A/N: Thank you so much to all of you who read, and special gratitude for HoochieMomma and FatedFeathers for their prereading and beta magic. Any mistakes are my own, of course. The song for this epilogue is "Circuital," by My Morning Jacket.
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The buzzing of her phone woke Saisha from a weird dream, so she didn't mind, even though it was an hour earlier than her usual time. Rolling over, she checked the screen and clicked on the "new text message" icon. Seth. You up yet? I'm bored.
I am now, she texted back, and then ran to wash her face.
When she got back, a new message awaited her: Sorry.
I'm not. I had the strangest dream where Jacob was crying in his wolf form and my dad was hugging him.
A long pause, and then, Your subconscious is a messed-up place to be, Sonny.
I KNOW. Are you ready for today?
All I have to do is show up. Are you ready?
I think so. Is Leah still complaining about the dress?
Yeah, no worries. I'll get her in it. She loves the heels, anyway. Anything that makes her taller than me.
Saisha giggled. I think Jacob won't care if she shows up in cutoffs tbh.
Ooh, text-speak. I'm so proud. ;) I think you're right. Let's spend all day at the pool and get her drunk.
None for you, ten-year-old.
At least not in public. You don't want to get your mom in trouble. The next message came through right after: It's about as pointless for you as it is for me regardless.
Fine. Checking the weather report, Saisha saw that nothing but clouds were expected on the Big Island, just as she'd hoped. Jacob's sister had worried about them coming in winter, but Jacob had fobbed her off with the excuse that he and Bella wanted to get married on the anniversary of the day she'd brought the motorcycles up to La Push. The real reason, of course, was so Saisha would have a better chance of being able to go out and have fun without being covered in makeup. Donning a sundress, she headed across the hall to knock on Seth's door, but he yanked it open before she did more than raise her fist. "Whoa. Good morning?"
"I'm so damn jetlagged," he answered, grabbing her hand. He'd been doing that more and more often, but Saisha still wasn't used to it. She ducked her head to hide the rising color in her cheeks and concentrated on harmless thoughts as he pulled her down the hallway. "Let's go drink a pot of coffee or three. Who knows, it might help if we chug it all own at once."
"Have you talked to Leah?"
"I think she might've hooked up with that guy she was talking to on the beach yesterday. The one with the golden retriever? I texted her after you but she hasn't answered yet. Anyway, I'm sure she'll be back in time."
Saisha didn't share his confidence, but she decided it wasn't worth arguing about. If she had to, she'd track Leah down herself. They arrived downstairs just as the staff were putting out the breakfast buffet.
Saisha couldn't help but notice the awed looks turned their way by the time Seth and she finally made their way out of the dining room. Laughing, Seth remarked, "I don't think they could figure out where the food kept disappearing to."
"It gets overwhelming when we go to buffets at the same time. Good thing we don't have to worry about living here because..." Saisha trailed off as she set foot onto the stairs, and then turned on her heel. "Let's go outside."
Seth gave her a puzzled look. "Why?" At her grimace, he winced. "Are you serious? Again? It's your mom's wedding day. She should be getting ready. Those two are like rabbits!"
"I'm really glad for Jacob's ability to shield; let's just put it that way." Saisha started walking toward the pool. "When he goes opaque I've learned to run in the other direction. Anyway, Mom keeps saying she wants it to be really low-key and I guess that means not getting ready until she can't delay it any longer. Hey, Grandpa!"
"Isha," Charlie greeted from his chaise lounge. Setting down his e-reader, he asked, "Seen your mom this morning?"
"No, not yet. You should go get breakfast before it's done." Saisha settled into the chaise beside his. "They had pineapple that sm-looked fresh, though I don't think it's the season for it so I'm not sure."
"Peak season's April and May, but you can get 'em year round," Seth interjected, sitting at the pool's edge to dip his feet in. Turning to see Saisha's raised eyebrows, he shrugged. "I like pineapple. I looked it up."
The buzzing of her phone interrupted her laughter. Pulling it from her pocket, Saisha read, I'll be there. Don't hunt me down.
"I think your sister knows me a little too well," she told Seth. "She's fine, by the way."
He lay back on the concrete, as comfortable as if it were his bed. "No surprise. She can take care of herself. I'm useless to the women in my life."
"No, that's not—" Saisha hastened to reassure him, but then trailed off with an exasperated huff at his upside-down grin. "I can't believe I fell for that again."
"You're too easy, Sonny."
