We were at Charlie's when I caught it: the bloodsucker that I didn't know. Fresh.
I sent Naomi in with Sarah, giving her the "I mean business" look so that I knew she wouldn't come back out. Her eyes wide with fear, she just nodded and went inside, smiling at Charlie and telling him that I would be in later. I don't know how she explained it to him, but he didn't come out looking for me.
I ran into the woods, glad that I hadn't gotten out of the habit of keeping a change of clothes in the car. I didn't even wait to strip, I just phased as soon as I made the cover of the trees. I followed the scent until I heard the leech running, and then I really pulled out all the stops. I was running like my life depended on it, and I finally cut her off.
"It's me… it's Bella. Please, I wasn't going to hurt anybody. I'll leave now, and I'll never come back. Just please, let's not fight." My heart was pounding like it was going to come out of my chest, and I couldn't breathe. I ran behind a tree and phased back, hoping like hell that none of the pack had been in wolf form when I spotted her.
"Bella," I said, struggling to keep my voice calm, "I'm going back to my car to put on some clothes. Please, stay here until I get back. No one is going to fight. Not tonight, anyway."
I fumbled with my clothes and tore ass back into the woods, sure that she'd be gone when I got back, but there she stood, smelling like too much, too sweet perfume. "What the fuck are you doing here?" I hoped that my voice didn't give me away; as fucked up as it was, I was glad that she was alive. Well, as alive as a leech could be. Part of me had been afraid for years that she'd died when they tried to change her.
"I… I couldn't help it, Jake. I just wanted to see you guys, to know that everybody was ok. I just missed you all so much." She bowed her head, just like she used to do when she was human and trying to hide the fact that she was blushing. God, she really was still Bella, as much as I had believed she would turn into something else. I felt the old familiar friendship underneath the thundering of my thoughts, and I just wanted to hug her so bad I couldn't stand it.
"It's okay, Bells. I understand. I--" before I finished the sentence, I felt something crash into me, knocking the air out of my lungs. She had her arms around me, sobbing noisily. Just like the old days, I started smoothing her hair and trying to comfort her. "Shh, Bells… don't cry. It's okay, I'm here."
"Shh, Bells… don't cry. It's okay, I'm here." I thought I was going to fall apart right there. I just kept clinging to him like a life preserver, not even caring that he really did smell an awful lot like a nose full of wet dog. The Cullens hadn't been playing it up; it was rough.
"I'm so sorry, Jake. I wanted to hide, I was afraid I'd turn your kids into wolves if I got too close, but I just wanted to check on everybody. It's been so hard, not seeing you. Especially since Edward left; sometimes I feel like I don't have a link to my old life left. Emmett didn't really know me that well when I was human, and I just missed you so much…" I felt his body trembling, and I had the presence of mind to let him go, backing up slowly with my hands in front of me. "Whoa, Jake…. It's okay. I'm sorry, I won't get that close again."
"He. Left? The leech. He left you?" his eyes were darkening, and I began to realize the reason that he was so upset; he thought that I had given my life for Edward, and that he'd left me anyway.
"Yes, he's gone. But it was… it was complicated. There's a lot going on, it would take me days to tell you all of it." I stammered and stuttered, hoping desperately to diffuse the situation before the angry werewolf in front of me tore me to pieces.
"Come back here. Tomorrow, at sunset. We apparently have a lot to talk about."
The day was long, and I was grateful for the thousandth time that no one in the house could get inside my head. I pulled Alice aside, explaining to her why I was going to disappear again so she wouldn't overreact and put the whole family on alert.
"Alice, I promise you, it's going to be safe. I just need to see him one more time. One time when we aren't angry and at each other's throats." I grimaced as I remembered the last time I had seen him before his finding me in the woods; Seth pulling him away from me at my wedding.
"Bella, I've told you and told you that werewolves are not good company to keep, but you're too stubborn to listen to anyone," she sighed. "Please, try not to get yourself mauled. I'll be watching you like a hawk, so your future had better appear well before sunrise." I sagged with relief, and hugged her.
"You're the best sister ever. Can you--"
"I won't tell anyone. Even Emmett. That is, unless I don't hear from you. Don't be reckless with your safety, Bella. We all need you too much." Almost as an afterthought, she added, "Take a change of clothes so you can shower somewhere after you're done hanging out with him, or I won't be able to keep your secrets for you."
