A/N: Hi guys! OMG! I'm soooo sorry that it took me such a long time to update. It's the same lame excuse as always: RL has been crazy. I won't bother you with all my drama and instead give you some more Cullen drama. Becauses that's what you're here for after all. I want to thank everyone for their amazing reviews. I assure you that I read all of them and they warm my heart. Well, without further ado... here's the next chapter! I hope it will live up to your expectations. I tried.. I struggled a lot with it, because I had a severe case of writer's block. I believe I wrote at least ten different versions and I hated every single one of them. But I think I'm sort of happy with this one .. sort of... hihi. Anyways, enjoy and I'll see you on the other side.

Disclaimer: SM owns it all.

POV'S: Emmett, Edward, Bella.


Emmett's POV.

November 24th 1998

''Go, Rebel!'' I shouted from the stands. ''Kick her ass!''

''Emmett!'' Esme chided with a stern look. ''Language.''

I was too excited to pay much attention to her or to wipe the huge grin off my face. I chanced a look at Jazz who sat on my other side and noticed an identical stupid grin on his face. Our little rebel had been working her tiny butt of these past few months and now was her moment to show them all what she was made off.

Ever since Edward had left on his very high and moral horse Jazz and I had taken over driving Bella to practice. It had been one of his overprotective stipulations when Bella had told us that she'd wanted to learn martial arts. But since he apparently couldn't even keep the simplest of promises Jazz and I had taken it upon ourselves to see that Bella got to practice safely. I'd had the sneaky suspicion that Bella actually preferred it this way. Edward hadn't been on board with her I-wanna-fight-my-own-battles-attitude in the first place and at least Jazz and I shared her enthusiasm.

Today was a big day for her to move up another belt and we had all come to cheer her on. Even Rosie had taken some time off being a moody grump and was cheering her on with a big proud smile.

Alice had left the stands and was circling the floor to film everything (much to some people's annoyance) and, although this wasn't really her kind of thing, she cheered her on with the same level of enthusiasm as the rest of our family.

''Bella, keep moving!'' Jazz shouted, his eyes alight with a passionate fire. ''Don't let her get to you! Use your angles!''

Jazz was simply incapable of cheering her own without adding constructive criticism. He sounded more like an overly invested coach than a supportive family member. He jumped out of his seat when Bella almost lost her balance, trying to defend from her opponent's attack.

''Keep your focus!'' he yelled, itching closer to the floor. ''She's feigning, Bella!''

''Jasper, let her do her thing,' Esme chided, trying to pull him back into his seat, but before her hand closed around his wrist he had left the stands and was walking towards the match. The eyes of several people followed him with wary disapproval. Esme was about to retrieve him, but Carlisle stopped her.

''Darling, let him go,'' he said, watching Jazz with exasperated amusement. ''We'd have to bolt him to the concrete floor.''

Now that Jazz was out I had every intention of following after him, but before I could so much as take a step I was pulled back into my seat.

''Oh, no, no, no,'' Esme said. ''You stay right here. One embarrassing brother is more than enough.''

I rolled my eyes and grumbled something unintelligible, but before I could start a fit Bella fell down with a loud thump. Jazz, who was now standing even closer to the match than Alice was, yelled at her again.

''Get up, get up!'' He lowered himself into a half-crouch and tried to make eye contact with her. ''Roll away and swerve to the side!''

I leaned over the stand to see what was going on. I heard Bella cuss under her breath before she rolled away from her opponent and jumped up with more grace than I would've thought possible. These lessons had certainly improved her balance. She seemed more in control of her own body than she had been before. She still looked incredibly clumsy and off beat to me, but she didn't fall down as much as she used to.

''That's it!'' Jazz shouted again.

''You can do it, devil!'' I yelled from the stands. Jazz wasn't the only brother who could cheer her on.

Bella seemed to shake of the initial shock and regained her focus before her opponent could take advantage of her weakness.

''Counter attack!'' Jazz yelled, his hands on the floor. He was fully crouched now and he looked like a dangerous, hungry lion ready to pounce on an innocent dear. Several people from the stands threw him wary and scandalized looks, but he didn't seem to notice. I shook my head and tried to muffle my laughter. If they only knew…

Jazz was overdoing it, but I couldn't really blame him. We all wanted Bella to win.

''Bella, from the right! Throw her off balance!'' Jazz was shouting furious instructions, pointing at several spots on the mat. ''Knock her down, Bella!''

''That idiot is making a spectacle of himself down there,'' Rose hissed, annoyed. ''He's supposed to keep a low profile and cheer on his little sister. People are starting to pay more attention to him than to the actual match.''

I laughed loudly and bumped my shoulder against hers. ''Come on,'' I said, trying to lighten her mood. ''This is his thing. I wanna be down there too.'' She threw me an exasperated look that made me laugh even harder.

''Don't act like you don't want to do the same thing.''

She tried to glare at me, but failed miserably. The corners of her mouth twitched and formed an involuntary smile.

Bella almost lost her balance again, but regained it before her opponent could knock her down. That girl was a tough one. Bella seemed to have a hard time gaining the upper hand.

Bella suddenly locked eyes with an infuriated Jasper and stared at him for the smallest of moments as he shouted at her. I thought that she was about to cuss him out, but instead she gave him a small nod before she focused on her opponent again.

I felt my eyes widen at the silent exchange. It seemed that she was actually willing to listen to his advice for a change. Who would've thought? It usually only seemed to aggravate her and she told him to butt out. Perhaps her current struggles had changed her views on his incessant meddling.

''You can take her, Bella!'' Jazz shouted, pointing his fingers in several directions to guide her. ''Remember what I told you before the match! Do that!''

I raised an eyebrow at his crouched form, trying to remember what he had told her before the match started, but coming up blank. It seemed that he had given her some secret tips that none of us knew about. Classic Jazz.

Bella suddenly swerved to the right just as her opponent was about to grab her, throwing her off balance completely. My eyes almost rolled out of my head and bounced off the stairs when I saw her agility. I had never seen her do that before.

''What the — '' I started to say, almost falling over the railing in my attempt to get a closer look.

''That's it!'' Jazz yelled at such a high pitch that I worried for a moment that he had turned into a girl.

Bella turned around and watched as her opponent stumbled, but before she could fall down Bella grabbed her arm and used her own body to throw her opponent down, locking her in place.

''Yes!'' Jazz shrieked. ''Hold her down! Close her off!''

Bella locked her opponent down in a fierce grip, her eyes full of fiery concentration and determination. Her opponent tried to throw Bella off, but it was in vain. She wasn't going anywhere.

The referee blew his whistle to indicate that the match was over and I jumped out of my seat with a loud roar.

'That's my rebel!'' I boomed, throwing a punch in the air. ''That's my bad-ass little devil!''

Jazz just let out an almighty roar, clearly too pumped to form coherent words. Bella released her opponent and jumped upright, the burning fire still in her eyes.

''That's my baby!'' Rose yelled beside me with the same fire in her eyes. I laughed at their obvious resemblance.

Bella took a deep and determined breath before she turned her head to us with a big smile and bumped her fist in the air.

'YEAH!'' I roared, copying her move. ''That's it, squirt! That's it!''

Jazz was still in the middle of his victorious roar when Bella ran off the mat and jumped right into his raised arms. He caught her swiftly and swirled her around as she closed her legs around his waist and locked her arms around his neck.

''I did it, Jazz!'' she laughed as he hugged her tight. ''I did it!''

''Booyah!'' I yelled, laughing at her enthusiasm.

''She's a terrible winner,'' Esme said, but despite her comment she was laughing and cheering just like the rest of us.

Carlisle laughed at her words and shook his head. ''How can we expect anything less? She has terrible examples.''

''Hey!'' I protested, unable to wipe the huge smile off my face. ''There's nothing wrong with outrageous victory cheering.''

Rose agreed wholeheartedly, shouting another cheer to emphasize my point.

''I rest my case,'' Carlisle laughed.

Alice was now filming Bella and Jazz's victorious embrace, laughing and bouncing around them like an excited fairy.

''This is so making it into this year's video highlights!'' I heard her sing, unable to contain her bubbly enthusiasm.

''Video highlights?'' I asked, looking at Rose with a quizzical brow. She laughed loudly and shook her head.

''Don't ask.''

I shrugged it off and ran down the stands to congratulate my little devil of a sister with her victory.


Later that day Bella received her new and well deserved belt along with a few others who had passed the second part of their exam. She needed to place into the top ten at this tournament and she had done so without a single loss. When the end results were read out loud Bella came out on top in her category. She received a golden cup along with her new belt which she raised into the air with a big and toothy grin.

