Chapter 22: Maggie

When we arrived back in Norway, Gianna's egg-harvesting surgery had been and gone; hers were in the freezer next to mine. I went up to one of the computers in the bank of shared ones, rather than running to my cottage to boot up my laptop. I had another heap of e-mails from my parents and Rachel, and one reply from Angela saying she'd relayed my news to everyone and they all wished me well.

Rachel had sent an e-mail that was very depressing. Emily and Leah had gotten into a fight. This was all it had taken to push Emily teetering over the edge of the fence she'd been sitting regarding Sam. She ran straight to his arms, leaving Claire in an eager Quil's care for a couple of days. (Claire had spent one week home with her parents before being farmed out to her Aunt Emily again; this hiatus had made Quil very miserable but didn't appear to do him physical harm, and he perked up again when she returned.)

Leah was enraged. She picked fights with anyone and everyone - her brother, often, but everyone in the pack had gotten into at least one tussle with her except Rachel (who could order her to stand down) and Sam. Fast healing prevented this from being too much of a danger, but didn't make the doubly betrayed Leah more pleasant to be around. When Sam went wolf, she de-wolfed. At all costs she avoided sharing his thoughts. She stayed otherwise isolated from everyone except her mother, who was undergoing a loosely comparable distress.

Rachel had nominated Leah to test the pack's range, and Leah had run all the way to Canada (but not near Denali, thankfully). There was no noticeable delay, static, or loss of fidelity to the telepathy. Moving away wouldn't free her from the torment. Even if she scrupulously avoided direct mental contact with Sam, she couldn't help but get it secondhand from the others in the pack.

I thanked Rachel, asked her to keep me posted, and reminded her to let me know if she or the pack needed anything. I couldn't think of anything helpful to do about the Leah/Sam/Emily mess except to feel vaguely guilty. At least with the evidence stacking up that only male wolves could imprint, Becky's marriage was safe - unless the other accumulated stresses of activation and the move and her husband's departure from his career fractured it themselves.

I wrote my obligatory replies to my parents, but had no new European countries to tell them about; I told them we were in Norway and in the process of deciding where to go next. I confirmed for Charlie that I didn't plan to go back to Forks - or for that matter the United States - and attend high school in the new school year.

Inbox unburied, I scanned my mental list of projects. I figured it was a fine time to start building an immunity to Jasper, to see if I could expand my power that way. I closed my eyes and tried to shift my thinking.

I'd been told that he operated on a physical level. Breathing, pulse rate, maybe hormones. But he could work equally well on vampires and humans. (He tended to get better results from humans, but that was because their emotions were weaker and more malleable, not because he worked extra-forcefully on them.) Vampires had no pulses. Vampires could quit breathing at any time. I hadn't found either of these things to be major components in my experience of emotions. If we had hormones at all, it wasn't clear how they'd work - with no bloodstream to carry them, what would make them work?

From what I'd been told, Jasper didn't work overtly on any of these physical signals, either - he didn't say to himself "now I will calm this target's heart rate" or "more dopamine is called for here". He sensed and manipulated emotions directly. While he thought of it as functioning on a physical level, that wasn't how he interacted with his own power.

So it was rather strange that I wouldn't be immune to him to start with. It was probably a very borderline thing, and the very unconsciousness of what I did was likely working against me. Perhaps if I just concentrated...

My emotions are part of my mind, I thought. As much as my conscious thoughts, which Edward cannot hear and Aro cannot read. As much as my sensory experience, which Jane and Alec cannot alter. As much as my status as a person, which Harry cannot detect. Considerably more than my electrical systems, which Kate cannot overload.

I repeated this to myself several times, and then the door burst open. I opened my eyes, and a horrified Jasper was standing at the threshold.

He was looking at me rather like Harry had - like something about me was wrong.

"Did it work?" I asked mildly.

"Bella, what in the hell did you do?" demanded Jasper. Edward appeared behind him and shoved past to stand between us, and this was a little alarming, because it seemed to indicate that there might be some danger to me from Jasper, which Edward had heard.

