Solstice

Returns

I spent two blissful days in La Push with Jacob. Everything was newer and brighter. There were moments when the darkness stole back, swiping me with claws of guilt and self-loathing, but it only took a sunlit smile from Jacob to banish them back to the recesses of my mind.

Evening fell on the second day with a chilly snap as Jacob and I returned from hiking in the mountains. I reluctantly spoke the question I’d so determinedly avoided: “So…are you coming home?”

He sighed quietly. “My dad thinks I should.”

I looked at him. “But?”

“But I didn’t realise how much I’d left behind,” he said softly. He looked at me. “I’ll come back, but I have to spend more time here.”

I beamed. “Deal.”

He smiled and pressed another kiss to my lips. I stopped breathing as his warm breaths washed across my face. When his warm lips parted from mine, he drew back and stroked my cheek.

It took me a moment to regain cohesion. When I did, I smiled.

“So. I heard you knocked out Melina.” He chuckled.

* * *

We returned the following morning. I was barely aware of the return journey as we sat together in the back seat, talking of good and happy things that had seemed so distant during our separation.

When we arrived, my family swarmed to the windows. We walked hand-in-hand up to the door, my parents following. I smiled as I heard the excited buzz inside the house building as we approached the door.

It flew open presently, Aunt Rose standing on the other side. “Before you all get too lost in your mushy hellos,” she said, barring Jacob from entering the house. “I have a few words for mutt-brain here.”

“Oooh,” Jake taunted. “I’m in trouble now.”

“Yes, pup, you are,” she snapped. “If you ever, ever, leave Nessie again,” she said, taking a step forward, her dark honey eyes glinting homicidally. “I will torture you in ways you didn’t even know existed, skin you alive, and then if you’re lucky, I’ll kill you.”

Jacob shrank back slightly, actually intimidated by her. I couldn’t blame him. She looked terrifying.

Uncle Emmett snorted from the back of the crowd that had gathered by the door. “Aw, come on Rose. Let’s not send the little puppy back to La Push with his tail between his legs already. He just got here.”

“Shut it, Emmett,” Aunt Alice said, elbowing past him. “Jake!” She hugged him briefly, casting me an anxious glance. When I made no reaction, she gave him another warm smile. “It’s good to have you back. We’ve all missed you.” Jacob had to practically double-over to embrace her. He patted her back awkwardly with a comical look on his face. I stifled a giggle.

“I missed you guys too,” he said as they drew apart. “Surprisingly,” he said as he shot a glance at Aunt Rose. She rolled her eyes.

Uncle Jasper was next. Uncle Jasper embraced me first. “You seem much happier, Nessie.”

“I am,” I replied with a smile.

“I’m glad.” He shook Jacob’s hand next.

Aunt Alice launched herself at me. She sniffed suddenly. “We’re going to have to burn those,” she said, gesturing to my clothes. “I don’t think even a hundred washings would get the smell out. But welcome back just the same, Jacob.”

He grinned. “Thanks, Shorty.”

“By the way,” she said. “I second what Rosalie said. No more listening to Nessie.”

Aunt Rose was next. She hugged me briefly and flounced past Jacob without a glance.

“Missed you, man,” Uncle Emmett said. “She was a little freaky while you were gone,” he said, gesturing to me.

I ignored him. I had Jacob back. That was all that mattered. I could take the jokes and the jibes.

Once the hellos were finished, I suddenly realized just how tired I was.

My parents noticed at about the same time I did. They immediately sent me to bed, and since I refused to let Jacob out of my sight, Dad had very reluctantly agreed to let him sleep in my room, on the couch, with the door open, but only after Mom had reminded him that he used to sneak into her room each night. At least Jacob was asking.

“I’ll be listening, Jacob,” he said as a parting reminder, his eyes narrowed. He turned to me. “Sleep well, Nessie.” He kissed my forehead and flashed me a smile.

I smiled in return. “Thanks, Dad.”

He touched my cheek before stepping aside to let Mom say goodnight. She embraced both Jacob and me before letting us go.

