Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns the Twilight Saga...I had a lot of fun playing with it.

A/N: And here we go with the final chapter of this story! Enjoy!

Chapter 11: Penumbra

I spent another hour talking and joking with my family, until it was time to pick Bella up from work.

Alice walked out to the car with me; the rest had stayed inside, still wrapped up in conversation.

"So I guess I won't see much of you 'til Monday," she sighed.

"I might stop by for a few minutes tomorrow."

"On your way off to grab an elk or two," she said, rolling her eyes. Lovely. Makes us all feel so important.

"Sorry," I said with a grin. But the grin faded as I stared out into the familiar forest which surrounded our home.

Something on your mind? Alice asked silently. Hmm...stupid question. When isn't something on your mind?

I sighed. "Alice...what have you seen...about Bella's future?"

You mean the usual stuff you don't want to hear about?

"I meant apart from that. Have you seen anything...else?"

She blinked at me, uncomprehending. Like what?

I shrugged, looking down. "Never mind. It...doesn't matter."

After a moment, she spoke again, her voice softer. "I did see a flicker of something...but it was very chaotic, very indistinct. But there was a ring involved, so I think I can guess."

I swallowed. "I wasn't sure you'd seen anything...you didn't say."

"I didn't want to...intrude."

A weak smile tugged at my lips. "That's a first." A flicker of something. Chaotic. Indistinct. In other words, an unlikely possibility.

She sighed. Edward, give her time. She may very well change her mind.

"She doesn't have time, Alice," I whispered, my voice pained. "That's the whole point. I wanted to give her time...I wanted to give her the world. And now it's slipping away, all too soon."

She rolled her eyes. You don't have to be so melodramatic about it. You know, if you just gave it a chance...

"No," I said through my teeth, refusing to meet her gaze.

She sighed. You are so stubborn.

"I won't stop fighting for her," I said quietly. "For her. The way she is now."

"She won't stay that way forever."

"No, she won't," I said, turning to face her. "She'll grow...she'll change. And that's the way it's supposed to be."

"For most people," she agreed. "But maybe that's not how it was meant to be...for her."

I shook my head in pain. "How can I allow my presence in her life to take that life away from her, Alice?"

You may see it that way, but she doesn't.

"That's because she doesn't know what she's getting herself into."

Maybe she doesn't know everything. But she knows enough. "Edward, you've got to trust her judgment on this," she said quietly. "It's going to happen, one way or another."

"And what happens when she comes to regret her decision?" I asked, equally quietly. "It isn't something that can be undone..."

"And she knows that."

"Yes. But does she know herself? Look at how we've all struggled, Alice. You had it easy, you don't remember any life but this. But for the rest of us..." I trailed off, shaking my head.

No one said it was going to be easy for her. But staying human wouldn't be any easier, not the way things stand. She wants to be with you, Edward. She's chosen you, just as you've chosen her. If she were the vampire and you were the human, don't you think you would have chosen the same path?

I didn't answer, just glared into the trees. I didn't like to think of it in this way, because I knew what my answer would be. I couldn't imagine a scenario where I wouldn't sacrifice anything to remain by Bella's side. But I hated to think of her having to make those same sacrifices for me.

"Well, anyway," Alice sighed, "you should go, I suppose, if you're going to be there on time." She touched my arm. Just give it some thought, Edward...and try to keep an open mind, if you can. You're far too apt to take a negative view of things in general, you know. I know this is hard, but it's all going to work out. You'll see.

Unfortunately, I could already see how it was going to 'work out'; that was the one part of Alice's visions which hadn't wavered since Volterra.

I brooded on her words all the way into town. As always, seeing Bella's face again lifted my mood and made me forget my worries, even if I knew they'd return soon enough. My dead heart sang with joy as she came toward me with a smile stretched across her face, and I caught her up in my arms, relieved to be with her again.

And so it went on for the next few weeks. I spent every possible moment in her company, only leaving for an hour or two each night (when Charlie gleefully kicked me out) before I sneaked back in through her bedroom window. Still, I never strayed far even then; I usually lurked in the woods near their house, listening for any sign of hostiles approaching while trying to give Bella and Charlie some privacy. I longed for the day when I could finish Victoria once and for all, remove that horrible threat from Bella's life so that we could both breathe easier again.