"Well," I said, flicking my gaze between Jasper and Edward, "it didn't make sense that you could detect my emotions, so I just... thought about that for a while."

Jasper was looking at me like I was some kind of grotesque vampire-shaped robot occupying the uncanny valley of personhood. "I can't feel anything from you anymore," he almost gagged. "It's like you're a hole in the air."

"I'm sorry if it makes me hard to be around..." I was looking at Jasper's scars. He looked very, very scary when he was mad. To have that many scars, a lot of vampires had tried and failed to kill him - the same number that must have died, or nearly, in the attempt.

"Turn it off," Jasper demanded.

"I'm not sure if I can," I said honestly.

"Jasper, calm down," said Edward in a soft, dangerous voice.

"It was bad enough when it was only you, Edward!" exclaimed Jasper. "Don't think I've forgotten how much that infuriated you - and then Alice started losing her - and now I can't get one hint of emotion off her - we rely on our powers to keep ourselves safe!"

I was tempted to make some snide remark about how my power was doing a great job of keeping me safe, but I didn't actually feel that way; sure, Jasper couldn't magically detect my feelings anymore, but he hadn't been a danger to me before, and now he well might be. I kept my mouth shut and let Edward handle it.

"This is Bella," Edward reminded Jasper in a level, cool voice, still interposing himself between us. "She is my wife, she is your sister, you don't need to keep tabs on her or be able to manipulate her emotions to defend us. She is one of us."

"She's still a newborn," said Jasper, but he was grasping at straws.

"She's no ordinary newborn, you know that," said Edward forcefully. "Calm. Down. Now."

Jasper snarled. Where was Alice? Why wasn't she there, reining in her husband? He listened to her - was Rachel about to e-mail again, was I blacking out the entire room? I darted my hand out and quit the program; neither Jasper nor Edward was facing in a direction that would have let them see my mail, but it would have appeared in my peripheral vision. Neither reacted noticeably to the action.

Sure enough, a tense four seconds later, Alice popped up behind Jasper. "Jazz," she said reproachfully, touching his arm.

He relaxed marginally, but didn't look at her. "Turn it off," he said again, hissing under the words.

"I don't know if I can," I repeated.

"Try," insisted Jasper.

I braced myself, and shook my head.

Even Alice looked a little surprised at that, although Edward seemed to have expected it. "Why?" asked Jasper tightly. "Bella, I can't even - it's like you're a robot or something, I'm not getting flat affect or something neutral like that, there's just nothing. You disappeared."

"I understand," I said, quiet. "But I'm trying to expand my shield, not diminish it. Besides," I added cautiously, "would you believe me if I tried, and then told you I couldn't?"

Jasper growled at me, and Edward's hands clenched. Alice danced from toe to toe, looking nervous. "Jazz, honey," she said, tugging on Jasper's arm. "This isn't worth a fight."

He took one long step backwards, then turned away and let Alice lead him down the stairs and out of the house. Edward didn't relax until a second after I couldn't hear them anymore. Then most of the tension drained out of him and he turned towards me, dropping down on one knee so he could hug me where I was sitting at the computer.

"I didn't realize he'd react like that," I murmured, winding my arms around Edward.

"I didn't either," Edward said. "Or I would have warned you when you first mentioned it. But I should have guessed. He's very sensitive to the climate of emotion around him, and he's never found anyone he couldn't get a signal from... some people are more or less resistant to the active half of his power, and he might have tolerated it better if it were just that, but there's no variation save for you with the passive half."

"It's like Harry," I said, "but worse - I don't live with Harry."

Edward stood up and kissed the top of my head. "You don't technically live with Jasper, either. We have our own house."

I nodded and got to my feet. "Do you think he'll get used to it?" I asked, going with Edward out of the computer room and downstairs to head to our cottage.

"I think so," he soothed. "Alice will help. She was frightened when you first blanked out of her visions, but she took it much better than Jasper is after she confirmed that you were safe."

