Author's Note: Okay, I lied. This chapter has both points of view in it. But after that, really, seriously, it won't happen again. x3 (Sorry… Usually I try to avoid that, but with a chapter this damn long, it had to happen.) While we're on the topic, though, I feel I should warn you… If you're going to follow this story, you'd better in for a long haul. I don't know exactly how long this story technically is, but clocking in at a little under ten thousand words per chapter—and there will be twelve of them-, it's not exactly your standard twenty-thousand word chaptered fic. x3


Chapter Two: Mr. Brightside

Edward sprawled out on his newly-bought bed, staring at the ceiling, and tried to reason with the universe or justify himself for a long while. So far, he had thought of a lot of reasons why where that could have gone was a bad idea, but not a single good excuse for what he had done. The simple reason was that he had lost control. I just wanted to know what he felt like… Whether he really was that warm. How he would react to the touch of a vampire.

As soon as he and Emmett arrived home, Edward had sped straight up to his room. Throughout his time with Bella, he had suffered from bouts of extreme guilt, but this had to be one of the worst. His stone cold fingers closed into a fist and he felt a small spark of heat that had remained, even after releasing the man. The only reason it got out of control was because of him. He pulled away after I had a good grip on him. He was the one who forgot his clothes. He's the one who started the… the kiss.

But you kissed him back, a traitorous voice in the back of his mind piped up, and Edward gave a sharp huff. He sat up and pulled his knees up to his chest, glaring into empty space. He wished he could blame it on the fact that Jacob was a human with enticing blood, but he wasn't. He couldn't stand the thought of drinking a werewolf's blood. So why did he do that?

I cheated on Bella. With Jacob, of all people. What sort of insanity is this?

He lay back down, struggling for a comfortable position, but the truth was that he just felt uncomfortable in his skin. It was tight and hard and while Edward could still easily move, his body was just a steel cage. The price of beauty, his mind chimed again, like a damn modern magazine ad.

Edward pulled his mind away from the subject, and it immediately stumbled back to Jacob instead. However much he detested him, he could admit the man was tempting, with his durability and obnoxious personality and the… reactions… Edward caused in him-but it wasn't right! I'm taken, for God's sake. What's wrong with me?

He turned his glare towards the ceiling, remembering the feel of the overheated muscle under his fingers and hating himself for it. When he had accidentally clenched his fist around that limb, he was afraid he had broken it, but the wolf felt nothing more than a small annoyance. An inconsequential twinge. He didn't have to be gentle with him, like he had to be with Bella. And there was something… attractive… about the way he snarled at him and held up his chin with insubordinate arrogance that just begged for Edward to try to beat some sense of respect into him. Or just beat him.

Or just pin him to another tree…

Threateningly, of course. Because, obviously, Jacob was male and Edward was hardly the type to agree with such perversions. He may be a monster, but he wasn't a complete animal like that mutt.

Edward turned away from the ceiling and looked at his stereo, which currently held a copy of his Bella CD on it-not playing, of course, since he had a limit to his masochism-and the shame welled up again. He had cheated on Bella. With a wolf. With a man. With the man he strongly suspected Bella loved a little. He really couldn't believe himself.

A man! A wolf! Bella's… friend! The words rang in his head and overlapped until he couldn't tell one problem from the other and all he could think about was that it was Jacob.

He turned over, restless again, and faced the wall instead. If only he could have slept-he could take a break from this world. From himself. It was something, he believed, that humans often took for granted. In the past few decades, it was always about how long they could stay awake and what pill or technique kept them away from sleep the most. It had gotten so bad that, now, a lot of people needed pills to get to sleep after all the pills they'd taken to stay awake. They had destroyed their natural rhythm, thinking it was a good thing, and Edward would have killed a dozen people just for a single night's rest.

He glanced at the clock and sighed. For once, he wasn't eager to see Bella again, but it was time to put on his mask and pretend to be flawless. Consciously, he knew Bella was committed to him, but he was never able to shake the feeling that if she saw the real him, she would leave.

More than he hated that feeling, he hated that he instantly thought of Jacob and how he never had to fake anything in front of him-the wolf hated him so much already, he couldn't possibly think any worse. That Jacob still… wanted him… even knowing all of his ugly points, was not a good thing. It downright unhealthy.

Why did Jacob want him, anyway? Because, based on the evidence of that afternoon, he clearly did. What a freak.

The irony of that thought had Edward smiling all the way to Bella's doorstep and not knowing why.

x X x

When Edward got to Bella's door, he gave it three brisk taps and stepped back to wait. He heard a muffled "Coming!" and, within seconds, the door was thrown open and the love of his life stood in the doorway. He saw the moment her intelligent eyes glazed over with the power of the pheromones he gave off and, stifling the brief pang that caused, he reached out to twine their fingers together. Bella's breath picked up into short gasps and then stopped altogether and Edward smiled. Jacob may have been an odd sort of temptation, but this was who he wanted. With pale skin, softly feminine features and dark brown hair that fell around her shoulders… this was the beauty Edward longed for. Was in love with… He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, she was only really charmed by his looks and chemical attraction, but he didn't care. She was his.

"Hey," she whispered at last, breathless. Utterly under his influence.

Still holding her fingers with his own, Edward raised his hand to brush a stray lock of her hair from his cheek. She looked dizzy and out of it, but he was used to that. She was still beautiful, no matter how scent-drunk she was.

"How was your afternoon?" he asked pleasantly, reassuring himself with every second in her presence that this was where he belonged.

"Slow," was the short reply.

"For me, as well," he murmured and drew her wrist up to his face. Yes, this was what real temptation was supposed to feel like. He could hear her heart flutter in her chest and hear the pulsing vibrations in her wrist. Edward gave her wrist a light caress and inhaled deeply, taking in the mix of her freesia-scented skin and the unbearable sweetness that flowed just under it.

Not good. A simple thought suddenly drew Edward's attention away from Bella and he dropped her wrist, but still held her hand.

"Good evening, Charlie," he greeted the irate father and the source of the thought, but he only got a grunt in response. Edward stifled a small hint of contempt. How such a simple man could have produced Bella was beyond him… it must have been all Renee, then-though her intelligence was sporadic and a bit fleeting. It wasn't their fault, though. They were only human.

Looking at Bella, Edward pulled a pile of papers from the inside pocket of his jacket. "I brought another set of applications," he told her. He had just barely remembered to grab them from his desk before running out the door, but he was glad he did. It was a good idea to put up the appearance of being accepted by many colleges before going off to Alaska. It softened the image of them running away together.

Bella, however, groaned loudly.

"There are still a few open deadlines. And a few places able to make exceptions," Edward replied. Each exception had come from a signed check… the only difference between them was how many zeroes Edward had had to pen out.

The girl's face twisted in dislike and he laughed. "Shall we?" the vampire asked, moving towards Charlie's dining table. Their activity for that evening was filling out college applications, something that was likely to take a few hours, and Edward intended to savor the time.

However, Charlie followed them with another bit of news. "Hey, would you call Jacob some time tonight, too? He's been bugging me every five minutes since six o'clock this morning. I promised I'd have you call him as soon as you could." Sounded upset.

Edward stiffened and glanced questioningly at Bella. So she had been out during the day as well? And why was Jacob calling?

Bella looked just as puzzled. "Jacob wants to talk to me?"

"Pretty bad, I'd say," Charlie replied, "He wouldn't tell me what it was about-just that it was important."

Edward kept his face perfectly blank. Oh no, he wouldn't, would he? He couldn't possibly want her to know that. It wouldn't make any sense, he couldn't possibly… Edward's mind circled itself and his fear grew. He didn't have a single good excuse ready-did Jacob?

Suddenly the phone rang, pulling Edward's attention back to the present and kicking up his fear another notch.

"That's him again, I'd bet my next paycheck," Charlie said, and Bella jumped up and went to the kitchen with an "I got it!" Edward stayed right where he was and listened hard.

"Hello?"

"You're back." Oh… right. Jacob hadn't spoken to Bella since they'd come back from Florida, but since he had seen Edward, he must have known Bella had to be back as well.

