Hey Jake, thought you said you wanted me at dusk. How come you didn't have Leah wake me up before she crashed?

'Cause I didn't need you. I'm still good.

He was already picking up the north half of the circle. Anything?

Nope. Nothing but nothing.

You did some scouting?

He'dcaught the edge of one of my side trips. He headed up the new trail.

Yeah – ran a few spokes. You know, just checking. If the Cullens are going to make a hunting trip…

Good call.

Seth looped back toward the main perimeter.

It was easier to run with him than it was to do the same with Leah. Though she was trying – trying hard – there was always an edge to her thoughts. She didn't want to be here. She didn't want to feel the softening toward the vampires that was going on in my head. She didn't want to deal with Seth's cozy friendship with them, a friendship that was only getting stronger.

Funny, though, I'd've thought her biggest issue would just be me. We'd always gotten on each other's nerves when we were in Sam's pack. But there was no antagonism toward me now at all, just the Cullens andBella. I wondered why. Maybe it was simply gratitude that I wasn't forcing her to leave. Maybe it was because I understood her hostility better now. Whichever, running with Leah wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected.

Of course, she hadn't eased up that much. The food and clothes Esme had sent for her were all taking a trip downriver right now. Even after I'd eaten my share – not because it smelled nearly irresistible away from the vampire burn, but to set a good example of self-sacrificing tolerance for Leah – she'd refused. The small elk she'd taken down around noon had not totally satisfied her appetite. Did make her mood worse, though. Leah hated eating raw.

Maybe we should runa sweep east? Seth suggested. Go deep, see if they're out there waiting.

I was thinking about that,I agreed. But let's do it when we're all awake. I don't want to let down our guard. We should do it before the Cullens give it a try, though. Soon.


That got me thinking.

If the Cullens were able to get out of the immediate area safely, they really ought to keep on going. They probably should have taken off the second we'd come to warn them. They had to be able to afford other digs. And they had friends up north, right? Take Bella and run. It seemed like an obvious answer to their problems.

I probably ought to suggest that, but I was afraid they would listen to me. And I didn't wantto haveBella disappear – to never know whether she'd made it or not.

No, that was stupid. I wouldtell them togo. It made no sense for them to stay, and it would be better  – not less painful, but healthier – for me if Bella left.

Easyto say now, when Bella wasn't right there, looking all thrilled to see me and also clinging to life by her fingernails at the same time…

Oh, I already asked Edward about that,Seth thought.


I asked him why they hadn't taken off yet. Gone up to Tanya's place or something. Somewhere too far for Sam to come after them.

I had to remind myself that I'd just decided to give the Cullens that exact advice. That it was best. So I shouldn't be mad at Seth for taking the chore out of my hands. Not mad at all.

So what did he say? Are they waiting for a window?

No. They're not leaving.

And that shouldn't sound like good news.

Why not? That's just stupid.

Not really,Seth said, defensive now. It takes some time to build up the kind of medical access that Carlisle has here. He's got all the stuff he needs to take care of Bella, and the credentials to get more. That's one of the reasons they want to make a hunting run. Carlisle thinks they're going to need more blood for Bella soon. She's using up all the O negative they stored for her. He doesn't like depleting the stockpile. He's going to buy some more. Did you know you can buy blood? If you're a doctor.

I wasn't ready to be logical yet. Still seems stupid. They could bring most of it with them, right? And steal what they need wherever they go. Who cares about legal crap when you're the undead?

Edward doesn't want to take any risks moving her.

She's better than she was.

Seriously,Seth agreed. In his head, he was comparing my memories of Bella hooked up to the tubes with the

last time he'd seen her as he'd left the house. She'd smiled at him and waved. But she can't move around much, you know. That thing is kicking the hell out of her.

I swallowed back the stomach acid in my throat. Yeah, I know.

Broke another of her ribs,he told me somberly.

My stride faltered, and I staggered a step before I regained my rhythm.

Carlisle taped her up again. Just another crack, he said. Then Rosalie said something about how even normal human babies have been known to crack ribs. Edward looked like he was gonna rip her head off.

Too bad he didn't

Seth was in full report mode now – knowing it was all vitally interesting to me, though I'd never've asked to hear it. Bella's been running a fever off and on today. Just low grade – sweats and then chills. Carlisle's not sure what to make of it – shemightjust be sick. Her immune system can't be in peak form right now.

