SLASH BACKSLASH 3.0 CONTEST

Title: Legacy of the Spirit Warrior
Author: ArcadianMaggie
Pairing: Jacob/Edward
Rating, Disclaimer, and appropriate Warnings: M - Contains dubious consent, mpreg (male pregnancy). All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Word Count: 9900

Please see all entries at: .net/community/Slash_Backslash_3_0/74941/14/0/1/

AN: Thank you to my beta, OnTheTurningAway. Thank you also to Shoefreak37, ICMezzo, and PolkaDotMamaFF who each influenced the story in some way. Banner by Tkegl.

-o-

Jacob played in the dirt while his sister sat on the porch steps close by, a book open on her knees. The late afternoon sun peeked occasionally through the clouds and she watched as the rays falling on the back of his head gave his shoulder length black hair a glossy sheen. She pulled her own long braid in front of her shoulders and held it up in the sunlight, twisting and turning the plaited hair, watching small rainbows glint off the shiny strands. Describing it as simply black was inaccurate, she thought. Their hair was really all sorts of colors if you looked closely.

The phone rang from inside the house, pulling her from her musings.

"Jakey," stay in the yard," she called as she got up to answer.

He continued playing as her voice carried outside. From the corner of his eye he saw a movement at the edge of the yard, near some overgrown bushes. As he watched, a rabbit cautiously made its way onto the grass, nose twitching, its fur a soft greyish brown. Jacob stared fascinated as it sniffed at the clover then began to chew at the blades of grass, nibbling the flowers. He wondered what the clover smelled like to the rabbit, how it tasted. How far could it hear with those big ears?

As he concentrated, his body shifted and began to grow smaller, changing shape and size. The hair on his head grew shorter while the hair on the rest of his body grew longer and thicker. His ears elongated and a small fluffy tail sprouted from behind. His little twitchy nose peeked out from the neckband of his tee shirt and with a small hop from his powerful hind legs, he jumped free of his clothing. Curious, he hopped closer to the other rabbit. It sniffed noses with him before returning placidly to its meal.

The little black rabbit surveyed the clearing for a bolt area before turning its attention to the pleasant smelling clover. Its ears registered a myriad of sound—human voice to one side, birds from above, insects humming nearby, no imminent danger. Taking a mouthful of the green leaves, a single thought registered strongly: sweet. Chewing its treat, it lifted its head, amazed at the smells of the air, enjoying the caress of a slight breeze as it blew across his soft fur.

From inside the house the human voice quieted and then footsteps could be heard approaching. The larger rabbit dove for the bushes and the smaller black one followed closely behind, darting between the plants. The screened door squeaked then slammed behind her as the girl came back out on the porch.

"Jakey?" she called. When she received no answer she called again, her voice tinged with alarm. "Jacob?"

The small naked boy ran out from of the bushes, laughing joyfully.

His sister rolled her eyes and huffed in frustration. "You better put your clothes back on. Dad's going to be home soon."

-o-

"So even before Taha Aki, our people were spirit warriors and could leave their bodies to harness the wind and speak to the beasts," Jacob asked at bedtime after having listened to his father tell the tribes' stories at the council meeting that evening. "In the story, it's not just the wolf, but the sled dogs and the bats."

"That's right."

"But he banned spirit travel after what happened with Utlapa, so we aren't supposed to do it anymore?" he asked, trying to understand. Jacob had never revealed his secret to anyone and he worried, every time he heard these stories, he was doing something wrong, something that would never be allowed if he were found out.

"Once it became known that it was possible to steal a life while the body lay helpless during spirit travels, it was too dangerous to allow it to continue. Now it is forbidden."

"But Taha Aki's spirit could still take the form of a wolf?"

"If the tribe was in danger, then yes, he would transform to protect the tribe, as would his children and their children."

"Could he have chosen to spirit travel to a bear, or a mountain lion? Wouldn't those animals be more dangerous to an enemy?"

"Because Utlapa stole his body, Taha Aki suffered while his spirit wandered, until the wolf agreed to share its body. However, even with this relief, his human spirit was too large be contained. The greatest magic happened, transforming him into more than man or beast. That is why we call him Taha Aki the Great Wolf or Taha Aki the Spirit Man."

"But could he be a mountain lion if he wanted?"

"The magic allowed him to become the Great Wolf, since the wolf held his spirit at that time, and that's the form our people have always taken. It's the form that allows us to fight our greatest enemy, the Cold Ones. Why would he have any need or desire to be anything else?"

Billy ruffled Jacob's hair. "Why so many questions tonight? You've heard these stories many times before."

"No reason. I was just curious."

-o-

The young buck picked its way carefully through the grass. It had sensed… something. The doe across the meadow jerked its head up from where it had been grazing, its body tensing with alarm. It barely had a chance to spring before its fearful cry was cut short, its body thrown to the ground from the force of the attack. The buck watched as the predator drained the blood from the doe's body, teeth sunk deep in its throat, arms wrapped around its neck like an embrace.

The wind changed and the creature lifted up its head. Blood was smeared on its chin. When sunlight caught on its skin, it shone like stars. Their eyes met and the deer's heart raced at the intent clear in the predator's gaze. Leaping toward the tree line, the buck headed for the safety of a brushy thicket. Nostrils flaring, it could smell both its own fear and the creature's unusual scent. The predator made a final powerful surge and the thicket exploded in a flurry of noise and movement. A hawk cried out in warning, wings beating as it took flight into the sky. The creature stood in puzzlement, prey vanished, watching a feather drift slowly down as the bird soared far above. The sun landed on its upturned face, casting rainbows of light in all directions.

