Disclaimer: The proprietary elements of Breaking Dawn, including its original treatment and all of the characters, belong solely to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.

Bella's POV

Technically, I had two-and-a-half more days, but it felt like I was getting bigger by the hour. Since I'd apparently outgrown the sofa, "bed-rest" was now officially on the agenda. It hadn't worked out before, because, well, I'd refused to stay in bed; but, my cooperation level improved considerably when I realized that I'd be spending all day in bed with Edward. (The couch wasn't even a temptation anymore.) Plus, Edward's old room had an adjoining bathroom. Did normal pregnant women really need as many "human minutes" as I did? At least it was a valid excuse to get out of bed—my only valid excuse, according to Edward. But, even then, I wasn't alone. Esme usually assisted in the effort (and it was an increasing effort) while Edward paced like a caged animal just outside the bathroom door. He couldn't stand to be separated from me now (even for a few minutes) which was my own fault, I knew—I'd created a monster. But, I didn't complain. And, surprisingly, neither did Rosalie. (Edward had handled that situation tactfully, explaining to me later that Rose was now satisfied because she believed the baby was finally strong enough to survive, regardless.)

I sometimes wondered, though, if the birth of my half-human, half-vampire child would trigger my own "change." Could I possibly survive this and stay human? Or was two-and-a-half days really all I had left? We had spoken little of what Jacob so callously referred to as "emergency vampirization," because Edward was now convinced that such "extreme measures" would not be necessary. He and Carlisle were prepared for any eventuality, of course, but Edward was currently anticipating another scenario altogether. I'd heard him tell Alice that the baby was "clearly developed beyond what Carlisle had guessed" (but I'd wondered if Carlisle suspected that already—I shudder to think what might have happened in the confrontation with Rosalie had he not come home early to run additional tests), and I'd also heard Edward worry aloud that I might be "too fragile" to delay. So, I knew that he wanted Carlisle to deliver the baby sooner rather than later. Edward was committed to his promise to protect our child, but he was also acting to avoid a crisis situation and potential complications for me. His overprotective tendencies had kicked into overdrive lately, but I had to admit that his balanced approach was impressive. Best of all, he was no longer panicked or frantic or afraid, but cautiously optimistic and decidedly proactive now. Working to protect both of us, just as he'd promised, he was carefully considering the alternatives and making each critical decision with measured confidence. More than hope, Edward was finally demonstrating faith.

"How much longer, do you think?" I whispered as we watched the long evening shadows swallow the last golden rays of afternoon sunlight.

It was twilight now, and the view of the forest through the floor-to-ceiling window in Edward's old room was peaceful—even therapeutic. As the light softened and changed around us, the wall of glass reflected the bedroom back like a long mirror. I'd successfully avoided all reflective surfaces in the last week or so, but I couldn't avert my eyes now. It wasn't the silk maternity gown Alice'd dressed me in, or the way Rosalie had artfully twisted my hair into a loose knot at the base of my neck; it was Edward's reflection—a perfect duplicate of his perfect face—that held my gaze. He was seated behind me on the bed, and I was reclining comfortably (relatively speaking) against his chest. His arms were supporting the weight of mine, and his gentle fingers were lightly tracing circular patterns along the sides of my rounded stomach. I smiled in spite of myself. For a brief moment, I imagined that we were just normal parents-to-be, awaiting the normal birth of our normal first child. Unfortunately, the term "normal" didn't even remotely apply to the present situation. And yet, somehow I knew this was all going somewhere good.

"I'm not sure," he began softly, answering my question, "I need to talk to Carlisle again, but I'm hoping he'll agree to deliver the baby by noon tomorrow. . ." his voice trailed off, as he tilted his head reflexively toward my bulging abdomen.

I felt him shudder behind me, and my muscles tensed instinctively—I braced myself. Edward slid both of his hands in unison to the top peak of my belly, and the baby kicked there a fraction of a second later. Ow. I bit down on my lower lip, and Edward's arms tightened around me.

It was nearly impossible to downplay any discomfort related to the pregnancy now. Edward was so attuned to the baby's thoughts that he was acutely aware of what I was (or would be) feeling at any given moment. He was actually able to anticipate what the baby would do next, and usually in enough time to prepare me for the rougher movements. It was empowering, I knew, but still not good enough for Edward—occasionally, there was little or no warning at all (nothing he could do), and that possibility made him insanely anxious. So he tried even harder; he was always listening now—constantly on surveillance. This was why, Esme had explained to me, it terrified him to allow any distance between us. He could "hear" the baby's thoughts much more clearly when we were in close physical proximity. It concerned me, though, that he was ignoring his growing thirst completely now; it had been so long since he'd last hunted. Bad enough that he already blamed himself for the pain I was feeling. He shouldn't have to suffer, too. So I turned my face away from him, squeezing my eyes shut tight, in a feeble attempt to shield him from the intense pain I was experiencing at this very moment.

