A/N: In spite of the many distractions over the past couple of weeks (Skip Beat, Avatar the Last Airbender, the projects on MangaStudio calling to be worked on...), I managed to put this one out in a reasonable time frame.

There are a few deviations this chapter from the original—one in particular I'm thinking of. However, strange as it might seem, it actually won't affect the plot of Eclipse Reimagined all that much.

Thanks so much for reading so far, and for all your comments! See you at the end!


Chapter 24: Vote

Edythe and I argued, of course. She pointed out that if I went down to my truck this early in the morning, Charlie would wake up. I knew she was right, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I was probably grounded until I was at least thirty-five anyway.

In the end, Edythe agreed to give me a ride over, just to spare Charlie the potential aneurism. As always, as I climbed onto her back and she held my legs clamped to her sides, I felt like an overgrown gorilla, but weirdly it also felt right, too. Natural, like I'd done it a thousand times. My hair whipped back from my scalp and the cold early morning air stung my eyes, but I didn't close them. Strangely, compared to the bright, terrifying light of the clock tower plaza in Volterra, the darkness felt like an old friend.

I laughed a little. Once upon a time I'd had to close my eyes, or the ride would have made me sick. Now I just enjoyed the rush. This was a hundred times better than the motorcycle.

"Finally believe you're awake now?" Edythe said with a smile.

"More like I've just given up being careful," I said. "I've decided I might as well live dangerously. A coward dies a thousand deaths and all that."

Edythe had slowed to a walk and I heard the babble of a nearby stream—we were close to the house now. Edythe let me down so I could walk, and she turned to give me a look. "Not thinking about more extreme sports, I hope?" she said, eyes narrowed.

I shook my head. "No, not that kind of living dangerously. More like the emotional kind."

Edythe sighed. "I can't believe I actually missed that. Those cryptic remarks designed to divest me of my sanity."

I hesitated, not entirely sure if this was a comment I wanted to explain, but at Edythe's frustrated expression, I gave in.

"Look," I said. "It's not that I don't want to believe you when you say... when you say you love me. And that you were lying to me because you were trying to help me, and that you're going to stay now as long as I want. I think a part of me already does believe you. But... every day when I look in the mirror, I just see a boring, ordinary guy. Like I said, I just don't see a logical reason for you to want to be with me, for you to put up with everything you've had to put up with to be around me. And—well—"

I was getting flustered, choked up, and my gaze broke away from hers. I felt the ugly splotches of red climbing up my neck, reaching up my face.

"I mean... when you were gone... I didn't know what to do. I was underwater. Everything was gray, and I knew I had no hope of ever having the only thing I ever wanted. I was stuck in limbo, couldn't go back, couldn't go forward. The only way I could keep going... keep functioning... I just had to be careful. Keep my mental defenses up. I'd already been broken once, and I just couldn't let myself experience that again."

Edythe studied my face for a long moment. "I really did a number on you, didn't I, Beau," she said quietly.

"You were trying to save me," I said, shaking my head. "Maybe it would have worked on a normal person."

"I hurt you," she said softly. "I keep demanding to know why you won't believe me, but of course you don't believe me. I know you, Beau, I know you never have seen yourself clearly. That you can't see what I see when I look at you. Your belief in how I felt was tenuous from the very beginning, fragile, and instead of reinforcing the truth, building it up, I betrayed you, shattered the trust that you were only beginning to feel. You're right, Beau—it is dangerous to trust. And even more, to trust someone who brutally betrayed you, mutilated the heart that you entrusted to them."

Edythe's beautiful face was contorted with agony, an agony more acute than even when she lay on the stone floor of the Volturi's lair, being tortured by Jonathan.

"You trusted me before," she whispered. "And I failed you. I see it clearly now—I wanted so badly to save you, for you to be happy. I wanted to love you the best I could—and perhaps that is where I went wrong. Perhaps I thought if I sacrificed what I wanted for your own good, then that would prove my love was not of the ugly, selfish kind—the kind that drew you into our world, regardless of the danger. I wanted my love to be strong enough that I could be selfless, so that I could deny myself everything, so long as it was better for you. But I was so eager to sacrifice myself I was blind—blind to the fact that I was acting in the most selfish way of all, lying to you, betraying you, in order that I could make myself a martyr."

I knew that vampires couldn't cry. But Edythe choked as she said, "I'm so sorry, Beau. So sorry. I—I wanted you to be happy. So much. I would have given up anything for that. But—in the end I—all I did was strike a deeper wound than you'd ever experienced. I made you suffer more than anyone ever made you suffer before. I can't ask you to believe me. I can't ask you to trust me again. I can never ask for forgiveness."

Edythe was bent double, her arms wrapped around herself. Her despair was so complete that I was paralyzed. I had seen Edythe upset before. I had seen her in a panic, terrified, I had seen her angry, and in a fog of self-reproach. But this kind of outpouring of raw emotion, like water bursting from a broken dam, regret so powerful it was crippling just to watch, I had never seen from Edythe. She was always the picture of perfect poise, of ultimate self-control. Now she seemed almost overcome.

Before I really knew what I was doing, I felt my arms wrap around her. I pulled her toward me, and though I knew I couldn't have moved her if she had resisted, she let me, letting me put a gentle hand against the back of her head, and press her face against my shoulder.

I bent my head, and whispered in her ear, "I believe you."

Edythe made an odd sound, halfway between a sob and a laugh. Her voice had some of the old certainty and strength, though it shook a little as she said, "No you don't. You're just saying that to make me feel better."

"I mean it," I said again, softly, and my voice shook with emotion. "You were right. Maybe what you said before, about how I believed you way too quickly, is true."