At sunset, I was sitting in the tree that Jake and I had been standing under when he caught up to me the night before. It wasn't long before I smelled him, and could hear the almost silent sounds of his approach.
"Jake," I stage whispered, "is that you?"
"Yeah, Bells." He appeared from behind a tree, looking for all the world like my Jacob. No hardness in his face, only a bit of caution and a lot of hope. "I've got to say, you look good. I'm glad you're still Bella under there, though. And I'm sorry if it's rude, but I liked the old you better."
"It's not rude. Well, it probably is, but that's just who you are," I laughed. "I'm surprised you're speaking to me at all." I held my breath, waiting for his reply. Things could not continue so well, I was sure.
"Well, like I said, you're still Bella. I didn't think you would be, but you are." He flopped down against the tree, and I leapt nimbly down to sit beside him. "See, that's something you could never have done. I would have cried to see you in a tree before, afraid you'd break your neck. Now, I'm only afraid you'll break mine," he said, with a mischievous smile.
"It is nice to know that I can actually do some damage if I punch you in the face, now." I winked at him, as I settled myself on the ground. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and felt him shudder. "Sorry," I muttered as I pulled away.
"No Bells, it's fine. It just takes some… getting used to. You're really cold." He put his arm around me, and I could tell he was holding his breath. "So," he said, wincing as he inhaled, "what happened with the bl--with Edward? You said he left you?"
I snuggled closer into him, ignoring the smell. Really, it was just slightly unpleasant now, not overpowering. "Yeah, he's been gone for almost four years."
Jacob grabbed my hand, and sneered. "But you're still wearing his wedding ring? You never were one to let go, Bells." I took my hand back and fondled the rings with affection.
"No, these aren't Edward's rings. It's a long story, and I promise I'll get there. Are you settled in for a long night?" I asked, hoping for an answer in the affirmative. I wasn't ready to let go of this link to my humanity, however ephemeral. He nodded, and I began. "Well, when I came home from my honeymoon…"
Jake sat next to me, in shock. "So you had to do it. You didn't make the choice, in the end. If you hadn't done it, you would have died." The thought seemed to comfort him, so I nodded. "Wow. A kid, huh? And you married Edward's brother. I mean, I guess the dating pool is pretty limited when you're undead, but damn."
"I love him, Jake. It's totally different than it was with Edward. He doesn't make my decisions for me. He doesn't even try. He just lets me… be me. " Jacob's jaw tightened, and I pulled away to look at him.
"Yeah. Like I would have. I wanted you to just 'be Bella,' too. I wanted it so bad I thought I was going to die from it. And I guess you still are, in a way, but you could have been Bella with a pulse, with me." I looked at him agape, not sure of how to proceed.
"But Jake, I mean… you imprinted. You found your perfect someone. I wasn't that girl. If I'd stayed here, been with you, you would have left me because you stopped to help someone change a flat tire!" I couldn't understand why he seemed so distant, all of a sudden.
"You're right," he sighed. "I'm sorry, Bells. Yeah, I imprinted. But even that didn't make me forget how much I loved you, how much I worried about you. Knowing that you're safe, and alive, at least in some form, helps. It's just not what I thought it would be. I thought I would imprint, and I would magically stop loving you. I should have known I wouldn't. I mean, Sam still loves Leah to this day. That's what makes it so hard for her to move on. She sees in his thoughts that he still loves her, so there's a little part of her that won't let her let go."
"Jake, things are different now. You know they are. You've been holding on to me for so long, it's like second nature to you. I'm happy now, and you would approve of Emmett, if you gave him a chance. He's a lot like you, in some ways. Please, Jacob. Be happy. For me."
"I'm trying, Bells. I want to be happy for all of us, to be happy and to not think about the past, but I just can't help it. I mean, I never saw you again after I acted like a dick at your wedding. I didn't know if you really had died when they tried to change you, or if you'd gone crazy and were offing people left and right because of the whole newborn thing… I just didn't know. I think that, having some closure will make it easier. I do love Naomi," he said, fiercely. Almost defensively, actually. "I love her and I love my kids. We have a good life, Bella. I don't want you thinking that I don't love her just because I told you that I still wonder about you."
