~* Epilogue *~
"Nice," Embry said while plopping himself down on the ratty old couch next to Bella. "You've done well for yourself, how much did you pay for this piece of shit?"
"Before the night is over I'm gonna regret us inviting yet another space-heater," Bella muttered and eyed Embry who just grinned. I shrugged and walked through the glass-doors to the grill where Quil and Seth stood, taking turns flipping steaks.
"They better be here soon," Quil whispered to me and handed over the tongs.
"Food's almost ready and people are gonna want to dig in," Seth added quietly, his stomach rumbling and I cocked an eyebrow.
"People? The actual humans can wait longer than you can," I reminded him with a smirk. He mumbled under his breath unintelligibly.
It was Christmas Day and out of all places to celebrate it we'd opted for a night in our freezing home. While the inner walls were done there still was no heating system, but the place was full of wolves and we did have some actual space-heaters, running off a generator I'd brought here earlier in the week. Renee and Phil were on their way and so was Jonathan. He had ended up coming back very quickly from New York, finishing off the walls, but as soon as he'd been finished he'd returned to the big apple and he'd been all secretive about it. He'd told me though that he had a surprise for me that would knock my socks off. It didn't make me very comfortable. What Jonathan considered as sock-knocking-worthy and what I valued were two completely different things.
The first days after having returned home from New York I'd tried to figure out what had actually happened to my wolf, and now I'm not talking about the one that had made those couple of months of my life a living hell, no, I'm talking about the one who obviously must've gotten kicked to the curb while Mr. Alpha decided to come back. Well, I wasn't left to wonder long, because when Jonathan returned from New York and joined me to show him the ropes and our patrol-routes I recognized his wolf. As we'd gotten talking about it we'd figured that sometime during the night of Bella's accident the switch must've taken place, because what Jonathan explained of the strange dreams he'd had while being passed out I could only figure that it had been too much for the big guy to handle, and he'd left. Jonathan's subconscious wasn't a nice place to be when you were branded with Sophia on the essence of your very existence. One would wonder why the hell he left me to begin with, shouldn't spirits feel these things? One with nature and all that? Maybe that had been the whole problem, though. Jonathan hadn't grown up on Quileute-lands, and while he was a quick learner I'd noticed straight away how aloof he was. I'd never seen a wolf run into a tree until then, but Jonathan's inability to connect properly with his wolf caused for all manner of laugh-athons while me and the rest of the pack looked on. So much for genetic perfection, even nature fucked up. But I should've known that already; vampires existed.
Another interesting thing happened, actually the same day Jonathan ran into the tree. Sam joined us, and all of a sudden we received this massive info-dump and how he wanted to give up his wolf because he wanted to fully get stuck into building a life for him, Emily and their kid. He told us that he'd taken a loan and bought the local gas-station, but not only that, he was opening up a garage for simple repairs so the people on the res wouldn't have to go up to Forks all the time. Not that it was a long trip, but I'd thought it was actually a great idea. He even asked me if I wanted to work for him, and I told him that I'd gladly reconsider it the moment I was done with my studies. I had to go up to Port Angeles anyway on a daily basis and Bella still had her job at Peninsula College. The most interesting part about it though was how he just dumped the whole pack on my lap, basically forcing me to take on the Alpha-position. Of course Bella had been really supportive about it, walking around calling me Chief Jacob all the time. Guess the old joke stuck with her, and she said she'd always believed I'd make a great leader. Yeah right. After the whole wolf-switching drama I wasn't so sure I was stable enough, but so far so good. It was strange having them all swarming me though, especially the younger ones, I never got a moments peace. At least I knew that once winter had passed I'd have loads of able hands to get the house finished.
"Jake!" Bella complained and grabbed the tongs from me. "You're burning them!" I blinked, huh? Oh crap. I gave her a sheepish grin, wrapping my arms around her instead as she took over.
"My hands prefer this distraction," I whispered into her neck, nipping at the skin there.
"If it wasn't for this stupid cast I'd slap you," she said, her voice slightly uneven which made me smile.
