Hey folks,

Per request, I'm posting all my old stuff because it technically belongs to you anyway. No need to review (unless you like, of course) this is purely for your amusement. I will read and cherish any notes you feel inspired to leave, of course, but I will not be able to hit you back.

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{Big Elf notes} So, this is where it all began:

I can't BELIEVE I'm doing this, but below you'll find posted lil' baby Elf's first fic. I wrote it in 2009 right after I'd read the first half of Breaking Dawn and literally thrown it across the living room never to be picked up again. I think it's still there, actually.

After this fic, I worked on some original stuff for several months or so and then returned to play with Be Like Water... then got totally caught up in writing fanfic. lol It is fun/ny to see the changes. In a lot of ways the characterizations in this fic are pretty good and true to canon but I didn't have the skills to express them very well (plus I was going with the "first person" (I-... me-...) style of the time which should ONLY be used when one is writing from a single POV and the narrator's voice is unique).

So, to be quite blunt upfront, the writing SUCKS! The story's okay, but omg... I think I'd rather go to the dentist than read this (and I abhor the dentist). BUT I'm posting my old stuff and this fic along with others are already out there without my permission, so might as well formally offer it up on my own terms for your amusement. It's sure to inspire some laughs *snort*

Characters are very canon, it's even from first person and Cullen friendly! So if you're bored, curious or just want to gawk, then here you have it. I will say that the only positive is that the overall effect is much more accurate/age-appropriate for these teens.

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And SORRY SORRY SORRY to post a novel (albeit shorter than my current standard) in a single hit, but I don't want to post chaps individually and blow up folks' mailboxes. I also deleted a good part of the beginning with a little character development because it was ridiculously boring but I don't think you'll miss it. Apparently I was over-detailed back then too.

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Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy!

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Vintage notes from baby Elf:

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-This story is an) alternative ending to Breaking Dawn. If you like like the twists and turns of real life emotion, well-tended characters, lots of detail, surprises, action and your loose ends well tied, then please give this a try! I try to keep the characters "canon" while changing Bella and Jake's trajectory - which seems to naturally occur - as easy as breathing.

(disclaimer: while this is definitely romantic fantasy, this is not the simplistic, fluffy story where everything comes together perfectly the first time. I merely developed and explored these characters - and then stood aside and let them play out their lives! Hang tight; they took me for a ride.) {Big Elf: yeah a little kiddie ride – just you wait, lil' Elf}

This story picks up right after Eclipse - after the battle with the newborns, and Jake's injury. Aside from a minor time-frame change, all characters and events are cannon with the books. It is told from Jake and Bella's POVs.

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Chapter 1 Keys & Kitchen Shears


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Bella


They aren't staring.

They aren't staring.

They aren't staring.

I chanted softly to myself as I carefully turned at the light. Oh, who am I freaking kidding... they all sure as hell are staring! Every last one.

I might as well have had a neon sign on top of my "car" - you just didn't see anything that cost six figures- standard (and this was anything but) – driving around Forks unless it was a piece of road equipment that was decades old.

Damn, I felt really ungrateful. Of course on the outside I made sure that Edward knew how appreciative I was. On the inside I winced and drove it as little as possible. Which wasn't incredibly difficult, surprisingly enough. The last weeks had been full of graduation parties and marathons of wedding planning.

I was over at the Cullens every single day. They always had a big meal prepared for me – I think it was some kind of a vicarious enjoyment thing they seemed to have in watching me eat. Then there were all of the invitations, the flowers, the food, the dress, the music. Omygod. I can't believe how much people went through to have a wedding! And Alice assured me that she had scaled back just for me. Generally I just felt a lot of pressure all around. Pressure to react just right, pressure to show enough gratitude, pressure to be just interested enough... I was glad that there was no homework the last week of school – because I was exhausted. It was kind of funny, but I was enjoying hanging out most with Rosalie and Emmett. With Rosalie the generally agreed upon distasteful tolerance of me was a breath of fresh space. Sad, huh?

Everyone was trying to be so nice. But really I just wanted to go home to my red crappy truck, make an underwhelming hamburger-helper meal for Charlie, and rent some stupid campy movie and veg out on the couch with Jake and an assortment of soda, candy, and chips.

Jacob. I missed him, God I really did. He never answered my calls, but my dad reported from Billy that he was doing okay. I had thought I had seen him at graduation when I was up on the stage -way in the back by the bleachers, but I couldn't find him afterward and figured I had imagined it. Its just as well - as he probably would have puked anyway. Edward had somehow managed to get us called to the podium together to get our diplomas. He always could get his way with the school staff- well, with anyone really.

Here it was a few days before I was going to be … married (my stomach did a little flip).. and I wanted to see Jake so bad it physically hurt – a deep tight ache in my chest. I didn't know why it was so important. It just was.

With a little set to my jaw, I spontaneously made the decision to go down to the Rez. I was supposed to go back home after shopping and head out to the Cullens in an hour for a repeat of tortuous wedding planning but, if I went now I would have plenty of time.

And the impulsiveness of the decision would mean Edward wouldn't see it coming through Alice's visions. Edward hadn't exactly told me not to call Jake, but every time I talked about calling or wondered aloud how Jake was doing, Edward changed the subject. I had wanted to go down to see him last week, but Edward said he didn't think it was a good idea, that it was better to just "let sleeping dogs lie."

When I reached the first modest houses of the Rez, my body physically relaxed and I let out a long breath. I slowed down the truck-like vehicle and stretched the tension I didn't realize I had been holding out of my shoulders. God, this place felt like home. Jake and I had so many good times here. It was where I felt like I could be myself and where I was accepted for that. I didn't have to put on any shows or please anyone. I just had to be … me.

As I neared Jake's house, my brow furrowed. I didn't want to drive up to his porch in this monster boat so I decided to park it on the side of the road a little ways before their place. I couldn't wait to see him, but I was also pretty nervous about how he would feel about seeing me. I quickly buried any anxiety over that. I needed to see him. I didn't have a choice – I had to.

I took a moment in the car to get my bearings and then jumped down. Cringing at the loud beep as the security thingy on the key chain locked the doors (would I ever not jump?), I headed down the gravel road to Jake's. The closer I came to the house, the more my stomach tied in knots, but before I knew it I was walking up the makeshift ramp, that Charlie had helped Jake build for Billy's chair, and over the creaky porch to the door. I rapped on the weathered screen door and tried to unobtrusively look through the screen. It was too dark inside the house for me to see anything.

After a few seconds, I heard Billy's chair and the old man opened the door and looked at me evenly.

"Bella." It was more like a statement than a greeting. I wanted to tell him: um, yeah, I know. I winced internally at the acerbic sarcasm, realizing I must be feeling really raw to be annoyed with Billy. He was one of the most unassuming, patient people I knew.

"Hey." I bit my lip, eyes darting uncomfortably. I hadn't thought about what I would say. What a dork.

Billy waited good-naturedly for me to figure out what I would say. No rescues here!

"Um, I was wondering if Jake was around," I ventured.

"Yes he is," Billy supplied placidly.

He was really making me work for this, wasn't he? I deserved it.

"Er... could I see him?" I shoved my hands into my pockets and shrugged, feeling really awkward.

"Let her in, dad." I heard Jake's voice call out, sounding tired, from inside the house.

Billy smiled and wheeled backwards, letting me in. Hesitantly I entered the small kitchen/living room and saw Jake standing, leaning on the table, his head hanging and shoulders hunched. I closed the screen door slowly. "Hey." I said again softly, going for a world record in clever verbosity.

The silence was deafening. Billy looked over at Jake, and then at me and wordlessly maneuvered his chair out of the small room. Jake didn't look up at me but turned and picked up a chair that was lying prone on the floor and righted it. With a sigh, he collapsed into it rubbing his face tiredly.

Another few breaths of silence.

"Why are you here," he suddenly asked, sort of more of a statement, as he looked up at me. For a moment I was lost in his dark brown eyes. His stern expression contradicted the gentle sorrow in his gaze. God, why did I always hurt Jake?

"Um..." Why was I here? "I wanted to see you," I admitted softly.

"Does your leech know you are here?" he asked harshly.

I swallowed and looked down, not even finding a sarcastic reply.

He laughed callously. "I didn't think so."

It was then I saw an envelope on the floor and recognized it immediately as one of the gazillion I had stuffed in the wedding invitations. "What is this?" I walked into the room and picked it up, fingering the thick linen. I saw its counterparts strewn on the table and looked at Jake questioningly.

He laughed humorlessly again. "Your … fiance," he choked on the word, "sent it. Wasn't that nice of him? He said he would want to decide whether to come to your wedding... if the tables were turned." Bitterness dripped from his voice.

My mouth popped into what must have been a gaping, vacant expression. It took me a moment. "I'm sorry, Jake. I didn't know..." I offered lamely.

"Yeah I know. Aren't you used to that by now?" he bit out tartly.

"Jake, I... um... I..." More poignant verbiage for the history books.

He stood quickly, the chair grating against the floor as it was pushed out. "Bella, I think you have said all there is to say. Why don't you just head out..."

My face fell miserably and traitorous tears burned my eyes. Dammit.

Jake's fierce expression softened slightly and he moved around the table toward me. "Bella... look... I … C'mon, I will walk you - Who brought you?"

"Huh?" I asked, confused.

"Who brought you? I didn't hear your truck..." he repeated slowly like he was explaining it to a little kid.

Oh yeah. My truck. I sighed. "I parked my, um... car... down the road. I didn't want..." I stopped, unable to tell him I was too embarrassed to drive that swanky monster to his house.

He looked confused for minute and then shrugged. "C'mon. I will walk with you."

I swallowed and nodded- I would just deal with his reaction when it came. I wanted to spend every minute I could with him.

He walked by me and opened the door, holding it open with a backward glance. His scent wafted over me and I breathed deeply. God, I had missed him.

Both awkward, with our hands shoved into our pockets, we trudged silently down the gravel road. When we were coming up on the SUV thing, Jake stopped in his tracks, mouth open.

I burst out laughing at his expression. And it was like all the tension and unsureness drained away in that instant of familiar authentic humor.

He looked over at me and smiled at the sound. "What?"

I reigned in my laughter and gasped between chuckles. "Oh, Jake that was rich. I have never seen someone show both envy and disgust at the same time. I'm surprised your face didn't fall off!"

He smiled more broadly, relaxing with me. "Yeah, well it is a sweet ride, but God, that is so not you. I know why you parked it down the road now."

I bit my lip looking at my huge, flashy vehicle. "Tell me about it. I only take it out when I have to. It is like driving an ambulance around. Everyone stares."

Jakes's chuckles turned sour. "He bought it for you?"

I sobered up immediately. "Yeah."

He glanced at the vehicle again and then back at me. "What happened to the Ford?"

I fell into step as he started walking again. "I think it is Chopsville now," I sighed unhappily. I was trying pointedly not to think about what happened to my truck.

He nodded in submission. Was he remembering the days he spent working on it too? We got to the car and I turned around looking up into his face. He was beautiful. My Jacob.

Jake looked back and forth between my eyes, his guarded expression and stance softening.

"Look Bella, I just want you to be happy, kay? If you're happier with him... then I'm happy for you." He paused a moment. "I mean, I could never give you anything like this..." He motioned dismissively to the car.

I sighed and put my hand out on his muscled forearm. "Oh Jake, I don't care about that. It's just... it's just..." I faltered. What was it?

"What do you care about, Bella?" he asked quietly, pushing his hair back and looking at me from under his long lashes.

I felt paralyzed under his gaze, and my heart rose in my throat. My brow furrowed. "I – I... I don't know," I whispered truthfully. God, what did I care about? Right now I couldn't tell you, except how glad I was to see him. My best friend.

At my miserable admission, his face softened more. "Hey, it's okay, honey."

He held his arms out for me. Without a thought I stepped into his embrace – warm, welcoming, home. A large hand slowly stroked my hair as I buried my face in his muscled chest. Funny, even with his Schwarzenegger-werewolf musculature, he still felt soft. I guess I was so used to the cold, granite of Edward's physique. And damn he was so warm. I remember, before he had phased, that I called him my own personal sun – it was such an apt descriptor! Even now he was here for me, even though I knew it hurt him. God, how could I give this up?

After at least five minutes of standing there, riding the slow, even breaths of his rising and falling chest, listening to beautiful sound of his heart measuring the minutes, I pulled back and looked up at him. Pursing his lips, he gave me a sad smile and kissed my forehead.

"Take care Bella," he whispered stepping back even as my body protested.

"Right," I gnawed on my lip as I considered how much care I could take without him. Sniffing I looked down at my feet as I kicked the gravel. "Right." I made a valiant attempt at a smile, but it turned out pitifully weak. With a sigh, I opened the door and climbed up into the drivers seat. Jacob closed the door behind me, leaving his palm on the glass for a minute. He stepped back leaving his hand up in a frozen wave and looked very serious and thoughtful. And sad.

I started the engine and put it in drive, hoping to get out of there before the tears that were burning behind my eyes escaped.


Jacob


I couldn't even see through the silver-tinted windows of the Mercedes Guardian LX that the leech had stuffed Bella in. It was symbolic actually. As I watched Bella inch the huge vehicle down the gravel road I felt like an equally huge hand had reached inside my chest and grabbed my heart. It was a physical pain. For a moment the thought that I might be having a heart-attack drifted through my mind – an eerily peaceful thought. As the truck disappeared around the bend, I let my hand fall. I stood in the middle of the gravel road, gazing stupidly down the empty road as I took stock. A coldness crept over me and I suddenly felt strangely empty, strangely numb. Maybe it was some sort of self-defense mechanism or something – my body and heart couldn't stand the pain anymore so it just shut down. The unnatural respite should have been disturbing, but it was anything but.

I looked down blankly at my hands, feeling so disconnected that I didn't know if my body would still respond. I flexed my hand into a fist. That worked. Then, just as suddenly as the onslaught of numbness had been, in two strides I launched myself to the side of the road and slammed my fist violently into an old oak. Branches fell, and the leaves rattled as the trunk splintered away from the impact as if it were wooden water. I ignored the cool blood trickling down my fingers from my knuckles and turned mechanically toward home. I knew what I must do.

My mind was as clear as crystal and as focused as a razor's edge. I leaped silently over the railing and opened the screen door, closing it carefully behind me. Billy was waiting for me at the table with a neutral expression on his face. His gaze dipped down to my bloody fist, but he said nothing. I walked through the kitchen and pulled out a drawer. Digging through the twine, twisty ties, and left over take-out utensils and pizzeria cheese packets I pulled out an old metal pair of kitchen shears and stalked down the hall to the bathroom.

I turned on the cold side of the rusty sink faucet, (the hot side was almost the same temperature - it was one of those extremist old-style sinks which had a spigot for each) and splashed my face, letting the water run over my hand, which was already beginning to heal. It seemed to me ironic that my outside healed so quickly - too bad werewolf fortitude didn't extend to the heart.

I looked at myself in the cloudy mirror and scowled. Why did I think she would give up all that the leech could give her for this? I regarded my reflection savagely. As I watched, my mind continued to race, my anger transferring from myself to that vampire.

I just didn't understand it. Why did she want to die? Sure, I couldn't give her all the things, sure I had next to nothing, but I could offer her the deepest love, and warm, real, life. How could she possibly want to give up her life to be a cold, empty corpse that fed off the pulse of the living? I just couldn't see my Bella biting and sucking the life out of anything. I just couldn't see my Bella like those crazed, bloodthirsty newborns we had just fought. Was there anything more disturbing than those monsters? There was something about the crazed inhuman glint to their eyes and their manic but scary-strong movements along with their pasty human bodies that made them so... creepy. The fact that they were once people, and now had lost all control and humanity was beyond repulsive. And my Bella would be one of them.

I grabbed a handful of my hair and brought the scissors as close to the scalp as I could. The snick of the scissors through my thick hair was satisfying though the cut was uneven and jagged. C'mon we are talking an old pair of rusty kitchen shears, I wasn't going to win any beauty contests. And what did it matter anyway?

The only girl I ever loved would be a dead, sick-smelling, bloodsucking, walking corpse in a few days. She chose death over … me.

After a few more minutes of angrily butchering my hair, I looked up at Billy who had wheeled just outside the bathroom – he wordlessly watched me in the reflection of the mirror. I turned to offer him something... some kind of explanation, some measure of reassurance, but I had none. With a heavy sigh I went back to the scissors.

A few more minutes of whacking had the sink and floor strewn with hair and a ratty, almost comical, head reflected back at me. I snickered sullenly. I wasn't going to spend time in this shape much anyway. Maybe never again. Okay that was a little melodramatic, but right now I felt so numb. And so sick of being human. With my hands prone on the sides of the sink, I leaned forward to look closer at my handiwork. Satisfied that Brother Wolf would be comfortable (and disturbingly pleased to look like some sick Tim Burton freak – the outside matched the inside now), I put the scissors down on the sink and began to clean up.

"Leave it, son," Billy spoke quietly. With a glance at him, I paused and then nodded shortly. I would take him up on it. I felt so empty, so hollow. I just wanted to run as Brother Wolf and leave all these human concerns behind me. It was a desperate compulsion. "Your home will wait for you," Billy spoke simply as if reading my mind. But truthfully I didn't know if this could ever be home again. I swallowed at that thought.

Stepping around Billy in the hall, I walked slowly to the front door and out the screen, jumping lightly down into the yard. I heard Billy follow in his chair, the screen door slamming shut behind him.

After a few paces I turned and looked at him. He watched me silently with that expression that made him look so patient... and wise. I pursed my lips. I was lucky to have him in my life. With a little movement of my fingers I waved. He nodded subtly- merely a lift of his chin – and I turned and phased mid-stride. It didn't matter that this was one of my last shirts. I wouldn't be back for a while.


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Chapter 2 Lost


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Bella


I drove the monster boat mindlessly for the first time since I had gotten it. I wasn't constantly on the lookout for an innocent kindergarten class, or focusing on trying to merely tap the hyper-responsive gas and brake. My thoughts were entirely consumed with Jake. The pain on his face was devastating. And worse yet, the pain in my chest was suffocating me. Literally – I felt like I was having an asthma attack. I missed him so much.

Why did I have to go see him? It was selfish, really; it was all for nothing and put him in more pain. I felt like all I did was hurt him. And hurt myself.

I wish we could go back to the way things were – being with him was as natural as breathing. It was comfortable, and fun, and easy, and … real. There was something about being with Jake that I just couldn't get from Edward. With Edward it seemed we were always doing what he thought I wanted to do. It didn't have the same equal, simple, friend-feeling. With Jake I didn't have to worry about if I was in a good mood or not, or if I felt like just couch-potatoing or spontaneously going in a completely different direction. Edward liked everything to be planned, and he was so protective. I wondered if he would be mad at me for going down to the Rez. Yeah, my thoughts were all over the place.

I didn't have to wonder very long as the sight of Edward's car parked along side Charlie's cruiser brought me back to reality. Damn. I was kind of looking forward to the time driving by myself over to the Cullens', and I had planned on taking a shower before I did that. I guess there was no way to cover up the "dog smell" (God, I was sick of hearing that.) I pressed my forehead against the steering wheel and steeled myself.

I hopped out of the car with my bag and jumped stupidly yet again (would I ever get used to it?) at the beep of the security system and then trudged up to the house, pretty much dreading every step.

I walked into a tense, silent living room. Charlie was sitting on a couch with a beer and Edward was holding his requisite glass of untouched water. What a jolly pair.

"Hey Bells," my dad piped up as soon as I opened the door. The obvious relief on his face was pretty comical, actually. I wondered how long he had been sitting here awkwardly with Edward – Charlie was trying, but he just didn't like him.

"Where did you go, Bella?" Edward asked quietly, a different kind of relief evident on his face as well – he always worried when I wasn't with him.

I felt like a naughty child and bit my lip, dreading his reaction. "I went down to see Jake at Billy's," I answered quickly.

Edward's mouth immediately thinned into a distinct frown.

My dad, conversely, perked up, all traces of his awkwardness gone. "How's he doin'?"

"Uh, he's doing... better," I said uncomfortably as I looked between Charlie and Edward and their conflicting reactions.

"Good. I tell ya, that boy heals fast. He has the constitution of an ox!" my dad continued on, oblivious to Edward's tension.

"Something like that," Edward mumbled, looking disgusted.

I rolled my eyes and rocked back on my heels. "Well, I am going upstairs..." I said, turning and making for an escape. Edward stood, taking his glass to the sink and following right behind me.

I opened my door and threw my bag down on the bed with a sigh. Dusting my palms off nervously on my jeans, I turned to him.

Edward watched me as he shut the door quietly. "So..." he began.

I waited, worrying my lip.

Wrinkling his nose, he closed the distance between us and sniffing me close – with a kind of possessiveness. "Ugh, you smell like him. I mean, your skin even smells like him." He looked stern and almost angry, and the thought that he didn't like me hugging Jake flew through my mind. He wasn't that petty, was he? "You smell like a -"

I interrupted with exasperation. "Dog. Yeah, I know. Edward, can you just stop with that? I mean stop with the attitude."

He looked hurt.

"I'm sorry," I sighed miserably.

He reached out and buried his hands in my hair on either side of my face. "It's dangerous! I just don't understand it, Bella, why do you want to go over there?" he murmured softly as he frowned, smoothing my cheek with a thumb.

I turned away, feeling confused and agitated. "He doesn't understand why I spend all my time with vampires, either!" I said defensively, looking around restlessly as if the answers could be found in the piles of books and papers on my floor. "And it is not dangerous, haven't we already established that? I mean, maybe I... miss him, that's why. Maybe I .. m-maybe I …." I stopped, tears springing to sting my eyes. Maybe I what? Suddenly I felt so confused, and sad. I missed Jake. Why couldn't I have both of them?

"Shhh... Hush, love." Edward's demeanor changed abruptly and he turned me around to pull me into his arms. He held me there and I loosely wrapped my arms around his waist, resting my cheek against his silent heart.

After a moment, he pulled back and looked into my eyes with an encouraging and intense smile. "It has all been so stressful lately, what with graduation... the wedding... I will call Alice and cancel tonight, okay love? You just need to rest."

I got the distinct feeling I was being placated like a little kid, but I would take it.

I nodded silently bringing the back of my hand up to wipe my nose. He was right, I just needed to rest. Part of me also screamed that I needed my Jacob. I looked blankly at the floor for a moment. Today at the Rez had seemed so... final.

Who am I kidding? A few days from now it would be really final. I would finally be like Edward, only with the added bonus of being a danger to everyone I loved. I wouldn't be able to see Charlie, or Renee, or Angela.. or Jake. I would be the ward of my vampire family, and they would have to do their best to keep me from killing everyone in sight. Wait, wait wait. It was worth it though to have an eternity with Edward, wasn't it?

Dammit.

I sighed. Everything felt so confusing and muddled. This is what I wanted, wasn't it? I was being silly. Edward was right, I just needed to rest. My gaze returned to Edward's expectant one that was tinged with apprehension. I nodded with a small smile. "Why don't you call Alice and I'll jump in the shower. We can spend a quiet evening ..."

Edward's face broke into a wide grin. "That's it, love."


One day tumbled into the next. My head was spinning. I kind of expected to start feeling better, but that never really came. A blistering headache sure as hell came, though. I think I had finished off a whole bottle of Advil. Probably because I wasn't sleeping well.

I met Renee at the airport -Phil would be coming in tomorrow for the wedding so that he could get another practice in. Edward had wanted to come with me, but truthfully I wanted some time with my mom alone. The real nail in the coffin though (I snickered at that) was that Charlie drove us, so that was a pretty good excuse to refuse Edward. It was painful to spend time with those two together.

My mother squealed when she saw me as she broke the deplaning line of drab jet-lagged passengers and grabbed me up in an exuberant hug. "Baby! Oh, my baby girl!"

"Mom," I gasped, laughing. I think she broke a few ribs, actually.

She pulled back and pushed my hair behind an ear. "Let me look at you..." She studied me proudly and smiled over at Charlie.

"Hey Renee," Charlie mumbled, blushing slightly and looking uncomfortable.

My mom wrapped an arm around my shoulders and began a bubbly diatribe about the dress she had gotten, and various other wedding-related things as we made our way to baggage claim. I listened, nodding and getting in a grunted assent every now and then.

We piled into the Charlie's cruiser, and my mom turned in the front to continue her soliloquy. Apparently the latent froo-froo gene ran strong in her family. I don't think I got that one.

My mom can be childish, and impractical, and a host of other alternately endearing or annoying things, but make no mistake, she is observant. That is, as soon as she pays attention.

She stopped literally mid-word, furrowing her brow, and scrutinized me as if she was seeing me for the first time.

"Hey, what's up, honey?" she asked resting her chin on her fist on the back of the seat. The way she said "honey" reminded me of Jake.

"Nothing," I said a little too hastily.

She raised an eyebrow and regarded me shrewdly. "C'mon. You know me better than that."

A smile tugged at a corner of my mouth. "Yeah, I do. I was hoping you were off your game, actually."

She wasn't being distracted. "Seriously, what's wrong? You hardly look like the giddy blushing bride," she said lightly. I didn't miss my dad's covert glance at me in the review mirror.

"Um yeah," I sniffed. "It's just... I don't know, I mean... it is all so much. And you know I am not much of a party girl."

"Why are you having such a fancy wedding, then?" she asked simply.

"Well, Alice and Esme really want to throw this big shindig. And Edward wants the wedding. It just seems like the thing to do," I said lamely, looking out the window as I chewed on a hangnail.

"You aren't doing this because you are trying to please everyone...? You have always had trouble trying so hard to make everyone happy that you forget about yourself," she chided gently.

"No... I mean yeah, I know. But no... I don't think..." I hemmed. Was that not exactly what I was doing? Hearing her say it so plainly made me stop and think. Wait, I couldn't think. I didn't have time to think – all the decisions had been made. "I mean no... I'm not trying to make people happy. Y'know, isn't this normal? Don't they always talk about cold feet?" I looked at her in the eye convincingly and tried to believe my own argument. It sounded perfectly reasonable.

She didn't look entirely convinced, and her gaze searched my face. "Just tell me: is this what you want?" she asked quietly and emphatically. There was silence in the car, and yeah, my dad glanced at me again.

I closed my eyes briefly and took in a deep breath. "Yes. It is what I want," I stated finally.

My mom nodded and turned her attention to Charlie, conspicuously letting the wedding topic rest for a while. "So, are you still eating at that diner every night?"

"Ah..." Poor dad, he looked pretty much like a deer caught in Renee's cross-hairs now.

I stopped listening and looked out the window at the miserable, wet day.

It was what I wanted, wasn't it?


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Jacob


Pushed to run as Brother Wolf, my breath came harsh but even. My tongue lolled out and was pulled at by the wind as I panted rhythmically. Nails clicked on stone as I climbed higher up the granite mountain side. I didn't acknowledge the view that stretched for miles, I didn't pause to see the full moon rising over the cold clear blue horizon of hills and valleys, I didn't think, I didn't stop, not even for a kill.

Brother Wolf would need to eat soon, but for now he mollified my broken human heart and sprinted over rock and soil. Sam had phased as I tore out of the Rez – after a phone call from Billy, I had to guess – and caught up with me, running silently beside me. I didn't think he had it in him, but he actually didn't question or lecture or ask. He just ran silently, our steps falling into sync. He stopped at the border of the Rez and I did too, turning to regard his yellow eyes as they communicated pure acceptance, understanding and support. With a little yip, I leaped back off into my frenetic run, desperate to outrun the tattered pieces of my heart that I was leaving behind.

A chorus of howls pockmarked the afternoon, joining into a long, dissonant wail that would have brought a chill to any human ear.

Days later I was too far away to tap into the pack-mind, and no closer to finding peace and resolution. It was interesting, actually. I had never spent so long in wolf form and I began to be able to release the lupine reigns and let my human mind fade into the background. This was the closest I got to respite. Brother Wolf knew exactly what to do, his spirit was clever and astute in an organic way that our human minds could never be.

What day was it? I had been running for almost four moons. Four days. Tomorrow must be the day Bella would marry the bloodsucker. And die. I wondered morosely when she would be turned. Not before the wedding since all of Forks and her mother were going to be there and I was pretty sure she was planning on eating the wedding cake, not the wedding guests. But what did I know? I silently laughed with acidic bitterness.

I couldn't believe I was loosing my Bella. Was it supposed to happen this way? It just didn't seem right, it didn't seem natural. A seething anger at Edward Cullen boiled up along with bile. Brother Wolf growled.

Tomorrow night.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow.

Brother Wolf slowed as he reached the pinnacle of a ridge. A plaintive whine slipped through his fangs and into the darkness as he pawed the ground.

My Bella. I wanted to see her. It might be the last time I could see her ever. Alive. I thought about that, my human mind and thoughts feeling fallow.

But could my heart stand the pain? Again? Was it worth going through the agonizing frustration? Of seeing that leach holding her close with that triumphant smile of his? Of knowing she would sleep in his bed that night? I mean what could they do together anyway? Maybe he would lean over as she slept and bite her, sucking the life from her lips - the kiss of death - as she dreamed, turning her into his eternal distraction. Sick.

Brother Wolf threw back his head and howled, a long, lamenting sound.

There was no question. I had to see her. It was the last chance I would have, how could I give that up? How much more could I break anyway? It wasn't like there were any pieces left that were large enough to pulverize.

Who was I kidding? I couldn't even fool myself: It could always get worse.

Was it worth it? To be there and see her human one last time. To be there for her as she turned this corner of her life -even if I violently disagreed. Thinking about it, really thinking about it: there was no question.

Brother Wolf coughed a bark and turned back down the mountain. If we ran well, we would be back tomorrow night. Maybe she would give me one last dance, or a last first dance, I thought wryly.

As crazy as it was, I still loved her.


'

Bella


I drove out of the valley on the gravel and dirt roads. Past the ramshackle houses, past the mobile homes, past the worn, single story town, out of the Rez. It seemed desolate and deserted; it didn't have the same earthy warmth that I used to see there, and it hadn't for several days. Jacob was gone, and the Rez seemed empty without him.

Seth was the only one of the Pack who would talk to me, and he said that Jake had left the day I had come to see him. He had run - out of the range of the Wolf Pack Mind - and no one knew where he was. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Charlie had gone crazy when Jake had gone missing, putting up signs and devoting an entire billboard at the station for "Missing Person: Jacob Black" despite of and in spite of Billy's laissez-faire attitude. All of the xeroxed black and white signs that the station had put up at the Rez had been torn down. My dad was livid and got frustrated with Billy for the first time I could remember. He mistakenly thought Billy didn't care but I understood.

So daily I had driven my monster boat (as it had been come to be known by) futilely down the lonely and impoverished roads of the Reservation, winding past La Push beach where I had spent many afternoons of lighter days, past Billy's house - all for sport I guess. I knew Jake wasn't there but it gave me some solace to drive on my bleak mission and check anyway. And it was the only time I had to myself.

As I drove up out of the valley, some stupid old song – Jim Croce, Time in a Bottle? How gushy and poignant - playing on the radio, and I came upon the first Forks town road and thus the first that the squad had papered and that had been left untouched.. Signs with Jake's picture were stapled to every telephone pole. Charlie had pilfered the picture from my digital camera (I was shocked at how few photos I actually had of Jake) and it had symbolically been used to advertise his missing status with a shot of us together on the steps of my house, half of my face cropped out of the image to center his happy, warm smile."Have you seen this boy?"

Have you seen this boy.

My eyes started blurring as tears started anew. It was pitiful really, this afternoon was the wedding goddammit. I felt... uncertain. I wished I could talk to Jake talk to him. I figured everything would be clear if I could just lean back on our old piece of beach driftwood and talk about what I was feeling.

Damn, damn, damn.

They really needed to warn people about this cold feet thing more. I just felt so ...confused and … confused. I kept going back to that vision of the children running into the forest. Of all that could have been - that moment when I kissed Jake.

Kissing Jake.

I wanted to do it again. Are you supposed to want that when you were getting married to someone else that afternoon?

Damn, damn, damn.

I stopped the car by the side of the road and hopped out to carefully pull down a sign from a pole that was pocked with a history of rusted staples. Carefully I folded the paper so that only his picture was showing, and I smiled down at his expression that was at once both tenderly sensitive and deliciously playful. My finger lightly traced the damp and fading copy. I looked up at the heavy gray sky of this early morning. - it had had been drizzling when I woke up before dawn, and if now were any indication, it would be pouring soon enough. Part of me thought bitterly that it was just the right weather for this evenings' festivities.

I got back in the car and carefully tucked the picture into the glove compartment and started toward home.

Alice's car was in the driveway when I pulled up. Geesh, she was starting early! At least Edward wouldn't be there, traditionally he wasn't allowed to see me today. He had spent the night of course, but had left early this morning.

Taking a deep breath I pulled the picture out of the glove compartment and tucked it carefully into my bag and I hopped out of the vehicle - squenching my eyes shut before beeping the alarm - and headed up the few cement stairs of our porch. I felt raw and hollow.

Hanging my damp wind-breaker on the hook inside the door, I heard a little squeak and grumble from Charlie from the kitchen. "Ouch, easy there Alice... I'm not a pin cushion!"

"Oh, stop complaining, Charlie. If you could just hold still!" Alice's melodious laugh wove between her mock-stern scolding.

Chewing on my lip, I peeped into the kitchen. Charlie was up on a chair, dressed to the nines in a silvery gray tux that matched the heavy sky outside, with Alice fluttering around him like a butterfly with straight pins. Something about seeing my dad all dressed up (had I ever seen him in a suit?) hit me like a wrecking ball and I pressed my lips together, feeling my eyes burn.

"Hey Bells. What do you think?" Charlie mumbled, looking down at his get-up with an endearingly boyish smile. Alice turned to me expectantly with a bright grin that quickly faded when she saw my expression.

"Um...wow... you look... great dad," I whispered, trying to swallow the threatening onslaught. Charlie just looked at me with an expression that would have been comical if I weren't so miserable: he looked somewhere halfway between confused as hell and ready to bolt.

With a little tight-lipped smile and half-shrug I tried lamely again. "Yeah... you look really great." Realizing I was going to loose the battle with the pressing tears, I turned on my heel and took the stairs two at a time.

I heard above my retreating footsteps my dad sigh with exasperation, "I guess this monkey suit was as bad as I thought"

"Nonsense Charlie, you look handsome!" Alice crooned.

My poor dad.

I flinched at the sound of the door slamming harder than I intended and threw my bag down on the bed. It bounced once and then landed with a thump on the ground. God, I was a disaster just waiting to happen. Another tear fell lazily down my cheek and I sat on the edge of the bed and leaned down to pick up the strap of my backpack. I hung my head, slumping my shoulders, and sat there, miserable and vacant, for a few ragged breaths

Finally, I tiredly pulled the bag up onto the bed. The dreamcatcher that Jake had made caught my eye from its sentinel place at the head of my bed. I reached out and held it in my palm, admiring the neat craft work: tiny rawhide knots, hand-painted glass, and scavenged feathers. Jake had so many facets to him. He had his mischievous, strong, energetic side and then his perceptive, gentle, vulnerable soul. I had never met anyone like him. We each didn't fit the superficial stereotypes that so many of our peers were molded into, but we fit perfectly together.

A soft knock interrupted my thoughts and I felt guilty for some reason, hastily dropping the dreamcatcher back to where it hung and wiping at my tears and nose before sitting on my hands.

"Come in," I called.

Alice opened the door and hesitantly peeked inside.

"Hey." I tried a smile.

"Hi," she returned sedately. Alice came in, the crinkling sound of the large white garment bag over her arm was punctuated by the soft thud of the door closing behind her. She lay the bag over the bed carefully, smoothing the plastic absently and not looking up.

I swallowed - I needed to get myself together, this was her big day. Wait... that sounded funny. I tried to gather my thoughts

"Um..." I began articulately at the same time she started with my name. We both laughed lightly.

"You first," I offered. I didn't know what to say anyway.

"Bella, do you know you have it all gummed up?" Her voice was very soft as she turned to absently pick up a doll from my childhood that sat on my nightstand.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I felt completely lost.

"What is going on, Bella?" she asked gently, not looking at me. "Over the last few days my vision keeps going all mushy and foggy. Now I can't even see anything past … well, past now!" she complained in that pixie-like voice with an attempt at feigned crossness.

I worried my lip and tried to jumpstart my mouth. "What do you mean?" I sniffed, acting confused.

"You know exactly what I mean." She rolled her eyes, put the doll down, and looked at me straight-on.

I glanced up at her from where I was twisting my bedspread mercilessly around my fingers. I just couldn't say anything. God, what was there to say?

Alice sighed a with exasperation and moved the garment bag before she sat across from me on the bed. Her gaze ran lightly over my room with an absent curiosity as she seemed to consider what to say next.

"Bella..." she pleaded softly.

I interrupted, "Alice can you still see me... like... like you are?" I asked almost desperately, searching for answers outside of me that I simply didn't have.

Alice looked into my eyes and pressed her lips together as she shook her had slowly.

I stood up hastily and nervously and wiped my palms on my jeans. "Well that's okay... I mean you said that you only see what I want... I mean you only see what I ..." I stammered feebly.

Alice shook her head again. "Bella, I only see what you decide. There is no pre-destined future that I can tap into," she tsked looking down on the bed and fingering the garment bag. She paused for what seemed like an eternity before she spoke again, in a whisper, "Do you want this? Bella, do you want to marry my brother?" She didn't look at me when she asked, almost like she knew the answer.

My mouth was dry and I frantically licked my lips. I became defensive. "Of course I do, Alice. I love Edw-"

"-Wait!" Alice interrupted and shook her head and pursed her lips with an apologetic half-smile. "I know you love him, Bella. But there are many different types of love. Are you sure you know what kind you have ...for Edward?" Alice spoke patiently and slowly.

I just stared at her with shock and a gaping mouth. God, what do you say to that?

There was a long moment of silence while all I could hear was the beginning of the rain pattering against my window pane.

"Well, that's it then." Alice stood with a flounce, as if she had decided something no more mundane than where we would eat for lunch.

"Wait - Wai – th..that's what... wha-" I spluttered stuffing my hands in my pocket and looking wildly around, as if I were missing some obvious clue.

"We are postponing the wedding," she stated emphatically as if I were a fool not to have come to the same decision.

Perhaps she was right.

"Wait, we can't postpone the wedding!" My voice rose to a frantic pitch. "I mean all your work, all the food, flowers... it is all ready for tonight! The guests are flying in already!" I skirted around my bed and held her by her shoulders. She could not be serious.

"We can do anything we want!" Alice pouted petulantly. "And we are postponing it, as of ...now." She cocked her head as if trying it on for size, and then nodded with a pert satisfaction.

"But all your work...all the plans... all the money... everyone's expecting..." I whined shaking her slightly.

In a lightning fast move, Alice grabbed both my hands in hers and her impish attitude melted into gentle sincerity. She looked deeply in my eyes with her amber ones. "Look, Bella, this is important. Really important. It doesn't matter what work I did or didn't do, or what guests have flown here, what plans and or whatever... you are making a big decision." She stopped for a moment for emphasis. "Bella, you need to be sure."

I gnawed on my lip with a vengeance as tears began streaming down my cheeks. I sat heavily on the bed behind me and started sobbing quietly. Alice let go of my hands and I covered my face with my palms, my shoulders shaking miserably. I felt completely despondent, but I also knew she was right.

A fresh wave of tears made gave me hiccups.

Alice stood in front of me, absently patting my shoulder for a long while. Finally she tipped my tear-stained face up to look at her with a cool hand under my chin. "Bella. Don't worry, just take a day or two and figure it out. I didn't want to say anything, but this has been going on for a while, hasn't it?"

I merely sniffed snot back into my nose attractively.

"Look, just relax. I will take care of everything." She smiled what I supposed was meant to be a reassuring smile. "And Bella," she waited until I looked at her again, "I will talk to him..."

There was nothing in me that could refuse. Some part of me relaxed, but a larger part of me was disgraced and horrified: what would everyone think?

"Take care, Bella," Alice whispered softly with a kiss to my forehead. It was so similar to the last time I saw Jake that I collapsed on the bed in more sobs while she closed the door softly behind her.


'

'

Chapter 3 Going about it all wrong


'

Jacob


The rain ran in rivulets into my eyes: it was pouring. I rubbed a hand down my face, and then back through my ragged short hair, shaking half a gallon off my hand at each pass. It was really pouring.

No wonder they had postponed the wedding.

I had run as Brother Wolf back to Forks, making good time, but getting back in the evening, anticipating getting to see the beautiful bride (gag) at the reception - but no more than perhaps snagging a dance, if I could stomach being around the vamps.

But Sam had been waiting for me at the Rez border with a mouthful of pants (bless him) and the news that the wedding was postponed. And now here I was hanging in the swaying tree outside the window, watching the girl I loved.

She was lit by the feminine glow of the small fairy lights hung over her bed, and she was sleeping in a fetal position, curled around her pillow - her hair strewn in a crazy mess over her face and around her on the comforter. The way her arms were grasping the pillow to her stomach reminded me of the way she symbolically had physically held herself together after the leech had run off.

She didn't look peaceful.

If that goddamn bloodsucking moron had hurt Bella again, in any way, I would simply take him out. I ground my teeth murderously at the thought.

Of course I had wanted to see her. Now that I had, I just wanted to talk to her. After a few moments of indecision, I resolutely pursed my lips and rapped against the window pane, squeegeeing the water out of my face yet again with my palm.

She sat bolt upright with an endearingly disoriented sleepy expression – hair going in every direction - and I chuckled softly in spite of myself. She looked around her room, confused, and I tapped again at the glass. Squinting out the window into the night, she bounced off the bed and came to the sill and pressed her face against the glass like a little kid. I gave her a little sarcastic wave from where I was hanging in the tree.

Her face lit in surprise - her chapped lips forming a perfect "O" - and she hastily pulled open the window. I swung lightly into the room and tried to make myself as compact as possible: I felt like I dwarfed her room now. Looking with dismay at the water dripping on her worn wooden floors, I held my hands up to try and staunch the trickles off my hands. It didn't work.

All thoughts at trying to keep Bella's room dry were forgotten as I was nearly bowled over by a mere one-hundred pound girl.

"Jake!" Bella grabbed me around my chest and squeezed me while burying her face against my chest. Christ, she could barely get her arms around my ribs!

I held my hands up a little longer, trying to resist the urge to circle her small body in my arms, but eventually I lost the battle and brought my arms around her gently. God she felt good. I leaned my cheek on the top of her head.

Holy shit, was she crying?

"Hey, Bells, you crying? What's up...?" My concern for her melted my previous promise to myself to keep her at arms length... . I was such a sucker for Bella.

Sniffing miserably, she looked up, releasing me long enough to wipe her snotty nose on the back of her hand. God I loved that girl.

Bella was indeed crying, and had been doing so a lot today, if her red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks were to be believed. What did that fucking leech do?

"Hey honey, what's wrong?" I tried again.

Bella pulled away from me now, looking like she was trying to get herself together while she ineffectively rubbed at her salty cheeks.

"What are you doing here?" she asked suddenly as if I hadn't spoken.

"Uh, what are you doing here? Weren't you, oh, supposed to be getting married 'round about now?" I quickly snapped back into a defensive position, and pushed my hand through my short ragged hair.

She looked down with an expression that I didn't understand. "It was postponed," she said softly.

Wow, that bloodsucker was way more stupid than I thought.

"Yeah, so I heard. The rain, huh? So the leeches have nixed sun ...and now rain... if they're not careful, they will run out of options and have to stay in their coffins," I snarled indignantly. If the tables were turned I wouldn't have postponed that wedding come hell or high-water. What an idiot.

Bella frowned at me with an adorable attempt at indignant disapproval that made a little crease between her eyebrows. "They do not live in coffins."

I just chuckled softly and picked up the towel that was hanging over her desk chair beside the window. It was damp. I raised my eyebrows for permission and she nodded a silent assent as I began roughly toweling off my hair.

"It wasn't because of the rain," she began again with an embarrassed expression as she sat heavily on the bed.

What did that stupid leech do? I moved my drying efforts to my chest and waited for more.

"I postponed it," Bella said softly.

I nearly choked. "What?"

Bella twisted her hands which were almost completely pulled into her long-sleeved knit shirt and chewed on her lip. "I said, I postponed it," she said a little louder.

I tossed the towel over the back of the chair and closed my gaping mouth. Part of me wanted to dance, a larger, wiser part reigned in my... hope... I didn't even know what this meant.

"Bella, honey... did he do something?" I asked tentatively, feeling kind of like I was stepping in a minefield.

She shook her head emphatically with a tight-lipped frown and hunched her shoulders, letting her head fall.

Ommygod, ommygod, ommygod! So much for reigning in the hope.

I rolled my eyes at myself and forced my face into a neutral expression as I knelt in front of her, trying to peer up under her hair which was hanging down over her face like a curtain. I laid a hesitant, light hand on her knee. "Bells?"

No response.

"Bells...?"

She slowly looked up at me, her face miserable. Tears were slipping slowly down her cheeks.

"Bella... what is it?" I asked as I pushed her hair tenderly back from her face. She looked so sad. I, on the other hand, was waging my own war with optimism and self-preservation instincts. Damn, I didn't think I could go through this roller coaster again.

Sniffling again, she brought a hand up to my jaw and her fingers lightly traced to my chin as her head tilted. God, I wanted turn into that hand.

"Jake... I feel so lost. I need to be sure about Edward... and I just don't know! I am so confused." Her hand fell miserably to her lap and she looked pleadingly into my eyes as if I could make it go away.

"Honey, look... that isn't a bad thing." I leaned my forehead forward to touch hers.

We sat there, tete-a-tete silently for a while and I felt her warm sweet breath brush across my lips as I watched her eyelashes blink slowly. I didn't know if I trusted myself to talk to her about something in which I had such a vested interest.

"God, Bells, I don't know what to say," I whispered truthfully, bringing a finger up to rescue her lips from a strand of her hair.

"Don't say anything," her reply was soft. She brought her arms up to encircle my neck loosely and her fingers toyed with the uneven hairs at the nape, sending chills through my body.

"What happened to your hair?" she asked in a voice that had a dream-like gentleness.

I sniffed, remembering that day. "I cut it," I said simply as I pulled back enough to look into her eyes.

Bella seemed to snap back somewhat to her teasing self and she snorted, "with what? A lawn mower?"

I rolled my eyes and laughed sarcastically, "Ha. Ha."

I absolutely enjoyed this whispered closeness. All attempts at self-protection were being thrown haphazardly to the wind and I no longer cared. Even if it were just this moment, it was worth it, or so I told myself.

I very much enjoyed looking at her this closely – her warm chocolate eyes were dilated to a deep black. I lost myself in them. Yet without warning, her face crumpled into miserable tears again and she brought a palm up to my cheek.

"Oh, Jake," she sobbed quietly.

I looked to both of her eyes trying to figure out what the hell to do. "Don't cry Bells, it will grow out. I promise."

She rolled her teary eyes and reigned herself in with a short laugh as she punched my shoulder lightly. "You dork."

Phew! That worked. I watched her try to pull herself together and stood, bringing her gently to her feet. "C'mere honey." I pulled her to my chest and she folded her arms between us for comfort, resting her cheek on my heart.

I rocked us almost imperceptibly back and forth. God, we had both been through too much in our relatively short lives. I felt like I held both our ragged hearts in my arms right now.

I didn't want to hazard a guess where all this was going, but damn it just felt good to be here. In my wildest dreams I certainly didn't expect to be holding her in my arms... here in her room... on this night (well, okay, maybe in the wildest ones). I tried to focus on that. The rest would come as it may. Wow, I was sounding more and more like my dad... and I was fortunate that this wasn't such a bad thing.

Things would figure themselves out. Just like the "thing" coming up the stairs right now. My sensitive hearing picked up Charlie's steps as he tried to silently ascend the steps... ah! there was that squeaky fifth one. I whispered into Bella's hair, "Your dad is coming up the steps to check on you."

Bella immediately stiffened in my arms and tried to pull away. I let her turn toward the door as it opened but left a hand resting loosely on her shoulder. I had had enough of the double life-lying thing. It wasn't good for either of us.

Charlie peered around the door with an expression that obviously hinted that he expected a hysterical daughter. It took him a moment to process, but he finally stepped inside with a gaping mouth.

"Jake!" He stepped toward me holding out a hand and I took it, shaking it heartily. "Gosh... how they hell are you?" He stepped back shoving his hands in his pockets, his eyebrows still raised.

"Hey, Charlie," I smiled broadly.

"Well... Um... we have been looking all over for you, son." Charlie shoved his hand back through his receding hairline.

"Sorry about that, Chief. I had to … get away," I answered cryptically. Bella switched her weight to the other foot.

"Well ..." Charlie searched the floor, "well you're back..that's what counts." He rubbed his chin with a hand.

"Dad...," Bella started to say, and Charlie looked at her comically almost as if he had forgotten he was in her room.

"Bells, why don't you kids … go downstairs and get some iced tea or something. Catch up." Charlie had finally realized that I was standing half-naked in his daughter's room. I covered my smile with a small cough.

"Uh, its good to see you Jake," he smiled, a little unsettled, as the surprise wore off and he now processed the scene. He turned to Bella, "Bells... you okay?"

She nodded quickly, worrying her lip.

He held her gaze a moment longer to be sure. "Kay, why don't you two go downstairs and relax," he nodded toward the stairs, and then awkwardly turned to retreat to his room across the hall.

"I'll, um, be downstairs," I smiled down at Bella and rubbed her back as I shimmied past her to the hall where, just as I had expected, Charlie was waiting to shut his door until I had left Bella's room.


'

'

Bella


I walked down the last step and into the living room. Jake was leaning against the doorway to the kitchen, sipping an iced tea from the fridge. He held out a glass to me wordlessly.

After a trip to the bathroom (oh my god I looked horrible!) I came down the stairs feeling more like myself than I had all day. Jake had done wonders for my mood, even though it complicated things on other fronts. Seeing him leap like a cat into my bedroom from the window - barefoot, rain-slick chest, warm brown eyes, and … ugh... that butchering of his gorgeous black hair - it had made my stomach flip and set things right with the world at the same time.

I tried to chock it up to relief at knowing he was okay, but even my conscious mind wasn't going for that one.

I took the glass of tea and tipped it to my lips. Wow, it tasted good. I hadn't had anything to drink or eat all day, and I was sure I had lost like a gallon of tears in my epic sob-a-thon. I drained the glass, my breath coming in gulping puffs of fog ,and made an exaggerated "ahhh." while I walked toward the sink.

