I would let her go. In the sense that I'd never show her how hard it
was for me. But I would keep watch. You see, Jacob, you might
leave her someday. I would always be waiting in the wings, hoping
for that to happen.

Edward Cullen - Eclipse Chapter 22

He wakes up, and she is there. After six years of marriage, it can still take him by surprise every morning. It is unbelievable that he really has this.

She rests with one arm draped over his waist, some of her hair fallen across his chest. When he moves to try to get out of bed, the movement wakes her up and she grabs onto him tighter, grumbling, "No..."

He laughs into her hair as he kisses her head. "Come on, Bella," he says. "It's Christmas. If we don't get up we'll miss it..."

They find Sarah already wide awake, unsurprisingly, playing with a new toy pony. She is three years old, copper-skinned and black-haired like her father, though she inherited Bella's large round eyes and her knack for getting herself into trouble.

In the afternoon their house fills with the smell of gingerbread as Bella bakes. Jacob sits in a rocking chair finishing a carving of a hare he'll give to Renée and Phil when they come visit in a few days, and Sarah sits cross-legged in the chair right next to him watching.

Sarah always loves to watch him carve. When Bella isn't around to hear it and disapprove of him telling her things that could scare her, he often tells her stories as he does it.

What he tells her are simpler and more colorful versions of Quileute legends, ancient as well as very new ones. Stories about the spirit warriors, the protectors, the cold ones, the treaty. And one about a very beautiful woman who was neither Quileute or a blood drinker but became a friend to both, who was loved deeply by both a protector and one of the cold ones. This story tells of how both sides became united when neither of them would allow her to be harmed and had to protect her from other cold ones from a very distant land who would have forced her to become one of them. There was a great battle in which one of the wolves were lost before she could be safe again and go whichever way she chose.

When Jacob tells her about these legends, his voice changes, sounding very strong and serious. He becomes so absorbed in it, as well as what he is carving, that he seems hardly aware of anyone with him. He is oblivious to surroundings and distractions, pausing in his speech only every once in a while to blow on the wooden shape he's working on and get it clean of shavings and dust. Sometimes it seems like the story he tells is helping the detailed form emerge from the formerly shapeless wood, his hands responding directly to the images he describes. Or remembers. Pieces he started meaning to make into canoes or deer have sometimes ended up as wolves howling or crouched in attack positions by the time he was done talking.

He tells the story of the human girl who was loved by both families more than any other. The way he tells it, her name is never given, and the ending makes it a little unclear what happened to her.

This is the one he tells today, and he is getting near the end when Bella comes from the kitchen announcing that she's ready for Sarah to help her cut out cookies, and she immediately loses interest and slides off of her chair. She already knows the ending of this story quite well.

Now left alone with the images in the story still dancing through his mind, Jacob stops his carving a while, looking over at some of the framed pictures on top of their fireplace. One picture is of the pack together at Emily's house, taken before the Clearwaters joined them and they were only five. His eyes focus directly on Jared's face where he stands in the middle with a mild smirk.

He does not tell the stories for his daughter as much as he does for himself. It is a way of detaching himself from the events, moving on. If they are just silly stories to tell his kids, then that world is mostly left behind. Then he can let himself believe sometimes as most people do that Jared was lost in a car accident eight years ago.

At the same time, it is for remembrace. Maybe she has to forget most of the time in order to live with herself, and maybe he prefers to forget, but honor must be given. He cannnot forget the sacrifice that this life cost them.

And not just on Jared's part. Not at all.

He wakes up, and she is there. After seven years of marriage, it can still take him by surprise every morning. It is unbelievable that he really has this.

As she is still sleeping he brushes some of her hair away from her face, barely touching her, and he thinks he sees her just barely smile for a moment as if responding to it. Then she turns more onto her side and curls in toward him, arms wrapping around herself a little like she's cold. He immediately pulls her against him and wraps an arm around her. It's amazing what it feels like, something as small and mundane as this—just being able to see how getting herself closer to him for warmth is a reflex she can now act on in her sleep.

After a while she opens her eyes, rubs them tiredly with little fists—which always looks so damn cute he has to smile down at her—and looks at his face. With a slow, lazy smile, she says, "Hey."

He smiles back and kisses her. "Merry Christmas, Bells."

