I do not own Twilight, nor do I own any of the characters. The Twilight Saga belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Any references to dialogue from Eclipse are purely for reference. This story is in no way an attempt at copyright infringement.

It's part three and I can't believe I've getting politically correct with Twilight. For Jacob Fans: Please note that I tried to show Jacob's adoration of Bella objectively, while remembering that these are Edward's perceptions.


Continued from Chapter 22 – Fire and Ice, Part Two…

He was speaking in past tense. She still may not choose me, Jacob Black...

"That was part of it…but only a small part. We all have our moments of doubt. Mostly I was worried that she'd hurt herself trying to sneak away with you. After I'd accepted that she was more or less safe with you"…despite the bike, the cliff diving…" as safe as Bella ever is – it seemed best to stop driving her to extremes."

The vision from Alice's mind of her racing on her bike pushed itself forward.

…why is he being so honest…if she were awake…

"I'd tell her all of this, but she'd never believe me…"

"I know." I responded.

…'I know'…he's always so freaking cocky…I can't stand it… "You think you know everything," he blurted.

Perhaps he had a point. I thought about it for a moment. It wasn't that first time I'd heard that, in fact, Rosalie frequently reminded me of my own presumptuous nature. My arrogance had tempered since Bella, but it was still a firm fixture of my character. Yet, this situation was different. There were too many uncertainties. I'd never felt more lost. I'd also never felt more apprehensive. Did he deserve to know that I had my own reservations? I wasn't sure. Honesty was one thing; exposure was another.

"I don't know the future." I admitted, hesitation thick on my voice.

He caught the meaning in my tone and began to sort through his ideas behind the meaning of my words. He convinced himself easily that I was just as unsure as he was. He began to wonder why I'd admitted it, and then he began to plot how to best use this information against me.

To my surprise, I didn't feel angered by his new understanding. For some reason, although I wasn't disclosing fully, I wanted him to know. If I lost Bella, if I lost her heart, if she chose Jacob, I could only hope he would remember the depth of my love for her. Maybe he would love her more for the two of us.

I frowned at the prospect, but he didn't notice; he was still lost in his own thoughts.

I thought hard, too, as I watched him in the darkness. I could not tell him in any other way that I'd seen so many possibilities. There were Alice's discovered visions that made it clear that Bella had considered the option of loving Jacob before I'd returned. Of course, there were Bella's interpretive gestures of affection for him, and of course, and then I had to consider the almost magnetic draw they seemed to have for one another. The magnetic draw that was forced apart only by an anomaly of nature; my existence.

But, perhaps most discouraging of all, there were the images from Jacob's mind that served as a concrete foundation for my uncertainty. He was dedicated to trying to win her heart, although I could not hear a firm plan in his thoughts. He loved her. He was a fighter. He would not give in easily. It wasn't a game to him, but that was the closest analogy I could find to describe the theme and feel of his warring thoughts. It was as if he saw the situation as a chess match with the highest possible stakes.

I listened to Jacob consider the prospect of my uncertainty further, only now he was beginning to consider it in relation to his love for Bella. In the darkness, in the silence, I heard him begin to form the designs of hope. And, as if I needed something more to consider, his sincerity brought forth a particularly painful memory that I could not push away:

Seated behind the steering wheel of my car, I'd watched her cross the street toward him. His was pleased to have her there with him.

He'd succeeded in taunting me with images since we'd begun these careful exchanges. Usually his images were filled with memories of the time they'd spent together when I'd abandoned her. It was painful, but repetitive: Bella in the woods. Bell and Jacob together on the beach. Bella and Jacob together in his garage. Bella and Jacob holding hands. Bella and Jacob on what seemed like a date at a movie theatre.

But, this night, he'd been agitated about something. I'd stiffened as I'd caught the discomposure in his thoughts. I couldn't identify the source, though. So, I'd listened carefully, sifting, attempting to pick out anything he might be guarding when, without any warning, I'd seen his desperate dream:

...Bella in his arms, her head thrown back in raucous laughter. Bella smiling, running on the beach, Jacob in pursuit, letting her gain a lead. Bella fishing with Jacob, laughing. Bella, radiant, playing a children's game with two small, beautiful, dark-haired children. Bella, cooking, pregnant, glowing, smiling. Bella, Jacob, children, their family...