"Yes?" Bella responded, and Edward cursed that he missed the next words. However good his vampire hearing may have been, catching muffled words across a room from an old telephone was rather hard.

"Because I've been in the house for exactly four seconds and your call interrupted Charlie telling me that you'd called," Bella sounded annoyed.

A moment later, she continued, "Yeah, I figured out that part all by myself. Go ahead."

So far, it didn't sound like the wolf had said anything bad. What did he want to talk to her for?

"Of course I am. Why wouldn't I?"

There was a bit of a long pause. "So what did you want to talk about, Jake?"

An even longer pause. "Yeah, I know. I'm so glad you called me, Jake. I…"

Edward pushed down a sudden spark of jealousy. What did that wolf ever do? Based on how he had acted since Edward returned, he spent the whole time pawing for Bella.

Stupid mutt.

"What?" The girl's voice suddenly took on an edge, and she sounded like she was trying to hang on to him through the phone.

"But Jake-" she began, but there was the signature click of a phone being hung up and she stood there, staring at the phone. "That was short," she muttered, a bit sulkily.

Rather curious about the conversation, Edward leaned forward from where he was sitting at the table. "Is everything alright?" he asked.

Bella turned to him. "I don't know… I wonder what that was about."

I have a few guesses, but none that I can share. Besides… "Your guess is probably better than mine," Edward answered honestly. More accurate, though? Probably not.

The rest of the evening passed without excitement. As usual, Edward "left" before it got too dark, and then appeared in her bedroom. He never understood why Bella was okay with him watching her sleep, but since she was, he wasn't going to complain.

He climbed through her open window and curled up beside her on the bed. It wasn't something he ever really did after becoming a vampire, but she wanted it and so he would give it. Like every night before it, Edward laid beside her and studied her room while she slept. But it looked the same as it ever had and his mind soon wandered.

What did Jacob want to talk about? Had he simply chickened out before telling Bella? Or… had he wanted to talk to Edward instead?

He shook his head. No, that's ridiculous.

"…Love you…" Bella murmured in her sleep and rolled towards Edward again. He mentally pushed Jacob away again. She was his life. She was what excited him and what he loved. He didn't need pesky newborn werewolves and their raging hormones.

"Mutt," Edward muttered and slowly breathed in Bella's scent for the rest of the night.

x X x

His calm reassurances lasted him until the next morning-when his silver Volvo pulled into the school parking lot and a sleek, black motorcycle was waiting for it. Leaning against the machine was Jacob, fully clothed this time. His jeans were torn and streaked with grease, probably from working with cars and motorcycles all day, and his black shirt pulled tight against every line of muscle on his torso. To a human, the man looked like a dangerous troublemaker, and someone who would punch you as soon as look at you. To any vampire, he was unmistakably a werewolf. From the large, bulkier body frame to the way he carried himself-as if he were one wrong word from a violent explosion—a vampire would know to either kill him or turn and run. Edward didn't have the luxury of either. As Edward studied him further, he couldn't help but wonder if Bella had gotten his age wrong. How could he be sixteen? He looked nearly twenty.

Well, either way, Edward wasn't going to let him close to Bella anymore. He wasn't just a risk to her as a werewolf, he was also a risk to Edward by being-though he hated to admit it-potential competition.

"If I asked you to do something, would you trust me?" Edward murmured to Bella, pulling into his usual parking space. She looked up at him, wary and puzzled.

"That depends."

Sigh. "I was afraid you'd say that." Ever since Edward's absence, Bella had become almost… independent. Not as much as a completely sober woman, but closer than usual. And her newfound insubordination reeked of werewolf influence.

"What do you want me to do, Edward?"

Edward strained his mental hearing range and, at last, Jacob's thoughts became clearer. Ha, what scarety cats! Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? A pause. Oh, there you are, you pretty bastard. If you can hear me, get over here. I'd like to talk to you. Preferably not with Bella, but even if she comes with you, I'm saying what I came to say. Jacob's dark eyes bored straight into Edward's through the car window, across the parking lot. Even at this range, he could taste a small whiff of dog on the air. Normally, all of this would just anger him, but there was a subtle shift in the werewolf's behavior that had Edward on edge. He wasn't drunk, exactly, just a little giddy-like a man who had just stepped off a rollercoaster and was reeling for another round.

"I want you to stay in the car," Edward told the girl, not looking away from Jacob, "I want you to wait here until I come back for you."

"But why?" Bella's eyes followed his gaze and landed on Jacob, finally realizing he was there. "…Oh."

C'mon, leech, get out of the car. I'm not going to hurt you… not with all these witnesses, anyway. I just want to… talk… to you. Yes, aggressively giddy was right. Raring for a fight, for some reason.

"He asked about school because he knew that I would be where you were. He was looking for a safe place to talk to me… A place with witnesses," Edward replied. It was Jacob's wording, not his, but he found himself using it anyway.

"I'm not staying in the car," Bella insisted, and Edward couldn't stifle a small groan.

"Of course not. Well, let's get this over with," Edward muttered. Great, now there was no telling what he'd have to do or explain during first period. Trust a wolf to stir up perfectly still water.

As soon as he stepped out of the car, a heat similar what he had felt the day before began to well up under his skin. He could taste the urge to fight pulsing off the werewolf in waves, and the same feeling was echoing back from himself.

Edward took a firm grip of Bella's hand and, once they got close enough to stop, he pulled her a bit behind him. Partly because this was just between Edward and him and she needn't get involved, and partly because he liked the dark flicker in the other man's eyes at the gesture of ownership.

"You could have called us," the vampire admonished, his voice firm, but he was determined to be calm and polite.

"Sorry," Jacob sneered and crossed his arms, "I don't have any leeches on my speed dial."

"You could have reached me at Bella's house, of course."

Jacob's expression hardened. I was trying to keep Bella out of this, you manipulative little bloodsucker. But, of course, you can't help but hide behind her.

Edward stiffened, but Bella stepped in front of him and spoke. "This is hardly the place, Jacob. Could we discuss this later?"

"Sure, sure," the werewolf replied, and there was a hint of condescending in his voice, "I'll stop by your crypt after school."

With a snort, he turned to Edward. "What's wrong with now?" After all, there's no time like the present for a good ol' plot twist.

What the hell are you planning? Edward thought furiously, but of course the wolf couldn't hear him. He pointedly looked around at the people starting to gather and watch, fascinated at Jacob's size and muscular prowess, and at the fact that a man was actually standing up to Edward as if they were equals. Apprehension and fear rippled through the crowd along with the quiet whispers and tendrils of lust ran just underneath the main current.

"I already know what you came to say. Message delivered. Consider us warned," Edward all but hissed when Jacob didn't take the hint. The truth was, he wasn't sure, but he knew he wouldn't like whatever the werewolf had to say. And considering this shift in mood from helpless to furious, Edward thought with a short glance towards Bella, she probably won't either.

"Warned? What are you talking about?" Bella asked.

Jacob's eyes widened, looking slightly disbelieving, but it was a mocking disbelief. "You didn't tell her? What, were you afraid she'd take our side?"

On what? What's wrong with you? Edward wanted to snap, but held his tongue.

"Please drop it, Jacob," he said quietly, trying to figure out what the wolf wanted. He needed to know before Bella found out and before Jacob revealed it. It might've been the kiss, but if something else happened… For once, Edward couldn't figure out Jacob's point—mainly because, according to the thoughts coming from Jacob's mind, he didn't have one. He was just being aggravating for the sake of it.

"Why?" the werewolf challenged.

Edward could hear Bella's slightly-protesting questions in the background, but the pieces had suddenly come together and he was too fascinated by Jacob's actions to hear her. The man was displaying like an alpha wolf, the kind you saw on the Discovery Channel: chin up, shoulders back, chest slightly pushed out with the most arrogant look on his face he could make and Edward could feel violent urges-among others-start to rise to the surface. He was challenging Edward to do something. To… to stop him?

Edward poked tentatively at the mind in front of him. Yes, that was it. He was just looking for a fight. He wanted violence. There was no higher meaning. Edward's fingers twitched and a knot of anger twisted in his stomach. If necessary, he could oblige…

Jacob turned in reply to something Bella said. "He didn't tell you that his big… brother crossed the line Saturday night? Paul was totally justified in-"

He was defending that over-reactive, obnoxious animal? "It was no-man's land!" Edward hissed. It was true, they were away from both sides' lines.

