The months she'd had to endure without Edward, the horrible nightmares and the sorrow, the feelings of loneliness and abandonment, had been painful. But she had learned a thing or two about standing on her own two feet as well. Maybe she hadn't learned the easiest way, and maybe Jacob's friendship had had a lot to do with the lessons, but that didn't mean that Bella Swan couldn't take things into her own hands once in a while now. Like arranging the vote at the Cullens'. She realized that Edward was never going to agree to turn her, at least not lightly. But she also realized that he wasn't the only one she had to convince, or the only one that cared about her and had the opportunity to imagine her in this life. When Alice said in Italy that she had seen Bella as a vampire, she knew what she had to do.
One by one they had all cast their votes, and in the end she had won out- she had more support than Edward in this and that bolstered her confidence that she could make this happen. Edward had left her; it had been so easy for him to go. He might say different but he'd been able to function and exist separate from her, and that was something she almost hadn't survived. She wasn't going to let him leave her again. The idea of it made her want to stop breathing. So, if he wouldn't agree outright, she would have to convince him, and no matter how much she might beg him or plead with him or try to argue with him about it, in the end he believed he was right, and that meant she couldn't do this alone.
After the vote, Bella was overcome with emotion. She was excited, she felt vindicated, and for the first time since Edward had returned she felt the smallest hint of security and safety in his presence. If she was a vampire, he couldn't leave her again- she wouldn't let him, and they could be together forever. But there was another emotion there too, as she listened to a group of people she cared about vote for what was essentially her death. She felt a surge of fear, as though the walls were suddenly closing in on her. Maybe she hadn't expected this. Maybe she didn't quite believe it, didn't quite understand what she was asking for. And what if Edward was right, what if she got into something she regretted? She'd have to live with that for the rest of her life- which would be a very long time. Could she do that? Really?
"I'll wait until after graduation," she told him as he drove her home, his discomfort with this situation creating a tension between them in the car. "To make it easier on Charlie. You know?" Darkness was closing in. She thought of never being able to go anywhere sunny, never being able to visit her mom in Florida, or take a vacation to Hawaii. He was angry, she knew it, she could see it in the stiffness of his body in the seat next to her, the way he drove without really looking at the road, and the fact that he hadn't turned to her or said a word since they'd left his house. Quickly she added, "Edward, I want you to be the one to do it."
He tensed up and started to slow the car and she took a breath, preparing for his anger or his pleading, but it was something different entirely: Jacob, in the middle of the road, standing as though waiting for them. Edward screeched the car to the halt in front of him, but Jacob just trotted off into the woods.
"He wants to talk to me," Edward explained, the first words he'd spoken to her since the vote. Before she could reply, he got out of the car, and she followed quickly, not wanting to leave these two alone. She was also curious about what Jacob wanted to say, and she was pretty sure Edward wouldn't tell her if she didn't go along- at least not all of it. She walked a little ways into the forest, Edward following close behind her. Jacob stood on a fallen log, waiting for them. He looked restless, uncomfortable, full of that boundless energy that had changed him from a bouncy kid to an agitated young man, filled with purpose.
As they approached, Jacob said, "So you're still alive for now." It was a statement, not a question.
"He thinks it's me keeping you away," Edward said, and Bella looked back at him, her brow wrinkling in confusion. Things had been hectic since she'd gotten back from Italy, and Charlie had been pretty pissed with her when she'd gotten home. She hadn't had a chance to call or see Jacob, but she felt a stab of guilt as she realized he'd been thinking she was avoiding him. The woods were chilly and damp, and even with a cardigan on she had to wrap her arms around herself to keep from shivering. Of course, neither of her companions had that issue.
"You stay the hell out of my head," Jacob growled. They all fell silent for a long moment, before Edward stepped forward tentatively.
"Jacob," he said. "I know you have something to say to me. But I want to say something to you first if that's alright." Bella watched Jacob's expression; he looked nonplussed, but he didn't cut Edward off, who continued. "Thank you. Thank you for keeping Bella alive when… I didn't."
"No," Jacob said with a small pull at one side of his mouth, not quite a smirk but pretty close. "You didn't." He sobered. "And it wasn't for your benefit, trust me."
"I'm still grateful," Edward answered. Bella watched as Jacob raised his head at him, tightening his jaw, obviously not likely the way this was going. "But I'm here now. I'm not going to leave her side until she orders me away."
