The phone call came from Leah. "Bella – Something's happened to Jacob. There are vampires in La Push. The rest of the pack's gone to meet them and I'm going now."
Bella felt her heart stop, then kick back in loudly. "Where?"
"Out near the cliffs, and they're way over the line," Leah replied shortly. Then the phone went dead in Bella's hand. Out near the cliffs.
"BILLY?!" Bella called, slamming the handset onto the receiver. She could hear his wheels click on the tile before he appeared in the kitchen, where she stood remarkably still for just another instant, hand still on the phone. And then if she could have been fast enough to blur, she would have. "The boys will be up soon. I have to go. The pack's in an uproar about vampires over the line. Will you stay with them? Maybe Sue could stay with you?" She babbled as she rushed passed him. She was out the door before he answered. She cast a glance at her truck, but retrieved her motorcycle from the garage instead. It was faster.
Jacob had been patrolling, one of many new duties he'd taken over when Sam had stepped down as Alpha two years previous. He'd caught the scent of several bloodsuckers he'd never met, and started tracking them. Quil was working, but Embry and Jared were on the other side of the res. Jared morphed to call Sam to spread the word, and then followed Embry out toward the cliffs.
There were three of them, and only one of him, but they were so surprised to see him that he got a chance to fight just the first one. Jacob knew immediately that this was a different caliber of leech than the newborns they'd once killed so easily. But there was no way to avoid combat. Their red eyes were full of hatred, and the largest came toward him, grinning.
"Careful, Felix," the one behind him said. The oncoming vampire only grinned wider.
It was a brief engagement. Jacob tore his right arm off first, and both the others howled in fury as Felix cried out. Jacob could feel most of the pack in his mind now – their approval, and their alarm. They were too far away.
And then a familiar voice rang out. "Jacob, give me permission to cross!"
The three vampires he didn't know turned for an instant to look at the one he DID. He took the opportunity to remove Felix's other arm. He didn't need Edward's help. And he certainly wasn't going to invite him to cross the line.
But the other two had turned back towards him now, and the tiny female was smiling at him. He had just enough time to fling Felix's arm deep into the woods before he was down. The pain was intense, and he howled. He knew the whole pack was brought to a halt while they suffered with him, their minds linked. It seemed to last forever. When he could finally open his eyes again, Felix was striding out from the trees, one arm already reattaching itself, and grasping the other.
Jacob was surrounded. Edward? he asked silently, admitting that defeat was inevitable. The pack was minutes away and whatever that female had done could shut them all down completely, unless they were human. And, human, they were no match for the bloodsuckers.
And then Edward was there, behind the female. "Good afternoon, Jane," he said, his voice carefully neutral.
"It is," she replied, her face uncharacteristically animated with pleasure as she turned her attention to him. "We had no idea how much fun there was to be had in Forks. A werewolf pack! And Aro didn't know. He'll be so disappointed in you." She didn't add that she intended to exterminate them. She didn't have to. Edward could have guessed as much without reading her mind.
"We have a treaty with the wolves that goes back four generations," Edward replied. "They were our allies when the newborn army attacked, as I'm sure you've gathered. We ask that you respect our treaty."
Jacob watched, crouched to spring, as Felix stood aside, reattaching his left arm, now. The third took a step back. Perhaps he was reasonable. He was looking appraisingly at Edward. Jane was also turned away from him to face Edward. Jacob took the opportunity to morph. If he got hit with that kind of pain again, he didn't want it debilitating the entire pack. He threw his shorts on hastily, ignoring Jane's disinterested glance.
"We care nothing for your treaty. The wolves cannot be allowed to live. They are a danger to our way of life as surely as your precious human was."
"The treaty maintains their silence. There is no reason to harm them."
Jacob could hear the persuasive influence in Edward's voice and wondered if it had any effect on a fellow vampire. Jane tilted her head as though considering. Then she simply nodded at the reassembled Felix, who grinned at Jacob again.
