A/N Hello, lovely readers. Took me way longer than I hoped, but I'm still here. I'm still trying. And, hey, a few months wait is better than a few years, right? *facepalm* I still strongly recommend putting this story on alerts and coming back when it's finished if waiting on my sporadic updates bothers you. If you choose to read now, just a heads up, this chapter is very long. (Is that compensation? You're welcome? I'm sorry?) Grab a drink, get cozy, and settle in. It's a bumpy ride.

Big hugs and thanks to my pre-reader, JoVersify, and my beta, Saritadreaming. Love you both, ladies! Btw, if you find mistakes, those are mine. I tend to meddle last minute.

Disclaimer/Reminder – This is a work of fiction based on the Twilight Universe (likewise a work of fiction.) As such, the Quileute people are not represented factually either in current times or in any historical context. Any similarities to any real person, place, or thing is unintentional on my part. Please do your own research to separate fact from fiction.

. . . . . .

Prey for the Wicked

Chapter 25


. . . . . .

Bella finds comfort in the night air. It settles against her skin, dark and sticky like molasses and less stifling than the air inside. The porch light draws the insects, and she holds her hand out for a curious moth. It ignores her in favour of getting closer to the source of brightness that drew it to her space, zig-zagging behind her in a roundabout path. She hears its wings flutter, fat little body bumping against the siding on the house.

The fragile peace she manages to embrace is drowned out by the noise of a car approaching. She tracks its headlights as they near, frowning as they slow right down. Jake's VW rabbit turns into her driveway, abruptly halting inches from the bumper of Edward's ostentatiously sleek car. There isn't enough room, and Bella watches the driver reverse with a clashing of gears that tells her no way it's Jake. Whoever it is revs forward and rudely pulls up directly on her front lawn.

Bella stands as the door flings open, and Leah Clearwater steps out. Wearing a loose-fitting t-shirt and short cut-offs that emphasize her long, toned legs, the pissed-off demeanour she carries like a shield propels her forward until she's standing less than six feet away.

She rests her hands on her hips, elbows jutting out like wings. "So, you are back home," she says, condescension dripping off her words thicker than the caramel-coloured lip gloss she wears.

Bella crosses her arms, instantly defensive. "What are you doing here, Leah? And where's Jake?" The last thing she needs is Jake showing up tonight. Unease wiggles cold fingers down her spine as the bubble she's been living in these last two weeks threatens to pop. This isn't good, she thinks. Which might be the biggest understatement ever.

Leah ignores the first question. "Jake is at the police station with your dad. Because that's how this works, right? Poor Bella gets herself a stalker and everyone needs to protect her." Her tone is so snide that Bella has to fight not to cringe. "And, of course, Jake's first in line, every damn time."

"I didn't ask him to…"

"Oh, cut the shit, will you? Everyone else buys your innocent act. I don't."

Watching Leah's hands drop to her sides and curl into fists wakes Bella's temper. She steps onto her lawn, cool grass scraping her bare feet. "I don't know what the hell that means, but let me explain something to you. None of this is any of your business."

"I love him!" Leah yells, then looks almost surprised she said it.

The statement isn't a shock to Bella. She doubts it would be a shock to anyone. "Why are you telling me? Jake and I are past tense. You helped make that happen, in case you forgot." It isn't really true. Leah was a symptom, not the cause, but Bella isn't above dishing out some of what's being heaped on her.

Leah rolls her eyes, the action over-exaggerated.

"What is your damn deal?" Bella snaps. "Do you think I'm standing in your way? I'm not."

"Bull shit. Why else would he be at the precinct right now, keeping tabs on you?"

"I didn't ask him to do that. In fact, I've told him to stay out of all this," Bella retorts, hotly.

Leah shoves her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ears and making a disgusted sound that ends with a laugh. "Please. Damsel in distress is something Jake has no power over. Poor Bella, with the crazy mom and the shit childhood, acting tough but running around all lost and sad-eyed. Beautiful and damaged. You're his kryptonite, and you damn well know it."

The insult digs deep. In a town like Forks, it's not surprising that her childhood is a subject for gossip, especially being the daughter of the Chief of Police, but having it spat out, straight to her face, cuts in a new way. She hits back instantly. "And you'd know all about beautiful and damaged, wouldn't you, Leah? Maybe you do love Jake, but let's not pretend Sam Uley leaving you for your cousin isn't part of you being here right now in my yard trying to stake a claim and clear out the competition."

Leah's eyes narrow into slits. "Whatever! You need to get this through your head. You were never good for Jake, enabling him to hold on to all his stupid resentments with Billy, taking him away from his family." She waves her hand at the house. "He wouldn't even live on the reservation. Shacking up here with you…"

Frustration boiling over, Bella cuts Leah off. "I never made him do any of that. You know where that comes from. It starts and ends with his father. If you're pissed off about Jake's life choices, maybe take that up with Billy. The man who drove Sarah off the reservation by being a shit husband and father, and left her with no choice but to raise Jake and his sisters by herself with no support."

Leah looks away, her jaw clenching, staring off into the distance in some stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality check Bella presents her with.

A worm of resentment, buried deep, squirms to the surface. It has teeth, and she feels it bite. A well of bitterness on Jake's behalf boils over–she loved him once, after all. "If you care about him, you'd know all this, and you wouldn't be so resentful. Jake watched Sarah die, Leah! He was a kid, sitting in a hospital room alone, watching cancer eat her alive. Where was Billy? Where were your parents? Any of you? He was abandoned. And now? Do you think I don't know how you all pull on him? Expecting him to embrace Quileute ways without even giving him a chance to figure out what he is at his own pace! And you think that's my fault?"

Leah's head jerks back in Bella's direction, eyes widening in surprise. Too late, Bella realizes she's said more than she should.

"You said, what he is." Her razor-sharp gaze feels like an accusation.

