My head was pounding ferociously behind my eyes, and I found it to be quite a struggle to get them open. I would have used my hands to try to pry them apart, but I soon realized that they were even too weak to lift up. I felt like I had been run down by a tractor trailer that backed up and ran over me again. These things were not a common occurrence in the vampire world, and I decided that the little session with Athenadora was definitely to blame.

I didn't remember the last episode being this draining. But then again, I hadn't met Athenadora the first time, so that would explain it.

I just hoped there would be no more of the little "get-togethers." But I knew...deep down, I knew that this may only be the beginning. She'd made a promise to me that she would try to stop hijacking me as long as her excuses to the Volturi held up. And I'd also made a promise to her, as well...when they came for me, I would destroy them.

Okay, so that's really a big promise to make toward the most powerful creatures in the world - and most likely impossible in every sense of the word. But I was sure the request from Athenadora for wanting them dead was for the right reasons.

When I finally pried open my eyes and squinted into the bright room, I realized that I was still at Carlisle and Esme's. It was the same room that I'd woken up in the first time that this happened; however, now there was one big difference.

I looked around to see the room completely empty except for one small form curled up on the chair next to my bed, a drastic difference from my last awakening when the room was filled wall-to-wall with people I loved or barely knew at all.

Hmmm. Where could they be?

I started to panic, thinking about how long I could have possibly been out that the others would have been forced to move on with their lives. The thought made me scramble off the bed before I realized that the use of my legs had been completely compromised, providing me no support whatsoever, and I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

In an instant, the tiny human that had been sleeping on the couch was by my side.

"Bella! You're awake! Shit, why are you down there? Are you okay? Are you hurt? Oh! I need to call Edward!

The girl was Alice, Edward's little sister, and she talked more than anyone I had ever heard in my entire life. She was trying desperately to yank me up off the ground and dial her cell phone at the same time. She was not doing a very good job.

I pushed her off me and managed to stand, shakily, as I tried to bring feeling back into my extremities.

"Where is Edward?" I asked casually. However, my mind wanted to scream, and pout, and throw a tantrum because I felt that he should have been here with me instead of letting me wake up to some stranger that was surely babysitting the poor vampire in the coma.

My anger faded quickly, however, as I watched Alice tripping over herself to try to make me comfortable and constantly asking to get me things, like water, food, a shower. It was very sweet, and even in my newly-awoken, miserable state, I had to smile.

"I couldn't get ahold of him, so I texted Jasper to let him know. They're down at the station. They had to bring Emmett with them because, well, Edward didn't want to leave you, and they made Emmett drag him there practically kicking and screaming."

Oh. That made me feel slightly better.

The little pixie was definitely a bit high-strung, but I could see that her heart was in the right place, and she seemed so genuine with how she was fussing over me like a mother hen. I decided that I liked her and was going to cut her some slack.

"You know what, Alice? I'm just going to hop in the shower for a bit and get cleaned up. I'll be just fine once I'm done and feeling somewhat refreshed. So don't worry about me. You can go do whatever it was you were...doing."

She frowned slightly at my words, as if saying that was exactly where she wanted to be right now, and I internally groaned. This girl definitely had to be consumed in small doses or your head would surely explode. But, again, somewhere deep inside me, I could feel a soft spot forming for Alice Cullen.

As I turned on the shower, getting ready to step in, another wave of sadness washed over me. I wanted Edward with me so much that it hurt. I knew I should have still been angry with him for what he had done with that girl, and I hoped that nobody saw me as a total sucker for allowing him back in my life so quickly.

Those people just could not possibly understand the level of our connection. I was nothing without him. A shell. And the fucked-up thing was that I was totally fine before I met him. Lonely, yes, but fine. Now, my world had been flipped upside down. I'd met my soul mate, and now my life would always be him.

I was in the middle of rinsing the conditioner - not that my vampire hair needed it or anything - out of my hair when I heard a commotion coming from somewhere in the very large house. I rinsed off as fast as possible, intent on seeing what the hell was happening, when all of a sudden, the bathroom door swung open with so much force that the door splintered when it hit the wall behind it.

"What the f-?"