"Thirsty?" Jacob gave me a wry grin while he turned with me as I walked by him so he was facing the me in the kitchen.

I wrinkled my nose sarcastically at him as I passed and set the glass in the sink. I leaned my back against the cool porcelain, my hands propped on the counter behind me.

Jake took another sip from his tea and regarded me thoughtfully. My eyes dropped to the yellowed linoleum of the floor.

"So..." Jake began, shifting his weight more languidly against the door frame.

"So..." I glanced at him and returned my eyes to the floor. I took a moment, letting my thoughts swirl.

"C'mon, Bells, you know I am dyin' here! I want to know what is going on... but I don't want to be an asshole." The ice from his tea clinked against the glass as he took another sip.

"I know, Jake. God, I don't deserve you." I brought a finger up absently to chew a hangnail as I thought about that.

"Nope you don't, but here I am!" He spread his arms dramatically, the iced tea tinkling.

I sniffed a laugh and smiled at him, "I just don't know if I am any good at explaining it. Ever since you left, well before that..."

"You mean when you finally realized you love me too?" he asked mischievously, not really expecting me to take him seriously as he brought the glass to his lips.

I paused a beat and looked him dead in the eye.

"Yeah... when I realized I love you too," I whispered softly.

Jake choked on his tea and went a few rounds with some spasmodic coughing. Priceless. "Y'okay?" I smiled.

He nodded silently as he cleared his throat, eyes tearing from the coughs.

"Anyway... then, yeah.. then.. things started getting really confusing. All the stuff you have been saying, all the stuff that's true... it's... been," I fumbled covering my eyes with my hands. I just wasn't used to talking about this. I rubbed my face impatiently to try again. "It's just ...well Alice actually said it best: that there are different kinds of love... and that I need to figure out what kind I had for Edward. And it made me wonder what kind of love I have for you," I finished with a sigh. That was the best I could do for now.

"Well, bless that little vamp," he chuckled, looking like he was covering up his discomfiture too.

We both fell into an awkward silence.

Jake wet his lips and pushed away from the doorway. "Well have you had any luck with any of that?"

I shook my head weakly. Oh, God, my mouth felt dry. I turned to the sink and grabbed up my glass like a life preserver and crossed to the refrigerator. I closed my eyes in the cold breath of the ice box and then grabbed the pitcher and poured myself a glass. I took a long sip and returned to my spot at the sink, spinning the glass nervously around in both palms.

Jake watched me with an amused half smile from the doorway and I rolled my eyes at myself, hitching my shoulder up to an ear with unease.

Jake emptied his glass and crossed to stand in front of me at the sink. His dark eyes looked straight into my soul and held me physically pinned against the counter. I couldn't move. As if in slow motion, he reached around me and set his empty glass behind me in the basin and regarded me.

"Well, I think," his voice was soft as he gently pried the glass from my hands, "that you may be going about it in the wrong way." He set the glass down carefully on the counter, intensely holding my gaze.

I sucked in a breath through my teeth, and realized it had gone shallow and uneven. I wiped my hands against my thighs. "How should I be going about it?" I asked timidly, in a whisper.

This was a side of Jake that I had only seen glimpses of. A confident and sensual Jake. I should have been feeling nervous and awkward on this new ground, but this was Jake. We had such a deep foundation.

"I think," he again moved with a sinuous patience that was both lithe and alluring as he adjusted his stance to move his feet hip-width apart so that our heights were more level. "..that you are trying to think about things...that you should be feeling." Eyes locked, his hands came up, oh so tenderly - one after another - to either side of my jaw under my hair.

I think I had stopped breathing all together as my chin tipped up with his gentle pressure.

Jacob's eyes washed over my face leisurely until they reached my lips where they got caught. He swallowed and slowly lowered his lips to mine.

Time stood still.

I could feel the frantic thud of my heart.

I could hear his breath soft and even.

I could smell his sweet, verdant scent - the forest in the rain.

I could feel the cool counter behind me and his hot callused hands carefully cupping my head.

And then I could feel his warm, supple lips as they brushed tenderly over mine. He merely brushed them back and forth, kissing me as much with his breath as with his silken mouth. Our lips danced lightly, experimentally, leisurely for several moments until I had to draw in a shaky breath. The gentle cling of skin to skin ended the kiss as he pulled away. His eyes were soft and affectionate.

I concentrated on breathing. Oh, that felt good. Soooo good.

"How was that?" he whispered, his face merely inches from mine, as if he had read my mind.

I swallowed, my eyes washing over him as if seeing him for the first time. I could merely nod in his hands. He smiled with an expression of wonder. "Yeah... me too," his voice and gaze endearingly earnest and sincere.

I brought my hands up to his shoulders and, in unison, we leaned in to press our mouths together again. The kiss started out tentative and sweet, and then became more sure and serious as we each lost ourselves in the sensation, as we each got lost in one another. He tasted so good. Clean, earthy, alive.

Unconsciously I encircled his neck in my arms and pulled him closer. His tongue traced my lips, requesting entrance and our mouths unfolded, opening to each other as our bodies moved firmly together.

Slowly our movements and the kiss became more ardent and fevered. Jacob enveloped me in his arms, sliding me up to hold me tightly. He moaned softly, vibrating against my lips, as he picked me up and I wrapped my legs around him, now fervently exploring his muscled shoulders and chest with roaming hands. His skin was hot, smooth, soft.

He set me gently on the counter, and his toned stomach pressed between my legs where I felt like I was melting from the inside out. His large hands ran up and down my back, and lightly over my breasts, up into my hair where they tangled. He stoked a fire that was blossoming from deep inside me, its flames licking and charring everything in their wake, burning me into a parched cry for satiation.

Jacob desperately broke the passionate kiss to pant softly along my jaw line. I let my head fall back and whispered his name like a prayer. He answered by nipping down my neck to kiss the hollow of my throat.

He stopped then, his muscles quivering and pulled my head down to rest his forehead sweetly against mine. His breath was ragged and shoulders heaving. "Bella," he gasped softly.

I gulped in air and licked my swollen lips, trying to calm my raging body.

Damn. I was going about it all wrong.

How could anything feel so right? So natural? ...So necessary?

Strangely, I felt no need to compare this experience with those I had had with Edward. If I had any doubts that there were different kinds of love, I had none now. There was nothing that could compare to this passion, this warmth, this intimacy, this sustenance, this ...love. I didn't allow myself to ponder complications, and merely basked in feeling.

"Jacob," I whispered. He licked his lips and slowly pulled back to look at me, a bright spark lighting the depths of his black, dilated eyes. I brought my hands up to cup his face tenderly. "Jake, I love you."

The words felt so right.

His eyes softened and the spark turned to a glistening shimmer. He pressed his lips again to mine in a caring gentle kiss that said more than words could ever say. I had been going about this so wrong.

Our lips pulled apart with soft smack and he smiled strangely.

"Bella," he whispered, merely a breath. He tucked my hair behind my ear, first one side, "...I want you to know," and then the other, "...that everything is going to be okay," he kissed me lightly on the nose.

The way he said this was confusing - it was intimate yet somehow distancing. He gently but firmly removed my hands. Adrenaline charged through my veins like ice, as fear bloomed in the pit of my stomach. What was wrong? What was I missing?

His face then transformed before me, hardening, his mouth thinning to a harsh line. Tears sprang to my eyes. But he turned from me, positioning himself subtly between me and the living room.

I turned. The figure standing in the doorway was oh, so clear: impossibly still, mouth grim, face enraged, eyes cold.

Edward.


'

'

Chapter 4 Advantages


'

Bella


My night had frozen into deathly silence. It crystallized and then was broken into lethal shards by the surging wheeze of the blood in my ears, by the insistent tapping of the rain against the kitchen window, by the mournful single drop of the tap dripping into the sink.

Edward stood perfectly still as if he were carved of ice. The planes of his face looked severe and harsh, set off by the dangerous, livid set of his jaw and the murderous light in his eyes. Even in battle, I had never seen such a fierce expression contort his perfect beauty. An involuntary shiver raced up my spine.

Oh my God, this was not supposed to happen like this. A tear slipped down my cheeks as a deep shame welled up to break in a heated blush.

How could I have done this to Edward? I was coming to terms with the complexity of my emotions, true, but for him to have to see... this. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. He didn't deserve this. I fucked everything up again! My cheeks burned with self-derision.

"Edward," my voice hiccuped his name as I jumped down from the counter behind Jake's still form.

Edward's eyes darted to mine and flashed an almost imperceptible molotov cocktail of emotion: hurt, betrayal, sadness, anger. How could a glance communicate so much?

"Oh, God, I'm sorry," I gasped.

Immediately the emotion was subverted and replaced with a softness around his eyes. "Hush, Bella. It's okay, let me take care of this," Edward's voice was silken.

I opened my mouth to say something more, but he interrupted, returning a gaze to Jacob that was full of loathing and disgust.

He spoke louder this time, his voice sounding like a steel blade hissing as it was pulled from its scabbard. "Well, mongrel, it seems I have been far too charitable in our dealings. I didn't realize that dog was such an apt euphemism." The formal language of his childhood highlighted the iciness of his voice.

Jacob's body tensed in front of me, and I could feel heat radiate in waves. He raised his palms up in a conciliatory manner. "Edward, I'm sorry, man. Look, let's take a minute here. This is not Bella's fault."

Not my fault? Now wait a minute! I was sick of feeling like some simpering jellyfish. And if there was anything I wanted credit for, it was allowing that incredible kiss.

"Of course it isn't," Edward crooned quickly, his gaze sliding to mine briefly before returning to Jacob. "I saw in Alice's vision a changed future and... decided I had to see for myself. I should have expected to find her here... caught in a wolf's trap." His teeth gnashed together with a quiet ferocity.

Jake snorted "Well that's what you get for messing around in people's heads," Jake retorted derisively. "You should stay out of other people's business." In contrast to his cool, even voice, his hands balled into fists and his jaw clenched as he tried to still the tremors.

"Bella is my business," Edward hissed, his body going cold stone still.

"Now see, that's just not how it works, leech. Bella is Bella's business - she's a grown woman, or haven't you noticed? What? Are you too afraid to let her choose?" Jake taunted, his body beginning to vibrate.

"Jake... Jake, stop..." I whispered hoarsely and emphatically as I put a hand out to touch his arm. I tried to swallow my tears – I needed to keep it together.

"Bella! Stay back," Edward warned urgently, a softer tone to his voice.

Jake merely reached back and took my hand in his surprisingly gentle one. He laughed a short, acerbic chuckle. "What? You think I will hurt her? ...Nope, last I checked I was pretty different in every way from Edward Cullen."

Edward's face went livid. "Get your hand off her unless you want to loose it," he hissed low and dangerous, showing his gleaming teeth.

"Ooo... scary," Jake laughed roguishly. I rolled my eyes and pulled my hand out of his, shoving him emphatically out of my way. He yielded, docile, to my push.

"Stop it! Guys, this is so stupid..." I began, moving between them, but it happened so fast!

"I said, get your hands off her," Edward hissed over my entreaty and just like that! I barely had time to register Jake flying through the air, before wind was whooshing by me and I was standing in Edward's arms in the living room.

A crash of wood breaking from the kitchen was followed by my wide-eyed panic.

This can't be happening!

Edward held me out in his arms in front of him, turning my face to him and delicately wiping the tears from my cheeks. "Bella... Bella, love, did he hurt you? Are you okay?" his voice was soft and worried. He pulled my cheek to his chest and smoothed my hair.

In my worry for Jake, my shame, my general state of emotional ruin, I began sobbing silently.

"Oh, love, everything is fine now. Hush." He pulled my face up to look at him, pushing my hair gently behind my ears and then grasping my hands.

"Bella? Bells, you okay?" I heard Charlie tear open his door upstairs, sounding like it was taken off its hinges.

"Bella... are you okay?" Edward asked again with unaffected focus as he held my hands in his cold, tense grip.

I swallowed a sob and nodded silently as I heard my dad charge heavily down the steps. "Bells!"

Oh my God. Could this get any worse? I knew that answer in the pit of my stomach.

"Edward, I'm sorry... Edward..." I stuttered around the rock in the pit of my stomach.

"Shhh..." He soothed with a cold finger to my lips.

Irritation flashed – was I never responsible for anything?

From the kitchen came the crunching of broken wood that heralded Jacob looming in the doorway. He looked even larger than usual, his face was set in fury, and his body was shaking violently.

My dad had reached the bottom of the stairs and stopped, taking stock of the extremely tense situation.

"Hey now! None of this," he tried, standing up on the last step to give him height.

He could have been no more than the sound of the rain which had increased to a pour against the house- Edward and Jacob completely ignored him.

Edward quickly grabbed my cheeks and looked into my eyes. "Bella... did you ask him?"

We both knew what that meant.

"And if you ever kiss her again, I will break your face for her."

"What if she wants me to?"

"If that's what she wants, then I won't object."

The memory burned my eyes and they teared to a blur as my breath hitched.

"Bella!" He shook my face gently. "Did. You. Ask. Him," he asked low and emphatically.

I couldn't move my head in his stone grip. "N-no.. b-but..."

Quickly he released my face and turned to Jake, pushing me behind him and holding me with a firm hand.

"I warned you, dog. I warned you," Edward hissed in a dangerous voice his body going unnaturally still.

"Edward, no!" I whimpered miserably, trying to tug him back by his immovable granite arm.

"Get away from her," Jake ground out, as every muscle in his body twitched, his eye lightening to a glowing opalescent yellow.

My dad came down the final step, hands up. "Guys... stop it. Do I need to get my badge?" Couldn't he see this had gone way beyond that?

This was just so wrong. Oh my God.

"Not on your life, mutt," Edward laughed, deceptively lightly, twisting "life" in a frightening way. "I am too tolerant, I should have done this a long time ago."

"Yeah, me too. Let''s do this..." Jake literally growled as he stepped towards Edward.

"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" I cried. Edward pushed me with just enough force so that I fell over onto the couch.

My dad had finally realized the impossible gravity of the situation and was frozen, his gaze being drawn calculatingly to the rifle by the door. "Outside! both of you!" he yelled sternly, trying to avert disaster around me, at least.

They didn't acknowledge him, but stared each other down as Jacob backed Edward toward the door.

When Edward touched the nob, he opened it with inhuman speed and streaked out into the rain. Jake fell into a run and followed him out into the darkness, the door slamming with him.

No, no, no! This couldn't be happening! This was so wrong!

I was sobbing silently when my dad came to pull me up from the couch urgently. "You okay?" he asked quickly as he moved toward the door.

I nodded. "Dad, dad!... Stop, dad!" I trailed after him, trying to grab his arm as he made a bee-line for the gun.

A loud, vicious, cat-like hiss was followed by a savage wild bark and it tore the night and my heart asunder.

"Holy shit!" My dad's face lit in renewed horror and picked up the rifle. I stumbled in front of him, desperately grabbing the barrel of the gun as he grunted and cocked it.

"Bella! Get out of the way!" my dad yelled urgently.

"No dad! No!" I was frantic now, trying to pull the gun out of his hand.

"Are you crazy? Jacob is going to kill him!" His eyes were wide and panicked. I guess his perception was probably how it looked to the human eye, but I knew better.

As if to illustrate my point, a deafening crash was followed by a heartbreaking whining canine whimper and then another ferocious growl. "And there's some wild animal out there. Dammit Bella, move!" He tried to rip the gun out of my whitening hands.

Tears were streaming down my cheeks. "No dad.!.. that won't work! It's...really complicated! Please! Please listen!" My hysterics finally made him pause.

I gasped, catching my breath. "Dad, go call Billy. Please! Tell him Jake and Edward are fighting. He'll know what to do!" My dad looked like I had grown another head. "Please dad! Do it!"

He looked at me again, dubiously, and then relaxed ever so slightly, indicating his reluctant assent. I released the gun and he stormed toward the kitchen, clutching the rifle. "Stay there!" he bellowed.

Would Alice see this? She had to have known Edward had seen whatever it was in her vision and tore off to my house. But damn, better safe than sorry... "Dad, call the Cullens too!" I yelled hauling open the door and taking the porch steps in two leaps.

I heard my dad yelling out my name as I, my heart in my throat, sprinted off into rain, into the night, into the woods toward the sounds of thunderous crashing.


'

Jake


I phased as I jumped off the porch, landing on four feet. Brother Wolf snarled at the vamp standing in a crouch before me, amber eyes glowing in the darkness, shirt plastered to his wan, skinny frame.

I couldn't believe the timing this bloodsucker had. One minute I was kissing those honey lips, so soft, so moist.

Bella.

And the next I am staring into the eyes of a very pissed-off nightmare. I wondered how long he had been standing in the doorway before I finally caught that sickly sweet scent (like dust and stale candy). My senses had been kind of... oh, two-hundred and fifty percent occupied at the time.

Occupied kissing Bella. I slipped for a moment into the warmth of that kiss, the smell of her skin, her soft sighs.

Oh, I am so not giving that up without a fight.

Enter vampire stage left -I thought ironically as I crouched with a growl.

Edward was coiled with an enraged tension and smiled menacingly showing his gleaming razor teeth. The rain was pouring on us both and it made his eyes look sunken and face sallow as his alabaster lips pulled back in a sneer. Ooo.. wicked.

"Come and get it, puppy... if you can. And in the spirit of fair play, I would like to remind you, I don't play fair." He tapped his forehead lightly.

Shit. I forgot about that.

He chuckled tauntingly as I prowled around him slowly, biding time as I watched him - taking stock. Edward suddenly seemed to be his 109 years old, instead of being just a hair older than myself: his eyes only followed my movements, his hand just touching the sodden ground as he held a perfectly still and aggressive crouch. Baring his teeth he made a very nightmarish vampire-like hiss: a feral sound that was rabid and harsh. On an everyday basis he was just a skinny, rich, spoiled teen as far as I was concerned - it was easy to forget all of what he was.

Until now.

"Whelp, you will have nothing between your legs but your tail when you drag yourself home tonight. Are you sure you are ready?" he murmured menacingly.

Damn, this sucker was really creepy when he was mad. And really good at throwing you off your game with the scare tactics. Brother Wolf shook his head to clear it of the mind games. My tongue lolled out in a wolfish grin of anticipation.

Brother Wolf sprang powerfully with no warning, but a hair before I reached the leech, he sidestepped effortlessly and yanked me by my thick pelt and tossed me 30 feet in the air into a tall pine, splintering it.

Damn! He also held fast with his vampy strength to said handful of pelt, so a nice chunk of fur and skin was ripped away by the throw. Fuck, that hurt. Ouch! Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Brother Wolf whined pitifully and then I stood with an enraged growl to charge again, ignoring the sharp pains in my ribs and legs. Christ, more broken bones? I willed them to hurry up and heal - hey, they had enough practice by now.

"Oh, you can do better than that." He hissed as he dusted some of my hair off his shirt dismissively. "Let's away so that we do not disturb the neighbors with our conversation, shall we?" With a cocky smile, he took off in a sprint – the little fuck. I guess he didn't want Bella to see his handiwork.

Brother Wolf bolted after him into the soaking, dark woods.

About two miles in, he finally turned to engage again in a nice-sized clearing that was skirted with tall pines and an outcropping of rocks that had fallen from the looming cliff.

That vamp was fast. And good – he was no doubt trying to tire me out. An effective tactic at the moment -a two-mile sprint was not exactly what I was hoping for after almost a week of straight running. I called him every name in the book as I limped up to a crouch with my best threatening growl.

"Goodness, such language! There now, take heart... you will have created an entire arsenal of original curses to supplement your piteous vocabulary before I am through with you. "

Oh, he thought he was clever. Shut the fuck up! I lunged at him with short furious snap of my jaws

He stepped aside easily and tsked, "And, believe me, they will be much more creative than that!"

Get the fuck out of my head, leech. I growled and turned for another attack.

"As you accused me of... earlier, dog, it's not that I don't mind my business, it's that I am smart enough to use what I do have to my advantage." He barely missed grabbing me again as I charged, his iron-hard fingers gouging my skin.

He did however manage to double back and slam a ten-foot log in my gut though.

Ooof...

I panted softly for a few breaths, wanting to puke.

It was just too tricky to attack a foe who could foresee each move. An idea born of desperation popped into my head. Hey, two could play at the "advantage" game...if he was going to be rummaging around in my head he might as well enjoy it.

I stilled for a moment, Brother Wolf baring his fangs with menace, and the best memories of my life to date naturally appeared, with the vivid detail of a dream. They appeared where they wanted to be – the forefront of my mind.…

The cool yellow of the kitchen, rain melodically playing on the window panes...

Pushing Bella's soft hair behind her shoulders...

Bringing my hands to cup her jaw, feeling her wild, aroused pulse...

Lowering my face to mold my lips against hers, pliant, warm, sweet...

The way she softly surrendered, pressing her body to mine...

Encircling me with her arms as she sighed into my mouth...

The sumptuous and passionate duet of our ravenous mouth...

The soft whimper as I picked her up in my arms and she wrapped her legs around my waist...

Her breathy gasp as she rose unconsciously to my hands when they ran lightly over her pert nipples...

Her body: open, yearning, wanting...

Her small hands on my face and the look in her beautiful chocolate eyes when she said..."Jake, I love you."

I was momentarily lost in the memory, and therefore only Brother Wolf's instincts allowed me to miss - by breath - Edward's hissing and abrupt brutal lunge.

With a little yelp, my mind hardened into focus as I leaped up to claw onto the soaked trunk of a partway fallen tree. From there I hurdled to the outcropping of rocks that had fallen from the cliff.

Edward's face was rabid - his mouth was pulled back from his teeth and his eyes black and wild. Gone was the sophisticated and worldly immortal and the urbane dialog. Gone was the calculated, professional charmer with the confidence of affluence. Gone was the vampire with the expert human camouflage and careful subversion of his natural disposition.

Edward was running on pure, unadulterated hatred. And the darker, killing instincts of his kind.

Oh shit, maybe this was not such a good idea.

Edward released any restraint he had been using and attacked me like... well, like he was trying to kill me. I began to truly fight for my life.

He ran up and pushed off the trunk of another tree, doing some serious ninja acrobatics as he vaulted up toward where I was crouched.

The focus of true battle adrenaline settled over me and I felt Brother Wolf tug at the reigns. Running as a wolf, away from my broken human heart the last week - trying to lose myself completely - had taught me something I had not heard anyone in our tribe discuss: how to subvert my human psyche completely to the lupine spirit and instinct. Panting as I frantically tried to counter Edward's clairvoyant attacks, I focused on releasing Brother Wolf. My human mind receded and all was like a dream...

The wolf ascended and snarled in elation, deftly leaping from the rock to turn lithely mid-air and land in perfect striking position in the middle of the clearing. For the fist time in the vicious melee, the dark and impenetrable wood was silent. The expectant hush was laced with the soothing, intimate dance of rain on the leaves and soft earth and the rustle of the forest spirits as they gathered to watch.

Brother Wolf snarled in a guttural challenge, baring spittle-laced fangs and digging his long, lethal claws into the pine-needle forest floor. The Cold One crouched with the grace and agility of the fae. He cocked his head in confusion at the difference as he met the glowing yellow eyes of the huge wolf with ears pressed back in challenge. The Cold One heard nothing. The mind of the ancient spirit of the wolf was closed to his gifts.

Without warning, the wolf lunged forward, clearing nearly forty feet. Before Brother Wolf was upon him, the Cold One barely had time for his unnatural reflexes to dodge the attack. Its hand, held out for balance, was not as fortunate and was torn asunder with the grating screech of gouged granite.

Turning nimbly to face his opponent, Brother Wolf's jaws tossed the dismembered hand to the leaves and growled, his mouth pulling back in a dark grin of satisfaction. The Cold One's face showed its pain in a grimace for an instant before it was subverted by a menacing and predatory snarl.

Evenly matched, now that the animal was ascendent, the two old foes squared off - an enmity as long as the histories of the Quileute people

Pulling lips back from fang, the wolf again sprang, feinting left and then pouncing to the right, causing the Cold One to twist out of balance with the speed of the assault. Huge, clawed paws knocked the Cold One to the pine needled ground and pinned him there – immoveable. A hiss of fury split the cold stone lips of Brother Wolf's prey and he growled in pleasure at the fear in the eyes beneath him, rearing back for the kill...

"Stop!" Both looked up to the sky.

"Stop Jacob. Now!" Sam's mind-voice tore through my head, making Brother Wolf spring back off his prey and hang his muzzle in pain.

"Jacob... Now!" With a whimper, I bent to the crushing blow of the Alpha command and froze, snapping out of the battle-mind of Brother Wolf.

Disoriented for a moment, I quickly looked up at Edward to see that he had sprung up to an aggressive crouch. His expression of pain indicated that he had been similarly affected by Sam's intense command, as it had ripped through his head unheralded too when he was able to read mine again. Shaking his head, he looked up at me with an inscrutable expression.

"Jake. Down. Now." Sam was running toward us, somewhere between here and the Rez, in wolf form. The voices of the Pack had been silenced by his decree, but I could feel their presence running beside him. My will was wrapped in steel shackles by the order of my Alpha and I collapsed on the pine needles like a trained german shepard.

Dammit Sam, this bloodsucker is going to kill me! I mentally yelled as Brother Wolf whined softly as if in agreement. Edward was stalking toward me – I couldn't read his intentions. SAM! C'mon! I am Wolfmeat here...

Sam was mentally panting, the pack was running so hard. "He can read you, right?"

Smart.

"Edward, your family is on its way... they ask you to stop. They have guests of yours with them who are not as restrained as your clan. The Quileute do not want to break the treaty. Many would die. Innocents. Humans. This blood would be on your father's hands. He asks you to stop." Sam changed his timber to one of ambassador as he spoke to Edward through my head. Props for Sam, I hope it saved my ass.

"Stuff it Jake," Embry piped up and then mentally yipped as Sam must have reprimanded him for "talking" with a nip.

"Stay down Jake." Sam held control as Alpha.

I am not a goddamn dog, Sam.

"We are almost there." At least he sounded worried.

My eyes looked up to see what Edward's reaction was. He had taken a few steps back and was now slumped miserably on a moss-covered fallen tree looking like he was just waking up from a bad nightmare and running his good (only) hand through his soaking hair.

At least the rain was slowing, I couldn't wait for Sam to release the compulsion so I could shake out my pelt and take stock. I did however know that my entire body was one big bruise, and I was still bleeding freely from several of the gouges and that goddamn rip out of my side.

At least I got the sucker's hand. Brother Wolf growled threateningly. Bloodsucker-boy looked up and bared his teeth with a petulant hiss.

A chorus of howls wove eerily out of the trees, snaking through the wet the clearing and wrapping around me with the comfort of Pack. A breath later, the giant wolves loped through the trees.

Sam paused, assessing the situation, and then padded over to me snuffling me with concern, releasing me from the hold of the command so that I could stand. I did so slowly, shakily and painfully, favoring a rear leg and wincing on every breath, while Sam examined me. I was too stiff and injured to shake my matted pelt dry.

Oh christ, I fucking hurt. Everywhere.

Satisfied that I wasn't going to die anytime soon, he nipped my nose reprovingly. "Stupid, pup."

I sensed exasperation, but not anger. Y'know, Sam was turning out okay.

Sam snorted.

The rest of the pack spilled over the clearing at Sam's cue, yipping collegial greetings to me as they snuffled and explored suspiciously before they casually lined up behind me, facing Edward. Quil growled reflexively at the vamp before he was silenced with a nip.

Edward looked up from where he was hunched. "They will be here in a few minutes," he told us (I guess they were in his radar-range). He looked soaked, exhausted and miserable – especially with that one missing hand.

I felt no pity; the leech nearly took my head off!

Biting off the pants tied to his leg, Sam phased into human form and put them on hastily. The rain was merely a mist now in the forest, but a light breeze stirred it to a swirl accompanied by the whisper of the trees. Almost in unison, the pack came to attention, ears perked, noses up. A few soft growls and short barks escaped. We could smell them; they were coming.

Gliding slowly like apparitions through the mist, came the high-and-mighty entourage - they must have slowed down to make their splashy entrance. The Cullen clan had come alone, probably to stave off good ole Wolf War II, and the mother-ish vamp immediately gave up her sedate human-speed walk to streak to Edward's side. Paul howled at the sudden movement, rocking back and forth on his haunches from where he sat like he was ready to pounce. Was her name Esme? She froze casting a glance to Dr. Cullen. He nodded and she kneeled down beside Edward as the others moved to stand behind the Doctor. All except one.

A few barks and whines of unease erupted from the pack as the scarred vamp (Alice's mate?) suddenly flickered across the clearing to pick up Edward's hand from where Brother Wolf had tossed it.

"Enough," Sam bellowed and the pack silenced.

Scarface was crossing back to Edward when he was stopped with a signal from the Doctor who stepped forward slowly and took the appendage from him. (He must have somehow understood that, especially in wolf form, we were programmed to react to the unnaturally fast vampire movements. Instinct was a funny thing: even though the Pack knew we were in no danger, and had even fought beside these particular vamps, we were all on edge.)

Holding the dismembered hand discreetly behind his back, he nodded his head deferentially to Sam.

"Uley, I am grateful that the Quileute are in agreement that the events of today do not preclude the continuation of our Treaty. If you are still willing to honor the concord of your forefathers, then I am willing to guarantee that none of mine will further trespass against our Peace." I wanted to provide a big, wolfy snort at Dr. Fang's formality, but I held my tongue. Sam must have some sort of supernatural radar, even in human form though (or maybe he just knew me too well), because he covertly cut his eyes over to me in warning.

"Cullen, the Quileute are willing and in agreement. We wish no more blood shed over matters best resolved in private." At this Sam, directed an obvious reproving scowl in my direction.

Whatever.

"Agreed," Dr. Leech nodded with a serene god-like smile. Why didn't Edwardo get a scowl, huh?

"May I?" The Dr. motioned (with the hand not holding the extra appendage) toward Edward who was sitting miserably beside his "mother." Oh, god, I hated that James Dean tortured-look of his. This guy was born for tragedy... at least when he wasn't kicking the crap out of me.

At Sam's nod the "good doctor" crossed over to sulky-boy and knelt beside him, placing the dismembered hand aligned against his wrist. Poof. The thing immediately melded seamlessly onto the arm like some kind of Terminator movie. Creepy.

Flexing it, Edward looked up at me with those soap-opera eyes and nodded – I guess in truce. Sure sure, whatever. I am glad your hand works and all, but if you haven't noticed, it isn't quite as easy on my side.

Every breath was like a sucker-punch. I couldn't wait for the damn ribs to heal; I needed to eat some meat. Brother Wolf hadn't eaten well over the last week and I wasn't healing as fast as I usually did.

God, I was tired.

James Dean over there leaned in to say something to the Doctor - about me, I was betting as they both glanced in my direction - and the Doctor stood again.

Now what? We have all made nice-nice and done our Chief Wolf/King Vamp thing... can I just go lie in a dark corner and suffer silently? I just really wasn't in the mood for being charitable – everything was hurting, and then there was that little thing about getting my ass kicked that wasn't making me feel too hot.

Dr. Cullen spoke again, "I understand that Jacob also sustained injuries. I am happy to offer my services as a physician." He looked at me with that compassionate, Mr. Rogers-perfect gaze.

Ugh... everything was irritating me. Brother wolf flattened his ears and showed a brief flash of fang.

I felt like I had been thrown off a cliff (and pretty near was), I was still oozing blood, I got my ass kicked by a scrawny Emo, I was hungry, tired, and not healing well because of it... and I wanted to make sure Bella was okay.

I'm out of here.

I yapped softly and stood, turning to retreat to the woods.

"Jacob..." Sam called. I didn't stop, but just continued my slow amble, trying not to limp.

"Let him go. We are through here. Please call me if you will need my medical services," I heard the "good Dr." say.

Thanks, but no thanks Dr. Leech. I wasn't letting any of his kind near me for a long time.

Oh, and for the record: when I left that clearing, my tail was not between my legs.


'

'

Chapter 5 Do you want me?


'

Bella


My mom rubbed her hand slowly over my back from where she sat beside me on Charlie's worn plaid couch. I was sitting cross-legged, my elbows on my thighs, my head hung into my hands. God, could the day I was supposed to get married on be any more fucked up? My propensity for causing unnatural disasters had hit an all new high. The one good thing is that I was pretty sure that getting married had not been the best idea. I mean, not that everything wasn't all messed up in my head, but that was just it; I obviously had pitifully no clue, and therefore certainly had no business chaining myself for life (or forever in this case) to some poor innocent bystander. I needed to put myself in Solitary or something (a padded room?) until I could get it together.

My dad had run out earlier and dragged me back into the house. It wasn't too hard to catch me: I was the one twenty feet into the woods who had tripped and was lying flat on my face in the mud. Yep, I am that good.

After a shower and a few band-aids, I had come downstairs to find Renee sitting on the couch with an annoying expression of motherly sympathy. I endured a long rambling soliloquy that sometimes bordered on advice before I finally surrendered and said I didn't want to talk. Or listen, as the case may be. Or anything really.. I just wanted to wait.

Wait to find out if the two people I loved had killed each other. Over me? Over my stupid mistakes? How wrong is that? I shook my head again in disgust.

About thirty minutes ago we had heard a long low chorus of wailing howls. What the hell did that mean? Anxiety had twisted my stomach so tightly that I wanted to puke.

That was nothing compared to the near heart attack I experienced at the ringing of the old kitchen phone. Charlie, who had been leaning on the counter in the kitchen (since the table and two chairs were smashed flat) quickly grabbed it off the wall before the second ring.

"Hello?

Yeah, she's alright.

How is he?

Damn. Bad?

Okay. I'll tell her.

Later, Billy." He hung up the receiver and rubbed his face with an exhale as he walked into the living room.

I had stood up without even remembering doing it. I stepped forward and grabbed his arms. "Dad?" I pleaded.

"Settle down, they are both okay." I let out long breath and collapsed on the couch as my father leaned against the armrest of the lazy boy. "That was Billy. He said Jake wanted to know if you were okay."

"Me? Me, okay?" I laughed in a semi-hysterical voice. The insane stress was letting down and in its wake was left only insanity. Great.

My dad looked at me a little warily. "Um, yeah. So Jake made his way home and he is pretty beat up. Which is just... I mean I just can't believe that boy could get licked by Edward," my dad started to digress.

"Dad!" I urged, my arms wrapped around my stomach.

"So he is pretty beat up and all, but he'll be okay. Edward apparently is just fine. And that's all," he finished, splaying his hands almost apologetically, like I had wanted guts and gore or something.

"Edward is fine how?" At my dad's raised eyebrows I clarified, "a few scratches, but fine. Lost two limbs, but fine... ?"

"Well now, Billy just said he was fine. Nothing more," my dad said with that exasperated expression he gets when he is getting questioned over something he thinks doesn't need clarification.

"What were you supposed to say to me?" I shot back.

"What?"

"What were you supposed to say to me? You said 'I'll tell her.' What were you supposed to tell me?" I wanted to shake him.

"Oh, that. Well Jake just said to tell you he's sorry. That's all. He's a good kid." Charlie stood. "Now that's it, that's all I know. You will have to talk to them yourself if you want more."

"Can you drive me, dad? Over to see Jake?" I spit out hastily, standing.

"Now?" Charlie glanced at Renee, questioningly who shrugged.

I nodded quickly.

"Well okay, let me get my jacket. Renee, are you comin'?" he asked awkwardly.

"Baby, do you want me to come?" Renee stood and rubbed my arm from where I was fidgeting.

"Well, its not that I don't want you to come, but I don't think you need to. You need to get ready for tomorrow. You were going to check on flights and stuff," I reminded her. Oh, and also, I lied. I don't want you to come, I amended in my head. I loved my mom, but she could be very nosy and asked a lot of questions. Questions I didn't have answers to.

"Okay, if you are sure. So you will consider coming down for a while? We would have so much fun!" Renee kissed me on the cheek and absently brushed my hair out of my face.

"Yeah. I'll think about it and let you know tomorrow."

I went and got my jacket and followed them both outside, Renee going to her rental car, me going with Charlie to the cruiser.

The drive to the Rez seemed to take forever. If we didn't get there soon I would run out of things to fiddle with. I had already bitten off all my hangnails, and even a few imaginary ones, the change in the console was organized by coin size, and all the random police papers on the passenger side floor had been neatly stacked and put in the door pocket. Now it was just my lip that suffered, and if we didn't get there soon, it would be worn to a nub.

Yes! Jake's house was around the next corner we turned. The cottage looked worn and modest, but in a cozy, lived-in kind of way. The lights on in the misty, wet night made it look warm and welcoming.

I opened my door before the car had stopped completely and heedless of my dad's "Easy there!" I hopped out, slamming the door and taking the steps two at a time.

Billy came to the door before I knocked. "Bella."

"Hey. Can I see him?" I got right to the point, panting slightly with nervousness and exertion.

He looked into the house and then nodded, wheeling backwards. I opened the screen and stepped into the kitchen. Jake was hunched with his elbows on the table, head in his hands. There was a large piece of blood-soaked gauze taped to the side of his back and another on one of his pecs. Everywhere were bruises, gouges and scrapes. I covered my mouth and gasped reflexively.

Jake didn't take his head from his hands, but turned to look at me. "Oh, God, Bells. C'mon, don't look at me like that."

I quickly stuffed my hands in my pockets and smiled apologetically. He turned his head again to stare down at the table. I crossed and sat in the chair kitty-corner to him, trying to figure out what to say.

Just then Charlie came in.

"Hey, Billy," he stopped and whistled loudly looking Jake over appreciatively. "Whoa there! Who knew that skinny Cullen had it in him, huh?"

Great, Dad. I had the distinct feeling that whatever I said after that, it would be an improvement. Billy glanced at me, like he could read my thoughts, with a covert sparkle of amusement.

"Charlie, why don't we let these two talk and go out on the porch and plan that fishing trip a week from Friday, huh?" Billy was already wheeling toward the door.

"Huh? Oh, right." My dad, still oblivious, allowed himself to get redirected. Gotta love him.

"Sorry, that was..." I started.

"... annoying as shit?" Jake mumbled to the table.

"Yeah, something like that. Charlie is just clueless." I chewed on my lip for a little. I wanted to touch him. I reached out one of my hands along the table and touched his elbow. "Hey, how are you, Jacob?"

Jake breathed out and looked up, letting his hands fall on the table. Oh, my poor Jacob. One side of his beautiful face was all bruised and swollen and there was some dried blood peeking out of a nostril. I closed my eyes for a minute as my heart broke.

"I guess I've been better," he said with sarcasm.

"Don't you have, like, super wolf-healing abilities or something?" I asked reaching out to run a finger over the back of his hand. He turned it over and held mine gently.

"Yeah, I am healing fast, but not as fast as normal. Anyway I should be pretty near healed in a day or so. It looks -and feels - worse than it is." Jake looked down at my hand and absently rubbed my wrist.

"Why aren't you healing as fast as normal?" I asked, trying not to be distracted by the tingling feeling that his innocent gesture was shooting up my arm.

"I haven't been eating well. The wolf thing takes a lot of protein," he spoke to my hand.

This was very disturbing to me. "What? Why?"

Jake merely shrugged. I felt like the guilt punched me physically in the stomach. "Well there is something we can do about that right now. Let me fix you something." I stood, pushing out the chair and pulling my hand from his and stuffing them both in my back pockets.

Jake looked up at me contemplatively for a moment, before he surprised me. "Okay. Thanks."

Happy to have something to do to assuage my guilt, I walked over to the refrigerator, tripping a step on the linoleum. Jake snickered and I shot him a nasty look.

"How bout this roast? Is that okay?" Jake made a noncommittal grunt. I turned and he was back to holding his head, slumped miserable at the table. I was able to find some roast, potatoes and salad ingredients which I piled all on the counter. "You guys don't have a microwave?" I asked looking around incredulously.

Jake looked up. "Nope, welcome to my world...where nothing is easy." He said grandly spreading his arms dramatically, he immediately dropped them, doubling over in pain. "Fuck! God damn it!"

I dropped the tomato onto the counter and stepped to his side worriedly, rubbing my palms on my thigh. "Where does it hurt?" I asked lamely.

"You mean other than everywhere?" Jake rubbed his left shoulder.

I worried my lip. "Did you leave Edward in one piece?" I asked softly.

Jake snorted, "Nope, actually I bit off his hand." He smiled proudly.

"Jake!" I chastised, horrified.

He looked at me incredulously. "What? What was I supposed to do? I mean he was already kicking my ass with his mind-reading thing – ripped off a chunk of my skin, logs to the gut, you know, the usual - but then he went ballistic. He was trying to kill me, Bella!"

"Edward wouldn't..." I started but Jake silently mimicked along with me and I stopped. I realized I didn't know what Edward would or wouldn't do. Jake looked pretty bad.

"Anyway, no need to worry about your precious fiance. Dr. Fang just had to hold it by his arm and … bloop... it melded back together. Like Terminator," he mused again. "So your Vamp doesn't have a scratch on his cold stone body. I on the other hand..." He looked down at his battered form and collapsed his head into his hands.

"He's not my... well, I guess he still is technically... but I am not marrying anyone right now," I mumbled softly, looking at the ring that was still on my finger.

Jake looked up. "Yeah?" The hopeful light in his eye made my heart melt, and made me realize that same glimmer was in my own eyes.

First I had to see if I could pull all this mess together. "Yeah. In fact I think I am going to go down and stay with my mom for a few weeks and figure out what I'm going to do this next year! I am such a loser. Dammit...I feel like all I do is make people unhappy..."

"You don't make me unhappy," Jake said with an exaggerated saccharin smile.

I raised an eyebrow.

"Well okay, sometimes. But it is more that you not being around makes me unhappy. That's all." He looked down at the table, and his nose dripped a drop of blood on the table.

"Oh!" I quickly got a wet rag, one of many strewn with gauze, salves and bandages across the table, and gently tipped his head up and dabbed at his nose. Oh, my poor Jacob. His face looked like it hurt. Everything looked like it hurt. I moved to another scrape on his forehead and dabbed at the drying blood. "I'm surprised I am not barfing all over you," I mumbled absently.

"Yeah, I'm surprised too. But it's nice," he said sarcastically.

I laughed a short laugh. "Your blood doesn't smell like that irony salty gross smell that makes me sick. Usually it is only animal blood that I can stand. Hey, maybe it is the wolf thing," I paused in my cleaning, thoughtfully.

"Yeah. My doggy blood. There sure is plenty of it laying around for you to sniff, if you want to be sure," Jake snorted.

I cringed, thinking about him spilling blood – getting creamed by Edward - and my gaze locked with his eyes as I held his chin with the hand not dabbing at his jaw.

The mood instantly changed, electricity seeming to charge the air. I looked deeply into his black eyes and felt the weight of stress fall off my shoulders like a silk dress falling to my feet. "Jake..." I began in a breath of a whisper.

"Mmm hmm?" His warm jaw vibrated in my hand. My eyes were drawn over his ravaged face (that was starting already to look a bit better) to be caught by his perfect, supple lips.

"I was worried, Jake. What would I do if I lost -" I sighed very softly and slowly I brought my lips down to his, like a dream, and pressed them sweetly, gently, lovingly to his. I pulled back and let my eyes run over his face, feeling heavy and drugged.

"Maybe you should be a vet or something, cause suddenly I feel so much better," a corner of his mouth hitched up in a roguish smile.

I laughed, placing another one of those addictive kisses on his lips just as the door was being opened.

"Uh... how are we doing in here?" Charlie held the door for Billy while he looked between us suspiciously.

Billy smiled with a twinkle in his eye, "Feeling better son?"

Jake gave him a would you mind? look while I chuckled and pinched his chin, feeling oddly comfortable as I set the towel down to turn back to the counter.

"I was going to heat up something to eat for Jake. You guys want something?" I wondered at how good I felt at the moment. Knowing that everyone was all right was an obvious relief, but now I was left with nothing but the ruined plans that lay tattered before me. It actually felt good. For the first time in a long time, I felt free and … just like I was living in the moment. I was going to take the time I needed to figure things out and what the next few years would look like. Suddenly that omnipresent sense of dread was replaced with one of freedom, anticipation and excitement. Surely that was a clue that I was on the right track? I hoped so.

I turned to watch the men talking at the table. They were all so comfortable together. Nice.

Jake looked over to me then and smiled, and a profound warmth infused my being. I returned his smile automatically and threw the rag over my shoulder before I turned back to my work.

As I cooked, Jake told us a cryptic version of how Sam and the Cullens had broken up the fight.

As I chopped tomato, a knot reformed in the pit of my stomach. I thought about my next stop tonight after I got Jake fed. I had to go see Edward.


'

Bella


Charlie drove the cruiser up the long, winding and dark driveway toward the Cullen's house. He had insisted on driving me – I guess he was worried about what kind of welcome I would receive.

"I dunno Bells, are you sure they are up? It's pretty late, I don't see any lights," my dad asked cutting his eyes over to me as he went around another sharp turn.

"I'm sure." I mentally chuckled to myself, 'yeah, actually they're vampires, dad, and they never sleep.' - that would go over well. "It is always dark on this road," I amended instead.

"They should put some lights on this road - aren't they worried about someone sneaking out here and stealing them blind?" He mused, taking another turn. Ah, Charlie, ever the cop. I didn't answer but spent the rest of my ride trying to imagine anyone breaking into the Cullen's place. I laughed softly.

I was trying to think of anything but Edward. I didn't know what the heck I would say, but I knew I needed to see him. To make sure he was okay. To apologize. To... I don't know, see him one more time before I left to Florida to figure things out. I guess it was because I had worn out my adrenaline supply earlier this evening, but I felt fairly relaxed and peaceful - resigned that things would happen as they did. Maybe it was because of the homey, laid-back conversation I had just had over at Jake's while they ate.

The lights were on as we drove up to the large, elegant house.

"Dad, can you stay in the car? I won't be too long," I asked hesitantly, turning to him in the dark car.

"No problem. I will just kick back, take your time," he said quickly, obviously relieved. As I opened the door he reclined his seat. " Let me know if you need me Bells."

With an absent nod of assent I closed the door and walked slowly up to the door, my stomach suddenly doing a nose-dive.

Carlisle opened the door before I even knocked. He smiled at me and then looked out at the police cruiser where Charlie was sitting up, watching. He gave him a little acknowledging wave and ushered me in.

"How is he?" he asked quickly as he shut the door.

I shoved my hands in my pockets with a little shrug. "He's pretty beat up, but he'll be okay," I didn't feel like sugar coating it.

Esme appeared beside me and pulled me into a hug. "Bella. I am so sorry."

Okay, now I was starting to feel uncomfortable. I hadn't seen them since we delayed the wedding. All I could do is nod and look nervously down at my feet as they led me into the living room.

The atmosphere in the large, silent house was austere. Rosalie and Emmett sat stoically on the couch while Jasper leaned against a wall. Emmett and Jasper each acknowledged me with a subdued "Hey."

I chewed on my lip and awkwardly looked around, trying to avoid anyone's gaze as I tried to think of what to say. Nope, no luck. "Uh... can I see him?" I asked looking at Esme, who bit her lip and nodded with a motherly expression of sympathy.

"Come, Alice is with him." She put her cool arm around my shoulders and led me out of the utterly silent living room.

"Is he... okay? I mean, did he get hurt?" I stammered as we walked up the stairs together.

"No, he is fine. Just upset with himself." Yeah, figures. Edward was always so quick to take all the blame. I covered my face with a hand. The calm that had descended over me at Jake's place turned brittle and shattered - under it rose the familiar confusion and doubt. God, how could I make such a mess of things?

Esme stopped in the hall and turned me to face her. "Bella, no one is angry with you. We understand. The best thing to do is just be yourself," she spoke somewhat cryptically, looking into each of my eyes with sincerity.

I couldn't hold her gaze. She was being kind; I could feel the suffocating judging silence downstairs.

With a little sigh, she squeezed my arm gently and we continued to Edward's open door.

Edward was sprawled out face-down on the massive bed, Alice patiently sitting cross-legged beside him with a little crease between her brows.

She hopped lightly off the bed and gave me a hug. "Bella!"

As if she didn't hear me come in downstairs. I mumbled a 'hey' and worried my lip.

Alice looked over at Edward lying prone on the bed and then back at me with a little tilt of her head. "I knew you'd come. Talk to him. I'll be downstairs," and with that she flitted out of the room.

Esme was still standing in the door. She gave me what was supposed to be a reassuring smile and closed the door softly.

After pausing for a few moments to see if he would say anything I walked to the bed and slowly sat on the edge.

"Hey...how are you?" I asked softly pulling one foot up under me on the bed.

I had almost given up on him answering me when he mumbled into the sheets "How is Jacob?"

I licked my lips, "He'll be okay."

Edward rolled onto his side and propped his head up on his hand and looked at me for a long minute. I dropped my gaze to my lap where my hands were mercilessly twisting the hem of my shirt.

"I almost killed him," he said quietly. I looked up, surprised, and he stared into each of my eyes intensely as if trying to read how I felt about that. His face looked drawn, haunted and there were circles under his dark amber eyes. There was a troubled furrow to his brow.

"Yeah, looks like it," I sniffed and glanced down again, uneasily. "Are you okay?"

I had to look at him again because he just nodded silently, still examining me with that intense expression.

"Which hand?" I asked softly. He held out his left which was resting on his side. I held his smooth, cool wrist in my hands and turned it over, inspecting it carefully. Not a scratch. When I released it, he let it drop to the bed heavily.

"I almost killed him," he repeated hollowly, looking like he was waiting for it to sink in and for me to freak out.

"I know," I turned more to him. "Why?"

He looked down, licking his lips thoughtfully. "First it was just jealously. I saw the vision in Alice's mind..."

I interrupted, "What did she see?"

He simply shook his head and continued. "I had to see if what it foretold was true," he paused a moment. "Then walking into that kitchen and seeing him kissing you, I have never felt so... so..." his eyes drifted into space for a moment as he remembered, his breathing quickened, "angry."

"I'm sorry," I mumbled miserably, dropping my head into my hand.

He put his hand on my knee. "Not at you, love. At him. At myself."

I sighed exasperatedly. "Edward, why do you never hold me acc-"

He hushed me by bringing a cool finger to my lips. "So we were …fighting, and I was using my abilities to my advantage to counter his moves." He tapped his finger to his temple.

I sighed, "Edward!"

