The Twilight Saga belongs to Stephenie Meyer, Summit Entertainment and anyone else who may legally claim ownership. No copyright infringement is intended.
I would like to take this time to thank StoryPainter for her brilliant beta-reading. She took the time to go over this chapter despite the demands of real life. I am extremely grateful!
Carlisle Cullen had always been a man, a vampire, in complete control. When faced with any given situation he considered things, unfailingly and without bias, from everyone's perspective. He had three-hundred-sixty-three years of life experience; and yet, nothing had prepared him for this. His wife, his life, his Isabella had left him, without a word.
She had left a letter filled with her love for him but did not include the information he needed most. She didn't say where she went or why she left. He couldn't understand how she could leave without him, without even speaking to him. She had asked him not to try to follow her, to find her. His mind told him to respect her wishes, as his heart told him to tear apart the very earth to find her and be with her again. He didn't know what to do. His mind was racing, and yet, he couldn't seem to think coherently.
His family had read her letter over his shoulder. He'd refused to release it. Speculation had ensued. The favored supposition was that Bella realized all Carlisle wanted to do to keep her safe. She had surmised that he wanted to remove any existing pregnancy and prevent any future pregnancy. Almost everyone in the family assumed she had fled in fear of this. In fear of him. He knew with certainty that he would never have acted on anything without her full understanding and absolute informed consent. He was sure she understood him better than that. He couldn't believe she could think he would make such a choice on his own and then force it upon her.
He had been relieved and elated when his phone rang and hers was the photo displayed on the screen. He had thought she had called him. She hadn't. It had clearly been an accident. Her phone had connected to his and he'd answered immediately, desperately calling her name. She hadn't responded. As he listened to a conversation not meant for him, his elation and relief left him as quickly as it had come. He heard her speak to someone with her. She spoke of missing him, of regretting leaving as she did, of doing so to protect him. He never heard the person with Bella reply before the call ended. He knew then she hadn't left in fear of him and his intentions, as his family had thought. That confirmation was heartening, but he was no closer to reuniting with her. The call had given him no indication of where she might be.
He had heard her tears during that brief connection; he knew she missed him as much as he missed her. Hearing her heart break, and hearing her voice her fear that he might reject her over this, tore at his very soul. Had he the ability, he would surely have had tears in his own eyes as he listened to his Isabella's fear and anguish.
When the call ended, he sat on the sofa, still carrying her letter. He submerged himself in thoughts of her. It was as though he could smell her sweet scent enveloping him, feel her soft warm curves pressed against him. He thought of all the times they sat together. He could feel his hand idly caressing her as they read. He could feel her in the morning too, when they awoke together and lay, limbs entangled, as the morning sun streamed in the windows and warmed the chill of the room. He could feel the press of her lips on the back of his neck as he sat bent over his research. He could hear the whisper of her skirt as she walked with him, holding his hand, fingers entwined. He could see her sweet smile when he came home from work. He could taste her eager lips when they kissed.
He knew none of it was real. He was alone on the sofa, and he had no more idea of where Bella might be than he had when he first opened her letter. He sat still, overwhelmed by a feeling of inadequacy. He clutched Bella's letter. He could still smell her tears that soaked the paper as she wrote. Carlisle's mind was terrified, his heart was broken, and his soul was shattered. He closed his eyes. Locked in his own personal hell, he had even stopped listening to anything that was going on around him.
"Is Bella in?"
"No, I'm afraid she's not."
"Then, I'd like to see your father."
"Charlie!" Alice danced to the door and came to a stop before Charlie Swan.
"Hey, Alice. Is your dad home? I've got a bit of a situation with Bella's mom."
"What's wrong?" Alice was perplexed. She hadn't mailed a wedding announcement and celebration invitation to Bella's mother. She was leaving that one for the last minute, to minimize any potential drama. She knew Renée Dwyer's stance on marriage, especially marrying young.