Saisha bit her tongue against the retort that sprang to mind, which was you're not easy enough. That was proof positive of the effect Jacob's imprint had worked on her mind: those sorts of jokes were about ten times easier to make and comprehend now. The problem was, she still wasn't always certain of whether or not they were appropriate. Jacob's definition on that front varied widely from her mother's. Still, she'd been an adult, physically speaking, for years now and hadn't even been kissed. She knew for a fact that Seth had been kissed plenty of times since they met, mostly because he'd never attempted to hide it from her.
I'm not going to make you feel like you have to choose me so I don't end up alone and sad, he told her when she taxed him with it.
How about making me feel like you'll never choose me because I'm not enough to hold your attention? she demanded, close to tears.
Jacob, who was sitting far enough away to grant them nominal privacy but not so far that he couldn't hear them, harrumphed at this.
Seth's face softened, and he patted her back. She jerked away with a petulant sound. Sonny, trust me, if you decide you're ready for my attention, we'll put that theory to the test.
And with that she had to be content, because the truth was, she wasn't ready, and she knew it. The thought of a grown-up romantic relationship with Seth, and all that would entail, was far more scary than it was exciting at the time. What if she messed it up because she was too immature and ruined their chances forever? At the moment, however, far from home and all things familiar, it was starting to sound very doable.
Seth settled back down and smiled, eyes closed. "Your mom and Jacob are down now. It's safe to go upstairs. Need any help getting stuff together?"
"No, thanks. Not unless you know how to arrange flowers." After a second, she reconsidered. "Do you know how to arrange flowers?"
"Nope. But that doesn't mean I can't cut ribbon and hold stems for you or whatever."
"It's okay. I've just got two bouquets to do."
Despite the simplicity of the wedding plans, Saisha found the day flying by as she ran around performing last-minute errands, giving Billy, Rachel, and Rebecca directions to the stretch of beach they were using, cajoling Leah into the heels despite their lack of practicality, and coordinating with the planners to make sure the walkway and stage were set up in a way that ensured access to Billy's wheelchair. Before she knew it, Jacob was standing in front of her, an immovable object, saying, "If you still want to be maid of honor, you'd better get your dress on, spawn."
"I know what time it is," she told him with great dignity, and then as soon as she was out of sight shot up the stairs, taking them three at a time. She didn't fool him, of course; she heard his snort as the stairwell door swung shut behind her.
There were times when being a hybrid came in handy, and most of those times involved the faster-than-human speeds she could attain. Within fifteen minutes she walked out of her room dressed, with makeup on every visible inch of her skin—and there were a lot of inches visible in this dress. Crossing to her mother's room, she knocked and called, "Mom? Are you ready for me to do your hair?"
Bella opened the door with a smile. "Sure!"
Saisha stared. "Wow. You look amazing." Finding a wedding dress that hid Bella's shoulders but showed off her legs had been a task and a half, and added to that had been the complication that Bella flat-out refused to wear white. In the end, though, they had found a satin banded canary-yellow dress that came up above the knee and had cap sleeves.
Bella grinned and twirled, obviously delighted with herself. "Thank you! I'm so excited. Listen, I've been thinking, with the wind the way it's been, probably it's better to go with something a little more secure than the chignon."
"That's true. How about the half-up, half-down one we looked at before?"
After some discussion, they agreed on a style that showed off the length of Bella's locks while getting them away from her face.
"I wonder if you should go check on Leah," Bella mused, just as Saisha's phone buzzed with another couple of texts from Seth.
"No, her brother's got it handled," she reported. "Let's do makeup and then we can go."
Bella didn't look convinced. "What do you mean, 'handled'?"
In answer, Saisha showed her the screen of her phone. Got her dressed and her hair done but she's bitching that the cut makes her look pregnant. I told you she hated empire waist.
"Text him back and tell him that's what she gets for refusing to help me look," Bella said with a laugh, turning back to her mirror.
Saisha did, and then snatched a brush from her mother's hand. "No! Let me do that. You haven't even put on moisturizer, Mom. Do you have any idea how many instructional articles and books I read to get ready for this?" As an afterthought, she added, "By the way, Jacob's ready. I'm pretty sure they just left."
Bella raised her eyebrows, and hurriedly lowered them at Saisha's glare. "Sorry. You can feel that now?" Her phone chimed; glancing at the message from Jacob, she sighed. "You guys keep getting weirder and weirder."
"I know. Like he says, we're all a bunch of freaks. Good thing we found each other."
"Hey." Bella caught Saisha's hand and kissed it. "Have I thanked you lately for doing that? Because thank you."