That's not what I meant, you blood-sucking bastard! Jacob's mind snarled, at the same time he said, "Was not!" Here it was, the blasting anger that was buried just under the surface of every werewolf's skin. He was shaking, threatening to fall apart, and Edward hadn't even touched him yet. Oddly enough, the temptation was there… He knew all he had to do was grab him and the man would explode into a dog. Such control…

"Emmett and Paul? What happened? Were they fighting?" Bella whispered, voice rising in pitch. "Why? Did Paul get hurt?"

His world narrowed to just the man in front of him, Edward was shocked at the sudden spark of annoyance he felt. "No one fought. No one got hurt. Don't be anxious."

Jacob's jeering incredulousness overrode his anger for a moment, and Edward's annoyance turned back to its real focus. "You didn't tell her anything at all, did you?" He paused for a fleeting second, and a handful of thoughts slipped through the verbal words. She's got a cheating boyfriend and she doesn't even know? Damn, most guys at least hint at their slight imperfection. You're pretty terrified of being just human aren't you? "Is that why you took her away?" he continued, probably referring to Edward's sudden possessiveness of all of Bella's time. "So she wouldn't know that-?"

"Leave. Now." Now Edward was also shaking and pheromones instilling fear in everyone around him reared up. Jacob, unfortunately, was unaffected.

That you aren't as perfect as she would believe?

"Why haven't you told her?" The dark-haired man asked, raising his brows and looking ever so slightly smug. Is it so wrong having a few issues?

If ever there was someone I would punch with full strength in front of humans… Edward mentally growled.

Because of his focus on Jacob, Edward had missed Bella's mounting panic, and her terrified whisper came as a surprise. "She came back for me."

Jacob looked just as puzzled. Who? Then a sudden flash of red hair and a memory of a different vampire scent in the local area flitted past his mind. Her?

Edward instantly recognized the image. Victoria! SHE WAS IN TOWN AND NOBODY TOLD HIM?

Edward turned a panicked look towards Jacob, who stared back. Oh, you didn't know? I thought you were just being an overprotective shit-turns out you just weren't paying attention.

Oh, he was going to murder the dog in his sleep.

The entire exchange was supernaturally fast, and so Bella only felt a slight pause before Edward reached out and pulled Bella close to him, trying to comfort the fear away. "It's fine," he whispered close to her ear, "I'll never let her get close to you, it's fine."

He raised his head and met Jacob's angered and bitter glower. Apparently he wasn't big on public displays of affection. "Does that answer your question, mongrel?"

One of them… almost. "You don't think Bella has a right to know? It's her life," he challenged, and Edward quite suddenly hated this whole double-meaning conversation and the knots it was twisting in his mind.

"Why should she be frightened when she was never in danger?

"Better frightened than lied to."

"Do you really think hurting her is better than protecting her?"

"She's tougher than you think," and this time, Jacob's voice came out as an almost-growl. "And she's been through worse." He flashed a quick image of them kissing and meshed it with one of Bella barely holding yourself herself together… a memory that must have come from sometime that year. Jacob showed another of Bella rolling a motorcycle towards him, empty eyes shining with the urge to die. Not to mention her oh-so-wonderful boyfriend is now a cheater. That's gotta be hard. And a shameless display of the passion Jacob had felt yesterday and his proof of the same feeling from Edward.

Mind thoroughly assaulted, Edward flinched, and he couldn't clear his expression completely clear of the pain. Surprised that he actually found something that could sway the vampire, Jacob smiled slightly.

"That's funny." So what part are you afraid of? My forwardness, my fur or my gender? He asked with a sneer.

Edward winced again, shocked that the helplessness was being turned on him. Good question. Where is the forwardness coming from, anyway? Why is he suddenly so… in control? He reached forward with his mind and probed into the wolf's, and suddenly found himself slipping beneath the layer of bravado into incomprehensive fear. Jacob was on a ride that terrified him, but he was determined to play it cool and scream like he was having fun anyway.

"What are you doing to him?" Bella demanded, and Edward pulled his mind away from Jacob's, taking in the tiniest flicker in his companion's expression.

Well if he could play it cool, so could Edward. "It's nothing, Bella. Jacob just has a good memory, that's all."

And an excellent imagination! Jacob chirped cheerfully, and suddenly flashed a much more graphic image in his mind of where things apparently could have gone.

Edward flinched again, stunned that the first thing he felt was a far cry from horror. Suddenly, he wanted-needed-to get away. Now.

"Stop it! Whatever you're doing." a sharp voice beside him protested.

Bella protecting him? It would have been laughable if he hadn't needed it in that moment.

"Sure, if you want," Jacob shrugged and the grin hadn't entirely faded yet. "It's his own fault if he doesn't like the things I remember, though."

Yes, getting away now was a good priority… And Edward suddenly found an escape. "The principal's on his way to discourage loitering on school property," Edward murmured, tightening his grip around Bella "Let's get to English, Bella, so you're not involved.

"Overprotective, isn't he?" Jacob asked, and laughter rang in his tone. "A little trouble makes life fun. Let me guess, you're not allowed to have fun, are you?"

"Shut up, Jake," she looked angry at his actions towards Edward. She must have guessed, sort of, what they were then.

Jacob laughed clearly this time. "That sounds like a 'no'. Hey, if you ever feel like having a life again, you could come see me. I've still got your motorcycle in my garage."

What?

"You were supposed to sell that," Bella replied sternly, "You promised Charlie you would." The irony of that thought amused Edward until he realized how many times disobeying Charlie had nearly gotten her killed. Perhaps he should talk to her at some point about that…

"Yeah, right," Jacob thought, oozing I-am-teenage-boy-therefore-indestructible vibes. "Like I would do that. It belongs to you, not me. Anyway, I'll hold on to it until you want it back."

Except that Bella wouldn't be coming back. Edward's arms tightened possessively around the girl. Jacob noted the sudden gesture and he turned a slightly challenging gaze towards Edward.

You think she's only in your palm? Just watch this… she eats out of mine just as well.

"Jake…" Bella began, but Jacob leaned towards her and she trailed off.

"I think I might have been wrong before, you know, about not being able to be friends. Maybe we could manage it, on my side of the line. Come see me."

He probably wanted to speak to her without Edward that close, and hell-Bella might have wanted it too, but he wasn't letting go.

"I, er, don't know about that, Jake." And clearly Bella was aware of that fact as well.

"I miss you every day, Bella. It's not the same without you," Jacob replied, and Edward grudgingly noticed the undertones of truth in his words.

"I know and I'm sorry, Jake, I just…"

"I know. Doesn't matter, right? I guess I'll survive or something. Who needs friends?" Isn't he laying it on a little thick?

"Okay, get to class. Move along, Mr. Crowley." The principle suddenly said behind them, and the crowd started to disperse. Well… at least some of them.

"Get to school, Jake," Bella whispered and Edward pulled away and went back to simply holding her hand.

"I mean it," the school official growled, "Detention for anyone who's still standing here when I turn around again," and the last of the crowd disappeared.

"Ah, Mr. Cullen. Do we have a problem here?" I'll not have fighting on my campus, no sir. Especially not from my star students.

Edward shook his head. "Not at all, Mr. Greene. We were just on our way to class."

"Excellent. I don't seem to recognize your friend," he turned to Jacob, "Are you a new student here?" I doubt it… Looks like a young man from the reservation.

"Nope," Jacob answered smartly, half-smirking. Edward's and the principal's thoughts lined up exactly: insolent, disrespectful…

"Then I suggest you remove yourself from school property at once, young man, before I call the police." Don't think I won't.

"Yes, sir," the werewolf snapped a sarcastic salute and climbed back on to the bike and shot a final glance towards the vampire. Edward kept his expression as neutral as possible, and Jacob shrugged uncaringly. He kick-started it and, with a deafening roar, the bike tore out of the parking lot and around the corner.

And then he was gone, leaving Mr. Greene-and Edward-to fume.

