Chapter 9: Witches and Werewolves

I wondered, during Biology as the teacher nattered on interminably about cell walls, how much it was going to hurt the Bella-and-Edward-are-Together Show that I'd changed lab partners. Angela and Mike at least knew I'd done it deliberately. I didn't know what they thought my motives really were - Mike at least had seen the way Edward had first looked at me.

And it would be just like Mike to jump to conclusions about that, decide I was in an abusive relationship, and think I must need him available to turn to... I hoped Jessica would distract him enough. If Mike had any sense - or, if he lacked sense in certain possible ways - he wouldn't be thrown off by a sappy public image: there was no actual reason it couldn't coexist with dreadful mistreatment behind the scenes.

It wouldn't just be annoying to me if Mike got too nosy - he could get himself killed or have to be vamped, if he found anything out. (Although... just what surveillance mechanisms did the Volturi have, anyway? Did they have an Alice-equivalent among their guard, or something less effective? If someone bugged the Cullens' house while they were all out, saw some things, figured others out - could they go to the grave never telling, without being hunted down?)

I crossed my fingers. I didn't think this would accomplish anything, but it was a way to put my hope out in the world without writing anything down, and I knew what it meant whereas Alice would likely be puzzled. Although perhaps, I reflected, I should warn the vampires anyway - but Mike hadn't shown signs of being insufferable about it, let alone dangerously inquisitive. Yet. I'd make Wednesday my sit-with-the-humans day and check in... or I could let Edward, just him, know, and get him to spy...

I made a face, tilting my head forward first so my hair would get in the way of Angela or anyone else noticing. Edward had such a convenient power. It was just outrageously tempting to ask him to use it when I wasn't even sure of its necessity. Alice had been right - show me a mystery and I would poke, poke, poke at it until I figured it out or I was dead. I bit my lip: I would not ask Edward to invade Mike's privacy based on vague concerns that I could probably check up on without needing any telepathy at all. I valued my privacy so much - it would be the absolute height of conceit to assume Mike's was less important.

On that subject, it was about time for me to pin Alice in place long enough to see about getting myself some notebooky privacy, too. I'd visit that afternoon and try to catch her then - but after that, homework, definitely homework. Negative academic attention - from teachers or from Charlie - was the last thing I needed.

I supported my chin with my hand, let jargon about cell anatomy wash over me, and wondered what fjords looked like up close.

I did get Alice to conduct a quick experiment with me as soon as I got to their house. Although vampires could see in the dark, she didn't have the ability to move her vantage point quite as she pleased. She tended not to see things as though she were peering out from under beds or behind picture frames. It was more like she was standing, at her normal height with her normal visual acuity (except for uncertainty-induced blurriness), in whatever place she looked at.

It wasn't impossible that she would be able to see what I typed if I put my keyboard under something opaque and turned off my monitor, but it almost certainly wouldn't happen by accident, and she promised not to try for those visions outside of dire emergencies. (I made her specify, in this promise, that "dire emergencies" were those where she could see likely futures in which the situation was explained to me and I agreed that she had to look at the writing. I wasn't sure enough about Alice's judgment, this early on in our acquaintance, that I was prepared to leave it entirely up to her.) So I could type in privacy, and if I draped a thick blanket over myself and pressed my nose right up against the backlit screen, I could re-read later in privacy, too.

The notebooks were not as easy to address. I touch-typed, but if I tried to write longhand without being able to see, I wound up with illegible scribbles that meandered all over the page. And if I ducked under a blanket that was thin enough to admit lamplight, it would also be thin enough that a vampire could see through it pretty effectively. They had a better-than-human ability to separate out the noise of an intermediate layer of material from the objects behind it. A vampire would have no trouble telling what was going on behind a screen door, even a painted one with a distracting picture on the near side, as long as there were enough intact little perforations. A human would see the screen and stop there and ignore anything spotted through the holes.

So I decided to continue writing anything private in confusing personal code, and use my computer more, when it was available. This plan had the weak point of relying on my shifty, wobbly memory to fill in the gaps that the shorthand inevitably left, but it was only for a few months - after that, I expected to need no notebooks at all.

After I'd had this discussion with Alice, I set up at the kitchen table and did homework, only half-concentrating on the worksheets and the index cards for my presentation in Government. Edward sat with me. He was good about not doing anything to distract me; he only watched. No one could hold still like a vampire. But he still had that property, whatever it was, that made my eyes slide towards him; whenever he shifted position to better have a look at what I was doing, my ears perked up to listen.

