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What Music They Make

Summary:
When an unexpected conflict with the Volturi brings Jacob back into her life, Bella finds that being a vampire only makes it even more complicated for her to be in love with two people.


Notes:


13. XII: Cherchez La Femme

Rating 5/5   Word Count 7367   Review this Chapter

chapter XII cherchez la femme



It was past 4:00 in the morning and Jacob had not been to sleep. Sam and Embry had come looking for him at his house and then found him outside as a wolf when they phased, immediately sinking into a nonsense vortex of nightmarish memories in his head that they could not even quite piece together into a logical story before he had quickly headed home and changed back. He knew soon enough all of the others in the pack would see everything, but he did not feel like explaining everything now. He did not want to talk about it.

Now Embry and Quil stood around him as he sat against the house on his porch. Sam was inside making coffee. They were all trying not to wake up Billy, who had gone enough nights without sleep lately. Others were inside, talking to each other in low voices. The whole pack seemed to hardly sleep these days and everyone always knew it when something happened, even during the dead hours of the night when nothing would be expected to happen and they would usually all be at home.

“I don’t understand what happened,” Collin was murmuring.

“Me neither,” whispered Jared. “He and Bella got into some really bad fight or something. He doesn‘t want her to go, of course.”

“But she’s leaving anyway? Just like that?”

“I guess so. Whatever happened, I don’t think it was the kind of goodbye he would have wanted.”

All the while Leah’s cold silence was what rang out from the inside of the house louder than anything else, any of the occasional words that Jacob could only partially make out through open windows.

“Just what did you say to her that was so bad?” Quil tried, seeming unable to keep quiet next to Jacob and his sunken, vacant eyes.

He just shook his head, staring off in the air. “I don’t know,” he muttered a little quickly. “I don’t know what I said. I just couldn’t stop talking. She was going to just walk away and…I had to do something. I couldn’t shut up...”

“Do you think you even meant what you said?” Embry asked.

Quil looked up to meet eyes with him after he said it because there was something careful in his voice, holding back. Embry was one of the only ones so far who had seen Jacob’s memories firsthand and there was a strange hint of anger in his face, like he felt like he could hit Jacob for something he did that he had only briefly and faintly been able to see.

“I don’t know it doesn’t matter,” Jacob blurted out like one sentence. “I never thought she would actually…She’s better than that.”

You’re better than that.”

“…Yeah.” With his dull, low voice, it sounded like he was somehow mocking the sentiment.

He knew what Embry was wasting his anger trying to tell him was not that he should have known better but that he deserved better. But none of these things had seemed to matter at the time, when he could feel her slipping right out of his grasp and everything else in his life possibly losing all importance and meaning.

And now it was over. When she was paying so dearly for it, he did not know if the enjoyment in anything would ever completely return to what it had been before. And what others would say he was good for or might deserve, all these opportunities for happiness in the future, any hope of finding something else, hope itself. It felt like it was all gone and dead.

Near noon Edward could see that he was coming, and this was what he saw:

His wife, a certain face of hers he felt like he had never seen before now looking at him but not at him, in this other man’s memory. A picture of her he kept tucked away inside his heart so it would always be there and still the same no matter how much she changed, no matter how much she drifted far away and out of his reach. Jacob Black was not dwelling on the darker things that did only briefly flicker through his thoughts as he was anticipating speaking to her again — an icy, silent kiss under the water and her scent burning his nose in the open air before it. Instead he was mostly remembering driftwood fires, her hair with the wind whipping it back as she rode on her motorcycle, the way her laugh had sounded with her old voice when she was still human. Before everything else, they were friends.

And he was mostly here for Sam, because he needed to know some things for sure, but Edward could see what he was the most worried about all the while. That things he had said might come to haunt her during all the years she never saw him again if she never knew for sure what to think of them. Maybe he was here to apologize. Maybe he just wanted her to last see him in a less hopeless condition, putting on a better show, so she would not have to be brought down by worrying so much about leaving him that way whenever she thought of him where she was going. He did not seem to quite know for sure.

