Epilogue Part 2 – All I've Ever Needed
- Every promise I made
Has lead us up to this day
Please, remember my love
When you've forgotten your way
Edward tapped his foot impatiently on the wood deck of the house. Jacob was expecting him and Dominic at the treaty line in just ten minutes, and he hated being late, even if it meant keeping wolves waiting.
However, Dominic wasn't the only source of stress. Edward was already agitated by the presence of that book in his home – its meaning, its purpose. While Bella almost appeared comforted by the premise that Marcus himself had placed it there, Edward was most decidedly at the other end of the emotional spectrum. He felt uneasy and vigilant. The feeling calmed slightly once he had contacted Carlisle to warn him a Volturi brother might still be lurking. Carlisle would know what to do, and although Edward loved the side of Bella that graciously allowed for redemption and second chances, at times, that side of her needed to be balanced by his realism.
There was the sound of feet rapidly descending the stairs, and then Dominic bounded out the front door. "Okay. I'm ready."
Edward eyed him from head to foot with an appraising expression. Dominic was groomed and well-dressed, with even a hint of aftershave mingling with his distinct wolf scent. "Not a fur out of place. Looking to make a good first impression?"
Unwilling to let his currently optimistic mood get derailed by Edward's untimely attempt at humor, he retorted, "Tell me you didn't try to impress Bella's parents?"
Edward opened his mouth to respond, and then closed just as quickly.
Dominic's responding grin was smug. "Precisely. This is like 'meeting the parents' for me."
Edward turned and began to stalk toward the garage; Dominic followed. Without looking back, he added, "I failed at that task, by the way."
"Hard to believe."
As the two men climbed into the front seats of the SUV, Dominic glanced anxiously toward the house. "Bella isn't coming? I thought she was looking forward to seeing Jacob?" Dominic couldn't hide the disappointment in his voice as he buckled his seatbelt. He had assumed Bella would be the icebreaker, someone he and Jacob had in common. But to make this trip with only Edward? You'd have to be an oblivious idiot not to sense the tension rolling off of Edward whenever the topic of Jacob was raised, and Dominic couldn't help but assume Edward was not Jacob's favorite supernatural as well. This did not bode well for his first meeting with the pack. He wanted a Bella buffer.
Edward shook his head in frustration. "Bella thinks her transformation will be difficult for Jacob to handle. She didn't want that stress to affect your meeting." The SUV's tires crackled loudly on the frosted gravel drive as they headed toward the main road. "Jacob is the head of the pack and it will be his decision if you become part of it. Bella was afraid she'd be a distraction. She plans to see him later."
Edward exhaled forcibly. "I do owe him a debt. I will do my best to not provoke him."
"That's encouraging," Dominic deadpanned. "Any other last minute advice?"
"When we get there, take your shirt off."
Dominic gave up and turned his attention to the greenery growing off the perpetually wet trees of the Pacific Northwest. Fortunately, the trip was short, and soon Edward was pulling the SUV to the side of the road. It was the same place he would stop when Bella insisted on visits with Jacob. "They're here already."
"Smell or minds?" Dominic asked wondering which the gifted vampire had detected first.
"I can hear their minds. Their thought patterns are stronger than humans. Maybe it has something to do with the pack's ability to share thoughts."
"So … members of the pack are like you. Able to hear thoughts."
"Only each other's. And that's where any similarities end." Edward abruptly exited the vehicle and began walking south along the roadside. It only took a few strides for Dominic to catch up to him.
"Is it Jacob that gets you all worked up, or the fact that shape-shifters are vampires' enemy?"
It was a cold, sunny day and the sun's rays filtered easily through the thin pine needles of the trees. Edward's face lit up as the light reflected off his skin as he paused to address Dominic's question. "There will always be uneasiness. They do nothing more than tolerate our presence. As for Jacob in particular … I'm sure he wishes I had never been born."
"Born, yes. Raised from the dead, no."
Edward's jaw twitched with tension as he ground his teeth together and turned to observe the pack as they emerged one by one in human form from the dense forest. Jacob first, then Leah, Seth, Quil, and Embry, followed by two other pack members Edward had never seen. They were all shirtless except, of course, Leah.
The self-righteous smile on Jacob's face hadn't changed a bit in the nearly year and half it had been since they had last seen each other.
"Where's your better half?" Jacob asked folding his arms across his bare chest, his pecs flexing and releasing almost rhythmically. All eyes were on Edward; Dominic felt as if he was invisible.
"She said she'll contact you later." Edward stood a straighter, his hands forming fists at his sides. Dominic suspected he was posturing in response to Jacob's gibes. However, his demeanor suddenly changed as his eyes dropped to the ground. "Jacob, thank you for helping my family when Bella and I were being held in Volterra. Without the pack's intervention, the outcome could have been very different."
"Yeah, well, I did it for Bella. And Charlie. Too bad he can never know Bella is …" Jacob seemed to struggle for his next words.
"Alive? Is that the word you are searching for?" Edward's tone was again bitter.
The two men locked in dagger-like stares until Dominic scuffed his feet against the gravel and cleared his throat.
Thankfully, Edward understood. "This is Dominic."
Dominic enthusiastically held out his hand to Jacob, only to find Jacob kept both hands firmly across his chest, his eyes narrowing as he looked up at Dominic in judgment. This was going to be harder than he imagined, Dominic thought … and what he imagined hadn't been that easy. He drew his hand back.
"Bella has told me your history. I'm skeptical," Jacob addressed him brusquely. "Edward thinks your father was Quileute. What was his name?"
"I knew him as Jackson Tala. But Edward said that was not his real name." Dominic felt the same twinge of embarrassment and shame that always came with talking about his wayward father. "I guess that explains why my mother could never find him after he left."
