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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:


4. Memories

Rating 5/5   Word Count 9891   Review this Chapter

"No!"

More than one voice, aloud or mentally, shouts the same one-word refusal. And in my failure to act only a second earlier, a huge mass of fur the color of desert sand leaps directly into Bella's path – preventing her from reaching Jacob.

With a noise like the crash of thunder, vampire and werewolf collide. A sickening crack reverberates across the clearing, and the sandy-colored wolf's body shudders in agony.
Seth Clearwater crumples onto the gray-green lawn, a low whine hissing through his clenched teeth. Bella recovers her balance immediately, landing lithely on her feet, and stares at the wolf lying in front of her in absolute horror.

Internally utilizing a vocabulary that would make even the most hardened sailor blush, Leah lets loose a vicious howl and bounds forward, heading straight for Bella with lethal madness in her dark eyes.

I cross the short distance separating me from Bella in a blurred sprint. The enraged werewolf charging us appears to move in slow motion as I grab Bella's wrist, tugging her behind my body – and face Leah head-on, crouching defensively.

Five pairs of swift, hushed footsteps echo behind me. Emmett and Jasper take flanking positions on either side of Bella and I; Alice joins her mate a beat later – though her ocher eyes, brimming with apology, are on me.

Simultaneous with my siblings' arrival, Jacob, his stare locked on his fallen pack brother, throws out a russet-skinned arm and bars Leah's way. "Stand down, Leah!" he booms, the command ringing with the unmatched authority of an Alpha.

Leah skids to a halt, her claws kicking up torn blades of grass and dirt clods. Her long muzzle is wrinkled in a snarl, and the cords of muscle beneath her silvery coat are taut with strain, as though she is physically fighting against Jacob's order. Her thoughts are beyond human reason; all that registers is flashes of emotion and her brother's name, repeating continuously amidst the sudden blasts of fury and anguish.

Carlisle and Esme have reached the group; Esme lingers beside Emmett, her slim hands clasped together worriedly, while Carlisle walks cautiously over to Seth. Looking only at Jacob, he says quietly, "I will need to treat his injuries immediately." Jacob nods – a quick jerk of his head – as he keeps his attention focused on his irate second-in-command.

My father kneels, laying a palm on Seth's large, warm shoulder. He whimpers in response, and I see Carlisle grimace in sympathy.

A strangled yowl erupts from Leah's throat, and she feints to the side, searching for some type of opening to attack. Jacob turns and, gazing intently into her wild eyes, states slowly, each syllable hard and unyielding, "I said – Stand. Down."

The snarl begins to fade from the gray wolf's long face as she holds Jacob's stare for a tense moment, though the low, unbroken sound of a growl ripples within her chest.

Leah hunkers down on the ground an instant later – a visual demonstration of her compliance to her chosen pack's leader, and her mind reverts back to that of a very protective and frightened older sister.

Seth, Seth! Is he okay? Did she bite him? Oh please, no – I can't lose him too! Seth! Seth, answer me! Please!

One round brown eye the size of a baseball cracks open. Jeez, get a grip, Leah. I'm fine. 'S nothing... I've had worse...

Carlisle bends down so that he can look Seth in the eye and instructs calmly, "Seth, you'll need to phase back so that I can repair the damage before it heals incorrectly."

The Quileute teen that is my friend calls my name mentally – truly, he has grown remarkably accustomed to my gift – and thinks: Ask him how bad it is.

"Seth wants to know how bad his injuries are," I say to my father in a soft, hurried tone.

"Nothing too extensive." Carlisle offers the young werewolf a kind smile. "You've got a dislocated shoulder and a fractured shoulder blade, as near as I can tell. And there may be a crack in your collarbone, too, but I'm not one hundred percent certain yet."

I feel Bella tremble under my grip around her wrist, and risk a quick glance over my shoulder. Her lovely features are twisted with deep remorse, her eyes shimmering in the most peculiar way – almost like she would be crying, if such a reaction were available to a vampire.

"C'mon, kid." Jacob lowers his arm and joins Carlisle at Seth's side. "Let's find you some privacy."

Seth struggles to his feet and shakes himself, gritting his teeth to suppress the pain while he tries to appear nonchalant in an effort to reassure Leah and the others. He limps off to the fringe of forest bordering the house with Jacob at his side, vanishing into the thick underbrush.

Once Seth's long tail is completely engulfed by the shadows, Alice flits to my side. "I'm so sorry, Edward," she breathes, contrite. "If I had been able to see clearly –"

"Don't blame yourself, Alice," I interrupt her gently.

A piercing howl shatters the brief quiet blanketing the clearing, and Bella's trembling increases exponentially. In one fluid motion I pull her closer, releasing her wrist, and wind an arm around her waist. She does not look at me – her eyes remain fixed on the trees, anticipating Seth and Jacob's return.

Not thirty seconds later, two figures emerge from the woods. Jacob is supporting Seth's gangly frame as they stagger along, and my father rushes forward to assist. "We'll take him inside," Carlisle states with his typical calm composure, and the unlikely trio make their way to the front door.

As they pass, Bella startles me by unexpectedly freeing herself from my tight embrace and approaching the slow-moving group. Carlisle and Jacob both tense – but Seth merely takes in the expression on her face, the corners of his mouth turning up in a tiny smile. "'S okay, Bella. No big deal," he tells her softly, the sincerity in his tone impossible to deny. "I've had worse, believe me." His smile broadens a bit.

"Seth." Bella's musical voice shivers in the air, saturated with guilt. "I didn't... I mean, I –"

"Don't worry about it."

"We really need to get him inside," Jacob remarks, urging Seth forward with a light shove. He avoids Bella's gaze as she tilts her head to look at him, and he and Carlisle half-carry the young man across the lawn and up the porch stairs, watched by nine pairs of unblinking eyes.

