Thanks to all of you for reading and loving Jacob's side of things! -- Thank you to Eoynn77 for making this chapter even better! And to Leria for pointing out my stupidity... It took me replacing this thing three times! Thanks!
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer rocks! All recognizable people, places and dialog belong to her.
Chapter Eleven - Family
Bella held my hand in a death grip while standing so close, it felt like she was trying to melt right into me. She was anxious as we waited for my brothers to reveal themselves.
Sam emerged from the trees first, followed by Jared and Embry. Paul was the last to join the party. As if someone has flipped a light switch, their faces turned from confusion to fury.
I squared my shoulders and narrowed my eyes, preparing for what was coming.
Sam took a step toward us, stopping himself as he roared, "What have you done, Jacob?"
Before I could even open my mouth to respond, Paul pushed past Sam, glaring at me. "Why can't you just follow the rules, Jacob?" He threw his hands in the air, emphasizing his frustration. "What the hell are you thinking? Is she more important than everything else -- than the whole tribe? Than the people getting killed?"
Yes, yes and yes, my thoughts replied. She was more important than anything else in this world, but saying that to my brothers would only cause more hostility. I squeezed Bella's hand. "She can help," I said, careful to keep my tone calm.
"Help!" Paul shouted, his body starting to shake with the anger his voice conveyed. "Oh, that's likely! I'm sure the leech-lover is just dying to help us out!"
My own temper was beginning to reach its limit. "Don't talk about her like that!" I glared at him, daring to push me.
His body began to shudder with the tell-tale sign of phasing and I knew it was only a matter of time before he'd had enough.
"Paul! Relax!" Sam commanded.
Paul furrowed his brow in concentration and shook his head slowly, trying to regain some form of control.
"Jeez, Paul, get a grip," Jared muttered under his breath.
Paul whipped around to snarl at Jared, and then turned his rage back toward me. He glared at Bella and raised his lip. Bella was trembling as she moved closer to me. She had no reason to be scared of my idiot brother. I would never let anything happen to her…even if it meant her seeing me morph right before her eyes.
I couldn't believe how childish he was being. I shook my head as I took a step in front of her, blocking her completely with my body.
He snapped. "Right, protect her!" Another all too familiar shudder rocked his body and he threw his head back, growling through his clenched teeth.
"Paul!" Sam and I shouted.
Bella's fingers dug her nails into my hand. I could tell she was frightened, but didn't dare take my eyes off of Paul to peek at her. My mind raced as I anticipated what was coming. It was only a matter of time before Paul would be completely out of control and his body would take over.
His shuddering continued until he finally fell forward and shifted into a wolf. Bella let out a gasp and I could sense her fear -- as could he.
Paul crouched down menacingly and wrinkled his nose back to expose his teeth. Bella must have been peeking around my arm because that's where his intense gaze was focused. He let out another loud growl that caused Bella to jump and the birds to vacate the clearing.
You will not hurt her! my thoughts growled as I ran toward him.
"Jacob!" she screamed.
I knew she was scared and worried; but right now, her safety was all that mattered. I hoped she still liked me after actually seeing me explode into a wolf.
The world slowed on its axis as I hurled myself toward Paul. I heard the ripping of my clothes and Bella's screaming my name. I dropped my shoulder and slammed into his body. He flew back into the trees and I followed.
He steadied himself and whipped around to face me. Bring it on, brother!
I growled out a warning and circled him, waiting for his next move. He crouched down, preparing to attack and I leapt toward him, sinking my teeth into his neck and dug my claws into his back. You will not hurt her! I shouted again.
He pulled out of my grasp and stared at me. Dammit, Jake! She could ruin everything. Do you really want her telling our secrets to her… lover? He stressed the last word to drive the invisible knife deeper into my heart. You should really get over your fascination with her before it gets us all killed!
It's not like that. I ran toward him and knocked him easily to the ground, rolling him over, staring into his eyes. Would you just listen, you moron! She can help.
Help? How can she help?
A snarl came from deep in his chest and I growled in response.
Paul, stop it! Sam's thoughts ordered.
Immediately, the snarling stopped as did his struggling.
So how exactly can she help? Paul sneered.
I replayed my conversation with Bella at the beach where she informed me who exactly the red-haired leech was after. My stomach tightened again as I realized just how frightened she was.
The leech is after Bella? Sam asked, feeling as sick as I did. You're sure?
Of course, I'm sure. She's been scared to death the last few days, I informed him. If only you'd let me…
Jake, he warned. I don't regret my decision for you to stay away from her.
But now, I can't possibly leave her unprotected.
Paul laughed. Unprotected? Is that what we're calling it now?
Shut up! I chomped my teeth playfully at him.
That's enough. Well, what do you suggest?
Honestly, La Push is the safest place for her.
Yeah, bringing little innocent Bella into the wolf's den, Paul teased. The wolf's bed?
Am I going to have to kick your butt again?
Paul, please be serious.
So, you think La Push is the safest place for her. Why? I only ask so that when we make our case to Bella, it's been well thought out.