"She's been trying to get ahold of Bella since she married your father. Bella's been emailing her, but she's been avoiding her calls." Charlie ran an agitated hand through his hair. "She knows Bella's dodging her. She's sure Bella's keeping something from her. I told her Bella had a new phone and would call her soon. I've been saying that for a while now. Bella needs to call her before she gets on a plane and comes up here."
With the Cullens' open floor plan, Charlie was able to catch a glimpse of Carlisle out of the corner of his eye. "Alice is everything all right? Where is Bella?"
Rosalie and Alice exchanged looks and moved out of Charlie's way. Alice's voice was subdued. "Please, come in, Charlie." He moved briskly to where Carlisle sat. Rosalie and Alice kept pace with him.
Rosalie knelt by Carlisle. Her voice was pleading. "Dad." Her tongue lingered on the last 'd', almost as if she longed to call him daddy. She felt so small and guilty. His pain was her fault and she knew it. If she hadn't driven Bella into the woods with her cruel words that day, Bella would never have been abducted by Carlisle's biological son. If that hadn't happened, they wouldn't be in this situation now.
Seeing his daughter's handwriting, Charlie spoke. "Carlisle, can I see that?"
Carlisle didn't seem to hear Charlie's request.
"Carlisle?" Charlie tried to take Bella's letter, to read it. Carlisle didn't loosen his grip on it. Realizing the only way he could get it from Carlisle would be to tear it, Charlie did what the Cullens had and moved to read it over Carlisle's shoulder.
Charlie shook his head in dismay. "What has she done?" He looked at his son-in-law, sympathy replacing the frustration on his face. "Carlisle?"
The warmth of a human hand on his shoulder startled Carlisle enough to make him turn and look at Charlie.
"Don't you worry. Bella's not like her mother. She adores you. She'll be back." Charlie turned to Alice. "What did she mean by you wouldn't be able to 'see' her, Alice?"
Alice's voice was hesitant. "I… don't know, Charlie."
Before Charlie could question Alice further, his phone rang. He apologized and answered it. "I'm right in the middle of something, can I call you back. Sure. Sure. Hey, wait. Put Jake on for a sec. What do you mean? How long?"
Charlie didn't know that the vampires around him could hear both ends of the conversation. He was unaware that they had realized that Jacob had been gone for the exact same amount of time Bella had been.
Carlisle rose, at human speed. He murmured a soft apology, excusing himself. He moved from the room while Charlie was still on the phone. Only the vampires in the house were aware of him silently leaving through the side door and running into the woods.
Bella sat on a bench, deep within a labyrinth of hallways in the Volturi's castle. Her eyes were fixed on an immense painting on the wall opposite. In the background she recognized Caius. He was standing in the shadows of a balcony, his demeanor aloof as he surveyed the world outside the walls of the same castle in which Bella now sat. To the left, Marcus reclined in an ornate chair. He appeared to be dozing. Remembering that he was the kind of vampire who was able to sleep, Bella wondered if he got any solace, any reprieve from his heartache, in sleep. There were others, whose identities were indistinguishable, milling about the room in the painting. However, Bella's attention was on the two vampires in the foreground.
On opposite sides of an immense table littered with open books, sat Aro and Carlisle. They were captured in the midst of a heated debate. Despite the intensity of their faces and body language, their eyes clearly showed their enjoyment. One of Carlisle's hands rested on a passage in the open book directly in front of him. Bella couldn't help but admire the form of that hand. So large, yet slim and elegantly angular. His blond hair shone even in the dim lighting the artist had not enhanced. One corner of his perfect lips was turned up in a in a small smile. His luminescent golden eyes glowed as he looked at Aro. To Bella, it seemed as though Carlisle was about to make a point that Aro would be unable to refute.
Bella closed her eyes. She could feel Carlisle's thumb caressing the pulse point on her wrist as he stood behind her, his arm wrapped around her, holding her hand in his as she leaned into his chest. Her mind and body remembered it so accurately, as if it were not merely a memory; it felt as though it were happening now. She leaned her head back and could feel his lips on her neck as his other hand began trailing down her side, appreciating her curves. She could feel his breath in her ear, hear him whispering his love and devotion to her. She sighed as her body remembered being pulled more tightly into his embrace. She bit back a whimper of longing. The phrase that had been running through her head on an almost perpetual loop since she made her decision repeated, louder this time. "What have I done?"