It had been so clear; it could have been a vision from Alice. The emotional charge of the thought was astounding. My head had snapped back in response causing me to violently gasped for air I did not need. My own thoughts were spinning with the dramatically heightened emotions I could not identify, and at that moment I was in no place to analyze them. Their intensity frightened me.

The dream would not relent and although I'd struggled to gain dominion over the despair, the agony, and sadly, the violent urges that sprang forth in succession, I'd been unable to concentrate hard enough. After several seconds, I'd finally been able to force out the last vivid images of their perfect life. Utilizing every ounce of self-discipline, I'd carefully composed my features, resisting any resurgence of the thoughts with intentional determination.

Then, when I'd thought it recovered, my dormant instincts emerged. Somehow, they'd not dulled by my constant resistance to the call of Bella's blood as I'd assumed. And, before I'd realized what was happening, the primal urge to eradicate the threat to my existence, to my survival intensified. My muscles clenched, my teeth snapped together, my senses became heightened as if I'd been on the hunt, and fresh venom washed through my mouth. My body screamed to kill him right then.

In a fourth of a second, I'd run through a dozen scenarios. From my position, I'd assessed that I would have needed less than forty-five seconds to remove myself from my vehicle, secure Bella's safety, reach him, and destroy him. I'd conceded that he would fight back. But, I'd also already acknowledged that he would lose. My senses became even sharper as I watched him from a crazed state, barely conscious of my breath, which had become quick with energy and animalistic impulse. For the remainder of that dreadful second, I'd felt the unmistakable high of revenge.

But then, I'd stopped.

It was still true that I'd wanted to tear his neck from his body and destroy his life. And, I'd cared little for devolving into the monster that I'd known I would become if I'd acted.

But, it was the acknowledgement of the irrefutable that brought me from my darkest place. I would hurt her beyond repair. She'd never forgive me and she would be lost to me.


That night, those reminders had been the only barriers between Jacob Black and me. My stronger instinctual desire for Bella's happiness was all that had pulled me from the gleeful planning and plotting. The animalistic impulse receded into a dark cave as I'd managed to regain control.

And, as soon as the demon had been defeated, I'd refocused my attention on the reality before me. As all of these emotions, feelings, and urges swam inside of my head, I'd watched him most carefully from behind the glass, from behind the invisible boundary that separated our worlds. My wild eyes, that were surely full of hatred, fear, rebellion, despair, and helplessness, narrowed suspiciously into his.

Of course, he'd seen everything. But, he'd not intended for me to see that thought. Anxiety mounted further as I attempted to gauge whether or not he was now aware of what I'd seen. It didn't last long. Either out of instinct, or out of the mutual understanding we now shared, his mouth had curled up into a defiant smile. His smug, juvenile countenance had altered even more completely as he'd slowly processed that in some way he'd cracked my careful veneer of indifference. And it was true, he had succeeded. Quite effectively.

I'd watched him grin as they left our meeting place between the borders. I'd forced myself to start my engine and feigned departure while his car disappeared with Bella securely at his side.

That night had been excruciatingly agonizing. I'd sat there in my car for the remaining five hours of their time together. Thinking, watching, and waiting. In that time, I'd nearly gone mad trying to untangle the complex web of emotions I'd felt, and was continuing to feel, in response to his vision. I'd considered several possibilities: How did such a thought, an errant, unfocused thought at that, become so strong? Perhaps it was my emotional connection to Bella that intensified my dream? Or, perhaps it was his desire to see it realized? Why had my body reacted in such a manner?

I'd very nearly killed him. I'd very nearly lost Bella forever.

I'd known then that it was essential to discover the root of this emotional charge. I'd need to understand it in order to prevent it. There would not always be several hundred yards, Bella, and a windshield between us.

Obsessed, I sifted and searched through each of my own feelings. I'd gone through memories of Alice's visions, Jacob, Bella, and their interactions together. I could think of nothing else. I could not pinpoint why my reaction was so strong to a silly thought, a dream, a hope. And then, as the final hour was up, an epiphanic wave of anguish coursed through me. The very reason I'd been unable to clear the thought easily, the reason the thought was so strong, and the reason the thought inspired such erratic, passionate emotions within me became so clear.

Jacob Black clung to the desperate dream much like a dying man would cling to life. Much like I'd clung to my own dreams of my future with Bella. This was Jacob Black's hope. And, it was powerful.

