I wrote this for the Babies at the Border compilation earlier this year.

Thank you to my wonderful beta, Chayasara, as well as my prereaders Veronica, Diane, Dawn and Christine.

And thank you to all of you for sticking around to read my stories. I know most of you are probably wondering about My Viking, so let me assure you that I am several thousand words into the next chapter and that I'm persisting even though the story is being difficult and not giving up the goods easily right now.

This chapter picks up where chapter 2 left off. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. It belongs to Stephenie Meyer.

My fingers glide through silky, soft hair, and I'm rewarded with a deep purring sound. Looking up at the ceiling, I wonder what time it is. The room is pitch black with drawn curtains, giving me no indication of what's going on outside the large windows. Right now I find it difficult to care. With my mate draped across me like a blanket, his head resting on my chest, it's easy to get distracted.

"We didn't finish talking," I murmur as I massage his scalp.

In fact, we'd hardly begun before we were going at it again, and our words turned into guttural groans. I still know virtually nothing about the boy whose head I'm stroking except that he's not really a boy at all. He's a vampire, and now I'm one too.

"Tell me how you came to be this way," I prompt, suddenly curious.

When he doesn't respond, I tug gently on his thick hair, earning an increase in the volume of his purring. His feline attributes make me smile, but I still haven't gotten an answer.

"Hey." I move my hand around to touch his cheek.

Finally, he lifts his head, meeting my gaze.

"Oh," I whisper.

He looks back at me with eyes still black as onyx. I thought they'd be red again. I thought I was with the other version of Edward, the one with the shy smile and soft-spoken words.

"Hi," I say, for lack of anything better.

He doesn't answer, but that's no surprise. Instead, he leans in closer to press his mouth against mine, the kiss too intense to ever be described as gentle. I gasp when he moves to my throat, nipping and sucking. I look down as his lips envelop my nipple, teasing for a moment before shifting to drag his tongue over my skin, a moan erupting from his throat. He's tasting me, I realize. Now alert, I notice the smudged traces of crimson on alabaster. My blood. He bit me over and over before changing me. I must have been covered in my own blood when I was dressed for the journey here. There are stains on him, too. And the sheets. We're essentially rolling around in it, rubbing it on each other and the bed. I feel it sticking to me, on my skin and in my hair.

"Edward." I move to sit up, startled by the note of panic in my voice. "I need to clean up."

He cocks his head to the side, regarding me with drawn eyebrows.

"It's . . . everywhere." I try to explain, resisting the urge to scratch at my arms and face. "My blood."

He shifts to let me out of the bed, but I stumble as I move too fast, almost crashing into the wall. I put out my hands to protect my face, and then they're pushing through the plaster and concrete. Horrified, I pull back. He's right there next to me then, holding me against his chest. I look up at him in surprise, realizing how tall he is compared to me. We've never actually stood next to each other. His eyes are crimson. And concerned.


"Edward!" My first instinct is to cling to him, but then I see the dried smudge on the side of his face. As my eyes dart away, they do a strange, zoom lens thing, and it's as though I'm inside the wallpaper on the wall behind us, its grainy texture suddenly huge for a moment before I'm back in the center of the room. I blink, trying to focus.

"What's wrong?" he implores, running his hands up my arms and shoulders, as though checking for injury.

"It's all over me. I feel dirty. And different. Like . . . like I could demolish a tank or something. I broke the wall!"

"Shh, shh. I know, I know." His voice is soothing, his hands gentle as he leads me to the adjoining bathroom. "Just stand right here while I get the water running, okay?"

I nod stiffly, watching as he turns on the shower. Even in my uneasy state, I can't help but appreciate the strong lines of his naked body, the muscles in his legs and buttocks working gorgeously as he moves around the room. I blink in surprise when he strikes a match, lighting a row of votive candles in front of the bathroom mirror, their light bathing the room in a soft glow. Edward looks at me, giving me sheepish smile.

"Alice. She must've seen . . ."

He leads me to the shower.

"Okay, how does that feel?"

He holds my hand underneath the spray, watching me carefully.

"It's good."

It's not, though. It's sensory overload as I step under. I feel everything: every splash of water that hits my skin. I can see them too. Millions and millions of individual droplets rushing out of the broad showerhead above, and I'm able to register every single one. The noise of the water is deafening as though I'm standing underneath Niagara Falls. It's all too much. I squeeze my eyes closed, trying to shut off the barrage of sensations threatening to drown me.

"What's wrong with me?" I whimper.

"Nothing, nothing." His voice is urgent. "Here, let me clean you up. I'm going to touch you now, all right?"

I nod again, feeling his hands on my shoulders. The noise stops, and I feel as though I can breathe again—although I don't think I need oxygen anymore. Do I?

"Edward," I sob, leaning against his chest.

His arms are around me in an instant, holding me close.

"It's okay," he says. "You're fine. You're just overwhelmed. It's confusing at first. I'd forgotten. I'm so sorry."

I look up at him. His beautiful face is anguished, eyes staring straight ahead.

"Sorry for what?" I ask.

"I should have taken you out when you first woke up. We're going hunting afterward. You'll feel better after you've fed. I promise."

He steps back and I drop my arms to my side.

"Okay," I agree easily.

"Running will help you get accustomed to your body," he adds as he reaches for a bottle on the shelf behind me.

