In Love With Another

The ring was a burdensome weight in my pocket. Each step I took, it threatened to buckle my left leg and send me to the ground. I could feel the freshly moistened Earth—it had rained an hour earlier—taunting me beneath my feet. Each squelch of mud underneath my shoes threatened to suck me into the Earth. I should have let it.

I was a mile away from the Cullen house now though, and there was no turning back.

Even if every instinct in my body was telling me to phase and run and never look back. I should have stayed gone from the beginning. Coming back for Bella's marriage to Edward had been near-suicidal. Staying at her side during her potentially fatal pregnancy had been borderline insane.

Falling in love with her half-breed daughter via imprinting had been the worst decision of my life, and it hadn't even been my decision. Just thinking of Nessie, my heart started pulsing irregularly, bleeding out her name until my chest seemed to be clogged with my insatiable desire for a vampire. Being even a mile away from her, I felt the chord between us snap taut. I felt the air back up in my lungs, and I almost wished for death.

Except death would take me from Nessie, so I couldn't even wish that.

I wanted to wrap my hands around the throat of the first bastard that had ever imprinted and ask him what the hell he'd been thinking. This forced removal of personal consent in concern of my love life was infuriating. It forced actions into my body and thoughts into my head that weren't mine. They belonged to the demon inside of me that had imprinted on Renesmee Cullen.

The demon that told me that I loved her, that forced me to buy the damned ring in my pocket, that was motivating me now to put one foot in front of the other and go do the deed that should have been directed to another.

I wasn't the Jacob Black that was in love with a vampire/human halfbreed.

I was the Jacob Black that was in love with a slender brunette with chocolate brown eyes that hid under long lashes as she peeked up at me, a blush painting the pale cheeks I longed to caress. The girl that, in my head, would always remain human. The girl that I could not have possibly allowed to become a vampire. All thanks to my Nessie. All thanks to the love of my life.

I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to heave all of the vileness of my imprint right out onto the ground that still continued to laugh at me. I wanted to wretch until Nessie was out of my system for good.

Instead, I broke through the line of trees that separated me from the Cullen house. I stared up at their floor-to-ceiling windows, my heart half-hoping to catch a glimpse of even her silhouette as it ghosted past the glass. She lived in a castle of vampires, and I was heading right into their nest to link myself to them in a way I never even would have thought up in my worst nightmares.

Even so, I was grinning as I knocked on the door—foolishly and lovesick. I was grinning, still, as Carlisle Cullen opened the door and gestured for me to come in. This was all routine. I visited their clan daily. I always came to dote on Nessie, even when my insides were screaming for someone else.

And every time I entered the room, Nessie—often perched on a couch or sitting Indian-style on the floor—would catch sight of me, and her eyes would light up, and my heart would turn over, and I would feel sick. She would get to her feet, as she did now, on this very day, and dance her way over to me. I would feel her arms slide around my neck, and my brain would whisper, "Home."

And there was nothing I could do about it.

Nothing was different about today. As Nessie embraced me, however, I spotted Bella over her shoulder. The first girl I had fallen in love with lingered in a shadowed corner of the room, leaning her hip against a coffee table, watching me as I watched her. And then Edward came down the stairs, and he slid an arm around his wife's shoulders, and the look we shared disappeared.

We were two different people now. She was a vampire. Her brown eyes were forever replaced by liquid gold. Her skin, once soft and pearl-pale, was cold, hard marble. If I touched it, I wouldn't feel the warmth I remembered. She was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

I inhaled, tasting Nessie's honeyed scent, feeling her warm and, mostly, alive against me.

"Jake," she greeted me.

And, as customary, she lifted her hand to my cheek. I caught her wrist before she could make contact, shaking my head.

"Not today, Nessie," I told her, still grinning, like it was painted on my face. "I've got a surprise for you, and you can't see it yet."

"Oh. All right."

Nessie pretended to pout, but I had peeked her interest by mentioning a surprise, and I knew she wasn't really unhappy. I could feel her emotions almost as well as I could feel my own. I didn't have special powers like her vampire family, but she was integrated so completely into me by the imprint that she practically was me. We were almost the same person, sharing the same body.

One touch of her hand against my cheek, however, and she really would be inside of me, searching my brain. I had too many secrets to hold today, the ring in my pocket being only one crucial one that I didn't want to expose.