Jacob lay in his bed that night replaying the afternoon over and over. The way it had looked, feeding on the doe, graceful and wild, with blood on its lips. He could almost feel the adrenaline coursing through his body as he thought about his near escape. His breath caught and his heart beat faster as he relived that moment when their eyes locked. He had known, immediately, what he was facing: a Cold One. He compared what he knew with what he had seen—glittering skin, fast and strong, with a scent indescribably sweet. The eyes, however, were not as expected; they were a rich glowing gold—not red as blood—in the pale white face, a face he could still picture, tilted up toward the sky, framed by a wild auburn mane. The legends had gotten another detail right as well; the Blood Drinker was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

-o-

He knew it was wrong, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. It didn't take long for Jacob to learn the name of the creature: Edward Cullen, recently moved to Forks with his family and attending the local high school. He was a field mouse, too small to attract notice as he hid near the wall of the school, watching Edward arrive in the mornings with his brother and two sisters. He was a squirrel, perched on the side of a tree, peering through the window as Edward wrote in his journals. He was the mouse again, squeezing through the tiny cracks and hiding between the walls near the music room, listening for hours as Edward played. He was a bird, perched at the edge of the meadow, watching as Edward read, or sat in thought, or lay on the ground with his arms behind his head. Flying over the trees while Edward hunted, marveling at his graceful agility, landing to stare rapt as Edward's teeth sunk deep into his prey's throat, his skin taking on a blush of color as he swallowed the life from its veins.

At night, in his bed, he'd feel the heat pool in his stomach and he'd stroke himself off, thinking of the beautiful vampire with the skin made of diamonds and the eyes rich as gold.

When he heard his father denigrating the Cullens, cursing them for returning to the Pacific Northwest and asserting they were an abomination that should not be allowed to exist, Jacob felt an ache in his chest. He couldn't reconcile the things he had learned with the things he now knew. Edward wasn't evil, of that he was sure. If anything, he was a little lonely. Jacob wished the knowledge to spirit travel hadn't been lost, so he could leave his body behind and wrap his ghostly arms around Edward and hold him close. He knew such an embrace would never be allowed in reality.

-o-

Everything changed when Bella Swan moved to town. Edward watched Bella the way Jacob watched Edward—secretly, obsessively, devotedly. And then not so secretly, but still devotedly. And Jacob grew to love Bella, not only because Edward loved her, but because Bella was easy to love. They met at First Beach, when Bella visited on a Saturday with a group of kids from school. They had known each other as children, before Bella's parents divorced and she moved from Forks, but hadn't seen each other in years. After catching up, Bella began asking questions Jacob knew he shouldn't answer, but the temptation to talk about Edward with someone else—even in this roundabout way—was too great to resist.

When Bella was injured in Phoenix, he was beside himself with worry, but he never believed Edward was to blame, as Billy insisted. When Bella's heart broke after Edward left her in the woods, Jacob's did as well. Yet he was not able to show his grief. He kept it hidden inside, another secret to bear, and became a shoulder to lean on, letting Bella's eyes cry the tears he was unable to shed.

When Jacob grew heated and exploded in a fury of fur, the wolf transformation an unsettling surprise, Bella ferreted out his secret and allowed him to circumvent his Alpha's command. Terrified the shared minds of the pack would discover his feelings for Edward, he asked her to teach him to block his thoughts, the way she was somehow able to do. He told her his secret, in an attempt to convince her, the one he'd carried alone since he was a little boy, stressing the importance of keeping it private, just between the two of them. No one could ever know.

"Will you show me?" Bella asked, curious, the first hint of life he'd seen in her eyes for ages.

"The wolf?" His voice was uncertain, as the transformation was new, and different from the others before, less under his control.

"Any of them," she said.

So he shifted into the first creature he ever wore, the little rabbit with its twitchy nose and soft black fur. He hopped over by her feet and she crouched down, her fingers stroking gently along his back. He shifted again underneath her hand, and he was a cat, arching his back and purring loudly as she scratched behind his ears. Then he seemed to almost disappear until she saw the butterfly, flitting around the room before it landed on her knee. She watched the wings open and close, once, twice, then it flew into the air again changing mid flight to a songbird, its melody still in her ears as it sailed through the open window.

"Um… Bella…" Jacob's human voice carried back into the room.

She laughed when she noticed his pile of clothes on the floor and gathered them up, tossing them out into the night.

A moment later, long legs were swinging back over the window sill and his broad shoulders were angling to squeeze inside the room.

He decided his embarrassment was completely worth it when he saw the smile still gracing her face.

-o-

Tensions were high as the body count began to grow. These were the Cold Ones of legend—soulless, vicious and deadly with no remorse. When Bella was threatened in the meadow, Jacob's teeth sliced through granite skin, the first time he'd touched one of Edward's kind. Its flesh was more pliant than he'd imagined and he couldn't stop the dreams at night, that sweet scent so fresh in his lungs, his heart aching anew.

Then Harry Clearwater died and Bella was almost lost to him too, her prolonged grief causing her to take senseless risks. Jacob was frantic, pulling her from the water after her dive from the cliff, terrified until she was once again breathing on her own.

The dark haired sister returned on the tails of her vision, and Jacob's emotions veered to jealously and hurt. When he answered the phone and heard Edward's voice, his body trembled and his hands started to shake. He was so angry. Angry at Edward for leaving, for the mess he left behind. Angry at putting Bella at risk. Angry they didn't simply stay away. And even if he could never put it into words, he was most angry with himself for the way his heart lurched when he heard that beloved voice on the other end of the line.

Cruel, cutting words and the world tipped on edge. He hadn't understood; he didn't realize what had been set in motion. Then there was the race to Italy while Jacob was left behind. Guilt, love, panic, regret, confusion—so many warring emotions. He wasn't sure how he'd survive if he lost them both.

When they returned, safe and whole, he vowed he'd let them be, hiding behind the claim of "mortal enemies" to excuse his absence from her life. His decision was reaffirmed when he came across them in the meadow one afternoon, naked bodies joined in pleasure. He knew by their passion they truly belonged to one another. He told himself he only wanted them to be happy, his atonement for almost causing irreparable ruin; in reality he couldn't bear to see the way he looked at her.

It wasn't too long before everything changed once again; the red haired Blood Drinker had returned. And this time, she brought an army.