He lathers up my hair, his movements hurried and choppy, the muscles in his jaw ticking.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." His voice is gruff, and he still won't look at me, his focus on the top of my head, as far as I can tell. "Here's the soap."

He quickly washes himself, and I do the same. My heart is no longer beating, but it's still able to feel heavy, I learn.

"Are you mad at me?" I finally ask. "You won't even look at me."

Now his gaze meets mine but only for a moment.

"I could spend all day looking at you, touching you," he murmurs, staring at the ceiling, "but you're naked right now, and I want . . . so badly. It's all I can do not to . . ."

He shudders, rolling his neck.

"You smell so good," he grinds out.

"I'm sorry," I mumble.

He laughs, stepping around me to rinse off. I watch the water as it caresses the hard planes of his body, barely holding back a gasp when I see that he's hard. He ignores it and shuts off the shower a few seconds later.

"I'll get you a towel," he says.

I step onto the soft mat, finally able to take in my surroundings. The bathroom is small, but elegant with its dark marble tiles and white furniture.

"No bathtub?"

"I never had a need for one, although now—"

Our eyes meet in the mirror. His gaze travels slowly down the length of my body, and I look to see what he sees.

"Oh my god."

On unsteady legs, I wobble closer to the mirror, stunned into silence. I'm just like him now: strong, otherworldly, beautiful. My red eyes sparkle as I take in my new airbrushed features: my sharp jaw, my plump, pink lips, my slender neck.

"I look older," I whisper. "Like, college-aged, at least."

I've gone up a cup size, and my hips flare out in a way they never did before, making my waist look smaller. Curious, I lift my hands to touch my chest before shyness stops me. Edward's growl is low and very close to my ear. I startle, locking eyes with him again. He's right behind me now, his black gaze hungry. Slowly, he reaches for my wrists and completes the task for me, purring in approval as my hands mold themselves to my new curves. He lowers his face to the side of my neck, never breaking eye contact with me as he inhales deeply, pressing himself against me from behind. Our wet skin glistens in the candle lit room as he moves my hands out of the way to take over, stroking my body, slipping his fingers between my legs and growling in response to my readiness.

"Mate. Fuck."

His simple words are unnecessary. There's no doubt about his intentions when he places my hands on the sink and roughly pulls my hips back. The expression on his face when he enters me is almost enough to distract me from the sensation of insistent, delicious stretching. He throws his head back, razor-sharp canines glinting in the light as he roars, gripping my hips tightly. I clench around him, feeling my body respond to his display of dominance, growing wetter and whimpering involuntarily. In the mirror, I see my eyes darkening, but I snap myself out of it, not wanting to lose myself completely. There's something we're supposed to be doing right now, but I can't remember what. I try to straighten up, but my mate's right hand grasps my neck, holding me in place.

"Mine!" he groans, punctuating the statement with a hard thrust.

I moan as he continues, his strong hips pumping, eyes shifting from my face to my jiggling breasts to the place where we're joined. He never slows down, not when I cry out my orgasm, not when he slips a wet finger inside my back entrance, and not even when I come again, ripping the sink out of the wall in the process as I thrash and scream, my eyes turning black as coal.

There is nothing else but him, invading my body and all my senses. Time means nothing, only pleasure.

I'm facedown on the floor, a soft terrycloth towel underneath me and him on top of me. He moves slowly now, his thrusts lazy and deep, his mouth latched onto the juncture between my neck and shoulder. A memory of watching a wildlife program on TV as a child flashes in my mind: a lion mounting a lioness, holding her in place by the neck, hips pumping. And then Charlie's embarrassment at my naïve line of questioning.

Oh, my God. Charlie. He must think I'm—

My mate shifts, his fingers circling, drawing a deep moan from my throat. It feels so good. I go under again.

An unfamiliar sound rouses me. Continuous rapping on solid wood.

"Edward." It's a man's voice. "It's time to come out now."

I try to move, but I'm pinned down by a heavy arm and leg draped across me. Beside me, my mate lifts his head.

"Edward," the voice continues, "Bella needs to feed and so do you. It's been seventy-two hours."

I shake my head in confusion. Seventy-two hours? That's three days. Three days since what?

"Thank you, Carlisle. We'll be right out."

Edward's voice is raspy. I look at him, frowning at the dark circles underneath his eyes, the extra sharpness to his cheekbones. He looks gaunt, but somehow it emphasizes his otherworldly beauty. He stands up before helping me to my feet. My knees feel weak, and it takes me a moment to find my balance.

"I'm so sorry," he croaks, his voice anguished.

I don't get a chance to respond. He guides me back into the bedroom and places me on the edge of the bed. He darts to the door and is back again in a second, his arms full of clothes.

"Thank you, Alice," he says softly as he begins to dress me.

I sit quietly, trying to get my bearings. I feel . . . hungover, maybe. Not that I've ever had a drink, but I've seen enough movies to know that it's not pleasant. Edward throws on his own clothes and helps me up. We're both wearing blue jeans and a cream colored sweater.

"We match," he whispers. I glance up to see a hint of a smile tugging at his lips, but his red eyes are still dull.

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"I'm taking you out hunting. We both need to feed. It's . . . long overdue."

He lifts his hand, running the backs of his fingers over my cheek.

"You're so beautiful," he whispers reverently. "I'll take better care of you, I promise. I didn't mean to . . ."

He shakes his head, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment.

"Let's go. We'll talk more later."

He holds out his hand, a hesitant look on his face which turns into relief as I take it, lacing our fingers.

