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18. THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR THIS. Bella's body, streaming with red, started to twitch, jerking around in Rosalie's arms like she was being electrocuted. All the while, her face was blank —2—unconscious. It was the wild thrashing from inside the center of her body that moved her. As she convulsed, sharp snaps and cracks kept time with the spasms. Rosalie and Edward were frozen for the shortest half second, and then they broke. Rosalie whipped Bella's body into her arms, and, shouting so fast it was hard to separate the individual words, she and Edward shot up the staircase to the second floor. I sprinted after them. "Morphine!" Edward yelled at Rosalie. "Alice ——get Carlisle on the phone!" Rosalie screeched. The room I followed them to looked like an emergency ward set up in the middle of a library. The lights were brilliant and white. Bella was on a table under the glare, skin ghostly in the spotlight. Her body flopped, a fish on the sand. Rosalie pinned Bella down, yanking and ripping her clothes out of the way, while Edward stabbed a syringe into her arm. How many times had I imagined her naked? Now I couldn't look. I was afraid to have these memories in my head. "What's happening, Edward?" "He's suffocating!" "The placenta must have detached!" Somewhere in this, Bella came around. She responded to their words with a shriek that clawed at my eardrums. "Get him OUT!" she screamed. "He can't BREATHE! Do it NOW!" I saw the red spots pop out when her scream broke the blood vessels in her eyes. 'The morphine —2—," Edward growled. "NO! NOW —u—!" Another gush of blood choked off what she was shrieking. He held her head up, desperately trying to clear her mouth so that she could breathe again. Alice darted into the room and clipped a little blue earpiece under Rosalie's hair. Then Alice backed away, her gold eyes wide and burning, while Rosalie hissed frantically into the phone. In the bright light, Bella's skin seemed more purple and black than it was white. Deep red was seeping beneath the skin over the huge, shuddering bulge of her stomach. Rosalie's hand came up with a scalpel. "Let the morphine spread!" Edward shouted at her. "There's no time," Rosalie hissed. "He's dying!" Her hand came down on Bella's stomach, and vivid red spouted out from where she pierced the skin. It was like a bucket being turned over, a faucet twisted to full. Bella jerked, but didn't scream. She was still choking. And then Rosalie lost her focus. I saw the expression on her face shift, saw her lips pull back from her teeth and her black eyes glint with thirst. "No, Rose!" Edward roared, but his hands were trapped, trying to prop Bella upright so she could breathe. I launched myself at Rosalie, jumping across the table without bothering to phase. As I hit her stone body, knocking her toward the door, I felt the scalpel in her hand stab deep into my left arm. My right palm smashed against her face, locking her jaw and blocking her airways. I used my grip on Rosalie's face to swing her body out so that I could land a solid kick in her gut; it was like kicking concrete. She flew into the door frame, buckling one side of it. The little speaker in her ear crackled into pieces. Then Alice was there, yanking her by the throat to get her into the hall. And I had to give it to Blondie —2—she didn't put up an ounce of fight. She wanted us to win. She let me trash her like that, to save Bella. Well, to save the thing. I ripped the blade out of my arm. 'Alice, get her out of here!" Edward shouted. "Take her to Jasper and keep her there! Jacob, I need you!" I didn't watch Alice finish the job. I wheeled back to the operating table, where Bella was turning blue, her eyes wide and staring. "CPR?" Edward growled at me, fast and demanding. "Yes!" I judged his face swiftly, looking for any sign that he was going to react like Rosalie. There was nothing but single-minded ferocity. "Get her breathing! I've got to get him out before —2—" Another shattering crack inside her body, the loudest yet, so loud that we both froze in shock waiting for her answering shriek. Nothing. Her legs, which had been curled up in agony, now went limp, sprawling out in an unnatural way. "Her spine," he choked in horror. "Get it out of her!" I snarled, flinging the scalpel at him. "She won't feel anything now!" And then I bent over her head. Her mouth looked clear, so I pressed mine to hers and blew a lungful of air into it. I felt her twitching body expand, so there was nothing blocking her throat. Her lips tasted like blood. I could hear her heart, thumping unevenly. Keep it going, I thought fiercely at her, blowing another gust of air into her body. You promised. Keep your heart beating. I heard the soft, wet sound of the scalpel across her stomach. More blood dripping to the floor. The next sound jolted through me, unexpected, terrifying. Like metal being shredded apart. The sound brought back the fight in the clearing so many months ago, the tearing sound of the newborns being ripped apart. I glanced over to see Edward's face pressed against the bulge. Vampire teeth —4—a surefire way to cut through vampire skin. I shuddered as I blew more air into Bella. She coughed back at me, her eyes blinking, rolling blindly. "You stay with me now, Bella!" I yelled at her. "Do you hear me? Stay! You're not leaving me. Keep your heart beating!" Her eyes wheeled, looking for me, or him, but seeing nothing. I stared into them anyway, keeping my gaze locked there. And then her body was suddenly still under my hands, though her breathing picked up roughly and her heart continued to thud. I realized the stillness meant that it was over. The internal beating was over. It must be out of her. It was. Edward whispered, "Renesmee." So Bella'd been wrong. It wasn't the boy she'd imagined. No big surprise there. What hadn't she been wrong about? I didn't look away from her red-spotted eyes, but I felt her hands lift weakly. "Let me...," she croaked in a broken whisper. "Give her to me." I guess I should have known that he would always give her what she wanted, no matter how stupid her request might be. But I didn't dream he would listen to her now. So I didn't think to stop him. Something warm touched my arm. That right there should have caught my attention. Nothing felt warm to me. But I couldn't look away from Bella's face. She blinked and then stared, finally seeing something. She moaned out a strange, weak croon. "Renes... mee. So... beautiful." And then she gasped —ä—gasped in pain. By the time I looked, it was too late. Edward had snatched the warm, bloody thing out of her limp arms. My eyes flickered across her skin. It was red with blood ——the blood that had flowed from her mouth, the blood smeared all over the creature, and fresh blood welling out of a tiny double-crescent bite mark just over her left breast. "No, Renesmee," Edward murmured, like he was teaching the monster manners. I didn't look at him or it. I watched only Bella as her eyes rolled back into her head. With a last dull ga-lump, her heart faltered and went silent. She missed maybe half of one beat, and then my hands were on her chest, doing compressions, i counted in my head, trying to keep the rhythm steady. One. Two. Three. Four. Breaking away for a second, I blew another lungful of air into her. I couldn't see anymore. My eyes were wet and blurry. But I was hyperaware of the sounds in the room. The unwilling glug-glug of her heart under my demanding hands, the pounding of my own heart, and another —2—a fluttering beat that was too fast, too light. I couldn't place it. I forced more air down Bella's throat. "What are you waiting for?" I choked out breathlessly, pumping her heart again. One. Two. Three. Four. "Take the baby," Edward said urgently. 