Acceptance

Being Part of Chapter 17, Breaking Dawn from Edward's POV
by Hoosier Mama

I winced for a split second as I read Jacob's thoughts. Perhaps giving him the keys to my favorite car had been a mistake. I followed his thought processes closely, and as he settled into the driver's seat and floored the accelerator, I realized my Aston Martin was safe. He could no more crash that particular car to settle a score then I could.

Bella looked at me quizzically. "Where's Jacob going?"

"He just needed to get away for a while," I answered.

"But he left so fast. He didn't even say goodbye." His actions had puzzled her.

"Don't worry about him. Honestly, he'll be back," I responded nonchalantly and her face cleared. I didn't add that the feelings of love, joy and wonder the two of us had just been experiencing were simply too much for him to witness. Rosalie was re-living the look of anguish on his face with enjoyment; I looked at her and shook my head an infinitesimal amount. I wished Rose could have a little compassion for what Jacob was going through, but that wasn't likely to happen.

I sat down on the couch where Bella was lying propped up on the arm with some pillows; I lifted her blanketed feet carefully and put them across my lap, leaned over her and placed my hands lightly on her stomach. She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand while she waited anxiously to hear what more I could tell her about the baby. I listened to the newly formed mind under my hands.

"The baby feels…cramped. Uh-oh." I could tell the baby was about to stretch. "No, don't…"

I spoke too late. Bella gasped and arched her back in pain. "Oh baby, please don't do that!" she muttered through clenched teeth, her face white. But after five seconds, her body was back on the couch, and she looked cautiously relieved. I could hear the baby's curiosity; he was wondering why he shouldn't move. Feeling slightly ridiculous, I hesitantly spoke to her stomach and tried to explain that it hurts your mother when you stretch or move around a lot. Incredibly, I got the impression that the baby understood. He really did not want to hurt Bella. He would try not to do that again.

"Wow, I think he or she…understands." There was silence as the three of us shared astounded glances back and forth.

"How is he communicating with you? Is he thinking in full sentences?" Rose asked excitedly. She was leaning over the back of the sofa.

"No," I replied. "I'm hearing mostly emotions and basic thoughts, but still, it's incredible how advanced he or she is. I can tell he loves Bella and is bothered by knowing he has hurt her in the past." I shook my head in wonder.

"Oh, that's okay E.J.; I know you didn't mean to hurt me. I'm just a lot weaker than you are at the moment. I still love you." To me, Bella asked, "Did he understand that?"

"I believe so. He's thinking about being more careful with his movements and…" I shook my head again, "he simply adores you."

"This is so cool." Bella grinned at Rosalie. "I'm the only mother-to-be that can stop her baby from elbowing her by simply asking!" Bella joked, but I noticed the color had not returned to her cheeks. She was in pain but trying to hide it from me. Rosalie added, "See if he'll move away from your bladder; that would cut down on our unending trips to the bathroom."

It occurred to me that there was something far more important that they were both missing. "Listen, if the baby has developed so far that he or she is able to communicate, don't you think it should be safe to deliver him at this point?" Bella gasped and turned to look at Rose hopefully. They shared a significant glance and then Rose looked at me with her eyes narrowed. I stated the facts. "The child already feels cramped. At the rate it's growing, we shouldn't wait for Bella to go into labor; it would only put Bella in more unnecessary danger. The baby is clearly developed enough to survive outside the womb, and being proactive about it will give Bella the best chance at survival…perhaps even as a human."

Bella and Rosalie shared a look of skepticism at my last words, but of course, I could only hear Rose's thoughts. She felt I was in a state of denial about Bella's chances of staying human, but out loud she agreed with me about the delivery. "When Carlisle returns later today, we'll convince him it's time to deliver the baby."

Bella and I looked at each other; she gave me a triumphant smile while the smile I gave her was more incredulous. Somehow, miraculously, this was all going to work out alright; my actions were not going to end with my wife's death. I took Bella's hands in mine and gently squeezed them.

So Edward, clearly Bella and I were right about the baby and you were wrong. Rose thought smugly. She had my attention, though I didn't look at her. She chided me further. Are you going to thank me for playing the part of guardian angel for your child? I didn't stop looking into Bella's eyes, as I dropped one of her hands to make little shooing motions at Rosalie behind the couch.

Rosalie finally got the message. She thought, alright, you can thank me later, as she cleared her throat and announced aloud, "I guess I'll leave you newlyweds alone. I wonder what trouble I can get into in the garage…" Before she had even left the room, Bella's response stopped her.