The hallway outside the room is empty, and he leads me down the stairs, a steadying hand on my elbow the whole time. I stop abruptly at the sight of the small group waiting for us the moment we step into the large open foyer. They're all so different in appearance yet the same, all of them beautiful, wearing brilliant smiles.

"Welcome to the family," the woman with the caramel-colored hair says.

I recognize her. Esme. She's Edward's mother.

"Thank you, Mrs. Cullen," I say, feeling extremely shy.

"We're so happy you're here," Dr. Cullen says, stepping forward, his hand outstretched.

Beside me, Edward stiffens. Before I can react, he pushes me behind him, and a low growl builds in his chest as he crouches, facing Dr. Cullen. His stance is aggressive, his snarl a clear warning. He glances over his shoulder at me for a fraction of a second before turning back toward the group. His eyes are black again.

"I'm . . . I'm so sorry," I choke out, feeling mortified.

Edward says nothing, all of his attention still on his father who slowly retreats to take his place next to Esme.

"It's quite all right, Bella," Dr. Cullen says in a calm voice.

Edward reaches behind to grab my hand again, taking a step backward toward the stairs.

"No," Edward's father says. This time his tone is firm.

Edward snarls at him again.

"Damn. I wasn't ever that bad, was I?" the large male vampire says. He's Emmett.

"No." His companion, the gorgeous blonde, Rosalie, speaks softly. "But you came into this life with your mate by your side. You don't know what it's been like for Edward, waiting for so long, being alone. You and Esme are the lucky ones, my love. You never had to suffer like the rest of us did."

"Edward especially," the little one, Alice, adds, "being surrounded by mated couples."

"Son," Dr. Cullen says, "you're not going back upstairs. You're going to hunt. Bella needs to feed. Your mate needs you."

Edward's long fingers twitch in mine. I do need to feed, I think. I feel weak and my throat burns. My stomach is hollow.

"Please, Edward," I whisper. "I'm hungry."

His head snaps around, and he looks at me.

"Feed," he says.

"Yes." I nod. "Please show me how."

The group backs up as we slink past them toward the open sliding door out to the deck. Edward keeps me behind him, his protective stance never letting up. I do my best to smile at all of them, hoping to convey how sorry I am about this. I really wanted to make a good first impression.

The moment we step outside, Edward slings me onto his back and starts running. I throw my arms and legs around him, holding on for dear life as he races across the well-tended yard and into the forest. He's incredibly fast, zipping between trees, scaling hills, and jumping across streams with perfect ease, the extra weight on his back not at all cumbersome. I'm in awe. With no warning, he comes to a full stop and gently deposits me to the ground. I have to lean against a large tree to avoid stumbling. I really hope that's me being hungry and not a permanent thing. It would be unfair if I turned out to be the only clumsy vampire in the world.


I follow Edward's gaze, a strange sense of anticipation running through me as I spot the small group of deer in the distance. My mouth waters and I clench my fists.

Hunt. Feed.

My focus is singular. My mate looks at me, then back to the small flock. But he takes off before I can follow, his speed so great that the deer don't even register his presence before he's upon them. He lets out a feral, inhuman roar, instantly snapping the necks of two large animals and throwing them toward me, before lunging for a third as the creatures scatter in wild panic. I can't move. I can't look away. Edward doesn't merely kill his next animal. He obliterates it. He tears it apart as he drinks from its neck, his body tense as a spring as he swallows deeply. Any excitement I felt about feeding dies as I watch him chase down another one. And another one. Slowly, he stands, leaving the broken carcass on the ground. He turns to me. If I weren't already rooted to the spot, his black stare would do it. His sweater is dripping blood, his jeans filthy. There's nothing human about him right now, nothing at all. He's a lethal creature solely comprised of instincts—violent, dangerous instincts.

He gave me his blood and made me like him.

Is this who I am now? Could I become so inhuman too? What is it I've said yes to? Edward made his eating habits sound so . . . normal when he described them in the videos. I never imagined this. Such savagery. So much pleasure in taking lives.

He stalks closer to me, pulling his sweater over his head, his intent clear as his hands go to the button on his jeans. I stare at his face covered in blood, and his hands, remembering how they pulled flesh from bone. I shiver.

He halts, wrinkling his brow. Lifting his face in my direction, he inhales through his nose. His eyes widen and he recoils, jumping backward so far, it looks like a special effect in a movie. He stares at me, mouth open, face devastated.

"Fear." His voice is a mere whisper, but I can hear him clearly across the distance.

His body jerks, and the eyes that stare back at me are now a vivid orange. He takes a hesitant step toward me, but something stops him. He glances down at himself, then turns to take in the slaughtered animals strewn all around and the blood on his hands.

"Oh, no." His voice is raw. "God, not this. ESMEEE!"

His yell is deafening, and I can't help but flinch. We stare at each other, both of us heaving for breath, which I suppose we don't actually need. I realize I'm crouched in a defensive position, not unlike the one Edward took against Dr. Cullen. I want to straighten my body out, but I'm frozen.

Esme appears as if out of nowhere, and before she can speak, Edward turns and runs in the opposite direction. Away from me. My knees buckle and my butt hits the ground.

"Oh, dear me," she says.

I start to cry, blood tears staining my shirt. It only causes me to sob harder. It's all too much. How is this my life now? I have no idea what I'm doing or who I am anymore. And Edward ran away from me, his absence like a painful gnawing ache in my chest already. He said he'd never leave my side.

