"Don't mind them," Rosalie murmured.

It made me feel awkward. I should've left when Bella'd offered the chance. I didn't belong here, being part of this. I thought about ducking out, but then I realized a move like that would only make this worse for Bella - make it harder for her to go through with it. She'd figure I was too disgusted to stay. Which was almost true.

Still. While I wasn't going to claim responsibility for this idea, I didn't want to jinx it, either.

Bella lifted the cup to her face and sniffed at the end of the straw. She flinched, and then made a face.

"Bella, sweetheart, we can find an easier way," Edward said, holding his hand out for the cup.

"Plug your nose," Rosalie suggested. She glared at Edward's hand like she might take a snap at it. I wished she would. I bet Edward wouldn't take that sitting down, and I'd love to see Blondie lose a limb.

"No, that's not it. It's just that it - "Bella sucked in a deep breath. "It smells good," she admitted in a tiny voice.

I swallowed hard, fighting to keep the disgust off my face.

"That's a good thing," Rosalie told Bella eagerly. "That means we're on the right track. Give it a try." Given Blondie's new expression, I was surprised she didn't break into a touchdown dance.

Bella shoved the straw between her lips, squeezed her eyes shut, and wrinkled her nose. I could hear the blood

slopping around in the cup again as her hand shook. She sipped at it for a second, and then moaned quietly with her eyes still closed.

Edward and I stepped forward at the same time. He touched her face. I clenched my hands behind my back.

"Bella, love - "

Tm okay," she whispered. She opened her eyes and stared up at him. Her expression was... apologetic. Pleading. Scared. "It tastes good, too."

Acid churned in my stomach, threatening to overflow. I ground my teeth together.

"That's good," Blondie repeated, still jazzed. "A good sign."

Edward just pressed his hand to her cheek, curling his fingers around the shape of her fragile bones.

Bella sighed and put her lips to the straw again. She took a real pull this time. The action wasn't as weak as everything else about her. Like some instinct was taking over.

"How's your stomach? Do you feel nauseated?" Carlisle asked.

Bella shook her head. "No, I don't feel sick," she whispered. "There's a first, eh?"

Rosalie beamed. "Excellent."

"I think it's a bit early for that, Rose," Carlisle murmured.

Bella gulped another mouthful of blood. Then she flashed a look at Edward. "Does this screw my total?" she whispered. "Or do we start counting after I'm a vampire?"

"No one is counting, Bella. In any case, no one died for this." He smiled a lifeless smile. "Your record is still clean."

They'd lost me.

"I'll explain later," Edward said, so low the words were just a breath.

"What?" Bella whispered.

"Just talking to myself," he lied smoothly.

If he succeeded with this, if Bella lived, Edward wasn't going to be able to get away with so much when her senses were as sharp as his. He'd have to work on the honesty thing.

Edward's lips twitched, fighting a smile.

Bella chugged a few more ounces, staring past us toward the window. Probably pretending we weren't here. Or maybe just me. No one else in this group would be disgusted by what she was doing. Just the opposite - they were probably having a tough time not ripping the cup away from her.

Edward rolled his eyes.

Jeez, how did anyone stand living with him? It was really too bad he couldn't hear Bella's thoughts. Then he'd annoy the crap out of her, too, and she'd get tired of him.

Edward chuckled once. Bella's eyes flicked to him immediately, and she half-smiled at the humor in his face. I would guess that wasn't something she'd seen in a while.

"Something funny?" she breathed.

"Jacob," he answered.

She looked over with another weary smile for me. "Jake's a crack-up," she agreed.

Great, now I was the court jester. "Bada bing" I mumbled in weak rim-shot impression.

She smiled again, and then took another swig from the cup. I flinched when the straw pulled at empty air, making a loud sucking sound.

"I did it," she said, sounding pleased. Her voice was clearer - rough, but not a whisper for the first time today. "If I keep this down, Carlisle, will you take the needles out of me?"

"As soon as possible," he promised. "Honestly, they aren't doing that much good where they are."

Rosalie patted Bella's forehead, and they exchanged a hopeful glance.

And anyone could see it - the cup full of human blood had made an immediate difference. Her color was returning - there was a tiny hint of pink in her waxy cheeks. Already she didn't seem to need Rosalie's support so much anymore. Her breathing was easier, and I would swear her heartbeat was stronger, more even.

Everything accelerated.

That ghost of hope in Edward's eyes had turned into the real thing.

"Would you like more?" Rosalie pressed.

Bella's shoulders slumped.

Edward flashed a glare at Rosalie before he spoke to Bella. "You don't have to drink more right away."

"Yeah, I know. But... I want to" she admitted glumly.

Rosalie pulled her thin, sharp fingers through Bella's lank hair. "You don't need to be embarrassed about that, Bella. Your body has cravings. We all understand that." Her tone was soothing at first, but then she added harshly, "Anyone who doesn't understand shouldn't be here."

Meant for me, obviously, but I wasn't going to let Blondie get to me. I was glad Bella felt better. So what if the means grossed me out? It wasn't like I'd said anything.

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