I began to run.
Her heart thrummed like the wings of a tiny bird against my back, her breath was ragged in my ear. She clung to me with what I realized was all her strength as I flew through the trees. I was taking much more care than usual, staying far enough from the branches to make sure none of them touched her delicate skin. Her soft cheek against my neck was distractingly pleasant; the heated tingling it caused took my thoughts down dangerous paths.
In what surely seemed like no time to her we were standing beside her truck. She was still breathing heavily; almost as though she had run the whole way on her own two legs.
"Exhilarating, isn't it?" I asked over my shoulder, hoping she had enjoyed the speed at least a little. She didn't respond, and her heart continued to race. Her head lolled forward limply. I waited, but she made no move to disentangle her limbs, clinging to me with her legs locked around my waist.
"Bella?" I was afraid she had lost consciousness.
"I think I need to lie down," she gasped.
"Oh, sorry." I certainly would not rush her, I could happily stay here with her wrapped around me for the rest of eternity, but was she going to pass out?
"I...think I need help!" she said finally, breathlessly.
I laughed a little with relief as I gently loosened her hold, swinging her around in front of me, cradling her for a moment, savoring her sweet warmth.
She swayed when I carefully sat her on her feet. "How do you feel?" I asked, anxious again.
"Dizzy, I think!" she replied, still unsteady, her face ashen.
"Put your head between your knees," I suggested, remembering from med school that this was a remedy for lightheadedness.
She sat, carefully, and put her head between her drawn up knees. She stayed that way, very still, for several moments. I sat beside her and waited, feeling remorseful at having caused her such distress.
"I guess that wasn't the best idea!" I said, ruefully.
"No, it was very...interesting." Her voice was still weak, but she was putting a positive spin on her discomfort, a very Bella-like thing to do.
Now that I was certain she was actually none the worse for my showing off, my excitement at having her with me, and her acceptance of all my exposed secrets returned. I felt like teasing her, just a little.
"Hah," I said, "you're as white as a ghost - no, you're as white as me!"
"I think I should have closed my eyes."
"Remember that, next time."
"Next time!?" she groaned, looking horrified.
I laughed again, amused by her melodramatic expression. Her color was better, and I could hear that her heartbeat was almost back to normal.
"Show off!" she muttered.
Studying her beautiful face I was almost overcome by the emotions washing over me. I had been numb for so long, and this intense joy I felt in her presence, and at her desire to be in my presence, was nearly overwhelming. I wanted so much the taste of her sweet lips on mine.
"Open your eyes, Bella," I requested, moving closer. Could I do this? Could I handle the burning?
She opened her big brown eyes, which widened even more at my unexpected proximity. Her heartbeat and breathing speeded up again, and her cheeks flushed a delicate pink. I was suddenly certain that I would never hurt her, that the desire I felt for her had somehow been transformed into something different. The thirst for her blood was still there, but muted to a level I could ignore by the desire, not to take from her, but to give her pleasure, to show in a tangible way my love for her. Would she find my touch pleasurable? I struggled to find the words....
"I was thinking while I was running," I began, and then hesitated.
"About not hitting the trees, I hope!" she interjected.
I laughed, "Silly Bella, running is second nature to me, it's not something I have to think about."
"Show off!" she muttered, again.
"No," I smiled, "I was thinking there was something I wanted to try." Determined to take the next step in this stomach clenching adventure, I carefully cupped her face in my hands, and then paused, checking my responses, confirming I was still in control of all my hungers.
She caught her breath in a gasp and held it as I ever so gently touched her soft lips with my own. My eyes closed involuntarily at the wave of pure pleasure spreading through me from that point of contact.
Then, Bella's hands were in my hair, clutching my face to hers with all her strength. Her body strained against mine and her silken lips parted, her breathing again ragged and heavy. She moaned her desire into my mouth; that and her sweet breath almost drove me over the cliff. I froze, locking down my body, focused entirely on controlling the suddenly uncontrollable urge to consume her completely. I had to break the connection.
I pushed her face from mine as gently as possible, not breathing, not moving at all beyond that, for fear of losing my balance on this razor's edge I walked, and falling into violence of one kind or another. I could not let that happen! I opened my eyes carefully to find her regarding me with a worried and somewhat chagrinned look on her face. She seemed to realize my control was shaky, but probably not just how shaky.
"Oops," she said, apologetically.
"That's an understatement!" I managed, still holding her face.
"Should I..." she began, pulling back slightly.
Gazing into her eyes I felt control returning. "No," I said, unwilling to let her go. "It's tolerable. Wait for a moment, please."
She waited, her breathing leveling out even as mine did.
"There!" I said triumphantly, when I knew I could move again without hurting her. The monster was being tamed, or at least subdued for now.
"Tolerable?" she asked, cocking one eyebrow.
I laughed out loud, buoyed by my success in dealing with her unexpected response to my kiss. I was far more confident now that I could touch her; I would not be caught off guard again.
"I'm stronger than I thought. It's nice to know!"
"I wish I could say the same. I'm sorry."
"You're only human, after all!" I teased.
"Thanks so much!" she said, sarcastically. But, her eyes were smiling.
