21 FIRST HUNT

“The window?” I asked, staring two stories down.

I’d never really been afraid of heights per se, but being able to see all the details with such clarity made the prospect less appealing. The angles of the rocks below were sharper than I would have imagined them.

Edward smiled. “It’s the most convenient exit. If you’re frightened, I can carry you.”

“We have all eternity, and you’re worried about the time it would take to walk to the back door?”

He frowned slightly. “Renesmee and Jacob are downstairs. . . .”

“Oh.”

Right. I was the monster now. I had to keep away from scents that might trigger my wild side. From the people that I loved in particular. Even the ones I didn’t really know yet.

“Is Renesmee… okay… with Jacob there?” I whispered. I realized belatedly that it must have been Jacob’s heart I’d heard below. I listened hard again, but I could only hear the one steady pulse. “He doesn’t like her much.”

Edward’s lips tightened in an odd way. “Trust me, she is perfectly safe. I know exactly what Jacob is thinking.”

“Of course,” I murmured, and looked at the ground again.

“Stalling?” he challenged.

“A little. I don’t know how. . . .”

And I was very conscious of my family behind me, watching silently. Mostly silently. Emmett had already chuckled under his breath once. One mistake, and he’d be rolling on the floor. Then the jokes about the world’s only clumsy vampire would start.…

Also, this dress—that Alice must have put me in sometime when I was too lost in the burning to notice—was not what I would have picked out for either jumping or hunting. Tightly fitted ice-blue silk? What did she think I would need it for? Was there a cocktail party later?

“Watch me,” Edward said. And then, very casually, he stepped out of the tall, open window and fell.

I watched carefully, analyzing the angle at which he bent his knees to absorb the impact. The sound of his landing was very low—a muted thud that could have been a door softly closed, or a book gently laid on a table.

It didn’t look hard.

Clenching my teeth as I concentrated, I tried to copy his casual step into empty air.

Ha! The ground seemed to move toward me so slowly that it was nothing at all to place my feet—what shoes had Alice put me in? Stilettos? She’d lost her mind—to place my silly shoes exactly right so that landing was no different than stepping one foot forward on a flat surface.

I absorbed the impact in the balls of my feet, not wanting to snap off the thin heels. My landing seemed just as quiet as his. I grinned at him.

“Right. Easy.”

He smiled back. “Bella?”

“Yes?”

“That was quite graceful—even for a vampire.”

I considered that for a moment, and then I beamed. If he’d just been saying that, then Emmett would have laughed. No one found his remark humorous, so it must have been true. It was the first time anyone had ever applied the word graceful to me in my entire life… or, well, existence anyway.

Thank you,” I told him.

And then I hooked the silver satin shoes off my feet one by one and lobbed them together back through the open window. A little too hard, maybe, but I heard someone catch them before they could damage the paneling.

Alice grumbled, “Her fashion sense hasn’t improved as much as her balance.”

Edward took my hand—I couldn’t stop marveling at the smoothness, the comfortable temperature of his skin—and darted through the backyard to the edge of the river. I went along with him effortlessly.

Everything physical seemed very simple.

“Are we swimming?” I asked him when we stopped beside the water.

“And ruin your pretty dress? No. We’re jumping.”

I pursed my lips, considering. The river was about fifty yards wide here.

“You first,” I said.

He touched my cheek, took two quick backward strides, and then ran back those two steps, launching himself from a flat stone firmly embedded in the riverbank. I studied the flash of movement as he arced over the water, finally turning a somersault just before he disappeared into the thick trees on the other side of the river.

“Show-off,” I muttered, and heard his invisible laugh.

I backed up five paces, just in case, and took a deep breath.

Suddenly, I was anxious again. Not about falling or getting hurt—I was more worried about the forest getting hurt.

It had come on slowly, but I could feel it now—the raw, massive strength thrilling in my limbs. I was suddenly sure that if I wanted to tunnel under the river, to claw or beat my way straight through the bedrock, it wouldn’t take me very long. The objects around me—the trees, the shrubs, the rocks… the house—had all begun to look very fragile.

Hoping very much that Esme was not particularly fond of any specific trees across the river, I began my first stride. And then stopped when the tight satin split six inches up my thigh. Alice!

Well, Alice always seemed to treat clothes as if they were disposable and meant for one-time usage, so she shouldn’t mind this. I bent to carefully grasp the hem at the undamaged right seam between my fingers and, exerting the tiniest amount of pressure possible, I ripped the dress open to the top of my thigh. Then I fixed the other side to match.