Bella wraps her thin arms tightly around herself, a tremor racing through her slender body. Stepping forward, I lay my palm on the small of her back, murmuring, "Bella?"

She spins on heel to face me and exclaims in desperation, "Edward! Oh, Edward, I'm so sorry! I tried to control myself, I really did! I was just so angry... And now Seth is – it's all my fault!"

"No, love." I place two fingers lightly over her full lips, stopping her from verbalizing any more unnecessary apologies. "This is not your fault. You've been amazing in regard to your self-control; I am the one who let things get too far out of hand."

"But I –" she mumbles under my touch. I hush her by applying a little more pressure with my fingertips, and tenderly kiss her forehead. The anxiety burning in the depths of her crimson irises wanes in response, but does not disappear, and she lifts her hand to move mine away from her mouth.

"I want to go inside and talk to him," she declares firmly. I can detect the motivation behind her words, though. She wants to offer herself up as the scapegoat for Seth's injuries, convinced that there is no one else to blame for her actions.

So utterly, infuriatingly selfless, my Bella.

"That's probably a good idea," Alice agrees before I can speak. She catches my eye and shifts her gaze meaningfully towards Leah, who has begun to pace back and forth along an invisible boundary line through the middle of the lawn. I know I don't have to tell you how being blind worries me, my sister remarks inwardly. But I think it would be best if Bella keeps out of Leah's sight for a while.

I lower my eyelids briefly, switching to the wordless mode of communication that Alice and I had contrived over our years together, and reach for Bella's hand. "Then let's go inside," I reply. Bella glances up at me gratefully, giving my hand a squeeze, and we walk together back to the house.

As we near the shaded porch, Bella sucks in a startled breath and her eyes dart wildly from side to side. "Where's –?"

"Rose took Renesmee around to the back," I answer her unfinished question soothingly. Holding the front door open for her, I allow Bella to breeze past, still linked to me by our joined hands, and lead the way into the front room.

Seth is sprawling comfortably on the white sofa, his right arm propped up by several throw pillows. I can tell even from across the room that the normally straight line of his shoulders is quirked at an odd angle. My father is rummaging around in the storage cabinet in his office, gathering the needed materials to make a splint for Seth's arm.

Surprisingly – and yet, not so surprising – Jacob is nowhere to be seen.

Seth's youthful face brightens with a grin when he catches sight of Bella and I, and waves with his uninjured arm. "Hey, guys." He tilts his head towards the right, indicating the display of his broken bones, and jokes, "So much for keeping the drama to a minimum, huh?"

"Seth..." Bella is sitting on the sofa beside him in less than a second, wearing a heartbreakingly repentant expression. Tentatively, she reaches out and very lightly touches the top of his left hand with her fingertips. Seth does not even flinch at the frigid temperature of her skin – he simply looks at her with patient, kind eyes.

Bella starts to murmur, "I am so very –"

"It's fine, Bella. Honest." Seth's lips flex into a gentle smile. "The Doc's gonna fix me up and I'll be back to normal – well, normal for me – in no time. Everything is cool."

Bella opens her mouth to try again, so I swiftly make my way over to the sofa and settle down beside her while directing my words to Seth. "You moved more quickly than even I anticipated, Seth. If anyone needs to apologize, it should be me. I'm sorry."

Not you, too... Seth moans in his thoughts. I swear – I'm okay. Then, a mischievous gleam sparkles in his black-brown gaze, and he remarks teasingly, "More quickly than you anticipated? Does that mean that I took Edward Cullen by surprise? Now that's something to brag about."

"The first and last time that will ever happen," I guarantee, offering him a crooked smile.

Bella shoots me a frustrated look, her lips pursed in that terribly distracting pout, and just as she begins to speak, Carlisle approaches and says, "All right, Seth." He lays the pieces of splint on a low coffee table and pulls over a chair from the dining room. Picking up the young man's arm from the pillows, he inquires seriously, "Are you ready?"

Seth manages to shrug, despite his mangled shoulder. "As ready as I'll ever be."

I wrap an arm around Bella's shoulders and pull her closer to my side, knowing what is coming. She glances at me curiously, and looks back at Seth just in time to see him screw up his features in pain as Carlisle resets his shoulder in its proper position.

Bella gasps, the agony on her face a near-perfect replica of Seth's hurt-filled expression, and I rub her arm tenderly. "'S okay, Bella..." Seth grits his teeth, forcing himself to ignore the blazing sting in his nerves as my father begins to apply the splint. "Like I said – I've had worse." He chuckles once; the sound is strained and uneven, but I pretend not to notice for Bella's sake. "A good thing the treaty's still solid, or we'd be having an all-out monster mash right about now."

"What about the treaty?" Bella jerks upright in her seat, looking from me to Seth and back again with wide eyes.

Seth and I lock stares briefly. Do you want me to tell her?
I incline my head just slightly, acceding control of this discussion over to him.

He returns his attention to Bella and explains while Carlisle fits the main part of the brace on his upper arm. "The stuff that happened between us and Sam's pack, it's all settled now. We don't have to worry about any vampire-werewolf wars. Renesmee took care of that."

Bella whispers in shock, "How?"

"Packs have laws, you know - lines that we can't cross under any circumstances," Seth continues on in a low, solemn voice. "And the most important of those laws is that no wolf can ever kill the object of another wolf's imprinting. Besides destroying a brother, the death of an imprint would harm the pack as a whole. The act is unforgivable, and the wolves involved have to fight to the death."

A tiny, almost imperceptible rush of air flows through Bella's parted lips. Seth appears not to notice, his eyes faraway as he mentions quietly, "It happened once. A long time ago. It was an accident; none of us would do something like that on purpose." He focuses back on Bella's widened stare, giving her a cheery grin. "So that's one less thing for you to worry about."

"But what about my transformation? Wouldn't that have violated the treaty?"

