Chapter 24: Delivery

Sue got worse.

Every day, she was visibly more pregnant, and not just to vampire eyes. I hung around in Harry's shack when she drank her human blood, as did Harry. As I'd suspected, werewolf blood was not palatable to her revised sense of taste; she was able to stand the blood of inactive carriers of the gene, like Billy, but preferred typical humans' offerings. Charlie was the first donor, stuck and inexpertly drained by a wolf in Rachel's pack who'd spent a few months in nursing school before droppping out. Someone in Rachel's pack would come let us know when it was all safely consumed and we could be in the room again, but there wasn't much to be done.

Sue didn't move around much. She was getting thinner and spindlier everywhere but her belly, which became huge - too huge. She was constantly hungry. Mostly she wanted eggs, but we made her eat anything that we thought might help - spinach, assorted meat, anything loaded up with starch and sugar for quick cheap energy. She was usually hungry, so it wasn't too hard to make her eat. Between meals, she drank a constant stream of juice, and occasionally puked.

The baby started breaking her ribs. It was hard to tell, without any fancy medical equipment or knowhow, whether any given snap was a new rib or an already broken rib fractured in a new place; we stopped counting, after a while.

She decided to name the baby "Cody".

Since she was quite confident that it was a boy, she let Harry unilaterally pick a backup girls' name, which he did with some obvious mixed feelings; he settled on "Maya". I commented that they sure liked names with four letters, and he nodded, but his mind was entirely somewhere else.

It should have been a cute and touching thing to learn that, yes, Harry really was supposed to be with his wife forever - but "forever" was looking to be cut short. Sue sometimes just outright lost consciousness. It was only for a few minutes at a time, but it never failed to send Harry into a panic. Even when she was awake or in a normal sleep, he wasn't in good shape. He paced the house. He gingerly held Sue's hand, terrified of injuring her and giving her overtaxed body more to keep up with. He made appeals to every non-wolf on the reservation who Rachel couldn't convince to donate blood, succeeding only once but redoubling his efforts every time she passed out again or made a face at a bowl of animal blood.

There wasn't really much for me to do to help her. I told Harry absolutely everything that Nahuel and Huilen had told me, and had no further expertise available. Sue was adamant that I not go home - if baby Cody-or-Maya was going to chew its way out of its shell, it might serve to have a vampire present to get that part over and done with faster so Sue could get started turning. Wolves' teeth and claws were sharp enough to cut vampire skin, and could probably break the shell, but they didn't have the necessary dexterity in that form to do it carefully.

I searched high and low in the family home in Forks, and eventually did find a kit with medical equipment. I didn't recognize most of it, but found a few syringes that looked like the ones Ilario had been turned with. I took them and then had nothing useful to do until the baby of doom decided to come along. Mostly I loitered, wished Edward were there, and let Seth distract himself from his mother's plight by telling me all the pack drama.

"Sam's in Becky's pack now, so I think Leah's feeling a little better about being a wolf," he said one afternoon. We were wandering along the beach. "He took longer to decide than most of us, but I think maybe he was just being nice to Leah, going with Becky." I hadn't spoken to Becky or anyone in her pack since arriving. They were sticking to the half of the reservation that didn't contain the Clearwater house, having come to a very uneasy agreement about letting Cody/Maya live given that he or she wasn't doomed to be hellspawn.

"Well, I wouldn't expect his imprinting on Emily to make him hate Leah," I said. "Heck, Becky split the entire pack by countering the Alpha voice over a disagreement with Rachel and I don't think they hate each other. Regular love isn't as powerful as the magic kind, but it's something."

"I don't think Sam does hate her, but Leah feels like it," said Seth.

"Wouldn't all the mindreading you guys get up to simplify this question rather a lot?"

"There's a lot of us. It's a little easier now that there's only half as many, but there's a lot to keep track of, and lots of echoes. Leah didn't like to listen to Sam at all, so she didn't try to check whether he hated her, I guess."