"Rose?" she called out softly. Bella sat up and with her arms curved above and below the baby and with a slow smile spreading across her face, she whispered, "thank you." Rosalie smiled broadly at her, glared at me for two full seconds, looked back at her and replied, "Hey, that's what sisters are for," and still smiling she headed for the door. For the first time since our flight home, we were left alone.

"Hey, come here," Bella carefully rolled onto her side, still swathed in a quilt, and scooted against the back of the couch making room for me. She curled her index finger from me toward the open space next to her body.

"Are you sure there's enough room?" I asked. "Won't I make you chilly? I'm not sure…"

"Edward," she interrupted me, "Stop worrying and come here. I need to speak with my husband." I hesitated; still not sure this was a good idea. Finally, with extreme care, I laid down beside her without jostling her or the couch and felt intense relief to be so close to her warm body again, even if it did feel awkward with the baby's bulk between us. She kissed me and I marveled as usual at the warm softness of her lips. One small part of my brain noted her outrageously delicious scent, but I kept myself in control.

"Hi," she said softly.

"Hi," I echoed her.

"I'm sorry you were worried about me. Can you forgive me for putting you through this?"

"Bella! You did nothing wrong. In fact, it's becoming obvious that you were right all along to protect the baby." I touched her lips gently with my fingers as I added half jokingly, "Apparently it's not the little monster I feared it would be."

"Good. I'm glad we're finally on the same page. Now, even more importantly…I want you to forgive yourself for putting me through this."

"That I will happily do once the baby is born and you're safely back in my arms."

"As a human," she added.

"Yes, hopefully as a human."

She sighed. "Edward. You have to let me go." My body immediately became tense, and I answered her somewhat sharply, "What do you mean?"

"I mean the human me…brown eyes, red cheeks, the ol' danger-magnet-is-my-middle-name Bella." I looked away from her. "You know what Carlisle said about my condition. There's been a lot of internal damage done so far, and the birthing process…well, we know it's not going to be pretty."

I partially sat up, leaning on one elbow to better view her facial expressions. "Yes, but there's still a chance that you'll recover from this if you give it some time…" I touched her face with my free hand and noticed how drawn and pale white her complexion was.

"No Edward. Carlisle is right, I can tell. The pain…it never entirely goes away now. The only way I'm surviving this is as a vampire. And after all, you did promise me that if I married you…"

"I know, and I will keep my promise," I answered her emphatically, "but what about the plans we made on Esme's Island? What about Dartmouth?"

"Dartmouth isn't going anywhere, and we won't be getting any older. Besides we're going to be busy raising this here baby." She placed her hand on her belly. "Edward. This is the right time. And I'm ready."

And there it was again…that feeling of self-hatred I knew so well. I hated myself for causing Bella to want to end her human life. I looked into the chocolate brown depths of her eyes, and sadly asked, "You're ready for the never-ending thirst? Of having to control your every desire? You're ready to pretend to be human when you're not?"

"I know what I'm getting into. Between you and Carlisle I'm more prepared for my future life than any vampire in existence!"

"Yeah, that's true I guess," I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally.

My reply angered her and she answered my questions with questions of her own. She spoke quickly, not waiting for my response. "Edward, do you doubt my commitment to you?"

"No, don't be …"

"When I tell you that I love you more than life itself, do you think I'm lying to you?" she continued.

"No! No, of course not, but…"

"Then what is it Edward? Why do you keep fighting this?"

I was starting to get angry myself and answered her more sharply then I intended, with the simple truth. "I'm afraid you'll regret it someday, and end up hating me for taking your life away from you."

She sadly shook her head. "Then you are afraid of an impossibility." She took my face in both of her hands. "'You are my life now,' " she quoted me fiercely. She looked at me for a moment then, deep in thought, she said, "Remember the first time we saw each other…my first day at Forks High School in the cafeteria?"

"Yes, of course. I was so frustrated I couldn't hear what you were thinking! I thought there was something wrong with me," I half smiled.

"Do you want to know what I was thinking?" she asked.

"Always," I smiled. She laughed at the eagerness of my reply.

"I couldn't decide who was more beautiful, Rosalie…or you. Jessica was going on and on about how no one here was good enough for you to date, which you obviously heard." I nodded as she continued. "But I didn't need to hear that; it was painfully obvious to me that you could never be interested in me. It seemed as if you were part of a different world, you were so far out of my league." We shared a meaningful glance, and we chuckled. "Edward, I will never fully be part of your world…until you change me. Once I'm a vampire, we'll be equals… partners for all of eternity. That's what I want."

I looked down at her and asked stubbornly, "But what if what you want isn't what's best for you?"

