I was right on the edge of sleep.

The sun had risen behind the clouds an hour ago – the forest was gray now instead of black. Seth'd curled up and passed out around one, and I'd woken him at dawn to trade off. Even after running all night, I was having a hard time making my brain shut up long enough to fall asleep, but Seth's rhythmic run was helping. One, two-three, four, one, two-three, four – dum dum-dum dam – dull paw thuds against the damp earth, over and over as he made the wide circuit surrounding the Cullens' land. We were already wearing a trail into the ground. Seth's thoughts were empty, just a blur of green and gray as the woods flew past him. It was restful. It helped to fill my head with what he saw rather than letting my own images take center stage.

And then Seth's piercing howl broke the early morning quiet.

I lurched up from the ground, my front legs pulling toward a sprint before my hind legs were off the ground. I raced toward the place where Seth had frozen, listening with him to the tread of paws running in our direction.

Morning, boys.

A shocked whine broke through Seth's teeth. And then we both snarled as we read deeper into the new thoughts.

Oh, man! Goaway, Leah! Seth groaned.

I stopped when I got to Seth, head thrown back, ready to howl again – this time to complain.

Cut the noise, Seth.

Right. Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!He whimpered and pawed at the ground, scratching deep furrows in the dirt.

Leah trotted into view, her small gray body weaving through the underbrush.

Stop whining, Seth. You're such a baby.

I growled at her, my ears flattening against my skull. She skipped back a step automatically.

What do you think you're doing, Leah?

She huffed a heavy sigh. It's pretty obvious, isn't it? I'm joining your crappy little renegade pack. The vampires' guard dogs. She barked out a low, sarcastic laugh.

No, you're not. Turn around before I rip out one of your hamstrings.

Like you could catch me.She grinned and coiled her body for launch. Wanna race, O fearless leader?

I took a deep breath, filling my lungs until my sides bulged. Then, when I was sure I wasn't going to scream, i exhaled in a gust.

Seth, go let the Cullens know that it's just your stupid sister – thought the words as harshly as possible. deal with this.

On it!Seth was only too happy to leave. He vanished toward the house.

Leah whined, and she leaned after him, the fur on her shoulders rising. You're just going to let him run off to the vampires alone?

I'm pretty sure he'd rather they took him out than spend another minute with you.

Shut up, Jacob. Oops, I'm sorry – meant, shut up, most high Alpha.

Why thehellare you here?

You think I'm just going to sit home while my little brother volunteers as a vampire chew toy?

Seth doesn't want or need your protection. In fact, no one wants you here.

Oooh, ouch, that's gonna leave ahuge mark. Ha, she barked. Tell me who does want me around, and I'm outta here.

So this isn't about Seth at all, is it?

Of course it is. I'm just pointing out that being unwanted is not a first for me. Not really a motivating factor, if you know what I mean.

I gritted my teeth and tried to get my head straight.

Did Sam send you?

If I was here on Sam's errand, you wouldn't be able to hear me. My allegiance is no longer with him.

I listened carefully to the thoughts mixed in with the words. If this was a diversion or a ploy, I had to be alert enough to see through it. But there was nothing. Her declaration was nothing but the truth. Unwilling, almost despairing truth.

You're loyal tome now? I asked with deep sarcasm. Uh-huh. Right.

My choices are limited. I'm working with the options I've got. Trust me, I'm not enjoying this any more than you are.

That wasn't true. There was an edgy kind of excitement in her mind. She was unhappy about this, but she was also riding some weird high. I searched her mind, trying to understand.

She bristled, resenting the intrusion. I usually tried to tune Leah out – I'd never tried to make sense of her before.

We were interrupted by Seth, thinking his explanation at Edward. Leah whined anxiously. Edward's face, framed in the same window as last night, showed no reaction to the news. It was a blank face, dead.

Wow, he looks bad,Seth muttered to himself. The vampire showed no reaction to that thought, either. He disappeared into the house. Seth pivoted and headed back out to us. Leah relaxed a little.

What's going on?Leah asked. Catch me up to speed.

There's no point You're not staying.