-o-

Jacob observed the vampires preparing for the upcoming fight against the newborn army, training led by the battle-scarred blond. He felt a thrill that this time when he followed Edward's every movement with his eyes, there was no hiding involved. He was allowed to watch him, encouraged, even, as the vampires had knowledge the wolf pack did not. Jacob watched, rapt, as Edward faced his more experienced brother; watched as he anticipated every attack with the use of his gift; watched as their bodies spun with strength and speed, inhuman and beautiful, in a dance of deadly grace.

He watched again as Edward argued with the blond, his mind having caught a bit of Jasper's strategizing regarding Bella.

"Absolutely not," Edward said, adamant.

"No, no. Of course not," Jasper quickly reassured.

"We are not using Bella as bait," Edward continued, still agitated.

"You know this is how I am, running through all possible scenarios, the resources we have on hand. Of course—"

"Bella is not a resource," Edward practically spat.

Jacob felt the tension of the moment dissipate. Edward's angry scowl softened into a small frown. Jasper, it seemed, had used his own gift—the ability to control emotions—to calm him down.

"If you'd just listen to me for a moment…" He ran his hand through his hair, exasperated. "I know, Edward. It was only a passing thought. It's the way my mind works. Not something we'd ever consider seriously. Surely you know that."

"Yes," Edward reluctantly admitted. "I do know that."

Bella interrupted the exchange. "Why not take it seriously? They're coming for me, after all. Why shouldn't I help any way I can?"

Jacob inwardly groaned. He remembered Bella's fascination with the Quileute legends, particularly her fixation on the tale of the self-sacrificing third wife. Figures Bella would insist on being part of the action.

While Bella and Edward argued, Jacob began devising a plan. He wasn't going to see Bella hurt again. Or Edward, for that matter. He would do everything in his power to keep them both safe from harm. He'd make them safe, and then he'd leave La Push, leave the Pacific Northwest for good and try to forget the beautiful bronze haired vampire he'd loved from afar.

-o-

"Oh, so you're talking to me again?" Bella crossed her arms in front of her chest, jutting out her chin. "What happened to 'mortal enemies,' 'ancient feud,' 'can't stand by and watch… blah, blah, blah?'"

"I think we're all on the same side in this one, Bella." When it seemed as if she wasn't going to bend, Jacob put on his best sad puppy dog face and said, "C'mon. You know you missed me."

She rolled her eyes. Then, after a long pause, "Maybe a little."

Jacob's face broke out in a radiant smile and he held out his arms. Bella immediately barreled into them and he held her close.

"I missed you too," he whispered into her hair after a few moments.

They talked for hours, clearing the air, and it was almost as if it were just the two of them again, Edward far away after having broken both their hearts. He was going to miss her so much.

Bella quieted, staring down at her hands. She picked at the corner of her thumb nervously.

"What's wrong," Jacob asked.

"I've done… something terrible," she finally said.

"Doubtful."

She shook her head and wouldn't look him in the eye. "You know how Edward wouldn't let me help because he's afraid for my safety?"

"Finally, something the bloodsucker and I can agree upon."

"Don't call him that," she said, irritated. He inclined his head in acknowledgement. "Anyway, why should his need for my safety be more important than mine for his?"

"Maybe because he's indestructible and you're, well, not?"

"Gee, thanks."

Jacob grinned.

"Anyway, he's not indestructible. If he were, they wouldn't need the pack to help fight the newborn army."

"We've got this fight. You've got nothing to worry about."

"I know. That's what Edward says too. Which is why I asked him to sit out of the actual fighting." She whispered the confession, ashamed to admit what she'd done.

"And he agreed?" Jacob asked, surprised.

"He promised he'd never leave me again. He promised. I can't lose him. I won't risk it."

"Wow. He's whipped."

"Jacob!" Bella shrieked, smacking his arm. At least she was smiling again.

"We compromised," she explained. "I am going to be bait—no, not literally," she quickly corrected at Jacob's look of alarm. "We're going use my scent to lure them to the clearing, but then I'll be carried to safety near the mountains where Edward and I will set up camp. The trail will suddenly dead end and confuse the newborns, giving our side an advantage."

Jacob nodded, indicating he was following.

"Seth is going to join us in the morning, so we have a connection to the pack and can monitor how things are going. If there's a need, Edward will still be close enough to join the fight if necessary. But since you all insist it's a slam dunk…" she trailed off, her voice worried, but her expression resolute, chin set defiantly. "I know it's selfish, but I don't care."

-o-

"It's too risky." Jacob had revised his strategy after listening to the plans Bella and Edward had made. He was still determined to keep them both safe, but now he had struck upon a better way.

"What? Why do you say that? You think you'll be in trouble without Edward fighting too?" The pitch of her voice was rising as she spoke, approaching hysteria. "Everyone promised—"

"Bella, relax," Jacob cut in. "That's not what I meant."

"Well, what do you mean?"

"I don't think you should stay in the area at all, especially with you and Edward off by yourselves, isolated from everyone. What if that's what the whole army is for? A diversion to keep everyone occupied, while Victoria comes for you herself?"

Bella looked uncertain. "We won't be by ourselves. Seth will be there."

"He's a kid. He's never fought before."

"And you have?"

Jacob rolled his eyes. "All I'm saying is that I think it's too risky. If she did come after you, Edward would be so distracted trying to keep you safe, he could get hurt. If your plan is really to keep him out of harm's way, you be better off leaving town."

"Edward would never agree to leave while his family is fighting."

"I didn't mean Edward should leave town. I meant you should."

"No. I'm not leaving him. And I don't think he'd agree to let me out of his sight."

"He won't have to."

"What? If I leave town and Edward stays… how…"

"I'll stay with Edward. As you. I'll phase and take your place. I'll stay; he'll be out off the fighting, and if Victoria comes around, I can protect him."

"That's crazy. I can't lie to Edward like that. And he'll know."

"I don't think he will." Bella watched as the edges of Jacob's form seemed to blur, then he was shrinking, his hair lightening, his skin growing pale. He grabbed at his pants as they slipped down his slim hips. His t-shirt hung on him like a dress.

