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Eclipse in Edward's P.O.V - PART 3!

Eclipse in Edward's P.O.V - PART 3!

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PART 3 Please remember – I still didn’t write this.

Alliance – EPOV
Over the decades, my family and I had all gotten used to pretending. Every day, I pretended to be human, acted like a teenager, and feigned interest in subjects I knew more about than most of the teachers. Still, pretending things were normal – that everything wasn't crashing down on us – giving the illusion that we were all just normal seniors enjoying our graduation party was going to be a very difficult task. As I watched Bella walk up the stairs to my house, a look of sheer determination on her face, I thought about how much pretending she had already done in order to keep the realities of our world a secret. She constantly lied to Charlie, if not outright, then by omission. She played the part as if she were planning on attending college rather than joining my family in eternity. Now, she was about to walk into what should have been a celebration, but instead would amount to an evening of pretending she wasn't fearing for her life yet again. I wanted to be happy, to help her end this chapter of her life with joy and acceptance, but instead, I was plagued with guilt as I stared at her expression. She was straining to put on the mask of normalcy the way we'd all learned to over the years. She wasn't even one of us yet, and she already felt the weight of our secrets. "Bella?" I whispered, coming up behind her and wrapping my arms around her. She hadn't said a word before my lips were on hers. I was frantic, desperately trying to grant her one moment of happiness, one promise that not everything in our world was a lie. She looked startled when I pulled away, and I was about to kiss her again when she muttered, "Let's get this stupid party over with."

I held her face in my hands, not letting her break my gaze. "I won't let anything happen to you," I promised. She smiled, reaching up to touch my lips, and I felt that familiar spark of electricity her skin had always given me. "I'm not worried about myself so much," she said softly. "Why am I not surprised by that?" She scowled at me slightly, and I took a deep breath, knowing our quiet moment was at an end. It was time for both of us to put on our best fake smiles. Together, we would get through this evening and then, we could focus of what was to come next. "Ready to celebrate?" She groaned, and I pulled her close, knowing she wasn't going to be happy with the scene Alice had set. If Bella was hoping for subtle, or anything resembling a normal graduation party for that matter, she was about to be very disappointed. While the rest of us still saw the advantages of keeping up appearances, Alice's attitude was that it didn't particularly matter anymore if we blended in, since high school was over and Bella was about to disappear forever. "Unbelievable," Bella said when she walked through the door. I'd lived in this house for years, and it was barely recognizable. "Alice will be Alice," I sighed. Having decorated every visible surface of the house, Alice was busying herself by thumbing through a variety of music. Wouldn't hurt to bring a little bit of culture to this town. Maybe some of it will stick, leave my mark after we leave... "Edward!" she called, her eyes wildly excited at the prospect of playing a more eclectic mix of music than Bella's friends were used to. I rolled my eyes. "I need your advice. Should we give them familiar and comforting? Or educate their taste in music?" "Keep it comforting," I told her. "You can only lead the horse to water." Disappointed, she nodded, but I could hear there were a few favorite she was still planning on adding to the

mix. I looked at Bella who was watching Alice with a look I recognized. It was a look that said, This is too much. I don't deserve this. "I think I'm underdressed," she muttered. I certainly hoped her self-esteem issues would be resolved when she was a vampire. She was a vision in the blue outfit Alice had given her. "You're perfect." "You'll do," Alice added, and I shot her a warning glare. "Thanks," Bella sighed, then asked, "Do you really think people will come?" I knew she wished the whole town would suddenly have better things to do, but Alice had already seen them all deciding this party would be a fun way to end the exciting day, and I'd heard the curiosity in their minds. "Everyone will come," I told her, her heartbeat speeding up slightly. "They're all dying to see the inside of the reclusive Cullens' mystery house." "Fabulous," she groaned. She reluctantly asked Alice if there was anything she could do to help, but of course, Alice was in her own little world. "No, no, you two just finish getting ready," she said. Then she took off, somehow managing to find even more unnecessary decorations. She was quietly hoping Bella would put on makeup, or do something different with her hair. I held Bella tightly, hoping she believed me when I assured her that nothing would make her more beautiful in my eyes than she already was. Bella stayed by my side while I spoke with Jasper about the new developments in our situation. He sent her a gentle wave of calm, for which I was grateful, as we discussed the reality of our having no extra help. "Tanya's just being spiteful," I said, shaking my head. "Don't suppose with a little influence on your part, they might reconsider?" I asked Jasper.

Not unless we let them take out the wolves, he thought silently, not wanting to upset Bella. "No amount of mood control is going to make Irina feel better if she was really as attached to Laurent as Tanya says. My abilities aren't powerful enough to have any noticeable effect when the emotions are that strong." He tried to hide it, but he couldn't help but think of the time right after I'd fled Forks, leaving Bella behind. He had tried to console me, make me feel more at peace with my decision, but it was as if his powers were blocked by the intensity with which I was longing for her. "I wish there was something I could do, believe me," he said, glancing toward the door. Alice was downstairs, singing to herself as she continued the party setup. He paused to listen for a moment, and I heard true fear in his mind. I looked to Bella, who was watching him with sadness in her eyes. Even without hearing his thoughts, she understood what he was thinking. Any one of us could falter and lose everything in an instant. When Jasper and I could think of no other choices than to fight alone, I turned to Carlisle. He was admittedly more positive than Jasper had been, though he too was frantically searching for options we might have missed. We discussed our plan of attack, and I wished Jasper had come downstairs with us, to keep Bella's fear from escalating. She listened quietly, and I tried not to see the panic on her face. Her expression grew calculating as we continued, like she was working out strategies the way we were. I hoped she wasn't still expecting a quick change in order to come fight beside us. I thought we'd made it clear that adding another newborn to the mix wouldn't solve anything. Living in an endless existence, the concept of time had nearly lost its meaning, which was why I was surprised to find myself pacing, waiting for guests to arrive. I suppose I was simply anxious for some excuse to forget about newborns, and strategies, and Bella being in danger yet again because of me. I actually breathed a sigh of relief when the first car pulled up, though my peaceful moment didn't last long. I listened to Mike's first appraisal of our home. Though not the most intuitive person at times, he seemed too observant for my liking.

A mansion in the middle of the forest? Weird, even for the Cullens. He met my eye for a split second before turning away nervously. Always figured they were freaks, but what are they hiding out here? Bella played her part better than I could have imagined, and while I was miserable at the thought of her only pretending to enjoy her graduation night, a part of me couldn't help but feel proud of her. She welcomed all of her friends in, smiling and attempting to make them feel comfortable, as they all took in the house. One by one, people stepped through the door, wide-eyed and curious, and I listened with amusement at the different reactions. Thankfully, Mike was the only one who associated "large mansion" with "something to hide," though several of Bella's classmates did wonder how a family with such an obvious sum of money ended up in a place like Forks. Don't know why Dr. Cullen didn't just home-school them all. Not like they get along with anyone anyway. Some place to call a home away from home. No wonder Bella puts up with Edward's crazy... Must be worth more than the whole town put together... Wow. Just wow. Although I couldn't bring myself to leave Bella's side, I tried my best to stay in the background. I let her lead the conversations. After all, for many of her friends, this would likely be her only good-bye. Occasionally, Mike or Tyler or some other insipid boy would let their mind wander to the what-ifs of post-graduation life. Are they going to college together? Maybe the fascination will wear off and she'll come to her senses. Can't last forever. I mean, look at him clinging to her. That's got to get old eventually, right?

I felt my grip around Bella's waist tighten instinctively, and was thrilled when I felt her sink further into my arms. I was counting on this lasting forever, and I hoped that when forever became more than just a concept to her, she would still be happy to have my arms around her forever. I was just settling into the pace of the evening, Bella making small talk with her friends, circulating as if she were born to be the hostess and center of attention. She almost had even me convinced that there was nothing else going on in our lives besides this party. For a moment, there was no one after us, this wasn't Bella's farewell to her human life. We were just a couple in love, celebrating the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. Then, everything froze. The vision Alice had was so clear, I could see it as if it were my own. As soon as I saw the hoard of newborns heading toward Forks, I felt my fists begin to clench. Afraid I would hurt Bella, I forced myself to loosen my grip on her. One at the front of the line was holding Bella's shirt, a sadistic and very determined look in her blood-red eyes. Edward... Alice thought, my name a whisper, even in her mind. She was scared, truly frightened for the first time since this whole mess had started. Jasper was beside her now, trying to calm her down, but all she could feel was the army's collective energy, their driving ambition to reach the human they knew they were created to destroy. She watched as they ran toward Forks – the place we'd called home for so many years, filled with people we cared about, Bella's friends and family, who could all become casualties. Victims... pawns in the way and easily knocked down as the battle began. "Stay here," I whispered to Bella, trying to hide the fear in my voice. "I'll be right back." I could hear her start after me, but there were friends all around and I'm sure she didn't want them to think anything was wrong. Her facade of normalcy might buy me enough time to talk to Alice without her there. It would be easier to get all the facts without having to worry about scaring Bella.

Alice was standing just outside the kitchen, her eyes wide with a panic hopefully only I noticed. It took every ounce of restraint I had to walk to her at a normal pace, but I forced a smile onto my face and walked casually in case anyone was looking. "They're coming," Alice whispered as soon as I was beside her. I tried to motion her into the kitchen so we could speak more privately, but she was frozen in place. "I know," I said softly, when she didn't move. I attempted to infuse some comfort into my tone. "I couldn't tell how many..." she said dismally. Her eyes were nearly blurred as she tried to count the numbers she'd seen in her mind. Twenty. Maybe more. "We knew this was what it was going to look like. This is what we've been waiting for you to see. There's no need to panic." Her eyes shot at me through the darkness. Who are you trying to convince – me or yourself? "All right, I'm worried. Of course I am. I don't want them anywhere near Forks, or Bella, or anyone here for that matter. But it's good we've seen them coming. We can prepare and take action." "Did you see what the dark haired one in front was carrying?" I'd seen and recognized Bella's missing shirt all too well. If there was any doubt in my mind that Bella's theories had been correct, that single flash of red confirmed it all. "I saw it," I growled, then took a deep breath and reminded myself how important it was to stay calm. "We already knew what they were coming for. Again, no surprises. Just precisely what we've been waiting for." At that moment, Alice's eyes went blank again. She gasped, clutching the wall beside her as she saw several of the vampires coming at the town from the other side. It suggested a level of coordination and planning we hadn't thought them capable of. The newborns themselves

couldn't be, but it meant their creator had thought their plan of attack through far more than we'd anticipated. "I'll go get Carlisle," I said, disappearing before my last bit of composure was gone. I was glad I'd made a quick escape, because seconds later, Bella was at Alice's side, demanding an explanation. Alice, still frozen and trying desperately to search her visions for anything that might give us some kind of advantage, didn't say a word. She stared at me, and despite myself, I couldn't seem to break her gaze. Her eyes were pleading, silently asking for answers I didn't have. When Bella turned to look for me, I retreated back into the darkness. I knocked on the door of Carlisle's study, and he opened it immediately. "Edward, what's happening? Jasper was just up here trying to escape from all the heightened emotions for a few minutes, then his eyes widened, and he disappeared." "He felt Alice's fear. Probably mine as well." "She saw something?" "They're coming." He inhaled sharply, a brief moment of panic flickering across his face before he returned to his usual calm, pragmatic way of thinking. "Was she able to see who was responsible for creating the army?" "I don't think so. She did see that they were planning to surround the town, though. They want to come in from both sides." "So they're organized?" "It would appear so."

Carlisle's expression was calculating as he thought through several options. The only one that guaranteed no human casualties, however, was meeting them before they entered town. I nodded in understanding before he'd said a word. "The further away the better," I agreed. "How many?" he asked, unable to hide the sorrow he felt as he pictured destroying the newborns who hadn't wanted this life to begin with. "Too many," I admitted. "More than we want to face without help. Twenty, at least, although it appeared there were less by the time they reached town than there were when they were traveling." "How is that possible?" "They're destructive, Carlisle. It's very possible they're killing each other along the way. Either that, or whoever created them is thinning out the herds, so to speak. It's a sick kind of combat strategy. If one of them isn't proving to be useful, or is threatening the success of the mission, they're disposed of. It wouldn't be the first time we've heard of it happening." I hated to be so blunt, knowing how it pained him, but we all needed to be realistic about what we were up against. These were creatures whose only purpose was to kill. If their creator killed without mercy, they would know nothing else, and they would show no mercy. Both in agreement that we had to fight as far away from Forks as possible, we both fell silent, trying to think of the location that gave us the greatest advantage. We knew the forests well, and there were several places that offered a fair amount of camouflage, but if the newborns were on a course for Forks, how could we steer them off their path? Even if we chose the ideal location for the battle, how would we assure their arrival there? "The wolves are here," Alice muttered, throwing the door open angrily and bringing us both back to the present. She was scowling as stepped into the room. "Can somebodyplease get them outside before they make the entire house smell like dog?"

"Whyare they here?" I asked, unable to hide my irritation. A visit from Jacob was the last thing I needed right now. "I don't know. Bella invited them, I guess. Well, Jacob, at least, though I didn't really think she wanted anything to do with him after that stunt he pulled." "When have Bella's wishes ever stopped Jacob from doing what he wanted?" "I still don't understand why he's here. He didn't go to Forks High, he doesn't know anyone but us, and he hates us. The last time he saw Bella, she punched him in the face. The kid really doesn't know when to give up, does he?" As much as I was enjoying listening to someone else complain about Jacob, I was only half listening to Alice. My attention was focused on the conversation downstairs between Bella and the mongrel. He was pressing her for information, and I had a feeling he was about to cross the line. "Now. Explain," he snapped. That was all it took. I raced out the door and down the stairs. "Jacob, I don't know everything," she said nervously, her eyes looking around her. Looking for me. Is that wise? Alice asked, stopping me just before I raced into the crowd. "Do I care?" I don't really care what you do, but everyone keeps telling me we're still supposed to be acting normal. You flying across the room in a blur and decapitating a werewolf in front of all Bella's friends probably wouldn't be considered normal. "He raised his voice to her, Alice." I know. But there are people around. What exactly are you planning on doing?

A medley of things I'd like to do played through my mind, but of course, she was right. There was nothing I could do, nothing really I should even say, with so many of Bella's friends nearby. They were suspicious enough as it was. Go back to Carlisle, keep working on a strategy. We need to figure out our plan of action, quickly. Jasper and I will take care of Bella. I'd been so focused on Bella, I hadn't even noticed Jasper was right beside me. I'll mellow them out, he thought with a smirk. Whether they like it or not. Reluctantly, I retreated up the stairs, just as Bella spotted Alice. "Alice!" she breathed. I don't like the way those filthy dogs are watching her, she thought, seething. This is our house, Bella is a part of our family. What right do they think they have to even be here? For my own sanity, I tried to ignore Alice's assessment of the pack, and returned to Carlisle's study. "Now what's happened?" he asked, confused by my quick escape. "Jacob was pressing Bella for information. I didn't like it." "But you didn't stop him?" "Alice didn't think it would be wise for me to step in quite yet." He nodded. "Why are they here? I thought Jacob and Bella weren't on the best of terms." "Technically, Jacob was invited. The fact that she no longer wants him here is something he seems to be ignoring rather stubbornly. As for the others, I think they're friends of Bella's from back when she was spending a lot of time in La Push. They probably thought it would be interesting to be in vampire territory when there really wasn't anything we could do to stop them. They know we would never make a scene."