"Even though it was invasive and manipulative," Saisha said in unison with her. They laughed, and Saisha continued by herself, "Hold still or we'll be late."
At last, they left to join the rest of the party, Saisha driving while Bella fussed in the mirror. When Saisha giggled, Bella asked, "What?"
"It's just... Aunt Alice told me how you were when you married my dad. She said she honestly couldn't see if you were going to run until ten minutes before the ceremony. And now you're like a kid who's about to go to Disneyland." Suddenly realizing how inappropriate that observation was, she backtracked, "No. I'm sorry. Can we pretend I didn't say that?"
"It's all right, honey." Reaching for her hand, Bella gave it a squeeze. "I'm always going to be glad I married your dad because I got you out of the bargain. And yeah, this go-round I'm way happier. Mostly because it was my idea, too. Are you sure you won't mind me hyphenating?"
"Actually, about that..." Saisha gave her mom a shy glance as she turned into the parking lot. "I've been wondering if you would mind if I changed my name."
"What," Bella said in such a flat tone that it wasn't a question.
Appalled at the obvious consternation on Bella's face, Saisha said, "If you don't want Jacob to adopt me, it's okay, I totally understand—" Or at least she would once Jacob explained it to her.
"Oh. Oh!" Bella burst into relieved laughter. "Of course I would love that, honey. I thought you were telling me that Seth and you were getting married."
Saisha mustered up a weak smile in response to her mother's hilarity. "Yeah. That would be a bad thing considering he hasn't done more than hold my hand."
"Exactly." Bella leaned to give her a kiss on the forehead. "Saisha, you are a joy and a delight and I think that you becoming a Swan-Black is an excellent notion. Now. Let's get this show on the road."
"I still think it should be Black-Swan," Saisha said as they got out of the car.
"Nope, still a bad idea," Jacob replied from where he waited for them, a big grin dawning on his face. He said it too quietly for Bella to hear him; Saisha bit her lip to hide her amusement.
Bella had insisted on no frills for the ceremony itself, so she had no musical accompaniment as she made her way to the wedding party beside Saisha. Charlie, Billy, Seth, Rebecca, Rachel, and Rebecca's sons sat in some folding chairs to the side, but with the exception of Billy rose to their feet at Bella's approach. Leah, beautiful despite her protests in her sleeveless black gown that stopped just past her ankles, stood in the best man's position, holding a ring box in her hand. Saisha took her place and, as the wind picked up a little, folded a chiffon wrap around her mother's shoulders.
The minister smiled at them all and began, "Dearly beloved..."
Saisha listened with one part of her attention while the rest was directed toward trying to gauge Seth's reaction to her appearance. To her slight disappointment, all his attention seemed to be aimed toward Jacob and Bella, although she supposed it was the appropriate thing for him to focus on. The sun became more and more clear in the sky as the ceremony progressed, sinking toward the ocean in a fiery show of oranges and reds, until at last it began to dim and the wedding planner flew around with her employees lighting tiki torches.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride," the minister finally concluded. Jacob caught Bella up in an embrace more notable for its fervor than its grace, but she didn't seem to mind, twining her arms around his neck as she stood on tiptoe. The photographer clicked away while the observers clapped and laughed. When Jacob finally released his wife, she started laughing too.
A lingering final ray of the sun cleared a low-lying cloud, and a flash of diamond-studded sparkle behind a nearby building caught Saisha's eye.
Nobody else seemed to notice, cheering the minister's announcement of the new married couple. The string quartet Saisha had begged her mother to allow her to pay for struck up the recessional, which consisted of Bella running to the guests and hugging everyone while Jacob did the same.
That same glitter and light refracted against the walls of the building again. Saisha swallowed hard and looked at Seth. This time, she clearly wasn't the only one who had seen it. He edged over next to her and, under cover of the surf and the excited babbling of the others, leaned to whisper in her ear, "Anybody we expected?"
Saisha shook her head. "They know about Mom's wedding. I sent an invitation to Volterra and to Aunt Rose and Uncle Emmett up in Denali. But they all sent their regrets."
"Let's go check it out," he suggested.
Saisha couldn't hide her delight at this suggestion. Seth wanted her to come with him, as a team. But on the other hand, if it was some insane nomad, it would be just the two of them. Jacob gave her a sharp glance, no doubt sensing her mixed feelings, and that made up her mind. Mouthing be right back at him, she grabbed Seth's hand and headed toward the mysterious stranger.
