Disclaimer: "Twilight" belongs to SMeyer. "The Eyes of the Moon" belongs to Elysabeth. Translation errors belong to eiluned price.
A/N: I'd like to note here that this second volume is quite different from Meyer's, that the rhythm changes, that the plot moves more slowly, that readers could see some elements as inconsequential and serving no end. But don't fear that the story is losing its momentum. Everything has a point and a purpose, you'll see. All things come to those who wait, as the saying goes.
Once more, thanks to all of you. I am so grateful for your reading my work with so much enthusiasm.
Book II: The Tears of the Moon
It was a tranquil night. No wind. No snow. No clouds. The sky had cleared just before twilight. The sun had reappeared in time to set, sliding behind the mountains. The snow-covered ground turned gold under its rays. I did too. I glowed on the outside, while inside I was darker than the deepest shadows. I had always been so, a paradox, a walking contradiction.
The last traces of the sun faded into the indigo sky. I again raised my eyes to the sky, impatient. Soon the moon would appear.
The jagged silhouettes of the pines on the horizon separated earth and sky. Behind them, a pure silver disc rose, in an ascent as sublime as it was slow. I focused only on that, on the black horizon ornamented by a celestial diamond.
I felt better as soon as I saw its gentle light. All my pain vanished. I was serene. It was as if I had been ripped apart and was being mended.
That was only an impression, alas.
The moon began to dominate the sky and brighten the night, my last night. It was so beautiful, so peaceful. It had been too long since I had seen it. I felt something that was oddly like happiness, an emotion that could no longer be applied to me. Yet I was happy. Happy to be able to admire the moon. Oh, I knew that it was only a blurry copy, a weak substitute for my real moon, but I knew this was all that was possible.
The moon was the solution, the ending, the cure for my torment, the emblem of a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Chapter 17: Pas de Un
When the police chief's daughter returned to school after her convalescence, the mental reaction was chaotic. As she had the first time she showed up at Forks High, she provoked curiosity and intrigue. But this time, the furor had nothing to do with what set her off from her classmates, her blindness. No, this time, it was the gossip of the century: Isabella Marie Swan was going out with Edward Cullen.
As on her first day, Bella was the star attraction in the school. Her return, after a two-week absence, was conspicuous, and not just because of the brace on her leg. Rather it was the shadow who followed her everywhere: me. She and I. Even our smallest gestures revealed the ties that would bind us from now on.
An unattainable Cullen, our classmates thought, cold, haughty, distant, more beautiful than a god, had fallen for an ordinary girl – even more, a handicapped girl. Their minds were roiling with consternation and speculation. I didn't care. Nor did my love.
My love …
I still had difficulty even thinking the words. Before, they had been forbidden vocabulary. Today, they were my words, undeniably true ones.
I had loved her for a long time, but I had always had to censor myself, to hide my feelings. I felt liberated now to act like a lover, to speak freely. The transition from friend to lover was easy, natural, logical, meant to be from the beginning.
I was delighted to note that the self-loathing part of me had disappeared; I did not feel guilty for being happy. I didn't feel guilty that the lion could be loved by the lamb. I simply felt … right. It was strange to have such certainty about something other than being an aberration of nature. I wasn't yet sure that I deserved this happiness, but I sought to be worthy of it, to take nothing for granted and to be completely aware of my good fortune. For this good fortune wouldn't last forever. The day would come when Fate would demand its recompense and take away my moon. It was up to me to enjoy every millisecond of Bella's existence before that happened.
Our ties to each other were different from those of any other couple. We had no model, no example to follow. Nobody as different from each other as we were had this kind of relationship. What united us was unique – neither human or vampiric, but simply Edward and Bella. We were no longer afraid of the unknown, but welcomed it with open arms; we were pioneers, explorers of a new world whose shores that we could have never dared to hope to reach. Each discovery was fascinating, each proof of our mutual need was thrilling.
We didn't announce our relationship, but our behavior left no room for doubt that we were in one, and the news spread like wildfire. The average adolescent had a deep interest in such gossip, and in speculating about what it meant. Some of them just thought about it, some of them talked about it among themselves, and some, like Mike Newton, went so far as to express their opinion to Bella herself.
"So, you're going out with Edward?" he had said one day with carefully studied indifference in math class.
"You could say that," she had replied.
"Going out" …. I didn't like that description, nor did Bella. It was too insignificant, inappropriate for describing our situation. But what was the point to trying explain something that, after all, was our business alone?
With a grimace that was almost a pout, the boy had retorted, "I don't like that guy. You don't know it since you are … You can't … I mean, um, you're …"
"Yeah, yeah. You don't know it since you're blind, but he looks at you like he wants to devour you."
If he only knew! There was a time when the darkest part of me wanted to literally devour her, but today I devoured her with my eyes, and for much more sane reasons. At least, more human reasons.
Biting her lip to retain her laughter, Bella had shrugged.
"Thanks for the warning, Mike, but I think I can handle it."
Other classmates were more accepting.
