Like that first moment of stepping into a hot bath, my skin screaming like a boiled lobster before nerves recognize it's not hot enough to burn.

Even though there's no peril, the adrenaline coursing through my veins demands a response, and my brain somehow decides that if this fire rising inside me isn't an enemy, it must be a friend.

I've always been a good friend.

Instead of trying to smother it, I feed it. His lips caress me, tracing over some magic spot where my shoulder meets my neck and I can't help the gasp that escapes me. Everything inside me tightens, as if that one spot was the key that opened up all of my lusts and desires. Underneath his grazing teeth my pulse flutters helplessly. It's another kind of virginity, and I tremble with excitement as he struggles not to break the skin, to not go for the jugular and claim dominion, to penetrate me, to possess me utterly… I throw caution to the wind and give in to the flames roaring about me.

I want this.

I want him.


His voice warns me that we're quickly approaching that crossroads where a choice has to be made. Normally I'd do the right thing and back away. But even though he would argue against this particular instance, Edward keeps saying he wants this too. Instead of second-guessing, shouldn't I just go for it? Why do I have to dwell on my inner turmoil? Why allow these restrictions to be attached to me? I keep thinking of this story we read in English, where the government wanted everyone to be equal, so they put weights on the most talented ballerinas. Then this guy came and broke the chains for the best ballerina and they danced, and without her chains she soared and leaped to the music and was breathtaking to behold.

That's what I want. To let go of all the responsibilities, all the chains that are piled on me, and be free. To let the fire that I keep banked and smoldering blaze and engulf me.

I pull away and reluctantly he lets me go, but then stands dumbfounded as I slowly start unbuttoning by blouse. Awkwardly I pull it off, feeling stupid as it catches on my elbow and forcing me to jiggle out of it.

"What are you doing?" His voice is hoarse, and he can't seem to look away from my chest. Without answering, I unsnap the front of my bra and let it fall from my shoulders.

"Bella…" His voice is strangled, warning me that we're about to walk off the deep end. But I don't care. I know Edward wanted my first time to be safe, to be careful, but the blistering embers of my lust are tired of caution and decorum. I want to blaze as brightly and fiercely as the bonfire on the beach, reaching up to the very sky to challenge the darkness that tries to hide me away. Determinedly I pick up his hands and place them on my bare waist before pressing against him and kissing him hungrily.

He never was one to look a gift horse in the mouth. After a shocked second, he's kissing me back, his tongue dueling with mine for control while his hands glide up my curves until they reach my breasts. His fingers lightly trace the soft swells almost reverently before caressing them harder and more feverishly, almost as if he had a time limit and the clock was ticking. He's kneading them, rolling them in his palms, and while it's not the gentle worshipfulness I'm used to, the possessive groping calls to something primitive within me, something that delights in the knowledge that he's marking me, claiming me.

He backs me against a tree, the bark rough and biting against my bare skin. And then his arms are lifting my legs, helping me wrap them around his waist. His hands grip my ass as he shifts me up, scraping my back, but I forget all about that as his mouth closes around my swollen and erect nipple. I gasp, feeling his tongue, so much rougher than I was expecting, gently lick and suck my exposed flesh.

I'm feverish, flames dancing all over my skin as he pulls back and grins mischievously before attacking its twin. If it wasn't for his hands and the tree supporting me, I would fall. Nothing else exists except the sensations, the electrifying jolt that seems to run straight from my nipples to down below. I could feel the wetness between my thighs, feel the heaviness in my groin- the contradictory pressure that screamed to be touched and appeased. I shift myself closer and wrap my arms around his neck, letting me lift myself up a bit and rub against the bulge in his jeans. His hands tighten, squeezing me, before he lowers both of us to the ground.

His mouth is still occupied with my breasts, but his knees push my legs apart so he can settle between them. He's rubbing himself against the juncture of my thighs, and I want more. I need more.

"Please…" I barely breathe the word, but his hearing is excellent and he pushes himself up to his forearms before raising gleaming eyes to my face.

I answer the obvious question by moving my hands down to the buttons on my jeans. He doesn't say anything, doesn't move, as I lift my hips and slide the stiff fabric down my body. As I kick off the offending fabric, he starts to lower himself against me, but I stop him by resting my fingers against his jeans. With trembling fingers, I start to release them.