"So what makes you think he was from our tribe? Did you ever see him shift? Besides, there is no one by that name in our history," Jacob countered.
Edward wasn't in the mood for Jacob's games, and interjected, "I've seen Dominic's father in his thoughts. I know the man to be Quil Ateara the fourth. Besides, 'tala' is Sioux for 'wolf.'"
Jacob continued as if Edward had not spoken. "Well, there is one way to tell for sure." Jacob smiled. "A little demonstration."
The rest of the group assembled behind Jacob began to hoot and holler.
"You can go, bloodsucker. This is Quileute business now." Jacob leveled his gaze at Edward. "Return in an hour. We would have made our decision by then."
Edward expected nothing less than to be dismissed. The last time he had seen Jacob and the pack was the night of the wedding. That visit ended in Jacob accosting Bella over their plans for a real honeymoon and the pack having to escort a crazed Jacob from the reception. It appeared time had not mended those wounds.
It's okay. I'll be fine. Dominic nodded once at Edward. Can't be any worse than Volterra. And I need answers.
"One hour," Edward said before turning and heading back toward the Land Rover, moving purposely at human speed.
"Ugh. Couldn't stand that smell one more minute." Leah waved her hand in front of her face once Edward pulled away. "And you…" she wrinkled her nose at Dominic, "you reek like them."
Ignoring his sister's usual disgruntled demeanor, Seth piped up, "Hey, Jake, are we headed for the clearing?" He spoke with such barely contained enthusiasm Dominic could easily envision the young man wagging his bushy tail.
"Sure. I'll catch up with you," Jacob said.
With a final hoot the group ran off into the cover of the trees. No sooner had they disappeared, the hoots transformed into barks and yips.
Jacob turned expressionless to Dominic. "What brings you here?" His words were clipped and demanding.
"I thought that was clear. I'm like you. I'm … family"
"What do you expect from us?"
This felt more like an interrogation than a "welcome to the family." Dominic's tone now mirrored Jacob's. "To understand my history. To know who my father was and who my half-brother heritage was kept from me by my father. I want to understand who I am. Where I fit."
Jacob finally dropped his arms to his sides. "Well, you certainly don't fit with vampires," Jacob huffed. "If you are Quileute, your blood would tell you that." Jacob began to walk in the direction of his pack, seemingly appeased with Dominic's answers.
"But … Bella is vampire."
"And whose fault is that!" Jacob's ferocity caught Dominic off guard.
"I'm sorry. I just thought you and Bella were…"
"Yeah. Well, that ship has sailed. I wasn't the right type of monster."
"Um, I was going to say that I thought you and Bella were good friends. I know she looks forward to seeing you." Then Dominic had to ask, "Will you see her now? Or does some code of wolf conduct keep you from being her friend now that she's vampire?" He asked the question just as much for Bella's information as for himself. If some wolf rule kept Jacob from having any relationship with a vampire, Dominic would know to just quit now. There was no way in Hell he was giving up Gianna in trade for pack membership. No way. His blood, as Jacob had put it, told him that much for sure.
To Dominic's surprise, Jacob's expression changed. He seemed to go from calculating and controlled to uncertain as he considered his response to Dominic's question regarding Bella. "Is she … is Bella okay?"
Dominic decided to answer that question in a way that he thought Jacob would want to hear it. He was certain there was an intimate connection between Bella and Jacob, but he never could get either Bella or Edward to spill the details. He chose his words carefully. "She did what she could to prevent being changed by those maniacs. But in the end, she had no choice. Now, she's working very hard to come to terms with her new life, and I think she's happy. Edward's family has been very supportive and helpful. I know she wants to see you, but thought it best to wait until you've dealt with me."
Jacob's arms crossed his chest again. "Bella was very evasive when I asked about your involvement with this whole debacle in Italy. Before we go any further, I want to know something: did you play a part in her being harmed?"
Dominic's mouth gaped a bit before he swallowed hard. Bella assured him she had informed Jacob about his involvement in Volterra. Obviously, she must have glossed over some of the more dicey details… "I was used to shield the Volturi's plans from Alice. I guess she cannot see the future when shifters are involved." There. Short and sweet. Dominic knew more information would only raise more questions. "However, I had no idea at the time I was anything other than an ordinary farm boy from the Midwest."
Jacob nodded, but his stern expression remained unchanged. "One more question before we see if you 'fit'."
Dominic took a bracing breath.
"Did you kill any of those son-of-a-bitch Italian vampires?"
Dominic let a full, toothy grin erupt from his lips. "Oh, Hell yeah."
At last, Jacob smiled. "Let's do this." He turned and began to run into the woods. Dominic followed and soon the forest opened into a clearing. There, several wolves waited in a semi-circle. A thrill ran through his veins.
When Jacob and Dominic approached, Jacob began the introductions, as if to say this was their true identity. "This is Leah, Embry, Seth, Brady, and Collin. And last, but never least, this is my second cousin, Quil."
Dominic nodded once at each of them as they were introduced, but his eyes lingered on Quil. He noted how Jacob made a point of identifying Quil not only as part of his pack, but part of his family as well. Dominic knew it was a warning; however, it was one Jacob didn't need to make. Dominic could feel an innate bond forming already as he locked eyes with his younger half brother.
Holding back on his strong desire to speak to Quil, Dominic turned his attention to Jacob. "There used to be more? Bella said…"
Jacob cut Dominic off. "Sam, Paul, and Jared have decided to not phase anymore. They chose to age naturally with their imprints. Maybe, one day Quil will do the same."
