Edward used what little strength he had left to turn his head away. He was careful not to breathe. If he smelled the blood, he was afraid he would devour her.

"Take it," Bella whispered. She held her arm closer, inches from his face.

"I will not." He lay back and closed his eyes, waiting for her to leave, waiting for Felix to reanimate, waiting for it all, mercifully, to be over.

He had never wanted this life. He'd tried so hard to resist becoming what he was forced to become. When he finally found what he thought was a solution, he still felt like a monster. In a way, he'd been looking forward to this day for nearly a hundred years. He couldn't wait for it all to end.

A warm drop of blood hit his lips, breaking his train of thought. Another one landed. And another.

He opened his eyes to see the horror. Bella leaned over him, her wound perched inches above his mouth. She squeezed the cut to make the blood flow. Her eyes focused on his blood-stained lips.

Edward fought himself. He fought his nature. He fought thousands of years of biology to resist. But he could not. He opened his mouth slightly and licked his lips, held his tongue out as drop after drop landed. He moaned as he savored its salty, metallic taste.

A moment passed. He felt the beast within him awaken. The long healing process began in earnest. His knees itched uncomfortably. His ribcage expanded. The skin near his wounds began to feel warm.

He took Bella's arm in his hand and held it in front of him for a moment. He looked into her eyes, glistening with tears.

It took all his power to push her arm away.

"You have to go," he said, licking his lips once again and turning his back to her. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. "Wrap that wound."

He sat up and contemplated this girl. She looked at him with those wet eyes, at once fearful and full of lust. It was as if she saw her own demise and welcomed it.

"I won't go until I know you're OK."

He laughed. He couldn't help himself. His eyes began to take on a red hue and he felt the monster growing stronger, though it would be a while before he was fully healed.

"You have no idea who I am," he said. "What I am. What I'm capable of. Go. Now. If you know what's good for you."

"Oh, please. Don't give me the scary man routine," she said, getting up and pacing the clearing. "I know exactly what you are. And I know exactly what I'm doing."

Edward watched her. She moved with the grace of an angel as her feet padded over a floor of pine needles and soft mulch.

Behind her, Felix's corpse began to move.

Edward struggled to rise. He wasn't strong enough to stand, and Bella came to him.

"Here, let me help you."

He waved her away.

"You're a fool," he said. "You think it's that easy to destroy one of us? You're lucky the slugs didn't just bounce off of him. I've never seen anything like that. But just because you hurt him does not mean he's gone."

"Fiocchi Armour Piercing Shotgun Slugs," she said. "Police issue only. They're designed to go through engine blocks."

He laughed and nodded toward the corpse. "Yes, well, take a look. See what you've accomplished."

She gasped. Felix's headless body was crawling across the ground toward its missing arm. It grabbed the arm and reattached it. She was speechless as she watched the skin grow back over the wound.

"I have to burn it," Edward said. "It's the only way to be sure." He pulled his zippo from the pocket of his coat, but Bella already had her plastic lighter out.

"No," he said. "Let me do it. It's too dangerous for you here."

He tried to stand but doubled over, groaning in pain.

Bella smirked.

"Don't forget who saved your ass," she said. "I'm not as weak as you think I am."

Edward watched as she piled debris around the twitching corpse and scooped the brain matter toward it with her foot. She held her lighter to the pile and flames rose, fanned by a slight breeze. Heavy smoke poured from the damp undergrowth, and an acrid stench filled the air. It was not the first time Edward had smelled it and, if he was to survive after this, he knew it probably would not be the last.

"Can you move?" Bella said.

Edward slowly stood on wobbly knees. She approached him, put an arm around his waist as he debated what to do. He knew that if he stayed he risked going up in flames, too. He put an arm over her shoulder and the two began limping away. He would survive, he supposed, to face another day.

"Those cuts on your arm?" he said as Bella stooped to pick up the shotgun, exposing several inches above her wrist. "Where'd they come from?"

There weren't many explanations for such scarring. Either she'd been in some freak accident, she was purposely cutting herself, or today was not the first time she'd done what he saw her do.

Edward didn't want to contemplate what that might mean.

Bella pushed her sleeve back down. "Don't act like you give a shit about me," she said. "Besides, it's none of your fucking business."

It began to drizzle as they approached Bella's house. She led him to a shed in the backyard, cleared a workbench and helped him lie down.

"You'll need more blood," she said.

"No. Absolutely not. I'll be fine. I just need a little time."

She sighed and closed the door. A sliver of muted daylight came through a small window high on the wall and reflected off Edward's cheek. Scattered dust particles danced.

"Someone will notice the fire," she said.

"The rain will put it out."

They stared at one another in silence. Edward watched as her hands fidgeted. She ran her teeth across her bottom lip, pulled at the belt loops on her jeans.

He offered her a cigarette, which she took.

"So," he said, lighting it for her. "How did you know? Am I that obvious, or do you have experience with my kind?"

She laughed and blew smoke upward, watched it curl toward the ceiling and disappear, as if it had never existed.