Carlisle closed his eyes, and we both paused to listen for a moment. "Hey, hey. This is a party, remember?" Bella was saying. She was trying to be playful, but there was a definite edge to her voice. "Always the peacekeeper," Carlisle remarked, smiling. There was a swell of pride and affection in his voice. "She never ceases to amaze me. You've chosen your mate well, Edward." "Thank you. I only hope she still feels she's chosen well when she realizes what kind of life she's bound herself to." "I think she understands better than you give her credit for. We've all been very upfront with her about what life will be like. I believe she's ready." He paused, and I could tell he was struggling to keep his thoughts hidden." "Carlisle?" I hedged. "There's something I've been thinking about, given our current circumstances. I know you won't like it, and probably won't agree to it, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least ask. Now that we know the newborns are on their way, and we know with certainty that they are coming for Bella, I'd like you to consider..." I didn't need to hear his thoughts to know what he was suggesting. "No," I said firmly. "I don't mean for her to fight along side us – " "No." "Only that if she were changed she wouldn't be in nearly as much danger." "No. I've already sworn to protect her. I will not have Bella making this choice because she's frightened." "She's already made her choice."

"It's out of the question." Edward. Carlisle knew me well. He knew when I was putting up walls, when I was stubbornly clinging to Bella's humanity even when she'd cast it aside. He paused until he was certain he had my full attention again. "I need you to think of the family for a moment. And remember, Bella's already made her choice. The only thing that would change is the timing. I want you to consider that whoever is responsible for this army, whoever is coming after Bella, is coming after a fragile, easily destroyed human. If that were no longer the case, there's a very real chance we could stop this fight from even happening." "Do you still think it's a member of the Volturi?" "I don't know. If it is, then certainly Bella being changed would end the conflict. Even if it's not one of them, I think we can still safely assume that her not being human anymore would change things." "You're asking her to sacrifice – " "No," he said, taking his turn at interrupting. "I'm asking nothing more of her than that which she's made explicitly clear is what she wants." I shut my eyes tightly, trying to calm the flare of frustration and anxiety. I was also trying to silence the little voice inside my head telling me that Carlisle was right. Why is this so difficult for you? I thought you'd already accepted her change as inevitable. "It's not that," I said, not realizing what I was admitting until it was too late. "You're still counting on her accepting your proposal and changing her yourself." It wasn't a question, and I couldn't have denied it if it was. "You could still be the one to change her." "Carlisle – "

"I know this isn't how you wanted it. But things have changed. There's more to consider now, more of us involved than just the two of you." "Wait," I said, suddenly racing out the door, leaving Carlisle baffled and alone yet again. "Everything just disappeared, of course," Alice was saying. "That's inconvenient, but, all things considered, I'll take it." "We'll have to coordinate," Jacob told her. "It won't be easy for us. Still, this is our job more than yours." "Amazing," I whispered as Carlisle stepped up beside me. "What is it?" "It's the wolves. They want to help." Carlisle's eyes widened in understanding. "They want to fight with us?" "It appears so." In all my years, I never would have imagined... Both of us stunned into silence, we listened as Alice and Jacob had the first civil conversation either one of us had ever heard. Bella, on the other hand, was less than thrilled. "You are staying out of this!" she shrieked. "Alice – tell them no! They'll get killed." The wolves laughed. "Well, that's impolite," Carlisle muttered. "I'm afraid you'll have to get used to that. I have to admit, though, the wolves' lack of tact and understanding of social conventions is a small price to pay. I can't believe they're willing to fight alongside their enemies."

"Desperate times often bring out the best in even the most unruly creatures. Their land and their people would be threatened as well, should we be unsuccessful in stopping this army. They'll fight with their enemies to conquer an even bigger threat." "No!" Bella shouted, nearly in tears. Several heads turned toward her, noticing her distress for the first time. "Go to her, Edward. She's no longer aware of her surroundings. Remind her that until the last guest leaves, we are to keep up appearances." I headed downstairs, forcing myself to keep a human pace, and fixed a smile on my face. Well, look who decided to join the party, Jacob thought, glowering at me. Ready for the fight, bloodsucker? I can't believe you were going to leave us out. This is our one chance to finally treat at least some vampires the way they're supposed to be treated. Doing my best to keep the smile on my face, I wrapped my arms around Bella's waist and kissed the top of her head gently. I had to remember that, as difficult as it might be joining forces with Jacob, we were both fighting to protect Bella. If it meant she was safe – and could remain human until she was completely ready – I could endure anything.

Instruction – EPOV

It's amazing how quickly everything can change. Before the party, my family and I had been anxiously waiting for Alice's vision. When she'd finally seen the newborns approaching, we'd all found ourselves in a panic. Nervous, uncertain, and wondering whether we would all make it through the battle alive. Then, of course, there was Bella, who'd somehow managed to stay relatively calm throughout the evening. That is, until the wolves decided to join in the fight. Now, my family and I were all feeling the relief of knowing we weren't facing the army alone. For the first time since realizing what we were up against, we felt evenly matched, perhaps even having the upper hand. Bella, however, was inconsolable. I forced myself not to dwell on that fact. I was having a difficult enough time as it was, trying not to tear Jacob limb from limb. Bella begged and pleaded with them to stay out of the fight, and Jacob was enjoying every minute of it. "Wait, Jake!" she shouted as the pack turned to leave. "Please! Don't do this!" I sighed. My arm was around Bella's waist, my fingers running lightly through her hair. She hadn't even acknowledged my presence. "Don't be ridiculous, Bells," Jacob told her, still laughing at her fears. "You're giving me a much better gift than the one I gave you." "No!" she yelled again, her eyes brimming with tears. And you, he added, glancing at me for a split second before returning his eyes to Bella. Thought you were going to be the hero again, right? No wonder you didn't tell us about these new bloodsuckers. You wanted the glory all to yourself. A low snarl, hopefully too quiet for Bella to hear, ripped through my throat. All it did was make him smile even wider.

Now, now. Don't forget your manners. This is still a party, after all. My eyes widened and I felt Jasper at my side. Relax, Edward. He's not worth it. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the waves of calm he was sending directly to me. Hmmm, Jacob thought, his eyes still fixed on Bella. Who do you think she's going to worry about more? Suppose it's not really even a question. She was all ready to watch you run off and fight, but look at her now, begging me to stay. I was glad, in that moment, that Bella wasn't paying me any attention, because all of my pretenses fell away. I glared at him, eyes full of anger and fire. I hated that I was unsure whether I was more furious at Jacob for his taunting, or at myself for wondering if what he was saying was true. This is going to be some fight, he added with a smirk. Then he ran off to join the rest of his mangy companions, and I was left to console Bella. My Bella. Who seemed far more worried about his safety than I was prepared for. Wasn't she ready to let me kill him less than an hour ago? "Bella, my love," I whispered, nuzzling into her hair. "I know you're upset, but people are starting to notice the commotion." She shut her eyes tightly, taking in three deep, steady breaths. "You're right," she finally sighed. "I'm sorry." "Don't apologize. I'm sorry you're unhappy. I only wish there was something I could do to fix it." "Tell them not to fight," she said, burying her head in my shoulder. I gritted my teeth, wishing there was some way to silence the jealousy I felt at her concern for that dog. Then,

like always, she found a way to give me exactly what I needed. "Don't you fight either," she added. "None of you fight. Let's just leave." All of my loathsome feelings of anger and jealousy faded away, and I actually caught myself laughing. "Now, why didn't I think of that?" I teased. "Don't joke," she snapped, and despite myself, I laughed again at her indignation. "I'm sorry. That was very insensitive of me. I just wish it was that simple. If running away would do us any good, I would whisk you away the moment this ridiculous party is over." "Who says you have to wait til the party's over?" she asked, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips. I pulled her tightly into my arms. "No one is going to get hurt, Bella. We're going to end this war before it begins, now that we have so much help. Before, it was – " I paused, not wanting to upset her, but needing her to understand the necessity of us accepting the wolves' help, "uncertain. The only downside to their being involved is that it means Alice's sight is gone. Really, though, there was so much she couldn't see anyway, because of the nature of newborns, we aren't losing anything. We have only to benefit from this alliance, as unconventional as it might be." Her brow pulled together as if she were concentrating very hard on what I'd said, weighing the pros and cons. Eventually, she must have come to some sort of acceptance, though I doubted she would ever be as happy about the decision as the rest of us were. "No one is going to get hurt?" she repeated. "It'll be over so fast, you won't have to time to worry about any of us." Maybe it was selfish, or foolish, or perhaps a bit of both, but I was hoping she would argue with me. A very juvenile side of me wanted to hear her say, "Of course I'm going to worry about you!" Instead, she simply rolled her eyes at me, and rejoined the party.

As she drifted back into the crowd, I followed after her closely, surprised by how quickly the charade resumed. If I didn't know her better, I would have thought she loved playing the hostess. Alice was thrilled that the party lasted for several more hours, though I would have preferred to have Bella to myself for awhile before meeting with the wolves. I was thrilled to have their help, but it was still going to be a difficult night. When the last of Bella's friends had finally left, we all gathered around the door. Every thought was now focused on our upcoming training session - every mind except Alice's. I wasn't surprised to hear her basking in post-party bliss. "Well, all things considered, I think that went well," she said. "Everyone had fun, I could tell they were all positively entranced by the décor." As I listened to her chatter on about the success of the party, as cheerful as ever, I realized that she wasn't the only one filled with euphoria. Every member of my family was smiling. It was a welcome relief, after the weeks we'd spent worrying. Knowing we were no longer fighting alone had brightened everyone's spirits. Still, as the minutes ticked by, I began to feel the weight of evening heavy on my shoulders. The thought of having the wolves observe our training session had me feeling quite unsettled. The rest of my family didn't seem to mind the idea, but they also weren't the ones who would have to play the role of translator. While Jacob was beside himself with excitement, I'd heard the distrust in his friends' minds. There was no way they were joining us tonight in their human forms. As Alice continued praising her party, the rest of us remained quiet, thinking about the upcoming events. Eventually, Emmett broke the silence, making Bella jump beside me. "All right. The humans are gone, present company excluded," he added, grinning at Bella. "Time to get the real party started!" We all breathed a collective sigh, not quite as enthused as Emmett seemed to be, though I was relieved the tension seemed to lift. "Emmett is right," Carlisle said, smiling. He was genuinely calm for the first time in weeks. "We should begin our preparations."

"What's to prepare?" Emmett asked. "Jasper knows how to kill these new guys. He'll teach us everything he knows, and those idiot dogs are gonna sit there and watch, pretending they aren't scared to death of us. Like I said, sounds like a party to me." "I wish you wouldn't act like this is all some big game," Bella said, and everyone turned to stare at her. She blushed, her eyes widening like she was surprised she'd said the words out loud. "I'm sorry," she added in a whisper. "I just don't know why you're making jokes when people could really get hurt." People... I smiled as every mind in the room thought the word at the same time. My Bella, still thinking of all her monsters as nothing more than regular people. "Bella," Carlisle said gently. "I assure you we will all be very well prepared. This alliance has made us strong, and our training is merely a precaution. It's important to gain the greatest possible advantage, though I feel certain that with our numbers the way they now stand, we could go into this fight tonight without any preparations at all, and still be victorious." "I wish I was as confident as you." Have you considered letting her accompany us tonight? Carlisle asked me, and I shook my head infinitesimally. It might actually be good for her. She should see why our tactics, and our powers, give us such an advantage. "Silly Bella," Alice said, thankfully interrupting Carlisle's and my silent conversation. "I know I can't see past those stupid hairball friends of yours, but there's really nothing to worry about." She shot Jasper a meaningful look, and he turned to Bella, concentrating every ounce of calm he could muster in her direction. I saw her posture relax for a moment, before her mind took over again.

"I just don't understand why nobody seems at all worried anymore. You're really putting that much faith in the wolves? I thought you guys were mortal enemies. Now you want to fight with them?" "Oh, come on, Bella," Emmett laughed. "Why should you be the only one getting to fight with werewolves? It's our turn now!" She scowled at him, and I had to stop myself from laughing. "Don't you worry about a thing, dear," Esme said, kissing her forehead in a very motherly gesture that made my heart soar. I loved to see how deeply Esme cared for Bella. "Everything will be perfectly fine, and this mess will all be over before you know it." Then, we can finally get back to the happy task of welcoming you officially into the family, she added, with an almost imperceptible wink in my direction. "Edward," Carlisle said. "We don't have much time, and you need to get Bella home. We don't want Charlie worrying about her." Alice smiled angelically, her thoughts drifting conveniently back to the party. She was keeping something from me, and at that moment, I didn't have time to worry about what it was. "Carlisle's right," I said. "It's late, and I'm sure Bella is exhausted." Bella let out what sounded like an aggravated sigh, and her posture tensed. I didn't think my comment had been insulting, but she looked like she was upset. As we walked out the door, my family continued to offer her reassurances that everything would go smoothly, but Bella's anxiety never dissipated. She was silent when I opened the car door for her, and didn't give me even the smallest of smiles when I reached out to her in the car. I stroked the back of her hand soothingly, trying to coax something out of her. It was once again driving me mad that I couldn't hear where her thoughts had taken her. Was her worried mind thinking of me, my family – Jacob? "That had to be the longest party in the history of the world," she finally mumbled.

"It's over now," I said softly, my fingers now tracing up her arm. I hoped the evening had worn her out enough to help her get a restful night's sleep, even without me there to hum her lullaby. I didn't know how long we would be out tonight, but it seemed safe to assume I wouldn't be back before dawn. This would be the first night we'd spent apart in a very long time. "You're taking me with you tonight," she finally said, her voice low, trying to find her confidence. "Bella, you're worn out." I wasn't surprised she would suggest coming with us, but I also didn't expect her to push the issue very far. Her eyes were half closed. "You think I could sleep?" My lips pressed together in a tight line. Of course she could sleep, if she'd let herself relax for a moment. Instead, she was trying to find reasons to join the very unconventional assembly of vampires and werewolves, putting herself right in the middle of harm's way, should tempers escalate. I didn't want her there, in the midst of the unknown. I hoped things would remain peaceful, but it was quite possible the wolves would get angry when they saw first-hand what we were capable of. Some of them might attack out of frustration or instinct. I usually found her stubbornness endearing, but I really didn't have time to rationalize with her. Which meant she was probably going to get her way. "This is an experiment," I explained. "I'm not sure if it will be possible for us all to... cooperate. I don't want you in the middle of that." The moment I'd said it, I realized my mistake. I was, once again, trying to look out for her safety – something she placed virtually no value on – but all I did was make her more fearful that one of us would get hurt. "If you won't take me, then I'll call Jacob." Her voice was flat, her face expressionless, though she must have known what her words would do to me. My grip tightened on the wheel as I realized I was powerless. Jacob would give her whatever she asked for, take her

anywhere she wanted to go, no matter how dangerous. It wasn't that I thought he didn't care about her, but rather that he was arrogant enough to believe nothing could harm her while he was around. I pulled into Bella's driveway without saying a word. We both knew she'd won. "See you upstairs," she said, her eyes not quite meeting mine. I watched until she was inside, then went to wait for her upstairs. I couldn't help but laugh, listening to her drag Charlie to bed. Then, she moved quickly onto her nightly routine. It always amazed me how those brief moments without her, when I knew she was in the room right next to me, dragged on, and how when she finally joined me in her room, everything in my world felt right again. She always looked at me with the oddest mixture of relief and elation, like she still couldn't believe I was sitting in her rocking chair waiting for her, though I'd been here every night since we'd returned home from Italy. I opened my arms, hoping she would join me. She was tired enough that I might be able to rock her to sleep. "Come here," she said, smiling and pulling me toward the bed instead. Her hands pressed against my chest, and before I knew it, she was curled up in my arms, sighing. I wrapped her quilt around her to warm her up, wishing she would simply drift off to sleep. The moment her breathing started to slow, though, I felt her tense again. I hated that she was fighting so hard to stay awake when there was nothing to be accomplished by her coming with us. She was looking for reassurance that no one was in any danger, but watching us train wouldn't truly give her that. She would just have to trust us. "Please relax," I said softly, stroking her hair. "Sure." "This is going to work, Bella. I can feel it."