As she stepped into the alley, the sun finally slipped beneath the horizon, yielding to the purples and grays of twilight. The wind shifted, and the newcomer's scent touched her. She relaxed; nobody but "vegetarian" vampires had that particular underlying note. At the same moment, however, Seth stiffened by her side, swearing under his breath. "Sonny, let's go, I don't think it's anything—"
"It's all right, Seth," said the vampire. He stepped out from behind a nearby dumpster.
"I wasn't worried about you," Seth replied, voice shaking, and Saisha's knees gave way beneath her, because the vampire was Edward Cullen.
Seth caught her to his side, but before she straightened her father was standing next to her. "Saisha!"
For the first time her life, her vocabulary—in all eight languages—deserted her. She was left gasping, "What—what—what—"
Unwittingly, Seth provided the impetus needed to recover when he shoved Edward away with his free hand and growled, "You son of a bitch. You let her think you were dead!"
The comment jarred her brain into working order. "No, Seth." Straightening, Saisha stepped away from the protective circle of Seth's arm and tilted her head to examine her father. "I know why he did it." Although she was used to the unaging faces of her Cullen relatives, for some reason the minute changes in her mother's countenance had subconsciously formed an expectation of a similar effect on Edward Cullen. The sight of a boy, one who looked to be the same physical age as she, set her heart pounding with shock.
A crooked smile pulled at the corners of Edward's mouth. "I hoped you would."
"Yeah, well, I think it's bullshit." Seth was struggling to keep himself under control; Saisha could tell from the waves of heat from his body that swept into her back. "There's no possible reason that would be good enough."
"It was for my mother," Saisha told him, and he fell into silence, though his breathing remained rough and his heartbeat uneven.
Moving with caution, Edward reached to run a strand of her hair between his fingers. "It wasn't only for her. More than anything, I wanted both of you to be able to live in the human world, and that meant being raised by a human who understood human mores. But, there was one thing I knew about your mother, better than she did. She would always forgive me, even for something as terrible as what I did. And as soon as she forgave me, she would take me back, and that would mean that she would eventually have to be turned."
"So, to keep her from forgiving you, she had to believe you were dead."
"That makes no sense," Seth protested.
Grief warred with understanding, and understanding won. Saisha felt the echo of her father's smile curving her own lips. "It does, though. To a seventeen-year-old."
"Can you forgive me?" he asked, searching her face. "From the first moment I saw you, I knew how greatly I had wronged you. How greatly I had wronged both of the most important girls in my life. It seemed you would end up happier without me."
Saisha couldn't argue with that, but she could scold, "You should have told me. I've been to Volterra."
"I worried that you would insist on staying, at least part-time, and that would have harmed the development of your human half."
Sighing, Saisha shrugged in concession. "I probably would have." She shook her head at him. "You always would do anything for Mom. Jacob was right."
"He said that?" Edward looked in the direction of the wedding. "In the end, I think we understood each other better than we understood ourselves." Returning his gaze to Saisha, he added, "I didn't intend for you to see me tonight, but once you did, I was too selfish to run as I should have. Another wrong to add to my account." He gave her a mischievous look. "Then again, since you're more mature than I am now, maybe I should appeal to your adult sense of fairness."
Saisha laughed, then sobbed, and then his arms closed around her and she hugged him back, unable to stop herself from crying into his shirt.
A few minutes later, Edward pulled away. "I'm so sorry, but Jacob's getting worried about you, and he'll come to check on you both in a moment. I must leave. But I'll look forward to your next visit." To Seth, he said, "Take care of her, Seth."
"She's been raised to take care of herself," Seth replied, surveying him with narrowed eyes from his position against the alley wall. "But I'll be happy to keep her company."
"That's as good as can be expected, I suppose," Edward said, and, with a burst of speed too great even for Saisha to follow, he vanished.
Turning to Seth, she smiled. "Let's go back."
"Let me fix your makeup first." He rubbed at a few places beneath her eyes, and then asked, "You gonna be okay?" clasping her hand in his own.
"Yeah, but I might realize how I really feel about this later on tonight, or next week. You never know." They turned their steps toward the wedding. She laughed. "There is one thing I know, though. Did you catch what Edward said about my maturity?"
"Yeah, you're... more mature than he is..." Seth trailed off, no doubt catching the images she couldn't quite keep from springing to mind.
Tugging her fingers free from his grasp to preserve what was left of her privacy, she nodded. "That's right. I'm legal now, Clearwater. My dad said so."
Before he could respond, Jacob and Bella shouted and waved from their table. Laughing, Saisha left Seth behind, and ran to join her family.