Author's Note: I forgot to say last time that everyone will be human in this story. Sorry about that. A little bit of background: Bella is 17, and she's been living with Charlie for two years. She's never met any the Cullens. I hope you love this chap, because it took a hell of a long time for me to write it. Bon Appetit.


Chapter One

Bella Swan and Mike Newton trudged heavily through the snow.

"Do you know how much longer?" She asked through gritted teeth, trying to keep the annoyance out of her tone. She wasn't even annoyed with him, really—it was more at the fact that she'd gotten herself into this situation in the first place. A bonfire night at La Push had sounded perfectly harmless a week and a half ago. But a week and a half ago, There hadn't been an unholy amount of frozen rain covering the ground.

Mike was huffing quietly beside her, his head bent low against the freezing wind. Now he turned his round, boyish face towards her s, his eyes wide. "Not long," he puffed. "The beach is just through those trees there." He pointed to a small patch of forest ahead, now all covered with white.

"Okay." She shivered enormously, and cursed herself again for not wearing anything warmer than the light jacket she had on now. Mike noticed; Bella saw his eyes flicker sideways at her from under his lashes.

Ugh. She knew that look.

"Sure is cold out here, isn't it?" he asked casually. His hand had already started twitching in her direction.

"Yes," she said flatly.


Bella shifted away half a second before his arm moved to wrap itself around her waist.

Okay, now she was annoyed with him.

Mike was just as predictable as clockwork and his opportunist-tendencies were easily outmaneuvered, but she really wasn't in the mood for this kind of thing. The Let's See Who Can Get Their Hands On Bella First? game that Mike had been playing with Tyler Crowley and Erik Yorkie for the last two years was seriously starting to get on her nerves. This, added to the fact that she couldn't feel her hands and that her body felt like a ton of bricks, put her well on the way to becoming seriously pissed off. Dammit.

"Why don't you take the lead?" she snapped.

Foiled, he muttered, "Yeah. We'll probably be the last ones…I can hear their voices." And in truth, if you got past the wind roaring in your ears, the sound of excited chatter from far off was unmistakable. Mike lengthened his stride—she realized that he had been slowing his pace to accommodate her shorter legs—and quickly disappeared into the trees in front of her.

Bella entered the woods much more slowly than he had, grumbling to herself. Once she raised her head and looked around her, she slowed down even more. She had to admit, a snow-covered forest was pretty. Even in the dark, the sight was less forbidding than exhilarating. It was the kind of place w her e a scene from The Nutcracker belonged, she thought. Sugarplum fairies, and all that.

"Bella?" Mike's voice called.

"Go on ahead," she called back. She was sure that any more one-on-one time with Mike would be a bad idea. The only reason that she'd rode here with him was that he asked her before she had the excuse of a prior arrangement with Angela or Jess.

She was waiting around to give him more of a head start when the strangest sound met her ears.

It was halfway between a gargled cry and the high-pitched shriek that an animal might make. To her, it was the sound of utter panic.

Her feet were stumbling furiously through the forest in the direction of the scream before she had time to rationalize her decision. When you think about it, it really was a stupid thing she was doing. If the cry came from a person, as Bella suspected, then she could be in trouble. If it came from an animal, then she could be in even more trouble. It's difficult to explain why she followed the thing, because afterwards she didn't remember choosing to do so. It was like a magnet just happened to be pulling her in that direction.

There was no secret in Forks of the fact that that Bella Swan was an incredibly clumsy person. Ankle-deep snow only exacerbated that fact.

By the time she had slipped once and tripped twice, she heard the sound again, along with the sound of something crashing through the trees at a dead run. And this time she knew it was a human—a man. She could hear him gibbering and muttering to himself like someone pushed to the brink of insanity. Like someone who was running a race to save his life, and knew he was going to lose.

Someone else might have called, "Stop!" or "Wait!" But she instinctively knew that to stop him would be to kill him. He had to keep running.

Was it a wolf chasing him? A bear? She'd been told of that kind of thing happening in Washington, but she couldn't hear any pursuit.