When we reached my room, I sighed and lay down, too tired to even change. Jacob picked the couch up and soundlessly set it down a little closer to my bed before sprawling out with a contented sigh. I reached out and took his hand. He glanced at me and smiled. I didn’t need words to tell him how happy I was. I brought back the memories of our first kiss, and then our second, and the incandescent ecstasy that I associated with that memory. He gave me a brief squeeze.

“So, Miss Cullen,” he said teasingly. “Exactly how long have you been crushing on me here?”

I giggled. “For a while, but I really noticed it on the way to school on the first day,” I said as I brought back the memory of that first time that I’d felt the difference when he’d touched me in the car.

“Really?” he asked, surprised. “I thought you were just nervous.”

“That’s because you’re clueless,” I heard Aunt Rose mutter from the library. I blushed instantly as I realized that she was listening to us.

“Don’t you have anything better to do, Blondie?” Jacob asked. “Like fixing your personality, maybe?”

“Rosalie,” I heard Grandpa Carlisle say from the third floor. “Give them some privacy, please.”

“Thanks, Carlisle,” Jacob said as Aunt Rose left the floor with a hiss.

“Any time, Jacob.”

I laid my hand flat against his skin as I brought back other memories; anger when Uncle Emmett had broken his arm, excitement when he’d almost kissed me, worry when he’d body-checked Ian during the hockey game, jealousy when Melina flirted with him.

“Wow,” he said after a moment. “I really was clueless.”

I had to smile. “You kind of were.” I grudgingly allowed my eyes to flutter shut. I dreaded falling asleep. I didn’t want to waste a second of time that could be spent with Jacob.

“Goodnight, Nessie,” I heard him whisper just before I fell into sleep’s waiting arms. “I love you more than anything.”

* * *

I awoke the following morning in a surreal ecstasy. I half expected it to end. I was waiting to wake up and find that he was gone, and that yesterday had just been a pleasant dream.

“‘Morning, hon,” Mom said warmly as Jacob and I entered the kitchen together the following morning. “How did you sleep?”

“She sleeps like a rock,” Jacob answered for me. “It’s crazy. I could’ve set off an atomic bomb right next to her ear and I don’t think she would have noticed.”

I blushed as I took a seat next to Mom. Aunt Rose set a decadent plate of French toast in front of me with a smile that almost seemed relieved. She shoved a meagre bowl of cereal across the counter to Jacob, who’d sat down next to me.

I sighed. Well, at least not everything had changed.

Adelaide and Rob entered now. Rob had his arms wrapped around Adelaide’s waist and both were laughing as they came in. They seemed to be doing better. I was glad for Adelaide’s sake. I knew how much she hated it when they fought. “Good morning, Nessie and Jacob,” she said, chuckling as Rob whispered something in her ear.

“Hey,” I replied with a smile. Her happiness added to mine.

“Hi,” Tara said, skipping into the room now. I stared at her in shock for a fraction of a second. I’d never seen Tara skip, much less talk and skip. Perhaps my happiness was contagious? By the look that she and Ian exchanged from where he sat on the other side of the kitchen, that seemed to be the case. I supposed that it was only fair that I be spreading happiness now after the days I had spent permeating the house with grief.

Even Uncle Jasper, usually stoic, seemed particularly jovial. I had a feeling that he was partly responsible for the good cheer that seemed to be rampant among my family members.

Unfortunately, with Uncle Emmett’s happiness came a whole new slew of horrible jokes. But I refused to allow his teasing to affect me.

“You know, Ed,” said Uncle Emmett that afternoon as he slung an arm around Dad’s shoulders, using the nickname that he knew Dad despised. “I think you should have cameras put in their rooms,” he said, nodding to Jacob and me. I was sitting against the wall, Jacob’s head in my lap as he slept. I was trying to interest myself in the program that Aunt Alice was watching on the flat screen, but I was finding it particularly difficult. Being so happy could be distracting, as could Jacob’s snoring. “I mean, I don’t think you’re ready for grandfather-hood just yet, are you?”

Jacob’s eyes flew open. A low growl started in his throat.

“You do use protection, don’t you?” Uncle Emmett asked.

My face felt hotter than the sun. I moved my hair to cover my face instinctively. Jacob leapt to his feet with a full-fledged snarl. “That’s it. I am done with your jokes, Emmett. Duel. Outside. Now.”