"Edward," she replied gently, looking deeply into my eyes, "just because you love me, doesn't mean you know what's best for me." Her words cut me deeply. All of my past actions that had caused her such suffering replayed themselves in my head. I winced as I realized she was absolutely correct. She looked as if her supply of energy was completely spent as she uttered her closing statement with quiet desperation, "Please, just accept it already."

Accept it? Hearing it that way, it occurred to me that Bella had been trying to give me a gift all along that I had been too stubborn to accept; she was giving me the gift of her mortality because of this incredible, incomprehensible love she felt for me. And I knew she was right. "Okay," I sighed, but nodded my head, "I accept it. After the baby is born, no matter what happens…I'll make you a vampire."

"You alone, right? That was our deal."

"Yes Bella," I answered her with some exasperation, "my venom and my venom alone will enter your system; I swear it." I puzzled again why that was so important to her as I lightly kissed her neck and felt her tremble beneath my lips. The appallingly delicious scent of her blood made my throat burn, but as usual I was in control of my desire. I would have to be in absolute control when the time came…when I would taste her lusciously sweet blood again…I breathed in the heady scent of her neck and felt slightly intoxicated. I looked up to meet her gaze and I was immediately sobered by the absolute trust in her eyes. I knew I could never betray that trust; my love for her was stronger than my hideous desire. When the time came, she would be in no danger from the monster in me.

I reminded her that everything was ready for her upstairs in Carlisle's office; in fact everything needed had been in place for weeks now, just in case her transformation became necessary to save her.

"Good," she sighed. "Now then…what about the baby?" she asked taking my hand and holding it in place on her round stomach.

"What about the baby?" I repeated.

"Will you ever love him?" she asked quietly, her forehead creased with worry.

I looked away and gave her the best answer I could. "I know that whatever happens to you, it's not the baby's fault." I looked back at her; she was biting her lower lip. "Bella, three days ago, the only thing the baby was to me, was the instrument of your death…so forgive me if my feelings are slightly ambivalent. At least I can honestly say that I don't despise it anymore."

We looked at each other for a moment and she frowned; her lower lip quivered with emotion. "Well, it's a start," she finally sighed. After a moment of silence, she asked, "So what is he thinking now?"

I laughed. I was pretty sure the baby was sleeping; all I could hear from it was the usual rapid heartbeat. "He's thinking, 'when will you two quit talking and start kissing?'" I gently put my arms around her, folding her into my cold embrace.

She chuckled; her warm breath fanned my face. "What a smart kid."

I brushed my lips with hers as I made my reply. "Hmmm, takes after his mom…" and then further speech became impossible.

My desire for her had been overwhelmed by the sure knowledge that I had killed her with my actions. Now, with the hope that everything was going to be alright, that desire resurfaced. Of course, only days ago her death had been several faltering heartbeats away from reality. I kept those agonizing memories in mind as I kissed her fragile lips gently with joy and exquisite relief, all the while practicing more caution than I had with our very first kiss. Her heart raced. I pulled away to brush the tears from her cheeks. "Bella, my love," I whispered softly in her ear, "why are you crying?"

"Because I'm happy. I've really missed this," she said laughing through her tears.

"Me too."

She pulled me toward her and we continued to kiss softly, languidly, just happy to be alone and in each other's arms after so much time at odds with each other. I enjoyed the feel of her body next to mine, even as I worked to keep myself in control.

Sometimes it felt like my entire existence was about control: controlling my thirst for human blood…controlling my physical desire for Bella. My every touch, every kiss we shared I had to control so she wouldn't get hurt…or worse. Could my darkest, most selfish desire, to physically share our love without constantly having to control my actions…actually become reality? I shivered with eager anticipation at the thought.

Our reconciliation continued while I thought about the indescribable depth of Bella's love for me. I pulled back to look at her in wonder. "Why am I always underestimating you?" I asked her quietly.

"Because I'm human and you love me way too much," she said simply with a sigh, "which is why I put up with you." She touched our foreheads together to make light of her statement, then she caressed my jaw line. "But soon you'll have nothing more to worry about." She smiled, but then her face clouded. "I'm not looking forward to the newborn years…I mean mine of course, not the baby's." She blushed. "I'll miss…Esme's Island."

"Yes, me too," I replied, knowing what she meant. "But don't forget time moves differently for vampires. That year or two will fly by and then your physical desires will come back stronger than you can imagine."

"Really?" She replied arching an eyebrow. "I don't know. I can imagine quite a bit."

