A/N: Hello everyone who got the "New chapter posted!" email alert for this fic… ten years after its last update… Um. Terribly sorry for the wait. =S
Happy Twilight renaissance, everyone! I have no idea why it's happening, but I'm enjoying it.
I always wondered what I'd say here, for the last chapter. As the years ran on, I was conscious of how my writing style had changed and I was worried I would not be able to do the ending I intended as a teen justice. This year, I decided it didn't matter; what mattered, to me, was finishing a damned good story. This chapter was particularly difficult to write because it was hard to pin down an exact timeline of events, but I managed to get a pretty reasonable grasp on it, I think!
I've mentioned in some chapters the gifts Meyer accidentally gave me, to make this rewrite possible. But this is my very favorite. Charlie's description of Edward, arriving with Carlisle to help Jacob. "Edward was really... nice. He seemed as worried about Jacob as you are - like that was his brother lying there. The look in his eyes..."
POV in this chapter starts with Edward, has Jacob in the middle when he wakes up, and ends on Edward.
Now, my wonderful readers, the conclusion…
Chapter Fifteen: Turning Page
For a moment, relief washed over Edward. No one had died, and Victoria and her army had been vanquished. The Volturi were coming, but they were going to be too focused on the newborn army to care about Bella still being human.
For one beautiful moment, it was all over. Edward smiled.
Another newborn vampire! Seth cried. She was hiding!
Edward's head whipped toward him. "What's she doing?" But he could answer that on his own.
He focused on the pack link. Through their eyes, he saw a terrified newborn still willing to fight. Every wolf turned to kill her, but it was Leah who leapt first. She turned to face the oncoming newborn, and Edward could feel the burn of her desire to prove she was as good at killing leeches as the rest of her pack. Pain and terror for his sister tore through Seth — until another shape came flying in from every wolf's peripherals, sending Leah tumbling. With a note of finality and relief, the russet wolf had taken her place in front of the newborn. Jacob!
"No!" Edward shrieked, unable to suppress it. His hand reached toward the battleground from where he stood, as if he could have closed the distance between. "Don't—!"
There was nothing anyone could have done. Leah sprang to her feet, out of harm's way, and the young vampire closed its arms around Jacob.
Edward saw Jacob's broken body crumple to the forest floor from the eyes of every wolf in the clearing. He heard their agonized cries, including Seth's, whose cry rang directly in Edward's ears.
The ear-splitting pitch and the emotional blast from Seth's pack link knocked Edward's legs out from under him. He sank to his knees in the snow, clutching his head as it began to ache and spin with what he had just seen.
Jacob couldn't leave. He couldn't die! He was bluffing Bella, damn it! He can't die! Oh, God, he's dead… He couldn't have survived that…
But no. No, Edward had to pull himself together. He had to be perfect. He covered his face with his hands, trying to draw a steady breath. From very far away, he felt his slacks soaking with freezing water and tried to hold onto the sensation to ground himself.
Jacob, no. You can survive this. Werewolves are durable.
When someone panicked or fell to pieces beside him, Edward would always stay strong for them. He had to do it now.
No no, Jacob, no stay with me.
Get it together, Edward. Get up.
He had to stay strong for Seth, and Bella. He had to stay strong for… for…
It hurts, god it hurts. This isn't how it ends.
Then a tiny sound rose over the din of the wolf pack's grief. A mental whisper under the screaming. Jacob's mind wasn't gone from the link.
And bit by bit, the wolf pack heard it, too.
"Edward! Edward!" Bella cried, falling to her knees in front of him, tugging at his hands to see his face. Edward raised his eyes and shakily met her gaze, his mind still assaulted by nearly a dozen wolf voices solidifying into clear words.
Quil. Oh, God, Jacob! Jacob, wake up!
Leah. You fool! You stupid, obnoxious, inconsiderate, god damned FOOL!
Jared. What the hell just happened?! What did he do?!
Embry. Kill it! Kill it now!
Paul. NO, you stupid bloodsucker! Why should we give mercy to the fucking vampire who killed Jacob?!
Sam. I'm sorry Carlisle, but I agree. She must die for Jacob's death.
Quil again. He's not dead-not yet! He… I can hear him, I think.
Leah again. He will be, if he doesn't get help! The fucking martyring idiot.
Edward could barely see Bella's face in front of him. "It's okay. We're going to be fine. It's—"
He broke off at the sound of a loud argument threatening to become violent between his family and the wolf pack. The wolves wanted to kill the newborn; Carlisle wanted to save her.
"What's happening?!" Bella's voice was shrill and demanding, ringing in his ears like Seth's cry. She still held Edward's wrists, and was looking under the red fringe hanging in front of his eyes to make him meet her gaze.
"We're fine. We're going to be okay," Edward reassured both her and himself. Jacob wasn't dead. Not yet. They would be okay.
That argument won't be the last thing I ever hear from Jacob.
Jacob rose from the depths, meeting only blinding pain, and sank again. Edward didn't need two medical degrees to know Jacob was going into shock. The blood soaking through that russet fur gave it away. The whisper of Jacob's mind dissolved away again, and the pack mind turned to panic as they intimately felt him slipping away. Through Sam's eyes, Edward watched Carlisle drop to his knees to give what was probably his best approximation of CPR on the wolf thrice his size.
They heal quickly, Carlisle just has to keep Jacob's circulation going…
No, too quickly. They can't let his bones set like this.
Edward yelled to Seth, hoping it would reach the alpha's ears, "Sam— help him—"
Bella swooned. Edward caught her before she hit the ground and sprang to his feet. Seth poised to spring, ears flat and lips curled in a snarl, to join in the fight to decide the newborn's fate. Edward could already see the violent fantasies blazing through his mind, the urge to shred and burn another vampire.
"Seth!" Edward shouted, grabbing the young werewolf's attention. Seth turned his head slightly and glared at Edward. I'm going, Edward. I'm going, and I'm killing her. I'll crush her like she crushed Jacob, pile her into a campfire and every Quileute will dance around the flames.
"No!" He growled back. "You go straight home. Now. As fast as you can!"
Seth shook his head, letting out a low and defiant whine. I don't think so!
"Seth. Trust me." Edward didn't want to have to explain the werewolves to the Volturi, or vice versa. He had noticed the difference between the Washington pack and the creatures of legend and nightmare; the Volturi surely would as well.
Seth crouched for a long moment, looking off into the woods towards the clearing and then towards La Push. I hope you have a good reason, he muttered. With a flash of fur, he was gone, heading towards La Push.
Just as fast, Edward lifted Bella into his arms and started sprinting towards the clearing.
With Seth gone, Edward no longer knew what was happening with Jacob, but he knew Sam and a few of the others were trying to drag his huge wolf body all the way to La Push, which was hundreds of miles away. Even in the best-case scenario, that shattered bag of bones would be jostled all the way there.
If they can get him to transform back, they can make the trip. Edward desperately wanted a chance to run there and help them. He didn't see how they would succeed without vampiric strength on their side.
At least he could be sure that Jacob's body wouldn't be in the clearing for Bella to see — though he himself was still forced to see it flashing vividly in half the minds present. There was only about half of it left.
"Edward," Bella gasped as Edward raced down the mountain peak at almost his top speed. They were moving fast enough, the trees blurred even for him. "What happened, Edward? What happened to Sam? Where are we going? What's happening?"
He knew she was going into mental shock, but he had no way to soothe it as they ran. "We have to go back to the clearing. We knew there was a good probability of this happening. Earlier this morning, Alice saw it and passed it through Sam to Seth. The Volturi decided it was time to intercede."
Bella was silent for a long moment, and Edward tried to be comforting. Taking care of her pulled his mind away from how much of Jacob's blood had soaked Sam and Paul's fur last time he saw them. "Don't panic." You too, Edward.
"They aren't coming for us. It's just the normal contingent of the guard that usually cleans up this kind of mess. Nothing momentous, they're merely doing their job. Of course, they seem to have timed their arrival very carefully. Which leads me to believe that no one in Italy would mourn of the newborns had reduced the size of the Cullen family… I'll know for sure what they were thinking when they get to the clearing."
Edward didn't mask the bitterness in his tone, but he did hold back his relief for the distraction. He didn't want to think about Jacob. He didn't want to think about the newborn that had crushed him — the newborn that was alive and waiting in the clearing.
Can I really blame the newborn when this is what Jacob wanted?
"Is that why we're going back?" Bella whispered, flinching and curling in on herself. She had to be close to breaking, and Edward's chest tightened with fear for both the people he loved.
