Worse still, this new image I'd never had before, one that by all rights shouldn't have existed for me. Not yet. An image I knew I wouldn't've suffered over for years if he hadn't shoved it in my head now. But it stuck there, winding threads through my brain like a weed - poisonous and unkillable. Bella, healthy and glowing, so different than now, but something the same: her body, not distorted, changed in a more natural way. Round with my child.

I tried to escape the venomous weed in my mind. "Make Bella see sense? What universe do you live in?"

"At least try."

I shook my head fast. He waited, ignoring the negative answer because he could hear the conflict in my thoughts.

"Where is this psycho crap coming from? Are you making this up as you go?"

"I've been thinking of nothing but ways to save her since I realized what she was planning to do. What she would die to do. But I didn't know how to contact you. I knew you wouldn't listen if I called. I would have come to find you soon, if you hadn't come today. But it's hard to leave her, even for a few minutes. Her condition... it changes so fast. The thing is... growing. Swiftly. I can't be away from her now."

"What is it?"

"None of us have any idea. But it is stronger than she is. Already."

I could suddenly see it then - see the swelling monster in my head, breaking her from the inside out.

"Help me stop it," he whispered. "Help me stop this from happening."

"How?By offering my stud services?" He didn't even flinch when I said that, but I did. "You're really sick. She'll never listen to this."

"Try. There's nothing to lose now. How will it hurt?"

It would hurt me. Hadn't I taken enough rejection from Bella without this?

"A little pain to save her? Is it such a high cost?"

"But it won't work."

"Maybe not. Maybe it will confuse her, though. Maybe she'll falter in her resolve. One moment of doubt is all I need."

"And then you pull the rug out from under the offer? 'Just kidding, Bella'?"

"If she wants a child, that's what she gets. I won't rescind."

I couldn't believe I was even thinking about this. Bella would punch me - not that I cared about that, but it would probably break her hand again. I shouldn't let him talk to me, mess with my head. I should just kill him now.

"Not now," he whispered. "Not yet. Right or wrong, it would destroy her, and you know it. No need to be hasty. If she won't listen to you, you'll get your chance. The moment Bella's heart stops beating, I will be begging for you to me."

"You won't have to beg long."

The hint of a worn smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "I'm very much counting on that."

"Then we have a deal."

He nodded and held out his cold stone hand.

Swallowing my disgust, I reached out to take his hand. My fingers closed around the rock, and I shook it once.

"We have a deal," he agreed.

10. WHY DIDN'T I JUST WALK AWAY? OH RIGHT, BECAUSE

I felt like - like I don't know what. Like this wasn't real. Like I was in some Goth version of a bad sitcom. Instead of being the AAdweeb about to ask the head cheerleader to the prom, I was the finished-second-place werewolf about to ask the vampire's wife to shack up and procreate. Nice.

No, I wouldn't do it. It was twisted and wrong. I was going to forget all about what he'd said.

But I would talk to her. I'd try to make her listen to me.

And she wouldn't. Just like always.

Edward didn't answer or comment on my thoughts as he led the way back to the house. I wondered about the place that he'd chosen to stop. Was it far enough from the house that the others couldn't hear his whispers? Was that the point?

Maybe. When we walked through the door, the other Cullens' eyes were suspicious and confused. No one looked disgusted or outraged. So they must not have heard either favor Edward had asked me for.

I hesitated in the open doorway, not sure what to do now. It was better right there, with a little bit of breathable air blowing in from outside.

Edward walked into the middle of the huddle, shoulders stiff. Bella watched him anxiously, and then her eyes flickered to me for a second. Then she was watching him again.

Her face turned a grayish pale, and I could see what he meant about the stress making her feel worse.

"We're going tolet Jacob and Bella speak privately," Edward said. There was no inflection at all in his voice. Robotic.

"Over my pile of ashes," Rosalie hissed at him. She was still hovering by Bella's head, one of her cold hands placed possessively on Bella's sallow cheek.

Edward didn't look at her. "Bella," he said in that same empty tone. "Jacob wants to talk to you. Are you afraid to

be alone with him?"

Bella looked at me, confused. Then she looked at Rosalie.

"Rose, it's fine. Jake's not going to hurt us. Go with Edward."

"It might be a trick," the blonde warned.

"I don't see how," Bella said.

"Carlisle and I will always be in your sight, Rosalie," Edward said. The emotionless voice was cracking, showing the anger through it. "We're the ones she's afraid of."

"No," Bella whispered. Her eyes were glistening, her lashes wet. "No, Edward. I'm not___"

He shook his head, smiling a little. The smile was painful to look at. "I didn't mean it that way, Bella. I'm fine. Don't worry about me."

Sickening. He was right - she was beating herself up about hurting his feelings. The girl was a classic martyr. She'd totally been born in the wrong century. She should have lived back when she could have gotten herself fed to some lions for a good cause.

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