I whisper into the heavy silence.

"Take me."

And he does.

It's his first time too, but sharing minds has some useful qualities. He's experienced other's memories, recalled them with a vividness that could be confused for his own. He knows what to do, which is more than I can say. I just know what I want, what I need… I need this throbbing in my body to be soothed, I need the aching emptiness filled. I need him inside me.

His teeth graze my neck, right above my throbbing pulse, and I shudder with longing. He's a natural hunter and I'm his prey, but I'm shocked at how much I want his teeth to bite down, to pierce me, to claim me… This is what I've waited for, what I've wanted without understanding why. To be taken, to give up control, to let someone else make the rules, to be the submissive one for once. As long as I can remember, I've been the responsible one, I've been the good girl. First taking care of my mother, and now to a certain extent Charlie. I've been the parent for years before my time, never having the childhood chance to be free, to be swept away without having to think about consequences, to be careless and out of control.

But the desire raging between us shreds any control I might have held onto, and defiantly I cast the ragged pieces of my responsibilities away and plunge headfirst into the inferno.

It's exhilarating.

I feel like I've been asleep for so long and I'm just now starting to awaken. I can feel the blood pulsing in my veins, my skin shrieking to be touched. I'm aware of every nuance, every movement, every sound. The way his canines scrape my nipple, the hard muscle beneath my fingertips as I cling to him helplessly. The tiny moans that I can't hold back, the bruising press of his fingers against my hips as he positions himself at my entrance. His voice fractures as he asks me if I'm sure, and I manage to break away from the sensations buffeting me to urge him on. And then he's inside me and I want to scream. There's a stab of pain, but overwhelming that is a heady feeling of completeness. He fills me so utterly, hot and heavy inside, uniting the two of us into one creature with one goal. My hips move with no prompting, my only coherent thoughts to pull him in tighter, as if I could consume him the way the heat was consuming me. I want more… harder, faster, deeper… His gasps of pleasure as he strives for control set me off and I let go, letting him shower pleasure on me, wrapping my legs around his back, compelling him on hoarsely. Sparks are shooting everywhere, sensations burning and I feel dangerous, like I've lit a firecracker in my hand. It's the same breath-taking sensation I get when I ride my bike or go diving off of cliffs. That reckless yearning to feel, to be alive… And for the first time in my life, I truly am.

I am alive. And with that knowledge, part of me weeps in despair.

It was the one thing Edward couldn't give me. He had been desperate for me to name a condition, something 'human' that I wanted to experience before it was too late. Of course I chose the one thing he had to deny me. For my safety, he maintained control, even when I begged. I was shameless. I tempted and pushed, even going so far as to prick my finger with a pin, hard enough that a ruby red drop of crimson bubbled up. As I stood there in my bedroom showing off my new Victoria's Secret demi bra, letting that drop of blood stain the milky swell of my exposed breasts, he just looked at me with such pain and sadness I tried to back down. Compared to our love, what did it matter? It was just sex. I was being driven by unthinking hormones- if Edward could resist my blood, couldn't I resist my body?

But then he shocked me when he placed his long cool fingers against my fevered skin. He wanted me to live before I died for him. It was a familiar argument, but before I could start in with my objections, he told me how to do that. I stared at him in disbelief as he explained with cold rationality that I should have sex with another human before our wedding, that I should pick someone for a 'fling'.

It was madness. He wanted me to cheat on him. I couldn't wrap my head or my heart around the idea. I raged and cried, despising his calm façade, the evenness of his voice as he tried to convince me that it was the only way to meet both our needs. Finally I agreed to think about it, if only to get him to drop the subject.

But while I was willing to pretend the whole disagreement had never happened, Edward and Alice took to searching for a suitable candidate with gusto. Some were discarded because Edward didn't like what he heard (which disqualified most of our classmates), others because Alice foresaw complications. Every day I dreaded the discussions, the debates about the different contenders. Part of me was amazed at their cold-bloodedness about the whole thing; I felt like a brood mare that they were trying to find the right stud for. This was supposed to be my human experience? My first time? The way they were acting, it was almost like they were expecting to watch the performance. Shuddering, I realized that in their own way, they probably would. Edward would insist on protecting me and standing guard, which means that he would see the thoughts of my faceless… lover? Volunteer? Gigolo? What was I supposed to call him anyway? The point is, this wasn't supposed to be a group activity! This was something intimate. Losing my virginity was personal and private, not just a chore that had to be crossed off the list of wedding preparations. Besides, if I couldn't have Edward, I didn't want anyone.