'Throw it out the window." One. Two. Three. Four. "Give her to me," a low voice chimed from the doorway. Edward and I snarled at the same time. One. Two. Three. Four. "I've got it under control," Rosalie promised. "Give me the baby, Edward. Til take care of her until Bella ..." I breathed for Bella again while the exchange took place. The fluttering thumpa-thumpa-thumpa faded away with distance. "Move your hands, Jacob." I looked up from Bella's white eyes, still pumping her heart for her. Edward had a syringe in his hand —2—all silver, like it was made from steel. "What's that?" His stone hand knocked mine out of the way. There was a tiny crunch as his blow broke my little finger. In the same second, he shoved the needle straight into her heart. "My venom," he answered as he pushed the plunger down. I heard the jolt in her heart, like he'd shocked her with paddles. "Keep it moving," he ordered. His voice was ice, was dead. Fierce and unthinking. Like he was a machine. I ignored the healing ache in my finger and started pumping her heart again. It was harder, as if her blood was congealing there ——thicker and slower. While I pushed the now-viscous blood through her arteries, I watched what he was doing. It was like he was kissing her, brushing his lips at her throat, at her wrists, into the crease at the inside of her arm. But I could hear the lush tearing of her skin as his teeth bit through, again and again, forcing venom into her system at as many points as possible. I saw his pale tongue sweep along the bleeding gashes, but before this could make me either sick or angry, I realized what he was doing. Where his tongue washed the venom over her skin, it sealed shut. Holding the poison and the blood inside her body. I blew more air into her mouth, but there was nothing there. Just the lifeless rise of her chest in response. I kept pumping her heart, counting, while he worked manically over her, trying to put her back together. All the king's horses and all the king's men... But there was nothing there, just me, just him. Working over a corpse. Because that's all that was left of the girl we both loved. This broken, bled-out, mangled corpse. We couldn't put Bella together again. I knew it was too late. I knew she was dead. I knew it for sure because the pull was gone. I didn't feel any reason to be here beside her. She wasn't here anymore. So this body had no more draw for me. The senseless need to be near her had vanished. Or maybe moved was the better word. It seemed like I felt the pull from the opposite direction now. From down the stairs, out the door. The longing to get away from here and never, ever come back. "Go, then," he snapped, and he hit my hands out of the way again, taking my place this time. Three fingers broken, it felt like. I straightened them numbly, not minding the throb of pain. He pushed her dead heart faster than I had. "She's not dead," he growled. "She's going to be fine." I wasn't sure he was talking to me anymore. Turning away, leaving him with his dead, I walked slowly to the door. So slowly. I couldn't make my feet move faster. This was it, then. The ocean of pain. The other shore so far away across the boiling water that I couldn't imagine it, much less see it. I felt empty again, now that I'd lost my purpose. Saving Bella had been my fight for so long now. And she wouldn't be saved. She'd willingly sacrificed herself to be torn apart by that monster's young, and so the fight was lost. It was all over. I shuddered at the sound coming from behind me as I plodded down the stairs —2—the sound of a dead heart being forced to thud. I wanted to somehow pour bleach inside my head and let it fry my brain. To burn away the images left from Bella's final minutes. I'd take the brain damage if I could get rid of that ——the screaming, the bleeding, the unbearable crunching and snapping as the newborn monster tore through her from the inside out___ I wanted to sprint away, to take the stairs ten at a time and race out the door, but my feet were heavy as iron and my body was more tired than it had ever been before. I shuffled down the stairs like a crippled old man. I rested at the bottom step, gathering my strength to get out the door. Rosalie was on the clean end of the white sofa, her back to me, cooing and murmuring to the blanket-wrapped thing in her arms. She must have heard me pause, but she ignored me, caught up in her moment of stolen motherhood. Maybe she would be happy now. Rosalie had what she wanted, and Bella would never come to take the creature from her. I wondered if that's what the poisonous blonde had been hoping for all along. She held something dark in her hands, and there was a greedy sucking sound coming from the tiny murderer she held. The scent of blood in the air. Human blood. Rosalie was feeding it. Of course it would want blood. What else would you feed the kind of monster that would brutally mutilate its own mother? It might as well have been drinking Bella's blood. Maybe it was. My strength came back to me as I listened to the sound of the little executioner feeding. Strength and hate and heat —u—red heat washing through my head, burning but erasing nothing. The images in my head were fuel, building up the inferno but refusing to be consumed. I felt the tremors rock me from head to toe, and I did not try to stop them. Rosalie was totally absorbed in the creature, paying no attention to me at all. She wouldn't be quick enough to stop me, distracted as she was. Sam had been right. The thing was an aberration ——its existence went against nature. A black, soulless demon. Something that had no right to be. Something that had to be destroyed. It seemed like the pull had not been leading to the door after all. I could feel it now, encouraging me, tugging me forward. Pushing me to finish this, to cleanse the world of this abomination. Rosalie would try to kill me when the creature was dead, and I would fight back. I wasn't sure if I would have time to finish her before the others came to help. Maybe, maybe not. I didn't much care either way. I didn't care if the wolves, either set, avenged me or called the Cullens' justice fair. None of that mattered. All I cared about was my own justice. My revenge. The thing that had killed Bella would not live another minute longer. If Bella'd survived, she would have hated me for this. She would have wanted to kill me personally. But I didn't care. She didn't care what she had done to me —2—letting herself be slaughtered like an animal. Why should I take her feelings into account? And then there was Edward. He must be too busy now —2—too far gone in his insane denial, trying to reanimate a corpse—u—to listen to my plans. So I wouldn't get the chance to keep my promise to him, unless ——and it was not a wager I'd put money on——I managed to win the fight against Rosalie, Jasper, and Alice, three on one. But even if I did win, I didn't think I had it in me to kill Edward. Because I didn't have enough compassion for that. Why should I let him get away from what he'd done? Wouldn't it be more fair ——more satisfying——to let him live with nothing, nothing at all? It made me almost smile, as filled with hate as I was, to imagine it. No Bella. No killer spawn. And also missing as many members of his family as I was able to take down. Of course, he could probably put those back together, since i wouldn't be around to burn them. Unlike Bella, who would never be whole again. I wondered if the creature could be put back together. I doubted it. It was part Bella, too ——so it must have inherited some of her vulnerability. I could hear that in the tiny, thrumming beat of its heart. Its heart was beating. Hers wasn't. Only a second had passed as I made these easy decisions. The trembling was getting tighter and faster. I coiled myself, preparing to spring at the blond vampire and rip the murderous thing from her arms with my teeth. Rosalie cooed at the creature again, setting the empty metal bottle-thing aside and lifting the creature into the air to nuzzle her face against its cheek. Perfect. The new position was perfect for my strike. I leaned forward and felt the heat begin to change me while the pull toward the killer grew —4—it was stronger than I'd ever felt it before, so strong it reminded me of an Alpha's command, like it would crush me if I didn't obey. This time I wanted to obey. The murderer stared past Rosalie's shoulder at me, its gaze more focused than any newborn creature's gaze should be. Warm brown eyes, the color of milk chocolate —4—the exact same color that Bella's had been. My shaking jerked to a stop; heat flooded through me, stronger than before, but it was a new kind of heat —2—not a burning. It was a glowing. Everything inside me came undone as I stared at the tiny porcelain face of the half-vampire, half-human baby. All the lines that held me to my life were sliced apart in swift cuts, like clipping the strings to a bunch of balloons. Everything that made me who I was —u—my love for the dead girl upstairs, my love for my father, my loyalty to my new pack, the love for my other brothers, my hatred for my enemies, my home, my name, my se/f——disconnected from me in that second——snip, snip, snip——and floated up into space. I was not left drifting. A new string held me where I was. Not one string, but a million. Not strings, but steel cables. A million steel cables all tying me to one thing ——to the very center of the universe. I could see that now ——how the universe swirled around this one point. I'd never seen the symmetry of the universe before, but now it was plain. The gravity of the earth no longer tied me to the place where I stood. It was the baby girl in the blond vampire's arms that held me here now. Renesmee. From upstairs, there was a new sound. The only sound that could touch me in this endless instant. A frantic pounding, a racing beat... A changing heart.


