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 Eclipse / 13. Newborn

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MesajKonu: Eclipse / 13. Newborn   Ptsi Mart 08, 2010 1:03 pm

"THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HAND,"Jasper answered in a quiet
voice. "Repeated a thousand times." He laughed a little ruefully and brushed at his arm. "Our
venom is the only thing that leaves a scar."
"Why?"I breathed in horror, feeling rude but unable to stop staring at his subtly ravaged skin.
"I didn't have quite the same . . . upbringing as my adopted siblings here. My beginning was
something else entirely." His voice turned hard as he finished.
I gaped at him, appalled.
"Before I tell you my story," Jasper said, "you must understand that there are places inour
world, Bella, where the life span of the never-aging is measured in weeks, and not centuries."
The others had heard this before. Carlisle and Emmett turned their attention to the TV again.
Alice moved silently to sit at Esme's feet. But Edward was just as absorbed as I was; I could
feel his eyes on my face, reading every flicker of emotion.
"To really understand why, you have to look at the world from a different perspective. You
have to imagine the way it looks to the powerful, the greedy . . . the perpetually thirsty.
"You see, there are places in this world that are more desirable to us than others. Places
where we can be less restrained, and still avoid detection.
"Picture, for instance, a map of the western hemisphere. Picture on it every human life as a
small red dot. The thicker the red, the more easily we - well, those who exist this way - can
feed without attracting notice."
I shuddered at the image in my head, at the wordfeed. But Jasper wasn't worried about
frightening me, not overprotective like Edward always was. He went on without a pause.
"Not that the covens in the South care much for what the humans notice or do not. It's the
Volturi that keep them in check. They are the only ones the southern covens fear. If not for
the Volturi, the rest of us would be quickly exposed."
I frowned at the way he pronounced the name - with respect, almost gratitude. The idea of
the Volturi as the good guys in any sense was hard to accept.
"The North is, by comparison, very civilized. Mostly we are nomads here who enjoy the day
as well as the night, who allow humans to interact with us unsuspectingly - anonymity is
important to us all.
"It's a different world in the South. The immortals there come out only at night. They spend
the day plotting their next move, or anticipating their enemy's. Because it has been war in the
South, constant war for centuries, with never one moment of truce. The covens there barely
note the existence of humans, except as soldiers notice a herd of cows by the wayside - food
for the taking. They only hide from the notice of the herd because of the Volturi."
"But what are they fighting for?" I asked.
Jasper smiled. "Remember the map with the red dots?"
He waited, so I nodded.
"They fight for control of the thickest red.
"You see, it occurred to someone once that, if he were the only vampire in, let's say Mexico
City, well then, he could feed every night, twice, three times, and no one would ever notice.
He plotted ways to get rid of the competition.
"Others had the same idea. Some came up with more effective tactics than others.
"But themost effective tactic was invented by a fairly young vampire named Benito. The first
anyone ever heard of him, he came down from somewhere north of Dallas and massacred the
two small covens that shared the area near Houston. Two nights later, he took on the much
stronger clan of allies that claimed Monterrey in northern Mexico. Again, he won."
"How did he win?" I asked with wary curiosity.
"Benito had created an army of newborn vampires. He was the first one to think of it, and, in
the beginning, he was unstoppable. Very young vampires are volatile, wild, and almost
impossible to control. One newborn can be reasoned with, taught to restrain himself, but ten,
fifteen together are a nightmare. They'll turn on each other as easily as on the enemy you
point them at. Benito had to keep making more as they fought amongst themselves, and as
the covens he decimated took more than half his force down before they lost.
"You see, though newborns are dangerous, they are still possible to defeat if you know what
you're doing. They're incredibly powerful physically, for the first year or so, and if they're
allowed to bring strength to bear they can crush an older vampire with ease. But they are
slaves to their instincts, and thus predictable. Usually, they have no skill in fighting, only
muscle and ferocity. And in this case, overwhelming numbers."
"The vampires in southern Mexico realized what was coming for them, and they did the only
thing they could think of to counteract Benito. They made armies of their own. . . .
"All hell broke loose - and I mean that more literally than you can possibly imagine. We
immortals have our histories, too, and this particular war will never be forgotten. Of course,
it was not a good time to be human in Mexico, either."
I shuddered.
"When the body count reached epidemic proportions - in fact, your histories blame a disease
for the population slump - the Volturi finally stepped in. The entire guard came together and
sought out every newborn in the bottom half of North America. Benito was entrenched in
Puebla, building his army as quickly as he could in order to take on the prize - Mexico City.
The Volturi started with him, and then moved on to the rest.
"Anyone who was found with the newborns was executed immediately, and, since everyone
was trying to protect themselves from Benito, Mexico was emptied of vampires for a time.
"The Volturi were cleaning house for almost a year. This was another chapter of our history
that will always be remembered, though there were very few witnesses left to speak of what
it was like. I spoke to someone once who had, from a distance, watched what happened
when they visited Culiacán."
Jasper shuddered. I realized that I had never before seen him either afraid or horrified. This
was a first.
"It was enough that the fever for conquest did not spread from the South. The rest of the
world stayed sane. We owe the Volturi for our present way of life.
"But when the Volturi went back to Italy, the survivors were quick to stake their claims in
the South.
"It didn't take long before covens began to dispute again. There was a lot of bad blood, if
you'll forgive the expression. Vendettas abounded. The idea of newborns was already there,
and some were not able to resist. However, the Volturi had not been forgotten, and the
southern covens were more careful this time. The newborns were selected from the human
pool with more care, and given more training. They were used circumspectly, and the
humans remained, for the most part, oblivious. Their creators gave the Volturi no reason to
"The wars resumed, but on a smaller scale. Every now and then, someone would go too far,
speculation would begin in the human newspapers, and the Volturi would return and clean
out the city. But they let the others, the careful ones, continue. . . ."
Jasper was staring off into space.
"That's how you were changed." My realization was a whisper.
"Yes," he agreed. "When I was human, I lived in Houston, Texas. I was almost seventeen
years old when I joined the Confederate Army in 1861. I lied to the recruiters and told them I
was twenty. I was tall enough to get away with it.