I felt the air stir around me, and I found that the living room had filled with Nessie's family. I had called ahead. They all knew, except for Nessie, that I had an announcement to make today. Alice and Jasper were soon sitting on a couch. Emmett took the expanse of a recliner, Rosalie perched on his knees. It was still an effort to not make a face at her. I could tell she felt the same.

When Carlisle and Esme appeared last, I knew that the time had come, and I could feel the imprint's thoughts and feelings taking hold of my body. I became trapped in the darkest, most quiet reach of my body, as always. I wasn't Jacob. I was whatever the imprint wanted me to be. I was the mindless guy that loved Renesmee.

Nessie glanced around the room.

"What's going on?" she asked, and then looked at me, smiling. "What have you cooked up now, Jake?"

I wanted to shout, to refuse what was coming next as I felt my hand begin to slide toward my pocket. It wasn't what I wanted, but I still had to do it. This was the life I'd been rewarded with. Bella had married Edward, become a vampire, and bred a spawn that was the sole focus of my life now. I could barely think about anything else but her anymore. I was cursed and beaten and subject to something beyond my control.

That was why I dropped to one knee and produced the ring box, flipping it open to expose diamonds.

I could feel the collective intake of breath in the room, which was absurd to me, considering that bloodsuckers didn't need to breathe. I could hear Nessie gasp. I watched her hands lift to her mouth in surprise myself. I saw her eyes light up, I saw the little dance she did. I heard her squeal my name in delight.

"Nessie." I could feel the words surging up my throat from some source that was now an intricate part of me. "I've loved you from the second you were born."

Not my choice.

I swallowed. I gritted my teeth. Nothing would stop the speech. I heard Alice make a cooing noise of delight.

"You're everything to me." You're inside of me. I can't get you out. You're like a fucking drug. "I want to be a solid part of your life. I want what we have to be complete."

This was so cliché, so fake. Couldn't anyone see through this? I tried to glance toward Bella, but my eyes were riveted to Renesmee. Like always.

"I love you, Nessie, with all of my heart, with everything I have. You can feel this better than I can explain it, so let me just ask: Will you marry me?"

"Yes!" Nessie cried.

I plucked the ring from its box automatically, knowing, all along, that she wouldn't refuse me. She was stuck too, but she enjoyed this ride that I couldn't get off. I took her hand that she offered, and I slid the little token of my love onto the appropriate finger. She turned it this way and that until the diamond caught a rare bit of sunlight coming in through one of the windows, and it lit up like a disco ball, like her whole family would if they stood in that patch of sunlight.

When I lifted back onto my own two feet, Nessie was on me again, her arms wrapping around my neck. It was only then that I could look at Bella, and only by default, only because I was already aimed in that direction. She was still leaning against the coffee table, still underneath her husband's arm. Over Nessie's shoulder, we stared at one another.

Maybe I imagined the flicker of emotion underneath her impassive, marble mask. Maybe nothing existed between us, just like I had always feared. Maybe she really did love Cullen that completely. I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her until we were both awake.

But people were clapping me on the back, and, by the time I thought I might finally have the strength to fight against the unseen force that controlled me, I was turning into a spew of congratulations, and Bella was fading into the shadows of that corner.

----

Champagne was necessary, according to the Cullen's, even though Nessie and I were the only ones that could enjoy it. I drank like I was expected to, and joked, and laughed, and held Nessie under one arm, mirroring Edward's protective hold on Bella.

And I drank, and drank, and drank.

I drank several flutes of wine. I got dangerously close to drunk. But everyone was having a good time, and I was still grinning and playing my own personal game of charades, and no one was expecting a thing. Not even Nessie, who should have been able to tell when I even blinked wrong. Nessie, though, had been supplied with her own substantial amount of champagne, and she was far more gone than me.

We celebrated until two in the morning, when Nessie's champagne finally caught up with her, and she sagged against my shoulder and fell asleep. The rest of the Cullen's laughed as I excused us both, and told them that I would put Nessie to bed. I was to the staircase when Jasper asked me what day I wanted to have the wedding.

I told him I didn't know, but that was fine, because everyone was still celebrating, and there was plenty of time to decide. I hadn't considered what day to sign my death certificate. I considered it, though, as I carried Nessie up the steps, while the rest of the Cullen's dispersed, probably off to indulge in the wicked vampire sex that Emmett so often gloated about.