“No,” I said quickly, leaping to my feet as well. I grabbed Jacob’s hand and brought back the memory of my worry when he’d fought Uncle Emmett before.

He paused. He hated to worry me, as I knew and was using to my advantage.

“So you don’t use protection, then?” Uncle Emmett was openly grinning now.

Jacob growled again, backing Uncle Emmett up towards the sliding door that he’d had to replace.

“Did I touch a nerve, wolf-boy?”

Dad followed Jacob, glaring at Uncle Emmett.

“Are you joining us, Eddy?” asked Uncle Emmett with a laugh.

“Yes,” Dad hissed. “For Jacob’s side.”

He laughed again. “Awesome. Twice as easy.”

Dad and Jacob snarled in perfect unison.

“Emmett…” Grandma Esme said uneasily from where she sat next to Aunt Alice. “Maybe you should back off…”

“Aw, come on, Esme, we’re just playin'!” he replied as he opened the door behind his back. He may have been thick enough to rile a werewolf and a vampire who was good at fighting, but he knew better than to turn his back on them.

“Just try not to break anything,” Grandma Esme said pleadingly. “And that includes each other.” When they’d first started with their little matches, she’d initially tried to stop them, but had given up shortly thereafter. There was no point. They would always fight anyway.

“Jacob, don’t,” I said, worry colouring my tone now. I felt Uncle Jasper, who stood behind Aunt Alice, trying to calm me. I saw Jacob hesitate in mid-step, but his annoyance was stronger.

“Didn’t you hear her?” Uncle Emmett asked him as he stepped outside. “Mommy said no fighting.”

I gritted my teeth and fought the urge to hit him myself.

Jacob snarled again as he and Dad launched themselves at Uncle Emmett. Their combined weight was enough to send him sprawling on the snow-dusted lawn. Dad fought to pin my uncle’s muscled arms behind his back. Jacob shoved Uncle Emmett’s head into the frozen grass, clearly enjoying himself. I rolled my eyes. Men.

I felt Uncle Jasper’s calming powers retract as he walked towards the door. “I believe I owe you a few, big brother, and what better time is there than the present?”

By the end of the half-hour match, Uncle Jasper, Dad and Jacob were high-fiving in victory. Uncle Emmett had easily been defeated. He and Aunt Rose had decided to go to for a hunt; he’d need at least a few hours and a productive hunt to get over the embarrassment of being beaten so badly.

“See?” Jacob said with a grin as he resumed his spot. “Not a scratch.”

I glared at him briefly, but as the happiness set in again, I found it impossible to remain annoyed with him. I stroked his hair absently as he fell back to sleep.

“Nessie, what’re you planning to do about school?” Dad asked as he flashed into the room with a glass of donated blood. I felt the flames of thirst burning in the back of my throat as I caught the scent. It’d been a while since I’d hunted. I’d been forced to eat human food for the past few weeks as a safety precaution. I’d have to take it up with Jacob when he woke up.

“You don’t have to go back if you don’t want to,” he reassured me. “We’re more than capable of teaching you.”

He would just love that. “No, I want to go back, Dad.”

He sighed. “I knew you’d say that.”

“Of course you did. You read my mind.”

He gave me a look.

I flashed him a grin in response. It felt good to joke again, corny as my jokes were.

Jacob shifted head slightly and sighed in his sleep. I glanced down at him and resumed stroking his hair. I studied his face. He had dark circles under his eyes, but beyond that, he was just as flawlessly handsome as ever. I leaned my head back against the wall and suddenly wished that Aunt Alice could see our future. Over the years, she’d honed her skills enough that she could occasionally see what happened to those around us and the impact that our decisions had on them, but we were still virtually invisible.

“I want to talk to you about that, actually,” Dad said softly.

I hated it when he dropped in on my thoughts like that. “What do you mean?”

"Let’s talk in private,” he said, rising.

I moved Jacob’s head out of my lap gently and accepted Dad’s offered hand. Jacob took no notice whatsoever.

Dad surprised me by leading me outside and towards the path that Jacob and I so often walked. He was silent until we were out of hearing range of the house. “I wanted to talk about you and Jacob.”

Here we go, I thought.