"My military career was short-lived, but very promising. People always . . . liked me, listened
to what I had to say. My father said it was charisma. Of course, now I know it was probably
something more. But, whatever the reason, I was promoted quickly through the ranks, over
older, more experienced men. The Confederate Army was new and scrambling to organize
itself, so that provided opportunities, as well. By the first battle of Galveston - well, it was
more of a skirmish, really - I was the youngest major in Texas, not even acknowledging my
real age.
"I was placed in charge of evacuating the women and children from the city when the
Union's mortar boats reached the harbor. It took a day to prepare them, and then I left with
the first column of civilians to convey them to Houston.
"I remember that one night very clearly.
"We reached the city after dark. I stayed only long enough to make sure the entire party was
safely situated. As soon as that was done, I got myself a fresh horse, and I headed back to
Galveston. There wasn't time to rest.
"Just a mile outside the city, I found three women on foot. I assumed they were stragglers
and dismounted at once to offer them my aid. But, when I could see their faces in the dim
light of the moon, I was stunned into silence. They were, without question, the three most
beautiful women I had ever seen.
"They had such pale skin, I remember marveling at it. Even the little black-haired girl, whose
features were clearly Mexican, was porcelain in the moonlight. They seemed young, all of
them, still young enough to be called girls. I knew they were not lost members of our party. I
would have remembered seeing these three.
"'He's speechless,' the tallest girl said in a lovely, delicate voice - it was like wind chimes. She
had fair hair, and her skin was snow white.
"The other was blonder still, her skin just as chalky. Her face was like an angel's. She leaned
toward me with half-closed eyes and inhaled deeply.
"'Mmm,' she sighed. 'Lovely.'
"The small one, the tiny brunette, put her hand on the girl's arm and spoke quickly. Her voice
was too soft and musical to be sharp, but that seemed to be the way she intended it.
"'Concentrate, Nettie,' she said.
"I'd always had a good sense of how people related to each other, and it was immediately
clear that the brunette was somehow in charge of the others. If they'd been military, I would
have said that she outranked them.
"'He looks right - young, strong, an officer. . . . ' The brunette paused, and I tried
unsuccessfully to speak. 'And there's something more . . . do you sense it?' she asked the
other two. 'He's . . . compelling.'
"'Oh, yes,' Nettie quickly agreed, leaning toward me again.
"'Patience,' the brunette cautioned her. 'I want to keep this one.'
"Nettie frowned; she seemed annoyed.
"'You'd better do it, Maria,' the taller blonde spoke again. 'If he's important to you. I kill them
twice as often as I keep them.'
"'Yes, I'll do it,' Maria agreed. 'I really do like this one. Take Nettie away, will you? I don't
want to have to protect my back while I'm trying to focus.'
"My hair was standing up on the back of my neck, though I didn't understand the meaning of
anything the beautiful creatures were saying. My instincts told me that there was danger, that
the angel had meant it when she spoke of killing, but my judgment overruled my instincts. I
had not been taught to fear women, but to protect them.
"'Let's hunt,' Nettie agreed enthusiastically, reaching for the tall girl's hand. They wheeled -
they were so graceful! - and sprinted toward the city. They seemed to almost take flight, they
were so fast - their white dresses blew out behind them like wings. I blinked in amazement,
and they were gone.
"I turned to stare at Maria, who was watching me curiously.
"I'd never been superstitious in my life. Until that second, I'd never believed in ghosts or any
other such nonsense. Suddenly, I was unsure.
"'What is your name, soldier?' Maria asked me.
"'Major Jasper Whitlock, ma'am,' I stammered, unable to be impolite to a female, even if she
was a ghost.
"'I truly hope you survive, Jasper,' she said in her gentle voice. 'I have a good feeling about
"She took a step closer, and inclined her head as if she were going to kiss me. I stood frozen
in place, though my instincts were screaming at me to run."
Jasper paused, his face thoughtful. "A few days later," he finally said, and I wasn't sure if he
had edited his story for my sake or because he was responding to the tension that even I
could feel exuding from Edward, "I was introduced to my new life.
"Their names were Maria, Nettie, and Lucy. They hadn't been together long - Maria had
rounded up the other two - all three were survivors of recently lost battles. Theirs was a
partnership of convenience. Maria wanted revenge, and she wanted her territories back. The
others were eager to increase their . . . herd lands, I suppose you could say. They were
putting together an army, and going about it more carefully than was usual. It was Maria's
idea. She wanted a superior army, so she sought out specific humans who had potential.
Then she gave us much more attention, more training than anyone else had bothered with.
She taught us to fight, and she taught us to be invisible to the humans. When we did well,
we were rewarded. . . ."
He paused, editing again.
"She was in a hurry, though. Maria knew that the massive strength of the newborn began to
wane around the year mark, and she wanted to act while we were strong.
"There were six of us when I joined Maria's band. She added four more within a fortnight.
We were all male - Maria wanted soldiers - and that made it slightly more difficult to keep
from fighting amongst ourselves. I fought my first battles against my new comrades in arms. I
was quicker than the others, better at combat. Maria was pleased with me, though put out
that she had to keep replacing the ones I destroyed. I was rewarded often, and that made me
"Maria was a good judge of character. She decided to put me in charge of the others - as if I
were being promoted. It suited my nature exactly. The casualties went down dramatically,
and our numbers swelled to hover around twenty.
"This was considerable for the cautious times we lived in. My ability, as yet undefined, to
control the emotional atmosphere around me was vitally effective. We soon began to work
together in a way that newborn vampires had never cooperated before. Even Maria, Nettie,
and Lucy were able to work together more easily.
"Maria grew quite fond of me - she began to depend upon me. And, in some ways, I
worshipped the ground she walked on. I had no idea that any other life was possible. Maria
told us this was the way things were, and we believed.
"She asked me to tell her when my brothers and I were ready to fight, and I was eager to
prove myself. I pulled together an army of twenty-three in the end - twenty-three
unbelievably strong new vampires, organized and skilled as no others before. Maria was
"We crept down toward Monterrey, her former home, and she unleashed us on her enemies.