Edward stomped the thought down and kept sprinting. He didn't have time to think about that. If he had one more thing to worry about, he would collapse.
"It's part of the reason," Edward answered, then cleared his throat when he realized how shaky his voice sounded. "Mostly, it will be safer for us to present a united front at this point. They have no reason to harass us, but… Jane's with them. If she thought we were alone somewhere away from the others, it might tempt her. Like Victoria, Jane will probably guess that I'm with you. Demetri, of course, is with her. He could find me, if Jane asked him to."
Bella made a panicked gurgle in her throat, and Edward held her tighter. "Shh, Bella, shh. It's all going to be fine. Alice can see that."
As they neared the clearing, Edward came into range of the family and started picking up bits of their thoughts, including Alice's rapidly shifting visions, Carlisle's burning pity and empathy, and Jasper's cold disgust of the newborn.
The newborn's name, Jacob's would-be killer, was Bree.
Bella seemed confused by his last statement. "The pack…?"
"They had to leave quickly. The Volturi do not honor truces with werewolves."
As Bella's shock wore off, Edward could hear her heart and breath quicken towards a panic attack. She wasn't going to be able to hold herself together for long, and Edward would be lying if he said he wasn't scared for her. He didn't know how to deal with a Bella who was falling apart.
That was Jacob's specialty.
"I swear they will be fine," he muttered, trying to sound steady and sure. "The Volturi won't recognize the scent — they won't realize the wolves are here; this isn't a species they are familiar with. The pack will be fine."
Bella was quiet for another long moment, before asking in a terrified, whisper. "What happened? Before. When Seth was howling? When you were hurt?"
Edward hesitated, not knowing if this was a good moment to be sharing the news. He didn't want to say it out loud, either. It would make the image of a broken Jacob from the pack's eyes more real than a vivid dream from another mind.
"Edward! Tell me!" Bella demanded, with the tone of someone who didn't want the news but who needed it.
Edward swallowed the bile in his throat. "It was all over," he said softly. "The wolves didn't count their half… they thought they had them all. Of course, Alice couldn't see…"
"One of the newborns was hiding… Leah found him-" Edward's voice grew harsh as he recalled why she had attacked in the first place. "She was being stupid, cocky, trying to prove something. She engaged him alone…"
"Leah." The girl sounded worried, but like a vein of even greater worry had been released. "Is she going to be okay?"
Edward ducked his head. "Leah wasn't hurt," he mumbled under his breath.
Bella stared at him blankly. Edward stared determinedly at the sky — or, more specifically, at the huge column of purple smoke that rose up from between the trees. It smelled like incense and made terror slide down his spine, even though he knew the fire had nothing to do with him.
"Edward… Edward, someone got hurt."
In the distance, on the barest edge of Edward's range and only because he was straining, Edward could 'hear' the pack again. They haven't made it far at all.
"Yes," Edward whispered.
He could see Sam, Paul, and Embry trying desperately to lift, carry or drag Jacob's body through the forest. Paul's fangs were deep in Jacob's scruff, doing most of the lifting. Sam was trying to get a decent hold on Jacob's hindquarters. Time and time again, one of Jacob's dragging legs would catch on the underbrush and they would drop him. But they kept trying – no order from Sam needed. All the whole, Edward could hear them begging their packmate to wake up, phase into his smaller shape. It was difficult for Edward not to flinch every time the body crumpled again.
"Who?" Bella asked faintly.
Edward tried to stop his violent trembling. "Jacob."
"Of course," Bella whispered, and fainted in his arms.
A glimmer of relief ran through Edward, a window where he could get to Jacob and try to help — followed by trickling shame. How can you leave Bella?
Bella will be fine.
I shouldn't be so quick to leave her
And yet. Bella would be alright with rest. Jacob… Jacob was not. He was decided when his family came into view.
"Edward!" Carlisle relieved smile dimmed when he saw Bella's body in Edward's arms. He was over to the two of them in just a couple strides. "What happened?"
Edward swallowed, still feeling torn between Bella's unconscious body and Jacob's, even as he planned his get-away. Jacob was stronger, but he was also more heavily injured. Bella certainly needed him and Jacob—
Jacob needs me. I need to focus.
"Stress and shock. She just needs a mental break, I think," Edward said, looking down into her ashen face.
Carlisle's eyes narrowed. "And this?" he asked, gently lifting her arm so they could both see the long, ragged gash on her arm. Blood oozed out of it and dripping from her fingertips.
Edward grimaced. "A stunt of martyrdom I'd rather explain later." He realized distantly that he should be raveningly thirsty at the sight, but Jacob's stuttering heartbeat had its hooks in Jacob's far more than Bella's enticing blood.
The three far-away werewolves had dropped Jacob again, this time more roughly than before. Jacob stirred with a whimper and sank into unconsciousness, and that was all Edward could take. I have to get to them!
"May I go? I'll be back before Bella wakes, I'm sure. I just need to… they're trying to carry Jacob..."
His pseudo-father's gaze was filled with nothing but understanding as he nodded. "Hurry back," he said softly. Edward would have been terrified if it weren't for the fact that Carlisle's thoughts showed nothing of romantic interest between the two boys… only a deep, emotional bond.
Well… that was worrying too, but not as much so as the wet crunch of bone fragments shifting inside Jacob's body — loud enough that Edward was hearing it clearly third-hand.
"Thank you," Edward said in as steady a voice as he could manage and held Bella out to Carlisle. His pseudo-father took Bella back to the fire, and Edward ran.
He sprinted through the trees, following the trail of blood, the bits of torn fur, and Jacob's scent. He had barely made it ten miles before he saw the group he was looking for.
His eyes immediately fell to the crumpled reddish-brown wolf on the ground. Standing over Jacob were three wolves just as large — one black, one silver, and one smaller chocolate-brown — covered in blood.
This isn't working! Paul, the silver one, snapped.
Any better ideas? Sam growled back.
Jacob… Embry pushed his nose into that damp fur. Transform back… please...
"I have one," Edward said softly, knowing they could easily hear him. He skidded to a halt, close enough to see Jacob's flank rising and falling in stuttering breaths, and far enough away to dodge if the wolves chose to attack.
Sam turned to stare at Edward, looking like the Grim in ebony black, standing over Jacob's broken body. Edward steeled himself, the rage and distrust coming off Sam in waves.
Why are you here? The pack leader asked, his lips curling in the snarl the words held.
Paul's furious eyes flashed to Edward and then sullenly back down to Jacob. Edward caught a memory from him, of Jacob shaking his head with bloodshot eyes. Why can't you just tell me? Paul had begged; he hated it, because what people called compassion, they usually meant "coddling stupidity" and Paul felt just as stupid doing it. And it still hadn't worked.
Edward could hear the clear dismissal in Paul's mind. Edward hadn't been helpful and wouldn't be now. Leeches didn't matter when his brother was on the ground.
He recalled Jacob's memories of Paul. Protective rage, defensive rage — nothing would touch what he loved while he stood between them and the perceived threat. Just as Paul was doing now. This particular brand was distilled helpless fury, inflamed by the vampire scents all around them.
"I'm here to help," Edward said at last, when none of them spoke. He walked slowly toward them, extending a hand. "Carry him, or transform him, or—"
Paul sprang between Edward and his fallen brother, fur bristling. Haven't you done enough damage?! Punctuated with a hair-raising snarl. You caused this! YOU! Get the fuck out of here, we don't need your help!
Edward clenched his fists and then deliberately loosened them. These were just Paul's instincts. "Don't punish Jacob for my mistakes."
Just get out of here! the gray wolf snarled. His muscles were coiling to spring, his huge paws raking tracks in the forest soil. The defensive hatred was palpable.
Paul, Sam said in a warning tone.
Edward planted his feet as well, half-bending his knees. He could probably throw a charging wolf with minimal damage to them both. "No."
Paul's lip curled and another violent snarl rumbled from his chest and rattled the nearby leaves. Edward struggled to hear a clear thought over Paul's pain, rage, agony. Everything that wiped these werewolves' minds and left nothing but violent urges in their wake.
Last warning, leech, Paul finally managed to spit, Now is the worst possible time to start pretending to care. Just turn around, walk away to your pretty girlfriend, and leave Jacob with us.
Under Paul's feet, Jacob gave a wet gurgle, and Edward's chest seized.
"You're just hurting him more!" Edward snapped, trying to reel Paul's reasonable side back in. "Every time you drop him, every time you shift him the wrong way, every… Look, I can try to change him back. At the very least, I can get him onto one of your backs and hold him steady. You need someone with hands!" He squared his shoulders, refusing to move an inch. Behind Paul's bristling form, he could see the blood in Jacob's mouth bubbling slightly. Jacob was still breathing, but just barely, and it wasn't going to last long. Edward was hardly breathing himself, his own fury rising to match Paul's.