At this realization, the emotions I'd felt weren't simple enough to confine to tedious words. Only themes could embody my feelings. I was an outsider looking in looking in on their bliss, an unwanted guest, an intruder, a violator of joy. Despair soaked through every part of my mind and my body. If I had a soul, it would have permeated every layer of that as well.

So, in the quiet confines of my car, I'd understood. It was not the thought of losing Bella to happiness, nor was it the infinite jealousy which I'd admittedly felt. It was not any of the trivial emotions I could not confine my feelings to. No, it was the fact that his thought was the most potent reminder of the stunning, incontrovertible truth. The truth I knew, but avoided for my own sanity. The truth Bella and my family refused to consider.

Jacob Black could give her a life that I never could. The image of their joy was happy and human. She would have those things with him. Family. Warmth. Humanity. Her soul.


"What would you do if she changed her mind," he asked, breaking me from the wretched memory. I saw his thoughts again; he was beginning to entertain the prospect of hoping more than he'd allowed himself before. He'd just pushed the thoughts away carefully, but I'd still caught them.

I took a deep breath to steady myself, reminding my depression to keep a careful distance. Things had changed since that vision. I had hope now too.

"I don't know that either…" I said, unable to pretend to be interested in his question. The vision was still fresh in my mind. I took another quiet breath to steady myself. I didn't want to bring that pain into this situation. I was helpless to control it if I truly allowed it any advantage.

Jacob chuckled, unable to gauge the distance in my response, "Would you try to kill me?" he asked. His tone was sarcastic, but there was an edge of inquiry in his voice. Was he wondering how far I would go to keep her?


"Why not?" he asked, his expression feigned humor that wasn't there in the tone of his thoughts. He was curious, but it was no laughing matter. My imagination contrived an image of Bella's lovely face contorted in horror. It was her face, as Alice had seen it, before I'd attacked her in her kitchen, before I'd left for Denali. I shrugged slightly in disgust.

"Do you really think I would hurt her that way?" I asked.

He sighed imagining his own version of Bella's pain, only this time, he saw her face after I'd left her; sad, distant, distraught. "Yeah, you're right. I know that's right, but sometimes…" he started, but his thoughts gave him away as he remembered the image of us laughing together as we stood at the practice field, my eyes were peering into hers, my hand rested on her cheek, and her gaze just as intense as mine. In his mind, he saw us as clearly in love.

But, my own version of that nights events sprang forth and I saw Bella, clearly enraptured by his werewolf state, sitting comfortably next to him, stroking his vile fur, and by all descriptions, looking almost in love. In response to that, I could not control the vision I'd entertained so often this very night. I saw myself crushing his skull again.

"Sometimes…it's an intriguing idea." I admitted again. Very intriguing, indeed.

Jacob understood and a wide grin spread across his face. Was he embarrassed to have let his guard down? Then, as if he'd been able to read my earlier thoughts, he pondered the utter ridiculousness of the situation. A werewolf and a vampire: mortal enemies, mythical creatures by all intents and purposes each vying for the affections of a human girl. Although a remarkably extraordinary human girl. His thoughts enjoyed the humor and he chuckled into the sleeping bag, unable to restrain himself.

"Exactly," he managed. I smiled in the darkness at the characterizations his imagination then conjured. I looked startlingly cartoonish in his image. It was actually quite funny. But then, his tone changed again. He lifted his face and his expression was suddenly introspective.

He began to remember vividly the day that Bella left him to follow Alice to Italy. I saw Jacob, standing in her living room, odd man out, elbowed aside by Bella as if his presence had been completely forgotten. Bella spoke to Alice in anxious concern about my impending doom.

He cringed at the reminder. It was a startlingly sad memory. He began to wonder what I must have felt that would have propelled me to want to commit suicide and whether the hopelessness would affect him in the same way.

"What's it like? Losing her?" ...I mean, really… "When you thought you'd lost her forever? How did you….cope?" he whispered.

But, his thoughts betrayed him again. He knew what I had done to an extent. Why bring this up now? I felt a surge of sour irritation at his forward question. I did not want to discuss the worst mistake of my existence with Jacob Black.

"That's very difficult for me to talk about." I curtly responded, hoping to end it there.