But Edward did not care about all this at the moment because when he suddenly became aware of Jacob’s presence as he approached their house it brought a much more dire concern. He just completely froze where he sat, aware of Jasper giving him a questioning look as he felt the icy fear overtake him, and did not get the chance to say anything of it before they all heard their guest coming outside and then the knock on the door.

“Were we…expecting one of them?” Rosalie asked in surprise, turning back to look at everyone else after opening the door and seeing him there.

Jacob did not wait for an invitation to come in before stepping right past her and going inside.

“No,” Edward answered her stiffly. “We definitely were not.”

“I won’t have to stay long,” Jacob said tiredly, his hands buried in his pockets. “We just need to know for sure what’s happening now. We weren’t sure if we can assume it’s safe to tell Emily to come back—”

“I know,” Edward said a little impatiently, in a way that could easily be mistaken for just sounding angry.

All of the others in the room just stared at the two of them looking at each other, their faces completely perplexed.

Jacob just sighed. “If you want to attack me because she’s not here to stop you, go ahead and get it over with. Otherwise—”

“She’s not here,” Edward said, urgently cutting him off. “She left. She told me she was going to talk to you again.”

Jacob’s surprise was very apparent on his face. “What exactly for?”

“How long ago was that?” Carlisle asked Edward, now starting to look just as worried as him.

“Almost half an hour ago,” he said.

Jacob’s eyes widened as he was starting to get it. “You mean…”

Before he even finished saying it, Edward started rushing up the stairs. As he had already been sure about because he had just been in the room, all of the things Bella had gotten ready to take with her were still sitting out where she had left them. But there was one item he was sure he knew she would never want to leave without…

He tore open one of the small top drawers of her dresser where she always kept the necklace with the diamond heart he had given her. Naked wood at the bottom of the drawer stared up at him — Nothing in there.

Alice!” he roared as he quickly joined the others back downstairs.

She was just now coming home, and as if on cue, she charged inside from the garage right after he said her name. “Oh no!” she was saying, practically vibrating in shock at the same time that she just looked angry with herself. “I can‘t believe she could do that! If I’d been any more careful about watching her it would never have worked!”

Carlisle started to ask, “What in the world did she—?”

“She tricked me!” Alice explained. “She made me think I couldn’t see her doing anything anymore, and then she told Edward she was going to see him” — she pointed at Jacob — “so it made sense—”

Edward, who knew this already, impatiently took her arm to make her look at him and demanded, “What do you see her doing now?

Pacified, she just looked at him sadly a moment before answering. “She’s trying to find where they are to meet with them early…She’s going to tell them she agrees to go with them only with the condition that they will never allow you to join them, too.”

They all stared in shock even though it was what most of them were already worried was happening.

“She’s going alone?” Jacob asked.

“Of course,” Edward said darkly.

“I don’t understand how you didn’t see this before,” he said to Alice, his voice tight and restrained.

“I see things as soon as people make the decisions that will cause them,” she explained in a hurry. “Then I won’t see anything in someone’s future again until I get the idea to consciously check on what they are doing.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Carlisle said. “You could never have predicted that she would think of a way to work around what you could see like that.”

"...No," Edward agreed quietly.

Everyone went silent and still a moment. Jacob continued to look extremely frustrated before he finally looked at Edward and just said with desperation, “Well?

Edward only shook his head a little mechanically, not looking at him. “I…do not know what is the right thing to do.”

“She didn’t even say goodbye,” he assumed.

“I only need to get on a plane to see her again.”

“No,” Jacob said in a strangely decided way, making everyone else give him a strange look. “It shouldn’t happen this way. You shouldn’t have made her feel like she has to run away from you.”

“Insisting that I go with her was the least I could do to make this option seem even more impossible for her!” he said. “What would you have done? I am completely helpless in this situation.”

Before Jacob could help it he started, “I would never have—”

“Let’s not go there, Jacob Black,” he said dangerously, interrupting him. “You know perfectly well how eager I was to bring her into this life in the first place. This is exactly what I meant to protect her from.”

