This is it. The end. I have an outtake I might post a bit later but this will be the last real chapter of the story. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. I feel like my writing improved over the course of this story, as did my understanding of Edward's character. Thanks so much to all of you who have read and reviewed. I really appreciate the feedback. I try to make sure to reply to all of you but if I've missed you I apologize. Thanks again.
Chapter 19-Disquiet (Edward's Epilogue)
Springtime in the Olympic Peninsula isn't really warm by any means, but one can usually tell a distinct difference between January and April. This year was proving to be the exception. I didn't really mind much because I was impervious to the cold and the appearance of the sun meant that I had to stay home from school.
However, the unseasonable weather seemed to be contributing to human illnesses. Bella caught a dreadful respiratory infection that kept her out of school for three days in mid-April. She refused to allow me to spoil her as I saw fit, but at least she'd taken Carlisle's advice and stayed in bed. Alice had insisted that I attend class to avoid the vision she'd seen about Mr. Greene calling Charlie if I missed school when Bella did. I agreed, but worried constantly when I had to leave her side. I wouldn't have been able to bear the brief separation without my mother's help. Esme stayed with Bella during the day while I was gone, so she was never unprotected or lonely. Charlie was grateful for Esme's care and she kept Bella entertained.
The only brief moment of pleasure I had during Bella's absence from school was when I got to tell a disgruntled Mike Newton that she would be unable to work while she was ill. Newton had kept his distance from Bella since my return, but he still had impure thoughts about her that made me seriously consider killing him slowly at least a few times a week. I hated that she worked with him, but I knew there was no way she would quit her job and allow me to provide her with pocket money.
Angela Weber and her boyfriend Ben Cheney started sitting with Alice, Bella and I during lunch shortly after our return. Alice had predicted the seating arrangement would work out well, and naturally she was right. The two humans were rather uncomfortable with us at first, but after a few days we all began to enjoy each other's company.
Time continued to pass. Charlie didn't alter my hours of visitation but he finally agreed to let me drive Bella to and from work under the condition that she was home 15 minutes after her shift ended. I was grateful for this tiny improvement, but he still wasn't speaking to me.
Although he was outwardly silent, Charlie's previously hazy mind was a different story. In his head I could see that he'd been spending lots of time talking to Billy Black and asking him to convince his son to pay Bella a visit. He was hoping that Bella would realize in due course that Jacob would be a better suitor than I. And, perhaps he would have been, if he wasn't a dog.
Bella rarely ever mentioned Jacob Black or any of the other residents of the Quileute reservation. But on the occasions when she was quiet and pensive, I couldn't help but wonder if her mind was in La Push.
My family continued their vigilant searches of the forest for any signs of Victoria, but we found nothing. Esme was hopeful that she'd just given up and moved on. My instincts were telling me she was just biding her time and the others agreed with me. Alice was keeping an eye on a variety of things with her special gifts, including any news from Italy. This was especially important since the killings in Seattle seemed to be escalating.
In spite of my concerns about Victoria, the Volturi and Jacob Black, I was happy. Bella and I were together and she was safe. Therefore, I could handle anything else that came our way.
"She won't accept it, Edward," Alice said with a sigh on the first Saturday in May. I was getting ready to pick Bella up from her shift at Newton's and I had been contemplating buying her a new car.
"Not even as a graduation gift?" I asked sadly. I knew Alice was right, but I didn't want to concede defeat.
"I'm afraid not," Alice replied. "You know she hates presents, no matter what the occasion is and she'll insist that you return it. Don't bother buying her anything, especially not something that extravagant."
"But there aren't even any air bags in that decrepit truck," I argued. "I know its sturdy, but…"
"Damn it!" Emmett yelled from the couch, and I was momentarily distracted.
Jasper and Emmett were watching the Kentucky Derby events on one of Emmett's new flat screens. They had been completely engrossed in the races all day. Alice had refused to give them any special help because she was trying to discourage their overzealous competitions. So far, neither of them had picked any winning horses.
"Last place!" Jasper gloated. His laughter ceased when he picked up on the severity of Emmett's mood. "Maybe we should stop, Em." He said cautiously.
He's taking this way too seriously. Jasper thought.
"Not a chance," Emmett snarled. "There are only three races left, and I've got some serious cash riding on that filly from Florida to place in the next one."
Why did Alice have to pick today to be honest? Maybe she'd give me a hint on the derby race if I asked nicely..." He thought.
"I'd stay out of this if I were you," I muttered to Alice with a wink. "I'm no psychic, but I know when I see a fight coming."
"Tell Bella I'll see her at 6," Alice said as I ran out into the rain. I smiled and nodded. I couldn't wait to see my love.
I pulled my car up to the front door of Newton's just as Bella was replacing her ugly fluorescent employee vest with her black rain jacket. She smiled at me through the rain-distorted glass, but I could tell that something was bothering her. Had Newton upset her? That boy was in serious need of a sexual harassment training class…or a blow to the head. I would be happy to deliver the latter personally. I got out of the car to open the door for Bella before she could get wet.
"I missed you every second of the day," I said, kissing her gently once we were inside the car.
"I missed you too," she answered. I could tell she was happy to see me, but her eyes were tense.
"What's wrong, love?" I asked as I turned onto the highway.
"It's Jacob," she blurted irritably.
That was unexpected and unwelcome. I tried to keep my face smooth as I listened.
"I decided to try to call Jake from the store since I can't ever catch up with him when I call in the evenings from home," She explained tersely. "Billy answered as usual and he said Jake didn't want to talk to me!" she went on. Her tone was angry, but I could hear the hurt underneath the fury.
