A/N: Twilight and all its characters belong to the incredibly gifted Stephenie Meyer
Jacob could feel the blood pulsing through his veins as he raced through the darkening forest. His heavy paws dug deep into the warm brown earth with every stride. He pushed his legs faster, excited as the disgustingly sweet scent stung his nostrils. It's getting closer… He thought to himself hungrily. There was no reply, merely silence that seemed to echo within his mind. Jacob Black was the only werewolf left in La Push; after the Cullens left Forks, there had been no more vampires in the area. Over the years, the need for protection had faded away and the pack's numbers had begun to dwindle. Now there was only one.
Deep inside, Jacob knew that there was no reason for him to continue phasing, but there was something deep within him that refused to let him stop. He had had the discussion with his former pack brothers countless times.
"Jacob, be reasonable Sam's eyes hardened as he gazed at his friendHow can you go on like this?" As he spoke, he smiled down at his young granddaughter, who he bounced lightly on his lap.Think of everything you're missing!"
Jacob let out a sigh. That was what they all said – Jared, Paul, Quil, Embry, Seth, even Leah. They had all either imprinted or simply fell in love years ago. Now that they lived as humans, they were free to have normal lives, to grow old with the ones they loved and raise their children. They were all so happy watching their families grow and wished that their friend would settle down and do the same.
How many years have you and the others been telling me that, Sam Jacob reached out a long index finger to little Allison Uley who squeezed it firmly and began tugging it back and forth, giggling. Jacob smiled softly, despite his frustration. "I'm not missing anything! I've still got Rachel and Rebecca, and their families."He paused a moment, thoughtful. That wasn't entirely true. His sisters and their children lived thousands of miles away. An annual Christmas card was the most contact he had had with any of them in years
And," Jacob continued hurriedly, realizing that Sam could see right through him, "I have this." He nodded downward toward Allison who still held his finger in an iron grip. "I mean, what would any of you guys do without 'Uncle Jake' around to babysit all the time?" He grinned as he looked down into his friend's aging face. He was finally getting used to watching his pack brothers grow and change while he remained the same, trapped in his seemingly eternal youth.
Sam couldn't help but smile in return. "I have to admit, you have been a big help to all of us. Plus, Quil and Claire have got another one on the way… we'll all have our hands full again in no time." He chuckled softly before his expression once again hardened. "But we're worried about you… you can't keep living alone like this. Why don't you just make the same decision the rest of us did and –"
"I'm happy like this, really." Jacob replied firmly as he gently removed his finger from little Allison's fist. "You guys are all the family I need."
Sam stood slowly, gently setting his granddaughter onto the floor. She stumbled on wobbly legs toward the kitchen where her grandmother was baking cookies. Sam smiled after her fondly before turning back to Jacob. "Then why don't you just stop phasing and open up a daycare?" He said this with a smile, but there was still a hint of sincerity in his voice which Jacob did not miss.
"I've been telling all of you for decadesI'm happy like this!"
"Jacob, you're not happy. All of us can see that."
"Will you just leave me alone? It's my life and I can spend it however I want!"
"Then think of Billy! What would he think if he saw you now?"
Jacob clenched his teeth and curled his fists into tight balls at his sides. Sam knew better than to bring Billy into this. He closed his eyes and took a slow breath. It was so much easier to regain control than it used to be. "Look, I should get going." He said calmly, ignoring the comment about his father. "I'll see you later." He left without another word.
The exchange had taken place less than three days ago, and yet it was the same argument he and his friends had gone through for a little more than thirty years. Has it really been that long…? Jacob wondered to himself as the wind rushed through his long shaggy fur. How many times had they told him that there was no reason for this to continue, that no vampires would ever return to the area? But now…
He was surprised to find himself so excited upon detecting that familiar scent - that repulsive odor he hadn't come across in so long. It was as if his life had a purpose again, as if there was once again some meaning for his bleak existence. It had been years since his last encounter with a bloodsucker and he was hungry for a good fight. Jacob's jaws seemed to ache as he imagined the ripping and tearing of sinking his teeth into that cold, hard flesh.
His excitement boiling within him, the giant russet wolf broke through the trees into a dimly lit clearing where he finally came face to face with the source of that sickly sweet smell.