I am not trying to pry, either…I really want to know because…well, I am not sure I could lose her…Ed-…leech…but, you don't have to tell me if it's too much…if you can't handle it, then I understand…

I cut him off with a wave of my hand. His thoughts ceased. I was unnerved by the change in their tone. They were no longer jeering, but sincere. It made me uncomfortable. But, at the same time, for reasons I could not understand, I wanted to be honest with him. Perhaps if I let him in enough to see the pain, he would understand to an extent why I was in her life. So, I let the darkest, most painful of my memories come forward and began slowly.

"There were two different times that I thought that. The first time, when I thought I could leave her…that was..." - images of the hotel room I had reclusively resigned to– "…almost bearable. Because I thought that she would forget me and it would be like I hadn't touched her life." My voice shook a little as the image of my blank expression staring into the mirror pushed itself into my mind. The image conjured long buried feelings of despondency. I paused for a second, composing my thoughts.

"So, for over six months I was able to stay away, to keep my promise that I wouldn't interfere again. It was getting close..." –me staring off into the rising sun, hallucinating with near-drunken visions of her scent, her smell, her smile, the feel of her skin– "...I was fighting but I knew I wasn't going to win; I would have come back..." – the three times I'd arrived at the airport ready to make the flight back, only to convince myself otherwise – "...just to check on her.

"That's what I would have told myself anyway. And if I'd found her reasonably happy..." – Bella sitting on the beach with Jacob – "...I like to think that I could have gone away again..." – Bella's face as she exited the woods, white, pale, broken, disoriented – "...but she wasn't happy...

"And I would have stayed. That's how she convinced me to stay with her tomorrow, of course. You were wondering about that before, what could possibly motivate me - what she was feeling so needlessly guilty about. She reminded me of what it did to her when I left..." – Bella's pleading eyes – "...what it still does to her when I leave. She feels horrible about bringing that up, but she's right. I'll never be able to make up for that, but I'll never stop trying anyway."

I felt drained. I couldn't continue. I listened as Jacob's mind wrap around his own version of events while I was gone. I saw more images, images I'd never seen before of Bella's blank expressions, her arms wrapped defensively around her thin frame, and her sadness permeating through desperately composed smiles. My expression slipped into a cringe; but I immediately composed my face.

Honesty was one thing; vulnerability was another.

He did not seem to notice. He began to wonder what other instance I'd referenced. His curiosity peaked as he considered whether I had done something else that, he wasn't aware of, but something he could possibly use. I ignored his ulterior motive. Then, he understood as his memory flooded into his version of Bella, as she stood on the beach, soaked, pale, and blank. He wondered how it might have affected me.

"And the other time, when you thought she was dead?" he whispered.…how did it feel to really believe that she was dead, to truly feel like she would never, ever come back?...you thought she was gone forever and that's why you tried to…

"Yes…" I knew where he was going. His memory intensified as he considered it again, it struck me that she almost looked vampiric. What would he see when he looked at her once she changed? – "…and it will probably feel like that to you, won't it? The way you perceive us, you might not be able to see her as Bella anymore, but that's who she will be." I responded softly, hoping he understood I wasn't trying to antagonize him.

I don't even want to…that's not happening…"That's not what I asked." he asked, roughly.…I asked you how it felt, how it felt to think she was dead, because…regardless of what you think of yourself…that's exactly how she will be to me…a leech like you…dead…how did it feel?...

I bristled as his rough characterization."That's exactly how she will be to me…a leech like you…" His words bounced around flustering my feelings. How could he expect me to describe such a thing?

I shot him a look of disgust. "I cannot tell you how it felt, there aren't words," I responded.

He didn't understand my sudden vitriol. His thoughts became thoroughly confused as he wondered why I'd left at all. Inspiration hit as he considered that my motives were selfish, contradictory. He wondered if he was catching me in a web of my own words. "But, you left because you didn't want to make her bloodsucker. You want her to be human." His eyes narrowed intently, carefully gauging my reaction.

There was such a complex mixture of motivations behind his question. Were there even words that I could use to adequately frame the existential crisis that was my relationship with Bella? Were there words to characterize the inevitability of our situation? Could the complexity of our potential destinies even be explained? Verbose or not, I couldn't seem to conjure the right descriptions. So, I explained as best that I could.