My turn now. Using my other hand, I softly cup Bella's chin and turn her face to mine. "I took care of that three days ago, right before Renesmee's birth," I inform her, my gaze dancing across her bewildered expression. "I asked Jacob for his consent to change you, and he agreed. As Ephraim Black's heir, he is the only one who has that right – even Sam cannot dispute it."

It is yet another reason why I have allowed Jacob to remain in close proximity with my daughter. I owe him for the precious gift of this angel sitting beside me, for granting his permission to keep her for eternity without the threat of retribution hanging over our heads.

"Oh." Bella seems perturbed about something, her mouth distorting into a small frown.

As I am about to ask my favorite question in regard to Bella's shrouded thoughts, Rosalie enters from the kitchen, carrying a white plastic cup sealed with a drinking lid.

Bella leaps to her feet. "Renesmee?"

"Outside. With him." Rose makes a face, which on her is still nauseatingly beautiful. Her expression softens a moment later and she says, "We think it's best if she is kept away from you until your emotions are fully under control. One hundred percent under control."

I growl at my sister. "That's hardly fair, Rosalie. Bella has shown more control in the last two hours than some vampires have in two decades. She is not a danger to Renesmee."

But Rosalie is adamant. "Be that as it may, her safety is the number one priority." Her butterscotch eyes drift over to Bella, and she seems almost...sympathetic. "I'm sure that Bella understands." She was willing to sacrifice herself for Nessie; she'll wait until we can be certain that she won't hurt the baby.

Rosalie opens the front door while completing that particular thought, and I start to call after her, determined to have my say in this so-called mutual agreement – after all, Renesmee is my daughter too – but Bella lays her palm on my chest, stilling my tongue. "No, it's all right, Edward. I want to be one hundred percent sure that I'm over my temper tantrum –" she pulls an adorable face, scrunching up her nose, and I smile in spite of my foul mood "– before I see her again."

I slowly shake my head, and touch the tip of her nose with a finger. "How could anyone ever see you as something dangerous?" I muse quietly.

She grins lopsidedly, and I realize with a start that she is wearing my smile. "You did," she reminds me playfully. "If I recall correctly...you thought that I was dangerous enough to run away from, and went into hiding in Alaska for two days to boost your courage." She waggles her eyebrows at me like a vaudeville comedian.

Carlisle is vaguely surprised that Bella can joke so blithely about our first meeting, a moment that my strict self-discipline very nearly cracked when I caught the luscious scent of her blood, but does not show any outward reaction.

Seth is totally bemused by the turn in our conversation and tries to distract himself from the twinges of discomfort by singing one of his favorite songs in his head.

"Well," I lean towards Bella, my lips brushing against her earlobe, "we can be grateful that my bravery...or recklessness...was stronger than my fear."

The hand resting on my chest slides upward, and small fingers tangle in the hair at the nape of my neck. A shudder travels along my spine as Bella turns her head to breathe into my ear, "I am."

My willpower is nearly reduced to frayed shreds. I am not far off from scrapping the entire surprise and taking my wife to our meadow – and not be seen or heard from until morning, at the earliest.

Thankfully – because I am quite convinced that Alice would kill me if I ruined her fun – the phone rings, and my arms freeze halfway through the motion of collecting Bella's slender frame.

She moves away reluctantly, letting out a tiny sigh. I smile at her while reaching for the cordless receiver sitting on the end table, and look at the number on the caller I.D. "Swan, Charles."

I feel my eyes tighten; Bella reads whatever emotion is scarcely visible on my face with her uncanny perception and asks, "Who is it?"

Wordlessly, I hold up the phone so she can see the number flashing on the screen. Her eyes grow large, and fill with sorrow an instant later. I toss the phone aside and put my arm around her, tucking her into my side. We all act as if we cannot hear the incessant trilling, and after eight or nine rings, Charlie hangs up.

Bella deliberately rotates her body to face Seth – an attempt to divert her attention, I guess – and questions, "How did things get cleared up with Sam? Did Jacob talk to him?" She hesitates a fraction of a second before saying his name, but I am not sure if anyone else detected it.

"Yeah." Seth nods eagerly, glad that she gave him something else to think about instead of the pain. "That's how we found out that Jake and Sam can talk to each other when they're in wolf form. It's pretty cool, actually – though it's not the same as being connected to a pack. It's more like...speaking out loud. Jake only hears what Sam wants him to hear, and the same goes for Sam when he listens to Jake. Distance is not a problem, either; they've been experimenting." Carlisle adjusts a section of the brace, and Seth pauses to smother a groan. Bella, as stubborn as ever, tries to ask for forgiveness, but Seth ignores her. "Anyways, after those two got to talking," he goes on, "Sam agreed to come back here with Jacob and talk to Carlisle." He throws a quick grin at my father, who smiles faintly in response without looking up from his work. "And the rest is history."

The phone rings again. Bella stiffens beside me, though the fascinated expression on her face does not change, and I turn off the ringer on the receiver. Seth surveys the nearly completed splint encasing his wounded arm, his black eyebrows arcing high on his forehead. "Mom would flip if she saw me like this," he comments with mild amusement. His keen gaze suddenly flashes up to peer out of the enormous windows, no doubt to watch the ceaseless pacing of the light gray wolf by the river, and he cringes. "Leah's flipping out enough for the both of them, I think."

"I'm so sorry, Seth." I know that he does not want any apologies, but I deeply regret that he was harmed due to my self-centered indulgence in allowing Bella to take her anger out on Jacob. "I should have been closer."

Stupid mutt – it's my turn! "Give her to me...Jacob." Rosalie, outside on the porch, grits out Jacob's name through her teeth like an expletive.

Not this time, blondie. "You already had a turn," Jacob retorts, hugging an impatient Renesmee to his broad chest. He makes a grab for the bottle, but Rose snatches it away, promising him a gruesome and painful demise in her mind.