"Don't hurt yourself, honey." I dodged when she waved the tongs at me. "Crazy woman, you really did hit your head good this time, didn't you, Bells?"
Her eyebrow quirked. "Just you wait, Jacob Black, and I'll show you crazy."
I flashed her my best smile. "Is that a promise?"
I ducked again, laughing, and walked back inside, into what would be our future living room. We'd managed to round up a few old sofas, some chairs and tables; enough for everyone to fit on. Maria was setting out the disposable plates and mugs while my dad was cutting some freshly baked bread that Sue had brought. Charlie was meeting Renee and Phil and hopefully they'd be here soon. Quil, Embry and Seth were outside while Sam kept his little brat occupied with a bottle. That really was a sight for sore eyes, who would have really been able to imagine this vision a few years back. Not too difficult, but with everything that had been building up we'd thought that we'd have to deal with a whole lot of drama in the aftermath of Bella joining the Cullens. Luckily it hadn't turned out that way, who knew what we'd be dealing with now, or where we'd be doing the dealing.
Jared walked inside, Paul and Rachael filing in after him.
"Guys, you're not gonna believe this-"
"Shut up, it's my news to tell," Paul interrupted Jared who grunted then shrugged, sliding onto a chair and crossing his arms expectantly.
"Hey, Rach, glad you decided to come over," I walked up to her, holding my arms out in an invitation. She rolled her eyes but gave me a grin and allowed me to give her a hug.
"I have a surprise for you outside," she whispered and tugged on my sleeve and I watched Paul suspiciously. She huffed. "He's got different news, never mind that for now," she said and pulled me along. Yeah, when Rachel asked you something you just did; not even as a wolf would you escape her claws when she decided to let them out.
An unfamiliar car was parked up ahead and the moment I came outside the door opened, a figure coming toward me, running. Who was-
"Becca?" I asked, my feet having stopped. She just launched herself at me, which shocked me even more. I hadn't seen her for years and years and she'd never really shown much emotion, I guess neither of the Black-women were good at that, unless they had a frying pan in their hand, and I'm not talking about using it to cook. I guessed they had earned that right.
"Jacob!" She pulled back instantly. "You're like the hulk, I swear to God, what are they feeding you here? GE veggies are really bad for you," she said with a smirk.
I grimaced. "You really think I eat greens unless I'm force-fed?"
"Huh. Never had you pegged for a gym-junkie, but I guess whatever floats your boat, right?" She poked my stomach playfully, her eyes widening slightly. "Okay. I'm not even gonna ask." Her eyes met mine as her smile faded slightly. "Dad called me, had a lot of stuff to get off his chest, apparently. But what I'm really here for is to meet the lucky girl." The corners of her mouth lifted slightly at the end of her stiffly spoken sentence. "How come you never write, kid... jeez, you're not a kid anymore." The short bob bounced around her head when she shook her head, still eying me with a skeptic expression on her face.
"Where's the family?" I glanced over toward the car.
"They're at home, I wanted to come alone. As much as I'd like to deal with the skellies in our closet I'm not ready for it yet, but I'll have a peek." She winked.
"Okay," I said, then swept her up, causing a shrill squeal to cut through the night.
"Jacob Black! Put me down!"
"Not a chance, you said you wanted to meet the lucky girl, well, she's inside and I know you. You'll run for the hills again at the first opportunity you get." Behind me Rachael was laughing. The moment we got inside my dad locked eyes with mine then they drifted to the flailing woman in my arms.
"Billy," she said evenly then her eyes flitted to Maria who had been fuzzing with one of the hams. Yeah, we definitely needed more than just one at a gathering of this size. Not only in quantity but in actual bulk. They gave each other a polite nod, Maria's slightly more friendly than Rebecca's.
"Long time no see," she said, looking at dad again and I decided to put her down.
"Looking good, kid," he said gruffly and I could tell this was hard for him. Of course Rebecca could never know what had really happened, while Rachael was all in on the secret, and actually had managed to forgive him.
