I felt absolutely hideous.
I clutched my stomach as I sank to the bathroom floor. I had hoped, after almost a whole day without throwing up, that either the Pepto had done its job or the morning sickness had passed as quickly as it had come. No such luck.
I’d been fine after Edward left, dozing off in front of the movie while Gustavo and Kaure worked. They poked their heads into the living room as they left; Gustavo simply waved before vanishing, but Kaure lingered, frowning.
“Everything okay?” I asked. She looked confused for a moment, then nodded in understanding.
“Dinner.” she said. “I leave for you. In... in conzinha.” She gestured towards the kitchen, seeming unsure if she had said it right. I understood, and nodded, smiling.
“De nada.” she replied, and left.
I watch the rest of the movie, grateful that she had been kind enough to bring something. I didn't know if there would be time for Edward to cook me anything when he got back, and I didn't feel like cooking myself – but I also didn't want to eat on the plane, no matter how good the food was in first class.
But, when I lifted the lid on the fish and onions, the smell that reached my nose had me racing for the bathroom.
It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the food, like it had gone off or something, just that what should have smelled delicious actually smelled utterly disgusting to me.
To make matters worse, once I had finished puking my guts up, the baby started kicking me. Hard. Right in the kidneys.
I wished Edward was here. I only realised now how long he had been gone; much longer than he said he would be. The sun had been high when he left; now it was half way to the horizon. I wanted to call him, but my cell phone was in the bedroom, and I felt too horrible to move.
I sat there, slumped on the bathroom floor, too tired to even lift my head, for what felt like hours. I must have fallen asleep, despite my discomfort, because the next thing I was aware of was Edward’s voice, calling my name in a panic.
“Bella? Bella, where are you?”
I tried to speak, but my throat was too dry, and I just ended up coughing. He heard me though, and appeared from nowhere in the doorway.
“Oh Bella,” he sighed, and hurried over to me. He propped me up against him, putting one hand on my damp forehead and the other on my belly. The baby instantly stopped wriggling and I sighed with relief.
“Are you alright?” he asked, rubbing my bump softly.
Again, when I tried to speak I could only cough. He disappeared for half a second, returning with a glass of water. I took it from him gratefully and gulped it down. My voice was rough and weak, but at least I could speak.
“I was alright until I smelled the food.” I croaked.
I nodded. “Kaure made me dinner. I only felt sick when I took the cover off. It was fish, something I’m used to, and it should have been good but...” I wrinkled my nose.
Edward frowned. “You were fine this morning... I wonder what changed.”
I shrugged. I didn't have a clue.
“What did she eat earlier?” asked an unfamiliar voice. My eyes snapped up, locking on a figure in the doorway. The beautiful woman was very obviously a vampire, and not a nice one like the Cullens or Denalis, judging by her dark red eyes. I shrank back into Edward, one hand going protectively to my stomach. He seemed perfectly calm.
“Scrambled eggs for breakfast and a cheese and ham omelette for lunch.” he said, answering the woman's question.
She nodded sagely. “Pire had this. She could only eat certain roots without becoming ill. It is... how do you say it? A craving? It is like any woman has. Very normal.”
I looked up at Edward, eyes wide. He saw the questions I couldn't voice aloud and smiled.
“Bella, this is Huilen. Her sister Pire was in a similar situation to you about 150 years ago. She died having a little boy, and Huilen agreed to look after him. He is venomous, and it was his bite that changed her. They came to help us. They won't hurt you love, I promise.”
I relaxed – as much as one can do when in the company of a non-vegetarian vampire – and began to feel cautiously optimistic. This could work out right after all. I would have my angel baby and my angel husband, and we would have forever together. I began to stand, eager to see this 150 year old boy who was like my little nudger. Edward helped me up, but didn't release me as we walked to the living room.
A young man with the same black braided hair as Huilen, but distinctly darker skin, was sitting on the couch, looking rather out of place, but not uncomfortable. He looked to be about my age, maybe a little older – he certainly didn't look like he was 50 years older than Edward. He regarded us with a shrewd, curious expression, before settling into a congenial, if slightly menacing, smile.
“Mrs Cullen, I presume,” he said, standing to greet me. Where Huilen had a very thick accent that I couldn't quite identify, his was more subtle, his English more refined. “You have met my aunt, I see,” he continued. “My name is Nahuel.”
He held out a hand for me to take, and I shook it gingerly. It was warm to the touch, like Jacob's.
“Bella. It's nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine.” Nahuel replied smoothly, still smiling.
