Chapter Seventeen

I do not own Twilight, no copyright infringement intended.

Nessie POV

After a few stunned moments, I climb in the tent and curl up inside of my sleeping bag. Sleep is a long time coming, but it comes eventually. In my dreams, I'm playing a game of spin the bottle with the wolf pack and Alec. For some reason, the bottle keeps choosing Alec, and this time he doesn't run away and turn it into a game of kiss chase.

When my eyes open and I see that it's pitch black beyond the canvas, and hear the distant sounds of night creatures, I'm grateful to find that I'm still alone. The last thing I want is to have to face the focus of my dreams while they're still fresh in my mind.

I don't get why I've suddenly started thinking about him in that way. After all, he's no Jake. He's a strange almost-child vampire like myself, and he has a major attitude problem—not to mention the whole mass murderer thing. Not exactly relationship material.

Though I have to admit to myself that I don't think he's bad looking. He is kind of cute…especially when his guard comes down.

I sit there for a moment before looking at my watch—it's already eleven and Alec wants to travel at night. Firing into action, I pack away my belongings and take down my tent. Then I wait for Alec to show up, and then I wait a little more.

By twelve, I call for him a few times, but there's no answer other than a few startled wild animals. I wander the perimeter at one, and at two I'm sitting on my pack, eating a cereal bar, and wondering if the kiss has scared him off for good.

By half past four, I've decided that I'm on my own, and that I'm going to move south during daylight hours, staying somewhere where there are lots of people and bright sunshine in the hope that it will hinder the Volturi on my trail.

Then I remember the stories about the newborn armies of the South and Uncle Jasper's ex, Maria, and change my mind. That's one friend of the family I don't want to visit. Maybe I'll stick to the north…I decide to head north east. It's about time I saw our nation's capital, and Philadelphia—New York, too, without Mom hiding in fear from Alice and her inexhaustible credit card.

Credit cards…well, I'm certainly going to see a different side to New York if I go there, that's for sure. I doubt that there are many good places to pitch a tent in the big city.

I'm trudging along, my bag on my back, making my way down the side of a steep hill, when I realize that I'm no longer alone. For a moment, I freeze, thinking that the Volturi are on me; panicking, I wonder which way to run, or whether I'm best holding my ground and hoping my family will come to my rescue.

Alec steps out from behind a tree and I breathe a sigh of relief.

"Oh, it's only you." I give a breathy laugh. "I thought you were the Volturi."

Alec scowls. "Why would you think that?"

My relief shifts into awkwardness—I wasn't expecting him to be aggressive. "Erm…when you jumped out from the shadows just like a cheesy horror villain, that's when. Jeez." Alec looks down at his feet. "Where were you anyway? I thought you'd bolted."

"Feeding." He lifts his eyes to mine and twists his face into something resembling a smile. I'm not convinced—by the smile or his excuse; his eyes are dark burgundy, not bright red. Does he really think I was born yesterday?

Still, given his excuse, I'm not about to ask for details, and I turn and continue my route down the mountain. Why did I kiss this guy again? He's the biggest jerk I've ever met.

I realize I'm breathing heavily through my nostrils as I stomp away, so I try to look less affected. Looking over my shoulder, I see Alec is hanging behind by a few paces, and he turns away rather than meet my gaze.

Boys—I'll never understand them.

A jumble of thoughts attempt to untangle themselves in my mind, and the edge of the sky is lightening by the time I stop in my tracks to speak to the silent stalker behind me.

"Look, stop getting all emo about it. It was a kiss. I'm sorry—it was a mistake. There, is that better? Are you going to act like an adult and speak to me now, or are you just going to sulk?"

The look on Alec's face twists into disdain. "It's not me that's doing the sulking."

Making a noise of exasperation, I drop my bag on ground. "I'm making camp here. You can go scuttle off into the wilderness again if that's what you want. You know I'm not forcing you to be here."

While I loosen the canvas bag containing my tent, Alec steps toward me.

"You're dismissing me? I don't think so. Before I go anywhere you're going to take back the fact you called me a coward, like you said you would if I let you get your grubby paws all over me."

Giving a gasp of indignation, I stand upright. "If you hadn't ran for the hills immediately after, maybe I'd take it back. As it is, I think you're a bigger coward than ever."

Alec hisses viciously and for a brief second I'm taken aback, but then I recognize that I've just struck a nerve and smile victoriously. "You might have red eyes, Alec, but it seems to me that they should be yellow instead." Yellow eyes to go with his yellow belly….

His voice is a raspy growl. "I ran because I'd had enough of you slavering all over my face. You kiss like a fish."

The words hit me like a punch to the stomach, and my retort catches in my throat.