"I suspected that there was something going on with you two!" Angela had exclaimed with a conspiratorial nudge.
Her mind was buzzing with questions that she wouldn't ask her friend, sensing her reluctance to talk about it. Bella was naturally discreet and Angela didn't pry. Perhaps because she had become a little more familiar with the Cullens these last months, she was one of the few people to take the news positively.
I didn't concern myself with all the talk, but it was sometimes difficult to ignore obnoxious minds like Jessica Stanley's. Since she had witnessed us coming into school with my arm around Bella's shoulders, her fury had not relented.
"Don't tell me that Edward has a thing for the only girl who can't actually see how gorgeous he is!" she had complained to her fellow gossip girl, Lauren Mallory.
I shouldn't expect any better from someone like Jessica.
"She's unbelievable. Little Miss can't just hang out with these gods-on-earth, she has to go out with the hottest member of the family. Course, you could say that his standards aren't all that high – picking a handicapped girl when anyone would die to be with him. Pfft. He must feel sorry for her, or he lost a bet with one of his brothers – that's the only thing that make sense."
Until now, Jessica had believed that I was Bella's friend out of pity. She had to admit, however, that what we had was no longer just friendship. She found it inconceivable.
Her acid comments continued until the end of the school year. Mostly I gritted my teeth and feigned indifference. There was one day, though, when her thoughts became more and more painful to hear.
After a Spanish exam, I rejoined my love for the next class. When I saw her silhouette next to her locker, I smiled in bliss.
She sensed my arrival and instinctively raised her hand to my cheek.
Being touched by Bella Swan was like alighting in an earthly paradise. I turned my head so that I could reach her hand with my lips.
"Hello," I answered, kissing her palm. I breathed in the sweet scent of her skin and allowed myself to wallow in it for a few seconds. To my delight, she shivered, and it wasn't from cold, but pleasure.
I loved to affect her like this. It was a sweet revenge: she had unhinged me from the start, after all.
While Bella pulled out her Braille biology textbook, Jessica came by.
"Oh, look, it's Miss Klutz 2000, attached to her Cullen. Too bad all she had was a broken leg. If she had been stuck in her bed in a coma I wouldn't have to look at this crap. What can he see in that science nerd crip?"
That was an insult too far. I decided to indulge in a little mischief that would teach Jessica a lesson.
My arm stretched out and my hand resting against the open locker door, I leant down to Bella and buried my nose in her hair. My companion released a shaky sigh and smiled dreamily, but continued her preparations. I stood so that the top half of my face was visible. As Jessica walked past, I glared at her, a glare she sensed. She couldn't stop herself from turning her head in my direction and my narrowed eyes stared straight into hers. It was a sinister, icy stare, almost savage. I was careful to restrain myself, my goal being to scare her, but not enough for her to suspect my real nature. Situated thus next to Bella like a protective wall, I had the look of a wild animal defending my lair.
Jessica heard my message loud and clear. The girl grew pale and gulped. My murderous look made her wonder if she had somehow spoken out loud by mistake.
She nearly tripped when I freed her from my hypnotic gaze, catching herself just in time and running off. I knew that my little game had worked perfectly: Jessica would convince herself that she had imagined my inhuman glare, but she would remember how it made her feel.
Pleased, I closed my eyes so I could concentrate on the scent of Bella's hair before burying my entire face in it. Being so close to Bella no longer alarmed me, so I happily took advantage of her nearness.
It seemed to me that I had become strong and resistant. However, being strong and resistant implied that I had to fight back my thirst. But I no longer felt that I needed to fight anything. I no longer had to battle myself, battle the appeal of her blood. There was no more battle. Nor was there victory or defeat. The two sides, the monster and me, had merely decided on a definitive truce. Bella's exquisite, human fragrance intoxicated me still, but at a new level that went far beyond thirst. To breathe in Bella's scent was like breathing in life. Her life. And that life was all that kept me alive.
"Behave, Mr. Cullen," my companion said, a gentle reproach. If her fingers hadn't trembled as she pulled out her textbook, I could have almost believed that my proximity didn't affect her.
I prudently stepped away, but that was only because we had only 57 seconds to make it to biology before the bell. Bella closed her locker and we walked slowly to class, my pace matching her limping one.
"I wonder why Jessica was running as if she were being chased by the devil. I smelled her Chanel No. 5 go by in the hallway."
Damn. Nothing escaped her.
"No idea. I was preoccupied myself," I said teasingly, tugging gently at a lock of her hair.
Bella forgot Jessica, and put a hand on my arm. It wasn't for balance, but a means of looking at me.
Loving a human was different. Loving a blind human was deliciously different. For everything that would normally be communicated by sight was transmitted by touch, which meant that I was repeatedly on the verge of sweet madness.