I chuckled and raised an eyebrow in return. "I know." I kissed her cheek and felt her shiver. She felt almost cool to me, so I gently climbed off the couch, found another quilt for her and made her as comfortable and warm as possible. "You look sleepy. Why don't you take a nap and I'll wake you when lunch is ready?"

She yawned. "Sounds like a plan. Hey, can you do me a favor? I haven't heard you play piano since before the wedding. Why don't you play me to sleep?"

I was delighted at her request, but I tried to downplay it. "Well, since you asked," and then I grinned. "I'd love to."

It had been weeks since I had played anything. I knew she was expecting to hear her lullaby, or some other classical composition, but my mood was too euphoric from being back in Bella's arms; it demanded something more upbeat. So I gave her a song entirely appropriate and utterly unexpected: my rendition of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl. Bella chuckled at my choice. As I sang the chorus it came to me that all too soon the song wouldn't apply to Bella…

When I finished, she smiled and said, "That was very cool. But it's really not helping me fall asleep."

"Oh that's right," I replied sheepishly. "Sorry, here you go." I played her lullaby and when it was through, I let my fingers and my thoughts wander at their own accord.

I loved the feel of the keys under my fingers. When I played, I felt completely alone, apart from everyone, but paradoxically a part of everything. It was so natural to me, like breathing, or running, or loving Bella, it was simply part of my being. Edward Cullen: perpetual 17-year old, vampire, Bella's husband, mind reader, composer, pianist, and now…father? I gulped. That last one didn't fit. How could it? And yet, there was Bella, asleep on the couch, peaceful in repose, round with…my child. There was no escaping that fact.

From the moment she had discovered her pregnancy, I had been so horrified at the thought of losing Bella that I had never given much thought to the child; now that, miraculously, the possibility existed that everything would work out alright, I experienced a moment of dread. I didn't know anything about children. What kind of creature had I fathered? And more importantly, what kind of father would I be? I debated with myself while the music continued around me. At least I had one advantage no other father in the world had; something I had just learned this morning: I could hear my child's thoughts. Poor kid, I smiled to myself. Plus I had two of the best examples of fatherhood that could be found: our baby's grandfathers, Carlisle and Charlie.

I felt a pang of regret that Bella would soon likely be separated from Charlie forever through my actions. I liked my father-in-law; I always had. He was a curmudgeonly type: gruff and strict, but he loved his daughter as unconditionally as I did. Soon he would have a grandchild, and for Charlie's own safety, he could never even know about its existence.

This music was way too morose. I stopped playing. I needed to lighten the mood. I looked over at Bella again and was struck anew by her beauty. I would miss this, watching her sleep. And then the perfect song suggested itself, one of our favorites, Clair de Lune. Its beauty was nothing in comparison to hers. I played it for Bella softly, enjoying the soothing sound of the last D-flat major arpeggio as it gradually softened into silence.

I slid off the bench and was headed for the kitchen to make Bella's lunch when I noticed the thoughts emanating from Bella's body. The baby's feelings about the music had so closely mirrored my own, that I hadn't noticed them at first. In a heartbeat I was on the floor next to the couch, feeling slightly silly again while addressing Bella's abdomen.

"Did you…like what you heard?" I asked. The baby was completely enthralled by the music…mesmerized in fact. Could the child be musical? What kind of music would it prefer? Would it want to learn piano? And just like that, I wasn't dreading its birth. Instead I was anxious for the adventure to begin. I realized I had the responsibility of teaching this new mind, this blank slate, about all the wonders of not just music, but the entire world. Why fatherhood could actually…quite possibly…be amazing.

The baby was thinking a couple of notes in his head; I hummed the same notes back to him and added a few of my own to complete a phrase. The baby was giddy with delight at my response. He enjoyed having my attention; humming notes back to him which I picked from his thoughts was like a game to him.

I went back to the piano, and keeping my mind linked with the baby's, I changed notes and phrases and added chords until a song finally emerged. The melody was wistful, and incredibly poignant in its simplicity. I was suffused with a deep sense of joy and wonder that the baby's mind echoed back to me. I had never imagined the baby and I could be so close. I had thought of it only as a monster, for what else could it be with me as its father? But the baby's thoughts…they weren't monstrous at all. The baby was highly intelligent and aware, but also innocent and rather…sweet.

It seemed the heavens were bestowing on me an awful lot of good and miraculous gifts lately: Bella's love, our marriage, and now…a baby! How could a monster such as I deserve so much happiness? An inkling flitted through my brain, an epiphany of sorts. How could a being damned for eternity, with no soul of his own, help to create a new life? Could it be that Bella and Carlisle were right? Perhaps…I wasn't a monster after all. Perhaps the Cullen Family was worthy of love and happiness.