''That's it, devil!'' I shouted, unable to stop cheering her on. She had exceeded all expectations. It was incredible how much she had grown over the past few months. She had literally worked her little butt off and it had finally paid off. I was so proud of her I couldn't even form the right words to describe my current state of happiness.

Jazz must have been feeling the same way, because his face was stony with all the emotions coursing through him, doubled, of course, by the emotions of everyone else around him. He looked at her with such intensity in his eyes that I suspected that he would've cried if he could. It was rare to see Jazz like that and it threw me a little. In an attempt to shake him out of it I swung my arm around his neck and bumped his shoulder with my free fist.

''That's our little devil up there, bro,'' I grinned at him. He nodded stiffly, his eyes still focused on a very happy Bella as she received her prizes. ''You helped her win.''

''So did you,'' he whispered back, clearly too emotional to speak at normal volume. I laughed loudly and bumped his shoulder again for good measure.

When the ceremony was over Bella ran over to us and Rosie caught her in a fierce hug.

''I'm so proud of you, baby,'' she whispered, hugging Bella close to her chest.

''Thanks, mom,'' Bella laughed, trying, without succes, to free herself from Rosie's stony death grip. ''Can't breathe, mom.''

When Rosie finally released her, she moved to the rest of us, her big grin still firmly in place.

Alice was still busy filming every single detail of Bella's big day when we walked out and back to our cars.

''What would you like for dinner, sweetheart?'' I heard Esme ask when the big double doors of the gym closed behind us.

Bella laughed and shrugged. ''It doesn't really matter.''

''You wanna go out and have dinner?'' Carlisle asked her as he searched his pockets for his car keys. Bella stopped short and leveled him with a narrowed stare.

''No,'' she said curtly. ''Going out for dinner with a bunch of vampires is lame. I'll be the only one eating, but everyone has to order. It's stupid and a waste of good food.''

Carlisle smiled at her. ''You're right, but we'll do it anyway if you'd like to go out and celebrate.''

''We can celebrate at home,'' Bella said. ''I prefer that.''

''As you wish, Angel,'' he said, unlocking the car doors.

''Can I take a raincheck?'' I interrupted, feeling like a lousy brother. ''I really want to celebrate, but there's something I need to do.''

''Emmett,'' Esme said, disapproval coloring her tone. ''Can't it wait until later? This is Bella's moment.''

''No, it's fine,'' Bella said before I could answer. ''It's not like you can join me for dinner or anything. I don't mind. Where are you going?''

I hesitated, looking away from her curious eyes.

''Oh,'' she mumbled. ''I get it.''

She turned around and jumped into the backseat of Carlisle's Mercedes without another word.

''Squirt,'' I groaned, trying to make her look at me. ''Don't be like that. I have to go hunting anyway.''

''You went yesterday with Carlisle and Jasper,'' Rose said, narrowing her eyes at me.

''No, it's fine,'' Bella said again, refusing to meet my eye. ''Do what you have to do, Emmett. I'm not mad.''

''Are you sure?'' I asked, double checking. She took a deep breath before she looked at me and gave me a sad smile.

''Yeah, I'm sure,'' she mumbled. ''Just — '' she hesitated and bit her lip before she continued. ''I don't want to see a depressed or moody Emmett when you come back. Only goofy grins and annoying fits of booming laughter.''

I laughed loudly at her words and she flashed me a sneaky grin that seemed a lot more natural than the sad smile she had given me a minute before.

''Deal!''

''Get out of here then,'' she said with a jerk of her head.

''See ya later, devil.''

Rose threw me one of her infamous death glares, but before she could start a full blown argument I pecked her on the lips.

''See ya later, baby,'' I said, flashing her a devilish grin. I turned around before she could protest and ran away. I had to use human speed for a while 'til I entered the woods and broke into a run.


A short while later I was greeted by Kate when she opened the door for me with a smile.

''What's up, cuz,'' she said, stepping aside so I could enter. I chuckled and wiggled my eyebrows at her before I leaned over to kiss her on the cheek in greeting.

''Bella won.''

''Of course she did,'' Kate laughed as she closed the door. ''She's a tough one.''

''You can say that again.''

She smirked before her face fell a little. ''Sorry I couldn't be there today. Tanya needed me for something and I couldn't get out of it.''

''Don't worry about it,'' I said with a wave of my hand. ''She had enough people cheering for her. Actually, if it had been just Jazz she still would've had enough cheers.''

Kate laughed. ''That bad?''

''He made a lasting impression,'' I chuckled. Kate laughed and shook her head, amused.

''How's my little brother today?''

''Extra broody,'' she answered with a roll of her eyes.

''Oh, goodie, just the way I left him then,'' I muttered sarcastically.

''Yup.'' She raised an eyebrow at me. ''Shouldn't you be at home. Celebrating or something.''

''Yeah, I, eh, took a raincheck,'' I mumbled, avoiding her narrowed eyes. ''You know…''

Kate sighed. ''I get it. Are they home yet?''

''Yeah, I'm pretty sure they'll be home now. Why?''

''I was thinking about dropping by,'' she said with a shrug. ''You know…''

''Bella will like that,'' I encouraged. ''Esme is probably going to make a ten course dinner or something, so she'll be in the kitchen for a while.''

Kate laughed at that. ''Yeah, probably.''

''I'll see you later then,'' I said, moving towards Edward's room. ''If — you know…''

''Yeah, I know,'' she answered with an encouraging smile. ''Don't worry about it. Do what you have to do.''

I laughed. ''You're the second person to tell me that today.''

She raised an eyebrow in question.

''Bella,'' I clarified.

''Oh.''

She turned around and opened the front door again. ''Well, see you later, cuz,'' she muttered before she left, closing the door behind her in a flash.

''See ya,'' I mumbled before I slouched off towards Edward's room. I knocked a few times, but when I didn't receive an answer I let out a frustrated sigh and tried to open it without permission. The door was locked.

''Damn it,'' I cursed. I wasn't about to kick down someone's else's door. Tanya would ban me from the house. ''Edward! Open the damned door.'' I knocked again, but all was quiet.

''Eh, Emmett.''

I turned around and saw Tanya hovering at the end of the hallway. She cleared her throat and crossed her arms over her chest.

''He's not in there.''

''What do you mean he's not in there?'' I demanded. ''Then where the hell is he?''

''In the living room,'' she said, gesturing behind her. My eyebrows shot up in surprise.

''What the hell?''

Tanya smiled at me. ''He's become a little more social lately. Thank god.''

''Edward? Social?'' I couldn't really picture it, but I followed after her nevertheless. When I reached her I kissed both of her cheeks in greeting and she rubbed my back in return.

''It's good to see you too,'' she muttered.

Sure enough, when I entered the living room Edward was in the middle of a game of chess.

''Dude,'' I said, a little relieved to find that he hadn't run off to some far corner of the world. That would've been slightly problematic.

''That's an understatement, Emmett,'' he muttered, his eyes still fixed on the chess pieces in front of him.

I rolled my eyes when he answered my thoughts. I couldn't say I missed that.

''There's always a silver lining, brother,'' he muttered and I narrowed my eyes at him.

Fat lot of good that stupid silver lining will do amidst a dark sky full of angry and ominous looking grey clouds.

''Small victories,'' he answered again. ''It's not like you to be so pessimistic.''

''And it's not like you to be so optimistic,'' I retorted. ''Who are you and what have you done to my brooding little brother?''

He chuckled and moved another chess piece before he answered. ''I'm merely trying to entertain my audience per request of my gracious host.''

I rolled my eyes at his pretentious answer.

Before I could answer a tall, olive-skinned man rose from his seat and walked over to me with an outstretched hand.

''You must be Emmett,'' he said with a faint french accent. ''I've heard so much about you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. My name is Laurent and I am a guest here.''

I looked him in the eye as I shook his hand and noticed that his eyes were a dull red. Not the vivid red I had seen on several others of our kind, but red enough to make me realize that this Laurent fellow did not follow our diet.

I suddenly remembered Kate telling me about this man a while ago. I had been here so many times and I had never seen him. I had begun to wonder if he was even real.

''You're Irina's —'' I struggled to find the right word. ''Friend.'' It wasn't exactly the right one, but I felt it safer to stay on neutral ground with this guy. Edward hadn't told me about him either.

''You were too busy berating me to leave room for anything else,'' Edward said, his eyes still focused on the game. After a second I noticed that Eleazar was his opponent. I rolled my eyes at that. He should know better by now.

