Happy 6th December. So this advent story is a little different from the last in that it's a bit sadder, but hopefully you'll still enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Massive thanks once again go out to Wonderwoman, aka idealskeptic, for betaing this for me. And as per usual, Twilight is not mine, I just like playing with it.

Saying Goodbye

I woke up in a panic, some sixth sense alerting me to the fact that something was wrong.

Instinctively, my hand shot out to the other side of the bed, searching out the warm body that should be lying next to me. The space was empty and the sheets cold.

Bella.

I bolted upright, propelling myself off the bed.

All of her shoes and clothes were still scattered across my room so I knew she couldn't have gone far, but a glance at the clock made me worry.

What was she doing wandering about in the middle of the night?

"Bella?" I called out softly. There was no reply, only the sound of my father's snores.

Shaking my head, I wandered through the house, checking the bathroom and the kitchen. She wasn't there, and that's when the panic took over. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a flashing light and bent down to pick up her discarded cell phone. The call on the other end of the line had been hung up, but Bella's side was still clocking up minutes. She had obviously gotten up to answer her phone, but I couldn't work out why she had dropped her cell and then not picked it up.

Just as I pressed the key to switch it off, I noticed the name of the last caller.

Alice Cullen.

Dread trickled down my spine. I knew that Bella hadn't heard from any of the Cullens since they had disappeared at the beginning of her senior year, so for them to get in contact with her now was odd. Why had they gotten back in contact with her now? Had she gone to meet them?

That last thought made my inner wolf howl in outrage that they would think to take her from me. I needed to find her and I needed to bring her back.

Sprinting back to my room, I grabbed a pair of shorts and pulled them on before heading outside. The sky was still dark and everything was silent in La Push. In the distance I could hear two of my pack mates howling to each other, but neither call was urgent so obviously nothing was wrong on the reservation. Stretching out my heightened senses, I searched for Bella. There was no heartbeat nearby to indicate that she was in the yard, but the faint hint of her scent still lingered on the air.

Quickly looping through the woods, I realised that rather than leading away from the reservation, Bella's trail led further onto our land, and the tightness in my chest relaxed slightly. With another turn through the trees came the realisation that Bella was heading towards First Beach. It was strange, but now the threat of her leaving or the Cullens taking her away was gone, I could feel myself relaxing, now more curious than agitated as to what she was doing.

The break in the trees was coming nearer and I sprinted through it and onto the sand, my eyes searching out the girl I was looking for. The beach was deserted at this time of night, the moonlight reflected on the waves of the sea and the sand glimmering faintly in the weak light. Away from the shelter of the trees, a cold wind whipped across the exposed land and not for the first time, I was glad of my high body temperature which kept me warm.

Movement to my left caught the corner of my eye and to my relief I made out Bella's tiny figure in the distance.

She was further down the beach on the shoreline, towards the whitewashed tree that they always sat near, and she seemed to glow in the dark. It was only when I got closer that I realised that the moon was shining upon what looked like the white dress she was wearing.

Frowning, I moved closer and then surprise made me stop where I was. It wasn't a white dress she was wearing; it was a sheet, one of the ones from my bed to be exact. My mind frantically tried to compute what it saw.

Bella was outside in the middle of winter, on a cold beach, wrapped in just a sheet, with nothing underneath.

I wasn't sure whether I should be worried that she had finally cracked up and gone mad, or if I should be turned on at the thought of my girl running around the res half-naked. I settled for feeling worried though, especially when as I got closer, I could hear her cries.

The sheet was pulled tightly around her hunched shoulders as she sobbed into her hands, and her body was shuddering in the freezing cold of the night.

"Bella?"

She jumped at the sound of my voice and spun around, getting tangled in the sheet as she did, but managing not to fall over.

"Jacob. I didn't... What are you doing here?"

Her eyes were darting all over the place and I approached her carefully as if she was a wild animal that would spook and run away if I made any sudden movements.

"I was looking for you. I woke up and you were gone, so I came after you."

"Oh." She didn't seem to know what to do with my explanation and turned back to face the ocean, wiping at her wet eyes as she did.

"I just needed some fresh air," she finally said.

My eyebrows shot up at that and I couldn't help the sarcasm that came in my voice. "So you decided the best way to get fresh air was to come down to the beach in just a sheet?"

She stared at the ground and shrugged.

With a sigh of frustration, I moved so I was stood next to her and threw an arm over her shoulders, hugging her lightly to my side.

"What's really wrong, honey?"

She shrugged again and I bit my tongue so my impatience wouldn't get the better of me. Knowing that when it came to the Cullens, Bella kept a lot to herself so I wouldn't be annoyed by the mention of them, I decided to bring up the call myself.

"I saw that Alice rang you, Bells."

As if that acknowledgement was all that she needed, Bella immediately dissolved into tears. Spinning into my body, she pushed her face against my chest as she sobbed and clutched hysterically at my waist, her nails digging into my skin as if she was afraid I would disappear.

Wrapping my arms around her, I rested my chin on the top of her head and began to stroke her back, murmuring reassurances as I did.

"...sssshhh, you're alright now...I got you, Bells...I got you..."

