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Metamorphosis

Summary:
Metamorphosis title imageShe got what she wanted. My venom flows through her bloodstream, changing her, reshaping her from a human to a vampire. Soon, that transformation will be complete. And I'll be able to keep her forever.I am the most selfish creature that has ever walked this earth. Edward's point of view in "Breaking Dawn", beginning with Book Three. winner banner


Notes:


3. Promised

Rating 5/5   Word Count 11004   Review this Chapter

"Tell me about her," Bella appeals to me earnestly as we travel through the woods under a darkening sky. The clean scent of rain is approaching from the west; it may hold off until we are back at the house.

I envision the phenomenon that is our daughter in my mind's eye, and try to find the words that will somehow illustrate Renesmee's uniqueness to her mother. But no suitable terms are forthcoming. Instead, as the forest streams around us, I murmur softly, "She's like nothing else in the world."

Bella studies my expression, wisps of chocolate-colored hair dancing in front of her scarlet eyes, and pleas for a better description. "How much is she like you? How much like me?" Her mouth twists a little. "Or like I was, anyway."

Smiling, I move my shoulders in an offhand shrug and reply, "It seems a fairly even divide."
Though Esme insists that Renesmee favors me more so than Bella - "Your faces are exactly alike, Edward. I feel as if I am getting a glimpse of what you must have looked like as a child." - I believe that our daughter inherited a number of traits, and not all of them merely physical, from both of her parents.

Faint lines appear on Bella's brow as she frowns, deep in thought. Her expression lightens after a moment and she recalls, seemingly pleased that she could dredge up that much from her blurred human memories, "She was warm-blooded."

"Yes. She has a heartbeat, though it runs a little bit faster than a human's. Her temperature is a little bit hotter than usual, too." I immediately push aside the mental reminder that Renesmee's body temperature is only a few degrees cooler than any of the wolves, and continue on before any other unpleasant notions invade this conversation with my wife. "She sleeps."

"Really?" Bella asks in surprise.

"Quite well for a newborn." Not to mention the fact that she succumbs to my singing almost as easily as Bella herself did once - when she still needed sleep. My grin widens, and I shake my head at the incongruity of this entire situation. "The only parents in the world who don't need sleep, and our child already sleeps through the night." A low chuckle escapes from my lips.

Bella returns my smile, and hers is so lovely and content that it disrupts my train of thought. She accused me on many occasions of ‘dazzling' her, and other humans, with just a simple glance.

It seems a fair assumption that the tables, figuratively speaking, have turned.

Reclaiming my mental grounding, I resume my brief depiction of Renesmee and pick up where I left off by saying, "She has exactly your color eyes - so that didn't get lost after all." For which I am extremely thankful; gazing into my daughter's warm brown eyes had helped me hold onto my sanity while her mother lay prone, like a corpse, for the last two days.

I give Bella a serene smile while my thumb rubs lazy circles on the top of her hand, intertwined with mine. "They're so beautiful."

"And the vampire parts?" she questions, wide-eyed and avid for more information.

This is the trickier part of Renesmee's genetic makeup, for certain. My father and I have done as much as we possibly can to determine the specific characteristics that she received from my vampiric nature - but at this point, the most we can do is form an educated guess. So, that is what I provide for Bella: the educated guesses, based purely on observation and trial and error.

"Her skin seems about as impenetrable as ours. Not that anyone would dream of testing that." If even the errant thought had crossed anyone's mind, I would have torn them limb from limb.

Bella stares at me, open-mouthed and horrified. I swiftly reassure her, "Of course no one would," and give her hand a brief squeeze. "Her diet... well, she prefers to drink blood. Carlisle continues to try to persuade her to drink some baby formula, too, but she doesn't have much patience with it." My father thinks that the human part of Renesmee's body may suffer from malnutrition if she continues to follow a strictly blood-only regimen, but I disagree. Renesmee is thriving no matter what she is consuming; in fact, drinking blood seems to give her more energy and nourishment than anything else.

My mouth quirks into a lopsided smirk as I remember the first time Carlisle offered her a bottle of baby formula. Renesmee had studied the glutinous, milky substance for several minutes with an almost clinical scrutiny - turning the bottle this way and that in her small hand, a bewildered look on her cherubic face. She then had sniffed a droplet that had escaped from the tip of the rubber nipple, wrinkling her nose while making a positively revolted expression, and had promptly thrown the bottle on the hardwood floor with enough force - proof of her vampire-like strength - that the durable plastic shattered, coating everything and everyone in the room with the sticky, sweet fluid.

"Can't say I blame her," I finish explaining to Bella while reliving the memory of our daughter's rather stubborn stance on her eating habits. And that, she gets from her mother. "Nasty-smelling stuff, even for human food."

Bella's lips are still parted slightly, her face reflecting her obvious bemusement. Speaking very slowly, she remarks, "Persuade her?"

We were coming perilously close to broaching the subject of Renesmee's...unusual talent. While I have no intention of keeping Bella in the dark, there are some things that she needs to experience for herself in order to understand. So, I offer her a semi-informative explanation. "She's intelligent, shockingly so, and progressing at an immense pace. Though she doesn't speak - yet - she communicates quite effectively."

Incredibly, Bella replies even more slowly than before, as if speaking the words at a lengthy pace will somehow make them believable. "Doesn't. Speak. Yet."

Taking that as a cue that she may need a bit more time to absorb this, I reduce the speed of our gait, watching her face as she stares at me with a cluttered jumble of emotions sparkling in her eyes. "What do you mean, she communicates effectively?" she demands.

"I think it will be easier for you to...see for yourself," I answer her calmly, hinting with my chosen words - though I do not think she fully comprehends the double meaning. "It's rather difficult to describe."

She appears to consider that for a few seconds, while I tell myself not to feel frustrated that I cannot hear what is going on inside that fascinating mind of hers, and suddenly changes the subject. "Why is Jacob still here? How can he stand it? Why should he?" Bella's voice quivers, just enough for me to notice, and I move a little closer to her. I cannot bear to witness her sadness without doing something to try and alleviate it.

She smothers that sense of compassion by unconsciously fueling my anger with the next question out of her mouth.

"Why should he have to suffer more?"

My teeth come together with a muffled snap as the muscles in my jaw bunch with tension. If it were up to me, Jacob would be long gone; I had lost the frayed threads of my patience with him when he had walked away from Bella during the initial stage of her transformation, convinced that she was dead and would never be coming back.

It was shortly after that he locked stares with newborn Renesmee...altering all of our fates in the process.

Now his presence and shouting thoughts were a near-constant nuisance. Although it is not the same as when the two of us were in competition for Bella's heart - and it was a competition, even if the odds were slightly weighted in my favor - it is this damn imprint that now complicates the camaraderie between us.