Bella slept on, oblivious to the song I had just composed with our son or daughter's help. This brief but undeniably magical bonding with my offspring was too precious to share with anybody; I decided it would be our little secret. And just like that the tune had a name: Secret Song. Someday we would share it with others, but for now the simple melody would be known only by the two of us: my beloved, soon-to-be-born child and his or her…Dad. I slowly smiled in anticipation of my new name.

I looked out the kitchen window while I cooked Bella's eggs and realized what a rare, beautiful day it was outside. This gave me an idea, but I needed to make sure it was safe first. I listened outwardly with my mind and didn't hear any incoming werewolves from Sam's pack. I was pretty positive Jacob was right about them; they were most likely concentrating on guarding La Push. Rosalie was in the garage waxing her BMW and happily thinking about becoming an aunt and caring for the new baby, still a bit smug that she had rightly protected it from me. I heard Seth and Leah who were not too far from the front of the house. Interesting…they were arguing about Bella and Jacob. Seth was trying to convince Leah to stay out of it; I fervently hoped that Seth would win that one.

Once the food was prepared and everything was ready outside, I enlisted Rosalie's help. The two of us carried the couch Bella was sleeping on outside on the blanket I had spread out in a shady spot behind the house and along the river. I could have carried it by myself, but I didn't want any errant swaying motions waking Bella up before the couch was in place. Rose returned to the empty house.

The gentle sound of the river murmuring over stones woke her up a minute later.

"Am I awake…or is this a dream?"

"Which would you prefer it to be?"

"Awake, as long as there's food in that basket. I'm starving."

I chuckled. "I figured you would be." I helped her sit up against the pillows, while she glanced around at the blanket spread out on the ground, the river serenely flowing by, and the items I was taking out of the picnic basket. She giggled and said, "Will Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet be joining us today?"

My feelings were slightly hurt, (was I really that old-fashioned to her?) but I played along and responded in a highbrow English accent. "No, for unfortunately they have gone to town with the Bingleys." She chuckled while I tried to explain. "I just thought you'd enjoy being outside for a change. You've been cooped up in the house for so long…"

She must have heard the hurt in my voice, because she placed her hand on my shoulder and weakly pulled me closer to her. "You're absolutely right. Thank you for the picnic. I love it. Any Jane Austen fan would die for a husband as wonderful as you."

"I don't think your typical Austen fan would willingly go through what you're about to go through for me." I replied feeling slightly depressed.

"Well, maybe not…but they would wish that they could. Anyway…what kind of eggs did you make?"

After Bella ate the eggs I had scrambled for her and half finished sipping a glass of O negative, I sat on the blanket with my right side leaning against the couch facing Bella. I noticed a very faint sound coming from Bella's stomach: a slow, rhythmic noise. At the same time I noticed it, Bella looked puzzled and felt her abdomen. "That's the strangest feeling. What do you think that is?" she asked.

"Are you in pain?" I immediately asked.

"No, it just feels…weird." Concerned, I listened more closely to the baby's thoughts. "Hmmm, he or she doesn't seem to know what's going on either. He feels…anxious and slightly …annoyed." I looked up at Bella with a frown, my eyes full of worry as she started to giggle.

"Edward, it's okay. I think the baby has hiccups."

"Hiccups! Do babies get hiccups?"

"I don't know. Do vampires get hiccups?"

I smirked and rolled my eyes at her not bothering to respond.

"Well, I don't know much about babies, but that's what it feels like." We both placed our hands on her abdomen and felt each tiny rhythmic bump.

I listened more carefully. "The baby's puzzled. I guess he's never experienced hiccups before."

Bella leaned over and cooed to her stomach, "Oh, it's okay baby Edward, it's completely normal. We're still fine." She rubbed her belly gently, then she looked up at me with a smug, conspiratorial smile. "You know, just now…you were worried about the baby."

"I know." I looked at the river. "We kind of…got to know each other better…while you were sleeping…" I didn't elaborate, and she didn't ask me to.

She replied with mock lightness, in the manner of a know-it-all, "I knew eventually you'd love him." I fought a smile without success.

And so we enjoyed our time outside together, feeling the light breeze on our faces and watching the sun trying to find us through the green, dappled leaves. Occasionally the sun would succeed in its effort and send rainbow sparkles from my skin across the blanket. It felt like a time apart, a totally different reality, where Bella and I were a normal husband and wife expecting their first child. She lay down on the couch on her side, the roundness that was our baby just inches away from me.