The obvious thing is, just what Paul said, she'd be living in the wolf's den. And with her being here, the leech isn't going to know exactly where to find her. And if she were to go anywhere else, the leech might follow her, putting other innocent people in danger.
I can't guarantee her safety, Jake. He glanced over at Paul. She'll need to understand that.
We'd better get back. Jared and Embry took Bella back to the house.
When we arrived in the tree line next to Sam's house, I realized that in my haste, I'd shredded my clothes and that now, I was going to have to face Bella…naked.
Sam's laughter filled my head. I've got some extra shorts in the garage. You'll need a pair too, Paul.
Thanks, Sam. I breathed a sigh of relief.
We threw on the clothes and Sam headed off toward the house.
"Are we good then?" I asked, turning to face Paul. If he was going to continue the battle, I'd rather it were out of Bella's presence.
He narrowed his eyes for just a moment before he smiled. "I still don't agree with your not warning us, but I guess…" he held out his hand. "We're good."
He turned his back to me and headed toward the house. I raced to catch up with him and wrapped my arm around his shoulder, rubbing my knuckles against his head. "You really do need to control your temper."
"And you, dear brother, need to remember your priorities."
I laughed. "She is a priority."
"Don't get your heart broken, Romeo," he teased as he opened the door and then punched me in the shoulder. I matched his laugh and gave him a jab in the kidneys. "Go get her, lover boy," he whispered. I hoped Bella didn't hear him.
Bella. I scanned the room, searching for her. My eyes finally met hers. She was standing in the far corner of the kitchen, trying to force the wall to swallow her up. I chuckled at her unnecessary fear.
I tipped my head toward her, "Hey, Bells." I grabbed a couple of Emily's delicious muffins from the table and made my way over to her. "Sorry about that." I hoped she wasn't too freaked out by what had happened earlier. "How are you holding up?"
"Don't worry, I'm okay." She forced a weak smile and I raised an eyebrow, questioning her. "Good muffins," she mumbled as she picked up her muffin from the counter and began nibbling at it.
"Oh, man!" Jared's voice brought my attention back to my brothers. They were examining the place where I'd sunk my teeth into Paul's forearm.
Embry was grinning like a fool as he exclaimed, "Fifteen dollars!"
Bella leaned into me. I looked down at her. "Did you do that?" she asked in a soft voice.
Her concern made me chuckle. "I barely touched him." It wasn't exactly the truth, but she didn't need to know all the gory details. "He'll be perfect by sundown."
"By sundown?" she asked skeptically, while her eyes returned to his arm.
I leaned down so that her ear was only inches from my lips. "Wolf thing," I whispered.
She nodded that she understood what I'd just told her, but I could tell she was weirded out.
"You okay?" she muttered under her breath.
"Not a scratch on me." I felt pretty smug about the fact that Paul hadn't been able to so much as break my skin. He may have been a wolf longer, but I certainly had better control than he did.
"Hey, guys," Sam interrupted my thoughts and everyone else's conversations. "Jacob has information for us."
I knew this was going to be difficult for Bella to relive. She'd been scared to the point of making herself sick when she told me about it on the beach earlier. I hoped she knew I would never let anything hurt her -- especially another leech.
I squeezed her shoulder lightly before I began my explanation, "I know what the redhead wants." I looked at Jared and Embry while I spoke since, of course, Paul and Sam had already been told. "That's what I was trying to tell you before." I kicked Paul's chair, reminding him again of his stupid loss of control.
"And?" Jared asked.
I paused, letting myself prepare to say the words. "She is trying to avenge her mate -- only it wasn't the black-haired leech we killed. The Cullens got her mate last year, and she's still after Bella now."
Standing next to me, Bella shivered as though an ice cold breath had just blown through the room. I wanted to take her into my arms and protect her -- make her feel safe.
Emily turned away from the stove and her mouth fell open as she stared at Bella. Jared and Embry's faces resembled the surprise on Emily's.
"She's just a girl," Embry pointed out the obvious, insinuating that I must be wrong. Bella had been special to the Cullens, but the fact that another vampire was trying to kill her seemed to have all my brothers upset.
"I didn't say it made sense. But that's why the bloodsucker's been trying to get past us. She's been heading for Forks." For Bella, my thoughts added and my stomach jerked.
Bella dropped her head when the faces continued to stare at her with their mouths open.
Finally Jared's voice broke the silence, "Excellent." A smile was starting to pull at the corners of his mouth. "We've got bait."
Bait? I reached for the first thing I could find and launched the can opener at Jared's head. He caught it and I snarled, "Bella is not bait."
"You know what I mean."
"So we'll be changing our patterns," Sam again took control. "We'll try leaving a few holes, and see if she falls for it. We'll have to split up, and I don't like that. But if she's really after Bella, she probably won't try to take advantage of our divided numbers."
"Quil's got to be close to joining us," Embry muttered the worst fear of every member of the pack. "Then we'll be able to split evenly.
None of us wanted to accept the fact that Quil was probably going to be receiving this curse, just like the rest of us.
