I'm so sorry for not responding to reviews for the last chapter. I could use the excuse that the first couple of times I tried FFN wouldn't let me (which is the truth), but that doesn't excuse the fact that I never went back later and corrected the matter. I promise to try and do better this time.

ETA: Oops. Realized that I forgot to add a recap. Here goes: Edward kidnaps Bella, ends up giving her the choice between dying now or dying later, and they spend the night having really hot sex. 3 days later she wakes up as a vampire, they do it some more, then he takes her to a meadow where he has her first meal waiting. She eats 4 people, then flips her shit when she realizes what she did. She decides to kill herself, since she can't bear to kill any more people, and Edward throws a huge temper tantrum before showing her how to hunt animals. He says he is going to take her to meet his family, then they go back to the house and have sex some more. He finally tells her why he changed her instead of killing her, and she admits that she wouldn't change things if she could. They find out that the Cullens are in Alaska, and Edward leaves Bella alone in the house overnight while he goes to meet somebody about creating a new identity for her (because you need ID to cross the borders going in and out of the US). On their way to Alaska, Edward finds some interesting ways to keep Bella's bloodlust in check, but only after she succeeds in chewing on him a little bit. Their arrival takes the Cullen's by surprise, because apparently Bella screws with Alice's ability to see a future that involves her. During the confrontation, it comes out that all of the Cullen's are vegetarians, and Bella realizes that Edward has been keeping the truth from her from the very beginning. She's pissed and rips him a new one before breaking down and begging him not to leave her.

I don't own it.

Edward was talking to me.

Like, actually talking. That thing that happens when one person asks a question and the other person answers it before asking one of their own? Yeah, we were doing that.

"Do you remember your favorite color?" He seemed to be fascinated with my life as a human, trying to get as many details as possible. Apparently, it was unusual for me to remember so much of my previous life, and there was no telling how long it would last before everything started fading away. Personally, I didn't understand why he even cared; I wasn't that girl any longer, so what did it matter what my favorite flower had been, or what movies I had liked or hated, or what kind of books I liked to read? But I did my best to answer, digging through my distant and faded memories for the pieces he was searching for.

"I'm not sure I had one. Brown I guess, if I had to pick something."

"Brown?" I could practically hear him raising that skeptical eyebrow.

"Sure. What's wrong with brown?"

"Nothing. I just expected something…brighter."

"Brown is a perfectly good color. I miss brown. Back home it was everywhere you looked—dirt, rocks, tree trunks. It was natural. Simple. Up in Washington, everything that's supposed to be brown is all covered up with squishy green stuff. So before you ask what my least favorite color was, I'll just go ahead and say right now that it was probably green."

I felt a slight vibration against my back. "Are you laughing at me?"

"Yes." He was completely unapologetic, and I briefly considered trying to drag forth some little bit of righteous indignation. But I was so comfortable and relaxed as I leaned there, with my back pressed to his front and his arms wrapped around my waist, that I just couldn't be bothered.

"Feeling like that, Forks must have been a difficult place for you to live."

At that I did react, twisting around just enough to shoot him a glare. "Oh, no you don't! You got your answer, now it's my turn."

"Okay, Okay!" He threw up his hands in surrender, flashing that lopsided grin that I had only seen a handful of times, before once again closing his arms back around me. "Go ahead."

"Tell me about Alice."

"You're going to have to be a bit more specific. What about her do you want to know?"

"Well, for starters, you can explain that little back and forth about visitors and phones and 1964."

"You don't ask for much, do you?"

I let my silence speak for itself. He wasn't getting out of this one.

With a sigh, he settled me against him once more.

"I told you that Alice sees things. Well, soon after she was changed, she saw Carlisle's family, and that she was going to be a part of it. It took her a few decades to find them; she and Jasper showed up in the 1950's. When another decade had gone by and I hadn't made an appearance yet, she got impatient. She decided to take matters into her own hands and hunt me down."

"She already knew about you?"

"Isn't that another question?"

"Noooo, it's just…clarifying a point from my first question."

He huffed a bit, but it was easy to tell that there was no actual annoyance in it. "The best we can figure, Alice was changed sometime in the early 1920's. I didn't leave until 10 years or so after that, so she had about a decade's worth of visions of me with the family. She already considered herself my sister before we ever met."

So Edward was changed in 1918, and left the rest of the family sometime in the early 1930's. I mentally filed the subject away as something that I definitely wanted to explore further another time, and turned my attention back to the subject of Alice. "So, 1964?"

"I came back from hunting one night to find her sitting on the living room couch. She introduced herself, called me by name, seemed to know everything about me, and asked me when I was coming home."

I snorted. "Really?"

"Really." He nodded.

"That would have been…wow…kind of freaky. I take it that wasn't the only time she showed up out of the blue?"

