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Midnight Sun (10. Theory)

"Theory," Jacob read.

"Can I ask just one more?" she entreated instead of answering my demand.

"No… I said it was my turn," Jacob said, laughing.

Bella rolled her eyes.

"But seriously, don't let her ask another question," Jacob said. "I want to know what she's thinking already."

This time Bella chuckled.

I was on edge, anxious for the worst. And yet, how tempting it was to prolong this moment. To have Bella with me, willingly, for just a few seconds longer. I sighed at the dilemma, and then said, "One."

"Hm… I don't know if one would be enough," Bella said, and Jacob groaned.

"You really are going to stretch this out, aren't you?" Jacob asked and Bella shrugged.

"Well��" she hesitated for a moment, as if deciding which question to voice.

"You said you knew I hadn't gone into the bookstore, and that I had gone south. I was just wondering how you know that."

"Good question," Jacob chuckled. "I bet he's wishing that he didn't let you ask it now."

I glared out the windshield. Here was another question that revealed nothing on her part, and too much on mine.

"I thought we were past all the evasiveness," she said, her tone critical and disappointed.

How ironic. She was relentlessly evasive, without even trying.

"Well, it beats being purposefully evasive," Bella said defensively and Jacob laughed at that and the face she was making.

Well, she wanted me to be direct. And this conversation wasn't going anywhere good, regardless.

"Fine, then," I said. "I followed your scent."

Bella smiled because he answered honestly again.

I wanted to watch her face, but I was afraid of what I would see.

Jacob chuckled at that.

"Um… that wasn't really that funny," Bella said to him.

"Sorry… it just sounded so human," Jacob said and that got a smile out of Bella.

Instead, I listened to her breath accelerate and then stabilize. She spoke again after a moment, and her voice was steadier than I would have expected.

"And then you didn't answer one of my first questions��" she said.

"Ha… I knew you wouldn't stop at just one," Jacob said.

"Well at least this isn't a new one," Bella shrugged looking amused. "I must be thinking that I have to get answers out of him as long as he's being honest with me…" she added thoughtfully, and she was now frowning. It was sad that her book self really had no idea what Edward was thinking… or how much he really cared about her.

I looked down at her, frowning. She was stalling, too.

"Which one?"

"How does it work��the mind reading thing?" she asked, reiterating her question from the restaurant. "Can you read anybody's mind, anywhere? How do you do it? Can the rest of your family��?" She trailed off, flushing again.

"I don't seem to recall you asking him all that," Jacob said and Bella shrugged, laughing again.

"That's more than one," I said.

She just looked at me, waiting for her answers.

And why not tell her? She'd already guessed most of this, and it was an easier subject that the one that loomed.

"But I want to know about the one that looms," Jacob grumbled. "Stupid bloodsucker allowing her to stall."

"No, it's just me. And I can't hear anyone, anywhere. I have to be fairly close. The more familiar someone's��'voice' is, the farther away I can hear them. But still, no more than a few miles." I tried to think of a way to describe it so that she would understand. An analogy that she could relate to. "It's a little like being in a huge hall filled with people, everyone talking at once. It's just a hum��a buzzing of voices in the background. Until I focus on one voice, and then what they're thinking is clear. Most of the time I tune it all out��it can be very distracting. And then it's easier to seem normal," ��I grimaced�� "when I'm not accidentally answering someone's thoughts rather than their words."

Bella smiled again, imagining Edward when he was first turned doing just that. For some reason… though she knew it wasn't right, she imagined Edward as a little boy. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it was associated with him learning something as he would when taking his first steps or talking for the first time. She could also picture a vague image of Carlisle, Edward's father, helping him learn how to work though this.

"Um… what's so amusing about that?" Jacob questioned her when he noticed the look in her eyes.

"It's nothing," Bella shook her head and motioned for Jacob to keep reading.

"Why do you think you can't hear me?" she wondered.

I gave her another truth and another analogy.

"I don't know," I admitted. "The only guess I have is that maybe your mind doesn't work the same way the rest of theirs do. Like your thoughts are on the AM frequency and I'm only getting FM."

Bella frowned at that, it made her sound like a freak.

I realized that she would not like this analogy. The anticipation of her reaction had me smiling. She didn't disappoint.

Jacob started chuckling at that point; he could see quite clearly her reaction to that.

"My mind doesn't work right?" she asked, her voice rising with chagrin. "I'm a freak?"

Jacob laughed loudly at that. "That's right, I'm glad you finally agree with me."

"Shut up, Jake," Bella glared at him.

Ah, the irony again.

"I hear voices in my mind and you're worried that you're the freak." I laughed.

She understood all the small things, and yet the big ones she got backwards. Always the wrong instincts��

Bella huffed, more annoyed by that because of her slight embarrassment.

Bella was gnawing on her lip, and the crease between her eyes was etched deep.

"Don't worry," I reassured her. "It's just a theory��" And there was a more important theory to be discussed. I was anxious to get it over with. Each passing second was beginning to feel more and more like borrowed time.

"Then ask your question already," Bella said. "I really want you to get past this borrowed time thing."

"Which brings us back to you," I said, divided in two, both anxious and reluctant.

She sighed, still chewing her lip��I worried that she would hurt herself. She stared into my eyes, her face troubled.

"Aren't we past all the evasions now?" I asked quietly.

She looked down, struggling with some internal dilemma. Suddenly, she stiffened and her eyes flew wide open. Fear flashed across her face for the first time.

"What?" Jacob asked.

"You know if you just read the book, we probably would have known by now," Bella said to him.

"Whatever," Jacob mumbled sheepishly and started reading.

"Holy crow!" she gasped.

I panicked. What had she seen? How had I frightened her?

Then she shouted, "Slow down!"

"Oh," Jacob said, pure amusement in his voice, before both of them started laughing.

"What's wrong?" I didn't understand where her terror was coming from.

"You're going a hundred miles an hour!" she yelled at me.

Bella was about to comment, but she really didn't want Jacob to laugh at her again. But really… why did he have to go that fast?

She flashed a look out the window, and recoiled from the dark trees racing past us.

This little thing, just a bit of speed, had her shouting in fear?

I rolled my eyes. "Relax, Bella."

"Are you trying to kill us?" she demanded, her voice high and tight.

"We're not going to crash," I promised her.

She sucked in a sharp breath, and then spoke in a slightly more level tone. "Why are you in such a hurry?"

"I always drive like this."

"Well at least I know that's true," Bella said. "Hm… I don't know if I'm going to be riding in his car too much."

"If you look at Edward, I'm sure you wouldn't notice anything," Jacob said, and then chuckled. "You'll be dazzled by him…"

"Shut up," Bella blushed and Jacob laughed harder.

I met her gaze, amused by her shocked expression.

"Keep your eyes on the road!" she shouted.

Jacob and Bella laughed at this… for Bella thought that laughing was just easier to do at the moment than worry… Edward wouldn't let anything happen to her after all.