Bella shakes her head but doesn't verbally deny it. Instead, she tries to end the conversation. "Whatever your issue is with Jake, it's between you and him. Leave me out of it." Spinning on her heel, Bella moves quickly back up the steps to her front door.

"Don't you dare walk away from me, Bella. This conversation has been a long time coming. You don't get to run away from this, too."

Rising to the bait despite herself, Bella turns around, mouth agape. "Are you kidding me right now?"

"You said what he is. You didn't say what we think he is. So, you know! How the hell do you know?"

"You're completely missing the point of what I said." Bella crosses her arms. This is a confrontation she doesn't want to have, especially right now. Her gaze darts around the perimeter of her front yard, worry sinking into her like a sliver. A sharp reminder that Edward, the reason she knows the truth, is out there, no doubt on his way back to her.

She needs Leah to leave, but Leah does the complete opposite, stalking forward until she reaches the steps, clearly intending to storm up and get in Bella's face. Instead, she comes to an abrupt stop like she's hit a wall. Her nose wrinkles in a look of disgust. "God. What is that smell? Rotting flowers?" She looks around as she covers her mouth and nose, taking in all the green foliage, not a dead flower in sight. She looks back at Bella, the flush of red to her cheeks diminishing noticeably. Her foot comes off the step, and she takes two quick, jerky movements backward.

Behind Bella, the door opens. She turns her head, not surprised to see Edward, who must've come in the back door. The ache vanished a few seconds ago. If she wasn't preoccupied, she would've known he was back from that telltale sign alone. She notices he's changed his clothes, and she catches the smell of soap and shampoo on him that tells her he's also showered. His eyes are the most drastic change, though she only has a second to take them in. The red rings around his pupils are now a soft shade of copper.

He leans against the doorjamb, the picture of relaxation and poise in worn denim and a faded black button-down shirt rolled up at the sleeves, cuffs folded perfectly and sitting at his elbows. The shard of unease in Bella's stomach shifts deeper. At the same time, she can't help the inevitable pull of him that draws her in and makes her…what? Less… adrift? Less… alone?

Leah curses and steps back again. "Son of a bitch." Her voice quavers an octave too high.

Edward arches a brow. "Afraid not. No dog blood in my lineage at all, as you well know, Quileute daughter."

Bella watches Leah wince.

"Bella. Come here," Leah orders sharply, keeping her focus locked on Edward even as she retreats. "Just walk down the steps and get in the car. I'll explain… everything. But you need to come with me."

"What? I'm not going anywhere with you, Leah." Bella lowers her voice, side-eyeing her neighbour's houses, hoping to hell they aren't eavesdropping.

Shaking her head, Leah makes a sound of disgust low in her throat. "I know you don't get it, but you need to listen to me! He's dangerous."

Bella sighs when Edward puts his arm around her, doubting that will calm Leah down any.

"She knows what I am. And she's not in any danger from me. You can lower your hackles," he says, even-toned but with an edge that borders on a warning.

Leah ignores him and puts her hand out to Bella, agitatedly waving it in a come here motion. "You need to leave with me." She's imploring now, all traces of her former anger gone.

Looking at Edward, Bella frowns at the obvious concern Leah's putting out and the way she stands her ground. Snatches of what Jake's shared about the Quileute skip through her memories. "Is she like Jake? A… wolf… shifter, whatever?" she asks him, pitching her voice lower.

Edward shrugs, keeping his gaze on Leah, his expression contemplative. "She's carrying one. Or is it… two?" He cocks his head like he's listening.

Leah's gaze narrows, anger flashing across her face. "Fuck off," she snarls at Edward. "And let go of her. You know the treaty. You can't hunt here, bloodsucker."

Edward's reply is a quiet laugh, the sound ominous rather than amused.

Adjusting her stance, Leah leans forward. "I'm not going to let you hurt her, you freak of nature."

"Interesting turn of phrase, considering who you've allowed to impregnate you." Edward's dry tone matches his unamused expression.

Bella steps away from Edward and frowns at Leah, understanding blooming in a rush that leaves her dizzy as the pieces of this sudden visit come together. "You're pregnant? Is that what this is all about?"

"Never mind that," Leah spits out. "Quit being stupid. I'm offering you a chance to get away from him. What's wrong with you?"

Bella feels a nearly hysterical urge to laugh, but it gets caught in her throat. She isn't sure how much more absurd her life can get. "Are you serious right now? You just got done complaining about Jake wanting to protect me. Now you're going to do it?"

Leah finally turns her head to look at Bella, her expression changing from fearful anger to contemplation. In her fixation she takes several steps closer, coming back to the edge of the porch.

. . . . .

Edward senses the entire scenario shifting from annoying to dangerous. He moves away from the doorframe, putting his body in front of Bella so fast she doesn't have time to block him. He glares at the Quileute woman, who is likely the future of her kind.


Leah does, but she's seen more than he expected. She takes in the way he stands, the lines of his body held tense and ready. Bella punches against his side with a fisted hand, already moving from where he tried to place her, a huff of breath leaving her lungs. Thankfully, she stays by him, because it's doubtful he could remain calm if she didn't. Not when he's processing Leah's thoughts churning out revelations and understandings he should've expected.

Magnets. Like damned magnets. She isn't afraid of him. She's… Leah locks her gaze in on Bella's neck, her vision impressing Edward as her thoughts spill into his head. Centuries of legends and fables about vampire lore tumble judiciously through her mind. A rapid assault as she assimilates meaning in a way Edward remembers speaks volumes about the Quileute mind. Sharp. Hyper-intelligent. Vibrant with imagery but a thousand times more vivid with scent and an understanding of energy and connection to life than any human.

Descendants of wolves indeed.