"I'm sorry, Bella," I said softly, and I meant it. I didn't want her anywhere near Jacob Black for a plethora of reasons, but seeing her in pain stabbed through me like a thousand hot knives.
"It's just plain rude!" she fumed. "Downright insulting…that he was there and wouldn't walk three steps to get to the phone! Usually Billy just says he's out or busy or sleeping or something. I mean, it's not like I didn't know he was lying to me, but at least it was a polite way to handle it. I guess Billy hates me now, too. It's not fair!" Her posture was still defensive but her eyes were too bright. I winced in response to her hurt.
"It's not you, Bella," I said soothingly. "Nobody hates you."
My voice was calm, but I was angry with Billy Black. How could he be so cruel to her! He was her father's best friend, and she cared deeply for him. He had no right to extend his prejudices against my family to Bella. She was an innocent party in all of this.
"Feels that way," She mumbled sadly, crossing her arms in a gesture I recognized. She would wrap her arms around herself that way when she was having a nightmare sometimes. I ached to make the hurt go away. I had to try to make her understand that none of this was her fault.
"Jacob knows we're back," I replied. "And I'm sure he ascertained that I'm with you." I remembered Mike Newton's thoughts about the La Push rumor mill when I'd first returned. 'Emily told her cousin Kyra that Bella ditched Jacob Black for Cullen. Kyra said all his friends are mad at Bella too.'
By all accounts, Jacob Black was in love with Bella, but even if his feelings didn't extend beyond friendship he would have severed his ties with her when I came back into her life. His romantic feelings for her complicated matters, but they didn't really alter the outcome very much.
"He won't come anywhere near me," I continued. "The enmity is rooted too deeply."
The Quileute natives had been taught to loathe us for centuries. Oral histories passed down for generations told stories of "the cold ones". Hatred was ingrained into them. They passed it down even more effectively than the werewolf gene.
Bella's expression turned thoughtful. Perhaps I was getting through to her.
"That's stupid," she replied with a frown. "He knows you're not… like other vampires."
Or perhaps I wasn't; my sweet, kind Bella has an endless capacity to love everyone. She didn't understand why vampires and werewolves were unable to see past those labels and judge each other based on individual character. The concept of instinctive enemies made no sense to her.
"There's still good reason to keep a safe distance," I whispered patiently. She stared thoughtfully out of the windshield, and I wondered if she was starting to process my words.
"Bella, we are what we are," I elaborated. "I can control myself, but I doubt he can. He's very young. It would most likely turn into a fight, and I don't know if I could stop it before I k…" I stopped in mid-sentence when I realized what I'd almost said. I hoped pointlessly that she'd missed my slip.
"Before I hurt him; you would be unhappy. I don't want that to happen." I finished lamely.
If it weren't for her, I would have killed Jacob Black to defend myself without a second thought. But I would rather let him kill me than hurt someone she cared about.
She didn't respond to my statement immediately, but I saw the horror in her eyes as she registered what I'd almost said.
"Edward Cullen," she whispered sadly a few moments later. "Were you about to say killed him?"
I turned my face away from her to hide the shame I felt for my indiscreet words. I stared at the red traffic light as I waited for it to change.
"Were you?" She pressed. Her voice was still soft and miserable.
"I would try…very hard…not to do that," I replied carefully as the light turned green. I drove at a snail's pace, lost in thought.
She gaped at me without trying to hide the expression of incredulity in her face. What else could I say? The absolute truth would hurt her.
The whole truth was if he attacked me, I could defeat him easily. My extra talent notwithstanding, I had a ninety years more experience as a fighter than he did. I could destroy him in a matter of seconds …it would be such an instinctive thing to do that it would almost be an involuntary reaction. Killing him would be much easier than letting him live. I wanted to say something to comfort her. I wanted tell her that I would never hurt her estranged friend, but I couldn't because it would be a lie.
I watched her intently for a moment, and her shocked expression turned thoughtful again. She bit her lip out of nervous habit and frowned before composing her face.
"Well," she said finally with a deep sigh. "Nothing like that is ever going to happen, so there's no reason to worry about it." Her voice was calm, but I could tell that she was trying to convince herself more than she was me. "And you know Charlie's staring at the clock right now. You'd better get me home before I get into more trouble for being late."
I froze in the middle of her sentence when I registered a horrible, earthy smell and two mental voices coming from Charlie's property.
The thoughts inside the tiny kitchen were Charlie's. His mind was filled with wordless rage and anxiety. The reason was immediately apparent when I saw the little red Honda motorcycle sitting in the middle of his driveway; Bella's motorcycle. I picked up a few distinct phrases from his head as his anger intensified.
Reckless! Could have been killed! I should strangle her!...lock her in her room and throw away the key…can't believe she'd do something so stupid!
I agreed with Charlie's assessment wholeheartedly, but I was too horrified by the unwelcome visitor who was waiting for me in the mouth of the woods behind Charlie's house to focus on anything else.
I hear that fancy car and I smell him. Ugh. Wish that filthy bloodsucker would hurry up and get here already. I need to talk to him and get it over with. Sam will be all wound up if this takes too long. He ordered me not to fight the vampire on neutral turf and not to shift unless I was attacked first. The second voice thought.
Bella had spoken too soon.
Jacob Black was here.
Less than a half second had passed since Bella had finished her sentence. She looked over at me with a small smile on her soft lips. The smile vanished and was replaced by a look of panic when she took in my tense expression. I heard her heart accelerate fearfully.
"You're already in more trouble Bella," I said stiffly.
