*by Stephenie Meyer*

TWILIGHT - chapter 9 - THEORY

He was silent, staring straight ahead again. His face was bleak and cold.
"You're angry," I sighed. "I shouldn't have said anything."
"No," he said, but his tone was as hard as his face. "I'd rather know what you're thinking - even if what you're thinking is insane."
"So I'm wrong again?" I chalenged.
"That's not what I was referring to. 'It doesn't matter'!" he quoted, gritting his teeth together.
"I'm right?" I gasped.
"Does it matter?"
I took a deep breath.
"Not really." I paused. "But I am curious." My voice, at least, was composed.
He was suddenly resigned. "What are you curious about?"
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen," he answered promptly.
"And how long have you been seventeen?"
His lips twitched as he stared at the road. "A while," he admitted at last.
"Okay." I smiled, pleased that he was still being honest with me. He stared down at me with watchful eyes, much as he had before, when he was worried I would go into shock. I smiled wider in encouragement, and he frowned.
"Don't laugh - but how can you come out during the daytime?"
He laughed anyway. "Myth."
"Burned by the sunlight?"
"Sleeping in coffins?"
"Myth." He hesitated for a moment, and a peculiar tone entered his voice. "I can't sleep."
It took me a minute to absorb that. "At all?"
"Never," he said, his voice nearly inaudible. He turned to look at me with a wistful expression. The golden eyes held mine, and I lost my train of thought. I stared at him until he looked away.
"You haven't asked me the most important question yet." His voice was hard now, and when he looked at me again his eyes were cold.
I blinked, still dazed. "Which one is that?"
"You aren't concerned about my diet?" he asked sarcastically.
"Oh," I muttered, "that."
"Yes, that." His voice was bleak. "Don't you want to know if I drink blood?"
I flinched. "Well, Jacob said something about that."
"What did Jacob say?" he asked flatly.
"He said you didn't... hunt people. He said your family wasn't supposed to be dangerous because you only hunted animals."
"He said we weren't dangerous?" His voice was deeply skeptical.
"Not exactly. He said you weren't supposed to be dangerous. But the Quileutes still didn't want you on their land, just in case."
He looked forward, but I couldn't tell if he was watching the road or not.
"So he was right? About not hunting people?" I tried to keep my voice as even as possible.
"The Quileutes have a long memory," he whispered.
I took it as a confirmation.
"Don't let that make you complacent, though," he warned me. "They're right to keep their distance from us. We are still dangerous."
"I don't understand."
"We try," he explained slowly. "We're usually very good at what we do. Sometimes we make mistakes. Me, for example, allowing myself to be alone with you."
"This is a mistake?" I heard the sadness in my voice, but I didn't know if he could as well.
"A very dangerous one," he murmured.
We were both silent then. I watched the headlights twist with the curves of the road. They moved too fast; it didn't look real, it looked like a video game. I was aware of the time slipping away so quickly, like the black road beneath us, and I was hideously afraid that I would never have another chance to be with him like this again - openly, the walls between us gone for once. His words hinted at an end, and I recoiled from the idea. I couldn't waste one minute I had with him.
"Tell me more," I asked desperately, not caring what he said, just so I could hear his voice again.
He looked at me quickly, startled by the change in my tone. "What more do you want to know?"
"Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people," I suggested, my voice still tinged with desparation. I realized my eyes were wet, and I fought against the grief that was trying to overpower me.
"I don't want to be a monster." His voice was very low.
"But animals aren't enough?"
He paused. "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." His tone turned ominous. "Sometimes it's more difficult than others."
"Is it very difficult for you now?" I asked.
He sighed. "Yes."
"But you're not hungry now," I said confidently - stating, not asking.
"Why do you think that?"
"Your eyes. I told you I had a theory. I've noticed that people - men in particular - are crabbier when they're hungry."
He chuckled. "You are observant, aren't you?"
I didn't answer; I just listened to the sound of his laugh, committing it to memory.
"Were you hunting this weekend, with Emmett?" I asked when it was quiet again.
"Yes." He paused for a second, as if deciding whether or not to say something. "I didn't want to leave, 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?"
"It makes me... anxious... to be away from you." His eyes were gentle but intense, and they seemed to be making my bones turn soft. "I wasn't joking when I asked you to try not to fall in the ocean or get run over last Thursday. I was distraced all weekend, worrying about you. And after what happened tonight, I surprised that you did make it through a whole weekend unscathed." He shook his head, and then seemed to remember something. "Well, not totally unscathed."
"Your hands," he reminded me. I looked down at my palms, at the almost-healed scrapes across the heals of my hands. His eyes missed nothing.
"I fell," I sighed.
"That's what I thought." His lips curved up at the corners. "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." He smiled ruefully at me.
"Three days? Didn't you just get back today?"
"No, we got back Sunday."
"Then why weren't any of you in school?" I was frustrated, almost angry as I thought of how much disappointment I had suffered because of his absence.
"Well, you asked if the sun hurt me, and it doesn't. But I can't go out in the sunlight - at least, not where anyone can see."
"I'll show you sometime," he promised.
I thought about it for a moment.
"You might have called me," I decided.
He was puzzled. "But I knew you were safe."
"But I didn't know where you were. I - " I hesitated, dropping my eyes.
"What?" His velvety voice was compelling.
"I didn't like it. Not seeing you. It made me anxious, too." I blushed to be saying this out loud.
He was quiet. I glanced up, apprehensive, and saw that his expression was pained.
"Ah," he groaned quietly. "This is wrong."
I couldn't understand his response. "What did I say?"
"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." He turned his anguished eyes to the road, his words flowing almost too fast for me to understand. "I don't want to hear that you feel that way." His voice was low but urgent. His words cut me. "It's wrong. It's not safe. I'm dangerous, Bella - please, grasp that."
"No," I tried very hard not to look like a sulky child.
"I'm serious," he growled.
"So am I. I told you, it doesn't matter what you are, It's too late."
His voice whipped out, loud harsh. "Never say that."
I bit my lip and was glad he couldn't know how much that hurt. I stared out at the road. We must be close now. He was driving much too fast.
"What are you thinking?" he asked, his voice still raw. I just shook my head, not sure if I could speak. I could feel his gaze on my face, but I kept my eyes forward.
"Are you crying?" He sounded appalled. I hadn't realized the moisture in my eyes had brimmed over. I quickly rubbed my hand across my cheek, and sure enough, traitor tears were there, betraying me.
"No," I said, but my voice cracked.
I saw him reach for me hesitantly with his right hand, but then he stopped and placed it slowly back on the steering wheel.
"I'm sorry." His voice burned with regret. I knew he wasn't just apologizing for the words that had upset me.
The darkness slipped by us in silence.
"Tell me something," he asked after another minute, and I could hear him struggle to use a lighter tone.
"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 was trying to remember how to incapacitate an attacker - you know, self-defense. I was going to smash his nose into his brain." I thought of the dark-haired man with a surge of hate.
"You were going to fight them?" This upset him. "Didn't you think about running?"
"I fall down a lot when I run," I admitted.
"What about screaming for help?"
"I was getting to that part."
He shook his head. "You were right - I'm definitely fighting fate trying to keep you alive."
I sighed. We were slowing, passing into the boundaries of Forks. It had taken less than twenty minutes.
"Will I see you tomorrow?" I demanded.
"Yes - I have a paper due, too." He smiled. "I'll save you a seat at lunch."
It was silly, after everything we'd been through tonight, how that little promise sent flutters through my stomach, and made me unable to speak.