Since I had told her that she didn't have to ask for permission to look at me, Bella always kept a hand on me, constantly making contact. Two sighted lovers would gaze into each other's eyes. Bella gazed at me through touch, touch that was much more than a way of observing me. Her hands on me were often a question, as if she was asking herself if I really existed. The brush of her fingers, light and trembling, was her way of assuring herself that I wasn't just a dream and that I was next to her in flesh and bone. Every time her hesitant fingers grazed my hand, my arm or my cheek, I responded. I hoped that in this way she would understand that I wasn't going to disappear, that I wasn't an illusion.
As for me, my hand was always wandering somewhere on her: a shoulder, the nape of her neck, a hip, her waist, her back. I too was assuring myself that she existed, that she was indeed real. My touches were often questions as well, confirmation that my inhuman coldness, the hardness of my skin, didn't bother her. I was still a little disbelieving of her acceptance of me, and probably always would be. The fact that she loved what I was surprised me still, but the more time that passed, the less I watched for her to be repulsed by my supernatural qualities.
I loved to look at her the same way she looked at me. I loved to memorize her with touch. I wanted her to envelope me in her unique essence. I had spent a hundred years feeling only the lifeless, tepid skin of my family, and the few occasions I had to touch humans happened during my brief rebellious period where I hunted criminals (and I couldn't really say that I had touched them – I had seized them, then massacred them). Discovering Bella Swan physically, discovering that I would look at her in her way and that she could do the same without arousing my thirst, was a continuing source of fascination for the entranced vampire that I was.
"How'd your Spanish exam go?" she asked, drawing me from my reverie.
I affected a mock-tragic tone.
"It was hard, but I think I managed."
"Pfft, you'll have an A+ as usual."
We had arrived at our lab table. Biology had become, hands down, my favorite class since it was the only one I had with Bella.
Previously, school had been a tedious chore. Decades of school years had passed without anything extraordinary occurring. Because we wanted to appear the most human possible, we Cullens had undertaken the academic routine numerous times. I had never asked myself how my siblings had managed to endure this repetitive life, but I had always had the impression that it was more difficult for me than for them. I hadn't understood why until Bella crossed my path: it was because my brothers and sisters had partners. It was much easier to tolerate our quasi-human lifestyle with a soulmate. And now I had one. High school and college were going to be much more interesting with Bella at my side.
When class started, I focused my attention not on Banner, but on the delicate profile of my biology partner.
Since she was gifted in the subject and more advanced than our classmates, I felt no guilt about distracting Bella during class. Often I used my pencil to punch holes in my notebook paper. I was writing messages in Braille: by turning the paper over, Bella could read what I had written by running her fingers over the bumps I had made. We sometimes had quite long conversations that way. She could answer me with her computer set in Braille mode, and even if Banner saw her screen he would be none the wiser.
So while the teacher blathered on about the parts of the brain, Bella and I had a conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with class.
"Saturday, I'm going hunting with Jasper and Esme. The Forestry Service has issued a warning about wolves venturing too close to populated areas in Oregon. We're going to take care of the problem."
"Okay. While you go after the big bad wolf, I'll go to Port Angeles and get a new audiobook."
"That is out of the question."
"I won't walk far with my brace if that's what's bothering you, Mr. Bossy. Charlie has errands there. He'll drive me."
"That's not the problem."
"Then what is?"
"In a word, Victoria."
Her brow furrowed and her eyes wide, Bella shuddered when her finger ran over the bumps forming the name. She crumpled up the paper and instinctively rubbed the half-circle of her scar.
Cursing myself for bringing painful memories to the fore, I entwined my fingers with hers under the table for reassurance, and gave them a squeeze.
"Edward, do you know the answer? What is the part of the brain that contains 50 percent of the neurons?"
"The cerebellum, Mr. Banner," I said casually.
He continued his lecture, asking himself why he had even bothered asking.
"She's around?" my partner typed a few seconds later.
"No. Alice saw her in the Canadian Rockies. But she doesn't know what her intentions are, so that's why you can't be unprotected."
"Victoria wants to finish what James started?"
I wanted to answer no just to make Bella's frown disappear. But the truth was that I didn't know. I had concentrated so much on James's mind that I knew almost nothing about Victoria's. All that I knew was that she supported him in his lethal plans and was loyal to him. To James, she was a useful tool, nothing more. I saw that he didn't have strong feelings for her. But I didn't know how strongly Victoria felt tied to James.
"She's not a tracker. That's not her strength. I think there's nothing to fear from her, but better safe than sorry. If you want to got to Port Angeles, have Alice drive you there."
"I don't need a babysitter."
"Hold on, it's not babysitting. We're watching over you. It's the least we can do considering all that has happened to you because of me."
"Victoria's in the Rockies, a thousand miles from Port Angeles."
"You know the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?"
"You're being paranoid."
"I love you."
"That's an argument?"
"No, a fact."
"I love you too."
The next Saturday did not play out quite as I had planned. When I returned from hunting, I discovered that Alice had not taken Bella to Port Angeles. To Bella's displeasure, my sister had cloistered her in our house to prepare her for an event.
