Hello again! Sorry for the MASSIVE delay. This was actually mostly finished a couple of weeks ago, but then my computer crashed and it took forever to get it up and running again. As promised, I've finally connected the pieces, and this picks up where Midnight Sun left off.

Okay, where Stephenie left off, the last thing we heard Edward tell Bella was that tomorrow was his turn to ask the questions, so I started this chapter with him driving away. I'm glad to have finally bridged the gap, but also sorry because it means I finally have to call this complete. This has been such a blast, and I appreciate all your reviews and support so much. Keep them coming, and please, if you like what you've read, spread the word. I love that I'm still getting new readers! Also, I will be popping up again from time to time with some Edward one shots. I have a few specific chapters in mind, but I'm also open to requests, so let me know in your reviews what you'd like to see.

I had some fun with Edward's little interrogation, since we don't know exactly what all he asked her. Oh, and the Linkin Park reference was straight from the FAQ's off Stephenie's website, so really, that's what Bella was listening to. I promise. :)

"Balancing – EPOV"

I could still feel Bella's warmth in the car, though I'd already put miles between us. I drove quickly towards home to make my nightly appearance, knowing that soon I would leave again, to take solace in Bella's dreams. Although a part of me still felt voyeuristic, the quiet comfort I had found in watching her sleep, hearing her whisper my name, was not something I could easily give up.

As soon as I walked into the house, I heard chattering in the living room. My family was arguing, and yet again I found myself the center of their attention. Of course they all knew of my plans to spend the day with Bella on Saturday, and were currently in loud dispute over whether or not such a thing should be allowed.

Allowed. As if I were a child and needed their permission. I rolled my eyes when the conversation came to an abrupt halt as I entered the room.

"No, please, continue," I said sarcastically. "Sounds like it was just getting interesting."

"Edward, we're merely discussing the situation, and what it could potentially mean for our family," Carlisle told me calmly. "Your decisions effect all of us now, and we just want to be sure you're taking all the necessary precautions. No one is accusing you of anything."

"I've already told them they don't have anything to worry about," Alice added, a wide grin spreading across her face. "You love her. You're not going to hurt her."

"Right," I mumbled. "Thanks."

I wished I could sound more confident, that some of Alice's faith in me would rub off, but with the memory of Bella's scent still burning my throat and blurring my sense of reason, it was difficult to see things as clearly as she did.

"See, he doesn't even trust himself," Rosalie said sharply. "Why should the rest of us?"

"Rosalie," Esme scolded, sounding just motherly enough to make me chuckle.

"Fine. Just let me know when I should start packing," Rose snapped as she flew from the room. I growled after her, but stopped when I noticed Emmett's glare.

"Relax," he warned. "She's just upset. No need for you to make it any worse. Speaking of which, are you sure this little date alone with Bella is such a good idea? Why put yourself in that position? I mean, is it really worth it, making yourself go through all that?"

I nodded, then looked meaningfully at Alice, who smiled and let her mind wander over a dozen or so images of Bella and I together. Alone. Safe. I held onto each one of them as tightly as I could, trying to convince myself I was strong enough to make them reality.

Whatever, Emmett thought, smirking slightly as he too left the room. But don't say I didn't warn you.

"Don't worry, Edward," Alice said kindly, noticing the worried look on my face as she bounded to my side. "Everything will be perfect."

"I only wish I could be sure."

"Well, I'm sure," she teased. "Shouldn't that be enough?"

Needing to refocus my racing thoughts, I decided to spend the rest of the evening at the piano, much to Esme's delight. I played all of her favorites, as well as the piece Bella had inspired. I let the music surround me, envelop me, until the last of my worries had faded away. As soon as it was late enough, I took off into the night with a renewed sense of confidence. I wondered how it was possible that each night when I ran away from my family and all that was familiar, every step closer to Bella felt more like home. I hurried to her window, climbed in noiselessly, and watched in awed silence at the beauty of my Bella sleeping.

There was something different about her tonight, though, and I once again wished futilely that I could get a glimpse into her mind. Her face remained calm, not a single worried line taking away any of the peace from her face, yet she was obviously restless. She tossed and turned, and several times she startled herself awake, though her eyes didn't ever stay open long enough to focus on anything around her. In perfect stillness, I kept a careful distance until she fell into a deeper, dream filled sleep. She didn't speak as often as usual, although I was excited to hear my name escape her lips more than once.

"Edward..." she said softly, and I instinctively leaned closer as my body fought against my common sense. It was more painful for me the closer I was, but I couldn't stop the pull I inevitably felt when she called out to me. I knew I shouldn't touch her, my icy hand would surely wake her up, but somehow with each passing second, the pull was becoming more of a gravitational force.

"Edward, stay," she mumbled, turning from her back onto her side so she was facing me. "More..."

Her unconscious request was enough to break the last of my resolve. Like a fool with absolutely no self control whatsoever, I reached out and gently brushed a piece of hair away from her face, careful not to touch her skin. Her head tilted toward my hand like she knew I was there, and longed to be nearer. The hint of a smile played at the corner of her mouth.

"Mmmm..." she sighed, her warm breath washing over my face, which was now just inches away. I felt the familiar burn intensify, but miraculously, it was overshadowed by the electric current that once again seemed to pass between Bella and I. Desperate for the distraction, I allowed one finger to lightly trace down her cheekbone, thrilling to the feeling of her warm skin against mine.

Afraid she would stir at my cold touch, I held my breath and listened closely to her heartbeat, trying to find any indication that she'd been startled. As steady as her breathing, her heart continued it's perfect rhythm, and I let out a sigh of relief. When she further relaxed into my touch, I started to hum softly, hoping whatever dreams were filling her mind remained pleasant ones.

The night passed quickly and far too soon I could see the sun begin to streak in through the window. Once I heard Charlie stir, I knew it was time to leave her side, though thankfully I also knew it would be even less time than usual before I'd see her again. Being in the enclosed space of the car with Bella wasn't the most comfortable option for me, but I wasn't about to give up precious time with her just because it caused me some physical pain. Especially since today was my day for questions.

I ran home quickly and got into my car, driving back to Bella's without stopping in at home. I didn't particularly feel in the mood to hear any more of Rosalie's criticisms, and I definitely didn't have time to calm myself down again with music if I was going to make it back to Bella on time. I arrived just as Charlie was heading out the front door, and waited until he was out of sight, parking where he had been.

I saw Bella sneak a peak out her window, and laughed at how surprised she looked to see me already sitting there. Hadn't she figured out by now that I was unable to stay away from her? I thought about knocking on her door so I could properly escort her to the car, but also didn't want to rush her if she wasn't ready yet. After all, she'd still been in bed just a short time ago.

Before I had time to wonder what the proper etiquette for our newfound situation was, Bella was shutting the door and making her way to the car. I took one more deep breath before she opened the car door and assaulted me with her scent again. I was determined, though, to let nothing show on my face. If she was going to open up to me at all today, I needed her to be completely comfortable in my presence.

