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Beta - TwilightZoner

CHAPTER 8 - ONLY HUMAN

BELLA

Definition (Range):

Consider the sequence - {Xn}n≥1

The set - {X1,X2,X3,....} = {Xn; n = 1, 2, 3, ....}

Whoever thought up this crap had to be some kind of masochist. I mean really? Calculus is such a, a. . . a perpetual pain in my ass. A thorn in my side. A splinter in my thumb. A freaking huge boulder blocking the exit out of high school.

Like I could concentrate anyway!

Keeping my mind on the subject at hand was proving more and more difficult with each passing minute. I didn't like being apart from Edward. It made me all edgy and anxious, and as much as I hated being the clingy little human, I couldn't seem to help myself. I was scared about what was coming and scared that when we were forced to separate, it might be the last time. . . It made my stomach churn just thinking about it. So every second with him was even more precious now, and I had to admit, I missed him when he wasn't around. But I couldn't begrudge him this. He's gotta eat, and some time out with his brothers and sisters was a good idea. Tense doesn't quite begin to cover the atmosphere in the house lately. It would do him good to get out for a couple of hours - it'd do them all good and me, too. If I had to hear Jasper strategise and theorise about "our enemy" one more time, I might start breaking things.

Back to functions and domains and antiderivatives. . .

True or False. If F(x) is an antiderivative of f(x) and c is any constant, then F(x) + c is also an antiderivative of f(x).

Huh? I think I used to be smarter than this.

I couldn't help but wonder what he was doing. Probably sucking Bambi dry, I suppose. Best not to dwell on such matters until such a time as I have to dwell on them. It's actually really hard to consider a time when Bambi will be the soup de jour on my menu planner. To be honest, just the thought of it kind of makes me want to heave and then cry. I've contemplated the whole thing a lot. The potential eternal damnation - sure. The three days of burning in the fiery pits of hell - no problem. Never sleeping again - bring it on. But killing cute furry animals that haven't done anything to me and drinking their blood. . . My stomach clenches, and I retch every time I think about it. I can't even eat tomato soup anymore, it just reminds me too much of. . . it. Honestly, you'd think living in a house full of vampires would have started to desensitise me to the subject by now. Alas, it doesn't bode well for my future as a blood drinker. Still, I want to do it. I want it a lot. So what if I hate my only food choice? So I'll be an extra skinny vampire. Eat to live not live to eat. It'll be worth it - for him. We just have to get through this.

This! Such a small word for everything that was going on, when really it was huge - monumental even. There was going to be a war, the type of war that even the Brothers Grimm couldn't conjure up. Victory was assumed but not assured. Nothing could ever be assured - so many variables, things we didn't know. I was utterly terrified and nervously optimistic at the same time. All I knew for sure was that I wanted Victoria dead, and I was only sorry that I wouldn't be there to witness it. Payback is a bitch, and so is she. I may be an emotional weakling when it comes to furry animals, but I'd have no tears for her. I just prayed that she wouldn't take anyone I loved with her. I'm not sure I could cope with another death on my conscience, and if I lost Edward, especially when I was stuck miles away hiding out with a couple of wolves. . . It didn't bear thinking about. I tried not to think about it. It was all I could think about.

True or False. The two functions f and g defined by

f(x) = 3x + 3 for x real and g(t) = 3t + 3 for t real and positive are equal?

I wondered if there was anything in the world that I could care less about than the answer to this question. . .

Carlisle and Esme were babysitting me while Edward was gone. I didn't mind really. It'd been kind of peaceful with the house so empty, but they were starting to squick me out. They were meant to be quietly reading on the couch, pretending I wouldn't notice all the meaningful glances and accidental touches. For sneaky, stealthy vampires, they weren't really all that sneaky or stealthy. Wait! Did he. . . oh my God, he totally copped a feel of her boob. The sly dog and EW! How am I gonna get that image out of my head? As if I didn't have enough trouble sleeping through the night. Should I pretend I never saw it? Do I say something?

Before I could figure out how to subtly suggest they get a room and stop scarring my delicate psyche, their whole demeanour shifted. They moved from foreplay to frightening in the blink of an eye, obviously hearing or sensing something I couldn't.

"Wha--What's wrong?" I stuttered out as wolves cried ominously in the distance. My "spidey sense" didn't really have to work too hard to know there was something very wrong.

It had been a good day, at least by current standards. Not the day the newborns would attack - Jasper said so - he was always monitoring them. It was just another day to wait and pretend that life was normal. But the minute Carlisle tensed and Esme whimpered, my panic level just about went off the Richter scale. They jumped up off the couch and kind of fused together.

"Carlise! Esme! What's the matter? Is it the newborns? Victoria?" I pleaded desperately, but no answers came. I wondered for a moment if they'd even heard me, but I knew that couldn't be right.

Esme melted further into Carlisle's arms. She took big shuddering breaths trying to calm herself, and she tried to put on her game face for me, but I wasn't buying it. One look into her huge, glassy eyes, and I knew it had to be bad.

"Please. Just tell me what you hear," I begged. "Your silent treatment is not helping!"

Carlisle's mouth fell into a hard line and he sighed.

