Hi everyone! I'm finally back—and I won NaNoWriMo! Writing 50,000 words in a month was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to do it again next year...though first, I have to finish my current book. (It's almost done, I just have a few thousand more words before I can end on a really infuriating cliffhanger. :))

With just two chapters left of "Eternity," today I'm fulfilling one last reader request: specifically, this chapter deals with the Quileutes and the Cullens doing something together, and Carlisle being a bit overprotective (but in a funny way—you'll see). Thanks for your reviews, and though this chapter's not as long as the last one, it's still long enough for me to call it your Christmas present. :) I'm going to be traveling a lot over the next couple of weeks, but I'll see you sometime near the end of the year with…wow, the final chapter of "Eternity"!

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer is the author of "Twilight," and as I write this, the penultimate chapter of "Eternity"...I still haven't read the "New Moon" graphic novel. I'm really going to soon! I just need to finish a few other books...which I'll finally have time to do this week. :) Also, Merry Christmas! :)

2007: Flag

Esme's POV

"Alice has an idea," Esme said, setting a plate of cookies between Jacob and Nessie.

"Wow," Jacob said, "that's a terrifying way to start a conversation."

"Terrifying maybe, but interesting? Always," Alice said, picking up a cookie and sniffing it, then offering it to Nessie, who took a bite and giggled.

"Since the packs are getting along so well, and since we're getting along so well with the packs," Alice went on, "I thought it might be fun to play capture the flag."

Jacob looked confused. "Wait, so...you think it will be fun, or did you have a vision of it being fun?"

"Both," Alice said cheerfully. "Admittedly, I couldn't see you guys, but I see us having fun, and if each team consists of vampires and wolves, it stands to reason that we will all have fun. It looks like it's finally going to stop raining on Saturday, just for a couple of hours, and it would be a chance for all of us to have some fun outside—fun that doesn't involve killing and eating animals, I mean."

"We don't always eat when we phase," Jacob pointed out, biting into a cookie. "We don't want to eat so many deer that their numbers drop and you guys start feeling peckish."

"Anyway," Alice said, "you guys can play as wolves, and we'll make sure that Edward's on one team, so he can translate if necessary, and Bella's on the other, so she can hide that team's flag and Edward won't be able to see where it is."

"Are you gonna play too, Aunt Alice?" Nessie asked.

"No, I'm going to be the referee," Alice said. "That way, we'll have an even number of people, and besides—my team would have an unfair advantage, if I saw one of us finding the other team's flag."

"There are twenty-four people who can play," Esme said thoughtfully. "So, that's twelve on each team—though I suppose Carlisle and I can bow out if there need to be additional referees."

"Nope, everyone's going to play. It's hard to cheat at capture the flag, so even Emmett is going to behave himself—mostly. So," Alice said, looking hopefully at Jacob, "what do you think?"

"I think it does actually sound like a fun idea," Jacob admitted. "It's just weird, because this time last year...well, you know."

Everyone but Nessie knew—as she put the mixing bowl she'd used for the cookies in the dishwasher, Esme smiled at the thought of actually playing a game with the wolves, after everything that had happened just a year ago. Back then, she'd hardly dared hope for a lasting truce between wolves and Cullens, let alone the friendship that had emerged since Jacob's imprinting.

It was, of course, an unusual situation, but what part of vampires and werewolves living in secret in the same small community wasn't strange? Esme was just grateful that things had worked out so well. Ninety years of being a vampire had taught her that nothing lasted forever, so she planned to enjoy whatever peace they were given for as long as she could.

Jacob called Sam that afternoon, and they agreed that both packs would enjoy a friendly game. Esme suspected that Sam, whose pack consisted of some of the youngest wolves, was happy to have a lighthearted reason for the boys to phase and run around in the woods. (Esme was very grateful that the youngest Quileutes, some of them barely teenagers at the time they'd first changed, had missed the fight with Victoria's newborns.)

On Saturday afternoon, the rain finally stopped. Alice, clearly pleased that her plan was coming together, asked everyone to assemble in the yard, between the river and the house, just after noon. The wolves arrived then, and Alice, grinning, motioned the two packs to join them.

"I don't know if you guys have color preferences, but we're going to have a Red Team and a Blue Team, okay?"

Sam and Jacob both nodded, their toothy, wolfish smiles more amused than fierce.

"I call Red Team," Emmett declared, giving Edward a playful shove. "Moody, introspective types are on Blue Team, and outgoing badasses are on Red Team."

"Yeah, no, because we're going to draw names to decide on teams," Alice said firmly. "That way, it's all fair and impartial."

"Except, you already know who's going to be on which team," Rosalie said, rolling her eyes.

"Which team am I on, Aunt Alice?" Nessie asked.

"Put your hand in here and find out," Alice said, taking the hat that Jasper handed her. "Whatever color the slip of paper you draw is, that's your team—and no peeking!"