"We'll see," Jacob answered, transferring his weight from one foot to the other, hardly able to keep still even for a moment. He was like a coiled spring, and Bella could see it was taking every ounce of his strength not to act on the pent up frustration and anger he head towards Edward.
Edward turned away, but Bella knew Jake wasn't finished. She could read it all over his face; he had something he wanted to say and he wasn't going to feel better until he'd said it, so she didn't move.
"Hey. My turn to talk," Jacob said, jumping down from the log as Edward stopped next to Bella. "I'm here to remind you about a key point in the Treaty."
"I haven't forgotten," Edward answered calmly, turning back to him.
"What key point?" Bella looked between the two of them, having no idea what they were talking about but positive that she was missing something very important.
"If any of them bites a human, the truce is over," Jacob answered, not taking his eyes off Edward.
His words hit her like a ton of bricks. "But if I choose it, it has nothing to do with you," she said, shaking her head.
"No. No, I won't let you," he said, taking a step toward her. "You're not going to be one of them, Bella."
"It's not up to you," she said gently.
He looked wounded. "You know what we'll do to you. I won't have a choice."
"Bella, please," Edward said. "Come."
"Wait," she answered, turning to him. She smiled at Edward, looking down at her hands. "Is he going to hurt me? Read his mind." She knew he would find nothing incriminating there, and knew Edward wouldn't be able to argue with her logic. She needed to talk to Jake; she couldn't let it end like this. She saw the resignation in Edward's eyes and turned quickly to Jacob. But when she stood in front of him, she found it incredibly difficult to look at him. She felt so terrible, so selfish; he had done nothing but care for her and try to keep her safe, and here she was trying to explain to him why she wanted to become something he feared and loathed, a vampire. How could she ever make him understand that? "Jake…" she trailed off, finally meeting his eyes and seeing the pain in them. She'd done that to him; there was no pretending she hadn't. "I love you," she said sincerely.
Jake let out his breath and he opened his mouth to speak.
"So please," she whispered, closing her eyes against his words, afraid of what he might say next, afraid of how he'd react to what she was going to say. "Don't make me choose." She couldn't look at him, but she forced herself to because she owed him that much. "Because it'll be him. It's always been him." The look on his face showed such hurt that she wished she could take those words back, but she knew she couldn't. She wasn't going to lie to her best friend.
"Bella," he said softly, the anguish slipping into his voice. She took a step back, feeing Edward move up beside her.
"Goodbye Jacob," he said in the smooth tone he used for nearly every occasion. She felt comforted by his presence beside her, but she knew it wasn't fair to Jacob, that she should have comfort and he should be alone.
Jacob grabbed Edward's arm, suddenly angry. "No, you don't speak for her," he ground out. Bella's heart broke as the two people she cared most about in the world came to confrontation yet again. Edward pushed Jacob back hard, launching him into the air, and she knew what would come next. The anger overrode Jake's control and he shifted before his feet touched the ground, growling at them as Edward started to whisk her away. But still she wasn't afraid of him, and looked back toward the huge wolf, her heart breaking for him.
"Bella, get out of here," Edward said as Jacob leapt towards them.
"Stop!" she yelled, pulling free of Edward's protective hold on her and turning back to the wolf, putting herself between them. "Stop," she said again, holding up a hand to Jacob. "You can't hurt each other without hurting me!"
She had them there; neither one of them could argue with her. And yet she felt like she was betraying Jacob, asking him to deny his true nature and do the impossible: accept her with Edward. Accept that vampires were not the enemy. She knew that wasn't something a true friend did, and yet here she found herself again, being selfish because she didn't know how not to put Edward first. The huge wolf sighed and turned away from her, bounding off into the forest.
"Jake," she said softly as he left them, but he had already disappeared into the foliage. She watched the spot where he'd been, feeling a deep sadness creeping into her heart. She wanted to cry, but she knew there was no other way.
"He's right," Edward said from behind her, the last thing she wanted to hear. "You shouldn't become what I am." Bella turned to him, her jaw set, and all she could think about was how terrible it had felt when he'd left her, how her stomach had felt like it was dissolving her body from the inside out, how dead she'd been inside. She couldn't survive that again. Didn't Edward understand? She had to do this, had to be like him, so they would always have each other. There was no other way she could be happy. The idea of being with Edward, but being human while he remained immortal, terrified her; she couldn't live with that uncertainty.
"I can't do this alone," she said firmly.