My family was just as eager to see Victoria dealt with. Emmett, Jasper, Rosalie, and Alice frequently went out on forays into the woods, searching for any hint of her scent. All they found were some old trails which had been all but washed out by the rain, all of which ended either at the Quileute treaty line or at the water's edge. Alice continued to check several times a day for any sign of Victoria's return, but her visions turned up nothing. She even tried to reach out further, to find any sign at all of the evil redhead's whereabouts, but she caught only fleeting visions which were no help. It seemed that Victoria's actions were too chaotic to settle on anything concrete—whether this was by design or simply part of her nature, none of us could be sure. In some ways I was relieved that there was still no sign of her coming back, but I was also frustrated. As long as she was out there, she remained a threat to the one I loved, and I wanted it over and done with as soon as possible.

Of course, there were other threats. Bella didn't mention Jacob Black much, for which I was grateful. But I had the feeling she was only avoiding the subject because she'd seen my reaction to his name (I wasn't very good at hiding it, apparently). I knew, from some stray thoughts I'd picked up from Charlie, that she frequently called Jacob after I had left for the evening, only to hang up in frustration. It seemed he didn't want to talk to her—that at least was comforting. But I hated to see how it hurt her, in unguarded moments when she let her feelings show. She didn't want to hurt me by speaking of it...and it did hurt me just to think about that...

So it took me by surprise when she brought him up again one Saturday afternoon, when I picked her up from work. Several weeks had passed since my return, and we had settled into an easy rhythm in our routine. But her agitation was obvious as she stomped from the store to the car, where I was already holding her door open for her.

"What is it, love?" I asked, frowning in worry as a dozen possibilities flitted through my mind—everything from more disappearing hikers to Mike making another halfhearted pass at her (the boy never did seem to learn).

"It's just plain rude!" she growled as she plunked herself down in the passenger seat. "Downright insulting!" I closed her door and went around to the driver's side; the Mike explanation seemed even more likely than before. I clenched my teeth as I pulled out of the parking lot, headed for Bella's house. I would have to have a little chat with Mike sometime—about minding his manners when speaking to a lady.

"Billy said he didn't want to talk to me," she fumed, glaring out her window. "That he was there, and wouldn't walk three steps to get to the phone!"

Ah. So it wasn't Mike.

"Usually Billy just says he's out or busy or sleeping or something," Bella continued hotly. "I mean, it's not like I didn't know he was lying to me, but at least it was a polite way to handle it. I guess Billy hates me now, too. It's not fair!"

"It's not you, Bella," I said quietly. "Nobody hates you." How could they? Particularly when there was a group of far more hate-able vampires around?

"Feels that way," she muttered. She folded her arms across her chest, her expression sour. I hated to see her like this, taking something upon herself that was actually my fault. Again.

"Jacob knows we're back," I explained, "and I'm sure that he's ascertained that I'm with you. He won't come anywhere near me. The enmity is rooted too deeply." Enmity both old and new...and both equally powerful...

Her frown deepened. "That's stupid. He knows you're not...like other vampires."

"There's still good reason to keep a safe distance." I glanced over to see her glaring straight ahead. How could I make her understand? "Bella, we are what we are," I said quietly. "I can control myself, but I doubt he can. He's very young. It would most likely turn into a fight, and I don't know if I could stop before I k—" I broke off before I could say the word, knowing she would think the worst of me for even suggesting it. "Before I hurt him," I amended, hoping she would let it pass. "You would be unhappy. I don't want that to happen."

But of course she wouldn't let it pass.

"Edward Cullen," she whispered, staring at me. She rarely used both my names like that—not unless she was angry, or shocked. Or both. "Were you about to say 'killed him'? Were you?"

Bella never had missed much. I had to look away from the intensity of her gaze, staring out into the rain instead. What an impossible situation we were all in! A family of vampires and a pack of werewolves, and Bella stuck in the middle, loving all of us! Yes, she did love the wolves...especially...

I swallowed that thought as the light turned green and I started the car moving again. But I drove very slowly, knowing that continuing this conversation would be impossible once we got back to the house, where Charlie was undoubtedly waiting.