"How do you feel about imprinting?" I asked him. "It's, what, five of the guys who have done it now?"

"Yeah," Seth said. "I don't think I want it. It seems to mess stuff up."

"Jared's didn't," I pointed out, naming the boy who'd fallen for a classmate with a preexisting crush on him.

"No, his didn't," acknowledged Seth. "But all the others did at least a little. Sam was just worst."

"What about the guy who fell for the girl from Forks?" I asked. "What'd that do? I didn't get a lot of details."

"Her dad is kind of racist," said Seth. "He doesn't like that she's dating him because he's not white, and she can't tell him why she's doing it, so he thinks it's to annoy him."

"Yikes. I hope her boyfriend can keep from ripping her dad's head off."

"It's been close, once," Seth said seriously. "It's really hard for some of us to keep our cool. We're supposed to protect human life, that's the point of us, but then we get all this temper."

"Is it getting easier over time?" I asked.

"Yeah," Seth said, "and we can all heal really well and Rachel's been smart about making sure that when we're having a hard day we're away from people who aren't in the pack. I'm handling it okay, better than some people."

I nodded. "You seem pretty mellow in general. You can even stand being around me and the scent of evil, minty flowers."

"It's good that I can, because now my dad's a vampire too and my mom's... going to be," said Seth, troubled again. The point of this walk had been to distract him...

"I'm hoping I can eventually convince my dad to turn," I said, instead of speculating as to how a half-vampire would smell to a werewolf.

"How come?" asked Seth.

"Well, he can't be one of you guys, and he can't be a half-vampire, and humans - regular ones - are -" Bringing up human mortality seemed like a bad conversational topic to the kid with the dying mom, for all that she might have a better chance of escaping it than my less-dramatically withering parents. "Just not as awesome."

"I do like most things about being a wolf," said Seth philosophically, and then he added, "Want to race?"

He phased, and we raced up the deserted beach - I won by a hair. Rachel was faster than me, but also faster than most wolves.

When I next stopped by to check on Sue, she was worse.

She was worse every time I looked at her, and it managed to surprise me, every time.

"How about this idea," I said to Sue, after I'd been kicking about the reservation for a little over a week.

"If it involves calling your husband, the answer is no," Sue said sharply.

"It doesn't," I said. "Or doesn't have to, anyway. But Nahuel was born not just healthy, he was ambulatory - he lived for three whole days without any help or care at all in the middle of the jungle and was perfectly unharmed when Huilen was able to move around again. You're out of human blood donors who can safely give you more to drink, you're passing out all the time, you have goodness knows how many broken ribs - if it gets your spine or manages to detach the placenta, he could wind up killing himself."

"I'm listening," said Sue guardedly.

"C-section," I said. "One big cut, pull the baby out shell and all, and then start turning you because even if you magically stopped being pregnant right now I'm not sure how you'd hold up long term, as weak as you've gotten. I don't have the resources to put you in a coma, but that won't make turning ineffective, just more unpleasant. Me or Harry can break the shell - holding breaths as necessary with plenty of warning, instead of maybe being surprised by it chewing its way out and making the room smell like your blood while we're inhaling. The baby will be premature, but it should be okay."

"I've been pregnant for three weeks now," Sue said, "out of a pregnancy that's supposed to last a month. That's not just a little bit premature, that's like inducing labor in the second trimester."

"At the end of the second trimester, and - we don't know how these things decide that it's time to start gnawing on their moms," I said. "We do know that Nahuel was not just a little more advanced than a human infant when he was born. We do know that your midsection is big enough to hold a pretty good-sized baby, or two - we aren't talking about extracting something two inches long without well-defined internal organs. Since there's plenty of care available for your baby, if it turns out to need it - it doesn't have to find its own food in the middle of nowhere or anything - I honestly think that it would be safer for both of you to operate now rather than deliver it in an emergency later."

