I honestly didn't expect such vitriol. But much as I'd love to keep you all happy and we'd all just love to jump into HEA, real life is often messy, it is usually liberally peppered with "what ifs…" "I should've" "You could've…" This is only a story but it is MY story. And for my own peace of mind, it had to be real – or as real as possible given the presence of vampires and werewolves.
Let's not forget that Bella is only 22 years old and for a 22 year old, she's been through a lot. But to give her credit (and maybe it is the fault of my imprecise writing skills) she does try to redeem herself by coming clean. I'm not sure where the impression is coming from that she wants something (beyond acknowledgment) from the Blacks or is using Caleb as leverage. Personally, if I were her, I would probably never have come back at all. After all, it would have been so easy for Jacob to try and find her after his annulment but he never made any effort to do so. That said, I can understand why Bella would believe he had absolutely no more interest in her at all - and let's face it, who among us would want a man who is only interested in you because of your child?
As for Jacob, his insecurity over Edward led to him to jump to the wrong conclusions. And again, he knew where she was when she first disappeared, nothing was stopping him from trying to find Bella again.
People don't always do the "right thing" or say the right words. But I think Charlie said it best – there is not one person who can say they never made a mistake. And usually, there is mistake on both sides. Most of the time, people do what they do because in that moment, that is the only way they can think of to survive – it may not always be the "right" thing, but it may be the necessary thing. Or they can be so blinded by grief or fear or emotion, so that they do what is instinctive – and self-preservation is the most basic of all instincts.
So unless you've been 19 years old, alone, pregnant and rejected by the love of your life or 18 years old, forced to marry and responsible for your family's economic survival, I don't think any of us can rightly say with absolute certainty that we would have acted differently.
People are not infallible. That's what makes them people. That's what makes them interesting and that's what makes their stories readable. I did say "angst" right?
PS This chapter is shorter than usual – but I finally the figured out that the only way I can update this with any regularity is to write shorter chapters.
Enjoy. Or not.
I was spent by the time I had finished telling Bella my side of the story and as I looked at her, tears were running down her face but she didn't say a word. Not a word since I started. Finally she spoke.
"Did you love her?" her voice was small, and sad and filled with the tears I knew she was fighting to shed.
"I never loved her Bella…the imprint wasn't mine. And I never cheated on you…not when we were together. I admit I slept with her…but this was before I knew you were coming back."
"I'm so sorry." I whispered. And my words floated there in the cold air for long minutes or forever it seemed.
She nodded, and finally letting one hand go of our sleeping son, held out her hand to me. I grasped it tightly in mine – she was still so tiny, it felt like I could crush it if I held on as tightly as I wanted.
"I'm sorry too…and I understand Jacob. You don't owe me an apology…I understand now, about Billy and the land…I'm sorry too..I need to apologize to you too - I should have told you about Caleb but…"
"But what Bella? Don't you know I would have fought for you? We could have found a way…if I had known."
"I didn't know you could fight an imprint…I mean look at Sam and Leah…and how happy he's been with Emily. Look at Jared and Kim…."
I tried to interrupt, but she shook her head to allow me to let her finish.
"I always just wanted you to be happy Jake." She started, the words halting and fragile. "When I fell in love with you – in the back of my mind, I knew there was always the possibility that you would imprint and that if that happened, it was what was meant for you - that it would make you happy."
"I never belonged Jake here…I was never accepted by your tribe…I mean maybe Leah, Embry, Seth and Quill because they were our friends…but the rest…I knew I was never right for you. And Aliyah…she was perfect for you, just like the rest of you, just as beautiful and strong, and she belonged to tribe in a way I knew I never could."
"When I found out about the imprint, I already suspected I was carrying Caleb, but I wasn't really sure. I thought at first...that maybe I just felt sick because of everything that was happening…and then by the time I knew for sure, you had announced your engagement to Aliyah and I was summoned to the unbinding ceremony."
"I thought that if I left – you could let go and be happy with her, move on with your life. You…we..were so young. I thought that this was better for you…to start over with the girl that your tribe had chosen for you... And you guys were having a baby – one that the tribe wanted. As perfect as both of you…."
"But what about our child" I asked her "Didn't you think he deserved to be wanted too?"
"I WANTED our child. I knew that from the beginning….that's why I never told anyone about him until I was far away from here and it was too late for Charlie or my mom to convince me not to keep him…what if they tried to convince me to get an abortion? Or give him up for adoption – or worse, give up custody to you and Aliyah?"
"I was only 19 Jacob – I hadn't finished school, I didn't really have a real job, or any plans for the future…and maybe I was wrong to run away…but what was there to stay for? You told me yourself – you and her, you were having a baby…"
"And so I thought that if the fates took you away from me, that this was the exchange, I would still have a part of you with me always." She said, looking down at Caleb who remained asleep in her arms, peacefully so, in the way that only young children can repose so soundly.
