Authors Note at the end.
I raced down the one-oh-one, my disbelief and anger boiling into rage. I cared little for my speed and pressed the accelerator further to the floor, hoping to reach my destination quicker. I needed and wanted to release the inferno on the seven immortals who had, once again, meddled in my life.
Turning onto the almost hidden drive was when I realized I hadn't really thought this decision through. I impetuously fled the Uley home without planning what I was actually going to do. Now reality was settling in and I was regretting acting hastily. Why hadn't I told anyone back at the house where I was going or what I was doing?
Sure, the Cullens would never intentionally harm me but the last time I had been in the presence of all seven of them proved that wasn't entirely the case. They may not wish to hurt me but nonetheless they had. Going to their home without telling any of the pack was thoughtlessly reckless.
Not telling the pack was a bad idea. Had I told them they would've tried to stop me, of course. But that's why I'd just acted impetuously; I hadn't wanted the pack as a roadblock to what I felt was my duty, my confrontation. I was sure that now, not only had I probably worried and angered Jacob but also the pack by doing what I did. I was sure that he was furious with me and scared for me.
Parking in the place I had dozens of times before, I climbed out of the car and walked apprehensively to the house. Even though I was angry like the last time I came here, this time I was feeling entirely different. I hadn't come last time with the expectation of confronting anyone; it had been solely to release my anger. Now, with the confrontation sure to be had each step increased my dread. It coiled inside me as I thought of the effect that being close to them had on me. It was why I had stood so far from Edward when we'd spoken in the woods. The remembrance of their effect unsettled me, how I had allowed Edward to get so close the day he showed up at my house. I needed to say what I came here to say without losing myself. I wasn't sure I could do that with seven of them.
I may have wanted to turn tail and run once I understood the dangers but I knew that they heard me the moment I'd turned into the driveway. There was no way I could leave unnoticed.
I swallowed around a lump of nerves as I knocked on the front door. It was strange, waiting, only as I waited did I register the fact that I'd never knocked before. There had always been someone to open the door long before I reached it. Didn't they hear me, didn't Alice see me coming?
I moved my hand to knock again but before my knuckles even connected the door was pulled open. On the other side of the threshold was a beaming Alice.
"Bella! Sorry it took me so long. I didn't see you coming. We were out hunting and the house just disappeared, I figured it was either you or one of the dogs. We all rushed right back and only just arrived. I can't say enough about how annoying it is to not see you nor do I think I'll ever get used to it. Such a nuisance." She paused for a beat and then gave an excited squeal, "Oh, I've missed you so much."
She pulled me into a tight hug. I instantly recoiled from the frost and strength of her hold and tried to pull away but her grip was unrelenting and she didn't seem to notice. I hadn't felt their skin in such a long time. It had been a comfort once, now it was alien and painful. Like touching frozen metal with bare skin, so cold it burned. I inhaled at the shock of her hold and inhaled her scent. It had an immediate effect on me; I could feel much of the tension I carried relaxing.
Finally registering my stiff posture she pulled away frowning; soon enough her expression quickly snapped into its usual exuberance. "Come, the rest of the family has been so excited to see you." Reaching down, she took my hand and pulled me to the living room.
I took in the home I once was so familiar with and nothing had changed. They were gone two years but it looked as not even a day passed since their departure. Everything was in exactly the same spot it had been and there wasn't a speck of dust on anything. Walking down the hall I realized their home was exactly like them: frozen in time, cold, unchanged. I couldn't believe that I had wanted this life when I now thrived on the daily change in my daughters.
Everyone was posed and relaxed around the room as if they'd been placed there to ensure the vision of the ideal family. Rosalie was sitting across the room at the end of a sofa flipping through a magazine and Emmett was next to her with his arm over her shoulder grinning like a fool at me. Jasper, not far from Rosalie, sat on the arm of the chair Alice moved into, was staring at me with his penetrating gaze. Looking away uncomfortably, my eyes trailed to Esme and Carlisle sitting, hands clasped together on the other couch, both giving me hesitant, hopeful smiles that held all the warmth they'd always shown me. Edward was the odd one out standing against the wall of windows, head cocked to the side as his eyes raked over me. I shifted away from him, ignoring the look he gave me, to glance at everyone again. I was familiar enough with them to see the flaws in their human façade. They looked off to me, like life-like statues; their actions just seconds off as if it had been a long time since they'd been close to a human.
