The next day, they wake to quiet voices in the living room. Bella recognizes Leah's voice, but she can't hear what she is saying. But she sounds somber, that much she knows.
Jacob's fingers grip her waist tightly.
"Good morning, big spoon," she murmurs.
He smiles into her hair, but she can feel tension in his body against hers. "Good morning, little spoon."
"Some bad news. The black bear didn't make it. Sam's staying with the body."
Bella shrinks into him. "Oh, no. What about Embry's?"
"Injured, but alive. Embry stayed with it, from what I gather, and the eagle. Sam's lost some of his ability to communicate with animals. It probably was like he said. It must have been sort of a translator for him. We should get up, Bells. I need to talk with them."
They enter the living room hand, Jacob leaning on Bella. Leah, Sue, and Old Quil are there with Billy. Leah smiles sadly at them. "Hey, boss. Morning, Bella."
"Hey. I filled her in."
"Not great news."
Old Quil nods a greeting. "We should arrange a burial. A traditional one on the island."
Leah's eyes widen. "I've never seen a full traditional burial."
"None of you have, have you? I don't think any of you were even born the last time we had a burial on A-ka-lat. It's time, then. If it has ever been time, it is now."
Billy considers, "Is there time to build a burial canoe?"
"Of course not. We will have to use the one on display in the tribal center."
Sue protests, "That's irreplaceable!"
Calmly, Old Quil answers, "More easily replaced than the taxilit, who I imagine was hundreds of years older than the canoe. We will build another canoe. My old hands may have arthritis, but they aren't useless, you know."
"We'll help," Jacob reassures him. He won't even have to ask his pack. "And we'll help you perform the ceremony."
Billy is worried about his son. "It's six days long. I don't know if you're up to it."
Old Quil shakes his head. "He's the Alpha and the next chief. He needs to be there. But it will take at least a couple days to prepare, and Jacob can forgo the fast and the phasing. The longhouse has probably fallen into disrepair. Perhaps a couple of the boys can fix it up first while Jacob is healing. And you'll be coming with us too, of course."
"Dr. Cullen will be here in an hour or two," Sue adds. "He'll want to examine Jacob when he gets here."
"We'll work around it," Old Quil resolves.
Bella helps Jacob out of the room to change and eat a light breakfast, and soon Carlisle and Rosalie arrive. Jacob looks nervous, and Bella eventually realizes why. Not only is he not looking forward to having his bones re-broken, but he is particularly concerned that Bella will feel it.
His worries are well-founded, but after caring for multiple members of the pack, the doctor is better prepared. In one hand, he bears a large box which bears a striking resemblance to the toolkit in Jacob's garage. Bella refuses to leave Jacob's side as Carlisle prods gently at all four of his limbs and runs his fingers along Jacob's ribs. She can't look when Rosalie inserts a small catheter into Jacob's arm, but when Carlisle pulls a massive syringe out of his kit and draws up three full vials of medication, she can't help but see it out of the corner of her eye.
Nervously, Jacob asks, "Think you got enough there, doc?"
"Fentanyl and versed, Jacob. A heavy sedative and narcotic. For both your sakes. Elephant dosing should do it, I think."
And once Jacob is snoring, Bella hardly cares whether she feels Carlisle's treatment or not. So long as Jacob experiences no pain, she is content. Then she confirms with relief that she feels only the slightest twinge when Carlisle deftly snaps and resets each of Jacob's broken bones. Soon, she is utterly relaxed and boneless leaning against the wall with his head in her lap. She runs her fingers through his thick hair, dragging her nails along his scalp in a way she knows would drive him wild were he awake to feel it. By the time Rosalie has each splint in place, Bella has nodded off, and Carlisle gently rearranges her in a more comfortable position at Jacob's side.
Three hours later, the sound of laughter pulls her out of her sleep.
"Did you know that you snore?" Leah asks.
"Me?" Jacob mumbles. "I s'pose. Don't hear myself sleep."
"Not you. Your girlfriend."
"It's the sedative," Bella protests weakly.
Rosalie denies this. "We sedated him, not you. You just fell asleep because you're tired. So don't blame the drugs."
"Fine," she huffs. "If we're so tired, why'd you wake us up?"
The smile leaves Leah's voice. "Someone is asking for you."
Bella runs her fingers through her hair to tame it while Jacob sits up stiffly in bed. He hobbles out of the room supported by her under his left arm and Leah under his right. They make their way outside and into the woods, finding the clearing where Jasmine used to sleep. But instead of her small orange wolf, they see Sam's huge black one sitting on his haunches, head bent in mourning over the still form of the black bear. The eagle watches over both of them from a low branch.
Jacob isn't surprised to hear Taha Aki's deep voice in his mind, but Bella looks up at the bird at the same moment, and he realizes immediately that they can both hear. He was the youngest son of my youngest son.
I'm so sorry! Despite her own recent aspirations of immortality, Bella can hardly imagine the grief the ancient spirit must feel. He has spent generation after generation watching over his descendants, but most of his direct family members are long gone. It must have been a comfort to keep some of them close.
