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Umbra (one-shot)

Summary:
Bella knows her destiny has always been to become a vampire, joined with Edward for eternity. Edward, cherishing his mate’s humanity, has long fought against the inevitable. Reunited, they are learning to become a stronger couple. Will they learn to overcome the dark thoughts and doubts that plague them? Eclipse chapter one rewritten.


Notes:
Disclaimer: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse © Stephenie Meyer. Stephenie Meyer owns the characters from her series. Eclipse, through Edward's Eyes © P.A. Lassiter. My EPOV is inspired by P.A.'s Edward. Used with permission. Author's Note: I took Eclipse as originally written by Stephenie Meyer and "rewrote" it, so the dialogue is the same in some places. This is just the first chapter of Eclipse rewritten and published as a one-shot, but I intend to extend into a complete Eclipse AU story eventually (when I have time to write more). At that time, I'll publish it separately. I also want to thank my pre-readers (bexie25, Bubbleybear, sherryola, & Team Edward Rules All) for their helpful words and encouragement while I was writing this.


1. Chapter 1

Rating 5/5   Word Count 9187   Review this Chapter

BPOV

I glared at the note in my hand, filled with Jacob's scribbles and crossed lines. I'd sent him a note earlier, through Charlie and then Billy, pleading for some kind of answer since he'd refused to answer my calls, and this was his response. It highlighted how extremely immature he was. I was reminded once again that he was two years younger than I am, despite looking so much older due to his werewolf genes.

I mean, I can understand not knowing exactly what to write and crossing things out as you change your mind, but common courtesy dictates that once you figure it out, you write it on a separate sheet of paper. Obviously, Jacob never learned that. That, or he just didn't care. Either way, it was an extremely childish response on his part.

Does this mean our friendship is over? He said he missed me, but that obviously wasn't enough for him to actually talk to me. It really seems like he didn't care anymore, not enough anyway. Nothing had really been the same with him since he'd first joined the pack. He'd changed so much, the physical changes being the least significant of them.

I sighed internally. I knew I was clinging to something that just wasn't there anymore. I guess the time had come for me break ties with Jacob and the pack. I'd already chosen my side—the vampires—and the wolves knew that, too. I had trouble seeing them as two sides—vampires and werewolves—though; to me, they were just my family (the Cullens) and my friends (the La Push pack).

I owed the wolves a lot, Jacob especially: for helping me recover somewhat while Edward was gone, protecting Charlie and me from Victoria, and saving me from drowning after that stupid cliff dive. Still, there was only so much I could do to repay their help, especially if they wanted nothing to do with me. And maybe breaking ties would be the best way to pay them back, reducing their exposure to vampires, and vampire scent.

With the Cullens back, it was always possible more boys would become wolves—especially if they were physically exposed to vampires, and as far as I knew just the vampires' scent would be enough—and I knew the pack didn't want that to happen. Graduation was in a couple months and then we could all leave without generating too much suspicion.

Also, I knew Jacob wanted more than just friendship, and that was something I could never give him. No matter how many times I tried to deter him and let him know that I could never love him as more than a brother, he still persisted. Maybe that's also why he's avoiding me now, I mused.

Yes, breaking ties completely now would probably be best. No matter how much the idea chafed now, it would be better for everyone involved in the future.

While I was pondering this, I caught the unmistakable scent of a smoking burner rising from the kitchen. In another house, the fact that someone besides myself was cooking wouldn't necessarily be worrisome. Both of my parents, however, were disastrous when it came to cooking, just in different ways. Even the vampires could cook better than Charlie and Renée!

I quickly balled up the already-wrinkled paper and unceremoniously tossed it into my trashcan before sprinting down the stairs, miraculously maintaining my balance, and quickly inspected the kitchen.

"What did I do wrong?" Charlie demanded.

I looked in the pan on the stove—the source of the smell that had alerted me. "Stirring helps," I explained calmly. I found a spoon and tried to de-clump the mushy hunk of noodles that was scalded to the bottom. I then turned to the spaghetti sauce cooking on a separate burner, checking it thoroughly as well.

Charlie sighed.

Why on earth was Charlie cooking? On the rare occasions he chose to relieve me from cooking duty, he usually ended up ordering a pizza.

"So what's all this about?" I asked him.

He folded his arms across his chest and glared out the back windows into the sheeting rain. "Don't know what you're talking about," he grumbled.

I stared at my father, frustrated with his churlish attitude as of late, though I was also bewildered by his current display. My dad usually reserved this kind of behavior for when my boyfriend was around, doing his best to elucidate the fact that he disliked Edward and did not approve of us together. It was unnecessary though—Edward knew exactly what my dad was thinking without the show.

I considered the word boyfriend while I stirred. It wasn't the right word, not at all. I needed something more indicative of eternal commitment... But words like destiny and fate sounded hokey when used in every day conversation. There was also the word mate, which I'd heard a few times before to refer to vampire couples, but that wasn't a typical word to use regularly either, especially around my father.

Edward had another word in mind—fiancée—and that word had me feeling apprehensive, yet also somewhat hopeful at the same time. I chewed at my lip, considering the word and all the implications that went with it.

On the one hand, I am a child from a failed marriage. I knew, intellectually, that this experience skewed my perspective—negatively—against marriage in general. This was the source of the apprehension I felt whenever I considered what Edward desired.

