Chapter 26: Little Witch

I read Elspeth's mind before Edward did.

This was mostly a coincidence: he was on an errand in town with Jasper at the time, out of range. They were trying to find a purveyor of forged documents so that Elspeth could be freely moved about the globe. Edward had to be along to help find such a person - existing contacts in Norway were thin on the ground. Jasper was there because his preferred method of handling such business relationships involved the application of artificial fear to discourage excessive inquisitiveness. I didn't care for that part, but I had other things on my mind and was still vaguely avoiding Jasper.

Meanwhile, Alice and I were having a photo shoot, taking pictures of Elspeth in different outfits against assorted backdrops so that when Renée could begin to see baby pictures, they'd seem to cover a couple of years of first-time-parent scrapbooking, not the few months it'd take her to rocket through infancy and toddlerhood.

"Um," said Elspeth, which was the sound she usually made when considering whether a proferred food item was acceptable to her. I'd been drawing on my residual knowledge of cooking to keep her fed; there was no real kitchen in the cottage, just an old fashioned fireplace with a pot hanging in it, so I did all the cooking in the main house and brought the food out to her. (Gianna had woken from her coma and I didn't particularly want Elspeth listening to her screams.) Elspeth did not much care for food - that, or my cooking was just not as good now that I found none of the ingredients appealing and could scarcely remember any part of the skill. Still, she would reluctantly eat copious amounts of things that passed muster once we'd coaxed her into trying them; she needed the fuel to grow as fast as she did.

"Are you hungry, Elspeth?" I asked her, swapping her sweater for a silly ruffled dress that Alice had bought her. We were taking most of our pictures indoors or against the backdrop of the plain sky, so the season wouldn't be readily detectable, and Alice - who I'd given relatively free rein with the just-for-show outfits - had selected items for all weathers.

"Um," said Elspeth again, and she placed her hand on my cheek.

The feeling was like running through a memory in chronological order, but it wasn't my memory. Too fuzzy to be post-turning, too complete to be pre-, and too painless to be from the middle of the process. Also, I was in the memory - my face, as it looked to those around me. After a moment, I realized: though I had no idea how or why, Elspeth was showing me her perspective on her own birth. The visuals were all there, although they didn't interfere with my real vision. It didn't come with sound or any other sensory tracks. There was just the picture of me leaning in and then Elspeth's vision wheeling to show the rest of the room.

And then the picture focused in on the blood from Gianna's cut.

"Ummmmm," elaborated Elspeth, putting her hand down. That was the sound she made when she had tasted a food and it appealed to her. As much as food food ever did, anyway.

"Elspeth," I said, "in our family, we do not drink human blood. The rest of us have to drink animal blood, but you don't have to do that. You can eat regular food." I didn't talk baby-talk to her; it wouldn't do any good to get used to that when we expected complete sentences back in just a few days.

"What's going on?" asked Alice, sounding lost and holding a flowery hat.

"We've got ourselves a little witch," I said, tickling my daughter and smiling. "A little witch who thirsts for human blood, but we will not be encouraging bad habits, no we will not." Elspeth giggled, apparently in spite of herself. Then she made a remarkably mature sort of face, one that would have looked like a disappointed authority figure on anyone but my two-day-old child.

"What'd she do? Is she telepathic?" asked Alice. "You acted like she'd asked you for something."

"Sort of. It was all visuals, no sound, no words - her own memory," I said. "But I definitely had the impression that when she remembered the bit about Gianna's blood, she wasn't asking after her auntie's welfare."

Alice chuckled. "Can I see if she'll show me something?" she asked, holding her arms out.

I gave her Elspeth, who didn't appear to know what she was meant to do. Eventually Alice took her hand and laid it against her cheek, the way Elspeth had done of her own accord when trying to communicate with me. "Ooh," said Elspeth, apparently comprehending, and Alice's eyelids fluttered while she processed the offered memory.

"So now you have three sources of vision," I said. "How's that working out for you?"

"Just a bit dizzying," murmured Alice. "She's very insistent on the blood thing. Maybe she thinks I'll give it to her if you won't."