Eventually the hiccups subsided. I wondered for the first time what the baby would look like. "I hope the baby has your eyes and hair. After everything I've put you through, you deserve for the baby to look just like you." An image of an exquisite brown-haired baby girl with Bella's beautifully rich brown eyes flashed in my mind.

"Edward," Bella said shaking her head in exasperation, "you're the gorgeous one here!" I looked at her scornfully. She was always selling her beauty short. She continued, "The baby I picture doesn't look like me at all. He has your nose, your chin, your lips," she touched each feature tenderly as she named them. "Your bronze hair…and green eyes…like you used to have." She combed her fingers tenderly through my hair.

Green eyes… "That's right. I had my mother's green eyes," I said softly, looking off into the distance. Could some essence of my long-lost parents, born in the 19th century live on into the 21st?

I turned back to Bella. "Well, you know genetically speaking, the baby will be some combination of the two of us."

"A compromise," she laughed quietly, "We've always been good at that."

"True," I laughed in agreement. "Did you know that Emmett and Jazz have a bet going as to how big the baby will be?"

"Really?" Bella asked eagerly.

"Yes, Emmett is betting 9 lbs or bigger; Jasper says smaller."

"Nine pounds? Is he kidding??!"

"Well, I don't know. I mean, have you seen how big you've gotten lately?"

She chuckled and then looked at me with mock sternness. "Edward, you're new at this, so I'll cut you some slack. But for future reference…a husband should never tell his pregnant wife how fat she's gotten."

I laughed. "Duly noted."

I leaned my head casually against her belly and smiled with her. This moment was so perfect, my love for her so limitless; I wished we could stay here like this forever. Oh Bella, my love…if only I could spare you the agony of the next few days, I thought sadly to myself. Bella's eyes stared into mine while her heartbeat stuttered momentarily; I marveled at her reaction. After all this time, apparently I still 'dazzled' her. I looked away, pleasantly embarrassed and slowly shook my head with a sad smile.

The baby's sudden question interrupted my own thoughts. I turned back to it, and responded with a chuckle, "That's normal. Well, at least it is for your mom."

Bella looked at me with a huge grin. "What did he ask you?"

"He was worried about your skipping heartbeats; I'm not the only one who can hear it now."

"Oh E.J.…" she crooned, "We're okay. That was just a typical female reaction to your dad's crooked smile." I shook my head again as she laughed. "Hey, are Jasper and Em betting on the sex as well?"

"No, you've got everyone convinced it's going to be a boy…except for Alice. She's the only holdout; she thinks it's a girl. Of course it's driving her crazy not being able to see for sure." Bella laughed delightedly.

"I'm surprised your brothers told you about the bet knowing how you feel…about the baby…you know, before today." Bella blushed and looked down at the ground.

"Well, they didn't actually tell me anything…"

"Oh, right." She wrinkled her nose. "It must be difficult for them having a brother that hears all their thoughts."

"After all these years, they're used to it." Something occurred to me then and I looked at Bella and asked, "How difficult would it be for a wife?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, once you're a vampire, what if…"

"What if you'll be able to read my mind then?" Her face darkened. "Holy crow, I never thought of that." She was silent for a full five seconds while I agonized over what she could be thinking, and then she looked up at me and flippantly added, "Okay, I changed my mind. I'll stay human."

"Ha ha. Very funny," I said sourly. She laughed and reached over to kiss me. I leaned in and touched her lips with mine. In the sudden stillness, I heard someone's mind much closer than I had expected.

"Uh oh," I said under my breath. Quickly I threw everything in the basket and scooped Bella carefully in my arms and started carrying her back to the house.

"What is it?" she asked. I had been listening off and on all afternoon to Seth and Leah. Now, I realized Seth was asleep and Leah had worked up the courage to confront me about Jacob.

"Leah's coming to see me. Let's get you inside."

"Leah? Why?"

"I don't know," I lied. Bella narrowed her eyes in annoyance, but I merely called for Rose so she could get Bella re-settled in the house. I went to wait for Leah on the front porch. She approached the house cautiously in her wolf form. Our scent seemed to bother her more than Jacob or Seth. She paced back and forth in front of the porch.

I greeted her cautiously. "Hello Leah."

She got right to the point. Where did Jacob go? she thought.

"I'm not positive," I replied, "but I think he was heading for Seattle, driving around the Sound instead of taking the ferry."

Why was he so upset? she thought acidly. What did she say to him?

