AN: I am an epic fail at life. Forgive me for my horrific posting as of late. Like I said before, I'm taking master's classes, and then there was a death in the family, and we moved, and it's end of the year testing for my students at school... but I'm still an epic fail.

Now I must do the pimping:

Ynotjacob - You are my literary soulmate. I want to sit in your shower and cuddle with the babies. Just saying. You are amazing, and this chapter would NOT have happened without you.

Taylor'sLizzie - Thank you for pre-reading, as always. Love you, Loca.

I am Naranwien's FanFicBabyMama. Check out her work at www(.)fanfiction(.)net/u/2376201/naranwien. She's amazing and she twitter-tackles me everytime I'm online. I told her that I would pimp her out cause I heart her that much, so there you go. Seriously. Check her out.

Also - I'm definitely on Twitter now. Sometimes I just ramble about stupid crap, but other times I'll post teasers or info about updates. I'm on there as Goldengirl2707.

There you have it. Please read and review with all my apologies for being lame and allowing RL to control me.


And my mother's eyes are with me

In the chilly winds of autumn

If I ain't here by winter, she'll know why

I've seen all that I dare

I've seen more than my share

Forgive me if I stare with my mother's eyes…

Bette Midler – My Mother's Eyes


Bella felt the morning sun on her face, taking in the bright spots of light on the back of her eyelids. It felt warm, perfect, and she momentarily basked in its glow. Sunshine was not a common occurrence in Forks, and for a fleeting moment, she wondered if it was a sign of good things to come.

Flashes of the night before suddenly seeped into her consciousness, and her eyes flew open. She felt the automatic blush creep onto her cheeks and she mentally prepared for Jake's teasing smile as her gaze slid sideways.

A strange mixture of relief and disappointment filled her, as she took in the rumpled, empty spot next to her. Her hand tentatively touched the sheet; it was cool – he hadn't been here for a while. She should have known that he wouldn't stay the whole night – he probably had to patrol, or at least check in with the pack. According to Charlie, he had spent all of her hospital stay curled up in a chair beside the bed, only leaving to go to the bathroom or to use the shower. He had at first refused to leave her bedside even to eat, until Charlie had finally broken down and brought food to the room. If Charlie hadn't understood Jacob's devotion to his daughter before then, he certainly did now.

Deciding that she should be grateful to have some alone time to think, Bella hesitantly tested her sore body, delicately stretching tight muscles that had seen little to no use over the last month. A hiss of a breath escaped her lips as she strained against the pain in her chest. Looking down, she stared at the deep purple marks that still painted much of her right shoulder, and she remembered the doctor describing the catheter that had been used to clear the bleeding in her brain.

She couldn't stop the shudder that ran down her spine as she gingerly touched the entry point along her collarbone. It terrified her to contemplate just how close she had come to death. The combination of the sepsis and aneurysm had almost ended her life, and she was quickly realizing just how much time she had wasted pining over her relationship with Edward.

While their relationship hadn't been perfect – she could honestly admit that to herself, now – he had certainly loved her. But she couldn't deny any longer that Jacob had been right. He was her natural path, monsters and magic and all. She knew that Jacob would forsake the wolf as soon as he had the opportunity, but she couldn't help but love him for it anyway. The wolf really was a part of him, whether he wanted to believe it or not. Jacob had been strong, loyal, and protective long before the wolf had made its appearance – he was born for it, and she hoped he knew just how proud she was of him.

But, last night… the blush crept up into her cheeks again, and her eyes closed tight against the embarrassment. She couldn't believe just how forward she had been with him. While the amnesia had given her the opportunity to see how she had truly felt about him, she hadn't been prepared for how those feelings would mix with the existing ones once they returned. She was in love with him, which now she was freely able to admit. But, the physical intimacy was still very scary.

It had almost seemed easier to try and push Edward's sexual boundaries, because something inside her had always known he would stop her, that he would never allow her to get close. There hadn't actually been any kind of risk with Edward. But, with Jacob… it was different. Jacob wanted to be close to her – he had never hidden that from her. She would be leaving herself open, would have to be vulnerable with him, and that thought terrified her.