"I've never been in an accident, Bella. I've never even gotten a ticket." I grinned at her and touched my forehead. It made it even more comical��the absurdity of being able to joke with her about something so secret and strange. "Built in radar detector."

"Very funny," she said sarcastically, her voice more frightened than angry.

"Charlie's a cop, remember? I was raised to abide by traffic laws. Besides, if you turn us into a Volvo pretzel around a tree trunk, you can probably just walk away."

"And now he slows down," Jacob said. "Well, you seemed to know how to make him listen to you."

"Probably," I repeated, and then laughed without humor. Yes, we would fare quite differently in a car accident. She was right to be afraid, despite my driving abilities�� "But you can't."

With a sigh, I let the car drift to a crawl. "Happy?"

She eyed the speedometer. "Almost."

Was this still too fast for her? "I hate driving slow," I muttered, but let the needle slide another notch down.

"This is slow?" she asked.

Jacob was laughing as he read this. "You really are afraid of the strangest things."

"Enough commentary on my driving," I said impatiently. How many times had she dodged my question now? Three times? Four? Were her speculations that horrific?

"No… they are just that true," Bella said, suddenly a little worried herself, "I hope he's doesn't freak out about this."

I had to know��immediately. "I'm still waiting for your latest theory."

She bit her lip again, and her expression became upset, almost pained.

I reigned in my impatience and softened my voice. I didn't want her to be distressed.

"I won't laugh," I promised, wishing that it was only embarrassment that made her unwilling to talk.

"Oh… I'm sure you won't," Jacob sighed, he was become tense again.

"I'm more afraid that you'll be angry with me," she whispered.

I forced my voice to stay even. "Is it that bad?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

She looked down, refusing to meet my eyes. The seconds passed.

"Go ahead," I encouraged.

Her voice was small. "I don't know how to start."

"Why don't you start at the beginning?" I remembered her words before dinner.

"You said you didn't come up with this on your own."

"No," she agreed, and then was silent again.

I thought about things that might have inspired her. "What got you started�� book? A movie?"

I should have looked through her collections when she was out of the house. I had no idea if Bram Stoker or Anne Rice was there in her stack of worn paperbacks��

"Nope," Bella shook her head, she was pretty sure that she wouldn't have been able to figure out what Edward was by what she knew about vampires.

"No," she said again. "It was Saturday, at the beach."

Jacob groaned that; his first fear was confirmed and the second was sure to come true any second now.

I hadn't expected that. The local gossip about us had never strayed into anything too bizarre��or too precise. Was there a new rumor I'd missed? Bella peeked up from her hands and saw the surprise on my face.

"He knows what beach you were at… how could he not figure this out?" Jacob hissed, in a foul mood because of what he was sure was going to happen and he wanted it out there already.

"I ran into an old family friend��Jacob Black,"

Jacob sighed again, it was true then… great.

"I'm sorry," Bella said.

she went on. "His dad and Charlie have been friends since I was a baby."

Jacob Black��the name was not familiar, and yet it reminded me of something��some time, long ago�� I stared out of the windshield, flipping through memories to find the connection.

Again there was a tense, almost angry quality to Jacob's voice as he read this.

"His dad is one of the Quileute elders," she said.

Jacob Black. Ephraim Black. A descendant, no doubt.

"Who's Ephraim Black?" Bella questioned, really wanting to know the answer to that, but mostly asking because she hoped it would calm Jacob down a little.

"He was the chief of our tribe the last time the Cullens were here," Jacob said. "He's the one who made the treaty… the one I apparently broke when I told you about the vampires… Er… and I think I broke it too yesterday, when I told…"

"You didn't really break it," Bella shook her head. "Um… I mean, I don't really know what this treaty says, but if it had something to do with telling me about the Cullens you didn't really do that… well, not yesterday at least. I knew there was something wrong with them… and the number of times that the book said it… I was going to know anyway, you just helped me to understand sooner."

"Thanks," Jacob said. "But that doesn't seem to help me out in this book."

"Sorry," Bella said, but Jacob did look slightly better now.

It was as bad as it could get.

She knew the truth.

My mind was flying through the ramifications as the car flew around the dark curves in the road, my body rigid with anguish��motionless except for the small, automatic actions it took to steer the car.

She knew the truth.

"Yes, yes, I know the truth… now talk to me about it," Bella said and Jacob had to smile at her childish behavior since she rarely acted this way.

But��if she'd learned the truth Saturday��then she'd known it all evening long��and yet��

"We went for a walk," she went on. "And he was telling me about some old legends��trying to scare me, I think. He told me one��"

"I would not just tell you about these things," Jacob hissed, looking angry and Bella wasn't sure if he was angry at what her book self just said or if he was angry because he thought his book self would have said that.

"Um… We're not sure what happened on the beach," Bella said, hoping that would calm him down a bit… it didn't work.

She stopped short, but there was no need for her qualms now; I knew what she was going to say. The only mystery left was why she was here with me now.

"Go on," I said.

"About vampires," she breathed, the words less than a whisper.

Somehow, it was even worse than knowing that she knew, hearing her speak the word aloud. I flinched at the sound of it, and then controlled myself again.

"He didn't seem to mind calling himself a vampire," Bella mumbled to herself.

"And you immediately thought of me?" I asked.

"No. He��mentioned your family."

"Argh," Jacob groaned, how could he be so stupid?

How ironic that it would be Ephraim's own progeny that would violate the treaty he'd vowed to uphold. A grandson, or great-grandson perhaps. How many years had it been? Seventy?

I should have realized that it was not the old men who believed in the legends that would be the danger. Of course, the younger generation��those who would have been warned, but would have thought the ancient superstitions laughable��of course that was where the danger of exposure would lie.

Jacob was seething as he read this, feeling both guilty and angry about what his book self had done.

I supposed this meant I was now free to slaughter the small, defenseless tribe on the coastline, were I so inclined. Ephraim and his pack of protectors were long dead��

"NO!" Bella said furious as Jacob looking angrily at the book; seeing how dangerous this slip really was.

"He just thought it was a silly superstition," Bella said suddenly, her voice edged with a new anxiety. "He didn't expect me to think anything of it."

"You must have realized how he was reacting to this," Jacob hissed in a tight, angry voice.

"He never would have hurt your family anyway," Bella said; she knew that was true, no matter how mad he was at the moment, he wouldn't do that.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her twist her hands uneasily.

"It was my fault," she said after a brief pause, and then she hung her head as if she were ashamed. "I forced him to tell me."

Jacob raised an eyebrow at that. Forced me, he thought, how could she force me?

"Why?" It wasn't so hard to keep my voice level now. The worst was already done. As long as we spoke of the details of the revelation, we didn't have to move on to the consequences of it.

"Lauren said something about you��she was trying to provoke me." She made a little face at the memory. I was slightly distracted, wondering how Bella would be provoked by someone talking about me�� "And an older boy from the tribe said your family didn't come to the reservation, only it sounded like he meant something different.

"Well, at least you're not the one that mentioned the Cullens," Bella said and Jacob felt slightly better about that.

