Author's Note: I just wanted to thank everyone who wrote me a private message or a review. Of course, I haven't forgotten about this story. It's haunted too many of my waking and unconscious dreams for me to not see it through to the end.

Just so you know, and can plan accordingly, this is an epic chapter, as my husband has taken to calling it. He might not be wrong about that, either, as it weighs in at a whopping 38,000+ words. I have absolutely no idea how long it would take to read, considering I'm in too much of a hurry to post to read it all from beginning to end. I'm guessing hours?

I apologize again for the the long time between posts, it's at six or seven weeks, now. Between moving and the summer, the world not occupied by werewolves and vampires has been stressful. But, I've set up a new place to write here in our new apartment, and it seems to be working for me. It only took me eight days to write this, which seems incredible to me now, on this side of it, but felt completely natural to me at the time. I'm not sure if it's the new digs or just the amazingly interesting place we're at in the story that has been my inspiration. I hope it doesn't fail me for next week's update, though. I doubt it will as I am itching to try my hand at Book Two. You can address any thank you's to my husband who would yell at me to keep writing if he saw me lazily puttering around because he, too, was impatient to find out what would happened to Jacob and Renesmee next.

It took me a week of non-writing for me to figure out why I couldn't seem to start this part when I realized...we have reached the end of Book One. The length, I think, is due largely to the need to wrap up loose ends and set up new threads. It takes place within five days, from beginning to end, but covers so much ground that I hope it's not exhausting to keep up. Book Two will continue along under the same story, so there's no need to go looking for another one on my profile. When I first imagined the end of the first book, the ultimate ending was the same, but how we actually get there compared to how I thought we would, couldn't be any more different.

I sincerely hope you like it.

Stephenie Meyer: Your books, out-takes, and extras have become somewhat of reference works to me since I've started writing this story. Every time I go back to reread a scene or fact-check a point, however, I find that an hour and a half has gone by and I have completely forgotten why I needed to pick up the book in the first place. It is truly a testament to the characters, plots, and sub-plots you've created and fully own that so many of us want to stay in your world a little bit longer, even if it means reading and writing what can only, very generously, be considered inferior works when compared to your originals. Thank you, again.


***
So we've been selected in this beautiful lottery.
...
It's starting to surface, all golden and god-like,
this feeling we had every day and every night.
It b
ursts in an energy. A door it is opening.

--Bright Eyes
Blue Angels Air Show
***

I woke up at four in the morning on the day of my high school graduation and couldn't go back to sleep. Nessie was still asleep at my side. After a raw dinner from our night hunt, I had ended up dozing off in bed with the TV on until she had climbed in beside me around one. Her aunts had kept her up trying on outfits for today. I rolled over, checking the time and realized I still had a few hours before I had to be at school. They were making us go through a rehearsal at eight and, in an attempt to make sure everyone showed up, they were holding our maroon vinyl robes as collateral. Little did they know that this was no threat for me. When I had told Alice that I would be getting my gown hours before the ceremony, she had thrown a fit. Apparently, she had wanted the robe dry-cleaned before I wore it. So, she had taken the order form the school had given me that I had dutifully written my height on and had called the company. Two weeks ago, they shipped a maroon robe that would match my classmates', except mine wouldn't smell like the plastic it came wrapped in. The one I would get in a few hours would probably stay in its packaging forever.

I took the opportunity to watch Nessie sleep. I could no longer spy on her dreams, now that she had her shield, but it was still nice to just take her in when she was completely relaxed and vulnerable. Such a large part of imprinting is becoming our imprints' protectors and I don't get to feel that way a lot towards Nessie. She still practices with her fighting and with her powers and she's getting stronger and stronger in both. Aside from that, she lives a pretty sheltered existence within the four walls of the house and the few miles of woods where she hunts and runs. It placates my ego that when she's asleep and defenseless, it's my neck she's clinging to, it's my arm she's under, it's my pillow she's sharing. I picked her up as gently as I could and placed her on my chest, tucking her head underneath my chin and holding her to me. I remembered how the rise and fall of my chest, my heat, and my heartbeat used to lull her when she was little. I've always loved that I was much more comfortable than that the cold, hard bodies of her family and that she always fell asleep fastest when I held her.

I listened to her breathing and thought about the night and all that I had planned. I wasn't nervous about graduation, I was nervous about the party afterwards. I had talked to Alice after Spring Break about my money, this time a little more prepared for the number she quoted me. I admit, I had still picked her up and twirled her in the air a few times, though. I had a couple of graduation surprises that I wanted to finance and she had helped me with them. This time, when I walked into the packs' house, I would be carrying a flat-screen and an Xbox. I was planning on getting a Wii, too, but Emmett told me that they don't work well with our speed and strength. So, after Nessie introduced me to the wonders of online shopping, I ordered the console, two dozen games, the DVD remote, memory cards, and tons of extra controllers and had it all shipped to the mansion in Forks.

I had also decided to take my Rabbit back to La Push. I hadn't given Sam and Emily a wedding gift and I figured they would need it to get back and forth from Seattle. A few months ago, I had realized the waste of having an extra car just taking up space in the garage. At first, I had thought of giving it to Embry so that he could take Brianna out, or at least see her more often. I know he has a dirt bike, even though I haven't seen it in a while and don't really know what condition it's in, but he wouldn't make it up to the Makah rez on it. Then, I had thought of Quil. He could use transportation up to Neah Bay just as much as Embry. As a compromise, I had thought of "donating" it to the packs' house, so that whoever wanted to use it, could. But then, I had remembered about Sam and Emily. I knew that they could get people to move them in, but they would be stuck in the city once they were there and I knew that they would both hate not seeing everyone back at home. Besides, the wolves could pretty much run wherever they needed to go. I had spent a few weeks and two hundred dollars tracking down and installing better parts for some things that probably should've been upgraded at the time, but I hadn't had the money. I had talked to Carlisle about it and had made sure that they would have somewhere to park it at their place in the city, he also helped me make arrangements for it to be shipped back to La Push tomorrow morning before we flew back, ourselves.

My biggest surprise was in the form of a check made out to Carlisle, a complete reimbursement of every month's allowance, including June's. I had it in an envelope in my Wolf Pack. Alice had transferred some of my money into the account he and Edward had set up for me in August and kept the rest in my investments. I was financially solvent and I wanted to repay Carlisle for the start he had given me in the only way I could. In the fall, I would start making my own money, though I wouldn't complain when Alice kept making more for me, and I was relishing in my independence. As I lay there, with Nessie dozing on top of me, I thought of everything I wanted to tell Carlisle at my party tonight when I gave him the check.

An hour later, Nessie woke up. She looked surprised to find herself sprawled out on top of me. "Hey, you." She just looked up at me and smiled before plopping her head back down. She didn't move off of me and I hoped that meant that she didn't want out of my arms anymore than I wanted her out of them. "You want to watch some TV? It's still early." She shook her head against me and sent me an image of the time. She was questioning why I was up. Though she spoke more now than ever, she was not a morning person and it wasn't abnormal for her to stay mute the first hour or so after she woke up. No one ever really noticed, because she usually didn't go down to see the family until I did, a few hours later. "Couldn't sleep anymore. Plus, I was napping while you and your aunts were playing dress-up last night." She growled, softly. She and Alice hated when I called it "playing dress-up" because they had said that it was serious work and that I was "trivializing the effort that went into it." Or, at least, Alice had, Nessie had just nodded seriously beside her. They had both had their arms crossed over their chests and when I had laughed, I had gotten kicked out of Nessie's room.

I laughed and she growled, again. I decided to make it up to her. "Wanna pick out what I'm wearing under the robe?" Silence. "I'll even let you pick out what I wear to the rehearsal." She shrugged and I laughed. I held her to me and got off the bed. She sighed and wrapped her legs around my torso. Hmm. Maybe she was just afraid she'd have to get off of me. I smiled as I walked us into the closet. I didn't turn on the light because neither of us needed it and I didn't think Nessie would have appreciated it that soon after waking up.

"Am I wearing a suit?" I walked over to the garment bags they hung in. She shook her head and showed me taking the pants out of the bag, but not the jacket. "Which ones?" She lifted her head and looked back and forth at them. Without answering me, she turned her head and looked at my dress shirts and the tie I had hanging on the door. Alice had bought me the tie as soon as she had seen my robe. It was maroon with alternating white and gray stripes. Finally, she showed me the gray dress pants, a dress shirt in the same color, and the tie. "Gray, huh?" She nodded. "But shouldn't I wear a white-collared shirt?" She raised her head up at me and glared. "Okay, I was just asking!" I walked over to the suits. "Hold on." Her grip on me tightened and my hands were free to unzip the bag and take out the pants. Then, I pulled the shirt and its hanger off the rack and hung them both on the hook beside the tie on the door.

I had to fight her on the maroon polo and light khaki pants she wanted me to wear to the rehearsal. "Nessie, I'm not going to wear the school colors. I'll look like a dork. Besides, I'm thinking of riding my bike over there and these pants would get filthy." She compromised with a white polo and dark jean shorts. I rolled my eyes when she picked out a white top, the other school color, but didn't complain.

When we got back into my room the sun was coming up. I sat us on the edge of the bed and my stomach growled. She giggled. You think she'd be used to that by now. "You're just jealous because your stomach never does." She leaned back so I could see her rolling her eyes at me. "Whatever. I'm going to go shower." I stood up and tossed her in the air. She could have spun and landed on her feet, but she fell to the bed on her back, bouncing and giggling.

By the time I got downstairs, Esme and Nessie were finishing up with my breakfast. I kissed each of them on the cheek and made my way over to get the orange juice out of the fridge. My newest report card was under a La Push souvenir magnet that Nessie had made me buy her during Spring Break. Embry was working in the store at the time and had rolled his eyes at me when Nessie had plopped it down on the counter with a grin. I turned to Esme. "My report card came yesterday?" She nodded, grinning, and I turned back. A...A...A...A...A. No shit! I got straight-A's?

Esme came over and gave me a hug. "Carlisle and I are so proud of you!"

I stared at the report card, again. I got straight-A's? I hadn't gotten straight-A's since the third grade. How? Nessie. She had a big grin on her camera-hidden face. Probably the same one I had on mine. I guess I would find out when I saw the picture she had just taken. I held out my arms and she put down her camera to jump into them.

"Congratulations, Jacob!"

I buried my head in her hair. "Thanks, Nessie. I couldn't've done it without you."

I slowly became aware of everyone else in the kitchen. I got hugs from Bella, Alice, and even Carlisle while Edward, Jasper, and Emmett slapped me on the back and shook my hand. Blondie wasn't around, but I wasn't hurt about it. Everyone congratulated me and told me how proud they were. As quickly as they had come in, they were all gone and I finished my breakfast. Nessie began flitting around, taking pictures of my report card and me and my plate while I ate. I smiled as she snapped on a new lens and began taking the same shots over again. I thought back to the night about a week ago when this new hobby of hers had begun.

Nessie and I had been eating our dinner at the dining room table while Edward speed-washed the dirty dishes in the kitchen. Alice had just finished the most recent photo album and Nessie decided that she wanted to look through all of them. We'd been sitting next to each other, sharing her earliest album while Bella and Alice and Rosalie and Esme sat across from us, paging through the other two. We had sat in companionable silence, looking over proof of Nessie's aging and the rest of our unchanging faces. It had been a nice break from the non-stop finals cram schedule that Nessie had had me on all week.

Nessie had pet the image of my face through the clear plastic with a lopsided grin as I stuffed my face and tried not to get anything on the book. "Your hair was so long." I hadn't been holding her in the photo, in fact, I was pretty close to being cut out of the shot. I'd remembered when the picture was taken, back before the threat of the Volturi, when the imprinting compulsion was still new. It was around the time she started walking and I was always following a few steps behind, careful not to get her sick of me, careful not to step on Bella and Edward's toes. My old point-of-view had seemed ridiculous to me as I sat in the midst of my new normal.

"That reminds me, Jacob." I had looked over the table at Alice. "You need a trim before graduation." She'd looked thoughtful. "I'm thinking of giving you a new look for the summer." I hadn't bothered saying anything, I just nodded. Alice was going to do with my hair whatever the hell she wanted to do with my hair.

I had watched my hair grow longer and longer as Nessie flipped the pages of the book, stopping every few minutes to put another bite in her mouth. I had mused that Nessie's hair seemed to stay the same length. As it continued to grow, so did her torso, so that her hair always hit the top of her lower back. I had been trying and failing not to notice the hard look our faces had taken on as the end of the year approached when Edward joined us at the table. He stood behind his wife and smiled at the Nessies frozen in time.

"Daddy?" She'd called around a mouthful of food. Bella had quickly scolded her daughter, telling her that she shouldn't speak with her mouth full. Edward and I had had a hard time keeping our amusement off of our faces. We'd known that she would sense it from us, anyway. What was usually a disgusting habit, Nessie somehow managed to make look endearing. She had made a show of swallowing as she looked at her mother. Bella had given her a hard look and Edward had directed his daughter's attention back at him to keep the peace. Nessie had smiled widely and asked, "Can I have a camera?"

Bella had suddenly lifted her head, letting out an "oh," and streaked out the kitchen door. I would have wondered where she'd gone, but it had taken me a second to realize why I was taken aback by Nessie's request...I had never heard her ask for anything. Sure, there were small things here and there, but mostly she asked for permission: to hunt or go for a run with me, to borrow a book from Carlisle's library, or to ride our bikes up and down the driveway. Never, though, had I heard her ask for something...expensive. I had understood immediately, though, that she had really never had to. Edward had set up accounts for her online to buy books and DVDs from Amazon and music from iTunes. Hell, she even had half a dozen credit cards to the clothing stores and department stores that she ordered from the most often. And that's when it had really hit me, the real reason that she had never truly had had to ask for anything...Edward had always been able to know what she wanted the second she had remotely entertained the idea.

Bella had returned to the table with a triumphant grin on her face. "Here, Nessie. I'm glad I kept this." She'd placed an old, black camera on the table in front of her daughter. Nessie had looked around the table before picking it up. Rosalie and Esme had had their eyes fixed on the pictures in between them and Alice had shook her head with a small smile. Edward had allowed himself to have a huge smirk on his face because Bella couldn't see him and he leaned down to kiss the top of his wife's head.

Nessie had already started turning it over in her hands. I hadn't understood Edward or Alice's reaction, so I went back to my food. I lifted my head when I heard Nessie ask, "Where's the screen?" Alice had let out a giggle while Bella just looked confused. "And what's this?" She had found the latch to open up the back flap.

"That's for this film, honey." I had taken it from her hands. "See?" I had pointed out the rounded indent on one side of the opening. "The roll goes here and then the end of the film strip gets tucked in on the other side." I had closed the back and turned it over in my hands. "Cool. You don't even have to rewind it manually with this one. There's a flash, too. No zoom, though. Oh well." I had looked directly across from me at Bella. "Was this your camera? I don't remember you ever taking pictures."

Bella had smiled broadly at me. "Charlie gave it to me..." her smile had faded a little "...for one of my birthdays." I had been able to tell by the change in expression exactly which birthday it had been. I nodded, understandingly.

Nessie had taken the camera from my hands. "Film? Do they even sell film for cameras anymore?"

Alice, Rosalie, and Edward all had had matching smirks on their faces, while Bella just looked put-out. "Of course they do. Besides," she had stuck out her chin a little as she folder her arms across her chest, "it's easier to develop film than to try and get prints of digital pictures."

That had been when I finally understood the joke I had been left out of. They were all such freaking snobs. "It's a good camera, Nessie." That had earned me a death stare and I knew that I had defended the wrong girl, so I went back to my food. The next day, Edward had come home with a five-thousand dollar digital Nikon along with extra lenses, rechargeable batteries, memory cards, and ten books on cameras and photography.

I finished my breakfast and put my dishes in the sink. Nessie felt the need to document this, too, just as she had felt the need to take pictures of everything, no matter how boring, that had happened to her since she got the thing. If she had been more awake when we were picking out my clothes earlier, I have no doubt that her camera would have been in her hand. "What do you even do with all these pictures, Nessie?"

She shrugged. "My dad," she didn't called him "Daddy" when she was talking to me, "bought me some pretty good photo editing software that I've been playing with. Yesterday he bought me a really nice printer and some photo paper, too."

I shook my head. "No, I mean, what are you going to do with ten pictures of my half-eaten breakfast?"

"Well, I won't delete them, if that's what you're asking."

"Why not?"

She shrugged. "I haven't needed to, yet."

"Those memory cards aren't full yet?"

She nodded. "Oh, I've filled each of them a couple of times, but my Dad got my an external hard drive and that's nowhere near being full, so..."

"What's an external hard drive?"

"It's just more memory for your computer, but it's self-contained and it's portable."

"And what happens when you fill that one up? Will you start deleting, then?"

"No." She looked offended. "I'll probably just get another one." I shook my head. Figures. "Come outside with me, I want to take pictures of the front of the house in the morning." She left the kitchen without bothering to see if I'd follow her or not. Because, really, what were the odds that I wouldn't?

As soon as we stepped out the front door I could smell fresh tracks from every Cullen leading towards the garage. "What's going on?" She was looking towards the garage, too, but I couldn't see her face. She shrugged and started walking towards the rest of her family. When I was finally able to see in, I couldn't believe it.

The prettiest motorcycle I had ever seen was sitting off to the side in the garage, a big red bow tied under its dash. "Congratulations, Jacob!" The Cullens chorused and echoed around me. I was shocked. It was obvious from its shape that it was a sports bike, but it wasn't until I got closer that I realized what they had done.

"You guys didn't!" The men grinned at me. I'll take that as a yes. I was the proud owner of what was, arguably, the nicest bike on the planet. "Ducati's Desmosedici? The street-legal one?" I hadn't recognized it at first because it was black. "I thought she only came in red."

"We wanted you to be color-coordinated." When Emmett snorted, Alice turned to glare at him. "Fine. I wanted you to be color-coordinated." She grinned and held out a white box with a maroon ribbon tied in a huge, elaborate bow. Nessie jumped in front of me, snapping away pictures of my face, my bike, the box in Alice's hands. I took it and set it on the seat of the bike so I could open it. I worked the ribbon off the box and threw it so it went around Nessie's head and landed like a necklace. She giggled. Under the mounds of maroon tissue paper was a pure black racing suit.

"You guys!" I didn't even know what to say. Then I realized I hadn't thanked them, yet. "Thank you!"

Carlisle stepped forward and gripped the top of my arm. "You've earned it, Jacob. Two months ago, Alice got a vision of Esme posting your report card. We ordered this the next day. We're very proud of you, son, and everything you've accomplished. Never forget that."

His words meant a lot and I was even more determined to give him his surprise tonight at dinner. Edward cocked his head to the side and I stopped thinking about it. "Thanks, Carlisle. Thanks, everyone." I pointed a finger at Jasper. "We're racing, later."

He grinned, cockily. "Count on it. Winner gets bragging rights." That went without saying. "And a slave for a day." Ooh. I looked over at his eight-four-eight. It's top speed was only about 160, but that's stock and Rosalie's had years to supe it up. It was obvious that she hadn't started work on my Ducati, either. Aside from that, his reflexes are much better than mine in human form.

"Pssh," Emmett brushed us off. "I'll take both of you on...without a bike." We both ignored him, the only true way to piss Emmett off.

"So, are you in?" Esme and Bella shook their heads while the men, Alice, and Nessie were staring at me with rapt attention. I think the only reason Alice cared was because her husband was making a bet that she wouldn't know the outcome of.

What the hell. Edward laughed as I nodded. "Not a whole 24-day, though. I gotta sleep." I held out my hand and we shook on it. Nessie took a picture. "Now I just have to figure out whether I want you call me Master or Sir all day." I went to ruffle his hair but he slapped my hand away and growled.

I left for the rehearsal a little earlier than I needed to, just to test her out on the open road. I didn't wear my suit, though, and after wanting to take some of the turns at a near horizontal level, I decided I should when I raced Jasper, if I didn't want to leave half of my knees behind me.