Bella pulls my attention from their petty squabble by speaking hesitantly, "Seth, I –"

At this point, Seth and I have had our fill of her needless, partial confessions. In tandem, we interrupt her yet again.

"Don't worry about it, Bella, I'm totally fine," Seth declares.

I murmur to her gently, "Bella, love, no one is judging you. You're doing so well." Though her ranting was classic; I thoroughly enjoyed the look of absolute panic on the dog's face as Bella stalked him across the lawn, shrieking with unbridled rage. I smirk to myself, remembering how he had accused me with his eyes and his thoughts when I had set her loose.

I do have to give him credit, however, for not phasing when she came at him. He knows that such an action would have triggered Bella's basest survival instincts and prompted a fight – besides the fact that I would have had no choice but to kill him for threatening my Bella. After all, I have my own survival instincts, and it is undeniable that she is essential to my survival.

Perhaps you should let her make amends, Edward, Carlisle suggests to me with his thoughts while fitting another piece to the brace on Seth's shoulder. The young man winces at the movement.

"Sorry, sorry!" Bella mumbles hastily, persevering in her efforts to say sorry. I softly stroke her arm, hoping to convey to her with the gesture that she has no reason to feel guilty.

Seth pats her knee companionably with his free hand. "Don't freak, Bella. I'll be back to normal in half an hour. Anyone would have done the same, what with Jake and Ness –" He cuts off as I warn him with my eyes, and switches to a different topic. "I mean, at least you didn't bite me or anything." His mouth twists into a slight frown. "That would've sucked."

Brushing her hair aside, I whisper in a low, hushed tone, "The wolves don't react to vampire venom the same way as humans. Instead of causing pain...it is poison to them."

Bella buries her face in her hands, hunching over, and shivers uncontrollably for several seconds. Her obvious emotional distress plunges into my unbeating heart like a knife – an echo of her pain – and I rub her back tenderly.

"I'm a bad person," she mutters, her voice contorted with misery.

I cannot allow her to endure any more suffering, not when the cause is something that I should have prevented. "Of course you aren't." No one is more virtuous than Bella, and I fully intend to keep her that way for the rest of her existence. The blame deserves to stay squarely on my shoulders. "I should have –"

"Stop that," she sighs wearily.

I fall silent, remembering what she had said to me the morning after we returned from Italy. "I know it's your...your nature to shoulder the blame for everything, but you really can't let that make you go to such extremes!"

Seth studies my expressionless face, Bella's bowed head, and feels compelled to breach the awkward quiet. "Lucky thing Ness – Renesmee's not venomous. 'Cause she bites Jake all the time."

Bella drops her hands and sits upright. "She does?"

"Sure." She stares at him, open-mouthed, and he grins broadly. "Whenever he and Rose don't get dinner in her mouth fast enough. Rose thinks it's pretty hilarious."

Bella's shocked expression twitches, the corners of her lips rising the tiniest bit – but the hint of glee vanishes an instant later when my father stands and steps away from the sofa.

"Well, Seth, I think that's as much as I can do. Try not to move for, oh, a few hours, I guess." He chuckles under his breath, and I feel myself smiling in response. "I wish treating humans were this instantaneously gratifying." Carlisle begins to round the curve of the sofa to head around the back, and pauses briefly to lay his hand on the crown of Seth's head. "Stay still."
He ascends the staircase, closing the door to his office behind him.

Seth rotates his neck, the bones cricking from the motion. "I can probably manage sitting still for a while," he comments, the end of his sentence disappearing into an enormous yawn. Leaning his head carefully against the top of the plush sofa, his heavy eyelids fall closed – and he is out like a light in mere seconds.

Bella watches him with a slight frown for a minute or so, mulling some thought over in her secretive mind; she stands fluidly then, and my palm slides from her back. Treading across the room on noiseless bare feet, she moves less than half a dozen steps from the sofa before I feel compelled to follow, unwilling to allow the smallest distance to separate us.

She stops by the back windows, looking out into the approaching twilight with a thoughtful expression. As has swiftly become the norm, I take her hand in mine.

"Give her to me, dog! Unless you want to get bitten again?"

"Did you ever go to kindergarten and learn to take turns? Or is your head really full of air?"

My chest expands in a silent, annoyed sigh. Rose and Jake are still bickering like children. Renesmee is not doing much better in maintaining a complacent attitude than I am – she is quite hungry, and I think she has inherited my mercurial temperament.

Where the hell is Seth? The bloodsucker doctor should have finished patching him up ages ago. What if he's worse off than he let on? Would they tell me? ...No. No one tells me anything. ...Oh, if I ever get the chance to take out that little leech-lover – I swear I'm gonna –

I block out Leah's hostile thoughts at that point; like Jacob, she creates vivid mental pictures, and I am concerned that something she might unconsciously show me in regard to harming my reason for being may force me to commit an involuntary, violent act.

Edward. Alice sends an image of the house, as it can be seen from across the river. Immediately, my sharp eyes distinguish her petite figure beside the trunk of a bristly spruce. Esme, Emmett, and I are going hunting, she informs me. When we get back, we'll show Bella her surprise. So don't cheat. She streaks off into the forest to join Emmett and Esme.

"Where's Alice going?"

I glance at Bella, blinking in surprise – and I recall a half-second later that her vision is now just as crisp and attentive as mine; of course she saw our sister's departure. "Hunting," I reply. "Esme and Emmett went with her. They'll be back in a few hours."

She nods once, seeming to gaze beyond her reflection in the polished glass and into her own contemplations. I tell myself not to brood over it, listening instead to snatches of internal dialogue emanating from Jasper – who elected to stay behind and keep an eye on Bella as inconspicuously as possible, and is currently lounging against the newel post – while the quarrel out front grows steadily in volume, along with the participants' infuriated thoughts.