"He was what kept me alive Jake…he was the reason I could be strong, not like the shell of a person I was when...he…when Edward left me before. Because losing you was so infinitely more painful that losing Edward that I could never even come close to how I felt that night…"
"And what about the Cullens?" I knew my words came out harshly, it felt like opening a wound that had already healed, but I knew that until I understood, I would never be able to move on.
"Alice…she…she had a vision…saw me at the cliffs and said you were imprinting." Bella started – my fists clenched and I felt the anger surged inside me again but I forced myself to listen.
"She told Edward and he came to me that night…they thought I was going to kill myself…but I didn't believe her and I told him…I told him part of me would always love him…but that I belonged with you." She explained.
I remembered that night. I remembered Aliyah taking me to Bella's house and overhearing part of their conversation. And I hung my head in shame, for I also remembered that I had chosen to believe the worst of Bella that night – that I had let my insecurity over Edward to erode the trust I had in Bella's love for me.
Then with a bitter laugh she continued. "I thought she was lying to me…but you know what? A few days later, it did come true - Sam and Paul, they found me at Leah's house and they told me you were imprinted. I came to your house….and heard you with Billy and Aliyah. I don't know how I ended up on the cliffs that day…but I guess Alice's visions do come true…only, Embry found me and brought me home."
"Why…why did you let me believe you were leaving with Edward?" I asked, the torment in my voice was raw and bleeding.
"When they told me…when Sam told me you were imprinted, Paul said that maybe I should tell you that – because you would keep fighting the imprint otherwise, and you would never have let me go…" she finally explained. "Edward was a friend…that's all he ever was since I fell in love with you…he was there that night, I asked him to come, to pretend I was running away with him…to make it convincing for you. But after he left me at Charlie's that night – I never saw him again and he's never tried to contact me since – not any of them."
I stood abruptly – was so afraid I would phase and didn't want to do so and endanger Bella and Caleb.
"But he was right…I mean…Paul was right, wasn't he?" Bella said softly, looking up at me, the streaks of her tears were silver in the moonlight. "You…you never came to find me even after…" And each of her words cut through me with white hot heat.
I hung my head…I knew she was right. I HAD let my fears and insecurities hold me back. I knew I could have looked for her – I knew she had been in Oregon, I could have at least started looking for her there. Hell I could have eavesdropped on Charlie when he spoke to her on the phone…but I hadn't because the truth was…
"I was afraid Bells….I was afraid that if I did find you…you would be with Edward." I said. "That you wouldn't want me anymore."
"I would never not want you."
And we both understood now – the power of the fates, and the games it plays on all of us. And the mistakes we all make because we don't know any better or because we are too afraid to dig deeper or too scared to ask for the truth.
Then her tears came flooding out and I held her in my arms again – this girl I had loved all my life.
We both knew there were no instant happy endings and that there was a long road ahead of us before we found any peace, but for now with Bella and my son in my arms, I was complete.
It was barely past ten in the morning but I felt like I had been waiting here forever.
"I call this meeting to Order." Billy pronounced, looking at me encouragingly.
Vainly I looked around, hoping to see Jacob, but other than the Council Members, Leah, Embry, Caleb and myself, there was no one in the room.
"Before this council is a petitioner. Please rise and approach the Council and introduce yourself."
I stood, smoothing my skirt and tightening my hold on Caleb.
The few steps to the council table seemed interminable and I was glad Leah and Embry had offered to come with me today.
Swallowing the huge lump in my throat, I began to speak.
"My name is Isabella Swan. And I...petition… I bring before this Council my son. His name is Caleb William Charles Swan" I said, trying to keep my voice steady. "He will be three years old on August 5th. I have here his birth certificate."
Old Quill accepted the paper I offered in both hands and then after perusing the contents, passed them on to the rest of the council.
"And if this is so, why is his name Swan?" Old Quill asked.
"His father and I were estranged when he was born." I explained, overcoming the lump in my throat and surprised that my voice came out clear and no strong, with no hint of the nervousness I was feeling. "He was not there to acknowledge paternity or sign the birth certificate and so Caleb was registered in my maiden name."
"This birth certificate makes no mention of Jacob Black. What other proof do you have that he is the Alpha's son?"
My eyes blazed – this was exactly what I had feared.
"I have known no other man." I said, keeping my voice soft, though it seemed to me that it echoed in the empty room and my humiliation would have no end.
"May I see the child?" Sue said softly. Nodding, I approached her and put Caleb in her arms.