Nessie dutifully put her hand in the hat and drew out a red slip of paper.

"Okay, next!" Alice said, offering the hat to Sam, who snorted, clearly entertained at the thought of sticking his face in a hat and grabbing a slip of paper in his teeth.

"I'll draw for Sam and Jacob," Edward said, closing his eyes and putting a hand in the hat. He drew a red slip of paper too.

"Okay, so Sam's pack is on the Red Team," Alice announced, and Nessie grinned up at Jacob.

"We're going to beat you!" she announced, and Jacob rolled his eyes.

"So, Jacob's pack is on the Blue Team," Alice said. "That way, both teams have the same number of wolves, and they can all talk to each other without the wolves on the other team hearing. Now—ladies first."

"Thank you," Esme said, putting her hand in the hat. She drew a blue slip of paper, and Bella, who was next, drew the same.

"Nessie, you know I love you, but I think the Blue Team's going to win," Bella said, smiling at Nessie, who grinned.

"I won't go easy on you, mama—or you, grandma."

Bella and Esme laughed. "We won't either, sweetheart," Esme said.

"Next," Alice said, offering the hat to Rosalie, who drew a red slip of paper. She and Nessie high-fived.

"No mercy, okay honey?" Rosalie said, and Nessie nodded, laughing.

"Next," Alice said, turning to Jasper.

"What, age before beauty?" Emmett said.

"Hilarious," Jasper said, drawing a red slip of paper. "Don't forget that I'm about to be either your ally or your opponent, Emmett."

"Let's find out which," Alice said, and Emmett, to his chagrin, drew a blue slip of paper out of the hat.

"Well," Rosalie said, amused. "Have fun being moody and introspective, Emmett."

"I guess you weren't jumping the gun on trash-talking after all," Jasper said.

Emmett looked down at Nessie. "Well, I guess it's never too early to teach kids to trash talk. Nessie, you're going down."

"Nope, you are!" Nessie said as Carlisle drew a blue piece of paper too. He and Esme shared a smile.

"Okay," Alice said. "That's everyone. Now, as the referee, I'm setting a few ground rules. First of all, this side of the river is home free. Once you cross the river, the forest to the east of that big cedar belongs to the Red Team, and the forest to the west is the Blue Team's. You have to stay within the county though—otherwise, you're out of bounds. If you get tagged in the other team's territory—and I do mean tagged, Emmett, not tackled—you're out, unless someone from your team tags you back. Whichever team brings the opposing flag across the river first wins."

Esme glanced at Carlisle, and they both grinned; even the youngest wolves were taller than Alice, but she had no reservations about giving them orders.

"Sounds like a plan," Carlisle said, glancing at Jacob. "Do we want to have team captains?"

Jacob shook his head, then looked to Edward to translate.

"Apparently, most of the wolves played this game in elementary school, and they never really had captains," Edward said. "Jacob's idea is this: we can each decide as teams where to hide our flags, and then we can split into three groups. One group guards the flag, one group captures and guards prisoners, and the other goes into the other team's territory to look for their flag."

"There are twelve of us on each team, so that works out perfectly," Esme said, smiling at Bella. "You'll be hiding and guarding our flag, of course."

"Of course," Bella said, smiling at Edward. "That way, this game will be fair…sort of. When I played as a kid, no one had super speed or strength, or a wolf's sense of smell."

"That's why doing a good job of hiding your team's flag is so important," Alice said cheerfully, holding out the flags. They were made of cloth, and each was tied to an arrow from the archery set in the garage—ever since she'd read "Robin Hood," Nessie had been practicing the sport, usually with Edward or Bella's help, since she was still too small to hold the bow. "Now, you've got twenty minutes to go and hide your flags. When I say "Go," the game starts, so you'd better hurry."

The two teams glanced at each other, gauging the competition.

"Interested in being a double agent, Rose?" Emmett whispered loudly.

Rosalie rolled her eyes. "No thanks. I think I'm up for a little friendly competition if you are. Incidentally, Nessie and I will be taking your flag soon."

"Like hell you will!" Emmett said.

"Language," Esme said automatically, and Carlisle squeezed her hand. They were both convinced that by the time Emmett had gotten used to the idea that he shouldn't swear in front of Nessie, she'd be grown up.

"Good luck and have fun!" Alice called as both wolves and Cullens raced to the river, crossed it (either by jumping or swimming), and began running through their territories.

The Blue Team stopped on a hill about three miles from the house. Jacob sniffed the air, then looked questioningly at Bella.

"I think he's wondering if we have an idea about where to hide our flag, since we know this area better than the wolves do."

Jacob nodded, and Esme smiled, impressed by Bella's translation skills—she'd known Jacob the longest, after all. "There's a cave a few miles from here, but I'm guessing that Rosalie knows about it—right, Emmett?"