“It’s not like that,” Dad said. “But…your mother and I would like you to wait a year before you and Jacob....marry.” He cringed at the word.

I nodded slightly. That was understandable. “Okay. But you’re not going to object to the idea of Jacob and me getting married?”

He sighed resignedly and dug his hands into his pockets. “No. He makes you very happy and you make him very happy. I can’t ignore that, and I’m not so selfish as to wish to steal that from you. He loves you as much as we do, and I know that he’ll take good care of you, so I see no grounds for an objection.”

My shock was eclipsed only by my joy. I wrapped my arms around him suddenly. “Thank you, Daddy.”

Dad chuckled and embraced me as well. “You’re welcome, Nessie. But I reserve the first dance with the bride.”

I grinned. “It’s yours.”

He was quiet for a time as we continued to walk. “I can’t believe I’m giving up my little girl after only seven years.”

“I’ll always be nearby, Dad,” I promised him.

“I know,” he told me. “But to have you married at seven…”

“I’ll look about the same age as you.”

He winced at the thought. I had to admit, it sounded strange, but I smiled nonetheless. What other family in history had ever had to have a conversation like this one?

I saw the corners of Dad’s lips lifting against his will in response to my thought. “Anyway,” he said. “I know that you and Jacob are in love, but please promise me that you’ll be…sensible.”

My face heated instantly. I was going kill Uncle Emmett when I got back.

“This has nothing to do with what Emmett said,” Dad replied evenly. “Just promise me that.”

“I’ll be sensible.”

Shortly before sunset, we all went hunting in the mountains. With Jacob’s help, I brought down my first grizzly. Ian and Uncle Emmett both fed on grizzlies as well while Dad, Rob, Grandpa Carlisle and Uncle Jasper all went for mountain lions. Tara managed to find a lone moose and the rest settled for deer.

After the hunt, both Jacob and I went to bed early, as we had school the following day; apparently Aunt Alice had re-enrolled us when Mom had called to tell her Jacob was coming back with us, and had conveniently forgotten to mention it to Dad. How I loved my Aunt Alice.

* * *

“Hey Blondie. Want to know how you make a blonde’s eyes twinkle?” Jacob asked tauntingly as we drove to school the following morning.

Aunt Rose sighed as Jacob began his fourth joke of the past five minutes.

“Shine a flashlight in her ear.”

Dad mashed his lips together to keep from smiling, but that didn’t stop him from snorting. Aunt Rose made no comment.

“What’s the difference between a smart blonde and a UFO?”

She rolled her eyes.

Dad burst out laughing before Jacob could even finish with, “There’ve been sightings of UFOs.”

I sighed. “Jake, please…”

“What?” he asked innocently.

I was grateful when we finally reached the school. I was getting tired of their rivalry. Dad had driven Aunt Rose, Jacob and me this morning as Rob had discovered Dad’s garage last night (particularly Uncle Emmett’s army-green Lamborghini Reventón), and nearly begged Uncle Emmett to let him drive it (even though according to Adelaide, Rob was the very proud owner of a late-model Rolls-Royce Phantom). Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper had taken Adelaide, Ian and Tara in her Porsche.

Jake walked me to class that morning, to Melina’s disgust. He smirked at her and wrapped an arm around me as we stopped in front of my class.

“Try not to kill Aunt Rose before lunch,” I said, giving him a look.

He gave me the smile that he knew made my knees weak. “I’ll try. You should go to class. I think Melina’s about to have a heart attack. I’ll see you at lunch.” He wound his arms around my waist and kissed me, sending me shooting back to paradise.

I laughed breathlessly as my head spun. “Right. Class.” I was beyond dazzled.

He laughed as well before going to his own class.

I was still dazed as I sank into my seat next to Aunt Alice, who was smirking as she sifted through the papers in her binder. I tried valiantly to focus during my morning classes, but it wasn’t the easiest thing I’d ever tried to do.

Lunch passed far too quickly for my liking. It felt like time had sped up, robbing me of precious time that I had to spend with my Jacob. I’d called him “my Jacob” since I’d been old enough to know who he was, bit now it was finally true. He was my Jacob, and I was his Nessie.

