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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:


6. Favor

Rating 5/5   Word Count 15870   Review this Chapter

Reality, of course, will not allow me to ignore it for long.

The dawn has swiftly transitioned to morning. The sky is covered by a thick blanket of pearl gray clouds, with ragged holes that fleeting beams of pale yellow sunshine escape through to cast light on the world below.

I resist the urge to sigh, not wishing to interrupt the steady flow of hummed music issuing from my mouth. Bella had specifically requested a few minutes ago for me to sing her lullaby - "So the tradition isn't broken. Even though I don't need to sleep anymore." - and I cannot deny her anything she asks for, so I obliged.

Although she is making it hard to concentrate, even on a melody that is permanently etched on my brain, while her fingertips dance gently across my forearms as I hold her close, my lips against her ear.

The final phrase of her lullaby fades into the chorus of birdsong echoing from the forest, and I pause for one infinitesimal second - holding onto this perfect piece of heaven for as long as I possibly can - before murmuring quietly, "Renesmee..."

Bella sighs, low and deep. Her fingers pause on my skin, and she freezes in my arms an instant later. Craning my neck, I try to read her facial expression - but all I can make out from this angle is the fringe of black lashes around her eyes, which have grown wide with anxiety.

I place a brief kiss on her cheek; she does not even twitch. "It's all right, love," I breathe soothingly into her ear. "Get dressed, and we'll be back to the house in two seconds."

She springs to her feet, her curtain of silky dark hair trailing down her bare back, and I fight the sudden impulse to fasten my arms around her body to prevent her from ever leaving this room.

Selfish, I chastise myself with a resolve that I do not really feel. She comes first.

Bella's head whips around to stare at me. The muscles in the pit of my stomach tighten in response to the obvious longing in her ruby-colored eyes, and then she looks toward the west, where our daughter is waiting.

She repeats this action half a dozen times, her face blurring with the speed of the motion. I smile at her silly antics; she looks so comical in her indecision, like a cartoon character, but I do not laugh. For one thing, Bella intensely dislikes to be the source of anyone's amusement - including me, though I have told her that there is a difference between ‘amused' and ‘entertained' - and for another, I would be lying if I pretend that I do not share her torn line of thinking.

"It's all about balance, love," I remind her. Bella's head stops in mid-turn, her eyes flicking to mine. Now that I have succeeded in capturing her attention, I go on. "You're so good at all of this, I don't imagine it will take too long to put everything in perspective."

Her gaze skitters down the length of my body, sending prickles of heat along my nerve endings, and then flashes up to my face, a hopeful gleam in her crimson irises. "And we have all night, right?" she asks eagerly, a half smile curving her full lips.

Grinning broadly, I reply in a blithe voice that I scarcely recognize as my own, "Do you think I could bear to let you get dressed now if that weren't the case?"

Bella nods to herself and whirls about, sprinting over to the ornate wooden double doors that lead to the closet - Alice's personal playground. Throwing them open, she dashes inside...and I hear her shocked intake of air. I clamber to my feet and bound after her, arriving at Bella's side just in time to see her blatantly appalled expression as she looks around at the seemingly endless rows of white garment bags.

"Which ones are mine?" she hisses in aggravation.

I maintain a composed façade while inwardly struggling to contain a burst of laughter. Bella's reaction is almost exactly the way I pictured it. I tried to warn my sister on numerous occasions but Alice would have none of it. "She's my best friend, Edward, and my sister. She may as well get used to how things work around here."

Never mind the fact that the very first time Alice decided to ‘help' with Bella's wardrobe, she threatened not to come to the house again if the little black-haired imp made her into Guinea Pig Barbie.

I keep my face turned slightly away from Bella, just in case the hint of a smirk pierces my polite mask, and stroll towards the left side of the doorway. "To the best of my knowledge, everything but this rack here -" I lay my hand on the nearest bar, upon which hangs a new selection of clothing for me that Alice picked up during her shopping spree, "So you won't feel left out." I shake my head a bit at my sister's absurd reasoning and conclude, "- is yours."

"All of this?" she exclaims incredulously, her eyes huge as she stares first at me, then at the racks, whose contents could supply a designer boutique.

My shoulders lift into a shrug, and together we utter the name of the one responsible for this extravagance. "Alice." I say it as an explanation, with a sort of weary acquiescence; Bella growls it out as though the syllables leave a foul taste in her mouth.

"Fine," she hisses under her breath, and yanks the nearest bag from the rack, tugging on the zipper. Inside is a pale pink silk gown - hardly appropriate under any circumstances. Bella snarls very quietly, her lips twisting as she drops the garment on the floor with ill-concealed frustration. Her fingers curl into claws at her sides, and from the calculating gleam in her fiery eyes, she must be planning on tearing open each and every bag until she finds something suitable to wear.

I touch her shoulder - fleetingly, so as not to encourage the reawakening hunger that is burning through my veins - and offer calmly, "Let me help." Raising my chin, I sniff at the stagnant air, testing the flavors as they swirl amidst the microscopic dust motes. It is a bit difficult to concentrate at first with Bella's alluring fragrance saturating the room, but I manage to isolate the scent that I am searching for after another slow breath. It is relatively unsophisticated: thin and woodsy, with just a hint of faded floral.

I follow its trail to the far end of the closet, where a built-in dresser occupies the entire back wall. I sniff again, and choose a drawer near the bottom, pulling it open...and I have found my quarry. Grinning in triumph, I hold up a pair of trendily faded blue jeans with a flourish.

Bella darts to my side in less than a second, her expression full of wonder. I try to keep my grin from becoming self-satisfied; it pleases me that I can still amaze my wife with such simple feats as smelling out an article of clothing. "How did you do that?" she asks, half-demanding, half-impressed.

I hand over the jeans, explaining, "Denim has its own scent just like anything else." I suppose she will need a comfortable shirt as well, though it seems taboo to cover up such exquisite beauty - but that is unavoidable at the moment. "Now..." I raise an eyebrow at her and smile. "Stretch cotton?"

Without waiting for a reply, since it was a strictly rhetorical question, I inhale deeply to pinpoint the mild earthy aroma and amble towards another half-rack near the built-in dresser. After a moment, I come across a lightweight, long-sleeved white shirt and toss it to Bella.

She beams at me with fervent gratitude. "Thanks." Then she presses her nose to both garments and breathes in, memorizing the individual scents. She tests herself a minute later - sniffing carefully as she tugs on a smaller drawer on the far left of the dresser, and paws through its contents until she unearths a plain set of lingerie.

Forcing myself to turn away while she gets dressed, I head over to my considerably smaller side of the closet and grab a pair of khakis and a beige pullover, donning them swiftly. My eyes wander sideways as I rake a hand through my rumpled hair. Bella's slight smile widens when I meet her gaze - the bright white of her shirt makes her alabaster skin luminous and contrasts strikingly with her deep brown locks - and I reclaim her hand once again.

Our movements synchronous, we run hand-in-hand out of the closet, through the bedroom and out of the glass doors that lead to the garden. Vaulting nimbly over the low stone wall, we hurdle into the waking forest at a flat-out sprint. Bella tosses me a mischievous smirk, her crimson eyes bright with a gleam of challenge, and she pulls her hand from mine just before lengthening her stride and shooting forward like an arrow.

I am not about to let her win a second time - not after being accused of throwing the game. If she wants a race, I will give her a race.

Lowering my body closer to the ground, I pump my legs at a faster rhythm, eating up the short distance between us in less than two seconds. Once I pull even with her, I raise my hand and wave a little in farewell, and then continue to gain ground, grinning into the wind when I hear Bella's moan of dismay.

Needless to say, I am across the river before she breaks out of the trees. I lean against a rough-barked spruce and cross my arms over my chest, waiting with a crooked smile as Bella lands soundlessly on the riverbank.

She rolls her eyes as she stalks past me, and I swear that she mutters irritably under her breath, "Show-off."

Suppressing a chuckle, I snake an arm around her waist and pull her to my side while we walk at a slower pace towards the house. Thankfully, she does not try to fight me off - but she does exact her own brand of vengeance as she nuzzles her face into my neck, brushing her lips along my throat to my jaw and pausing at the hollow beneath my ear to exhale lightly on the sensitive skin there. My breath hitches absurdly, as if I am dependent on it, and I am half a mind to topple her into the tall meadow grass and continue where we left off at the cottage earlier this morning.

She pulls away a beat later, wearing a superior little grin that irks me almost as much as it entices.
A low growl ripples past my teeth. I grab Bella by the shoulders and whirl her around, backing her into the thick trunk of an ancient hemlock on the outskirts of the lawn. Her expression lights up with surprise and a sort of wild glee, but the grin has not vanished from her mouth.

I lean towards her until her heart-shaped face fills my vision and ask in a soft rumble, "Why are you doing this to me?"

Her gaze widens, full of childlike innocence. "What do you mean?"

My chest vibrates with another growl that accentuates my words as I accuse, "You know exactly what I mean. Why did we even leave the cottage if you're going to undermine my endurance at every turn?"

She rests her head against the tree trunk and that vexing smile tilts to one side. "Payback," she states with satisfaction.

"For winning a race?" I exclaim, incredulous.

"No. But that was part of it." Bella shifts her footing a bit; my hands tighten automatically on her shoulders, holding her firmly in place until she explains herself.