Paul lunged forward and Edward jumped back to dodge those glistening fangs, which missed him by a hair. He caught a wisp of a thought from Paul about just scaring leeches away — killing Edward would upset Jacob.
Edward planted his heels into the dirt and reached for Paul with clawed fingers and a matching snarl on his own lips. Paul ducked away, forcing Edward to reach even further to grab Paul by the muzzle. But as soon as his grip tightened and prepared to twist, he felt a paw as big as his head planted his chest, ready to shove.
Edward could twist Paul's face off, but he was bound to lose his torso or his arms in the process. He froze.
Before either of them could speak, Sam jumped forward and snapped in Paul's direction. STOP.
A shudder raced through Paul's mind, and Edward heard the clink of another chain link appear. An order from on high that the wolf could not disobey. Paul dropped his paw immediately and, not wanting to seem the lesser man, Edward released him as well. Both were still bristling.
He's right, we need him. Sam's tone was low and resigned. He, like Edward, was trying to stay strong for everyone's sakes and was quickly getting emotionally exhausted from it. Let him help.
The alpha turned to Edward a moment later. The floor is yours, he said with a bite of irony.
Nodding with relief but keeping a wary eye on Paul, Edward stepped forward. He kneeled by Jacob's giant russet-brown face and rested a hand between those soft ears. They were nothing like the nightmare beasts in Siberia. The Cullens were right to make a truce with these guardians.
Jacob's body lay twisted at odd angles from its latest drop. Through his hand on Jacob's head, Edward could feel the squish and scrape of the wolf's healing abilities trying to put Humpty back together again. Jacob's skin twitched with it, like something was alive beneath his skin. That skin was completely sealed now, the blood caked to Jacob's fur was turning brown. If Edward thought werewolves smelled bad — their blood was nauseating. He would rather drink bleach. At least there was no more bone exposed, like there had been when the trio of wolves started dragging Jacob off.
Jacob can't heal this. It's too catastrophic. But maybe, maybe, his human body could survive long enough for Carlisle to help after the Volturi leave.
Jacob's nose weakly twitch and then his lip. Can he smell me?
Edward's ran his fingers through Jacob's thick fur, massaging the base of his ears. The mind beneath his hand stirred muddily. Jacob could be awake under the black pool trying to drown him.
Visualizing shoving his hands into a deep pool of oil, Edward reached into the broken and battered mind and tried to fish out conscious thought… if there even was any.
Luckily, Sam had a closer mental bond and could hear more wisps of thought than Edward could. We've been trying to talk to him, Sam said quietly. He's refusing to wake up and shift to human form. Too much pain, not worth being aware. We can't motivate him.
Quil, who had been quiet up into that moment and whose nose was still pressed into Jacob's fur, let out a low and wounded whine. Why aren't we good enough for him?
Edward didn't have a good answer for that. He didn't know. He could motivate Jacob though.
Do you feel the same way I do? Jacob had asked in a tent, a million years ago. Or twelve hours, it felt the same.
I'd rather not answer, Edward had said.
Would you ever?
Edward ran a slow, soft hand from Jacob's forehead, around his ear, in gentle circles. He bent closer, ignoring his violent nausea and the panic still clawing its way up his spine. He had run his fingers through Jacob's hair several times now, but never like this.
"Jacob, I…" Edward's voice cracked and broke off, and he cleared his throat. I can say this. It's not that hard.
No, probably not, Edward had answered that freezing night, and Jacob had scoffed.
So, an inch from death — yours or mine — you wouldn't answer that for me? Above Jacob's mocking smirk had been such doubtful eyes. As your dying confession or my dying wish?
And Edward had said Maybe. He never realized he would be put to the test so soon.
The wolves were murmuring amongst themselves behind him, guessing what he would say, hissing their disapproval not at Edward as a male, but Edward as a vampire. Edward didn't disagree. He was vividly aware of the audience he had (not just the three nearby, but many were still in wolf form and part of the pack link), but he ignored the embarrassment that threatened to well up. Jacob was the important thing right now.
Their secret was already revealed to the pack, whose first loyalty was to one another. They wouldn't tell any Cullens information they didn't need, and they considered Bella a Cullen in spirit.
Edward could be honest about the thought that had struck him as he ran Bella to his family. Honest about the feeling that curled in his chest when he vented to Jacob, who only watched with patient eyes. Honest about what had driven him, screaming, through the woods to land on one knee in front of Bella.
He let the feeling well up in him like the sun cresting over the hills. Jacob was that sun, shining under and through Edward's skin, reflecting off him, revealing the truth of him. His imperfections, his inhumanity. And Edward shone with it, he truly did.
He could still feel Jacob's lips catching on his, painfully close as he whispered what he thought of Edward's imperfections. What he thought of Edward. It was time he returned the favor.
Edward's soft voice still rasped on the words. "Jacob, I love you."
Emotions frothed from the pack, so strong and so varied, they blended and became incomprehensible to a trembling Edward. He heard their scorn and disbelief. Paul's amplified distrust rang out above the storm. Sam's fear. And softly, the lightest splashing waves beneath the whirlwind, he felt Leah's and Seth's disbelieving happiness.
Trying to ignore the chatter, Edward ran his hand across Jacob's face and neck fur, down to his shoulder. He could still feel the internal shifting, but the crunching had stopped. Jacob's mind pushed half-heartedly into wakefulness but that pain still clawed at him. Under the roar of the pack mind, Edward could hear Jacob clearly. Agony was still there, but emotional shock too, and sudden awareness. He could smell Edward.
Edward curled his fingers, a fist of fur between them. With the other hand, he cupped Jacob's muzzle the way he would have cupped the man's cheek, feeling ridiculous but determined.
"Do you hear me, Jacob Black?" Edward said softly, triumph beginning to rise in his chest. "I love you."
A weight was rolling off his shoulders onto the dirt, forgotten. A tightness in his spine slipped away, the muscles in his jaw eased. Edward felt a great loosening across his whole body. He had faced the truth, just like Jacob wanted.
The body under his hands flushed with heat and Edward felt Jacob's mind rear up with a mighty effort. Those wolf eyes flashed open and rolled, trying to focus. Edward concentrated, leaning in to hear his mind over the pack, but Jacob's thoughts were too loud, too tangled. Edward couldn't pick out any specific words, or even a particularly clear emotion. Resolve, perhaps.
Edward tightened his fist against Jacob's damp fur. "I can't understand you." He felt the ghost of a smile on his lips and didn't suppress it. "You'll have to talk to me."
Fire lanced across Jacob's body, which blurred and shrank beneath Edward's hands. He blinked, and his hands were resting on a naked human shoulder and a cheek. The body was still torn, still bruised and gruesomely twisted, but it was alive. He was breathing and moving. And Jacob–
Edward could barely hear the man over the roar of the pack, the resounding of their fury and relief and joy, punctuated with howls.
"Liar." Jacob rasped, eyes fluttering open. He looked as if he were about to continue, but his throat seized, and he turned to spit out a mouthful of coagulated blood.
Edward laughed, breathless and relieved. "Never about that. I love you." Now that he could say it, he wasn't sure if he ever wanted to stop.
Jacob blinked up at him with devastatingly warm brown eyes. "You have shit for timing," he ground out, throat worn and aching. "I hurt way too fucking much to enjoy this right now."
"I'm sorry," Edward answered sincerely, still smiling. Jacob's lips twitched upward, a miracle in this condition.
He gathered Jacob up against his chest, with an arm around to keep the werewolf's body steady, and tried not to think of the first time he held this naked body when he himself was fully clothed. Pressed against a tree as a bear bled out at their feet. Jacob was as naked as he had been for their first kiss.
Edward pressed his lips to Jacob's bloody ones, not giving a damn about the taste. Jacob sighed and Edward felt relief wash from Jacob's mind to his. He deepened the kiss, encouraged, arms curving tighter around his lover.
Jacob flinched. "Gentle— ow fuck!" Jacob hissed in pain, pulling away. Edward felt a pang of guilt but his exultation was much stronger.
"I don't have to be gentle with you, wolf," Edward murmured. Jacob's eyes widened; he was doubtlessly remembering their first kiss as well.
Moisture was gathering in Jacob's eyes, and Edward knew they were losing their moment of peace. The werewolf had reached a level of pain beyond any conscious comprehension — but that wasn't going to last. Jacob's healing was speeding up again.