Much better.

I could hear the muffled laughter in the house, and even the sound of someone gritting her teeth. The laughter came from upstairs and down, and I very easily recognized the much different, rough, throaty chuckle from the first floor.

So Jacob was watching, too? I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking now, or what he was still doing here. I’d envisioned our reunion—if he could ever forgive me—taking place far in the future, when I was more stable, and time had healed the wounds I’d inflicted in his heart.

I didn’t turn to look at him now, wary of my mood swings. It wouldn’t be good to let any emotion take too strong a hold on my frame of mind. Jasper’s fears had me on edge, too. I had to hunt before I dealt with anything else. I tried to forget everything else so I could concentrate .

“Bella?” Edward called from the woods, his voice moving closer. “Do you want to watch again?”

But I remembered everything perfectly, of course, and I didn’t want to give Emmett a reason to find more humor in my education. This was physical—it should be instinctive. So I took a deep breath and ran for the river.

Unhindered by my skirt, it took only one long bound to reach the water’s edge. Just an eighty-fourth of a second, and yet it was plenty of time—my eyes and my mind moved so quickly that one step was enough. It was simple to position my right foot just so against the flat stone and exert the adequate pressure to send my body wheeling up into the air. I was paying more attention to aim than force, and I erred on the amount of power necessary—but at least I didn’t err on the side that would have gotten me wet. The fifty yard width was slightly too easy a distance. . . .

It was a strange, giddy, electrifying thing, but a short thing. An entire second had yet to pass, and I was across.

I was expecting the close-packed trees to be a problem, but they were surprisingly helpful. It was a simple matter to reach out with one sure hand as I fell back toward the earth again deep inside the forest and catch myself on a convenient branch; I swung lightly from the limb and landed on my toes, still fifteen feet from the ground on the wide bough of a Sitka spruce.

It was fabulous.

Over the sound of my peals of delighted laughter, I could hear Edward racing to find me. My jump had been twice as long as his. When he reached my tree, his eyes were wide. I leaped nimbly from the branch to his side, soundlessly landing again on the balls of my feet.

“Was that good?” I wondered, my breathing accelerated with excitement.

“Very good.” He smiled approvingly, but his casual tone didn’t match the surprised expression in his eyes.

“Can we do it again?”

“Focus, Bella—we’re on a hunting trip.”

“Oh, right.” I nodded. “Hunting.”

“Follow me… if you can.” He grinned, his expression suddenly taunting, and broke into a run.

He was faster than me. I couldn’t imagine how he moved his legs with such blinding speed, but it was beyond me. However, I was stronger, and every stride of mine matched the length of three of his. And so I flew with him through the living green web, by his side, not following at all. As I ran, I couldn’t help laughing quietly at the thrill of it; the laughter neither slowed me nor upset my focus.

I could finally understand why Edward never hit the trees when he ran—a question that had always been a mystery to me. It was a peculiar sensation, the balance between the speed and the clarity. For, while I rocketed over, under, and through the thick jade maze at a rate that should have reduced everything around me to a streaky green blur, I could plainly see each tiny leaf on all the small branches of every insignificant shrub that I passed.

The wind of my speed blew my hair and my torn dress out behind me, and, though I knew it shouldn’t, it felt warm against my skin. Just as the rough forest floor shouldn’t feel like velvet beneath my bare soles, and the limbs that whipped against my skin shouldn’t feel like caressing feathers.

The forest was much more alive than I’d ever known—small creatures whose existence I’d never guessed at teemed in the leaves around me. They all grew silent after we passed, their breath quickening in fear. The animals had a much wiser reaction to our scent than humans seemed to. Certainly, it’d had the opposite effect on me.

I kept waiting to feel winded, but my breath came effortlessly. I waited for the burn to begin in my muscles, but my strength only seemed to increase as I grew accustomed to my stride. My leaping bounds stretched longer, and soon he was trying to keep up with me. I laughed again, exultant, when I heard him falling behind. My naked feet touched the ground so infrequently now it felt more like flying than running.

“Bella,” he called dryly, his voice even, lazy. I could hear nothing else; he had stopped.

I briefly considered mutiny.

But, with a sigh, I whirled and skipped lightly to his side, some hundred yards back. I looked at him expectantly. He was smiling, with one eyebrow raised. He was so beautiful that I could only stare.