''He does,'' Edward said. ''He's merely indulging me.''

''Yes,'' Laurent answered my question, a beat too late. I focused on him again and released his hand.

''Nice to meet you,'' I muttered before I turned my attention to the rest of the room.

'How's it hangin', uncle El,'' I continued in an attempt to lighten my own mood for a change. Eleazar laughed before he tore his gaze away from the chessboard.

''I'm hanging fine, Emmett,'' he chuckled. ''Thank you for asking.''

I flashed him a goofy grin before I bent down to kiss Carmen on each cheek.

''Good to see you, Emmett,'' she smiled warmly. ''It's been a while.''

''You always sneak off when I visit,'' I said with a mock pout. ''If I didn't know any better I'd say you were avoiding me.''

Carmen laughed and patted my cheek affectionately. She was so much like Esme I couldn't help but close my eyes at her warm gesture. ''I would never avoid you.'' I straightened up with a smirk and she laughed. ''I simply have to take advantage of the short distance between our homes for as long as it lasts. It's nice to see your parents more often.''

''I'm sure they feel the same way,'' I offered before I walked over to Irina and repeated the action. She smiled at me when I kissed her cheeks.

''You look happy,'' I noticed when I pulled back. ''It's good to see you smile, little cuz.''

''Thank you, Emmett,'' Irina smiled. ''I feel happy.''

I looked over at Laurent who was watching our greeting with ill-disguised surprise. Hadn't they mentioned their relationship with us or had Edward been such a poor cousin that he hadn't shown any manners whatsoever?

''I resent that, Emmett,'' Edward muttered behind me. ''I would never embarrass myself by displaying such a lack of manners when my cousins have so graciously accepted me into their home.''

I snorted and rolled my eyes at that. Laurent's eyes flickered to Edward for a second before they rested on me again. He seemed to guess that our half-spoken conversation had something to do with his reaction, so he smiled at me.

Before he could answer however Tanya laughed and spoke.

''Edward is always the perfect gentleman,'' she offered.

''I'm sure he is,'' I muttered before I turned my attention to the gentleman in question. I watched as he moved another piece, effectively trapping Eleazar's queen. I had the feeling this match would be over soon.

''I'd say in about three moves,'' he answered. I rolled my eyes again.

''Good, 'cause I wanna talk.''

''I surmised as much,'' he muttered when Eleazar made a vain attempt to save his beloved queen. ''But whatever it is, is going to have to wait a bit. I wouldn't want to be accused of having bad manners and leave in the middle of a match.''

I raised an eyebrow at his peculiar and pretentious word choice and wondered why he felt the need to speak like that. Could it have something to do with this Laurent fellow? Sure, he seemed a little out of place here, given his eyes, but from what I gathered he and Irina had been together for months now. Surely Tanya and the others would've intervened if there was something seriously wrong with this guy? Drinking human blood wasn't exactly an unusual thing amongst our kind. Quite the opposite really. We were the odd vampires out. Then again, Edward heard a lot more than the rest of us, so maybe he had heard something in Laurent's mind that put him on his guard.

''We can go hunting if you want,'' Edward offered unexpectedly.

''What?'' I blurted out, shocked by his sudden proposal. Where was this coming from? On my previous visits my presence had only seemed to aggravate him. And now he wanted to go hunting with me? What was up with this sudden and crazy personality change?

''Just us brothers,'' he continued. ''It's been a while and I'm sure you and I have a lot to discuss.''

I narrowed my eyes at him in question, but before I could actively voice my suspicions he spoke again.

''I take your silence as a yes.''

He moved another piece and Eleazar let out of low oath before he tried to shield his king from Edward's advance. It was all to no avail, because the next moment Edward's queen crossed the board and he planted her right next to Eleazar's king.

''Check-mate.''

Eleazar chuckled and held out his hand for Edward to shake.

''I lasted a little longer this time, didn't I?''

''Indeed, I'm surprised.'' Edward shook his hand with a smile. ''My big brother's open mind always provides a distraction.''

I snorted again. ''I'm sure it does.''

Edward lifted himself out of his seat and smiled at the room.

''If you'd please excuse me,'' he said, taking a few steps before he turned to me with a polite smile. ''I'm ready if you are, big brother.''

I narrowed my eyes at his suspicious behavior before I turned to my cousins.

''Tanya, Irina, Carmen, always a pleasure,'' I grinned. ''Keep it hangin', Uncle El,'' I added with a salute. Eleazar chuckled.

''Give my regards to your parents,'' he offered.

''Will do.''

I turned around and nodded at Laurent. ''Nice to meet you, Laurent.''

''Likewise,'' he said with a polite smile. ''I'm sure we will meet again sometime soon.''

I smiled and nodded before I followed a serene looking Edward out of the house and into the woods.


Edward's POV.

I heard Emmett's big footsteps behind me as I shot through the forrest as fast as I could. He was falling a little behind, but I knew he would catch up soon enough. I just needed to get away from that house as fast as I could before my stupid big brother could inflict more damage.

He followed me in silence, although his mind was still trying to figure out my unusual behavior. I ran farther and farther, right into the mountains, the snow whispering beneath my feet.

I came to an abrupt halt when I knew that we were completely alone and I turned around to glare at him. He slowed down a few feet from me and regarded me with suspicion.

''What the hell was that all about?'' he demanded with a glare.

''I could ask you the same thing,'' I growled. His eyebrows shot up in surprise when he read my expression.

''You're one mercurial dude. You act like the well-mannered, grateful guest one minute and cuss me out the next. What's up with that? Trying to make a good impression on Tanya?''

I hissed at him and his stupid mouth that always ran away with him.

''What's the matter with you,'' I growled. ''Discussing Bella with Kate in that house? People have ears you know!''

''What?'' he asked, narrowing his eyes at me. ''So now I can't even talk about Bella with Kate anymore, because you're delicate sensibilities can't handle the mention of her name? Well, guess what, Edward, that's your own damn fault! No one's telling you to stay away from her. Quite the opposite! In fact — ''

''I'm not talking about myself, you idiot!'' I snarled at him.

''Then who?'' he asked, back-paddling. Before I could answer his question his mind came up with the answer. ''Is this about that Laurent guy?''

''He can't know about her.''

''Why? What's wrong with him?'' He looked suspicious.

His sudden mood change shook me out of my anger. ''I don't know yet,'' I mumbled.

''Well, aren't you supposed to be the all-knowing mindreader?''

''I can only read people's passing thoughts,'' I said, frustrated. ''I don't have free and unlimited insight into their minds. It doesn't work like that.''

''Then why are you so suspicious of him?'' Emmett demanded. ''You never tell me anything! I'm not a mindreader like you. You can't expect me to know everything without mentioning it.''

I gritted my teeth and looked away. ''Kate asked me to keep an eye on him when I first got here.''

''Why am I only hearing about this now?'' he demanded, indignant. ''You've been in that house for months and you couldn't find a spare minute to tell me all that?''

''It's not that simple,'' I insisted, still refusing to meet his eye. ''Besides, you were far too busy berating me like I said before.''

''That's no excuse, Edward,'' Emmett growled. ''Why do you always have to play the martyr!''

''This is not me being a martyr, you idiot!'' I growled, losing my temper.

''Why did Kate ask you to do that in the first place?'' Emmett asked, trying to sound more reasonable. He wanted answers and he figured that the best way to get them was to play the calm guy. I rolled my eyes at that.

''Because she doesn't trust him,'' I answered honestly.

''Why not?''

''No particular reason,'' I said with a shrug. ''She just wanted to make sure that he has honorable intentions. For Irina's sake, you know.''

''Well?'' Emmett prompted with a raised eyebrow.

''I'm not sure yet,'' I said, frustrated. ''He's very adapt at controlling his thoughts around me.''

He knows about that? Emmett thought, before he answered his own question once more. Of course he does.

''He's been with them for a while now. He knows a lot more than I'm comfortable with.'' I frowned and shook my head. ''But he can't know about Bella!'' I added, my tone fierce. I needed to make him understand that he couldn't let anything slip about her. If he posed a threat and went after Bella… I couldn't even think about it. My dead heart constricted and I was seized with panic at the mere thought.

''You should have told me sooner,'' Emmett insisted with a glare. ''I may not be able to control my thoughts as well as the others, but I know damn well how to keep my mouth shut. Especially where Bella's concerned!''

I looked into his eyes, a burning fire had ignited them and I knew that he was right. He, or any member of my family for that matter, would never do anything that could possibly endanger Bella. He'd fight to the death to protect her.