But before I could even finish my sentence, the shower curtain was ripped away, forcing me to quickly cover myself up the best that I could with my hands. As I scrambled to cover the goods, I looked up...and there he was. He was staring at me with a myriad of expressions on his face; his green eyes were wide and blazing. His hair was standing on end and just as crazy as ever.

He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

We stared into each other's eyes for several seconds as the shower beat down on my back and the steam shifted around us like a storm cloud. I released the arms I'd tried to cover my breasts with, and his eyes left mine only for a second to catch the movement.

I waited for words, but our eyes seemed to do all the talking because the next thing I knew, he had my face between both of his large hands as he stepped into the shower. Fully-clothed and already dripping with water, he pressed me against the wall and covered my mouth with his.

We devoured each other, right there in the shower, letting out all of our pent-up emotions. Anger, fear, happiness, lust, love, confusion. They were all there, being released as our intensity increased. However, way too soon, he broke away, coming up for some much-needed air. He pulled away from my throbbing and now warm lips only to rest his forehead against mine, staring deeply into my eyes. I briefly thought I saw what could have been tears in the corners of his striking green eyes, but when he blinked, the salty droplets were camouflaged by the water still raining down on us from the shower.

"Bella," he whispered as he tenderly stroked my face. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here when you woke up. I...I should have been. Fuck, Bella, I was so scared. So fucking scared. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know if this time, you weren't going to wake up, and I-"

I brought my fingers gently to his lips and shushed him soothingly. "I will always come back to you, Edward. I promise. Leaving you is not an option. You know that. I will always find my way back to you."

He closed his eyes and buried his face in my neck, inhaling deeply. He held me so tight that if I had been human, I would have suffocated by now. But it was okay because I felt completely safe in his arms, and I never wanted to leave them.

Considering I was buck naked and in the shower, neither one of us took advantage of the opportunity to fuck like rabbits up against the tile. No, there was too much we needed to talk about, and our emotions were still so raw, so we rid Edward of all his clothes and dried each other off thoroughly. We never lost eye contact the entire time.

I couldn't bear to let go of him for even a second, so we stumbled to the bedroom wrapped up in each other, eventually making it to the bed, where we fell in and cuddled for hours...without a word spoken. I guess talking would have to wait.

After Edward finally fell asleep with me still firmly tucked in his arms, obliviously immune to my cold, naked body delightfully entangled with his, I began thinking about what Athenadora had said.

I knew that I had to tell Edward and the others about her and the Volturi, considering that now all of them were in extreme danger. They were coming for me, and I knew for a fact that not one of my friends would allow me to face them alone. Well, maybe the humans might, since they barely knew me. But, really, what could they possibly do against a cult of evil vampires?

No, we had to get the humans as far away as possible - including Edward.

I looked up at his beautiful, sleeping face and sighed as I ran my fingers lightly down his cheek. He was so perfect, and I couldn't even fathom anything bad happening to him. I wouldn't survive it. No, I would protect him with all that I had, and in the end, if it wasn't enough, I would gladly join him in death. Because I could never live in a world where he didn't exist. Ever.

I decided that I was going to tell him what was going on as soon as he woke up. I didn't want him to think that I was hiding things from him, especially something this important. And then we could tell the others together.

After Edward had finally gotten up after many hours of sleep, and me with nothing to do but stare at him the whole time as he slept, I was very anxious to get out of the room. Actually, I needed to leave the house. I knew I had to tell Edward right away about the Volturi, and being in this house - although spacious - would not be enough to get away from the prying ears of both wolf and vampire in the surrounding areas.

So, as soon as his beautiful eyes popped open, I gave him a sweet kiss and then shoved some bacon and pancakes under his nose - the smell of the disgusting human food almost enough to make me gag; it really was that bad.

Sucking up the stench, I sat next to him and watched as he ate the disgusting breakfast I'd made for him. When I didn't take my eyes off him, he set the plate down and turned to me, green eyes boring into caramel.

I immediately felt a stirring deep inside of my body that I hadn't experienced in such a long time - or at least, it felt that way. I wanted him...badly.

I knew he sensed the lust that was starting to unravel rapidly throughout my body, and I watched as his eyes darkened with desire. He reached for me, pulling me toward him, and before I knew it, the lust took over, and we couldn't get close enough. We kissed, licked, sucked, and touched each other like the world was ending. He only came up for air when he had to, and it was at those times that my head would clear and I would remember what I needed to do. I hesitated slightly when he pressed his lips to mine once more.