Edward shifted into a crouch, still holding Jacob close. "I'm going to pick you up. You're going back to La Push," he said firmly.
He felt the spark of agreement from Jacob a second before he spoke. "Okaaa—" The word ended in a violent gasp and Jacob's body seized. The convulsion reverberated back through his body, wracking it with pain. Panic tightened in the back of Edward's throat as Jacob fell into a circle of pain, flinching, and further pain.
"Jacob— try to hold still!" Edward rose to his feet, holding Jacob tightly, trying to keep his torso still. In this state, it felt like cradling a bag of tent stakes. Paul was snarling low in his throat, and Sam's warning growl echoed it.
For a hideous moment, Jacob shook, and Edward feared he was about to explode into his secondary form again. But before Jacob's body could summon the strength, his eyes rolled back, and he lost consciousness again.
Quil and Embry's minds appeared in range just seconds before their looming wolf forms pushed through the trees beside Sam. They were carrying bundles of jeans in their mouths.
From a stash, Quil said.
He's back! Embry cried, dropping the jeans. When we heard his mind disappear, for a second I thought…
Edward lifted Jacob fully in his arms, as he has held Bella just minutes before. "Can any of you carry him?" He demanded, turning to the four wolves. As humans, surely they could, but as a wolf, they could run at vampire speed.
Paul shook his pelt and knelt near Edward in what was a rough approximation of a horse kneeling to be mounted. Weird to see a dog looking like that, Edward thought, and hefted Jacob onto Paul's back.
He picked up Embry's dropped jeans and tied them into restraints, binding Jacob belly-down to Paul's back. As Edward's hands brushed Paul's bristling gray fur, he felt the wolf heave a deep breath, and thoughts of Rachel rushed through him. She eased down the anger, the instinct to turn and shred Edward.
It bought Edward enough time to finish and step back. Paul bolted, Quil and Embry got on his heels.
Sam pauses, surveying Edward. Thank you for your help, he said formally. Then he, too, disappeared into the brush.
The odds were high now that Jacob would make it.
x X x
Everything after that was a blur of alternating fear and relief.
Fear: Bella was still unconscious when Edward skidded to a halt back at the newborn funeral pyre, where his family waited. Relief: she awoke.
Fear: Carlisle was seriously considering adopting this wild Bree into the Cullens. Relief: it could, seemingly, maintain control.
Fear: the Volturi arrived and killed the girl, staring straight at Edward as they did so. They threw the shredded body in the fire, Jane glancing significantly at Bella. Relief: they left without punishing anyone for Bella's continued humanity.
The two emotions bled and mixed until all Edward felt was a twitching disquiet, and an eagerness to get to La Push. Carlisle's phone rang shortly after the Volturi left — a frantic Billy Black on the other line. The man knew of the battle today of course, but there was no formal arrangement in the Treaty on aiding the other "side." Carlisle was both the only person able to treat Jacob, and someone who would be well within his rights to refuse.
Carlisle agreed, his tone urgent and soothing to Billy over the phone. Edward shifted, restless at his side.
"I want to see him," Bella whispered, when Carlisle hung up.
"Charlie is there," Carlisle warned. "He would be suspicious if we all showed up together — but I can call you as soon as Charlie is gone, if you'd like."
Bella nodded mutely, and Edward reached out a hand to gently cup her cheek. She was still so very shaken. "I'm going with him. I'll come get you as soon as Charlie leaves, if you'd like."
Bella perked up, frowning. "Carlisle can tell me, can't he? I need you here, Edward, I can't– please stay–"
Alice reached out and took her hand. Edward crushed down his impatience and kissed Bella's forehead. "I'm sorry, Bella. I'll be back soon. Carlisle will need a second set of hands for this, and frankly I think Jacob would prefer a– a familiar face." He bent and brushed a kiss across her lips.
Bella looked like she still wanted to protest, but Alice began tugging her toward where the Cullens had left their cars. Edward skimmed Carlisle's mind and saw that he had already examined Bella's arm and determined stitches could wait and she wouldn't have any permanent damage.
As Carlisle and Edward raced back to Carlisle's Mercedes, Carlisle gave Edward a long look. "If Bella needs you, I could do this alone. Sam and the others would help."
Edward studiously looked away, trying to ignore the dazzling understanding and compassion radiating from Carlisle. His pseudo-father was being very careful not to presume anything specific about the nature of Edward's bond with Jacob, and if anything, that was worse.
"You need my help," Edward insisted, glad he could no longer blush. "He might still be unconscious. You might need me to read his mind."
Carlisle was silent for a long moment and then gave a single nod. "Alright, then."
x X x
Carlisle drove, since he knew where Billy – and Jacob – lived, and Edward did not. He took them to a rickety old house next to a large barn, both covered with flaked paint and surrounded by broken-down cars.
When Carlisle's Mercedes screamed into Billy's drive, spraying gravel, he could hear the deafening howls. Underneath it, he could hear the pack mind churning. Sam had already howled to Billy, who had been fishing on the lake with Charlie, to let him know one of them had been injured and to be ready. Billy's mind was in range, and Edward could hear the echoes of the man frantically calling the parents of every other wolf in the pack, hating himself for hoping one of them had gotten the bad news call and not him.
Carlisle frowned over at Edward. The whole village will hear them, he heard Carlisle think softly. Edward didn't know how secret the pack had to be from the tribe but if they were before, he doubted they were now. Just as they got out of the car — Carlisle clutching the medical bag he always kept in his trunk — the howls all died out at once and above them, Edward heard Jacob screaming.
Charlie and Billy burst out of the house, just as the whole wolf pack came out of the woods in their human forms, all with at least pants on. Someone had been smart enough to get pants up over Jacob's broken legs as well. Jacob hung from Sam and Paul, who each had an arm over their shoulders. Edward was at-once relieved that Jacob was healed enough to be carried that way and horrified at how fast it had been. They needed to set the bones–
"Jacob! Oh, Jacob..." Billy's wheels slid down the front door ramp and skidded on the grass as he tried to cross the yard the hard way. Charlie grabbed the back of his wheelchair and ran them both to the pack. Edward started – he didn't know a thing about Jacob's father.
"Hey– Billy–" Sam panted. Charlie was swearing softly, and Edward could feel his concern stretching out beneath the fog over the man's mind.
It was nothing compared to the long stream of varied cussing from Jacob, punctuated with snarling and yelping. Sam tripped, a spasm of pain racing up his ankle. Edward darted forward and caught him, a hand against his chest, and caught Jacob by proxy.
"Let me help." He's hurt, Edward realized. Before or after the battle? He poked Sam's mind and found the alpha had no idea.
He pulled Jacob's arms from around Sam's shoulders to around his own and bore up most of Jacob's weight.
"Fucking CHRIST," Jacob panted, his head falling against Edward's shoulder. He seemed to be exhausting himself. "Jesus, fuck… fuck me, mother god unholy hell, this f-fucking hurts…"
"Jacob, try to calm down. Get him inside!" Carlisle snapped to Sam and Paul. Edward always saw Carlisle as his gentle father figure, and rarely as a brusque doctor that many of the other residents admired. He imagined he was seeing that man now.
Charlie was pushing Billy across the yard, keeping pace with them. One of the wolves Edward didn't know – Brady, the mind answered – ran ahead and held open the door.
Edward followed Paul's mind to Jacob's bedroom and together, they got the fallen wolf onto his bed. They tried to set him down gently, but he bounced on the firm mattress.
"God damn it," Jacob hissed, and tried to curl in on himself. "Paul, you clumsy fuckstick asshole."
"Hey, I wasn't the only one carrying you just now!" Paul protested.
"Was'def'nitely your fault... shitless graceless bag of dicks..." Jacob ran a hand over his face, mumbling in Quileaute. Then Edward heard clearly: "Edward'd never do that… Too fuckin' perfect..."
He's cursing himself to sleep, Edward thought, smothering the warmth curling in his chest. "Jacob," he nudged the man's foot. "Stay awake. Talk to us."
"No," Jacob said flatly, but he uncurled slightly and kept his eyes open.
Carlisle came into the room, followed by Billy and Charlie. The rest of the wolves filled the tiny living room: seven giant bodies and Leah's only slightly smaller one. Billy rolled up next to the bed and Edward forced himself to step back, away from Jacob. He stood at the foot of the bed and rested a hand on the blanket under the man. It was almost like touching Jacob. The room was choked with his scent and for once, Edward wasn't bothered by it.
Carlisle got to work, running his hands down each one of Jacob's limbs to gauge exactly how bad it was.