A gentle knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. Bella frowned. Charlie should have left for work already, and Jacob would never knock. "Come in?" she called out hesitantly.

The wood separated from the frame as the door was pushed open, and she was beyond surprised to see Renee's head peek around the corner. "Mom!" she cried, wincing in pain as she attempted to shove herself away from the mattress.

"Oh, sweetie, you stay there," Renee admonished, crossing the room to the bed and pushing her gently down again.

"I didn't know you were here!" Bella replied softly, allowing her mother to fluff her pillows and rearrange her on the bed sheets.

Renee gave her a sweet smile and cuddled up next to her daughter on the small bed. "That's okay, honey. With everything that's been going on, I didn't expect you to realize I was still here." She gave Bella a conspiratorial glance. "Besides, you were a little out of it last night."

Bella groaned, clapping a palm to her heated forehead. "Don't remind me."

"Oh, honey, don't you worry about a thing," Renee murmured, rubbing a soothing hand down Bella's right arm. "We all say silly things when we're on painkillers. I'm sure Jake hardly remembers that you practically propositioned him before you passed out."

Bella's mouth fell open and she pushed the back of her head deeper into her pillow, praying it would just swallow her up. "Good grief!" she squawked, believing in that moment that she had never been more embarrassed in her entire life. "You saw that?" Her face burned, and what she had secretly felt was a wonderful, private moment with Jacob was now tainted by the fact they had never really been alone.

"No, honey!" Renee admonished, her hand gently slapping against Bella's upper arm. "I have better things to do than spy on my teenage daughter and her boyfriend. I came up to make sure Jacob didn't need any help getting you in bed." Her eyes crinkled in amusement. "Guess he didn't need help after all," she suggested with a wink. A strangled squeaking sound came out through Bella's nose and Renee laughed. "Don't worry about it," she said again. "I'm sure that Jacob appreciated the offer."

"Mom!" Bella groaned. "I didn't know what I was saying!"

She took a deep breath, attempting to will away the blush that threatened to set her whole body on fire. Renee had always been absurdly honest with her daughter while she was growing up, about what it meant to be a sexual being; although Renee had always been the one sharing, while Bella sat quietly blushing furiously, and wishing that the ground would open up beneath her, taking her away from her mother's ramblings about what a quality physical relationship should really be like. But this, however, was different. Nowthey were talking about Bella, instead of Renee, and Bella decided that she liked this kind of conversation even less. "Besides… I don't think – I mean, I'm not… Jake and I – Ugh!"

Renee adjusted her body so that she could face Bella, and she gave her a suspicious look. "He's not pressuring you, is he, Bella?"

Oh, yeah, definitely more embarrassed now. "NO!" Bella practically shouted, yanking the covers viciously over her face. "Jake's not like that, Mom!"

Though she couldn't see her mother's face, Bella could practically feel Renee's thoughtful gaze on her. "You know, sweetie, there are ways to please a man that don't involve intercourse."

"Mooooom!" Bella moaned. She definitely did not need to hear this conversation.

Renee tsked her gently. "I'm serious, Bella. I know that we've had this talk before, but now that you're growing up and becoming a woman – and goodness only knows that Jake is undoubtedly a virile man... I mean, have you seen the size of those muscles? - it's only natural to have these kinds of urges-"

Struggling to contain the tears of humiliation that threatened to spill from her eyes, Bella threw the covers away from her face. "It's not like that with Jake, okay?"

"Good," replied Renee, with a smile. "But that doesn't mean it won't be someday, and I'd rather you hear this from me than from one of your girlfriends. I know how you teenagers experiment these days, and there's nothing wrong with that – but you should be safe," She raised her eyebrows at Bella meaningfully, as if to emphasize her point.

Bella clamped her eyes shut and managed to spit out, "That's not even what I'm worried about, Mom."

Shock replaced the teasing expression on Renee's face. "What do you mean, honey? Is there something else going on that I should know about?"