"Gamma!" he said gleefully, patting her face. Sue stifled a smile but gently kissed him as she lifted the soft hair just behind his little neck. Motioning the other members of the Council to approach, they gathered around him and I bit my lips to stop myself from objecting – to stop them from examining my son as if he were a science experiment or laboratory specimen.
"He bears our mark – the crescent moon." Billy confirmed "Jacob and I and my father and his father before him have carried this mark."
Sue handed Caleb back me and I gladly took him in my arms.
The council members returned to their seats and the interrogation continued. I wanted to wring my hands, or better yet, run away with Caleb.
"You say he will be three years old - and did you not feel that you should have informed his father of his existence earlier?" Joseph Whitefeather asked.
"His father was married to Aliyah Call when my son was born." I explained, struggling to keep my anger at bay. While I felt that it was not their place to ask me to relive the events of the past, I reminded myself that I was doing this for Caleb. "I acknowledge that I made a mistake but at that time, I did not wish to intrude in their lives. I knew they were expecting their own child – the same child this council would have recognized as Jacob Black's heir."
"And what do ask of Jacob Black?" Moses Crow asked, curiosity etched all over his face.
"Nothing. But I am also here to propose for Caleb's father to have visitation rights if he wishes."
"Visitation?" Joseph Whitefeather asked. "Only visitation?"
"I live in Oregon." I clarified "Now that Caleb's father knows of him, he is welcome to visit Caleb at any time provided I be given at least two days advance notice. When Caleb is bigger, we can discuss longer visits. It will be Caleb's choice when is bigger – I will not stand in the way."
From the corner of my eye, I saw Billy nod in approval and Sue's lips quirk into a little smile before she hid it behind the façade of the serious and impartial council member that she was here today.
"Are you sure that's all you want? What about child support? Isn't that why you're really here?" Old Moses queried. "As Jacob's heir, this child would be entitled…."
"No!" I shouted, shaking my head vehemently and from somewhere behind me, I heard a low growl but was unsure if it had been Leah or Embry – both of whom had come with me today because Charlie, a non-member of the tribe, would not have been welcome.
I shook my head vehemently. "Caleb and I – we have enough. I don't ask for any child support. I have been able to provide for him on my own since he was born…"
"So what is it that you ask of this Council, Isabella Swan?" Billy asked, his voice was formal as befitting the Chief of the tribe, but he held my gaze in his and I took comfort in his presence on the council and that of Sue.
"At the potlatch last evening, you as the Chief of the Tribe and Jacob Black as Caleb's father acknowledged that Caleb is the son of Jacob Ephraim Black. Under your laws, that binds this tribe. I ask for nothing further from this Council." I said "Do you confirm this Chief Black?" I asked Billy formally.
But before Billy could answer Old Quill spoke. "And what say you Jacob Ephraim Black?"
I startled. I was so engrossed in trying to stay in control of myself that I had not noticed that Jacob had entered the room. I turned to see him, flanked by Quill and Seth standing in the gallery of the council hall, walking towards the council table.
"Caleb William Charles is my son. There is no question of it. And from now on, he will carry my name." Jacob pronounced as he held my gaze and my heart leaped. I nodded at him.
"I confirm this as well as Chief of this Tribe and as father of Jacob Ephraim and grandfather of Caleb William Charles." Billy pronounced. "If anyone here has any objections, they should speak now. Otherwise, I will confer all the rights and benefits of a full member of this tribe, of the line of Taha Aki and Chief Ephraim Black upon this child."
I felt relieved – as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and was surprised to feel tears running down my face.
"Don' like it here!" Caleb complained, wiping my face "Momma always sad!"
"Ssssh baby." I reassured him, kissing his little hands "Momma's not sad…"
"If that is all – then I move that we adjourn this Council Meeting." Old Moses Crow said, exchanging a look with Joseph Whitefeather.
Billy frowned and look about to object but the two other elders already began to rise when suddenly -
"I have something to say." Jacob's voice boomed across the hall. And all eyes turned to him.
"I demand that Samuel Uley, Paul Lahote and Jared Whitefeather be brought before this council to answer for their actions."
"No!" Moses Crow reacted "By what right do you demand this? They were just protecting this tribe!"
"From what? From a baby?!" Quill exclaimed.
"You have no authority to ask for retribution Jacob Black! You have pushed this council around once too often!" Joseph Whitefeather argued, his large voice echoing in the room.
"And who will stop him Joseph Whitefeather?!" Leah challenged, rising from her seat. I turned and placed my hand on her arm, begging her with my eyes to calm down.
"He's not asking for retribution!" Embry said in a carrying voice "He's asking for justice!"
"I know you summoned them today." Jacob said looking pointedly at both Moses and Joseph, he raised his hand to his pack for silence and they complied. Neither of them could meet his gaze. "I also know that you sent word to them that the Council had changed its mind about meeting them. I was late today – because I asked Seth to find them and bring them here. They wait outside."
