring to her as food was a little more honest than I needed to be. "Some people love chocolate ice cream, others prefer strawberry?"

She nodded to signify her understanding, but I couldn't continue on that path. I had to change the story for my sake, let alone hers.

"Sorry about the food analogy." I apologized, "I couldn't think of another way to explain."

We exchanged another smile before I tried again.

"You see, every person smells different, has a different essence. If you lock 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 lets say you placed in that room a glass of hundred-year-old brandy, the rarest, finest cognac - and filled the room with it's warm aroma - how do you think he would fare then?"

Her forehead crinkled in thought as she considered this as I struggled to think of yet another way to make her 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…."

I was about to jump into another round of explanations when understanding lit her face and she cut in.

"So what you're saying is, I'm you're brand of heroin?"

I returned her smile honestly, relieved that she seemed to understand.

"Yes," I confirmed, "You are exactly my brand of heroin."

"Does that happen often?" She queried, curious now.

I gazed into the distance, calculating my response carefully, though I knew that no amount of caution would protect her from the fear that this explanation was bound to cause.

"I spoke to my brothers about it. 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." Realizing that I was headed back to the food analogy, I made a quick apology.

"I don't mind." She waved off my apology quickly. "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."

I took a deep, unneeded breath and stared at the sun for a moment. I focused on the licks of flames darting out from it's surface, barely visible to my eyes, completely invisible to human's; just another reminder of what I was… and what she wasn't. Just another reminder of how wrong this was, for me to put her in danger like this.

"So Jasper wasn't sure if he would 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."

That was all I was intending on offering her. If she had questions, I knew she would ask them. I just hoped desperately that there were a few things that she wouldn't ask. Even more desperately, I wished that I could read what she was thinking so that I could at least have some form of notice before she caught me off guard.

"And for you?"

"Never." I answered honestly.

Her face scrunched up in thought again, bringing a complete silence upon the meadow for a moment, save for the chirping of birds and the babbling of a nearby stream. Of course, also present… to me, anyways, was Bella's heartbeat and the slow and soft noise of her lungs expanding and contracting. I could have listened to those sounds all day and been perfectly content.

"What did Emmett do?"

There it was. The question I had been dreading. LIE, some portion of my brain shouted. I knew, though, that Bella had every right to know what odds she was up against. I felt my body grow rigid as I broke my gaze with Bella to try to find the right words to use.

"I guess I know." She said quietly, regret filtering through her words.

I didn't want her to fear Emmett though. If anyone, she should fear me… not my brothers, though. "Even the strongest of us fall off the wagon, don't we?" I asked pleadingly. As if that could justify what we were, how we were meant to live. She misunderstood.

"What are you asking? My permission? I mean, is there no hope, then?"

"No, no!" I felt my eyes widen as I realized what conclusion had just entered her mind. "Of course there's hope! I mean, of course I wont…" I stopped short of finishing the sentence, not knowing how to convince her otherwise. "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."

She bit her lip as she considered my explanation, sending us into another uncomfortable silence.

"So, if we'd met… oh, in a dark alley or something…"

Lie. The voice instructed again. No, I couldn't lie to her about this. She had a right to know these things. After all, they involved her, now.

"It took everything I had not to jump up in the middle of that class full of children and-" Well, I could spare her that part, anyways. "When you walked past me, I could have ruined everything Carlisle has 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."

As I remembered how I had felt when I met her, the all-to-familiar image of Bella, dead and cold, sent a wave of self loathing through me. I felt the corner of my mouth pull downwards in a tight scowl. Bella's expression looked apologetic, as if she expected that I was chagrined at her rather than myself. "You must have thought I was possessed." I realized aloud.

"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, trying to think 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…"

Bella sat, looking very timid and small as I tried to give her insight into the pit of my mind.

"You would have come." I assured her.

"Without a doubt." Her words came out much more calmly than I expected.

I considered whether to tell her the rest or not, but eventually decided to do so. I had come this far without lying to her, I would be a fool to start now.