I paused, trying to work through the new thoughts that seemed to be blooming to life in my head. I felt something shift—it was as though a part of my mind had been engulfed in a deep fog for a long time, and now the fog was lifting. Edythe was right—I hadn't seen myself clearly, but it wasn't in the way she meant. I understood myself for the first time, and now that I did, I could finally see Edythe clearly, too.

I pulled back to look Edythe in the face, and she was gazing up at me, her beautiful face still twisted with agony. Now she was the one who didn't believe me. I almost smiled at the irony.

"You always want to know what I'm thinking," I said quietly. "So I'll tell you."

Edythe was quiet. She had gone perfectly still, her coal black eyes riveted to my face.

I pointed to my skull, tapping my temple. "You know this thing about my brain? This thing that keeps you out—mental shell, defense, whatever it is?"

Edythe hesitated, then nodded once, stiffly, carefully.

"Well," I said, "I think I have two. There's the one that keeps out your mind powers, keeps my head safe, and then there's the other one. The one that was around my heart, I guess you could say. That's the one that's kept me from completely believing you—ever, even before you left."

Edythe's eyes didn't move from my face. At last she said in a low whisper, "I'm not following you."

I shook my head. "I've always kept my defenses up. Kept people out. Never any crushes or close friends... That was how I was, how I wanted it. Things were easier that way, I never had to risk getting hurt. I always had my guard up—until I came to Forks and met you. That first time I admitted to myself how I felt about you—that was a huge step for me."

Edythe flinched slightly as though she had been struck.

I pushed on, "But I think I had another defense up that never did go down, even then. Because I was just too afraid of being disappointed."

I looked down into her face, and I gently placed my hands on her shoulders. "I accepted how I felt about you, but letting myself think you might feel the same way, too—trusting that it would really be as permanent as I knew it was for me—I just couldn't do that. That was one risk too far. I always thought that I didn't really fully accept it all the way because I knew I could never be good enough for someone like you, and that's true, but—"

Edythe opened her mouth to protest, but I continued quickly, firmly, "—but when it comes down to it, I think I was just afraid. I think all the time it was just another defense, some survival instinct to keep at least some part of me safe, or what my instincts thought was safe."

Edythe gazed up at me, her expression impossible to interpret. The pain was still there in the lines of her flawless face, the twisting guilt, but now I thought I saw in the depths of her dark eyes just the barest flicker of hope, too.

Carefully, I shifted my hand, from her shoulder to cup her face. "I don't want you to blame yourself," I said quietly. "I don't blame you for anything, and I never did—you were doing what you thought was right. If you didn't love me, you had no choice but to leave, and now I know you left because you were trying to help me—I can only love you all the more for that. If anything, I brought it on myself—I was so busy protecting myself, keeping myself safe, I couldn't see what you were doing. You're right—I should have seen right through you then, I should have understood. I didn't, I just went ahead and believed what I was already half expecting to hear."

I hesitated, and when I spoke again, my voice was steady. "But I'm going to do better now," I said. "I can't make myself think I'm good enough for you, because I'm not, but I know, against all the odds, you do love me. I'll never second-guess you again."

Edythe was gazing up at me. She slowly lifted a hand, putting her delicate fingers to my cheek. She gave a laugh, a laugh that was at once both happy and hopeless.

"What am I going to do with you?" she murmured. "Brought it on yourself indeed—what have you done, Beau? Except for accept me, even being the monster I am, never wavering, showing nothing but love and understanding... What have you done, except stay by my side with absolute loyalty when anyone else would have fled long ago, and when I have done absolutely nothing for you but torture you and place you and those you love in danger?"

I shook my head. She always had such a warped view of things. However, it seemed pointless to try to argue, so I only said, "You're not thinking of leaving again, I hope." I tried to give her what I hoped was a stern look.

Edythe smiled ruefully. "No. Leaving would have been the right thing in the beginning, but I see clearly now that it is too late. And like the self-serving beast that I am, I am unpardonably happy for that."

"Good," I said. "Glad we've got that straightened out."

Once again, I slid an arm around her waist, and pulled her to my chest. She moved willingly, and I felt her chin rest on my shoulder, her cold cheek pressing against mine.

"Oh, Beau," she sighed into my ear. "That boundless kindness—you are so much kinder than someone like me could ever deserve. Even after seeing what I'm capable of, you still don't see me for the monster that I am. And selfish as I am, I am grateful for the reprieve. But I think you will see the real me, someday... And when that day comes, my hope for you is that you will feel free to choose, unfettered by any sense of obligation."

I pulled back to look her in the face again. Her eyes were once again that strange mix of guilt and relief, of sadness and joy. I leaned forward, until our foreheads were pressed together, so close I could see the reflection of the dark morning sky in the black mirror of her eyes.

"And you always say I'm the one who doesn't see myself clearly," I said with a bit of a smile.

Edythe thought of herself as a monster—if only I could help her see herself as I saw her, as Carine saw her. I had never met anyone so good, so giving. I had never met anyone capable of such love, such sacrifice.

The cloud that had been continuing to hang over Edythe's brow at last lifted, for the moment. Once again I reached up to carefully cradle her face in my hand, and she reached up automatically to place her icy hand over mine, holding it there. She gazed up at me, and as I saw her face, for a moment I thought she was glowing in the morning gloom, radiant. As though she really was an angel.

"Beau," she murmured, and her face was alight with such love and joy that I felt my pulse thrum in my fingertips.

"Edythe," I whispered. Then I leaned down slowly, and pressed my lips to hers.