"You look... good, too," she said stiffly, but then she sighed and walked over to him and gave him a hug. It was as stiff as everything else about her, but at least it was a start. Dad wasn't being awkward at all and he caught her off guard when he gave her a tight squeeze.
"Glad you stopped by..." He was getting too emotional. This whole thing was making megetting a case of misty-eye.
"Bells, come over here." I found her watching my dad and Rebecca, her eyes tearing up. "Aw, honey, not you too," I muttered brusquely and walked over to her, folding her into my arm. "We're supposed to be done with the tears." I wiped the wetness from the corner of her eye with my thumb.
"First Paul tells us that Rachael is pregnant, then your other sister comes here... this is all too much," she blubbered. I shot a glance at Rachael who stuck her tongue out at me.
"Nice, Rach, thanks for telling me," I muttered. Soon the res would be overrun by a new generation, which made my eyes wander back to Bella who was still wiping at her tears. She met my gaze then her eyes widened when she noticed my dumb grin.
"Now just you slow down, Jacob," she began and I busted out laughing while she gaped at me, her small hand swatting at my chest.
"Sorry, honey, couldn't resist." A few other chuckles could be heard around the room.
"Oh, honey, I'm home!" Jonathan's voice was hard to not recognize and both me and Bella looked toward the door simultaneously. "I smell family-drama and good food, and I brought my very own scrumptious addition-" he cut off and leaned back out the door, speaking to someone. Then a very familiar looking woman entered through the door and when it dawned on me who it was my jaw dropped. "Dessert!" Jonathan announced and she kicked his leg, walking toward me and Bella with a big box in her arms.
"Forgive the douche, he got electrocuted by my vibrator this morning." She wore a satisfied smirk. I nearly choked on my tongue and I could hear Bella's mouth pop. I'm sure a few other jaws hit the floor but Embry's and Paul's distinct laughter soon drowned out anything else.
"Amber," I choked out, staring in disbelief at the she-devil flight-attendant.
"Aw, how cute, you remember my name. Bet I made an impression," she said smoothly and winked at me which caused Bella's fingers to dig into my arm. It didn't hurt but I flinched from being taken off guard. "Here's for the hostess, picked it up from a bakery in Port Angeles yesterday." She offered Bella a sweet smile and I could feel her spine stiffen before she led Amber over to a table where she could put down the gift. My eyes darted straight to Jonathan who wore the most smug smirk I'd even seen on him. Quickly I strode across the floor, grabbing him and shoving him outside.
"What the hell is she doing here?" I hissed under my breath.
"I thought this was a family-thing," he said, genuinely confused and my eyes narrowed.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"She's my girlfriend," he said and flashed me a wry smile. I blinked.
"The one who thinks taken men are yummy?" I forced out through my teeth. "Trust you to bring the extra seasoning... I wanted this to be a nice family gathering, not a private stage to show off your conquests." He protested, his hands coming up.
"Now hold on," he started. "Jokes aside, I actually like this girl. She totally gets me." The way he said it didn't convince me, but I didn't have much choice but to give him the benefit of the doubt, again. How true wasn't that, I realized, as I saw Charlie's cruiser pull up. Renee was the first to jump out of the car, while Phil was a bit slower.
"Where's my baby girl," she sang out then her eyes came to rest on me and Jonathan with our heads bent together. "Oh, wait, you must be—Oh!" She changed her course and came trotting toward me. Was this woman really related to my Bells?
"Hey," I said before she reached us. "Ms-"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous." She waved her hand, scoffing. "Call me Renee," then she gestured for me wildly to give her a hug and I obliged, if maybe a bit awkwardly. "Oh my," she said in a wondrous tone. "A bit bigger than the last one," she crooned. Jonathan coughed next to me and I actually felt my cheeks heat slightly. I looked to Charlie for help but he just grinned smugly and walked inside. Somehow I couldn't picture the two of them in a relationship.
"Glad you could make it... Renee; welcome to La Push," I said as lightly as I could, nearly managing to hold back on the nervous cough that jumped up my throat as she eyed me.