I was not the only one who drove a new car into the parking lot at school and I guessed that there would only be more at the graduation ceremony itself. Did people really leave cars with bows on them in the parking lot like they did in the movies? The rehearsal was pointless and did nothing but ensure that we knew how to stand in a straight line once they put us in alphabetical order. I spent the time thinking about my new bike. It really was amazing, and it should be for the $72,500 price tag. I mean, the alloy wheels alone were worth $18,500. I had to win that race with Jasper. I had no doubt that he would make me crawl on all-fours the entire day and fetch his slippers, just to get in a few good dog jokes. I also thought about the way I had handled getting such an expensive gift this time. I didn't have to remind myself to be gracious about it at all. Maybe all this time with the Cullens had made it easier and easier to accept gifts from them. Maybe it was the fact that I had enough money in the bank to buy one myself that allowed me to see it as just-another-gift, not a gift-costing-a-small-fortune. Finally, I thought of the new situation the bike presented me with. By the time they let us all leave, I had decided that an extra motorcycle was just as wasteful as an extra car. So, I decided to give my old Harley to Quil and Embry and have them share with the packs if they wanted. I just hoped that the shipping company would be able to take both the Rabbit and the bike when they came in the morning.

When I got home, I ate my lunch while Esme, Bella, Alice, Rosalie, and Emmett all got ready to hunt. Carlisle had gotten called in to work, though Esme assured me that he would be back in time for the ceremony, and Edward was out "running errands." No one said any more about it than that and I hoped that he wasn't out getting me another present. Jasper had hunted with Carlisle and Edward the night before, but, in an attempt to be as well-fed as possible before having to sit in a crowd of humans for a few hours, he was going to go on a short hunt while the rest made the hour-long trek up to the nature reserves. By staying close by, he ensured that Nessie wouldn't be alone if the rest of the family wasn't back from their hunt before I had to leave. As if their illogic behind a rehearsal in the morning wasn't bad enough, they wanted all the graduates to be there an hour before the ceremony. Thank god for the game apps I had on my iPhone.

***

Two hours after lunch, I was standing on the back deck in my wolf form with my nose and tail pointed straight out, trying not to move a muscle. Nessie was laying below me, poking me with her bony finger over and over again. She had already poked at my muscle groups and organs and had moved on to my skeletal system. As she went she mumbled under her breath in time to the jabs, her way of ticking each of my ribs off the list of bones she had memorized. Thankfully, she had blushed and been too embarrassed to check the sexual organs off her list.

I saw Jasper's outline in the woods long before he made it to the clearing behind the house. Once he was close enough to see what was going on, he stopped and laughed. He continued to the deck, smirking and walking very slowly. I hung my head without moving the rest of my body. Great. When Nessie had asked me to help her study, I had been confused, but had agreed. I had absolutely no idea that it meant posing as a wolf for half an hour. It's not like I minded doing it, especially after she had helped me all through finals the week before. Still, I knew Jasper was going to tease me mercilessly for this.

"Hi, Uncle Jazz." She kept up her poking.

"Hello, Nessie. Were we putting on a dog show later that I didn't know about?" I rolled my wolf-eyes at him. "Uh oh, I'm sure you'll get deductions if you do that to the judges."

Nessie, the traitor, giggled. "Aw, leave him alone." She tried to defend me, but her obvious amusement killed her attempt. "I'm done, anyway, Jacob." She jumped to kiss me on the side of my snout. "Thank you."

I jumped off the deck as fast as I could, landing an inch in front of Jasper, bowing my head so that we met eye to eye. He stood perfectly still, obviously not impressed by my show of speed. "Go change, I don't want you to have a black eye in your graduation pictures." I licked the side of his face, just to piss him off, and then walked into the tree line to phase, barking out a laugh.

"Fucking dog," he muttered, wiping his face. When he knew Edward wasn't around, especially now that Nessie had her shield, he didn't hold his tongue around his niece. I had once heard him tell her that they were adult words and that he didn't want to hear them coming from her. He could be a hard-ass when he wanted and Nessie had been quick to promise him that she wouldn't repeat them.

I came back out barefoot in just the jean shorts I had worn earlier to find Jasper lounging on one of the deck chairs. Nessie was a few feet in front of him, sitting on the wooden perimeter railing. She swung her dangling legs as she spoke, animately. "What I find to be the most interesting part about their metamorphosis is that their human bodies seem to match up with their wolf bodies. If their front left paw is injured, their left hand will be, too. But the bone structure of a human is completely different than a wolf's. What happens to all the extra bones? Which turn into others and which disappear altogether? That's another thing..." She kicked at me and smiled as I walked in front of her and then turned her attention back to Jasper. I sat on the deck and leaned back against the nearest railing post to Nessie, stretching my legs out in front of me, enjoying her obvious fascination with what I can become. "What are the limitations of their healing powers? Can they regenerate a bone or a tooth if they were to lose or shatter one? Or is it a normal healing process that's just vastly accelerated? Really, there's no limit to what we need to learn about them. I've talked to my grandpa about it and he's as curious as I am. He's just a little preoccupied with learning everything about me, first."

"What's there to learn, Nessie?" I threw my closest hand into her face and wiggled my fingers around. "It's magic." She shot her head forward, playfully snapping her jaws an inch from my hand. I drew my hand away quickly, in mock fear, and then flicked her big toe. The nail on the toe had been painted, most likely by Alice, a deep red. I doubt it was an Edward-approved nail polish color. "Brat."

"Well, it's definitely an interesting line of study. Will you be focusing on the sciences when you resume your studies in the fall?"

She nodded and then shrugged. "The humanities seem to me to be a maze with tons of entry points. They're all interconnected, but you can only go so far in one field of study before you hit a dead-end and then you have to start all over again with another. The sciences are more straight-forward, they build on each other. It just seems like a better use of my time right now."

"That's fair. And you're obviously interested in it." She nodded again.

We were all silent after that. I had closed my eyes to the hazy, cloud-covered sky, but when the sun came out and a thousand bits of light hit my eyes, they opened involuntarily to look for the source. Jasper, sprawled out on the deck chair in what would be, to a human, a relaxing position, had his eyes closed and was sparkling. He had unbuttoned his shirt, as though sunbathing, and his scars were even more noticeable. The divots they formed in his skin caused the light to refract in odd direction.

"Uncle Jasper?" I looked at Nessie at the same time he did. "What are real vampires like?"

At first I thought that she'd get a sarcastic answer to her question. I wasn't sure if questioning her uncle's status as a "real" vampire was the same as questioning his masculinity or something. Jasper had paused, but it was obvious that he was going to answer her question and that he was just gathering his thoughts. "Well, I suppose that the most basic thing about us is that we're overly emotional, and I'm not just saying that because of my power, either. Our emotions are much stronger than humans' and they tend to overrun our decision-making process. Most vampires have a very hard time acting logically."

"Do you?"

He nodded, honestly. "Sometimes. It's harder for me than everyone else, because I don't just have to rein in my own emotions when I want to be objective." Nessie nodded in complete understanding. "It's easier for our family in general, though, to retain some semblance of levelheadedness because of the way we live."

"You mean, without drinking from humans?"

He sighed and raised his arms, lacing his fingers behind his head. The pose was familiar, it was the way he always sat when Nessie's Uncle Jasper turned into her Professor Whitlock. With his hands occupied and his stretched legs crossed at the ankles, it left his entire body vulnerable, the position reeked of confidence. Really, the pose was a common one for Jasper, in general. Sometimes he did it while he smirked, sometimes he winked, sometimes his face was blank as he watched something unfold in front of him. I was never certain if his confidence came from his power and the upper-hand it gave him over everyone he came into contact with, or if it was his innate knowledge that he was an utterly proficient killer, which his now-prominent scars only served to illustrate. In this case, I think it was his expert knowledge on the subject they were discussing.

"Yes..." he answered slowly, hesitantly, "...and no. While our diet is the most obvious difference between ourselves and other vampires, it is more a matter of what our diet represents than that we don't kill humans. Our diet allows us to hold on to our humanity, which other vampires find laughable. Vampires aren't human, vampires feed on humans. They shouldn't sit around playing house." He bent his neck to face his niece. "Do you know what I mean by that? Playing house?"

She shook her head, slowly, looking slightly unsure of herself. I wonder how rare it was nowadays for Nessie to not know something.

He stared into space, again. "When you're visiting people in La Push, for example, their home life isn't that much different than ours, right?" Nessie cocked her head to the side and furrowed her brow. "People live in houses with their families. They watch TV, play games, and talk around the dinner table together. They go to sleep at night, wake up at the same time in the mornings, get into routines." He paused to let his picture sink in. "Now, we might not eat around a dinner table, but we do hunt together. We also watch TV together and generally enjoy each other's company. We might not go to sleep at night, but we have created our own routines. We change our clothes every day after we shower in the mornings, your grandfather goes to work, we go to school."

I was finding this whole thing to be insanely interesting. I felt like I should have a bowl of popcorn on my lap, or something. Nessie looked even more enthralled than I felt, especially when her uncle leaned forward for effect and told his niece, with a piercing stare, "But...we don't have to."

He took his time rearranging himself before he spoke again. "Do we need shelter? No, the elements can't harm us and we have no need for rest. Do we need to shower? No, our pores don't secrete oils, our skin doesn't shed dead cells. Do we need money or the possessions it allows us to buy? Not at all. All we need is blood and that's free for the taking." Without looking at her, Jasper said, "Now, let me ask you a question. Why do you want to know about this now and why are you asking me?" Now he looked at her.

She blushed slightly and looked down before clenching her jaw and raising her head to stare straight at him. "I'm not ashamed to be curious about this." I was momentarily struck by her bravery. She knew that Jasper could feel whatever she was feeling, but she voiced it, stripping his power from him. She also didn't allow for mistaken perceptions, while simultaneously giving no insight in return. "I'm old enough now to understand and I deserve honesty. Dad and Grandpa would have edited the information. I knew that you would tell me the truth."

"I will," he said, gravely, still holding her eyes with his. "Would you like me to continue?" She nodded firmly. "As I was saying, then. We feel all emotions more strongly than we did in our last lives, good and bad. Of course, we've taken parts of our past personalities with us. Carlisle has the capacity for compassion that he does because he was an extremely compassionate man. Esme unconditionally loved us all instantaneously because her maternal love carried over. Other personality traits are universal to vampires: Our greed and selfishness lead us to become territorial, our pride and confidence make it hard for us to change our ways, and our love and loyalty allow us to mate for eternity.

"Despite the similarities in our nature, these three characteristics are among the most crucial in understanding why we are so different than other vampires. We are not selfishly territorial when it comes to each other. We would all sacrifice our own lives for the sake of each other. Despite three of us having gifts that give us an inordinate amount of personal knowledge over others, we actively try to learn from each other and grow because of it. While loving our mates above all others, we love each other with a familial love that humans cannot fathom."

Jasper didn't have to look at us to know that he had a captive audience. It was starting to sound like a lecture in a class, Vampires 101 with Professor Whitlock, but it was far more interesting than anything they could ever teach in school and I was hooked. He kept going. "Most vampires spend a majority of their time with only one other vampire, their mate."

"So, most vampires are married?" Nessie seemed to have spit out her question without even knowing she had asked it.

Jasper smirked. "Aside from your Aunt Alice and I, I know of only a dozen other vampires who have married their mates: your parents, your grandparents, your Uncle Emmett and Aunt Rosalie, Aro and Sulpicia, Caius and Athenodora, and Marcus and his late wife Didyme."

"The Volturi?" Jasper nodded. "Seven couples? That's all?" He nodded, again. "What about Carmen and Eleazar?"

"They're mates, but they're not married." Seeing the confusion on Nessie's face he continued on. "I married your aunt because she wanted to have a wedding like Esme and Rosalie had. Emmett and Rosalie have gotten married half-a-dozen times because she likes being a bride." I laughed at that. No surprise that Blondie would love being the center of attention all day. "Your parents have had the biggest wedding of all of us, mostly because Alice planned it and because your mom had a lot of humans she could invite. Usually, it's just us and the Denalis who are there for Rose's weddings. Your dad was the only witness at Carlisle and Esme's. Other vampires just don't see the importance of it. Weddings and marriage are humans traditions. We mate for all eternity, how much more official can you make it? On top of that, most vampires don't have valid birth certificates or IDs to even legally marry." Huh. I had never thought of that. I guess I figured they all fake IDs like the ones I had stashed in my Wolf Pack.

"Do they...um..." she blushed and stuttered out, "do everything married couples do?"

Wait...what? Is she really asking about sex? What does she know about sex? "What do you know about sex?" It was the first time I had spoken up in the conversation and my voice squeaked at the end.

She was no longer embarrassed and she narrowed her eyes at me while simultaneously rolling them. "I have read my grandfather's medical texts, Jacob. I know how I was conceived and I know why female vampires can't bear children. I'm not an idiot, Jacob, and I'm not a child!" Satisfied that she had shut me up, and she had, she turned back towards her uncle.

He had lounged passively through her scene, with a blank look on his face. "What do you remember feeling first when you were born?" Huh? She could remember that? Shit! I hadn't been very nice to her before I imprinted. I guess I thought that her super memory kicked in a little later than birth! Regardless, I didn't see how Jasper's question was going to begin to answer her question. Not that I was complaining. Listening to my nine-year-old imprint talk about sex was not something I was very comfortable with.

"Thirst," Nessie answered, almost immediately. Damn. That made me sad. I didn't like thinking that her first experience in the world had been burning pain.

Jasper just nodded as thought that was exactly the answer he expected. "Every vampire I have ever seen changed has felt nothing but fear and bloodlust when they woke up, except one. One felt a different kind of lust. Bloodlust and carnal lust are, for the most part, the default states of mind in vampires. Mates are imperative to helping their partners with both urges. When hunting, they help each other lure prey and watch each other's backs while they feed. They also provide greater numbers in a fight if their hunting territory in encroached upon. As for sexual urges, well, vampires do not have to be mated in order to engage in sex, and some, like Tanya, will have sex with humans in order to fulfill their lust. When they do mate, though, the first few years of their relationship is a sort of 'honeymoon' phase and its usually spent only satiating their lusts." I winced. I did not need to know that about Edward and Bella.

"So, other than hunting and...uh...mating, what do normal vampires do all day?"

Jasper shrugged. "They're mostly nomadic. They spend their days traveling—running, really—and making plans to move on to human populations so that they can hunt. Depending upon the region and its climate, they hide from humans during the day. If they're brave they seek out other vampires and try to convince them that they're not a threat. Friendships and alliances are formed that way, but mostly the nomadic life is lonely and they seek each other out for company. Some, like Garrett, are adventurers, and they roam around trying to see everything and hear everyone's stories. In fact, if not for Kate's grief over the loss of her sister, I would bet that they would have already set out on their own."

"Do they ever fight?" She was looking straight as her uncle's scars as she asked.

Jasper nodded. "Of course. More often than not. There were over thirty on our side that day against the Volturi. That had to have been the largest alliance of vampires ever and I don't know how everyone coexisted for so many weeks leading up to it. The only time I've seen that many vampires together was during a fight." He seemed to realize he had said too much and paused.

"How did you get your scars?" She immediately pinked, as though not sure if it was rude to ask.

It was the first question she asked that he hadn't answered. In fact, he went on as though she hadn't spoken at all. "Usually, when vampires meet for the first time, the group with the larger number calls the shots. There's a chance that you can happen upon a group that will kill first and ask questions later, so most lone vampires don't meet up with others without a contingency plan or unless they're powerful. And they definitely don't get in the way of someone else's hunt. That's just asking for it. They all want the same thing, human blood, and they'll fight if they feel that their supply is being threatened. Most vampires who roam and catch our scents know that we have a very large coven and wouldn't dare come to investigate. They also assume that we've staked our claim and know not to feed off the humans in the area. Theoretically, as the largest coven in the North, we could assume control of a city and others would respect our prerogative to do so. Some would even offer us prey to get on our good side, to get better hunting access."

Ugh. The way vampires thought about ending human life would never cease to disgust and infuriate me. Jasper didn't look surprised when I got up and started pacing on the opposite side of the deck, but Nessie did. My body was shaking slightly and I couldn't keep my mouth shut. "So why doesn't the Volturi just take over, then? If they see humans as cattle, as food, why don't they just lock them up in cages? Then vampires can just come in and select the tastiest ones."

I was being sarcastic, but Jasper answered my question, anyway. "Why? What's the point? Why waste our own eternity breeding and tending to our food, when we can allow them live in complete ignorance and have them do the work on their own?"

I scowled, still pacing, and I pulled at my hair. "That's...that's..."

"Disgusting?" Jasper supplied the word that covered the emotion he detected from me.

"Yes!"

"Isn't your way more disgusting?" That took the wind out of my sails. "I mean, really, as long as there are vampires, what's the alternative, Jake?"

Even without his power, it was the little things that Jasper did that made you a little bit calmer. As soon as he used my nickname, my anger went down a notch. I collapsed back down on the deck, folding my legs under me and and putting my head in my hands. "I don't know, Jazz. I know what my instincts are telling me."

"And what's that?"

I looked straight into his eyes. "Kill 'em. The only way to protect humanity is to kill every last one of them." I heard Nessie let out a small gasp and looked over at her. Her face showed shock, but more than that there was an unreadable emotion on it. Had I scared her? No, there was no fear in her eyes.

Jasper nodded and drew my attention back to him. "Uh huh. So that's what Jacob the Alpha is thinking, what is Jacob the Honorary-Cullen thinking?"

I thought about that for a minute. "Make them choose: animal blood or death."

"So, killing a human is punishable by death?"

"Well, yeah. I mean, I guess not if it's an accident or if it's a one-time thing. That's not really fair. But if a vampire's killing humans as a lifestyle they should die."

"And yet two winters ago you stood alongside these killers. You watched as the family provided them with cars so they could drive off to neighboring states and murder."

"Oh, c'mon." He was pissing me off and I was pacing again. "That was different. That was to protect Nessie and Bella. They were on our side."

"Well, that doesn't sound just. As long as they're loyal to you they can murder without consequence? Who the hell are you?"

"I'm the one who can kill them! That's who the hell I am! I'm the one made to kill them!"

"And because it's in your power to be so, you should be judge, jury, and executioner?"

"Damn right, I should!"

"Isn't there someone else who feels like you feel? Isn't that exactly the mandate that the Volturi have given themselves?"

A frustrated growl ripped out of me. I knew that I he had just handed me my cocky ass, but I was still pissed. How dare he compare what the packs do to what the Volturi does! "Fine, then. What's the solution?"

Jasper had been slowly sitting up as our conversation escalated. He finally sat up completely, planting his feet on either side of the lower half of his lounger. "That's the point, Jake. There is no solution. There will always be vampires and when someone tries to systematically destroy them, someone will make armies of them." He gave me a very pointed look. "Vampires will always feed off of humans and forcing a vampire to feed off of animals when their heart isn't in it will just make their inevitable screw-up more dangerous to humans than normal hunting practices. Aside from that, the vampires that do do the most harm to the human population are usually the ones with potent abilities, and the average vampire or werewolf wouldn't be able to take them down easily, anyway. So, you can try to make a team of vampires with talents to take even the most powerful vampires down, but that's how you end up with the Volturi guard. In the end, the best thing to do is resign yourself to the fact that most vampires are so independent that they can't cause too much harm. Then you just do what every other vampire does: protect your land and those you love. It's not your responsibility to destroy every vampire in existence, just the ones that threaten your home and your people. Isn't that your true charge as Alpha?"

The anger was draining from me and he was making a lot of sense, I just couldn't give in. "There has to be a better answer than that." Jasper just shrugged.

***

I really was trying to pay attention, but my heart just wasn't in it. There were too many other thoughts running through my mind that had nothing to do with the "Reach for the stars" sentiment the keynote speaker was giving. Did the two-term mayor really think anyone was listening to his speech? Half of the nearly 400 graduates were thoroughly distracted with texting each other on their cells, searching for family members in the crowd behind them, and blowing up and tossing around beach balls. The other half were wasted.

I clapped when he finished, not even aware that I was doing it. My mind was reliving some of the conversations I had been having with Carlisle over the past few months. Nessie had already gotten into a study routine that occupied most of her time during the afternoons and nights, so, after the basketball season, I had had a lot of time to kill after school. I ended up in Carlisle's office a few nights a week, before my dinners and his night shifts. Over the past few weeks, we had stopped talking about trivial day-to-day things and had moved on to more interesting topics. I learned more about his life, his centuries of medical work, and why he chose to change his family in the first place. Slowly, the focus of the conversations shifted from him onto me. Though we talked about my past, I didn't bring up my mom and he didn't ask about her. He only brought up my father once. "Have you given any thought to whether or not you'd like your father to attend your graduation? No matter how many times I see them do it, I always love to see my children walk cross the stage." I had given him a noncommittal shrug and he hadn't brought Billy up, again. Mostly, we talked about my future. On nights when Edward was in the house he noticeably wouldn't bring up Nessie, though we both knew that my plans and her plans would eventually become our plans.