We were so connected that he knew in an instant that something was not right. He didn't say anything. He quirked a questioning eyebrow at me, and that was enough.

"Let's go for a walk."

I could feel his eyes on me, burning a hole through me as he waited for me to say something. When I didn't, he ran both his hands through his hair and let out a loud sigh - maybe it was more of groan - and he kicked at a fallen log that splintered into a hundred flying projectiles before they crashed messily onto the forest floor.

"So what does that mean, exactly? Because, Bella, nobody is taking you away from me...ever. Is that clear?" he asked as he walked toward me and took my face into his hands.

I closed my eyes and nodded with his hands still attached to my face. My eyes were burning with unshed tears, and I could feel myself starting to shake with fear.

"Edward, they want to force me to become one of them...forever. And if I refuse, they will kill me and everyone that I love...and then they will take me anyway," I said softly, trying to make him understand how bad this situation really was. "There is no reasoning with them, no begging. They are extremely powerful, and when they want something, they most definitely get it. They'll kill anyone who gets in their way, and they will kill everyone that I love for the simple reason that I will have no one to run to, thus, being with them forever."

It was I who grabbed his face this time, pulling his head up so I could look him in the eyes. "I cannot lose you, Edward, or anyone else. I think...I think I should just let them have me. And everyone will be safe. And you can go on and live a normal life."

Edward's eyes flashed dangerously as he ripped my hands away from his face and stood before me in a rage that I had never seen from him before. He was trembling with ire as he reached up and gripped his hair, fisting it until his knuckles turned an angry white. I could tell that he was trying his damnedest to not go totally apeshit on me, and for a second, I couldn't help but be amused. But it was not the time to be pissing him off more than he already was, so I stifled my smile and looked up at him with a serious expression.


But before I could get a word out, he gripped me by my arms, and with amazing strength, pulled me to him so I was facing him. He gripped my shoulders tightly and brought his face so close to mine, I could see every worry line on his beautiful face.

"Bella. I am only going to say this once, okay? So, please, listen. If you think for one second that I am going to let you run off with those evil Volturi freaks, let them take you back to their fucking lair somewhere in fucking Italy to do God-knows-what to you and keep you as their slave locked up in the dungeons of some ancient castle, knowing that I will never be able to see you, or hear you, or...God, Bella, touch you again... If you think that I wouldn't keep you as my own hostage, right here, with me, so you couldn't take one step out that door, you are sorely mistaken! Because YOU are not going anywhere. Do you understand?"

I took a step back and shook my head sadly. "We are no match for the Volturi, Edward. Even if we had Rose and Jake, and maybe the wolf pack, too, we are no match. Everyone will die...and if I don't die but everyone else does, then I'm as good as dead, too."

I looked at him, and I was sure he could see the pain reflecting from my eyes straight into his. Everything was about to blow up in our faces. I knew it. But I honestly didn't know what could be done to fix it. And I was so scared. But I knew I had to be strong for Edward and at least try to put up a good fight against the Volturi for his sake. We had to make the best of it right now. And later? Well, we'd cross that bridge when the time came.

The one thing that we both knew was that we had a little bit of time. According to Athendora, they were not traveling to the U.S. right this very minute. I was sure that they would prepare a bit first. Getting all of those old bastards overseas would probably take weeks to plan in advance.

So Edward and I decided on what we wanted to do with our time. Spend it with each other, our friends, his family. We were going to live...and love...and laugh. Even it would be for only a short time. And then, later on, we would know even if we didn't make it out of the confrontation with the Volturi, that we were happy for just a little while.

It was 7:00 in the morning, and I obviously had to get out of the bedroom. After the conversation we'd had, I was all hyped up and ready to start the day. And Edward, being the poor, tired human that he was, needed just a little more sleep. So I left him in bed and decided it was time to explore the beautiful house and grounds. And maybe go for a hunt if I didn't have to go too far.

I hoped that I would be able to find Rosalie downstairs in the kitchen, just sitting at the table like she'd always done before. But there was no sign of her. I missed her to death and felt that it had been ages since we really talked. I didn't ever want to lose her, but I knew that things were changing for both of us. I just hoped we would never drift apart; we'd been through too much together.