On the other hand, I am an avid reader of classical romances and my boyfriend was born in an era very similar to my favorite novels. He was raised in a time where marriage was viewed very differently than now. Divorce was practically unheard of when Edward was human. I know I'd barely scratched the surface in learning everything I needed to know about vampires—mostly due to my boyfriend's reticence to discuss anything about his species with me—but I had learned that what was important to them when they were human remained important to them after they were changed.

Ugh. I shook the conflicting thoughts from my head. There was so much to consider, but now was definitely not the time.

"Did I miss something? Since when do you make dinner?" I asked Charlie. The pasta lump bobbed in the boiling water as I poked it. "Or try to make dinner, I should say."

Charlie shrugged. "There's no law that says I can't cook in my own house."

"You would know," I replied, grinning at him, jokingly referring to his job as Forks' Chief of Police.

"Ha. Good one."

We lapsed into silence once again and I prodded the noodles, guessing that Charlie would get around to talking about whatever was bothering him in his own time. My dad was not a man of many words, and the effort he had put into trying to arrange a sit-down dinner with me made it clear there were an atypical number of words on his mind.

I glanced at the clock impatiently—something I did every few minutes around this time. Less than a half hour to go now.

Afternoons were the hardest part of my day. I'd been grounded as a punishment since my return from Volterra (not that Charlie knew where I'd been). The punishment had been escalated ever since Jacob had tattled on me about the motorcycle I'd been riding in secret. Since then, Edward had been allowed to see me only from seven ‘til nine-thirty p.m., always inside the confines of my home and under my dad's unswerving glower, although he thankfully retreated to his TV soon after Edward's arrival, giving us at least a modicum of privacy.

Of course, I still saw Edward at school, because there wasn't anything Charlie could do to stop that. Edward also spent almost every night in my room, too, but Charlie definitely wasn't aware of that. Edward's ability to climb through my second-story window was almost as useful as his ability to read Charlie's mind, even if his telepathy was somewhat hampered in regards to Charlie.

Though the afternoon was the only time I spent away from Edward, it was enough to leave me agitated—echoes of the hole in my chest caused by our long separation reappearing—and the hours always crawled by. Still, I endured my punishment without complaining because—for one thing—I knew I'd earned it, and—for another—because I wasn't ready to move out quite yet. I wasn't exactly close to Charlie, but in a couple months we'd be leaving, probably forever. I could put up with being grounded for the time being.

My dad sat down at the table with a grunt and unfolded the damp newspaper there; within seconds, he was muttering in disapproval.

"I don't know why you read the news, Dad. It only ticks you off."

He ignored me, grumbling at the paper in his hands. "This is why everyone wants to live in a small town! Ridiculous."

"What have big cities done wrong now?"

"Seattle's making a run for murder capital of the country. Five unsolved homicides in the last two weeks. Can you imagine living like that?"

"I think Phoenix is actually higher up the homicide list, Dad. I have lived like that." And I'd never come close to being a murder victim until after I moved to his safe little town. In fact, I was still on several hit lists... The spoon shook in my hands, making the water tremble.

"Well, you couldn't pay me enough," Charlie retorted.

I gave up on saving dinner and settled for serving it. We ate in silence for a moment. Charlie was still scanning the news, so I picked up my copy of Persuasion from where I'd left it this morning at breakfast, and tried to lose myself in turn-of-the-century England while I waited for him to start talking. I was just to the part where Wentworth visits his brother officers in Lyme when Charlie cleared his throat and threw the paper to the floor.

"You're right," Charlie said. "I did have a reason for doing this." He waved his fork at the gluey spread. "I wanted to talk to you."

I lay the book aside, marking my place carefully. "You could have just asked."

He nodded, his eyebrows pulling together. "Yeah. I'll remember that next time. I thought taking dinner off your hands would soften you up."

I sighed, shaking my head and giving him a gentle smile. "What do you need, Dad?"

"Well, it's about Jacob."

I felt my face harden. "What about him?" I asked through my clenched jaw.

"Easy, Bells. I know you're still upset that he told on you, but it was the right thing. He was being responsible."

"Responsible," I repeated scathingly, rolling my eyes. "You do realize that he's the one who rebuilt that motorcycle, don't you? And he's also the one who taught me how to drive it in the first place."

"What?!" Charlie retorted angrily. "Why haven't you said anything before?"

"Why?" I asked incredulously, "I'll tell you why. One: I didn't see why I should tattle on him like he did me—I'm better than that—and two: you would never have listened to me then, even if I had tried to tell you. Besides, I figured it was common sense. From whom else would I get a rebuilt motorcycle and learn how to drive it? Now, getting back to your reason for this—" I gestured to the sorry excuse for spaghetti he'd made "—what did you want to say about Jacob?"

Charlie, who'd calmed and looked to be deep in thought, didn't respond to me. "Dad?" I prompted again.

With a startled expression, Charlie shook his head before speaking again. "What? Oh, right." His face was suddenly wary. "Don't get mad at me, okay?"

"Mad?"

"Well, it's about Edward, too."

My eyes narrowed.

Charlie's voice got gruffer. "I let him in the house, don't I?"

"You do," I admitted, "for brief periods of time. Of course, you might let me out of the house for brief periods now and then, too," I continued, though not seriously; I knew I was grounded for the foreseeable future. "I've been pretty good lately."

"Well, that's kind of where I was heading with this..." And then Charlie's face stretched into an unexpected eye-crinkling grin; for a second, he looked twenty years younger.

I saw a dim glimmer of possibility in that smile, but I proceeded slowly. "I'm confused, Dad. Are we talking about Jacob, or Edward, or me being grounded?"