So I got Jacob alone and I tricked it out of him."

And now he looked completely hurt. That really didn't make him sound too good… nor did it sound like they were remotely friends.

Bella put her head in her hands, she felt horrible. How could she have done that to Jacob?

"I'm sorry," Bella said quietly.

"Whatever," Jacob said bitterly.

Her head dropped even lower as she admitted this, and her expression looked��guilty.

I looked away from her and laughed out loud. She felt guilty? What could she possibly have done to deserve censure of any kind?

"Tricked him how?" I asked.

"I tried to flirt��it worked better than I thought it would," she explained,

"You flirted with me," Jacob said, yeah that would do it. He couldn't lie, he definitely thought Bella was beautiful, and if she would be up for it, he would love to go out with her. But, that option clearly wasn't available to him, not with Edward. And that was okay, because he liked hanging out with Bella… it was nice being around her… Her friendship was enough.

Still, to hear that her book self had flirted with him, just so he would spill the beans about his family heritage… that wasn't nice at all. Nor was hearing her say she tricked him… like he was some kind of fool. Did she even like him? He wondered as he gave her a cold look.

Bella didn't say anything, she heard the hurt and anger in his voice, and she really hated herself at the moment. How could she play with a boy's affections so carelessly like that? She wanted to apologize again, but the words didn't come out. So she just sat there waiting for him to start reading again. The garage they were sitting in seemed to have gone cold as she waited for him to read…

and her voice turned incredulous at the memory of that success.

I could just imagine��considering the attraction she seemed to have for all things male, totally unconscious on her part��how overwhelming she would be when she tried to be attractive. I was suddenly full of pity for the unsuspecting boy she'd unleashed such a potent force on.

"Thanks," Jacob spat bitterly and Bella flinched. Was she really that attractive to guys?

"I'd like to have seen that," I said, and then I laughed again with the black humor.

I wished I could have heard the boy's reaction, witnessed the devastation for myself.

Jacob hissed at that.

"And you accused me of dazzling people��poor Jacob Black."

Jacob spat his words as he read and Bella just kept feeling worse.

I wasn't as angry with the source of my exposure as I would have expected to feel. He didn't know better. And how could I expect anyone to deny this girl what she wanted? No, I only felt sympathy for the damage she would have done to his peace of mind.

I felt her blush heat the air between us. I glanced at her, and she was staring out her window. She didn't speak again.

"What did you do then?" I prompted. Time to get back to the horror story.

"I did some research on the internet."

Bella let out a tiny sigh, knowing for sure they were done talking about Jacob now.

Jacob glared at her when she sighed and she tensed as her lip trembled.

"Do you even like me?" Jacob asked sharply at that point, he wasn't one to run away from conflict and he needed this question answered now.

Bella looked at him shocked and hurt that he had to ask that. "Of course I do."

Jacob sighed. "Then stop worrying about this… I'll get over it."

"I'm just… I'm sorry," Bella said. "I don't know why I would…"

"Trick me into telling you a secret that could have destroyed my tribe?" Jacob hissed then, he really didn't want her to try and explain herself to him.

Bella gasped and shook her head. "No… I couldn't have known the potential danger to your tribe…" she said this as if she was talking to herself. She wouldn't have done that, right?

"No, I suppose you wouldn't know about the treaty." Jacob said, "But still, it's just not like you to use someone like that. And it hurts that it was me that you tricked."

Bella swallowed. "I'm sorry… I don't know what else I can say about that…"

"Oh, Bella," Jacob groaned. "Of course you don't know what to say… we don't even know what was said on the beach… I'm sorry for blaming you… you really haven't done anything to me."

"But…" Bella said, but he cut her off shaking his head.

"Seriously, Bella, drop it," Jacob said. "We're cool now."

"Okay," Bella nodded her head sadly and Jacob rolled his eyes… she so wasn't going to just drop this, but whatever, he wasn't going to think about it anymore.

Ever practical. "And did that convince you?"

"No," she said. "Nothing fit. Most of it was kind of silly. And then��"

She broke off again, and I heard her teeth lock together.

"What?" I demanded. What had she found? What had made sense of the nightmare for her?

Jacob chuckled there, it was a little forced, but it still sounded natural. "You really have this guy on the edge of his seat with all the suspense you're building here."

"I doubt I know what I'm doing," Bella said, her voice a little distant. She really didn't know what she was doing when it came to boys; which was clear enough by the way that she had handled Jacob.

There was a short pause, and then she whispered, "I decided it didn't matter."

Shock froze my thoughts for a half-second, and then it all fit together. Why she'd sent her friends away tonight rather than escape with them. Why she had gotten into my car with me again instead of running, screaming for the police��

Her reactions were always wrong��always completely wrong. She pulled danger toward herself. She invited it.

"Why is he taking that so badly?" Bella asked a little confused. "Is it bad that I've accepted him?"

"Um… I'm not sure," Jacob said thoughtfully. "You know this guy… he always reacts the wrong way," he laughed this time and so did Bella.

"I suppose two wrongs do make a right then," Bella chuckled.

"That's not how the saying goes," Jacob shook his head.

"It didn't matter?" I said through my teeth, anger filling me. How was I supposed to protect someone so��so��so determined to be unprotected?

"No," she said in a low voice that was inexplicably tender. "It doesn't matter to me what you are."

She was impossible.

"And so is he," Bella hissed.

"Doesn't make you stop liking him though, does it?" Jacob said.

"Nope," Bella admitted with a smile.

"You don't care if I'm a monster? If I'm not human?"

"No."

I started to wonder if she was entirely stable.

I supposed that I could arrange for her to receive the best care available��

"I am not crazy, Edward Cullen!" Bella yelled.

"You are yelling at a book right now… that might be considered a bit crazy," Jacob pointed out with barely concealed laughter.

"Shut up!" Bella hissed at him.

Carlisle would have the connections to find her the most skilled doctors, the most talented therapists. Perhaps something could be done to fix whatever it was that was wrong with her, whatever it was that made her content to sit beside a vampire with her heart beating calmly and steadily. I would watch over the facility, naturally, and visit as often as I was allowed��

"Well, then I wouldn't be cured you idiot, because the reason is that I like you!" Bella yelled again.

"Yep… not crazy at all," Jacob really laughed this time and she glared at him furiously. She might have been a fully grown house cat, instead of a kitten with that glare, Jacob mused, laughing harder.

"You're angry," she sighed. "I shouldn't have said anything."

As if her hiding these disturbing tendencies would help either of us.

"No. I'd rather know what you're thinking��even if what you're thinking is insane."

"So I'm wrong again?" she asked, a bit belligerent now.

"She didn't like it when you questioned her sanity, man," Jacob said laughing.

"That's not what I was referring to!" My teeth clenched together again. "'It doesn't matter'!" I repeated in a scathing tone.

She gasped. "I'm right?"

"Does it matter?" I countered.

She took a deep breath. I waited angrily for her answer.