Sue looked at me suspciously, and then the baby kicked her again. One more tiny snap.

She winced.

"Fine," she said under her breath.

The logistics were these:

I would perform the cut, with a scalpel pilfered from Carlisle's medical kit. Harry didn't think he could manage to wield the implement against his wife, even for its beneficial purpose. Syringes - full of Harry's venom, not mine - were at the ready on her bedside table. When I'd pulled out the shell with the baby in it, I was to break it, while Harry would inject her. I'd described for his benefit what I'd seen of Ilario's turning, and he knew where to aim.

"There's no anaesthesia for the surgery," Harry fretted, while I was dousing the scalpel in rubbing alcohol for a probably-unnecessary sterilization.

"Harry," I said. "You're going to turn her. If you're going to worry about having no anaesthesia, at least worry about that, not a cut." He nodded morosely.

Their children were going to hold onto her arms and legs so she didn't thrash too far and throw off my aim. After she was shot up with venom, we'd move her to the shack to finish up the transformation without human prey nearby. She had all the advance information, so there was every reason to expect her adjustment to be as smooth as mine. Better than Ilario, who'd learned that vampires really were real when he was barely capable of keeping his eyes open; better than Harry, who'd known all the myths but placed no stock in any of them until the moment his werewolf daughter sprang.

There was every reason to be optimistic, but the mood as we assembled in that close little room that stank of ill health was a dim one. Still, Leah dutifully took hold of her mother's ankles and Seth grabbed her wrists. I clutched my scalpel, Harry had a syringe in each hand, and we waited for Sue to give us the go-ahead.

I held my breath.

In the back of my mind, some little voice was screaming, This is not the way of things! You are not a doctor! You don't know what you're doing at all! You could kill Sue - you could kill her baby - Harry's never been near human blood at all since turning, what if he reacts to more than the smell and holding his breath won't do? What if - what if - do a safer thing -

But this was the safer thing, even if it had me holding a knife, even if it had me acting instead of waiting.

And I hushed that little voice, and looked into Sue's eyes.

"Go," she said.

I had no idea what I was doing.

It wasn't hard to cut her open, but I was trying to do it with the sharpness of the scalpel more than the brute force that would have let me pry her open with my bare hands, and it wasn't a balance I was familiar with. It was hard to ignore her labored breathing, her periodic screams, Seth's small whine, and the sudden notion that if anything would cause a werewolf to phase uncontrollably it might be witnessing their mother inexpertly carved up by a vampire.

I'd found time to borrow a computer and look up whatever I could on C-sections, which told me more than I needed to know about the etymology of the term and less than I needed to know to get a half-vampire out of Sue.

The scalpel wasn't sharp enough to cut the shell, so that told me where to stop, at least. I made a big crescent-shaped incision, not expecting to be able to get something roundish and nigh-indestructible out of a straight line. When I set down the instrument and tried to grab the shell, trying to hurry, and yanked, Sue's entire body jerked up with it. The shell was embedded. I'd let up the pulling soon enough to avoid breaking her spine, but it couldn't have been good for her already splintering ribs.

She howled again, and I could hear Leah grinding her teeth. I picked up the scalpel again and tried to cut away more flesh from the shell, but it was no good, it was stuck on all sides. Sue's heart started stuttering, and there was blood everywhere.

If I couldn't get the shell out, I had to open it while it was still attached.

"Breathe, Mom," pleaded Seth, his eyes screwed shut.

My hands were strong, but they were not sharp.

My teeth were sharp, but they were in my mouth, and there was so much blood, and I knew that one taste would be the end of Sue.

I reached over her, pried Harry's mouth open, and ripped one of his canines from his gums.

While Harry hissed with pain, I swiped his tooth over the shell, then rinsed it in the alcohol I'd used to sterilize the scalpel and handed it back to him. He put it back in his mouth before any of the non-vampires in the room had even figured out what I was doing, and then there was a break in the shell that I could force my fingers into and lever open.