Personal affection is a luxury you can have only after all your enemies are eliminated. Until then, everyone you love is a hostage, sapping your courage and corrupting your judgment Orson Scott Card Empire

PREFACE No longer just a nightmare, the line of black advanced on us through the icy mist stirred up by their feet. We're going to die, I thought in panic. I was desperate for the precious one I guarded, but even to think of that was a lapse in attention I could not afford. They ghosted closer, their dark robes billowing slightly with the movement. I saw their hands curl into bone-colored claws. They drifted apart, angling to come at us from all sides. We were outnumbered. It was over. And then, like a burst of light from a flash, the whole scene was different. Yet nothing changed —2—the Volturi still stalked toward us, poised to kill. All that really changed was how the picture looked to me. Suddenly, I was hungry for it. I wanfed them to charge. The panic changed to bloodlust as I crouched forward, a smile on my face, and a growl ripped through my bared teeth.

19. BURNING The pain was bewildering. Exactly that ——I was bewildered. I couldn't understand, couldn't make sense of what was happening. My body tried to reject the pain, and I was sucked again and again into a blackness that cut out whole seconds or maybe even minutes of the agony, making it that much harder to keep up with reality. I tried to separate them. Non-reality was black, and it didn't hurt so much. Reality was red, and it felt like I was being sawed in half, hit by a bus, punched by a prize fighter, trampled by bulls, and submerged in acid, all at the same time. Reality was feeling my body twist and flip when I couldn't possibly move because of the pain. Reality was knowing there was something so much more important than all this torture, and not being able to remember what it was. Reality had come on so fast. One moment, everything was as it should have been. Surrounded by people I loved. Smiles. Somehow, unlikely as it was, it seemed like I was about to get everything I'd been fighting for. And then one tiny, inconsequential thing had gone wrong. I'd watched as my cup tilted, dark blood spilling out and staining the perfect white, and I'd lurched toward the accident reflexively. I'd seen the other, faster hands, but my body had continued to reach, to stretch___ Inside me, something had yanked the opposite direction. Ripping. Breaking. Agony. The darkness had taken over, and then washed away to a wave of torture. I couldn't breathe —u—I had drowned once before, and this was different; it was too hot in my throat. Pieces of me shattering, snapping, slicing apart___ More blackness. Voices, this time, shouting, as the pain came back. 'The placenta must have detached!" Something sharper than knives ripped through me — —the words, making sense in spite of the other tortures. Detached placenta——I knew what that meant. It meant that my baby was dying inside me. "Get him out!" I screamed to Edward. Why hadn't he done it yet? "He can't breathe! Do it now!" "The morphine ——" He wanted to wait, to give me painkillers, while our baby was dying?! "No! Now —4—," I choked, unable to finish. Black spots covered the light in the room as a cold point of new pain stabbed icily into my stomach. It felt wrong —2—I struggled automatically to protect my womb, my baby, my little Edward Jacob, but I was weak. My lungs ached, oxygen burned away. The pain faded away again, though I clung to it now. My baby, my baby, dying___ How long had passed? Seconds or minutes? The pain was gone. Numb. I couldn't feel. I still couldn't see, either, but I could hear. There was air in my lungs again, scraping in rough bubbles up and down my throat. "You stay with me now, Bella! Do you hear me? Stay! You're not leaving me. Keep your heart beating!" Jacob? Jacob, still here, still trying to save me. Of course, I wanted to tell him. Of course I would keep my heart beating. Hadn't I promised them both? I tried to feel my heart, to find it, but I was so lost inside my own body. I couldn't feel the things I should, and nothing felt in the right place. I blinked and I found my eyes. I could see the light. Not what I was looking for, but better than nothing. As my eyes struggled to adjust, Edward whispered, "Renesmee." Renesmee? Not the pale and perfect son of my imagination? I felt a moment of shock. And then a flood of warmth. Renesmee. I willed my lips to move, willed the bubbles of air to turn into whispers on my tongue. I forced my numb hands to reach. "Let me... Give her to me." The light danced, shattering off Edward's crystal hands. The sparkles were tinged with red, with the blood that covered his skin. And more red in his hands. Something small and struggling, dripping with blood. He touched the warm body to my weak arms, almost like I was holding her. Her wet skin was hot —2—as hot as Jacob's. My eyes focused; suddenly everything was absolutely clear. Renesmee did not cry, but she breathed in quick, startled pants. Her eyes were open, her expression so shocked it was almost funny. The little, perfectly round head was covered in a thick layer of matted, bloody curls. Her irises were a familiar ——but astonishing——chocolate brown. Under the blood, her skin looked pale, a creamy ivory. All besides her cheeks, which flamed with color. Her tiny face was so absolutely perfect that it stunned me. She was even more beautiful than her father. Unbelievable. Impossible. "Renesmee," I whispered. "So... beautiful." The impossible face suddenly smiled ——a wide, deliberate smile. Behind the shell-pink lips was a full complement of snowy milk teeth. She leaned her head down, against my chest, burrowing against the warmth. Her skin was warm and silky, but it didn't give the way mine did. Then there was pain again ——just one warm slash of it. I gasped. And she was gone. My angel-faced baby was nowhere. I couldn't see or feel her. No! I wanted to shout. Give her back to me! But the weakness was too much. My arms felt like empty rubber hoses for a moment, and then they felt like nothing at all. I couldn't feel them. I couldn't feel me. The blackness rushed over my eyes more solidly than before. Like a thick blindfold, firm and fast. Covering not just my eyes but also my self with a crushing weight. It was exhausting to push against it. I knew it would be so much easier to give in. To let the blackness push me down, down, down to a place where there was no pain and no weariness and no worry and no fear. If it had only been for myself, I wouldn't have been able to struggle very long. I was only human, with no more than human strength. I'd been trying to keep up with the supernatural for too long, like Jacob had said. But this wasn't just about me. If I did the easy thing now, let the black nothingness erase me, I would hurt them. Edward. Edward. My life and his were twisted into a single strand. Cut one, and you cut both. If he were gone, I would not be able to live through that. If I were gone, he wouldn't live through it, either. And a world without Edward seemed completely pointless. Edward had to exist. Jacob —u—who'd said goodbye to me over and over but kept coming back when I needed him. Jacob, who I'd wounded so many times it was criminal. Would I hurt him again, the worst way yet? He'd stayed for me, despite everything. Now all he asked was that I stay for him. But it was so dark here that I couldn't see either of their faces. Nothing seemed real. That made it hard not to give up. I kept pushing against the black, though, almost a reflex. I wasn't trying to lift it. I was just resisting. Not allowing it to crush me completely. I wasn't Atlas, and the black felt as heavy as a planet; I couldn't shoulder it. All I could do was not be entirely obliterated. It was sort of the pattern to my life —2—I'd never been strong enough to deal with the things outside my control, to attack the enemies or outrun them. To avoid the pain. Always human and weak, the only thing I'd ever been able to do was keep going. Endure. Survive. It had been enough up to this point. It would have to be enough today. I would endure this until help