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Everything was so clear.
The brilliant light overhead was still blinding-bright, and yet I could plainly see the glowing strands of the filaments inside the bulb. I could see each color of the rainbow in the white light, and, at the very edge of the spectrum, an eighth color I had no name for.
Behind the light, I could distinguish the individual grains in the dark wood ceiling above. In front of it, I could see the dust motes in the air, the sides the light touched, and the dark sides, distinct and separate. They spun like little planets, moving around each other in a celestial dance.
The dust was so beautiful that I inhaled in shock; the air whistled down my throat, swirling the motes into a vortex. The action felt wrong. I considered, and realized the problem was that there was no relief tied to the action. I didn’t need the air. My lungs weren’t waiting for it. They reacted indifferently to the influx.
I did not need the air, but I liked it. In it, I could taste the room around me – taste the lovely dust motes, the mix of the stagnant air mingling with the flow of slightly cooler air from the open door. Taste a lush whiff of silk. Taste a faint hint of something warm and desirable, something that should be moist, but wasn’t. . . That smell made my throat burn dryly, a faint echo of the venom burn, though the scent was tainted by the bite of chlorine and ammonia. And most of all, I could taste an almost-honey-lilac-and-sun-flavored scent that was the strongest thing, the closest thing to me.
I heard the sound of the others, breathing again now that I did. Their breath mixed with the scent that was something just off honey and lilac and sunshine, bringing new flavors. Cinnamon, hyacinth, pear, seawater, rising bread, pine, vanilla, leather, apple, moss, lavender, chocolate. . . . I traded a dozen different comparisons in my mind, but none of them fit exactly. So sweet and pleasant.
The TV downstairs had been muted, and I heard someone – Rosalie? – shift her weight on the first floor.
I also heard a faint, thudding rhythm, with a voice shouting angrily to the beat. Rap music? I was mystified for a moment, and then the sound faded away like a car passing by with the windows rolled down.
With a start, I realized that this could be exactly right. Could I hear all the way to the freeway?
I didn’t realize someone was holding my hand until whoever it was squeezed it lightly. Like it had before to hide the pain, my body locked down again in surprise. This was not a touch I expected. The skin was perfectly smooth, but it was the wrong temperature. Not cold.
After that first frozen second of shock, my body responded to the unfamiliar touch in a way that shocked me even more.
Air hissed up my throat, spitting through my clenched teeth with a low, menacing sound like a swarm of bees. Before the sound was out, my muscles bunched and arched, twisting away from the unknown. I flipped off my back in a spin so fast it should have turned the room into an incomprehensible blur – but it did not. I saw every dust mote, every splinter in the wood-paneled walls, every loose thread in microscopic detail as my eyes whirled past them.
So by the time I found myself crouched against the wall defensively – about a sixteenth of a second later – I already understood what had startled me, and that I had overreacted.
Oh. Of course. Edward wouldn’t feel cold to me. We were the same temperature now.
I held my pose for an eighth of a second longer, adjusting to the scene before me.
Edward was leaning across the operating table that had been my pyre, his hand reached out toward me, his expression anxious.
Edward’s face was the most important thing, but my peripheral vision catalogued everything else, just in
case. Some instinct to defend had been triggered, and I automatically searched for any sign of danger.
My vampire family waited cautiously against the far wall by the door, Emmett and Jasper in the front. Like there was danger. My nostrils flared, searching for the threat. I could smell nothing out of place. That faint scent of something delicious – but marred by harsh chemicals – tickled my throat again, setting it to aching and burning.
Alice was peeking around Jasper’s elbow with a huge grin on her face; the light sparkled off her teeth, another eight-color rainbow.
That grin reassured me and then put the pieces together. Jasper and Emmett were in the front to protect the others, as I had assumed. What I hadn’t grasped immediately was that was the danger.
All this was a sideline. The greater part of my senses and my mind were still focused on Edward’s face.
I had never seen it before this second.
How many times had I stared at Edward and marveled over his beauty? How many hours – days, weeks – of my life had I spent dreaming about what I then deemed to be perfection? I thought I’d known his face better than my own. I’d thought this was the one sure physical thing in my whole world: the flawlessness of Edward’s face.
