It was below freezing outside and bitterly cold by anyone's standards. Even his, though the bite and chill of the wintery wind could hardly chill his own blood. Regardless, he would have taken that frost upon himself if it could have saved Bella from the torment. The tent billowed around them angrily, whipping as if it was threatening to tear the poles from the frozen ground and sail off into the night like a phantom. Edward kept himself carefully tucked into the farthest corner of the tent and hoped that it chose to stick around. As cold as it was, Bella would be that much more worse off if her only shelter fled.

Guilt twisted up his spine as he watched Bella shivering inside the meager sleeping bag. He could only seem to blame himself for their current predicament, and it was only that much worse that he could do nothing to alleviate Bella's suffering. His body temperature was too cold to be of significant use, and, if he caved to the gnawing desire to bundle her into his arms and protect her, he risked the possibility of killing her faster, adding his own cold body to the already frigid atmosphere.

When Bella stammered a question pondering the time in his direction, he was glad that the corner he claimed refuge in was dark enough to shield his eyes from her. They darkened with his anxiety, mixed dangerously with his pain of helplessness. He paused for only a second, trying to stifle that same emotion from seeping into his voice.

"Two." He hoped Bella wasn't being as overly observant of him as usual and had missed the slip in his guarded tone.

The time was irrelevant. What did it matter? It was best to ignore it. It was the only way to keep sane. The more time that ticked by, the colder Bella—his Bella—was becoming. Time had always been so fickle to him before, and such a cruel tormentor now. How much did he have left before he was forced into drastic measures to keep Bella's heart beating, to keep that lovely scent flowing through her fragile veins?

Anxious, he started to suggest one such foolish idea, but Bella quickly waved him off, and he didn't have the energy or the conviction to try to persuade her again. What was the use? He'd most likely only make her worse by carrying her through the forest in his own icy arms. Immortality had never boded so positively ill with him before now, despite the other instantances in his long life that he'd abhored it. It was now keeping him from saving Bella's life, one that was so much more important than his own.

"What can I do?" Edward wondered aloud, that same, anxious fear sneaking slyly into his tone.

It was so hard to stifle considering how desperate he felt. Had he ever been this helpless before? Edward's spine stiffened a little as Jacob released a pitiful whine outside the tent, explaining that his feelings were no less tormented than his. Edward tried not to frown. The wolf would never understand his feelings for Bella, and they would never be on equal grounds as far as their love for her. His own ascended time itself. His own kept him with Bella despite everything that had told him it would be better for her if he didn't.

Perhaps he should have listened to it.

He nearly sighed when Bella voiced more concern for Jacob than herself. Just like Bella. He'd never met a human that was so selfless before her. He'd never met anyone quite like her. He tried his best to satisfy her anxiety by translating Jacob's thoughts in so many words, carefully leaving out the entirety of what he was thinking, as it made him grind his teeth together despite his better intentions.

He wished she'd save her energy, but Bella persisted in trying to speak, though whatever she attempted next was unintelligible. Edward felt that same guilt winding its way thickly through his chest. He swallowed the fear the best he could as Jacob began to whine again, and turned it instead to annoyance with the mutt. His own nerves could barely tolerate Jacob's nagging thoughts and worries, or the way the dog sneered at him for his apparent lack of effort. The wolf had no idea what he would have done had there been any way he could have done anything at all.

Irritable, Edward snapped at him, losing himself to the barely bridled anger long enough to end his sentence with the arrogant question of, "Why don't you go fetch a space heater or something?"

Instead of disappearing as he'd hoped he would, however, Jacob released a loud, grating howl, and Edward scowled darkly as the wolf's thoughts slid through his own mind. Had circumstances been different, he would have greatly enjoyed knocking the mutt soundly back out of the tent as Jacob stepped inside in his human form once again. It was only too bad that he'd molded himself into a civil vampire with morals.

Though he would have thrown all of that out the window here and now as he read Jacob's disgusting thoughts, considering wiping that mind of his clean had it not been for Bella's presence in the tent. However, even his best judgment was clouded as Jacob began to act out his thoughts and slide into Bella's sleeping bag.

For a moment, he could only see red. He was across the tent before he could comprehend that he'd moved at all, one hand snapping down hard onto Jacob's massive shoulder. The heat of the werewolf's skin against his palm was strange and uncomfortable, not like Bella's heat, but Edward kept his hand firmly clamped onto Jacob, barely restraining the urge to dig his fingers into the mutt's flesh and harm him. Bella would not have been pleased had he done that. Perhaps her desires were the only thing that kept him from murdering Jacob Black where he stood right now. It was entirely possible considering his mind had already filled with gruesome images of doing just that.

"Keep your hands off of her," Edward ordered, his tone dangerously close to murderous.

He wasn't certain if it was Bella's weak plea to avoid a fight or Jacob's annoyingly accurate remark about the possibility of Bella's toes falling off, but, whatever it was, Edward let his hand drop reluctantly, and he slid back into his corner, angry and pained that he couldn't do as Jacob did now and save Bella's life.

"Watch yourself."

His teeth ground together as Jacob responded with a chuckle. Insolent mutt. Idiot child. Edward wanted to growl, but he restrained the savage, primitive response with what tiny strand of control he still clasped stubbornly in his hands. Though it was hard to withold that, as well as several other dangerous responses as Jacob made himself at home inside of Bella's tent, taking far too much pleasure out of something that should have been innocent.

Over the next short span of time, it hardly got any better. As Bella drifted toward an exhausted slumber, Jacob's mind filled with inappropriate fantasies that made Edward consider ripping him out of the sleeping bag and tossing him out head first, and then promptly following him outside and finishing the job while Bella slept. In the morning, he could explain away Jacob's absence with some fool excuse and be rid of the pest indefinitely.

Edward's fingers curled into his palms, forming solid, marble fists, as he tried to remember his own restraint as Jacob began to carefully crawl under his skin. As if he was oblivious to how close he was to being torn apart by a vampire, Jacob continued to taunt and tease him with rude questions and annoyingly vivid mental pictures. It was going to be a long night, and if he escaped it without taking a swipe at Jacob Black, the sun would rise in the morning to a true miracle.