They had only nine newborns at the time, and a pair of older vampires controlling them. We
took them down more easily than Maria could believe, losing only four in the process. It was
an unheard-of margin of victory.
"And we were well trained. We did it without attracting notice. The city changed hands
without any human being aware.
"Success made Maria greedy. It wasn't long before she began to eye other cities. That first
year, she extended her control to cover most of Texas and northern Mexico. Then the others
came from the South to dislodge her."
He brushed two fingers along the faint pattern of scars on his arm.
"The fighting was intense. Many began to worry that the Volturi would return. Of the
original twenty-three, I was the only one to survive the first eighteen months. We both won
and lost. Nettie and Lucy turned on Maria eventually - but that one we won.
"Maria and I were able to hold on to Monterrey. It quieted a little, though the wars
continued. The idea of conquest was dying out; it was mostly vengeance and feuding now.
So many had lost their partners, and that is something our kind does not forgive. . . .
"Maria and I always kept a dozen or so newborns ready. They meant little to us - they were
pawns, they were disposable. When they outgrew their usefulness, wedid dispose of them.
My life continued in the same violent pattern and the years passed. I was sick of it all for a
very long time before anything changed . . .
"Decades later, I developed a friendship with a newborn who'd remained useful and survived
his first three years, against the odds. His name was Peter. I liked Peter; he was . . . civilized -
I suppose that's the right word. He didn't enjoy the fight, though he was good at it.
"He was assigned to deal with the newborns - babysit them, you could say. It was a full-time
"And then it was time to purge again. The newborns were outgrowing their strength; they
were due to be replaced. Peter was supposed to help me dispose of them. We took them
aside individually, you see, one by one . . . It was always a very long night. This time, he tried
to convince me that a few had potential, but Maria had instructed that we get rid of them all.
I told him no.
"We were about halfway through, and I could feel that it was taking a great toll on Peter. I
was trying to decide whether or not I should send him away and finish up myself as I called
out the next victim. To my surprise, he was suddenly angry, furious. I braced for whatever his
mood might foreshadow - he was a good fighter, but he was never a match for me.
"The newborn I'd summoned was a female, just past her year mark. Her name was Charlotte.
His feelings changed when she came into view; they gave him away. He yelled for her to run,
and he bolted after her. I could have pursued them, but I didn't. I felt . . . averse to destroying
"Maria was irritated with me for that . . .
"Five years later, Peter snuck back for me. He picked a good day to arrive.
"Maria was mystified by my ever-deteriorating frame of mind. She'd never felt a moment's
depression, and I wondered why I was different. I began to notice a change in her emotions
when she was near me - sometimes there was fear . . . and malice - the same feelings that had
given me advance warning when Nettie and Lucy struck. I was preparing myself to destroy
my only ally, the core of my existence, when Peter returned.
"Peter told me about his new life with Charlotte, told me about options I'd never dreamed I
had. In five years, they'd never had a fight, though they'd met many others in the north.
Others who could co-exist without the constant mayhem.
"In one conversation, he had me convinced. I was ready to go, and somewhat relieved I
wouldn't have to kill Maria. I'd been her companion for as many years as Carlisle and Edward
have been together, yet the bond between us was nowhere near as strong. When you live for
the fight, for the blood, the relationships you form are tenuous and easily broken. I walked
away without a backward glance.
"I traveled with Peter and Charlotte for a few years, getting the feel of this new, more
peaceful world. But the depression didn't fade. I didn't understand what was wrong with me,
until Peter noticed that it was always worse after I'd hunted.
"I contemplated that. In so many years of slaughter and carnage, I'd lost nearly all of my
humanity. I was undeniably a nightmare, a monster of the grisliest kind. Yet each time I
found another human victim, I would feel a faint prick of remembrance for that other life.
Watching their eyes widen in wonder at my beauty, I could see Maria and the others in my
head, what they had looked like to me the last night that I was Jasper Whitlock. It was
stronger for me - this borrowed memory - than it was for anyone else, because I couldfeel
everything my prey was feeling. And I lived their emotions as I killed them.
"You've experienced the way I can manipulate the emotions around myself, Bella, but I
wonder if you realize how the feelings in a room affectme . I live every day in a climate of
emotion. For the first century of my life, I lived in a world of bloodthirsty vengeance. Hate
was my constant companion. It eased some when I left Maria, but I still had to feel the horror
and fear of my prey.
"It began to be too much.
"The depression got worse, and I wandered away from Peter and Charlotte. Civilized as they
were, they didn't feel the same aversion I was beginning to feel. They only wanted peace
from the fight. I was so wearied by killing - killing anyone, even mere humans.
"Yet I had to keep killing. What choice did I have? I tried to kill less often, but I would get
too thirsty and I would give in. After a century of instant gratification, I found self-discipline
. . . challenging. I still haven't perfected that."
Jasper was lost in the story, as was I. It surprised me when his desolate expression smoothed
into a peaceful smile.
"I was in Philadelphia. There was a storm, and I was out during the day - something I was
not completely comfortable with yet. I knew standing in the rain would attract attention, so I
ducked into a little half-empty diner. My eyes were dark enough that no one would notice
them, though this meant I was thirsty, and that worried me a little.
"She was there - expecting me, naturally." He chuckled once. "She hopped down from the
high stool at the counter as soon as I walked in and came directly toward me.
"It shocked me. I was not sure if she meant to attack. That's the only interpretation of her
behavior my past had to offer. But she was smiling. And the emotions that were emanating
from her were like nothing I'd ever felt before.
"'You've kept me waiting a long time,' she said."
I didn't realize Alice had come to stand behind me again.
"And you ducked your head, like a good Southern gentleman, and said, 'I'm sorry, ma'am.'"
Alice laughed at the memory.
Jasper smiled down at her. "You held out your hand, and I took it without stopping to make
sense of what I was doing. For the first time in almost a century, I felt hope."
Jasper took Alice's hand as he spoke.
