Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters are the property of Stephenie Meyer. Any resemblance to real living people is unintentional, and references to real places are used fictitiously.

A/N: Originally I wrote this as part of the Twilight 25 Drabble challenge. However, the story grew until I realized it was too big to be a one-shot. I present it to you now in three chapters, which I hope to have all published within three days. Enjoy!

Westermarck Effect

Chapter 1 Cognitive Dissonance

"DAMN-fear!" Renesmee cried happily, racing around the room and tugging her various cold-skinned family members to her computer. "Look, it says so right there, Dad! I'm a—"

"Dhampyr," Edward read, eyes flying across the screen. Dhampir, also dhampyre, dhamphir, or dhampyr, in Balkan folklore of the Roma people, is the child of a vampire father and a human mother.

Leave it to the gypsies to know more than actual vampires about something like this.

"Momma, Auntie Alice, Aunt Rose," Renesmee continued, dancing around them in ecstasy, "don't you see how amazing this is?" She stopped to clutch Esme, who to all the rest of the world looked to be only a few years older than the girl who privately called her Grandmom. "I have my own word! I'm not a hybrid, or a cross, or—"

A mutant. A freak.

Edward's eyes darkened as he heard the words his daughter skipped over as she pirouetted around the assembled family. She wasn't usually prone to this much spontaneous, unbridled enthusiasm anymore, but after eight years of remembering Caius's spittle-flecked judgment—you breed mutants here—it was a thrill to finally see the proof that both the Volturi and the Romanian coven were simply grossly uninformed of what went on between vampires and humans even on their own continent.

The Cullens crowded around the monitor until Edward finally pressed a combination of keys to send the image to the new liquid silica flatscreen mounted on the wall. "Look, Nessie," Emmett said, catching hold of his niece for a moment and pulling her in for a hug, "it says you have the ability to track vampires."

"You're not exactly hard to find, Uncle Emmett," the young lady laughed. All was right in her world, and she bestowed tiny kisses to every single member of her family, including an equally light familial peck for the silent Jacob. He stood a little ways apart from the vampires, confused as to why this was so important to her, why she was even looking it up after all these years.

She has me, Jacob thought, much to Edward's consternation. Why does she need to be called anything? It will only make her stand out even more compared to the rest of the pack. Self-directed comments like that, even internal ones, never ceased to aggravate the young father.

Then Edward listened more closely to his daughter's inner monologue: I can't wait to find Nahuel and tell him! Renesmee had only seen Nahuel a handful of times since they first met. Though she had not admitted as much to anyone, not even to herself, she was wondering if he would recognize her now that she was fully grown, anticipating his reaction in a way she didn't quite comprehend.

Turning his face back to the flatscreen so that no one would notice, Edward smiled.

"Nessie, I don't understand." Jake blinked several times, some part of him praying that after the right combination of blinks, the world would dissolve, or he would look down and realize he'd forgotten his pants and didn't study for the algebra test, and none of this would be real.

"What's not to understand?" she asked in return. "I don't want what you want for us. It's not like that for me."

"Don't you love me?" Jacob wanted to know. It was a slap in the face that he even needed to ask this question of this girl, in whose love he'd felt secure for eight long years.

"Of course I do," Renesmee replied, infusing her voice with as much compassion as she could muster. "You've helped take care of me my whole life—"

"Then why—?" Jacob interrupted. Her logic made no sense to him. He loved Nessie. Nessie loved him. They were uniquely formed for each other, meant to be together, maybe even for centuries.

"You raised me, Jacob!" Renesmee reminded him emphatically. "It would be like Emmett or Jasper…"

"How can you say that?" Jacob demanded. How could it be that now, after all these years, she would suddenly not understand?

"How can you not?" the young woman argued, doing her best to rein in her reaction for the benefit of someone she loved so well. But his insistence was part of the problem, and control was difficult to maintain. "I grew up with you as part of my family. Try to imagine if it were you and Rachel or Rebecca," she explained, hoping the idea would sink in. For just a moment, she considered placing her hand on Jacob's face and showing him images of himself kissing Rebecca romantically, but thought better of it. "The idea is just… sick."