Jacob just seethed for a moment, letting thoughts pass through his head that he knew he could hear even though he didn’t say them aloud. You can’t protect her from everything. But this is the one thing you should have been able to protect her from. I still have never imprinted. There was a life for her with me. And she would still be Bella. She would die still Bella…

But Edward knew all of this already. It made no difference. They could only decide what they thought was the best thing to do now.

“Do we just let her go?” Emmett asked quietly. The edge of intense sadness in his voice made Rosalie reach over and grasp his hand; her own face looked numbly blank, and the whole room was a collection of somber, defeated expressions then.

Jacob looked at Alice again. “You can’t see where she is right now?”

She shook her head. “She doesn’t know exactly where she’s going to find them,” she said. “So everything before her meeting them just keeps changing really fast…All I can see for sure is that she seems to be taking a very indirect path just to make it harder for anyone to follow and catch up with her.”

He slowly met eyes with Edward again, and they just looked at each other with a gradually settling understanding as Edward could hear everything going through his head.

“Right,” he said. “If only to say goodbye…”

“Where are they supposed to be?” Jacob asked.

“Directly Southeast from here, quite a long way…but probably not even an hour’s run for us if going directly there.”

“I might be able to get help.”

Edward took his cell phone out of his pocket. “Would you be able to keep this on you? In the pocket of your jeans, perhaps? So that we can contact each other if one of our groups finds her.”

Jacob looked at it with a cocked eyebrow before taking it from his hand. “Is that really the best idea you have?” he said almost a little humorously; after all the time the werewolves spent close enough for Edward to just read their minds, it felt strange to have to resort to technology for communication.

Edward just smirked dryly. “Call Carlisle’s number to reach us if you have any luck.”

They agreed that the Cullens would go looking mostly in the exact direction she was headed and also going off to the East a little, while Jacob and any of his friends who came with him would go looking more to the South. He had not even phased to come to the house now, but he just left his car there and quickly changed to charge home.

He immediately felt the presence of a few others who were also out now, Brady and Jared, and then in their minds he saw their surprise at finding out what was happening.

He could tell Brady was about to complain, thinking something about how Jacob was just going to try to convince her not to go one more time. He didn’t give him the chance to protest before giving them an order.

Get everybody together at Sam’s house, he said, for he knew that was where most of them had already been just before he left.

It took only a few more minutes after Jacob had arrived there for everyone else to show up and get inside and assembled together in their human bodies. Some of them looked angry, not even willing to look up at Jacob as he spoke to them. Whether they all wished harm or unhappiness on Bella or not, he knew some of them had been unable to help but be relieved when it looked like there was no chance of her staying. Some of them thought Jacob was going to just blow it now. Maybe it would only be so easy for her to leave if she didn’t have to look anybody she loved in the face right before turning around and doing it. And as much as Edward was trying not to do anything desperate, there might have been no telling how he may try to stop her now that the time left was down to so little.

“I’m not going to order anyone to do anything,” he said once he had fully explained the situation to everyone. “If you think we should just let her go, consider this your chance to have a vote about it. You can stay.”

Leah scoffed. "Sure, that's fair," she said sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

Jacob just looked at her calmly for a moment, numbly unaffected by her right now. "Look...I don‘t even know exactly what‘s going to happen if we get to her. I don’t know if there’s any way we can still convince her to stay. But if she's going to leave, I just don't think it should be like this. I am just asking any of you to please help me."

There was a long moment of silence as they all took this in. Then Embry easily spoke up.

"Yeah," he said. "Of course."

Beside him, Quil nodded. "Me, too. I don't like this whole idea, either. You should at least have a chance to…”

"Chance to what?" Leah asked, butting in loudly. "Say goodbye? He already should have done that a long time ago."

"Shut up, Leah," Embry said.

"Embry, it's okay," Jacob said tiredly before looking around to see if anyone else was going to volunteer.

Sam raised up a hand.

Jacob looked at him, almost wanting to say something to assure him he shouldn’t feel any obligation to.

