The relief of seeing someone from before was short lived. Jacob's wolf pals remained openly hostile and Garrett just appeared flummoxed and stayed quiet through most the exchange. Jake took everything in stride after the initial shock and was soon prattling on as he led us through the snow covered valley like a day instead of a decade had passed since we'd last seen each other.
I was still stunned, unsure of how to handle the new direction my life had taken. In the middle of forging a new future in this decimated land, I was slapped with the past. I didn't know whether to hope this meant something. Maybe other people from Forks had survived. Maybe Charlie. Jake and his friends might be supernatural beings, but it was enough for the thought to cross my mind. I didn't even know how to breach the subject and Jake seemed completely content to ramble about old times.
"And I finally convinced you to do it," he said and brought me back to the conversation. "You were so scared!"
I growled over Jake's barking laughter. "I was right to be scared," I hissed, remembering that fateful jump off the La Push cliffs. I missed two days of school. "I almost drowned!"
Garrett laughed with him. "Good thing Sam and I were there to save your ass."
I was about to make my retort via swift jab to his meaty throat, but a warning look from Garrett made me pause. He knew me too well and neither of us stood a chance against a pack of werewolves this size, even if Jacob was acting ally.
"Ain't that right, Sammy-boy?" Jake gestured toward the large black wolf.
I looked the beast over with renewed interest. I was looking for familiarity beneath the shiny black fur and could find none, not even in the intelligent eyes. I got the feeling that he was sizing me up in the same way. I imagined I looked different than the half drowned girl he pulled from the water that day in La Push. I certainly wasn't that girl anymore.
Though he kept the conversation going, Jake continued on light topics. He hadn't once breached the topic of our home, its people. But after we had stopped to make camp, I could hold my tongue no longer.
"Jake," I said in a quiet voice, "tell me. If you survived, there must have been others. Tell me what you know."
The heavy way he dropped his head was all the answer I needed. I almost wished he wouldn't tell me, but the opening was enough to invite Jake to tell his story.
"I didn't even know what I was until the tsunami hit. It had everything to do with the horror and stress of those first moments. That's what I keep telling myself."
Sam and the she-wolf entered the clearing at that moment. They were both clad in cut-offs and dirty T-shirts, shoeless against the icy ground. Her hair was longer than the men's, but otherwise, they were so similar they could have been siblings. I knew better. Jacob Black had two sisters and they had not been in La Push when the end came. I couldn't place the woman at all.
Sam, on the other hand, was just a bigger version of the same boy from the beach. I even smiled a little as he approached and dropped on the opposite side of the fire. "We were destined to change anyway," he said unhappily. "It is the nature of our people."
Jake rolled his eyes. "Sam has his own theories."
"Theories?" the other wolf barked. "It was only a matter of time before we shifted. We are the protectors of the Quileute."
"A fuck-load of good that did them," the she-wolf mumbled.
Jake sent them each a glare as if to remind them he was the one telling the story. "I was engulfed in the waves before I could blink and I thought I was dead. But then…then, my body started boiling. Even the water started bubbling around me. And I burst through my skin, all fur and fire. I exploded and suddenly I was strong enough to push through the water. Like it wasn't even there.
"When I came to I was alone, miles from La push. There was nothing left." The memories hung heavily in his eyes. I wanted to cry for his loss and if I had the tears it would have been easy. His losses were part of my own. Unable to do anything else, I reached out a hand and grabbed his. I was a little taken aback by his heat, but managed to keep the shock to myself. After so many years of cold I had forgotten what being warm felt like. But I wanted to offer what little comfort I could to my oldest friend. He needed it as much as I did.
Jacob's grateful fingers wound into mine and he tightened the grip. "I found Sam and Leah prowling the beaches later in the afternoon, but…but there was no one else around for miles."
"I'm sorry," I told them. "You were lucky."
"Yeah, real lucky. We've lost our friends, our families. We've barely survived and now we find you," the woman hissed from the other side of the flames.
"Leah!" Jake admonished.
In an instant, the she-wolf was on her feet and panting heavily. "It is her fault. It's all her fault!" The ferocity of her words were somewhat lessened by the tears in her eyes, but I didn't care. I might not know exactly what she was talking about, but I did know that she was blaming me for her troubles.