She examines my expression for a moment, a faint frown creasing her brow, and tucks her bottom lip between her teeth. "I just wanted to see if it would work," she says meekly. "Since I'm no irritable grizzly - as you've told me before - I wanted to see if I could affect your concentration as much as you do mine."

I have the strong desire to roll my eyes out of sheer frustration, but I refrain - just barely. "You already know the answer to that question, Bella," I murmur sternly, glaring at her with disapproval.

"But everything's different now!" She seems intent on defending her actions. "I'm different! I just wanted to see if it would work," she says again, her voice a little higher than normal due to stress. "I'm sorry that I upset you - that's really not the reaction I was going for, but you looked so amazing when we were running and - I wasn't thinking, I guess -"

She is rambling, which she has the tendency to do when she is anxious. Once again, I have managed to damage in spectacular fashion a perfectly wonderful moment with Bella because of my quick temper.

In truth, I am not frustrated with her unspoken invitation in and of itself, but with the fact that I cannot do anything about it at this time. Our family is waiting for us inside and Renesmee is awake, her thoughts abuzz with undisguised impatience for her mother. By tempting me, however innocently she may have intended, Bella succeeded in rousing the most selfish, greedy desires within my heart. Those desires are urging me at this very second to take my wife in my arms and whisk her off to some hidden corner of the world where no one will ever find us until we wish to be found.

Irrational, I know. But I bid farewell to rational thought the instant Bella Swan walked into that Biology classroom three years ago.

I remove one hand from her shoulders to place two fingers over her lips, halting her in mid-sentence. Her features are awash in remorse and I shake my head, self-depreciating, and mumble, "You would think that I would have a better handle on myself by now." Bella blinks in confusion, and I feel my hardened expression melt, transforming into a soft, repentant smile. "I'm not upset with you, love - quite the opposite. What bothers me is that what I want does not coincide with what I should do." A quiet laugh escapes me as I remark, "I often have that problem when the circumstance involves you." My fingers begin tracing the shape of her full lips, and my other hand releases its grip on her arm to gently frame her cheek. "And you should know...that you will always have a profound affect on me. Though other things may have changed, that never will." She sighs just audibly when my lips brush against hers while I whisper, "You may not be an irritable grizzly, but you are definitely the most dangerous creature I have ever met."

Our bodies become welded together in a slow, smoldering kiss. It does not take long, however, for the embers to spark like dry kindling and send a flash burn throughout my entire body, and from the way Bella presses herself against me, she must feel it too.

The hemlock tree groans in protest as it struggles to remain upright under the strain of the pressure caused by our embrace, but I simply do not care. My only reality is Bella: the fragrance of her skin, the taste of her breath, the feel of her caresses...

Then I hear my name. Not as though someone is calling me, but rather as a secondhand mention in a conversation that is underway in the living room.

"I thought you said Edward and Bella would be back by morning," Jasper comments in a low, deep voice.

"Yes."

"Well? Where are they?" Emmett is nearly as impatient as Renesmee.

Alice is barely concealing a giggle. "They're a little...sidetracked. Give them two minutes."

Intensely reluctant, I will myself to break off the kiss. Bella is breathing heavily, her hands still tangled in my hair, and I slowly remove them, explaining, "Everyone is waiting for us inside."

She slumps a little, and puts a safe yet minimal distance between us by stepping to the right, smoothing her hair with her palms. "Okay." This time, she reaches for my hand, and we make our way to the front door.

Renesmee is sitting on the hardwood floor, a pile of twisted silverware before her. Rosalie and Emmett are on either side of her; Emmett hands the little girl a soup spoon, which she promptly snatches and bends into a mangled series of curves with her tiny fingers.

As Bella and I cross the open expanse of the lawn, a light breeze stirs our clothes and hair. Ever perceptive, Renesmee notices the slight motion and her curl-shrouded head snaps up. Chocolate brown eyes locked on Bella, she flings the spoon aside - taking a small chunk out of the floor in the process - and points at her mother through the glass in wordless command. Carlisle, Esme, and the others burst into peals of laughter at the little girl's antics, their golden gazes absorbing every minute detail of the newest Cullen.

With a delighted grin, Bella darts from my side and through the door, flitting across the room in less than a second. Renesmee stretches out her tiny arms at the same time that her mother wraps her in an embrace and lifts her from the floor. They smile brightly at one another in a silent greeting.

My eyes drift over our daughter's form quickly, assessing the changes that have taken place during the night. She is still growing at an abnormal rate, but it seems that the process is continuing to slow down, which is an enormous relief.

Renesmee pats Bella's cheek with her dimpled fingers, projecting a memory of her dinner that is intense with hunger, and Bella winces in response. I immediately head into the kitchen to get Renesmee's breakfast together as Bella inquires to the room in general, "How long has she been up?"

"Just a few minutes," Rose answers. I retrieve a bag of blood from the refrigerator and pour its contents into a heavy white plastic cup as she goes on. "We would have called you soon. She's been asking for you - demanding might be a better description. Esme sacrificed her second-best silver service to keep the little monster entertained." There is an affectionate warmth in Rosalie's voice as she speaks of Renesmee, and then her tone shifts into one of barely suppressed humor. "We didn't want to...er, bother you."

Emmett cackles boisterously inside his head, and his quivering shoulders cause slight vibrations to travel through the floorboards. Setting the cup in the microwave, I punch in the appropriate time and roll my eyes while the scent of heating blood fills the kitchen. Rosalie is struggling very hard not to join in with her husband's mirth and the rest of the family is dutifully keeping their thoughts to a minimum, so I easily tune them out.

Bella's sweet voice floats above the quiet whirr of the microwave as she murmurs to Renesmee, "We'll get your room set up right away. You'll like the cottage. It's magic." A sudden rush of euphoria floods my mind over her simple description of our home, and I find myself smiling like a fool as the timer ends with a shrill, drawn-out beep. Pulling out the warmed cup, I listen intently for every sound in the next room, and then Bella says, "Thank you, Esme. So much." The words burn with fervent gratitude, and my ridiculously huge smile widens, my teeth glistening in the reflection on the microwave door. "It's absolutely perfect."

I catch a brief flash of Esme's mental rejoicing just before my brother's hilarity and loud snickering drowns it out. "So it's still standing? I would've thought you two had knocked it to rubble by now," Emmett chortles, scarcely understandable even for a roomful of vampires. I'm disappointed, kid, he adds for my benefit. After all those decades of waiting to get some, and you don't even break another headboard? His thoughts collapse into a fit of snickers, which is fortunate for him. I force my tense hand to release its grip on the spoon I was using to stir the thickening blood, and grimace when I see that my fingers have left impressions on the metal, warping the utensil.

And then, as Emmett is prone to do, he refuses to let the subject drop. "What were you doing last night?" he asks, raising his voice as though I cannot hear him perfectly already. "Discussing the national debt?" He crows with laughter. Perhaps I will throw him into the river, after all...

Bella deliberately ignores his suggestive remarks, though I can tell that she is fighting to maintain a composed manner when she wonders aloud, "Where're the wolves today?"

"Jacob took off this morning pretty early," Rosalie replies. He was in a hurry, too - and ticked off about something. As usual. "Seth followed him out."

I pick up Renesmee's cup from the counter and carry it into the living room, glancing over at Rosalie as I ask, "What was he so upset about?" Bella's scarlet eyes latch onto my approach, mirroring her curiosity, and she holds her breath before I get close enough to tempt her with the smell of human blood.

Eagerly, Renesmee reaches for the cup as Bella hands her off to Rosalie, and my sister settles the little girl in her arms while she begins to gulp down her breakfast.

Rosalie meets my gaze and lifts her chin disdainfully. "I don't know - or care," she sniffs. I give her an annoyed look, raising an eyebrow, and she expands her account. "He was watching Nessie sleep, his mouth hanging open like the moron he is, and then he just jumped to his feet without any kind of trigger - that I noticed, anyway - and stormed out." She holds out one hand to examine her gleaming fingernails, grumbling, "I was glad to be rid of him. The more time he spends here, the less chance there is that we'll ever get the smell out." Her lips twist into a sneer and her nose wrinkles in disgust. I'm not the only one thinking it, she states inwardly with self-assurance. I don't need you to tell me that, Edward.

"Rose," Esme chides from her place on the sofa.

Rosalie flips her curtain of pale blonde hair over a shoulder and shrugs. "I suppose it doesn't matter. We won't be here that much longer."

Emmett has recovered from his amusement at my and Bella's expense and chimes in, "I still say we should go straight to New Hampshire and get things set up." Obviously, he and Rose had been discussing our family's future plans at some point in the night. "Bella's already registered at Dartmouth." He waves a large hand towards her for emphasis, remarking, "Doesn't look like it will take her all that long to be able to handle school." His face lights up with a teasing smirk, eyes twinkling in wicked enjoyment as he looks up at her from his sprawled position on the floor. "I'm sure you'll ace your classes...apparently there's nothing interesting for you to do at night besides study."

Rosalie giggles, ducking her head in a vain attempt to hide her grin. Bella audibly grits her teeth, and her pale heart-shaped face assumes an expression of deep concentration - hoping to stem off another furious outburst, I would guess.

Though I too have had more than my fill of Emmett's innuendos in regard to my physical relationship with my wife, another part of my brain is wondering why Jacob left. He has not let Renesmee out of his sight since the imprint occurred - except when he agreed to speak to Sam - so I am curious as to what could have motivated him to run off in such a hurry early this morning.