"Sam! What happened?" Billy reached up and held his son's face between his hands. Jacob flinched, even at that. "Is he going to be okay?"
Sam glanced at Charlie. "Motorcycle accident. We didn't see— the tree. The bike landed on top of him, crushing him, when it dropped."
Billy nodded slowly. Charlie came up quietly behind the other man and put his hand on his shoulder.
"That damned bike!" Charlie cursed. "I bet you weren't wearing a helmet or a jacket – as usual. How could you be so reckless, Jacob?"
Edward could hear Jacob's mind churning with self-recrimination, doubt, frustration that he'd landed in this miserable half-step between alive and dead. Confusion on top of confusion about where he stood with Edward and Bella now.
"Heh," Jacob laughed, the sound catching in his throat. "Just the way I am, I guess." He convulsed again, but far weaker than he had before. "Bet you're glad she loves Cullen instead of me today, huh, Charlie?"
Charlie just shook his head. Edward noticed he didn't disagree. Charlie's eyes suddenly snapped up and focused on Edward and Carlisle. Suspicion rolled in his thoughts. "Speaking of– Billy said he was calling you, but I thought you two were on a trip."
"We had to come back early and were in the area," Edward said in clipped tones.
Charlie started to nod, but suddenly frowned. "Wait, shouldn't he go to a hospital or something?" Charlie demanded, looking from Jacob to Carlisle and back again.
Edward barely stopped the breath from hissing between his teeth. Apparently, he's having a particularly intelligent day today. But he picked a bad time. He knew it was an ungenerous thought, but his silent heart was in his throat. He was sure Jacob would be fine but looking at the man spread across the bed, he could easily see where several of the bones had knitted crookedly – and Carlisle had noticed too. The bones would have to be re-broken.
"I know what I'm doing," Carlisle answered coolly. Edward was surprised to glean that the doctor wanted Charlie to leave as much as Edward did. This would be easier if they didn't have to play human the entire time.
"Hey – how did you get here so fast then, too?" Charlie asked suddenly.
Go away! Edward nearly snapped.
"I called him," Sam answered quickly. "On my cell phone. When Jacob crashed. He was the first one I thought of, and I know he does house calls."
Charlie frowned. "You… have Carlisle's phone number?"
Sam shrugged, looking agitated. "Doesn't everyone?" He tried to sound casual.
Edward, hearing the growing distress in the alpha's mind, stepped in. "Is it alright if we discuss this later, Officer Swan?" His voice was steady and respectful, but wavered as he added, "Jacob is hurt, and…"
"O- Oh. Of course, yeah." Charlie gave him a long look, glanced down at Jacob, and back up at Edward. Like he was trying to see where a puzzle piece fit.
"All of you, out." Billy said. "It's too crowded in here for Carlisle to work."
Charlie trailed off to the living room to join the other wolves. Only Billy, Sam, Edward, and Carlisle stayed. Carlisle pulled a vial of morphine out of his bag and drew an exceptional dose. With a healing rate like Jacob's, his metabolism would be extraordinary as well.
Carlisle buried the needle in Jacob's thigh. The werewolf fell back, his body limp. Low groans still rumbled in his chest, and wisps of consciousness remained.
"I need you two to hold him for me," Carlisle said softly. Edward and Sam stepped forward.
x X x
The next three hours were a blurry hell. Carlisle had used so many braces – there was no use in applying plaster casts for only a couple days – he had to go back to his car to fetch more.
They rebroke both legs, one arm, and a collarbone. Carlisle dislocated and relocated several ribs. And all the while Sam twitched and shook, every instinct in him screaming to knock these leeches away from his packmate. He stayed strong though, never once voicing the instincts coiling through his mind.
Jacob continued to burn off vial after vial of morphine, his body running hot enough to sting Edward's hands.
They snapped the last brace over Jacob's upper arm and Edward braced his hands on the footboard of Jacob's bed, breathing. Inhaling that reeking wet dog smell just to reassure himself Jacob was here and alive. Sam put a hand on Edward's shoulder, shooting him a glance of profound camaraderie. Sam knew Edward and Jacob loved each other now. Their families had fought side by side. Generations ago, Edward had stood across a fire from leaders of the tribe and listened to Carlisle laying out the treaty. It had been cold, fearful, hateful. He never imagined that one of their children's children would put a hand on him in support.
Charlie left and, true to his word, Edward rang Bella. She was still shell-shocked when she arrived. Edward held her hand as lightly as he could while she gripped his like it was the only thing keeping her standing. They both watched the rise and fall of Jacob's chest, finally easing into a normal rhythm as he slept.
Carlisle's last morphine dose would have put a human into a permanent coma.
Carlisle was still by the foot of the bed now, watching Jacob twitch, and adjusting his braces as necessary.
"You have to go back to Alice now, Bella." Edward eventually murmured, squeezing her hand. "It's important you two have that sleepover and get your alibi straight."
Charlie knew they were back from the trip, and that he hadn't seen Bella in a while. Any normal father would fear it was a scheme to have a sleepover with the boyfriend — fiancé, Edward corrected himself — and Charlie was painfully "normal."
Bella didn't move, just stared at Jacob, transfixed. Edward wondered how long he should wait before forcibly pushing her out. He loved her, he was going to spend the rest of his life with her, and still painfully wanted her gone in that moment so he could speak with Jacob.
Carlisle came over and put a gentle hand on Bella's shoulder. "He's just fine. We're going to call you as soon as he's awake and can have visitors."
Bella shook her head, not even seeming to hear him.
Edward's phone rang. Alice. "Yes, we're leaving soon," he said as soon as he opened it.
"Give the phone to Bella," Alice said sharply. Edward did, wondering if she'd seen a vision. Or rather, maybe Bella had no intention of ever leaving Jacob's side in this condition and her immediate future had vanished.
He listened to Alice's fierce murmur and watched Bella mute nodding. Alice talked about the meticulously careful life of a Cullen, the necessary lies, the alibis, the responsibility of the family. It was a conversation Bella needed to hear, though Edward wouldn't have been as harsh.
The phone call convinced Bella to leave. Edward stayed behind with the murmured excuse that Carlisle still needed help.
When Jacob's condition finally stabilized, Carlisle took his leave as well. But for a moment, he hovered in Jacob's doorway, looking back and forth between Edward and Jacob. His father was turning over quite a lot of thoughts in his mind, some he was willing to voice and some not. He was as worried for Edward as he was for Jacob. Edward appreciated the concern but he wanted him gone, he wanted the room empty, for everyone to just go away.
Eventually Carlisle cleared his throat, a human habit he had never quite dropped. "Call me if anything goes—"
"I have two medical degrees," Edward said tightly. One while bloodletting and aromatherapy against disease were considered legitimate practices but still.
Carlisle's brows raised at Edward's sharp tone and Edward felt a pang of embarrassment at his own impatience. "Academia is not practicing medicine," Carlisle said, a disapproving note in his mild tone.
"I will take care of him," Edward insisted.
Carlisle went, leaving his bag by Jacob's bed just in case. Billy left the house with him, likely to discuss new treaty tenets.
After coming in the room to see that Jacob was okay, and snarl at Edward a bit, the wolf pack left too.
x X x
When Jacob awoke, he could feel his legs without the sensation of someone jamming a knife behind his kneecap and prying it off. He took a careful breath in, out, and his aching lungs weren't being scraped by broken ribs.
With that breath came the characteristic sickly-sweet scent of rotting bodies, of vampires, and – Jacob would always recognize it now – distinctly Edward.
He opened his eyes and looked down. A blanket was covering his legs, but he could see the outline of braces underneath. His torso was bound tightly, as was his left arm. Jacob clenched both his fists; his left hand could hardly twitch, but his right curled around another hand.
Jacob looked down at the freezing hand in his and followed the attached arm up to Edward's face, and was rewarded with Edward's relieved half-smile. That burnished bronze hair was all askew and those molten topaz eyes had a growing ring of black around the iris – no doubt Edward would need a decent meal after the battle they just had. Easy as breathing, Jacob felt his love for this man wash over him. The rage was still there, the ache of a broken heart, the teeth-tingling wolf instinct to attack, but it all swam under a lake of yearning, intrigue, gratitude. Edward's frozen features were hard to read but his exhaustion was obvious.
"Hey," Jacob said, gravel rasping in his throat, when the silence threatened to become awkward.
"Hello." Edward's voice wavered. He really is exhausted.
Jacob ran his thumb across the back of Edward's hand, then suddenly looked up, realizing they were not in a private place. Oh, the door is closed. He couldn't smell any of his packmates around either, or Billy for that matter.
