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A Different Path

Summary:
How would the story have progressed if Bella, instead of Jacob, had answered the phone on the day of Harry's funeral?


Notes:


11. Chapter 11

Rating 5/5   Word Count 2681   Review this Chapter

Bella’s fate for the duration of the coming battle was determined late that night, while she lay home sleepless in bed. Edward called Jacob aside warily after Jasper had finished his demonstration on how the newborns would likely attack. Jacob trotted over to him unconcernedly while the rest of the pack looked on. Edward spoke quietly, knowing everyone in the clearing could still hear him, and found that when Jacob wasn’t being particularly antagonistic – or putting his hands all over Bella in Edward’s presence - it was really rather easy to work with him. Later, as he spent the remainder of the night keeping watch over Bella’s house, it occurred to him that he and Jacob might have managed to be friends, even, if the mongrel weren’t taking Bella’s attention away from him every second of the day.

He grimaced at his own folly, idly yanking down leaves from the trees he passed. Jacob hadn’t taken Bella away. He had pushed her away without any outside help. Now he was paying for it.

After their most recent conversations, he was convinced she still loved him, and he wished for the thousandth time that he could read her thoughts to know why she turned away, time and again. Like every night, each time his circuit took him passed her window he glanced at it, hoping it would be open. It never was. But he found the pain was more bearable, knowing she didn’t hate him for leaving her. At least now he could see her – talk to her occasionally.

He narrowed his eyes at her closed window. Very occasionally. He thought over, again, the plan he and Jacob had hashed out. Camping. Bella wasn’t the sort of girl who was fond of camping. He recalled their trip to his meadow, when she’d panicked at his decision to ignore the trail. Still, he was fairly sure she’d be satisfied with the arrangement. He stood, staring up at her window for several long minutes, wrestling with the sudden desire that had come over him. He wanted to be the one to tell her the plan.

Finally, he decided to ignore the closed window. He ran up the side of the house soundlessly, and had the window open and closed behind him quickly and silently. He glanced down at Bella to find her still awake, and blinking at him owlishly. He froze.

“Are you really here?” she whispered, shutting her eyes as she awaited the response, just in case he wasn’t a dream.

“Yes.”

“Then please go away.” She rolled over in bed to face the wall, wiping surreptitiously at her tears, knowing he wasn’t just going to leave. She felt the bed compress behind her when he sat down.

“Don’t you want to hear the plan?” he asked softly, resisting the urge to reach out and turn her over again.

“You tell me,” she replied, trying to sound defiant, though she’d already decided to listen.

In the darkness, Edward smiled bitterly. “You’re going camping. Alice will be over tomorrow to beg you to spend the weekend with her, shopping in Portland. You and Jacob will spend the following night in a tent. I’ll be nearby. Jasper thinks it would be helpful if you laid a trail into the clearing – Alice has already seen that it will bring them in just the way we want them. I can take you to do that, if you’re willing.”

He kept his tone formal, pausing to see if she would say anything. “And Saturday?” she asked.

“Saturday morning Jacob will leave for the clearing, and I will stay with you.”

Bella turned back to him abruptly, sitting up. “You will?”

“I promise. Jacob will have to take you to the campsite. He thinks it will confuse their sense of smell, if any of them should stumble across the trail. I’ll come by a different route.”

He saw her reaching out blindly and offered her his hands. “But you’ll stay?” she asked again.

“Every second, for as long as you want me,” he whispered back, meaning more than just for the upcoming fight. They were both silent for several long minutes. The room was very dark, the moonlight obscured by cloud cover, and Bella couldn’t see Edward’s expression, but he could see hers. She was crying again, but didn’t look as unhappy as she had earlier.

“Thank you,” she whispered finally, her voice shaking. She bit her lip to try to control it.

“Get some sleep,” he replied, regretting the warmth in his voice as soon as he spoke. He had no way of knowing if it would cause her more pain at this point. After all that had happened, that was the last thing he wanted to do. He stood, placing her hands carefully in her lap. “And try not to worry. This is going to work out.”

Bella nodded, then stood also, opening the window again. It wasn’t raining, but she closed it as soon as he was gone, her mind racing through the plan they’d come up with. It was … bearable, which was all Alice had promised. She was surprised to realize her own exhaustion when she lay back down, and for once, she fell asleep nearly as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Bella tried to shift in Jacob’s warm arms, and he smiled down at her. She could see that he was unhappy about something. “What’s wrong?” she asked at once.