Wait... Rose and Em were talking about our move to the East Coast. Of course Jacob would not want us to leave, because that would entail his separation from Renesmee. But how does his sudden absence correspond with my siblings' conversation? What am I missing?

Jacob himself dispels my confusion as his loud, electrified thoughts blast into my brain.

For one stretched out portion of a second, there is nothing within me but the blackest rage. I cannot even form a rational thought as the vicious compulsion to rip the dog's limbs from his body causes my fingers to twitch in anticipation. My lips curl over my teeth, and an animalistic growl rasps throughout the room, startling everyone.

While the harsh sound is still reverberating off of the walls, Alice suddenly jumps to her feet, eyes wide in alarm. "What is he doing?" she yelps shrilly. "What is that dog doing that has erased my schedule for the entire day? I can't see anything!" Her stare flicks over to Bella, and her topaz eyes cloud with distress. "No! Look at you!" Alice bemoans, her attention shifting from one subject to another like quicksilver. "You need me to show you how to use your closet."

Jacob is getting closer to the house - I can tell from the images I am receiving from his mind. I ball my hands into fists to stop my itching fingers from locking around his throat to choke the oxygen from his lungs. Does he have any idea what this will do to my Bella? Does he even care? I have tolerated quite a bit from him since the moment he interrupted our evening at the prom, but this...this is inexcusable.

"He talked to Charlie." The words are scarcely recognizable coming from my mouth, distorted by a vicious snarl. I sense Bella's widening red eyes on my face and the bloodlust is abruptly pierced with a razor-sharp sting of anguish. My Bella...my Bella is going to suffer because of that mongrel. I should have run him out of town like an unwanted stray pup when I had the chance. "He thinks Charlie is following after him." Instead of dampening the rage, my anguish for Bella feeds the blazing ire like an accelerant poured over a bonfire. The darkest part of my nature begins to envision how I will proceed with the dog's demise. Simply infecting him with venom would be too short - I can be very creative when I need to be... I squeeze my fists tighter, my fingernails digging into the palms of my hands, and finish delivering my warning. "Coming here. Today."

Alice trills an expletive that, were I in a more logical frame of mind, would have resulted in my scolding her for using that kind of language in front of my daughter. In a blur of black and white, she darts from the room and out the back door, her thoughts as quick and fierce as churning rapids.

A panicked gasp filters through Bella's mouth, causing the anguish to twist like a blade inside my silent chest. "He told Charlie?" she asks hoarsely. Her scarlet eyes are so large that they consume her heart-shaped face, which is now whiter than bone. "But - doesn't he understand? How could he do that? No!"
She is practically shrieking at this point, and more than anything I want to go to her, to offer some type of comfort...but I do not yet trust myself enough to move from this spot without acting rashly. Jacob is less than fifty yards from the front door, and I still have not decided whether or not to let him live.

Speaking through my clenched teeth, I inform her, "Jacob's on his way in now."

Right on cue, the dog throws open the door and bursts inside, shaking his drenched hair like the animal he is while mentally congratulating himself for effectively ending the life of the man who helped give my Bella to this world. With a cheerful grin, he calls from the entryway, "Hey, guys."

Silence.

The monster in my head roars, straining against the chains of self-control I have forged over the years and tinting the edges of my vision with a red haze. I hardly notice when Leah and Seth steal quietly into the room, one on either side of Jacob, their eyes flashing to each frozen face. Leah's hands immediately start to tremble in response to the tense atmosphere. Seth watches me with a mixture of bewilderment and wariness, asking a question of some kind with his thoughts...but I cannot focus long enough to offer him a reply.

He must see something - a shadow of the predator in my black glare, perhaps - for his large hands begin to quiver in tandem with his sister's more pronounced tremors.

"Rose," Bella says tersely, holding out her arms without taking her eyes off Jacob. Rosalie complies at once, her thoughts unusually reserved, and passes a wide-eyed Renesmee to her mother. Bella enfolds the little girl tightly in her arms, pressing her small body close to her chest, and the fingers of her left hand clutch at the fabric of Renesmee's shirt.

Jacob, ignorant fool that he is, seems totally oblivious to the hostility emanating from nearly every vampire in attendance. Still smiling, he ambles toward the center of the room and remarks to Bella, "Charlie'll be here soon. Just a heads-up." His gaze flits briefly to the others, noticing that someone is missing. "I assume Alice is getting you sunglasses or something?" he asks, though it is more of a statement than an actual question.

Bella's fierce stare appears to catch fire, her ruby-colored irises glowing with the heat of her wrath. "You assume way too much," she grits out through her teeth, each syllable biting and shivering in the air like sputtering yellow-orange embers above a crackling fire. "What. Have. You. Done?"

Huh? The black lines of Jacob's eyebrows lower slightly in confusion, and his wide grin falters but does not disappear. "Blondie and Emmett woke me up this morning going on and on about you all moving cross-country," he explains with casual nonchalance, crossing his arms over his broad chest, and his smile turns patronizing. "Like I could let you leave. Charlie was the biggest issue there, right? Well," he shrugs, "problem solved." He is so pleased with himself - like a dog that has successfully unearthed a bone and brought it back to his master to be praised - that I have to choke back another snarl.

"Do you even realize what you've done?" Bella hisses, her fingers tightening on the handful of our daughter's clothing. Renesmee nestles into the curve of Bella's shoulder, careful not to make contact with her mother's cool skin, her brown eyes full of somber observation. Bella lurches toward Jacob a fraction of a millimeter, and then locks her muscles into place, accusing, "The danger you've put him in?"

He snorts, fixing her with a dubious look. "I didn't put him in danger. Except from you." The cheery smile returns, and he waves a hand at her, commenting in an unworried tone, "But you've got some kind of supernatural self-control, right?" That's what Edward and Carlisle said yesterday - though I think it's a cheap trade-off for the whole vampire thing. "Not as good as mind reading, if you ask me," he adds, smirking. "Much less exciting."

My body acts on its own accord; I am suddenly standing toe-to-toe with Jacob, the foul odor of his blood blocking out all other scents, and I clench my hands even tighter to combat the desire to rip his head from his shoulders. The mask of pretense slips off my features - allowing him to see what seethes beneath the surface of my cold granite shell - and though his physical presence is greater, he leans away from me, his expression nonplussed.

Forcing back a primal explosion of noise, I salvage enough common sense to form a lucid retort, though my voice is menacing and darkened by a rough, unbroken growl. "That's just a theory, mongrel. You think we should test it out on Charlie? Did you consider the physical pain you're putting Bella through, even if she can resist? Or the emotional pain if she doesn't?" The small part of my essence that is not ablaze with fury cringes at the mere notion of witnessing Bella's agony, for it will be as hurtful as if it is my own - even more so, since there is nothing as excruciating than seeing her in pain and being unable to shield her from it.

And this dog, who once claimed to love my Bella, brought this unendurable pain to our doorstep.

I want his death so badly for the span of one timeless instant that it is practically a living entity, hovering around me like a wraith and conjuring violent images that the beast caged inside my skull revels in and the human side of me recoils from in horror.

The horrified emotion - knowing that if I were to destroy him, it would be seared into my daughter's memory and still cause my reason for existing to be in pain - is strong enough to cancel out the urge to kill...but only just. I settle, for the moment, on punishing him with my words.

"I suppose that what happens to Bella no longer concerns you!" I bellow the last pronoun, hurtling it through the air like a spear to impale his throbbing heart.

Renesmee broadcasts a repetition of my tirade presumably to her mother, and the memory is awash in heightened anxiety. I scarcely recognize the bronze-haired creature shouting at Jacob within her thoughts.

Jacob frowns, puzzled. Leah's whole body is shivering as she holds off the impulse to phase, and Seth continues to study my expression, a myriad of conflicting emotions in his dark eyes.
"Bella will be in pain?" Jacob asks uncertainly, like he has no idea of the consequences his idiocy will ensue.

Snarling, I yell into his baffled face, "Like you've shoved a white-hot branding iron down her throat!"

Calm down, Edward, my father rebukes inside my head. Through his eyes, I see Bella wince in response to my description of what the smell of human blood does to us regardless of our lifestyle, and Renesmee hides her tiny, exquisite face in Bella's hair.

It is for their sakes and theirs alone that I push a slow, deep breath through my lungs in an effort to suppress the rampaging anger.

Jacob's black eyes glitter within the shadows of his furrowed brow, and he whispers with ashamed unease, "I didn't know that." I swear to you, he pleads mentally, I didn't know. You've gotta believe me! I know she misses Charlie - he misses her, too. I was trying to help! And yeah...I don't want Nessie to leave, I admit that. What Carlisle said about Bella's gift...I thought it was legit. I didn't know seeing Charlie would hurt her...

"Then perhaps you should have asked first," I counter sharply, answering both his spoken statement and the swift torrent of thoughts pouring from his mind.

He blinks, affronted by my uncompromising stance, and straightens, squaring his shoulders. "You would have stopped me," he snaps back.

"You should have been stopped -"

Bella interrupts me in mid-rant, her wind chime voice small, colored by despair and anger and grief. "This isn't about me. This is about Charlie, Jacob. How could you put him in danger this way? Do you realize it's death or vampire life for him now, too?"

He looks over the top of my head at Bella, the hard lines on his forehead softening a bit. "Relax, Bella. I didn't tell him anything you weren't planning to tell him."

"But he's coming here!" she exclaims anxiously.

