Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns all.

Rated M for several reasons.



This sucks. Might as well torture my sorry ass.

Oh no, wait, they are torturing my sorry ass.

"How long?" I growl.

"Sixty seconds since the last time you asked." Kate replies flippantly from the bottom of the tree. "She's only gone shopping with Esme. How hard can it be?"

Very hard, she has no idea, the Russian witch.

"Can I at least have my cell back?"

"No. You'll only text her and that will defeat the object of the exercise."

"You know, I could just take it from you." I point out.

"You could." She allows, so unconcerned that she doesn't even bother looking up at me from her book. "But your mate might have a word or two to say on the matter."

Humph. Funny how everyone's trotting that line out these days. Not.

It's taken us quite a while to get here, Bella and me.

I was more than happy, gross understatement, to just let go of everything and spend time with her in British Columbia. Despite my confessional diarrhoea previously, and with her general verbal reticence, there was so much we talked about, told each other. I didn't press our re-integration into polite society as much as I maybe should have done, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

She was still really pissed with the Cullens at the time.

I am older than her. I understood their reactions better. But I couldn't, wouldn't, deny to her that they hurt.

So when she finally developed a hankering for civilisation we tidied ourselves up as best we could and went wandering again, the same way we did when we were falling in love. I suppose we needed it in a way. She even made me work from time to time though she no longer cared about 'wasting money' on the best accommodation with the biggest beds. Not that we always rested our heads that way. Her bivouac building skills have improved considerably.

Anyway. With civilisation came the cell phone charger. And hundreds of missed calls and texts from Rose. I wasn't surprised. Rose has always been the freak out in haste, repent at leisure, type. And family is important to her. Even me.

There were also calls from Esme, physically healed at least from her ordeal, and wanting us to come home. Kate, wanting to be sure Bella was okay and still intending to visit Denali. Pete, reminding us about the refrigerator. Em complaining he was bored. Carlisle dispassionately filling us in on all the detailed news and compassionately reminding me that he loves me and regards me as his son.

Bella read and listened to them all. Cogitated on them for a few months, then decided we were going to Maine. Because she didn't want to keep me from my family with her own issues. Kate decided to come too, for moral support. Like me she's older than Bella. We both knew Bella and I couldn't just waltz back and pick up where we left off before Cornell happened. No matter how much you want to make things right there ain't a magic spell for it. It's hard and it's painful.

We stayed two weeks. No one died.

It wasn't as bad as it could have been but it was awkward and sobering. It's a testament to Bella's strength that she withdrew us, took a month to realign herself and then made us come back. For me. She really is a loner and it wasn't her natural instinct, even without the issues we have as a family. Her claiming me becomes more amazing and precious by the second, it goes against her every instinct.

Carlisle and Eleazar were predictably orgasmic over the sharing of our gifts.

She's doing much better with mine than I am with hers. She can't manipulate people's emotions yet but I'm sure she'll get there. For the most part she can already feel them but she's having to learn to tell the difference between theirs and hers, the same way I did. I hate that she has to go through that but I'll freely admit to being amused by some of the consequences. Horny Em? Horny Bella. Annoyed Rose, annoyed Bella. Dominant Jasper, very dominant Bella . . . .

Me on the other hand, I can feel her shields but I'll be damned if I can do anything with them. It's like trying to learn a new language or smart phone, it ought to work the way I think it does, but it doesn't. This entertains her enormously.

I love it when she laughs. I am one unfairly lucky son of a bitch.


I'm used to taking responsibility for my actions, accepting the consequences, wherever you stand on the whole 'family under the bus thing', I did hold Cornell down while Maria tortured, raped and killed his wife. He'd every right to hate me.

And nothing will ever un-make my monstrous past.

But I do feel like I'm being given a chance at a new future. Falling in love with Bella, however reluctantly, is like starting a third life, Carlisle's likened it to finally getting the chance to grow into the young man I might have become if Maria hadn't ended my first try.

I'm a man with responsibilities now as he's constantly pointing out.

It isn't that simple though and to be frank, Bella, the youngest of all of us, is the only one who truly understands.