came. I knew Edward would be doing everything he could. He would not give up. Neither would I. I held the blackness of nonexistence at bay by inches. It wasn't enough, though —f—that determination. As the time ground on and on and the darkness gained by tiny eighths and sixteenths of my inches, I needed something more to draw strength from. I couldn't pull even Edward's face into view. Not Jacob's, not Alice's or Rosalie's or Charlie's or Renee's or Carlisle's or Esme's... Nothing. It terrified me, and I wondered if it was too late. I felt myself slipping —2—there was nothing to hold on to. No! I had to survive this. Edward was depending on me. Jacob. Charlie Alice Rosalie Carlisle Renee Esme... Renesmee. And then, though I still couldn't see anything, suddenly I could feel something. Like phantom limbs, I imagined I could feel my arms again. And in them, something small and hard and very, very warm. My baby. My little nudger. I had done it. Against the odds, I had been strong enough to survive Renesmee, to hold on to her until she was strong enough to live without me. That spot of heat in my phantom arms felt so real. I clutched it closer. It was exactly where my heart should be. Holding tight the warm memory of my daughter, I knew that I would be able to fight the darkness as long as I needed to. The warmth beside my heart got more and more real, warmer and warmer. Hotter. The heat was so real it was hard to believe that I was imagining it. Hotter. Uncomfortable now. Too hot. Much, much too hot. Like grabbing the wrong end of a curling iron ——my automatic response was to drop the scorching thing in my arms. But there was nothing in my arms. My arms were not curled to my chest. My arms were dead things lying somewhere at my side. The heat was inside me. The burning grew ——rose and peaked and rose again until it surpassed anything I'd ever felt. I felt the pulse behind the fire raging now in my chest and realized that I'd found my heart again, just in time to wish I never had. To wish that I'd embraced the blackness while I'd still had the chance. I wanted to raise my arms and claw my chest open and rip the heart from it ——anything to get rid of this torture. But I couldn't feel my arms, couldn't move one vanished finger. James, snapping my leg under his foot. That was nothing. That was a soft place to rest on a feather bed. I'd take that now, a hundred times. A hundred snaps. I'd take it and be grateful. The baby, kicking my ribs apart, breaking her way through me piece by piece. That was nothing. That was floating in a pool of cool water. I'd take it a thousand times. Take it and be grateful. The fire blazed hotter and I wanted to scream. To beg for someone to kill me now, before I lived one more second in this pain. But I couldn't move my lips. The weight was still there, pressing on me. I realized it wasn't the darkness holding me down; it was my body. So heavy. Burying me in the flames that were chewing their way out from my heart now, spreading with impossible pain through my shoulders and stomach, scalding their way up my throat, licking at my face. Why couldn't I move? Why couldn't I scream? This wasn't part of the stories. My mind was unbearably clear ——sharpened by the fierce pain——and I saw the answer almost as soon as I could form the questions. The morphine. It seemed like a million deaths ago that we'd discussed it —2—Edward, Carlisle, and I. Edward and Carlisle had hoped that enough painkillers would help fight the pain of the venom. Carlisle had tried with Emmett, but the venom had burned ahead of the medicine, sealing his veins. There hadn't been time for it to spread. I'd kept my face smooth and nodded and thanked my rarely lucky stars that Edward could not read my mind. Because I'd had morphine and venom together in my system before, and I knew the truth. I knew the numbness of the medicine was completely irrelevant while the venom seared through my veins. But there'd been no way I was going to mention that fact. Nothing that would make him more unwilling to change me. I hadn't guessed that the morphine would have this effect ——that it would pin me down and gag me. Hold me paralyzed while I burned. I knew all the stories. I knew that Carlisle had kept quiet enough to avoid discovery while he burned. I knew that, according to Rosalie, it did no good to scream. And I'd hoped that maybe I could be like Carlisle. That I would believe Rosalie's words and keep my mouth shut. Because I knew that every scream that escaped my lips would torment Edward. Now it seemed like a hideous joke that i was getting my wish fulfilled. If I couldn't scream, how could I tell them to kill me? All I wanted was to die. To never have been born. The whole of my existence did not outweigh this pain. Wasn't worth living through it for one more heartbeat. Let me die, let me die, let me die. And, for a never-ending space, that was all there was. Just the fiery torture, and my soundless shrieks, pleading for death to come. Nothing else, not even time. So that made it infinite, with no beginning and no end. One infinite moment of pain. The only change came when suddenly, impossibly, my pain was doubled. The lower half of my body, deadened since before the morphine, was suddenly on fire, too. Some broken connection had been healed —f—knitted together by the scorching fingers of the flame. The endless burn raqed on. It could have been seconds or days, weeks or years, but, eventually, time came to mean something again. Three things happened together, grew from each other so that I didn't know which came first: time restarted, the morphine's weight faded, and I got stronger. I could feel the control of my body come back to me in increments, and those increments were my first markers of the time passing. I knew it when I was able to twitch my toes and twist my fingers into fists. I knew it, but I did not act on it. Though the fire did not decrease one tiny degree ——in fact, I began to develop a new capacity for experiencing it, a new sensitivity to appreciate, separately, each blistering tongue of flame that licked through my veins——I discovered that I could think around it. I could remember why I shouldn't scream. I could remember the reason why I'd committed to enduring this unendurable agony. I could remember that, though it felt impossible now, there was something that might be worth the torture. This happened just in time for me to hold on when the weights left my body. To anyone watching me, there would be no change. But for me, as I struggled to keep the screams and thrashing locked up inside my body, where they couldn't hurt anyone else, it felt like I'd gone from being tied to the stake as I burned, to gripping that stake to hold myself in the fire. I had just enough strength to lie there unmoving while I was charred alive. My hearing got clearer and clearer, and I could count the frantic, pounding beats of my heart to mark the time. I could count the shallow breaths that gasped through my teeth. I could count the low, even breaths that came from somewhere close beside me. These moved slowest, so I concentrated on them. They meant the most time passing. More even than a clock's pendulum, those breaths pulled me through the burning seconds toward the end. I continued to get stronger, my thoughts clearer. When new noises came, I could listen. There were light footsteps, the whisper of air stirred by an opening door. The footsteps got closer, and I felt pressure against the inside of my wrist. I couldn't feel the coolness of the fingers. The fire blistered away every memory of cool. "Still no change?" "None." The lightest pressure, breath against my scorched skin. "There's no scent of the morphine left." "I know." "Bella? Can you hear me?" I knew, beyond all doubt, that if I unlocked my teeth I would lose it ——I would shriek and screech and writhe and thrash. If I opened my eyes, if I so much as twitched a finger ——any change at all would be the end of my control. "Bella? Bella, love? Can you open your eyes? Can you squeeze my hand?" Pressure on my fingers. It was harder not to answer this voice, but I stayed paralyzed. I knew that the pain in his voice