She rolls away from him and sits up to get out of bed. "Haha," she laughs. "Christmas bells..."

As soon as they join Sarah in the living room, she starts breathlessly insisting she saw Santa Claus late last night. When they humor her she can tell they don't really buy it, and Jacob tries to tell her how Santa would never allow himself to be seen anyway. After dark when they take her out for a drive to look at Christmas lights, she's still going on about what she swears happened.

"Honey, if Santa really saw you still up after your bedtime, I doubt he would have left you all those presents," Bella says.

"He didn't see me! I just know he was there."

"Wait," Jacob says with a skeptical smirk. "So you really saw him, or did you just know he was there?"

"Well...I saw the plant he knocked over, after I heard it."

Bella and Jacob both laugh.

"You mean the one Pepper knocked over?" Jacob asks.

"It wasn't Pepper! She was under the table in the kitchen looking scared the whole time."

"Why would a cat be scared of Santa?"

"Maybe she's been naughty."

They laugh again, giving each other a knowing look.

"Sarah, I think I get what this is about," he says. "Look, if you're honest and you tell us you knocked it over while you were up trying to spy on Santa Claus, I promise Mommy and I won't be mad."

"But I didn't! It was him!"

"Sarah, it's like we told you. He never comes until after you go to bed like a good girl...And he won't come next year at all unless you stop bouncing around back there and put on your seatbelt."

Bella looks to the side at him with an amused smile when she instantly fastens her seatbelt and goes quiet. He grins back, reaching over to her lap and taking her hand.

Later, when they get home and out of the car, Bella is asking Sarah what movie she wants to watch tonight when something makes Jacob abruply stop and look out toward the trees at the side of their house which sink back into darkness. His eyes go wide as a reflexive shiver courses down his spine, quick as a flash of lightning, as he catches on the wind a hint of a familiar scent that he hasn't smelled in a long time. Fragments of the day become incompletely pieced together in his head. It can't be...

But practically as soon as he notices it, it is gone and it can't possibly have ever been there. No. His mind was playing tricks on him...

"Jake?" Bella asks, seeing him staring off into the darkness. "What is it?"

He turns back to her and shakes his head, heading inside with her and Sarah. "Nothing..."

He wakes up, and she is there. After eight years of marriage, it can still take him by surprise every morning.

Jacob now understands what people mean when they say how powerful a thing it is for a parent to watch their child sleep. He has known that. To see his daughter like that, in a state of being so peaceful, safe. Every slow, relaxed breath which he can see and hear her take is like something he can feel being drawn from somewhere in him. To think, he gave this life. She isalive. It is like a miraculous phenomenon to behold.

And it is actually not that different, as he realizes now looking at Bella's peaceful face, for him to watch his wife sleeping. She is still living and breathing like any human because...sometimes he isn't even sure why and how. He has pushed the past away so much that somewhere along the way he seems to have lost the security of a definite reason for all of this. She could so easily not be here now. She could be cold and unchanging, her pulse stopped, trapped in a body that is not even capable of slipping into the solace of sleep and infinite land of dreams. Sometimes it feels like she is still so dangerously close to slipping away from him and he needs to hold on so tight.

This year, after they've opened presents, Bella goes over to the Uleys' to help Emily with the cooking for dinner for a while. Soon after that, Sarah wants to go play in the snow so she goes outside with him, holding his big gloved hand when they walk over icy areas so he won't let her slip.

Bella comes back home two hours later to find Jacob on the floor holding Sarah's tiny, violently shivering form as close to him as possible with a blanket wrapped around her whole body, his eyes shocked and desperate.

"What happened?" she gasps as she drops to the floor next to them. After seeing Sarah's eyes squeezed shut and her teeth chattering uncontrollably, she touches her pale face and her eyes go wider as she feels how cold she is.

He shakes his head miserably—he looks almost like he could cry, seeing his daughter like this. "I can't believe I let it happen...We were just chasing each other around throwing snowballs, and she got so far away from me I lost her...I never thought she'd get near any thin ice..."

"Oh my God," Bella says, her voice barely getting out.

"Bella..." Jacob had never sounded so terrified. "Bella, if I hadn't been the one with her...If I hadn't been able to jump right in after her, or had found her just a little later..."