Jacob nods. "Yeah, that's the idea. Wasn't the whole ‘let him make the wrong assumptions' thing your plan?" Folding his arms across his chest, he tilts his head to the side and smirks, pointing out smugly, "I think I provided a very nice red herring, if I do say so myself."

The slender white fingers gripping Renesmee's shirt loosen...then Bella's jaw flexes and she curls her hand back in place. "Say it straight, Jacob," she demands in an ominous tone. "I don't have the patience for this."

He lets out a long-suffering sigh. From the way his gaze shifts, I can tell that he is fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "I didn't tell him anything about you, Bella. Not really," he says. "I told him about me. Well," a grin tugs at the corners of his mouth, "show is probably a better verb."

A summary of the interaction emerges inside his mind and I watch its progression, appalled - which quickly converts into a fresh burst of fury. "He phased in front of Charlie," I announce in a low hiss.
Esme's fingers fly to her mouth, her gold eyes round in fear. Jasper floods the room with a muted level of peace, reacting to the fluctuations of my temperament and Bella's wildly diverse emotions. Carlisle warns me once again to stay in control, and Rosalie and Emmett are two ice-cold statues, wearing nearly identical expressions of apprehension. Alice is still nowhere to be found - but I can just make out the fringes of her whirling thoughts, and I have no idea what she is preparing.

"You what?" Bella whispers breathlessly, her full lips parted in shocked disbelief.

Jacob remains completely unfazed, still maintaining a firm belief that he did the right thing. "He's brave," he tells Bella, and I can detect a note of pride in his deep voice. "Brave as you are. Didn't pass out or throw up or anything. I gotta say, I was impressed." He chokes back a laugh. "You should've seen his face when I started taking my clothes off, though. Priceless." He chuckles then, picturing Charlie's bewildered and unnerved look in his mind's eye.

"You absolute moron!" Bella screeches at him, and his laughter abruptly dies away. She stomps her foot - the hardwood flooring groans in protest - and shouts, "You could have given him a heart attack!"

"Charlie's fine." He rolls his eyes. Bella's teeth come together with an audible snap; the knuckles of her left hand have long since turned white with the strain of her grip on Renesmee. "He's tough. If you'd give this just a minute, you'll see that I did you a favor here."

She raises her chin high, her red eyes smoldering fiercely, and modulates her voice so that it is level and as unyielding as iron. "You have half of that, Jacob. You have thirty seconds to tell me every single word before I give Renesmee to Rosalie and rip your miserable head off. Seth won't be able to stop me this time." There is no mistaking the promise of aggression in her statement. I feel contrarily pleased that she has the self-control to offer Jacob even a small percentage of clemency. If I were the day-old newborn vampire, he would already be dead.

Leah slides a step forward, tremors running up and down her bare arms - and Seth clamps a hand around her wrist, shaking his head infinitesimally. He assesses Bella with keen black-brown eyes, speculating inwardly whether or not she will make good on her threat...and wondering if I will let her.

"Jeez, Bells," Jacob complains in a perfectly blasé tone. "You didn't used to be so melodramatic. Is that a vampire thing?" You all need to dial it down a few notches in my opinion. Good thing you can live forever, ‘cause the stress would've killed you by now.

"Twenty-six seconds," Bella declares, each word clipped and razor-edged as it leaves her mouth.

He rolls his eyes again, the movement exaggerated by his lack of concern, and plops his massive frame into the nearest chair. Slumping in the seat, he places each arm on the plush rests and leaves his long legs stretched out in front of him. The two other wolves stand on either side of their pack leader, their tense stances in contradiction to Jacob's relaxed manner, and Leah does not take her eyes off Bella.

Taking a deep breath, Jacob starts in on his summary. "So I knocked on Charlie's door this morning and asked him to come for a walk with me. He was confused, but when I told him it was about you and that you were back in town, he followed me out to the woods." I monitor his thoughts carefully, but find no traces of deception in his story. By means of his vivid mental pictures, every portion of his conversation with Charlie flickers inside his head like an old film reel. "I told him you weren't sick anymore, and that things were a little weird, but good. He was about to take off to see you, but I told him I had to show him something first." He shrugs a bit. "And then I phased."

Bella bares her clenched teeth, a soft rumble issuing from the back of her throat, and enunciates meticulously as she commands, "I want every word, you monster."

"Well, you said I only had thirty seconds -" Bella's features alter swiftly, frighteningly, and she wears the face of a vampire once again. Jacob backpedals, "Okay, okay." Raising his hands in a gesture of surrender, he frowns in concentration for a moment, trying to recall the specifics of his conversation with Charlie. "Lemme see..." His eyes light up an instant later, and he recounts, "I phased back and got dressed, and then after he started breathing again, I said something like, ‘Charlie, you don't live in the world you thought you lived in. The good news is, nothing has changed - except that now you know. Life'll go on the same way it always has. You can go right back to pretending that you don't believe any of this.'"

Renesmee peeks out of Bella's hair while Jacob is speaking, understanding little of the actual context but curious as to why her mother is so riveted by his words and why I am so angry.

Jacob goes on. "It took him a minute to get his head together, and then he wanted to know what was really going on with you, with the whole rare disease thing."
I lean forward unconsciously, my eyes narrowing as I focus on his thought pattern. It is crucial that Charlie be kept completely in the dark regarding the true nature of my family - of a whole other world that his daughter is now a part of. Since Jacob is about as prudent as a five-year old, I am fairly certain that his explanation will provoke my mercurial temper, and steel myself internally for the eruption.

"I told him that you had been sick," Jacob says to Bella, "but you were fine now - it was just that you'd had to change a little bit in the process of getting better. He wanted to know what I meant by ‘change', and I told him that you looked a lot more like Esme now than you looked like Renée."

Because I was anticipating such a reaction, the boiling rush of fury does not overwhelm my mind. However, a sharp hiss escapes from my mouth before I can block the instinctual response. Bella's eyes pop open wide in horror, and her lower lip trembles the tiniest bit, as it used to when she was fighting against a sudden flood of tears. I almost go to her - but then she presses her lips together tightly and scowls.

Eyeing both of us for a few seconds, Jacob resumes where he left off. "After a few minutes, he asked, real quietly, if you turned into an animal, too." A broad grin brightens his russet-skinned face. "And I said, ‘She wishes she was that cool!'" He laughs, and Rosalie gags in disgust. "I started to tell him more about werewolves, but I didn't even get the whole word out - Charlie cut me off and said he'd ‘rather not know the specifics.' Then he asked if you'd known what you were getting yourself into when you married Edward, and I said, ‘Sure, she's known all about this for years, since she first came to Forks.'" Bella cringes and looks aside like a disobedient child. Jacob smiles a little in response but does not pause, confiding, "He didn't like that very much. I let him rant ‘til he got it out of his system. After he got calmed down, he just wanted two things. He wanted to see you," Jacob holds up one finger, counting off Charlie's requests, "and I said it would be better if he gave me a head start to explain."

Taking a deep breath, Bella asks, "What was the other thing he wanted?"

Jacob smiles, unduly pleased, and affirms, "You'll like this." He holds up another finger. "His main request is that he be told as little as possible about all of this. If it's not absolutely essential for him to know something, then keep it to yourself. Need to know, only."

Ever so slightly, the hard, ice-like lines of Bella's features defrost. "I can handle that part," she agrees.

She's starting to get it, Jacob exults to himself, and says aloud, "Other than that, he'd just like to pretend things are normal." His smile tilts to one side, radiating smugness as he beams at her. He thinks that he's won her over - and perhaps he has, I admit, while I study Bella's expression from the corner of my eye - but I have yet to be convinced. And judging from the skepticism permeating the majority of the thoughts in this room, my family is in a similar frame of mind.

"What did you tell him about Renesmee?" Bella blurts out unexpectedly. Her tone is still sharp, but the rigid stance of her body has softened a great deal in the last few seconds. I notice that the fire in her eyes is waning like guttering candles, and then I fully understand just how much it would mean to her to have Charlie in her life again. The innate need to give her whatever she desires flares inside my chest - but I quash it momentarily with the fact that this is still an incredibly dangerous situation - and the urge to protect overpowers that need.

"Oh yeah," Jacob remarks, his smug smile fading a little. "So I told him that you and Edward had inherited a new little mouth to feed." He glances at me, gauging the hard cast to my features, and elaborates, "She's your orphaned ward - like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson." It sounded good to me...and a lot more believable than the truth. He snorts quietly. "I didn't think you'd mind me lying. That's all part of the game, right?" His eyes dart over to my face again. I do not respond in any way, so he returns to ignoring me and focuses on Bella. "Charlie was way past being shocked at this point, but he did ask if you were adopting her. ‘Like a daughter? Like I'm sort of a grandfather?' were his exact words."

Bella's stare glitters in the strangest way as he quotes her father's words, and her lower lip begins to tremble. Jacob grins at her warmly. "I told him yes," he pronounces. "‘Congrats, Gramps,' and all of that. He even smiled a little."

She blinks several times, as though human tears are obscuring her view, and her voice quavers with emotion as she whispers, "But she's changing so fast."