"Mr. Cullen, I expect you to ask your friend to refrain from trespassing again," Mr. Greene warned.

Edward grimaced slightly. "He's no friend of mine, Mr. Greene, but I'll pass along the warning."

What a nice boy. We need more of them in this school… And I would hate for that older man to start messing things up for him. "I see. If you're worried about any trouble, I'd be happy to-"

Edward quickly cut him off. "There's nothing to worry about, Mr. Greene. There won't be any trouble."

The principal nodded. "I hope you're right. Well, then. On to class. You, too, Miss Swan."

With that dismissal, Edward tightened his hold on Bella's hand and started dragging her off to English. She still looked a little dizzy. "Do you feel well enough to go to class?" he whispered.

"Yes," Bella replied softly, and he took her word for it.

As soon as they were settled in their seats, Bella scrawled out a note and slid it over to him.

What happened? Tell me everything. And screw the protecting me crap, please.

Edward smiled slightly and began to write out a reply. If there was one thing he'd learned in a hundred years of lying was that it was all about the detail work. If your story was in-depth enough, it wouldn't be questioned.

Alice saw that Victoria was coming back. I took you out of town merely as a precaution-there was never a chance that she would have gotten anywhere close to you. Emmett and Jasper very nearly had her, but Victoria seems to have some instinct for evasion. She escaped right down the Quileute boundary line as if she were reading it from a map. It didn't help that Alice's abilities were nullified by the Quileutes' involvement. To be fair, the Quileutes might have had her, too, if we hadn't gotten in the way. The big gray one thought Emmett was over the line, and he got defensive. Of course Rosalie reacted to that, and everyone left the chase to protect their companions. Carlisle and Jasper got things calmed down before it got out of hand. But by then, Victoria had slipped away. That's everything. It was perfect. It included nearly a dozen characters and enough conflicting viewpoints that he doubt Bella would, even if she woke up from his pheromone haze, ever question them about it. And it was plausible-and it put blame on that insufferable Paul. Edward slid the paper over to Bella.

Bella frowned at it for a few moments, and then erased it all and wrote something else.

What about Charlie? She could have been after him.

The vampire stifled a snort. Did she have no sense of self-preservation? Apparently not. He shook his head, but she frowned at him again and continued writing.

You can't know that she wasn't thinking that, because you weren't here. Florida was a bad idea.

I wasn't about to send you off alone, Edward replied, after taking the paper from her, With your luck, not even the black box would survive. Not to mention the fact that if she died in a plane crash while Edward wasn't there, he would never forgive himself.

They continued to pass notes back and forth to each other until Mr. Berry, the English teacher, came down on them and Edward took the notes away.

The rest of the day went without incident, as did the next week, though Bella seemed to be going systematically through the Cullen family and asking them why they didn't see the danger in Victoria. Luckily, Edward had gotten to them first and told them about the wolves smelling her around and seeing her briefly, so it wasn't a nasty surprise to them. Of course, no one was worried, and neither was he. They were safe.

The end of the week worried him a little, though. It was time for another hunting trip with his brothers-they were going up to North Carolina this time to deal with a small mountain lion problem the state was having, and Edward had decided to tag along-and they would be gone all weekend. He knew the girls would protect Bella, but she didn't seem convinced, so he worried slightly.

"It's okay. I've got an eye on her constantly, and on Victoria. If Bella decides to do something stupid, or if Victoria gets close, I'll know and I'll call you right away," Alice assured him with a bubbly levity he wasn't sure really fit the situation.

But the rest of the Cullens agreed with her, and so Edward went. And they were right. She was safe, and Edward was calm.

Calm, that is, until Alice called and told him that Bella's future had vanished behind a wall of black, as dark as Sam Uley's fur.

x X x

Jacob's week had been pretty boring. The wolf pack, assuming that Edward had said something to twist the Bella-knife in deeper, had let him stay human the whole time and keep the angst to himself. However, rising against his emotional difficulties with Bella was this new Edward problem. Inexplicably, the werewolf in him was constantly drooling for another confrontation, like he wanted to be hurt.

Like he had most of the week, Jacob was hanging out in his room in Billy's house when he heard the rumbling growl of an old engine outside. The poor thing was wheezing and spluttering, pushed beyond its age, and Jacob felt hope well up in him before he even realized what it meant. He could recognize that beaten engine anywhere. Bella!

In an instant, he was on his feet and darting to the door. He heard Billy's slightly exasperated laugh behind him but ignored it in favor of throwing open the front door. "Bella?" he called.

The brown-haired girl stepped from the truck and smiled when she caught sight of him. "Jacob?"

"Bella! I can't believe it!" Ignoring his lack of shoes, Jacob ran over to her and couldn't suppress a small jump for joy, but since she was jumping too, he figured it was okay to act like a high school girl.

"How did you get here?" More importantly, how'd you convince your vampire friends to let you?

"I snuck out!"

Ha, I figured. "Awesome!"

"Hey, Bella!" Billy greeted from the doorway, and Bella turned to him, smiling.

"Hey, Bill-" but she broke off when Jacob picked her up and hugged her hard. This was great! And just like that, he forgot all about Edward. This was who he loved. This was the girl he couldn't wait to see every day. "Wow, it's good to see you here!" he grinned and quickly spun her around.

"Can't… breathe…" she choked out and Jacob guilty set her back down, but he was still laughing.

"Welcome back, Bella," and her happy smile was beatific. Yes, this was where she belonged. With him. With them.

"So how have you been?" he asked, as they began walking through the forest-though she had to tell him to slow down several times-and their conversation bubbled happily for nearly an hour. But by the time they reached the beach, Jacob was beginning to run out of happy topics, and he had a few serious questions.

"So," he began, lightly kicking a piece of driftwood and accidentally sending it a few dozen yards in his tension, "what's the story, anyway?" He cleared his throat. "I mean, since the last time we… well, before, you know…" He took a deep breath, trying to calm down the temper that seemed to rise at the thought of her easy acceptance of Edward back in her life.

"What I'm asking is… everything is just back to the way it was before he left? You forgave him for all of that?" Maybe Jacob was just odd, but he thought utterly destroying a person mentally and emotionally was unforgivable.

Bella took a similar deep breath. "There was nothing to forgive."

Jacob looked down at her, shocked and incredulous. Even if she had forgiven him, she shouldn't act like there hadn't been a crime at all. "I wish Sam had taken a picture when he found you that night last September," he growled at last, "It would be exhibit A."

"Nobody's on trial."

Ha! "Maybe somebody should be."

Bella looked up at him, resolute determination in her eyes. "Not even you would blame him for leaving, if you knew the reason why."

Jacob scoffed, the incredulity turning into anger. "Okay," he challenged bitingly. "Amaze me."

Bella was silent a few moments before beginning. "Edward left me last fall because he didn't think I should be hanging out with vampires. He thought it would be healthier for me if he left."

Jacob was taken for a turn. That was his excuse? Well clearly it hadn't bothered him through the year before. Something had probably happened… Something bad enough for Edward to convince his entire family to up and leave.

"He came back, though, didn't he?" Jacob muttered. "Too bad he can't stick to a decision." He'll be the death of her. I just know it.

"If you remember, I went and got him," Bella retorted acidly.

Jacob stared at her a moment. It was her decision, he knew, and he would never convince her away from it. It really scared him sometimes, though. Besides, if he pushed this, he wouldn't hear the rest of the tale.

"That's true. So I never did get the story. What happened?"

She hesitated, and Jacob was suddenly scornful. "Is it a secret? Are you not allowed to tell me?" Why she bends so easily to his will is beyond me, the superior, arrogant…

"No," she snapped, "It's just a really long story."

Jacob didn't say anything as he continued walking down the beach. Edward deserved to burn for what he did to her and he couldn't figure out why Bella wasn't the least bit put out by it. He was silent until he reached a large piece of driftwood-their driftwood-and sat down. It was sort of like a natural bench.

"I don't mind long stories," he muttered at last, "Is there any action?"

