Disclaimer: Shroud is a Twilight fan fiction, intended solely for the enjoyment of the readers. No copyright infringements are intended. Any original story directions and plot lines herein are the property of the author.


A huge thank you to my beta ForksPixie and my previewer DreamsOfEdward.


COMPULSION

Bella was a free woman, and that meant I was free as well. Her house was no longer a prison with Charlie holding the key.

I loved spending all of my time with her and there was nothing I looked more forward to than lying in her bed each night, holding her wrapped in a quilt, in my hard, cold arms. Her warmth and scent were my security blanket, but being there by choice and being there by force were two separate matters.

Charlie did nothing to hide his disdain for me. While I understood his protectiveness over his daughter, he really had no concept of how much I loved her and wanted to protect her as well. I deserved his judgment. After all, if he understood where I was coming from then that would mean he would know the whole story of vampires and werewolves and it was safer if he didn't.

How could I really protest? He thought I just saw her between 7-9:30 each night. He had no idea that I crept in through her window and into her bed each night and he couldn't stop us from seeing each other every day at school. If grounding her made Charlie feel better then albeit. Besides, it kept her away from Jacob Black.

The morning after Charlie gave Bella her reprieve she was extraordinarily exuberant. In reality, nothing had really changed. I picked her up and we drove to Forks High School together and walked hand-in-hand to every class we had together. Then we joined Angela and Ben, who had become very close to Bella in my absence, and Alice at the lunch table.

The temptation of being so close to the humans was nothing for me anymore. After thinking Bella had died and believing that the world I had come to cherish had been shattered, resisting her blood – the most tempting of all, and every other person's blood was effortless. Before Bella, I merely existed. When she walked into my world, she gave me life and every day since I met her I became more whole, more human. I existed for her and her alone and the greatest and only real challenge I faced each day was fighting off the physical temptation for her that grew as I evolved emotionally. I had no carnal knowledge of any woman although I had lived for over a century. I was a 109 year old virgin. That was one of the rules of the church that had been instilled in me when I was still human. Plus it was who I was. I was a gentleman who would never dream of stealing a woman's virtue – not a woman I loved and I loved Bella more than the heavens and the earth combined. I had done incredibly monstrous things in my past. I was a mass murderer. I would not be a fornicator, although I found the new feelings and emotions I felt when we were near each other to be quite a challenge to ignore.

There were posters and banners and advertisements stuck to every surface in the school. Prom was the next weekend, although I promised Bella I would not make her endure another one. I had to pace myself with the human experiences I encouraged her to be a part of. My focus was on graduation. That was the next hurdle I needed to get over with her.

"Have you sent your announcements, yet?" Angela asked Bella as we took our seats next to her.

When I watched Angela experience all of her major senior moments I felt guilty. I felt I had robbed Bella of all of those things. Because she loved me her life was far more complicated than your average teenager and more than anything, I wanted her to have all of the human experiences I, and my siblings, never had.

Bella shrugged. "No," she answered, squeezing my hand under the table. "There's no point, really. Renee knows when I'm graduating. Who else is there?"

"How about you, Alice?" Angela asked my sister.

Alice smiled. She had graduated too many times to count, but she still enjoyed every single one of them like it was her first. "All done."

"Lucky you," Angela sighed. "My mother has a thousand cousins and she expects me to hand-address one to everybody. I'm going to get carpal tunnel. I can't put it off any longer and I'm just dreading it."

"I'll help you," Bella offered. "If you don't mind my awful handwriting."

I smiled, pleased that Bella was giving Charlie what he wanted, without going against my wishes. She even went so far as to offer to go to Angela's house anytime, grateful to be free from her own house.

Alice seemed to be more excited than Bella that she was no longer grounded. Like she had foreseen last year, she and Bella had become good friends and Charlie loved my sister, believing she could do absolutely no wrong. She had been moping around our house ever since Bella got grounded, complaining that she had no one to shop with. Of course that wasn't true. She had Rosalie, but she had been shopping with Rosalie for decades and the novelty that was Rosalie, had worn off.

"What should we do?" Alice chimed in, excited to resume her life with Bella. My sister was the one person I had to compete with for Bella's time. No one else mattered.

I promise not to get her in trouble, Edward. I was just thinking of a quick road trip. Charlie won't even miss her.

"Whatever you're thinking, Alice, I doubt I'm that free," Bella said with a nervous grin on her face.

"Free is free, right?" Alice insisted.

"I'm sure I still have boundaries – like the continental U.S., for example," Bella said.

I grinned, fighting back the urge to burst out in laughter. Even though Charlie loved my sister and blamed her for nothing, I knew any trip outside of Seattle would be out of the question, but I had to give Alice credit for pushing the envelope. She was feisty for such a tiny little thing. I still hoped Charlie would be strict with the limits he put on Bella because when she was with Alice and I wasn't around to protect her, trouble followed.

Ben and Angela laughed at Bella's retort, but Alice frowned, disappointed that Bella reminded her of the trouble that followed. Yet, she didn't give up. I smiled as she persisted, resting my arm on the back of Bella's chair.

"So what are we doing tonight?" Alice asked.

"Nothing. Look, let's give it a couple of days to make sure he wasn't joking. It's a school night anyway," Bella answered.

Oh goody. I can start making plans.

"We'll celebrate this weekend, then," Alice announced. She totally forgot me. It was okay for them to spend time together, I enjoyed how happy it made both of them, but Bella was my girlfriend and I wanted some quality time away from her house. We had been separated for months and I cherished every single moment I had with her now. I had a lot of time to make up to her.

"Sure," Bella said. The answer seemed to placate my sister who went on to discuss with Angela and Ben what they could get into when Bella said it was time. Thankfully, my sister kept her plans to the Pacific Northwest.