There was a hint of concealed disgust within Jacob's words. It was obvious to Dominic Jacob had yet to imprint. Knowing neither Bella nor Edward had mentioned Gianna, Dominic avoided the imprinting topic.
Thankfully, Jacob continued, "Now that the Cullens have moved away for at least a few decades, there will be another generation of our tribe skipped, like your father's. Without Cullen influence, our young will not be forced to transform." Jacob gestured to the wolves assembled. "We will be enough to protect the reservation from any other vampires that might pass through."
"So if the Cullen family doesn't return to this area, no more shifters will be … uh, created?" Dominic asked.
"If they'd only stay away, no more of our people will have to endure the difficult transition or carry the burden of hiding who they are."
"I'm sure if you would explain this to Edward or Dr. Cullen…"
Again, Jacob interrupted Dominic. "Don't you think they know?" The assembled wolves shook their large heads and pawed at the ground in agreement as their leader continued, "Didn't you experience first-hand in Italy their superior ability to lie? Their disregard of others in their pursuit of what suits them?"
Dominic took several steps backward. Jacob's tirade was creating a swirling conflict within him. Hatred for the Volturi and the guard and their ways that promoted such greed, indiscriminate death and destruction upon others rippled through him. His heart began to race and the growls of the others spoke to him on a primal, innate level.
"Didn't you feel complete justification when you tore those vampires apart? Jacob hissed.
"Yes," Dominic responded, his teeth bared as he remembered the destruction of Caius. He had felt pleasure – a high even – when he killed Caius. This feeling was something he had never shared with anyone. He was too afraid to reveal that truth to Gianna and the Cullens. Murder was never acceptable, but with his true brothers and sister …well, they understood him and his feelings. "Yes. The bastard deserved to die."
Jacob smiled as Dominic passed another test. "They are our enemies. The reason we were created. They cannot be trusted. They are a danger."
Dominic scowled as his anger toward the Volturi resurfaced. How they had used him, treated him worse than an animal, forced him to be part of Bella's abuse, and damaged his sweet Gianna. Images of vampires being laid to waste by wolves coursed through the vengeful haze of Dominic's mind.
His heart began to race, his breathing came in pants and his fists clenched at his side. He was, in no uncertain terms, a fierce protector. The chemistry he felt with his native brothers and sister freed something he had been trying to suppress since he learned of his wolf nature. It wasn't something bad. Shifting was meant for good, protection. Certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
"It's what we do. We kill vampires." Jacob's voice sounded as if it were coming from the opposite end of a long tunnel. Kill vampires echoed strangely in his head.
And then in a skipped beat of his heart, he saw them in his mind: Bella, Edward … Gianna …in pieces. Body parts strewn about the field around him. A pack of wolves growling in satisfied, justified victory. His own form was among them, a mixture of human blood and venom oozing from his jaws.
"No!" The nightmarish picture fractured and fell in jagged shards from his mind. "No." The word tore again from his throat as the confusion of what he was supposed to be collided with the path he had chosen to take with Gianna. Protection of his imprint won out over his desire to be part of the pack, and the rage at imagining this pack presented a danger to Gianna was too much … he began to tremble and his vision blurred.
Dominic violently shifted, snarling and pawing the dirty in fury.
Faced with a wolf larger than he had ever seen towering and snarling over him, Jacob burst into wolf form as well.
Dominic's thoughts flashed through his mind: No, I have lost too much already! I will not destroy those I care for. Those I love! It's not who I am!
Surprisingly, it was Bella's plight that coursed though his mind. How she had fought against the wishes of the Volturi, and how he spent her last human night in protection over her sleeping form, her pleas before Marcus bit her, and his promise erase the harm he had done to her by forever acting as her protector.
"Yield!" Jacob's voice abruptly boomed in Dominic's head. It blared so loudly, he shook his large head vigorously as if to clear it from his mind. His body bucked and he reared up momentarily on his hind legs.
"I said to yield!"
The second command actually forced Dominic physically toward the ground. "What is happening?"
"I am alpha. You will obey."
"Jacob?" Dominic thought. "I can hear you?"
"Stand down, or you won't hear anything for long."
Shocked, Dominic took several retreating steps and fell into a dazed sitting position. As his head cleared of the rage he felt, he became aware of the chatter of minds within his own. He blinked rapidly as he heard exclamations about his size, a discussion of whether he should be attacked to protect Jacob, and the voices of a few that refuted one of their own should ever be viciously attacked. The onslaught of voices in his mind was overwhelming.
Willing himself to change in an effort to stop the noise in his head, Dominic stood defiantly and naked in front of the pack. "I can't do this. It's wrong." Without another word, Dominic turned and began to run away from the pack.
To his surprise, Jacob trotted up next him, in human form as well and wearing shorts. He held a pair out to Dominic and shrugged. "A little trick we've mastered so we're not running around in our birthday suits."
Dominic snatched them from Jacob, but his good manners got the best of him. "Thanks."
"What happened back there?" Jacob asked when Dominic halted to put on the article of clothing. "Leah thought I was too tough on you, but … Listen, Bella said you wanted to be part of the pack. Considering you heard us, I thought you'd be stoked."
Dominic exhaled heavily. "There is something about me you don't know. As much as I want the answers I seek, and only the pack has those answers, I don't think I meet the criteria of membership."
Jacob shook his head. "You've lost me."
Dominic knew the cards needed to be laid out on the table. "I'll reveal everything, but it'd be easier if you'd come to the Cullen house. Just you. I'll explain it then."
Jacob looked uncomfortable.
"Bella will be there," Dominic added as bait.
"Eight o'clock. I take it you can find your way back to the road."