He was sitting close enough that I could smell his breath - it didn't smell like a human's breath at all. It didn't smell wet in the same way - it was almost floral. That was peculiar - it had to be the venom I was smelling, but why would it smell like lilacs? Or not lilacs - I wasn't sure what flower to compare it to. Something nice, anyway. But why? It wasn't as though vampires needed to attract prey. They just needed to catch someone alone, somewhere inconspicuous, and once they did that, the result was already overdetermined by their power and speed. Vampires were certainly ridiculously overengineered, and I couldn't wait to play with all the new abilities...

With effort, I wrenched my attention back to the rectangle of cardstock I was trying to transfer notes to. The executive branch, it said already in my awful handwriting. I made a small grumbling noise and completed the sentence. Perfect recall was going to be mine in a few short months. And I was learning pointless things I wouldn't remember in two weeks, let alone a hundred years, because I was seventeen and that meant I had to go to high school and spit back the right information in the right format at the right time.

"Don't they assign you any homework?" I asked, pulling out a new index card.

"I can do it at night," he said. The unspoken reason was so I don't have to lose any time with you. I was learning to read Edward's face and tone fairly well, at least when his feelings were expressed one at a time, not in a tangle.

"I can't be that interesting to watch. I am me and I'm bored out of my skull," I muttered, writing a note on the new index card.

"You're the one who wanted to do homework," he said lightly. "I'm not bored, though, Bella."

What had put me on Edward's list of possible soulmates? I took another card and almost wrote that question on it instead of the presentation note that belonged there. I stuck my tongue out at the card, wrote the correct note on it, and then pretended not to know what to write on the next one. What was it about me? He couldn't have known instantly, or he would have acted differently when he'd first seen me. So it probably had nothing to do with my looks. That was comforting, on some level.

I'd thought it correlated with the potential for extra vampire powers, which correlated with actually being turned, to explain how many vampires seemed to pair off without eating their mates first. Or possibly beauty, which was another selection criterion. I didn't think of myself as pretty, and didn't trust my parents' evaluations to the contrary a bit. But even if Edward's feelings could be explained away by magic, Mike's and Eric's couldn't, and it was pushing it to speculate that they'd only been interested because I was new. So maybe I was pretty.

I wrote the next note, pulled out another card, and sighed. I was probably decent-looking enough to make a pretty vampire, at least - I was looking forward to that for so many reasons, and that was a trivial one, but it still existed.

I wrote a note. I grabbed a new card. I hated Government. I normally felt neutral about it - the material was undertaken laboriously slowly, but at least it was new to me, and the teacher was reasonably competent. But why did it have to assign me a presentation when I wanted so badly to have time to think? I supposed the teacher had no way of knowing - and shouldn't have had any way of knowing - when these times were.

I wrote another note. I had a little stack of fifteen cards after I added it to the pile. That might be enough. Dealing with my impromptu public speaking issues was on my to-hack list anyway; going on sparser notes would be a potentially useful step towards that. I was rationalizing, of course - I just wanted to be done with homework. But I really, really wanted to be done with homework, and so as long as there was some way it could be made not to bite me in the rear later, I might as well give in to that want.

"Right, I'm done," I muttered to myself, and started putting school supplies away.

"What would you like to do with the rest of your day?" Edward asked, smiling. I looked at him. Radiating from his face was the undiluted desire to see to it that I got exactly the Tuesday I wanted. It was gratifying, mostly - and still a little weird, but I was getting used to it.

"So," I said, sitting back in my chair and recalling a note to myself from the previous day, "witches and werewolves, hm?"

"Witches and we- Oh. I mentioned those when I told you about Carlisle," remembered Edward. "Well - yes, they exist. There are actually two kinds of werewolves that I know about, and every witch is different."

"Besides two kinds of werewolves, witches, and vampires, is there anything else mythical that I should know about?" I asked.

"Not as far as I know," said Edward. "But I might not have seen everything. Anyway, witches. That's the technical term for a human with a power - the kind that turning into a vampire generally intensifies."

"I didn't know witches were the sorts of things that would have technical terminology about them," I said, and then I sat up suddenly. "Wait a minute, that would make me a witch, wouldn't it?"

"It would," agreed Edward. "Although you wouldn't have been the sort of witch that used to be burnt at the stake if you'd lived earlier - your power seems only to protect you from mine, and maybe others. It doesn't seem to do anything otherwise detectable."

"Were you a witch? Jasper?"

"I don't think either of us would have qualified. Extra vampire powers don't have to be preceded by witchcraft. My ability to read people and Jasper's charisma proved useful, but were quite natural when we were human. Alice was probably a witch, but we don't know."