Yeah, I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

She's in a good mood, though. She was chatting with Charlie, laughing and all –

Charlie!What?! What do you mean, she was talking to Charlie?!

Now Seth's pace stuttered; my fury surprised him. Guess he calls every day to talk to her. Sometimes her mom calls, too. Bella sounds so much better now, so she was reassuring him that she was on the mend-On the mend? What the hell are they thinking?! Get Charlie's hopes up just so that he can be destroyed even worse when she dies? I thought they were getting him ready for that! Trying to prepare him! Why would she set him up like this?

She might not die,Seth thought quietly.

I took deep breath, trying to calm myself. Seth. Even if she pulls through this, she's not doing it human. She knows that, and so do the rest of them. If she doesn't die, she's going to have to do a pretty convincing impersonation of a corpse, kid. Either that, or disappear. I thought they were trying to make this easier on Charlie. Why… ?

Think it's Bella's idea. No one said anything, but Edward's face kinda went right along with what you're thinking now.

On the same wavelength with the bloodsucker yet again.

We ran in silence for a few minutes. I started off along a new line, probing south.

Don't get too far.


Bella asked me to ask you to stop by.

My teeth locked together.

Alice wants you, too. She says she's tired of hanging out in the attic like the vampire bat in the belfry. Seth snorted a laugh. was switching off with Edward before. Trying to keep Bella's temperature stable. Cold to hot, as needed. I guess, if you don't want to do it, I could go back –

No. I got it,I snapped.

Okay.Seth didn't make any more comments. He concentrated very hard on the empty forest.

I kept my southern course, searching for anything new. I turned around when I got close to the first signs of habitation. Not near the town yet, but I didn't want to get any wolf rumors going again. We'd been nice and invisible for a long while now.

I passed right through the perimeter on my way back, heading for the house. As much as I knew it was a stupid thing to do, I couldn't stop myself. I must be some kind of masochist.

There's nothing wrong with you, Jake. This isn't the most normal situation.

Shut up, please, Seth.


I didn't hesitate at the door this time; I just walked through like I owned the place. I figured that would piss Rosalie off, but it was a wasted effort. Neither Rosalie or Bella were anywhere in sight. I looked around wildly, hoping I'd missed them somewhere, my heart squeezing against my ribs in a weird, uncomfortable way.

"She's all right," Edward whispered. "Or, the same, I should say."

Edward was on the couch with his face in his hands; he hadn't looked up to speak. Esme was next to him, her arm wrapped tight around his shoulders.

"Hello, Jacob," she said. "I'm so glad you came back."

"Me, too," Alice said with a deep sigh. She came prancing down the stairs, making a face. Like 1 was late for an appointment.

"Uh, hey," I said. It felt weird to try to be polite.

"Where's Bella?"

"Bathroom," Alice told me. "Mostly fluid diet, you know. Plus, the whole pregnancy thing does that to you, I hear."


I stood there awkwardly, rocking back and forth on my heels.

"Oh, wonderful," Rosalie grumbled. I whipped my head around and saw her coming from a hall half-hidden behind the stairway. She had Bella cradled gently in her arms, a harsh sneer on her face for me. "I knew I smelled something nasty."

And, just like before, Bella's face lit up like a kid's on Christmas morning. Like I'd brought her the greatest gift ever.

It was so unfair.

"Jacob," she breathed. "You came."

"Hi, Bells."

Esme and Edward both got up. I watched how carefully Rosalie laid Bella out on the couch. I watched how, despite that, Bella turned white and held her breath – like she was set on not making any noise no matter how much it hurt.

Edward brushed his hand across her forehead and then along her neck. He tried to make it look as if he was

just sweeping her hair back, but it looked like a doctor's examination to me.

"Are you cold?" he murmured.

I'm fine."

"Bella, you know what Carlisle told you," Rosalie said. "Don't downplay anything. It doesn't help us take care of either of you."

"Okay, I'm a little cold. Edward, can you hand me that blanket?"

I rolled my eyes. "Isn't that sort of the point of me being here?"

"You just walked in," Bella said. "After running all day, I'd bet. Put your feet up for a minute. I'll probably warm up again in no time."

