New York

"How can you stand all this noise?" I asked Edward, genuinely curious. We were walking in Central Park, a casual morning stroll under the thick cover of grey clouds, and even though it was only ten am, the surrounding noise was deafening. I couldn't imagine what it was for Edward, who heard thoughts in addition to all the conversations, yells and grunts. It was my first time in a big city after five years in the solitude of Alaska, and I wasn't too much at ease.

"Habit, I guess," he shrugged, his hand in mine and his other one raking through his windswept hair. "I tune it all out. I focus on you," he added with a mischievous smile, his golden eyes twinkling.

I grinned at him, trying to ignore the rising desire in me, and projected my shield around him. He sighed contentedly. "Thank you, love. Even if I tune them out, there is still a lingering buzz in my head. Now my mind is silent. Thank you."

"My pleasure, husband of mine," I said with a beam. I was so happy to be able to ease his burden. We were still assaulted by the noises around us, but at least he was alone in his head for now. And it was effortless for me to project my shield now. I could do it indefinitely.

"Seth should be meeting us around here," Edward said as we arrived at a cluster of boulders, and we looked around us. No wolf stench yet; he was late. And he wasn't coming alone. We would meet his girlfriend Britney for the first time, and I was rather excited. Since he met her, he'd been another man. Calmer, more focused, dedicated to her, and he had stopped phasing at last. I was so happy for him.

"Do you want me to lift my shield?" I asked my mate, knowing that he was still relying way too much on his talent. But it was part of him. Edward without his mind reading wouldn't be Edward.

"Yes, please," he nodded, taking me in his arms and kissing me tenderly. "I want to know what Britney really thinks about us."

"She took the news well," I reminded him. "She saw Seth phase in front of her. I doubt she'll run to the hills now."

"Like a certain fragile human I knew," he smiled against my lips, and I kissed him earnestly. He groaned, our tongues dancing against each other, and I was starting to forget where we were, when...

"Whooo! Just like every time, then! Old habits die hard!"

We pulled away to see Seth, eyeing us with a leery expression, standing a few yards away from us. His huge frame was leaning protectively over a small blonde woman with hazel eyes, who was looking at us with wide eyes. "And that, honey," Seth continued with a snicker, "is what happens when two of them mate. Can't keep their hands off of each other."

"You're one to talk," I giggled, approaching them slowly, not wanting to spook the human. "Hi Seth. Hello," I added, turning towards Britney, who swallowed but stood her ground. "I'm Bella, and this is my husband Edward. It's a pleasure to meet you. Seth can't stop blabbering about you."

"It's an honour," Edward said, nodding with a smile. We were careful not to show our teeth and keep a safe distance from them, and Britney smiled tentatively at us.

"Hi," she said with a small blush and her hand gripping Seth's tighter. "It's a pleasure too. But..."

"You didn't believe Seth, did you?" Edward said with a smirk, and she jumped a little.

"No," she admitted after a few seconds, an embarrassed smile on her lips. "Not completely."

"Let's walk," Seth said with a small gesture of his hand. He led us to an isolated bench under trees, away from the path and prying ears, and he and Britney sat. Edward and I remained standing two yards away from them. I could smell her uneasiness, her heart was pounding and her adrenalin was high. She needed space, and time.

"So," she started, fidgeting a little. "You're really... vampires?"

"Yes," Edward acknowledged with his crooked smile, and she blinked. I nudged him. He was dazzling her. "But we don't hurt humans. We feed on animals' blood, hence the golden eyes."

"Wow," she exhaled, shooting a bewildered look at Seth, who looked smug. "And here I thought he was pulling my leg."

"No," I smiled, and she reciprocated, her shoulders relaxing a little. "But I admit it's a little unsettling at first."

"How long have you been... like this?" she asked me with interest.

"Five years," I answered easily. "Edward changed me, since we are mates. He's been around much longer."

"I'm one hundred and ten," my mate said, and Britney's eyes widened again in shock. "I've waited for Bella for a long time."

"You tell me," she said in awe, and Seth laughed easily.