"Sick?" Jacob repeated, ignoring the reference to his sisters. He knew that outsiders would never understand the dynamic of the imprint. Even he had found it strange at first, and his formerly human best friend had expressed mild repulsion when she'd learned of Quil imprinting on then-two-year-old Claire. But Nessie was different. She was his. She was supposed to get it. "The way I feel about you sickens you?"

"Yes, it does!" Renesmee tried not to shout, but at this point, she was losing patience with him. It wasn't so much how he felt that sickened her, but rather how he wanted to feel about her, this man she looked up to as a brother. After all, was that not what he'd been during her formative years? Brother, babysitter, competitive hunting companion? As recently as this week, he had ribbed her and teased her as he did his human sisters, a fact that seemed lost on him.

Her mother had warned her that Jake could be thick, mule-headed, and prone to rash decisions, impulsive comments, even blatant manipulations that came back to bite him in the rear. He'd managed to mature somewhat over the years, but in times of personal stress, he occasionally reverted to much younger behavior. "Do you realize what I gave up for you?" he reminded her, indirectly proving her mother's point.

Years ago, when Renesmee was only an infant, Bella attempted to defend Jacob from Edward's wrath by making the point that Jacob had given up everything to protect them. This, of course, was before Bella learned of the imprint, temporarily lost her newborn mind, and went for Jake's throat. Still, the truth was made clear: Jacob had indeed given up all that he knew and loved in defense of the Cullen family. But Renesmee was nothing if not well-informed now, and she would not let Jacob twist the facts to suit his argument.

"Don't even try it," she groaned. "You gave up a life with the pack before I was born." She remembered hearing Jacob tell her father to throw her tiny body out the window when she was all of a minute old, though she had never brought this up to anyone. If her father ever heard her thinking of it, he said nothing, granting her verbal privacy, at least.

"To protect you!" Jacob insisted, the words out of his mouth before he even thought about them. At this, his Nessie snapped, unable to bear any more bald-faced lies.

"To protect Mom!" Renesmee knew the whole story, some of it told to her by her aunt Rosalie, other bits by Bella herself (who felt she owed her daughter some honesty), and still other parts gleaned from her own infant memories. "You were in love with my mother. I know you kissed her." That knowledge alone sent shivers up her spine. But more to the point, even with Renesmee's understanding of the reason behind the change of heart, it bothered her to an indeterminate degree that Jacob so easily switched his affection from mother to daughter. That he'd kissed Bella in June and declared himself devoted, practically betrothed, to Bella's child in September was nothing short of shocking, even to one who aged as rapidly as Renesmee. "How many different ways does this need to feel wrong before you finally get it, Jake?"

"Nessie," Jacob tried desperately, "I love you."

"I know," she answered plainly. "I love you, too, Jake. Just not like that. It's strictly platonic for me, nothing more. I just…I can't even think of it." Indeed, she was repulsed as she stood there, the tugging sensation in the pit of her stomach only contained by sheer willpower and the knowledge that she hadn't eaten any human food in four months. "You can't tell me you really think of me in that way. In theory, maybe, but physically?"

But Jacob held firm to his belief, some part of him thinking of the years when Nessie had been a child in need of firm guidance so she wouldn't grow up spoiled. "This is what I am, Ness." If he didn't give in, he thought, she would eventually see that she wasn't going to get her way. His currently canine-oriented brain seemed incapable of comprehending that this attitude was actually one more thing that pushed her away. "This is how it's supposed to be."

That was when Renesmee reached her limit.

"You expect me to marry you," she growled, "to…sleep with you…because you developed love at first sight with me when I was an infant? I don't even get a say in the matter?"

"No," Jacob backtracked, "I didn't mean—!"

