Disclaimer: Smeyer owns "Twilight." Elysabeth owns "Les Yeux de la Lune."

Recap: In the last chapter, Edward gets insight into Bella's memories as she lays unconscious in the hospital. Then, when she returns home, she catches him standing vampire vigil in her bedroom.


Chapter 16: A New Era

I was torn between the desire to show myself and that of remaining silent until Bella decided that there really wasn't someone in her room.

After several seconds during which only Charlie's snores from the room next door were audible, she shrugged and started to lie back down.

A sudden impulse made me bound from the rocking chair. "I'm here," I said.

I stood as straight as an arrow, my insides roiling in nervousness.

Bella looked toward the chair. I couldn't read the expression on her face.

"For how long?" she asked, her voice calm.

I decided to also affect calm. "A while."

"How did you get in?"

She knew that Charlie wouldn't have let me in to spend the night in his daughter's room.

"The window."

Silence.

Was she preparing to chastise me? I had stayed with her as she slept at the hospital, but this was her room, this was different. Would she find my presence offensive?

But my first question was, how could Bella have known that I was here?

"How did you sense me?"

"Your scent."

Ah. I thought a moment. The breaths I had heard after she had taken her pills must have carried my scent to her. And after my view into her memories, I should have expected this. From our first meeting, she had noticed my scent.

I turned my attention back to Bella. I had to come up with an excuse, and quickly.

"I just want to make sure that you were okay and didn't need anything." I wasn't lying. And my presence could thus be justified - at least for tonight: she knew that I wanted to take care of her. "I'll leave now. Sleep, Bella."

I headed to the window. I wouldn't come back tonight. Before showing up again here, I had to be sure that she no longer needed to wake up in the middle of the night to take her pills. Normally, she slept heavily. When the pain no longer disturbed her sleep, I could return without my presence being noticed - that is, my olfactory presence.

My foot was on the windowsill when I heard her.

"Stay. Please. Don't leave."

Her plea stopped me in my tracks. If it could have, my heart would have jumped with joy.

It seemed that my flouting of convention had not offended her. At least for the night.

I wanted nothing more than to stay, but I feared that my presence would distract her and keep her from sleeping, something she greatly needed.

"I am never far away," I answered her, deliberately vague. Indeed, I was very, very close almost every night. She didn't need to know just how close. She might love me, but I wasn't certain that my unannounced visits would be appreciated if Bella knew that I had been spying on her for months. Nobody could sneak into someone's room and watch that person sleep without it being seen as an invasion of privacy.

"Rest," I told her.

"I'm not sleepy now. Would you keep me company?"

I should have left immediately. I should have stopped myself from ruining her sleep. I really should have. But I wasn't objective and judicious enough to not be moved by her imploring face.

But the thought of Charlie nearby did give me pause. "It's not safe," I protested. "Your father is sleeping with one eye open in case you need him. If he hears us, he'll come after me."

She shrugged. "You can hide in the closet if you have to."

The suggestion made us both laugh silently. "Okay," I ceded to her request.

Hmmm, ceded. I didn't cede to anything since all I wanted to do was stay.

When she felt the mattress shift under my weight, her face lighted up. I remained at the foot of her bed, not wanted to jostle her injured leg. She leaned against the headboard and pulled the knee of her good leg up to her chin. Her hair tousled, her nightgown wrinkled, she was so beautiful, even with her brace.

"Are your eyes still red?" she asked. A curious way to start a conversation.

"It's almost gone."

She looked pensive. "Finally, you got my gift. Not exactly the way I had planned, but it's the result that matters."

It took me a few seconds to understand that she was talking about her blood donation.

"You're still going on about this idea that you owe me something?" I said, scowling. "You forget that I could have killed you."

She waved off my reminder. She didn't believe for a second that I would have let the monster take me over. "So?"

"So what?"

"Did I taste as good as you thought I would?" she asked slyly.

"Did you?! Better than I could have imagined."

"That's flattering, thanks. So now we're even. I was able to pay my debt to you," she said smugly.

"You don't owe me," I said, infuriated. "You're inventing imaginary debts."

"Doesn't matter. I feel better now. The balance is re-established."

I laughed despite myself. "You're hopeless."

She shrugged in acknowledgement.

"I have another question," she said, her fingers playing with a fold in her comforter. Whatever it was, asking this question made her nervous.

"Go ahead."

"Besides the time when you were here to write me a message, have you been in my room?"

Dammit. I should have known she would ask this.

I was incapable of lying to her, so I blurted out, "Yes."