"And they've been making up for the lost time ever since. Like, a lot," he announced with a smirk, and I was lucky I couldn't blush anymore.

"Seth," I growled playfully. "Have you told Britney how we met you in the woods?"

"No," she said, eyeing him suspiciously as he squirmed a little under our delighted stare. Tables have turned, buddy.

"It's a good story," Edward started to recall with his velvet voice, while Seth cleared his throat, embarrassed. "Have you been to Forks?"

"Yes," Britney nodded. "Twice. I met Sue, and Charlie." She grimaced a little, and I couldn't help a twinge of anger. It seemed that my father had become a bitter and angry man, isolating himself from everyone except Sue and Billy, and still resenting me intensely. He even resented Jacob, according to Seth and Emily, with whom I was still writing emails. Delusional man. I shook my head, and Edward went on, rubbing my hand affectionately.

"Well, four years ago we went back to Forks, to see Charlie and Sue's wedding, from afar," he recounted, and I let my gaze wander. It had been a sunny day, so we had had to stay up a tall tree, but I had seen my father marrying the woman he loved. I was happy for him, but I was still angry and hurt. He hadn't tried to contact me, not once, and he had written me off completely.

"All the pack was there, of course, but Seth here wasn't too happy about the wedding, so he left right after the vows."

"Damn right I wasn't happy," Seth grumbled, his usually boyish features clouding in anger. "Charlie's not been the same since he disowned you, Bella. He isn't right for my mom. But she's stubborn. And I can't help the thought that he stole my father's place. Dad hadn't been dead for a year, and bam! They want to marry. Too fast for me. I know it's my mom's right, and I want her to be happy, but still..."

Britney leaned on Seth's shoulder, putting her arm around his waist, and I couldn't refrain a happy sigh. She was good for him, and she truly loved him. I was very happy, since he had imprinted on her in a small café near their campus, and at the time he didn't know her from Eve. But he had sought her out, winning her friendship then her heart.

"Anyway," Edward said lightly, "so we have this beanpole here leaving Charlie's garden and running into the woods, straight at us. He phased, destroying his tuxedo in the process..."

"Mom gave me hell for this," Seth interrupted him with a snark.

"… and he reached our tree. He smelled us, of course."

"Well, it would be hard not smelling you," Seth said jokingly, his bad mood already behind him. He was a sunny person, like Jacob used to be. "You stink."

"Back at you," I giggled, and Britney eyed us uncomprehendingly. "We can't stand our smells," I explained to her," but we're used to it now. However, when I was human, vampires and werewolves were smelling good, as far as I was concerned."

"Yeah," she nodded. "I like your smell. And Seth's."

I grinned at Seth while he pretended to gag, and Edward chuckled. Seth spoke, then.

"I was mad at my mom and Charlie, but I was surprised to smell vampires in the vicinity. And even more when I recognized Bella and Edward. They weren't supposed to be in Forks. But I knew why they had come, so I ignored the fact that I was supposed to chase them away. And so we struck up a conversation."

"We mostly talked about our parents," I recalled with a small smile, a pang of sadness in my dead heart. "Seth and I understand each other, having been let down by our parents one way or the other."

"You're Charlie's daughter, then?" Britney asked, and I nodded with a sigh. "What about your mother?"

"She lives in Florida with her husband," I huffed, a little pissed at my harebrained mother. "He cheats on her on a regular basis, but since she doesn't want to admit that she made a mistake by marrying him, and since he's now a well-paid baseball coach who buys her every whim, she stays with him and doesn't speak to me. Well, to be fair, she cannot contact me, but I know for certain that she hasn't tried. Not since our wedding."

A few seconds of silence passed, then I picked up the story with a smirk. "But we were getting to the juicy part. So Seth, Edward and I were talking in the woods. Well, Edward was reading Seth's mind and speaking his words aloud, as Seth was in wolf form. And then, I said something about his mom and my dad's wedding night, telling him that I wasn't going to linger in Forks so as not to hear anything. And then," I giggled as Edward burst out laughing and Seth groaned, hands over his face, "Seth lost his cool. He phased back and started cursing Charlie in earnest. He had just forgotten this minor detail that when wolves phase back, they're completely naked."