She gasped softly and moved closer to me, gripping my forearm with her soft, delicate fingers. The expression on her face made her thoughts obvious; she was trying to make sense of my words, wondering what kind of problem we had. She stared out of the windshield and searched for the source of the trouble, unable to see anything significant. My sharp eyes could see the boy's hulking figure now, and I registered the faint trembling in his big brown hands.
Maybe I should've brought Embry with me. Might be safer if I wasn't alone…no, I can do this! I'll just say what I need to say and go. Don't want to lose my temper. The boy thought, staring through the trees at us.
"What? What is it?" Bella breathed anxiously.
I inhaled deeply before answering as I tried to prepare myself for the coming conversation with the werewolf waiting in the shadow of a large spruce tree near the worn path. He was even taller than I expected. He'd grown a 2.75 inches since I'd seen him in Alice's memories. I smelled the dank canine stench of him more powerfully now, and I had to fight to keep the distaste off my face.
"Charlie…" I said evenly, hoping that my calm tone would assuage some of her panic. I could still hear sentence fragments of Charlie's wrath. They were a mixture of swear words and potential threats that surged through his head.
"My dad!" she cried in surprise, her melodious voice an octave higher than usual. I looked over at her with a soft, soothing expression on my face, and she seemed to relax a little. She continued to cling to me though, and I knew she wasn't completely reassured.
Gross! I can't believe she's holding on to him like he's a person…like he doesn't want to have her for dinner! I hope to God this works and Charlie grounds her. Jacob Black thought. His arms trembled violently in his irritation.
"Charlie…is probably not going to kill you, but he's thinking about it," I replied slowly as I tried to stay calm in the face of this dangerous conundrum.
"What did I do?" Bella cried as she stared out of the windshield again. My eyes darted unwillingly back to the source of the trouble parked in Charlie's driveway. Jacob Black watched our progress and I listened to his thoughts with increasing displeasure.
Maybe if I can get her away from that leech for awhile we can work things out. Sam says I can come to Forks if he's out of the way. I miss her so much. Charlie's pissed at me, but he hates that parasite and he'd let me see her if he thought it'd help. He thought hopefully, and his tremors stopped for the moment.
I shuddered internally at the thought of leaving Bella unattended with a dangerous and unstable teenage werewolf. I had to keep her away from him at all costs. Then a wave of intense guilt washed through me when I remembered how she'd been forced to put her life in his hands repeatedly while I was gone.
Instinctively, I wanted to get her into the house before I talked to him, but Charlie was so angry that I could not allow her to face him alone. And I knew as soon as she saw the motorcycle in the driveway and deduced what was going on she'd want to confront Jacob Black herself with or without me.
I sighed inaudibly before deciding that it would be best to take her with me. I'd rather be there to protect her when she had her say than the alternative. He was under strict orders to do nothing more than talk to me after all. I drove past the house and parked the car at the edge of the woods. Charlie would be able to see us if he went into the living room, but we were invisible from the kitchen window.
An instant later, Bella's expression shifted from anxious confusion to horror and anguish.
The intense hurt on Bella's face made me want to rip Jacob Black to shreds. I could see that his betrayal wounded her much more than his father's tactless words on the phone earlier. The animosity between my family and his should not have extended to her. I hated the idea of her getting caught in the crosshairs of our conflict.
"No!" she whimpered. "Why? Why would Jacob do this to me?"
I knew why, of course. I'd heard it all in his head, but I didn't answer her.
When we first returned to Forks I had worried that Jacob Black and his meddlesome father might try to interfere in our relationship. However, as the weeks passed without incident I was confident that Jacob Black planned to ignore Bella until she stopped calling. She'd chosen to be with me, and his silence made me assume that he was planning to respect that choice and leave well enough alone.
I had apparently overestimated his character, not to mention his maturity. His perfidy was very juvenile and ill-conceived. He glowered at me from the shelter of the trees and his hands began to tremble again.
I glanced over at Bella and saw that her eyes were glistening with unshed tears of pain and fury. Her cheeks were inflamed and I could smell the adrenaline pulsing through her as I stopped the car.
"Is he still here?" Bella asked in a jeering voice.
"Yes," I replied flatly. "He's waiting for us there." Every cell in my body wanted to pick her up and run as fast as I could, but there was no way around the coming confrontation.
Control yourself! Jacob Black repeated in his head over and over again. You can't get mad or she might get hurt. Just remind him about the treaty and go home. Focus on your mission to make sure they're not planning to change her. Let him start the fight if there's going to be one.
I was so engrossed in the mutt's thoughts that I didn't immediately comprehend the click of the latch as Bella unbuckled her seatbelt. A second later, the passenger side door flew open and Bella jumped out of the car.
I was out of the car and waiting to grab her before her human eyes could see the movement. I wrapped a restraining arm around her waist as I realized with a horrified jolt that she was going to try to hit him.
"Let me go! I'm going to murder him!" she screamed furiously, straining against my hold on her. Her threat might have been humorous if the situation wasn't so perilous. She was angrier than I had ever seen her.
"Traitor!" she yelled, still struggling pointlessly against my arm.
Seeing him put his hands on her makes me sick. I hate how mad she is at me, but if telling on her keeps her away from that bloodsucker it'll be worth it. He thought resolutely.
"Charlie will hear you," I cautioned Bella in a soft voice. "And once he gets you inside he may brick over the doorway." I glared furiously at the boy for a fleeting moment, and he glared back. His thoughts were full of hate and fury. The exchanged glances happened too fast for her to notice. I turned my attention back to Bella.
Her eyes had shifted back to the driveway, and the sight of the motorcycle seemed to incense her further.
"Just give me one round with Jacob and then I'll deal with Charlie," she cried, still trying to break away from me.
