"If you would pass the offer on, regardless."

"Sure, sure."

"Thank you."

I turned away from him, only to stop cold when I heard the low, pained cry from inside the house. By the time I looked back, he was already gone.

What now?

I followed after him, shuffling like a zombie. Using about the same number of brain cells, too. It didn't feel like I had a choice. Something was wrong. I would go see what it was. There would be nothing I could do. And I would feel worse.

It seemed inevitable.

I let myself in again. Bella was panting, curled over the bulge in the center of her body. Rosalie held her while Edward, Carlisle, and Esme all hovered. A flicker of motion caught my eye; Alice was at the top of the stairs, staring down into the room with her hands pressed to her temples. It was weird - like she was barred from entering somehow.

"Give me a second, Carlisle," Bella panted.

"Bella," the doctor said anxiously, "I heard something crack. I need to take a look."

"Pretty sure" - pant - "it was a rib. Ow. Yep. Right here." She pointed to her left side, careful not to touch.

It was breaking her bones now.

"I need to take an X-ray. There might be splinters. We don't want it to puncture anything."

Bella took a deep breath. "Okay."

Rosalie lifted Bella carefully. Edward seemed like he was going to argue, but Rosalie bared her teeth at him and growled, "I've already got her."

So Bella was stronger now, but the thing was, too. You couldn't starve one without starving the other, and

healing worked just the same. No way to win.

Blondie carried Bella swiftly up the big staircase with Carlisle and Edward right on her heels, none of them taking any notice of me standing dumbstruck in the doorway.

So they had a blood bank and an X-ray machine? Guess the doc brought his work home with him.

I was too tired to follow them, too tired to move. I leaned back against the wall and then slid to the ground. The door was still open, and I pointed my nose toward it, grateful for the clean breeze blowing in. I leaned my head against the jamb and listened.

I could hear the sound of the X-ray machinery upstairs. Or maybe I just assumed that's what it was. And then the lightest of footsteps coming down the stairs. I didn't look to see which vampire it was.

"Do you want a pillow?" Alice asked me.

"No," I mumbled. What was with the pushy hospitality? It was creeping me out.

"That doesn't look comfortable," she observed.


"Why don't you move, then?"

"Tired. Why aren't you upstairs with the rest of them?" I shot back.

"Headache," she answered.

I rolled my head around to look at her.

Alice was a tiny little thing. 'Bout the size of one of my arms. She looked even smaller now, sort of hunched in on herself. Her small face was pinched.

"Vampires get headaches?"

"Not the normal ones."

I snorted. Normal vampires.

"So how come you're never with Bella anymore?" I asked, making the question an accusation. It hadn't occurred to me before, because my head had been full of other crap, but it was weird that Alice was never around Bella, not since I'd been here. Maybe if Alice were by her side, Rosalie wouldn't be. "Thought you two were like this." I twisted two of my fingers together.

"Like I said" - she curled up on the tile a few feet from me, wrapping her skinny arms around her skinny knees - "headache."

"Bella's giving you a headache?"


I frowned. Pretty sure I was too tired for riddles. I let my head roll back around toward the fresh air and closed my eyes.

"Not Bella, really," she amended. "The... fetus."

Ah, someone else who felt like I did. It was pretty easy to recognize. She said the word grudgingly, the way Edward did.

"I can't see it," she told me, though she might have been talking to herself. For all she knew, I was already gone. "I can't see anything about it. Just like you."

I flinched, and then my teeth ground together. I didn't like being compared to the creature.

"Bella gets in the way. She's all wrapped around it, so she's... blurry. Like bad reception on a TV - like trying to focus your eyes on those fuzzy people jerking around on the screen. It's killing my head to watch

her. And I can't see more than a few minutes ahead, anyway. The... fetus is too much a part of her future. When she first decided... when she knew she wanted it, she blurred right out of my sight. Scared me to death."

She was quiet for a second, and then she added, "I have to admit, it's a relief having you close by - in spite of the wet-dog smell. Everything goes away. Like having my eyes closed. It numbs the headache."

"Happy to be of service, ma'am," I mumbled.

"I wonder what it has in common with you... why you're the same that way."

Sudden heat flashed in the center of my bones. I clenched my fists to hold off the tremors.

"I have nothing in common with that life-sucker," I said through my teeth.

"Well, there's something there."

I didn't answer. The heat was already burning away. I was too dead tired to stay furious.

"You don't mind if I sit here by you, do you?" she asked.

"Guess not. Stinks anyway."

"Thanks," she said. "This is the best thing for it, I guess, since I can't take aspirin."

"Could you keep it down? Sleeping, here."

She didn't respond, immediately lapsing into silence. I was out in seconds.

I was dreaming that I was really thirsty. And there was a big glass of water in front of me - all cold, you could see the condensation running down the sides. I grabbed the cup and took a huge gulp, only to find out pretty quick that it wasn't water - it was straight bleach. I choked it back out, spewing it everywhere, and a bunch of it blew out of my nose. It burned. My nose was on fire....