I ignored her, going to sit on the floor next the sofa while she was still telling me what to do. At that point, though, I wasn't sure how…. She looked pretty brittle, and I was afraid to move her, even to put my arms around her. So I just leaned carefully against her side, letting my arm rest along the length of hers, and held her hand. Then I put my other hand against her face. It was hard to tell if she felt colder than usual.

"Thanks, Jake," she said, and I felt her shiver once.

"Yeah," I said.

Edward sat on the arm of the sofa by Bella's feet, his eyes always on her face.

It was too much to hope, with all the super-hearing in the room, that no one would notice my stomach rumbling.

"Rosalie, why don't you get Jacob something from the kitchen?" Alice said. She was invisible now, sitting quietly behind the back of the sofa.

Rosalie stared at the place Alice's voice had come from in disbelief.

"Thanks, anyway, Alice, but I don't think I'd want to eat something Blondie's spit in. I'd bet my system wouldn't take too kindly to venom."

"Rosalie would never embarrass Esme by displaying such a lack of hospitality."

"Of course not," Blondie said in a sugar-sweet voice that I immediately distrusted. She got up and breezed out of the room.

Edward sighed.

"You'd tell me if she poisoned it, right?" I asked.

"Yes," Edward promised.

And for some reason I believed him.

There was a lot of banging in the kitchen, and – weirdly – the sound of metal protesting as it was abused. Edward sighed again, but smiled just a little, too. Then Rosalie was back before I could think much more about it. With a pleased smirk, she set a silver bowl on the floor next to me.

"Enjoy, mongrel."

It had once probably been a big mixing bowl, but she'd bent the bowl back in on itself until it was shaped almost exactly like a dog dish. I had to be impressed with her quick craftsmanship. And her attention to detail. She'd

scratched the word Fido into the side. Excellent handwriting.

Because the food looked pretty good – steak, no less, and a big baked potato with all the fixings – I told her, "Thanks, Blondie."

She snorted.

"Hey, do you know what you call a blonde with a brain?" I asked, and then continued on the same breath, "a golden retriever."

"I've heard that one, too," she said, no longer smiling.

"I'll keep trying," I promised, and then I dug in.

She made a disgusted face and rolled her eyes. Then she sat in one of the armchairs and started flicking through channels on the big TV so fast that there was no way she could really be surfing for something to watch.

The food was good, even with the vampire stink in the air. I was getting really used to that. Huh. Not something I'd been wanting to do, exactly…

When I was finished – though I was considering licking the bowl, just to give Rosalie something to complain about – I felt Bella's cold fingers pulling softly through my hair. She patted it down against the back of my neck.

"Time for a haircut, huh?"

"You're getting a little shaggy," she said. "Maybe – "

"Let me guess, someone around here used to cut hair in a salon in Paris?"

She chuckled. "Probably."

"No thanks," I said before she could really offer. "I'm good for a few more weeks."

Which made me wonder how long she was good for. I tried to think of a polite way to ask.

"So… urn… what's the, er, date? You know, the due date for the little monster."

She smacked the back of my head with about as much force as a drifting feather, but didn't answer.

"I'm serious," I told her. "I want to know how long I'm gonna have to be here." How long you're gonna be here, I added in my head. I turned to look at her then. Her eyes were thoughtful; the stress line was there between her brows again.

"I don't know," she murmured. "Not exactly. Obviously, we're not going with the nine-month model here, and we can't get an ultrasound, so Carlisle is guesstimating from how big I am. Normal people are supposed to be about forty centimeters here" – she ran her finger right down the middle of her bulging stomach – "when the baby is fully grown. One centimeter for every week. I was thirty this morning, and I've been gaining about two centimeters a day, sometimes more___"

Two weeks to a day, the days flying by. Her life speeding by in fast-forward. How many days did that give her, if she was counting to forty? Four? It took me a minute to figure out how to swallow.

"You okay?" she asked.

I nodded, not really sure how my voice would come out.

Edward's face was turned away from us as he listened to my thoughts, but I could see his reflection in the glass

wall. He was the burning man again.

Funny how having a deadline made it harder to think about leaving, or having her leave. I was glad Seth'd brought that up, so I knew they were staying here. It would be intolerable, wondering if they were about to go, to take away one or two or three of those four days. My four days.