I hadn't expected that, but I appreciated my sister's efforts. I had completely overlooked what was happening on this Saturday night and I now realized that I wanted to participate. Or more accurately, I didn't want to participate, but I wanted to be there for Bella. Alice had obviously seen that. Bella didn't know what was going on, and her efforts to find out failed.
That night, in the Volvo, she continued her inquisition.
"Alice played Make-Over Barbie on me all day without telling me why. I can't take it anymore. Where are you taking me?"
Bella bounced with impatience on her seat.
I smiled as I drove. "It's a surprise."
Uncomfortable with the ruffles on her dress, Bella vainly tried to flatten them against her thighs.
"Why am I decked out like a hooker?"
"A hooker? You are far from looking like a hooker, believe me. You are … astounding. Incredibly astounding …" I sighed, bowled over as I was every time I looked at her. I had fallen into a sort of trance when I saw her emerge – finally! - from Alice's room, which my sister had refused to let me enter when I had returned from Oregon.
Alice had created a masterpiece, although she had only retouched the painting that was already, and naturally, sublime. Nonetheless, the result was intoxicating.
Bella was too impatient to be flattered by my compliment. "It's not fair. You could at least give me a clue."
"Not a chance."
She crossed her arms over her chest and sulked.
"Patience," I told her. "We're almost there."
We had reached the school parking lot and I could already hear the sounds of a dance coming from the gym. Bella could too, and I saw an expression of horror replace her pout as she realized where we were.
"The prom…" She shrank back into her seat, overwhelmed. "You're taking me to the prom."
She said the word as if it were a death sentence.
I took her hand. "Do it for me, Bella."
"I can't do this."
"Of course you can."
"I hate this sort of thing."
"To be honest, I hate it too."
"Then why are we here?"
"To prove that you can do this."
I remembered having wished, with some guilt, to take her to the dance in March to show her that she would knock everyone out and dance like everyone else. Today, my wish had become concrete, and I was far, far from feeling guilty. It seemed so long ago that the lion had to fight against the laws of nature.
Being in a room crowded with dancers moving to loud music was difficult for Bella, I knew that. Tonight, I wanted to show her that it could be easy … if she wasn't alone.
"I can tell from here that the music is deafening. I'm going to go crazy if I go inside."
"I will be there. I won't leave your side for an instant."
That seemed to reassure her. A little.
"In ruffles, with my leg in a brace, I'm going to look ridiculous."
"No one will be looking at your leg. They will be too busy gaping at the goddess in the blue dress."
"You're trying to sweet-talk me?"
"All I'm doing is telling you the truth."
"Pfft, goddess in a blue dress. I can't judge the results myself, but I'm sure you're exaggerating."
I stepped out of the car and opened her door. "Come on. Take my hand. I promise you it'll all be fine."
She took it reluctantly, but she took it. She limped next to me up to the entrance like a condemned prisoner heading to the scaffold. Once there, her hand tightened in mine. She recoiled at the sound of the speakers, then covered her ears, her expression one of distress.
I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her close. "I'm here."
Her head under my chin, Bella grabbed on to my jacket. We walked into the gym, which shook with the vibrations from the bass beat of music that the children of Forks High called heavy metal. Well, it was heavy: my eardrums were almost as uncomfortable as they had been when Bella turned on her ultrasound machine.
I hear her groan faintly. Bella was suffering from this infernal cacophony even more than I was. The agitated crowd of students must also have been disorienting her. At least she wasn't being assailed as I was by the multicolored lights skittering across the ceiling and walls. For a vampire with supersensitive vision, staring into such strong light was a kind of masochism.
I tried to describe to Bella all the details of the room, how the tables were situated, the dimensions of the dance floor, the number of attendees, the arrangement of the drinks tables … everything. Bella noted all these data and as she was able to picture her surroundings in her mind, I could see her relaxed minutely.
I cut a path through the crowd, not without some looks of astonishment at our passage. The way Bella held on to me could be interpreted in many ways. Still, we looked more like an infatuated couple than one trying to adjust to a demonic ambiance.
"That's Edward, isn't it?"
"Who's the girl hanging from his neck?"
"Hell, that's Bella Swan! What a change!"
I repressed an irritated sigh and waved to my sisters and brothers from across the room. They were already on the dance floor. They had had time to get used to the climate. Jasper looked as if he was dancing with an excitable little sister. As for Emmett and Rosalie, who were glued to each other, they made their way among the dancers in an improvised tango.
I observed that the hand on my chest had become less tense. In fact, it was caressing.
"Bella, what's going on?" I asked, confused.
"You're dressed like a penguin."
I realized that her caress was an inspection of my outfit. "It's a dinner jacket," I said wryly. "What one wears to this sort of thing."
She touched the boutonniere.
"All you need is a top hat and you'll look like a distinguished young man from the turn of the last century."
"I am a distinguished young man from the turn of the last century," I reminded her, teasing.
My dinner jacket had distracted her from the noise and laughter around us. I took advantage of her preoccupation to lead her to the dance floor and position her in front of me.
"What are you doing?"
I lifted her onto my feet. I left my right hand on her hip, placed her left hand on my shoulder and then took the other and raised it.