Not that my fiancé took notice of my demands.

It was after one of our many disagreements that I was hit with a sudden inspiration. Edward had "gone home", waiting until Charlie was gone to slip into my bedroom. But I was tired of the pointless arguing and just wanted some time to myself. Unfortunately, keeping an unwanted vampire out of my room is not as easy as they make it out on Buffy. I could hear Charlie getting ready to head out to watch the game with Billy. On impulse, I invited myself along.

When we crossed the boundary into La Push, I breathed a sigh of relief. I don't know what I was expecting; it's not like Edward would hijack the car and make a scene in front of Charlie. He might be tempted, but he wouldn't do that to me, especially over a quick trip. We'd come to a kind of agreement over the reservation, but since Jacob and I weren't talking, it hadn't really been an issue lately.

After our arrival, I endured a few moments of probing conversation with Billy that Charlie was completely oblivious to. Billy wasn't happy with me, but what else was new? Lately it seemed I couldn't please anyone. Finally, I made my escape and walked down to the beach.

It was dark, the moon a pale sliver in the sky, but there was enough light to see the froth crash upon the rocks and roll assuredly up to the sand. Farther down the spit there was a bonfire and a group of bodies. They were too far away to tell who they were, but the faint sound of their laughter obviously said they were enjoying themselves. I turned and walked in the other direction, until the only thing I could see was the distant flicker of their fire. Content with my solitude, I sat down on a piece of driftwood and listened to the roar of the surf.

Having grown up pretty much in the desert, I always found the ocean entrancing. It didn't look like the normal vacation type pictures you see, with the crystal blue water and the wide expanse of white sand. I mean, there was sand, but it was darker here, with more rocks mixed in. And the water was a more turbulent gray, even on the sunniest of days. The shoreline out here consisted of a bunch of rocks and cliffs, and any place there wasn't sand, the pine trees crowded right out to the edge. But the sound…

The sound was majestic, the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. If Edward had a heartbeat, the ocean is what it would sound like. Strong and rhythmic, it was eternal. Five hundred years from now, it would still be here, still crashing on the shore, still steady and timeless. Knowing that there was some landmark that was stable, that would still be the same no matter how much time went by… it was reassuring.

"Hello Bella."

I sighed to myself. His voice was older, with none of the happy-go-lucky cockiness I was used to. Regardless, I didn't really want to talk to him right now. Continuing to stare at the surf, I stayed silent.

He dropped down next to me on the log, his 108.9 degree body banishing the chill surrounding us.

"What are you doing here?"

I shrugged, refusing to make eye contact. Maybe he'd take the hint and go. "Just listening to the ocean."

Unfortunately, Jacob's not the kind of person to take a hint. Instead he leaned back, stretching his long legs out in front.

"Where's the leech? Did he let you out for good behavior?"

Closing my eyes, I counted to ten. It didn't seem to help. "Jacob, tonight's not a good time to have this discussion."

There. That was calm but assertive. Now maybe he would leave me alone.

Jacob just laughed harshly. "And when is going to be the right time Bella? After your wedding? When they've made you into a monster? Is that a good time?"

Angrily I jumped up. "You know what? Forget it. All I wanted was a little peace, a little time to myself, but I should have known you'd ruin it. Just because you didn't get what you want, you have to make everyone else miserable too!"

Jacob stood up to face me, his expression as furious as mine. "I'm sorry, I take the fact that those bloodsuckers are going to destroy you a little personally! It's bad enough that you're…"

"I am not being destroyed! It's still going to be me Jacob! I just won't…"

He howled. "You'll be a monster! I'll see you, and instinctively I'll want to tear your throat out!"

My blood ran cold, but I refused to let him see how much his words had affected me. Roughly, I pushed him away. "And this is all about you, isn't it? I'm sorry you can't accept this, but…"

Faster than I could react, his hands were on both sides of my head and his eyes were glittering. "Believe it or not, this is about you too Bella. You don't realize it yet, but if you join them, it's a fate worse than death."