( ~ * ~ )
"You did what?!" Bella exclaimed, shaking her head. "Dominic, they needed some warning about your size. You probably freaked them out changing like that!"
"Yeah," he groaned, "That much was obvious. But I didn't like what I felt. They exist to kill vampires. But vampires are part of my family too. You all have a treaty to keep you safe. But Gianna … And just wait until they learn I … you know what ... with a vampire! It will seem as unnatural as incest in their minds."
Dominic threw his head back against the back of the couch. "I won't allow myself to be forced into a situation where I'll have to choose. It will be her. I guess I at least owe them an explanation, but it will be on my terms."
Bella moved to sit next to him, glancing out the wall of windows in the living room to look for any sign of Gianna and Edward's return from a hunt. She placed a hand on Dominic's shoulder, saddened to see him flinch slightly from her touch. "I can talk to Jacob on your behalf if you'd like. That is, if he can stand the sight of me."
Dominic took a deep breath and exhaled hard. "There's something else you should know. He's coming here. At eight o'clock."
"Here? Jacob is coming here?"
"Did I mess up?" Dominic cringed seeing her shocked response. Only now did he consider how he had imposed on hosts by inviting a guest without permission. And maybe … maybe Jacob was not welcome here.
"No, I just can't believe he would willingly come here, after what happened at the wedding, and how he feels about … I was hoping to avoid him for just a bit longer." Raking her fingers though her long, thick hair, she stood up and started to pace in front of Dominic.
"I'm sorry. It was the first thing that popped out of my mouth when I heard how strong his feelings were about vampires. He needs to know about Gianna, after all it's not like I can hide our relationship if the pack is in my head, but I thought maybe if he met her … I need your help."
When Bella seemed to not be listening, Dominic switched gears. "I know I'm pushing it, screwing up and inviting Jacob here and all, but since I'm on a roll – what is there between the two of you?"
"Jacob and me?" Bella glanced anxiously out the window again. "It's a long story."
"Last time I checked, we're both immortal," Dominic joked, trying to cajole Bella into talking.
"And the last time I checked, you cannot keep your thoughts from Edward's discovery. I can."
"Oh." Dominic suddenly felt awkward. This was something Bella had never shared. With anyone. "I understand. This secret of yours … it would hurt Edward."
Bella threw her hands up. "Now don't make it sound like that! I didn't do anything wrong. I mean, I did ask him to kiss me after my engagement. I guess that was wrong." She sighed and flung herself onto the couch. It slid back several inches bumping into the wall.
Dominic raised his eyebrows.
"What you're thinking is probably worse than what it really is."
"Guess we'll never know," Dominic remarked with a shrug. He knew he was baiting her, but his curiosity was getting the best of him.
Bella covered her face with her hands in frustration. "I can't stand the thought of Jacob hating me, ok? Though he has every right to. There was a time in my relationship with Edward … we had a misunderstanding and he left for several months. In that time, I was devastated and the only thing that saved me from my own self-destruction was Jacob. And for a while, I thought … I did come to love him as more than just a friend. I led him to believe there could be more between us." Bella removed her hands from her face and looked at Dominic with pleading eyes. "But when Edward came back …Well, it was always him.
"I feel guilt and shame when I'm around Jacob, but at the same time, I want him in my life. I feel some bond to him still – and that feels like a betrayal to Edward. Yet, I want to make up for what I put Jacob through. It had to appear like I was using him. But how can I without sending him the wrong message? And now…" She extended her arm so that it intersected a lone ray of the setting sun streaming through the window. Her skin glimmered like it was imbedded with chips of diamonds. "Now I've become what he least wanted me to be."
Dominic smiled kindly. "Now, that's not so bad at all. I definitely was thinking worse." He inched closer to Bella. "If I could give you my opinion?"
Bella nodded, desperation in her eyes.
"Imprinting is a-mazing. When it happened to me, my breath escaped my lungs. I was flung into the clouds and felt untouchable, the king of the world. Yet, at the same time, I was humbled. I knew I would be nothing without G. When she smiles at me, when she says she loves me…God, I'm right back there all over again. Feeling that rush and gratefulness for her."
Dominic took Bella's hands in his and she smiled for his happiness.
"I'm telling you this because Jacob didn't imprint on you. There is someone else out there that is 'the one' for him. If you two would have remained together, I think you both would have always been on edge, wondering and worrying if 'she' would ever materialize – and what that would mean to your relationship. As I've always believed, things happen for a reason. You and Edward belong together. I have no doubt about that. One day, Jacob will find his other half. And when he does, you will be able to reconnect; both of feeling vindicated because what had happened between you was meant to be as it was. And he will be happy and complete - like me."
"So even though I hurt him, it was for the best?" Bella looked at Dominic with a mixture of hope and doubt.
Dominic scratched his head and grinned. "You are much better at getting to the point than I am."
"I suppose your next nugget of wisdom will be that I share this with Edward?"
Dominic did his best Jasper impression. "What do you think?"
Bella shoved him off the couch. "Damn self-righteous, wolf-y wisdom."
( ~ * ~ )
Unable to shake her recently acquired habit of pacing, Bella attempted to at least slow herself to human speed. No sense freaking Jacob out too soon. It was just before eight o'clock and she had chosen to wait for Jacob on the back deck. Gianna, Dominic and Edward remained inside.
She heard him emerge from the woods before she smelled him. They stood in the winter darkness staring at each other across some distance.
Bella swallowed though her mouth was dry. Would he accept her? "Hello, Jake. Long time no see."