Jacob is used to hearing the rest of the pack in his brain, but never Bella, and only while in wolf form. He speaks with his voice. "Bells? Was that you? I could hear you!"
You are always connected, the eagle explains, but right now you can speak through my mind.
Jacob looks over at Sam, who has lifted his head enough to look at them. He is silent in his sadness, but Jacob knows he is present in their mental conversation as well. Leah, who possesses no talent for speaking with animals in her human form, just looks between them without comprehension. Jacob takes a moment to fill her in, and she moves into the trees to shift into her wolf body so she can join. Jacob continues, We are sorry about your grandson. We will give him a proper burial.
It is right. His father and his own sons rest on the island. He led a life far longer than most, and he died doing what was most important to him: protecting his own. Young Samuel is of his line.
Bella asks, And that is why you are here? To protect your family?
There is a long silence, and he responds, After my mate was gone, I could no longer live with my memories of how she died. I escaped into my wolf. But the grief of my pack was too much to bear. I left behind the wolf forever and gave myself over to flight. But I could not forever abandon my sons, my daughters, my grandchildren. And over the years, some of them have joined me this way. The falcon was the fifth, and the first woman in our family to shift, but not the last.
Leah is amazed. So Jasmine and I aren't the only ones? Not the first wolves?
You were the first wolf, daughter, but not the first shifter. The tribe has never needed so many warriors before, so my daughters who shifted before you took other shapes. Birds could range far and wide, watch for threats or gather information about other tribes. A dolphin or porpoise could tell us about the world beneath the water, herd schools of fish toward our fishermen. But the threat of the Cold Ones had never been so dire. I suspect that is why you became the wolf.
Why haven't we heard these stories before? Leah wants to know.
No one has shifted into a form other than wolf for hundreds of years, and the stories were lost. Many of our stories have been lost. And those of us who are left to remember...
Sam finally speaks up. It's too painful.
The few of us who remain are much more animal than man. Were it not for the grave threat that led you to seek us out, most of us would still be lost in our animal selves. I had almost forgotten myself until the coven with the strange eyes reappeared.
Jacob asks, Are there more of you? More than the few we have met?
There are. You might find them if you looked. Or your pack would. But enough questions for now. I am here for my grandson. I will stay with him until he rests on A-ka-lat.
Jacob and Bella retreat back into the house. When Bella glances back at the unusual group huddled over the still form of the bear, she sees that Sam still hasn't moved. But when Leah returns to his side in human form and sits beside him, one hand buried in the fur of his back, he relaxes visibly.
It takes three days for Seth, Embry, and Jared to repair the longhouse on James Island, and at dusk on the third night, the remainder of the pack rows there. Old Quil and Billy join them using a borrowed sport fishing boat. Bella sits on the shore and watches them depart before climbing into her truck and driving to the Cullen mansion, where Charlie meets her. They enjoy a lavish meal prepared by Esme, and Bella catches up with Alice. The family hasn't decided where to settle next. Carlisle explains that although the Romanian and Egyptian covens had united briefly to overthrow the Volturi, Aro revealed that Stefan and Vladimir were responsible for the death of Benjamin's mate. He had immediately taken both their lives. Aro was delighted until his was ended as well.
Charlie asks, "So the Egyptian coven is in charge now?"
Carlisle shakes his head. "It isn't clear who is in charge. So perhaps no one. Amun, Benjamin's creator, has always wanted to rule. But he cannot do it without Benjamin's power to back him up. And Benjamin is undergoing a change of heart."
"In what way?" Bella asks.
"The loss of his mate changed him," Esme explains. "His rage fueled his revenge, but now that he has that, he plans to adopt our lifestyle."
Charlie doesn't understand. "What do you mean? Why would that matter?"
"It taught him empathy," Jasper interjects. "After he lost Tia, he understood the pain that he was inflicting on the families of those he hunted. He had forgotten, you see. Our memories of our human lives are so dim, so distant, that he had forgotten what it was like. It makes it much easier to hunt and murder if you don't remember what it is like to be alive. Benjamin has a glimpse now that he has seen mortality. He intends to eat animals from now on."
Carlisle nods. "We will see if the resolution lasts, but if he decides to rule, it could have far reaching consequences. His abilities make him one of the most powerful vampires on earth."
Charlie folds his arms across his chest and leans back in his chair. "I don't know that humanity can count on the whims of one powerful vampire. I can't believe you all have managed to go undetected for this long. And in this age of mass media."
Alice retorts, "It just goes to show you how powerful the Volturi were. They might have had questionable methods, but they managed to keep the secret for hundreds of years."
"Questionable methods?" Charlie snorts. "You say that as if their goal was an honorable one. People should know. We should have the chance to defend ourselves."
Carlisle's eyebrows rise. "I suppose it is actually a possibility now. When I was young, the only chance a human would have to defend themselves against a vampire would be to align with another vampire for protection. Unless they were one of the Quileute shifters, that is. But I've seen no other natural defense."
"But Caius came up with some kind of metal alloy that could pierce a vampire's skin," Charlie responds. "Think about it. If you could make a bullet of that stuff, all you'd need to do it get one hit, anywhere on the body, and then give a blast with fire. I'm not suggesting that we start letting civilians carry flamethrowers, but the military? The national guard? My police force? We should have some way to defend the populace."