"Everyone suddenly had someplace to be," Edward answered his unspoken question. "I think they knew we needed some privacy."
Jacob tensed — Everyone knows...? — then immediately winced as the tension sent pain lancing up his spine.
"No!" Edward put another hand on top of Jacob's. "Well…"
Jacob groaned. "Who all knows?"
"Well you already know your pack knows… I think Carlisle guesses but is being careful not to assume." Jacob choked, and Edward rushed on. "But Billy has no idea. Amusingly enough, I believe Charlie might be wondering. He… well, he saw how I looked at you."
Jacob half-smiled. "How were you looking at me?" Worried, were you?
Edward looked away, studying their tangled fingers. "Yes, I was worried about you," he said stiffly.
Jacob felt a flash of annoyance and squeezed Edward's hand. "Hey, don't go back to that," he complained. Cold.
Then an afterthought: It's not very convincing anymore. Just annoying.
Edward scoffed but didn't reply to Jacob's thoughts.
"Cold…" he mused. "I'll probably always be that."
"Not to me." Jacob squeezed the hand in his again.
They were both quiet for long moments. A red-orange sunset was coming through Jacob's broken blinds, diffused by the dust motes in the air, and it touched Edward's hair to copper. Edward's eyes were sharp, no doubt having to deal with Jacob silently waxing poetic. He never did like Jacob being a sap.
"I'll blame it on the morphine," Edward joked.
Jacob smiled, encouraged. Edward was being vaguely distant. Their fight before the battle had been a nasty one. Edward was engaged. There was every reason for this talk to go badly. But he had made Edward smile. He felt splinters of doubt in his throat, but he had already decided to be brave. This man, this vampire, looked beautiful and impossible in Jacob's tiny, dingy bedroom. Jacob had sworn he would say it, strapped to Paul's back and not knowing if he would live.
"I love you."
Edward smiled, but his eyes shone with pain. "I love you too."
It was agonizingly clear Edward was being truthful. It was also clear how much the truth was hurting him.
"But not enough to stay with me," Jacob said quietly.
"No." The word quavered.
Edward was looking steadfast away at Jacob's windowsill. The light that had touched his hair to copper now betrayed the glisten in his eyes. The hand in Jacob's shook.
Jacob supposed he already knew that would be the answer. He once thought it would be comforting to see Edward nearly crying — as much as a vampire really could — over him. He once wanted to know that someone losing him would be as painful as the loss of Edward or Bella was to him. But now that he was granted that knowledge, he couldn't stand it. He wanted Edward to be happy more than he wanted Edward himself — and wasn't that just the same self-sacrificing bullshit that had gotten him laid up in bed like this? But it was true.
Jacob loosened his fingers and Edward immediately released his hand, likely thinking Jacob was about to pull away. Instead, Jacob used it to brace against the bed, trying to sit up. They weren't having this conversation with him flat on his back.
"Idiot! It's not safe to move around yet!" Edward hissed, half-standing to put a heavy, freezing hand on Jacob's chest, pinning him to the bed. Jacob fell back with a whoomph. "You're still healing."
Jacob growled in protest, but there wasn't much bite in it. For one, he agreed; that move had sent burning awareness into every healing rib. For another, well— he was suddenly distracted by Edward in his bedroom, pinning him to his bed, those charred amber eyes boring into him. How many times had Jacob slipped a hand under his boxers to that idea?
Edward jerked his hand back, and — to Jacob's surprise — he laughed. A breathy, shocked, relieved laugh. He sat back down and, unconsciously, his hand fell back onto Jacob's chest.
"How can you think about such a thing in the condition you're in?" Edward asked, that breathy laugh staying in his tone. Jacob liked it.
"I blame you," he said, grabbing Edward's hand and holding it against his chest. He could feel his own heartbeat pounding through their fingers.
The shared moment of levity seemed to have soothed Edward's pain, but only marginally so. And Jacob hadn't managed to delay the conversation or sit up for it.
"I'm marrying Bella." Edward said. He didn't sound apologetic — and he shouldn't, Jacob thought.
"I figured. Tends to follow an engagement," Jacob said dryly. He would try to be strong for Edward — try not to make the same fuss he had been making. It hurt, god it still hurt. Out of the three of them, he had been chosen to be cast out. Bella had said she loved him too and kissed him like the world was going to end, and she too would leave with Edward. He was the least desired—
"That's not it—" Edward protested. Jacob waved it off with his free hand.
"I don't mean that like either of you are bad people," Jacob said. Everyone momentarily thinks things they don't truly believe. He focused on flexing his now-mobile left hand.
Edward's fingers tightened on Jacob's. "Our decision doesn't mean anything is wrong with you."
Jacob shrugged. "Maybe we're all bad people." He smiled a bit, to show he was half-kidding. But only half.
"All of us, imperfect. Isn't that what you're always harping about?" Edward teased.
Jacob felt a legitimate smile tugging at his lips. "Something like that."
He closed his eyes and breathed, fatigued from his injuries, fatigued from their fight that morning, the battle, his sacrifice, and now the enormous cloud suffocating the room. The herald to the end of whatever-this-was for the last couple months. A lump in his throat began to choke him. Damn, I swore I wouldn't cry.
Jacob heard the scrap of a chair against the floor, scooting closer to him, and Edward's cheek rested carefully on Jacob's shoulder, as featherlight as the vampire could be. Jacob reached over and gently pushed Edward harder against his shoulder. That one didn't feel nearly as bad as the other, and the pain was worth it. He remembered this morning, exhausted, isolated, humiliated, and willing to go out in a blaze of glory rather than just fade away. He would have died for the head resting against him now. That feeling was starting to feel hazy, like an old fever dream. He wanted to live for Edward and Bella, for his pack, and his family.
"You don't want to die anymore," Edward observed quietly.
Edward nestled in closer. Jacob opened his eyes, looked over, and found Edward already looking at him.
"Why is that?"
Jacob was going to lose his train of thought in those curious, hopeful eyes. "I wanted to die up to the point where I woke up after I was injured. I pictured it — my life — just going black in the blink of an eye. I die in glory, protecting my pack, you two are happy—"
Edward scowled, so Jacob hurried on.
"And reality wasn't like that at all. For a minute, I wanted to die more. Trying to breathe with blood in my lungs, and the pain, god I'd never imagined that much… But. My pack tried to haul me back, and you woke me up, and– I wanted to live. More than anything, I didn't want that to be my last day with you two, even if– even if I couldn't be–" The lump was back, and Jacob cleared his throat. "And it's not just about you and Bella."
Jacob curled a hand in Edward's soft, disheveled bronze hair. "You probably get the idea, mind-reader and all."
Edward shook his head. "When it gets too complicated, it's just a buzz of voices. That's what you sound like right now. So– tell me anyway?"
Jacob laughed, threading bronze hair through his fingers in slow strokes. "I don't want my life to be about one thing. The whole werewolf ate it up for weeks, and then I was all about Bella, and then I was all about you. I want to be more than that, hopping from one thing to the next. Not one of those things can sustain a whole life. Maybe I'll get more serious about motorcycle repair… or travel for a while or something. Work on my woodcarving."
He let his gaze drift over to the windowsill, where Edward's had been earlier. Half a dozen wooden figurines were lined up on it, half-finished attempts or failures, practice models for the wolf he had made for Bella. A bird, a cat, a rabbit. Another, he couldn't recall what he had been aiming for. Fish. Eagle. He could picture the memory perfectly: standing on the beach with Bella, telling her you don't see a fish trying to plant a kiss on an eagle. Bella laughing, and saying eagles were good-looking birds. He could see why prey would willingly die to get closer to the eagles like Edward.
"Does that make you a wolverine?" Edward asked, deadpan.
Jacob laughed. Sometimes it was easy to forget Edward had been hiking Washington mountains for decades. Wolverines regularly climbed trees to steal eagle eggs or fledglings. Incidentally, they too ate fish. Maybe he'd carve one of them next.
He flexed his left fist again, barely feeling more than an ache now. His bones were knitting together with the strength to break human bones. Like Bella's.
"You caught me. I'm secretly Wolverine," he said cockily.
Edward chuckled, shaking his head. "You're ridiculous. But nice try – distracting me."
Jacob had honestly thought he'd said all there was to say on their previous topic.
Edward sat up a bit, his expression darkening at Jacob's flippancy, and Jacob missed the cold against his healing shoulder. "Do you know what your suicide would have done to everyone who loves you right now? How your family would feel? Bella would have been traumatized for life."