The grin flashed again. "Sort of all three, except maybe not Jacob so much anymore." He huffed the last part about Jacob under his breath.

"And how do they relate?" I asked, cautious, ignoring the last comment.

"Okay." He sighed, raising his hands as if in surrender. "So I'm thinking maybe you deserve a parole for good behavior. For a teenager, you're amazingly non-whiney."

My voice and eyebrows shot up. "Seriously? I'm free?"

Where was this coming from? I'd been positive I would be under house arrest until I actually moved out, and Edward hadn't picked up any wavering in Charlie's thoughts...

Charlie held up one finger. "Conditionally."

The enthusiasm vanished. "Fantastic," I groaned.

"Bella, this is more of a request than a demand, okay? You're free. But I'm hoping you'll use that freedom... wisely."

"What does that mean?"

He sighed again. "I know you're satisfied to spend all of your time with Edward—"

"I spend time with Alice, too," I interjected. Edward's sister had no hours of visitation; she came and went as she pleased, adeptly bending Charlie to her will. If only her will could improve his attitude regarding my boyfriend.

"That's true," he said. "But you have other friends besides the Cullens, Bella. Or you used to." We stared at each other for a long moment.

"When was the last time you spoke to Angela Weber?" he threw at me.

"Friday at lunch," I answered immediately. Despite the natural aversion most humans felt toward the Cullens, Angela sat with us each day at lunch.

Angela and her boyfriend, Ben Cheney, were the only ones of my old school friends I could still consider friends. Real friends are people who support you through the bad as well as the good. That firmly removed Jessica Stanley from my potential friends' list. I could technically still consider Mike Newton as one of my friends, except he had the same problem as Jacob: he wants more than friendship, which he will never have with me. Subsequently, he'd become rather antagonistic since Edward's return. Angela, however, remained steadfast, and Ben followed her example.

"Outside of school?" Charlie asked, calling my attention back.

"I haven't seen anyone outside of school, Dad. Grounded, remember? And Angela has a boyfriend, too. She's always with Ben. If I'm really free," I added with skepticism, "maybe we could double."

"Okay."

"Can you get to the point, Dad? What's your condition—exactly?"

"I don't think you should dump all your other friends for your boyfriend, Bella," he said in a stern voice. "It's not nice, and I think your life would be better balanced if you kept some other people in it. What happened last September..."

I flinched.

"Well," he said defensively, "If you'd had more of a life outside of Edward Cullen, it might not have been like that."

"It would have been exactly like that," I muttered.

"Maybe, maybe not."

"The point?" I reminded him.

"Use your new freedom to see your other friends, too. Keep it balanced."

I nodded slowly. "Balance is good." No need to inform him just how short my list of other friends are. "Do I have specific time quotas to fill, though?"

He grimaced and shook his head. "I don't want to make this complicated. Just don't forget your friends..."

I sighed internally. I would never be able to see my friends again after graduation. What was the best option? Spend time with them while I could? Or start the separation now to make it more gradual?

While I'd just decided the second option was best in regards to Jacob and the La Push werewolf pack—probably for Mike, too—I was leaning toward the first option in regards to Angela, my lone real school friend. I knew that high school friends rarely kept contact with each other beyond e-mail and social media sites, so it shouldn't seem that unusual when I didn't keep contact with anyone after graduation. I had to admit, even though I didn't spend much time with her socially, I'd really miss Angela.

"Okay," I started, choosing to think more on everything when I was alone, "now you've talked about Edward and you've talked about me grounded. Now, what was it you wanted to say about Jacob?"

"Well," Charlie hesitated, "I'm not as sure about what I wanted to ask now. I was going to ask you to spend time with him again. The two of you used to be joined at the hip, but now I'm not so sure that's a good thing, what with those motorcycles and the cliff diving incident. As much as I despise what Edward did, at least he's not reckless and irresponsible with your safety, as far as I know, anyway."

I shook my head at him. "I don't think that's a good idea, Dad," I replied, referring to spending time with Jacob.

Of course, he was spot on about Edward. He's the exact opposite of irresponsible when it comes to my safety. Sometime soon, I needed to try some damage control with Charlie in regards to Edward. After all, Charlie only knew the Cullens' human cover story. As far as he knew, Edward never left me voluntarily and I should address that aspect with him, to see if I could improve Charlie's opinion at all. It would have to wait for another day, though. I needed to get him to stop pushing Jake at me first.

Charlie opened his mouth—to argue with me, no doubt—but I raised my hand to halt his words. "Please hear me out first?"

He nodded slowly in acknowledgment, reluctant but acquiescing. "Okay."

I took a moment to collect my thoughts and decide what I could say. I wanted to be as honest as possible, yet I couldn't tell him everything. It was against the rules for humans—like me and Charlie—to know about vampires. I knew the pack would protect him—he had a lot of friends in La Push—if necessary, but Charlie liked his rational, well-ordered world. He'd be happier not knowing. Besides, knowing what I did of the Volturi now, I sincerely doubted the pack would be victorious in a confrontation against them.

"With Jacob there is a... conflict," I said slowly. "A conflict about the friendship thing, I mean. Friendship doesn't always seem to be enough for Jake." I spoke the truth, a very important truth, just not everything, like the fact that Jacob's werewolf pack unjustly hated Edward's vampire family—and therefore me, too, as I fully intended to join that family.

"Isn't Edward up for a little healthy competition?" Charlie's voice was sarcastic now.

I leveled a dark look at him. "There's no competition."