"It's Emmett. He's. . . He and Rosalie, they're on their way. . . with the others. There's some kind of. . . problem. I--I won't know anything until they get here. Try to relax, Bella. They're almost here," he explained, though it wasn't much of an explanation. I didn't need to be Edward to know he was holding out on me, but I figured they'd be here soon enough and I could see for myself. But the way he said "the others" really unsettled me, not to mention he never looked at me once while he spoke.

No. No. No.. They're just anxious, that's all. Overreacting. Edward's okay. They're all okay. There just wasn't any other option. They'd be fine. He'd be fine.

I started pacing, anxious for them to get here already. They were vampires for God's sake. Where was the superhuman speed? I had to remind myself that only a couple of minutes had gone by since Carlisle's non-revelation. I had to calm down. I couldn't keep falling to pieces every time something stressful happened. It was always stressful, and they all had enough on their minds without worrying about me being a head case. I owed it to Edward - to all of them really - to be strong. But seriously, I wasn't really sure how much more crap I could take. What else could possibly go wrong now?

Shit. Don't even go there, Bella.

Carlisle and Esme were glued together in an embrace, still as statues and staring at the front door like it held the meaning of life. They definitely knew more than what they were telling me. Everyone always knew more than what they told me, and it was beyond annoying, but it didn't seem like the best time to get into that discussion.

They still weren't moving. I knew their constant shifting and fidgeting were all part of their human charade and more than anything, had become a habit over time. But seeing them so unmoving and unblinking and unbreathing - well it was kind of freaking me out. When any of them slipped back into that state - their natural state of being I suppose - it was a little creepy. It was like living in Madame Tussauds. I tried not to look at them while trying not to think about anything bad.

Every second seemed to drag on infinitesimally as we waited. My heart was beating so loud and hard I was sure it would alert every supernatural creature within a ten mile radius to my location. I comforted myself by thinking I was acting as a beacon for Edward, that he'd already be able to hear how my heart was racing, and it would make him run even faster back to me, because he'd know that I was really upset. That was Edward.

More wolf cries sounded out, and I felt a faint vibration beneath my feet. Under any other circumstances it might have scared me, but I knew it was them. They had to really be in a hurry to be stomping about like that, but I couldn't help the surge of excitement that coursed through me as I thought about seeing Edward. He'd pull me into his arms and kiss me and touch me to make sure I was okay, and my world would be righted again.

It didn't turn out that way.

There were no words to describe how I felt seeing Emmett barging through the front door, Edward and Jasper slung over his shoulders, his massive arms securing them to him as if his very life depended on it. I'd never seen his face so earnest. I'd never seen him look more afraid. Rosalie was only seconds behind him, Alice lying limply in her arms like a little ragdoll, fragile and broken. It was my very worst fear realised. I simply wasn't prepared for it, even with Alice's vision giving some measure of forewarning. I guess I wanted to pretend that was a mistake - a glitch in her gift that would never come to fruition. Clearly I'd been in denial, and now it was real. Too real. They looked. . .

Emmett knelt, almost reverently, and he gently lay both Edward and Jasper on the floor. Rosalie mimicked him, laying Alice carefully down on the couch. I flung myself to the floor, skidding and scrambling to a stop at Edward's side, the exact opposite of Emmett and Rose's grace. I didn't care, because I had to be with him. But there was no comfort to be had by his side. He never moved from the position Emmett had placed him in, limbs slack and useless, not even a muscle twitch that I could discern. His eyes were closed like he was sleeping. So restful. So serene. So absolutely not right. I gingerly pried at his eyelids, as if by forcing his eyes open he might see me and be my Edward again, but it was a mistake. His black as pitch irises unmoving and unseeing held no solace for me. I touched him all over then, my hand trembling as I searched in vain to find some sign of life. I felt a hysterical giggle forming within me, trying to force its way out. Of course there were no signs of life. He was already dead. But there's dead and then there's undead. How the fuck do you tell if an undead vampire is still. . . FUCK! I didn't even know what words to use. I was so out of my depth.

"Is he. . ." I couldn't say it out loud, but Emmett looked at me with a completely knowing and helpless expression, and that just made me feel worse. If he couldn't tell. . .

"Carlisle, do something. Fix them. Fix him," I screamed, the hysteria rising up and completely taking over.

Before the first tear had even made it halfway down my cheek, Emmett's big paws scooped me up and away from Edward - away from where I needed to be. I kicked and thrashed, but he held me firm and probably kept me from hurting myself, because I sure as hell wasn't even so much as ruffling his hair with my antics. Finally I gave in, and a ridiculously girlie sob overtook me, but I let him hold me and soothe me. I had to admit, Emmett was pretty good at the whole comforting thing. His sheer size made me feel safe and protected, but he wasn't Edward, and I didn't think I could ever be at peace again until I was back in his arms. As I finally started to calm down, I allowed myself to take in what was going on. Rose and Esme were barely holding it together, and Carlisle was hovering over Jasper, which caused an unexpected and fierce flash of anger to spark within me. I wanted him to be with Edward. I needed him to fix Edward first.