It bothered me that she immediately blamed Bella for upsetting Jacob, so I answered testily, "Bella didn't say or do anything to Jacob. Maybe Jacob finally figured out that Bella and I and our baby are a family. Maybe Jacob finally figured out he needs to find someone else, with whom to fall in love."

She was so furious at my comments that she growled and snapped her jaws together at me. Her thoughts were chaotic for a few seconds before she finally thought, Yeah, maybe Jacob did finally figure that out. It's too bad for you, bloodsucker, that your wife can't seem to figure that out. She stopped pacing to stare at me. Why am I wasting my time talking to you? You're clearly in la-la land if you can't see this is all Bella's fault. And with that she ran into the woods, phased to her human form and quickly got dressed in her dirty shirt and shorts. She walked back toward the front door where I was standing. I knew she wanted to talk to Bella and I knew I had to stop her if I could.

"Leah, I'm not going to let you upset Bella. She's in a lot of pain right now."

"Oh really? Well she's not the only one in pain." She stopped right in front of me and winced as she breathed deeply. "Look, I can keep calm." She continued with false sweetness. "Just give me two minutes of her time. Besides, after everything my brother and I have done for you leeches and your 'family'," her fingers put air quotes around the word as she spat it out, "you're not going to fight me to keep me out of your house." I sighed deeply; she was right about that. I followed her inside.

Bella was sitting up on the couch which Rose had returned to its place. I could hear Rosalie upstairs getting some more for Bella to drink. Bella blanched slightly as Leah came in the room.

The hatred in Leah's thoughts had me on edge, jumpy. I took a protective stance between her and Bella. She began with a simple question. "What happened to Jacob today?"

Bella's eyes flickered to mine for a second and then her face darkened. "I don't know. We were…um…having a moment with the baby, and he just…"

"Just took off in an Aston Martin Vanquish, yeah, I saw that." Leah grimaced and slowly shook her head.

She continued, her voice suddenly more passionate, "When are you going to stop torturing him? Why can't you leave him alone? How's he supposed to get over you when you keep him around all the time? He's a cool guy. He's understanding and smart and he's in pain all the time because of you. Stop being so selfish and think about him for a change. Just…let him go already. Stop treating him like he still has a chance with you."

The tears finally overflowed from Bella's eyes and ran down her cheeks, but Leah didn't let up. "He deserves better than that, Mrs. Cullen. You made your choice, so go live your life and let Jacob get on with his."

She turned sharply and was planning a dramatic exit, when Bella's voice stopped her. "I don't mean to hurt him," she said sounding slightly ashamed. "I just have this…this need to see him. I don't know why," she sobbed. "It's like a compulsion…" Leah tilted her head and frowned in concentration at her words. "But it's beyond me…I can't explain it," Bella finished lamely.

At that precise moment something clicked in Leah's head, and she sucked in a lungful of air, for once not minding the 'vampire stench'. That explains everything! It's not her, it's…as I listened to her thoughts, she stopped suddenly, her eyes locked with mine and she immediately began translating a certain speech in Quileute, her native tongue. Clearly, she had discovered something she did not want to share with me.

I said acidly, "What are you thinking about Leah? What are you keeping from me?"

After all this time sharing my mind with nine males, you think I haven't learned a few tricks to keep them out? she thought at me. Then aloud she answered, "You'll find out soon enough." She chuckled and turned once more to Bella. "Well, I better get back to guarding our little half-vampire darling." Curiously, she wasn't yelling anymore. "Just try to remember that Jacob has feelings too, okay?" She turned to leave but stopped suddenly and spun around to face us again. "Bella?" She looked at me for a second and then mumbled half-heartedly, "good luck with the delivery and…everything."

She passed Rosalie as she headed for the door and remarked to her, "I'd love to stay and tell a couple of dumb blonde jokes, but the stink in here is making me sick."

"Ooh, then please stay a while longer," Rose said sweetly just before the door slammed shut.

I put my arm around Bella, who looked confused by the turn the conversation had taken. "Are you okay? She's gone; just forget about her." I wiped the tears from her eyes.

Rose asked, "What in the world was she thinking, there at the end?"

"I'm not sure. She was keeping me out of her thoughts. She had something figured out, and when she remembered I could hear her thoughts, she shifted to Quileute. You know that's a language I haven't been able to master completely, what with all the friendly feelings between the tribe and the Cullens," I said sarcastically, "But I think she was translating the Gettysburg Address into Quileute, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment, actually." I found it interesting that her anger at Bella had subsided considerably by the time she had left. I wondered what she could have figured out, but she kept her thoughts hidden from me as she transformed. Instead of returning immediately to where Seth was sleeping, she ran with amazing speed beyond the reach of my "hearing" no doubt to mull things over in privacy…while it lasted.