Her reaction took me by surprise. Usually the mention of her father in a tense situation would make her stop and think before she acted out.
"Jacob Black wants to see me," I said calmly.
This revelation took all the fight out of her. She went limp in my arms and stopped struggling. Her face turned bone white and I felt a shudder run up her spine. She was finally afraid, and with good reason.
"Talk?" she whispered thickly.
I'd like to do a whole lot more than talk, but I'm not going to today I don't want to start anything. He thought menacingly in response to Bella's question as his hands shook. He curled them into fists to try to control the tremors. He was more unstable than I'd feared.
"More or less," I replied warily. He wanted to rip me apart but I didn't want to mention that. He would be a fool to try.
"How much more?" she asked in an unsteady voice. Her hands were shaking almost as much as the dog's.
"Don't worry," I said gently, avoiding her question as I stroked her hair. Jacob Black let out a soft growl as he watched me touching her. "He's not here to fight me. He's acting as spokesperson for the pack."
"Oh," Bella replied in a nervous whisper.
I heard a mental shout of anger coming from Charlie's little kitchen. His fury was increasing with every passing second. I glanced automatically toward the house.
"We should hurry; Charlie's getting impatient," I said in an urgent whisper as I pulled her toward the trees. Walking toward the werewolf with her went against every instinct I had.
How does he know Charlie's getting impatient? I didn't hear Charlie say anything. Oh yeah, Bella told me he could read people's minds when I was questioning her about the redhead. What a freak. I wonder if he can read wolves, too. He mused silently.
I wasn't thrilled that Bella had divulged that information, but she'd had no reason to keep it to herself. At the time she'd believed I wasn't ever coming back for her. Perhaps I could use his knowledge about my gift to intimidate him. It was imperative that I prevent this from turning into a fight at all costs.
I made sure I kept Bella several feet away from him and positioned her behind me as we made our way to the place where Jacob Black was waiting. The overgrown boy took in my protective stance and he sneered angrily at me. Bella was glaring at him in an accusatory way in return.
Can't believe he's shielding her like I'm the threat; disgusting bloodsucker. Like she's not his natural prey…maybe he does want to fight me and he's trying to keep her out of it. He must be pretending to care or something. He doesn't love her. If he did he wouldn't have left her to be eaten by those other leeches.
My insides twisted and burned in response to his thoughts, but I made sure my face gave nothing away. I glanced over at Bella to see that her angry expression had softened at the sight of her friend. The change in her posture was dramatic, and I realized she'd been missing him much more than I'd suspected. The burning in my chest increased.
"Bella," Jacob said coolly without taking his eyes off me. I saw in his head that he couldn't bear the idea of addressing me because in his mind parasitic vampires shouldn't have human names.
I nodded slightly in his direction, indicating that he should say what he came to say, but Bella spoke first.
"Why?" Bella whispered sadly in response to his greeting. "How could you do this to me, Jacob?" The pain in her voice made me want to break his neck.
I hate how hurt she is. But, I'm trying to do what's best for her. Man, she must think I'm a jerk. He thought sadly.
"It's for the best," He replied stiffly. The scowl he wore had vanished, leaving his expression intentionally blank and smooth. He was trying to hide his own pain from her. He knew it would upset her all the more if she saw how much he missed her.
In that instant, I understood Jacob Black a little. He loved Bella enough to risk hurting her feelings to protect her from what he saw as a threat to her safety. But he didn't love her the way that I did and that wasn't his only motive. He wanted to take her away from me for his own reasons, too.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Bella asked in reply as some of her anger resurfaced. "Do you want Charlie to strangle me? Or do you want him to have a heart attack like Harry? No matter how mad you are at me, how could you do that to him?
His face crumpled into a pained and abashed frown as he considered this possibility.
Hell I didn't think about Charlie's health when I did it! I just wanted her away from that bloodsucker before he could break her heart again or drain her dry. I didn't want to hurt Charlie, I just wanted him to ground her so she wouldn't get to see her parasite boyfriend. He thought with shaking hands at the idea of our relationship.
I was getting rather tired of this conversation, and Charlie's anger was getting more pronounced. We needed to get this over with. I could explain Jacob's motives to Bella without all the drama. I was also ready to show this dog just who he was dealing with at the same time…make sure he knew which of us would have the advantage in a fight so he wouldn't try anything.
"He didn't want to hurt anyone," I whispered to Bella. "He just wanted to get you grounded so you couldn't spend time with me."
Damn it! He can read my thoughts, too. He's a parasite and a freak. He thought, staring at me with deep disgust and loathing. He waited for me to react to the silent insult but I didn't.
"Aw Jake," Bella moaned irritably. "I'm already grounded! Why do you think I haven't been to La Push to kick your butt for avoiding my phone calls?"
I cringed internally at the sound of his nickname on her lips again.
"That's why?" He asked her in a baffled voice.
Huh? Sam said there was no way the leech would let her come to the reservation now that he and the rest of the Bloodsucking Brady Bunch are back. He said they probably considered her to be part of their coven. Why didn't Billy say she was already grounded! I never should have told on her. He thought irritably.
"He thought I wouldn't let you, not Charlie," I clarified, looking at Bella and shooting a quick glance at Jacob simultaneously.
He was right, of course. I would not have permitted Bella to go to La Push. It was too dangerous. There was no need for her to risk being around a pack of volatile giant canines now that we were here to protect her from Victoria.
"Stop that," Jacob growled angrily. Freaky parasite! Too bad you didn't use your talents to keep Bella safe from those two leeches who tried to kill her. Now stay the hell out of my head.
I didn't reply. The mental reminder of my failure made my insides burn and twist again as I recalled how much I owed Jacob Black.