"That's… freaky," Bella said weakly.

Jacob phased back. "He won't know. And I can keep him safe. That's what you want, right?"

"What about your scent?"

"You're supposedly being carried to the camp via werewolf. And I'll be wearing your clothes. I'll smell like us both, just as you would be if it were actually you."

"I don't know…" Jacob could see she was wavering.

"I need you to be safe too, Bella. Just as Edward needs you safe, and you need him safe, I need you safe." And Edward safe, he added silently to himself. His face was open and vulnerable. "I almost lost you twice. I can't go through that again."

-o-

Most difficult about the plan, aside from getting Bella to agree, was coming up with an excuse to be absent from the fighting. Jacob also worried about the dark haired fortune teller. Bella had mentioned she was unable to see anything regarding the wolves, so all her focus had been on the newborn army. And later she would be occupied with the fighting. There was a good probability she wouldn't even be looking at Bella's future, while Bella was supposedly sequestered away with Edward and Seth. He'd just have to take that risk.

In the end he feigned illness. He drove Bella to the airport where she caught a flight to Jacksonville, a little earlier than originally planned, then he left the vehicle there, phasing to race back to the clearing where he used the hair from her hairbrush to leave a scented trail for the newborns. When he reached the camp site, he contacted Seth and told him Bella was ready for him to guard while she waited for Edward. Then he told Seth he wasn't feeling well and was going home to rest up before the fight. By the time Seth arrived, Jacob had phased into Bella and was dressed in her clothing, telling Seth Jacob had just left and that she had never seen him looking so ill.

Jacob's nerves were on edge as he waited for Edward to join them and relieve Seth for the night. This was the part of the plan he hadn't allowed himself to think too much about—spending the entire night alone in the tent with the beautiful vampire. His heart started racing the moment Edward was in sight. He took a moment to confirm his mental defenses were in place against Edward's ability to read thoughts, just as Bella had taught him. When Edward placed his icy fingers against the back of his neck and leaned in for a kiss, Jacob thought his legs would buckle. A shiver went through his entire body as Edward's cool lips made contact with his own, and Edward pulled him into a loose embrace, whispering, "I love that I still affect you this way." Jacob buried his face against Edward's chest, breathing in his scent deeply. He felt Edward's lips against his hair and felt the low rumble of his laughter.

"You smell like dog."

Jacob gathered his wits and pulled away, rolling his eyes. "You'll get used to it." He had always wondered why Edward's scent didn't bother him. He suspected the wolves' usual reaction to the smell of vampires was more a product of association rather than anything instinctive about the scent itself. He associated the smell with the one he loved, so to him, the scent was not unpleasant.

"It's just so strong. What did he do? Rub himself all over you?" There was an edge to his voice.

"He did carry me up here, you know. You agreed to this plan," Jacob reminded him.

"I know. It just… I was looking forward to having you all to myself, and it's almost as if he's right here with us." Edward's face wore a scowl.

Jacob pushed aside the pang of guilt. "We'll he's not. It's just the two of us."He was quiet for a moment then asked, "Why do you dislike him so much?"

All their interactions up until this point had been contentious. Jacob's attitude was borne out of self protection as he deflected attention away from his feelings for Edward. Edward's attitude toward him always seemed more harsh than the simple 'natural enemies' response. He had tried not to let it affect him, but he had always wondered what it was about him Edward found so repellant.

"You don't know?"

"I'm asking, aren't I?"

"He's in love with you."

"What? No he's not. We were barely even speaking until recently."

"He is," Edward insisted. "Jasper can feel the jealousy rolling off him whenever the two of us are together."

Obviously, he hadn't deflected as much attention as he thought. "That's ridiculous."

"It's not." Edward pulled Jacob close again. Jacob's eyes fluttered shut. He tried to pay attention to what Edward was saying, but being held in his arms was overwhelming. It was more than he ever could have dreamed of.

"I don't hate him. It's just… he makes me feel ashamed."

Jacob pulled back to look at him inquisitively. That wasn't the answer he was expecting.

"He was there when I was not. With Laurent in the meadow. At the cliff. I could have lost you. I thought I was doing the right thing." His voice trailed off into a whisper. Edward took a moment to gather himself before continuing. "I'm grateful to him. I owe him more than I can ever repay, but he reminds me of my failings. Not only my missteps with you, but of all the things I can never give you. Things that he could."

Jacob reached up and placed his hands on either side of Edward's face. "You're everything I've ever wanted. The only one I've ever wanted." He trembled as he leaned up toward Edward, pulling his face down to reach his own, placing a tender kiss against his lips. Edward's hands reached up to cover his own and he leaned his forehead against Jacob's, overcome with emotion.

As he pulled Jacob's hands away, he paused, staring at his fingers. "Why aren't you wearing the ring?" he asked.

Jacob felt ice rush through his veins. "The ring?"

"Yes. Why did you take it off? You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

Jacob closed his eyes against the twisting in his gut. For a moment, he had been able to pretend. The words he spoke as Bella were spoken from his heart. In that one moment, he almost believed he and Edward were not an impossibility. But now, with the knowledge they had pledged themselves to one another, he knew Edward was lost to him forever. There would be no more daydreams. No more flights of fancy. The time for pretending was over.

"No," he whispered. "I just haven't had a chance to tell Jacob yet."

When the wind began to pick up, they moved inside the tent, a Coleman portable heater having already made it toasty and warm. A heat pad inside the sleeping bag contributed to the cozy nest. Jacob savored every second with Edward, knowing that once the fight with the newborns was over and Edward and Bella were safe, he would not be seeing them again. He thought of all the hours and nights he'd watched Edward, wondering what he was thinking, and took advantage of their time together, asking him the questions he'd always wanted to know, talking late into the night.

Edward encouraged Jacob to lie down in the sleeping bag to stay warm, and protested when Jacob suggested he join him.

"I can't keep you warm."