"Yes, you did," Renesmee interrupted. "You think things are supposed to be a certain way because of some ridiculous supernatural biology, and I'm just supposed to go along with it regardless of how I feel about it." In their years lived as a family, he'd never asked how she felt about any of this. He'd only gone on being what she needed at the time, secure in his faith that eventually she would need a husband, and he would then return those feelings and have what he needed. But despite the reluctant approval that surrounded him, it really was too much for anyone to accept but him. "Well, you know what, Jake? No."

The word echoed between them, reflected sound across a chasm that separated his understanding from hers.

"No?" Was she even allowed to say that to him? "Just…just no?"

"That's right," Renesmee reiterated. "No. I am not your one true love or your predestined mate."

Jacob scrambled, suddenly realizing that this was not an argument he could win simply by standing there repeating himself. "Look, if this is about Bella, that wasn't…I mean, we didn't…"

Renesmee raised a small hand to silence the boy in front of her before he felt the need to give carnal details of exactly what had or had not occurred. "This isn't really about my mother. Even if you'd never felt anything romantic for my mom, I'd like to give you enough credit to think you still would have come to her defense when she needed you, because it was the right thing to do. That said, I do not owe you a marriage as payment for saving her life or mine. I have a choice, and I choose to go my own way."

"B-But you can't just…leave me," Jacob stammered. Suddenly the earth's gravity was stronger, but instead of pulling him toward Nessie, it was tugging him downward, forcing him into a chair.

"You can't force me to have feelings that won't come naturally to me," Renesmee reminded him.

"But…" Jacob began grasping at straws, at anything that could make this turn around, or even make any kind of sense. "I'm yours. You always said I was yours, even when you were…small…" he petered off.

"Exactly," the bronze-haired woman hissed. "I was a child, Jacob. I didn't understand anything, but you were old enough to know better."

"The imprint…" he whispered, voice hollow.

"To hell with the imprint," his love retorted, crossing her arms and looking away, as if Jacob's lowered form were something she couldn't bear to look at. And it wasn't, though not for malevolent reasons. It hurt her to see Jacob's world turned upside down, but it had to happen, and it was best not to pull her punches if she expected him to ever get any of this through his thick skull. "The imprint is a load of crap.

"That's not true!" Jake immediately defended his heritage, a natural reaction for him, though here it was misplaced. "It's part of what has kept us strong as a tribe for generations!"

"What 'us,' Jacob? Are you talking the tribe you left behind that I don't belong to?" Renesmee reminded him. Realizing that they were just going around in circles, she decided it would be best to end the argument. After all, whether he agreed with her now or was forced to accept the hand life had dealt him later, nothing was going to change. "I'm done having this conversation with you. I'm leaving, and I swear if you try to stop me, there will be hell to pay." Her teeth gleamed when she said it, reminding him that she was not just a girl, but a predator in her own right. Having to be the one doling out the tough love was a terrible role reversal for her, but she needed to do it now, while she was strong enough. "Goodbye, Jacob," she bade him. Renesmee darted to the front door, picking up her bag and leaving her house key on the small side table. She planned to be gone at least a year, and she knew, having already spoken to Alice, that this house would be vacated by the time she came back from wherever her travels took her. The first stop would be Brazil; her friend Zafrina could help her locate Nahuel and Huilen.

"I'll tell your parents!" Jacob protested in a last-ditch effort to make his Nessie listen to him and do what she was supposed to do.

"Right," Renesmee called over her shoulder as she opened the door, fingering the small, braided bracelet Jacob had given her for her very first Christmas, something akin to a promise ring. It didn't fit her wrist anymore, so she wore it on a leather string around her neck. "Things aren't going your way, so you run to Mom and Dad. Yet another way you've elected to prove you're neither immature nor my surrogate brother." She pulled the necklace over her head and set it on the table as well, quietly closing the door behind her as she left, his Nessie no more.

"Bella, Edward…look, I know you weren't down with this when I first imprinted on Nessie, but I thought you started to accept it after a while, and I really need someone on my side, here."