I tried to jerk free, but I couldn't. He wasn't injuring me, but I was pretty freaked out. "Let go of me!"

Jacob just stared at me, his eyes burning with intensity.

Concerned, I tried to get his attention. His hands were pressing in more, and I could definitely feel it. "Jacob, you're starting to hurt me. What are you doing?"

He cocked his head and replied in a serious tone. "I'm trying to decide whether to snap your neck or kiss you."

I froze. I wanted to believe he was joking, but his whole demeanor screamed that he was serious.


I don't know what I would have said next, because suddenly he dropped his hands to my arms and pulled me close. Then he kissed me, hard, his lips bruising mine. Where Edward had always been restrained and gentle, Jacob was pouring out heat and anger. The fingers gripping me were punishing me, and I knew I would have bruises by morning. My first thought was to struggle and fight back, but I was still weirded out that he had been willing to hurt me. My second and third thoughts were along the same lines. But as he forced his way into my mouth, something inside me snapped. Jacob was radiating life. His passion, his spirit, his soul- they were intoxicating. I wanted to inhale the vitality that poured out of him. And when he pushed me down into the sand, I stopped resisting and started kissing him back- sharing the heat, the energy that exuded from him.

The heat that brought me alive.

The heat that cost me my death.

I don't remember very much about it. Our sweaty bodies had been clinging to each other, the wet smacking sounds mingling with my moans and Jacob's heavy breathing. Part of me instinctively realized how close to release he was, and I twisted my hips, frantic to draw out every last moment, every last sensation, before the interlude ended. And then my eyes blurred and there was pain, more than I had ever felt before, worse even then when I had James's venom burning through my veins. As if I was a bystander, I remember the screaming, and the sweet stench of blood intermixed with the musky smells of sex. And I remember his growling, the untamed wildness of his howl, how my last conscious thought was the ironic realization that the person who taught me about life and my humanity was also the one whose inhumanity would cause my death.

I woke up in the hospital, dizzy and unfocused from the morphine. The pale faces surrounding me were speaking in whispers, almost like I was on my deathbed. That was the first clue that it was bad. The second was the emotionless look on Edward's face. He was holding everything in so tightly, so afraid that if he showed the slightest glimmer of feeling he would explode, and take everyone else with him.

Impassively I listened to the doctor as he listed my injuries. Luckily it appeared that I would be able to walk again, but they weren't sure I would ever have the use of my left arm. It was also too early to tell if they would be able to reconstruct my breast. It had literally been shredded, and they had to do a mastectomy to prevent infection. While they were hopeful that they might be able to use an implant later, I would probably never be able to nurse a child or experience sensation there again. It was also too soon to tell how much scarring I'd have on my face. There wasn't a plastic surgeon on staff, so I'd have to wait and consult with one after I was released.

Charlie was going on about the hunting parties that were patrolling for the supposed mountain lion that had attacked me. I nodded, but I wasn't really paying attention. It all seemed a horrible nightmare. I didn't realize I was crying until Charlie awkwardly patted my face with a tissue. The doctor took that moment to inject something into my IV, and thankfully I slipped back into unconsciousness.

When I next awoke, a melodic voice greeted me.


I opened my eyes, blinking in the darkness. Edward moved forward until the moonlight highlighted his pale face among the shadows.

"How are you feeling?"

I looked around, hoping that I had dreamed the earlier episode, but I was still in the same hospital bed, bandaged extensively, with my leg and arm in traction.

"I think I've been better."

A twitch of a smile flicked across Edward's face, and then he was stroking my sweat-soaked hair with cool fingers.

I sighed, wanting to just lie back and let Edward take care of me, but I needed to understand what was going on. I forced myself to ask about the one person I should have seen but hadn't.

"Where's Jacob?"

Edward's jaw hardened. "Don't worry about him. I had to make sure you were okay, but we'll take care of it soon enough."

I blinked in confusion. "What are you talking about? Take care of what?"

Edward looked at me strangely. "You don't think we'd let him get away with it, do you? He can hide in his forest as long as he wants, but it's only a matter of time before we flush him out."

