Author's Notes: So much work went into this, you have no idea! It was only supposed to be about two thousand words, and, well, this is where I ended up. There are many allusions, so whatever you recognize isn't mine; and I apologize for any errors I have made - I've never been to Alaska, and internet research can only take one so far. Keep in mind that while this story is ultimately Jacob/Bella, I tried to make it as believable as possible, and there is therefore Edward/Bella as well. Please enjoy!


How Quickly Comes the Breaking Dawn

H-hi—Jake. It's me. Um… I know I shouldn't… shouldn't have called. But. Um. I just… We probably won't ever see each other again, and that—and I—um… I lo—I miss—please don't try and find me, Jake. Please. I've already done enough to hurt you…

Even on the answering machine, Bella's voice quavers, as though some invisible force has taken hold of her shoulders and is shaking her. Her tone is frightened, desperate, and every time she says please, the meaning behind her words changes.

Please… please…

Before the machine clicks off, and Bella's voice has had the chance to die away, Jacob is up, reaching the door in a few long strides.

"Jacob."

He turns, expression carefully blank, to find his father gazing at him—no question in his eyes.

"What?"

"Where are you going?"

For a moment, Jacob frowns, debating whether or not to answer. Billy knows full well what is on his mind. But after a pause, he merely turns the doorknob and pushes outside, squinting in the morning sunlight that has managed to filter through the fog.

When he laughs, the sound is hopeless and ironic:

"Alaska."

.#.

The flight from Seattle, Washington, to Fairbanks, Alaska, is three hours and forty-two minutes long. And for all three hours and forty-two minutes, Bella Cullen feels as though she cannot breathe. She stares out the window, rendered immobile and positioned perfectly to register only the contrast of the clouds against the sky—register, but not actually see that they are more than just colors. Constantly, she fidgets with the wedding ring upon her finger; she pulls it and twists it, the metal warming with her skin, but never does she remove it—as though it is what grounds her there.

"Bella," Edward sighs for the thousandth time. He draws himself closer to her, lowers his voice so that only she can hear.

Today, she is neither dazzled nor soothed.

"Relax," he breathes. "It's alright."

"I know," she says automatically, and the charade of this conversation is by now so carved into her mind that she nearly believes it.

Bella tells herself that she is merely nervous—and perhaps frightened, but only for obvious reasons: it is already November, she is nineteen years old, and technically, she is about to die.

She knows that this is not a mistake, because she has waited long enough and now wants only to get it over with. Nerves, then, are understandable, and not synonymous with regret. After all, the worst has already passed: she married Edward—a month before her birthday. Once the first step has been taken, it is easier to stumble through the others.

Sometimes, though, she catches herself in blissful forgetfulness, and it takes a glance down at her left hand to remember that her name is no longer Isabella Swan.

Lately, however, she has remembered this fact very well.

Edward moves to settle once more into his seat, but Bella chokes out, suddenly desperate for a new distraction: "Tell me how this is going to work."

She realizes, belatedly, that it would be easy to misinterpret her words.

Regardless, Edward understands. "When we arrive in Fairbanks," he tells her, his voice again low, "we'll drive to Denali National Park. I would prefer not to stay in a hotel—I don't want to provide a reason for someone to go looking for us—so we'll head in as soon as possible. Unless you have any objections, we will camp somewhere far into the park and stay the night."

The words twist themselves in Bella's head until they sound, vaguely, like the tagline from a low-grade horror movie: You'll check in, but you won't check out…

No traces left behind.

"I won't be able to sleep," she murmurs.

Edward promises to the contrary, but when she arches her brows in skepticism, he amends, "You'll need to, Bella. You want to be well-rested for this."

"And Carlisle?" she prompts, navigating away from the subject.

"He's already there. He's… preparing."

Briefly, her fingers still; the ring suddenly feels heavy.

"Bella?"

She blinks. "Hm?"

Worry has etched itself across Edward's flawless features, and he touches her cheek so lightly that she almost cannot feel it.

"Are you sure—?"

Abruptly, Bella scowls.

Edward pauses to regard her curiously. "You'll be fine, Bella, don't worry."

He kisses her, yet they spend the next twenty-six minutes in silence.

When the plane touches down at the Fairbanks International Airport, the impact—just the impact—causes her heart to leap up into her throat. A small voice in her head wonders if this is the last time.

For what?

The captain's voice fills the plane. "Ladies and gentlemen," he says, "welcome to Alaska."

.#.

"I need to get on this flight."