"Good morning," I said softly, smiling at her expression as she took her seat. She was staring at me with those wonder filled eyes again, like she was still waiting for me to disappear. Then, I noticed that she looked slightly paler that normal, her eyes a little redder and watering slightly. "How are you today?" I added.

"Good, thank you," she answered casually, though I could tell there was something bubbling just under the surface. Her expression was still bright, but the skin below her eyes looked shadowy. I knew she'd been stirring for a portion of the night, but I had hoped she'd gotten enough restful sleep to make up for it.

"You look tired," I said, growing concerned. I quickly started trying to count the actual number of hours since she'd calmed down. The time I spent with her always flew by in such a blur, it was hard to determine. Two hours, maybe three? Not enough for her to feel awake and refreshed.

"I couldn't sleep," she admitted.

"Neither could I," I said, unable to resist. As strange as it was getting used to the idea that Bella wasn't bothered by the realities of my life, in truth, it was nice being able to be so honest with her.

"I guess that's right," she laughed. "I suppose I slept just a little bit more than you did."

"I'd wager you did."

"So what did you do last night?" she asked. I felt a tiny flicker of guilt, and a part of me wished I could confess that I spent my nights watching her, adoring her. Still, I didn't want her to be self conscious, and somehow it seemed like a little too soon to let her in on all my secrets. She'd already learned far more than I'd ever intended on telling her, and today was my turn.

"Not a chance," I told her with a quiet laugh. "It's my day to ask questions."

"Oh, that's right," she said in a tone that made me think she wished I'd forgotten. "What do you want to know?"

What didn't I want to know? So much about her was a mystery to me, and I still hadn't grown entirely used to not being able to listen and find out for myself. I was learning more about her by watching the beautiful way her expression shifted from moment to moment, but there were things about her life I wanted to know that I couldn't learn by watching.

I wanted to learn about her past as well as her present, but I knew it would take her awhile to feel comfortable answering my questions, so I decided to start with something easy.

"What's your favorite color?" I asked, genuinely interested although she rolled her eyes at the inquiry.

"It changes from day to day."

"What's your favorite color today?"

"Probably brown," she answered, glancing down at her sweater. I thought for a moment about the vibrant colors most humans tended to wear, likely trying to make themselves stand out. It made sense that Bella would rather blend in, choosing a more neutral palate for her wardrobe, however it struck me as odd that she would say it was her favorite color.

"Brown?" I asked, disbelieving, and wondering if she'd just said the first thing that popped into her mind.

"Sure. Brown is warm. I miss brown. Everything that's supposed to be brown – tree trunks, rocks, dirt – is all covered up with squashy green stuff here." Her face had pulled together into an almost scowl, and I had to smile. I kept forgetting that Forks wasn't exactly her ideal environment, that she was only living here out of selfless desire to let her mother live her life.

I watched her eyes closely as they softened, and noticed the way her dark brown sweater made them look even deeper than usual. They perfectly matched the color of her hair, which I suddenly had the desire to run my fingers through once more. As she smiled up at me, I was struck by how everything about her was warm and kind, and in that instant I understood her answer.

"You're right. Brown is warm," I said, brushing her hair back behind her shoulder. It felt like silk in my hands.

We pulled up to the school, and I instantly wished I had driven slower. I wasn't ready to let her go yet.

"What music is in your CD player right now?" I asked, figuring if her favorite color changed daily, there probably wasn't much point in asking what her favorite song was. Maybe I would find that Bella was never exactly the same person from day to day. Living such an unchanging existence, I liked the idea that I would have to pay attention each moment I was with her, to figure out exactly what mood she was in and what she would like at any given moment.

"Linkin Park," she said, smiling in such a way that I knew there must be a story behind it. I grinned at her in return, reaching to pull my own copy out to show her. It was always nice when I learned something else we had in common.

"Debussy to this?" I asked skeptically, hoping she'd explain what the look had meant. Instead, she just stared at the CD and shrugged.

Sensing she still wasn't truly at ease talking about herself with me, I exited the car and walked around to open her door for her. I figured it would be easier for her if we were at school, around other people, where she knew I wouldn't ask her anything too personal. She beamed up at me when I took her hand and helped her out, which sparked another curiosity.

"Not used to being treated like a lady?" I asked, trying to keep my voice light. I had to admit though, I had been wondering about whether or not she'd been in any relationships back in Phoenix. I didn't want to embarrass her by asking her outright, so I hinted around the subject, hoping she'd tell me something.

"Just because you're following a different generation's set of rules for being a gentleman..." she teased. Then, her expression changed again and she looked meaningfully at me. "You never did tell me how old you are."

"Nope, today is my day," I said, amazed that she was still trying to turn the conversation back to me. I was never going to get any of my questions answered at this rate. "You'll have another turn, I promise, but for now, I want to learn about you."

She blushed, but gave my arm a little squeeze as we turned and walked toward the school.

"Okay, so today you like brown, and you're either listening to Debussy or Linkin Park. If I were to, say, take you to a movie, what type of movie might you want to watch?"

"Honestly, I'm not too big into movies, but I'll watch pretty much whatever is on. I guess if I have to choose, I prefer comedies. Action movies are okay, just none of that ridiculous horror, monster, zombie nonsense."

"Oh, no, none of that. You prefer hanging out with the real monsters."

She scowled at me, so I quickly continued before she could start lecturing me on the way I regarded myself.

"What I mean is, yes, the vampire will make a note not to take you to any zombie movies." Her face relaxed as I laughed, and we continued our purposefully slow walk to her first class.

"If you don't care much for movies, what would you say is your favorite way to pass the time?" She dropped her gaze and her cheeks turned pink. "Go on," I urged.

"Uh, aside from spending time with you," she mumbled, almost to herself, "I really like to read."

Her remark made my insides feel like they were going to burst, but I forced myself to keep going as if she hadn't said it. Clearly she was embarrassed, although if she had any idea how much I loved being with her, she'd know there was no reason to be ashamed.

"What type of books do you read?"

"The classics, mostly. Boring answer, right?"

"Far from it," I assured her. "The fact that you appreciate the great literary masters of times past, just shows that you have very refined taste."

We talked about her favorite books until we reached her English class, and in a very selfish moment I almost considered asking her to skip so we could spend the day talking. Her first two classes were right next to each other, so it would be two hours before I'd be with her again, although I would be spending every minute watching her through the medium of those around her.

"See you soon," I forced myself to say as she grinned and ducked into the classroom. At least she seemed excited that I was so eager to spend as much of the day as possible with her.

Bella's classes were uneventful, and for the most part her friends were keeping their thoughts to themselves. Although Mike's mind was racing with questions about how serious she and I were, he kept his conversation to polite comments about their classes and the weather. I left my own class the second the bell rang and moved at slightly more than acceptable human pace so that I was waiting at the door when Bella left Spanish.