Leah spoke first. "Come on, Sam. Don’t think about her. Think about Emily. And your baby."

"It doesn't matter how everything turns out with us," Jacob said, looking straight at him and seeming to be pretending Leah wasn't there. “I’m sure no matter how things might go in a final battle, they’re still going to do everything they can to make sure nothing happens to her."

"I already said I'd help you,“ Sam just said, sounding like he was trying not to think too much about it.

"Are you all crazy?" Leah said. She gestured toward Jacob. "Can't you see he's crazy?"

"Leah, please," Sam said quietly.

"She‘s as good as dead as it is, you idiot!" she yelled at Jacob's face. "So why can't you just move on and stop worrying about what happens to her?”

"She's walking on her two feet just fine," he said coolly.

"Oh, are those your only standards for what you're willing to let kiss you? Do you know how sick you are?"

"This is irrelevant," Jared said in a disturbed voice.

"That's some way to talk about someone who's willing to give up so much for you," Quil said to her.

Leah laughed — a disturbing and fake grinding against silence of a sound, not at all expressing real amusement. "Yeah. Right. Like that should make me so grateful when it's only because of that bloodsucking whore that we got into this in the first place. Don't you realize she wouldn't be doing this at all if it wasn't for him?" she said, pointing at Jacob.

His next breath he took shook him a little as he had to struggle to not get too angry. "We're wasting time," he just made himself say. "Let's go."

“Wait," Jared said, standing up. "I'll come, too."

“And me,” Collin said, following him.

As they headed for the door Leah started shaking a little in her chair, her teeth clenched and hands in fists. The others still close to her quickly backed away from her as a violent tremor started in her back and they immediately recognized what was happening.

“Calm down, Leah," Jacob said, meaning it as an order, and she immediately relaxed.

She let out a heavy, exasperated sigh as she sat back in the chair. As everyone left they all heard it when she muttered under her breath, "Necro.”

When Embry was the last one out and closed the door behind them, it was with a slightly hard slam.

"Jesus," Jared sighed once they were outside, glancing over at Sam. "How'd you ever date that monster?"

"Hey," Jacob said. "Leave her alone."

It was the first time since Leah joined the pack that they had all met together as only eight. Sam just stayed in a dead silence beside them, not looking at anyone.

Bella ran.

As she rushed forward on and on, her head filled with senseless, distorted and bizarre images. She saw herself as Juliet, stabbing herself in the heart with her tear-filled eyes on Romeo's pale and dead face, desperate to not have to live another second without him. Paris, her only chance to go on living, left alone to mourn her forever and always dwell on everything that could have been, if only.

She saw herself as the third wife in the legend of the first wolf, stabbing herself again and spilling her own blood all over the ground, this time for a very different reason. To save someone else she loved rather than save herself from life without him. Not the same image, she told herself.

She imagined two figures of herself, the human one and the vampire, wrestling together. The human winning. The old Bella with tears of pain streaking down her face as she drowned the other in a pool of blood, pinning her down with her hands at her pale throat keeping her under it, saying, You will never hurt him. You will never hurt any of them again. You did this to yourself, can't you understand? And the pale white arms flailing desperately, struggling to defeat the other and cling to life, whatever she had left of it.

They were like horrific images from nightmares she would have now if she could still dream. As she concentrated on nothing but moving and had nothing to look at, her mind perfectly liberated to just wander, they flooded her whole mind until she almost forgot where she was and what she was really doing.

She was pulled forcefully out of it all when she heard something very large running to her left, something that could only be one thing, and turned her head.

She gasped and stopped, immediately jumping behind a tree and then freezing in place. She was sure she had just seen one of the wolves far off in the distance. She was pretty sure whoever it was had gotten a glimpse of her, too; the sound of the four gigantic paws running had stopped.

She looked quickly around, wondering how many others were close but seeing none of them. She knew it wouldn’t matter, as they all would have seen her now anyway. And as if in response to this thought, from far off in the very distant forest but still very loud, a long, pleading howl ripped out from one of them and echoed resonantly.