Jacob is out of breath, though running all the way from La Push to Seattle has a tendency of doing that to someone.

The man behind the desk looks at him sharply; regards, with a slight flare of his nostrils, the strands of black hair which perspiration has plastered to Jacob's forehead.

"Excuse me?"

Jacob grits his teeth. "I need to get on this flight—the one that's boarding right now."

"I'm sorry." The man folds his hands upon his desk; his expression is a far cry from apologetic. "I don't know how you managed to make it past security without a boarding pass, but I'm afraid it's too late to purchase a ticket for this flight. You're welcome to—"

Jacob clenches his fist. There is no time, he thinks, for patience and foolish, severe old men who know nothing at all.

"I don't care!" he growls. "There's no way that plane is full—nobody goes to Alaska—"

"Then why ever are you so determined to get there?"

No time, no time, no time…

"That's none of your business."

The man smiles, lips thin and eyes narrowed—pleased to have struck a nerve. "Well, I've already told you—"

"There you are, darling," a smooth voice calls, interrupting Jacob before he can say something that he might later come to regret.

Immediately, he recoils. The terminal suddenly smells of death.

Hands slide over his shoulders, marble, pale, and not quite touching him. The contrast between the shades of their skin is startling.

Jacob flinches when a lock of golden blonde brushes against him.

"Control your temper, wolf," Rosalie Hale hisses into his ear. "It wouldn't do to have you phasing in the middle of the airport."

"I don't need your help, bloodsucker," he spits, plastering his own face with a forced-casual grin that matches hers.

For a second, he feels a heavy pressure on his foot, and then it is gone before he can blink, leaving a residue of seemingly random discomfort behind.

Rosalie's eyes have never left those of the man behind the desk, and he is soon putty beneath her gaze. His mouth hangs lopsided and agape, no longer a straight, dignified line.

"Put him next to me," she commands quietly. Her tone is both light and threatening. "You can do that, can't you?"

The man nods mutely. He does not seem to remember that, just like Jacob, she was never on the flight to begin with.

.#.

Alaska, Bella reflects, is supposed to be beautiful, and she assumes that it is—but it is too dark to see anything, and so all the beauty that may exist is marred by shadow. And that, she understands, was the whole point of waiting so long—until near-winter, when the hours of daylight can be counted almost on one hand. If something goes wrong, or everything goes right, Bella-the-vampire will not be seen, will not in anyone instill fear or inspire ghost stories.

Bella-the-human comprehends this; no matter how impatient she may be, she is thankful that there is someone around her to think with an ounce of rationality—to be rational for her, because she no longer trusts herself as much as she used to.

Yet the darkness and the rationale behind it still frighten her. She wonders, for the first time—really wonders, not ponders as she did before, when this was all an event for the future—what she will become. What manner of monster will she be that she must flee to a place upon which the sun rarely shines? A place that will only serve to lock her away?

Briefly, Bella hears the echoes of a time long-passed:

You'd be better off dead. I'd rather you were.

She shivers, and rolls down the window of the car Edward stole just outside of Fairbanks. The night is cold, but she plunges her head into it without hesitation, letting the wind numb her face and her thoughts.

Eventually, her eyes are forced closed.

But even so, it takes some time before she cannot see.

.#.

Their conversation is short, and always to the point. Jacob finds himself wishing that more people would talk this way, instead of dancing around subjects until there are circles of footprints worn into the ground.

He asks her, halfway through the flight, how she knew where to find him, and why she even bothered with obtaining such information.

For the first time, Rosalie smiles at him, though it is subtle. "You're very predictable," she informs him in response to the first half of his question.

Jacob wonders whether or not he should be insulted.

Sensing this, she clarifies, "I mean that you are persistent. I always knew you would try and save her—you've successfully done so on many occasions, so I supposed that there was no reason for this time to be any different."

"Well, that's just great," Jacob frowns, "but you're sort of forgetting one thing."

"You still don't understand why I'm helping you."

Jacob waits, and Rosalie sighs.

"You aren't the only one," she says, "who thinks that Bella should remain human. I know that Edward will be furious with me, but I believe…" She stops.

Jacob observes her, questioning.

"To err is human, as they say," she continues, now more cryptic, "but while mistakes can be forgiven, they cannot be undone. Bella is blinded, Jacob, and you are the only one who can change that."

Jacob does not ask her to elaborate; her meaning is perfectly clear.

.#.