"All is fair in love and war, my Bella." Edward smiled apologetically and took my hand. "But then Jacob pushed his advantage."

He looked at me, expectantly. When I shook my head blankly he continued very softly, watching my face carefully, his grip unconsciously tightening.. "He brought up the memory of kissing you. In vivid detail," he sniffed a laugh and then went still. "Of you telling him you love him."

I think my mouth hung open for a moment before I quickly closed it, swallowing.

He smiled sadly and looked down. "I lost it, Bella. I lost complete control. I was like Victoria: nothing mattered more than spilling his blood, draining his life. I wanted him dead," his speech quickened on these horrible words in a tone that seemed almost like a reverent and peaceful acceptance.

"Edward... I … " I took a deep breath and pulled my hand from his, to twist with the other in my lap. "Edward, I .. wanted to kiss him. I do love Jake." My eyes started tearing with emotion as I searched his for understanding. "I love you too, but... I don't.. I-"

"Ah... " he breathed interrupting me. "I see. So it was as he remembered. I thought it might be a ruse," his voice was a silky whisper. After a breath he sat up and scooted close to me, catching my chin in his hand. Turning my face to him he looked deep into my eyes.

"Bella. Do you love me?" his voice was soft, urgent.

I looked to one dark amber eye and then to the other, struck momentarily dumb. "Of course... I -I..."

With the speed of his kind, he pulled me completely onto the bed. "Do you want me, my Bella?" he whispered tensely.

"Edward I.. I.." I was confused, his vibe was all off. My breath caught in my throat.

His eyes washed over my face for a moment, inches from mine, and then he took a long slow breath through his nose and let it out with an expression of bliss. "Ahhh... you smell so sweet."

I swallowed and unconsciously leaned away from him, though his hands still held my upper arms.

He pulled me closer and closing his eyes he then lowered his face to my neck where he pressed it, cool, and again inhaled deeply. I shivered, startled, and he chuckled deep in his chest.

He pulled back and looked at me with his beautiful face and glorious smile.

"So beautiful...so sweet... my Bella," he whispered and pushed me down into the bed slowly with a firm grip.

"E-Edward... what.. wha-" I stammered, confused as my eyes searched his face. His expression was odd; a strange mixture of feral rapture combined with a relaxed unguarded ease. I couldn't move and tried to still rising panic.

"Do you want me, my Bella?" his voice was silky, seductive as his eyes ran over my face. "Oh... how long I've wanted you."

He covered me slowly with his body, pressing me into the sheets, and dipped down to nip at the hollow of my throat. He then trailed cold, lingering kisses up my neck, along my jaw, until he captured my lips in an instantly demanding and overpowering kiss. My body rose unwillingly in response. His mouth was crushing, ardent, pulling at my breath, disintegrating my thoughts, stirring fervor and an obsessive, heady rush. His hands ran up and down my body, possessively with bruising strength as he ravaged my mouth.

I tried to get my head above the rushing tides of heat and sensation; I was afraid, I didn't understand. I had always wanted him to let down his carefully controlled guard... but not like this. His hands bruised my skin, his mouth ravaged my lips. Not like this. A soft whimper escaped from where my lips were held hostage.

"Bella, you want me...kiss me. Now," his breath spilled over my face at his rasped plea as his knee pushed up to spread my legs with his granite strength. He moaned softly into my mouth with rapture as I kissed him back. I didn't resist, and some self-preservation instinct made me pliant, knowing that if I struggled, it would further excite this dark and primal energy.

Releasing my mouth he closed his eyes and again inhaled at my collar bone as he rubbed his arousal languidly between my legs. He pushed them farther apart, and a little moan of heat escaped my mouth involuntarily.

"Yessss," he hissed softly returning his mouth to mine with bruising passion. My body responded, rising to press against his of its own accord. Any thoughts of confusion or resistance slipped away into a blissful heat that enveloped me, relaxed me, until I lay supple, moving with the strokes and pulls of his movement against me. My breath was coming in light pants and I heard my voice moan his name, heavy, aroused.

He was raining kisses over my face now, his hands, cold, hard, kneading my breasts with painful strength and sending overwhelming ardent sparkles of electricity through the combustible tinder that was my body. Again he breathed deeply at the crook of my neck, exhaling my name against my skin with a shaky sigh of pleasure "Bella..."

His mouth claimed my skin sucking gently at first and then more insistently. A rush of melting warmth seeped through my body and I spread my legs wide as he pushed his body against me rhythmically.

My eyes glazed and rolled back and my breath came in hitches as I surrendered completely, pulling him closer, my hips aching they were spread so eagerly. Pulling my skin into his cold mouth he ignited an undeniable burning in the pit of my stomach and I moaned softly, losing myself to a tidal wave of crushing heat and pleasure. His bruising caresses were not enough, I wanted more.

Oh, yess... I wanted him, with a low, tormenting ache that nearly split me in two. It rose, irresistible, as he pushed himself against its source between my legs, suckling my neck and driving me into oblivion. I was overcome with an indefinable and searing yearning. Frantically I splayed my arms, hands twisting blindly in the sheets, back arching into his movements. His mouth branded me and I turned my head away to press more of my neck lustily against his cool, smooth lips, and their ravenous suckling. If he didn't give me whatever it was now, I would surely implode. I felt icy razors scrape against my pulse and then begin to press into a heady burning ache, making me delirious with desire.

"Oh, God, Carlisle!" like a dream I vaguely heard Alice's voice shriek desperate and low. "Edward!"

I didn't care, I was riding the crest of a wave of burning hunger and craving that I had never dreamed of, balancing on the precipice of satiation.

Suddenly I was ripped from spilling over the edge of promised pleasure and fulfillment.

"Nooo!" I cried out hoarsely, blindly.

A deafening violent crash echoed my brutal anguish, followed by vicious hissing.

My head whipped back and forth as blurred shapes and lights danced and voices echoed.

"Jasper, Emmett, get him out of here! Now!" I heard Carlisle's voice, urgent, over continued livid hissing. "Alice, hold her, I have to see if there is venom."

I heard another tortured cry rip from my lips as I struggled to find the source of that pleasure. Cold lips came to my throat and I stilled. But instead of that delicious, addictive heat, ice suffused my veins as lips worked gently at my pulse. My eyes rolled forward and focused on the golden blond hair of Carlisle, bent over me. My mouth opened in a small gasping cry of fear.

"Bella, you are all right... Bella, it's okay!" Alice leaned into my frame of vision as Carlisle sat up biting his hand with an expression of horror and fear.

Carlilse's heaving breath finally slowed and he gasped like he had just run a marathon "He had latched on and was just beginning to feed so there was little venom. I got it all. She will be fine," he said seeming as much to reassure himself as whoever else was in the room.

My breath was coming in gasps as I came back to my senses. Shame bloomed on my cheeks as I realized I was splayed across the rumpled sheets in a wanton manner, my lips swollen and body heaving. Oh, god! What happened?

I sat up quickly, wrapping my arms around my stomach. Carlisle moved off the bed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Edward was gone from the room, but his CD wall had crashed completely to the floor from where he must have been thrown by whoever got him off me. Esme was standing in the corner, her hand over her mouth, and Alice sat beside me on the bed.

"Wha- what happ-happened?" I hiccuped, pulling my knees to my chest. "Did Edward... was Edward..?"

"Oh, Bella, I'm sorry," Alice whispered. I collapsed my forehead against my knees. "You're okay, now. Everything's fine." She rubbed my back tentatively.

Everything was fine? Fine? Everything seemed far from fine. I rubbed my face back and forth against my hard knee caps and then looked up, a hand coming reflexively to my neck. It was swollen and tender. Like my wrist had been. Oh my god. How could I be such a disaster. What was wrong with me? I imploded from emotion and confusion and tears slipped down my cheeks.

"B-but I... I was... wha-" I spluttered, mind reeling.

"Bella, you were Enthralled. It is over. You are fine," Alice tried to keep her voice even and reassuring.

"Is … i-is E-Edward ok?" I tried to speak, but sobs hitched my words.

Esme came over then and sat beside me, smoothing my hair. "Bella dear, you need to rest. It's not your

fault."

I looked up at her and then at Alice who smiled encouragingly. Slowly I nodded. I felt numb and drugged and completely drained.

I stared down at the bedspread for a moment. Not my fault. My head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. The room was spinning. My stomach lurched and I vaulted off the bed to puke on the floor.

A darkness slipped over my senses with a blissful peace and everything went black.


'

'

Chapter 6 Yellow


Note about enthralling: More to the traditional mythology of Vampires, Edward lost control (as several stressors converged together) and enthralled Bella. Vampires are so beautiful because there is a strong element of sensuality in their feeding - they kind of put their prey in a trance that is very sexual in nature.

'

'

Jacob


I heard the phone ring from where I was sprawled out over my tiny bed and knew something was wrong. Call it a wolfy thing or whatever you like, but I could feel it. It also helped that we never got calls past midnight.

I dragged myself to a sitting position and stood, balancing against the wall for a moment – I was starting to feel a little more solid after putting away a good meal, but I still felt like I had gotten run over by a truck. Or two.

Ambling down the hall I heard Billy talking on the phone.

"Wait, slow down there chief, these old ears can't follow you goin' that fast."

My stomach plunged and I stood more erect and hastened my pace. In the kitchen, werewolf hearing gave me the benefit of hearing the full conversation, though I probably could have heard him no matter what: Charlie was yelling.

"...when she came out of that house it was like she was drugged or something. All out of it like she was dazed. And Billy... she had these bruises. She was trying to hide 'em, but I saw 'em. ..and she'd been cryin'...

Slam! The sound of Charlie punching something hard ripped his sentence in two.

"..and she had this mark on her neck... like... like he BIT her or somethin'!"

Billy's and my gaze locked in shock. An explosion of red darkened my vision and I bared my teeth and clenched my jaw, immediately my muscles started to quiver.

Billy held out a staying hand.

"Is she okay?" Billy asked tensely, but calmly, as if taking a 911 call.

"I don't know. She won't go to the hospital, she don't wanna see Renee, she just let me take her up to her room, and..."

Billy asked soothingly, "Is she there now?"

"Yeah, all curled up in a ball."

"Char-..."

Charlie interrupted, seething. "I swear, Billy, I never got that thing you all had with the Cullens. I always liked the doctor, but I swear... I swear... I wanted to lay that sonofabitch out! And I woulda... if Bella wasn't... if she was..."

Crash! "God DAMMIT!" Scuffling.

"You there? I knew I should have used the cordless. Dammit Billy I don't know what to do! I don't know why I called you – sorry for calling so late – jus' seems like you know something about those Cullens." he spat the word.

"Now, there Charlie. I was awake. 'Good thing you called. Why don't you -"

"I don't know what to do! I don't want to leave her, or I'd go up there right now with my shotgun. I'm gonna call the boys and send them up there to get that bastard. Fuck 'em all," I could hear that Charlie's breath was heaving.

"Look chief, why don't you hold off on that for a while."

I looked up at him incredulously from where I was pacing in little circles.

"Jake and I'll come over and see you, all right?"

"Yeah... okay. That'd be good. You don't think I should throw his skinny ass in jail? What with what he did to your boy and now Bells?"

"Let's figure that out when we get there, all right?" Billy looked over at me raising his eyebrows as I mutilated a fork that was still on the table.

"Yeah... okay... okay. You' comin' now, right? I'll wait," Charlied mumbled sounding like he had sat down.

"Yup... see you in a few." Billy replaced the receiver and turned to me. "Now son, calm yourself down. You can't Phase now, we have to go see Bella. I don't think Charlie will let a limping old wolf in, now."

Ah, he was turning that hypnotic manipulation on me now, huh? I wasn't having any of it.

"Dammit dad. I want that fucking bloodsucker dead! Why did Sam call me off, when Brother Wolf could have finished him?" I spat, my muscles trembling - straining against the phase - as my teeth ground together.

"Sit," he commanded plainly, seeing that I wasn't succumbing to his wiles. As almost an afterthought he picked up the receiver again.

I sat and stilled, wondering who he was calling.

After a few jangly rings, Sam's sleepy voice answered the phone. "Mmm... hullo?"

"Sam, this is Billy Black. I -" he started.

I stood and ripped the receiver out of his hand. "Sam! The fucking Treaty is off. We have to kill those goddamn mutherfuckers... all of em! Tonight!" My anger had vaulted right back up past its previous summit.

"Jake!" Sam was immediately alert. "Jake. Settle down. Get yourself together, you're not strong enough to Phase now." He immediately grasped the situation and ascertained what he needed to do. When did Sam get so good?

"Sam, he bit her. She went over to his house and he bit her!" I pressed frantically.

"Is she Turned?" he asked quickly.

"No, we don't think so, but -"

"You need to sit down. NOW! Give me to Billy," he commanded sternly, using his best Alpha voice.

Fuck him.

I petulantly slapped the phone into Billy's waiting hand and sat in a chair at the table, my whole body shaking with rage.

"Son, I need you to come over here and drive us over to Chief Swan's," Billy directed with that same annoyingly serene calm.

"Shouldn't the pack go to the Cullen's? They broke the Treaty!" It was Sam's turn to be incredulous.

"There'll be time for that later. If I know Carlisle, he'll take them on out of here. They'll leave right now, and never come back. Sam, if there is a war, there will be death. On both sides. We don't need to lose Pack for no reason."

Oh, wasn't Billy the pinnacle of reason and calm. Ugh.

"B-but..." Sam must be feeling like me about now. I felt a measure of smug satisfaction in that.

"Sam. I need you to come. Now. We both know Jake shouldn't Phase, and if you saw him you'd know he was mighty damn close." He looked over at me sitting in the wooden chair that was rattling against the floor from my vibrating body.

"Yes sir," Sam capitulated and hung up the phone.

Billy turned to me again and shook his head, watching me gulping in air, trying to tamp down the fury that was burning me hollow.


I braced myself against the sides of the pickup truck bed as Sam careened around a corner. My breath was rasping, every muscle burning as I tried to hold myself in check.

I was torn between desperately wanting to rip off that leech's head and wanting to make sure Bella was okay. Sorry to say, that if I were in any kind of shape to Phase, the former would have won out.

Sam jerked the truck to a stop in front of Charlie's house and I vaulted out of the back. The pain of my injuries was subverted by the adrenaline of rage, worry, and fear.

Sam helped Billy get out and into his chair, while I stood bent over, hands prone on the hood of the truck, focusing on my breathing like some asthmatic trying to stave off an attack.

Bella, Bella, Bella, I sang her name in my head like a mantra. If I thought about what that leech had done I would explode into fur, nails and fang on the spot. The hood ornament bent, crushed in my fist.

Charlie jogged down the steps with a distracted greeting, his face a mask of worry and anger. As he wheeled Billy up the steps backward, I turned to Sam.

"Okay. You won, I'm here and I'll go see Bella. But go now. Kill that muthafuckin' bloodsucker and anyone who gets in the way," I growled murderously. It was gratifying.

Sam nodded somberly. "You know, Billy was giving them time to leave. And he was right."

I closed my eyes and nodded, grimacing like I was swallowing some vile medicine. I opened my eyes and stared at him from irises I could feel were flashing yellow.

"Then trash the place. Fuck it up good for me. I don't want those leeches ever coming back," I hissed, spittle spraying with force.

Sam nodded resolutely, solemnly, and clapped me on the shoulder.

He turned to leave, but then turned back.

"Oh, and Jake, I didn't win; this is what you wanted to do. I just made it so you could do it." A wry smile tilted his lips and I rolled my eyes at his new-found sageness. With a flash of a grin he dove into a Phase, clothes exploding and the huge wolf loped toward the trees.

In the distance a chorus of howls peeled back the night.


'

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Chapter 7 First


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Bella


My shallow breath kept time with the raindrops against my window. Oh, god. I had never truly understood all of what Edward was, the profound depths of the predatory hunger of vampire nature, until that moment. I couldn't even process that the creature this evening was Edward. Suddenly it was crystal clear how beauty, perfection and seduction could be lethal. Especially when paired with that fathomless hunger, darkness and strength. In that moment at Edward's, I would have willingly, blissfully, emptied my veins - pressed all that was my life into his lulling, seductive maw. And in fact, I had.

I squeezed my knees tighter to my chest and tried vainly to hold myself together. I was cold, so cold... like my blood had been let and replaced by ice. It was if all of the life and color had been scraped out out of me by those razor teeth. I felt raw, barren, dead inside...violated and betrayed by my own body. I couldn't cry, I couldn't feel; I was empty and broken... and alone.

I shivered, a soft whimper quivering at my lips.

My bedroom door then opened violently, slamming against the wall, and I started, my pulse hurtling into a frightened sprint.

"Bella?" I heard the soft voice wash over me and I turned and jumped off the bed almost reflexively.

"Jake!" I threw myself against his chest and buried my face in his warm clean tee shirt, grasping it in my fists, pulling it to me like a life preserver.

Tears surged through burning ducts and my chest heaved, wracked instantly with full-body sobs. It was like a dam had been broken, and the frozen, barren plain of my madness had been flooded with all the pent up warm, living feelings of fear, violation, and relief.

Jake's large strong arms wrapped around me tightly, pulling me to him, crushing me into his warmth. I felt him inhale at the crown of my head and then breathe out my name, "Bella... oh, honey."

Kicking the door closed, he held me for many minutes while the reservoirs of trauma and turmoil emptied and slowed to a trickle.

Rubbing my wet face against his chest, I hesitantly pulled back, wiping my nose against the back of my white knuckled hand that was still clutching his shirt. I looked up at him voiceless, and he brought a hand to brush back my hair from my face.

"Honey, are you okay?" he asked worried, fearful, as his dark eyes washed over me with concern.

I nodded mutely. Then, thinking better of it, I shook my head miserably, tears rushing to brim in my eyes.

"Oh, sweetie," he whispered and gently grasped my cheeks and brought his warm lips to press against my forehead for an entire breath. "Let me see..."

Moving slowly, carefully, he tilted my head and pushed my hair back away from my neck, revealing the angry, swollen wound and he sucked in a breath. His gentle touch moved down to trace it, brushing lightly and sending chills down my spine. I closed my eyes. His tender fingers explored my neck, brushed my ravaged lips, pulled the collar of my knit shirt carefully down an inch, stroking the aching bruises on my collar bone which descended down my chest.

His body began to shudder, then shake, and my eyes popped open in alarm. His irises were lightening before my eyes, his muscles in his chest twitching under my balled up fists.

"J-Jake... Jake, no. No!" I cried anxiously.

His jaw was clenched shut, the cords standing out on his neck. "I will kill him," he ground out in a harsh whisper. "I will kill him, now." Heat was coming off of him in waves as his hands fisted at his side, arms taut with rage.

"Jake no, please. I need you. I need you here," I whispered miserably, releasing his shirt and wrapping my arms around him, collapsing against him and pressing my cheek against his wildly erratic heart. "Please..."

His tremors continued, speeding up to a tempo and strength that made my teeth chatter.

"Bella.. God... get back!" he hissed helplessly through gritted teeth.

I only drew back from him enough to bring both hands to hold his face, tipping it down to me. His eyes were an opalescent yellow - feral, fierce. It was like I was looking into the eyes of the wolf.

My eyes darted between his. "I know you are angry, but please, I need Jacob right now. Please...please... I need Jacob," I whispered desperately to his animal eyes, holding him with all my strength as he shook.

With obvious effort, he swallowed. Slowly his breathing began to deepen, his eyes to darken and the tremors to slow. I stroked his cheek and kept whispering his name, entreating him to stay.

Finally his hands came up around me, almost tentative in their gentleness, and he gasped, collapsing his forehead against my shoulder while his breathing heaved. I stroked his back and leaned my head against his.

"Jake," I sighed softly in relief.

"Yeah," he breathed, turning his head to my neck. With a little cry of dismay, he drew back, examining me again. After a moment, he pressed his hot, soft lips feather-light just under my jaw, pressing them to that cold, aching place that Edward had bitten to consume me. His mouth warmed the wound and sent a spiraling chill through my body - making my stomach drop and pulse skip a beat.

Impulsively, I turned my face to him and captured his lips with mine.

My kiss immediately became deep and desperate - long, luxurious movements of my lips tried to draw in his heat,his light - life – tried to erase the cold and melt the ice in my veins.

With a groan he straightened more, bringing his hands behind my head and pressing me into his answering thick, sumptuous kisses. A viscous warmth bubbled up, sweet and honeyed, slowing time and my movements to languid.

After a moment, Jake's hands roamed down my back, firmly, bending me to his heated body. Oh, God, instantly my empty, trembling body ignited in a racing heat, pushing me ardently forward as our tongues twisted in the passionate kiss. I felt like I wanted to inhale him, or crawl into him: to be one with my sun and never see shadow again. My hands ran up his arms, memorizing the cut of his musculature as they pushed beneath his sleeves to hold his massive shoulders, seeking the comfort of his strength.

His hot, wet mouth left my lips and I whimpered in protest, while he tenderly explored my cheek, temple, eyelid, jaw, with moist, sumptuous kisses. My hands cam up to scrape along the warmth of his scalp through his short hair and then I greedily pulled his face back to mine as I again sought his mouth. I marveled at how his lips were so full, so soft, so giving.

"Jake," I murmured in reverence.

As if that had broken a spell he tore his lips from mine with a gasp, his eyes wild and clouded with passion.

"Bella," he panted, swallowing. "Bella, we have to stop... I.." His expression was torn and tormented.

My eyelids were heavy, my body humming, and I merely stood up on tiptoes and pressed my lips to his jaw, down his pulse, splaying my hands over his chest. The strength of this passion and desire was like a hypnotic, seductive undertow, pulling me deeper, undeniable. I wanted to drown; I wanted to become one with these warm, calming, soothing seas.

"No..." I breathed a whispered plea against his silken skin, reveling in his musky scent, his salty taste, his racing pulse. Life.

He moaned softly, breath hitching, "Bella... please...it's too hard to- I can't..."

He held my shoulders and I looked up. His eyes were dilated the deepest black, fathomless, bottomless.

"Shh... don't stop..." I exhaled, intoxicated by ardor, and tipped my head back in entreaty. His lips met mine fully, fervently; he was drowning too. He moved to the tendon in my neck, burning a moist trail to the cold scar under my jaw: instinctively caressing, healing with his gentle tongue; cleansing the darkness with his loving succor. Suddenly I knew and could voice what my body, my soul, so desperately needed.

"I need you to take it away," I pleaded in the softest whisper, beseeching. "Please, take it away..."

His hands came to hold my face and tip it up to his intense gaze, and my eyes rolled, drunk with ardor.

"Bella.. " Ah - the sweetest whisper: my name on his lips - he covered mine in a searing kiss, branding me. Passion closed over our heads, pulling us down into the calm, deep blue of surrender. Submerged we clung to each other, moving as one with that same luxurious heaviness of rocking waves.

I brought my hands to the hem of his shirt and pushed it up - firmly over hardened muscles, tenderly over bandaged wounds. His arms left me to raise above his head, pulling the shirt off. Then large, callused palms came to circle my waist under my shirt, with warm and deliciously sensual brushes against my skin. I crossed my arms and grabbed the bottom of my shirt, lifting it up. Jake pulled it the rest of the way off and then stopped with a gasp.

"Ahhhh, Bells. I swear I'll kill him," he whispered simply, calmly, quietly as his hands ran protectively over the marks and bruising of my fair complexion. As I stiffened with renewed agitation, he crooned soothingly under his breath "Shhhh...it never should be like that," and he brought his lips to each mark, erasing it with his gentle tongue.

Closing my eyes as chills raised over my skin at his gentle, restorative touch, I reached behind me and snapped off my bra, letting it fall forward and off. His hands then lightly ran over the firm curves.

"Oh, God, Bella... beautiful," his voice was soft wonder and his face lowered to take a nipple into his mouth.

My body ignited and I moaned, arching to his mouth, holding on desperately to his shoulders against my quivering knees. He explored each breast, laving it with tongue and lips before straightening and pulling me to him, taking my mouth once again.

God, the feel of his fevered chest against mine! We each gasped and moved languorously back and forth, relishing the feel of satin on silk. I ran my hands up his muscled back, tracing his shoulder blades, following his spine, moving down to push his shorts over narrow hips, our mouths entwined.

His hands came to my jeans as my palms ran over the smooth taut skin of his buttocks, down to the top of lean and powerful thighs, exploring each trench and furrow of form and muscle with eager curiosity.

Jake broke the kiss, but, seemly unable to completely pull his lips away, he mumbled into my skin, "Bells, a little help here?"

Chuckling, my hands left his skin to unbutton my jeans. As I began to push them them down, Jake nibbled my ear, sending a bolt of sensual electricity that made me freeze.

"I want to do that," he murmured reprovingly against my neck and lowered himself, moving down my body, planting silken kisses in opportune places. His large hands traced every inch of me as they slid down my hips, bringing pants with them, and he knelt before me.

Jake held my hips, and drew back, eyes reverently traveling my every curve, making me blush. "Bells, you're beautiful," he breathed.

I felt uncomfortable for the first time, and automatically deflected, "You've seen me in a bathing suit."

He looked up into my eyes with an expression that was endearingly sincere. "This is different," he whispered and wrapped his arms around my body, resting his cheek against my stomach.

He took a deep breath, hands traveling down my thighs and calves, and then ran them up my sides - a deliberate, warm touch, as he stood back up. Cupping my butt in his palms, he straightened and bent me to him as his lips met my waiting mouth. I felt his hot, hard arousal press into my stomach and moaned, the sound muffled by his lips.

"Bella, are you sure?" he mumbled, leaving my mouth to rain kisses over my face, neck, collarbone as his arms completely enfolded me in warmth. "Oh, god, please say you're sure," he whispered desperately to my skin, nuzzling it ardently.

My hands traveled to his face bringing his lips back to mine. "Mmm hmmm... you?"

"Sure, sure," he murmured into the kiss and I smiled against his mouth at the little Jake-ism.

Jacob backed me up to the bed, and my arms went up around his neck as he picked me up and cradled me in one arm while he dragged our bodies over the sheets. My breath was shallow and uneven, my body a slow burn - from the inside out.

He pressed me into the bed, covering me with his body and his weight, and a soft sigh of deep rapture left my lips. His warm skin was everywhere, my body arching into him hungrily as he began unconscious rhythmic movements that stoked the heat between my legs and rubbed his hard member against my hip.

Supporting his upper body with elbows, hands entwined in my hair, we kissed until I could barely breathe for the pressure building inside me. My legs had spread of their own accord as my body pressed upward: yearning, burning. Jake leaned to the side and brought a hand lightly down my body to between my legs. Any novel embarrassment was razed by the shocking warmth that his first caress shot through every nerve in my body.

I groaned deep in my throat, as my eyes rolled back. That his touch was amateur and exploratory didn't matter, the feelings he incited ripped through me with a force that made my body tense and arch in need, his mouth taking my breast as it rose.

"Jake... I can't take it... I .." I whimpered, not knowing exactly what I wanted, but knowing that I had to have this undeniable burning satiated or I would surely incinerate.

His face rose above mine, mirroring my expression of desirous rapture and his legs spread mine further as they settled between them. My breath came in gasps as he pressed against my entrance and I instinctively lifted my legs to wrap around his waist.

"God, Bells," he panted stilling for a moment, his breath heaving.

"Please..." I entreated simply, no more than a whimper, my hands desperately pulling at his shoulders, trying to bring him closer.

With a long, low exhale through his teeth, he entered me in little strokes, just the head, biting his lip as he tried to control the rushing current of ardor that was pulling frenetically at the both of us. Then as if a cord had snapped, his body shuddered suddenly and he thrust into me. A sharp pain made me squeeze my eyes shut and cry out, blooming slowly into a heated seeping pleasure.

Everything stopped.

I breathed, little hitching uneven breaths, rapt by the delicious sensation of him stretching me full, by the satisfying deep ache, as he trembled against me. Slowly I opened my eyes to find him watching me, eyes black as he breathed shallowly through his nose.

"Bella," he whispered my name like it was a prayer, a look of pure wonder on his face that was mirrored in mine."I love you."

At that moment I felt like I saw into his soul.

Eyes locked, he began to move slowly, sensuously, and soft sighs dripped off of him like warm honey.

"S'alright?" he mouthed, his eyes never left mine.

I nodded, wrapping my legs tighter and moving with him to try to quell the delectable ardent ache of desire.

I lost the fight at holding his gaze and my breathing deepened as my eyes glazed in pure pleasure - the rising tide of a deep hunger was rolling over me like a summer swell.

Jacob continued to move within me with long, slow strokes but his muscles began to shudder as if it were difficult to keep himself in check. The deep, delicious pain had now completely melted into a sticky, hot craving and I urged him on.

"More," I whispered softly.

He answered with a long low moan and increased his pace. Deeper, deeper, he filled me, stoking the flames of my incineration higher with each thrust.

My breath rose in a thick, heavy sigh and my fingers dug fiercely into his back. The world melted into pure, liquid pleasure and I was vaulted over a peaking wave of sensation and down the face, a rushing plunge into satiation. A soft, shocked cry split my lips and my body convulsed. Jacob pushed deep inside me with a low groan, and a sumptuous liquid heat filled me.

For a moment there was only the soft sounds of our racing breaths and the gentle dance of the rain against my window.

Jake's head collapsed against my shoulder where he lay, gasping. I held him tightly, relaxing into the limp boneless feeling of profound bliss.

Picking his head up like a rag doll, Jake looked into each of my eyes slowly, taking stock.

I felt dizzy, drained, and completely content -devoid of any thought or words.

He smiled a tired, lop-sided grin at my heavy-lidded satiated expression and I merely raised my eyebrows, unable to form any coherent words. He sniffed a laugh and - raining small, sweet, smacking kisses that evaporated into cool breaths on my lips - he quickly encircled me and rolled us over so that I was on top. The low, steady thrum of his heart lulled my eyes the rest of the way closed.

The single thought that followed me into a deep, dreamless sleep was that for the first time in my life, I felt whole.


'

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Chapter 8 Life Goes On


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'

Jacob


I woke slowly to see fairy lights above me glowing weakly against the overcast morning sun. My arm tightened around the girl who was breathing slow and deep on my chest.

Bella.

Last night came back to me in vivid detail and I pulled her closer. It had been amazing. Her body was so beautiful, her kisses so ardent and sweet, and then sheathing myself in her body... it was like we had been made for each other. Nothing had felt more right to me in my life.

I looked down at her face, blissfully at peace in her repose, hair spread over my chest, her hand curled in a loose hold of my shoulder. I could wake up to this every day. And I hoped I did.

I pulled the sheet I had pulled over us during the night higher onto her shoulder and she sighed softly in a shining moment of absolute perfection.

A sound at the door drew my attention away from my drowsy admiration; a soft knock. That must have been what woke me. When I said nothing, the door slowly opened, squeaking on its hinges, and Charlie peaked around it.

God, I wished I had a camera to capture his expression: a mixture of surprise, embarrassment, and fatherly protectiveness. I gave him a friendly smile and a casual two fingered salute.

Looking flustered he nodded in my direction, eyes quickly averted, and he closed the door softly. Oh ho ho... that was a priceless moment right there.

I sat up a little more, flexing the arm not wrapped around Bella experimentally. I felt much better, almost back to normal. The sleep had been antidote to the emotional trauma and physical punishment of the last week; according to Bella's clock on her desk it was nine o'clock in the morning.

Suddenly Bella drew in a sharp breath and froze stiffening. I rubbed her shoulder gently.

She bolted into a sitting position, looking around the room wildly with a dazed expression and grabbing the sheets up to cover those perfect breasts. Her breath sprinted into soft pants.

"Hey... heeyyyy," I crooned and sat up putting my arm around her. "Everything's okay, honey."

She turned and looked at me with startled disorientation.

"Hey," I said softly. She let me pull her back down to my chest, fisting her hand by her cheek. I stroked her hair gently, "shhhh." Her breath began to slow and she gradually relaxed against me.

"How are you feeling?" I finally asked, encircling her with my arms and kissing the top of her head.

She just nodded against me and relaxed her hand to bring it up to hold my shoulder.

"Bells? You okay?" I asked again after a silent minute or so.

She picked up her head and rested her chin just over my nipple, gazing at me with those melting chocolate eyes. God, she was gorgeous in my arms; sleep-rumpled and vulnerable.

"Yeah, I'm good," she finally breathed meeting my gaze with eyes that were processing memories. "You? How are you feeling?' She brought a warm palm lightly and meaningfully down over a bandage on my pec.

"Never been better," I gave her a broad smile. I hadn't ever meant anything more in my life, either.

I got a small smile from her and she sat up a little more, turning her attention to the bandage. With a little glance at me, she pulled at the edges of the tape and then ripped it off. I am so glad I'm not hairy in human form.

She rubbed her hand over the smooth skin there, inspecting. I watched her face.

"Just a little bruising," she announced absently, and then looked up at me again. "Turn over."

With a half smile, I obliged and she repeated with the long bandage down my side and back where that fucker had ripped my skin off. Her hands gently ran over the puckered rippled skin there and I closed my eyes at the little shiver that ran through my body at her touch.

"Oh, you're going to have a scar," she bemoaned under her breath.

I turned back over and wrapped my arms around her pulling her back onto my chest. In the morning light the wound at her neck was angry and red and the bruising down her body a purple spray. "You too," I murmured tracing the cold oval wound at her neck and finding myself warming in renewed fury.

Her eyes widened a moment. "Edward! Oh, God is he..."

I rolled my eyes - that effectively distracted me, alright. I was so sick of hearing that leech's name. She moved to sit up but I gently urged her to me, capturing her frantic gaze with my own.

"Billy said they all have left," I half-lied. I didn't wan t to mention that if they hadn't done as he had predicted, that the Pack would tear that leech to shreds and anyone who got in the way. A sadistic part of me hoped that that had happened, but I was pretty sure that Carlisle wasn't that stupid.

With a little hurt pucker of her brow, she relaxed against me again, her breath shallow, as she processed. I rubbed slow circles on her back and waited.

"It's nine o'clock," I murmured after a while. "Charlie came in to check on you a little while ago."

She looked up at me again questioningly, propping her chin on her hand from her perch on my chest. I smiled and pushed her hair behind an ear. "You should have seen his face. It was funny."

"Oh, God," Bella rolled her eyes and then squeezed them shut.

"Hey, you're an adult," I chuckled softly.

She opened her eyes and worried her lip.

"Come on. It was funny. It's fine," I soothed and pulled her up me get that kiss I had been wanting for the last few minutes.

She pulled away, lips smacking, with a stricken expression. "Oh, god, Jake. My breath must be horrible!"

I laughed and pulled her up again, lingering over her lips a little more this time. She relaxed into the kiss and it became luxurious and full. With a little sigh, she pulled away slower this time and returned to propping her chin on my chest.

"Nope. You taste great to me," I flashed a toothy grin and she rolled her eyes.

She looked thoughtful and her eyes left focus for a minute. I stroked her hair and waited to see what she would say.

She drew in a breath to speak and sat up a little more on my chest, pulling her leg over mine. Her unsaid words were swallowed in a grimace.

"Ouch," she frowned, moving her leg back to where it had been beside mine and closing her eyes with a knit brow.

"Sore?" My hand stilled on her shoulder in concern.

"Yeah, sorry. It was...ah... my first time." Her eyes popped open to look at me. "Well obviously," she rolled her eyes, as a blush bloomed.

I smiled, bringing a finger to stroke the pink dusting her cheek. "Yeah, me too," I whispered. It seemed so right. Us.

"Wait, you have n-never …" she stammered, looking at me incredulously. I hoped it was commentary on my performance, and not my character.

I shook my head as my smile softened, "Nope. I mean, I have fooled around and stuff, but I always hoped you would be my first." I looked deeply into her beautiful dark eyes that were wide with surprise and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "And last," I whispered.

At that, Bella looked nervous and broke eye contact rolling off of me; I didn't try to hold her this time.

I turned on my side and propped my head on my hand and watched her. She twisted the sheets at her neck nervously. Her eyes, staring at the ceiling, had a distant, haunted look. Damn, I didn't like it one bit. From that warm, intimate space just a second earlier, my stomach started to tense.

After a few minutes I brought my free hand to still hers at her neck. I licked my lips. "Bells, you okay?"

She didn't answer, but - eyes still fixed on the ceiling- she spoke hollowly "God, we shouldn't have done that."

Knitting my eyebrows as my stomach further took a dive, I swallowed again. "Shouldn't have done what?" Surely this wouldn't fall apart so fast.

Taking a moment, she then turned her head and looked at me with eyes that were conflicted and confused. "We shouldn't have made love, Jacob," her whisper was plain and flat.

I guess it could.

I reflexively withdrew my hand. "What? Why? I was thinking that that was the best decision of my whole damn life," I chuckled, trying to inject a little humor and continued with a mischievous grin, "and I would do it again in a second."

It didn't work and she tensed and sat up more against the head of the bed, sheets clutched before her. "We shouldn't have, Jake," she looked at me with worry.

I tried to stay calm and neutral – contrary to the fear that was rising to choke me - and rolled my eyes with a sniff, "and the reason is..."

Her eyes searched the room wildly. "Uh, it will ruin our friendship." She worried her lip with that adorable crease between her brow.

I gave her an easy smile, "Nothing can ruin our friendship, Bella. Think about it."

But her agitation continued, her voice rising, "I mean, God, I could get pregnant..."

I tried to imagine Bella pregnant with our child. Not that I spent a lot of time thinking about having kids yet, but the little vignette was oddly pleasing. "That wouldn't be such a bad thing. I like kids," I shrugged and placed my hand on her flat stomach imagining my baby there.

"Dammit Jake, everything is just so easy for you," she accused, subtly moving from under my hand to twist to face me, still holding those damn sheets.

I shrugged again, "What isn't easy about us, Bells?"

It all fit together perfectly in my head. Now that we had crossed the line between best friends to lovers so irrevocably, now that I had been inside her body - god, I had been inside her body... her warm, tight body. Bella and I had made love – this ultimate intimacy with someone with whom I was so emotionally intimate was overwhelming. Now...I was even more sure.

"Well for one thing, you're a werewolf." Her worried eyes ran over my face.

I snorted, "But you could imagine marrying a bloodsucking corpse..."

She flinched at that, and I regretted my sarcastic snap. I was still wanted to kill the fucker.

"No, it isn't like that," she said meekly. "It's just that … well... won't you, like,imprint someday? What happens then?" Her gaze was heartbreakingly sincere.

I softened immediately. "Oh, honey. I don't give a damn about fucking imprinting. I mean, I want to choose who I spend my life with, not have some sort of woo-woo wolfy spell decide it for me." I could understand that she would feel insecure thinking that one day I would wake up and be struck with a lighting bolt of compulsive adoration for someone I just met. But I just wasn't having it. It wouldn't happen to me. Not when I loved her so much.

I wanted to kiss the sadness away that was shadowing her face. Why did this have to be so hard?

"But doesn't it work that way?" she asked carefully, looking into both of my eyes.

I let out a breath of frustration. "Not all werewolves imprint," I hissed through gritted teeth. "Plus I could stop Phasing – you want that don't you; you're the one with the thing about age, Bella. Then it would be a moot point."

She looked at me with those conflicted eyes. "I don't want to make you choose something you don't want," she said quietly, obviously in reference to her recent engagement fiasco.

"Bella, I want you," I said with all the sincerity that I felt.

Her eyes darted around the room for a minute and I sat up on the pillow a little more, putting an arm behind my head while I waited for her to come to the same conclusion.

Finally she stilled, taking a deep breath and she relaxed a little like she had figured something out. She looked up from under her lashes at me and licked her lips.

"Jake, I am supposed to go to Florida with mom tonight," she said very quietly and bit her lip, pausing a moment. "I'm still going to go."

I nodded again, somberly, as my heart did a little unhappy flip. "Take the time you need, Bells." I reached out and rested the hand that wasn't behind my head on her knee.

"Just come back, kay?" I whispered.

She looked down, still worrying her lip. With a little nod, she swung her legs over the side of the bed, and, pulling the sheets with her, she stood.

"I'm going to take a shower," she mumbled, not looking at me, as she moved toward the door.

I let out a little sigh as my brow furrowed, watching her. Why did I feel like she wasn't coming back?


'

'

'

'

Four years later...

'

'

Bella


My futon was squeaking from the force of his thrusts into me. I grazed my hands down his glistening back and he moaned with renewed enthusiasm. I closed my eyes, reaching for that ever-elusive peak, trying to dissolve into the moment, into the feeling of his strokes. My mind finally relented and searched for an image to help me along – the only one I ever sought.

Jacob.

His warm, loving touch, his strong muscled limbs, my name whispered on his full, giving lips, my reflection in his black, dilated eyes.

I was rewarded with a blossoming heat that started in my chest and spread, and I filled it with a soft sigh, grasping the shoulders of the man who was groaning above me.

Illusory and immaterial, the image was abruptly dissolved in the gasps of the man who rolled off me and onto his back as he caught his breath.

For a few moments I listened to my own heart's beat as it slowed, like a sprinter returning to the blocks after a missed start. I opened my eyes and stared at the fairy lights that hung over my bed. With a sigh, I rolled over onto my side, propping my head in my hands and regarded the man beside me.

His eyes were closed, his handsome face in a peaceful repose. Wide cheekbones and honey brown skin, full lips and dark hair; I was always attracted to men that reminded me of Jake.

Opening his eyes, Caleb turned to smile and then mirror my position.

"Mmm... God Bella, that was good," he sighed.

I smiled, reaching out a hand to push an errant curl out of his eyes. Four years had brought a parade of less than memorable relationships when I could fit them around my classes and labs. Each man had been interesting and kind in his own way, but on more than one occasion I had been accused of having commitment issues, which I resented. I had always been forthright with what I was able to give. Which was not very much...

"I can't believe I am getting on a plane next week," Caleb smiled, searching my eyes as he pondered the enormity of the next step in his life. He had just defended his thesis for his PhD in marine biology and would be traveling to Germany for his post-doc.

"It came up fast," I smiled and sat up, swinging my legs over the side of the mattress to grab a glass of water from the nightstand.

"You're going to come and visit soon, yeah?" He sat up as I hopped off the bed and pulled on a robe.

"I don't speak German," I laughed softly, tying my belt.

"You never want to talk about next year, Bella. You have, what?... three more weeks before you graduate? You should look at the Masters program at the University at Jena." He sat cross legged and regarded me.

I looked down for a moment and leaned against the dresser. "I don't know about the whole Masters thing, you know that. And I got a full ride at Washington State."

There was a moment of silence and I finally pushed off the dresser to cross the room to the light switch, turning on the rice-paper lamp and bathing the darkened room with a warm, soft light.

"You know, Bella, it seems like you just don't care," he said softly, swinging his own feet to the ground.

Uh-oh, here it goes. God, I hated this part.

"Of course I care. What do you mean?" I turned with my hands on my hips.

He crossed to me and took my face in his hands. "Well, for one... will you miss me?"

My eyes darted between his soft brown gaze. "Of course, Caleb..." my voice softened and I brought my arms around his naked waist.

"Doesn't seem like it," he murmured as his eyes searched my face.

He was right. He was searching for something he wouldn't find there. Something hat I couldn't give him.

"But Caleb... we knew you were only at Florida for this year. We knew this was coming all along," I said very softly, not wanting to hurt him, but wanting to be honest. I was always honest.

His hands dropped to my shoulders and he looked down, pursing his lips. "Yeah, I know. I just thought that after what we shared these several months, it might... change things," he murmured, vulnerable, before meeting my gaze again with his entreaty.

With a sigh, his arms dropped to his side, as he gave up finding what he was looking for in my face.

Did I mention how much I hate this part?

I brought my hand to his cheek and I looked deep into his intelligent, kind eyes. "Caleb... We knew all along that this was a … temporary... relationship." I searched his face, looking for understanding, but only saw rising agitation. He knew. I quickly amended, "a very wonderful, very special relationship, yes. But one that would end."

He blew air out of his cheeks and turned out of my arms, rubbing his brow.

I put my hand on his shoulder. "We have had so many awesome times. Remember the surfing, remember the midnight sundaes at Bubbies?" His hand pushed me away, dismissed me and brought me to silence.

I swallowed. "Look, you got a fully-funded ride at one of the best schools on the European continent. You are finally getting to live in Germany, it is a really exciting time! Let's not ruin -"

He turned on me, sadness and rejection turning to anger. "Oh, shut up, Bella. I don't want your damn lip service." Pinching the bridge of his nose a moment, he bent to grab up his pants from the floor. "You really have a problem, you know that?" He shoved one leg into the jeans and then the other.

I took a deep breath, trying not to roll my eyes, and crossed my arms over my chest, waiting for the rest.

"You are cold. I don't know what happened to you... or maybe you were always like this. A science geek who can spend a week straight sleeping in the lab, but can't be happy sleeping with one man. I'm sorry for you actually. You can make the grades, but you can't make a committment!"

Ding-ding-ding! There it was – the obligatory commitment comment. I should make up a drinking game around this.

"Someday, you are going to look up from your microscope and and wonder why you are lonely. I'll be long gone by then and you will realize that you let life pass you by." He grabbed his bag up from the floor.

Oh, please, life? 'Kind of egocentric to think that you are the most important thing that has come into my world, doncha think? I held my tongue (I had learned that it was best this way through trial and error. Boy, did those errors suck).

Without even buttoning his shirt, he stomped to the door, stopping with his hand on the doorknob and turning to me. "If I don't see you before I leave – which I probably won't, what, with your big lab running this week and all – have a nice life, Bella Swan. Auf wiedersehen!" He opened the door and slammed it behind him.

I walked slowly to the door and locked it. Did he really just say Auf wiedersehen? Now that was really dorky.

I put my hand over my face. God, I sounded so callous.

I walked across the empty senior dorm room and sat slowly on my bed. Why didn't I care more? Didn't Caleb have every right to think that he was the most important thing that had come into my world? Isn't that what normal, loving relationships were like?

But Caleb was wrong in one respect... I didn't have the problem. Unfortunately, he did. He wasn't Jacob.

My Jacob.

I still couldn't seem to get over him, though I thought it childish. No one ever forgets their first, do they? It seemed so much more than that, sometimes. But in thinking of my current track record with relationships (non-existent) it was probably for the best that it didn't work out. Who am I kidding? I didn't even give it a chance...

We had written a few tense emails. I saw him once when I visited dad over Christmas. But other than that, we had gone our separate ways. I hoped he had imprinted and was happy. Yeah, right! The idea brought out the most selfish and malicious part of me. I wished … I didn't have the naivete to allow myself to wish any more. I shook my head to clear it.

I got up again and went to my bookshelf and pulled my old Forks High senior yearbook from between Modern Molecular Biology and Mitosis. Thumbing carefully through the book I looked at younger pictures of me, of Angela, Eric...

A yellowing piece of paper fell out. I picked it up, carefully unfolding it. Ahhh... the letter that had found me where I had escaped to down in Florida.

Dearest Bella,

There are no words in any language to apologize for what I have done. I cannot ask for your forgiveness as my trespasses were beyond unforgivable. I will be grateful to Carlisle and my family every day of my eternity for halting a most heinous and irrevocable error.

It is understandable, and even normal, that one as young as you would not completely know yourself, but for those of the age of myself, such a liability is simply inexcusable. It is I who had forgotten what I am.

I hope now that you understand the depths of the depravity of the monster that I am, and know that I would never have wished such a fate on you. You showed me love, Bella, and in my jealously and selfishness I could not accept that most precious of gifts and graciously let you go. It was folly that I even imagined that a creature such as myself was worthy of your love. You taught me about caring, about seeing the best in someone, and that all is not lost to the soulless of us.

For that, and for your love, I am eternally grateful.

If fates will it, I hope someday to be able to redeem myself, in some small measure, in your eyes. My biggest regret is that you will remember the monster, and not the man who loved you and always will.

I am writing to let you know that we have left Forks and will not return, so you may feel free to visit your father and Jacob without fear of meeting up with me there. My dearest hope is that you and Jacob find the greatest of happiness and peace in your lives together.

Forever your humble servant,

Edward

Automatically I reached a hand up to touch the cold, oval scar at my throat which I now passed off as a birthmark. I had been irritated and even a little bit scared when I had received the letter at my mother's years ago, but now I only hoped Edward had found his peace. I had long since grown out of blaming myself, but I didn't blame him really either. What he had been trying to do had been monumental, and, under the circumstances it was only natural that he fail.

I skimmed through letter again...

I wish that you and Jacob find the greatest of happiness and peace in your lives together.

...and laughed bitterly to myself. I had done an epic job at ruining that! I refolded the letter and put it in back between the pages of the yearbook. God, life had a way of dragging you through it so that sometimes you barely even recognized your own reflection.

As Jacob predicted, I hadn't gone back. Until now.

I had thrown myself into college in Florida in a desperate effort to loose myself, and was rewarded with a BA with honors in Biology and a full ride at Washington State for graduate school, complete with a lab internship. I would be dishonest if I didn't admit that I had focused on going to Washington State to be close to Forks. I had received solicitations for schools all over the country. I tried to convince myself that I wanted to be near Charlie.

I would be flying up to Forks in another few weeks where I would spend a few days with Charlie and then drive up to Washington State, with some of the things I had shipped last month. Even though Sue had moved in and Charlie was the happiest I had seen him, a visit with him was long overdue.

I was nervous as hell. Not that I hadn't missed my dad terribly, but I knew deep in my heart who I was really going to see.

Continuing thumbing through my Forks yearbook, I skimmed through the pictures of my old friends. We all looked so young, so hopeful. I flipped through to what I was looking for - my senior picture, where the book opened easily - and pulled out more carefully folded and faded paper - a xeroxed picture that I had been looked at more times than I would admit over the last few years..

"Have you seen this boy?"

My heart leaped into my throat; Jake's picture still had the effect of burying me in a sadness and longing. I traced his sunny smile and the mischievous twinkle in his beautiful eyes that showed through even in the worn black and white image.

Jacob. My Jacob.

I remembered those few years when that used to be true. Was I ready to see that it was no longer?


'

'

'

A few weeks later...

'

'

Jacob


I closed the hood of my '68 Mustang, and tossed the empty oil bottle into the trash by the shed. Walking over to where a rag was hanging by the door of my "garage" I wiped my hands clean. My gaze drifted to the looming, blue tarp-covered shape that had been parked beside the shed for the last four years. With a soft sniff I strode the few steps and lifted the plastic, running my hand over the old red metal.

Bella's Ford.