He was trembling all over now, and I shifted my position in front of Bella almost imperceptibly. Bella didn't notice, but he did. I may have felt the need to express my gratitude, but that didn't mean I trusted him to be safe in front of Bella.
I felt so many different things at once; fear for Bella's safety as we stood a few feet away from an unstable teenage werewolf; jealousy because of the bond he shared with her, and gratitude at the way he'd cared for her in my absence.
"Bella wasn't exaggerating about your abilities," He growled grudgingly. "So, you must already know why I'm here."
Chill out! You've got a job to do and you can't phase in front of Bella! She could get hurt. Warn him about the terms of the treaty and go. He thought, taking a deep breath. He gritted his teeth angrily and balled up his big brown fists in an attempt to control himself.
"Yes," I replied evenly. "But, before you begin, I need to say something." I said quietly. It was time to acknowledge my debt to him. This might be the only chance I got to do so.
Is this the part where he tells me to stay away from Bella? Threatens me if I don't? Or will he try to think of a loophole in the treaty so he can bite her? He thought, his hands trembling precariously.
"Thank you," I continued in a whisper. "I will never be able to tell you how grateful I am. I will owe you for the rest of my…existence."
What the hell is he talking about? Is this some kind of joke or is he trying to make it look like he's a nice guy in front of Bella? He wondered wordlessly.
Bella was looking just as confused as Jacob was. They exchanged a puzzled glance.
"For keeping Bella alive," I explained in a choked voice. "When I…didn't."
I couldn't continue. My throat was thick with a sensation that was probably akin to the onset of tears in a mortal. A thousand different words to finish the broken sentence ran through my head. When I didn't protect her…when I didn't save her…when I failed her miserably…
"Edward," Bella began in a soft, but admonitory tone. I held my hand up to ask her to stop.
I couldn't bear to hear her try to absolve me of my guilt now. I was afraid that it would detract from my thank you. The truth was that I was a fool and if it weren't for my enemy, Bella and I would both be dead.
"I didn't do it for you," Jacob Black growled defiantly in response. He called me a lot of bad names in his mind that were insufficient to describe my self-loathing.
"I know," I replied. "But that doesn't erase the gratitude I feel. I thought you should know. If there's ever anything in my power to do for you…"
Not that any service I could provide him with would ever repay the debt. He raised his eyebrows and I read the thoughts in his head before I could even finish my sentence.
How about you go away and leave her alone. And don't come back this time. He thought.
I shook my head emphatically. "That's not in my power."
I was grateful, but not insane. As if I would leave her again!
"Whose, then?" he asked angrily. Do I have to appeal to Doctor Dracula before they can leave? Does he control them like Sam does us?
"Hers," I replied curtly. "I'm a quick learner, Jacob Black and I don't make the same mistake twice. I'm here till she orders me away."
I didn't add that even if she did try to send me away, I would never leave her to rely on the wolves for protection again. I would watch out for her and keep her safe anyway.
I looked down at Bella and saw unconditional love and understanding in her chocolate brown eyes. She gazed intently at me.
"Never," she breathed emphatically.
My frozen heart seemed on the verge of beating again at her words. My arm was still around her waist and I wanted to embrace her, but I knew that wouldn't help this already volatile situation.
Disgusting! Can he do other mind tricks? Does he have her hypnotized too? He thought bitterly. He made a terrible retching sound as he watched us. His thoughts were wild with jealousy and disgust.
Bella turned her eyes back to her estranged friend with a scowl. "Was there something else you needed, Jacob?" she hissed angrily. "You wanted me in trouble…mission accomplished. Charlie might just send me to military school but that won't keep me away from Edward. There's nothing that can do that. What more do you want?"
The conviction in her words about our inseparability overwhelmed me with joy and I couldn't stop the smug smile that formed on my lips. She was too busy looking at Jacob to notice my expression, but he didn't miss it.
Look at him gloat. How can she love him after what he did! Filthy bloodsucking bastard…we'll see what he says when I remind him about the treaty. He can't stay with her forever unless he tries to change her. She'll get old but he won't and I'll be waiting.
"I just needed to remind your bloodsucking friends of a few key points in the treaty they agreed to," Jacob said harshly. The treaty that is the only thing stopping me from ripping his throat out right this minute."
I wish he'd go ahead and try to break it so I could. I'd stop him right here if I thought he was gonna try to turn her. He added mentally.
"We haven't forgotten," I said coolly, hoping he would realize that I'd seen the point he wanted to make in his head. The last thing I wanted was for Bella to hear it.
The treaty stipulated that we were not allowed to bite another human. This meant that changing Bella would break the treaty. I didn't want her to make the association. She had enough to worry about without this additional burden.
"What key points?" Bella asked forcefully. Damn it.
I can't wait to see the look on her face when I remind him. Bet it hasn't occurred to her that he might want to change her. I'd rather he killed her. I'd rather kill her myself than let her exist like that. She'd be better off dead.
Any feeling of goodwill I may have harbored toward him died the instant the thought formed in his head. I hated him with everything inside of me for preferring death for her. And I knew then that I would do anything to keep her, selfish or not. If I had to choose between losing her forever and changing her, I would change her. If that was what she wanted when the time came. I could not survive without her.
The boy didn't take his eyes off me as he answered her. "The treaty is quite specific. If any of them bite a human, the truce is over. Bite, not kill," He accentuated the last words. And that means anywhere, anytime, bloodsucker. We'll find you whether you make the breech here or 500 miles away. He added silently as an afterthought.
Bella's face hardened and turned icy cold as she processed his words. I felt her trembling with fury underneath my arm.