Britney started to laugh too, and Seth, although beet red, let out a reluctant chuckle. "It was hilarious," Edward chimed in between loud peals of laughter, "this tall, lanky boy yelling his head off while stark naked and not giving a damn about it."

"Of course," Seth said, still blushing deeply, "when I realized I didn't have any clothes covering me, I phased again, but Bella had seen me."

"Lucky you, I'm happily married to my mate," I giggled, leaning into Edward's chest, his arm snaking around my waist. "I didn't really care."

"But you've been teasing me ever since," Seth said, his eyes narrowed, and I smiled innocently.

"Mostly by email, so no real harm done," I assured him, and he grunted. Britney was still laughing, and she had a wonderful laugh. No wonder Seth was head-over-heels in love with her.

"We stayed in touch after this incident," I explained to her. "I'm writing to Emily too, so she gave me Seth's email address."

"I really like Emily," Britney told me with a genuine smile, and I rejoiced at her now completely relaxed stance. She didn't fear us anymore. "She's amazing."

"And a wonderful mother, apparently," I nodded. "It's a shame that I won't be able to know her children."

"You won't?" she asked me, puzzled, and I shook my head dejectedly.

"We can't get involved with the children of our friends," Edward told her softly, looking a little disappointed himself. "They would know that something is wrong with us if we pretend to be fifty while looking in our twenties. There is only so much aesthetic surgery can do."

"So... that means..." she said, and I exchanged a pained look with Seth, squeezing hard Edward's hand.

"Yes, we probably won't be seeing each other again in person," I whispered sadly. "You're a wonderful person, Britney, I just can tell. And I know that our secret is safe with you, with Seth's family and all. But it's just too risky. We have to keep our existence a secret. And if other vampires learn that you know about us..."

"We can't risk that," Seth acknowledged. "The Volturi can't be involved. We still can write emails."

"Of course," Edward said with a smile, easing my sadness.

"You... Can I write to you?" Britney asked me with a small voice.

"I would be delighted," I told her, beaming, and she smiled widely. I wrote my email address on a piece of paper Edward gave me, and handed it to her. "We're leaving in a few hours, but I'll always answer to you if you write to me."

"Where are you going?" she asked, looking a little crestfallen.

"Ireland," Edward told her gently. "We'll spend the next decade there with our family."

"Complete change of scenery," the Quileute murmured, kissing Britney's hair. "But I hope you'll be fine over there."

"I think we will," Edward said, kissing me too.

"That's all I wish for you, you know?" Seth said seriously, getting up and eyeing us solemnly. "I'll never forget what you've done for me."

"It was our pleasure, Seth," I assured him with a smile, emotions rising in me.

"What... Seth?" Britney asked, looking lost.

"Edward and Bella helped me when I turned eighteen," Seth explained calmly, his voice vibrating with a strong emotion. "My mom didn't have any money left for Leah's studies or mine, and I never would've touched anything that Charlie gave me, not that he offered anyway. Emily told Bella about my dream of becoming a pediatrician, and my desire to put a great distance between myself and Charlie and Leah, so she and Edward sent me a check. A huge one. I pay all my tuition fees, I bought my car and our condo with it. And they don't want to hear about me paying them back," he added, shooting daggers at us.

"You know that we won't miss the money, Seth," Edward said with a wave of his hand. "It was a small way of being there for you. You can keep your savings for a house, or your future kids' education. Just enjoy."

"We're family, Seth," I told him earnestly, venom tears prickling my eyes, tears I would never shed. "You're my stepbrother, regardless of what my father thinks about us. And I won't let my brother abandon his dreams because of money when I have no difficulty helping him."

Seth crossed the distance between us and embraced me. We hugged tightly, my cold body encased in his very hot one, and he kissed the top of my head. "Thank you, sister," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I really hope it's not the last time we see each other."

"We'll always be there, even from afar," I told him as we pulled away from each other and he wiped his cheeks. I watched with fondness how Britney went to Seth and hugged him tightly, comforting him just like a mate could. They kissed, and I fought my coo. They were so right together.