“Did you want to stay in the country?” he asked, amused. “Or were you planning to continue on to Canada this afternoon?”

“This is fine,” I agreed, concentrating less on what he was saying and more on the mesmerizing way his lips moved when he spoke. It was hard not to become sidetracked with everything fresh in my strong new eyes. “What are we hunting?”

“Elk. I thought something easy for your first time . . .” He trailed off when my eyes narrowed at the word easy .

But I wasn’t going to argue; I was too thirsty. As soon as I’d started to think about the dry burn in my throat, it was all I could think about. Definitely getting worse. My mouth felt like four o’clock on a June afternoon in Death Valley.

“Where?” I asked, scanning the trees impatiently. Now that I had given the thirst my attention, it seemed to taint every other thought in my head, leaking into the more pleasant thoughts of running and Edward’s lips and kissing and… scorching thirst. I couldn’t get away from it.

“Hold still for a minute,” he said, putting his hands lightly on my shoulders. The urgency of my thirst receded momentarily at his touch.

“Now close your eyes,” he murmured. When I obeyed, he raised his hands to my face, stroking my cheekbones. I felt my breathing speed and waited briefly again for the blush that wouldn’t come.

“Listen,” Edward instructed. “What do you hear?”

Everything, I could have said; his perfect voice, his breath, his lips brushing together as he spoke, the whisper of birds preening their feathers in the treetops, their fluttering heartbeats, the maple leaves scraping together, the faint clicking of ants following each other in a long line up the bark of the nearest tree. But I knew he meant something specific, so I let my ears range outward, seeking something different than the small hum of life that surrounded me. There was an open space near us—the wind had a different sound across the exposed grass—and a small creek, with a rocky bed. And there, near the noise of the water, was the splash of lapping tongues, the loud thudding of heavy hearts, pumping thick streams of blood. . . .

It felt like the sides of my throat had sucked closed.

“By the creek, to the northeast?” I asked, my eyes still shut.

“Yes.” His tone was approving. “Now… wait for the breeze again and… what do you smell?”

Mostly him—his strange honey-lilac-and-sun perfume. But also the rich, earthy smell of rot and moss, the resin in the evergreens, the warm, almost nutty aroma of the small rodents cowering beneath the tree roots. And then, reaching out again, the clean smell of the water, which was surprisingly unappealing despite my thirst. I focused toward the water and found the scent that must have gone with the lapping noise and the pounding heart. Another warm smell, rich and tangy, stronger than the others. And yet nearly as unappealing as the brook. I wrinkled my nose.

He chuckled. “I know—it takes some getting used to.”

“Three?” I guessed.

“Five. There are two more in the trees behind them.”

“What do I do now?”

His voice sounded like he was smiling. “What do you feel like doing?”

I thought about that, my eyes still shut as I listened and breathed in the scent. Another bout of baking thirst intruded on my awareness, and suddenly the warm, tangy odor wasn’t quite so objectionable. At least it would be something hot and wet in my desiccated mouth. My eyes snapped open.

“Don’t think about it,” he suggested as he lifted his hands off my face and took a step back. “Just follow your instincts.”

I let myself drift with the scent, barely aware of my movement as I ghosted down the incline to the narrow meadow where the stream flowed. My body shifted forward automatically into a low crouch as I hesitated at the fern-fringed edge of the trees. I could see a big buck, two dozen antler points crowning his head, at the stream’s edge, and the shadow-spotted shapes of the four others heading eastward into forest at a leisurely pace.

I centered myself around the scent of the male, the hot spot in his shaggy neck where the warmth pulsed strongest. Only thirty yards—two or three bounds—between us. I tensed myself for the first leap.

But as my muscles bunched in preparation, the wind shifted, blowing stronger now, and from the south. I didn’t stop to think, hurtling out of the trees in a path perpendicular to my original plan, scaring the elk into the forest, racing after a new fragrance so attractive that there wasn’t a choice. It was compulsory.

The scent ruled completely. I was single-minded as I traced it, aware only of the thirst and the smell that promised to quench it. The thirst got worse, so painful now that it confused all my other thoughts and began to remind me of the burn of venom in my veins.

There was only one thing that had any chance of penetrating my focus now, an instinct more powerful, more basic than the need to quench the fire—it was the instinct to protect myself from danger. Self-preservation.