"But she can still see me sometimes," I said.

"That's true," said Edward, a little troubled. "I don't understand why that should be... everyone else you block, you block consistently."

"Hm," I said. If I pretended to speculate, I might give something away about the real reason behind Alice's spotty vision. I could have tried to add her to my immunities, but she was far too useful - if she could never see me at all, I lost a huge well of information. And I really didn't know if I could turn my shield, or part of it, off.

Edward speculated for me. "I suppose only some visions you feature in heavily involve your thinking and its consequences," he said. "I haven't noticed a pattern like that in what Alice does and doesn't see, but then, I can't tell what you're thinking."

I shrugged. Then my phone rang.

"Hi, Bella!" said a cheery, Irish-accented voice when I answered the phone.

"Maggie?" I asked, bewildered.

"That's me! I've been trying to call you for a week now!"

"I was in a place with lousy reception," I said. The jungle was nothing if not that. I'd been able to keep my phone charged via occasional stops in cities with publicly available electrical outlets, but that didn't mean anyone had been able to actually reach me without leaving a message.

"I would have called Carlisle or somebody instead but I figured if you weren't answering there was probably some stuff up with your coven," she said.

"It was just me and Edward who were away; everyone else was home," I said. "But we're all here now. What is it you wanted to talk about?"

"Well," Maggie said, "I want to visit."

I blinked, and Edward, who could hear both sides of the conversation easily enough, did too.

"You want to visit?" I said. I didn't think I'd misheard, but it was a hard convention to break: when astonished, confirm astonishing fact.

"Yeah!" said Maggie brightly. "Just me, not Siobhan and Liam."

"Uh, Maggie, we really can't have people going missing near where we live," I said.

"No, that's fine," she said. "I ate a badger last week, and I think I've got the hang of it."

"It's not quite that simple," I said. "One badger, when you've been eating humans for more than a century, doesn't mean you're a vegetarian overnight." Truthfully, I thought she was practiced enough to cover her hunting even if she went back to eating humans. But Gianna was still living with the family.

"Well, I won't hunt any humans in your territory, anyway," said Maggie. "That's just obvious. I can go to Sweden or something when I'm hungry if I decide animals aren't for me. Which I guess they might not be, I mean, badger blood, ick, but it wasn't that bad and it definitely wasn't my mate, right?"

"Right," I said dubiously. "Um, well, I can't really stop you from visiting, but... uh... Maggie, I have a... a pet human." I didn't know how else to summarize the situation believably to someone who thought of humans the way Maggie appeared to. "You can't eat her. I don't know if I can trust you around her."

"You have a pet human?" asked Maggie, squealing over this quaintness the way I'd expect Renée to exclaim about someone having a sugar glider or a domesticated fox.

"She's not really a pet, but she lives here and Aro basically gave her to me and I'm not allowed to let her go, and... it's a really long story," I said. "But she is absolutely not for eating, and I don't know whether I can expect you to absolutely not eat her."

"I will absolutely not eat her," swore Maggie. "Up till the badger I was doing really well at the only eating men thing, too! It's like, women don't even look like food anymore, you know what I mean?" She sounded so pleased with herself. "It's two whole layers of not eating your human. So I'm not going to hurt your pet, Bella, it's okay!"

"All right," I said, shrugging. I'd give Ilario a heads up, but he practically supervised Gianna all the time anyway; he wouldn't be significantly inconvenienced by serving as her bodyguard. "I'll let the others know that you're planning to visit, then."

"See you soon, Bella!" said Maggie.

I hung up the phone. "That," I said, "is going to be interesting."

Ilario was on high alert the moment I told him Maggie was coming. He bristled when I said that I'd described Gianna as my "pet human", although Gianna herself didn't seem that bothered - it was a step up from the Volturi, at any rate. But Ilario said he'd keep a close eye on Gianna and make sure Maggie didn't try to eat her.