He knows the moment she connects his protective stance to Bella's beating heart with the scar on her neck. That she sees it when no human should is fascinating. It's possible Ephraim Black was not honest in the past about all the lineages capable of spawning new generations of shapeshifters. She might have some lurking DNA in her ancestry.

He tries to get deeper into her thoughts because if she is here, the genuine threat, Jacob Black, can't be far away. Edward curses internally, realizing he's dropped the ball. He should've kept better tabs on Isabella's ex-suitor. He should've been less complacent about the Quileute in general.

Leah gives him what he wants. An image of her leaving Jacob at the precinct in a meeting with Isabella's father. She doesn't stay with the memory long enough to suit him, but he gets the basics.

Jacob Black is unaware Leah is pregnant. Interesting, but not surprising. She planned to tell him tonight, but Jacob's continued interference and interest in Isabella's life thwarts her at every turn.

She thinks she's in love with him. Edward refrains from rolling his eyes. Her hormones are wreaking havoc with her emotions. She is bound to him by her unborn. Like his kind, Quileute shapeshifter's mate for life. An interesting phenomenon known as imprinting, where the male becomes so besotted by a female naught else exists for him. Edward doubts Leah is Black's imprint, otherwise, he would've lost all interest in Isabella long ago. Though he supposes he could be wrong, given how abnormal the shifters have become by not coming into their full capabilities. He needs to tread carefully here.

He cocks his head as Leah's rapid thoughts latch back on him, trying to problem-solve. His current eye colour catches her interest, unruffling her hostility to a small degree. He has a second to think how fortuitous his recent venison meal was in light of current events. Leah's reasoning shifts again, focusing on his body language, most notably his guarding of Isabella.

Her mind focuses on the image of a page from one of Ephraim's journal entries.

Vampires have one true mating. Any threat to their mate is therefore met with extreme violence. Male vampires especially will display this violent aggression at the least provocation.

Leah takes a few quick steps back, fear spiking her heart rate as she comes to an inevitable conclusion. She holds up her hands in a warding off gesture.

Edward realizes he's made a low, threatening sound, instinctual and territorial. He closes his throat to stop the reaction. Easier to do now that Leah seems inclined to knock off the attempts to get Isabella to leave with her.

Could she be his mate? He's acting as if she is. I better not push him, Leah thinks. If he believes I'm a threat to her…

"Wise thoughts."

Leah curls her lip. "So that's true, too? You can get in people's heads and read their minds? Just a big leech in every way, aren't you, Edward Cullen?" His name from her lips is a sneer, ingrained hatred for vampires steeped throughout her short life bolstering her ability to stand her ground when she should run.

Isabella follows the exchange, looking from Leah to him, confusion in her eyes. For her benefit, Edward says, "She's aware I'm not inclined to let her try to take you home with her."

"And is she aware that it isn't up to you to make my decisions?" Isabella's chin lifts, the dryness of her tone carrying that bite of acerbic wit he finds intoxicating.

Edward shrugs, amused despite the circumstances that are less than ideal. Isabella's obstinance plays in his favour, this time at least. "Oh, if she isn't, I'm sure you'll enlighten her, lamb."

Isabella regards him quietly, small furrowed lines on her forehead, and Leah's fear abates in slow increments, heart rate steadying, curiosity rolling from her mind. Her understanding grows. Clever bitch, he thinks, not unkindly. He wonders how Jacob Black could be so oblivious with one like this sharing his bed and life. How utterly stupid is the halfling? What a waste of Ephraim's line. Perhaps the unborn pup will redeem the wolf line in better ways.

He sweeps a thick curl that has escaped Isabella's hair clip away from her neck, letting his thumb stroke over her pulse, attempting to ease the anxiety she radiates. He's rewarded with the soft exhalation of a breath he doubts she's aware of holding. Leah watches him, disgust and contemplation spinning her thoughts toward a new revelation.

He cares about her. Holy shit, she thinks.

Edward turns his gaze to the woods, remembering the unease he felt earlier tonight. Jacob will be on foot, likely to approach from this direction. A reckoning is coming.

Holy shit, indeed.

. . . . . .

The tension in the air is as thick as the humidity. Bella turns from Edward and finds Leah still rooted to her spot on the lawn. Taking a deep breath, searching her mind for a way to form a temporary truce, she wipes her sweaty palms on the denim covering her hips. She takes a few steps away from Edward, aware of him stiffening in response but ignoring it. Stopping at the edge of the top step, she tries to adopt a calm, respectful tone. "So… congratulations are in order, I guess."

Bella holds up a hand when Leah purses her lips with a sour expression of doubt. "I mean that sincerely." She drops her arm, and feeling awkward, buries her hands in her pockets. "I know you think I'm trying to manipulate Jake, but you couldn't be more wrong. I want Jake to be happy and free to live his life, just like I want to be free to live mine." She gives another anxious glance to either side, grateful to note her closest neighbours seem to have their windows closed, their air conditioner cranked. Still, she lowers her voice to a hiss when she continues, "And I sure as hell don't want to be part of some supernatural tug of war. I get why you think you need to get involved in this," she gestures to Edward behind her. "I'm respectfully asking you not to."

"It isn't up to you, Bella. Don't you get it? We're already involved. The tribal council isn't going to ignore this. Jake will finally learn the truth now." Leah turns her eyes back to Edward. "You need to remember we know all about you, your so-called family, and your kind. Just because Jake never phased, doesn't mean we don't have ways to make your life really difficult. . ."

"Leah, for God's sake, shut up!" Bella tells her. She gestures around and breathes a small sigh when Leah follows the action and seems to get this conversation shouldn't be happening outside.

"Fine," she snips, agitated and showing it. "I'm leaving. But both of you get this. We're watching. This isn't over." She looks at Edward. "Keep your damn teeth out of her, cold one."

. . . . . .

