The day, like most days in the Olympic Peninsula, was grey and dreary, but I could feel the colder weather settling in as I stood on the porch at the main house. Alice's vision was getting closer, but without her here, I had no idea if any of the decisions we had made since I last saw her had changed anything. My assumption was that she would have come back if it had. She certainly would have seen that we would have forgiven her for leaving. I sighed heavily, the weight of what was to come pulling me down. I did my best to be strong for my family, but the thought of Bella and our daughter in such dire danger ate at the soul I finally now believed that I still possessed.
It was a rare moment of almost solitude. Bella, Renesmee, and Jacob were visiting Charlie and most of our guests were out hunting. I had just finished organizing the family's cars for our guests' use so they would have no excuse not to venture out of the requested "no hunting zone" as Jacob called it. I could hear Esme bustling around in the kitchen. She was trying a recipe for something Jacob had mentioned enjoying as a child and she was hoping that Renesmee would eat it if Jacob did. Carlisle was playing a complicated game of four-way chess with Garrett, Benjamin and Alistair on a board that Emmett designed for just such an occasion. The King was set up in the center of a triangular formation instead of the usual formation, but many of the other rules were still the same. Alliances could shift within moments and I wondered how long it would take for Carlisle and Benjamin to realize that Garrett and Alistair were communicating via subtle hand signals. Ultimately, both had plans to annihilate the other's king, but they were actually working quite well together for nomads that only loosely associated with each other.
I was startled out of my observation of their game by my cell phone ringing. With so many Vampires in the area, it was not uncommon for Sam to call, but he usually spoke with Carlisle, not with me, so seeing his phone number on the screen was a little strange, but not overly concerning.
"Sam?" I greeted him questioningly. "Is something wrong?"
"Hello, Edward," Sam replied a little stiffly.
Speaking on the phone was always a little strange to me as I couldn't hear the person's thoughts before they spoke, so I had to just wait until Sam continued. My lightning-quick mind came up with several scenarios in those few seconds and none of them were good ones. Most revolved around one or more of either the wolves or our guests being killed because they accidentally drifted across the treaty line.
Finally, Sam sighed, "Billy would like to meet with you. Here at La Push."
"Okay," I answered hesitantly. We had been there when Jacob was injured and there had been a select occasion here and there where we had received permission to come onto the lands, Alice and Jasper being one of the exceptions, as well as an instance where Carlisle assisted in a home birth after a complication arose that the midwife was not able to handle and there was no time to get the mother and child to the hospital. Otherwise, while we did not restrict the Pack from going where they pleased, we still respected the treaty line and did not stray into their territory. If they wanted to speak with us there, it must be fairly serious, so I told him, "I'll get Carlisle."
"No," Sam stated abruptly. He was an alpha and it showed in his voice as he didn't question himself or his actions. "Billy is asking for you only. He says it is of a personal nature and does not concern the doctor. He would have come to see you, but I..."
I didn't need to read his mind to finish his statement. He was worried for Billy's safety with a bunch of strange Vampires on the loose. They could only be pushed so far and their good graces might not extend to the father of a werewolf. My curiosity was definitely piqued and I knew immediately that I would agree to meet with him. During the last few weeks, we had established enough mutual trust that we were well beyond the stage where I was concerned that it could be a trap. "Of course, while they are all behaving honorably, there's no reason to spark temptation among our guests. It's the same reason that we have been visiting Charlie at his house rather than the other way around. With your permission, I'll come to La Push to see Billy."
"I'll meet you at the treaty line," Sam told me. "It would be better if you drove in. You'll leave less of a scent than if you run."
Fortunately, we still had one car left in the garage. It was Emmett's Jeep and I knew he wouldn't mind me borrowing it. "That sounds fine. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
We hung up and I looked at the kitchen window where Esme was now watching me. She smiled at me and asked silently, Why don't you take this batch of muffins to him? He isn't a wolf, so he likely can't smell our scent as keenly as the others. The way they eat, it may be the only time he gets any fresh muffins.