"Jacob, from the second that I realized that I loved her, I knew there were only four possibilities. The first alternative, the best one for Bella, would be if she didn't feel as strongly for me..." – the emotion in her eyes she awoke and realized I was back in her life – "...if she got over her me and moved on. I would accept that, though it would never change the way I felt. You think of me as a... –"I struggled, unsure again as to how to characterize his vast array of feelings in regards to me.

living monster…he thought. I continued, unfazed by his false hostility. He was listening.

"...living stone, hard and cold..." I said

well, that's what you are…he thought.

"That's true," I acknowledged. "We are set the way we are, and it is very rare for us to experience a real change. When that happens, as when Bella entered my life, it is a permanent change. There is no going back..." Strong and vivid, Alice's vision of a newborn Bella arrived right on cue. I cringed, but continued.

"...The second alternative, the one I'd originally chosen, was to stay with her throughout her human life. It wasn't a good option for her, to waste her life with someone who couldn't be human with her, but it was the alternative I could most easily face. Knowing all along that, when she died, I would find a way to die, too. Sixty years, seventy years - it would seem like a very, very short time to me." I imaged then a delicate, aged Bella and my selfish side ached at even the imagined inevitability of her death. The image was quickly replaced with the memory of Bella lying on the floor in that Phoenix ballet studio, broken and very nearly dead.

"...But...then it proved much too dangerous for her to live in such close proximity with my world, it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did. Or hung over us…" - Victoria, hair wild, eyes sketchy as she assessed Bella and James at the baseball field, Bella writing on the ground, bleeding as Jasper lost control – "...waiting to go wrong. I was terrified that I wouldn't get those sixty years if I stayed near her while she was human."

Jacob silently listened. I looked up briefly to see if he'd fallen asleep. Our eyes met, his expression was wary, but almost understanding.

"So, I chose option three. Which turned out to be the worst mistake of my very long life, as you know. I chose to take myself out of her world, hoping to force her into the first alternative. It didn't work, and it very nearly killed us both..."-Volterra...the sunshine filtering through the plaza- "...what do I have left but the fourth option? It's what she wants…" The newborn Bella of the future screamed at me. I flicked my head to shake it away. He saw that and began to understand that the thought was not as attractive to me as he'd assumed.

"…at least, she thinks she does." I looked at him again, communicating my desperation. Willing him to understand that it was her choice. His thoughts were confused again as he warred with his sympathetic feelings and his anger at the prospect of my unspoken words becoming reality. I wanted to explain further.

"I've been trying to delay her, to give her time to find a reason to change her mind, but she's very stubborn. You know that. I'll be lucky to stretch this out a few more months. She has a horror of getting old, and her birthday is in September…" I trailed off.

He seethed with his resent at the understanding that it was her decision. He blinked a few times. I watched his head sway slightly as he processed this new, frightening information. I wondered if his curiosity about us, the curiosity I'd seen in his thoughts, was now satiated as he realized that she intended to trade her soul to become my mate. He began to consider what he could do to stop it.

"I like option one," he hissed.

I looked away from him, a little disappointed that the culmination of his thoughts, so close to the brink of understanding, seemed to devolve into that response. I lost the urge to continue speaking.

But then, his thoughts became more addled as he thought of the situation again with sincerity and empathy. He was uncomfortable with these thoughts, but he could not resist them. And, I realized that for the first time, Jacob's very open heart was now opening for me. He saw that I would do anything to sway her. He wondered briefly about my methods of stalling her, but he did not ask. I wasn't sure I would have answered. Although she'd accepted, she was still not wearing my ring. By all definitions, our engagement was still uncertain. But, if this was his chess match, surely that was my checkmate? Besides, honesty was one thing; enlightenment was another.

"You know exactly how much I hate to accept this," he whispered. "But…I can see that you do love her"…despite that your loving her means...well..."…in your own way. I can't argue with you anymore."

I'd been too impatient. He understood. Finally. I watched him as he took a breath to prepare himself to speak again. He sounded resigned. I looked at him for a half second again before I understood. He didn't want to argue, he wanted to plea.

"Given that," he started in a tone I recognized as persuasion. "I don't think you should give up on the first alternative, not yet. I think there's a very good chance that she would be okay. After time. You know, if she hadn't jumped off that cliff in March…" - I frowned at him, but he continued - "...and if you'd waited another six months to check on her..."…she could have loved me…"...well, you might have found her reasonably happy. I had a game plan."