Edward watches Leah back step toward the car, her stare fixed on him, barbed with dislike. She would've made a formidable opponent if she were a wolf. Her offspring will be…

He sighs and removes his cell phone from his pocket, tossing it onto the small tray-style table Isabella keeps near the door by a rocking chair in need of sanding and painting.

Jacob Black has managed to stealthily approach without Edward catching it. Not surprising. He remembers well how Ephraim could move and, even to some degree, evade his telepathic reach. Yes, he really should've considered the halfling dog more of a threat

. . . . .

Jake steps out of the woods and into a scene that for one-quarter of a second has his mind on rewind, landing at the exact moment Charlie left his office for a coffee, leaving that file on the desk. He thinks, I fell asleep. My exhausted, sleep-deprived ass is in that uncomfortable chair, and I'm crashed out. This is a nightmare. It creates the briefest pause in his gait before he's fast-forwarded into the present and instinct kicks in, firing up every cell in his body.

The stench of dried, dead, funeral home flowers sinks into his sinus cavity as the vampire turns his head and looks straight at him with no surprise on his expression. As if he knew Jake was coming.

There is no argument between the left and right sides of Jake's brain. No moment of lingering doubt once that nightmare theory loses credibility. Every muscle in his body gets the message. Fire in his head, heat in his bones, and nothing but kill in his heart.

Bella and Leah exist only on a periphery edge of his awareness, relegated to inconsequential. All he sees is the bloodsucker. His body moves, head dropping, back curving to give him every advantage of speed his still technically human body can muster. It feels like his feet barely touch the ground as he races forward, past the road, onto the front yard…

. . . . . .

Watching Jacob, Edward is struck by the predatory nature of the male's physicality. Having seen him before, his impressive height and body strength aren't a surprise, but the lethal energy is. A siren of warning resonates in the senses inherent in his vampire makeup. This is an enemy and a threat.

Instincts narrow Edward's vision to a laser focus, heat lashing down his gums and embedding in his teeth, flooding his mouth with an acidic, vicious ache. Outwardly he remains unmoved, but internally the fabric of his being coils sinuously, ready to strike, without mercy. As the stunted mutt's brain connects the dots and drops every foolish denial he's layered upon his life, including some asinine rationalizing he's having a bad dream, Edward has just enough time to move Isabella to the other side of the porch, away from the dog's trajectory.

There isn't time to move her anywhere safer, and for that Edward's temper kicks in. An icy rage slows everything down, heightening each facet of the halfling-wolf standing for one second frozen at the edge of the woods.

Everything that happens next happens with a speed that is unnatural. Jacob's mind quits logic and goes quiet, his intent read in his body language, and in the fact that Edward would do the same in his position. Attack.

Registering the minute changes in Black's features and movement, he has a microsecond to be impressed. He may be stuck in human form, but there's no mistaking what nature intended him to be. From the fierce glow in eyes, more canine than human, to the glistening of moonlight off teeth and gums bared in an impressive display of aggression, Edward grudgingly shrugs off any notion that this man is a nuisance he can swat away.

At that exact moment, the possible she-wolf moves directly into Jacob's path.

"Jake, no! I think she's his mate. He'll kill you!"

If the dog had any lucidity left in his mind, her warning still wouldn't stop him. His body is an automaton powered solely by the need to do what his kind believes is their life mission.

Lacking time to weigh the pros and cons of his actions, Edward makes a snap decision. Leaping over the porch railing, he lands lightly on his feet, a low hiss of exasperation and warning trailing behind him as he reaches the mutt just as Black reaches out to push Leah away from his path. There is no malice in the motion, no reason other than she is in the way of his intended prey, yet the explosive result bears the unnatural strength the dog hasn't tapped into before now.

It hurls the woman at super strength up off her feet, launching her through the air. Against every fibre of instinct roaring at him to stop Black from getting any closer to Isabella, Edward curses and spins on his heel so his course of movement changes in the direction of Leah. He catches her a split second before she can collide with the rear end of the vehicle she arrived in. Her body tries to flop away from his grasp, and he's forced to kick out awkwardly to shove the small car out of the way. The noise is obscene as the bumper crumples, the tires digging furrows into the parched ground, and it's going to draw unwanted attention. The part of his brain not focused on the task at hand hears interest and concern from occupants of neighbouring houses.

Unable to steady Leah completely, he lets her tumble, using his body as a cage that takes the brunt of the force before coming to rest with her on his chest, limbs tucked tight to protect her from the force of their landing.

He doesn't take time to gauge her physical well-being beyond assuring her bones are intact and her stunned state isn't life-threatening. Twisting away, he leaps upward, intent on the dog, even as Leah lets out a sharp, belated cry.

Black has spun around as if an invisible rope connects him to Edward. In a fraction of a second, he's locked back on his prey. At less than six feet away, Black leaps, arms outstretched, fingers curled, knees bent. His thoughts telegraph the action, which is the only thing that allows Edward to evade. He crouches low, spins left, and reaches up to snag the dog's legs. As he does, Black's nails rake against his forearm creating five lines of fire across his skin—the first physical pain he's felt in over two centuries. With a hiss and an oath, Edward tempers his strength and slams Black down to the ground, the impact a loud thud that reverberates in the soles of his feet. A normal human body likely would be rendered unconscious. It merely knocks the wind out of the dog. Taking advantage, Edward smacks his fist into Black's solar plexus for good measure, grabs his rag-doll limbs and tosses him over his shoulder. He races him away from the house, curious neighbours, and, more importantly, Isabella.

. . . . . .

Less than a mile away, not nearly far enough from Isabella as Edward would like, he dumps Black off his shoulder, dropping him unceremoniously to the ground. The halfling continues to impress, rapidly coming out of his slump and struggling to get to his knees. Edward leans forward and slaps him on the forehead, knocking him back on his ass.