It wasn't like the kiss in my room—half desperate, on Edythe's side tinted with frustration, on mine, like it might be the last kiss we ever had. Instead, it was gentle, and it seemed to communicate a thousand thoughts and feelings.

When I pulled back, I was grinning like an idiot, and Edythe stared back at me with eyes that sparkled like liquid onyx.

"Shall we?" Edythe murmured, extending a hand for me to take. I did, entwining my fingers with hers, and we turned in the direction of the house. I was nearly skipping, my heart felt so full and light, and I laughed aloud like a kid.

"So," I said conversationally, "now that you're back. Are you going to give me back my stuff?"

Edythe looked embarrassed. "It's still there. I hid it all—the CD, the pictures, the tickets—under your floorboards. I swore to myself I would give you peace without reminders, but... some childish part of me won out."

I smiled hugely at that. "Wow," I said. "Awesome."

Edythe's returning smile was brilliant.

We were almost to the door of her house before I suddenly remembered why we were there.

Edythe commented lightly, "By the way, I'm only humoring you in all this, you know. It doesn't matter what they say. I won't allow you to sacrifice anything more for me than you already have. Not your life as a human, not your relationships with your family—and not your soul."

"It's my choice," I said. "Those are my sacrifices to make or not. But now it's not just me—every single one of them could be affected now, too. They should have a say."

Edythe shrugged her shoulders, indifferent.

Edythe led me through the front door into the dark house, then flipped the light switch. Strangely, the room didn't look one iota different from how it had been the last time I had seen it months ago, the piano still in its place, as was the white couches and massive pale staircase. No dust, no white sheets, as I might have imagined. Things were back to exactly as they had been, though it had been so long since I'd laid eyes on them I looked at them with more fondness than I ever had.

Edythe spoke in an even voice. "Carine? Earnest? Royal? Eleanor? Jessamine? Archie?" She didn't raise her voice, but I knew they would hear anyway.

I turned to see Carine already standing beside me, as though she had been there all along. She smiled. "It's good to see you back, Beau," she said. "Though I imagine, being here at this hour, this is more than a social call."

I nodded. "Yeah. I sort of need to talk to everyone at once, if that's okay."

Edythe was frowning slightly, but she looked resigned.

"Very well," said Carine. "Of course. Why don't we go sit down in the other room?"

Carine led the way through the bright living room, around the corner to the dining room. Of course the walls were white, and the ceiling was high, just like in the living room. Under a low-hanging chandelier sat a large, oval table surrounded by eight chairs. Carine took up one of the chairs, and gestured me with a smile toward the chair next to her, at the head of the table.

I wondered just how many times the Cullens had actually used this table. Not many, I would have guessed, as they didn't eat in the house. Maybe they just used it for family meetings like this.

By the time I reached the chair and pulled it out to take my place, I lifted my eyes to see the others all filing in after Earnest, who was leading the way. Edythe took up the chair immediately to my left, and soon the others filed in until everyone was there. Archie was grinning broadly at me, and I saw him give me a surreptitious thumbs up. No doubt he already knew what this meeting was about. Eleanor and Jessamine looked curious, while Royal was eying me with an expression I almost didn't recognize on him—namely, an expression that was not a glare. I knew from watching him that the fairly neutral expression he had as he regarded me now he usually reserved only for his fellow family members.

Carine had folded her hands on the table, linking her fingers, and she turned to give me her full attention. "Very well then, Beau. Please tell us what you have to say."

I looked out over the table at the seven pairs of eyes staring back at me, and I suddenly felt unaccountably nervous. I cleared my throat, and then, before I had time to second-guess myself, plunged right in.

"Okay," I began. "So, this is it. Archie's probably told you all everything that happened in Volterra, right?"

There were a few scattered nods around the table, and Archie spoke up, "Yeah, they all know. Everything."

"Good. Okay." I drew a deep, silent breath. "So here's the thing. Archie promised the Volturi that I would become one of you. Sulpicia said we could wait until after I graduate high school, but after that, by your laws, I'm supposed to be changed—and if I'm not, there's a good chance Sulpicia will hold all of you responsible for abetting a crime."

I went on before anyone could interrupt. "I think I've made it pretty clear what I'd want if it was up to me. And I think you all know what Edythe thinks, too. But I don't want anyone to feel forced into anything. Archie said he'd be willing to change me, but I don't want that if it's not what you all want. You've all made me feel welcome here from the start, but I get if it's a little much thinking about having me move in. As for the threat of the Volturi if I'm not changed—I'm not going to let anything happen to any of you if I can help it. Even if that means I end up having to go back to Italy and face my fate."

Edythe hissed, but I ignored her.

"So basically, I think the easiest and most fair thing to do here is put it to a vote. Whether you want me to become one of you or not."

I turned automatically toward Carine for her to begin, but before Carine could speak, Edythe interrupted. "Before the voting, I have something to add," she said, tone carefully polite.

I frowned distinctly, but I figured there was no point arguing. I nodded. "Go on, then."

She looked around the table, meeting the gaze of each of her family members in turn. "I think Beau may be somewhat overstating the danger," she said abruptly. "We don't need to be quite as concerned as all that."

She stood up from her chair and spread both hands on the tabletop. Her eyes glittered with sudden animation. "I gleaned quite a bit of useful information while we were there. And I think I might know a solution."

She leaned forward eagerly. "The main problem with eluding the Volturi for long is that they always seem to have a way of finding you, no matter how far you go—but it seems that's largely thanks to one of the guard, Cato. Sulpicia took a gift from a long-range tracker and gave it to him—a gift far stronger than Joss ever had. It works a bit like Archie's visions of the future—once he has seen someone, all he has to do is close his eyes and focus on that person, and he can see through that person's eyes, their surroundings, and through their knowledge of where they are, get a precise location. That's what Sulpicia relies on for chasing down violators. However..."