I had found it in the parts yard after she left and had it towed back to the Rez where I spent the summer replacing the engine and generally tinkering, passing the time until Bella returned. I don't know why I bothered, she never did.

I guess I wasn't surprised. Especially now in hindsight. After the trauma of the night before we made love, I guess it was inevitable that she would run and never look back. But wasn't I always the optimist? Used to be.

Dammit. I remembered that night like it was yesterday – soft sighs, silken skin, suffocating passion, shared bodies. But it hadn't been enough, not for her anyway.

With a sigh I patted the fender and pulled down the tarp. I needed to get rid of this relic – it was just a reminder of the innocence of happier days and the bitter taste that time leaves in its wake.

But, as I had learned from my dad, life went on.

I hopped into the Mustang convertible and closed the door leaning my face back to catch the rare sun. Ah, the summer was on. I put on my shades and checked my reflection in the rear-view mirror. Yeah. That's good 'ole sunny Jake.

"Kalani? You ready?" I yelled toward the house.

Kalani was visiting her uncle in Forks this summer from Maui. She was a beautiful part-Hawaiian woman with soft rounded features and a thick curtain of black hair that hung to ample hips. It seemed I always chose women who were the polar opposite of Bella. Part of it was that I didn't need any other reminders. Most of it was that I was really just looking for something casual, and not too heavy. Kalani fit the bill perfectly: she was fun, flirtatious, and … temporary.

She popped out of the screen door, holding it for Billy, and trounced down the stairs. He didn't really like it when she stayed over, not because of some puritanical thing, but because she wasn't his favorite, but they got along without too much drama.

I leaned over and pushed open her door, and she hopped in, throwing her bag in the back. With just a glance at the reflection of the covered Ford in the mirror, I started the engine. The sweet roar set my blood pumping and I pulled out of the drive, waving to Billy who was watching me intently on the porch.

With my elbow on the door, and the top down, I eased my seat back, turning to smile at the girl beside me.

When we arrived at La Push beach, the guys were already there. Kalani pulled her bag out of the back of the car and shut the door giving me a brilliant smile with her painted lips. She looked good today; tight tank and short Roxy shorts over her bikini. I walked around the front and wrapped my arm under her long, thick hair and around her slim waist. Pliant and warm in my arm, she put a palm on my chest and I bent down to taste her lips.

"You're going to mess up my make up," she cooed coyly pulling back to look at me from dark, heavily lined eyes.

"Most definitely, sooner or later," I grinned. "And I prefer sooner." I bent down for a real kiss as I crushed her to me.

Breaking the kiss, I slung her bag over my shoulder and she looped her arm through mine and we headed down to the beach.


'

'

Bella


I drove the rental car along the shoreline, feeling oddly like I was driving through a dream or a deja vue. The Rez was still earthy and warm, but it wasn't the scenery I had come to see. I was trying to figure out whether I was more relieved or disappointed that no one had been home at Jake's house, and I was heading back home to spend some time with Charlie before Sue came home.

I drove down the cliff-hugging road, looking out over the ocean and let myself relax into memories; so much of my life had happened on the Rez. From mud pies as a kid, to summer afternoons with Jake, to the days of mourning Edward, to afternoons in Jake's garage.

The day was clear and sunny, with just a light mist hanging over the ocean. I drove down toward La Push and decided on a whim to go for a walk. It seemed that I never did anything spontaneous anymore – I was buried under work at school – but that wasn't all of it. The person I was now was apprehensive and guarded – I had never re-learned to trust myself, or anyone else.

With a little resolute tilt to my chin, I pulled into the sandy parking area where Jake and I used to park. There were, of course, several cars here on such an unusually beautiful day. I parked beside some kind of classic convertible.

Getting out, I rolled up my jeans to my knees and walked barefoot onto the beach. It was a gorgeous day, but comfortably cool and with a light wind – the surfers out at the break still wore wet suits. I walked along at the line where the waves ended their foreay onto shore, and picked up shells and seaweed while I let the sound of the surf soothe my soul.

Up ahead was the half-buried driftwood tree that Jake and I had used to sit on and talk about our dreams or just joke about the last stupid movie we had seen. Like the memories, the spot had changed: part of the tree was worn away, and the sand had gathered higher on one side making an embankment. I sat on the thick trunk and looked at my feet as they dug holes in the cool sand as I thought about years gone by.

The breeze blew my way the high pitched shrieks of laughter which added spice to the low, steady baritone of the breakers. I looked up with an automatic smile, remembering when it was me and my friends fooling around down here in summer time. Down the beach was a small group of kids who were generally doing the same things we used to do: running in the shallows, splashing each other, doing cartwheels.

But something about the group made my stomach sink. As they moved down the beach I could see that they weren't kids, but my age. Several decidedly male shapes had brown skin and silken black hair. My throat constricted.

With a morbid curiosity I made myself stay and watch the mixed group of friends moving down the beach toward me, their shouts and laughter dappling the wind. One of the boys was running as fast as he could toward the waves and doing a flip into them. I recognized him immediately.

Jake.

My breath caught as I watched him, lithe and powerful, pull one of the other men into the breaking waves, laughing. They horsed around, executing impressive playful acrobatics. I smiled.

Breath heaving, he ran up onto the shore. He jogged up to one of the onlooking girls in the group and, wrapping a long arm around her, brought his lips to her temple sweetly, and continued the walk down the beach. She pulled away and skipped ahead of him playfully and then turned, grabbing his hands, and ran backwards as she pulled him along. I heard his deep laugh under her giggles. Then he picked her up over his shoulder and ran down toward the waves, laughingly threatening to throw her in while she shrieked a very high-pitched feminine squeal.

I sighed and looked down at my feet. I didn't know what I felt; it was a molotov cocktail of jealously, sadness, and masochistic pleasure.

I had told him in so many words during the few conversations we had had after to move on. And I had tried to do the same. I told myself I was too busy to date, but in reality it was that I was just not interested. Not in anyone else.

The small group was getting close now, and I hopped off the driftwood to make my exit before I was seen: I just wasn't up for dealing with this right now. Dusting my jeans off, I started walking back down the beach.

But, my horrible luck didn't let me down and one of the guys – I think Seth - recognized me and shouted "Bella? Bella!" He waved frantically and jogged up toward me.

Heads turned in the rest of the group and I offered a little uncomfortable wave with my fingers before I shoved my hands into my pockets and turned fully around.

Seth came panting up to me with Quil close behind, dragging a cute redhead in tow. "Hey Bella, what are you doin' here?"

I made a noncommittal shrug, bringing an uncomfortable shoulder to my ear as my attention was drawn behind him.

Jake had set the girl down and was … just plain staring at me. Smiling awkwardly at Seth and Quil I walked with them toward the group, shuffling my feet in the sand

"Hey guys," I said broadly to the group – realizing it was mostly the Pack. "Hey, Jake," I said with what I hoped was casual familiarity.

Jake was not subtle about his his intense regard as he walked toward me, the girl following at his side.

"Bells, what are you doing here," he asked when he was closer. It was more of a statement than a question and it made me squirm.

Looking down at my foot that was trying to toe a hole into the sand – possibly so that I could be swallowed by it – I mumbled, "I'm just stopping through to see Charlie and Sue on my way to grad school at Washington."

He looked older somehow, even though he wasn't supposed to age. I guessed he had continued his freaky growth spurt a little after I left. His face had lost most of the softness of his teens and I swear he had grown another inch. His hair was shoulder-length and slicked back from the water. Still unbelievably well-muscled and showing it off – he was bare-chested and in board shorts – intimate memories of that body flooded me and my breath caught in my throat. I desperately tried to head off a blush.

"Hi, I'm-" began the girl at his side assertively.

Jake looked properly embarrassed and quickly draped an arm around her shoulder. "Sorry... This is Kalani. Kalani: Bella." She was beautiful with a perfect compact little body, the thickest hair I had ever seen, sun-brown skin, and a sexy, perfectly-proportioned face. They made a striking couple.

I valiantly attempted a smile. "Yeah, we grew up together," I mumbled as I twisted my hands in my pockets in my discomfiture.

"We were best friends," Jake said quietly, meaningfully, still staring at me with an unnerving and steady gaze.

Kalani looked between us with interest, and a flirtatious and dazzling smile peeled back from perfect teeth. "How cute!"

She was a woman who was well-versed in using her assets and she draped herself indolently on Jake's shoulder, pressing her body to him in subtle suggestiveness.

"And where are you now, Bella?"

"Um, I am going to grad school at Washington State this summer," I said wittily. Wow, I felt so out of my element and way out of my league. She was intimidating in her palpable and confident sexuality, and knew it.

"Really? What do you study?" She looked at me and then back up at Jake, as if I were some delightful novelty that they had both just discovered.

"Um, Biology," I nodded as I said it as if I thought she would actually be interested.

"Wow! I totally would have pegged you for that. Science geeks are so cool," she gushed a scathing backhanded compliment.

"Uh, thanks," I mumbled stupidly, smacking my lips. I looked over at Jake who, by all outward appearances, had not heard a word of the conversation: he was still staring at me with a piercing and unfathomable gaze.

After introductions of Seth's girlfriend and the other people I didn't know in the small group, I was way beyond ready to leave.

With about as much grace as I ever had, I smiled, "Uh, well... I gotta get back. It is good seeing you guys. Nice to meet you. See you around, Jake."

Kalani's breathy "buh-bye's" shredded any nerves left as I turned to walk away, holding myself in conscious check to keep from running.


'

'

Chapter 9 Everything


'

'

Jacob


I hopped up the cement steps to Charlie's house two at a time. At the door I paused, hesitating with my hand comically poised in mid-air to knock. I had no idea what I was going to say, I just wanted to see her.

I had almost dropped Kalani in the sand when Seth yelled out Bella's name on the beach. I couldn't believe that she was here in Forks -and that she hadn't called me or something.

Worse yet, that intense expression on Billy's face when we left for the beach this morning now fell into place. I wonder how long ago Charlie had told my old man she was coming up to visit.

Spurred on by the indignation about that, I rapped against the weathered wood.

Charlie answered the door. "Jake! Haven't seen you in a while. How you doin' kid?" He stepped back letting me in.

"Yeah... I'm good," I answered, distracted as I stuffed my hands into my pockets and stepped across the door jamb. My gaze was drawn into the homey, mismatched house as I unconsciously searched for Bella.

My eyes snapped onto her seated on the plaid couch, her feet tucked under her, a book in her lap, her face turned toward me with an expression of surprise. God, just seeing her was still like a sucker-punch – a mixture of anger, pain, hurt... and something bone-deep that could only be described as ...joy.

"Hey, Bells," I said softly, shuffling in a few more steps.

She closed the book, keeping her hand in her place. "Hey." She looked as lost and awkward as I felt.

"Can I, ah, come in?" I asked lamely, since, technically, I was already in.

"Of course," she said pulling her feet out from under her to kick nervously at the couch.

Charlie looked back and forth between us for a second with his tongue stuck into his cheek and then wisely decided to high-tail it out. "Uh, Bells, I gotta run get Sue. We're gonna pick up dinner on the way back, kay?"

She nodded hastily, glancing at him and then back to me.

"Okay, ah.. bye Bells, see ya Jake." Charlie scooched past me with a taut, uncomfortable smile and closed the door behind him.

Yup, I had no doubt that between Bella and me, we would have no problem clearing out any party.

With Charlie gone, the room instantly took on a different energy; almost suffocatingly intense and... intimate.

I hadn't seen Bella in three years at all, and only for one brief and just as awkward time before that. And goddamn, she was still so fucking beautiful to me. In fact, now even more so. Her features were more exaggerated in womanhood: her face thinner, balanced, sexy. She had a more pronounced hollow to her cheek which highlighted her cheekbones and full lips. Her large expressive dark eyes were more prominent under their naturally lush lashes and the light tan she had gotten in Florida warmed her face. Her appeal was intensified by that natural, organic authenticity she carried so completely unconsciously. She wore her whiskey curls long - right now in a single braid down to the middle of her back - chaotic escaped wisps highlighting the soft, open, vulnerability of her face. I was struck with the urge to sit on the floor in front of her and push those tendrils behind her ear.

Realizing I was just staring at her open-mouthed – like I had done at the beach - I closed and smacked my lips as a cover. With a little clearing of my throat I took slow, uncomfortable steps into the living room and sat on the arm of the Lazy Boy, purposefully falling down into the chair so that my legs were over the side. I was too big to sit on the arm any more.

Bella looked nervously down at her book, pushing one of those tendrils behind her ear, and then back up at me. It was funny, part of this scenario was so familiar and comfortable – Bella, her living room, the silent house. It was kind of like going back in time...except there was so much distance between us.

"So- "

"So-" We both started at the same time and I chuckled while she worried her lip.

"That looks like some nice light summer reading," I tried again, nodding to her book that was some sort of heavy school text.

She sniffed and turned it over, looking down at the cover – Experimental Laboratory Techniques in Genetic Isolation.

"Yeah. Fun." She put the book down beside her on the couch, finally giving up on keeping her place.

"So ...I was surprised to see you..." I began, my eyes running over her face, trying to memorize every little detail.

Bella at least had the good graces to look embarrassed. "Yeah, I... I went by your place but you were..."

"At the beach," I supplied, feeling my agitation rise subtly.

Bella nodded and brought her shoulder up to her ear in the way she always did when she is uncomfortable. "Um, she's really beautiful, Jake. Is she your...ah..."

"Imprint?" I rolled my eyes. "No. You never could let that go, could you?" I was surprised at how quickly sarcasm and bitterness rose in my tone.

She looked down, twisting her hands in her lap with that very Bella agitation. When her gaze came up again, she looked at me plainly and sincerely. "I'm glad you're happy, Jake," she whispered in a soft voice.

What the fuck did she know about my happiness?

"Well thanks. I mean, you didn't expect me to sit around and wait for you did you?" In my heart I knew that was exactly what I had done and continued to do. I was a fool for this girl and she was such a damn fool!

Her brow knitted with shock. "Of course not! I told you... to move on. I told you not to wait. Jake, I was fucked up. God, I still am," she dropped her forehead into her hand for a moment. "I just don't trust myself, Jacob. I didn't want to ruin anyone else's life. I was so confused... God, I am so confused. I just don't seem to be able to trust anything anymore." Her eyes were completely open, real, vulnerable and she was speaking directly from her heart.

My protective instincts kicked in, ratcheting my temper up a notch.

"So... you just left. Great." I shook my head with a little sniff.

I needed to switch topics and calm down. "So...Billy told me that you were going to go to Washington. Are things going good with that?"

"Yeah, they're all right. Got a full ride for bio. Never thought I would end up a science geek," her lips twisted in annoyance, from -if I could guess - Kalani's swipe. If Kalani was good at anything, she was good at pissing people off.

"Cool, cool." I nodded, my eyes scanning the room. "So, uh, you seeing anyone?" The question popped out of my mouth much to my chagrin and I hated myself that I was so desperately hanging on the answer.

She shook her head, pulling her feet up to sit cross-legged. "No. I suck at relationships."

"Yeah, me too," I mumbled. Wasn't that the truth! I had had more than my share of lovers, but I had yet to have anything remotely close to the friendship that I had had with Bella.

"You seemed to be doing all right this afternoon," she said carefully, looking at me with an inscrutable expression.

"Well what can I say... chicks love me." I gave her a lopsided smile and she groaned. I realized in that instant that I had been surviving over the last few years on interchanges just like that - on fulfilling other people's expectations: sunny, funny Jake. It was kind of like after Bella left I just shut down all the inner stuff and kept only the superficial. I shook my head.

"What, Jacob?" I looked up to find Bella watching me closely.

I shoved my lower lip through my teeth thoughtfully. "Nothing, Bells. It's just... well... just, why didn't you call or anything?"

"I don't know." She glanced into space for a moment and then held my gaze. "I guess I was scared. Scared to see you. I didn't know what to say. I told you... I'm still fucked up. In fact it's looking like its chronic," she laughed at herself and stood up, walking restlessly to the bookshelf to fiddle with a paper weight.

I took a moment as the hurt and anger resurfaced with a vengeance. This whole situation was just so wrong.

"I think that's a cop-out, Bells," I hissed truthfully.

She turned to me, eyes wide in surprise.

"I think you owed me better than that. Bells, you were everything. I loved you!" I stood up now with my own agitation.

Bella's face had melted into a stricken sorrow. "Oh God, Jake," tears sprang to her eyes and her hand covered her mouth as she processed. "I was so confused, and by the time I had waded through it, it was too late. And then coming up here... I wanted you to be happy, to have someone, but I also knew it would hurt. It does hurt Jake. But I deserve it. I want you to be happy..." her meandering emotional thoughts sped up until they disintegrated into silent tears.

My jaw set as I breathed out through my nose. "Why did you even come back then, Bella?" I bit out.

She looked up through her watery eyes shaking her head. "I don't know..." her voice was merely a whisper.

I pushed my hair back from my face. "You know...I was sort of hoping that -after all this time - you might know the answer to that question! Goddammit, Bells!" My hands fisted in frustration. Why could she not see what was so fucking obvious to me? We were made for each other!

"Jake... I'm sorry," she whispered.

"For what?" I ground out in challenge, losing it.

"For everything," her gentle eyes were pleading. For some reason that made me even more angry.

"Ohhhhh... for everything." I repeated acerbically in a mimicking tone, prowling toward her as I felt tremors in my hands. "Okay, everything...so that would be for knowing me, playing as kids, for being my friend – my best friend -... for hanging out with me...for kissing me... for fucking me?"

I stopped right in front of her, looking down into her wide eyes, her mouth open in shock. "Is that just about everything, Bella?" I growled.

"Jake... I-..." she stammered, her bottom lip quivering ever so slightly.

My breathing was harsh with frustration and fury. "Well, Bella... that's not everything." I put a hand on her shoulder and she shied away. "You forgot about this!"

With that I put pulled her to me and crushed my lips to that that perfect pink mouth. Wrapping both arms around her, I kissed her with all the anger, and hopelessness, loss, and rejection I felt.

For a moment Bella was stone still and then she melted into me, and our mouths seamlessly picked up right where we left off five years ago - a kiss that was instantly overwhelming with its bone-deep intensity of sensuality and passion.

Bending her more to my body, I wrapped her braid around a hand and pulled it back- holding her head as I ravaged her mouth. Her hands came up to fist in my hair pulling me to her just as ardently and I moaned into her lips, picking her up off the floor and pressing her against the wall. Her delicate hands ran over my body in contrast to the suffocating intensity of the kiss and her legs came up around my hips. I was so hard it hurt and I pushed my erection against her as if it would alleviate the pressure – it did anything but that. God, I was going to explode.

I broke the kiss and sucked at her neck, over the scar that the bloodsucker had given her and she threw her head back, panting my name. One hand came from around her to possess her breasts, kneading their full, perfect shape. She groaned, deep in her throat and arched against the wall, rubbing her crotch against me brazenly with desire.

Bella scraped her nails up the sides of my neck and grabbed my hair again, pulling me back to her mouth greedily to breathe in my tongue, sucking with a rabid sensuality. Our movements were reaching a fevered pitch and our breaths were staggered in their ragged rhythm.

I was seconds away from not being able to control the impulse to throw her down, rip off her clothes and sheath myself in her, goddamn the consequences...

But then she stopped.

I felt it – she shut down. My lips softened, but she was already pushing at my chest, a little sob hitching against my mouth where wetness from her cheeks had just left its first cool mark.

I pulled away slightly and looked down at her, reeling. She was weeping silently, melting chocolate eyes wild, sad, and confused.

I dropped her unceremoniously onto her feet and turned around, pacing as I grabbed my hair at the crown.

I turned back on her, all of the fear, sadness, and soulful longing funneled into rage as my muscles twitched. "You forgot about that, Bella! You forgot about loving me!"

The double entendre was not lost on either of us.

All of my despair and frustration exploded out of me. "God damnit!" I bellowed spinning around and throwing the couch over with a flick of my wrist.

I growled, feeling my eyes lightening: it had been a long time since I had lost control like this. "But tell me this...why the hell did I bother? Why didn't I just let the fucking leech have you? Why did I try so hard? It was all for nothing! Nothing!" I turned the coffee table over with barely tempered rage, sending magazines flying.

Bella's eyes were wide, not with fear but with something heartbreakingly sad, as they regarded me for several breaths.

"I think you'd better go," she whispered softly.

"Yeah, I think I'd better," I hissed as I turned around and stormed out of the house, slamming the door.

I nearly pulled the door off of my Mustang and threw myself in. Taking a deep breath I put my hands on the wheel, as my pulse raced. I focused on calming my breath.

But my sensitive ears could hear the scrape of furniture on the wood floor inside as Bella righted the couch and table and I collapsed my head against the steering wheel

Oh God, what had I done?


'

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Chapter 10 Fireflies


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Bella


I turned out the headlights as I turned into the crunching driveway of Jake's house. Killing the engine I sat in the car for a moment, gathering my thoughts. After he had left earlier that evening I had valiantly stumbled through dinner and visiting with Charlie and Sue. But as soon as they had retired, I had gone out to the car.

I was still reeling from this evening - my emotions ran the gamut from a withering self loathing to a bone-deep yearning to feel his touch again. That Jacob was hurting overrode all the churning confusion, though; I had seen the sadness and pain in those enraged eyes.

The same pain that I felt. The pain that I had caused.

It all added up to that even though I had no idea what I would say to him, and certainly didn't trust myself enough to figure out what to say, I simply had to see him.

With an audible sigh I stepped out of the rental and tried to quietly walk around to the side of the house to Jake's window. It was dark back here on the Rez with no street lights and so many trees, even though there was a full moon. I predictably caught my toe on a rock and stumbled forward with a little shriek.

As I covered my mouth in chagrin, a low, soothing voice slipped like silk over the velvet night, "Careful now, Bella."

I nearly had a heart attack.

I spun around, my hand still covering my mouth to mute a potential scream now, and saw Billy sitting in his chair on the porch.

"OhmyGod...Billy! You scared me to death," I panted, moving my hand to my heart. Yep, it was still beating. Phew.

His amusement and white teeth caught some of the moonlight. "He's not here."

"Jake? Oh, okay, sorry," I mumbled lamely.

"What are you sorry for?" Billy asked, linking his hands in his lap and sitting back.

The question sounded cryptic from him, as usual. I walked over to the porch and leaned my arms up against the railing, resting my chin on my hands. The night was on the cool side of balmy and the summer crickets were hemming the soft whisper of the leaves in the light breeze. It was the perfect canvas for thoughtfulness.

"Lots of stuff," I answered just as cryptically.

He nodded slowly. "Sometimes it's better to look where you're going, instead of where you've been."

"Maybe that's why I can't walk without tripping," I laughed softly at myself. God, I felt so stripped and raw.

He smiled again.

"What are you doing sitting out here in the dark, Billy?" I asked as I peeled a flake of old white paint off the wood and flicked it into the night.

"Just enjoying the moon, Bella."

We both looked up at the moon whose blue light wove a delicate halo from the moisture in the air.

"Your dad tells me you're going to Washington this year. How's that going?"

I shrugged, "Good, I guess. It's paid for and I got a lab internship."

Billy nodded again pursing his lips. "Yep. Charlie's proud. You always were good with your head. You work hard. Responsible."

He couldn't see my blush in the dark. I itched my nose on my knuckle and replaced my chin on my hand with a sigh.

"Now Jacob...he's the opposite," Billy laughed softly.

I raised an eyebrow, "how do you mean?"

He leaned back, stretching as he talked. "Well, Jake's always been good with his heart... but doesn't know when to use his head. And if he don't have to, he don't do it."

I looked at Billy thoughtfully. I had never thought about Jake that way, but it was pretty much true.

Billy took off his western hat, running his hand through his hair. "You know he was next in line, not Sam?"

I shook my head, surprised. Though I knew Billy knew about the Pack and all, I had never heard him speak of them so directly.

"Yep... he was supposed to be the Alpha." He ran his fingers around the rim of his hat and replaced it. "Follow after his dad."

My mouth popped open in surprise and my brain started making connections like crazy. Maybe he knew the Cullens from before? Since werewolves didn't age when they were Phasing, I wondered just how old Billy was.

"But a heart's not a bad thing to follow if you don't need to lead," Billy chuckled with a smile. "Yeah, together you two ought to do just fine."

Something about the way he said that made me melt. It was almost like he was ...blessing... Jake and me. Billy was always nice, in his serene, subdued way, but I assumed it was because I was his best friend's daughter. This warmed my ragged heart and really touched me at the same time; he adored his son.

With a nod as if he could read my mind, he sat up a little more and started to turn the chair around. "Well, g'night, Bella."

I pushed off the railing, dusting my palms on my jeans. "G'night. I'll try to catch Jake later."

"Oh, he's around here somewhere," he chuckled as he wheeled his chair back to the screen.

I looked at him quizzically.

"Just keep those eyes forward, girl. G'night." He waved a hand behind him as he rolled through the door. The soft wooden clacking of the screen was followed by a light on in the kitchen.

I took a deep breath and headed back to the rental car. Billy always had something important to say, you just needed to listen. I had been looking over my shoulder ever since all the stuff with Edward, but maybe right now I was just getting in my own way?

I pondered that as I caught a glimmer in my periphery. Turning to watch the spot near the trees, I waited until the firefly lit up again. And then another winked from the woods. That was one of my favorite things about the summer... I loved the fireflies. Maybe that is why I liked fairy lights so much and always hung them in my room. They seemed so … hopeful and magical.

God, it had been a long time since I had had either in my life.

A hot, moist puff of air over my cheek made me suck in a breath, and my head whipped around, surprised. I came face-to-face with a huge wolf, sitting on its haunches.

I jumped back cartoonishly with a little squeak of surprise.

The wolf blew out of his nose and laid down reassuringly, putting his head on his paws.

Patting my racing heart (which was getting a workout tonight) with a hand I asked, "Is that you Jake?"

The wolf whined softly.

Swallowing, I got down on my knees in front of him. Even though I knew it was Jake under the fur, the wolf was still intimidating.

I rubbed my thighs nervously. "Hey. How are you doing?" I tried lamely.

The wolf looked at me with piercing yellow eyes. I reached out a tentative hand, and very lightly ran my index finger over his muzzle. He closed his eyes and I gently stroked the side of his jaw with several hesitant fingers.

The wolf leaned into me and I scooted closer on my knees, bringing both hands up to bury them in the thick fur of his neck ruff and scratch. His pelt was luxurious and dense, but impossibly soft.

We both relaxed as I became more attentive to the strokes, rubbing and smoothing fur, scratching skin, and a deep contented rumble vibrated under my hands like a purr. Finally I collapsed into his neck, burying my face there. He didn't smell like an animal (to me, the Cullens would disagree) but like a musky and verdant forest floor, laced with the sweet spicy scents of Autumn.

I pulled back, fisting my hands in the fur, to look into the wolf's face. His eyes were half-closed with pleasure at my petting.

"Oh Jake... God, I'm sorry." And then quickly amended referencing our earlier exchange with a little smile, "but not for everything!"

The wolf closed its eyes briefly looking embarrassed.

"I know I was stupid... and I hurt you .. and was lame...and didn't handle things well... and didn't know what I wanted ... and, well, you know... the usual." I tenderly straightened out an ear that had gotten flipped in the petting " But, I just wanted to come over and talk a little...tell you some stuff..."

I paused trying to figure out what to say next. I couldn't do it under the pressure – my thoughts had scattered hopelessly. " But I need to get my head together first."

I sat back on my heels with a little pat to my thighs.

Jacob looked at me for a few breaths and the big wolf got lithely to its feet and turned around, starting to walk away. He turned after a step and whined, walking a few more steps.

"What is it boy? Do you want me to follow you? Did Timmy fall down the well again, Lassie?" I stood up with a mischievous grin.

I have never seen a regular wolf roll its eyes, but the werewolf's expression of long-suffering tolerance made me giggle.

"C'mon Jake, I just couldn't resist." I dusted myself off, and followed him.

"Are we going for a walk?" I asked, falling into step with the wolf by his shoulder.

Jake yipped softly.

"Uh, are you, like... going to stay in wolf form or something?" I asked after a few more steps.

Another little yip came from his throat.

I chuckled. "Oh, I get it... is it one 'yip' for yes and two 'yips' for no?"

He snorted and whacked me with his tail.

I snickered and feathered a hand in his fur; his back was shoulder high. "Well at least I'll be able to get a word in edgewise."

I ignored the indignant huff.

I fell into silence then and got lost in the forest around us laced with only the shimmering of cricket song. In the distance I could hear the settled roaring thunder of the waves crashing against the cliffs. The woods were black under the canopy of trees, and my feet crunched on leaves and twigs, while the wolf padded silently beside me.

I took a deep breath. "So, Jake, all I wanted to really say is … you're right." The wolf turned its head slightly to regard me solemnly with one eye before returning his gaze to our trajectory. I licked my lips, as my fingers unconsciously curled deep in the fur.

"I did owe you so much better. I do." I sighed. "Jacob, you have always been there for me, whenever I needed you. Even when it hurt you. Even when I was being totally stupid – which was a lot. You never gave up on me." I brought my hand up to lightly stroke the massive wolf's head, being lulled by the night and his sinuous movements to where I could speak freely of what was so clear in that moment in my heart.

"You've been my friend, you've saved my life several times, you've risked yours just as many. Even when I was hell-bent on making stupid mistakes, you stood by me." I leaned against the soft pelt as we walked. "I mean, not always in the nicest way...but who could blame you."

The wolf huffed and flicked my wandering hand with his ears. I laughed softly, scratching him affectionately. "I mean God, you have been so patient!"

The low, sumptuous bass of the waves was growing closer.

"I hope you understand that I never wanted to hurt you on purpose, though. I mean, that doesn't excuse my general stupidity and all... But I did the best I could. Which wasn't really good enough I know now. I would do so many things differently." My hushed voice dwindled to a thoughtful silence, touched by remorse. Keep your eyes forward. Thanks, Billy, I needed to do that.

We were clearing the trees now and stretched out ahead of us, iced by the harvest moon, was the undulating sea.

"Oh my God, it's beautiful," I breathed, and then tripped, grabbing hold of the fur beside me to steady myself. A low growl sounded like a chuckle in the wolf's throat.

Slapping his side in rebuke, I stepped away from him, onto the small grassy clearing at the top of the bluffs and stood looking out over the ocean. For several minutes we both watched the black water swirl and splash in seeming slow motion: a sultry and sensual dance.

The wolf sat down in the grass and I did the same, sitting cross legged. Jake scooched beside me and I stroked his fur absently.

After a few moments, I took a deep breath and turned so that I was facing Jacob. He was such a beautiful wolf: wild, majestic. I brought both hands up to the sides of his jaw and looked into those opalescent eyes that were reflecting the moon.

"You were wrong about one thing though, Jacob." I looked carefully into each of his eyes as the wolf held rapt attention. "I never forgot I loved you," I whispered. "I love you so much."

I swallowed looking down for a moment as tears burned my eyes. "You have always really scared me though Jake. I could never seem to escape my heart... escape feeling around you. You were always so deep inside my mind, my soul - you knew me so well. In hindsight that's one of the reasons Edward was so easy. Our relationship was so neat and tidy, external and controlled." I bit my lip, hoping he was understanding. "Ours never was. It was always confusing and emotional and messy and... real."

I wrapped my arms around the wolfs neck and buried my face in his fur, wiping away the silent tracks of tears.

I pulled back again, wanting to say everything while I could; I might never get another chance. "Jacob, I do know why I came back. I came back because I missed you." I looked sincerely into each of his eyes. "At school I dated, I worked, I tried to get you out of my head. Out of my heart. But I never forgot." I wiped my nose on the back of my hand and sniffled with a little apologetic smile.

Pursing my lips as I smoothed back the dark fur from his face I finished, "I know what I want. What I want is to find out what is right for the both of us. And most of all I want you to be happy. I have to go to school this year at least and I want us both to take this year - or more if you need it - and figure out what we really want. I mean... I know what-"

I stopped mid sentence. I knew what I wanted, and wasn't too afraid to admit that now, at least intellectually. But Jake's statement earlier "You were everything. I loved you" - all past tense - made me feel insecure - that and how I felt like some natural disaster waiting to happen. Part of me still didn't understand how he could still love me after the mess I had made of things.

I quickly backtracked and amended, "maybe things will work out with Kalani. I want you to try. Really try. She or maybe someone else may be just what you're looking for, will be just what you need, and you will forget all about me..." I exhaled slowly, "about us..."

The wolf looked at me for a long moment, and I felt suddenly uncomfortable about that rambling ten minute soliloquy.

Slowly the wolf uncurled himself and pushed, as he inched slowly forward with his paws. Confused, I followed his direction, lying back as he pressed against me with hot, soft pads, carefully keeping nails off my skin. I laid my head on the soft grass - lying flat on my back now - and the wolf inched up me until his heavy paws were on my shoulders, hind legs lessening his weight. His muzzle was but inches from my face.

For a moment the wolf stood over me, watching me like I was prey that he was waiting to move, as his hot, even breaths bathed my face.

Suddenly his tongue lolled out to lick slowly and deliberately up the side of my face and I grimaced, squirming ineffectively. "Ew Jake... that's kinky!" I laughed wiping at the slobber with the one hand I could move.

Then, very gradually, I felt fur retract over warm, smooth bare skin ...felt paws turn to hands...felt the weight pushing me down redistribute and press more fully against my body.

Before my eyes the wolf Phased - an eerie and graceful transformation. In the next instant my face was two inches from Jacob's and his sweet breath was softly panting against me with the effort.

His eyes washed over my face, leisurely, still with a feral tilt to his head and a predatory light to his gaze.

When he spoke it was low and husky. "I'll never forget you Bella...just like you'll never forget me."

With that he brought his lips to smother mine in an instantly ardent kiss, moving his hands to the ground over my shoulders to alleviate some of his weight as he kept his nude pelvis pressed against me.

Emerging from my surprise, I reflexively brought my arms around his neck and pulled him closer, instantly aroused by his fervent kiss and hot hard flesh. The passion that had been reawoken at my house earlier, vaulted immediately back up to the same level of suffocating ardor. He plundered my mouth with his velvet tongue and I sucked him in deeper with a slow-burning hunger.

My hands were ecstatic to have his unencumbered flesh at their disposal, and began a deliberate and thorough exploration of his well-cut musculature. I ran my fingers over the rippling back muscles, traced the strong form of his spine, lightly brushed down the puckered scar he still had on his side. I heard myself moaning aloud in languid yearning.

His mouth left mine to brand my face, my jaw, my neck as I struggled to think about something that was somehow important to remember.

"Kalani?"I mumbled, valiantly trying to be honorable, even though we both knew that the satiation of this crushing and incendiary need and desire was undeniable.

Jacob merely shushed me and brought luscious massaging bites to the tendon in my neck. Fisting my hands in his hair I groaned, tipping my head back to give his mouth better purchase as his body began to move in demanding, languid rhythm against me.

The soft sound of cloth ripping broke into my conscious momentarily, but at my pause Jake merely murmured, "you're staying with me tonight."

Any protest was immediately silenced by the cry of desire elicited by his firm mouth on my breast. He suckled at each one, laving with tongue, as his hands cataloged every inch of my torso with sensual strokes, removing any cloth left effortlessly and raising chill bumps across my skin.

Sitting up, he ripped my jeans with the ease of damp paper, and my breath caught at his perfect silhouette illuminated by the moonlight. His musculature was defined, graceful, supple and strong – already beginning to glisten under the blue moon with his perspiration. His jet black hair brushed over broad shoulders and a smooth firm chest. His flat stomach was flanked by muscular sides that swept into narrow hips. His body was glorious, beautiful, and proud.

As he discarded my shoes I sat up to pull him to me with my fervent desire and caught his face in my hands, greedily demanding a kiss. With one arm behind me, he laid me back onto the grass, our mouths dueling deeply and languorously as if we could crawl inside one another.

He moved to bring his hand between my legs, but I squirmed away with a mumbled repudiation as I desperately tried to wrap my legs around him with my smoldering, driving need. My body was burning, my core was aching, swollen and yearning ,as my body arched insistently against him. When he entered me, it was an instant exquisite sensation of an immediate fulfillment and wholeness; like finding the missing piece to a puzzle.

I moaned his name into the night with the overwhelming elation of it. It was missing this man that had made these past few years so empty and bleak. Oh, this is what I wanted...Jacob... my Jacob.

As if made for each other we moved harmoniously as one, our bodies asking and answering of one another in an effortlessly synchronized symbiosis. His thrusts were measured and deep, accompanied by the pounding surf and his passionate groans but my body coaxed, demanded, urged him higher. Together we rose with the tide to a sumptuous sensual rapture, clinging to each other as the rushing current of such a profound and soulful satiation threatened to overwhelm.

Its wake left us utterly vulnerable and exquisitely whole.

Rolling to the side and bringing me with him as I gasped for breath, Jake wrapped his arms around me and held me closely to his chest. I nestled my arms up between us, feeling for the first time in more than four years gloriously at peace.

Neither of us spoke as the moon rose above us, as if we were silently in agreement that it was a night too perfect for the earthly constraint of words.

As the moon disappeared into the trees, Jacob stood, pulling me up silently. He kissed my face with the most loving and delicate sweetness, and then, without warning, Phased as he dropped to all fours. Sitting on his haunches, his front paws on the ground, the wolf made it clear that I was to get on his back.

Carefully I did so, marveling at the sensual way the luxurious thick pelt felt against my bare skin. I bent forward with my hands clutched in the ruff of his neck feeling my nipples pert against the softness.

When I was settled, Jacob stood up effortlessly and padded silently through the ink-black woods with a sinuous mercury stride. The feel of his fur slipping like silk over my skin and the graceful fluidity of his gait, coupled with my sated body, empty mind and full heart to create an exquisite and soulful tranquility.

Pillowing my head between the two shoulder blades and lulled by the gentle sway, my eyes closed as the crickets wove me into the tapestry of night and dream.


'

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Chapter 11 Perfect Timing


Note: One thing that is important to me about the character development in J/B's relationship is that it is important that Jacob is entitled to his own mistakes too. In real life, no one and nothing is perfect. How Bella reacts (just like how Jake reacted to her mistakes) is the true measure of what is even perhaps more important than their romantic relationship: their deep and abiding friendship.

'

'

Jacob

"Mmmm..." I groaned in irritation as I squeezed my eyes shut against the insistent light that was bombarding my face. Turning over without rolling (as I had trained myself to do in my tiny bed) I threw my arm over Bella's warm shoulders beside me.

My eyes popped open as my hand patted the empty sheets. Glaring at the sun for good measure, I sat up looking around with sleepy disorientation. My room was just the way it had been last night... minus Bella.

With a petulant sigh, I swung my feet over the side of the bed and rubbed my face tiredly. Glancing at the clock on my set of drawers, I saw it was almost noon.

Oop! And I saw the note – 'JAKE' scrawled across the outside.

I instantly put aside my grogginess and snatched it off my dresser unfolding the small sheet of plain paper.

Jake,

I didn't want to wake you. Charlie called Billy, looking for me (something urgent) so I went home – embarrassing! (she drew a little frowny face here). I borrowed a shirt - OMG it's huge! Too bad you will miss Charlie's face. ( smiley face)

(heart) Bella

I read it again as I relaxed, leaning back on the bed. I had been afraid that it would say something... well, something negating the perfection of last night.

It had been a good idea to stay with the Wolf; it had relaxed her and made it easier for her to say all those words I been wanting so desperately to hear for so long. And as an added bonus, it kept my mouth shut so I couldn't screw it up.

Letting the note fall to my chest I looked up at my ceiling and relived the sultry and sensual feel of her languid, liquid movements beneath me, the touch of her gentle hands, the matte petal-softness of her skin, the scent of her arousal, the wetness of her hot, tight body... her ardent cries and passionate kisses.

A slow, lopsided smile bloomed across my lips and I closed my eyes in contentment.

Bella. She didn't forget.

With a recharging breath I sat up and stretched as I stood. I felt good. Very good. We still had things to talk about - on both sides - but for the first time in more than four years, I actually felt... hope.

After a tepid shower and rough towel off, I was slightly more awake. Throwing on a pair of boxers, I walked into the kitchen where Billy was sitting, reading a paper at the table. Grunting a good morning, I grabbed a mug and poured myself the last cup of coffee, putting the empty carafe in the sink. I pulled out some left over pizza and sat at the table across from him, eating it cold.

"So I see Bella found you," Billy said in a deceptively conversational tone as he turned a page.

I cut my eyes up from my pizza and smiled. "Yeah," I mumbled around the bite I was chewing.

"I lent her a pair of flip flops," he informed me, not looking up from his reading. There was a subtle reproving tone to the comment. As if he thought I should have – what? Bought her a new outfit at three a.m. last night?

"Thanks, I wish she had woken me up," I said pointedly, taking a sip from my coffee.

"She tried." Billy didn't look up but raised his eyebrows as he turned a page. "Charlie said she got an important phone call."

I nodded, feigning indifference and took another bite of pizza. Dammit, I wish I had woken up... "When did she leave?"

"Oh, around eight this morning." Billy looked up from his paper, studying me with an inscrutable gaze.

"Ouch," I sympathized. No wonder I hadn't woken up. I just wasn't good in the morning – partially because I had never had to be...until now. "I'm going to swing by and see her after this," I informed my guilty conscious. I was suddenly struck with a feeling of urgency; I wanted to spend every minute I could with her before she left again. We had a lot to talk about.

The sound of a 2007 Escapade driving up with a heavy base thrumming and eerily perfect timing drew my gaze out the screen door.

Kalani.

Why the hell was she here? And why couldn't I get just a few hours to bask in the bliss of last night before I had to deal with this? It felt like some cruel joke at my expense – nothing was ever easy. I collapsed my head into the hand that wasn't holding the pizza halfway to my mouth.

"You behave yourself, son," Billy quietly admonished, not looking up again as he turned another page.

The music that was vibrating the table abruptly silenced as the engine was cut. A few seconds later, Kalani's light step sounded on the porch and she peered through the screen.

"Knock knock," she smiled as she opened it. "Hey, you two!" She walked into the room with her ubiquitous confidence, throwing her bag down on a chair.

"Hello Kalani," Billy looked up from his paper and gave her what I could tell was a pleasant but superficial smile. I doubt she noticed..

I lifted my head up from my hand as she moved around to me and smiled weakly.

"Hey, sleepy-head. You just get up?" She came up behind me draping herself over my shoulder as she placed an overtly sensual kiss on my ear and her palm splayed over my bare chest.

She looked up and smiled over at Billy. "I'll bet he forgot he promised to take me to Port Angeles today for shopping and a romantic dinner," she cooed as she wiggled her tush in excitement..

Billy's face betrayed nothing. "Could be. Jake's not always good at using his head." Ooo... scathing, dad.

Still with a patient smile twisting his lips, Billy rolled back from the table, moving toward the hall to his room. "You two have fun, now."

As soon as he left the room, Kalani bent back to my ear and suggestively breathed, "I think you use your head damn well, Jake." She rubbed my chest indolently.

I took a deep breath trying to figure out what the hell to do. Kalani took advantage of my momentary confusion to kiss down my neck suckling seductively, insistently, intensely at the sensitive tendon on my neck. I moaned softly for a few breaths, frozen, as my body automatically warmed and shuddered.

Dammit. I swallowed and pushed her away, gently.

Regarding my profile for a moment, she scooted around me to sit on the table. "Awww...what's wrong, Jakey?" She pouted with her full, painted lips. Kalani was good at reading vibes, and needed to be always the center of their attention. Her expression indicated that she was decidedly displeased by the ones I was exuding now.

"I'm just tired, and uh..." I rubbed my face and stood up with my plate, crossing to the sink.

My mind was tumbling over itself, I so did not know how to handle this; I didn't like to hurt people.

I hadn't even gotten to recover from the soul-transforming night's emotional explosion and then exquisite exploration of Bella's heart, mind and body, let alone orient myself back to reality. I was reeling on all planes. I came back to stand awkwardly in front of Kalani who was kicking her feet jauntily and smiling up at me with an expectant expression. With a little puff of a breath I brought a hand through my damp hair.

"Uh, Kalani...we gotta talk," I began, hoping something clever would come out of my mouth if I started talking.

So far I was wrong.

Kalani tsked and quickly hopped down off the table and wrapped her arms around my neck, her lips forming a perfect "O."

"Oh no you don't, Jake... you are so NOT going to bail on shopping and dinner... " she pouted in a sexy reproving voice.

I stiffened and stammered, "Uh, its not just that.. uh.." I was realizing that not only had I been wrong, I had been very wrong about that starting talking thing.

Sensing my reticence, and probably something more -that girl played hardball - she aggressively amplified her allure. She stood up on her tip toes to press her lips to mine and murmured seductively against them, "I was hoping to have a very romantic dinner, followed by dessert in the car and a snack or two at your place tonight... We could start with a little appetizer right now." Her tongue darted out to tantalizingly run over my lips and my body reacted, immediately rising to the occasion.

"Please?" she whispered enticingly. "Kiss me, Jake."

She covered my mouth with hers in a sensual, slow kiss. Her mouth drew me tenaciously through my resistance and I returned her kiss tentatively as her arms encircled me. She sighed and rubbed her body temptingly against mine. Hormones charging, I moved my hands to her shoulders to push her away, fighting my own physical arousal and her calculated, seductive hold.

"Hey, Jake!" I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of Bella's voice. "Oops! Gosh! I - uh... sorry!..." she backtracked as I managed to tear my lips from Kalani's persistent mouth.

Looking up I saw that Bella was standing awkwardly at the screen door.

Shit!

The expression in her eyes nearly broke my heart – a mixture of shock, jealously, sadness, acceptance.

Kalani took her time, peeling herself off of me and, with a subtle suggestive press against my hard groin, slunk to my side, wrapping both arms around my torso.

I silently went through a litany of every curse in the book as my erection was embarrassingly and prominently showcased by my tented boxers.

"Bella! Come in!" Kalani gushed with exaggerated cheeriness. "Sorry about that," she giggled coyly.

Not sorry at all.

Poor Bella swallowed and opened the screen, not coming in.

"Sorry guys... I should have called. I was just bringing... I -" her cheeks were rosy with her discomfiture and her gaze was openly vulnerable and liquid. She started to hold out the slippers and tee shirt in her hand, but looked down at them and thought better of it, subtly putting them behind her back in a show of loyalty. Oh, god.

I was trying to disengage myself from Kalani, but she clung to my chest as she hit a few more nails in my coffin. "That's all right, Bella. Jake only gets to see you for a little while before you go."

I wanted to slap her.

Giving up on salvaging the situation, I licked my lips. "Hey Bells, um.. what do you..." God, what in all fucking hell was I going to say? I had never been in a situation where I felt awkward like this – I was always on the "up and up" so to speak so I had never gotten into this kind of thing. Yet here I was, facing the woman who held my heart and soul when this girl... this distraction...had me by the balls.

Wow, how the hell could things be so wrong? I felt like I was in some kind of cheesy B-movie. This definitely was some cruel joke of the gods at my expense... and Bella's.

"Uh... sorry. It's nothing, really. I'll just go. 'Call you later, Jake." She gave a little wave and let the screen close, as she started to turn around.

"Oh Bella, we're going shopping and then having dinner in Port Angeles today so we won't be back until late..." Kalani provided helpfully.

I so wanted to slap her.

Bella looked up at Kalani and nodded and then, clutching the shirt and slippers to her chest, she jogged down the stairs.

"Dammit!" I hissed. I looked down at Kalani in annoyance. "Kalani...you didn't have to- " I sighed and squeezed my eyes shut briefly. "J-just...wait here a sec.." Disengaging myself as she frowned, I strode out the door after Bella.

"Bella! Wait up, Bells!" I called as I vaulted the railing and met her at her car as she turned around. "Hey... ah... sorry..."

"For what?" she asked softly, immediately smothering the watery emotion in her eyes.

My heart stopped.

I licked my lips; my mouth was dry and my pulse thrumming. "Just... well.. um, Kalani came over this morning and -"

Bella interrupted with a gentle hand on my arm. "Stop Jacob. It's okay," she said quietly sincere. "It's all good. It's what I wanted, remember?"

I leaned to one side, squeezing my eyes shut in mortified dismay. "No, but...but -"

Bella smiled sympathetically and put her hands on both of my cheeks with tender warmth. "Seriously, its okay. I'm not mad, really. Jake...Jacob?"

When I wouldn't meet her gaze, she stooped over to intersect it. Standing back straight and bringing my eyes with her, she gave me a little tight-lipped smile.

"Honey, really...enjoy. I want you to. She's beautiful. I want you to try, remember?" she encouraged, looking into each of my eyes from under her lashes as she released my face slowly.

I closed my eyes and blew my breath out of my cheeks in defeat. There was nothing, absolutely nothing I could say to rectify this. Ugh.

Bella turned and pulled the shirt and flip flops out of the front seat. "Here, I was bringing these back and I thought we could.. " she paused, rethinking what she was going to say.

"Um, the professor who I am working for in the lab at Washington called this morning and they got funded early. He wants to start the project now, because the money is only good for a certain time." As she spoke, more distance came into her voice as if she was shoring up her feelings with professional context.

"So, I'm going to have to head up there early... ah... tomorrow." She bit her lip and shoved her hands in her pockets. "So um...this all works out." She waved a hand toward the house. "Take that time, and we'll see, 'kay? I'll call you soon."

I groaned in exasperation. "Bells, there is no 'this' to work out." I mimicked her wave with frustration. She looked at me doubtfully as she slipped into the car and shut the door, rolling down the window.

I leaned over propping my arms on the door, my eyes washing over her face a few inches from mine. Even in the midst of this utter disaster she had such an effect on me. I wanted to kiss those lips.

"Jake?"

"Huh?" I snapped back to it. "Bells, seriously... there is no 'this.'"

She nodded skeptically and started the engine. "We'll talk soon, Jacob." She shut me down.

I stood up, fisting my hand in my damp hair in frustration.

Putting the car in reverse, she looked back up at me. "Oh, and Jacob?"

"Yeah?" I dropped my hand to my side.

"By the way...nice hickey," she chuckled with a little eyebrow wiggle.

With an exaggerated grin, she backed the car out of the drive as my hand flew to my neck.