Edward growled into my hair. "You certainly do like to push, don't you?"

"Hey!" I squirmed as his breath tickled the back of my neck. "It's still part of the original question! You know, visitors and phones?"

"Pushing. Always pushing." But it was said with what I was sure was a smirk. "No, it wasn't the only time. She's popped up now and then over the years, when she decides it's been too long since I've come around."

"Still, it must be nice to know that there are people out there who care about you, and miss you when you're not around."

I didn't pursue it when he asked his next question without giving me an answer, falling instead back into an easy back and forth for a few minutes before once again attempting to dig a little deeper.

"Why does Rosalie hate me?" She hadn't been overtly hostile since that first meeting, but otherwise made no attempt to disguise her animosity. Usually she just avoided being around me, for which I was grateful. Avoidance was better than the sneers and snide comments she threw my way when we did happen to end up in the same vicinity.

"She doesn't hate you."

I made a disbelieving sound. Hate, loathe, strongly dislike…it all boiled down to the same thing.

"I mean it. Rosalie is much too self-involved to expend that kind of effort on anyone or anything that doesn't directly affect her."

"But she always—"

"I know. But trust me when I say that it has nothing to do with you personally."

"It sure feels personal," I grumbled.

"I didn't say it wasn't personal, just that it's nothing to do with you."


Suddenly I was picked up and swung around, my legs moving to straddle his as I was set back down. I waited for him to say something, but no words seemed to be forthcoming. I couldn't help the disappointment that had my shoulders drooping, my hands falling down from where they had settled on his chest. This reemergence of the evasions and silences that I thought had been left behind came as a harsh blow. Why? What was the point of secrecy now? Hadn't I already learned the worst?

"Why won't you tell me?" My voice was soft, and I couldn't seem to make myself look up.

"Why is it so important to you?"

"Because…you say it doesn't have anything to do with me, but it does." I felt the air move as he pulled in a breath, and shook my head before he had a chance to speak. "Maybe I'm not the cause, but it does affect me. I'm walking such a thin line here, and what if she's the one who pushes it over the edge? I deserve to know why."

"What are you talking about? What does Rose have to do with anything?"

"I'm talking about the fact that just me being here is causing all sorts of problems. Jasper doesn't like having a newborn around; it makes him nervous, which puts everyone on edge. I'm messing up Alice's visions, which puts everybody at unnecessary risk. Emmett's the only one who seems to actually like me, but there's no way he's going to go against his own wife if it comes down to it." I didn't mention Tanya's polite distance, or my suspicions about its cause. She and her sisters would be staying here when the Cullens departed for their new home, so whatever she thought of the situation really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

"You're being ridiculous. It's not as if there's going to be some sort of vote on whether or not you can stay."

"You don't know that. What if when Carlisle and Esme get here tomorrow they're as unhappy at having me dumped on them as the rest of the family?"

"That's not going to happen."

"How do you know? You said that I had nothing to worry about! 'They are going to positively adore you,' you said. So forgive me if I'm showing a little doubt as to your fortune telling abilities!" Suddenly struck by the ridiculousness of having a disagreement with someone while perched on their lap, I tried to rise to my feet, only to be stopped by Edward's hands wrapping around my arms and pulling me back down.

"Listen to me, you exasperating girl. You are worrying over nothing. Nobody is going to send you away. Nobody wants you gone. Not Jasper—he knows better than anyone the difficulty of trying to adhere to this way of life. As long as you aren't a direct threat to Alice, he'll do whatever he can to keep you safe."

I opened my mouth to argue the point that I was a threat to Alice, inasmuch as I seemed to be taking away her ability to see danger coming, only to be silenced by a harsh look before a single syllable could escape.

"As for Alice, I'm not certain she'd let you leave if you tried. Not until she's figured out a way to see past whatever block you seem to be putting up, at least." That was a point which I didn't have much choice but to concede. Although to say that she was friendly would be a definite stretch, there was no denying that Alice had thawed considerably since our first meeting. Or that she was completely fascinated by my ability to somehow keep everybody locked out, and equally determined to find some way around it.

Edward moved on to telling me how Carlisle and Esme would never send away anybody who needed their help, but by this point I had pretty much lost interest in the subject. The way his lips moved as he spoke, the fire in his eyes and the passion in his voice as he tried to make his point, the way his hands felt on the bare skin of my arms and the rest of him felt between my legs, all had my mind wandering in a much more pleasant direction.

Reaching forward, I placed one finger against his lips, stopping his flow of words mid-sentence.


He blinked once, and then again. "What?"

"Okay. I believe you. I'm overreacting, and everything's going to be fine. Are we done now?" I started to lean forward, only to find myself flat on my back with his knees still firmly pressed between my legs, his body looming closely over my own.