"How was class?" I asked, stifling a chuckle at her confused expression when she saw me waiting.

"Didn't you come from the other end of the building?"

"No one was watching," I assured her. She sighed, looking at me disapprovingly as we began walking.

"If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?" I asked, not wanting to waste a moment that could be spent getting to know her better. I wasn't sure how often she would be willing to let me do all the talking.

"Honestly, back in Phoenix. I really love it there. Maybe it's just because it's familiar, but it's hard to imagine wanting to live anywhere else. Not that I've seen too many places."

"So you haven't traveled much?"

"A little, when I was younger, but Mom never liked going too far from home. I mean, when Forks felt like I'd really gone someplace, that must say something," she laughed.

"Would you like to travel?"

"Of course. Eventually."

"Any place in particular?" I couldn't help but think of all the different places my family and I had lived. Moving every few years grew monotonous, but it had allowed us to experience an endless number of new things. Unfortunately, we were somewhat limited in our destinations, assuming we wanted to spend any amount of time outside during the day. The northwest had been serving us well for quite some time, and I suddenly found myself wishing Bella were happier here.

"As for the US, I'd like to see some east coast cities. I've really only been on this side of the country."

"How about internationally?"

"Can I just say everywhere?" she asked with a laugh.

"Okay, everywhere," I grinned. I'd never known Bella had such an interest in traveling, and my mind instantly launched into all the places I could take her. It probably wasn't the most logical path for my thoughts to be taking. "Where would you go first?"

"Europe, definitely."

"Carlisle spent a lot of time in Europe. You two should really talk sometime. He has an incredible amount of knowledge about a seemingly endless number of subjects."

"That sounds wonderful. You must have learned so much from him over the years."

"Yes, he's been wonderful to me. In many ways a father, often a teacher, always a friend."

With that thought, we reached her next class and I reluctantly let her go once more.

"I'll be counting the minutes until lunch."

"Coming from someone who doesn't eat, I'll take that as a compliment," she said with a wide grin as she turned to step inside.

The minutes dragged, and when lunch finally arrived, she greeted me with another huge smile. We sat at the same table we had the previous day, and again, the eyes of the school seemed to be on us.

What does he see in her? Jessica thought, rudely glaring at us.

Had to be Bella. It just had to be her that made the guy want to date, Mike thought angrily.

Yet again, Angela's kindness helped me to block out everyone else's infuriating inability to mind their own business.

They look really happy. It's nice he finally has someone, she thought, smiling and waving at Bella as she passed.

"Angela approves of us," I told Bella once she was out of earshot.

"And the rest of them?" she asked, glancing nervously around her.

"Angela approves," I repeated, Bella's face growing redder by the second. "But don't worry about them, okay? If you let what other's think get to you, you'll never have any peace. Trust me, I have a lot of experience."

"Yeah, I guess you do," she said, returning her gaze to mine. Her eyes looked sad and concerned, and the last thing I wanted was her worrying about the oddities of my life that's grown so used to. The only thing I cared about was that Bella seemed to accept me so entirely, and I was eager to get back our earlier lighthearted mood.

"So, Bella who wants to travel the world and read the classics, shall we continue?"

"If you really want to, but I still don't know why you find me so interesting."

"You're a mystery to me, Bella. A mystery that keeps getting more and more beautiful with each piece of the puzzle I unlock."

She blushed deeper than I'd seen all day, her eyes darting to her hands, which she'd started to fidget with on the table.

"If you say so," she whispered, and although she still sounded like she doubted me, along with her blush, she was now grinning ear to ear.

"Okay, I'm guessing you're not particularly into sports."

"What tipped you off?" she asked sarcastically, meeting my eyes again.

"Oh, just a hunch. Bet that breaks Charlie's heart a little."

"I watch baseball with him sometimes. And football if I'm really bored, though I gave up trying to understand the rules years ago."

"What activities were you interested in when you were younger?"

"I took ballet for awhile, but I was never any good at it. I think Mom was hoping to find something that would help my coordination, but the year I twisted my ankle at the big recital, she decided it was probably a lost cause."

"Anything else?"

"I tried ice skating once."

"And how did that go?"

"She considered putting me back in ballet."

I laughed loudly, and was happy to see her laughing with me. With every question I asked, she grew more and more animated. At times she seemed confused by some of the things I wanted to know, but in the end I think she was actually flattered, which only encouraged me to ask her more.

Returning to her list of favorites, I rattled off a few quick inquiries I'd been wondering about.

"What's your favorite season?"

"In Phoenix, fall. In Forks, summer."

"Favorite type of food?"


"Favorite drink?"


"Ice cream?"

"Cookies and cream."





I was about to ask her favorite flower when I noticed she'd started blushing again, and looked away.

"Did that embarrass you?" I asked, baffled.

"No," she said shyly, still not meeting my eyes.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Now aren't you going to ask my favorite author or TV show?"

"No. I want to know why you're blushing."

"No reason. It just made me think of something. Forget it, it's not a big deal."

"Please?" I asked, trying to get her to look at me again.

"My favorite author is Jane Austin."

"But I want to know why your favorite gemstone is topaz, and why it seems to have upset you."

"I'm not upset," she said, feigning nonchalance and still stubbornly refusing to look up.

"Tell me," I pleaded, wishing I knew how to use that "dazzling" skill she'd insisted allowed me to get my way.

After a few more silent moments, she sighed and whispered, "It's the color of your eyes today." If it were possible for me to blush in return, I would have been as red as her. Instead I sat there, grinning and staring at her, happier than I'd been all day. It was a silly thing to be so excited about, but something about the sincerity in her voice was making me positively ecstatic. She still hadn't looked up, and when I heard her heartbeat speed up again and her breathing hitch, I realized there was more.

"I suppose if you asked me in two weeks, I'd say onyx." I almost laughed as I remembered just how well she knew me, even down to the pattern of my changing eyes. As much as I was enjoying the moment, I made myself continue, in hopes that she would look at me again. I was already missing the intensity of staring into her beautiful brown eyes.

"What kinds of flowers do you prefer?" I asked, happy when she immediately lifted her head.

"Cactus flowers," she said, a hint of her earlier enthusiasm coming back.

"Why am I not surprised?" I teased, rolling my eyes.

I was grateful that we had the next class together, since I was nowhere near ready to let her go. I continued asking about her time in Phoenix as we walked to Biology, and didn't stop until Mr. Banner arrived. When I realized today was going to be another movie day, I instinctively moved my chair a few inches away from Bella's, not that I thought it would help much.

Just as I knew it would, the second the lights went out, the electric current that seemed to flow between us was reignited, intensified by the darkness. I remembered how wonderful it had felt to graze my fingertips along her cheek last night while she slept, recalled the silky texture of her hair against my hand. I wanted to reach out to her, to hold her hand in the dark room. When she leaned forward and placed her chin on her arms, I fought against the urge to do the same. It would have been so easy to fold my arms beside hers, letting our skin touch and giving in to the electricity. Easy, but not smart.