She knew with a deep conviction that it was him, talking to her. The other one, the only wolf near enough for her to see him, was still not coming toward her. He knew with this much distance between them, he could easily lose her again if he went after her.

Bella leaned her head back against the trunk of the tree, closing her eyes with a miserable sigh. In the blackness behind her eyelids, the disturbing images attacked her again. The dark places inside of her which were such an elusive mystery to most, which she herself sometimes did not know at all. In that moment, it felt almost like the sound of Jacob calling to her in that sad howl had come from inside there, from inside of her. It was like he was telling her, You already know that you can only turn around.

Only then did she realize what it meant that they were out here. Edward. Her family all had to be looking for her now, too. The thought brought an unexpected wrench of pain deep inside her chest. She looked down at her left hand and the ring that was there, thinking again of the third wife of the first Quileute werewolf.

His wife

And she thought then that maybe she had not only been doing it to save her husband, nor only so that she would not have to live on after he was dead. Perhaps her reasons had been a little of both. Perhaps it had not been just an entirely brave and noble act.

All of these faces came into her mind, people who were out trying to get to her before she left them behind without even any last words. She turned to face the direction she had been running before, feeling already like it was going to be so much harder to force herself to go on now. She knew, finally, that there was only death ahead of her, but maybe some kind of life still behind her to go back to. She was only leaving the last of her humanity behind, with everyone she loved. That part of her was not really the one smothering the other and winning the fight.

Seeing the wolf far off to her left move, she immediately turned and ran again.

Don’t lose her! Jacob said to Quil when he saw, through his eyes, Bella appear from behind the tree she had vanished behind a moment before. But just as soon she was off again.

He growled to himself softly in frustration. But at least now they had an idea of where she was. He and the others close to him started running toward where they knew Quil was. It was twenty seconds later that he heard Edward’s phone ringing where it was tucked inside the pocket of his jeans.

Keep following her trail, he thought to the others before changing back as quickly as possible. He could not help but sound extremely annoyed when he answered the phone.

“What? We’re trying. Quil just found her but she—”

“I know,” answered Edward’s voice calmly, with a noticeable lightness of what could be relief in it. “We are not far. Don’t worry. Alice no longer sees her going to them.”

“What?” he asked, feeling a little strange for the way his voice echoed through the forest when he said it so loud.

“She sees her going to First Beach. And then…disappearing. Though she is much more sure about that this time.”

Jacob paused, taking that in. “I guess she’s waiting for me, then?” he said, emanating uncertainty in his voice. He didn't know if Alice's visions could really work like that.

Edward was a dead silence far away, saying nothing in response to that at first. “I am not sure what happened,” he finally said. “But…thank you. I will wait for her at home, if you will tell her.”

“…Sure.”

“And…you can just leave my phone on the ground there so I can come find it, please.”

Jacob gave a low laugh after flipping the phone shut.

He knew exactly where she would be.

She was sitting so completely still on the driftwood bench where they used to sit together such a long time ago that she could have been a statue. Only her hair was moving, lightly blowing up from her shoulders and back in the breeze. She must have known he was there as he slowly approached her from behind. But she still did not move or react, not even as he came beside her and then sat next to her in silence, so readily expecting his presence that it almost seemed like she was not aware of it.

At first they just stayed silent, and only in that moment did he remember how she had sworn she could never speak to him again. Only the fact that she was waiting here gave him any confidence in sitting next to her.

Finally she slowly turned her head to look at him, just examining the look on his face.

“Hi,” he said softly, leaning over a little so that his face was almost level with hers as he looked to the side.

It was like something tight held around her was suddenly broken and released; she closed her eyes with a relieved kind of look and leaned forward a little, like she was letting herself fall. He leaned in toward her as well until their foreheads were touching, and they stayed like this with their eyes closed for a while, feeling strangely at peace just for now in the dark behind their eyelids and with the sounds of the ocean and seagulls around them.

She leaned back away from him when his scent that close to her face became too much, her head clearing as she looked back forward. “How did you find out what I was doing?” she asked. “Did they actually contact you?”