I was on tenterhooks, waiting for her outrage. But she didn't appear upset, just intrigued.

"Often?"

I stared out the window, too afraid to see her reaction when I told her. "I've been here almost every night since I gave you the Debussy CD," I mumbled.

She exploded. But it was an explosion of triumph. "I knew it!" she crowed.

I winced. What did she mean, she knew it? I scrutinized her expression. She was smiling. Why?

"That doesn't shock you?" I asked, completely taken aback.

"To be honest, I'm kind of happy to know that I wasn't totally crazy."

"You are?"

"I had been noticing a wonderful fragrance when I got up in the morning, traces of someone's presence. It was you, but I didn't dare think that. I told myself that I was imagining things, that because I wanted you here so much that I was having hallucinations of your scent." Her smile grew. "But apparently I wasn't imagining anything at all."

Our scents had definitely marked each other for good.

"I wanted you here so much that I was having hallucinations of your scent."

I wanted you here so much...

Those words were such a pleasure to hear.

I shook myself, forcing myself to return to the here and now. I considered her closely, looking - in vain – for any sign of reproach.

I watched her every night and that didn't bother her?

"You're not angry?" I had to ask.

She appeared to think for a moment, and then her brows furrowed in suspicion.

"Did you often watch me change clothes?"

I leapt from her bed, scandalized and hurt. "Never! I came only when you were already asleep. Call me obsessed, call me a stalker, I'll agree with you. But I'm not a Peeping Tom!"

Charlie's snores stuttered.

"Shh!"

One hand clapped over her mouth, Bella suppressed a loud guffaw.

My horrified reaction amused her? It was then that I realized that she had been teasing.

"You're making fun of me, aren't you?"

She nodded mischievously.

I returned to my seat at the foot of her bed, sulky and a little ashamed that I had taken the bait.

"Sorry," she said, but she was anything but repentant, judging from her impish expression. "You are much too much of a gentleman to spy on a lady undressing, I know that. But why do you come waste your time here at night?"

"Waste my time," I said, astonished. "Watching you sleep is fascinating, Bella. Sleep is a mysterious phenomenon for me."

She raised a skeptical eyebrow. Sleep didn't seem all that interesting to her.

"It also allows me to desensitize myself to your scent. To get inured to it. But the primary reason for my nocturnal visits is … it's that … I don't like to be …" I hesitated, but what was the point of trying to conceal what I felt? I had only to remember what I had seen in her own eyes to reassure myself. "The nights are long and I don't like to be away from you."

Bella gave me a shy half-smile that I found devastating. "I also feel better when you're nearby too," she confessed, twisting her end of the comforter again.

Joy.

It was good to hear that. Amazingly good.

Her heartbeat sped as fingers played with the strands of her hair. I startled when I realized that those fingers were too long and white to be hers. They were mine. Holy hell! I hadn't even noticed that I had moved next to her. The lover in me had uncontrollable reflexes, unsuspected and neglected until now, because I had always been preoccupied by other sorts of reflexes – the lethal reflexes of the monster.

I was going to have to learn to rein in my passion. I examined Bella, seeking the nonverbal signs of some injury or dismay. I found nothing other than receptiveness. So I continued what I was doing, relieved that my actions had not bothered her.

Pfft, bothered …

Why was I always afraid that I was going to offend her? She was still smiling. My approach had surprised her, but also pleased her. She even leaned her head into my hand. That was the opposite of being "bothered."

Her voice a little breathless, Bella asked me another question (was I making her so … discombobulated? It was quite fascinating to discover that I had the power to affect her this way).

"Umm … would you have eventually told me about your nocturnal visits if …. uh, if I hadn't found out myself?"

"I don't believe so."

"Why?"

"Because most people would be affronted if someone came into their room without permission and spied on them. I didn't want you to be … disgusted with me. So your reaction surprised me."

"I reacted badly?"

"That's the problem! You reacted too well! It's not normal."

"Eh, we're both abnormal in this case. You weren't acting normal in coming here every night and I didn't react normally to your behavior. A fine pair we are, huh?"

A fine pair.

I adored those words.

"We're well matched, yes," I agreed, a finger twisting in one of her curls.

Charlie continued to saw logs. As background music, it left something to be desired, and Bella's next words seemed to echo my thoughts.

"He sleeps with one eye open, huh?" I heard her mutter sarcastically.

She suddenly seemed irritated. I didn't know why, but I didn't want to take any risks and so moved my hand away from her.

"You know what?" she announced. "I'm fed up with being stuck in bed after six days. I want to stretch my legs. Well … my working leg."