I can't just wash away my past. It's part of who I am. I am that man. The one who committed all those atrocities. And unlike Carlisle neither she nor I believe I can atone for my sins. I can only choose not to repeat them.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as Grandma Swan would have said. I ended the lives of several dozen vampires in Quebec. And I am not sorry for it. And I will do it again if I have to. I'm perhaps just developing a better conception of 'have to'. Or a narrower one. Because I will not hesitate to embrace that side of me if Bella is ever threatened in the future.

I love that she understands that. There isn't a word for the amount of love I feel for her as a result of the fact she accepts it.

Perhaps that's one of the mechanisms of Fate and mating. No one can protect her better than I can. No one. And no one cares that she be safe and happy more than I do. The vampire equivalent of being a highly motivated self-starter.

Just because she accepts me for what I am doesn't mean she automatically accepts my behaviour. She does not make excuses for me, she does not forgive for my transgressions just because I've had a hard life and I'm trying, improving. She forces me to think about what I've done and whether or not it was appropriate. Since I'm not interested in anything other than Bella, releasing my inner asshole now largely revolves around my possessive instincts, well ingrained selfish traits and apparently faulty comprehension of the definition of safe and happy.

Feeling other people's emotions does not entitle me to outright kill them or frighten them to death. No one can help their feelings. Happiness and safety are not threatened by lusty feelings that aren't acted upon. This applies to human men and vampires alike. Touching Bella accidentally or inappropriately in not a capital offence. Bella will tell Jasper when his intervention is required.

Bella is unhappy when she has to go shopping. This does not mean the instigator should be made to feel like they have to make a will and say their last goodbyes. Bella is unhappy when I am. This does not mean I have to weaken myself by manufacturing and projecting happy thoughts.

Since Bella didn't know me before the selfishness thing is different with her. I am not going to spend thirty six hours straight reading with Bella in the world. Nor am I going to tinker with cars, catalogue my library or make stupid vampire mistakes like draining someone if it might limit my time with her. So this is not the kind of selfishness she objects to. Em's desire to hunt with me, wrestle with me, or play with humans in a non-food way is a perfectly normal thing for a brother to feel. Repeatedly brushing him off to spend time with Bella is selfish.

She feels bad about the fact that neither of us can go anywhere or do anything without the other.


Though we're both quite happy with things being that way she recognises that this isn't entirely fair on everyone else. Em wants to spend time with his brother. Esme wants to spend time with the woman she considers her newest daughter. Bella wants to be able to give some of her time, sans supernatural stalker, to Kate. I miss letting Pete lead me relatively innocently astray.

Hence my presence in this crappy tree.

The scientific duo, Carlisle and Eleazar, are fascinated by our apparent inability to be apart. Nurture or nature? Is it because we were violently separated and have spent no time apart since? Is it because true mates can't be separated?

I like being with her all the time. I'm not sure I want to know the answer to those questions because I have no real idea what else I'd be doing . . . .

"How long?" I demand.

"Nice." Kate murmurs. "A whole ten minutes. There may be hope for the pair of you yet."

No, probably not.

I can feel her coming closer, like a forest fire encircling the tree, warm and unavoidable.

And I can feel her gift enveloping me.

Supressing a smile I propel myself out of said tree, dropping unheeded at Kate's feet.

My unobservable entity has come for me. I knew she would.

Silently I extend my hand, grinning like a triumphant fool as I feel hers slip into it.

We're going to escape, just for an hour or two.

I may no longer be a completely bad ass vampire but I can still be a slightly naughty one . . . .

A/N Well here we are again at the end of another story. This one was ludicrously long. Sorry.

Thanks to all of you for your reviews. They really do keep me going. Especially this time, my first proper brush with writer's block. It was nasty . . . and you were all awesome.

So, good news and bad news. Bad news first, I think I do have another Twilight story, so I'm sorry, I'm still lurking out there like the proverbial bad penny, apt to turn up at any time. Good news is I need a break first, so I'm going to do something completely different. Okay, so not completely different. He's big, he's blonde, he's sexy, he's somewhat dead . . .

I hope you'll come and give it a go, because I really do appreciate all your encouragement and support.



And thanks. Again.