When they reach Denali National Park, Edward parks his stolen car by the side of the road, making it as conspicuous as possible. Once Bella has stepped out, shoulders hunched for warmth, he shatters the front window on the driver's side, and quickly takes the cell phone that is resting in one of the cup holders.

"For effect," he explains, depositing it into a nearby trashcan. He leaves the door with the broken window open, and it swings there fleetingly, waiting for someone who will never return.

It is all a farce…

Edward steps back, checking to make sure that nothing is out of place.

Soon, everything is to his satisfaction.

"Are you ready, Bella?" he asks, swinging a backpack over his shoulder—it carries a tent, a sleeping bag, and food enough for one last meal.

Bella thinks that the answer should come rushing forth from her lips in a verbal landslide, but when she opens her mouth, she forgets what she had meant to say.

Instead, she simply nods.

With this as his cue, Edward scoops her up into his arms and he runs—away from the sign that bears the name of the park—into the immediate density of the forest. The trees seem to part for them, coming close to striking them down yet bending at the last possible second, as if fearful of Edward's touch.

Bella finds herself observing, listening; and the swishing sound of Edward's feet against the forest floor lulls her into a surreal calm. Like streaks of light, the sounds of the night shoot past her, and sometimes, she thinks she sees the moon, reflected here and there upon a lustrous surface. Cricket songs, scarce as they may be with the season, are prolonged into one lengthy note—and for an hour—is it an hour?—the bow strikes only the first of many violin strings, as if hesitant to continue on.

Bella whimpers; she wants to press her hands against her ears. The cricket note is unnatural.

Stuck in limbo between the beginning and the middle.

Edward slows but does not stop, even though it is apparent upon his face that he wishes to do so. He merely holds her tighter, when all she truly wants, in that moment, is to be free.

Free to move by myself, she amends stubbornly.

And that's all.

.

They reach a clearing eventually; Bella has long-since lost track of time. The ground is suspiciously flat and immaculate, free of sticks and stones, and she wonders if someone has already been there, anticipating their arrival.

Well. Of course someone has. For when Edward has plans, they are always executed meticulously, perfectly. Yet still, Carlisle is nowhere to be seen, and so she cannot help but think that these past two years have made her more suspicious and imaginative than she could ever have hoped to be before—before monsters and magic.

Edward releases her, setting her down like she is a glass figurine.

In less than two minutes, he sets up the tent, sleeping bag neatly rolled out and unzipped partially, inviting her inside, and he finds enough wood to start a fire—all of it perfectly dry, perfectly perfect.

In four minutes, the fire is high and cackling, contained within a circle of round stones. There is something striking about the way it dances.

But five minutes later, Bella is freezing in the sub-zero temperatures of an Alaskan midnight. The fire dances on, laughing at her plight; its warmth does not reach her now.

Inside the sleeping bag, Bella shudders violently in the cold. Her teeth feel almost loose from clenching them so hard to prevent them from chattering. Edward sits as a gargoyle outside of the tent, knowing that for once, distance is finally the answer. Still, every few minutes, he peeks inside at her, though he tries not to speak—as if it is only his voice that will keep her awake tonight.

"I'm sorry, Bella," he says at length. "I should have learned last time from my mistake."

Last time…

At that precise moment, Bella breathes in deeply; she smells smoke from the fire and the quintessential essence of the woods. It is musky, and it is warm.

At that precise moment, Bella temporarily stops shivering, suddenly impervious to the chill. She takes another breath, and another, and then she realizes that the sleeping bag, the source of these scents, still smells like somebody else.

Life, she notes to herself, as if she does not already know, is ironic; once upon a time, it hurt to think of Edward's name, and now that he has come back to her, it hurts even worse to think of someone entirely different. The glue that holds together the cracked pieces of her heart is beginning to strain.

"What are you thinking?" Edward asks quietly.

"T-t-t-too c-cold t-t-to th-thin-k," she lies as the shivers return. She pulls the sleeping bag up around her nose, and before she can stop herself, she inhales once again.

And again.

And again.

And with each new breath, she feels something click into place within her, triggered with more and more fervor as her sudden addiction intensifies.

Bella's mind swims. Jacob is everywhere.

"Bella?"

Edward is abruptly at her side, her face cupped between his hands. When he kisses her, his lips are far too cold.

"I'm fine," she snaps, annoyed.

He pulls away in confusion.

"Sorry," she sighs quickly. "I think I just need a little space right now."

"I understand."