Esme looked like she was in shock. Perched on the edge of the sofa, she stroked Alice's hair with an uncharacteristically unsteady hand, her other arm wrapped tightly around her waist as she tried to hold back the sobs that were making her body shake. I noticed Seth leaning in the doorway peering into the room with his brows pulled together in a deep frown. Bare footed and bare chested, his cut off jeans were ragged and dirty from being dragged around during his endless vigil at the house. Though I deeply appreciated his commitment to us, I couldn't make myself care enough to invite him in. Pleasantries and niceties were not even on my radar.

Rosalie was standing by herself, quivering with her own silent cries, her eyes wide and panicked as her gaze darted from Alice to Jasper to Edward and back again. She looked so frightened it startled me, alerting me to my selfishness like a cold, hard slap to my face. I'd been monopolising Emmett for the comfort he would give me when she was the one that deserved it - she was his mate. I had to get myself together - the world did not revolve around me. They needed each other, mate with mate, and I was getting in the way of that. Enough with the helpless victim routine, because for once, I was not the victim. So what if I felt like my heart might explode in my chest I was so scared. So what if I felt like my world was collapsing down around me. This wasn't about me. It just felt like it was.

"Let me down, Em. Rose needs you. Just tell me what the hell happened and that they're going to be okay. Just tell me that, please?"

Emmett pulled me back from his chest so he could look at my face. I didn't even want to think what I looked like, all tear streaked and snot nosed, but he seemed to be okay with what he saw as he gently lowered me to the ground. The moment my feet hit the floor, my legs turned to jelly, and he steadied me.

"Whoa, little sis. How about you sit right here, okay?" He didn't wait for my reply before settling me into the lounge chair nearest Edward. Close, but not quite close enough.

I tried to smile up at him, but it fell short. I didn't miss the fact that he'd completely ignored my request, but I knew this had to be hard on him, too. In fact, looking at everyone's faces, even Seth's, I could see the same helpless, dumbstruck expressions that I imagined they saw on mine.

Emmett hovered above me, pushing cushions behind my back and around me and basically fussing. When he was sure I was safe and couldn't somehow fall out of the chair, he was at Rosalie's side, pulling her into a tight embrace. The moment they connected, her legs seemed to give out, and she fell into him.

It was the sort of thing Emmett and I would normally spar over, his fussing, but as he stroked Rose's hair, whispering words of comfort and support into her ear, I could see the worry etched on his face and something more - grief. And just when I thought that sickly pit in my stomach couldn't sink any lower. . . If Emmett - the eternal optimist - was already grieving, things were pretty fucking grim, but the suddenly morbid tenor in the room didn't have the effect on me that I thought it might. A fierce burning started to well up within me, starting right at that sickly pit now hanging low in my belly. The flames licked their way up into my chest, constricting my ribcage and making it difficult to keep my breathing steady. The back of my eyes were ablaze, my cheeks scorched with indignation as bile ebbed at the back of my throat. Emmett was wrong. It was all wrong.

"Don't you dare give up. Don't you fucking dare," I screamed, and before I was even consciously aware of what I was doing, my fists were bashing into the broad expanse of his chest with such force that a fine dusting of black plaster littered the air as my cast surrendered further and further to the duress.

With only one hand, Emmett managed to secure both my arms, effectively silencing my tirade. I knew right away that I'd let my emotions get the better of me, but I couldn't find it within me to care or apologise. He was wrong to give up so soon, and I wanted him to take it back, to not look like it was already all over. But when he said, "I'm sorry, Bella," his eyes told me he pitied me. It wasn't an apology or a retraction at all, and that just made me more angry. I quickly scanned the room looking for support, but all the other eyes looked everywhere but at me, and I suddenly felt very, very alone. What the fuck were they all waiting for? Why wasn't Carlisle doing something useful? Why were they all looking like this was already over?

I couldn't keep my eyes from Edward any longer, staring from my new vantage point with renewed hope that I'd see some sign of -- sentience I guess would be the word. Though I knew it was ridiculous, I couldn't stop myself from looking for the rise and fall of his chest to signify his breathing, even though I knew he didn't need to breathe. I glared at his fingers, slack and loose at the ends of his hands, willing them to curl and flex, clenching into fists and unclenching, the repetitive cycle one of his tell-tale calming techniques. I gazed at his lips, those perfect, pouty, firm yet relenting sweet lips that tasted better than sugar and drove me insane when they'd pull up in one corner when he smiled. He knew what that smile did to me, and he used it shamefully. I wondered when I'd see it again. When, not if. I just couldn't go there.

Snatching my arms back from Emmett's now loosened grip, I collapsed back into the chair, my head in my hands. I already couldn't take the pity, and it had only just started. My eyelids scrunched down tightly, and my breaths suddenly seemed very hard to come by, but I refused to let myself fall apart again. Not here, not now. Edward needed help. Alice and Jasper did, too. God, my sister, my brother and my lover were all. . . Carlisle didn't have time to be treating me for a panic attack, and deep down I knew that being angry wasn't going to help anything. They'd all loved Edward longer than I had, so I knew they were hurting, too. But they didn't love him like I did. They wouldn't break without him. And damn it, they were too quick to surrender. It was too soon to be this defeated.

"I haven't given up. I just. . . None of us have given up, right Carlisle?" Emmett asked unconvincingly and hopefully at the same time, and it just about broke my heart seeing Em so vulnerable like that. But it was Carlisle's silence that nearly ripped my heart right out of my chest as the room fell into a sickening quiet.