I heard all of their plans and hundreds of other voices of the students surrounding us in the cafeteria, but my focus was on Bella and she looked like her mind was elsewhere. I brushed my hand gently across her back, trying to distract her from whatever had taken her attention elsewhere. Out of all of the things I had, including the ability to read people's minds, I would trade it all to be able to read just one mind, hers. But it remained elusive to me and that frustrated me a great deal. I wanted to know what she was thinking about and when my touch did little to bring her back around I knew it was a who, not a what that had her distracted. She was thinking about Jacob Black.

Victoria. She's close. She is coming here again, for Bella. She…she wants to…kill her. She isn't giving up Edward. She won't give up until she takes away your one true love. We will meet her in the forest, but you aren't there. That's all I see.

My worst fears were confirmed with Alice's thoughts. I had failed at catching Victoria when I tracked her for months, with the specific task of destroying her before she could get near Bella. I couldn't believe she was coming back to Forks, not this soon. Alice was already watching Aro's thoughts to know if the Volturi were coming to check on Bella's progress. She was watching Victoria's thoughts, which luckily she saw in enough time for me to keep Bella out of harm's way. Then there were the murders in Seattle. We had suspicions that nomadic vampires were behind those killings, but we weren't sure yet. It was a situation we had to continue monitoring. I hadn't worried Bella with any of the things we had Alice doing. She didn't need to be frightened unnecessarily.

"Alice? Alice!" Angela said loudly, bringing my sister back out of her trance. I hoped Bella hadn't noticed Alice's behavior. She was sharp enough to know when Alice closed out the rest of the world she was having a vision. I didn't want to have to explain it to her. When I felt her body tense against my fingertips I knew she had noticed and was fearful.

"Is it nap-time already, Alice?" I joked, hoping to lighten the mood and distract Bella from putting too much thought into Alice's trance. Everyone else was used to Alice zoning out and had no idea she was anything except weird.

"Day dreaming's better than facing two more hours of school," Ben said. Thank goodness for Ben. He was just as clueless as the next person, but right now, he was one more person to help distract Bella. I needed to talk to my sister as soon as I could, but not with Bella around.

Alice threw herself back into the conversation, undoubtedly trying to distract Bella from noticing her daze. I shot her a glance to let her know I read her thoughts and understood. I did my part at distracting Bella, by twirling her hair in my fingers. I knew when I touched her it was difficult for her to think of anything other than me.

After making it through lunch without Bella prodding for answers I knew I had to avoid her as much as I could. I wanted to talk to Alice before I told Bella anything. I figured the less she knew the better. My job was to protect her and I was back in Forks to do just that. I would not burden her with knowledge of things she had no control over. I talked to Ben about a World Civilization project I had already completed and hoped Bella didn't notice that. She was giving me strange looks and I knew she knew something was up, but I had to come up with a creative answer to give her that would satisfy her curiosity and move her away from the subject.

I continued my evasive actions throughout the afternoon and after the final bell of the day. I went as far as talking to Mike Newton to avoid the inquisition I knew was awaiting me. I moved quickly to walk beside him, having heard him complain about car problems earlier. I saw an opportunity.

"Newton, I overheard you say you were having car problems in Spanish class. What exactly is going on with it?" I asked, trying as hard as I could to sound like I gave a damn. I had a feeling Bella wasn't fooled by my new interest in Mike Newton and his car, but she wouldn't confront me as long as there were outsiders around.

I loved cars, particularly fast cars but the mechanic in the family was Rosalie. I never bothered having to actually work on them. I knew just enough to toss out ideas as to what could be wrong with his car and be believable.

"…but I just replaced the battery," Mike said. I quickly looked over my shoulder to see Bella, eyebrows raised, staring at me as if I had lost my mind. I turned back and noticed Newton had the same look on his face.

"Perhaps it's the cables?" I offered.

"Maybe. I really don't know anything about cars," Mike said. Well, that made two of us. "I need to have someone look at it, but I can't afford to take it to Dowling's."

"Uh…," Bella started. Whatever she was going to say, she kept herself from sharing it so I went on with my dog and pony show.

"I know a few things – I could take a look, if you like," I offered. "Just let me drop Alice and Bella at home."

I would gladly go with Newton to look at his car to bide myself more time. I still hadn't figured out exactly what I was going to tell Bella, but it was obvious I was going to have to say something. And knowing Victoria was near there was no way I would let her go anywhere by herself. If she went home, Alice would go with her or she would go to my house where there was a clan of very capable vampires there to protect her.

"Err…thanks," Mike mumbled after he pulled his jaw back up off the floor. "But I have to get to work. Maybe some other time."

Clearly I needed to make myself more believable. Bella seemed to be just as dumbfounded as Newton by my new found interest in car repairs. I knew by the look on her face I would have questions coming my way.

"Absolutely," I said as Mike climbed into his car, still in shock I had taken such an interest in helping him.

Alice was already in the Volvo, waiting on Bella and me. I made my way to my car as fast as I could, pulling Bella along by the hand.

"What was that about?" Bella asked suspiciously as I opened the passenger door for her.

"Just being helpful," I replied.

Then Alice chimed in, as usual and I knew her commentary would keep me from having to give Bella any direct answers right away.

"You're really not that good a mechanic, Edward. Maybe you should have Rosalie take a look at it tonight, just so you look good if Mike decides to let you help, you know. Not that it wouldn't be fun to watch his face if Rosalie showed up to help. But since Rosalie is supposed to be across the country attending college, I guess that's not the best idea. Too bad. Though I suppose, for Mike's car, you'll do. It's only within the finer tunings of a good Italian sports car that you're out of your depth. And speaking of Italy and sports cars that I stole there, you still owe me a yellow Porsche. I don't know that I want to wait for Christmas…."