He wasn't having that. He put his hands on either side of my face and gently pulled me back to meet his gaze.

But I refused to open my eyes.

"Bella," he said firmly, "Look at me. You need to focus."

"I'm okay," I said through clenched teeth, "Just. Give me. A minute." I was panting now, trying to catch my breath.

"Open your eyes, sweetheart," his voice was softer, but still serious. He waited for exactly two seconds, then persisted, "Bella. Now, please."

Okay—he was right—it helped to look at him. But I was still having a hard time breathing right. I concentrated on his face and tried to regulate the movement of air through my lungs. In and. . .

"Out. . .that's my girl. Breathe through it, Bella," he coached expertly (was there anything he didn't do well?), forcing what was meant to be a reassuring smile.

I knew how hard he had to work to compose the tenor of his voice and remain calm when the baby's movements were this rough. I also knew that he would not rest until he was satisfied I was breathing "normally." So I tried to stay focused. He matched his own unnecessary respirations to my erratic breathing pattern, then gradually slowed his rate (encouraging me to follow suit) until we were both inhaling and exhaling at a more measured pace. It was a struggle, but eventually I was able to relax, melting back into his arms. He stroked my hair.

"We'll have to time the delivery just right," he began in a soothing tone, "Not sooner than is safe for the baby, but. . ." he touched his cheek to mine, "Definitely sooner than we thought. That's what I wanted to talk to Carlisle about. It won't be much longer now, Bella."

This was really going to happen. And soon. I stopped breathing. . .momentarily.

He rolled his eyes, "Don't start that again."

I laughed uneasily, and Edward sighed, placing his hands on my protruding belly, "The baby's become so big, there's hardly room for him to—"

"You're telling me," I teased, resting my head on his shoulder and pressing my lips to the cool skin of his neck.

Edward took my hands in his and intertwined our fingers together.

"I love you," he breathed in my ear. "And, I'm so proud of you. You're much stronger than I gave you credit for, Bella. It's impressive."

"Do you really think there might be a chance, then?" I whispered back. "That I might actually be able to survive this. . .stay human, I mean?"

He squeezed my fingers. "We're going to try."

I'd heard them discussing parts of the surgical procedure and knew that if Carlisle was successful in performing the "modified C-section" ('modified' because a scalpel wouldn't be the only instrument used to gain access to the baby), I would have a fairly good chance of survival, barring any unforeseen complications. I wanted that more than anything now; to be myself when Edward put our baby in my arms for the first time. I wanted to be able to bond with my infant son—or daughter—before becoming a newborn vampire myself. I wanted to experience those first days of motherhood. . .human.

But, maybe that wasn't meant to be. . .

All of a sudden, I heard Edward gasp, and his arms flew protectively around my chest and shoulders. A fraction of a second later, my body was wrenching itself forward—doubling over in pain. The unexpected agony was so exquisite that I wanted to die.

"Bella!" he cried, "Are you all right?" I'd missed the motion, but he was on his knees leaning over me, his eyes wild with worry.

I knew I needed to answer him—to reassure him that this, too, would pass. But I couldn't. If I opened my mouth, I would scream. So I mashed my lips together and cringed forward into the gold comforter on our bed.

"Carlise!" Edward yelled.

His arms instinctively reached for me then, but I shook my head infinitesimally.

"No, please—don't!" I almost begged, breathless and hurting. The intensity was too much; it was paralyzing, excruciating. I couldn't be moved, not even touched.

A low, agonized moan escaped Edward's lips, and he collapsed beside me, taking fistfuls of golden fabric into his helpless hands.

"I'm here," my father-in-law's voice came from the doorway. "What's happening?" he demanded, flashing to Edward's side.

Edward was beyond panicked now. "I don't know! There was no warning whatsoever. Carlisle, help her! She's in so much pain," he choked.

"Bella, can you describe exactly what you're feeling?" Carlisle asked, putting a gentle hand on my shoulder. "I know it's difficult. . .but, please try."

I flinched away from his touch, it was cold and distracting. I needed to concentrate. It felt like I was suffocating—on the verge of losing consciousness—but I couldn't force my lungs to expand as I knew I should. Something soft was covering my mouth, and the vice on my abdomen was pressing down on me relentlessly. Just let me die. . .