Bella sighed. How could she explain how she felt about Jake without sounding like an idiot? It didn't make sense in her own head, much less when she tried to verbalize it. "I, uh… kind of realized that I didn't, uh, love Edward the way I lo-loved Jake. I mean, I cared about Edward and everything, but I was so afraid of Jake that I couldn't make any sense of how I felt about him."

"Afraid?" Renee repeated, her eyes narrowing. "He hasn't hurt you, has he? I know he's Billy's boy, but don't think that I won't-"

"No, Mom," Bella interrupted, a small smile crossing her face. She could only imagine Renee trying to take on Jake, werewolf and all. "He just meant… so much to me that I was afraid of what it meant. I mean…" she paused then, taking in a sideways glance at Renee. "I don't want to hurt your feelings when I say this, but things didn't work out between you and Char – Dad, so I was afraid that falling in love so young would only end… badly."

It was Renee's turn to sigh this time. "I'm sorry that you feel that way, honey." Her expression softened. "What happened between your father and me had nothing to do with you. We just weren't meant for each other. It was one of those whirl-wind romance kinds of things, and while I loved him desperately when we married, we only got married because I was pregnant. We didn't take enough time to get to know each other well enough. And besides, there's nothing wrong with falling in love when you're young. You're supposed to fall in love. Just because you've known Jacob your entire life doesn't mean that he isn't the right one for you." She patted Bella's arm again. "Your and Jacob's relationship is nothing like your dad's and mine." Renee gave her a sad smile. "My middle-aged daughter, right?"

Bella nodded slowly. "I guess… I get that now. And Edward was always so patient with me, and he's kind of… old fashioned, I guess. There was never any reason to feel afraid of being vulnerable with him because… he would only ever, uh…" She coughed a bit, still not sure if this was a discussion she really wanted to have. "Kiss me. I didn't have to be nervous because there was never any 'what if" in our relationship."

Renee nodded knowingly. "And now that you don't have those safe-guards anymore, you feel nervous about making the wrong decision?"

"I guess," Bella squeaked, feeling the blood once again rise to her cheeks.

"Sweetheart, Jacob loves you. I may not have spent any time with him since I moved away, but I know that both Billy and Sarah would have taught him how to treat a woman. He'll never do anything that you don't want." A sudden wicked grin spread across her face, and she wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. "And a man like that will know how to treat a lady." Bella sighed. This had to be one of the worst conversations she had ever had.

"And like I said before, there are other ways to please a man that don't involve sex. Shoot, honey, there's some things you can do that don't even involve taking off your clothes!" Renee exclaimed, and Bella groaned again. "Seriously, Bella, I need you to listen to me. There's oral, or you can please him with your hands, and you can even rub on each other, I believe you kids call this dry-humping, and-"

"Mom – Mom – Mom – Seriously! Stop!" Bella screeched, clapping her hands over her ears as Renee began to ramble. "I do not want to have this conversation with you. I know all about… those things."

Renee laughed and gently ruffled her hair. "Alright, sweetie. But, before I go home, I'm taking you to the doctor." Bella pulled the covers up again, wishing she could just die and forget this whole conversation ever happened. "Trust me – you'll be glad I did!"


I'd like to know you more,

Tell you you're fine

Even though you're not…

When you worry so much,

It makes me want to cry…

Fragile like the leaves come fall,

Red yellow gold, I love them all,

I guess it's just the way we love…

I'll hide out in your space

Emptiness on my face

I'll be keeping you safe

When you're cold and alone

'Til you come out and play…

Sarah Fimm - Afraid


Bella found herself in the kitchen a few hours later, freshly showered and peacefully alone. Renee had left to run errands to prepare for her return trip to Florida, and Charlie was scheduled to be at work for a few more hours. Determined to get back into familiar routines, Bella took it upon herself to look through the cabinets and the fridge – Charlie had been understandably busy and had chosen to neglect grocery shopping in the process.