now was nothing compared to what it could be. Right now he only feared that I was suffering. "Maybe... Carlisle, maybe I was too late." His voice was muffled; it broke on the word late. My resolve wavered for a second. "Listen to her heart, Edward. It's stronger than even Emmett's was. I've never heard anything so vital. Shell be perfect." Yes, I was right to keep quiet. Carlisle would reassure him. He didn't need to suffer with me. "And her —2—her spine?" "Her injuries weren't so much worse than Esme's. The venom will heal her as it did Esme." "But she's so still. I must have done something wrong." "Or something right, Edward. Son, you did everything I could have and more. I'm not sure I would have had the persistence, the faith it took to save her. Stop berating yourself. Bella is going to be fine." A broken whisper. "She must be in agony." "We don't know that. She had so much morphine in her system. We don't know the effect that will have on her experience." Faint pressure inside the crease of my elbow. Another whisper. "Bella, I love you. Bella, I'm sorry." I wanted so much to answer him, but I wouldn't make his pain worse. Not while I had the strength to hold myself still. Through all this, the racking fire went right on burning me. But there was so much space in my head now. Room to ponder their conversation, room to remember what had happened, room to look ahead to the future, with still endless room left over to suffer in. Also room to worry. Where was my baby? Why wasn't she here? Why weren't they talking about her? "No, I'm staying right here," Edward whispered, answering an unspoken thought. "They'll sort it out." "An interesting situation," Carlisle responded. "And I'd thought I'd seen just about everything." "I'll deal with it later. We'll deal with it." Something pressed softly to my blistering palm. "I'm sure, between the five of us, we can keep it from turning into bloodshed." Edward sighed. "I don't know which side to take. I'd love to flog them both. Well, later." "I wonder what Bella will think —h—whose side she'll take," Carlisle mused. One low, strained chuckle. "I'm sure she'll surprise me. She always does." Carlisle's footsteps faded away again, and I was frustrated that there was no further explanation. Were they talking so mysteriously just to annoy me? I went back to counting Edward's breaths to mark the time. Ten thousand, nine hundred forty-three breaths later, a different set of footsteps whispered into the room. Lighter. More... rhythmic. Strange that I could distinguish the minute differences between footsteps that I'd never been able to hear at all before today. "How much longer?" Edward asked. "It won't be long now," Alice told him. "See how clear she's becoming? I can see her so much better." She sighed. "Still feeling a little bitter?" "Yes, thanks so much for bringing it up," she grumbled. "You would be mortified, too, if you realized that you were handcuffed by your own nature. I see vampires best, because I am one; I see humans okay, because I was one. But I can't see these odd half-breeds at all because they're nothing I've experienced. Bah!" "Focus, Alice." "Right. Bella's almost too easy to see now." There was a long moment of silence, and then Edward sighed. It was a new sound, happier. "She's really going to be fine," he breathed. "Of course she is." "You weren't so sanguine two days ago." "I couldn't see right two days ago. But now that she's free of all the blind spots, it's a piece of cake." "Could you concentrate for me? On the clock —2—give me an estimate." Alice sighed. "So impatient. Fine. Give me a sec ——" Quiet breathing. "Thank you, Alice." His voice was brighter. How long? Couldn't they at least say it aloud for me? Was that too much to ask? How many more seconds would I burn? Ten thousand? Twenty? Another day ——eighty-six thousand, four hundred? More than that? "She's going to be dazzling." Edward growled quietly. "She always has been." Alice snorted. "You know what I mean. Look at her." Edward didn't answer, but Alice's words gave me hope that maybe I didn't resemble the charcoal briquette I felt like. It seemed as if I must be just a pile of charred bones by now. Every cell in my body had been razed to ash. I heard Alice breeze out of the room. I heard the swish of the fabric she moved, rubbing against itself. I heard the quiet buzz of the light hanging from the ceiling. I heard the faint wind brushing against the outside of the house. I could hear everything. Downstairs, someone was watching a ball game. The Mariners were winning by two runs. "It's my turn" I heard Rosalie snap at someone, and there was a low snarl in response. "Hey, now," Emmett cautioned. Someone hissed. I listened for more, but there was nothing but the game. Baseball was not interesting enough to distract me from the pain, so I listened to Edward's breathing again, counting the seconds. Twenty-one thousand, nine hundred seventeen and a half seconds later, the pain changed. On the good-news side of things, it started to fade from my fingertips and toes. Fading slowly, but at least it was doing something new. This had to be it. The pain was on its way out... And then the bad news. The fire in my throat wasn't the same as before. I wasn't only on fire, but I was now parched, too. Dry as bone. So thirsty. Burning fire, and burning thirst... Also bad news: The fire inside my heart got hotter. How was that possible? My heartbeat, already too fast, picked up —a—the fire drove its rhythm to a new frantic pace. "Carlisle," Edward called. His voice was low but clear. I knew that Carlisle would hear it, if he were in or near the house. The fire retreated from my palms, leaving them blissfully pain-free and cool. But it retreated to my heart, which blazed hot as the sun and beat at a furious new speed. Carlisle entered the room, Alice at his side. Their footsteps were so distinct, I could even tell that Carlisle was on the right, and a foot ahead of Alice. "Listen," Edward told them. The loudest sound in the room was my frenzied heart, pounding to the rhythm of the fire. "Ah," Carlisle said. "It's almost over." My relief at his words was overshadowed by the excruciating pain in my heart. My wrists were free, though, and my ankles. The fire was totally extinguished there. "Soon," Alice agreed eagerly. "I'll get the others. Should I have Rosalie... ?" "Yes —u—keep the baby away." What? No. No! What did he mean, keep my baby away? What was he thinking? My fingers twitched ——the irritation breaking through my perfect facade. The room went silent besides the jack-hammering of my heart as they all stopped breathing for a second in response. A hand squeezed my wayward fingers. "Bella? Bella, love?" Could I answer him without screaming? I considered that for a moment, and then the fire ripped hotter still through my chest, draining in from my elbows and knees. Better not to chance it. 'Til bring them right up," Alice said, an urgent edge to her tone, and I heard the swish of wind as she darted away. And then —u—oh! My heart took off, beating like helicopter blades, the sound almost a single sustained note; it felt like it would grind through my ribs. The fire flared up in the center of my chest, sucking the last remnants of the flames from the rest of my body to fuel the most scorching blaze yet. The pain was enough to stun me, to break through my iron grip on the stake. My back arched, bowed as if the fire was dragging me upward by my heart. I allowed no other piece of my body to break rank as my torso slumped back to the table. It became a battle inside me —2—my sprinting heart racing against the attacking fire. Both were losing. The fire was doomed, having consumed everything that was combustible; my heart galloped toward its last beat. The fire constricted, concentrating inside that one remaining human organ with a final, unbearable surge. The surge was answered by a deep, hollow-sounding thud. My heart stuttered twice, and then thudded quietly again just once more. There was no sound. No breathing. Not even mine. For a moment, the absence of pain was all I could comprehend. And then I opened my eyes and gazed above me in wonder.