In the fall, Carlisle and Edward had both encouraged me to apply to colleges but I had turned them down. There was no way I was getting into Dartmouth without the Cullens paying for a new library, or something. Not that I could handle the workload, anyway. I mean, I'm not stupid, but I'm not Ivy League, either. There was no other school in the area and there was no way I was going to give up sharing my bed with Nessie every night. Edward, especially, didn't like the fact that I was giving up a chance at a degree just so I could stay close to Nessie, but I knew that he would have done the same for Bella. I mean, did he really think I was going to move across the country to be with her, only to turn around and leave? So, trying not to look a loser, I had explained to them my plan to take the ASE mechanic's tests and get a job at a shop in town until the family's next big move.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Carlisle had brought up college, again. This time, though, he had come up with a compromise. I was already planning on spending the summer studying for the ASE tests so that I could get a job at a shop in the fall, so he had suggested that I study with Nessie after passing my tests. She was already doing college-level math, and had more than a normal high schooler's knowledge of history, literature, and science. In a few months, they wanted her to use her base in math and science to learn physics, chemistry, and biology in more depth. They also wanted her to start studying a wider variety of humanities. So, while Nessie would be taking the rough equivalent of every lower-division undergraduate class on an Ivy League campus, they suggested that I study a few of the subjects alongside her. I had agreed, easily, which had surprised Carlisle, who thought he would have to sell me more on the idea. It might be a little weird learning with her, especially because she could kick my ass in everything. But, it also means that I'll be going to college with her, in a way, and that was kinda cool. Literature "class" would be easy, anyway. Since she'd learned to use her shield, she'd started reading to me at night, again. Besides, I'd meant it when I promised myself the first day over here that I would try to never embarrass Nessie with my ignorance.

As soon as Edward and Jasper had learned that I was agreeing to Carlisle's compromise, they had immediately started badgering me to pick a "major." I hadn't told them, but I was seriously considering studying history. I always enjoyed talking about battles and strategies with Jasper and I was the only one who had willingly watched all eleven and a half hours of his PBS Civil War documentary with him. Nessie had said, after sitting through only one of the DVDs, that I liked watching "war stuff" with her uncle because I was the general of my pack. Not willing to be outranked, Jasper had scoffed and said that with only four wolves under me, I could "hardly be considered a general." Seeing how defensive he had gotten I had ordered Major Whitlock to put in the next DVD. A minute later, after calming me to the point that I couldn't phase, he had me pinned and he dared me to try and order him to do something. Esme had come into the room and, after she scolded us for fighting in the house, we had continued watching the documentary. With a little help from Jazz, I had been delighted to switch the DVDs from then on.

It was hard for me to pick a major, though, when I knew that no college degree was ever going to help me at work. A part of me just wanted to do general ed classes and leave it at that. It was still better than a mechanic would ever need. I couldn't help thinking, though, that I wouldn't be a mechanic forever. At some point in my extremely long life-span, there was a good chance that knowing how to repair a car or motorcycle would be as useless as someone nowadays knowing how to repair a covered wagon's axle. One day, it would be old news and I would have to stop working. Then what? Would I never work again? If I was being honest with myself, there were few indefinites in my life: being Nessie's imprint, being my children's father when the day arrived, and being my pack's Alpha. Could being an Alpha be considered a job? I guess at some point it was the closest I would get to having one. So, what major would help me be an Alpha? I couldn't think of one. I doubt there was a college out there that gave degrees in metaphysical leadership.

The Valedictorian was speaking and the other graduates were getting restless. How do the Cullens get away without being Valedictorians all the time? My mind wandered again, this time thinking about the summer. I had wanted to spend it in La Push, but it wasn't going to happen. Bella and Edward were both taking two classes over the break and there was no way they were letting Nessie go without them for three months, so I was sticking around, too. I was swallowing my guilt about leaving the guys one short even though I didn't have a very good excuse not to be there. Oh well. Nessie comes first.

As it was, we were flying home the next day, but only staying for a few weeks, until Dartmouth's classes started up again. Bella told me that it was because she had missed seeing Charlie during Spring Break, but I think she knew that I had been bummed when I found out I wouldn't be there to see Quil and Embry and the rest of my old class graduate. We hadn't talked about it, but I knew that it was probably safe to assume that Nessie and I would be spending those nights apart unless I slept as a wolf at the foot of her bed.

Soon, it was time to line up to cross the stage and I started to pay attention, again. With my last name, I was going to be one of the first to get my empty diploma holder, after all the Adams', Andersons and Bakers. I genuinely smiled when the photographer took my picture as I stood on the side of the stage, but mostly because the five-foot-nothing guy had to run around and find his step stool to even get me in the frame. They called my name and I heard the shouts and cheers of my Cullen family as I walked up on stage and shook hands with the principal.

I could hear the constant, rapid ticking of Nessie's new camera's shutter as Emmett's whistles were overshadowed by two too-accurate howls, and my head whipped around. There, in the front row, beside Nessie, Bella, and Edward were Seth and Embry. In the row behind them, with the other half of the Cullens, sat Rachel, Charlie, and...Billy. I tried to keep the smile on my face when I saw my father, but I knew it fell at least a little.

I sat back down and silently fumed. Now I know where Edward had been while everyone else was hunting. I was also beginning to doubt that Carlisle had really been called into work. I had grown used to surprises with Alice in the house, but I couldn't believe that they would do this behind my back. They knew that we weren't speaking, did they really think this was a good idea? I decided to focus on the positive. I was happy that Charlie was here. He was, in most ways, an uncle to me, and I knew that he would have been at my graduation had it been in La Push, too. I couldn't help but think that he was here as a buffer, though. It was nice that my brother and sister were here, too. I knew Rachel, especially, would have been sorry to miss her little brother graduate. To me it was no big deal, being a Cullen for the rest of eternity pretty much guaranteed dozens of them in my future, but she would get a kick out of it.

Finally, it was time to rise and move our tassel from one side of our ridiculous-looking hat to the other. Some people threw theirs in the air and then had to go scrambling after them when they landed several rows away. Two of them actually ended up hitting other graduates and the owners had to apologize when they went to retrieve it. We marched out and I walked through the throngs of hugging recent-graduates and made my way to the outskirts of the crowd. I knew that my family would have no trouble spotting my head above the crowd or following my scent.

I was stopped a few times and had to bend down to give a few over-enthusiastic female classmates hugs. I was afraid two of them were going to have heart attacks when they felt my back muscles through my dress shirt and the now-unzipped gown. Might as well give them a thrill before I never see them again, I guess. I shared fist-bumps with a few guys from the basketball team and promised, insincerely, to keep in touch over the summer. I saw Mr. Miller and he looked hurried as he congratulated me before being called over to meet a graduate's parents. He was a nice guy and, from what I had heard, a good teacher, so I wasn't surprised that he was in demand.

I saw Emmett above the crowd first and was taken off-guard when Nessie jumped into my body even though everyone else was still a dozen yards away. She must have weaved through the bottom of the crowd. "Congratulations, Jacob!"

I laughed. "Jeez, Nessie. How many times are you going to tell me that today?"

She didn't play along, knowing she only had a few seconds alone with me. "Are you okay with Billy being here?" I just shrugged. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but..." She didn't get a chance to finish, because everybody else was upon us. I kept her on my hip and Bella, Rachel, Alice, and Esme gave me one-armed hugs around her. Keeping her there saved the men from having to give me embarrassing, back-slapping hugs. Charlie, at least, looked grateful. He gave me a pat on the arm and a "Congratulations, son." I thanked him for coming and let him talk to Nessie while I moved on to Seth and Embry. Seth looked hyper and he hugged me anyway, as he congratulated me and gave Nessie a loud smack of a kiss on the cheek. She giggled. I did a complicated handshake/fist-bump with my brother and then he kissed Nessie on the forehead. I didn't think anything of it when Seth had done it, but I had forgotten how close Nessie had gotten to the rest of the pack members during the week of Spring Break.

Then, the moment of truth was upon me. I looked down at Billy and was unprepared for the tears I saw in his eyes. "Congratulations, Jacob. Carlisle was telling me you got straight-A's this semester." I just nodded. Everyone else was trying to give us some semblance of privacy by looking around at the crowd and making inane small talk. Nessie squirmed in my arms and I set her down. She went straight over to Charlie, who leaned down to talk to her. I turned my attention back to Billy. "I'm really proud of you, son."

His voice cracked a little and suddenly, I felt like the world's biggest jackass. I knelt down next to his chair and hugged him. "Thanks, Dad." I stood up, hoping he knew that was all I could give him at the moment.

Esme cut through the awkward silence between us. "Ready for pictures?" For the next ten minutes I stood in the middle of every possible combination of my friends and family. Holding Nessie in my arms while I was surrounded by the Cullens, standing awkwardly side-by-side but not touching with Charlie, putting an arm around Embry and Seth's shoulders while we grinned like idiots, wrapping an arm around Esme and Carlisle's waists while they beamed like the proud parents they are, grinning with Jasper and Alice, and even smirking with Rosalie and Emmett. There was an awkward moment when Esme didn't know how to ask for a picture of me and my brother and sister and then an even worse moment a second later as we all bent down so we could get Billy in the shot. Finally, Nessie and I took a picture alone, and then Bella joined the shot, and then Edward. As we disbanded from our picture pose, Edward had grabbed my shoulder and spoke into my ear, "Political science." Huh? "That's the degree you want if you plan on being a leader. History would be a good minor. Especially military history, in your case." Oh. Huh. I hadn't thought of that. He patted my shoulder and went to rejoin Bella.

No one had seemed to notice our discussion as most of the Cullens were figuring out how to get everyone back to the house. I asked Seth and Embry to ride with me and I didn't have to ask to know that Nessie would also, so we waved and left everyone behind as we loaded ourselves into my Spyker. Most of the men in the crowd adjacent to the parking lot turned their head as my engine roared to life. I had forgotten it had that affect on people. After a few weeks of driving it to school, it had become commonplace and I had stopped getting stares. I had to drive by them to get to the street exit and more than a few jaws dropped.

Seth did most of the talking on the twenty-mile drive home. First, he told us about the plane ride over. How nice first-class was, how the stewardesses ignored them after they had eaten their weight in free food, and how busy Boston's airport was. "I mean, I don't know how much Edward paid for those tickets, but it was worth it. My legs didn't even get squished!" Then, he described the difference between the big-city of Seattle and the bigger-city of Boston. I guess having spent half-an-hour driving through them to get to and from their airports, had made him somewhat of an expert. "I mean, Seattle's big, and it has its fair share of skyscrapers. But, Boston? That was crazy huge!" Finally, he talked about the graduation ceremony. "Can you imagine 400 people in one grade? How does that work? I mean, did you even know everyone you graduated with?" I told him I didn't even know a quarter of them, just to see him flip out. I wasn't disappointed. "Can you imagine?" He had asked Embry. Nessie only encouraged him by asking questions and giving her opinions of his opinions. Embry and I exchanged glances in the rear-view mirror.

Embry spoke for the first time when I pulled into the dirt road that was our driveway. "Man, they sure like to live in the middle of nowhere, huh?" And then I remembered with dread that they hadn't seen this place, yet. And that, if they thought that the Forks house was impressive, they were about to be blown away.

"What's wrong?" Nessie must have sensed my growing uneasiness. I didn't respond. I knew we were only a quarter of a mile away from the final turn and then they would see the house, my house.

"Holy shit! Are you kidding me, man?" Embry was beside himself. Seth just had his mouth open like an idiot. I just gave him a look in the mirror that I hope he knew meant, what can I do about it? I parked in the garage, figuring the other cars, especially the one my dad was in, would need to be parked in front. Bad idea. My brand-new Ducati was sitting in its stand on full display. "Whoa! Whose bike is that?"

Nessie spoke up, turning around to grin at Embry. "That's Jacob's new motorcycle. He got it for graduation." I just cringed. I hadn't said a word for a good five miles and I wasn't going to start now.

Embry went straight towards it as soon as he got out of the car. "Christ, Jacob. She's beautiful."

"I'll tell Brianna you said that."

Seth and Nessie laughed, but Embry didn't. He wasn't paying attention. He was too busy running his hands up and down the length of the bike. Then he turned to me, a fierce look on his face. "Jacob Black, I let you ride my dirt bike for years. If you don't let me try her out, I'll never forgive you."

"Jesus, Embry lighten up. Of course, you can ride her. Just wait until after dinner. Esme would kill me if we were out screwing around when dinner's ready." We started walking back towards the house. "You really thought I wouldn't let you go for a spin?"

"Bro, if that was my bike, I wouldn't let you touch her." I laughed.

"How fast does it go?" Seth was trying, he just wasn't into this stuff like we were.

"It tops out at 180."

"Do you guys ever wonder how fast we run?" Embry and I both nodded, but our attention was pulled to Nessie, who nodding enthusiastically along with us. Embry and Seth looked throughly impressed and I gloated, internally. I've got the coolest imprint ever!

I was having such a good time that I wasn't thinking as I pushed open the never-locked front door and walked into the house. My first thoughts were of the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen and the brand-new grill that I could see out on the back deck, but I was pulled from them by the collective gasp of Seth and Embry. They weren't saying anything, so I kinda just ignored them. "When did they get the grill and when did they start the food?"

"Uncle Em got the grill at Home Depot while you went to the rehearsal this morning and then he and Uncle Jazz put it together and hid it behind the solarium. My mom and grandma moved all the food down from the kitchen upstairs as soon as you left earlier. They've been cooking up there since they got back from hunting." That surprised me. I hadn't smelled anything when I was getting dressed. I guess they really were trying to surprise me with the guest list. I couldn't even be pissed off about it. They thought they were doing something nice for me.

"There's an upstairs kitchen?" That was Seth.

"Uh huh. Right off our study." Too much information, Nessie!

Thankfully, the sound of cars coming down the driveway momentarily distracted Seth and Embry. I ran upstairs and changed out of my suit, putting on the maroon polo and khaki pants Nessie had wanted me to wear earlier and stuffing the few things I would need for later in my pocket. Edward and Bella were the last to make it back to the house, which I thought was weird, until I saw that they had had Charlie with them. Edward was such a kiss ass. Esme was in the middle of giving Rachel, Embry, and Seth a tour of the downstairs and the solarium, and Carlisle was in the back with my dad who was already nursing a beer. The sun was already below the trees, casting a shadow over the deck. Emmett and Jasper seemed to be struggling with the grill.

Dinner went as smoothly as it could have. Only Carlisle, Esme, Bella, and Edward sat near enough to Charlie to have to pretend to eat, though they dropped half of their food to their napkins, anyway. Nessie didn't mind eating most of her steak because Emmett had left it on the grill only long enough for it to get warm, but she wanted nothing to do with her baked potato, corn on the cob, or any of the other side dishes Bella and Esme had whipped up. Rachel, who was only really comfortable with Nessie, Bella, and Alice on the Cullen side, sat next to my dad at the end of the table. Bella caught up with her dad while Esme went through pictures of me with Billy, filling him in on my life for the past six months. Charlie raised an eyebrow at me when he saw the picture of me in my basketball uniform, being fitted by Alice. She had told me that the loose jersey top and shorts weren't "tailored" and that it made my torso look square instead of the desirable inverted triangle. I really don't try to remember these things, I swear, but Nessie tells me the same crap all the time and I find it hard not to hang on her every word.

After she and Bella cleared off the dinner plates, Esme brought out a towering seven-layer chocolate cake cut into thirds for me, Seth, and Embry, and a smaller chocolate cake with "Congratulations, Jacob!" written perfectly and elegantly on it in dark red frosting. Every Cullen but Nessie claimed fullness as an excuse to not partake in dessert. Nessie picked at hers, enjoying the rich, sugar-filled topping, but not the cake itself. I ate slowly, knowing that if I was going to give Carlisle the check, it was going to have to be before Esme and Bella started clearing the dessert plates. As I chewed my last bite, Nessie grabbed my hand under the table. Suddenly, I felt much more relaxed and confident.

"Thanks, honey." I whispered to her. "Keep it up." I wasn't too proud to know that I was going to need her help for this. When Charlie complimented Esme on dinner, telling her it was the best he'd ever had, and general agreement started flying from up and down the table, I knew it was time. I stood up. "Um..." Conversation halted and everyone turned from their seats on the long benches to face me. I felt Nessie's hand on the side of my thigh and a new surge of confidence went through me, along with a smidge of gratitude. Her way of reminding me to thank everyone. I smiled down at her. God, how I loved her. She smiled back up at me and then turned to look around the table, reminding me what I was doing. "Oh. Um...first...um...I just wanted to thank everyone for coming out here. It means a lot." I wasn't looking at anyone, so I didn't know what their reactions were.

I decided to do the easy thing, first. "I want to thank Nessie, first." She looked surprised as I looked down at her. "There's no way I would have gotten anywhere near a 4.0 without you helping me everyday. I would've skimmed through my English books if you hadn't read them to me. I would've skipped the hard problems on my math homework if you hadn't sensed when I was confused." A few people snickered around the table, but I kept going. "And I would have never made it through my day without these." I pulled out a small, heart-shaped wooden box I had made in wood sculpture class. In the center of the lid was a recessed carving of a wolf's face profile. I set it down in front of Nessie and, in my nervousness, started explaining myself as she picked it up to examine it. "See, our final project was to make a box in class with a carving on the top and—"

"It's beautiful, Jacob." She rubbed every detail of the carving with the tips of her fingers.

"Open it." She took off the lid, passing it to Bella, who was sitting next to her. Then she glanced back down and grinned. "They were the only reason I could bear to leave you everyday to go to school." She pulled out the stack of heart-shaped post-it notes that I had collected in my locker.

She flipped through them, quickly, and when she looked up at me there were tears in her eyes. "You kept them?"

"Every single one." I smiled down at her and she matched it.

She put the post-its back in the box and jumped up into my arms. "Thank you, Jacob."

"Thank you, honey."I kissed her forehead and then put her back down on the bench as she wiped the few tears that had escaped her eyes with the back of her hand. The lid had been passed around the table and compliments were coming at me from around the table. I was suddenly embarrassed that everyone had just witnessed that.

I cleared my throat. "I actually want to to thank all you guys." I looked over at the Cullen side of the table. "I know it probably wasn't the best news for you guys when Carlisle and Esme asked me to move in. And I fully expected to feel like the loser in the guest room who you guys put up with because Nessie and Bella wanted me here. But since that first day, you guys have all gone out of your way to make me feel like this is my home, too. Like I'm an honorary Cullen." I looked at Jasper as I used his own words from earlier in the day. He smirked at me, beside him, Alice was grinning from ear to ear. "I love you guys." Out of the corner of my eye I saw the shocked look on Rosalie's face.

I walked around the table so that I was standing between Esme and Carlisle. I lowered myself to balance on my haunches and looked at Esme. I cleared my throat, rubbed the back of my neck, and tried to keep the emotion out of my voice so it didn't crack. "I don't really remember my mom very well."

She stroked the side of my face with the back of her hand. "Oh, Jacob."

"Even before I moved in with you guys, you were always trying to take care of me. And..." I shrugged and spoke towards my knees. "I guess I just know that she would have liked that someone was taking care of me like that."

She turned around quickly to wrap her arms around me as her body shook with silent sobs. "I love you so much, sweetheart."

"I know. I love you, too, Mom." I didn't want to look over her shoulder at the rest of the table, so I lay my forehead on her shoulder. When she had collected herself, I pulled away a little and she kissed my cheek.

I felt Carlisle's hand squeeze my shoulder and I spun on my heels to look at him, trying to ignore the surprised looks on my sister and father's faces. I never spoke about my mother. I just hoped that Rachel, especially, was okay with me calling Esme that. Carlisle's face was full of gratitude. Every Cullen knew exactly how much that had meant to her. I knew, too. That's why I had done it. What they probably didn't think about, though, was that I had done it in front of Embry and Seth and that it would only be a matter of time before both packs saw it, too. Swearing my loyalty to my half-vampire imprint was one thing, but calling myself an honorary member of a coven and addressing the coven leader's mate as my mother was something else, altogether. Originally, I had planned on calling Carlisle "Dad" tonight, but I couldn't do that in front of Billy. Even if I put Billy's feelings aside, Carlisle wouldn't be able to and he wouldn't appreciate my lack of tact.

"Carlisle?"

"Yes, son?" It wasn't unusual that he called me that, but I was still surprised that he did it in front of Billy. Maybe my display with Esme had shown him what I considered him to be to me, too. I hoped so.

"I just wanted to thank you for all you've done for me and for all the talks we've been having lately. It's meant a lot to me. I'll always appreciate the start you've given me, and I wanted to give you this." I pulled out the envelope and held it out for him to take. "Since August, I've considered the allowance you've given me to be a loan. I just didn't think I'd be able to pay you back so quickly."