Grimacing, Bella tried to get out of bed.

"What on earth are you doing?" I asked, alarmed.

"I'm going for a walk."

She found a sock and put it on the foot of her good leg. She stood, staggered toward her desk chair and grabbed her windbreaker. I steadied her when her too-quick movement made her stumble, releasing her only when she regained her balance.

"At three in the morning?"

"Yes."

I saw from her determined expression that it was useless to try to persuade her to return to bed.

"You'll come with me?" she asked.

What a question! As if I were going to let her go all by herself in her condition!

"Where do you want to go?"

"I think you know very well."

Bella pulled her windbreaker on over her nightgown, then limped to the window and opened it wide. She turned to me. She was waiting.

I finally realized that it was Charlie who was irritating her. She wanted to be alone with me. Truly alone.

Double joy.

I knew where she wanted to go, because, honestly, I wanted to go there too.

It wasn't sensible. Not at all … But I had stopped being sensible when I met her, so one more folly wouldn't change much.

With great care, I took her in my arms and jumped out the window.

We were at our old twisted oak in seconds. Bella, still tucked in my arms, reached out her hand and caressed the bumpy bark in greeting. I thought about her memories of her first visit here. She had taking a liking to this tree because it reminded her of me…

I smiled pensively as I lowered her to the ground, taking care not to jostle her brace, and Bella gripped my shirt to let me know that she didn't want me to move away as I had done earlier on her bed.

She released the fabric only when I lay alongside her on the cool grass, our sides touching.

We were silent. Isolated from the rest of the world, we stayed quiet, our faces turned toward the sky, simply enjoying each other's closeness. I had had many things to tell her, that I was burning with impatience to tell her since she had regained consciousness in the hospital, but I had forgotten them all. In this moment, all I wanted was to feel her tranquil presence. I wanted to savor the fact that she needed me next to her as much as I needed her.

An owl hooted. A warm breeze rustled the leaves above us. Bella's heartbeat, more rapid than normal, contributed a pleasant rhythm to the ambiance.

I was content to be here, alone with my moon. You could have said that it was only right that we were here, in our meadow, together. We had frequently been alone together under this oak, but that was in a context in which I believed I was the only one of us to feel as I did. Just knowing that my feelings were shared made me happy as never before. And when her hand moved along the grass to find mine, my happiness only grew.

I interlaced my fingers with hers and she smiled in the darkness.

We had held hands dozens of times, but this time was different, with an awareness of what her hand in mine signified. It was a symbol of our ties to each other. I had always thought those ties went in one direction only, that invisible chains attached me to her, but nothing held her to me except perhaps a thread that was easily broken. Now I had discovered that chains of the same strength, the same solidity, attached Bella to me. Before, the chains had not been aware of the existence of the others, running parallel but never crossing, never touching.

Here in the meadow, her chains, my chains, twisted around one another, consolidating their hold.

Her hand in mine was an emblem of those invisible, indestructible chains.

"Why didn't you tell me earlier?" she murmured, milliseconds or an eternity later.

I turned my head toward her. Bella still looked up at the sky. Her hair made a dark halo around her pale face. Someone who didn't know she was blind would have thought that she was counting the stars. I knew she was alert for my response.

Her question was vague, but I knew what she was asking.

"I could ask you the same thing," I said, gazing at her.

"Me? But that's obvious."

How was it more logical that she had told me nothing? "Enlighten me, because it's not obvious to me."

"Well … when I believed that … that I wouldn't get away from James, I wanted to tell you in writing. I had nothing left to lose. But I didn't have time to finish the letter … Before, I didn't see the point in telling you because you didn't feel the same way. At least, I believed you didn't."

It was true that I had seen in her mind her belief that it was impossible that her feelings were requited, but I didn't know why she thought that. She hadn't even posed the question to herself. It just was.

"Why were you convinced that I could feel nothing for you beyond friendship?" I asked.

"I took it for granted that vampires would love only other vampires."

"Why would you think that?"

Bella stayed silent a moment in order to, I suspected, gather her ideas.

"Okay, first," she finally said, "I'm not someone with low self-esteem. I don't underestimate myself. I know that, excuse my presumption, that I'm worth the trouble to be with … for another human. But, well, you … you're in a different category. It would be logical that you … that your partner would be at the same level as you. What would someone like you want with a human? And one who's blind in the bargain?"

"Let me ask you the same question," I replied. "What would someone like you want with a vampire? And one who thirsts for your blood in the bargain?"

"But that is not what you are. For me you are just Edward."