I will always be indebted to Jacob Black for what he did, what he was, to my Bella. But I never in my wildest imaginings even considered the possibility that he and I would somehow end up related.

Suppressing a shudder, I attempt to respond to Bella's questions. "Jacob isn't suffering." My tone is strange, the cadence strained and vaguely hostile. I grit my teeth to keep from snarling as I add, "Though I might be willing to change his condition."

Bella hisses my name, yanking on my arm - and we halt amid a fluttering cloud of dry leaves, thrown into the air by the speed of our passage. She glares up at me, demanding reproachfully, "How can you even say that? Jacob has given up everything to protect us! What I've put him through -!" She abruptly cringes, cutting off her little rant, and I assume that she is remembering all the harsh, spiteful things that Leah had heaped upon her already fragile psyche a week or so ago.

But that is neither here nor there, and my displeasure with the whole business smolders like red-hot coals at the base of my brain, heating all of my thoughts about the dog. "You'll see exactly how can I say that," I mutter under my breath. "I promised him that I would let him explain, but I doubt you'll see it much differently than I do." A truly ludicrous - and unfortunately, entirely plausible - notion enters my head, and my gaze darts over to Bella. Eyeing her speculatively, I muse in a low voice, "Of course, I'm often wrong about your thoughts, aren't I?" I purse my lips, hoping that this one time I am correct in my hypothesis.

She stares at me with blank ruby-red eyes. "Explain what?"

I shake my head. As much as I might want to break my word, I will not dishonor myself in that manner. Besides, Jacob felt certain that I would surrender when Bella asked, since it goes against my very nature to deny her anything. I welcome any excuse to prove him wrong - especially about me or my kind.

"I promised," I tell her, albeit a tad reluctantly. "Though I don't know if I really owe him anything at all anymore..." A grinding noise fills my ears as my teeth grate against one another, and I fight the urge to growl in sheer frustration.

Bella's brow furrows deeply, the corners of her full lips turning downward in annoyance. "Edward," she huffs indignantly, "I don't understand."

Lifting a hand, I lightly stroke her cheek with the tips of my fingers - from the tight skin around her eye to the hard set of her chin. Before I complete the motion, her stern expression vanishes, and the intensity of her scarlet gaze shifts from unyielding stone to liquid fire. I smile gently, pleased with the way that my mere touch can affect Bella's mood, and murmur in a placating tone, "It's harder than you make it look, I know. I remember." Honestly, I am astounded that she has managed to control her temper thus far. She will put the rest of us to shame with her remarkable self-discipline.

She crosses her arms over her chest; the movement does interesting things to the way her ruined dress conceals her upper body, and succeeds in distracting me for a few seconds. Bella, unaware of my ogling, grumbles crossly, "I don't like feeling confused."

"I know. And so let's get you home," I tell her while scanning her provocative appearance with critical, rather than admiring, eyes, "so that you can see for yourself." But I was not about to let my brothers or the wolves get an eyeful of my wife's bare flesh. Call it chauvinistic, but Bella is mine, and this particular image of her belongs to no one else but me. The problem is: how do I make her more presentable?

"Hmm." Frowning, I ponder my options for a fraction of a second, and reach for the buttons on my own shirt. I slip out of the garment quickly and hold it out for Bella to put her arms through, looking at her with mild expectancy.

"That bad?" she asks, assessing her condition again with a brief once-over. I grin at her, and she immediately complies with my wordless request, pushing her small arms through the long sleeves of my white shirt. I cuff the sleeves several times while she buttons it to the hollow at the base of her throat. Her eyes skitter across my exposed chest a few times, and the knot of anticipation in my gut tightens in response.

She invents an excuse to divert our similar lines of thought, challenging, "I'll race you." She points her finger at me and warns, "No throwing the game this time!"

I step about a foot away, aligning parallel with her at an invisible starting line, and grin broadly. If she wants a real race, I will give her a real race. "On your mark..."

Bella launches herself forward like an arrow. I wait a half second and sprint after her, capturing the lead with ease, my legs a blur beneath me. I hear Bella lengthen her stride, trying to use her newborn strength to gain the advantage, and the peaceful burble of the river grows louder in front of us.

Still several yards from the shoreline, Bella leaps, propelling her tiny body across the rippling water. "Ha!" she exclaims in triumph as her bare feet land soundlessly on the opposite side.

Two things happen simultaneously in the following split second of time. As I soar airborne over the river, I hear a pair of distinct sounds - one in my ears, the other in my head. A thudding heart, and the dog's deep, throaty voice rumbling inside my skull. Edward, I know you can hear me. I'm not letting Bella near her until she proves she can handle herself with me.

Smothering an angry snarl, I alight at Bella's side, fastening my hands in a vise grip around her biceps. "Don't breathe," I urge her with quiet fierceness. She backs into my chest, her breath hitching as she freezes, and we both look towards the figure emerging from the trees ahead.

Jacob has his huge arms crossed over his chest, his jaw tight while his dark eyes stare unblinking at Bella. Huh. She doesn't seem all that different. It's kinda...weird. He seems bewildered for a moment, but his determination solidifies an instant later. But she's a bloodsucker now, and she could be dangerous. ‘Sides, she can't do that much damage to me.

I don't like this. Leah is pacing through the woods on Jacob's right, her ivory teeth gleaming as her large mouth stretches into a grimace. What if she tries to bite him? Do you realize what'll happen if she does? We can't trust her. She's one of them now!

No, Leah - I think it's gonna be okay. Seth's confident sincerity echoes in his thoughts as he settles beside a towering oak on Jacob's left. She doesn't seem like the ones we fought in the clearing months ago. They didn't hesitate before attacking; they were like animals. His sandy-furred head tilts to the side. Bella seems like...Bella, y'know?

I don't like it. Not at all.

Jacob focuses on me for the briefest moment. I'm just gonna see if she can control her instincts, he explains mentally, gauging my response with his sharp black eyes. I can make out his intentions in his mind, and I have to agree with Leah: I don't like it, either.

Fixing a sharp glare on Jacob, I call out, "Carefully, Jacob." There is no disguising the concern in my voice, and Leah snarls as she detects it, her claws raking across the dirt and bracken of the forest floor. "Maybe this isn't the best way -"

He interrupts me, of course. "You think it would be better to let her near the baby first?" Jacob retorts. "It's safer to see how Bella does with me." His broad shoulders lift in a casual shrug. "I heal fast." This is the best solution. She's not getting any nearer to the house otherwise.

Bella's head whips sideways, looking at me with wide eyes filled with...distress? I look back at her fleetingly, scrutinizing her expression. Does she think that I had something to do with Jacob's intrusive plan?
I would never hurt her in that way; it will destroy her if she somehow injures the mongrel that has undeservedly earned the privilege of being her best friend.