"Being a vampire sucks!" I wail, realizing how immature I sound.

Esme clucks at me, approaching slowly.

"Sweetheart, what happened here? Did Edward frighten you?"

"No." I look up at her soft, open expression, compelling me to be honest. "Kind of."

She nods.

"When we hunt, we open ourselves up to our most basic existence," she says. "But you have to know, Edward would never hurt you. You're the most precious thing in the whole world to him."

"But it's like he's two completely different people. He did that." I motion to the massacre behind Esme. "What if I'm like that too when I hunt? What if I can't control myself? What if a human is close by? I don't want to kill anyone!"

"We would never let that happen," she says calmly. "As for Edward, he's been alone for so long. His only real physical outlet has been the hunt. Until now. A starving vampire can be volatile, and Edward had already lost some blood when he changed you. We shouldn't have let him wait so long to feed. It won't happen again, Bella. I promise. As Edward gets used to having a mate, he will calm. Even when his eyes are black."

I sniff, wiping my eyes with my sleeve.

"How do you know?"

She smiles, gracefully gliding into a sitting position on the forest floor.

"I have personal experience. When Carlisle changed me, he was much like Edward at first."

I blanch.

"D-Dr. Cullen? With black eyes?"

I can't imagine it. He's so distinguished, so sophisticated. Esme's laughter floats on the air.

"Oh, yes. He was, well . . . feral, I suppose is the best term for it. He'd been on his own for even longer than Edward, and he was completely possessive the first couple of years. Edward had to leave us for a while. That's my one regret. I suppose it's fate's quirky sense of humor that Edward now views Carlisle as a rival for your affection, a taste of his own medicine, as it were."

"But Dr. Cullen isn't interested in me that way!" I exclaim, feeling mortified.

"He isn't, and on a rational level, Edward knows this. He knows Carlisle is mated. He knows Emmett and Jasper are mated. But that won't stop him from seeing them as a threat, at least for a while. It comes with the territory of being newly mated."

I shake my head.

"But I'm newly mated too, and I don't see you or Alice or Rosalie as threats. I don't want any of you to leave, or like, fight you."

She grins at me.

"We're female. We have a bit more sense than that."

I can't help but smile.

"Where's Edward?" I ask.

"Probably beating himself up somewhere. He'll be home eventually. He can't stay away from you for long."

"I don't want him to stay away at all."

"I know. But right now we have more pressing matters to attend to. You, young lady, need to feed."

She stands, holding out her hand to me. I take it, letting her pull me to my feet. She has to steady me before leading me over to the two deer Edward killed for me.

"I can drink them even when they're dead?"

She nods.

"Next time, you'll try your hand at slaying one yourself, but for now, this is good. You don't have much strength left in you."

"How do I even . . . ?"

"Close your eyes; focus on your breathing."

"Vampires have to breathe?"

She chuckles.

"Strictly speaking, no. But keeping our human habits is essential. It will help you."

I nod, closing my eyes. Seconds later, a fragrant aroma hits my nose, making my stomach clench painfully. I want it. My fangs tickle my lower lip as they extend, my excitement building.


I jump forward, unseeing but focused, moaning as the blood pours into my mouth, sucking greedily at the source. It's life. I feel my body growing stronger with each swallow, energy building in my core and pushing outward until my entire being is humming with power and vitality. I disengage, rolling onto my back as I open my eyes. Above me, the treetops sway in the wind and the earth is still. For a moment, everything is quiet and peaceful. It would be perfect but for one thing.

"I miss Edward," I whisper.

"Let's go home," Esme says softly. "You did very well for your first time, but you'll probably want to clean up, regardless."

I jump up, surprised at the ease with which I did it, as though there were springs underneath my feet. My sweater is stained down the front but not nearly as much as Edward's was. I look down at the animals, satisfied to see them still in one piece. I can control myself, it seems.

"Just follow me."

"Wait." I hesitate. "I know this probably sounds stupid, but . . . will you carry me back? It's just that Edward missed this. I don't want him to miss my first run too—if that makes sense."

Her smile is radiant.

"That makes perfect sense. Oh, sweetheart, you don't know how happy I am you're here. Our family is finally complete."

I return the smile, gingerly crawling onto her back. Like Edward, she starts running as though the extra weight doesn't affect her at all, and soon we're back at the house. The Cullens are gathered in the den, Dr. Cullen reading a book, the others with tablets in their laps. It looks so normal. I recognize the room from one of Edward's videos. He isn't here.

"He'll be back." Esme assures me, patting my shoulder.

"Bella did wonderfully!" she says to the others, parental pride saturating her voice.

"Awesome!" Emmett sends me a dimpled grin. "We'll have to go hunt bears together. Now that's where the real fun is!"

"B-bears?" I stutter. "Um, okay."

They're all beaming at me. I don't know what else to say, and the silence feels awkward. They're my family, according to Esme, but also complete strangers. Then again, so is my mate.

"I . . . I think I'll just go upstairs and clean up," I mumble.

"I put your clothes in the closet to the right and in the second drawer of the dresser," Alice says. "If you don't like some of it, we can exchange it."

"Oh, thank you." I hadn't even thought of what I'd wear.

"I'll fix the wall and the sink tomorrow," Rosalie adds, giving me a wink. "Nicely done, by the way."