I nodded. "And the two kinds of werewolves? Do they have other names, to tell them apart?"

"The Eurasian variety," said Edward, "are sometimes also called Children of the Moon. They're much closer to myth than the other sort. Silver won't do anything - that's a human myth to make it sound to one another like they'd have a fighting chance, if they ran into one. But they do infect humans by biting, and change during the full moon. They're fierce, solitary creatures in wolf form, not at all the sort of animal you'd want to meet."

"Are they normal humans during the rest of the month?" I asked.

"I think so. I haven't actually encountered any of them. They're extinct now, or close to it - Caius doesn't care for them a bit and had them hunted down. I only know what Carlisle's told me, and he learned it all from the Volturi."

"Hunted to extinction with, not silver, presumably - what?"

Edward tilted his head back a little and laughed. "With members of the Volturi guard, of course. I'm sure there were casualties on their side. Werewolves - either sort - can give vampires a run for our money in a fight. But a transformed Child of the Moon isn't very intelligent. That is, they're smarter than normal wolves, but they don't retain their human intellects. A group of vampires bent on hunting one down could accomplish it. Especially if they managed to work out who it was as a human. Then it would be quite easy." He kept switching tenses - I supposed that made sense when talking about the traits of a species that might or might not be extinct.

"Okay. What about the other kind? Where do they live?" I prompted.

"Not far from here, actually," Edward said, "but I doubt there are any of them left, either. We were here seventy years ago and met a pack of them. They don't like vampires, but we were able to convince them we didn't prey on humans, and made a treaty - we stay off their land and don't bite anyone, and they don't attack us unless we're on their turf. But it takes vampire presence to activate the genes that let them shapeshift. The pack that was active seventy years ago is likely all inactive now, or dead. And we haven't been close enough to their land to trigger any new changes."

"Where do you mean by "not far from here"?" I asked, aware that vampires might easily conceive very differently of distances.

"The Quileute reservation, La Push," Edward said. "They probably still tell the stories, even if the actual wolves are all gone now."

"That's quite close," I said. It was just over a half an hour away - driving like a normal person. "I know some people from La Push."

"You do?" Edward asked, looking interested.

"Charlie's old friends with a guy from there called Billy Black. He sold Charlie my truck. I used to play with Billy's daughters sometimes, Rachel and Rebecca, when I was little. I've been out of touch with them lately, though. I think they had a younger brother. I can't think what his name was, though."

"I don't know either," shrugged Edward. "They might be descendants of one of the wolves we met, though - same surname."

"So how do the - do they have their own name besides "wolves"?" Edward shook his head. "The Quileute wolves, then, how do they work?"

He explained. They were indistinguishable from normal humans until the gene was activated by vampire presence. Wolves were quite fast and strong enough to kill vampires, at least when they worked as a pack. They also healed with extraordinary rapidity, and retained some of these powers even in their human forms. When the gene woke up and did its work, a gradual buildup of emotion eventually provoked the first shift, which, while potentially dangerous to people around the wolf (as they expanded quite a bit in size very rapidly) was not harmful to its subject. Shifting continued to be provoked by lost temper until more practice managing both shifting and temper accumulated. After that, it was possible to "quit one's wolf" and go back to being a relatively normal human. A Quileute wolf who didn't quit, also didn't age.

"What makes you so sure the ones you met seventy years ago aren't still alive, then?" I asked.

"They have secrets to keep, too," Edward said. "If they're alive, they've probably faked their deaths and moved away. The tribe council likely knows, or at least has enough details to recognize the events if anyone should activate now. But arbitrary Quileutes, like your friends, almost certainly think of the wolves as mere legends."

I nodded, and sighed, dropping my chin onto my arms where they lay folded across the table. "Why - why - don't people want to be immortal? Why don't people care that everyone is dying? Why do they want to cure some deadly things like cancer and malaria and then the Quileutes had a cure for aging handed to them on a silver platter and they gave it up? Is everyone in the world but me actually suicidal and I just never noticed because they aren't all taking razors to their wrists?"

"It's natural," murmured Edward.

"Cancer's natural."

"Cancer isn't inevitable," he said.

"Neither is aging!" I cried, sitting up and gesturing emphatically at Edward. "You're going to be seventeen forever. I'm going to be seventeen forever once we've got everything sorted out."

"What, do you want to turn everyone into a vampire?" asked Edward.

"I told you already, I can't. I can't turn everyone or it'll be entirely counterproductive," I said, folding my arms and resting my head on them again. "The Volturi want to be immortal, I suppose, but they don't want to share, do they?"

Edward reached out to stroke my hair. It was a soothing, regular motion.