Calming my breathing, I slowly opened my eyes, hoping against all hope that something had changed in those few seconds. It had. Now Carlisle was hovering above Alice instead of Jasper, but he still wasn't really doing anything. The anger surged again, and I instantly regretted letting such ugliness overtake me. I felt the blush creep up my cheeks once more, almost a permanent feature by this stage, and I instinctively turned towards Jasper, shamed at being caught out in my jealousy and rage. But, of course, Jasper wasn't Jasper anymore, and as far as I could tell, he wasn't aware of my fluctuating emotions. Hell, he wasn't aware of me at all.

At the edges of my mind an unwelcome notion started to take shape, and the more I tried to quash it, the stronger it became until I couldn't deny the possibility any longer. What if this was all that we got? What if this was a wake? It was a horrifying thought to have, and I felt my breath catch the moment it fully formed. But to see them, all three of them, these waxen fallen angels spread about the room in such unnatural states of repose, well it was hard not to consider it, and suddenly I could understand Emmett's reaction all too well. I went there.

Suddenly I'd had it with the chair and with being quiet and trying to keep my emotions in check. If I didn't get some answers soon, my head was going to do me in with all the morbid thoughts vying for attention in there. I lowered myself down to the floor again and pulled Edward's head into my lap. Maybe he needed me to be close. Maybe he could feel me. It was as good a theory as any, and as I ran my fingers through his silky hair and absently started picking out the forest debris that was caught up in it, I started formulating the best way to break the uncomfortable silence in the room without upsetting the precarious emotional balance we all seemed to be barely clinging to.

I didn't know if I could even speak yet as my mouth felt uncomfortably parched. Bile kept hitting the back of my throat, the bitter acid doing nothing to moisten my palate or shrink my tongue that felt about three times its normal size. Try as I might, I couldn't get my desperate questions out, but I needed answers. I needed Carlisle to say something -- anything! And then I needed Emmett to explain what happened. Someone needed to start talking. Finally, as if sensing my need, Emmett's booming voice not only broke the silence, he shattered it.

"Fuck. I can't take it anymore. What is this shit? What's wrong with them, Carlisle?"

Well, they wouldn't have been my exact words, but they were my exact sentiment, and I was grateful to Emmett for saying what needed to be said, because I didn't feel any closer to being able to produce words of my own. Breathing and remaining conscious seemed to be taking all my effort.

Carlisle's head snapped up, and he looked completely forlorn. Releasing Alice's petite hand from his grasp, he sank back onto his haunches, resigned. Peering over at Edward, he seemed to shrink down into himself, and he averted his eyes quickly, unable to even look directly at him. Trying to compose himself, he lifted his chin and directed his attention at Emmett, avoiding the question that hung uncomfortably in the air.

"I -- I don't know," was all he managed to whimper.

It was not the confidence booster I'd been hoping for.

A few unbearable minutes passed before he spoke again. "Emmett, Rosalie, explain to me what happened - exactly." He sounded more authoritative this time, but it wasn't hard to see that he was hanging by the very same thread that we all were.

"I don't know what happened," Rosalie shrieked. "Everything was fine one minute, then it wasn't. I don't know."

Emmett tightened his hold, and Rose buried her head in his chest, shaking uncontrollably. I could see Emmett formulating his words, trying to get the telling just right and not omit anything important for Carlisle. His look of concentration was almost comical, except there was nothing at all amusing about this situation, and the deeply etched worry lines marring the perfection of his face was evidence enough of that. He took a deep, shaky breath, and he looked for all the world to be giving a book report that was worth his whole grade.

"We made our way into the woods behind the house - not far. We didn't want to go far, you know, in case. Everything was good. We were laughing. Fuck, it was the first time in days that we'd laughed. I said something, well, stupid, and we cracked up. Then we picked up on a herd of deer. I guess we weren't really trying to be discreet. Didn't think we needed to be, and the herd dispersed. So we all took off in different directions but not going far. They were only elk - easy prey. A quick snack and straight home, but it's not like we were in a big hurry either. I finished off a couple and went to find Rose. We took our time for a bit. . . Damn it, maybe if we hadn't. . ."

He clenched his fists in frustration, breathing deeply. He looked like he wanted to break something, but after a minute or so he calmed himself enough to continue.

"After a while, we went to find the others. We weren't worried. Why would we be? But then we realised we couldn't hear them. They didn't answer when we called, and that's when I knew. I just knew. We found Alice first, just like that. All crumpled and still. Jasper wasn't that far from her, but it took a little longer to find Edward. He was further away, not the direction he'd first headed. I don't know if that matters. I don't think that matters. . ." His voice trailed off, and I could see that he was lost in the memory of finding them, horror and despair written all over him.

"I see." Carlisle's tone was grave.

I was mentally trying to calculate how many minutes it had been since they'd arrived home? How many minutes had it been since they'd been like this? How long since ithappened? I wondered if functions and domains and antiderivatives would be of any use right now, because there had to be a way to work out when they'd wake up, right? All this math had to be useful for something, didn't it? As if calculus could help at a time like this. I was definitely losing it.

