Chapter 9 - Rock Bottom

They must have both thought I was unconscious again, because the arguing started immediately. And this time, even though I was too weak to even open my eyes, I could hear every word.

"She could have been killed. Or worse. Do you realize that?" Edward, of course, in that deadly low, calm voice that meant he was at his most furious. "Had you not stopped fighting me when you did, I would have killed you to get to her - though I would not have relished explaining it to Bella later." It sounded like he was grinding his teeth together with his next words, some of his turn-of-the-century formality slipping in favor of his utter anger. "And for reasons I fail to understand, she'd have never forgiven me for your death. Why the hell did you phase and attack me when she was in danger?"

I could easily imagine the look on Jacob's face when I heard his response, and I knew his eyes were probably bugging out of his head.

"Are you kidding me? You're the mindreader, leech! You know exactly why I stopped you. She hadn't called out for us yet. You know that's what I was waiting for, or at least you should - you've been like a damn broken record about it for three days! 'We must work together on this, Jacob. You heard Alice, Jacob - it's absolutely vital that we not approach her until she requests our presence, and then it must be together, Jacob. We must put Bella's well-being above our own feelings, Jacob.'"

It was actually a pretty decent imitation of Edward's voice. But Jacob had more to say, in his own angry voice.

"You and the creepy little psychic had me completely convinced Bella'd either end up dead or even more nuts if either one of us approached her before she called out for our help! So yeah, I phased and stopped you from intervening until she did. I'm not going to just stand aside and let you hurt her again! Which, by the way, speaking of dead or crazy, I haven't forgotten that it's a small miracle she didn't already land in the morgue or the psych ward anyway thanks to you, about a week after you left her to die in the woods the first time. You weren't too worried about her then. So why all this sudden concern now? You're such a damn hypocrite!"

There was a brief silence, during which I could almost picture Edward glaring at Jacob dangerously as he fought to control himself. His next words were clipped, pushed out through tightly gritted teeth, not allowing Jacob to pull him off topic.

"Answer. My. Question. Your life depends upon it. Did. You. Have. Any idea. What he. Was planning to do. To her?"

Something like a growl shot out of Jacob's throat as he remembered. Something like a shudder ran through me.

"Yeah, I got it," Jake snapped back at him in disgust. "Didn't have to be a mindreader for that one, bloodsucker. It's not like I liked standing around watching, any better than you."

"You knew. And yet you phased and stopped me from going to her defense anyway." Edward sounded livid. His voice even shook. "I should've shredded you, mutt. In fact, I still might."

Jacob's voice was equally dangerous, but filled with sarcasm.

"Oh, right. I keep forgetting. You're the only one allowed to hurt her." Jake paused, huffing in frustration, and I could tell he was serious - he'd started a fight with Edward to keep him from coming to help me, but it was only because he'd believed it was utterly necessary, thanks to something Alice had said. And the implication otherwise was starting to piss him off.

"I mean, come on, parasite! What part of 'if we show ourselves she could end up dead' did you forget about? Stop trying to make me the bad guy here! I was just trying to protect her from you. As usual." As Jacob spoke the final two words, his voice softened on a sigh and a warm hand gently brushed hair off my forehead.

If I hadn't already been half unconscious, I'd have shrunk away from the pure venom in Edward's voice when he answered. I didn't have to guess that Jacob's thoughts had taken a turn towards the tender and loving, and I didn't have to feel the sudden absence of Jacob's hand or hear the thud to know Edward had just knocked his hand away from me with enough force that it was a good thing Jake's bones healed easily.

"You're testing my patience, dog."

Jacob grinned and shrugged - another thing I didn't have to see to know. His earlier flash of anger seemed to have melted away with the pure satisfaction of getting under Edward's skin, probable broken fingers or not.

"So get the hell out of my head then. You already got the answer to your question. And it doesn't matter anyway. It's done. She called for us both, just like your creepy little fortune-teller said she eventually would. So my part is done, this truce is over, and now it's up to Bella. We're finally on equal ground - well, other than the fact that I've never broken her heart and stomped on the pieces. So may the best man win."

Edward sounded like he was explaining something to a small child, and a slow one at that. He was so furious that if he'd been human, I'd have feared for his blood pressure. "You have no idea how wrong you are and how much danger you put her in, which is the only reason you're still alive right now." The way he growled out his next declaration almost gave me the shudders. "It does matter, Jacob. Alice gave us those instructions before Bella decided to put herself in the hands of that lowlife. That wasn't in Alice's version of the future. She couldn't have foreseen Bella making that decision. It changed all the rules."