I was suddenly alert to the fact that I was being followed. The pull of the irresistible scent warred with the impulse to turn and defend my hunt. A bubble of sound built in my chest, my lips pulled back of their own accord to expose my teeth in warning. My feet slowed, the need to protect my back struggling against the desire to quench my thirst.

And then I could hear my pursuer gaining, and defense won. As I spun, the rising sound ripped its way up my throat and out.

The feral snarl, coming from my own mouth, was so unexpected that it brought me up short. It unsettled me, and it cleared my head for a second—the thirst-driven haze receded, though the thirst burned on.

The wind shifted, blowing the smell of wet earth and coming rain across my face, further freeing me from the other scent’s fiery grip—a scent so delicious it could only be human.

Edward hesitated a few feet away, his arms raised as if to embrace me—or restrain me. His face was intent and cautious as I froze, horrified.

I realized that I had been about to attack him. With a hard jerk, I straightened out of my defensive crouch. I held my breath as I refocused, fearing the power of the fragrance swirling up from the south.

He could see reason return to my face, and he took a step toward me, lowering his arms.

“I have to get away from here,” I spit through my teeth, using the breath I had.

Shock crossed his face. “Can you leave?”

I didn’t have time to ask him what he meant by that. I knew the ability to think clearly would last only as long as I could stop myself from thinking of—

I burst into a run again, a flat-out sprint straight north, concentrating solely on the uncomfortable feeling of sensory deprivation that seemed to be my body’s only response to the lack of air. My one goal was to run far enough away that the scent behind me would be completely lost. Impossible to find, even if I changed my mind…

Once again, I was aware of being followed, but I was sane this time. I fought the instinct to breathe—to use the flavors in the air to be sure it was Edward. I didn’t have to fight long; though I was running faster than I ever had before, shooting like a comet through the straightest path I could find in the trees; Edward caught up with me after a short minute.

A new thought occurred to me, and I stopped dead, my feet planted. I was sure it must be safe here, but I held my breath just in case.

Edward blew past me, surprised by my sudden freeze. He wheeled around and was at my side in a second. He put his hands on my shoulders and stared into my eyes, shock still the dominant emotion on his face.

“How did you do that?” he demanded.

“You let me beat you before, didn’t you?” I demanded back, ignoring his question. And I’d thought I’d been doing so well!

When I opened my mouth, I could taste the air—it was unpolluted now, with no trace of the compelling perfume to torment my thirst. I took a cautious breath.

He shrugged and shook his head, refusing to be deflected. “Bella, how did you do it?”

“Run away? I held my breath.”

“But how did you stop hunting?”

“When you came up behind me… I’m so sorry about that.”

“Why are you apologizing to me ? I’m the one who was horribly careless. I assumed no one would be so far from the trails, but I should have checked first. Such a stupid mistake! You have nothing to apologize for.”

“But I growled at you!” I was still horrified that I was physically capable of such blasphemy.

“Of course you did. That’s only natural. But I can’t understand how you ran away.”

“What else could I do?” I asked. His attitude confused me—what did he want to have happened? “It might have been someone I know!”

He startled me, suddenly bursting into a spasm of loud laughter, throwing his head back and letting the sound echo off the trees.

“Why are you laughing at me?”

He stopped at once, and I could see he was wary again.

Keep it under control , I thought to myself. I had to watch my temper. Just like I was a young werewolf rather than a vampire.

“I’m not laughing at you, Bella. I’m laughing because I am in shock. And I am in shock because I am completely amazed.”

“Why?”

“You shouldn’t be able to do any of this. You shouldn’t be so… so rational. You shouldn’t be able to stand here discussing this with me calmly and coolly. And, much more than any of that, you should not have been able to break off mid-hunt with the scent of human blood in the air. Even mature vampires have difficulty with that—we’re always very careful of where we hunt so as not to put ourselves in the path of temptation. Bella, you’re behaving like you’re decades rather than days old.”

“Oh.” But I’d known it was going to be hard. That was why I’d been so on guard. I’d been expecting it to be difficult.

He put his hands on my face again, and his eyes were full of wonder. “What wouldn’t I give to be able to see into your mind for just this one moment.”

Such powerful emotions. I’d been prepared for the thirst part, but not this. I’d been so sure it wouldn’t be the same when he touched me. Well, truthfully, it wasn’t the same.

It was stronger.

I reached up to trace the planes of his face; my fingers lingered on his lips.

“I thought I wouldn’t feel this way for a long time?” My uncertainty made the words a question. “But I still want you.”