After a few moments of snark between them, Bella sat down and began her story. Apparently Alice had seen Bella throw herself off a cliff and had wondered if she died, so she came rushing back. Rosalie heard of the vision and promptly told Edward, who believed that Bella had died and-without really checking-decided he might as well kill himself just in case. Bella, hearing that Edward was going to kill himself, decided to fly to Italy to stop him. Once getting there, Edward saw Bella and realized she wasn't dead, but then they were picked up by some more serious vampires. The Volturi, Bella called them, and they were apparently in charge of all the world's vampires. Jacob briefly wondered if there was a way he could tell Sam all of this and have Sam gather up a few werewolf packs so they could all go to Italy and kill them all, but he didn't think the pack leader knew of any other wolf packs. Bella went on to explain that one of the members of the Volturi was an emotional kook and had decided that Bella's and Edward's love was so true that they must live, and then the pair had flown back to Forks.

"Now you know my whole story," she finished, and Jacob nodded. It was a fascinating story, however much he disliked the ending. "So it's your turn to talk. What happened while I was with my mom that week?"

Jacob was glad she asked. He had thought of a pretty good story to cover what had actually happened between him and the vampires. So he spun the whole tale for her, exactly how he had imagined it, and she responded just like he had expected her to-a bit scolding, but believing it. They talked a while longer, and eventually lapsed into silence.

Jacob's eyes wandered away from Bella and to the water that stretched out, all the way to the horizon. If only he had gotten to Bella a moment sooner. She would have vanished behind that wall that Alice couldn't see past and the Cullens wouldn't have seen her jump from that cliff. Edward would have never come back.

Inexplicably, Jacob felt his chest slightly tighten at that. But…why?

"What are you thinking about?" Bella asked, after he'd been quiet for a long time.

He answered honestly. "I'm thinking about what you told me. About when the fortune-teller saw you cliff jumping and thought you'd committed suicide, and how it all got out of control… Do you realize that if you had just waited for me like you were supposed to, then the bl-" he broke off, remembering her ire, "Alice wouldn't have been able to see you jump? Nothing would have changed. We'd probably be in my garage right now, like any other Saturday. There wouldn't be any vampires in Forks, and you and me…" he trailed off. She would be in love with him, he was sure, just like he was with her. They were perfect for each other. Young and happy and sometimes reckless, and they weren't afraid to show each other their bad sides. And they were both human.

Bella, however, didn't look as happy about that picture. "Edward would have come back anyway," she said quietly.

"Are you sure about that?" Jacob asked, seriously doubting it. The man hadn't ever so much as peaked in on her happiness since he had left. The wolves would have detected his scent if he had.

"Being apart…" she replied slowly, "It didn't work for either of us."

Jacob opened his mouth, angrily, and then closed it again. He could talk until he was blue in the face and Bella would never see beyond the rose-colored glasses that seemed glued to her face.

"Did you know Sam is mad at you?" he said at last. Perhaps she would take his leader's word better than his own.

"Me?" she looked startled. "Oh. I see. He thinks they would have stayed away if I wasn't here."

Jacob almost laughed. No, Sam didn't dislike her because of that. It was foolishness that angered him, not inevitability. "No, that's not it."

"What's his problem, then?"

Jacob took a deep breath and picked up a rock from beneath his feet. He studied it, used it as a distraction, so he didn't have to look at her while he spoke. Even in human form, he could feel his packmates' emotions from the last time they were connected, and he didn't want Bella to think he was angry.

"When Sam saw… how you were in the beginning, when Billy told them how Charlie worried when you didn't get any better, and then when you started jumping off cliffs…" he looked up and met her gaze. "He thought you were the one person in the world with as much reason to hate the Cullens as he does. Sam feels sort of… betrayed that you would just let them back into your life like they never hurt you."

At once, though, he realized his mistake in looking at her. She had taken Sam's anger and assumed it was Jacob's. And he didn't want Bella to be angry, he wanted her to think, which she never did when she was angry.

"You can tell Sam to go right to-"

"Look at that!" Jacob quickly interrupted her and pointed to the first distraction he saw. It was perfect to describe why he was worried about her. It was a northwest golden eagle. A beautiful creature, really, and Jacob watched them hunt often. The eagle swept down towards the water, barely skimming the surface, and then pulled up at the last moment-a silver fish writhing in its talons.

"You see it everywhere," Jacob murmured, "Nature taking its course-hunter and prey, the endless cycle of life and death."

Bella looked at him, unimpressed.

"And yet," Jacob continued, "you don't see the fish trying to plant a kiss on the eagle. You never see that."

He forced a grin and saw Bella try to grin back. "Maybe the fish was trying. It's hard to tell what a fish is thinking. Eagles are good-looking birds, you know."

Jacob's gaze narrowed. "Is that what it comes down to? Good looks?" After all, whenever they were together, he could smell the reek of Edward's pheromones on her, charming her, influencing her. It was disgusting.

"Don't be stupid, Jacob," Bella retorted.

"Is it the money, then?" he asked. He knew the Cullens were incredibly rich, and a middle-class girl just graduating would need the money for college…

Bella, however, was angered by his theory. "That's nice," she muttered, "I'm flattered that you think so much of me."

She turned her back and began walking away, but Jacob jumped up. He grabbed her by the hand and turned her to face him again. "I'm serious! I'm trying to understand here, and I'm coming up blank." What the hell did a corpse have that she couldn't find in another human being?

Bella turned, furious. "I love him. Not because he's beautiful or because he's rich! I'd much rather he weren't either one. It would even out the gap between us just a little bit-because he'd still be the most loving and unselfish and brilliant and decent person I've ever met. Of course I love him. How hard is that to understand?" she spat.

Jacob glared down at her in frustration. She hadn't answered his question! What, for God's sake, did they even have in common? And how did she fail to miss that every last one of those qualities had been disproved multiple times? "It's impossible to understand," he replied, exasperated.

"Please enlighten me, then, Jacob," she growled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "What is a valid reason for someone to love someone else? Since apparently I'm doing it wrong."

Wow, where to begin… "I think the best place to start would be to look within your own species. That usually works."

"Well that just sucks!" she snapped back, "I guess I'm stuck with Mike Newton after all!"

Part of Jacob felt a bit bad for the Mike guy, whoever that was, since apparently she thought he was pretty scummy. But most of him felt the brutal slap of her judgment and disgust against him.

He flinched back, startled, and dropped her hand. He wasn't an animal. He wasn't. That was the sort of trash he expected to hear from a vampire. He was there to protect her, to protect all of Forks, from the violent destruction vampires brought to every place they lived.

"I'm human," he muttered, crossing his arms and trying to stop the shaking that was starting to crawl over his skin.

"You're not as human as Mike," she persisted, and her jeering tone said she was well aware of what she was doing to him, "Do you still think that's the most important consideration?"

No I don't, but fuck you. You can have your leeches. "It's not the same thing. I didn't choose this," Jacob insisted, but her cruel, sharp laugh silenced him.

"Do you think Edward did? He didn't know what was happening to him more than you did. He didn't exactly sign up for this."

Jacob felt his lip tremble slightly, the emotion rising up in him and making him shake even harder. Either Edward knew exactly what he was getting into and deserved what he got, or Carlisle was even more disgusting than your standard vampire. She's right, though… I can be an animal sometimes… If I were really human, I wouldn't react this way. He could already see his skin blur and he fought the wolf back again. Bella, so defensive was she of her vampires, couldn't see what she was doing to him.

"You know, Jacob, you're awfully self-righteous-considering that you're a werewolf and all." She continued. A sharp pulse burst out over his whole body and he nearly shook apart, but he quickly wrapped his arms around himself and drew in a ragged breath. He glowered over his slightly-hunched shoulder at her. "It's not the same," he repeated.

"I don't see why not. You could be a bit more understanding about the Cullens. You have no idea how truly good they are-to the core, Jacob." Oh, and they're so understanding of us? You just want everyone to be in love with your little pack of sparklers, Jacob nearly snarled, but bit his tongue again and tried to force his anger back down. Unfortunately, it just stuck as a lump in his throat.