Bella and Edward looked down at Jacob, Bella with a sad, maternal air she'd acquired over the years, Edward with his arms folded and a stiff upper lip that he was having more trouble than usual maintaining.

"Look, Jake," Bella began consolingly, "I know it upsets you that Renesmee is going away, but I think it's best for everyone that we all start leaving this place. You're welcome to join us, but we're not staying close to Washington this time. You know the way you've ordered your life isn't sustainable. Not for you and certainly not for us."

"This isn't about you," Jacob argued. Bella had been the one to come around to the idea of the future Jacob expected much sooner than everyone else, and the fact that she didn't immediately see this breach his way felt like betrayal. "If you don't like it here, I'm not stopping you from moving on. I'm talking about Nessie and what's best for her."

"Oh, come off it, Jacob!" Edward snorted. "We stayed in Forks much longer than we wanted to or should have because of your obligation to your pack and their commitment to their families. When we finally did start over, we could only come across the ferry to Vancouver Island and look for some tiny town, just hoping that no one here recognized Carlisle or the rest of us. All for you, so that you could maintain your responsibilities, so that your pack wouldn't have to leave their lives behind and you could see them as often as needed if there was a hint of trouble. We should have gone to the east coast, or even left the continent, especially knowing the Volturi might pursue a vendetta against us. But we placed ourselves and our daughter at risk. For. You. It would be wise to have a look in the mirror before you accuse anyone else of selfish motivations."

Jacob looked at his feet, sufficiently reprimanded for the moment but still primarily concerned with the center of his world.

"I understand you're angry and hurt," Bella tried again, attempting to smooth things over the best she could, "but you have to understand that Renesmee is an adult now. She's capable of making up her own mind. We, as her parents, are going to support her."

Jake looked up from his seat in surprise. "But Bella, you know what this is. We've talked about it. Even when you were a human, it was clear to you what this meant. I can't live without her."

"I'm sorry, Jacob," Bella soothed, stroking his hair the same way she did Renesmee when she had nightmares as a child, "but I'm afraid you're going to have to make the effort."

"No!" he barked, jerking his head away. Bella lowered her hand and considered his slumped posture—he looked very much like the lovesick teenager he once was instead of the grown man he was supposed to be. "I don't want a life without her in it."

"You've never even tried," Bella said, and the advice was old, familiar, and damning to Jacob's ears. They were his own words to her, from the time he'd hoped to woo Bella, thrown back in his face. "From the moment of imprint, you have spent every day with her. It's your habit, your addiction. You think you need it. But you've forgotten all about anyone having a choice. She has the power to choose, and so do you."

"Then I choose her!" The combination of demand and plea twisted the young Quileute's voice in strange ways that made Bella sympathetic and sad.

"You haven't looked at other options," she reminded him. "I remember…" Her voice dropped with shame, and Edward didn't need clairvoyance to know what flashed across her mind. "I remember a time when I was forced to weigh my options. And I chose Edward. It was the right choice for me, and I've never regretted it."

"Yeah," Jacob muttered, skin darkening with mortification. "I remember too."

"Yes," Bella continued, shuffling away her own embarrassment, "but you don't seem to think you have to do the same. You think the imprint is the end of the line for you, when it's not."

"Of course it is," Jake protested automatically, so ingrained was his personal understanding of the phenomenon.

Edward frowned. "You aren't even considering what my wife is trying to tell you," he interjected. "Stop thinking like a mindless dog and use your human brain. Ponder this like a rational adult, not an adolescent bag of hormones."

"Very funny," Jacob quipped, eyeing the young face of his would-be teenage centenarian father-in-law. "I don't expect you to understand biology in action, blood-drinker. To you, it's just something from a book. For me, it's my nature, my culture, my whole way of life."

"Then you have a problem, Jacob," Edward finally spoke, ochre eyes stern, "and it's far worse than you think."

"What are you talking about?"