I didn't return any of the smiles or hopeful looks, just stared at them. Being here, in the same room where the path my life shifted in a blink of an eye sent me into a tumult of emotions. I was caught on an emotional tsunami, its undertow dragged me back into memories I had tried hard to forget and harder to make sure didn't affect me.
They had all decided to leave me, leave me without a goodbye or any form of closure. I had loved them as my family; I intended to commit eternity to them. All I'd gotten in return was a gaping wound that still hasn't fully healed. Their departure had left the strongest wounds some of which I was still trying to heal from.
I may have conquered the demons Edward created, but I had yet to face the ones the others left. Those demons still caused me great uncertainty and fueled the anxiety that had prevented me from letting the pack in and giving Jake a chance. I'd opened my heart up to the Cullens, trusted them, and I'd been burned seven times over. I had been afraid the pack would do the same.
The anger feeding my bravado, the reason I had confidently walked to the front door, was gone and I was lost in the uneasy middle of brave and so terrified that I'd turn and run. But knowing I wasn't willing to run anymore kept me planted but I didn't know what to say to them. Though this confrontation was a long time coming the words were lodged in my throat. I steeled myself against my fear and apprehension and faced them, hoping the words would come. I needed to face them like I'd faced Edward.
Lost in my thoughts I hadn't heard anyone speaking, but Esme's voice snapped me to attention and I turned to face her. "- everything. Two babies. You must have your hands full, never a quiet moment. And their father, as well, dealing with Victoria and the pack, I bet you hardly see one another. It must be difficult for you both."
All of this was too much for my emotions and talking to the Cullens about my children wasn't helping. I was trying to word dozens of responses based on the emotions flowing through me when suddenly they were wiped out and replaced with tranquility. The tsunami had calmed into a glass smooth pond. My eyes snapped to Jasper's. I wanted to be annoyed with what he was doing, but the forced calm wouldn't allow it. I wanted my emotions to be authentic, to feed what I wanted to say and not numb everything I was saying. I shook my head, telling him to stop and turned back to answer Esme.
"Yeah, uh, it hasn't been the easiest but we have a lot of help with in the pack and our dads. I don't know what I would do without them." It felt somewhat surreal talking about this to Esme, though the longer I was in the room the more I relaxed. The tension I had felt from Alice's cold hug was long gone and now I was filled with an anticipatory buzzing. "Everyone's been great and banded together to help Jake and me."
"What brings you by today, dear? I'm sure you have plenty to keep you occupied," Carlisle asked.
Esme exclaimed, "Oh, that's right. What a wonderful treat, Bella, to have you over and on your birthday! We just have to do something for her." She turned to Carlisle.
"That's really not necessary, I just came here-"
"Nonsense, dear. Of course we'll do something for you. Not only is it your twentieth birthday but you have two little ones at home and I know times must be tough for you. It's the least we can do for all the trouble that has been caused."
"Alice, do you have any idea what we could get Bella?" Esme asked.
Alice began talking. "Well-,"
I interrupted. "I don't need or want anything from you," I snapped. Everyone was staring at me wide-eyed.
"I didn't come here for anything. I came here today to tell you that the money you've tried to give me and the pack is not wanted. Did you think giving that money would just…what? Buy back my trust? Make me forgive you?"
"I truly have no clue to what you are referring, Bella. If the mention of a birthday gift upsets you so, then of course we will do nothing. We only thought-" Before Carlisle could continue I interrupted again.
"Don't play ignorant with me. I may be a stupid human but I know that you are the only ones who have the financial ability to give that money and the mind reader to know the names of all the pack members and everything concerning our lives. He was already caught once.
"What is it with you and doing things that aren't needed and wanted? Forcing a prom on me I didn't want, forcing a birthday party I was guilted into. We all know how that ended. You do these things 'for my own good'," My voice was thick with sarcasm. "But you never, ever do what I've asked or even consider asking me. I let it go because it made you happy and I wanted to belong with you but you made it abundantly clear that wasn't what you wanted. So why this? Why now?" As I asked my questions my voice grew less strong, less angry and became hesitant that by the time I finally asked what I really wanted to ask my voice was but a whisper. "Why…"
I looked at Alice and Emmett. Other than Edward I had been closest to them. Emmett felt like the brother I'd never had and Alice the best friend I had been denied because Renee floated between mother and friend so often that I really had neither.
"Why what, darling?" Esme returned, her eyebrows creasing in confusion.