The nearly indiscernible stiffening of the tendons in Bella's slim hand is my only warning prior to Jasper remarking mentally: She's becoming incredibly tense. I wonder what's got her so worried?

Speaking up from his place beneath the staircase, he asks quietly, "What's the matter, Bella? No one is angry with you" – Leah scoffs inside her head and growls, the menacing sound echoing across the riverside – "or even surprised, really," Jasper talks over the wolf's vehement disagreement as though it did not occur. "Well, I suppose we are surprised. Surprised that you were able to snap out of it so quickly." He offers her an understated smile – a brief flex of his lips. "You did well. Better than anyone expects of you."

A deep sense of tranquility blankets the room, generated by Jasper's unique talent, and the hand clasped within my own relaxes as Bella turns around to look at him. "I was thinking about Charlie, actually," she admits hesitantly.

The childish squabbling out on the porch abruptly stops, like turning off a radio.

"Ah," Jasper murmurs. So that's it. I knew this would come up sooner or later - she loves her father very much. She already misses him.

My eyes seek out Bella's face, staring at her profile while she fixes her attention solely on Jasper. "We really have to leave, don't we?" she says in a low voice, and it is not so much a question as a resigned statement. "For a while, at the very least. Pretend we're in Atlanta or something."

My brother can feel her muted sadness, and transmits it to me through his thoughts. I too, wish that we did not have to leave our home here, that Bella could have a few more moments with the man who loves her unconditionally and almost as fiercely as I do... but it is not possible.

Yet one more sacrifice Bella has to make for me.

I know that she has no regrets, but that knowledge does not lessen the bittersweet tang of remorse flavoring my emotions.

Stop feeling guilty, Edward. You know this was her choice –Jasper berates me even as he answers Bella in his usual serious manner, "Yes. It's the only way to protect your father."

She remains motionless for several minutes, her forehead creasing as her mouth shapes itself into a glum frown. "I'm going to miss him so much." Lowering her eyes, she gazes at the floor and confesses in a tone just above a whisper, "I'll miss everyone here."

Wishing to alleviate some of her melancholy, I caress the back of her hand with the pad of my thumb, and she eventually raises her head and turns back to the windows. The shrouded expanse of sky visible above the treetops is changing from steely gray to smoky amethyst as the day hovers on the verge of night.

Bella appears to be reflecting on a specific matter while keeping a firm grasp on my hand, the faint purple-blue light of dusk creating a soft sheen on her alabaster skin – and my mind wanders to a time at the beginning of our relationship. We were sitting in my car, parked in her father's driveway...

"It's twilight," I observed broodingly, looking out the window at the darkening sky.

I could feel Bella's curious gaze on me, so I turned to her and clarified, "It's the safest time of day for us. The easiest time. But also the saddest, in a way...the end of another day, the return of the night."
Losing myself for a brief eternity in the warm depths of her brown eyes – this angelic creature that deserved to freely live in a world full of sunshine, a world without monsters like me – I offered her a faint smile. "Darkness is so predictable, don't you think?"

She frowned, bothered by my sudden despondency. "I like the night," she declared.
I could immediately tell from her tone that she was being completely truthful. And I wondered – maybe she was not as addicted to the sun as I had once thought.
The image of her slumbering form being overtaken by the shadows abruptly surfaced in my thoughts, accompanied by swirling visions of the future that Alice had seen continuously for the last few weeks: Bella, white and hard as polished marble, looking at me with wide scarlet eyes. I shoved it aside, focusing on her rose-tinted face and the scent that made my throat flame as she explained her fondness of night. "Without the dark, we'd never see the stars." Her lips pursed into a pout. "Not that you seen them much here."

Such simple, beautiful candor. I had to laugh as my mood shifted from sullen gloom to buoyant amusement just by listening to Bella. She had so much power over me - neither of us had fully realized the lengths I would go to in order to preserve the radiant innocence of this fragile human girl that I loved.

Part of me was afraid to explore those bounds, for I was not yet strong enough to leave her – leave her to protect her from a dark future, from losing her precious soul...from myself. Leave her because I loved her.
I was beginning to doubt if I would
ever be that strong.

I didn't want to be. Ever.

Unexpectedly, Bella lets out at derisive snort, wrenching me away from the memory. I tilt my head sideways to examine her facial expression, arching an eyebrow questioningly. She meets my gaze and shakes her head once, wordlessly telling me not to worry about it.

My free hand balls into a fist at my side as I fight off the internal burst of frustration – a common side effect when Bella chooses to keep her thoughts from me.

At that precise moment, light shuffling noises can be heard from the front porch and Bella perks up, looking expectantly at the doorway. I notice absently that Rosalie must have won the argument or Jacob just got fed up with her attitude, because Renesmee is resting comfortably in her arms. Jasper is at Bella's side before they cross the threshold, and Carlisle comes down the staircase holding his measuring tape and scale as Leah sits down right outside the windows to watch with a complete lack of interest.

"Must be six," I remark, almost to myself. I had not really noticed how the time was passing.

"So?" Bella asks. Her eyes are locked on our daughter, who is wearing a bored yet compliant expression. Rose and Jacob have similar wary thoughts as we go through this exercise once more – and even though Jasper is tempering the anxiety that is starting to fill the room, I feel a raw chill descend upon me, my nerve endings tingling with apprehension.

It seems that only Carlisle is able to hold onto his peaceful demeanor as he answers Bella. "Time to measure Ness – er, Renesmee."

Bella's eyebrows come together in puzzlement. "Oh. You do this every day?"

Carlisle motions for Rosalie, Renesmee, and Jacob to make their way over to the sofa, where Seth sleeps on, unaware. Renesmee's tiny shoulders rise and fall with a sigh as Rose crosses the floor, and my father corrects Bella's assumption in a preoccupied tone, "Four times a day."

"Four times? Every day?" Bella is like a statue beside me, frozen in surprise. Eyes widening, she splutters, "Why?"