Jacob throws another thought at me: If she is still Bella like you said she would be, then maybe she won't want to hurt me. There's only one way to find out.

Breaking eye contact with Bella, I glance up at Jacob, scowling with worry while I deliberate. On the one hand, I too want to make absolutely certain that Bella poses no threat to Renesmee - but from what I have seen this afternoon, I am willing to accept on faith alone that our daughter is safe from any harm at her mother's hands. While on the other hand, I am incensed with Jacob, for he obviously cares more about Renesmee's wellbeing than Bella's emotional stability. And he calls himself her friend.

My concern evaporates in the burning glare of my hostility towards the dog, and I shrug one shoulder indifferently. Modulating my tone so as not to alarm Bella, I reply, "It's your neck, I guess."

Leah growls, long and low, like distant thunder - and shouts furiously inside her mind. The words she uses are better left unsaid, so I easily tune her out. Seth is not so fortunate; he cringes the tiniest bit while his sister seethes unchecked inside his head, and tries to concentrate on something else.

Whatever. Jacob transfers his black-eyed stare to Bella, and something that he sees on her face causes the rigid cast of his features to soften. She looks so scared. Like she's afraid she's gonna hurt me or something.

His lips twitch, curving into a genuine smile. I risk a brief glance at Bella. She is still frozen, terrified of what she may or may not do, but there is no mistaking the flash of brighter color in her crimson eyes.

That uncanny intuition of hers has discovered a correlation, linking some unknown event or memory in her cloaked thoughts - and I will drive myself insane if I dwell on it any longer.

Jacob's smile widens, and he shudders dramatically. "I gotta say it, Bells. You're a freak show."

From the very edge of my peripheral vision, I see Bella's cheek lift - and through Jacob's eyes, I watch her face light up with a bright smile.

But I refuse to tolerate any insult directed towards my wife. Growling low in my throat, I advise the dog acerbically, "Watch yourself, mongrel."

A light wind stirs behind us, and Bella sucks in a deep breath of the untainted air gratefully. "No, he's right," she remarks. "The eyes are really something, aren't they?"

"Super-creepy." They're all glow-y like a freakin' Terminator's. I barely suppress the urge to roll my eyes over the absurd comparison. Jacob continues by stating verbally, "But it's not as bad as I thought it would be."

Bella snorts. "Gee - thanks for the amazing compliment!"

He rolls his eyes. "You know what I mean. You still look like you - sort of." But there's more to it than that. The same expressions are there - the same smile - and the sarcasm. He shakes himself a bit, returning to the conversation. "Maybe it's not the look so much as...you are Bella. I didn't think it would feel like you were still here." I thought it would be like seeing the dead body of someone I knew laying in a coffin at a wake. Like she was just...an empty shell. But she's still here. Jacob smiles at her warmly, and chuckles. "Anyway, I guess I'll get used to the eyes soon enough."

"You will?" Bella cocks her head ever so slightly, her tone colored with confusion.

For the smallest piece of a second, Jacob's mind is completely blank. Then, his thoughts sputter to life. He...he didn't tell her? The smile melts from his face, his dark eyes filling with guilt, and I work to maintain my expressionless façade when I want nothing more than to grin at the dog with smug satisfaction.

Despite his antagonistic command that I not tell Bella anything about him imprinting on Renesmee, he had secretly been counting on me to soften the blow, as it were. But now, he will have to face her reaction, whatever it may be, on his own.

This is going to be very entertaining.

His gaze touches mine, and he says quietly, "Thanks." He seems sincere, though his dread over provoking Bella's temper is rising steadily in the back of his mind. "I didn't know if you'd be able to keep it from her, promise or not. Usually, you just give her everything she wants."

The ghost of a smile touches my lips, and I reply truthfully, "Maybe I'm hoping she'll get irritated and rip your head off."

Jacob snorts, convinced that I am merely joking. And I am...partially.

You'd never let her kill me - he retorts mentally - no matter how pissed off you are over something neither of us could have prevented. Bella knows how this thing works. She'll understand.

"What's going on?" Bella's head whips back and forth, her eyes darting between Jacob and I. "Are you two keeping secrets from me?" Her voice climbs an octave during her incredulous question, and Jacob winces inwardly.

"I'll explain later," he promises, waving a hand in the air as if trying to banish an unpleasant smell. Gotta work up to it - think of a good opening... He shoves all notion of that particular verbal minefield aside and changes the subject. "First, let's get this show on the road." Jacob's grin becomes taunting as he strides purposefully forward, placing one bare foot in front of the other.

Leah whines loudly, and her eyes flash yellow-white as she slinks out from the woods behind Jacob. The light gray fur on her back is standing on end; she pads forward soundlessly, her attention never deviating from Bella.

A half second later, Seth follows suit, mirroring his sister's cautious movements as he flanks Jacob. His gaze flickers between the other members of his pack, Bella, and eventually lands on me. Shaking his massive, sandy-colored head infinitesimally, Seth displays an apparent lack of concern over the situation. In his mind, however, he is a bit nervous that something unfortunate may befall his pack leader, and instinct compels him to act accordingly.

Jacob continues on his path towards Bella and I, not bothering to glance at the wolves while he says, "Cool it, guys. Stay out of this."

Seth and Leah pause briefly, and resume shadowing Jacob's progress at a much slower pace. After all, he did not tell them to stop. Leah lowers herself closer to the ground, the taller blades of grass mingling with strands of thick fur - and Seth's tail twitches uneasily, though his large body remains motionless.

"C'mon, Bells." Jacob stands, feet spread loosely apart, a little less than a yard from us. I can feel the heat radiating from his abnormally warm body, so undoubtedly Bella can as well. "Do your worst," he goads with a slight smile. An angry hiss escapes from Leah's clenched teeth in response.

Bella is like a marble statue under my hands; she has not moved one inch since I told her to stop breathing. There is suddenly a wrenching, painful sensation in my chest as I contemplate the fact that I cannot make this any easier for her to bear. We are what we are, and this is only a small part of our nature that Bella will have to get used to overcoming on her own.

I just hate to see her in pain.

"I'm getting older here, Bella," Jacob protests, looking at her with a bored expression. "Well, not technically, but you get the idea."
I glare blackly at him while the beginnings of a growl vibrates in the pit of my stomach. He has no idea how hard, how agonizing, this is for her. And still he continues to push - just for the sake of his own assurance that Renesmee will be safe from harm.

As I had told him back in June, during the snowstorm that had tested me in every way, even my seemingly endless patience has its limits. And I am quickly approaching that jagged edge with every passing second.