I could feel the frustration and doubt emanating from her, and I struggled for words that could help put her mind at ease. "Listen to me, Bella," I pleaded. "This is going to be easy. The newborns will be completely taken by surprise. They'll have no more idea that werewolves even exist than you did. I've seen how they act in a group, the way Jasper remembers. I truly believe that the wolves' hunting techniques will work flawlessly against them. And with them divided and confused, there won't be enough for the rest of us to do. Someone may have to sit out." "Piece of cake," she muttered sarcastically. "Shhh," I breathed, my fingers brushing against her cheek, wishing I could take her fears away. "You'll see. Don't worry now." I hummed her lullaby, but her posture told me she was determined not to fall asleep. Her head was pressed to my chest, but there was too much tension in her shoulders. I really was fighting a losing battle. Determined to get to the field before the wolves, and knowing we were running out of time, I gently pushed Bella up until she was sitting beside me. "Are you sure you don't want to stay and sleep?" I asked uselessly. When she scowled at me, I sighed, defeated, and carried her out the window. With the world rushing by us as we ran, it was easy to forget that we were running toward something so important. I was so focused on the way Bella's arms wrapped around me, how she was so much more at ease than she used to be, flying through the forest with me, I nearly forgot my worries from earlier. When we reached the clearing, I heard Emmett laughing as Jasper and Alice chased each other around. Alice looked like a pouncing kitten, and, although I knew Jasper was fast enough to outrun her, it was clear he was having more fun being caught. I smiled at Bella as I set her down, happy for the first time that she was with us. Maybe the lighthearted atmosphere was all she would need to stop worrying about everything. She didn't smile back at me, and I noticed her eyes weren't focused on anything. She was lost in thought, and of course, I was left completely baffled.

"You know what I think?" she asked. I couldn't stop a laugh from escaping. "No," I teased. "What do you think?" I expected her to laugh with me, but she continued almost tonelessly, like she was having trouble wrapping her own mind around whatever she was thinking. "I think it's all connected. Not just the two, but all three." "You've lost me." "Three bad things have happened since you came back. The newborns in Seattle. The stranger in my room. And – first of all – Victoria came to look for me." My fists clenched at hearing Victoria's name. It bothered me, how confident Bella was that it had been her. I hadn't been very good at tracking Victoria, but the idea that she had been right here, under all our noses, without us knowing was horrifying to me. "Why do you think so?" I asked. "Because I agree with Jasper – the Volturi love their rules. They would probably do a better job anyway. Remember when you were tracking Victoria last year?" "Yes." I couldn't keep the pain out of my expression. Somehow, Bella managed to talk about my time away without so much as flinching. Every time I thought about it, it caused me physical pain. "I wasn't very good at it," I admitted, hoping she wouldn't press the subject any further. There had been times I was tracking her where I found myself hoping she would find me first, and put me out of my misery. "Alice said you were in Texas. Did you follow her there?" "Yes. Hmm..." Bella was putting pieces together in ways my family and I hadn't even considered. Had Victoria been inspired by the gruesome history in Texas and decided to try her hand at army-making? It was sick and terrible to consider, but I had a feeling we'd never really gotten a true idea of what Victoria was capable of.

"See," Bella continued, her voice strangely excited as she realized she might be onto something, "she could have gotten the idea there. But she doesn't know what she's doing, so the newborns are all out of control." It still didn't explain how one of them was able to get into Bella's room without Alice seeing. "Only Aro knows exactly how Alice's visions work." "Aro would know best, but wouldn't Tanya and Irina and the rest of your friends in Denali know enough? Laurent lived with them for so long. And if he was still friendly enough with Victoria to be doing favors for her, why wouldn't he also tell her everything he knew?" Anxiety was starting to take over my senses as I contemplated her being in Bella's room, but I quickly reminded myself that, no matter how horrid a tracker I was, I would have known if she'd been there. "It wasn't Victoria in your room," I promised her. "She can't make new friends? Think about it, Edward. If it is Victoria doing this in Seattle, she's made a lot of new friends. She's created them." I didn't want her to be right. I didn't want to think Victoria had been that close, that if she'd wanted to kill Bella that night, she could have sent someone to do it without any of us knowing. My brothers often teased me about my unwillingness to leave Bella's side for even a short time. This was why. Every moment of every day, I was completely, painfully, aware of how easily I could lose her. Emmett and Jasper had never had to worry about losing Rose or Alice. The concept of eternity with their perfect partners was a given - an irrefutable fact. Going into this fight, especially before we'd gained the help of the wolves, was probably the first time either of them had had to consider what their existence would be like if they were forced to continue it alone. It was a fear I lived with constantly. "Hmm. It's possible," I finally said when I noticed Bella staring up at me expectantly. "I still think the Volturi are most likely... But your theory – there's something there. Victoria's personality. Your theory suits her personality perfectly."

It made sense that she would use others to get what she wants. Anything to keep herself out of harm's way. It was something I'd understood about her a long time ago, back when she'd sent Laurent to Forks, supposedly to check whether or not Bella was still protected. She must have known that if he'd found her, he would kill her. Her blood, though not as potent to others as it was to me, still would have been too much for him to resist. It was clear she wanted results without having to put herself in any danger, though before Bella's theory, I hadn't thought even Victoria would go to such extreme lengths as to create an army to do her dirty work. "She's shown a remarkable gift for self-preservation from the start," I said, "maybe it's a talent of hers. In any case, this plot would put her in no danger at all from us, if she sits safely behind and lets the newborns wreak their havoc here. And maybe little danger from the Volturi, either. Perhaps she's counting on us to win, in the end, though certainly not without heavy casualties of our own. But no survivors from her little army to bear witness against her. In fact, if there were survivors, I'd bet she's be planning to destroy them herself... Hmm." The only mystery that remained, if the pieces really did connect the way they were appearing to, was who had been in Bella's room. "Still, she'd have to have at least one friend who was a bit more mature. No fresh-made newborn left your father alive..." I stopped myself when I heard the way Bella's breath caught, angry at myself for upsetting her. I smiled, quickly changing the subject. "Definitely possible. Regardless, we've got to be prepared for anything until we know for sure." I grinned, quite proud of Bella, even if I didn't like the answer she's come up with. "You're very perceptive today. It's impressive." "Maybe I'm just reacting to this place," she said, suddenly second guessing herself. She looked around warily, and when she continued, her voice was shaking. "It makes me feel like she's close by... like she sees me now." Every muscle in my body tensed at the idea. "She'll never touch you, Bella," I promised, instinctively searching the shadows for signs of any uninvited guests. It was unsettling,

having to question whether we were alone. There was a time when I thought our family was almost impenetrable. Between Alice seeing the moment anyone decided to come near us, and me hearing them when they were close enough to worry about, it seemed we were invincible. Even Jasper tasting a change in the atmosphere was helpful for keeping out those who wanted to harm us. Not this time, though. Whoever was in Bella's room had found a way around all of us, and for that, I would have given anything to end this nightmare here and now. "Yet, what I wouldn't give to have her that close," I breathed, more to myself than Bella. "Victoria, and anyone else who's ever thought of hurting you. To have the chance to end this myself. To finish it with my own hands this time." I felt Bella's grip tighten, her fingers locking with mine, and I pulled her close as we closed the small gap between us and my family. Jasper's playfulness had vanished and was now getting ready, running drills in his head like he was a boot camp instructor. Esme and Carlisle were standing together, whispering reassurances and words of love to each other. Emmett was running laps around the field while Rosalie rolled her eyes and sighed. Alice was standing anxiously on her own, fidgeting, her eyes unfocused but searching. Well, at least we know they're not bailing on us, she was thinking sourly. Can't see anything. Completely frustrating. Stupid wolves are probably dragging their tails here right about now. Can't believe we agreed to this. "Is something wrong with Alice?" Bella asked. Yes, definitely perceptive tonight, I thought, laughing quietly. "The werewolves are on their way, so she can't see anything that will happen now. It makes her uncomfortable to be blind." Like you never complain about not being able to hear Bella? Just imagine if everyone suddenly went silent on you. Alice looked up, meeting my eyes, and stuck her tongue out at me. If I'd thought she was genuinely upset, I would have felt more sorry for her, but even though she was frustrated, I knew how grateful she was that we weren't fighting alone.

"Hey, Edward," Emmett said, casting a sideways glance at Bella. There's just no leaving her behind, is there? So tell me, how does it feel having Bella make all your decisions for you? Emmett absolutely loved taunting me when there was nothing I could say or do say about it. "Hey, Bella," he grinned. "Is he going to let you practice, too?" "Please, Emmett, don't give her any ideas." Carlisle appeared beside us looking relaxed, but I could hear a bit of concern playing around in his mind. He trusted the wolves, more so than the rest of us, but it was still hard for him to invite a group of unstable creatures to interact with his family – especially when the focus of our evening was fighting. "When will our guests arrive?" he asked, a warm smile locked firmly on his face. I closed my eyes and tried to focus. Listening to the wolves was like hearing an echo. One mind spoke, then the words resonated through the rest of the pack. It was a harmony of voices, yet each had their own distinct timbre. It was fascinating, and I was sure it was also a very useful form of communication. For me, though, it was positively deafening. As much as I disliked Jacob and didn't particularly enjoy hearing him or his juvenile complaints, I was the most familiar with his voice, and concentrating on him helped me to block the others out. Those bloodsuckers have no idea what we're capable of. We don't need training to kill a group of stinking vampires. We were made for this! I sighed. Jacob's arrogance knew no limits. "A minute and a half," I estimated. The closer they got, their voices grew even louder and more difficult to distinguish. It was going to be a long night. "But I'm going to have to translate," I added. "They don't trust us enough to use their human forms." I'd suspected as much. Is Bella comfortable being here with them in their true forms? I shrugged my shoulders once and tried not to look surprised when he referred to their wolf bodies as their "true forms." It was interesting that Carlisle regarded them as wolves more than humans. Maybe that was part of his acceptance of them. When they were changed, he

saw their true nature, the time when they were the most themselves, and considered their human lives the act they were forced to put on. "This is hard for them," Carlisle continued, his voice gentle and compassionate. "I'm grateful they're coming at all." "They're coming as wolves?" Bella asked, her eyes wide. I nodded slowly, noting the way her breathing sped up slightly. Carlisle smiled. I guess that answers my question. For all of Bella's time hanging out with the wolves, I supposed she really hadn't spent much time with them when they weren't human. It made sense she would be nervous being around all of them at once. The pack had almost arrived, and it was getting very difficult to ignore them. Their unspoken conversations had grown into an almost constant chatter that was enough to make anyone crazy. In a strange way, I found myself empathizing with them. I knew all too well how unpleasant it could be, not being able to silence the voices in your head. I couldn't deny that the push and pull dynamic of their minds was intriguing, though. Their thoughts were shared, and there was definitely a collective spirit - a clear camaraderie - yet they were all still very much their own entities. Some of them remained mostly silent, while others were slightly more opinionated. I wondered if the distinction had anything to do with how long they'd been a part of the pack. Still can't believe we're helping them – whose bright idea was this again? – aw, guys, where's your fighting spirit – we finally get to rip some vampires apart – why are we watching them train? – how hard do they think this army is to kill? – don't they know this is why we exist! I took a deep breath in, struggling, concentrating, desperate to pick out each individual voice. At the very least, I needed to know Sam's, since we would be leading the pack, and would likely be the only voice I was meant to translate. The others were, to the rest of my family, silent observers.

Do they all have powers, or just the mind-reader and the fortune-teller? – guys, this is messed up, what are we doing joining them in a training session? – Quil's right, we were made for this – Jacob, this must be driving you nuts – how can you stand to watch her with him like that? Just like that, I knew they were close enough to see us. Three wolves stepped out of the shadows. They were staring at Bella, and even in their wolf forms, I could see the confusion – the utter revulsion – in their eyes. She doesn't even care, does she? – totally disgusting – can't she smell that? I rolled my eyes. Then, amid the stream of insults that followed, I heard something that caught me by surprise. Their numbers were greater than they'd previously wanted to admit. Are you sure about this? – do we really want them knowing how many have changed? – this is our best kept secret, man – well, what do you expect, some of us not to fight? – no way am I staying out of this – there's no point in holding back, they'll know soon enough. "Prepare yourselves – they've been holding out on us," I said, nearly grinning. I was starting to be able to distinguish their voices from one another, and if my count was correct, there were at least eight wolves. The fight would be over before the newborns realized it had started. "What do you mean?" Alice asked, irritated that I knew something before she did. "Shh," I said, needing every bit of focus as the wolves stepped into view. The sight of the wolves – all ten of them – surprised everyone. Jasper, Emmett, even Carlisle, who hadn't expressed one moment of nervousness until that moment, all suddenly had the exact same thought. Edward, guard Bella.

Hearing their trepidation made me instinctively want to stand beside them, but with Bella clutching my hand beside me, I knew without a doubt where I belonged. "Damn," Emmett breathed, eyes wide as he truly took it all in. "Did you ever see anything like it?" Are we sure this is safe? Esme thought. She glanced quickly around the circle at her children, her eyes finally resting on Rosalie. Rose, seeing Esme's fear, tried her best to smile reassuringly. "What is it?" Bella asked, squinting into the darkness. "I can't see." "The pack has grown." I wanted to gauge Bella's reaction, but the pack was muttering amongst themselves again, and I was once again struggling to hear Sam's voice. So what now? – this is such a waste of time – would you guys please chill, this is cool – like, partying with the enemy, cool? – Jake, check it out, your girlfriend's holding onto that leech pretty tight – shut up, Leah! "Fascinating," I whispered, unable to control my surprise. I guess I'd always assumed it was only the males who carried the gene. The fact that there was a female among them was something I never could have foreseen. You shut up, Jake. You know you're totally jealous. Look who's talking about jealousy! Thinking about Sam much? Shut UP! Leah's voice was almost as raking as Jacob's, and it was clear I was going to be hearing more out of both of them than I cared to.

I didn't completely understand what happened next, but something in Leah's tone changed. Although I still didn't fully understand the inner workings of the pack mind, somehow I knew the next thing I heard was something she was trying to hide from the rest of the wolves. Of course there was no way for her to truly hide her thoughts, but what she was thinking was now more like a flash of images rather than words, and she was moving through them so quickly, I was only able to catch glimpses. There was Sam, and I could feel, rather than hear her love for him. I could tell she'd been his, sometime long ago, but his heart belonged to someone else now. The girl Leah saw was someone I'd caught glimpses of in Sam's mind, but it was only through Leah that I had a name to put with the face. Emily. Leave it alone, Leah, just for this one night, we've got work to do. Jacob's voice startled me, and I realized I'd been listening with rapt attention to the strange love story playing through Leah's mind. She'd lost Sam, and it haunted her. You honestly think I can control it, you idiot? she spat back at him. I'd love to shut it off, really. Hmm... maybe if I was spending my time thinking about something a little more interesting. Like Embry's little conundrum. Her voice was almost smug now, like she was thrilled to be bringing up something that was clearly taboo. Now's not the time, Leah. It's none of your business anyway. Well it's somebody's business. Leah's thoughts changed back to her previous tone. I was once again seeing flashes, and then hearing memories as well. Apparently, there was some question as to which member of the tribe had fathered Embry, and it didn't take me long to realize that the issue had been causing quite a bit of drama throughout the pack. Jacob and Leah's argument was quickly joined by a chorus of voices.