He burst into a run, coming straight toward her. She froze, uncertain of his intentions. Taking the deck stairs two at a time, Jacob barely slowed as he approached, wrapping his arms around her in a wordless embrace; the heat of his body shocking her as much as his actions. Fleetingly she wondered how Gianna had overcome this uncomfortable sensation of burning when she and Dominic were intimate. "Jake?"
He stepped back and looked at her face with deep sadness creasing his youthful face.
"What? What's wrong?" Bella quickly forgetting her worry about Jacob accepting her as vampire, more concerned about his welfare.
"I'm so sorry," he choked out. "What they did to you. If I didn't know they were all piles of ash, I'd catch the first plane to Italy and rip them apart myself!"
The fervor of his words made her blink several times in incomprehension. She had kept the raw details of her transformation from Jacob, just as she had tried to do with Edward. "How…how would you know?"
"Dominic. When he phased. He was so distressed. His thoughts were all about what had happened to you." Then Jacob's expression became suddenly serious. "Does he, you know, love you?"
"Not like that!" Bella's eyes went wide.
Jacob nodded. "No, like a protector. I get it. I just wanted to be sure." He stepped back, examining Bella in the light that shown out from the windows around the deck. "I've got to be honest, I didn't expect you to be so …you."
Bella released the breath she had been holding since his inspection started. "And you," she smiled. "Head of the pack. Should I call you Chief Jake? Alpha Jake?"
Ignoring her questions, he cut to the chase. "Are you happy, Bella?" He looked at the house, his expression souring. "Wait, is he in there?"
"Edward? Yes. But he knows everything. There are no more secrets between us. And honestly, Jacob, what they did to me in Italy… what I was becoming – what I did become under their manipulations…" Bella hung her head as the backs of her eyes prickled. When she looked at him again, her expression had changed. "I'm fine now. How are you?"
"Glad you are home. Sort of home. Are you staying?"
"Now that I've graduated from my newborn year, we are considering our next move." She shook her head sadly. "But I can't come back here for a long time, Jake."
"The old regime is dead, Bells. Let Charlie know you are here. He's not the same. Blames himself – and him." Jacob jerked his head in the direction of the house.
"Please call him Edward. And the government has changed, but Carlisle said the laws still apply. They have to. You know the public can't handle knowing we exist. Veggie vampire or not, all vampires would be destroyed out of fear."
"You don't trust Charlie to keep the secret?"
"Carlisle said –"
"Carlisle said this, Carlisle says that," Jacob roughly interrupted her. "What about what's best for you and Charlie? If I know you, you are miserable. And I know he is miserable without you."
"Jacob." It was Edward.
Jacob took several steps back as Edward walked onto the deck from the house, his expression stern. "Please don't make this any harder for Bella than it already is. You have rules for your kind, please respect ours."
"I came here to hear what Dominic had to say, anyway. Will he be joining us?" Jacob deflected.
Edward gestured to the open door. "He is inside. Will you come in?"
"Is he all freakily large in there? I mean, who the Hell supersized him anyway?" Jacob marched past Bella and Edward into the house.
Dominic was standing by the fireplace dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. "Hello, Jacob. Thank you for coming," he addressed Jacob calmly.
"I have to admit, I'm not sure what this is about. But from your thoughts today, I know you care a lot about Bella. For her sake, I am willing to listen why you feel you don't belong with us."
"Thank you," Dominic replied, his heart pounding so hard he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. There was plenty he could say to soften the blow, but why? He just needed to get it out there and let the chips fall where they may. "Edward has told me that imprinting is sacred. That once someone has imprinted, the pack can do no harm to that imprint."
Jacob's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why would a pack ever want to harm an imprint?"
Dominic continued with his rehearsed speech. "I don't know if that only applies to someone formally accepted into the pack … I mean, I don't quite know where I stand with that. Is there like some initiation ceremony?"
Jacob folded his arms across his chest. "Well there is the whipping. And tarring and feathering…"
"Jake!" Bella reprimanded. "Hear him out. This is very important to Dominic."
"Then out with it," Jacob responded just before he startled, movement from the other side of the room catching his eye.
"Hello, Jacob. I'm Gianna," she said as she glided into the room.
Jacob's head whipped around, looking from Gianna, whose sharp, angular features identified her as vampire, to Dominic and then to Bella and Edward. Edward was sporting his trademark lopsided grin. Jacob rolled his eyes. "Seriously? It's not possible. This is your imprint?"
Dominic moved to Gianna's side and took her hand. "She is. We met in Italy, before I knew I was a shape-shifted, and when she was still human. I was drawn to her from first sight, but after I shifted … heck, I didn't even know it had a name at that time."
The look on Jacob's face was more of curiosity than anger. Gianna gave Dominic's hand an optimistic squeeze.
"Then, after she became vampire, did your feelings change?" Jacob asked earnestly interested in his response.
"Not one bit."
"She was dying, Jake," Bella added hoping the additional details would help Dominic's case. "Dominic was faced with losing his imprint, and …"
"He couldn't bear to lose her. Even if it meant loving a vampire." Jacob's words came out slow, as if he didn't realize he was saying them out loud. And although he was speaking of Gianna and Dominic, his eyes were steady on Bella. "I think I understand that."
Edward realized he had made an earlier mistake. He had thought Jacob had not changed since the day of the wedding, but that was not true. The boy had matured, and would quite possibly make a fine leader.
( ~ * ~ )
Esme's call the night before had created chaos in the Cullen's Forks home. She had gleefully announced the rest of the Cullen's were traveling to Forks to bring in the New Year as a family. And a sort of graduation party for the four of them.
Despite the stress Esme's declaration had created, it was true much had transpired over the several days since Dominic, Gianna, Edward, and Bella's arrival; events worthy of celebration. And what better time to celebrate new beginnings than New Year's Eve?