"Not really," she said, her voice composed again. "But I am curious."

"Of course you are," Jacob said.

Not really. It didn't really matter. She didn't care. She knew I was inhuman, a monster, and this didn't really matter to her.

Aside from my worries about her sanity, I began to feel a swelling of hope. I tried to quash it.

"And I'm the insane one," Bella grumbled. "Setting aside his hopes…"

"What are you curious about?" I asked her. There were no secrets left, only minor details.

"How old are you?" she asked.

My answer was automatic and ingrained. "Seventeen."

"Liar," Jacob said.

"Hmm… I'm sure that's true… in a way," Bella shrugged.

"And how long have you been seventeen?"

I tried not to smile at the patronizing tone. "A while," I admitted.

"Okay," she said, abruptly enthusiastic. She smiled up at me. When I stared back, anxious again about her mental health, she smiled wider. I grimaced.

"Don't laugh," she warned. "But how can you come out during the daytime?"

"There's no chance he's not going to laugh at that," Jacob laughed, being caught off guard by that question.

I laughed despite her request. Her research had not netted her anything unusual, it seemed. "Myth," I told her.

"Burned by the sun?"

"Myth."

"Sleeping in coffins?"

"Myth."

Sleep had not been a part of my life for so long��not until these last few nights, as I'd watched Bella dreaming��

"I can't sleep," I murmured, answering her question more fully.

"That one is a little freaky," Bella admitted.

"I know," Jacob said. "What doesn't sleep?"

"Vampire," Bella answer immediately and Jacob rolled his eyes.

She was silent for a moment.

"At all?" she asked.

"Never," I breathed.

I stared into her eyes, wide under the thick fringe of lashes, and yearned for sleep.

Not for oblivion, as I had before, not to escape boredom, but because I wanted to dream.

"Poor vampire not being able to dream," Jacob said.

Maybe, if I could be unconscious, if I could dream, I could live for a few hours in a world where she and I could be together. She dreamed of me. I wanted to dream of her.

She stared back at me, her expression full of wonder. I had to look away.

I could not dream of her. She should not dream of me.

"You haven't asked me the most important question yet," I said, my silent chest colder and harder than before. She had to be forced to understand. At some point, she would have to realize what she was doing now. She must be made to see that this all did matter��more than any other consideration. Considerations like the fact that I loved her.

"Um… what question is he talking about?" Jacob asked and Bella shrugged.

"Which one is that?" she asked, surprised and unaware.

This only made my voice harder. "You aren't concerned about my diet?"

"Oh. That." She spoke in a quiet tone that I couldn't interpret.

"Yes, that. Don't you want to know if I drink blood?"

She cringed away from my question. Finally. She was understanding.

"Well, Jacob said something about that," she said.

Bella flinched at the mention of Jacob's name, but Jacob really was over that now. Or at least he wasn't going to waste energy on getting worked up about it again. "It looks like I told you about their vegetarian ways," he said.

"What did Jacob say?"

"He said you didn't��hunt people. He said your family wasn't supposed to be dangerous because you only hunted animals."

"That seems to be a bit nicer than what I would say," Jacob said.

"Really?" Bella questioned.

"Yeah… I mean before this I never really believed the legends, but still," Jacob said and then shrugged there. "They're bloodsuckers that we had an uneasy treaty with… I'm not about to say something nice about them."

"He said we weren't dangerous?" I repeated cynically.

"Not exactly," she clarified. "He said you weren't supposed to be dangerous. But the Quileutes still didn't want you on their land, just in case."

I stared at the road, my thoughts in a hopeless snarl, my throat aching with the familiar fiery thirst.

"So, was he right?" she asked, as calmly as if she were confirming a weather report. "About not hunting people?"

"The Quileutes have a long memory."

She nodded to herself, thinking hard.

"Don't let that make you complacent, though," I said quickly. "They're right to keep their distance from us. We are still dangerous."

"Yes, they are," Jacob frowned, this book did prove that in a way. The vampires really did have a somewhat daily struggle to be able to be close to humans… and then if there was one that smelled too good… they would lose themselves in the monster. And yet, it was hard for him to hate them, because they were trying to stop their very nature…

"I don't understand."

No, she didn't. How to make her see?

"We try," I told her. "We're usually very good at what we do. Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you."

Her scent was still a force in the car. I was growing used to it, I could almost ignore it, but there was no denying that my body still yearned toward her for the wrong reason. My mouth was swimming with venom.

Jacob sighed, he really didn't want to hear that right now… it made it easy to hate them again.

"This is a mistake?" she asked, and there was heartbreak in her voice. The sound of it disarmed me. She wanted to be with me��despite everything, she wanted to be with me.

Hope swelled again, and I beat it back.

"A very dangerous one," I told her truthfully, wishing the truth could really somehow cease to matter.

She didn't respond for a moment. I heard her breathing change��it hitched in strange ways that did not sound like fear.

"What is it then?" Jacob asked.

Bella didn't answer; she just looked sadly at the book.

"Tell me more," she said suddenly, her voice distorted by anguish.

I examined her carefully.

She was in pain. How had I allowed this?

"You should watch your words more carefully," Bella mumbled.

"What more do you want to know?" I asked, trying to think of a way to keep her from hurting. She should not hurt. I couldn't let her be hurt.

"Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people," she said, still anguished.

Wasn't it obvious? Or maybe this didn't matter to her either.

"I don't want to be a monster," I muttered.

Bella smiled at that, thinking how that proved that he wasn't a monster.

"But animals aren't enough?"

I searched for another comparison, a way that she could understand. "I can't be sure, of course, but I'd compare it to living on tofu and soy milk; we call ourselves vegetarians, our little inside joke. It doesn't completely satiate the hunger��or rather thirst. But it keeps us strong enough to resist. Most of the time." My voice got lower; I was ashamed of danger I had allowed her to be in. Danger I continued to allow��

"Sometimes it's more difficult than others."

"Is it very difficult for you now?"

I sighed. Of course she would ask the question I didn't want to answer.

"Because those are the questions that truly matters… that lets me know more about you," Bella said.

"Yes," I admitted.

I expected her physical response correctly this time: her breathing held steady, her heart kept its even pattern. I expected it, but I did not understand it. How could she not be afraid?

"Because she's a freak," Jacob supplied.

"But you're not hungry now," she declared, perfectly sure of herself.

"Why do you think that?"

"Your eyes," she said, her tone offhand. "I told you I had a theory. I've noticed that people��men in particular��are crabbier when they're hungry."

"That is ridiculous," Jacob said in mock indignation.

"Are you hungry now?" Bella questioned.

"I could do with a bit of eating, yeah," Jacob admitted.

"I rest my case," Bella said and Jacob rolled his eyes.

"But we are going to eat dinner after this, right?" Jacob asked, now that she's got him thinking about food, he really was hungry.

"I guess," Bella said. "I think I should call Charlie and see what's going on… he should be getting home soon."

"Yeah, that's a good idea," Jacob said. "But let's finish this chapter first, okay?"