We sat down then, and traded questions and answers back and forth. Huilen wanted to know my symptoms, to compare my development with her sister's, and Edward had lots of questions for her about how best to care for me, while I was asking Nahuel all about his life and growth and anything else I wanted to know about my baby. As we talked, I got more and more excited... and nervous. Would things really be that way for me? I wasn't Pire, and Edward wasn't Joham (thank God, he sounded like a nasty piece of work); would the different combination of genes change my experience? Would everyone else understand? Would everything go smoothly? What if there was a problem? What if, what if?
The questions spun in my head, over and over in a jumbled mess. The one question I never asked myself was what would happen if things went exactly the same as they had for Pire and Nahuel. I didn't realise I hadn't thought of it until Nahuel brought it up, during a lull in the conversation.
He frowned at me, evidently perplexed, and said, “You do realise it will kill you when it is born. You do understand that?”
Edward stiffened at my side. I took his hand in mine and squeezed it gently.
“Edward won't let that happen.” I said confidently.
Huilen was frowning too. “But how can he? It will rip you open with its own teeth when it is ready. How can he stop this?”
I shook my head. “His father is a doctor; he will know when it is fully developed, and I can have a c-section. Edward can hear the baby's thoughts, which will help no end. If I am in any danger, one of them will change me.”
Edward freed his hand to wrap his arm around my waist.
“I will,” he vowed. “I will never let anything happen to you.”
I smiled up at him. “I know.” Leaning up, I kissed his marble cheek softly, then rested my head on his shoulder. He pressed his lips to my hair, inhaling.
Nahuel watched our exchange with a curious expression, as if he had never seen anything like it before. Perhaps he hadn't; after all, he had lived all his life in the forest with only his aunt for company. He probably didn't even know what romantic love was, much less what it looked like.
“It isn't easy,” Edward sighed. “I've just had a lot of time to get used to it, and I have the motivation to resist.”
I poked him in the ribs, annoyed that he wasn't telling me things, and he chuckled.
“They are both wondering how I can be so close to you without killing you. Nahuel thinks it is easy for me. I was just correcting his misunderstanding.”
“What could possibly motivate you though?” Nahuel mused aloud. “My father did not kill the women he seduced because he wanted to create his 'super race', but that is clearly not your intention, as you seem to have come across this by accident. So what stopped you to begin with?”
Edward’s voice was very serious as he answered. “At first, when I didn't know her, it was the desire to not disgrace my family and my own morals that held me back. I have been abstaining from human blood, bar a brief, ill considered interlude, for my entire existence – since my change in 1918 – so I have built up a fairly good level of control. On the other hand, Bella smells more delicious to me than any other human I have ever come across before or since, and I was very thirsty on the day that we met. It was only the thought of disappointing my parents, of forcing my siblings to move on when we were just getting settled, that held me back that first day.”
He shuddered as he remembered, and I began gently stroking his back with one hand. He relaxed into my touch and breathed in the scent of my hair again before continuing.
“There was a major turning point in March of this year. I learned what it feels like to think I’ve lost her, and I will not let myself feel that kind of pain again – my whole being desperately avoids it. I live to protect her, to be near her, to love her and feel her love in return. If it weren't for the need to hunt, I would never leave her side.”
I began placing butterfly kisses all over Edward’s neck and jaw, whispering 'I’m here' and 'I love you' every so often. There was no other sound as our guests absorbed his words. Finally, Huilen spoke.
“You truly are a remarkable pair,” she said. “To think that a love so strong can exist between a predator and its prey... it boggles the mind. I have no doubt that this strength you have together will see you through. Perhaps it will even change your fate.”
She stood then and gestured towards the door. “Come. There is one more thing that must be done before you return home.”
I frowned, confused, and looked to Edward for an explanation. He was frowning too, though his expression was more one of consternation than confusion.
“Is there no other way?” he asked, sounding frustrated.
“I am afraid not. This is what must be done.” Huilen replied.
“What is it Edward?” I asked, wondering what it was in Huilen's thoughts that had upset him so.
It was she who answered.
“In order for you to continue getting the nutrition you need, the child will need to be fed as well. Unfortunately, its appetite is more similar to your husband's than yours. When I brought animals I had killed to my sister, she did not cook the flesh and eat it, she drained them dry of their blood. It is a monstrous thing to do, but there is little alternative – unless you used humans...”
I shuddered, and Edward’s arm tightened.
“I know love,” he murmured, “I know. Are you sure you can do this?”
I looked up into his pleading golden gaze, saw the agony in it as he contemplated my answer; for I knew my saying no – and possibly dying – would be as hard for him as if I said yes and committed what he viewed as a horrific act.
I turned to Huilen. “It will help the baby?”
“Then I’ll do it.” I said, certain in my conviction. What ever I had to do to help my baby, I would do it.