Alice grinned. "I was just relieved. I thought you were never going to show up."
They smiled at each other for a long moment, and then Jasper looked back to me, the soft
expression lingering.
"Alice told me what she'd seen of Carlisle and his family. I could hardly believe that such an
existence was possible. But Alice made me optimistic. So we went to find them."
"Scared the hell out of them, too," Edward said, rolling his eyes at Jasper before turning to
me to explain. "Emmett and I were away hunting. Jasper shows up, covered in battle scars,
towing this little freak" - he nudged Alice playfully - "who greets them all by name, knows
everything about them, and wants to know which room she can move into."
Alice and Jasper laughed in harmony, soprano and bass.
"When I got home, all my things were in the garage," Edward continued.
Alice shrugged. "Your room had the best view."
They all laughed together now.
"That's a nice story," I said.
Three pairs of eyes questioned my sanity.
"I mean the last part," I defended myself. "The happy ending with Alice."
"Alice has made all the difference," Jasper agreed. "This is a climate I enjoy."
But the momentary pause in the stress couldn't last.
"An army," Alice whispered. "Why didn't you tell me?"
The others were intent again, their eyes locked on Jasper's face.
"I thought I must be interpreting the signs incorrectly. Because where is the motive? Why
would someone create an army in Seattle? There is no history there, no vendetta. It makes no
sense from a conquest standpoint, either; no one claims it. Nomads pass through, but there's
no one tofight for it. No one to defend it from.
"But I've seen this before, and there's no other explanation. There is an army of newborn
vampires in Seattle. Fewer than twenty, I'd guess. The difficult part is that they are totally
untrained. Whoever made them just set them loose. It will only get worse, and it won't be
much longer till the Volturi step in. Actually, I'm surprised they've let this go on so long."
"What can we do?" Carlisle asked.
"If we want to avoid the Volturi's involvement, we will have to destroy the newborns, and
we will have to do it very soon." Jasper's face was hard. Knowing his story now, I could
guess how this evaluation must disturb him. "I can teach you how. It won't be easy in the
city. The young ones aren't concerned about secrecy, but we will have to be. It will limit us
in ways that they are not. Maybe we can lure them out."
"Maybe we won't have to." Edward's voice was bleak. "Does it occur to anyone else that the
only possible threat in the area that would call for the creation of an army is . . . us?"
Jasper's eyes narrowed; Carlisle's widened, shocked.
"Tanya's family is also near," Esme said slowly, unwilling to accept Edward's words.
"The newborns aren't ravaging Anchorage, Esme. I think we have to consider the idea thatwe
are the targets."
"They're not coming after us," Alice insisted, and then paused. "Or . . . they don'tknow that
they are. Not yet."
"What is that?" Edward asked, curious and tense. "What are you remembering?"
"Flickers," Alice said. "I can't see a clear picture when I try to see what's going on, nothing
concrete. But I've been getting these strange flashes. Not enough to make sense of. It's as if
someone's changing their mind, moving from one course of action to another so quickly that
I can't get a good view. . . ."
"Indecision?" Jasper asked in disbelief.
"I don't know. . . ."
"Not indecision," Edward growled. "Knowledge. Someone who knows you can't see
anything until the decision is made. Someone who is hiding from us. Playing with the holes
in your vision."
"Who would know that?" Alice whispered.
Edward's eyes were hard as ice. "Aro knows you as well as you know yourself."
"But I would see if they'd decided to come. . . ."
"Unless they didn't want to get their hands dirty."
"A favor," Rosalie suggested, speaking for the first time. "Someone in the South . . . someone
who already had trouble with the rules. Someone who should have been destroyed is offered
a second chance - if they take care of this one small problem. . . . That would explain the
Volturi's sluggish response."
"Why?" Carlisle asked, still shocked. "There's no reason for the Volturi -"
"It was there," Edward disagreed quietly. "I'm surprised it's come to this so soon, because the
other thoughts were stronger. In Aro's head he saw me at his one side and Alice at his other.
The present and the future, virtual omniscience. The power of the idea intoxicated him. I
would have thought it would take him much longer to give up on that plan - he wanted it too
much. But there was also the thought of you, Carlisle, of our family, growing stronger and
larger. The jealousy and the fear: you having . . . notmore than he had, but still, things that he
wanted. He tried not to think about it, but he couldn't hide it completely. The idea of rooting
out the competition was there; besides their own, ours is the largest coven they've ever
found. . . ."
I stared at his face in horror. He'd never told me this, but I guessed I knew why. I could see it
in my head now, Aro's dream. Edward and Alice in black, flowing robes, drifting along at
Aro's side with their eyes cold and blood-red. . . .
Carlisle interrupted my waking nightmare. "They're too committed to their mission. They
would never break the rules themselves. It goes against everything they've worked for."
"They'll clean up afterward. A double betrayal," Edward said in a grim voice. "No harm
Jasper leaned forward, shaking his head. "No, Carlisle is right. The Volturi do not break
rules. Besides, it's much too sloppy. This . . . person, this threat - they have no idea what
they're doing. A first-timer, I'd swear to it. I cannot believe the Volturi are involved. But they
will be."
They all stared at each other, frozen with stress.
"Then let'sgo, " Emmett almost roared. "What are we waiting for?"
Carlisle and Edward exchanged a long glance. Edward nodded once.
"We'll need you to teach us, Jasper," Carlisle finally said. "How to destroy them." Carlisle's
jaw was hard, but I could see the pain in his eyes as he said the words. No one hated violence
more than Carlisle.
There was something bothering me, and I couldn't put my finger on it. I was numb, horrified,
deathly afraid. And yet, under that, I could feel that I was missing something important.
Something that would make some sense out of the chaos. That would explain it.
"We're going to need help," Jasper said. "Do you think Tanya's family would be willing . . . ?
Another five mature vampires would make an enormous difference. And then Kate and
Eleazar would be especially advantageous on our side. It would be almost easy, with their
"We'll ask," Carlisle answered.
Jasper held out a cell phone. "We need to hurry."