"Ah, no you don't, Elsie," I said, retrieving her - and the intended hat - from Alice. "There will be no begging favors from others if you get a no from me."

"Pah," said Elspeth, disgruntled, and she tried to pull the hat away from me, but I got it onto her head and arranged her in a photogenic pose so Alice could snap the picture.

When Edward got home, not long after the photos for the day had all been taken, he noticed Elspeth's "voice" at once. He leapt into the cottage with a grin on his face that momentarily disrupted my ability to think, plucked Elspeth from her perch on the chair we'd last posed her in, and spun around once, holding her at arm's length. Alice slipped out to give us family time.

"Ee!" was her pleased response to this treatment, and when he brought her in closer, she planted her hand on his cheek, too, so before I could explain what was happening he was also the recipient of a memory.

He looked much less surprised than Alice had been, or me - either Alice had been thinking about it or Elspeth had, coherently enough that he'd expected it.

"What's she showing you?" I asked.

"The last time she saw me," he murmured. "She recognizes me."

"Lucky you," I laughed. "She was begging me and Alice for blood, earlier."

Edward's face changed, a moment after I said the word "blood". "Oh, that does seem... hm." He blinked. "If she dislikes human food that much..."

"She's two days old," I said. "This is, for her, old enough to express a preference. Doesn't mean she's also old enough to be given charge of her own diet. If she wants to hunt animals for herself when she's old enough to do that, I'm not going to stop her. That'd be kind of hypocritical. But let's not rule out the possibility that she's just being a baby and has yet to develop a taste for what she's offered."

"I suppose," he said.

"Ummmm," said Elspeth insistently, patting his cheek.

"There's mashed potatoes," I said, gesturing at the fridge we'd moved into the house to store Elspeth's food. I had cooked for the day in the early morning, before she woke up, so during her active period I wouldn't be distracted by putting together the meals. "She hasn't tried those yet."

Edward dutifully retrieved the tub of mashed potatoes, warmed them up in the microwave that had also been added to our dwelling, and offered Elspeth a forkful. She frowned at the starchy item, but disdainfully parted her lips and consented to taste it. Instead of making either of her typical noises, she placed her hand on Edward's cheek. He gave her another bite of the food.

"She approves?" I inquired, going to stand near them.

He nodded. "As much as she does of anything she's tried. I'm getting that as much from my talent as hers, though. It's a little tricky to decipher what she wants from the images alone."

"She doesn't have a lot to work with, if all she's doing is transmitting her own memories. But maybe she'll grow into more versatility," I speculated. "Interesting that she should be sticking to visuals while you work with an auditory channel..."

"I can see images from other people's minds," he said, "it just feels like I'm hearing them. Almost like synaesthesia."

"But I didn't feel like I was hearing Elspeth's memory." She was wolfing down potatoes, barely chewing them - she'd seemed to have a preference for softer foods, despite her vampire-piercing set of chompers. Possibly because she could swallow it faster and get the chore of eating over with.

"Maybe if you were aware of your shield, it would look visible to you," Edward said.

"How heritable is witchcraft, anyway?"

"Where there's data, it suggests that it does run in families... but it's skewed," Edward said. "For instance, Alec and Jane are biological twins and powerful witches, but if only one of them had had a talent, it's unlikely we'd ever have heard about the other."

I nodded. "But you said Charlie's thoughts are indistinct to you. That's sort of related to what I do."

"It is. And Aro's sister was a witch, after she turned - according to Marcus's memories, he turned her on the suspicion that Didyme's talent would be as useful as his own."

Elspeth finished the potatoes, having swallowed them nearly as fast as Edward could bring the fork to her mouth. Her quick metabolism was already burning them for fuel; there was no visible protrusion in her belly. "What did Didyme do?" I asked Edward, plucking her from his arms selfishly to cradle her. He looked at the pair of us with a pleased gleam in his eye.

"She had an aura of happiness," he said, plainly not thinking very hard about the topic of conversation as he reached out to stroke Elspeth's cheek. "Couldn't turn it off, couldn't direct it, couldn't do anything with it but project it everywhere she went. She had a lot of admirers, actually, but Marcus was the only one whose interest she returned."

