Disclaimer: "Twilight" belongs to SMeyer.
Recap: Raquel's romance with Seth continues, though to her regret it's a chaste one. She and Bella spend Christmas break in Arizona, where Bella relives the bad old days with Charlie. On her return, she's informed that she can interview Old Quil Ateara for her linguistics project, but when she arrives at his house she encounters an unfriendly Jacob and is told a story about werewolves and Cold Ones that she doesn't believe – until Jacob phases in front of her and Edward shows up out of nowhere looking unearthly.
Thanks for all the great responses to the last chapter; some of your guesses are right on the mark. A few of you asked why Bella didn't snag the memory card from Jacob's pocket when he stripped; she has reasons for that, and since she obviously won't have the tribe's cooperation, her project is kaput. Others asked why she spends time with Charlie; people can tolerate a lot of bad behavior for the sake of family, and Bella doesn't have any other family.
I love that some of you watched "In the Loop." Remember, "to walk the road of peace we need to be ready to climb the mountain of conflict." And the f-word can be used to enliven any sentence!
Thanks to Camilla10 and Mr. Price, and to evilnat for nominating this at the Lemonade Stand.
The French will be translated at the end.
Chapter 10 : Kein Jäger erschiessen
As I ran away from the boy, the man, the monster – from Edward - I started crying, to my horror. I hadn't cried since my mother's death, the tears then born more of relief and guilt than of sorrow. Now they were born of anger and shame.
It was like suddenly being told that the masonry and wood shakes of your house were actually one-way mirrors, and that all the things you thought were private – the funny faces you made at yourself in the chrome of the kitchen faucet, the songs you sang off key in the shower, the impolite scratching and wedgie-pulling – had been on display for your neighbors. How could you face them again?
At home, in my kitchen, I paced. I poured a glass of wine, but I couldn't drink it. I longed to call Raquel, but the same instinct that had kept me from talking about Edward when he was merely my brilliant, strange student-savior told me to stay quiet about his nature, while my promise to the Quileute prevented me from telling her about their nature. Not, I thought savagely, that the Quileute seemed to have any compunctions about revealing secrets to me, and Raquel needed to know that she was spending her weekends with a guy who could transform into a giant fucking wolf.
I grabbed my cellphone and looked for Seth's number, which he had given me when I was light-hearted and ignorant and eagerly anticipating my recording session with Old Quil Ateara.
"Tell her, or I will," I texted Seth, and tossed the phone on the table next to the university tape recorder and the Swadesh list.
I had called Seth a hypocrite – which he certainly was - but I was no better. I had built a wall between me and my best friend with my omissions. Even in our week together in Tucson, I had been evasive with Raquel. We'd stayed in the apartment of Gabriel and Aidan, who were on tour with their band, and despite overtures from guys I'd had good times with in the past, I had gone home with her every night, explaining that I simply wanted to keep her company. I couldn't tell her that my dreams and thoughts were consumed by a man I shouldn't want.
But the man I shouldn't want knew all that, didn't he? He could hear it every time I looked at him - my desire, my guilt, my ache to do what I thought was wrong. As could his sister and his parents.
Oh, the humiliation. I couldn't bear to look at the Cullens sitting in my classroom. I called in sick to the school district hotline, even though I knew how bad it looked to miss work the first day after vacation.
I was working on new emergency lessons to replace the ones my substitute was using up when knuckles rapped on my door the next morning. Esme Cullen was standing outside, wearing an elegant cream cashmere coat and balancing a cobalt-blue Dutch oven on her hand as if it weighed nothing. Once again I wondered how I had ever thought that the Cullens were just extraordinarily beautiful humans. I stared at Esme through the glass for longer than was polite before I warily opened the door.
"Hello, Bella, I heard you were feeling poorly, so I thought I'd bring by some soup for you. I hope you don't mind."
I stared at her some more. Esme Cullen started to look uneasy.
"Bella, is that all right? I can leave if you think I shouldn't be –"
"Don't you know what I'm thinking already?" I said bitterly.
Her face cleared, and she exhaled. "I don't," she answered. "None of us do. None of us have that sort of ability."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Except Edward."
"Yes. But even he is unable to use it with you. You are his –" Esme seemed to be searching for the right word. "Exception."
I slumped against the door jamb in relief, and Esme walked in, set the pot on my kitchen table and was back at my side within a couple of eye-blinks. She put her arm around my shoulder and led me to my sofa.
"You don't know how appalled I was, to think that someone had been listening to my thoughts –" I mumbled as I sagged into the cushions.
"Oh, yes, I do," Esme said with some heat, arranging herself gracefully next to me. "You would not believe how envious the rest of us are of your imperviousness to his powers." The ruefulness in her voice was utterly convincing.
"How do you live with it?"