"We're done," his face was mere inches above mine, voice a low growl rumbling up from his chest, "When I say we're done." But I could see the corner of his mouth trying not to pull up, the sparkle that didn't quite manage to hide behind that cold gaze. And as much as I wanted to play the game, to give him his struggle and eventual conquest, I couldn't help the smile that felt like it wanted to split my face in half. The giggle I managed to suppress, but there was no keeping that smile inside.

Of the many lessons I had learned over the past weeks, the one that I had most taken to heart was that happiness was a fleeting and precious thing, and was to be taken and appreciated wherever it was found. Doubts and fears and insecurities would always be there, waiting in the wings for their chance to reemerge at the nearest opportunity, but it was okay to push them aside and just live in the moment every once in a while.

And in this moment right now, with my arms full of beautiful boy who was looking at me with eyes that tried to be hard but were so very soft, and a mouth that wanted to smile, and kiss, and whisper sweet things against my lips…across my skin…into my ear…I was purely full of joy.

Joy that not even Edward himself could dismiss as he went stiff and still above me, staring down at me with some strange expression I couldn't place. Still smiling up at him, I let my hands slip behind his head, tracing the back of his neck lightly as I exerted gentle pressure to try and bring his lips to mine.

But rather than coming down to meet me, he instead brought one hand up to my face, a single fingertip pressing against the center of my bottom lip before tracing it up to the corner, feather-light touch in sharp contrast to the intensity of…whatever it was that I couldn't quite decipher on his face, in his eyes.

And even though it wasn't the same look, something about his actions and demeanor brought me back to the day before yesterday, when he looked and touched and tried so hard to prepare for goodbye.

It wasn't the same, but my body tensed underneath him in reaction to the memory, fingers tightening around his neck as if to keep him held hostage.

It wasn't the same, but my smile disappeared—flash frozen for half an instant before it fractured, the splintered remnants blown away in the wind that never seemed to completely die away. Along with it went…whatever that had been…and as I finally managed to pull him down into me I told myself that I was glad to see it go. And I was. I was.

But somewhere deep inside was this feeling that I had missed something. Like when you're driving down the road and you catch a glimpse of somebody as they pass in the opposite direction. Something about them strikes you as familiar, and in the brief seconds before they pass out of sight your brain frantically shuffles through all the faces stored in its vaults, trying to place—and then they're gone, behind you and out of your life, and the moment has passed. But even as you forget about it and move on with your day, something nags at the back of your mind. Some gut feeling that you should have known that face, and that if you had only had a bit more time to think about it…

Tongues twined and stroked, and soon enough kisses led to where kisses always lead. But even as clothing was shed and discarded, and I arched and moaned under the hands that touched and played with me, something in the back of my mind still kept trying to put together that missed connection. Something that said I should have looked harder, instead of reacting out of blind emotion.

But our kind is easily distracted, and the feeling of lean hips pressing in hard between my thighs sent all other thoughts spiraling out of my head. By the time he pushed his way inside, the focus of my universe had narrowed down to nothing but the two of us, the writhing and thrashing of our bodies digging us farther and farther down into the hard-packed snow that was the closest thing we had to a bed.

The rest of the night passed in similar fashion, with the slip and slide of skin and hands and mouths, occasionally interspersed with the scattered remains of conversations started and abruptly abandoned.

There was no rising sun to signal the beginning of a new day; instead, the morning announced itself with an interruption of a different kind. I should have expected it, since the day before had started exactly the same way; yet it was still something of a shock when Edward stilled above me, hands tightening around my hips as his face twisted in irritation.

"Edwa—" I broke off with a gasp as he suddenly sat back on his heels, pulling on me until my ass was resting on his thighs, only my shoulders and head still touching the ground. Gripping hard around my thigh with one hand, he reached the other out toward my arm, taking hold of my wrist and bringing my own hand down to just above where we were joined. Once he had it where he wanted it, he let go and grabbed on just below my waist, digging his fingers in to hold me steady as his hips picked up speed and force.

"Oh!" Letting my head fall back, I felt my hand slip away from where he had placed it, fingers digging deeply into the snow that offered no resistance. I felt the familiar tingling numbness start to work its way through my limbs, my legs falling open and boneless around his hips as he quickened his pace even more.

"No." Once again he grabbed for my hand, this time slapping it down hard enough to bring a sharp yelp. "Touch yourself." I jerked my head up, eyes flying back open to find him staring down at me with intense concentration. Touch myself? Dazedly, I felt my head shake back and forth. I couldn't…could I? With him right there? Watching?

Narrowing his eyes, he yanked me even harder into him, fingers almost hurting as they dug in roughly. "We don't have much time, and I'm not stopping until you come. So unless you want to do it in front of an audience, I suggest you make it fast."

What? Comprehension was slow, my mind refusing at first to interpret his words. Time? Audience? What was he…?