Inside was a tiny, warm baby boy with a heartbeat like a buzz, in a bath of viscous, clear fluid that smelled a lot like vampire venom. Sue started gurgling.

I reached in and picked him up. With my reserved air, I told Harry, "Now." The fluid stung my skin a little, but dried quickly when exposed to air and didn't seem to have done any permanent damage.

Harry lifted the first syringe and thrust it into Sue's heart.

Cody bit me with his full complement of teeth the moment after his mother started howling at the burn of the venom, even as Harry picked up the second syringe and emptied it into the secondary pulse points. She didn't need to keep still anymore, so Leah and Seth let her go, and Harry was holding her instead. He told her that he loved her, but couldn't talk much - until her blood was all dry he couldn't replenish his air without leaving her side.

The bite hurt - a lot. I jerked Cody's face away from my arm reflexively, and Leah must not have liked the way I was handling him, because she grabbed him from me at once. I rubbed the tiny double crescent wound on my wrist, which was whitening and puffing up with the scarring venom. There was not going to be any way to hide that. I'd at least have a while to think of stories.

"Leah, he's -" I began, but Cody had already chomped on her thumb. She dropped him.

Leah screamed, which, for someone who had just been bitten by a venomous creature, was normal. Her thumb was turning green, which was not normal.

It was only to be expected that werewolves would react differently to vampire venom, and not in a good way. I didn't wait to see what would happen if the substance spread: I seized Leah's hand and pinched her thumb off.

The severed thumb fell to the floor and Leah phased, snarling; the nightstand fell over and a lamp broke when she wound up with a hind leg in the wrong place. She was missing a digit from the paw corresponding to the one with the injured thumb, but it was healing over rapidly, and was not an abnormal color. She only narrowly missed stepping on her baby brother, who didn't appear to have been injured by his fall one bit and was happily staring up at her furry neck. He picked up the thumb, put it in his mouth, and then discarded it, uninterested. A burst-open sleeve from Leah's shirt drifted down and landed on his face, and he giggled.

Seth, who'd witnessed the entire sequence of events, had the presence of mind to drag Cody away from Leah by his feet, preventing him from biting again. Leah panted, whined, and finally got herself furless again. She grabbed the less bloody of the two pillows on the bed to cover herself with (the blankets being complete losses). Seth, leaving Cody burbling happily on the floor, ran to get her replacements.

Sue was not nearly as quiet a turner as Harry had been. She screamed, wordlessly, incoherently, possibly even ignorant of Harry's presence.

I was already going to have to explain one scar, and at least Cody's bites wouldn't leave me permanently deprived of any extremities. I picked up the baby - one hand under his head, one under the rest of his body, positioning him in a way least likely to present a chewtoy target. I carried him out of the blood-soaked room, and downstairs to the bassinet that Seth had pulled out of the attic the day before, where I placed him. Leah followed me down the stairs, having gotten herself dressed. Seth went past us, murmuring, "I'll let everyone know how it went."

"Can you breathe here?" Leah asked me in a low voice.

I took a small taste of the air, testing it. The smell was faint - just a few droplets of mostly-dry blood on myself and the little of it that wafted down the stairs. In a pinch, the fact that Sue was Harry's mate ought to let me pull in self-defense instincts the way I had in the Amazon Basin. "If I have to," I told her. I heard Harry, presumably with Sue in tow, leaping out the window to carry her to the less inhabited shack.

"Dad isn't going to want to leave Mom while she's... for the next few days," Leah said. "I'm, uh, missing a thumb, now. I don't know if I heal well enough to grow it back, especially since it looks like it's healing to a stump. So I don't think I can really handle Cody until he learns not to bite people. Same with Seth. And if he bites somebody who's not a wolf they'll just... like Mom."

"Right," I said, beginning to guess where she was going with this.