He blinked in shock. “How can you even concentrate on that? Aren’t you unbearably thirsty?”

Of course I was now , now that he’d brought it up again!

I tried to swallow and then sighed, closing my eyes like I had before to help me concentrate. I let my senses range out around me, tensed this time in case of another onslaught of the delicious taboo scent.

Edward dropped his hands, not even breathing while I listened farther and farther out into the web of green life, sifting through the scents and sounds for something not totally repellant to my thirst. There was a hint of something different, a faint trail to the east. . . .

My eyes flashed open, but my focus was still on sharper senses as I turned and darted silently eastward. The ground sloped steeply upward almost at once, and I ran in a hunting crouch, close to the ground, taking to the trees when that was easier. I sensed rather than heard Edward with me, flowing quietly through the woods, letting me lead.

The vegetation thinned as we climbed higher; the scent of pitch and resin grew more powerful, as did the trail I followed—it was a warm scent, sharper than the smell of the elk and more appealing. A few seconds more and I could hear the muted padding of immense feet, so much subtler than the crunch of hooves. The sound was up—in the branches rather than on the ground. Automatically I darted into the boughs as well, gaining the strategic higher position, halfway up a towering silver fir.

The soft thud of paws continued stealthily beneath me now; the rich scent was very close. My eyes pinpointed the movement linked with the sound, and I saw the tawny hide of the great cat slinking along the wide branch of a spruce just down and to the left of my perch. He was big—easily four times my mass. His eyes were intent on the ground beneath; the cat hunted, too. I caught the smell of something smaller, bland next to the aroma of my prey, cowering in brush below the tree. The lion’s tail twitched spasmodically as he prepared to spring.

With a light bound, I sailed through the air and landed on the lion’s branch. He felt the shiver of the wood and whirled, shrieking surprise and defiance. He clawed the space between us, his eyes bright with fury. Half-crazed with thirst, I ignored the exposed fangs and the hooked claws and launched myself at him, knocking us both to the forest floor.

It wasn’t much of a fight.

His raking claws could have been caressing fingers for all the impact they had on my skin. His teeth could find no purchase against my shoulder or my throat. His weight was nothing. My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength. My jaws locked easily over the precise point where the heat flow concentrated.

It was effortless as biting into butter. My teeth were steel razors; they cut through the fur and fat and sinews like they weren’t there.

The flavor was wrong, but the blood was hot and wet and it soothed the ragged, itching thirst as I drank in an eager rush. The cat’s struggles grew more and more feeble, and his screams choked off with a gurgle. The warmth of the blood radiated throughout my whole body, heating even my fingertips and toes.

The lion was finished before I was. The thirst flared again when he ran dry, and I shoved his carcass off my body in disgust. How could I still be thirsty after all that?

I wrenched myself erect in one quick move. Standing, I realized I was a bit of a mess. I wiped my face off on the back of my arm and tried to fix the dress. The claws that had been so ineffectual against my skin had had more success with the thin satin.

“Hmm,” Edward said. I looked up to see him leaning casually against a tree trunk, watching me with a thoughtful look on his face.

“I guess I could have done that better.” I was covered in dirt, my hair knotted, my dress bloodstained and hanging in tatters. Edward didn’t come home from hunting trips looking like this.

“You did perfectly fine,” he assured me. “It’s just that… it was much more difficult for me to watch than it should have been.”

I raised my eyebrows, confused.

“It goes against the grain,” he explained, “letting you wrestle with lions. I was having an anxiety attack the whole time.”

“Silly.”

“I know. Old habits die hard. I like the improvements to your dress, though.”

If I could have blushed, I would have. I changed the subject. “Why am I still thirsty?”

“Because you’re young.”

I sighed. “And I don’t suppose there are any other mountain lions nearby.”

“Plenty of deer, though.”

I made a face. “They don’t smell as good.”

“Herbivores. The meat-eaters smell more like humans,” he explained.

“Not that much like humans,” I disagreed, trying not to remember.

“We could go back,” he said solemnly, but there was a teasing light in his eye. “Whoever it was out there, if they were men, they probably wouldn’t even mind death if you were the one delivering it.” His gaze ran over my ravaged dress again. “In fact, they would think they were already dead and gone to heaven the moment they saw you.”

I rolled my eyes and snorted. “Let’s go hunt some stinking herbivores.”