"I told him that she was more special than all of us put together." Jacob's gaze transfers to Renesmee, who has been watching him attentively throughout his narrative, and his expression becomes almost worshipful. Standing up fluidly, he walks over to Bella; Leah scrambles forward, and Seth takes a step in the same direction, but he motions for them to stay put. Renesmee lifts a dimpled hand towards Jacob as he approaches, but Bella's arms tighten around our daughter, holding her in place. "I told him," Jacob murmurs softly, "‘Trust me, you don't want to know about this. But if you can ignore all the strange parts, you're going to be amazed. She's the most wonderful person in the whole world.'" He offers a fond grin to Renesmee, and she responds with her unique, glittering smile. Then he pulls his attention from the little girl and looks at Bella - and the look in his eyes changes, shifting from the reverential gleam he only grants to Renesmee to a more affectionate twinkle that seems more...familial than any other look I have seen him give Bella.

"And then I told him that if he could deal with that, you all would stick around for a while and he would have a chance to get to know her. But that if it was too much for him, you would leave," Jacob remarks, a little half-smile curving his mouth, and then he adds, "He said as long as no one forced too much information on him, he'd deal."

He raises his thick black eyebrows and stares at Bella for a moment or so, waiting for her response. The rest of us are in the same position. Since this is about her father, Bella is the ultimate authority as to how this will play out.

She stares up at Jacob, her stern frown almost comical in its feigned displeasure, and informs him stubbornly, "I'm not going to say thank you. You're still putting Charlie at a huge risk."

"I am sorry about it hurting you," he apologizes, his voice ringing with sincerity. "I didn't know it was like that." Inching closer another half step, his dark eyes wide and earnest, he expresses to her gently, "Bella, things are different with us now, but you'll always be my best friend, and I'll always love you." My family shoots concerned glances at me, but they have no reason to feel alarmed. I can see and hear the rest of his explanation in my head - and it seems as though the world is finally set in its proper course as he says, "But I'll love you the right way now. There's finally a balance. We both have people we can't live without." He smiles, the expression one of true kinship, and asks, "Still friends?"

Bella holds onto her glower for another fraction of a second, and then she smiles back at him, though it is small and a bit tense. Jacob takes it for what it is - a concession. He holds out a large red-brown hand in the universal symbol of accord. Bella inhales a deep breath and transfers Renesmee's weight to her right arm. Placing her left hand in Jacob's, the contrasting shades of alabaster and russet displayed prominently in the gesture, she declares, "If I don't kill Charlie tonight, I'll consider forgiving you for this."

To which he counters boldly, "When you don't kill Charlie tonight, you'll owe me huge."

She rolls her eyes and releases his hand. He instantly raises the other, looking between her and Renesmee with a beseeching gaze. "Can I?"

Shaking her head in the negative, Bella turns her upper body so that Renesmee is angled further away from Jacob as she tells him in a no-nonsense manner, "I'm actually holding her so that my hands aren't free to kill you, Jacob. Maybe later."

He sighs, defeated, and drops his hands. I feel the beginnings of a smile crack the cold mask on my face, though the fleeting amusement does nothing to allay my fears for Bella and the extreme test of willpower that she is about to undertake. I will do whatever I must to ensure her safety and that of my family - however, the original contingency that had been brewing in the back of my mind is now null and void in light of Bella's reaction to news of her father. She wants to see him again, which I already knew, but now I have a clearer picture of just how strong that wish is.
The standard rules of newborn behavior do not apply to Bella, and the knowledge feeds the sprouting tendril of hope winding around my silent heart that perhaps I have been granted another opportunity to restore to her a sacrifice she was willing to live with forever.

We all will be walking along the edge of a knife, to be sure...but I have faith in my Bella. She can do this.

A hurricane of images and thoughts bombard me all of a sudden, and I recognize the flavor of my previously absent sister's mind. Alice scurries through the back door, carrying a small white box in each hand, and the look on her pixie-like face is quite violent. Pinning a fierce amber-eyed glare on the wolves, she snaps, "You, you, and you. If you must stay, get over in the corner and commit to being there for a while. I need to see." As she makes her way into the living room, her stare flickers to the side and she recommends in a slightly calmer voice, "Bella, you'd better give him the baby, too. You'll need your arms free, anyway."

Jacob beams, triumphant, but I scarcely notice. Bella's eyes grow wide, flooding with terror, and her chest rises and falls rapidly as she breathes in short, frantic gasps. "Take her," she mouths so low that I can barely hear her, and passes Renesmee to Jacob mechanically, her gaze unfocused.

He nods, enfolding the little girl securely in the circle of his arms, lines appearing on his forehead as he watches Bella with concern. Gesturing to his pack, Jacob retreats to the far corner of the room by the windows and sinks cross-legged onto the hardwood floor. Seth copies his posture without delay - but Leah frowns, shaking her head, and grumbles to Jacob, "Am I allowed to leave?"

The she-wolf has always been ill at ease inside my family's home - or anywhere near a vampire, for that matter. She tolerates our proximity because of her link to Jacob, and because of her brother's friendship with me, though she finds it offensive. It might be better, I muse, if she were not present for Charlie's impending visit; her hands are still trembling with the compulsion to phase, and I have little patience for the girl since she verbally attacked my wife four days ago.

Jacob gives her a once-over - and I can tell from his expression that we are in agreement. "Of course," he replies.

Alice speaks up, chirping, "Stay east so you don't cross Charlie's path." I can't afford any more holes in my visions. We have to keep Charlie safe.

Leah acknowledges no one as she tromps out the door and vanishes into the underbrush, phasing into her wolf form as soon as she is out of sight.

Bella is gazing wide-eyed at something unseen, her body locked in place as though carved from ice, and air flows almost hysterically through her lungs.

I am at her side before another breath leaves her lips. Taking her face into my hands, I gently stroke her ghostly white cheeks with my thumbs, silently willing her to meet my eyes. When her crimson irises remain clouded with dread, I murmur to her soothingly, instilling as much conviction as I can muster into my words, "You can do this. I know you can." Please, love...look at me, I beg inwardly, and then I vow aloud, "I'll help you; we all will."

The panic-stricken haze in her eyes clears a little and she blinks, finally looking at me. Gazing relentlessly into her frightened stare, I continue to caress her face, assuring her in a soft, resolute tone, "If I didn't believe you could handle it, we'd disappear today. This very minute." My contingency plan - now rendered obsolete by the unspoken needs of the precious woman in front of me. Smiling a bit, I go on, declaring, "But you can. And you'll be happier if you can have Charlie in your life."

She holds her breath, concentrating on my eyes, and then exhales shakily. I listen to her breathe for several seconds, and note with some degree of relief that it is more steady than before.

There's only six minutes left until Charlie gets here, Edward, Alice distracts me. She needs to get ready.

I stifle a sigh and remove my hands from Bella's face, stepping to the side as Alice holds out one of the white boxes resting on her tiny palm. "These will irritate your eyes," she explains. "They won't hurt, but they'll cloud your vision. It's annoying." Her nose wrinkles at the memory of her own experience with contact lenses. "They also won't match your old color, but it's still better than bright red, right?" She flips the box into the air and Bella catches it deftly, glancing first at Alice, then at the white container in her hands.

"When did you -" She starts to asks, perplexed.

"Before you left on the honeymoon," Alice replies briskly, and shrugs. "I was prepared for several possible futures."
My sister had successfully hidden most of them from me - dampening her thoughts until they were practically nonexistent or drowning out the specifics with a ceaseless stream of Chinese poetry - but I had managed to glimpse one brief vision a week before the wedding.
Alice was up to her elbows in decorating themes, flower arrangements, and guest lists when it hit her. Flickering images of bleached white sand, blinding sunshine, turquoise water and palm trees confirmed to me where I was taking Bella for our honeymoon. Victorious, I had sailed into Esme's studio seconds later and asked if we could borrow her island for a few weeks.

Alice refused to speak to me for two days afterward, but eventually she admitted that her lapse had been helpful to the both of us.

Bella nods, absentminded, and opens the little box. Pulling out one set of contacts, she balances a tinted sphere on her fingertip and presses it into her right eye. Almost immediately, her face twists in discomfort, and she blinks involuntarily in rapid succession. "I see what you mean," she mumbles, and pops the other one into her left eye. After that, she looks at me, smiling slightly. "How do I look?"

Logically, I know that she is asking about the color of her eyes...but frankly, it matters very little to me if her eyes are bright red, chocolate brown, or pitch black. She will always be more beautiful than all the stars in the sky. So I tell her with an adoring smile, "Gorgeous. Of course -"

"Yes, yes, she always looks gorgeous," Alice interrupts snippily. Crossing her arms, she cocks her head to the side and studies Bella's face with critical intensity. "It's better than red, but that's the highest commendation I can give. Muddy brown. Your brown was much prettier." She skips forward and takes the box of contacts from Bella's hand, then she points a finger in her face, advising, "Keep in mind that those won't last forever - the venom in your eyes will dissolve them in a few hours. So if Charlie stays longer than that, you'll have to excuse yourself to replace them. Which is a good idea anyway, because humans need bathroom breaks." Alice shakes her head over the many frailties of the human race, and then spins on heel, glancing at the sofa as she flits past. "Esme, give her a few pointers on acting human while I stock the powder room with contacts."

"How long do I have?" My mother asks in her usual soft-spoken manner.

"Charlie will be here in five minutes," Alice calls from the main staircase. "Keep it simple."

Esme nods once and gracefully rises from the sofa, gliding over to take Bella's hand in both of hers. "The main thing is not to sit too still or move too fast," she says in a gentle tone, smiling encouragingly.