I may as well have been blind.
For the first time, with the dimming shadows and limiting weakness of humanity taken off my eyes, I saw his face. I gasped and then struggled with my vocabulary, unable to find the right words. I needed better words.
At this point, the other part of my attention had ascertained that there was no danger here besides myself, and I automatically straightened out of my crouch; almost a whole second had passed since I’d been on the table.
I was momentarily preoccupied by the way my body moved. The instant I’d considered standing erect, I was already straight. There was no brief fragment of time in which the action occurred; change was instantaneous, almost as if there was no movement at all.
I continued to stare at Edward’s face, motionless again.
He moved slowly around the table – each step taking nearly half a second, each step flowing sinuously like river water weaving over smooth stones – his hand still outstretched.
I watched the grace of his advance, absorbing it with my new eyes.
“Bella?” he asked in a low, calming tone, but the worry in his voice layered my name with tension.
I could not answer immediately, lost as I was in the velvet folds of his voice. It was the most perfect symphony, a symphony in one instrument, an instrument more profound than any created by man___
“Bella, love? I’m sorry, I know it’s disorienting. But you’re all right. Everything is fine. ”
Everything? My mind spun out, spiraling back to my last human hour. Already, the memory seemed dim, like I was watching through a thick, dark veil – because my human eyes had been half blind. Everything had been so blurred.
When he said everything was fine, did that include Renesmee? Where was she? With Rosalie? I tried to remember her face – I knew that she had been beautiful – but it was irritating to try to see through the human memories. Her face was shrouded in darkness, so poorly lit___
What about Jacob? Was he fine? Did my long-suffering best friend hate me now? Had he gone back to Sam’s pack? Seth and Leah, too?
Were the Cullens safe, or had my transformation ignited the war with the pack? Did Edward’s blanket assurance cover all of that? Or was he just trying to calm me?
And Charlie? What would I tell him now? He must have called while I was burning. What had they told him? What did he think had happened to me?
As I deliberated for one small piece of a second over which question to ask first, Edward reached out tentatively and stroked his fingertips across my cheek. Smooth as satin, soft as a feather, and now exactly matched to the temperature of my skin.
His touch seemed to sweep beneath the surface of my skin, right through the bones of my face. The feeling was tingly, electric – it jolted through my bones, down my spine, and trembled in my stomach.
Wait,I thought as the trembling blossomed into a warmth, a yearning. Wasn’t I supposed to lose this? Wasn’t giving up this feeling a part of the bargain?
I was a newborn vampire. The dry, scorching ache in my throat gave proof to that. And I knew what being a newborn entailed. Human emotions and longings would come back to me later in some form, but I’d accepted that I would not feel them in the beginning. Only thirst. That was the deal, the price. I’d agreed to pay it.
But as Edward’s hand curled to the shape of my face like satin-covered steel, desire raced through my dried-out veins, singing from my scalp to my toes.
He arched one perfect eyebrow, waiting for me to speak.
I threw my arms around him.
Again, it was like there was no movement. One moment I stood straight and still as a statue; in the same instant, he was in my arms.
Warm – or at least, that was my perception. With the sweet, delicious scent that I’d never been able to really take in with my dull human senses, but that was one hundred percent Edward. I pressed my face into his smooth chest.
And then he shifted his weight uncomfortably. Leaned away from my embrace. I stared up at his face, confused and frightened by the rejection.
“Urn. . . carefully, Bella. Ow. ”
I yanked my arms away, folding them behind my back as soon as I understood.
I was too strong.
“Oops,” I mouthed.
He smiled the kind of smile that would have stopped my heart if it were still beating.
“Don’t panic, love,” he said, lifting his hand to touch my lips, parted in horror. “You’re just a bit stronger than I am for the moment. ”
My eyebrows pushed together. I’d known this, too, but it felt more surreal than any other part of this ultimately surreal moment. I was stronger than Edward. I’d made him say ow.
His hand stroked my cheek again, and I all but forgot my distress as another wave of desire rippled through my motionless body.