"Am I really that bad? Am I causing Jake to be in pain? I didn't mean to do that." Bella had stopped crying but she looked ashamed again.

"I know. And I'm pretty sure he knows it as well. Don't worry about Leah. She's just very protective of her new pack."

"But she's right, she's right…why can't I leave him alone?" she was talking more to herself than to me or Rosalie. I helped her to lie down on the couch and find a comfortable position.

"Please Bella, just forget about Leah. Just relax and go to sleep now."

Eventually, Bella calmed down enough to take a nap. She was sleeping fitfully on the couch an hour later when Alice and Jasper returned. I left Bella after a while to join them in the kitchen. Their minds were full of their most recent discussion; Rosalie had gotten to them first and related to them our plans to deliver the baby as soon as possible so I couldn't immediately discover where the rest of my family was. "Where's Carlisle?" I had to ask.

Alice answered me while giving the supply of blood she was carrying to Jasper. "He and Esme and Emmett have gone to get more blood. He doesn't believe this will be enough and he found another supplier that sounded promising. He should be back by noon tomorrow." She looked up at me, her voice soft with worry as she added, "Will that be soon enough for Bella?"

"I would prefer today, but he's right; we'll need more blood. Tomorrow should be soon enough." I smiled at her, and read the surprise and relief in her mind. She hadn't seen me smile in weeks. She stepped closer to me while her eyes searched my face. She was thinking how for the very first time, I looked like a human anxious and excited that his wife was about to give birth to his first child. She thought, I've never seen you look so…optimistic.

I laughed in response. "I think everything's going to work out okay."

"Thank goodness," she sighed, "all this drama will be over tomorrow. And then what?" She raised her eyebrows at me.

"As soon as Carlisle delivers the baby, I'll…make Bella a vampire," I replied simply.

She grasped my arm lightly. "You know it's what Bella's wanted all along."

"I know," I said, "I'm ready to accept it now."

"And how exactly are you going to deal with the next three days?"

"Good question," I told her honestly. Watching Bella thrash around in agony for days was not something I was looking forward to. "I guess I'm hoping that the morphine will keep her from experiencing too much pain, but first things first. We'll need to call Carlisle and tell him the baby's ready to be delivered. Tell me, how much convincing will I need to do on the phone?"

She looked forward for me, her head cocked to one side and answered, "He'll want to check on Bella and the baby for himself to make sure, but he will agree to deliver the baby as soon as they return."

Jasper, returning to the kitchen after putting the blood supply away, sniffed the air, and interrupted our conversation. "What was Leah doing in the house?"

"She came in to read Bella the riot act," Rose replied coldly.

"What?!" they were both indignant. "And why exactly did she feel Bella deserved that?" Alice asked furiously. I sighed. I didn't really want to have this conversation with my family; I couldn't quite get my mind around the situation myself.

Rose read my reluctant silence correctly, and filled them in on Leah's diatribe. I couldn't help but wonder again what Leah had figured out about Bella that she was keeping from me.

"Jacob's back," I announced to the room. I had sensed his thoughts seconds before I heard my car out on the highway. I needed to get to the garage to confront him.

Oh Edward, Carlisle asked me to remind you, Alice's thoughts became words at this point, "about the Quileute treaty. Do you think Jacob can amend it in Sam's place?"

"I think so," I replied. "Jacob is an Alpha, not to mention the old chief's direct descendant. The bigger question is…will he amend it and allow the girl he loves to become a vampire."

She laughed, "Yeah, look how long it's taken you." I gave her a puzzled look. …to allow the girl you love to become a vampire, she finished her sentence as a thought.

I snorted. "True. Anyway, I'll need to speak to him about that as well."

Suddenly from her couch in the front room, Bella started talking in her sleep. Her words indicated she was replaying a certain sensual dream of the two of us she had had during our honeymoon on Esme's Island. As Bella quietly moaned my name again, the four of us stood listening to every word, unmoving and silent as statues. With perfect synchronization, my brother and sisters turned their heads to stare at me with knowing looks in their eyes. I shrugged sheepishly. Ninety-odd years ago in this same situation I would have been as red-faced as Bella at her most embarrassed. I heard every snide comment in all of their thoughts. I realized my current embarrassment was small recompense for many years' worth of my unable-to-switch-it-off eavesdropping on their private thoughts. I had two words for them all which I uttered with as much petulance as any younger brother being teased by his more experienced siblings could give.

"Shut up."

They chuckled at my discomfort, as I escaped to the garage to wait for Jacob.