When realization hit, it came with the sudden force of a hammer blow. It was morning; time to make our way back to the little row of houses. And just like yesterday, we were late. And just like yesterday, someone was coming to collect us.

I was sitting on Edward's lap, my legs wrapped around his back and arms draped over his shoulders, fingers twining through his hair as his lips pressed softly underneath my jaw. "Stop trying to distract me! It won't work, Edward. I'm on to you." I could hear the laughter in my own voice, so it wasn't surprising at all that he didn't take me seriously.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

I snorted. "Seriously? Hanes and Playtex? Underwear in a package I could maybe understand, but you bought me a bra in a box, Edward. A box. Don't you think—" I broke off when he stiffened underneath me, going completely still for an instant before quickly lifting me off of him and making a grab for the nearest piece of clothing.

"Get dressed." He tossed the bra in question toward me before quickly stepping into his pants.

"What are—"

"We have less than ten seconds before Emmett comes over that hill. Get dressed."

Panic and something else seized hold of me, causing every muscle in my body to tighten reflexively. An unnamable little sound escaped from between his clenched teeth at the same time that my hips twisted up, seeking out a repeat of the burst of sensation that the unexpected press of my fingers had caused.

"Yes. Like that. Again. Do it again." His words came out in soft grunts, his eyes having left mine to focus in on my hand lying there just below my stomach. Hesitantly, I moved my fingers again, biting back a cry as my hips once more bucked up into them. It was easier, somehow, with his gaze not fixed on mine. I could close my eyes, hold myself in the safety of darkness while my fingers slipped across slick flesh, search for that long-forgotten feeling of being sixteen and curious, alone under the covers with the bedroom door locked while I searched out the secrets locked inside my own body.

Whispers and giggles overheard in passing; secretive looks and blushing confessions traded across the library table as I sit nearby, unnoticed and unremarked. A gaggle of awestruck girls gathered around to hear the tale and yes, he used his fingers, and oh it was awkward, and it wasn't as good as I can do it myself.

Mulling it over for days, try to push it away but still it comes back, again and again. That dark curiosity, until I can't deal with it any longer. I have to know.

Home alone. Renee with Phil for the evening, and I know it will be hours and hours, but still I turn the lock on my bedroom door, keep my pajamas on until I'm safely cocooned in bed, blanket pulled completely over my head. My heart thrumming so loud as I pull my sweats off, and I can't go any farther. I feel so exposed already, the anticipation bringing a shiver of…excitement? Trepidation? I don't know, but I know I can't be bare.

I work around what's left, hands sliding under my ratty old t-shirt to smooth up my stomach, run over the soft curves of my breasts. But it feels off, wrong, and I pull them back out. Lie there for a while, teeth worrying my lip as I debate. In the end it's curiosity more than anything else that sends one hand slipping down, hesitating at the waistband of my underwear before finally pushing under it.

It feels strange at first, familiar flesh alien and different, not necessarily in a bad way…but not in a good one either. My movements become harder, rougher, disappointment and relief strange companions as I come to the realization that this is just one more way that I don't fit in. There are no tingles, no butterflies, no stomach-dropping rush. Nothing.

It's as I go to yank my hand out of my panties in frustration that something happens, a rough drag across sensitive nerves, and I jump in reaction. I don't know if it was good or bad…but it was something. Hesitantly I reach for it again, brush fingertip down—and wince at the rasp of rough skin. Ow.

I'm about to give up, to admit defeat and crawl back out from my cave, when an errant thought stops me. I hardly dare…but something stubborn in me refuses to give up when I've already come so far. I may not ever be this brave again.

Fingers pulled out of their newfound dark secret, pressed against the blockade of tightly pursed lips for a moment before slipping inside. Breath held fast as once again they travel southward, knowing exactly where to go this time. Know to be soft, and gentle, and…oh. Oh. It feels…I'm not …I think it's good. Good, but at the same time not. It's almost too much, nearly painful, and I let my fingers slip down, rest for a moment while I try and decide if I want to keep going.

But all those places that felt like nothing before suddenly feel like something. Something good.

So I stroke, and slide, and press. Eventually let my touch wander back up to that first spot, and this time I don't need my mouth. It's no less than before, so intense, and I can hear my breath coming fast and heavy, feel myself squirming, but I still don't quite trust it. Don't like the way my body is disregarding my mind's orders that it be still. Don't like the strange numbness in my toes. Or maybe I do. I don't know. Confused. It's all so confusing, and it…it…I want it to stop, and I want more, and when I finally realize that the strange whimpering sound I keep hearing is coming from me I tear my hand out from under my clothing, throw the blanket off my body, and clap my palms over my sweating, panting face.

By the time Renee comes sneaking in, long past midnight, I'm showered and scrubbed, a load in the washer and fresh sheets on the bed. I pretend to sleep when she peeks her head in the door, but it's several hours later before unconsciousness finally claims me.