"I would try..." I said, choosing my words very carefully, "very hard...not to do that."

I kept my eyes straight ahead as I came to a stop at the corner, but in my peripheral vision I could see her staring at me, her mouth hanging open. I wanted to give her a more concrete reassurance, but I couldn't lie to her. If it did in fact come to a fight, I would do everything I could to avoid bloodshed, but I knew that might prove difficult—vampire venom was poisonous to the wolves. If it came to a matter of survival, I would do what I had to. But I knew how much it would hurt her if either one of us were to be...

"Well," she said, her voice a little unsteady. She took a deep breath, giving a little shake of her head. "Nothing like that is ever going to happen, so there's no reason to worry about it." I sincerely hoped that she was right. We were nearing the house now, and out of habit I reached out with my mind to check for anything out of the ordinary. What I found made me clutch the wheel harder. What the...? My vision turned red as I realized what had happened. That stupid mutt...hasn't she suffered enough?

"And you know Charlie's staring at the clock right now," Bella continued, oblivious to my sudden stress. "You'd better get me home before I get in more trouble for being late."

She turned to look up at me, a halfhearted smile on her face, but that smile disappeared when she saw my frozen expression.

"You're already in more trouble, Bella," I whispered, taking in the rage from Charlie as he paced up and down the living room. And there was another presence, in the woods beyond the house. I'd only heard his thoughts on a couple of occasions, but I recognized them at once: Jacob Black.

Bella's hands clutched my arm as she slid closer; she stared fearfully down the street toward her house. "What? What is it?" she asked, her voice shaking a little.

I took a deep breath. "Charlie..."

"My dad?" she screeched. I instantly felt bad for starting that way—of course she'd be worried that he was in danger.

I tried to make my expression calm enough to reassure her as I met her gaze.

"Charlie...is probably not going to kill you," I said carefully, "but he's thinking about it." I started to drive down her street, listening carefully to Charlie's thoughts. I timed things carefully, making sure his back was turned at the moment we passed the house—I was quite grateful that we were in my quiet car today instead of Bella's truck. I parked over by the trees, glad to note that Charlie was as yet unaware of our arrival. But in the woods, Jacob tensed.

"What did I do?" Bella gasped, her face horrorstruck.

In answer to her question, I looked back toward the house, at the shiny, bright red motorcycle which was parked next to Charlie's cruiser. Her motorcycle. I cringed inwardly at the thought of accident-prone Bella getting anywhere near that thing...

She followed my gaze, and I felt her grow very still beside me as she saw what I was looking that.

"No!" she gasped. "Why? Why would Jacob do this to me?" She had put it all together without me having to say a word; she understood that Jacob had brought the motorcycle here to get her into trouble. And she understood now why Charlie was so angry with her. She started to shake beside me.

And for a moment—just a moment—I truly hated Jacob Black. His spiteful act had hurt Bella even more than she'd been hurt already, not to mention causing pain and worry to Charlie as well. And all for what? I could see it in his mind. He thought he was getting Bella grounded so she'd see less of me. Hah. He obviously didn't realize that she was already grounded, and that it would take a lot more than that to keep us apart.

But as I sat there forcing myself to calm down, I realized that Jacob's motives were not entirely malevolent. He truly did care for Bella...no, that didn't do his feelings justice. He loved her. I clenched my teeth, willing myself to stay calm. I'd known this already—Charlie's and Alice's memories made it obvious. Jacob was trying to protect Bella, just as I was. And just as I felt it was dangerous for her to be around him and the other werewolves, he thought it was dangerous for her to be around me and the rest of my family. Of course there were other emotions at play as well—his jealousy almost rivaled my own.

And I could never forget what I owed him—not if I lived ten thousand years. He had kept Bella safe when I hadn't been there to protect her from Victoria. He had saved her from drowning when she'd jumped off the cliff. He had been there for her when I had not. I would owe him for all eternity.

"Is he still here?" Bella hissed. I noticed that angry tears had sprung from her eyes.

"Yes. He's waiting for us there." I nodded toward the slender path that led off into the woods—the very same path where I had left her, all those months ago. My sharp eyes could just make out where Jacob stood through the layers of trees; he was shifting back and forth impatiently, his thoughts hostile as he stared in our direction. He was thinking about the task that had been set him. Ah. He was here to remind me about the treaty. A very specific point of the treaty, in fact...