My mouth drops open, and I see all of them snickering, even Dr. Cullen and Esme. They've heard everything. I wait for my cheeks to explode in color, but nothing happens. I don't blush anymore.

"Um, thank you," I say again, fidgeting.

I hate this. I feel awkward, embarrassed, out of place, and suddenly terribly alone among these beautiful strangers.

"You all right, Bella?"

Jasper is frowning, regarding me with soft, golden eyes. I nod stiffly and then shake my head. He exchanges a quick glance with Alice who jumps to her feet.

"C'mon, girlfriend," she says to Rosalie. "Time for some sisterly bonding."

They escort me upstairs and order me to take a shower. I obey and then dress in a soft pair of pajamas—very similar to something I would have chosen myself. When I come back out, they're lounging on the bed, beckoning me to join them.

"We don't have comfort food, but we can do the next best thing," Rosalie says. "Movie marathon and mani-pedis?"

I exhale. That sounds good. Something I know how to do. Well, the movie part, at least.

"Perfect," I say.

I settle back into the pillows, pleasantly surprised as I see they've already queued up one of my favorites on the TV.

"Vampires like Harry Potter?" I ask.

"Uh, yeah!" Alice exclaims. "No Muggles allowed here. Do you know which house you belong to?"


"Just like Edward!" Rosalie crows. "Aw, you two."

"You made him take the Pottermore test?"

"Made him. Yeah, right." Alice snorts.

I almost crack a smile. So my mate is a Potterhead. Good to know.

We start the first movie, and I try my best to relax and enjoy it as they fuss over me.

"How's this?" Rosalie asks, lifting up my foot to show me my newly painted toenails.

I nod.

"Purple's cool. Thank you."

I've watched this movie more than a dozen times. I can recite every line of dialogue, but instead of bringing me comfort, the familiar images make me homesick. Even in my longing for Edward, I can't deny that I miss Charlie and my mom. I hate that I've caused them pain with my selfish choice.

"My parents think I'm dead, don't they?" I whisper.

Alice and Rosalie exchange a glance before pausing the movie.

"Yes." Rosalie's voice is soft.

"How? How did I . . . die?"

"Car accident. It was raining heavily, and the roads were slippery."

I nod. That certainly sounds like Forks.

"But if they just found my truck empty—"

"It wasn't empty," she says. "It exploded, but . . . there was body inside. Female, your height."

I inhale sharply, trying to wrap my mind around that piece of information.

"H-how?" I manage.

"Carlisle. We planned it almost immediately after Edward first saw you in the cafeteria. In case . . . he couldn't stay away from you. We didn't want you to just disappear. This way is better for your parents."

"Right. Closure." My voice is monotone.

I'm dead. I can never see them or talk to them again. Sorrow makes my throat feel tight, but strangely I find no regret.

"Alice?" I murmur. "You said I was making the right decision. How did you know that?"

"I get visions," she explains, "glimpses of people's future. When you made the decision to call Edward, I saw the two of you, fragments of your life together. How happy you would be."

"Do you think . . . I could've been happy as a human?"


"No? Just like that?"

She sighs.

"When Edward made the decision to stay away from you initially, to come here instead of pursuing you, I saw your future without him. You would've tried, but even in the best-case scenarios I saw . . ." She shakes her head.

"What did they look like?" I press.

"The best-case ones? Bouts of depression, broken relationships, shitty jobs."

"And the worst-case ones?" I whisper, some sick sense of curiosity compelling me to ask.

"Addiction, self-harm . . . suicide. Please don't make me go into detail."

"Wow. I never stood a chance, did I?"

"Bella." Rosalie's voice is firm. "You and Edward are made for each other. You were never supposed to remain human. You know my one regret when I first became a vampire?"

I shake my head.

"Children. I wanted children desperately. But now I realize I was never meant to have them. In all the scenarios Alice saw for your human life, not once did you have a child. Different partners, different jobs, but two things remained the same: You never had any children and you never fell in love. Because you were only ever meant to love Edward. That's just how it is. Call it fate; call it God, whatever. It just is."

Her golden eyes are intense, holding mine.

"I know the adjustment period can be a bitch, to put it frankly, but this is who you were always meant to be. You'll mourn your human family as you should, and Edward will be with you to help you. We all will. It'll get easier—for the both of you."

I sniff back tears, unsuccessfully.

"Thank you," I croak. "I think I need a tissue."

"Edward usually has some in the bedside table," Alice says.

"I so don't wanna know why," Rosalie says, choking on a laugh as she fishes one out for me.

I dab my eyes, feeling a light pull in my chest.


I look out of the window, seeing the mountains in the distance painted in vivid shades of orange and pink. It'll be dark soon.

"I think Edward is on his way home," I say, rubbing a hand across my sternum. "It feels like he is."

Alice smiles.

"You're right. We'll leave you two alone."

"Thank you for tonight," I say, giving them both a smile as they leave.

I like them. I really like them. Esme too. I don't know the other three well enough, but they seem nice. I wonder how long it'll be before Edward lets any of them approach me. Esme didn't tell me the length of Dr. Cullen's adjustment period. That's all right. I have all the time in the world now.

I was meant to be a vampire. I was meant to be with Edward.

I feel better. The truth is, it never really felt like I had a choice in this. I believe Alice's predictions for my human life. Remembering how I'd suffered in the weeks after seeing Edward in the cafeteria and then imagining spending the rest of my life that way is enough to make me shiver. I would have killed myself eventually. And what would have happened to Edward then?