Actually, Mr. Alpha, I am. Because since apparently I have to belong tosomeone – and don't think I haven't tried breaking off on my own, you know yourself how wellthat doesn 't work – choose you.

Leah, you don't like me. I don't like you.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. That doesn't matter to me. I'm staying with Seth.

You don't like vampires. Don't you think that's a little conflict of interest right there?

You don't like vampires either.

But Iam committed to this alliance. You aren't.

I'll keep my distance from them. I can run patrols out here, just like Seth.

And I'm supposed to trust you with that?

She stretched her neck, leaning up on her toes, trying to be as tall as me as she stared into my eyes. will not betray my pack.

I wanted to throw my head back and howl, like Seth had before. This isn't your pack! This isn't even a pack. This is just me, going off on my own! What is it with you Clearwaters? Why can't you leave me alone?

Seth, just coming up behind us now, whined; I'd offended him. Great.

I've been helpful, haven't I, Jake?

You haven't madetoo much a nuisance of yourself, kid, but if you and Leah are a package deal – if the only way to get rid of her is for you to go home…. Weil, can you blame me for wanting you gone?

Ugh, Leah, you ruin everything!

Yeah, I know,she told him, and the thought was loaded with the heaviness of her despair.

I felt the pain in the three little words, and it was more than I would've guessed. I didn't want to feel that. I didn't want to feel bad for her. Sure, the pack was rough on her, but she brought it all on herself with the bitterness that tainted her every thought and made being in her head a nightmare.

Seth was feeling guilty, too. Jake… You're not really gonna send me away, are you? Leah's not so bad. Really. I mean, with her here, we can push the perimeter out farther. And this puts Sam down to seven. There's no way he's going to mount an attack that outnumbered. It's probably a good thing….

You know I don't want to lead a pack, Seth.

So don't lead us,Leah offered.

I snorted. Sounds perfect to me. Run along home now.

Jake,Seth thought. belong here. I do like vampires. Cullens, anyway. They're people to me, and I'm going to protect them, 'cause that's what we're supposed to do.

Maybe you belong, kid, but your sister doesn't And she's going to go wherever you are –

I stopped short, because I saw something when I said that. Something Leah had been trying not to think.

Leah wasn't going anywhere.

Thought this was about Seth,I thought sourly.

She flinched. Of course I'm here for Seth.

And to get away from Sam.

Her jaw clenched. don't have to explain myself to you. I just have to do what I'm told. I belong to your pack, Jacob. The end.

I paced away from her, growling.

Crap. I was never going to get rid of her. As much as she disliked me, as much as she loathed the Cullens, as happy as she'd be to go kill all the vampires right now, as much as it pissed her off to have to protect them instead – none of that was anything compared to what she felt being free of Sam.

Leah didn't like me, so it wasn't such a chore having me wish she would disappear.

She loved Sam. Still. And having him wish she would disappear was more pain than she was willing to live with, now that she had a choice. She would have taken any other option. Even if it meant moving in with the Cullens as their lapdog.

don't know if I'd go that far, she thought. She tried to make the words tough, aggressive, but there were big cracks in her show. I'm sure I'd give killing myself a few good tries first.

Look, Leah…

No,you look, Jacob. Stop arguing with me, because it's not going to do any good. I'll stay out of

your way, okay? I'll do anything you want Except go back to Sam's pack and be the pathetic ex-girlfriend he can't get away from. If you want me to leave – she sat back on her haunches and stared straight into my eyes – you're going to have tomake me.

I snarled for a long, angry minute. I was beginning to feel some sympathy for Sam, despite what he had done to me, to Seth. No wonder he was always ordering the pack around. How else would you ever get anything done?

Seth, are you gonna get mad at me if I kill your sister?

He pretended to think about it for a minute. Well… yeah, probably.

I sighed.

Okay, then, Ms. Do-Anything-I-Want Why don't you make yourself useful by telling us what you know? What happened after we left last night?