Carlisle's mouth drops open. "What are you suggesting?"
"I'm suggesting that I take this information public."
Charlie leans over the dining room table. "I'm a father who almost lost a daughter, Carlisle. I'm a cop who has lost members of his own community to monsters' thirst, and the only way I can defend the people of this town is to ask a group of children, children Carlisle, to put their own lives on the line. Jake isn't old enough to be drafted into the US army, not old enough to drink a beer or vote, but he put his body on the line, no weapon in hand, to fight an immortal creature to the death. Far as I can tell, that group of kids, my friends' children, aren't just the front line on the battle. They're the entire army. And there might be a way to get him backup, to get him protection, and you're suggesting I don't help him?"
Stunned silence fills the room.
Charlie continues, "I know you hate the thought of violence against any creature, doc. I know you can't stand the idea of one of your species being hunted or hurt because of their natural thirst. But I also know you've dedicated your entire life to helping people. I know you have a sense of right and wrong, and that's why you live the way you do and raise your family to do the same. Do you think it's wrong for the courts to put a human on trial for killing another human?"
"Of course not!"
"So why shouldn't the courts be able to do that when a vampire kills a human?" No one in the room has any valid retort, so Charlie just continues. "Can you really stand by and let thousands of innocent people die because they never knew about the threat that was out there against them? Do you think I can do that?"
Esme finally speaks up. "Chief Swan, just because the Volturi are gone, it doesn't mean you'll be safe if you go public. If you succeed at spreading the word, at convincing the populace that we exist, someone will come after you. There will be plenty of angry vampires who can't wait to drain you."
"It's a good thing he'll have protection, then," Emmett grins from the opposite corner. He winks at Rosalie, who smirks, folds her arms over her chest, and leans back in her chair.
"If people know about us, will we be safe?" Alice asks.
"I imagine there'd be a lot of backlash, of course," Charlie looks at her. He points at her face. "But your eyes are like a sign across your forehead that say you haven't eaten anyone lately. I'd imagine that would help. But one way or another, as much as I respect all of you, I can't weigh the possibility of saving hundreds, thousands of human lives, against the inconvenience it would pose to 'vegetarian' vampires, and come up on your side."
"Well, then." Carlisle sighs. "It would appear you've put a lot of thought into this already. I have to admit that the idea makes me incredibly nervous. But more than the risk it would pose to you personally, or to us, I worry about the risk to your family. I can't help but think you would start a war."
"Frankly, I didn't come tonight to ask your permission. But I would appreciate your support, although you did just hit on my only real reservation. Keeping my mouth shut is probably the safest thing to do for all of us. I know you'll probably want to talk for a while, so I think maybe Bella and I will get going. Just one thing, though, whatever she and I decide to do, we're going to try to leave the pack out of it as best as possible. Those kids have had enough already. The last thing I want to do is bring more angry vampires to La Push."
"Of course," Esme smiles at both of them, but she clearly looks nervous.
Bella and Charlie stand to leave. After the front door closes behind them, Charlie says, "Sorry to spring that on you like that. I meant to talk to you sooner, but you've been at the Blacks' basically nonstop."
"That's okay. Does Billy know what you're thinking?"
"Yeah. And Sue. We've been talking. They've got mixed feelings. I don't think the tribe wants to get themselves any press, doesn't want their kids' lives disrupted any more than they already have been. And they're worried that attracting any attention to the area will draw a spotlight on them. Get the pack in the line of fire again. But they'd sure like it if they could call the police for a vampire threat instead of pulling their kids out of school to fight, you know?"
"Sure," Bella answers, not knowing what else to say. But it is pretty difficult to deny any of Charlie's arguments.
Bella climbs into the cab of her truck, and on the way home keeps glancing in her rearview mirror, getting brief glimpses of her father's face illuminated by the streetlights. After moving back to Forks and meeting Edward Cullen, she felt as if she was living in a different world than everyone else. But Charlie has joined her here, and Jacob. Perhaps everyone else will now as well.
Without school, the pack, or Jake to fill her time, Bella picks up a few shifts at Newton's and spends quite a bit of time at the Cullen home. Charlie joins Sue for a couple dinners, as her house feels empty without her children. As Bella watches him leave the house one evening for La Push, she spots a small smile on his face when he doesn't think she is looking, and she wonders if he has been faking ineptitude in the kitchen with the intent of secondary gain. Either way, his absence allows her to disappear to the Cullen home without guilt.
She, Alice, and Rosalie discuss Charlie's desire to make known the existence of vampires. Emmett and Rosalie are in full agreement, and have even volunteered themselves as his indisputable proof. Alice and Esme are more worried about the consequences. Alice spends hours searching the futures of various individuals she knows, both human and vampire. She sees some indisputably positive outcomes, such as Lauren Mallory saving her own life by avoiding the advances of a handsome male vampire whose intentions are far from pure, but for each of these, she gets a flash of something that worries her. Rosalie would get kicked out of medical school, and it might be years before Carlisle can get another job.