Instead of Rose, I found Esme, sitting alone at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of something that looked to be coffee. She seemed so peaceful, there in her nightgown and robe as she read the morning newspaper.

As I stood in the doorway quietly, not wanting to interrupt the serene picture before me, I was taken back in time to when I was about five or six and I came upon this same scene, except it was my mother. I smiled as I pictured her in my dad's old, ratty robe that she always insisted on wearing rather than the beautiful silk and satin ones that he had gotten for her on a special occasion.

That was my mom, though. She would rather dress in sweatpants and sneakers than those "horrendously uncomfortable" dresses and heals. My mother was born a hippie, and it never went away. I think that was what my father loved about her, actually, though they had nothing at all in common; she was the oil to his water, always doing her own thing, needing to be free. Just like oil and water, she was always at the surface - bubbling, looking for something, but she had no idea what, and needing to be closer to the edge so she could see everything and be everything, just to feel free.

And Charlie - plain, old Charlie - was the water always below her but perfectly content in knowing that he would be there to catch her when she fell and pull her back from the edge if needed. He lived for those moments when life was given a good shake because that was when they would come together again and blend perfectly into one pretty cool unit.

Charlie, as serious of a person that he was, had a way of grounding her, adding a little heaviness to her lightness. And Renee did just the opposite to him. Since he was always loaded down with the heaviness, she made him lighter. It really was a perfect match, and I knew if she were alive today, they would still be blissfully happily.

As I came out of my own little world where both my parents were alive and happy, I looked up from the spot on the floor that I had been staring at to find Esme watching me curiously.

I forced a smile when I realized that she could have been watching me for a while and that she most likely caught the daydreaming look on my face. However, she just smiled warmly at me and pulled the chair next to her out, motioning for me to sit.

I hesitated for only a moment, feeling the magnetic draw that I'd thought was only reserved for her son pulling me in as I shuffled over to the breakfast bar. I felt a blanket of warmth come over my frozen body as Esme wrapped an elegant arm around my shoulders.

"Wow. Your skin really is icy, isn't it?" Esme asked.

I flinched slightly and went to pull away from her, but she just laughed and squeezed me tighter.

After a brief moment of silence, Esme turned her head toward me and gave me a warm smile. Her blue eyes clouded for a minute, and I wondered what it was that she was thinking about.

"You know, Bella, I haven't seen my son this happy in a very long time. In fact, I have never seen him like this...ever."

"Really?" I asked, genuinely surprised. I had no idea that Edward's many women throughout the years had never made him happy. It was interesting to hear and a little sad, too. I really couldn't understand for the life of me, after meeting Edward's parents and seeing how wonderful they were and how much they loved their children, how it was even possible for Edward to grow into the biggest manwhore womanizer that this world had ever seen.

How did that happen?

So far, from what I had seen of the Cullen family, there certainly was no lack of love there - not in the least. In fact, their family dynamic was a truly amazing concept to me, and I felt rather intrigued by them. I wanted...no, I needed to know more about the Cullens. Not just Edward, but all of them.

I wanted to see how a functional family actually made their family functional.

I smiled at Esme, quickly going back in my perfect memory to pull out the conversation she was just having with me while my mind was somewhere else.

Ah, yes, she was talking about how she never thought that Edward could be a monogamous kind of man. That she had resigned herself to the fact Edward was just not built that way and monogamy was just not for him. It had made her sad because she believed in unconditional, eternal love - like what she had with Carlisle - and for Edward to never know how wonderful it could be to share your life with a person that way, well, then life was just not worth living.

I listened attentively to her ramble on about our relationship, as many mothers do the same thing when they are genuinely excited for their sons. I couldn't help but feel completely amused by the irony of the situation since, there we were, a human and vampire, discussing my love life with her son, and there wasn't an ounce of fear or hesitance when Esme spoke. I was not any different from her and her family in her eyes. It both astonished me and touched me, and I knew at that moment that I already loved Esme.

She was the epitome of all things good in this world, and she already accepted me for what I was. I was a monster who loved the hell out of her son...but to her, I was just like them.

It made me feel good.

I felt accepted.

And even though no one could ever replace my own mother, I thought that maybe one day, Esme would make a good second.

And the thought made me smile.