Is anyone ever going to learn to mind their own business around here? - you say that like it's even possible - just because we all know about something, doesn't mean we need to discuss it all the time - oh come on, there hasn't been a scandal this big since Sam imprinted on Emily Enough! Not another word. In an instant, every voice disappeared. It startled me how quickly Sam's order was obeyed. I knew as the Alpha, his word was final, but I hadn't expected the complete and total silence. I guess that was one advantage to having their thoughts joined. Now that Sam's was the only voice I could hear, he was even clearer than before. He'd silenced the pack out of frustration, but there was another emotion there, hiding just under the surface. His mind drifted to his love - his Emily - and I was suddenly seeing her through his eyes. The way he saw her, the complete and pure adoration, made me feel voyeuristic in a way I never had before. She belonged to him so completely, it felt wrong that I should even be allowed to see her through the medium of his mind. I'd heard the wolves discuss imprinting before, but it wasn't until that moment that I understood it. Edward, I'm counting on you to tell me if any of them so much as thinks of attacking one of us. My mind struggled to focus on Carlisle's voice. I'd found myself distracted, lost in the minds of the wolves for the second time. I felt instantly guilty at my inability to concentrate on the matter at hand. Carlisle was looking to me to foresee any problems that might arise, though unless Sam lifted his gag order, I was going to be just as blind as Alice. "Welcome," Carlisle said to Sam, outwardly showing nothing but confidence. Thank you, Sam thought, his deep eyes staring meaningfully into mine. I repeated his words aloud, trying to keep my voice steady as the eyes of the pack, and my family, looked on. As I spoke Sam's words, I heard him command his pack once more. I believe it's important for you all be able to communicate with each other during this exercise, but if there is even one

more moment of argument, I will silence you all for the remainder of the evening. We are here to learn. Is that understood? Yes. One voice. One mind. It was comforting, yet at the same time confusing. I'd never experienced anything like it. The voices I was used to hearing were incessantly selfindulgent. Every human for himself. The pack mentality, as they answered their Alpha's orders, was a unity I never thought I would hear. We will watch and listen, but no more, Sam continued. Now confident in my ability to translate, he was looking straight at Carlisle. That is the most we can ask of our selfcontrol. "That is more than enough," Carlisle said. "My son Jasper has experience in this area. He will teach us how they fight, how they are to be defeated. I'm sure you can apply this to your own hunting style." They are different from you? It was difficult to keep my voice calm, repeating such an offensive statement, but I could hear that there was no malice in Sam's voice. He was merely trying to understand the nature of the creatures he was sending his pack to fight. Carlisle nodded. "They are all very new – only months old to this life. Children, in a way. They will have no skill or strategy, only brute strength." There was a murmur through the minds of the wolves, far too many thoughts at once for me to pick anything specific out. There was some apprehension at this new information, though their collective voice still sounded mostly excited. "Tonight their numbers stand at twenty," Carlisle continued. "Ten for us, ten for you – it shouldn't be difficult. The numbers may go down. The new ones fight amongst themselves." Killing each other off? – those stupid vamps are doing our job for us – excellent! – aw, we're not gonna get to have any fun at all. Quiet, please. Sam's voice didn't have the same commanding tone as it had before. Perhaps a suggestion more than an order. Still, the pack settled back down and I was able to focus on Sam again.

We are willing to take more than our share, if necessary. I fought back the growl that threatened to follow. The rumblings of enthusiastic agreement seemed to suggest the wolves considered themselves stronger fighters than us. Carlisle must have noticed the edge in my voice. Calm, Edward. He meant no offense. They're only being helpful. If only Carlisle could hear what I was hearing... Do you know when and how they'll arrive? "They'll come across the mountains in four days, in the late morning. As they approach, Alice will help us intercept their path." Thank you for the information. We will watch. As I translated Sam's words, he added as warning to the pack. We will watch quietly, and respectfully. And perhaps from a less intimidating vantage point. There was a groan as the wolves, one by one, laid themselves down. So embarrassing – feel like a pet dog – is this necessary, Sam? Sam growled, a guttural sound rather than a verbal answer, and the voices ceased once more. There was a strangely quiet moment. Every voice and every mind, both vampire and werewolf, was silent. It was as if we were all taking one deep, much needed breath before we began. With a deep sigh, Jasper finally broke the stillness, taking a careful step forward. Are the puppies on their best behavior? he asked, his eyes locking with mine for a moment. He was trying to be funny, not wanting to let his nerves show, but I knew this was going to be difficult for him. I nodded, confident that Sam would keep the pack in order, and watched as Jasper acted against every instinct he had within him, and turned his back to his mortal enemies. I can't believe I'm doing this, he thought with a groan. "Carlisle's right," he said, facing my family. "They'll fight like children. The two most important things you'll need to remember are, first, don't let them get their arms around

you, and second, don't go for the obvious kill. That's all they'll be prepared for. As long as you come at them from the side and keep moving, they'll be too confused to respond effectively. Emmett?" Gladly, he thought, grinning from ear to ear. I'm ready to show these wolves exactly how fast and strong we really are. Jasper signaled for Emmett to come forward. He wanted everyone to have a proper view. "Okay, Emmett first. He's the best example of a newborn attack." Thanks, bro. "I'll try not to break anything." Jasper smiled. "What I mean is that Emmett relies on his strength. He's very straightforward about the attack. The newborns won't be trying anything subtle, either." I'll show you subtle, Emmett added dryly. "Just go for the easy kill, Emmett," Jasper said, baiting him. He's really asking for it now. Permission to pummel at will? I stifled a laugh. "Okay, Emmett – try to catch me." Without a thought – exactly as Jasper had predicted – Emmett lurched forward. He hurled himself toward Jasper like a bullet out of a gun. No planning, no direction. The perfect example of a newborn attack. We couldn't have scripted a better fight. Emmett fumbled and grabbed, his hands clenching around air, but Jasper always knew exactly what his next move would be. He easily dodged every hit because Emmett was always coming straight toward him. Damn it! he silently screamed, over and over. It was all meant to be an exercise and nothing more, but I could hear the real frustration in Emmett's mind. His pride would always be his greatest fault, and I actually felt myself tensing as the fight went on. I watched as he threw himself at Jasper time and again, never pausing, never thinking.

I think he's had enough, Jasper thought, calculating for the briefest of moments before coming up behind Emmett, teeth bared. "Damn it!" he yelled, this time aloud. They're fast – faster than I wanted them to be – interesting tactics – why wouldn't he plan his next move? – are they all going to be that big? "Again," Emmett growled, forgetting himself, forgetting what this was all about. "It's my turn," I said, stepping forward. I needed Emmett to snap out of it. Suddenly, I felt Bella's fingers grip mine, pulling me back toward her. Guiltily, I realized that I'd forgotten she was there. It was the first moment since I'd known her that her presence wasn't the strongest force around me. There was an anxious feeling in the air, excited and determined, and it was permeating everything. "In a minute," Jasper told me. "I want to show Bella something first." I took a careful step back, focusing on Bella again. My perfect, fragile love, standing in a field, watching monsters learn how to fight. It was despicable that I'd forgotten her presence for even a moment. Jasper motioned for Alice to come forward. "I know you worry about her," he told Bella. "I want to show you why that's not necessary." Bella's eyes widened as she watched Jasper lunge toward Alice. She closed her eyes and smiled. Hmm. Left attack first? she thought, taking one deliberate step forward. A little predictable. I grinned, glad Alice was able to have some fun today. What'll it be next? Ah, I see. She took another step and Jasper passed through the space she'd just been standing in. Missed me, she thought as he grasped at air. Missed me again. Unlike Emmett, Jasper was planning his moves strategically, but Alice saw every choice he made and was always a step ahead. The two were laughing, thoroughly enjoying their dance. Finally, Alice decided

to end the exercise on her terms. Her eyes lifted for a split second and she smiled as she jumped in the air, landing on top of Jasper's shoulders. "Gotcha," she said, kissing him. Jasper laughed, his previous anxiety gone. Alice had an amazing power over him. He'd all but forgotten the wolves were watching. "You truly are one frightening little monster," he teased. That could be inconvenient - how does she do that? - don't understand it - more powerful than I'd expected. Then, amid the banter and frustration, I heard Jacob's voice above them all. Thought she was supposed to be powerless when we were around, he complained. Hmm. The mutt made a valid point. I'd expected Alice to be blind the entire evening, yet here she was, using her powers against Jasper. I looked at Alice, my eyes questioning, and she grinned at me. The wolves aren't really involved right now. They're only observing, not making any decisions. As soon as I realized what that meant, I asked Jasper to let me show off a bit. "It's good for them to learn some respect," I agreed, smiling as the irritation continued to resonate through the pack. You ready, Edward? Jasper asked, a sly look in his eyes. I was always his favorite opponent in any game. He loved trying to trick me with his mind, thinking moves he wasn't intending on making, planning and then changing his mind at the last second. We were a fairly even match, as far as strength was concerned. I had the upper hand in speed but he was a far more experienced fighter than I was. Suffice it to say, I was glad I would never have to fight him in earnest, because the outcome could truly go either way. "My turn," I announced, giving Bella's hand an extra squeeze before releasing it. I could tell she was uncomfortable watching me fight, even if it was all simply practice. I worried that she wouldn't be able to handle it when I left for the real fight. I could imagine her

scheming, trying to come along, though of course she could do nothing to help us. I hadn't given much thought to where she would be during the actual fight. The only thing I knew for sure was that she needed to be far away. I wouldn't risk one of the newborns catching her scent. Give it your best shot, Jasper said, bringing me back to the moment as he filled his mind with an array of fighting techniques. He lunged toward me and I smiled, already confident in his first move. I easily dodged his first attack, then came at him from behind, only to have him side-step at the last moment. He turned and ran straight toward me, his mind screaming, bank left! but I knew the tenor of his voice so well, his lie was obvious. When he realized that telling me the wrong move wasn't going to work, he tried to force himself not to think at all. His fighting became more primal, more instinctual, but no matter how hard he tried to keep his mind out of it, I could always see what his next move would look like in the moment before he made it. What I wouldn't give to battle you in a fair fight, he complained as I dodged yet another hit. Speeaking of which... I couldn't help but laugh as I felt the wave of calm he was attempting to send my direction. "You wish," I chuckled, taking another snap at him. It was worth a try. Not that I want to interrupt the party, Carlisle said, clearing his throat, but I believe the wolves are getting restless. Jasper and I laughed. I'd been having so much fun with him, I'd forgotten all about the wolves. "Back to work," he sighed. "We'll call it a draw." I was taking it easy on you so you wouldn't look bad in front of Bella, he added with a smirk. Sure he was.

I suppose there's no putting it off any longer, Carlisle thought sadly. He was the only one not looking forward to combat training. Jasper tried to keep his session with Carlisle very practical and methodical. He taught him the most essential tactics and nothing more, knowing how difficult it was for Carlisle to be fighting at all. It went against everything he stood for. The entire time, Carlisle kept repeating, necessary, have to protect my family. When Rosalie's turn came, she was distracted, so Jasper taught her about focus and using all her senses to keep alert. "They won't hesitate for even a second, so you have to be ready at all times," he instructed. "Though our numbers are good, we have to be ready for the possibility of simultaneous attacks. Always be watching, listening, feeling where the newborns are around you. They won't be subtle, so as long as you're paying attention, they won't be able to catch you off guard." I was surprised by how enthusiastic Esme was. She was so much like Carlisle in so many ways, I was expecting her to be as apprehensive as he was, but she was eager to learn everything she could. Throughout her training, she tried to remain confident, but occassionally I heard fear creep into her mind. She worried about her children, she even felt concern for the wolves, but mostly she worried about Carlisle being too hesitant. What if he gets hurt because of his unwillingness to kill? It soon became clear to me that her determination to fight as hard and as strong as possible was because she was expecting Carlisle not to. If the moment came when she feared for his safety, she would do whatever was necessary to protect him. When Emmett stepped up to fight again, I felt Bella lean sleepily against my side. "We're about finished," I whispered, hugging her closer to me. Even the wolves had grown silent, and I knew the evening was coming to an end. Jasper turned to them with a sigh. "We'll be doing this tomorrow. Please feel welcome to observe again." Yes, Sam said. We'll be here. As I repeated his words, I heard another murmer run through the pack. There seemed to be mixed feelings about the necessity of another training session.

Isn't one night with these leeches enough? - are you kidding, this is awesome - I can't believe they're letting us in on all this - what are you talking about – all this is is a whole lot of training for a fight that's gonna be over before we've had time to have any real fun speaking of fun, did anyone stop to think what will happen if we accidently have too much fun? That's enough! Sam shouted. My apologies, he continued, eyes locked with mine. You and your family have been nothing but kind to us today. I believe what Paul what trying to ask was, in the heat of battle, with everything happening so quickly, what if we find it difficult to distinguish between you and the others? Would it be possible to take a moment to familiarze ourselves with your particular scents? I nodded, taking a deep breath as I turned to my family. "The pack thinks it would be helpful to be familiar with each of our scents - so they don't make mistakes later. If we could hold very still, it will make it easier for them." "Certainly," Carlisle answered, looking Sam straight in the eye. "Whatever you need." Everyone on your best behavior, Sam ordered. Yes, they all collectively agreed as they stepped toward us. Sam led the pack, trying not to show his discomfort as he took in our scents one by one. Even he couldn't keep the disgust out of his thoughts, though. Sickening, he thought, his eyes nearly rolling into the back of his head. The rest of the pack laughed, though they all knew their turn was next. All right, Jasper thought, glancing in my direction as he watched the wolves warily. If any of them gets any bright ideas you'll let me know, right? I rolled my eyes and nodded. Way too close for comfort in my opinion. They'd better be worth it. I mean, we haven't actually seen them fight. This is fantastic, Emmett thought, grinning slyly. Get a whiff of this, hairballs.

I almost laughed, but at that moment, I noticed the look on Bella's face. She was watching the pack closely, obviously intrigued. As her eyes scanned wolf after wolf, I understood what she was doing. It was as clear as if I had suddenly been granted the ability to read her mind. She was looking for Jacob. When she finally spotted him, her eyes widened slightly. A small grin appeared, tugging at the corner of her lips, and I felt my fists clench. I suppose it was foolish of me to think she would be frightened of him. After all, it was as a wolf that he had once saved her life. Still, I felt a deep, aching pain in my chest as I listened to her laugh lightheartedly at his ridiculous wolf smile. I was expecting Jacob to have some snide remark to punctuate the moment, but his elation at her easy acceptance of him seemed to make him forget my presence. In a way, that was worse. Neither of them were paying the slightest bit of attention to me. They were lost in their own private moment. Jacob stepped out of line and walked over to Bella. It wasn't until he passed by me that it occurred to him I was watching the exchange. Bet you were wishing she'd be scared, right? He was trying to infuse his tone with the usual amount of hautiness, but even he wasn't sure how she would react when he was standing right in front of her. When he was within her reach, he stopped and threw one last glance in my direction. Enjoying the show, leech? It took every ounce of strength not to lunge for him, but a part of me needed to see how things would play out. Bella's breathing had sped up, and although her predominant expression seemed to be fascination, I could tell there was a bit of nervousness as well. Maybe Jacob would push her just slightly beyond what she was ready for. It wouldn't be the first time he'd dug his own grave where Bella's comfort level was concerned. I watched as Jacob crouched down, lowering himself until his eyes were level with hers. "Jacob?" she whispered, and he grunted his affirmation. Slowly, cautiously, she reached out to touch his face.