"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 ignored the shudder that ran through her and continued to expel the memories as they returned to me, "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." Her mouth dropped open in shock, but again, I ignored it and continued, "I traded cars with him - he had a full tank of gas and I didn't want to stop. I didn't dare 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 spent two days there, with some old acquaintances… but I was homesick. I hated knowing that 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'd dealt with temptation before, not of this magnitude, not even close, but I was strong. Who were you, an insignificant little girl -" I threw a playful grin in, for her benefit. "To chase me from the place I wanted to be? So I came back…"

"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 having to stoop to that. And then I couldn't know if you really meant what you said. It was all extremely irritating." I frowned, realizing that the irritation was still present. I was surprised at how easily I was able to get carried away with my story telling when I wasn't constantly being interrupted by the thoughts of those around me. It seemed much too silent with her, eerily so, in fact.

"I wanted you to forget my behavior that first day, if possible," I continued, "So I tried to talk to 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 explanation 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 and waited as she considered all of the new information that I had just thrown upon her.

"In the hospital?" She finally spoke.

I knew what she was alluding to without any explanation necessary.

"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 slightly as I said that. "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. Esme told me to do whatever I had to in order to stay.

"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."

Against my will, a sudden sadness engulfed me.

"And for all that, I'd have fared better if I had exposed us all that first moment, than if now, here - with no witnesses and nothing to stop me - I were to hurt you."

I may not have been able to read her thoughts, but I knew she would ask.


"Isabella," her full name didn't sound right to me. I played my fingers lightly through her brown locks, holding my breath all the while. "Bella, I couldn't live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don't know how it's tortured me. 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."

As I scrolled through all of the characteristics of this girl that I could not get out of my mind, I realized that what I felt was deeper than just an interest in the unknown. What I felt was more… more human than anything I had ever felt before. I needed to be with her. I needed to protect her and hold her…

"You are the most important thing to me. The most important thing to me ever."

I heard her heartbeat accelerate as I spoke, reacting to my sudden admittance. I gulped, too. Reacting to the truth I had just recognized in my words.

"You already know how I feel, of course." She frowned, "I'm here… which, roughly translated means I would rather die than stay away from you.." Her frown became more defined, "I'm an idiot."

Her words evoked a light chuckle from me, "You are an idiot." I met her eyes and she laughed back.

"And so, the lion fell in love with the lamb." I murmured.

She looked down, blushing at my words. Her heartbeat thumped erratically and unevenly for a moment before she tried to cover up her reaction with words.

"What a stupid lamb."

"What a sick, masochistic lion."

We were silent then, for another excruciating moment as she thought some more.

"Why….?" She trailed off.

"Yes?" I urged.

"Tell me why you ran from me before."

I could feel my face fall at the memory. "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 stroked the back of my hand in demonstration, "Seems to be alright."

I gave her a smile of reassurance. "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." She argued.

"Well…" I contemplated for a moment.. "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 then, not wanting to frighten her.

"Okay then," She said in a mildly mocking manner as she tucked her chin, "No throat exposure."

I couldn't help but laugh at her attempt to break the awkward tension that I had placed upon us.

"No, really," I tried to convince her, "It was more the surprise than anything else."

In an action that I meant to be cautious, I raised my hand and placed it gently on the side of her neck. She froze beneath my icy touch, her pulse racing beneath my marble fingertips.

"You see…" I grinned, "Perfectly fine."

Her pulse continued to race and soon her cheeks were pleasantly colored with embarrassment.

"The blush in your cheeks is lovely." I murmured as I lifted my other hand out of her grip to place on her cheek, raising my other hand from her neck at the same time to mirror its position.

"Be very still." I whispered. I knew that she would be, but still, I cautioned her with my exaggerated slow movements. I rested my cheek at the warm hollow beneath the base of her neck. I didn't believe it would have been possible, but her pulse rushed even faster under my touch. I listened, fascinated, to her breathing as she struggled to slow it. Her heart beat was so intriguing to me. Without realizing I was doing so, I slid my cheek down slightly until my ear was directly over top of her thundering heart. I lost track of time as I listened, but it must have been a decent length of time because when I opened my eyes again the position of the shadows that the sun cast had altered and her heart had slowed to a steady, almost normal pace.

"Ah." I sighed to signify that she no longer had to remain still.