"If," I said, "something does happen - I don't think it will, Ilario, but if - you have got to hold your breath. I got a whiff of human blood in the Amazon and it was... I wasn't ready for it. You're not ready for it now. Fight Maggie off of Gianna if you have to until someone comes to help, but don't breathe." He accepted this instruction solemnly.

Edward found Jasper and Alice for me and told them, giving the empath some more time away from my unsettlingly non-emotional presence. I informed Carlisle, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett. Carlisle seemed impressed that I'd gotten a non-vegetarian to go so far as to try eating an animal, although I wasn't sure how much of it was my own doing and how much of it was Maggie's native curiosity. Emmett was disappointed that Maggie was coming alone, as she wasn't as interesting a partner for sparring as Siobhan.

Maggie arrived on a Tuesday, having swum most of the way and climbed up the nearest fjord. Her curls were still wet when she found our house. Rosalie was up on the roof and the first to see her coming, but everyone knew by the time she entered the yard, and I was waiting to greet her; Ilario was with Gianna, indoors.

"Hi, Bella!" said Maggie with a great big smile. Her eyes were a bright gold, as expected if she hadn't eaten any humans since her badger. She'd probably eaten an animal more recently, though, as the gold was quite light and not darkened with hunger - so it was possible it had gone badger, human, some other animal. There was no way for me to be sure.

"Hi, Maggie," I replied. "Uh, welcome to our home."

"This is a big house," she remarked. "I guess there are a whole lot of you. Does your pet live here or do you put her someplace else?" She peered around with more physical movement than was really necessary, turning her head to look at things that she could have seen peripherally and standing on her toes for negligible improvements in vantage point. It made her look exciteable, maybe a few years younger than she physically was. (When she held still and I corrected for vampirism, I guessed she'd been twenty-five when turned.)

"She lives in this house," I said. "Edward and I actually have our own cottage, that way." I waved in the relevant direction. "Everybody else is based here, including Gianna. That's her name."

"Gi-an-na," said Maggie, tasting the word. "Pretty. I want to hear your long story about how you got a pet human! It's so weird, I've never heard of anybody keeping one before."

I was beginning to regret that description very much. "She's really not a pet," I said. "It's just that I'll be in trouble with the Volturi if she goes off by herself, so she lives here for now."

"I want the story anyway," said Maggie implacably.

I told it to her, although I skimped on the exact reasoning behind why I'd chosen to designate Gianna as a surrogate mother; better to let that sound to outside parties like a deeply held desire instead of a way to save Gianna's life. I'd cozied up to the idea of having a baby over time, but when I'd first said it, it hadn't been my favorite plan ever - but Maggie didn't have to know that. Even if I wasn't immune to her power, she couldn't detect lies by omission.

The Irish vampire was absolutely tickled by the entire thing. "So cute!" she cried when I'd signaled the conclusion of the explanation.

I decided it was wise to check whether Maggie could tell when I was lying, with something that no one, even my family, would be able to call me on. "She mostly looked scared, not cute, when I told her I was bringing her home," I said. "But once I got her calmed down it took her just twenty minutes to get packed." It had been eighteen, but Gianna hadn't timed it and wouldn't remember that precisely if she had.

Maggie didn't so much as twitch. "That's a long time," she pointed out.

"For a human it's not. I think she left some things behind, she was in such a hurry to get out."

"The Volturi must sure have scared her," cooed Maggie. Like she was talking about a kitten, who could be soothed with petting. Although I supposed a kitten wouldn't find a vampire's petting to be soothing at all; animals hated being around vampires.

"Yep," I said. "That'll happen when people you can't effectively oppose plot your death."

"I want to meet her," said Maggie decisively.

"I'm not sure that's a good idea..." I began. I hadn't explained about Ilario's fraternal status; as far as Maggie knew our coven consisted of four mated pairs, one miscellaneous newborn of unknown provenance, and one pet Gianna.

"I told you I wasn't going to eat her!" interrupted Maggie, and I gritted my teeth.

"Don't," I said, "interrupt me. That's a good way to seriously annoy me."

