Chapter IV: Heartache Most Wicked
Bella's body grew still. She no longer moved, no longer struggled. It was like the fight had left her eyes and Jacob couldn't stand it.
"Give her to me," a voice said behind him. Jacob knew it to be Blondie. He didn't look up as Edward handed away the monster who had murdered the girl he loved. Then the baby was gone and it was just the three of them. Jacob, Edward, and a broken Bella. Three people, two heartbeats, one pair of lungs recycling breath.
Bella wasn't breathing, Jacob realised, but he was too numb to do anything with the information.
Beside him, Edward pulled out a needle the size of his arm.
"What is that?" Jacob whispered.
Edward plunged it straight into Bella's heart. "My venom." They both tensed and watched and waited for some sign of life to return to Bella's eyes. It didn't. Nothing happened. Jacob's heart was breaking.
"No." Edward was crackling, like his voice wasn't so much breaking as already broken. "It's supposed to be working." He shoved his hands on her chest and pumped out rough, wild, desperate compressions. "No. Bella, come on. Bella!"
Jacob couldn't stand it any longer. The girl he loved was long gone. Dead. Nothing of her remained. There were so many things going through his head, but it was also strangely empty. There were so many things he wanted to tell Edward, her murderer. If not her murderer, than an accomplice—he knew what was happening, he didn't stop it, he didn't try hard enough, he didn't save the girl they both loved.
"I won't kill you," is what he did tell him. "It would be too easy. You deserve to live with this." You live with her death; let it worry a hole in you like I know it will in me. You shouldn't escape the agony of living without her, when I'll have to carry it with me every single day, is what he didn't tell him, because there wasn't enough of anything left in him to bother. Edward would know. He would hear.
"You're not dead. Come on, Bella! Come back to me, please."
Suddenly, Jacob needed to get outside. He needed to get out of the house. Away from Edward and his futile attempts. Away from Bella. The hot air was stifling, choking him. He stumbled backwards out of the room, down the stairs and out the door, seeing nothing, feeling nothing. The cool night breeze whistled past him and he took a deep breath that stuck in his throat.
The image of his best friend dying, dead, was burning his eyes. It wouldn't go away. It replayed over and over in his mind until Jacob fell to the ground.
He clutched a handful of grass between his fingers. A single tear ran down his cheek: It felt like it was burning his skin, leaving an everlasting scar. Jacob took another breath, but the air caught again in his throat. He tried and he tried but his lungs were too tight. They were seizing. Closing. Dying. And they wouldn't let him breathe. Another tear trickled down his cheek into the grass.
He was distraught, wounded, but he wasn't empty. He didn't understand. He felt like he had just lost everything, and yet he still felt full.
The pull was still there.
Jacob sat up slowly. Seth and Leah were watching him from across the clearing. He waved them away.
Inside, Rosalie was murmuring, crooning. To it. The monster who had taken his best friend, ripped her away from him. Hurt her. Killed her. Jacob was on his feet. He took the stairs three at a time. The front door was left open. He could hear Edward upstairs, crying out, still trying to save what was beyond saving. The hall was dark, the only light coming from the fire. Jacob followed it.
His skin was burning.
The blonde vampire was sitting in front of the flames. Cuddling the killer, playing with it. A termer ran down Jacob's spine, so violent the floor beneath him vibrated infinitesimally. He was aching to phase, to kill. He crouched down to spring—to tear off the head of the monster—to avenge his best friend—
—And the murderer looked up—
—And her deep, brown eyes were boring punctures in him.
—And in that moment Jacob couldn't breathe. Again.
But it wasn't for sadness. Or loneliness or jealousy or any of the emotions he was accustomed to feeling. He couldn't breathe for the happiness that was surging inside him, creeping up his neck into his face and forcing his lips to smile.
But it was so much more than happiness. He felt goodness and rightness and wholeness. Like, for the first time, he was full. There was no empty hole brimming with unrequited love. No anguish for the loss of life. Just this strange more-than-happiness.
Jacob's skin was still on fire, but it wasn't the same heat as before. He wasn't burning.
He was glowing.
Jacob fell to his knees, not five feet from the vampire. Not five feet from the baby. He thinks that's when Rosalie realised he was there—had he heard a snarl?—but he doesn't remember. His mind was too full of this baby—his eyes too full of her form, his ears too full of her heartbeat—to ever have noticed the vampire who held her.
His breathing never returned.
He didn't care.
He wouldn't care if he never breathed again.
This moment was like nothing he'd ever known, and he would have given up every breath if only to keep it. To keep her.
Jacob jerked and wrenched violently out of his dreams. It was a wonderful dream, the day of Nessie's birth. One of the best he had. So why did he feel so awful? Why did his stomach twist with such ferocious, unrelenting pain?
And then it struck him. And he bolted for the bathroom, scarcely reaching the toilet before his stomach emptied its contents. The same dreadful heaviness from last night settled on his shoulders, pressing on him until he was forced to lie down. He leaned his cheek against the cool marble tiles and took a deep breath against the despair manifesting inside him.
Nessie's face appeared before him, her eyes hollow and drawn. He reached for her and she cringed away, stumbled backwards and ran. Ran. Not like their games of hunting, not a catch-me-if-you-can chase. She ran from him with speed like he'd never seen before, like she didn't want to be caught.
What had he done?