She still believed she'd made the right choice; however, that knowledge didn't lessen her fear. She was terrified Carlisle would not agree, that he would be hurt by her decision to keep him in the dark. She knew she had to come without his knowledge, to make sure he wouldn't be punished for fathering a son and not informing the Volturi such a thing was possible. At the same time she decided he needed to be protected for his treaty with the Quileutes. The Volturi had to be informed of both. So many people now knew. All Aro would have to do is touch the hand of one person who knew about Ted or the Quileutes and Carlisle would be revealed. She had to circumvent any potential repercussions that might arise from the Volturi finding out third hand. She couldn't allow them to think Carlisle was intentionally keeping secrets from them. She trembled with fear as she worried about what the cost would be to their relationship as a consequence of her decision to come here alone. She had been so overwhelmed with the need to protect Carlisle that she had acted immediately. Now she was second guessing that impulsive decision. She could have talked with him, and a large part of her wondered if, despite her convictions, she should have spoken to him.
She opened her eyes. Her attention went directly back to the image of Carlisle in the painting before her. She was so absorbed in gazing at the painted Carlisle that she didn't notice someone approaching.
A young, haughty, cultured and clearly bored voice spoke from her right.
"You miss him."
Bella's eyes snapped to Jane. She inhaled in surprise. "I'm sure you think I'm ridiculous, but yes, I do miss him. Very much."
"I don't think that missing your mate is ridiculous. How could I? I have never completed a mating process. I don't know what it feels like."
Bella laughed ruefully. "From what I've heard around here, I've not completed the mating process either. They," Bella motioned to indicate the castle around her, "generally seem to think that a human could not really mate with vampire. That we had marital relations, but that our bond is no deeper than that of a human marriage."
"Marcus says that you and Carlisle have mated, and he would know. His assessment of bonds has never been wrong. He is not mistaken. You and Carlisle are truly mated." Jane smiled, it wasn't an altogether pleasant expression. "The others feel threatened. It upsets everything they've believed for a very long time." Her smile faded. "It is most disconcerting to think about it."
"I don't want to be the cause of any more disruptions."
"I'm sure you don't. However, you seem unable to avoid it. First, with your immunity to our gifts, that has never happened before. Then, with your defense of Edward. No one has ever known a human to offer their life to save a vampire's. You are a very strange human."
Bella shook her head and sighed. "So I've been told."
"Now you come, unguarded, into our midst, to prevent any hard feelings between us and your mate. Even an older vampire would not want to consider doing such a thing. They would probably run and hide. What is the phrase? Lay low? Yes. They would lay low and hope to avoid our attention. But you? You walk in here, a mere mortal, a helpless human, and speak to the brothers with no reserve. It is no wonder that you are a curiosity, and perhaps a bit threatening to some. The unknown is always a threat, and you are most certainly nothing we have ever known before."
"I'm no threat."
"So Aro has decreed and Marcus concurs. Caius has even been heard defending you." Jane smiled. "He seemed irritated to no end to be doing so, but he was sincere. That is why no one dares make a move against you. No one disobeys the brothers. They may sound like they are merely voicing their opinions politely, but make no mistake; their word is law, however gently phrased."
"You…" Bella didn't meet Jane's eyes. "Y- you, and others, would like to move against me. You would like to kill me?" Bella glanced up at Jane.
Jane's smile was malicious. "You were, at one time, Edward's pet, nothing more. Neither Caius nor I saw that relationship as a reasonable justification to let you live, considering the unknown threat you posed. I would have liked to kill you myself. Caius and I would have fought over who got to end your life were we allowed to do so. Normally, we would compromise, I would inflict pain and Caius would kill. In your case, you couldn't feel my pain, it wasn't a typical circumstance." Jane's expression softened. "Caius no longer wants you dead. I too believe that I may have been wrong to think it would be best for you to die. Now, I would rather understand you than kill you."