"You're hurting Jake's feelings, avoiding him like this. He'd rather be just friends than nothing." Oh, now I was avoiding him?

"I'm pretty sure Jake doesn't want to be friends at all, and he's the one who's been avoiding me, not the other way around. Or have you forgotten me sending a note through you because Jacob refused my calls?" I retorted acerbically. Times like these, I couldn't wait until graduation, when I would move out. I loved my dad, but I didn't like him much at the moment. "Where'd you get that idea, anyway?"

Charlie looked embarrassed now. "The subject might have come up today with Billy..."

"You and Billy gossip like old women," I criticized, stabbing my fork viciously into the congealed spaghetti on my plate.

"Billy's worried about Jacob," Charlie said. "Jake's having a hard time right now... He's depressed. And then you were always so happy after spending the day with Jake." Charlie sighed.

"I'm happy now," I growled fiercely through my teeth.

The contrast between my words and tone broke through the tension. Charlie burst into laughter, and I had to join in.

"What happened to Jacob spending time with his own friends, male friends especially?" I questioned once I stopped laughing. "Before I started hanging out with him, and even sometimes when I was, Jacob was always with his friends Quil and Embry. Besides, he's sixteen. Doesn't being depressed kind of come with the territory of being a hormonal teenage boy?"

I paused a moment, deciding I need to deflect Charlie's attention even further. Before I spoke, I ruminated that what I was about to say could be true, more than I'd ever considered before. "How much longer are you and Billy planning to have me mother him? Wouldn't Sue, or someone like her, be better suited to talking him through things than me? You couldn't possibly think he and I would become a couple or something, do you?"

I took a deep breath, hating even the implication of what I was going to say next, but needing to say it anyway. "Even if Edward wasn't here, Jake and I couldn't become a couple. Even if I thought of him like that, which I don't," I shot a glare at Charlie on the last word, to hopefully drive it home to him, "I'm planning to leave for college in a couple months, in another state, and after that—maybe even a little before—I want to travel. I don't want to be stuck here for the rest of my life, and Jake will stay in La Push forever." I saw Charlie wince at that, but I pushed on. "I'm sorry if that hurts you, Dad. I love the time I've spent with you the past couple years, getting to know you better, but I can't stay here long term. I was only ever going to stay until I graduated."

Charlie opened and closed his mouth but remained silent before he nodded solemnly, accepting the truth I think he's always known. Deciding the Jacob portion of our conversation was finally at an end, I steered him back to our earlier discussion. "Anyway, I promise to find some balance," I vowed, "but it will most likely be with Angela and Ben, maybe a few other kids from school. I think Jacob needs to find his own balance with his friends, and maybe try to meet some girls his own age. He shouldn't be so attached to me, especially not with me leaving soon."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Charlie agreed reluctantly. "I'm glad you're going to work at keeping a balance, Bella. You've got some mail," Charlie said, closing the subject with no attempt at subtlety. "It's by the stove."

I didn't move, my thoughts drifting to the near future. It was most likely junk mail; I'd just gotten a package from my mom yesterday and I wasn't expecting anything else.

Charlie shoved his chair away from the table and stretched as he got to his feet. He took his plate to the sink, but before he turned the water on to rinse it, he paused to toss a thick envelope at me. The letter skidded across the table and thunked into my elbow.

"Er, thanks," I muttered, puzzled by his pushiness. Then I saw the return address—the letter was from the University of Alaska Southeast. "That was quick. I guess I missed the deadline on that one, too."

Charlie chuckled.

I flipped the envelope over and then glared up at him. "It's open."

"I was curious."

"I'm shocked, Sheriff. That's a federal crime."

"Oh, just read it."

I pulled out the letter, and a folded schedule of courses.

"Congratulations," he said before I could read anything. "Your first acceptance."

"Thanks, Dad."

"We should talk about tuition. I've got some money saved up—"

"No, Dad. I'm not touching your retirement. I've got my college fund." What was left of it—and there hadn't been much to begin with. I sighed. Not that I had to worry about money, anyway. As much as I hated the idea, my future family had more money than I could imagine, more money than even Alice with her shopaholic ways could spend. I didn't want them to spend money on me, but they were beginning to wear me down.

Charlie frowned. "Some of these places are pretty pricey, Bells. I want to help. You don't have to go to all the way to Alaska just because it's cheaper."

It wasn't cheaper, not at all; it was actually more expensive because it was outside of my resident state. But it was far away, and Juneau had an average of three hundred twenty-one overcast days per year. The first was my prerequisite, the second was Edward's.

"I've got it covered. Besides, there's lots of financial aid out there. It's easy to get loans." I hoped my bluff wasn't too obvious. I hadn't actually done a lot of research on the subject.

"So...," Charlie began, and then he pursed his lips and looked away.

"So what?"

"Nothing. I was just..." He frowned. "Just wondering what... Edward's plans are for next year?"

"Oh."

"Well?"

Three quick raps on the door saved me. Charlie rolled his eyes and I jumped up.

"Coming!" I called while Charlie mumbled something that sounded like, "Go away." I ignored him and went to let Edward in, feeling my heart heal, bit by bit, with each step I took.

EPOV

Isabella Marie Swan, the love of my existence, my mate. The words repeated in my head, drowning out the ever-present thoughts of the humans around me. This was the worst part of my day, the time I was forced to be away from my Bella due to the edict of her father. The time had nearly arrived when I would be with her once again, though.

