I was prepared for a lot with my return. I knew to expect a level of change, though most things went one much as they had before. I had forgotten how little could happen to someplace like Forks, Washington, always excepting the things that happened to Bella.
Charlie was justifiably angry at my return. After a couple days of a strict "no-visiting" policy, which I easily circumvented while he slept, I was finally allowed visiting hours. They were short, and supervised, but Bella was very clear in her demands. If I went, so did she.
High school was still the bland plague it had always been, with some minute adjustments in social circles. I was sad to see that Bella was a bit more excluded that she had been before. But overall nothing had changed much. Lauren and Jessica were catty. Angela was sweet. Mike was obnoxious. It didn't matter; they all shied away from me as they had before. Bella returned to find her grades had slipped during her brief, unplanned trip to Italy, and I found myself wondering if I really was a negative influence, at least in her academic life. In an attempt to ease my guilt I spent much of my free time looking into college options for Bella. She was a smart girl, and if it hadn't been for me, she probably would have gone to whatever school she wanted. I made calls to some old professors and cashed in a few favors. There were benefits to being an alumnus of several Ivy League schools. Carlisle had taught at several more. Bella would have her pick.
Another notable change was Bella herself. She was still my Bella, but there was a difference in the way she viewed the world. She was a little more clingy than she had been, though she didn't seem to notice the change. I could always see the anxiety on her face when I would have to leave to hunt.
At the same time she was also more needlessly reckless than she had been. She began to push her limits when she kissed me, not seeming to care when my breath raced, and my eyes glinted dangerously. I knew that I would never allow myself to hurt her, our close call in Italy took care of that, but she seemed instant on pushing me to my limit. Her recklessness also manifested itself in her driving habits. Before, Bella would yell at me whenever I hit anything over seventy on the freeway. Now she owned a motorcycle. This disturbing change I blamed on Jacob Black.
When she first mentioned the werewolf boy I felt an instant distrust, and not just because he was a werewolf. I couldn't blame him for what he was, when I was just as abnormal myself. No, what I blamed him for was putting Bella in such blatant danger. He had allowed her near him when his temper might flare at any moment and kill her. I had spent the past hundred years trying to calm mine, and after a week he thought it perfectly safe to be around humans? To be close to Bella? It was clear where Bella's newfound recklessness came from.
And yet, hand in hand with this antagonism was a deep gratitude for everything Jacob had done. He had only stayed near her out of necessity, during a period where she couldn't be alone. He had held Bella together when she was falling apart. He kept her in danger because he was doing his best to fix what I had broken. From what I could see in Charlie's memories, Jacob, obnoxiously immature as he was, had broken down the wall that I had created in her and had pulled her back to reality. I was certain that if I had given her a little more time to move on, Jacob would have been the one to take my place.
It was an interesting emotion to place at first, but I felt a certain amount of jealousy for what he had with her. Not a jealousy like I had felt with Mike Newton. I had never taken Mike seriously, but Jacob was more worrying. For the first time in our relationship, Bella would sometimes get a look in her eyes as though she was torn between being with me and someone else. Though she would never admit it, she had begun to move on, and my return complicated that. I had asked her about it once, and she had written off her feelings as guilt for how she had hurt him. It was a ridiculous concept. He was the one hurting her, with his inability to accept her choice. Bella was happy again. Would he really begrudge her that? What she had done was only natural, and if Jacob couldn't see past that, then he didn't deserve her. It was obvious that he didn't care about the consequences, so long as he got to keep my Bella. The way she described him made him sound immature and selfish, more concerned with what he wanted than with what Bella needed.
That explained why he wouldn't return her calls. He was pouting. I could tell that Bella avoided talking about Jacob in front of me, and every once in a while, when I was waiting nearby for Charlie to fall asleep, I would hear her make a call to La Push. The petty boy never answered, and it always left Bella in a foul mood.