Jane hummed in affirmation. "Carlisle, despite his idiosyncrasies, is a very experienced and powerful vampire in his own right. He is intelligent, accomplished, educated, refined and affable. He is very well respected and he is liked. Unlike Edward, his judgment can be trusted. He is ridiculously soft, kind if you will, but he is fair regardless. He is also a good friend to Aro, and most of us. He is the leader of a large, powerful and talented coven." Jane scrutinized Bella. "And he mated with you. A young, inept, and extremely uncultured human. There has to be a reason for that. I am intrigued."
"Me, intriguing? Hardly. You said so yourself, I'm nothing special."
"That is not what I said. I may have mentioned some of your more obvious… shortcomings; but, Carlisle Cullen is your mate, Aro is amused and enchanted by you, Marcus almost feels paternal towards you, although, it is hard to see through all of his pain. Athenodora loved you on sight. But, more than all of that, Caius has changed his mind without coercion. He doesn't want you killed. That is tantamount to anyone else loving you like a dear sister. So, yes, I believe there is something very special about you. There would have to be for you to gain Caius' favor. I wish to uncover just what that is."
Bella laughed. Before Jane could take offense, she responded. "I'd like to get to know you better too, as long as you don't want to kill me anymore."
"I don't want to kill you now."
Bella was pretty sure Jane meant that she might want to kill her again sometime. However, she pretended that she took her words at face value. "Then maybe we can be friends."
"Hmm… we'll see." Jane paused in thought momentarily. "Would you like to go the Mercatino di Natale with me today?"
Bella smiled. She was quite nervous, but she refused to acknowledge it or allow her body react to it. She smiled and concentrated on her breathing and keeping her heart rate slow. She briefly wondered how one should respond to someone who had wanted to kill you but has changed their mind for the time being. She stalled. Her voice was calm and pleasant as she spoke. "What's that?"
"It's a special market the humans hold every December. They seem to really enjoy it. Carlisle always went, something about his God, I think. I never paid much attention to it."
"Have you ever been before?"
"No. But if your mate were here, I'm sure he'd take you."
Bella tried to distract herself from the pain that statement caused her. She thought about semantics. She didn't really understand the vampire's almost exclusive use of the word mate. She knew that their idea of completing the mating process was akin to consummating a marriage, yet they used the more animalistic terms. She guessed that was because their society didn't tend to subscribe to any human religions or laws, so marriage and its associated terms weren't really pertinent. She knew that some vampire's believed in soul mates. She did too, not in a mystical way, in a more literal sense. She and Carlisle connected on every level. Everything made sense when they were together. Life had more meaning, more purpose. Being with Carlisle gave her peace, contentment, happiness; she knew she could face anything as long as she had Carlisle with her. Her eyes misted as she thought of her mate. She felt such acute longing to be with him that it was almost a physical pain.
"You really do miss him. I know it's sometimes like that for those who have completed the mating process, I've seen it. For those who are that bonded, that connected, no matter how long the mates have been together, it never diminishes."
Bella smiled. "I'd love to explore the Christmas market with you, Jane, but I can't. I need to get ready to head home to Carlisle."
Caius' smooth sharp voice interrupted their conversation. "You may as well humor Jane. You won't be leaving today."
Bella was immediately distressed by those few words. "Why won't I be leaving today?"
"Aro is in one of his moods. He believes it will be amusing to see how long it takes Carlisle to find you."
Bella gasped in shock. "He… He wouldn't do that, keep me from going home to Carlisle, would he?"
"I'm not sure if he would force you to stay. He has asked that you remain here until Carlisle arrives. I wouldn't suggest opposing Aro."
"He can't do that! I have to go home!" Terror washed through Bella. She had thought the Volturi were being reasonable. They had accepted Ted and the treaty with the Quileutes.
She knew the potential dangers, what she would risk by arguing with Aro's request. She bit her lip and held her anger in check. "I really need to go home. Carlisle has no idea where I am."