Lots of howling. But you probably heard that part. It was so loud that it took us a while to figure out that we couldn't hear either of you anymore. Sam was…Words failed her, but we could see it in our head. Both Seth and I cringed. After that, it was clear pretty quick that we were going to have to rethink things. Sam was planning to talk to the other

Elders first thing this morning. We were supposed to meet up and figure out a game plan. I could tell he wasn't going to mount another attack right away, though. Suicide at this point, with you and Seth AWOL and the bloodsuckers forewarned. I'm not sure what they'll do, but I wouldn't be wandering the forest alone if I was a leech. It's open season on vamps now.

You decided to skip the meeting this morning?I asked.

When we split up for patrols last night, I asked permission to go home, to tell my mother what had happened –

Crap! You told Mom?Seth growled.

Seth, hold off on the sibling stuff for a sec. Go on, Leah.

So once I was human, I took a minute to think things through. Well, actually, I took all night. I bet the others think I fell asleep. But the whole two-separate-packs, two-separate-pack-minds thing gave mea lot to sift through. In the end, I weighed Seth's safety and the, er, other benefits against the idea of turning traitor and sniffing vampire stink for who knows how long. You know what I decided. I left a note for my mom. I expect we'll hear it when Sam finds out . ..

Leah cocked an ear to the west.

Yeah, I expect we will,I agreed.

So that's everything. What do we do now?she asked.

She and Seth both looked at me expectantly.

This was exactly the kind of thing I didn't want to have to do.

guess we just keep an eye out for now. That's all we can do. You should probably take a nap, Leah.

You've had as much sleep as I have.

Thought you were going to do what you were told?

Right. That's going to get old,she grumbled, and then she yawned. Well, whatever. I don't care.

I'll run the border, Jake. I'm not tired at all.Seth was so glad I hadn't forced them home, he was all but prancing with excitement.

Sure, sure. I'm going to go check in with the Cullens.

Seth took off along the new path worn into the damp earth. Leah looked after him thoughtfully.

Maybe a round or two before I crash…. Hey Seth, wanna see how many times I can lap you?


Barking out a low chuckle, Leah lunged into the woods after him.

I growled uselessly. So much for peace and quiet.

Leah was trying – for Leah. She kept her jibes to a minimum as she raced around the circuit, but it was impossible not to be aware of her smug mood. I thought of the whole "two's company" saying. It didn't really apply, because one was plenty to my mind. But if there had to be three of us, it was hard to think of anyone that I wouldn't trade her for.

Paul?she suggested.

Maybe,I allowed.

She laughed to herself, too jittery and hyper to get offended, i wondered how long the buzz from dodging Sam's pity would last.

That will be my goal then – to be less annoying than Paul.

Yeah, work on that

I changed into my other form when I was a few yards from the lawn. I hadn't been planning to spend much time human here. But I hadn't been planning to have Leah in my head, either. I pulled on my ragged shorts and started across the lawn.

The door opened before I got to the steps, and I was surprised to see Carlisle rather than Edward step outside to meet me – his face looked exhausted and defeated. For a second, my heart froze. I faltered to a stop, unable to speak.

"Are you all right, Jacob?" Carlisle asked.

"Is Bella?" I choked out.

"She's… much the same as last night. Did I startle you? I'm sorry. Edward said you were coming in your human form, and I came out to greet you, as he didn't want to leave her. She's awake."

And Edward didn't want to lose any time with her, because he didn't have much time left. Carlisle didn't say the words out loud, but he might as well have.

It had been a while since I'd slept – since before my last patrol. I could really feel that now. I took a step forward, sat down on the porch steps, and slumped against the railing.

Moving whisper-quiet as only a vampire could, Carlisle took a seat on the same step, against the other railing.

"I didn't get a chance to thank you last night, Jacob. You don't know how much I appreciate your… compassion. I know your goal was to protect Bella, but I owe you the safety of the rest of my family as well. Edward told me what you had to do___"

"Don't mention it," I muttered.

"If you prefer."

We sat in silence. I could hear the others in the house. Emmett, Alice, and Jasper, speaking in low, serious voices upstairs. Esme humming tunelessly in another room. Rosalie and Edward breathing close by – I couldn't tell which was which, but I could hear the difference in Bella's labored panting. I could hear her heart, too. It seemed… uneven.