I let her go and leaped to my feet; immediately my arms felt empty, I longed to hold her in them again. Throwing caution to the wind, I held out my hand to help her to her feet, bracing myself for the shock of her touch. Would I ever fail to be thrilled by the heat of her skin? I doubted it. But, I was prepared, and eager for the contact.
She placed her hand in mine and got unsteadily to her feet. As usual I found her clumsiness endearing. I laughed from sheer joy. "Are you still faint from the run, or was it my kissing expertise?" I teased, thrilled by her casual acceptance of my cold skin on hers as she laced her fingers through mine and held on tight.
"I can't be sure, I'm still woozy, I think it's some of both, though." She admitted.
She was looking at me with an expression of warm adoration that had my dead heart suddenly singing again. The thought of anything happening to her, ever, was terrifying. "Maybe you should let me drive." I suggested.
"Are you insane?" she protested.
"I can drive better than you on your best day!" I told her, only halfway teasing. "You have much slower reflexes."
"I'm sure that's true, but I don't think my nerves, or my truck, could take it."
"Some trust, please, Bella."
Her hands were in her pockets, and I could see that she was holding her truck key tightly as she pursed her lips--which was very distracting--and pretended to deliberate. "Nope," she said, "Not a chance!"
I raised my eyebrows in mock disbelief. She stepped around me to get to the driver's side of the truck, wobbled and almost fell. I caught her around the waist.
"Bella, I've already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive, I'm not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can't even walk straight. Beside, friends don't let friend drive drunk!" I quoted, chuckling at her expression, a mixture of desire and irritation.
"Drunk?" Her tone bespoke volumes of objection.
"You're intoxicated by my very presence." I knew this, because hers intoxicated me. I smirked at her, sensing she was giving in.
"I can't argue with that," she sighed. She held the key up high and dropped it. I caught it instantly, as she had known I would. "Take it easy-my truck is a senior citizen."
"Very sensible." I commended her.
"And are you not affected at all by my presence?" Irritation seemed to winning out in the battle of emotions playing across her face.
She had no idea. It was all I could do to limit my answer to bending and softly brushing my lips along her face, from her ear to her chin, once, twice, three times. How was I going to stop? She trembled, and fearing a repeat of her earlier response I pulled away. I was not ready to resist that yet again today.
"Regardless," I said, when I could speak, "I have better reflexes."
I helped her into the truck and we left, two different people than when we arrived.
As I drove her home I held her small, soft hand in mine, still basking in the warm glow of the day. Her eyes never left me, and I was beginning to accept that she was drawn to me in the same way I was drawn to her. If not careful I would let my self believe she was destined to be my mate, my match. To the very core of my being I wanted that to be so. A war raged in my heart and mind. She was so young, how could she really know what she wanted? And yet, being with her felt so absolutely right. The silence between us was easy, comfortable, but I turned the radio on and searched for an oldies station, reminding myself of the difference in our age, a chasm of years. I sang the songs, some of which I was sure she had never heard before; they were so far before her time. She listened, smiling, and I continued to glow, unable, despite my best effort, to tamp down my happiness. I had never felt this way, complete, as if some part of me that had been missing had been added and I was now whole.
I could not think of my self, though, I could not allow my selfish pleasure in her company and the hope for something more, something physical, to rob her of the things she deserved. Did not every woman dream of having a home and family, someday? Rosalie and Esme certainly did; I had witnessed the pain of their unfulfilled longing almost on a daily basis. I gazed into her eyes and tried to picture the two futures, one with me, living in a never-ending, never-changing state while the world around us morphed into...what? What would the world become? The other as she grew and changed and matured into a beautiful woman, married and had children. Her children would be amazing...how could I take that from her?
"You like fifties music?" she interrupted my reverie.
"Music in the fifties was good," I conceded. "Much better than the sixties, or the seventies, ugh!" I shuddered. "The eighties were bearable."
"Are you ever going to tell me how old you are?" She seemed hesitant, as though afraid of upsetting me. And here, I had been worried about her reaction to discovering my real age.
"Does it matter so much?" I wondered. I smiled, trying to set her at ease. I did not want this to be an uncomfortable space between us.
"No, but I still wonder...there's nothing like an unsolved mystery to keep you up at night." She made a face that told me she would not let a mystery go unsolved.
I tore my eyes from her face and gazed into the setting sun.
"I wonder if it will upset you?" I mused aloud. I was torn, again, between wanting her to know the truth and fear of alienating her.
She was silent for several moments. I wondered if she felt the need to compose her thoughts, prepare for worst. "Try me," she said, finally.
I studied her face intently. A memory of the first time we met -the first time we spoke, actually, the first time we met her scent prevented any consideration of her thoughts- flashed through my mind, bringing with it another smile. Had I really thought her difficult to read even though her thoughts were closed to me? Now that I knew her better, her face truly was an open book, as her mother called it.
I sighed heavily. She had to know, sometime, and compared to the other things she'd learned about me this day, this did not seem so significant.
And so I told my story. I heard her slight intake of breath when I reached the part about my death, and I glanced at her quickly, only to find that she had composed her face, waiting patiently for the rest.