20. NEW Everything was so clear. Sharp. Defined. The brilliant light overhead was still blinding-bright, and yet I could plainly see the glowing strands of the filaments inside the bulb. I could see each color of the rainbow in the white light, and, at the very edge of the spectrum, an eighth color I had no name for. Behind the light, I could distinguish the individual grains in the dark wood ceiling above. In front of it, I could see the dust motes in the air, the sides the light touched, and the dark sides, distinct and separate. They spun like little planets, moving around each other in a celestial dance. The dust was so beautiful that I inhaled in shock; the air whistled down my throat, swirling the motes into a vortex. The action felt wrong. I considered, and realized the problem was that there was no relief tied to the action. I didn't need the air. My lungs weren't waiting for it. They reacted indifferently to the influx. I did not need the air, but I liked it. In it, I could taste the room around me ——taste the lovely dust motes, the mix of the stagnant air mingling with the flow of slightly cooler air from the open door. Taste a lush whiff of silk. Taste a faint hint of something warm and desirable, something that should be moist, but wasn't... That smell made my throat burn dryly, a faint echo of the venom burn, though the scent was tainted by the bite of chlorine and ammonia. And most of all, I could taste an almost-honey-lilac-and-sun-flavored scent that was the strongest thing, the closest thing to me. I heard the sound of the others, breathing again now that I did. Their breath mixed with the scent that was something just off honey and lilac and sunshine, bringing new flavors. Cinnamon, hyacinth, pear, seawater, rising bread, pine, vanilla, leather, apple, moss, lavender, chocolate.... I traded a dozen different comparisons in my mind, but none of them fit exactly. So sweet and pleasant. The TV downstairs had been muted, and I heard someone ——Rosalie?——shift her weight on the first floor. I also heard a faint, thudding rhythm, with a voice shouting angrily to the beat. Rap music? I was mystified for a moment, and then the sound faded away like a car passing by with the windows rolled down. With a start, I realized that this could be exactly right. Could I hear all the way to the freeway? I didn't realize someone was holding my hand until whoever it was squeezed it lightly. Like it had before to hide the pain, my body locked down again in surprise. This was not a touch I expected. The skin was perfectly smooth, but it was the wrong temperature. Not cold. After that first frozen second of shock, my body responded to the unfamiliar touch in a way that shocked me even more. Air hissed up my throat, spitting through my clenched teeth with a low, menacing sound like a swarm of bees. Before the sound was out, my muscles bunched and arched, twisting away from the unknown. I flipped off my back in a spin so fast it should have turned the room into an incomprehensible blur ——but it did not. I saw every dust mote, every splinter in the wood-paneled walls, every loose thread in microscopic detail as my eyes whirled past them. So by the time I found myself crouched against the wall defensively ——about a sixteenth of a second later——I already understood what had startled me, and that I had overreacted. Oh. Of course. Edward wouldn't feel cold to me. We were the same temperature now. I held my pose for an eighth of a second longer, adjusting to the scene before me. Edward was leaning across the operating table that had been my pyre, his hand reached out toward me, his expression anxious. Edward's face was the most important thing, but my peripheral vision catalogued everything else, just in case. Some instinct to defend had been triggered, and I automatically searched for any sign of danger. My vampire family waited cautiously against the far wall by the door, Emmett and Jasper in the front. Like there was danger. My nostrils flared, searching for the threat. I could smell nothing out of place. That faint scent of something delicious —2—but marred by harsh chemicals—2—tickled my throat again, setting it to aching and burning. Alice was peeking around Jasper's elbow with a huge grin on her face; the light sparkled off her teeth, another eight-color rainbow. That grin reassured me and then put the pieces together. Jasper and Emmett were in the front to protect the others, as I had assumed. What I hadn't grasped immediately was that / was the danger. All this was a sideline. The greater part of my senses and my mind were still focused on Edward's face. I had never seen it before this second. How many times had I stared at Edward and marveled over his beauty? How many hours —u—days, weeks——of my life had I spent dreaming about what I then deemed to be perfection? I thought I'd known his face better than my own. I'd thought this was the one sure physical thing in my whole world: the flawlessness of Edward's face. I may as well have been blind. For the first time, with the dimming shadows and limiting weakness of humanity taken off my eyes, I saw his face. I gasped and then struggled with my vocabulary, unable to find the right words. I needed better words. At this point, the other part of my attention had ascertained that there was no danger here besides myself, and I automatically straightened out of my crouch; almost a whole second had passed since I'd been on the table. I was momentarily preoccupied by the way my body moved. The instant I'd considered standing erect, I was already straight. There was no brief fragment of time in which the action occurred; change was instantaneous, almost as if there was no movement at all. I continued to stare at Edward's face, motionless again. He moved slowly around the table —2—each step taking nearly half a second, each step flowing sinuously like river water weaving over smooth stones——his hand still outstretched. I watched the grace of his advance, absorbing it with my new eyes. "Bella?" he asked in a low, calming tone, but the worry in his voice layered my name with tension. I could not answer immediately, lost as I was in the velvet folds of his voice. It was the most perfect symphony, a symphony in one instrument, an instrument more profound than any created by man___ "Bella, love? I'm sorry, I know it's disorienting. But you're all right. Everything is fine." Everything? My mind spun out, spiraling back to my last human hour. Already, the memory seemed dim, like I was watching through a thick, dark veil —2—because my human eyes had been half blind. Everything had been so blurred. When he said everything was fine, did that include Renesmee? Where was she? With Rosalie? I tried to remember her face —2—I knew that she had been beautiful—2—but it was irritating to try to see through the human memories. Her face was shrouded in darkness, so poorly lit___ What about Jacob? Was he fine? Did my long-suffering best friend hate me now? Had he gone back to Sam's pack? Seth and Leah, too? Were the Cullens safe, or had my transformation ignited the war with the pack? Did Edward's blanket assurance cover all of that? Or was he just trying to calm me? And Charlie? What would I tell him now? He must have called while I was burning. What had they told him? What did he think had happened to me? As I deliberated for one small piece of a second over which question to ask first, Edward reached out tentatively and stroked his fingertips across my cheek. Smooth as satin, soft as a feather, and now exactly matched to the temperature of my skin. His touch seemed to sweep beneath the surface of my skin, right through the bones of my face. The feeling was tingly, electric —u—it jolted through my bones, down my spine, and trembled in my stomach. Wait, I thought as the trembling blossomed into a warmth, a yearning. Wasn't I supposed to lose this? Wasn't giving up this feeling a part of the bargain? I was a newborn vampire. The dry, scorching ache in my throat gave proof to that. And I knew what being a newborn entailed. Human emotions and longings would come back to me later in some form, but I'd accepted that I would not feel them in the beginning. Only thirst. That was the deal, the price. I'd agreed to pay it. But as Edward's hand curled to the shape of my face like satin-covered steel, desire raced through my dried-out veins, singing from my scalp to my toes. He arched one perfect eyebrow, waiting for me to speak. I threw my arms around him. Again, it was like there was no movement. One moment I stood straight and still as a statue; in the same instant, he was in my arms. Warm —u—or at least, that was my perception. With the sweet, delicious scent that I'd never been able to really take in with my dull human senses, but that was one hundred percent Edward. I pressed my face into his smooth chest. And then he shifted his weight uncomfortably. Leaned away from my embrace. I stared up at his face, confused and frightened by the rejection. "Urn... carefully, Bella. Ow." I yanked my arms away, folding them behind my back as soon as I understood. I was too strong. "Oops," I mouthed. He smiled the kind of smile that would have stopped my heart if it were still beating. "Don't panic, love," he said, lifting his hand to touch my lips, parted in horror. "You're just a bit stronger than I am for the moment." My eyebrows pushed together. I'd known this, too, but it felt more surreal than any other part of this ultimately surreal moment. I was stronger than Edward. I'd made him say ow. His