I saw then the thought from Jacob's mind. It was the two of them walking along the beach. He dropped onto one knee and gave her a ring from a mahogany box. She would have loved that. A brand new shiny ring, just for her. I had to chuckle at that. "Maybe it would have worked. It was a well-thought out plan." I conceded, mostly...

He didn't like that I laughed. His thoughts misinterpreted my amusement. He was then suddenly offended by my invasion of his thoughts, although he was fully aware I could not help it. He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. I met them without restraint.

"Yeah." He sighed in mock frustration. "But…give me a year bl – Edward. I really think I could make her happy. She's stubborn, no one knows that better than I do, but she's capable of healing. She would have healed before. And she could be human, with Charlie and Renee, and she could grow up, and have kids and…be Bella." Jacob's hopeful dream returned. ...Dark haired babies, a radiant pregnant Bella... He didn't think of it on purpose though, he couldn't help it. I cringed away from the emotion it stirred, but I kept his eyes.

He continued, "You love her enough that you have to see the advantages of that plan. She thinks you're very unselfish..."…but, she's also blinded by love…"...are you really? Can you consider the idea that I might be better for her?" he asked.

I bristled at his assumption and intensified my gaze. His blatant verbalization of my sincerest insecurities pushed frustration through me, wild and unbridled.

"I have considered it," I murmured tightly, annoyed by the intensity of the fresh emotion. "In some ways, you would be better suited for her than another human. Bella takes some looking after, and you're strong enough that you could protect her from herself, and from everything that conspires against her, and I'll owe you for that for as long as I live – forever – whichever comes first…" Whichever Bella chooses…I wanted to add.

"I even asked Alice if she could see that – to see if Bella would be better off with you..." I could not tell him about the vision, of course. I edited. A pregnant, radiant Bella did not equate a better Bella. "...she couldn't of course. She can't see you, and then Bella's sure of her course, for now…" He brightened at my last words, but I cut him off before he could speak. "…but, I am not stupid enough to make the same mistake I made before, Jacob. I won't try to force her into that first option again. As long as she wants me, I'm here." He observed my expression, which I contorted to portray confidence. He wasn't fooled, though.

"And if she were to decide she wanted me?" I raised my brow, immediately sifting his thoughts. There was something in his voice that betrayed a tone I didn't like. He misinterpreted. "Okay, it's a long shot, I'll give you that."

Not as long as you think, Jacob. "I would let her go." I answered.

"Just like that?" he asked, narrowing his eyes in suspicion, thinking of my abilities and what he would do to prevent me from interfering with their lives. I leaned in to observe him. His tone inspired so many questions I'd not considered in the context of this conversation.

"In the sense that I'd never show her how hard it was for me, yes…" I trailed off, unable to focus.

Why was his tone so confident all of the sudden? What was he hiding? How far would he be willing to go to win her affection? If the werewolf legend of imprinting were true, then Bella was not his intended soul mate. Therefore, one day, if destiny truly played out in the manner in which we all assumed, and at this point, I was convinced that it did despite my previous skepticism, he would ultimately move on from his love for her. Their magnetism was no match for this imprinting.

If that were the case, then Bella was mine. Did he know this? Did he understand this, or was he truly that blinded by his love for her? Surely, he'd thought of it as he attempted to force the imprinting upon her. I'd seen that too in his mind.

I searched his mind intently, but I saw nothing. He wasn't even thinking of that possibility. I blinked at him and he was confused by my reaction. I fought a vindictive smile that I knew would ruin the shaky familiarity. Check Jacob Black, check.

"But I would keep watch. You see, Jacob, you might leave her someday. Like Sam and Emily, you wouldn't have a choice. I would always be waiting in the wings, hoping for that to happen." His face betrayed his shock. He snorted in surprise. He hadn't expected that.

He didn't know that I was entirely aware of the power and irreversibility of imprinting. He thought for a moment, understanding my words. But, he was still not shaken. There was something adamant, decided about his interpretation of my words. Something I wasn't able to pinpoint.

"Well, you've been much more honest than I had any right to expect…Edward." I inclined my head in appreciation at his use of my proper name. Twice in one night. Progress, indeed.

"Thanks for letting me into your head." he said, the sincerity there again, despite the faint overtones of rebellion in his mind.