"Just as for me you are only Bella. I couldn't care less that you are human, that you are blind. You are Bella, simply, extraordinarily."

She turned away from the sky and we were face to face, nose to nose. Her breath spread across my face and its warmth made me euphoric.

I could see a trace of skepticism remaining on her face. She still had difficulty believing me.

For my part, what I had seen in her mind had only reinforced what I had discovered in her briefly reanimated eyes. I had no choice but to believe her because I had irrefutable proof. Bella, in contrast, had only my word.

The solution was for me to consecrate each minute of the rest of our lives persuading her that she was the only person who counted for me.

"You were different," I said, elaborating on my words, "and I kept wanting to know more about you, without understanding my bizarre behavior. And the more I knew you, the more fascinating I found you. I realized only much later what was happening to me. One hundred years, and I was feeling this for the very first time. It was frightening. It was extraordinary. But you didn't know what I was. I needed to stay away from you for your own good: the person with the most tempting blood for me was the woman my heart had chosen. It was beyond ironic. I had to save you from me, no matter the cost. I wasn't able to stay away for long – unfortunately, or fortunately. I sought out your friendship, certain that that was the strongest sentiment you could have for a being like me.

"Then, those scissors in the lab … and everything changed. You knew everything about me, or nearly so, and you stayed, despite everything.

It was insane. It was wonderful. I could be myself with you, not playing the role I had to for the rest of the world. The only people I had ever talked with were my parents and siblings. I love them, but I know them completely. It felt so good to know someone different, someone alive, not made of stone as I am, and someone who wasn't afraid of me, who didn't see the killer. And you were so inspiring, so generous, so … comforting. No day passed without you surprising and dazzling me. Until I met you, I had never realized that I was just a shadow of myself, mechanically fighting my nature, jaded by an existence that went in circles. Meeting you changed everything. I was waiting for you without knowing it…"

Bella seemed to be drinking in my words. I saw the skepticism fade from her face. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. I guessed she was having trouble finding words. No matter. There was nothing to add. The important thing was that she believed me.

With the fingertips of my free hand, I traced the curve of her cheek, and she blushed as her heartbeat sped up.

I smiled, delighted that I could cause this reaction in her. I was all the more thrilled to observe that it wasn't my cold fingers that affected her, but the gesture itself.

Perhaps to hide her agitation, Bella asked me her initial question again. "And you, why didn't you tell me?"

I didn't answer immediately, still absorbed by my own reactions to touching her cheek. My fingers tingled on her silky skin. They weren't accustomed to being in contact with flesh even warmer and softer than her hand. It was a discovery as fascinating as when I had kissed her as she slept.

I allowed my icy palm to warm itself against her cheek and although her heart thundered, she leaned into my hand.

I answered her in a murmur; speaking above a whisper would have shattered this moment of happiness.

"Fear of rejection. I thought the inverse of you; it was obvious that you feel nothing more than friendship for a creature like me."

An image of her nearly lifeless body flashed through my mind. "But when I saw you lying on the ground in the dance studio …" I couldn't finish my sentence. A lump blocked my throat. My whole body shook from the horrible memories. Bella realized this and her free hand clasped mine in an effort to soothe me.

It worked, and I was able to continue: "My fears vanished and I could no longer hide the truth. Like you, I had nothing left to lose. And miraculously, you felt the same way," I said, then a more lighthearted note crept into my voice. "God knows, though, that you deserve better."

Bella frowned. "Better than what?"

"Better than a creature of the night."

She shook her head, annoyed and touched at the same time. "It's not a question of deserving, to my mind. Love doesn't have reason or logic, or conditions, or judgment."

"You are too generous with me; the facts speak for themselves: just look at the state you're in. I am the indirect cause of what happened to you."

"It's thanks to you that I got out with only a brace."

She shifted and lifted her head, apparently so I could better see the determination on her face. "You saved me, Edward. Even more, you brought me back to life. So stop apologizing for being what you are, and condemning yourself for the fickle twists of fate."

Her words sought to make me move beyond my guilty conscience and on to leniency toward myself. But I knew it was necessary to remain realistic.

I smiled sadly. "I am still a risk to you. Being with me means continuing to run the risk that your scent will attract other vampires like James. Being with me means having to lie constantly, to hide, to censor yourself."

Her hand gripped mine more tightly. "You are worth it," she said forcefully.

I was touched to the very heart by her words, but I maintained my position. I was such a masochist.

I gently stroked her cheek. "You also deserve to be with someone who can touch you without hurting you. An instance of carelessness on my part and I could break your neck."