She did her best to hide her irritation, but as the weeks passed on in silence her calls became more frequent and there were times that she couldn't hold back her frustration. I remained quiet on the issue and let her vent, but I was fairly certain that she had noticed my disapproval.
"It's not you, Bella," I assured her quietly during one of her particularly passionate rages. "Nobody hates you." They hated me.
"Feels that way," she pouted, and I felt a little guilty that she had to bear all the weight of the situation. I had caused it, and now her best friend wouldn't talk to her. I tried to explain that.
"Jacob knows we're back," I told her. "He won't come anywhere near me. The enmity is rooted too deeply." And as guilty as I felt for her pain, I couldn't help but be grateful that he wasn't anywhere near her.
"That's stupid. He knows you're not…like other vampires."
I understood that was only a small part of what kept him away. Had the situation been turned around, I would have done the same thing. If I had been taken the task of holding together the broken heart that Jacob left behind, I would resent him too. And I would want to hurt him. "There's still good reason to keep a safe distance."
She simply glared out the windshield of the car.
"Bella, we are what we are," I tried to explain. "I can control myself, but I doubt he can. He's very young." And immature, and self-centered, and rude…"It would most likely turn into a fight, and I don't know if I could stop it before I k–" I rethought that answer. No need to worry her needlessly. I would do my best to keep him alive, but it wouldn't be too difficult to take down a solitary young wolf, and that would upset Bella. "Before I hurt him," I hedged. "You would be unhappy. I don't want that to happen." And that was my only deterrent.
"Edward Cullen," Bella growled. "Were you about to say 'killed him'? Were you?" Oh. She had caught that.
I wanted very badly to say no.
"I would try…very hard…not to do that." It was the best I could offer.
Bella's face was frozen in horrified shock for a moment before it simply changed into horror. Her gaping mouth closed and she bit her lip anxiously. I could see her thinking about something painful, and I was sorry for what I had said. I had been careless and let my frustrations slip. She shouldn't hear that.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched her fight against the pain and eventually manage to pull on a half-hearted smile.
But I was too busy concentrating on the thoughts revolving around her house to pay attention to her inner struggle. The angry thoughts were bombarding me. Charlie hadn't been this furious since I'd brought Bella home from Italy.
Not quite as loud as his thoughts, but just as forceful, were those coming from the trees just nearby the house. Someone there was angry, and angry at me. Jacob.
"Well," Bella said with a sigh. "Nothing like that is ever going to happen, so there's no reason to worry about it. And you know Charlie's staring at the clock right now. You'd better get me home before I get in more trouble for being late."
I glared out the windshield at the patch of trees where the dog was hidden between the trees. From what I could see, he was standing impatiently, shifting from foot to foot as he waited. His thoughts skimmed angrily through all the possible scenarios he would face with Bella when she got back. He pictured telling her off with a long rant about how dangerous everything was, and how she was stupid to align herself with us Cullens. He imagined swooping her up and racing her down to La Push where she would be safe from me.
Charlie actually approved of this kid?
"You're already in more trouble, Bella," I warned her with a whisper.
Bella's eyes widened for a moment and then she squinted through the rain on the windshield.
"What? What is it?" Her voice rose in pitch, nervously.
I took a breath to calm my anger that was rising in response to the boy outside. "Charlie…," I lied.
"My dad?" Bella began to freak out.
I glanced at her reassuringly, and tried to explain a little more. "Charlie…is probably not going to kill you." I browsed his thoughts quickly. "But he's thinking about it." I drove past the house and parked near the patch of trees where Jacob stood, waiting. It was probably best to give Bella the opportunity to kill the dog herself before Charlie kept her locked away in the house forever. I could tell, there was no way she was going to escape this fury.
"What did I do?" Bella asked breathlessly.
I looked back toward the house, directing her eyes toward the motorcycle that I found just as offensive as Charlie. Seeing it in person irritated me. When she had mentioned a motorcycle I had at least pictured something sturdier than that. What I saw in front of me could barely be classified as a street bike. Bella had no right to be riding around on that thing. It looked about ready to fall apart any moment. What idiot had declared it safe to drive?