For more than a month, Bella and I had submitted to Charlie's restrictions, which started out as punishment for a three-day disappearance to Italy to save my life (though he didn't know the truth of where or why) and an episode of cliff-diving.

I shook my head and pinched the bridge of my nose at that thought. Bella maintained that she had jumped off the cliff for recreational purposes, and also to hear my voice in her subconscious. I still wondered, though, if maybe she had unconsciously tried to end her life. I did not deny any longer that she felt the pull of vampire mates just as I did. I'm sure it wasn't quite as strong, since vampires feel so much more strongly than humans are physically capable of, but I did not doubt that she felt the pull—the love—as strongly as any human could.

My visiting hours used to be from 6:00 to 10:00, but had been reduced to the hours of 7:00 to 9:30 shortly after our return due to the actions of Bella's so-called friend, Jacob Black, when he informed her father about a motorcycle she'd been riding in secret. Luckily, though, upon my return to Forks, I'd been able to arrange my class schedule to nearly match Bella's—other than calculus, a class I'd taken last year and could not realistically repeat this year just to remain in Bella's company.

So, we were able to remain in each other's company for most of the day at school and, of course, there were my nightly visits to her bedroom. However, no matter how much time we spent together, the seconds dragged when we were apart. I have no idea how I managed to stay away from her for seven excruciatingly long months. Seven months! I must have been out of my mind.

I didn't like to reflect on that dark time, but I knew I—no, we—had to if we ever wanted to be able to move forward as a stronger, healthier couple and individuals. Bella and I needed to have a serious tête-à-tête about that time and everything that we both experienced due to our separation.

I detested our afternoons apart, but I had been using my time judiciously at least. Due to the catastrophic choices I'd made so far in our relationship, I knew I needed help, so I've been researching the subject, as well as consulting certain family members for advice—namely Carlisle and Esme, and Jasper and Alice.

I pulled my Volvo up to the front of Charlie's house a few minutes before 7:00, when I would finally be allowed in the presence of my love, even if we were confined on the premises under her father's supervision. From the street, I heard them both conversing inside. Normally, I would do my best to tune them out, but any conversation between the two was so unusual I couldn't help myself from listening in briefly as I exited my vehicle and approached the front door.

"...pretty pricey, Bells. I want to help. You don't have to go to all the way to Alaska just because it's cheaper."

"I've got it covered. Besides, there's lots of financial aid out there. It's easy to get loans."

"So...," Charlie began, then stopped.

"So what?"

"Nothing. I was just..." He paused. "Just wondering what... Edward's plans are for next year?"

"Oh."

"Well?"

I knocked three times on the door to interrupt the conversation, saving Bella from trying to scrounge for an answer she didn't know.

"Coming!" I heard Bella's sweet voice call out to me while Charlie quietly mumbled, "Go away."

I shook my head. Sorry, Charlie, I already tried that and I've definitely learned my lesson. I won't ever "go away" again, not unless I hear those words from my Bella.

I listened to Bella's footsteps as she rushed to the door, praying she didn't hurt herself in her haste. My worry was for naught as she reached her destination without mishap and opened the entrance to her father's home. I smiled at her enthusiasm as my eyes drank in her features.

Her eyes traced over my face before her gaze met mine and she reached out to me. I clasped her hand in mine, feeling the electricity of our connection spark. I felt immense relief at being physically connected to her once again after our time apart. I could see she felt the same as I stared into her expressive chocolate-brown eyes.

"Hey," she said with a gentle smile gracing her lovely face.

I raised our entwined fingers to stroke her soft cheek with the back of my hand.

"How was your afternoon?" I inquired.

"Slow."

"For me, as well," I said, raising Bella's wrist to my nose. I closed my eyes and inhaled, appreciating the unique fragrance of her blood. The burning in my throat flared, but I still marveled at the fact that I no longer felt any urge to bite. I no longer had to constantly fight my instincts to be with my mate.

At least, I didn't have to fight those instincts. Now I had to deal with other urges, things I had felt before in her presence but had been easier to ignore while I fought my vampiric cravings. Now that my "monster" seems to have become suppressed when it came to Bella, my mating instincts had increased in strength and urgency. It was rather unsettling. I knew how to fight my hunting instincts; I had been doing so for decades. The mating instincts I was dealing with now, however, were another story.

Charlie stomped into the hallway, interrupting my thoughts. I let our hands drop and opened my eyes, directing my gaze toward him.

"Good evening, Charlie," I said politely. It was the least I could do after everything I'd done before, and everything I would do in the future, to his only daughter.

Charlie grunted at my pleasantries, folding his arms across his chest. Even without being able to hear him clearly, there was no mistaking what he thought of me, from his body posture alone, not that I blamed him.

I sighed and redirected my attention back to Bella, ignoring Charlie's disapproval. "I brought another set of applications," I told her, holding up the thick manila envelope I'd carried with me.

Over the past few weeks, I've assisted Bella in applying to several colleges and had a few more for her to try as well, but I'd sensed she wasn't really interested in attending college right now, and not just because she believed she would be changed and unable to attend. My grip on the papers tightened infinitesimally. A part of me—growing larger by the day—wanted her changed, but not now.

Miraculously, her arguments against me—namely about the existence of souls in vampires—had been gaining weight in my mind. I took a moment to reflect on Bella's most recent argument on the subject.

"Edward," Bella asked, looking directly into my eyes, "we need to talk about my change."

I began to speak but she held up her hand, halting my words.

"Specifically," she continued, "regarding your belief about your soul, and by extension my soul and the souls of our family. That is your biggest argument against changing me, isn't it?"