"Enough, wolf," he snarls. "Stay down. Get control of yourself." Recognizing he needs to do the same, he pulls unnecessary air through his mouth into his lungs. As appealing as murdering the interfering half-mongrel in front of him might be, the outlying outcome isn't worth it.

Black growls low in his throat. The sound makes Edward bend at his knees and crouch down as the growl ends on a whimper, honing in on the dog's laboured breathing. "Your ribs are probably cracked. At the very least, your lungs are bruised. Give it a rest before you kill yourself, Black. I'm not interested in carting your body back to your family."

"I have no plans to die, leech. Not before I kill you, anyway."

Edward grins at the bravado, showing his teeth in the action.

Black grins back.

. . . . . .

It takes every bit of strength Jake has to get to his feet. The vampire in front of him mimics the action, straightening to his full height in a fluid, creepy way. Taking him in forces Jake to concede the thing is freakily attractive. Nothing like what he thought in his head over so many years of stories told about vampires. Or maybe he's mixing legends and horror movies. It doesn't matter. "Christ, I can't believe this is real," he groans.

"Would it have been better if you'd been able to live oblivious to your true nature?"

Jake tries to draw in a deeper breath. The pain makes him stagger back a few steps. Thankfully, a fat Redwood keeps him from plunking back down on his ass. He leans against the sturdy trunk, eyeing the vampire in front of him who despite everything looks cool and composed. In contrast, Jake is weak, drained, and in pain—pretty much easy to kill at this point. Disgusted, he glares at the leech, expecting to find him smug. With no context other than snippets of info he has been forced to absorb but never bothered to take seriously, he isn't sure what this thing's core personality is. Cold-blooded killer? Or can he believe those stories where his great-great-grandfather depicted the Cullens as civilized and supposedly intelligent?

The bloodsucker seems currently non-threatening. Also, surprisingly, not smug. He does look unscathed, which is a bit of a hit to Jake's ego.

Holding up his arm, the vampire shows five deep gouges weeping pale red at the edges, raw and inflamed. "Not so unscathed, dog. Surprisingly."

Jake feels his eyes widen with surprise. First, he didn't say that out loud. Second… He glances down at himself. His t-shirt is stretched and dirty, one of the sleeves torn and hanging down his bicep. Jagged rips across the thighs of his jeans are a fashion choice he wasn't sporting prior to his tussle with the leech.

Before he can swallow back the question, it comes out of his yap. "Did I… phase?" He realizes that isn't supposed to be possible, but there is a gap in his memory. From the second he pegged the vampire on Bella's front porch for what he is, Jake feels like his brain went offline. He has a hazy recollection of wanting to kill. Of thinking of nothing else.

"No, you didn't. Although it appears, when provoked, you do have some abilities inherent in your true nature, phasing into wolf form or not."

The vampire talks like an eighty-year-old professor of English with a stick up his ass.

"Good," Jake says with a curl of his lip, biting off a new snarl that comes from a place deep in his chest. It hurts, so he sucks it back. That hurts, too. He curses, curving his shoulders inward, trying to protect himself from the fiery slices of agony. "I hope it hurts."

The vampire surprises him by grinning and saying, "It does, actually."

"Why the hell are you smiling?"

The leech shrugs. "It's been a long time since I felt pain. It's a novelty."

Shaking his head, Jake feels an instant urge to punch the son-of-a-bitch in the face. "I can add to that if you'd like. Be happy to, in fact."

"I think in your current state that might cause you more harm than me."

Jake concedes in his head, but his mouth doesn't get on board, spitting out a, "Let's find out," that under the circumstances is a masochistic thing to say. He straightens and pushes away from the tree, moving in a rush, invading the vampire's personal space. Toe to toe, he does a full millisecond survey, searching for weakness. From the stink of dead flowers that hang around the leech in a toxic scent cloud to his copper eyes and his expensive uncreased and unsoiled clothes, the vampire radiates composure and a distinct lack of fear.

His hand curls into a fist. The urge to pummel the vampire into pieces he can toss into a bonfire, battles with the part of Jake who has worked his whole life to control his temper and not make rash decisions. He feels his muscles ache and shudder with the effort he uses to suppress violence. His brain tries to misfire, the stink up his nose and the instinct passed down through generations gripping his anatomy in a way that pushes back the pain he was feeling seconds ago.

The leech sighs and… flicks Jake's ear. The pain is like the sting of a hundred bees. It snaps Jake's head back, instinctually bringing the hand he had fisted up to the inflamed lobe, and interrupts the murder he's contemplating with straight shock.

"Ow, what the fuck?"

"Stop thinking about killing me. The treaty doesn't allow it. Or have you forgotten it works both ways?"

"How the hell do you know what's in my head?"

The vampire sighs. "You really have taken this obtuse denial of what you are to the extreme, haven't you. Did you learn nothing from the journals Ephraim left? Or the stories passed down from your elders?"

Jake's lips draw back from his teeth, but he feels the red-hot grip of his rage ease up.

"Mind reader," he growls. "Christ. Of course, that crap is true, too." He takes a few steps back, telegraphing in his head that the move isn't subservient. He's doing it because of the treaty and the unknown repercussions of breaking it. He doesn't need to bring more cold ones to his front damn door. Though it might be worth it to rip this one's head off his shoulders. He thinks about that in detail, grinning when he sees the vampire's eyebrows rise at the graphics his brain paints. Take that, mind reader, he gloats.

The leech rolls his eyes. "Punch a tree."


"You need to channel your aggression elsewhere," he says with an air of strained patience. "Punching the tree won't get you killed. And considering you're about to become a father, I'd say you have multiple reasons to stop fucking with my patience."

That gets his attention, Edward notes by the widening eyes and the scurry of questions in the dog's brain as he tries to rapid-fire digest that tidbit of information.

"What the hell are you saying? I'm not about to become a father," he denies with a low growl as if Edward insulted him.