I squeeze her limp hand and murmur quietly, "She's still growing quickly."

Renesmee's growth rate was unbelievable, to say the least. Carlisle and I have been trying to come up with any research material that could help us determine what will happen to her, but we have had little or no success. The best information we have is sketchy details from cultural legends and our own gathered data from the last three days.

I wrap an arm around Bella's waist, gently tugging her body to rest against mine, and cling to her as though she is my anchor in a brutal storm. I feel like a tiny ship, battered by the angry ocean waves, my mind drowning in the agonizing notion that if Renesmee continues to mature at an accelerated pace...

Turning my head slightly, I press the side of my face into Bella's silken tresses, using her distinct fragrance as an antidote for my despair.

All of us look on in silence as Carlisle stretches the measuring tape along Renesmee's body; she helps him by extending her limbs and keeping very still while he loops the tape around her skull.

Jacob's burning black stare does not stray from her for one second. His arms are crossed tightly over his chest as he watches, standing next to the armrest on Seth's side of the sofa, worrying inwardly about Renesmee and complaining that he hates feeling so helpless.

Jasper interprets the sudden spike of horror in Bella's emotions, and it registers in his mind at the same time that she whispers to me, "What do we do?"

My hold around her intensifies. I knew that she would come to the same conclusion that Carlisle and I had after that first day of taking measurements. Bella is far too perceptive, even more so as a vampire, to not put together the pieces in her head.

But I do not have a suitable answer to give her. All I can do is reply in a strained undertone, "I don't know."

Jacob grounds out through his teeth, "It's slowing." She's gonna be fine. I have to believe that.

"We'll need several more days of measurements to track the trend, Jacob," Carlisle warns him softly while measuring the width of Renesmee's torso. "I can't make any promises."

Jacob declares loudly in an effort to reassure himself as much as everyone else, "Yesterday she grew two inches. Today it's less."

I am inclined to agree – the differences in Renesmee's physical attributes are far subtler than they have been in the recent past. But none of us know what it means to her life as a whole, and the lack of a solution is taking its toll on the entire family.

Carlisle unwinds the tape from my daughter's shoulders, mentioning his findings in a low voice, "By a thirty-second of an inch, if my measurements are perfect."

"Be perfect, Doc." Jacob sounds almost threatening, and Rosalie stiffens in response - but I can identify the dim undercurrent of panic in both his words and his thoughts.

My father of course, given his three and half centuries of compassionate aid to those in need, understands Jacob's unspoken concern. He promises the dog, "You know I'll do my best."

He heaves a deep breath, more acquiescent than comforted. "Guess that's all I can ask," Jacob mutters, shifting his feet a bit on the hardwood floor.

A splash of irritation erupts from the small brunette locked in my arms, but it is swiftly overpowered by the impatience rising up within the three-day old enigma on the sofa. Renesmee holds up a tiny palm, reaching toward Rosalie, and my sister leans closer so that their skin makes contact.

The crystalline image of Bella projects into our minds, along with an imperious flavor to Renesmee's mental demand: she expects to be handed over to her mother straight away.

Rose sighs. All she wants now is Bella. It's to be expected, I suppose, but I wish... She chokes off that thought before I pick up on it, although I can probably guess how it would end. All Rosalie had ever wanted as a human was a prestigious marriage and beautiful children. By becoming Renesmee's caretaker – one of many, in fact – she has achieved a small piece of that deep-seated wish.

She knows, though, or can at least appreciate, that any child needs to be with their parents. As much as she wants to keep Renesmee to herself, she loves her enough to give her what she wants.

And in that love, Rosalie is truly selfless.

"What does she want?" Jacob barks.

Rose shoots him a poisonous glare, but manages to reply civilly, "Bella, of course." Directing her attention to the woman in question, Rosalie's icy features thaw and she asks, "How are you?"

"Worried," Bella admits huskily. My embrace tightens instinctively, reacting to the emotion coloring her tone of voice, and she curls willingly into my side.

"We all are," Rosalie agrees, her sharp eyes scrutinizing Bella's face. "But that's not what I meant."

Bella squares her shoulders and lifts up her chin, promising to everyone in the room, "I'm in control."

I do not doubt her in the slightest, so I unwind my arms from around her slender frame and give her a little space as Rose approaches with Renesmee in tow. Jacob is gnawing on his lower lip while he watches but does not try to stop them, and Jasper lingers by Bella's side to monitor the stability of her feelings.

Rosalie's jaw is taut as she offers Renesmee to Bella; the little girl reaches for her mother at the exact same time that Bella extends her arms to receive her. As soon as she is settled, Renesmee puts her hand on Bella's cheek.

She gasps, not as used to the sensation of Renesmee's shared memories as much as the rest of us, but is otherwise perfectly calm. Through our daughter's eyes, we see a graceful dark-haired predator flying above the ground like an avenging angel, en route to a defenseless Jacob, whose hands are raised in front of him in a vain attempt to deflect her attack.

A flicker of amusement wells up inside me while viewing this particular incident again, and I chuckle softly.

Then a dark blur collides with the soaring angel, a loud crack reverberating in the air, and both Bella and I wince in response.

Renesmee smiles her wide, glittering smile, the memory continuing on with Jacob as the focal point. The image is tinged with the flavor of possessiveness, as all of Renesmee's thoughts are when she concentrates on the dog. As young as she is strictly in terms of actual existence, her mind is mature enough to understand the bond that has formed between them and is glad that Jacob had not been hurt. He belongs to her.

Bella, it seems, has gained a similar impression from our daughter's memories. Groaning to herself, she grumbles with displeasure, "Oh, wonderful. Perfect."

My own annoyance flares in partnership with hers, and I try to assure her by remarking stiffly, "It's just because he tastes better than the rest of us."