'

'

Bella

The windshield wipers kept squeaky time as Charlie drove me through the Washington drizzle. A week straight of clear skies and sun had finally bankrupt the summer weather and we were back to warm, rainy and gray. I rode next to him in his cruiser to school - the backseat and trunk, stuffed with my boxes - knees bent to my chin and my feet propped up on the dashboard. I was biting the hell out of an invisible hangnail while my mind ran over the last days in both exquisite and excruciating detail.

"Uh," Charlie started and I turned toward him a little as he cut his eyes over to me. "You okay, Bells?"

I nodded, forgetting that he was watching the road. When I said nothing, he glanced at me again and I nodded vigorously, moving to chew on another unsuspecting finger.

We rode in silence except for the fuzzy twangy country song on the radio that was playing low under the soft spray of the rain and the rhythm of the wipers.

"I'm ah.. proud of you, Bells. It's excitin' you goin' up to grad school and all..." He coughed a little nervous cough as I stopped biting my nail and turned to him more. I knew Charlie had probably been planning to tell me this for the last 30 miles; talking wasn't easy for him.

"I.. uh, know what with Sue and all we haven't seen each other much...but I'm glad you're gonna be just up north now. So's if you need anything you can...I can... Uh... and maybe you can come down and visit for, y'know weekends... holidays... if ...you're not busy," he stammered through his little speech and then cut his eyes over at me with an anxious expression that said: 'was that alright?' God I loved Charlie.

My heart melted. "Of course dad. I'll come down lots. I mean, once I get settled and stuff. Sometimes there's a lab running, but other than that I want to come down every month, if that's okay."

Charlie nodded, relaxing slightly. I looked at my bare feet for a moment, and curled my toes. "Y'know I missed you a lot dad. The last few years have been... y'know... rough, so sorry I haven't been better about..." it was my turn to fumble.

Charlie shook his head vigorously, trying to rescue me, "naw, Bells, you were busy an' all. S'alright."

I took a deep breath. "Well, yeah, that and... well... lets just say I missed all of you. Especially you, and – um, I missed Forks." I was going to say Jacob, but reconsidered. I was still raw, and Charlie and I never talked about that stuff.

He glanced at me several times as I went back to chewing the hell out of my innocent fingers.

"Hey, y'know...how's stuff goin' with Jake?" he asked very quietly.

Correction: I guess we hadn't talked about it until now.

I pressed my hands between my knees and brought my shoulders to my ears. What the hell to say?

Instead of backing down at my hesitation, he continued (Sue must be working on him), "I mean, is everything okay? You were kinda - upset - yesterday. I mean, I don't want to know the details or anything..." He looked over at me with an almost comical expression of apprehension, as if I were going to actually give him details.

I smiled and sniffed, looking down at my lap. "S'alright dad. Um... well, you know, after Jake and I ...uh, - talked - the other night, I thought maybe things were going to change with us."

I glanced up to see his reaction to my allusion to the night I had come home dressed only in Jake's shirt. He was staring ahead with a carefully stone-carved neutral expression. I swallowed a chuckle.

"Well, when I went back over to his place yesterday morning, this girl was there... and well, it was awkward." I laughed uncomfortably. "And it kinda hurt."

My dad was silent and the wipers took over as the song changed to a commercial on the radio. Charlie quickly reached over and tapped the knob off.

He took a breath. "Aww Bells, that's tough. Uh, but go easy on him, y'know," his voice was endearingly soft and sincere and he glanced over at me and I nodded quickly with a tight smile.

"I mean, I'm not saying that was right or anything..." he quickly amended. "Just, well Billy said after you left, Jake was really down... he was kinda lost." Charlie wet his lips. "Billy was real worried about him. He never was the same after. Then Jake kinda went overboard with the partying thing. I guess he was trying to forget it all -that's what Billy said – and, well, I think he was pretty lonely." My dad stopped to look over at me for a breath, seeing how that was sitting.

I worried my lip as I thought I thought about Jake. Lonely.

"Bells, that boy is crazy for you, you know that. And I think it was kinda hard, what with you leavin' after all that stuff..." his words faded to silence as if he was skirting anything that might make me feel guilty (I was so sick of that!). "Well anyways, I think he was just doing what he had to do, y'know? I think Jake ...ah.. well, Billy says you 'balance him out.'" My dad grimaced slightly in discomfort at his venture into emotional territory.

"You guys are like two old women!" I smiled and slapped him on the arm with the back of my hand, trying to lighten him up and make him comfortable.

Charlie rolled his eyes. "Yeah... guess it's that Sue rubbin' off on me," he mumbled with a little smile.

It was kind of cool to think that I gave Jacob anything but a headache, though and I returned his smile sincerely. "But it's sad if I give Jake balance... I mean, look at me! I'm such a mess!"

"Now look here, Bells, you're not a mess." Charlie thumped his hands on the steering wheel for emphasis and I looked up, surprised. "You took care of me, hell you always took care of Renee too. Look what you did with this school, now. Honors, scholarships and all. You have always been responsible. Too much, sometimes." He glanced over at me with a protective gaze. "It was after you met that … Cullen... that you changed... well, that things started getting rough." He swallowed, as blood rushed to his face in old, suppressed anger.

I bit my lip and looked down.

He slipped back into silence, looking over at me periodically.

Finally he took a breath. "Hey, I never asked - 'cause you never wanted to talk about it – but what did that Cullen do to you that night, Bells?"

My eyes widened at that turn and I paused, considering. With a little sigh I turned to him. "I still don't want to talk about it, dad."

Charlie glanced over at me a few times and then swallowed softly before his hand darted out to click the radio back on.

Fuzzy country music joined the soft swishing sounds of the wet drive and I turned to look back out the window, sinking into the eerie, blurry memories of that awful night.

Would I ever see Edward again? Did I ever want to?


'

'

Chapter 12 Truth


'

'

Bella


Three weeks later.

I let out a long breath and leaned back from the microscope ocular, rubbing my eyes. Pushing back from the black resin counter, I stretched, my hands on my waist. God, I was tired. Looking up at the institutional clock on the painted cement wall. I saw that it was 11:45... at night. No wonder.

Squeezing my eyes shut to clear them, I ran my hand through my hair and got up off the metal stool looking around the small, practical lab. My gaze flitted over the familiar grey walls, black counters, various kinds of stainless steel equipment.

At night it was always kind of ominous, though. It was silent in the Bio building at this hour – no sound of scraping chairs, undergraduate laughter, footsteps on the linoleum hall floors – just the wheezing groan of the air system in the tiled drop ceiling.

Rubbing my palms against my jeans I fetched the cleaner, wiped down the 'scope and brought the test tubes and beakers to the sink in the wax-bottom metal tray.

Turning on the large faucet in the industrial sink, I absently rinsed the equipment as I tried to further squeeze sleep out of my eyes. It had been almost three weeks since I had gotten to Washington State. I had started in the lab after only a day to get settled – I still had half-full boxes littering the small grad dorm studio. The schedule had been rigorous. I was too busy to think too much about eating, or learning my way around campus, or who taught my classes later when the semester began, or … Jake.

I still had to talk myself out of calling him almost every night so that I could focus on my work. I wanted his comfort and just... his voice. Him. But I also wanted to be sure that I had my bearings before I spoke with him - and I wanted to give him time to figure out what he wanted.

I missed him. A lot.

Seeing him in Forks reawoke the longing for his friendship and company that I had struggled to numb in Florida. I guess he wasn't the only one lost and lonely.

The image of him kissing that beautiful girl still burned behind my eyes, however I could now also laugh at the priceless moment of him leaning into the car: "there is no 'this'!" dramatically flinging his hand toward the house, with that mortified and frantic expression in his eyes ….and that huge-assed hickey on his neck. Oh, my God - knowing Jake as I did, it was a riot. I chuckled out loud and it echoed eerily in the empty room.

But, strangely enough, I felt calmer than ever after talking with him that night. Even if our relationship didn't work out (though I hoped eventually it would), at least I was able to say what needed to be said and let him know that, even though I made a fricken' horrible mess of things. I never forgot.

I finished my washing, putting the tubes in the autoclave and flipped the switch. After a brief survey of the room, I walked to the door and switched off the air – the system shuddered to a groan. And then there was silence.

Licking my lips with the imagination-induced butterflies, I opened the door, shut off the florescent lights and closed up the lab. My keys' jingle echoed down the eerily dim empty hall – every other light was turned off.

I bolted the lock with a little snick.

Catching a shadow in my periphery, I spun around quickly with a little shriek, backing up against the lab door and clutching my notebooks to my chest. My heart was racing frantically against my ribs and my breath sprinted into gasps.

There, leaning indolently in the metal doorway across the hall was Edward Cullen.

Edward slowly peeled off the door frame and took a few graceful steps toward me. "Bella," he whispered softly.

"E-Edward," I choked, my hand coming reflexively to cover the cold scar at my neck as my eyes widened and I pressed back up against the door.

He stopped mid-stride, his face crumpling in sorrow as his gaze dropped and he took two stumbling steps backward, like he had been punched in the gut, to lean against the wall.

The sound of my panting breath echoed in my ears.

"You're afraid," he whispered sadly, not looking up.

I swallowed, not trusting my voice to speak.

After a moment he looked up at me with a mournful gaze and turned his palms out. "I won't hurt you, Bella. I am not going to -"

I interrupted quickly. "N-no! Of course not, I was... it's just... creepy here at night." I forced myself to step away from the door and brought my hand down to rearrange my books more casually in my arms. My heart was still beating wildly.

Edward looked at me for several moments, processing my verbally refuted, but still very real fear.

With a sigh, he raked his hands through his hair. "Sorry, I shouldn't have come. I should have listened to Alice," he murmured softly.

"No! It is … good to see you. Just let me jump start the 'ole heart and I'll be okay," I laughed nervously, trying to force myself into comfort.

He nodded dubiously and stuffed his hands into his pockets, looking down at the gray tiled floor. He was dressed in a black tee shirt and jeans and looked exactly as I remembered him - down to his haircut. I swallowed, he looked almost young to me. It was a realization that gave me vertigo.

Shaking my head I crossed to stand in front of him, waiting.

After a moment he looked up slightly and met my gaze with his honey eyes from under his long lashes. They were lighter than I had ever seen them and I thought in passing that he had probably gorged himself before he came.

"Edward." I reached out a hand to his cool, alabaster arm. "I'm glad you're here."

A little smile tweaked the corner of his mouth and he brought his head up the rest of the way, sucking at his cheek thoughtfully.

"Let's get out of the Bio building, how 'bout it?" I suggested with forced normalcy.

He nodded silently, shoulders still hunched, and we turned simultaneously. We walked slowly, side by side, down the hall as each of us re-acclimated to one another. I found my pulse relaxing almost back to normal by the time we had reached the glowing red exit. He pushed the metal bar, opening the door for me, and then followed me out into the silent night.

It had rained most of the day, and moisture still hung in the air making the midnight feel heavy, yet clean. The campus lamps glowed and cast slick light over wet sidewalks. In the distance, the hushed sigh of a car slipped by. I turned and looked up at Edward expectantly.

He was watching me intently, eyes washing over my face as if he were memorizing it. "May I walk you home?" he asked quietly.

I pressed my lips together and nodded.

We walked in silence for a while as I kept stealing glances up at him beside me. Every time I looked, he was watching me intently.

"Do I look different?" I ask hesitantly.

"Yes." He smiled a crooked smile. "Even more beautiful."

I blushed. "You look -"

"The same," he supplied softly.

I licked my lips. "How is Alice? Carlisle..." I adjusted my books.

"May I?" Edward reached out a hand tentatively to my arms. I relinquished the books into his hands.

"Thanks." I wrapped my arms around my torso.

"Alice is well. She misses you. She and Jasper are in Canada, though about now she is probably seeing where I went – I just left them last night - and will probably be down here tomorrow," his accompanying amused smile was brief. "Carlisle and Esme are in Europe traveling with Emmett and Rosalie. We are all going to meet at our house in Russia next month."

I nodded remembering them all and all we had been through together. I missed Alice too - all of them, really.

Suddenly a question popped into my head, "Hey, how did you find me?"

"Internet." Edward sniffed. "I saw that you got this scholarship after you graduated from Florida State...And I thought it was time to see you again." He stopped walking, I followed suit, turning to him. "I hope that's okay, Bella." His gaze was intense.

My eyes darting to the ground, I nodded with a little smile. "Yeah. It's good."

He nodded and a genuine smile brightened his features. Discomfort and awkwardness was slowly dissipating and I realized I was truly happy to see him.

With a little jerk to his chin we started walking again.

"Hey, wait... it's this way." I stopped, unwrapping my arms and stuffing my hands into my pockets.

Edward smiled mischievously, "Short cut."

I rolled my eyes. Of course he knew where I lived. He had probably known more about me than I did myself for the last four years. I remembered the times he would appear in my room, or find me when I was shopping, or when I was getting assaulted by crazy drunk boys. It was a little disconcerting, but I had accepted it about him.

"So, how is Charlie?" he asked as I skirted a puddle.

"Good. He and Sue Clearwater are living together. It is awesome to see him finally happy." I smiled sentimentally; Charlie so deserved this after all of those empty, lonely years.

Edward paused, clearing his throat. "And Jacob?"

I sniffed, eyes scanning the ground nervously. "Okay, I guess... It's kind of a mess, actually."

"You aren't together?" he asked with barely concealed interest.

I looked up at him and shook my head with a half smile. "Not yet. It's a mess, trust me."

He nodded but I didn't miss that his shoulders straightened a bit.

We walked the rest of the way in silence, each lost in our personal thoughts and shared memories. Edward had been my first real relationship and still represented an ideal to me in many ways. Glancing over at him he was so perfect. He had a flawless beauty that was so intense it made me want to weep. His movements were lithe and effortlessly graceful, and his mind was erudite and sharp – always choosing the perfect words in any instant. There was a time I couldn't imagine not wanting to be with this man forever. Yet now even in the throes of his allure, I couldn't imagine a forever without Jacob.

At the dorm he opened the door for me, and I turned with a little breath, trying to figure out what to say next as I struggled to resurface from all my tumbling thoughts.

Edward beat me to it, "Bella, may I come in for a moment?"

I closed my open mouth and thought about it. I did want him to come in – I was still processing everything, including how I felt. I nodded and we trudged up the three flights of stairs, my footsteps echoing in the stairwell, his eerily silent as if I were the only one there.

My pulse raced from more than the climb as we neared my room.

At the door, my keys chimed as I unlocked it and pushed it open. With glance up at Edward I walked into the studio and switched on the light. Charlie had helped me replace the institutional fixture with a rice paper lamp, and a warm diffuse light glowed to life. I walked over to my futon bed and plugged in the fairy lights I always had strung over my bed.

Edward stepped into the room slowly, eyes scanning the sparse furnishings and opened boxes stacked by the wall. I watched as he closed the door and walked fluidly to the desk, setting my books down.

I worried my lip, looking around and trying to see what he saw – my things, hell, even me myself, always felt so boring and average in his glorious presence. "So this is it. Exciting. I haven't even unpacked yet."

He tore his eyes from the pictures I had tacked over the dresser and smiled wistfully at me. "It is perfect. It reminds me of your room in Forks."

I looked down, kicking the floor with a little sniffing laugh. I still had the same casual eclectic mixture of things, the tones of soft purples, blues, and greens still tying them all together.

I looked up as his shoes came into my view to find him standing not twelve inches before me. My eyes were trapped by his intense amber gaze and I took a soft shallow breath.

Edward's lips turned up in a hint of a smile.

"Bella. I've missed you," he said in no more than a whisper.

My breath hitched as I nervously pushed my loose hair out of my eyes.

He reached out an elegant finger to push the long strand behind my shoulder. "Let me see," he said simply as that same hand more fully burrowed into my hair, pushing it up away from my neck. I was frozen by both fear and the intimacy of it.

"Shhh..." he soothed as he brought his other hand to lightly stroke the cold mark. My pulse rocketed as a flush rose to my cheeks.

Bringing his gaze from my neck to capture my eyes, he bent excruciatingly slowly toward my pulse. My fear had been melted by the seeping warmth at his touch. I wondered idly if I had fallen back into trusting him implicitly or if it had always been so easy because of his vampiric allure. My eyelids fluttered closed as he brought his mouth to tenderly brush the scar. Firm, cool lips delicately danced on my racing pulse as I sucked in a breath through my teeth. I didn't move a muscle: torn between overwhelm and a rising heat.

With a soft clinging smack he pulled away.

I could feel his sweet breath against my face and I opened my eyes to see him mere inches from me, eyes closed.

Gradually they opened and regarded me with a sorrowful furrow to his brow.

"I am so sorry!" he breathed taking a step back, but leaving his palm protectively on my neck.

I swallowed and my eyes washed over his face and I stepped toward him, wanting to comfort the pain in his eyes. "Edward, that night... th-that was not who you are, I know that. It was a horrible time... a time that brought out the worst in all of us."

"Bella, that is no excuse, I should have known better. I could have turned you... or worse. I lost control to the thirst. For that moment I lost the hold on the what little remaining humanity I have left. But... but I want to show you I can be better than that. That I can love you..." His eyes looked into each of mine with his soulful entreaty.

I licked my lips, my voice was merely a whisper as I tried to untangle my tumbling thoughts, "Edward...I -"

His other hand came up to bury itself in my hair at the nape of my neck as he took a step closer.

"I came back to see if you could find it in your heart to give me another chance. If you could give us another chance." His voice was as soft and sumptuous as silk and eyes heartrendingly sincere.

I looked into his earnest amber gaze. I had no doubts about his integrity – he was back to himself; to that kind perfect creature who fought his nature so valiantly. Did I want to have another chance at us? I swallowed. If I had learned anything in all these years, now was the time to use it. I needed to figure out what I wanted, what I needed.

He took my hesitation as a positive sign and pressed on with a subtle edge that rang with the anxiety of last chances – it reminded me very poignantly of my wretched admissions to Jacob that night but a few weeks ago.

His lips turned up in a gentle smile as he pushed my hair back from my face and traced my jaw. "We could travel the world together, you and I. I would be by your side for your lifetime, or an eternity if that is still what you wish. We could make a life together however you could imagine it. You would never want for anything, love." His fingers came to rest on my cheek as he spoke sincerely from his soul.

He quoted in a softly lilting British accent the truncated familiar lines from Romeo and Juliet – bringing back our days in Forks with a bitter-sweetness:

"Love 'my bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite...
All my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
And follow thee my lady throughout the world.'"

Edward offered so much – I remembered the allure of such a perfect life – or eternity. My eyes darted back and forth between his with a rising agitation and confusion. I could sense the impassioned pleading behind his elegant words and fought the familiar rise of wanting to please and comfort.

Edward was calm and determined, his measured breath slowed as his eyes traveled searchingly down my face until they reached my lips where they stopped and the air around us took on an instantly suffocating intensity. "Ahh..those beautiful, perfect lips. I've missed them so." He whispered to them very softly, "may I kiss you, Bella?"

I didn't have to think. I nodded in his hands, slowly, desire rising make me feel drunk. I very much wanted to remember what his lips had felt like on mine years ago.

Licking his lips with a pink tongue, he lowered his mouth to mine, brushing his lips against mine tentatively. He drew back a few inches quickly and closed his eyes, with an expression of bliss.

"Still you smell so sweet, my Bella," he smiled softly as he opened his eyes to regard me.

Taking a shallow breath over the delectable zing on my lips, I brought my hands up to his thin, cool shoulders and swallowed. Going up on tip toes I reached up and gently pressed my lips to his. Our mouths melded; familiar cool alabaster to supple warmth. We kissed softly and sweetly, my arms slithering slowly around his neck, pulling him closer.

Edward's hands traveled down my back to rest at my waist and then pull me to his marble chest as if I were as fragile as glass as our embrace intensified.

His mouth became more demanding, mirroring my own, as his breathing quickened, and his cool tongue entered my mouth to intertwine with mine. His soft throaty moan vibrated against my lips. A flush was rising in my body, and desire grew thick and heavy between my legs.

But, strangely the sensation of ardor seemed hollow. Edward's kisses were compelling and delectable, but there was an absence of that warm, powerful, profound (and yes, overwhelming and confusing) passion and emotion rising in my soul. It eerily reminded me of lovers I had taken over the previous years. Handsome, intelligent, exquisite, virile … everything that on the outside should have been more than enough.

But wasn't.

Wasn't enough inside.

Wasn't Jacob.

Jacob, my best friend.

The only one who held all of me.

Tearing my mouth from Edward's, I looked down frantically, gasping as my aroused pulse thrummed.

Releasing me carefully, Edward stepped back and silently waited.

I looked up at him with wide, apologetic eyes. "I-I can't, Edward."

He looked down, pursing his lips.

"I'm sorry. But I'm inlove him," I whispered almost in wonder at knowing it finally so fully, so profoundly. This wasn't a reactionary decision, or one made mired in emotional turmoil, or one that was tainted by youthful infatuation; it was simple, unencumbered...

... Truth.

"I can't, I'm sorry," I repeated, merely a breath, partially in shock myself as all the pieces settled perfectly together inside me with an almost tangible flutter.

"You are sure?" Edward looked at me with a gaze that tried to hide disappointment.

I nodded, biting my lip, overwhelmed. I no longer cared about my consequences. Even if Jacob chose another my feelings would still be true.

"I understand," he smiled a tight-lipped smile. "Bella, you understand, I had to be certain. I had to try."

I nodded soberly, as my eyes watered with the bitter-sweetness of the moment.

"And I had to show you I could, I do...love you." He reached a finger out to stroke my cheekbone with affection. "I don't want you to remember me a monster, Bella " he said softly.

I threw my arms around him and pressed my cheek to his silent chest. "Oh Edward! I never thought you were a monster.." Tears started to run down my cheeks. "God, I'm sorry. So sorry."

"Shhh..." Edward's arms encircled me and a hand came up to stroke my hair tenderly. "It's alright. It really is, my Bella. I am glad you could tell me... I am glad you could know yourself. The way of the heart is intricate and complex, many never find their way... in an entire lifetime... or more." His voice seemed suddenly to reflect his age; wise, accepting, serene.

Sobs bubbled up from deep inside me then and I covered my mouth miserably to quell them. I cried for the letting go, for the pain of growth and the hurt that growth inflicted, from the weight of taking responsibility for your emotions and the ensuing turmoil. Edward pulled back regarding me with concern.

"Here, love, come." Edward led me gently to the bed to lay down. Pulling me down with him and to his chest, he stroked my hair soothingly as my grief spilled over his cool, quiet, heart.

"I'm so sorry Edward..." I whispered. My sorrow and regret ran their course, like a raging river, rushing compulsively through me to gradually reveal a soulful but sorrowful peace.

Edward stayed with me, finally humming softly that song he had written for me all of those years ago, and renewing the sorrow for innocence lost until my red swollen eyes could stay open no longer.


'

'

Chapter 13 Plans


'

'

Bella

I woke to the light of an unusually sunny Washington morning. My eyelids fluttered for a moment as I got my bearings; I had slept unbelievably deeply. Last night had been...

I sat bolt upright, looking around with wild eyes. The room was empty. Edward...Edward had been here last night. The last thing I remembered was sobbing into his cool, quiet chest with the grief and sadness I felt at shedding that part of my heart that he had held. Along with that fissure came the relinquishment of the idealism and idolatry of youth, and the realization that perfection was often imperfect by its very nature. Edward's heart had been the both the medium and casualty for this growth, and while I would not change the outcome, I wished the price hadn't been so dear...the pain of a friend.

Rubbing my face I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood, trying to orient myself. My eye was drawn to my desk where a piece of paper was left – on it was my engagement ring. Edward must have found it where I had kept it tucked away in my drawer. I crossed the room and picked up the note that was written in Edward's perfect script.

My dearest Bella,

Please keep this as a reminder of the happier times we spent together. While life is in its essence consistently changing, the memory of you, of us, will endure as one that I cherish for my eternity. While I envy Jacob, I am at peace knowing that we could have been, if we were meant to be. Truly, I am grateful that I leave you in the care of perhaps the only other being I have encountered to whom I would trust your heart. Please take care and treasure the preciousness of your priceless gift: a deep love and friendship with a one whose soul is brave, pure and true. I wish you both the greatest of happiness and a life that is filled with many blessings and gratitude.

With my friendship always,

Edward

Shaking off the memory of earlier in that day, I sighed and tossed the wrapper for a sandwich in the trashcan outside of the Bio building. I felt at peace after seeing Edward last night. It was comforting that he left at least knowing that I didn't think him a monster. It was a much better note than our last parting. I wish I could have known myself better back then, but I could only take Billy's advice and keep my eyes forward.

Forward.

Looking forward, I still had another good four hours of work this evening before a hiatus when the experiment's cultures would develop. I had finally snuck out of the lab to grab a bite this evening. Ravi had been cool about it, but he had only been in the lab for a few hours – he had enjoyed the sun today – while I had been stuck in a cement building. How pitiful was it that I was still here at nine o'clock on a Friday night? And, I was going back to work instead of going out? Actually if I weren't here, I would be at the dorm unpacking.

Now if Jacob were here, we could go catch a movie and then see if a band was playing at Campus Center...or just go back to my place. A little flush bloomed up my neck at the thought of him in my room, his hands on my skin, his lips at my neck, his...I shook my head.

My mind had been naturally drifting back to Jacob even more than usual all day long. Maybe it was the closure with Edward, but I was finally allowing myself to imagine my mundane, everyday life...with Jacob in it. I was surprised at how much pleasure and peace that brought me.

But right now, I needed to focus on getting this first stage of the the lab completed and then it would be a week of coasting as the medium developed. If all went right that would be tonight; tomorrow I could finally call him.

Truthfully, I had been putting it off. It wasn't just that I wanted to have "clear space" to think about it all, I think really I was just scared. Hell, I didn't even know whether he was still with that girl, or what he wanted...or basically what would happen next. Somehow not knowing seemed safer. I could happily fantasize about having him in my life without the vulnerability of laying myself bare and chancing rejection.

I was such a wuss.

I walked down the dim corridor, footsteps resonating off of the cement walls, and up the stairs to the second floor. The building was silent except for groans of settling and the echoing clicks and hum of various machinery and the climate control. Rubbing my face tiredly with one hand, I pushed open the door to the lab.

Or, tried; it was locked.

Damn it! What, Ravi had worked for three hours and then called it quits? How the hell were we going to stay on schedule if he was such a light-weight? At this rate, I was going to be burned out before school started!

With an exasperated sigh, I got out my jangly keys. Fumbling through them, I found the one to the lab and turned the dead bolt. When the door swung into the dark room, the waft of air that blew over my face made me gag and take a step back. It smelled of salt and rust.

What the hell? Reflexively putting my hand over my nose, I stepped into the blackness fumbling for the light switch. The phlegmatic florescent lights flickered on to a grisly scene – stools overturned, broken glassware littered the counters and a gruesome dark red was splattered over the gray floor tiles. A hoarse scream ripped from my lungs as I backed up, hitting the door that had closed behind me.

Ravi's body was lying in the middle of the bloody spray, limbs twisted in unnatural angles, his lovely dark skin ashen. Crouched over him was a small hooded figure, its face at his throat. I swayed, struggling to remain conscious as the figure turned its face in my direction very casually. Hands came up to pull back the cloak revealing blond curls and a heart-shaped face, glowing red eyes and a sinister smirk.

Jane.

I gasped, frozen against the door in horror and shock. Her grin softened an extremely disturbing smile as her pink tongue darted out, like a cat's, to lick of the blood smeared on her cheek.

"Bella! Finally you come. Forgive me, but while I was waiting, I thought I would help myself. I didn't want to be too hungry and risk a little slip." Her childish voice was disconcerting in the midst of the grisly macabre.

She stood slowly, raising her face to the air and closed her eyes with a blissful expression. "Ahh... you do smell good. It is fortunate that you had a snack waiting for me. Thank you!" She giggled a little girl-giggle and skipped in a parody of innocence closer as my hand fumbled frantically trying to find the door knob.

"Oh, don't go yet...I haven't seen you in so long." She tilted her head with a smile and slammed her foot against the door. I backed up, following the wall, breath ragged and head swimming. Suddenly my stomach rebelled, and I quickly bent over as I violently threw up over the floor. Gasping I straightened to see her watching me with a raised eyebrow and look of disgust.

"That was gross, Bella," she murmured and made an exaggerated show of stepping around the remnants of my sandwich.

I frantically scrambled back, hitting a table and knocking over a stool as she casually advanced with her hands clasped behind her back. "Come now, let's not make this harder than it needs to be," she tsked.

"Wh-what do you want with me?" I stammered in only a whisper.

"Not me, Bella... Aro. Oh, I would have been happy to have forgotten you long ago. But see, Aro has a thing about promises. It's the darndest thing! Remember? You owed him your life if you stayed human, which you obviously did, and he has come to collect on that bargain." She pursed her lips as if she had just recited a lesson successfully in school.

With the speed and unnaturalness of vampires, her face transformed from pride to pout. "It seems he thinks that you will be useful as one of us...with your unnaturally thick head, that is." She tapped her finger on her temple indicating my shielding. "I am inclined to disagree, but…I choose my battles." She flashed a malevolent grin, showcasing her razor-sharp teeth.

I backed up against the far wall of the lab and desperately looked around for some kind of weapon. Anything! Seeing the fire extinguisher in its ensconce, I broke the glass with my elbow and grabbed it out, pointing it at her. She sniffed, rolling her eyes as I pulled the trigger...a white cloud immediately bursting forth. Throwing the canister, I sprinted for the door under the cover of the powder. Grabbing the handle, I yanked. The door didn't move. Pulling on it with all of my strength I started sobbing as the extinguisher fog precipitated. Jane was revealed an inch away from my side, her finger holding the door closed with the strength of a truck.

Her eyes were locked on my arm. I followed her red gaze to see the blood dripping down from my elbow – from the glass I had just broken. I froze, holding my breath.

"Oh, now Aro didn't say I couldn't taste now, did he?" Her gaze flickered up to mine and her mouth curved in a mischievous half-smile. Her hand streaked up to hold my wrist with a granite grip and she bent her face down to my arm. A cold rough tongue darted out to slowly lick up the stream of blood to my elbow.

I started hyperventilating. She looked up at me from under her long, childish lashes. "Mmm, mmm, good." She smacked her lips and released me. I shrunk away from her, as the room started to spin. "I thought it was a silly-silly idea at first, but now I'm glad Aro thought to bring this." She pulled from her robes a sinister looking metal syringe and uncapped it to reveal a needle that was at least six inches long. She tilted her head with interest at my expression of horror. "See, Bella, you are just prone to way too much trouble - it will be much easier to move you if you are not moving."

With lightning speed she grabbed my neck in her hand and held me fast with her unnatural strength. Gazing into my eyes with a smile, her hand brought the needle toward me. "Sweet dreams," she whispered. I opened my mouth to scream but the sound never made it out. The needle's sickening length was slowly pushed into the side of my neck, and I gasped.

Darkness.

'

'

'

Jacob

It was a really beautiful day and I was sprawled on the weathered wooden steps of my porch enjoying it. After over a week of rain, we were finally getting some mid-summer weather this morning, and everyone on the Rez was reveling in it. The sun was warm on my face as I looked out over the scrubby yard. The bird song was enthusiastic, and the high-pitched laughter of small children drifted up from the valley punctuated by a bark of a dog at play now an then.

"Look who's up early this morning," Billy commented as he opened the screen door and rolled out on the porch where I was drinking my first coffee in a heavy porcelain mug.

"Hey," I greeted him, turning around. "And what do you mean early? It's after ten, dad."

Billy's smile was wry. "Like I said, look who's up early."

I snorted, rolling my eyes, and turned my back on the peanut gallery. We sat in silence for several minutes, enjoying the warm verdant summer smells that rose with the sun and were amplified by the moisture of eight days of drizzle.

"I saw Charlie last night at the poker game. He said he got a call from Bella yesterday," Billy said casually as he linked his fingers and propped his elbows on the wheelchair armrests.

I set the cup down, turning around again. "What happened?" I asked anxiously. I still hadn't heard from her in the two weeks she had been gone at school.

"Well my loosin' streak finally let up and I won eight dollars and Charlie's pocket knife." He leaned back proudly with a sparkle in his eye.

"Ha. Ha. What is this, the tenth time you guys have exchanged that damn knife?" I groaned, turned more, and propped a foot up on the porch while I leaned against the railing. "C'mon," I complained

Billy chuckled, "Oh you mean with Bella? Nothing. She was just callin' to check in, that's all."

"And..." I pressed, squeezing my eyes shut briefly with annoyance at his leisurely pace.

"And nothin'. She's been real busy he says with that big project starting up, been working long hours. He said she is good, but tired. Not unpacked yet." Billy smiled then. "And, she asked about you."

I tried not to show the little leap of excitement that made my pulse sprint.

"She said to tell you she'll be callin' you this weekend sometime when she gets a moment."

A moment. A moment? She had a moment to call Charlie. Why didn't she fucking call me? I collapsed my face in a hand with frustration. I was dying to talk to her again after...well, after what I now referred to as The Worst Day of My Life.

After Bella drove off I, of course, had to lay it down for Kalani. I wasn't mean, but I also wasn't in the mood for "letting down easy" after the utter disaster of the morning. However, it was easier than I expected. Not that I expected tears over a month of casual sex, but after an initial pout (well, in all fairness I guess the princess-complex fit was pretty spectacular, and the slap wasn't bad) she breezed on out. Haven't heard from her since and didn't want to.

It had been fun for what it was – a distraction – but the high-maintenance aspect was starting to feel not worth the fun. I wasn't surprised to hear that the very same evening she had hooked up with Mike Newton in town at Jodi's Sports Bar. Oh ho ho... he was so out of his league. He'd be lucky to survive the summer, unless she finally realized what a dufus she'd hook, line, and sinkered...At any rate, it was a pretty good example of poetic fricken' justice.

"Jake?" Billy tried to get my attention once again from where my mind had wandered.

"Yeah," I snapped out of it and looked over to his exasperated expression.

"I asked what you were up to today." He shook his head in dismay.

I took a moment, trying to remember. "Uh... I gotta finish Tom's Chevy and go check out some old SUV in town for a friend of Sam's. Why?"

"I was wonderin' if you had time to go into town with me to the tackle shop for the trip next weekend." Billy smiled in private anticipation.

"Sure, sure. We can go in when I go see the SU–" My sentence was shattered by a long, haunting howl in the distance, followed by a chorus of lingering, various-pitched answers. I sprung from the steps and stood before the house, listening. The Pack who was out on patrol had found something. Something big, otherwise they would never call out in the daylight.

My face lifted to the light breeze and I caught the barest hint of sickeningly sweet-smelling decay. Vampire. I tore off my shirt, and started for my pants (I just didn't have enough to spare) when Billy called out,"Jacob. Hold it."

I turned, confused, and saw that he was looking out into the woods with an expression of concentration. I swear the old man still had some of the Alpha gift – maybe more – even though he always laughed any questions off pretty convincingly.

I followed his gaze and took a step toward the trees that lined the gulch bordering the outskirts of the Rez. Stilling my breath, I could barely make out the sound of something crashing through the brush. Brother Wolf awoke and rose up with eager anticipation. At the edge of the trees, a white blur streaked to a stop. Oh. My. God.

Edward fucking Cullen.

The shock and sadistic pleasure of seeing him in my freakin' yard distracted me from my twitching muscles and Brother Wolf's impatient pull.

"Jacob!" the leech gasped.

Who the hell did he think he would find at my house? I laughed out loud. "Oh my God, I am so glad you have the – rocks – to show up here...Uh, no pun intended." My lips curled in a sardonic smile. "I have been dreaming of the day when I could finish you off, you fucking bloodsucker. And, that was before you decided to snack on your girlfriend."

The leech had the smarts to look appropriately chagrined and worried.

As he whipped around, out of the woods behind him, giving frenzied chase, were four of the Pack, Sam in the lead. The giant wolves slowed to a slink, automatically spreading into a semi-circle as they growled, yellow eyes glued to the Vamp. Foam dripped down fang, from enthusiasm and pace, and vicious snarls ripped from deep in their throats.

"Sam! This one is mine! Call them off," I spat through my teeth, his Alpha ranking completely subverted and ignored.

There was a pause, while all wolves' attention switched to me, then they backed down almost imperceptibly, with rebellious whines.

"Mine," I growled viciously, turning my yellowing gaze fully to the Pack, who immediately hung their heads, going down on their haunches. Their muscles stayed taut in ready to spring, as a few remaining whines were loosed.

Edward turned back to me with a frantic expression. Yeah, that's right, you are so royally screwed, idiot

"Jacob... Jacob I need your help!" the leech breathed quickly, his sophisticated voice was pitched higher than normal and his eyes were desperate and pleading.

I sneered, returning my hands to unbutton my shorts. "My help? I would love to help put you out of your misery, parasite." My body began to tremor as the Wolf's feral rage wrapped around me like a blanket.

"Easy now, son." In the excitement I forgot that Billy was still on the porch. I frowned but didn't look back.

"Jacob. Listen to him." Billy's voice was serene and compelling.

"Jacob, please... it's Bella!" He took two steps closer and the other wolves yowled, Paul falling out of line to pounce on the vamp's turned back. Sam leaped and intercepted him with a snarling bite on the ruff and they settled back down.

Ignoring them I ate up the rest of the ground between us in four steps, coming within inches of the leech as I felt my irises Phasing to yellow. "What did you do?" I ground out.

Edward swallowed looking at both of my eyes in worry and spoke quickly. "I went to go see her and –"

A vision of him with Bella flashed across my gaze. I slammed him in the face with my fist and his head snapped back. Following through with the other hand, I flipped him, bringing him down to the ground and into a choke hold – it would have been more effective if he were technically breathing, but damn, it felt good.

Leaning over him as my whole body shook, I hissed, "What did you do to her, you little fucker? Huh? If you so much as touched a hair on her head..." I suddenly realized Edward had passively taken the punch and throw, and was lying prone without a struggle.

"Jacob, she chose you. The tables are turned." he gasped cryptically, quietly.

If he said that to shock me, well... then it worked. I pushed away from him roughly.

"What?" This made no sense.

Edward sat up slightly, rubbing his neck and he spoke quickly, frantically. "Bella is in danger! The Volturi have her! Alice saw it hours ago. But I was too late; they had taken her already when I went back to the school."

"What the fuck!" I slammed my fist into the ground with barely contained rage. Edward streaked to a standing position, wisely figuring it was best to get out of my way. "Where is she now? What the hell do they want with her?" I ground out through gritted teeth while my fist pressed a hole in the earth. I thought we were over this hellish vampire nightmare.

"She is still in Pullman. Alice said they are holding her somewhere. They cannot move freely in this sun or be noticed. They wait until this evening when Aro comes. They sent several before him to collect her – he wants to do it himself. " He stopped, breathing in a long, sucking inhale as he squeezed his eyes shut. "Alice sees they will Turn her and make her one of them!"

I stood up, pleading with the Wolf to stand down. I needed my complete human mind to understand all of this. "Why? WHY do they want this? Why Bella?" I asked incredulously.

"Remember when Bella went to Italy?" Edward clued me in.

"To save your ass? Oh yeah, big waste of time." I snorted derisively. Bella had told me some of what happened. And, she had told me how the Volturi would come looking for her if she wasn't Turned into Edward's corpse bride. Something about humans knowing too much or some shielding thing or...oh, I didn't pay attention to the vamp stuff. A thought crossed my mind though. "Hey! I thought Bella said that they couldn't find her 'cause they couldn't read her!" I turned from my pacing to double back on the leech.

"They can't. But, they can read me. I believe they knew that eventually I would lead them to her." Edward spoke very quietly and looked down.

"Shit." I spit out, looking up at Billy on the porch. He was regarding the scene calmly like he was watching TV. I shook my head. "What do we do? Where is the rest of the bloodsucking Brady Bunch?"

The leech looked up. "Carlisle and the others are traveling in Europe. They cannot return in time. It is only Alice and Jasper...and me."

"And us," I said in a determined voice. I walked over to where Sam was following the conversation carefully, and our eyes met intensely. We knew each other well enough to know we were on the same page. We were made for this. He tipped his muzzle back and sent an ear-splitting howl up to the trees. The other wolves joined in a cacophony, hopping up and pacing in milling circles with pent up excitement.

With a little yip to me, Sam turned and disappeared into the forest with the rest of the wolves to go round up the whole of the Pack. I turned back to Edward; of course, he didn't need any explanation. He had heard more than I had in human form.

Folding my hands over my chest, I jutted my chin in resolve, "Okay, let's do this. Gotta plan?"


Chapter 14 Spine

'

'

A reminder of the Voluturi roles:

Aro: Head vamp

Sulpicia: Aro's wife

Renata: Aro's physical guard

Jane: Gives illusion of extreme pain

Marcus: Senses relationships

Alec: Cuts off senses - immobilizing prey before an attack

Demetri: Best tracker ever - senses and finds people by essence'

'

'

Bella

The deep base of a rumbling roar shook my body, and I gasped as if I had just broken the surface of water after being submerged. My eyes popped open...at least I think they did. Experimentally, I squeezed them shut and opened them again several times. There was no difference – I was in utter and complete blackness. My breathing was harsh and echoed eerily. My blind eyes looked around wildly as I tried to orient myself.

I was lying prone on my back on a cold, hard surface. Moving just my fingers, I traced smooth ceramic tiles beneath me. I heard water dripping nearby into a puddle, echoing in the darkness. The low rumble receded into the distance.

Breath coming light and shallow now with fear, I carefully extended my hands in both directions across the floor. My right hand came up against a wall and I followed it up, pulling my body closer. Slowly I dragged myself up to a sitting position...and almost fainted. Damn, my head felt like an explosion had taken it off! Raising a hand to my aching temple, I found said appendage still there, however – probably why it was throbbing so frickin' badly.

I pulled myself over to the wall and rested my head back against it as I sucked in the damp, musty air of wherever the hell I was. The memory of the lab – the grisly blood, Ravi's broken body, Jane's insane and sinister smile, that damn needle going into my neck – rocked me and I moaned softly.

I pulled my knees up to my chin as I sniffed snot back into my nose. I guess this is how it would end.

Some little background part of my brain had been waiting for this to happen. I didn't let myself consciously consider that the Volturi might come back for me, but now that they had, I wasn't surprised. I guess some mistakes are just terminal. I certainly wasn't walking away from this one. At least I wasn't taking anyone with me on my sorry-assed trip to hell.

Just then the sound of a lock being turned cracked the blunt darkness, and I pressed my back up against the wall, wrapping my arms tightly around my knees and trying to pretend that I wasn't shivering in fear. With a metal grating groan, a door opened and light spilled into what looked to be a public bathroom in utter, grimy disrepair. Blinking frantically, willing my eyes to adjust to the burning light, I pushed myself crab-like, away from the door, scrabbling over the tiles.

A figure in a red cloak glided into the room, and I scooted under a grimy sink clutching the cold silver drainpipe as I squished under the basin as if it could hide me.

The figure crossed to my lame hiding place, a rasping chuckle echoing off the walls as it moved soundlessly like a ghost. Stopping before me it hissed, "Come."

Uh, no way in fucking hell. With a cold wash of adrenaline, a kind of peace descended over me. This was the end – I mean you just didn't walk away twice from the Volturi – and like a silk dress slipping from my shoulders, the tension fell, leaving freedom and the conviction that at least I wouldn't go quietly and die a career wuss.

The figure bent down to grab me, and I kicked viciously, gritting my teeth and clutching the pipe to my shoulder. Of course my sorry rebellion was no match for vampire strength, and cold hands yanked me effortlessly from where I was trying to lodge myself with all of my strength. My shoulder audibly popped with the force of him ripping me away from the pipe. A sharp and excruciating pain shot through my arm, and I swore a long litany of curses to keep from sobbing from the sheer physical agony. The fucker dislocated my shoulder!

I naturally went limp in initial defense and he pulled me to my feet. I struggled to stand with the nauseating pain in my shoulder combined with my throbbing head. I wasn't going down this easy, dammit. Hissing like an angry cat I kicked the vampire with all my strength. Any contact I made under the heavy velvet robes gave me bruises against his hard marble form.

A shocking stone hard slap across my face unceremoniously dissolved my struggles and threw my head back violently. I collapsed, in a brief loss of consciousness against the robed marble body.

Unfortunately it was only a brief loss of consciousness from the impact. Fuck, everything hurt.

I was dragged as if I was a weightless rag doll out of the bathroom as the goddamn traitor tears of frustration overflowed my eyes. I pressed my lips together to keep from whimpering in pain at each movement.

I took a moment to try to take in my surroundings as I was yanked out onto what looked to be an abandoned subway platform that was dimly lit by fire. Several piles of old clothes, doused with oil, wicked into bonfires, and flames licked up with noxious smoke to the black sooty ceiling. Off the broken-tiled platform out into the subway tunnel was blackness. The thunder of another train rumbled by overhead, shaking dust and detritus to sift down while the flames sputtered.

Standing in the dancing shadows were several of the Volturi. A little involuntary shiver raised the hair on my skin.

I was dragged across the trash-littered cement toward the tallest – Aro, his red velvet cloak resting over his bony shoulders. Flanking him were his wife Sulpicia and bodyguard Renata stood close behind. To his right were Jane and Alec, and left were Marcus and Demetri. There were another five red-robed guard, including the bastard who was holding me, spread out over the platform.

I was thrown to the ground about ten feet from Aro and could not silence my cry of pain. Head splitting, I quickly tried to regain my tenuous control and – slower than I would have liked – gathered my stiff limbs to stand, cradling my arm. I stumbled – it's was hard to get up with one arm – but finally stood trying to mask my fear and swallow down the bile that had risen to my throat.

"Ahh...good evening, Isabella. I trust you slept well?" Aro's voice was heavily Italian accented and resonant. It echoed through the deserted platform with power.

I squinted against the headache – noticing one eye was swelling shut from that bitch-slap – and gave him my best "fuck you" smile with more bravado than I felt. (It's hard to have bravado when your eye is closing and probably turning purple, and you for all intents and purposes have only one arm.)

Aro chuckled at my paltry show of confidence and approached me slowly, Renata following him like a shadow.

"Yes, it is delightful to see you again too, my dear. You have looked better though, I'm so sorry to say. Feeling a tad under the weather are we?"

I snorted and rolled my eyes – or eye I guess at this point. "Fuck you, Aro," I hissed out loud this time though under my breath, well aware that it was like yelling it with my Vampire audience.

"How adorable! In the blink of our immortal eye our little Isabella grows a spine!" Aro laughed derisively looking at his company.

"I am so very glad that we were able to stop by on our trip through the States, Isabella, it has worked out quite nicely. Don't think I could time it better if I had tried." His thin lips stretched over yellowed cracked teeth in a gruesome smile. "However I am surprised to find you...in the flesh as it were," he chuckled – a sound that was like old leaves rattling in his empty chest.

Stopping right in front of me he brought up a thin sallow hand to push my hair back from my neck, a finger brushing the bite scar there. I flinched away with a frown – trying to get away from his touch, but not wanting fear to break through its fragile shell. Once it got out, it wasn't going back.

"Darling, I see that Edward tried to turn you. Tell me, did you have a change of heart, dear Isabella? Or did you break Edward's poor dead heart?" He smiled again with a lofty patronization, feral red eyes glued to mine.

I was frozen like a mouse in a predator's gaze, my breath uneven and shallow, but I certainly wasn't going to dignify him with an answer. I lifted my chin slightly with my disdain.

He nodded to the guard behind me who stepped up to hold me again in his vice-like grip. I cried out and doubled over as the ache in my shoulder burst into searing and intense agony.

Aro ignored my cry, but brought his papery finger under my chin to pull my face up as my eyes rolled in their sockets. "Pity that I can't merely touch you, young Isabella..." He stroked my cheek as I jerked away and into the chest of the guard. "...and receive all the answers that I seek."

"Can you just kill me and get it over with?" I ground out in a whisper, with a lot less bite than I would have liked.

Aro chuckled. "Oh, it would be such a waste to make you a meal. I am really quite curious to see what powers you will bring to our family as one of us, my dear. I have a feeling you will be quite useful."

"I am never going to be one of you. I refuse." I spit as my eyes rolled forward, the one not swollen shut struggling to focus on his leering grin. I bit my lip as it quivered of its own accord.

"Ah, I think you will see things quite differently when you awake. You have experience with Newborns, yes?"

A laugh burst from my lips that sounded close to hysterical.

"Yes. Well, let's just say that I hardly doubt that you will bite the hand that feeds you, my darling." Another train rumbled overhead and dust fell into my eyes from the ceiling. I blinked furiously, mortified that tears left my eyes with the dirt.

Demetri stepped forward then and cleared his throat. "Aro, I sense that others arrive."

Aro tore his gaze from me to look with calm questioning to the other vampire.

"It is Edward," he murmured, closing his eyes as if he could see him with his mind's eye.

"Wonderful! We have guests, dear ones! Will Edward be joining us solo this evening?" he smiled looking around the room as he gathered his long sleeves in his hands as if he were preparing to set a table.

"He comes with the small one, Alice, and her mate. They are alone," Demetri intoned and then opened his eyes with a serene smile to his pale lips.

"Excellent! Edward and Alice are really my favorites, I am ashamed to admit. What a happy occasion!" he crooned as he turned to me with parody of delight which looked ghastly on his sagging and sallow face.

"Arturo... bring Isabella to stand with Jane, if you please. I hear tell they are becoming good friends, those two!"

The guard dragged me over to where Jane was eying me with irritated disgust.

My feet scraped the ground without struggle as I was pulled across the platform. I felt like ice had been thrown over my trivial confidence – and it was more than just the fact that my body was finally going into shock. The one redeeming factor of tonight had been that I didn't have to worry about anyone else...that this was my own personal torture and doom.

Now Edward, Alice, and Jasper were coming to try and save me – I guessed – and they would be hurt, if not killed in the process. I was so past caring about my own fate that I wanted to just yell at them to leave. It was too much to endure to worry about them – I had only just begun to make peace with my own demise. Anxiety and agitation pushed through my lips in a whimper.

Aro rearranged his robes in anticipation with a little joyful smile at me before looking expectantly down the platform toward a boarded up doorway. The wood suddenly splintered as Edward pushed effortlessly through the passage, his eyes immediately searching for me.

I bit my lip to stifle the little moan at seeing his beautiful face in this horrible context. Oh why the hell did he have to come?

"Edward! Alice! Jasper! Welcome! I am so glad that you were able to join us this evening. Oh, I had not expected such a veritable boon of old acquaintances on this trip stateside!" he rubbed his hands together in a mockery of hospitality.