It was quite obvious to me that she had been trying to hold her breath as much as possible when she let out an excruciatingly long breath.

"It won't be so hard again." I promised her.

"Was that hard for you?" She asked, honest curiosity lacing her tone.

"Not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be." I returned the honesty. "And you?"

"No, it wasn't bad… for me."

I smiled at her infliction, "You know what I mean. Here.." I suggested, grabbing her hand and placing it against my own cheek. "Do you feel how warm it is?"

In that instant, her reaction said it all. I had placed her hand on my cheek without considering the action. It was just so easy to be human around her sometimes. As soon as she touched my face, we both froze. She seemed to gulp again before whispering, "Don't move."

I did so, exaggerating the movement for her benefit and closing my eyes to signify my submission. Slowly, cautiously, she lifted her hand and held it centimeters away from my face in hesitation. I could feel the heat emanating from them radiating against my frozen skin lightly. Her fingertip brushed my cheek delicately. I could feel the ridges of her skin massaging the stone of my face with as little force as possible, and it felt wonderful. Still acting with noticeable caution, she slid her finger up until it was hovering over the edge of my eyelid, then, decisively, she dragged her finger with minute pressure over my hooded eye. A part of her finger dragged against my eyelashes, and the sensation was such that I had to resist the urge to smile. She proceeded in that manner, studying my face with her warm fingers, tracing each of my features from my eyes down to my lips. When her fingers brushed against my lips, though, something happened. The action, innocent as it may have been, evoked a strange and unfamiliar desire within me. My head was suddenly filled with vivid images of myself covering her lips with my own in an act that was innocent of the treacherous deeds I was capable of. Suddenly, I wanted her in ways that were foreign to me. I felt my lips part unintentionally beneath her fingers and it seemed to cause her to draw back, much to my dismay. The heat disappeared from my face and I heard her settle back into a relaxed pose. I opened my eyes slowly, seeing Bella with eyes clouded with a lust that was for more than her blood. My expression must have mirrored the confusion I was feeling, because when she met my gaze her pulse began thudding violently.

"I wish…" I whispered, searching for the words that would explain how I felt, "I wish you could feel the…complexity… the confusion…I feel. That you could understand."

The wind blew a piece of her hair across her face, blocking the full view of her beautiful features from me. I quickly and impulsively brushed it away and tucked it behind her ear.

"Tell me." She breathed quietly.

"I don't think I can." I admitted, "I've told her, 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. "But-" I reached out to touch her lips, returning the action that had nearly been my undoing just moments ago in the hopes that maybe that would help her understand better. "There are other hungers. Hungers I don't even understand, that are foreign to me."

"I may understand that better than you think." She blushed discreetly.

"I'm not used to feeling so human. Is it always like this?" I asked, honest curiosity getting the better of me.

"For me?" She hesitated, "No, never. Never before this."

I moved my hands to hers, collecting them into mine and reveling once more in their warmth. Her skin was so fragile beneath my fingers. I could feel the blood pulsing through her veins, just another reminder of how feeble she was in comparison to me.

"I don't know how to be close to you." I admitted out loud, "I don't know if I can."

She seemed to study my face for several seconds before deciding how to respond to me. She leaned forward slowly, looking for any objections from me before she finally pressed her cheek against my chest. I knew that there was no heartbeat there for her like there had been for me. I started breathing steadily, just to give some audible illusion of humanity. She sighed a little bit, her shoulders relaxing as she closed her eyes contentedly, "This is enough."

I smiled, leaning my head forward until it was pressed against the top of her head and slowly put my arms around her shoulders, holding her against me as humanly as I could manage. I swallowed back several mouthfuls of venom, forcing myself to ignore the blood lust coursing through me and instead focus on how her hair smelled. It was the very pleasant scent of strawberries. Not pleasant in the way that would make me want to devour her, but rather, pleasant in the way that made me content to sit here for the rest of my existence in her presence, taking in the smell of strawberries.

"You're better at this than you give yourself credit for." She said quietly, a sense of commendation lacing her tone.

"I have human instincts - they may be buried deep, but they're there." I replied, echoing her volume.