Jacob felt a flash of irritation, but he masked it with an angelic innocence. "Remind me again, what brought you to Italy earlier this year?" He asked sweetly.
Shadows rippled through Edward's eyes, the anger burning more of that topaz into black.
"I thought Bella was dead," Edward growled.
Edward recoiled, frowning. "He understands my priorities."
"Bet it would still break his heart." Jacob pushed himself up to sit up a little, with significantly less pain than the last time he tried. Edward twitched forward like he was going to stop him again, but he must have read from Jacob that it hurt less. "So, you have no room to talk."
"Just — tell me if you feel that way again," Edward ground out.
Jacob couldn't help but laugh a little. He's terrible at this pep talk stuff.
"Planning to stick around, then, are you?" Jacob crosses his arms.
"Are you?" Edward challenged.
Jacob had mulled it over, strapped to Paul's back in a blinding haze, hearing his bones try to grind into the right position, how the next few years would unfold. Bella dying. The blood-crazed years. I don't want to see any of that.
"Might need some space for a bit," he admitted. If he was ever going to see vampire Bella as still Bella, it was going to have to be when she was more like the rest of the Cullens. Yellow eyes. At least moderately rational and civilized – Edward aside.
"Go on, tell me I'm wrong." Jacob smirked at him, unapologetic for his thoughts, and reached out to take Edward's hand again.
Edward rolled his eyes. "Bella will want you around for all that, you know."
"Well I don't want to be." Just imagining Bella as one of Victoria's clawing, shrieking army was turning his stomach. "I'll change her mind. I'll be the bad guy." He mulled it over, then recited, "I only pretended I would go out in a blaze of glory so you'd have a jealous fit, I'm just a manipulative asshole, yada yada — that'll drive her off."
Edward threaded his chilly fingers between Jacob's. "Did you know I tried that once, at the beginning?"
"Well it obviously didn't work."
"Not at all."
Jacob sighed. "Well you and Bella have a deeper bond than I have with her–" Or we have together. He stomped down the thought. "So maybe I'll finally beat you at something."
"Is winning all you care about?" Edward smiled humorlessly.
The word hung, unchallenged, in the still room. For a long time, winning had been what Jacob wanted. Beating the memory of Edward so that Bella could move on. Then beating Edward himself as Bella' closest companion and the man meant for her. Then beating Edward's insecurities and obstacles as the best companion for him. Jacob hadn't know what he wanted– no, he wanted it all, and in exchange had lost everything. Counted among that loss was his love for Bella. He could face that now: that he wasn't happy with her, and he couldn't be. What he had with Edward had burned away the soft, gentle, human life he imagined with Bella. Jacob was too much of a wolf, and he couldn't hide that behind a fragile human.
Outside, evening birds chirping broke the prolonged silence.
"I'll do the best I can to drive her off," Jacob said softly. "I'll probably fail, like you. But I'll try. She's yours. You're hers. Have your happily ever after."
Jacob caught the bitter twang in his tone and choked down any remaining thoughts. Edward was happy, that should be what mattered. And if it wasn't perfect, so be it. Bella and Edward were just two people pushing their broken edges up against one another. If they never talked about Edward cheating on her for months or the fact that Bella didn't desire Edward for him, she was just drunk on his dazzle, well that was no business of Jacob's.
Edward suddenly frowned. Oops. Not much pride in successfully shutting up around a mind-reader.
"I wouldn't— Sorry. I didn't want to voice that," Jacob said, abashed. "If you couldn't read minds…"
Edward opened his mouth, eyes flashing, but paused. Jacob watched as Edward leaned back, thinking, and finally said: "I know. I don't mind that you did. If this is the last I'll be seeing you for a while… it's a time for honesty. For example: this happily ever after is not as happy as it could have been with you involved."
x X x
Edward found it hard to concentrate as Jacob watched him with warm, puzzled eyes. "I didn't know we agreed on that," Jacob said quietly.
"We do." Edward swallowed. The next part was harder. "I love you, Jacob. I love being able to be myself around you — it's a bit addictive, really," he confessed, and was rewarded by a genuine smile from Jacob. "But— I want the future I see when I'm with Bella. For both of us."
Jacob steeled himself; Edward could hear the determination to control his emotions. He wanted to know why Edward so desperately didn't want them to abandon their families, and what in his world was worth giving up this.
"Tell me about that future, please."
So Edward did. "I never knew your tribe's Taha Aki, but I knew Ephraim Black in the 20's. I had just come back to Carlisle and had chosen to only feed off animals – you already know about all that."
Jacob nodded slowly, and Edward continued. "We made the treaty with Ephraim and then never stepped foot on that beach again. His pack phased regularly all our time here, and chose to grow old and die when we left. When we came back, Ephraim and his sons had passed. His grandson was aging, and you were young. But meeting your father, chief of the council… It was just like meeting Ephraim reborn. We had come and gone — and you had stayed right here.
"It's the life of a vampire to be nomadic, transient. Don't draw attention to our immortality. We stay in each town for less than a generation. But you werewolves stay in one place, piling generations on generations on the same land, the wolf gene and the responsibility passing with it. I'm going to marry Bella, and once she's through the first couple years of being a newborn, we will always be on the move. New town, new high school, a new hospital for Carlisle, whiling away the years. A life of perfect peace. But you?
"The war on vampires defines your life." One of the reasons I have no interest in you ever meeting the Volturi, Edward thought. You would be honor-bound to fight. "You and your pack will patrol the Olympics, like every pack before you. When your father dies, you'll likely become the new chief of the council. When Sam has children with Emily and chooses to grow old and die with them, you will become Alpha, and Chief of the tribe, like Ephraim. Both pack and council leader. If vampires return here, you will make the next treaty. The loss of you would be a blow to the Quileute."
He'd heard from Jacob's mind that Paul had imprinted on one of his sisters, and so the Black bloodline would pass regardless, but the wolf gene had a strong propensity for passing father to son.
Jacob stared at him, transfixed, mulling over all the campfire stories he'd been told. Their age gap yawned between them; Jacob's sixteen short years piled against over a hundred. And Edward was considered young. The Volturi were all more than twice as old as Carlisle. Edward was feeling that gap too. He listened as Jacob's contemplation rolled through him, sending the first quivers of a wolf transformation ripping through his body. Edward rested a hand in Jacob's bristling, calming him. Jacob saw what Edward meant; the traditions his father had told him, the generations stretching behind and ahead of him, as timeless as a single vampire life. He hadn't wanted to be a wolf, hadn't wanted to be Chief, but he didn't get to choose. He was resigned, inspired, and– reluctant still.
"I never wanted any of that," Jacob voiced aloud. "I want this." He reached out and rested a scorching hand along Edward's jaw.
So did Edward. Edward's fingers smoldered in his, and the heat raced up his wrist and coiled in his chest. He thought of resisting but– what was the point, right now? He leaned in. Jacob's eyes fluttered closed, willingly, instinctively, and Edward pressed his lips against Jacob's. It was as sweet as the kiss they had shared earlier that day, but all of Jacob's bones were in the correct place. Edward half-stood over the bed, one arm curved around Jacob, and Jacob's body arched up to meet him. He could see the life he could have with this werewolf unfold behind his eyelids: the daring hikes, the adventures, the long conversations wrapped up in one another. And god, it hurt.
Before getting into musical composition, Edward had been an avid reader. There was one piece, he'd always forgotten the title, but he remembered the author's name, Ishiguro. And there was a line that suddenly burned in the hollow cave where his heart had once beat:
"There was another life I might have had, but I am having this one."
Edward let himself sink into the warmth, into Jacob, into what could have been.
When he resurfaced, his breathless, "Me too" felt unnecessary.
Jacob agreed, though he didn't voice that thought. "I hear the 'but' in there," he said.
Edward made himself lean back, and slowly sit back down. "I believe in a world bigger than myself. There's a God, and fate, and I found the woman I'm meant to be with. Someday, you will too."
Jacob rolled his eyes.
"I'm serious. You'll imprint," Edward warned. "Alphas always do." It didn't used to be half the pack, like it's becoming now.
"Might be a man," Jacob suggested, half-teasing.
Edward shook his head. "No, your bloodline is too important."
He watched Jacob sigh and cross his arms. "Kiss a guy like that, and he's supposed to think about women?"
A laugh bubbled up in Edward's chest, fizzling against his broken heart. "Incorrigible," he grumbled. "You were happily straight four months ago."
Jacob scoffed. "And six months ago, I was happily human! It's been a rough year."