Of course he does, she thinks to herself. He always understands, and it sometimes is as if all communication between them is unnecessary, for they have become like one being. Like a cliché, or perhaps even a two-headed monster—where everything is connected except the contents of their individual minds; but even then, little is private, and personal things have become common knowledge.

Bella argues that this is what she wants—isn't this what marriage is all about? This is what she has chosen, and it is what she is willing to live with.

And to die for, says a voice in her head; she cannot discern whether this voice is her own.

Bella frowns, mutters, "That's the point," and rolls onto her side.

It is not as though she will be dead dead, anyway.

Eventually, her body gives in to exhaustion, and she plummets—not drifts off, not falls—into sleep. She dreams, a name lingering on the tip of her tongue all the while, of two black-haired children. They run from her when she tries to catch them, disappearing into the fog.

.#.

The earth has quieted into a deathly calm, as if even nature has realized that there is something significant about to occur. It holds its breath, waiting for an outcome, a conclusion, that cannot be foretold.

There is an abandoned car on the side of the road, and Jacob gags as Rosalie pulls up beside it; even through layers of metal and glass, he can still smell the stench of Edward Cullen.

"They cut straight through the trees," Rosalie says with a slight frown.

"That's not exactly a problem for me," Jacob reminds her, but she seems not to hear him.

"I can't go any further…"

"Yeah, I thought so." He flashes her a now-rare, momentary grin. "Thanks for—well, you know."

They exchange a fleeting look, and everything, he knows, is understood.

Then Jacob kicks off his shoes; in an instant, he feels a familiar thrill as rusty brown fur ripples down his skin. His bones, his blood, his everything—all of it sings.

He explodes into the forest, eyes blurring and mind reeling until he is guided by instinct alone. He has never run this fast before.

He has never needed to.

.#.

Bella's eyes are open even before Edward steals into the tent to wake her. The morning looks beautiful—but still dark—from what she can see through the tent flap, and it feels beautiful, though she does not know why this seems ironic and befitting all at once.

As soon as his gaze comes to lock with hers, her heart stops, flips, and pounds. She thinks, for the briefest of seconds, that she hears Edward murmur something to himself—I'm going to miss that—but then she decides that she must have imagined it.

Either that, or it was her who spoke.

"Are you hungry?" he inquires. His voice is calm, but there is a look in his eyes that suggests he is having difficulty controlling it—topaz is spattered with paint drops of excitement.

Bella clutches her hand to her chest. Her heart, it seems, it still attempting to win a marathon.

"No."

"What are you thinking?" he asks again.

"That I'm ready." She responds to his query without hesitation, though it comes out sounding automated, like a message on an answering machine.

Edward smiles at her—her favorite, crooked smile—and then tells her that he loves her.

It is time to go.

.

Carlisle has found the perfect place. Edward tells her as much on the way there, but it is not until they arrive that Bella believes him—because, thus far, Alaska has been miles from perfection—and, in fact, once she sees it, she gasps.

It reminds her of The Meadow so much that she is nearly overwhelmed.

Well, no. She is overwhelmed, but currently by other things. Location, location, location is not something that she has been particularly worried about lately.

"Do you like it?" Edward teases; Bella can only manage a half-smile in reply.

In the center of the meadow—perfectly center—is a large flat rock, curved and smoothed by wind and rain. Above, wisps and remnants of the Northern Lights swell across the sky.

It looks like a sacrificial altar.

And thus the lamb gave herself unto the lion…

"Is Carlisle here?" Bella asks quickly. Her voice cracks.

"Yes. Just in case."

She whips around, looks blankly over her shoulder. Edward squeezes her hand.

"You won't be able to see him. He's keeping his distance for now."

"Just in case."

Edward looks at her oddly.

"Oh," she says, realizing her blunder. "For privacy."

She blushes, and the blood burns at her cheeks. Edward brushes his fingers against the red stains, unconsciously giving a wistful sigh.

"Is there anything that you'd like to do?" he asks. "Any… last thing?"

At one point in time, there were so many things; on a sleepless night three months ago, she had even made a list: Things To Do Before You Die. Yet now, she cannot recall even the first item—cannot call to mind anything at all, even though she remembers that nothing was ever crossed off.

She has been a little preoccupied lately.

"Nothing." Bella shakes her head slowly, long after the word has tumbled from her lips.

Edward clears his throat. "I suppose this is it, then."

"Yeah."

"Are you ready?" he asks her again. But this time she does not roll her eyes or give an angry huff.

She considers, carefully, before she lies.