"Don't think about that," she said, leaning against him and holding Sarah along with him, leaning her head in against hers. "You did save her."

Bella calls Emily to explain why they have their hands full and can't be expected for dinner after all. It isn't until later, after Sarah is finally perfectly warm again and they've given her some hot chocolate and put her to bed, that he tells Bella the rest. He shows her the still soaking coat that Sarah was wearing when she fell in, and the huge torn holes in the back. They are where great, razor-sharp teeth were holding onto her clothes exactly as a dog carries one of its pups around by the scruff of its neck.

"I needed to get her out of the cold as fast as possible," he explains. "I knew if I phased I could get back here in less than a minute...She was in so much shock I doubt she remembers anything clearly. If she was even conscious for much of the time."

Bella grips the coat tightly in her fingers where the tears are, still shaking all over, and holds it close against her chest as if she is still holding her child. Then she looks up at him meaningfully. "You being a werewolf saved her life," she says.

Somehow, hearing this only makes him look more troubled. She puts down the jacket and circles her arms loosely around his waist, looking up at his face. "What?"

He shakes his head, reaching up one hand to hold her face. "Sarah is such a sharp kid," he says. "She's too smart. I know we may not have a problem with her knowing everything once she's a lot older if it's ever necessary, but sometimes I think she somehow already knows in her gut that her dad is different. Sometimes she talks like she thinks I could practically stop moving cars and nothing at all can happen to her while I'm around."

"She has a wild imagination," she says. "You know that. And just about every kid thinks their dad is like Superman."

He only looks a little comforted, and she leans against his chest, holding him tighter. "Don't worry," she tells him. "You neverhave let anything happen to us, have you?"

He smiles a little and looks at the clock. "Think we could make it over for leftovers later if she sleeps off all this exhaustion soon?"

Bella thinks about it and then frowns a little. "Your dad would probably still be over there. Which means Charlie would still be over there, and..."

"And we'd spend the rest of the night having to come up with answers to his questions about what happened," he says, catching on.

"Instead of just dealing with it later," Bella confirms, nodding grimly.

Somehow she looks pretty exhausted herself by now, so Jacob kisses her head again and says, "I'll go put us together a fantastic Christmas dinner of sandwiches and cookies."

"That sounds great," she says with a tired smile.

When he comes back from the kitchen a while later with two plates of food, he finds her back in Sarah's room, lying on the bed next to her sitting up on her elbow as she watches her sleeping. Bella smiles at him and whispers, "I'll be out in a minute," so he starts eating in the living room watching the TV.

Half an hour later he goes back into the bedroom and Bella is also asleep, lying facing Sarah with one arm wrapped loosely around her. Jacob sits on the edge of the bed and watches them closely, feeling his heart getting gripped into a tight knot just at this simple sight. God. Their breathing is almost perfectly matched. He knows nothing will make him leave this room again until one of them wakes up. Somehow, tonight, he feels the need to stay near and watch over them.

They are both here. Alive and tangible and his. When did that happen?

The next Christmas, Emily and Sam's daughter Anna comes over to play with Sarah. While they're outside making a snowman, Bella flits around the living room picking up all the trash left from unwrapping gifts, while Jacob just sits on the couch with his feet up on the table chewing on a toothpick. As the rest of him calmly sits still, his eyes follow all of Bella's busy movements around the room. Then as she comes to his side and reaches across him to pick up a bow from the couch, he grabs her around the waist and pulls her down onto his lap.

"Ah!" she says, dropping all of the mounds of gift wrap she was carrying and then grinning and hitting his chest playfully. "Hey!"

With a quiet, deep laugh, he holds her close against him and kisses the soft skin under her jaw, right where her pulse runs, then her lips, then her neck again at the opposite side. She closes her eyes, her breath already rising a little in response to him and the corners of her mouth turning up in a smile.

"I've been thinking about being alone with you all day," she says softly.

"We are alone," he mutters.

She laughs lightly. "Not exactly..."

One minute later, Jacob opens the front door and calls out to the kids. "Hey, Sarah! Mom and I need to run to the store. Why don't you and Anna go over to her house to play for a while?"

"Okay..." Sarah sounds reluctant, but she and Anna start sauntering through the snow to the sidewalk.

"Careful where it's icy, no running! Hey Anna, put your hat on, girl!"