hand stroked my cheek again, and I all but forgot my distress as another wave of desire rippled through my motionless body. These emotions were so much stronger than I was used to that it was hard to stick to one train of thought despite the extra room in my head. Each new sensation overwhelmed me. I remembered Edward saying once —2—his voice in my head a weak shadow compared to the crystal, musical clarity I was hearing now—2—that his kind, our kind, were easily distracted. I could see why. I made a concerted effort to focus. There was something I needed to say. The most important thing. Very carefully, so carefully that the movement was actually discernible, I brought my right arm out from behind my back and raised my hand to touch his cheek. I refused to let myself be sidetracked by the pearly color of my hand or by the smooth silk of his skin or by the charge that zinged in my fingertips. I stared into his eyes and heard my own voice for the first time. "I love you," I said, but it sounded like singing. My voice rang and shimmered like a bell. His answering smile dazzled me more than it ever had when I was human; I could really see it now. "As I love you," he told me. He took my face between his hands and leaned his face to mine —2—slow enough to remind me to be careful. He kissed me, soft as a whisper at first, and then suddenly stronger, fiercer. I tried to remember to be gentle with him, but it was hard work to remember anything in the onslaught of sensation, hard to hold on to any coherent thoughts. It was like he'd never kissed me ——like this was our first kiss. And, in truth, he'd never kissed me this way before. It almost made me feel guilty. Surely I was in breach of the contract. I couldn't be allowed to have this, too. Though I didn't need oxygen, my breathing sped, raced as fast as it had when I was burning. This was a different kind of fire. Someone cleared his throat. Emmett. I recognized the deep sound at once, joking and annoyed at the same time. I'd forgotten we weren't alone. And then I realized that the way I was curved around Edward now was not exactly polite for company. Embarrassed, I half-stepped away in another instantaneous movement. Edward chuckled and stepped with me, keeping his arms tight around my waist. His face was glowing ——like a white flame burned from behind his diamond skin. I took an unnecessary breath to settle myself. How different this kissing was! I read his expression as I compared the indistinct human memories to this clear, intense feeling. He looked... a little smug. "You've been holding out on me," I accused in my singing voice, my eyes narrowing a tiny bit. He laughed, radiant with relief that it was all over ——the fear, the pain, the uncertainties, the waiting, all of it behind us now. "It was sort of necessary at the time," he reminded me. "Now it's your turn to not break me." He laughed again. I frowned as I considered that, and then Edward was not the only one laughing. Carlisle stepped around Emmett and walked toward me swiftly; his eyes were only slightly wary, but Jasper shadowed his footsteps. I'd never seen Carlisle's face before either, not really. I had an odd urge to blink ——like I was staring at the sun. "How do you feel, Bella?" Carlisle asked. I considered that for a sixty-fourth of a second. "Overwhelmed. There's so much...." I trailed off, listening to the bell-tone of my voice again. "Yes, it can be quite confusing." I nodded one fast, jerky bob. "But I feel like me. Sort of. I didn't expect that." Edward's arms squeezed lightly around my waist. "I told you so," he whispered. "You are quite controlled," Carlisle mused. "More so than / expected, even with the time you had to prepare yourself mentally for this." I thought about the wild mood swings, the difficulty concentrating, and whispered, "I'm not sure about that." He nodded seriously, and then his jeweled eyes glittered with interest. "It seems like we did something right with the morphine this time. Tell me, what do you remember of the transformation process?" I hesitated, intensely aware of Edward's breath brushing against my cheek, sending whispers of electricity through my skin. "Everything was... very dim before. I remember the baby couldn't breathe___" I looked at Edward, momentarily frightened by the memory. "Renesmee is healthy and well," he promised, a gleam I'd never seen before in his eyes. He said her name with an understated fervor. A reverence. The way devout people talked about their gods. "What do you remember after that?" I focused on my poker face. I'd never been much of a liar. "It's hard to remember. It was so dark before. And then... I opened my eyes and I could see everything" "Amazing," Carlisle breathed, his eyes alight. Chagrin washed through me, and I waited for the heat to burn in my cheeks and give me away. And then I remembered that I would never blush again. Maybe that would protect Edward from the truth. I'd have to find a way to tip off Carlisle, though. Someday. If he ever needed to create another vampire. That possibility seemed very unlikely, which made me feel better about lying. "I want you to think —u—to tell me everything you remember," Carlisle pressed excitedly, and I couldn't help the grimace that flashed across my face. I didn't want to have to keep lying, because I might slip up. And I didn't want to think about the burning. Unlike the human memories, that part was perfectly clear and I found I could remember it with far too much precision. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Bella," Carlisle apologized immediately. "Of course your thirst must be very uncomfortable. This conversation can wait." Until he'd mentioned it, the thirst actually wasn't unmanageable. There was so much room in my head. A separate part of my brain was keeping tabs on the burn in my throat, almost like a reflex. The way my old brain had handled breathing and blinking. But Carlisle's assumption brought the burn to the forefront of my mind. Suddenly, the dry ache was all I could think about, and the more I thought about it, the more it hurt. My hand flew up to cup my throat, like I could smother the flames from the outside. The skin of my neck was strange beneath my fingers. So smooth it was somehow soft, though it was hard as stone, too. Edward dropped his arms and took my other hand, tugging gently. "Let's hunt, Bella." My eyes opened wider and the pain of the thirst receded, shock taking its place. Me? Hunt? With Edward? But... how? I didn't know what to do. He read the alarm in my expression and smiled encouragingly. "It's quite easy, love. Instinctual. Don't worry, I'll show you." When I didn't move, he grinned his crooked smile and raised his eyebrows. "I was under the impression that you'd always wanted to see me hunt." I laughed in a short burst of humor (part of me listened in wonder to the pealing bell sound) as his words reminded me of cloudy human conversations. And then I took a whole second to run quickly through those first days with Edward —a—the true beginning of my life——in my head so that I would never forget them. I did not expect that it would be so uncomfortable to remember. Like trying to squint through muddy water. I knew from Rosalie's experience that if I thought of my human memories enough, I would not lose them over time. I did not want to forget one minute I'd spent with Edward, even now, when eternity stretched in front of us. i would have to make sure those human memories were cemented into my infallible vampire mind. "Shall we?" Edward asked. He reached up to take the hand that was still at my neck. His fingers smoothed down the column of my throat. "I don't want you to be hurting," he added in a low murmur. Something I would not have been able to hear before. Tm fine," I said out of lingering human habit. "Wait. First." There was so much. I'd never gotten to my questions. There were more important things than the ache. It was Carlisle who spoke now. "Yes?" "I want to see her. Renesmee." It was oddly difficult to say her name. My daughter, these words were even harder to think. It all seemed so distant. I tried to remember how I had felt three days ago, and automatically, my hands pulled free of Edward's and dropped to my stomach. Flat. Empty. I clutched at the pale silk that covered my skin, panicking again, while an insignificant part of my mind noted that Alice must have dressed me. I knew there was nothing left inside me, and I faintly remembered the bloody removal scene, but the physical proof was still hard to process. All I knew was loving my little nudger inside of me. Outside of me, she seemed like something I must have imagined. A fading dream —u—a dream that was half nightmare. While I wrestled with my confusion, I saw Edward and Carlisle exchange a guarded glance. "What?" I demanded. "Bella," Edward said soothingly. "That's not really a good idea. She's half human, love. Her heart beats, and blood runs in her veins. Until your thirst is positively under control... You don't want to put her in danger, do you?" I frowned. Of course I must not want that. Was I out of control? Confused, yes. Easily unfocused, yes. But dangerous? To her? My daughter? I couldn't be positive that the answer was no. So I would have to be patient. That sounded difficult. Because until I saw her again, she wouldn't be real. Just a fading dream... of a stranger... "Where is she?" I listened hard, and then I could hear the beating heart on the floor below me. I could hear more than one person breathing —i—quietly, like they were