Because this is what she wants. She is merely nervous, and certainly frightened, but only for obvious reasons; she is past the point, is she not, of asking herself whether this is a mistake?

Bella tries to crack a smile. "Are you ready?" she shoots back.

She does not precisely mean for him to answer, but he does all the same. "I believe so. I went hunting this morning while you were asleep."

"Just in case."

"Of course."

Edward takes her hand and leads her to the rock at the center of the meadow, fingers cold and interlaced with hers—which are somehow still warmer than his, despite her sudden clamminess. Once there, Bella lies back, squirming until she is comfortable; her dark hair fans over the sides. She feels like Snow White, but in a jumbled sense; her prince has come to give her the apple that will cast her into eternity.

When Edward kisses her, she savors it.

And then she tilts her head back toward the tree line and the sky, baring her neck. She briefly registers that there is a large, black bird perched upon a nearby branch, watching, waiting: a witness.

Quoth the raven, she thinks, 'Nevermore.'

For some reason, she finds this funny, but she forgets to laugh. Her heart is beating everywhere but in her chest.

Nevermore, nevermore…

Tenderly, Edward leans over her, teeth bared and almost glinting. Bella feels his sweet breath upon her face; it is soft and hypnotic, and she finds herself closing her eyes as if on command.

This is the moment, she thinks. The exact dividing point between Before and After, when the Before is made a single sentence in an epic volume that continues on forever. This is the last moment that Life still has meaning—when life means everything—and Death resides in but the shadowy recesses of a fairy tale.

This is the moment that Bella is no longer prepared for.

The realization, finally concrete, unexpectedly comes crashing down into her mind—into everything; she is consumed.

She will be leaving everybody she has ever known, except for one. And she will be trapped by that one, with that one, in a bondage that is far greater than the constricting ropes of matrimony which have always frightened her so. She will be making a commitment to a boy that she loves yet, realistically, has only just met, and they will walk the earth side-by-side until everything she calls familiar crumbles away; at the end of the world, they will still be there with topaz eyes and pale skin. And until that point, she will be sleepless, thirsty, and cold, forever driven mad to quench desires that will never come to an end.

She wants to be this for a boy that loves her for being something that she is, not something she is not.

She wants to be there for a boy to whom she has only committed half of her heart, for how can she give him her whole when part of her belongs to someone else?

Bella Swan has dug her own grave; six feet under, it is too late to try and climb back out.

And Bella Cullen cries for what must be the very last time as Edward's teeth sink into her neck, and venom reaches out to still her frantic heart.

.#.

Jacob flies.

Or at least, that is how it feels. He leaps and bounds and feels air glide through his fur like a caress, his mind too preoccupied to notice whether his feet touch the ground.

He follows their scent like a breadcrumb trail, thankful that there is nothing to lead him astray—for in this story, he is the wolf, and no one ever thinks to trick him; what does the wolf care that Little Red Riding Hood cannot see to save herself? Though it is morning, it is still dark; he worries that Bella, who needs sun like a dying flower, is drowning in it.

It is not long before he reaches a meadow. The air there is heavy, laden thick with the stench of vampire.

In the middle of the meadow, centered around a rock, are two figures, one bent over the other—the other, whose pale arm hangs limply to one side, fingers still slightly curled as if to suggest that someone was holding them.

Jacob does not stop running.

And then he leaps.

The impact draws a shudder from the earth; it is as if a semi truck has collided with a marble statue, both sturdy and yet able to break. Edward snarls, pinned to the ground for only a half-second before he throws Jacob to the side.

But Jacob is quick, too. He ignores the throbbing ache in his shoulder and jumps back to his feet, a growl pulling his upper lip over his teeth. He takes two quick snaps, one at Edward's arm and the other at his leg; only the second reaches its mark, leaving a minute trace of dead flesh in Jacob's mouth.

After that, Edward reads Jacob's mind like a book. Somehow, however, it is still evenly matched; as though one is the balance of the other, all actions serve to cancel each other out, maintaining the game in a tie.

It would last as thus, perhaps, were there not such pressing distractions. For two minutes in—Jacob already winded, wounded—a gust of wind rises up, sweeping over the meadow. There is a familiar, coppery scent upon it.

At the exact same time, Edward and Jacob freeze as they are—fingers curved into claws, legs poised in preparation for a jump.

Bella's blood is on the wind.

For an instant, their conflict is tossed to the side, forgotten. Jacob phases back into his human form with little care about vulnerability, and he stumbles to Bella's side, suddenly clumsy.