I was vaguely aware of the change in my breathing - it was getting harder, much harder than before. It felt as if the entire oxygen supply in the room had been used up, and I wanted to tell everyone to stop breathing, because they didn't need to and I did.

"Are you okay, Bella?" someone asked.

No.

"Yes." My voice sounded far away, like I was removed from the entire scene, just an observer looking down upon it but not actually participating in it. I was surprised when I noticed that Carlisle was right beside me, his hand on my wrist taking my pulse. I hadn't even felt him, but I was mindful of the fact he didn't need his hands to examine me when he'd have been able to hear the rapid thump of my heart from across the room and way beyond. But I guessed he needed to feel useful, and I was the closest thing to a patient he could actually help that he had.

I still couldn't find it within me to formulate the words I needed to say, my throat still thick with fear and dread and longing and desperation. Carlisle answered me anyway - I imagined it wasn't too hard to figure out what I wanted to know. We were all thinking it.

"I've never seen unconscious vampires before. As far as I'm aware, it's not even possible. I--I don't know if they will. . .revive. I--I don't know what to do."

Esme, who had been eerily silent, all but threw herself into his arms before his own choked sob made it from his throat into his mouth. And just like that, the mood shifted from morbid fear to abject resignation, because if Carlisle didn't know what to do, then there must be nothing to do.

My dry mouth turned to ash, and I could no longer feel my arms and legs.

Scanning the room again, I studied my family through hazy eyes. Emmett and Rose clung to each other, Emmett soothing Rose's tearless sobs while stoically swallowing down his own. Esme had curled herself around Carlisle, their forms defeated, their pain palpable. They were already mourning, taking comfort in each other - their mates. Even Alice and Jasper were still together in a macabre sort of way. Whatever plane they existed in now, they were there together.

And then there was Edward and me - adrift. Together but not.

My gaze drifted back to him. It was odd how I still felt our connection as strong as ever. The air still crackled between us, pulling me towards him. He looked so beautiful. He'd always be beautiful - a perfectly preserved corpse, but wasn't that what he always was? He just happened to walk and talk while he was being dead. My head was starting to hurt. I couldn't wrap my brain around it. Apart from the not moving thing, he was the same as always. He couldn't be gone just like that. A faint flutter began to stir deep within my stomach. I wasn't sure if it was fanciful desire or genuine belief, but I went with it anyway, because it felt right. When I was so broken and I didn't believe I could recover, Edward never gave up on me. For days and weeks and months he coaxed me back to life, yet here we were, ready to accept the worst without question. It wasn't right. I owed him so much more than that.

Truthfully, I didn't know if he was alive per se, but I would spend whatever time I had left by his side, watching and waiting. If he lived, I lived. And if he didn't. . . I had to believe, because there sure as hell was no evidence to suggest that he wouldn't come back, and I wasn't at all sure what made Carlisle and the others accept the worst so quickly. My anger began to swell once more, and I started feeling uncomfortably detached.

Trying to push my emotions aside for a moment, I began considering the practicalities of the situation. We had to keep them safe while we waited. We had to give them time to come back to us. The little matter of Victoria's army hadn't suddenly disappeared, and there were important things we needed to figure out, but I didn't have it in me to figure them out. Not yet, even though my mind was already swirling with the possibilities. I knew what I had to do, but I needed time to process everything - I needed to be with Edward and away from the others so I could calm down and think and feel, because right then, as brave as I was trying to be, I was shattered. My limbs were heavy and useless, and my head felt like a bowling ball all leaden and ineffectual. And my heart, well contrary to its persistent beat, it felt as cold and dead as Edward's. It was hopeless, and yet, I couldn't get to that place of acceptance. I wouldn't. It was too soon. I refused to believe that we could end this way. He wouldn't leave me like this - he just wouldn't, and Jasper wouldn't leave Alice, not without a fight. And Alice, well there's no way she'd go out so quietly. It was the silence - it was all wrong. Everything was all wrong. It might have been denial, but I didn't care. I wasn't ready to let go, even though it seemed like everyone else had.

My head and my heart were at war, but where Edward was concerned, my heart would always be the clear victor. I wouldn't believe unless I had proof. I mean, this was unchartered territory. There had to be a whole different set of criteria for determining death in the undead, and that wasn't Carlisle's speciality. He'd devoted himself to human medicine. Just because he didn't know what was happening didn't mean there wasn't hope. However improbable, I was clinging to the unknown possibilities. It was all I had.

It was amazing how quickly I was able to question Carlisle's judgement when up until then, it would have never occurred to me to doubt him. He was the epitome of the wise elder, his expertise and life experience spanning centuries, but that didn't mean he wasn't fallible. Oh, how I'd taken so much for granted. What Edward heard wasn't always the truth. What Alice saw wasn't always the future. What Jasper felt didn't always explain our feelings. And what Carlisle said wasn't always gospel. The pedestals I'd placed them all on were high, and it was a bitter and terrifying reality to see them fall - all of them. Vampirism aside, they were still only human, even though they didn't see themselves that way. Granted, they appeared outwardly perfect, but they were just as flawed as I was. It was a hapless time to come to such conclusions, but it replenished my fortitude. Being human was what I knew, and I wouldn't let rose coloured glasses cloud my judgement any longer. They weren't omniscient. They didn't know anymore than I did. For once, we were on an equal footing; they just hadn't figured it out yet.