"Bella, are you sure you want to do this?" Jasper furrowed his brow as he spoke. He could feel the waves of apprehension and uncertainty coming from his newest sister.
Bella sighed heavily in return. Her entire family had been trying to change her mind ever since they arrived back in Forks the day before. "Look, I have to do this. I really don't have a choice, you all know that."
"And you know how dangerous this is!" Alice shook her head, frustrated. "I saw it last night, Bella. Your future totally vanishes in about…" she glanced up at the clock on the wall. "Twenty minutes. We don't know how many of them there are… if things get out of hand, it may be too much for you to handle."
"Please, don't do this…" Edward stepped forward, breaking the barrier he, Alice, and Jasper had made before the front door. He gazed into her sparkling golden eyes and gently stroked the cold ivory skin of her cheek. "At least, not alone."
"I know what I'm doing." She replied gently, entwining her hand with his. His skin which once felt so cold to her touch felt smooth and almost warm against hers. "And besides," she turned to face Alice, "I doubt there have been many vampires passing through here. So La Push won't be needing nearly as much protection as… before…" Bella glanced downward. Unlike the other Cullens, she vividly remembered her human life. Some things were still too painful to think of, even after so many years. "If I'm careful enough, I might be able to sneak into town unnoticed." She added, though she was unsure if she'd truly be able to achieve such a feat.
"Bella, love, I understand you miss him, but…" Edward's voice trailed off as he saw the pain enter his wife's eyes. "Try to reconsider, please." He whispered gently.
Jasper cut in, firm yet kind. "When you convinced us to return here, you told us this was about your father."
"And it is," Bella assured him, trying to hide her pain at the mention of Charlie. "But… that's not the only reason I wanted to come back." She admitted. With a pleading smile, she turned back toward Edward. "Please, just a few minutes is all I need. Just long enough to see if he's okay… if he's happy." She paused. "He won't even know I'm there."
None of them spoke for a few moments; Bella could tell that the argument was coming to an end. Luckily, Carlisle and Esme had accepted her decision, so there wasn't much conflict with them. Rosalie remained indifferent, as always, and Emmett was confident that Bella could "take care of things" without any trouble. The others were the only ones who had put up a fight.
"But we don't know how he'll react if he sees you." Edward made one last attempt at persuading her. "Trust me, Bella… with enough rage behind his attack, he could really hurt you." He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it gently.
A shake of the head was her only reply. She knew that Jacob would never hurt her, no matter what the circumstance. And anyway, she thought to herself, after all these years… She could almost picture it: his warm, smiling face - older, more mature, with a beautiful wife at his side… maybe even children… Her dearest friend, living out the life they could have shared together.
Edward turned helplessly toward his brother and sister, defeated. With a concerned look toward Bella, they each left the room in silence. The battle was over. "Fine." Edward said softly, reaching up to hold Bella's face in his hands. "One hour. If you're not back, I'll come looking for you." The threat was not harsh; it sounded more like a promise.
Bella laughed softly. "Alright, but you shouldn't worry so much… I'm not as breakable as I used to be." She pressed her mouth to his softly.
His lips curled into a smirk as they met hers. "One hour," he reminded her when they broke apart.
It took her less than ten minutes to reach the forest outside the reservation. Bella thrilled at the feeling of the breeze billowing through her chocolate brown hair as she flew effortlessly through the trees. It was laughable to think that she had once been so frightened when Edward had carried her with him on his back. She was finally able to understand why he always enjoyed it so much.
Upon reaching a small, open clearing, Bella paused to plan her approach. If I head west, I may be able to sneak in by the garage… She hoped he still lived in the same house he had shared with Billy. All I need is a quick glimpse through the window, then I can –Her head snapped up, suddenly alert.
A strong, heavy odor had suddenly filled the air and it was getting more powerful by the second. It was heady, musky, and had an almost bitter quality about it. Bella had never before smelled anything like it, but she instinctively knew it could only be one thing…
Damn… She thought to herself. One of them had detected her scent. Bella stood frozen in place, uncertain. There was no way this could be one of the original pack members, it had been too long. This would be someone young, new, and unfamiliar; someone who wouldn't recognize her… someone who would attack.
With a deep breath, Bella planted her feet firmly on the ground and readied herself as the immense, powerful wolf broke through the trees.