Bella didn't realize that she had been listening while standing still or that he was coming toward her until it almost too late. With a frightened gasp, she jumped out of the way as a middle-aged man with light brown skin flew past her.

A moment later, everything was quiet. With a terrified curiosity, she followed—cautiously, quietly, with a whole layer of trees between her and the footprints he had made in the snow.

She saw movement in a tiny clearing between the trees, and her hands trembled despite their numbness.

The man who she'd heard screaming lay panting on the ground. He briefly struggled to get up, then fell back with a gasp of pain. She guessed that he had fallen and broken a bone.

All of this she noticed on the periphery. Because no more than three feet from the man on the ground was another man, young, huge, beautiful, obviously strong, and infinitely more dangerous. There was no doubt that this was what Screaming Guy had been running from. And she was seriously debating whet her or not There was a gun in his hand.

Bella was caught between horror and wonder. How could he have overtaken Screaming Guy without making any sound? No one that big could run through a forest undetected. Impossible. It was no wonder Screaming Guy was screaming.

"God, oh God," Screaming Guy whimpered from his place on the ground. His voice was edging towards hysteria again.

A better person, or a braver one, would have thrown themselves in front of him and told the man with the gun to back off. Bella didn't do that.

She watched, in immovable stasis, as the man with the gun aimed his weapon. There was a careless sort of precision in the way he moved; she couldn't place it. Whatever it was, he looked like he meant business.

Desperately, Screaming Guy gasped, "Please—"

The man shot him.

All of her muscles loosened, despite the aching cold, as if this was the exact moment they had chosen for action. Every cell in her body screamed at her to run. She held herself at bay for a moment longer, though, registering what had just happened. It hadn't fully hit her yet.

Screaming Guy was dead. She watched him die, watched his body crumple into darkness like a pathetic broken toy.

"Oh my God," she said, too low for anyone but herself to hear. "Holy shit," she said, testing her words out, almost afraid that no more words could be spoken after such a thing happened.

It was just her luck, though…or maybe more than luck…that the man with the gun tensed at her words as if she'd spoken at normal volume. Bella couldn't see their color or their shape, but she knew that his eyes had already found her. So much for keeping a safe distance.

The man didn't look happy to see her. "Shit," he growled. It was the first thing she'd heard him say, and his voice was gravelly and raw and deep and scary as hell.

He started toward her, and she fully realized as he came closer how very bulky and muscled he was. It was impossible to mistake the danger signs flashing from him.

With a squeak of panic, she scrambled backwards into the snow. Her fingers must have been blue, because she couldn't even feel anything to push off of.

The man actually chuckled. He didn't sound angry at all anymore. She didn't believe it for a minute. "Come on," he said, and then he scooped her up like she weighed nothing, and began walking through the trees.

She screamed.

Yes, she did. Everyone plans exactly what they would do or say in such a situation: everyone plans to be proud and calm and strong. But out of all those people, only a handful understand that in that moment, with adrenaline rushing through you and panic overtaking you, being a coward is nothing in comparison to being dead.

The hand that clamped over her face was so calloused that it was actually smooth. "Don't do that again, honey, or I'm gonna hurt you bad." The man's voice was good natured, but he used such a tone of finality when he said 'hurt you bad' that there was no doubt what he meant.

So Bella clamped her mouth shut, and thought through her options.

Calling for help was obviously a no-go. So were running or fighting; he'd catch her or kill her. Outsmarting him was a more logical option, but in her position it didn't seem very likely. It looked like her best chance of survival was to get him to like her enough to let her live. And that one was shaky at best.

"Damn it," she moaned. She was dead for sure. Might as well say her goodbyes now.

"Yeah," the man carrying her agreed, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. "I didn't plan on you either."

His strides were long, his gait steady. And she had no clue how he did it, but he hardly made any sound as he moved. She couldn't detect his boots crunching into the snow, or the brush of tree branches on his body. Even his breathing was silent, and she could feel his chest rising, so she knew he wasn't holding it in.