''I know that and I'm sorry,'' I muttered. ''I should've told you sooner. I'm aware that this is mostly my fault.''

Emmett rolled his eyes at my words. Martyr. There was that word again. I ignored it when it rang clearly in his thoughts.

''So,'' Emmett said, trying to make peace. ''Did you at least find out something? There must be something off about that guy or you wouldn't have reacted the way you did.''

''You're right,'' I agreed with a nod. ''There is something off about that guy; I just don't know what. Like I said, he's very good at controlling his thoughts around me. I need more time.''

''Is that the reason you're still there?'' Emmett demanded.

''It's not the only reason,'' I said, looking him in the eye. ''You know the reason I left in the first place.''

''A stupid reason,'' he growled.

''We'll just agree to disagree.''

Emmett gritted his teeth and muttered something under his breath that I couldn't make out, but I heard his sentiments in his thoughts. He didn't have to tell me that he didn't agree with my choices. He had done so already. Too many times.

''But yes,'' I continued as if I hadn't heard all that. ''I promised Kate I would keep an eye on him and I intend to keep my promise. But it's more than that.'' I pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and forefinger in an attempt to clear my own thoughts. ''I want to find out for myself as well. And for our family.''

''It's just one guy,'' Emmett said, his usual bravoure returning. ''There's twelve of us. He'd be dead before he could try.''

''Eleven,'' I corrected him and he frowned at me. ''Irina's very attached to him. She's in love. She'll fight for him no matter what he does. I read it in her thoughts.''

''She wouldn't side against her own sisters,'' Emmett disagreed, but I shook my head at him.

''I wouldn't be so sure,'' I said with a wary look at him. ''What would you do if we threatened Rosalie? You would side with her no matter who it was.''

Emmett opened his mouth to disagree, but he seemed to remember himself.

''Even so,'' Emmett said after a pause. ''He wouldn't stand a chance. No one's that stupid.''

''You're right,'' I agreed, leaning against a nearby tree. ''He's not that stupid. But he's been with a lot of different vampires before he met Irina. I'm sure he's not as alone as he wants us to think. He has a tendency to gravitate towards power.''

''Power? He wants power?'' Emmett asked, not understanding.

''Not exactly,'' I muttered, resting my head against the bark. ''He wants to surround himself by the powerful. Or at least, those that are powerful in his flawed opinion. He spent some time with the Romanians and even tried to charm his way into the Volturi.''

''Tried?'' Emmett asked, noticing the past tense. ''He's not with them?''

''No.''

''Are you sure about that?''

''Yes, I'm sure.'' I nodded to emphasize my point. ''Because of his connection with the Romanians the Volturi never trusted him. They have an age-old feud that dates back over a thousand years ago. When Aro learned of that connection he refused him.''

''Or maybe he wants you to think that they refused him,'' Emmett muttered with a narrowed eye.

''For what possible reason?'' I raised my eyebrow in question. ''The Volturi wouldn't use a power-hungry guy like Laurent as a spy. They wouldn't need one in the first place. And moreover,'' I added before he could protest. ''I saw his meeting with the Volturi in his mind. He told the truth.''

''You just said that he's very adapt at controlling his thoughts around you,'' Emmett insisted. ''He could have left something out.''

I thought about that for a minute. ''It's possible,'' I said, but not because I really believed it. ''But I doubt it. He wasn't particularly closed off about that subject. He let me read his mind about his meeting with the Volturi. It's other things he's secretive about. Despite their refusal he seemed rather proud of having met them in the first place.''

Emmett raised both his eyebrows at that particular piece of information.

''Like I said, he seems to favor the powerful,'' I explained again. ''Or, his perception of powerful, which is flawed at best.''

''Do you think that that's why he's here?'' Emmett asked. ''Do you think he believes that our family is powerful and that he's trying to find a way to join us?''

''That's possible,'' I allowed.

''But if that's what he wants,'' Emmett continued, lost in thought. ''Why hasn't he made an effort to fit in?''

I frowned at him. ''What do you mean?''

''Well, I saw the guy just now and his eyes are still red,'' Emmett said, that same frown still in place.

''Oh,'' I muttered, distracted. ''Yeah, well, I believe it's half and half at the moment.''

That would explain why his eyes weren't as red….

''Indeed,'' I answered Emmett's thoughts. ''Apparently it's a little difficult for him. He spent over three hundred years feeding on humans… he struggles with our diet.''

Just like Jazz…

''Yes,'' I agreed.

''But Jazz hasn't slipped up since Bella…'' Emmett let his sentence trail off and frowned again. It seems that Bella has improved his self control…

''That makes sense,'' I told him. ''He'd rather die than hurt her.. we all would.''

''True,'' Emmett nodded, distractedly. His thoughts drifted when he mentioned Bella and I saw her in his mind now. I watched, fascinated, when he thought about this afternoon and Bella's tournament.

''She won?'' I asked, surprised.

Emmett suddenly smiled at me and nodded. ''That little devil gave 'em hell.''

He focused on her victories and I noticed Jazz on the edge of his vision, shouting instructions at her like a lunatic and I laughed before I could stop myself.

Emmett's grin widened.

I saw Alice hopping around with her camera and the way Rosalie smiled and cheered her on. I saw Carlisle and Esme smiling at Bella and shaking their heads when she jumped into Jasper's arms, her smile lighting up the room. I felt my throat close in sadness when I watched the afternoon pass by.

She's a terrible winner… Esme's words echoed in Emmett's mind before he laughed loudly.

''She's a tough one, that little devil,'' Emmett grinned, unable to conceal his pride. I gave him a wistful smile, lost in thought.

Suddenly his mind wandered off and focused on something else. Lost in translation, I almost missed it. Almost.

My head snapped up and my eyes narrowed. ''What was that?''

''What?'' he asked, not following. I rolled my eyes at him.

''You just thought about something,'' I urged. ''I saw it in your mind… Bella's bracelet…she —'' I stopped my sentence short when Emmett seemed to cotton on and his mind focused on her bracelet again. Next to the diamond heart I had given her for her seventh birthday glittered a small silver swan.

''What's that?'' I asked, curious.

Emmett frowned at me before he answered. ''Well, you should know. You're the one who gave it to her.''

Now it was my turn to frown. ''No, I didn't.''

Emmett's eyebrows knitted together in confusion. ''She said she found it in her bedroom the night of her birthday. She said it was wrapped like a gift, but there was no card. She asked us about it the next morning, but none of us recognized it, so we all figured that you must have sent it to her. It seemed like the sort of thing you would give her.''

''I didn't give her anything, Emmett,'' I insisted, trying to ignore the prickle of shame that crept up my spine. It seemed so heartless, but when I had decided to walk out of her life — at least for a while — I had wanted to cut myself off completely. Not that that was possible; we belonged to the same family. But I had tried to anyway. Sending her a birthday present would seem even more heartless. I knew she was angry with me for abandoning her, so any present from me would just seem mean and out of place.

''I didn't give her anything,'' I repeated, my tone suddenly depressed. ''I couldn't. I —'' I stopped my sentence short and looked away, saddened by the conversation. Emmett, oblivious to my spiraling mood, growled loudly.

''Then who the hell did?!'' he demanded, his face suddenly frightening in its anger. His sudden mood change pulled me out of my spiraling depressing and I narrowed my eyes at him.

''Are you sure none of you —'' I started to say, but he shook his head, anger rippling through his thick muscles.

''Maybe one of our cousins did,'' I offered, trying to keep myself from going into full panicking mode. There had to be a logical explanation. A harmless one… There had to be.

''What?'' Emmett sneered uncharacteristically. '' Tanya secretly left her a lovely silver swan as a token of their friendship?'' He snorted and shook his head.

''No,'' I said with a roll of my eyes. ''Obviously not. But maybe Kate —''

''No, '' Emmett interrupted before I could finish my thought. ''She and Carmen and Eleazar came over later that night to wish Bella a happy birthday and give her some presents. Why would they hide one in her bedroom? That makes no sense.''

His thoughts traveled back to Bella's birthday and the moment Kate and the others had arrived to celebrate it with her. I saw Bella as she unwrapped their presents with flaming cheeks and an embarrassed mumble of thanks.

''You're right,'' I said, willing myself to remain calm without success. ''That makes no sense.''

I felt the panic constrict around my heart. Someone outside of our family had managed to find its way into Bella's bedroom without alerting anyone and had left her a mysterious present. If I had still been human my heart would have hammered right out of my ribcage and my breathing would've spiked and turned into hyperventilation. But I wasn't human, so instead I stopped breathing all together and just stood there, still as a statue, unable to say or do anything.