As I let my fingers retrace that long-ago journey, I couldn't help but think about how different it was this time. I was no longer that confused, naïve little girl, young and untried and lacking any real capacity to understand the things that my body hadn't been ready to tell me.

It was different now. I was different. I knew what it was to burn for somebody's touch. I knew desire. I knew want and desperation and need so deep it was like an ache in the center of your soul. Innocent no longer, my body trained and schooled in the art of giving and taking pleasure, I knew exactly what was happening when Edward's grip on me shifted, tilting my hips just a little bit farther. The trembling that started as a soft quaking in my center and traveled outward in a wave of warmth and almost.

I opened my eyes, all shyness forgotten in the sudden need to see him. To watch him watching me. Glued to the movements of my hand, mouth open around fast breaths, then a quick glance up at my face when a short half-gasp, half-cry worked its way loose under his sharp movements.

I let my fingers slip lower, spread out tight around the slippery hard in-and-out, and was rewarded with a strangled moan, eyes scrunched closed for a breath and a half before once again opening onto me—onto us. I brought them back up, back to the place that made me writhe and whine, Edward's voice urging me on in that rough growl that made my toes curl and my insides melt.

"That's it. Good girl. Touch…just like that. Yesssss. Don't stop. Keep going. Such a good little love. Faster. That's right. Right there. Don't stop."

The way he watched me—the way he wanted me—made me feel powerful. Beautiful. I did this. I broke that steely control that typically ruled his every movement. I inspired all those desperate, desirous words that echoed and reverberated through my body, bringing me closer and closer to…to…



make it fast

suggest you make it fast

unless you want to do it in front of an audience

My impending climax stuttered and stalled as his words folded back in on themselves, dropping me back into reality with a jarring thud.


No. He wouldn't. Would he? The panic made a sudden reappearance, holding me there on the precipice as my body fought on both sides of a sudden and fearsome war. Someone was coming; they could be here any second. I had to hurry, if I didn't we'd be caught. But how could I, knowing?

I stayed there on the edge, body desperately trying to throw itself over while my mind stubbornly held back, until with one last change of angle my will crumbled, and I was sent tumbling down the cliff face.

I hit bottom with a crash, twisting out from under his still shuddering body and lunging for the pieces of my clothing that were piled several feet away. Edward's I ignored; the bastard could get his own damn clothes. In fact, I was sorely tempted to rip them into itty bitty pieces.

Less than two seconds later I was pulling my jeans up over my hips, eyes scanning the horizon for any sign of somebody approaching. It didn't make sense—yesterday we had less than ten seconds' warning, but at least a minute had passed this time and there still wasn't anybody…coming…

Slowly I turned around, somehow unsurprised to see Edward still lying on the ground where I had left him, a slight grin adorning his face as he watched me dress.

"Tell me something." I propped my hands up on my hips, trying to keep an answering grin off my own face. I didn't want to smile, damn it. I wanted to be mad. "Was there ever actually anybody coming?"

"Of course. Alice says she'll meet us at her house in about," he thought for a second, "three and a half minutes."

Alice? "But yesterday Emmett was the one—"

"Yesterday, Emmett was about four seconds away from getting his head ripped off. In the interests of familial relations, I suggested that somebody else be assigned to come looking for us in the future."

Part of me wanted to laugh. The rest kind of wanted to hit him.

Instead of doing either, I turned and without a word began making my way back to the small cluster of cabins where the others were waiting. I may have stomped just a little bit.

I actually made it farther than I thought I would before Edward caught up to me, but when he grabbed my arm and swung me around to face him, his fully clothed form explained the delay. A slight smirk still played around the edges of his mouth, and that was what finally broke my silence. Wrenching my arm out of his grasp, I balled my hands into fists at my sides and did my best to ignore the urge to plant one of them into his stomach. "Well, I'm happy to be a source of amusement for you," I snapped.

"Don't be like that. "

"Don't be…don't be…" I sputtered. "Don't be like what, Edward? Don't be bothered that you let me think we were seconds away from being walked in on? Don't be upset that apparently it was just some kind of game you thought would be funny? That was…I was…you don't…that was just mean. Why? Why would you do something like that?"

"I'm sorry." His expression was completely serious now; all traces of amusement wiped clean. "I didn't mean to make you feel that way."

"How else did you expect it to make me feel? Did you think I would be okay with somebody seeing…with having an audience?" I practically spit the last word out, distaste evident in my voice.

"No, I..." he stopped, raking a hand through his hair as he shook his head. "I thought you would know that it was just…I would never let anybody see you like that." My initial reaction was to scoff, but I was stopped by his obvious sincerity. I was still upset, of course, but I couldn't deny that knowing it was all a game was better than the alternative.