"You don't know Leah Clearwater is with child?" Edward knows the answer, of course, but it's interesting to follow Black's thoughts. They give him the measure of the man, which he grudgingly has to admit seems decent enough. His thoughts don't instantly turn to denial, nor seek to find a way out of his responsibilities.

Black blinks and Edward is allowed to follow a new flurry of thoughts, amused. An interesting image of Isabella pregnant and at Black's side superimposes Leah for a brief moment. A transient memory of something Black once imagined would be in his future, crumbling in this new reality. He doesn't linger on it, to his credit and to his benefit. His thoughts return to Leah Clearwater and then… stop. Deer in the headlights, Edward thinks.

"God damn," he mutters.

"She would've told you herself if you'd smartly kept your nose out of my business and grounded in your own where it belongs."

. . . . . .

Jake straight up can't breathe, and it has nothing to do with his cracked ribs. A landslide of emotions ripples like the fresh surge of high tide, obliterating the last of his anger. His fucking knees get weak.

"Leah's pregnant." It's not a question, and thankfully the vampire gets that. Jake isn't sure his processing ability can handle anything else. He wasn't expecting this, though in hindsight, puzzle pieces are falling into place. Billy, Sue, Sam, and Old Quil all acted exceptionally odd this morning when he saw them at Billy's place. Christ, was that just this morning? It feels like a lifetime ago. He remembers Billy yelling at Leah to tell Jake… something. Clearly, it was this. Leah's demand that they needed to talk rings on repeat in his ears. The changes to her mood, and the exhaustion weighing her down, also make sudden sense.

Fuck. He's going to be a father. Not just a father, though. Because he's more than a human, which means his kid will be…?

Surprising himself, he turns around, giving the vampire his vulnerable back, and does as instructed. He punches the living shit out of the tree he was leaning against earlier, channelling an excess of frustrated energy and an unhealthy amount of fear and anxiety. He does considerable damage to the trunk, and he's winding up to do more when the leech interrupts him.

"One more hit like that and you're going to dislodge a very large branch down on your head."

Jake looks up, and sure enough, he's somehow managed to snap several of the tree's limbs. One is hanging precariously four feet above him.

He steps back out of harm's way, panting and sweating, ribs, back, and shoulders, screaming. His knuckles are shredded, making him wince, an expression he quickly erases before he spins around to face the vampire.

Grudgingly, he has to admit, physical pain aside, he feels his emotional grid cool down substantially.

The vampire continues to look at him silently. Jake stalks away from the battered tree, starting a pacing back-and-forth rhythm as he tries to think. His head swims with dozens of questions competing for answers he doesn't have.

He needs to talk to Billy, though the sanctimonious "I told you so" coming his way isn't a conversation he looks forward to. Then there's Leah. He scrubs his hands over his face and into his hair, dislodging leaves and tree debris, insides getting tangled up in a knot of anxiety on that topic.

Shoving that down, he sucks in a shallow breath and refocuses. Right now, his top priority is figuring out what the hell he's supposed to do with the vampire still standing quiet and freakishly still, currently staring up in the night sky, the picture-perfect image of patience. Knowing the bloodsucker has full access to his head unsettles Jake in a whole new way, considering how private and personal his current thoughts are.

He stops pacing, and with a low growled oath, crosses his arms over his chest and glares at the leech. "Okay," he grunts. "What now?"

The vampire arches a brow. "You tell me?" he replies, a tinge of amused energy in the words.

Jake bites back a snarl of disgust. "Where's the rest of your… coven? Are they here?"


Jake's doubtful. "So, you're the only leech here. No others?" he repeats.

The vampire smirks at the insult. "I'm the only one here, dog."

Jake ignores the return jibe.

"Fine. Next question. Why the hell are you here?"

. . . . . .

Edward sighs internally and decides the question is harmless enough. His thoughts rewind back to the days prior to arriving in Forks and the time he'd spent in Seattle taking care of the loose threads in regard to investment matters. Minutes before boarding his flight to return to his current residence in Portland, however, a man entered the first-class private waiting area. As he took a seat at the bar on the other side of the room, he proceeded to think about his latest procurement, a young fifteen-year-old girl he was opting to sell to a notorious biker gang to be used in their highly profitable sex trafficking ring.

Edward missed his flight making sure the girl, and several others who were being kept in a warehouse, did not meet the grim fate destined for them. He glutted himself on the ring leaders, posing them in macabre ways as a warning to the rest. And then…? Well, as so often happened, he found himself with leads to others involved, which inevitably led back, full circle, to the man who'd started it all with his twisted thoughts that had thrown such a wrench into Edward's plans.

Afterward, weary, and aggravated, he decided to take a few days to wander and decompress. Somehow that wandering led him here—a place he rarely thought of, yet nevertheless drew him back.

He, of course, leaves all that out of his answer. "I had business in Seattle. Since I was already in this neck of the woods, it seemed reasonable to stop and check in on the property we still, technically, own. Its neglected state needed attention. So here I am."

The dog's eyes narrow, and his nostrils flare. It surprises Edward to note Black is searching for the pheromones he would emit if he were lying.

"I'm not human. I'm afraid the nose trick won't work on me. Impressive though."

Get out of my head, vampire, Jake thinks. "You aren't human, but I can still figure out you're not telling me everything."

"Everything isn't your business. You asked why I was here. I answered truthfully."

The dog scowls. Now that he's stopped the wolf-like aggression to kill his prey at any cost, Black's thoughts reveal a fascinating spectrum of information. He's catalogued present wildlife without issue, and he's aware of the surrounding vicinity to a hyper-realized extent. There's a definite struggle as he tries to decide where his obligation is in regard to both Edward's presence and his responsibilities to his Quileute brethren. He's deeply concerned about Leah Clearwater, though it's clear he doesn't remember the explosive push or the fallout. All of that is aside from the part of him analyzing Edward with critical thinking that reveals deep intelligence. Add a distinct lack of fear, and Black is quickly earning a grudging form of respect.