I chuckled at her description: crabby. There was an understatement. But she was dead right, as usual. "You are observant, aren't you?" I laughed again.

She smiled a little, the crease returning between her eyes as if she were concentrating on something.

"Were you hunting this weekend, with Emmett?" she asked after my laugh had faded. The casual way she spoke was as fascinating as it was frustrating. Could she really accept so much in stride? I was closer to shock than she seemed to be.

Both Jacob and Bella laughed at that one.

"Yes," I told her, and then, as I was about to leave it at that, I felt the same urge I'd had in the restaurant: I wanted her to know me. "I didn't want to leave," I went on slowly, "but it was necessary. It's a bit easier to be around you when I'm not thirsty."

"Why didn't you want to leave?"

I took a deep breath, and then turned to meet her gaze. This kind of honesty was difficult in a very different way.

"Why?" Bella questioned, but she knew that she wasn't going to get an answer to that.

"It makes me��anxious," I supposed that word would suffice, though it wasn't strong enough, "to be away from you. I wasn't joking when I asked you to try not to fall in the ocean or get run over last Thursday. I was distracted all weekend, worrying about you. And after what happened tonight, I'm surprised that you did make it through a whole weekend unscathed."

Bella grimaced at this; as if Edward needed any more reasons to think that she couldn't survive without him near by… then again, having him nearby was a plus… so she wasn't too annoyed by this.

Then I remembered the scrapes on her palms. "Well, not totally unscathed," I amended.

"What?"

"Your hands," I reminded her.

She sighed and grimaced. "I fell."

I'd guessed right. "That's what I thought," I said, unable to contain my smile. "I suppose, being you, it could have been much worse��and that possibility tormented me the entire time I was away. It was a very long three days. I really got on Emmett's nerves." Honestly, that didn't belong in the past tense. I was probably still irritating Emmett, and all the rest of my family, too. Except Alice��

"Three days?" she asked, her voice suddenly sharp. "Didn't you just get back today?"

I didn't understand the edge in her voice.

"She missed you too, you idiot," Jacob chuckled.

"No, we got back Sunday."

"Then why weren't any of you in school?" she demanded. Her irritation confused me. She didn't seem to realize that this question was one that related to mythology again.

"Well, you asked if the sun hurt me, and it doesn't," I said. "But I can't go out in the sunlight, at least, not where anyone can see."

That distracted her from her mysterious annoyance.

"Is it really that mysterious?" Bella questioned Jacob.

"I don't think so," Jacob said. "But of course I have you right here telling me what your book self is thinking… um… at least you do when you can."

"Why?" she asked, leaning her head to one side.

I doubted I could come up with the appropriate analogy to explain this one. So I just told her, "I'll show you sometime." And then I wondered if this was a promise I would end up breaking. Would I see her again, after tonight? Did I love her enough yet to be able to bear leaving her?

Bella growled, really annoyed by that. If he didn't stop thinking about leaving her… Saying that his leaving proved that he loved her, she was going to scream.

"You might have called me," she said.

What an odd conclusion. "But I knew you were safe."

"What a jerk," Jacob laughed. "Of course only he matters."

Bella rolled her eyes.

"But I didn't know where you were. I��" She came to an abrupt stop, and looked at her hands.

"What?"

"I didn't like it," she said shyly, the skin over her cheekbones warming. "Not seeing you. It makes me anxious, too."

"Aww… poor Bella," Jacob teased.

"Shut up," Bella groaned.

Are you happy now? I demanded of myself. Well, here was my reward for hoping.

"He says that like it's a bad thing he got what he hoped for," Jacob rolled his eyes.

I was bewildered, elated, horrified��mostly horrified��to realize that all my wildest imaginings were not so far off the mark. This was why it didn't matter to her that I was a monster. It was exactly the same reason that the rules no longer mattered to me.

"And it's a horrifying reason," Jacob said.

Why right and wrong were no longer compelling influences. Why all my priorities had shifted one rung down to make room for this girl at the very top.

Bella cared for me, too.

Bella smiled.

"I don't think he's going to stop his negative thinking," Jacob pointed out to her.

"But it's still nice to know that I like him… and he knows it now," Bella said.

I knew it could be nothing in comparison to how I loved her.

"And apparently he's still going to underestimate you," Jacob chuckled.

"Um… well, he might have a point," Bella said. "I mean, you heard how he described how vampires love…"

"Yeah," Jacob agreed, knowing that it was close to what was described in his legends. "But if that is true, it's probably easy for you to feel the same way," he added a little reluctantly. "I mean if someone loves you like that… don't you think it would be easy… even for us lowly humans… to love the same way."

"I suppose," Bella said. "Still, I'll have to meet him before I really understand my feelings."

But it was enough for her to risk her life to sit here with me. To do so gladly.

Enough to cause her pain if I did the right thing and left her.

Bella groaned at that.

Was there anything I could do now that would not hurt her? Anything at all?

I should have stayed away. I should never have come back to Forks. I would cause her nothing but pain.

Would that stop me from staying now? From making it worse?

Bella grimaced, but now she was determined… she was going to have to make it clear to him that leaving wasn't an option. Of course how she was going to do that was the more difficult problem.

The way I felt right now, feeling her warmth against my skin��

No. Nothing would stop me.

"Ah," I groaned to myself. "This is wrong."

"What did I say?" she asked, quick to take the blame on herself.

"Don't you see, Bella? It's one thing for me to make myself miserable, but a wholly other thing for you to be so involved. I don't want to hear that you feel that way."

It was the truth, it was a lie. The most selfish part of me was flying with the knowledge that she wanted me as I wanted her. "It's wrong. It's not safe. I'm dangerous, Bella�� please, grasp that."

"No." Her lips pouted out petulantly.

Jacob laughed at that, "Sorry man…but you're not going to get through that thick skull of hers."

Bella rolled her eyes, though Jacob was right about that statement.

"I'm serious." I was battling with myself so strongly��half desperate for her to accept, half desperate to keep the warnings from escaping��that the words came through my teeth as a growl.

"So am I," she insisted. "I told you, it doesn't matter what you are. It's too late."

"You probably should have picked better words than too late," Jacob said.

"Whatever," Bella said.

Too late? The world was bleakly black and white for one endless second as I watched the shadows crawl across the sunny lawn toward Bella's sleeping form in my memory. Inevitable, unstoppable. They stole the color from her skin, and plunged her into darkness.

Too late? Alice's vision swirled in my head, Bella's blood red eyes staring back at me impassively. Expressionless��but there was no way that she could not hate me for that future. Hate me for stealing everything from her. Stealing her life and her soul.

Jacob grimaced; he did not like these semi constant reminders of Bella becoming a vampire. It helped that Edward was so dead set against it, but still… it seemed like this was an eventuality that he really didn't want to happen.

Bella, on the other hand, was disagreeing with what Edward thought, believing that if she was a vampire in the future… it would be her choice. She knew better than to voice this thought though, Jacob looked tense enough as it was.