I'd never seen Carlisle's innate calm so shaken. He took the phone, and paced toward the
windows. He dialed a number, held the phone to his ear, and laid the other hand against the
glass. He stared out into the foggy morning with a pained and ambivalent expression.
Edward took my hand and pulled me to the white loveseat. I sat beside him, staring at his
face while he stared at Carlisle.
Carlisle's voice was low and quick, difficult to hear. I heard him greet Tanya, and then he
raced through the situation too fast for me to understand much, though I could tell that the
Alaskan vampires were not ignorant of what was going on in Seattle.
Then something changed in Carlisle's voice.
"Oh," he said, his voice sharper in surprise. "We didn't realize . . . that Irina felt that way."
Edward groaned at my side and closed his eyes. "Damn it. Damn Laurent to the deepest pit
of hell where he belongs."
"Laurent?" I whispered, the blood emptying from my face, but Edward didn't respond,
focused on Carlisle's thoughts.
My short encounter with Laurent early this spring was not something that had faded or
dimmed in my mind. I still remembered every word he'd said before Jacob and his pack had
I actually came here as a favor to her. . . .
Victoria. Laurent had been her first maneuver - she'd sent him to observe, to see how hard it
might be to get to me. He hadn't survived the wolves to report back.
Though he'd kept up his old ties with Victoria after James's death, he'd also formed new ties
and new relationships. He'd gone to live with Tanya's family in Alaska - Tanya the
strawberry blonde - the closest friends the Cullens had in the vampire world, practically
extended family. Laurent had been with them for almost a year previous to his death.
Carlisle was still talking, his voice not quite pleading. Persuasive, but with an edge. Then the
edge abruptly won out over the persuasion.
"There's no question of that," Carlisle said in a stern voice. "We have a truce. They haven't
broken it, and neither will we. I'm sorry to hear that. . . . Of course. We'll just have to do our
best alone."
Carlisle shut the phone without waiting for an answer. He continued to stare out into the
"What's the problem?" Emmett murmured to Edward.
"Irina was more involved with our friend Laurent than we knew. She's holding a grudge
against the wolves for destroying him to save Bella. She wants -" He paused, looking down
at me.
"Go on," I said as evenly as I could.
His eyes tightened. "She wants revenge. To take down the pack. They would trade their help
for our permission."
"No!" I gasped.
"Don't worry," he told me in a flat voice. "Carlisle would never agree to it." He hesitated,
then sighed. "Nor would I. Laurent had it coming" - this was almost a growl - "and I still owe
the wolves for that."
"This isn't good," Jasper said. "It's too even a fight. We'd have the upper hand in skill, but
not numbers. We'd win, but at what price?" His tense eyes flashed to Alice's face and away.
I wanted to scream out loud as I grasped what Jasper meant.
We would win, but we would lose. Some wouldn't survive.
I looked around the room at their faces - Jasper, Alice, Emmett, Rose, Esme, Carlisle . . .
Edward - the faces of my family.
lost your mind!"
"Say whatever you like about me," Alice answered. "The party is still on."
I stared at her, my eyes so wide with disbelief it felt like they might fall out and land on my
lunch tray.
"Oh, calm down, Bella! There's no reason not to go through with it. Besides, the invitations
are already sent."
"But . . . the . . . you . . . I . . . insane!" I spluttered.
"You've already bought my present," she reminded me. "You don't have to do anything but
show up."
I made an effort to calm myself. "With everything that is going on right now, a party is hardly
"Graduation is what's going on right now, and a party is so appropriate it's almost passé."
She sighed, and tried to be serious. "There are a few things we need to get in order now, and
that's going to take a little time. As long as we're sitting here waiting, we might as well
commemorate the good stuff. You're only going to graduate from high school - for the first
time - once. You don't get to be human again, Bella. This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot."
Edward, silent through our little argument, flashed her a warning look. She stuck out her
tongue at him. She was right - her soft voice would never carry over the babble of the
cafeteria. And no one would understand the meaning behind her words in any case.
"What few things do we need to get in order?" I asked, refusing to be sidetracked.
Edward answered in a low voice. "Jasper thinks we could use some help. Tanya's family isn't
the only choice we have. Carlisle's trying to track down a few old friends, and Jasper is
looking up Peter and Charlotte. He's considering talking to Maria . . . but no one really wants
to involve the southerners."
Alice shuddered delicately.
"It shouldn't be too hard to convince them to help," he continued. "Nobody wants a visit
from Italy."
"But these friends - they're not going to be . . .vegetarians, right?" I protested, using the
Cullens' tongue-in-cheek nickname for themselves.
"No," Edward answered, suddenly expressionless.
"Here? In Forks?"
"They're friends," Alice reassured me. "Everything's going to be fine. Don't worry. And then,
Jasper has to teach us a few courses on newborn elimination. . . ."
Edward's eyes brightened at that, and a brief smile flashed across his face. My stomach
suddenly felt like it was full of sharp little splinters of ice.
"When are you going?" I asked in a hollow voice. I couldn't stand this - the idea that
someone might not come back. What if it was Emmett, so brave and thoughtless that he was
never the least bit cautious? Or Esme, so sweet and motherly that I couldn't even imagine her
in a fight? Or Alice, so tiny, so fragile-looking? Or . . . but I couldn't even think the name,
consider the possibility.
"A week," Edward said casually. "That ought to give us enough time."
The icy splinters twisted uncomfortably in my stomach. I was suddenly nauseated.
"You look kind of green, Bella," Alice commented.
Edward put his arm around me and pulled me tightly against his side. "It's going to be fine,
Bella. Trust me."
Sure,I thought to myself. Trust him. He wasn't the one who was going to have to sit behind
and wonder whether or not the core of his existence was going to come home.
And then it occurred to me. Maybe I didn't need to sit behind. A week was more than
enough time.
"You're looking for help," I said slowly.
"Yes." Alice's head cocked to the side as she processed the change in my tone.
I looked only at her as I answered. My voice was just slightly louder than a whisper. "Icould
Edward's body was suddenly rigid, his arm too tight around me. He exhaled, and the sound
was a hiss.