Rosalie just snorts and says that if she and Carlisle want to save lives, they will do far better by stemming the tide of vampires eating humans than they will by practicing medicine. Alice retorts that she sees one possible future in which their house gets burned down, and Emmett gleefully asks if an angry mob of villagers will show up at the doorstep with pitchforks and torches. Rosalie only wants to know if they themselves are ashes along with the remnants of their house, and when Alice says they are not, just shrugs and said she wouldn't mind shopping for a new house anyway.
Bella is torn. She fully believes that her father wants to do the just and right thing, but cannot help but worry, as Carlisle expressed, that doing so would put him in harm's way. And if he is in danger, there is no way the pack would leave him unprotected, putting Jacob at risk once more. But if he succeeds in arming the police force against dangerous vampires, the pack would no longer be alone in their battles.
Eventually, Bella's human limitations of fatigue eventually tear her away from the debate. She returns to her own bed and her dreams of Jacob and the little red house.
By the next week, she is more than ready to have Jacob back in her arms instead of her dreams. When she arrives at the canoe livery, Connie Littlesea and Tiffany Call are already there. Emily and Kim join them a few minutes after Bella arrives. Bella greets the other girls. Emily asks after Jacob. She had heard a little about his ordeal, but Bella doesn't have the stomach to revisit it in any detail. Kim kindly changes the subject. She will enroll at Peninsula in the fall and asks Bella for advice about courses and instructors until they see the first canoe approaching. Brady and Collin are the first on the dock, and they eagerly trail after Connie who promises them a huge meal waiting in her kitchen. Next, Jared gets whisked off by Kim, while Paul stows away their canoe. Bella sees Emily's face fall as Sam's canoe makes its way up the river, and she realizes that Leah shares his canoe. But Sam's face hardens at the same time that Bella hears the slam of two car doors behind her, then the pattering of little feet.
Sophia sprints by, rapidly escaping the arms of her father. She almost knocks Leah into the river when she jumps at her yelling, "Puppy! Want Puppy!"
Leah picks up the squealing baby girl and tosses her high in the air, her surprised grin creating rarely-seen dimples in her cheeks that match Sophia's. "Hey, sweetheart! What are you guys doing here?"
Miguel's smile is broad. "She couldn't wait any longer to see you again. I hope you don't mind."
Leah sends a fake pout at her mother. "I love seeing you guys, but maybe somebody should have given me the chance to shower first. I haven't had a real bath in days! I'm a disaster!"
Paul calls out, "We saw you skinny dipping this morning, Lee! You're sparkling fresh!"
She covers Sophia's ears with her hands. "Jackass! Were you watching me?" she sputters.
"You know, I think she can still hear you cussing. And just because I've got a girlfriend, doesn't mean I've gone blind. You can't strip off your skivvies and expect no one to notice."
"You guys were on the other side of the rocks!"
Jacob and Embry tug their canoe out of the water. "Most of us were on the other side of the rocks," Embry adds dryly.
Paul drapes his arm across Miguel's shoulders. "You're a lucky man. Your girlfriend is living hotness."
Miguel wrinkles his nose and pushes Paul's arm off. "You should have joined her in the water, man. You're absolutely rank. What's the rule, anyway? Look but don't touch, Lee? Or is it that you'll tear out Paul's eyes for looking, too?"
"That seems a little drastic," she answers with a little smile on her face.
"Not to me," Sue frowns and pokes Paul in the arm. "If I didn't know that Rachel Black has you in line, I'd take you to task for ogling my little girl."
Seth pulls up with Jasmine and helps her out of the canoe. "It's okay, mom. Leah can kick his ass herself. But I'm happy to help if she'd like it." He carefully sidesteps Sam, who has his hands on his hips and is staring at the weathered planking on the deck. But his eyes glaze over when Emily touches his arm, and she pulls him to her car. But after he opens the passenger door for Emily and shuts it behind her, he turns and stares intently at Leah with an inscrutable expression. Leah frees one of her hands from the baby's grip to make a gesture of a phone held to her ear. He nods in relief and climbs into his car.
Jacob distracts Bella from gawking at them when he wraps her up in a hug, tugging her off her feet and twirling her in circles. "Hey, honey," he murmurs into her neck.
Bella presses a kiss onto the mark on his collarbone before squeezing him as hard as she can. "I missed you," she whispers. "Six days is too long. I want a new rule. Ten hours max."
"Make it eight and you've got a deal," he chuckles and sets her back on her feet. When she turns around, Jasmine is nowhere in sight.
As the pack disperses, Leah sprints off to chase the shockingly fast Sophia through the parking lot, pretending to be unable to catch her while the baby laughs. Jacob gracefully sweeps Bella off her feet when she nearly trips over the zig-zagging child. Bella asks, "Is your dad at the Marina?"