“I still think you’re too close to the clearing,” he responded. As he ran, carrying her to the campsite Edward had chosen, his breathing was even, as if he were doing no more than walking up the stairs. “And it’s going to be ridiculously cold. I’d feel better if you were staying somewhere more sheltered.”

“Jake, with you in the tent do you really think I’ll get cold?” she asked, laughing.

He grinned suddenly. “Suppose not. But what about the morning?”

“It’ll warm up by then. I heard Edward asking Alice. He looked satisfied with whatever she answered.”

Jacob kept his eyes straight ahead, grumbling under his breath, until Bella raised an eyebrow at him. “I hate having him in my head all the time,” he explained lowly.

“I imagine it’s hard on everyone,” Bella replied, unable to keep a smug look from crossing her face. Jacob scowled, which only made her laugh at him. “Well don’t think about anything you don’t want him to know, then!”

“Easier said than done.”

They fell silent, then, for several long minutes, and Bella rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, which improved his mood greatly. Her eyes snapped open, though, as the first snowflakes melted on her cheeks. “Oh no!”

Edward was pacing the clearing in front of the cliff face, a tent already set up behind him, when they arrived. Jacob checked briefly that the tent was secure, and Edward assured him in a tight voice that he’d be very nearby if anything happened during the night. Jake nodded understanding that to be a warning rather than reassurance, and glad Bella had already disappeared into the tent.

There were two sleeping bags inside. Bella rolled into the smaller one immediately. The cold that had surrounded her as soon as Jacob put her down had not been welcome. She shivered, hearing Edward and Jacob exchanging words outside, and wishing for the thousandth time that she could hear as well as everyone around her.

She was just getting comfortable when Jake came into the tent, accompanied by a swirl of snow and chill air. “Alright?” he asked, a superior smirk on his face at the sight of her already wrapped into her sleeping bag. She nodded.

“So far. It already seems colder than it was when I was out there.”

He cast an appraising glance back toward the front of the tent, and then sat down cross-legged on his own sleeping bag, shirtless and in shorts. Clearly unbothered by the falling temperature. She watched him for a moment, then closed her eyes, listening to the wind that seemed to be picking up steadily.

“You’re really going in the morning, aren’t you?” Bella asked, just when he was sure she’d fallen asleep.

“You can’t expect me to miss this,” Jake replied. She could almost hear his grin in his voice, and she could certainly imagine it. “This will be the fight of our generation!”

“I thought you weren’t interested in being some name in the stories,” Bella commented, remembering the conversation they’d had weeks ago, after Sam had tried to step down as Alpha to leave the position open for Jacob. He’d been so adamant about keeping the current hierarchy – about staying out of the limelight.

“It’s not about that, really. Killing vampires is one of the only redeeming things about being a monster, myself,” he shrugged at her when her eyes snapped open, chastising him silently. “Seriously. I’ve got to leave YOUR bloodsuckers alone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have ANY fun.”

“Don’t call them that, please,” Bella said tightly, rolling over to face away from him and closing her eyes again.

“Bloodsuckers are what they are,” Jake insisted, annoyed at her defense of them. He may have made nice with Alice for five minutes, and he may be bound by the treaty, but that didn’t make them friends.

“Don’t call them mine,” Bella whispered, her shoulders shaking. Jacob kept his eyes on her back and didn’t answer. They both listened to the wind. It seemed to get louder every minute.

The temperature dropped steadily, and Jacob could see that Bella was shivering, even in all her clothes, wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag. She couldn’t possibly be asleep, though she was clearly ignoring him. He tried to be patient, but he wasn’t very good at it. “You aren’t going to ask, are you?”

“Ask what,” Bella bit off, trying to keep from stuttering with cold. Jacob just shook his head, and unzipped her sleeping bag. “OH!” she exclaimed, as what little warmth she’d managed to retain inside it was sucked out. She didn’t have time to complain, though, before he was beside her, pulling the zipper up behind him, and turning her by her shoulders to face him.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, when he was sure he had her attention. She closed her eyes and nodded, leaning into him – more relieved than she would care to admit by the sudden warmth.

“It isn’t just that, Jake,” she explained, when she was warm enough that her teeth weren’t chattering anymore. She raised her hands to his chest and let herself smile when he jumped. Her fingers were freezing. “I’m worried for you. For all of you. And you’re treating this like a game.”

“Only because I’m not worried. The Cullens are strong. So are we. There are fewer newborns every time Alice checks because they keep fighting among themselves. This is going to be EASY, and afterwards, you are going to be safe. That’s what matters.” He tried to reign in his enthusiasm for the coming fight and sound serious, hoping it would ease her worry a little.