Also funny how, even knowing that it was almost over, the hold she had on me only got harder to break. Almost like it was related to her expanding belly – as if by getting bigger, she was gaining gravitational force.

For a minute I tried to look at her from a distance, to separate myself from the pull. I knew it wasn't my imagination that my need for her was stronger than ever. Why was that? Because she was dying? Or knowing that even if she didn't, still – best case scenario – she'd be changing into something else that I wouldn't know or understand?

She ran her finger across my cheekbone, and my skin was wet where she touched it.

"It's going to be okay," she sort of crooned. It didn't matter that the words meant nothing. She said it the way people sang those senseless nursery rhymes to kids. Rock-a-bye, baby.

"Right," I muttered.

She curled against my arm, resting her head on my shoulder. "I didn't think you would come. Seth said you would, and so did Edward, but I didn't believe them."

"Why not?" I asked gruffly.

"You're not happy here. But you came anyway."

"You wanted me here."

"I know. But you didn't have to come, because it's not fair for me to want you here. I would have understood."

It was quiet for a minute. Edward'd put his face back together. He looked at the TV as Rosalie went on flipping through the channels. She was into the six hundreds. I wondered how long it would take to get back to the beginning.

"Thank you for coming," Bella whispered.

"Can I ask you something?" I asked.

"Of course."

Edward didn't look like he was paying attention to us at all, but he knew what I was about to ask, so he didn't fool me.

"Why do you want me here? Seth could keep you warm, and he's probably easier to be around, happy little punk. But when walk in the door, you smile like I'm your favorite person in the world."

"You're one of them."

"That sucks, you know."

"Yeah." She sighed. "Sorry."

"Why, though? You didn't answer that."

Edward was looking away again, like he was staring out the windows. His face was blank in the reflection.

"It feels… complete when you're here, Jacob. Like all my family is together. I mean, I guess that's what it's

like – I've never had a big family before now. It's nice." She smiled for half a second. "But it's just not whole unless you're here."

"I'll never be part of your family, Bella."

I could have been. I would have been good there. But that was just a distant future that died long before it had a chance to live.

"You've always been a part of my family," she disagreed.

My teeth made a grinding sound. 'That's a crap answer."

"What's a good one?"

"How about, 'Jacob, I get a kick out of your pain.'"

I felt her flinch.

"You'd like that better?" she whispered.

"It's easier, at least. I could wrap my head around it. I could deal with it."

I looked back down at her face then, so close to mine. Her eyes were shut and she was frowning. "We got off track, Jake. Out of balance. You're supposed to be part of my life – I can feel that, and so can you." She paused for a second without opening her eyes – like she was waiting for me to deny it. When I didn't say anything, she went on. "But not like this. We did something wrong. No. I did. I did something wrong, and we got off track___"

Her voice trailed off, and the frown on her face relaxed until it was just a little pucker at the corner of her lips. I waited for her to pour some more lemon juice into my paper cuts, but then a soft snore came from the back of her throat.

"She's exhausted," Edward murmured. "It's been a long day. A hard day. I think she would have gone to sleep earlier, but she was waiting for you."

I didn't look at him.

"Seth said it broke another of her ribs."

"Yes. It's making it hard for her to breathe."


"Let me know when she gets hot again."


She still had goose bumps on the arm that wasn't touching mine. I'd barely raised my head to look for a blanket when Edward snagged one draped over the arm of the sofa and flung it out so that it settled over her.

Occasionally, the mind-reading thing saved time. For example, maybe I wouldn't have to make a big production out of the accusation about what was going on with Charlie. That mess. Edward would just hear exactly how furious –

"Yes," he agreed. "It's not a good idea."

"Then why?" Why was Bella telling her father she was on the mend when it would only make him more miserable?

"She can't bear his anxiety."

"So it's better – "

"No. It's not better. But I'm not going to force her to do anything that makes her unhappy now. Whatever happens, this makes her feel better. I'll deal with the rest afterward."

That didn't sound right. Bella wouldn't just shuffle Charlie's pain off to some later date, for someone else to face. Even dying. That wasn't her. If I knew Bella, she had to have some other plan.

"She's very sure she's going to live," Edward said.

"But not human," I protested.

"No, not human. But she hopes to see Charlie again, anyway."

Oh, this just got better and better.