It was like fate was out to make me do everything I'd ever sworn I wouldn't in the course of twenty-four hours. Here I was, hanging around, waiting for her to die.

I didn't want to listen anymore. Talking was better than listening.

"She's family to you?" I asked Carlisle. It had caught my notice before, when he'd said I'd helped the rest of his family, too.

"Yes. Bella is already a daughter to me. A beloved daughter."

"But you're going to let her die."

He was quiet long enough that I looked up. His face was very, very tired. I knew how he felt.

"I can imagine what you think of me for that," he finally said. "But i can't ignore her will. It wouldn't be right to make such a choice for her, to force her."

I wanted to be angry with him, but he was making it hard. It was like he was throwing my own words back at me, just scrambled up. They'd sounded right before, but they couldn't be right now. Not with Bella dying. Still… I remembered how it felt to be broken on the ground under Sam – to have no choice but be involved in the murder of someone I loved. It wasn't the same, though. Sam was wrong. And Bella loved things she shouldn't.

"Do you think there's any chance she'll make it? I mean, as a vampire and all that. She told me about…

about Esme."

Tel say there's an even chance at this point," he answered quietly. "I've seen vampire venom work miracles, but there are conditions that even venom cannot overcome. Her heart is working too hard now; if it should fail… there won't be anything for me to do."

Bella's heartbeat throbbed and faltered, giving an agonizing emphasis to his words.

Maybe the planet had started turning backward. Maybe that would explain how everything was the opposite of what it had been yesterday – how I could be hoping for what had once seemed like the very worst thing in the world.

"What is that thing doing to her?" I whispered. "She was so much worse last night. I saw… the tubes and all that. Through the window."

"The fetus isn't compatible with her body. Too strong, for one thing, but she could probably endure that for a while. The bigger problem is that it won't allow her to get the sustenance she needs. Her body is rejecting every form of nutrition. I'm trying to feed her intravenously, but she's just not absorbing it. Everything about her condition is accelerated. I'm watching her – and not just her, but the fetus as well – starve to death by the hour. I can't stop it and I can't slow it down. I can't figure out what it wants" His weary voice broke at the end.

I felt the same way I had yesterday, when I'd seen the black stains across her stomach – furious, and a little crazy.

I clenched my hands into fists to control the shaking. I hated the thing that was hurting her. It wasn't enough for the monster to beat her from the inside out. No, it was starving her, too. Probably just looking for something to sink its teeth into – a throat to suck dry. Since it wasn't big enough to kill anyone else yet, it settled for sucking Bella's life from her.

I could tell them exactly what it wanted: death and blood, blood and death.

My skin was all hot and prickly. I breathed slowly in and out, focusing on that to calm myself.

"I wish I could get a better idea of what exactly it is," Carlisle murmured. "The fetus is well protected. I haven't been able to produce an ultrasonic image. I doubt there is any way to get a needle through the amniotic sac, but Rosalie won't agree to let me try, in any case."

"A needle?" I mumbled. "What good would that do?"

"The more I know about the fetus, the better I can estimate what it will be capable of. What I wouldn't give for even a little amniotic fluid. If I knew even the chromosomal count…"

"You're losing me, Doc. Can you dumb it down?"

He chuckled once – even his laugh sounded exhausted. "Okay. How much biology have you taken? Did you study chromosomal pairs?"

"Think so. We have twenty-three, right?"

"Humans do."

I blinked. "How many do you have?"


I frowned at my fists for a second. "What does that mean?"

"I thought it meant that our species were almost completely different. Less related than a lion and a house cat. But this new life – well, it suggests that we're more genetically compatible than I'd thought." He sighed sadly. "I didn't know to warn them."

I sighed, too. It had been easy to hate Edward for the same ignorance. I still hated him for it. It was just hard to feel the same way about Carlisle. Maybe because I wasn't ten shades of jealous in Carlisle's case.

"It might help to know what the count was – whether the fetus was closer to us or to her. To know what to expect." Then he shrugged. "And maybe it wouldn't help anything. I guess I just wish I had something to study, anything to do."

