Not What I Used to Be
Victoria caught up with her as she walked from her truck to the house. Charlie wouldn't be home for hours, but Bella didn't have time to be thankful for his absence.
1. Chapter 1 of 6
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Bella felt eyes looking out at her from the woods, and had just decided that it might be worth investigating, not allowing herself to consciously acknowledge the hope that it could be him. She turned toward the trees, and something hit her hard, knocking the air from her lungs. But she didn’t fall. Instead, a pair of thin, cold arms wrapped around her and an instant later she was approaching the forest path at an alarming rate. She closed her eyes.
Her school bag had fallen, so she was unencumbered when Victoria released her, pushing her away roughly and laughing a high-pitched, childlike laugh as Bella stumbled against a tree, scraping her hands against the rough bark. Water dripped onto her head from the leaves that shook above her, though it hadn't rained in hours. She was already too frightened to notice.
Victoria was staring at her triumphantly, an evil smirk on her pale lips. And then she was ON her, and Bella cried out desperately, knowing there would be no help this time. He was not here to save her. Would never save her again.
Whatever Laurent had said, Victoria clearly had no intention of drawing out the process. Bella felt thankful for that much as she fell to the ground, red, leaf-infested hair ticking her face, and Victoria's lips already searching along her neck for a pulse. The sensation gave Bella goosebumps and she told herself it was the cold, the fear, anything but the familiarity. But she recognized dimly that she wasn't struggling anymore. What was the point, anyway?
And then there was only the fire - more, worse than when James had bit her hand, because it was already pumping through her head, pushed by her hammering heart. She screamed.
What happened next was dim in her memory, but Jake explained it well enough to her, after the fact. They'd been tracking her. Embry had arrived on the scene first, and knocked the feeding Victoria off Bella's prone body. Jacob, thankfully, had not been far behind. The legends were clear that it took two wolves to kill a cold one, and often one of them didn't survive. The legends, however, hadn’t included Jacob Black. They made short work of her, earning the right to their self-confidence. But there wasn't much time to celebrate. Embry burned the body while Jacob went to see what damage had been done to Bella.
By the time Embry had finished, half an hour later, Jacob was crying. The difference between him as a ferocious warrior in russet pelt and his tearstained human face was so shocking that Embry felt tears in his own eyes as well. "She's changing," Jake whispered.
Without actually discussing it, they agreed that Sam would not be consulted. No one else had been in wolf form during this battle, and although the fact had annoyed them when they'd first come across Victoria's scent, they were glad of it now. No one else knew that Bella was going to be a vampire. No one else COULD know. The pack would vote to kill her before the change was complete. It was ... the wise thing to do.
While they were trying to decide what course of action they WOULD take, Bella's whimpers ceased. Jacob's eyes were on her in a heartbeat, afraid she had died. As if she wasn't dying anyway. But her own eyes were open for the first time since his arrival. "Jake, you've got to get me out of here," she croaked, obviously still in pain. His brow furrowed. "Away from people - you've got to take me - "
She gritted her teeth for a moment and squeezed his hand more tightly. He squeezed back, probably too hard, but she didn't notice. Nothing could hurt more than the fire coursing through her veins. But she'd felt it before. She forced herself to work through it. "Or when it's finished I'll be dangerous," she spat out finally. Then she screamed.
"Where?" he demanded, but she only shook her head and forced her mouth closed around another scream.
"North. The further the better," Embry answered for her. "Where there's nobody and nothing for miles." He and Jake exchanged a glance, and then Jacob nodded.
Being in Jacob's arms as he ran through the forest was neither better nor worse than writhing on the ground, though the warmth was a comfort to her mind, if not her body. She tried to focus all her attention on it, knowing that warmth would soon be a thing of her past. She vaguely noticed the pained expression on his face every time Jacob looked down at her, and she was ashamed of her tears. She knew that soon those would be gone as well.
Mostly, though, she only knew pain and fear. She was deathly afraid that Jacob might still be carrying her when the change finished. She had no real awareness of day or night, no way to gauge how soon it might be over. She couldn't see anything passed his face. They were well into Alaska when he stopped, entering a copse of fir trees halfway up a mountain. He ducked under the low hanging branches of a huge tree, his unclad feet hardly noticing the sharp pine needles. Likewise his back barely felt the scratchy bark of the tree as he sat down and leaned against it, Bella still cradled in his arms. He had been silent for the entire trip, and Bella had struggled not to scream, afraid of attracting attention if they were passing by inhabited areas.
"Where?" she rasped, when she perceived they had stopped moving. Her eyes, which had been pressed shut so tightly that she had to concentrate hard to force them open, squinted at the sunlight glancing off the fine layer or snow just outside the circle protected by the fir tree.
"I don't know," he answered quietly, "Nowhere."
He waited as, little by little, the whimpers she’d fought to restrain grew louder again until she was screaming. He sat, rocking her, with his eyes closed. They'd run for a solid day. There were two more to endure.
The sun was rising again when she abruptly fell silent and he wondered if it was over sooner than he thought. Two days instead of three? But Bella had no such thought. She knew it was a long way from over, but there was something that had to happen before the change completed. "You've got to go," she whispered around clenched teeth. "You've got to get far away - before it's over."
Jacob looked at her sadly, and held her more tightly, but he said nothing. The whimpers resumed, and escalated again. Hours passed. "You've got to get out of here, Jake!" she screamed, finally, desperately. She railed at him for hours more until her throat was too sore to continue, and then she just whispered. "Go, Jake, please. I can't - I won't - You have to live. I can't hurt you. Please, Jake. Please."
He shook his head, his eyes still closed against the sight of her pain. The tears that had tugged at his heart the first day were gone. Dried up forever. As the night passed, he detected the change in her scent. It was almost over.