"Go on," he encourages Bella, "take a whiff."

She looks up at me from the corner of her eye, using what is left of her air to whisper beseechingly, "Hold on to me." She cringes into my chest, pressing the small of her back against my stomach, and my grip tightens around her arms. I feel her muscles tense, locking herself in place...and she inhales one small breath through her nose.

Staring intently at the crown of her dark head, I wait for a reaction - any kind of reaction - while monitoring the thoughts of everyone else along the riverside. Three different angles witness Bella wrinkling her nose ever so slightly, and her diaphragm expands with a deeper, more natural breath.

She relaxes her rigid pose and remarks in a surprised tone, "Huh. I can see what everyone's been going on about. You stink, Jacob."

Exhilarating peals of laughter burst from my mouth. My hands slide from Bella's shoulders and I wrap my arms snugly around her waist, pressing the side of my face into her silky dark hair. From inside the house, the rest of the family snickers in harmony with me - and soon, Seth adds his barking chuckle to the mirthful noise as he ambles a little closer.

See, I told you, he declares smugly with his thoughts. She's Bella.

Leah does not bother to respond; she retreats a number of paces to the shadowy edge of the tree line, her hackles raised in distaste.

Plugging his nose with grossly overdone theatrics, Jacob retorts above the clamor, "Look who's talking." For my benefit, he adds inwardly, I can't believe I'm going to say this, but...thank you. Thank you for saving her, and for pushing me to give you permission to break the treaty. It's good to have my best friend back.

Though my laughter continues to ring across the lawn, I am touched by his words of gratitude.
The emotion behind his statement is genuine, and I can sense the immense relief in his mind as well that Bella has not changed as much as he once feared.

Resting my chin on the top of Bella's shoulder, I try to compose myself, though the occasional chuckle bubbles up in my throat. After a minute or so I turn my head, burying my face in her fragrant tresses

until my lips reach her ear. "I love you." The soft whisper seems to reverberate throughout the area, and Bella leans her head against mine for the briefest moment.

Jacob watches our innocent intimacy with a slight smile; there is not the faintest trace of bitterness or aversion in his eyes or his thoughts. While a part of him may wish that Bella had not sacrificed her humanity, he understands that it was necessary - and it is what she wants. I am what she wants.

There is no greater joy in my existence than that simple knowledge.

Bella lifts her head to look at Jacob, asking impatiently, "Okay, so I passed, right? Now are you going to tell me what this big secret is?"

Crap. Jacob's expression crinkles as he winces, and shifts his weight from one foot to the other nervously. "It's nothing you need to worry about this second..." He trails off, at a loss for words.

Emmett cackles from his place on the other side of the south glass wall of the house, his mind full of eager anticipation - and I flinch away from his mental image of Bella ripping Jacob's throat out in a fit of rage after she hears the news.

The dog is right about one thing. Though the vampire in me gains vindictive pleasure from the idea of my mate delivering retribution with violence, I will never allow her to kill anyone. The damage such an act would cause to Bella alone is equal to any cataclysm in the history of the world - not to mention the ripple effect that would spread throughout our family, the city, and La Push.

Bella grows perfectly still in my arms once again. She seems to be staring at her reflection in the windows, but I think she is also listening to the fluttering pulse of the only beating heart inside the house.

That suspicion is confirmed when she murmurs in scarcely a whisper, "Renesmee."

"Come and see," I tell her softly, hugging her slender form. "I know you can handle this."

"You'll help me?" she breathes with quiet anxiety.

I tuck her body into mine, attempting to remove the icy stress from her muscles. "Of course I will."

"And Emmett and Jasper - just in case?"

"We'll take care of you, Bella. Don't worry, we'll be ready." My brothers, especially, are keenly awaiting our arrival. But while Emmett is more excited, like a spectator at a sporting event - Jasper is in full battle mode, completely submerging his consciousness in the emotional climate of every being in the room as he waits to focus solely on Bella.

I smirk to myself at the irony. Six vampires - two of them gifted - worrying over a newborn vampire/human hybrid like a bunch of mother hens. Renesmee is more heavily guarded than the vaults of Fort Knox.

"None of us would risk Renesmee," I reassure Bella, and I can hear the smile in my voice as I explain, "I think you'll be surprised at how entirely she's already wrapped us all around her little fingers. She'll be perfectly safe, no matter what."

Bella starts to thaw, the tension slowly withdrawing from her lithe frame, and I loosen my hold around her waist as she takes a step forward.

A shadow falls across us. Wait! Jacob towers over Bella, but his anxious glare is fixed on me. "Are you sure, bloodsucker?" He means it to sound like a demand; it comes out as a gruff plea, and Bella looks up at him with a frown, puzzled by his tone. "I don't like this. Maybe she should wait -"

Straining to preserve the last vestiges of my tolerance, I cut him off smoothly. "You had your test, Jacob."

His jumbled thoughts trip over themselves, each one fighting to be heard, and he blurts out, "But -"

My patience has reached its end. "But nothing," I snap at him in exasperation, moving to stand beside Bella. Jacob actually begins to lean away from my advance, but seems to think better of it and holds his ground, still pleading with his eyes while he struggles to gather his wits.

But I am through with making allowances for his state of mind.

"Bella needs to see our daughter. Get out of her way." Each syllable is razor-sharp, hard and cold as ice, and will permit no further delay.

I... He glances at Bella, a frantic gleam in his brown-black irises. I can't stay here. And he spins around and dashes into the house, intent on watching over Renesmee for the duration.

A growl slips out from my lips. The small, beautiful woman next to me is staring ahead of us, ignorant of my unconcealed frustration, her body angling towards the house as though drawn by a magnetic current.

I turn to her, softening my features, and say gently, "Shall we?"

Her eyes dart to mine. Biting down on her lower lip, she nods tremulously. I reach out and claim her hand, winding our fingers together tightly, and lead the way to the south door.

As Bella and I cross the threshold, a torrent of thoughts momentarily overwhelms me. I swiftly dampen the commotion inside my skull, but not before receiving fleeting impressions from each mind in the massive front room - with one exception, of course.

Carlisle is cautiously optimistic. Esme is worried, but also overjoyed. Emmett is the same as always - laid-back and amused. Rosalie is focused on providing the most protection for the little girl in her arms while enduring the close proximity of a werewolf. Jacob is beyond anxious. Jasper is tense, narrowing his concentration until he can pick up on Bella's every flicker of emotion.

Renesmee sends me a picture of Jacob's back, blocking her view; curiosity and impatience flavors her vision as she struggles to lean away from Rose's grasp.

Edward. Alice calls my name, and my eyes immediately shift to hers. It'll be okay, she assures. Her head is full of quickly changing images of the future as she flips through to locate the most likely possibility.