These emotions were so much stronger than I was used to that it was hard to stick to one train of thought despite the extra room in my head. Each new sensation overwhelmed me. I remembered Edward saying once – his voice in my head a weak shadow compared to the crystal, musical clarity I was hearing now – that his kind, our kind, were easily distracted. I could see why.
I made a concerted effort to focus. There was something I needed to say. The most important thing.
Very carefully, so carefully that the movement was actually discernible, I brought my right arm out from behind my back and raised my hand to touch his cheek. I refused to let myself be sidetracked by the pearly color of my hand or by the smooth silk of his skin or by the charge that zinged in my fingertips.
I stared into his eyes and heard my own voice for the first time.
“I love you,” I said, but it sounded like singing. My voice rang and shimmered like a bell.
His answering smile dazzled me more than it ever had when I was human; I could really see it now.
“As I love you,” he told me.
He took my face between his hands and leaned his face to mine – slow enough to remind me to be careful. He
kissed me, soft as a whisper at first, and then suddenly stronger, fiercer. I tried to remember to be gentle with him, but it was hard work to remember anything in the onslaught of sensation, hard to hold on to any coherent thoughts.
It was like he’d never kissed me – like this was our first kiss. And, in truth, he’d never kissed me this way before.
It almost made me feel guilty. Surely I was in breach of the contract. I couldn’t be allowed to have this, too.
Though I didn’t need oxygen, my breathing sped, raced as fast as it had when I was burning. This was a different kind of fire.
Someone cleared his throat. Emmett. I recognized the deep sound at once, joking and annoyed at the same time.
I’d forgotten we weren’t alone. And then I realized that the way I was curved around Edward now was not exactly polite for company.
Embarrassed, I half-stepped away in another instantaneous movement.
Edward chuckled and stepped with me, keeping his arms tight around my waist. His face was glowing – like a white flame burned from behind his diamond skin.
I took an unnecessary breath to settle myself.
How different this kissing was! I read his expression as I compared the indistinct human memories to this clear, intense feeling. He looked. . . a little smug.
“You’ve been holding out on me,” I accused in my singing voice, my eyes narrowing a tiny bit.
He laughed, radiant with relief that it was all over – the fear, the pain, the uncertainties, the waiting, all of it behind us now. “It was sort of necessary at the time,” he reminded me. “Now it’s your turn to not break me. ” He laughed again.
I frowned as I considered that, and then Edward was not the only one laughing.
Carlisle stepped around Emmett and walked toward me swiftly; his eyes were only slightly wary, but Jasper shadowed his footsteps. I’d never seen Carlisle’s face before either, not really. I had an odd urge to blink – like I was staring at the sun.
“How do you feel, Bella?” Carlisle asked.
I considered that for a sixty-fourth of a second.
“Overwhelmed. There’s so much. . . . ” I trailed off, listening to the bell-tone of my voice again.
“Yes, it can be quite confusing. ”
I nodded one fast, jerky bob. “But I feel like me. Sort of. I didn’t expect that. ”
Edward’s arms squeezed lightly around my waist. “I told you so,” he whispered.
“You are quite controlled,” Carlisle mused. “More so than expected, even with the time you had to prepare yourself mentally for this. ”
I thought about the wild mood swings, the difficulty concentrating, and whispered, “I’m not sure about that. ”
He nodded seriously, and then his jeweled eyes glittered with interest. “It seems like we did something right with the morphine this time. Tell me, what do you remember of the transformation process?”
I hesitated, intensely aware of Edward’s breath brushing against my cheek, sending whispers of electricity through my skin.
“Everything was. . . very dim before. I remember the baby couldn’t breathe___”
I looked at Edward, momentarily frightened by the memory.
“Renesmee is healthy and well,” he promised, a gleam I’d never seen before in his eyes. He said her name with an understated fervor. A reverence. The way devout people talked about their gods. “What do you remember after that?”
I focused on my poker face. I’d never been much of a liar. “It’s hard to remember. It was so dark before. And then. . . I opened my eyes and I could see everything”
“Amazing,” Carlisle breathed, his eyes alight.
Chagrin washed through me, and I waited for the heat to burn in my cheeks and give me away. And then I remembered that I would never blush again. Maybe that would protect Edward from the truth.