"I told you she likes me, too," Jacob teases from across the room. Despite his tense stance and restless mental ramblings, he is still able to behave enough like his old self.
Bella notices, and looks at him as though searching his expression for some unknown sign that their relationship has survived her self-named ‘temper tantrum'. He does not remove his gaze from Renesmee, but there is a barely discernible trace of caring that smoothes the hardened facets of his deep-set black eyes.

At one time, the clear evidence of Bella and Jacob's strong friendship that is on display would have awakened the murderous green-eyed monster called jealousy in my silent chest, spinning fearsome tales in my ear of Bella leaving me to be with him... but no longer. Though there will always be a part of her that I can never know because it remains with Jacob – she is my wife, she bore my child, and she chose to trade her humanity for an eternal existence with me.

Renesmee, irked by her mother's divided attention, pats Bella's face impatiently and reveals more of her vivid recollections: Rosalie brushing her long bronze-colored ringlets, Carlisle measuring her...

Smirking with enjoyment, I lower my head to murmur in Bella's ear, "It looks like she's going to give you a rundown of everything you missed."

The next visualization that spills from Renesmee's mind causes a white-hot jolt of alarm to ignite within my brain. Dimly, I catch sight of my wife's expression, her nose wrinkling in painful recognition – as I whisk our daughter out of her arms and hold her against me securely. Jasper reads my emotional state, and once Renesmee is safely out of the way, he pins Bella's arms behind her back in anticipation of a violent response to the temptation that the little girl unwittingly subjected her to.

Bella does not struggle, although I am sure that she could easily break my brother's hold. Staring at me in wide-eyed confusion, she asks, "What did I do?"

I lock eyes with Jasper, listening as he interprets her feelings. All that is present is the confusion, which is evident on her face, and a lingering hint of burning agony, originating in the back of her throat.

My gaze shifts back to Bella; I feel my forehead crease as I mutter uncertainly, "But she was remembering being thirsty. She was remembering the taste of human blood." The words are faltering, hesitant – and I start to feel a bit foolish. Perhaps I am once again guilty of overreaction.

Jasper wrenches her arms further behind her back. His scarred features are just as marred by perplexity as my own face, which is reflected in Renesmee's startled consciousness.

Bella merely continues to stare at me, uncomprehending. "Yes," she accedes with my comment, angling her head slightly to one side. "And?"

I frown at her for a second – and then it melts into a grin as I realize that again I have made the mistake of underestimating her. Letting out one short, amazed laugh, I reply, "And nothing at all, it seems. The overreaction is mine this time. Jazz," I nod at my brother, "let her go."

He complies, releasing the vise grip around Bella's arms, his thoughts a swirling vortex of conflicting ideas and memories. I don't – I can't – this is not how it's supposed to be. Newborns are not to be reasoned with – they are irrational, instinct-driven killers. I dealt with them for over eight decades; this is not how it should work.

The instant Jasper lets go, Bella reaches out for Renesmee, and I pass her to her mother without a qualm while keeping close tabs on Jasper's chaotic thoughts.

Quite suddenly, he blurts, "I can't understand. I can't bear this."

He strides out of the back door, snarled lines of thought blasting from his mind as he retreats. Leah pads away from the house to give him a wide berth, and all of us watch in varying degrees of bewilderment as Jasper leaps over the river and vanishes into the forest.

Renesmee touches Bella's neck and replays her uncle's departure questioningly. Bella gives a faint shrug, staring after Jasper – and in unison, the two most important people in my life turn to look at me.

Wearing the exact same inquisitive expression, the resemblance between mother and daughter is uncanny, and the sheer loveliness gazing back at me from their heart-shaped faces steals my breath away. Figuratively speaking, of course.

"He'll be back," I tell both of them. Remembering snatches of my brother's disordered thoughts, I suppress an amused grin while adding, "He just needs a moment alone to readjust his perspective on life."

Bella looks aside thoughtfully for a moment, and then her eyes slide over to mine. I find that I am unable to accurately decipher the emotions on her face, because she seems almost...troubled.

She asks me in a low voice, "Is he mad at me?"

Surprise widens my eyes, and I blink at her, taken aback. What is she thinking? Why in the world would Jasper be mad at her?
"No," I answer at once. "Why would he be?"

"What's the matter with him, then?" she counters with another question. She seems desperate to understand, and also yearning for validation that his strange behavior is not her fault.

Stepping closer, I soften my expression and lightly brush a wayward strand of rich brown hair from her temple. "He's upset with himself, not you, Bella," I assure her gently. "He's worrying about...self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose you could say."

"How so?" Carlisle speaks up, walking over to us from the other side of the room.

I direct my gaze at him, though I am talking to Bella, as well. I sense her eyes on my face while I reply to my father, "He's wondering if the newborn madness is really as difficult as we've always thought, or if, with the right focus and attitude, anyone could do as well as Bella." I gesture towards her with an open palm and then go on. "Even now – perhaps he only has such difficulty because he believes it's natural and unavoidable. Maybe if he expected more of himself, he would rise to those expectations." Glancing at my wife, I offer her a proud smile. "You're making him question a lot of deep-rooted assumptions, Bella."

Carlisle folds his arms across his chest, disputing in a mild tone, "But that's unfair. Everyone is different; everyone has their own challenges." Jasper should not compare himself to Bella – they each had a very different introduction to our world, he silently points out. His thoughts become more speculative as he hypothesizes, "Perhaps what Bella is doing goes beyond the natural. Maybe this is her gift, so to speak."

Bella freezes at my side, her face blank in astonishment. Renesmee feels the change in her mother's hold around her small body and touches Bella's jaw line, remembering the last second wonderingly.

I suppose that my father could have a valid line of reasoning. It does seem highly unusual that Bella is capable of adjusting as a newborn with hardly any problems in controlling her heightened senses and potent instincts.

"That's an interesting theory," I comment, deep in thought, "and quite plausible."