"I'm tempted to find Rachel and Rebecca's phone numbers. And their brother's. And call them all up, and demand that they come visit right away, and have you all sitting there when they show up, so they can live forever - it wouldn't be as bad as turning them without permission, I think, since if they were insane and decided they didn't want superpowers and the chance to live forever they could quit their wolves. If they were insane," I growled.

He kept stroking my hair. I closed my eyes and tried to calm down, concentrating on the cool, careful touch. "Is there," I asked, after having managed some success at this task, "any reason I shouldn't collect all the Quileutes I can, here on "your turf" where you're allowed to be, and activate them?"

"Immature werewolves are dangerous," Edward said softly. "The connection between their transformations and their tempers means the latter is unstable until they learn control. They aren't as likely to kill as newborn vampires, but it is not out of the question, and injuries wouldn't be surprising."

I inhaled as deeply as I could, held the breath until it hurt, and then let it out slowly. "We could set up a werewolf summer camp," I said. "Put them someplace away from anyone who can't heal like they can, help them..."

"The presence of vampires would not help them. They instinctively see us as enemies," Edward said. "Vampires and Quileute wolves do not smell pleasant to one another or serve as comforting presences for one another."

"Jasper," I said, desperately. It was a sign that I was very serious, wanting to bring in Jasper... "He could activate them, then help them stay calm until they could do it themselves, until they were safe."

"Maybe," said Edward, surprising me. He was still petting my hair. "That might work. But the Volturi don't know about the Quileutes, I think... and are unlikely to come to know about them, unless Aro reads one of us, which might not happen for centuries if we fly under their radar. At least, as long as they remain as unobtrusive as they presently are."

I swore. Edward did not, apparently, share Angela's philosophical dislike of strong language.

And then I swore again. "Edward, you said the treaty is that you won't bite a human. And seventy years ago, if you were rounding, could have been after Carlisle turned Emmett. He's the most recent turning. Was it?

"Yes," he said. "Does rounding count as lying? I don't understand."

"Have any of the slip-ups in the family been since then?"

He shook his head, slowly.

"Will it break the treaty if you turn me? Even if you don't do it here?"

Edward was silent. "Technically," he said. "Yes."

I thought quickly. "Does the treaty say bite - that exact word?"

"It does," he confirmed. His hand had stopped moving over my head and was resting on the back of my neck.

"Can you turn me without actually biting me? Alice said something about crying into an open wound..."

"She did? That's a bit of a fanciful way of putting it. We have venom in our eyes... but we don't really cry. You'd have to collect it over a long time, and get it into the bloodstream indirectly. I can't think of anything less efficient. The mouth is the better source."

"But it doesn't absolutely have to be a bite. You could fill a syringe and inject it, maybe."

"Yes," he said. "Yes, that would work."

"All right," I said, letting out another sigh. "So if I figure out a way to activate some wolves without getting the Volturi's attention, I won't necessarily have a war on my hands over my having been turned."

"Ambitious, aren't you," he remarked in a soft, almost admiring tone.

I lifted my head, and he drew his hand back to the table in front of him. "It shouldn't be ambitious," I said. "It shouldn't be uncommon or special or rebellious or anything like that to want people to live. If I were holding down a job and giving half my income to oncology researchers or something, I wouldn't be ambitious. Altruistic - plenty that - but not ambitious."

"You know, if you keep saying this sort of thing, eventually I might agree with you," Edward said lightly.

"I can't help but see that as a good result," I said, fussing with the end of my sleeve. "It looks from here like you don't have any sound reasons for believing the way you do - just tangled-up emotions that won't let you hear what I'm saying as though I'm talking clear English. If I can get through to you in spite of that by saying that death is bad a lot, well, then, I guess I'll say it a lot. Death is bad. Death is bad. Death is bad."

"It really bothers you, what I said about souls," he observed in a low voice.

"It did, I guess, at the time. Now I'm just sort of generally bothered by everyone who wants to tolerate death like it's their annoying-but-harmless old uncle who comes round every Thanksgiving and without whom the family would be incomplete, or something. It's not harmless. And there's no ineradicable reason it has to exist at all."

"Let's talk about something else," said Edward, breaking eye contact and frowning.

"I'll dole it out in small doses, if you need me to, but I'm not apt to quit," I warned him. "Ask Alice. You'd have to stay away from me entirely to avoid hearing about it."

"I could never stay away," he said, looking back into my eyes. "I thought at first that I should... but Alice was right, when she told me I wasn't strong enough to do that."

"Good," I whispered.