I climb off the bed and go into the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror again just to have something to do. My hair has air-dried into perfect bouncy curls and waves, and I barely ran a brush through it when I got out of the shower. I guess bad hair days are a thing of the past. Padding back into the bedroom, I try to get my nerves under control. I don't know what will happen when Edward comes back, and it makes me anxious. He's a stranger to me in most ways, and his behavior scared me today, but at the same time, I feel as though I won't be able to breathe until he's back with me again. I pace, enjoying the sensation of the soft carpet beneath my bare feet. I can feel all the fibers shifting under my weight as I move. It's a little freaky, to be honest. Bending over, I touch it with my hands, realizing I've still got my feet planted firmly. I've folded myself in half with no effort whatsoever. I'm not athletic. At all. Or maybe I am now. Experimentally, I put more weight on my hands and tighten the muscles in my stomach. Slowly, slowly, I lift my legs until I'm doing what feels like a pretty perfect handstand.

"Holy shit," I whisper.

Strength, balance, coordination. It's all super easy. I shift my weight to my right hand and lift my left up off the floor. I wait for my arm to start shaking but it doesn't. I don't feel tired at all! How strong am I? How fast?

Concentrating, I bend my arm slightly and push off into the air. I fly upward until the tips of my toes touch the ceiling. Whoa! Thankfully, I'm able to twist my body around and land on my feet, holding out my arms for balance.

"Yes!" I throw them up in the air, marveling at my accomplishment.

I catch movement outside and startle. Edward is watching me. His face is unreadable, but I can see that his eyes are light again. He opens the window and climbs inside, his movements slow and careful. He's still wearing only his dirty jeans, but he's cleaned off most of the blood he was covered in earlier.

"S-sorry," I stutter, feeling ridiculous and embarrassed that he caught me playing acrobat. "I was just . . ."

"No," he says immediately. "Don't apologize. You're learning what your body can do. It's good."

Silence stretches as we look at each other. I don't know what to say to him.

"If you'll excuse me," he murmurs, "I need to clean up a little."

"'Course," I manage, as he brushes past me and into the bathroom.

The pulling sensation is back, urging me to follow him in there, but he shuts the door. Still, the feeling persists as the shower starts up. I touch the door handle, hesitating. Another pull.


I open the door and peer inside. I can see him clearly through the glass. The water beats down on his broad shoulders and slides down the length of his muscled back as he leans on the wall, head hanging low. He sighs audibly and lifts his head, slicking his wet hair back. He freezes mid-movement before turning in my direction. I watch as he lifts his right hand, putting his palm against the glass. His look is so filled with longing and I'm pulled toward him with urgency. But then he shakes his head minutely, shutting his eyes. The hand on the glass becomes a closed fist, and I walk backward out of the bathroom and close the door, choking back a pained sob before collapsing on the bed.

I don't know what to do. My mate doesn't want me. I stare at the ceiling, willing myself not to cry as I listen to him in the bathroom—shutting off the water, running a towel through his hair, sighing again. When he comes into the bedroom, I sit up quickly, averting my eyes as his towel drops, and he finds something to wear. It's dark outside the windows now. I remember in one of the videos Edward made for me, he mentioned that they're day sleepers. I'm tired now, though, and dressed for bed. Glancing at Edward, I see that he's done the same, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants.

"So," he says, clearing his throat.

I look up at him. He's standing next to the bed, his hands searching for non-existent pockets before disappearing behind his back.

"Yeah," I say in response.

Seriously, we should join the debate team.

"Can I . . ." he motions to the vast empty space next to me.

"It's your bed."

His expression is stricken.

"No. It's ours."

I nod quickly, my attention on my hands. The mattress dips slightly as he climbs onto the bed. The silence is deafening. I notice I can't hear the others; the house is completely quiet. They've left us alone to deal with this, which makes me feel even worse because now I have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: our happily ever after isn't like it is in the fairytales, simple and easy. I know I love him, but that's still the only thing I know.

"Where"—I clear my throat—"Where were you?"

His exhale is soft, but I hear it, realizing he's been holding his breath.

He's nervous too.

"I needed some time," he says, "to gain . . . control."

I look up at him. He's sitting cross-legged, facing me. His eyes are the color of the sunset, whereas mine are still ruby red.


"Over him. Me. That part of me. The part that scared you." He whispers the last sentence, agony lacing each word.

"Oh. I'm sorry."

He sighs. Again.

"Bella, no. You have nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one who needs to apologize. Today was so far from how I wanted your first day to be . . . I didn't know."

"Know what?"

"How difficult it would be to control myself. Even sitting here next to you, knowing rationally that we need to talk . . ."

His lips curl and he lets out a low growl before shaking his head.

"I haven't taken good care of you. I kept you pinned to the floor of the bathroom for three days!"

"We . . . we made love for three days straight?" I ask, feeling shocked that I'd lost that much time.

"That wasn't making love!" he exclaims. "That was possession. That was fucking! Everything I wanted to do: take you out running, introduce you to my family, teach you how to hunt, even just talk— I couldn't control myself enough for any of that. I completely ignored your other needs until you were too weak to barely stand. Who the hell does that?"

He makes a face.

"I apologize for my language."

I shake my head. I so don't care about that. He's talking to me and that's good.