"That is what makes the game for Aro." Caius scowled. "I know Carlisle, you shouldn't have to wait too long for him." Caius' voice was beyond irritated. "My dear Athenodora has said that if the separation becomes too much for you, she'll inform Carlisle of your whereabouts herself." With a nod to Jane, Caius swept off down the corridor.
"You see." Jane's tone was vindicated; she knew she'd been right. "Caius likes you. He is never tolerant, protective or considerate. I have seen him demonstrate all of that with you." Jane turned to look at Jacob seated on a bench down the hall. He had earbuds in his ears as he played a game he held in his hands. "Bring your dog, if you like." There was something in Jane's tone and her observation of Jacob that Bella couldn't quite understand. It made her nervous.
Bella walked to Jacob. She kicked his foot to get his attention. He pulled his earbuds out. "Jake, would you get our coats, please? We're going out with Jane."
Jacob looked past Bella and eyed Jane intensely.
"It'll be fun Jake, come on." Bella didn't believe her own words. She was, however, well aware of what she was doing. She was sending Jacob away from her. If she was watching, and she fervently prayed that she was, Alice would be able to see her.
Bella kept as much distance as she could between herself and Jacob. She hoped the few times she was away from him, Alice would see where she was.
"So, you grew up with Jacob?"
Jane, Bella, Jacob and Ted had been strolling through the local Christmas market for a couple of hours. Bella had managed to convince Jane to buy a pair of jeans. Jane had been skeptical, but she seemed to always rise to a challenge, and that's how Bella had convinced her. They were currently off by themselves, going through blouses in a stall at the far end of the market, to find one to go with Jane's new jeans, when Jane began to casually inquire about Bella's childhood.
"No, Jake and I didn't grow up together. I lived in Phoenix, which is pretty far from where Jake lived. But, my dad lived near Jake. He and Jake's dad are best friends. Whenever I visited him Jake and I would end up together."
Jane's voice was polite, detached, seemingly uninterested. "You and Jacob seem quite close."
"We are. Not so long ago Jake helped me through a rough few months. I really don't know what I'd have done without him."
Jane's voice remained disinterested, a bit too disinterested considering her questions. "How did he help you?"
Bella told Jane about the months that the Cullens were gone. Jane asked many questions throughout Bella's story. From all of her questions about Jacob, his family, and his way of life, it seemed almost like she had a particular interest in the Quileutes. Bella hoped she wasn't forming a fear or prejudice against the shape-shifters. Just as Bella finished telling Jane about when Alice showed up and she realized Edward wasn't the reason for her breakdown, Jacob caught up to them again, and interrupted.
"Guys, come on. Pay for your stuff and let's get something to eat. I'm starving." He looked pointedly at Jane. "Not you. You're not eating. Not unless you want to eat human food."
Jane was quick to respond. "You're not exactly human, yourself. What would you call your food?"
"Fine." Jake grinned. "You can eat, as long as you don't eat any humans."
"I'm not thirsty." Jane somehow managed to give the impression that she was looking down her nose at Jacob even though he towered over he in height. "But, please, don't let that stop you."
Jake pushed in between Bella and Jane; looking down into Jane's face and smirked. "I wouldn't."
Jane's voice was clear, bright and condescending. "You really don't have any manners do you?"
"What, are you so soft that you can't take a little honesty, Princess?"
"Yeah, or are you so full of yourself that you think you're queen of the world."
"At least I'm not an ill-bred mongrel."
Jacob's voice was smug. "I'm descended from a chief. My shape-shifting ability is a fine heritage, a birthright." Jacob said proudly. "And you? You were just an unlucky human that got bitten."
"My transformation was planned. I was not arbitrarily bitten. I was chosen for this life by the Volturi when I was still human. My brother and I are the most powerful vampires in the world. I am respected and feared."
Jacob's tone dripped with sarcasm. "Sure. Sure. You're real tough, scary too."
"Would you like to see a demonstration of my power?"
Bella's voice interrupted. "Jane! No, please don't do that."
Jane's voice was bored as she addressed Bella. "Perhaps, your stepson would enjoy a little pain."
Bella's voice was desperate. "No!"