I’d have to find a way to tip off Carlisle, though. Someday. If he ever needed to create another vampire. That possibility seemed very unlikely, which made me feel better about lying.
“I want you to think – to tell me everything you remember,” Carlisle pressed excitedly, and I couldn’t help the grimace that flashed across my face. I didn’t want to have to keep lying, because I might slip up. And I didn’t want to think about the burning. Unlike the human memories, that part was perfectly clear and I found I could remember it with far too much precision.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Bella,” Carlisle apologized immediately. “Of course your thirst must be very uncomfortable. This conversation can wait. ”
Until he’d mentioned it, the thirst actually wasn’t unmanageable. There was so much room in my head. A separate part of my brain was keeping tabs on the burn in my throat, almost like a reflex. The way my old brain had handled breathing and blinking.
But Carlisle’s assumption brought the burn to the forefront of my mind. Suddenly, the dry ache was all I could think about, and the more I thought about it, the more it hurt. My hand flew up to cup my throat, like I could smother the flames from the outside. The skin of my neck was strange beneath my fingers. So smooth it was somehow soft, though it was hard as stone, too.
Edward dropped his arms and took my other hand, tugging gently. “Let’s hunt, Bella. ”
My eyes opened wider and the pain of the thirst receded, shock taking its place.
Me? Hunt? With Edward? But. . . how? I didn’t know what to do.
He read the alarm in my expression and smiled encouragingly. “It’s quite easy, love. Instinctual. Don’t worry, I’ll show you. ” When I didn’t move, he grinned his crooked smile and raised his eyebrows. “I was under the impression that you’d always wanted to see me hunt. ”
I laughed in a short burst of humor (part of me listened in wonder to the pealing bell sound) as his words reminded me of cloudy human conversations. And then I took a whole second to run quickly through those first days
with Edward – the true beginning of my life – in my head so that I would never forget them. I did not expect that it would be so uncomfortable to remember. Like trying to squint through muddy water. I knew from Rosalie’s experience that if I thought of my human memories enough, I would not lose them over time. I did not want to forget one minute I’d spent with Edward, even now, when eternity stretched in front of us. i would have to make sure those human memories were cemented into my infallible vampire mind.
“Shall we?” Edward asked. He reached up to take the hand that was still at my neck. His fingers smoothed down the column of my throat. “I don’t want you to be hurting,” he added in a low murmur. Something I would not have been able to hear before.
Tm fine,” I said out of lingering human habit. “Wait. First. ”
There was so much. I’d never gotten to my questions. There were more important things than the ache.
It was Carlisle who spoke now. “Yes?”
“I want to see her. Renesmee. ”
It was oddly difficult to say her name. My daughter, these words were even harder to think. It all seemed so distant. I tried to remember how I had felt three days ago, and automatically, my hands pulled free of Edward’s and dropped to my stomach.
Flat. Empty. I clutched at the pale silk that covered my skin, panicking again, while an insignificant part of my mind noted that Alice must have dressed me.
I knew there was nothing left inside me, and I faintly remembered the bloody removal scene, but the physical proof was still hard to process. All I knew was loving my little nudger inside of me. Outside of me, she seemed like something I must have imagined. A fading dream – a dream that was half nightmare.
While I wrestled with my confusion, I saw Edward and Carlisle exchange a guarded glance.
“What?” I demanded.
“Bella,” Edward said soothingly. “That’s not really a good idea. She’s half human, love. Her heart beats, and blood runs in her veins. Until your thirst is positively under control. . . You don’t want to put her in danger, do you?”
I frowned. Of course I must not want that.
Was I out of control? Confused, yes. Easily unfocused, yes. But dangerous? To her? My daughter?
I couldn’t be positive that the answer was no. So I would have to be patient. That sounded difficult. Because until I saw her again, she wouldn’t be real. Just a fading dream. . . of a stranger. . .
“Where is she?” I listened hard, and then I could hear the beating heart on the floor below me. I could hear more than one person breathing – quietly, like they were listening, too. There was also a fluttering sound, a thrumming, that I couldn’t place___
And the sound of the heartbeat was so moist and appealing, that my mouth started watering.
So I would definitely have to learn how to hunt before I saw her. My stranger baby.