In shame, I muttered the rest with my face turned into the grass. "I don't know how to be close to you. I don't know how to be human enough in that way. I've never experienced it."

I could only hope that she understood what I really mean by "close."

Bella's smile revealed the same level of shyness as my own. "I've never experienced it either, yet I am human. I don't have any point of comparison. The feeling provokes a new sort of fear of the unknown. I think that … that we shouldn't try to figure out how to act. We should let ourselves be guided by what is inside here."

She freed her hand and laid it on my chest. The barrier of my shirt couldn't block the silky heat of this hand on my still heart.

"You forget, what is inside is dead."

"And you forget that my heart beats for both of us."

Without warning, her hand was replaced by her head. I froze in place, surprised by her sudden closeness. I repressed a shudder. My initial shock gone, I was able to release the tension that had gripped me. It no longer had a place here. I relaxed completely. And following a desire that must have been well hidden in me before now, but seemed absolutely natural, I slid my hand along her back and curled my arm around her shoulder.

Could it be so simple? So easy? And so wonderful?

I remembered that it wasn't so long ago that I had sworn to keep my hands in my pockets, to not touch her or even brush against her, to conceal all that I was burning to tell her … All that torture, all that self-censorship had been in vain. I was battling myself in the name of a belief that two such different beings as ourselves could never be together. And yet here those two beings found themselves pressed against each other, in defiance of that belief.

I felt her smile against my chest.

"This is enough. I don't expect everything."

No expectations, no pressure. She demanded nothing of me, claimed nothing. She accepted me in all my confusion and uncertainty.

The top of her head was just below my chin. I had only to bend down to sink my nose into her hair.

What ecstasy!

Bella let out a long, contented sigh and the heat of her breath seared my chest.

"You're managing pretty well, Mr. Cullen."

"Old instincts are coming out. They're deep inside, but they're still there."

I wasn't certain that she had heard me, for my lips were buried in her hair, the silky texture of her locks caressing my face. There was nothing about Bella's body that wasn't wonderful.

I slowly breathed in her fragrance.

Where was the monster?

In its cage, tranquil. Delighted to inhale the scent that it adored, but calm and still.

I felt Bella tense then.

"I …are you breathing through your nose?"

"Oh, yes," I said, exhaling, euphoric.

"And … it's okay?"

"Is it okay? I have paradise in my arms."

The heat of her face against my chest increased from blood rushing to her cheeks.

So, I also had the ability to make her blush. Interesting. Very interesting.

"But … my scent?"

"I love your scent."

"You aren't in discomfort?"

"I have never had so much control of that part of myself as now, since I nearly lost you."

I closed my eyes, proud of this victory over myself, elated to have resting against me my reason for existing.

There was a faint sound, like a musical note put into words, carried by the night breeze.

"I love you."

I was overwhelmed. My eyelids fluttered, and my throat tightened. This was the second time I had heard those words, and they shattered me just as much as the first time. I would never get used to them. It would take me a lifetime – her lifetime – to absorb those words and accept them, to believe that they could be applied to me, Edward, the vampire.

"Thank you."

My gratitude sounded ridiculous and pathetic. A thank-you, it was so little to express what I felt.

She laughed against my chest. "'Thank you'?''

No doubt in the circumstances it was strange. I wasn't sure I could make her understand why I said it, but I tried.

"You are saying to me the most healing words in the world, Bella. Words that, before I met you, I didn't even know I needed to hear. How can I not be grateful?"

I moved her so I could hold her face between my hands. I murmured into her ear: "You don't know how much that all that you are, all that you bring me, is priceless."

I echoed her words to me, realizing that uttering them did me as much good as hearing them. "I love you, Isabella Swan."

I saw that she too was overwhelmed, inundated by a wave of pleasure identical to mine. Her lips blossomed into a dreamy smile.

I was pleased to have the ability to make her happy with just words.

She reached toward me, but pulled away at the last second. She seemed to be debating with herself, but I didn't understand why.

"Can I touch you?" she asked me then.

I frowned, confused. Bella had held my hand and rested her head on me. Why was she asking permission for something she had already done?

"Um, well … you already have, haven't you?"

"Let me ask you another way: Can I look at you?"

Oh…

I remembered what I had seen in her memories. During her tactile exploration of me at the museum, she was convinced that it was the first and last time that I would allow her to "look" at me. And even now she thought that was case, despite the evolution in our relationship.

I glanced at her hands. They were fisted. She wanted very much to see me in her way, but was holding herself back. That was her internal debate.