Respect that grows when he moves directly back in front of Edward and says with a low dangerous tone, "Let's cut to the chase, bloodsucker. What the hell are you doing with Bella Swan?"

. . . . . .

Struggling to catch the breath shoved out of her lungs by the grip of anxiety, Bella braces herself against the railing of her porch steps and watches Edward vanish with Jake. The pitch-black depths beyond the streetlights illuminating the treeline at the forest's edge swallow them both whole.

Her brain struggles to catch up as well. She looks at Leah, still on the ground but up on her knees at least, panting as well, eyes wide and as shell-shocked looking as Bella feels. She watches as Leah struggles to her feet, trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. A part of her wants to run for the woods, find Edward, and stop him from hurting Jake. The rational part of her head knows she can't, not with how fast Edward moves. She finds herself at the bottom of the stairs anyway, eyes trying and failing to dig into that darkness and spot something, anything, that might give her a measure of peace. Her heart is in her damn throat.

Leah gasps and Bella looks at the woman who started all of this tonight. She's bent at the waist, hands on her middle, hair a curtain that hides her face but not the fact she's in obvious pain.

Bella's emotions take a somersault from shock and anger to concern. The brutal shove Leah took from Jake could've been worse if Edward didn't catch her, but that doesn't mean Leah didn't land hard regardless. Probably not the best thing for a pregnant person. "Are you okay?"

"Do I freaking look okay?"

Bella stops, unsure what to do. "Not really," she answers honestly. Leah tips her head up and glares at Bella, her face pale, lips pressed tight in a grimace. "Where did they go?"

Bella gestures to the woods vaguely.

"We have to go find them. Jake can't phase. He can't defend himself against that thing. It's going to kill him."

Glancing again at the place Edward and Jake vanished, Bella shakes her head. "Edward won't kill him." The minute she says it, she feels her nerves steady, her heart slow back into a normal rhythm.

"Are you stupid? That's what vampires do. They kill."

"He's not what you think."

Leah pushes herself upright, still panting. "What does that mean? He's not what I think? He's a damn abomination. A murdering, disgusting, evil death bringer…"

Bella feels a sudden aggravated impulse to defend him. "First, lower your damn voice. Second, chill out. You don't know him, he's not a psychopath for god's sake."

Breath leaving her in a rush, Leah goes back down on her knees. A sharp shallow inhale is quickly followed by a sharper cry. "I need to get home," she says, trying to get back up and failing.

Seeing Leah's obvious distress breaks the weird inertia that has Bella frozen in place. She makes her way across the lawn and puts a tentative hand on Leah's arm. "You need to go to the hospital…"

"No! No hospital. I need to get back to the reservation."

"Get up," Bella repeats. "Slowly. I'll help you."

With considerable effort between them, Leah stands. Bella's stomach sinks when she notices a dark telltale stain spreading across the crotch of Leah's shorts. The copper smell of blood tinges the air.

"Shit, Leah, you're bleeding," Bella tells her with a wince of sympathy.

"Oh, no." Leah looks down, panic pinching her expression. "No, no, Bella… please…"

It's the plea that hits Bella and sets her into action. Leah's tone is scared, and that freaks her out. She's never seen Leah vulnerable.

"Okay, it's okay." Anxiety makes Bella ramble, tossing out platitudes she can't back up. "It'll be fine. Can you walk? Let's get you in the car." Leah is taller than her by several inches, but she seems small as she sags into Bella's side and they make their way to Jake's car. Bella stops when she realizes both tires on the right side are flat. She curses under her breath and looks over at Edward's car. Where are the keys? Does he have them?

Not realizing the tires are flat, Leah reaches for the passenger door handle, fumbles, then slumps forward to lean against the damaged bumper with a muttered curse.

"Hang on for one minute, okay?" Bella races to Edward's car and yanks open the driver's door, breaking a nail in a vicious painful way she hardly notices, giving a yelp of relief when she sees the keys nestled in the console cup holder. She dives in, and the motor purrs to life the instant she starts it. Before she can get out to go back for Leah, the passenger door opens, and Leah gets in, practically falling into the seat.

Bella slams her door shut and puts the car in reverse. If she was in any other mood, the instant response the car gives to her foot on the gas would impress her.

"It stinks in here."

Bella finds the power window switch and cracks Leah's window, though it smells like a heavenly combination of leather and Edward to her. The air conditioning seems to have automatically come on. She ignores it in favour of figuring out how to turn down the classical music pouring loudly out of the speakers.

Debussy. Go figure.

"I'm taking you to the hospital," Bella tells her when she manages to shut off the music and backs the car to the end of her driveway.


"Leah, you're bleeding. The hospital is five minutes from here. The reservation is twenty."

Tipping her head back against the seat, Leah's eyes close. From this angle, and Leah's seated position, Bella can see for the first time the rounded curve of a definite pregnancy.

"How far along are you?" she asks quietly.

Leah shakes her head like she's going to refuse to answer, then surprises Bella by responding quietly, "Sixteen weeks. I think."

Bella nods, not knowing what else to say. She nervously takes one hand off the wheel to check her pockets, snagging her phone with a sigh of relief. Not that she knows who to call. Glancing at Leah, pity tinges the myriad of other emotions she's battling, making her hands clench on the wheel. "Do you want me to call Sue… your mom? She can meet us at the hospital?"

Hesitating, Leah scrubs at a scuff of dirt on the hem of her shirt. "I'm not sure going to the hospital is the right thing. I'm… this pregnancy. It's not necessarily normal, is it? I mean, you know what Jake is, or what he should've been, anyway. What if something weird shows up on the tests they'll probably do?"