As we walked to our combined gym class, Quil’s words from a conversation long ago played through my mind. I’d asked him if werewolves were immortal. “We only stop aging if we phase,” he’d told me as he took a wolf-sized bite out of the elaborate chicken sandwich that Dad had made him for lunch on one of the afternoons that they’d stopped by the house. “If we stop phasing, we go right back to being mortal.” I’d shuddered involuntarily then as I did now. How would I survive eternity without him?

The answer was obvious: I wouldn’t.

“Hey,” he said, stopping me in the hall and moving to face me. I’d forgotten that he would have heard all of that. I’d gotten out of the habit of speaking with my power when I was about two. “Don’t you think like that.” He cupped my face in his hands. “I’m not going to stop phasing as long as I still have a reason to.”

“What’s the reason?”

“You.”

I felt a warm glow spread over me.

“Forever, remember?”

I nodded. “Forever.”

He gave me another mind-numbing kiss when we reached the doors to the change rooms, and then hurried to his own changing room. I’d somehow managed to stumble to mine.

“All right everybody,” said Mr. Wilkes, calling the class to order. “Today is rock-climbing.”

“Great,” I heard Tara mutter darkly.

I glanced at her. “What’s wrong with rock-climbing?”

“Heights,” she replied, swallowing slightly.

“She’s deathly afraid of heights,” Adelaide informed me. "I think it's a bit precious, personally." She grinned in reply to Tara's glare. “Do you want to fake sick?”

Tara shook her head bravely, but by the petrified look in her emerald-green eyes, that was very much what she wanted to do.

“You don’t have to do this,” Ian told her, placing a hand on her arm.

“I can do it, Ian,” she reassured him, taking deep, steadying breaths.

Ian looked as unconvinced as I felt.

“Tara, do you want to do this?” Adelaide asked.

“Yes,” Tara said.

Ian glanced at Adelaide, who was glaring at her sister. “You know you can’t lie to me,” Adelaide said.

Jeff ended up as Tara’s belayer. Ian had looked ready to start World War III as soon as Mr. Wilkes had said it. It amused me that they would never know just how fortunate they were that Ian was so good at controlling himself.

Of course, as soon as Mr. Wilkes assigned Melina as Jacob’s belayer, I was suddenly able to understand just how difficult that control was.

“Easy Nessie,” Aunt Alice said warningly as I scaled the wall easily, and probably a little faster than was natural. “You're drawing a lot of attention.”

I sighed and slowed down, forcing myself to look clumsy and human. I focused on not ripping the rocks off of the wall and hurling them at Melina’s head as I heard her constant stream of flirtatious comments directed towards Jacob.

Aunt Alice gave Jacob the same warning. She gasped as soon as she spoke.

“What?” I asked her over my shoulder. As I asked the question, a flicker of movement caught my eye. Horror froze me to the wall as I saw him slipping. What was he doing? He was a great climber!

I screamed as he fell off of the wall, the rope whistling through Melina’s lax fingers. His body crashed into the blue mat with a deafening crack.

“NO!” I heard myself shriek. I released the wall, completely and utterly forgetting about maintaining the secret, and landed easily, although the sound was more of a slam. I noticed that the floor around where I’d landed was cracked slightly. But I couldn’t have cared less about the breach.

I very rushed to Jacob’s side. It looked so terrible; to unnatural to see my Jacob sprawled over the ground like that, his limbs twisted at unusual angles. A stream of profanities flew out of my mouth.

“Renesmee!” Mom and Dad exclaimed in shock.

I ignored them. “Jake! Jacob, look at me! Open your eyes!” What if there was a limit to what the werewolves could recover from that even they didn’t know about? What if he had just discovered that limit?

"Please, Jake,” I begged, cupping his face in my hands. I gasped when I caught the scent of blood. Thirst burned in my throat faintly, but it wasn’t even close to being a priority at that moment. I’d never been this afraid in my life. I started at him, willing him to open his eyes.

"Nessie, I need you to step back," Adelaide said, kneeling beside me quickly to examine him.

“Ow,” he moaned sluggishly.