I stayed planted firmly in place in my seat, watching her as she stared straight ahead and at least pretended to watch what was on the TV. When the lights came back on, she glanced at me, and I hoped my internal battle didn't show too greatly on my face.

I couldn't bring myself to begin questioning her again on the way to Gym, I was still so lost in my desire to touch her. Right before she turned to leave, I gave in just slightly, brushing the back of my hand to her delicate face. I was certain no matter how many times I felt her perfect skin on my granite hand, I would never tire of the feeling of peace it brought me.

I watched through her classmates eyes as she stayed, thankfully, out of the way throughout Gym. Mike was looking particularly sour, but as long as he kept Bella from inadvertently injuring herself, I figured I couldn't fault him too much. When class was over, I made my way back to the gymnasium, and was thrilled to see her brilliant smile the moment our eyes met. If everyday could feel this wonderful, endlessly repeating high school might not be as boring as it once was.

On the drive home, I noticed the way Bella's eyes turned melancholy as she glanced up at the overcast sky. Remembering her enthusiasm when she spoke of her life in Phoenix, I asked her what she missed most about it. I listened in rapt attention as she described things I could barely imagine. Obviously, I hadn't spent much time anywhere the sun was out on a near daily basis, and as hard as I tried, I couldn't remember what it had felt like on my human skin.

I was filled with wonder as I listened to her talk about the beauty of the sun cascading across the hills and valleys of the place she loved so deeply. With each passing moment, her eyes seemed to light up more and more, and even when the rain began to pour around us, nothing dampened her spirit. It was that spark, that passion, that gave me the confidence I'd been so desperately searching for as I'd spoken to my family about taking her to my special hideaway on Saturday. There was no amount of pain too great that could stop me from seeing her face lit by the sun.

Listening to her, I started to realize that one of the things I felt guiltiest about was the fact that her wanting to be with me was, in essence, taking the sun away from her. Although I was still afraid she would be repulsed by my true appearance, she'd made it clear she wanted to spend time with me, and I was just beginning to understand how much she missed the joys of a sun drenched day. Putting all my fears aside, I was determined to give her at least this one day where she could have both.

When she'd finished describing in perfect detail the beauty of the Arizona landscape, I asked her about the house she'd grown up in. She laughed, admitting she was a bit of a pack rat, which struck me as odd, since she'd barely decorated her room here. Then I realized the probable reason why. This wasn't truly home to her. I wanted to ask her more about the decisions that had brought her here, but the setting sun reminded me the evening was getting away from us. Although I wouldn't have minded being formally introduced, I wasn't sure she was ready to explain my presence to Charlie yet.

"Are you finished?" she asked, when I didn't immediately bombard her with another series of questions.

"Not even close – but your father will be home soon."

"Charlie!" she gasped, then looked around bewildered, like she'd forgotten everything else in the world but us. I knew exactly how she felt. "How late is it?" she asked, and I hated to admit that our day was coming to an end.

"It's twilight," I muttered, realizing that this used to be my favorite time of day. It meant the sun no longer hindered me or my family, and with the rest of the world getting ready for sleep, we felt freer somehow. Yet now, with Bella at my side, I found I wanted the day to keep going. She was truly changing everything about the way I look at the world. When I turned and saw her curiosity, her earnest desire to know even the darkest parts of my world, I felt as if all the love I felt for her was about to come pouring out.

"It's the safest time of day for us. The easiest time. But also the saddest, in a way...the end of another day, the return of the night. Darkness is so predictable, don't you think?"

"I like the night. Without the dark, we'd never see the stars. Not that you see them here much," she added, and I laughed at the childlike way she nearly pouted. I'd never admit it to her, I didn't want her to think I was patronizing or belittling her, but I couldn't help but find her petulance endearing. The strangest things seemed to irritate her.

"Charlie will be here in a few minutes. So, unless you want to tell him that you'll be with me Saturday..." I suggested, part of me still wishing she would tell him the truth.

"Thanks, but no thanks," she said stubbornly, grabbing her books. "So is it my turn tomorrow, then?"

"Certainly not!" I said, feigning shock. "I told you I wasn't done, didn't I?"

"What more is there?" she asked, a hint of her earlier nervousness coming back.

"You'll find out tomorrow," I teased, reaching to open her door for her. I was just beginning to enjoy the sound of her heart racing from my close proximity, when something completely unwelcome interrupted it.

This is completely out of line, a dark voice thought. It was one I wished I didn't recognize so easily. He has no right to be here.

"Not good," I said under my breath, debating for a moment whether I should whisk Bella away to somewhere she wouldn't have to deal with what was surely coming. Of course, I knew that would only make things worse.

"What is it?" Bella asked worriedly.

I looked toward her and willed myself to remain calm.

"Another complication," I said, trying to keep the edge out of my voice.

I quickly opened Bella's door and sat back firmly in my seat, determined to hold my ground steadily with Charlie so near and Billy's son beside him. This was not the time or place for confrontation.

"Charlie's around the corner," I said to Bella, though in all honesty, I was mostly reminding myself.

Bella jumped out of the car, and I hated that I had to leave her there. She'd understand soon enough the necessity of it, but it didn't make it any easier to drive away. With a hard pump on the accelerator, I put as much distance between Billy and I as I could, as quickly as my car would allow. Part of me wanted to stay behind, to make sure Billy didn't do or say anything to upset her, but I knew no good could come of my staying and listening in. I trusted Bella would tell me later if he said anything too far out of line.

I sped home, hoping Alice would be able to give me some reassurance about Billy. I was two steps through the door before she came bounding toward me.

"Don't worry about it, Edward," she sang, far too cheerful in my opinion, given the subject matter. "Billy's upset, but he can't tell Bella anything she doesn't already know."

"I guess," I said, feeling only minimally better.

"He wants her to be careful, and he feels an obligation to look out for her because she's Charlie's daughter. As far as I can see, that's the extent of it."

"Yeah, so far," I muttered, not entirely convinced.

"Edward," she scolded like she always did when I doubted her abilities, "I believe you have more important things to think about right now."

"Such as?"

"Such as preparing for Saturday."

"What exactly do you mean, preparing?" I asked nervously. "I thought you said I had nothing to worry about."

"You don't. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do everything you can to make it easier on yourself."

"I already said I'd go hunting with you tomorrow afternoon."

"I know. That isn't the only thing you can do, though."

"What exactly are you suggesting?"

"I know you've been spending the better part of your nights with Bella, but I've also seen how hesitant you are when you're near her. I think the best thing for you to do is turn yourself right around and spend every second you can next to her. Billy will only be there a few hours, then Bella should go right to sleep. I've already seen she's going to sleep very soundly tonight, she's so exhausted from not sleeping enough last night. It will be perfectly safe for you to be close to her, let her scent assault you so you can start to learn to block it out."

"Alice, this is absurd. It's not like I can make myself immune."