I grimaced, nodding.

"Right. In my opinion, there are several holes in your argument. I've put a lot of thought into this and I'd appreciate it if you'd let me speak without interrupting."

I sighed. I'd had these discussions with Carlisle too many times before, him arguing in favor of the continued existence of souls in our kind, yet he'd never been able to sway my converse opinion. This was my Bella, though, and I owed her.

Although I protested the idea of her becoming a vampire, I knew it was going to happen, and far sooner than I would like. I needed to come to some kind of peace with the reality of the situation. Maybe she would be successful where Carlisle had not and would put my mind at ease. I knew better now than to underestimate her fortitude.

I nodded at her, smiling slightly in encouragement.

"First, there's the argument that you can love; you care about humans as well as each other. If you were soulless, wouldn't you be focused solely on blood and killing rather than fighting your instincts because you don't want to be a monster?

"Second, while I haven't heard about your change in detail, Emmett told me about his. I found it telling that he never lost consciousness during the transformation process. While it's terrible never to have had even the most brief reprieve from the pain of transformation, never losing consciousness indicates he (and I assume the rest of you as well) never actually died, so your souls couldn't have left your bodies.

"I know that your heart stopped and you don't require oxygen to survive, but your brain never ceased functioning. By my view, you didn't actually die, you merely metamorphosed into a different life form that has different vital signs and physical requirements for survival.

"Third is the theological argument. Now I don't know a lot about God and the Bible, but I think I know enough and it's pretty simple to me. Do you believe in God or not?

"If you believe in God, then you must believe that He is the Creator. If He's the Creator, that means He created everything in the universe, including vampires. If He created vampires, then He chose to create them from humans.

"Most vampires are changed—including you—without their knowledge or consent. Isn't damnation or salvation all about free will and the choices you make in life, so how could becoming a vampire alone result in damnation? How could you be damned unless you make choices against His commandments?

"I know you're going to try and argue that you chose to hunt humans and that would damn you if nothing else did. I say bullshit! Wasn't the whole point of the New Testament about the forgiveness of sins for those who repent and change their ways? If you haven't repented your sins and changed your ways, I don't know anyone who has.

"Now, on the flip side, what about if you don't believe in God? That makes it even easier. If you don't believe in God, no one has souls, or if they do exist they can't be either damned or blessed, and there's no such thing as Heaven or Hell. Therefore, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

"So, which is it? Do you believe in God or not? If you believe in God, explain to me exactly how you and our family can be damned!"

I was rendered speechless by my beautiful fierce Bella. I was right not to underestimate her. I'd heard variations of what she'd said before from Carlisle, of course, but her arguments somehow seemed different than his—more meaningful. Or maybe I'd just changed enough since the last time I'd had this kind of conversation that I was now open to hearing them.

Bella smiled smugly at me, taking in my expression. She reclined back in her bed and snuggled up to me. The subject was closed for now.

I conceded that I could be—probably am—wrong in everything I've long believed. In all our choices so far in our relationship, Bella has almost always been right and I've almost always been wrong. Why not about this, too?

Regardless, changing her too soon would be just asking for trouble. She needs time to heal mentally and emotionally from the damage I caused by leaving her. She needs to work on improving her self-esteem and confidence, and it needs to be done while she's still human. If these things remain unresolved when she's changed, she'll be frozen with those negative feelings and doubts, and it will be much more difficult for her to overcome them.

Now, I just needed to convince her.

She groaned, grimacing at the papers I held, drawing my attention back to them. Unbeknownst to her, though, I didn't only hold college applications in my grasp this time, but also a list of homes around the world that our family owned. If she was so set against attending college right now, maybe she'd be willing to travel instead.

"Shall we?" I asked, walking toward the kitchen table and setting down the papers I held. Bella began clearing the table as I pulled everything out and began organizing it. As she did so, I caught a glimpse of a legal-sized envelope at one end of the table. My sharp eyesight easily saw the return address. It was from the University of Alaska Southeast and, judging by the size, it looked like it was an acceptance. That explained the end of the conversation I'd heard between Bella and Charlie.

Charlie was hovering, something he often did to demonstrate how he was keeping his eye on us. Today, however, he had something specific on his mind and was reluctant to address me directly.

"Speaking of college applications, Edward," Charlie began gruffly, "Bella and I were just talking about next year. Have you decided where you're going to school?"

"Not yet," I responded pleasantly. "I've received a few acceptance letters, but I'm still weighing my options."

"Where have you been accepted?"

He might as well have asked what he really wanted to know, which was, "Are you two planning to be together next year?" I wouldn't answer if he was too uncomfortable to ask, though.

"Syracuse...Harvard...Dartmouth...and I just got accepted to the University of Alaska Southeast today." I turned away from Charlie just enough to wink privately at Bella. She smiled broadly.

"Harvard? Dartmouth?" Charlie was suddenly more impressed than he was confrontational. "Well that's pretty...that's something. Yeah, but the University of Alaska...you wouldn't really consider that when you could go Ivy League. I mean, your father would want you to..."

"Carlisle's always fine with whatever I choose to do," I said calmly. Even if I went to Peninsula Community College, Carlisle would assume I could learn something and I could always go back to Harvard in twenty or thirty years. But Charlie couldn't know that.

"Hmph," he grunted, his typical response to me. Turning his attention to Bella, he relayed his usual parting words. "I'm going to go watch the game, Bella. Nine-thirty."