"Oh," said Maggie, eyes open very wide. "I'm sorry. But I'm not going to eat her, really. Why else would it be a bad idea?"

"Because Ilario - that's the newborn - probably wouldn't like it. He's very protective of her," I said. "And he knows you are not a lifelong vegetarian. He barely trusts himself around her, and he's never eaten a human since turning back in July."

"Are they mates, or whatever it is when one's a human?" asked Maggie. "Like you and Edward before you turned?"

"No, he's her brother," I said. "He was dying, and she wanted him saved, so we brought him up here and turned him."

"Awwww," said Maggie, obviously finding this outrageously adorable. "But she's yours. Aro gave her to you, not him. So I can meet her if you say so, right?"

I dragged a hand through my hair tiredly. "She's not really my pet," I said. "I don't boss her around or anything."

"Then her brother shouldn't either," said Maggie reasonably. "Why don't you ask her if she'll meet me?"

This... I had no ready objection to.

I heard Alice inside, asking Gianna if she wanted to be introduced to Maggie; of course my conversation had been audible to everyone except Gianna herself.

I heard Gianna dithering, and Maggie - fidgeting, swaying, head-turning Maggie - went completely still.

Gianna finally said, "All right, then," and Ilario grumbled and Maggie smiled -

My pet human, closely followed by her brother, walked out the back door -

And Maggie just stared.

Gianna rapidly became self-conscious under Maggie's fixed attention, and blushed, taking a little half step to get behind Ilario. Ilario stared Maggie down, growling in the back of his throat.

Maggie's gaze flicked to Ilario and became a perturbed glare. She leaned to try to see Gianna around him, but he got in her way, and she made a whining noise. Then Maggie whirled to face me.

"I'll fight you for her," she said.

There was a second's silence as everyone processed that. More family exited the house to get a closer look at the proceedings. "Um," I said eloquently. Ilario hissed.

"Or you could just give her to me if you don't want to fight," wheedled Maggie.

"Not wanting to fight is... only part of the problem with me giving her to you," I said. Maggie didn't appear to fill in the blanks herself, so I explained. "I know I used the word "pet" when I first told you about her, but I really shouldn't have, it was just a shorthand for the long story I just told you about why she lives with us. Which story, you'll remember, includes the part where I am not allowed to let her leave. Conveniently, she hasn't been inclined to try, but both I and she could be in a bad place with the Volturi if they show up and find that I'm not at least sort of supervising her. Even if she actually belonged to me, and I was comfortable doing whatever I wanted with that, there's Ilario." I pointed him out. "He's kind of attached to her. I don't think he likes the idea of you taking possession of his sister much. He probably wouldn't stop Gianna if she tried to leave - I'd need to do that myself - but unless she says otherwise he's acting as her protector."

Ilario hissed at Maggie again, confirming this guess.

"But I want her," said Maggie, as though nothing I'd said had sunk in at all.

The entire population of the house was scattered around the lawn at this point, watching things unfold. Edward turned to Alice. "Was I this ridiculous?" he asked her.

"You were worse," said Alice placidly.

"Huh?" said Maggie, looking their way.

Alice just smiled, the picture of innocence; Edward strolled around Ilario and Gianna to stand next to me.

Gianna peeped around Ilario's arm to look at Maggie; predictably, this meant that Maggie could see her too, and they held eye contact for a few seconds. Gianna was mostly confused, green eyes blinking more rapidly than usual; a flush gradually returned to her cheeks. Maggie's hands crept up towards her own face, where they clasped under her chin to accompany an expression that was half enraptured longing and half... anxiety of some kind, maybe just unfamiliarity with the situation. Or she was confused about wanting me to give her Gianna, however certain she was on the fact of the matter.

"I don't understand," said Gianna softly.

"You're so pretty!" exclaimed Maggie, addressing Gianna directly for the first time. Gianna's blush got darker, and Maggie started shifting her weight from foot to foot, perhaps restraining an urge to rush forward and pick up the object of her interest. She looked back to me. "I'll take good care of her," she pleaded.