"Can you... babysit my brother?" she asked tentatively. "Just until Dad can take over."

"All you have to do is keep away from his teeth," I said. "He's pretty durable - more than you are, almost as much as I am. I doubt you're going to hurt him if you handle him strangely to avoid getting chomped. Besides, I'd need to avoid getting bitten too." I pointed out my new scar.

"The risks are different," insisted Leah. "You grabbed Dad's tooth right out of his mouth without explaining - he could've bitten you."

"If I'd used mine, I would've been too distracted by the pain to make the cut carefully until it healed and made it hard to put the tooth back. I didn't have enough air to explain my idea so Harry could do it with one of my teeth. Anyway, he didn't bite me."

"But you are in way less danger from a Cody bite," Leah said.

"Remember the part where Nahuel lived on his own in the jungle for three days until Huilen could take care of him? You could just leave him in the bassinet and feed him blood or infant formula or whatever you decide to give him, with a long miniature ladle or a baster or something, and count his toes once in a while for contact. In three days Sue'll be turned and his parents can take care of him, and in a week or two he'll be talking and you can tell him that there is No Biting Allowed."

Cody chose this moment to fall asleep. He was a rather cute baby, really. He already had a thin dusting of black hair, and he was standard Native American colored, not Harry's ecru. "Please," said Leah. "I'm missing my thumb - I mean, thank you for getting it off, otherwise it'd probably be my whole arm or I'd be dead or something - but there's only so many amputations I can take."

"If you do it right you shouldn't need anything else amputated," I said. "I want to go home to my husband. I want to go home to my husband a week ago."

"Damn it, can't you ever do anything that's unambiguously helpful?"

I took a moment to flip through what things I'd done impacted Leah's life and how ambiguous their helpfulness might have seemed. Activated her - and her fiancé, who'd dumped her for her favorite cousin as a result. Saved her father from the injuries she'd inflicted - by turning him into a vampire and sending him away from home. Delivered her baby brother - by turning her mother, too, when Leah found vampires particularly unpleasant to be around. Saved her from some unknown green fate when Cody bit her - by removing her thumb.

So I could see why Leah might find my help a little... mixed.

But that didn't really explain why she wanted me to babysit.

"I do tend to leave complications in my wake," I said. "But that doesn't make me a great choice for a nanny. Neither does the fact that I'm going stir-crazy over my husband being on another continent."

"I'm worried Seth's going to try to pick Cody up if nobody else does, and I don't want him getting fanged to death," Leah said. "If one of us does get bitten, and our parents aren't here, and you aren't here, we don't have a lot of really fast, clean options for getting the gangrene off."

I threaded my fingers through my hair. This was fair. Knives existed and werewolves were pretty fast, but there would still be a few extra seconds of spreading venom, and some precision sacrificed if they hurried. "Seth isn't stupid," I said.

"But he's a kid," said Leah. "Which means he sometimes acts stupider than he is. Do you really think he's not going to try to put his old baby clothes on Cody, even if it means putting his hands too near those teeth?"

I could see Seth doing that. "So what you really want me to do is stop Seth from trying to babysit Cody, rather than babysit Cody myself."

"Well, you could do it by making Seth unnecessary," Leah said.

"Leah, I want to go home. I want to say goodbye to my dad, buy plane tickets, and go try to find a way to tell my husband that we can possibly have our own baby without killing our surrogate, without explaining about Cody in particular."

"Wait, what? You're going to do this again?"

"If the surrogate, who wants to be a vampire anyway, agrees, I'm going to do it again, yes - surrounded by well-equipped doctors who know what's going on with anaesthetics all ready to go. Old, experienced vampire doctors, who have the advance expectation of the C-section and the knowledge that the shell's attached to the walls of the uterus and whatnot."

"Okay..." said Leah. "So you won't help?"