"No!" Bella gasped when she saw it. "Why? Why would Jacob do this to me?"
I watched her shake in silent anger as her heart rate climbed and her breath quickened. She had clenched her hands into balls on her lap and was glaring out the window as though she might try to kill something. If she had been Rosalie or Emmett I would have made her get out of my car for fear she might break something. As it was, I wouldn't put it past her to break a window.
"Is he still here?" she managed to choke out.
"Yes. He's waiting for us there." I felt a little guilty sacrificing him to Bella's anger, but then again he deserved it. And if I couldn't show him some aggression, at least Bella could.
Bella was already out of the car and racing toward the forest, her face blazing in fury. For a brief moment I considered letting her go, but then I remember how dangerous that would be for her. Attacking a werewolf was not on the list of things I would let Bella do. Thank goodness I was so much faster than her.
I slipped out of the car and grabbed her by the waist, ignoring her flailing hands.
"Let me go!" she shouted at me. "I'm going to murder him! Traitor!"
I heard Jacob from the shadow of the trees as he shifted uncomfortably. I hadn't expected her to be so angry, he thought. At least it'll keep her away from that selfish bloodsucker. I scoffed at that mentally. Did he know Bella at all? I can't believe Sam made me do this. I better get this meeting over with quickly, before he decides to let her lose. Well, he was right about that.
"Charlie will hear you," I warned. "And once he gets you inside, he may brick over the doorway."
That seemed to register only just enough to bring her voice down to a very forceful volume just barely below shouting. "Just give me one round with Jacob, and then I'll deal with Charlie." She tried futilely to pry my arms from around her waist.
"Jacob Black wants to see me. That's why he's still here."
Bella stopped her struggling instantly. He face went white.
"Talk?" she squeaked.
"More or less."
"How much more?" For a moment I was a little scared she might faint on me.
I smoothed her hair back comfortingly. "Don't worry, he's not here to fight me. He's acting as…spokesperson for the pack."
She should be home by now. I thought I heard that boy pull up, I heard Charlie thinking. I saw a few images of the added punishments he was planning, and I pulled Bella forward into the trees. "We should hurry. Charlie's getting impatient."
As we entered, I watched Jacob scramble from his tensed stance to lean against a nearby tree. Keep it casual, he thought to himself. That plan was lost the moment he saw me. He glared fiercely at me and then noted us together. She looks wrong there, with him. It's like she a coroner dragging around one of her dead bodies. That isn't Bella. I winced at the image of us together that had always plagued my mind. It seemed I wasn't the only one who noticed how poorly I seemed to fit next to her.
I stopped as soon as I knew that Bella could see him. The arm that I still held around her waist felt her tense slightly, and Jacob leaned forward, tempted to…whatever they called it…go wolf…and attack me. He settled with a sneer, not wanting to hurt Bella. I could feel him struggle to keep control.
I pulled Bella slightly behind, wishing that I had left her in the car, or had even turned her into Charlie. Then she wouldn't have been able to get near Jacob if she had wanted to. And I could make sure Jacob knew what his boundaries were. There were so many things I wanted to tell him, both good and bad, but I would have to settle for the bare minimum now.
"Bella," Jacob growled with a slight nod, not even acknowledging me.
"Why?" Bella asked, sounding slightly choked up. She was going to start crying, and then I would have to start something with the dog. "How could you do this to me, Jacob?"
He faltered slightly at the pain in her voice. I wondered briefly what had he expected when he'd shown up tonight? Not anger. Not sadness. He certainly couldn't have expected her to be happy.
"It's for the best."
That revived Bella's anger a bit. "What is that supposed to mean? Do you want Charlie to strangle me? Or did you want him to have a heart attack, like Harry? No matter how mad you are at me, how could you do this to him?"