Jeez. Alice had my head spinning. Not only did she move at vampire speed, she spoke at vampire speed. Fortunately, everything she was saying was directed towards me, but I only heard every other word. I was worried about what to tell Bella and I knew she was waiting to get me alone to make me talk. She looked forward out the window on the way to my house to drop Alice off, but she was focused, make no mistake about that. She had been waiting all day to ask me what Alice saw and my time was running out.

I pulled up to the end of the driveway to my house and stopped the car so Alice could get out. I still had to take Bella home before I could return and talk to her.

It's alright Edward. I don't see Victoria getting near Bella. In fact, I think she might be out of town this weekend.

"See you later," I said, nodding ever so slightly that I got her message and knowing Bella would not be in harm's way made me feel much better. Then she turned and took off running through the woods to our house. I turned the car around and headed for Bella's house.

The short drive back to Charlie's house was a quiet one. I knew why I wasn't speaking. I was in fear of opening the door for her to come running through. I wondered why she was quiet. I knew she had questions.

"Light homework load tonight," I commented.

"Mmmm," she agreed. There was a twinge of sarcasm and anger in her voice. I knew she knew I was avoiding the elephant in the room and was not happy about it.

"Do you suppose I'm allowed inside again?" I asked.

"Charlie didn't throw a fit when you picked me up for school," she retorted, turning on her heels to head for the front door. I obediently climbed out of the Volvo and followed her into the house.

I had been allowed in the house during her visiting hours, but Charlie had not let me step foot inside alone with Bella since he grounded her. I was actually looking forward to some alone time with her. Of course I had that every night after Charlie fell asleep, but I wanted to be able to go in the front door instead of her bedroom window.

She silently made her way up the stairs towards her room. Her actions were loud and clear. She was not happy with my evasiveness. I followed behind her, just as determined to keep my lips sealed as she was to make me spill my secret.

Bella made her way over to her desk and turned on the computer. I kept a safe distance away, sitting on her bed and looking out the window; still searching for a way to deal with what I knew was coming.

Her old desktop computer took it's time chugging to life and she grew impatient as ever with it, tapping her fingers anxiously on the desk. Patience was not one of Bella's virtues. I knew I would never be able to change that, but I also knew how to calm her.

"Are we a little impatient today?" I asked as I quickly and quietly made my way to the desk, standing just beside her, out of her peripheral vision. I could smell her sweet scent. I took in a deep breath that burned my throat. That aspect had not changed, but I had grown stronger in resisting her blood as it continued to sing to me.

I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her to her feet, tight against my chest. A smile began to form on her lips although she tried to hide it from me. I knew what I did to her. I dazzled her and that was the one weapon I had in my cache to fight her with. I brought my other hand up and took her head into my hand, pressing her lips tight against mine, entangling my fingers in her thick brown hair. She reached up and wrapped her arms around my neck, moaning as I kissed her with more abandon that she was used to. I pulled her closer to my chest, the feeling of her soft, warm body against my hard, cold one was still an unbelievable sensation that only intensified every time I held her tight. And this time was different. She was more aggressive than usual, pushing her body more forcefully against mine. Her lips parted and her tongue brushed against my lips, sending a charge throughout my body. For a moment I indulged and kissed her back without hesitation, then I remembered what I could never forget – I was a danger to her and a kiss could lead to her death.

I brought my hands to her face and gently pushed it away from mine, as I always did. It was clear I would always be the one to make sure Bella didn't take unnecessary risks. Resisting her and telling her no about anything was the most difficult thing I ever had to do apart from leaving her. I wanted her more than she could ever know, but I knew my desire, if left unchecked, would take her from me forever.

"Ah, Bella," I sighed.

"I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not," she whispered breathlessly after her herculean effort to hold our kiss. I knew she wasn't sorry and I didn't want her to be. I was sorry I had to say no. I was sorry that she had to make so many sacrifices to be with me.

"And I should feel sorry that you're not sorry, but I don't. Maybe I should go sit on the bed."

She lowered her head and pressed the palms of her hand against my chest. "If you think that's necessary…"

I just grinned and separated myself from her, taking a few steps back, away from the electrical charge that moved between us.

Bella turned and made her way to the computer while I turned to take my place on the bed. She always had emails to catch up on with her mom. Although Renee was thousands of miles away and Bella had been the adult in their relationship, she was still Bella's mom and she needed that motherly love.

"Tell Renee I said hello," I said.

"Sure thing," Bella answered, a little irritated that I had so much insight into her actions. She would argue that she could have been emailing anyone, but I knew better. She would just call her local friends and everyone else was always with her. It was a matter of process of elimination.

I dutifully sat on the bed and watched Bella as she typed, mumbling things out loud as she worked through her thoughts. I knew she missed her mom and I knew if I gave her what she truly desired, immortality that she would feel the pain of watching those you love die, eventually leaving you all alone, part of nothing. How could I rob her of that? How could I take her from her mother when she had been so close to her? I still hoped against hope that Bella would see what a mistake it would be to become a monster like me and change her mind. I had to hope. What other choice did I have?

I watched her stretch her neck by tilting her head from side to side, making her brown, wavy hair sway from one side of her back to the other. I was transfixed, enamored and in awe of this perfect girl. There had never been anything in my 100 years that I wanted as much as I wanted her. Perhaps it was God's way of punishing me for the horrible things I had done over the years, by presenting something as wonderful and perfect as Bella and ensuring I could not have her.

Our kisses were becoming more and more passionate and it was becoming more difficult for me to resist Bella. The kisses lingered on my lips longer each time we came together. As I watched her type her message on the computer I wanted nothing more than to walk over, take her in my arms and kiss her with reckless abandonment. But that is just what it would be, reckless. Still, I could stand near her, take in deep breaths of her sweet strawberry aroma and let it burn. It was my personal pleasure/pain principal in action.