"You wouldn't?"

"Of course not. I don't share what's mine." It wasn't exactly a declaration of undying devotion, but it was enough. Well, it was almost enough.

"So," I lifted my shirt over my head, dropping it at my feet. "You're saying that it wouldn't be okay with you if somebody came along right now and saw me without my top?"

"Isabella." His tone was a warning, and I cocked my head to the side as I pretended to reconsider my actions.

"Okay, okay." I bent over as if to pick my shirt back up, but instead pulled my jeans and underwear back off in one smooth movement. I really had gotten much better at this dressing and undressing thing. "Oops." I stepped away from the small pile of clothing.

"All right, you've made your point. Now, would you please put your clothes back on?"

Two steps brought me up against him, my breasts pressing lightly against his chest. "No, I don't think so." I reached for the waistband of his pants, arching one eyebrow when his hands grasped hold of mine before I could get them unfastened. "How long until Alice expects us?"

"Two minutes and twelve seconds."

""Hmmmm, we don't have much time, then."

I felt it the moment he realized my intention, the air around us suddenly becoming charged and heavy with anticipation. "So, unless you want to do this in front of an audience", I broke free of his hold, once more reaching for his fly, "I suggest you make it fast."

"You," his hands gave up trying to control mine, instead reaching behind me to unfasten the bra that was my last remaining article of clothing, "are evil."

"You love it." We worked together to strip the rest of his clothes off before I dragged him to the ground and climbed on top so that I was straddling his hips. He tried to roll over and put me underneath him, but I pushed him back down easily. I knew the day would eventually come when I would no longer be the stronger one, but I wasn't above taking full advantage while I still could.

"You're putting a lot of faith in my ability to multitask." Edward's voice was strained, his body pulled taught underneath me as I rose and fell, hands on my hips urging me to move faster, harder. Instead I slowed down, leaning over to take his mouth in a long, slow, thorough kiss before once again sitting up.

"I guess I'm just going to have to trust you, aren't I?"

We were late, much to Alice's irritation and Emmett's amusement. Luckily, she lost her patience with his non-stop jokes and innuendos before my temper got the better of me, shooing him out the door and telling him not to come back until he could act like an adult instead of a "walking, talking case of arrested development." I was really starting to like Alice.

Five hours later, I was really starting to hate Alice.

"Darlin', I think it's time to take a little break," Jasper spoke up from the corner where he had settled in to watch us, earning a slightly guilty look from me. I hoped he hadn't gotten that last bit. Usually my emotions were unavailable to him, kept locked up tightly behind whatever wall it was that kept me separate from everybody's gifts. The only time he seemed to be able to sense my feelings was when they became strong enough to overpower my ability to control them, and even then he said they were muted and hard to pinpoint, as if they were coming from a long distance away and through some kind of a filter.

Jasper's ability to sense me at all, while Edward and Alice were completely shut out, was a puzzle in and of itself. The working theory was that emotions could physically affect the air around us if they got strong enough, and that it was those chemical changes in the environment that he was picking up on, instead of my actual emotions. To tell the truth, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to me; but, I didn't have any better ideas, so I supposed it was as good of an explanation as any.

Alice, though, had taken the theory and run with it. Her thought was that—since Jasper was able to read the changes I made in the environment around me, even if he couldn't read me specifically—maybe she could do the same thing. That was, even though she wasn't able to see my future, maybe she could find a way to see around me.

I didn't hold out much hope, but considering it was my presence that was screwing up her visions in the first place, I thought that helping her try and find a way past my block was the least I could do. At least, that was what I kept telling myself as the hours ticked slowly past.

"But I think I might be getting close," Alice argued, lips turned down into a pretty little pout.

"All the same." He pushed himself away from the wall he had been leaning against and made his way over to her, bending down to brush a kiss across the top of her head. "Come on. Let's go for a walk." He strode out the door, pulling her still-protesting form out behind him and leaving me alone with Edward.

Alone. With Edward.

I peeked over at him from beneath my lashes, unsurprised to find him watching me. He was always watching me. I sat for endless hours with Alice, making decision after decision, and he was there, watching. I worked with Jasper, trying to learn how to get a grip on my constantly oscillating moods and emotions, and he was there, watching. I studied with Emmett, learning how to channel and control my strength—arm-wrestling was a surprisingly effective teaching tool—and he was there, watching. Always watching.

I watched him, too. Watched the way everybody moved around him—friendly for the most part, but with a wariness that wasn't obvious to any but the closest observer. Watched the way that he held himself apart; polite and even occasionally affectionate, yet always there was that distance with which I was all too familiar. The difference was, with me the distance was only an occasional thing; something that came and went and drove me crazy with its uncertain and changeable presence. But I was beginning to realize that it was more than he gave to anybody else.