So focused was I on Jacob in that moment that it took me by surprise when Bella jumped out of the car and launched herself toward the trees with uncharacteristic speed, her hands balled into fists. Cursing inwardly, I darted after her, hoping none of the neighbors would spot my blurred movement, and caught her around the waist before she made the path.

"Let me go!" she snarled. "I'm going to murder him! Traitor!" she shouted toward the trees.

"Charlie will hear you," I murmured in her ear, grateful that the television was on inside and her shout had been covered by a particularly loud commercial. "And once he gets you inside, he may brick over the doorway." I was exaggerating, but only a little.

She shot a panicked glance back at the house, but her eyes narrowed again when they focused on the red motorbike.

"Just give me one round with Jacob," she said quietly but fiercely, "and then I'll deal with Charlie." She struggled, trying to pry my arms away from her as she glowered toward the woods. Despite the tension of the situation, I almost chuckled as I imagined my Bella—looking more than ever like a furious kitten that thinks it's a tiger—hauling off and punching Jacob in the face. But I sobered again as I realized I really did not want to see the result of such an action. What if he lost it and phased with her so close?

"Jacob Black wants to see me," I told her. "That's why he's still here." It was halfway true; he didn't exactly want to see me, but talking to me was his main purpose in coming here. And he did want to see Bella...though he'd surely prefer that I wasn't around for their reunion...

Something about what I'd said made Bella go rigid in my arms. Then she went limp, as if in defeat. "Talk?" she asked, somehow packing a paragraph's worth of trepidation into that one word.

"More or less."

"How much more?" she asked, her voice shaking.

I smoothed her hair back from her face, knowing what was worrying her. "Don't worry, he's not here to fight me," I told her quietly. "He's acting as...spokesperson for the pack."

"Oh." She swallowed, turning her head to stare again into the woods.

I shot another glance at the house, where Charlie's patience was nearly at breaking point. I knew he couldn't quite see the place where my car was parked from the living room window, but if he went to look out the door...

I started toward the path, keeping my arm securely around her waist. "We should hurry. Charlie's getting impatient."

Jacob was waiting for us just a short way up the path. I tried not to wrinkle my nose as a stray breeze carried his scent to me. Ah yes...the sweet bouquet of werewolf; how could I forget? His particular scent was quite similar to that of his great-grandfather, Ephraim Black, one of the wolves we'd met the last time we'd lived in Forks. Jacob watched our approach, lounging against a mossy tree trunk; his face was hard and bitter as he looked first at Bella, then at me. His mouth stretched into a humorless sneer.

So, it's true. I get it. He comes back and I'm nothing. Why am I so surprised? But you can hear me, can't you bloodsucker? Yeah, did you know I knew that? Did she tell you? We had a lot of good, long talks while you were gone. But I guess they didn't mean much, in the end...life sucks that way sometimes...

My proximity made it difficult for him to maintain control; his trembling hands were clenched into fists at his side. He kept his eyes fixed on me as he shrugged away from the tree and leaned into a slight crouch. Now do me a favor and get out of my head!

I came to a stop, my arm still wrapped firmly around Bella's waist. I needed to keep some distance between him and us. It would be easier for him keep a lid on his temper that way, and if he did lose control, the more distance between him and Bella the better. I turned us so that Bella was behind me, putting myself in the line of fire. Still, she leaned around me to glare at Jacob. I saw his expression falter a little.

I guess I knew she'd be mad. But it's for her own good...and look, she's softening toward me already!

Though I kept my eyes on him, I could see, through his mind, that Bella's harsh expression had indeed softened a little, the anger draining away from her face. I wasn't sure what to make of that...or whether I liked it or not.

"Bella," Jacob greeted her. He turned his head a little to give her a single nod, but did not take his eyes off me.

"Why?" she whispered, her voice pained. "How could you do this to me, Jacob?"

"It's for the best." The sneer was gone, but his expression had not softened.

"What is that supposed to mean?" she demanded. "Do you want Charlie to strangle me? Or did you want him to have a heart attack, like Harry? No matter how mad you are at me, how could you do this to him?"