But she and I both know that Bella's unpredictability, coupled with the ‘scrambling' effect of Jacob and Renesmee's presence, makes her visions capricious and unstable.

We will just have to play this by ear.

They all smile welcomingly at Bella - but she is far too observant not to notice their defensive stances, no matter how casual they try to appear.

Her hand abruptly squeezes mine, so tightly that I have to stifle a wince, and I glance at her from the corner of my eye. She is gaping open-mouthed at the tiny, pale face peeking around Jacob's bulky frame.

"I was out just two days?" she asks, incredulous.

Renesmee pushes herself further away from Rosalie, her bronze ringlets swaying around her shoulders, and studies Bella with rapt chocolate brown eyes. I dimly realize that I am holding my breath, and force my lungs to release it. A question forms wordlessly in my daughter's head while repeating her first glimpse of Bella from a few seconds ago, and she raises a hand. Stretching her dimpled fingers in our direction for a moment, she turns back to Rose, laying her palm on her aunt's throat. She shows Rosalie the only memory she has of her mother, comparing it to the dark-haired, red-eyed woman beside me, and wonders if they are the same person.

Rosalie lightly pats the small hand pressing against her skin. "Yes, that's her," she murmurs with a tender smile. Renesmee lowers her hand, her wide-eyed gaze fixed on Bella, and a glittering smile lights up her sweet face.

Bella's hand starts to slip from mine as she takes one tentative step forward - and the room erupts with a flurry of motion. I wrap my hands around the tops of her arms, as I had earlier when Jacob ambushed us by the river, while Emmett and Jasper stand shoulder to shoulder right in front of Bella, braced to restrain her if necessary. My parents are poised on either side of my brothers, Rosalie has retreated to the front door, her arms encircling Renesmee securely, and Jacob places himself in front of them.

"Oh, give her some credit." Alice is the only one who did not move. She crosses her thin arms over her chest, looking at all of us with a chiding expression on her pixie-like face. "She wasn't going to do anything. You'd want a closer look, too." She continues to rebuke me mentally by thinking: You may not be able to trust my visions right now, but you do trust Bella - don't you? Besides, I will see it if she tries to attack.

"I'm okay," Bella promises with quiet sincerity, reaching up to stroke my hand on her arm. She inhales shakily, and adds, "Keep close, though, just in case."

Jasper narrows his deep gold eyes, reading Bella's emotional state. Her shoulders rise and fall as she takes several deep breaths, and I listen to his mind for a brief moment. She seems so...unusually calm - and it's just like before. She's making herself relax, almost like she used to when she was human. How is this possible?

I let go of her arms, confident in Jasper's assessment - though he does not seem so certain. Renesmee's impatience suddenly floods my head, accompanied by a powerful image of Bella's face that temporarily blocks out everyone else's thoughts. She wants to see her mother now. The little girl struggles with Rosalie, wriggling in my sister's arms and holding out her hands towards Bella.

"Jazz, Em," I announce firmly, looking at each of them in turn, "let us through. Bella's got this."

"Edward," Jasper begins to contradict my decision. "The risk -"

"Minimal." Hoping to reassure him and the others, and to take advantage of an opportunity to brag about the amazing woman I married, I relay the details of what transpired in the forest. "Listen, Jasper - on the hunt she caught the scent of some hikers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time..."

Carlisle sucks in a sharp breath, reeling with shock. Did she kill someone?

Esme's expression clouds with apprehension while her gaze flits to Bella. Her thoughts, however, are deeply compassionate. Oh, poor Bella. She must be devastated. I will do whatever I can to help her get past this.
I would expect nothing less from my devoted mother.

Jasper blinks, his eyes widening. So she is just like any other newborn, he surmises inwardly, and nods to himself just noticeably.

Ugh. Jacob grimaces darkly, barely suppressing a light shudder of disgust.

Emmett shrugs, totally at ease. Hey, everybody makes mistakes, right? I'm not gonna hold it against her.

Can't - get her to - hold - still. Rosalie is still grappling with an increasingly agitated Renesmee.

None of them seem to remember what happens when you assume.

Save for Alice, naturally, who I already knew would be impossible to fool. I know she didn't kill anyone, Edward, I saw what happened. She glares intensely at Bella, dissecting her appearance with narrowed eyes. And why is she wearing your shirt? What happened to her dress?

Less than five seconds have passed; my father's piercing stare meets mine, his expression stern. "Edward! How could you be so irresponsible?"

"I know, Carlisle, I know." I sigh a little, raking a hand through my wind-blown hair. "I was just plain stupid. I should have taken the time to make sure we were in a safe zone before I set her loose."

"Edward," Bella mumbles, lowering her head in embarrassment and avoiding the blunt scrutiny of everyone in the room that assumes she actually fed off of a human. Her dark brown tresses tumble forward, hiding the side of her face from my view - a shy habit she has used numerous time since the first day we met.

I brush her hair back over her shoulder, touching her cheek gently with my knuckles. "He's absolutely right to rebuke me, Bella. I made a mistake." Grinning broadly, I tell her with simple honesty, "The fact that you are stronger than anyone I've ever known doesn't change that."

"Tasteful joke, Edward." Alice rolls her eyes, calling me an ‘overly dramatic male' in her mind.

"I wasn't making a joke," I reply, glancing at my sister. She raises her inky black eyebrows, but is otherwise silent. "I was explaining to Jasper why I know Bella can handle this. It's not my fault everyone jumped to conclusions."

"Wait." Jasper gawks openly at me, undoubtedly sensing my enjoyment in divulging this little tale. "She didn't hunt the humans?"

I smirk mischievously at my brother. "She started to. She was entirely focused on the hunt."

Bella grounds her teeth; she cannot stand to be the center of attention. But this is an aspect of herself - one of many, in my opinion - that should be made known.

Carlisle moves closer, his eyes and mind avid for the rest of the story. "What happened?" he asks, a smile slowly curving his lips.

Leaning forward, I inform him animatedly, "She heard me behind her and reacted defensively. As soon as my pursuit broke into her concentration, she snapped right out of it." Without looking away from my father, I reach for Bella's hand, squeezing it lightly. "I've never seen anything to equal her. She realized at once what was happening, and then...she held her breath and ran away."

"Whoa," Emmett mutters in surprise. "Seriously?"

"He's not telling it right." Bella seems more embarrassed than ever, and fidgets a bit. "He left out the part where I growled at him." She scowls, apparently still upset with herself in regard to that involuntary reaction.

Emmett's face brightens with keen interest. "Did ya get in a couple of good swipes?"

"No!" Bella exclaims, horrified. "Of course not."

His expression falls a bit in disappointment. "No, not really? You really didn't attack him?"