I wanted her to understand how much everything had changed since that evening at the museum. The era was past when the monster could have charged out of its cage at any moment, so I took her fist and pulled it to my cheek.

"You don't have to ask."

Her tranquil eyes lighted up. Like a bud becoming a flower, her fist opened slowly and I tried to remain stoic under her exploring fingers. Bella hesitated, moving carefully but growing bolder when she felt my face move into a reassuring smile. She put both hands on my temples and it was a double wave of pure shock. I realized how much I had missed her fingers, these exploratory feathers.

My skin sparked as they traveled on me. I didn't even think of the monster when she traced my steel lips with her thumb. She left a trail of fire everywhere her hands passed. It was a different sort of fire from that of thirst, an intoxicating flame.

From the route of her investigations, I perceived her desire to remember me as she had seen me when the venom had momentarily restored her sight. Each path recalled some detail preserved in her memory. In her place, I would be devastated to no longer be able to see her. I couldn't imagine something so distressing, so I let her examine me as long as she liked. It was all I could do: I couldn't give her back her vision, but letting her see me this way was perhaps a consolation.

Gradually, her hands pulled away from my face. Each cell of my skin tingled in the aftermath of the contact.

I raised my own fingers to her face and she closed her eyes as I sadly caressed the lids that covered her lifeless eyes.

"Do you regret my taking away your sight once again?"

She smiled at me. I would have thought to have found a trace of nostalgia, of loss, following her exploration of me, but Bella seemed quite serene, though that didn't prevent me from still have doubts. I was afraid that she was putting on a front so that I wouldn't feel guilt.

She curled up again against my chest.

"If you let me see you, I won't regret it. To recall your face, all I have to do is look at you in my way. You are the only thing that I would miss if I was kept from touching you. The rest doesn't matter much. I ought to thank James, actually."

I tensed. Thank that demon who was now rotting in hell?

"You can't be serious."

She chuckled. "No. But without him I would have missed something extraordinary."

This was not the first time someone had found my face extraordinary, but this was the first time I had been flattered by it. I had become cynical about the reaction my appearance provoked. But I was delighted to be able to dazzle Bella. In fact, turnabout was fair play in this case: I marveled over her face every time I looked at her.

"You know, without James, I would also have missed something incredible," I said, pensive.

"What?"

"In the hospital, while you were unconscious, I could read your thoughts."

She looked up at me, surprised. "Really?

"To be more precise, I could see your memories."

To my dismay, that seemed to bother her.

"All of them?"

"Many of them."

"That's very embarrassing."

"I saw nothing embarrassing."

"If you saw me vomit on my birthday cake when I was 9, that would be humiliating."

I broke into laughter, which echoed around the meadow.

"What a shame, I missed that!"

"Good," she said in relief.

I tightened my arm around her, being careful not to squeeze her ribs.

"I lingered on your more recent memories. Among other things, I learned that you compared me to this twisted old oak," I teased her.

"It was a psychological comparison, not a physical one. A metaphor."

"I know."

Her gaze softened. "Even when I didn't know what you were, I knew what you were like: centenarian, bent under the weight of years and experience, but protecting what was under your shadow."

I looked up at the crown of the oak above us and, indeed, it was similar to me, all things considered.

"What else did you see?" she asked.

"All that I saw allowed me to understand the depth of what you wanted to keep silent, and I realized how much it harmonized with what I myself kept silent."

She smiled tenderly. "And now, what do you read?"

"Nothing," I lamented. "It happens only when you're unconscious. Carlisle thinks that you have a mental shield that lowers when your brain is no longer alert."

"A shield? Interesting."

"And very frustrating," I grumbled.

She snuggled her head against me again. "It doesn't matter. Your talent is completely useless since I'm not hiding anything from you now."

That pleased me. "Truly, nothing? So when I asked you if you resented me for having taking away your sight, you were telling me the truth?"

She seemed astonished that I hadn't believed her immediately.

"I don't resent you, Edward. Knock me and explore my subconscious if you want proof."

"Very funny," I said.

"I can't resent you for having done what you thought was right," she went on, more seriously. "It just wasn't the right time."

"It's never the right time to become a monster. Never."

Bella rolled her eyes at "monster," then seemed to think more about what I said.

"I don't know. Maybe you're right … but not about the monster: you are not a monster."

She cut off my protest with a finger on my lips. "Let me finish. I was saying that you are wrong to consider yourself a monster, but perhaps you're right that I shouldn't become like you. Maybe the lamb should stay a lamb and the lion should stay a lion," she said, pondering.

I listened to the rest, riveted to her pensive eyes.