"Then please just wait." There was obvious pain in his voice, but she was determined. He owed her this, didn't he? She wasn't willing to wait anymore. She couldn't live another day with that terrible doubt hanging over her head. "Just give me five years," he said, walking towards her, shaking his head. As though five years was nothing, no big deal, rather than the eighteen hundred odd days of uncertainty she knew it would be. She couldn't stand to wait five days, how could he expect her to wait five years?
She shook her head. "That's too long." Challenging him felt strange, even a little scary, but she could see that he couldn't say no to her.
He let out his breath and considered. "Then three." She didn't need to say anything to indicate her refusal. "You're so stubborn," he said, smiling a little at her; in that smile she knew that she had won, and her heart fluttered, which made her realize she hadn't really expected such a victory.
Bella smiled a little, feeling a little freer now that she was sure he was going to agree. "What are you waiting for?"
He smiled too, and let out an amused breath of air. "I have one condition, if you want me to do it myself."
The gravity of what he was saying made her hesitate, but she wasn't going to back down now. "What's the condition?"
"And then forever," he said insistently.
She nodded. "That's what I'm asking."
His jaw tightened a little, but it was true, she'd won. "Marry me, Bella," he said, staring at her with those beautiful golden eyes of his. His expression was unreadable, maybe uncertainty about the way he'd asked or the timing of it, maybe fear that she would say no? She couldn't be sure.
Bella just stared at him, speechless, hardly able to imagine ever forming coherent words. When he'd said he had a condition she'd thought maybe he'd tell her she had to graduate first, or go to college, or move away with him and become a missing person so Charlie wouldn't have to see her as a vampire… but marriage? She'd never expected this.
Edward started to look a bit uncomfortable, nervous even. "Bella… aren't you going to say something?"
She opened and closed her mouth twice before she was able to speak successfully. "Wow. Edward, I… wow."
He smiled a little. "Is that a yes?" But when she didn't smile back his face fell just slightly, even though he tried to hide it in a smile. "Oh."
"Edward, it's not- I don't…" She reached for his hand and held it tightly. "I love you. So much. And I want to be with you- forever."
"But I can't… I don't… believe in marriage."
"You don't believe in marriage," he repeated flatly.
"Yeah," she answered, a little affronted. "You don't believe you have a soul."
He smiled a little. "But why don't you?" he asked, sounding more amused than hurt now.
"I don't know. It didn't… work out too well for my parents. And yeah, I mean Mom has Phil and that's great for her, but I just… it's not for me. Marriage. It's not something I want."
"You want to be with me forever…" he trailed off.
"Yeah, but marriage like… totally doesn't make sense for us anyway," she said, and seeing his puzzled expression, she barreled on, "I mean, think about it. It's a piece of paper that says we're together, but you're a hundred and nine, so obviously that's not really going to matter, right? We'll outlive any government document, and you probably won't even have any real ID to get one in the first place, so it would be fake anyway. I don't… want a fake marriage."
"Emmett and Rosalie get married every time we move somewhere," he countered.
"But that's not… I just… I don't want to get married over and over. We don't need that. Why can't we just be together forever because we say so? You know?"
His smile had faded a little but he seemed to take what she was saying in stride. "Alright, Bella," he said. "But will you at least think about it? Even if we don't get a… 'fake government document'… we could still have a ceremony. You know how Alice likes any excuse for a party." He was trying to make light of the situation but she could tell she'd hurt him and she felt bad for that.
"Okay," she said, nodding quickly. "Okay, I'll think about it. I promise."
He took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing the backs of her fingers gently. "That's all I ask," he answered softly, looking up at her intensely. She smiled, glancing down at their hands, and then he pulled her close, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as they walked back toward her truck. She couldn't help but glance backward into the rapidly darkening foliage, hoping for to glimpse a pair of glowing eyes among the bushes and trees, but all she saw was the woods, undisturbed.
It had been a whole week since the confrontation in the woods, since Jacob had revealed a finer point of the Treaty between the Quileute and the Cold Ones, and since Edward had proposed to her. Compared to the week before, this one had been fairly uneventful, save for one glaring fact: she had not seen or heard from Jacob. It was like the 'mono' episode all over again, except where then she had been confused and uncertain about whether he was mad at her or hurt, now she knew he was.
Bella felt terrible causing such pain to her best friend, but she hadn't meant for it to get that way. Things just… seemed to get out of hand when she was in the same place as both Jacob and Edward. Even though now she had Edward back in her life, something else was missing from it- Jacob. She needed him too, maybe not in the same way, maybe in a confusing and even a selfish way, but she needed him. She had left numerous messages, and had even gone so far as to tell his voicemail about the engagement, if only because she thought he would have to respond to that, have to tell her what a mistake she was making. But he hadn't called.