"I'm not stupid," she said. "You had blood on your mouth the night I met you. Your eyes glowed red, brighter than they are right now. And when you touched me, your hands were as cold as ice."

She paused to take another drag and began pacing the small room.

"Not to mention that line of yours. 'I killed him because I was hungry.' Jesus fucking christ, I nearly choked on my own spit. Is that supposed to be scary?"

Edward was dumbfounded. He knew he was not the kind of man who one would call wordy, but nevertheless, he had never before found himself at a loss for words, as he was now.

"Remarkable," was all he could come up with.

"Not so much, dude. I just call it as I see it."

She mashed her cigarette butt into a coffee can already half full of them. She saw him take notice and hopped up on the workbench next to him. She sat a few inches away from where his feet were, under the window.

"This is my sanctuary," she said, looking around. The shed was smaller than a child's bedroom, perhaps nine feet square, with a sagging ceiling of plywood that stood not much higher than Edward's head. In it were rusting tools and a coat of dust that must have been years in the making. "I hide out in here when I need to be alone. Which is a lot, lately. Charlie doesn't know where I go."

An uncomfortable silence filled the room.

"But why?" he said, wishing for the millionth time that he could read her thoughts.

"I have my reasons," she said.

"That's not good enough."

"It'll have to be. I don't owe you a damn thing."

Edward felt the strength coming back to him. He slid his feet from behind Bella and hung them over the side of the bench. Tentatively, he lowered them to the ground and stood. He felt OK, strong enough to survive. Not nearly back to his full strength yet, but that could be taken care of. He was twice as strong right then as any human on the planet.

"They'll be back, you know," he said. "Felix is gone, but he has friends, for lack of a better word. They'll be after me. And you."

"Tell them to bring it," she said.

"You have a death wish." It was a statement, not a question. "Those cuts on your arms. They're not from feeding people like me, are they?"

"If you only knew."

"Why do you do it?"

She bowed her head and looked at the ground, darkening with the day. "It's the only way I can feel anything," she said. "Anything besides regret."

There was silence. Neither knew what to say.

Bella broke the silence by changing the subject. "A vampire, eh? How'd that happen?"

"I, too, have secrets, Miss Swan."

"But you're not a normal vampire, like in the movies or whatever. You go out in the daylight and get all sparkly and shit. You don't have fangs. And, far as I can tell, you don't go around killing innocent people because you want to suck their blood."

Edward scoffed.

"You have no idea what you're talking about."

Bella smiled. "When you touched me. In the truck that first night? The way you stroked my thigh, so gentle."

"Yes," he said, remembering the strength it had taken not to kill her right there.

"I was awake," she said, "pretending to be unconscious. I could tell. I could tell you were a good person."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he said. "I'm not a good person. I'm a monster. I killed your friend. The boy they've been making so much fuss over. Mike Newton."

Bella laughed so hard she snorted.

"He wasn't my friend."

"You are, by far, the strangest, most maddening, most … most … most intriguing person I have ever met."

"Yeah, well, join the fucking club," she said, smirking. "Charlie's constantly trying to probe my mind. He means well, but I wish he'd leave me the hell alone."

A car door slammed. They both turned their heads toward the house.

"Shit. Charlie," Bella said.

"I'd better leave," Edward said. He turned to her as he walked out the shed door. "He's worried about you, you know."

"I can deal with Charlie," she said. A moment passed. They both heard the front door open.

Edward began to run toward the woods.

"Where will you go?" she called after him.

He didn't answer because he didn't know the answer. He knew he should leave. For his own safety. He should allow the Volturi to deal with Bella, as was their right.

He ducked down into the trees and turned back toward Bella's house.

He watched her run, the shotgun slung over her shoulder as she entered through the open sliding glass door.

But he wouldn't leave. He couldn't. Not only was he hopelessly enthralled with Bella Swan, he realized, he was now her protector.


A/N You. Guys. Rock. So fucking hard. I'm so new at this I don't know all the rules, I don't know what's normal and what isn't. Etc. But I feel like I'm being welcomed by a bunch of people I didn't even know were my friends. For that, I thank each and every one of you.

It's been pointed out to me that the whole shotgun thing from the previous chapter wasn't exactly straight out of the Twilight Canon Vampire Rulebook. Perhaps I should give a heads up next time. So take this as a friendly heads up: This story is going to follow most of the rules that Stephenie Meyer created in Twilight, but not all of them. If the story requires a fire-breathing dragon who reads poetry, I'll include one (but don't worry, it won't … probably). If it requires a vampire who is slightly more vulnerable to the laws of physics than a canon vamp, then I'll include that, too. The characters originated with someone else, but I'm making them do what I want now. I hope that's OK. ;)

Lastly, go give some virtual love to the gal who helped me create my Bella, my wife and beta MazzyStarla. She always knows when I've screwed up, and how to fix it.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Go look at my profile page for links to three awesome new banners for this story, created by three wonderful ladies.