Nessie was feather light in my arms, warm, and nestled against my chest. I stared down at her, wishing I could feel real emotion toward her, even as my heart proclaimed that I did, that I really, really did. I didn't believe it. I couldn't trust my heart anymore, but everything was already done. I had proposed. I had taken that next and final step away from what I really wanted.

I stepped into what had once been Edward's old room before he and Bella had relocated to the cottage outside the house. I stared at the bed that had never had any real purpose as far as sleep was concerned, and I carefully placed Nessie on top of the covers and got out of there before I could think of what the bed might really be used for. Even my desire for Nessie couldn't keep me there with that in mind.

The living room downstairs was empty when I got back. I knew why. I'd heard plenty of movement upstairs. I could even still hear it now in faint slivers. I had done what my imprint had wanted for the day, though, so now I was free until Nessie was awake again, and I began to rotate around her life some hopelessly lost planet.

I slipped outside. I was more at home there. Even after my imprint, I felt strained in a house full of vampires. The coldness of their bloodless existence still effected me. Nature was always alive and warm and welcoming. I slipped into the trees and underbrush, carelessly letting thorns pull at my shorts and shirt. I didn't feel the pinpricks they needled into me. I was too busy filling my lungs with clean air. I wanted to sink right down into the Earth now that the ring was no longer in my pocket, and I wanted to dissolve into a nothingness that would allow me to escape my fate.

But something was always holding me back, pulling me back into the cage I couldn't escape. This time, it was Bella's scent rising with the smell of Earth. It wasn't the scent it had once been, but, even muddied with a vampire's smell of rot, it held me.

"Jacob."

I turned to find her, a dark silhouette following me into the woods. She moved soundlessly. She was like a ghost, and, for a moment, she became one. She was the ghost of the girl I had loved before Renesmee existed.

"Bella."

She stopped a few feet away, watching me in the darkness. A bird trilled somewhere in the distance, but, otherwise, I knew we were alone. Maybe for the first time since before Renesmee had been born. For a second, there was nothing between us either. I felt it in the silence, like we were seeing each other anew.

"You proposed."

I felt the accusation like a slap across the face. I could practically feel the stinging outline of her hand. I wanted to explain away the grime I felt that covered me, but I couldn't. I was still that prisoner in my own body. I couldn't tell her how imprinting worked.

"You're already married," I reminded her instead.

I listened to her inhale. I wondered why again. Vampires didn't need to breathe unless they were tasting the air for something. For me?

"We were never meant for each other," Bella said, sadly.

I felt the statement break me in two. I felt it stabbing me like I hadn't felt the thorns when they'd been drawing blood from tiny scrapes against my legs. I fought against my fate every day, and Bella thought I rolled over like a good puppy and took it?

I moved before I could stop myself, or before the imprint could stop me. I had Bella by the shoulders, wincing against the cold that penetrated through her shirt.

"How can you say that to me?" I growled. "You're the one that did this. You chose first!"

She was the only one that had chosen. I had been given the leftovers, the second place trophy. Had Bella ever really considered me? Or had I always just been the puppy following her that she had looked upon with exasperation and reluctant affection.

"What was I supposed to do? I love Edward."

Why was she pouring salt into the wounds? Why was she trying so hard to piss me off? I could the anger pulsing in my temples, gathering in my joints and tendons. It started off hot. It would grow to unbearable if she continued to persist. Bella knew how dangerous it was to piss me off. Just because she was a vampire didn't mean she should be any less scared of what I was.

"You were supposed to choose me," I hissed, and forced her back into a tree, hoping that the bark was digging into her skin. "I love-- I...Damn it!"

I couldn't say it. The imprint held me tight. I was bound to love another. Whatever I wanted to feel or thought I felt didn't matter. I was a fucking puppet now.

"You love my daughter," Bella snapped. "Like I never even existed."

It was the first time I had ever heard Bella sound jealous of anything concerning me. Like she had never existed? Was she nuts? Couldn't she see? Couldn't she see right through the bullshit I was throwing at her and her family and, most of all, Renesmee? No. Of course not. Bella only ever saw what she wanted to see, and it had always been Edward.

"You're daft."