I nodded, my throat feeling thick. "I know you love her, Jake. I've seen you with her, going into Charlie's or coming out to the car… I've been watching you two for a long time. It never crossed my mind that you didn't love her, and I am so, so happy that you've found someone." I let out an explosive breath, and leaned back against the tree with a bit more force than I intended. Bits of bark came showering down on us like confetti, but the tree stayed in place.
"You know this is the only time we can ever see each other, right?" He eyed me with something that looked like regret, and I nodded as he continued. "I'm trying to stop phasing, and being around you isn't going to make that any easier. It's a biological thing, and I can't help it. Even if you're not a vampire that I want to kill, you're still a vampire. My body wants to phase when I'm near you. Let's have the goodbye we should have had before, Bells. You and me, talking and comfortable like we used to be in my little garage." He looked around at the forest surrounding us, and his eyes glittered with memories and mirth. "I mean, this is no Taj Mahal, but it'll do." We both laughed, and I grabbed his hand in mine; I was pleased to note that he didn't shudder this time. "So, what's it like? Being a vampire, I mean. Do you want to kill me right now?" He shot me his boyish smile, and I felt the cold, still heart in my chest swell with happiness.
"Not at all," I said, theatrically plugging my nose. "You smell terrible, too, you know." He laughed, and I continued. "It's great, in some ways. I never trip over anything, I can hear and see for miles. I have a wonderful life with Emmett, and my daughter is a joy unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Then again, it's hard sometimes, too." I felt my chest convulsing with tears I could not shed.
"What's wrong, Bells? Why do you keep looking like you want to cry, but you can't?" His concern was touching, and I took a deep breath before answering.
"I can't cry, first of all. No tears. The only thing that happens is the sobbing, and my throat gets tight. My eyes sting like they would if I were crying in a human body, but it's only the venom. I can't cry, and that's weird. It's… it's like a war inside of me, sometimes. I want, so much. I just...want. I want my human life, I want the new one I've found. I want to find a way to mesh all of you together, and I can't." I rested my head on my arms, which were propped up on my bent knees.
"No, Bells. You can't. You knew when you picked this life that there were going to be things that you couldn't get back. You chose to die for someone that you loved, but you lost him. That's got to suck, and I wish I could blow right through that goddamned treaty and tear him to pieces for you, but I can't. Hey, tell me about Renesmee. What is she like?" Just like always, Jake knew exactly how to change the subject to something that wasn't painful.
I stood in the shower in a hotel room in Port Angeles, sobbing violently, but still feeling sated, somehow. I had finally gotten the closure that I so desperately needed, and I hoped that I had been able to offer some to Jacob as well.
He'd told me all about how Charlie and Sue's happy marriage, about how Seth had taken over my room and turned it into a cave full of pictures of half-naked women draped over sports cars and littered with grease stained coveralls; he was working with Jake at Dowling's and trying to convince him to open his own garage. He told me about the kids that Sam and Emily had, and that Leah was thinking about not phasing anymore… He caught me up on my old life, and tactfully avoided any mention of the damage that the news of my death had dealt to the people I loved.
I knew that Jacob loved Naomi; I only hoped that he knew how much he loved her. He had been holding on to me so desperately, maybe out of fear, that he had never given himself a chance to fully feel everything he was capable of for her. I hoped that our visit would change some of that.
Part of me rebelled against the idea that I could never go back to Forks, but the logical part of me knew that I had to stay away. I had found everything I was looking for when Jacob discovered me in the woods. Seeking them out again for more knowledge would be the pinnacle of selfishness.
When I got out of the shower and wrapped myself in one of the thick towels, I made the conscious decision to go home, and to never return to Forks. I wiped the steam off of the mirror and waved at my reflection, knowing that Alice could see me.
The journey back to Pemberton was uneventful, and I realized all over again the depth of my love for Emmett as I stroked the interior of my truck lovingly. How well he knew me! I shuddered to think of the ostentatious sports car that Edward would have no doubt chosen for me, and smiled to myself at my good fortune. I'd had three great loves in my life; three more than some people ever had. I had found the depths of myself to be strong and worthy of the wonderful man that I had married, and there could be no more looking back. Finally, the last hole in my chest sealed itself shut, and I drove away from the last remnants of my humanity with pride.