Ilario was beginning to look confused himself. He turned his head marginally to be able to see Gianna, a dubious expression on his face. "Refresh my memory," he said slowly, in Italian, "as to how... exactly... this works. I thought she was trying to get permission to drink your blood, but..."

Gianna shrank away from her brother, taking two steps backward. Maggie didn't seem to understand Italian, but when she saw Gianna leaving the sphere of Ilario's protection, she held out her arms eagerly as though expecting Gianna to run straight to her. She didn't; instead she backed towards Carlisle and Esme, who were close to the house. Ilario didn't move a muscle once she started inching away from him, just stood there looking stunned.

Maggie dropped her arms. "What's going on now?" she asked, sounding lost.

Ilario spun in place and stalked out of the yard, passing me and Edward on his way out. "Look after my sister," he said through gritted teeth as he went.

"I didn't tell him," Gianna said frantically. Rosalie and Emmett had not-so-gently encouraged Maggie to join them for a walk, and Alice and Jasper were looking for Ilario to calm him down, while the rest of us talked to the resident human inside. "It - it honestly didn't seem to matter, I wasn't seeing anyone and wasn't looking, I didn't want to make some kind of huge civil rights issue out of my relationship with my brother if I didn't have to - so - he didn't know."

"He was surprised," acknowledged Edward. "I think he'll get over it... but this wasn't the best way for him to find out."

"It's not even as though I had a secret girlfriend all along and he caught us together!" cried Gianna. "I'd never seen Maggie once before today!"

"I don't think Maggie meant to hurt you, sweetheart," soothed Esme. "She didn't know."

"That said," I put in, "we need to figure out what to do about her. And Gianna, that's mostly up to you."

"But I don't know," said Gianna. "I don't know hardly anything about her - she just showed up - I mean, she's beautiful, of course she is, she's a vampire, but she also talked about me while I was standing right there like I was the family dog or something. And she used to eat people, she might do it again..."

"She is new to vegetarianism, and for that matter to thinking of humans as people," said Carlisle gently, "but if anything can keep her on course, you can, Gianna."

"That's a hell of a responsibility to put on her," I said. "Gianna, if Maggie kills people, she kills people - not you. She ate her first animal without knowing you existed; if she eats her eight thousandth human after knowing you exist, that doesn't make you any more guilty for that death than for the last seven thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine. Or however many." Gianna nodded mutely; Esme patted her on the back with an encouraging smile.

"That said," I went on, "if you want to be with her, or give it a try, or whatever, it still has to be here or at least compatible with me and Edward tagging along - I've had to visit the Volturi without extensive advance planning for it twice now. If I run into them again unexpectedly during the next ten months, I don't want you or me or anybody dying over you moving to Ireland when you're supposedly my "gift" from Aro. It was one thing to leave you behind while we went to South America, surrounded by people the Volturi know are our coven and at our known address; sending you off with Maggie would be something else entirely."

"I understand. I'm not planning to run away," Gianna said. "I've heard them conducting "trials" before... I don't want to be the defendant."

"And I, for one, am going to cast a solid no vote on tolerating a non-vegetarian in the family the way the Denalis are putting up with Laurent," I said. "This is not as sticky a situation as that: Gianna's a human and not subject to the same impulses. She won't fly into a rage if something happens to Maggie. Right?" I asked, looking to Gianna. "If I go outside and find that Maggie's kidnapped some Norwegians and is snacking on them and some are still alive and salvageable, it's okay with you if I have to attack her to make her quit?"

Gianna nodded, although she looked a little queasy.

"So... if Gianna decides to "give it a try" with Maggie, you propose that we de facto add Maggie to the family until she slips up?" asked Edward.

"Not "slips up"... anyone can do that. It's awful and we should avoid it. But once it actually happens, then it's not necessarily a great predictor of future behavior in vampires who've already eaten humans, which Maggie has. If she decides to eat humans again, then that's it."