Bella's expression crumples very faintly, looking somehow dissatisfied, and then brightens with hope. Though I cannot hear her thoughts, I am willing to bet that I know exactly what she is thinking about – her father, Charlie.

If Carlisle is correct, and she does have some extraordinary self-control, it would be safe for her to see him again. In spite of the fact that the scent of Charlie's blood would cause her throat to burn with thirst, she would have no trouble repressing the primal urge to kill him.

A quiet sigh puffs out from between her full lips, and the light in her crimson irises begins to wane. I suspect that the stark reality that she is physically not the daughter Charlie remembers has put a damper on her optimism. I know that she is afraid of his reaction, whether it is disappointment or fear or some combination of the two, and will decide to wait until she is more comfortable with her new self before showing up on her father's doorstep.

If I were speaking these suppositions aloud, Bella would surely accuse me of reading her mind – which she already knows that I cannot do, as much as I may want to. And I would give her the same explanation that I offered a few months back: I have lots of practice reading her face.

To distract myself from pursuing a conversation with Bella that would reveal her thoughts and confirm my suspicions, I pose a question to Carlisle. "Have you ever seen an equivalent to self-control as a talent? Do you really think that's a gift, or just a product of all her preparation?"

He shrugs. "It's slightly similar to what Siobhan has always been able to do, though she wouldn't call it a gift."

Rosalie enters the discussion by interjecting curiously, "Siobhan, your friend in that Irish coven? I wasn't aware that she did anything special. I thought it was Maggie who was talented in that bunch."

"Yes, Siobhan thinks that same," Carlisle says, his eyes flicking briefly over to Rose. "But she has this way of deciding her goals and then almost..." he pauses for a second, searching for the right descriptive word. "Willing them into reality."

My interest is piqued by his explanation. I have never met Siobhan or her coven, but my father has always spoken very highly of her and he does not reserve that opinion for just anyone.

Carlisle goes on by recounting, his gaze distant, "She considers it good planning, but I've always wondered if it was something more. When she included Maggie, for instance. Liam was very territorial, but Siobhan wanted it to work out, and so it did."

The three of us move over to the loose grouping of chairs at the west end of the front room and continue our conversation in regard to subtle talents.

As I settle into an overstuffed antique chair that Esme rescued from a decrepit estate three or four decades ago, I see Jacob take the empty place on the sofa beside Seth from the corner of my eye. Plopping down with a thoroughly bored expression, he stretches out his long legs, crossing them at the ankles, and folds his arms over his stomach. From the way that he leans his head back against the cushions, I would guess that he will be joining Seth in unconsciousness shortly.

Bella remains by the windows, angling her body so that she can listen to the dialogue, but Renesmee is succeeding in winning the majority of her attention as she continues to tell her mother about her day.

I too, am a little preoccupied by the exchange happening between my wife and our daughter. Even as I include my own views in Rosalie and Carlisle's conversation, a portion of my awareness is fixed on Renesmee's projected memories and the gentle rocking motion that Bella seems to be performing without really thinking about it as she stares into the little girl's big brown eyes.

The images flow constantly, as though Renesmee cannot convey them to Bella fast enough; she wants her to know everything that she missed.

I watch with Bella as Jacob and Renesmee sit beneath an ancient hemlock, little sparrows hopping cautiously closer to them along the ground – and I have to stifle a chuckle when she illustrates to Bella the sour dirt smell of the yucky white stuff that Carlisle put in her cup.

Then I see myself, my features displaying the contradicting emotions of happiness and grief while I sing a wordless melody to Renesmee; Bella lies, so still, in the background, and I swallow hard to dislodge the lump in my throat.

As the hour draws to a close – the discussion is still going strong, and the two wolves are snoring loudly on the sofa – Renesmee drifts off to sleep in the middle of one of her memories.
Glancing surreptitiously at Bella, I watch as she lifts one of our daughter's limp hands to her cheek, and her face lights up with fascination as she glimpses Renesmee's dreams. They really are quite intriguing, although observing them makes me wish in vain that I could have seen Bella's dreams in the same way.

But I will always be grateful for whatever strange quirk in her brain that caused her to talk in her sleep – those unfettered verbal remarks were like precious gems, affording me a bit more insight into the mind of the only woman I would ever love with every passing night.

We're back! A chipper voice shouts inside my head.

"Finally," I say in relief, turning to look out of the windows. The knot of anticipation in my stomach that manifested during the kiss Bella and I shared in the forest swells and undulates with excitement; I mask my feelings with a polite facial expression – however, my entire being hums with an electric current.

Leah withdraws from her spot near the house, slinking into the brush. Alice appears on the far side of the riverbed at the same time and she grabs a tree branch, swinging like a skilled trapeze performer, and spins across the water with ethereal grace. Esme follows, though not quite so extravagantly, and Emmett decides to plow through the swirling current, a wall of dark purple water exploding on either side of his massive frame.

Jasper brings up the rear – I would guess that Alice found him and convinced him to stop sulking – and the four of them make their way to the front door.

Everyone is smiling, and it does not take Bella very long to notice that all of the smiles are aimed at her.

She gazes at Alice with wary curiosity as the little black-haired sprite prances into the room. I roll my eyes when I see the ridiculously huge pink satin bow that she attached to the brass key in her hand.

My sister holds out the key to Bella eagerly and drops it into her open palm, squealing in her wind chime timbre, "Happy birthday!"

Bella rolls her eyes, holding Renesmee's slumbering weight in her free arm with ease. "No one starts counting on the actual day of birth," she reminds her best friend condescendingly. "Your first birthday is at the year mark, Alice."

Alice grins at her with smug satisfaction. "We're not celebrating your vampire birthday. Yet," she adds. And then, the jovial words seem to burst out of her as she exclaims, "It's September thirteenth, Bella. Happy nineteenth birthday!"