"As I said, I am feeling…oddly grateful for your presence tonight. It was the least I could do…" – his mind interrupted me as he began to review our conversation. I was relieved to find that he'd grasped my desperation and my love for her. He seemed to think the situation was sad somehow. His genuine feeling, for us both, was endearing. He truly was a good person – "...you know, Jacob, if it weren't for the fact that we're natural enemies and that you're also trying to steal away the reason for my existence, I might actually like you." I smiled, flashing my razor sharp teeth. Startled by my confession, he chuckled nonetheless.

"Maybe…if you weren't a disgusting vampire who was planning to suck the life out of the girl that I love…well, no, not even then…"…well, maybe…His thoughts showed his true emotions and I had to laugh at the discrepancy.

An odd camaraderie passed between us for a silent moment.

I considered how truly candid I had been. It was for my own gain, of course, but I'd been thoroughly honest. I wondered if he would be the same way if the situations were reversed. If I hadn't been able to read his mind? Humans always edited, of course, but would he, or his open heart, lie if it were possible? It was an interesting question. Would he reciprocate my honesty? There was only one way to find out.

"Can I ask you something?" I asked, carefully etching a neutral expression, stifling my curiosity.

"Why would you have to ask?" he asked, confused. That made sense. He didn't completely understand how my talent worked.

"I can only hear if you think of it. It's just a story that Bella seemed reluctant to tell me about the other day. Something about a third wife…"

"What about it?" he asked, continuing with his thoughts.

it's a story she heard from our Elders about the Cold Ones, you should know the legend, well, anyway the Third Wife is the name of the…Jacob's imagination conjured an image so violent that I couldn't help but hiss as it bombarded me.

"What?" he demanded, low and concerned...it's not like it's not true…he thought. He continued to think, but I didn't listen anymore. My mind scattered through my own realizations as Jacob's imagined version of the story played out again. He was searching now for a clue as to what bothered me. He didn't see.

Immediately, in my mind, I replaced the Third Wife's role with Bella's face."Of course," I seethed. "Of course! I'd rather your elders had kept that story to themselves, Jacob." I spat.

He bristled, assuming I was somehow doubting its legitimacy. I was annoyed by his low opinion of my intellect and integrity, particularly after our conversation.

"You don't like the leeches being painted as the bad guys?" he mocked, certain he'd pegged me. "You know they are. Then and now." I met his eyes with a disgusted expression, angered that after our interaction he could still so easily assassinate my character.

"I really couldn't care less about that part. Can't you guess which character Bella would identify with?" Was he blind?

His thoughts pushed through the story, fresh and detailed. New disgust coursed through me as he began to understand. "Okay, I see your point." he conceded.…why does it matter if she identifies with that stupid Third Wife…I don't see how that…

I interrupted him. "She wants to be there in the clearing to do what little she can, as she puts it." I sighed at the vision of Bella in the clearing, offering herself to the altar of sacrifice for the sake of a battle that would be won regardless. If Jacob didn't know of the vision, he surely wouldn't understand why I'd stayed behind.

"That was the secondary reason for my staying with her tomorrow. She's quite inventive when she wants something." I added.

"You know, your military brother gave her the idea just as much as the story did." Jacob responded, freshly annoyed with Jasper.

He had a point, but Jasper hadn't meant to encourage her. He didn't realize how insistent Bella could be. "Neither side meant any harm," I conceded.

"And when does this little truce end? He asked, brows raised and his mouth set. "First light? Or do we wait until after the fight?" he continued, sounding suspicious and anxious at the same time. It was an interesting question. Rationally, I wanted to find some way around the problem for the sake of all of us, including Bella. But, instinctually, for so many reasons, he was still my enemy. I smiled at his tone. It was clear to us both that despite the progress we'd made, we were still enemies, and there was nothing that could ever change that. Nothing.

"First light," we whispered together, for once on the same page. We both chuckled a little at our mutual agreement. Enemies or not, we weren't beyond understanding the unique familiarity we'd developed. Even if only for tonight. Even if only for Bella. I watched him close his eyes, but he didn't snuggle next to her, as he probably would have before. Did I earn some of his respect?

"Sleep well, Jacob," I muttered. "Enjoy the moment."

Jacob took my words to heart and began to visualize placing sweet, tender kisses along Bella's cheeks and face. An expression formed against my will that was half revulsion and half humor.