"You don't need to. It's warm enough." He knew he was playing a dangerous game, but the temptation was too great to have him near. He would never have this chance again. Maybe he could pretend for just a few hours longer.

Edward slid into the sleeping bag alongside Jacob and they lay facing each other, knees bumping, faces inches from each other. Jacob stared into the golden depths and knew he'd never again see anything as beautiful as this.

Edward's hand reached out to stroke gently down Jacob's cheek, the tenderness of the touch his complete undoing. He heard the noise in the back of his throat and gasped when Edward's lips captured his small cry. Cool fingers trailed down his neck while Edward licked into his mouth, parting Jacob's lips with his tongue. Every inch of him was attuned to Edward, his body thrumming with arousal. When Edward's thumb brushed across his breast, Jacob gasped, the reaction from this unfamiliar body overwhelming him.

They kissed for a few long minutes, until Jacob was breathless, pressing as close to Edward as he could get. He gasped when he felt the vampire's erection against his thigh, causing Edward to pull back, his lips gentling. "Get some sleep, love," he whispered.

Jacob felt a pang of disappointment, but knew things had already gotten out of hand. He swallowed the thickness in his throat and nodded in agreement, turning over on his side, facing away from Edward. He tensed when he felt Edward's arm drape over his waist, then relaxed with a sigh at the feel of cool lips pressed softly against the back of his neck.

"Tell me a story," he asked, reluctant to lose even a second of this night in sleep.

"What kind of story?" Edward asked, a smile in his voice.

"About you. A story about you. Anything. Everything. What were you like when you were a boy?"

As Edward's voice spoke softly in his ear, Jacob pushed his guilt aside. His deception weighed heavily on him, but he wanted this so much, had wanted this for far too long. He almost convinced himself he was justified as long as Edward and Bella stayed safe. Edward would be furious if he ever discovered the truth, but Jacob would be long gone by then, this night nothing but a precious memory, one that would have to sustain him for years to come.

-o-

Jacob moaned at the feeling of cool fingers trailing over his chest, his nipple being squeezed gently. Soft lips nipped at the back of his neck, his shoulders, wet tongue trailing across his skin. He could feel a hard length against his backside and he pressed back into it, shivering at the groan his action elicited. He was somewhere between wakefulness and dreaming, fleeting memories of erotic images filtering through his consciousness.

"Bella," Edward gasped against his neck and Jacob stiffened, comprehension dawning through his aroused and sleep-drugged state. He had been determined not to fall asleep, afraid his control over his thoughts—or worse, his form—would falter, but he must have drifted off. Edward's actions left little doubt what he had been dreaming of. When Edward's hand stroked down his stomach, sliding beneath the waistband of his pants and reaching between his legs, all rational thought left his mind. Jolts of pleasure shot through him as Edward's fingers dipped into his heat and slid over his clit, fingering him with practiced skill.

"I need you, I need you," Edward was panting as his hand pushed at the material covering Jacob, pushing it down his legs. "Please."

A part of Jacob's mind was screaming at him to stop, but his entire body was begging for Edward to continue. He had never felt anything like this before, every cell his body attuned to the vampire lying behind him. He didn't protest when Edward tilted his hips, lining himself up with Jacob's wet heat. And he didn't protest when Edward pushed forward with one deep stroke, burying himself inside Jacob's body with a deep throaty groan.

"So good, so good," Edward murmured as his hips thrust slowly in and out, filling Jacob over and over. "So hot. You feel… incredible," he panted, mouth open on the nape of Jacob's neck, hand roving over Jacob's front, fingers moving between his legs, causing Jacob to cry out.

He was losing himself in the motions of their bodies together, his response to Edward's agile touch. Through all his many fantasies, he had never imagined anything like this; it was all consuming and transcendent. He rocked his hips back as tension coiled in his belly, Edward's finger wringing cries from his lips. And then he was shaking from head to toe, falling apart as his body convulsed in pleasure, his orgasm overtaking him. Edward voice whispered encouragement in his ear all the while, his length still buried deep. Then he was pulling out, turning Jacob onto his back, before sliding back inside his heat, capturing Jacob's cry in a passionate kiss.

"I want to see your face," he whispered as he resumed his slow thrusting, holding himself away from Jacob's body carefully, staring down at him, eyes intense. Jacob couldn't have looked away if he tried, completely mesmerized by the vision above him, the beautiful face staring down at him a mixture of adoration and ecstasy. Then Edward's hips lost their rhythm, stuttering erratically in short, jerky thrusts as his eyes fluttered shut, his jaw going slack. He spilled deep inside Jacob's body, a low groan wrung from his throat.

After pulling out, Edward pressed soft kisses all over Jacob's face—his lips, his eyes, his nose, his chin. "I love you, I love you," he whispered against his skin. "I heard you, Bella," he said, his voice full of wonder. "I heard you. I love you too. So much."

Jacob's heart ached at the magnitude of his betrayal. How could he have let this happen? He only wanted to keep them both from harm. He closed his eyes and held Edward tight, a silent apology on his lips. "I love you, Edward," he said in a choking voice. "I'll always love you." Even through his turmoil, he couldn't pass up the chance to say it, just this once.

"I know," Edward said, still sounding awed. "I heard you. I felt it. I know, Bella. I know."

-o-

Edward didn't remark on Jacob's subdued mood the following morning, assuming Bella was nervous about the upcoming battle. As Jacob had speculated, Victoria had planned the newborn army as a diversion, attacking the camp with another vampire in tow. Jacob watched carefully, ready to intervene if necessary, but Edward and Seth took them down easily. He was reminded of the first time he ever saw Edward, a lethal predator, grace and sinew and power, blood staining his chin. Edward looked horrified that Bella had seen him kill, but Jacob assuaged his fears, striding up to him, and pulling Edward to him in an ardent kiss. He could still taste the death on his lips.

The wolves were concerned about Jacob's absence from the battle, but were too busy fighting to investigate. Sam concluded Jacob must be seriously ill and sent Seth to check on him. Jacob decided he'd worry about explanations later. For now he was tucked away in the passenger seat of Edward's Volvo on the way to the airport after a quick stop at the Swan residence for a shower and to pick up the suitcase he and Bella had prepared earlier. He only had a few more hours to keep up the charade. There would be enough time later to dwell on what he had done.