I exhaled, tears rushing to my eyes. Satisfied that he was at least conscious, I flew to my feet. “YOU!” I said to Melina, pointing a trembling, blood-covered finger at the dumb-struck girl, although the words came out as more of an enraged screech. “You idiot! You could have killed him!” I knew I was out of control in some part of my mind. I was right in the middle of throwing myself into a crouch when a hand seized my shoulder and pulled me to my feet. Dad whirled me around to face him.

“Renesmee, get a hold of yourself,” he said, his voice both firm and worried. “Remember where we are, and what happened the last time you lost control.”

I saw Melina watching me fearfully out of my peripheral vision as she backed up quickly. “Dad, she almost killed him,” I snarled.

“Jacob will be fine,” he said. “We’ll take him to see Carlisle.”

“There’s an ambulance on the way,” a pale-faced Mr. Wilkes informed us. “Everyone clear out of the area.”

“There’s no need, Mr. Wilkes. We can drive him to see my father,” Dad said firmly. “He’s a doctor at Vancouver General.”

“He needs an ambulance, Edward,” Mr. Wilkes said.

“He’ll be fine,” Dad insisted.

Adelaide joined us now. She gave Mr. Wilkes a dazzling look. “He’ll be quite alright, I assure you. Jacob has a propensity for healing quickly.”

I almost felt badly for the poor mortal. He stood no chance against a look like that, not to mention the accent.

“Come on, Nessie,” Dad said, dragging me away from the terrified Melina. I was vaguely grateful for it. I wasn’t entirely sure that I would’ve been able to leave her intact had they depended merely on my self-restraint, but that feeling warred with my instinct to rip her apart into tiny bit-sized shreds and feed her to the nearest sharks.

Dad had Uncle Emmett brought from class and the two carried Jacob to the Volvo, although either one of them could have done it quite easily on their own. I still wasn’t entirely used to the charade that they all stepped into when we were surrounded by humans. It seemed as simple to them as breathing. I hoped I would learn to become as adept. For most of my life, it had been unnecessary. Everyone in my life knew our secret. Grandpa Charlie was the only one that I’d ever needed to pretend around, and even then, Grandpa Charlie knew there was something strange about us. I’d often caught him muttering “need-to-know” when we’d visited him in Forks.

“Let’s go,” Mom said, seizing my arm from Dad. Aunt Rose took my other arm as we followed behind the little procession. Uncle Jasper tried to support Jacob’s back as they walked. It felt wrong to see him so fragile. I’d seen him injured before; it was one of the hazards that came with having Jacob and Uncle Emmett under the same roof, but never like this. It was a bit of a shock to see the man that you’d watched take down grizzlies without raising a sweat suddenly weak and helpless. I felt strangely light-headed as we neared the car.

“Please don’t pass out again,” Aunt Rose begged me.

I looked at her in surprise. What was she talking about?

“You need to breathe,” she reminded me.

That explained the light-headedness. I took a deep breath. My head throbbed slightly, but that was the least of my worries.

“Ness, you want to ride with Edward?” Uncle Emmett asked over his shoulder after they’d loaded Jacob into the back. “You know, in case the puppy needs someone to hold his paw – I mean, hand – or something.”

I glowered at him. Could he take anything seriously? I walked wordlessly over to the Volvo and took a seat in the back. Jacob stretched out in the back and laid his head in my lap.

Dad got in seconds later. “Try not to let him get to you, Nessie. He means well…some of the time.”

I glanced at my uncle again. I was no where close to being in a forgiving mood. “He still doesn’t have to be so…so…”

“Emmett-like?” Dad suggested.

“Yeah!”

Dad chuckled and started the car. “That’s just how he is, Ness. It bothers me as much as it bothers you at times, but he doesn’t do it just for his own amusement in every case.” He stopped. I knew he wouldn’t go on. Dad was always very careful about what he shared from people’s thoughts.

Jacob slipped in and out of consciousness throughout the entire drive. His head wound had stopped bleeding, thankfully. He looked to be improved by a minute degree, but not by much.

By the time we arrived at the hospital, my back was on fire from spending the entire ride twisted around in my seat.

“Should we bring Grandpa Carlisle out to him?” I asked Dad.

“He can walk,” Dad replied.

I blinked. “You can’t be serious! He’s in no condition to walk!”

“He seems to think so.” He glanced at Jacob. “He wants you to stop ‘freaking out’.”