Opening the first cabinet door, she was not surprised to see the flour bag was empty and the potatoes had begun to sprout little green hairs. She sighed. How Charlie had managed to feed himself before she moved in, she might never know.

As she added more items to her growing shopping list, she felt a pair of eyes lock onto the back of her head. Anxiety skittered down the length of her spine and she spun quickly around, terrified that she would come face to face with a pair of crimson eyes.

Instead, Bella stumbled backwards as she practically planted her nose into the middle of a rather warm chest. Her gaze jerked upwards to meet a face filled with delighted amusement, and she slapped at him with as much aggression as she could muster. "Good grief, Jake!" she exclaimed, clutched at her chest to try and control her rapidly beating heart. "You nearly scared me to death!"

He let out a chuckle, one that rumbled deep from inside him. "Sorry, Bells," he replied, but there was nothing in his expression to indicate that he was sorry at all. "I wasn't sure if you were gonna pass out on me again."

She glared, moving away from him until she felt her back bump against the countertop. "I don't know what you're talking about," she sniffed indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest with a huff and her gaze sliding down until she could focus on the leg hem of her jeans.

Bella didn't hear him move, but felt his body heat as he closed in on her. While her peripheral vision caught the movement of his feet as he planted them on either side of hers, she still tried to pretend like she hadn't realized their bodies were within inches of each other. But she couldn't stop the shiver that ran through her as his heated breath landed on the curve of her neck. "I think you know exactly what I'm talking about, Bells." His voice was husky and rough, and it made something low in her belly tighten. She heard him take a deep breath in, and she nearly died when he said, "Damn, honey, are you trying to kill me?"

Oh no, oh no, oh no! Bella's mind screamed. He can smell you! Bella wanted to get away from him, but she couldn't do anything but try and flatten her spine against the counter. She still couldn't look at him, but she also couldn't stop herself from murmuring, "Maybe I am."

It seemed to stun him for a moment, and he froze, his nose only millimeters from her ear. "Are you… flirting with me, Isabella Swan?"

"Um, no?" she managed to squeak, unable to turn her head to look at him, completely unsure where her mouth would land with his face so close to her. Another gravelly laugh oozed from his lips, and she cursed her body's lack of self control as another tremble raced through her.

"Are you sure you want to do that, honey?" He asked, and his voice was teasing, but she did not miss his suggestive undertone. "Teasing a teenage werewolf?"

"That's probably not a good idea, is it?" Bella replied softly, and she mentally smacked herself for sounding so shaken. Involuntarily, her lower lip found its way between her teeth, and she heard his chest rumble again.

"Please don't do that, honey," He choked out, and then she was on fire – every inch of her body was touching his, from her knees to her shoulders, and she gasped as their hips collided.

Suddenly, she could feel just how much he wanted her, and she would have been lying to herself if she didn't admit that she felt the same way. Against her will, her pelvis flexed forward against his, and she couldn't suppress the shudder that wracked her body when his nose ran the length of her neck.

"Bells –" Jacob let out a frustrated groan, and she suddenly felt 100 degrees cooler. She blinked and looked up, only to find him on the other side of the kitchen, sitting at the table, his head cradled in his massive hands.

"Jake?" She said hesitantly. "Are you okay?" Bella was still trembling from their brief encounter, but nevertheless felt the urge to move towards him, to comfort him for whatever mistake she had just made, but her body was still refusing to cooperate. But given what had just happened, keeping several feet of space between them sounded like the safer option.

"I shouldn't have done that," She heard him mumble.

Her eyebrows furrowed together in confusion. "Done what, exactly?" She felt the tension crawl into the muscles of her shoulders, and she fought to keep the panic from her voice. "Shown up today? Told me you imprinted? Decided you wanted to be with me?" Bella coughed violently against the bile that threatened to rise up in her throat. "A lot of stuff has happened recently, Jake – I think you're going to have to be a bit more specific."