"Esme explained to me," I confess, "about Dr. Cullen and how he was at first. She said you'd calm eventually and that you'd never hurt me—I knew that part already. I wasn't really afraid of you."

"I smelled your fear," he whispers. "I've never been so ashamed. I behaved like an animal."

"I was afraid of myself," I clarify, "of what I might be capable of. If I'm like you when my eyes turn black, how would I ever stop myself if I come across a person out here? I don't want to kill anyone. That's what I was afraid of, not you."

"We would never let that happen! This place is beyond remote, and we always hunt together, just in case. Esme, Alice and Rosalie followed us. They were close by. Please, don't ever worry about that."

I exhale deeply.

"Thank you."

He nods, but unlike me he doesn't look relieved. His shoulders are tense and his hands are fisted.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

"Nothing. I'll be fine." His smile is faint.

"Oh. Okay." I look down.

Silence again. I hate it so much, this distance between us. I don't know how to fix it. We can have sex for three days without pause, but we can't carry on a simple conversation.

Out of the corner of my eye I watch as he unclenches his hand and lifts it toward me, only to retract it just as quickly.

"Bella? Can I . . . can I touch you? Please."

My head jerks up in surprise at the apologetic tone of his voice.


"I feel like I'm going crazy. I want you. So badly. I have to force myself not to touch you."

"But I want you to touch me," I whisper, placing my hand, palm up, in the space between us. "When you said no to me just now . . . that scared me more than the thing in the woods, thinking you didn't want me."

He reaches out slowly, brushing his fingers over mine in the lightest of touches.

"I'm so sorry," he says. "I wanted you to come into the shower with me, but . . . the water, the steam, it makes your scent stronger and . . ."

"I felt you," I tell him. "Like a part of you was calling me, pulling me toward you. Does that make sense?"

"Yes. But if you had taken your clothes off then, we wouldn't be talking now. I'm stronger than I thought."

"Yeah, I wish I could say the same."

He traces the shape of my hand with his fingertips. I shiver in response, my skin humming with pleasure underneath his gentle touch. The corners of his mouth lift, and some of the tension leaves his body.

"Can you feel me, too?" I whisper.

"All the time. Being away from you is agony, but it was worth it to rein myself in. You deserve more. I want to be a good mate to you. I want you to be happy with me."

His expression is open and sincere.

"I am," I promise. "I love you, Edward."

"And I love you. But that's not what I meant."


He moves his hand up to touch my hair, running the long strands through his fingers. It feels amazing.

"The love, the attraction, it's sort of built in, if that makes sense. It comes with the mating package. I want you to like me, too, and that takes effort, I think, getting you to know me. I already know I like you. I have a bit of a head start."

"What do you mean?"

"Alice and Rosalie followed you around all the time we were apart. I'm sure you noticed. They weren't exactly stealthy."

I nod.

"In my more lucid moments, well, I read their minds so I could see and hear everything they'd observed about you."

He what? No way!

"You read their minds? Can all vampires do that? Can I?" I demand, unable to silence all of the questions that have been brewing. "What else can you do? What else can I do? How old are you anyway, and how did you become a vampire? What's with the eyes changing color? When do I get sunset eyes like yours?"

Edward laughs, giving my hair a tug.

"I'll answer all of your questions, I promise. Yes, I can read minds, human and vampire alike. Except yours."

"You can't read mine? Why not?"

He strokes my cheek with the back of his fingers, looking pensive.

"I think because we both need it that way. You need a private inner life separate from your mate, just like everyone, and I need the quiet you provide. We're just . . ."

"Meant to be," I finish for him.

He finally relaxes completely.

"Yes, exactly. Now, as for what you can do remains to be seen. Alice, however . . ."

He talks for a long time, telling me about himself and his family, filling me in on their histories and his own. All the while, he keeps at least one hand on me, although he seems to prefer both of them touching me. I have no complaints, except that his slow strokes up and down my back are making my eyes feel heavy and my attention waver. I suppress a yawn.

"We should stop for tonight," he says. "You're exhausted."

"No, I'm not," I lie.

His smile is indulgent.

"It's all right. Baby vamps need lots of sleep."

"Baby vamps?" I huff, crossing my arms. "Who are you calling a baby?"

He cradles my jaw, stroking the apple of my cheek. His thumb brushes across my bottom lip, his gaze following the movement.

"Sorry, baby," he whispers.

Suddenly, I don't hate that word so much after all. I watch his eyes carefully as he leans in, wondering if they'll turn black now.

"I just want to try one thing," he murmurs. "Sit very still."

His sweet breath tickles my skin and his nose lightly bumps against mine. And then he's there, kissing me with tentative softness, exploring the sensation of my lips against his, unhurried and gentle. I'd gotten used to the bruisingly passionate kisses of his darker half, the ones that make me feel like I'm drowning in lust, all too eager to let myself be swept under. This is different, not better or worse, just another way of being mated—one that I think we both need tonight. When he pulls me closer, I climb onto his lap with my legs around his waist. A deep moan rumbles in his chest, and I quickly disengage from the kiss to look into his eyes.

"Still me," he whispers, tightening his arms around my middle.

"I'm not afraid of him, er, you. You know what I mean. I love both sides."

He smiles.

"Tonight I'd like to be like this. Can we?" I ask.

"Anything you want. It's yours. And I don't just mean tonight, Bella."

His hands slip up under my pajama top, caressing my lower back.

"What you want to do, where you want to live—I'll go wherever you want."