"You want to waltz?" she asked. "To this music?"
For answer, I twirled her around. She let me do it, at first surprised, then relaxing little by little. I smiled, pleased with my initiative. Dance was something Bella adored at least as much as music (real music, of course!).
"So? It's not so bad, is it?"
"I'll survive," my partner agreed, more and more at ease.
It was easy to ignore the noise around us, but another sort of cacophony had begun as we danced, a mental reaction that was harder to block.
"That's Bella, isn't it?"
"A god in a tuxedo! My God!"
I grinned arrogantly when I heard Mike Newton's thoughts. Feeling sorry for himself, Mike remembered having asked Bella to the other dance as a fallback. Now he bitterly regretted not having tried harder. He was sure that he would be in my place at this moment if he hadn't given up.
Dream on, I thought.
I remembered wishing that I was in his place when he had asked her to go with him. The roles were now reversed. What irony.
With an entirely masculine, very human sense of pride – something I couldn't keep myself from indulging in – I pulled Bella to me more closely, to the dismay of Mike Newton. His own dance partner couldn't stop glancing surreptitiously at us, but Jessica Stanley's thoughts were, for once, not obnoxious. Her little encounter with my glare still had its effect.
I turned all my attention to Bella, who appeared to be more and more comfortable. When I was sure that she was completely at ease, when I sensed that her desire to dance had vanquished her discomfort, I knew that my mission was accomplished. Bella had faced a crowded room and had managed it. I silently and smugly rejoiced that I had had something to do with that.
A sweet sensation, that of feeling useful, that of feeling that somebody needed me and my help. Every day, I was stunned by how this powerful feeling could provide me with such deep satisfaction.
Suddenly, without asking my opinion, Emmett pivoted, released Rosalie and deftly whirled Bella away from me. Rosalie found herself in the arms of her "twin brother," Jasper, while Alice was my new partner.
Emmett was so quick that Bella didn't realize what was happening … at least until his scent betrayed him.
"Hey, what's happ – Emmett?" she stammered.
My brother guffawed, continued to twirl around his new dance partner. "Ready for a spin?"
"Huh, I'm … Whoa!"
Without any other warning, Emmett led Bella on a wild ride. I stiffened and growled, but Alice held me back. She forced me to dance and I saw in her head that this abrupt change in partners was her idea. She wanted to speak to me.
"There are other ways to arrange a conversation!" I complained.
"Don't worry. Emmett won't do anything to upset you."
"What do you want?"
"I hate you," she snapped. "It's not fair. I want to travel with you too."
Ah. She had seen my secret plans.
Now that we were "going out," Bella was convinced that Charlie would say no to our journey in Arago's footsteps. She thought it would have been difficult enough to persuade him when we were two friends; Charlie's letting a teenage couple travel the world on their own would require a miracle. Bella had virtually given up hope. But I hadn't. I had more than one trick up my sleeve. Still, I hadn't said anything to her about it since I wasn't sure I couldn't make it work.
"Sorry, Alice. It's a trip for two."
"Two sets of two would be better. I would go with Jasper."
"I want to be alone with her."
"I'm tiny. You'd barely notice me!"
Barely notice her? She might have been the littlest of demons, but she was also the most interfering and annoying.
"Certainly," I said sarcastically. "And I'm a werewolf."
"I'm serious. I won't bother you."
"If you're trying to convince me, it's because you've already seen my refusal. But this is still very encouraging. If you've seen Bella and me go on this trip, that means that parental objections have been overcome."
"Exactly. And I'm vexed that you are excluding me from your trip."
I heaved an exasperated sigh.
"Alice. My time with Bella is short. I don't want to waste it. And this time I want to spend alone with her. I have to live each second of her life to the fullest. You have Jasper for eternity. That's not the case for me."
"If she were like us…"
I stopped short on the dance floor, pinning her with a fierce glare.
"I know, I know. I'll shut up," Alice said. She rolled her eyes and tugged at me so I would resume dancing.
I grudgingly obeyed. I didn't need to concentrate on my steps so I focused on my brother, who was having Bella execute pirouettes that were more suitable for a circus than a dance.
"He always goes too far."
"Well, that's Emmett."
"Her leg's broken, for God's sake!"
"I told you, don't worry. I picked out her brace, remember. It's a good one. A bulldozer could run over her leg and it wouldn't hurt her."
I decided not to intervene only because Alice had broached a topic that I needed to discuss with her.
"You haven't seen anything that would interfere with my plans?"
"Are you talking about Charlie, or something else?"
"You know very well what I mean."
"Victoria went to the dance studio we burned down, and figured out what happened. She is raving mad."
If I could have, I would have blanched.
Nobody could eavesdrop on us – we were speaking too quickly and too quietly – but even so we murmured the rest.
"Will she come after us?"
"It's hard to say. Victoria is always changing her mind. She wants revenge, but our numbers frighten her. She also wants to find Laurent and reconstitute their coven. She is truly hard to follow. But don't worry, I'm keeping an eye on her."