I don't kiss like a fish. I know I don't—I've kissed at least seven boys and everyone seemed to like it. They didn't complain.

Cam would be honest, right? But there again, I'm the wrong sex for him. Kissing him at parties and the like was always just for show and not something we did because we enjoyed it. Demi—we practiced our kissing together before we did it with boys for real, and she always said I was really good.

But they were all humans. How much of it was just them being overwhelmed by my half-vampire allure?

Alec isn't human. He probably has a more objective view…

Do I really kiss like a fish?

Alec is watching my reaction, and I feel like he's going to say something, but then he changes his mind.

"Go away, Alec."

He stands there for a few seconds before speaking. "I'll bring you some squirrels for breakfast. You can't have many cereal bars left."

I don't say thanks, even though he waits for it. When he does finally turn away, I find my voice.

"Alec…was it your…your first kiss?"

"No." His response is too quick and his tone full of teenage insolence, but he looks genuine. I believe him. We say nothing more before he disappears and I'm left to set up my camp on my own.

Once I'm inside my shelter, I submerge myself in my sleeping bag and allow myself a few sobs.

It's stupid to let one idiot boy make me doubt myself, and part of me knows that he's just making me insecure to hide the fact he's insecure himself, but that doesn't stop it from hurting. Why do supernatural men have to be such assholes?

My sobs grow quiet and my tears dry on my cheeks as I fall fast asleep.

Alec POV

This time when I leave, I don't go as far. Last night, I'd covered one hundred miles before Felix and Demetri stopped me and reminded me of my mission.

Ness is right—I'm a coward.

I don't even know why I ran; all I know was that for a very brief second, I was kissing a girl and I liked it. Then I started thinking, too many things were shouting at me at once, and the only way to stop it was to run as fast and as far away as I could from the source of the confusion.

I wasn't lying when I said that it wasn't my first, but kissing Ness and experimentally kissing my future lunches are light years apart. Something tells me that it's not the simple difference between half and full human.

Demetri tried to get me to talk about it, but he got a dose of senselessness for his efforts. The last thing I want is to chat about girl problems with an undead Don Juan.

I don't want to be interested in girls, and especially not Ness. There are other, much more important things to worry about, like my next feed, the fact that the Cullens are falling for Felix and Demetri's ruses less, and how I'm going to get Ness to come back to Italy when I'm behaving like this.

Half of me smiles at the thought of bringing Ness back to my home, and part of me dreads it. How will she react when she finds out I'm really a member of the Volturi? I saw her face when I stepped out and scared her earlier; I might as well have been the boogie man.

I also saw her face when I lied and told her she kissed like a fish. Accustomed to fixing uncomfortable situations with a sarcastic remark and having the last word, I didn't like it when she reacted the way she did. She looked…crushed.

The memory twists an icy knife of shame in my chest, just like it did the first time, and I close my fingers over my face at the unfamiliar emotional agony.

Able to despair privately this time, I'm glad that I suggested thqat Demetri and Felix might take a scenic detour to confuse our tracks and keep the Cullens away. It seems that they're trying to give Ness a long leash, but they're constantly getting in the way of our plans—to the point where we've had to stop making any conscious decisions for a while.

Wandering aimlessly, I pluck a few furballs from the trees for Ness's breakfast; I'm surprised to find that I've come full circle, and I'm standing outside of at her tent. Licking my hand and coating the dead animals with a layer of venom to keep other creatures away, I carefully unzip the door and climb inside.

Even using all my vampire stealth, Ness still shifts position restlessly at my presence, and that's when I decide to flood the tent with mist. The last thing I want is for her to wake up and find me here as that will probably mean we have to talk about it again. That didn't work well earlier. I don't see why girls feel the need to go over everything—it's an annoying female habit that Jane shares.

Will Jane like Ness, I wonder?

As I ponder the question, I pull out my phone and remember that I hadn't replied to Jane's previous text. I do so now.

Hey.

Jane must have stumbled over herself to read the message, as the phone lights up and she calls me. I ignore it.

I'mwithNess.Nophonecalls, I text.

Isittrue?Didyoukissher? I growl at my phone when I read Jane's message, furious at Tweedledee or Tweedledum for passing on my secret.

Yeah. What of it?

Alec!It'sRenesmeeCullen!Areyououtofyourtinylittlemind? I'm starting to get annoyed by Jane's tone and her over usage of punctuation.

Look,ifyoucan'tbesensible,I'mnotgoingtomessageyou,Jane. I press send and then hastily type another before she replies. I'm1200yearsoldIcankisswhoIwant.

I can't believe you kissed her.

What was it like?

Do you like her?

Alec?

Alec?

