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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:


13. Chapter 13

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 2789   Review this Chapter

Billy had managed to ship Charlie off home by the time Carlisle and Edward carried Jacob into the house. He was still out cold, and held stiff by the many braces that were keeping his bones in place. The Cullens didn’t stay long, once they’d placed Jacob on his bed. Edward covered him with a quilt and turned away, though Bella stood just inches from him, her eyes turned down. After a few moments, Bella looked up and found herself alone. She went out to find Billy.

“Do you want to sit with him a while?” she asked, meeting his sad eyes.

Billy nodded. “I’d like that.” He rolled himself to the mouth of the hallway, locked the wheels and stood carefully, shuffling the few steps into Jake’s room. Bella lifted the chair into the room so he could sit back down. Then she knelt by the bed and picked up Jake’s left hand. The warmth reassured her a little.

She wasn’t sure how much time had passed when she looked up, feeling Billy’s eyes on her. “I can’t stay too long. Charlie thinks I’m shopping with Alice.” She smiled apologetically when he nodded. “I want to get dinner for you before I go, though,” she said, standing. “He’ll be hungry, too, when he – when he wakes up.” She stuttered a little, then put her hand on Billy’s shoulder. “Let me know if you need anything,” she added.

She worked around the kitchen quietly, listening for any sound from Jacob’s room. She wanted to be there when he woke up, but she didn’t want to be in Billy’s way. A quick appraisal of the cabinets told her there wasn’t much to work with in the kitchen, but there was at least some Ragu, and a box of spaghetti. She smiled to herself, remembering the impromptu party they’d had, back before Henry Clearwater had died. She was just setting the water to boil when the phone rang.

She ran back the hall. “Do you want me to get it?”

Billy nodded at her, and she ran back to pick up the phone on the fourth ring. “Hello?”

“Bella?”

Bella paused, surprised at the sound of Leah Clearwater’s worried voice. She’d been expecting Sam, maybe, or Quill.

“Yes. How are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m fine. How’s Jake?”

“Still asleep. Carlisle put enough morphine in him that he should be comfortable when he wakes up. They left some behind, just in case.” As she spoke, Bella could hear Leah crying quietly on the other end of the line.

“I’m so sorry,” Leah sobbed. “I should have realized I couldn’t – that I wasn’t –“

“Oh, Leah,” Bella said, her face twisting at the sound of the other girl’s pain. “He’s going to be alright. It’s not your fault.”

“It is,” Leah insisted. “I was just trying to prove - I don’t know what I was trying to prove. I should never have –“ she hitched a ragged breath, trying to say too much at once.

Bella took the opportunity to get a word in. “If anyone can understand what it’s like to be the weakest link, it’s me,” she said wryly. Leah chuckled grudgingly at that and sniffed.

“Listen, I’m making enough spaghetti for four. Why don’t you come over and sit with us until he wakes up. Then you’ll see, he’s going to be just fine,” Bella offered, hoping to cheer her up.

There was silence for a moment. “I’ve got some bread I can bring,” Leah responded finally, still sniffing.

“Great,” Bella said warmly. “See you soon, then.”

“’Kay.” Leah hung up and Bella shook her head. She went back to Jake’s room and stuck her head in the door.

“That was Leah. I invited her over. She’s pretty upset,” she told Billy, sure he’d already heard it all anyway. He didn’t appear surprised, but only nodded again. She noticed he’d taken Jake’s hand, and smiled as she returned to the kitchen.

The pasta was still cooking when Leah arrived, a basket of bread under one arm, and tear tracks still visible on her face. Bella hugged her as she put the basket down, holding her breath in case it was anything like hugging Jake. But Leah seemed weak with sorrow, and Bella grasped her far more tightly than she herself was grasped. They were of a height, so she could look into Leah’s eyes easily. “He’s going to be fine. Come on,” she said, taking her by the hand and pulling her back to Jacob’s room.

Bella helped Billy out into the kitchen again, where he snagged a roll from Leah’s basket, his eyes on Bella. She smiled at him when she caught him watching. “Spaghetti,” she said apologetically, gesturing to the stove. “But I hear the sauce has been in the family for generations.”

Billy grinned. “So I’ve heard,” he responded, amused.



Jacob woke up slowly, groggy and sore. He cursed the vampires under his breath, and Leah, too, for being an idiot, and then made the mistake of trying to shift in bed. That resulted in a quiet string of obscenities.

“Jake?” a hesitant voice asked. He tried to pry his eyes open. He could feel a hot hand in his.

“I think that’s my name,” he said, only partially coherent.