“I’ll tell you when I’ll stop freaking out, Jacob Black. I’ll stop freaking out when you stop jumping off of rock climbing walls!” I shot back, and then sighed. Why did he have to be so impossible to stay angry with?

Dad half-grinned. “He says that it was more of a slip than an actual jump.”

Uncle Emmett banged on the passenger window suddenly. I started. I hadn’t heard him coming. “Come on! We going to get him in or what?” he asked from outside the car.

Dad sighed and unlocked the doors. He and Uncle Emmett shouldered Jacob’s weight as they helped him into the hospital. It took me a moment to realize that they were both helping him to continue with the façade.

Aunt Alice and Adelaide fell into step beside me. “How’s he doing?” Aunt Alice asked.

Adelaide checked his wound. "It seems to be healing already. That really is remarkable."

I watched him nervously. He looked so terrifyingly weak as he dragged his feet along. I understood why we couldn’t have an ambulance, but was this really the only solution?

“He’ll be okay,” Adelaide said, as though she had sensed my thoughts. She gave me a reassuring smile. “The wound doesn't look too worrying, and besides, if he can survive brawls with Emmett, I doubt that falling off of a rock wall’s going to keep him out of commission for long.”

I tried to smile, but the attempt fizzled pathetically. I appreciated her light-hearted logic, but not even that could cheer me at the moment.

We entered the moderately-crowded emergency room and immediately went to the front desk, which was manned by two very frantic-looking nurses in blue scrubs. One was a young red-head, the other a middle-aged blonde. The blonde glanced up at us warily. “Sorry, guys, but there’s a–”

“Listen, lady,” Mom said, elbowing her way through our mini-crowd, her golden eyes sparking dangerously. She planted her hands on the desk and leaned forward towards the nurse. “Here’s how it’s going to go: you’re going to call Dr. Carlisle Cullen, and you’re going to call him now. And then as soon as you’ve called him, you’re going to get him an examination room, and you’re going to have him examine my friend, and you’re going to do it with as much speed as you possibly can.”

I stared at my mother in dumbfounded shock.

The nurse leaned away from Mom instinctively, eyes wide with fear. “Y-Yes, ma’am.” She typed something into her computer hurriedly, moving her chair a good distance away from Mom. “Uh…Dr. Cullen’s b-busy –”

“I don’t care if he’s in the middle of performing brain surgery,” Mom hissed. “Get him here now.”

The nurse nodded, her expression equal parts awe and sheer terror, and then raced off to find my grandfather.

Jacob laughed. “You’re kind of freaky, Bells.”

“Happy to be of service,” she growled.

Dad chuckled as well. “I agree with Jacob. Bella, that was magnificent.”

She forced a small, tiny smile, and then looked worriedly at Jacob. My eyes followed her gaze as well. He looked better than he had, that was undeniable, but he still looked awful. “He should sit,” she said, scanning the room. She seemed to zero in on a middle-aged man sitting on a wide fake leather chair. His eyes swept over her as she approached. I heard Dad hiss quietly. This uncomfortable reaction that my family garnered from humans was yet another one of the realities of living in proximity to humans that I was not yet accustomed to. Of course I’d always thought they were beautiful, but the way the humans looked at them, you would have thought they were gods.

“Move,” Mom commanded him in a horror-worthy, very vampiric tone.

The man’s expression changed as he scrambled up quickly and fled the chair.

“Bella,” Uncle Jasper said disapprovingly.

“Save it, Jasper,” she muttered as she helped Jacob into the chair.

Despite her questionable methods, I was grateful that she shared my sense of urgency. I found myself pacing nervously as we waited for Grandpa Carlisle. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how they were all so calm about this. What could be taking him so long?

“It’s been less than two minutes, Nessie,” Dad reminded me quietly.

Then they had been the longest two minutes of my life. I exhaled irately and paced faster.

Presently, Dad jumped up. “He’s almost here,” he said in the same quiet tone as before. “Emmett, help me get him up. Gently, please.”

They had just gotten Jacob to his feet when Grandpa Carlisle burst through the emergency room doors with a little more speed than was probably natural. His brow was furrowed with intense concern

“What happened?” he asked. “Is everyone all right?”