Emmett and I stood there, neither of us able to say anything, for what felt like hours. In reality only a minute had passed before Emmett opened his mouth.

''What does this mean?'' he whispered. His sudden anger had evaporated and been replaced by dread.

''It means that Bella isn't as safe as we thought,'' I whispered back. My entire being had frozen over. I hadn't felt this cold in decades and I knew it had nothing to do with the swirling bits of snow that had started to fall around us in the dark forest.

''But,'' Emmett stammered. His mind flashed through a million different explanations, but none of them seemed to make any sense at all. ''There's literally no one who could have sent it to her.'' He looked at me now, his eyes large with dread and confused. It was sobering and chilling at the same time to see the look of dread in Emmett's eyes. He rarely seemed afraid of anything. Then again, he usually knew what he was up against. It wasn't the threat itself that scared him so much as the fact that he didn't know who posed it. The mystery behind our sudden revelation was more terrifying than anything else.

I tried to calm myself down for both our sakes. I closed my eyes and took an unnecessary breath.

''Maybe we're reading too much into it,'' I whispered, trying to convince not only Emmett but also myself. ''Maybe a friend from school —''

''Edward,'' Emmett interrupted in a low voice. ''She doesn't have any friends.''

His statement seemed to flutter in the air between us, dancing on the swirling snowflakes, before it drifted to me and nestled itself in my brain. She didn't have any friends… I closed my eyes when those words registered in my tired brain. Emmett's thoughts accompanied his words and my lips trembled in sadness. I saw Bella, by herself, always by herself, while Esme tried to talk to her about her isolation.

Perhaps you should start making friends again. Esme's words echoed in his mind and so did Bella's response.

Who needs 'em. Her stubborn and closed off attitude took me by surprise.

Everyone needs friends. I could see Esme's worry in her eyes and heard it in the soft tone of her voice. It's not natural, Bella.

I don't need friends!

Bella's defensive statement rang in my ears when Emmett's vision was suddenly cut off.

I narrowed my eyes at him. ''What are you hiding?''

He seemed to struggle for a minute before his mind played out the rest of that vision.

Is this about Edward? Esme's concerned voice rang in my head again as I watched Bella glare at her mother.

I don't want to talk about that traitor! Her face contorted with rage, hurt and sadness. I flinched at her tone and closed my eyes in an attempt to shut the vision out, but of course it didn't work that way.

Don't say things like that, Esme's chided her. Edward loves you.

Well, he has a funny way of showing it, Bella growled.

He'll come back, Bella, Esme assured Bella, but I could hear that she was also trying to assure herself.

I couldn't care less! Bella shouted before she ran away from Esme and the vision was once again cut off, but this time I knew that he hadn't cut it off to spare my feelings. Not that I deserved such consideration.

''Sorry,'' Emmett said in a low voice, but I could hear that he didn't really mean it. ''This was a few months ago. She was still very angry back then. It's not like that anymore.''

I turned away from him with clenched fists. Before I could stop myself I smashed my right fist into the nearest tree and I felt it shatter under my stone fist.

''She has every right to hate me,'' I said, trying to control my anger.

''She doesn't hate you,'' Emmett said, a little louder. ''She was hurt and angry, but she could never hate you. After a while her anger faded and was replaced by sadness.''

''Stop,'' I whispered, unable to hear anymore in fear my dead heart would shatter. It was one thing to think that I had caused her pain, but another thing entirely to see it with my own eyes. I didn't want to see reality. I wanted to pretend that everything would be fine eventually. I wanted to pretend that Bella wouldn't miss me with the rest of our family there to love her. I wanted to pretend that she would be safe even if I wasn't there to protect her. Emmett had just shattered every delusion I had created to comfort and convince myself that I had made the right decision all those months ago.

Those delusions were all I had to keep myself away from her for as long as I could.

But now that I knew, really knew, that I had caused her so much pain, that nothing was fine at all, that my family — no matter how much they loved her — couldn't take away her sadness over my absence and that — most of all — she wasn't safe at all, I wanted nothing more than to run back to her and never let her out of my sight again. I would grovel, I would crawl, I would beg at her feet for her to forgive me. I would do whatever she wanted me to do. Whatever it took to be at her side again.

But I couldn't do that yet. Emmett's words interrupted my frenzied brain and brought me back to reality once again.

''So you see, '' he said, oblivious to the internal war that was raging inside my head, ''it couldn't have been a friend. Even if she hadn't been such a loner since we moved here her friends couldn't have done that without us noticing. That present was hidden in her bedroom. But there are no friends, so it's a moot point anyway.''

I was trembling all over, my fingers digging into the abused tree bark, slowly crushing it into sawdust.

''Dude, calm down,'' Emmett said and I suddenly felt a large hand on my shoulder. ''We'll figure this thing out. No one's going to hurt her. Over my pile of ashes!''

I tried in vain to stop the war that was still raging inside my head.

''Hide her,'' I managed to whisper. ''Take her away from this place and hide her somewhere far away.''

''Edward, you know we can't do that,'' Emmett reasoned with me. ''She needs to go to school. She has practice every week. Her life is here now.''

I shook my head, trying to ignore his reasoning. ''She can't stay here. It's not safe.''

Please take her far away from me before I do something stupid, I added as a silent thought.

''Edward, she's safe with us,'' Emmett promised. ''We'll just have to be more careful from now on. I don't know who sent that thing to her and how they managed to get into the house without alerting any of us, but I do know that it will never happen again.''

''You can't know that,'' I argued in a tortured whisper. ''You said it yourself. She has to go to school, to practice. She has a life here. You can't protect her 24/7.''

''Jazz and I drive her to practice every week, Edward,'' Emmett informed me. ''We don't leave. We always stay to watch, so she's not alone during practice.''

''There's still school,'' I argued. ''You all have to go to school yourselves. You can't hover around all day to keep an eye on her. You only drive her to and from school…''

''Actually,'' Emmett said and his thoughts once again assaulted my tortured brain. Before he could finish his thought I turned around with a growl and kicked him backwards. His eyes widened in surprise when he flew backwards and landed hard against a nearby tree.

''YOU DID WHAT?!'' I roared, beside myself with rage. I glowered at him with bared teeth, lowered into a half crouch, ready to attack.

He jumped up with his hands out to halt my imminent attack.

''Wow, calm down, dude!'' he urged, pleading me with his eyes. ''It's not what you think. She takes the schoolbus every day. Rosie was against it, but Carlisle and Esme thought that it might help her make some new friends if she was forced to ride that thing like the rest of her classmates.''

I let out a furious snarl and tensed my muscles, ready to attack.

''Really,'' Emmett insisted. ''It's safe. Rosie even bribed the driver to make sure that he keeps her safe.''

''Like that'll help!'' I snarled. ''Just another stupid human! They can't keep her safe!''

''Edward, calm down,'' Emmett implored, his hands still up in surrender. ''Nothing bad has happened. Besides, we still drive her to school every now and then.''

''From now on you drive her every single day!'' I growled. ''Whoever left her that present wasn't human.'' The truth of my own words took my by surprise and I felt my muscles go limp as a result. Emmett misread my posture and thought that I was calming down again, so he lowered his hands and took a step in my direction.

''We don't know that,'' he reasoned.

My eyes shot to his and he stopped short. I saw my own expression reflected in his mind and it was a sobering sight. I slumped against the mangled tree and closed my eyes in defeat.

''No human could enter her bedroom without detection, Emmett,'' I muttered. ''Whoever it was he wasn't human. She can't ride that damned bus anymore. A human bus driver can't protect her from an immortal. It's not safe for her.''

Emmett crouched down beside me and sighed. ''You're right, but if something strange had happened Bella would've told us.''

''Would she?'' I countered, suddenly very worn-out. ''She doesn't like it when we worry about her.''

''Edward, if some other vampire somehow found its way to her she would recognize him and she would have told us.'' His voice was confident. I wished I could feel as confident as he did.

''He, whoever he is, would be pretty stupid to show himself to her, don't you think?'' I argued.

''He obviously doesn't want to kill her if he keeps his distance,'' Emmett reasoned. ''If he wanted her dead he would've killed her already.''

I closed my eyes at his words. I couldn't even bear to think about that. A world without Bella seemed completely and utterly pointless.

''Please, Emmett,'' I begged him. ''Take her away from here. Far away from here. Hide her somewhere safe.''

''We can't do that, Edward,'' he reasoned again and I clenched my fists at my side, but I was too mentally exhausted to move from my sitting position against the broken tree.

''I never should have left her,'' I whispered, agonized.