The ball, as it's said, was fully in his court, but she couldn't stand to wait around for him to forgive her. She knew it was selfish to push him when he was making it abundantly clear that he didn't want to talk to her, but what if he never forgave her? What if she lost him? She couldn't let that happen. It wasn't right. She had hurt him, yes, but she still believed in a world where the two of them could be friends, she could be with Edward, and a vampire, and she wouldn't have to give up either of them. Maybe it was a fantasy world, but it was the one she preferred, and until she was dragged out of it kicking and screaming, she wasn't going to let it go.
She made an excuse to Charlie about having to stay late at school for a class project, and on Friday after school she climbed into her truck and drove to Jacob's house. She parked next to the little red house, scanning the woods in case she caught sight of him with his pack, but all seemed quiet. It had rained recently, and there was a light mist rising off the grass of the back yard. Even though the car had come to a complete stop and she'd even turned off the engine, her hands still clenched the steering wheel, her palms sweaty.
She hadn't really rehearsed what she wanted to say. She thought back to all the voicemails she'd left Jacob over the past week, realizing that the more desperate she'd become the more awkward she'd sounded. Maybe coming here was a mistake, especially if she was now going to try an impromptu speech to make things right with her best friend. She wasn't good at impromptu speeches, wasn't good at speech in general even under the best circumstances.
"Yeah, great plan, Bella," she muttered under her breath before starting the truck's engine again and throwing it into reverse. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure there wasn't anything she could run over, and then froze as she saw Billy sitting in the doorway next to the garage. The expression on his kind face was so stricken and uncomfortable that she was suddenly overcome with an irrational fear that something had happened to Jacob. She shut off the engine once again and tentatively stepped out of the driver's side and onto the gravel.
"Billy?" she asked hesitantly. "Um, hi. I was just…" The way he was looking at her made her nervous, like he was really sorry she was there and didn't quite know what to do about it. "Is Jake home?"
"He's not here right now."
"Oh. Okay. Is he with Sam? Or at Emily's or something?"
"Okay… well do you know if he's going to be home soon?"
"No," Billy said again, heaving a sigh this time.
"No you don't know or no-"
"Bella. He's not… he can't see you right now."
"Right. Okay." She bit her lip, realizing now that Jacob probably just didn't want to see her, and had asked Billy to lie for him. That explained his discomfort. "I just… I really need to talk to him. Okay? I mean come on, it can't be that bad right? It's not like he's turning into a werewolf or something… again." She smiled a little, but her joke wasn't very good and Billy didn't even crack a polite smile.
"Bella, Jacob is…" he trailed off, hesitating.
"What?" Concern entered her voice; maybe she was reading this wrong, maybe he wasn't avoiding her. What if he was hurt? What if he'd tried to take on Victoria and something really bad had happened? "Is Jake okay?"
"He's fine," Billy answered. "It's nothing like that. He's just… busy."
"With what?" Bella asked, impatient now. "I just need to talk to him. We had a fight. And I want… I need… to make up with him. I need things to go back to the way they were when we were building those stupid bikes in the garage." She just blurted that all out without thinking, and immediately flushed with embarrassment.
"Bella," Billy said her name for the third time, but for once he had some sympathy in his voice rather than just discomfort. "Jacob is leaving La Push. He's packing right now."
"What?" Bella managed, and fumbled for her next words. "Is this- does he-" She broke off, trying to organize her thoughts before speaking again. "Is this because of me? I mean, is he like… uncomfortable being here because of what happened? Because I came here to-"
"I don't know what happened between the two of you," Billy interrupted. "But he's not leaving because of you."
"Oh." Bella was momentarily relieved, and then her eyes narrowed in confusion. "Then why?"
Billy let out a long sigh, looking like the last thing he wanted to do was answer her question. Finally, though, he looked at her with a sympathetic look on his face. He said gently, "Jacob's getting married."
She smiled and let out a little chuckle. "Right," she said. "Yeah, of course, he's getting married." But the man's straight face threw her. "Wait… you're serious? This isn't a joke?" He said nothing, but his expression said everything. "But- how… that doesn't make any sense. Jake doesn't even… he's not even dating anyone." She searched his face for some kind of answer. "Is he?"
Billy wheeled himself backward a little into his home, looking more uncomfortable now than he had at any point during this long, awkward conversation. "Go on home now, Bella," he said gently, before shutting the door in her face.