His head jerked up and he stared at her, eyes wide. "No! No, no, Bells!" he stuttered, falling out of the chair and back over to her side of the kitchen, yanking her up into his arms. She gasped at his sudden movement, surprised to realize her feet were no longer touching the floor. "I swore to myself before I came over that I wasn't going to push you, and here I am, crowding you and flirting and I can't believe I did that! I'm so sor-"

"Jake!" Her voice sounded strangled and he immediately set her back down on the floor, capturing her pale white cheeks between his palms, his eyes frantically searching her face for signs of pain.

"Oh, shit, Bells! Dammit! Now I've hurt you again – Shit! I completely forgot about the pain, and – Oh, my God!" He flung himself backwards again, plopping rather ungracefully onto the floor, flinging his large arms over his face, as if to hide himself from her gaze.

And in that moment, Bella found she could do nothing but gape at him, her mouth opening and closing to the point where she had distant thoughts of her uncanny resemblance to a fish.

How had they gotten to this point? What happened to JakeandBells, where everything was simple and carefree, and natural? What happened to it being as easy as breathing? Why was there suddenly so much pressure to be something other than what they already were?

She didn't have expectations of him, other than for him to continue being her best friend – but now, whether or not that meant they would continue to kiss on a regular basis, she still had yet to figure it out. But what she did know was that she never wanted their relationship to be awkward – and that's exactly what it had become.

Recovering herself, Bella moved across the space between them, kneeling down next to him on the floor. "Jake?" she whispered, but he refused to look at her, his arms still wrapped unceremoniously around his head. "Look, Jake," she sighed. "I don't exactly know what happened just now, but…" He still didn't look at her, so Bella huffed out a breath, and flopped down on the tile floor next to him. If he wouldn't come to her, then she could certainly go to him, especially after everything that had happened these last few months.

"I don't have any expectations here, okay, Jake? I know with everything we've said to each other over the last week, it's been a little… uh… confusing, but that doesn't mean anything really has to change between us." Jacob groaned, and Bella realized how that must have sounded to him. "No! That's not what I meant!" She added hastily. "I just meant that I still want you to be my best friend, and that we don't have to change all the rules, and – crap!"

Another groan came from the space of linoleum next to her. Bella sighed again. This was definitely not coming out right. "Jake – listen. I just don't want you to feel nervous because we're… uh… exploring furthering our relationship." God, if that didn't sound like something straight out of an after-school special, she didn't know what did. "How about some new rules? Would that help? You know, for, like… like how this is going to work?" Bella cringed. That sounded horrendous too! What was wrong with her?

"Rules?" came Jake's muffled voice from underneath the layers of skin and t-shirt.

"Uh, sure," was Bella's surprised reply. "Rules. You know, like…." She thought for a moment. Great, it was her idea and she couldn't even think of anything. "Well… for one thing, you need to stop worrying all the time that you're going to hurt me. I'm still sore and everything, but I got enough of the 'fragile Bella' thing from Edward, and trust me, it got really old after awhile." Then she made a conscious effort to snap her mouth shut before she could say something else idiotic, like how Edward's concern for her safety kept them from doing anything more than kissing.

One arm came down beside her. "What else?"

"Uh… Stop worrying that you're pushing me too much. You're a good guy, Jake. You're never going to do anything that I don't want you to do, and even if you did, I'd tell you, and you'd quit. And besides, I trust you enough to know where the… physical boundaries are…" A deep blush rose in her cheeks, and she turned her face away, towards the back door. She was pretty sure he could tell she was doing it anyway, with his super senses and all, but it made her feel better knowing that he couldn't see her.

Reality was overrated, anyway.

She heard the other arm flop to the floor. "Anything else?"

"Umm…" Bella worried her lower lip between her teeth again. "Could you try and call before you show up in my kitchen again? Or, at least tell me if you're going to come over? I mean, Charlie loves you and everything, but once we tell him we're together, he's going to want to play up the whole over-protective father thing - show you his shotgun, and all that - so it might be in your best interest not to antagonize him."

"Once we tell him we're together?" His voice sounded strained, and she instantly regretted making so many assumptions.