"Yeah. Quil drove the boat. He's got Old Quil, too. So there's no one to stop me from doing this." Then he presses her to the cab and bends over her for a kiss. It starts off sweet and soft, his mouth exploring hers as if they have all the time in the world. His large hands run down her sides and settle on her hips, squeezing possessively, and she buries her fingers in his hair. Something about the way she tugs on his scalp makes Jacob growl, and he begins to nip at her full bottom lip with his teeth. She moans aloud and tries to pull him even closer, but the sound of snickering behind him stops them.
Jacob reluctantly separates from her and looks over his shoulder at Leah, who has caught Sophia and is holding her hand over her eyes. "You horny pervs! Take it inside where there are no children watching," she laughs.
"Hoe-nee pewv!" Sophia mimics, looking terribly pleased with herself. Leah's face shifts to frank mortification as everyone in earshot dissolves with laughter. She looks sheepishly at Miguel, who is laughing the hardest.
"I'm really sorry!" Leah apologizes and tries to hand Sophia back to her father.
Rather than take the baby from Leah, Miguel opens his arms and pulls both girls in for a hug and reassures her that it's fine, while Jacob and Bella take the chance to escape.
Jacob takes the wheel, while Bella looks over her shoulder. "Leah's going to make the most hilarious mom someday."
"She'll be a great mom," Jacob grins. "Maybe to that little girl, and maybe have a dozen of her own."
"You think so? Did Taha Aki say something?"
Jacob takes her hand in his right and leaves the left on the wheel. "Sort of. Just that he can't predict the future, but the female shifters that came before Leah could have kids. He doesn't know of any reason she can't, but he also admitted that he wouldn't necessarily know."
"So what's going on with her and Sam? They seem to be on better terms now."
"They are," Jacob nods.
"They're not, you know..."
"No, no. I mean, I think he'd still try to make it work with her in a heartbeat if she said so, but she's been pretty clear on that point, right? But she saw him get his throat smashed by Alec. Just like everyone else, she was terrified it was fatal. She was afraid he was going to die. It's, uh, a good moment to ask a girl for forgiveness, you know?"
"Did he? Did she?"
Jacob chuckles. "Not in so many words. But he saw her sympathy and grabbed onto it. She's been with him basically as much as possible since he found out his taxilit died, too. It hit him hard, and she's helping him through it. They spent a lot of time together on the island. I mean, we all did, it's not that big a place, but the two of them in particular. She was clear that she's with Miguel now, and he's got no chance other than to accept it, or let go of her completely."
"He picked the former?"
She thinks of Sam's communication with Leah after he put Emily in their car. "And that's it? He's just going home with Emily and trying to make it work?"
Jacob sighs. "You mean, just give in to the imprint? I don't know if he knows how to do that anymore. When he sees Em, he sort of forgets about everything else. But now that he's seen the way Rachel was with Paul, the way I've been with Jasmine, he knows there's another way. He can't look at Em the same way, particularly when he's not standing right next to her. He really wants to know which of his feelings for her are real, and which are the ones that only exist because she wants them to exist. He can't unknow what he knows. He's kind of mad at her for putting him in the position he's in because of how she feels, but still torn up about how he hurt her. And he cares about her. He just doesn't know exactly what it means."
"It really wasn't fair what happened to either of them. They were working with such limited information, you know? I wonder how things would have been if they hadn't imprinted first of all you guys. If they had anything other than the old legends to go off of."
"He wants to know the same thing. He wants some space."
Bella sighs. "Because he can't tell his real feelings from hers when he's around her?"
"Exactly. So I've decided to give it to him."
"I talked it over with my dad and Old Quil. Not all the relationship stuff. It's just that there's so much we don't know, and apparently, there are other guardian spirits, other shifters out there to find."
Bella remembers. "Yeah, Taha Aki said so."
"So I'm asking him to go look for them. He wants to do it anyway. Losing his taxilit was a real blow, Bells. I don't know if it's possible for him to have another, but he wants to find out. He wants to see who else is out there, learn what there is to know. Talk to the animals, find out what they have to teach us, and look for the rest of Taha Aki's family. Our family," he corrects himself. "Our ancestors."
"The other taxilits? He's going to look for them?"
"Exactly. It'll give him some space."
"Taha Aki can't just tell you where they all are?"
Jacob frowns a bit. "I don't know. He hasn't, anyway. I guess a lot of them are really lost in their animals. But I can't tell what he knows and what he doesn't. He tells us what he wants us to know. Maybe he wants Sam to go? Either way, he really doesn't talk that much."
Bella squeezes his hand gently. Sam's ordeal seems almost minor in comparison to Jacob's, or to the great Spirit Chief's. "So how was it? The ceremony?"
"Intense. In some ways, we didn't know the bear at all, but in others... Being part of the pack, part of the legends, we were closer to him than we were to other people we've known our whole lives."
"How is Taha Aki?"
"Hard to tell. He's got something to do, but then I think we aren't going to see him for a while either."
"Something to do?" she prompts.
Jacob glances at her before bringing her hand up for a kiss. "Yeah. Jasmine asked him for help. After what happened, she knows that the imprint is bad for both of us. She sees that it nearly got us both killed. So she asked him to break the imprint."
Bella's eyes widen. "Is that possible?"
"Not exactly. We all kept wondering why she was still fixated on me even after I told her I was staying with you, right?"