Bella is cracking up laughing, still curled up on the couch when he shuts the door and runs back to her, making the whole couch rock back when he hops onto it.

"Great," he says as Bella is already starting to unbutton his shirt and straddling him on his lap. "Em'll have them occupied forever with her infinite supply of baked goodies."

She keeps laughing against his lips as she kisses him. "Brilliant."

He grins diabolically and says, "Merry Christmas," the words breaking with his own laughter.

Later that night, Bella gets an awful headache and goes to lie in bed for a while, and Jacob sits in his favorite chair by the fireplace working on his latest carving. Sarah takes her usual seat in the chair next to him to watch.

"You have fun with Anna?" he asks.

She only nods, and he studies her face for a moment. Just a nod is a very quiet response for Sarah.

"Will you make a vampire this time?" she asks after his attention is back on the carving.

He gives a short laugh, raising his brow in surprise. "No. I...uh...don't do those." He looks back away from her, the corners of his mouth raising a little at how bare the explanation sounds to himself.

"But you know what they look like."

He smiles. "They look pretty much like people, I guess."

"No, you know what the ones in the stories you've told me looked like."

"It's not like they're real, honey."

He is unfased, still concentrating on the strokes of his knife against the wood, and she goes quiet for a moment. Then she says, "I saw one of them."

Jacob's hands freeze, the knife stopping. But he only raises an eyebrow and smirks a little as he looks back over at her. "What now?" he says.

"One of the cold ones was here. I saw him."

"Oh yeah? When?"

"Today, outside. When me and Anna were going to her house."

"Right," he says with a smile. "Like you saw Santa Claus that one year, right?"

"No, really! He was standing by a tree next to the sidewalk."

"And what in the world makes you think he was a...vampire?" It is strangely difficult for him to use the word. He rarely does anymore, even when referring to the legends.

"He had gold eyes, just like the stories say. And he looked whiter than anyone I ever saw. His face was like the snow."

Jacob's expression is now very controlled, his voice careful. "Did this man talk to you?"

"No. When I saw him there he smiled. Then I looked behind me for Anna to see if she'd seen him, too, and when I looked back he was already gone. Like he disappeared!"

His breath catches a moment, but he doesn't let it show. His hands fiddle awkwardly with the piece of wood in his hands like they can't move right anymore, and he puts it and the knife down on the little table in between his and Sarah's chairs.

"Sarah..." He smiles at her tolerantly. "You know those are just stories. They're not real."

She frowns, heavy disappointment weighing down her whole posture as she looks down at her lap. He pats her head, and then with a sudden thought he gently lifts her chin up to make her look at him.

"You didn't try to feed any of this story to your mom, did you?" he asks.

Sarah shakes her head, still pouting.

He nods. "Good...You know how she worries about me scaring you with those stories."

By the next year they've had their second daughter Allie.

"I am the ghost of Christmas past" says a morose voice from the television. Sarah doesn't mind black and white movies like other kids. They both think she is still on the couch watching it as Bella changes clothes and Jacob is with her in the room playing with the baby to make her stop crying.

When Allie finally gets quiet and starts looking tired, Jacob lays her back down in her crib.

"How's your cold?" Bella asks as she finishes putting in her earrings.

"Little better," he says. "I still can't believe it. I never get sick."

She says with a smile, "Even you aren't invincible...I made some juice out of what was left of all those oranges we bought for Claire's school fundraiser. That'll help you get better."

"All of them?" he asks incredulously, trying to imagine squeezing the juice out of that much fruit.

She giggles. "Fifteen oranges. I didn't want them to go to waste..."

"Wow, aren't you the sweetest?" he says in a thoughtful tone, hugging her from behind and kissing the top of her head. "I should marry you."

She turns to face him and smiles up at him. "You did."

He feigns shock. "Really? What did I do to deserve that?"

She laughs again and kisses his shoulder. "You better get over this cold soon so I can—"

Her words are cut off when they hear a short, high scream and a heavy crash from the kitchen. Bella gasps loudly, her and Jacob briefly exchanging scared glances, and then she follows him as he runs out to see...

"Oh God," Bella mouths more than says, her breath gone.