Glancing at Leah's lap, Bella discerns the blood stain doesn't seem to be growing. But the risk of taking her home, the possibility Leah's life could be in danger, makes her resolve harden. "We have to take the chance, okay? It's not like there is a doctor on the reservation, right?"

Leah shakes her head.

"Right, so hospital it is then." Dropping her phone into the cupholder, wanting both hands on the wheel, Bella focuses on her driving. The car's steering responds in a way she isn't used to. Beside her, Leah roughly wipes at her eyes, sniffling softly.

"Jake didn't mean to push me."

Braking for a red light, Bella clenches her hands on the steering wheel, unsure what to say.

"His strength, it gets out of his control. That's why he needs to accept what he is. It'll help him learn to..." Leah waves a hand in a circle.

"I get it," Bella answers, though she isn't sure she does.

Leah calls her on it. "No you don't. You can't. You're just another privileged townie. Oblivious."

The light turns green, and Bella accelerates carefully. "Pretty sure I am not oblivious, Leah."

A trapped mosquito bounces against the inside of the windshield before landing on the dashboard above the glove box. Leah open-palm smashes it, leaving a smear on the formerly pristine surface, its last meal of blood a glistening red splotch that'll likely stain.

Leah blatantly wipes her hand off on the side of her seat and says, "For the record, just because that blood-sucking parasite saved me, doesn't mean I'm not going to do everything in my power to get him out of Forks."

"Right," Bella replies, because what the hell else is she supposed to say? The idea that Leah and Jake could be the answer to the question of how she might regain her freedom from Edward, gets discarded as quickly as it occurs. They're all in so far over their heads, herself included, it's pathetic. Tonight proved that.

"He can make like a bat and fly away. The sooner the better."

Too late, Bella realizes Leah's eyes are trained intently on her, searching and dissecting, and Bella's face is an open book, every expression betraying her internal conflict. Edward leaving fills her with a riot of emotions that make her feel like she might puke.

Braking for yet another red light, Bella shakes her head. "This isn't the time for this conversation."

"Maybe Jake will kill him and save me the work."

Surprised, Bella turns to meet Leah's stare. "You honestly can't think that's possible."

In the weak light cast from overhead streetlights, Leah's eyes are dark and underscored with even darker circles, appearing bruised against the pallor of her complexion. Her lips twist into a smirk, full of challenge. "Don't like that thought, do you?"

Jerking her head to face forward, Bella checks for traffic and then runs the red. Leah might laugh derisively, but the purr of the engine drowns it out.

Silence descends, only it's too short-lived for Bella's comfort.

"Distract me," Leah demands, resting her hands on her middle and thumping her head back against the headrest. Her eyes fall closed. "What is the deal with you and the vampire anyway?"

Bella shifts in her seat. The leather under the backs of her thighs is buttery soft, but she's sweating, and her skin sticks uncomfortably. The swampy night air swirls through the interior. She contemplates answering.

Despite Leah's eyes being closed, Bella shapes her expression into a neutral one. She doesn't need to give Leah more insight into her turmoil. Accelerating her speed, wanting for multiple reasons to get to the hospital faster, she forms the only answer she can. "I don't know."

Leah snorts, the noise conveying her disbelief better than any word could.

"I'm serious. It's… complicated."

Leah surprises her with a laugh. "Understatement," she quips.

"Yeah." Bella ignores a stop sign, taking the turn onto the road leading to the hospital too sharp, nearly running into the curb. The abrupt correction she makes jostles them both.

Leah inhales sharply, grabbing onto the strap of her seatbelt. "Drive much?" she hisses, angrily.

"We're almost there," Bella tells her.

"I want you to know I didn't do this on purpose."

The abrupt topic change confuses Bella. "What?" She doesn't want to take her eyes off the road, but she can't resist looking over. Leah's hunched slightly, her hair spilling forward.

"This!" she snaps, jerking her chin down at her abdomen. "This pregnancy. I didn't plan it."

Bella's jaw clenches. The truth is, she wouldn't put it past Leah to do exactly that. She has a second to think about how in her relationship with Jake they never talked about having kids. Their future was always vague.

"It's none of my business," she replies, and she means it. She's saved from having to hear more by reaching the entrance to the parking lot of the ER. "We're here," she tells Leah.

Sitting forward, Leah clenches her hands into fists on her lap, staring anxiously out the window. "Bella, I don't know about this. I don't want anyone to see me."

The vulnerability is something Bella can relate to. She finds a parking spot near the ER doors and pulls in, putting the car in park. "Okay," she says, "Listen. I'll run in, get a wheelchair…"

"I don't need a damn wheelchair. I can walk."

Bella ignores her. "And I'll talk to the triage nurse, find out if they can take you straight back so you don't have to sit in the waiting room."

Dropping the keys in the cupholder, she snatches up her phone and offers it to Leah. "Call Jake."

Leah refuses to take the phone, shaking her head. "No. No, damn way." Bella thinks she means the refusal to sound like she's angry, but she only sounds scared. In direct contradiction to her earlier comment about Jake eliminating Edward, she says, "What makes you think he's in any shape to answer?"

"I told you, Edward won't hurt him."

"Why? Because of the treaty? You think that thing cares about some century-old agreement made with people who are all dead!" Her voice rises to a screech, and Bella glances out the windows, grateful no one is around.

Reaching out for the handle, Bella jerks the door open. In a tone she hopes is reasonable and controlled, but fears might not be, she tells Leah, "Edward won't hurt Jake because he knows if he does, I'll never forgive him."

She half expects Leah to argue; instead, as her feet hit the pavement of the parking lot and she gets out of the car, what she hears is a whispered, "I hope you're right."

Bella doesn't respond, but her stomach kinks in a knot as she hurries inside the hospital emergency room doors, thinking, you and me both...

. . . . . .