"They shouldn't exist. Their existence goes against nature," he insisted. He knew he should have better explanations, better reasons, but he could barely think through his werewolf-induced fog. The wolf in him wanted to spring to life and force reason into her, but he couldn't do that. He couldn't expose himself to the same heart-wrenching guilt Sam felt every time he looked at Emily. The man was nearly ruined by it and had attempted suicide more than once. He figured out exactly what he had to do-throw himself in front of a train, actually-and was planning to do so, when Emily had finally opened her heart to him and Sam was suddenly bound to this earth because it was her wish for him to be. She was a chain that held him, despite having to look at her scars and at Leah's pain every day. But if it weren't for that, Jacob didn't know how Sam would've survived. Or how he himself would survive if it happened to him.

Jacob suddenly realized Bella hadn't said anything in a while. "What?" he asked.

"Speaking of unnatural…" she began, and Jacob sighed. Didn't she realize it was only because of the vampires that werewolves existed? He didn't want this any more than Edward apparently had.

"Bella," he said slowly, reasonably, "What I am was born in me. It's a part of who I am, who my family is, who we all are as a tribe-it's the reason why we're still here. Besides that…" he trailed off, meeting Bella's silent gaze. "I am still human."

Why can't she see that? He gently reached out and picked up her hand, satisfied when the wolf made no violent move against it, and pressed it to his chest. Warm, soft skin and a heart that was beating… He knew he was human.

"Normal humans can't throw motorcycles around the way you can," Bella pointed out, and Jacob gave her a small, slightly sad smile. "Normal humans run away from monsters, Bella. And I never claimed to be normal. Just human."

Bella started to smile again and pulled her hand away. "You look plenty human to me. At the moment," she said grudgingly.

At the moment. Briefly, he remembered the stark terror in her expression when she had first laid eyes on his wolf form. He had been huge, brisling, and snarling at the vampire scent around them. He had been protecting her, though. He loved her. Why didn't she understand?

"I feel human," he whispered, and to his horror, he felt tears start to well up in his eyes. God, what kind of a man am I?

"Oh, Jake," his love-no, the love of his life-whispered back, and took his hand.

Apparently willing to spare time for the werewolf when it no longer had to defend Edward, Bella's compassion came back. "Are you okay, Jake? Charlie said you were having a hard time… Isn't it getting any better?"

The truth was, it wasn't. His hormone surges were more erratic than they had been when he hit puberty, and his temper was still wild and out of control. For the past month or so, he had had to run out of the classroom multiple times to avoid becoming a wolf in front of everyone. Because of that, the school seemed convinced he had some sort of horrible flu that had him throwing up all the time.

"'S not so bad," he muttered at last, but he kept his eyes downward. She sat back down on the driftwood and he had sat down on the wet stones at her feet. He didn't feel like sitting full-view in front of her anymore. The shaking hadn't stopped and he strongly suspected his eyes of still being wet.

She noticed the awkward silence and decided to quickly fill it with noise. "It's been so long since I was here. I've probably missed a ton of things. How are Sam and Emily? And Embry? Did Quil-?" she suddenly broke off.

Jacob gave a small sigh, but it wasn't an entirely sad one. "Ah, Quil…"

"I'm sorry," Bella said quietly.

Jacob snorted, but a slight smile played at his lips, remembering Quil's stunned but happy howl when he had first phased. He sounded like a man that had just hit the first dive of a rollercoaster. Terrified out of his mind, but happy somehow. "Don't say that to him," he warned, his good mood returning slightly. He would call Quil the light of his life if it didn't sound so gay.

"What do you mean?" Bella asked.

"Quil's not looking for pity. Just the opposite-he's jazzed. Totally thrilled."

Dude… Jacob? Guys? Wait-this is why everyone's been acting all funny? Oh my God, I'm a freakin' WOLF! This is so cool! So… does this mean we're all friends again?

No, we're family now, Quil. Sam had said.

Bella still looked puzzled. "Huh?"

This is so freakin' AWESOME! I'm huge, man! Ha-HAH!

And Paul. Ugh, who invited the pipsqueak to the club?

So we're all giant wolves now? This rocks! Let's run somewhere! I bet I can hunt much better in this body! This… is… so…. AWESOME! Whoo!

Jacob rolled his eyes at the memory. What a puppy. "Quil thinks it's the coolest thing that's ever happened to him," Jacob explained, "Part of it is finally knowing what's going on. And he's excited to have his friends back-to be part of the 'in crowd'." Jacob snorted again. A total puppy. "Shouldn't be surprised, I guess. It's so Quil."

"He likes it?" his companion sounded incredulous at the thought.

"Honestly… most of them do," It's not really that bad, after all. "There are definitely good sides to this-the speed, the freedom, the strength… the sense of-of family…" That's what had gotten Jacob through his first phasing. Suddenly, he had a full house again. "Sam and I are the only ones who ever felt really bitter. And Sam got past that a long time ago," Jacob gave a short laugh. "So I'm the crybaby now."

"Why are you and Sam different?" Bella asked, sounding genuinely curious. "What happened to Sam anyway? What's his problem?"

There she goes with that 'what's his problem' thing again. She must really not like him, for some reason. He's not that bad, though…

"That's a long story," he replied.

"I told you a long story. Besides, I'm not in any hurry to get back."

That hardly surprised Jacob. "Will he be mad at you?"

"Yes," she admitted, "He really hates it when I do things he considers… risky."

So why did you go on a suicide binge when he left? Jacob wondered. He hadn't been stupid. He knew what she was doing, but at the time, he had been young and stupid, too. Even knowing that she only wanted to do something dangerous, Jacob had helped her do it. Billy had been furious when he found out why he was suddenly spending so much time with Bella. She's not feeling well right now, Jacob! Of course she wants to do something dangerous! his father had nearly shouted at him. Being reckless, trying to forget something or someone… That is the most deadly, idiotic reason to start riding! She could get killed! You'd better teach her proper bike safety, or I swear to God…

Shaking the memory away, Jacob said, "Like hanging out with werewolves."

"Yeah."

Jacob shrugged. "So don't go back. I'll sleep on the couch." Ha, wouldn't that really rile those leeches up.

"That's a great idea," she muttered sarcastically, "Because then he would come looking for me."

Jacob's smile was bitter. "Would he?"

"If he was afraid I was hurt or something-probably."

"My idea's sounding better all the time," Jacob leaned back against the driftwood, still smiling slightly.

"Please, Jake. That really bugs me."

"What does?"

"That you two are so ready to kill each other!" she complained. "It makes me crazy. Why can't you both just be civilized?"

"Is he ready to kill me?" Jacob asked, a bit amused. It was a bleak situation, but he was determined to find humor where he could.

And suddenly she was shouting "Not like you seem to be! At least he can be a grown-up about this. He knows that hurt you would hurt me-and so he never would. You don't seem to care about that at all!"

Jacob blinked, startled, but instantly thought of Edward's I would run, if I were you. I'm on the hunt and you're just a pathetic puppy. "Yeah, right. I'm sure he's quite the pacifist," Jacob muttered. Bella snarled under her breath and yanked her hand away from his-he had almost forgotten she was holding it-and pulled her knees up, hugging them.

She glared out towards the water and Jacob sighed. No matter what she thought of him, he loved her, and he cared for her. He didn't like hurting her like that.

The werewolf slowly stood up and put his arms around her, but she shook it off. "Sorry," he murmured quietly, "I'll try to behave myself."

He only got icy silence in return.

Jacob sat down beside her on the rotting log and tried to think of something else to talk about.

"Do you still want to hear about Sam?" he asked.

There was an angry shrug.

"Like I said, it's a long story. And very… strange. There're so many strange things about this new life. I haven't had time to tell you the half of it. And this thing with Sam-well, I don't know if I'll ever be able to explain it right…" Or even if I have the right to.

"I'm listening," she grumbled stiffly, and suddenly, Jacob knew it was okay. They could forgive each other, they really could.

Jacob began to tell her the story, exactly how he had remembered it from Sam's mind-when he had first phased. They had shared minds and Sam was having a small flashback to how his phasing had ruined his life, and Jacob had wondered about the story. Sam tried to pull away, but it's hard to stifle your thoughts without thinking about what your stifling. When he got to the middle of the story, though, Bella interrupted, and Jacob should have known she would.

"The Cullens had no idea," she whispered defensively. "They didn't think that werewolves still existed here. They didn't know that coming here would change you."