But it was Alice, still calm, who answered. "That really wouldn't behelpful. "
"Why not?" I argued; I could hear the desperation in my voice. "Eight is better than seven.
There's more than enough time."
"There's not enough time to make you helpful, Bella," she disagreed coolly. "Do you
remember how Jasper described the young ones? You'd be no good in a fight. You wouldn't
be able to control your instincts, and that would make you an easy target. And then Edward
would get hurt trying to protect you." She folded her arms across her chest, pleased with her
unassailable logic.
And I knew she was right, when she put it like that. I slumped in my seat, my sudden hope
defeated. Beside me, Edward relaxed.
He whispered the reminder in my ear. "Not because you're afraid."
"Oh," Alice said, and a blank look crossed her face. Then her expression became surly. "I hate
last-minute cancellations. So that puts the party attendance list down to sixty-five. . . ."
"Sixty-five!"My eyes bulged again. I didn't have that many friends. Did I even know that
many people?
"Who canceled?" Edward wondered, ignoring me.
"What?" I gasped.
"She was going to surprise you for your graduation, but something went wrong. You'll have
a message when you get home."
For a moment, I just let myself enjoy the relief. Whatever it was that went wrong for my
mother, I was eternally grateful to it. If she had come to Forksnow . . . I didn't want to think
about it. My head would explode.
The message light was flashing when I got home. My feeling of relief flared again as I
listened to my mother describe Phil's accident on the ball field - while demonstrating a slide,
he'd tangled up with the catcher and broken his thigh bone; he was entirely dependent on
her, and there was no way she could leave him. My mom was still apologizing when the
message cut off.
"Well, that's one," I sighed.
"One what?" Edward asked.
"One person I don't have to worry about getting killed this week."
He rolled his eyes.
"Why won't you and Alice take this seriously?" I demanded. "This isserious. "
He smiled. "Confidence."
"Wonderful," I grumbled. I picked up the phone and dialed Renée's number. I knew it would
be a long conversation, but I also knew that I wouldn't have to contribute much.
I just listened, and reassured her every time I could get a word in: I wasn't disappointed, I
wasn't mad, I wasn't hurt. She should concentrate on helping Phil get better. I passed on my
"get well soon" to Phil, and promised to call her with every single detail from Forks High's
generic graduation. Finally, I had to use my desperate need to study for finals to get off the
Edward's patience was endless. He waited politely through the whole conversation, just
playing with my hair and smiling whenever I looked up. It was probably superficial to notice
such things while I had so many more important things to think about, but his smile still
knocked the breath out of me. He was so beautiful that it made it hard sometimes to think
about anything else, hard to concentrate on Phil's troubles or Renée's apologies or hostile
vampire armies. I was only human.
As soon as I hung up, I stretched onto my tiptoes to kiss him. He put his hands around my
waist and lifted me onto the kitchen counter, so I wouldn't have to reach as far. That worked
for me. I locked my arms around his neck and melted against his cold chest.
Too soon, as usual, he pulled away.
I felt my face slip into a pout. He laughed at my expression as he extricated himself from my
arms and legs. He leaned against the counter next to me and put one arm lightly around my
"I know you think that I have some kind of perfect, unyielding self-control, but that's not
actually the case."
"I wish," I sighed.
And he sighed, too.
"After school tomorrow," he said, changing the subject, "I'm going hunting with Carlisle,
Esme, and Rosalie. Just for a few hours - we'll stay close. Alice, Jasper, and Emmett should
be able to keep you safe."
"Ugh," I grumbled. Tomorrow was the first day of finals, and it was only a half-day. I had
Calculus and History - the only two challenges in my line-up - so I'd have almost the whole
day without him, and nothing to do but worry. "I hate being babysat."
"It's temporary," he promised.
"Jasper will be bored. Emmett will make fun of me."
"They'll be on their best behavior."
"Right," I grumbled.
And then it occurred to me that I did have one option besides babysitters. "You know . . . I
haven't been to La Push since the bonfire."
I watched his face carefully for any change in expression. His eyes tightened the tiniest bit.
"I'd be safe enough there," I reminded him.
He thought about it for a few seconds. "You're probably right."
His face was calm, but just a little too smooth. I almost asked if he'd rather I stayed here, but
then I thought of the ribbing Emmett would no doubt dish out, and I changed the subject.
"Are you thirsty already?" I asked, reaching up to stroke the light shadow beneath his eye.
His irises were still a deep gold.
"Not really." He seemed reluctant to answer, and that surprised me. I waited for an
"We want to be as strong as possible," he explained, still reluctant. "We'll probably hunt
again on the way, looking for big game."
"That makes you stronger?"
He searched my face for something, but there was nothing to find but curiosity.
"Yes," he finally said. "Human blood makes us the strongest, though only fractionally.
Jasper's been thinking about cheating - adverse as he is to the idea, he's nothing if not
practical - but he won't suggest it. He knows what Carlisle will say."
"Would that help?" I asked quietly.
"It doesn't matter. We aren't going to change who we are."
I frowned. If something helped even the odds . . . and then I shuddered, realizing I was
willing to have a stranger die to protect him. I was horrified at myself, but not entirely able to
deny it, either.
He changed the subject again. "That's why they're so strong, of course. The newborns are full
of human blood - their own blood, reacting to the change. It lingers in the tissues and
strengthens them. Their bodies use it up slowly, like Jasper said, the strength starting to
wane after about a year."
"How strong willI be?"
He grinned. "Stronger than I am."
"Stronger than Emmett?"
The grin got bigger. "Yes. Do me a favor and challenge him to an arm-wrestling match. It
would be a good experience for him."
I laughed. It sounded so ridiculous.
Then I sighed and hopped down from the counter, because I really couldn't put it off any
longer. I had to cram, and cram hard. Luckily I had Edward's help, and Edward was an
excellent tutor - since he knew absolutely everything. I figured my biggest problem would be
just focusing on the tests. If I didn't watch myself, I might end up writing my History essay
on the vampire wars of the South.