He took the envelope that held the check for $7,500 and sighed heavily. "I hope you know that it was never my intention for this money to be returned to me. You truly did not have to do this."

"I know you didn't expect it, but I did have to do it. I was going to include interest, but Alice told me that you wouldn't appreciate that."

He nodded. "I most definitely would not have. I would have been offended to make money off of family." He sighed again and smiled at his wife. "Well, Esme," he said softly. "We've lost another one."

She laughed and put a hand to cup my cheek. "As long as he still let's me cook for him, I don't mind him growing up."

I smiled as they tried to lighten the mood. "You should know by now that I don't turn down food."

She shared a glance with her husband. "Why don't you go show the boys your room?"

I nodded and walked back over towards Seth and Embry. "How 'bout it, guys?"

"Sure." Seth agreed, easily.

"Just don't forget you promised me a ride on your new bike." Embry had a one-track mind.

"Sure, sure. We should have time." I looked down at my watch. It was already ten, but it was only seven their time and our flight wasn't until the late afternoon tomorrow. "You might want to wait for tomorrow, though. Jasper and I are racing."

"I hope you two weren't thinking of street racing." Charlie was scowling at me.

I was surprised when Carlisle helped me out. "I only allow them to race on our private land and only with the proper safety equipment."

Charlie looked like he might not be buying it, so I tried to change the subject. "The Mariners game is probably just starting if you guys wanted to watch."

"That's a great idea, Jacob." Esme gushed and then turned her warm smile towards her guests. "Can I get you two another beer?"

Charlie shrugged one of his shoulders and looked at his own watch. I bet the cop in him changed it to local time as soon as he got off the plane. I saw Edward hiding back a smirk and I knew I was probably right. After debating the late hour with the chance to watch the game he thought he'd be missing tonight, he agreed. "Why not? We don't need to be up early tomorrow. Besides," he cleared his throat, "this imported beer you've got isn't so bad." Bella's eyes nearly bugged out of her head when he said that and Edward grinned smugly. Nessie showed me a memory of Bella arguing with Edward, who was stocking the fridge, that no matter how many awards the beer had gotten, her dad wouldn't drink anything but his usual.

The men trooped inside while Rachel insisted on helping in the kitchen, Nessie followed her. I laughed when I realized that Esme and Bella would have to clean up at human speed. Not that Rachel didn't know what they are, but they wouldn't freak her out by showing her exactly what they could do. Even when Nessie was cooking at the pack house, she only let the wolves see how fast she could move. The nights that she had cooked with Emily, she had practically begged Emily to leave the dishes in the sink so she could wash at her own speed once she went back home with Sam.

I walked up the staircase while Seth and Embry followed. We heard the game starting as we got to the fourth floor and then nothing once I had shut the door to our bedrooms' hallway. Seth and Embry both turned around in surprise. "The whole house is soundproof. The windows are, too." I answered the question that would come next. "Do you want to hear four vampire couples going at it all night?" They snickered. I started walking down towards my room.

"What's that way?" Seth pointed to the hallway leading to Nessie's door.

"Nessie's bedroom."

"But I thought you guys share a room." I shook my head. "Oh. I just thought...I mean, at the pack house..."

"She sleeps in my room at night, but she has her own. It kinda started by accident and just sorta stuck. Edward's still not very happy about that. When they drew up the plans for the house, he didn't even want us to have connecting rooms. Bella doesn't care, though, and Edward isn't about to fight with both of them." I opened up the door and let them follow me in. "This is it." They both stared around with gaping mouths. "Closet and bathroom." I pointed at the nearest door. "That one leads to the staircase down to our study and to Nessie's room." I pointed at the farthest door on the wall.

"Ooh. Can I? I didn't want to ask because I wasn't even sure if they had one." Seth pointed towards the bathroom.

I motioned for him to go ahead, but as he started towards it when what he said kicked in. "Wait. What did you think they made me do? Go in the woods?" Embry rolled his eyes at Seth, who gave me a sheepish grin and shrugged.

I sat on my bed while Embry walked around, taking everything in. "Big bed." I just nodded. I don't even think the bed is a standard size, so I hoped he didn't ask. "Nice TV."

"Yeah, I know. I don't watch too much of it, though, with school. Nessie usually hogs the remote, anyway." He laughed and walked over the two window-walls. "Hey, Embry? I'm really sorry I missed your graduation last week. I mean, thanks for coming to mine."

"We're brothers, man. I know you would've been there for mine if you could have." I would have. I had considered buying a plane ticket before I found out that it would be the same week as finals.

When Seth came out, Embry took his turn. Seth was more impressed by the bed than anything else. He jumped on and spread out. "I fit!"

Embry came out and I led them downstairs to the study. I threw a dismissive hand towards the bookshelves. "The books are Nessie's, but this is all mine..." I flipped on the light inside the kitchen. "It's completely unnecessary, but I'm a lazy bastard and it's nice to not have to go down four flights of stairs for food."

Seth flopped down on the couch while Embry shook his head at the titles of some of Nessie's textbooks. "I fit on this one, too!" I laughed. He pointed to the door in front of him with his chin. "What's that door go to?"

"The solarium/library thing. I still don't know what the hell to call it or why it needs to be three stories tall. My bedroom is the only one in the house that doesn't have a full bookshelf. They have tons more, too. Each house they have still has books stored in them."

"They have more houses than this one and the one back home?" Embry, perched on the edge of Nessie's desk, looked surprised.

I leaned back against the wall. "Yeah. I don't know how many exactly, but I get the feeling they don't sell them when they leave. I doubt any of them are farther south than Chicago, though. I know Carlisle's lived there before, though, because that's where he changed Edward. I'm pretty sure they've lived in Canada and maybe in Europe, too. I'm not sure."

"So, you could move anywhere next?" Ah, so it was the Alpha in Embry that was asking.

I shrugged. "I guess. We're staying here for another year, at least, though. Bella trying to graduate by the end of the spring semester, I think. Well, I guess they all are, I just only count Bella because it's her first time. The rest of them are kinda just going because she is. Actually, I heard her mention something about med school."

"She can do that?" Seth sat up. They both looked impressed.

"Edward's done it a couple of times so it's not impossible. Plus, her thirst is really under control. I mean, she saw Charlie the day after she changed. Jasper thinks she's some kind of prodigy or something."

"I didn't know Bella wanted to be a doctor," Seth mused under his breath.

"Well, she is a bio major. Who knows if she'll be able to practice, though. It took Carlisle nearly a century until he was able to. But, I definitely think it'll be a while before they do the whole high school thing, again."

We were silent for a minute until Seth spoke up, again. "I miss Bella." We both looked at him with matching looks that said, where the hell did that come from? "I know I wasn't a wolf when Victoria was after her and she was hanging around La Push, but I used to be over at the Cullens' place all the time last year. She was fun to hang out with." He looked over at Embry. "You should invite her to the party."

"Oh, yeah, bro. I forgot to tell you. We're having a little graduation party in a few days at the house. Paul wanted to have it last week, but Quil and I were holding out for you to come back. Rachel was the one that finally talked him into waiting."

"Thanks, Em." I reminded myself to tell Rachel thanks, too.

He shrugged. "It's turning into a goodbye party for Sam and Emily, too. They're moving up to Seattle in a couple of weeks so they can find jobs before school starts. I'm inviting half the Makah rez and it'll probably be the last time Emily sees them before she moves, so I think a lot of them will be coming to see her off, too. We'll probably still do something for them right before they leave, though." Perfect. I guess I know when I'm going to give everyone their gifts.

"So, do you think Bella and Edward will come?" Seth looked at me with hopeful eyes.

"I don't know. I'll ask her, though."

"You should invite Alice, too. All the imprints like it when she's around."

"I don't know, Seth. You might be asking too much there. Especially because Jasper would never let her be surrounded by a bunch of wolves without him there to protect her. And there's no way in hell Jasper would go to a party full of humans."

"He's right, Seth. It probably wouldn't be safe."

"Oh, Jasper's safe. I went to a Red Sox game with him. He can handle his thirst. He would have more of a problem being in close proximity to a bunch of hormonal teenagers."

"Alice could talk him into going. She could talk anyone into anything. All I have to do is tell her that's there's a new imprint she hasn't met. Hey..." Seth said as an idea came to him. "Brianna doesn't have an imprint bag, huh? I'll have to remind her and Nessie."

"Good idea. I think Alice still have tons of that material left. Just don't call it an imprint bag, remember?"

Embry looked confused. "Why not?" I forgot that Seth, Sam, and Emily were the only ones who knew to keep their mouths shut to Nessie about being an imprint. How did I not think of that before? It was really stupid of me to have let her spend a week with the wolves without warning them first.

"Nessie doesn't know she's Jacob's imprint."

Embry's mouth dropped open. "She doesn't know?"

I shook my head. "She knows something. She knows that we have what Sam and Emily have and what Kim and Jared have and what Rach and Paul have...she hasn't met Brianna yet, huh? Neither have I, I guess. Man, she's going to be my sister-in-law one day and I haven't even met her. That's pretty bad. Anyway," I stopped rambling. "She knows something, I just don't think she knows that what we have will one day change into what you guys have. I think she thinks it'll be like Quil and Claire forever."

"So why haven't you told her?"

"Edward and Bella don't want to. Especially Edward. He's adamant that she have a choice in who she ends up with."

"That's crazy. I mean, I get that Quil can't tell Claire yet. I don't even think she'd understand. But Nessie's smarter than all of us and she's going to figure it out sometime. Man, I can't even imagine what I'd do if someone told me there was even a chance Brianna might not end up with me. Though, she's pushing for more at the moment." Embry scratched his head when he said the last part and seemed to be speaking only to himself. He looked back up at me. "Just be happy that Nessie doesn't see you that way, yet."

I laughed. "I believe you. I'm not really scared of her not choosing me, anyway." I shifted uncomfortably against the wall. It had been a long day. "You guys want to go back and watch the game upstairs?"

We went back up and I turned the TV to FSN Northwest which I'm sure was only included because the Cullens purchase every single package they can, including the ones in different languages. A few minutes later, Carlisle knocked on my half-opened door. It was odd to see him there, since he'd never actually been in my room. He must have realized it at the same time, because he looked appraisingly around before training his eyes on me. "Would you care to join me in my study?"

"Oh...um, yeah." I got up off the bed, which was big enough for the three of us to lounge on comfortably, and launched the remote at Embry's head. He snatched it from the air without taking his eyes off the game. "You want to...?" I waved towards the stairway that would lead us to the study.

"That would be most prudent of us."

We walked silently across the room, down the stairs, through the study, down the stairs in the library, and into his study on the first floor. It was bigger than the one I shared with Nessie because it wasn't cut in half to accommodate a kitchen. There were also wall-to-wall bookshelves, filled with leather-bound, antique-looking volumes along with shelves and shelves of medical journals. There was no back wall of windows, but there was the same spiral staircase leading into what I knew to be the bedroom he shared with Esme.

We sat down in the usual spots we filled when we spoke in here a couple of nights a week. I half-sat, half-sprawled on the soft, brown, leather sofa and he sat in an armchair made up of the same leather. Instantly, I noticed something different about the room. It smelled like my father. Carlisle spoke first. He always spoke first. I think it was just a routine we had gotten into since the first of our discussions, and we had never broken out of it. That first night I had been bored, wandering the library, and had found the door to his study open. I had made slow passes by the door before stopping in the doorway. He had been reading, but didn't look bothered when I took a peek inside. I immediately had stared at all the pictures and paintings that covered the walls, especially the one of the Volturi. A few minutes later, he had set down his book and was sharing his stories with me. Eventually, Esme had learned of our weekly talks and I usually walked in to find dessert and a tall glass of cold milk waiting for me.

"I wanted to thank you for what you said to Esme tonight. She considers you a son and it means a great deal to her to have you think of her as your surrogate mother."

"I know I haven't told you a lot about my mom. Half of it is because I don't remember her very well and the other half is because I usually end up crying when I do. My sister and my dad have a much harder time dealing with it than I do, because they remember so much of their life with her. I never felt like I could bring her up with them, though. Like my sadness couldn't really compare to theirs, you know?" I shrugged. "Mostly I remember the feeling she gave me, that undeniable feeling of warmth when she was taking care of me. Esme makes me feel like that. That's all I wanted her to know." I shrugged.

"She does now."

"Listen, Carlisle, I know it sounds kinda stupid now, especially because I had it all prepared in my head, earlier. But I want you to know that I really like the talks we've been having. They remind me of something, but not something I've actually experienced, you know?" I shook my head. "That doesn't really make any sense. It's like that feeling with Esme. I've never really had the equivalent with my dad and I know that a big part of it was that he was torn up about my mom's death and then with getting sick and having to raise three kids and everything. But, I've always seen these heart-to-heart father-son moments on TV and in movies and it's not the same, but there's that feeling you get when you watch them, you know? Anyway, that's what these conversations are like to me, if that makes sense." I stopped to take a breath and looked at him from under my brow. "I really did have it planned out a lot better in my head."

Carlisle chuckled. "I think I understand, regardless, because I, too, look forward to our nighttime chats. I don't know if you were aware that after I changed each of my children, after Jasper and Alice joined our family, and even before Bella married Edward, I had conversations with them much like the ones you and I have been enjoying. It was different for each of them. Edward could already hear so much of my thoughts that I mostly shared the stories of my past, while Bella was eager to learn as much about this life as possible before she joined our world. Rosalie had a hard time adjusting to her new situation and I spent many nights conveying my deepest sympathies for taking that choice away from her, while Emmett had the most trouble understanding our difficult way in dealing with our thirst. Alice walked through the door loving and knowing us all, having been privy to our day-to-day life through her visions. When we spoke, we spoke of the future because Alice has never held very much weight in the past. With Jasper it was very different. Because of Jasper's background, he was anxious to hear my own reasoning for changing humans and to learn as much about the lifestyle I adopted as he could. We are both also students of history and we swapped tales from our time as immortals. It did not escape either of us that he had led a life of killing and war, while I had led a life of healing and peace.

"I have very strong children, Jacob, and I have learned a great deal from each of them. I must admit, I have also learned a great deal about myself by retelling my stories to different ears. You're an interesting case, though, Jacob Black. I know that you were being honest earlier when you thanked everyone for taking you into the family, but you have done that all on your own. You, Jacob, were thrust into this world at a very young age and, unlike the rest of us, have had the blessing and curse of retaining the memories of your old life. Like Rosalie, you never asked for this and would have given up anything to go back. Like Edward, you considered yourself a monster and can only see the good in what you are when it helps you to save those you love. Like Emmett, you're funny, brave, and warm. Like Jasper, you are sometimes ruled by your emotions, but you are also kind and considerate and can comfort and calm others with your presence. Like Esme, you are fiercely loyal and will fight to the death for the innocent and those you love. Like Alice, you embrace life and compel others, like Jasper, to want to be near you. I would like to think that you and I share a compassion for all of humanity that not many in our positions have. Your most endearing trait, you share with the girl who would have been your betrothed had not magic and the supernatural interfered with your lives. Like Bella, you have an open and forgiving heart. What makes you who you are, you share with your Renesmee. Both of you value honesty and justice above all else."

There were tears streaming down my face and after all the planning I had done, I ended up just blurting it out. "I love you, Dad."

"I know that, son. I love you, too." We stared at each other for a few beats and all I could think was, Ephraim Black never had this in mind when he met Carlisle. I wiped the back of my hand across my face as Carlisle spoke, again. "I think it's time you forgave your father, Jacob."

"He hurt my mom, Carlisle. She had that pain hanging over her head for my entire life. I have to look back on every memory I have of her and think, was this how she was before she was broken? I don't know how she could have forgiven him. I don't even know if she did forgive him. Did she want out but not want to take our dad from us? Was she just saving us from Embry's childhood? I can forgive him for the lie I lived, but I can't forgive him for the one he made her live."

"That's not your grudge to hold, Jacob. It was your mother's."

"It's the only thing I can do for her, Carlisle."

"That's not true. Let's say that the worst is true, that your mother never did forgive you father, which I don't believe for a second, especially not if you've inherited your forgiveness from her. Then, it would also be true that she stayed with him for you, so that you would have a relationship with your father. If you truly wanted to do something for her, you would give her that." I couldn't argue with his logic, so I didn't say anything. "I did want to apologize to you, tonight. We spoke about inviting your father over for your graduation and I overlooked your obvious hesitance because I thought that my wisdom in this area might exceed your own. I did not have a healthy relationship with my father and time separated us before I could make things right. I did not want that to be your fate. So, if my disregard for your wishes provides an opportunity for reconciliation with your father, I may be sorry, but I do not regret it."

I didn't want to do it, but I knew I had to. I had put it off long enough. I mean, if Embry could forgive him, I could, too, right? "I guess I'll go find Billy." I swung my feet so they were flat on the floor and leaned forward, preparing to stand up.

"Can I leave you with one thing?" I slumped back into the couch. I really had be a long day and it was about to get longer. I nodded at Carlisle. "I believe a part of you is upset at your father because you could never have betrayed Bella nor will you ever will betray Renesmee in the way your father betrayed your mother. On top of that, you cannot possibly understand how your mother could have forgiven him. I think, however, that you're looking at things from the wrong perspective. Try to see it from your mother's standpoint. If you had been betrayed by Bella, if you were betrayed by Renesmee...could you forgive them?"

***

The Rabbit had gotten in yesterday and I used it in the morning to drive up to Port Angeles to buy the food and liquor for the graduation party tonight. I had the money now, and I wanted to do my part. They didn't even card me, though I had planned on using my Jacob Wolfe ID if I had to. I was glad I had thought to take the Xbox controllers when I left the house, because I knew that nothing would get done if the guys had started playing, and I wasn't sticking Leah with cleaning duty, especially if this turned into a party for Sam and Emily.

The boxes that the TV and Xbox had been delivered in were waiting for us at the mansion when we got into town and I had taken them back to the pack house the first night. I had never seen the guys move so fast before. Seth, who must have still been tired from the flight back, had found a drill and began installing the TV with Leah, while Quil and Embry had torn open the box that the console came in, the shrink wrap from the games, and the hard plastic packaging of the controllers. We hadn't slept that night, not that I could have if I had wanted with everyone camped out on my "bed." Even Leah had gotten into the spirit of things, mostly because her reflexes are just as good as ours and she likes kicking our asses at anything.

I unloaded the groceries at the house and then dropped the car back off at the Cullens' because I didn't want any of the guys to see it and start asking questions before I could talk to Sam. Nessie made me lunch and then I went back to help set up.

I was surprised when I saw that half of the guys had shown up to help and I wondered how much of that had to with Embry not giving them much of a choice. He was much stricter with his guys than I was with mine, although I guess you'd need to be to control a handful of guys who were under sixteen. I got the feeling they had been pissed at me when they found out the controllers were gone, but someone had put on a movie, so they were pacified.

We all felt the rain coming, so I dug out the two old tarps I had used as a roof back before I had my garage, and we strung one from the back of the house and one from the front of the house to the trees beyond. They're big tarps and a few dozen people would be able to fit under each, no problem. We cleaned the house and moved the furniture up against the walls. An hour before the party, we were done, and Leah went upstairs to get ready. She seemed excited about tonight, and I wondered if she had invited some of her new friends from school.

I ran back to the Cullens' to pick up Nessie. Bella and Alice had been persuasive and they and their husbands would be stopping by the party for a while later in the night. Nessie wanted to go early to pick out my outfit. Esme and Bella were in full cooking mode when I got there. They had trays of potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and fruit salad. They had also husked a mountain of corn for us to grill. I had bought hamburgers and hot dogs, but the most effort I had put into side dishes was clearing out half of the store's supply of chips.

"What's all this?"

Esme came around to give me a kiss on the cheek while Bella pointed everything out. From the simplicity of the menu, I guessed that Bella had decided what to cook.

Bella had helped me carry everything out to the car and I was surprised that there was more stuff in there, already. "What's in the other two trays?"

"Cookies." I smiled widely and she shrugged. "Esme wanted to bake cakes but I figured something that wouldn't need plates or utensils would be better in a house full of wolves. Not that she didn't buy those for you, too." She pointed at an over-sized bag of thick paper plates; a huge box of clear, plastic utensils; four large bags of red, plastic cups; and several packages of dinner napkins.

I laughed. "I didn't even think about napkins."

Bella rolled her eyes. "We figured."