Oh, crap. He winced at the memory of Harry Clearwater and then wracked his brain trying to find what had been so brilliant about this plan. Thirsty vampires. Right. Now how to explain that to Bella.
"He didn't want to hurt anyone–" I explained for him "he just wanted to get you grounded, so that you wouldn't be allowed to spend time with me." If he was going to be evasive in his answers, I would make sure Bella got the truth. He should face the consequences of his brilliant plan.
Jacob glared at me. Get out from where you don't belong, leech. In fact, get out of here all together.
"Aw, Jake!" Bella groaned, rolling her eyes at his stupidity. He certainly wasn't the brightest kid I'd ever met. "I'm already grounded! Why do you think I haven't been down to La Push to kick your butt for avoiding my phone calls?"
Um…your over-protective, needy, vampire prison guard?
"That's why?" he asked, stunned, and then remembered that he wasn't alone in his head. Aw, your over-protective, needy, mind reading, vampire prison guard.
"He thought I wouldn't let you, not Charlie," I explained. Bella had a right to know.
"Stop that," Jacob snapped.
I kept my thoughts to myself, noting the anger that rippled through him. I'd forgotten to keep him calm. I'd have to be careful not to provoke him anymore.
"Bella wasn't exaggerating about your…abilities," Jacob observed as he struggled for control. "So you must already know why I'm here."
"Yes," I agreed, but didn't voice my thoughts on the issue. If I was trying to keep Jacob calm, now was as good a time as any to let him know that I didn't hate him. Not completely. "But, before you begin, I need to say something."
Jacob just continued to struggle with his anger.
"Thank you," I said, and I meant it. So sincerely. "I will never be able to tell you how grateful I am. I will owe you for the rest of my…existence."
Jacob froze, surprised. Me? What did I do? He looked at Bella, and Bella looked at me.
"For keeping Bella alive," I explained. "When I…didn't." That was the simplest way to put it. He had done so much more than that, but I could find the words to really explain what it meant to me. So I would have to settle with a 'thank you'.
"Edward–" Bella began to defend me, but I held up my hand. Now was not the time for her to downplay her pain. Both Jacob and I knew the truth of the situation, and it wouldn't help matters to have Bella pretend that it was nothing. Jacob needed to know how grateful I was for everything.
As the shock wore off, Jacob began to understand my meaning. "I didn't do it for your benefit."
"I know. But that doesn't erase the gratitude I feel. I thought you should know. If there's ever anything in my power to do for you…"
Anything? You know what I want, Jacob thought with a raise of his eyebrow. Would you leave?
I shook my head, remembering what had happened the last time I had tried that. Did he? "That's not in my power."
I looked down at Bella and she stared back up at me lovingly. "Hers. I'm a quick learner Jacob Black, and I don't make the same mistake twice. I'm here until she orders me away."
Bella stared at me, and her look gave me all the reassurance I needed. She didn't want me to leave, and it seemed like she never would. I could be content with that. All the rest of the guilt I had built up inside of me I could handle while she still loved me. I would never leave her.
"Never," Bella agreed.
That's disgusting. I heard a gagging noise from Jacob. What were we, five? Bella and I loved each other. Watching us wouldn't give him cooties.
Bella was annoyed as well. "Was there something else you needed, Jacob?" she snapped at him. "You wanted me in trouble–mission accomplished. Charlie might just send me to military school. But that won't keep me away from Edward. There's nothing that can do that. What more do you want?"
Jacob watched me, unable to meet Bella's angry eyes. He fully understood what a mistake he had made in coming here. But this next part gave him a little jolt of sick pleasure. The main purpose of his visit. The wolf pack's message.
"I just needed to remind your bloodsucking friends of a few key points in the treaty they agreed to. They treaty that is the only thing stopping me from ripping his throat out right this minute." I really did want to hit him in that moment. This was a message best delivered without Bella's knowledge. I raced to cut him off before he could say anything that would cause Bella unnecessary worry. And Jacob just might hear something he wasn't prepared to handle.