Anger filled Jake's voice again. "And exactly how the hell was I supposed to know that? I'm not the damn mindreader! You're the one poking around in my head, not the other way around."

Again, I could see in my mind's eye what was happening as surely as if my eyes were open. Edward's eyes were undoubtedly clenched shut, his posture stiff, and his hand pinching the bridge of his nose. His voice was wry, tight.

"Let me assure you...I find that fact no less distasteful than you. In fact, I am confident that I probably like it much less than you at this moment."

Jacob ignored that part, going back to Edward's earlier statement. "Besides, even if everything you say is true, exactly whose fault was it that she made the decision to jump in that asshole's truck and change everything all around anyway?" Jacob accused, swapping in a half-second from the self-assured grown-man werewolf to the 16-year-old boy that could have a childish streak.

"Can we please not go through this again?" Edward asked, in that same kindergarten teacher voice.

"You pushed her over the edge with a stupid bagel and your piles of blood money! What happened to not making ourselves known?"

Edward sighed...loudly. "For at least the tenth time - if she'd starved herself to death, then protecting her from a complete nervous breakdown would have been a moot point."

I could picture Jacob rolling his eyes. His tone was flippant. "Give me a break. It was already a moot point. Eventually she'd have passed out, ended up in the hospital, and they'd have made her eat anyway."

This time, I felt Edward's movement rather than imagining it. He flinched. Hard. And then he snarled. "I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that, mongrel, for your sake - so that I don't end your miserable life right now after all - and instead choose to remember that you also tried to put an end to her hunger strike. It's your only redeeming quality at this point."

Jacob snorted. "What? You mean the pizza? That's not why I gave it to her. I knew she wouldn't eat it." Jacob chuckled. "You really can't read her mind, can you?"

There was a pause, and then a frustrated sound from Edward that let me know he hadn't found the answer he was looking for in Jacob's mind...something I figured Jacob was doing on purpose.

"Fine. I'll play along. So then why did you give it to her?" He threw in a threatening hiss. "Better choose your words carefully, mutt."

Jacob sounded smug about something, and I suspected it was the fact that he'd successfully hidden his motivation from Edward for the past couple days. "I'm getting better at that. I did it because of what your...sister said." Apparently he'd run out of snarky names to call Alice, or maybe he was just heeding Edward's warning. "If it was bad for Bella's sanity to see either one of us without the other, I figured it was even worse for her to think only one of us cared if she lived or died. You might as well have popped out of the trees and waved at her when you pulled the bagel stunt behind my back. She knew you were there then. I was just putting us back on equal footing with the pizza."

I could picture Edward nodding slowly in thoughtful silence, his anger diminishing with the realization that it made sense, in a way.

"But at least she drank your soda," he pointed out softly, begrudgingly. It sounded like that fact hurt him a little, and I felt a twinge of guilt. Leave it to me to feel guilty for the only calories I'd consumed in days.

A grin broke out in Jacob's voice. "Yeah. Actually that shocked the hell out of me too," he admitted. Then the amusement dropped out of his voice, but it stayed conversational rather than angry. "But I do understand her better than you sometimes, you know. My little job on her truck would've actually worked - if you hadn't decided to add a little 'insurance.' I could've told you she wouldn't take a free sandwich."

Edward's voice was calmer now too, though I noticed he didn't deny Jacob's statement that he sometimes understood me better. "Actually, it wasn't free. I paid fifty dollars for it."

"Which is why Bella's in the middle of the forest in a ball. Again." Jake made that announcement bluntly, ending the brief moment of civility rather abruptly. And this time I didn't want to imagine the guilty cringe I knew Edward probably wore. "So what now?" Jacob taunted. "You're the one that's seen the future."

This time it was cool fingers which brushed my brow, lingering for just a second before disappearing.

"Exactly what you said before. Now everything's up to Bella."

There was silence for a moment, and then Jake asked softly.

"You've seen everything the brunette saw, right? I need to know what you know. How does this end?"

Edward's voice was even more quiet than Jacob's, and I felt both their eyes burning into my face.

"I have no idea."

ooo

There was never going to be a better opportunity.

"I do. I know exactly how this ends."

Speaking hadn't been as easy as I'd hoped. My voice was raspy, hoarse, as though I'd been unconscious for hours instead of minutes. My throat was dry, and I was still fighting to open my eyes.