''No, you shouldn't have,'' he agreed, an edge to his voice. ''I've been telling you that for months.''

I didn't respond, so he continued.

''Does this mean you're coming home?'' He sounded hopeful now. I shook my head slowly.

''I can't,'' I whispered. ''Not yet.''

''Hang Kate and her stupid request,'' Emmett growled, suddenly angry again. ''Let them deal with Laurent. He's not our responsibility.''

My eyes flew open at his words. ''Laurent.''

Emmett was busy fuming and didn't seem to hear my whispered revelation.

''Emmett,'' I said, a little louder, trying to get his attention. His eyes flew down to mine and he glared at me.

''What?'' he growled, still angry.

''Laurent.''

''What about that jack-ass?'' he fumed, not comprehending and still busy cursing my decisions.

''He's a vampire,'' I whispered and Emmett raised his eyebrows at me.

''Really?'' he asked, the sarcasm evident in his tone.

''No, Emmett,'' I insisted, refusing to be sidetracked by his slowness. '' He's a vampire. Not human.''

The confusion that clouded Emmett's eyes seemed to freeze. ''You think that asshole broke into our house?!'' he roared, jumping up and flexing his muscles, ready for attack.

''You think that son of a french bitch went after my little rebel?'' He was quickly working himself into a rage, his eyes full of a fire I had never seen before. He started trembling all over, a low growl rumbling in his throat until it became louder and louder. ''I'll kill him!'' he fumed, about to take of in the direction of Tanya's house.

I jumped up and threw myself against his chest before he could run away.

''Emmett, Emmett!'' I growled, trying to keep him in his place. I strained my muscles in order to keep him there, but if Emmett really wanted to run he could throw me off without a glance. He was a lot stronger than I was. I knew how he felt, but he couldn't burst into that house and kill Laurent without asking questions first.

''Emmett, calm down,'' I ordered. A small part of my brain registered the irony of my words. A minute ago the roles had been reversed. How quickly the tables had turned.

''Emmett, it's just a hunch,'' I reasoned, still straining to keep him in place. ''If I'm wrong and you attack now we'll lose the only family we have.''

That seemed to register with him. I felt his weight leave me and he took a step back, still trembling with fury.

I exhaled the remaining air in my lungs and leaned over, clutching my knees. That guy was strong when he put his strength into it.

''You told me you knew that there was something off about that guy!'' Emmett growled with a fierce glare. ''It's the only thing that makes sense!''

''I'm not sure yet!'' I countered with a growl. I straightened myself so I could look him in the eye. ''And why does it make sense?''

''You thought of it!'' he said, indignant. ''How can it not make sense to you?''

''It was just a fleeting thought, Emmett,'' I said, shaking my head. ''When you put all those things together it sounded as if it was a possibility, but I don't see why he would do that. I'm not even sure he knows about Bella at all. I tried to keep that from him, but I'm not sure if Irina told him before I arrived.''

''You haven't asked her?'' he demanded, angry.

''They stick together like disgusting velcro,'' I confessed and pulled a face. ''I haven't had the chance to speak to her privately.''

''Then what do you suppose we do?'' Emmett said. ''Wait 'til something terrible happens to Bella? I'm not taking that chance. Family be damned.''

''Carlisle would never forgive you for that,'' I reasoned. I knew how he felt, but if Emmett lost his common sense than I needed to remain calm for both our sakes. For everyone's sake.

''Carlisle wouldn't allow anyone to hurt his daughter!'' Emmett bellowed.

''Of course not!'' I shouted back. I gritted my teeth and tried to hold my temper at bay. ''But he wouldn't jump to conclusions without sufficient evidence either.''

''We need to tell the others about this,'' Emmett fumed. ''Stop playing the martyr and accept the fact that you can't solve this on your own.''

I growled at his words, but nodded nevertheless. ''Go get Carlisle, Jasper and Alice,'' I allowed. ''But not Rose and Esme. Not yet.''

''I'm not going to lie to Rosie about this!''

''I'm not asking you to,'' I said with a shake of my head. ''But someone needs to stay with Bella and I can't deal with Rose right now. She's still angry with me and when she hears that Bella might be in serious danger she'll burn the whole forest down. I can't deal with her right now.'' I implored him with my eyes.

''Fine,'' he bit at me. ''I'll fill her in later.''

''Go get them,'' I instructed them. ''I'll wait here.''

He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes to control his anger. He still hadn't given up on killing Laurent. I could hear him warring with himself in his mind.

''Put him out of your mind for now,'' I urged.

When he didn't respond I grabbed his jaw and forced him to look at me.

''Emmett!'' I demanded. ''Put him out of your mind for now. Go straight home and get Carlise, Jasper and Alice. Now!''

He growled under his breath, but I could hear his thoughts.

Fine!

He shot through the night like a ghost and a second later I was all alone in the dark forest. I closed my eyes and tried to listen to my own advice.

Put him out of your mind for now.


Bella's POV.

''I heard someone kicked some serious butt today!''

I looked up when I heard the familiar voice enter the kitchen and a second later the angelic form of Kate appeared in the doorway. She grinned a wide, teeth-baring grin and performed a silly little dance as she wandered through the kitchen. I laughed at her entrance and watched as she kissed Esme on the cheek in greeting.

''Hello, Auntie,'' she said and Esme patted her cheek in affection.

''Hello, darling,'' she said before she turned back to the stove and resumed cooking my dinner. Kate flitted to my side, kissed my cheek and held her fist in front of me. I laughed and bumped it with a grin.

''Nice going, little relle-belle,'' she said before she sat down in the chair next to me. I picked up the apple I had been peeling before she entered and resumed my activity. Esme wanted to make turnovers and I had offered to help her.

''That looks really disgusting,'' Kate announced when she looked inside the bowl that now contained apple, raisins, sugar and cinnamon. ''Smells disgusting too.'' She wrinkled her nose and withdrew quickly.

''Well, it's no irritable grizzly or anything,'' I muttered, pretending to pout.

She laughed loudly at my words and leaned back in her chair.

''Speaking of irritable grizzlies,'' she said, grinning. ''I just ran into one.''

My eyes widened at her words and I looked at her with a shocked expression.

''Did you eat it?'' I whispered, not sure I wanted to hear the answer. She laughed again.

''No, that one isn't particularly appetizing,'' she giggled. ''It was your brother.''

My eyebrows knitted together before I realized what she meant. Emmett. Of course.

''You saw him?''

''Yup,'' she said, kicking her shoes off and putting her feet on the table. I looked at her feet and wrinkled my nose. She and Emmett were a lot alike sometimes. ''He came to check up on Edward for the millionth time. I don't know why he still bothers,'' she muttered lowly, but I could still hear her. ''Anyway,'' she continued. ''He told me the good news, so I decided to come over and celebrate with you.'' Her smile faltered and she looked at me with… guilt?

''Sorry I couldn't be there today,'' she muttered. ''Tanya needed me for something and I couldn't get out of it. I wanted to come, but…'' she trailed off and shook her head.

''That's okay,'' I said, focusing on my apple again. ''You can come next time.''

''You betcha,'' she promised.

At that moment Rose entered the kitchen, her coveralls and hands covered in grease. I noticed a dark smudge on her left cheek when she turned to look at Kate.

''Little cuz!'' Kate said with a smile. ''You look hot.''

Rose rolled her eyes and laughed at Kate's words. ''Jasper's Jeep broke down on the way home.'' She pulled a face at that. ''I don't know why he bothers with that piece of crap, but he insisted that I take a look at it. It'll only delay the inevitable.''

''Did you fix it?'' Kate asked.

''Not yet,'' she grumbled. ''I needed him for something, but then I heard your voice, so I entered the kitchen to say hello.''

''Well, hi,'' Kate grinned. Rose rolled her eyes at her, but couldn't keep the smile off her face.

''He's in his library, sweetheart,'' Esme announced.

''Nerd,'' Rose grumbled before she left the kitchen to go and find him. I tried to cover up my fit of giggles with a cough, but I didn't fool anyone.

As soon as Rose had left Alice stormed into the kitchen and flung her arms around Kate's neck. My eyes couldn't follow the blur, but I knew only Alice would make such an entrance and her squeal gave her away.

''My sweet little cousin!'' she sang while Kate tried to disentangle herself from Alice's grip.

''Nice to see you to, pixie,'' she laughed.

''You missed a spectacle today,'' Alice giggled, falling down into one of the empty chairs.

''I heard,'' Kate said. ''Sorry about that.''

Alice waved her hand dismissively. ''Don't worry about it. I filmed the whole thing.''