I got home late - well after Charlie had already given up on a fresh dinner and microwaved himself some leftovers. "Hey, Bells," he said when I let myself in. He turned off the TV and turned half-around on the sofa to look at me. "Where were you?" He didn't say it accusingly or as though he were disappointed; he didn't think I'd been spraying graffiti on buildings or knocking over mailboxes, and wasn't upset that I hadn't been home to cook one night out of the week. He was taking an interest in my life.

I had taken a little time to think through how Charlie modeled me, and accordingly, what the best way to convince him that I was plausibly going to elope with Edward in the summer would be. And so I had a script ready.

"Oh," I said, with an absent sort of smile on my face, "I was with Edward."

Charlie raised an eyebrow. "Edward Cullen?"

I nodded rapidly. "Yes, you met him on Saturday when he came by..."

"Studying Biology again?" asked Charlie, although he didn't sound like this was his first guess.

I shook my head, carelessly letting a lock of hair fall into my face and then tucking it behind my ear again. "We did some homework," I said slowly (well, between the two of us, some homework had gotten done), "but mostly we were just talking..." I let my eyes fly wide open, and said, "I mean, I'm friends with his sisters. I hung out with Alice some too, that was the first thing I did when I got to his house."

"I see," muttered Charlie. And he didn't pry. I hadn't expected him to. But I thought I'd pretty effectively planted the idea. Charlie would probably grill Edward a little bit the next time he was by the house to pick me up for some outing. Sometime during the ensuing week I would have to casually drop the word "boyfriend" in Charlie's earshot - possibly on the phone to Jessica or Angela.

I smiled brightly at him, promised that there would be dinner at dinnertime on Thursday, and trotted up the stairs.

Sort-of-pretending with Edward was more fun than it had any business being.

He was imaginative about it, never indulging the temptation to repetitiveness that could have given us away. He snuck up on me between classes one morning, dipped me, and planted a kiss on my forehead. He joined me and my human friends at lunch when I sat with them instead of the vampires, sending Jessica into such paroxysms that I thought she might need to be carried off to the nurse. He walked me from the cafeteria to the science building every day, linking arms or holding hands or putting his arm around me. He did all of this with a proud, smug expression on his face, to the point where onlookers must have thought he'd landed a movie star or a supermodel if they looked only at him and not at me.

He sent a perfect little paper airplane towards me during Biology, timed so the teacher couldn't see - but Angela could, when it made its landing right on my open textbook. She didn't lean over and demand to see the note written on it, but I showed her anyway, with a not-entirely-affected grin on my face: he'd transcribed flowery poems onto the sheet before folding it up. Angela smiled and patted my hand in a supportive, friendly manner. I folded up the paper into a square and kept it in my pocket.

I was not quite so creative, and found it much easier to play the part of the infatuated girl swept off her feet. I giggled more than I was accustomed to giggling, and leaned towards him when he touched me - which was whenever I was within arm's reach. I accepted and often wore his jacket. (He wasn't bothered by the February chill, and only owned the jacket for aesthetic and disguise reasons; but it was a visible token of his affection I could put on.) I spent a lot of time looking up at him through my eyelashes, admiring the planes of his face and trying to seem adoring.

There was one omission: I hadn't quite had the temerity to ask about the finer points of vampire venom as it applied to kissing, and without that information wasn't prepared to attempt to kiss him on the lips. He was quite free with them elsewhere: my neck and forehead and nose and cheeks and the top of my head and my fingers did not lack for attention. But the longer he went without taking that liberty, or even asking if he might, the more I suspected that there must be some risk of premature infection associated with it - and so I let it lie. I was quite suffused with affection as it was and in a few months I would not be at any such risk.

Away from school, it was different - although depending on how one counted, it wasn't necessarily any less romantic.

Edward was the reason for the piano on the dais. Rosalie also played; actually, all of them could play, the way anyone with perfect recall living in a piano-occupied house would pick up the skill. But Edward was the musician. He composed. He wrote a song for me. I suspected it might be about some more specific subject than me, Bella Swan, in my entirety - but he declined to specify, and I didn't press the subject.

He took me out to lunch most weekends. He knew I wanted to be home to cook dinner for Charlie more days than not, but when I consented to be whisked away in the evenings, whisked I was. He lingered at my house after taking me home from these outings. Charlie approved quietly of Edward, who called him "sir" and behaved very deferentially. There were fewer flagrant displays of couplehood when we were there, but Edward did an excellent job of making it look as though he wished there were more. That might have been for Charlie's benefit - or not.