Edward and Gianna were travelling to SeaTac to pick up Alice and Jasper while Carlisle and Esme had already picked up Rose and Emmett in Vancouver, and were en route to Forks. Meanwhile, though Dominic had been spending his days with the pack, including an occasional overnight at Quil's, he was expected back early tonight for the family reunion.
Bella had passed on joining Edward and Gianna, claiming she had something important to handle before the family's arrival. Edward had given her the suspicious eye when he couldn't read what it was she had planned, but Bella had distracted him with an especially meaningful and promising kiss. She licked her lips now as she sped through the back roads in Emmett's jeep; they still tasted of Edward.
In that moment, she realized she actually missed feeling the race of her heart when she knew she was about to do something she shouldn't. The absence of it almost could lead her to believe there was nothing wrong with the infraction she was about to make…
But if there was one lesson she had learned in the past year, it was this: love was everything. And family was love.
She parked the car several blocks away, waiting patiently for the sun to set. As darkness blanketed the neighborhood, Bella made the trek to her father's house.
She entered silently, discerning quickly Charlie was in his bedroom. Moving with vampire stealth, Bella climbed the stairs and padded down the hallway toward his room, when another sound and scent caught her off-guard and had her rapidly ducking for cover through the closest door – her old room.
"Charlie, where's that bottle of shampoo we bought today?" Sue Clearwater emerged from the bathroom, her naked, dripping body wrapped in a fluffy bath towel.
Peering through the cracked-open door, Bella observed Charlie emerge from his room wearing a dark suit. "Suz, we're going to be late for dinner. The shampoo is probably still in the shopping bag on the kitchen table."
"Will you get it for me?" She pouted her lips at him before kissing Charlie on the nose.
"Be right back," he huffed, but a smile danced across his thin lips.
Sue giggled like a young girl in love and dashed back into the bathroom. The sound of the water rushing from the showerhead filled Bella's ears.
"Dad and Sue Clearwater? Jacob was right," Bella whispered to herself.
Did this change things? Would revealing herself to Charlie make him happier or only serve to complicate his life? Bella leaned against the wall of her room, listening. Suddenly Charlie's footsteps drew closer. Bella bolted into her closet.
She allowed herself a glimpse of him through the crack, her augmented eyesight enabling her to see him while she remained unseen. He seemed to be fumbling anxiously with something hidden in his suit coat pocket.
He had come in here for some reason, and Bella watched as his mouth began to work as if trying to settle on the right words to actually say aloud. The crease in his forehead became very pronounced. Finally, Charlie began to speak softly in the unlit room, "I miss you, Bells. But I hope you can see, from wherever you are, that Sue makes me happy.
"Now that's not to say I didn't love your mother, but we weren't in the right places in our lives to follow through on the commitment we made to each other. I understand that now. I hope you can understand that, too." Charlie pulled something out of his pocket. Bella saw it glint momentarily , but she couldn't make out the small item concealed in his fingers. "And I'd like to think you would be happy for me." There was a long pause, a clearing of his throat, and then, "Happy New Year, Bella."
Then he walked out, the door closing with a quiet click.
Bella sagged against the closet wall. There she stayed lost in thought as she listened to Sue and Charlie finish readying themselves for dinner. It wasn't until she heard his car pull out of the driveway did she venture out of the closet. And then she paced.
Deciding at last, she dashed to Charlie's room. Grabbing the picture of her he always kept on his nightstand next to his bed and retrieving a pen from the drawer, she wrote in the script she knew he'd recognize as hers: "I understand."
Replacing the picture in the frame, Bella sighed. "Like Sire, like protégé." Bella inhaled deeply, gathering her father's scent within her. "Maybe someday, dad. But not today. Be happy. You deserve it."
( ~ * ~ )
Bella's smile returned when she arrived back at the house. The show of cars in the driveway announced the return of the family – her family. Excitedly, she bolted into the front door.
And there they were. All of them, smiling and huddled around Dominic.
"What did I miss?" Bella grinned, unable to resist the infectiousness of their excitement.
"I'm in!" Dominic exclaimed. As the group around him parted, Bella could see him proudly bearing the familiar tattoo of Jacob's pack.
"Dominic, that's great!" Bella rushed toward him and hugged him firmly. "I knew they'd love you."
He laughed. "Love is a strong word. But I know I'll grow on them."
Gianna moved to his side. "We decided to stay in the area," she announced. "Not too close. I don't want to be a negative influence."
When Bella look confused, Dominic explained, "We can't live on the reservation. It could cause more of the tribe's young people to shift. Jacob doesn't want that for them."
Standing nearby, Esme put her hand on Carlisle's shoulder. He nodded, knowing what his wife intended to do.
"Dominic, Gianna, I think we can offer a solution," Esme said. "We have a small cottage on our property. It's a ways into the forest, in the opposite direction of the reservation. It may be far enough away. You are welcome to it."
Dominic's face lit up. "Are you sure?"
"More than sure," Carlisle added, extending his hand as if to solidify a deal just brokered.
Dominic took it, and then ducked his head sheepishly. "Permission to leave the compound, sir?"
"Permission granted." Carlisle laughed as did everyone else in the room. But then his face became serious. "I'm sorry if you felt confined, Dominic, but in this family, we take care of our own. Always."
Understanding crossed Dominic and Gianna's faces. Carlisle had included them as family.
"Thank you, Dr. Cullen – I mean, Carlisle." Gianna hugged him first, and then Esme. "Thank you for the new home. We will be here when you are able to return."