"After all, don't they say that opposites attract? Remaining what we are right now may be our destiny, who knows. Would we have found each other if the situation had be different? Would I have approached the vampire if I could have seen him? If I were already a vampire, would we have encountered each other? If you had been human and me vampire, would our paths have crossed? Would we have discovered what we have in common? There are a thousand and one possibilities, but I wouldn't change this scenario for anything in the world, because there's no guarantee that I would have found you. Things would have happened differently and we could have missed each other. So, no, I can't resent you for leaving me the way I am. I shouldn't regret what I am, nor regret the condition in which you met me, for it was in that state that you learned to … love me, after all.

"And likewise for you, you shouldn't regret what you are, because it's the whole package, everything about you, that I loved and love still. I don't love you in spite of what you are. I love you, and everything that you are."

She fell silent, giving me time to think about her words.

I was moved that she loved me, me and my … quirks. But it was unrealistic to think that I wouldn't regret what I was. I was an aberration, and always would be. I thwarted my own nature, but at bottom I was evil. As a matter of principle, I couldn't be content with what I was.

I remembered the profound sadness that she had experienced when she woke up and realized that her sight had vanished again. I had great difficulty believing - even if she was able to see me in her way as much as she liked – that Bella did not have some scrap of regret.

"You suffer from being what you are as much as I suffer from being what I am. I saw you in the hospital when you regained consciousness."

She denied it. "I was surprised, Edward, nothing more. I'm over it now. I assure you, I'm in peace with my current condition. Ironically, James gave me the ability to experience the most wonderful moment of my life. Your image is engraved forever in my mind. It was very short, but I prefer that short memory than nothing."

I lost myself in her peaceful gaze. She did seem serene.

"I needed a long time to accept who I am," she continued. "For a long time, I wanted to change things, to go back to the way I was before. Now I've managed to get over that. It was hard, but I did it. I accept my condition; I even get certain advantages from it. Mind you, don't confuse resignation and acceptance. They are two completely different things. Perhaps you should do the same for your part and accept what you are?"

"Bella…" I took a lock of her hair and placed it gently behind her ear. "You are the most courageous and tenacious person I have ever met. Everything about you makes me love you. Everything," I said fiercely. "You accept what you are with so much serenity, so philosophically. But an illness and a situation like mine aren't comparable. I can't accept being a monster. Ever. I would do anything to go back."

"Honestly, you would give up what you are now?"

"Without any hesitation."

"Really? You would be ready to be vulnerable, to be at the mercy of other vampires? You know the secret, you know the menace looming over all the humans in the world. You would really want to be a lamb again? You would want to lose your strength? Your gift for reading minds? The means to defend yourself?"

"It's the price for having a soul."

"You really think you don't have a soul? I might not have one either. A soul is a concept, a belief. What I know is that you have a conscience and know the difference between good and evil. Vampire or not, you are someone who is good. You see, it's not a matter of accepting being a monster … it's a question of accepting what comes to you in life. I've accepted being blind. So accept what you are, Edward."

I would never have expected Bella, who had been tortured by a sadistic vampire, to plead the case for vampires. "How have you come to be so magnanimous?' I asked. "How can you ask me to accept being a monster when you're in a cast because of a monster?"

Why was I trying to dissuade her? I didn't know. Perhaps I loved her too much to not try to make her understand that I was far, far from the ideal partner for her. I loved her too much to abuse the trust and faith she accorded me. I loved her too much to take advantage of her feelings that made her disregard the unsavory aspects of my condition.

She sighed in exasperation. "Do you know how egocentric you are? It's incredible how you bring everything back to yourself. If I choked on my dinner, you'd find a way to blame yourself." Her smile was half-mocking, half-tender.

"Don't exaggerate," I grumbled.

"Pfft, you know I'm right," she said. "Let me explain my point of view on your so-called monstrousness."

She cleared her throat and took on the tone of a teacher about to give a lesson to a difficult student.

"They say that man is the most dangerous predator, that he's at the top of the food chain. At least, that's the official story. If the world knew of your existence, they'd put the vampire above the human, that's all. Do they hate the lion more because it is above the lamb on that list? Is a lion a "monster" because by nature it is stronger than the lamb? If we had to call every predator a monster, it would be a never-ending list …"

She pointed to the branches above us; an owl was hooting.

"Look at that owl. No doubt it's going to attack a mouse and make a meal out of it. Is that bird a monster too? The lynx or the bear that will attack the owl in turn and eat it, is it a monster as well?"