"Edward almost never reacts what we think, and he doesn't judge, and he doesn't tell," Esme said. She took one of my hands between hers, and I automatically noticed the difference in temperature between the warm one that had supported the pot, and the quite cold one that hadn't. "But even so, we sometimes resent him, and sometimes we, frankly, avoid him. It can be a very lonely existence for someone, when even the family that loves you can't endure being with you."
I smiled at her wryly. "Now that you mention it, I can see that. But I've spent the last day just feeling really, really embarrassed."
We sat for a moment in silence, which Esme broke. "I don't make you uncomfortable," she said, gently stroking my hand. It was an observation, not a question, and she added, "I do everyone else."
"Really?" Even though I knew what she was, she seemed so unthreatening. Of course, what did I know? I wasn't whatever animal that the Cullens ate. Or drank. Whatever.
But my musings dislodged a memory. "Venison!" I blurted out. "You talked about eating venison, when you came for the parent-teacher conference."
She nodded, unfazed by my train of thought traveling from fear to food. "Venison is an important part of our diet," she said. "Just not, um, cooked."
"I think you'll find that we haven't lied to you … well, not very often. I also told you we had pancakes for breakfast. We didn't. They sound disgusting. But on important matters, we've been truthful."
"Apart from telling me what you are," I pointed out.
"It's an omission, certainly, but we have very good reasons for that, which you'll discover if you talk to Edward."
I fell silent again, staring at my hands and thinking about the nonsense of it all: I had been in agonies about my attraction to my 17-year-old student. But a supernatural, blood-drinking creature of indeterminate but obviously great age? That, oddly enough, didn't feel creepy at all. There were other issues, certainly, but it was a relief to no longer feel like a sleazebag.
Though I sure was one mixed-up chick.
I glanced at my guest to find her looking at me expectantly, but with a touch of worry. Poor Esme. Of course, she didn't know that my hesitation stemmed not from Edward's nature, but my own.
I took a deep breath, and took a baby step toward making a decision. "Will you tell Edward that I'm feeling better and that I'll run today?" I asked the lovely, unnatural woman next to me.
"Of course," she said, looking pleased. "I'll text him."
"Can't you just mentally beam it to him?"
"No," she said, and laughed. "It doesn't work quite like that. But you can ask Edward the details."
"Okay, thanks. And thanks for dropping by. And for the soup."
"Of course," Esme said, rising from the sofa, but she seemed disconcerted. "If you have any questions, please, just ask."
"Maybe I should wait –" I paused and considered her for a second. "Okay, I'll bite. How old are you?"
"Twenty-six," she answered. "Though officially -" she waved her hands around her to indicate her life in Forks "- I'm 32."
"And how long have you been 26?"
She smiled. "You're right. I think that's a question for Edward to answer, when you see him."
Edward was the same person as yesterday, and so was I, but everything felt different.
He was waiting for me not on the trail itself, but off in woods a bit, as if to put some distance between us. In turn I stopped a few feet farther away from him than I normally did. The tension in the space that separated us only underscored how close we had become in these last few months, how we had developed an ease that had been stripped away by yesterday's revelations, and by my realization that he was available to me in a way I could have never expected. Seeing him, I felt young, naïve and extraordinarily rude.
"Are you all right?" he asked instead of saying hello.
I imagined that my restless night had been no beauty sleep for me, and I shrugged. "Yeah," I said, adding, "I want to apologize for how I left you last night." You know, in the middle of the road, after screaming at you, with my vomit next to your feet. "It wasn't one of my finer moments."
"There's no need for that," he said. "Indeed, I'm the one –"
I lifted my hand in the "stop" signal. "Let's not do that now. Shall we?" I said, indicating that he should start our run. He looked taken aback and then uncertain, and my heart twisted to see it. But I wasn't ready for declarations and discussions.
We did our miles in silence, which continued until we arrived at my porch. I pulled off the elastic band around my ponytail and shook my hair out.
When I reopened my eyes, his hand was stretched toward me, an apple resting on his palm. "Since you weren't able to go to school today," he said.
"Thank you," I said, taking the apple and examining the red and gold swirls on its skin. Gravity,/ temptation, beautiful immortals. Red eyes and gold eyes. Love and death.
I looked up to see golden eyes intent on me. Was he wondering if I trusted him now, if I would eat something he offered me?
Trust wasn't the problem, I could show him that. My teeth sliced into flesh, hard, white, sweet - so much, I imagined, like his own skin. I chewed, repressing the urge to find out for sure.
He ran his hand through his own hair in apparent frustration. "You don't have something to say to me? Or a question?" he asked.
"What's your favorite color?" I said in reply, swallowing my bite of apple. He looked at me, clearly baffled. "Do you need me to model for you? My favorite color is green. I see all these beautiful greens here in the forest."