Jacob winced, then scowled. He didn't answer aloud, but I heard his thoughts: C'mon Bella, you know I'd never hurt Charlie—or you! I just wanted to get you grounded, all right? So you couldn't spend all your free time with him! Can you blame me for that?

"He didn't want to hurt anyone—he just wanted to get you grounded, so that you wouldn't be allowed to spend time with me," I murmured to her. I knew this would upset her, but I felt she deserved to know his reasons.

Jacob turned his glower on me again, hatred in his eyes. I thought I told you to get the hell out of my head, you filthy leech! I'll speak for myself!

"Aw, Jake!" Bella groaned, oblivious to his silent communication. "I'm already grounded! Why do you think I haven't been down to La Push to kick your butt for avoiding my phone calls?"

This surprised him. What? Already grounded? I thought he was the one who wouldn't let you... "That's why?" he asked aloud, and instantly regretted having spoken. Shit. Shoulda just stuck to the plan, like Sam and the guys told me. I'm an idiot. He locked his jaw. What is it they say? Silence is golden? Yeah, that's sound advice, I guess. Shut up, Jake.

"He thought I wouldn't let you, not Charlie," I explained for Bella's benefit. What I didn't say was that his assumption wouldn't be so far off the mark, if Charlie decided to lift the grounding...

"Stop that," Jacob snapped, glaring at me again. I'm warning you, STAY OUT OF MY FRICKIN' HEAD!

I didn't answer, figuring anything I said would just enrage him further at this point. As it was, I could feel the edges of his control beginning to slip. I tensed a little, ready to whisk Bella away if it got too much for him.

He gave a shudder, his fists trembling at his side. "Bella wasn't exaggerating about your...abilities," he said through his teeth. "So you must already know why I'm here."

"Yes," I said in a soft voice. "But before you begin, I need to say something."

Sure you do, bloodsucker. He was trying to calm the spasms which racked his body, threatening to leap out of his control. He clenched and unclenched his fists, breathing unevenly. It didn't exactly help when a shift in the breeze brought my scent to him; I felt him recoil in disgust. Ugh...sickly sweet, like the worst cologne in the world...how can she stand that?

I fought to contain the smile which threatened to break through, knowing that it would be the opposite of helpful.

In truth, I was quite impressed by the amount of control Jacob had demonstrated so far, particularly given how recently he had joined the pack—though I was well aware that he could lose the battle at any moment. But I had to say this before we could go any further, because I had not forgotten the debt I owed him.

"Thank you," I said, hoping that my sincerity would show through in my voice. "I will never be able to tell you how grateful I am." There simply weren't words of sufficient depth to explain it properly; no matter what complex enmity there might be between us, this one thing linked us together. "I will owe you for the rest of my...existence."

What the...? Jacob stared at me, unable to comprehend my words. The tremors had stopped—he was so surprised he'd momentarily forgotten his anger. His eyes flickered to Bella, who seemed just as mystified. What the heck are you talking about, bloodsucker? Grateful for what?

"For keeping Bella alive," I clarified. He could not doubt the fervency in my voice. "When I...didn't." Admitting this to him was more difficult than I'd thought it would be; the shame and guilt lapped at the edges of my mind, threatening to drown me once more...

"Edward—" Bella started to say, but I held up a hand to silence her. I knew what she was going to say—something about how I didn't need to feel guilty and I should stop beating myself up over it. It would do no good for her to repeat words I would never bring myself to believe...and besides, I was waiting for Jacob's answer...whether he spoke it aloud or not.

Oh...I get it. Huh. He feels guilty for running away and leaving her in danger. He should. The redhead would never have come for Bella if she hadn't been hanging around with him and the rest of his bloodsucker family in the first place. And then he runs off and I have to pick up the pieces... His face hardened again as he glared at me. "I didn't do it for your benefit."

"I know," I said softly. "But that doesn't erase the gratitude I feel. I thought you should know. If there's ever anything in my power to do for you..."

Jacob raised one black brow. Anything? Simple, leech: go away again and leave her with me. Forever.

I shook my head. "That's not in my power."

"Whose, then?" Jacob growled.