It could not be too late.

"Never say that," I hissed.

She stared out her window, and her teeth bit into her lip again. Her hands were balled into tight fists in her lap. Her breathing hitched and broke.

"What are you thinking?" I had to know.

She shook her head without looking at me. I saw something glisten, like a crystal, on her cheek.

"Y…" Jacob was about to make a comment about this, but stopped himself.

Agony. "Are you crying?" I'd made her cry. I'd hurt her that much.

She scrubbed the tears away with the back of her hand.

"No," she lied, her voice breaking.

Some long buried instinct had me reaching out toward her��in that one second I felt more human than I ever had. And then I remembered that I was��not. And I lowered my hand.

"You're human to me," Bella said, it would be nice if he comforted her there, though she wasn't sure if she was sad or angry… she cried when she's both.

"I'm sorry," I said, my jaw locked. How could I ever tell her how sorry I was?

Sorry for all the stupid mistakes I'd made. Sorry for my never-ending selfishness. Sorry that she was so unfortunate as to have inspired this first, tragic love of mine. Sorry also for the things beyond my control��that I'd been the monster chosen by fate to end her life in the first place.

I took a deep breath��ignoring my wretched reaction to the flavor in the car��and tried to collect myself.

I wanted to change the subject, to think of something else. Lucky for me, my curiosity about the girl was insatiable. I always had a question.

"Tell me something," I said.

"Yes?" she asked huskily, tears still in her voice.

"What were you thinking tonight, just before I came around the corner? I couldn't understand your expression��you didn't look that scared, you looked like you were concentrating very hard on something." I remembered her face��forcing myself to forget whose eyes I was looking through��the look of determination there.

"I was trying to remember how to incapacitate an attacker," she said, her voice more composed. "You know, self defense. I was going to smash his nose into his brain."

Jacob laughed at the comment, though it was a dark laugh, knowing the danger she had been in. "Don't you think running would have been better?"

"I trip when I run," Bella sighed.

"Oh," Jacob grimaced this time. "That does suck… at least you know defense techniques."

Her composure did not last to the end of her explanation. Her tone twisted until it seethed with hate. This was no hyperbole, and her kittenish fury was not humorous now.

I could see her frail figure��just silk over glass��overshadowed by the meaty, heavy fisted human monsters who would have hurt her. The fury boiled in the back of my head.

Jacob was quite upset himself. Knowing that she would have fought… but it wouldn't have helped her… yeah, he was pretty damn mad again.

"You were going to fight them?" I wanted to groan. Her instincts were deadly�� to herself. "Didn't you think about running?"

"I fall down a lot when I run," she said sheepishly.

"What about screaming for help?"

"I was getting to that part."

I shook my head in disbelief. How had she managed to stay alive before she'd come to Forks?

"My life was never threatened before I came here," Bella answered.

"You were right," I told her, a sour edge to my voice. "I'm definitely fighting fate trying to keep you alive."

"Or maybe fate is putting me in danger so that you won't leave me," Bella said.

"What?" Jacob asked.

"Well, it seems like Edward might have left if my life didn't need saving," Bella shrugged. "Plus, I doubt I would ever have found out about him if it weren't for the van accident… and knowing his secret will only improve our relationship.

She sighed, and glanced out the window. Then she looked back at me.

"Will I see you tomorrow?" she demanded abruptly.

As long as I was on my way to hell��I might as well enjoy the journey.

"Yes��I have a paper due, too." I smiled at her, and it felt good to do this. "I'll save you a seat at lunch."

Her heart fluttered; my dead heart suddenly felt warmer.

I stopped the car in front of her father's house. She made no move to leave me.

"Do you promise to be there tomorrow?" she insisted.

"Well, it seems you know about his tendency to want to leave," Jacob chuckled.

"Hm," Bella said, not sure if that was a good thing or not.

"I promise."

How could doing the wrong thing give me so much happiness? Surely there was something amiss in that.

She nodded to herself, satisfied, and started to remove my jacket.

"You can keep it," I assured her quickly. I rather wanted to leave her with something of myself. A token, like the bottle cap that was in my pocket now��

"Ah… he has the cap in his pocket," Jacob laughed.

"You don't have a jacket for tomorrow."

She handed it back to me, smiling ruefully. "I don't want to have to explain to Charlie," she told me.

"I can see your point," Jacob laughed as Bella looked as if she completely agreed with herself on that point.

I would imagine not. I smiled at her. "Oh, right."

She put her hand on the door handle, and then stopped. Unwilling to leave, just as I was unwilling for her to go.

To have her unprotected, even for a few moments��

Peter and Charlotte were well on their way by now, long past Seattle, no doubt.

But there were always others. This world was not a safe place for any human, and for her it seemed to be more dangerous than it was for the rest.

"Bella?" I asked, surprised at the pleasure there was in simply speaking her name.

"Yes?"

"Will you promise me something?"

"Yes," she agreed easily, and then her eyes tightened as if she'd thought of a reason to object.

"You can ask for anything," Bella muttered, hoping that he wouldn't ask for anything unreasonable.

"Don't go into the woods alone," I warned her, wondering if this request would trigger the objection in her eyes.

She blinked, startled. "Why?"

I glowered into the untrustworthy darkness. The lack of light was no problem for my eyes, but neither would it trouble another hunter. It only blinded humans.

"I'm not always the most dangerous thing out there," I told her. "Let's leave it at that."

She shivered, but recovered quickly and was even smiling when she told me, "Whatever you say."

"Don't dismiss that comment," Jacob said, he had shivered, too.

Her breath touched my face, so sweet and fragrant.

I could stay here all night like this, but she needed her sleep. The two desires seemed equally strong as they continually warred inside me: wanting her versus wanting her to be safe.

I sighed at the impossibilities. "I'll see you tomorrow," I said, knowing that I would see her much sooner than that. She wouldn't see me until tomorrow, though.

"Tomorrow, then," she agreed as she opened her door.

Agony again, watching her leave.

I leaned after her, wanting to hold her here. "Bella?"

She turned, and then froze, surprised to find our faces so close together.

I, too, was overwhelmed by the proximity. The heat rolled off her in waves, caressing my face. I could all but feel the silk of her skin��

Her heartbeat stuttered, and her lips fell open.

"Sleep well," I whispered, and leaned away before the urgency in my body�� either the familiar thirst or the very new and strange hunger I suddenly felt��could make me do something that might hurt her.

Bella shivered a little in fear… and anticipation.

She sat there motionless for a moment, her eyes wide and stunned. Dazzled, I guessed.

As was I.

And she smiled at that; it was nice to know that she could dazzle him, too.

She recovered��though her face was still a bit bemused��and half fell out of the car, tripping over her feet and having to catch the frame of the car to right herself.

I chuckled��hopefully it was too quiet for her to hear.

"I wouldn't be so sure with Bella," Jacob mumbled.

I watched her stumble her way up to the pool of light that surrounded the front door. Safe for the moment. And I would be back soon to make sure.