“Is Rosalie with her?”
“Yes,” Edward answered in a clipped tone, and I could see that something he’d thought of upset him. I’d thought
he and Rose were over their differences. Had the animosity erupted again? Before I could ask, he pulled my hands away from my flat stomach, tugging gently again.
“Wait,” I protested again, trying to focus. “What about Jacob? And Charlie? Tell me everything that I missed. How long was I. . . unconscious?”
Edward didn’t seem to notice my hesitation over the last word. Instead, he was exchanging another wary glance with Carlisle.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
“Nothing is wrong” Carlisle told me, emphasizing the last word in a strange way. “Nothing has changed much, actually – you were only unaware for just over two days. It was very fast, as these things go. Edward did an excellent job. Quite innovative – the venom injection straight to your heart was his idea. ” He paused to smile proudly at his son and then sighed. “Jacob is still here, and Charlie still believes that you are sick. He thinks you’re in Atlanta right now, undergoing tests at the CDC. We gave him a bad number, and he’s frustrated. He’s been speaking to Esme. ”
“I should call him. . . ,” I murmured to myself, but, listening to my own voice, I understood the new difficulties. He wouldn’t recognize this voice. It wouldn’t reassure him. And then the earlier surprise intruded. “Hold on – Jacob is still here?”
Another glance between them.
“Bella,” Edward said quickly. “There’s much to discuss, but we should take care of you first. You have to be in pain___”
When he pointed that out, I remembered the burn in my throat and swallowed convulsively. “But Jacob – ”
“We have all the time in the world for explanations, love,” he reminded me gently.
Of course. I could wait a little longer for the answer; it would be easier to listen when the fierce pain of the fiery thirst was no longer scattering my concentration. “Okay. ”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Alice trilled from the doorway. She danced across the room, dreamily graceful. As with Edward and Carlisle, I felt some shock as I really looked at her face for the first time. So lovely. “You promised I could be there the first time! What if you two run past something reflective?”
“Alice – ,” Edward protested.
“It will only take a second!” And with that, Alice darted from the room.
“What is she talking about?”
But Alice was already back, carrying the huge, gilt-framed mirror from Rosalie’s room, which was nearly twice as tall as she was, and several times as wide.
Jasper had been so still and silent that I’d taken no notice of him since he’d followed behind Carlisle. Now he moved again, to hover over Alice, his eyes locked on my expression. Because I was the danger here.
I knew he would be tasting the mood around me, too, and so he must have felt my jolt of shock as I studied his face, looking at it closely for the first time.
Through my sightless human eyes, the scars left from his former life with the newborn armies in the South had been mostly invisible. Only with a bright light to throw their slightly raised shapes into definition could I even make out their existence.
Now that I could see, the scars were Jasper’s most dominant feature. It was hard to take my eyes off his ravaged neck and jaw – hard to believe that even a vampire could have survived so many sets of teeth ripping into his throat.
Instinctively, I tensed to defend myself. Any vampire who saw Jasper would have had the same reaction. The scars were like a lighted billboard. Dangerous, they screamed. How many vampires had tried to kill Jasper? Hundreds? Thousands? The same number that had died in the attempt
Jasper both saw and felt my assessment, my caution, and he smiled wryly.
“Edward gave me grief for not getting you to a mirror before the wedding,” Alice said, pulling my attention away from her frightening lover. Tm not going to be chewed out again. ”
“Chewed out?” Edward asked skeptically, one eyebrow curving upward.
“Maybe I’m overstating things,” she murmured absently as she turned the mirror to face me.
“And maybe this has solely to do with your own voyeuristic gratification,” he countered.
Alice winked at him.
I was only aware of this exchange with the lesser part of my concentration. The greater part was riveted on the person in the mirror.
My first reaction was an unthinking pleasure. The alien creature in the glass was indisputably beautiful, every bit as beautiful as Alice or Esme. She was fluid even in stillness, and her flawless face was pale as the moon against the frame of her dark, heavy hair. Her limbs were smooth and strong, skin glistening subtly, luminous as a pearl.
My second reaction was horror.
Who was she? At first glance, I couldn’t find my face anywhere in the smooth, perfect planes of her features.