listening, too. There was also a fluttering sound, a thrumming, that I couldn't place___ And the sound of the heartbeat was so moist and appealing, that my mouth started watering. So I would definitely have to learn how to hunt before I saw her. My stranger baby. "Is Rosalie with her?" "Yes," Edward answered in a clipped tone, and I could see that something he'd thought of upset him. I'd thought he and Rose were over their differences. Had the animosity erupted again? Before I could ask, he pulled my hands away from my flat stomach, tugging gently again. "Wait," I protested again, trying to focus. "What about Jacob? And Charlie? Tell me everything that I missed. How long was I... unconscious?" Edward didn't seem to notice my hesitation over the last word. Instead, he was exchanging another wary glance with Carlisle. "What's wrong?" I whispered. "Nothing is wrong" Carlisle told me, emphasizing the last word in a strange way. "Nothing has changed much, actually —2—you were only unaware for just over two days. It was very fast, as these things go. Edward did an excellent job. Quite innovative——the venom injection straight to your heart was his idea." He paused to smile proudly at his son and then sighed. "Jacob is still here, and Charlie still believes that you are sick. He thinks you're in Atlanta right now, undergoing tests at the CDC. We gave him a bad number, and he's frustrated. He's been speaking to Esme." "I should call him...," I murmured to myself, but, listening to my own voice, I understood the new difficulties. He wouldn't recognize this voice. It wouldn't reassure him. And then the earlier surprise intruded. "Hold on ——Jacob is still here?" Another glance between them. "Bella," Edward said quickly. "There's much to discuss, but we should take care of you first. You have to be in pain___" When he pointed that out, I remembered the burn in my throat and swallowed convulsively. "But Jacob —2—" "We have all the time in the world for explanations, love," he reminded me gently. Of course. I could wait a little longer for the answer; it would be easier to listen when the fierce pain of the fiery thirst was no longer scattering my concentration. "Okay." "Wait, wait, wait," Alice trilled from the doorway. She danced across the room, dreamily graceful. As with Edward and Carlisle, I felt some shock as I really looked at her face for the first time. So lovely. "You promised I could be there the first time! What if you two run past something reflective?" "Alice —2—," Edward protested. "It will only take a second!" And with that, Alice darted from the room. Edward sighed. "What is she talking about?" But Alice was already back, carrying the huge, gilt-framed mirror from Rosalie's room, which was nearly twice as tall as she was, and several times as wide. Jasper had been so still and silent that I'd taken no notice of him since he'd followed behind Carlisle. Now he moved again, to hover over Alice, his eyes locked on my expression. Because I was the danger here. I knew he would be tasting the mood around me, too, and so he must have felt my jolt of shock as I studied his face, looking at it closely for the first time. Through my sightless human eyes, the scars left from his former life with the newborn armies in the South had been mostly invisible. Only with a bright light to throw their slightly raised shapes into definition could I even make out their existence. Now that I could see, the scars were Jasper's most dominant feature. It was hard to take my eyes off his ravaged neck and jaw —2—hard to believe that even a vampire could have survived so many sets of teeth ripping into his throat. Instinctively, I tensed to defend myself. Any vampire who saw Jasper would have had the same reaction. The scars were like a lighted billboard. Dangerous, they screamed. How many vampires had tried to kill Jasper? Hundreds? Thousands? The same number that had died in the attempt Jasper both saw and felt my assessment, my caution, and he smiled wryly. "Edward gave me grief for not getting you to a mirror before the wedding," Alice said, pulling my attention away from her frightening lover. Tm not going to be chewed out again." "Chewed out?" Edward asked skeptically, one eyebrow curving upward. "Maybe I'm overstating things," she murmured absently as she turned the mirror to face me. "And maybe this has solely to do with your own voyeuristic gratification," he countered. Alice winked at him. I was only aware of this exchange with the lesser part of my concentration. The greater part was riveted on the person in the mirror. My first reaction was an unthinking pleasure. The alien creature in the glass was indisputably beautiful, every bit as beautiful as Alice or Esme. She was fluid even in stillness, and her flawless face was pale as the moon against the frame of her dark, heavy hair. Her limbs were smooth and strong, skin glistening subtly, luminous as a pearl. My second reaction was horror. Who was she? At first glance, I couldn't find my face anywhere in the smooth, perfect planes of her features. And her eyes! Though I'd known to expect them, her eyes still sent a thrill of terror through me. All the while I studied and reacted, her face was perfectly composed, a carving of a goddess, showing nothing of the turmoil roiling inside me. And then her full lips moved. "The eyes?" I whispered, unwilling to say my eyes. "How long? "They'll darken up in a few months," Edward said in a soft, comforting voice. "Animal blood dilutes the color more quickly than a diet of human blood. They'll turn amber first, then gold." My eyes would blaze like vicious red flames for months? "Months?" My voice was higher now, stressed. In the mirror, the perfect eyebrows lifted incredulously above her glowing crimson eyes ——brighter than any I'd ever seen before. Jasper took a step forward, alarmed by the intensity of my sudden anxiety. He knew young vampires only too well; did this emotion presage some misstep on my part? No one answered my question. I looked away, to Edward and Alice. Both their eyes were slightly unfocused ——reacting to Jasper's unease. Listening to its cause, looking ahead to the immediate future. I took another deep, unnecessary breath. "No, I'm fine," I promised them. My eyes flickered to the stranger in the mirror and back. "It's just... a lot to take in." Jasper's brow furrowed, highlighting the two scars over his left eye. "I don't know," Edward murmured. The woman in the mirror frowned. "What question did I miss?" Edward grinned. "Jasper wonders how you're doing it." "Doing what?" "Controlling your emotions, Bella," Jasper answered. "I've never seen a newborn do that ——stop an emotion in its tracks that way. You were upset, but when you saw our concern, you reined it in, regained power over yourself. I was prepared to help, but you didn't need it." "Is that wrong?" I asked. My body automatically froze as I waited for his verdict. "No," he said, but his voice was unsure. Edward stroked his hand down my arm, as if encouraging me to thaw. "It's very impressive, Bella, but we don't understand it. We don't know how long it can hold." I considered that for a portion of a second. At any moment, would I snap? Turn into a monster? I couldn't feel it coming on.... Maybe there was no way to anticipate such a thing. "But what do you think?" Alice asked, a little impatient now, pointing to the mirror. "I'm not sure," I hedged, not wanting to admit how frightened I really was. I stared at the beautiful woman with the terrifying eyes, looking for pieces of me. There was something there in the shape of her lips ——if you looked past the dizzying beauty, it was true that her upper lip was slightly out of balance, a bit too full to match the lower. Finding this familiar little flaw made me feel a tiny bit better. Maybe the rest of me was in there, too. I raised my hand experimentally, and the woman in the mirror copied the movement, touching her face, too. Her crimson eyes watched me warily. Edward sighed. I turned away from her to look at him, raising one eyebrow. "Disappointed?" I asked, my ringing voice impassive. He laughed. "Yes," he admitted. I felt the shock break through the composed mask on my face, followed instantly by the hurt. Alice snarled. Jasper leaned forward again, waiting for me to snap. But Edward ignored them and wrapped his arms tightly around my newly frozen form, pressing his lips against my cheek. "I was rather hoping that I'd be able to hear your mind, now that it is more similar to my own," he murmured. "And here I am, as frustrated as ever, wondering what could possibly be going on inside your head." I felt better at once. "Oh well," I said lightly, relieved that my thoughts were still my own. "I guess my brain will never work right. At least I'm pretty." It was becoming easier to joke with him as I adjusted, to think in straight lines. To be myself. Edward growled in my ear. "Bella, you have never been merely pretty." Then his face pulled away from mine, and he sighed. "All right, all right," he said to someone. "What?" I asked. "You're making Jasper more edgy by the second. He may relax a little when you've hunted." I looked at Jasper's worried expression and nodded. I didn't want to snap here, if that was coming. Better to be surrounded by trees than family. "Okay. Let's hunt," I agreed, a thrill of nerves and anticipation making my stomach quiver. I unwrapped Edward's arms from around me, keeping one of his hands, and turned my back on the strange and beautiful woman in the mirror.

** PAGE 8 **