It must be the morphine, because I couldn't understand the words falling from his lips. Those cold lips that had kissed me senseless; teasing me with the promise of sensual delights that had never materialized. It had been Jacob who had… quickly I cut that line of thought off and focused on what Edward was saying.

"The treaty's broken. After what he did to you…"

I gasped in horror. "No! It was an accident! He didn't mean…"

"Bella, I can smell his stench all over you! He might not have meant to maim you, but…"

My heart skipped a beat, and Edward heard it. He stopped, his voice trailing off as he observed the guilty look on my face. He might not have been able to read my mind, but at that moment he didn't need to.

"You chose him?" He might have been asking about the weather, his voice was so mild.

I looked down at the sheets and the thin blanket covering me. I couldn't meet his eyes.


"I see."

His voice held no censure, but I felt the tears blurring my eyes.

How many times had he warned me about the dangers of a young werewolf? How many times had he tried to protect me by limiting the time I spent with Jacob? I had seen firsthand on Emily the devastation that could be caused by a werewolf not in complete control, and yet I had insisted on throwing all restraint out the window. Who had been screaming about needing it faster and harder like a wanton slut? One of the things that had chafed me about Edward was his insistence on treating me like a delicate china doll. So in rebellion I had turned to the one person that allowed me to be as reckless as I wanted, the one person Edward had asked me to cut ties with, the one natural enemy he had. Now I was paying the price.

We were paying the price.

The silence grew between us, thick and unbearable. Finally Edward cleared his throat and spoke politely.

"Carlisle thinks you'll heal better if we turn you now instead of waiting. You'll have full use of your leg and we'll probably be able to save your arm as well."

I licked my dry lips. "How soon is now?"

Edward's expression didn't change. "Tonight. The sooner the better."

I looked at him in shock. "But we'd have to leave right away! What about the wedding? And what do I tell Charlie and Renee?"

"It would probably be easier to write them a note and just leave. No one's going to expect the wedding to go on now."

I froze in terror. For a moment, I thought he had changed his mind about marrying me.

"Why can't we wait?" My voice was hoarse with foreboding.

Edward frowned. "There's only so much the venom can do. It will heal the bruises and broken bones, but it can't replace missing flesh or reset muscles that have twisted. The longer you wait, the more permanent scarring you'll have."

Guiltily I looked around for a mirror, but there didn't seem to be one in the room.

Edward took my hand. "Bella, it's your choice. But it's hard to start a new life when every time you see your reflection you're reminded of everything you've left behind."

I looked in his face and tried not to wince. If I waited, it wasn't just mirrors I'd have to avoid, but Edward's eyes as well. He looked calm on the surface, but his rich pools of topaz screamed hurt and resentment.

Closing my eyes, I leaned back into the pillow. Everything was happening too fast. First time wasn't moving at all, and now it was speeding by. Would I notice things like that after my change?

Swallowing hard, I nodded. "Where are you going to do it? If I just vanish from the hospital, won't they search for me?"

Edward hesitated for a moment. "I know you wanted me to be the one to change you, but with your injuries, I think Carlisle should do it."

I froze.

Looking away, Edward murmured softly. "I'm not sure I could hold back, and I don't want to hurt you more than necessary."

I frowned and opened my eyes. "I don't understand."

Edward sighed, and then ran a hand through his hair. "Between the smell of your blood and the mutt's stench, I'm not sure I would be able to stop in time. I'm also not sure I'd know when to stop since you're injured. Carlisle has much more experience and I'd prefer to defer to him."

Tears pricked my eyes. Edward admitting that he wasn't sure he could stop was almost like him saying he didn't love me anymore.


He glanced towards me and I swallowed hard. "I'm sorry. About tonight. But…"

He reached out one cool finger and wiped away the tear that trembled on my lashes. "Bella, we don't need to worry about it right now. We have an eternity to work it out."

I didn't say anything and he glanced at his watch. "I should go call the others. If nothing else, I need to tell them to stop hunting the dog." He smiled at me gently as he left the room, but it was the same kind of smile that he used with Charlie. A polite mask to hide his thoughts and emotions.

And he was using it with me.