"She absolutely can't be allowed to follow us when we travel. If Victoria discovers that I'm alone with Bella ... "
"All the more reason to take me with you, don't you think? The more of us there are, the less she'll be tempted to take us on."
She gave me a pitiful yet hopeful look.
"Don't try to fool me. You're wasting your time," I told her.
Alice lost her would-be endearing expression and resigned herself to defeat. "James was the tracker, not Victoria. I think that the fate of her partner was a lesson to her. Her survival instinct will keep her away from you – she knows too well what will happen to her if she tries anything."
"We still have to be vigilant."
"You can count on me."
"Good. And on that note … so long!"
I spun the little demon so she landed in the arms of Jasper, who was executing a fast foxtrot with his fake twin as our classmates watched and gaped. I recovered my dance partner with finesse. Emmett roared with laughter before gluing himself again to Rosalie.
"Hey," I told Bella, in case I had been too subtle for her to realize that she was now in my arms.
She wasn't surprised. Her sixth sense had already given her the news.
"Forgive me for abandoning you to that grizzly bear."
"You're forgiven." She smiled, comfortable where she was.
"Hey, Bella!" Angela Weber, dressed in lilac, came up to my love, who turned toward her voice.
"Oh, hey, Angela! I'm so glad to see you."
"Good evening, Angela," I said politely.
She blushed, but only a little, and managed to get out a "hello" to me without too much stammering. "You look very elegant," she said.
"Thank you. You do as well," I told her.
"Not as much as your dance partner!" Angela turned her attention to her friend. "Where did you find such a great dress?"
Bella shrugged. "Alice arranged everything."
"She's got to tell me which shop it came from!"
Hmm. The boutique in question was in an expensive neighborhood of Paris, but I didn't mention that.
"I didn't expect to see you here tonight," Angela went on. "You told me that this sort of thing was too much for you."
"That's true, but I was dragged here against my will." She jutted her chin toward me to indicate that I was the culprit. "But it turned out not to be that bad," she added, interlacing her fingers in mine.
The conversation naturally turned to their various science projects. No doubt, Bella had completely adjusted to the atmosphere here since she could discuss electrons and decibels with her friend in the middle of the dance floor.
I suppressed a laugh. Only these two would start talking about modifications to their ultrasound machine during a dance. But Ben Cheney soon arrived to claim his date for a slow dance, and Angela went off with him.
Knowing now that Bella was no longer in discomfort, I felt there was no longer any need for us to stay here. She had passed the test, faced her fears, and there was nothing to retain us in this room full of forced frivolity.
I drew her back into my arms, making a show of starting to dance, and lean down so I could whisper in her ear.
"Shall we stop playing human?" I murmured.
I sensed her smile widen. "I'm with you," she answered.
I continued to turn around and calculated the trajectory for reaching the open doors of the gym. I idly noted in passing Alice's mental outrage when she saw what we were planning, and ignored it. I didn't stop dancing until we were out of sight of the handful of students lingering outside the building. Then with the speed of lightning, I grabbed my partner by the waist and slung her on my back. She laughed loudly while I ran us into the dark of the forest at night. Hanging on to my neck, Bella let herself be carried away by our spontaneous ride, and the knowledge that she was far happier racing through the woods with me than spending time at a school dance made me think with scorn of her fellow students who adored such events.
I secured my hold on her by putting my hands behind me and under her thighs covered with blue lace. I ran joyfully among the trees, making sure that nothing hit her injured leg. I left somewhere behind us my tie and my boutonniere. My precious cargo lost some ruffles and her single shoe, but she didn't care.
I jumped from boulder to boulder, leaping up high to grab branches and swing from tree to tree to the soundtrack of Bella's delighted laughter.
We came to our old twisted oak, beaming.
"Oh, that was much more fun than the dance," she said.
"I couldn't agree more."
I lowered her carefully to the ground and turned her to face me. I observed that her updo by Alice was now just a memory.
Her hands flat on my chest, Bella discovered that my shirt was unbuttoned. "I see that I'm not the only one to leave behind some bits of my clothing. Alice is going to massacre us."
We burst out into laughter, then the air between us subtly changed, in keeping with our surroundings. Our hilarity was succeeded by a strange, feverish tension.
An imaginary melody descended upon the meadow, cradling us, far from the racket of the gym. Real music to our ears. A piano we recognized, which we had already heard playing here, floated in the air. Debussy.
The movement of the leaves transformed into notes, the creaking of branches changed into piano chords, and the sighing of the wind became a harmony that allowed us to start what for us was a real dance.
As she had the first time we had come to this meadow, Bella mirrored me. Her open hand waited. My palm paired hers.
I closed my eyes to match her own and executed a step, knowing even without seeing it that she followed. Bella glided over the grass, her brace only barely hindering her movements, and I copied her. I moved to the imaginary notes and she accompanied me. We heard the same melody, the same rhythm, the same mute sound of the piano. As we had been the last time, I was her frame, she was my painting. I accompanied her and completed her. Or perhaps it was the opposite.