"Why did you all leave me, leave without goodbyes? Did I mean nothing to you that I didn't deserve a goodbye from all of you? Or are all of you so heartless that you didn't care for what I deserved or needed? Was I just some passing amusement for you all and once Edward was done with me, I was tossed aside for your next little game?" My questions were harsh and I knew from my talk with Edward that they weren't even true. But they were questions I had believed were true at one point and had caused me much pain. I knew they left at Edward's asking but he wasn't their keeper and they all needed to answer for their decision to leave me.
"Belle…" Emmett began. "You do know that we only left because Edward asked us to."
"Do not think me naïve enough to believe that you all allow Edward to dictate your actions just because he reads the minds of others. I have seen you all in action. Alice's visions and the thoughts Edward hears are all taken under advisement when Carlisle makes the decision. This time you let Edward decide for you, why, to take away the guilt, the responsibility?
"You all chose to leave of your own volition; to leave me without an iota of preparation about what was to come. Edward carelessly and mindlessly threw me away in the middle of the woods. Whatever Edward's decision was about our relationship or what he asked of you, you could have had the decency to say goodbye to give me some solace of knowing I wasn't the trash I believed I was because of Edward's words. Your decision to leave tore me apart. You betrayed what I felt for you all when you left without a reason or a goodbye."
"Bella, please…"Alice tried to cut in but I ignored her. I could see Emmett, Carlisle and Esme were as visibly upset as Alice sounded but I paid them no mind. I was on a roll and wasn't going to let them interrupt me.
"No, you will listen to all I have to say. You've come back and are trying to act as if your actions have no consequences; as if what you did to me didn't destroy me. You all looked at me, when I walked in, as if no time had passed and no offence was given. It doesn't work like that. Just because you're back doesn't mean I forgive your actions."
I jumped when the front door slammed open behind me. The Cullens moved from their positions and crouched, hissing. I turned with wide eyes as the intruder entered the room.
"You're one to talk, Swan. If I recall correctly, you pulled similar shit not that long ago. Now, by all means I do think they need to answer for the shit they pulled on you but remember you aren't innocent anymore." I stared open mouthed. She was right of course but I hadn't been able to see it through my pain. She may be right but she decided that the first time I saw her after racing out of Emily's kitchen was to chew me out after barging into the Cullen's house?
"You're catching flies there. Christ, Bella, do you know how to start some drama. You got the whole pack in a tizzy. And Jake…Well I'm sure you're going to have fun with the new Alpha tonight." She chuckled. "Alpha Jake, who'd a thunk it? Seriously, woman, you have crazed vampires after you and you take off by yourself. Didn't you learn anything from being thrown into the tree?"
"Good, glad to see all this drama hasn't fried your brain." She was staring warily at the vampires only some of which had relaxed in her presence.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, wondering why it was her over Jake or Sam coming here.
"I got to Sam's just after you left. Jake was ready to explode but Rachel and Emily convinced him not to come tearing over here. They explained what had happened and I told Angry Alpha and the rest of the unreasonable bunch that I'd come here because I was the only one keeping a level head.
"I get why you lost your head and came here, but I think you should wait before you say no. Let's go back to the rez and talk about it with everyone. I'm not saying we'll take it." She shot a look at Carlisle and Edward. "But we'd be idiots to turn down that much money because you're angry at them for what they did; and Jake and Sam are too prideful to consider anything but rejection. We have to consider everything."
I nodded in agreement and began walking for the door. I was ashamed at my outburst and coming here so hastily.
"Swan, you gonna get your answers?" Leah stopped me with a hand on my forearm.
I turned around, mortified. Everyone had finally relaxed and returned to their original places but they still looked upset. They just stared at me. Finally someone spoke, but it wasn't who I was expecting.
"Bella, I know you believe what we did to you was callous, but we really did do it with the best of intentions. You may not believe that and I know the impression I gave you was at best ambivalence for your presence in our lives. It's not entirely true. I do believe you are a very amazing person and the joy you brought to my brother's life was wonderful. Even given that, I thought it best he end the relationship with you, not for his sake, but yours." Rosalie sounded the most genuine she ever had with me and the most loquacious.
She continued. "The only outcome of a continued relationship with him was your death. And what a sad and pointless way to give up the breathtaking gift that is your humanity. To be able to grow, to change, to live –really live. We don't get to do that; we're stagnant, frozen exactly as we were. It is a terrible waste to become that and when Edward told us he wanted us to leave; I agreed wholeheartedly that it was what was best for you. I didn't want you to die to be with us.