"If helping here means spending more than another half hour or so not taking steps to go home, and it's not a real emergency - sorry, going to have to say no," I said apologetically. "If helping means giving you a couple hundred dollars for baby stuff, or answering a couple quick questions about vampires or half-vampires, or killing a couple elk and harvesting their blood for your baby brother so you don't have to do more of that for a couple days, that's fine, that's quick, but that's not what you seem to want."

"I do have one question," Leah said.


"What's... Dad wouldn't tell us anything about what turning was like. And now Mom's in the middle of it. What's happening to her?" Leah paused. "Do I even want to know?"

"You probably don't," I said. "It's not something you'll need to prepare for yourself, obviously. But remember - when it's over, it's over. In a few days she'll be fine, it's not the same as if the same sensation were somehow inflicted on someone who was all human throughout. Beyond turning her into a vampire it's not that much of a life-altering experience. In a few more days she'll be fit for mortal company - your dad will be able to bring Cody to see her sooner than that; he doesn't smell like food or like a danger the way Billy or you would, respectively."

"He does smell sort of nice," Leah agreed absently, looking at the sleeping baby. "Like fruit, maybe."

"Well, if he smells like food to you, that's way less dangerous than if he smelled like food to either of your parents," I said. "The sorts of provocations that make a wolf go berserk aren't the same ones that affect a young vampire."

"What's he smell like to you?" asked Leah.

"Why are you stalling me? You have, or can get, my e-mail address," I said. "They have Internet in Norway."

Leah seemed stumped by this question. Finally, she said, "Rachel's been the one keeping in touch with you on behalf of the whole pack."

"That doesn't mean you can't too, if you feel like it," I said, shrugging. "I would need a lot more pen pals before e-mail would start to take up a significant chunk of my time - I can read a screen of text almost instantly and type a few hundred words per minute. Although I'm sort of puzzled about why you'd want to talk to me at all. Rachel told me to stay far away from you because I was a "herald of all things awful in your life", after Sam imprinted."

"That's exactly why I want to talk to you," she burst out. "After Sam imprinted, I couldn't talk to anybody in the pack, because they were all basically on his side, as if I couldn't feel what he felt about Emily too and as if everyone else couldn't feel what I was going through. Even Seth! But I could talk to Emily. But then we had one stupid fight about her borrowing my shampoo, of all the things we could have fought about, and she ran to Sam and we're only starting to carefully be acquaintances and we're never going to be best friends again, ever. So I talked to Mom, but that wasn't that great to begin with because I was the reason her husband was gone in the first place, and then it turns out that she's been seeing him in secret for weeks, and now they're going to be hunky-dory forever. Who am I going to talk to? Somebody too old to phase? Somebody who hasn't got the gene who doesn't really get things even if they have them explained fifty times?"

"So... I'm outside the situation enough that you can talk to me, but close enough to it that you don't have to keep awkward secrets or talk across gaps of understanding?" I filled in, tilting my head.

"Yeah. It's just barely enough to make up for the stench you've got."

"I also have a phone," I said. "I presume you can't smell me through it. But you shouldn't call it - you won't be able to tell when I'm alone. If you don't like e-mail, I'm willing to call you once in a while to talk. But not in the next day, which I hope to spend mostly on a series of planes, if you don't mind. I really, really want to go home."

"Is it like when the guys have to go a while without their imprints?"

"Sort of," I said, "but it goes in both directions. So not only am I standing here kind of inclined to curl up in a ball and whine because Edward's not here, I also know perfectly well that he is in Scandinavia feeling the exact same way and I don't like that. He doesn't even understand why I had to leave him alone. He's just trusting that it's something very important that he can't know about. Are we done? Can I go?"

"Sure," said Leah. "Sorry."

I did not feel that I needed any further permission from Leah to leave.

Seth and I passed each other while I left his house. I asked him if he knew where Charlie was, and he directed me to Billy's house. I walked right in without knocking - the door was half-open - and announced that I was leaving.

"So soon, Bells?" Charlie asked, while Billy looked at me with a guarded, but not hostile, expression.