Her palm connected with her forehead. "Gosh, Jake – I'm sorry! I know we haven't really talked about it, but –"

She was interrupted by a very warm mouth against hers, and suddenly any other thought she'd had flew out of her head. His arms slid around her, pulling her chest against his. A soft mewling sound escaped her throat as his tongue gently grazed her lower lip, and she instantly felt foolish for being so vocal. But then he answered her with a groan, and a hand tangled itself in her hair. His whisper was rough against her mouth, "God, Bells…"

Something twisted in her gut at the heat in his voice, and her body knew that he simply wasn't close enough. Before her mind caught up with the rest of her, she turned inside his embrace and wrapped her legs around his waist. Her brain numbly reminded her that they were supposed to be talking, but the only thing that she could concentrate on was his mouth on her sensitive flesh and the fuzzy notion that he still had too many clothes on.

The warmth of his skin soaked through her clothes and she gripped the collar of his t-shirt to keep her itching fingertips from crawling up under the offending cotton to touch the silken hardness of his chest.

The taste of him inside her mouth took her breath away, and her heartbeat roared in her ears. Somehow, completely against her will, she tore her lips from his to trail a shaky line of kisses down his jaw until she felt the shell of his ear against her tongue. She carefully traced its outline with her bottom lip, and she felt him shudder beneath her. "Jake…" she murmured softly.

His chest trembled under the damp touch of her palms. "Yeah, honey?" He replied gently, his voice full of lust and love and other things that she couldn't recognize. Bella managed to find the strength to stop hiding, and leaned back to face him, completely unsure what to expect. What she found was beyond arousing.

Jacob's eyelids were hooded, his irises swirling in blackness, and suddenly she was drowning inside him, where it was warm and safe and beautiful. And then it wasn't her heartbeat thudding inside her chest, but his, and she realized that he was anything and everything in her entire reached up with her right hand to stroke his swollen lips. "Can't we start again?" Bella asked, though it sounded desperate, even to her own ears.

His chuckle was deep and rich, rumbling from someplace full inside him, but she still heard the emptiness that he tried to hide. "Start from where, Bells?" His arms tightened around her and she tucked her chin against his shoulder. "If there was a place with no monsters and no magic, I would take you there, honey. I promise you I would." But then he paused; his tongue felt thick and the words got caught somewhere inside him. "I can't fix this for you, though, I can't change it, and I can't make it better… I've failed you in that way."

The sound of his pain made those knots inside her stomach turn inside out, and she reached out to grasp his cheeks in her hands. "Don't!" she whispered fiercely, forcing his gaze to meet hers. "It's not your place to apologize. I want you. I need you. That's it. That's everything." Tears streamed down her face, and she choked on them. "I just want…" She laughed bitterly. "I love you, okay? You big, crazy, hard-headed idiot. I'm in love with you."

Jacob's eyes crinkled around the edges, and Bella felt the relief swell inside her chest. He reached up and cupped her chin in his large hands. "You don't have to be afraid anymore, Bells… you know that, right?" He seemed so sure. And staring into his beautiful face, she hoped that it was enough.


'Cause it's almost like,

Your heaven's trying everything

To break me down

'Cause it's almost like,

Your heaven's trying everything

To keep me out…

Five Finger Death Punch – Far From Home


Bella didn't know how long they sat there, their bodies tangled and unmoving on the cold tile, before Jacob suddenly stiffened inside her arms. "What's wrong?" she asked, pulling back to gaze into his furious face. He didn't reply, jerking his head around to stare at the front door. "Jake?" she said tentatively, feeling uneasy.

"There's a leech outside. And, from the smell of things, it's on your porch!" He growled, shifting out of her arms so that he could stand. "Don't move…" he whispered, turning until she was completely blocked by his body.

"What?" Bella whimpered. "How can that be? Who could-" Jacob shushed her with a quiet rumbling deep in his chest. She blinked, and suddenly realized that she was trembling all over.