With everyone else, it was a constant. I could see that he cared for the people he called family. It was in the way he rolled his eyes when Alice became overly enthusiastic about some idea or another. It was obvious by the effort he put into ignoring Rosalie's snide comments and sharp glares, rather than wrap his hands around her milky white throat like I was sorely tempted to do on more than once occasion. I could tell by his snicker when Emmett threw a minor temper tantrum the first time I beat him arm-wrestling, nearly turning the rock we had used as a table into so much dust and rubble.

So yes, he cared. But…

They didn't get to see what I saw. The carefree laugh when I jumped up into his arms, wrapping my legs around his waist and peppering his face with kisses. The undiluted anger when I tried to leave him. The relief when I finally made him see that, even knowing the worst, I still wanted him, and that I would never send him away. That soft look he got sometimes when he looked down at me, fingers tracing my jaw or pushing a strand of hair away from my eyes. Those moments of pure emotion, unguarded and honest, were for me and me alone.

Like right now. All morning he had been quiet, responding only when Alice requested his help in her little decision-making experiments. Like Jasper, he had stood back for the most part and quietly watched the process, his presence at once a distraction and a balm. When, about an hour into the session, Alice had suggested that I might be better able to focus if he left us alone for a while, his only response had been to glance her way for a second before once again turning his attention back to me. The message was loud and clear; he wasn't going anywhere, but he would stay out of the way.

Now that we were alone, though, he allowed a small smile to tilt up one side of his mouth as he continued to silently watch me.


He said nothing, merely shook his head slightly as the smile grew.

"I didn't do anything!"

A silent laugh vibrated through his shoulders, and I huffed out loud as I crossed my arms over my chest. I hadn't…okay, fine, maybe I had.

"How much did Jasper catch?"

At that he actually laughed out loud. Well, more like a quiet chuckle, but still. It was enough that I was having a hard time keeping myself from laughing with him. It really wasn't fair how he was able to do that.

"I'm not sure. Not enough to really worry him, but enough that he thought getting Alice out of the room as soon as possible was a pretty good idea."

Damn. "He didn't have to be so quick about it. I wouldn't have actually done anything," I grumbled. Still laughing, Edward walked over and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me so that my head rested against his chest.

"Don't be upset with Jasper. Alice is the most important thing in the world to him. Keeping her safe is his primary objective, and sometimes it tends to make him a little overprotective."

"I get it. But I wouldn't have hurt her. I like Alice."

"She likes you."

"I like Emmett, too."

"Most people do. Emmett's easy to like."

"I don't like Rosalie."

He sighed. "Rose can be…difficult. But, she has her reasons."

"I just…I really wanted to like her, you know? I thought, after the things you told me, that we were…I don't know…that we could be friends, I guess." What I didn't say was that she was the first person I had ever really felt like I had something in common with. It was my own stupid fault for thinking that way about somebody whom I had never even met. And on further thought, what did I imagine we actually had in common, anyway? Maybe if Edward had come along an hour or so later, I might have some idea of what Rosalie had been through; but as it was, all I had was a good scare followed by a night in the arms of the sexiest creature ever to walk the earth. And I had somehow imagined that gave us some kind of a shared bond? If anything, it would probably make her hate me more than she did already.

"I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, I'm glad you did." I pulled back a little, looking up at him. "Sometimes, it's just about the only thing that keeps me from ripping her head off," I joked. Kind of joked.

Another soft chuckle was his only response, followed by several minutes of quiet stillness as we just stood there. In the distance I could hear the others as they went about the daily routines of their lives; walking and talking, laughing and living. Mundane and normal and so very surreal. It was hard to imagine that someday my own life might follow those same all-too-human patterns. Get up in the morning. Go hunt up some breakfast. Clean house. Maybe go to work. Shop for groceries I wouldn't eat. All to maintain some kind of illusion of humanity that would allow me to interact with them; pretend to be one of them. I wasn't quite sure what the point of it all was, but everybody seemed to take it for granted that it was what I wanted. I didn't have the heart to tell them that I would be perfectly happy spending eternity holed up out in the middle of nowhere, as long as I had Edward with me.

For instance, right now I was having a hard time being so close to him, ostensibly being alone with him, yet knowing that there was nothing I could do about it, unless I truly did want to dabble in exhibitionism. I was acutely aware of the fact that, if I could hear them, they could also hear me, and that our seeming privacy at the moment was a shallow illusion at best. I didn't even dare steal a kiss, knowing all too well what that kind of activity invariably led to.

It wasn't something I had to worry about for long, though. Just when I was beginning to seriously consider dragging Edward off somewhere to have my way with him, he pulled back and looked down at me with a somewhat tense expression.

"What is it?"

"Carlisle and Esme are coming."