"Yeah," Emmett said. "We, uh…hang out there, sometimes."

Several of the wolves shuddered, and Bella rolled her eyes. "Okay—other ideas?"

"There's a cliff not far from here that would be relatively easy to guard," Carlisle said thoughtfully. "It's the highest point for miles around, so if each of our guards faced a different direction, we'd see anyone coming."

"Let's go take a look," Bella said, racing between trees beside Jacob. Esme shared a smile with Carlisle as he moved to take the lead—it was wonderful to see Bella, after being so frail the previous summer, now accustomed to her newfound strength and speed. The wolves ran around them, panting happily—Jacob's pack had gotten used to the smell of vampire, and the younger wolves especially seemed happy to be playing a game. Shifting had forced them to grow up fast, physically, but it was clear to Esme by looking at their eager eyes and big, clumsy paws that they were still boys on the inside.

The cliff that Carlisle had mentioned was a beautiful spot. Esme had painted the scene more than once, and she and Carlisle had enjoyed watching the sun set (and rise) from the spot several times since their return to Forks. Everyone agreed (the wolves by nodding) that it was a good spot for the flag, so Bella stuck it into the ground, in a crack between two rocks. Quil, Embry, and a younger wolf that Esme hadn't met before were chosen by Jacob to guard the flag with Bella, who coached the trio on not looking at the flag and thinking about other things while they sat beside it.

"That way, it'll be harder for Edward to find it," she explained.

"I think the two of us should probably look for their flag," Esme said thoughtfully, looking at Carlisle. "They'll be expecting Emmett—not us."

"Then I get to deal with capturing prisoners," Emmett said, grinning at the thought.

"I think you'll be perfect for that, Emmett," Bella said, and Jacob nodded at Leah and his two youngest wolves to join the second group. That left Jacob and Seth to help search for the Red Team's flag. Just then, everyone heard Alice shouting in the distance:

"Ready...set...GO!"

"Are we ready?" Carlisle asked.

Esme looked at Seth and Jacob, who nodded.

"We'll start looking for people to capture!" Emmett called, running off into the woods with Leah and the two other wolves.

"Good look finding the flag!" Bella called as Esme's group took off into the woods, taking a circuitous route so they could stay downwind of the other team.

In the end, it didn't take long to find the flag. The difficulty with playing capture the flag, for vampires and werewolves, was that many of the game's usual obstacles were eliminated. It was easy to find the flag—you just had to follow your nose—and though being captured by the other team was a risk, you could hear your opponents coming in time to start running. Almost as soon as they crossed into the Red Team's territory, Jacob nodded in the direction of running footsteps, and he and Seth split off, presumably to try and confuse their pursuers.

"They'll just split up too," Carlisle pointed out, and Jacob shrugged.

"He and Seth are faster than we are though," Esme said. "To catch them, the other team's wolves will have to chase them, which will make it possible for us to get past. We can't outrun Edward, but there's a chance that once of us can slip by Jasper."

"It's possible," Carlisle agreed, smiling as Seth and Jacob took off. "Mostly because they'll be expecting Emmett, not us. Still, he'll feel us coming."

"If you get a chance, get the flag and run," Esme said, smiling playfully as they started to run. "Whoever's guarding it will probably feel a little guilty about tagging me too enthusiastically. They'll try to be nice about it, and that will slow them down."

"Somehow I have a feeling that Nessie's going to be employed by the other team in the same way," Carlisle said, chuckling. "It's a devious idea, but an effective one."

"All's fair in capture the flag," Esme declared, and Carlisle laughed. She'd played this game herself as a child, when she'd been very young, and she'd hated the day that her mother had told her she was too old for such things. Many things had changed in Esme's lifetime, but she was especially grateful that no one in their family was ever going to tell Nessie what was or wasn't proper behavior for a little girl.

As they ran, Esme heard barking in the distance, and she wondered how the Red Team was trying to capture their flag.

"Whatever it is, Bella can handle it," Carlisle said quietly. They were both listening carefully for sounds of pursuit, either by wolf or vampire.

"Unless Nessie's leading an ambush," Esme said. "I'm glad we probably won't have to tag her out."

They stopped then, poised in a tree. They had reached the clearing where the Red Team's flag had been deposited, stuck in the ground between two saplings and apparently unguarded. Esme looked down and saw that Seth and Jacob had made it past the wolves in the woods who'd been trying to capture prisoners and were now standing in the trees below them. Jacob looked up at her questioningly.

"Trap?" Esme whispered, and Jacob nodded.

"Maybe if we all move in at once—" Carlisle wondered, but Jacob and Seth were already racing forward.

"Wait—" Esme said, catching Carlisle's arm as he started to move toward the clearing. Beneath their tree, Jacob had carved a word in the dirt with one of his claws: STAY.