"I didn't mean quite so literally." I groaned. But, he stopped immediately this time. Truce. It wasn't first light. Yet.

"Sorry. You could leave you know – let me see how she really feels without you sitting here – give us a little privacy." He opened one eye to peer at me. I rolled my eyes.

"Would you like me to help you sleep, Jacob?" I countered, raising my brow in feigned provocation. The thought he'd just had was still lingering around. I sighed, placing my hand over my eyes to focus on clearing it.

"You could try. I would be interesting to see who walked away, wouldn't it?" I looked at him from under my hand and almost chuckled at his false bravado. Seven seconds, Jacob Black, I thought.

I sighed again. "Don't tempt me too far, wolf. My patience isn't that perfect."

He laughed quietly, although I was sure he understood. "I'd rather not move just now if you don't mind," he said, grinning as he lay his head down next to Bella's peaceful figure. And then, Jacob began to quickly descend into a tranquil place.

I envied that, too.

There was a moment of silence before he entered that final stage of sleep that usually brought forth human dreams. I moved forward a little to watch her sleep. She looked better. I felt cheered by the turn of events. In the course of one evening, she'd faced death again. Well, we'd both faced death since for me, her death would equal my own. And now, she looked peaceful. Her heart was beating strong, her lips had a little color to them. I smiled at her.

I receded to my corner. From my position, her body still looked so brittle and pale in comparison to Jacob's form. I was sizing him up, but I didn't stop myself.

He was larger than I was, physically, by far, although not stronger. As I considered his physique, so absolutely startling in comparison to Bella's petite frame, I was almost intrigued by his transformation from the skinny child that I had first encountered outside Bella's home. Aesthetically, he was very well built. The genetic heritage he possessed forced his height, his shoulders, and his arms, to an almost intimidating girth. Intimidating to a human at least. And, with a little chagrin, I could easily discern that his large arm was firmly wrapped around her torso. Was his arm was any heavier than mine? The pressure would surely be similar, although mine was undoubtedly more intractable.

Did it really matter? Perhaps. It was petty, but I grinned anyway. He looked just as unnatural next to her as I did.

I closed my eyes, enjoying the silence. But my mind would find no rest. Because, deep down, in a place I didn't even want to look, I knew that there was still a very real possibility that Bella could choose Jacob Black. Of course, if I was honest with myself again, I knew that that fear, although perhaps irrational, was my very worst nightmare. My waking nightmare.

So, I would approach the Jacob Black situation with her when she was ready. And, it was a situation. I had to know her heart, her love. I didn't want to doubt her, but the evidence was hard to ignore. It was important to give her the choice. Besides, could she truly ever be mine if she didn't choose soon? I couldn't believe that she could.

As for Jacob, I couldn't help but feel relieved by our conversation. He knew now that Bella was decided on her change. He'd suspected, but now it was confirmed. I felt better knowing that he was aware of her insistence. It was only fair, as he'd put it. It felt good. I could now try to approach Jacob Black as fairly as possible. I could try to think of him as I hoped he would think of me, regardless of how things turned out.

A partial resolution had been reached, despite the fact that I knew he was not ready to give up. At least he understood. So, I would spend the remaining time I had to sort out, and hopefully anticipate his next actions. I didn't want to think of the Jacob Black situation as a game, but it seemed as if he was intent on making it that way.

I smiled to myself as I considered my chess matches with Alice. Darkly, I humored myself by laughing at the prospect of Jacob Black being a more formidable opponent than my dearest sister. I chucked at the image of her tiny brow creased in concentration, analyzing my moves and impulsively deciding upon her own. She was a formidable opponent. Yet, I always won.

I felt oddly comforted.

Jacob began dreaming, his thoughts of Bella and their potential future lingered in the air like an unpleasant aroma. I began to hum Bella's lullaby to block him out. It made it easier to concentrate on the situation, to analyze my next steps, to decide on exactly how I would try to face this situation with her, and inevitably how I would cope with her choice, regardless of what it was. I began to drift into these thoughts, allowing them to overtake me.

And, then, suddenly, in a flash of intuition a previous exchange that had taken place between Jacob and I entered my thoughts:

"Let the best man win…" he said.

"Sounds about right, pup…" I responded.

Yes. Let the best man win.