There is blood on her throat, running along her skin like a river, and there is an open gash—the source of this macabre spring—plain for all to see. Bella lies there, still and forgotten, like the unfortunate prey of a vicious beast. Her breaths are shallow and irregular; her heartbeat is faint.

A sickening knot tightens in Jacob's stomach, and his eyes close.

"You've killed her," he whispers, horrified. He feels frozen.

Edward stares at him coldly, mouth twisting with fury. There is controlled anguish in his voice. "She would have been fine had you not intervened."

Jacob watches her chest rise and fall, each time more subtly than the first. She is dying, and he is too late to save her.

Everything he has ever reached for has amounted to nothing.

Jacob slams his fist down onto the rock, and it cracks beneath him. "Isn't there anything you can do?" he demands. The words are angry yet hollow.

You've killed her, you've killed her, you've killed her, you've let her die

"It's too late, I can't—"

"There's got to be something," he mutters insistently. "She can't just…"

Die.

Jacob had once told her that she would be better off dead, and at the time, he had meant it; she would not be Bella, just a ghost of her former self. But anything, he thinks now, anything would be better than death, than to watch her grow cold.

Anything would be better than to know that half the blame is draped over his shoulders—and only half, he tells himself; he cannot bear the idea that this is entirely his fault.

"It isn't just you," Edward tells him almost inaudibly.

Jacob blinks. "She was perfectly fine without you, you know."

"I know." Edward traces his fingers along the outline of Bella's lips, and Jacob fights the urge to strike his hand away.

"She was safer without you—she almost died like this before."

And you saved her then, didn't you?

Edward's eyes flash, pained by Jacob's thought.

"Can't you do it again?"

Please.

"You can try," a new voice says. The speaker has appeared out of nothingness, materializing from the blackness, the confusion, that surrounds them.

Deus ex machina.

Edward and Jacob simultaneously look up, heads jerking as if pulled. It is Carlisle Cullen—the demon with an angel's face, Jacob thinks. His normally perfect hair is mussed, and there are streaks of dirt upon his clothing. He looks surprised to see Jacob, as though he had known he was there yet had not believed the validity of his observation. Quietly, he surveys the scene.

"What happened?" he asks at length.

There is murder in Edward's expression; one glance at the direction of his gaze is all the explanation that Carlisle requires.

"Forgive me," he says. "I should have been here."

This strikes Jacob as strange—how can things have ended this way with aid standing so close by?

"There was another coven," Edward explains dully, reading the other vampire's mind.

Carlisle nods. "They grew too curious. I had hoped to dissuade them without difficulty…"

Curiosity killed Bella Swan. There is no satisfaction to bring her back.

"How long has it been?" Carlisle's voice is infuriatingly calm.

"Less than five minutes."

He nods. "The venom won't have spread entirely yet. We'll have to work quickly."

Jacob lifts his hanging head. He wants to react to this—any of this—to feel anguished or even to explode into a million little pieces. He is not an introverted person; feelings come and go like the tide, and always does everyone know what is on his mind.

When his mother died, there was never a moment of quiet.

"Edward, Jacob—please hold her steady."

.#.

Dawn breaks.

There is a warm hand somewhere upon her skin that, after a prolonged pause, slips away, and then a wind rushes up to engulf her.

And Bella—just Bella, not a Cullen or a Swan—runs away from darkness and light. She is alive, alive, ALIVE.

Who wants to live forever, anyway?

.#.

Jacob and Edward are united in a momentary truce that may or may not need to last a lifetime. Edward stands, reserved and immobile, beside a tall quaking aspen; Jacob sits at its base, his head and his weariness in his hands. Carlisle has taken Bella to the nearest hospital, to fix what cannot be fixed by one person alone.

Jacob and Edward have been left behind.

"I know that you'll take care of her," Edward says, carefully composed. "She needs you more than I have ever dared to imagine—I see that now."

The words are odd when uttered aloud, though Jacob has been thinking them all along. He knows that he can say something, a cutting, arrogant remark, and any other time, he would. But here is the truce, standing unspoken between them, and gloating, dignity, must be spared.

"You won't try and change her again?" he asks. His tone is still almost biting.

"No. The risk is too great now. Carlisle believes she will simply die if anymore venom enters her system."

Jacob snorts. "So I win, then, just by default?"

"Are we still playing a game?"

It's called life, Jacob thinks before he can stop himself, and Edward slowly smiles.

The sun rises over the tree line to engulf the wilderness in streams of gold.

The End