Bella, he sighed as his eyes closed. He was practically purring. As Bella continued to stroke his fur, Jacob regained his senses. His eyes were locked with hers, but his thoughts were directed at me. I know you told me to wait for her to ask, but is it technically a kiss if I don't have lips? Before I had time to stop him, Jacob was licking Bella. Licking her! I was about to fulfil my promise to break his jaw, but Bella shouted, "Ew! Gross, Jake!" and smacked him in the face. At least she didn't appear to have hurt her hand this time. The two of them were laughing as my family watched in horror. So disgusting, Alice thought. The smell will never come out. She's going to have to burn that outfit. Not that it's much of a loss. You gonna let him lick your girl like that? Emmett added, clearly only half teasing. It wasn't only my family that was having a difficult time understanding the scene in front of them. The rest of the pack had been stopped in their tracks, momentarily forgetting that they were supposed to be memorizing our scents. Dude, so uncalled for - she's hanging out with vampires and you're practically marking her - give it up, Jake. Then, Sam's voice rose above them all. We're finished here. Everyone should return home. It's imperitive that we rest if we are to go through this ordeal again tomorrow night. The wolves were more than ready to obey, though I could hear that his words had not been a command. He hadn't been using the same tone as when he was speaking as their Alpha. I had to admit, the nuances of the pack were fascinating. As they all turned to leave, I realized Jacob was still fixed firmly in place. Two other wolves were waiting near the edge of the clearing, urging him to join them. I'll meet you in a few minutes, he told them. There's something I need to take care of first.

I let out a deep sigh. I didn't remember what it felt like to be exhausted, but I was fairly certain this was as close as a vampire could get to it. All I wanted to do was take Bella home, and let her fall asleep in my arms, even if it was only for an hour or two. I didn't know how much more of Jacob I could take without doing something I would regret. "Ready to go?" I asked Bella, taking her hand. Not so fast. We have to figure out what to do with Bella during the fight. And don't you dare pretend you haven't been thinking about it. Are you taking her somewhere? "I've not quite figured out all the details yet." Leave her with me. Hate me all you want, but you know I can protect her. "It's more complicated than that. Don't concern youself; I'll make sure it's safe." "What are you talking about?" Bella asked, irritated. I felt guilty. I knew she hated feeling left out, but until I knew where I was going to take her, I didn't want her worrying about it. "Just discussing strategy," I said gently. No, Jacob said, his eyes racing back and forth between Bella and I. I'm sick and tired of you not telling her things because you think it's for her own good. This is Bella's life, too, you know. She has a right to be involved. If you can't manage to see that, then I'm going to talk to her for you. Before I could say another word, he was running into the trees. "Wait," Bella shouted after him. "Why did he leave?" she asked dismally. It killed me to hear the disappointment in her voice. "He's coming back," I assured her. "He wants to be able to talk for himself." In less than a minute's time, Jacob was jogging back to us, very much human - and very upset. "Okay, bloodsucker. What's so complicated about it?"

"I have to consider every possibility. What if someone gets by you?" He laughed humorlessly. You seem to have forgotten that we were born to kill vampires. We are always ready for them and there is no way one is getting by me. I shook my head defiantly. "Okay, so leave her on the reservation," he conceded. "We're making Collin and Brady stay behind anyway. She'll be safe there." "Are you talking about me?" Bella asked, her voice scathing. "I just want to know what he plans to do with you during the fight," Jacob replied. "Do with me?" "You can't stay in Forks, Bella." She seemed furious, but she had to have known this was coming. There was absolutely no way she was staying anywhere near this fight. "They know where to look for you there. What if someone slipped by us?" "Charlie?" she asked, choking on his name. "He'll be with Billy," Jacob promised her. "If my dad has to commit a murder to get him there, he'll do it. Probably it won't take that much. It's this Saturday, right? There's a game." I could have strangled Jacob then and there. "This Saturday?" she shrieked. I was hoping to talk to her about the timing of it all later. Privately. When I could comfort her and assure her we were completely ready. I stared at Bella, waiting for the panic to set in. "Well, crap! There goes your graduation present," she said, and I couldn't hold in my laughter. My Bella, still worried about all the wrong things. "It's the thought that counts," I promised her gently. "You can give the tickets to someone else." "Angela and Ben," she said quickly, seemingly content with her decision. "At least that will get them out of town."

I reached out to stroke her cheek gently. "You can't evacuate everyone. Hiding you is just a precaution. I told you - we'll have no problem now. There won't be enough of them to keep us entertained." She glared at me, either still unconvinced, or upset that I was once again making light of the fight. "But what about keeping her in La Push?" Jacob repeated. You're just being stubborn, you know. She'd be perfectly safe. "She's been back and forth too much," I reminded him. Maybe he was underestimating the tracking abilities of whoever was in charge of this army. They had her scent. They'd memorized it. "She's left trails all over the place. Alice only sees very young vampires coming on the hunt, but obviously someone created them. There is someone more experienced behind this. Whoever he," I stopped, remembering how convinced Bella was that Victoria was behind it, and added, "or she is, this could all be a distraction. Alice will see if he decides to look himself, but we could be very busy at the time that decision is made. Maybe someone is counting on that." My biggest fear in all that was that Alice would see someone deciding to go after Bella, but not being able to do anything to stop it. If it was in my power, of course I would leave the fight to protect her, but what if I couldn't get away in time? "I can't leave her somewhere she's been frequently," I repeated. "She has to be hard to find, just in case. It's a very long shot, but I'm not taking chances." Bella was staring at me as I spoke, absolute terror in her eyes. She was so convinced she had this all figured out, I could almost hear her imagining Victoria cornering her while my family and I fought the newborns. "Just being overcautious," I assured her, but she appeared unconvinced. "So hide her here," Jacob said, pointing toward the forest, his mind wandering through countless locations he apparently deemed remote enough to stop a vampire. Perhaps we hadn't demonstrated our abilities well enough. "There's a million possibilities - places either one of us could be in just a few minutes if there's a need." I shook my head, frustrated that he wasn't understanding. I thought he was as concerned over her safety as I was, but now it sounded like he wanted to drop her off in the first

random patch of woods he could find. "Her scent is too strong and, combined with mine, especially distinct." Please spare me the details, he said, cringing as he thought of Bella clutched tightly in my arms. I might have been amused, but I was too busy trying to make him see the necessity of Bella leaving Forks. "Even if I carried her," I continued, "it would leave a trail. Our trace is all over the range, but in conjunction with Bella's scent, it would catch their attention. We're not sure exactly which path they'll take, because they don't know yet. If they crossed her scent before they found us..." That did it. That sentence brought the image I'd been fearing all along to the forefront of Jacob's mind. He pictured, all too clearly, the entire army catching Bella's scent, their eyes blood red, and their maker commanding them to strike without mercy. Neither of us could keep the horror out of our expressions. "You see the difficulties," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. I'm starting to, he admitted silently, not wanting to add to the fear we could both see on Bella's face. "There has to be a way to make it work." There has to be somewhere those filthy bloodsuckers couldn't find her, somewhere we could be sure they wouldn't go. I listened as he shuffled through all the areas of the forest I'd already thought of and decided against. There were paths that seemed unlikely they would take, but nothing we could be certain of. Even if Alice saw them choose a path, that too might be a diversion, and they could change at the last moment. We were both silent until I started to feel Bella stumbling at my side. I hugged her tightly to me, and whispered, "I need to get you home you're exhausted. And Charlie will be waking up soon..." "Wait a sec," Jacob interrupted. "My scent disgusts you, right?" That was putting it mildly. Would my scent gross those other leeches out enough to cover up Bella's scent?

"Hmm, not bad." I watched as Jacob pictured himself running Bella into the middle of nowhere, careful not to let her touch anything. "It's possible." I turned to my family and called, "Jasper?"He looked almost grateful as they joined us. I hope whatever you two need will help distract Alice. She's going crazy here. I was sorry Alice was having difficulties, but I didn't have time to worry too much about it. Jacob had actually managed to stumble onto a possible solution - one that meant I wouldn't have to run Bella out of town - and I was eager to test his theory. "Okay, Jacob," I said, allowing him to explain. Instead of telling Bella his plan, however, he smiled at her and opened his arms. Was he expecting her to just throw herself at him? I'll try not to enjoy myself too much. But I can't promise anything. It was an effort to remain silent. Bella's hesitant expression, however, did manage to suppress whatever lingering feelings of resentment I was feeling. She wasn't going to be any happier with this part of the plan than I was. "We're going to see if I can confuse the scent enough to hide your trail," Jacob told her, unconsciously opening his arms a little wider. He was trying not to let me hear how disappointed he was that Bella appeared so unwilling to go to him. "You're going to have to let him carry you, Bella," I explained. She was still eying him warily and Jacob rolled his eyes. "Don't be such a baby," he complained as he scooped her up. And you, he added, glancing at me for a split second, don't look so smug. I ignored him, turning my attention to Jasper. "Bella's scent is so much more potent to me I thought it would be a fairer test if someone else tried." Of course, he nodded, as Jacob and Bella took off. It was all I could do not to listen, but my patience was at its end for one day, and I didn't want to risk hearing something that would push me too far.

You probably don't really want to hear about what he's feeling right now, right? Jasper asked sarcastically. "Not unless you want the wolf count to be down by one." He does smell revolting. You know you owe me one for this. "I know. And I don't like a single thing about the situation, but I don't know what else to do. There's nowhere I can think of that will guarantee her safety." Then I've got your back, brother. "Thank you." We waited the brief time it took for Jacob to make his circle, and when I saw them reenter the clearing, Jasper took off to follow the trail. I ran to the edge of the woods to wait for him, and less than a minute later, he and Alice joined us. Why is he still holding her? Alice asked, glaring at Jacob. If you want, I can make him put her down. We all watched as Bella very defiantly stormed away from Jacob, which was more satisfying than anything Alice would have done to him. She took me hand, squeezing it tightly as she asked Jasper, "Well?" "As long as you don't touch anything, Bella, I can't imagine someone sticking their nose close enough to that trail to catch your scent. It was almost completely obscured." Almost? Alice must have read the concern on my face because she added, "A definite success." Remember, no matter how many pieces of her clothing they sniff, we will always know Bella's scent better than those newborns, and we could barely pick it up. You have nothing to worry about. "And it gave me an idea," Jasper said. "Which will work," Alice promised, watching the whole scene play out. She saw Bella using her scent to lead the newborns straight to us. It was absolutely perfect, and gave us

control over what we'd considered our biggest wild card - not knowing which direction they would come from. "Clever," I complimented Jasper. "How do you stand that?" Jacob asked Bella, who was still very obviously irritated with him. "We're - well, you're - going to leave a false trail to the clearing, Bella. The newborns are hunting, your scent will excite them, and they'll come exactly the way we want them to without being careful about it. Alice can already see that this will work. When they catch our scent, they'll split up and try to come at us from two sides. Half will go through the forest, where her vision suddenly disappears..." "Yes!" Jacob shouted, understanding at once what that meant. In that instant, he could imagine the way the whole fight would play out. I found myself smiling at his excitement. He was picturing fighting alongside us, fighting against a common enemy, and as unlikely as this alliance had once seemed, he was actually looking forward to it. Man, if her scent's gonna drive them that crazy, just imagine how messed up they'd be if Bella was really there. "Not a chance," I spat at Jasper, and his eyes widened apologetically. "I know, I know. I didn't even consider it, not really." Sure you didn't, Alice thought sourly, stomping on his foot. That's why I saw a two-second version of the whole brilliant idea. "If Bella was actually there in the clearing," Jasper explained, trying to defend himself, "it would drive them insane. They wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything but her. It would make picking them off truly easy..." I shot him a warning glance. It would be best for all of us if he didn't finish that sentence.

"Of course it's too dangerous for her. It was just an errant thought." You should know by now that you might not always like everything you hear. You can't blame me for thinking through every possibility. As he thought it, though, I caught him glancing at Bella again, and I had to silence my growl. "No," I said firmly. "You're right." I'm sorry, really. You know I'd never let anything happen to her. I forced a nod as he and Alice took off for another round of practice. "Best two out of three?" he was laughing, and Jacob groaned. Nice family, he thought, seething. Really putting Bella's safety first. "Jasper looks at things from a military perspective," I told him, suddenly feeling defensive, though even I'd been furious with Jasper only moments before. "He looks at all the options - it's thoroughness, not callousness." Right. Awesome strategy. Why didn't I think of using Bella as bait? I rolled my eyes, unwilling to waste another moment on Jacob. I was ready to be done with the whole evening. "I'll bring her here Friday afternoon to lay the false trail. You can meet us afterward, and carry her to a place I know. Completely out of the way, and easily defensible, not that it will come to that. I'll take another route there." "And then what? Leave her with a cell phone?" "You have a better idea?" I snapped, losing my last ounce of patience. "Actually I do," he smiled.

"Oh..." I waited while he ran through his plan. Jacob had just found a very important job for one of the pack's younger, and more determined, members. "Again, dog, not bad at all." "We tried to talk Seth into staying behind with the younger two," Jacob told Bella. "He's still too young, but he's stubborn and he's resisting. So I thought of a new assignment for him - cell phone." Bella gave him a half smile, but her eyes betrayed her confusion. "As long as Seth Clearwater is in his wolf form, he'll be connected to the pack," I explained before turning back to Jacob. "Distance isn't a problem?" "Nope." Likely trying to hold onto one of the pack's "trade secrets," he didn't seem overly anxious to elaborate. It didn't matter, though. He couldn't stop himself from remembering a time when the pack had tested its limits. "Three hundred miles? That's impressive." Don't you ever feel like a jerk just leaving her out of the conversation like that? he asked, turning to Bella with a sigh. "That's the farthest we've ever gone to experiment. Still clear as a bell," he told her smugly. "It's a good idea," I finally said. As hard as it was to think about leaving Bella with a wolf, of all creatures, I couldn't argue with their ability to protect her, and I liked the knowledge that I could get to her quickly if something went wrong. It also meant she would be in my arms that much sooner when this whole ordeal was over. "I'll feel better with Seth there, even without the instantaneous communication. I don't know if I'd be able to leave Bella there alone. To think it's come to this, though! Trusting werewolves!" "Fighting with vampires instead of against them!" he agreed, incredulous. "Well, you still get to fight against some of them," I reminded him. Jacob smiled, his mind filled with visions of vampires being torn apart, and his eyes filled with excitement. "That's the reason we're here.