"That sounds pleasant, I suppose, but not that useful by Volturi standards," I mused. "How'd Aro react to that?"

"I haven't heard Marcus dwelling on it, and as I said, I've never caught Aro thinking of her," said Edward, still distracted by our baby's smile. Elspeth blinked at him with her mesmerizingly brown eyes. "She's so beautiful," he murmured.

I handed her back to him. "One of these days I'm going to stop thinking I'm the center of the universe," I teased.

That broke his stare; his eyes flicked up to meet mine. "She's half you," he said. "With your eyes - your old eyes. Can you blame me?"

"Not a bit. I'm awfully pleased with her too, you know. Just - you take very readily to fatherhood," I said. "I knew it appealed to you, but watching it happen is something new to integrate into how I think of you."

He leaned over and kissed me, then returned to staring at Elspeth. She stared back, obligingly enough. I chuckled, then asked, "How did the errand go?"

"Well enough," he said. "We found a fellow in Oslo, and got Norwegian papers claiming that Elspeth is a year old. There are more on order, which will be finished in a few weeks, claiming two, three, five, seven, ten, thirteen, and sixteen, on the theory that this will cover enough ages to get along with during the time we're likely to spend here. That being limited by Carlisle's ability to pass for his supposed age at work, of course. Jasper's competent to add home-taken photographs as she approaches those apparent ages. He was working on the one-year-old version when I left him."

Elspeth could probably pass for a smallish one-year-old already. She was roughly baby-sized, but slimmer, more alert, and toothier than any brand-new human in the world. If I had to explain her tininess to someone confused about her claimed yearling status, I supposed it wouldn't even be a lie to claim that she was born prematurely.

"I feel like she ought to be getting some social interaction with people outside the family, at least once she's talking," I said. "But it's not safe to give her any real continuity, is it? Someone would notice. She'd either like the people she met and miss them, or not like them and not get much out of having met them."

"It's a big family, love," he pointed out. "Especially if Maggie and Gianna - and Ilario - stay. It might do for the time being." Ilario's original plan to go with his sister and live near Rome was not meshing well with Maggie's affection for Ireland. There had been other topics looming larger in their minds, of late, but there had still been occasional spats about it. I expected Gianna to be made tiebreaker or the engineer of compromise once she woke up, and it might be that she'd split the difference by announcing that she wanted to remain in Norway. They weren't at all unwelcome, although it would make our group kind of unwieldy.

I kind of wanted to invite Charlie over, but even Edward didn't know that he was in on the masquerade. Charlie had been sort of passive-aggressive about this in his various e-mails, lamenting that he didn't get to hold his new granddaughter. I might need to find an excuse to bring her there, in spite of my prior resolution not to run to La Push at the drop of a hat anymore. Maybe she could make friends with Cody, too, and have a peer of her own species. I didn't really want to take her to Chile to meet Nahuel. He was nice enough, but as far as I knew he had no plans to permanently abandon his preferred diet, and that wasn't the sort of influence I hoped to bring into her life. I didn't want anyone in Elspeth's life to normalize murder in her hearing until she had something resembling critical thinking faculties.

Elspeth put her hand on Edward's cheek again. "She wants you to read to her," he announced. "Interesting... it was an image of when you read to her last night before she went to sleep, but there was a feeling attached to it, not just the picture."

"That's a request I'm perfectly happy to oblige," I said, and I plucked the top book off the stack of reading material I'd raided from Carlisle's library, accepted Elspeth from Edward's arms, and began to read.

The subsequent morning, in the wee hours when Elspeth was still asleep, I went up to the main house to whip up a few more batches of miscellaneous food. I could hear Gianna from a mile away. I could hear Maggie too, singing brokenly, trying to soothe the unsoothable, but Gianna was far louder.

I tried to ignore it, just focused on the oats I was boiling and the chicken I was trying to overcook until it would be soft enough to suit Elspeth, but Gianna was hard to hedge out.

I was halfway through stirring syrup into the oatmeal when she abandoned wordless screaming for some very underhanded wordy screaming.

"If you love me," I heard Gianna cry, her voice already taking on the glassy quality of a vampire's. "Please, please, if you ever loved me."