I nodded to her, smiling to myself. Of course Esme would be trying to mother someone who was old enough to have full-grown children of his own. I listened as she flitted around the kitchen and packed up the muffins, already making a list of the ingredients so she could make more in time for Jacob's arrival later.
As soon as she came outside to hand me the package, I kissed her on the cheek as a 'thank you' and headed off to the garage.
True to his word, Sam met me at the treaty line. Wolves very rarely bothered with cars, so I was surprised to see that he was leaning up against an old pick-up truck. It reminded me of Bella's old truck, although it was a little newer than hers had been.
I stepped out of the Jeep and walked over to him, extending my hand in greeting. I was surprised that he met me halfway, but even more surprising was that his thoughts were garnered with a wary respect for me and my family. He also briefly wondered if Carlisle had been able to treat Emily when she had been injured by Sam's abrupt change, if her scars would be as severe as they are. He loved her regardless, but it made him ache inside to know that he had hurt the woman he loved. If anyone could understand his dilemma, I could. As much as I love that Bella is now one of us, I wish to every God I can think of that I could have spared her the pain of the change. She tried to say that she didn't feel anything, but she was a poor liar as a human and she's still a poor liar as a vampire.
I pressed my lips together for a moment and offered quietly, "If you'd like, I could ask my father if there is anything he could do now to minimize her scarring."
For a moment, Sam was taken back and mentally recoiled. He had forgotten that I was the mind-reader. I rushed to soothe him, "I'm sorry. Answering thoughts is second nature when people know about my abilities. I don't mean any harm by it and if you don't want me to say anything to Carlisle, I won't. I just thought I would offer. We truly don't want to make anything more difficult for anyone on the reservation."
"I know you don't," Sam acknowledged after taking a deep breath. "I'm not used to sharing my thoughts when I am in human form. I forgot for a moment. It's fine. We should get moving. Billy is waiting for you."
We both got into our respective vehicles and I followed Sam into La Push. I could hear a couple of the younger wolves howling in the distance, but they must have been warned to stay away because they didn't come anywhere near the Jeep. Once we pulled up in front of Billy's house, Sam nodded to me and told me mentally to call him when I ready to leave and he would escort me to the treaty line again. As soon as I nodded, Sam drove off. I looked over at the door when I heard Billy's thoughts. He had opened the door and was watching me. He was proud of his people and that was evident in his inherent grace, both in body and mind. I imagined that he and I would have gotten along very well if there hadn't been so much dissention between our cultures. His was the kind of mind I enjoyed being near.
Still, we had come a long way from when he had been glaring at me the first time he saw me at Bella's house and I resolved myself to keep my mind open to whatever it was he wanted to discuss with me. I pulled the package of muffins out of the Jeep with me and walked up the ramp to meet him.
"Edward, thank you for coming," he greeted me with a nod, backing his wheelchair up so I could enter the house.
"Of course, Billy," I answered politely. I placed the package on the table. "Esme thought you might like some muffins. She knows Jacob sometimes brings you some, so she thought she'd cut out the middleman this time."
"Please thank her for me," Billy responded. His solemn demeanor belied his thoughts that he would have to freeze the muffins to keep them from going bad before he could eat them all, so I knew he was pleased with my mother's efforts. "Your mother is going to make me gain weight, but I certainly don't want to be a bother for her."
"You aren't," I assured him. "As you say, Esme—my mother—enjoys taking care of people. She always went to the store once a week, to keep up appearance, so now she doesn't feel so guilty since she's not wasting the food. She can't really cook for us, but Jacob and Seth seem to truly enjoy her cooking and she is always glad to send food with Jacob for you and Charlie."
Billy accepted that and moved to the kitchen table. "I'd offer you something to drink, but...."
"You're all out of white-tailed deer?" I finished his sentence for him, smiling ruefully.