Bella smiled up at him, and he took the opportunity to kiss her. For a long moment, they were silent. Then Bella laughed. “My toes are freezing, do you mind?” she asked. Jake grinned in response, then gasped as she kicked off her boots and put her feet against his legs. It was even colder than he’d expected. A moment later, he wrapped his arms around her and rolled onto his back, pulling her halfway on top of him. She let her head fall on his chest, and finally nodded off to sleep, in spite of the howling wind.

The tent glowed as the sun came up, and Bella’s eyes popped open. Jacob was snoring lightly, and she shuffled, trying to sit up without waking him. There wasn’t enough room. Finally, she poked him. “Jake, wake up, you’re squishing me,” she whispered. He didn’t stir. “JAKE!”

“Huh?” He opened his eyes blearily, and blinked at her a few times.

“I can’t move,” she told him, laughing quietly.

“Why do you want to move?” He wrapped his arms around her again and squeezed.

“CAN’T – BREATHE!” she managed to complain, before he loosened his grip.

“Good morning.”

Bella grinned, but was quickly serious. “How soon?” she whispered, worry flooding her eyes again.

“Less than an hour,” came the response, but not from Jacob. They both looked up as Edward unzipped the tent and let himself in. He looked at them blankly, but Bella recognized the expression well. He was forcing his face into submission. She looked away.

“Already? I wish you’d woken me,” Jacob complained, reaching back to unzip the sleeping bag, and trying to extract himself without letting out all the heat. Bella rolled over on her stomach to watch them both.

“I’ve got to go,” Jake said apologetically to Bella, kneeling beside her.

“I know.”

“But I’ll be right back. This won’t take long, and Seth will be here to make sure you know everything that’s going on.”

“He’s already arrived,” Edward said, impatience twinging his voice.

Bella extracted herself from the sleeping bag, and pulled her boots on again. “Be careful, Jake,” she said solemnly.

Jacob tried not to smile, but couldn’t help it. He did at least manage to refrain from telling her it was going to be fun. “You, too,” he said instead. He glanced quickly at Edward, who had seated himself in the back of the tent, as far from them as he could get, then took her face in his hands and kissed her. He meant for it to last longer, but she was pulling away almost as soon as their lips touched. He could see the censure in her eyes, but didn’t hang around to be scolded. She obviously didn’t want him baiting Edward, and the thought made him angry briefly. He repressed it. “See you soon,” he said, forcing a smile, and disappearing out of the tent.

Bella eyed Edward warily as she turned toward him and crossed her legs, pulling the spare sleeping bag over herself. “Are you alright?” she asked, when he didn’t look over at her.

“It was a long night,” he said quietly. Bella nodded uncomfortably, understanding why that might be. After a moment he looked up, though, his lips twitching toward a smile she recognized – one she hadn’t seen for a long time. Her heart seemed to thud in response. “He was a little annoyed when you started talking in your sleep,” he offered. She got the impression he’d been casting about for something to say.

Bella felt her eyes widen. “I should have warned him about that,” she said weakly, feeling her stomach turn at the thought of whispering Edward’s name while Jacob held her and kept her warm. That seemed to be an apt synopsis of her life lately.

“It made the night bearable,” Edward whispered, staring at her intently. His eyes seemed so warm, she couldn’t look away.

“Did it? Even if it doesn’t change anything?” Bella could feel her eyes filling with tears again, and was grateful when Edward looked away. She pulled her fingers through her tangled hair nervously, trying to tame it. After a few minutes of silence, she gave up.

“Is anything happening?” she asked. Edward shook his head mutely, eyes focused on the wall of the tent. She let it go, waiting in silence.

When he finally began talking, explaining the battle that was taking place in the clearing, Bella listened raptly. She registered his use of the pack plural with surprise. Jake and his brothers talked that way all the time, of course, but to hear it from Edward was startling.

Suddenly he felt silent, then looked up at her, a horrified expression on his face. An instant later she found herself standing outside the tent as it collapsed behind her. Edward and Seth were exchanging some kind of information. “What’s happened?” she demanded. “Has someone been –“

But they were ignoring her. “Go, Seth, hurry,” Edward said, and Seth took off for the forest. An instant later, her feet left the ground, and she felt the bare cliff face against her back. She blinked, stunned for a second at the speed of the change.

“What’s going on?”

“Victoria,” Edward snarled in answer.