"Baby," whispered Maggie, breaking off the song.

"It hurts, it hurts," sobbed Gianna. Her spine - which Carlisle had broken as soon as she came out of the coma - had healed hours ago. "If you love me you'll make it stop."

That was low, really. I'd begged to die too, but I hadn't impugned the quality of Edward's love when he'd refused. Maggie whined, deep in her throat. "It's mostly over," she said, frantic. I could hear Gianna thrashing around, Maggie trying to find purchase and hold her. Was Ilario even in the room, or had he left, unable to tolerate the spectacle? "Baby, you're almost done, I promise, I promise -"

"Make it stop," Gianna begged. "I never asked you for anything - anything - this is the one thing I want - if you love me -"

Maggie sounded like she was trying to cry, but she couldn't, of course. "I love you. I love you so much, my Gianna, and I can't kill you, I could never, I wish I could make the hurting stop right now any other way but I can't, baby, but I love you, please, you have to know that. It's almost over." Then, a quaver in her voice that I barely detected, she sang again, and Gianna gave up on arguing and just howled.

I gritted my teeth a little. The screaming was bad enough, but I also knew what it signified, and that was worse. It was all well and good to know that Gianna would wake up a glorious immortal and return in joy every moment of misery she was causing Maggie now, and get back every one she was enduring by fire herself. She was still suffering.

I packed up the sweetened oatmeal. Gianna was hyperventilating. I pulled the chicken out of the oven, and replaced it with a pan of assorted vegetables to roast. Gianna started repeating Maggie's name, over and over and over, too fast and desperate and strung together to sound like she even intented to start a complete sentence. Maggie was too distraught by this to go on with her song, and she interrupted it again, repeating Gianna's name in turn.

I couldn't turn off my ears; if I was going to be in the house, there were no earmuffs in the world fluffy enough to prevent me from hearing everything they said. I busied myself with the transfer of the chicken from its roasting pan to a more portable container, trying to ignore the strangely intimate exchange of pain upstairs.

"Bella," said Gianna's voice, suddenly, interrupting the litany of "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie".

"Huh?" murmured Maggie.

"What?" I said. They'd hear me as well as I'd hear them, at this point - the remaining enhancements Gianna would get to her hearing weren't so great that she couldn't already hear me from a flight of stairs away.

"No, no," Maggie pleaded. "Baby, don't do this to me, please -"

"Bella," choked Gianna. "I helped you. Help me."

"I won't kill you," I said.

"Baby, please stop," Maggie begged. "Ilario said no and I said no and Bella said no and everyone's going to say no, please don't ask, baby, I know you want to live, it's just the -"

"I want to die," Gianna screamed.

There was a silence, a pause, and it occurred to me to wonder how that statement, so bald and certain, would affect Maggie. Not a request or an implication, just a fact.

Spoken to Maggie, who knew lies when she heard them...

Gianna wasn't lying -

There was a sound like fingernails on a chalkboard and Gianna's breath caught and I was up the stairs and through the door without bothering to open it. I pried Maggie off of Gianna, breaking the redhead's wrist in my haste with an unrestrained application of newborn strength.

I seemed to have been just barely in time. There were cracks running along the surface of Gianna's skin, where Maggie had squeezed her, but she was basically intact, still breathing, her heart still forcing envenomed blood through her veins. Maggie let out an incoherent sob but didn't try to fight me; it had been a moment of weakness against her mate's demands, then, not a concerted change of opinion.

The cracks knitted; Maggie's wrist healed. "Should've let her," gasped Gianna. "Please. Please."

"Maggie, do you need to be somewhere else?" I asked. Gianna didn't have the power to hurt herself; she'd be fine left alone, physically, and the emotional succor Maggie had to provide was clearly not going to do her any good.

"I can't, I can't, I can't, I hurt her, oh God, I didn't want to hurt her, I can't," Maggie wailed.

"Maggie," whispered Gianna, but the named vampire shut her eyes tightly.

"Yes," Maggie told me. I picked her up and carried her out of the house, away from the screaming.