The true impact of what I had done hit me. I had betrayed him on so many levels. Not only had I slept with the only creature Edward despised, I had given my virginity to the boy he hated. I had known it was wrong even when it was happening, but I didn't care. I made up excuses for why it was ok, justified even. Edward wouldn't sleep with me, Edward wanted me to cheat on him, Edward wanted me to live before I died. But they were excuses, rationales I spun to fit my version of events. Sleeping with Jacob was the one thing that Edward would never condone. I knew it then, and I knew it now. Time was only proving me right.

Even if at some point he could forgive me, I could never forgive myself. This would always be there, always in the background, for the rest of our lives. While before I had always thought eternity with Edward would be heaven, suddenly it seemed like hell. Hundreds of years of torturing ourselves over one stupid moment. And with the kind of scars I would have, we would never be able to forget. We would both be reminded every time he looked at me.

Feeling the tears welling in my eyes, I finally grew up. I had thought I was an adult before, but now I could see how immature I had really been. No wonder Edward and his family couldn't help but treat me like a child; rushing headlong from one disaster to another like a kitten chasing a butterfly, not even seeing the dangers around me. This is why Edward had been reluctant to change me; if I had no concept of the life I existed in, how could I make such a monumental decision? Until I understood life, until I had truly lived it, I couldn't see what I would be giving up. And now that I had done what he had wanted and finally lived, I realized that no matter how much I loved and wanted to be with him, our future was over. I just wished that I had realized earlier that the price of living would be so high.

Or how much it would hurt to say goodbye.


"Isabelle, it's time."

The girl looked up in surprise as Nancy walked towards them. The hour had passed much too quickly. The woman in the wheelchair ignored the plump nurse and continued murmuring to the girl sitting at her side.

"I wanted to die. I wanted it so much. But I wasn't strong enough. Dying is such hard work."

Nancy clucked and tucked a blanket around the frail figure, gently lifting a wasted and scarred arm so the cloth didn't pull at the tubes connected to the IV.

"Now now, you've already made it through far worse than this. Death isn't going to win you over so easily!"

For a moment, brown eyes full of intelligence met Isabelle's, and a voice hoarse with age whispered. "No, but that's because death didn't want me enough to try."

Then the eyes glazed over and stared unseeingly at the wall.

The woman didn't respond to her nurse's questions, but Nancy didn't seem to expect it. Instead she fussed about, ignoring the blank stare as she prepared to return the patient to her room. The young woman visiting dropped her head sadly and Nancy sighed grimly. Working at the nursing home had acclimated her to death, but all too frequently she felt that it was the loved ones who suffered the most. Keeping a cheerful tone, she tried to change the subject.

"And what about you Isabelle? How are the wedding plans coming?"

Isabelle shrugged non-committedly. "They're going okay. It's just going to be a small ceremony, nothing fancy."

Nancy straightened up and harrumphed. "It doesn't matter how much money you spend or how many bridesmaids you have. What's important is that you and your young man are pledging your love to one another for eternity. There's nothing more precious than your wedding day."

Isabelle smiled grimly to herself. Nancy spoke truer then she knew. Saying her goodbyes, Isabelle escaped out the doors and breathed a guilty sigh of relief. Muscular arms wrapped around her and she yelped.

"I told you not to do that!"

A warm chuckle greeted her words as cool lips brushed her cheek. "But you're so adorable when you're flustered."

Before she could retort, he slipped to her side, gently lacing his long fingers with hers. "How did your visit go?"

Isabelle sighed. "I don't know. I thought I got through to her this time, but then she started talking about her wedding and when she got mauled by a mountain lion. She must have understood part of what I was saying though because she kept getting you mixed up with Grandpa Jacob."

He cocked his eyebrow. "Oh?"

She shrugged sadly. "You know how it is with the Alzheimer's. She's off living in her own world and doesn't really exist in ours. I just wish I could make her understand what's going on, how important this is to me."

A single tear dripped down her face. "At least she won't miss me when I'm gone."

With a gentle finger he wiped her tear away. "Saying goodbye is always hard. But I'm positive your grandmother understands more than you give her credit for."

She blinked up at him, tears clinging to her lashes, her eyes warm pools of deep brown. "What makes you so sure?"

Edward smiled sadly, his topaz eyes gleaming as he looked away from Isabelle's questioning look. "This isn't her first time saying goodbye."


AN: Please review! Thanks! :D