I took a break to call Jacob, and Edward seemed just as comfortable as he had when I was on
the phone with Renée. He played with my hair again.
Though it was the middle of the afternoon, my call woke Jacob up, and he was grouchy at
first. He cheered right up when I asked if I could visit the next day. The Quileute school was
already out for the summer, so he told me to come over as early as I could. I was pleased to
have an option besides being babysat. There was a tiny bit more dignity in spending the day
with Jacob.
Some of that dignity was lost when Edward insisted again on delivering me to the border line
like a child being exchanged by custodial guardians.
"So how do you feel you did on your exams?" Edward asked on the way, making small talk.
"History was easy, but I don't know about the Calculus. It seemed like it was making sense,
so that probably means I failed."
He laughed. "I'm sure you did fine. Or, if you're really worried, I could bribe Mr. Varner to
give you an A."
"Er, thanks, but no thanks."
He laughed again, but suddenly stopped when we turned the last bend and saw the red car
waiting. He frowned in concentration, and then, as he parked the car, he sighed.
"What's wrong?" I asked, my hand on the door.
He shook his head. "Nothing." His eyes were narrowed as he stared through the windshield
toward the other car. I'd seen that look before.
"You're notlistening to Jacob, are you?" I accused.
"It's not easy to ignore someone when he's shouting."
"Oh." I thought about that for a second. "What's he shouting?" I whispered.
"I'm absolutely certain he'll mention it himself," Edward said in a wry tone.
I would have pressed the issue, but then Jacob honked his horn - two quick impatient honks.
"That's impolite," Edward growled.
"That's Jacob," I sighed, and I hurried out before Jacob did something to really set Edward's
teeth on edge.
I waved to Edward before I got into the Rabbit and, from that distance, it looked like he was
truly upset about the honking thing . . . or whatever Jacob was thinking about. But my eyes
were weak and made mistakes all the time.
I wanted Edward to come to me. I wanted to make both of them get out of their cars and
shake hands and be friends - be Edward and Jacob rather thanvampire andwerewolf. It was as
if I had those two stubborn magnets in my hands again, and I was holding them together,
trying to force nature to reverse herself. . . .
I sighed, and climbed in Jacob's car.
"Hey, Bells." Jake's tone was cheerful, but his voice dragged. I examined his face as he
started down the road, driving a little faster than I did, but slower than Edward, on his way
back to La Push.
Jacob looked different, maybe even sick. His eyelids drooped and his face was drawn. His
shaggy hair stuck out in random directions; it was almost to his chin in some places.
"Are you all right, Jake?"
"Just tired," he managed to get out before he was overcome by a massive yawn. When he
finished, he asked, "What do you want to do today?"
I eyed him for a moment. "Let's just hang out at your place for now," I suggested. He didn't
look like he was up for much more than that. "We can ride our bikes later."
"Sure, sure," he said, yawning again.
Jacob's house was vacant, and that felt strange. I realized I thought of Billy as a nearly
permanent fixture there.
"Where's your dad?"
"Over at the Clearwaters'. He's been hanging out there a lot since Harry died. Sue gets
Jacob sat down on the old couch that was no bigger than a loveseat and squished himself to
the side to make room for me.
"Oh. That's nice. Poor Sue."
"Yeah . . . she's having some trouble. . . ." He hesitated. "With her kids."
"Sure, it's got to be hard on Seth and Leah, losing their dad. . . ."
"Uh-huh," he agreed, lost in thought. He picked up the remote and flipped on the TV
without seeming to think about it. He yawned.
"What's with you, Jake? You're like a zombie."
"I got about two hours of sleep last night, and four the night before," he told me. He
stretched his long arms slowly, and I could hear the joints crack as he flexed. He settled his
left arm along the back of the sofa behind me, and slumped back to rest his head against the
wall. "I'm exhausted."
"Why aren't you sleeping?" I asked.
He made a face. "Sam's being difficult. He doesn't trust your bloodsuckers. I've been running
double shifts for two weeks and nobody's touched me yet, but he still doesn't buy it. So I'm
on my own for now."
"Double shifts? Is this because you're trying to watch out forme? Jake, that's wrong! You
need to sleep. I'll be fine."
"It's no big deal." His eyes were abruptly more alert. "Hey, did you ever find out who was in
your room? Is there anything new?"
I ignored the second question. "No, we didn't find anything out about my, um, visitor."
"Then I'll be around," he said as his eyes slid closed.
"Jake . . . ," I started to whine.
"Hey, it's the least I can do - I offered eternal servitude, remember. I'm your slave for life."
"I don't want a slave!"
His eyes didn't open. "Whatdo you want, Bella?"
"I want my friend Jacob - and I don't want him half-dead, hurting himself in some misguided
attempt -"
He cut me off. "Look at it this way - I'm hoping I can track down a vampire I'm allowed to
kill, okay?"
I didn't answer. He looked at me then, peeking at my reaction.
"Kidding, Bella."
I stared at the TV.
"So, any special plans next week? You're graduating. Wow. That's big." His voice turned
flat, and his face, already drawn, looked downright haggard as his eyes closed again - not in
exhaustion this time, but in denial. I realized that graduation still had a horrible significance
for him, though my intentions were now disrupted.
"Nospecial plans," I said carefully, hoping he would hear the reassurance in my words
without a more detailed explanation. I didn't want to get into it now. For one thing, he didn't
look up for any difficult conversations. For another, I knew he would read too much into my
qualms. "Well, I do have to go to a graduation party. Mine." I made a disgusted sound.
"Aliceloves parties, and she's invited the whole town to her place the night of. It's going to
be horrible."
His eyes opened as I spoke, and a relieved smile made his face look less worn. "I didn't get an
invitation. I'm hurt," he teased.
"Consider yourself invited. It's supposedlymy party, so I should be able to ask who I want."
"Thanks," he said sarcastically, his eyes slipping closed once more.
"I wish you would come," I said without any hope. "It would be more fun. For me, I mean."
"Sure, sure," he mumbled. "That would be very . . . wise . . ." His voice trailed off.
A few seconds later, he was snoring.