The man had Bella out of the forest and back onto the streets of La Push in half the time that she and Mike had taken without carrying anything at all.

The streets were empty. There was no one to notice the oddness of his carrying her instead of letting her walk, or the steely firmness of his grip. He carried her over to a nondescript, average-looking black car with dark-tinted windows. She balked when she saw it; his arms tightened mercilessly around her.

He surprised her by throwing her in the passenger seat instead of the backseat, and then slammed the door shut. The first thing she noticed was that there didn't seem to be locks on the doors. A swell of half-disbelieving hope filled her, as she realized that this could be her last chance to survive. She was just reaching for the door handle when the man climbed into the driver's seat. He immediately pressed a button, and she heard a faint click coming from the inside of all four doors. The swell of hope was replaced with a despairing, sinking feeling.

The man revved the engine, and the car shot forward.

As the car began to exit the street, he pulled a tiny cell phone out of an inside pocket in his heavy black coat. He pushed a speed-dial number and held the phone to his ear, driving all the while with effortless accuracy.

He began, "Hey, Joe? Hey, it's Emmett. Listen, I finally got my guy in La Push—"

There was a brief comment from the other end.

"Yup, finally nagged the bastard," the man—Emmett—replied, completely ignoring the fact that Bella was hyperventilating in the seat next to him. "But hey, I need a favor from you. Something came up, and I couldn't take care of the body. Could you do it? It's in the woods, just north of First Beach."

The voice from the other end sounded annoyed.

Emmett laughed. "Think again, Joe. You owe me."

There was a short answer, and then he flipped the phone shut.

The brightness of the car's headlights gave her a chance to study his face. His features had a slightly boyish cast to them, though he was by no means a child. From his dark curls to his sparkling brown eyes to his perfect round ears, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.

And he had just killed someone. Nagged the bastard, as he'd said.

With that, she found her voice. "Are you g-going to kill me?"

He flashed an impish sideways smile at her, revealing adorable dimples. "Probably," he said.

Her breath caught, and she strove to keep her voice icy and firm. "Well, then you should probably just get it over with." It's not like she'd been big on self-preservation before anyways.

Emmett smiled again, this time his eyes left the road to assess her. "We'll see," he promised.

His easy manner contradicted the threat in his hulking muscles. It was easy to start to warm towards him, before she remembered that he was probably going to kill her.

After that was at least a thirty minutes of horrified silence. Bella had never been a particularly religious person—she'd tolerated the diverse churchgoings and out-there rituals that Renée had participated in at various times. Since Renée's fancy only ever lasted a week or two, she'd always seen religion as a sort of hobby, like kayaking or sculpting. This really didn't help her out, though, seeing as she was about to die without having any idea of what was on the other side.

And how much would it hurt? Would it be quick? Would he use the gun, like he had before? She recalled the image of Screaming Guy sagging into the snow, an oozing bullet hole between his eyes, and almost gagged in revulsion.

Maybe, if he knew what he was doing, he could make it quick for her. She was almost positive that he knew what he was doing.

She broke the long silence by asking, already knowing what his reply would be, "Was that the first time you've killed somebody?"

He barely skipped a beat. "No."

Bella wasn't surprised by his answer. And she thought she had a pretty good idea why he'd killed Screaming Guy. The completely businesslike stance that Emmett had taken while killing him made him look less like a serial killer and more like a trained killer.

She choked on the word assassin. "Are you…are you a…"

"A professional? A hatchet? A hit-man? Oh, yes." He gleamed at her conspirationally. "It's good pay."

He was completely comfortable telling her about his profession. Since he didn't plan on letting her leave him alive, he could tell her his deepest darkest secrets and no one on earth would ever know. This was probably why she wasn't blindfolded or unconscious or something.

Bella wondered what Charlie or Renée would do if they knew that she was trapped in a car with a happy-go-lucky assassin. She wondered if her friends had already started searching the forest for her. Would they find Screaming Guy's body, or would Joe get to it first? And how would Mike Newton feel for the rest of his life, knowing that if he hadn't pulled his move, she might be home and safe?