The two reflections of the mirror turned in the meadow to the cadence of the sweet, silent litany of the composer who had awakened us to each other.
It was not a pas de deux, but a pas de un. The two reflections met and merged. We were soon a single silhouette, turning among the trees, ethereal and light. We were two voices echoing as one, two notes resounding as one.
Debussy finished his silent piece in a sweet, chiming tempest. The music once again became leaves, wind and branches. I slowly came to a standstill. I lowered my head and we found ourselves forehead to forehead. I breathed in her exhalations, she breathed in mine. And instead of feeling flames in my throat, I felt her breath and mine together, a new, pure aroma that warmed me from the inside.
My arms, without my realizing – and in any case, it didn't matter – were wrapped around her. Her hands were laced behind my neck.
I buried my nose in her hair, tracing a line to her temple, trading the silk of her strands for the velvet softness of her skin. My lips found a soft, voluptuous flower. The nerve endings in my skin exploded at the contact and I entered into a strange, unfamiliar state of wonder. The flower had the taste of body and soul, of satin and burning embers. It had a fragrance that I knew well yet seemed new to me or at least heightened. A mystery.
It was only when the petals trembled under my marble lips that I understood that this flower was the mouth of Bella Swan.
My eyes flashed open. I was staggered by what I had been doing without even planning or expecting it. For a millisecond, I thought about the monster in me – or rather, the vampire part of me – and I was happy and incredulous that I could do what I had done without feeling the beginning of thirst or a lethal desire. Although after all this time, should I really be astonished that I could dominate my vampire instincts?
The millisecond passed, and with it my joy. I regarded the face of my beloved and came down to earth with a thud. Bella's expression was a mixture of shock and … fear?
I jumped back, terrified that I was the cause of that worrisome expression. I tried without great success to ignore the emptiness that invaded me as I tore myself from her. I became a statue while Bella tried to recover her equilibrium, her lips still trembling. She seemed lost, her fragile body swaying and her heart beating like a drum. Was it racing from fear? Was it really fear that I read on her face? Or … pain?
I wasn't thirsty, no. But still I had lost control. I became almost nauseated at the thought that my stone mouth could have injured her. I had forgotten all notion of caution. Perhaps I had been too strong without realizing it?
I had found the most exquisite, delicate flower of the universe. Without thinking of its fragility, I had touched it. I had wanted to press it to me.
"Did I hurt you?" I asked, a tremor in my voice.
My question seemed to disconcert her. She didn't answer, perhaps to spare my feelings, knowing that I would feel horribly guilty if she said yes.
I watched anxiously for a bruise to form somewhere on her still-troubled face. Nothing.
If I hadn't hurt her physically, perhaps I had psychologically? Did she feel … violated? That wouldn't be in keeping with all that had happened between us before now … but … the truth was that never before now had I ventured to experience that flower.
That damnable mental wall! No way of knowing the origin of this …consternation? Upset? Pain? … on her face except to ask her aloud.
"Bella, please, can you answer me? Have I harmed you in some way?" I asked her again, more and more worried.
Her eyelids flickered, as if she were waking from a dream … or a nightmare? … and she frowned, this time clearly surprised by my question.
"What? I'm … No, not at all."
I felt a little reassured if still perplexed and uneasy about the strange expression on her face.
Perhaps … perhaps the coldness of my lips had repelled her? I thought anxiously.
No, I rebuked myself. How many times had I kissed her forehead, her hands, her cheek? Never had I discerned the least disgust, so why would it appear now?
While I sunk into this depressing inquisition, a flash of understanding appeared in her inanimate gaze. "Oh, I get it … my reaction must seem bizarre to you."
She stepped toward me, her hand outstretched. I didn't move, still trying to understand what had caused that unreadable expression on her face. Her fingers found my tense jaw.
"Sorry. I'm a little … shocked, I guess."
Her fingers caressed my cheek until my muscles unlocked despite myself. Impossible to remain marble under the feathers of her touch.
"Shock? I shocked you?"
"Yes." She let out a little embarrassed giggle. "I didn't expect that. I was surprised."
"You've lost me. Surprised how?"
She blushed furiously, but I wasn't in the state of mind to be affected by the sudden rush of blood to her cheeks.
"I thought it wasn't possible," she answered in a small voice. "I thought it would be too difficult for you, too much of a test. You said that you weren't certain that you could be … close to me. Close like that."
This time, I relaxed completely, relieved to finally understand what was going on, and even more relieved to realized that I had been wrong, that I hadn't injured her in any way. Bella Swan had been certain that I would restrict myself for the rest of her life to kissing her forehead and her cheek … so certain that my action had taken her aback.
It was true that I hadn't intended this … contact. I had been too absorbed for that. I wasn't used to touching a human nor used to not feeling guilty about it. I was also astonished that I no longer wanted to consume her blood at the least sign of it, and dazzled by the realization that she wanted this physical contact with me as much as I wanted it with her.