"You mean, since Rachel sort of released Paul before she fell in love with him for real?"
"Yeah." Jacob nods. "She thought it meant I didn't really want her to stay away, the way Em told Sam to go back to Leah but didn't really mean it. But she understands now that that's not the case. I don't want to be with her, period. So the two of us, we couldn't break her side of the imprint. Even Rach, when she wanted Paul to be happy and free, the imprint didn't break. She just wanted him to be able to be happy with someone other than her, so he was able. The imprint was still there."
Her face falls. "So there's nothing to do? That's it? You could reject your imprint on Jasmine, but no one else knows how?"
Jacob traces circles in the back of her hand with the rough pad of his thumb. "So that's the interesting thing. Apparently I'm not the first one to reject their imprint. It's not common, but it has happened. But I'm the first to realize it, probably because there's never been a situation like this one, where two wolves were supposed to imprint on each other. I wouldn't have figured it out if she hadn't imprinted on me. Just like I kind of hated her, the wolf hated her, inexplicably, the first time I saw her? That's happened a few times. But no one really knew what it was. They just really didn't like the girl, and avoided her, and that was that. Nobody knew it was an imprint getting rejected. The way Taha Aki explained it to me, if the wolf is stronger than the man, the wolf's desire for the imprint can override the man's wishes. But if the man is stronger than the wolf, the man can convince the wolf to reject the whole process. I didn't even have to convince my wolf, since he loves you too. But either way, the whole process is subconscious, and it all happens in the instant he lays eyes on her. No one has ever fully imprinted and then broken it."
Bella is dismayed. "So Sam doesn't have the choice to break his imprint with Emily? And Jasmine can't break her imprint on you?"
Jacob nods. "Not anymore."
"So she's stuck? We're stuck?"
"As long as the wolf remains." Now she notices the glint in his eye. The corner of his mouth turns up. "But if the wolf goes, the imprint goes with it."
Bella gawks at him. "The wolf can go?"
Jacob slows the truck to a crawl on the empty street and releases her hand so that he can cup Bella's cheek. "Taha Aki can draw out the wolf. The imprint goes with it. And once it's gone, it can never come back."
Bella stares up at him. "Really? Is she... Does she..."
"She wants it gone. He's going to do it."
At sunset, Jacob knocks on Brady's door. He opens it and steps aside to let his Alpha in. Jacob feels Jasmine's gaze on him before he sees her in the darkened hallway. He nods his head at the door. "We'll catch up with you." Brady glances between them and jogs away.
Jasmine gives him a small, "Hey."
He doesn't greet her. He doesn't know what to say. So he just holds out his hand. She looks at it in surprise before stepping forward and taking it. He squeezes it gently. "You sure this is what you want to do?"
She takes a shaky breath. "It is."
"You don't have to, you know. I'm sorry about what I said the other day." They both notice that he doesn't actually take back his words, he only apologizes for voicing them.
She nods vigorously, and he thinks he sees the sheen of tears in her eyes, but they are lidded as she stares at her hand in his. "I know that. I do. But it's the right thing to do. It's hard to remember, hard not to just let the imprint take over..." Her voice is thick with emotion. He knows what she means, that the imprint rises to the surface and wants to keep them together for all time.
He agrees with her, but doesn't want her to feel as if she is being kicked out of the pack. She was already punished severely for her mistake. "You understand that it's irreversible, right? Once you do this, you can't change your mind."
"I'm not going to change my mind, Jacob. I'm not just doing it for you, you know. I'm doing it for me."
"That's a good thing," he answers softly. "You should only do it if it's the right thing for you. Do you think it is?"
She swallows a lump in her throat and looks him directly in the eye. "Don't you?"
He examines her closely. She really does want the unvarnished truth. "I do."
Even though she fully expected the answer, it still causes her pain. "Yeah. Me too."
He lowers his voice to a comforting rumble. "You're always going to be our sister, Jasmine. That's not going to change."
A single tear runs down her cheek. She hastily brushes it away and murmurs, "And she's always going to be your..."
He answers roughly, "Yeah. She always was. I'm sorry."
"Me too," she whispers before stepping back and dropping his hand. "You have no idea how much." She clears her throat. "Look, can we get going?"
They walk in silence, and at a human speed. She thinks to herself that she might as well get used to the slower pace. They do not speak, but the silence is not uncomfortable. They have been through far too much together to feel awkward any longer.
By the time they reach the cliffs, the same spot where they dive, the sun has dipped below the Pacific Ocean. The western sky glows a dusky orange strikingly similar to Jasmine's pelt. The sky above them is a deep, rich blue, and the eastern horizon is painted an inky navy with stars winking from behind the thin clouds. A full moon illuminates the gathering.
No one else joins the pack. Although many of the elders wanted to come, Jacob knows that this is no spectacle to be witnessed and politely declined their request. So nine wolves sit on their haunches in a semicircle on the bluff.
Jacob pulls off his shorts, shifts into his wolf, and takes his place in the circle. Jasmine takes a deep breath, tugs her dress over her head, and phases for the last time.