"Thanks for inviting us, I was so happy when I heard from you, I was just telling Phil how it's been such a long time since I saw my baby." Her voice was warm and open but something about it gave me the impression that by the end of the night I'd be wondering if she knew how to slow down. "And this is, wait-" she thought for a moment, then she held up her finger when Jonathan opened his mouth. "Jacob's brother, Jonathan, right?"
"The one and only," he said and bowed like the show-off he was and took her hand, making a smacking noise without actually kissing it, adding a wink into the mix. I rolled my eyes.
"Well, well," she said, her voice dropping low. "Handsome and well-mannered," she gave out a giggle then gestured toward the door. "Is Bella in there?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jonathan answered, cutting me off. I snapped my mouth shut, my lips pressing into a tight line. Phil followed suit but stopped to shake my hand first, giving me an odd look but smiled genuinely all the same before walking inside. Phil's a nice guy, Bella had told me, yeah, but her mom was proving to be handful, not in a bad way, just—a handful.
"Perky," Jonathan said after they'd disappeared inside and we could hear Renee squealing and Bella's tear-filled voice. I glanced at him.
"There's something seriously wrong with you," I said and sighed.
"As I keep saying, you're just jealous of my manners, and my ability to charm the ladies."
I put my hand over my heart. "Oh no, you got me, what ever will I do?"
"Accept that you're a guy,"
"I accept that every morning, kinda hard not to," I replied evenly.
"Um, that's not what I meant, but okay, you're acknowledging that you have a dick, that's a start. Wanna take part in my 5-step program to being at ease with your inner asshole? You've just completed step 1, so I'd say you're definitely a candidate."
I groaned. "I'm perfectly at ease with it."
He raised an eyebrow. "Doesn't seem like it, I still remember how Amber made you freak out. I even had a peek at your inner monologue that day you showed me the patrol-routines, this linked mind thing is kinda cool."
This guy was getting on my nerves. Again.
"What are you getting at?"
"Poodles. Ducks," he chanted in a mock tone. I took a deep breath then punched him square in the face. He pranced away from me, turning in a circle, his hand pinching his nose. "Nuts on a stick!"
"See, perfectly at ease with being an asshole." I winked at his shocked, yet bleeding face. "Thanks for the crash-course."
"You're catching on," he grunted, the words muffled by his hand.
I slapped his shoulder as he came to stand in front of me. "You bring out the best in me, brother."
If I stayed out here any longer I was afraid that I'd punch him again, and I didn't wanna give him the satisfaction. So I left him there, and walked inside to join the beginning of what would probably be a long evening, and night.
In spite of the slightly unusual venue we'd chosen it turned out to be pretty successful. Even Jonathan managed to stay well behaved. Of course, that would be by his standards. According to my standards he was still an ass, but something told me that it was just a part of who he was. Against my best effort he was growing on me, and I think the rest of us felt the same. Dysfunctional was a word often used to describe families, more often than not, so ours was no different. To all our surprise Rebecca took a liking to him, or maybe we shouldn't have been, because she did have a strange sense of humor. Rachael ignored him most of the time, but Jonathan didn't let it discourage him.
Renee and Charlie got along really well, but I could see him looking slightly uncomfortable around her at times, she was all over the place, but at least she fitted in. Her and Sue even got along, but we'd be lucky if we'd see Renee once a year, she really did hate Forks, and La Push was not much different. It wasn't us, it was just the weather.
"So, who's Amber and why did she seem so happy to see you?" Bella had taken some extra time in the bathroom as usual, but even more so now, trying to get ketchup off her cast that Jonathan had accidentally squirted all over her. It was nearly 3 am but Christmas Day was over and as nice as it had been I was glad to be home with Bella. Again our schedules had been crazy, even with the added help and all. But now she was sliding into bed and I quickly pulled her to my chest, wrapping my arm around her.
"A crazy flight-attendant who loves taken men," I said teasingly, my lips already traveling across cheekbone down to the jaw, following the curve of her throat. She squirmed.