Edward shared a glance with Bella, and the accompanying extra breath she took signaled that she was lifting her mental shield to share some thought with him. Jacob groaned internally, hating the way Cullens communicated with each other specifically to leave him out of a conversation. At least in his wolf form, all the wolves could hear each other within a pack.

"Jacob," Bella began gently, "do you remember the story of the Third Wife?"

"Of course I do," he snapped at her. "I'm surprised you haven't forgotten it by now, since you were just a lowly human like me when you heard it."

Patiently ignoring this tone, a trait that was born not of human characteristics nor of vampire imposition, but strictly from years of experience dealing with a rapidly-growing child, a suspicious father, and two packs of jumpy wolves, Bella continued. "Why the third?"

Jacob, of course, did not see where she was going at first. "Because Taha Aki had two wives who had already died before he married his true spiritual wife," he answered impatiently. "He loved her, and when she died, he went to her body and stayed with her."

"But the legend does say he had other wives," Bella reminded him. "He had many children from these women, and all of them inherited the potential to pass on the wolf gene."

"Yes…" Jacob said slowly, "but after he met the Third Wife, he wanted no others."

"She died trying to save him." Bella kept a low, respectful tone, knowing how important Jacob's legends were, even if she felt some of them made no sense or were leaving out important details. "Of course he mourned and grieved for her. But if she hadn't died that way, if she'd just gotten old and passed away in her sleep, who's to say he wouldn't have chosen another wife?"

"No," Jacob countered, "he stopped transforming when he married her so he could grow old and die with her. He loved her more than any of the other wives."

"Does that mean he didn't love his other wives at all?" Bella asked him.

Jacob peered up at her, his mouth a thin line. "I don't know. The legend doesn't say."

"Your legends don't say a lot of things," Edward almost growled. "And for some unknown reason, you have forgotten that anything not covered by legend might actually be worth thinking about."

For a moment, Jacob took offense to this tone. The stories of his people were important to him, even if, as Nessie had pointed out, he no longer remained in their constant company. However, the wild bronze hair waving angrily at him reminded Jacob that this was Renesmee's father speaking right now, not an old friend nor an old enemy. As such, Jacob held himself in check with the hope that this could still be turned around in his favor if he only behaved. Perhaps Edward, unlike his daughter, would remember what Jacob had given up to preserve the Cullen family if he didn't antagonize the old young man.

Edward knew all this the moment it crossed Jacob's mind and swallowed the profanity waiting on his tongue. For all Jacob claimed to have given up to save the vampires and the innocent, pregnant human bride from an attack, everyone was well aware that Jacob had gained more in return. Leadership over a pack of his own (which he willingly embraced), a place to live and funds to support himself, unrestricted access to both sides of the old treaty line so that he could visit with family and friends, not that he'd been in a while. Jacob wanted for nothing. More to the point, all of them, wolf and vampire alike, had benefitted from the alliance when it really mattered. No one had suffered so much as a scratch when the Volturi made their grand entrance and meek exit. Edward did not see that Jacob had sacrificed very much after all, nor did he feel that the steps Jacob had taken would have entitled him to breeding rights if things had taken a turn for the worse at one crossroads or another. Edward's daughter was neither property nor a bargaining chip.

Renesmee was Edward's miracle in far more ways than anyone had ever dared to dream. The fact of her birth was remarkable enough, with her coppery locks so much like his mother's that he'd long ago given up any hope of seeing again in anyone but himself. But when she reached puberty at the chronological age of five, an entirely new avenue opened up. For in the innocent confusion of a girl becoming a woman, it came to light that Edward and Bella's daughter possessed the most human power of all: procreation. In her existed the potential for Renesmee to build her own family if she so desired, lovely children to bear little pieces of the Masen and Swan ancestors, a beautiful thing in which Edward silently rejoiced. Jacob, in direct contrast to the Cullen clan, was not surprised at all by this ability, rolling his eyes with a 'well, duh' and a smile. According to the Quileute way of thinking, the primary purpose of the imprint was reproduction, securing the next generation of protectors, with the added bonus of making the wolf in question into a more complete individual.