"Not completely, but I see you growing more desensitized the more time you spend with her, and now seems as good a time as any to start. More than that, though, I think it's important that you start to see you can be close to her, that you truly can handle it. Trust me, you'll thank me for this later."

Then, with an aggravating smirk, she starting reciting the states and their capitols in her head so I would have no idea what exactly I would be thanking her for.

As much as my mind was telling me to argue with her, I couldn't deny that a part of me was all too willing to listen to her. She'd seen that Bella would sleep soundly, and even when she was restless, I'd been able to touch her softly without waking her. Maybe Alice was right. Maybe I did need to convince myself of my ability to be close to her.

I waited, pacing, until Alice told me it was all right to head back. In seconds, I was running at top speed toward her house. I arrived just in time to see Billy's car driving away.

I listened outside the window as Bella and Charlie went through their usual nightly smalltalk, and was relieved to hear nothing out of the ordinary. Either Billy had chosen not to give any sort of warning tonight, or at the very least he didn't say anything with Charlie around. When was I ever going to learn not to doubt Alice? When Charlie commented on asking Mike Newton to the dance, I felt the same ridiculous jealously I always did when any other male was brought up. My tension eased as Bella's obvious frustration came out, and I reminded myself that it was me she was choosing to spend time with.

After dinner, she trudged up the stairs and to her room. She opened a book, but I could see the fatigue taking over after only a few pages. With a deep sigh, she turned off her light and scooted under the covers. It was less than ten minutes before her breathing steadied and I knew she was in a deep sleep. I waited for the sleep talking to come, but she was unusually silent. Curious, and eager to test Alice's theory, I climbed inside the window and sat on the floor beside her bed.

Thinking of what Alice had said, I took a purposefully deep breath as Bella breathed out, letting her scent fill my every sense. It was intoxicating – thrilling, yet terrifying. Through the pain, however, I could tell Alice was onto something. Each breath I took in this close proximity to her, felt easier than the last. Wondering just how far I could push myself, I leaned in until I could feel her breath on my face. I reached out a tentative hand and brushed the hair away from her face, reveling once again in its silky texture. Then, I gently touched her cheek and was excited to find that she didn't shy away from my touch.

I moved my hand down until it was resting against her neck, right over her pulse. Feeling it beat against me was almost too much, but in the same moment I started to move away, she sighed my name. It was different than how she'd said it before, when I knew she was dreaming. This time, with no other signs that her subconscious was racing, it felt like she knew I was there. Completely enraptured, I stayed there for hours while Bella slept silently beneath my touch.

It was somewhat of a shock when I saw the beginnings of daylight break through her window. With a triumphant smile, I quietly made me exit. The entire way home, I marveled at how I'd been closer to her for longer than I'd thought possible, and as the hours passed the pain became almost unnoticeable. It made me think our day alone together might actually be possible.

See, I told you, I heard Alice gloating from inside as I got into the Volvo. I rolled my eyes, but my grin didn't fade.

I waited around the corner until I saw Charlie drive away, then quickly pulled into his parking spot. It was less than a minute before Bella was bounding down the stairs toward me. I smiled at the fact that she seemed as eager as I was to spend another day together.

"How did you sleep?" I asked, unable to resist hearing her answer.

"Fine. How was your night?"

"Pleasant," I said nonchalantly, grinning in spite of myself. I wondered if I would ever be able to admit to her how pleasant all my nights had become since finding a new favorite way to spend them.

"Can I ask what you did?" she said curiously.

"No. Today is still mine."

She sighed but didn't protest, and I wasted no time getting back to where we'd left off. I was endlessly fascinated by how excited she was talking about her life in Phoenix. She told me more about her mother and her friends, what she missed most about them all. By lunch, she was no longer showing any signs of embarrassment as I pressed for more details, and I felt a sudden bout of confidence, finally asking the question I'd been the most interested in.

"What about old boyfriends?" I asked as casually as I could manage. "Did you leave any broken hearts behind when you left?"

Her face turned red and I wondered if perhaps she was about to tell me something I didn't really want to hear. After all, I was still getting used to the feeling of jealousy. I tried to keep my expression relaxed as I waited for her answer.

"Not really," she finally said, though she was still blushing. "I mean, no one showed me much attention, which was pretty much how I wanted it. I guess I had a crush or two growing up, but I never felt compelled to do anything about it."

Though I hadn't been expecting an extensive dating history, I was stunned by the notion that I was the first person she'd ever been truly interested in. While flattering, it was also unsettling. Was it just because of what I was? Was I a fascination to her, another magnet for danger pulling her in?

"So you never met anyone you wanted?" I asked, watching her face closely.

"Not in Phoenix," she replied firmly, her eyes staring unblinkingly into mine.

Caught between what I wanted and what I kept telling myself I should want, I held her stare and let the battle inside rage. She was perfect – so fragile, so innocent, and as much as I wanted her, I didn't know how I could allow it. Nothing about me was deserving, yet I couldn't bring myself to leave.

I wanted to keep her safe, but I still couldn't be sure that my being with her would allow that. I desperately desired to give her anything and everything she wanted, yet the only thing she seemed to want was to spend time with me. It was the world's most ironic paradox.

Don't forget about her truck. And please, stop worrying. I'm not a mind reader and even I can see you're a wreck.

Alice's not so subtle commentary, along with a quick smile in my direction, interrupted my thoughts from across the room.

"I should have let you drive yourself today," I said, forgetting for a moment that Bella hadn't heard Alice as I had.

"Why?" she asked, surprised.

"I'm leaving with Alice after lunch."

"Oh," she said, frowning. Her disappointment might have been more entertaining had my mind not just been in such a dark place. "That's okay, it's not that far of a walk."

"I'm not going to make you walk home," I sighed. "We'll go get your truck and leave it here for you."

"I don't have a key with me," she said, and I almost laughed. "I really don't mind walking,"

"Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition – unless you're afraid someone might steal it," I teased.

"All right," she said, a hint of defiance in her voice. I could almost hear her trying to figure out what I was up to.

"So where are you going?" she asked when I refused to divulge my secret.

"Hunting. If I'm going to be alone with you tomorrow, I'm going to take whatever precautions I can."

It was true I'd gained some confidence from having spent several nights in close proximity to her, but it was different when I was there in her house with her. I felt more accountable. I was very aware of Charlie's presence in the room down the hall. Although I still felt extremely protective of Bella – and I certainly hoped that my protective side would always remain the strongest force – something about the idea of being miles away from every other human excited the monster inside. The knowledge that no one would see or hear us, made it that much more difficult to control the fiendish fire that could never be fully extinguished.

"You can always cancel, you know," I felt compelled to add, part of me still hoping she would come to her senses. If she showed even the slightest bit of hesitation, I would not allow myself to go through with my plans.

"No," she said quietly. "I can't."

"Perhaps you're right." We really were both already in too deep. And I couldn't bring myself to regret it.