He shook his head. “I was…well, I was sort of coming over to see you. But mostly just to ask about what we should do.”

“Oh,” she said. “I guess that pretty easily blew my cover.”

“Yeah,” he said with a short laugh.

“…Why were you ‘sort of’ coming to see me?” she asked.

He shrugged, shaking his head. “To…sort of apologize. I don’t know. I’m not sure if I can honestly tell you I regret saying those things, but I do really wish I hadn’t felt like I needed to say them…”

“It’s okay,” she said, not needing to hear any more of it. “I…I hope you know I didn’t mean to hit you.”

He smirked. “Don’t worry. I guess you still owed me a real punch from that first time.”

She raised her brow. “You think so? Let me break your hand and then maybe we’ll be even.”

He laughed lightly, the sound seeming to take a lot of energy to get out of him. Then they went silent, both staring out at the sea in silence for a while.

This place. She had not been here and seen this exact spot that was theirs in so long, and it brought back so many things that had felt completely lost before, made her remember things from her human life she was surprised to still remember clearly. It surely would have ended up being an even more important place to her if everything had been different. She probably could have lost her virginity here. She could have been his first instead of somebody else, whoever. She was not so numb to herself that she had never imagined these things or could not imagine them now. Lying on a blanket out here on a night when so many stars were out that distant, dark shapes of rocks and mountains that usually would not be visible at night were defined against them. In autumn nobody else would be coming to the beach and it would be all theirs, his heat enough to keep both of them warm. But the feeling that they still just might get caught would have been part of it, just like skipping school to ride off on a motorcycle and escape to anywhere else, rushing to the boundary line to be free with the wind in her hair.

She wondered how long, for how many years after he was not even alive anymore, she would still be keeping him with her this way, imagining exactly how moments of their life together would have been before she could even think twice and stop herself from picturing it.

With a sudden thought, she broke the silence to ask, "You know the legend of the protector who was turned into a vampire?”

Jacob looked at her with surprise. "How do you know about that one?" he said.

"Emily explained it to me once. You know...when I was worrying a lot about the extent of what kind of damage a vampire could do to one of you."

He smirked dryly. "I really didn‘t know what to think of that one when my dad told me about it. It seemed kind of crazy to be at all true. But now I've actually been thinking about it a little lately."

"So have I. The more I think about it now...the more I don't find it so hard to believe that it could be true."

Jacob leaned over and rested his chin on his fists. "...Yeah."

"Do you think...?" Bella sighed, hesitating. "I know this sounds kind of ridiculous. But do you think it's possible that the female vampire was only about to kill him when she first saw him because…he was her singer?"

He did not answer right away, still looking far away like he was thinking about it. Then he finally said, "It still doesn't explain why another vampire would fight over him with her."

She nodded. "I know."

"But I did think of that already myself. Now that we know such a thing is actually possible..." He looked at her with a tired grin, and she smiled back briefly. "The legend does seem to make a little more sense that way. Who knows?"

Bella looked away from him, her gaze joining his so they were both watching the flowing waves. "And they became lovers," she said very quietly.

Something very visibly changed on Jacob's face when she glanced back at him, but for some reason she did not think she could stand to look very long.

"Yes," he said in a voice just as low.

"Like Edward and me," she said in somewhat of a sigh.

He looked to the side at her. "But look at me. I'm still human."

She managed to smile again. At this moment, it really did feel like some kind of a miracle that he was still both that and alive. "Yeah, you are."

After another drawn-out silence, he asked her, “So what made you come back? You finally came to your senses?”

“…Yeah,” she said quietly. “I guess. Maybe only because of you.”

“Really?” he asked, sounding doubtful.

She looked over at him again, her face full of a sudden pain that made any remainder of a smile on his face fall. “Even if you shouldn’t have said it, in a way you were right about almost everything you said.”