Edward hated Jacob's view of things, despite its similarity to his own. For while Edward would have liked very much for his child to know the joy of parenthood and be satisfied in that way if she wanted it, Jacob appeared to think of Nessie as a vessel. His vessel, meant to produce a stronger race of wolves. That Jacob loved the girl, there was no doubt. So far lust had not yet become part of the overall picture, as it had never been something Renesmee "needed" from Jacob, but Edward got the distinct impression that her fertility was still too large a factor in the equation. Being Esme's son and Rosalie's brother, Edward had a poor opinion of men who thought this way about the women they claimed to love.

Truth be told, Edward had never wanted his daughter to marry into the Quileute clan, to be regarded as the oddball, the half-vampire freak amidst a cluster of wolves and humans—this concern had plagued him long before Jacob began to form concrete thoughts of replication. During their time of life-threatening crisis, Edward accepted that it was likely to happen, and he'd been glad that his little girl would have someone to protect her, but it was not a situation he was pleased about. If Renesmee eventually chose a life lived as a wolf's mate, Edward knew he could do nothing to change that without alienating her, but still, he hoped. It was his wish that his daughter would someday find a reason to go on with her own life as a free woman, independent of Jacob and all his tribal obligations and biological imperatives.

As it turned out, there was a way after all. While the news of the existence of even more of her kind—dhampyrs, he might as well get used to saying it—was an excellent catalyst for the leaving part, Edward had long ago, in the solace of his many books, seen his way toward securing for his child a future in which she was not an immortal source of endless reproduction for anyone's puppies. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and not stop Jacob from setting himself up for failure. Give him just enough rope to hang himself was the expression. Today, the noose was finally in place.

"For eight years, you have lived among us," Edward said smoothly. "Eight years since the Volturi tried us, and we've been lucky enough to avoid war in all that time. Every advantage was provided for you to attend university, to read, to learn something instead of simply spending all your time tinkering with cars and behaving as our daughter's elder brother."

Jacob winced at the reminder. He'd been perfectly sincere when he'd explained, so many years ago, that a wolf would be to his imprint whatever she needed: big brother, best friend, lover, whatever was required of him. That was how it was explained to him, and that was what he witnessed with the imprinted wolves around him. What he had not said was how he knew one person could be all those things to the same person in the same lifetime. There was no legend that covered such a thing, and in that regard he was aware that he was on shaky ground.

"You would think," Edward commented, staring into the young shape shifter's eyes, "that in all that time, you'd have picked up at least one book besides a mechanic's reference guide. If you had, perhaps this would not have come as such a surprise."

"What are you saying?" Jacob asked cautiously, eyes narrowed.

Edward did his best not to smirk. "Have you ever heard of the Westermarck effect?"

Jacob shook his head, certain that whatever it was, it probably wasn't good for him.

"It's a well-documented psychological effect, observed in cultures all over the world—" Edward began to explain, but Jacob was impatient as always.

"Spare me the psychobabble and get to the point, Edward." The roll of his eyes was bravado—the twitching leg was anxiety, unconcealed and unstoppable.

Bella sighed, empathetic for her friend and his impending cognitive dissonance, but not so much that she was going to side against Edward. This was, after all, about her daughter's life.

"There's another term for it," Edward told the boy before him, his tone and face stony to mask the victory. "It's called reverse sexual imprinting."

Jacob stopped breathing, his stomach tight with dread as he waited for the elaboration he didn't want.

"It means," Edward continued, slipping into the lecture mode he'd learned from a century at Carlisle's side, "that whoever a child remains in constant proximity to between the ages of birth to six years—or in Renesmee's case, we think birth to two or three years of age—is psychologically imprinted on that child as Family. It applies to parents, siblings, nannies, other children in the same day care…you get the idea. The child's mind imprints that these people are her kin, and therefore any kind of romantic relationship with them would be taboo. Some believe that it's actually an evolved, biological trait designed to prevent incest from occurring."