I quietly walked across the room to where she sat and stood directly over her shoulder, watching as her fingers typed furiously at the keyboard, the fingers that ran through my hair when she kissed me as if it were her last kiss. Then the mood was killed when I watched her type a reply to Renee about Jacob Black.

Jacob is fine. I guess. I don't see him much; he spends most of his time with a pack of his friends down at La Push these days.

She didn't need him and I wasn't going to allow her to see him unsupervised. Renee had no idea how much danger Bella was in when she mingled with the dogs. Bella realized it, but would never admit it. She truly thought she could will what she wanted to happen. She wanted Jacob and me to get along, to be friends. That would make her life far less complicated, but I had no intention of ever calling Jacob my friend. I knew that if I offered my hand in friendship right now, he would bite it like the dog he was.

Love you mom,

Bella

P.S. Edward says 'hello'

She hit send, turned off the computer and leaned back in her chair, letting out a deep breath. Just as she noticed I was there, I noticed something familiar in her closet floor, although it was mangled nearly beyond recognition – it was the stereo Emmett had installed in her truck for her birthday.

"What did you do to this?" I asked in abject horror.

Bella made her way to the closet and tossed some laundry on top of the heap of metal and wires that had been a top of the line stereo.

"It didn't want to come out of the dashboard," she explained nonchalantly, sliding the closet door shut.

"So you felt the need to torture it?" I asked her, curious why such hostility was taken out on the inanimate object. She loved Emmett so I couldn't imagine why she would destroy his gift.

"You know how I am with tools," she said. "No pain was inflicted intentionally."

I shook my head in disappointment and laid my hand on her waist, pulling her towards me. "You killed it." I couldn't lie. There was something sexy about Bella destroying something. To me, she was so delicate and awkward. This was a new side of her.

She shrugged and placed the palms of her hand gently against my chest. "Oh, well."

I placed my other hand on her hip and looked down at her bashful expression. "It would hurt their feelings if they saw this," I said. "I guess it's a good thing that you've been on house arrest. I'll have to get another one in place before they notice."

"Thanks," she said looking up at me. "But I don't need a fancy stereo."

That was beside the point. Whether she needed one or not she would have one. It was a gift from my siblings, which she had accepted. I realized that she had probably destroyed it out of anger and frustration over my departure, never thinking she would see them again. She had simply been erasing any memory of me, just as I had asked.

"It's not for your sake that I'm going to replace it," I said simply.

She sighed in defeat and rested her head against my chest, my hands on her back, holding her safely against me. With me, she would always be safe.

"You didn't get much good out of your birthday presents last year," I said with displeasure. When Alice planned that party all we had wanted was for it to be the most memorable birthday Bella had ever had. We got our wish. It had been the most memorable, but for all of the wrong reasons. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the plane tickets my parents had given her, the ones I had hidden in the floorboards when I left. I noticed them laying on her nightstand when we came into the bedroom and thought there was no time like the present to remind her of them. I began to fan myself with the tickets and she looked up at me with angst.

"Do you realize these are about to expire?" I asked, holding them out to Bella as she stepped back away from me, away from the harmless pieces of paper.

She looked at her feet, biting on her bottom lip and took in a deep breath before staring right in my eyes. "No. I'd forgotten all about them, actually."

I kept the conversation upbeat, careful not to remind her of all the bad that had come out of that day. I only wanted her to focus on the here and now, with me. "Well, we have no plans this weekend, as you refuse to go to the prom with me," I smiled. I was playing a hand of guilt and hoped she would take the bait. "Why not celebrate your freedom this way?"

She gasped. "By going to Florida?"

I couldn't imagine why she would object. I knew she missed Renee and Renee missed her. Besides, she deserved a real vacation. Lately, every time she left Forks it had been a life or death situation. And, in truth, if she agreed to leave this time, and she would, it would be saving her life again. I know, thanks to Alice's vision, that Victoria would be in the area and I was using the tickets to get her to safety.

"You did say something about the continental U.S. being allowable," I reminded her.

She glared at me, her lips pursed and twisted to the side. She knew enough about me to know that I had ulterior motives. I always had ulterior motives. But she had no idea what they were and I was not going to tell her. If I hinted that Victoria would be in town, Bella would insist on staying and standing toe to toe with the nomadic red head.

"Well?" I demanded. "Are we going to see Renee or not?"

"Charlie will never allow it," she said matter-of-factly.

"Charlie can't keep you from visiting your mother. She still has primary custody," I reminded her. There was no argument she could offer that I would not have a counter to.

"Nobody has custody of me. I'm an adult," she asserted.

And with that, she was putty in my fingers. I hit it just right. She would go just to prove she could.

I grinned at her, pleased that she hadn't made me work too awfully hard to get her to comply. "Exactly."

She crossed her arms across her chest, chewed on her bottom lip and shifted back and forth on her feet. She was contemplating, contemplating how to tell Charlie no doubt. I knew Bella would be easy to convince. Charlie on the other hand was hardly affected with my dazzling abilities. I carefully watched her expressions and I watched her have an inner dialogue on the pros and cons, playing over her tentative discussion with her father.

She came back over to me, resting her hands on my shoulders. "Not this weekend," she sighed.

"Why not?" I asked. I knew it had to be this weekend, because I knew Victoria would be close and I needed to move Bella to safety without knowing I was intervening.

"I don't want to fight with Charlie. Not so soon after he's forgiven me," she said softly.

I furrowed my eyebrows and moved her hands to my waist. "I think this weekend is perfect," I muttered.