He just looked at her, waiting for her to explain as she tried to think of how to say it. She looked down from his eyes before she could go on. “You see…I have this really difficult problem. I have two soul mates. One of them is someone I love so much that I will stop at just about nothing to keep anything from coming between us. And the other is someone I love so much that nothing can come between us, no matter how much we try to stay away from each other and no matter how different we are. No matter how much we might want to just forget.

“Ever since I started seeing you again it‘s changed everything,” she went on, speaking faster as if to get it out before she could have any reservations about admitting it. “It’s like the past just came right back and grabbed hold of me again. Every second I'm with you all I want to do is something very much against my better judgment. And I don't just mean hurting you. I’ve felt like I’m going a little insane. This isn't me! But it is, too. Nothing has changed, and at the same time it all has…”

He just stared at her sadly as she looked down at her feet, and he felt like he could see the tears welling in her eyes that would not anymore. All of her suddenly looked so surrendered and beaten. “I...I want you,” she said in a soft, faltering voice. “You already know this. But…it’s never hurt this much before. And I know I can’t have you. But that doesn’t even make any difference anymore. It’s not even rational anymore…

“And maybe you were right, and that’s why I was going to leave. Maybe I was just…trying to walk away from this problem because I can‘t see it getting any more bearable for me. But I know it’s not going to solve anything if I just leave and never see you again. If I have to make myself never see you again…”

She sighed with resignation, looking back up at him, right into his eyes. “Maybe I’m just not even strong enough to do that,” she said, so quietly it was almost in a whisper. “I can hear your…your heartbeat in my head all the time. Can you believe that? My recent memories of you are the ones that are perfectly clear and vivid, and when I think of you I automatically remember those recent things. I remember the nights I've stayed by you while you're sleeping and I hear the way your heart always sounds. It's like having a song stuck in my head that won't go away. This is one of those things that…God, maybe I’m not even aware of it half the time and I’m just so glad that Edward can’t hear it. I knew if I went away, that's all I was going to think about after a while. If your heart is still beating. How many beats it has left. If you‘re okay now and everything is even worth it…”

Sudden warmth around her made her speech stop. He had circled an arm around her waist, pulling her a little closer toward him. "Bella," he said in a desperate-sounding whisper, "don't do that."

“What?” she asked a little vacantly, drawn out of her inner thoughts.

He looked down at her arms as she lowered them. "You were holding yourself around your chest," he said, his voice slow and reluctant. "Like you used to when…"

Even after everything she had said, she looked at him like she could not believe it; as if he had just accused her of something unthinkable. But she knew the rest of his sentence that he couldn’t finish. When thinking about him. The other one.

“I…” Hardly anything would come out of her mouth in response. She just shook her head and her posture sunk as she looked right down at her feet again.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here, Jacob,“ she said. “I don’t even know why I turned around. I just couldn’t do it. And I have no idea what I’m going to do now.”

He let out a long, heavy breath that sounded somewhat surrendering, raising his arm from her waist to put it around her shoulders. “Don’t worry, honey,” he said softly. “It’s going to be okay.”

She automatically shook her head quickly. “That’s the same thing you said to me the last time I had to walk away from you.”

“Just trust that things won’t be that bad. Stay. Stay with me as my friend.”

“You know we can’t be friends, Jacob,” she said miserably.

He was quiet, unable to argue. Then he said, "You're right. We can't. We can't be anything besides what we are. And that's just what we'll be. Even if nothing can come of it. Even if I can never be the same thing to you that he is. Even if it really hurts. It could be really ugly and painful, I know that. But I’ve tried to completely let go of you to make things easier before and it just doesn’t work.”

He reached up and took her face in one of his hands, holding her jaw to keep her looking right at him. “That’s why you’ve got to stop doing this,” he said firmly. “Stop giving up your life for someone else and just live your own life, whatever that is now. I don't want to mourn you anymore. I think I believed it would make it easier for me if I just thought of you as being dead, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle seeing you again like this, especially if it was only to see you die again. But you’re still alive. You’re not dead. And I think I needed to see you again. I need to be able to see that you're okay so I can move on with my own life.”