"Okay—let's see who's hiding," Carlisle said. Esme listened carefully—she could smell Jasper and Edward, but she couldn't tell if they were still close or had been and gone recently. There were no wolves nearby, since she couldn't hear a heartbeat, but whichever one of her children was guarding the flag was as still as a statue. She was sure that someone was out there, just beyond the nearest trees, but her eyes, ears, and nose couldn't tell her where.

Esme watched breathlessly as Jacob plucked the flag out of the ground with his teeth. Instantly, Jasper was there to tag him out, but not before Jacob tossed the flag to Seth, who in turn managed to throw the flag to Carlisle before being tagged himself.

Esme and Carlisle both burst out of the tree and started running. Jasper was only a few yards behind them, but Esme knew from experience that though Jasper was fast, Carlisle was just a little bit faster, thanks to his legs being slightly longer. Esme did her best to keep up with Carlisle, but she knew that Jasper could have gotten close enough to tag her, if he'd wanted to.

But I don't have the flag, so he's not going to, Esme realized, glancing at Carlisle, who nodded, clearly having thought of the same thing. They heard the wolves long before they saw them, so by the time some of Sam's pack caught up with them, Carlisle and Esme were jumping from tree to tree to keep from being tagged. Jasper, either accidentally or on purpose, grabbed onto a broken branch as he pursued them, and it took him a few seconds to recover from the fall and catch up.

Esme smiled—he was trying to go easy on them, but she suspected that the next time they played this game, he wouldn't be so generous. Nearby, Esme heard the sounds of other wolves approaching, and smelled some of Jacob's pack, along with Emmett—they must be chasing someone, she thought, wondering if Nessie or Rose had gotten past Bella.

They were almost to the river, and Carlisle, seeing that Jasper really intended to tag him out, tossed the flag to Esme just as they reached the last tree that could hold their weight. Esme took one last leap, knowing that she would just barely make it over the water...and then things happened very quickly. Esme was in midair, halfway across the river when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Hi, Esme!" Rosalie said cheerfully, and Nessie, who was perched on her arm, waved.

In spite of herself, Esme laughed as Rosalie, who'd pushed down on her shoulder just enough to soar over her, tossed Nessie across the river. She landed on the bank, the blue flag clutched in her hands, and wolves began howling happily. Esme fell toward the river, flipping over so she'd land on her feet, but then she felt Carlisle's hands catch her, and he landed in the shallows, showering them both with water.

Esme laughed helplessly. "You know, we didn't both need to get wet!"

"Sorry," Carlisle said sheepishly. "It seemed...polite, at least, to catch you."

"Polite?" Esme repeated, still laughing. "Really?"

"Or possibly overprotective," Carlisle said, setting her down on the bank. Rosalie was there already, Alice grinning beside her. They were both hugging Nessie, who was laughing, both at winning and at her waterlogged grandparents.

"Uncle Emmett fell in the river too, grandma," she said, giggling. "And mom and dad, after I got the flag."

"They were down there for a while, too," Rosalie said, rolling her eyes as Jasper joined them. Alice squeezed his hand.

"So? Did you have fun?"

"I did," Jasper said, smiling at Carlisle and Esme. "But next time, I'm not waiting to tag anyone, no matter how hilarious the denouement might be."

"How did you get past Bella and the wolves, Nessie?" Esme asked.

"We snuck around, and stayed below the cliff where they couldn't smell us," Nessie explained. "Aunt Rose carried me, and Sam and some wolves ran past just as dad tried to take the flag. Mom chased him, but she was a little too strong for him, and they went off the cliff and into the river!"

"Then we took off with your flag," Rosalie said, waving to Emmett, who jumped across the river just ahead of Leah, Seth, and Jacob, who had apparently caught up with everyone.

"You guys got wet too?" Emmett said, shaking his head to dislodge some water just as Leah did the same behind him.

"How did you fall in the river?" Carlisle wondered.

"I tried to tag Jared and we both fell in when he tripped," Emmett said, glaring at the wolf in question. Jared shot him a wolfish grin and started shaking out his fur, and Emmett took a few steps forward to avoid the spray.

"So, what happened to you guys?"

"Rosalie used me as a springboard to toss Nessie across the river, and then Carlisle caught me before I could get soaked on my own," Esme said, smiling at him fondly. "Thank you, by the way."

Carlisle smiled, brushing a strand of wet hair away from her face. "It was my pleasure, needlessly getting wet on your behalf."

"Red Team wins!" Rosalie shouted just as Edward and Bella appeared on the opposite bank, both of them looking slightly disheveled. Wolves and Cullens alike cheered, clapped, or howled, and Alice and Rosalie tossed Nessie up and down a few times in celebration.

"So," Alice said cheerfully, glancing up at the sky—it still wasn't raining. "Best two out of three?"