Jacob barely stifled a snort. "It doesn't change the fact that it did."

"Remind me not to get on your bad side."

Ha! She's preaching to me. "You think I should be as forgiving as you are? We can't all be saints and martyrs," Jacob replied derisively.

"Grow up, Jacob," she growled.

Jacob smiled a bit. "I wish I could."

"What?"

Bella turned to him, looking shocked and incredulous. "You… can't… grow up? You're what? Not… aging? Is that a joke?"

Unaware of Bella's growing rage, Jacob leaned his chin on one hand and answered. "Nope."

She suddenly sprang up, spitting fury and clenching her fists. She looked like she wanted to strangle him. Holy shit! Jacob leaned back.

"Bella? What did I say?" He asked, eyes widening.

"You. Are. Not. Aging?" she growled through her teeth. Jacob, starting to worry, tugged on her arm. "None of us are. What's wrong with you?" This was an incredibly odd reaction. Was she mad that he was immortal? He was really only sort of immortal. He was going to start aging as soon as he could, but he was rather helpless at the moment…

"Am I the only one who has to get old? I get older every stinking day!" Her voice rose to a fevered pitch and Jacob suddenly remembered his dad's stories of Rachel's and Rebecca's old teenage girl tantrums. Now he felt a bit afraid.

"Dammit! What kind of world is this?" she wailed, "Where's the justice?"

"Take it easy, Bella…"

"Shut up, Jacob. Just shut up! This is so unfair!" Bella was practically howling, and she stomped angrily.

"…Did you just seriously stamp your foot?" Amusement was warring with fear now. "I thought girls only did that on TV."

She snarled wordlessly.

"It's not as bad as you seem to think it is," Jacob attempted to reason with the wild creature. "Sit down and I'll explain."

"I'll stand," she replied curtly.

Jacob rolled his eyes, hoping the tantrum was over. "Okay. Whatever you want. But listen, I will get older… someday."

"Explain."

Yes, ma'am… Jeez. "When we get enough control to quit… When we stop phasing for a solid length of time, we age again. It's not easy," Jacob admitted, shaking his head slightly. "It's gonna take a really long time to learn that kind of restraint, I think. Even Sam's not there yet. 'Course it doesn't help that there's a huge coven of vampires right down the road. We can't even think about quitting when the tribe needs protectors. But you shouldn't get all bent out of shape about it, anyway, because I'm already older than you, physically at least." Is she angry that she's getting older than me? Why would she want us the same age that badly?

"What are you talking about?" Bella demanded.

"Look at me, Bells. Do I look sixteen?"

She looked him up and down, clearly putting on the most unimpressed look she could manage. "Not exactly, I guess."

"Not at all," Jacob shot back, a bit exasperated. "Because we reach full growth inside of a few months when the werewolf gene gets triggered. It's one hell of a growth spurt. Physically… I'm probably twenty-five or something." he quirked a lip at her. "So there's no need for you to freak out about being too old for me for at least another seven years."

She shook her head, but looked calmer.

Feeling safer, Jacob asked, "So did you want to hear about Sam, or did you want to scream at me some more for things that are out of my control?"

Bella breathed a slow in-out. "Sorry. Age is a touchy subject for me. That hit a nerve."

Jacob's expression hardened. He wanted to know why, but he wasn't sure how to ask. And he already sort of guessed the answer…

"So once Sam understood what was going on, once he had Billy and Harry and Mr. Ateara, you said it wasn't so hard anymore. And, like you also said, there are the cool parts…" she paused. "Why does Sam hate them so much? Why does he wish I would hate them?"

Jacob sighed. "This is the really weird part."

"I'm a pro at weird."

He took another deep breath-seemingly the thousandth he'd taken since Bella had arrived-and continued with the story. He told her about imprinting the best he could, but he had no idea what it really felt like, so that was difficult. Eventually Bella went with it and he went on. He explained how Sam had utterly broken Leah's heart, and he told her about when Sam had attacked Emily. He carefully glossed over how Emily and Sam had gotten together-he wasn't sure how he would explain Sam's suicide attempts and how Emily had finally taken pity on him and accepted him; it sounded disgusting even with the full explanation-and finished it with, "Leah got the worst end of the stick. She puts on a brave face… She's going to be a bridesmaid." Sam had been horrified when he found out, but Leah put her foot down and Emily was happy, so he eventually let it be.

Bella was silent for a long moment, and Jacob waited. "Did it happen to you?" she finally asked, "This love-at-first-sight thing?"

Jacob didn't smile. "No. Sam and Jared are the only ones." And Jacob never expected it to happen to him. Didn't want it to happen to him. You lose all control, all reasonability. Suddenly, the only thing that matters to your is your imprint's happiness and health. Jared had explained, when he had confessed to Jacob how much his imprinting experience had startled him. You are nothing until you've satisfied them to the best of your abilities, and only then… only then are you allowed to be happy. It's crazy, Jacob, and if I didn't love Kim with everything I have, it would terrify me.

"How did that work out for Jared?" Bella asked, breaking the silence.

"No drama there. It was just a girl he'd sat next to in school every day for a year and never looked at twice. And then, after he changed, he saw her again and never looked away." Jared's memory rose in the back of Jacob's mind.

"Hey, er… uh… What's your name?"

"Mmm? Oh- Jared! It's Kim. Um, hi."

"Hello… Kim."

"So, erm… why are you talking to me all of a sudden?"

"I… don't… know…" Feeling heat rush to his face, he looked away.

A high-pitched giggle made him turn and look at her again, "Alright, then. Well, it's nice that you finally are. How's your day been so far?"

"It- fine. It's been fine. Er… have you seen that new action movie, yet?"

"Kim was thrilled," Jacob continued, half-grinning, "She'd had a huge crush on him. She'd had his last name tacked on to the end of hers all over in her diary," he laughed at that. Jared had been embarrassed out of his mind when the pack found out and all the boys jeered, but he had also been happy. Like she had accepted his proposal or something.

Bella frowned, though. "Did Jared tell you that? He shouldn't have."

Jacob stopped laughing and cleared his throat. Clearly there was a gender difference in the situation. "I guess I shouldn't laugh. It was funny, though."

"Some soulmate." And there she goes, scoffing at imprinting again. If only she really see inside their minds, see what it's like.

"Jared didn't tell us anything on purpose. I already told you this part, remember?"

"Oh yeah. You can hear each other's thoughts, but only when you're wolves, right?"

Jacob glared at her, defensive on behalf of his pack. "Right. Just like your bloodsucker." he glowered.

"Edward," she corrected, a bit smarmily.

"Sure, sure. That's how come I know so much about how Sam felt," he admitted, "It's not like he would have told us all that if he'd had a chance. Actually, that's something we all hate." Jacob was suddenly feeling a bit bitter.

So how did it go with Bella yesterday? Finally get to carry out last night's fantasy?

Shut up, Jared.

I have to admit, that was a pretty creative use of a motorcycle…

Shut up, Embry!

Hey guys, what do you call a girl who-

SHUT UP, PAUL!

"It's awful. No privacy, no secrets. Everything you're ashamed of, laid out for everyone see," Jacob shuddered slightly. He could laugh at a few awkward memories now, but a few things… he just didn't want to share. Which was why, unbeknownst to Bella, he hadn't phased for over a week.

"It sounds horrible," Bella whispered, but Jacob shrugged it off. "It is sometimes helpful when we need to coordinate. Once in a blue moon, when some bloodsucker crosses into our territory. Laurent was fun-" In fact, he and Paul had gotten in a bit of a tussle over their favorite pieces… "And if the Cullens hadn't gotten in our way last Saturday… ugh. We could have had her!" He clenched his fists. Embry and Quil had been out on a romp when they smelled the red-haired vampire and had seen her just a second later. The rest of the pack had been on the move before they could even vocalize but… well, there was nothing for it.

Luckily for him and Edward, the story lined up almost perfectly with the one they had told Bella. Which reminded Jacob…

"But isn't it like that for you all the time? Having him in your head?"

Bella shook her head. "Oh, no. Edward's never in my head. He only wishes."

Huh?