"Something like that," Billy agreed, motioning for me to sit with him. While I was, of course, perfectly comfortable standing, I knew whatever conversation Billy wanted to have would be best if we were on the same level, so I pulled out the chair that didn't smell like werewolf and sat there. I wasn't sure if it was out of kindness to the wolves that usually occupied those chairs or because I really didn't want to be that close to the wolf stench, but either way, it didn't really matter.
Billy was having difficulty assembling his thoughts into anything coherent, so I thought I would try the direct approach. I asked, "So, what can I do for you Billy?"
"What?" he asked, then said, "Oh, right. Well, the first thing I wanted to say is that I am glad I was wrong about your family. I'm sorry I tried to break you and Bella up when she first came to town."
"I'm not," I told him, honestly. He looked at me sharply then and I realized that my response seemed strange to him, so I explained as best I could. "I'm glad you cared enough about Bella’s well-being to make the effort. Our families didn't know each other then like we do now and, back then, she was in real danger, even if I was too utterly hormonal so see it properly. Knowing that you were watching, it helped strengthen my resolve not to hurt her. I really had no idea what I was doing. Although I could see it all around me every day, actually feeling an attraction to someone—falling in love—dedicating myself to someone else was all new to me and knowing that you and the tribe were watching helped me to keep a more level head, so I'm grateful to you for that."
Billy considered my words carefully and, after a long moment, accepted them.
"I have a feeling that no matter what I ever said, you and Bella were always meant to be," he commented. "Her old soul is certainly a match for yours."
I couldn’t help but smile at his choice of words. I heard the question in his thoughts and if I could have blushed, I think I would have as I told him, "Do you know that for nearly a century, I believed I had no soul?"
Billy didn’t disappoint me. He considered my words carefully and knew that I could hear the wisdom of his people passed down through the generations in his mind when he asked me, "If you had no soul, why do you deny your instinct to hunt humans?"
In truth, I was grateful that he wasn’t arguing that we didn’t have souls. It seemed that enough had happened between our families that he the thought never even crossed his mind. I took a deep breath, ignoring the wolf stench that permeated the house, and told him, "I had always separated having a soul from having a conscience, but now I've changed my mind."
"It must have taken something monumental for that to happen," Billy commented sagely, his thoughts already touching on the truth.
"It did," I agreed with him. "It was when I looked into my daughter's eyes for the first time. She is pure innocence and light with not a single touch of demon about her and I realized that for her to have a soul, it couldn't have come from just Bella alone. She's equal parts of the both of us, soul and all. That thought filled me and I feel blessed to have been able to bring someone so beautiful into this world."
Billy offered me a smile as he thought of Renesmee. Of course, he was just as taken with my daughter as everyone else who had met her was. "I suppose you feel it even more so since you never thought it was even possible.”
"I don't know," I smiled ruefully, tapping my head. "While I've never been strong enough to practice medicine around open blood like Carlisle, I've often assisted him behind the scenes at the hospital. I've been to quite a few maternity wards over the years and I've heard so much joy in the thoughts of the parents. I think it is something every father feels. It seems rather self-important to think that I feel it more than you did or more than Charlie did the first time he held Bella."
"True enough," Billy nodded sagely. And with that, his mind turned to the real reason he had wanted me to visit him. Through his eyes, I saw the passage of time: Renesmee growing up and he and Charlie getting older while the rest of us, including Jacob, the stayed the same. He worried for his son. He knew one day he would leave his son and, although he didn't anticipate it happening anytime soon, he wanted to know that Jacob would have a father-figure in his life. He thought about asking Carlisle, but the truth was that as Jacob's imprint, I was truly going to be the main paternal influence in his life once Billy was gone. He wasn't sure how to start the conversation, so I waited for him patiently.
"Well, I suppose you heard everything I wanted to say," he finally began.
One corner of my mouth twitched and I acknowledged, "My gift is a blessing and a curse, but in this case, yes I do know what you are looking for from me and if that makes it easier for you to ask, I am glad to be able to put you more at ease."