She defiantly shook her head, never looking me directly in the eyes. If she did that, there was no chance I wouldn't get my way. "Another time."

I reached up and took her chin in my hand and raised her face so she had to look at me.

"You aren't the only one who's been trapped in this house, you know," I frowned. When all else failed, I could always play the pity card.

"You can go anywhere you want," she said defensively.

"The outside world holds no interest for me without you," I responded. And I meant it. After thinking she had died and being prepared to finally die myself instead of living in a world where she didn't exist, there was not one place or one experience I had any desire of seeing or experiencing without her closely by my side – Victoria or no Victoria.

She rolled her eyes at me, as she frequently did when she thought I was shoveling a load of horse manure her way.

"I'm serious," I said.

"Let's take the outside world slowly, all right? For example, we could start with a movie in Port Angeles…"

Why did she have to be so stubborn and hard headed at times like this, when I needed her to comply with my request? I gave her the option of saying yes and since she wasn't cooperating, I would have to play hard ball.

I groaned and let go of her chin, stepping away from her in frustration. "Never mind. We'll talk about it later."

"There's nothing left to talk about," she said, taking the tickets from my hand and tossing them down on her desk.

I shrugged. She was right. There was nothing left to talk about on the subject, at least with her.

"Okay, then, new subject," she said. "What did Alice see today at lunch?"

Great. Now I had to deal with that. At least I had given that topic a little thought. I stayed calm, not changing my expression from the previous discussion. I could not give away the fact that I was once again doing what was best for her, despite all of her efforts to the contrary.

"She's been seeing Jasper in a strange place, somewhere in the southwest, she thinks, near his former…family. But he has no conscious intentions to go back." I sighed. "It's got her worried."

"Oh," she said, her tone filled with surprise. "Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"I didn't realize you'd noticed," I lied. "It's probably nothing important, in any case."

Confusion filled her eyes. She was questioning herself. She thought she would catch me in a lie. Instead, I had successfully re-routed her focus.

"Well, we both have homework to do," she said, taking my hand in hers as she walked out of her room. "Let's go downstairs and get some studying done in case Charlie comes home early."

I followed her to the kitchen table, where we sat and worked on our assignments. She studied calculus while I worked on a research paper for European Literature. In truth, I could finish all of my work before I ever stepped foot off the grounds of Forks High School, but I enjoyed spending the time with Bella, so I always saved some to work on with her. If Charlie ever questioned why we spent so much time together, we always had the homework excuse.

After about an hour Bella had reached her level of tolerance for calculus and closed the book, putting it into her back pack. "Okay, I am done for the night," she said. "I should get started on dinner. Perhaps I will make stroganoff," she said, reaching into the refrigerator for some of the ingredients. I had been around long enough to know when she made Grandma Swan's stroganoff she was trying to butter Charlie up. Perhaps she would bring up the Florida trip.

I had grown accustomed to helping Bella prepare dinner since we returned from Italy. Again, any time I could spend with her was precious to me, even if it was while she cooked human food, which was slightly repugnant to me in its raw form.

"I can do this by myself, Edward," Bella laughed, bumping me with her hip as she laid the raw strips of beef in the skillet. "I really don't mind."

"No, no, no," I said, dropping a handful of sliced mushrooms into a bowl. "I enjoy this."

"Edward, you hate human food and I know the smell of it cooking makes you queasy."

It was true. I did find it repulsive, but the benefit of spending quality time with her made up for that side effect.

"But I love working side by side with you," I said, leaning over and placing a kiss on top of her head.

Just as I said that, the front door of the Swan house opened and I could hear the jingling of Charlie's utility belt.

"Bells," he bellowed. "You home?"

"In the kitchen dad," she yelled back.

Charlie dropped his belt on the table in the entrance way and walked into the kitchen.

"Hey Edward," he said uncharacteristically cheerful.

"Hello, Charlie," I greeted him back, washing my hands in the sink.

"Something smells great," he said, kissing Bella on the back of her head.

"I'm making Gran's stroganoff," she said, winking at me.

"Well, if you two kids will excuse me, I am going to change my clothes before dinner," he said as he headed up the stairs to his bedroom.

By the time he returned I found my seat on the living room couch and had tuned the television on to a Mariners game. Bella wasn't the only one able to suck up.

As usual, I passed on dinner and Charlie finished off three helpings of the stroganoff without questioning my persistent lack of appetite and absence from the dinner table.

"That was great, Bells," he said, rubbing his stomach in satisfaction as Bella took his plate to the sink.

"I'm glad you liked it," she said. "How was work?"

"Sort of slow. Well, dead slow really," he said, turning his attention to the television. "Mark and I played cards for a good part of the afternoon," he grinned. "I won, nineteen hands to seven. And then I was on the phone with Billy for a while."

Bella reached into the fridge and pulled out a Vitamin R for Charlie, handing it to him as she asked about Jacob's dad. "How is he?" She tried to act as though it didn't matter to her, that it was just a casual conversation question, but I knew better.

"Good, good. His joints are bothering him a little," Charlie said, popping the tab on his beer.

Ask about Jacob.

"Oh. That's too bad," Bella said non-chalantly, picking her own plate up and taking it to the sink.

"Yeah," Charlie said, looking over at Bella. "He invited us down to visit this weekend. He was thinking of having the Clearwaters and the Uleys over too. Sort of a playoff party…"

"Huh," Bella sputtered. I knew Charlie wanted her to ask about Jake and he was opening that door for her. She was, as had become usual, riding the fence, not wanting to upset me, but wanting to see her best friend. There wasn't much in the world I would deny Bella, but allowing her to go the reservation was out of the question.

After an awkward silence, Charlie got up and made his way to living room where he kicked back in his recliner. I got up and made my way into the kitchen where I picked up a dishtowel to dry the dishes she washed. More quality time.