Edythe grinned. "Considering Sulpicia's little tests, I have a feeling that should Cato ever try to track Beau down, he'll be disturbed to realize that he can't. Beau will be good as invisible to him. Archie can keep a watch on the Volturi, so if they decide to pay us a visit, then we can just take Beau away from here and keep him hidden."

Eleanor looked delighted with the plan. She pumped a fist. "Sounds like fun to me. I'm in."

I frowned very deeply at Edythe. Even if I didn't have my own reasons for not liking the plan—or any plan that left me as a helpless human—I was already seeing a half a dozen problems with it.

"But Cato will still be able to find you," I pointed out. "Or any of you."

Edythe was smug. "We'll take you some place safe. Then of course, even when Cato finds us he won't have anything to report back to Sulpicia. She can't do anything to us when there's no evidence."

I pushed again. "All Sulpicia will have to do is read your mind to find out where I am."

Edythe's lip curled. "Sulpicia and the other two ancient ones very rarely leave Volterra—only for real emergencies that are a threat to their reign, like putting down the rebellion half a century ago. Sulpicia isn't going to come all the way out here for you, Beau. On her list of priorities, I think it's fair to assume that you'll be pretty low."

She added, "Plus, Cato's gift relies on his target's own knowledge of where they are—so if they're lost, or aren't aware of exactly where they are, he won't be able to pinpoint them exactly. That's why he almost always works in conjunction with a short-range tracker of some kind, to compensate for his blind spots. Sulpicia uses Tacita for more critical operations—Sulpicia found a very powerful, precise tracking for her, which never fails over short distances—but Sulpicia doesn't usually like to spare Tacita if she can avoid it, so most often Cato works with one of the less experienced trackers. Knowing that, combined with the fact Archie and I will always be able to see them coming—I think we can ensure Cato and his team would be in for a very long chase. If Sulpicia even felt the need to dispatch Cato at all for such a minor reason, which she may very well not."

There was some muttering around the table, and it was pretty easy to see who thought what of these plans. Royal was glowering in Edythe's direction, and Archie was rolling his eyes. Jessamine looked skeptical, but intrigued, and Eleanor looked positively delighted at the prospect of being pitted against Volturi guards. Earnest was frowning at Edythe as though he'd like to have her grounded.

I straightened in my seat, coughing to try to regain attention and control of my meeting.

"Okay, Edythe has put forward another alternative to consider," I said stiffly. "If that's all, then let's vote."

I looked to Edythe first this time; I wanted to get her opinion out of the way. "Do you want me in?"

Edythe looked back at me with eyes solid black and unyielding as granite. "Not like that. You are going to remain human, Beau."

I nodded once, keeping my face stoic and even, then moved on.

"Archie?"

He grinned. "Definite yes, man."

"Jessamine?"

Jessamine smiled at me a little tentatively. "Yes," she said quietly. I felt the tiniest hint of relief—Jessamine's vote was one I hadn't been sure of. However, I didn't let it show and continued on.

"Royal?"

Royal's eyes dropped to the table, and his brow clouded as he considered. At last he said in a low voice, "No."

I kept my face blank and turned my head to move on, but Royal coughed and, eyes still on the table, he growled, "Hold on, let me explain."

My eyes went mutely back to him.

"I don't have a problem with you joining us," he said abruptly. "But this isn't the kind of life I would have picked out for myself if I had the choice. If I were in your shoes, I'd want someone to vote no for me."

I nodded slowly, then turned to Eleanor next.

"Full on yeah!" said Eleanor, grinning fiercely. "We can find another way to play games with that Cato."

I was glad, but I tried not to wince too much at that last bit as I turned next to Earnest.

He was already nodding. "Of course, Beau. Far as I'm concerned, you're already a part of this family."

I nodded, smiling a little, but as I turned last to Carine, I felt suddenly nervous. Even though this was supposed to be a vote, I realized that this was the one that really mattered. I had a feeling that whatever she said, the majority wouldn't make a difference.

Carine's eyes weren't on me.

"Edythe?" she said softly.

"No," Edythe snapped. Her fists were clenched on the table, and her lips were curled back from her teeth.

"You must see at this point, it's the only way that makes sense," Carine said quietly. "You've chosen not to live without him—that doesn't leave me a choice."

Edythe sat rigid in her seat for a minute, her jaw clenched. Then she abruptly shoved back from the table and stalked wordlessly from the room.

"I suppose you know my vote," Carine said with a sigh.

I was staring after Edythe, and I heard Archie snort.

"Don't worry about her," he said bracingly. "She'll calm down." He added in a mutter, "Though unfortunately not before she destroys half the furniture."

I winced as I heard an earsplitting crash from the other room, and I forced myself to refocus my attention on the rest of those there. I drew a deep breath, then said, "Well, I guess that's it then. Thanks—all of you. This means more than I can say."

My voice came out a little more raw and emotional than I meant, and I cleared my throat. "So. Now that that's decided, I guess we need to start coming up with a plan. Our absolute deadline is after graduation, but with Victor running around, I think we should do it long before that. I don't like being a liability and putting you all in danger, or Charlie, either." My eyes flickered across the table. "Archie, man? I'm ready whenever you are."

Archie looked a touch alarmed at being called on so soon, and he opened his mouth. However, before he could say anything, his gaze shifted slightly to my left.

I turned to see Edythe had rematerialized beside me, her black eyes narrowed to slits, her normally smooth features tense with fury. I shrank back slightly.