Whenever I was within arm's reach, he touched me, with or without an audience. I went about dressed more warmly than the weather called for to be comfortable with the chilly caresses. He was always gentle, always cautious, forever moving my hair out of my face or stroking my cheek or kissing the back of my neck. He acted as though he was taking advantage of a rare, prized opportunity every time, but he did it so often that it didn't feel that way to me. I felt like half of a comfortable, longstanding couple - and I liked it, far more than I'd have expected if I had been polled in the fall. It was easy, it was soothing. My parents were neither of them very cuddly people - and Charlie less so than Renée. I wasn't used to much physical contact beyond handshakes and, sometimes, hugs on special occasions. But it was nice to have - to have without having to awkwardly say, "Hug?" to a relative before he or she got on an airplane or any similarly forced direct request. I could just sit next to Edward and lean on him if I felt like it, and get a kiss in the part of my hair as a bonus.

Not all of the shivering I did had to do with the winter or Edward's low body temperature.

Valentine's Day was a Monday. Edward managed to leave a small item at my seat in every one of my classes, including the mat in the corner of the gym where I did my yoga - he must have ducked into the classrooms between bells to leave them. By lunch, I'd acquired two thematically appropriate packets of candy, a sparkly bracelet that... probably wasn't covered in rhinestones... and a CD accompanied by a note stating that it contained recordings of Edward's compositions. I slipped the bracelet over my left hand. When I arrived at the vampire table for lunch, Edward's eyes rested on it for a moment, and he had a look of satisfaction on his face when he looked up at me. "I wasn't sure if that was going to be too much," he said.

"It's beautiful," I said. "It's entirely too much, I would have told you not to buy it, but I'm not planning to give it back." I jangled it on my wrist a little. "No more jewelry, though, or Jessica will have a stroke. The candy was delicious and I can't wait to listen to the music. Thank you."

"No more jewelry ever?" he asked, like he was asking permission to do something far more self-indulgent than shower me with gifts. My right hand was occupied with stabbing a fork into my meatloaf, but he took my left hand and clasped it in both of his.

"Nothing remotely this nice for the next two months," I said, "at least." I tilted my head to one side and quickly looked at Alice's and Rosalie's ears: neither had them pierced. "If I get my ears pierced, will they heal closed when I turn?" I asked.

"If you're not wearing earrings at the time, they will," Rosalie said. "If you have earrings in, they might stay. But then you have to count on that being in fashion for hundreds and hundreds of years."

"True. I've done without this long. And there are clips and magnets - I guess magnets would rely less on the earlobe being easily compressible."

"I have loads of magnet earrings," Alice said. "I just don't wear them to school much because once about twelve years ago I got into a very annoying conversation with someone who thought that if I liked earrings enough to wear them every day, I ought to go get my ears pierced at her aunt's parlor, and she wouldn't leave me be. It's not that hard to fix up a regular earring to attach with magnets, if you know how. I'll show you sometime."

After lunch, Edward did not run ahead of me to biology in order to leave a gift at my table - he must have done it before lunch. I unwrapped it; it was a hair clip. It was very nice, but made mostly of wood, so I supposed it might not technically count as jewelry (and at any rate he'd put it there before I'd said to hold off on more.) I gathered my hair together and pinned it back; Edward heard the clip snap closed with a soft tok, and looked around to smile at me.

At gym, it was just a note: it said that, as I read it, he was installing a stereo in my truck. I laughed softly and put the note into my bag. His last class was Spanish, and the teacher knew perfectly well that he was fluent (in fact, better than she was); he had de facto permission to cut whenever he pleased.

The stereo, which was so perfectly installed that it looked like it had come with the truck apart from being a hundred times newer than everything around it, was well equipped to play my new CD. Edward readily played whatever songs I liked whenever we were at his house, but it was nice to have them in a portable form.

A disturbing thought occurred to me, as I drove home - to do my schoolwork without Edward's distracting presence before meeting him at the Cullen house, as had become my habit.

With as little history experiencing and labeling romantic emotions as I had, I might not even be able to tell when I stopped pretending.

I was not able to start my homework as soon as I'd expected. When I got home, Billy Black - and his son, a teenager now, whose name I couldn't quite call to mind - were there. I thought at first that it was simply a visit to Charlie. If Billy couldn't drive, it would only make sense that he'd enlist his son to cart him about occasionally - was the boy old enough to drive? I knew he was younger than me, but wasn't sure how much. He looked about fourteen or fifteen, but might be sixteen. I didn't play with boys as a ten-year-old girl, whatever their ages, when there were girls like his sisters handy, so the fact that I didn't recall him clearly was no clue. With Billy in the passenger seat, perhaps still licensed to drive even if no longer physically capable of it, the kid could probably play chauffeur with only a learner's permit.