He continued to stare at me in disbelief and I went on, "What, you were expecting me to pick the color of your eyes?"
"My eyes used to be green," he said. I waited.
Some unidentifiable emotion flashed across his face, and he said, "My favorite color is brown."
For answer, he reached to my collarbone and grasped a lock of my hair that rested there, then moved it over my shoulder. I watched transfixed as his hand moved, waiting, fearing, hoping, for him to touch my skin. But he didn't.
"Goodbye, Bella," he said instead. I blinked, and he was gone.
I returned to school the next day after another sleep-deprived night, and aware more than ever before of Edward's eyes fixed on me. My thoughts might be free from his intrusion, but I had to wonder if everything physical in me that reacted to his presence was an open book to him. Hell, for all I knew, he had X-ray vision. Though compared with the possibility that he could see into my mind, his being able to see through my clothes didn't bother me at all.
And as for my mind … it was a welter of emotion. I had crucial questions to ask him, but asking them would commit me to a path that I wasn't sure I should follow. I resolved to wait.
A resolution that I nearly broke the instant I saw Edward on the trail that afternoon. He wasn't in his usual track pants and T-shirt, which, although he had looked effortlessly gorgeous in them, were too loose to more than hint at the shapes underneath. Instead he was in dark running tights and a matching shirt, perfectly appropriate for the weather and absolutely scandalous on him, revealing long lines and smooth muscles, strong shoulders and a narrow waist, the exquisitely proportioned body of an athlete at his peak.
All I could do was squeak in response to his greeting, and I followed behind him in a stupor. Jacob had once joked about objectification and the male gaze, but I was shamelessly female-gazing Edward the whole run. He had turned the tables on me, and if he kept on trying to seduce me, I was going to spontaneously combust.
"Do you have something to say to me? A question?" he asked when we returned to my back yard. I shook my head, unable to answer. He stepped close to me, so close I had to tilt my head up, so close I could almost feel his body vibrating.
"I have one, then," he said. "When was your first kiss?"
Two days ago, I would have had to tell him that was an inappropriate question.
But today I couldn't keep myself from answering it. "I was in high school," I said absently, because he was staring at my lips, now just a few inches away from his. "Prom. I was 17." And I stopped because I could remember nothing else about that experience at this moment, not even the name of the boy, whom I had kissed out of curiosity, not desire. "When was yours?"
He moved even closer, so close I had to shut my eyes, and then his lips touched mine, for a second, a half-second, too short to feel anything but a charge of energy at the contact.
"I was 17 too," he said, his voice rough but always, always beautiful. Then I opened my eyes and he had stepped away. "I'd like to see you tomorrow, but I know it's your day off for running. Would you go for a hike with me instead?"
I nodded, still dazed.
"Until tomorrow, then, Bella."
"Bella!" It was Bruce Clapp, smiling with faux bonhomie on the other side of the teachers' lunch table. I looked up from my soup, my cheeks still warm from my daydream. Or rather reminiscence, of a gentle, barely there kiss that was the most erotic thing I had ever experienced.
"I have an idea," the Clapp went on, and to my left Angela snorted quietly. "Wouldn't it be great to have a cross-country team this spring? All my players would do it."
I eyed him suspiciously. "The cross-country season is in the fall, Bruce. And the state rules surely forbid training outside the season."
He waved that off. "My guys wouldn't run in the regular season, of course. So, we could set up some friendly meets with the local schools. I could talk with the other football coaches –"
"Why don't you set up a meet with La Push?" I suggested evilly. The Quileute, the wolves who were still in high school, would demolish us in a race just as they had in football, and Bruce would know that. As he spluttered, I imagined what the results of the post-meet blood tests at any such competition would be: DQs for all the supernatural winners.
To my left, Angela snorted again, and I had any own idea. "Tell me, Bruce, if I did this, could my runners use the weight room?" I asked. Bruce had been adamant that the weight room was for the exclusive use of the football team.
"Uh, yeah," he said. "That'd work."
"Okay, so other athletes can use the weight room, we've established that," I said, and Barbara Goff suddenly grinned in understanding. "I'll do a team if I can transfer my weight room privileges to Angela and her volleyball players."
Bruce spluttered some more and finally said he'd think about it. Satisfied that he wouldn't give up his precious weight room - especially to girls - just to have a rule-breaking off-season running team, I tossed my apple core into my lunch bag and headed to my classroom.
Where the Cullens were doing their imitation of teenage AP English students. Except that Alice looked a million miles away while we talked about Voltaire's "Candide." And her brother, instead of doing his usual mumbling, decided to make a point by quoting a passage of the original that happened to focus on the young hero and heroine's first make-out session.