Edward couldn't help it – he laughed. Jacob soon joined him, and the crackling tension hissed out of the room. Edward was physically and emotionally exhausted, and Jacob wasn't much better. Edward was also hearing Jacob's twinges and aches, as the last dose of morphine wore off.
"Do you wish things were different?" Jacob asked suddenly.
"Often." It was, second to Victoria, the primary thought on his mind the last few months. "Why do you ask?"
A shrug. "Forever's a long time. I don't want to grow old right now. You and Bella never will. Let's say you're right and the tribe needs me. What if it doesn't need me forever?"
Jacob took a deep breath in and out. Edward watched Jacob's fantasy in the tent rematerialize in his mind. The cabin in the woods, the vacations only supernatural beings could enjoy. He watched himself in it, and Jacob, and Bella. Jacob no longer loved the girl quite like Edward did, but they would always be best friends. And Edward would still love her, and Jacob both. They would all live together, maybe with the Cullens, maybe without. No kids, no troubles.
"Let's say your future goes all according to plan," Jacob started. "You two get through the newborn years. I stay here and, I don't know, imprint and have a family. My wife is human, and one day she'll die. My kid will wolf out, carry the legacy. If I keep phasing, I'll never age. But my family lives on, there's someone to take my place on the council and at the head of the pack, and everything else. I'm no longer needed. Maybe… fifty years from now?"
Jacob quirked a small smile. "You might miss me by then."
"I will miss you when I walk out that door," Edward said, low and soft.
Even though it was his vision, and the future he thought was meant to happen, it hurt like hell. Shutting the door on this indefinitely, the years of trying to control a newborn Bella without support or companionship, Jacob imprinting and forgetting him… It hurt to imagine anything else being half a century away. Another half-again Edward's present lifetime.
Jacob moved first this time, reaching out and tangling his fingers in Edward's hair. He dragged his fingers down to Edward's nape and pulled him close, Edward's eyes closing in anticipation. But Jacob just pressed their foreheads together, the heat searing between Edward's temples. As if reading Jacob's every thought wasn't enough to make the werewolf's presence branded there.
"Would you consider it?" Jacob asked.
It was a day of near-misses, and crazed plans. Perhaps one more wouldn't hurt.
"I have a bargain," Edward whispered back.
Jacob leaned back, not quite daring to smile.
"A bargain isn't a 'no.'"
"A bargain isn't a 'no,'" Edward agreed.
He closed his eyes and relished the sweet burn of hope and fear, joy, anticipation, rushing through Jacob.
"Name your price." Jacob whispered in a fervent prayer.
"We don't talk about this anymore. We seal this season away, a memory in a box. I focus on my wedding, Bella's transformation, and whatever follows that. You will try to be Bella's friend after her transformation, in any capacity you still can. Try to see her as still-living, as you see me. And you and I are… friends."
Jacob was shaking under Edward's hands. "And in exchange?" Still a whisper.
"Over the decades, if Bella seems amicable, I will ease myself into sharing her. And… into her sharing me. I will convince Bell and… and myself that we can love more than one person." I know that is possible now. "I will imagine our three lives together, without shame, and without fear. If Bella ever agrees, and we all feel the same way then as we– as we do now, we'll discuss it."
Jacob regarded him silently, waiting for the but. Edward did not have one. The two of them looked at each other, not breathing. Edward was trying not to anxious for Jacob's answer – asking the man for decades of silence was a large demand. But it wasn't a no. It could even be shorter than Jacob's fifty years.
"Okay," Jacob said. He breathed in and out, carefully, his eyes bright and clear. "Okay."
Edward reveled in it, those umber eyes burning with love and without a hint of pheromones. "Okay," he echoed.
Exhaustion was settling into Edward's bones. Jacob's eyes were fluttering. Bella's conversation with him would no doubt be even more of a drain, so Edward didn't want to push him much harder. With years to think about it as Bella stabilized as a vampire, he knew Jacob would be contemplating what they spoke of today. Edward would be contemplating it for the rest of his existence.
Jacob rubbed a hand over his face. "I need to talk to Bella," he said.
"Yes, she wanted me to call you as soon as you were up. I– I wanted to talk to you first," Edward admitted.
His hand slipped from Jacob's hair and back into the werewolf's hand. "I'm sorry you found out about the engagement that way. I'm sorry that in my urge to push you away I… Well, I said things I regret."
Jacob nodded slowly. "I'm sorry for kissing Bella and– and I've been pushing you pretty hard this entire time. You have the right to do whatever you think is best." He quirked a smile. "Even I think it's stupid."
Edward smiled back. "Maybe I'll agree in fifty years." He took on an exaggerated, formal posture. "I give you my full permission to say, 'I told you so' when that time comes."
He heard Jacob's mind snag on when, and the smile breaking across that adoring face was infectious.
"Until then," Jacob said, in a ghost of his usual cheerfulness around Bella.
"Until then," Edward agreed.
The front screen door creaked; Billy was back.
Edward pulled the quilt at Jacob's feet over his body and smoothed it down, tucking Jacob in a bit. The braces could still be seen, but he didn't look quite as bad. Bella would be calmer that way.
"Heal fast," Edward whispered. The front door shut, and Edward could hear Billy thinking about coming in and wavering. No doubt he saw from the car outside that Edward was still here.
Jacob leaned in quickly, stealing a last kiss, light and painfully sweet. Edward's eyes fluttered closed at the touch.
"I'll see you as soon as I can manage," Jacob promised.
In a few minutes, Edward would need to get up and call Bella. She and Jacob had an important conversation to have too; she still believed the extent of his heartache was all her doing. The guilt had the power to destroy her, but Edward knew Jacob would do everything he could to take up the burden of it. Jacob was right: he was far better at playing the bad guy than Edward.
In a few minutes, he would have to go back to the life he had before this summer. He had a wedding to help plan with Alice. He had to juggle the logistics of a vampire bite for Bella and a hard discussion with Sam on the treaty, and he had to figure out how to make love to Bella without killing her. Thankfully Jacob gave me a few ideas, he thought with a bit of amusement but mostly guilt. He wondered idly if Jacob wanted a wedding invitation, now that things had calmed down from that morning.
He looked down at their intertwined fingers, allowing himself to savor the heat pulsating in his palm. Jacob was watching him through hooded eyes, falling into a half-sleep, a steady stream of contented thoughts flowing. Edward raised Jacob's warm knuckles to his lips, and then leaned his forehead against them.
For a few minutes, he could let his heart have this.
Your love is my turning page
Where only the sweetest words remain
Every kiss is a cursive line
Every touch is a redefining phrase
I surrender who I've been for who you are
For nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart
If I had only felt how it feels to be yours
Well I would have known
What I've been living for all along
What I've been living for
Though we're tethered to the story we must tell
When I saw you, well I knew we'd tell it well
With a whisper we will tame the vicious seas
Like a feather bringing kingdoms to their knees
~ "Turning Page" by Sleeping At Last
End A/N: Fun fact! I could have just straight-up copy-pasted the epilogue of Eclipse to the end of this fic and it would have fit just fine lol. So, feel free to imagine that as Jacob's last POV thoughts. And this is probably a sad ending, but I want to leave you guys with a bit of hope. Per Breaking Dawn canon, Edward kept his word to easing Bella into the idea by suggesting she "have puppies" if she wants kids. Anyway, I hope the wait was worth it and I'm sorry again that it was so long!
Just to let everyone know, I'm migrating all of my work over to here, on AO3: /users/JCutter
I've been chewing on a possible sequel, but I'm entrenched in a different fandom right now. I personally headcanon Renesmee as ace and only desiring a protector/mentor role from Jacob. When she comes to that realization, it opens the door to Jacob more comfortably experiencing romantic attraction again. Edward and Jacob confess their affair to Bella and discuss a poly situation*. It would take place years in the future (not sure how many, but I picture Renesmee as an older teen), after the four of them have lived together for a long time. Just thinking over various plot possibilities. Let me know if you'd be interested! I was surprised to see how little polyamory fic there is in the Twilight fandom, so I want to add to it!
Also back when I used to fantasize about this having a TVTropes like Cassandra Clare has, I determined it has the following Tropes: Belligerent Sexual Tension, Cannot Stand Them Cannot Live Without Them, Status Quo Is God, Love Epiphany, Foe Yay, Slap Slap Kiss, Take That Kiss, Subtext, Dating Catwoman, Stupid Sexy Flanders, If It's You It's Okay, Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today, Arch Enemy, Mind Game Ship
* note: affairs are a terrible way to start a triad! Do not try this at home! But when have Bella, Edward, or Jacob ever been responsible? Lol.