I looked down at Bella, who stared back up at me, worry and confusion in her brown eyes. "Hers. I'm a quick learner, Jacob Black, and I don't make the same mistake twice. I'm here until she orders me away." I was lost for a moment in the depth of her gaze, and I saw understanding reach her eyes as she realized what Jacob had asked of me.

"Never," she whispered, her gaze burrowing into mine. In that everlasting moment, I felt the truth of that word...never. Forever linked, never to part again...

Oh great...I think I'm gonna throw up now. If Newton were here he'd have a good laugh at that. This has got to be more torture than anyone deserves... I thought of how I'd feel in his place, and I felt for him. No man should have to watch the woman he loves declare herself for another...

Bella tore her eyes away from mine, a scowl on her face as she looked at Jacob. "Was there something else you needed, Jacob?" she asked, her voice irritated. "You wanted me in trouble—mission accomplished. Charlie might just send me to military school. But that won't keep me away from Edward. There's nothing that can do that." I tried not to smile at the conviction in her voice, knowing it would only upset Jacob more. "What more do you want?"

Jacob's eyes bored into me. Besides wanting the leech to disappear again? "I just needed to remind your bloodsucking friends of a few key points in the treaty they agreed to. The treaty that is the only thing stopping me from ripping his throat out right this minute." And I would, bloodsucker. Trust me, I would.

"We haven't forgotten," I assured him at the same time that Bella demanded, "What key points?"

Jacob answered her, though he kept his glower fixed upon me. "The treaty is quite specific. If any of them bite a human, the truce is over. Bite, not kill," he emphasized to make sure she understood. You hear that, bloodsucker? So keep your reeking teeth away from her! He turned his cold gaze on Bella.

I felt her stiffen as she took in his words. "That's none of your business," she hissed.

His reaction was stronger than even I had expected. He'd thought the warning he'd come to give was just a precaution. He hadn't known that she was really on this path—hadn't realized that it had already been settled with my family the very morning after our return (unless, of course, I managed to talk her out of it).

"The hell it—" was all he managed say out loud. No! NO! I won't let him, I won't! You're not gonna be one of them! Screw the treaty—so help me, if she wasn't here I'd kill you right now, you bloodsucking bastard! Arghh! He cringed, bent nearly double as he pressed his clenched fists hard against his temples. His eyes were closed tight and his face took on an unhealthy color as he fought to regain control of himself. Have...have to keep control...can't...hurt her!

"Jake? You okay?" Bella asked anxiously, taking a half-step toward him. I yanked her back behind me.

"Careful! He's not under control," I warned her in a low voice.

But Jacob had already managed to regain most of his control; only his arms continued to shake as he scowled at me, pure hate running through him as he thought of a thousand different ways he'd like to kill me. "Ugh. I would never hurt her."

I couldn't help the low hiss that escaped my lips at his implication. Jacob clenched his fists, his eyes sparking with anticipation. Such was my focus on him that the shout from behind us took me completely by surprise.

"BELLA!" Charlie roared from the house, making all three of us jump. "YOU GET IN THIS HOUSE THIS INSTANT!"

We all froze, listening to the silence that followed. I also listened to Charlie's thoughts, though part of my attention was still focused on Jacob. Charlie was standing on the front doorstep, and though he couldn't see us, he could see my car parked on the curb. His rage was almost as strong as Jacob's, and for once, it was not directed entirely at me. I didn't like to think what might happen if he came looking for us and found the three of us like this...

Bella broke the silence, her voice trembling. "Crap."

Jacob's fury ebbed a little. Ah hell... "I am sorry about that," he muttered. "I had to do what I could—I had to try..."

"Thanks," she said sarcastically, though the tremor in her voice ruined the effect. She stared up the path as though expecting Charlie to make an appearance; I fervently hoped that he would stay at the house. I wanted to get Bella out of there, but there was one last bit of business to deal with first.

"Just one more thing," I told her before turning back to Jacob. "We've found no trace of Victoria on our side of the line—have you?"

No, not a trace, thanks to that little 'sister' of yours, he thought bitterly. "The last time was while Bella was...away." Someday, I'm gonna get the full story of what happened... "We let her think she was slipping through—we were tightening the circle, getting ready to ambush her, but then she took off like a bat out of hell. Near as we can tell, she caught your little female's scent and bailed. She hasn't come near our lands since."