It really pissed her off that she was going to die. She was scared out of her pants, too, but it made her angry that fate had never had anything very good to give to her. Bella's lot in life had been a family that was disjointed and broken, friends that didn't know her, freakish paleness and klutziness. And she'd only spent seventeen years on this earth. Now she was going to die without ever having gotten the chance to live.

"That's disgusting, you know," she blurted, her anger making her bold and stupid. "Killing innocent people because it's good pay. How does someone like you sleep at night, doing what you do?"

This time, Emmett kept his eyes on the road, and his face was serious. "Walk in my shoes first, baby," he said. "I can hear the judgment. That worthless fuck I shot back there? He was a child-rapist. A child-rapist who had enough money to keep the kids and their families quiet. Don't even consider going to the police. Now, tell me, was he innocent?"

She kept her head down and said nothing. In her mind, she was revising the impression she'd had of Screaming Guy. Given what Emmett had just told her, his last cries for mercy seemed pathetic and cowardly.

"I'm going to sleep with a smile on my face tonight," Emmett continued. "I killed him, and I'm proud of it."

The words sent chills down her spine. Her body shuddered, cringed away from his statement, but she felt a fierce, foreign part of her surging forward in triumph.

"But you're going to kill me," she whispered, fighting back the unknown surge and the panic at the same time. "I've done nothing. Promise."

Emmett turned to face her, his face grave. "If I do, it will be to protect my way of life, and the people I love. I'm not willing to stop because the law says it's not my place to kill. The law isn't always the right thing."

Bella curled further into a ball on the seat, trembling wildly even though her thoughts were steady. So, the hit-man had his own ideas of morality. And he'd just justified her death in three sentences. And part of her thought he was right. Yeah, she was dead for sure.

"But you're not dead for sure," he said, the smile returning to his face as quickly as it had left. He winked at her. "I'll do what I can for you, babydoll. You make no mistake about that."

Though she was pretty sure he was lying, and she'd intended to keep quiet, she couldn't help saying, "Bella. Not Babydoll. Bella."

He flashed his dimples at her again, and she was about to smile back nervously before she realized how crazy she was acting. She should be screaming and fighting for all she was worth—there was no way that she should feel comfortable around her future killer to any degree. Maybe all of the stress was loosening the threads that held her sanity together.

Forty-five more minutes of silence. She counted them on the clock on the dashboard. It seemed like her conversations with Emmett came at spastic intervals.

Bella glanced up through the windshield glass and, with a jolt of shock, recognized the space needle. "Seattle?" she gasped. "You're in Seattle?"

Emmett didn't answer.

She expected him to head straight for the city's uppity side, the side with the insanely expensive restaurants and the theatres and the way-too-high skyscrapers. Instead, he gunned for the trashy end—package complete with cheap factories with graffiti tattooed onto the walls, rundown public schools, and the occasional McDonald's on a street corner.

He slowed down and pulled into the parking lot of a large, plain building with old-looking paint. It was completely ordinary, the kind of building that you would glance at and never think of again. The building reminded her of the mediocre looks of the car Emmett was driving, and she began to notice the pattern: everything was as unobtrusive as possible.

He parked quickly in a line of blue and black cars of varying degrees of beauty. He opened the door for her again, and she didn't fight him when he pulled her into his bulky arms, deciding that her life might hinge on a certain amount of compliance.

Emmett's grip was no looser than it had been before the car drive. His cheerful nonchalance gone, he was completely business again. He carried her to the entrance, then dangled her with one arm as he took out what looked like a golden credit card and quickly slid it into a small slot next to the doors. A green light flashed, and the doors slid open like the motion-detecting ones Bella had seen in the front of grocery stores.

Once they were inside and she had the chance to look around, she froze in confusion. In front of her was the a-typical work office. Cubicles with desks, computers, and stacked files were placed in orderly lines across the room. The room was empty.