A tall shelf in the kitchen is completely knocked over on the floor. The stool Sarah was standing up on to try to reach the hidden tins of gingerbread and sugar cookies on the top shelf is crushed into pieces under its weight. Several knives are scattered, one having landed point-down with the tip of the blade stuck into the floor.

But Sarah is nowhere near it, sitting on the kitchen counter at the opposite end of the room with her eyes still wide with fright. The window behind her is open, and just as Jacob notices this she starts shivering from the icy breeze and slides down to the floor.

His look of shock just starts changing to a completely perplexed one as he looks down at his daughter, but he doesn't have time to completely register the confusion before he sees Bella's figure starting to sway out of the corner of his eye. He moves just in time to catch her from falling to the floor after she faints.

He isn't superdad today, he is a werewolf with a cold and he wasn't the one who was there when it happened, but he's still fast.

As he carries Bella to the couch to lay her on it, Sarah follows him still looking terrified and not taking her eyes from her mother.

"How do you always manage to find new ways to get yourself hurt?" Jacob says to her scoldingly. It comes out sounding more harsh than he means it to; something about this is so wrong and he's fighting the thought. "You're worse than your mom."

Sarah has tears welling in her eyes now as she watches Bella, who is just now opening her eyes again but still looks a little dazed and disoriented. "What's wrong with her?"

"Nothing, honey, she'll be fine," Jacob says in a rush. "You just scared her." He waves her over to him and puts his arm around her shoulders to give her a push forward toward the couch. "You sit with her, okay?"

All the commotion has made Allie start crying again. But before he even goes to her again, Jacob swiftly makes it back to the kitchen, steps over dented food cans and crunches spilled Froot Loops under his feet as he goes right past the mess on the floor to shut the window.

He never tries to ask Sarah how she ended up all the way across the kitchen in time because he doesn't want to hear her say she doesn't know. He won't let himself think back to strange things that have happened before, on Christmas, what Sarah told him last year, what he thought he sensed outside one time long before, shivering not from the cold. He doesn't let himself believe this all points to anything.

Even so, he is grateful that Bella didn't have a chance to see the open window.

The next Christmas, nothing out of the ordinary happens besides Jacob having to take Bella to the hospital after she slips on some ice outside and breaks her arm. Of course, Bella hurting herself isn't really unordinary at all.

Nothing happens the next Christmas either. While the radio plays Paul McCartney and Brenda Lee, Bella braids Allie's hair as she sits on her lap. Sarah now likes to have her own hair cropped short like a boy. Jacob sits on the floor with a lollipop in his mouth playing a card game with her and laughing at her whenever she tries to cheat by looking at his cards. When some friends are over later to have dinner and exchange presents, Quil does a ridiculous dance to "Run Rudolph Run" that has both Allie and the Uleys' son Steven rolling on the floor in laughter.

The next year, a storm keeps everyone inside most of the day. Bella dusts off the picture frames and carvings on top of the fireplace, her hands slowing when she touches the one with the picture of Jared with the other boys. Allie draws their cat Pepper with her new art set, and Jacob draws Allie. Bella cries watching It's a Wonderful Life, sitting in the dark with Jacob's arm around her and head leaning against hers.

For a long time, nothing happens, and Christmas is just Christmas, and Jacob starts to think he may never understand the significance of this day and the strange things that have come on it in the past. Nothing happens, but he still wonders and worries every year. The season of ice brings dark memories, ghosts whispering from pictures on the fireplace and the dark space between distant trees outside where anything could be hiding. The howling winter wind that makes the house creak while he lies in bed holding Bella at night makes him think of her freezing against him a night long ago, a sleeping bag, sides of a tent getting rocked violently in the storm. And a voice that he cannot remember the exact sound of and doesn't want to. What did he say that night?

"I would keep watch"

No. These things are gone along with the ripping, cold wind, safely forgotten. Too sharp to touch. Some nights after the girls have gone to sleep, Bella lies back against his chest in front of the flames in the fireplace, safe and warm with her skin taking a warm amber color in the flickering light. Some of these nights he thinks back to how she used to seem to get cold all the time without him holding her, when they first started spending more time together, and how that now seems like a different Bella from a different lifetime than the one he's now married to. There is never any question anymore why she chose fire. They can't afford that. She has always been good at pushing anything far out of her mind that would upset her to dwell on too much. He thinks this may never stop both assuring and worrying him.