Huilen nodded again, and all of us stood up. Nahuel helped Edward bring the luggage down to the boat, and soon we were speeding away from Isle Esme, the sea spray flying as Edward pushed the little craft as fast as it could go.
We pulled up on a deserted beach, and Huilen sprang instantly from the boat. Edward followed, turning to help me down, and Nahuel landed in the sand beside me with a soft thump.
“Huilen and I will find something for you love,” Edward explained, “so that she can show me what to do. Nahuel will stay here with you. We won't go far.”
He kissed me softly on the lips, then disappeared into the trees with Huilen. I sighed and sat down on the sand. Nahuel sat down beside me, keeping a careful distance between us. I remembered Jasper doing the same thing and smiled.
“Bella?” he asked hesitantly after a moment.
“What is it like to have parents?”
I looked at him with wide eyes. “Why do you want to know?”
He shrugged. “I didn't know mine for a long time. And Joham isn't what I would call a father. I only know my mother at all because of what Aunt Huilen has told me. I just wondered what your mother and father are like. You don't have to tell me if you feel like I’m prying.”
I smiled at him. “That's alright. I was just surprised that you wanted to know.” I paused for a moment, deciding how to continue. He waited patiently.
“My parents are divorced; they have been for as long as I can remember. I used to only see my dad for two weeks in the summer because I lived with my mom. But I moved in with Dad when I was 17 because Mom remarried and wanted to travel with her new husband.
“My dad is a police officer – he's the chief in the town where we live. He's kind and gentle, until he gets angry, then he's scary as hell. He loves fishing and is utterly devoted to his work. He doesn't talk a lot, and he doesn't like big emotional displays if he can avoid them; we're very similar that way. He loves me very much, even if he doesn't always show it, and he's very protective. We have the same eyes, but his hair is more curly than mine – what's left of it anyway. He can't cook to save his life, so I’m kind of worried about leaving him on his own. I’m going to miss him a lot...” I trailed off, and there was silence for a moment, broken only by the waves lapping at the shore and the light wind rustling the trees.
“And your mother?” Nahuel prompted. I smiled.
“Mom is a lot of fun. She's scatter-brained, and she never sticks to one hobby for more than a few weeks, a month at most. She always warned me never to make the same mistake she did. 'College first, marriage and children later,' she said.” I laughed. “So it was kind of surprising that she took it so well when I told her I was marrying Edward. I don't know what she'd say about this.” My hands rested on my stomach.
Nahuel chuckled. “She sounds wonderful. What other things does she do?”
“She likes to experiment with food, but her creations aren't always fit for human consumption. She was always more the child than me, I think, so I’m glad she has my step-dad to take care of her now. She used to say I was born 35, and I get more middle aged every year. I look more like her than my dad, only she has shorter hair. She's my best friend...”
Again, I couldn't finish. Thinking of my parents reminded me that I would never see them again, for their own good, and that always made me sad. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat.
“What are their names?” Nahuel asked.
“Renee and Charlie,” I replied, “and my stepfather's name is Phil. He and my mother live in Florida.”
He was silent for a moment.
“Thank you,” he said after a long pause. “Thank you for telling
me about your family.”
“You're welcome.” I replied.
At that moment, Huilen and Edward reappeared. Huilen had a long stone knife in one hand, and Edward was carrying a big stag over one shoulder by its back legs, resembling a sort of vampiric Santa Claus, minus the beard. He placed it on the ground in front of me, and I could see that its neck had been snapped.
Huilen gently pressed her knife to its neck until a stream of bright red blood welled up around the blade. The scent of it hit my nose, and I was suddenly salivating. I closed my eyes and inhaled, licking my lips. I heard the boys chuckle; Edward’s sounded slightly strained. I didn't open my eyes as Huilen guided my head downwards, afraid I would freak out, simply opening my mouth a little and letting her direct me.
As the first drops touched my tongue, I felt a jolt go through me. I moaned in pleasure and began to suck greedily at the cut on the animal's neck. Its blood was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. I wanted more and more and more. I drank and drank until there was nothing more to drink and I was forced to break away.
I licked my lips again, trying to get every last drop of the delicious nectar. I felt a cold pressure against my mouth and opened my eyes to find Edward gently wiping away what I had missed with his thumb. I caught it in my mouth as he pulled away, cleaning it thoroughly.
He growled and yanked his hand back sharply. At first I worried that I had upset him, but then he swooped in for a kiss so deep I forgot everything else for a moment.
“That,” he said once he had had enough, “was quite possibly the sexiest thing I have ever seen in my life. Now I know why Rose and Em come home from hunting with shredded clothes sometimes.”
I laughed. “You're ridiculous.”
“And you're gorgeous.” he responded, kissing me again.