Edward nodded. "The good news is that Maggie is very trustworthy once pinned down to a commitment. Her power didn't come out of nowhere - she has a solid respect for the truth and prides herself on honesty and keeping her promises."

"That's a relief," I said. "But this is all if Gianna decides she's up for it. You don't have to, Gianna," I told her. "You're free to accept or reject Maggie - now, or later, or whatever you like. I'm not entirely sure what will happen after you turn if you don't see her once you're a vampire, but at least for now, the ball's in your court - on turning as well, for that matter, although personally I still recommend it unless you really don't care for Maggie. But you don't have to."

"Thank you, Bella," said Gianna in a low voice.

Edward and I went looking for Maggie. She was still with Emmett and Rosalie, who were standing nearby looking respectively amused and bored while our visitor sat on the edge of a fjord staring dejectedly at the water.

When we approached, Maggie perked up at once and sprang to her feet. "What'd she say? Can I talk to her?"

"She hasn't decided yet," I said levelly.

Maggie actually hopped up and down in frustration. "This isn't fair! It's not supposed to be complicated! When Siobhan found Liam she didn't have to work hard to convince him to leave his old coven and even fight them off, let alone to be with her at all! Why'd she have to still be a human? Can't you just turn her and make it simple?"

"Not now, I can't," I said. "She can't carry a baby if she's a vampire, which I already told you she has to do if Aro's going to be kept from dealing some extra death. Anyway, that's her own choice too, if she wants to turn. She's liked the idea in the past, but if she decides she doesn't care for you, then she might decide against it specifically for that reason."

Maggie threaded her fingers between her brightly orange ringlets and moaned. "But she's supposed to be mine! Why shouldn't she want me? Aren't I nice?"

"That's been my impression, but Gianna's entitled to her own."

Emmett and Rosalie were moving off now that Edward and I were there to chaperone. Maggie flopped onto her back, as though about to make an angel impression in the rock. (I decided to see later if that was something I could do practically or if it would be inefficient.) "I don't know what to do!" she wailed. "I can't just not have her, that's not okay at all."

"You might want to ask Alice for help," I suggested. "Edward needed instructions on how to approach me, and that worked out. But even if she gives you guidelines and you follow them all perfectly, I can't guarantee you that Gianna will be interested."

"Well, where's Alice, then?" asked Maggie gamely.

"Back at the house, now," said Edward. "She left Jasper and Ilario to talk by themselves."

Maggie ran towards the house, but Edward got in her way. "Gianna hasn't made up her mind yet," he said. "I wouldn't advise you to show up where she is until that's changed. Alice is on her way here."

Maggie pouted, but stomped her way back to the edge of the fjord to wait for Alice. The little spiky-haired vampire arrived a few seconds later, and said, "So, I don't believe we've been properly introduced! I'm Alice, and it's nice to meet you, Maggie."

"Nice to meet you too," said Maggie. "What do I have to do?"

"First of all," said Alice, "don't eat anybody. Gianna is quite forgiving, but that also means she'll forgive Bella if you eat someone and Bella kills you, and then where would you be?"

"...Dead, presumably," said Maggie, flicking her eyes in my direction. I actually doubted I could beat Maggie in a one-on-one fight to the death, since she was a lot older and more experienced than I was and that could overwhelm the advantage of newborn strength, but of course I wouldn't be alone if it came to that.

"Right, and then that wouldn't be at all conducive to you and Gianna living happily ever after," said Alice reasonably. "So don't eat anybody. And you really need to work on the thing where you talk about or to Gianna like she's not a person. You've got way more leeway than Edward had when he was trying to court Bella, but it's not infinite. Don't act or talk like Bella owns Gianna. Don't act like the only obstacles to you carrying Gianna over the horizon to have your way with her are Bella or Ilario or any of the rest of us - what Gianna wants has to matter to you too. Get on Ilario's good side if you can or at least make a sincere effort. Gianna cares what he thinks, and he's only going to stay unsettled by the revelation he got today for a few more hours, tops."