"I don't believe it, and neither should you," I announced to no one in particular, then I took up my place by Edward's side, my head resting on his chest and straining to hear the heartbeat that even under the best of circumstances would never come. I don't know how long we all stayed like that, but at some point I felt like I was floating, the house blurring past me in a haze before I found myself by Edward's side once more in the familiar surrounds of our bedroom. I felt the softness of the mattress beneath me, and on some level I felt grateful for the reprieve from the hardwood floor. But Edward's chest was unyielding marble beneath my arms and face, an icy reminder of what was at stake.

"You were always so worried about keeping me safe, but who kept you safe?" I asked him. I didn't expect him to respond, but I was desperately clinging to the belief that he was in there somewhere and that my voice would help guide him home. For all I knew, Alice could burst through our door uninvited at any minute, chirping about what a weird experience it was and asking me about dreams because she thought she had some. Edward would kiss me and tell me everything was fine and that it wasn't a big deal at all while having a silent conversation with Carlisle to the contrary - like I didn't know they did that shit all the time - and Jasper would calm us all down and even us out with his vamp parlour tricks. Anything is possible, I kept reassuring myself. After all, vampires and werewolves were real. He's not gone.

"I'm so sorry, Edward. I know you'd fight me on this if you could, but thisis all my fault. I've brought so much trouble into your life. Crazy vampires and crazy shape shifting Indian boys. Admit it, none of this stuff started happening until you met me, right? You're hurt right now because of me, and if I could change it, I would. If I could fix you, I would. But you've gotta help me out here. There aren't any clues. Carlisle doesn't know what's going on, and I know they're thinking the worst, but they're wrong. You've got to show them they're wrong and give him a clue, because I'm sure he'd be able to figure it out then. I just need you to wake up so you can tell us something - anything. Please, Edward. Please wake up."

Nothing.

"It's okay, I didn't really expect you to wake up yet. But soon, okay?"

I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice. I knew he'd be trying to come back to me. It just wasn't in Edward's nature to give up, so I had to trust him and give him time. If he could find his way back, I knew he would. I could wait. I'd wait forever.

"You know, I never realised how hard it must have been for you when I was hurt. All that waiting and not knowing, thinking I might die. I can't believe that we could go through that only to end up losing each other now. That would be so cruel. I--I don't believe it. I won't. You never gave up, so I'll never give up either, I promise, but this is so hard. I want to understand it. If I could just understand how this happened or who did this or anything. . . I wish you'd wake up. I really need to hear your voice."

I had no concept of time as I lay with Edward. I noticed the shadows on the wall creeping further and further into the room until it was completely dark save the light from the moon and the stars. It seemed wrong that tonight of all nights there should be no cloud cover. At the very least, the sky should reflect that my world was quietly imploding, but I tried to take it as a good sign, and so I wished to as many of the stars as I could see. I wasn't above trying anything.

The door to our room quietly clicked open and closed several times during the night. Esme tried to tempt me with food, but the very thought of it repulsed me. Carlisle made a show of checking on Edward from time to time, but the despair and hopelessness was written all over his face, so I felt sure he was only doing it for my benefit. His presence wasn't a comfort. If I didn't know any better, I'd have believed he aged a good twenty years since I'd seen him flirting with Esme on the couch looking for all the world like the very young man he really was. Gone was his light step as he shuffled into the room. His eyes were downcast and the skin surrounding them was weathered and crinkled, his shoulders were slightly stooped, and by the dim light of the moon his golden hair took on a silvery hue. I wanted to tell him that if vampires can age in a matter of hours like he seemingly had, then they can be unconscious or sick, too. I wanted to make him believe, but I knew I didn't have the power to do that. Only Edward did, and Alice and Jasper, too, for that matter. They had to wake up and show him. They had to give him hope, because try as I might, the best I got from him was pity and a hefty dose of self-condemnation. The guilt of his perceived failure rolled off him in waves.

"Where are Alice and Jasper?" I asked. It suddenly occurred to me that he might do something really stupid in his current state, like have a cremation or something equally as horrific and permanent.

"We put them on their bed. We thought it best. . . for now. Rose and Emmett are with them."

"Good. Don't do anything. . . Well don't do anything you can't undo, okay? Give them time, Carlisle, please, just give them time."

"Bella, I don't think you understand. You need to prepare yourself. They aren't. . . There are no signs. . . Bella, you just need to prepare yourself for the worst. You need to think about saying good-bye."

He still couldn't look me in the eye, his own gaze quickly turning away from me to stare at the door like he could will himself on the other side of it and away from me and this God-awful discussion. And it was annoyingly prophetic that the wolves took that exact moment to let out some utterly creeptastic spine chilling howls. But it wasn't blood curdling, it was blood boiling. I was having a hard enough time keeping it together as it was without the rest of my family practically having the funeral pyres lit. The anger that had been simmering quietly just beneath the surface started bubbling and searing in earnest.

"How dare you fucking give up like this. It's only been, what, hours? I don't understand how you can decide so quickly that. . . What is wrong with you, Carlisle?"

I didn't move myself from my place beside Edward, my body still latched onto his and afraid to let go for so many reasons, not the least of which was that for the first time since knowing them, I didn't trust the Cullens.