Emmett didn't pause. In silence, he strode across the harmless room and approached another closed door. On the wall next to the door was some kind of pad; he pressed his first finger against it and she watched in awe as the door slid open to grant him access. It opened to a small room with two elevators.

Despite herself, Bella started to cry. There was just something so final and irrevocable about the sight of those elevators that she couldn't help herself. The reality, which had been slowly seeping in since Screaming Guy had died, now hit her fully. There was no one to help her, despite Emmett's assurances. She was going to be dead. No one would ever find her body, and Charlie and Renée…

A harsh slap across her face stung her into silence.

Emmett didn't even say anything, only sent her a pointed look that said, If you don't stop crying in five seconds, you're going to die. He got into the elevator with her still in his arms. He hadn't put her down yet, but he was still toting her 100-plus pound weight around like he didn't even notice.

The buttons on the elevator wall were numbered one through five. He pushed number five, and rumbled in her ear, "Don't say anything once we get up there. Not one word."

"Ok-kay," she stuttered pathetically.

It didn't take long for the elevator to pull to a stop. The doors parted to reveal a room a little smaller than the first one she'd seen. The walls were lined from floor to ceiling with closed, dangerous looking cabinets. In the middle of the space there was a long table with no chairs, but four comfy-looking sofas faced eachother at the end of the room. This room wasn't empty—there were half a dozen people lounging on the couches and murmuring amongst themselves. She could see other hallways branching out from the room.

A few people got up when they saw them enter, and a gorgeous blonde woman came straight toward them while reaching for her belt, her eyes locked on Bella.

"Don't, Rosalie," Emmett ordered. The woman paused, a straight dagger clenched between her long fingers. Bella jerked back in Emmett's arms with a gasp of panic.

"What is this?" Rosalie hissed, her prefect face twisting with fury. "What the hell are you doing? Did she see something?"

Despite the fact that the woman obviously wanted her to disappear, Bella couldn't help but stare at her in fascination. The woman's hair fell around her face in rippling golden waves, and her body was tight and muscled in a way that Bella's softness could never compete with. And she held the long knife like she knew exactly how to use it.

The others in the room all had their gazes locked on Bella, their eyes flat. Emmett nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Rosalie cut him off. "Are you insane? Why isn't she dead? If Aro or Carlisle—"

"I'm gonna give her a chance," Emmett said. "She might have potential."

Everyone relaxed back into their cushions, but Rosalie looked at her dubiously.

"This little thing?" Rosalie looked her up and down, calculating. Then she laughed coldly. "She wouldn't even be able to pull the trigger."

Emmett replied, his voice gentler than before, "You weren't such a seasoned warrior when I taught you, Rose."

Rosalie's face softened slightly, and she shrugged, playing with her dagger absentmindedly. "Train her or kill her, I don't care. My next hit's in Florida, so I'll probably be gone for a week. Make sure this is taken care of by the time I get back. You know how Carlisle is." She reached up and ran her non-daggered hand over Emmett's dark curls briefly, and then passed him to enter the elevator behind them.

Bella exhaled loudly, not bothering to hide her relief. At the least, she could count on a few more minutes of life. Rosalie's dagger had said otherwise.

"Emmett." A man with ruddy skin and shoulder-length black hair spoke up from the couch. "You taking her to the attic?"

Emmett grinned at him.

The man sighed. "I hope you know what you're doing."

Emmett rolled his eyes. "Don't be insulting," he said. He shifted his grip on Bella and started moving again. He walked them past the sofas and through one of the hallways. The hallway led to an ominous looking staircase. It looked a little more like what Bella had initially expected.

Bella stiffened, and then paused as she remembered something that the blonde woman, Rosalie, had said: Train her or kill her.

"So, what did that mean?" she asked out loud. "Join or die, is that the deal?"

He was already halfway up the staircase when he answered, "Yeah. That's the deal. If you have the guts, that is."

