Barking out a low chuckle, Leah lunged into the woods after him.

I growled uselessly. So much for peace and quiet.

Leah was trying - for Leah. She kept her jibes to a minimum as she raced around the circuit, but it was impossible not to be aware of her smug mood. I thought of the whole "two's company" saying. It didn't really apply, because one was plenty to my mind. But if there had to be three of us, it was hard to think of anyone that I wouldn't trade her for.

Paul?she suggested.

Maybe,I allowed.

She laughed to herself, too jittery and hyper to get offended, i wondered how long the buzz from dodging Sam's pity would last.

That will be my goal then - to be less annoying than Paul.

Yeah, work on that

I changed into my other form when I was a few yards from the lawn. I hadn't been planning to spend much time human here. But I hadn't been planning to have Leah in my head, either. I pulled on my ragged shorts and started across the lawn.

The door opened before I got to the steps, and I was surprised to see Carlisle rather than Edward step outside to meet me - his face looked exhausted and defeated. For a second, my heart froze. I faltered to a stop, unable to speak.

"Are you all right, Jacob?" Carlisle asked.

"Is Bella?" I choked out.

"She's... much the same as last night. Did I startle you? I'm sorry. Edward said you were coming in your human form, and I came out to greet you, as he didn't want to leave her. She's awake."

And Edward didn't want to lose any time with her, because he didn't have much time left. Carlisle didn't say the words out loud, but he might as well have.

It had been a while since I'd slept - since before my last patrol. I could really feel that now. I took a step forward, sat down on the porch steps, and slumped against the railing.

Moving whisper-quiet as only a vampire could, Carlisle took a seat on the same step, against the other railing.

"I didn't get a chance to thank you last night, Jacob. You don't know how much I appreciate your... compassion. I know your goal was to protect Bella, but I owe you the safety of the rest of my family as well. Edward told me what you had to do___"

"Don't mention it," I muttered.

"If you prefer."

We sat in silence. I could hear the others in the house. Emmett, Alice, and Jasper, speaking in low, serious voices upstairs. Esme humming tunelessly in another room. Rosalie and Edward breathing close by - I couldn't tell which was which, but I could hear the difference in Bella's labored panting. I could hear her heart, too. It seemed... uneven.

It was like fate was out to make me do everything I'd ever sworn I wouldn't in the course of twenty-four hours. Here I was, hanging around, waiting for her to die.

I didn't want to listen anymore. Talking was better than listening.

"She's family to you?" I asked Carlisle. It had caught my notice before, when he'd said I'd helped the rest of his family, too.

"Yes. Bella is already a daughter to me. A beloved daughter."

"But you're going to let her die."

He was quiet long enough that I looked up. His face was very, very tired. I knew how he felt.

"I can imagine what you think of me for that," he finally said. "But i can't ignore her will. It wouldn't be right to make such a choice for her, to force her."

I wanted to be angry with him, but he was making it hard. It was like he was throwing my own words back at me, just scrambled up. They'd sounded right before, but they couldn't be right now. Not with Bella dying. Still... I remembered how it felt to be broken on the ground under Sam - to have no choice but be involved in the murder of someone I loved. It wasn't the same, though. Sam was wrong. And Bella loved things she shouldn't.

"Do you think there's any chance she'll make it? I mean, as a vampire and all that. She told me about...

about Esme."

Tel say there's an even chance at this point," he answered quietly. "I've seen vampire venom work miracles, but there are conditions that even venom cannot overcome. Her heart is working too hard now; if it should fail... there won't be anything for me to do."

Bella's heartbeat throbbed and faltered, giving an agonizing emphasis to his words.

Maybe the planet had started turning backward. Maybe that would explain how everything was the opposite of what it had been yesterday - how I could be hoping for what had once seemed like the very worst thing in the world.

"What is that thing doing to her?" I whispered. "She was so much worse last night. I saw... the tubes and all that. Through the window."

"The fetus isn't compatible with her body. Too strong, for one thing, but she could probably endure that for a while. The bigger problem is that it won't allow her to get the sustenance she needs. Her body is rejecting every form of nutrition. I'm trying to feed her intravenously, but she's just not absorbing it. Everything about her condition is accelerated. I'm watching her - and not just her, but the fetus as well - starve to death by the hour. I can't stop it and I can't slow it down. I can't figure out what it wants" His weary voice broke at the end.

I felt the same way I had yesterday, when I'd seen the black stains across her stomach - furious, and a little crazy.

I clenched my hands into fists to control the shaking. I hated the thing that was hurting her. It wasn't enough for the monster to beat her from the inside out. No, it was starving her, too. Probably just looking for something to sink its teeth into - a throat to suck dry. Since it wasn't big enough to kill anyone else yet, it settled for sucking Bella's life from her.

I could tell them exactly what it wanted: death and blood, blood and death.

My skin was all hot and prickly. I breathed slowly in and out, focusing on that to calm myself.