She leaned forward, so her face was barely an inch from mine. "Abnormal," she hissed with venom. "Absolutely, obscenely abnormal, a glutton for punishment, mentally unsound—"

Edythe could be intimidating when she got like this, but I pressed my mouth into a solid line and did my best to glare back.

"If you have something to say, you can address the entire assembly," I said.

Edythe glared at me a second longer, then turned slowly to face the rest of the room. "This is ridiculous. I think after graduation is the absolute earliest we should even be contemplating this, and I don't think this is so urgent that even that soon will be strictly necessary. For the sake of remaining inconspicuous—which Sulpicia herself fully supported—I think it's better that this conversation is put off at least until Beau finishes high school and moves out of Charlie's house. And I think we can all agree that would be the best thing for Charlie, too."

"Unless he gets eaten by a vampire who's after me," I inserted.

Edythe sneered with derision. "Victor," she spat. "He doesn't have a prayer of even getting close now, not with all of us back here, and he'll know it. And we'll keep Charlie safe, too. Tell me, what's going to be harder on your father—a nonexistent threat from a vampire outnumbered seven to one, or waking up after he's finally gotten his son back, days after one of his closest friends passed away, to find he's gone again?"

I hesitated. The last thing I wanted was to hurt my dad even more when he was already down. It would be better if I could make the transition as easy on him as I could. Even though it was hard to contemplate waiting until graduation when I couldn't help but think Edythe might be able to use the time to try to get Carine or the others to change their vote, or I might get hit by a bus, maybe she had a point.

I turned my head back to meet Archie's gaze. "After graduation, then?" I said. "Right after?"

Archie fidgeted. "Yeah, sure. Although, to be honest... I'm not actually sure how to do it without killing you."

I frowned. "Hey, you swore—"

"Yeah, I know," he said quickly. "I'll do it." However, he still looked uncertain.

I looked around the table, at each of them gazing back at me. I suddenly remembered something, and my eyes came to rest on Carine.

"Hey," I said. "What about you, Carine? You've done this before, haven't you?"

Carine surveyed me with an expression that was hard to interpret. She had clearly voted yes for me, but I noticed a conflict in her eyes.

"Yes," she said evenly. "I am able to do it. You would be in no danger of my losing control."

I was looking back at Carine, but in my peripheral vision, I noticed Edythe watching Carine, too. I thought I saw the corner of her lips flicker in a grim smile.

I forced myself to ignore it, and drew another steadying breath. "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, okay. If Archie doesn't feel comfortable... maybe we better do that. Cool. We've got it all settled then." I paused, then couldn't help but add, "You promise, right? After graduation."

Carine gazed back at me, her brow slightly furrowed with some nameless concern I couldn't guess, but her eyes were resolute. "You have my word."

Edythe was looking irritated again. "Okay," she said, abruptly cutting in on the conversation. "We'll have plenty of time to discuss all this later. For now, I think it's best if Beau gets back home before Charlie wakes up and finds him AWOL—again."

I smiled a little at the others and ducked my head. "Thanks again. You guys are the best."

"Come back again soon," said Earnest as Edythe seized me by the arm and practically dragged me out the door.

It was a quiet trip home. It felt good to have a definite plan of action—that soon I wouldn't be a fragile human anymore, liable to get people killed because of my helplessness. However, I had mixed feelings. I couldn't be totally sure of my future until it actually came, and by mutual agreement, that was still months away. And I hadn't forgotten Edythe's smile there at the end. From where I was sitting, it had looked just a little diabolical.

When we reached the house, without hesitation Edythe powered straight up the wall like a cat and carried us through the open window. She let me down, then immediately turned her back on me.

I went to sit on the bed, thinking it was better to leave her some time to cool down. But as I glanced up at her, I was disconcerted to see, rather than furious, she had the crook of her finger pressed to her mouth, and her brow was creased with contemplation. She started to pace.

I'd been right—she was scheming something.

I watched her at it for a minute, before I sighed and rolled by eyes. "Come up with anything yet?" I asked dryly.

Edythe stopped dead and spun to face me. She abruptly flashed a smile, showing her dimples and causing me to blink and lose my train of thought.

"I was just thinking, Beau—we're both rational people, aren't we? So what if you and I struck a deal—you give me something that I want, and I give you something that you want."

"Depends on your definition of rational," I muttered, squinting at her suspiciously.

Edythe came to sit beside me on the bed, still smiling. "It's just business, Beau. You name something you'd like from me, and I'll make you an offer. Then we haggle until we come to an agreement we're both satisfied with."

"I already have everything I want," I said, frowning. "I have Carine's word that she's going to change me after graduation—the only thing I really want is to be able to be with you, and that's what I'm going to get. I don't need to make any deals."

Edythe turned toward me, casually slipping her hand through mine. "Oh, Beau," she said softly, almost purring, "but there are surely things you want that you're not thinking of... extra things. Something you would want me to do for you."

I scowled down at her. She reminded me of a shady options trader, trying to talk some millionaire into taking a bad investment.

However, her words had the desired effect, and I could feel my mind already flickering through the possibilities. I felt again my uncertainty, whether by the time graduation rolled around, it would really happen as had been decided this morning. I knew what I would want. If it were possible.

"I know you want me to stay human," I said at last. "And I know why. But if there's one thing I could have... I'd want you to be behind this. I'd want you to vote yes with the others. So... I guess what I'm saying is, if I'm going to be changed, I don't want Carine to be the one to do it. I would want it to be you."

I expected Edythe to get angry again, to glare or fly off into a tirade. But she gazed up at me thoughtfully for a long moment. Then at last, she nodded once. "And if I did agree to that... what would you give me?"