"He can't hear me," Bella explained, "I'm the only one like that, for him. We don't know why he can't."

Lucky… "Weird," was all Jacob said out loud.

"Yeah," she slumped a bit, "It probably means there's something wrong with my brain."

"I already knew there was something wrong with your brain," Jacob shot back, but he was smiling.

"Thanks," she muttered flatly.

The silence drug on and Jacob shifted over on the log until he was leaning against Bella. Her skin was slightly cooler than his, but she still felt warm. Alive. Not like Edward at all.

As they sat there, he saw her move her arm and stare at the bite scar there. Jacob's inner wolf shuddered, but he didn't look away. "What are you thinking about?" he murmured.

"The sun," she replied simply.

He looked up at the object in question. "Mmm. It's nice."

"What are you thinking about?"

Jacob grinned. "I was remembering that moronic movie you took me to…"

What a marshmallow. You should hold out for someone with a stronger stomach. Someone who laughs at the gore that makes weaker men vomit.

Suddenly, Jacob remembered who the boy she mentioned earlier was. "And Mike Newton puking all over everything."

Bella laughed along with him, and Jacob brightened. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew they were a long shot… and with Edward around, a really long shot… but he couldn't help but hope. They meshed almost beautifully-the only bumps occurring when the vampire got involved or when their stubborn tempers clashed.

"I miss that," Jacob said. "The way it used to be so easy… uncomplicated. I'm glad I've got a good memory.

Bella suddenly stiffened and, since he was leaning against her, he felt it. "What is it?"

"About that good memory of yours…" she pulled away and looked him in the face. "Do you mind telling me what you were doing Monday morning? You were thinking something that bothered Edward."

Jacob grinned at the memory, then outright laughed. The wolf pack shared dreams almost every time they dreamed at all, and so everyone's crazy sex dreams were always passed around to everyone else. Eventually, Jacob had gotten comfortable enough in his sexuality that the things he showed Edward didn't bother him anymore. Besides, Leah had already dreamed a remarkably similar scenario and the pack had to thrash out that whole bit of awkwardness. Even worse, Jacob had dreamed so much about Sam and Emily from Sam and Sam and Leah from Leah that he somehow put all three of them together in a dream in such a way that had every wolf kicking dirt at him for a week.

Not that he could exactly share that with Bella. Instead, he told her about the beginning.

"I was just thinking about you. Didn't like it that much, did he?"

"Me? What about me?"

Jacob laughed again, but the bitterness was starting to creep in. "I was remembering the way you looked that night Sam found you-I've seen it in his head, and it's like I was there; that memory has always haunted Sam, you know. And then I remembered how you looked the first time you came to my place. I bet you don't even realize what a mess you were then, Bella," Jacob's laughter completely disappeared and was replied by an angry protectiveness. "It was weeks before you started to look human again. And I remembered how you always used to have your arms wrapped around yourself, trying to hold yourself together…" he shook the images from his mind. "It's hard for me to remember how sad you were, and it wasn't my fault. So I figured it would be harder for him. And I thought he ought to get at what he'd done."

Bella smacked him and then twitched like she's hurt her hand instead. Jacob snickered, and Bella narrowed her eyes at him. "Jacob Black, don't you ever do that again! Promise me you won't."

"No way. I haven't had that much fun in months." The mighty unshakable was finally shaken.

"So help me, Jake-"

Jacob shook his head in exasperation. "Oh, get a grip, Bella. When am I ever going to see him again? Don't worry about it."

Bella got to her feet and started to walk away, but Jacob grabbed her hand to stop her.

"I'm leaving, Jacob."

"No, don't go yet," Jacob tightened his grip, "I'm sorry. And… okay, I won't do it again," I'll do something much worse. "Promise."

Bella sighed. "Thanks, Jake."

Jacob stood up as well. "Come on, we'll go back to my house."

She shook her head. "Actually, I think I really do need to go. Angela Weber is expecting me, and I know Alice is worried. I don't want to upset her too much."

"But you just got here!"

"It feels that way," Bella agreed, and glanced up a the sky.

Jacob sagged. "I don't know when I'll see you again." It could be never, if that bloodsucker gets his way.

"I'll come back the next time he's away," Bella promised.

"Away?" Jacob had heard about their 'hunting trip' and rolled his eyes. "That's a nice way to describe what he's doing. Disgusting parasites."

"If you can't be nice, I won't come back at all!" she growled and tried to yank her hand away.

Jacob knew she wasn't all that angry, though, and hung on. "Aw, don't be mad. Knee-jerk reaction."

Bella sighed. "If I'm going to try to come back again, you're going to have to get something straight, okay?"

He waited silently.

"See, I don't care who's a vampire and who's a werewolf. That's irrelevant," she explained firmly, "You are Jacob, and he is Edward, and I am Bella. And nothing else matters."

What am I supposed to do? Plug my nose and close my eyes whenever he's around? "But I am a werewolf. And he is a vampire."

"And I'm a Virgo!" she shouted.

Jacob raised a brow. "If you can really see it that way…"

"I can. I do."

He shrugged, trying. "Okay. Just Bella and Jacob. None of those freaky Virgos here," he joked and shared a smile with her.

"I've really missed you, Jake," she admitted quietly, and the grip they were sharing became mutual, instead of Jacob simply hanging on to her.

"Me, too," he admitted back. "More than you know. Will you come back soon?"

"As soon as I can," she agreed.

Then she really had to go, and Jacob rode in her truck to the border. He was hanging on as long as he could and he didn't really mind walking back all that much. When they reached the borderline, Jacob gave her shoulders one final squeeze and climbed out, and Bella drove away-the poor truck's engine still choking from its effort earlier that day. I really should fix it sometime…

Suddenly, an overly-sweet scent assaulted his nostrils and Jacob backed up a step. He thought Bella had come alone, but no…

A shiny, silver Volvo pulled out from the shade of a nearby clump of trees and Jacob could make out Edward Cullen's infuriated expression from where he stood.

Jacob expected such a look, but he didn't expect Edward to stop the car and storm out of it, denting the corner of the door despite all of his projected control. The reek was even stronger without a shell of metal around him, but Jacob held his ground. All the calm from moments earlier was gone and the hairs on the back of his neck bristled. What are you gonna do about it, bloodsucker?

A whole hell of a lot, Edward's expression replied.

As quickly as Bella had wiped Edward from his mind, Edward had wiped Bella from it and now all he wanted was a little unbridled violence.

And based on how the leech's fingers were curled into fists, he was going to get it.

"It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this?
It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss…
Now they're going to bed, and my stomach is sick
And it's all in my head
But she's touching his chest now, he takes off her dress now,
Let me go…"

~"Mr. Brightside" by the Killers


A/N: Sorry, this chapter is sort of a long filler… I had to establish the nature of both boys' relationships with Bella before we could continue. They have to both still love her, and have issues, for this to be the perfect mix of maximum angst and plausibility. And *looks up word count* Holy crap, this damn chapter's long…

I hope I didn't mess up Charlie's thoughts too badly. He was supposed to have "simple thoughts" according to Edward, so… er… I tried. Sorry if I made him sound a little stupid… On the good side, I think the "I am human" scene on the beach turned out pretty good. Reading it, at the time, I was pretty upset with Bella for acting like that. I mean, she has her cruel streaks with the werewolf, but that was even worse than usual.

And, yeah, I know the beginning of this chapter is a little messed up. The timing of their Florida trip messed up the timeline I had drawn out, so I had to mess it up in revenge. x3 So I made the trip end Friday night instead of Sunday night, leaving room for the whole Saturday incident (see chapter one)… so… yeah, I took the scene and twisted it a little. Meshed Bella's and Edward's first get-together from Eclipse and mixed it with the phone scene. Fear my splice-and-dicing skillz. x3

And I don't know if you guys noticed this or not, but Edward's and Jacob's stories were almost completely different. The only similarities were that the vampires and werewolves were both there and they were chasing Victoria, and that Paul and Emmett fought… It seemed a little flaky to me, so I decided to just make it an outright lie. Again, it's all about interpretation…

Anyway, hope you all enjoyed it, and once again: reviewers and lurkers are both welcome and appreciated!