Jacob snorted. "Real. Does that make me imaginary?"

"You know what I mean."

"Full moon, yes," Edward said. "Silver bullets, no - that was just another one of those myths to make humans feel like they had a sporting chance. There aren't very many of them left. Caius has had them hunted into near extinction."

"And you never mentioned this because... ?"

"It never came up."

I rolled my eyes, and Alice laughed, leaning forward - she was tucked under Edward's other arm - to wink at me.

I glared back.

I loved her insanely, of course. But now that I'd had a chance to realize that she was really home, that her defection was only a ruse because Edward had to believe that she'd abandoned us, I was beginning to feel pretty irritated with her. Alice had some explaining to do.

Alice sighed. "Just get it off your chest, Bella."

"How could you do that to me, Alice?"

"It was necessary."

"Necessary!" I exploded. "You had me totally convinced that we were all going to die! I've been a wreck for weeks."

"It might have gone that way," she said calmly. "In which case you needed to be prepared to save Nessie."

Instinctively, I held Nessie - asleep now on my lap - tighter in my arms.

"But you knew there were other ways, too," I accused. "You knew there was hope. Did it ever occur to you that you could have told me everything? I know Edward had to think we were at a dead end for Aro's sake, but you could have told me."

She looked at me speculatively for a moment. "I don't think so," she said. "You're just not that good an actress."

"This was about my acting skills?"

"Oh, take it down an octave, Bella. Do you have any idea how complicated Ms was to set up? I couldn't even be sure that someone like Nahuel existed - all I knew was that I would be looking for something I couldn't see! Try to imagine searching for a blind spot - not the easiest thing I've ever done. Plus we had to send back the key witnesses, like we weren't in enough of a hurry. And then keeping my eyes open all the time in case you decided to throw me any more instructions. At some point you're going to have to tell me what exactly is in Rio. Before any of that, I had to try to see every trick the Volturi might come in with and give you what few clues I could so you would be ready for their strategy, and I only had just a few hours to trace out all the possibilities. Most of all, I had to make sure you'd all believe that I was ditching out on you, because Aro had to be positive that you had nothing left up your sleeves or he never would have committed to an out the way he did. And if you think I didn't feel like a schmuck - "

"Okay, okay!" I interrupted. "Sorry! I know it was rough for you, too. It's just that... well, I missed you like crazy, Alice. Don't do that to me again."

Alice's trilling laugh rang through the room, and we all smiled to hear that music once more. "I missed you, too, Bella. So forgive me, and try to be satisfied with being the superhero of the day."

Everyone else laughed now, and I ducked my face into Nessie's hair, embarrassed.

Edward went back to analyzing every shift of intention and control that had happened in the meadow today, declaring that it was my shield that had made the Volturi run away with their tails between their legs. The way everyone looked at me made me uncomfortable. Even Edward. It was like I had grown a hundred feet during the course of the morning. I tried to ignore the impressed looks, mostly keeping my eyes on Nessie's sleeping face and Jacob's unchanged expression. I would always be just Bella to him, and that was a relief.

The hardest stare to ignore was also the most confusing one.

It wasn't like this half-human, half-vampire Nahuel was used to thinking of me in a certain way. For all he knew, I went around routing attacking vampires every day and the scene in the meadow had been nothing unusual at all. But the boy never took his eyes off me. Or maybe he was looking at Nessie. That made me uncomfortable, too.

He couldn't be oblivious to the fact that Nessie was the only female of his kind that wasn't his half-sister.

I didn't think this idea had occurred to Jacob yet. I kind of hoped it wouldn't soon. I'd had enough fighting to last me for a while.

Eventually, the others ran out of questions for Edward, and the discussion dissolved into a bunch of smaller conversations.

I felt oddly tired. Not sleepy, of course, but just like the day had been long enough. I wanted some peace, some normality. I wanted Nessie in her own bed; I wanted the walls of my own little home around me.

I looked at Edward and felt for a moment like I could read his mind. I could see he felt exactly the same way. Ready for some peace.

"Should we take Nessie ..."

'That's probably a good idea," he agreed quickly. "I'm sure she didn't sleep soundly last night, what with all the snoring."

He grinned at Jacob.

Jacob rolled his eyes and then yawned. "It's been a while since I slept in a bed. I bet my dad would get a kick out of having me under his roof again."

I touched his cheek. "Thank you, Jacob."

"Anytime, Bella. But you already know that."

He got up, stretched, kissed the top of Nessie's head, and then the top of mine. Finally, he punched Edward's shoulder. "See you guys tomorrow. I guess things are going to be kind of boring now, aren't they?"

"I fervently hope so," Edward said.

We got up when he was gone; I shifted my weight carefully so that Nessie was never jostled. I was deeply grateful to see her getting a sound sleep. So much weight had been on her tiny shoulders. It was time she got to be a child again - protected and secure. A few more years of childhood.

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