I groaned at that and Alice flashed me a grin. ''Memories are important.''

I narrowed my eyes at her, but refrained from commenting.

A minute later I heard Rose's angry feet stomp off to the garage again and Jazz's voice floated into the kitchen.

''Damned women and their manipulative ways.''

Alice and Kate giggled at his words and I shook my head before I focused, once again, on the apple I was peeling. Kate and Alice started talking about unimportant things and I tried to tune them out. Every now and then Esme would comment on something and they would all fall over in fits of laughter. I didn't even understand half of it and the other half I didn't want to understand.

At some point Jazz entered the kitchen and greeted Kate with a sheepish expression. His hair was covered in grease and so were his hands. Rose entered after him with a smug expression and Alice muffled a giggle behind her hands.

''How's the Jeep?'' Kate laughed when he bent down to kiss her on the cheeks.

''He crossed over to the other side,'' he sighed, a morose expression on his smudged face.

''I told you,'' Rose said, the smug expression still in place. ''That piece of crap —''

''Don't hate the Jeep!'' Jasper growled with a glare before his eyes turned sad again. Alice flitted to his side and wiped his cheek before she kissed it.

''Don't worry, honey,'' she soothed. ''We'll get you a new one.''

''It's irreplaceable,'' he sighed.

Rose snorted and shook her head. ''No car is irreplaceable.''

''You're heartless!'' He accused before he stomped out of the kitchen and Alice watched him go with an amused expression. Rose rolled her eyes again for good measure.

''Men are all babies,'' she grumbled.

''I thought all men were pigs,'' I said, digging into the pasta Esme had just placed in front of me.

''Well, that too,'' Rose nodded. She fixed me with a stern look. ''You can't trust any of them. You should just stay away from them.''

I rolled my eyes while I chewed my pasta. ''I can't,'' I mumbled, my mouth still full of food.

Esme glared at me from the stove and put her hands on her hips. ''Bella, don't talk with your —''

''Mouth full, yeah, yeah,'' I mumbled, swallowing the large bite. She narrowed her eyes at me before she turned around again.

''I can't stay away from all of them, mom,'' I reminded her. ''I can't stay away from dad, Emmett and Jasper.''

''They're allowed,'' she admitted grudgingly. ''But other than that — '' she warned.

I was about to mention Edward's name, but decided against it. For one, I didn't need to stay away from him, because he stayed away from me. Second, Rose was in a reasonably good mood today and I didn't want to ruin it by mentioning Edward.

''I'll remember that,'' I muttered before I took another bite. ''Why do hate men anyway?''

She always complained about men and said that they were all pigs and couldn't be trusted, but I had never asked her why.

''I mean,'' I continued before she could answer. Esme cleared her throat loudly and I rolled my eyes and swallowed my pasta before I continued. ''You married Emmett of all people. He's even worse than a pig!''

Kate laughed loudly at that. ''Truer words have never been spoken. That guy is an animal.''

I nodded in agreement and watched as Rose sighed.

''Emmett is a good guy,'' she said, softly. ''Sure, his manners leave something to be desired and sometimes he really needs to learn to shut up, but he's a good guy. He would never take me for granted and I know he loves me more than anything.''

I watched as her face grew soft and was transported back to their wedding. I tried to suppress the giggle that tickled my throat when I remembered Emmett in a wedding dress. But Rose was right. Emmett really loved her and he was a good guy. He was the greatest guy. He was my brother and I couldn't wish for a better big brother, same went for Jazz, even though they were annoying most of the time.

''I know, mom,'' I muttered before I took another bite. ''Emmett's awesome.''

Rose nodded, her eyes far away. I chewed and swallowed before I spoke again. Not wanting to attract Esme's attention again.

''But you didn't answer my question,'' I said, pulling her out of her reverie. ''Why do you hate men so much?''

Rose sighed and refused to meet my eye. ''I don't hate men.''

''Then why do you call them pigs?'' I insisted. I had the feeling that she was hiding something from me.

''I'll explain when you're older,'' she said softly, her eyes suddenly begging me to let it go, so that's what I did. I had learned my lesson the day I had read Edward's damned journals. I would never insist on knowing things ever again. If mom said that I was too young to know I believed her. She would tell me someday, I knew that.

''Okay,'' I muttered before I focused on my dinner again.

''Jazz isn't a pig either,'' Alice said, her eyes still focused on the door he had left through a few minutes ago. ''He's really sweet.''

''He's a little cry baby,'' Rose said with another roll of her eyes. ''So is Emmett. They whine about stupid things and never grow up.''

Alice giggled. ''That's true.''

''See, and that's why I'm still single,'' Kate grinned, placing her hands behind her head. ''No guy drama.''

Rose raised an eyebrow at her. ''I'm not even touching that, succubus.''

Kate laughed and stuck her tongue out at her an I had the feeling that I was missing a private joke, but decided to let it go. I also had the feeling that I didn't want to know.

''Seems Irina has changed her ways, though,'' Alice commented while I stuffed my face with pasta, trying to look occupied. I wanted no part in this conversation. I didn't like Irina anyway. She wasn't as bad as Tanya, because she never talked to me, but I still didn't like her. She always looked at me in a weird way. As if she didn't like the fact that I was there or something. It made me feel uncomfortable.

''Yeah,'' Kate sighed. ''So it would seem.''

Alice placed her hand on top of Kate's and squeezed gently. ''I'm sure it'll work out somehow.''

''Edward's trying to keep an eye on him,'' she muttered, almost too low for me to hear. Almost. I had gotten used to those silent whispers after living with a bunch of vampires for years. I couldn't hear everything, but my ears seemed a little more attuned to it or something. Perhaps the mention of Edward's name made her words sounds louder than they actually were. Perhaps I was just really attuned to his name. My ears, and every part of my body for that matter, seem to remember him instinctively. I tried not to dwell on that too much.

''Good,'' Alice said, an edge to her voice. ''At least he makes himself useful while he's being an idiot.''

Kate chuckled and shook her head with a sigh. ''Something like that. Tanya's trying to lure him out of his room more often. She told him to be a little more social and stop the brooding thing.''

Rose rolled her eyes at that. ''Good luck with that.''

I half suspected Rose to start a fit, but to her credit she kept silent.

''He'll come back when he's ready,'' Kate assured Alice with a smile. She looked at me and I hastily focused my eyes on my pasta and took another large bite.

''Yeah, I know he —'' Alice suddenly broke of mid-sentence and I looked up, confused. Her eyes slid out of focus and she leaned back in her chair with a vacant expression. If I hadn't seen it before I might have started panicking, but I knew that this was normal behavior for Alice. She was just having one of her visions. It always made me curious. I wished I could see the things that she saw. Then again, maybe I didn't.

''Alice?'' Kate asked, brushing her hand when Alice remained stoic. Rose raised an eyebrow at her in question and Esme turned around with a worried expression.

I was just about to take another bite of pasta, my fork hovering in midair, when Alice's eyes suddenly focused on me. Her eyes were filled with dread for the smallest of seconds before she smoothed her expression and shot out of the kitchen without another word. I turned my head to watch, my mouth still hanging open.

Why had she looked at me like that? Was there something wrong? I racked my brain, trying to remember if I'd done something I shouldn't have, but I came up blank.

''What the hell?'' Rose grumbled, lifting herself out of her chair to follow after her, but Alice reappeared all of a sudden.

''Don't bother,'' she said, her expression a little too calm. ''It's nothing to worry about.'' Her eyes darted to me again for a split second before they focused on Rose. ''Carlisle, Jasper and I are going hunting.''

''What?'' Rose asked with narrowed eyes. ''Why? Carlisle and Jasper went hunting with Emmett yesterday. What's up with everyone and hunting today?''

''Don't worry about it,'' Alice muttered, distracted.

''Did something happen to Emmett?'' Rose demanded, suddenly anxious.

''No, no,'' Alice said, waving her concerns aside. ''He just needs us for something. We'll be back in bit.''

She turned around and left without another word and Rose gritted her teeth in frustration before she fell back into her seat.

''I hate it when she does that,'' she grumbled.

''I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, dear, '' Esme tried to comfort her. ''If it had been something serious she would've told us.''

''Yeah,'' Kate chuckled, obviously trying to lighten the mood. ''Emmett probably ruined his outfit and she needs Carlisle and Jasper to hold him down while she rips him to pieces.'' She laughed at her own explanation and I chuckled.

''Makes sense,'' I mumbled around my pasta. ''Alice could never win against Emmett. She's too tiny.''