I'll drop more hints when Edward leaves. I know she probably wants to see Jake as much as he wants to see her.

I cleared my throat as a bit of forewarning for Bella. "Charlie," I started.

"Yeah?" he asked, never taking his eyes off the game.

"Did Bella ever tell you that my parents gave her airplane tickets on her last birthday, so that she could visit Renee?"

Bella shot me a death stare and dropped the plate she was scrubbing. It hit the floor, splattering suds all over each of us before I had a chance to catch it. I was distracted by Bella's reaction, knowing she was not appreciative of my interference in the matter. But the fact that she didn't give in to me earlier made me take this route.

"Bella?" Charlie asked, surprised. Clearly, he hadn't been informed of the tickets. He walked back into the kitchen.

"Yeah, they did," she said as she bent over to pick the plate up, locking her eyes with mine as she put it back in the soapy water.

"Seriously?" I asked, feigning innocence.

"No, she never mentioned it," Charlie said to me, gritting his teeth the entire time.

"Hmmm," I muttered, drying the plate she had just re-washed. I kept my eyes focused on the sink, not Bella or Charlie. It was easier for me that way.

"Was there a reason you brought it up?" Charlie asked with a hint of disdain.

I shrugged my shoulders, trying to pretend it wasn't a big deal. If I acknowledged it further, Bella would know for certain I was up to something. "They're about to expire. I think it might hurt Esme's feelings if Bella doesn't use her gift. Not that she'd say anything."

I was so determined to get her to Florida for the weekend I would even bring my mother into the fight. Charlie respected both of my parents and adored Alice. He might even like Rosalie, Emmett and Jasper if he spent more time with them. I, however, was his enemy. I was the one that wanted to take away what he loved the most, Bella. No matter what I did, I would always be his adversary.

Bella continued to scrub dishes, glaring at me out of the corner of her eye.

Charlie took a swig of his beer and let out a deep sigh. "It's probably a good idea for you to visit your mom, Bella. She'd love that. I'm surprised you didn't say anything about this, though."

"I forgot," she said, looking over her shoulder at her dad.

He frowned and looked at her with disbelief. "You forgot that someone gave you plane tickets?"

"Mmm," she murmured, focusing once again on the dishes.

"I noticed that you said they're about to expire, Edward," Charlie directed at me. "How many tickets did your parents give her?"

I opened the cabinet door and put the clean plate up and turned to her father. "Just one for her…and one for me." I knew that was the deal breaker. I wasn't sure if he would be so amiable once he knew I was part of the deal.

Bella dropped another plate, this time in the sink. I turned away from Charlie and back at Bella, whose cheeks were flushed red with fury.

"That's out of the question!" Charlie huffed. His cheeks were the same shade of red as Bella's though I figured his had more to do with a rise in his blood pressure.

"Why?" I asked innocently. I knew when I brought the subject up that one or both of them was likely to have an adverse reaction to it, but I had to try. I had to get Bella out of town. "You just said it was a good idea for her to see her mother."

Charlie ignored me and focused solely on Bella. "You're not going anywhere with him, young lady!" he yelled.

Bella dropped the sponge she was using in the sink and spun around on the balls of her feet to face her father like David facing Goliath. I had no doubt I would pay dearly for taking this avenue to reach my destination.

"I'm not a child, Dad," Bella scolded, pointing her finger at him just as he had her. "And I'm not grounded anymore, remember?"

This Cullen boy has a lot of nerve. I let him in my house against my better judgment. Now he expects me to allow him to fly to the other side of the country with Bella?

"Oh yes, you are," he shot back. "Starting now."

Neither one of the Swans was the type to back down and this was turning into an all out grudge match.

"For what?" she yelled. I reached my hand out, brushing her fingers with my own, in hopes of calming her. She just stepped one foot closer to Charlie, just out of my reach.

"Because I said so."

Really? He used that line? He was truly desperate to win this argument.

"Do I need to remind you that I'm a legal adult, Charlie?" she asked.

"This is my house – you follow my rules!"

At that moment, I thought perhaps I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. I also realized at that moment, that this was bigger than me. It was a battle of wills between father and daughter. I was merely an instigator and guilty by-stander.

She glared at Charlie and stood her ground. "If that's how you want it. Do you want me to move out tonight? Or can I have a few days to pack?"

She was ruthless. She had been angry at me before, but I had never seen her this fired up about anything.

I kept my eyes forward, on the sink, although I had no dishes to dry. When she threw the sponge down and went to face off with her dad, it left me without a job to do, but I knew better than to jump in this fight because nothing good could come of that.

"I'll do my time without complaining when I've done something wrong, Dad, but I'm not going to put up with your prejudices."

I scrunched my eyes. Prejudices? Was Charlie anti vampire? How much had Bella told him?

He was stunned that she had called him out and stammered without completing a single intelligible sentence. He had been bested by an 18 year-old girl.

She stepped another step closer to him, literally and figuratively backing him into a wall.

"Now, I know that you know that I have every right to see Mom for the weekend. You can't honestly tell me you'd object to the plan if I was going with Alice or Angela."

"Girls," he grunted. That was the only argument he had. Bella had him at the tip of the sword.

"Would it bother you if I took Jacob?" she asked, hands on her hips.

I clenched my teeth at the sound of his name. I knew Bella was using it to make a point to her dad, but it hit me with like a ton of bricks. I gulped and grabbed a plate to wash, wishing I was anywhere other than that kitchen at that moment.

No. I trust Jacob. Jacob would never put you in danger.

Charlie took a few deep breaths to calm himself before answering. "Yes. That would bother me."

"You're a rotten liar, Dad."

"Bella—."