Jacob dimly heard Edward shout, "WAIT!" He saw him go down under the curse of Jane's beautiful smile. And then his chest exploded with pain, and he found himself gasping for air. Human as he was, he'd barely caught Felix's movement, and he wasn't fast enough to fend him off. He landed on his back, several yards away, and slid a few more feet. Liquid started collecting in his lungs. They were clearly punctured – and they weren't going to heal with a rib stuck through them.
Embry and Jared arrived just then, tearing through the trees at full speed. Jane turned her smile from Edward to them. Jake could see that the third vampire stood over Edward, to keep him from attacking her. The pack shut down again. They were closer. Howls of agony rang out all around them. Jacob felt tears starting in his eyes for the pain of his brothers. And then he heard it, and one of them spilled over. The sound of an approaching motorcycle, pushed to its limit. He could have dealt with dying today for the pack – protecting his land and his family. But to have Bella here! He exchanged a horrified glance with Edward, but there was nothing either of them could do.
The bike skidded to a stop, only feet from him, and then she collapsed beside him. His breathing was shallow. "Carlisle is on his way," Edward whispered, already knowing it was too late. Then he turned to the waiting Volturi. Jane and Felix looked amused. "Demetri, no one has to die here," he said calmly. No one else. Demetri took a step back after a quick glance at Jane. Edward stood. The howling stopped abruptly.
"Stay where you are," Edward called to the wolves, and to his surprise, they obeyed, only inching closer to where Bella was crying silently over Jacob.
"Caius was right," Felix commented wickedly. "And I believe I called dibs." Edward's answering snarl was drowned out by the reaction of the pack, but Felix only grinned.
"How horrifying for you," Jane added, gazing dispassionately at Bella and Jacob. "Your mate chose a dog over you?" Even Demetri grinned at that. Edward only growled.
"There must be something you want. Tell me what you'll take in exchange for a guarantee of safety for the pack." He was running out of options. Alice had called him from Denali, where the rest of his family was staying out the week, trying to make peace with Tanya and her sisters. They weren't going to make it in time to help him. And once they got through him, Jane could shut down the pack while Felix and Demetri dismembered them one by one. And then they'd have Bella, and there'd be nothing anyone could do to save her. He had to negotiate. He tried to block out the sound of Bella's gasping tears and concentrate. It wasn't an easy thing.
Bella could hardly believe she'd beat the pack, but she vaulted off the bike almost before she had it stopped. She let it fall, and ran to where Jacob lay, clearly broken, on the ground. He tried to say something, but blood trickled out of his mouth, instead. She cast a fearful glance at the vampires behind her, but they seemed unaffected. It appeared Edward had been correct years ago when he said werewolf blood was unappetizing. She was perversely thankful for that, at least.
She put both her hands to his face, wiping the blood away. "Shhh. Don't try to talk. Stay with me, Jake. Carlisle's coming." Jacob shook his head slightly, and covered her hands with his own. He knew, even if she did not, that this was the end. A second later, his eyes fell closed.
And then Bella saw something extraordinary. Jacob's likeness. His spirit-self, rising from his body. He eyed her speculatively as her eyes followed him. "You can see me, can't you?" he asked, amazed.
"Yes," she whispered. Every head turned toward where she knelt, eyes raised, talking to nothing.
"You see souls. I always knew there was something wrong with your brain," he joked. But Bella didn't feel like joking.
"Jake!" she choked, a sob escaping.
"Don't Bells. Don't cry. Remember our promise that we'd be thankful for whatever time we had. We got far more time together than either of us had a right to hope. Let that be enough." Bella nodded helplessly, her eyes never leaving his.
"I want you to go with Edward," he continued.
"But the boys!"
He reached out an insubstantial hand toward her, but pulled it back. "I want you to remember me warm," he whispered. Then answered her, "It might be the only way to protect them. Go with Edward. Don't look back." Her eyes followed him as he started to move away, toward the ocean. "I love you, Bella."
"Love you, Jake," she whispered brokenly. "Miss you already."