Jacob eventually got up and climbed in the shower. The water was as high as it could go but wasn't near hot enough. He wanted it to scald him, to burn away his shame. The sound of Nessie's cries as she reached the cottage struck him like a physical blow. He hadn't been trying to listen, but he was so attuned to her that he'd have heard it from miles away.
How had he kissed her? She was only six; young and naive and so unbearably trusting of him. It was his job to protect her, to keep her safe. Yet the first real pain she experienced in her short lifetime was entirely because of him.
He wretched again.
Delving deep into the realms of melancholy, he crawled back to his bedroom and stared out his window, watching the dawn break.
But he wasn't the man he had been in that dream. He didn't run away when things got harder, hide in his house under the shadow of darkness. He had changed a lot since then. He would go to her again today. Beg for her forgiveness. Because he was selfish and couldn't bear the thought of leaving. Because he owed it to her. Because that was who he was now: someone with responsibilities and people who relied on him. Even if he let them down sometimes.
On pins and needles Jacob waited for it to reach noon. Needing to see her face, to be in her presence for but a moment, he headed to the Cullens' house.
Jacob reached the long driveway and was immediately on his guard, ears peeled. He expected an ambush, guerrilla warfare from every side. He at least expected Edward. But no one appeared. At the bottom of the stairs he waited, knowing they would have heard his approach.
He waited and waited and was about to turn away when the front door opened. And Jacob's body unravelled when Renesmee stepped outside and shut it tightly behind her. Of all the people he expected to greet him, Nessie was last on the list. She descended the stairs, light as a fairy, and came to stop five steps before him.
She had never looked so far away.
Her eyes were red and welled, and he ached all over to see it. She crossed her arms. Uncrossed them. Said, "Hi."
Jacob, frozen to the spot, replied, rather stupidly, "Hi."
Her eyes flickered down to her feet, hesitated a moment, and flashed back to him. "Jacob," she said, and his heart wept to hear his name on her lips. "I . . . I didn't think you'd come."
He wanted to step closer, to touch her, but he didn't allow himself. "Of course I did – I'll always come. As long as you'll let me."
Her eyes watered. "I didn't think you'd want to." Something was stabbing at his insides, tearing him apart organ by organ. "I'm – I'm so sorry . . . I should never have – I won't ever . . ." She tumbled over her words and Jacob felt his mouth hang open in astonishment.
"No, Nessie, no." He had to restrain himself from holding her. He needed to make it right first, and touching her would cloud his judgment. There could be no more lapses in judgement. "I'm the one who's sorry. I never meant for that –"
"– You?" she cut over him. "It was all my fault – ki-kissing you like that. I don' know what came over me –"
"– It wasn't you! It was me, Nessie. I was such an idiot –"
"– And I just ran – I'm so sorry I ran. I should have stayed and talked to you –"
"– I deserved it – you shouldn't even be talking to me now –"
" – And I just couldn't face you last night – I thought you'd never want to talk to me – not after what I've done . . ."
He shook his head madly. "You haven't done anything." She waved him off, apologising again, and he said more forcefully, "You haven't done anything. Nessie, it was all me and I've never been so sorry for anything in my life, I swear."
A tear ran down her cheek, but she finally looked a bit lighter. "So you'll still . . . be my friend?" Her voice was so unsure he swore blind his heart broke. It ruptured, cracked down the middle, dislodged from his chest. How could she even think . . .
"Of course – you're – you're my best friend. I couldn't function without you . . ." He wished not for the first time for a better way with words. He wished for Edward's articulation, for his ability to voice his thoughts so well. Jacob could never do justice to the immeasurable devotion he felt to this girl before him, to the sorrow he felt at her pain. He could never truly explain how wholly he belonged to her, wanted her, needed her. How he could never live without her.
He was a man of little words and had never detested it so much as right now, when the girl he loved needed words so vitally.
"Of course we're still friends. If you still want me." It was the best he could do and was in no way good enough for her.
Another tear. Her hands were shaking. "I will always want you."
Jacob thought his knees would buckle. Heat rose up his neck. He hadn't even known he was cold. He'd been freezing and her words were the sun, thawing the ice.
There was silence and suddenly the small space between them felt like a landslide. He had to touch her. So he could comfort her, he told himself, but he was lying. This need was entirely selfish. He took a small step, and she remained still, watching him with eyes clouded with tears and relief. He reached for her, needing contact but knowing she had to come at her own pace.
Slowly—agonizingly, unwaveringly slowly—she extended her hand for his. Their fingertips touched and a hundred thousand volts shot up Jacob's arm. It was the sweetest, purest pain.
Renesmee, standing with her fingers outstretched, whispered, "So am I forgiven?"
Jacob smiled, the glorious smile he could only manage when Nessie was near, and asked, "Am I?"
She dropped his hand and Jacob barely had enough time to start breaking again before she threw herself into his arms. It was heavenly, having her there. Like he lived normally with one lung, but when he held her he found the second and could breathe. He bent low and she clung to him, her face pressed against his neck.
Her arms were still shaking and he tightened his grip, trying to steady her. "I was so worried," she confessed, her breath dancing across his skin, raising goosebumps. "I've never fought with you, Jake, and I was sick with worry last night." He stood up, his arms around her waist, taking her a foot off the ground. "Let's never fight again."
"Never," he agreed. "Never, Nessie."