She didn't want to believe it – after everything that happened, there was still someone out there? Edward had said the whole family was leaving for Volterra; if they had known that one of the Guard was going to come for her, why wouldn't they have warned her? A flash of fear shot down her spine: what if they couldn't tell her? What if Aro hadn't believed them? What if he had taken them prisoner somehow? Oh, God, they had already sacrificed so much for her – what if it had all been in vain?

The knob twisted and she heard the tumbler click –

God, why hadn't Renee locked the door?

Jacob's growl intensified to a near roar, his entire body vibrating in anticipation. Bella closed her eyes – she didn't think she could bear to watch this -

"It's just me, wolf," came a musical voice through the door. "Bella? Can I come in?"

Bella released the breath she hadn't even known she was holding with a whoosh. It was only Alice...

Alice?

She moved to go around Jacob to reach the door, but he locked his arms around her, shielding her from the entryway. "Just wait… just a second, Bells, please?"

Bella sighed into his back, curling her fingers into his t-shirt. Stupid shirts, she thought, why did he even wear one? But she was trying to soothe him, as if to remind him that she was his and his alone. "Jake, it's just Alice – you know she's not going to hurt me, right?"

She heard Alice's tinkling laugh from the other room. "Yes, Jacob, please? I honestly just want to talk."

Jacob's arms then fell away, and Bella peeked around him to see Alice's radiant face. She grinned back before looking up at Jacob. "Please, Jake?"

He grumbled and crossed his arms over his broad chest. "You don't need my permission, honey. I'm not looking to control your every move… But she is a lee – vampire." He turned to glare at Alice, who simply smiled and batted her eyelashes innocently in his direction. He snorted, but leaned down to peck Bella on the lips. "I've got to go, anyway, Bells. I didn't plan to be here so long, and I've got to head back for a meeting with the Council. Call me if you need anything, alright?" He turned to looking meaningfully at Alice. "And I do mean anything."

Alice rolled her eyes. "Just some girl talk, wolf, I promise. I'm not here to steal her away." Her expression softened and she looked back at Bella. "She's where she belongs, anyway."

Jacob's hard stance relaxed a little, and Bella saw one corner of his mouth curl up with a triumphant smirk. He pulled Bella into his arms for one more crushing hug, causing an unnatural squawk to escape her lungs, and he laughed as he left the kitchen through the back door, pulling off his shirt as he went.

"Love you, honey!" he called softly, and she heard his smug snicker as her face flushed bright red from the combination of his sweet words and his current state of undress.

Bella watched him go until he disappeared into the trees. God, he was beautiful, and there was nothing 'sort of' about it... But her thoughts were interrupted by an indignant "Hmph!" behind her. She turned to see Alice's beautiful pouting face.

"Oh, Alice – I'm sorry!" Bella rushed across the kitchen to Alice's waiting arms. "It's so good to see you!" She struggled to keep from cringing at the feel of her friend's icy embrace, not wanting to ruin their reunion. "I just, uh – you know, got distracted…"

Alice laughed. "No worries." She stepped back to look Bella over with a more critical eye. "Not that I understand what you see in him, but I'm still so very happy for you. We all are," she added meaningfully, and this time Bella did cringe.

"Everyone, huh?" she asked, a little breathlessly, unsure if she wanted to hear how Edward had been doing since their breakup.

"Bella, stop that," Alice warned, wagging a pale finger at Bella. "He's fine. It's what he wanted for you in the first place. He didn't want you to be turned. He wanted you to be human, to have these experiences, whether or not it was with him. And we all love you enough to let you have that."

"But I didn't want you to leave," Bella whimpered, feeling her lower lip quiver, and it made her feel whiny, which she hated. "I miss you already."

Alice sighed. "I know, Bella, but we've all got sacrifices we have to make, right?" She waved her hand dismissively. "Besides, a few decades in Volterra means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Not to us, anyway." Her expression suddenly became sad, and Bella's heart lurched. "But there's something you need to know, Bella… that's why I'm here."

Bella swallowed, hard. "What's that?" she asked, and she realized it sounded breathy, even to her own ears.