It must have seemed like we were sitting like that for a very long time to Bella. Her sense of time was much different than my own. I had lived over one hundred years, so to me, the time spent with Bella now was short, ephemeral in comparison. To her, though, it must have felt like much longer. I wondered idly if she minded, or if she was as content as I was. I watched as the sparkling of my skin died down until it had returned to the pale shade of white it always was and I knew that night was upon us. We had stayed much longer than we should have. With the way Bella walked, or, stumbled, rather, it would be well past dark by the time we finally reached her vehicle again. Unless…

My train of thought was interrupted by a light sigh from Bella, the first time she had moved in several minutes.

"You have to go." I said knowingly.

"I thought you couldn't read my mind." She commented.

"It's getting clearer." I smiled. I bit my lip for a moment, contemplating on whether to risk frightening her again or not, but realizing then that in comparison to the other things I had displayed this afternoon, my speed would not be as frightening as I once considered it would be.

"Can I show you something?" I asked, shaking her shoulders gently, coaxing her to look up at me.

"Show me what?" She questioned, curiosity sparking in her chocolate brown eyes.

"I'll show you how I travel in the forest." Her face suddenly contorted into a concerned grimace as if she was imagining what I was suggesting without actually having any knowledge about it. "Don't worry, you'll be very safe, and we'll get to your truck much faster." I smiled as I calculated the time difference in my head. Much faster was an understatement. We would get back to Bella's truck in one eighteenth of the time this way.

"Will you turn into a bat?" She asked warily.

Her honest curiosity caused a booming laugh from me that I hadn't expected. "Like I haven't heard that one before!"

"Right, I'm sure you get that all the time." She rolled her eyes a little, but it was clear that she was still very uncertain about this.

"Come on, little coward, climb on my back." I jested.

She was still for a moment, watching me apprehensively, waiting to gauge my level of seriousness. I smiled at her doubt and reached out towards her. I could feel her heartbeat accelerate as I pulled her onto my back effortlessly. Her body tensed up and she clamped her legs and arms securely around my waist and neck, her pulse still accelerating.

"I'm a little heavier than your average backpack." She pointed out, a slight degree of wavering in her otherwise confident voice.

"Hah!" I snorted, rolling my eyes slightly.

Without realizing what I was doing, I grasped her small hand gently in mine and placed it against my cheek, reveling once more in the warmth and inhaling deeply. The blood lust was there, but somehow, much more controlled now. "Easier all the time." I assured her quickly before releasing her hand and letting it resume action in a stranglehold around my neck as I jolted forward.

I had always loved the freedom and exhilaration of running, but it was magnified so much more now, with Bella on my back. Bella rarely even reached this speed in her truck let alone on someone else's back. I felt her pulse quicken more, yet, and I found myself subconsciously matching each contact between my foot and the forest floor with the abnormally fast metronome of her heart.

I was consumed by thought as I flew through the maze of branches and tree trunks with Bella clinging to my back. It seemed so easy, now, to be close to her like this. How much farther could I press our proximity until it was too much. Could I be close to her in other ways? Would I ever have the courage to try?

And then, we were done. I slowed to a halt paces from her truck. "Exhilarating, isn't it?" I asked, waiting for her to release her grip from around my neck. She didn't. "Bella?" I urged, anxiously.

"I think I need to lie down." She said breathily, drawing my attention suddenly to the emphasized rise and fall of her chest as she gasped for air.

"Oh, sorry." I apologized, realizing that she must have been in a minor form of shock.

"I think I need help." She added, embarrassed.

I chucked softly and gently pried her arms loose from around my neck and pulled her off of my back and into my arms. I held her like that for a moment, enjoying the proximity while still ignoring the scent of her blood before placing her on her feet in front of me. "How do you feel?"

She hesitated for a moment before responding, "Dizzy, I think."

"Put your head between your knees." I suggested. She complied immediately, sinking to the ground and doubling over until her head was resting on her knees. I sank to the ground beside her, resting on my knees and watching her cautiously for a few moments until I continued, "I guess that wasn't the best idea."

"No, it was very… interesting." Her voice was weak as she said it.

"Hah!" I argued, "You're as white as a ghost - no, you're as white as me!"

"I think I should have closed my eyes."

"Remember that next time." I suggested.