"Yes, I'd really like to get home," I replied. "I'm sure some crisis or other will come up here that calls for my presence soon enough, and if nothing else, now that you know what the story is I may be able to visit just to visit - but for shorter periods, at least until Edward gets in on the secret one way or another and I can bring him along."

"Is that healthy, to be so... attached to him?" Charlie asked. He'd been caught up on the fine details of vampire psychology over the previous week, but still asked questions like that sometimes. I half expected him to ask if I'd ever tried to stop being a vampire.

"That's not really a useful question, since the attachment's not going away," I said, "and I wouldn't wish it away, if it could."

"Fair enough," sighed Charlie. "Keep in touch, Bells."

"I will."

I gave Billy a cordial nod, which he returned, and then went back outdoors, where I called Edward to find out where he was. This check-in turned, predictably enough, into a long conversation during which I ran all the way to the airport. Once there, I booked tickets to Helsinki and caught my plane.

Edward met me at the airport in Helsinki. The next six days were spent in a lovely, if rushed, tour of Scandinavia; we hit all the major tourist attractions and a few minor ones so I could account for having been gone as long as I had. I learned bits and pieces of Swedish and Finnish. I was able to go about in public without contact lenses, as my eyes were entirely amber: an unusual color, but not one unheard of in humans.

Edward noticed, stared at, and kissed the small bite marks on my wrist, but didn't ask.

Our travels went in a loosely westerly direction, and finally we drove up to our home. I wore extra-long sleeves to at least postpone the rest of the family's discovering that I had been bitten by a small venomous creature. There had been no good way to hide it from Edward, but nobody else inspected me with such regularity and thoroughness.

The first thing I noticed when we approached the house was the singing. It was Maggie, crooning something in Gaelic. She had a splendid voice; I could understand why Alice had predicted Gianna would appreciate it. When I got out of the car and looked, the Irish vampire - still gold-eyed - was sitting on a picnic blanket with Gianna in the backyard. The human was eating a sandwich, and looking at Maggie with considerably less ambivalence than she'd displayed when I'd last seen them together. The blush was still present, though. Maggie was entirely unselfconscious (not to mention incapable of blushing), and seemed confident in her voice and glad to be entertaining the object of her affection.

It was all so cute that I almost could have missed the patchwork of bruises spotting Gianna's skin.

I hadn't tried to handle any humans since becoming a vampire except Harry, who'd been starting to turn before I picked him up, and Sue, who I'd had every intention of grievously injuring to begin with. I didn't really know how hard it was, but it didn't seem like it could be that difficult - couldn't Maggie press too hard once, calibrate Gianna's fragility, and then back off enough to avoid the injury?

It didn't look like that was what had happened. The contusions were of a variety of ages - some hours old, still dark, and others yellowing. I didn't see any casts, splints, or even bandages, so the damage was limited, but there were so many bruises. I hadn't gotten one from Edward while I'd been human, that I recalled. Then again, I'd been clumsy enough that I'd been accustomed to having a variety of small injuries that I didn't necessarily remember getting... but I hadn't looked like I'd been painted.

However, the fact that Maggie was not quite gentle enough with Gianna didn't seem to have prevented them from growing adorably close or caused Ilario to break Maggie into gravel, so I decided that it wasn't any of my business. Maggie finished her song, then briefly deigned to pay attention to Edward and me. "Welcome home!" she called to us.

"Thanks!" I called back.

That was all Maggie had in her attention span for persons not Gianna, and she started another song. This one seemed to be in English, but it was so archaic, heavily accented, and full of regionalisms that I could make out about one word in three.

We checked in with the others of the family; everyone could have heard the car pulling up and seen us out the window or heard me speak to Maggie, but it was polite to speak face-to-face. I also had an interest in seeing whether Jasper remained distant and cool towards me. Harry had become less disconcerted by my unrecognizability. I hoped that it wouldn't cause a more lasting rift between me and Jasper.