"Emmett!" she gripes.

Groaning, he leans away, looking up at the ceiling. "Aw, what a waste. And here you're probably the one person who could take him - since he can't get in your head to cheat - and you had a perfect excuse, too." He exhales dejectedly, like a child denied the chance to watch a schoolyard scuffle. "I've been dying to see how he'd do without that advantage."

Bella's scarlet eyes are ablaze, but her voice is icy as she affirms with classic obstinacy, "I would never."

This is... I can't make any sense out of this. Jasper is more disturbed than before, and he frowns deeply at Bella while he contemplates this most recent development. She turns away from the scent of human blood while hunting. She exhibits none of the usual wild mood swings of a newborn. If I didn't know any better... one would suspect that she was still human, or at least a more mature vampire - by three or four decades. This is not normal. ...Has this girl ever been normal?

I plant my fist on his shoulder in a mock punch, disrupting his peculiar line of thought. "You see what I mean?" I grin at him, teasing.

"It's not natural," he mumbles under his breath.

No more jokes, Edward, Esme reprimands sharply. This is still a serious mistake on your part. "She could have turned on you -" she scolds verbally "- she's only hours old!" Putting her hand on her heart, the gesture of a distressed mother, she quietly bemoans, "Oh, we should have gone with you."

I feel a slight pull on my arm. Bella is straining towards Renesmee, whose small hands are even now stretching out to touch her. Bella lifts her free hand, mimicking our daughter's unspoken plea, and leans around Jasper's body. "Edward." I am instantly heartbroken by the forlorn entreaty shaping her soft voice as she calls my name. It is my one weakness; I am incapable of denying any request she makes of me in that sweetly mournful, broken tone. "Please?" she begs.

Jasper has no intention of moving aside. She is still a newborn, Edward, he tells me - as though I have forgotten - and presents serious danger to any human or half human in the vicinity. I've dealt with this kind of situation thousands of times before; some things don't change.

I am considering the option of making him get out of the way when Alice pipes up quietly, her musical voice ringing within the cavernous room, "Jazz, this isn't anything you've seen before. Trust me."

Jasper turns to meet her clear honey-gold eyes, and feels her calm sincerity. Giving her a small nod, he steps to the side, clearing Bella's way to our daughter. However, he lays one large hand on her shoulder and indicates to me that he will walk with us.

Bella starts forward with deliberate care, pausing after every step across the pale floor. I stay glued to her side, holding her frozen hand in both of mine while Jasper continues to monitor her emotions.

Renesmee is squirming like a wild thing in Rosalie's arms, her tiny hands grasping at the empty space between her and Bella, an angry frown darkening her young face. Suddenly, she parts her rosebud lips and emits a high-pitched wail.

I am the first to arrive at Rosalie's side, though the rest of the family is not far behind. Smoothing my daughter's curls away from her flushed cheek, I murmur comfortingly, "Shh... it's all right, Renesmee..."

Six other hands touch the little girl, seeking to soothe with caresses and soft words, their thoughts awhirl with questions and concerns.

Above the din, Jacob's fretful inquiries echo loudly from the rafters. "What's the matter? Is she hurt? What happened?" He reaches for Renesmee, and Rosalie allows him to remove her from her arms without a qualm - a rarity, for sure.

"No, she's fine," Rose says reassuringly. We all watch as Jacob settles Renesmee in the circle of his arms, and she puts her porcelain hand on his russet-colored cheek. His brows rise in surprise at the image she shares, and she twists around to stretch out toward Bella, who is standing alone in the middle of the room.

"See?" Rosalie remarks pointedly to Jacob. "She just wants Bella."

Bella's crimson eyes are huge, her expression a mixture of shock and longing. "She wants me?" she whispers, staring at the beautiful child she fought so diligently to keep.

I race back to her, placing my hands on her arms, and gently steer her forward. "She's been waiting for you for almost three days," I tell her softly. Though I refused to leave Bella's side during her transformation, I was able to discern through my gift that every few hours, Renesmee would ask whomever she could where the smiling, brown-eyed woman had gone - the one that had sheltered her inside her body. Renesmee's childlike yet intelligent mind constantly worried that she had hurt her mother, who she loves so intensely, when she was struggling to breathe just before her birth.

We walk across the room, our footsteps hitting and leaving the floor in unison. Our family clears a small aisle of space for us, and Jacob tenses visibly as Bella nears, his hands shaking from the effort of resisting the urge to phase. Bella glances up at him warily, but her voice is calm as she vows, "Jake - I'm fine."

He frowns, the thin skin around his eyes tight. I want to believe her... but...

Renesmee whimpers, her hands contracting into fists again and again as she waits for Bella to close the last bit of distance between them.

Bella's face is aglow - the blazing happiness lighting up her expression has burned all traces of fear or uncertainty away.

Taking that last step, she grasps Renesmee's tiny form with natural ease, cradling her against her body.
Jacob does not completely surrender Renesmee to her mother, keeping his hands around her waist, and I bite back an aggravated snarl. Both he and Bella react when their skin touches - hers is like frozen stone to Jacob, and his will undoubtedly feel like an inferno to Bella.

Renesmee seems oblivious to anyone else besides Bella. Smiling brightly, she lifts a hand and puts it on her mother's cheek. My fingers unconsciously tighten on her arms, Jacob inches closer to Bella and Renesmee, and the rest of the room's occupants collectively hold their breath.

Bella gasps, stiffening in surprise as Renesmee shares with her the memory of their first face-to-face meeting. I cringe, my silent heart writhing with dulled agony as Bella's gaunt, sweat-covered and blood-splattered face swims into focus. Her ravaged expression lightens with a tender smile, and her brown eyes sparkle with joy and unshed tears. A second later the image grows larger, and abruptly vanishes.

Renesmee removes her hand from Bella's cheek and dimples, her white teeth gleaming in the light.

Silence blankets the room; all eyes are fixed on Bella and our daughter. I am more than a little surprised that Renesmee was able to use her unusual gift on her mother - Bella is otherwise immune to any talents involving the mind. I have a few theories, and will have to talk them over with my father at a later time. Right now, I want to know what Bella is thinking in the aftermath of experiencing Renesmee's ability.

Another minute or so passes, devoid of any sound but the pair of heartbeats. Finally, Bella chokes out hoarsely, "What...was...that?"

"What did you see?" Rosalie peers around Jacob's very much in the way hulk, brimming with curiosity. "What did she show you?"

"She showed me that?"

I breathe into her ear, "I told you it was hard to explain. But effective as means of communications go."

"What was it?" Jacob asks.

Bella's eyelids blink rapidly several times, trying to recover her mental grounding. "Um." She falters, and starts again. "Me. I think. But I looked terrible."