"See. Charlie." I finally looked at him, my eyes bugging. "Afterwards. See Charlie when she's all sparkly white with the bright red eyes. I'm not a bloodsucker, so maybe I'm missing something, but Charlie seems like kind of a strange choice for her first meal."

Edward sighed. "She knows she won't be able to be near him for at least a year. She thinks she can stall. Tell Charlie she has to go to a special hospital on the other side of the world. Keep in contact through phone calls___"

"That's insane."


"Charlie's not stupid. Even if she doesn't kill him, he's going to notice a difference."

"She's sort of banking on that."

I continued to stare, waiting for him to explain.

"She wouldn't be aging, of course, so that would set a time limit, even if Charlie accepted whatever excuse she comes up with for the changes." He smiled faintly. "Do you remember when you tried to tell her about your transformation? How you made her guess?"

My free hand flexed into a fist. "She told you about that?"

"Yes. She was explaining her… idea. You see, she's not allowed totell Charlie the truth – it would be very dangerous for him. But he's a smart, practical man. She thinks he'll come up with his own explanation. She assumes he'll get it wrong." Edward snorted. "After all, we hardly adhere to vampire canon. He'll make some wrong assumption about us, like she did in the beginning, and we'll go along with

it. She thinks she'll be able to see him… from time to time."

"Insane," I repeated.

"Yes," he agreed again.

It was weak of him to let her get her way on this, just to keep her happy now. It wouldn't turn out well.

Which made me think that he probably wasn't expecting her to live to try out her crazy plan. Placating her, so that she could be happy for a little while longer.

Like four more days.

"I'll deal with whatever comes," he whispered, and he turned his face down and away so that I couldn't even read his reflection. "I won't cause her pain now."

"Four days?"I asked.

He didn't look up. "Approximately."

"Then what?"

"What do you mean, exactly?"

I thought about what Bella had said. About the thing being wrapped up nice and tight in something strong, something like vampire skin. So how did that work? How did it get out?

"From what little research we've been able to do, it would appear the creatures use their own teeth to escape the womb," he whispered.

I had to pause to swallow back the bile.

"Research?" I asked weakly.

"That's why you haven't seen Jasper and Emmett around. That's what Carlisle is doing now. Trying to decipher ancient stories and myths, as much as we can with what we have to work with here, looking for anything that might help us predict the creature's behavior."

Stories? If there were myths, then…

"Then is this thing not the first of its kind?" Edward asked, anticipating my question. "Maybe. It's all very sketchy. The myths could easily be the products of fear and imagination. Though .. ." – he hesitated – "your myths are true, are they not? Perhaps these are, too. They do seem to be localized, linked___"

"How did you find… ?"

"There was a woman we encountered in South America. She'd been raised in the traditions of her people. She'd heard warnings about such creatures, old stories that had been passed down."

"What were the warnings?" I whispered.

"That the creature must be killed immediately. Before it could gain too much strength."

Just like Sam thought. Was he right?

"Of course, their legends say the same of us. That we must be destroyed. That we are soulless murderers."

Two for two.

Edward laughed one hard chuckle.

"What did their stories say about the… mothers?"

Agony ripped across his face, and, as I flinched away from his pain, I knew he wasn't going to give me an answer. I doubted he could talk.

tt was Rosalie – who'd been so still and quiet since Bella'd fallen asleep that I'd nearly forgotten her – who answered.

She made a scornful noise in the back of her throat. "Of course there were no survivors," she said. No survivors, blunt and uncaring. "Giving birth in the middle of a disease-infested swamp with a medicine man smearing

sloth spit across your face to drive out the evil spirits was never the safest method. Even the normal births went badly half the time. None of them had what this baby has – caregivers with an idea of what the baby needs, who try to meet those needs. A doctor with a totally unique knowledge of vampire nature. A plan in place to deliver the baby as safely as possible. Venom that will repair anything that goes wrong. The baby will be fine. And those other mothers would probably have survived if they'd had that – if they even existed in the first place. Something I am not convinced of." She sniffed disdainfully.

The baby, the baby. Like that was all that mattered. Bella's life was a minor detail to her – easy to blow off.

Edward's face went white as snow. His hands curved into claws. Totally egotistical and indifferent, Rosalie twisted in her chair so that her back was to him. He leaned forward, shifting into a crouch.

Allow me,I suggested.

