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Not What I Used to Be

Summary:
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.


Notes:


2. Chapter 2 of 6

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3027   Review this Chapter

Bella concentrated on the most appetizing scent that was teasing her senses. She was fairly certain it wasn’t human because, honestly, she wasn’t THAT excited about it. The Cullens had made it fairly clear that human blood was difficult to resist. Also, she knew Jacob wouldn’t have left her alone near unsuspecting people. She enjoyed traipsing through the woods, listening to the sound of her own feet in the snow – which was quiet, but audible to her. She discovered that what she smelled was rabbit and her face took on a wry expression, though there was no one to see it. Not only was that much too small to be of any use to her, but the white rabbit was adorable. She couldn’t eat that.

She inhaled again, and chose a new scent, purposely picking something a little more ... rugged? She didn’t even know how to classify the differences in her own mind. She followed it, as noiselessly as before, to an opening in the rock, and then stopped, wary. It was spring. If that was a bear in there, it would not be happy to be woken. “Angry grizzlies – Emmett’s favorite,” she whispered to herself, making another face and turning away.

She was starting to feel rather frustrated. And thirsty. The more she concentrated on the scents of the animals around her, the worse the thirst became. A third try, however, yielded something she could possibly see herself dealing with. A family of elk. She ignored the young one and the female, just in case it was pregnant. The moment she decided she would really hunt it, venom filled her mouth and she choked, forgetting that she didn’t really need to breathe. Naturally her quarry scattered. The frustration overcame her, then, as she stood and watched them run. If she could have burst into tears, she would have, but she couldn’t. Instead, she reached out her hand to the nearest tree branch and snapped it off at the trunk, heaving it in the general direction of her lost meal. Then she screamed, and it was loud – loud enough that she covered her own ears and fell down to her knees in the snow.

Bella stayed on the ground for a long time, but eventually her thirst forced her back to her feet. She found another elk, having already memorized the scent. It was easier to catch than she’d expected, and she killed it, and buried it, and killed another. As she finished filling in the second grave, she wondered where her sense of horror was. Shouldn’t she be terrified of what she’d become? Filled with self-loathing that this is what she had to do to survive? She felt nothing of the sort. A vague sense of accomplishment – she HAD taught herself to hunt – and satiation, were her only emotions. She wondered how long two elk would last.

Besides hunting, there wasn’t much to do until Jacob got back. Two weeks passed with no word, and she imagined Charlie was making it difficult for him to slip away. She didn’t think for a moment that he would have difficulty breaking into her house to get the items she’d requested, or coming up with a story for where he’d been. Jacob was about the most resourceful person she knew. She spent most of her time wandering beneath the trees, thinking. She never thought about the Cullens of course. That whole area of her brain had a label on it that said, “Here There Be Dragons.” But she thought about Jake, and how good he’d been to her, even though she knew that technically, they should have become mortal enemies the moment her eyes turned red. She was grateful it hadn’t really turned out that way. She thought about the pack, and whether they would agree with Jake’s decision to let her live. They hadn’t spoken about it, but she was a little on edge wondering if the rest of them would come looking for her. She knew it was possible that Sam was delaying him as well.

The day he arrived, she wasn’t thirsty. She had grown tired of walking aimlessly in the snow, and was sitting on a branch, high up in an ancient oak tree, swinging her legs. She was miles from where he’d left her, but she doubted that had delayed him much.

She dropped down from the branch and landed almost soundlessly behind him as he passed beneath her. He turned at once. There was a tense moment, and then Bella grinned and he returned her smile.

He brought everything she’d requested, but in a new bag. “Embry put your backpack in the middle of your bed. Charlie would have noticed for sure if I’d taken it, so I used some of the money and got this.” They hiked back to the pines, and he set the bag down and fell gracefully beside it, not even looking tired from the run. He started digging through. “Clothes,” he said dismissively, “book, hair stuff –“

“Hand me the hair tie,” she said quickly as she sat down as well, and he did. He handed her a brush, too. “Thanks!” She started brushing through her hair to put it up.

“- and these,” he finished quietly. She paused, mid stroke, with her head tilted sideways as he pulled something she hadn’t requested out of the bag. “I found them by accident – one of your floorboards was loose, and it made an odd noise every time I stepped on it. These were underneath.”