Oh. I knew this moment was coming, most likely sometime today, but that didn't mean I was ready for it. Edward's parents. Oh, God. What if they hated me? What if they wanted me to leave? I took it back, I liked it here. I liked being a part of a family. I liked the way almost everybody accepted me with little to no question, bringing me into the fold and taking the time and energy to help teach me the things I needed to know. I didn't want to go.

Edward shifted uncomfortably, hissing a little and bringing my attention to how tightly I was gripping his arms. I hadn't even realized I had grabbed ahold of him. I yanked my arms behind my back, taking a quick step backward at the same time. "Sorry," I whispered. He followed me as I took another step, reaching out and keeping me from retreating any farther.

"Stop," he commanded. "Whatever you're thinking right now, just stop. I told you before; you have nothing to worry about." I shot him an incredulous look. Yeah, because everything turned out so well last time. He must have interpreted it exactly as I meant for him to, because he had the grace to look just a bit sheepish. "I know, but that had more to do with the element of surprise than anything else. They already know we're here, so that won't be a problem this time."


"They smelled our trail on their way in," he said like it was the most obvious thing in the world, which I supposed it should have been.

"Okay." I took a deep breath. "How long?"


Oh, God.

As it turned out, this was one time when Edward had it completely right. We had barely made it outside when a tall woman with warm, caramel-hued hair was running straight into his arms. I had to bite back the involuntary growl that rose up in my chest at the sight—some dark, instinctive part of me wanting to rip her away from him and tear her limb from limb for daring to touch what was mine. That urge was wiped away in the next moment, when she stepped back and held him at arm's length, a tremulous smile making her even more beautiful than she already was. "Oh, Edward." Then she pulled him in for another mighty hug. "My boy."

"Hello, Esme." His voice was soft, arms wrapping around her back as he smiled down at her. Something pulled tight in my chest, and I tore my eyes away from their embrace. That was when I noticed for the first time the tall blonde vampire that stood several yards back. He had been watching the reunion as well, but turned his gaze to me as soon as I saw him, as if he could sense my regard. He smiled at me, and something about it made it impossible not to smile back.

If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn that he truly was Edward's biological father. Not because they shared the same features or even looked remotely similar, even though they were without any doubt the two most beautiful beings I had ever seen. It was more because they both had that same magnetism, some indefinable quality that would bring any woman or girl within a fifty-foot radius to her knees. This man went out and interacted with humans on a regular basis? How was that even possible? How could the female population hope to function when he was anywhere in the vicinity? The past weeks spent with Edward had helped to accustom me to dealing with this kind of staggering beauty, and I was about to fall at his father's feet. How did anybody else even stand a chance?

A soft giggle sounded off to my left, pulling my attention away from the Sun God and back to where Edward and Esme stood watching me. She was still smiling, although the tearful sheen had been replaced with quiet amusement. She was quite obviously used to seeing other women falling all over themselves when it came to her husband.

Edward, on the other hand, looked anything but amused as he glared at me through narrowed eyes. Luckily, Carlisle chose that moment to distract him, walking forward and pulling him into a quick embrace. "Edward. It's good to see you, son."

"Carlisle." He took a step back, turning and reaching out a hand to pull me closer. "This is Isabella." My stomach fluttered as we exchanged 'nice to meet you' and he ignored my outstretched hand, greeting me with a hug before passing me off to Esme, where I was thoroughly hugged once more.

"Isabella, it's so wonderful to meet you." I had never been a touchy-feely person, but somehow all this physical affection didn't seem strange or make me feel uncomfortable in the least. They were so genuinely welcoming, it was nearly impossible not to reflect their enthusiasm.

"Please, call me Bella," I answered as I returned her embrace, being careful not to squeeze too tightly. I could practically hear Edward grinding his teeth behind me, and gave an inward eye-roll. I didn't know what he had against my name, but just because he insisted on calling me Isabella didn't mean everybody else needed to.

In the end, the whole "meet the parents" went better than I could have dared to imagine. Carlisle and Esme were everything one could ever hope for in a family; warm, caring, compassionate, and all-around wonderful. They welcomed me with open arms, and even though I suspected that a large portion of that had to do with the simple fact that I bad brought Edward with me, it just didn't matter. Whether it was by extension or not, for the first time in as long as I could remember I felt like I was a member of an actual family.

I couldn't help but wonder, there in the midst of all that love and acceptance, what could possibly have caused him to walk away in the first place. Why would anybody willingly leave all this?

I'm not quite sure what to say here. This chapter was originally supposed to have a lot more in it, but things kind of got away from me and it ended up only covering about half of what it was supposed to. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

The good news—several large chunks of the next couple of chapters are pre-written. The bad news—it's turning out that integrating those pre-written portions into the narrative is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be.

Thank you so much for reading. I know the journey is taking forever and a day, but I do promise that we will get to the end eventually. Until next time!