Fine, be like that. I'm not that interested anyway…

I continue to ignore Jane's texts and put my cell back in my pocket. The last text I read and my automatic reaction of mentally calling my twin childish made me think about my own immaturity.

Ness's real age might be the same age as my physical age, and my long centuries on earth might have made me more worldly wise, but she is so much more mature than I am. And what's more, she will keep maturing, growing closer to adulthood, where I'm stuck here in this barely pubescent body.

To make things worse, she's already taller than I am. Elite Volturi Guard I may be, but this half-vampire is so far out of my league it scares me.

Looking at her sleeping, I take a few deep breaths and then hold it in. Chances are that the air I've inhaled has touched Ness's skin, and probably even been inside her lungs, too.

I'm being stupid and I know it, and so let the air back out.

The room is full of the clouds I'm so adept at creating, and I see the fog rolling over Ness's face. She's been crying, and a few random strands of her hair are stuck to her face.

Hesitantly, I lean over her and brush them away, secure in the knowledge that, thanks to me, she won't feel a thing.

Once the task is done, I give her cheek another brush just to be sure I got them all, but my fingers refuse to leave her skin and settle on her jaw line. They trace their way around to her chin, but then they pause before their route can go up towards her mouth.

Toomuch.Tooquick, I think, and then I'm overwhelmed by guilt, self-disgust, and most of all, longing. I pull my fingers away, but not before I think about how much I want to get closer and put my mouth on hers again.

That is as stupid as those human girls who kiss the posters of movie stars or musicians on their walls when they think no one is looking. Ness can't see, hear, or feel me do anything. Kissing her like that would be cheating—it would prove me to be even more cowardly.

Still, I touched her. My fingers were on her skin of my own volition, and it wasn't with any intention of hurting her. See, my brain tells me, touching doesn't always have to be painful, and Ness didn't hurt you either.

That's when another part of me, the side that keeps all my human experiences that sting so much at bay, disagrees. But she did hurt you—look at how much you're hurting right now. Don't let her in. Don't trust her. Don't touch her. That will only cause you more pain.

My mind is at war with itself again, so I unzip the door and allow my mist to dissipate as I step outside and close the tent back up. Immediately, I want to be back inside with Ness, and where it's warm and cozy, but I tell myself that I should call Demetri and Felix for a tactical update to take my mind off things.

Walking away from the tent, I wait until I'm a good half mile away before I bring out my phone.

Nessie POV

In my dream, I'm crouched on a window ledge halfway up a skyscraper. It's raining heavily and I can feel my clothes and my hair sticking to me. Wiping away the water from the glass, I look inside. In the room beyond, every boy I've ever kissed—and Jake—are sitting around comparing notes on me, and it's not pleasant to listen to.

Jake laughs loudly. "Can you believe she thought we were an item? She's just a kid!" The others join in with a variety of mocking chuckles. "Now, Leah—she's allwoman."

I chew my lip and look down. For a moment, I consider allowing myself to let go and fall to the ground, but then a thick black cloud floats down from the sky and covers everything.

The second it touches me, the dream vanishes, and there's nothing but the dark. I try to shout out, "Hello," but there's something about the cloud that swallows my voice immediately. My thoughts aren't even good company; I feel slower than usual, as if the fog is in my mind, too. It's draining me, and I believe that if it doesn't go soon, I'll fade away into nothing.

But then the cloud disappears and the dream has changed. This time I'm at Disneyland on a bright sunny day, and when I look to my right, I can see Alec posing for a photo with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.

The sun is glinting off him, but humans walk by without giving him a second glance.

"Ness, are you going to take the picture or not?" Alec yells, and I find that there is an old box camera on a tripod in front of me.

"Oh, yeah. Right. Sorry." I bend down, pull the black cloth over my head, and squeeze the button to take the shot. Then I stand up and wait as the picture comes out the side like a modern Polaroid camera.

Shaking the picture as it develops, I hum HeyYa by Outkast, and look down at my handiwork.

"Is it a good one?" Alec yells, his face all full of smiles and sparkling diamonds.

My own smile drops as I look at the photograph. Instead of standing between Mickey and Donald in bright sunshine, Alec is dressed all in black, and suddenly his smile seems sinister. To either side of him stand two other vampires that I'm almost sure I know; the background of the shot is rolling green and black clouds, and the floor is a pool of blood.

Shocked, I drop the Polaroid to the ground.

"I think I got your bad side," I say tactfully, and then get him to pose again. He smiles even wider, looking even more sparkly and bright.

The photo comes out wrong again, and again, and again.

"Piece of junk camera," I sigh and then push it over, watching it break into pieces as it smashes against the cobblestones. "I much prefer sparkly, light Alec."

"What's that?" Alec asks and walks over.

"Nothing." I take his hand in mine. "Now…Space Mountain…"