"That's none of your business," she said furiously.
His face changed from burnt sienna to pale green in half a second.
"The hell it…"he spluttered. His pulse was racing and the tremors in his body were more pronounced than they had been at any point during our conversation.
Oh God No! She can't…she can't want that! No! I thought he might be thinking about doing it but I didn't think she'd want him to! She knows they're monsters! I have to stop this.
And then Bella did the last thing I expected. Naturally.
"Jake! You okay?" she asked in a worried tone.
She wouldn't have been so concerned if she knew he would prefer to see her dead than to have her become immortal. Then I hated myself for feeling that way. If she had known his thoughts, it would've devastated her. I hoped she never found out exactly how he felt about her impending change.
To my horror, she actually started to walk toward the shaking boy a second later. I grabbed her and pulled her behind me, shielding her.
"Careful!" I gasped as terror for what she'd almost done washed over me. "He's not under control."
To my surprise, the boy's tremors were slowing dramatically. The edict from his pack leader must be preventing the change. I sighed inaudibly. He stared at me with unadulterated hatred in his black eyes, wishing me a thousand painful deaths.
"Ugh, I would never hurt her," he grunted in disgust.
An instinctive, angry hiss passed through my lips. This sentiment from the monster who actually thought seriously about her death! I fought the urge to lunge at him, to rip him apart. His hands were clenched into fists of rage again. Just before the growl I was holding in could break free, an angry mental tirade from the nearby house brought me up short. I'd almost forgotten about Charlie.
"BELLA!" Charlie roared furiously. "YOU GET IN THIS HOUSE THIS INSTANT!"
We all paused, frozen as the echoes of Charlie's yells seemed to reverberate in the trees. I heard Bella's heart rate increase beside me, and I wanted to kill the dog for a whole new reason. As if Bella needed Charlie to be angry with her for something else.
"Crap," Bella muttered anxiously at the fury in her father's voice. Jacob had the audacity to give her a sympathetic, regretful look.
"I am sorry about that," he mumbled. "I had to do what I could; I had to try..." He broke off abruptly. I could hear the genuine remorse in his thoughts, but I glared at him anyway.
"Thanks," Bella replied sadly. She looked out toward the house, clearly trying to see if her father was coming after her. Her hands were shaking. I cringed at the sound of Charlie's irate thoughts again. I was dreading this confrontation too. I hated the stress I could feel emanating from every pore of her soft skin.
"Just one more thing," I said quietly to Bella as I tried to tune out the diatribe in Charlie's head. I turned my gaze back to Jacob Black reluctantly. I sincerely hoped I never saw his face again after tonight.
"We haven't found any trace of Victoria on our side of the line; have you?" I heard the reluctant denial in his head and nodded before he could speak. But he answered me aloud reflexively.
"The last time was while Bella was...away," He replied. Off chasing after you and your bloodsucking sister to a leech party. He thought with a shudder. "We let her think she was slipping through; we were tightening the circle, getting ready to ambush her..." he paused for a moment, thinking of how Victoria had been trying to find away around them for the last several weeks rather than risk a fight. I felt goosebumps of fear rising on Bella's skin.
"But then she took off like a bat out of hell. Near as we can tell she caught your little female's scent and bailed. She hasn't come near our lands since." He finished.
I nodded; Jasper's theory about Victoria being spooked by Alice was true, then.
"When she comes back, she's not your problem, we'll..."I began, but Jacob interrupted me.
"She killed on our land! She's ours!" He growled.
Like I'd trust you to take care of Bella after you left her. The redhead is mine. He added in his head.
"No!" Bella started to argue. She was clearly upset by the idea of anyone fighting with Victoria. It was ironic considering she was the only one of us that wasn't safe. Charlie's livid mental musings permeated my head again, indistinct and incandescent with rage.
"BELLA! I SEE HIS CAR AND I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE! IF YOU AREN'T INSIDE THIS HOUSE IN ONE MINUTE..." Charlie cried into the damp evening air. He broke off, unsure of what kind of threat he'd be able to follow through with.
If he doesn't get her in here, I'll ship her off to Florida whether she likes it or not. Charlie thought determinedly.
"Let's go," I said urgently.
Bella looked at Jacob Black with a conflicted sadness that baffled me. Why was she suddenly feeling sorry for him? Did one apology dispel all of her anger that quickly?
Of course it did. This was Bella, and she didn't know what was in his head two minutes ago. I was furious.
Man, I'm such a jerk. I never should have told on her! But maybe it will work.
"Sorry," Jacob muttered so softly that I was surprised Bella heard him. "Bye, Bells."
Bells! He called her Bells?
I bit back a growl and the desire to hit something. A familiar, wild envy rippled through me at the familiarity of the nickname. It wasn't a traditional term of endearment but there was an intimate intonation in his muted voice that made me want to scream.
"You promised," Bella said in an urgent voice that cut through me like razor blades.
What had he promised her!
"Still friends, right?" she asked sadly.
How can we be friends when she wants to be what he is? I can't...His silent thoughts were sad and bitter, but his face was still composed.
My insides continued to burn with possessive jealousy and curiosity. What had he promised her? Just friendship? Somehow I thought there was much more to his vow.
He shook his head in a subtle motion and I heard Bella swallow hard. She was trying not to cry.
"I can't see how to keep trying," the boy replied regretfully. "Not now..." he stopped speaking aloud but I heard the finished sentence in his head. The smooth expression he'd been wearing faltered.
Not now that she's chosen to be what I hate. If he changes her, she won't be Bella anymore, and I can't be friends with a bloodsucker. I can't keep my promise to be there for my enemy. I can't...He thought in a sad and bitter tone.