I nodded. It made sense that she would take off at the first whiff of Alice's fresh scent. Victoria seemed to have some sort of instinct for evasion—she'd demonstrated it when we'd dealt with her before, and during my fruitless attempts to track her following my departure from Forks. Now that she knew we were back, she would be more cautious than ever—not that I expected for one moment that she would give up.

But I needed the wolves to be clear on this—that she was our problem and we could deal with her ourselves. It wasn't really that I feared they'd get themselves hurt, as a whole pack of werewolves ought to be able to deal with one lone vampire. But the wolves' involvement troubled me, because of the way they negated Alice's visions. Those visions were a critical weapon in our arsenal, both in predicting Victoria's return and in finding a way to ambush her while protecting Bella.

"When she comes back," I said slowly, "she's not your problem anymore. We'll—"

"She killed on our turf," Jacob hissed. "She's ours!" So stuff it, you filthy—

"No—" Bella's protest was cut off by another shout from Charlie.

"BELLA! I SEE HIS CAR AND I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE! IF YOU AREN'T INSIDE THIS HOUSE IN ONE MINUTE...!" In Charlie's head, I saw imaginings of Bella and I making out in the trees somewhere...if only he knew that his daughter was trying to mediate a dispute between a vampire and a werewolf!

"Let's go," I said urgently to Bella, wanting to get her back before Charlie decided to arrest us. But she looked back at Jacob, her face torn.

"Sorry," Jacob whispered so low that I wondered if she could even have heard. "Bye, Bells."

"You promised," she told him, desperation in her voice. "Still friends, right?"

Jacob's eyes were full of pain and bitterness as he shook his head. "You know how hard I've tried to keep that promise, but...I can't see how to keep trying. Not now..." Pain ripped at him as he remembered some of the times he and Bella had spent together. The hard expression he'd worn throughout most of the conversation wavered, then vanished, replaced by something far more vulnerable. "Miss you," he mouthed. He extended an arm toward her, his fingers outstretched. Oh Bells, if only he hadn't come back... I would have been your sun, if only his cold shadow hadn't blocked me from your view...

"Me, too." I realized that she was close to tears—my dead heart cried out in agony at the pain in her voice. I watched, frozen, as she too reached out across the empty space between them. "Jake..." She took a step toward him, and in that moment, I wondered what would happen if they embraced. Would he try to run away with her? Or would she want to run away with him—with the boy who could be so many things to her that I could not? I pulled her back again, wrapping my arms around her in desperation.

Let her go you vile...

"It's okay," Bella murmured, looking up into my face with a trusting expression.

I kept my eyes on Jacob, feeling the anger returning to him full force. They were unpredictable, these wolves—it took only a moment for their moods to shift, for the danger to return. Anything could happen. "No, it's not," I told her.

"Let her go," Jacob snarled. "She wants to!" Don't you dare hold her back against her will, you filthy leech! Just because you can't handle that she might want to be with a real, hot-blooded man instead of a frigid block of ice... He started forward, and I could feel the anticipation building in him as he began to shudder again. He was allowing himself to lose control—impatient for the fight ahead.

I pushed Bella behind me and wheeled to face Jacob. I had to protect her. I would protect her. I knew I had the advantage over him—he was inexperienced, and I was able to anticipate his moves. I would use every skill I had to subdue him...but as I had promised Bella, I would try very hard not to kill him. It would hurt her to the core, if I were to do such a thing...

"No!" she was shouting, trying to get around me. "Edward—!"

"ISABELLA SWAN!" came Charlie's bellow. He was outside now, stomping across the lawn as he searched for us. I knew it wouldn't take him long to check this trail...

"Come on! Charlie's mad!" Bella urged, her voice panicked. "Hurry!" She tugged on my arm.

I was all too willing to do as she asked. I kept my eyes on Jacob and my arm around her as we slowly backed toward the house.

Jacob continued to glower at us, but the will to fight was fading as he slowly regained control over himself. Then I felt the pain wash over him, and it struck me to the core. He was watching the girl he loved leave with another man—a man who, as far as he was concerned, was an evil monster with no regard for her human life...a shadow which had fallen over her, blocking out the life-giving sun. And I hated that a part of me agreed with that assessment.