I hesitated, eying her warily. I felt like this was going too easily and I was fairly sure the catch would be major. "What do you want?" I said carefully.

"What about time? Say—" Edythe flashed a smile. "Five years?"

I snorted. "Dream on."

"Three years then," she said.

"That would make me twenty-one," I said, shaking my head. "I'd probably have a beard."

"Hmm," said Edythe, eying my jawline speculatively and reaching up to trace a slender finger along my chin. "That's right. It is strange you haven't started to grow one already... That's something I would love to see."

My brow furrowed. "What, you have a thing for beards now?"

Edythe trilled a laugh as she let her hand drop. "I would if you had one."

I shook my head. She was just trying to stall me. "No way. I'm willing to go to nineteen, but I don't want to go over twenty if I can help it. If you're a teenager, I want to be one, too."

Edythe shook her head. "Sometimes you seem so mature, Beau. Others... I don't know if I know anyone more ridiculous."

I shrugged. "Call me eccentric."

Edythe sighed. "All right, never mind about time then." She eyed me thoughtfully, hooking a finger beneath her chin as she considered. She suddenly smiled, her eyes lighting up. However, she dipped her head.

"What?" I said, suspicious.

"I thought of something I'd like," she said. Her fingers played absently with a bit of the comforter, eyes not quite meeting mine.

I felt my brow furrow in confusion. I couldn't remember if I'd ever seen Edythe act like this. Almost... shy?

I was sure whatever her request was, if it was enough to make even Edythe uncomfortable, I wasn't going to like it. However, after a minute my curiosity got the better of me.

"So? What is it then?"

Edythe kept her head bent, and gazed up at me through her lashes. "You said you would want me to change you," she began. "And not be quite so difficult in all this. I can't promise that I won't still try to convince you to change your mind about eternal damnation, Beau, but I would be the one to change you when the time comes. But in exchange, there's one thing I'd really like you and I to do. While you're still human."

I stared down at her, waiting.

She raised her head then, and her smile was suddenly so brilliant that for a minute I had to blink the stars from my eyes.

"I would like for the two of us to get married."

Silence. I stared at her for a long minute, as the meaning of the words worked to trickle down to my brain. When my voice finally returned to me, I said with flat disbelief, "You're joking, right?"

Edythe gave me a look halfway between hurt and amused. "Beau, you're lucky that when we turn into vampires, our hearts stop beating. Because you might have broken an ordinary girl's heart right there."

I pressed a hand to my head where I felt a headache coming on. "Married," I muttered. "Right after graduation."

"What?" Edythe said, still smiling though her brow was furrowed. "What's that reaction? Don't tell me you're still wanting to go out and live life before you let yourself get tied down."

I shook my head. "It's just—getting married right after graduation. You know how that would look? Not to mention my mom would probably kill me."

Edythe raised her eyebrows. "I have trouble believing that your mother could be so opposed to seeing you settled down."

I sighed. "It's not that exactly. It's just, things didn't exactly work out between her and Charlie, and to her, early marriage is right up there with teenage drinking and tagging fences. It's what dumb, irresponsible kids do—she's pounded that into my head since I was five. If I tell her I'm running off to get married right after graduation... well, let's just say, Victor and the Volturi may not be the biggest threats to my life."

Edythe sighed in a very showy, overly dramatic way, and looked up at me with mournful eyes. "So you won't brave your mother's wrath for me?"

I looked away. It was hard to concentrate when she was looking at me like that, even though I knew she was putting me on. I shook my head.

"Why do you want to get married anyway? I mean, once I'm changed, it won't matter. We can take our vows or whatever vampire rituals you have then."

Edythe leaned her head against my shoulder and sighed. She sounded just a little more serious as she said, "I don't know, Beau. Maybe it's silly. But I want to be tied to you when you're still human. I want it to be generally felt by everyone that you and I are one entity, before... before you disappear."

The last words came out as a whisper.

I glanced down at her, but I could only see the top of her head. I imagined facing my mom's reaction, and I mentally sighed. But I put an arm around Edythe's shoulders and rubbed her arm.

"What kind of ring do you want?" I asked with resignation.

Edythe looked up at me quickly, and her black eyes were shining in the semi-darkness. "Oh, you don't need to worry about that. We can keep it simple—we can take a trip to Vegas, if you prefer. I don't think your college fund can afford to take any more hits."

"And why do I need a college fund again?" I asked, frowning.

Edythe smiled. "Because you might surprise yourself and end up going after all. I told you I'd change you when the time came—that doesn't mean I won't still work on you to change your mind."

I shook my head. "I'm going to get you an engagement ring. The diamond is going to be huge. So huge, it'll weigh down your entire arm, and be visible halfway across the school parking lot."

Edythe laughed. "Did I hear just a bit of spite in your voice, Beau? You think that would embarrass me, but it wouldn't. I'd wear it every day, and even twist the diamond around so it refracted all the sunlight and blinded everyone who came near me, just to ensure they noticed it. I'll look forward to the potential conversation starters with positive glee."

"You're unbelievable," I muttered.

I looked up as I heard the creak of bed springs in the other room.

"Charlie's awake and getting up to check on you," she said in a low voice. "I better go."

Edythe was up off the bed in a flash, but I found myself reaching out to grab her arm in reflex.

She turned to look back at me.

"You'll come back, won't you?" I said in a low, suddenly hoarse voice.

Edythe's lips flickered in a smile. Then she leaned down and briefly pressed them to mine. "I won't be far," she breathed in my ear. Then she was gone.

I carefully got myself back under the covers, then laid with my head resting on the crook of my arm, waiting in the darkness. A moment later, I saw my door crack open a few inches.