My body knew the shape of her when she was pressed against me. My hands knew the skin that I wouldn't tire of exploring. My lips knew her face, her hair, her hands, but not this flower, at least not until now. Unconsciously I had saved this discovery for the end of my tactile explorations: a sort of dessert, the grand finale of the perpetual intoxication I experienced each time I touched her.
And this delay in tasting the dessert had been interpreted by Bella as a frontier that I would never cross. She loved me enough to accept this limit, claiming nothing, demanding nothing. I could only adore her all the more for that.
"I thought that I had gone too far and hurt you, but in fact you were astonished only that I could do that?" I asked. I illustrated by brushing her lower lip with my own.
She trembled again, but since I now knew that it was a shiver of pleased surprise, I continued to trace the shape of the petal, and she spoke.
"Yes, I was shocked … it's a pleasant discovery."
I smiled against her lips. And trembled in turn. What heaven … I wanted to make her swoon, but I was sinking into the pleasure of it as much as she was.
"Very, very pleasant," she managed to murmur before letting the petals adjust to my iron mouth.
It was initially a cautious, careful exploration. Then a thought flashed through my mind: could my venom poison her by accident?
But .. why would the venom flood my mouth? There was no reason. Or perhaps I should worry about my razor-sharp teeth.
No, not that either. I had kissed her palm, her forehead, her temples, her hands, and nothing bad had happened. Why would this be different? Because I was tasting her delicious breath that I had previously only inhaled? Because this tender flesh, these two plump lines, warm, moist, should make me salivate more than any other part of her body?
Perhaps. But it was too late to worry about it. Impossible to go back and burden myself with scruples and concerns, for I had the decided impression that if I pulled away from this flower, I would shatter into pieces, I would collapse like a building without its foundation, like an arch without its keystone.
And so I became bolder.
This flower was like a brand on my lips, awakening in me something unknown, something alive; an energy and a force that didn't stem from my vampire nature. Something impossible for me ran through my being, something that I could find no better definition than this: life. I felt alive. Truly alive. I was no longer a creature frozen in time. I was animated, full of a new vitality, a passion that had its source in my moon.
I wanted to fan the flames of this life burning in me. I deepened the kiss, and the cold steel of my lips melted to mold to the velvet shape of hers. I lost my mind. I no longer knew who I was, where I was. I was only sensation.
I flew. In all senses of the word. I wasn't even aware of springing from the ground and leaping into the limbs of the oak, my moon hanging from my neck, attached to me like a second skin. I had jumped as if to match the sensation inside of me: I felt light, living, ethereal. Finding myself atop a tree seemed only natural.
Did Bella even realize that we were suspended in air? If she did, she didn't care.
In a moment of lucidity, I wondered why her skin was becoming wetter, and why her fragrance was becoming stronger. I realized then that it had started to rain and the drops were no longer being filtered by the leaves. Our hair was soon plastered to our faces and our clothes were soaked, but we still remained entwined with each other. She tasted the rivulets on my skin, and I drank in her fragrance diluted by the rain.
My mouth had been used only for speaking, growling, shouting or drinking. It never had been used before in such a way; never had it gone on a sensory quest that was so primal, vital and spellbinding. It was new. Completely new. How had I survived almost 100 years without it?
While I was becoming more audacious, Bella was pulling away. Her mouth gave up mine with all the difficulty of two magnets being detached from each other. I knew that it was hard for her, so why was she leaving?
"Sorry, the poor human has to breathe. Unfortunately, it's indispensable if you don't want my asphyxiation on your conscience," she said, panting.
I regained my senses. "Forgive me, I forgot that detail," I said sheepishly.
Although she was still breathless, she smiled at me. I was able to reconcile myself to the loss of her lips only because I knew I would have other opportunities to relive this extraordinary experience. Which wouldn't prevent me from returning to the rest of her face while waiting for those opportunities.
But perhaps we should get off this tree. Now that I had recovered some part of my reason, I felt a little ridiculous hanging like an orangutan.
As I glided down from branch to branch, my lips wandered over her eyelids and her heart pounded joyfully in her chest.
Our descent surprised her.
"Where are we?"
"In the oak."
"How did we get here?"
"My fault. I got carried away."
Just then, my new cellphone rang, but I couldn't answer it without letting go of my precious cargo.
"Huh. This situation is familiar," Bella said, recalling our adventure at the museum.
We both laughed while she tried to retrieve the phone from my pants pocket, a difficult task since the soaked fabric was sticking to my hip.
"I bet it's Charlie. We've surely violated curfew," she said as we descended.
"And I bet that it's Alice calling to scold us. We have ruined an entire day's worth of makeup and hairstyling, and the rain has taken care of the rest."
After the third ring, she was able to open the phone and to put it to her ear. "You have reached the cellphone of Mr. Cullen, how may I help you?"
A voice from beyond the grave, sickeningly glib, answered, echoing in the forest:
"Hello, my darling girl. It's your dear James."
T/N: Ah, Elysabeth, what a place to end!