"They way Edward decided to handle the whole situation was wrong. You should have received the closure you were denied, that we were denied. And we are all at fault for allowing Edward to call the shots. You weren't just his girlfriend. You were special to all of us; the first person who looked past the monster to see the person. I apologize for the hurt you were caused by the manner of our leaving and not demanding a better ending for you. And I hope that now that you have your Jacob and your children you see what we were trying to do for you; to keep you alive, safe and thriving. It's why we came back when we learned you were still in danger. We left you to ensure your mortality and returned to make sure Victoria doesn't succeed in ending it," Rosalie finished and I didn't know how to respond. I was still shocked she spoke to me at all. I hadn't had time to process everything.
"You feeling sorry is all well and good but the thing is, protecting Bella and insuring her mortality is no longer your job or concern. Bella is pack and we take care of our own." Leah was more incensed than I had seen in a long time; a fire in her eyes that burned. "Your presence is only causing us problems. We don't need you here and we as sure as fuck don't want you here. I think we'd all like it if you got your decomposing asses outta Dodge. The only thing you had left to do here was give Bella some fucking answers. That's done; she's had the closure she needs. After we decide what to do with this ridiculous money I don't want any of you to ever set foot in the Peninsula again. None of this pack wants to ever tolerate your presence again. You've ruined enough lives."
"You don't have the authority to decide that. That's for the Council and Alpha to decide," Edward snapped from the edge of the room.
"Edward!" Carlisle chastised. "You have no right to speak with our guests this way."
Leah ignored Carlisle and answered Edward. "He's right, I don't have authority but do you really think my Alpha, her boyfriend, thinks any different? Your presence caused children as young as thirteen to have their lives destroyed. Any way to prevent that from happening again, I'm all for."
"You may not want our help or believe you need it but you are wrong. Facing Victoria will be-"
"You may not be able to get your undersized brain around the fact we've taken out vamps before. We aren't some untrained pups mucking around the forest. We are trained and lethal and wasn't it not that long ago that your pasty ass came after the pack took down some vamps? Don't belittle us just because you feel superior."
"Ms. Clearwater, I believe Edward wasn't trying to insult you, but from the research we've done on the newborns both Riley and Victoria are amassing aren't going to be mindless newborns like a few weeks ago. The numbers of dead and missing have dropped dramatically from both Portland and Olympia. From Alice's limited visions and foot work we've done in both cities and their surrounding areas, we believe they are being trained to fight and being firmly controlled to not give into their newborn blood lust." The weight of what Carlisle was saying was sinking my gut like wet cement.
"I fear that if your pack takes on this threat alone, you will lose. You may succeed in keeping Bella and her daughters alive but at great loss to the pack and your tribe. We are offering our unconditional aide in this fight, whenever it comes. Jasper here is an experienced military strategist. He has decades of experience with both untrained and trained newborns. He is willing to teach your pack whatever is needed to prepare for the coming battle."
"While I find your concern entertaining, I'm going to have to delightfully-"
I interrupted Leah before she could continue her snark filled diatribe. "We'll notify the pack about your offer and get back to you about that and the money. We really must be going now." I stalked out of the room without a backward glance, knowing once I was gone, Leah would leave, too.
"Bella, please," I heard from behind me. I stopped but didn't face him, I'd said everything to him, I wanted him in my past but he kept barging into my present.
I heard Leah growl and turned to face Edward. He had rushed across the room and was standing next to me causing Leah to crouch, ready to attack, and growl her warning.
"I have no intention of harming her, mutt," he answered Leah.
"What, Edward?" I asked curtly, looking up at him.
"Please don't be like this, I only wanted to help; I only want to protect you." He had moved his hand, I'm sure to run it down my arm like he used to but I took a giant step back as Leah's growl reverberated through the room.
"But, Edward, I don't want you to; I don't need you too. I don't know how to say this any different than before. You lost any right to me the day you lied to me and left me alone in the woods. Your meddling in my life now is only causing problems. What you did with the money shit was beyond uncalled for. Quit. Just back off."
I couldn't be in the room any longer. Rosalie's explanation for the Cullen family had answered a lot of my questions about why they chose to follow Edward the way they did. But it didn't change anything really. I'd gotten my closure finally. I didn't want Edward to make any more plays for my attention. Once this money situation was discussed and Victoria and her army taken care of, I would put any thoughts of vampires away and move forward with my wolf, my children and my pack.