I could feel her eyes follow me as I drove down the dark street. Such a different sensation than I was accustomed to. Usually, I could simply watch myself through someone's following eyes, were I of a mind to. This was strangely exciting��this intangible sensation of watching eyes. I knew it was just because they were her eyes.

A million thoughts chased each other through my head as I drove aimlessly into the night.

For a long time I circled through the streets, going nowhere, thinking of Bella and the incredible release of having the truth known. No longer did I have to dread that she would find out what I was. She knew. It didn't matter to her. Even though this was obviously a bad thing for her, it was amazingly liberating for me.

"Well, that's nice to hear," Bella said; all his thoughts had been so negative before.

More than that, I thought of Bella and requited love. She couldn't love me the way I loved her��such an overpowering, all-consuming, crushing love would probably break her fragile body.

"Hmph," Bella huffed, she was stronger than he thought she was.

But she felt strongly enough. Enough to subdue the instinctive fear. Enough to want to be with me. And being with her was the greatest happiness I had ever known.

For a while��as I was all alone and hurting no one else for a change��I allowed myself to feel that happiness without dwelling on the tragedy. Just to be happy that she cared for me. Just to exult in the triumph of winning her affection. Just to imagine day after day of sitting close to her, hearing her voice and earning her smiles.

I replayed that smile in my head, seeing her full lips pull up at the corners, the hint of a dimple that touched her pointed chin, the way her eyes warmed and melted��

Bella was blushing from this description.

Her fingers had felt so warm and soft on my hand tonight. I imagined how it would feel to touch the delicate skin that stretched over her cheekbones��silky, warm��so fragile.

Silk over glass��frighteningly breakable.

I didn't see where my thoughts were leading until it was too late. As I dwelt on that devastating vulnerability, new images of her face intruded on my fantasies.

Lost in the shadows, pale with fear��yet her jaw tight and determined, her eyes fierce, full of concentration, her slim body braced to strike at the hulking forms that gathered around her, nightmares in the gloom��

Jacob hissed at this description and Bella shuddered.

"Ah," I groaned as the simmering hate that I'd all but forgotten in the joy of loving her burst again into an inferno of rage.

I was alone. Bella was, I trusted, safe inside her home; for a moment I was fiercely glad that Charlie Swan��head of the local law enforcement, trained and armed�� was her father. That ought to mean something, provide some shelter for her.

Jacob chuckled. "Ah, so that point eases his mind a little."

She was safe. It would not take me so very long to avenge the insult��

No. She deserved better. I could not allow her to care for a murderer.

But��what about the others?

Bella was safe, yes. Angela and Jessica were also, surely, safe in their beds.

"He has a point," Jacob hissed. "That man can't be allowed to just walk free… you're not the only one in danger."

"True," Bella said, but she was hoping for imprisonment.

Yet a monster was loose in the streets of Port Angeles. A human monster��did that make him the humans' problem? To commit the murder I ached to commit was wrong. I knew that. But leaving him free to attack again could not be the right thing either.

The blond hostess from the restaurant. The waitress I'd never really looked at.

"You can't like the idea of him hurting them or someone like them," Bella said, though the girls were annoying, they didn't deserve that.

Both had irritated me in a trivial way, but that did not mean they deserved to be in danger.

Either one of them might be somebody's Bella.

That realization decided me.

I turned the car north, accelerating now that I had a purpose. Whenever I had a problem that was beyond me��something tangible like this��I knew where I could go for help.

Alice was sitting on the porch, waiting for me. I pulled to a stop in front of the house rather than going around to the garage.

"Carlisle's in his study," Alice told me before I could ask.

"Ah, he goes to his dad," Bella smiled.

"Thank you," I said, tousling her hair as I passed.

Thank you for returning my call, she thought sarcastically.

"Oh." I paused by the door, pulling out my phone and flipping it open. "Sorry. I didn't even check to see who it was. I was��busy."

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry, too. By the time I saw what was going to happen, you were on your way."

Bella shivered as she wondered just how much Alice had seen.

"It was close," I murmured.

Sorry, she repeated, ashamed of herself.

It was easy to be generous, knowing that Bella was fine. "Don't be. I know you can't catch everything. No one expects you to be omniscient, Alice."

"Thanks."

"I almost asked you out to dinner tonight��did you catch that before I changed my mind?"

She grinned. "No, I missed that one, too. Wish I'd known. I would have come."

Though Bella did want to meet Alice, she was quite happy that she'd had that dinner with Edward alone.

"What were you concentrating on, that you missed so much?"

Jasper's thinking about our anniversary. She laughed. He's trying not to make a decision on my gift, but I think I have a pretty good idea��

Jacob laughed at that. "She would use her gift on something like that."

"You're shameless."

"Yep."

She pursed her lips, and stared up at me, a hint of accusation in her expression. I paid better attention later. Are you going to tell them that she knows?

"Oh," Bella said a little tensely. Now wondering what the rest of the family would think about her knowing their secret. She couldn't help but be a little reminded about their conversation after the van accident and it made her shiver. But surely they wouldn't be so hostile about her this time, right?

I sighed. "Yes. Later."

I won't say anything. Do me a favor and tell Rosalie when I'm not around, okay?

Jacob chuckled at that. "I'd like to see that one."

Bella just flinched.

I flinched. "Sure."

Bella took it pretty well.

"Too well."

Alice grinned at me. Don't underestimate Bella.

"I knew I liked her," Bella smiled.

I tried to block the image I didn't want to see�� Bella and Alice, best of friends.

"There is nothing wrong with that," Bella said firmly.

"Of course there is," Jacob said just as firmly. "I'm your best friend."

"Sure you are," Bella rolled her eyes, and laughed when Jacob pouted.

Impatient now, I sighed heavily. I wanted to be through with the next part of the evening; I wanted it over with. But I was a little worried to leave Forks��

"Alice��" I began. She saw what I was planning to ask.

She'll be fine tonight. I'm keeping a better watch now. She sort of needs twenty-four hour supervision, doesn't she?

"Argh," Bella groaned, now Alice was going to be watching her, too.

"At least."

"Anyway, you'll be with her soon enough."

I took a deep breath. The words were beautiful to me.

"Go on��get this done so you can be where you want to be," she told me.

I nodded, and hurried up to Carlisle's room.

He was waiting for me, his eyes on the door rather than the thick book on his desk.

"I heard Alice tell you where to find me," he said, and smiled.

It was a relief to be with him, to see the empathy and deep intelligence in his eyes.

Carlisle would know what to do.

"I can relate to that," Jacob said, thinking of the many times he had gone to his dad for help with things. This right here, really made Edward seem human to him.

"I need help."

"Anything, Edward," he promised.

"Did Alice tell you what happened to Bella tonight?"

Almost happened, he amended.