Edward stepped forward, his hands fisting at his side, brow furrowed in worry as he tore his eyes from me and regarded Aro, immediately cutting to the chase. "Aro, we have come for Bella. Release her, now. There is no reason for you to hold her."

"Oh, Edward, my boy. You do so amuse me! Surely you are not old enough to forget your promise to me!" he wagged his finger and tsked. "Bella is still very much human – what a delectable bouquet she has, I might add – and I believe we had previously discussed that her life would be forfeit if she were not Turned when next we met." He turned and looked at me with a smile. "And, what a happy coincidence this is that we meet again! I do hate a man who goes back on his word, you see. I must insist that we honor our agreement, you and I."

"Aro – Alice, Jasper, and I will join the Volturi if you release her," Edward simply stated, his eyes meeting mine intently.

I snapped to attention from my delirium."No!" I yelled; this was just not acceptable - I couldn't live with this. "Edward, don't! Just go! Leave me, dammit!"

Aro glanced at me and then back to Edward. "I am inclined to agree with her, though without the rude caveat that you leave us so soon. I would much prefer to have all of you as part of our humble group. Come to think of it, I think you will find our home in Italy much more compelling if Isabella is with us! It would be wonderful! We can be one big happy family!" his voice was saccharin with a menacing undertone.

"I will not allow it," Edward ground out changing his posture while Alice looked over at him with an expression of worry.

"My dear boy, you have come alone into our midst and have the gall to speak of permissions?" Aro's temper snapped with the suddenness of a mouse-trap and he bared his teeth.

"Aro, we did not come alone," Alice's small, feminine voice spoke up clearly.

Aro settled back into his parody of grace. "Oh really? How so?" He glanced briefly at Demetri, who shook his head with an expression of confusion.

As if on cue – and perhaps they were – through the door walked the Quileute Pack, all twelve of them with Jacob in the lead, barefoot and dressed only in cutoffs.

My heart skipped a beat and I choked - dry-heaving in shock.

Jacob!

No, no, no, no! My entire body went numb, and I bit my lip so hard that the coppery taste of blood leached into my mouth as I desperately tried not to weep. My hopelessness rose up like a tidal wave washing away all but a blinding despair.

Aro's face furrowed in confusion, and he looked back at Demetri who was staring at them intently. Could Demetri not "see" the Pack?

Regaining control, Aro's shoulders shook with a mocking laugh. "How wonderful! The bare-chested brigade! Edward, dear boy, I do believe you are overdressed for the occasion." He clasped his hands before him.

Jacob's eyes were locked on me, an intense expression of worry creasing his handsome brow. His chest was heaving as if he had just run miles (and probably had) and his muscles were trembling.

I hadn't seen him since Forks and some idiot part of me warmed with joy. How cruel to have him here! Oh, stupid, stupid Jake! Why the hell did you come? I could not bear it, I just couldn't. To loose Jacob too? What kind of sick twisted world was this?

The terror at facing certain death – and the horror and pitch black despair that others were as well on my behalf – finally conspired with my painful bruised body and excruciating shoulder to overwhelm me. My eyes rolled back into my head wrapping me in a blissful dim haze. I went limp, my head lolling.

"Bella!" I heard Jake yell and then felt a hard cold slap across my face. I cried out as my already bruised face smarted.

Opening my eyes I saw Jane grinning evilly, hand still raised. "You have had plenty of sleep," she reproached in her high voice, red eyes glittering.

The guard holding me shook me back onto my feet, and I whimpered at the renewed onslaught of pain. My eyes tore themselves from the horrid little blond girl and I looked up, seeing Jake struggling as he was being restrained by Edward and Jasper.

I guess he had tried to rush the Volturi, as Renata was crouched aggressively between Jacob and Aro. "Now, now," Aro raised his hands placating, and smacked his lips.

"Aro," Marcus spoke in his high, breathy voice.

"Yes, dear Marcus?" Aro turned around dramatically, robes twirling.

"It is most interesting. The girl has bound herself to that human. He is her mate, not Edward!" his accented voice dove and rose octaves in emphasis.

Aro's mouth opened in exaggerated excitement. "How extraordinary, Marcus!" He looked from me to Jacob and back again. "Ahhh, so you did break poor Edward's heart, darling? Such a pity. But you know what they say...all's fair in love and..."

Edward interrupted. "Enough Aro. And, as Bella has already chosen a mate, we request her release based on other facts. We have some information that may be of interest to the Volturi. Alice, tell Aro what you have seen," he glanced up at me, his tense expression one of barely controlled fear and worry.

Alice cleared her throat, stepping forward from where she and Jasper were watching the exchange carefully. "Actually it may be more of interest to Sulpicia." Alice glanced toward Aro's wife who was standing with the guard.

Aro put a hand on Renata's arm, moving her back behind him so that he could see Alice.

"Aro is interested in more than just Bella's powers. He means to Turn her so that he can court her," Alice spoke in her high, resonant voice.

Sulpicia sucked in a breath as the whole of the Volturi shifted in surprise.

"Preposterous!" Aro spit, his face immediately becoming enraged.

"I have seen it," Alice simply affirmed.

She had barely finished the words when a cry broke from Sulpicia's throat. "Aro! So this is why you have been so insistent about finding this one mortal! I have stood by silently while your endless parade of concubines warmed your bed, but I cannot... I will not allow this!" Her features were twisted in fury as she advanced, fists clenched. It was like she was combustible tinder and Alice had been the lit match.

"My dear, it's simply not true..." Aro, turned, his brow furrowed and eyes wide making his face look like a stretched mask.

"The hell it's not!" she screeched. "I wondered why you spent such time in tracking her...it takes a psychic to finally reveal the depths of your depravity!" Sulpicia continued to advance in angry steps, hands curled into claws. A guard broke rank and moved to stop her and Sulpicia threw him aside into the grimy tiled walls, ceramic raining down.

That only served to escalate her fury and she screamed, "Here I sit at your hand, a fool, humiliated in front of your court and..." she threw herself at Aro at the same time that Renata intercepted her.

"Stop!" Aro cried as the sound of a screeching grating echoed throughout the empty subway corridor. Renata had pounced and in one vicious fell swoop beheaded the woman, the appendage rolling into the fire.

"No!" Aro yelled rushing to the headless body as the guard tried vainly to rescue the skull from the flames. On his knees, before the corpse Aro grasped her robes to him for just a moment, and then – just as quickly – stood up, a frenzied wrath twisting his features.

"Alec!" Aro hissed, and Alec tore his shocked eyes from Sulpicia's body to stare at my would-be rescuers. Immediately all three vampires dropped weak to their knees. The Quileute followed shortly after, all staring into space like they were blind. "Guards, hold the humans, bring the big one to me. And Jasper."

The red-robed guards hurried to stand over the Pack as one of them grabbed up Jacob to pull him toward Aro. Another seized a limp Jasper. It was terrifying to see such a ferocious and embattled warrior as Jasper as helpless as a babe. If he was unable to withstand the powers of the Volturi, then truly all was lost.

My mind was reeling. This couldn't be happening! Tears overflowed, stinging my abused cheeks, and I sucked in a hitched breath. I struggled in the impossible grip of my captor, only bruising my arms further and causing more trauma to my shoulder. He tightened his grip like a tourniquet and I moaned.

"I am surprised and disgusted that you would try to trick the Volturi, little one. How arrogant and short-sighted...and with such a dear price," Aro hissed toward Alice who was unable to move. "You know that this is not true! A ruse? Well a most unwise one! I shall take pleasure in the depths of the suffering I will bring to you all." He gathered himself up, as the two were brought twenty feet before him.

Jasper was thrown on the ground before Aro, and Jacob was dragged to lie beside him.

Aro turned on me, advancing with menacing calm. "Now dear, I want you to see something before you are Turned. Jane's powers are illusory, and thus merely debilitating, that is except on humans. In humans, she can inflict such pain that the mind goes mad and the body shuts down. It is a truly delicious sight, my lamb."

"No!" I choked, freezing.

"Oh, we won't kill your human...we'll just see how close we can get, shall we? A game, if you will. We will allow you to see your mate's last breath of sanity...and then we will let you do the rest."

I gasped, eyes wide in confusion as my overwhelmed mind struggled to keep up, and Aro stopped right in front of me.

"After you are Turned, as you know, the hunger is simply unbearable." Aro looked up wistfully as he stroked my face absently – I was too horrified to shrink back this time. "That first meal...ahhh...glorious."

"No...please...let them go...please…I'll do anything...just take me to Italy now!" unbridled terror stretched my voice into a frantic hoarse whisper.

Aro chuckled, looking pleased. "Jane, dear? Will you do me the honors?"

Jane was shivering like a trained dog in anticipation and nodded enthusiastically with sadistic pleasure on her child-like face.

"Dear one, do try to stop before you completely kill him, if you can. Isabella would like her first meal to be warm, wouldn't you darling?" Aro turned and smiled with mocking kindness.

My stomach dry heaved again, and I choked on a scream as Jane stepped toward Jacob's limp, shivering form.

"Now, dear one!" Aro chastised.

A little crease of confusion was at Jane's brow as she stared intently at Jacob as she advanced. For a moment I thought that perhaps her powers did not work on him. My frail hope was crushed as suddenly he started convulsing, shrieking in excruciating agony, and she smiled with a little sigh.

I lost all attempts at keeping my illusion of control and sanity and screams ripped out of my throat. Tears ran down my face as I begged them to stop, begging them to take me, promising anything and everything if they would just stop! Jacob's body continued to writhe on the floor, his yellow eyes locked on me helplessly.

Aro threw back his head and laughed as he walked toward Jacob, wanting to get closer to the pain Jane was inflicting.

I was blind with despair and anguish, my throat was burning from screaming with all of the terror, fear, and loathing that my body contained. I was struggling wildly in the vice-grip of the vamp, tearing my shoulder further.

I couldn't even feel it at this point; I was completely numb.

Aro paused and he turned back toward me with a frown of annoyance. "God, shut her up, will you?" he motioned offhandedly to Marcus who was in front of me like lightning.

Marcus pounced on me, pushing my head to one side to expose the scar at my throat. Before I even knew what was happening, he brought his cold lips to my pulse and his sharp razor teeth sank deep into my throat. My agonized screams were silenced in pained shock and my entire body started shaking. Where he had bitten, a sharp pain bloomed into fire.

As if my blood were gasoline, it siphoned the flame through me, incinerating me from the inside out, and I threw my head back in a silent scream.


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Chapter 15 Jeopardy


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Backing up a few minutes...

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Jacob

"Bella!" All the tension, worry, and shock at seeing her so obviously physically abused when I had stepped onto the defunct subway platform expelled in the fierce tenor of my yell.

I desperately tried to quell my instinct to break the bloodsucker's arms as he and Jasper frantically restrained me from ripping the head off that small blonde bitch who had just slapped Bella. Edward was whispering frantically in my ear to stand down, but when Bella had collapsed, it had simply been too much for the Wolf.

And for me.

My already tenuous control had been tested when we entered the abandoned subway stop and saw Bella being jailed in the arms of the tall, red-robed guard. Her frightened, pale face was brutally bruised allover with an eye swelling shut – her hair and gaze were wild. There was dried blood on her arm and clothing, and something was very wrong with her whole left side.

When her eyes had rolled back and she had collapsed just after the Pack had entered, I lost it completely, and quickly decided I would rebel against Edward'splan, which required both patience and restraint – two of my least favorite qualities.

Any patience I did have had been long spent already. We had just endured an agonizing few hours looking for the dank, dark underground place in Alice's vision; the Pack tracking by scent, and the others by their various vamp abilities. Finally we had found the defunct subway station – the stop canceled since it was in the worst part of town. Stepping over the blood-drained vagrant and homeless corpses, I figured we had the right place.

Edward had briefed the pack on what to expect from the Volturi as he ran along side of Sam and me on the trip from Forks. Apparently these vampswere ancient with unparalleled powers and a reputation of brutality and not a shred of mercy or conscience. Just great.

Edward had an A, B and C plan – but the whole of the Pack could sense his anxiety at the bleak odds. There was no use planning further: the next plan was gonna be a D...DOA, that is.

So the run-down of the plan was this: first, the Cullens were going to try to give themselves up in Bella's place, which seemed like a perfect solution to me, but Edward hadn't put much stock in that option due to the Volturi's "no mercy" clause.

His next plan was that he would cue the Pack to enter as human – the Volturi did not know about Quileute wolves. He guessed our only real chance was the element of werewolf surprise, and I was inclined to agree. One of us (I had pronounced that it would be me – and not even Sam dared to argue with me) would try to get as close to the oldest head vamp as possible before Phasing and taking him out.

Edward was then going to try the ole' divide and conquer strategy so that I had the best odds at getting near him, and had instructed Alice to lie about some dramatic fake vision. Apparently when Edward had rummaged around in their heads when he was in Italy, he gleaned that all was not roses and champagne in the Aro household. He figured the slightest spark would blow that puppy up – soap opera style.

There was a small problem, though – well, other than that we were facing the most powerful and ancient beings on the planet – Edward's plan was based on the assumption that the Quileute would be immune to the Volturi's supernatural powers. This was based on the way that Alice's visions didn't work on us.

Basically that gave us a fifty-fifty chance as far as I could figure; Edward's mind-reading did work on us.

I asked him why he thought he would be an exception if indeed our ancestors had leveled the playing field centuries ago. His conjecture was that his ability was one that was meant to facilitate communication between our races. Kind of flaky logic, if you ask me, but for Bella's sake I was willing to go along with it.

And, in this instance it was our only shred of hope.

Edward spent a good hour in the trip to Pullman running down the formidable assets of the Volturi. Damn, these suckers were good – I certainly hoped that our ancestors had known what they were doing, and we could not be blinded, put in excruciating pain, or generally all-around screwed by the Volturi.

Otherwise, we didn't stand a chance. Bella included.

I renewed my agitated struggle against Edward's and Jasper's hold.

"Jacob, stop! She is fine, she has fainted. If you want to save her, we must wait until you are close enough to Aro to kill him without fail," the leech hissed in my ear.

I closed my eyes, pleading to the Wolf to heed the request, and he shrunk back ever so slightly, making my muscles quiver with the effort of keeping him in check.

As Alice related her fabricated and provocative vision to the Volturi, I ignored them; my gaze and the Wolf's protective instincts focused on Bella intently. In agony, I watched tears gather in her eyes as a new purple shadow bloomed across her cheek where that little bitch had hit her. The Wolf growled deep in my chest. He wasn't going to stand down if Bella wasmistreated again, and I wouldn't try to stop him.

Suddenly, my attention snapped back to the vamps as all fucking hell broke loose.

Edward had been right; Alice's spark blew that puppy sky-high! In true soap opera style, the wife charged, screeching at the leech – but in a blink of an eye, the bodyguard intercepted and brutally tore off her head. Shit! Almost comically, said appendage then rolled into the flames where it was unreachable to the desperate guard.

Uh, that wasn't supposed to happen...Edward and Jasper released me as we all watched in shock.

I covered my nose as the thick, sickeningly sweet smoke billowed and wafted over us. My stomach took a dive as I started feeling that maybe we were going to be on the wrong side of fifty.

They sure were pissed now.

Aro's grief was brief, but his rage spilled out palpably over us all – I went up on the balls of my feet in ready. This was going to get real ugly, real fast. Aro called for Alec...and I found myself mentally scrabbling to try and remember his power.

When the thin, pale vamp nodded to his boss and then looked at our group malevolently, immediately Edward and the other two collapsed.

Obviously Alec was the one who immobilized and blinded his prey. Along with this thought came the realization that Edward had been right in his game of Jeopardy. TheQuileute weren't affected! Maybe there was a chance yet for us all...

Following through with the plan to fake it until we had the tactical advantage, I quickly imitated the Cullens – who weren't faking it. The rest of the Pack copied me.

I heard angrier grandstanding from the vamp as Jasper and I were dragged up toward Aro by cold stone hands – while Bella's continuing sobs and struggles echoed through my mind. I was going crazy from worry; the Wolf couldn't take it and pushed to break free. I trembled with the pressure of the compulsion – all of my concentration on fighting the Phase.

Edward had worn it into my head that I had to wait until Aro was close – he was an old and powerful vamp and if he weren't taken out, it would never be over and the whole tribe would be in danger. The element of surprise gave us only this one shot; we had to use it well.

I was so intent on not Phasing that I almost missed it when the little blonde parasite stared at me as she walked toward me with a sinister, and then a confused expression. Oh, right, Jane was the one who caused unbearable pain. What a bitch.

I immediately launched into my by best imitation; moaning and yelling, and flopping my body on the floor –as I gleefully imagined all the ways I could kill her. I put all my excess energy into it and it helped soothe the compulsion to Phase much better than trying to lie still had.

Bella was screaming now and trying to wildly break free to get to me. My gaze snapped to her, as it heated in yellow – I wouldn't be able to hold the Wolf off much longer. He didn't like to see Bella so upset, and neither did I. I stared at her frantically; trying lamely to tell her it was just an acting job. Of course she didn't understand and continued to wildly kick and wail, her voice going hoarse with effort and fear.

My muscles started reforming under my skin of their own accord, and I gritted my teeth as tremors shook my body violently – I had to hold on! Aro walked toward me, a disturbing smile pulling his paper-thin skin over his bones. Closer, closer...come on you fucking leech...I shut my eyes in the effort.

Suddenly, Bella choked on her screams and silenced abruptly. My head snapped up to catch the horrifying sight of one of those goddamn bloodsuckers standing over her.

Terrified, my gaze locked on Bella's silent scream as I Phased in the blink of an eye.

The Wolf exploded with elation, and instantly leaped the twenty feet to where Aro had turned to watch Bella with sadistic amusement.

Letting loose a bark that sounded more like a roar, I slammed into his back with all the weight and momentum I could in the short leap – pushing him face-down, pinning him under my claws as my teeth bit a chunk out of his shoulder. His lightning twist had him clawing into my side with his nails in amillisecond. I could feel his power growing, crackling like electricity, and he threw me off with enough velocity to give me whiplash. This vamp was so much stronger than even any of the Cullens. Edward wasn't kidding.

Landing on my front feet with a rabid snarl I whipped around and pushed off with my powerful hindquarters the second they touched down. I dove at him with a razor focus, batting him to the cement with a front paw while my foaming maw gouged his shoulder, which had the consistency of hard cheese to my fangs.

With an inhuman hiss, Aro threw me off again and into a support column with an intense force that knocked the wind and a whine out of me as clinking tile fell around me. Shaking my head I glanced at Bella whose face was drawn in agony as she arched against the guard. Enough of this goddamn game! This fucker was going down – I didn't care how old he was.

Fueled by a burning murderous rage, I charged again with a savage, guttural growl as I faked left and then pounced right with all my strength, throwing him back with a crack as I held him down under my weight, claws digging deep. The vamp's face was contorted in pure, unadulterated shock and his lips pealed back from yellow teeth in a scream whine – a high-pitched grating wail that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. With a ferocious snarl, my sharp fangs dove for his head, burying themselves in his face with satisfaction at feeling his breath in my mouth and his scream vibrating my teeth. His hands clawed uselessly at my sides; I wasn't letting this fucker go.

With a twist of my whole body and the grating groan of stone, I silenced his keeling and ripped off his head. Dashing it against the wall with my mouth, it smashed into and lodged in the tile-covered concrete, ceramic tinkling onto the floor.

As I came out of battle-focus, I heard that the rest of the Pack had Phased following my lead.

"Embry! Take this one apart for me!" I mentally yelled as I sprang at the bloody-mouthed vamp who had whipped around from biting Bella and had watched the lightning battle that had just taken place in a mere few breaths. It was like the rest of the world was in slow motion; in another two leaps I was at his throat, tearing it from his corpse in a fierce frenzy. Ripping off limbs, I severed the head completely, kicking it quickly into the flames.

With a glance around me, I saw that all but two of the Volturi were engaged with werewolves, and a dire and lethal battle was raging. The sound of snarls, growls, keeling cries and hisses were punctuated with heavy thuds, grating tearing, and crashes. All were ferociously embattled, except for three lone vampires, still on their knees. I glanced behind me and saw Alec staring at them intently.

"Jacob! Take out the one who's holding the Cullens!" I heard Sam command in my mind.

"No! You do it Sam!" His Alpha order beaded and rolled off my back effortlessly.

My entire attention was focused on one thing – Bella had been thrown to the ground by the guard who had left her to attack the Pack. She was lying on the cement. Her mouth was open in a silent wheezing scream and her eyes were rolled back, body arched and hands clawing at the ground. The Wolf's muzzle nudged her writhing body, whining piteously.

Sharp claws suddenly dug into my back and I yowled, and instinctively flipped over, knocking off that little bitch Jane.

The one who had hit Bella.

A furious red haze darkened my vision, and I pounced at her tiny body, but she was agile and quick. She leaped up to the ceiling where she clung like a spider– her tiny hands and feet dug into the sooty cement. With an angry growl, I jumped up and grabbed at her, but she vaulted through the air, evading me.

Pushing off the ceiling with my hind legs, I crashed into her in a mid-air tumble, knocking us both down off the platform and into the defunct track. Dodging vicious cat-likeswipes, I waited for an opening and then my rabid snarl was cut short by the snapping of her tiny torso into my jaws. I shook her like she was a doll, with the animalistic instinct of prey in the mouth of a dog – all thoughts of drawn-out revenge had evaporated in my desperate concern for Bella. I didn't have time for this; I just wanted this little bitch dead.

With that thought, I bit all the way through her as she screamed, high-pitched, child-like. Immobilized now, I easily tore her head off, silencing her cries, and threw the skull up on the platform.

Leaping up after it, I kicked it without a thought into the flames, which were burning heavy with various vampire anatomies – a thick purple smoke blanketing the entire platform. Quickly I made my way through the almost zero visibility, hearing the last of the battle winding down as another train went rumbling by overhead. I didn't care to take stock, I had to find Bella.

Sam must have obliged in respects to Alec, because Edward and Alice were back conscious and kneeling beside Bella, trying to restrain her wildly jerking body. Jasper must be in the fight I could hear going on around us.

The Wolf slunk up to her twisting face and sniffed, whining miserably. Her scent was changing: becoming less like that earthy delicious scent that was Bella, and more like that horrifying saccharin sweetness of vampire rot.

My plaintive and wretched whines turned into deep and hiccupping sobs as I seamlessly Phased back to human and collapsed against her. Picking my head up, I looked frantically at Edward, whose face was furrowed in grief.

"Goddamn it! Do something!" I screamed, not caring that tears were streaming down my face.

When Edward just shook his head, I grabbed him by his torn shirt. "Do something... there has to be something that you can do!" My voice was hoarse and broke with anguish.

"The venom is so far into her body, I can't suck it out without risking killing her. She will lose too much blood," Edward whispered, his face despondent.

"Try it! You can always Change her again later if she doesn't make it!" I cried, desperate, frenzied.

Edward paused, looking down dejectedly, and then continued, in barely a breath, "and I will go into a feeding frenzy drinking so much. I won't be able to stop."

"Do it! Now!" I screamed shaking him. "You have to try! I'll stop you!"

The vamp looked at his sister whose eyes were wide in an expression of fear. This meant that I wasn't asking something impossible – that he was considering it.

Roughly I grabbed his neck and pressed his face down to the wound at her neck. "Do it," I ground out, gritting my teeth.

Shaking me off, he looked up, his gaze darting between Alice's and mine. "I am going to try. Alice, tell Jacob when her blood is clean. Jacob, you are going to have to throw me off and keep me away from her – I will...I will not be myself," he said quietly, his eyelids fluttering closed.

"Sure, sure," I whispered, running my palm over Bella's cooling cheek as her body continued to convulse.

"She will need to be taken to the hospital immediately if she survives. If she stops breathing, Alice, you must try..." Edward murmured into poignant silence, as his eyes washed over Bella's face which was drawn in an expression of excruciating pain.

With an inscrutable glance at me, he bent over her and, holding her head still with gentle hands as it tried to whip back and forth, he put his lips tenderly, intimately, at her neck. The Wolf growled reflexively and I took a deep, shaking breath to try to control my agitated instinct.

Bella gasped as Edward's teeth pierced her skin.

After a pause, he closed his eyes and began to draw heavily, his cheeks depressing with the pressure. As he took in her blood, Edward became more manic, pulling Bella's arching body into his lap and wrapping his arms tightly around her as the frenzy began. It was sickening; like watching a junky, struggling to get his drug. After a few desperate and frantic swallows, his suckling began to become slow and rhythmic, like a starving baby at the breast. I could hear the throaty sounds of his swallows and I looked over at Alice in distress and fear. As the leech fed on the girl that I loved, her body slowly relaxed; the rigor mortis-like tension in her limbs softened until she was splayed limply over his legs, her breath ragged and uneven. Bella's eyelids fluttered softly as her dark chocolate pupils rolled up into view, dizzyand unseeing. Her face was growing more ashen and wan by the minute but her mouth opened and closed as if she were trying to speak.

"Bella," I whispered. I wiped my nose with the back of my hand and reached a shaking finger out to stroke her hair.

"Jacob! Don't touch!" Alice hissed.

I quickly withdrew my hand back to my lap and a pitiful whimper trembled Bella's chalky lips. I looked up over at Alice, out of my mind with panicked worry.

Alice was watching Bella intently as the sound of Edward's soft, slow, pulling gulps and swallows marched on.

"It is almost time, Jacob. I will get him to unlatch, and you throw him back. He will fight you...he will fight you hard; be ready. Jasper, you help," she whispered, not taking her eyes off her brother as Jasper approached us, breaking away from the dwindling battle. I stood up behind Edward and watched Alice carefully.

Bella's whimper grew to a weak moan and the hand that was hanging down off Edward's lap twitched frailly as if she were trying feebly toshoo a mosquito.

"Edward stop! Her blood is clean!" Alice suddenly spoke with more commanding tenor than I ever thought that small body contained.

Edward's eyes popped open wildly and he grasped Bella's sagging body to his chest as his gulping frantically quickened like he was trying to get the last bit out of her. I froze in horror seeing his red, glowing pupils and feral sneer. Alice quickly leaned toward Bella's neck and reached a hand out to touch her face and Edward reared up and hissed savagely at her like an animal protecting a meal.

"Now!" Alice shouted.

I wrapped my arms around his torso and pulled him back. Alice held fast to Bella's lifeless form and Jasper made Edward release her body. Edward quickly reached up to grab me and twisted in my arms with a feral hiss. I used every ounce of strength to hold him as Jasper helped pull him away from Bella and Alice.

I quickly threw him out of my arms and turned in a crouch, Jasper at my side.

Edward's body slammed into the wall with a crash, broken tiles and black silt raining down over him. I was confused; the angle of my throw hadn't allowed me to use such force– I was going to rely on Jasper's defensive help after throwing him a short distance – it was almost as if he had thrown himself along with me.

I blinked as he shook his head and stared at me with those haunting red eyes.

"Edward... E-Edward...we have to take care of Bella," I whispered urgently holding my hands up, placating.

An inhuman keening wail bubbled up from his lips still slick with Bella's blood, and he pressed his body back against the wall as he brought a clawed hand to his mouth.

He was trying to resist! Some part of his mind was fighting with his instinct and battling that tormenting frenzy I saw in his eyes. In a flash of insight, I understood how hard all this was for him. In thatmoment, I saw him as an innocent victim of circumstance, instinct, and nature.

We had more in common than I had ever realized.

Motioning to Jasper to take over the Edward-watch, I turned back to Bella where Alice was anxiously leaning over her.

"Jacob, she isn't breathing!" Her whisper was laced with a shriek.

I knelt quickly beside her, my hands uselessly fluttering over Bella's still body as tears sprang again to my eyes. Desperate, I roughly rearranged Bella's limp body to lay straight and bent my mouth to cover hers.

I had to suck in a sob; her lips were dry, lifeless – so radically different from those that I had kissed but a few weeks ago. I sealed my lips around hers and blew – three long breaths – and then moved my hands to her chest. I took a deep hitching breath and tried to still my panic so that the three compressions were even and measured.

Again I covered her mouth and exhaled, beseeching my life to fill her...entreating my heat to warm her deathly cool skin...pleading that her still, silent heart would rouse under my hand. I licked my lips and tasted her blood, her life; cool, salty, and rusted on my tongue. Again I tried to resuscitate her, shutting my eyes as hot tears bled from my eyes and burned rivulets down my face as my hands pressed against her chest.

One...two...three...

A cold hand rested on my shoulder. "Jacob, you must stop. The Change may already be too late," Jasper whispered beside my ear.

One...two...thr-

My wracking sobs burst forth against her still lips where mine capitulated from the useless revival. I wept against her mouth as I kissed her lovingly, tenderly. Desperately savoring the last time her pliant lips would press against mine.

With effort I pulled myself quickly away and sat up, my face glistening with sorrow as grief shook my body. Jasper's hand squeezed my shoulder gently with a kindness and compassion that surprised me. Sniffing, I squeezed my eyes closed and then opened them looking up into Alice's sorrowful but anxious gaze.

"I'm so sorry Jacob," she whispered quickly. "Jasper, pull me away if I cannot stop."

Licking her lips, she brought Bella's forearm to her lips. I averted my eyes to gaze upon Bella's lax face – finally peaceful in its ashen stillness.

At that moment, a ragged gasp sliced through my anguished despair.

Bella's eyes and mouth popped opened suddenly as she drew in an urgent and deep rattling breath. My gaze flitted to Alice, who was still holding Bella's arm at her lips.

"Wait!" I barked frantically. "Bella! Bells! Breathe, honey! Breathe!"

Alice dropped Bella's unscathed arm and leaned over her, bringing a finger to her pulse. "It is very, very weak, Jacob, but it beats."

My eyes were wide in shock and adrenaline surged, burning yet again through my veins. "Breathe, honey. Oh baby..."

After that first initial gasp, Bella's breath panted shallow and fast as her eyes rolled back into her head – whites only eerily showing.

We had to get her to the hospital. Now.

Putting my arm underneath her shoulders, I propped her up, delicately, to aid her fragile breathing. Silent tears continued, trickling off my jaw as I brought a hand to stroke her cheek, pushing her matted, damp hair back from her bruised, ashen face.

I glanced over to where Edward was still pressing himself up to the wall gasping in deep, shaky breaths, his eyes wild and red. I couldn't tell how sentient he was yet, but he hadn't moved since Jasper had stood down his guard.

Just in case he could hear me, I called out to him, "Edward! She's breathing. You did it!" There was no indication that he could understand.

Putting my arms under Bella's legs, I stood as easily as if she were weightless. Usually light, she felt a mere husk of herself.

"Jasper, can you take her? Will the blood-scent be too difficult?" Alice asked standing beside me.

Jasper shook his head solemnly and held out his arms to me. I hesitated and carefully transferred Bella's fragile, wilted body into his arms – I didn't want to let her go, but could hardly go running through the streets in the nude.

"Go, I will meet you at the hospital," I spoke urgently as Jasper looked down at Bella's drawn face and labored light breaths, rearranging her tenderly against his chest.

I met Alice's eyes and she nodded pressing her lips together in determination. With a glance up at Jasper, the two vampires streaked across the platform, leaping effortlessly over their dismembered kin.


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Chapter 16 Changes


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Jacob

'

several hours later

The slow hissing wheeze of the ventilator, punctuated by the rhythmic beep of monitors, kept time to Bella's struggle for life. Sitting on the hard, metal stool beside the hospital bed, I intently watched each frail, assisted rise and fall of her chest. Reaching out a shaky and tentative finger, I touched her hand closest to me, stroking lightly down her cool skin and around the IV tubing.

She was so pale. So cold. I choked back a sob and collapsed my head in my hands, elbows resting on the pristine white sheets.

With the whispered bleak prognosis hanging over her ICU hospital bed, I was wondering what the hell I had been thinking forcing Edward to yank her back into her human body when I hadn't been able to save her. God, I was an idiot. Here her heart fluttered like a moth inside her chest and she held on to each feeble breath with white knuckled effort, when by this time she could have been Changed, immortal and strong. I rubbed my face and groaned, consumed with worry and regret.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn't hear the footsteps approach until the door to the room opened. I looked up to see a nurse hold it open for Sam as he returned again with two cups of coffee from the cafeteria.

I pulled my shoulders back and wiped a hand impatiently across my wet cheeks, pressing my lips together in a feeble attempt to give a show of strength.

God, I was a fucking mess.

The empathic look in Sam's eyes told me I looked it too. And, that he understood – it was just a handful of years ago that our situations were reversed and he had been sitting at Emily's bedside.

I puffed air into my cheeks and blew it out slowly into the silence as I stood and accepted the coffee he handed me over the bed. I then collapsed back down on the stool looking blankly at my reflection in the black, steaming liquid.

"So...what does the Doctor say?" Sam asked in a hushed voice. He had left to get coffee and get out of the way when the doctor had come in to talk to me – after I had finally been allowed in her room.

"They still don't know yet. She said that in the next twenty-four hours we'll know whether Bella will make it," I sighed into my cup, "or not."

I squeezed my eyes closed for a moment of pregnant silence.

Sam finally sighed and then smacked his lips. "Well, your dad and Chief Swan should be here soon," Sam offered hesitantly, taking a sip of his coffee.

I nodded holding the styrofoam cup in both hands between my knees. I would be glad to see my dad – his unflappable calm was always comforting – but it was going to be hard to see Charlie. Sam had done all the talking to Billy and then he had taken it from there, bless him. But, Sam had carefully skirted around the details of his conversations.

One of the droning beeps sped up, double-timing, and I looked anxiously up at Bella's wan, unchanged features. Seconds before I could press the "call button" the monitor settled back down, and I restlessly rearranged the blanket covering her, as my eyes washed over her battered face. God, Bella...I wanted to protect you...I was supposed to protect you...

There was another deafening silence that stretched on for several minutes until Sam cleared his throat awkwardly. I reluctantly looked up at him.

One of Sam's hands was stuffed into his pocket, and he was watching me with an inscrutable expression. He took a slow sip from his coffee and finally spoke softly, "Jake, it wasn't your fault."

I set my coffee down on the bedside table. Propping my elbows on my thighs, I let out a long breath though my teeth as I closed my eyes. The hell it wasn't.

Sam continued quietly, "There was no way we could know that leech was going to Turn her then...it was so sudden..."

I frustratedly grabbed fistfuls of hair on either side of my head and ground out, "I fucking should have Phased earlier...or taken that leech out first...or seen it coming...or something..."

Sam interrupted, his voice descending to its 'official' register as he admonished, "Jacob, you did just what you had to do. Edward told you – how many times? – that you had to take out Aro first; otherwise, the rest of it wouldn't have mattered. And, you took out that creepy son of a bitch single-handedly before those damn bloodsuckers even knew what hit 'em! There was nothing else you could have done..." Sam stopped, realizing that all the logic in the world wouldn't make me feel better.

Sighing he took another sip of coffee. In my mind, I went over the battle for the hundredth time; it was so not like me to dwell on the past, but right now I didn't feel even remotely like myself.

"Jacob..." Sam began again softly after a moment, and I looked up. "You know that I – of all people – know exactly how you are feeling right now...but you have to just let it go and accept it so you can be there for her, with her – instead of wasting precious time hating yourself." His eyes held my gaze meaningfully over the steaming rim of his cup before he took another slow sip.

I returned his gaze for a moment and then nodded, knowing he was right. I was amazed at how uncharacteristically vulnerable he was allowing himself to be. I had never heard him even allude to his experience with Emily – not even in the Pack mind. I squared my shoulders and grabbed my own cup from the table and took a sip, looking down at the black, muddy liquid.

Sam pressed further, "Look, we're all worried about Bella, but we're also battle-weary, and drained – hell, this last day and half has been nothing but a straight adrenaline rush! It will all look different later." He paused a moment, but I didn't look up. "Listen, the Pack has finished the clean up, and I need to get them back to the Rez. But, when you come home we'll debrief...we'll have a meeting and –"

"I'm leaving the Pack," I interrupted suddenly, looking up and meeting Sam's gaze almost in challenge. The words surprised me as much as Sam when they left my lips, but something about them instantly soothed some part of my ragged soul.

Sam froze, his mouth comically open before snapping it shut, and then he switched his weight to the other foot uncomfortably. "Jacob...now is not the time to make a decision like that..." his voice was almost a whisper, his gaze searching.

My eyes washed over Bella's lifeless form in front of me. The ventilator droning on was making her frail chest rise and fall to the staccato beeping of the monitors, and her heavily bandaged shoulder nearest to me was pulling oddly at the movement.

"No, now is the time," I whispered as I contemplated all I could lose in the next twenty-four hours. I looked back up at Sam.

His brow furrowed in confusion and worry as he raked his hand through his hair, but then he said it – the issue that had been hanging, unexamined but still tangible, between us. "Look, I talked to your dad. There are complications with the Alpha thing -"

I interrupted him, I had already completed this train of thought well ahead of him, "It can't be undone, Sam."

Over the course of the last day I had clearly broken through the Alpha ranking and undeniably asserted my dominance. I guess my birthright and genes had finally kicked in when they were really needed.

His eyes searched the room and then returned to mine. "Jacob, I can step down," he whispered soberly.

I barked a laugh. "Yeah, right," I rolled my eyes and our gazes met in a cleansing moment of conspiratorial humor as we both imagined the disaster of that little vignette. Sam wouldn't be able to make himself step down in a million years...not quietly at any rate.

"I could try," he grinned.

"C'mon Sam. You know that's not my thing." I wrinkled my nose and with an exaggerated cartoon-high girl voice added, "plus you're so good at it!"

He snorted, but heard the sincere compliment – he had worked hard and gone through a lot of shit to become the leader he was.

His eyes shifted to the floor as I watched his mind reel from the irrevocable implications of tonight to the Pack. Even if, as humans, we tried to pretend that all of this hadn't changed anything, every fiber of what we were could not begin to ignore it. I suddenly realized that, all evening, Sam and I had already been relating to each other differently: more like equals...friends.

It was funny, but this whole event had been a subconscious but undeniable turning point for me on many levels. And, I didn't even really care.

From that brief moment of levity, I returned to reality and my fingers snaked under Bella's small, cool hand and held it gently. All of this Pack stuff, was just a passing thought for me; it wasn't even in my periphery right now. My entire focus was Bella.

Sam didn't get that.

"Well there's gotta be something we can do. We'll figure it out later, we don't have to decide anything now..." he pressed on.

I murmured softly, "It's not about the Pack...I'm giving up the Wolf, Sam. I'm giving up Phasing."

"What?" Sam's voice was incredulous coughing once and choking on his coffee. I didn't look up from where my fingers interlaced with Bella's.

"When Bella wakes up...if she wakes up," my voice broke and I swallowed. I couldn't allow myself to even consider that possibility right now. "I just want to be with her. Whatever...however it ends up with us. I just wanna just be with her, live my life...our lives – like fucking normal people...without all this...this insanity," I whispered bitterly.

My hand released hers, snaking carefully out from under her lax fingers, and I reached up to brush a single strand of hair from her face, avoiding the ventilator tubes. I tried to focus on my own calming breath as my agitation rose.

I bit out quietly, "I'm sick of it, Sam. Sick of fucking all of it. It never should have been like this...she never should..." my voice trailed off into silence as I stroked a hand ever so lightly over her bruised cheek.

I looked up suddenly and Sam turned as our sensitive hearing heard the sound of footsteps approaching down the hallway. Our noses told us who it was before the door even cracked: vampires.

Both reflexively tense – though we recognized their particular scent – we watched as the door opened and the nurse peeked in.

In the hall were Alice and Edward.

"There can be only two visitors at a time in ICU," the nurse informed us in a stern, nasal voice.

Sam gave her a two-fingered wave, "I was just leaving, ma'am." He motioned for Alice to come in.

"And, I'm only staying for a minute before I go pick up Dr. Cullen," Alice's high pixie voice announced with a normalcy I envied.

"Oh yes, the Specialist," the nurse frowned. "Alright then, only a minute?"

Alice nodded vigorously with a beguiling twinkle in her eye and the nurse's harsh professional demeanor melted into a broad, enchanted smile. Damn vampires.

Sam turned and made eye contact with me, his guard back up and expression formal and serious. He lifted his chin in my direction as he paused in the door. "I'm going to take the Pack back to the Rez. Call me if you need anything." He held my gaze meaningfully a moment longer – a thousand words communicated by that one look.

I finally nodded pursing my lips.

As the nurse withdrew, Alice stepped into the room, looking back encouragingly to Edward whose eyes were glued to the ground, hands shoved into his pockets.

"Hey," I murmured a greeting as I took a sip from my bitter coffee.

"Hi, Jacob. How is she?" Alice asked softly.

I shrugged, "She's alive right now. They still don't know if she'll stay that way."

Alice nodded soberly and came to Bella's side as Edward shuffled in to lean against the wall of the small room at the foot of the bed.

Bringing an alabaster hand up, Alice gently stroked Bella's forehead with a quizzical expression. Wrinkling her nose she complained, "She smells funny."

My shoulders slumped as I sighed, "Yeah, it's all the blood transfusions, I think."

Alice nodded. She looked back and forth between Edward's and my dismal expressions. "Well...as much as I want to join this party, I have to go pick up Carlisle and Esme from the airport. We'll be back in an hour or so," she slapped her thighs, trying to sound cheerful.

I nodded, looking down at my cup, which I was turning aimlessly in my hands. With a final sigh, she flitted out of the room.

Edward and I sat in silence for several minutes, the machines continuing their whirring and beeping sentry with us.

"She's so pale," Edward finally whispered.

I glanced back at her face where the bruising had deepened to purple splotches – starkly highlighted by her ashen skin. Her cheeks were distorted strangely with the ventilator piece taped to her mouth. Her shoulders looked thin and her body hollow under the thin dressing gown – she looked frail and very ill.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I hadn't seen Edward since he had sucked all the venom out of the girl that I love – since he had fought that frenzy for her human life.

"You saved her life, Edward. Thank you," I spoke softly, tearing my eyes from her to look at him with my sincerity.

"We have yet to see if it's saved," he whispered poignantly. His gaze left Bella to meet mine, sorrow and self derision reflected deep within their eerie crimson depths. "No, Jacob...we wait to see if she manages to cheat death that yet again I have brought to her door."

"No, c'mon. There was no way you could know about the Volturi – and if it weren't for you, they would still have her. I saw how hard it was for you to save Bella, but you tried and you stopped...and you did it." I looked down into my coffee feeling a hundred years old myself. "I'm grateful that you were able to undo what I didn't prevent. For saving her life…when I couldn't..." I breathed out a sigh.

After a moment, I heard Edward push off the wall and walk a few steps toward me. I looked up to find him standing just a step away, an almost – warm? – expression on his face.

"I didn't do it for you, pup. Surely you realize by now that I am hardly that noble," Edward raised an eyebrow and his lips pulled back in a smile that showcased his sharp teeth and brought an exaggerated, comical ferocity to his urbane countenance.

I sniffed a laugh at the undercurrent of humor he was injecting into our adversarial history – one night had changed so much. "Well thanks anyway."

With that mercurial vampiric abruptness, Edward turned serious, returning his gaze to Bella. "I did it for her," he whispered. "It is what she would have wanted, Jacob."

I rubbed my face. "How do you know that? What do I know? She could have been strong and immortal right now...instead of broken and barely alive."

Edward sighed softly and sat on the edge of the bed, placing his palms together in his lap thoughtfully, "She would have wanted a chance to be with you."

My gaze snapped to Edward and I searched his glowing red eyes, questioningly. "You said yesterday that 'the tables were turned.' Just what exactly did that mean?"

Pursing his lips he glanced over at Bella, "I told you, I went to see her: I wanted to show her I wasn't a monster. I wanted to show her that I could love her. And, she was still so enticing, so mysterious, so what I wanted. I needed to be sure that we weren't….that she would be happy without me. So I kissed her."

His expression grew wistful with the memory before his gaze roamed back to mine. I flushed, trying to ignore the reflexive flash of heat.

"I offered her my undying love right there – offered to take her as mine however she wanted; I could and would have given her anything and everything."

Then Edward looked me dead in the eyes, "But, it wasn't enough. She couldn't accept it, Jacob – she told me that she's in love with you."

I tore my gaze from his to look at Bella in surprise. Things had gone so wrong between us the last time, I wasn't sure if I would even get another chance at friendship. Was she really so sure of her feelings that she would say this to Edward? That she would turn down all he could offer her for...for me? I realized that there was a part of me that still thought that she had been with me only because she couldn't be with him. When she could have had anything she wanted – and knew it – she chose me?

I shook my head in disbelief, mouth slightly ajar, and turned back to him.

"I wanted you to know that – if she..." Edward swallowed and left his sentence unfinished. We were both all too aware of that possible ending.

I closed my eyes briefly willing my swelling heart not to jump to conclusions, but hearing these words brought a much needed glimmer of hope to the bleak despair of the evening.

"Thank you, Edward. I..." I stopped – I didn't know what to say, really. I wanted to tell him that I understood him better now...that I no longer hated him...that I appreciated what he was and admired what he did with it...that I realized we were both victims of fate and weren't so very different after all...that I thought maybe – just maybe – we could be friends someday. But, it all seemed empty and useless with fragile Bella lying beside us, tenuously holding onto life.

Suddenly remembering that I didn't need to speak to be understood by him my gaze snapped up to his.

Edward gave me a small knowing smile, "You're welcome, Jacob."

I looked down at my coffee quickly in chagrin, but secretly (or not so secretly) glad that he could hear all the words that I didn't know how to speak.

Suddenly Edward tensed. "Jacob, things are about to become…well, let's just say that I can hear Charlie's thoughts from the parking lot," he grimaced and I groaned. I wasn't looking forward to this.

Edward stood and returned to lean against his wall while we silently waited.

We both turned toward the door before it opened. The nurse held it while a wild-eyed Charlie burst in. In the wide hallway I could see that Sue was pushing my dad to just outside the door.

"Oh God, Bells! Baby!" Charlie cried, anguish making his voice hoarse.

I stood reflexively as he threw himself at the hospital bed before abruptly halting, hands raised mid-air above his daughter. His eyes washed over her frantically, taking in her feeble condition. Stunned dismay, fear, and worry etched his face. He brought a hand up to roughly wipe at the wetness dangerously pooling in his eyes.

"Bells...oh, baby," he breathed, a hand making its way exaggeratedly around the tubes at her face to barely touch her hair. He bit his lip as he tilted his face sideways to look at hers.

After a moment, he looked up and over at me. "What in all hell happened to her?" he ground out in a harsh whisper.

I opened my mouth to answer, but I hadn't even begun to think in "real life" terms yet – I had been too distraught to come up with a good, mundane excuse – if there even was one.

Edward stepped forward then, rescuing me. "Sir, there was an accident," he began softly, eyes locked on Charlie.

Charlie whipped his head around to Edward, his mouth hanging open, "You! You're always here! You're always here when she's hurt! What'd you do this time to her?"

A deep red immediately rushed to his face as his voice rose – paralyzing worry being transformed into rage as he turned on Edward.

With wolf-reflexes, I vaulted over the foot of the bed to intercept him, my big body blocking his vision of Edward entirely.

"Whoa, easy there, Charlie," I said softly, holding my hands up, placating.

"Easy? Easy! Jesus, Jake, get out of my way for Christ sakes before I run you through! My girl is lyin' there because of – because of him! I have just about had enough of that goddamn assho- ..." Charlie sprayed my face with his wrath.

The nurse interrupted sternly, "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave. This is an ICU, and this patient is very sick."

I rolled my eyes; that was so not the right thing to say, nurse.

Charlie turned on the nurse, face beet red and finger violently pointing. "This patient? This patient is my daughter! And I'm Chief of Police in..."

Pursing my lips, I took hold of Charlie's upper arm and quickly pushed him ahead of me out into the hall. He resisted, stumbling a step and then, as if by a pin, immediately deflated.

With an apologetic glance toward Edward, I ducked into the hall. Billy was in his chair across the wide hallway, Sue standing worriedly beside him. Charlie was massaging his temples and pacing back and forth.

"Charlie..." Sue began softly.

He stilled her with a dismissing flat hand and continued pacing.

She looked up at me, worried – it was not like him. Charlie was not the most verbal of men, but he was always patient and kind with Sue. He adored that woman.

I smiled comfortingly, rolling my eyes at Charlie in an exaggerated humorous expression, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Sorry Sue, can you give us a minute?"

She nodded, relaxing against me. "Coffee?" she asked, looking at Billy and me.

We both nodded and, with a little hug around my waist, she headed down the hall toward the cafeteria.

As I was turning back to Charlie, Billy put a staying hand on my arm and caught my gaze. "I'm proud of you, son," he said quietly, cryptically.

After a stunned second, I grinned, uncomfortable with the uncharacteristic overt approval. I wondered just how much Sam had told him. I knew my dad loved me and accepted me, but we were so different. There was part of me that swelled at finally winning his admiration on his terms.

I watched while a knowing smile bloomed slowly on his face – I swear that man reads minds sometime.

Clearing my throat, I turned back to Charlie, who was still pacing manically. "Charlie, Edward saved Bella's life," I informed him simply.

Charlie stopped mid-stride, his back facing me, and then spun around, anger darkening his expression.

"The hell he did!" he yelled.

"Shhhh..." Billy hushed him.

"The hell he did," Charlie didn't miss a beat but lowered his voice to a soft whisper. "You saw her that night – that boy is bad news, I tell ya. And look at her now! She's accident prone...but she's never...I'm gonna..." He started to ramp up again.

"Calm down, Charlie. That's not gonna help Bella any," Billy soothed in his even voice.

Charlie abruptly stopped his pre-tirade and slumped against the wall, rubbing his face.

"Hey, I know. I used to hate the bloodsu-...the guy too, but he really isn't all that bad. He really does care for her. A lot. Heck, if it wasn't for Edward, Bella would..." I choked. I couldn't finish my sentence as the vision hit me like a sucker-punch: Bella writhing on the ground and then lifeless, not breathing.

Charlie rubbed his face with a heavy sigh. "Jesus, Jake...what the hell happened to her? Is she going to be alright?" He sounded like I felt: adrenaline spent and bone-weary tired.

"They don't know yet. Charlie, she lost a lot of blood, and she's really weak," I whispered, suddenly feeling very anxious that I was not in there with her.

Charlie looked up at me, recognizing my dire tone of voice. Immediately his mind switched from Edward and "how" to worry over Bella's survival.