And then he was gone. Bella didn't look down at the body before her. Instead, she stared into the distance, out over the water for a long minute before her eyes shifted to Edward's stricken face. Only then did she notice that everyone was staring at her. But she wasn't quite the awkward klutz she'd been as an adolescent, and she didn't really care what they thought. She stood abruptly and walked over to stand beside him, facing Jane, tears still streaming silently down her face. She knew what had to be done. To protect her sons. To protect the pack.
"Edward is not a member of the tribe. If you're willing to negotiate, you must negotiate with me." She heard the dullness of her own voice, but also the steel in it. And she could see in Jane's eyes that she heard it as well.
Behind her, Bella could feel the remaining members of Jacob's pack – her family – watching as she played the most deadly game of all. Again.
"You have nothing to offer us that we want," Jane said dismissively, already bored. She turned back to Edward. "Aro will not honor the treaty for anything less than you and Alice joining with the Volutri."
"Impossible," Bella spat angrily. "Alice is not his to give."
Neither Jane nor Edward looked at her, their eyes locked on one another. "He can have me," Edward said quietly. Jane smiled only slightly, and Edward's features took on a wary expression. She shook her head.
"Both of us, then," Bella suggested hesitantly, remembering Jacob's last words to her. "Aro would honor the treaty for both of us."
Finally, Jane spared her a surprised glance. "You will give yourself to the Volturi to protect this pack?"
"To protect the whole tribe. And conditionally," Bella returned, her chin raised.
"Conditionally!" Felix scoffed quietly, but Jane threw him a quelling glance.
"What conditions do you propose?" Her tone was slightly more interested than it had been a moment ago.
"We will give you fifty years of our time – "
"Ridiculous," Jane commented, cutting her off. "Fifty years in exchange for an open-ended guarantee of safety?"
Finally, Edward found his voice. "One hundred, then, but no more."
"And I have more conditions," Bella added, ignoring the warning growls that had erupted behind her. Clearly the pack thought one hundred years was excessive. But she didn't want to waste this advantage. She knew Jane was finally interested, she could see it in her eyes. She wondered, suddenly, if she was seeing Jane's soul.
"One hundred years…" Jane mused, knowing Aro would approve. "What are your other conditions?"
"That we be allowed to maintain Edward's diet, and not be required to feed with the Volturi," Bella said quickly. "And that we not be separated." She paused, then glanced at Edward. "Unless by his request."
Jane exchanged a glance with Demetri. He looked back at her passively enough. She didn't look at Felix. She didn't need to, to know that he was furious. She wasn't very happy with it herself, but she knew Aro would approve of this negotiation. And she knew he would be disappointed in her if she failed to secure these two additions to the family. She scowled. Because they WOULD be family, eventually. They were too powerful to be relegated to the guard forever.
"You have one week to bury your dead. If you do not present yourself to Aro in Volterra by the end of that week, we will hold the treaty broken, and you will both be destroyed along with your precious dogs."
"Thank you, Jane. We will see you a week from today." Edward spoke quickly, aware that Bella had shut down again at Jane's first sentence. He watched as Jane, Demetri and Felix disappeared into the trees, keeping his eyes averted from Bella, who'd run toward the pack as soon as Jane's back was turned.
It was Quil, the last to arrive, who morphed as she approached and caught her, his nakedness irrelevant as she sobbed against his shoulder. Finally, Edward let himself turn around. "Which of you is Alpha?" he asked. His eyes darted to Paul, who growled at him.
I am, came an answering thought from Embry. The rest of the pack stared, and Edward could hear their surprised thoughts. He could hear EMBRY'S surprise, but also his surety. Clearly no one had ever determined his parentage until this moment. Edward nodded.
"If it is acceptable to you, I will ask Carlisle to draw up the document between the tribe and the Volturi. It would be prudent if each member of the pack were to sign it." Edward was finding it hard to concentrate. His eyes continually strayed to Bella as she cried in Quil's embrace. But he couldn't comfort her now. There was too much to do. And he wasn't sure she would accept his comfort if he offered it.