"Wonder what my chromosomes are like," I muttered randomly. I thought of those Olympic steroids tests again. Did they run DNA scans?

Carlisle coughed self-consciously. "You have twenty-four pairs, Jacob."

I turned slowly to stare at him, raising my eyebrows.

He looked embarrassed. "I was… curious. I took the liberty when I was treating you last June."

I thought about it for a second. "I guess that should piss me off. But I don't really care."

"I'm sorry. I should have asked."

"S'okay, Doc. You didn't mean any harm."

"No, I promise you that I did not mean you any harm. It's just that… I find your species fascinating. I suppose that the elements of vampiric nature have come to seem commonplace to me over the centuries. Your family's divergence from humanity is much more interesting. Magical, almost."

"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," I mumbled. He was just like Bella with all the magic garbage.

Carlisle laughed another weary laugh.

Then we heard Edward's voice inside the house, and we both paused to listen.

"I'll be right back, Bella. I want to speak with Carlisle for a moment. Actually, Rosalie, would you mind accompanying me?" Edward sounded different. There was a little life in his dead voice. A spark of something. Not hope exactly, but maybe the desire to hope.

"What is it, Edward?" Bella asked hoarsely.

"Nothing you need to worry about, love. It will just take a second. Please, Rose?"

"Esme?" Rosalie called. "Can you mindBella for me?"

Iheard the whisper of wind as Esme flitted down the stairs.

"Of course," she said.

Carlisle shifted, twisting to look expectantly at the door. Edward was through the door first, with Rosalie right on his heels. His face was, like his voice, no longer dead. He seemed intensely focused. Rosalie looked suspicious.

Edward shut the door behind her.

"Carlisle," he murmured.

"What is it, Edward?"

"Perhaps we've been going about this the wrong way. I was listening to you and Jacob just now, and when you were speaking of what the… fetus wants, Jacob had an interesting thought."

Me?What had thought? Besides my obvious hatred for the thing? At least I wasn't alone in that. I could tell that Edward had a difficult time using a term as mild as fetus.

"We haven't actually addressed that angle," Edward went on. "We've been trying to get Bella what she needs. And her body is accepting it about as well as one of ours would. Perhaps we should address the needs of the… fetus first. Maybe if we can satisfy it, we'll be able to help her more effectively."

"I'm not following you, Edward," Carlisle said.

"Think about it, Carlisle. If that creature is more vampire than human, can't you guess what it craves  – what it's not getting? Jacob did."

I did? I ran through the conversation, trying to remember what thoughts I'd kept to myself. I remembered at the same time that Carlisle understood.

"Oh," he said in a surprised tone. "You think it is… thirsty?"

Rosalie hissed under her breath. She wasn't suspicious anymore. Her revoltingly perfect face wasall lit up, her eyes wide with excitement. "Of course," she muttered. "Carlisle, we have all that type O negative laid aside for Bella. It's a good idea," she added, not looking at me.

"Hmm." Carlisle put his hand to his chin, lost in thought. "I wonder… And then, what would be the best way to administer___"

Rosalie shook her head. "We don't have time to be creative. I'd say we should start with the traditional way."

"Wait a minute," i whispered. "Just hold on. Are you – are you talking about making Bella drink blood?"

"It was your idea, dog," Rosalie said, scowling at me without ever quite looking at me.

I ignored her and watched Carlisle. That same ghost of hope that had been in Edward's face was now in the doctor's eyes. He pursed his lips, speculating.

"That's just…" I couldn't find the right word.

"Monstrous?" Edward suggested. "Repulsive?"

"Pretty much."

"But what if it helps her?" he whispered.

I shook my head angrily. "What are you gonna do, shove a tube down her throat?"

"I plan to ask her what she thinks. I just wanted to run it past Carlisle first."

Rosalie nodded. "If you tell her it might help the baby, she'll be willing to do anything. Even if we do have to feed them through a tube."

I realized then – when I heard how her voice got all loveydovey as she said the word baby – that Blondie would be in line with anything that helped the little life-sucking monster. Was that what was going on, the mystery factor that was bonding the two of them? Was Rosalie after the kid?