As the tone of the evening had become serious, Emmett did his best to return the joviality. "Hey, Edward. Why don't you play a few songs to celebrate? What about 'Blue Bayou'? Or 'Don't it Make my Brown Eyes Blue' or even 'Blue Christmas'?"
In a flash, Edward had tackled Emmett, leaving Esme to rush after them, hastily moving the furniture out of harm's way.
While everyone watched the antics of the two brothers, Alice quietly approached Dominic, tilting her head to indicate he should follow her into the kitchen.
"Alice," he asked once the kitchen door closed behind him, "what's with the secrecy?"
"This," she replied pulling a small box out of her clutch. She opened the box to reveal a brilliant marquise-shaped diamond ring.
Several expressions crossed Dominic's face before he responded, "But Alice, I'm already spoken for. As are you."
"No, you silly! It's for Gianna."
"You want to marry Gianna?"
Alice rolled her eyes and laughed, giving Dominic credit for being so comical while maintaining a straight face. "Isn't New Year's Eve a wonderful time to get engaged? New beginnings and all."
Dominic looked at Alice with great depth in his dark brown eyes. "I have been thinking of telling Gianna I want to marry her. To show her I do mean forever and always." He took the box from Alice's hand. "It's beautiful … but how did you know? I didn't think you could see shape-shifters decisions?"
"I can't." She smiled, clasping her hands behind her back, her golden eyes glinting mischievously. "But I can see Gianna's – and I went window shopping with her one day…."
Dominic's smile grew larger. "Think she'll really like it?"
"I know so," Alice said in her twinkling voice.
"I can see why you are Edward's favorite sister. I'll repay you as soon as I can."
Alice shrugged off his offer. "Consider it our wedding gift."
Dominic bent over to give her small frame a slight squeeze. She was so petite he regarded her as breakable even though she was vampire. "I'm going to propose." Then his words sunk in and he paled. "Holy shit, I'm going to propose." He began to hyperventilate and the room swayed around him.
The door opened and Jasper strolled into the kitchen in a way only a Southern gentleman could pull off. "I dare say, is someone having an anxiety attack in here?" His half-grin indicating he was in on Alice's surprise.
Before he knew what was happening, Alice had slid a chair up behind him. Suddenly calm, he sunk into it. "Whoa. Thanks, man. I was losing it there for a moment."
"What are brothers for?" Jasper snickered. "Now pull yourself together and get out there and make an honest woman out of that beautiful Italian newborn."
Dominic took a deep breath, stood, and saluted, "Yes, sir, Major Whitlock, er Hale or Cullen … whatever." Now blushing slightly in his cheeks, either from embarrassment or the spiked eggnog he had been drinking, Dominic strode determinedly out of the kitchen, Alice and Jasper trailing behind him holding hands.
In the living room, the fire crackled, warming the room to almost an intolerable heat. Dominic wiped his slightly sweaty brow with his sleeve. He glanced around looking for Gianna. He found her sitting on the couch next to Esme in an animated conversation, speaking about her desire to plant a rose garden at their new home.
Dominic gazed upon her from across the room. The firelight danced over her sleek, dark hair with every movement she made. His heart pounded at the familiar curve of her full lips when she smiled, and the sparkle of her eyes. He knew her. He knew her very well – inside and out. And loved everything about her. How strong she was on the outside, how tender and delicate she was under that tough vampire exterior. How she had been denied true love and security, and how she had warred against demons of many kinds. And after all that, she was one of the most awesome individuals he had ever hoped to meet. She still struggled to trust, but he was determined to show her she could always count on him. Always.
Suddenly, she stopped talking to Esme and a strange look came over her face. Her head turned in his direction and their eyes locked. She smiled.
When her expression began to change to one of concern, his feet began to move. They carried him toward his destiny. Dominic dropped to knee before her. The room became still and silent save for the popping of the wood as it protested consumption by the flames.
"G, you know I'm not very good with words. So, if you don't mind, I'd like to quote a song."
Her eyes widened and she quickly took in all the faces staring at her and Dominic. "What is it? What do you need to say?"
Again he wiped his forehead with his sleeve before taking her hand. "From here to eternity, I'm asking you to share your life with me. Now and forever, I guarantee I'll always stay by your side." He opened the box Alice had generously given to him and Gianna's mouth flew open in surprise. She quickly clamped a hand over it to silence her gasp. "Will you marry me?
For a moment time stood still as everyone froze in anticipation of her reply.
Then the words burst from her mouth with excitement, "Ti amo così tanto! Certo che ti sposerò!" She jumped up and hugged him with such vigor he began to cough.
The Cullens laughed and began to clap, however, Dominic was caught in an uncomfortable confusion, not knowing what to make of her words.
She pulled away as he had been hugging her much less unenthusiastically than she was hugging him. Seeing the distress on his face, she hastily translated, "Oh mio! I love you so much. Of course I'll marry you, Domenico!"
Relieved, he slid the Cullen-sized ring on her third finger. When they had finished embracing, the onlookers lined up to give their congratulations. Edward basked in the loving thoughts about the room; each pair of lovers remembering their individual proposals and wedding days. Reflecting on their love for each other, it was easy to wish the new couple all the happiness and love a union had to offer.
Edward slid his gaze to Jasper, who had the slight look of a dog when its master finds that special spot to scratch behind the ears. Jasper was enjoying an emotional buzz.
"What are you smiling about?" Bella was at his side, her hand placed lovingly on his lower back.
"There are a few occasions when mind reading is a gift."
Bella sighed looking at Dominic and Gianna celebrating. "Sure didn't see this coming. I guess everything does happen for a reason."
Edward looked at her questioningly.