I walked to the Rabbit, climbed in and waited for Leah. She stormed out of the house and even from inside the car I heard the slam of the front door. I was surprised she made the effort to close it. There was an inferno in her eyes as she jogged to the car. It'd been a long time since I'd seen her that angry.
"Fucking Christ, Bella, there's getting into trouble and there's what you do. Your penchant for trouble and courting danger is un-fucking-paralleled. I've been back less than a god damned half hour and I had to come get your ass from Leech Lair. If the pack wasn't so fucking in love with you and Jacob wouldn't have had a goddamn coronary, I'd have left your pasty ass. Seriously, do you even think before you act? You fucking take forever to decide to be with Jacob. But run away or visit vampires, no thought necessary. What the fuck is wrong with you?" She yelled before I'd even gotten the car started.
"Don't! Don't apologize when I don't really think you're sorry. I had plans. I was going to talk to Embry, give him my answer and all of that was put on fucking hold because of you. Just drive back to Sam's."
I started the car and headed down the road. After a while I finally gathered the strength to speak.
"I really am sorry, Leah. You're right. I didn't think and I shouldn't have gone over there. It was impulsive and stupid. I didn't think about anyone but me and how angry I was. I didn't think about the danger or how anyone else would take it. I didn't let the pack talk about the money as a group first, I just left."
"Look, I get that you needed to face them. You needed closure. You needed them to answer for what they did to you. I really do get that. But right now you can't act like you aren't accountable to anyone. With the vampire threat still going on, you are accountable to the pack because we're busting our asses to keep you safe. There was a better time to go, a different time to go that you could have achieved that," she said and fell into silence
We remained quiet until the turnoff to La Push. Finally I had the guts to ask her about what she had decided. "Leah, I know I pissed you off and you probably don't want to talk to me right now but how was your time away? What did you decide?"
"You are a nosy little bird, aren't you? You realize that I should be talking to Embry first, right?" I gave her a guilty nod. "I guess, considering you're the reason I had to think about it; you're the reason he talked to about his feelings, you're the reason that Emily was trying to speak to me. You cause me problems but you've also tried really hard to help me.
"When I found out Emily was pregnant, I couldn't take it. It felt like she was shiting on the last of my dreams. I was already in so much turmoil with Embry and this was too much. I had to get outta here and deal with everything. I spent a lot of time just letting my dreams of Sam go; really let go like I hadn't before. I had to process everything that had been said between Emily and me; and let it go. Then I had to figure out what I wanted to do about Embry." She paused and took a deep breath.
"Imprinting royally screwed me over the first time around and I didn't know if I wanted to do it again. No matter what I can't get around the fact that Embry is a wolf and wolves imprint. It doesn't matter how he or I feel, there is a chance he'll imprint, or I'll imprint. I didn't know if it was worth it to even try. Another thing I would have to contend with is the pack mind. It's one thing to see the sex lives of the other wolves but to have my own played out, and two fold? And have my brother see it, too? But the thing is I'm a wolf and I'll probably be one for a long time. If I didn't choose Embry and chose to find someone else, someone human, I would have to lie every day until I gave the wolf up. I could never be honest about who I really am. I mean how can you have a good relationship if you can never truly be yourself or be completely honest? I can be totally honest with Embry; that's something I can't avoid with him.
"So I had to weigh the things I thought were important and what I could learn to deal with. And I can't have a relationship where I have to lie. Embry and I may not work out without imprinting ever happening. I can't live in fear of relationships ending. Normal relationships end all the time. So I'm going to give Embry a chance and play it by ear. I think it's better to try than to give up on something that might turn out to be amazing." Her face had descended into a soft smile.
"You really care about him, don't you?" I was amazed; she looked lighter than I had ever seen her.
"How can I not? I care about all my brothers and he saw past the tough exterior I put up. He saw me and not many people do. He was willing to wait for me, for how long I have no clue. Plus he's cute, that doesn't hurt."
"Well it looks like here's your chance to tell him." I said as we pulled into Sam's drive and saw the entire pack waiting for us. Jake stood in the middle, arms crossed and he looked furious.
A/N: Sorry really doesn't even cover what I am right now. I could give you a ton of excuses about why it's taken so long but they are inadequate. I will finish this story no matter what. For those who are still with me, thank you.
Many thanks to SMI4Life who was instrumental as beta and also keeping me on task once the muse came back. She's the reason you have this chapter.
Those that reviewed, left comment's and PM'd during my absence thank you. Those who alerted and favorited thank you too. I really am grateful for all the support you all have given me.
Hope you enjoy.