From the corner of my eye, I saw Edward nod once, absently, not looking in my direction. But I knew he was answering my questions.

Huh. I wouldn't have thought the ice-cold Barbie would have a maternal side. So much for protecting Bella – Rosalie'd probably jam the tube down Bella's throat herself.

Edward's mouth mashed into a hard line, and I knew I was right again.

"Well, we don't have time to sit around discussing this," Rosalie said impatiently. "What do you think, Carlisle? Can we try?"

Carlisle took a deep breath, and then he was on his feet. "We'll ask Bella."

Blondie smiled smugly – sure that, if it was up to Bella, she would get her way.

I dragged myself up from the stairs and followed after them as they disappeared into the house. I wasn't sure why. Just morbid curiosity, maybe. It was like a horror movie. Monsters and blood all over the place.

Maybe I just couldn't resist another hit of my dwindling drug supply.

Bella lay flat on the hospital bed, her belly a mountain under the sheet. She looked like wax – colorless and sort of see-through. You'd think she was already dead, except for the tiny movement of her chest, her shallow breathing. And then her eyes, following the four of us with exhausted suspicion.

The others were at her side already, flitting across the room with sudden darting motions. It was creepy to watch. 1 ambled along at a slow walk.

"What's going on?" Bella demanded in a scratchy whisper. Her waxy hand twitched up – like she was trying to protect her balloon-shaped stomach.

"Jacob had an idea that might help you," Carlisle said. I wished he would leave me out of it. I hadn't suggested anything. Give the credit to her bloodsucking husband, where it belonged. "It won't be… pleasant, but – "

"But it will help the baby," Rosalie interrupted eagerly. "We've thought of a better way to feed him. Maybe."

Bella's eyelids fluttered. Then she coughed out a weak chuckle. "Not pleasant?" she whispered. "Gosh, that'll be such a change." She eyed the tube stuck into her arm and coughed again.

Blondie laughed with her.

The girl looked like she only had hours left, and she had to be in pain, but she was making jokes. So Bella.

Trying to ease the tension, make it better for everyone else.

Edward stepped around Rosalie, no humor touching his intense expression. I was glad for that. It helped, just a little bit, that he was suffering worse than me. He took her hand, not the one that was still protecting her swollen belly.

"Bella, love, we're going to ask you to do something monstrous," he said, using the same adjectives he'd offered me. "Repulsive."

Well, at least he was giving it to her straight.

She took a shallow, fluttery breath. "How bad?"

Carlisle answered. "We think the fetus might have an appetite closer to ours than to yours. We think it's thirsty."

She blinked. "Oh. Oh."

"Your condition – both of your conditions – are deteriorating rapidly. We don't have time to waste, to come up with more palatable ways to do this. The fastest way to test the theory – "

"I've got to drink it," she whispered. She nodded slightly – barely enough energy for a little head bob. "I can do that. Practice for the future, right?" Her colorless lips stretched into a faint grin as she looked at Edward. He didn't smile back.

Rosalie started tapping her toe impatiently. The sound was really irritating. I wondered what she would do if I threw her through a wall right now.

"So, who's going to catch me a grizzly bear?" Bella whispered.

Carlisle and Edward exchanged a quick glance. Rosalie stopped tapping.

"What?" Bella asked.

"It will be a more effective test if we don't cut corners, Bella," Carlisle said.

"Ifthe fetus is craving blood," Edward explained, "it's not craving animal blood."

"It won't make a difference to you, Bella. Don't think about it," Rosalie encouraged.

Bella's eyes widened. "Who?" she breathed, and her gaze flickered to me.

"I'm not here as a donor, Bells," I grumbled. "'Sides, it's human blood that thing's after, and I don't think mine applies – "

"We have blood on hand," Rosalie told her, talking over me before I'd finished, like I wasn't there. "For you – just in case. Don't worry about anything at all. It's going to be fine. I have a good feeling about this, Bella. I think the baby will be so much better."

Bella:s hand ran across her stomach.

"Well," she rasped, barely audible. "I'm starving, so I'll bet he is, too." Trying to make another joke. "Let's go for it. My first vampire act."