"We haven't forgotten," I said. I wasn't quick enough. At the same moment Bella asked, "What key points?"
"The treaty is quite specific. If any of them bite a human, the truce is over. Bite, not kill," he said, staring at me. The moment I can, I will kill you. No matter what she thinks she wants.
Bella gasped beside me as Jacob turned to look at her and the blood drained from her face. "That's none of your business," she spat.
"The hell it–" and then he grasped the meaning of her words. The eventuality that neither he nor I wanted. His body began to shake, and I tensed, ready to fight if needed. His thoughts ran through his head in a tumult. How could she. She actually wants–how could he allow her? My Bella? That hit something in me. She was my Bella.
He clearly had a huge misconception about the nature of my relationship with Bella. He had come here, expecting to find Bella a miserable prisoner, trapped in this world of vampires, grateful for the escape he offered. Instead, he found Bella happy and whole, unlike he had every really known her. She was with me of her own will, and down a path that would keep her with me forever.
She actually wants this? he thought again. He pressed his fists to his temples, trying to block out the anger. All of us knew how dangerous it would be if he lost control.
"Jake? You okay?" Bella asked beside me and took a step forward to assess. I instinctually pulled her back behind me.
"Careful!" I hissed. "He's not under control."
That sent a shiver through Jacob, but he had calmed down to the point where he could speak again. His thoughts joined themselves back together, cohesive once again. They raged at me. "Ugh. I would never hurt her," he said pointedly.
I hissed. Just because I didn't turn into a wolf when I was angry didn't make me any less dangerous. I had buttons that could be pushed as well.
It was at that exact moment that Charlie noticed my car parked on the street.
"BELLA!" he shouted. "YOU GET IN THIS HOUSE THIS INSTANT!"
We all froze at the interruption.
"Crap," Bella whispered beside me.
Oops, Jacob thought. "I am sorry about that," he mumbled. "I had to do what I could–I had to try…" I appreciated the sentiment more than Bella.
"Thanks," she muttered sarcastically. She wasn't particularly threatening as her voice trembled. I could see that she was a little afraid to go in the house.
"One more thing," I whispered to Bella. I quickly remembered the last of my thoughts in the conversation with Jacob, perhaps the most important, and turned back. "We've found no trace of Victoria on our side of the line–have you?" On this, at least, we would have to work together.
Victoria? No, he thought in surprise. "The last time was while Bella was…away. We let her think she was slipping through–we were tightening the circle, getting ready to ambush her–but then she took off like a bat out of hell. Near as we can tell, she caught you little female's scent and bailed. She hasn't come near out lands since."
I nodded, grateful for the information. "When she comes back, she's not your problem anymore. We'll–"
"She killed on our turf," Jacob interrupted. "She's ours!" I didn't know how I felt about that. It was good to know that my family and I wouldn't be the only ones watching, but the possessiveness of the way he talked about it frustrated me. Because Victoria was mine. I would be the one to kill her for what she had done to Bella.
"No–" Bella hissed, uneasy, but Charlie interrupted her from the house.
"BELLA! I SEE HIS CAR AND I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE! IF YOU AREN'T INSIDE THIS HOUSE IN ONE MINUTE…!"
"Let's go," I said. The longer we waited, the worse his anger would be, especially now that he knew we were here.
Bella looked back at Jacob longingly and my stomach dropped a bit. After all that, she still wanted to be with him.
"Sorry," he whispered. "Bye, Bells."
"You promised," she tried, her voice hopeful. "Still friends, right?"
I don't know how, he thought. Not with him around. Not knowing that one day you'll– he stopped his thoughts there, not willing to think about that eventuality. I understood that, at least. He shook his head. "You know how hard I've tried to keep that promise, but…I can't see how to keep trying. Not now…" He tried to look brave and hard. He tried to emulate Sam. But his face broke into a sad expression, the longing matching Bella's. It was horrible to watch, the two of them, longing to be with one another and to comfort each other. The both longed to make the other one complete. "Miss you," he mouthed at Bella and reached for her.