"I wanna see her," he echoed my thoughts exactly, his voice stretched taut.

I turned back to the door, and let him in. The nurse was checking the vital readings on the far side of the bed. Edward was still against the wall at the foot of the bed, forehead etched in worry.

Charlie stepped forward to the bed as if in slow motion. Standing beside her, he brought his fist up to press against his mouth, as his eyes glistened with anguish.

I helped my dad park by the open door, itching to get back to my post beside Bella – where the nurse was standing – but I didn't want to push it since she had obviously relaxed her visitor rules.

After a moment of silence – the rasping ventilator and steady beeps continually punctuating the gravity of Bella's condition – Charlie wiped his nose with a sniff and turned to the foot of the bed.

"So...uh...Edward. Sorry 'bout tha-...er.. uh...I understand that I've got you to thank that Bella's still here," Charlie mumbled, looking uncomfortable before his expression became solemn and sincere. "So...thanks," Charlie nodded to Edward before his eyes returned to his daughter.

Edward's gaze found mine and his lips curved slightly in the faintest of smiles.


'

'

Chapter 17 In Jacob's Arms


.'

'

Bella

I inhaled deeply, feeling like it was the first breath I had ever taken. Letting it out slowly through my mouth, I squeezed my eyes shut. The sounds of beeping gradually surfaced in my consciousness. Experimentally, I moved my head back and forth. The crisp sheets crinkled in my ears. I frowned – there was something on my face. I tried to raise my left hand, but a sharp pain burned up my side, making me suck in a breath through my teeth. After a moment, I swallowed thickly and tried again – slowly raising my heavy right hand to investigate this time. I found oxygen tubing at my nose.

I licked my dry, chapped lips, steeled myself, and opened my lead-lidded eyes. I blinked as the dim room swam into view.

Yup, I was afraid of that: it was definitely a hospital. Barely turning my head on the pillow – my neck was so stiff – I looked around me. The periphery of my vision was ringed by institutional white walls, a curtain partition pushed back beside the bed, an IV bag, and various equipment.

I closed my eyes for a moment and took a few breaths. Slowly, my awareness took stock of my body that felt weak, hollow, and sore all over.

And cold. I was so cold, all of me – except for my left side.

Something deliciously warm and heavy was lying over my left hip. I slowly brought my erratic focus down my body and found tousled black, silky hair, a tee-shirted shoulder, and a solid brown muscled arm, sprawled partially over me – the rest of his body precariously draped over a stool.

Oh, God. Jacob!

A flashback of horrors, excruciating pain, and mind-numbing fear all flooded my mind's eye –cutting to the quick with shockingly vivid detail. I froze as I relived the paralyzing agony, sucking in a sharp breath with a little moan.

"Shh...it's okay Bella. You're okay," I heard the hushed, silken words whisper over me.

My eyes searched around frantically – rolling oddly and still not really following my brain's command. When my gaze finally reached the foot of my bed, I saw him.

"Edward!" I cried frantically, but my fallow voice was nearly soundless.

"Bella," he hesitated and then stepped forward to the side of the bed, as if he had been waiting to see what my reaction would be.

God, what had happened?

The last thing I remembered was Jacob convulsing in fatal pain, and I was submerged in fathomless despair desperately trying to get to him. Had it been a nightmare? Then, why was I in the hospital? How could this be?

I'm alive. Edward is alive. Jacob is alive – here – warm and breathing against me!

I squeezed my eyes shut with the overwhelming emotion. My mind was so sluggish and confused, but my heart raced as evidenced by the monitors, which were sounding like electronic popcorn.

A cool, comforting hand rested on my arm, and my eyes popped open.

Edward had moved to the right side of the bed and squatted down beside me while I was having my little panic attack.

I took a moment to calm down, trying to ignore the annoying, correspondingly slowing beeps. Finally, I managed a tentative smile. Edward brought his smooth hand tenderly to my cheek.

"What happened..." My voice was still barely a rough whisper.

"Shh...there is time for that later. How do you feel?" His sweet breath wafted over me as he gently stroked my face.

I opened my eyes and nodded, not trying to speak again. My mouth was dry and my throat was so sore!

"We almost lost you, Bella," he murmured, his hand stilling to cup my cheek. He gazed at me with a complex expression that I didn't understand.

Then, I remembered Marcus' bite and the Burning. My body had felt like it was physically incinerating; an unbearable, boiling, scathing pain that endured far beyond what was remotely humanly bearable. It had been like being skinned and gutted alive by fire. Shuddering, I automatically raised my hand to my neck and found a gauze bandage.

My eyes widened as I tried to remember what had come next and searched his face, a little gasp of shock catching in my throat. His eyes were a vivid crimson, not their usual honeyed amber.

He cast his gaze down and nodded to my unasked question, "I had to suck out most of your blood to get all of the venom. It almost killed you. I almost killed you, Bella. I'm so sorry."

I brought my hand over his and squeezed it fiercely against my cheek. "Please don't be sorry," I rasped intensely and emphatically shook my head. "Thank you...thank you so much, Edward. Are you okay?" I squeezed his hand, searching his face with rising concern and agitation at how hard it must have been for him, and how he must feel now.

"Shhhh..." he soothed. "I'm fine."

My brow was still furrowed, not sure he was telling the truth. I thought about all the sacrifices he and Jacob had made for me, and my eyes burned as my raw emotions erratically swung from one extreme to the other.

"Shhh...really, I am fine," he assured me, trying to soothe me.

He paused and then smiled mischievously, "Actually, now that you are awake, I can appreciate the experience. It looks like I can have my cake and eat it too – you are every bit as delicious as you smell." He grasped my hand and brought it to his curved lips.

The humor immediately diffused my emotional turmoil, and I laughed before coughing painfully. Eyes watering, I whispered, "Not like tofu?" in reference to a conversation we'd had many years ago when he told me about his 'vegetarianism.'

He chuckled freely, sitting on the edge bed and bringing my hand to his lap. He leaned over and pressed his cool lips to my forehead. "Not like tofu at all. You are exquisitely delectable, and... very satisfying. I haven't felt this sated, this strong...this peaceful in decades."

I smiled broadly, ignoring my cracked lips.

Jacob stirred, and I was pulled back to the present as he threw his arm more over my legs with a little groan. I looked down at him, processing a cocktail of strong emotions that instantly welled up for several of his slow breaths. I returned my gaze to Edward, a million questions in my eyes.

"You have been unconscious for over three days, Bella. Jacob has stayed beside you – watching over you without pause. He just fell asleep an hour ago." He smiled, his gaze washing over Jacob with a sentimental expression of...approval? Benevolence? My brow furrowed thoughtfully.

Edward released and patted my hand and rose. "I must go now. I just wanted to see you awaken so I could say goodbye."

At my surprised and anxious expression he smiled, gently touching my cheek again. "We will see each other again, I promise. But for now...live your life well Bella, as I will live mine."

He bent over and pressed his smooth lips to mine tenderly, chastely. "I will always remember our time together," he whispered against my mouth and then pulled back gazing at me with an affection that was unencumbered.

Another little piece fluttered softly into place inside me.

"I'll miss you," I mouthed trying pitifully to speak, as tears began to burn in my eyes.

"Shhh..." he smiled. "Now wake him; he was so worried...as was I."

With a final stroke to my hair, Edward turned and silently slipped out of the room.

I stared at the door for a moment after it closed, remembering the time spent with Edward. It seemed like a hundred years ago. I felt like an entirely different person.

A person whose body currently felt like it had been run over by a truck.

Bringing my gaze to the ceiling, I let my eyes close for a moment. I was so tired, both physically and emotionally. My left hand roamed the few inches necessary, with only minimal pain, to contact the comforting silky head lying on the sheets. I opened my eyes and watched my hand, threaded with tubing, feebly combing his shiny black mane away from his face.

My beautiful Jacob, he was crashed completely out. His face was lax, mouth slack – which had him drooling like a little kid – and his breathing was steadily and deep. My heart melted at how vulnerable he looked lying on me – cheek pillowed against my side, arm thrown haphazardly over my legs.

I couldn't believe that we had made it. The memory of Jacob being tortured by Jane burned in my mind, and tears finally broke free and trailed down my cheek. I had nearly broken my arms in the grip of that guard trying to get to him. Though, I'm not sure what I could do if I had broken free. I just wanted her to stop – I would have given anything, including my life.

Yet here we both were, safe and alive. My hand stilled on his cheek as emotion and gratitude overwhelmed me.

Jacob's breathing abruptly hitched and his eyes squeezed tightly for a moment, then blinked open groggily. I smiled down at his sleepy face.

His breath caught and after a few more blinks, he sat up – oh, so slowly – staring at me with an endearing expression of amazement and disbelief.

"Bella," he breathed, his eyes washing over me as a slow smile lit his tired face.

I scooted my lame left hand over to cover his on the bed. "Hey," I tried talking again and failed even more miserably than I had with Edward.

"Shhh, honey." He reached up and gently took my right hand and brought it to his lips as he scooted the stool up toward the head of the bed. Putting my hand down carefully, he brought his warm, calloused palm to my cheek, as his gaze cataloged every inch of my face.

"God, you're finally here. It's so good to see you awake. How do you feel?" he asked quietly, smoothing my hair back from my face.

I nodded silently – not trying to speak again – transfixed by his deep black eyes.

He stared at me a few more seconds and then dropped his head to my shoulder. I brought my other hand to hold his head to my chest, stroking gently. It felt so good to hold him, to feel his warmth seeping into me, to feel his breath rising and falling against my body. In that moment, thoughts of that night melted away. I was flooded by the realization of how much I had missed him, how much I needed him, how much I never wanted to be away from him again.

Jake picked his head up slowly and sniffed. My heart broke at the sight of liquid and emotive tears in his lovely and sorrowful eyes. My hand came up to tenderly wipe the wetness that had brimmed over to flow down one cheek. Jake smiled soggily and brought his hand to roughly rub his face with a sniffing laugh. "Sorry. It's just...well...I didn't know if you'd make it. I didn't know if I had made the right decision..."

My eyebrows furrowed in confusion, and he continued.

"The Volturi's powers don't work on us; it was an acting job, so we could milk the element of surprise," Jake supplied. I rolled my eyes; that was the missing puzzle piece to how the heck we all could still be here.

"The Pack took out the Volturi, Bells. You're safe. The Cullens are safe. I tore apart Aro and that bitch Jane myself." His eyes flashed for an instant as he remembered something. I sucked in an agitated breath imagining him battling the Volturi, and his hand unconsciously soothed my cheek.

"That bastard Marcus had already bitten you – I took him out, too – and by the time we could get to you…it was...you were Turning." Jake pressed his big warm hand against my cheek intensely, and closed his eyes. Another tear slipped down his cheek to be caught by my finger.

"They said it was too late...but I begged Edward to try." His eyes opened, and he looked at me with an expression of despair. "There had to be something he could do...I made him try. He...fed-" his voice broke, "he sucked out the venom, and most of your blood. It was hard for him Bella, but he made himself stop." As if just realizing that we were alone, he sat up a little more and scanned the room. "Edward..? "

"He left," I barely whispered.

Jacob swallowed and looked back to me. "You almost didn't make it. Bells, I don't know if I did the right thing..I'm sorry, I was so selfish. I just couldn't let you go. I was–"

I placed a finger over his lips as his anxiety and agitation palpably rose.

"Shhhh...thank you," I mouthed, running my finger over his lips to cup his jaw with my hand. Jacob stilled, taking a deep breath and looked at each of my eyes. I smiled sadly at the swirling emotion in his eyes: relief, worry, anxiety, and aching fatigue.

I wanted to take it away.

With my hand on his jaw, I pulled Jake's face toward mine. He slowly dipped down, guided by my hand and brushed his lips across mine gently, tenderly. My hand lightly skimmed down his face, following his pulse and then to the nape of his neck under his hair. I tried to convey in my touch all the love and gratitude I felt – to comfort that self-doubting pain I had seen in his eyes.

After a few moments of his lips softly skimming over mine, Jacob pulled away a few inches, his eyes crossing as he looked at me, he was so close. Gingerly straightening the oxygen tubing on my face, he smiled hesitantly.

I took a deep shaking breath as what he said sunk into my currently disengaged brain. The Volturi were gone? It would take me a while to truly realize what it felt like to not have their latent retribution hanging over my head. I had lived in such a crisis mode for so long, did I even know how to live a normal life?

Abruptly, vivid flashbacks bombarded every sense and I stiffened: the shock of seeing Jane, the terror at facing death, all of the intense physical pain I had endured, the paralyzing despair at having Jacob share my fate, seeing him writhing on the ground in terminal agony...

I squeeze my eyes shut and shook my head, trying to erase the images and gasped with a little cry. It was all too much right now!

"Shh...honey, it's over," he soothed, understanding.

Like I was drowning, my eyes frantically found Jacob's again, grasping his gaze like a life preserver. I gradually relaxed into the feeling of his warm and gentle hands stroking my face, the sounds of his soothing murmurs. His sweet humid breath across my cheeks.

I let myself float on the heady comfort and relief and let go any worry, thought, or memory of anything outside this room.

"You alright?" Jacob whispered, and I nodded. He sighed softly with his own personal thoughts, eyes sweeping my face.

When I had finally calmed back down, Jacob voiced his private thoughts in a whisper, "Bells, I was so worried. God, I was so worried. I don't know what-" He stopped himself, swallowing as he closed his eyes and let his forehead fall to touch mine.

Taking a deep breath he sat up more like he was trying to pull himself together, rubbing his face briefly. "I don't know what I'm thinking. Charlie, Renee and Phil are staying at the hotel down the street. They can be here in a few minutes. Let me call them..."

His weight shifted slightly as he prepared to stand, but I put a staying hand on his arm, shaking my head. I didn't want to see anyone right now...except for Jacob.

Charlie, Renee...their emotions would drain my energy, I would feel like I had to reassure them. (God, what had they been told about what happened?) It was only Jake who was so much a part of me that it was nothing but comforting to have him here. That's what I needed: comfort, peace, respite. I treasured this moment with this man who, even in my current state of disrepair, made me feel alive and whole.

After a moment's searching hesitation, Jacob smiled, leaning back over me to prop his arm on the other side of my torso. He leisurely gazed into my eyes with an open expression as if he could read my mind, and it pleased him. In that moment, I wished he could.

Slowly his face relaxed into his unassuming sunshine smile. In silent agreement, we both let our fear, worry, and anxiety recede, basking in the moment of being together – regardless of the situation – and a simple peaceful solace descended.

And exhaustion.

Jacob looked like I felt – exhausted to the point of comatose and emotionally drained. I touched the dark circles under his eyes with my finger.

Jacob chuckled. "Yeah, I'm tired – I probably look like shit, I've been up for three days – how are you feeling, Bella?" he whispered, rubbing his cheek on my hand sweetly.

How did I feel? My head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, my body was brittle and sore, and my limbs felt hollow and aching, and I was cold.

And I wanted him closer.

With a little smile I shivered, mouthing "cold" while I pointedly tugged at his shoulder. He stood up, and my face furrowed in disappointment.

"Wait a sec, Bells. I'm gonna do something about that." He silenced my little pouty cry and rolled his eyes.

My eyes followed him as he walked around the bed to the other side – the side that was not a maze of tubing.

He sat on the bed gingerly, tenderly scooching my body over so he could stretch out on his side. Carefully lifting my shoulders, he put his large, muscular arm under my head and enveloped me in his heat. He knew just what I had wanted.

Ahh...his long, warm body melted against me, his leg curling around mine over the sheets, as he gathered me to him in his arms. I nestled into his neck, breathing in his delicious Jake scent, and smiled with satisfaction – warm, safe, held.

With a kiss to my temple, his hot breath tickled my ear as he whispered, "close those eyes, honey. I'm right here."

His cheek rested against my head as he relaxed into the pillow. With a long sigh, his breathing became almost immediately slow and steady.

I felt like I had run a marathon instead of just being awake for twenty minutes and quickly lost the battle with my heavy eyelids.

Ignoring any nagging worries, trauma, or memories, I reveled in the absolute and utter perfection of this moment.

In Jacob's arms.


Chapter 18 A Werewolf Thing

'

'

Almost two weeks later …

'

Bella

'

"Good, Mom, I'm glad you're home safe...

"No, you left at the right time..

"Dad's taking some time off to stay with me... which he doesn't have to do!" I said loudly and pointedly for Charlie's benefit as he watched me talking to Renee on my cell from the lazy boy. She and Phil had just left yesterday morning because they both had to get back to work, but she felt guilty.

"No, Mom! I totally understand! It's not like you get special extra leave for a chronically spastic daughter." I sighed and held the phone away from my ear as she went through the guilt soliloquy yet again.

I finally found a break and took it,"okay, mom. I gotta go eat. I'll talk to you later...

"Yeah, I love you too. Bye."

I clicked the phone off and dropped my head back heavily on the armrest of the couch where I was stretched out under a blanket. I had taken the living room over for the last week since I had come home from the hospital. I was so fucking weak I still couldn't make it up the stairs on my own! I was glad that Renee had gone home; as much as I love her, whenever she was around I ended up taking care of her more than the other way around. And I just didn't have the bandwidth right now.

"Uh, you're hungry?" Charlie stood up quickly with a nervy and hovering concern which had emerged ever since I had gotten home. And redoubled after Renee and Phil finally left - I had never seen him so high-strung.

"No, Dad. Thanks. I just wanted to get her off the phone," I reassured him with a little conspiratorial smile and then exhaled slowly with my fatigue.

Charlie stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked around awkwardly for a moment. "Ah, lemme get you some more water then …" For a second it looked like he was going to say something more, but then he promptly pursed his lips and shuffled into the kitchen.

Oh, God. How the hell was I going to make it through two weeks of this? I closed my eyes. Charlie had taken off the unheard of fourteen days in a row starting after Renee left. Despite my protests and reassurances, he insisted that he would stay home and "make sure everything was okay."

Of course most of his anxiety and concern had to do with the talk he had had with Billy.

My mom - and the rest of the world - had been told the "party line" story of what had happened to me: an explosion in the lab. Edward had found me bleeding to death when he had just happened to come for a visit, but for Ravi it had been too late.

Somehow the Cullens and Pack had cleaned up and planted/rearranged evidence so that it was a convincing enough tale, as long as there was some vampire thralling to cover up the rough edges. I got the distinct impression that this was not an uncommon practice for the vampire community – Jake said they had it down to a science.

Charlie, however, had been told the truth.

He had been too distraught those first days and had seen too much historically to be susceptible to the vampiric illusion. And Billy thought that Charlie had been through enough that he deserved the truth. And I guess I agreed, but I was obviously not able to be a part of the decision at the time.

Afterward hearing the truth though, Charlie shut down. Sue told me that Charlie had barely talked about anything - even to her - but it was obvious to all that he was unusually unsettled.

Dad kept his and my interactions strictly to mundane things like what I wanted to eat or what I wanted to watch on TV - he skirted anything to do with the Cullens, the hospital or what had happened. And he was suffocatingly protective whenever Jake was around.

Jacob told me that Charlie wouldn't even look him in the eye or talk to him after that fateful conversation with his father. I did understand that, with my most recent near death experience compiled with the Billy's revelations, my dad was having a very hard time. But I also found myself feeling protective and defensive of Jake - incensed that Charlie would judge Jacob based on what he was instead of who he was. Lucky for me (and Charlie) I didn't have to witness his prejudice.

I had barely seen Jacob at all.

Jacob had gone back down to Forks shortly after I had waked up and it was obvious I was "safely on the mend." After that, he had only stopped by to see me in person once on the day I came back from the hospital - holding a mylar balloon with a cute cartoon dog on it saying "Welcome Home." (I was going to keep that balloon forever, even after it is deflated, to remember the sight of huge, muscular Jacob holding it awkwardly with an adorable expression of vulnerable sweetness mixed with masculine humiliation.)

We did talk on the phone every day, but he always sounded distant... agitated... tense; like something was very wrong. I assumed (and hoped) it had more to do with the Pack than Charlie, but anytime I tried to bring it up, he evaded.

Suffice it to say, I was worried ...and I missed him - a lot.

Fortunately I had a crazed, hovering father, being exhausted, and feeling like shit (with random anxiety attacks) to distract me.

My dad came back into the living room with a glass of ice water and set it on the table, and then surveyed me. "How you feelin' Bells?" he asked gruffly.

"Good, Dad. I'm fine – really I am. I'm just tired. Doctor Cull-" I stopped mid-word as my dad visibly flinched. "Um, the doctor said it would be another week or so before I really get feeling back to normal."

"Okay... alright. I'm just worried's all," he mumbled raking his hand through his hair and collapsing on the chair heavily.

"I know this has been hard, Dad.. I'm sorry -" I started.

Charlie interrupted me gruffly, "There's nothing for you to feel sorry for, Bells."

I wondered who he thought should be sorry. Sometimes it seemed like he blamed himself for all the stuff that had happened - like he should have known that his daughter had been palling around with a vampire and a werewolf, and should have somehow protected me.

I worried my lip a moment. "This has been such a crappy time for everyone. Now that mom's gone and we can all breathe, why don't we rent a good comedy tonight, get some pizza, and kick back. You, me, and Sue can have a movie night?" I sat up a bit and exchanged my cell phone for the glass of water on the coffee table and took a sip.

"Yeah, that sounds real good. When Sue -" he was interrupted by a knock on the door. Looking up quizzically, he stood to go answer it.

I replaced the glass on the table and fell back heavily, closing my eyes and letting my mind drift.

I had assumed it was the mailman or something at the door until I heard Jake's low voice, "Hey, Charlie. Can we see Bella?"

An automatic warm rush of adrenaline made me sit up quickly, twisting so I could see the door. Charlie was standing purposefully blocking it -his posture clearly communicated hostility.

"Jake!" I chirped happily, ignoring my dad's overprotective antics and not even attempting to mask my excitement.

Jake's frown dissolved immediately as he looked over Charlie's head and gave me a broad smile. Charlie turned, considering me a moment, and I could see his mind coming to the conclusion that there was no excuse he could possibly use that wasn't over-the-top rude to not invite Jacob in. His shoulders deflated slightly.

"Yeah, I guess so," he grumbled to Jake and reluctantly he took his blocking hand off the door frame.

With a dark glance at Charlie that surprised me, Jacob's gaze then locked onto me and he walked into the house intently and directly to the couch. I smiled automatically at him - but I was curious to see Sam entering behind him, offering a subdued nod to Charlie.

Jacob came around the couch, absently and effortlessly pushing the coffee table back, and dropped to his knees, gathering me into a warm hug.

"Bella," he breathed into my hair and then took a long inhale, relaxing his big body against me in seeming relief. All thoughts evaporated as I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled into his solid chest.

Relief indeed! His strong arms around me and just... his energy... mollified some deep, yearning part of me and I sighed in contentment. I couldn't see how I had ignored it for so long - how I felt so right, so whole when Jake was around. It was like my life kept time by the moments we were together - each intersection strung along a fine wire of longing until the next.

"Hey, stop! None of that!" I heard Charlie slam the door and jog over the wooden floor toward us.

Jake stiffened in my arms.

"Jake, c'mon. None of this...she's real weak..." my dad frantically spluttered as he came around the couch. I could see him in front of me, face flushed with agitation as he put a hand on Jacob's broad shoulder and tried to pull him back.

Jake surprised me by growling - a low, deep rumbling in his chest that resonated against my body.

"C'mon Dad it's fine!" I suddenly had the feeling that we were headed for a potentially disastrous situation. And I had no idea why.

My dad removed his hand - of course he hadn't been able to even so much as budge Jacob - and stood back crossing his arms defensively over his chest. "Jake, I don't want you- uh, I want you to stand up and - "

Jake promptly released me and stood up slowly with a vibrating energy, not even meeting my confused and worried gaze. His face was a mask of combustible anger and his jaw was set grimly so cords stood out on his neck. He drew himself up to his impressive height and turned slowly, looking down at Charlie almost threateningly.

My dad was taken aback and uncrossed his arms, quickly fisting his hands at his side. His face reddened further, as he tried to read Jacob's intentions.

"Jacob! Easy!" Sam's resonant voice was commanding, but Jacob didn't look up from where he was holding Charlie hostage with his intensity. I noticed his muscles were quivering; I had never seen Jacob this on edge! What was wrong? I looked frantically between Jake and my dad and then helplessly over at Sam.

Sam glanced at me with a serious expression I couldn't read, and then returned his focus to the charged situation before us.

"Yes?" Jake asked in a mocking tone and I could imagine that sarcastic smirk of his. "You want me to get up and...?"

Charlie swallowed but didn't back down. "Look here Jake. She almost-...I- I almost lost her... Nothing personal, but I don't want you around her right now. I'm not gonna risk- "

"Dad!" I was shocked.

"You thinkIwill hurt her? That seems pretty goddamn personal to me..." Jake ground out in a low rumble.

What the hell? My dad loved Jacob and vice versa. I had never seen either of them act like this before. My mouth hung open in shock.

"Jacob! I think we need to leave..." Sam pressed sternly in warning. Both Charlie and Jake ignored him.

I sprang up from the couch throwing myself between them. "What the hell are you doing? What's wrong with you two?"

As quickly as I had gotten up, that's as quickly as I went down. My vision darkened and I slithered into unconsciousness.

A cold, wet - something - was pressed against my forehead. I blinked and shook my head and struggled to resurface. As muffled voices sharpened, I opened my eyes, picking up just where I had emotionally left off: frantic, worried, and confused.

I was lying in Jacob's arms on the couch and he was holding a towel to my head. His brow was furrowed in concern.

"Bella... can you hear me? Bella..." his voice was soft and urgent.

"Yeah.. I'm fine. I just got up too fast - the blood pressure's still kinda low, I guess," I mumbled. I tried to sit up, embarrassed, but Jake held me fast.

"Shhh...chill. Just wait a second Bells," he murmured.

Quickly I searched for Charlie - worried about what had happened while I was momentarily passed out. My dad was standing in the same exact spot: staring at me in worry - pale and wide-eyed, and looking like he was going to jump out of his skin. Poor Charlie.

I tried to sit up again, and Jake helped me this time, pulling me up and to his side and wrapping a protective arm around me.

I got Charlie's attention. "Dad... I'm fine; the doctor warned us of this, remember? It's no big deal." I soothed.

Charlie swallowed and shoved his hands into his pockets, visibly torn between worry for me and edginess around Jake. I glanced at Sam who was leaning on the arm of the lazy boy with his usual intense and inscrutable expression.

"Dad, it's almost time for Sue to get off from work. Why don't you go pick out that comedy movie. I want some time with Jacob."

Charlie pressed his lips together as if he were trying to keep from exploding.

"Please... please, Dad?" I pressed.

"There's no way I'm leavin' you alone, Bells, with a-... uh, with him. I'm just not risking it. Not for that long," the words tumbled over each other mimicking the inner turbulence that was plain in Charlie's eyes.

My gaze searched his face a moment while I felt Jacob abruptly stiffen and begin to vibrate against me. I needed to get these two apart ...right now.

"Here Dad, take my cell," I put a calming hand on Jacob's trembling thigh as I leaned forward and indicated the phone on the coffee table. "Why don't you go for a walk and give Billy a call. Tell him Jake's over here and that he'll be coming back home soon." I knew Billy would do his best to distract and diffuse him.

Charlie raked his hand through his hair as his eyes searched the floor, and he shifted his weight from one foot to the the other and back again. After a moment he met my gaze again. "I just can't leave you alone again Bells," he said this quietly, almost apologetically.

I heard Jacob's teeth grind audibly and his weight shifted as if he were going to stand. I frantically stayed him with my hand on his thigh and all my strength, glancing over at the set of his jaw in worry.

"I'll stay with her," Sam offered hastily.

Charlie whipped around quickly as if he forgot that Sam were there, and, after a thoughtful moment, he nodded shortly. "Five minutes, Bells," he said, grabbing up the phone.

With a warning glance to Jacob, he turned on his heel and stalked to the door.

I jumped as the door slammed, and Jacob tore his almost predatory gaze from following Charlie to look at me with a tumultuous cocktail of emotions.

Sam immediately collapsed into the chair when Charlie was out of the house. I looked back and forth between them for a moment, watching as Sam closed his eyes and leaned his head back, expelling a sigh.

"Sorry," Jacob mumbled dejectedly under his breath, looking down. He rubbed his forehead with the hand not wrapped tightly around me and I turned more toward him.

"What's wrong, Jacob?" I asked quietly as my eyes washed over his tense profile. His lips were pressed together and he was obviously trying to control his breathing.

Jacob opened his eyes and met my gaze. After a moment he shook his head and mutely collapsed his head on my shoulder.

Confused, I brought my hand up to stroke his silky hair hanging over his face. After a moment - realizing Jacob wasn't going to speak - I looked expectantly over at Sam. He had to be in on it; he didn't usually come over to our house with Jake.

As if he could feel my questions, he opened his eyes and turned his head toward me. "Sorry, Bella. He just really wanted to see you - no, he said he had to see you. Billy told him... hell, I told him ... it would be too hard -y'know with your dad so upset and all, but -" Sam began as if I had a clue.

I knew Charlie was having trouble with the vampire/werewolf thing (imagine that!). I didn't know how much detail Billy had gone into other than obviously naming what Jacob and Edward really were, but Charlie was a man of habit, and even the most mundane changes and surprises didn't sit easy with him.

But what was wrong with Jake?

I swallowed trying to keep my cool with my own rising agitation and worry. "Sam, I don't know what you're talking about."

"He didn't talk to you about it?" Sam sat up suddenly, looking between us with an expression that was a cross between incredulity and the chagrin at spilling a secret.

My concern and the tension of the previous conflict combined to funnel into impatience and anger. " Goddamn it Sam! What the hell are you talking about? Tell me!"

I was just short of shouting it, and at my uncharacteristic raised voice, Jacob tensed up again and his temperature seemed to instantly spike twenty degrees. I glanced at him and then back at Sam. "I've been worried like crazy about him, Sam. What's wrong with him?"

Before Sam could answer, Jacob had sprung to his feet in front of me, crouching, as he stared Sam down with a soft snarl and a vibrating body.

At Jacob's lightning movement, Sam had stood up and fluidly taken a step back with those fast wolfy reflexes. Eyes on Jacob, he raised his hands slowly. "Jacob...calm down! I'm not hurting her, she's just worried about you. She doesn't understand. Do you want me to tell her?" He spoke softly and slowly like he was speaking to a kid ... or a crazy person.

Beyond distraught and frustated, I stood up and put my hand on Jacob's iron-hard arm. I swayed slightly as my blood pressure dipped and he tore his eyes from Sam to look at me protectively. I took that opportunity to grab his face between my hands and turn him more to me, looking deeply into eyes that were wild and swimming with yellow.

"Heyyyy, Jake. Shhhh," I soothed looking from one eye to the other. Slowly, he turned his body to completely face me. Leaning his forehead against mine, his breath came hot and ragged over my face as his arms encircled me. I lovingly rubbed over his chest and up his neck to his cheeks, murmuring soothing nothings as I tried to offer him the settled serenity that I felt just being near him.

As his breathing calmed and shoulders relaxed, I pulled back slightly and examined him. He looked pained, shell-shocked, and very, very tired. With a sad smile, I leaned up and pressed my lips softly to his with a little smack. "Come, honey. Let's sit down..."

I sat back on the couch and pulled him with me. He again gathered me into his arms and leaned his head on my shoulder with a heavy sigh like an exhausted child.

After a minute of my stroking his face, he swallowed and then said in a defeated whisper, "I'm sorry Bella. Fuck... I just can't control it - I'm sorry."

"What can't you control, Jake? What's wrong...?" I tried pulling back but he just buried his face against me.

I turned expectantly to Sam who had relaxed back into the chair. He looked worn out himself.

"What's going on?" I pressed - quietly this time.

Sam let out a long slow breath. "It's side effects from the werewolf thing."

I asked calmly in a monotone, trying to keep the rising worry out of my voice, "Side effects? Why? Is it going to go away? Is he okay?"

"Yeah, he'll be okay eventually... It's just a really hard time for him. The Elders say it's the worst phase of being a werewolf - harder even than ... uh... the beginning," Sam looked intensely into my eyes. I was missing something.

Sam paused, as his eyes left mine to examine Jacob. "Plus he's not sleeping, which just makes it worse."

I realized he was not telling me the whole story - I had a million questions, but obviously now was not the time to get them answered. I could put my own curiosity on the back-burner; Jacob would tell me more when he could. Right now I had to figure out how I could help him.

After a moment of watching me process, Sam gave me an apologetic sigh. "Sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have let him come. I thought you -"

I was snapped out of my thoughts by indignation. "What? Why? Charlie is acting just as bad and he doesn't have the same excuse - well, he's freaked about the stuff Billy told him, but still. He should know Jake better." I wrapped both arms protectively around the huge man beside me.

"Actually Bella, this is the best he's been. It's been really rough. He seems... you seem to help soothe the Wolf," Sam said quietly as he cast his gaze to the floor, complex emotions charging the simple words. Though Sam tried to hide it, if you paid attention, a lot of his reactions came back to his own unresolved feelings around Emily.

After a minute I nodded thoughtfully.

Leaving one arm around Jake, I pulled back, tipping his face up with gentle fingers. Jacob looked at me from under his long lashes as if gauging my reaction. I smiled reassuringly and leaned in to lovingly kiss him. In my periphery I saw Sam get up from the chair and discreetly walk out of the living room, as our lips got caught in a soft, slow, and sumptuous dance. Even worried about him, and with my own tenuous health, a delicious and compelling warmth spread through my body. I quickly tried to reign myself in.

I squeezed my eyes shut a moment. "You okay?" I whispered against his lips.

"Yeah... now I am," he mumbled, pulling back enough to rub his nose against mine. "Jesus, Bells. This sucks," he groaned pitifully.

"Do you want to talk about it?" I asked hesitantly, quietly.

He shook his head. "Not right now, Bells. It's everything I got to control it. I don't wanna- ...I can't-..." he puffed air out of his cheeks and sat up, leaning on the couch and letting his head fall back so he was looking at the ceiling.

"Shh... no worries." I changed into a more comfortable position beside him, pulling one leg up. Stretching over to the coffee table, I picked up the discarded towel that had been apparently dipped in my ice water when I had brilliantly passed out. With slow, calm movements, I brushed his hair back from his face with the rag. I just sat beside him for several minutes, idly drawing the cool rag over his fevered forehead and neck.

But it was killing me to watch him suffer. Finally with a little breath I asked, "Jake, please... is there anything I can do?"

"Nah... just be you. I feel so good just sitting beside you - like it makes me calmer. I feel like I could actually sleep," Jacob breathed as he turned his hand up and held mine that had wandered unconsciously over to cover his.

I smiled, squeezing his hand.

Sam turned from looking out the front window. "Ah, guys... Charlie's coming back.."

Jacob sat up, resigned, and rubbed his face briskly. "I should go," he sighed.

"Do you want to go? " I ventured quietly.

With a little lopsided smile, Jacob shook his head.

"You look exhausted... "

"Yeah. The Wolf won't let me sleep," he groaned as he stood up.

"But it's better here?" I nibbled my lip thoughtfully as I put the towel back down on the table.

He gave me a brief nod.

"Okay... let me deal with Charlie." I started to stand up - slowly - and Jake quickly put a steadying hand under my arm. "You not lookin' all that hot either, Sam," I observed dryly.

"Why thank you for stating the obvious, Ms. Swan." Sam smirked with the first hint of humor I had seen in him today.

"Sam... can you call Seth and ask him to pick up his mom - he's off today, yeah?"
Sam nodded and came back into the living room, looking at me curiously.

My dad opened the front door looking only slightly less agitated than he had when he left. Jacob's hands immediately balled into fists. I had to do this quick and dirty if I was going to be flirting with this disaster waiting to happen.

I dove in: "Hey, Dad. Y'know, I'm feeling real beat. I'm gonna go take a nap, 'kay? Can we do the movie thing tomorrow?" I asked breezily, ignoring the steely gaze he cast toward Jacob.

"Sure thing, Bells," he said carefully as his eyes snapped to mine and narrowed in suspicion.

"Seth is going to pick up Sue so you can stay home." I then looked up at Jake innocently. "Jacob, can you stay with me for a while?"

"Wait a second, Bells...he's leaving...h-he's going home..." my dad quickly stuttered, interrupting.

I didn't take my eyes off Jacob. "Can you please stay, Jake?"

Jacob tore his gaze from glaring at Charlie and looked at me for a second. Then he nodded.

"Well there you have it, dad! We'll give you a call later Sam, you need to sl-"

My dad interrupted again, crossing to me, his finger wagging. "Now wait one minute, Bells! I don't -"

I quickly put a warning hand on Jacob's arm as he growled quietly.

It was my turn to interrupt. "No, Dad. Jake needs me. He's sick..."

Charlie stopped and looked at Jacob quizzically. "Well if he's sick he shouldn't be- "

"Dad, it's a werewolf thing," I said pointedly as he froze and cringed almost comically. "Now, if you want to talk about it in vivid detail, I'd be happy to..."

Charlie shook his head like he had swallowed a bitter pill, and stuffed his hands in his pockets with edgy discomfort.

"But Jacob needs me right now. And, if you remember, he saved my life - so I'm thinking you owe him this," I finished quietly but firmly, wrapping my arm resolutely around Jacob's waist.

My dad actually stomped a foot as he turned his back on us, looking like he was mentally going through every curse he knew. After a moment, he audibly sucked in a breath through his teeth and turned back around, red-faced but resigned.

"Alright Bells. Fine. But I'm not leavin' you alone."

"Yup, that's why Seth is getting Sue," I smiled sweetly. "Sam, we'll call sometime tomorrow - but not probably before noon or whenever we wake up."

Charlie choked, coughing, at that revelation and, after a glare at me, stalked silently into the kitchen. From the sound of it, he was taking out his frustration on random cookware.

A slow, lopsided smile spread across Sam's face as he shook his head. "I'm duly impressed, Bella," he chuckled.

I raised an eyebrow and went for pragmatic: "Oh yeah? What do you think about this: you look like shit - get yourself home to Em," I scolded around a smile.

"And don't forget to call Seth," I added as an afterthought.

Sam gave me a little two fingered salute and looked up at Jacob. "You gonna be okay, man?"

"Yeah... I'm gonna be great..." Jacob smiled tiredly and looked down at me.

When Sam had left, I turned to face Jacob and draped both arms around his neck, letting my eyes wash over his beautiful face as I relaxed. I was glad that was over. And I was glad to finally have some time with him. Going up on tip toes I placed a kiss on his chin. "So... will you help me get upstairs?"

Snorting, he swung me easily up into his arms and bounded up to my room, two steps at a time.

Closing the door with his foot, he set me down on my bed. I wriggled out of my jeans, as Jacob stripped down to his boxers - each silently on the same page: Jacob desperately needed to rest.

Stretching out on my bed, his arms gathered me to him as his body wrapped around me. With a little contented grunt into my hair, it was mere seconds before he was asleep and snoring softly. Secure in his embrace, I relaxed, letting go the omnipresent stress of trauma I had been carrying with me since Pullman.

I listened to Jacob's slow, even breaths and just enjoyed being able to bring him this respite from whatever he was going through.

Eventually though my mind always came back to reality and I found myself cringing at how quickly my return to school was approaching. God... just a few more weeks before I was supposed to go back up - or go somewhere. Several other schools had wooed me with full scholarships ("in the event you find it too difficult to return to Washington State") when the lab explosion made the academic rounds. I certainly had options for the fall, and it was getting to the time when I was going to have to choose. I didn't know if I wanted to go back to Washington and that Bio building after everything that had happened. But other schools were farther away.

But the decision of how far I would go and to which school seemed trivial - because, no matter what my choice was, it meant leaving Jacob again.


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Chapter 19 Shop Talk


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Three weeks later.


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Jacob

I pulled the old red Ford up onto the grass – away from Bella's window. She still didn't know I had found and resurrected it all those years ago, and it had been sitting under the blue tarp in my yard ever since. I thought it was funny that I had never been able to get rid of it - just like I had never been able to get her out of my heart.

I figured I would get some mileage out of it, and subsequently give it some, before I had to truly retire it. Though I had rebuilt the engine ages ago, I still doubted that it had enough in it to make it up to Pullman or wherever she was going to end up going. Plus Bella – as earthy as she was – probably had grown out of the nostalgia of driving it around at grad school.

I slipped out and slammed the old door, running my hand over the fender affectionately as I went around the front toward Charlie's house.

After almost six weeks of complete, absolute and utter hell, it looked like I was finally over the worst of the Phasing withdrawal. And I could rejoin the human race without worrying about killing anyone. It had been really bad - the Elders had been right, it had been much worse than even the painful transition into becoming a werewolf. I shook my head remembering the day I almost took Charlie's head off (just one of several incidents of luckily non-terminal collateral damage) - it had been a rough summer to say the least.

Breaking away from the Rez and visiting Bella that day (I just couldn't take it any more - I had to see her) turned out to be the best damn decision in my life. I don't know if I would have made it through enduring the Wolf's blind rage that had been burning me from the inside out and painful railing against my frantic hold. But being around Bella was like pouring water on those flames; she soothed the Wolf into submission enough so that I could control him - and so that I could sleep.

I had made a habit of slipping back at nights to sleep next to her through the worst of the withdrawal. For two weeks, I could only actually fall asleep in her bed - under her caring caresses, gentle, comforting kisses, and whispered words. Being with her was the only thing that kept me remotely tied to sanity. But it caused a lot of stress for Charlie (who checked on her throughout the night) so I had relented and stayed away when I could finally bear it.

But finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel of our stress and separation. Bella had called a few days ago, breathless, saying Charlie had finally agreed that she could leave the house. And with me. Today would be the first day that she had really gotten out, except for trips into town to a doctor with Charlie and Sue. It seemed like such a small thing, but I couldn't wait... and neither could she.

It was a magnificent day, one of the last August days of summer before the heavy grays and chill of the Pacific Northwest rolled back over Forks. I couldn't believe the last two months - when I could have been spending every second possible with Bella - had been crippled by our various conditions. And now we were already upon the last days before school swung into gear.

And I lost her again.

But I wouldn't think about that today - I wanted to just enjoy the moments I had left with her. Shoving my hands in the pocket of my shorts, I crossed the lawn and hopped up the cement steps, feeling distinctly like a kid on his first date.

"Hey Charlie," I called through the screen of the open door. Charlie appeared in the kitchen and motioned for me to come in.

"Bells! Jake's here!" he called up the stairs as he walked toward me. "Hey, Jake."

I smiled somewhat nervously, as he literally sized me up. I had come over a few times recently during the day and watched movies with him, Sue and Bella - but today would be the first day he had allowed me to spend time alone with her (except the stolen nights). We had developed an uneasy truce.

It had really done something to him to almost lose her. While I understood - because it had really done something to me too - I hoped that we would eventually return to our easy, natural relationship. Billy kept saying to just give it time, but it wasn't a secret that me and patience were not exactly best friends.

"So where are you takin' her?" Charlie asked, shoving his hands in his pockets and rolling his shoulders.

I leaned against the banister of the stairs with purposeful casualness - trying to put him at ease. "Just down to the Rez by La Push. We're gonna have a picnic, that's all."

"Uh, there's cell phone coverage there, right?" Charlie pursed his lips.

I nodded.

"C'mon dad! It's just a few miles away!" Bella interjected with a groan.

We both looked up the stairs to see her descending carefully, hand on the rail. I had to gasp softly as I felt like I had been socked in the gut. God, that girl was beautiful. She was dressed in a sundress patterned with tiny flowers, over a blue baby-doll tee. Her long hair was down; loose whiskey curls hanging down to her elbows and she had on lip gloss.

As she carefully descended, her little beaded flip-flops slapped on the stairs. I had only seen her in a dress a couple of times, but it wasn't just her outfit that made me feel even more like a kid on his first date, it was the sparkle in her eye. Okay, I admitted it: I was smitten.

"Bells, you look great!" I said with a dopey, dorky grin.

She sniffed looking down briefly, self-conscious. "Yeah, well I thought I would get dressed up for my big day on the town," she snorted sarcastically looking pointedly at Charlie.

"Hey! I'm just trying to look out for you, baby," he said defensively, taking his hands out of his pockets to steady her down the last stairs.

"I know, dad - but Jacob is very good at looking out for me," she smiled over at me with a little twinkle in her eye. I secretly loved it when she was all defensive about me to Charlie. It felt good.

Charlie cleared his throat to get her attention. "You got your cell on you, right?"

Bella's eyes almost rolled out of their sockets as she held up her bag in annoyance with the hand not captured in his.

"We'll take it slow, Charlie." I tried to sound comforting, but couldn't take my eyes off her as I reached out to put a hand at the small of her back. I leaned in to her ear - reveling in the smell of her hair - and said in a stage whisper, "Bells... I got a surprise..."

She looked sharply up at me. "What?"

"Come an' see." I flashed her a rambunctious grin.

She slapped me on the arm. "Bye, dad!" she called out over her shoulder ignoring the fact that he was following us to the door.

I opened the door for her and then followed her out on the porch, not bothering to close it as Charlie was still tailing us.

"OH MY GOD! JACOB! OH MY GOD!" she shrieked and turned to me with an expression of elation that reminded me so much of the first time Billy and I had brought the truck over when she first moved here. I smiled – her reaction made me very happy, and the moment was worth every minute of the years it took up space in my yard.

Biting her lip as she smiled like a maniac, she turned back to the truck out on the lawn. She then whipped back around to me and threw herself at me, jumping up and wrapping her arms around my neck.

"Thank you," she whispered in my ear as I took a step back in surprise. Recovering quickly, I brought my hands under her butt, tucking in her skirt, and pulled her up, holding her to me. She wrapped her legs around me and I walked down the steps.

"Ahh!" she screeched, laughing. "I lost a flip-flop!"

I stopped, turning around and bending down to grab it up with a chuckle. My clumsy Bella.

Opening the passenger door with the hand that held the sandal, I set her inside and handed it to her. She slipped it on her foot and then turned into the cab, eyes and hands roaming with nostalgia while I shut the door and went around to the other side.

Waving to Charlie with an exaggerated grin - he looked like he was poised to jump off the porch and tackle me - I chuckled and climbed behind the wheel and started up the engine.

"Seat belts," I chided, clicking mine on and interrupting her childlike and joyous exploration of the cab.

Slamming shut the glove compartment that she had been inspecting, she obliged and almost comically settled into her seat, hands in her lap, looking out of the windshield expectantly.

I laughed, "ready to go?"

She cut her eyes over at me with a wry smile, "oh, you don't know..."

Chuckling, I turned us out onto the road, rolling down my window and propping my arm on the door as she followed suit.

"Where are we going?" she asked after a moment, pushing her blowing hair out of her eyes.

"Picnic," I supplied glancing at her with a smile. I had pulled out the old futon off the frame in my garage and threw it in the back along with some blankets and some grocery bags filled with fruit, deli sandwiches and some sparkling cider. I hadn't known how good she would be feeling, so I figured that a nice, easy day was in order. Looking over at her where she had her face blissfully facing the wind out the window, she looked like she felt better, but there was still a careful slowness of her movements that indicated she wasn't all back to normal. I was pleased with my choice.

I knew there was stuff we both wanted to talk about like crazy - we had never gotten around to talking about the werewolf thing (I had wanted to survive it and see where we were going first), and I wanted to find out what her plans for fall were. But, as if in mutual agreement, we avoided any talk of Pack or hospitals, Vampires or health. We chatted about mundane stuff - about gossip on the Rez, about how sick Bella was of daytime TV and Charlie's new-found hovering skill, the latest drama with the boys at the garage, how cool Sue was and what her old Forks high classmates were doing. It was so much like the old days that I had to still the little flutter in my heart – innocent, easy days when things seemed simple and our world seemed secure.

We rounded past La Push and the truck climbed the road winding up the cliffs. The engine ran well, even when the asphalt faded into two dirt ruts.

Bella had gone silent now and was looking outside at the thick forest around us, the sound of civilization had receded leaving only the scrabbling thrush of branches over the metal of the truck and the low distant pounding of the sea.

Arriving at our destination, which we had previously visited for what I commonly referred to as The Best Night of my Life – I wondered if Bella would recognize it in the daylight. I turned the truck around, pulling into a pine so that Bella squealed as the branches scraped over the window. I backed it up slowly into the little clearing at the top of the cliff overlooking the sun-sparkling sea. Turning off the engine I turned to her and smiled.

"We're here," I announced, tossing the keys in the glove compartment and jumping out.

I rounded the truck to help her down, but she was already putting her feet gingerly to the dirt. Looking around she gave me a sultry and knowing smile.

"Hmm... seems familiar," she squeezed my arm with a deliciously sexy wink, wordlessly assuring me it held the same fondness in her memory.

Going on tiptoes to place a little kiss on my jaw as she passed, her gaze moved to the rolling horizon as she walked toward the back of the truck and looked out over the ocean.

"Oh, god, Jake. It's beautiful," she breathed. I moved to stand beside her and we watched the waves tossing below, gulls diving and calling over the thundering roar of surf on the rocks far below.

After a moment, I rubbed my hands on my shorts and turned to pull the tailgate down as she watched.

"One mobile picnic coming up!" I grinned, pleased with myself.

A glorious slow smile bloomed across her face as she regarded my preparations in the back. I was not much of a planner, but I really wanted her to have a good time. We had had so little time together - and none of that alone - I wanted everything to be perfect for probably one of very few moments we had before she left again.

Vaulting up into the back of the truck, I leaned down, offering my hand. Bella reached up with both and I pulled her up effortlessly releasing her carefully as I moved to the bags and the cooler toward the cab. She still felt so light, I worried, sitting down and pulling out supplies. Bella, crawled up beside me, and watched.

"Wow... you put a lot of thought into this Jake," she murmured.

I didn't try to hide my boyish pride and nodded. "C'mon Bells, we have to celebrate the end of your incarceration, don't we?"

"Yeah," she sniffed a laugh, settling down to sit cross-legged looking out at the view as she pulled her skirt over her knees.

I sat beside her and opened the cider, pouring it into the plastic cups I brought. Handing her one, I raised mine. "To... uh..." I began brilliantly.

"To freedom, picnics, and sunshine," Bella provided, tapping her cup to mine with a little slosh over my fingers.

"Perfect," I smiled slurping the drip off my finger and taking a sip.

I dug out the sandwiches and put the fruit out on a paper plate and we munched in an amiable silence.