"It's not like I'm headed off to Vegas to be a showgirl or anything," she snapped. "I'm going to see Mom. She's just as much my parental authority as you are."

Charlie grunted and pursed his lips.

"Are you implying something about Mom's ability to look after me?"

As soon as she said those words I could almost hear the wind come out of Charlie's sails. Theirs was a battle of wills and it sure seemed Bella was winning.

"You'd better hope I don't mention this to her," Bella said smugly.

"You'd better not," Charlie warned her. "I'm not happy about this, Bella."

"There's no reason for you to be upset," she reminded him.

After a few moments of awkward silence Bella turned back to the sink and pulled the plug out of the drain, releasing the soapy water. "So my homework is done, your dinner is done, the dishes are done, and I'm not grounded. I'm going out. I'll be back before ten thirty."

"Where are you going?" he asked, still trying to muster some semblance of authority.

"I'm not sure," she admitted. Wherever she planned on going I knew it was somewhere to give me a piece of her mind for setting off the argument between her and Charlie. "I'll keep it within a ten mile radius, though. Okay?"

Charlie grunted, took a swig of beer and stalked back to the living room.

"We're going out?" I whispered, full of hopefulness.

"Yes," she said staring me down, taking the towel from my hands and tossing it into the dish rack. "I think I would like to speak to you alone."

I followed her out the door and to my Volvo. I felt as defeated as Charlie because I knew she was angry at me for bringing up the tickets to her father, but I had to do what I had to do to get her out of town and I would face my consequences so she wouldn't have to face Victoria.

"What was that?" she snapped as I put the key in the ignition.

"I know you want to see your mother, Bella – you've been talking about her in your sleep. Worrying actually," I revealed to her.

"I have?" she asked, her mood softening.

I nodded and felt a renewed sense of courage. "But, clearly, you were too much of a coward to deal with Charlie, so I interceded on your behalf."

"Interceded? You threw me to the sharks!" she yelled.

I rolled my eyes, thinking she was being a bit dramatic. Perhaps she had spent too much time with Jessica while I was gone. "I don't think you were in any danger."

"I told you I didn't want to fight with Charlie."

"Nobody said that you had to."

If I kept turning every point and accusation she made to me right back on her she would grow tired of this argument and drop it.

"I can't help myself when he gets all bossy like that – my natural teenage instincts over-power me."

I chuckled. She was truly a handful. "Well, that's not my fault."

I kept my eyes on the road, purposely avoiding eye contact with her. She knew me well enough she might see right through me and know I had ulterior motives.

"Does this sudden urge to see Florida have anything to do with the party at Billy's place?"

I moved my jaw back and forth, biting my tongue. It was true I wanted her nowhere near Jacob and his pack, but keeping her from the party was a bonus of the trip, not the focus of it.

"Nothing at all," I said. "It wouldn't matter if you were here or on the other side of the world, you still wouldn't be going."

That was one thing Bella needed to understand, that when I told her to stay away from Jacob, or anyone for that matter, I knew what was best for her and only had her best interests at heart.

She crossed her arms across her chest and let out a deep breath. I could tell she was biting her tongue, trying not to get into another fight.

"So what do you want to do tonight?" I asked.

"Can we go to your house? I haven't seen Esme in so long." Since she had been under house arrest, Bella had only seen Alice and me at school and at home. My other siblings and my dad hadn't seen her since we stepped off the plane from Italy. I was sure they wanted to see her as well.

I smiled, pleased that she wanted to go to my house. "She'll like that. Especially when she hears what we're doing this weekend."

She groaned in defeat and I sped up, heading to the white house in the woods that I had missed so much while I was gone. It was home and would feel even more so with Bella there.

"Bella," Esme said, greeting us at the door, her arms open to hug both of us. "It is so good to see you. How are you dear?"

Bella blushed, overwhelmed with the attention she always had heaped on her from my mother.

"I'm good," she said. "I'm not grounded anymore so I wanted to come and see you all. I have missed you so much."

"As have we," Carlisle said, making his way down the steps from his office.

"Bella!" Alice exclaimed, sliding down the stair-well to the foyer. Jasper stood at the top of the stairs, uncertain of what to do.

Can I say hello, Edward? I want her to feel safe here again.

I nodded at my brother and he slowly made his way down the stairs, moving in to hug Bella when Alice released her.

"I sure have missed you Bella," Jasper said. "I'm glad Charlie cut you some slack so you could come hang out with us again."

Bella smiled and opened her arms to Jasper for a second hug.

"I have missed you too, Jasper. I sure could have used you and your calming powers earlier," she said.

"Why is that?" He asked in confusion.

Bella shot me a dirty look then turned to smile at my family. "Oh nothing. You know how Edward is when he wants to get his way."

"Edward, what did you do?" Esme asked.

"Don't worry mom," I said, happier to call her that than I had ever been before leaving Forks months ago. I valued my family more now, more than ever before. "I merely mentioned to Charlie that the tickets you and Carlisle gave to Bella for her birthday were about to expire."

"And?" Alice asked, grinning from ear to ear. She didn't have to ask. She already knew how it ended.

"And Bella and I are going to Florida this weekend to visit Renee," I said smugly, wrapping my arm around Bella's waist, pulling her close to me.

Esme and Carlisle each clapped their hands together and smiled. They were clearly pleased.

"Your mother will be so happy to see you, dear," Esme said.

After that, I sat down with Alice to play a game of chess before Bella and Jasper faced off. Although Alice and I only made a couple of moves in our match, each of us predicting or seeing the other's move, it seemed to take forever. Jasper of course won the match against Bella, with over a century more experience than my human. It was just a nice, relaxing evening at my house, with my family. It was a nice change of scenery for all of us.