By the time the sun was high in the sky on the third day, she had struggled out of his arms. He'd let her go, too tired from lack of sleep to restrain her and knowing she was angry with him for staying. He stepped away, stiff from sitting in the same position so long. She had stopped pleading with him to leave when she realized it was hopeless. But the reproach in her eyes was harder to bear than her dry sobs. Still, he watched her carefully. Whatever she might think, he had no death wish.
In the last hours of her pain, her eyes turned red, and Jake shuddered. She noticed, and the pain in her face changed from the physical to something deeper. Something that would last longer than three days. He swore to himself that he wouldn't show his revulsion again. She was one of them. A cold one. But she was Bella. He forced himself to meet her eyes again, more calmly.
"Is it over?" he asked warily.
"Not yet," she gritted out, her hands fisting in the pine needles that covered the ground. And then the screaming began again. He folded his arms across his chest, feeling like his heart might fall right out of the wound that had been opening there for the last three days. Then he recognized the posture, and forced himself to stop. He unclenched his arms carefully and lowered them to his sides. Bella watched all of this with perfect understanding, heard the muscles in his biceps contract with the effort. She closed her eyes again, as much to block out the agony on his face as for any other reason, and forced her lips closed.
One more silent hour passed, with only the occasional whimper, and then, as though a switch had been thrown, Bella popped her eyes open and stood, ducking out from under the fir branches to stand near Jacob. She heard his quiet inhalation as she moved. His face was full of worry. "Are you alright?" he asked finally.
Bella nodded. Then she rethought. She had been acutely aware the moment her heart stopped. "I'm dead," she admitted. But Jacob already knew that.
"You've been dead for a long time," he whispered, and she nodded again. That was true also, in its own way. She looked around. The snow looked brighter to her, the greens deeper. Jacob, too, looked more vibrant, more beautiful than ever. Everything looked alive but her.
Jacob was staring at her with an expression somewhere between fear and awe, and at first she didn't know why. Then she remembered the sun. She raised her arms in front of her and looked at her hands, the only part of her that was visible besides her face. They glittered, a rainbow of color refracting onto the snow around them. She lowered them again abruptly, unimpressed. Jacob seemed to notice her mood. He took a step forward, wanting to comfort her, but her head snapped up. She took a step back. She was afraid again, suddenly. The still air and cold had been a blessing. She couldn't smell anything yet, but if he came any closer -
There was no preventing it, though, and when he stepped forward again, his hand reaching out, she let him come toward her. She reached for his hand and was grateful when he didn't flinch at the chill from her fingers. Then he was close enough. Her nose wrinkled involuntarily. "What is it?" he asked.
"If all humans smell like you, I don't think I'll have trouble resisting," she admitted, biting her lip to keep from laughing. He smelled awful.
Jacob stared at her in mock indignation for a moment. "Are you telling me I STINK?" he demanded.
And in an instant their silence and hesitancy was forgotten. Their laughter rang through the forest - both of them too loud, both of them too boisterous to really be amused, but pretending to be anyway. When they fell silent all of Jacob's dreams for them, all of Bella's vague hopes, disappeared with the echoes. And for the first time since Bella had come to Forks, they really were just Jacob, and just Bella with no hidden agendas or expectations between them. They were really friends.
They sat for hours that night plotting how Jacob would return home, and how he should react to the news of her disappearance. They talked about everything, except the obvious, until dawn broke.
“You should get going, Jake,” Bella said finally, and he noticed that she was tense, suddenly.
“Not yet.” It was difficult for him to just leave her in the middle of nowhere, unprotected. She was still very small to his eyes, and she still seemed so fragile. Especially while the image of her face screwed up with pain was still burned into his eyelids. He imagined he’d be having a lot of nightmares about that.
“I think you should go now,” she returned. “I need to – hunt.” For hours she’d been feeling a dry sensation, and though Jacob’s scent wasn’t appealing to her, there were other scents in the forest. The wind had picked up near midnight, carrying them swirling around her. She didn’t know which scents belonged to what animal, but she knew that all of them belonged to something edible.
“I can help you,” he offered, grinning.
His smile fell into a look of hurt and confusion before he could stop it, and she hung her head. “I don’t want you to see me that way,” she admitted. They sat staring away from one another silently for quite a while as they both pondered this. Finally she looked toward him again. “Will you come back?”
Jake nodded and reached out to take her hands, which had been idly crushing pinecones into dust. He brushed them off with his own, smirking.
“Can you bring me some things? My backpack and a change of clothes? Something to tie up my hair and – my copy of Wuthering Heights? I left it right on my desk. Just take Pride and Prejudice out of the drawer, and put that in it’s place,” she suggested, thinking Charlie might notice if something so prominently placed went missing entirely, but certain he wouldn’t notice if it was a different book.
“Sure, sure,” he said easily, smiling again. This was the responsible Bella he knew.
“And all my money is under my mattress. You keep that,” she added. It wasn’t as if she could stroll into a town and purchase something.
This struck Jacob as unfair, however, and he didn’t respond. He’d take the money and save it until she could use it. He traced patterns on the back of her hand as she watched.
“And I thought you were too warm before,” Bella commented finally. “Now you feel like you’re burning.”
“Does it hurt?” he asked, dropping her hand quickly. But Bella only laughed. It didn’t sound like the laughter he remembered – too even, too perfect. He frowned.
“No. It doesn’t hurt.” Nothing physical hurt. She reached for his hands again, and when she had them, she stood, pulling him up with her easily. She grinned at his surprised expression. “You should go,” she reminded him.
“Right. I’ll be back in a few days. As soon as I can.” And then, with another smile – sadder than the one she loved so well – he was trotting off through the trees.