Once again, as he climbed the last of the stairs, Bella considered her options. The way she saw it, there were three of them, but only two were feasible. Option One: Get Emmett to put her down, run like hell, and hope that the people on the couches didn't kill her before she got into the elevator. That was the unfeasible one. Option Two, only a little less impossible than Option One: Survive whatever training Emmett had to throw at her, and join his merry band of assassins. Option Three, the most likely of all: Die.

The room they arrived in was empty of people and any kind of furniture. There was the same finger-scanning pad on the wall, but Bella was surprised when Emmett also entered a seven-digit code into the keypad next to it. These guys were definitely high on security. She couldn't really blame them when she considered what was probably going on in this building on a daily basis.

A few moments later, a trapdoor opened in the ceiling directly above them, and a rope ladder slid down to plant itself in two indentations on the floor that she hadn't noticed before. Emmett loosened his grip and let her stand on her own feet. Finally, she thought, but her relief was short-lived. Behind her, she heard the cocking of a gun, and immediately felt the merciless cold of steel pressed against the back of her head.


"Climb, Bella."

She scrambled to obey, fighting back the whimper of panic that threatened to escape her. I can't be a coward, she told herself over and over. Not only for her survival, but also for her own sense of pride. Charlie would want to see her with her head high.

When she got to the top, Emmett pushed her into the space. He pulled himself up after her, replaced his gun, and nudged a button on the floor next to the top ladder rung. At once, the rope ladder slid back up again, and the trapdoor closed behind them. It made sense that Emmett had put his gun back, because there was nowhere for her to run.

This room was the most impressive of all. It was a huge space, larger than the fake work-office or the room with the couches. And since most of the cabinets in this room were open, it was easy to guess what had been in the ones in the last room. In this wide space every kind of gun or blade that she could ever think of was arrayed to perfection, along with what looked like small explosive devises. Bulletproof vests and pants were ironically racked right next to alphabetized stacks of bullets. At the far end of the room, there were punching bags along with machines, some which she recognized from gyms she'd seen in Phoenix and some that she couldn't place at all. There was a target-range in the far left hand corner of the room.

Bella paused, drinking the sight in and wondering what kind of money a person must have to fund such equipment. How much did it cost to give an assassin unlimited resources? Then she noticed a deep concrete dome next to the boxing bags. She didn't understand what its purpose was.

"What's that?" she asked, pointing to it.

"It's where we're going. Come on," Emmett answered. He half-dragged her across the open space—it was dark, only the moonlight filtering in through a skylight allowed her to see anything—and set her to a stop right at the edge. Further inspection wasn't helpful in telling her what the dome was for. The only thing she gathered was that it was deep enough that once someone got in, it would be extremely difficult to get out. A sort of fearful suspicion began to dawn on her.

"Get in," Emmett ordered bluntly. When Bella hesitated, he shoved her.

She landed heavily on the concrete surface, and moaned from the pain of her fall. Emmett slid down gracefully, stopping and planting his feet at the precise center of the dome. "Up," he said.

"Just one second, please," Bella gasped, nursing her leg.

Emmett aimed a kick at her spread-eagled form. When she cried out, he kicked her again, harder.

"Stop! No, stop it, please, please!" She begged, cringing against the cold concrete, hearing how pathetic she sounded and hating it.

He heard it, too. He cocked his head and looked down at her with sincerity in his eyes. "Aw, honey, don't make me kill you."

His words barely even registered in Bella's ears; she was still recovering from the blinding shock of pain. "You'd hit a girl?" she gasped out. It really was a stupid question, since he'd threatened her with death several times, but she'd never been hit by a boy. Ever. To tell the truth, she didn't have much of a history with pain in general. She hadn't even broken a bone—it looked like that was about to change shortly.

In response, he threw a punch at her jaw. She let out a hoarse cry as she felt his fist colliding with her bone.

"You're insulting your sex by even asking me that. A girl can take a hit just as easy as a guy can," Emmett said. He knelt down and punched her in the stomach. Bella couldn't even scream, there was no air in her lungs, there was no strength in her body. But she also felt anger rising in her at his words.