Unable to entirely stifle another wince, I stay close to her, our heads nearly touching, and explain. "It was the only memory she had of you." My voice is rough, and I inhale the heavenly scent of Bella's skin in order to steady my knotted emotions. "She's letting you know that she's made the connection," I convey to her quietly, pleased that I sound more like myself, "that she knows who you are."

Bella turns her head sideways to glance at me. "But how did she do that?"

I smile a bit at her stunned expression. Renesmee notices and smiles in response; a lock of her mother's dark hair is woven through her tiny fingers, and she pulls on it playfully, listening to our voices in contentment.

As for Bella's question, I do not think that there is a vampire in existence that could give her a valid answer. Some things just...are, and cannot be explained. So I offer her a rhetorical solution. "How do I hear thoughts? How does Alice see the future?" I shrug, and state simply, "She's gifted."

Carlisle speaks up from the right side of the group. His mind is abuzz with fresh ideas. "It's an interesting twist. Like she's doing the exact opposite of what you can."

"Interesting," I concur, looking over at him with raised eyebrows. Perhaps this is the perfect time for me to relate to my father the theories that are brewing inside my skull. Bella is fully engrossed with Renesmee - she will not be paying enough attention to retain what I say. "I wonder..." Moving a few inches away from my wife and daughter, I pose an inquiry to Carlisle. "If Renesmee took my talent and flipped it, do you think that's why it works on Bella?"

His face reflects his intense curiosity as he replies, "I noticed that as well. It is strange; no other gift that affects the mind, including yours, is able to reach hers, and yet her daughter can do so with no difficulty whatsoever." He must see something in my expression, for he begins to smile in expectation. "Do you have any idea why or how this is possible?"

"More of a working theory," I tell him. "Well - two, actually."

As I am sharing the particulars of the two theories, I hear Bella murmur softly to Renesmee, "I remember you, too." She lightly presses her lips to the little girl's forehead, and I pause in mid-sentence to fully appreciate the indescribable beauty of this moment.

"She's fine," Alice mumbles to Jasper, who is still hovering over Bella like a hawk circling a rabbit.

"Haven't we experimented enough for one day?" Jacob, who I had nearly forgotten was a part of this reunion, asks in a strained voice. "Okay, Bella's doing great, but let's not push it."

My hands curl into hard fists. Bella bristles, jerking up her chin to glare at Jacob irritably. "What is your problem, Jacob?" She tugs somewhat on Renesmee, trying to pull her away from his hold, but he just moves closer, sandwiching our daughter between their bodies.

I let out a low hiss, returning to Bella's side in a fraction of a second. "Just because I understand," I fling the words at him, "it doesn't mean I won't throw you out, Jacob. Bella's doing extraordinarily well. Don't ruin the moment for her."

Rosalie seethes with vengeful glee, exposing her teeth in a malicious grin. "I'll help him toss you, dog," she vows. "I owe you a good kick in the gut." Let's do it, Edward. I'm so sick of him and his stench that I could literally puke. That is not an exaggeration.

Jacob ignores Rose's threat, as he always does, his eyes locked on Renesmee. This is not safe for her - I need to make sure that she's safe, that she's happy... but her being happy doesn't always line up with her safety. She really does seem so happy to be with Bella - I just don't want to lose her because of one stupid mistake. ...Would Edward really throw me out?

While he stares at Renesmee, an unbroken monologue of worried questions and saccharine observations streaming out of his brain, Bella is watching him with a slight frown, faint lines appearing on her forehead as she mulls over his behavior.

And I see it. Her puzzled gaze ignites like a flare, and her face blanches in horrified realization.

"No!" she gasps.

She knows.

Jasper senses the web of control around Bella's emotions start to tear, and he grits his teeth in preparation. This is it. She's lost her focus - grab her, Edward!

I wrap my arms around her chest and shoulders, constricting her movement, and pull her body tight against mine. Jacob yanks Renesmee out of her limp hands, his eyes wide as he takes in the feral gleam of bloodlust in her brilliant red glare.

She does not fight me, which is a good sign. It means that she is still cognizant of her actions, and remembers that I promised her that we would take care of her should anything happen. Also, if she really wanted to, she could easily throw me off and kill Jacob before any of the others could restrain her.

Everyone watches her cautiously. Jacob is half-shielding Renesmee with his body, holding her close to his chest. She cranes her neck to see her mother, bewildered by the sudden change in the room's atmosphere.

Bella's eyes do not stray from him or our daughter. I feel her muscles grow taut under her skin, and she speaks with measured precision through clenched teeth, "Rose. Take Renesmee."

Gladly. Rosalie opens her arms, and Jacob passes Renesmee to her immediately. They both back away - Jacob towards the front door, and Rosalie heads over to Emmett. He angles himself in front of her, not bothering to hide the pleased smirk on his face.

I've got this one in the bag, he exults inwardly. Jazz shouldn't have changed his bet at the last minute.

I almost roll my eyes despite the obvious stress of the present circumstance. My brothers and their absurd fondness for gambling.

"Edward," Bella calls my name in the same edgy, deliberate tone. "I don't want to hurt you, so please let go of me."

I hesitate, tilting my head to see her livid face in profile. She seems reasonable enough. My eyes flash to the dog, whose expression resembles that of the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. The tiny, nasty voice in the back of my brain encourages me to yield to Bella's request - let her deal with Jacob in the way that I wish I could.

But Jacob is not the only vulnerability in the room, and whether I like it or not, Renesmee has grown attached to him. If I agree to let Bella unleash the full force of her anger on him while in full view of our daughter... it will not go well at all.

Bella seems to realize this, too. "Go stand in front of Renesmee," she suggests.

I begin to loosen my grip around her upper body. You wouldn't. Jacob glowers at me for half a second, risking that bit of time to divert his attention from Bella.

Meeting his eyes with a level stare, I drop my arms and take one step away from Bella. Before she reacts, I am across the room beside Emmett, positioning myself in front of Renesmee as she had requested.

Slanting her elegant body into a low crouch, Bella stalks toward Jacob, her full lips curling over her teeth. "You didn't," she snarls in a deadly tone.

He raises his hands in surrender, palms out, and slowly backs away. Trying to appeal to her common sense, he implores, "You know it's not something I can control."

"You stupid mutt!" Bella explodes. Her furious shriek startles Renesmee; she presses her hand to the bare skin of my back, uncertainty and alarm coating her replay of the last few seconds. Rosalie pulls her away from me as Bella continues shouting at Jacob. "How could you? My baby!"

He skitters backward - out the front door and down the porch steps - calling to her anxiously, "It wasn't my idea, Bella!"

She is right behind him, a lioness on the prowl, fingers curled into claws at her sides. "I've held her all of one time, and already you think you have some moronic wolfy claim on her? She's mine."