We started back towards the house and I swung an arm over her shoulder. "You guys can bring the bike when you come, right?" She nodded. "Thanks, Bells. For the food, too."

"It was Esme's idea. I think she's a little disappointed she wasn't able to throw you a party, herself."

Esme was drying off the last of the dishes when we came back in. "Did everything fit? Maybe you should take one of the rentals."

"Nah. I'm giving the car to Sam tonight, anyway." I went around to hug her. "Thanks, Mom." She smiled and reached up to stroke my face. I had been running around all day and her cool fingers felt nice.

Nessie came bounding into the house with Edward behind her. She was wearing a red dress with white polka dots and she had three bags in her hands: a small gray Wolf Pack that must have been for Brianna, her new red imprint bag, and a modified imprint bag that she and Alice had designed especially for her camera. Brianna's lack of a bag had given them an excuse to make even more for Nessie. At first they had said it was because she was too big for her old one. But, when they made her ten in different colors, they had said that she needed more than just a maroon one that matched mine, because it would "clash with too many outfits." I have no doubt that I'd have the same ten bags in my size by the time we went home.

"Hey, Edward. Cool dress, Nessie." She spun around, smiling. "You look like Minnie Mouse." She stared at me blankly before looking over towards the computers in the corner of the room. I laughed. She had the periodic table memorized, but she had no idea what dress Minnie Mouse wore. "You can look it up, later. Let's get going." I grabbed her bags and we walked out to the car, shouting our goodbyes over our shoulders.

Embry looked surprised to see that I had the Rabbit, but he was just happy he wouldn't have to ask Leah to borrow her car to pick up Brianna. I tossed him the keys and he sped off. The guys, surprise, surprise, were already in front of the TV when we got there and Nessie sat down in front of my bag to pick out my clothes. She tossed me a pair of underwear and the guys started howling.

"Dude..." They were crawling over each other, laughing. "Pink?"

I groaned. Of course. The only pair in the drawer I don't wear and she had to go and pack those. I'm never letting her pack for me, again. "Hey! At least I wear underwear." That didn't phase them. Going commando had remained a part of pack life, regardless of the Wolf Pack. "Oh, shut up."

"Sorry," Nessie mouthed at me. I just shrugged. She showed me an image of the guys sitting in the same spots they were now except, instead of laughing, they looked afraid. She looked at me, questioningly.

"That's okay, Nessie." I turned to the guys. "It probably wouldn't be cool if you made them piss their pants right before their girlfriends showed up."

Jared figured out what I was implying, first. Then he did look scared as he was stared wide-eyed at the back of Nessie, who had turned around and continued to go through my clothes. "She wouldn't," he breathed. The others saw his face staring at Nessie, put two and two together, and sobered up.

Nessie just shrugged her shoulders and then turned and handed me a pair of brown khakis, a dark green button-up shirt, and brown leather sandals. As I went upstairs to shower, I saw myself rolling up my sleeves and putting on my watch and bracelet. The shirt was already going to be a pain in the ass when I phased later, but accessories? Really? But, whatever Nessie wants... "'Kay. I'll be down in five," I called down the stairs. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

By the time I rejoined the party, the rest of the packs were there with their imprints. Nessie was already talking to Embry and Brianna.

"Brianna, this is my brother, Jacob." She looked pretty nervous as she smiled at me and glanced around the room. I wondered how many times she'd been around the whole pack in the last six months. Probably not a lot if she wasn't really allowed to hang out with Embry without her cousins there as alibis. I was going to ask Nessie to help calm her or something, but Emily was taking the trays out from the oven where they'd been keeping warm, and she ran to help.

Embry wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her towards him. "You hungry, baby?" It was kinda weird seeing Embry with a girl. Not that girls hadn't flirted with him in the past, at school, but he was always so shy that he usually just froze up around them. I think he only managed to introduce himself to Bella three years ago and even that I'm pretty sure he had stumbled over it. It had been Quil that had flirted with her like crazy.

She smirked up at him and went on her tip-toes to tuck his chin-length hair behind his ear and kiss him. "I know you are." I laughed and she blushed when she realized I was still standing there and had witnessed them. It was the first time I noticed he had grown his hair out to its usual length and I wondered how much of that had to do with Brianna.

"Yeah, we can really wolf it down." I winked at her and she giggled and seemed to relax a little. Imprints love wolf jokes. The guys and I don't get it, we think they're annoying and not even worth rolling our eyes at anymore, but we figure that the girls like them because they think we're bad-ass, so we play along. I walked away, mostly to find out where my girl had gone, but also because I was starting to think that Brianna was shier than Embry and Kim, combined.

As I walked away I heard her whisper, "He's huge." I laughed. Even compared to everyone else, I was still a monster.

I followed Nessie's scent out back where she was taking pictures of all the trays of food and paper goods she and Emily had arranged on a long, collapsible table that Sue must have had lying around. I laughed when I saw that she had wrapped one of the paper napkins around a cut paper plate to make the top of a graduation cap. She had even rolled strips of napkin to make a tassel coming out of the center. That girl spent way too much time around Alice.

Guests started coming in as we packed our plates. Nessie was busy acting like the event photographer, so I sat down and ate with Seth. Embry, Quil, and Paul had invited some of the other people they had graduated with and I had to answer the same questions over and over. No, I didn't die, I moved. Yes, it is true I moved with Bella Swan when she went away to school. Yes, she did marry Dr. Cullen's son. Of course we're not having an affair. I really hoped Nessie hadn't heard that rumor. I hadn't realized how much of a scandal it had been in La Push when I had moved. I hadn't really given the guys a cover story to tell everyone, so I suppose I don't really mind that they told them the truth. They turned their attention to Nessie when she came over and sat on my lap for a while. Yes, she's with me, she's Edward Cullen's ten-year-old niece. I hoped she heard that and would remember to call Bella and Edward aunt and uncle when they showed up. Yeah, she is small for her age. I decided to round her age up, just in case they saw her around La Push when we visited in the future and she looked significantly older.

After dinner, the party turned into three parties in one. First, Leah brought out an old stereo and the backyard became the dance floor. Then, the house became rowdy as someone turned on the Xbox. That left the front yard as the only place you could hear yourself think. Nessie and I headed out there to wait for her parents, but not before she took pictures of the dancing outside and the playing inside. Emily and Sam were the guests of honor out front and most of the Makah and La Push adults were out there with them. My dad was there and we shared an awkward hug. Charlie and Sue looked happy to see us on friendly terms again and I wondered how much I had put them through by having to listen to my dad mope about me.

The other night, after I left Carlisle's office, I had gone back to the living room and asked my dad to come talk to me out back. I had shut the door so the vampires in the next room couldn't overhear. Edward was going to hear, but that was inevitable. Mostly, I didn't want Bella and Nessie to hear from the kitchen. I didn't know where the conversation would go and I didn't want to upset them. My dad had apologized, saying that he never meant to hurt us or my mother, that it was an accident and that he never meant for it to happen but wouldn't wish Embry away for anything. He confessed that he was glad that the truth had finally come out. He had always felt guilty about leaving Embry without a father, especially when he first phased, and he was glad he would finally be able to make it up to him.

That had led us off on a little tangent about the first time I phased and how upset I had been about the whole thing. Another time in my life I had felt betrayed by my father for not willing giving me the information he had. We had a long talk about why I didn't like being a wolf in the beginning, how I had felt like a monster and that it wasn't until I found Nessie that I had truly accepted it. Billy had admitted that he was always jealous of the fact that he was left out of the wolf lifestyle. How his grandfather, Ephraim, had told him the stories when he was younger and he always felt that he could never be a real man like his grandfather until he became a wolf himself.

He had talked about my mom for a while, too. How she had loved it when he would tell her the legends, how she had believed them all wholeheartedly even though a lot of the others their age were already starting to doubt them. He said he always hated it when someone didn't believe them. He felt like they were calling his grandfather a liar. That had allowed me to finally understand why it had always pissed him off so much when I brushed off his comments about the Cullens and called him a superstitious old man.

He had said that he was proud of me, of both his sons, for taking of the responsibility of being an Alpha. He let me in on the meeting that had taken place right after I had left Sam's pack. He, too, had been the only one who thought it was wrong to go after Bella. He said that, even though he never told me, he was proud of the decision I had made and that he didn't know if, at my age, he would have been able to stand up to Sam like I had. He had said that he knew then that I done right by Ephraim and all the other Alphas and Chiefs that had come before us. He admitted that it was then that he began to see me as the true Chief of the tribe and that he was just my placeholder on the council.

Finally, he had told me that he had loved my mother, and still did, more than anything. That, in the end, he regretted the time apart from my mother in their short marriage more than anything he had done during the time. He had said that he had hurt her twice, once when he admitted the affair and then again a few weeks later when he had to tell her that Lily was pregnant. And that, both times, she had forgiven him. He never understood why she had, either, but he wasn't about to question it if it meant he could stay with her. I had told him that I would be lying if I said that I could forgive him as easily as my mom had, but that I did want to work on having a relationship with him. We had left it that, sealing things with a hug and an "I love you."

I was glad that I had shut the back door, because I hadn't told Nessie half of what my dad and I had talked about, later that night. After being up since four in the morning, I had just wanted to crash when Edward drove everyone back to their hotel and Nessie and I got into bed. But Nessie had wanted to talk. We had talked. Well, she had talked while I had made half-hearted grunts and mmhmm's in the right places. She seemed to be reliving our day. First, she had talked about me getting my bike in the morning. How excited I had looked, how she had helped Alice pick out my suit, and how she had been amused all last week as she helped me study for finals because she knew I was going to get A's. Then, she had talked about her talk with Jasper. Nothing too deep, mostly she had gushed over how interesting it had been and how he had given her a lot to think about. She had been quiet for a while and I was starting to drift off to sleep when she finally asked, "Do you know how he got his scars?" I had mumbled out a mmhmm and she was quiet again. Finally, very casually she had said, "You and your dad looked like you were having a good talk." There had been silence. "I saw you two hug before you came back in."

I had yawned out a "yeah" and heard her digging into the mattress a little deeper, as if expecting a long story. When I hadn't said anything more, she had sighed.

"Well, what did you talk to Embry and Seth about when you came up after dinner?"

I had started freaking out, glad that she had sat up to talk to me and wasn't touching me. My nervousness had woken me up. The next time I had spoken, my answer was more than one syllable. "I just showed them my room and our study. We didn't really talk about anything. In fact, we were up here watching the game until I talked to my dad." I hadn't wanted to tell her about the Carlisle conversation, either. I never told her about what we talked about during our little nighttime ritual.

She had taken my multiple sentence answer as a sign that I was finally ready to talk and had pried for more. "Well, you talked about Brianna, right? When Seth came down, he told me that you guys had talked about getting her a Wolf Pack, too."

I had yawned and turned my head to look at the time. I had been up for twenty hours. "We must've. I really don't remember," I had lied.

"Jacob," she had whined. "It was four hours ago, how could you not remember?"

"I don't know, Nessie," I had whined back. "I'm tired. Do we have to do this right now?"

"No," she had huffed, finally laying down beside me. "If that really had been all you talked about, though, you wouldn't have been so nervous when I asked." Thankfully, she hadn't said anymore about it and was fine by the next morning when everyone came for breakfast.

Regardless of the fact that she had no idea what had actually gone on with my dad, she was treating him the same as she had six months ago. As we waited, she sat on my dad's lap as she caught Sue up on all she had missed out on in Hanover. She had originally planned on going, but had given her ticket to Seth at the last minute. It was probably for the best. If Bella hadn't been Charlie's daughter, there was no way she would have had anything to do with the Cullens. With her occupied, I took the opportunity to talk to Sam and Emily.

Emily gave me a hug as I walked up to them. "Congratulations, Jacob!" I had said hi to Sam earlier, but she had been busy with some of her cousins. "I heard you turned into some sort of nerd over there." I rolled my eyes. Nessie. Who else would be bragging about me? "Your dad was going on and on about it the last time I talked to him." Huh. That was kinda surprising.

"You're one to talk with your full ride." I gave her a light tap with my fist on the side of her arm which made her lose her balance a little. I laughed, wondering how much she had had to drink. Sam growled at me.

"Yeah, well I never got a 4.0 in high school, so I'm sure you could get the same." Both Sam and Emily were getting scholarships to go to school. There were a lot of government-sponsored help for kids who came from reservations, especially if they went to public colleges. Emily had done really well in high school, but put off college to stay near Sam. She had gotten a full scholarship, but Sam's was only partial. He actually hadn't gotten one right out of high school, even though he had planned on going. He had only qualified for one now because he was going back to school after a long absence. Usually only older women on the rez, mostly single moms, ever applied for those.

"Listen, guys. I know I didn't give you a guys a wedding present."

Emily took a step towards me, swaying slightly, and put a hand on my chest. Sam came up beside her and put an arm around her waist. "Oh, Jake, don't worry about it."

"Well, the thing is. I wanted to give you guys the Rabbit." They just stared at me, so I went on. "It's in good condition. In fact, I just replaced the carburetor and the tires are practically new. Anyway, I know that you would want to come back and forth a lot and I figured that you wouldn't be able to without a car so—"

I was cut off by Emily practically attacking me with a hug as she squealed. Huh. Is this what I looked like when they got me the Spyker? She pulled away from me to look into my face, I guess she's was trying to figure out if I was serious or not. "You're giving us a car?" I grinned and nodded. People were turning to stare. My dad smiled at me. Emily squealed again and launched herself at her husband. "He's giving us a car!"

Sam looked shocked, but there was something else there, too. Ah. If Emily's reaction was the one Nessie allowed me to have when I got my car for my birthday, then Sam's face was the one I would have had. His face turned into a scowl, clearly torn between seeing Emily this excited about something and not wanting to accept the object of her sudden happiness.

"It was collecting dust in our garage, Sam. Take it." I whispered. Emily was still clutching him, gushing about coming home on weekends and trips up to Neah Bay before they left for school, completely unaware of her husband's internal struggle. "Nessie," I called over my shoulder, without breaking eye contact with Sam. She came up beside me and I picked her up. She was grinning, obviously affected by Emily's enthusiasm. "Why don't you help Sam out a little." I said it softly as I winked at him, Emily was still oblivious. Suddenly, a smile lit up Sam's face. "Too much, Nessie. Sam's never been that happy." He rolled his eyes at us, but the smile stayed in place.

"I'm just projecting what Emily's feeling."

He looked down as Emily pulled away and he stroked her left cheek. Their smiles matched. She reached up to kiss him and then turned to me. After a thank you, a hug, and a kiss on the cheek, she ran off screaming, "Mom, guess what!"

Sam's face was suddenly serious again. "Thank you, Jacob."

Then, to lighten the mood I joked, "Don't thank me yet. VW's don't exactly have the most leg room. I wouldn't want to be you on those three hour drives to Seattle."

He brushed off my attempt at levity as he gripped my upper arm. "Thank you." I just nodded. I understood the pride he had to swallow to accept it. "You're a good man, Jacob Black."

In my arms, Nessie nodded her agreement. I rolled my eyes at her as Sam went to find his wife. "Hey," I called after him. "Aren't you forgetting something?" I tossed him the keys and he grabbed them out of the air.

Nessie rested her head on my shoulder and sighed. "That was nice."

"You know, it kinda was." I agreed.

I heard some of the guys decided to bring out Rock Band and the music inside the house began to compete with the music in the back. All the guests were impressed with the wolves' abilities to score perfects for every song, even on the expert level. We played it off that we practiced a little too much, and they bought it. The only score that never made it over 70% was the vocals. The first night we had played, we had created a band. Quil and I had fought over the drums, but I had won, so he played bass. Embry was lead guitar and that left Seth as the singer. We were surprised when he could actually do it. Then, Leah had tried and we were even more shocked when she sang Hole better than a coked-up Courtney Love.

"Nessie!" Charlie was holding up her new, red purse. "Your bag is singing...opera!" I laughed and put her down.

"It's just my ringtone." She pulled her phone out from her bag and, after pressing the screen, put it to her ear. "Hi, Daddy!...Uh huh, I'll tell him....Bye, Daddy!" She turned to me. "Where's Embry?"

"They're on their way?" She nodded. "I think he's inside." We started walking towards the house. Outside, the rain hitting the tarp drowned out the noise coming from the living room. "Hey," I lowered my voice when she turned to look at me. "All these people think Edward's your uncle, remember?" Her mouth turned into an "o" as she realized her mistake on the phone. "Don't worry about it, just be careful what you call them when they're here."

She nodded as I opened the front door for her and I watched her go straight up to Embry. He was sitting on the floor with Brianna between his legs, leaning back against him as they both watched the TV screen, swaying to the music. Nessie whispered something in his ear and he nodded absently. She was walking away before her words caught up to him. "Hey, Nessie? Tell Edward not to worry about that stuff anymore, okay?" She smiled at him and nodded.

By the time we got back outside, Bella and Edward were climbing out of their SUV rental. I was surprised to see that, along with Alice and Jasper, Emmett had shown up, too. While Alice scurried in her heels from the car to the tarp cover, Jasper and Emmett took their time strolling over. Edward and Bella were already saying their hellos. Everyone in the front yard watched cautiously as the beautiful vampires approached them. They relaxed a little when they heard Bella call Charlie "dad," but their eyes widened again when the saw Emmett and the too-large grin he gave me as he came near. As the small group of us laughed at Alice's enthusiastic greetings, everyone else in the front yard seemed to relax a little.

Emmett came over and slapped me hard on the back. "I was promised liquor."

"Emmett," Edward warned, shooting a look at his father-in-law.

Emmett cussed under his breath. "Shit."

Fortunately, Alice spoke up before Charlie could. "I haven't seen Emily since her wedding. Wasn't she a beautiful bride, Sue?" She was saying all this much louder than necessary, but all of Emily's family on the lawn were suddenly warming up to the pale faces who were crashing the party. Alice looked over at Nessie and I. "Do you two know where she is?"

"She must be inside. I'll take you." Nessie walked over to her aunt. "Did you want to come, too, Aunt Bella?" Everyone looked confused for a minute, especially Charlie, but they all quickly righted their faces.

"Great!" Alice answered for the both of them and ended up dragging Nessie and Bella into the house herself.

"Everybody who's drunk is in the backyard," I told Emmett quietly.

"Good man." He hit my back, again, and headed around the house. "Fuck, this place reeks." Thankfully, he was far enough away that none of the other guests heard him. "Jazz? You coming." I concentrated on showing Edward all the questions I had been getting throughout the night about Nessie and then followed Jasper and Emmett around the side of the house.

Immediately, I began to feel light-headed and a little giddy. "Thanks, Jazz." He winked at me and slugged me a little too hard in the shoulder. It looked like Rachel and Kim had dragged their wolves onto the dance floor. Not that the guys seemed to care too much, especially because the girls were slowly getting wasted and dancing was a perfect opportunity to put their hands wherever they wanted. I growled and Paul and Jared looked around, surprised. Paul moved his hands back up to my sister's waist and Jared laughed. Jasper and Emmett laughed, too.

Emmett started dancing in place, completely unembarrassed by the fact that he was dancing off to the side by himself. "Ah, man. I knew Rosie should have come." Jasper and I looked at Emmett like he was crazy. There was no way she'd hang out with a "bunch of dogs" let alone have Emmett feel her up in front of them.

I was surprised Sam and Emily weren't out here, until I remembered that Leah was. There were a lot of people I didn't know and I figured they were Leah's friends. Especially when I saw a few in the corner, smoking cigarettes.

My buzz had gotten stronger as Jasper's proximity to the party had increased. I don't think I could even justify it as a buzz anymore. I was drunk. He moved towards the back door, walking in step to the music. "I'm going to go find my wife."

"Aw, Jazz, don't leave." Emmett whined. We sobered up as soon as Jasper walked inside. Emmett was starting to attract stares from a lot of the girls. He smiled back at one of them and she was too drunk to sense the danger in his sharp teeth. He kept his eyes on the dance floor. "So, who are all these people?"

"Some are people I would have graduated with, some are Leah's friends from school, but most are just kids from our rez and the Makah rez."

"Do you guys always invite them to your parties?"

I figured he was asking about the Makahs. "Not usually. Embry's half, though, and his imprint is from up there, so he invited a lot of people down."

We were standing next to the table that had earlier held the food, but now held the booze. "You boys bought a lot of liquor."

"Yeah, I might have gone a bit overboard." I had never bought liquor before and I had no idea what to get. I bought a couple of cases of beer and the same stuff we had for Sam's bachelor party. People seemed to be okay mixing these things with the 2-liters of soda that were also crowding the table.

"You bought it? Did you get carded?"