Carlisle drew in a shaky breath. He looked truly terrible, and I wanted to offer him some comfort and reassurance, but damn it, that was his job. Carlisle was meant to be the voice of reason, patient and logical. He wasn't meant to be this weak, broken man, void of all hope, and as unfair as it was, I resented him for it.

"Bella, I understand how you're feeling. I do. I--I wish I could heal them, but we have to face facts."

"What facts, Carlisle? Is there something that you're not telling me, because as far as I'm concerned, they're just unconscious."

"But that's just it. We don't suffer from unconsciousness - it's unheard of."

"So what, you're going to go throw them on the BBQ and be done with it?"

"What? No! Of course, not. We'll wait and see for--for a while. I just. . . I just don't want you to get your hopes up because honestly. . ."

"Carlisle, I know you're hurting. We're all hurting. But it seems to me that someone around here needs to get their hopes up. This happened before, and they were fine."

"That was different. It was a vision of what was to come and obviously only the merest hint of the real thing. This is. . . There's nothing I can do. Nothing at all."

"You can't know anything for certain. Just because you've never heard of anything like this happening before, doesn't mean it hasn't, and it doesn't mean they can't come back from it. I can feel him, Carlisle. He's not gone. He's not. I'd know it."

"I pray you're right," he sighed. "But I don't think. . ."

I bit down hard on my lip to stop myself from saying something I might regret, relieved that he at least didn't finish that sentence. I couldn't make him see. Why wouldn't he see? Stupid, stubborn, know-it-all vampires.

"Of course, there's more we need to consider even though the timing couldn't be worse, though I suppose that was the point," he continued, his tone dreary and monotonous as if he couldn't even muster up the effort to use inflection. "The newborns are still coming, and now we know that our enemy is much stronger than we first anticipated. We are truly vulnerable now. Without their gifts and their strength, I fear. . . I never realised until now just how much I counted on them. I relied on them too much, put too much of a burden on their shoulders, and I'm afraid that without them we can't succeed. I'm sorry, Bella, I've failed you. I've failed everyone."

"You're talking like it's already over, like they're already dead. Like we're all already dead. I don't understand it, and honestly, it's pissing me off. I expected so much more from you - all of you. Edward will be so disappointed."

"Edward. . ." Carlisle's breath caught in his throat, and he turned from me abruptly, shoulders hunched and his arms wrapped securely around his waist as if he was in pain.

"Carlisle?" Oh God, was he getting sick, too. "Carlisle?" My voice was high pitched and hysterical, even to my own ears. It seemed like hours before he spoke though I was sure it was only seconds, but when he did, his voice was small and broken.

"Edward has been with me the longest. I love you all. I cherish you - all of you - you must understand that. But, Edward. . ." He rammed his fist into his mouth to silence his sobs, but the guttural groans emanating from his chest nearly tore me in two, and all my anger and frustration at Carlisle simply melted away, because watching him crumble, I had one of those light bulb moments when everything became crystalised.

Edward was Carlisle's closest friend, most trusted confidante, beloved companion and his first-born son. I guess I'd never really taken the time to consider that before, but there was a whole other world and other lifetimes before I came on the scene that Carlisle shared with Edward. While I was busy feeling sorry for myself, I hadn't really acknowledged that this hadn't just happened to me. From my understanding, the love between mates is the most inscrutable and powerful of bonds in the vampire world. But I was certain that the bond between Carlisle and Edward was something quite unique in any world, and until now, there wasn't anything Carlisle couldn't at least try to make right for Edward. But when it mattered most, he was helpless. He was clearly bereft and feeling guilty about his deeper feelings for Edward, and on top of it all, he felt responsible because he couldn't heal him - any of them. This was so far beyond his understanding, hell, mine, too, but I was used to that. He wasn't. He was convinced he'd lost them, because that was all that made sense to him, and it finally all started making sense to me, too.

As powerless as I felt, I suddenly realised that this must be hurting Carlisle on a level he'd never experienced before. It had to be a first - he neither had empirical knowledge nor scientific theory to come up with a solution. All he had was his faith - a faith he believed in so absolutely to the point of constant argument with Edward over the state of his soul. Yet in reality, I wasn't sure he'd ever had to put that faith to the test. Up until now, it had all been words, but faced with such a brand new, inexplicable circumstance, well, it must have shaken him to his very core. Looking at him, this forlorn version of his former glorious self, I could only conclude that he'd not only lost his faith but with it, his hope. They all had, because they were vampires - top of the food chain - superior! They believed themselves to be infallible, and when presented with something incomprehensible, they stuck with what they understood and made it fit, and that had to be right, because they were never wrong. They only dealt in absolutes, never doubting themselves or their abilities or their intellect. Change was hard for them. Uncertainty was rare. This. . . this was impossible.

I was wrong about us being on an equal footing now - we weren't. They were lost, jumping to the wrong conclusions to make everything fit in with what they could understand. They'd forgotten what it was to be adaptable and flexible. They'd forgotten that they weren't perfect. So this was my moment to step up and show them the way. This was my moment to be the strong one, even when all I wanted to do was curl up into a little ball and tremble in fear. It was up to me now. The all knowing vampires turned out to be not so all knowing. I wasn't sure if it would have been better or worse to have come to this realisation before now, but this was it. I'd just have to deal with it.