Jasper was edgy, but not obviously upset. More tellingly, Edward seemed calm in talking to him, so he couldn't be thinking daggers at me. Alice complained good-naturedly that I'd gone invisible for longer than ever while away: "More than a week! But only when you weren't with Edward, for some reason," she said. "Maybe you're influenced enough by his decisions that it sheds light on what you're going to do, when you're together?"

I should have thought of that.

Alice couldn't see what I was doing if it involved wolves, but if she looked for Edward, and we weren't together, she'd find him easily. I could only be glad that she didn't make a habit of supervising him twenty-four hours a day and would assume that we were together during most unobserved hours - she'd probably already seen a suspicious amount of Edward all by himself wandering Scandinavia as though alone. Which he had been.

Damn Harry's carelessness. He could have announced to Eleazar in August that he wanted to move out to an unspecified location, and then Tanya wouldn't have called Carlisle and Alice wouldn't have looked for him. He could have asked someone, anyone, me or any other Cullen, whether it was safe for him to make love to his wife as though he hadn't just been turned into a vampire. If he'd gotten Sue pregnant anyway, I'd still have needed to travel to help out, but I would have had better information and timed accordingly - once I'd had the C-section idea I could have planned to be there for only a day or two.

Alice didn't seem suspicious, though, just gently teasing. I laughed, made a joke about how I couldn't concentrate on keeping my shield up nearly as well with Edward around, and excused us to our cottage.

When we got there, I said without preamble, "I think we might be able to safely have a half-vampire baby."

"What? How -" Edward began, and then he shook his head. "What can you tell me?"

I bit my lip. I hated not being able to tell him things. Hating that in and of itself, when it was in my power to tell all, was dangerous. So I hated Aro, instead. Once he was out of the picture I wouldn't need to.

I almost wished that Edward would just demand an explanation of me, making it so hard to keep the assorted secrets that I could judge it not worth the trouble. Or that he'd stumble across something, as Charlie had. But if I truly wished that I might as well spill all the beans - and that wasn't the best thing to do. I already had a little itch of worry in the back of my mind about the danger Charlie had walked into, although the wolves would look out for him if they could. Better not to add a similar one about Edward.

"I had an idea," I said, which was true. "Caesarean section - early in the pregnancy. Gianna probably couldn't expect to live through a whole month, but she could likely manage three weeks or so, especially if we turned her right after. And Nahuel was a really healthy baby when he was born. He had nobody taking care of him for three days and he was fine. A preemie half-vampire would probably be no more vulnerable than, say, a full-term or slightly early human baby, and would catch up quickly, as fast as they grow."

"That sounds sensible," said Edward, lighting up.

"One thing that has me worried is all those bruises, though," I said, as it occurred to me that they could in this sense be my business. "I'm guessing Maggie hasn't broken any bones or anything, since Gianna wasn't taped up that I could see, but having a lot of extra healing to do while trying to carry a half-vampire is... I don't know how it'd interact, but it couldn't be in a good way."

"I haven't been keeping up to date on that," Edward said. "But some of the bruises did look new, so if Maggie's getting more careful, it's not happening very fast. It's something we'd need to discuss with Gianna at least, and Maggie too, most likely."

"She'll probably need human blood to drink during the pregnancy," I said. "Nahuel can live on whatever if he decides to, but fetuses don't have that kind of volition..." I went on walking him through all the steps, including the possibility that the shell would only be vulnerable to vampire teeth and that it could grow attached to the uterus. I didn't pull in any evidence that I could only have gotten from Sue, although some of the mental leaps were a little tenuous and I had to frame everything with uncertainty. It wasn't obvious if Edward connected the dots (the blinking neon dots labeled "connect me!"), but he didn't mention it if he did.

Night fell, and Gianna was presumably asleep, so we put off bringing the subject up with her until the next morning.