Selfish
Our evening of training with the wolves observing, was at its end. It was a good thing, too, because Bella was exhausted. She was swaying at my side, her eyes half closed, though of course insisted she was perfectly fine. Still, there was no way I trusted her to hang onto me as tired as she was, so I carried her in my arms on the run home. Thankfully, she was tired enough not to argue with me and she sighed as she snuggled closer to my chest. I felt her body go limp about halfway to her house, and I slowed down, letting myself take a moment to enjoy the quiet peacefulness that came over her. She'd once been terrified to run with me, and now she trusted me enough to fall asleep in my arms. It was a wonderful feeling. It would have been nice to say the rest of the night was as peaceful, but I'd barely tucked Bella into bed when she started tossing and turning, mumbling incoherently. It was nearly morning, and I wondered if she would wake up at her usual time, even though she'd been asleep less than an hour. I knew Bella enjoyed waking up early, especially when we had the whole day to spend together, but there was no way I was going to wake her after the night she'd had. She deserved a day of rest after. There were a few moments where I was certain she was waking up. Her eyes even started to flutter open several times, but she always squinted at the light coming in through her window, groaned, and fell back asleep. I was perfectly all right with her taking a day off from the world, so I rubbed her back and ran my fingers through her hair until she slipped back into a deep sleep. It wasn't long before she was sleep talking more clearly, her head resting on my shoulder. "Don't go. Too dangerous," she muttered, her hand gripping at my shirt. I smiled, tracing my fingers up and down her arm. When I stopped at her wrist, I felt the bracelet that I hadn't really had time to examine earlier. I'd seen it at the party and had assumed it was a graduation gift from one of her friends. It wasn't until I looked closer that I noticed the charm on it – a wolf. Of course. It was tiny and obviously hand-carved, innocuous at first glance, but the more I stared at it, the more it bothered me. It wasn't simply that Jacob had given her a gift, but rather the fact

that she'd both accepted it, and was already wearing it. She threw a fit whenever I tried to buy her something. She even argued if my family gave her presents. Yet Jacob had been allowed to give her a gift that also happened to be a constant reminder of his presence. "Ridiculous double standards," I muttered, then fell silent again as Bella stirred. I berated myself for having disturbed her with yet another bout of my poorly controlled jealousy. It had been easier to ignore the feeling when Bella was angry with Jacob, but her fear for his safety since he'd decided to join the fight seemed to have put us all right back at square one. One way or another, he always found a way to be in her life. "Jacob," she whispered a moment later, confirming my thoughts. I felt my teeth clench together, but was careful not to make a sound this time. "Too young," she mumbled. Like a child who'd just gotten his way, I found myself grinning. Unfortunately, my elation was short lived. "All too young," she continued. "Don't fight. Don't die." My eyes shut tightly and I held Bella closer to me. She was worried about the pack. All of them. It was in her nature to worry, especially since she considered herself the reason there was going to be a fight at all. If anything happened to any of the wolves, I knew she'd never forgive herself. Which was why I was all the more determined to do everything in my power to keep them safe. I didn't have to like them and I didn't have to trust them, but for Bella's sake, I would help them. If that meant translating at a few more training sessions, and listening in on the drama within the pack, so be it. I wanted them to be as prepared as possible. In actuality, I imagined the wolves themselves would fight much like the newborns. They would be running primarily on instinct, going for the obvious kill, and it was that style of fighting I worried would get some of them in trouble. The more they learned from us, the better chance they would have at leaving the fight uninjured and without casualties. I don't know how long I spent thinking about the pack – planning, thinking up strategies for them – but I was brought back to the present when Bella muttered, "family." I had no way

of knowing whether she was still dreaming about the wolves or whether her thoughts had drifted back to me and the rest of my family. I knew she'd long considered herself an honorary Cullen, and we'd certainly welcomed her in as such, but I also knew how close she felt to Jacob and his friends. Though I'd never understand how she was comfortable with either group, I was always very aware of the fact that her heart was divided. She had two places that felt like home, two families that would fight to protect her, and two creatures that shouldn't exist who would give anything to keep her beside them forever. The hours passed, and the sun continued to shine through Bella's window. I wasn't accustomed to watching her sleep in the daylight, but I enjoyed the way that, even in her sleep, she seemed to smile as the sunlight hit her face. She was murmuring and stretching, before wrapping her arms more tightly around me, when her face pulled into an expression of utter fear. "No!" she cried, and I held her close, stroking her hair and trying to push the nightmare away. "Don't hurt them! I'm here, I'm right here." I tried to keep myself calm – my getting upset wouldn't help Bella drift back into a more restful sleep – but I understood where her unconscious thoughts had gone. She was always trying to find a way to keep everyone else safe, even if the cost was her own safety. "Edward," she groaned, and though her eyes were shut tightly, I could almost see tears behind them. "Bella, shh," I whispered. "You're all right, you're safe. No one's hurt. No one's in danger." "Help. Have to help." Bella's voice was getting softer, though no less urgent, as she began muttering words that were meaningless to me. I guessed that many of them were Quileute, names or places she'd learned during her visits to La Push. Amid the stream of words I knew little about, I heard her say, "the third wife helped," and while the words were English, they made no more sense to me than the foreign words had. "Not right, not here," was the last coherent thing she spoke, before drifting back into a seemingly dreamless sleep.

My fingers continued tracing lines up and down her back, but my thoughts were miles away. Bella was going to get herself hurt, or worse, trying to protect us unless I made absolute sure she couldn't get anywhere near the battle. I was counting on Seth to keep her safe and far away from the fight, depending on his ability to make her stay hidden when what she clearly wanted was to be seen. I was trying to stay positive, but it was incredibly difficult leaving so much in the hands of such unpredictable creatures. Bella was restless the remainder if the day, and there were several times I considered waking her. Although I didn't hear anything else that sounded like a plan to put herself in danger, I could hear her distress in every sound she made. Eventually, a calm seemed to spread across her face, and her chin lifted up toward me. "Edward?" she said softly, caught between a yawn and a stretch. I smiled as her hand tried to find me, her eyes still closed against the light pouring in through her window. "Are you really awake this time?" I whispered. If she was finally dreaming of me, I definitely didn't want to wake her. "Mmm," she breathed, snuggling against my chest. "Have there been a lot of false alarms?" "You've been very restless – talking all day." "All day?" she repeated, her eyes opening more fully and struggling to focus. "You had a long night. You'd earned a day in bed," I reminded her. She sat up, though she still seemed somewhat disoriented. "Wow," she said, staring at the window. She looked absolutely beautiful as the afternoon light bounced off her hair, turning it to a shimmering golden color. It was as if all the stress of her troubled sleep melted away. We'd both spent so much time worrying about the future lately, and I was thrilled to take the opportunity to remember what it was like to just be together. I almost didn't want to speak, for fear that it would remind us of what was waiting for us outside these four walls. Still, there were some things that couldn't be avoided. I heard the low rumble of her empty stomach before she'd seemed to notice it.

"Hungry?" I asked, then quickly added, "Do you want breakfast in bed?" hoping to keep her to myself for a little while longer. "I'll get it," she sighed. "I need to get up and move around." She nearly stumbled just stepping out of bed, so I held on a little more tightly than usual as we walked hand in hand downstairs to the kitchen. As soon as the food was in sight, her stomach growled again, and I laughed to myself as she squeezed my hand before letting it go. I sat down in my usual chair and Bella glanced at me for a split second, then grabbed her box of Pop-Tarts. I'd watched her eat so many times, yet she always seemed a bit nervous, like eating in front of me would offend me or bother me in some way. I wasn't even sure she was consciously aware of it anymore, but whenever I was in the kitchen with her, she kept her breakfast routine as fast and simple as possible. "Ugh, I'm a mess," she suddenly said, her eyes widening as she looked at her reflection in the toaster. I wanted to disagree, to tell her that she was as beautiful as ever, but I'd learned that there was positively no point in paying her a compliment when she'd just woken up. Even if it was the middle of the day. "It was a long night," I reminded her. "You should have stayed here and slept." "Right! And missed everything. You know, you need to start accepting the fact that I'm part of the family now." I grinned, loving the easy, confident way she said it. Bella was part of my family, now and always. No matter how much she cared about Jacob, how much she worried about the pack and their safety, and even if she loved spending time in La Push, my family was home to her. She wanted us as deeply as we wanted her. "I could probably get used to that idea," I said casually, though I was finding it difficult to suppress my excitement. Still, there was one thing she hadn't yet agreed to – the thing I wanted, needed, to really feel like she was a part of my family forever. I felt my eyes drifting to her left hand, and the finger that I'd envisioned placing a ring on. After a

moment, the emptiness of it started to consume me, and I had to look away. Unfortunately, my eyes fell on her wrist, and the one piece of jewelry she was wearing. "May I?" I asked, reaching out to examine the wolf charm. "Um, sure," she said nervously. Bella sat there, frozen, as I held the small wolf in the palm of my hand. She was holding her breath as if waiting for me to voice my disapproval. As much as it troubled me to see her wearing it, I didn't feel right about asking her to take it off. I remained silent, trying to think of something that would appease that nagging voice inside me, without offending Bella in the process. The wolf was intricately carved for such a tiny piece of wood. I had to admit, Jacob was talented – and smart. He'd made it himself, which meant Bella couldn't make him return it, and of course she would wear it because he'd obviously worked hard on it and she wouldn't want to hurt his feelings. So there it would remain, day after day, a nice little reminder that he was always there. Not that I had any doubt Bella already thought of him often. Her sleep talking was proof enough of that, even if she did try to shield me from it during her waking hours. When I'd finally reconciled with myself that there was no way I could, in good conscience, ask her to remove it, I decided the best alternative was to use it to my advantage. A small piece of leverage, perhaps, but against Bella's stubbornness, I would gladly take whatever I could get. "Jacob Black can give you presents," I said quietly, carefully gauging her reaction. The tiniest blush colored her cheeks, and she didn't look me in the eye when she answered. "You've given me presents," she said. "You know I like the homemade kind." I knew she was referring to the CD I'd made her of some of my piano compositions, though how giving her music counted as a gift was beyond me. She'd been my muse, the reason they existed at all. I was just sharing the product of her inspiration. I was about to argue that

very point, when something occurred to me. Bella might not quite be ready to let me put a ring on her finger, but there was one diamond she might be willing to wear, assuming I managed to keep my tone casual. "How about hand-me-downs? Are those acceptable?" I asked, not quite looking at her. "What do you mean?" "This bracelet," I said, tracing the line of her wrist with my fingertips. "You'll be wearing this a lot?" Bella shrugged, probably still worried about offending me. I nearly sighed. She really did spend too much time trying to please everyone else. I wouldn't be surprised if she started taking it off when I was around and putting it back on whenever she was with Jacob. Although, if my plan worked, I hoped she wouldn't find that necessary. I didn't mind her wearing it – I just wanted it to remind her of my love as well. Bella was looking down anxiously, so I added, "because you wouldn't want to hurt his feelings." "Sure, I guess so." I stared at her hand, already imagining her wearing my mother's diamond. It was one of the few ties I still had to my human life, and it wasn't until I pictured it on Bella's wrist that I realized how important it was to me to share it with her. I let my finger trace along her wrist, my cold touch on her heated skin making her shiver slightly. "Don't you think it's fair, then, if I have a little representation?" "Representation?" "A charm – something to keep me on your mind."

"You're in every thought I have. I don't need reminders." It was a lovely sentiment, and under other circumstances, I might have lingered awhile on the thought, but I was on a mission. "If I gave you something, would you wear it?" I asked, finally meeting her eyes. "A hand-me-down?" she repeated. Always so stubborn. "Yes, something I've had for a while." I was trying to remain casual, but I could feel a wide smile breaking through as I thought of the diamond my mother had once worn. It had hung gracefully around her neck on the most delicate of chains, casting prisms around my room when the light hit it. It was one of the clearest human memories I had, and I'd clung to it for so many decades. I never thought anyone would wear it again, yet now I wanted nothing more than to see it reflecting in Bella's eyes. "Whatever makes you happy," she finally said, though it was clear she wasn't thrilled by the idea of accepting anything I had to give her, even if I hadn't spent a penny on it. "Have you noticed the inequality? Because I certainly have." I hadn't meant for my voice to sound so sharp, but it was hard to fight the feelings of frustration. Why was she so unwilling to let me give her gifts? "What inequality?" she asked. "Everyone else is able to get away with giving you things. Everyone but me. I would have loved to get you a graduation present, but I didn't. I knew it would have upset you more than if anyone else did. That's utterly unfair. How do you explain yourself?" "Easy. You're more important than everyone else. And you've given me you. That's already more than I deserve, and anything else you give me just throws us more out of balance." Her tone had been so matter-of-fact, that it took me a moment to realize what she was saying. How she could still see herself as the winner rather than the prize was beyond me. I rolled my eyes. "The way you regard me is ludicrous."

Bella nearly rolled her eyes back at me, but seemed to catch herself, and instead, went back to eating her breakfast. I was about to return to the subject of my little hand-me-down, but the sound of my ringing cell phone stopped me. I looked at the number on the phone, though I already had a pretty good idea of who it was and what she was going to tell me. Alice had been keeping a close eye on Bella's future, and after what I'd heard last night, I guessed there were certain decisions Bella was considering that neither Alice nor I would approve of. "What is it, Alice?" "Looking out for all of Bella's stupid choices is starting to turn into a full time job. I might demand another car if this keeps up." I sighed, waiting for her to finish her rant. All I really cared about was finding out what absurd stunt Bella was planning, and what I would need to do to stop her. "You know, I thought she'd started to develop a little better sense of self-preservation," she continued. "I hadn't seen her making any life threatening decisions in such a long time, but I guess I was wrong. All last night, I kept getting visions of Bella stumbling around, trying to find the clearing like Jasper was talking about. Apparently, she thinks all we need is a nice tasty little distraction for the newborns, and we'll have this fight in the bag. I never actually saw her reach the clearing because, well, it's Bella, but lately she's been doing a lot of thinking about jamming a rock into her hand, which of course is brilliant, because then we'd all be running around like bloodthirsty newborns. She really doesn't think things through very well, does she? I just hope becoming a vampire will help her common sense a bit. Anyway, that army is busy wiping itself out – they're down to nineteen by the way – and they're basically doing our job for us. There's absolutely nothing to worry about, and if you could possibly try to get that through Bella's head, I'd appreciate it." I sighed again, a little more loudly this time, trying to reign Alice in. I raised an eyebrow at Bella who was fidgeting nervously, and turning a deeper shade of red by the second. "Okay," Alice finally breathed, apparently nearing the end of her speech, "I just thought you should know that Bella is being completely senseless about the whole situation."

"I sort of guessed as much," I told her, my eyes locked with Bella's. "She was talking in her sleep." Bella's eyes widened like she'd been caught in a lie. "I trust you to take care of this," Alice said firmly. "And while you're at it, you can go ahead and tell Bella that her sister says that if she does anything to jeopardize her future – " "I'll take care of it," I said, cutting her off before she broke the phone. If I hadn't been so upset, I might have smiled at Alice's sister title, but it was difficult to think of anything besides why Bella was chewing on her lip, and avoiding my gaze. "Is there something you'd like to talk to me about?" I watched as a thousand expressions seemed to tug at her face, her eyes worried, sorrowful, then finally resolute. "I like Jasper's idea," she admitted, and I bit back all the things I wanted to say but knew wouldn't be helpful. My only option was to rationalize with her, make sure she understood why it would be completely counterproductive to have her anywhere near the fight. "I want to help," she pleaded. "I have to do something." "It wouldn't help to have you in danger." "Jasper thinks it would. This is his area of expertise." I glared at her, because she was not going to use Jasper's military tactics to justify a suicide mission. "You can't keep me away," she said, her chin lifting slightly, defiantly. "I'm not going to hide out in the forest while you all take risks for me." I was still upset by the thought of Bella willfully putting herself in danger, but I suddenly saw the image of Bella's attempt to find us. She'd be wandering aimlessly through the forest, grumbling to herself about not having a better sense of direction, and tripping over loose branches along the way.