"Next time!" She groaned, eliciting a chuckle from me as I studied her face, her eyes still closed. "Show-off." She muttered, still not looking up at me.

A sudden urge overwhelmed me. Curiosity invaded my thoughts and a lust other than that for her blood consumed me. I scooted closer to her, putting my face just inches from hers. "Open your eyes, Bella." I said quietly.

She did so, slowly, cautiously. Her eyes widening as she realized how close I was to her.

"I was thinking, while I was running…" I started.

"About not hitting the trees, I hope."

"Silly Bella," I chuckled slightly, "Running is second nature to me, it's not something I have to think about."

"Show-off." She muttered again.

"No," I continued through a smile, "I was thinking there was something I wanted to try." I had no idea where the sudden courage and trust in myself was coming from, but somehow I knew that if I didn't try this now, while I was so numb to her blood due to over subjection, I might never be brave enough again. Slowly, I took her face in my hands. I felt her breath catch in her throat and her heartbeat accelerating once again, pounding steady currents of blood to color the sudden blush of her cheeks. I hesitated, breathing in the scent of her adrenaline tainted blood, making sure that I could do this. And then, without further hesitation, I leaned forward and pressed my lips against hers.

It was unlike anything I had ever felt. Her lips were so comfortably warm and soft against mine that it was completely intoxicating. I felt her move beneath me until she was kneeling too. Her hands fluttered to my face and slid upwards and into my hair. I felt her lips part and her breath fill my senses and I knew that I had to stop. I wasn't expecting a reaction like this from her. I froze, gently pushing her away from me and opening my eyes to watch her.

I felt venom quickly pooling in my mouth and I saw flashes of Bella's body, lifeless and pale again. I stopped breathing and focused on calming myself.

Her eyes fluttered open and as soon as she caught my shocked expression, her features turned immediately apologetic.

"Oops." She breathed.

"That's an understatement." I could feel the features of my face begin to reflect the restraint I was forcing upon myself and she began to cower a slight bit before me.

"Should I…?" She gestured, trying to put more distance between the two of us but finding no result against the firm vice grip of my hands.

"No, it's tolerable. Wait for a moment, please." I instructed, gulping down the venom in my throat.

She kept her eyes glued on me until I relaxed. "There," I smiled.

"Tolerable?" She asked gently.

"I'm stronger than I thought," I chuckled, "It's nice to know."

"I wish I could say the same. I'm sorry."

"You are only human, after all." I pointed out.

"Thanks so much." She said acerbically.

Quickly, I jumped to my feet, holding out my hand to her and helping her up. She seemed surprised by the gesture, but accepted it anyways. As she stood, she wobbled unsteadily.

"Are you still faint from the run or was it my kissing expertise?" I joked.

"I can't be sure, I'm still woozy," She stammered, "I think it's some of both, though."

"Maybe you should let me drive." I suggested.

"Are you insane?" She protested, her jaw dropping slightly at my proposal.

"I can drive better than you on your best days." I teased, "You have much slower reflexes.

"I'm sure that's true," she allowed, "But I don't think my nerves, or my truck could take it."

"Some trust, please, Bella." I raised my eyebrow at her.

She made a show of considering it for several seconds before she smiled impishly and shook her head, "Nope. Not a chance." She moved to walk around me towards to drivers door, but I reached out and stopped her for two reasons. One, I wasn't intending on giving up my position so easily, and two, she almost fell flat on her face as she tried to walk.

"Bella," I sighed, "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.

"Drunk?" She questioned.

"You're intoxicated by my very presence." I smirked.

"I can't argue with that." She sighed in resignation, holding the key up high and dropping it, watching as my hand flashed out of no where to collect it. "Take it easy -" She warned, "My truck is a senior citizen."

"Very sensible." I commended.

"And you are not affect at all?" She continue, "By my presence?"

I struggled to maintain my unemotional façade as she spoke. How ridiculous a notion for her to even consider. Had she no idea at all how completely overwhelmed I was by everything she did. Every move that she made and every word that she spoke?

I bent forward, brushing my lips in a steady line from her ear to her chin several times before whispering in her ear, "Regardless, I have better reflexes."