I peeled myself from Edward and thrust my arms around Carlisle, squeezing as tightly as I could to show him my solidarity.

"We can't give up. You can't. He needs you, Carlisle. He needs you to put your faith to the test for him. It's not over, and I know that's hard for you to understand, but you've got to trust me. We'll figure out a way to keep them safe while we deal with everything else. But for right now, we just need a little time, and we need to believe. Please believe with me. I don't want to do it alone. They need us to be strong for them, okay?"

A firm nod of his head was his assent as he gently patted my back in a gesture I'm sure he didn't mean to be condescending. He clearly didn't believe me at all, but at the very least he was willing to humour me - for a time. Whatever, I'd gladly take whatever he'd give.

"You're a remarkable young woman. Edward would be very proud."

It was me that was choked up that time, so I just nodded back. If I'd let the floodgates open then, there'd have been a deluge of Noah and the Ark proportions that may never have dried out.

He pulled himself up from the bed as if it took a great effort and slowly shuffled his way to the door, head bowed.

"Carlisle," I called, a thought entering my mind. He peered over his shoulder at me curiously. "Do you think it might be a good idea to see if some of the other wolves might help patrol around the house? Just in case, you know. There's still four of you that could get hurt."

His eyes brightened momentarily. "Yes. Yes, I think that would be wise." Then he turned to leave.

It didn't fill me with a tonne of confidence, but at least I felt sure that they weren't going to steal Edward away from me. We may not be married like the others, but he was my mate, and I was in for the duration. The only thing that would prove to me he was really gone would be. . . well, I didn't know, and that was the point. Carlisle would have to come up with something incontrovertible to make me let go, because he couldn't be this perfect and be truly dead. He looked like he was sleeping, that's all. I knew that wasn't the truth, but it was all I had to grasp onto. I felt like I was hanging on for all of us, and I had to do whatever it took to get myself through it. I may not be strong like them physically - yet - but it was my turn to be strong emotionally for all of them now. They needed me, and that was weird, empowering and frightening all at once.

Laying myself back down beside Edward, I turned to my side and rested my head on his chest, wrapping myself around him, convincing myself that there was a good chance that just maybe he could feel me. I simply refused to believe I was hugging a truly dead dead person. That was just. . . No!

Sometimes I spoke to him, sometimes I hummed my lullaby. I knew my voice was a God-awful tone deaf mess, but I wanted to try and reach him any way I could, and to be honest, I was hoping his consciousness would be forced to reach out from the stillness and tell me to shut the hell up and leave the singing to him. Other times I stayed quiet, my mind a crazy jumble of thoughts and ideas and worries and hopes all mashed in together. If Jasper were okay, I was sure he'd have to leave the house I was in such a conflicted emotional state. I cycled between abject terror, hysteria, profound grief, cautious optimism and pensive strategising. I tried to focus on the more positive feelings, knowing that my emotional state was important to the rest of the family. I wouldn't let them see me give up or break down.

The darkness of night eventually turned to a deep grey as the burgeoning sun tried to fights its way out from behind the newly descended cloud cover to welcome a new dawn. Contemplating a position shift before my limbs fused in place, I imagined his fingers brushing against my thigh. Shaking my head to clear the delirium from lack of sleep, I pulled myself up into an awkward sitting position and stretched my arms and yawned loudly, mouth agape and completely ignoring the manners both my mothers' had instilled in me. I knew sleep should have been a priority, but for now, I was going to need caffeine and plenty of it. Once I'd decided upon it, I was surprised not to find Alice walking through the door with a steaming mug of the brew in her hands, until I remembered that she wouldn't be doing any such thing. Not yet, I told myself. Just give them time. They just need time to give us the clues we need to solve this and fix them. But I was running out of time. I knew what I had to do, and it would be best to get started, though I was loathe to do it without him holding my hand. I guess I'd just have to hold his really tightly.

Breathing deeply, I prepared myself to tell him and by default everyone else my decision. I wasn't sure he'd be able to hear the words, but I needed to try, and I couldn't put it off any longer. While Victoria was busy growing her army, hurting our loved ones and God knows what else, we'd lost precious time. There were things we needed to do - discussions that had to be had - adjustments that had to be made. Steeling myself, I licked my lips in preparation for speech and looked down at him, stunned as always by his beauty. If I weren't so in love with him, I'd be insanely jealous of him. How could someone so masculine be so damn pretty? And how is it that even unconscious, he could still muddle my brain? Shaking my head to try to order my thoughts, I felt that gentle brushing against my leg again. No, I did not imagine that. Grabbing Edward's hand in mine, I pulled it up to my face and willed him to move again, and as his fingers twitched, ghosting over my cheek, I couldn't stop the tears of joy that poured from my eyes.

"Carlisle. Carlisle, quick. It's Edward."

A/N

You should understand that I know as much about calculus as I do about brain surgery, so apologies for any inaccuracies to the references. I was just trying to show Bella's struggle with her homework at that time.

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So Bella has realised that her vampires aren't quite as perfect as she thought they were. Ever been in a situation when what you believed about someone turned out to be wrong?