"You're talking about animals that have no conscience, no minds, ethics, ideals, dreams, aspiration" I objected. "All they do is exist. We vampires destroy lives, homes. We snatch from families the people they love and cherish …"

"Of course, but that, Edward, doesn't apply just to vampires. There are as many humans, if not more, who are murderers, maniacs who travel with impunity waiting for their next victim. Those are monsters. You, your family, and even the nonvegetarian vampires aren't monsters. You're feeding yourselves, that's all. Obviously, there are vampires who enjoy making their victims suffer. There are those who choose prey with the aim of making their families suffer. There are Jameses everywhere, including among humans, Edward."

I considered this for a while. I knew what she was trying to do: to rid me of my guilt. There was a certain logic in her words. It was tempting to let myself be convinced. Very tempting.

"I understand your point of view," I said.

"So, are you going to finally stop hating yourself?"

A disparaging laugh shook me. "I've spent 100 years being disgusted with myself, Bella. It'll take more than one night to be in peace with the mons-"

A raised eyebrow stopped me.

"With the vampire in me," I corrected myself.

"I will help you," she said, determination in her voice.

I was once again amazed by her. I lowered my face back into her hair. The monster was far away. The lover dominated. At the least, I could be pleased by my victory over myself. I detested the monster, but I controlled it completely now, or almost. One day, perhaps I would accept it as an inalienable part of myself. If Bella helped me, the process would be faster, although I still found her marvelously insane for loving all the aspects of me.

"It's the whole package, everything about you, that I loved and love still."

It was perhaps time that I try to look at myself the way Bella had been doing for so long already.

"Bella."

"Hmm?"

"You are my absolution."

She didn't answer. In the time I had taken to reflect, sleep had taken her.

Overwhelmed at seeing her completely relaxed against me, I watched her sleep until sunrise neared.

I was infinitely careful as I slid an arm around her back and another under her knees. I lifted her off the ground and Bella stirred.

"The sun is rising. Charlie will wake up soon. I'm taking you back home," I whispered to her.

Her head nestled into the crook of my neck.

"You are my home," she murmured before falling back to sleep.

Her words caressed me. I kissed her forehead, a mute but eloquent response.

I left our oak while the streaks of dawn colored the sky. It would be sunny today.

Noiselessly I made my way among the trees, my treasure in my arms. The reddish rays of the sun chased away the stars and the indigo sky lightened. My reflective skin didn't bother me. For once, I didn't curse the star that so often played havoc with my existence. Today, I didn't resent it for betraying my supernatural state, because it was in perfect accord with how I felt.

I threw a last glance behind me. Perhaps it was my imagination, but the old oak seemed less twisted in the morning light.

A smile slowly curled my lips. I turned away from our tree and greeted this dawn that was the beginning of a new day, a new era.

The era of acceptance.

The End.


A/N: Yes, yes, I wrote "The End." Because initially this story was going to end this way, more or less. I didn't intend to go farther than the plot of "Twilight," since I didn't particularly like the other three volumes of the series. All that I planned to do was to explore how a blind Bella might fare with the events of the first book.

But along the way, I was inspired to continue Bella and Edward's story to my own liking. So let us say that the "The End" above has its purpose: it's the end of what you could call the first volume of "The Eyes of the Moon" and the end of my reworking of "Midnight Sun/Twilight." After this, I will no longer follow Meyer's plot, though certain themes will be the same. It will indeed be an alternative universe.

I want to make something clear: You have no doubt noticed the difference between my Bella and Meyer's. My Bella doesn't necessarily wish to become a vampire, but she has nothing against the idea either. She's going to see what happens. Meyer's Bella is, um, obsessed with changing. My Bella has battled for too long with herself and her illness to give up so casually a condition that she has come to accept. She is comfortable with herself as she is, thus her absence of a desire to change (but that doesn't mean that she would be horrified to become a vampire). Besides, it is her level of comfort with herself that allows her to make Edward understand that he should accept what he is. To my mind, Bella's not being obsessed with the idea of being Edward's physical equal doesn't mean that she loves him less or that she doesn't want to be with him forever.

Thanks to all of you for your reviews. Though my English doesn't allow me to respond easily, /or something like that?/I do read them all and they are a pleasure.

T/N: And I'd like to say thank you for your reviews and PM's as well. They which brighten my day as I try to figure out how to do justice to Ely's words. And I 'd like to give a special citation to Renee Aubin for valor in the line of reviewing.

FYI, this story will continue here, so you'll see a Chapter 17, or a Book 2 Chapter 1 if you prefer, when I get it translated.