"You don't need to come in with me," Jacob said.

"Don't be ridiculous."

"The sun is out. I'll just check my bag curbside."

"If you're sure…"

"I am."

Jacob felt the full weight of his decisions. He stared at the beloved face, trying to memorize every detail. Wetness formed at the corner of his eyes and his throat felt tight. He stroked his fingers softly across Edward's cheek, then he leaned over to press his lips to Edward's one last time, holding back a sob.

"Bella?" Edward asked, concerned. He touched his finger to the tear sliding down Jacob's cheek.

"I'll miss you," Jacob choked out. He flung his arms around Edward's neck and held on tight.

"It's only for a week. Just so you're far away if the Volturi show, as Alice saw they might. We'll be together again before you know it. Okay?"

Jacob shook his head against Edward's chest.

"Okay." Edward gently removed Jacob's arms from around his neck. "Have a safe flight. Call me when you land."

Jacob nodded, getting out of the car and standing on the curb, watching as Edward drove out of sight. He retrieved Bella's pick-up from the garage, pulled over at a service station, slipped into the restroom and phased back before heading to Forks.

-o-

Jacob avoided everyone for the next few days, gathering his courage to leave everything and everyone he had ever known. When Sam called, he repeated his earlier story about being ill. The next morning his fiction became reality when he barely made it to the bathroom before retching violently into the toilet. When he stood, he had to grab the edge of the counter to keep from falling. He stumbled back to his bed, collapsing face down, feeling as if he could sleep for a week.

He was vomiting into the toilet again, sweaty, shaky and pale, when Billy came home.

"You're still sick?"

Jacob nodded weakly.

Initially, Jacob had felt his illness was karmic retribution for his deception and betrayal. But the worse he felt, the more alarmed he grew. He had heard the stories about vampire venom, how it was lethal to wolves. A shiver of fear went through him, even as a part of him felt this was deserved.

"I may have been exposed to some venom," he gasped before vomiting again.

"I'm calling Dr. Cullen," his dad responded immediately.

"You hate the Cullens."

"What else can I do? He's the only one who may know if it's possible to treat you."

-o-

Jacob's blood ran cold. This had to be a nightmare.

Dr. Cullen was running his hand through his hair, agitated. "Honestly, I've never seen anything like this. Never even heard something like this could be possible. Do you have any idea at all how this could have happened?"

Jacob leaned over, elbows on his knees, hands over his face. Hearing he had been poisoned by venom and was now mortally ill would have been preferable to this. He swallowed and nodded his head.

"I'm going to need to know as much as possible. If I'm going to help you, I need to know what we're dealing with here."

He nodded again, slowly, gathering his nerve. "I phased," he admitted. "Into a woman."

"That's fascinating." Dr. Cullen leaned closer, eager for his explanation. "I always wondered if the genetic mutation made it possible for the shapeshifters to take different forms."

"I phased back, though. Look at me. I phased back."

"Apparently, not entirely," Dr. Cullen said not unkindly.

Jacob grabbed for the bucket, barely getting it to his face before throwing up again. Dr. Cullen handed him a tissue to wipe his mouth, then a glass of water.

"You need to tell me everything, Jacob. For the baby's sake."

-o-

"You lay with him willingly," Billy accused. "Our greatest enemy. You perverted the gift Taha Aki gave our people, a gift intended to protect. Instead, you allowed that filth to touch you, to plant his seed…" His expression hardened. "You are no son of mine. I'm going to consult with the Council. When I return, I want you gone."

-o-

Weak, exhausted, with no idea what to do, where he could go, Jacob felt despair creep over him. He had planned to leave already, but not like this. He lay on the bed, curled on his side, trying to find the strength to gather his things.

He was startled out of his thoughts by a furious banging at the door.

"Jacob! Let me in. Jacob!" Leah's voice was frantic.

He stumbled to the door. When he opened it, Leah grabbed at him, pulling him toward the porch.

"What—"

"There's no time. You have to leave now. Sam's on his way. He's going to issue an Alpha command for you to—in his words—abort the abomination. We have to go. He can't find you."

A wave of nausea overtook Jacob and he fell to his knees, gagging at the bile in his throat. Leah was grabbing at his arm, trying to raise him to his feet. "Please," she begged. "We have to hurry. Jacob, please."

He allowed himself to be supported as they began their race through the forest, his arm draped around her shoulders.

"Seth ran for help," Leah told him.

"Who will help me?" Jacob asked, bitter. "Even my own father doesn't want anything to do with me."

They were almost to the treaty line when the heard the unmistakable sound of the pack, close on their heels. As if out of nowhere, the Cullens appeared, Seth by their side. Leah and Jacob put on a burst of speed and the vampires moved to flank Jacob's sides.

Sam burst through the woods, phasing to human and stepping forth.

"This is pack business."

Carlisle stepped forward. "It's our business too."

Sam ignored him and addressed Jacob directly. "You're coming with us."

Jacob remained silent, but Leah did not. "You're a monster. You're going to force him to get rid of his baby, whether he wants to or not."

"That thing is not a baby," Sam spat. "Now you're coming with us." The command was evident in the tone.

Jacob felt fear and despair drop away to be replaced by fury. He barely had time to even acknowledge what had happened. He was confused, uncertain. But of one thing he was sure: Sam would not make this decision for him. He reached deep, drawing on the legacy imparted at birth—the true heir to the spirit walker's magic, the direct descendent of Taha Aki—and threw off the shackles of Sam's dominance as easily as shredding tissue paper. Sam had been Alpha by virtue of Jacob's indulgence alone. He would obey him no longer.

Jacob stepped around Carlisle to stand face to face with Sam.

"No," he said strongly, hands resting protectively over his abdomen. "You'll have to kill me first."

The vampires closed ranks around him.