A low growl emanating from my throat as Leah bent into her own defensive crouch. Her eyes grew wider and they took on the eerie gleam of the animal she was. Just as I was ready to strike a hard arm wrapped around me. I found myself pressed into Garrett's chest struggling against his immense strength. Both Jake and Sam were holding Leah back, but she was in the midst of changing. Fur sprouted from her legs and arms. Her face elongated and bright white teeth snapped menacingly in my direction. Those yellow eyes never left mine. I was staring directly into the eyes of a beast.
"Goddamnit, Leah, heel!" Jake bellowed, voice deep and resonant in the high mountain air.
It was as if chains were thrown around her. Leah's struggles suddenly stopped and she fell to the snowy ground in a panting heap. Tears rolled down her now human face. They fell into the ice and steamed. A moment later she was standing numbly on her feet again. Without looking at either me or Garrett, she turned around and ran for the cover of the trees. Sam was on her heels and I could have sworn I heard her bawl just before her voice turned into a howl.
Garrett released me and Jake looked at us with sad eyes. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's been a rough couple of months."
"Who is she mourning?" Garrett wondered as he settling back beside the fire.
"Embry," came the sullen answer. "We lost him six months ago near Indianapolis in an ambush. Leah hasn't been herself since."
"Sounds like she was blaming us." I wasn't going to let her make me feel like I was responsible for anything that'd gone wrong in her life. I didn't even know her.
"It's complicated," Jacob sighed. He was so much more than the boy I had known.
"Uncomplicate it, then." I was a bit surprised by the brusqueness in Garrett's voice. This far he'd kept a neutral stance with my friend, but now sounded as piqued as I was.
Jake stared into the flames. "We almost ran into the two of you before, you know. Of course, I didn't know it was Bella at the time. I didn't know this had happened to you. None of us had any idea." He ran his big dark hands over his face and groaned softly. When he resumed speaking, his eyes were staring directly into mine. "We were hunting you. That's when it happened. There were rogues waiting for us. We didn't even have the chance to scent them before the attack. Two of them took all four of us and not all of us made it through."
"You were hunting me?"
Jake nodded. "Both of you. But we didn't know who it was. Last time I saw you we were both human. I had no idea who we were chasing. That…well, that just makes it harder for Leah to handle. She'll come around eventually. She just needs to adjust to the idea."
"Adjust? Jake…" I really had liked seeing Jake, but I wasn't planning on hanging around for any amount of time. Leah was impossible and then there was whatever was happening between Garrett and I that needed further investigation. Alone.
"No, it'll be fine. You don't know how surprising this bit of news will be back at the house." Jake smiled a lazy, contented smile.
"You keep a home near here?" Garrett wondered. I shot him a narrowed-eyed glance from the corner of my eye. He didn't need to exasperate the situation.
"Sure, sure," Jake agreed and lounged back onto an elbow. "Be there sometime tomorrow afternoon." He shot me a relaxed shrug. "They're going to love to see you again, Bells." Jake was asleep and snoring happily a few minutes later.
"Let's get out of here." I jumped to my feet a shot my hand toward Garrett. He took it with a dubious look.
"What's the hurry? You're not happy to see your friend?" he asked. I was already trying to pull him to the tree line, but he dug in his heels. "Whoa, Bella. We can't just storm out of here. The other two are prowling around. After what Jake told us, do you really think we'll be able to march out of here without a fight?"
"You think we're some kind of hostages?"
"I think they believe we had something to do with their packmate's death," Garrett answered sagely.
"There's something he's not telling us," I insisted and tugged gently.
Still, Garrett refused to move. "Exactly."
The other two wolves returned and put an abrupt end to our disagreement. Garrett and I stayed huddled near the fire sending each other loaded glares. We were caught in the middle of a silent standstill. I wanted to leave. Something about Jacob's story sat unwell with me. Now that Leah had returned, I knew what. She was curling up next to him for warmth, but Sam sat stonily on the other side of her and stared into the forest, standing guard.
Morning came slowly to the new world. With the never ending cloud cover, it was only a lighter gray announcing the new day. But today was blanketed by a thin colorless cover, the sun threatening through the haze. Each week we saw more bursts of sunshine. After a decade, even a minute of the life giving rays was enough. It looked as though the sun would break through at any moment that morning, lifting all our moods. Even dour Leah was laughing and joking with Sam as they doused the embers. Jake was all smiles.