She clasped her hands tightly together in her lap, looking down at them and shaking her head slowly. “It’s so hard to believe…right now while I’m sitting next to you…that things will just be alright.” She glanced back at him with an attemptedly light expression. “Your presence can make it kind of difficult to think reasonably.”

He did not smile or laugh, because her face went right back to showing the heavy pain unbearably weighing her down now. “No,” he said, reaching down to her lap to take her hand and holding it tightly. “Listen. It will be okay. Maybe not great, but okay. I promise. You're going to do the responsible thing this time. You're going to go back to Edward and the rest of your family instead of abandoning them for someone else. You're going to stay with the person you married and never betray him and not betray yourself by becoming something you know you shouldn't. Because even if I would never exactly hold it against you, I couldn't keep loving you the way I do if you did that and just made the same kind of mistake all over again, even if it was for me. This is the only way you can have me. It's the only way you can keep me. You see?"

She looked into his eyes that were so sad even as he was able to sound encouraging for her and knew that he was saying more than it sounded like. This was not just about her leaving her coven to go with the Volturi. Even if it was impossible to ignore, the way she wanted him so badly was completely illogical, nonviable. It was like yearning for something that does not even exist in this world. Even with everything that had changed they both unthinkably still loved each other. But that love could only kill itself the moment they touched each other if they ever did, if he ever actually wanted that now.

But in other ways, she knew she had already taken him, without even meaning to. It was not enough to be considered a betrayal but still enough to bind him to her forever. She had never once touched or kissed him with the intention of making him hers, as she almost had done the one night long ago when she was with him in his car with butterflies in her stomach and her head for once quiet after hearing the last of the haunting voices. But now there was an invisible scar on his shoulder, healed on the outside but something he could feel and would always know was there. She had done almost as much as spilling her own blood like the third wife, everything she could do, and risked everything, for him. He lived now because of her. At least in some way, she knew he would belong to her always.

“Maybe it’s just strange now to think about going back to doing what‘s right,” she said. “It almost feels like there’s no use, after everything else…”

For some reason, he laughed at that lightly. “It won’t be so hard. That’s natural for you.”

Her face just looked defiant, not accepting it. “You really think so?”

“You’re not a horrible person, Bella. I mean…you’re definitely not an angel, either. But what does it matter? You’re still loved. And you’re needed here.”

She went silent, looking down as she reflected on all of this. He stared at her a long time and then touched her face again, causing her to look at him again.

“Please stop looking so sad,” he said, sounding sorrowful and beaten; after everything he had just tried to tell her to make it all not seem so bad, she still looked just as hopeless.

“Jacob,” she murmured; it was so quiet that he saw her mouth move but couldn’t hear it.

“What?” he asked softly, leaning in toward her.

She spoke again, not much more audibly, close to his ear. “Jacob…Will you just…hold me?”

He did, pulling her close against him into a hug that did not feel as suffocatingly crushing as it used to when he hugged her but was still tight and strong, unhesitant unlike before. As she let herself wrap her arms around his back, she let out a long, relaxing breath. It felt like she had been holding her breath for so long, not allowing herself to let it out, and was only now finally breathing again. She relaxed into his form like she could be molded perfectly into it, like she belonged like this and was releasing herself into her natural shape. She needed to know this now, if never again. The thought of the still present and undefeated threat to his life was more unbearable than ever before as she closed her eyes and dissolved in the comfort of being this close to him. At the same time, the thought made her want to never let go and diminished any guilt about how wrong letting herself have just this much right now might be.

Jacob was breathing just as deeply as her, like he was sighing sadly, as he ran his hand slowly up and down her back. “Does it still hurt as much like this?” he asked quietly.

“No,” she whispered. “Not as much right now...”

The useless feelings that they usually kept dormant, the pang of almost-regret, longing for what could have been but could never be at the same time, overwhelmed them for one stinging instance at the same time. And he raised his hand to run it through her hair, whispering, “God, Bella…”

All the while she could not even hold him as tightly as possible, still having to restrain herself in a way because she could hurt him. She finally knew in this moment that she was never going to be doing that to him anymore.