Jane's smile was apathetic. "As you wish."
Suddenly a middle aged man at another stall was on the ground, writhing in agony. Jacob looked from Jane to the man and realized what was happening. He reached out and grabbed Jane's arm, breaking her concentration. Jacob dragged Jane behind a stall. He bent down and took both of her small shoulders in his hands and shook her.
"You think that's funny? What kind of sick twisted monster are you?"
Jane's eyes filled with venom when she realized Jacob was appalled instead of impressed by her display.
Her usually indifferent voice was imbued with an unfathomable emotion. "It didn't harm him. He only thought he was feeling a burning pain, he wasn't injured. I can't hurt anyone with my power. I just-"
Jacob cut across her. "It looked like he was hurting to me."
"But, he wasn't harmed."
"And you think that makes it okay?"
"Yes. No. It doesn't have it be 'okay' does it? I do what I do to protect my coven, just as you and your pack protect yours."
"We're completely different. You enjoyed that!"
"Have you never enjoyed killing a vampire?"
As Laurent flashed through Jacob's mind he found that he couldn't deny Jane's accusation. He had enjoyed tearing him apart. Although, with the Cullens he replaced violence with insults, to adhere to the treaty and for Bella's sake, he had to admit that his instincts led him to want to inflict pain and suffering on vampires.
"We'll talk about this more later. I need to eat." Jacob turned away and walked back to the others. A confused Jane followed in his wake.
As they approached Bella and Ted, Jane called tauntingly to Jacob. "I think I saw someone selling Purina around here."
That surprising comment broke Jacob's foul mood. Taken aback, he asked honestly, "How do you know about Dog Chow?"
"I don't just sit in a castle and inflict agony on people all day. We do have the internet and world wide satellite TV, you know."
Bella fell into step with Ted. They were quiet as Jacob and Jane resumed trading progressively complex and amusing insults.
After a while, Ted laughed quietly. "The Princess and the Puppy."
Jacob and Jane whirled around and spoke in harmony. "What did you say?"
Ted held up his hands in obvious surrender. "It must be the hunger, I don't know what I'm saying."
Bella woke from her unexpected nap and stretched. She smiled. She would have enjoyed her outing with Jane, no matter how tiring it had been, had she not been missing Carlisle so fiercely. During their sojourn through the market, she had discovered that Jane was witty and intelligent. She was shocked to learn Jane had a quite an unexpected sense of adventure, of fun. For all her condescending mannerisms, she had included both Jacob and Ted in all that they did. Bella giggled. Jacob and Jane had seemed to thoroughly enjoy trying to see who could insult the other in the most creative way.
She curled into herself on her bed in Athenodora's guest room. Her smile was bittersweet as she thought how amused Carlisle would have been to listen to Jacob and Jane's banter. Carlisle. His name began to repeat like a mantra in her mind. She whispered it aloud. "Carlisle." She wrapped her arms around her middle. The bed felt so huge, so very empty. She needed the touch of Carlisle's body against hers, holding her as they slept. The weight of his arm over her, keeping her close against him. She longed to look up and gaze into his warm loving eyes, to caress the planes of his face, to feel his soft golden hair slipping through her fingers on the pillow.
She opened her phone, to again call up Carlisle's contact photo. She noticed the time and sighed. She had to call Seth. It had been her backup plan. If things went wrong, if Aro and his brothers were angered by Carlisle's treaty with the Quileutes or with Carlisle fathering a son biologically, Seth would go the Cullens and tell them to run, to hide, to prepare to defend themselves. She hadn't told Seth where she was or what the danger was. She only told him that if twenty-four hours went by without his hearing from her, he was to protect Carlisle. Seth had agreed. She never thought she'd need to call him this many times. She'd planned to be headed home. She hated the game Aro had decided to play with Carlisle. She reopened her phone and called Seth, as she always did, she made the call from a withheld number. She didn't want her phone number visible. There was no answer. She tried again. Seth still didn't pick up. She called repeatedly. Eventually, she decided to leave him an urgent voicemail. She needed to talk to him before he went to the Cullens and alarmed them for no reason.