"Sit down if he does," Emmett butts in. Shrugging to himself, he adds, "Humans don't like to just stand there."

Then Jasper suggests, "Let your eyes wander every thirty seconds or so. Humans don't stare at one thing for too long."

Bella nods at each of my brothers, seeming to absorb their behavioral hints, while I glare at the two of them in irritation. The last thing Bella needs right now is to become overwhelmed with helpful tips as to how she should act around Charlie. Esme is completely at ease about the interruption - she simply holds Bella's hand, offering silent support through her kind gold eyes.

Not one to be left out, Rosalie puts in her two cents. "Cross your legs for about five minutes, then switch to crossing your ankles for the next five." Bella's dark head bobs in response.

"And blink at least three times a minute," Emmett remarks, and then looks around the room with a slight frown. It's too tense in here - Charlie will notice something's off. He darts to the opposite side of the living room, snatching the TV remote from the end table, and turns on the enormous screen. Flipping through the channels, he finds a college football game and leaves it on, nodding to himself in satisfaction.

In the meantime, Jasper says to Bella, "Move your hands, too. Brush your hair back or pretend to scratch something."

Alice dances back into the room, an annoyed scowl on her elfin face. "I said Esme," she complains. None of the others are feeling the least bit guilty for interrupting - if anything, they are certain that their words have been beneficial. "You'll overwhelm her," Alice scolds, and I nod at her in acquiescence.

"No," Bella disagrees, "I think I got it all." Then she recites, "Sit, look around, blink, fidget."

"Right." Esme wraps her arms around Bella's shoulders in a light hug, and in the tiniest part of a second before her face is hidden by my mother's caramel-colored hair, her composed expression fragments into one of palpable dread. But when Esme withdraws, the porcelain mask is once again in place.

Her eyes give her away, though. The glittering, now brown irises are darkened by anxiety, and darting in so many directions that she must be trying to stretch her new mind to its full capacity - concentrating on a number of things all at once so she will not fall into a state of panic.

Before I can offer my own reassurance, Jasper inserts with a frown, "You'll be holding your breath as much as possible, but you need to move your shoulders a little to make it look like you're breathing."

Bella inhales once, deeply, and nods. Setting her mouth into a firm line, she squares her shoulders and lifts her chin in determination. Her eyes are still reflecting a sort of wild fear, untamed and unfocused.

I circle her waist with an arm, pulling her to my side, and murmur softly into her ear, "You can do this."

"Two minutes," Alice announces, shooing Carlisle and Jasper off the sofa, and then she hurries over to Bella and I. "Maybe you should start out already on the couch," my sister recommends. "You've been sick, after all. That way he won't have to see you move right at first."

Grasping Bella's limp hands, she pulls her towards the sofa, and I let my arm slide from her waist. I have to stifle a chuckle when I see Bella attempt to move more slowly, overly exaggerating her footsteps to appear as though she is tired - or, more appropriately, like her old self: mortal and clumsy.

Actually, she looks like a dancer struggling to learn the complicated footwork of a new routine. It is incredibly endearing.

Alice rolls her eyes at her favorite sister's antics. Honestly...only Bella would find a way to make a vampire into comic relief, she gripes mentally, and deposits Bella in the center of the pale-colored sofa.

Once she is settled, Bella looks across the room to where the two wolves are remaining as inconspicuous as possible, and says quietly, "Jacob, I need Renesmee."

He frowns at her, shifting his hold on our daughter unconsciously, and Alice shakes her head in denial. "Bella, that doesn't help me see," she reminds her in a firm voice.

"But I need her." Desperation and panic leak into Bella's tone, and her eyes flicker rapidly from Alice to me to Renesmee, her breath hitching in her throat. "She keeps me calm," she adds, pleading.

Alice surrenders, groaning, "Fine. Hold her as still as you can and I'll try to see around her." She heaves a sigh and perches on the chair closest to the door, her lips turned down at the corners glumly.

Jacob sighs as well, and picks himself up from the floor. He heads for the sofa and carefully places Renesmee into Bella's waiting arms. Alice glowers ferociously at him when he lingers a few seconds longer than necessary - thus obscuring her vision of the future - and he quickly retreats back to the far corner beside Seth.

In a few quick movements, I fill the space on Bella's right side. Mother and daughter look on curiously as I put one arm around my wife's shoulders and rest the other on top of her hold around Renesmee. Leaning forward, I meet my daughter's eyes seriously - and as I expected, Renesmee perceives a difference in my gaze and stares back, unblinking and attentive.

"Renesmee," I murmur her name in a quiet, solemn voice, "someone special is coming to see you and your mother." Interest sparks inside her mind, but her tiny face is composed into an expression that would be more appropriate on a mature adult as she waits for me to continue. "But he's not like us, or even like Jacob," I tell her. "We have to be very careful with him. You shouldn't tell him things the way you tell us."

Renesmee presses her palm to the edge of my jaw, envisioning the motion with childlike inquisitiveness.

"Exactly," I confirm, nodding once. "And he's going to make you thirsty." I let my eyes widen a bit in significance, cautioning her gravely, "But you mustn't bite him. He won't heal like Jacob."

Bella's breath caresses my cheek while she whispers, puzzled, "Can she understand you?"

"She understands," I reply, not breaking eye contact with the little girl. She comprehends far more than anyone expects or imagines from one so young to this world. "You'll be careful, won't you, Renesmee?" I ask, lifting my forefinger to trace the spiral shape of a bronze-colored curl tickling Renesmee's flushed cheek. "You'll help us?"

She touches my face again. An image of Jacob wincing painfully as she sinks her sharp, perfect teeth into the flesh on his broad shoulder fills my head, accompanied by an unspoken question.

I smile at her lightly, assuring, "No, I don't care if you bite Jacob. That's fine." As of right now, I would not care in the slightest if Renesmee decided to decorate the dog's skin with tiny crescent-shaped bite marks. But I would never let her drain him dry; his blood is certainly not a source of good nutrition.

Jacob chuckles, perversely delighted with Renesmee's preference for him as her personal plaything, and I shoot a deadly glare to where he lounges in the far corner like a disobedient pet. Icy resentment coats my words as I growl, "Maybe you should leave, Jacob."
Bella may have forgiven him for his stupidity in involving Charlie with our family again, but I have not. Regardless of whether or not she can control herself, the venom will still scorch her throat when she smells her father's blood, and I cannot tolerate anything that causes my Bella to feel pain.

Jacob remains completely nonchalant, waving a large brown hand lazily as he remarks, "I told Charlie I'd be here. He needs the moral support."

My lips twist in contempt. "Moral support," I scoff, and the itch in my fingers returns, provoking me to throttle him. I lean further into Bella and tighten my hold around her shoulders. There has been far too much rash behavior this morning, and I am not about to add to it. "As far as Charlie knows, you're the most repulsive monster of us all," I retort derisively.

"Repulsive?" he objects - and then, ridiculously, sniggers under his breath. You really are not a dog person, are you? he jokes mentally, his good humor almost impossible to shatter, and I block him with a simple act of concentration.

The tension in the room spikes dramatically as the soft crunch of damp earth under a set of tires echoes from the long drive to the house. Bella starts to breathe rapidly again - a speed that would constitute hyperventilating in a human - and Jasper strives to create a more peaceful atmosphere while battling so many different focal points of anxiety.

Quite suddenly, Bella pulls Renesmee closer to her chest and lays her cheek on the crown of our daughter's head, an intense gleam in her dark eyes. I study her expression, wondering what she is doing, for it seems like she is listening to something - and whatever it is, it has a remarkable calming effect. Her gasping slows, and a look of relief briefly crosses her troubled face.

Jasper picks up on the change in her emotions and voices his approval in a low whisper. "Well done, Bella."

I tighten my arm around her, adding my own wordless praise, and she lifts her head to see my eyes. Lingering traces of panic and uncertainty darken her gaze, and she searches my face as she asks, "You're sure?"

"Positive," I answer with a gentle smile. "You can do anything." Bending over that last little bit of space between us, I press my lips to hers.
My intention had been to administer a quick kiss to boost her self-assurance...but I grossly underestimated our combined restraint.

The instant that the soft feel of her mouth on mine, the taste of her on my tongue registers, every nerve in my body explodes with undeniable craving. It is more potent that the instinct to hunt for blood. My hand travels up her shoulder to her neck, my palm cupping the hollow beneath her ear while my fingers thread into her silky brown hair. Her arms shift minutely under mine, like she wants to return my embrace - and then appear to lock in place on her lap. In a fleeting moment of clarity, I remember whom she is already holding in her arms: our precious baby.

I try half-heartedly to break off, but Bella will have none of it. She follows my backward motion, the tip of her tongue running over my lower lip, and I cease my efforts to withdraw.

Riotous laughter that sounds suspiciously like Emmett reverberates inside my skull, and Jasper speaks up, his tone a mixture of suppressed mirth and exasperation, "Er, Edward, you might not want to distract her like that right now." I feel inclined to add the word ‘please'. Save it for later. "She needs to be able to focus," he concludes firmly.

I augment my deteriorating willpower and pull away, grinning sheepishly. "Oops."

Bella laughs, the delightful sound tickling my ears, and there is no doubt in my mind as to what she is thinking, for the memory now fills my awareness as well. Our very first kiss, surrounded by a lush blanket of springy green ferns, the trees of the forest singing around us...

How far we've come, I marvel inwardly.

Making promises with her smoldering eyes, Bella says to me in a soft murmur, "Later."