"What time will I see you tomorrow?" she asked sadly, and once again her obvious desire to be with me instantly brightened my mood.

"That depends...it's a Saturday, don't you want to sleep in?"

"No," she answered quickly, her eyes widening at the same time the blush returned to her cheek. She was still embarrassed by one of the things I adored the most.

"The same time as usual, then. Will Charlie be there?"

"No, he's fishing tomorrow," she said, clearly elated about the fact. I felt my fists clench at the realization that I couldn't even tell myself he was at home waiting for her.

"And if you don't come home, what will he think?" I pressed. Please, give me something...

"I have no idea," she said casually. "He knows I've been meaning to do the laundry. Maybe he'll think I fell in the washer."

She was trying to make light of what I was most fearful of, and I was suddenly infuriated. Not at her. Never at her. I knew she was only trying to act unconcerned because she didn't want me to worry. But how could I ever forgive myself for allowing this potentially fatal excursion to take place, when she showed me nothing but infinite trust?

"What are you hunting tonight?" she asked calmly after a few moments, obviously in a hurry to remind me how completely normal she found my atrocious existence. I might have thought she was putting on an act for my benefit, but her heartbeat and breathing remained perfectly steady. It was as if she'd simply asked me what I was having for lunch.

"Whatever we find in the park. We aren't going far."

"Why are you going with Alice?"

Because she's the only one who doesn't think I've completely lost my mind.

"Alice is the most...supportive." Not particularly in the mood to discuss the rest of my family, I hoped she wouldn't press the subject. But then, that wouldn't have been Bella.

"And the others? What are they?"

I tried to think of the nicest possible way to say it.

"Incredulous, for the most part," I sighed, and I saw her glance nervously toward my family.

"They don't like me," she said flatly, and I wondered suddenly why it should bother her to think that a family of vampires didn't care for her.

"That's not it," I said, though it wasn't entirely true. Rosalie had made her opinion very clear, and the rest of them were, at best, bored with having to think about her. "They don't understand why I can't leave you alone," I added, Emmett's mocking thoughts seeping into the back of my mind.

"Neither do I, for that matter," she mumbled, the oddest scowl taking over her her beautiful face. I shook my head in disbelief.

"I told you – you don't see yourself clearly at all. You're not like anyone I've ever known. You fascinate me."

She glared at me, clearly doubting my words, so I tried to explain it better. "Having the advantages I do, I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable. But you...you never do what I expect. You always take me by surprise."

Her gaze left mine, her expression dismal, and I hoped I hadn't made her feel self conscious. It was wonderful that she was different from the rest of them, those pathetic humans all trying to behave the way they think they're supposed to, while their thoughts betray how untrue to themselves they are. Bella had taken me by surprise from the very start, but it was only by my paying close attention that I was able to understand exactly how unique and genuine she was. What may have started as pure fascination had quickly grown to admiration and affection, and before I knew what was happening, I'd fallen unwittingly in love with her.

"That part is easy enough to explain," I continued when she still didn't look at me. I had to make her see how extraordinary she was. "But there's more...and it's not so easy to put into words – "

That's it, I'm done. I just don't have it in me to sit here and listen to his ridiculous lunchtime love confessions...

Rosalie's sharp thoughts broke through my already disjointed speech, and I turned to see her staring directly at Bella, her eyes callous.

You're not worth it, little girl. I will not let you ruin what this family has built here.

I hissed softly in her direction, and it was enough. Without a glance at me, she turned to Emmett and motioned for them to leave. When I looked back at Bella, her eyes were wide. I could only imagine how much worse it would have been if she'd heard what I'd been forced to hear.

"I'm sorry about that. She's just worried. You see...it's dangerous for more than just me if, after spending so much time with you so publicly..." I turned away, ashamed, not wanting to finish the thought.


"If this ends...badly." I couldn't bare to look into her eyes any longer, the guilt and the fear I had inside momentarily too much to take. I should have left, I should have let her hate me from the start. At least then she'd be safe. Though my head was in my hands, I saw her inch her hand toward me and I longed to feel her soothing touch in my miserable moment. I couldn't blame her, though, when she pulled away at the last second. Why would she want to be near me when I had just confessed my family's fears that I would kill her? I was amazed she wasn't running for the door.

"And you have to leave now?" she asked, her voice somewhat shaking. Perhaps I was right, and she really was about to run away – finally afraid the way I'd been expecting her to be from the beginning.

"Yes," I whispered, chancing a glance at her face. Was it the last time I would be able to look at her? I had expected to see fear, but was instead met with her normal expression of sadness when we were about to part ways. She was looking at me, disappointed, and her heart started to race as I watched her. I felt a slight glimmer of hope.

"It's probably for the best," I added, deciding since she'd admitted the effect I had on her, I might as well leave her with one confession of my own. "We still have fifteen minutes of that wretched movie left to endure in Biology – I don't think I could take any more."

I smirked and raised an eyebrow, nearly laughing out loud at the expression that followed. Then, in a flash, Alice was there, ruining all my fun.

Don't give her a heart attack, Edward. I don't think it's normal for a person's pulse to change that rapidly.

It bothered me that she sounded only half joking.

"Alice," I said flatly.

"Edward," she said. I knew she was beaming without so much as a glance at her.

I'm here. It would be rude not to introduce us.

"Alice, Bella – Bella, Alice," I said flatly.

There. Was that so hard?

"Hello, Bella. It's nice to finally meet you," she said, subtly stressing the word finally. I glared at her for a split second.

"Hi, Alice," Bella said nervously.

"Are you ready?" Alice asked.

"Nearly. I'll meet you at the car."

Alice flitted off, hardly able to contain her excitement, as images of her and Bella laughing and smiling filled her every thought.

"Should I say 'have fun,' or is that the wrong sentiment?" Bella asked, eying me curiously.

"No, 'have fun' works as well as anything."

"Have fun, then," she said, still unable to conceal her obvious disappointment.

"I'll try. And you try to be safe, please," I added. I hated to admit how worried I was leaving her alone for the evening. It would be just like her to find herself in some random catastrophe with Alice and I away.

"Safe in Forks – what a challenge," she muttered sarcastically.

"For you it is a challenge. Promise."

"I promise to try to be safe," she said, placating me. "I'll do the laundry tonight – that ought to be fraught with peril."

"Don't fall in," I teased.

"I'll do my best."

It was clear that we were now simply stalling, so I reluctantly stood up. The sooner I finished hunting, the sooner I could get back to her.

"I'll see you tomorrow," she said dismally, and the same look she'd had when I first told her I was leaving was back on her face.

"It seems like a long time to you, doesn't it?" I asked, still in disbelief that she was so eager to be with me. I smiled when she nodded, thinking about how hours and days used to pass by in a blur, but now, even minutes spent away from Bella felt like an eternity.

"I'll be there in the morning," I said, touching her soft cheek before leaving. I wished the warmth of her touch could stay with me while I was away, I felt so empty without it.