"Bella, you're going to be fine," Edward's clear voice was strained, yet determined. "I'm right here. Let us help you."

In one fluid motion, he slid the smothering comforter away from my face and placed a smooth hand on my forehead. I resisted the urge to yank my head back.

"I know it's hard," he swallowed, "but you have to breathe, sweetheart. Please."

"It hurts," I whimpered softly, my voice trembling. He leaned his forehead against mine, and I pressed back, panting through the pain.

"Edward," Carlisle murmured then, "I think you're right. We shouldn't wait any longer."

"I'm f-f-fine," I exhaled, barely audible.

"No," Edward whispered, "You're not."

"It's. Getting. Better now." I lied.

The tortured expression was back on Edward's face.

"I believe the danger to the baby would be minimal if we performed the C-section tonight," Carlisle stated quietly. "For Bella's sake, I would recommend that we act now."

I shook my head slowly back and forth, "Not. . .for my sake. I'm f—"

Edward groaned through his clenched teeth, "Please listen to Carlisle. Just this once." He held my face in his hands, and his smoldering black eyes burned with emotion, melting my resolve.

I tore my eyes away from his face long enough to measure Carlisle's confident expression once more.

"Please, Bella," Edward pressed, intercepting my gaze, "For me."

How could I deny him anything? I drew in a ragged breath and exhaled slowly.

"I'll give you some time to discuss it," Carlisle excused himself, pulling the door closed behind him as he left the room.

The pain was subsiding. "I can do this, Edward," I began in a whisper, "If it's better for the baby, then—"

His expression was blank, lifeless. "No," he said flatly.

"Edward, it's just one day," I breathed.

He appraised me for a long moment, then his dark eyes softened, "You are without a doubt the bravest person I know." I grimaced weakly, and he continued. "But, unfortunately, that doesn't change a thing," he raised his chin slightly, folding his arms across his chest.

I sighed (the effort it required creating a nice effect), and considered his position. I could be reasonable. Carlisle and Edward (and even Rosalie) were confident that the baby would be fine if he were delivered earlier than we'd originally planned. That was the most important consideration to me. So, really, there was no reason to postpone the delivery. Carlisle and Edward were right. It would be taking an unnecessary risk to wait another day.

So this was it, then. My entire world was about to change AGAIN. Two weeks ago, I had become Edward's wife. Now, I was about to become someone's mother. I half-grinned at the sheer improbability of this moment, and Edward eyed me warily.

He was lying beside me now, holding my hand. Waiting, I supposed, for me to come to my senses. The fingers of his free hand traced along the silk of my gown, moving diagonally across my wide stomach and cradling the rounded underside of my belly. His palm pressed tenderly there, and my eyes filled with tears.

I touched Edward's cheek. "What does he think of all this?" I asked softly.

"Shh. I don't know," he whispered. "He seems to be sleeping at the moment."

I muffled a giggle with the back of my hand, but maybe not soon enough. "Really? Well, I guess that makes sense; he's probably worn out, too."

"Hmm. Well, he was sleeping," Edward sighed, rubbing the bottom portion of my stomach, back and forth, "We seem to have woken him." Then he tilted his head and spoke directly to my tummy, "So. . .would you like to meet your mommy tonight?"

Tears overflowed my eyes, and I chuckled once. Edward squeezed my hand.

"You're going to like Mommy," he continued, a small smile playing around the corners of his lips, "She's funny, and beautiful, and talented, and brave," he paused, "Did I mentioned talented? She can laugh and cry at the same time."

"Are you mocking me?" I muttered.

"Oops, I think Mommy's mad," he glanced up at me and winked, then turned back to my stomach.

"I love you already," he breathed and tenderly kissed our baby though my skin. The tears were streaming down my cheeks as he continued, "But I love Mommy, too. And, I don't want anything to happen to her."

I rolled my eyes. Why couldn't he ever play fair?

Edward raised an innocent eyebrow.

"Fine," I sighed, "Daddy wins."

"I win?" he asked, again with the innocence.

"Yes, you win. As if you didn't know you would all along."

He winked and flashed his crooked smile. "Just hedging my bets." Then he added more seriously, "This is all going to work out, Bella. I can feel it."

"Huh. Now that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before?"

Edward laughed.

"Come in, Carlisle," he called.

"What have you decided?" Carlisle asked pleasantly, taking in the lighter atmosphere as he entered the room.

"We're ready," Edward replied.

Carlisle nodded once and smiled reassuringly.

I took Edward's hand in mine. "Okay, then," I agreed, wiping the tears from my eyes, "Let's have a baby."

(See next story in the three-part series: "Hope on the Horizon")