"Yeah, I bought it and no, I didn't get carded."

Jasper came out of the house with Alice and they made their way by us to dance. All of a sudden, I was drunk, again. Jasper winked at me and Emmett over the heads of other dancers as Alice started grinding up onto him and we laughed. Emmett was dancing by my side, again. A couple of people started watching Alice and, when she did a complicated dance move, people started catcalling out at her. Kim and Rachel noticed her then and ran over to say hi.

Jasper stood between us and swung his arms up around our shoulders. "I had to get out of there before Alice had me starting an orgy!" That put Emmett and I into hysterics, Jasper joined us.

Jared and Paul were at the makeshift bar, fixing rum and cokes for their girls. "Jazz, work your magic on them." I pointed my chin towards the bar.

Paul noticed the effect first and looked around, confused. Jared was oblivious as he swayed and sang along with the music. His sang louder and louder, missing Paul's questioning stares completely until he missed the high note and Paul laughed at him. They both looked at us when we joined in on the laughter.

Paul's eyes widened as he saw me slapping my knee. "Bro...are you drunk?"

I just shrugged with a shit-eating grin on my face. "Are you?"

The idiot ignored the hint in my question. "How much did you have to drink?" Emmett giggled at that. "Are they drunk?" Paul still wasn't comfortable with the Cullens and he was talking like they couldn't hear them. "I didn't know they could get drunk!" He turned to hit Jared in the stomach, who was already paying attention. "Jared, man, they're drunk!"

The girls walked over to us. Well, more like they teetered over on their heels. It was odd to see Alice struggle a little in her shoes, although she still managed to maintain a level of grace that my sister and Kim lacked.

Paul was momentarily distracted by Rachel, until he saw what I saw in Alice. "She's drunk, too?"

"Relax, Paul." His eyes somewhat narrowed at my words. Telling Paul to calm down or relax usually had the opposite effect. He heard it from everyone so often that it just pisses him off. He hates being the weakest with his control. "It's Jasper. He's just projecting everyone's drunkenness onto us."

"Nice." Jared bent forward to put out his fist towards Jasper in thanks and Jasper hit it with his. Jared winced a little at the difference in skin temperature. Jasper didn't. He was probably used to my heat. Jared and Paul still hadn't taken a step towards us and I laughed when Jared subconsciously pulled Kim closer and breathed in her scent.

Edward came out of the house looking pissed. He glanced around the backyard, squinting his eyes and temples before walking towards us. Suddenly, I was stone-cold sober. I saw Jared and Paul blink a few times and I knew they were, too. They followed our glances and pulled their imprints away from Alice and back onto the dance floor.

"We're leaving," Edward growled.

Emmett whined in protest. "We just got her, Eddie." Was he still drunk, or just so stupid that he was still pushing Edward's buttons even though his was obviously pissed off?

"If the three of you wish to stay, you can run home. Bella and I are taking Renesmee."

Wait. "What? Why?"

"Because, Jacob, this party is an adult party and she shouldn't be exposed to this." I blinked. What was he talking about? "This, Jacob." He waved his arm around. "Or have you forgotten that she can sense just as much as Jasper?"

"She's been out front the whole time. She hasn't been near any of this. Besides, there are other kids her age here." I know I had seen some girls a year or two older than Nessie a few hours ago.

"Precisely, Jacob. There were families here a few hours ago. It's after ten, though, and most of the families have gone home. Now it's just a typical teenage party. I'm not arguing about this with you. Her mother and I are taking her home." He spun on his heel and stalked off towards the house.

I followed him. "What's so bad about what's going on inside? They're just playing video games." He didn't answer me, he just opened the door and walked through.

As if to prove my point, the living room looked exactly like it did every other night around this time. The guys were spread out everywhere and the equipment was still set up for Rock Band. I was surprised to see Nessie sitting at the drums, but I was shocked to see Bella singing. Edward was, too, and he stopped so suddenly that I almost ran into him. The song had just started and, though she was incredibly hesitant, her alto voice was hitting every note perfectly. I didn't know Bella could sing! Jasper, Alice, and Emmett came through the door behind us and I turned around to see the shock on their faces. When the song finished, Bella handed the microphone over to Emily with a sheepish smile on her face.

Emmett let out a low whistle. "Damn, Bella!"

She whipped around to face us, obviously embarrassed. She caught Edward's stare and smiled shyly. Nessie looked back and forth between her parents and then rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to the game as Embry selected another song. Emily was giggling as she hit the top of the microphone to make a cowbell sound and Brianna was looking back and forth from the bass to the screen, her tongue slightly out of her mouth as she concentrated.

When Edward turned towards me, he looked sorta dazed. "Have her home by midnight." He went over to his wife and whispered something in her ear. They said their goodbyes quickly, giving Emily a hug and congratulating Quil and Embry. Soon, Edward was leading her towards the door with a hand on her back and they were gone. I shook my head and tried not to think about what Jasper had said the other day about the honeymoon phase.

I sat on the floor next to Nessie's drum set as Jasper, Alice, and Emmett went back outside. "They say that if you can play the drums on hard in the game, you can actually play the drums." She took her eyes off the screen to look at me, but didn't stop playing. "What level are you playing it on?"

She shrugged. "Expert." I laughed. Quil took over on drums for the next song and Nessie walked with me to the kitchen. I started to reheat some of the macaroni and cheese and as soon as the smell wafted from the microwave, all the guys in the kitchen asked me to make some for them, too. Nessie laughed, turned on the stove, and gave me two unopened bags of chips. "Go give them these to hold them over, I'll reheat the rest." I kissed her cheek, went into the living room, and tossed the bags at Quil's head. Claire must have already gone home.

"Thanks, bro."

"Don't thank me. You guys can starve for all I care. It's Nessie who's reheating the rest for you pigs." There was a chorus of "thanks, Nessie" and I could hear her giggles from the kitchen. I walked back and started in on my snack as she stuck the entire tray into the now-heated oven.

She frowned as she opened one of the trays. "No one ate the fruit salad."

"Yeah, but I bet the cookies are all gone." She grinned and nodded.

"So what's going on out back? My dad seemed upset by what he was listening to."

I shrugged. "Drinking and dancing." She laced an image of Embry and Brianna dancing with a question. Gossiping was a bad habit she had picked up from Alice and it made it worse that she had a fool-proof way of talking about people without them knowing it, even when they were right in front of her. "I don't think she wanted to." She showed me the same image, but with Sam and Emily. She also showed me Emily stumbling around earlier. She knew she had been drinking. "Could you sense it off her?" She sent me the sensation she had felt earlier. Emily wasn't drunk, just a bit tipsy, and Nessie had only really felt it off of her when she was happy about the car. Nessie could tell she was just a little too happy. "Don't tell Edward about that." She rolled her eyes as though it was obvious she wouldn't. I wish I could have a shield. She sent me the first image, again, "Oh." I shrugged, thinking it was obvious. "Leah's out there."

She looked confused. "So?" Oops. Nessie didn't know about the Leah-Sam-Emily love triangle because Nessie didn't know about imprinting. Shit! Nessie showed me an image of Emily calling a woman "Mom" and then Leah calling the same woman "Auntie." I knew what she meant, she knew they were cousins. Nessie seemed to be lost in thought for a second and then she quickly showed me flashes of all the times she had hung out with Emily and Sam and Leah hadn't been there or had sat as far away from them as possible. She showed me the night before we had left for Hanover, how Leah had stayed upstairs, how she had eaten inside. She showed me how sad and angry Leah had felt at their wedding, how Leah had gone outside and I had followed her, and how Sam had danced with all the bridesmaids but her. "Why? And why are you so anxious?"

I stuffed the last forkful of macaroni and cheese in my mouth, buying some time. "It's just gossip." I tried to calm myself, but I knew she could feel my tension rising. This was it. This was how she was going to find out. Why did I argue with Edward? I should've just left when he wanted her to leave. I needed Jasper.

She looked worried and angry. "I don't believe you! As calm as you're trying to look, you're close to being hysterical. It's bad, isn't it? It's really bad." Her own voice was getting shriller and I forgot for the millionth time that Nessie didn't just know what a person was feeling, she felt what a person was feeling.

The timer went off and I felt relieved that she would have to focus on something else right now. Thankfully, my relief became her relief and I raced outside while she went to give everyone their food. Alice was dancing in between her husband and brother and they were obviously drunk. Jasper looked up, first, sensing my distress.

I dragged them off to the side, nervously looking over my shoulder to make sure Nessie hadn't followed me out. The last thing I needed was for her to get drunk on top of everything else. "We're going. I've got to get Nessie home."

"Calm down, Jake." And then he calmed me down. "What's going on?"

Emmett was oblivious to my distress. He rolled his eyes. "Did Edward call? He and Bella finished up and now he wants her home? I gotta say, that did not take long."

Jasper's fake calm wasn't strong enough. "Shut up, Emmett!" He looked surprised at my outburst, but Jasper and Alice didn't. "Christ, Jasper. You've gotta help me out. I'm a wreck."

"You've got to tell us what's wrong." Alice grabbed my hand.

"She's figuring it out, Alice! She's going to figure it out! Edward and Bella are going to kill me! This is not how I wanted her to find out!" I turned to Jasper and felt calmer. "You've got to help me. She's getting suspicious as hell. I can't control my emotions. She's going to find out!" Another wave of calm crashed into me and I was able to take a deep breath. "Thanks. She's asking about Sam and Leah. She's going to find out about imprinting." Alice gasped. "I know."

Emmett looked confused. "So? She finds out. What's the big deal?"

"Edward and Bella." Jasper answered for me. "How did this happen?"

"I slipped." I looked over my shoulder, again. Still no Nessie. "I don't have time for this, she can't come out her. If she asks Leah, there's no way she'd keep her mouth shut."

They all looked back towards the house. Alice still had my hand and she grabbed Jasper's with the other. "Well, then let's go."

We walked in through the back to find Emily and Nessie washing dishes. Emily looked nervous. "Well, Nessie, it's sorta complicated." She caught my eye and shrugged her shoulders slightly.

"Nessie," Alice called her name as though nothing was wrong. "We're going home, now."

Nessie looked at me and her eyes narrowed. Please don't look at me like that. It's not my fault. Alice was packing up her camera bag. She pointed out her purse for Jasper to pick up. "Edward said midnight." Her voice was angry and monotone. Emily excused herself and went back to the living room.

Emmett looked sheepish. "Well, uh, I promised your aunt I'd be back by now."

The same hard voice responded. "Did you promise her that I'd be back by now?"

"Uh...no?" Emmett looked at me for support.

I guess it was my turn. "C'mon, Nessie, jus—"

She held up a hand to cut me off. "There's only one thing I want to talk to you about right now, Jacob Black, and you know it. So, unless you're going to tell me the truth, for once, just do yourself a favor and don't say anything else that's just going to piss me off more!" I nodded as I stared at the floor, knowing I looked like an idiot and not caring. Not pissing her off further seemed like a very good idea.

She followed her aunt around, saying goodbye to everyone. The young guys, Emily, and Brianna were all looking down, pretending they hadn't just heard her handing me my ass. Ordinarily, I would have probably been humiliated that the younger guys had just witnessed that, but there were bigger problems in my life right now. Seth, Quil, Sam, and Embry gawked at me with incredulous eyes. It was extremely rare that a wolf fought with their imprint and even rarer that they didn't fall down to their knees, immediately accepting the fault, and beg for forgiveness. They were amazed that I was the one actively keeping the fight going. What's more, everyone but Seth knew first-hand the torture I was going through by having Nessie upset with me.

"I'll bring the pink slip by for you tomorrow, Sam." Nessie turned at the sound of my voice and glared at me. Oh! She didn't want me to talk at all. I shut up, only allowing myself to wave goodbye to everyone as I left.

The five of us walked silently to the trees near my dad's house and I went to phase. It took forever with the button-up shirt and when I got back, only Nessie was there. Way to back me up, guys. "I told them all to go on ahead." I nodded my big, dumb, wolf head and we set off.

Over the past year, Nessie's running style had completely changed. She used to run playfully. Jumping over tree roots, spinning in the air after pushing off tree trunks, and, except when she was hunting, she was always giggling. After working with Jasper and playing on the trampoline with Alice, it began to change. She was more acrobatic, only touching the ground to gather momentum. Instead, she flew from tree to tree, launching herself dozens of yards at a time, bending and twisting in space to make it through branches so that they only slightly swayed as though hit by a light breeze. It was beautiful to watch, an air show that defined stealth and grace. She could stay completely out of sight when she wanted by balancing on high branches, moving in the hidden tree tops only when the wind would cover her sounds. It played on the only strengths she had: agility, compactness, and the patience and stillness she had mastered in her defensive training with Jasper. No matter how fast her pursuer may be, they couldn't catch her. One minute she was here and the next she was gone. One minute she was an inch from my snout and the next she was halfway up a tree, or yards ahead of me, or right behind me. She was still playful and she still giggled, showing off more when we were on the way back from a hunt or just screwing around in the woods. When hunting, though, she was serious and deadly. She would snatch deer away from their herd and would have them half-drained by the time the others noticed one was missing. She would stalk mountain lions who knew they were being hunted and would still run straight into her, convinced that she was in the exact opposite direction. Each time, the animal was unaware it had ever taken its last breath. She didn't like going after predators, though, who always seemed to be aware of the hunt more than others. While it was more fun, she always felt a little guilty as she sensed their fear. Her only comfort was that she had been just as afraid as they had. Still, her pride prevented her from luring them into a false sense of security with her power. She said it was cheating and she knew she wouldn't be able to brag about her kill when she got home to Emmett and Jasper.

Tonight, though, her running was slow and boring. She ran beside me and I was only one step above jogging. I wondered why she was dragging it out. I, for one, was anxious to talk to Edward and Bella. I needed their advice, or their permission, I guess. I thought back on the night and felt like kicking myself as I relived my slip-up over and over again. I began thinking about what it was that had started this, anyway. The truth of Sam and Leah's relationship. They were the same age as the twins and Leah was always over. I had heard them giggling about him before. Most of the girls in Sam's grade had had crushes on him. Hell, half the barely-pubescent girls in my grade had crushes on him. Then, one day, Sam and Leah were walking down the hall near the high school classes, arm in arm. Girls moaned and called Leah a bitch.

Half a mile from the cottage, I took a left at a tree as Nessie went right. Suddenly, my thoughts were my own, again.

In my sudden, blinding anger, I came to a too-fast stop. My back legs came rushing forward as they caught up to my half-buried front legs and the mound of dirt in front of me. Nessie turned around a few yards away and started moving towards me. I shook my head violently, and backed away. Never turning my back, I walked until I couldn't see her and calmed down enough to phase. Tonight, I was uncharacteristically thankful for my advanced phasing abilities. I left my shirt off, not willing to deal with buttons on top of everything else, and rolled up the bottom of my pants because my shins were still covered in mud. Why couldn't we be magically clean when we phased back?

I found her pacing right where I had left her. This time, I cut her off when she opened her mouth to speak. I was surprised by the anger I still felt as I growled at her. "Goddammit, Renesmee! You can't just go around pulling things out of people's heads like that." I pointed my finger at her. "It's. Not. Right."

She stopped pacing and turned on me. "Not right? What's not right, Jacob Black, is that my best friend's keeping things from me." The she turned around a muttered, "If I even am your best friend." She turned back around. "Let's see what else you won't tell me. What did you talk about with your dad, Jacob? Huh? What were you talking to Embry and Seth about that night in your room? Huh?" Her voice was getting louder and higher pitched as she went. "How did Jasper get his scars? Huh? Once again, everyone else can know everybody's secrets, but me."

I rolled my eyes, upset even more by her melodramatics. "Don't change the subject. You shouldn't pry into people's thoughts like that. You shouldn't talk about people in front of their faces, either, even if they don't know you're doing it. And you shouldn't even think about scaring people just because they're laughing at someone else's expense." I ticked off the ways she had abused her powers, just in the past few hours. She waved a dismissive hand at me and started walking towards the cottage, again. I followed her, calling after her. "So, don't try to change the subject. If you want to be pissed at me because I won't tell you about Sam and Leah, fine. But you know that you're my best friend, you know that I love you, and you know that I don't treat you like a little kid like everyone else in your family does." I stepped in front of her, blocking off her escape. "So, quit trying to pass it off as the truth, because you know it's bullshit." I didn't care anymore that I was cussing in front of her. If she really was my best friend, and I was suspecting more and more that she honestly was, then she was going to get my anger unfiltered. Exactly like Quil and Embry would have gotten it.

"Do I? You were the asshole telling people that you had moved away to be with your best friend when she started school. That doesn't sound like you were talking about me, Jacob."

I rolled my eyes, again. "So? I didn't tell them that you came from a family of vampires, either. Are you bitching about this because you honestly don't think I see you as my best friend or because I didn't tell people you are?"

"Just answer me this, Jacob. Does my mother know about Sam and Leah?" She didn't wait for my reply, she already knew the answer. My chin hit my chest. "Did she find out on her own? Did Sam tell her? Leah? Emily? Or was it her best friend, Jacob Black?" She took the silent slump of my shoulder as a confession. She shoved a finger as close to my face as she could get it from two feet below me. I unfocused my eyes from it and stared at the ground. "Now who's full of shit?"

I finally looked into her eyes and saw the anger and hurt there, but I also saw the inherent intelligence and, for once, I really understood what it meant. She wasn't a little kid. We could take each other's bullshit and put the other in their place. She had become my equal. Screw that, we had become equals. Suddenly, I wanted to tell her. I didn't want to be alone in this, anymore. I wanted a partner, I wanted her as a partner. Because she would be there for me just as much as I would be there for her. Because I knew she could handle the hard stuff. Because I wanted to share more than just time with her, I wanted to share me with her. I felt so guilty for all the times she had given her thoughts to me alone, and I couldn't give mine in return. So, tonight, she was going to find out about imprinting. About our forever. And I was relieved.

She must have felt my mood change because both of our breathing and heart rates slowed as we calmed. We stared into each other's eyes, not speaking, just silently tasting this new mood. We were so absorbed in it that we didn't notice Edward until he was half a second away from us. At the same time, we severed our eye connection and turned our gaze towards him. He was wearing his shirt unbuttoned and it flew out like a cape as he ran. My thoughts had obviously interrupted something. Bella was a few steps behind him, her hair disheveled as she called after her husband. He must have just dressed and ran out without telling her anything.

Immediately, he was in front of me, dragging my unresponsive body by the neck. With lightening speed and just enough force to knock the wind out of my inhumanly strong body, he slammed me into a tree. I heard it splinter down the middle, but it didn't topple as he held me there, growling up into my face. "How dare you speak to my daughter that way! You will get down on you knees and beg for her forgiveness, dog. Do you understand me?" I couldn't give a response. My body, now desperate for oxygen, wasn't getting it with his hand cutting off my air supply. Damn, bloodsucker knew right where to pinch it off, too. He stared at me fixedly with cold, jet black eyes as my thoughts and body cried out for breath.

Bella had given up asking Edward what was going on, so she asked Nessie, instead. But, she couldn't get any information out of her, either, because Nessie was already trying to break free of her mother's grasp to run towards us. I could see over his shoulder that they were both screaming at Edward to let me go, but Bella wasn't about to release her daughter to tear him off of me. She probably didn't have the strength to do it, either. There were tears running down Nessie's face and I wanted to tell her to calm down, that I was going to be fine, that I loved her.

My body was screaming at me to phase. My entire frame shook as it sensed I was in danger and longed to do the one thing that might give me the advantage. I was torn. On one hand, he'd have to let me go and I probably wouldn't cause him any harm. On the other, it would probably start a fight and I wasn't going to risk hurting Nessie if either of us were injured. Besides, with my luck, half my pack would be phased and would try to rush in to save the day. The last thing I needed at this point was a war on my hands. Especially when Embry had all but erased the treaty line today. The sky, Nessie's face, and Edward's shoulder all became spotted, so I just closed my eyes and allowed myself to be comforted by the knowledge that I would soon pass out. I prayed that, at the last second, pure instinct wouldn't kick in. Don't phase, I chanted to myself. Don't phase.

***

I came to half-hanging off the couch in the living room of the cottage. I knew as soon as I woke up that Nessie must have been exiled to the main house because I couldn't hear her heartbeat and because Bella and Edward were arguing. Loudly. My head hurt and I cursed the fact that no matter how good my immune system was, I could still get headaches.

"Did you even think about your daughter?"