"I see," Jacob murmured to himself, struggling with this information, looking for a way around it. "But I'm not—"

"It doesn't matter," Edward interrupted. "You were with her every day during that critical time in her development. And it does no good to argue that she matured intellectually at an even faster rate than her physical body. You carried her and fed her from the day she was born."

"Oh god," Jacob whispered, closing his eyes. "But it's not like that for everyone. Quil and Claire—"

"Claire is ten," Bella finally cried out, feeling as though she was defending the little Makah child. "She likes boy bands and candy and kids at school her own age. You can't possibly tell me she's even remotely entertaining the notion of marrying a man who was practically her second father all these years! Certainly not if he continues to treat her as a little sister until she's an adult!" It had bothered Bella for many years now that Quil appeared to think nothing of eventually marrying a woman whose diapers he had changed as a toddler. Jacob's explanations never sat well with her, but for the sake of keeping peace between what would otherwise have been enemy clans, she held her tongue. Given the amount of distrust the wolves still held for her gifted family, Bella never believed Quil would listen to her anyway. A certain amount of guilt went along with this silence, but for better or worse she'd done it. Now the silence was broken, and she couldn't take it back. Nor did she want to. "Maybe," she exhaled, "if you and Quil had stayed clear of Nessie and Claire until they were older, things might have worked out differently, and you could have fallen in love a little more naturally at the right time. But you both gave in to the impulse to spend every waking moment with them instead of staying away and living somewhat normal lives without them. And this, what's going on with Renesmee, and what will happen again with Claire, is the result."

"The imprint…" Jacob muttered again, all quiet desperation.

"Just stop it, Jake!" Bella shouted suddenly, grasping her longtime friend by the shoulder and shaking him as much as she could without breaking his bones or snapping his spinal cord. "Didn't you listen to anything my daughter said when she left? Your imprint didn't make her want you as a husband! You think Claire suddenly decided, at the age of two, that she was going to marry Quil someday? All she knew was that someone was there to play peek-a-boo with her and take her to the beach every day. That's not a foundation for a marriage, that's a grown man playing nanny and expecting it to turn into something else in fifteen or twenty years without a problem. Are you all so blinded by the imprint that you can't see past your own noses?"

"Leah used to say that," Jacob groaned. And indeed she had, and often, although at the time it had been more of a response to Sam Uley's betrayal of her with her own cousin, and subsequently to Emily's well-intentioned but inadvisable request that Leah be a bridesmaid at the wedding. Leah had eventually R.S.V.P'd with her middle finger. At this moment, Jacob envied Leah Clearwater and her unimprinted existence. She was still feisty, outspoken, and tough as nails like her mother, but unlike Jacob, she'd taken the time to improve the quality and structure of her life and further her education. With two degrees under her belt, a decent start on her career at a law firm in Port Townsend, and no daily plague of Sam's mental voice, she wasn't ecstatic, but she was calmer and more content than she'd ever hoped to be. During those times when she still transformed, which were proving to be rarer and rarer as time passed, her mind was not the spiteful place to be it once was, and Jacob enjoyed the communication, the shared memories that had nothing to do with supernatural elements or star-crossed lovers.

He wondered what she would think about this.

"Maybe you should talk to Leah," Edward suggested immediately, his heart making room for real sympathy now. For Edward could hear the small echo in the back of Jacob's mind, growing louder as the boy's acceptance grew in tiny increments: what am I going to do now? While the young father in Edward was still rejoicing that his daughter did not have the weight of an unasked-for imprinting hanging over her anymore, the old man who was Jacob's friend and, to a degree, his family, did not wish for more heartache than was necessary. Edward knew Leah was excellent at providing perspective—it was one thing about her he admired, though he would never admit it to her or anyone else. And right now, Edward knew she could be what Jacob really needed: a kindred spirit.