"Er, Dad?" Bella interrupted his exit. "Remember the very recent discussion about my freedom...?"

Freedom? Bella was no longer grounded? I'd seen nothing about this from her father's mind, nor even Alice's.

Charlie sighed. "Right. Okay, ten-thirty. You still have a curfew on school nights."

I wanted to find out what happened, but would wait to ask Bella. I didn't want to antagonize Charlie further this night. I watched as Charlie retreated to the living room and turned on the television.

"So, you're no longer grounded?" I inquired, focusing on Bella while still monitoring Charlie.

"You didn't know?" she replied.

"No. I didn't see anything in Charlie's mind, though you know his thoughts are usually murky to me. Alice never said anything either."

"Well, technically I've been released due to good behavior. Charlie does want me to find ‘balance'," she used air-quotes, "by socializing with more of my friends than just you and Alice. I thought maybe we could double-date with Angela and Ben occasionally or something, to appease him."

I nodded. "We could," I agreed.

"You wouldn't mind?" she asked uncertainly.

"No, I like Angela and Ben. They're two of the few genuine humans, other than you, I've encountered in quite some time."

"He wanted me to go see Jacob at first," she said quietly after a moment. I stilled at the mention of the pup's name. She gazed up at me, her eyes a little sad yet determined. "I told him no."

I was shocked. This past month, she'd being trying diligently to contact the young werewolf, by both phone and letter. I thought she would have leapt at the opportunity to go see her "friend" in person, no matter that I disapproved.

I couldn't help inquiring about her reasons for denying that possibility now. "Why?"

"It's just, I decided it was time to cut all ties with Jacob and the pack earlier this evening. Friendship goes both ways—it takes more than one person to make it work—and Jacob doesn't seem interested in talking to me, none of them do. I've already chosen you and our family over them and they know it. Also, with me leaving in a few months, I just decided it was the best thing to do in the long run."

I nodded, pleasantly surprised at her reasoning. "I'm sorry you lost your friend," I said sincerely, "but I'm not sorry you're staying away from the wolves voluntarily now. While I acknowledge they were your friends and that they helped you when I could not, they are a far too dangerous to have around my mate."

Her eyes widened at the last word. While we'd had short discussions on vampire mates, we had yet to discuss mates and the mating connection in depth, and this was the first time I'd referred to her as my mate out loud. It felt astonishingly good to do so, and I knew I would use the word many times in the future.

"They're really not that dangerous," she argued stubbornly after a moment. "They have excellent control most of the time." She sighed and shook her head before resuming. "Still, like I said, I think it's best for me to just end things with them now and for all of us to leave as soon as possible after graduation. The pack doesn't want more boys to phase, but they might if we stay here too much longer or if I stay too involved with them."

My brow furrowed in confusion. What did our staying here for any length of time have to do with their phasing? When we'd lived in the area before, there had only ever been three wolves in the pack, even though we had stayed here for years.

"What are you talking about, Bella?"

Bella seemed equally surprised. "Don't you know? The werewolves came back because the vampires did."

I stared at her, contemplating that. It didn't make any sense. Before I could ask her to clarify more, she continued.

"Jacob told me that your family being here set things in motion. I thought you would already know..."

My eyes narrowed. Of course that theory had come from Jacob. No doubt the mutt was trying to turn Bella against us. "Is that what they think?"

"Edward, look at the facts. Seventy years ago, you came here, and the werewolves showed up. You come back now, and the werewolves show up again. Do you think that's a coincidence?"

I relaxed some, contemplating the theory. It was an amazing coincidence, I'd admit, but I wasn't convinced that it was just our family's presence that triggered the phasing in the Quileute. Maybe our presence was a factor, but I believed it more likely that there were extenuating circumstances that Bella—and perhaps even they—didn't know about that triggered their phasing. "Carlisle will be interested in that theory."

"Theory," Bella scoffed.

"Come now, Bella. It is just a theory. There very well could be another explanation. When we lived here seventy years ago, Ephraim's pack of three wolves was already established before we arrived. We lived in the area for years and there were never any additional wolves added to his pack. This time, our family lived here for two years before the first boy—Sam—initially phased. It very well could be a coincidence, or there could be other factors involved that they haven't considered."

Bella quietly pondered what I told her, but I was momentarily distracted by a shift in Charlie's concentration. He began turning to look at us and I hastily pulled out the college applications I'd brought and set them before Bella. Whether she chose to attend college or not, filling out the applications was an acceptable activity for us while we remained under Charlie's watchful gaze.

With a long-suffering sigh, Bella accepted the change in subject and pulled the stack of applications toward her. Glancing at the top page, she snorted indelicately and glared at me. "Be serious, Edward. Dartmouth?"

"It's just an application, Bella," I reminded her gently. "Even if you're accepted, you're under no obligation to attend. I sincerely believe you have more than a fair chance in being accepted and I also believe you'd do well there, but I won't force you." Lowering my voice, I continued. "Filling out college applications is something we can do while being monitored by your father. Unless you have another suggestion?"

Bella shook her head slowly. "No, I don't really have any other ideas except for maybe just looking like I'm filling out applications in case he checks in on us. I really don't need to apply anywhere else. I've been accepted in Alaska. It's an ideal location and as good an alibi as any. There's no need to throw away a bunch of money for an Ivy League school, no matter whose it is."

I closed my eyes in frustration. She was still so fixated on being changed this summer. I wasn't really against her being changed at all anymore—at least I was opening my mind to the possibility that it wouldn't be a bad thing for her—but I didn't want her to have any regrets about her life. I also didn't want her to be frozen for eternity with her self-doubts and fears. It was past time to talk to her about this.