“Oh God! I’m so sorry, Jacob,” Leah whispered as he struggled to focus his eyes on her. It finally occurred to him who she was, and he felt a little alarm. She’d undoubtedly heard his first comments.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m alright. Just a few days, according to Dr. Fang, and I’ll be good as new.” It was about then he realized she was crying. He let go her hand and moved it to her face to wipe away the tears. “Don’t do that. It’ll be –“

He stopped talking abruptly as a jolt of electricity seemed to hit him, beginning with his fingers. He groaned as his whole body tensed and relaxed in an instant. That HURT. But that wasn’t all it did. His eyes snapped open wide, and he looked at the equally shocked expression on Leah’s face.

“No,” he whispered. She, also, was shaking her head in horror, though her face was already softening. “Oh no,” Jake said again. His hand was still reaching toward her, and he let himself stroke her cheek, wiping away the fresh tears. “Did that really just happen?” he asked wonderingly. But he knew the answer – recognized the unfamiliar feelings already bursting to life in his chest. Things he thought he would only ever feel for Bella.

“We’ve BOTH imprinted,” Leah confirmed, her voice filled more with wonder than horror, though she wasn’t yet smiling. She cast a glance at the doorway.

“Bella,” Jacob whispered painfully, grimacing again as he tried to follow her gaze and failed. They stared at each other, awe and pain warring in both of them, until Bella came to the door.

“Food’s ready, Leah –“ she began, then broke off when she noticed Jake was awake. “Jake!” she exclaimed, meaning to ask how he was feeling. But she took in their expressions before she could continue, and gasped. She stared at them for several long seconds. Jacob let his hand fall from Leah’s cheek.

Bella stepped backward until she was leaning against the opposite wall of the narrow hallway and finally nodded in understanding. She took a deep breath and tilted her chin up, forcing herself back to the doorway. She grasped the frame with both hands, her skin stretching white over her knuckles. “This is what I’ve wanted for you all along, Jake,” she whispered, barely able to make herself heard, because the words didn’t want to come. She felt her eyes filling with tears. “Someone who could love you the way you deserve.” She bit her lip hard, and made herself breathe again, turning her eyes to Leah. “You’ll be happy together. And I’m glad,” she tried to say, but her voice broke on the last word.

“Bella,” Jake whispered. But she shook her head.

“I’ve got to get home,” she said, trying to smile. She started to turn away and felt her knees turn to jelly. She grimaced and kept hold of the door frame, but wasn’t able to make herself look back at them. She blinked, and behind her eyes she could see the expressions they’d worn when she first caught sight of them. Wonder, and the beginnings of a love like Sam and Emily’s. So sweet, so pure it would have hurt her to see, even if it HADN’T been Jake. She felt, distinctly, a crack forming in her chest. She was surprised there wasn’t an audible sound to mark the occasion.

Seeing her weakness, Jake tried to get up to help her, but Leah pushed him back down, and the pain he’d earned for his trouble kept him there. She stood instead, swallowing hard, and helped Bella out to the kitchen. “Bella, I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I NEVER expected –“

“Don’t be sorry,” Bella cut her off. “Don’t ever be sorry.” And then the tears spilled over. Billy watched them both with pain evident in his eyes. No explanation was needed.

“Leah, call Embry and have him drive Bella home,” he instructed, his voice rough. “Then sit with Jake, please.” Leah nodded, and disappeared from the kitchen as soon as she was sure Embry was on his way.

Billy positioned himself next to Bella, and put his arm around her shoulders. Her head was down, and she didn’t look up, but only turned to stifle a sob against his shoulder. When she finally looked up, she realized there were tears in his eyes as well.

“You’ve been like a daughter to me all these months,” he said quietly. “That will never change. You’re family, Bella.” His voice, though low, rang with the authority she remembered from the few council meetings she’d attended. Somehow, the words and tone comforted her, and she sat up straighter, wiping at her face, and embarrassed at her tears.

“Thanks, Billy,” she whispered. He grasped her hand in his own, swallowing it up completely, and they sat in silence, awaiting Embry. Bella tried to regulate her breathing, and reminded herself that this was not the worst thing she’d ever lived through – not the worst pain she’d ever felt. But bad enough, her subconscious supplied, remembering the earliest days of Jacob’s career as a werewolf.

Embry ducked into Jake’s room as soon as he arrived. Jacob was still lying flat, but Leah was kneeling beside the bed, grasping his one good hand in both of hers, her forehead lowered to rest on their entwined fingers. He glanced back at where Bella sat with Billy. “Crap,” said, staring at Jake.

“Yeah,” Jacob agreed. Leah sat up and looked at him.

“She wants to go home. Can't hardly blame her. Can you drive her?”

“Sure,” Embry said, nodding, his forehead creasing with worry.

“When you get there, carry her up to her room, would you? And open the window before you leave,” Jacob instructed, his face hardening into bitter mask. He didn’t want Bella to deal with this alone, and though it bothered him to imagine her back with Edward, he could think of nothing else that might make this easier for her.