She moves into the center. One by one, each wolf steps forward and gently presses their muzzle against her forehead, her cheek, her nose. One by one, each wolf says goodbye to its sister.
Jacob is last. When he approaches, her head is lowered in shame and sorrow, her tail hanging limply. He nudges her to look up using his paw, and he leans down to press his cheek against hers. In her mind, he hears her crying out for him, so he lingers. He tilts his head down and presses his forehead to hers, and he feels her devotion wash over him. It is this very devotion that allows her to leave.
He steps back when he hears the eagle call, and retreats back to his place in the circle. As one, the pack looks to the sky and sees the majestic bird circling overhead. At first, the spiral is wide, and the eagle is high. But gradually, it tightens its loop and dips lower and lower.
And then it dives. It looks like a bullet speeding toward earth. It appears as if it will plummet directly down upon Jasmine, but at the last second, it opens its wings and sweeps up into the sky. It flies up and out until it is nearly out of sight, but with a twist, it falls again. Jasmine stares up at it, falling directly to earth, directly to her. Jacob glances away from the eagle and at Jasmine, and for a moment, it looks like the human girl stands before him. She shimmers, he blinks, and then it appears as if the wolf has not moved at all. But at her center, the lights in her heart begin to grow brighter and more distinct. And as the eagle nearly falls into her, once more spreading its wings at the last second and reversing its course back upward, the twin lights separate.
And as the eagle rises into the atmosphere, Jasmine blurs back and forth, wolf to girl, girl to wolf, and back again. Her spirits grow brighter, now shining enough to see the bluish tint of one and the red glow of the other.
The eagle screams and dives, an arrow aimed at her. She doesn't move. She welcomes him. She welcomes this. And at the last second, Taha Aki spreads his wings and twists, and the tip of one broad wing brushes against her forehead.
Taha Aki catches the star in his claws. He banks toward Jacob, and as the light sweeps over him, Jacob feels the love of the other wolf as warmth on his skin. He hears a faint, Goodbye, my love. And then the eagle climbs. Taha Aki carries the wolf spirit with him into the upper reaches of the stratosphere. He flies higher, higher, ever higher, until they can no longer see the great Spirit Chief. The red light grows brighter, stronger, and higher, ever higher, until it looks like the brightest star in the sky. They strain their eyes for any sign of the eagle, but they only see the red glow. Together, the wolves open their throats and howl.
When they finally look back down, Jasmine the girl remains curled on the hard ground. Leah moves forward and drags a blanket over her, and she pulls it around herself gratefully. She keeps her eyes trained on her knees, and although she hasn't shrunk a single centimeter, she somehow seems smaller. A few tears hit the ground beneath her.
Around her, her pack brothers return to human form and pull on their clothes. And one by one, they smile at her.
Jared breaks the silence. "Kim wants you to come over on Saturday. You want to have dinner with us?"
She looks up, and her worried face breaks into a tentative smile. "Yeah. That'd be great."
"See you at six, then." He returns her smile and turns to jog away.
Brady asks, "You coming home now? My mom said she'd bring back those cookies that you like from the bakery."
Seth interrupts and throws his arm around her. "Nah. She's coming to our house tonight. We're doing a movie marathon."
"What're you watching?" Quil asks.
"The Batman movies. We have all of them, Keaton, Kilmer, all of 'em."
"Oh, sweet!" Embry rubs his hands together. "Got room on your couch for one more?"
Seth replies, "Sure!"
Jasmine tilts her head. "Those aren't exactly things a baby would watch."
"She's asleep by now," Leah shrugs. "Miguel's making some chili, but I don't know if there's enough for more than a few hungry wolves."
Quil points in the general direction of his mother's store. "We'll pick up some grub. How's that sound?"
"'Course. You guys want to come?" Seth glances at the rest of the pack.
Collin and Brady glance at each other. "Actually, this girl in our class is throwing a little party. We didn't say we were coming, but..."
Jasmine shakes her head. "You guys should go. I'll catch you back at the house later."
Seth turns his head. "How about you, Paul? Sam?"
Paul shrugs. "I got no other plans tonight."
Sam looks at Leah without answering. She glances back before breaking eye contact, then flips her hair over her shoulder as she occupies herself with tying her halter dress around her neck. "You guys know there's plenty of room. Mom got a nice 40 inch flat screen in the basement now. Sam? You in?"
He relaxes visibly. "Yeah. I have time for at least one."
Guilelessly, Jasmine asks, "You don't need to get back to Em?"
Sam shifts uncomfortably. Just a few hours before, he had told Emily about his impending departure to search for the rest of the taxilits. She had taken the news hard, particularly since she knew that Jasmine was about to lose her wolf that very evening. She obviously feared that Sam was going to ask for the same, but he reassured her that he was not. His wolf is a part of him, his role as a protector is a part of him. He cannot imagine what it might be like to watch his brothers go to battle without him, what it might have been like to know Jacob had been captured and not have a hand in tearing apart the sadistic vampires who threatened them. So he has no intention of asking Taha Aki to separate his wolf from him. Therefore, even now, he feels the invisible ropes binding him to Emily tugging him back toward his little cabin in the woods. But now he knows the ropes as the bindings they are, and he resists. He answers, "Not yet. I kind of thought this would take longer, so I told her I'd be back pretty late. Besides." He narrows his eyes at Leah. They are only just now reaching a new equilibrium, and as much as it pains him to watch her with another man, it makes him happy to see her happy, and he gets a warm sense of contentment in his stomach when she smiles at him. He wants to spend time with her before they both depart. "I want to watch the Clooney one."