"Alice doesn't see you in the clearing, Bella," I explained. "She sees you stumbling around lost in the woods. You won't be able to find us; you'll just make it more time consuming for me to find you afterward." I'd expected it to upset her, but when she answered, instead of petulance, I only heard confidence. "That's because Alice didn't factor in Seth Clearwater. If she had, of course, she wouldn't have been able to see anything at all. But it sounds like Seth wants to be there as much as I do. It shouldn't be too hard to persuade him to show me the way." Why did I have to be in love with the most aggravating woman on the face of the Earth? We were arguing over whether or not she should be allowed to offer herself up to a bunch of ravenous vampires. This shouldn't even be a conversation. "That might have worked... if you hadn't told me. Now I'll just ask Sam to give Seth certain orders. Much as he might want to, Seth won't be able to ignore that kind of injunction." She didn't miss a beat. "But why would Sam give those orders? If I tell him how it would help for me to be there? I'll bet Sam would rather do me a favor than you." I fought back a snarl. Yes, I'm sure the wolves would be all too willing to let Bella "help," if it allowed them to rack up the vampire death count more quickly. All the wolves except one, that is. And, though he wasn't exactly stepping up to his position, I knew Jacob had every right to make such a command. "Maybe you're right," I admitted. "But I'm sure Jacob would be only too eager to give those same orders." Confusion flickered across Bella's face. "Jacob?" Considering his natural arrogance, it had never occurred to me that he'd kept his birthright, and all that it entailed, a secret. Even if he wasn't leading the pack as their Alpha, what point was there in hiding who he was from Bella? "Jacob is second in command. Did he never tell you that? His orders have to be followed, too."

I watched as Bella's eyes pulled together, struggling to think of anything else she might be missing, but she knew that Jacob would be every bit as eager as I was to keep her safe. It was two against one, and there was nothing else she could say. I could see she was upset, utterly defeated, so I quickly tried to change the subject. "I got a fascinating look into the pack's mind last night," I told her. "It was better than a soap opera. I had no idea how complex the dynamic is with such a large pack. The pull of the individual against the plural psyche... Absolutely fascinating." Bella's scowl didn't budge. I still couldn't wrap my mind around someone being so upset that they were not being allowed to risk their life. "Jacob's been keeping a lot of secrets," I continued, trying a different approach. "For instance, did you note the smaller gray wolf there last night." Bella nodded, though she was obviously still set on giving me the silent treatment. I laughed a little, knowing she wouldn't be able to resist the next piece of gossip. "They take all of their legends so seriously. It turns out there are things that none of their stories prepared them for." Bella considered this for a moment, then let out a deep sigh. "Okay, I'll bite. What are you talking about?" "They always accepted without question that it was only the direct grandsons of the original wolf who had the power to transform." "So someone changed who wasn't a direct descendant?" "No. She's a direct descendant, all right," I said, unable to hold back a smile. It had been fairly clear to me, just in the short time I'd spent listening to the pack, that they were all still somewhat irritated that a female had joined them. It wasn't sexist, it was simply a matter of having to accept something none of them had even considered. They felt foolish for never having thought of it, and wondered if there were other surprises in store for them as the pack continued to grow.

I watched as understanding flickered across Bella's face, then her eyes grew wide. "She?" I nodded. "She knows you. Her name is Leah Clearwater." "Leah's a werewolf?" she gasped. "What? For how long? Why didn't Jacob tell me?" "There are things he wasn't allowed to share – their numbers, for instance. Like I said before, when Sam gives an order, the pack simply isn't able to ignore it. Jacob was very careful to think of other things when he was near me. Of course, after last night that's all out the window." None of the wolves had been thrilled about my ability to listen in on their thoughts. None except Sam, who was just happy that no one had to appear in their human form to translate. He was a true leader, and I had to admit I admired his ability to put that pack's best interests first, even if it meant putting them in a situation they were uncomfortable with. I smiled at Bella, happy to see her mind was focused on something other than the fight, at least for the moment. It was surprisingly enjoyable, being able to talk about the wolves with her. I'd spent so much time and energy trying to keep her away from them, yet now that we were all being asked to trust each other to fight a common enemy, I was finding learning about them more interesting than I could have imagined. "I can't believe it," Bella finally said, shaking her head. "Leah Clearwater!" Bella's eyes glazed over and she appeared lost in thought. I wanted to ask what was troubling her, but I was afraid it would bring us right back to the subject before. After several moments, however, she breathed, "Poor Leah." I wasn't surprised that Bella knew something of Leah's story, and how losing Sam had devastated her. While I did commiserate with her to an extent, it was difficult to feel sorry for Leah after hearing how antagonistic she'd been with the rest of the pack. A broken heart didn't justify making everyone else miserable. It was the reason I'd fled the company of my family after leaving Bella. It didn't feel right to make them suffer simply because I was suffering.

"She's making life exceedingly unpleasant for the rest of them," I told Bella. "I'm not sure she deserves your sympathy." "What do you mean?" "It's hard enough for them, having to share all their thoughts. Most of them try to cooperate, make it easier. When even one member is deliberately malicious, it's painful for everyone." "She has reason enough," Bella argued quietly, and it occurred to me by the blush that suddenly colored her cheeks that she probably wondered if she was sharing classified information. "Oh, I know," I told her. She needed to understand that the wolves really weren't able to keep secrets any longer, not with them opening their minds to me all at the same time. Even if they tried to hide something, inevitably, one of them would let it slip. I'd heard more than they'd ever wanted to share, more than I could have possibly imagined. I knew, even without hearing Leah think directly about it, the way she'd been torn apart by Sam's imprint with Emily. Even in the way she looked at him, or rather didn't look at him, it was easy to see the pain would never go away. It would have been easy to be angry with Sam, to hate him for having hurt someone he supposedly loved, but I'd also seen the world through his eyes. And his eyes saw no one but Emily. Even when he was with the pack, even when he'd been training with my family, a part of his mind was always on Emily. She was like an ever present echo in his mind, whispering reminders that even when they weren't at each others side, they were together. It had been almost painful at times, reminding me so much of how I love Bella, and how nothing had silenced my longing for her when we'd been apart. Sam and Emily's love was unstoppable, inevitable – like fate had designed them specifically for each other. "The imprinting compulsion is one of the strangest things I've ever witnessed in my life, and I've seen some strange things," I explained to Bella. "The way Sam is tied to his Emily is impossible to describe – or I should say her Sam. Sam really had no choice. It reminds

me of A Midsummer Night's Dream with all the chaos caused by the fairies' love spells... like magic." Shakespeare had written of the madness that love can cause. I'd witnessed the devastation it had brought to a pack who wanted nothing more than to have a unified mind. I'd felt the kind of pain that only loss of one's true love can bring. Love could be the most destructive forces in existence, yet all of us – whether human, vampire, or werewolf – clung to it violently. I felt myself smile, realizing that although love manifests itself differently throughout all our species, it also proves that there's at least one thread we all have in common. "It's very nearly as strong as the way I feel about you," I added with a grin. I'd expected Bella to smile back at me, but she was still lost in thought. "Poor Leah," she whispered again. Then her brow pulled together and she asked, "But what do you mean, malicious?" "She's constantly bringing up things they'd rather not think of. For example, Embry." "What's with Embry?" Ridiculously, I felt a twinge of excitement, like we were two children sharing secrets. It wasn't something I was accustomed to experiencing, or particularly proud of, but I was having fun. "His mother moved down from the Makah reservation seventeen years ago, when she was pregnant with him. She's not Quileute. Everyone assumed she'd left his father behind with the Makahs. But then he joined the pack." "So?" "So the prime candidates for his father are Quil Ateara Sr., Joshua Uley, or Billy Black, all of them married at that point, of course."

"No!" she gasped, and I stifled a laugh. We were behaving exactlylike children, and I couldn't make myself feel guilty for it. "Now Sam, Jacob, and Quil all wonder which of them has a half-brother. They'd all like to think it's Sam, since his father was never much of a father. But the doubt is always there. Jacob's never been able to ask Billy about that." "Wow. How did you get so much in one night?" Strangely enough, I wasn't exactly sure of that myself. There were some things, such as Leah's bitter thoughts meant only to hurt, that were clear and difficult to ignore. There had been other things as well, though, thoughts left unformed, that I had understood the meaning of. In many ways, it was similar to much how I'd learned to read Charlie's mind – hearing the tenor of his thoughts rather than distinct words. Even when listening to ordinary people, often humans aren't thinking clearly, and listening to the emotions behind the words sometimes provides an even clearer picture. That knowledge allowed me to get a deeper understanding of the pack mind than the wolves would have wanted me to, I'm sure. "The pack mind is mesmerizing," I told Bella, unable to fully explain how interesting it had been. "All thinking together and then separately at the same time. There's so much to read!" Her answering laugh was so carefree, I wasn't expecting what she said next. "The pack is fascinating. Almost as fascinating as you are when you're trying to distract me." I tried to keep my expression smooth, but I knew what was coming, and I still had no idea how to appease her. "I have to be in that clearing, Edward," she said, her eyes pleading and making me hate myself. I'd brought this on her, just like everything else. I wanted to give her everything, always wanted to give her everything – but not if it meant putting her in danger. "No," I said firmly.

Then, the strangest look came into Bella's eyes. I only saw it for the briefest of moments before her gaze darted away from me. When she spoke, her voice was trembling. "Okay, look, Edward. Here's the thing... I've already gone crazy once. I know what my limits are. And I can't stand it if you leave me again," she said, frightened. It was far worse than her usual stubbornness, and I found myself instantly wracked with guilt. It wasn't often that Bella was honest with me about how terrible it had been for her when I'd so foolishly left Forks. Usually, we both avoided talking about it completely, but the times we did mention it, Bella wore a mask of calm acceptance. I knew she didn't want me to see how, during that time, she'd missed so much. She didn't listen to music or read books, she remained distant been from her friends and from Charlie. She spoke of my time away almost as if it was simply part of our history, and since I'd come back and we were together now, no harm done. I might have been able to believe her – if it wasn't for Jacob. He'd showed me time and again what Bella had looked like. He replayed the scene of Sam carrying her lifeless body from the woods again and again. Through his mind, I'd seen the dark circles under her eyes, heard her voice shake and her heart nearly stop at even the mention of me or my family. I knew what life had been for her, though she rarely spoke the words, so it was a shock to me that actually hearing her talk about it caused me such inexplicable physical pain. I think I'd opened my mouth to say something to her, but before the words had formed, she was in my arms. I didn't even realize I had moved. My hands were running up and down her arms, touching her cheeks, brushing through her hair. I had to make her understand that this was different, that I was coming back. There was nothing in the universe strong enough to take me away from her again. Not after what I'd done. Not after having promised her forever. "You know it's not like that, Bella," I pleaded. "I won't be far, and it will be over quickly." "I can't stand it," she repeated, her voice strained and miserable. "Not knowing whether or not you'll come back. How do I live through that, no matter how quickly it's over?"

How could I ask such a thing? The only reason I was willing to let her out of my sight was because I knew she was going to be safe. All I could think to do was to try to make that same promise to her regarding my safety, though I doubted anything I could say would make her believe. "It's going to be easy, Bella. There's no reason for your fears." "None at all?" she asked, her eyes still not meeting mine. "None." "And everybody will be fine?" "Everyone," I assured her. It seemed for a moment like she might believe me, but something in the back of my mind reminded me that it couldn't possibly be that easy. All I was doing was saying the same words I'd said since the wolves had decided to help us. "So there's no way at all that I need to be in the clearing?" she asked. "Of course not," I promised. She had to know, though, that no amount of danger to my own safety or my family's could make me wish her there, and I wondered for a split second what she was really asking. "Alice just told me that there's down to nineteen. We'll be able to handle it easily." "That's right – you said it was so easy that someone could sit out. Did you really mean that?" "Yes." There was a short pause, an intake of breath, and then it all made sense. "So easy that you could sit out?" She still wasn't looking at me, but at least now I understood why. On one hand, it was a terrible thing she was asking of me, and I had no doubt at all that she knew it. No matter how easy the fight might or might not be, it was in our best interest to keep the numbers on our side. For a moment, I pictured Carlisle on the sidelines, keeping himself away from the bloodshed because he couldn't bare to take a life, not even the life of a bloodthirsty vampire

bent on our destruction. If anyone should the stay behind, it should be Carlisle, yet he hadn't for a moment thought of leaving his family when they needed him most. On the other hand, I understood what Bella was asking for, because no sooner had I pictured Carlisle sitting out, than I imagined Esme fighting without him. Even if we told Carlisle to stay, to hold onto his morals and his determination to protect every life, he wouldn't be able to stand not knowing whether his beloved would return to him. He would be wherever she was, no matter the cost. Bella's gaze finally lifted to meet mine, and there was a mixture of guilt, fear, and determination in her stare. "So it's one way or the other," she said, her voice steadier than it had been before. She knew this conversation changed everything. "Either there is more danger than you want me to know about, in which case it would be right for me to be there, to do what I can to help. Or... it's going to be so easy that they'll get by without you. Which way is it?" I watched her closely, wondering how well she'd thought this through. Obviously, she was letting her fear get the best of her – fear of losing me, fear of feeling that emptiness again – but had she considered any other type of loss? She loved my family – Alice was like a sister, Carlisle and Esme like loving parents. Now, with the wolves involved as well, there were, in essence, two sets of family and friends in danger. Was she really willing to put my safety above all of theirs? "You ask me to let them fight without my help?" I asked, saying the words softly, carefully. "Yes." I was startled by how sure she sounded. "Or to let me be there. Either way, so long as we're together." In her mind, it was as simple as that. All she needed was for us to be together. There was no regard for her own safety. She would gladly risk her life to help save us all, but if I wouldn't allow it, then she was at least going to guarantee mine. I took her face in my hands, felt her warm cheeks under my touch, and stared into the eyes of the woman I loved. It was

agonizing as I realized, yet again, that I had never and would never deserve her absolute and unyielding love for me. I wasn't angry with her, I could never be angry for her needing me. I needed her just as completely as she needed me. Even though she'd been quick to answer my question, I could tell by the look in her eyes that she felt nothing but guilt over having asked me to leave my family behind. I wondered for a moment, if they would understand when I asked them to fight without me, whether they would hold it against Bella. Instantly, I felt a stab of pain as I realized the answer. No, they wouldn't hold it against her – not unless someone didn't survive the fight. I'd tried to keep my face smooth and relaxed, to not betray anything to Bella that would cause her to feel more guilt, but the thought of any one of my family members losing their mate contorted my expression. I tried to hide the agony I felt, but I could picture far too clearly what it would do to any one of them if someone were lost. They would never forgive me, or Bella, if a life was lost that might not have been had I been there to help defend them. Our family would never be the same. I would never be the same. I forced the dark thoughts out of my mind, and decided the only thing I could do was to speak to my family, specifically Jasper. I might be able to understand what Bella was asking, but thinking about the possible consequences for everyone else had made me realize, this wasn't a decision I could make alone. While I could ask each of them individually, the easiest way to know whether or not they were really okay with me sitting out would be to discuss it with Jasper. They could lie to me, they could even try to lie with their thoughts, but there was no way for them to lie with their emotions. Jasper would know if, after having suggested I stay behind, the mood changes – if doubts start to creep in, nervousness, hesitation. Bella still hadn't moved, and I wondered what she'd read in my expression. I sighed, not exactly looking forward the conversation I was about to have with my family, then reached for my phone. "Alice. Could you come babysit Bella for a bit? I need to speak with Jasper."

"Of course. I saw it the moment she started thinking about it. It was rather hard to ignore, actually. I'm not going to lie to you and say that it doesn't changea lot of things, but I really don't see any problems arising. At least, as far as I can see with those mangy mutts still involved. I'll be right over, and I'll tell Jasper you're on your way." "What are you going to say to Jasper?" Bella asked sheepishly when I hung up. "I'm going to discuss... me sitting out." "I'm sorry." Her eyes were filling with tears, though I could hear the relief in her voice. "Don't apologize," I said, smiling as I remembered that all she was asking was simply a product of her love for me. She'd been honest with me, and it had only proved her love further. "Never be afraid to tell me how you feel, Bella. If this is what you need... " I shrugged, trying to seem indifferent, though her vulnerability was tugging at every emotion inside of me. "You are my first priority." "I didn't mean it that way – like you have to choose me over your family." "I know that," I promised. I hadn't meant to make her feel more guilty. "Besides, that' not what you asked. You gave me two alternatives that you could live with, and I chose the one that I could live with. That's how compromise is supposed to work." Like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders, she learned forward until her head was pressed against my chest. "Thank you," she breathed. "Anytime," I told her as I kissed the top of her head. "Anything." We sat in peaceful silence for several minutes, all thoughts of the fight momentarily disappearing. There was Bella and there was me. The rest of the world could wait. Unfortunately, my own mind couldn't be silenced for long. I knew Alice would arrive shortly, and there was at least one question I wanted answered before Bella and I parted ways.