Bella tried for two hours. Her twenty-four hour time limit was almost up. She thought of Sue. Bella was sure Sue would know how to get through to Seth. Not having Sue's number, Bella decided to have Jacob call her. Bella needed to get in touch with Seth in time to prevent him from sending Carlisle, sending the family, into hiding for nothing. She made her way to the guest room next door, where Jacob was staying.
Esme opened the door to find Seth Clearwater on their porch. He followed her into the sitting room where the family was gathered. Esme sat beside Charlie, who hadn't left after Carlisle ran out. She took his hand, and he smiled at her.
Emmett wagged his eyebrows at them, but despite Emmett's constant innuendos they weren't lovers or in love with each other. They became close after Bella's accident at the skating rink, and their fondness for each other had continued to grow. They had developed a deep friendship and never had any trouble keeping it platonic. That was something Emmett couldn't understand. When they failed to react to him, he turned his attention elsewhere. Emmett's booming voice spoke, addressing Seth. "Your phone's ringing."
Seth's brow furrowed. "No, it's not."
Alice smiled. "It's not ringing, but even I can hear it. You must have it on silent."
"Oh!" Seth quickly answered his phone.
"Seth, you scared Bella to death. Answer the phone when she calls you. She was afraid you'd already be headed to the Cullens to give them her message of doom. She'll be glad I caught you. You don't need to warn them. Consider this Bella's twenty-four hour 'everything is okay' call. I think everything really is okay. It doesn't look like anyone is going to come for the Cullens."
Seth cringed. He needed to tell Jacob that he was already at the Cullens' and that they could hear him. "Jake, man-"
Jacob didn't let him finish. "Listen, Seth, I need you to talk to the pack for me. I've… um… well… I sorta... imprinted."
"You can't." Seth glanced at Charlie. "You can't be in love with Bella, you've known her forever, if you were going to imp- love her like that, it would have already happened. Besides, she's Doctor Cullen's wife now."
"I know that, Seth. It's not Bella. You've never met her. I just met her. She's perfect."
"It's not Bella? Jake, man, that's awesome!"
"I'm not sure the pack will think that, or that you will once you know."
"She's a vampire."
Seth smiled at the others and moved to the Cullens' porch. He knew the Cullens would still be able to hear both ends of his conversation with Jacob, but this way Charlie wouldn't hear him. "But, Jake, you can't, you know, have kids with… someone like that. You must be wrong."
"I'm not wrong. I don't know how it happened, but it did." There was silence for a moment before Jacob continued. "There's this Marcus guy here, he's a big honcho vampire, he says I'm her mate. He's some kind of expert on this. I've heard him talking to Bella. He does know his stuff. Vampire mates aren't an instinctual thing. It's not like our imprinting. It's hard to explain. But, I think her recognizing me as her mate somehow triggered my imprinting instinct."
"I dunno, Jake. It seems really weird to me. How can you be sure she really recognized you as her mate?"
"Marcus can tell when people have strong bonds to each other, or when they don't. If there's a strong romantic bond between two people, they call it mates. She's my mate, and I'm her mate. It's kind of like when you find the perfect person for you, they call that kind of love mates. It's nothing supernatural and it's not instinctual like our imprinting, it's just their word for it. I'm the perfect person for her and she's perfect for me. Except, well, you see, we don't really like each other."
"Are you sure it's not just some, you know, vampire thing? You actually imprinted on her? You're sure?"
"Yeah. I'm sure. Besides, you know we don't fall for creepy vampire tricks. I imprinted on her, there's no doubt. I didn't think imprinting on a vampire was possible." Jacob's voice was agitated. "It should be an impossibility. They're our enemies, and like you said, no kids. It should't have happened, but it did. My world changed when I saw her. It's like I see everything differently. It's like everything relates to her. Every decision I make, every thought I have, it all revolves around her. It's just like how Sam feels about Emily. Everything revolves around her now, even though I don't want it to. I can't stop it. Stopping it would be like trying to will my own heart to stop beating."
"That sounds like you imprinted all right. And you don't like her?"