She reached her hand out in a mimicking gesture. "Me, too," she choked. The emotion was too much for her. "Jake…" she called, and stepped toward him.
I knew what would happen if I let her go. She would move forward and within moments she would be in Jacob's arms. He would hold her in a way that I thought I would only be allowed, and she would feel the comfort of his warm body. That was something I couldn't give her. Jacob could complete her in a way that I couldn't.
I had no choice but to hold her back. Perhaps one day I would find it in me to be selfless about this, but in the moment I couldn't. Bella was mine, and I couldn't let her go. Not yet.
"It's okay," she tried to reassure me, but I was frozen in pain.
"No, it's not."
"Let her go," Jacob growled at me. "She wants to!" Apparently he is her prison guard. This is her choice. He strode forward, ready to fight me. I pushed Bella back behind me. This was her choice, and eventually I would let her make it. But I couldn't now. Not yet. Bella tried to shove forward again. This was going to be difficult if she got in the way.
"ISABELLA SWAN!" Charlie's booming voice saved me. Bella grasped at the opportunity to end the fight.
"Come on! Charlie's mad!" She tugged on my arm. "Hurry!"
I took a deep breath to relax and let her pull me back toward the house. I kept my eyes on Jacob as we retreated. He kept his face as harsh as he could given the circumstances, but I could hear the longing in his mind as Bella moved away from him. He wanted to run forward, scoop her up, and carry her away to La Push where it would be like it had been before. Just the two of them.
I made sure to keep myself between him and Bella.
And then, as we left the forest and made our way toward the house, Jacob was a wolf and took off toward La Push.
I kept my arm around Bella's waist as we approached the house, worried that she might be overcome with emotion. She had a lot on her plate right now. She was torn between a vampire and a werewolf who she thought hated her. There were dozens of vampires out there who wanted her dead. And now she was going to have to face her infuriated father. Tonight was not a good night.
I felt Bella square her shoulders, determined to be strong, and I marveled at her courage. Everything was stacked against us. I felt like Romeo all over again. We were as much a pair of star-crossed lovers as any throughout literature. But more importantly, she didn't have to have that. She had options in front of her, and though I didn't envy her choice, I knew what was logical. I had nothing to offer her but danger.
And then I knew why I had such an intense hatred for Jacob. He was everything I wasn't. He was more human than I would ever be. If he chose, he could grow old with her and give her a family. He could hold her without giving her pneumonia. He could kiss her without wanting to kill her. His temper was really the only danger and he had managed to keep control over that much better than I had expected. I started to wonder if perhaps he was the better man.
I wanted to stay, but it was Bella's decision. She was going to have to choose. Not tonight, but soon. I had meant it when I had told Jacob that I was here to stay. As long as she wanted me. But I also meant what I hadn't said. What would happen if she didn't want me. I wasn't her prison guard.
I tightened my hold on Bella with a tiny squeeze. "I'm here," I promised her, offering as much reassurance as I could, to us both. She seemed to like that thought, because her face smoothed and suddenly she seemed ready to face Charlie.
I forced myself not to think of the future with all of its horrible unknowns. For tonight, at least, she was my Bella. I didn't know what she would choose tomorrow, but, in the meantime, I was here.
A/N: Well, I finished that faster than expected. :) The epilogue ended on kind of a sad note, but from Edward's point of view, at least, I think that New Moon leaves him in a very uncertain place. Once he's past that initial relief of being back with Bella, he's forced to realize that his girlfriend has fallen in love with someone else. And as self-loathing as he is, I don't think Edward would take that well. When it comes to Jacob, Edward sees a lot more than Bella, though his sight is definitely still clouded. It's kind of a build up to his mindset in Eclipse. This story was a lot of fun to write, and I hope as much fun to read. I might go back and edit this later, but for now it's going to stand as is. Anyways, so long and thanks for all the fish!