No! It was different now. I was no longer the same kind of danger to her that he could be. And I would continue to try to talk her out of her quest for immortality, even if I suspected my efforts were in vain. I would do everything in my power to make her happy, for as long as I was able—for the rest of her life...or forever, if the fates willed it. My family and I would hunt down and destroy Victoria, removing that threat from over her head. And I would protect her from the Volturi...and anything else which dared to threaten my Bella, my love, the meaning for my existence...

I held her close against my side as we walked toward the house. We broke through the last of the trees to see Charlie standing in the middle of the yard, his face purple, his thoughts absolutely livid. Bella cringed against me.

I gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze, whispering in her ear. "I'm here." Forever.

She drew in a deep breath and squared her shoulders, seeming to take strength from my words. Together, we walked forward to face Charlie's rage.

. . . . .


My fingers traced idle patterns along her upper arm; I relished the feel of the bare skin beneath my fingertips. She shivered a little, though I could tell it was not a reaction the cold temperature of my skin. She smiled as she gazed at me, her eyes full of warmth. Everything about her was full of warmth...

It was late, and Charlie was already snoring. Bella was dressed in her usual nightwear of matching tank top and cotton pants, and we were curled up together in her bed. The stress that had gripped us earlier that day had all but melted away, but still, I felt the need to make sure.

"Are you okay?" I murmured, studying her face.

The smile faded a little. "Yeah. I just wish...that things could be different."

"Between us and the werewolves, you mean?"

She nodded, but said nothing further. Her fingers trailed down my neck, and I closed my eyes, a slight smile on my lips as she lingered for a few moments on my collarbone. My breath caught as she went further, her warm fingertips brushing down beneath the neckline of my shirt, pulling downward on the fabric ever so slightly as she caressed the skin beneath...

"Bella..." I breathed, to remind her.

She smiled sheepishly as she pulled her hand back. "Sorry. I didn't...mean...anything by it." She giggled a little.

Oh heaven above, how I wished we could be together in that way...

One day, a part of myself pointed out. If she follows through with the change, it will be possible...

And that was just one more reason to hate myself.

No, no, no! Of all the selfish... Stop thinking it! You want her to be human Edward, so just stop!

I really was glad, sometimes, that Bella couldn't read my mind. I hated to think of all the dangerous ideas she'd get into her head if she could (she came up with enough of those on her own).

"How about you?" she asked softly.


"I mean, are you okay?"

I rolled my eyes. Trust Bella to be worried about me at a time like this. "I'm not the one who's now in double trouble with her father, not to mention the target of a sadistic vampire."

"No, but I know how much you worry about me."

"True," I sighed. "But please don't worry about me, Bella. We'll get through this, I promise."

"Okay," she sighed, snuggling closer to me. I rubbed her back to soothe her, and quietly began to hum her lullaby.


"Yes, my love?"

She pressed her warm lips to the hollow at the base of my throat, sending shivers of my own down my spine.

"I love you," she murmured against my skin.

"As I love you," I murmured back. I drew her face gently to mine, and we shared a kiss that was full of that love—enough to last us forever.


A/N: Yes, *sniff* that is the end. In some ways I'm relieved, because it was really taking over my life for awhile there! But of course, I'm also sad that it's coming to a close. I've enjoyed spending time in Edward's head, trying to pick apart his complex character and portray it as truly as I know how. Of course, this is merely my interpretation of his thoughts (and in places, events), and doubtless many had different ideas. I can only say that this was my stab at it, for better or for worse.

I have several more story ideas in mind, but I have no plans to continue my EPOV into Eclipse at the present time. Though that was in many ways my favorite book, I really need to focus on other things for awhile, and I'm not sure I'm up to the task of following Edward's doubtless tortured thoughts as the story continues. I will probably come up with a few EPOV scenes from Eclipse and perhaps Breaking Dawn as well, but they will be shorter and less time-consuming than this project! To all who have stuck with me from the beginning, thank you for reading, and I hope I brightened your day (or at least gave you something to think about).

Please remember to review!