"I've… been seeing some things, and I thought you deserved to know about them. For your own sake… and for your wolf's sake, too." She looked at Bella apologetically. "Can we sit down? You look a little… shaken."

Bella nodded, unsure if she could even trust her own voice at this point.

She allowed Alice to steer her towards the couch and push gently on her shoulder until she sat. Bella numbly realized that she was frightened, but it was this vague concept that left her wondering if she was having some kind of out-of-body experience.

"Bella?"

She blinked, and realized that Alice was staring at her. "What did you want to tell me?" she whispered, and she was absolutely positive she didn't want to know the answer.

"Now, he hasn't completely decided, Bella, and you know how my visions are subjective," Alice said, as if it was supposed to make her feel better. "But he's weighing his options… he wants you, and I'm not sure if our presence in Volterra is enough to placate him. We've sworn that we won't stay if he tries to harm you, which is the only thing that is keeping him from coming here and changing you himself. But I promise you, Bella, if it's the last thing we ever do, we will not let him take you." Alice grabbed Bella's face suddenly, forcing their eyes to meet. "It won't happen."

He…

Aro.

And then, everything in Bella's world felt very strange and fuzzy around the edges, and her peripheral vision was covered in white. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real.

The Volturi were coming to Forks.

Aro was coming for her.

She couldn't breathe. Jacob. Where was Jacob? She had to tell him, before it was too late. "Alice?" Someone was talking. Who was that? "You have to tell Jacob, Alice…" Her throat felt scratchy, raw, like she had been screaming.

Had she screamed?

Her world was blurry, wilting and dripping like a faded watercolor and then she saw a face. It was familiar and she squinted, but it was too much, too fast, and she was being shaken - shaken so hard that her teeth were chattering. She felt a roaring in her ears, a pulsing that was so deafening it had to be coming from inside her.

What was happening?

"BELLA!"


I ache, oh, how I ache from you… I am hollowed, bloodless and burning. This agonizing emptiness boils so deep inside of me that I've forgotten how to swim, and I've decided it might be better to simply relax and drown in its hunger. There is no sun, no moon, no tilt of the axis to help me find my balance – you stole my gravity and I'm choking on the purple haze of defeat you have left behind.

A flameless candle left dim in your wake, the cold pounding of my heart not familiar with the stranger in my bed. This ardent loss of sound has me dipping, spinning, blinded by your confusion. I've built my world on more than one lie and the foundation is faltering under my truth. You weren't there, you weren't there…

Please, tell me you weren't there.

The crystallized anguish leaks from behind my eyes and I can feel it searing the skin of my body. I am full of your venom and weakness and I want to coat myself with its honeyed perfume, wrap myself inside of it so that you can never breach these walls.

If only sleep could numb the pain, but in my dreams I find that version of you waiting – and I know it was simply a sugared translation of you that has been presented to the world. It was not that one that could be counted on to know the ins and outs and the ways of the soul, to be authentic and brilliant and filled with sunshine.

You are dark and deep and endless without caring - without repercussions, or obligations. The waves push me on, and I fight them, struggling against the weight of the current, so frantic to disappear from your fantasy that I realize you are holding me under water.

Muscles twitch and dance, your laughter pouring from the stars and I hate them for joining your army. Your beauty does not deserve more ammunition – they are weak and spiteful of the lush warmth of the earth, choosing an existence void of heat and growth.

No tea or poultice could soothe these expressive gashes in my flesh, and I cannot will them into scars – there is no healing, no expectation of normalcy. It is simply what you are, and what I have allowed myself to become in your presence. The world has gone dry, and so I have no tears for you, my eyes exhausted in their hunt for your truth. You have gained nothing in destroying me – there is no prize, no bounty for my soul. I mean little to the world around us – there will be no congratulatory notes – the universe will continue to exist without me in it, and for that, I must be grateful. I can't bear to think of any mourning because I don't believe in any loss.

I am nothing, I have nothing and there is not enough air to fill my throbbing lungs.

Only darkness and waiting and abyss