"Do you get off on stuff like this, you bastard? Hurting people just because they're weaker than you are?" She held back a dry sob.

Emmett got up, smiling, and kicked her shin. "Oh, so you can talk dirty," he mocked. But then, from her fetal position on the ground, Bella saw his smile drop and his face turn solemn. He knelt down again, but this time he didn't punch her. He reached around for the back of her neck so he could pull her face closer to his, so she could meet his eyes.

"I told you I'd try to help you, and I am," he said with conviction. "Yes, I'm hitting you. Yes, I'm hitting you and I'm going to keep hitting you because if I don't hit you, you'll never learn how to hit back. If I just sat here and had a conversation with you or some shit, then you'd be worthless. You'd never learn to throw a decent punch or how to aim a forty-five. So, you see?" He punched her face, slamming her head back into the concrete. "I'm helping you. I'm teaching you to survive."

"Oh, God," Bella groaned, fighting the dizziness and the weakness and the black haze over her eyes. She tried to focus her gaze on Emmett's face. "I can throw a punch," she assured him. "I'd love to break your face right now."

He chuckled deep in his throat, and shook his head. "You've got to learn to take a decent hit before you can give one. That's just the way it is. And I know you hate me now, but you won't. By the time you are good enough to break my face, you'll love me, I promise. I'm a pretty likable guy."

She believed him—she remembered thinking herself crazy for feeling comfortable around him in the car. But she shook her head, whispering, "I can't."

"Sure you can, kid," Emmett said easily. "What have you been doing for the past five minutes?"

"That's not what I mean," Bella said quietly. "I mean that I can't kill people for a living, I just can't. It doesn't matter whether they're good guys or bad guys. I don't think I can do it."

Emmett continued raining blows on her automatically while he thought for a minute. Everything was quiet save the sound of her groans and whimpers.

"It gets easier after a while," he finally said. "You get used to it. You just have to keep in mind the good that you're doing, the people you're saving. Like the man I killed in front of you…because I chose to take that hit, every kid in the world is safe from him. The choices we make have a big impact on the world. We try to make sure it's a good impact."

"By killing people?" she protested.

"Yeah," he affirmed, slamming his fist into her right shoulder. "But I understand why you wouldn't want this life. It's not for the faint of heart or the excessively moral. And you do have a choice. But personally, I think it's a lot more fun than being dead. That's why I didn't just shoot you when I saw you in the woods. You don't want to throw your life away at—what are you? Sixteen?"

"Seventeen," she whispered through frozen lips, her voice sounding dull and mindless. Which was funny, because she was thinking, possibly harder than she'd ever thought before in her life.

"The ripe old age of seventeen," Emmett commented, his voice challenging. "So what'll it be, Bella? Would you rather die than commit a lifetime of sin? Or do you have the stomach to survive it?"

Believe it or not, this wasn't an easy decision for her. Her mind felt the full weight of the thousands of people she would kill, the cost of so many lives stolen, no matter how evil her targets were. In a lot of ways, it would be better for the world if Bella just told Emmett to shoot her. But she also saw the good that would come of her actions, and the innocent lives that she could shelter by choosing, like Emmett had. By making her own choice.

So Bella disregarded the voices of conventional morality that swirled around in her head. She ignored the choice that everyone dear to her in this world would have her make. She searched for the fierce, foreign part of herself that she had sensed back in Emmett's car. As she embraced that side of herself completely, she felt the Bella that she had known all her life, Old Bella, slip away from her and drift up through the skylight. New Bella had the reigns now. And New Bella wasn't a girl who would ever lie in a broken, crumpled heap on the floor.

Fighting the pain and the heavy weakness in her body, Bella uncurled herself and slowly rose to her feet. She looked Emmett straight in the eye.

"You can go ahead and hit me again," she offered. "I'm ready."

Emmett smiled approvingly at her. "Welcome to the family, baby," he said, and threw his fist straight for her face.