I swear my cold, silent heart leaps within my ribcage in response to that one word, and the electricity crackling between our bodies shocks the muscles in the pit of my stomach, knotting them into a tight ball.

"Focus, Bella," Jasper insists. You too, Edward, he berates me in his thoughts. I expect the lack of self-control from her - not from you.

Looking over at him, I shrug just noticeably, unapologetic. The way I see it, Bella and I are exacting a sort of poetic justice on the members of our family. For over ninety years I have had to endure their thoughts, every loving glance, each tender caress, and I did so without a qualm - for the most part. Now it is their turn to display some tolerance.

But we do need to focus. Charlie is nearly to the house.

Bella understands the gravity of the situation more than anyone else. Nodding to herself, she inhales deeply and says, "Right." Except her gaze skitters sideways, tracing over my features, my skin warming under the sensation...

"Bella," my brother scolds.

She jumps a little, averting her eyes, and flinches in embarrassment. "Sorry, Jasper."

Emmett laughs. This is gonna be fun, he thinks, smirking wickedly.

The steady thrum of an engine looms ever closer. Everyone grows still, looking out the windows. Bella crosses and uncrosses her legs, practicing how to act human. Renesmee fiddles with a strand of her mother's hair, though her brown eyes keep flashing up to me and around the room as she reacts to the nervous tension hovering above us despite Jasper's attempts to dampen it.

All of us listen to the cruiser pulling in front of the house - the engine idling for a few seconds before being turned off - and then a door slams. Charlie's thoughts are partially obscured from my gift, which has always been the case, but I have no trouble interpreting the snarls of stress, betrayal, and justifiable anger permeating his mind.

Bella's father stomps across the lawn, up the wooden stairs, and along the porch to the front door. He stops, taking two deep breaths, and his jacket rustles softly as he raises his fist, rapping his knuckles on the door.

Bella inhales slowly, preparing to hold her breath. Renesmee huddles in her arms, hiding her face in Bella's dark tresses, and I lay my hand on her soft ringlets comfortingly.

I'll get it, Carlisle volunteers, and walks to the door, transforming the frozen edginess on his face to resemble a smile of welcome. Opening the door, my father inclines his head, the gesture believably abashed, and greets our visitor. "Hello, Charlie."

Through Carlisle's eyes, I observe the stern frown on Charlie's face and the tightening around his dark eyes. "Carlisle," he says, nodding curtly. Not one to beat around the bush, he then demands, "Where's Bella?" Fierce worry saturates his half-visible thoughts as he says his only child's name.

"Right here, Dad," she calls, and grimaces at the obvious musical timbre of her new voice. She breathes in again quickly, replenishing the air in her lungs so she can speak.

Carlisle steps aside, allowing Charlie a full view of the living room, and the blank look on his face remains until he spots Bella next to me on the sofa. Eyes widening, his every emotion covers his worn features even as they scream through his mind and broadcast with perfect transparency to Jasper.

Shock over her new, flawless face gives way to disbelief that she is indeed his daughter and not some look-alike stranger. A pained wince contorts his mouth when something in her clear-eyed stare affirms her identity, and the corners of his eyes crinkle with a wrenching stab of loss.

In that split second of time, I receive an amazingly vivid image from Charlie's mind - the first ever, as I recall. The image is of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, brown hair swirling around her slender shoulders, her cheeks flushed, and she smiles fondly. Her mouth moves, forming words that I cannot hear, but I am fairly apt at lip reading. "I'm really glad I came to live with you, Dad. It was the best idea I ever had."

Charlie's expression clouds with pain, his glare blazes with anger, and the surprising doorway into his mind closes abruptly, leaving me with conflicted feelings.

Bella bites her lower lip, her gaze locked on her father's immobile figure, and waits for him to speak.

"Is that you, Bella?" Charlie whispers, hesitant and aggrieved.

"Yep." She cringes again, though not as obviously, at the sound of her chiming tone. "Hi, Dad."

He takes in a deep, slow breath, trying to steady himself. Jacob waves cheerily from the far side of the room, calling out, "Hey, Charlie. How're things?" He grins widely, black eyes glittering.

Charlie scowls in Jacob's direction - and then shudders, remembering what had happened in the woods. Looking away swiftly, he returns his shocked stare to Bella and walks into the house.

He does not stop until he is less than three feet from us. He fixes me with a brief, accusing glower, which has been a standard between us since I returned with Bella from Italy - though he had made his best effort to avoid that reaction when it became apparent that I would be his son-in-law - and then looks back at Bella. "Bella?" he asks again, as though repeating it will help him to believe.

Her expression is gentle, almost conciliatory. "It's really me," she replies quietly. Charlie clenches his teeth, his jaw muscles bunching. "I'm sorry, Dad," Bella offers, genuinely apologetic.

"Are you okay?" he demands. The first question out of any parent's mouth after a child's unexpected absence. I realize at that moment that Charlie had believed Jacob's claim that Bella was all right - he only wanted to determine it with his own eyes, to save his crumbling sanity.

Bella bobs her head, promising, "Really and truly great. Healthy as a horse." She gives him a tight-lipped smile, careful not to show her brilliant white teeth.

I chance a glance at her from the corner of my eye, worrying inwardly. She has to be out of air by now - which means that she will have to breathe, though the entire room is rapidly becoming infused with the scent and warmth of Charlie's blood.

"Jake told me this was...necessary," Charlie grounds out the word with deep skepticism, running his eyes meaningfully up and down her seated form. "That you were dying."

Bella tenses under my arm. Her hold around Renesmee constricts, and she leans into my chest for support. Then, she inhales a deep breath.

The barely concealed flinch of agony distorts her pale, lovely face, and the brown contacts do nothing to disguise the sudden gleam of excitement in her eyes. But that emotion fades an instant later, batted aside by an ironclad resolve. I hug her shoulders, empathizing with her inner struggle more than she will ever know, and Jacob gives her a remorseful look from across the room, apologizing again with his thoughts.

Bella looks down, her small hands fisting around our daughter, and when she glances up at Charlie, she is herself again. "Jacob was telling you the truth," she replies evenly.

Charlie crosses his arms, a deep frown etching lines on his face. "That makes one of you," he retorts. Bella's expression falls, crumpling with guilt. Renesmee abruptly sniffs, becoming aware of Charlie's scent in the closed-off area, and Bella glances down at her anxiously, her arms tightening in response. Charlie notices his daughter's momentary distraction, and looks directly at the baby in Bella's lap for the first time since he arrived. "Oh," he breathes, surprised. "This is her. The orphan Jacob said you're adopting."

I speak up, laying the foundation for the cover story I had come up with for such a scenario. "My niece," I lie with ease. It is more straightforward to claim that Renesmee and I are related; the resemblance between us is too prominent to simply disregard. My only misgiving is if Charlie looks at her full in the face, because it will become glaringly apparent to him that the little girl has Bella's bright chocolate brown eyes - eyes whose deep color she had inherited from him.

Charlie blinks at me, stunned, but he recovers quickly. "I thought you'd lost your family," he counters suspiciously, the accusation returning to his stare.

"I lost my parents," I tell him, my voice smooth and inoffensive. Decades of practicing deceit come into play as I relay my fabricated tale. "My older brother was adopted, like me. I never saw him after that. But the courts located me when he and his wife died in a car accident, leaving their only child without any other family."

Damn, kid... Emmett commends me inside his head. If I didn't know better, I'd believe you.

My brother is remarkably susceptible to falsehood - the price for his unshakable loyalty - but I appreciate the vote of confidence, nonetheless.

I can sense Bella's eyes on my face, and I scrutinize her expression through my mother's thoughts. She appears politely attentive, though I can easily read the amazed admiration in her gaze. I am confident that Charlie will not be able to determine that I am lying by looking at his daughter.

Renesmee peeks out shyly from Bella's hair, sniffing again. Peering up at Charlie through lowered eyelashes, she meets his gaze for half a second before hiding her face once more.

Charlie seems staggered. I wonder absently if that was how we all looked upon our first glimpse of Renesmee. "She's..." He clears his throat. "She's, well, she's a beauty."

I agree wholeheartedly, "Yes."

"Kind of a big responsibility, though," he remarks, eyes flickering from me to Bella and back again.
I get the impression that he is trying to find out if I persuaded my wife to take up the role of motherhood without her consent. I have to smother a chuckle, pressing my lips together tightly. It was the other way around, by my reckoning. Bella was the one who had done the persuading for us to become parents, though Charlie would probably never believe that. In his eyes, I am the undeserving wretch who won his daughter's love, broke her heart, and then begged for another chance - which she granted, because her love is constant.

I cannot argue with his logic.

"You two are just getting started," he goes on suggestively, hoping to draw out some sort of response that will help him make sense of his day so far.

"What else could we do?" I frame the rhetorical question, looking away from him to brush my fingertips along Renesmee's cheek. The one eye I can see watches my face from under strands of dark hair. She is thinking about the appetizing smell coming from our visitor, thirst prickling the back of her throat, and I touch her puckered lips for a second, reminding her of my earlier words.

Diverting my attention back to Charlie, I glance up at him, inquiring with just the right amount of innocence, "Would you have refused her?"

"Hmph." He shuffles his feet, irked that I have successfully deflected his poorly crafted verbal trap. I feel no satisfaction though; honestly, I do not like the necessity of misleading this man, for he is as much a part of my family as my parents or any of my siblings - even more so, since he is my wife's father and my daughter's grandfather.