Poor Jacob. I studied his dreaming face, and liked what I saw. While he slept, every trace of
defensiveness and bitterness disappeared and suddenly he was the boy who had been my very
best friend before all the werewolf nonsense had gotten in the way. He looked so much
younger. He looked like my Jacob.
I nestled into the couch to wait out his nap, hoping he would sleep for a while and make up
some of what he'd lost. I flipped through channels, but there wasn't much on. I settled for a
cooking show, knowing, as I watched, that I'd never put that much effort into Charlie's
dinner. Jacob continued to snore, getting louder. I turned up the TV.
I was strangely relaxed, almost sleepy, too. This house felt safer than my own, probably
because no one had ever come looking for me here. I curled up on the sofa and thought about
taking a nap myself. Maybe I would have, but Jacob's snoring was impossible to tune out.
So, instead of sleeping, I let my mind wander.
Finals were done, and most of them had been a cakewalk. Calculus, the one exception, was
behind me, pass or fail. My high school education was over. And I didn't really know how I
felt about that. I couldn't look at it objectively, tied up as it was with my human life being
I wondered how long Edward planned to use this "not because you're scared" excuse. I was
going to have to put my foot down sometime.
If I were thinking practically, I knew it made more sense to ask Carlisle to change me the
second I made it through the graduation line. Forks was becoming nearly as dangerous as a
war zone. No, Forkswas a war zone. Not to mention . . . it would be a good excuse to miss
the graduation party. I smiled to myself as I thought of that most trivial of reasons for
changing. Silly . . . yet still compelling.
But Edward was right - I wasn't quite ready yet.
And I didn't want to be practical. I wanted Edward to be the one. It wasn't a rational desire. I
was sure that - about two seconds after someone actually bit me and the venom started
burning through my veins - I really wouldn't care anymore who had done it. So it shouldn't
make a difference.
It was hard to define, even to myself, why it mattered. There was just something about him
being the one to make the choice - to want to keep me enough that he wouldn't just allow
me to be changed, he would act to keep me. It was childish, but I liked the idea thathis lips
would be the last good thing I would feel. Even more embarrassingly, something I would
never say aloud, I wantedhis venom to poison my system. It would make me belong to him in
a tangible, quantifiable way.
But I knew he was going to stick to his marriage scheme like glue - because a delay was
what he was clearly after and it was working so far. I tried to imagine telling my parents that
I was getting married this summer. Telling Angela and Ben and Mike. I couldn't. I couldn't
think of the words to say. It would be easier to tell them I was becoming a vampire. And I
was sure that at least my mother - were I to tell her every detail of the truth - would be more
strenuously opposed to me getting married than to me a becoming vampire. I grimaced to
myself as I imagined her horrified expression.
Then, for just a second, I saw that same odd vision of Edward and me on a porch swing,
wearing clothes from another kind of world. A world where it would surprise no one if I
wore his ring on my finger. A simpler place, where love was defined in simpler ways. One
plus one equals two. . . .
Jacob snorted and rolled to his side. His arm swung off the back of the couch and pinned me
against his body.
Holy crow, but he was heavy! Andhot. It was sweltering after just a few seconds.
I tried to slide out from under his arm without waking him, but I had to shove a little bit, and
when his arm fell off me, his eyes snapped open. He jumped to his feet, looking around
"What? What?" he asked, disoriented.
"It's just me, Jake. Sorry I woke you."
He turned to look at me, blinking and confused. "Bella?"
"Hey, sleepy."
"Oh, man! Did I fall asleep? I'm sorry! How long was I out?"
"A few Emerils. I lost count."
He flopped back on the couch next to me. "Wow. Sorry about that, really."
I patted his hair, trying to smooth the wild disarray. "Don't feel bad. I'm glad you got some
He yawned and stretched. "I'm useless these days. No wonder Billy's always gone. I'm so
"You're fine," I assured him.
"Ugh, let's go outside. I need to walk around or I'll pass out again."
"Jake, go back to sleep. I'm good. I'll call Edward to come pick me up." I patted my pockets
as I spoke, and realized they were empty. "Shoot, I'll have to borrow your phone. I think I
must have left his in the car." I started to unfold myself.
"No!" Jacob insisted, grabbing my hand. "No, stay. You hardly ever make it down. I can't
believe I wasted all this time."
He pulled me off the couch as he spoke, and then led the way outside, ducking his head as he
passed under the doorframe. It had gotten much cooler while Jacob slept; the air was
unseasonably cold - there must be a storm on the way. It felt like February, not May.
The wintry air seemed to make Jacob more alert. He paced back and forth in front of the
house for a minute, dragging me along with him.
"I'm an idiot," he muttered to himself.
"What's the matter, Jake? So you fell asleep." I shrugged.
"I wanted to talk to you. I can't believe this."
"Talk to me now," I said.
Jacob met my eyes for a second, and then looked away quickly toward the trees. It almost
looked like he was blushing, but it was hard to tell with his dark skin.
I suddenly remembered what Edward had said when he dropped me off - that Jacob would
tell me whatever he was shouting in his head. I started gnawing on my lip.
"Look," Jacob said. "I was planning to do this a little bit differently." He laughed, and it
sounded like he was laughing at himself. "Smoother," he added. "I was going to work up to
it, but" - and he looked at the clouds, dimmer as the afternoon progressed - "I'm out of time
to work."
He laughed again, nervous. We were still pacing slowly.
"What are you talking about?" I demanded.
He took a deep breath. "I want to tell you something. And you already know it . . . but I
think I should say it out loud anyway. Just so there's never any confusion on the subject."
I planted my feet, and he came to a stop. I took my hand away and folded my arms across my
chest. I was suddenly sure that I didn't want to know what he was building up to.
Jacob's eyebrows pulled down, throwing his deep-set eyes into shadow. They were pitch
black as they bored into mine.
"I'm in love with you, Bella," Jacob said in a strong, sure voice. "Bella, I love you. And I
want you to pick me instead of him. I know you don't feel that way, but I need the truth out
there so that you know your options. I wouldn't want a miscommunication to stand in our
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