''Exactly!'' Kate laughed.

Rose muttered something unintelligible, but didn't follow Alice to demand an explanation. I was fairly impressed with her today.

After dinner I stuffed my already full belly with some of the turnovers. When I started dozing off on the couch, full of food and exhausted from the day's events, Rose sent me to bed and I stumbled upstairs, yawning all the way.

''Goodnight, little warrior!'' Kate called after me when I was halfway up the stairs.

''Night,'' I muttered with an exhausted wave of my hand. Her laughter floated after me as I dragged my feet across the hallway. Esme followed closely behind, making sure that I got to bed safely.

When she seemed satisfied that I couldn't injure myself anymore and I was tucked in she left with a kiss and a smile.

I fell asleep almost instantly, too tired to even attempt to read.

My dreams were filled with the strangest images that night. I relived the toughest match of the day. At first I only saw Jasper shouting furiously at me.

Swerve to the side, Bella!

He kept shouting at me, his hands a furious blur as he tried to instruct me. My feet felt like slugs. I tried to move them forward, but they just wouldn't cooperate. I looked down in frustration and saw that they were glued to the mat. I tried to pull them free, but they wouldn't move.

Move away, Bella!

I wanted to tell him that I couldn't move my legs. I turned around to shout the words at him, but he had vanished. I looked around and saw that I wasn't in the gym anymore. All the people had vanished. I was standing in a strange room, filled with old paintings and antique furniture. I tried move my legs again, but it was no use.

I wanted to shout at Jasper to come and help me, but when I opened my mouth no sound came out. I frowned, frustrated.

Bella, run!

I turned around at the sound of that voice. I had heard it before. I had had this dream before, but it was different from the way I remembered. I didn't remember this room at all. I wanted to locate the sound of that voice, but I couldn't find who it belonged to.

Sweetheart, run! There it was again. It was woman and a part of my brain recognized her, but I was feeling so slow that I couldn't make my mind work fast enough to put a face to the name.

I looked down at my legs again and tried to lift then. I couldn't.

Bella.

Another voice. I felt a chill run down my spine when I heard it, but I couldn't understand why. It was a male voice, but I didn't recognize it at all. It was a soft voice and it was no louder than a whisper, but somehow it filled the entire room. I looked around in panic, trying to find the voice, but I couldn't turn around. My legs were completely useless.

I turned my head around, but there was no one there.

Little Bella.

The voice echoed around the room again and I felt my heart speed up. It was hammering against my ribcage with painful intensity. That voice meant danger. I just knew it.

I looked around in fear until my eyes rested on a large antique mirror that hung on the far wall. I could see myself, frozen in place. I stared at my own terrified reflection, my eyes dilated and my face pale as a sheet.

Suddenly a large figure appeared behind me and a cold shiver shook me violently. It crept closer and closer until it was standing right behind me. I couldn't turn around. I couldn't do anything but stare at my own horrified reflection in the long mirror.

Bella.

The voice belonged to the tall figure behind me. He whispered in my ear and an ice cold wind blew across neck and chilled me. I shivered in fear.

Little Swan.

He looked up at the mirror and our eyes met for the briefest moment. They glowed a terrifying red and I let out a blood-curdling scream.

My eyes flew open and I realized that I was lying in bed. My eyes flew around the room, trying to find comfort in my familiar surroundings.

I saw something move out of the corner of my eye and my breath stopped abruptly. My eyes flew to the side and I saw a flash of red. I wanted to scream again, but I was paralyzed with fear. I blinked furiously and when I looked again it was gone. I let out a stuttered and terrified breath and willed myself to calm down.

I was imagining things. My brain hadn't fully woken up yet and was still in that terrible old room with the mirror. I closed my eyes again and took a few deep breaths before I reached out and switched on my nightlight. The room was suddenly illuminated and when I opened my eyes I saw that everything was just as it always was. I exhaled slowly and slumped against my headboard. I rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands and shook my head in order to clear it.

I suddenly felt a chill on my neck. I gasped and looked around wildly, but I was alone. My eyes rested on the curtains and I saw that they swayed softly. I threw my sheets back and walked on trembling legs to my bay window. I peeked around the curtains, trying to summon all my courage, and saw that the window was slightly open. I let out another sigh of relief. I hadn't even checked it before I went to bed. I had been too exhausted. I pushed it down and locked it in place before I stumbled back to bed. When I was safely under the covers once more I glanced at the rocking chair that swayed slightly in the corner of the room. My heart was still beating furiously and tears filled my eyes. It had been a while since I had had a terrible nightmare like that.

Watching the empty rocking chair I suddenly missed Edward more than I ever had. He had always been there to scare the nightmares away. He would hold me close, caress my face and kiss my forehead until I calmed down. He would lie down next to me and I would curl up against his chest while he held me. I had never wanted him to hold me as much as I did now.

A low sob escaped my lips and I gritted my teeth in frustration. I didn't want to cry. I willed myself not to cry, but I couldn't stop the tears from flowing. I couldn't hold back the sob that had closed off my throat.

''Edward,'' I sobbed into my hands.

A moment later I heard my door open and a second later a pair of cold hands wrapped themselves around me. For a wild moment I thought that Edward had returned, but then I heard Rose's voice.

''Baby, what's wrong?'' she sounded alarmed. I shook my head, unable to say anything. The moment I'd realized that it wasn't Edward the sadness that I had tried to keep at bay burst out of me in heaving, agonized sobs.

Rose sounded really alarmed now.

''Baby, please, talk to me!'' She crushed me against her chest and tried to soothe me. Her cold fingers brushed through my hair and her stone lips whispered across my forehead. But it was the wrong set of hands and the wrong pair of lips.

''Edward,'' I cried. I didn't want to cry about Edward in my mom's presence, but I couldn't help it. The fear and sadness that washed over me was overwhelming.

''What about him?'' Rose asked. I expected her to sound angry, but she didn't. I only heard worry and fear in her voice.

''I-I w-want Edw-w-ward,'' I sobbed, beside myself. ''I-I w-w-want —'' I couldn't finish.

''Oh, baby,'' Rose whispered, her voice full of agony. ''What happened? Did you have another nightmare?''

''Y-yes,'' I stammered, unable to control the sobs that where heaving through me. ''E-edward.''

''You had a nightmare about Edward?'' she sounded confused now. I shook my head. ''Then what?'' She sounded exasperated, but I knew that she was just trying to make sense of my words.

''I-I w-w-want E-edward,'' it was the only thing I could say in my tear-filled haze. It was the only thing I could think about. He was the only one I wanted.

''Oh, baby, he's not here,'' she whispered, her voice pained now. ''You know that.''

Her words brought a new round of sobs and I cried and cried. I didn't want to cry, but I couldn't seem to stop. Rose just held me and tried to calm me down to the best of her abilities, but no one could calm me like Edward. Not even my mother.

When the sobs subsided somewhat Rose tried to ask me what my nightmare was about, but I merely shook my head.

''Please, tell me,'' she pleaded.

''Red eyes,'' I muttered. I couldn't look at her as I said the words and I felt her freeze next to me.

''Baby, there are no red eyes here,'' she said after a minute of stony silence. ''No one is going to hurt you.''

I shook my head and wiped the tears from my eyes. ''I know, it was just a nightmare.''

My mind went back to the moment I had woken up and seen something red move in my bedroom, but I tried to push it aside. It was impossible.

I looked at her through hazy eyes. ''Will you stay until I fall asleep again?''

''Of course, baby,'' she said, hugging me again. ''I won't leave you.''

Her words had a double layer. I wasn't sure if she meant for me to hear it, but I did. I didn't comment on it. I didn't want to think anymore. I just wanted to go to sleep and I silently prayed that the nightmares would stay away.

Rose tucked me in and remained seated on the side of my bed, holding my hand and whispering soothing words of comfort.

After what seemed like forever I fell into a restless, but exhausted sleep.


Alrighty - a lot of questions, maybe some answers and a very, very passionate Jasper... I know it has kind of a cliffy, but it really late (or really early, I guess) and I'm seriously sleep-deprived and I couldn't think anymore...There's some have shit coming and I want to do it right. I just really wanted to update, because you guys have been waiting for months and I feel really bad. I didn't want to neclect this story for as long as I have.. even though I haven't really, I just wrote ten different versions of this chapter! Gah! Anyways, I hope you liked it... please leave a review, good or bad, I want to know either way. I'll try to update really soon. I'm gonna try. Really. I hope my writer's block is over after writing this chapter without allowing myself to pauze or delete hihi.

Well, TTFN my dearies! XXX