"Morning, Dad," I said with a bit of a sigh.

"Oh," he said, sounding a bit embarrassed at being caught. "Hey, kid. I didn't know you were awake yet."

"Yeah, I was too tired to get up. I thought I'd wait until you were up to take a shower." I drew back the covers again and started to get up.

"Hold it," said Charlie, and I definitely heard a note of Chief Swan in his voice. "I think you and I need to have a talk first."

He reached over and hit my light, and the sudden brightness made spots dance in front of my eyes. I winced like a drunk with a hangover.

Arms folded, Charlie stood there for a moment awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot. At last, he said, "You know you're in trouble." It wasn't a question.

I nodded. "Yeah, I know."

"That was pretty reckless. Just taking off like that—no phone call, no number for me to contact you. You didn't even give me the slightest idea of when you'd be back. After I got back from Holly's funeral, that was a pretty nasty shock."

I didn't know what to say—how I could ever apologize. So I just kept nodding.

"This is serious, Beau," he continued. "To think you could do something like this—you've always been a responsible kid, and you've always had my complete trust, but this is too much. Maybe you're just too young still. Maybe you would be better off in Jacksonville with your mother and Phil, with more supervision."

I stared at the covers of my bed. The disappointment in his tone was worse than if he'd just gone off shouting. I felt like I'd broken his trust—just like I'd broken Jules's trust. I wanted to make it up to him somehow, to make him understand just how important the whole thing had been. It had been life and death, or else I would never have just run off and abandoned him at such a bad time.

But of course, I couldn't explain anything. Because I was part of a world of secrets, and in order to keep from betraying one of my families, I had to let it seem that I had betrayed the other. Just like when I'd had to run from Joss, and strike a knife deep into his old wounds to get him to let me go. I had chosen this path, and I didn't regret it—but I knew that it would mean that this scene would be continually on repeat, that I would keep on betraying him, and the other people I loved. Until after graduation, when I betrayed him in the worst way of all.

The emotions going through my mind must have shown on my face, because Charlie sighed. He unfolded his arms. "Don't ever do that to me again, kid."

"I'm sorry, Dad," I said in a low, hoarse voice.

Charlie looked down at me, and some of the pain and disappointment in his face softened. "Well, mostly I'm just glad you're back, safe and sound," he said gruffly. He added, "But you're still grounded."

"I figured that," I muttered. "Until graduation?"

"We'll see," he said, and I took that to mean probably longer than that, if he could manage it.

Charlie continued to stand in the doorway, and I could tell by the awkward way he fidgeted with his fingers that there was something else he was planning to bring up. Something sensitive that neither of us would want to discuss.

"So," he began. "So they're all coming back, then? Her too?"

His tone was sharp, condemning, just as it had been when he'd spoken to Archie in the kitchen. He had never once blamed Edythe for what I had gone through, at least not in front of me. But now the chilliness in his voice couldn't be mistaken.

"Seems that way," I said, shrugging, pretending not to notice.

"And you're back together?" he said, tone stiff.

"Yeah," I said, and my voice held just a hint of a challenge now.

Charlie snorted. The room was quiet for a minute. He was staring straight ahead at the window when he said abruptly, "Look, kid, you're not going to want to hear this, but I think it needs to be said."

I was silent and Charlie continued, "I know how you feel about this girl, Beau. But I think you'll end up even worse off than you were before if you don't stop and stand your ground now. Tough it out, and keep away from her—that's my advice. Or you'll just end up in the same boat you were last year."

I kept my eyes down, though I could feel splotches of red creeping up my neck now as my annoyance rose.

Charlie sighed. "Let me tell you something. To be frank, kid, since the Cullens left... I was ticked at that girl. She couldn't control the fact that her family left, but if she had been serious about you, she could have found a way to keep in contact. But she didn't. That's the way I felt about it. But—rationally, I knew that was a lot to expect out of a teenager. Better that she made a clean break at the start, than act like you'd still be together someday and all the while be running around with other guys in L.A. And she couldn't have known how you'd react."

He hesitated. "When your mother left... that was a rough time for me. And if she had ever come back, one year, two years, five years down the line—I would have let her back in in a second. But now looking back—I'm glad she didn't."

My thoughts flitted to the collection of photos downstairs—the old wedding photo of Charlie and my mom in Las Vegas, and the the two of them at the hospital, baby me in my mom's arms. I tried not to think about it most of the time, but ever since I had come here I had known he had never really gotten over my mom, even nearly two decades later. He and I were the same that way.

I could only stare at him, trying to understand what he meant.

"Renée was always a free spirit," he said. "She couldn't have been happy here. Even if she had come back, she would have left again."

He hesitated, and he turned his head to look at me. He said slowly, gruffly, "The only thing worse than going through that would have been to go through it twice."

I stared at my hands. At last, he continued, "I know how you feel, kid, believe me. But you're doing so much better now. And if you let her have a second chance, chances are, you'll just end up in a repeat of last fall. If she didn't care enough to keep things going when she left last time, I guarantee it'll just happen again. Is that what you want?"

His scowl had shifted to the far wall now. He muttered to himself furiously, "That she expects she can just walk right back in... pick things up where you left off like nothing happened..."

I was glaring down at my hands, and they were clenched on my covers. My gaze fell on the tiny cool scar on my finger, where Edythe had sucked the venom from my system before I could be changed forever.

"You don't know her, Dad," I said quietly. "This isn't a second chance, because she never did anything wrong."

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the blood was rising in his face, and I could tell the quiet, reasonable talk was over.