"We're just through the next few ridges," he said pointing toward the towering cliffs.
"Jake, it's been really great seeing you, but Garrett and I need to – " I began, but he cut me off with a laugh.
"The family will really want to see you again," he said sincerely.
"Family? But, you said you were the only survivors."
He laughed again. "That's not what I said. We were the only survivors left on First Beach. We found the others later. There might be a few faces you recognize."
Leah snorted. I glanced at Garrett and he shrugged. He told me so. I didn't really have a choice. Whether we were friends or foes, how could I stop myself from going now?
The cloud cover hung around until early afternoon. There were patches of blue sky peeking through the wispy white. We raced each other through the pass. They were as agile as Garrett and I and almost as quick. I was the fastest, but I had new appreciation for Jake and his wolfy pals. Their immense bodies were made for this. Had they been hunting us, it could have been quite a battle.
By the time we caught wind of others, the sun had finally broken free and was shining down on the high tops of the pine forest. The stray bits of struggling light hit our skin as we slowed to a walk. A thousand reflections bounced off us, like walking through a galaxy. It was awesome. I knew my skin would sparkle – I had seen the opalescence shimmering through on some days – but I had no clue the real effect would be so Spielberg.
The wolves were excited. Their monstrous heads suddenly whipped around franticly and their nostrils flared as they snorted at the air. The giddiness of sparkling all over the forest dissipated immediately. Apprehension oozed from them. Garrett latched onto my hand and squeezed my fingers tightly. We hesitated and let the wolves run out into the trees. It was a good ten minutes before Jake came bounding back in all his naked glory. I tried not to notice the crisp lines of his muscles or his deep brown skin that covered every inch of him. His long smooth body was overtly masculine. A wave of hunger hit me and I couldn't stop from licking my lips.
"I'm going to take you on," he told us. "Leah and Sam are going to trace the scent and find who's been out here."
"If it's all the same to you," Garrett spoke suddenly, "I'd like to go with them."
I shook my head and gripped tighter to his hand. Jake said, "No, we can't be responsible if something were to go wrong."
"Have you been having trouble with the Volturi for long?" Garrett asked. "Because some of these trails are weeks old."
Jake looked perplexed. "How do you know who?"
I inhaled deeply but could not tell what Garrett was talking about. I could indeed smell other vamps, but for me distinguishing separate persons or phase of the scents was impossible. I'd never noticed Garrett having a strong sense of smell, but now that it was called to my attention, he always did seem to know so much from the smallest whiff. I eyed my friend, interested in this new development.
"We ran into them in Michigan a few months back," he responded.
"It's the same vampires from Detroit?" I wondered aloud. Garrett agreed with a nod and my mind easily went back to the vampires we met there. He had insisted they were dangerous, but Jane's ineffectual power hadn't given me anything to be afraid of. I hadn't given the pair further thought until that moment. Now I wondered if there was significance to their scents so near Jacob's home.
"I know them," Garrett continued, his voice steel resolve. "I'll be able to help if Sam and Leah come upon them."
"No way!" I stepped between them so I could have Garrett's undivided attention. "You can't leave me! You and I? We're a package deal, buddy." I emphasized this point by sticking my finger into his chest repeatedly. "You are not allowed to go off on your own. I won't let you."
Garrett smiled and brought his hand to my cheek. He brushed his fingers lightly across it. "It's you and me against the world, babe. Go with Jake."
He leaned in and kissed me, soft and deep. By the time he moved away I forgot what I was arguing about.
"I'll be with you again soon," he promised and was gone.
I took a shaky breath and turned back to Jake. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open slightly and he was just staring at me with a dumb look on his face. He looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"You ready?" I asked, somewhat wary of his stunned expression.
Jake bobbed his mouth open and shut a few times before finally nodding. His back bent suddenly at an awkward angle. Hair sprouted from him as his bones contorted and realigned themselves. A shimmer of heat rose from him and with a great tearing sound, Jacob looked back at me as a werewolf. The entire sight was awesome and I was the one left gaping. Jake gave a quick bark and turned and trotted off. With a grim acceptance, I followed him home.