Two sharp gasps sounded in my ears, and I felt both cold and heat radiating from somewhere very close to my face.

"Bella! Open your eyes, love...please," Edward pleaded gently.

"You okay, Bells? Talk to me," Jacob demanded at the same time, and the fear in his voice twisted my guts as surely as the hopeful softness in Edward's.

Not because Edward had asked me to, but I did manage to get my eyes open, waiting until their faces stopped swimming and I could see. I tried to struggle up to my elbow, and got more help than I'd counted on. The combination of two very different but very strong arms racing to get under my back and help me up first almost sent me flying up a lot faster than I'd intended. It almost sent me right off the ground.

"Stop it! Both of you!" I managed to hiss, my voice still not my own. They both froze, staring at my face, but their arms were both still supporting me as well. A sudden feeling of what I could only call claustrophobia washed through me. I clenched my teeth, suppressing a shudder. "Stop. Touching. Me."

Something like recognition dawned in Edward's face, mingled heavily with horrified concern. When I eventually learned about Rosalie's past, I would understand that look and know that he was relating to something he'd seen before. He was only partly right. I'd probably have some nightmares later when it really hit home what had almost happened to me at the hands of my attacker, but I wasn't there yet; and in all honesty it had all happened so fast I had barely had time to really get scared, and nothing had ended up happening. No, at that moment I just wanted them both away from me on general principle. But Edward was watching my face with so much concern that I couldn't help staring back at him, watching as he drew his face a bit farther away from me, his grip on me loosening.

"I think we're going to back off, Jacob. Both of us. Now," Edward commanded him softly.

"Great. You first." Jacob's muttered retort was immediate, flippant, his eyes never leaving my face and his arm still warm under me.

I found myself suddenly supported by only my own elbow as Edward gently released me onto it, then yanked Jacob's arm away from under me as well. He rose to his feet, dragging Jacob up with him, and then backed them both up. "I said let go of her," he repeated calmly but firmly.

Jacob started vibrating as he snatched his arm away from Edward, and I watched in disbelief. Again? Really? Some truly furious part of me wondered if I should just let them rip each other to shreds and kill two birds with one stone. I didn't truly want that, obviously, but at the moment my fury knew no bounds.

I opened my mouth wearily to intervene - again - but to my surprise Edward diffused the situation. Very, very calmly he held out a conciliatory hand in Jacob's direction.

"Just trust me, Jacob. Just this once. Give her some space. I'll do the same."

"Thank you." The words were out of my mouth before I realized it, and I felt myself begin to relax somewhat. Jacob's head snapped around to look at me, and then he followed my lead - nodding ever so slightly at Edward in temporary agreement to back off for a minute, but without ever taking his eyes off my face.

"How much did you overhear?" Edward asked me softly, from several steps away, as he squatted down to my eye level, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped together.

"Enough." Why was I shaking? Maybe Edward was onto something after all.

Edward just nodded, looking down for a moment at his clasped hands before looking back up at me. "Enough, I hope, to know that neither of us ever intended to let you get hurt?"

I nodded back, his eyes drawing me in, even as my attention was momentarily caught by Jacob's look of surprise that Edward had included him in that statement. I'd almost forgotten Jacob standing there. I knew Edward's graciousness was for my sake, and some part of me even understood what it must cost him to say a kind word about the man he already knew I had been kissing - and had tried to seduce. When Edward was like this - so gentle and tender - it was almost easy to forget everything he'd put me through. It was almost easy to forget that trusting him again was the most dangerous thing I could ever do.

"I know," I conceded. "I know you tried to come stop him, and Jacob stopped you."

"Hey!"

My eyes shot up to Jacob at his protest, "And I know why. I heard everything."

"It wasn't his fault," Edward agreed softly, and the difference between the two men I loved - had loved? - struck me once again.

Which made this so much harder. Because I hadn't forgotten why I was doing this to start with - I'd never forget the sight of them trying to kill each other outside Mike's house, could never forget that it was all because of me. I was poison to all three of us, and I was taking myself out of the picture. Even Charlie would be better off without having to worry about his halfway mental daughter all the time.

"No," I told Edward as coldly as I could, steeling myself. "It wasn't just his fault."

The two of them actually exchanged a glance - Edward looking guilty, Jacob looking angry.

But I wasn't finished.

"If you'd both left me alone like I told you to, none of this would have happened. My truck would still work. I'd have never needed to hitchhike. And..."