"Who's the third wife?" I asked. "Huh?" "You were mumbling something about 'the third wife' last night. The rest made a little sense, but you lost me there." "Oh. Um, yeah." I could feel her face flush, the warmth radiating against my cool skin. "That was just one of the stories that I heard at the bonfire the other night. I guess it stuck with me." It seemed I'd been right about her muttering random Quileute words, but I still didn't know what about this particular story had upset her enough to cause her such agitation at my mentioning it. I was going to inquire further, but I could hear Alice outside. I thought you were going to make Bella see there's nothing to worry about, not let her scare you into staying home. I turned toward Alice and rolled my eyes, though I did hope that, all joking aside, she understood my decision. "You're going to miss all the fun," she said sourly. "Hello, Alice." I turned back to Bella, kissing her gently before I stood to leave. "I'll be back later tonight. I'll go work this out with the others, rearrange things." "Okay," Bella said, sulking slightly. Oh, for goodness sake, Alice thought, grumbling. You'd think Bella could stand spending one evening with her sister instead of her boyfriend. I laughed under my breath. It would be nice if I had a title slightly more significant sounding than "boyfriend," but I did love that Alice always called herself Bella's sister. At least in her mind.

"There's not much to arrange," Alice said politely. "I already told them. Emmett is pleased." "Of course he is." I was quickly bombarded with images of him taking on several newborns at once. It was something he hadn't counted on having to do, but with our numbers presumably down by one, he was hoping he'd get the chance to show off a bit. This won't take long, Edward. None of them are as upset about this as you clearly are. I smiled as I left, feeling much better about asking, now that I basically knew they were already on board. Alice did have a way of working magic. I'd barely stepped through the door when Emmett was at my side. "Decided to let me have a little extra fun, did ya?" he said, throwing an arm around my shoulder. "Don't get too excited. From what Alice tells me, there might not be enough of them left by the time they get here for you to have much fun at all." I tried to infuse my voice with the same amount of enthusiasm as Emmett had, but the truth was, this was still difficult for me. I'd never even considered leaving my family's side, and even if they all gave me their blessing, it was difficult to imagine not being there. "Aw, don't tell me that. I'm all ready to get this party started!" Just then, Carlisle appeared at the bottom of the stairs. His mind was already filled with grief at the bloodshed he knew was now only two days away. Edward, can we speak for a moment? "Em, I need to get going. I have to talk with Carlisle and Jasper about what changes this is going to mean for everyone." "All right, you guys have fun talking. Meanwhile, I'm going to be warming up!" With that, he was off running laps around the forest. "Are you okay with this, Edward?" Carlisle asked when we were alone.

"Only if everyone else is." I hated that it was only partially true. Bella had made it clear that she needed me to stay, and if my family objected, I honestly didn't know what I would do. "Our family is understanding. As you've already seen, Emmett is ecstatic." It was obvious he was holding back the disgust in his voice. "Rosalie is, well, Rosalie. I assume you don't particularly care what her opinion is, though I'm sure you'll hear plenty about it. Jasper doesn't believe we have anything to worry about. 'Numbers aren't as important as tactics,' was how he put it. Alice thinks Bella is being ridiculous, but she also doesn't want her trying to find her way into the clearing during the fight, so she'd rather you stay with her to ensure she doesn't do something foolish." "And what about you?" I wish I could remain here with you, but my family's needs come first. I felt a stab of pain that Carlisle couldn't say the words aloud, and could feel how difficult it was for him to even think them. He wanted nothing more than what I was taking for myself. "Do you think this means I'm not putting my family's needs first?" I asked. "You are putting Bella's needs first, and she is your family. Please, remember that. Also remember that right now, she is the weakest of us. That will not be the case forever, but until you're ready to give her that strength, she is the one who needs the most protection. The rest of us will be fine." "Thank you." "I'm happy if I've helped put your mind at ease. Now, I assume you'd still like to speak with Jasper, though I can tell you we've already discussed how this has effected us strategically." "Yes, I would. Thank you again." "Of course. Whatever you need, Edward."

I found Jasper outside, leading a private training session with Rosalie. In a lot of ways, she was the least skilled for combat, having no special abilities to use to her advantage, and having never been in a real fight before. She wasn't worried, but Emmett had insisted Jasper spend some extra time with her. "Always keep your eyes moving," he instructed her. "They're not going to sneak up on you, so as long as you're paying attention, they won't catch you off guard." "I don't really see the need for all this training. You know Emmett's never going to let anything close enough to me to do any harm." Jasper laughed. "That may be true, but he's going to pummel me if I don't get you as prepared as possible." I joined in Jasper's laughter, and they both turned toward me. "Well, look who it is. The betrothed of the girl who started all this mayhem to begin with. Still planning on letting your family do all the dirty work while you babysit? Don't listen to her, Edward. We're fine. "What's the matter, Rose? Afraid Emmett will be too busy killing all those extra vampires, and you might actually have to get your hands dirty?" I tried to ignore the stream of profanity that came next as I walked to Jasper's side. "She's really upset," I said as she stormed away. "What's new? Don't tell me you're going to let Rose start getting to you now." "It isn't Rose that's the problem," I admitted. "Like I said, we're fine." "You must know what I want to ask you." "You want to know if any of them are more worried now that we're down one fighter?"

"I have to know." "Why?" "Because if everyone is suddenly nervous, it means more mistakes. More mistakes means more chance of someone getting hurt." "Can you answer me this – would it make any difference?" I paused a moment, wishing my answer were different, but I finally sighed. "No." "Then why do you want to know?" "It'll keep me sane, that's why! Do you think this is easy for me? Staying behind while my family fights to protect my wife!" The word was out before I could stop it, and a moment later, Jasper broke into a fit of laughter. "Yeah, how's that going?" he finally sputtered. Although I wasn't thrilled with what he was laughing at, it was nice to have the tense mood lifted. "I've been a little busy," I said sarcastically. "You know, you're lucky she didn't just have Carlisle change her as soon as she figured out what was happening with this army. Alice certainly saw it as a very distinct possibility. She thought about it a lot." "I know." "And you know the second this fight is over, she's going to demand it." "I know." "So, have you given up on changing her yourself?" "No, of course not."

"Then what are you waiting for? You already have the ring." I raised an eyebrow at him. "Alice thinks it's very sweet that you're giving her your mother's ring." "I don't exactly have a choice. She won't let me buy her anything new." "You're not answering my question. What are you waiting for?" I took a deep breath. It was hard to admit it to anyone, even Jasper. "I don't want her to say no. Again." I shrugged. "You wouldn't understand." "Probably not. One of the first things Alice said to me after we moved in with you guys was, 'We're getting married next month. Don't worry, I started planning our wedding after I had that first vision of you, so we're all set.'" We both smiled as we thought about their wedding. Alice was stunning, as usual, but there was a simplicity to the day that only served to make it that much more spectacular. I couldn't help but think about what Bella would look like in her wedding gown. I also couldn't help but see one aspect of that day with absolute certainty. I wanted Bella to be human when she promised herself to me for eternity. Somehow, I could feel that it would make all the difference. Of course there was no way to know for sure that this life was what she wanted, but if Bella had sworn to be mine forever, I could change her without guilt because I would know that I was what she wanted forever. "From the drastic change in your mood, I'm confident you're not thinking about the fight anymore," Jasper said. I laughed under my breath and shook my head at him. "Which is good, since you have absolutely nothing to worry about. The rest of them aren't worried, either, by the way. Not that it matters," he added, teasing. "Thank you." "Any time. Now, I think we've chatted long enough for Alice to have charmed Charlie into getting exactly what she wanted." "What exactly is that?"

"Oh, she's just clearing Bella's schedule for the next couple of days. Didn't you hear? Those of us not chickening out of the fight are going hunting," he smirked. "And Bella is going to be... ?" "Shopping, of course. At least as far as Charlie's concerned. Now, if you don't actually want to take Bella shopping, I think she'll be able to handle the disappointment. Especially if it means you two get to spend some quality time together. Talking. About, you know, whatever." It was obvious Jasper was not-so-subtly hinting that now might be the time for a proper proposal, but there was also something else coloring his tone. Something that he was finding particularly amusing. I knew his taunting voice well enough to realize he wasn't going to tell me anything, so I tried to listen to his mind, but he was already reciting Welsh poetry and singing the alphabet backwards. "Nice," I muttered, and he doubled over laughing as I turned and ran back toward Bella's. As soon as I stepped onto the porch, I heard Alice and Charlie chatting conversationally. He was asking her about her college plans, and whether or not she was going to stay in the area. Then they talked about where she and Bella would be shopping over the weekend, and he asked if they needed any money. It never ceased to amaze me the way Alice seemed to have Charlie wrapped around her finger. And Bella thought I dazzled people. "Knock, knock," I said, and Charlie muttered something that sounded like, "come in, I guess." He looked back and forth between Alice and I several times before finally wishing me a good time on my trip. "Thank you, Charlie. It will be nice to unwind after the long school year." "Your lovely sister here was just telling me how she's going to be keeping my Bella company while you all are away."

"Yes, it's hard to keep Alice away from her girl time. Especially if the alternative is just to hang out with her boring family," I teased. Alice stuck out her tongue at me and we all laughed. "Speaking of us boring Cullens, we really should be going. We're leaving very early in the morning," I added. "Well, don't let me keep you," Charlie said, happy as always to get rid of me. I walked outside with Alice, who smiled impishly up at me. "What's gotten into you? And Jasper, for that matter?" "I just think you two are going to have a wonderful time together tomorrow, that's all." "Alice?" "Good night!" she chirped, taking off at lightning speed. I sighed, and ran around the side of the house to Bella's window. I waited for her on her bed, once again wishing I could talk her out of coming to the training session tonight. There really was no need for her to be there, especially since I was no longer preparing to fight. Of course, I had to remind myself that there were others she cared about who would be fighting. The moment Bella stepped into her room, she asked, "What time are we meeting with the wolves?" She sat down beside me, purposely stopping herself from laying down. Even though she'd slept most of the day, I had a feeling she was still tired enough to fall asleep if she laid down. "In an hour," I told her. "That's good. Jake and his friends need to get some sleep." "They don't need as much as you do."

"Did Alice tell you that she's kidnapping me?" she asked, ignoring the implication that she should stay and rest. I couldn't hold back my smile. Alice had been so good, she'd even fooled Bella. "Actually, she's not," I said, grinning. She stared at me, confused, and I laughed at her blank expression. "I'm the only one who has permission to hold you hostage, remember? Alice is going hunting with the rest of them. I guess I don't need to do that now." "You're kidnapping me?" she asked, and I nodded. I'd expected some enthusiasm, hoped she would be excited about finally getting to spend some time together. Stress-free, and alone. "Is that all right?" I asked, when she didn't respond. "Well... sure, except for one thing." "What thing?" I asked nervously. Had I been presumptuous, assuming she would want to spend a night alone in my house? Perhaps it made her feel more comfortable, having Charlie in the next room all these nights. Maybe the idea of being truly alone actually frightened her, though I thought I'd made it clear long ago that her blood no longer tempted me beyond what I could handle. I was about to ask if she'd rather stay at home, when she grinned at me. "Why didn't Alice tell Charlie you were leaving tonight?" I smiled and pulled her close to me, wrapping my arms tightly around her and kissing the back of her neck. She shivered, giggling as my cool breath tickled her. We stayed like that for nearly an hour, laughing softly, and me showering her with frozen kisses. Everything about her was more relaxed now that she knew I was going to be safe. It almost made me forget about the fight altogether, but as the moon shone brightly through her window, Bella muttered, "Don't we have to get going?" I sighed, selfishly wishing we could stay like this all night. A moment later, though, my responsibilities kicked back in. Even though I wasn't training anymore, the wolves still

needed me to translate. I swiftly pulled Bella onto my back, happy that even the way she held me as we ran felt more carefree. When we reached the clearing, I could tell that Jasper hadn't been exaggerating. I could hear nothing but confidence from my family. Bella took in the scene in front of her, the easy way my family was talking and practicing. It didn't take her long to realize that there were significantly fewer eyes watching tonight's training session. "Where are the rest of the wolves?" she asked. "They don't all need to be here. One would do the job, but Sam didn't trust us enough to just send Jacob, though Jacob was willing. Quil and Embry are his usual... I guess you could call them his wingmen." "Jacob trusts you." It wasn't a question. She knew it was true, and I could tell it made her happy. She was always trying to get the two of us to get along. As if there was some magic key to all three of us being able to coexist, though we both loved her, and only one of us was fortunate enough to have her. "He trusts us not to kill him," I told her. "That's about it, though." "Are you participating tonight?" she asked, her eyes not quite meeting mine She was still feeling guilty, so I tried my best to reassure her. "I'll help Jasper when he needs it. He wants to try some unequal groupings, teach them how to deal with multiple attackers." I heard her breath catch, and I wished I hadn't said it. Our numbers were still good, even without me, though the chance that someone would, at some point, be fighting off more than one newborn at once was likely. Emmett was counting on it. A moment later, Jacob spotted us, and he wasted no time bounding to Bella's side. Like a puppy. A ridiculous, extraordinarily large and rancid smelling puppy. "Jacob," I said, my voice pleasant.

Sure. Ignoring me, Jacob appraised Bella's expression, then tilted his head to one side in question. What's wrong, beautiful? he thought, and it bothered me more than it probably should have that he wasn't even thinking about me standing beside him, listening. "I'm fine," Bella said. "Just worried, you know." That's really stupid. What is there to be worried about? I rolled my eyes. "He wants to know why," I told Bella. Nice translation. Care to rephrase anything else for me? "What?" Bella asked, when Jacob growled. "He thinks my translations leave something to be desires. What he actually thought was, 'That's really stupid. What is there to be worried about?' I edited, because I thought it was rude." And I think your inability to keep your opinions to yourself is rude. "There's plenty to be worried about," Bella said, staring intently at Jacob. "Like a bunch of really stupid wolves getting themselves hurt." Hurt? he thought, barking a laugh. This is what we were made for. Hey, Edward, I heard Jasper call to me from across the field. If you're finished playing with the dog, I could really use a hand over here. I want you and Emmett to come at me from opposite sides so we can show everyone what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. "Jasper wants help," I said directly to Bella, ignoring Jacob as much as possible. "You'll be okay without a translator?" "I'll manage."

Yeah, bloodsucker, she'll do just fine. In fact, I think she understands me better when you're not here to add your special commentary. Bella was still staring at Jacob, her eyes worried, though not as worried as she'd been looking at me the previous night. At least, that's what I was trying to convince myself of as I left the two of them there. I was trying not to watch them, attempting to give all my attention to Jasper, but after the third time I was pinned to the ground, I heard Rose mutter, "Good thing he's sitting out tomorrow." I shut my eyes, and left the rest of my family to train without me. I still wasn't sure that they were better off without me, but the choice had already been made. And at the moment, the only thing on my mind was getting Bella away from Jacob, and focusing on our upcoming night together. Alone. In my room. With my mother's ring tucked carefully away in the bedside table.

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