"It's perfect, Jake. Really absolutely perfect. Thanks," Bella smiled as she finally put her half-eaten sandwich aside. She folded up the blanket into a pillow and scooted to lie down on her back looking up at the sky.

Taking another sip of sparkling cider, I did the same, folding my hands on my stomach. Our elbows touched as we looked up at the brilliant blue sky. The trees shaded us from the afternoon sun and white fluffy clouds drifted overhead slowly with the light breeze.

"Hey, there's a dragon," I pointed to one swirling shape above us.

"How about that fish over there." Bella pointed lower on the horizon.

I searched for the shape. "Huh? Where?"

"There... oh, now it is kind of turning into a bear or something," she let her hand drop as we both fell into the easy silence with our own thoughts for several minutes. That was the thing with us; we didn't have to talk, explain – anything- to be comfortable. Even after the trauma and turmoil of the last few years, being with Bella was still as natural as breathing.

After a moment I turned toward her on my side, propping my head in my hand and just watched her. There was so much I wanted to say to her, so much I wanted to talk about, but damn if I knew how to say it. It was like a bunch of unformed memories, thoughts, plans, wishes that were swirling like the clouds, taking one shape and then another. I rearranged my cheek on my hand and brought my other to pull a long strand of her hair away from where it was stuck on her moist lips.

But damn, didn't my finger get stuck there? She was just like a magnet to me, I always wanted to be in contact with her soft, creamy skin. I indulged my whim and brought my finger to her forehead and slowly traced down her profile, over the bridge of her nose. She closed her eyes softly and I traced her lips, reveling in their silky rosy give and how they subtly clung to my finger tip. She stretched them then tightly into a smile and opened her eyes, turning her head toward me. Her face was open and happy. It made my heart do a little flip.

Returning her smile reflexively, my hand dropped between us and I let my gaze follow as I picked at a string on the futon. Slowly the smile faded as I tried to force myself into reality. I didn't want to think about it... but I guess I needed to know. We had to talk about stuff sometime. And time was running out.

"So, school's starting soon. Have you decided where you are going to go?" I asked attempting casual, as I drew a lazy circle between us. I couldn't look into her eyes, or I would betray how decidedly uncasual that observation was to me.

When she didn't answer for several seconds, I made myself look back up at her. Her gaze was trained on the sky and she was worrying her lip.

There was another seemingly endless minute of silence as my finger picked fiercely at the futon and I swallowed, in barely concealed nervous anticipation.

"I'm not going back, Jacob," Bella suddenly whispered, and then turned to look at me intensely.

I felt like I had been slapped, it surprised me so much, and I shook my head, blinking. "What?"

"I'm not going back to Washington State or any other place," she repeated matter-of-factly, eyes washing over my face.

My mind started churning; was she sicker than she let on, was something wrong? "But what about school, Bells?" my voice was tense as my mind spun out.

"I'm going to let it lie for now. I've been thinking a lot about it and stuff. After all that happened, it kinda made me rehash things." Her gaze returned to the sky for a moment.

"I could go and throw myself into school again. But if I really look at it, I don't care about the Masters – it's just something to do, another responsibility to fulfill." She paused as her eyes swept the sky thoughtfully. "It's not what I want."

She spoke easily and simply – the decision obviously a product of lengthy thought and deliberation. We had both been rethinking our lives, I guess.

My eyes shifted back and forth as I processed this and then my gaze returned to her profile.

"What do you want, Bella?" I asked very quietly.

She whispered to the sky, "I want to live in Forks."

"What?" I could barely believe my ears.

She turned and looked me dead in the eyes with her deep chocolate gaze. "I've missed Forks, Jacob. I want to come back."

My heart was pounding in my frozen body. Was I even breathing? I didn't want to make any assumptions. I let myself fall onto my back and looked up at the sky myself, completely at a loss – both hollowed and confounded by a blinding hope warring with self-preservationist temperance. Edward's words, of course, sneaked into the mix, but I made a habit of pretending that he hadn't said them. I wouldn't believe them unless Bella told me herself.

"Jake?" Bella's voice broke through the deafening roar of my swirling thoughts, so much like the ocean below.

I flipped back up on my side. "Yeah?"

"You okay?" Bella's eyebrows were drawn in concern – that adorable crease between them.

I impulsively reached out a thumb to smooth it. "Yeah... I'm just..." I'm just what? Scared shitless to be hopeful? Damn, hadn't I grown out of my teens?

She licked her lips. "I just thought you would be ...happy."

"No... I mean, yes... I mean..." I rubbed my face with my hand. "God, Bells. I don't know what to think." I looked into her eyes searching. I needed to stop trying to dance around my feelings and thoughts and talk to her. It had always been easy to be real with her, why not now?

I fumbled on. "Geez... I mean, I guess I need you to spell it out for me, y'know?" I laughed softly at myself.

Bella shook her head, confused.

"I mean, you know how I feel about you. I guess I want to know what you want. I mean how are things going to be … with us?" I ventured hesitantly.

Bella suddenly looked just as anxious and nervous as I felt. "Well... we never talked about it after- ...I mean, I didn't know if all that had changed for you ...or..." she stammered.

I shook my head emphatically, instantly relaxing. After all this time, she still doubted how I felt?

"It has never changed, Bella. And it never will," I whispered, getting swallowed into her dark, yawning eyes.

Bella looked back at me with an unfathomable expression, eyes darting between mine. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes at its apex. Her voice was soft but sure as she exhaled, "I love you, Jacob. More than anything... more than anyone. I want to live in Forks... to be near you."

She opened her eyes again, completely vulnerable and exposed. "After the hospital - I realized that I just don't think I have the strength to be away from you again...I mean, until you want me to."

My face relaxed into the most natural of smiles and I just grinned like a fool for several seconds. With a little purse to my lips, I bent to press my mouth to hers gently. She tasted so sweet, like flowered honey – alive, warm, soft. Oh god, how long had I waited to hear words like these from her? I had dreamed of it - dreams that had been sadly relegated to fantasy over these past few years. Yet here she said them - on her own. Edward had been telling the truth.

"What happens if I never want you to leave?" I asked with a smile.

"Well looks like I'm setting up shop in Forks, then." Bella smiled back at me, her eyes running wistfully over my face.

I thought about that - Bella setting up shop. "Where?" I asked carefully.

"Huh?" an eyebrow dipped down.

"Where is this shop going to be set up?" I asked again cryptically around a grin.

"Oh... well, dunno... I guess I'll just move my stuff back to Charlie's for now." Bella sighed with a little eye roll.

I sat up a little more, leaning close - my eyes crossed as they ran over her beautiful face. "Why don't you live with me?" I barely breathed my question over her lips.

Bella's eyes widened a moment as she pulled back, and then she looked thoughtful. With a little shake to her head she sighed, "I don't think Charlie'd like that. And he's been so off ever since I - well... you know. You saw how it was the last few weeks when you were just sleeping over... I don't know if he would live through it! God, you should have seen his face that time when I came home in only your shirt!" she chuckled rolling her eyes.

"You can't live at home forever," I grinned at the mental image.

"Oh, believe me, I know," she snorted. "And you know that's the last thing I want, Jake. I mean, maybe when ... well, when things seem more... solid..."

"Solid?" I asked, scooting closer to her.

Bella smacked her lips, "ah... permanent..."

"They can be permanent right now," I whispered leaning in to nuzzle her cheek.

"Huh?"

"Bella..." I took a breath, inches from her face - it was my turn to be vulnerable. Swallowing, I asked her what I had wanted to ask her for so long, "They'd be permanent... if you married me."

Her breath caught and her eyes widened in surprise. "What?"

I pulled back a little so I could read her. "Make a life with me, Bells. Marry me," I repeated softly as my heart skipped a beat. I had never meant anything more in my life.

"B-but..." she stuttered, her gaze leaving mine to sweep the sky.

I bit my lip with nerves. "I mean, I know I don't have a lot in terms of stuff to offer and you hate marriage and-" I started backtracking in insecurity of laying my heart so bare.

Her eyes snapped back to mine. "Jesus Jake! Wait... just give me a sec, will you?" she mock-scolded with a little frown that was warring with a grin. Even now in this most serious and vulnerable of crossroads, we still were friends first.

I smiled and raised an eyebrow, falling onto my back. My nervousness slipped lax as I realized that I was completely at peace. I wanted her in my life forever. She had made her decision - and I had made mine a long time ago. My best friend; there was no one I would rather spend every day waking up to. No matter her answer, all this I knew to be true deep inside me.

With a little sigh, she rolled to her side with a thoughtful expression.

I cut my eyes over to her with that roguish grin that she liked. "And your answer izzzzz?"

Bella pouted around a smile. "But you didn't ask me anything," she pointed out.

I snorted going along with the ruse. "Minor technicality."

"It needs to be corrected," she teased scooting over so that her body was pressed to mine.

Our banter immediately dissipated as I looked deeply into her eyes. Reaching up a hand, I tucked her hair behind her ear and smiled softly, feeling warmth bubble up from deep inside me.

I licked my lips, tracing from her cheekbone to her jaw with my finger slowly. "Bella, will you marry me?" I whispered.

A beautiful and authentic smile bloomed on her face and shone in her eyes. Leaning closer with a soft sigh, her eyes ran leisurely over my face.

"Yes," she breathed against my mouth. "Yes, Jacob... I would love to," and she pressed her lips against mine.

My chest felt like it would explode as I buried both hands in her hair, and pulled her to me fervently and deepened the kiss. Our mouths danced sensuously, intensely – so present in each sensation as we each marveled at such a moment. Oh my god! The reality of it hit me like a tsunami and my eyes burned.

I meant to pull away then and let bliss settle in slowly, but Bella surprised me and pulled herself onto my chest, her legs straddling me as her hands came up to tangle in my own hair. She held my face to her honeyed kisses, drawing out of me a surrendering sigh and the sweetest ardor. I wrapped my arms around her back and rubbed up and down slowly as I tried to hold myself in check and let her lead.

Lead she did, as her mouth broke from mine to follow my jaw, dropping delicate kisses on my eyelids and then more passionately down my neck. She found a spot near my pulse that made my hips jerk and I turned my head away to give her better access. I closed my eyes at the electric currents her teeth were eliciting. Her mouth pulled at my pulse and I moaned, my hands moving to her bare legs, rubbing up and down her calves and thighs.

"Careful, you'll give me a hickey," I murmured with a smile, remembering that ill-fated day. I could laugh at it now, Bella was mine.

Bella chuckled and dragged her lips up to pull at my lobe. "That's the idea. I'm one down y'know," she whispered and then dragged her teeth over my ear. My hips pushed up against her... god, I was already so hard. I ran my hands up her thighs under her skirt and over her panties, pushing her down against me with a soft moan.

"So, does anyone else come up here?" Bella's hot breath washed over my ear, suggestive and low.

I smiled and turned into her, capturing her lips again with mine. "Oh, most definitely not," I murmured against her lips and pulled her tongue into my mouth. We kissed ardently as I massaged her round ass and then moved up her back in slow, sensual circles. My body melting in a liquid heat, I realized my hips had unconsciously started pressing against her rhythmically.

Bella broke the kiss and sat up slightly, running her hands over my chest and down my stomach, tucking her fingers under my shirt hem and starting to work it up. I sat up and obliged her hint, throwing it aside. She smiled seductively, her beautiful brown eyes dilated to black, and her fingers delicately traced the lines of my musculature.

"Mmm... you have a really nice chest, Jake." She gave me a little half smile.

"So do you." I ran my big hand over her breast raising a nipple through the knit cloth of her dress. She closed her eyes softly and exhaled indulgently as I continued to brush light, well-placed caresses over her neck, her collarbone, her breasts.

Opening her eyes again she leaned down and kissed me and then scooted down, bringing her hands to the top of my shorts. My breath was already uneven, but it started hitching in anticipation as she worked the closure loose.

Her warm, gentle hands released me, rock hard, and stroked my length, her gaze appreciative. A shaky moan parted my lips as I tried to still my hips from bucking into her touch as my eyes rolled back. I was out of my mind in wanting her.

And I would never have to give this up. I would never have to give her up.

I reached down and pulled her back up to my lips and kissed her with all the love that I felt. She pulled away then and stood up to my expression of protesting shock.

Laughing at my face, she slowly lifted the hem of her dress, running her fingers up her inner thighs seductively and then over her hips. My breath caught. She pulled down her panties, kicking them off.

"Are you trying to kill me, or what?" I gasped, entranced by her slow and sensual movements.

She laughed - a light and carefree sound - and then crouched back over me, returning her delicious mouth to mine.

My body was on fire, I was so hard that it hurt, and my hands came up to tangle in her long curls as I pulled her mouth passionately to mine. My tongue plundered her mouth as she rubbed her body against mine, with a teasing slowness.

My hands skimmed down her back and lifted up her skirt, cupping her bare buttocks in my palms. She sat down slowly onto me as I spread her and sheathed me in her tight body. She was so wet! I broke the kiss with a groan as she started moving slowly above me, pulling sensations out of me that I echoed in low, throaty moans. I opened my eyes and saw her watching my face with a lazy delight and her lips curved into a sexy smile. Undeniably intense sensations rushed into an overwhelming and hot pressure and I quickly stilled her, even as my hips thrust upward.

She obliged and stopped moving as I swallowed. "God, Bells. Wait a sec," I panted softly.

With a deep breath I opened my eyes and pulled her down to me, holding her tightly while I rolled us over, maintaining the union of our bodies. Bringing my arm out from under her, I pushed her hair back from her face and then dipped down to her lips to sample her sweetness.

"See, I knew it, you are trying to kill me," I whispered and smiled against her mouth as her arms came up to grasp my shoulders tightly.

I pulled back and looked deeply in her eyes. "I love you so much." The words slipped effortlessly off my lips like silk and I was rewarded with a glorious smile.

Collecting myself for a moment, I then began to move within her, long, firm strokes into her hot, quivering body. Bella's smile melted into passion and her lids grew heavy as I drew a long sigh of my name from her lips. I watched as her eyes rolled back into her head with rapture and she bit her lip as her nostrils flared. I marveled in wonder that I could make her feel like this and my heart skipped a beat.

As my thrusts became deeper and faster, she moaned low and sultry as her body arched desperately up against mine. I lost the struggle to reign in my fervent body and I closed my eyes sinking into the overwhelming desire and need coursing through me. Smothering her soft keening cries with my mouth I drove us both over edge of oblivion. As her body tightened and convulsed around mine, pulling me with her, I followed, relinquishing heart, mind and soul to this girl that I loved.

Deep inside me, I felt the Wolf finally settle down and sleep.

Our breathing was ragged and gasping as I collapsed onto her, pressing my cheek to hers in a moment of blissful vulnerability. Her fingertips softly erased the lines she gouged into my back with passion. As I tried to roll off of her, her hands came up stay me, pulling my head into her neck.

"Stay," she breathed, stroking my head. I smiled against her skin and rearranged myself so my entire weight was not pressing her down. I followed her breathing as it smoothed back out to even and deep.

After a while, I slowly rolled off of her, rearranging her dress and rebuttoning my shorts. Propping my head in my hand on my side, I regarded her relaxed and sated expression with satisfaction. My hand had to touch her, so I brushed her hair back and left my palm on her collarbone. She smiled such a loving and tender smile that my heart turned to liquid right there and I collapsed with a little moan against her, my cheek on her shoulder.

"I love you, my Jacob," she sighed, stroking my cheek absently. "My husband..." she murmured as if trying it on for size and then chuckling.

My smile faded as I sat up abruptly, eyes wide. "Shit... I'm sorry Bells. I shoulda had a ring or something."

Bella burst out laughing, pulling me back down to her chest. "Shh... I don't need a ring, Jacob. C'mon... it's me. Let's just make it simple, kay?"

"You mean no custom dress, coordinated flowers and caterers and stuff?" I sat up again and kissed her as her face wrinkled in distaste at the thought of another froo-froo wedding.

She shook her head. "How about just you and me on the beach?" she rubbed her nose against mine thoughtfully.

I smiled, that sounded just about our speed. "Just family?"

She nodded, placing soft velvet kisses randomly on my cheek. "Yeah, and Pack."

My hands buried in her long hair again and I stilled her face just below mine. "Yeaahh. But they aren't technically Pack for me anymore..." I looked into her eyes meaningfully. I guess now was the perfect time to talk about this.

"What do you mean?" Bella asked, looking at each of my eyes with confusion.

"That's why I've been so fucked up lately, Bells. I gave up the Wolf. I stopped Phasing." I said simply, quietly.

"B-but..." Bella looked stricken.

I tried humor to diffuse her anxiety, "And believe me, it fucking sucked! I never want to go through that again!" Humor wasn't working and she tried to speak again. I placed a stilling finger on her lips. "But it was worth it. After that night with the Volturi... after seeing you -" I choked, stopping myself; I didn't want to go back to that dark place.

"I'm just... sick of it, Bells. Sick of fucking all of it. I just want to be normal." My voice had turned terse with the fierceness of my conviction. I paused as my eyes washed over her face. "I want us to be normal. I want a chance to be with you, make a family with you, grow old with you - without all this crazy bullshit getting in the way."

"Wait... you're doing this for me?" she squeaked.

I snorted and stroked her rosy cheek. "No, I made the decision. I'm doing it for me," I said softly. "It's what I want, Bells. You're what I want." I leaned down and pressed my lips to hers, pulling back again with a soft smack. "It actually feels like it's supposed to happen this way for me. It's hard to explain, but the Wolf is settling down – like he is satisfied with where I am... and where I'm going." I brought my finger to smooth the little pucker between her eyes. "And who I'm going with," I whispered.

Bella smiled with liquid eyes and silently pulled me again down to her lips.

We kissed deeply, leisurely - lips salty with her tears. When she sniffled, I pulled back and brought a hand up to catch another drop making its way down her cheek and as my gaze washed over her face lovingly. I smiled, a soft and sentimental smile. "Hey, remember way back when? I always hoped you'd be my first and last, Bells. And I got that wish..."

She laughed quietly, blinking her eyes with a soggy sniffle. I touched my forehead to hers, feeling her warm breath hitch with her sobs against my face.

"I love you, Jacob," Bella whispered as her voice cracked with emotion.

At the sudden sound of a Bollywood song's high cheerful whine, I pulled back - surprised - quickly looking toward the sound and then back at Bella questioningly.

"My phone. Uh, one guess at who it is," Bella sighed and wiped at her wet face, rolling her eyes and starting to reach toward her bag.

I chuckled and grabbed it for her with my longer arms and she dug out the phone. Holding my hand out in request, I mischievously wiggled my eyebrows. Oh, god, this was going to be so fun!

Bella bit her lip as she smiled and handed me the cell. Flipping it open, I greeted cheerfully, "Hey, Charlie!...Sure, sure. She's just fine." I looked down into Bella's deep chocolate eyes and pulled her closer as I tried to squelch my grin. "Oh and Charlie, guess what?..."

PS: It's not over yet.


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Chapter 20 Last

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Bella

"...yeah, and she said yes." Jake said into the phone -looking into my eyes- and then leaned down and kissed me sweetly. His sunny smile then morphed into a devilish grin, as I heard the muffled raised voice of my father spluttering along at a mile a minute, and he winked. I could only imagine what Charlie was saying. "Yeah... sure, sure. One second..." He handed the phone to me.

I rolled my eyes and took it, bringing it to my ear with a reproachful slap to Jake's arm. "Yeah, dad?"

I was barraged with a stammering tumble of words and I quickly interrupted. "Wait!! Dad...we'll be back in a little while. We'll talk then. Bye." I didn't wait for him to answer and clicked 'end' and then promptly turned off the phone.

"Thanks, just stir him all up and leave me to pick up the pieces!" I groaned, turning over and snuggling into the chest of the big, warm man beside me who was now officially mine.

"We'll pick 'em up together, Bells," Jake said sweetly, kissing my hairline.

"Oh-ho. You're not getting off that easy..." I pulled back and raised an eyebrow. Jacob smiled at me for a second and then pressed his mouth over my pouting lips, and instantly melted any potential retort. In fact, any thought at all simply evaporated as he kissed me senseless, leisurely, sensuously - leaving me breathless. He pulled away finally with soft smack and a roguish grin.

"Okay, maybe you are," I gasped.

Jacob chuckled and pinched my chin."We'd better get going before he calls the FPD on me." His eyes were sparkling with the same lightness that I felt.

I burst out laughing as I stood up and searched for my panties. "FPD! Ohmygod, what a riot!"

Jacob drove us down from the cliffs and I threw seat belts to the wind – I wanted to be smooshed right up next to him. With his arm slung over my shoulders, we drove in silence – each lost in a million tumbling thoughts.

I felt... a complete and utter peace laced with excited anticipation. It was crazy, but it seemed like spending our lives together had been the subtext of our entire relationship, and now that I had finally realized it and made my choice (and it had been made official)... it all felt so natural, complete - so right. I felt all those little pieces of myself settle down in contentment.

But I think my mind always freaked out when things went well. True to form, I eventually started to transition from emotional bliss to the practical details - scrabbling for the next crisis.

"Are you sure your dad will be okay with me living there?" I asked suddenly.

Jake laughed as if it were the stupidest question ever. "Of course! Billy adores you."

I worried my lip, suddenly feeling insecure. "How's my stuff going to fit into your room?"

Not missing a beat, Jacob warmly kissed my temple. "I've been telling Billy that one day we'd add on. Perfect time."

I was always envious that everything seemed so easy for Jake, but now being inextricably in the middle of it, I saw that things just worked out, if they were meant to be.

I started to relax.

"And, god, I have to get a job..." I groaned, but without the anxiety. I was good at this part, at least.

"What did you want to do? You wanna come work at my garage? It's hot when girls fix cars." Jacob gave me a teasing eye-brow wiggle and I slapped his thigh in rebuke.

"Come to think of it that way, you can't work at my garage." He transformed his leer into a jealous squint and I laughed.

"I was thinking maybe teaching science..." I mused hesitantly. I had thought about jobs a lot, actually, as soon as I had come to the conclusion that I would not be going back up to school. But it was important that I feel him out on what I had decided.

"Isn't your old Forks High science teacher gonna retire soon?" Jake offered, glancing down at me.

I wrinkled my nose; I had other ideas. "How about at your school, Jacob?" I ventured softly. The kids on the Rez hadn't had a "real" science teacher for Jake's entire high school career. I was betting the English teacher was still doing double-duty with text-book lessons as she had when he was there - trying to give the kids at least something.

Jake looked down at me with surprise, "Hey, yeah... but you sure you want to do that? I mean, I don't think the pay's all that great, y'know... our school's kind of a dive...and it's just the Rez kids." He sounded insecure.

I hated that.

I smiled and nodded emphatically, "Yeah, I'm totally sure actually -if they'll take me. I've thought about it a lot. And, by the way, I happen to love to pieces - and plan to marry - one of those 'Rez kids,' thank you very much."

Jake glanced back down at me several times and then squeezed me close. "Oh, they'll take you alright. We haven't had a science teach -" he stopped at my grin and then a slow, endearingly vulnerable and understanding smile lit his face. "But you know that," he whispered almost in wonder, returning his eyes to the road still smiling but pensive.

That's exactly why I wanted to teach on the Rez. I might as well put these years of hard work, endless labs, and near-death experiences into something useful; like doing a little bit to help even the playing field of this crazy world.

We rode in thoughtful silence for several minutes.

"Hey, what did my dad say?" I asked, as we neared home and I was snapped into thinking about what was coming next. If my mind wanted crisis, it was certainly about to get its wish.

"Nothing actually coherent as far as I could tell," Jacob sniffed with a chuckle. "'You ready to deal with that? Or do you want to take 'the long way home'?"

"No, I'm ready if you are." I leaned my head on his shoulder. "You know what Jake? It's going to be really cool just to have one life. I feel like I've been living in several different worlds at the same time for so long..." I sighed, and wasn't that the truth! In some ways this lack of internal inconsistency was the root of some of my earlier bad decisions; when you had to keep secrets from those you love, things tended to go badly.

Jake pressed his cheek to my head briefly, and then returned his eyes to the road. "Yeah, I so know what you mean." His arm unconsciously tightened around me.

We rounded the bend toward the house and I sat up a little straighter with nerves.

Jacob patted my leg, "y'okay?"

I nodded silently as he turned off the engine and got out. I looked up at the porch and saw Charlie open the screen, his face drawn in tumbling emotions. Grabbing my bag, I hugged it to me a moment and then reached for the door.

Jake was already there, opening it. "M'lady..." he said snarkily.

I snorted and moved to get down, but instead of helping me with his offered hand, he gathered me up in his arms, lifting me out of the truck. I squealed, laughing as I kicked lightly. He chuckled as my sandal flew off behind him... again.

"Oops!" I covered my apologetic grin with my hand. I was such a clutz.

Jake nuzzled my ear rumbling, "what am I going to do with you, huh?"

I turned, looking into his eyes but a few inches away. "I could think of a few things," I whispered suggestively around a smile.

Jake pretended to stumble with weak knees, "Ooo! Touche!"

He had successfully managed to dispel my nervousness though, as he carried me up to the steps. Sue came out behind Charlie, smiling openly. Dad must have called her frantically home from work when he couldn't get me again on my cell.

Effortlessly bounding up the steps with me, he let me slip down on the porch in front of my dad.

"Hey Charlie." Jake gave him a bright smile with irrepressible cheer. "Let me get your shoe, Bells," he said as an aside, hopping back down to retrieve it.

Sliding my bag over my shoulder and worrying my lip nervously I looked at Charlie's volatile expression and tried to figure out what to say.

"So..." I began with my usual verbal brilliance.

As if he hadn't stopped, he launched right into the level of tirade begun on the phone. "Bella! What the hell do you mean with all this! I mean goddammit! You haven't even complet-..."

Sue stepped up beside him and stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Charles.." she said quietly but firmly, and he stopped comically mid-word and met her cautionary gaze.

He took a step back, shoving his hands in his pockets with a frown. Jake hopped back up beside me, tossing the sandal on the ground where my foot slithered into it and wrapped his arm around my shoulder.

"Let's go inside, would you like some iced tea? 'One of the last days of summer..." Sue smiled easily, turning to open the screen. God, she was so damn good for Charlie.

We filed into the living room and Jacob collapsed, sprawling on the couch, reaching out to pull me down beside him. He was back to his old sunny self - utterly relaxed and casual, and it calmed my nerves. A little.

It did not have this effect on Charlie, unfortunately, who sat stiffly across from us in the Lazy Boy. Sue went wordlessly into the kitchen to fetch the iced tea.

I licked my lips, sitting up a bit more, and dove in, "So... as he said... Jake and I are going to get married, dad."

Charlie's face went red as his lips pressed tightly together. Finally he ground out in a barely controlled hiss, "what about grad school, Bells."

"I had already decided - before he asked me - that I wasn't going back up to Pullman or any other university. I miss Forks, I miss you... and I miss Jake," I stated plainly, sincerely.

"But you got scholarships," he bit out.

My agitation rose as Charlie's face continued to redden. Couldn't he see how right this decision was?

With a huff of exasperation I accused, "you're the one always telling me I'm too responsible!"

"This is not what I meant!" in six words his voice had vaulted up to a yell. Sue came back from the kitchen to stand in the doorway as he stood.

I stood up too, as years of anger immediately exploded from where I usually kept it hidden and caged. My voice shot up to his level. "Look, finally I choose to do what I want... not what someone expects me to do... or something that I have to do... or something I painted myself into a corner with... and you freak out! I am sick of living for everyone else!"

Okay, I was loosing it. I tried to breathe in through my nose as I started pacing.

"I want to live for me! I want to be with Jake! We have been through fucking hell and back and it's about time we get to enjoy life a little! I want to be happy, goddamn it!" I slapped my hands on my thigh with emphasis. "And I want to make Jake happy! Lord knows he deserves it." I paused panting with the effort; I still wasn't feeling all that hot.

My gaze raked the floor as I stopped pacing and spun around on Charlie. "If you've got a problem with that, I don't care! You don't have to even see me if you don't want to 'cause we're living with Billy!" I spit out, regretting the acerbic inference as soon as it crossed my lips.

Tearing my eyes away from the patent shocked hurt in Charlie's eyes, I covered my face with my hands and turned around. Jacob had stood behind mie during my tirade and I collapsed against his chest, breath heaving as tears bled through my fingers. His big warm arms wrapped around me and drew slow, soothing circles on my back.

The screen door opened and broke the stunned silence.

"Well, looks like we're late to the party, Seth." Billy's voice drawled. I looked up, breath still hitching miserably with sobs, feeling light-headed and drained. He was being wheeled into the house and toward the living room by Sue's son.

God dammit! I needed to get myself together - this was beyond embarassing. I sniffled loudly and turned back around biting my lip. After a breath I collapsed into Jacob's chest and let a few more sobs shake my shoulders. Taking a deep, calming breath I tried to get myself together and automatically wiped my tear stained, snotty face back and forth on Jacob's shirt. At his deep chuckle, I looked up with apologetic wide eyes, realizing what I had done. He gave me a smile and pinched my chin mouthing I love you. It was so awesome that Jake loves me just the way I am - snot and all.

With a little grateful smile to him, I turned my attention back to the room and caught Sue's obiviously relieved smile at Billy and Seth. "How 'bout I get that iced tea...Seth, help me, will you?" He nodded, casting a curious glance at the scene before him and they disappeared into the kitchen.

Jake was looking down at me with an assessing concern. "Honey, sit down...you're pale," he whispered softly, pulling me back down to the couch with him.

Charlie's eyes switched from shock to worry in a blink. I looked down at my hands twisting in my lap, ashamed.

Charlie cleared his throat, "Uh... Bells?"

"I'm sorry, dad. I didn't mean that... I'm -" I whispered to my lap.

"Hush, now. Sure you did. And I deserved that, all right," Charlie murmured as I looked up at him with eyes that were still soggy and overflowing despite my best efforts. "You're right, y'know. I'm just trying to protect you - I'm - ah - I mean I feel didn't do a good enough job of that. I'm just ... well...I'm just real scared... that's all." Charlie looked pointedly at Jacob.

I started to speak, indignant protectiveness kicking in with a vengeance, but Jacob stilled me with a hand on my thigh.

"Charlie, you know me. I'm still the same Jake." Jacob said softly, sincerely. "And you know I've loved Bella since... oh, day one. I promise, I'll take good care of her."

I sighed, feeling exhausted, and laid my head on his shoulder as he squeezed me reassuringly.

"And that … thing... you are worried about me..." he added poignantly, trying to avoid saying werewolf to make Charlie more comfortable. "I gave it up... I gave it up because I wanted to make a life - a safe, happy, regular life - with Bella. I'm just plain 'ole Jake now. And I want to spend my life with your daughter." Jacob threw in a sunny smile in for good measure.

I looked up at him with probably a dorky lovey-dovey expression but I didn't care. My heart was overflowing. Wow. I really loved this guy. I was so freaking lucky.

"Charlie... I used to be like Jake, y'know." Billy added in his serene voice with a smile at his best friend's discomfiture.

"And I still am! Ow!" Seth called from the kitchen, followed by the sound of Sue's slap and laughter.

Charlie's eyes widened and he cleared his throat uncomfortably blinking and then returned his gaze to me.

"Dad, I love him so much," I whispered looking deep into Charlie's eyes as I disengaged myself from Jacob's arms and stood. "He's really good for me. You know that. You've always known that. I took time, figured things out...there's no one else I want to spend my life with. No one else who would make me happy. He's my best friend."

Charlie closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. He stood slowly, crossing to me and silently, tenderly, wrapped his arms around me and pressed a long kiss to my forehead. He murmured against my hairline,"I know he is Bells. And I'm sorry. I really am. I'm real happy for you. Both of you. I feel like - I just - " he shook his head, pulling me to his chest and taking another deep shaking breath.

"S'alright dad. I know its complicated," I whispered as we both relaxed against each other.

After almost a silent minute, he inhaled deeply and pulled back from me a bit, his eyes washing over me thoughtfully. He smiled softly - I had never seen my dad's eyes red and liquid before. I squeezed him affectionately.

He pulled back a little more and then pointedly looked over at Jacob still on the couch and smiled at him hesitantly. "Jesus, Jake, I'm sorry about all- I didn't - ...I've been.. well, you know I think the world of you, son."

Jacob stood up and clasped hands with the one my dad offered while he still held me to his side. "And... y'know … Christ! I'm not so good with words.." My dad released Jacob's hand and raked his fingers through his hair and then tried again. "I- I couldn't think of a better son-in-law...really... or anyone better for Bella Uh, I'm glad you guys got things worked out. All this stuff - it's been a lot, y'know. And it's just...well, after we almost lost her.. it was- it's-" Charlie fumbled until his voice broke. I squeezed him reassuringly then stepped out of his embrace, back against Jacob's chest.

"I know, Charlie. Believe me... I know." Jake's arms came around and held me gently.

"Well, Bella. It looks like you finally got this boy of mine to use his head," Billy drawled, effectively transforming Charlie's emotional moment - to the relief of all. I turned to him and returned his broad smile.

Stepping out of Jacob's embrace I crossed the few steps to lean down and hug my future father-in-law.

He said softer into my ear, "And about time. I thought I was going to have to get out of this chair and kick that boy in th-"

"Dad!" Jacob complained, having come up right behind me.

Billy grinned uncharacteristically and I suddenly knew where Jake had gotten his roguish smile.

Jacob and his dad grasped forearms and Billy just looked into his son's eyes with a silent expression that communicated far more than words. I had to look away, it was so intimate.

Sue came in with perfect timing and iced tea. "I threw some lasagne in the oven. You guys hungry? Why don't we celebrate over dinner?"

Jacob nodded vigorously and sat on the couch, patting beside him. I obliged and snuggled next to him as he draped an arm around my shoulders.

Seth came around the couch, bumping fists with Jake, and settled beside me.

"You okay, Bells?" Jacob whispered in my ear. I nodded with a little smile and leaned my head against his shoulder, closing my eyes- emotionally drained, but ridiculously happy.

A cold glass was put in my hand and I opened my eyes to see everyone had tea and was looking at me.

Charlie cleared his throat and raised his glass. He truly smiled, looking each of us in the eye, "Congratulations, Bells, Jake... really."

"To Jake and Bella." Billy piped in, the sentiment being echoed as Jacob clinked his glass against mine.

"To us," he whispered in my ear.

I took a long, refreshing sip, remembering with a private smile the last time we had both shared iced tea and the exquisite, life-altering kiss that had come after. So much had happened since then, yet I felt like life was just beginning.

"So... what's this I hear about you two moving in?" Billy chuckled, taking off his hat.


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Chapter 21 Epilogue


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Five years later.'

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Jake

The afternoon sun spilled through the opaque curtains of Bella's and my bedroom, making the scene in front of me even softer. I watched Billy gingerly hold the tiny newborn in his big brown arms. He didn't let down his guard very often as he was always playing to his wise all-knowing thing (I knew better and so did Bella now; my old man hid away a wicked sense of humor and the softest heart I'd ever seen). But during these last few days he'd dropped that facade big-time. Like right now, if he could see the dopey and sappy doting smile on his face he'd realize all those years at working that image were shot!

Of course I understood completely. Bella had brought our little girl into the world just two days ago and there was not a single soul of the seemingly endless parade of friends, family, and tribe who could resist the charms of our black-haired beauty.

I could see I was going to have to buy a shotgun in the near future.

I turned from where I was sitting on the edge of the mattress, to look at Bella, propped up on a pile of pillows at the head of our big four-poster bed. She gave me a sexy, knowing smile as she watched how easily those huge dark eyes unraveled my dad's dignity. I reached up impulsively and placed my palm against her rosy cheek and she nuzzled into it. God, she was still so beautiful to me. There wasn't a day still that I didn't appreciate the fact that we were together.

Bella and I shared a deep friendship and love that was enviable. Oh, we weren't flashy or dramatic, but I woke every day to a profound warmth that, even when times were rough, gave me more strength and grounding than should have been legal. Our desire ran delicious and hot, and our relationship was emotional and deep. She was still my very best friend.

We had added onto Billy's cottage and it had become a simple, but comfortable home for us all. The Rez school had finally gotten itself a real science teacher and between that gig and my mechanic business, we didn't have much – unless you counted family – but we had more than I would have ever thought to ask for.

A little mewing pre-wail issued forth from the small bow lips and I smiled reflexively as Bella's maternal instinct kicked in full-tilt and her eyes snapped to our child protectively. She said it was funny, but after going through the whole motherhood experience she understood the werewolf thing a lot better. Instinct was a crazy-powerful thing, and when it surfaced, it erased any thought in your mind so that you had to follow its compulsion. It was cool to watch her in full-on mommy mode.

"Figures. I finally get rid of Charlie and Sue, and get a chance to hold my granddaughter, and then it's feedin' time." Billy rolled his eyes, handing the child to me as I chuckled.

I brought the baby to my shoulder where she immediately quieted. My baby girl. I had thought I would be scared I'd drop her or something - freaked to do something wrong - but my big hand felt like it was made for this: so sure, so right holding her tiny body. Daddies have instincts too.

"C'mon dad, you get to live with Raven. Charlie and Sue only get to visit-" Raven then turned with little grunts to try to suckle my neck and I laughed. ".. ooop... she's hungry alright."

With one knee on the bed, I laid the baby in Bella's arms and she pulled up the old tee-shirt she was wearing to to shamelessly flash and bring our baby to her perfect breast. I smiled like a fool as I watched our child latch on and suckle with a blissfully innocent expression of contentment on her beautiful face. I lay down beside Bella, scooching my arm under her head. I would never get sick of this.

Leaning against my shoulder Bella sighed contentedly as I alternated between stroking my wife's cheek and playing with the baby's tiny balled up fingers.

"Let her eat, Jake," Bella chided and I acquiesced with a snort, stopping my fiddling and wrapping my arm protectively around my two girls. Bella had told me year ago about the vision of the two black-haired children she had seen the first time she kissed me. I had to admit it, I was already looking forward to kid-two. Bella and I had a family. Wow.

"Can I have some too?" I gave Bella my mischievous grin and she rolled her eyes and quickly sat up to see if Billy had left. I however had heard that he had left a few minutes ago, though the old man was way used to our PDA by now. Bella pinched my chin with a mock scolding squint. I laughed as she laid back down and cuddled into me. Our baby fed from those perfect breasts and we all settled down for a much needed nap.

'

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Bella

I was roused from a delicious, warm and snuggly slumber in Jake's arms by a knock on our bedroom door.

Billy's voice called from the other side, "You guys still accepting visitors?"

I wasn't surprised by the fact that we had more visitors - I think the entire Rez and town of Forks had been through our house over the last few days.

What made my heart jump into my throat in surprise was Jacob's reaction.

Still with those freaky lightning reflexes he somehow gently disengaged himself from me and the baby, while at the same time leaping off the bed to stand in a crouch between us and the door. A low soft growl rumbled in his chest.

"Jacob?" I asked quietly, confused, as I sat up a bit more in concern. He didn't look back at me or acknowledge that I had spoken, but reached back and put a staying hand on my arm, effortlessly pushing me back farther on the bed.

True to his word, Jacob hadn't Phased since that night I almost died all those years ago. However we were both surprised by how much of his were-wolvish attributes he had kept. As he had once said, "Billy had been holding out on him" about life after running with the Wolf. He still had the same enhanced senses, freaky speed, and strength, and those powerful protective instincts that could make him struggle to mitigate his reactions.

Like right now.

I rearranged my shirt and wrapped Raven securely in her blanket in my arms. I sat up and back against the headboard and watched as Jacob stalked the few steps to the door.

Opening it, I heard his gasp of surprise, but his big body resolutely blocked my vision. But his shoulders drew back and his body thrummed with tension.

"Easy there, son. These old friends just came on over for a visit," Billy's drawl smoothly slithered into the room, infusing it with calm. Jacob just barely stepped back half a foot, but Billy pushed the door all the way open as he leaned in and gave me a reassuring smile. There, standing just behind Billy's chair was Alice, grinning broadly.

She leaned over Billy, with a piqued glance at Jacob and with a little wave to me. "Can we come in?" her familiar high voice brought back a plethora of memories.

I shut my gaping mouth and blinked, swallowing. We? We, who? I wanted to say. But without a doubt I knew who.

I had thought about Edward often over the years, wondering if he was finding his peace... hoping he was. But never had I doubted that Jacob was the man I wanted to spend each day with. Our relationship had just gotten better over the years, growing and deepening as we did individually and as a couple. Each day I woke up thinking it wasn't humanly possible to love him any more, but by each night I was again proven wrong. He was my personal sun - even when the world around me was raining - and he was still my very best friend.

But I knew one day I would see Edward again.

Jacob's shoulders tensed as he moved his muscular body more to block the door and fisted his hands by his side.

"Jake...honey?" I called quietly. He shivered, shaking his head, and then turned to look at me with intense, glittering eyes.

I stretched out my hand to him.

After a pause, he squeezed his eyes shut tightly and drew in a deep breath. He reached out and took my hand in his, and at the touch I felt him palpably relax. I gently tugged him back to sit beside me on the bed, watching as he struggled to reign in his breathing.

Outwardly oblivious, Alice turned to look encouragingly behind her. My gaze followed hers to see Edward, standing still - staring at me with an intense and inscrutable expression. Alice made a little pouting noise and reached behind her to grab his hand and drag Edward inside as she flitted in.

Billy cast a brief exaperated glance at Jacob, before winking at me in reassurance. "I'm gonna go back to the living room, and keep the rest of our guests company."

I guess all the Cullens were here.

"I told you it was time." Alice looked up at Edward with a blinding smile, obviously trying to put him at ease.

Edward was staring unapologetically at the baby in my arms, and had shoved his hands in his pockets. He looked uncomfortable... and so young. It was like looking at a vision torn directly from the pages of my memory.

"Hey," I said softly sitting up more. Jake continued to quiver beside me, his eyes glued to Edward attentively, like a cat watches its prey.

At the sound of my voice, Edward's gaze slowly moved up to mine and his face softened into a smile. "Hello, Bella." I had forgotten how utterly absolute and intense everything was for vampires.

After an appraising glance at Edward who was now stuck staring intently at me, Alice piped up as if it was the most normal conversation in the world. "Congratulations, Jacob and Bella! What is your baby's name?"

She smiled at me and took a step forward, and Jacob shot off of the bed to stand in front of her.

I put a staying hand on his tense, rock-solid arm.

Alice glanced up at Jake and smiled disarmingly. "We won't hurt her Jacob."

"Sit down, honey," I whispered, reaching out to touch him again. With a little exhale he did, and I put a hand on his thigh. "Her name is Raven."

"See I was right!" Alice said gleefully, glancing at Edward.

She came closer, slowly – eyes darting to Jacob – and smiled down at the sleeping child in my arms.

By all accounts ignoring Jacob, who was sitting ramrod straight between us, she gushed sincerely, "oh, Bella, she's beautiful. All that black hair!" She actually giggled, reaching a finger out to touch her cheek.

Jacob's lightning hand shot out and grabbed Alice's wrist, holding it while his eyes burned into her.

Alice rolled her eyes with a look of long-suffering patience. "Jacob Black!" she tsked as I moved to grab his arm. She shook her head reassuringly at me. "It's me, Alice Cullen, remember? The one who helped save your wife's life?"

Jacob blinked and he released her arm, bringing his hands to briskly rub his face. "Sorry... it's just so hard to-..." he mumbled. He stood again but this time pressed himself against the wall by the bed as he continued to massage his temples.

"Don't worry. I understand." Alice dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "Can I see her, Bella?"

"Of course." I murmured and wrapped Raven more tightly in the soft blanket that Sue had made. I handed her carefully to Alice, with a little assessing glance to Jacob who was obviously trying to slow his breath.

Alice took the bundle like it was made of the most fragile of glass, and brought her to her chest, as her face lit in amazement. Other than the same crazy mommy part of me that was "on guard" whenever anyone other than Jacob held her, I wasn't any more tense handing Raven to a vampire. I trusted Alice. And I trusted Edward.

But especially with his Alpha blood, poor Jacob was genetically programmed to defend us - especially his family - and he was obviously struggling with his own instincts. I reached out and pulled Jacob back to sit on the bed, holding his hand and rubbing his arm with the other reassuringly.

Alice's face literally glowed, her honey-eyes soft as they washed over tiny Raven. Puckering her lips she crooned little nonsense sounds as she swayed rhythmically with the bundle in her arms. Could a vampire look adorable? The answer is yes.

I looked over at Edward who was watching Alice curiously. I swallowed then asked quietly, "how have you been Edward?"

His gaze snapped to mine. "Well. We have been living in Russia for the last few years." He glanced back to Alice. "Alice said it was time to come back and visit," he whispered returning his gaze to the baby with a haunted look that I didn't understand.

"I'm glad you did," I said sincerely, squeezing Jake's hand, even though he didn't really need any reassurance. He knew I loved him more than anyone should be humanly - or otherwise - capable of. Edward smiled and stiffly sat at the foot of the bed awkwardly.

"Do you want to hold her?" I ventured, as he looked up at the baby again with that intense and inscrutable expression.

He shook his head but Alice beamed at him. "Of course you do!"

Alice was already moving to hand him the child and Jake nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Shhh." I soothed, rubbing Jake's leg.

Without looking at Jacob, while she gingerly situated the baby for the hand-off, Alice spoke conversationally in a sing-song voice over the baby, "Jacob, I have looked carefully. Do you think I would allow anything to hurt your baby?"

Jacob just grunted noncommittally.

Edward looked distinctly uncomfortable as she was being put into his arms, eyes glued on the child with probably the first expression of fear I had ever seen on his face.

Raven's tiny mouth stretched open in a yawn and then she settled sleepily into Edward's arms. I watched in wonder as, before my eyes, Edward visibly melted, his mouth slowly turning up into the most glorious joyful smile as he tenderly readjusted the baby against his chest. His body rocked slowly back and forth, amber eyes sparkling in an expression of delight that I had also never seen on his face.

It lit my soul.

Jacob must have been similarly affected as finally his body relaxed beside me, putting his arm around my shoulder and pulling me close. We all watched for five or more silent minutes as Edward rocked the baby, his finger experimentally and ever so gently touching tiny nose, lips, hands, in unmitigated astonishment and wonder.

Finally he looked up at Alice with an open-mouthed awe.

She smiled. "I told you. See, I had it right. You just hadn't been ready to see this yet... which you wouldn't have if you had kept your nose out of my mind," Alice chided, and then leaned over to brush her lips to Raven's forehead. " And then you wouldn't have gone off and almost killed each other!"

"Alice... what?" I asked shaking my head, trying to figure out what I was missing.

Alice smiled at me and then flicked Edward's arm in urging.

Edward looked over and met both Jake's and my eyes in turn. "Remember the night I came over to Charlie's house and you... you two were in the kitchen?"

My eyes dropped and a blush of shame rose to my cheeks – the night Edward had seen us kiss. Edward's hand squeezed my foot sweetly. "It's over Bella. It had to happen like that."

"It had to happen, but it didn't have to happen like that if you had listened to me." Alice crossed her arms petulantly.

Edward rolled his eyes and then held my gaze intensely and meaningfully. "Alice's vision... the one I saw in her head... the one that sent me over to your house... was the image of this moment right here: holding your baby in my arms." His gaze returned to the infant for a moment.

Taking a soft breath, he looked over at Jacob with a ghost of a smile. "At the time I was too immature, too self-centered to bear it, Jacob. I'm so sorry. But now... " he looked back down to the peaceful sleeping face in his arms. "Now I understand. I am so happy to have this moment. It is so beautiful. She's so beautiful," he breathed, bringing the chubby cheek to his cool, smiling lips.

Later in the living room I watched with a small smile as Rosalie cooed and fussed over Raven, awake now and watching her blonde hair intently. Jacob stood over her with a barely concealed protective presence.

Rosalie was completely ignoring him, and had been for the last hour as her intense vampiric attention was completely focused on cutting short each of the Cullens' turn at holding the baby. I chuckled at her lightning slap at Emmett's teasing attempt to usurp a turn.

Beside me on the couch sat Edward, who was watching their antics with his own private smile of amusement. I reached out a hand and put it over his, cold and hard, resting on his leg. He turned and looked at me, his gaze soft.

We just looked at each other for a whole minute as our own private memories marched across our minds' eye.

"I missed you." I said finally, leaning my head back against the couch and letting my eyes wash over his unchanged features.

He turned a little toward me, smiling, and took my hand in his, rubbing the top gently with his thumb.

A random thought occurred to me, "hey, did you have any problems with the Pack coming by?"

"Sam met us at the border and graciously granted us passage. I understand Emily is expecting their second?" Edward's voice was smooth, silky and warm.

I nodded. "Yeah, after this one is born, Sam will stop Phasing. Jacob has already... since that night in Pullman."

"Ahh... that is why his scent is different." Edward glanced over at Jake, standing omnipresent sentry over our daughter.

Jacob looked up at us. Wolf hearing.

"It is only slightly more bearable," Edward threw a wry smile in Jacob's direction. Jacob retorted with a sarcastic smirk.

"Do you still smell the Wolf? Cause I swear he's still in there somewhere." I squinted over playfully at Jacob who raised a sultry eyebrow. I smiled as an unheralded delectible zing shot through my body.

"Yes, his scent is of both. Like Billy's." Edward returned his gaze to mine, smiling himself.

It was odd, but whether it was time, marriage, or motherhood - or a combination of all three - our relationship had been naturally and comfortably transformed. I was happy to see that, after his initial nervousness (probably at walking into a poignant vision from the past) he was at complete ease around me.

Around us.

In this comparatively short time, Edward had changed. The brooding darkness that seemed to weigh his shoulders down had lightened. His many years were more evident in the settled wisdom he exuded; the measured, thoughtfulness of his words and enjoyment of the moment.

I was glad he had found his peace.

"What will you do now? Will you stay for a while, Edward?" I found myself asking. The Cullens were a family that I had missed being a part of. Now - in this time - having them here felt so natural. So right.

He pursed his lips and brought a hand to tuck a strand of my hair behind my ear. "Perhaps ...for a while," he murmured thoughtfully as his gaze washed over my face with affection. "I've missed you too," he whispered. I smiled at the tender look in his eye.

And then, with the innocent vulnerability of a child, he put his head on my shoulder in peaceful contentment and we watched the room full of our family.

Across the room, my husband met my gaze and smiled.

'

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And you know the rest... happily ever after.

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Thanks for reading (if you slogged through) and hope you enjoyed the vintage ride!