He said abruptly, loud and forceful, "She's a flake, and you deserve better. I don't know what she's said to you, but I know her type—the type who can talk her way out of anything. If you were smart, you would shake her off and find someone steady, someone reliable. If I see her in this house again—"

"—you'll be polite and you'll treat her like you would any other girl I bring over," I said. I had turned to look at him now, and I could feel my temper rising. I could feel my face heating up, probably turning nearly as red as his. I drew back the covers and got to my feet, turning to face him. "I'm not going to change my mind," I said. "Where I am, Edythe is going to be too, so you might as well just deal with it."

The two of us just stood there, glaring at each other for a minute. At last I muttered, "You mind going now? I need to take a shower."

Charlie glared at me for a minute longer before he turned. "This conversation isn't over," he said shortly. He shut the door with a heavy thud behind him, and I listened to him stomping down the hall and down the stairs.

I stood there for a minute longer, my arms folded, trying to reign in my temper. I counted to five, then turned around.

Edythe was already there, sitting in my rocking chair in the corner as though she'd never left. I had no doubt she had heard every word of the conversation.

"Sorry about him," I muttered. "He just doesn't understand."

"I think he understands more than you give him credit for," she said softly.

I raised an eyebrow. "So you do think you might get distracted and run off again?" A smile played around my lips as I said it—it was a joke. I had to marvel—I did believe her. The terror that my time was running out had faded to almost nothing, at least for the moment.

Edythe shook her head. "Don't be ridiculous." She hesitated. "But he is right... I did do badly by you. I deserve everything he said and worse. I don't deserve a second chance."

I sighed. "Weren't you listening? I'm not giving you a second chance. You're still on your first."

Edythe's sad smile turned incredulous. "Which is an even more ridiculous thing to say than the other." She shook her head again. "In any case, please don't start a fight with your father over me. Everything he said was more than warranted."

I pressed my mouth into a hard line. "No promises."

I headed over to the dresser, and dragged out some clean clothes. "And I really need a shower," I added, "so I'll be back in a few."

"Take your time," Edythe murmured, still in the rocking chair, her eyes distant. I wondered if she was still thinking about what Charlie had said—I was really going to have to have a talk with him.

As my hand reached out for the doorknob, I paused, another thought I'd almost forgotten returning to my mind.

"Hey," I said, frowning at the door. "By the way. Back when we were at your house, and when I asked Carine if she could change me and she said she could. What was it you were smiling about?" I added, "I hope you aren't getting any more pointless ideas. I am joining you, no matter what kind of stunts you try to pull."

Edythe shook her head, coming out of her reverie. "Oh, that." She smiled. "Well, let's just say there is going to be a bit of an obstacle in you giving up your soul. To be honest, it's not a big one that most of us would even consider. Only Carine would be troubled by it. And—possibly you."

"Me?" I said, wheeling around to give her a strange look. "What problem would I have? I'm the one who asked for this."

Edythe's smile was carefully nonchalant, and she shrugged. "Maybe you wouldn't. And obviously, Carine has made her decision. It's probably just going to be more aggravating than anything—but Eleanor will probably be happy. She loves any opportunity for a fight."

My brows contracted above my eyes. "Fighting? Who's fighting?"

Edythe waved a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it, Beau. It's not important. Maybe they won't even make a big deal about it."

I stared at her for a second longer, frowning in confusion, before I grinned.

"Oh, I get what you're trying to do. You can try to get me all stirred up over vague, made-up worries all you want, it's not going to make me change my mind."

Edythe sighed and shook her head. "So eager for eternal damnation," she murmured.

I raised an eyebrow. "I'd believe you believed that, except, when you first saw me in Volterra, your first response was, 'Carine was right after all.' I think you have more hope in you than you like to pretend."

Edythe smiled slightly. "Well, I'm aware there's always that slim possibility I might be wrong. But as that has happened to me only rarely, I believe in hard facts and covering all the bases to gambling on slivers of chance."

Still looking back at her over my shoulder, I suddenly grinned. Shafts of sunlight were beginning to stream in through the window now as the sun breached the horizon, and I suddenly felt light all over, my heart full to bursting.

"I'm glad you're back," I said. "So glad. Even the frustrating parts."

Edythe looked back at me, and her onyx eyes glittered. "Sometimes I think it's our mutual frustration you and I thrive on the most."

"I hear sometimes those make the best love stories," I answered. "Just look at Romeo and Juliet. If they hadn't been forced to keep away from each other most of the play, I'm sure they would have had a lot to argue about."

"Oh, no doubt."

And as I headed out the door, I heard Edythe's familiar musical laugh follow me out into the hall.


A/N: As I said... some changes this chapter. I was most worried about the ones near the beginning. (The conversation was quite different, and had a completely different feeling from the original. And there are some things I was concerned about the way it turned out.)

But, there was also a change near the end I decided to make, since I felt it fit Beau more. Partially because he's not as contrary as Bella, and partially because, as the guy, the social circumstances are different. (Because marriage is often considered by society a kind of protection/advantage for women, Bella had no reason to feel guilty for wanting to avoid it, and saw it in much the same light as Edward subjecting her to prom, while Beau, no matter how much apprehension he might feel at the thought of a wedding or his mom's likely response, would probably see himself as a jerk if he refused Edythe's request for those kinds of reasons.) Naturally this will affect some things in Eclipse, but not as much as you might expect.

Thanks so much for reading! All your wonderful thoughts and comments have been very much appreciated, and I'm so happy you've stuck with me this far. Just one more to go now. (This one might take longer, since I'll also be trying to prepare the prologue and first chapter of Eclipse at the same time, so I can get them put up fairly close together.)

If you have a moment, let me know what you thought, and see you next time!

Posted 9/27/16