"It's not that, I do like her, I kind of don't have a choice. But, I think I might have liked her even if I hadn't imprinted. I don't like what she stands for, or some of the stuff she does; but there's something about her anyway, you know? I really shouldn't like her and she shouldn't like me. We both know this and, well, I guess we're kinda trying to, you know, ignore the whole imprinting, mating, thing."
"Maybe you didn't really imprint, after all. You can't ignore an imprint."
"Don't I know it. Ignoring her really isn't working. At all. She's not doing too good with ignoring me either. We end up being pulled to each other even though we don't want to be."
"You imprinted. But, Jake, man, she's one of them. Sam's not gonna like it."
"I don't like it. But, it looks like there's nothing I can do about it. There's nothing Sam can do, either. It shouldn't be possible, but I really have imprinted. None of you can hurt her."
"Why would we want to hurt her? She's like the Cullens, right? She's a vegetarian?"
"She's, uh, she's never fed off of animals."
"Whoa, Jake, I don't know…"
"Don't worry about it. It'll all work out. Somehow. I hope."
"What's she like?"
Jacob sounded like he'd been afraid of that question. "What do you want to know?"
"Is she pretty?"
"Well, vampires can't be ugly, exactly."
"What's she look like?"
"She's petite. She looks kinda young. She's the youngest, by their law, that a human can be when they're changed. She became a vampire when she was like thirteen. She really hadn't developed much. But, Seth, she's got the most beautiful face, she looks like an angel."
"How old is she?"
"She's closing in on three thousand."
"Three-" Seth sounded like he was choking. "Three thousand?"
"Yeah. She's been around a while. She's also… Wow, this is all gonna sound real bad. She's one of the two most powerful vampires there are in the world."
"Are you kidding me?"
Jacob sounded defeated. "I wish I was joking."
"Is she nice?"
"Nice? Well… she's... um… people listen to her. Look, it doesn't matter if she's nice or not. It doesn't matter if she's hot. It doesn't matter if she measures her age in millennia instead of years. It doesn't even matter if she's a vegetarian vampire or not; yet. I've imprinted. For good or bad it's done. I can't change it."
"That's worse than what happened to Sam, Emily, and Leah."
"No, it's not."
"I bet Sam will think it is."
"Yeah, well Sam will just have to-"
"Yeah, she's here. She came and asked me to try get ahold of you through your mom. I told her I'd try you one more time first. But, before I called you, I told her I'd imprinted. She didn't take it too well either."
"Because my imprint pretty much tried to make Bella suffer in agony a few times and sorta wanted her dead for a while."
"It could be worse."
"Hang on, Bella wants something." Jacob was silent for a moment before he came back on over the phone. "Bella says to tell you again to answer your phone when she calls. She wants me to remind you that she doesn't want you running off and worrying the Cullens if there's no need."
"Yeah, man, you said that. Tell her my ringer was off. I don't know how that happened."
"Don't let it happen again. She doesn't want you going off and scaring the Cullens for no reason."
"Yeah, Jake, about that…"
Carlisle smoothed his appearance. When he entered the inn, he was the urbane Dr. Cullen, not the desperate vampire who had just run through the forest from Forks to Port Angeles. Demetri opened the door, before Carlisle knocked. Carlisle smiled a relieved smile as he entered the room. He knew Demetri had been putting off going back to Volterra. He didn't know how long that would continue. He'd feared he might have missed him. His relief at finding him was evident on his face, although, he managed to keep his voice calm as he accepted Demetri's hand and spoke. "Demetri, I need your help."
Demetri looked confused. "I thought your mate was safely home with you?"
"She's gone again and I need your help."
"You know that I can't track her. Perhaps Alistair-"
It was obvious Carlisle was too impatient for niceties as he uncharacteristically interrupted Demetri. "You can find her. I know someone who is with her. Jacob Black."
Demetri smiled. "Well, then, let's find your mate, shall we?"
AN: I appreciate your patience. I want to let you know, Troth has not been abandoned. I will finish it as soon as circumstances allow.