Bella's eyes searched my face for something, I wasn't sure. I always tried to put on a happy facade for her, but thinking of the hopelessness of our situation, I couldn't do it. Not right now.
"Well, we can't count on that," Sam muttered quietly, then his voice returned to its normal authoritative level. "Paul, Jared and Embry will take the outer perimeter, and Jacob and I will take the inner. We'll collapse in when we've got her trapped."
I looked down at Bella and then over to Emily. They both wore the same frightened face. I worried that having Bella here for the strategy session was not a good idea. Her eyes met mine and I smiled, trying to assure her fears away.
Sam paused until Bella looked back at him. "Jacob thinks it would be best if you spent as much time as possible here in La Push. She won't know where to find you so easily, just in case."
Her safety was certainly my first priority, but having Bella in La Push was going to give me the chance to spend a lot more time with her. Selfish, I know.
"What about Charlie?" her question came out panicked.
"March Madness is still going," I reminded her. "I think Billy and Harry can manage to keep Charlie down here when he's not at work."
"Wait," Sam said, holding up his hand. I wondered why he'd just halted things until he looked at Emily and then back to Bella. "That's what Jacob thinks is best, but you need to decide for yourself. You should weigh the risks of both options very seriously. You saw this morning how easily things can get dangerous here, how quickly they get out of hand. If you choose to stay with us, I can't make any guarantees about your safety."
"I won't hurt her," I grumbled. I would never hurt her and if anyone tried, I would kill them first. I'm not you, Sam!
Sam continued, ignoring the comment he'd heard before, "If there was somewhere else you felt safe…"
I hated that I couldn't see her face, but standing behind her was where I'd positioned myself. She was quiet for a long time. I wondered what she was pondering. Would it really be that bad to stay here -- with me?
After an agonizing few seconds, she whispered, "I don't want to lead Victoria anywhere else."
Sam nodded. "That's true. It's better to have her here, where we can end this."
"You'll be careful, right?" she choked out.
The room erupted with laughter. She was always worried about other people. She'd probably even thought about offering herself to the leech in order to save all of us around her. Ridiculous.
Bella turned to look at me and I stopped laughing when I saw the concern in her eyes. She was really worried about me -- about us.
"Food's ready," Emily announced which sent the room into a flurry of activity. My brothers and I raced to grab a chair around the table. Emily was a great cook and she really enjoyed cooking for us. She called us her 'boys' and once said she felt like our mother…even though she wasn't that much older than we were.
We finished up with breakfast and we all headed off in our various directions. I took Bella back to the house and I spent the rest of the day trying to keep her mind off of the danger lurking outside the walls of our safe haven.
Billy called Charlie and invited him down, and shortly after his shift, he strolled through the door carrying two large pizzas. I chuckled wondering what everyone else was going to eat. I limited myself to one.
I wasn't sure if it was the protective father in Charlie or the fact that I was now enormous that caused him to eye Bella and I all night.
"So, what's with the new haircut, Jake?" Charlie asked.
Bella whipped around to look at me, but I just shrugged and told him the truth, well part of it. "It's more convenient this way." It was much more convenient short. The length of my hair determined the length of my fur. And the longer the fur, the more burs got caught in it.
I hated the fact that I had to cut off my hair. I knew Bella really liked it longer, but convenience was a sacrifice I had to make right now.
The evening dwindled into darkness and Charlie stood to leave. Bella followed his lead, thanking Billy for letting her hang out here all day.
Billy waved his goodbyes from the porch as I walked Bella to her truck. While Charlie fiddled with his seatbelt, finding any excuse not to pull away, I leaned my head in through her window. "Don't be scared tonight. We'll be out there, watching."
"I won't worry about myself."
"You're silly." It was so cute that she worried about me. "Hunting vampires is fun. It's the best part of this whole mess."
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "If I'm silly, then you're dangerously unbalanced."
I chuckled. "Get some rest, Bella, honey. You look exhausted."
Charlie honked his horn, signaling to Bella that it was time to say goodnight. I didn't want her to leave -- ever. Instead I would protect her, help her get the rest she needed.
"See you tomorrow," I told her. "Come down here first thing."
"I will," she promised and my heart soared.
I watched as her taillights disappeared into the darkness before turning back to my dad, who was still on the porch.
"I'll see you later, Dad," I told him.
"Have a good night, son. Be careful."
I laughed. "You know me. I will."
"Yes, I do know you and that's what has me worried."
I snorted and rolled my eyes. "Good night, Dad."
I listened for the lock on the door and watched as the lights flipped off before heading into the trees. I phased and began to follow Bella home.
Once Charlie had Bella inside, Chief Swan began his interrogation. He asked her all kinds of questions as to what had changed between us. As I listened to her response, I realized that she really had been concerned about me and my sudden change. My heart started to thud violently in my chest and a thick lump started forming in my throat. She'd actually missed me, from the sound of things, almost as much as I missed her.
Her light turned on and then off a few minutes later. I hoped that tonight she would finally be able to get the peaceful rest she so desperately needed.
"Sleep well, my sweet Bella. I won't let anything happen to you."