Away from the stare of nosy students, I flew across the parking lot to meet Alice. She was already sitting in the driver's seat, listening to one of my CD's.

"I'll meet you at home after you run and get Bella's truck. That is, assuming the truck survives your driving."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence."

I hurried to Bella's house and, though I knew where she kept her spare key, climbed in through the window out of habit. Some of her clothes were lying scattered on the ground, and I chuckled a little when I realized she wasn't kidding about needing to do laundry. I almost felt bad that I'd been keeping her so distracted. Almost.

When I didn't find the key in her room, I made my way to the laundry room and eventually found them in a pair of jeans at the bottom of the pile. The truck started up after only minor protest, and I concentrated on driving it at a respectable speed. I parked in the vacant spot my Volvo had left, and with the keys still in the ignition, started to get out. Then, I grinned and fished a piece of paper out of my pocket. I scrolled, "Be safe," across it, and wondered as I gently folded my little reminder, if Bella would think me too pessimistic. It didn't seem likely that anything would happen to her in the few hours I was away, but I hoped that knowing I was thinking of her would make her especially cautious.

Alice was waiting for me on the porch when I arrived home, and we ran our usual route into the park.

You know, I wouldn't have minded if you wanted to go farther for a better variety, she thought as the trees thickened.

"I know, but I wanted to stay close to home."

She's fine, I promise. I would see if anything was going to happen. I keep a pretty close watch on her, you know.

"I know. I appreciate it, really."


"Hey, I thought I was the only mind reader."

You're rather transparent, Edward. At least, to me you are.

"Fine. I was hoping maybe you could keep a particularly close eye on her tomorrow. I know you said I have nothing to worry about, but it would make me feel better knowing you're making sure I don't do anything we'll all regret."

She came to a halt and turned to face me. She spoke aloud, obviously wanting me to get the full impact of her words.

"Of course I'll help in any way I can, but...listen, I know you don't want to hear this, but you have to remember I can only see as far as the decisions the two of you make. Right now, she trusts you implicitly, and you have made up your mind quite definitively to be her protector. You have no conscious desire to hurt her, and if something were to happen, it would be the result of a sudden, split second decision. If that was the case, there wouldn't be much I could do about it."

I stared at her, frightened, but knowing she was right. She smiled warmly at me, touching my shoulder with all the sisterly kindness I'd come to know throughout our decades together.

"I still don't believe you'll do anything to hurt her, but I wanted you to know that this really is in your hands. You're just going to have to trust yourself. Trust yourself as much as Bella trusts you."

"Thanks, Alice," I said, trying to believe in myself the way she wanted me to.

Now, there's a herd of elk about a mile away. I'll race you. Last one there gets the scrawny ones.

And with that, she was off in a blur. I counted to ten to give her a fair head start.

After gorging myself far beyond what was necessary, we took off for home. We were silent as we ran, but I couldn't help hearing her, as much as I tried to block her out. Unlike the rest of my family who were too busy worrying about the implications if tomorrow didn't go as planned, Alice was focused on a completely different looking future.

She saw tomorrow being a turning point in Bella and my relationship. She saw Bella happy and carefree, and eventually even saw her being welcomed into the family. The exact details weren't clear, but she seemed certain the day would soon come that Bella would be a part of all our lives.

She fought to stay focused on the visions of Bella that I would find acceptable. More than once, however, she faltered. I cringed every time I was forced to see Bella pale and cold, part of our family in a way I vowed never to let come to pass. The idea that Bella would want such a thing was ludicrous, and the thought of changing her against her will was unforgivable. I growled at Alice and she quickly refocused her thoughts, her silent apology genuine.

When we got home, I hurried inside to get cleaned up and changed. I was pleasantly surprised to see the sun coming up as I ran toward Bella's house, though there was still a thin layer of clouds that would need to burn off. Since she'd said Charlie would be fishing today, I figured he would be long gone by the time I arrived. Not wanting to interrupt her morning routine, I stood off to one side of the house, just out of sight. I grinned when Bella peeked out the window not once, but twice, each time with increasing excitement. Far too anxious, I found myself knocking at her door a bit before our normal meeting time, but since I knew she was up, I couldn't seem to make myself wait any longer.

As I listened to her fumble with the lock, the gravity of the day seemed to come crashing back in on me. Worried for about the millionth time that we were making a mistake, I focused my thoughts back on Alice's visions and reassurances. When Bella finally got the door open and she was once again staring adoringly up at me, all my worries disappeared. She looked lovely in her tan sweater and blue jeans, casual, comfortable, and magnificently warm. A deep contrast from what I must have looked like in beige, the neutral color highlighted the pink in her cheeks.

"Good morning," I smiled, unable to stop myself from taking another head to toe look at her.

"What's wrong?"

"We match," I said lightly. Well, at least our clothes did.

We walked toward the truck, and with a triumphant smile, Bella went straight to the driver's side, reminding me of our agreement.

"We made a deal," she said, not hesitating for a moment before climbing in. I sighed, reluctantly taking my seat as she asked, "Where to?"

"Put your seat belt on – I'm nervous already."

She glared at me, but put on her belt and icily repeated, "Where to?"

"Take the one-oh-one north," I said, not wanting to give away our destination too soon. Not that she would have any idea my personal little sanctuary even existed.

I wasn't sure if it was because of how wary I was about the day, or if I simply wasn't used to traveling at normal, human speeds, but Bella seemed to be driving slower than necessary.

"Were you planning to make it out of Forks before nightfall?" I asked, not wanting to waste a moment of our precious day.

"This truck is old enough to be your car's grandfather – have some respect."

Although I was tempted to resume asking her questions, I didn't want anything to make her uncomfortable today, and she seemed perfectly content driving together in silence. I thought it odd at first – most people were so eager to break the silence – but after a few minutes, I decided to accept it with welcome relief. With my constantly having to hear everyone's internal chatter, I relished the quiet, and if Bella was happy, then I was happy.

I waited until the last possible moment to break our peaceful silence, then told her, "Turn right on the one-ten." She turned, and I settled back into my seat. This was my favorite part of the journey. "Now we drive until the pavement ends."

"And what's there, at the pavement's end?"

"A trail," I said noncommittally.

"We're hiking?" she asked, a hint of fear in her voice. I knew it wasn't her first choice for Saturday afternoon activities, but I was fairly certain the beauty of where we would end up would make it worth it for her.

"Is that a problem?"

"No." She attempted a smile, but I could hear her heart start to race.

"Don't worry, it's only five miles or so, and we're in no hurry."

We returned to our mutual silence, but now that I'd sensed her nervousness, it was not as comfortable as it had been before.

"What are you thinking?" I finally asked, unable to stop myself. I felt like I'd asked it so many times before, and I never knew if she was telling me the whole truth or filtering for my benefit.

"Just wondering where we're going," she said lightly.

"It's a place I like to go when the weather is nice," I said, glancing at the clouds Alice promised would be gone by later this morning.