She laughs, and his heart lifts. The bindings around his heart suddenly feel less painful. "You just want to ogle the batsuit with nipples on it."
He smiles. "I want to watch you watch that one. I know how much you hate it. Watching that one with you is like watching an old episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000." He wants Leah to keep laughing, and he wants to see it.
"Oh, no. That one is only worth one thing. We should have a bonfire tonight just so we can throw it in. You have your choice of the Christian Bale movies, or none."
The group starts to walk toward the Clearwater house. Sam falls into step with Leah. "The Kilmer version?"
"I will tie you down and force you to watch The Notebook. Jake, you coming? You should get Bella and bring her over."
"Sure, sure." He starts toward his house, while Paul points in the opposite direction.
"Dude, where you going? She lives that way."
"She's waiting at my house," he smiles. "We'll be there in a bit." He catches Jasmine peeking at him over her shoulder with a wistful turn of her lips before Quil affectionately tucks her under his arm.
He jogs to his house and smiles when he sees warm yellow light illuminating the windows. His smile turns into a grin when he smells the scent of Bella's homemade lasagna drifting outside, and his jog turns into a run when he hears her laughing at something her father said. He throws open the door, and she turns to him with an expectant look on her face.
And when she sees his grin, her returning one lights up her entire face. She stands and opens her arms. "Jake!"
He sweeps her up and squeezes her tightly. "Hey, Bells."
She asks, "Everything's okay?"
"That's a relief," Charlie leans back into the couch cushions.
"You got here just in time for food, son. Did you time it that way on purpose?" Billy asks. It is much later than they usually eat, but they wanted to eat together as a family, and so they waited for him.
"Just a very happy coincidence. Will you guys be okay here if we go over to Leah's after dinner? A bunch of people are getting together."
"Sure! You know Charlie and I can entertain each other. You kids deserve to have some fun."
So they move into the kitchen for the most satisfying meal Jacob can recall having in months. Afterward, when they wave to their fathers and close the front door behind them, Bella gasps as she stares up into the sky. She points up to the uncommonly clear night. "What is that, Jake?"
He looks up, and to his surprise, the red star is still bright. "You can see that?"
"Yeah. What is it? It's such an interesting color. Is it Venus or something?"
"No, Bells. That's... That's her."
She looks at him in surprise. "Jasmine's wolf?"
"Yeah. I didn't know that would happen."
"She's beautiful," Bella breathes.
Jacob pulls her into his arms and kisses the top of her head. "Not nearly as beautiful as you."
They walk slowly to the Clearwaters', swinging their hands between them in the manner of children. Their progress is slow as one or the other of them points up at a constellation or a particularly bright star. Bella's gaze is drawn to Jasmine's wolf again and again, but Jacob is drawn in not by the celestial lights, but their reflection in Bella's wide eyes. She draws patterns, seeing the myths of the Greeks, the Romans, and many of her own invention. He tells her that the Makah believe that they were born from the mating of stars with earthbound animals, and she wonders aloud if Jasmine's wolf became a star, if the opposite is actually true. It isn't until later that they realize that no one outside the pack, Bella excepted, can see the red glow. In fact, from that moment on, every time Jacob looks into the night, he sees the red star hanging directly above him. It doesn't change with the seasons, doesn't move across the dome of the night sky. It stays with him.
But tonight, knowing it is there is more than enough. In fact, it is a kindness he didn't expect to have. He doesn't need anything other than the girl by his side, the girl whose spirit comes to him even when he is miles away, who loves him with more devotion than had dared to hope for, who has discovered the inner strength that she didn't know existed until he showed it to her, but he was always certain was there. She is the girl who captured his heart so many years ago, whose heart has now melded with his in every way possible, and now, even in a manner entirely impossible. He feels her heart beating solidly in his chest, and he silently thanks every star in the sky for her.
As she looks up at the red star once more, she catches his expression of utter and overwhelming love. So she reaches up and draws his lips to hers, and he kisses her softly and sweetly. He kisses her like it is beginning of the rest of their lives.
A/N: A final and huge thanks to my wonderful beta, Babs81410, without whom this story would look quite different and much worse. This was the final chapter.
To those of you asking for a sequel, I am contemplating one and have some ideas, but haven't committed to it at this time. I definitely have two other short stories on the way for projects at Tricky Raven and JBNP which will eventually be posted here at FFN. One will be Leah-centric, but will still feature a J/B pairing. The other is not yet even outlined (which, incidentally, means I can still be swayed on the topic/pairing/plot).
Thanks so much for joining me. I hope you've enjoyed reading Dreamscapes and its sequel as much as I've enjoyed writing them.