After the hugs goodbye, I took Bella home, making sure she didn't push Charlie any further over the edge by missing her new curfew.

I pulled up in front of the house and put the car in park. Bella looked towards the house, where the lights were still on, Charlie waiting anxiously for her to return no doubt.

You'd better not come inside," she suggested. "It will only make things worse."

I am so not ready for this discussion. It's times like this I wish her mother were around.

"His thoughts are relatively calm," I teased. I knew what was coming and I was not going to say a word, knowing she would go running for the hills if she had any idea what awaited her on the other side of the door.

"I'll see you later," she muttered.

I laughed and kissed the top of her head. "I'll be back when Charlie's snoring."

She quickly kissed my lips and shut the door of the Volvo behind her as she headed into the house, for a discussion she would not soon forget. I felt a twinge of guilt for not warning her, but knew it was a human experience she needed to have. Who was I to deprive her of the sex talk with her father?

I went back to house to bide my time until I could return to Bella's bedroom after Charlie fell asleep.

Everyone in the house was pre-occupied doing their own things so I went to my room and opened the journal that was lying on my desk.

November 12, 1936

Here we are in Hoquiam, Washington. Esme has found a house for us on Gray's Harbor and it is a nice change from the land-locked Midwest that we had all called home since Carlisle had changed me nearly twenty years ago. Our family has grown since then, in good ways and not so good ways. Esme and Carlisle married and Rosalie joined our family three years ago. She was supposed to be my mate, but I never saw her that way. I never felt the way for her that Carlisle and Esme seemed to feel for each other. I don't believe she felt that way for me either. She was too wrapped up in herself. But she had become more tolerable since she found Emmett last year, bringing him to Carlisle after a bear had left him facing a certain death. Emmett was very different than me, preferring to toss around a football or knock baseballs out of the local park. But he is a good brother. I am grateful because he softened Rosalie, offering her the love and companionship I could never give her. He adores her; he dotes on her in fact.

Living near the water is such a welcome change for me. I have never seen a place more beautiful than the Pacific Northwest. The towering pine trees that grow everywhere and the constant rain that allows us to spend more time outdoors. I lie in my room at night, with my window open, smelling the salty air from the bay and listening to the ship's horns as they came in and out of port. I spend a lot of my time with my books, taking them off into the woods where I read poetry and stories of mythological creatures, realizing that is what we were, characters in a book.

We have kept our hunting to the woods near our home but we know we have to venture further out so we don't decimate the deer population where we live.

Now I have a mother and a father, a brother and a sister. Still, something is missing in my life. I am just unsure of exactly what that is.

EC

I was pulled back into the present time by my phone vibrating off the desk where I had laid it..

"Edward?" Alice asked as I opened the phone.

I couldn't imagine why she had to call me, why she couldn't wait until she and Jasper returned from their short hunting trip.

"What's up little sister?" I asked.

"It's Bella," she said softly and I immediately panicked.

"What's wrong, Alice?" I demanded.

"I can't see her. I can't see what she is doing and I thought you should know."

I snapped the phone shut and immediately ran from the house and jumped into the Volvo, speeding to her house. When I saw her truck in the driveway I had a feeling she was going to attempt to go to see Jacob Black. I was without scruples when it came to protecting Bella from herself and I took the distributor cap out of the engine, to ensure she would be going nowhere behind my back. I returned to my car and watched the house from just around the corner, out of her view if she was looking.

Sure enough, Bella came out of the house and got into her truck. And just as I had arranged, the truck wouldn't start.

While she was trying to figure out why her truck wouldn't turn over, I quickly climbed into the cab, holding the distributor cap in my hands, looking at her with hurt and disappointment.

She jumped when she saw me suddenly out of the corner of her eye, stunned at my presence.

"Alice called," I murmured.

Realization came across her face. She had forgotten about my little sister's gift and how it worked to keep me constantly informed on Bella's whereabouts.

"She got nervous when your future rather abruptly disappeared five minutes ago."

She stared at me, very much like a deer caught in the headlights.

"Because she can't see the wolves, you know," I explained. "Had you forgotten that? When you decide to mingle your fate with theirs, you disappear, too. You couldn't know that part, I realize that. But can you understand why that might make me a little…anxious? Alice saw you disappear, and she couldn't even tell if you'd come home or not. Your future got lost, just like theirs.

"We're not sure why this is," I explained. "Some natural defense they're born with?" I spoke slowly and deliberately, twirling the distributor cap in my fingers. I was very disappointed that she would go behind my back like she had to see Jacob. I was disappointed that she didn't seem to understand my demand that she stay away from the reservation was for the best, for her safety. How could I protect her if none of us could see her? "That doesn't seem entirely likely, since I haven't had any trouble reading their thoughts. The Blacks' at least. Carlisle theorizes that it's because their lives are so ruled by their transformations. It's more an involuntary reaction than a decision. Utterly unpredictable and it changes everything about them. In that instant when they shift from one form to the other, they don't really even exist. The future can't hold them…"

She listened to me in utter silence.

"I'll put your car back together in time for school, in case you'd like to drive yourself," I said.

She pulled the keys from the ignition, lips pursed together in anger that I had hampered her efforts to see Jacob Black.

"Shut your window if you want me to stay away tonight. I'll understand," I muttered as she climbed out of the truck and slammed the door.

I took the distributor cap with me, back to my car and watched her window. She came to it and stood for a moment with her hands on the frame before she slammed it shut. I hung my head, knowing I had done a lot tonight to make her angry at me. Perhaps she needed a breather from me for one night. Regardless, I would be nearby, never leaving her out of sight.

Then, before I left to take the car back to my house and return on foot to the woods nearby her house, she once again appeared in the window, slowly raising it.

I smiled, hoping the open window meant she had forgiven me.