Maggie hadn't been present for Gianna's explanation of how her brother had reacted, so I had to explain that when the redheaded vampire protested confusion. Then Alice picked up again with more tips.

"You will have to be very careful with her upon being actually allowed to touch her," Alice said. "You haven't had to handle any creature with a heartbeat intending to let it live before, at least since you turned. But you know they're very easy to hurt. Problem is, it actually matters - to you, even - if you hurt Gianna. She's fragile. Don't break her."

"Of course I'd be careful!" cried Maggie.

"In more than half the futures where she decides to give you a chance, she winds up with a broken bone or worse inside a week," said Alice flatly. "In ninety percent of futures where you injure her enough that she bleeds, you kill her." Maggie's jaw dropped. "This isn't a simple matter, Maggie," Alice continued relentlessly. "You can never stop being careful. You have to always, always pay very close attention and exercise very careful control. One slip is enough to damage her. Two in close succession is enough to kill her at your own hands."

Maggie whined. "I don't want to hurt her," she whispered.

"Then you have to be careful, constantly, without exception," said Alice. "If you want to pet her hair, you have to make sure you don't crush her skull. If you want to hold her hand, you have to make sure you don't shatter her knuckles. Et cetera. Even if you don't get to the point of injury, you can cause her pain very easily, so it's not like handling a flower or a piece of paper or something that will be fine as long as you don't cause any visible damage. You cannot, in a burst of affection, hug her as tight as you possibly can."

Maggie hung her head. "I understand."

"Future's solidifying a bit in favor of her being okay," said Alice. "Not all the way, though. It should go without saying that if you seriously hurt Gianna, Ilario will do his best to kill you and he will have help."

"Well, and he should, if I hurt her!" exclaimed Maggie. "I won't I won't I won't I won't."

"That's better," said Alice, and Maggie brightened a little. "I think that's enough don'ts. She's going to like it when you sing," Alice supplied with a smug little grin.

Maggie beamed. "I can sing. I can sing all the time if she wants. I know enough songs to fill up a whole year without repeating myself."

"And I foresee cuteness if you let her teach you Italian," Alice said.

Maggie nodded eagerly, waiting for more, but that was apparently it for common threads among Alice's happy visions; the tiny psychic shrugged.

"You can't leave with her," I told Maggie. "If Gianna says she wants you around, Esme's the person to ask about rooming arrangements."

Maggie looked desperately at Alice. "What's she going to say?" she squeaked. "I didn't know any of this before, I just looked at her and - and my brain was full of exclamation points. I didn't even know what was going on, let alone what to do about it. I don't think I made a very good first impression. Is she going to want me to go away forever? I don't know if I can!" She wrung her hands. "What if she says I have to go away and I can't even do that and then Ilario kills me and then later she's a vampire and it turns out that she can't ever love anybody but me? Then she'd be alone forever and she'd be sad!"

"And you'd be dead," I added helpfully.

"That too!" said Maggie. "But I don't know how I could just go home to Ireland when she's - she's right there."

"Edward, any tips?" I asked, glancing at my husband.

"Well, it took me longer to realize what I was dealing with than it's taken Maggie," he chuckled softly, "and I had a sister to send to intercede with you on my behalf."

"But if you know anything that could help," Maggie pleaded. "I can't think of anything more important than making this work."

He pursed his lips. "When I've had to be away from you," he said, addressing his statement to me but obviously intending that Maggie hear, "what helped me tolerate it was knowing that you were all right. I... didn't do well when I didn't know that." Alice nodded emphatically; I supposed he'd been dramatically out of sorts when I'd been kidnapped.

"I could occasionally call you and let you know Gianna's safe, even if she wants you gone," I told Maggie.

"That would be... better than not..." said Maggie unhappily, apparently reluctant to positively label any state of affairs where Gianna wanted her gone.

Alice and Edward both jerked their heads up simultaneously, and Maggie startled with a small eep noise. "She's made up her mind," announced Alice.