"There will be no fighting today," Carlisle declared firmly. Jacob could feel Jasper's gift easing tensions.

Jacob turned to Leah. "Are you with me?" he asked, searching her eyes.

"I am," she stated, walking to his side and taking his hand.

"Seth?" Jacob asked.

"I'm with you as well," he declared, moving to his other side and taking his other hand.

"This isn't over yet," Sam said, staring at the three wolves, surrounded by the coven.

"We're done here," Jacob said, his voice clear and firm. Then he turned to walk away, away from La Push, away from the only life he had ever known. He waited until he was out of sight before allowing himself to collapse.

-o-

"She won't even speak to me," Edward cried, anguished. "She broke off the engagement and won't even talk to me. She doesn't even want to come back to Forks. She's staying in Jacksonville."

"I'm sorry," Jacob whispered. "I never meant for any of this to happen. I only wanted to protect you."

Edward gave a bitter laugh.

"Maybe if I talked to her, explained that it wasn't your fault… Maybe she'll listen to me…"

"She says I should have known." The pain in his voice was breaking Jacob in two. "I should have known. How could I not have known?"

"I'm sorry," Jacob whispered again.

-o-

His days fell into something of a routine. Sleep, eat, worry about the future, sleep, eat, worry, sleep. The Cullens had taken him in, settling him into a spare bedroom. They insisted he come out to the living room during the day, and not isolate himself. He couldn't help but notice when he did, Edward sequestered himself upstairs. The vampire refused to even look at him.

Jacob had thought things couldn't get worse, after hurting two of the people he loved most, the rejection of his father, and the confrontation with the pack. But he had no idea the toll the pregnancy would take on his body. His nausea never abated; indeed, it continued to worsen. He grew weak and frail, unable to keep anything down. He could hear the whispers of the Cullens, and wondered if he was going to die anyway. The thought caused the kernel of protectiveness—the instinct that had him cradling his abdomen as he faced Sam—to bloom to the level of fierceness.

He didn't know what he had to offer the life growing inside him. He had no family, no home, no means of support. He was still a teenager, after all. His plans to live as a wolf far away from La Push were not going to work with a baby in tow. But he knew, with everything in him, he would do anything in his power to keep his child from harm. He would hold on to his last dying breath to give this baby life. And if he lived—though each day threw that concept more in doubt—he would never make his child feel anything other than completely loved.

As he felt the new life moving inside him, Jacob couldn't help but wonder what his baby would be like. Dr. Cullen said he had never heard of a mating between their species before. Already it was apparent this child was more than human. Ultrasound machines and needles were useless against the impenetrable sac it was encased in, so its nature remained a mystery. All they really knew was that it grew at a pace far more rapid than human gestation, and it was leeching all Jacob's available strength.

He let himself imagine their future together, even as he grew more certain he wouldn't survive. He pictured a boy with dark hair and golden eyes, skin pale as snow. Or a girl with auburn curls, eyes dark like his own, russet cast to her skin. He never forgot, for even one second, this child was Edward's too. And although overwhelmed by guilt and remorse, there was a small selfish part of him that would always be thankful he had a piece of Edward that was all his own.

Surprisingly, Rosalie, the cold ice queen vampire, proved to be his primary nursemaid and ally. When he overheard them discussing whether they should try to remove the foetus in order to save Jacob's life, it was Rosalie who knew his heart and put an end to any further talk. He weakly reached out his hand to grasp her cold fingers and gave them a grateful squeeze. She looked at him with an understanding nod, squeezing his hand in return. "You can do this," she said to him, her voice sure and firm. In that moment he believed her.

Rosalie found an ally in Leah as well. They regarded each other warily at first, Leah still distrustful of the vampires, even as she felt this was the safest place for Jacob. Leah and Seth took turns patrolling the area around the Cullens' property, worried the pack would at some point attack. Rosalie kept her apprised of Jacob's status and once Leah realized how invested she seemed in Jacob and the baby's health, her hostility toward the other woman ceased.

Every day, Jacob grew weaker. He drifted in and out of consciousness, almost existing in a half-dream state. He thought a lot about that night in the tent, how he wished he could tell Bella and Edward how sorry he was, how he never intended this to happen, how he planned to leave after the fight and never come back. He dreamed of that night often too, Edward's face staring down at him, the look it had worn. How he had never felt more cherished, more complete. He hated that it hadn't been real. For Edward, at least; it had been real for him. Sometimes when he'd open his eyes, he'd think he'd see Edward, sitting across the room, solemnly watching him. But he'd blink, and the image would be gone, a figment of his fevered mind. Each time, Jacob's heart would ache anew.

When he heard the piano one afternoon, Jacob thought of all the times he had snuck in to listen to Edward play, how simple things had been back then, even if at the time they had seemed so unfair. He thought about how he would love to take one last flight through the air, the wind under his wings, where concepts like treaty lines were arbitrary, meaningless things, and boundaries were defined by tree lines, rivers, the face of a cliff. Dr. Cullen thought phasing in any form was too uncertain to risk. With no idea how it'd affect the baby, he'd put those dreams behind.

He thought of that moment in the meadow, when he first laid eyes on Edward, how beautiful he appeared, savage and wild, blood on his chin. They weren't so different, he mused, vampire and wolf, both predators, both with cunning and speed, both sinking their teeth into the jugular to conquer their prey.

-o-

Rosalie's usual icy cold demeanor had been replaced by what could only be described as excitement.

"Here, sit up," she directed, putting her arm around Jacob's shoulder and pulling him up to lean against the arm rest of the couch. "We want you to try something." Dr. Cullen and Esme stood nearby.

"What is it?" he asked, taking the drink from her hands.

He looked into the cup then looked back at Rosalie. "Blood?"

She nodded. "We think maybe we were going about this wrong. The baby is half vampire, right?"

"And a vampire needs blood to survive," he finished for her. Rosalie nodded her head.