And her eyes! Though I’d known to expect them, her eyes still sent a thrill of terror through me.
All the while I studied and reacted, her face was perfectly composed, a carving of a goddess, showing nothing of the turmoil roiling inside me. And then her full lips moved.
“The eyes?” I whispered, unwilling to say my eyes. “How long?
“They’ll darken up in a few months,” Edward said in a soft, comforting voice. “Animal blood dilutes the color more quickly than a diet of human blood. They’ll turn amber first, then gold. ”
My eyes would blaze like vicious red flames for months?
“Months?” My voice was higher now, stressed. In the mirror, the perfect eyebrows lifted incredulously above her glowing crimson eyes – brighter than any I’d ever seen before.
Jasper took a step forward, alarmed by the intensity of my sudden anxiety. He knew young vampires only too well; did this emotion presage some misstep on my part?
No one answered my question. I looked away, to Edward and Alice. Both their eyes were slightly
unfocused – reacting to Jasper’s unease. Listening to its cause, looking ahead to the immediate future.
I took another deep, unnecessary breath.
“No, I’m fine,” I promised them. My eyes flickered to the stranger in the mirror and back. “It’s just. . . a lot to take in. ”
Jasper’s brow furrowed, highlighting the two scars over his left eye.
“I don’t know,” Edward murmured.
The woman in the mirror frowned. “What question did I miss?”
Edward grinned. “Jasper wonders how you’re doing it. ”
“Controlling your emotions, Bella,” Jasper answered. “I’ve never seen a newborn do that – stop an emotion in its tracks that way. You were upset, but when you saw our concern, you reined it in, regained power over yourself. I was prepared to help, but you didn’t need it. ”
“Is that wrong?” I asked. My body automatically froze as I waited for his verdict.
“No,” he said, but his voice was unsure.
Edward stroked his hand down my arm, as if encouraging me to thaw. “It’s very impressive, Bella, but we don’t understand it. We don’t know how long it can hold. ”
I considered that for a portion of a second. At any moment, would I snap? Turn into a monster?
I couldn’t feel it coming on. . . . Maybe there was no way to anticipate such a thing.
“But what do you think?” Alice asked, a little impatient now, pointing to the mirror.
“I’m not sure,” I hedged, not wanting to admit how frightened I really was.
I stared at the beautiful woman with the terrifying eyes, looking for pieces of me. There was something there in the shape of her lips – if you looked past the dizzying beauty, it was true that her upper lip was slightly out of balance, a bit too full to match the lower. Finding this familiar little flaw made me feel a tiny bit better. Maybe the rest of me was in there, too.
I raised my hand experimentally, and the woman in the mirror copied the movement, touching her face, too. Her crimson eyes watched me warily.
I turned away from her to look at him, raising one eyebrow.
“Disappointed?” I asked, my ringing voice impassive.
He laughed. “Yes,” he admitted.
I felt the shock break through the composed mask on my face, followed instantly by the hurt.
Alice snarled. Jasper leaned forward again, waiting for me to snap.
But Edward ignored them and wrapped his arms tightly around my newly frozen form, pressing his lips against my cheek. “I was rather hoping that I’d be able to hear your mind, now that it is more similar to my own,” he murmured. “And here I am, as frustrated as ever, wondering what could possibly be going on inside your head. ”
I felt better at once.
“Oh well,” I said lightly, relieved that my thoughts were still my own. “I guess my brain will never work right. At least I’m pretty. ”
It was becoming easier to joke with him as I adjusted, to think in straight lines. To be myself.
Edward growled in my ear. “Bella, you have never been merely pretty. ”
Then his face pulled away from mine, and he sighed. “All right, all right,” he said to someone.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re making Jasper more edgy by the second. He may relax a little when you’ve hunted. ”
I looked at Jasper’s worried expression and nodded. I didn’t want to snap here, if that was coming. Better to be surrounded by trees than family.
“Okay. Let’s hunt,” I agreed, a thrill of nerves and anticipation making my stomach quiver. I unwrapped Edward’s arms from around me, keeping one of his hands, and turned my back on the strange and beautiful woman in the mirror.