I didn't worry about the vegetables in the oven. If they were going to catch the house on fire, Alice would see in plenty of time. Maggie didn't try to get me to set her down, she just curled up inwards on herself and made keening noises.

I put her on the edge of a fjord, and she sat, mostly upright, hugging her knees and burying her face. "Thank you," she murmured.

"You're welcome," I said, although the stock response seemed inadequate to the situation. "Are... you... okay?"

"Ilario is better than me," Maggie said in a monotone, unlike her usual lively voice. "He wasn't sure of himself, so he left, that was better for her, not so risky, I wasn't sure and I stayed because I wanted her to need me but she doesn't, she needs anybody but me, I was weak, I hurt her, I knew it could happen, it happened before..."

"Before, it was a series of accidents," I said. "After, a response to a sincere request - albeit a request you should have seen coming. It's not like your ultimate plan was ever to cause her harm."

"I didn't ask to die, when I was turning," Maggie murmured. "I asked if it would be over and she said yes and I believed her because it was true."

"It's not just a matter of believing it," I said.

Maggie clenched her hands in the fabric of her pants. The denim strained, but she didn't tear it. "If I leave now," she said, "if she never sees me once after she's done, do you think she has a chance to find somebody better than me one day? Who wouldn't have t-t-tried to -" I'd never heard a vampire stutter before.

"I have no idea," I said. "And even if she could, it might take long enough that Alice couldn't see it. You couldn't be sure." I didn't have the details of how Sue had felt about Harry between his turning and hers except the obvious behavioral evidence. Let alone how she'd have fared if he'd died while she was mid-change, and that was the nearest template I could have extrapolated from.

"What if I died? Would that do it?"

"I don't know," I said. "Besides, how would you manage it?"

"Ilario," she said. "I could find him and tell him what happened and I could just not fight back..."

"And then what if it doesn't work and she wakes up and she's in Irina's position from the get-go because you've gone and gotten yourself killed trying to free her up for somebody "better"?" I asked.

"You're right," Maggie mumbled. "But she deserves better."

"She'll forgive you," I said. "She can't not."

"I know, and that makes it worse. If I hurt her before she could have sent me away and protected herself and now she won't even be able to do that, at least if I see her, and who am I kidding, I can't stay away forever if I'm alive, I'm not that strong, if I were then I could be with her now..."

"Once she's a vampire it's unlikely you'll be in a position to hurt her," I pointed out.

"That doesn't mean I never did," Maggie said. "I did."

"Do you need me to stay here with you to keep you from doing something stupid like provoking Ilario?" I asked.

"No," said Maggie. "I'll just... wait here, I guess. Will you ask someone to stay with Gianna, please? She shouldn't have to be alone. It doesn't have to be you, you've got a baby to take care of - maybe Jasper, if he can help her at all with his power, but he probably can't, it's not that strong - Esme?"

"I'll find Esme and ask her," I agreed.

"Thank you," Maggie murmured, and I gave her a useless pat on the head and left her at the edge of the fjord.

I stopped at the house, turned the oven off, and went looking for Esme. I found her in the garage, chatting with Rosalie while the latter tinkered with the engine in a giant red car that I figured probably belonged to Emmett.

"Hello, Bella," Esme said warmly when I let myself into the building. Rosalie lifted a greasy hand from the car parts to wave at me.

"Hi," I said. "Esme, Maggie can't stand to be around Gianna anymore, and Ilario left just a few hours after she regained consciousness. But Maggie doesn't want her to be alone and asked me to ask you to stay with her for the last few hours."

"Of course, Bella," said Esme. There was no possible universe in which Esme would refuse a request like that; she was just the sort of creature that went about comforting the distressed, and didn't resent her nature, either. She patted Rosalie's hair - braided into a blond pile on her head to keep it out of the way - and flitted past me to go to Gianna.

I nodded to Rosalie and turned to go, having nothing in particular left to say, but she stopped me - "Bella."

"What?" I asked, turning back.

"Do you think - not today, maybe not this week, but soon - do you think I could babysit Elspeth?"

I blinked. I was used to the idea that Rosalie was thrilled to be involved in Elspeth's creation and birth, and that had been helpful. I was a little puzzled by the offer - or rather, the request - to be involved in her care. "We don't have a lot of other pressing obligations..."