"Of course I did. Why do you think I was—"

"The look on her face.... I've never seen her that upset, Edward. You need to apologize to h—"

"I need to apologize? If anyone needs to—"

I tuned them out and sat up, swinging my legs until they were flat on the floor. The blood rushed to my head and I leaned against the back of the couch. Ugh. The flowing blood made the throbbing pain in my head worse. I stretched and stood up quickly, forgetting where I was. One of the low beams on the ceiling now had an indent in it the size of my head. I bent forward and grabbed my skull as I howled. "Ow!...Dammit!...that hurt!" Between the dizziness from sitting up and the head thumping, I felt like my head was going to split in half.

"Jacob?" Bella was suddenly at my side. She put a hand on my arm, gripping it in comfortingly. "Are you okay?"

I sat back down again. This toy furniture she had in here was uncomfortable and my knees were nearly at my chin. I buried my head in my hands and mumbled out, "I've been better, Bells."

She sat down next to me on the arm of the couch. "I'm sorry about Edward."

I held up my hand. "Don't." I was trying very hard not to be extremely pissed off. I didn't need her apologizing for him. "Anyway, we have more important things to talk about. Where is he?"

"He went to the main house to get Carlisle." Carlisle had flown in the night before after finishing his shift at the hospital. He was taking a week's vacation from the hospital and they thought he and Esme were going to Hawaii. I'm sure everyone would be shocked when he came back just as pale as he had left. "I figured you wouldn't want Edward to be the one checking for a concussion."

"Why would I have a concussion? You can get one from passing out?"

Bella looked down at her hands on her lap. "Well, once you...went limp, he didn't exactly gently lay you on the ground."

I groaned. "Well, I hope Carlisle brings aspirin."

"I did." Carlisle came in through the front door and, when he saw me, he shot a glance at Edward, who was nodding guiltily towards the ground. He picked up the ottoman from the fireplace, set it down in front of me, and sat on it. "How are you doing, son?"

I shrugged. "It's just a headache." He took out a penlight and made me follow it with my eyes. Then, he started at the base of my neck and put gentle pressure all along my skull. I winced when he got to the bump at my crown. "That's a new one. I hit it on these stupid hobbit ceilings."

"Hey." Bella hit my arm. "Those are my hobbit ceilings you're talking about."

Carlisle chuckled. "Well, you don't have a concussion." He pulled out a bottle of water from his bag and handed me two pills. "These should help."

I took them from him, but I didn't bother opening the bottle. "How is she?" Edward growled from the doorway, but Carlisle and I ignored him. His wife shot him a look.

"Bella had only dropped her off five minutes before Edward came back for me. She was hysterical when she first came in, but Esme managed to calm her down. She, uh, didn't react well when Edward arrived."

I snorted. No, I guess she wouldn't. I was still only talking to Carlisle, though I was aware that Bella and Edward would get caught up to speed, too. Right now, he was the only somewhat objective opinion in the room, and I wanted to hear what he'd say. "I slipped up at the party. She asked me why Sam and Emily weren't dancing and I told her that it was because Leah was out on the dance floor. She started putting things together and I freaked." I had told Carlisle about Sam's story. He also knew, like the rest of the family, that Nessie didn't know about imprinting.

Bella gasped but Carlisle just nodded. "Jasper and Alice told me. What we don't know is what happened after they ran home ahead of you two."

"We were just running. Well, we were jogging, really. I couldn't figure out why she was lagging behind until we split up around a tree and I realized she had been listening to my thoughts. I was pissed and she was still pissed. We got into a fight. We'd only ever had one fight before, a few months ago, but it wasn't as bad as this. I accused her of abusing her powers...which she does, by the way...and she called me an asshole." I looked down, shaking my head and laughing with a big, goofy grin on my face as I thought about how Nessie had looked when she had called me an asshole. Carlisle looked amused when I met his eyes, again. "She values honesty and justice, eh?" He nodded, remembering his own words from the other night. "It's not fair for her not to know, anymore." I turned to Bella. "I want to tell her the truth."

Bella bit her lip. "How much of the truth, Jake?"

I laughed but she looked serious. "Are you kidding me, Bella? The truth. You know, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

"You want to tell her everything?"

"Absolutely not." It was the first time Edward had spoken to me since I'd passed out.

"Why not? Afraid you won't look too good? Maybe you should have thought about that before you ran away and broke Bella's heart."

"Hey!" Bella tried to defend her husband, like always, but we both ignored her.

"You think the story makes you look good, mutt? Or were you planning on leaving out the two times you kissed her mother? Once without her permission and the other time while she was under extreme coercion."

Shit. He kinda had me there. I mean, I never thought that it would go great when we finally did tell her everything, but if she didn't talk to me for a week because I took Bella to Homecoming, what was she going to do when she found out I had kissed her? I doubt the fact that she wasn't even born yet would be a valid excuse to Nessie.

"If I may?" Carlisle looked between us. "Bickering like this isn't helping to solve the problem. Don't forget that Nessie is pacing the floor right now while the three of you try to decide what to tell her. And, please, Jacob, take your medicine." He picked up his bag from the floor and went out the door.

"Oh." I had completely forgotten about the pills in my hand. I opened the bottle and drank, swallowing the pills and gulping the rest. Nessie and I were the only two who drank water, but there were always bottles in the house. They weren't the regular plastic bottles of water, either. They were bright blue, bowling-pin shaped, glass bottles with metal, screw-top lids. It's name was in a different language, but the labels were all in English. They were pretty fancy looking and I hated taking one to school. I never took it to basketball practice, though. The guys would've ripped into me. Instead, I bought a sports drink and a water before practice at one of the vending machines near the gym. Nessie would drink one every once in a while. She didn't mind drinking water because it was flavorless. It was one of her tricks for when she wanted to look more human. Earlier, she had brought a bottle to the party and had sipped on it in front of Charlie. Even though we were the only two who drank them, others in the house used them. Emmett liked to come back from a hunt and pour one over his head, just to be obnoxious. Alice rinsed off the shampoo from my hair with it before she gave me a haircut, so I assumed she and Rosalie both used it to rinse their hair, too. I had even seen Esme fill the ice trays in the freezer with it, once.

Bella spoke as I finished off the water. "So, we tell her about imprinting, but nothing else?"

"I don't know." As much as it would suck, I still wasn't sure telling her everything was completely off the table.

Edward sighed from the doorway. His hands were in his hair and he was obviously frustrated. "Why do we have to tell her anything?"

Bella stared at him incredulously, I rolled my eyes. "Look, if you don't want to tell her the whole story, we have to tell her something now, or else she'll just go picking for it in our heads until she knows everything. Besides, she already found out that Leah and Sam dated. She knows the beginning of the story and it wouldn't be hard for her to find out the rest from any of the guys or from any of us. She already knows that whatever we are is the same as Sam and Emily and I don't want her to find out something that important from someone else. I don't care if you're behind me or not on this. I am telling her."

Bella had been nodding her head as I spoke. "I'm with you, Jake. She's too young to know everything. At this age, she can't possibly understand the intentions behind any of our actions in the past, but she deserves to know the truth about her own life."

"Okay, then." I hit the top of my thighs with my palms. "I'll go get her." No one objected and I was glad. I needed to apologize before we did anything else and I didn't want to do it in front of anyone else.

"Yes, you do." Edward growled as he moved away from the door.

I ignored him as I opened it. Then I thought of something and turned around. "Bells?" She looked up. "You might want to brush your hair." I winked as I grinned at her.

I saw Nessie before I got to the stream in the backyard, her backlit silhouette was pacing the length of the back window-wall. She looked up as I crossed the stream, threw open the back door, and ran straight to me. She jumped and I opened my arms. Wrapping her legs around my torso, she hugged my neck, kissed my cheek and then leaned back to frantically check over my face. "Oh, Jacob! Are you okay? I was so scared! Did he hurt you? Why didn't you phase? Oh, I could kill Edward right now! He was angry and I was angry and it was too much and I couldn't calm him!"

I pet her hair back from her face and smiled at her and her nervous burst of questions, confessions, and threats. "Calm down, honey, I'm fine. I just took a little nap."

She rolled her eyes at my nonchalance but she smiled widely as she realized I was perfectly healthy. She hugged me, again, burying her face in my neck. When she lifted her face again there was a mock stern expression on it and she poked me hard in the chest as she spoke. "Next time you're in trouble, Jacob Black, you better phase."

I grinned and shook her in my arms. "Oh, yeah? Or what?"

She grinned back. "Or else I'll kick your ass and show all the guys how you cried." I knew she was testing me, seeing if I'd scold her, but I didn't and I wouldn't. Best friends don't act like they're your mother.

"Pssh. Yeah right. You and what army?" I hadn't said that in years, but I knew it probably had been to Quil or Embry, and it felt right to say it to her, now. A pinching war ensued which left us on our backs, panting on the wet grass, side by side. "Truce," I called out, between gasps.

"Truce," she agreed. She sat up first, crossing her legs under her, and I knew I needed to apologize. I sat up, too, getting into the same position she was in. She didn't look at me and I know we were both remembering how it was that we had gotten to this point in the first place. She was plucking grass out and letting it float on the wind. I grabbed a single strand from her, put it in between my two thumbs and blew. Her eyes lit up at the sound. "How'd you do that?" I showed her. "Like a reed." She hit her forehead with her hand. "That must be where they got the word from, huh?"

I shrugged. "You're asking the wrong guy, Nessie."

She looked at me for a second, appraisingly, and I shifted under her stare. "You're smarter than you think you are, you know. You're smarter than everyone else I've met, outside my family."

I beamed a little on the inside and then felt stupid for hiding my pleasure in what she had said when she'd know it, anyway. So, I smiled at her and she smiled back. Her comment had reminded me of the time Bella had called me beautiful and how I had held onto that for months, hoping it meant that there was a chance for me. I knew I'd do the same with this compliment. I'd hold onto it, hoping it meant that there was a chance I was good enough for her. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of the compromise I had just made with her parents, and why I had to apologize in the first place.

"Look, Nessie. I am an asshole, but it's not because I was telling people that Bella was my best friend. I do feel shitty about that, though, because she's not. You are."

She shrugged, looking at the grass. "I knew that." She looked up at me, intently staring into my eyes. "I don't think you did until earlier tonight, though."

"No," I admitted. "I didn't and I'm sorry. I'm really sorry for keeping things from you and I promise that that's all going to change tonight." But then I thought about how I was still going to keep secrets from her and winced. "I guess that's not even true, though." I sighed. "But some secrets aren't mine to tell, and I won't tell you those." I knew she'd think about Jasper's scars, but I was thinking about what her parents and I were going to keep from her. And it wasn't all mine, it was theirs, too. Something told me that one wasn't going to come out unless all three of us agreed. "I'm sorry I made everyone lie to you." She looked up. Oops. I guess she hadn't really known that, huh? "The pack obviously knows everything, and I told them not to tell you." I saw her hands clench in the grass. "You'll understand why later. At least, I hope you do. That's why Emily wouldn't tell you about Leah." I didn't know what else to say. "I am sorry."

There was silence for a minute. "But you're going to tell me the truth from now on?"

I looked into her eyes and eagerly nodded my head, begging her to see the sincerity behind it. "I swear I will. As long as it's my truth to tell."

"You keep saying that." I just nodded. "You feel sad when you say it, too."

"That's because I wish I didn't have to. I wish I could tell you everything."

She studied me for a moment and then nodded. "I forgive you."

I beamed at her and leaned forward to kiss her forehead. "Thank you, Nessie."

I was about to get up when she spoke. "I'm sorry, too." Huh? "I shouldn't steal thoughts from you."

"Stealing, eh? Is that how you see it?"

She nodded, shamefully. "And I'll try not to gossip anymore."

Any other time, I would've snorted, but I saw how serious she was and took her words for what they were. I knew it would be hard, especially with Alice around. "I know you were desperate and that's why you did it. I know you'll try not to do both, anymore."

"So you forgive me?"

"Of course." It was her turn to beam at me. "Ready to go?"

She looked confused. "Go where? I thought you were going to tell me about Leah and Sam."

I grabbed her hand. "It's a really big thing I kept from you, honey. Your parents want to be there when you find out."

Her eyes widened. "Is it that bad?"

I laughed and smiled widely. "Honey, it's not bad at all. It's the exact opposite of the worst thing I could tell you."

She looked confused, but smiled at my smile. Then she pouted. "So, why do I have to see Edward, then? If it's a good thing?"

It was actually a good question. It had nothing to do with them. It really was between us. No. I really needed to take her. I rolled my eyes at her. "Come on."

She smiled crookedly as I stood and yanked her to her feet. "You were thinking about it, though."

I smirked back. "I was."

Everything was quiet when we got to the cottage. The door was open and I could see Edward pacing while Bella stared off into space. He turned when he saw us and looked like he was going to say something, but stopped when he looked at Nessie. I didn't want to know what kind of look he was getting. Both of us ignored him and I smiled at Bella, letting her know that everything had been worked out. Bella was already sitting in one of the chairs so Edward grabbed the ottoman Carlisle had sat in and used it to sit down in front of her. I sat on the too-small sofa and Nessie sat beside me, squirming until she gave up and just sat on my lap. We laughed. It was like the room had been cut in half. Our side was bright and sunny, we were practically beaming at each other, still high from our make-up. Their side was dark and cloudy, they were stiff in the seats and obviously not on good terms with each other.

"So..." Bella said, slightly cautious of our easy attitudes. "You two made up?"

"Uh huh." Nessie answered for us and then her patience reached its breaking point and she turned to me. "So, what's the story with Seth and Leah?" She turned on the voice every girl has for gossip, it got higher and drawn out. "They dated?" I laughed, thinking about how quickly her promise not to gossip had gone straight out the window.

"Yep. They were together for two years."

"Then what happened?"

"He turned into a wolf one day and couldn't change back for two weeks."

"What did she do?"

"She and his mom went looking for him, thinking he had gone missing or something."

"What happened when he came back."

"Well, I won't tell you what Leah told me, because she trusted me with it, but I'll tell you what I know from that time and from what I've seen in Sam's head." She nodded, eager for me to move on. Good gossip never gets old. "So, he came back and they tried to work things out, even though he couldn't tell her."

"Why didn't he?"

"Why don't you tell people you're half vampire?" Her mouth opened into an "o" and I nodded. "Anyway, they still loved each other, so they kept dating. Everyone in town thought they were going to get married. Sam and Harry Clearwater were really close. Then, one day, Leah's cousin Emily came into town to visit..." I trailed off, knowing the punchline was going to mean so much more this time I told the story than any other time before.

"And she stole him from Leah?" Nessie's eyes were wide, probably seeing her friend in a completely different way.

"No. God, no, Nessie. In fact, she tried not to be with Sam for a long time."

"So, Sam pursued her? Poor Leah."

Truer words. "Just don't let her hear you say that." She nodded, knowing exactly how bad that would be. I decided to put off the punchline for as long as I could. "Sam fell in love with Emily and broke up with Leah. He was so in love with her that he told her he was a wolf. He knew that if there was one person in the world he could tell, it would be her. One day, Sam went to see Emily and they got into an argument. Sam tried to explain how much he loved her and Emily told him that, even though she loved him, too, she wouldn't be with him because of Leah. Sam was upset and couldn't control his anger."

Nessie gasped. "Her scars," she whispered.

I nodded. "He phased and she was too close. He hated himself, still does, sorta. Emily couldn't stand to see him so down on himself. She knew how much he loved her because she felt the same way and she knew how much he would blame himself. She began to go see him because it was the only thing that made him happy and because it made her happy, too. It took a really long time, but they finally worked things out. Leah was still unhappy, but she put on a brave face for her cousin, who had always been more like a sister to her. Just like she put on a brave face as a bridesmaid in the wedding."

Nessie slumped a little on my lap. "Wow." No kidding.

I paused, realizing I had put off the punchline for too long. "There are more stories like that, if you want to hear them." She nodded up at me, grinning. "They aren't as dramatic," I warned, "but their endings are just as nice." I thought back. If Sam was the first... "Jared phased while he was still in high school, too. The day after he came back, he sat in the same seat he always sat in, next to the same people he always sat next to. For the first time, though, he noticed Kim. He found out after they fell in love that she had always had a crush on him. Jared told Kim all about being a wolf, too." Technically, Quil imprinted next, but I figured I should save his story until the end. "Want to hear another?" She nodded, still smiling, but she was staring off into space. "Paul phased after Jared and Sam and for a while it was just the three of them. Paul's my age but I always hung out with Quil and Embry, so he never really went over to my house or anything. Which means he didn't really meet my sister until she came back home from college. She graduated the summer before you were born and went to a bonfire on the beach. Paul saw her there asked her to take a walk. Rachel says she fell in love with him on the walk, Paul fell in love with her before then." I could tell that the similarities were starting to kick in. Her smile was slowly falling from her face, but it wasn't turning into a frown which I took as a good sign. Instead, her face was becoming more and more confused. "Embry's story is kinda funny. Embry went to a New Year's Eve party last year and saw a girl named Brianna. He was so overwhelmed by the feeling he got when he saw her, that he wandered out the back door in a daze and followed his three friends to the beach without even knowing what he was doing or where he was going." I paused. "Remember?"

She nodded. "Does Quil have a story?" She was whispering.

Here we go... "Of course. Quil always thought of himself as a ladies man. He was always lifting weights because he thought girls would like his muscles. So, after he became a wolf, we all laughed at him when he went to Emily's house one day and a little girl named Claire was there..." I trailed off as her eyes opened in shock.

She was still staring at the same place on the wall when she asked, "What is it called?"

"Imprinting."

"Is is the same for everybody?"

"Kinda. They all felt like gravity had moved. That the center of their world was their imprint."

She swallowed. "And for you?"

I swallowed, too. "For me it was like the universe was perfectly clear for a second and I could see that its symmetry was centered around my new gravity. That the only thing that was holding me to earth was a little vampire-girl and the million steels cables that bound me to her."

"I remember." Her voice was small and her eyes were still unfocused, but there were tears there, now. "You were walking down the stairs and you were so sad and I wanted to go to you. But then you looked at me and you looked mad and then shocked and then so...happy. And then we smiled at each other."

"And then we smiled at each other," I agreed.

"What happens to Claire when she grows up?"

I smiled and Edward cleared his throat. I had almost forgotten they were there and I so I just continued to ignore him. "What do you want to happen to Claire when she grows up?"

She smiled and the movement in her face caused the tears in her eyes to fall. "I want Quil to fall in love with Claire and I want Claire to fall in love with Quil and I want them to be together forever."

"Well, Quil only wants what will make Claire the happiest. So, if that's what Claire wants, I'm positive that Quil will fall in love with her. And I know that Quil and Claire will be together forever."

She finally looked at me and we smiled like fools at each other. I wiped the tears from her face as she whispered, "Really?"

She wiped the tears from mine. "Really."

She giggled. "Just like that?"

I held my giggle back and nodded. "Just like that."

And then we collapsed against each other in a fit of giggles that turned into chuckles that turned into the most beautiful laughter I've ever heard. When we finally caught our breath there were still tears falling down our faces and I couldn't tell if it was from the pure emotion we were caught up in or the laughter itself. She sat up and turned around so that she could wrap her arms around my neck.

I felt her breath on my ear before I heard her say the words. "I love you, Jacob."

I put my forehead on her shoulder and whispered, "I love you, too, Renesmee."

***

And then she pulled away and slapped my arm. "I should be so pissed at you right now."

"But you're not."

She shook her head. "That was, without a doubt, the exact opposite of the worst thing you could have told me."

We chuckled together, again. I was still laughing when she gasped. "What?"

"Uncle Jasper said...but that means...you're my mate!"

Across the room, Edward roared. "You're just a child, you don't even know... Renesmee! You take that off of him. This. Instant!"

"No!" She yelled back.

Bella and I sat in the middle of chaos, wondering how it had erupted around us so quickly. I felt Nessie clutch my hand and then I heard her voice in my head. He is so pissed off right now!

As surprised as I was by the fact that she wasn't showing me an image, her voice was what took me off-guard. It didn't hold the glee I thought it would, especially considering how upset she had been at him earlier. Instead, it was tight with anger.

Then, I felt it. I could tell she was projecting it at me because my thoughts have never matched this level of blind fury. I growled inhumanly and started shaking, suddenly an instant away from phasing, before it cut off.

In my right mind, again, I held her to me and remembered what she had told me earlier. So, I screamed at Edward, "Calm down! She can't handle your anger. That's why she couldn't calm you earlier, it's too much for her. Especially because she's angry enough herself."

Bella seemed to take in my words and she pushed Edward out the front door, who didn't look like he was causing much resistance. The father and daughter were still staring each other down, each panting with their overwhelming rage. Nessie was growling softly under her breath and Edward's arms and fists were tight and stiff as stone. I saw Bella push him into the trees and then they were gone.