His voice remained calm but there was an undeniable power that could not be denied. "I demand that they be brought before this council. Now. I demand this as Alpha of the La Push Pack and as heir to the Chiefdom of this Tribe."
Old Quill, Moses and Joseph Whitefeather exchanged glances while Billy and Sue, the only two other remaining members of the council remained impassive, silent in their seats.
"Let them in." Billy said gravely, nodding to Quill who walked to the door dividing the Council's Chambers from the waiting area in the larger community center outside.
Sam, strode in proudly followed by Paul and Jared. They went directly to the front of the room, in front of the Council Table. None of them acknowledged Jacob.
"A claim has been raised against you Samuel Uley, Paul Lahote and Jared Whitefeather." Old Quill said gravely.
"On what ground?" Sam ground out, his face as if cast in stone.
"On the ground of treason." Jacob said equally harshly "You tried to kill my son!"
"We had no way of knowing that he was yours." Sam responded, not looking at Jacob but directing his response to the Council. "Isabella Swan has a history of bringing undesirables to this reservation. How were we to know that that was not the case this time?"
"She acted suspiciously from the beginning – hiding that child away." Jared added. "And he is the right age to be Edward Cullen's child!"
"You stupid asshole!" Seth Leah "It's because of people like you that she had to hide him! Don't' you get it? She was just trying to protect him! Wouldn't you do the same for your child?"
"Of course you'd side with her Clearwater!" Paul shouted in reply "You're as much of a leech lover as she ever was!"
"He was just a child!" Embry shouted – and then backed down as Jacob raised his hand to him again.
"We all know even children can be turned!" Sam argued, his eyes blazing "And we all know how much more dangerous vampire children are!"
"We had to act quickly!" Paul shouted, his form quivering. "Did you want us to wait until it had killed someone?"
"Even if it were a vampire, were you worried you couldn't hold your own against a baby Paul?" Quill taunted.
"And did you even think to check if it was really a vampire child before taking action?" Leah added "Or were you just too stupid to check?"
Paul growled and leapt toward Quill and Seth who in turn looked ready to phase as well.
I held Caleb tighter and moved closer to Leah. Embry pushed all three of us behind as he went to flank Jacob along with Quill and Seth.
"ALL OF YOU STOP!" Jacob's Alpha voice reverberated in the hall and while Paul struggled visibly and tried to reach Quill, it was as if unseen bonds held him back.
"We had YOUR Alpha orders to kill him Jacob." Sam said, turning to look Jacob in the eye. "YOU gave us the right to do it."
"Because you lied to me Sam." Jacob said, his voice quivering in anger.
"I never lied to you." Sam qualified "I told you she was here with a Cullen – how were we supposed to know she didn't marry the leech? She led us all to believe it – and you jumped to conclusions. This is all on YOU Black." Sam sneered.
Jacob was silent, his head bowed.
Capitalizing on this moment of apparent weakness "You've always been a fool Jacob. You made a fool of yourself over Bella over and over again. And you made a fool of yourself again this time!" Sam taunted.
Jacob's jaw clenched and I exchanged worried glances with Leah, hoping that Jacob would not rise to the bait.
Then as if he had not heard Sam speak, Jacob calmly walked to the Council and pronounced.
"For high treason, I am stripping Samuel Uley, Paul Lahote and Jared Whitefeather of their wolves. They remain part of this tribe but they are no longer part of my pack. I strip them of any rights they had as members of the pack, any special privileges or status given to them"
Loud growls erupted from Paul, Sam and Jared –
"You can't do this!" Joseph Whitefeather objected feebly.
"I can and I will." Jacob said. "Watch me."
"SPIRIT WARRIORS OF SAMUEL ULEY, PAUL LAHOTE AND JARED WHITEFEATHER –AS ALPHA OF LA PUSH, SON OF WILLIAM, GRANDSON OF EPHRAIM AND DESCENDANT OF TAHA AKI I COMMAND YOU TO LEAVE THE BODIES OF THESE MEN. I SHALL CALL UPON YOU AGAIN WHEN MORE WORTHY MEN THAN THEY HAVE BEEN FOUND BUT UNTIL THEN I COMMAND YOU TO GO. "
"SAMUEL, PAUL AND JARED FROM THIS DAY YOU ARE FORBIDDEN TO SPEAK OF THE PACK OR ANYTHING RELATED THERETO. YOU ARE RELEASED FROM YOUR DUTIES AS PROTECTORS AND UNLESS BY MY ORDERS YOU MAY NEVER PHASE AGAIN."
Barely had the echoes of Jacob's voice died down, when in shock, we saw Sam, Paul and Jared fall abruptly forward, as if physically, something had been wrenched from their bodies.