"I understand. I... know you don't need me to do anything," said Rosalie, pursing her lips. "She sleeps and you don't, we aren't any of us going to school this year, there's not much going on in general except Gianna's turning, etcetera - but if you ever wanted to go travel with Edward for a while again, just the two of you, I would be happy to look after her."

I considered the offer. Elspeth was growing fast, so outrageously fast - every moment I had with her was precious, even more than if she'd been human. Yet I had no grounds to confine that argument to myself and not extend it to her other relatives. Rosalie only had so many days to play with Elspeth-the-baby, too.

Also, this would give me cover if I needed to go abroad again: I'd "let" Rosalie hang onto Elspeth while Edward and I "got some time to ourselves". I hoped that I wouldn't need to make another significant trip again, but it wasn't out of the question.

"I'll keep that in mind," I said. "Thank you. You know, you could come with Alice to the photo shoot in a couple hours - we should really have more pictures with everybody in the family, not just me and Edward and Alice. Just because I don't want her around the main house until Gianna's up and about and not so shouty doesn't mean everybody else has to be left out."

"I will," Rosalie said.

I smiled at her, then went back to the main house to fetch the roasted vegetables and purée some fruit into a smoothie for Elspeth. Then I started poaching some eggs. Nice, balanced diet. Esme was already doing her best to calm Gianna, who found her suicide-by-vampire tactics far less effective against non-Maggie individuals.

I brought all the food to the cottage, fridged it, and went into the spare room that held Elspeth's bed. Edward was watching her sleep, unwilling to leave her unsupervised for even a moment, but on this night he was holding her hand, pressing it to his face, and had his eyes closed.

"Bella, you have to see this," he murmured, very softly, so as not to wake her. He motioned me closer with his free hand and put Elspeth's palm against my cheek.

I could see her dreams.

I gasped involuntarily, not enough to wake her, as "remembered" colors and forms and faces floated across my mind. Peaceful, mostly meaningless, mesmerizingly lovely. Edward's face and mine were the most prominent in the dream, but everyone else she'd ever met made at least one appearance. Even Gianna, sedated and inattentive, as Elspeth had last seen her, was featured once. Between faces, random hues faded into each other, spun into and out of arbitrary shapes.

"It's amazing," I whispered to Edward, and he grinned at me, then went around to the other side of her bed to try the other hand. This worked well enough. We held still, absorbed in Elspeth's dreams, until dawn started poking through the window and she woke up with a comical yawn. She noticed us leaned over her and, before reasserting control over her hands, she pushed at us the image of ourselves, with a little smugness attached. I imagined her saying, Ah, attention, just the way I like it.

"Do you think it'll delay her talking, that she can do this?" I asked, picking up Elspeth to get her fed promptly. She did as much growing in her sleep as she did during the day and consistently woke up hungry. "Oatmeal, in the fridge."

Edward microwaved the food and I grabbed a spoon. "It could, but I doubt it'll slow her down by much. She seems to mostly understand us, anyway, and we can always ask her to start using words if it becomes an issue."

Elspeth reached out her hand to me and I bent my head to "listen": she showed me the picture of Gianna's blood, again. "No, no blood," I said. "Breakfast today is oatmeal. You haven't had it before. You might like it." I stood back up while Elspeth made a pouty face at me. "You'll look out for whether she's actually not feeling well as opposed to just wanting it for the taste, right? It's not impossible that her dietary needs are different when she's growing than they will be when she's an adult, but she's seemed healthy, just petulant."

"All I'm getting is the petulance part," he assured me. He took the oatmeal out of the microwave, and Elspeth huffed a small sigh as its non-blood smell steamed through the room.

"Speaking of what you pick up on," I said, giving the oatmeal a stir, "why were you so enthralled by her dreams? They were new to me, of course, but wouldn't you have been able to hear them regardless without her projecting them to you?"

"Actually, I can't hear dreams," he replied. "They either don't count as "surface thoughts", my theory, or they're too different from any mental activity I can do since I don't sleep, which is Alice's hypothesis."