Jacob dashes across the lawn to the fringe of the woods on the far side. "I can share," he pleads.

Brilliant choice of words, wolf, Alice demeans inside her head, sighing exasperatedly.

We trail after Bella, heading to various spots outside. I follow my wife through the swaying grass, ready to intervene if she becomes too violent - and I purse my lips to disguise the smile that threatens to break across my face. Rosalie remains on the porch with Renesmee, along with Carlisle and Esme, who watch the unfolding scene with deep concern. Alice perches herself on the porch railing, swinging her legs over the side like a child. My brothers stroll behind me, and Emmett announces smugly to Jasper, "Pay up." He holds out an open palm, grinning. Jasper exhales heavily, slapping a roll of bills into Emmett's huge hand.

"How dare you imprint on my baby?" Bella's shrill howl echoes loudly among the trees, a murderous glint in her ruby-colored eyes. "Have you lost your mind?"

"It was involuntary!" Jacob withdraws to the shadows of the forest.

Seth and Leah appear on either side of him, parting through the underbrush with their massive bodies. Leah inches forward while Seth lingers beside Jacob, tracking Bella's progression, and snaps at her when she gets within ten feet of the small pack. I never liked her. I swear I'll bite her head off if she comes any closer, treaty or no treaty.

Bella glances at the light gray wolf, recognizing the challenge, and lets out a ferocious snarl that slices through the moist air like a blade. Her advance falters for a fleeting instant, but she does not stop.

I watch Leah intently, edging sideways on Bella's left, preparing to defend her if necessary from the brash female werewolf.

Do not get in my way, leech, she hisses menacingly.

"Bella, would you try to listen for just a second?" Jacob begs, spreading his arms out wide in supplication. "Please?" Eyeing the confrontation brewing between me and his second-in-command, he adds firmly, "Leah, back off."

She shows her teeth, long tail twitching spastically, and stays in place. I do not move either, but Leah no longer needs my attention; she will not attack now unless ordered to do so. Therefore, I turn my back on her and gaze at Bella, noting abstractly how stunning she looks when she is angry - like a rampaging goddess from ancient mythology.

"Why should I listen?" she sneers at Jacob, rocking forward on the balls of her feet.

His expression is reminiscent of a neglected puppy, and I do believe that I have made that comparison before. He speaks to Bella insistently, the words spilling out of him. "Because you're the one who told me this. Do you remember? You said we belonged in each other's lives, right? That we were family. You said that was how you and I were supposed to be. So...now we are. It's what you wanted."

Her glare seems to catch fire. "You think you'll be part of my family as my son-in-law!" She ascends two octaves within her infuriated scream.

Emmett chortles gleefully. I knew she'd be more fun as a vampire.

Esme clutches Carlisle's arm and leans over the porch railing. "Stop her, Edward," she murmurs in trepidation. "She'll be unhappy if she hurts him."

I am not certain if I can agree with her on that point. Bella has shown remarkable self-control thus far - all she is doing at the moment is giving the dog a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Besides, I am close enough to their argument to avert any hostility.

And I am enjoying myself far too much to interrupt.

Coinciding with Esme's appeal, Jacob responds to Bella by clarifying hastily, "No! How can you even look at it that way? She's just a baby, for crying out loud!" What does she think I am, anyway? he thinks in dismay. I don't see her that way at all!

Bella stomps her foot, yelling, "That's my point!"

Jacob's face scrunches up, his own temper flaring, and bellows back at her, "You know I don't think of her that way! Do you think Edward would have let me live this long if I did?"

The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no'.

"All I want is for her to be safe and happy - is that so bad?" Jacob throws his arms up in the air, exasperated. "So different from what you want?"

An irate, high-pitched growl rips through Bella's teeth, like she is incapable of speech because of her rage. My father's thoughts enter my mind, infused with flabbergasted awe. If I were not witnessing it with my own eyes, I would never have believed it. No newborn has ever been able to restrain themselves the way that Bella is right now.

I turn to look at him, commenting with a proud half-smile, "Amazing, isn't she?"

Carlisle nods his head in a daze. "She hasn't gone for his throat even once," he murmurs in agreement.

Jasper stares meaningfully at Emmett, and holds out his hand, palm up. Emmett sighs, reluctant, and digs into his jeans pocket. "Fine," he mutters, "you win this one." He hands over the roll of money that Jasper had just given him, shaking his head in defeat.

Bella finally regains the use of her cognitive processes, commanding ominously to Jacob, "You're going to stay away from her."

Blatant dread covers his face, bleaching the russet skin to a faded red-brown. "I can't do that!" he chokes out.

"Try," she orders vehemently. "Starting now."

Jacob shakes his head wildly in denial. "It's not possible." His dark eyes suddenly light up, as if some wonderful idea has just come to him. I listen to it before he speaks - and I have to admit, it makes sense. I had drawn a similar conclusion shortly after being informed of the imprint. Nevertheless, my understanding does not compel me to always act with sensitivity.

"Do you remember how much you wanted me around three days ago?" he asks Bella. "How hard it was to be apart from each other? That's gone for you now, isn't it?"

Bella straightens a little, cocking her head to the side ever so slightly. Her blistering stare has not cooled.

"That was her." Jacob lifts his chin in triumph, sure of his logic. "From the very beginning. We had to be together, even then."

She appears to consider his reasoning, the seconds ticking by... and she sinks back into a crouch, balancing her weight on her haunches. "Run away while you still can," she advises darkly.

He lets out a sharp breath. "C'mon, Bells! Nessie likes me, too."

Bella freezes, halting in mid-breath, her red eyes widening in disbelief. I stop breathing as well, watching her face anxiously, and the rest of our family is as silent as statues around the clearing.

I could kick myself for being so thoughtless. I should have possessed the foresight to warn Bella about that silly nickname Jacob came up with for Renesmee. Maybe if I had primed her a bit more, had a little more time for her to get used to it...

Uh-oh. Alice pierces the silence with a barely audible gasp that accompanies her mental remark.

Bella's rigid pose quivers, and she inhales slowly through her nose. "What..." she growls, "did you call her?"

Jacob acknowledges his error too late, backing up another step, and cringes sheepishly. "Well..." He starts mumbling in a low voice, which Bella will have no trouble hearing, "that name you came up with is kind of a mouthful and -"

And Bella does not look like Bella anymore. She is a vampire - a very angry vampire - who has just succeeded in cornering her prey.

With a feral crimson gaze that promises death, she coils to spring, shrieking, "You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?" She soars through the air, hands raised like the talons of a raptor, and lunges for Jacob's throat.

I wait one second too long to react. A mistake that I will regret for the remainder of my existence.