"La jeune homme baisa innocemment la main de la jeune demoiselle avec une vivacité, une sensibilité, une grâce toute particulière; leurs bouches rencontrèrent, leurs yeuxs s'enflammèrent, leurs mains s'égarèrent," he said, and the entire class turned to stare at him. Tiffany Crowley's jaw had dropped straight to the "PINK" that stretched across her undersized T-shirt.
"Candide" is satire, of course, not erotica, yet I kept myself together only with difficulty. "Vous ne jouez pas franc-jeu, Monsieur Cullen," I muttered under my breath, not sure if he could hear me. You aren't playing fair.
He could. He smirked, the jerk.
At the end of class, Edward slipped out, but Alice bounded toward my desk. "Don't torture my brother for too much longer," she said, her whisper inaudible to anyone but me under the hum of students chattering as they scurried from the room. "It's hard enough to live with him as it is."
She left without giving me a chance to answer.
That afternoon I met Edward as we had agreed. Taking him at his word, I wore hiking boots and a fleece; he was in those expensive boots of his and a light jacket, one he wore only for show, I imagined.
"Where are we headed?" I asked.
He responded with another question. "Would you like to see how fast I can run?" he asked.
The sly bastard, I thought, as his grin widened. He could have asked if I wanted to see him pulverize a rock or pull a tree from the ground with one hand, and I would have said no, but to finally see his true speed – how could I resist?
I extended my arm so I could see the face of my watch. "Absolutely," I said.
He laughed. "You won't find out that way. Hop on my back." I hesitated and he added, softly, "Do you trust me?"
For answer I stepped to him so I was behind him, and he crouched down and hoisted me up.
"I won't strangle you?" I asked, wrapping my arms around his neck as he adjusted his hands along my thighs. I could feel the shape of his fingers through the fabric of my pants, and my breasts pressed against his back; it was an awkward position and yet it felt completely comfortable and right. I breathed in the scent off his skin.
"You are like a feather to me," Edward said, and then he took off.
The forest flew by in a blur of green and brown, Edward's muscles bunching and smoothing under me. At some point, he turned off the trail and into the brush, unerringly weaving through the trees. When I closed my eyes, I heard no sound, I felt no impact. It was as if his feet never touched the ground, never snapped a twig or crunched a pinecone.
My comparisons of his speed to a mere Olympian like Usain Bolt, world's fastest man, were laughable. It would have been more appropriate to think of a bullet train, or a jet, entities too fast for my eyes to gauge.
After a few minutes, he slowed as we came to the edge of a clearing, a high brick wall with a no-trespassing sign on it some distance in front of us. Without hesitation, Edward leapt, landing us gently on the other side of the wall, and stopped.
"You have an amazing gait," I said into his ear, giddy, my veins full of adrenaline from the run. "It's so efficient."
His body shook under my hold. "Only a runner would compliment my gait after that," he said, laughter in his voice.
"But it is amazing. Should I get down now?" I asked, though in truth I didn't want to lose this contact with him.
He crouched so my feet touched the ground, and I was able to look around me. We were between two rows of trees, and along the wall behind us were more trees, smaller ones. growing on espaliers.
"Our orchard," Edward explained.
"Of course," I said faintly. The trees were bare now, but this orchard would be lovely in the spring, with the apple blossoms.
"Don't you have something to say to me? A question?" he asked for the third time in three days.
I turned away from the trees and considered him. It was silly for me to keep ignoring the elephant in the room. Or in the orchard, rather. And Alice did say I was torturing him.
"You're the third-best student in my AP English class, and I have a thing for you," I said.
Whatever he had expected, this wasn't it. "Third-best?" he asked.
"Alice and Gracie Alvarez have many more participation points than you do."
Edward shook his head. "That's not what I need to hear."
"You chase down animals in the woods and I want to jump your bones."
"No. You can do better."
"You're a supernatural creature and I want to kiss you."
"That's an improvement, but not enough."
"You're a vampire," I said. Then I took a deep breath and said the scariest words of all, words that I hadn't said since my mother's death. "And I love you."
His face transformed with relief. "That's it," he said. And then his lips were on mine.
He tasted sweeter than any apple.
Chapter title: "No hunter can trap them" (not literally, but in context: "Thoughts are free.../No scholar can map them/No hunter can trap them") from "Die Gedanken sind frei" by the Brazilian Girls. Literally, Madeline4994 says, it means,"Don't shoot down the hunter," which is oddly appropriate for this chapter.
The bit from "Candide": "The youth innocently kissed the young lady's hand with a special vivacity, sensitivity, and grace; their lips met, their eyes sparkled, their knees trembled, their hands strayed."
A lot of you realized that this Bella's problem with Edward's nature was the possibility that he could read her mind; canon Bella seemed pretty nonchalant about it, but in the unlikely event that I was in a similar situation, I would be completely freaked out.
I would just like to say that Mr. Price in running tights is amazing.
Thanks for reading and reviewing!