"Charlie said it would be warm today," Bella said, and I saw she too was watching the clouds. I knew she'd been curious about the mystery of my appearance in the sun, and I could feel her growing more anxious as the moment of truth approached.

"And did you tell Charlie what you were up to?" I asked hopefully.

"Nope." I'd suspected as much.

"But Jessica thinks we're going to Seattle together?" I confirmed. As much as I hated to think of Jessica during our day together, reminding myself without a doubt that I would be held responsible if Bella went missing seemed like the wisest thing to do.

"No, I told her you canceled on me – which is true."

Although we'd been in the car together without the burning in my throat feeling too torturous, in that moment it raged forth and took over my senses.

"No one knows you're with me?" the monster asked darkly.

"That depends...I assume you told Alice?"

"That's very helpful, Bella."

My voice was far too harsh and I hated myself for snapping at her, but I couldn't contain all the things that were simultaneously running through me.




"Are you so depressed by Forks that it's made you suicidal?" I asked, too viciously again. I had to get myself under control.

"You said it might cause trouble for you...us being together publicly," she said calmly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world she were discussing.

"So you're worried about the trouble it might cause me – if you don't come home?" I was nearly snarling at her, though some remaining sane portion of my brain told me that she'd been acting out of the best intentions. The fact that those intentions were utterly absurd, however, was hard to ignore.

She didn't speak again, but nodded in response to my accusation. Looking for any outlet to channel my frustration, I started muttering unintelligibly under my breath.

Of all the ridiculous things...she's looking out for me, doesn't even care about herself at all...how am I supposed to keep her safe when she has no sense of self preservation...no wonder she's always getting into trouble...

I could feel the anxiety radiating from her, and I was determined to regain my composure by the time we arrived at the end of the road. She parked and got out of the car without looking at me, and I glanced over my shoulder to see her taking off her sweater. The heat didn't much matter to me, but I had liked the way we matched earlier – anything to remind me we weren't different in every possible way – I decided to do the same.

"This way," I said, motioning in the opposite direction she had started to walk.

"The trail?" she asked, and I felt a twinge of guilt for having misled her. I heard her frenzied steps as she circled the truck and nearly stumbled to my side.

"I said there was a trail at the end of the road, not that we were taking it."

"No trail?" she asked wearily. I'd been hoping for something that would put the monster back in his cage, and sure enough, her panic was enough to remind me of my role as her protector.

"I won't let you get lost," I promised, smiling as I turned to look at her.

I had expected her to relax at my assurance, or at the very least offer a smile like she usually did when she wanted to show me she trusted me. Maybe I'd done more damage than I realized by speaking so angrily to her before.

"Do you want to go home?" I asked, part of me hoping to be granted the reprieve, but a bigger part eager to show her the place that was so special to me. We'd come this far, it seemed a shame to waste the day and the sun that was surely on its way.

"No," she said, stepping closer to me. She looked close to tears.

"What's wrong?" I asked softly, cursing myself for having upset her.

"I'm not a good hiker. You'll have to be very patient," she said, and even without being able to read her mind, I knew she wasn't telling me the truth. Still, I didn't want to force her to talk about anything she wasn't comfortable with.

"I can be patient," I said, playing along. "If I make a great effort."

I'd tried to make my voice light and teasing, hoping to urge a smile from her. Though the corner of her mouth turned up, she still looked miserable. Great. I'd ruined our whole day because of my own fears and insecurities. So what if no one knew we were together. I knew we were together, and that I was personally responsible for keeping her safe. That would be enough. It would have to be.

When she still didn't speak, I sighed deeply. "I'll take you home," I offered, giving her one more chance to retreat if it was what she truly wanted. I felt I was back to my former, more trustworthy self, but if I'd frightened her too deeply to proceed, I would respect her wishes.

"If you want me to hack five miles through the jungle before sundown, you'd better start leading the way." She nearly spat the words at me, and I was baffled that her mood seemed to be shifting as often as mine today. Usually she was much more level headed.

She stood, glaring at me, and I eventually realized she was waiting for me to decide. Although at the moment, neither of us seemed emotionally stable enough to go through with our plans, I started walking because I knew I couldn't disappoint her. I was sure that once her own anger dissipated, she would remember what this day was about.

It was about trust; answering questions, and sharing secrets. It was about us, and what we could potentially be to each other if we put our fears aside. It was Bella and I, away from the world and prying eyes, unashamed and honest.

It was about me learning how far the monster inside could be pushed, how strong the protector would have to be to silence the thirst. It was about Bella figuring out just how deeply into my world she could allow herself to be thrown, while still remaining true to her own.

It was the ultimate balancing act.

We trudged along, Bella keeping up better than I think she or I had anticipated. I helped her over a few difficult areas, the electricity between us unbelievably heightened each time I touched her skin. Occasionally, I noticed her glancing in my direction, though her expression was unreadable.

Hoping to break her from her sullen mood, I started asking questions about her childhood again. I asked anything and everything I could think of to try to make her smile. Eventually, she started to relax again, and I noticed it made her pace speed up slightly. The more animated she got talking about her life, the faster she seemed to climb over the trees and rocks. She even stumbled significantly less.

As the hours passed, the clouds began to disappear. The sun was shining, but the trees created such a dense cover above us, I knew my secret would be safe a little while longer. Bella's face was alight with joy when she noticed the sun through the trees, and she sped up her pace yet again.

"Are we there yet?" she asked, feigning a frown at me.

"Nearly," I promised, feeling my own anticipation growing. "Do you see the brightness ahead?"

"Um, should I?" she asked, squinting.

"Maybe it's a bit soon for your eyes," I teased.

"Time to visit the optometrist," she mumbled, rolling her eyes.

I slowed down a bit as the sun lit meadow came into view. It was a place I'd retreated to many times, and I was thrilled to finally be sharing it with her. It had been a place of solitude, but now I felt certain it's true beauty would be even more pronounced, because I would no longer have to be there alone.

Bella was hurrying towards the stream of light, looking like an explorer about to unlock a hidden treasure. I walked a few steps behind her, basking in her excitement, and found myself holding my breath as she stepped into the sunlight. Her skin bathed in the warm light and her hair shining like spun gold, she had never looked more beautiful. From beneath the trees, I watched in awe as she took in her surroundings. Her face was filled with pure joy, and I vowed in that moment to do anything for her, take her anywhere, if it meant she could always look that happy.

For a moment, I simply breathed, letting the smells of the forest mingle with Bella's perfectly torturous scent. I embraced the way it teased and tormented me, because it meant we were together, and I was in control of my need. Taking another deep breath, I let her happiness become my own. Her peace was my peace.

There was nothing else in that moment but us, and the knowledge that my place of refuge no longer belonged to me alone.

A/N: Hope it was worth the wait! Please review, and let me know what chapters from the rest of the series you'd be interested in seeing me take on. I have a few in mind, but I'll take requests! :) You guys are awesome.