He paused, raising one eyebrow.

Silently, I lifted my doggy bowl off the floor. Then, with a quick, powerful flip of my wrist, I threw it into the back of Blondie's head so hard that – with an earsplitting bang – it smashed flat before it ricocheted across the room and snapped the round top piece off the thick newel post at the foot of the stairs.

Bella twitched but didn't wake up.

"Dumb blonde," I muttered.

Rosalie turned her head slowly, and her eyes were blazing.

"You. Got. Food. In. My. Hair."

That did it.

I busted up.I pulled away fromBella so that I wouldn't shake her, and laughed so hard that tears ran down my face. From behind the couch, I heard Alice's tinkling laugh join in.

I wondered why Rosalie didn't spring. I sort of expected it. But then I realized that my laughing had woken Bella up, though she'd slept right through the real noise.

"What's so funny?" she mumbled.

"I got food in her hair," I told her, chortling again.

"I'm not going to forget this, dog," Rosalie hissed.

"S'not so hard to erase a blonde's memory," I countered. "Just blow in her ear."

"Get some new jokes," she snapped.

"C'mon, Jake. Leave Rose alo – " Bella broke off mid-sentence and sucked in a sharp breath. In the same second, Edward was leaning over the top of me, ripping the blanket out of the way. She seemed to convulse, her back arching off the sofa.

"He's just," she panted, "stretching."

Her lips were white, and she had her teeth locked together like she was trying to hold back a scream.

Edward put both hands on either side of her face.

"Carlisle?" he called in a tense, low voice.

"Right here," the doctor said. I hadn't heard him come in.

"Okay," Bella said, still breathing hard and shallow. "Think it's over. Poor kid doesn't have enough room, that's all. He's getting so big."

It was really hard to take, that adoring tone she used to describe the thing that was tearing her up. Especially after Rosalie's callousness. Made me wish I could throw something at Bella, too.

She didn't pick up on my mood. "You know, he reminds me of you, Jake," she said – affectionate tone – still gasping.

"Do not compare me to that thing," I spit out through my teeth.

"I just meant your growth spurt," she said, looking like I'd hurt her feelings. Good. "You shot right up. I could watch you getting taller by the minute. He's like that, too. Growing so fast."

I bit my tongue to keep from saying what I wanted to say – hard enough that I tasted blood in my mouth. Of course, it would heal before I could swallow. That's what Bella needed. To be strong like me, to be able to heal….

She took an easier breath and then relaxed back into the sofa, her body going limp.

"Hmm," Carlisle murmured. I looked up, and his eyes were on me.

"What?" I demanded.

Edward's head leaned to one side as he reflected on whatever was in Carlisle's head.

"You know that I was wondering about the fetus's genetic makeup, Jacob. About his chromosomes."

"What of it?"

"Well, taking your similarities into consideration – "

"Similarif/es?" I growled, not appreciating the plural.

"The accelerated growth, and the fact that Alice cannot see either of you."

I felt my face go blank. I'd forgotten about that other one.

"Well, I wonder if that means that we have an answer. If the similarities are gene-deep."

"Twenty-four pairs," Edward muttered under his breath.

"You don't know that."

"No. But it's interesting to speculate," Carlisle said in a soothing voice.

"Yeah. Just fascinating"

Bella's light snore started up again, accenting my sarcasm nicely.

They got into it then, quickly taking the genetics conversation to a point where the only words I could understand were the the's and the ands. And my own name, of course. Alice joined in, commenting now and then in her chirpy bird voice.

Even though they were talking about me, I didn't try to figure out the conclusions they were drawing. I had other things on my mind, a few facts I was trying to reconcile.

Fact one, Bella'd said that the creature was protected by something as strong as vampire skin, something that was too impenetrable for ultrasounds, too tough for needles. Fact two, Rosalie'd said they had a plan to deliver the

creature safely. Fact three, Edward'd said that – in myths – other monsters like this one would chew their way out of their own mothers.

I shuddered.

And that made a sick kind of sense, because, fact four, not many things could cut through something as strong as vampire skin. The half-creature's teeth – according to myth – were strong enough. My teeth

were strong enough.

And vampire teeth were strong enough.

It was hard to miss the obvious, but I sure wished I could. Because I had a pretty good idea exactly how Rosalie planned to get that thing "safely" out.