"Daft?" Bella snorted. "Where'd you get your new vocabulary, Black? You don't have to impress anyone anymore. You're already engaged to my daughter."

I growled in answer, stepping forward so that my whole body pressed her into the tree. I could hear bark crumble and fall away. I could see in the way that Bella's eyes grew sharp that she was starting to get the idea that I wasn't playing.

"What other choice did I have?"

Bella's eyes were dark and dangerous. "Plenty."

She ducked forward, like a snake, and forced her lips against mine. The effect was instantaneous. I felt that old jolt of electricity I had thought had gone dormant. I felt it spark right down to my toes. I felt myself straining into her in response, groaning against her lips that, although cold, were the same as I remembered. Except stronger and more demanding. I hadn't tricked Bella into this kiss. She had tricked me.

Thinking that I had had her pinned was all an illusion, one she had skillfully constructed to make me think I had the upperhand so that, while she kissed me brainless, she could wrench her hands up between us, grab the collar of my shirt, and rip the material right off of me.

Holy shit, she was strong now.

I had never wanted her more than I did as her fingers traced the curve of my abs, dancing across my skin so softly that I was practically going to fucking shout for more if she didn't press those fingers into me, real and solid.

"You want Nessie now, remember?" her voice was quiet, taunting.

"No," I panted, my forehead against hers. "No, I don't."

I never had. That was the secret that the imprint kept down inside of me. My love for Bella hadn't died. It'd been bottled and shoved onto a shelf that I couldn't reach. Even now, fresh from a mind-blowing kiss from the girl of my dreams, I couldn't ask for more, because the imprint was fighting against it. It was fighting, at that moment, to move me away from Bella. But, connected with what I truly had wanted, it was having a hard time getting me to move.

"Then what do you want." Her hands had just gone dangerously close to the button of my pants.

I still couldn't say it. Instead, I reached for her shirt. It was a flimsy button-up blouse. I tore it open with barely a flick of my wrist, popping buttons, watching them fly.

"What do you want?" I asked instead.

"What I can't have."

I nearly bit my tongue as she worked the button free, sliding down me to pull my pants to my ankles, and then back up again. Her bra was black lace. Her breasts rubbing up my body made me think I might explode. Was this really happening?

"Take it."

I put my hands on Bella's hips, glad, for once, that she had taken to wearing skirts, something she never would have done when she was still human. Before I found Bella in the woods with me, her new revealing clothing choice had done nothing but drive me crazy. Vampirism had given Bella confidence that I could only appreciate now.

Bella pressed her lips to my neck.

"You'll go back to Nessie when it's over."

"And you'll go back to Edward."

"We don't have a choice."

She rubbed against me, and I grew hard against the inside of her thigh. I closed my eyes, clenching my teeth and sucking in a stumbling breath to keep from shoving into Bella without care for finesse.

"No," I agreed.

"There will be other nights," Bella warned me, "but let's start with this."

"As you wish."

Bella's panties were the same skimpy lace as her bra. I cursed against her mouth as she pressed it to mine again, pulling the underwear aside to touch her. Bella stopped me.

"I don't have time to play," she growled. "Edward will start to wonder."

She climbed onto me, hooking one leg around my waist and then the other. Nothing had ever turned me on more, except maybe the panties and bra. With a grunt, I swiveled around, dropping to my knees to lay Bella on the ground. I wanted the warmth of the Earth, I wanted to take Bella on the ground, where everything was still real and alive. I wanted to smell the dirt and flowers in her hair as I buried my nose into it just above her ear.

I tugged the underwear to the side, wishing that I had time to savor, but Bella was right. Fulfill one desire and worry about the others later. She had promised there would be others. Would there be? Or would this night disappear like a dream after Nessie and I said, "I do"? What would happen after the wedding?

Bella lifted up, clamped her teeth over my bottom lip, and I didn't think about it. In one, fluid motion, I slid into her until I filled her right up to the hilt. I listened to her groan in a stunned sort of way, tightening around me, discovering what she had been missing when she chose a vampire over me.

I pulled out to thrust in again, feeling the delirium of discovering her wash over me. Would I have ever dreamed of finding Bella on the night that I proposed to her daughter?

Bella had my answer. An answer that was louder, even, than my imprint.

"Part of you will always belong to me."

"Always," I agreed.