"Does Eleazar have an opinion?" I asked, scooping up a taste of oatmeal to offer Elspeth and listening to her hum to herself as she contemplated its flavor.

"Never occurred to me to inquire," Edward replied. "At any rate, dreams are supposedly hard enough to remember while still human - I have no recollection of the process at all, myself - so it was very novel to be able to see Elspeth's."

"From what I wrote down, most dreams are much more complicated than that - although probably not in anything resembling Elspeth's age range. How did you get the idea?"

"She was making sounds in her sleep - not talking, but it was close enough to the way you used to mumble to yourself," he said. "And it seemed worth a try."

"Ummmm," sighed Elspeth, and I gave her more oatmeal. She consumed it with a despondent and long-suffering expression.

Rosalie arrived to the photo festival as promised; the grease was washed from her hands and her hair was down again. Emmett came too; Elspeth, who had plenty of motor control, clung to his head like it was a crow's nest in one picture.

The look on Rosalie's face, when she had her turn to hold Elspeth and pose, was glowing, proud, a heart-piercing smile - with a twinge of sorrow. She was either trying to forget that Elspeth wasn't her own baby, and not quite succeeding, or she was reveling in aunthood and distracted by something else, related or un-. I glanced at Edward, looking for cues; he was calm, so I didn't worry about it.

Alice got a few shots of Rosalie holding a parka-clad Elspeth, and then directed the costume change and the handoff. When the baby had left her arms, Rosalie's face assumed its default expression: lofty, neutral, introspective. Rosalie's expression normally said, you'll have to do better than that to get my attention. That might have been what made her happiness so arresting when she displayed it, come to think of it. I was looking at her while I thought of this, and noticed a quiver of her eybrows - very subtle.

Rosalie wasn't paying attention to me; she was watching Edward pose for his pictures with Elspeth. I walked into the frame after Alice was satisfied with the batch, and then there was a nuclear family shot, and then Edward walked off, Elspeth got a new outfit, and I took a picture with her by myself.

It was an intricate sequence of tasks, but we all moved quite fast and Elspeth was durable enough that we didn't have to dress and re-dress her like she was made of soap bubbles. (She could certainly be harmed if we were really careless, but avoiding it wasn't that hard and didn't slow us down that much.) All told the taking of photos was an operation of fifteen minutes. Alice danced away when the last snapshot was in her camera, to upload them all to her computer, and get versions of them that made me look pink and brown-eyed 'shopped for my ignorant family.

Rosalie lingered, even as Emmett left.

"...Do you want to give her her morning snack?" I asked. We fed her five times a day, which wouldn't be that strange a feeding schedule for a new baby if we weren't giving her giant portions of solid food. Although it would be arguably stranger if she was getting a liquid diet, because in her case that would take the form of blood. "See if she likes eggs?"

"I'd like that," said Rosalie, lighting up. I handed her Elspeth. She followed us into the house, and, with Elspeth in one arm, she warmed up the eggs. Rosalie seemed immensely gratified when they got a positive reception; I supposed I should have guessed that eggs would be Elspeth's favorite food, given their appeal to Gianna during the pregnancy - and Sue during hers, for that matter. It was a small thing, and it made Rosalie immensely happy, so I refused to let myself resent the fact that Elspeth's first eggs hadn't come directly from my hands or Edward's.

Elspeth ate her half a dozen eggs with reserved gusto. Part of me wondered where she put all her food. She was maintaining a high body temperature and growing, so I supposed it would make sense that she'd eat like a werewolf (invariably ravenous), but the wolves were a whole lot bigger than her. After Elspeth was informed that the sixth egg was the last, she promptly beamed up at Rosalie and planted her palm on the blonde's cheek. "Aww," said Rosalie, melting. "She's so polite."

"Has she found a way to say "thank you"?" I asked.

Rosalie nodded, just a little, not dislodging Elspeth's hand. "Just replaying what happened, with a feeling attached," she cooed, rocking the baby slightly.