Billy and Charlie were watching a game on TV, but whatever it was didn't interest the younger Black, who was sitting in the kitchen and appeared to be doing his own homework. He looked up and offered a friendly smile when I walked in. "Hi, Bella!" he said.

Well, that made it awkward that I didn't know his name. "Hi," I replied cheerfully, dumping my bookbag on the kitchen table and sitting down to be sociable. "I'm afraid I don't..."

"I'm Jacob," he supplied, interrupting me; I gritted my teeth, told myself that if he'd known me well enough to avoid that, I would have known his name and he wouldn't have needed to do it.

"Hi, Jacob," I said. "Sorry about that. I know who you are, but I mostly remember Rachel and Rebecca." And even them, I hadn't seen much after I managed to make my distaste for fishing sufficiently clear. That was Charlie's primary reason for bringing me to visit, was to instill his love for yanking ichthyoids out of the water into his child on large joint excursions.

"Yeah, it's okay," Jacob said amiably. I hoped suddenly that Edward would not approach the house, looking to see where I'd gotten to. I wasn't sure if I could politely excuse myself now that I'd gotten into a conversation with Jacob. If I didn't turn up after a reasonable homework-doing period of time had elapsed, Edward might wonder what had happened. I didn't have a plan yet for safely dealing with Quileute wolves, which Jacob could quite likely become if he hung out with vampires at all. "Billy was hoping to talk to you," the maybe-future-werewolf went on. "I think he's really invested in this game, now, though, so would you mind hanging out until it's over? I don't know if you were planning to go anywhere."

"Usually I come home, do my work," I gestured at Jacob's own textbooks, "and then hang out at my boyfriend's house for a few hours before dinner." I unzipped my knapsack and retrieved the brick that was my Trig book. "I don't know how long the game's going to be, but I can hang back a little. Might want to call my boyfriend, though, so he knows what's up." I said the word "boyfriend" twice quite deliberately. I didn't want to have to play matchmaker again. There was no reason to expect Jacob in particular to need deflecting, but since he didn't go to my school and hadn't seen the flagrant display of the last couple weeks, it seemed prudent.

"Okay," Jacob said.

I took out all the other materials I'd need to do my homework, then got up and dialed the phone. Jasper picked it up; I recognized his low, controlled voice. The Southern accent he employed privately was practiced away in case I was someone else. "Cullen residence," he said.

"Hi, Jasper," I said. "It's me. Can I talk to Edward?"

Edward's voice replaced Jasper's immediately. "Hello, Bella. What is it?"

"Ch- Dad has some guests over," I said, remembering half a syllable into Charlie's name that he preferred I not call him that, and that he was within earshot. "Remember I told you about Billy? It's him and his son Jacob. I'm going to stay and be sociable, and make sure they eat a nice dinner. I might not be over today at all. So please don't be alarmed and come wondering what the holdup is." Please don't come and activate the wolves, I meant, and hoped he'd understand.

"Do you think you'll be able to come over at all today?" he asked. "It is Valentine's day..."

"I know it's Valentine's day, I really wanted to come over," I said, sounding too clingy even to myself - I saw Jacob make a face out of the corner of my eye. "You didn't have anything planned that depends on me being there today in particular, did you? Chocolates taste just as good on the fifteenth."

"It's all right," Edward said, soothing even over the phone - there might or might not be reservations or plans in place, but he clearly didn't want me to fret over them. "Oh, and Bella - Billy may well know about us, and about Quileute wolves. If he hints about it enough that you think he does, and you're talking to him alone, it won't put anyone in additional danger for you to speak freely."

"Do you think that's likely?" I asked. I wondered suddenly what Billy was even doing here - usually Charlie went to the reservation. Jacob had said he wanted to talk to me. Was he going to say something about the vampires?

"Possibly," Edward said. "Will you call me after they've gone and let me know what, if anything, happens?"

"Of course," I said.

"I'll see you tomorrow, at the latest, then," Edward said.

There was a pause, where it sounded like he was thinking the words I love you very hard and not saying them because Alice had said to go slow - and I said, "Yes, tomorrow. Happy Valentine's Day!" and hung up.

Had Alice been specific about the meaning of "slow"?

"His name is "Edward"?" Jacob asked, sounding like he didn't much care for the name.

"Yes," I said, flipping my math notebook open and finding the assigned problem set in the text. "Do you or Billy have any food issues I should know about?"