I spent so much time pretending to be Carlisle and Esme's son that it was second nature, but it felt good to be able to speak with someone outside of our family and be looked at as the adult I truly am.
"And, for the record, you raised a good man," I continued. "I don't know if you've noticed but our family doesn't really talk in terms of 'in laws.' Rosalie and Emmett don't consider each other brother and sister, yet they are both my sister and brother, respectively. I'm equally related to both of them and Esme is equally our mother, even though Carlisle changed her as well. So, although I really try not to think too hard about my daughter growing up and getting married, I know that when that happens, I'll be proud to call Jacob my son as well. In a way, I already think of him like that. I'd protect him as I would any member of my family."
"I appreciate that," Billy told me. Again, his thoughts conveyed much more than his simple statement. I could tell that his burden had been lifted. He was even gracious enough to deliberately ignore the implication I had made about Carlisle having bitten several of us to create our family.
"Now that I am a father myself, I understand how difficult it is to trust anyone else with the safety and well-being of your child. I won't ever betray that trust, just as I know that Jacob won't ever betray the trust I have for him to care for Renesmee," I vowed solemnly.
"Thank you, Edward," he replied. "It seems we have more common ground than we ever thought possible. If it were up to me, I would say that you were welcome here when Jacob brings Renesmee to visit La Push, but the younger wolves...."
He trailed off, but I understood his meaning. The younger wolves were jittery and it was not a good idea to have us on the reservation, even if the Elders now believed that the Cullens were not a threat to them. If the younger ones became too friendly with us, they might not act quickly enough when another vampire came onto their lands and that could cost precious lives.
"I agree, Billy," I told him. "The children's safety and the safety of your people are more important than any perception that our feelings are hurt. But, if you'd like, assuming we all survive the next few weeks, once our guests leave, I do anticipate that Charlie will be visiting our house on a regular basis. You are more than welcome to join us. He and Emmett both enjoy sporting events on television and I've heard Bella mention that you like those as well. Usually, either Esme or I cook for Charlie and Jacob and any other wolves at the house, so please consider yourself welcome."
I was surprised to see a genuine smile appear on Billy's face at the invitation and he nodded before his thoughts turned to the 'guests' I had mentioned. He knew they were abiding by our request that they not hunt anywhere near the Olympic Peninsula, but it was still a touchy subject and he didn't like thinking about it.
I nodded in agreement. "I don't like thinking about it either. Some of them have tried our lifestyle in the past, but have found that they don't have the willpower to keep to it. Others enjoy our company, but think we're all a little crazy. But, I think we may have one convert to vegetarianism brewing. One of the nomads is quite taken with one of my cousins from Alaska. Although he hasn't made his intentions known, he has been having conversations with Carlisle about the nutritional value of animal blood and the last time he went to feed, he came back thinking that moose tastes foul, but the worst of his hunger was sated. He's trying anyway and that is more than any of us hoped for."
"Is he right about the moose?" Billy asked, a hint of humor in his voice.
"Definitely," I answered immediately, making a face of disgust. "Even rabbits taste better, even if I'd have to catch about thirty of them to equal the blood volume."
Billy managed to catch me off guard with his next statement, "Well, I guess it's a good thing they multiply like bunnies, then."
His thoughts anticipated that I would find the humor in his statement and I didn't disappoint him. And, as we laughed together, in that moment, I was grateful for every moment of the last few years that brought us to the point that we could be just a little closer to the human world without the pretense. There wasn’t much that I could give to Billy other than as much time with his son as possible before time either took him away from Jacob or we were forced to move on. In a perfect world, we would work out a solution that would allow Billy, Sue and Charlie to move with us when the time came, and if there was even the slightest interest expressed by any of them, I would do everything I could to make it happen. It was the least I could do for Bella, Jacob, Leah, and Seth, all of whom were now firmly a part of our family. I pushed that thought well to the back of my mind before it could grow too solid. Although I was not the optimist in the family, it gave me hope for the future, assuming we had a future to hope for.