Bella set down the brush and reached for the papers he held out, biting her lip. She recognized them at once. Plane tickets to Jacksonville. Pictures. She looked back at the bag expectantly to find that he was already pulling out the CD case. She couldn’t think of anything to say. The hole in her chest that she’d been ignoring so successfully seemed to have opened up again at the sight. She shoved the plane tickets and the picture of Edward’s smiling face back into the bag, but paused over the second picture.

Edward had looked miserable, back then. She’d noticed, of course, but she realized now she could hardly blame him for leaving, if he was that unhappy. She would never have wanted to keep him if it meant he had to be miserable. She hoped that, wherever he was, he was smiling. Carefully, she unfolded the image to look at herself beside him. She let her mind wonder whether he would be happier with her as she now was, but an instant later she shook her head, and shoved that picture into the bag as well. Jacob was still holding the CD case, and she realized that, to him, it hadn’t seemed she’d had time to dwell on anything. “Thanks for bringing those,” she said quietly, taking it from him and putting it into the bag as well, all the way at the bottom. She had no idea how long it would be before she was capable of being near enough to civilization to listen to a CD, or how long it would be before she was strong enough to listen to THAT CD. Probably a very long time.

They went for a walk. He told her what was going on in Forks. She told him about her hunts. When they ran out of things to say on those topics, Jacob fell silent, and Bella looked at him sideways. He was grasping her small, cold hand, just as he’d always done during walks on First Beach. It seemed obvious to her that he was about to say something she wouldn’t like.

“Do you want me to try and find them?” he asked finally, his eyes turned away. He knew better than to speak the Cullens’ name. Besides, it wasn’t necessary. She knew exactly whom he meant. Bella stopped walking.

“No, Jake. I’d rather they not know anything about it.” In truth she would have loved to see Alice. But if any of them found out she’d been changed, it was only a matter of time before he would know it as well. And THAT, more than anything else, she wanted to avoid. He had made it very clear to her that he didn’t want her to be what he was, and when he’d left, she had figured out why. He hadn’t wanted her with him forever. He hadn’t wanted her the way she’d wanted him.

She kept her face carefully blank. Jacob had been forced to see too much of her pain already. She would spare him whatever she could. He didn’t argue, though he didn’t like visualizing her in the woods alone for – all the rest of time. They walked a little further, until they came to a lake. Ice floated in it, but it was thawing, slowly. “I brought you some soap, too,” he said, changing the subject. “To wash clothes, you know?”

She thanked him, as much for the change in topic as for the soap. Though, she supposed she would need to wash things eventually. They sat by the lake watching birds for a while, but soon enough Jake stood, ready to get back home. They hiked back to the pines, where they’d left Bella’s bag, and said goodbye there.

Bella watched him walk away through the trees, and listened to the sound of his retreat for as long as she could still hear him. She could tell already that she was going to hate living in the woods. She wasn’t really an outdoor girl. She sighed, and then settled herself down beside her bag and dug out her book. She was disappointed to discover that, even reading slowly, it only took her a few hours to finish it. What’s more, she recalled every word of it with perfect clarity. She shoved it back into her bag, disgusted. Then she finished brushing her hair, and put it up into a loose bun, so it wouldn't tangle. Finally, she looked around her and sighed. She couldn’t sleep. She didn’t need to hunt. There was nothing more to read, and she’d explored every part of the area. She zipped the bag and threw it over her shoulder, figuring she’d head back to the lake.

Jacob was only gone a week the next time, but the time after it was four weeks, and the time after that, three. Life in the forest was dull and repetitive. She’d stayed near the lake for the remainder of the summer, swimming when she was bored – learning to walk around the bottom of the lake without breathing was interesting for a few days. The only real excitement she had was the first time she decided to hunt bear. Hibernation was far behind the bears by this time, and the weather was fairly warm. They were active, but not angry. And she needed something new to do.

She’d had a moment’s fear the first time the bear’s wicked claws dragged across her back, but when there was no pain, her fear evaporated. The beast, for all its strength and fury, was no more effective against her than the white rabbit would have been.

To say that the bear shredded her shirt would be an understatement. She was glad she’d had the foresight to ask Jake to bring her that extra set of clothes, or she’d have been greeting him with a bare chest when he next returned. She laughed out loud, picturing the look on his face as she buried the ragged remains of her shirt along with the bear. She was about four miles from the lake, where she’d left her things, but it didn’t bother her to run half-clothed. After all, there was no one to see her.