"And you'd be in the hospital with an IV stuck in you by tomorrow," Jacob finished for me in classic Jacob style, rolling his eyes. "If you even made it that far. Come on, Bells, this is nuts even for you. We weren't going to step in unless we had to, but you didn't give us a choice."

It was Edward's turn to look surprised - Jacob was arguing his point. Maybe the two were in more agreement than either of them realized.

I glared at them both. "I don't want either of your help. But you got me into this, so here's what's going to happen: you're going to take me back to my truck. I don't care how, just so long as it doesn't involve either of you touching me. Then you're going to fix my truck, just like it was before you messed with it. Then you're going to go away."

"No." Edward's refusal surprised me.

"No?"

"You're too weak, Bella, for one thing," he told me reasonably, gently. "You need food. You can't walk back that far without it, and if you won't let us help you..."

"Fine," I snapped. "Then I'll go inside the motel and call a cab. You can just leave me here in the woods by myself. You're good at that."

I had almost pulled that final sentence back before I spoke it, but hunger, frustration and seven long months of holding too much inside had suddenly become too much for me.

But when I saw the look on Edward's face, I wished I had bit my tongue.

"Ouch," Jacob supplied with a smirk. He was a little too happy about my verbal barb at Edward. So I turned my lashing out toward him.

"Don't you need to go imprint someplace?" I raged at him, still not having any idea what it meant - other than the fact that he might one day decide he didn't care about me - but I was just reminding him of my problem with him. Maybe he hadn't left yet - but he was apparently going to. He was going to leave me one day just like Edward. Neither of them could be trusted. It wasn't easy to keep up this level of anger at either of them, but I had to - for their sakes as well as mine.

And at least I'd wiped the smirk off Jacob's face, for once.

But when I turned back to Edward, my eyes grew wide. I'd finally gone too far. One look at his face, and I knew I'd finally forced the confrontation that maybe I'd subconsciously been pushing for all along. His face was set, determined. His next words only confirmed it.

His eyes closed briefly as he slowly shook his head, as though just understanding something; and maybe he just had.

"This has gone on far enough. Alice was wrong."

My eyebrow raised at that one. Seemed like she'd been right so far - I'd gone running down the Newtons' street in tears; I'd eventually got myself into enough trouble to scream for Edward and Jacob.

But Edward wasn't finished. "Everything she has seen has happened, but it's all been because I made it happen; because of decisions I've made, not you - the decision to leave you; the decision to force my presence on you at any cost; the decision to interfere; the decision to force my will on you. It's the course I was on that Alice was seeing. Even your decisions have been in reaction to my decisions. Every bit of this is my fault, and I take full responsibility."

"I'm good with that," Jacob threw in irreverently, but we both ignored him.

"What I should have done is explained this all to you from the beginning," Edward continued, holding my gaze captive. "I'm sorry that I haven't, Bella. I was truly trying to give you time and space. But all I've done is hurt you more by leaving you to come up with your own explanations for my actions. That ends now. I'm going to tell you everything, Bella. And you're going to listen."

TO BE CONTINUED...

Author's Note:

The Edge of Reason will be getting updated next, complete with an explanation of the big explosion. If you haven't checked it out in a while, please do! It's getting kind of exciting if I say so myself. :)

Please, please send lots of reviews! The more of them I see and the higher that number goes, the more motivated I am to get back to this one quickly. And the next chapter should be fun to write. :)

Oh, and by the way, to the one person whose name starts with an R who decided to send me a couple of un-logged in flames for the last chapter - this is the only reaction you'll ever get from me. I've deleted you twice now, and I'll just keep deleting you. You'll get no further mention or attention from me. It really makes no difference to me what you do. If you have an honest criticism other than something like "OMG this chapter sux. Why don't you update faster next time, that's so RUDE" (Yeah...I'm paraphrasing, but that's the general idea. Makes a LOT of sense, huh, guys?) then have the guts to log in and leave a signed review. If I have to disable unsigned reviews I will, or at least when I'm not home to delete you.

Everyone else, THANK YOU for the wonderful reviews. If you're not reviewing, then help fight back against flamers: leave a REAL review for this chapter as a show of support so I'll have an idea how many people actually like the story or if everyone would just rather it stop here. I love knowing what lines you like best, so I always love to get a review telling me your favorite part. And tell me...did you like the Edward and Jacob interaction in this chapter? Want more at some point? (I always love hearing Jake and Eddie talk...the tent scene in Eclipse is pretty much my favorite part of the entire series.)