“It’s Jacob,” Dad informed him. “He fell while rock climbing in gym class.”

His butterscotch eyes focused on Jacob. “Oh.” I was annoyed to note an edge of relief in his tone. “Well, let’s get you fixed up,” he said to Jacob.

“I don’t know why they’re all so worked up,” Jacob muttered. “Just had a little fall.”

A little fall?” I said incredulously. “You could have been killed!”

I heard Jacob mutter something about "dramatic" as Grandpa Carlisle escorted us to the second floor and to an examination room. He had insisted that we wait outside while he worked.

“Yeah,” Jacob had agreed infuriatingly. “Breathing down Doc’s neck probably doesn’t help him much.”

Grandpa Carlisle saw me hesitate. “I’ll come and get you as soon as I’m finished, Nessie. I promise,” he said gently.

I sighed. “Okay.” I looked at Jacob one more time. He gave me his special smile before Mom dragged me away to the second floor waiting room.

“He’s in good hands, Ness,” she promised me. “If there’s anyone that would know how to heal Jacob, it’s your Grandpa Carlisle.”

I didn’t doubt his ability; I doubted my patience, which I told her using my gift.

“I know,” she said sympathetically. “I’m as anxious as you are.”

I took a seat between Mom and Tara. Uncle Emmett, Rob and Dad were discussing cars. Ian was sitting quietly on Tara’s other side, once more content to observe. Aunt Rose was dividing attention between the car conversation and me. I caught her staring at me worriedly several times. Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper sat against one of the walls, her head resting against him. They spoke in voices to low for me to hear, but by the distant expression that came over her eyes, she seemed to be watching the future.

I touched Tara’s arm lightly to ask her if Ian liked cars as well.

Tara turned to look at me. She glanced at my hand. “What’re you doing?”

I frowned. “You didn’t hear that?”

“Was I supposed to hear something?”

I tried to ask her again. “Did you hear anything?”

She shook her head again.

I tried shouting my question.

“Nessie…please…” Dad said, cringing.

She glanced at Dad, and then shook her head again.

“Try on me,” Adelaide said, extending her arm. I touched it and thought the question. “I heard it just fine. I thought your gift went through all shields.”

“I thought it did too,” I said, looking at Tara again. “Is hers different from my Mom’s?”

“I guess so,” Adelaide said.

I touched Mom. “Can you still hear me?”

She nodded. “As clear as ever.”

I looked at Tara again. “Wow,” I saw in genuine awe.

She blushed slightly as Adelaide smiled proudly. “I call it her super-shield.”

“Can you extend it very far?”

Tara shook her head. “Only about forty metres.”

I looked at Mom for a comparison.

“It’s unlimited, as far as I know,” she told me.

“Wow,” I said again.

Tara went redder and glanced at Ian. His proud expression mirrored Adelaide’s. That didn’t do much to help the redness in her face. It spread to her ears now.

Tara and Mom discussed their shields for several minutes more. I was reduced to reciting pi in my head as I waited for Grandpa Carlisle to come back. Tara gasped suddenly.

I looked up sharply. She was gaping at Adelaide. Adelaide was staring down the hall, her eyes a confusing combination of anger, pain, fear, disbelief, shock, hatred and longing.

I saw Dad staring as well with a confused expression on his face. “Are you sure?” he asked Adelaide.

She tore her eyes away from whatever she was staring at to glance at him. “That's not the sort of thing one forgets, Edward.”

I followed her gaze. She was staring at a tall, handsome man standing at the desk, accompanied by a young woman who was equally beautiful. I frowned slightly. Would they really check out a stranger with their husbands right there?

“Ade, what’s happening?” Rob asked, at her side instantly.

She continued to stare at the man.

“Do you know him?” Ian asked, glancing from Adelaide to Tara. He paused. "Actually, he kind of looks like you."

The man glanced in our direction, and then did a double-take. He froze to a complete standstill as his eyes met Adelaide’s. The woman walking behind him almost walked into him. “Father?” she said softer than any human would have heard. “What is it?” He did not reply, merely continued to stare.

Adelaide glanced at Tara, who was still looking between the man and her sister frantically. She took a deep breath. “That’s my father.”

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