He tried not to let her excitement raise his hopes. He sniffed at the blood, and his stomach didn't revolt. He had never minded the taste of the kill while hunting in animal form; the idea of drinking blood didn't bother him now. Taking a tentative sip, in case his body rejected it, he let the flavor roll over his tongue. When he felt no negative reaction, he swallowed it down. He took a larger sip and gave Rosalie a small nod. She practically beamed. He imagined she bore a resemblance to the Cold One of legend, whose beauty awed an entire tribe.

He drank the entire cup. Maybe it was his imagination, or wishful thinking, but he could swear he already felt stronger. Even this small effort, however, took its toll on his weakened state. He felt his eyelids drooping and slumped back down on the couch. "What made you think of it?" he asked, already half asleep.

"It was Edward's idea."

-o-

Over the next few days Jacob slowly regained his strength. On the third afternoon he opened his eyes after a long nap to find Jasper, the blond warrior vampire, sitting by his side, staring intently at him. He had never really spoken to Jasper, other than while they were training to fight the newborns. Jacob wasn't sure what to think.

Jasper looked embarrassed. "Do you need anything?" he asked.

"No. Thank you," Jacob said.

Jasper stood up, and though Jacob had never seen a vampire be anything other than graceful before, he would almost describe his actions as awkward. He left the room and a few minutes later, his mate Alice entered. She took the chair Jasper had recently vacated.

"He didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," she said.

"That's all right. I was just surprised. I've never really spoken to him before."

"It's just that… well, you know his gift, how he can control others' emotions?"

"Sure, sure."

"The flip side of that is he can feel others' emotions too."

Jacob's brow furrowed. He'd think Jasper would want to steer clear of him, in that case. His emotions were all over the place. One minute he'd feel like crying, the next he'd feel so overwhelmingly full of love for the life growing inside, he thought he might burst. Then there was the ever present guilt, the grief over the loss of his family and the pack. Anger and worry. Fear about their future. He said as much to Alice.

"It's the love part. Even while you're sleeping, he can feel it. So powerful and pure. It's hard for him to resist wanting to be near. He says you're like the sun, attracting everything toward your bright, warm glow."

A lump formed in Jacob's throat at Alice's words. That was how Bella used to describe him—her sun. He wondered if she would ever be able to forgive him. If Edward would. There was no use thinking about that right now. "I don't mind," he said instead. "It's nice to have the company."

-o-

As his health improved, so did the intensity of his dreams. Now his nights were full of erotic images, his and Edward's forms twisting in pleasure, limbs wrapped around each other, bodies thrusting together. But these dreams weren't based on the memory of their night in the tent, when he was posing as Bella. No, he dreamed of his own lips wrapped around Edward's cock. His dick thrusting into Edward's body. Edward's fingers stretching him open. Both their hands wrapped around their cocks, hot and cold, sliding against each other until they spilled onto their stomachs.

He cringed at the soiled sheets.

Emmett, Rosalie's mate, greeted him with a clap on his shoulder, then held his fist out for a fist bump saying, "All right. Second trimester, dude."

Jacob flushed with embarrassment.

-o-

Jacob saw Edward for the first time since he'd learned of Bella leaving him as he came into the living room one morning.

"Oh," he said, shocked at seeing Edward coming down the stairs. He swayed, suddenly lightheaded, knees weak, and reached for the wall to steady himself. Edward was by his side in an instant, scooping him into his arms before he could fall. Jacob's heart pounded furiously in his chest and he had to stop himself from burying his face in Edward's neck.

"You should wait for someone to help you," Edward admonished. "You're still weak."

Jacob nodded, eyes trained on Edward as he was carried to the sofa and deposited gently.

He wasn't sure what had changed, but Edward no longer avoided him.

-o-

As Jacob's belly grew, so did his fears. He knew there was only one way for the baby to come out.

"Promise me," he said to Edward, grabbing his wrist. "If the venom kills me when you bite through my skin, promise me you'll take care of the baby. I know you hate me, but it's not its fault. Please. You have to promise me."

"Him," Edward responded.

"What?"

"Him. Not it."

Jacob's eyes widened. "You know that?"

"I can hear him."

"You can?" Jacob whispered, overwhelmed.

"Yes." He paused, then looked straight into Jacob's eyes. "He loves you as much as you love him. He adores you."

Before Jacob could respond to this new revelation, Leah, who was speaking with Rosalie, cut in. "Oh for Pete's sake. Edward isn't the only one whose teeth can cut through vampire skin. Hello? Werewolf here. You're not going to die, Jacob. We won't let you."

A huge weight of worry dropped from Jacob's shoulders. He could hardly bear the thought of leaving his child—his son, he corrected—alone. Now he was more determined than ever to survive the birth. He wasn't sure where they'd live or how they'd get by, but he knew they'd figure it out somehow.

"You'll stay with us," Edward said. "He's my son too."

"What?"

"I said you'll stay with us."

"No, I mean, how did you know what I was thinking?"

Edward made a face like the answer should be obvious. "Mind reader? Remember?"

"But Bella taught me how to shield my thoughts."

Edward laughed. "Jacob, your shield hasn't worked properly since you got pregnant. Probably the hormones."

Jacob tested the shield and found it almost non-existent. A look of horror crossed his face.

"Then you know…" he trailed off, shutting his eyes.

Edward took his hand and held it between his own. "Know what?" he asked, voice soft. "That you've been in love with me for years?"

Jacob nodded. He swallowed, took a deep breath and opened his eyes. "I'm so sorry about everything."

"I know."

"Do you think you can ever forgive me?"

Instead of answering, Edward said, "I heard you that night, you know. I felt you. Your love for me." He stroked the back of Jacob's hand. "Bella was right that I should have known. But I thought…" he paused. "I thought feelings that strong could only be from my intended mate. Of course I thought they were Bella's."

A pained expression momentarily crossed his face. Then it cleared and he leaned over to gently press his lips to Jacob's. Jacob sighed into his mouth, trembling, heart racing in his chest.

His eyes were wide as Edward pulled away. Jacob searched his face, hardly daring to hope.

"We'll work it out," Edward said.