Nessie's body relaxed next to mine and her rage-filled panting turned into desperate gasps for air. I massaged circles in her back and tried not to be as worried as I was. She's fine, Jacob. She's fine, now. I took deep breaths as massaged her back with one hand and stroked the length of her arm with the other.

After a few moments she was still and I knew she was okay. Now it was my turn to be angry. I grabbed her arms and made her look at me. "Never project anger at a werewolf, again! Half a second more of that and I would have exploded. Promise me, Nessie. Any other wolf, and it would have been instantaneous. Promise me!"

Her eyes were wide and I was sorry I was scaring her, but it had to be done. If anyone else had been sitting next to her, she would have been toast. For the third time in only a few hours, I was so damn happy that I had such good control.

"I promise, Jacob."

I hugged her to me. "Oh, Nessie, what were you thinking? You knew your father would go off like that. What else did you do that made him so mad?" I was hugging her too close to my body and I couldn't hear her muffled reply. I pulled her away. "What?"

She grinned at me. "I said, I put my shield up around you." And then she laughed and I laughed, too.

"Oh, man! No wonder he was so pissed off. Why did you do it, though?" She shrugged, embarrassed. "Hey, c'mon. Haven't we been through enough tonight?"

"Well, I was just thinking about what Uncle Jazz was telling us the other day about mates. It's just that he said vampires mate for eternity and if I already know that I'm going to be with you forever, then..."

"That's true, I guess. I didn't think of that when he said that, even though I knew you were my imprint. I guess 'imprint' is just a fancy way we wolves say 'mate'. But that doesn't explain why you put your shield around me."

"Do you like that he can hear your thoughts?"

"No. I don't think anyone does."

"Exactly. If my dad met someone who could read his mind and my mom knew he didn't like it, wouldn't she shield him?"

"But you've known since you've had the shield that I don't like your dad reading my mind."

"Uh huh. But I didn't know you were my mate then, did I?" She smirked and shrugged a shoulder. "Your fault for not telling my sooner."

I laughed. Her logic, funnily enough, made sense. "What are some of the others perks?"

She rolled her eyes. "Please. I'm perk enough."

I smiled and kissed her forehead. "You really are." Then, I remembered something else that had happened during all the chaos, but I heard Edward and Bella running back and kept my mouth shut.

Edward entered the cottage first, meekly. He walked back to the ottoman and sat down. Bella sat down on the chair behind him.

"Renesmee," She turned to look at her father, but crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm sorry I allowed myself to become so upset. I put you in unnecessary danger, especially since you chose to project our anger on to Jacob. I don't think you understand how volatile werewolves can be. You should nev—"

"Jacob already spoke to me about that. I won't project anger on to wolves ever again."

That seemed to take the wind out of his sail. "Oh. Well...good." He looked towards Bella who motioned for him to go on with her head. "Your mother and I agree that you shouldn't be using the word 'mate' when you speak about Jacob. You're far too young to comprehend all of the meanings—"

"No." When her parents looked at her blankly, she went on. "He is my mate and I am his. And if we would like to refer to each other as such, we shall." I always loved it when she talked to her dad the way he and Carlisle talked to everybody else. She sounded so cool, so smart. She usually only does it when they're talking about a book they've read or some other thing she had learned in her studies. Sometimes I'm convinced that that's the way she actually speaks in her head and she just dumbs it down for the rest of us.

Edward sighed and clasped the bridge of his nose between his fingers. Bella put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "Your father and I will talk to you about this later."

Nessie shrugged. "As long as you don't expect my answer to change."

Bella ignored her comment. "Do you accept your father's apology?"

"Nope. Not until he apologizes to Jacob."

I grabbed her hand. "You don't need to—"

"No," Edward cut me off. "She's right. I've behaved atrociously all night. I knew she was safe at the party, even if I didn't want to admit it."

What happened at the party? Her voice was inside my head again, and I shook my head. Tell me later? I nodded.

"...I should never have resorted to violence in that way and I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Edward. I don't think you've ever heard us argue before. I want you two to know that I'm done playing her babysitter, though. I'm not going to scold her if she does something I know you wouldn't approve of. I'm going to stop her from do anything dangerous because I won't stand there and watch her do it, but I'm not going to do it because it's what you would want me to do. We're equals and I won't help raise my best friend.

"You should also know that it's not the three of us on one side and her on the other, anymore. If she's unhappy with you, I'm not going to defend you to her. I'm not going to be impartial, either. We're a united front now. She calls us mates and I understand why that puts you off, because it implies an adult-like relationship. But you two know it's not romantic between us and you need to understand that she's not a little kid, anymore. Regardless of what you want to call it, when Nessie calls it that what she means is that we have just as much of a right to be seen as a unit within the family as you guys or Carlisle and Esme or Jasper and Alice or Emmett and Rosalie do. It's not fair to put us on a lower level when our commitment and our love is just as strong. We're also not doing family meetings without her, anymore, for the same reason. Right, Ness?"

I looked over at her for the first time since I started my little spiel and saw that she had tears in her eyes and one of the biggest smiles I'd ever seen on her face. "Right, Jake." She winked at me and I heard, Thank you. That was perfect.

She stood up. "Well, I guess I accept your apology." But she didn't go and hug him, like I knew she would have if she actually was okay with him. His face fell as he realized that, too. "I'm going to go pack so that I can stay at the pack house." Bella and Edward looked back and forth at each other, not sure whether to accept this or not. "If you guys are just going to leave me alone in the house all night while you're off in the woods somewhere, I'd rather be sleeping in a house full of smelly werewolves." She grinned at me. "You coming?"

I walked down the hall after her and lay across her tiny twin bed. She was pulling things out of her closet and packing them in her Louis Vuitton overnight bag. I was still using the rolling luggage Alice had bought for me when we went to Boston last September. "What time is it?" I knew it had to be late, but I wasn't tired at all. In fact, I was pumped. It felt good to stand up to Edward for a change.

"Just after one." She walked into the bathroom with a toiletries bag with the same design as her overnight bag and started packing things from the counter in there. It wasn't too late and I wondered if the party was still going strong.

"Those two bags are all you're taking, right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"'Cause I don't have a car anymore. You're going to have to run with them. And your camera bag and your purse."

"Oh, my purse. Thanks for reminding me." She walked into the closet, took out an all-black Wolf Pack, and packed that, too.

"What do you need that one for?"

"The red one I wore today doesn't match tomorrow's outfit." I rolled my eyes. She stuffed the toiletries bag into the larger bag and struggled with the zipper until it closed. "Perfect. Let's go. We have to stop by the main house, though, I left my other two bags and your Wolf Pack there."

Oh, yeah. I had forgotten about that. I had taken it off to change and hadn't put it back on while we were arguing. For the first time since I woke up, I looked down at myself. I wasn't wearing a shirt and there was a layer of dried mud covering my legs and feet below the folded-up hem of my brown pants. It seemed like a long time ago that I was dressed for a party.

"I look like a mess, don't I?" She giggled, nodding. "Oh well. Let's go." I carried her bag for her out to the front room. "Bye, guys."

Edward turned to face us, scowling. He wasn't going to tell her she couldn't leave, but he obviously didn't like letting her go. "We want her back by breakfast."

I rolled my eyes. It was like they hadn't heard a word I had said. "Why are you telling me? If she's not back for breakfast it won't be because I'm not. Esme promised me french toast tomorrow."

It was Bella who finally addressed her daughter. "Renesmee, we'd like you back in time for breakfast tomorrow."

"Okay, Mom. Have a good night."

I ran without phasing towards the main house as she sprang and giggled through the trees, backtracking so I could keep up with her. When we got to the river, I asked her to hold on as I lifted my pants up so they were past my knees, and waded across to rinse off the dried mud. I stopped her before she got to close, not wanting her to feel what I suspected was going on in the house. "Where are the bags? I'll get them and the keys to one of the rentals if you wait for me by the cars." Five minutes later, I was turning the key in the ignition.

"Hey, Jake? Are you tired?"

I turned in my seat to smile at her. "Not in the least."

She grinned back. "Good. We're celebrating!"

I laughed. "What did you have in mind?"

She didn't even hesitate. "Let's go to our island!"

"Perfect." I thought about what else we could do and a slow smile went across my face. "Mind going the long way?"

She turned to look at me, probably sensing my excitement. Then she smiled. "No. Why?"

"You'll see." I turned off the highway before hitting Forks and drove the typical way to La Push, but stopped the car and pulled over a few miles south of town. I turned the engine off, opened the car door, and said, "Wanna go cliff diving?" She grabbed her bag and together we walked to the edge overlooking the ocean. The storm had passed a few hours ago and the waves were already calming down. I took off my pants, folded them, and put them in the waterproof section of my bag. I wasn't going to phase until I hit the water and I wasn't going to bother taking off my underwear when I did. Bye, bye, pink undies. I was surprised to see that she had worn a red one-piece under her dress. "When did you put that on?"

"In my closet."

"Can I ask you something?" She raised an eyebrow. "If you didn't wear a red bathing suit, would you have changed your purse?"

She grinned broadly at me and shook her head. "You're asking the wrong question, Jake. The real question is, if I hadn't packed a red dress would I have packed a red bathing suit?"

I laughed, bent at the waist. "You really are your aunt's niece, aren't you?" We both put our bags on as backpacks. "Ready?" She nodded enthusiastically, but bit her bottom lip as she looked out over the side. I picked her up and she wrapped her legs around me, crossing her ankles right below the bag on my back. "Before we hit the water, I'll push you off. Let go, put your arms out, and dive, okay?" She nodded just as enthusiastically, but this time she looked excited and not nervous. I gripped the side of the rock with my toes and put my arms out straight at my sides. She wrapped her arm around my neck, burying her face right below my ear. "Hold on tight." She nodded into my neck. "1...2..." Her arms and legs tightened their grip on me. "3!"

I jumped off, moving my arms in opposite directions so that we were twisting as we fell. She screamed into my ear the first quarter of the drop and then she was giggling. I allowed myself to feel the rush of water getting closer and closer and being powerless to stop it, the rush of protecting this girl that was my life, the rush of the trust she put in me to keep her safe. It was love and wonder and fear and euphoria and pure happiness. The best part was, I know she could feel it, too, exactly as I did. As we neared the water, I moved my arms again, righting our momentum so that we fell straight. "Let go," I shouted and her grip loosened before I threw her a couple of feet away from me. We hit the water at nearly the same time, both of us barely disturbing the waves.

Her face was flushed as she surfaced and we stared at each other while we treaded water, reveling in the afterglow of being stronger than what it takes to kills mere mortals. Then, she turned, and started for our island. I took off my bag, letting it float on the tide for the second it took me to trade in the human shell for the wolf's body that lay dormant and had threatened to break out more than once today. The release felt great and I snatched up my bag between my teeth and hurried to try to keep pace with her, which was nearly impossible. She held back tonight, preferring to swim next to me than reach the island any faster. She showed off with perfect backstrokes so she could look at me while I swam the aptly named doggy paddle out. Twenty minutes later, we sprawled out on our backs atop our rock as we caught our breaths from our long swim and watched old clouds roll out to be replaced by new ones.

"Edward would kill me!" I smiled at the sky.

Nessie rolled over and leaned her weight on one of her elbows as she smiled down at me. "Then it's a good thing he'll never know."

I sat up as a horrible thought popped into my head. "The pack! He can still read the other guys' minds."

She smirked. "As long as the Alpha's under the shield, the rest of the pack is, too."

"Really?" She nodded and I fell back as I laughed. I laughed the pure, sweet laugh of freedom. "Is this about how good you felt when you got your shield?"

"No! I couldn't even enjoy it. I was still fearing the wrath of Edward Cullen. I felt what you're feeling the first time we went to the library in Boston."

I closed my eyes and smiled. "That was a good day. A shitty week leading up to it, but a good day." It was nice to be open with her about all this, now. "We can go a lot more now, you know. We'll just tell them we're going for a drive. We can go anywhere you want. It'll be a good summer, I promise."

"Are you really going to work at a garage this fall?"

"Yeah." I rolled over and mirrored her position. "Does that bother you?"

It was her turn to lay down and close her eyes. "A little. I know we're still going to be studying together a lot and I know I would just be busy if you were there, but I hated being alone all day when you were at school."

"But you weren't alone. You had everyone to hang out with and lessons with Jasper and lessons with Carlisle. You know Alice promised to teach you her power over the summer. You'll have a lot to practice in the fall with that one. I expect a full weather report every morning."

She didn't smile. "When I'm not with you I am alone."

That broke my heart and I lay down beside her, bringing her towards me until her back was up against my chest. "You know why I'm getting a job, right? It's more than just the money, I mean. Not that I'm not looking forward to the day when I can build you a house, anywhere in the world you want it, with as many soundproof window-walls and over-sized closets and solarium/libraries as you want. And it's not even about the size of the place, either, if you wanted a shack, I'd build you a shack. I'll like the money because I can't wait to give you anything and everything you want forever and ever. But that's only half of it.

"I like working on cars, Ness. I'm good at it. I want to be a grown-up for a while just to prove that I can do it. I want to prove to Edward and Carlisle and Jasper and Emmett and Charlie and anyone else that I'm hard-working and good and deserving of you. I'm leaving you for a few hours everyday so that one day I can stay with you forever. Does that make any sense?"

"Yes," she said, grudgingly. "But who cares about them?"

"I care about them. That's the kind of proof they need from me and I'm going to give it to them. It's only going to be a few hours a week. Besides, you can always write me more post-its."

She laughed, a teary laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. "I can't believe you kept them all."

"I can't believe you thought I'd throw them out!"

"Do you want to know a secret?"

"I don't know, is it about you?"

I could hear the smile in her voice. "Yes."

"Then, yes."

She turned around so that our noses were inches apart. "Do you know why I love post-it notes and rocks from La Push and pictures?" I shook my head. "Because I can't remember things." She nodded as she sensed my confusion. "It's true. My family can remember everything and I can, too, to a certain extent. I can remember everything that ever happened to me after I was a couple of weeks old. I only remember a few things before then, like you imprinting on me and my mom almost killing you. I can remember everything I've ever heard or read or seen, but I can't easily remember what I was thinking or feeling during any of it. So, I use mementos to help me. If I'm reading something and I want to remember something it made me think about, I can mark it and then, when I see the marker I remember what made me mark it in the first place. That's why that memory I showed you with the rocks that day was so detailed, I thought about what I wanted to remember when I studied the rock and now, every time I look at it, I can remember the first time I saw it."

I'm sure my mouth was hanging open as I took in the purely balanced mixture of perfection and imperfection that is Renesmee. "Did Carlisle teach you how to do that?"

She rolled her eyes at me. "What part of secret do you not understand? They all think that my memory's just as good as theirs. I'm not going to tell them it's not."

"You're amazing. You know that, right?"

"I know that you think I am. I'm practically drowning in the awe you're sending my way. It's worth giving up a secret if I can feel that from you." We smiled at each other. "Your turn."

I smirked. "I see how it is. There's no such thing as a free lunch, huh?" She shook her head, trying to suppress her grin. I thought for a minute and then smiled. "Do you want to know a secret?"

"I don't know, is it about you?"

I smirked. "Yes."

"Then, yes."

"I like that you're calling me Jake now."

She smiled. "And I like that you're calling me Ness now. But that's not a secret. I felt your enjoyment every time I did it."

I was confused. "I've never called you Ness before."

"Yes, you have. I only called you Jake after you called me Ness." She showed me the images that proved her point.

I gaped. "I had no idea."

"I know." She smiled. "I like it. It sounds more grown up."

"It does. Hi, Ness." I smiled. I liked it. It suited her.

"Hi, Jake. It's still your turn." I thought for another moment about what she would like the most. And then I had it, it was perfect. "Ooh, you've got a good one, huh? You're really excited about it."

"Do you want to know a secret, Ness?"

"I don't know, is it about you, Jake?"

"Yes." It was about her, too, but I didn't say that. I didn't want to spoil this game we were playing.

"Then, yes."

"Do you want to know what I saw when I imprinted on you?"

Her eyes lit up and she answered before she could stop herself. "More than anything." I raised the hand that wasn't supporting my weight and offered it to her. "I have an idea," she gushed. "I've been wanting to try this with someone for so long, but I know none of you like it when I steal your thoughts. I think it would be easiest with you, though, because you already do it. Do you know how you used to talk to Sam and now Embry when you're wolves? You once told me it was like speaking out loud. But you obviously don't try to use your voice while you're doing it, right? Or else it'll just come out like barks and howls and stuff, you know?" I nodded, completely unsure where this was going, but trusting her to lead us there. "Okay, I want you try it with me. Think of a sentence or something and repeat it to me the way you would if you were talking to Embry as your wolf-self."

So I did. I closed my eyes and thought about talking out loud, but not using my voice as I said, I love you, Ness over and over again.

I felt her put a fingertip to my still-outstretched palm. "I love you, too, Jake." I grinned and opened up my eyes. She was grinning back at me. "Let's try it again. I think I can do it without touching you now that I know how it feels. Think of something else and try not to make it be about a feeling, so I can't cheat. In fact, ask me a question."

So I did. This time, I closed my eyes and asked, What's the date? over and over again.

She hadn't touched me when she said, in a triumphant voice, "It's June 15th, now." She sighed. "It's much harder without contact and I can't really tell when you're doing it, I just guessed and started reaching for it as soon as you closed your eyes. Were you repeating it like you did the first time?" I nodded. "We need to practice that."

"Definitely." I think both of us were realizing at the same time what this meant. Not only did we now have a shield against Edward's power, we would be able to communicate without anyone knowing. I took her hand. I wasn't going to let it go. "That reminds me. Why did you talk to me in your thoughts, earlier? You usually only do that when you're reading to me?"

She looked down. "Did you not like it?"

"No! I mean, I loved it. Why did you do it?"

"For the same reason I want to practice this with you. For the same reason I put my shield around you. I didn't want them to hear what I was telling you. It's like you said, earlier. We're one of them now. If my dad could project his thoughts into my mom, they would never speak out loud. What's the use of all my powers if I can't use them to communicate with the most important person in my life however I want?"

I smiled at her and tucked a drying curl behind her ear. "You want to try an image, now? Imprinting on you is the most vivid mental picture I've ever had. If one's going to work, it'll be this one." She nodded eagerly. I thought for a moment about how much to show her. I couldn't let her see my desire to kill her or my love for Bella. Instead, I thought back to the exact second I looked into her eyes. I closed my eyes and let the scene play through just for me twice before squeezing Nessie's hand and pushing it forward in my mind like I had before.

She gasped when it was over and pushed so hard in her zealousness to hug me that I was knocked onto my back by all four and half feet of her nine-year-old-looking body. She landed on top of me and, as I pulled her closer to me, she projected everything I had felt in the moment and everything she had felt watching it until we were wrapped in a bubble of love and wonder and hope and promise and bliss. I sat up so she could wrap her legs around me and then we were rocking back and forth as our emotions overtook us and she sobbed into my bare neck as I sobbed into her curls. And, when the feelings had collapsed in on themselves under the sheer weight of it all we had stilled.

Very slowly, Nessie had moved away and I pressed my forehead to hers, anxious to regain contact. Her voice was small and thick as she said, full of awe, "It's so strong."

And I wanted to sing and dance and cry and laugh because she got it. I finally had a partner, a real partner who just relived the strongest experience of my life with me and seemed as inept to put it into words as I had been. And I never realized how alone I had been, even after imprinting, because it had been my joy-filled burden to carry. In this second, it was ours. She knew how it felt, now. And I was so happy, because I finally got to show her how perfect and special and beautiful she is. To think, she woke up in the morning and didn't know the entirety of the universe was centered around her!

"I have the best imprint ever!"

She responded me with a clear, pure, laugh. "Do you know what this means, Jake?" She placed her hands on the sides of my face and smiled so brilliantly at me that I had to return it. Neither of us tried to tear our forehead away from the other. I felt wetness from her eyes hit my cheek before I heard, "We're going to love each other this much for the rest of eternity!"

I shook my head, moving hers along with it in the process. "No, Ness. This is only the beginning. We're going to love each other more than we do now. I don't know how it's even possible, but I know we will. It'll just keep getting stronger and stronger, just like it has been, for the rest of forever."


END OF BOOK ONE


Author's Note: So, there it is. I hope I did justice to the biggest moment in young Renesmee's life, thus far. Thank you for sticking with me and reading the 175,000+ words it took us to get here. Three, maybe four, more books to go!