"Well." Charlie shakes his head, determined to move on in the conversation, and clears his throat again. "Jake says you call her Nessie?"

"No, we don't," Bella contradicts sharply, frowning. "Her name is Renesmee."

He glances up from Renesmee's gleaming bronze curls to meet Bella's eyes. "How do you feel about this?" he asks bluntly. I have to admire Charlie's forthright manner - it reminds me of his daughter.

"Maybe Carlisle and Esme could -" he starts to propose.

Bella's heart-shaped face glows with a fervent light, and her eyes burn like twin stars as she cuts her father off in mid-sentence. "She's mine. I want her."

Charlie frowns at her, a ripple of confusion flowing through his mind. Then he asks, grim-faced, "You gonna make me a grandpa so young?" A bushy black eyebrow arches ever so slightly over one dark eye.

"Carlisle is a grandfather, too," I point out with a smile.

Throwing an incredulous glance at my father, Charlie snorts to himself and then laughs, the sound a bit shaky. "I guess that does sort of make me feel better," he admits. As though magnetically drawn, his eyes wander back to Renesmee. "She sure is something to look at," he murmurs softly, leaning forward a few inches to get a better glimpse. His warm exhale fills the air in front of us, and Bella stiffens against my side.

Renesmee wriggles in Bella's arms, sniffing once, and raises her head. Turning sideways, she tilts her small, angelic face upward - looking at Charlie straight on with open fascination.

For one infinite second, Charlie's mind is totally blank. His wide-eyed stare connects with Renesmee's curious gaze and he gasps, immediately noticing her uncanny likeness to Bella, as I had predicted.

His heart begins to pound out a disjointed, too-fast rhythm, and his breath comes and goes rapidly, making all of us worry for his health. Lips trembling, he counts silently backwards, mouthing the numbers - but there is no way that a normal nine-month human pregnancy can fit into four weeks.

His thoughts are even more chaotic than his heartbeat. The half-hidden notions are a tangle of emotion, pouring into one another like a whirlpool inside his skull.

Bella watches him with fearful concern, shooting a wild, pleading glance at Jasper...but my brother is already doing all he can without physically touching Charlie to keep his emotional state from imploding.

In that instant, Jacob stands up and trots briskly across the room, his bare feet thudding soundlessly on the hardwood floor. Patting Charlie on the back - he jumps a little at the gesture - Jacob bends over and whispers in a soothing voice, "Need to know, Charlie. It's okay. I promise."

Charlie swallows hard, his Adam's apple bobbing spastically against the exposed skin of his throat, and he nods once. Dazed eyes blink several times and refocus on me - and Charlie's entire demeanor alters in the span of one heartbeat. A thundercloud of anger gathers over his face, his brown irises flash beneath a lowered brow, and he takes one step closer to the sofa, clenching his fists at his sides until the knuckles whiten with the strain.

"I don't want to know everything," he growls, increasing in volume with every word, "but I'm done with the lies!" His chest expands as he heaves a deep breath, glaring down at me in what he perceives to be a threatening manner. And perhaps it would be - to an average young man facing down the righteous fury of his fiercely protective father-in-law. But I am far from average.

Meeting his blazing stare with a calm, level gaze, I reply sincerely, "I'm sorry, but you need to know the public story more than you need to know the truth. If you're going to be part of this secret, the public story is the one that counts." Then I play my trump card - appealing to his unwavering devotion to Bella's safety and wellbeing. "It's to protect Bella and Renesmee as well as the rest of us. Can you go along with the lies for them?"

The room is deathly quiet, every eye fixed on Charlie as he analyzes my response and the evidence before him in his head. No one moves, and those who find it unnecessary to breathe remain frozen in place - except for Bella, who crosses her ankles.

After an unbearably tense minute, Charlie huffs grumpily, and his hands relax from their tight fists. His glare shifts to the side, but loses some of its burning intensity as he complains to Bella, "You might've given me some warning, kid."

"Would it really have made this any easier?" she counters gently.

His eyebrows come together, creating deep furrows on his forehead, and then he crouches down in front of his daughter, bringing himself eye-to-eye with Renesmee. She smiles her dazzling smile and reaches out to him with a tiny hand. Bella reacts instantly, pulling her further into her chest and away from Charlie. Scowling in frustration, Renesmee presses her other hand to her mother's neck, showing her Charlie's face and coloring it with thirst and curiosity. There is a sharpness to the little girl's shared thought, indicating that she fully intends to obey my instructions - she only wants Bella to know that although she is thirsty, she understands that Charlie is strictly off-limits.

Charlie is staring open-mouthed at Renesmee's perfect, gleaming teeth. "Whoa," he gasps. "How old is she?"

"Um..." Bella stalls nervously.

I rescue her by answering, "Three months. Rather," I explain slowly, studying Charlie's expression while I speak, "she's the size of a three-month-old, more or less. She's younger in some ways, more mature in others."

Renesmee moves her outstretched hand in a deliberate wave, still smiling radiantly. Charlie blinks, his eyelids fluttering madly as though trying to awaken from a dream as he stares at his granddaughter.

Grinning in triumph, Jacob elbows him playfully in the ribs, teasing, "Told you she was special, didn't I?" When Charlie shies away from the contact, he groans, rolling his eyes like an exasperated teen. "Oh, c'mon, Charlie. I'm the same person I've always been. Just pretend this afternoon didn't happen," he suggests, his grin slanting into a lopsided smirk.

Charlie pales, the whites of his eyes standing out in clear contrast while he looks over at Jacob, but then he appears to brace himself and dips his head in a terse nod. A flicker of puzzlement crosses his features as he watches Jacob's attention drift to Renesmee. Maybe he is wondering why the young man's entire countenance glows with profound adoration while gazing at Bella's daughter - but he dispels that assumption a moment later by asking, "Just what is your part in all this, Jake? How much does Billy know?" Charlie's eyes narrow the tiniest bit in suspicion. "Why are you here?"

"Well," Jacob tears his eyes away from Renesmee and raises an eyebrow at Charlie. "I could tell you all about it - Billy knows absolutely everything - but it involves a lot of stuff about werewo-"

Screwing his eyes shut, Charlie presses his hands over his ears. "Ungh! Never mind," he mutters.

Jacob beams at him. "Everything's going to be great, Charlie." Tossing the older man a wink, he advises, "Just try to not believe anything you see."

Charlie mumbles something under his breath, almost too low for vampire hearing to catch, but it sounds suspiciously like, "No problem on that end..."

Cut the poor guy a break, already. Emmett suddenly lets out a celebratory roar, pointing at the glowing television screen. "Woo!" He claps his large hands twice, the loud noise echoing off the rafters, and shouts, "Go Gators!"

The two wolves and the human jump like startled rabbits - Charlie manages to keep his balance by putting his palm on Bella's knee and she automatically holds her breath - and the vampires turn into frozen marble sculptures, apart from my foolhardy brother of course.

Salvaging some semblance of normalcy, Charlie glances at Emmett over his shoulder and asks, his voice a bit hoarse, "Florida winning?"

"Just scored the first touchdown," Emmett declares with a satisfied smirk. He casts a brief, conspiratorial look at Bella and waggles his eyebrows. "'Bout time somebody scored around here," he insinuates, his ocher eyes twinkling with mischief.

Bella goes rigid against me, and her full lips curl over her teeth in a snarl before she clamps them tightly together, controlling her temper. The slightest vibration of a growl reverberates throughout her slender form, however, and I rub her shoulder gently with my hand while glaring blackly at Emmett.

Fortunately, Charlie seems oblivious to the exchange. He sucks in another long, slow breath, inflating his lungs nearly to their fullest capacity, and staggers upright. Brushing past Jacob, the police chief of Forks trips over to an open chair in front of the TV and virtually collapses into it, sighing. "Well," he remarks, almost wearily, "I guess we should see if they can hold on to the lead."

Emmett snickers quietly and turns up the volume. Carlisle and Esme share a bemused look. Jasper peers across the room at Alice, arching an eyebrow in question, and she shrugs her tiny shoulders. Rosalie saunters over to her husband's chair and settles on the armrest, her fingers playing absently with his hair while she stares unfocused at the game. Renesmee rotates in Bella's lap until she has an uninterrupted view of the entire room, her keen eyes flashing from Charlie, to Jacob, to the others as she twines a section of her mother's brown locks around her fingers.

Bella and I look at each other in unison. The skin around her eyes is tight; she still worries that she will give us away - forget to act human or have a momentary lapse in self-control.

I lift my hand to stroke her cheek with the backs of my fingers. She doubts herself far too much. Newborn vampire or not, Bella would never consciously do anything to hurt Charlie - and I trust her as surely as I trust that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

She lays her head down on my shoulder, exhaling softly. Resting my chin on the crown of her head, I meet my sister's golden stare and mouth, my lips vibrating with the quick words, "How long will he stay?"

I don't know yet, Alice answers mentally, her thoughts uneasy. It's not decided.

I tilt my head to the side, measuring Charlie's slouched figure with my eyes. His thoughts are muted once again, but I can discern a vague sense of...relief...covering his mind. There is also the grit of stubbornness in his emotional state that Jasper interprets as his intent to remain here for as long as possible.

I sigh, a silent puff of air between my lips, and lay my cheek against Bella's silky, floral-scented hair.

It was going to be an interesting day.