We found a large herd of mule deer as we ran back toward home. He hunted with me this time, now that I’d gotten the hang of it. I brought down a large buck, making nearly as much of a mess as I had with the lion. He’d finished with two before I was done with the first, not a hair ruffled, not a spot on his white shirt. We chased the scattered and terrified herd, but instead of feeding again, this time I watched carefully to see how he was able to hunt so neatly.

All the times that I had wished that Edward would not have to leave me behind when he hunted, I had secretly been just a little relieved. Because I was sure that seeing this would be frightening. Horrifying. That seeing him hunt would finally make him look like a vampire to me.

Of course, it was much different from this perspective, as a vampire myself. But I doubted that even my human eyes would have missed the beauty here.

It was a surprisingly sensual experience to observe Edward hunting. His smooth spring was like the sinuous strike of a snake; his hands were so sure, so strong, so completely inescapable; his full lips were perfect as they parted gracefully over his gleaming teeth. He was glorious. I felt a sudden jolt of both pride and desire. He was mine . Nothing could ever separate him from me now. I was too strong to be torn from his side.

He was very quick. He turned to me and gazed curiously at my gloating expression.

“No longer thirsty?” he asked.

I shrugged. “You distracted me. You’re much better at it than I am.”

“Centuries of practice.” He smiled. His eyes were a disconcertingly lovely shade of honey gold now.

“Just one,” I corrected him.

He laughed. “Are you done for today? Or did you want to continue?”

“Done, I think.” I felt very full, sort of sloshy, even. I wasn’t sure how much more liquid would fit into my body. But the burn in my throat was only muted. Then again, I’d known that thirst was just an inescapable part of this life.

And worth it.

I felt in control. Perhaps my sense of security was false, but I did feel pretty good about not killing anyone today. If I could resist totally human strangers, wouldn’t I be able to handle the werewolf and a half-vampire child that I loved?

“I want to see Renesmee,” I said. Now that my thirst was tamed (if nothing close to erased), my earlier worries were hard to forget. I wanted to reconcile the stranger who was my daughter with the creature I’d loved three days ago. It was so odd, so wrong not to have her inside me still. Abruptly, I felt empty and uneasy.

He held out his hand to me. I took it, and his skin felt warmer than before. His cheek was faintly flushed, the shadows under his eyes all but vanished.

I was unable to resist stroking his face again. And again.

I sort of forgot that I was waiting for a response to my request as I stared into his shimmering gold eyes.

It was almost as hard as it had been to turn away from the scent of human blood, but I somehow kept the need to be careful firmly in my head as I stretched up on my toes and wrapped my arms around him. Gently.

He was not so hesitant in his movements; his arms locked around my waist and pulled me tight against his body. His lips crushed down on mine, but they felt soft. My lips no longer shaped themselves around his; they held their own.

Like before, it was as if the touch of his skin, his lips, his hands, was sinking right through my smooth, hard skin and into my new bones. To the very core of my body. I hadn’t imagined that I could love him more than I had.

My old mind hadn’t been capable of holding this much love. My old heart had not been strong enough to bear it.

Maybe this was the part of me that I’d brought forward to be intensified in my new life. Like Carlisle’s compassion and Esme’s devotion. I would probably never be able to do anything interesting or special like Edward, Alice, and Jasper could do. Maybe I would just love Edward more than anyone in the history of the world had ever loved anyone else.

I could live with that.

I remembered parts of this—twisting my fingers in his hair, tracing the planes of his chest—but other parts were so new. He was new. It was an entirely different experience with Edward kissing me so fearlessly, so forcefully. I responded to his intensity, and then suddenly we were falling.

“Oops,” I said, and he laughed underneath me. “I didn’t mean to tackle you like that. Are you okay?”

He stroked my face. “Slightly better than okay .” And then a perplexed expression crossed his face. “Renesmee?” he asked uncertainly, trying to ascertain what I wanted most in this moment. A very difficult question to answer, because I wanted so many things at the same time.

I could tell that he wasn’t exactly averse to procrastinating our return trip, and it was hard to think about much besides his skin on mine—there really wasn’t that much left of the dress. But my memory of Renesmee, before and after her birth, was becoming more and more dreamlike to me. More unlikely. All my memories of her were human memories; an aura of artificiality clung to them. Nothing seemed real that I hadn’t seen with these eyes, touched with these hands.

Every minute, the reality of that little stranger slipped further away.

“Renesmee,” I agreed, rueful, and I whipped back up onto my feet, pulling him with me.

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