I don't know how long we stood like that until the tears eventually stopped and Bella pulled back a little in embarrassment.

"Hey, hey," I chided her. "None of that now. You don't have to tell me what's going on if you don't want to, but you don't have to be shy about it either, honey."

Despite my words, I pulled her into my body a little tighter, the small voice in the back of my head telling me that I should grab Bella and hide her away from the rest of the world so nothing could hurt her and no-one could take her from me.

"Alice called," she began in a small voice. "And I was really shocked because she disconnected that number before, you know, when they left."

I hummed in agreement.

"So I didn't know why she would be calling me. I mean, when they left, and he left, he promised me that it would be like it he never existed."

I had to resist the urge to snort and was rewarded when Bella took my silence as encouragement.

"And she was just calling... she thought I should know..." Her breath hitched and she struggled to finish the sentence.

I squeezed her tighter. "Know what, Bells?"

"Ed-ward's..." she hesitated over the name like she always did. "He's...he died." A strangled cry emerged from her throat as if the noise had been torn from her. "She said...she said...he's...he's dead...and she thought that I'd want to know and I don't know what to do." She ran out of breath and then collapsed against me, great heaving sobs juddering through her tiny frame.

I didn't know what to do, so I settled for just clinging to Bella, one hand cupping the back of her neck and the other wrapped around her shoulders. I rocked gently from side to side, my mind racing.

The leech was dead and Bella was clearly devastated by this news. Yet, a tiny, petty part of me was glad.

I knew that Bella still loved the leech in her way, but over the last few years, she had moved past that and somehow fallen in love with me. She was happy with me, she told me so and I saw it in every move she made and everything she said.

But there had still been that niggling thought in the back of mind that made me question what her decision would be if the bloodsucker ever came back for her. Old love was a powerful emotion and I had no guarantees that she would continue to choose me should that happen.

So yes, part of me was glad that he would never be coming back, that I would only have normal relationship problems to worry about it, without having to fight against the ghost of her past romance as well.

On the other hand though, Bella was deeply distressed by the news and I hated seeing her hurt or upset. Swallowing my natural instincts to revel in my enemy's death, I continued to sway gently with Bella, crooning softly to her as she purged her grief.

Eventually she calmed, her cries tapering off and her tears drying. We stood, still pressed tightly against each other, for a while until Bella suddenly shivered violently.

"Come on, honey. We need to get you back inside before you lose your toes."

She didn't protest as I wrapped the sheet more closely around her and then scooped her up. She snuggled her face against my chest as I hurried back towards the house and some semblance of warmth.

I took her straight into the bathroom when we got inside and immediately ran the hottest bath I could, crossing my fingers that the hot water pipes didn't suddenly give up midway through. Bella was shaking in earnest now and I quickly unwrapped her from the sheet and lifted her into the tub. She hissed at the initial touch of the hot water, but quickly relaxed as the warmth soaked into her body.

"What were you doing running around in just a sheet, you silly girl? You would have frozen to death out there before I got to you."

She stared at me, but there was a glazed look to her eyes that made me think it wasn't me she was seeing.

"I didn't... didn't think, I guess," she explained softly. "I wrapped the sheet around me to answer the phone and then when I heard the news I just... walked. I just needed some fresh air to think and..." Her voice trailed off and I rubbed her shoulder, trying to bring her back to me, away from the dark place her thoughts were taking her to.

"And what?"

She looked at me then, properly looked at me.

"I needed to say goodbye. I don't love Edward in the way I used to, but I did love him with everything I had at one time." She grabbed my arm and glided through the water closer to me, wrapping her wet arms around my neck. "I'm sorry. I know you don't want to hear about me and Edward, but I can't think of him and not be sad." It was a tiny confession, whispered into the crook of my neck and I immediately felt guilty for my pleased thoughts earlier.

"I don't mind. I know you loved him."

"I did," she rushed to say. "But I feel bad that I'm crying over him in front of you. It just doesn't seem fair to you."

I held back my incredulous chuckle. Trust Bella to put all the blame upon herself. I tried to word my reply carefully so Bella could understand exactly what I was trying to tell her.

"Bells, I don't mind you thinking about your past and Edward, because I know that he is your past. And I know that I'm here now and I'm going to be your present and your future. You just found out that he's... passed away... and it would be strange if you weren't sad about it." The next words caught in my throat but I pushed them out. "If you ever want to talk about it – about Edward – then I'm here to listen."

Bella drew back and stared at me for a minute before she burst into hysterical giggles.

"You should've seen the look on your face when you said that."

She laughed and laughed and then the laughs turned into tears again and she buried her face in her hands, trying to hide her grief from me. I wasn't having any of that.

Lifting Bella out of the water, I sat down in the tub and set Bella down on top of me. She curled up on my chest and I held her as she sobbed the rest of her past out.

I had to be a grown up about this. I couldn't let my petty jealousies get in the way of Bella's needs.

So I sat in the cooling water and I held my mate tightly as she cried for another man. But I could set my feelings aside. Because this was Bella saying goodbye.

And then she would move forward. With me.

And that was all I needed to know.