That is acceptable. We will take care of the funeral arrangements for Bella and Jacob, Embry replied. Edward saw in his mind the plan that was forming. Throwing her truck off a cliff into the sea. No bodies to be found. Jacob would be buried quietly tonight. He nodded, approving.
"I should contact my family. They will want to pay their respects as well, with your permission."
Embry morphed, and came towards him. "After what you have sacrificed for the sake of our tribe, you will always be welcome on our land. You and Bella, both. Your family may attend the funeral." Paul growled again behind him, and Embry scowled at him. Paul and Jared took off into the woods as Embry turned back and offered his hand to Edward to shake.
Edward returned to the white house by the river and phoned Carlisle. They would arrive with hours to spare before Jacob's burial, and there was much to accomplish in that time.
Bella held Quil weakly, but he made up for it. He let her go only briefly, to dress, and then lifted her into his arms and carried her to Billy's old place. Seth Clearwater lived there now, and he knew he couldn't take her back to her house until the children had been taken to the Newton's place. Leah was already headed there to pick them up.
Bella managed to sit upright when he deposited her on the familiar, too-small couch in the living room, but only by an effort of will. She remembered falling asleep in this spot, soaked to the bone after her cliff dive, Jacob asleep on the floor beside her, leaning against her side. She wished, for a few moments while Quil stepped into the kitchen to make a call, that Jake hadn't been able to save her that day. But then Quil was back, and he was explaining the plan. Sam, Jared and Paul were taking her truck up to the cliffs already. The boys were going to Leah's house for the night. It was all happening faster than she could comprehend.
"Come on," he said, holding out a hand. "It's time to go tell Billy."
Bella looked up at him in horror and the tears that had dried up briefly during the trip back to La Push came cascading down her face in torrents. Anything but that. Anything but telling Billy his son was dead because of her. Because her past had come back to haunt them both. She shook her head, but he just lifted her from the couch and set off toward her house.
They arrived only moments before Embry and Seth did, carrying Jacob between them. Billy watched Quil enter, carrying Bella, and he already knew. Quil said nothing, simply taking her upstairs to her bed and tucking her in there. He returned to Billy's side in time to stand with him as he watched them lay Jacob's body on the couch. It was ridiculously quiet. Bella's gasping sobs were the only sounds they could hear.
The pack, Bella, Billy and the Cullen family met beside the grave Embry and Sam had dug that afternoon. Bella had run out of tears during the course of the evening, and it was quite late. She felt – empty. Exhausted. She would never set eyes on Jacob or their children again. She dimly recognized the numbness and was grateful for it. And grateful for Jacob, who had long ago taught her that it wouldn't last, and she could survive it.
Edward stood with his family a respectful distance away and wondered what it said about him that he was as anxious to get Bella out of there as he was sad for her loss. He listened as first Sam, as former Alpha, and then Embry as current Alpha said a few words about Jacob Black, and it occurred to him again that he'd probably have liked Jacob quite a lot if he had been able to get passed hating him.
When they fell silent, the pack filed passed. He felt rather than saw his family take their leave as well. His eyes were on Bella. He watched Leah hug her. Bella returned the embrace with leaden arms, and her eyes immediately strayed back to the unmarked grave. Billy passed him last, grasping Bella's hand for only a moment and then wheeling himself back to the waiting car. Embry was driving him home. The rest had all run.
It was silent, then, for a long time. He didn't breathe. He didn't make any sound that might interrupt her. Finally, when the sky began to get light, Bella turned her head to look at him. "I know he's not there. But I'm not sure I can walk away." There were tears in her eyes, but they didn't fall. "Will you help me?"
Edward stepped forward and took her hand, pulling gently until she turned and took a step towards him. Neither smiled. Neither spoke. He picked her up and carried her back to the white house on the river, where his family was waiting. Their family, now. It was no way to end a life. But it was an end. It was no way to begin a life. But it was a beginning.