"Bella—"

"Don't start," Bella interrupted, assuming I would fight her entirely regarding her change, "I agree that I need to go through the motions for Charlie's sake, but we both know I'm not going to be in any condition to go to school next fall. To be anywhere near people."

"I thought you wanted me to be the one to change you?"

"I do," she confirmed with a pleading look in eyes.

I reached out to cup her cheek gently. "I do, too," I replied honestly, "but not yet."

She opened her mouth to argue with me, but I placed my finger against her lips. "Please allow me to finish," I beseeched and she nodded slowly. I removed my finger and continued. "Don't get me wrong. I've come to realize the inevitability of your change; in truth, I want you to change as well. I'm not asking you not to change and I'm not even asking you to wait for a set period of time. However, I am asking you to wait a little longer than graduation, and I have a very good reason for it."

"What reason?" she asked warily.

"I would like you to consider waiting until you've—we've—had the opportunity to discuss and work through everything that has had a negative impact on your life, both mentally and emotionally. You have low self-esteem, love. If you didn't, you never would have believed the lies I told you in September. And I think that is just a tip of the iceberg. Do you really want to be eternally frozen like this? While it's possible for you to work through some things after you're changed, it will be monumentally more difficult. You have a rare opportunity to become a vampire when you're emotionally whole and strong. I implore you not to squander it."

She sat silently, contemplating my words. I could almost see the thoughts swirling behind her chestnut eyes.

"Will you think about waiting?" I prompted her.

After a brief moment, she nodded. "I don't really want to wait, but you actually have a good argument this time." She smiled at me, her eyes sparkling good-naturedly. "You're right; I guess I should wait until I can get some things resolved. I don't want to wait too long—I'm physically over a year older than you already and I don't want there to be an obvious gap between us—but," she sighed, resigned, "I shouldn't rush into things just because of my physical age."

I smiled, feeling relaxed and actually hopeful for our future for the first time in... ever, actually.

"What do we need to do?" she asked me, "to help me—both of us, actually."

I took a deep, unneeded breath. "Well, first of all, we need to learn to communicate with each other. There are many things we should talk about, but that will really have to wait for later, when we're alone." I nodded pointedly in the direction of Charlie. "I need you to tell me everything you're feeling, both the good and the bad. Please don't sugarcoat anything. We also need to discuss everything that transpired—with both of us—during the past few months."

I saw her wince at the subject matter, but persevered. If we had any hope of moving on, we needed to put the past behind us. Ignoring it, pretending it never happened, was not the way to go about it, however. I placed my hand over one of hers, getting her to meet my eyes.

"We can't ignore the past, love. No matter how much it hurts, the only way we can heal is to talk about it."

She nodded, her lips trembling as she tried to contain her tears. "I know," she whispered. "I promise, I'll work with you here. I want to get to a point where thinking about that time will hopefully not hurt so much. In return, though, can you promise me something?"

"What is it, Bella?"

"Can you promise the same? Will you be honest with me about not only how you feel about things, but why you do? Sometimes you have reasons for feeling and thinking about things that I never considered. Maybe because of the era you grew up in, or maybe because you're a vampire and I'm a human.

"Also, please tell me about anything that's going on that could affect me, us, or our family, without sugarcoating it? No matter how scary something might be, I'd rather know about it than be kept in the dark."

It went against many of the things I'd been taught when I was human. I was taught that it was my responsibility, as the man, to shoulder the responsibility of any problems that may occur, to shelter my partner from anything which could distress her, but this was a different time. Men and women shared the burden more often than not nowadays. I'd learned this from both my research and my discussions with my family.

"I promise," I vowed to her. "But please remember, this is new to me, too. I know, mostly due to my human upbringing, I will struggle with this and it will take a little while to change, most likely longer than it would take for a human man. Don't hesitate to challenge me if you feel I'm withholding information or speaking an untruth. If I am, it is not intentional, merely habit and an instinct to protect you from the unpleasantness of the world, especially our world."

She smiled understandingly. "Okay. You do the same for me then, too. I'm also not used to expressing myself and will probably need some reminding for a while until I can make a new habit."

That settled, I decided to broach a different subject. Lifting the papers not currently in front of her, I handed them over.

"What are these?" Bella asked curiously.

"These are a list of properties around the world that either I or the family own. There are pictures and a brief description for each home. I've had the feeling for a while that you're not exactly eager to attend college in the near future, and not just because of your change. Am I right?"

She nodded. "It's just, other than being with you forever, I don't really know what I want in life. What I assumed I would do before I met you... well, I don't think that path is for me anymore and I just think I should have some kind of direction chosen before I attend college, even if I change my mind later."

I nodded; it was just as I thought. I smiled gently. "That's okay; I understand. That's what these are for. I want you to take them and peruse them at your leisure. We can discuss them later and I thought maybe you could help us decide where we can move to next. If you desire, we could also travel a bit before settling into a permanent residence somewhere."

Her eyes lit up happily. "Oh, I'd love that, Edward!" she exclaimed enthusiastically.

I grinned at her, relaxing even further. I'd made the right decision!

"Phew," I joked, making a show of wiping my brow free of non-existent sweat, "I'm on a roll. Two correct choices in one night!"

She giggled in response, a lovely sound I'd heard far too infrequently as of late.

"The future is suddenly looking bright and beautiful to me," she whispered.

I could only agree.