I chuckled. "Wolf-senses, remember? Me and Jonathan overheard her talking to a fellow colleague while we exited the plane, she had a thing for brother's, too, I think."
Bella huffed. "Trust Jon to bring her here, at least she didn't seem so bad, apart from a crude sense of humor." I shrugged and continued my exploration of Bella's throat, finding my way up to her ear. She shuddered when I placed a kiss behind it. Her small fingers absentmindedly skimmed up and down my arm, giving me goosebumps.
"What are you thinking?" Her mind was obviously off somewhere and when she didn't answer I propped myself up on my elbow to get a better look at her face. There was a light sheen to them and I realized she was fighting tears. "Bells?" I forced her to look at me. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she whispered thickly. "Everything is great," she continued, smiling at my bewildered expression. "I was just thinking about how wrong my life could've been right now."
I hadn't even realized until now that I hadn't been able to breathe properly but when the constriction eased up I drew in a sharp breath then breathed out.
"You scared me, honey, I thought you were hurting, shit." I shook my head when she laughed at me.
"We've had too much drama in our life, Jake, no wonder you're freaking out. You're starting to sound like me," she teased.
"Rather that than me sounding like Jonathan," I muttered, remembering his 5-step program. I scoffed.
"Jonathan seems to think I need to get in touch with my inner asshole," I said, laughing. Bella frowned, reaching up to touch my face.
"Jon should've met you when I first came back to Forks, then."
My eyebrows shot up. "You saying I was an asshole?"
"Yup. But one sexy asshole." She quirked an eyebrow suggestively as her fingers dropped to my chest.
"Seriously," I said and rolled over her, supporting myself on my elbows. "You liked that I was an ass?" I let my hands find their way into her hair while she considered that.
"Both yes and no," she said thoughtfully, which made me pause. What? Then it was my turn to frown.
"Honey, the whole time I was fighting myself, wanting to just take you in my arms and tell you how much I loved you, and would always love you, no matter what kind of stupid shit you did. Truth be told, even if you went back to Edward I'd be here waiting. I'm a glutton for punishment, did you know that?" My gaze was now locked with hers and for a long moment I just stared at her, her beautiful, brown eyes, her peaches and cream skin, the pout of her lips.
"How was it possible to be so blind?" Her voice was soft and husky, layered with a tone of awe.
"I'm a guy, it happens," I said, not fully focused to understand what she was talking about.
Her hand smacked my chest. "I was talking about me."
"Oh." I smirked. "You weren't as blind as you were stubborn, honey." I tapped the tip of her nose with my index finger.
She shook her head and I smiled. "No, I really was blind."
"You're one to talk," she admonished. "Let me tell you about stubborn. You were so dead set on that I wanted to kiss you, that when I tried to pull you away from me you thought I was trying to get you closer, how's that for stubborn?"
I blinked. "What?"
"Outside the tent," she said softly, her smile making her whole face shine. I tried to think back on that night.
"All I remember is being desperate. I didn't have much time... no, actually, I was out of time but I had nothing left to lose. I'm sorry if I hurt you." I touched her face, I had to. The memory of those feelings, fearing I'd lose her, never see her again, the anger and hatred. I took a deep breath.
"Kiss me," she whispered. "Kiss me, and never stop, Jacob Black."
She'd disarmed me, and I was smiling with my whole face. "You're gonna regret that," I whispered back before capturing her soft lips hungrily. There'd never be anything on this earth that could capture my heart, mind, body or soul the way she did. If anyone knew that, it was me. After having been faced with all possible scenarios that could've taken her away from me, and at times did so, even if momentarily, or for years, there had always been one factor that had remained my true ally. Knowing.
I'd known she loved me.
I'd known she'd wake up one day.
And I'd known that when that day came I'd give in, because I always would be a sucker for Bella Swan—that's right, fucking-Cullen. Until the day she became Bella Black. Then it really would be just tough shit if she tried to get away from me. I wouldn't stop myself from tying her to the bed, besides, I know she'd like it.