"I'm not sure if we're staying for dinner, actually," Jacob said. "If we do, Billy's diabetic, don't feed him anything too loaded up on carbs but otherwise he's not that careful about it. I'm not picky."

The game ended, and I heard the TV power off.

"Bella," said Billy, rolling into the kitchen. "It's good to see you again. Could I trouble you to join me for a walk, or are you very busy?" He looked at my homework.

"I've barely started," I said. "I'd be happy to go with you."

Charlie and Jacob got Billy's wheelchair over the single front step with some effort, and then I stepped out after him. "If you could just push me around the block," Billy asked politely; the roads were in poor repair and couldn't be easy to navigate for him on his own.

I took hold of the handles sticking out of the back of the chair and propelled him down the driveway at a steady pace. "So," I said, "what did you want to talk to me about?"

"Charlie tells me you've been spending a lot of time with the Cullens," he said without further preamble.

I maneuvered him around a pothole. "That's correct," I said.

"You probably don't know this," Billy continued, "but the Cullen family has an unpleasant reputation on the reservation."

"I'd heard something about that, in fact," I said. "It seems to me that more than enough time has passed and it really should have died down by now." If Billy didn't know the details, if he were just warning me away from an outcast family, this would sound like I was siding with Charlie and thought they'd proven themselves worthy. If he did, he'd know I was talking about the seventy years since the vampires had last come to Forks.

"You seem well-informed," Billy said slowly. I wasn't positioned to see his face, but he sounded like he was speaking too deliberately - trying not to mess something important up.

"Oh, I'm sure Charlie talks all the time about how I will poke and poke at an unanswered question that happens to strike my fancy, until I know the answer," I said lightly. "I know all kinds of things."

"Mmm. Does Charlie know all kinds of things?" Billy asked, probing.

"I find he doesn't have at all the same attitude towards mysteries," I said. "I also find that he finds me trustworthy in general and has respect for my judgment. And I find that some people are very, very attached to their secrets, and might not care for the people who stumble across them."

Billy was silent for a minute; I pushed him around a car parked on the street, undercorrected for the slope, and narrowly avoided steering him into the gutter. "Sorry," I said.

"Don't worry about it," Billy said. Ironically, I was less clumsy piloting the chair than I was walking about in its absence - it gave me something to hang onto. "You're probably right about Charlie," he said after another pause. "What are you going to do about the... secret-keepers?"

"If you can't beat 'em," I said cheerfully, "join 'em."

Billy went rigid where he sat. "Bella," he said warningly.

"I know the details. Believe me, I do. And I know about the treaty," I went on, after checking for neighbors out strolling - there were none. "It's got some very specific language in it, which leaves a handy loophole for me to hop through. I'll be just fine, Billy."

He was gripping his armrests and his knuckles were white. "Bella Swan," he said again. "You have no idea -"

I bit my lip, fighting the urge to cut in and tell him that I had a very good idea indeed, but words failed him and after a few seconds I said it aloud. "I've been filled in to my own satisfaction on the important parts. I'm not sure how much you know," I said. "Edward said you might know about his family, and about, well, yours - but didn't specify the level of detail. Anything I can fill you in on, to put you at ease?"

Billy swiveled his head to look at me, incredulity on his face. He turned back around without saying anything.

"I'd actually like to talk to you about... your own sort," I said. We had somehow gotten into the pattern of using indirect words and it was difficult to be the first to break it. "It sounds like there've been some old skills lost. I think that's sad - I'd like to help you get them back, if you're willing."

"I'm too old," Billy murmured, and I couldn't make out the emotion behind it - did he want to be a wolf, as I thought sane, and feel sad that he couldn't? Was he glad to be safe from my machinations? Perhaps he'd been a wolf, seventy years ago, and kept it long enough to look only a little past fifty now - and now either regretted it or felt he'd had good reasons to quit.

"Not everyone is. Jacob," I suggested.

"You don't know what you're playing with, Bella," Billy said warningly.

"I've told you several times that I know quite a bit. But I'm not planning to do anything very soon that directly concerns you," I said. "Or anything that involves uninformed parties ever. I'm not going to show up in the night and restore all the old Quileute traditions unexpectedly. Everyone needs to make their own choices. I've picked out one for myself, and I hope you understand that."

We'd gone full circle around the block. I pushed Billy up the driveway and then opened the door so less accident-prone persons could haul him over the step.

The Blacks stayed for dinner; Billy kept giving me strange looks, but didn't say anything else hinting while Charlie and Jacob watched. I baked fish, and then made small talk with Jacob over our respective homeworks for about an hour, before I finished my work, decided I'd put in enough of an appearance, and escaped to visit my boyfriend.