"Yes, almost. I've got a dilemma, Carlisle. You see, I want��very much��to kill him." The words started to flow fast and passionate. "So much. But I know that would be wrong, because it would be vengeance, not justice. All anger, no impartiality. Still, it can't be right to leave a serial rapist and killer wandering Port Angeles! I don't know the humans there, but I can't let someone else take Bella's place as his victim. Those other women��someone might feel about them the way I feel about Bella. Might suffer what I would have suffered if she'd been harmed. It's not right��"

His wide, unexpected smile stopped the rush of my words cold.

She's very good for you, isn't she? So much compassion, so much control. I'm impressed.

Bella blushed at this, taking this as conformation that Carlisle approved of her.

"I'm not looking for compliments, Carlisle."

"Of course not. But I can't help my thoughts, can I?" He smiled again. "I'll take care of it. You can rest easy. No one else will be harmed in Bella's place."

"Good," Bella said looking relieved. "But then again… that doesn't really mean anything does it… He's still out there… only in this book is he being taken care of."

"We'll just have to make sure to tell someone about this guy," Jacob said.

I saw the plan in his head. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, it did not satisfy my craving for brutality, but I could see that it was the right thing.

"Aw," Jacob said, he wouldn't have minded a little brutality.

"I'll show you where to find him," I said.

"Let's go."

He grabbed his black bag on the way. I would have preferred a more aggressive form of sedation��like a cracked skull��but I would let Carlisle do this his way.

We took my car. Alice was still on the steps. She grinned and waved as we drove away. I saw that she had looked ahead for me; we would have no difficulties.

The trip was very short on the dark, empty road. I left off my headlights to keep from attracting attention. It made me smile to think how Bella would have reacted to this pace. I'd already been driving slower than usual��to prolong my time with her��when she'd objected.

Bella shuddered and Jacob laughed.

Carlisle was thinking of Bella, too.

I didn't foresee that she would be so good for him. That's unexpected. Perhaps this was somehow meant to be. Perhaps it serves a higher purpose. Only��

Bella smiled at that… yes she really liked Carlisle, too.

He pictured Bella with snow cold skin and blood red eyes, and then flinched away from the image.

Yes. Only. Indeed. Because how could there be any good in destroying something so pure and lovely?

I glowered into the night, all the joy of the evening destroyed by his thoughts.

Edward deserves happiness. He's owed it. The fierceness of Carlisle's thoughts surprised me. There must be a way.

"Oh, there will be a way… I'll make sure of that," Bella said firmly.

I wished I could believe that��either one. But there was no higher purpose to what was happening to Bella. Just a vicious harpy, an ugly, bitter fate who could not bear for Bella to have the life she deserved.

I did not linger in Port Angeles. I took Carlisle to the dive where the creature named Lonnie was drowning his disappointment with his friends��two of whom had already passed out. Carlisle could see how hard it was for me to be so close��for me to hear the monster's thoughts and see his memories, memories of Bella mixed in with less fortunate girls who no one could save now.

Bella's lip trembled as she thought of those poor girls.

My breathing sped. I clenched the steering wheel.

Go, Edward, he told me gently. I'll make the rest of them safe. You go back to Bella.

It was exactly the right thing to say. Her name was the only distraction that could mean anything to me now.

"And I'm sure he knew it," Bella said. Carlisle seemed to have a very good understanding of his son.

I left him in the car, and ran back to Forks in a straight line through the sleeping forest. It took less time than the first journey in the speeding car. It was just minutes later that I scaled the side of her house and slid her window out of my way.

I sighed silently with relief. Everything was just as it should be. Bella was safe in her bed, dreaming, her wet hair tangled like seaweed across the pillow.

But, unlike most nights, she was curled into a small ball with the covers stretched taut around her shoulders. Cold, I guessed. Before I could settle into my usual seat, she shivered in her sleep, and her lips trembled.

I thought for a brief moment, and then I eased out into the hallway, exploring another part of her house for the first time.

Charlie's snores were loud and even.

Jacob shivered; he had gotten used to the stalker vampire, but it seemed more unnerving now hearing Edward mention Charlie sleeping.

I could almost catch the edge of his dream. Something with the rush of water and patient expectation��fishing, maybe?

Bella and Jacob both chuckled at that. That really seemed like a dream Charlie would have.

There, at the top of the stairs, was a promising looking cupboard. I opened it hopefully, and found what I was looking for. I selected the thickest blanket from the tiny linen closet, and took it back into her room. I would return it before she woke, and no one would be the wiser.

Holding my breath, I cautiously spread the blanket over her; she didn't react to the added weight. I returned to the rocking chair.

While I waited anxiously for her to warm up, I thought of Carlisle, wondering where he was now. I knew his plan would go smoothly��Alice had seen that.

Thinking of my father made me sigh��Carlisle gave me too much credit. I wished I was the person he thought me to be. That person, the one who deserved happiness, might hope to be worthy of this sleeping girl. How different things would be if I could be that Edward.

"And what makes you so sure you're not that Edward?" Bella questioned, knowing there would be no answer (she was talking to a book after all).

As I pondered this, a strange, uncalled image filled my head.

For one moment, the hag-faced fate I'd imagined, the one who sought Bella's destruction, was replaced by the most foolish and reckless of angels. A guardian angel�� something Carlisle's version of me might have had. With a heedless smile on her lips, her sky-colored eyes full of mischief, the angel formed Bella in such a fashion that there was no way that I could possibly overlook her. A ridiculously potent scent to demand my attention, a silent mind to enflame my curiosity, a quiet beauty to hold my eyes, a selfless soul to earn my awe. Leave out the natural sense of self-preservation��so that Bella could bear to be near me��and, finally, add a wide streak of appallingly bad luck.

"Obviously she would have to have bad luck if her guardian angel was as reckless as all that," Jacob said.

"I don't think it sounds all that bad," Bella said. "Besides, he was talking about his angel."

"If the angel created you… it would be yours, too," Jacob shrugged.

With a careless laugh, the irresponsible angel propelled her fragile creation directly into my path, trusting blithely in my flawed morality to keep Bella alive.

In this vision, I was not Bella's sentence; she was my reward.

Bella nodded her head… that was a much better thought.

I shook my head at the fantasy of the unthinking angel. She was not much better than the harpy. I could not think well of a higher power that would behave in such a dangerous and stupid manner. At least the ugly fate I could fight against.

And I had no angel. They were reserved for the good��for people like Bella. So where was her angel through all this? Who was watching over her?

"It looks like they've given you that job, so keep up the good work," Bella said.

I laughed silently, startled, as I realized that, just now, I was filling that role.

A vampire angel��there was a stretch.

"No, it's not… he has his own TV show," Jacob laughed and Bella rolled her eyes.

"I don't think he was talking about a vampire named Angel," Bella said.

After about a half hour, Bella relaxed out of the tight ball. Her breathing got deeper and she started to murmur. I smiled, satisfied. It was a small thing, but at least she was sleeping more comfortably tonight because I was here.

"Edward," she sighed, and she smiled, too.

I shoved tragedy aside for the moment, and let myself be happy again.

"Good," Bella smiled.

"That's the end of the chapter," Jacob said, "let's get something to eat."

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