"You mean, we're not going to stay here?"

"We can if you want. There's a whole big world out there, though. Africa, Asia, Europe. Anywhere you want to go."

I try to wrap my head around those possibilities. I've never even been outside the U.S. Although, I suppose now I've been in Canada while Edward was running here with me in his arms. Too surreal to think about right now.

"I'm not sure," I admit.

"That's all right. I need a bit of time to . . . acclimate myself anyway."

"Acclimate yourself?"

"I wouldn't want to kill the entire male student body if we decide to enroll in college somewhere," he says matter-of-factly.

"Oh my god," I mumble. "Right. Here's good, then."

"It's only for a while," he promises.

"How would that even work? College, I mean. I'm still a junior. I haven't graduated."

"We can fake your transcripts." He grins. "Give you a 4.0 GPA and awesome SAT scores too."

"Edward, no! That's cheating!"

He throws his head back and laughs before hugging me to him.

"You can take your GED any time you want. Just say the word."

"Oh, good."

"Goody-goody," he teases, nipping at my neck before placing a kiss there.

"Hey, stop trying to corrupt me with your wicked ways."

"You like my wicked ways . . . baby." He pulls back and flashes me a grin that makes my insides clench. "Besides, you corrupted me first."

"What? How do you figure?"

"I was a hundred and seven-year-old virgin before I met you. Now all I can think about is, well, you know." He sighs dramatically. "I used to be a gentleman and a scholar."

I laugh at his fake mournful expression, suppressing another yawn.

"Time for bed," he says.

"All right." I crawl off his lap to go to the bathroom but then hesitate. "Um, Edward?"


He's already by the door, turning off the light.

"I don't need to use the, uh, toilet anymore, do I?"

He chuckles.


"Weird. Can I still brush my teeth?"

"You'd need a brush made out of steel wire, and it'd probably get ruined anyway."

"Huh. I guess I'm ready for bed now, then."

He lifts the covers and gets in, opening his arms. Sinking into his waiting embrace is pure bliss. I rest my head on his chest, slipping my top leg in between his and throwing my arm around him. I'm almost all the way on top of him, but he doesn't seem to mind, his purring starting up immediately.

"We forgot about the curtains," I murmur, not moving an inch.

"The stars are out."

"Mmm. You like them?"

"I'll show you my favorite constellation some night, if you want."


He chuckles softly, running his hand down the length of my hair.

"I used to look up at it during those weeks we were apart. It's called Cygnus, the swan. You felt as far away as those stars, always out of my reach. Looking at them now, with you here in my arms, it's a wonder, a miracle to me."

He holds me closer still.

"So, yes, my love. I like the stars. Very much so."

I blink back tears, overwhelmed with emotion. Words of love are not what he longs to hear—he already knows that I love him, thanks to our mating connection.

"I like you," I whisper. "You're romantic and thoughtful; you're funny and a huge Harry Potter nerd. I hope you'll read the books to me because your voice is my favorite sound in the whole world."

His exhale is unsteady.

"Of course I will. Thank you."

I smile as I fall asleep in his secure embrace.

When I wake up, Edward and I have switched places. He's naked and hovering above me, bathed in the rays of the sunrise, with his now soft topaz eyes, he looks like a golden god, the sight of him enough to flush my body with warmth.

"I want you." His voice is rough, but his touch is soft and reverent as he undresses me, taking care not to rip the pajamas I've worn—the exact opposite of his darker half who would have torn it off me and pounced the moment my eyes opened. My mate makes love to me, first with his hands and mouth, making me tremble with desire and begging him for harder, faster. His teasing licks and featherlight caresses drive me wild with need, and I sob with relief when finally, he's in between my legs, watching my face as he pushes inside. I remember that in a way it's his first time, the first time his darker half isn't in control during sex.

"O-oh," he stutters, leaning down to capture my lips. His kiss is hungry, but his eyes remain golden, darkening only slightly as he rolls us over and I take the lead.

He's so beautiful, a look of awe on his face as he stares up at me, his hands learning my curves in this position. Neither of us look away as each roll of my hips increases the pleasure of our connection.

"Here. Come here," he pants, cradling the back of my head to pull me down for a kiss.

The change of angle makes me cry out, his strong hands on my hips helping me move faster and faster until I'm awash with blinding pleasure.

"That's it. I feel you, love." He groans, swelling and pulsing inside me. "Oh, Bella."

He throws his arms around me, keeping me in the same position with him still inside me. After a few minutes he starts caressing my back in long, lazy strokes. A deep rumble from my chest startles me. I can purr too! Edward laughs softly.

"My sweet kitten."

I lift my head, meeting his adoring gaze.

"What should I call you?"

"Anything you want as long as you let me call you mine."

I look down, convinced I'd be blushing if I were still human. He's so good with words, and I feel like I'm always stumbling over mine. I suppose having a hundred years to practice makes a big difference.

"Of course you can," I murmur. "I am yours."

He touches me underneath my chin, making me meet his eyes.

"Thank you," he whispers, "for being mine."

His kiss is soft and sweet.

"Are you ready to start the day?" he asks. "The others are on their way back."

"What are we doing today?"

His smile lights up my whole world.

"How about a game of baseball?"

*Cue opening chords of Supermassive Black Hole* :D

Possible epilogue to come, so don't take the story off alerts just yet.

Thank you for reading and happy holidays to you all. 3