"Well, two soul mates discovered they could be happy despite all the wrong done upon them. If they hadn't traveled the hellish path in Volterra, they would have never found each other. I can't say I'm happy about what happened in that place, but some recent events have put a positive spin on things."
Edward draped his arm over Bella's shoulder, considering her comments. "Dominic and Gianna will live immortally and in love, you and I discovered the path to communication and a renewed marriage, and the corrupt vampire government has been replaced."
"Do you think we will ever hear what happened to Chelsea and Afton and their child?"
"If they are smart? No, I don't think we will. Despite their virtue of being loving parents, they were the source of much damage. I don't think any vampire government will pardon them – nor will those who were kept loyal to the Volturi by her gift. I think they will remain on the run for a long time."
"What is it, love?" Edward asked.
"You mentioned parents. I know how much Dominic misses his mother. It's a shame she cannot see her only son be married."
Alice slid up behind them. "Oh, she'll be there. Gianna has decided." She shook her head but a smirk still played across her lips. "Keep an ear to her thoughts, Edward. Gianna is one headstrong and resourceful girl. Who knows what trouble she'll get us all into." As Alice danced off in Dominic and Gianna's direction, she turned back, adding, "I really like her."
"Oh no. Poor Gianna," Bella quipped.
"You should see what the self-proclaimed wedding planner has cooking in that tiny, spiked head of hers," Edward said loud enough for all vampire ears to hear.
Bella's heart lightened. The pack and the Cullens were destined to come together for at least one more time. Maybe a comfortable truce was possible. "A Cullen-sized wedding, as Dominic would say?"
"Most definitely." Edward swallowed and the smile left his face. "Bella."
"I couldn't help it," she pleaded for his understanding after she let her shield constrict, confessing what she had done earlier at her father's house. "I had to know."
"And?" he prompted.
"He's already moving on. It would have been selfish of me to interfere with that. It's what I wanted. I'm glad."
"You don't sound glad."
Bella pulled out from under Edward's arm. "I need some air." With her head down, Bella made her way out the French doors leading to the deck. Jasper's questioning eyes followed her.
Inhaling the cold air deep into her lungs, Bella frowned as no hint of white fog materialized from her mouth as she exhaled. Of course, she wasn't alone in the brisk night air. "I am happy for him. I just … he was the last tie to my other life. And I was the one who had to cut the tether. I realized I'm the one that has to let go now."
Edward came very close, but didn't touch her. Her pain was in stark contrast to the gleeful laughter and conversation taking place just on the other side of the glass.
"For some reason I held out hope. I guess that's what allowed me to not fully grieve the loss of that life. I thought, if I could just have my dad …"
"You'd have the best of both worlds," Edward finished for her. "At least you have Jacob back in your life."
Bella shook her head. "I don't mean to sound ungrateful. To you, to your family."
Edward turned her to face him and pulled her into his arms. "Nonsense. I know your heart, and I didn't mean to sound insensitive. I am just at a loss for what to say. I know I can never replace Charlie no matter how much I love you. You've been through so much loss … and I just don't know how to make it all better."
"I love the thought of our future together, but without Charlie … it's a future imperfect. I just wish I didn't have to live with the memory of how much grief he suffered when he thought I'd died."
"I know," Edward spoke into her hair as he kissed her head. "No life is perfect. But if it wasn't for the sorrow, we'd never know joy."
Bella looked up at him hopefully. "Do you really believe that?"
"No. It's bullshit."
Bella laughed, pushing her forehead into Edward's chest and feeling it tremble with his laughter as well.
"There, I proved there is hope you will be happy again."
In the distance they heard the sounds of firecrackers marking the stroke of midnight.
"Well, that is something I have always believed in," Bella added as she pulled Edward by the hand back toward the house.
She smiled as she caught sight of Dominic and Gianna kissing as several others began to sing "Auld Lang Syne". "Looking back is important, but it shouldn't keep you from moving ahead. I still believe in happily-ever-afters."
An expression crossed Edward's face, lighting it up. "Maybe that's exactly what we should do with our new freedom. Return to our happily-ever-after to move ahead."
At first Bella's brow furrowed in confusion, then she recognized the intense glimmer in Edward's eyes. "Isle Esme," she whispered.
"Yes?" Edward asked, hoping for a positive reaction to his unspoken invitation to recreate their honeymoon.
Edward swept her up in his arms. "Here's to new beginnings and happily-ever-afters. Happy New Year, Bella."
"Happy New Year, Edward."
A/N: Thank you so much for reading and being a fan of Future Imperfect (which you must be if you made it to this point!)
HEA. I promised it and it continues. And speaking of continues, I was pleasantly surprised by a few readers who have requested a sequel. Oh my. I'm humbled by the request and intrigued. I guess I did leave a few loopholes open *wink*: Afton and Chelsea, Marcus' state of existence, Bella and Charlie, a wedding, a neophyte vampire government … and of course, more adventures of Dominic and Gianna.
If you are interested in more …. If you have interest in any other "loopholes", let me know. If there is demand, I might be able to supply (I'm very much a people-pleaser at heart). But if I am able, it will take time since I haven't given a new story any consideration prior to the requests.
Credit: The song Dominic quotes during his proposal is From Here to Eternity by Michael Peterson. I don't know the song, I just really liked the lyrics!
More credit where credit is due: My betas turned this chapter around in a flash! I'm so happy they have continued the journey for this epilogue! All my love to RosaBella75, RowanMoon and Ashling92.
And finally, I was honored to find Future Imperfect was nominated in the poll to find the Top Ten Favourite Fics completed in October! Check it out at www . twifanfictionrecs . com (minus the spaces) or go to my profile for the exact link. Voting continues until December 1, 2013.
Again, thank you so, so much for reading.