I could see that his midnight eyes were clouded over now too.
Jacob Black might be a mutant dog, but at least he could cry for her...with her. I hated him.
"Miss you," he murmured in that same nearly inaudible tone.
The words came out like the hushed lament of the recently bereaved, as though he were in mourning. His hand reached automatically toward her, and I shifted in a movement so slight that Bella would not have detected the change.
"Me too," Bella said thickly. And although I couldn't hear her thoughts, I could hear the echo of the words she didn't speak aloud.
She loved him.
"Does she love him, Alice?" I'd whispered desperately that night in Bella's room after that first hunting trip since I'd returned to Forks.
"Not the same way that she loves you," Alice had said. "You mean more to her than anything or anyone else in this world."
"Jake," she breathed sadly, and she moved in his direction as though she longed to comfort him, even after his betrayal. My insides twisted and burned with despair as I watched her face.
Instinctively, automatically, I tightened my hold on her in one fluid and restrictive motion. I couldn't let her go.
I studied Jacob Black's expression and watched as his pain was replaced with hard fury. His lips twitched as all the horrible names he wanted to call me burned his tongue, but the rest of his body was perfectly still and controlled. He was not a danger to her at this moment, but I knew that could change in an instant. I was protecting her.
I was lying to myself.
"It's okay," Bella said in a reassuring voice to me. She hadn't detected a hint of the jealousy that was coursing through my entire being. She was trying to convince me that it was okay to allow her to be in closer proximity to the werewolf.
"No, it isn't," I replied coldly. Bella stared at me in shock, and I wondered if she had perceived any of my possessive feelings in my face.
I didn't believe that it was safe, but I wouldn't have let her go anyway; my motives weren't entirely about her well-being.
And when I registered the furious expression on Jacob Black's face and in his thoughts, I knew it was downright perilous.
Filthy bloodsucker! I ought to rip him apart right now for holding her hostage.
"Let her go," he growled menacingly as his body trembled more violently than it had all night. He took two swift and deliberate steps toward us, and he was thinking about phasing. I turned to face him and moved Bella to a safer position behind me in one fluid motion. I would kill him if he changed close to her before he could blink.
Come on parasite, give me a reason. Let's go.
"Edward, no!" Bella gasped in terror as she took in my familiar defensive stance. She was afraid for her friend and I was terrified for her.
"ISABELLA SWAN!" Charlie screeched a half second later. I could hear the terrible anger in his clear physical voice and his opaque mental one. I had never heard Charlie yell like that before. His mind got more unstable and furious with each passing moment, but I didn't take my eyes off the trembling boy in front of me.
"Come on, Charlie's mad!" Bella implored, tugging at my arm as though she could make me move. "Hurry!"
I needed to get Bella inside for more than one reason now. I turned away from the boy reluctantly, but not before I saw the hurt on his bronze colored face at the sight of Bella's retreat. His thoughts were full of remorse for his betrayal and pain for her decision. I saw Bella's eyes flicker toward him for an instant as we moved toward the house. The look in her eyes told me that she'd noticed too.
I could see some kind of resolve forming in her face as we walked toward the house. She was preparing herself for the coming battle with her father. Her eyes were filling with the tears she tried to suppress. I pulled her closer in an attempt to comfort and reassure her.
"I'm here," I soothed.
But would that be enough?
The pain I'd inflicted when I left Bella had not only made her relationship with Jacob Black possible, but also essential. He'd kept her alive in more ways than one. He provided her with the emotional support she'd needed to survive, and the physical protection necessary for her to escape death from not one but two vampires. He was a part of her now, a part that would always be missing if she stayed with me.
The mistake I'd made on a chilly wet day in September would haunt me for as long as I lived.
The door was open before we'd even crossed the little yard. Charlie stood on the threshold and the light spilling out of the house illuminated his crimson colored face. He glared furiously at Bella when we reached the door and for once he was oblivious to my presence. I stood two feet behind her and our fingers were still interlaced.
"Do you want to tell me about that deathtrap sitting in my driveway, Isabella?" Charlie thundered before we could even close the door behind us. He pointed at the shiny red motorcycle with a shaking finger as he stepped aside for us to follow him into the living room.
Bella tightened her hold on my hand fearfully, as though my touch was a lifeline. I squeezed her fingers in return reassuringly.
"I'm sorry dad, I..." Bella began in a trembling whisper, but Charlie cut her off mid-sentence.
"Do you really think that sorry would have made a difference if you'd gotten seriously hurt, or worse!" He shouted angrily. He was so upset that his thoughts were clear to me again and I could hear the agonizing fear behind his rage.
Didn't I tell her about the kids I've scraped off the highway from crashing those damn things? I remember each and every one of their faces...telling their parents was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life.
I grimaced in response. No wonder Charlie was so angry. His greatest fear in the world was losing Bella.
We had that in common.
How would he survive without her when or if she were changed? Guilt twisted my insides at the idea of taking her from him forever.
"I know how much you hate motorcycles dad, but really I never rode it anywhere but La Push, we weren't out on the highways..." Bella said desperately.
"Do you think it matters where you were?" He hissed. "How many times have I told you how dangerous those things are?"
"I don't know dad, I..." Bella started again.
"Before Jacob came over here I was thinking about easing up on you a little," Charlie said bitterly. "I was thinking about what a good kid you've always been, how responsible you are."
With the exception of your choice of boyfriends. He added wordlessly.
"I thought you knew better than to take off on a motorcycle." Charlie fumed.