I had the most peculiar feeling that I was somehow being intrusive by hovering over Rosalie while she held my daughter. I looked over at Edward, who was standing just behind me, a thin frown spreading across his face. There was no obvious way to demand that Rosalie hand Elspeth back and leave without being rude - and setting a bad example for manners seemed worse than just letting Rosalie loiter a bit. I put the egg container back in the fridge to keep it out of the way; I'd wash it later while something or other was cooking the next morning.

"Aren't you darling," cooed Rosalie. Elspeth smiled smugly.

Edward said, "Gianna's going to be done turning in less than a minute."

"Oh, we should all go look in on her," I said. "Elspeth ought to get properly introduced. Gianna did her a very important favor, after all." I paused. "Someone should also let Maggie know."

"Rose, would you run and tell Maggie, please?" asked Edward, holding out his arms for Elspeth. "She's sitting on the edge of the fjord nearest the main house." Rosalie looked regretful, but handed over our daughter and went to inform Maggie. Edward and I, Elspeth in tow, made a beeline for the main house; we slowed down when we could hear Gianna's last, piercing screeches, waiting for them to die down before we brought impressionable ears any nearer. (Elspeth's hearing was not as keen as ours and Edward assured me that she didn't hear a thing.)

We arrived at the room where everyone was congregating last, just after Rosalie and Maggie. Gianna was on her feet, gazing out the window, tall and whole and perfect. The barest tea tint remained to her skin; she was Ilario's exact match in coloration. Behind her was everyone else in the coven, Ilario at the front of the group. Maggie stood off to one side, cringing in expectation of some terrible retaliation for her bad judgment hours earlier.

"Gianna?" said Ilario softly.

Gianna spun on one foot, took in the assembly of us with one sweep of her eyes, and fixed her gaze on Maggie. Her newly crimson eyes lit up with pleasure.

"Well..." said Maggie. "Well, look at you, baby."

Gianna flew forward, enveloping Maggie in a hug. For the first time I consciously noted how much taller Gianna was than her mate. Maggie was pretty little, but when I'd compared her to Gianna as a human, the known difference in strength was more salient than mismatched stature. Maggie squeaked when embraced, and Gianna blinked and released her, having made the same mistake I had the first time I tried to hug Edward as a newborn.

Simultaneously, the two of them said, "Forgive me?" Presumably Gianna wanted forgiveness for how she'd asked to die, and Maggie wanted it for listening to her.

It occurred to me that Ilario still didn't know what had happened while Gianna was turning, and would have no idea why Maggie would need forgiveness, unless he thought it was about her having left Gianna while she turned. I supposed if he saw fit to make a fuss about the event at this point, if he even learned the information, then Gianna would inevitably make it not worth his while to attack Maggie.

Gianna and Maggie grinned at each other, giggling softly over the concurrent utterances. After a moment, Gianna looked up at the rest of us. "...Good morning," she said. Etiquette was silent on the way to greet a group of vampires who were there to watch one newly be a vampire. "Oh my! Is that Elspeth?"

I nodded, taking her from Edward and holding her up so Gianna could get a better look. "Elspeth Annarose Cullen, in the flesh," I said.

"Oh, she's so cute," said Gianna. "Hello, Elspeth. You've gotten much bigger."

"Say hi, Elsie," I prompted.

Elspeth waved at Gianna, smiling toothily, and then stretched out her hand, wanting to communicate by memory transfer. Cautiously, aware that Gianna was still a newborn and that Elspeth's blood, while not very appealing, was present, I stepped forward to enable this. Gianna looked politely puzzled by the baby's intentions until she had begun conveying the desired information. "Oh, she knows who I am," Gianna said, beaming.

"She's very smart, especially considering she's three days old," I said. Elspeth dropped her hand and I re-settled her in my arms.

"You should hunt, baby," Maggie said, wrapping herself around one of Gianna's arms. "Edward, is the place clear?"

He checked, and nodded, and Maggie urged Gianna out a window and into the woods. Ilario followed them after a moment's deliberation.

"I'm glad that's over with," I said. "Well, Elspeth, do you want to have a look around this house?"

Elspeth planted her hand on my face and replayed the quick journey in through the front door and up the stairs that she'd already undertaken, with an attached feeling of incompleteness and curiosity. "I'll take that as a yes," I said.

That was my last peaceful day.