"Speaking of sister," Edward said, changing the subject and earning grateful smiles from Seth and me, "how's Leah these days?"

"Yeah, I can't believe I haven't dished out the news yet," Seth snickered, back in his old self. "She met a guy."

"No!" I exclaimed in surprise. My stepsister, the bitter harpy, had met someone? Thank you Lord for miracles!

"Yeah, a guy named Matt something. She imprinted on him two weeks ago. He's an EMT in Seattle, and they're already living together. Charlie is livid. Mom is over the moon. And Leah called me," he added more seriously, a relieved smile tugging at his lips.

"I'm very happy to hear it," I told him with a large grin. I knew that Leah and he had had a spat last year at Thanksgiving over me, and that Seth hadn't spoken to Charlie at all since then. But it had always pained me that he and his sister were on bad terms because of me. I knew Charlie was a hopeless case.

"Yeah, couldn't believe it at first," he snorted, but his features were still soft, his arm around Britney. "But she asked for forgiveness. Told me I had been right, and that she wanted me to meet her fiancé. We're going for this year's Thanksgiving, actually," he smirked. "In Seattle, just the four of us. It can't be worse than last year, anyway."

"That would be difficult," Britney piped up with a gentle smile. "And I'm here, now."

"I'm happy for you two, and for Leah," I told them, resting my head on Edward's shoulder. "Please give her my best wishes."

"Will do," Seth promised. "And what do I tell Charlie through my mom?"

"Nothing," I sighed, not wanting to think about the emptiness named Charlie in my heart.

"Or I could tell him to go fuck off," Seth suggested with a sly grin.

"Seth!" Britney chastised him, slapping him on his arm. He just chuckled.

"No, thank you," I declined with a small smile.

"We have to go," Edward said apologetically. "We have a plane to catch."

"It was wonderful meeting you here," I told Britney as she hugged me, to my surprise. I hugged her back, and she only shivered a little under my cold touch.

"It truly was," she smiled at me, eyes soft and sincere.

"Please take care of him," I whispered in her ear, looking at Seth and Edward embracing each other like old friends and exchanging hushed words.

"I will," she said, adoration in her eyes. I believed her. Seth would have a happy life.

Then I faced the man I had first met as a boy tailing Jacob in La Push, then phasing into a small, sandy-haired wolf, then fighting alongside Sam against Victoria's newborn vampires, and then running away from our parent's upsetting wedding. He had become a true friend, even a brother for me, however distant our relationship had to be because of what we were.

"Take care of you, brother," I murmured in his ear as he leaned over me, and we hugged tightly again.

"You too, sister. Live a long, happy life with your vampire," he said with emotion.

"And you with your imprint. She's the one, and she's right for you."

"I know. I'll propose soon, and I'll ask her to be the mother of many kids," he said with a mischievous smile.

I giggled. "I think she'll agree for the first thing. The last, maybe partially. Don't be surprised if she has conditions."

He shook his head and winked at me. "Say hello to the Cullens for me, please. And have a good time in Ireland. I hope we'll meet again in ten years."

"We'll keep in touch," I promised. He and I knew that I couldn't promise anything else.

After a last round of goodbyes, we parted ways on the path, Seth and Britney back towards their condo, and Edward and I towards our rental car. My heart was heavy.

"Are you all right, love?" Edward asked me, his arm still around me in his usual loving gesture.

"I will be," I told him honestly.

"Britney was afraid of us at first," he said as we walked among the busy New Yorkers as they went on with their lives, ignoring us. "But she thinks we're good people now, and she's happy that Seth has found a sister in you. She's good for him. She loves him with all her heart, and she will always support him. They'll stay in New York."

I nodded, not surprised. I knew that I probably wouldn't see my stepbrother and his future wife again, but I would always think about them and support them from afar as much as I could. I was happy that he and Leah had made peace, and I hoped that he wouldn't kill my father or be estranged from his mother because of me. I had done all I could, and I would continue to do so. I had all the time in the world to do so.

"Let's go to our new country," I said resolutely, pulling my vampire in for a kiss. He happily obliged.