Embry nodded. He knew as well as any of them the significance of the window – Jake had thought about it often as he kept watch over Bella’s house, always with relief that it was closed. Leah looked between them, also understanding. Jacob was giving Bella up to his rival to be with her. Until that moment, she hadn’t been sure. She hadn’t let herself hope, after her disappointment with Sam. She fought back the relieved tears, disgusted with herself.

“She’s a far better person than me,” she whispered. “She was so kind, when she realized. I was awful to Sam and Emily. I –“

“No one blamed you for how you felt, Leah,” Jacob said quickly. But Leah pinned him with an accusing glare. “Well, we were all a little annoyed by your thoughts on the matter, but you had every right to think them,” he amended. She only shook her head and lowered it back to where he still held her hands.

“Just make sure she gets home alright,” Jake said, turning his attention back to Embry.

“Of course.”

Bella rode silently until they were just outside the reservation boundary, a line she’d memorized without even realizing it. “Embry, I need you to take me to the Cullens,” she said suddenly. “Charlie will be expecting Alice to drop me off.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded, her eyes still focused out the windshield. She didn’t see anything until the white house came into view.

“Thanks, she whispered, when Embry helped her out of the car. He smiled at her, ignoring the light rain that had started to fall.

“Any time. Once you’re part of the pack, you’re part of the pack. If you need anything, call, okay?”

Bella nodded, and bit her lip. Billy had said something similar. You’re family. Embry hugged her tightly, impulsively, and she tried to hug him back, but couldn’t seem to muster the strength.

Alice watched the exchange from the front window with a pained expression. Edward, who’d clearly been keeping tabs on her, appeared soundlessly at her side as Bella trudged up the stairs. He saw the misery on both their faces.

“What happened?” he demanded, watching as Embry drove away. “Is Jacob alright?”

“I don’t know,” Alice replied. “I can’t see anything, we’ll just have to ask her.” Bella knocked weakly at the door and Edward moved to answer it, but then hesitated, letting Alice go instead.

“Bella?” Alice asked, openning the door.

“Hey,” came the reply. “I was wondering if you could drive me home. Charlie will be expecting me soon.”

“Of course,” Alice said. “Do you want to come in for a little while first?”

Bella shook her head, swallowing audibly. “No, I’d really like to go home.” Her voice sounded weak even to her own ears.

Alice nodded and stepped out onto the porch, forcing herself not to look at Edward. “How’s Jacob?” she asked, her eyes scanning Bella’s face as they walked toward the garage.

“He’s going to be alright,” Bella said mechanically, parroting what everyone had been telling her from the beginning. Then she started crying without warning. “He and Leah are going to be really happy,” she whispered.

“Leah?” Alice asked, alarmed. It was clear Bella was well on her way to hyperventilating.

“They’ve imprinted,” Bella tried to explain, between gasps. Alice took her by her shoulders and held her at arms length, shock and worry crossing her face like lightning flashes before her expression settled into pain.

“I’m so sorry, Bella,” she said after a moment. She opened the door of Edward’s Volvo and sat Bella down inside, waiting for her to calm. “Are you sure you want to go home like this?”

“Where else would I go? I’ll just have to tell Charlie that I went to see Jake because I heard he’d been injured riding that bike of his, and that we - broke up, I guess. He’ll buy it,” she added, surprised at the bitterness in her own voice. “He always does.”

Alice only nodded. “Because he can’t conceive of the truth,” she supplied.

“Well what normal person would believe the truth?” Bella asked, sarcasm making her mouth twist up into something of a smile. It helped, somehow, to ease the pain, if she could be sarcastic about it.

Alice drove her home quickly, aware of Edward running behind the car, though Bella wasn’t. She took Bella up to her room, whispering to Charlie that she’d explain in a minute. When she’d tucked her into bed, she went back downstairs.

“What happened?” Charlie demanded, clearly alarmed by the expression Bella had been wearing.

“It’s kind of a long story,” Alice said, sitting down. Charlie sat as well, waiting impatiently. “When we got back, there was a message from Carlisle – he’d been called out to the Black’s place, on the reservation. Jacob had some kind of motorcycle accident, and he was taking care of him, so they didn’t have to take him to the hospital,” she kept the story simple – something Edward could relay to Bella later without much trouble.

“I didn’t go over with her, but I guess she and Jacob aren’t together anymore. She didn’t want to talk about it, but she mentioned Leah Clearwater....” she let her voice trail off. Charlie was purple. It looked like he was going to bust a vein in his forehead, and Alice felt guilty for bringing him this news.

“So,” she continued quickly, “she’s had to go from being worried that he’d be alright, to being sad that they broke up. I think it’s all a bit much at once, is all. I’m hoping she’ll be alright in the morning.”

Charlie seemed to be breathing again. “You and me both,” he muttered.