The morning he returned, she’d been climbing an outcropping of rock that overlooked the lake. A memory had come to her of Sam, Jared, Paul and Embry diving from the cliffs in La Push, and she wanted to see if there was any place similar. There were a few lakes in the twenty or so miles she had grown familiar with, and she’d wanted to find a place from which she could dive. He tracked her to the base of the rock, and then called for her. Even from the height she’d reached she could still see him when she looked down, but he couldn’t see her. Not, at least, until she launched herself from the rock into the water, laughing all the way down.

Without thinking, Jake dove in after her, eyes forced open to the chilly water. After a few panicked moments, he saw her swimming toward him calmly, water plants in her hair, and he had the sudden urge to laugh. He kicked for the surface and she followed. “What’d you do,” he asked, “land face first in the mud at the bottom?” He was laughing so hard he could barely make himself tread water.

Bella scowled. “I missed you, too,” she said tartly, rinsing her hair and dragging him back to shore. She really had missed him. She was much lonelier than she would ever admit.

“Seriously, you might have checked how deep it was first,” he tried to scold her as they waded onto the grass, but his tone was still betraying his amusement, and she just grinned at him ruefully, too happy to see him to stay angry.

“I suppose that would have been the smart thing to do,” she allowed as he threw himself down beside a backpack that wasn’t hers. “Did you bring me something?” she asked hopefully, earning a beautiful smile for her trouble that was almost better than anything he could have in the bag. He stuck his hands into the bag and pulled out a thin book, and a sandwich. He handed her the book.

“Thanks!” In a different time and place, she might have been annoyed about the wet finger marks he’d left on it, but she couldn’t bring herself to care just now, as long as the print wasn’t ruined. Then she noticed the cover. “Carmilla?” she asked. She flipped through it quickly, not really reading, and got the gist of it in spite of herself. “Very funny,” she said sourly. “What’d you really bring?” Jacob laughed, took a bite of his sandwich and tossed her another thin book. The Call of the Wild. She laughed along with him this time. “And?”

Finally he dug out something she would normally read. Not that she wouldn’t read the first two, because she would. These days any reading material was welcome. Dante’s Inferno. She grinned. She’d read parts of it before for school, of course, but now she could memorize it, like the others he’d brought. He took some back with him each time, since she’d never need to read them again, and couldn’t cart a whole library around the forest with her in any case.

When he finished eating, they set out for her camp. She'd been leaving her backpack in the bear cave ever since she'd removed the former occupant. It wasn't much, but it was better than just ducking under a pine tree for cover. She told him the bear story on the way, and enjoyed the sound of his laughter. He swore he wouldn't bring her another shirt, just in case he was lucky enough that it would happen again. But she knew he would bring it. Knowing him, he'd probably bring two, just to be nice.

As Jake sat down with his back against the rock wall, she handed him the book he'd brought the last time, which he stuck into his bag without comment. He was going to own a lot of books he'd never read, he realized. But he didn't mind.

"I brought you something else, too," he said hesitantly. This was the one part of his visit he'd been dreading all the way here. He fished a newspaper clipping out from under his second sandwich. Emily had given it to him, along with the food. The search for Bella was over. A body had been found.

"It was Sam's idea," he explained as she read and reread the article. "He and Jared stole a body from a morgue in Seattle. They had to watch for it for a long time - someone close to your build, you know? Then they dumped it off the cliff. They were starting to wonder if they'd gone about it the wrong way, it was two weeks before it washed up -" He stopped talking abruptly when he noticed her expression. "Sorry," he whispered. "We had to do something."

"No, it's okay," Bella said shakily, reading the article again. "It was a good plan. Tell Sam I said thank you." Bella was relieved that the pack seemed to be supporting this. She had no idea what Jacob had told them in the beginning, or what he'd had to go through to get that support. But she was thankful for it nonetheless. Charlie had been interviewed for the article. She wanted to keep it. She found her battered copy of Wuthering Heights and folded the article to fit between the pages. It was the only book she kept with her all the time. She wasn't even sure why anymore.

In the months since her change, little details of her past had been slipping away from her, almost unnoticed. Jacob's sporadic presence had entrenched him firmly in her memory, but other things were fading. She thought that she ought to be a lot more upset for Charlie Swan's loss, but she was only mildly disturbed. Jacob seemed to notice the lack of emotion as well. He'd rather expected hysterics.

He stayed the night, and at first she watched him sleep. He didn't do anything that interesting. She laughed at him the first time he started snoring, which woke him up. After that, she left the cave to give him some privacy. She found a tree to climb and spent the remainder of the night watching the stars rotate in the sky, contemplating just how dull an eternity of this existence was going to be.