Tears were falling fast and hard down Bella's cheeks now. The day had been too much for her emotionally, and Charlie's words hurt her. I wanted to wrap my arms around her to console her. I hated seeing her cry.
"I'm s-s-sorry," Bella stammered softly.
"Sorry isn't good enough" Charlie replied simply. His voice was more even now. Bella's tears had softened some of his anger. "Your hours of visitation with Edward end a half an hour earlier and start a half hour later, and he's not allowed to take you to work anymore."
I couldn't stand the sight of Bella's tears any longer. I moved closer to her and wrapped my free arm around her shoulders. Her crying eased. I wanted to embrace her, but I could tell from the disgruntled thoughts in Charlie's head that it would be a really bad idea for me to do so.
Charlie glared at me for a moment.
"Since it's not 7:30 yet, I think you need to leave," Charlie snarled at me. "But Alice can still come over in a half hour."
I could tell that Bella wanted to protest the difference between Charlie's rules for me versus the ones for Alice, but she held her tongue.
"May I say something Charlie?" I interjected quietly. Bella shot me a confused glance, but I didn't respond.
"You just did," Charlie retorted. "But I guess you want to say something else too. What is it?"
"Bella told me about the motorcycle when we moved back here," I answered without commenting on his sarcasm. He glared at me, and Bella bit her lip nervously. "She told me that she started riding... this past winter." I nearly choked on the words. "So if you want to blame anyone for her reckless behavior, you should blame me, not her."
Both Charlie and Bella scowled at me identically.
"You know, I blame you for a lot of stuff that happened a few months ago," Charlie replied, his thoughts contemptuous. "But I think this one's all on Bella. Now, go home."
I nodded reluctantly and moved my arm from Bella's shoulder. She turned around and stared at me through her reddened eyes. I hugged her for a brief moment.
"I'll stay close, love," I whispered too softly for Charlie to hear as I kissed her hand and released it. She nodded in response, but said nothing more as I made my way out into the late afternoon rain.
"I didn't see that coming," Alice whispered through the trees behind Charlie's house a short time later, her nose wrinkled in disgust.
I had left the Volvo out of sight of Charlie's house so he'd assume I was gone. Alice was going to explain her lack of a vehicle by telling Charlie Emmet had dropped her off and she'd ride home with me. I wouldn't be going home tonight.
"I know why I didn't see it of course, but it still bothers me all the same. I shudder to think what could have happened if one of you had lost your tempers."
Poor Bella. And I thought dogs were supposed to be loyal companions. She joked wordlessly.
I laughed a little in spite of myself, but the humor only lasted a half second before my somber mood resurfaced.
"Well... no one fought," I replied flatly. "No lasting harm done."
The last part was a lie.
The harm that I had done when I left was irreversible. My Bella was heartsick over a traitorous dog and I was standing outside in the rain brooding over the mess I'd made.
"It was sheer luck nothing happened" Alice replied darkly. "I can't believe the pack leader sent that foolish boy to Charlie's house to deliver the warning."
And tattling to Charlie about Bella's motorcycle was below the belt. She added mentally.
"Yes," I replied in agreement with both sentiments. "But we're talking about a bunch of adolescent boys here, Alice. Since when do mutant boys going through puberty make sensible choices?"
Alice let out a soft chuckle.
"What do you think they'll do now that they know she's planning to be changed?" Alice asked thoughtfully. "I wish I could see them."
"They'll wait for us to act," I responded. "I could infer that much from the boy's mind; he was determined to deliver the warning and leave because the pack leader ordered him to do nothing more. They won't do anything until we do."
"Do you think they have any idea about what's going on with the wild newborn in Seattle?" Alice asked me as she sat down on a moss covered log.
"I doubt it," I replied. "I don't think they concern themselves with our world beyond how it impacts their lands."
Except for this situation with Bella, Alice mused silently.
"Yes," I answered her silent statement curtly. "But that's because Jacob Black…" I broke off, feeling the rest of the words stick in my throat.
Alice completed my unfinished sentence silently. Is in love with her, she thought.
And she loves him too, I thought as my insides twisted horribly.
"Can you still see Bella and me getting married?" I asked apprehensively. My tone was abrupt but she didn't look surprised at my question.
Alice closed her eyes in concentration for a moment. I saw a familiar image in her mind of me standing at the end of a floral archway outside of our house as Rosalie played Wagner's wedding march. Alice had been seeing this vision for nearly a year, but it was clearer now. She opened her eyes quickly a half second later as though she were hiding something from me.
"Why did you stop?" I asked her irritably.
"I would have thought that was obvious," She said, rolling her eyes dramatically. "I didn't want you to see her dress."
I snorted, a little amused and very relieved.
"Am I the best choice for her, though?" I thought aloud. Alice snarled at me.
"Good grief Edward, don't start this again!" She said indignantly, punching me roughly on the arm.
I winced, rubbing my bicep. It didn't seem right for someone so small to be able to hurt a man of my stature.
"I didn't mean that the way it sounded," I replied quickly. "I will never leave her again. Even if she changes her mind I will always look after her."
"She's made her choice, Edward" Alice countered. "Everything is going to work out just fine. If you're done asking me rhetorical questions and acting like a fool, I'm going to go inside and watch a movie with Bella while we wait for you."
"I think I'm finished," I replied with a smile. "Tell Bella I'm right outside and I'll be with her at exactly 7:30."
"Yeah, yeah," Alice replied. "See you later."
The two of you are too sweet to tolerate sometimes. She'll be looking out the window until 7:30 trying to catch a glimpse of you. Alice thought teasingly.
I smiled widely at the knowledge that Bella missed me as I missed her. I stood in the shadows of the trees and counted the seconds until I could be by her side again.