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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:


3. Chapter 3 of 6

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 3235   Review this Chapter

"School starts next week," Jacob commented as he finished the sandwich he'd saved for breakfast.

Bella, who'd been examining a shiny portion of the cave wall, felt her body tense. She'd forgotten about school. Jake still had a year left. He would have to go. "I guess I won't see you for a while then," she made herself reply calmly. "Maybe you'll be able to visit for Thanksgiving break?" she suggested, trying not to sound too hopeful.

"Yeah, I was thinking I could come up then. Billy can tell everybody that I went to Hawaii to see Rebecca." His voice, too, was careful.

Bella had to think for a moment to recall who Rebecca was. But she felt slightly mollified that he'd already thought it through. He WAS planning to come back. "That sounds like a plan," she said cheerfully. She realized she'd overdone it when he stood and took her hand.

"I can try to come on the weekends, or take a few days -"

"No, Jake. You have your own life to worry about. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so selfish. It's been incredibly good of you to come all this way to see me." She smiled at him, but she felt a pain in an area of her chest that had been dormant for several weeks.

"I love you, Bells," he said quietly. "If there had been any way for things to be different...." he stopped, and shook his head.

"I know. You saved me. That was enough. More than I could have asked of you."

She was shocked when he dropped her hand and turned away from her, running his fingers through his hair. "But that's just it. I DIDN'T save you. I wasn't fast enough. If we'd just caught her ten minutes sooner. FIVE, even." He swore angrily.

Bella listened to him patiently, one hand still pressed against the rock, level with her face. "Jake," she whispered. "None of this is your fault."

He didn't answer. After a few moments, she put a hand carefully on his arm and turned him around. She couldn't tell if he was trying to resist, but she tried to move slowly, not wanting to hurt him. She'd not done more than hold his hand since the last of the pain had left her. "NONE of this is your fault," she repeated gently. "I'm thankful to be here at all."

He still seemed distant, and the expression in his eyes was unforgiving. Bella bit her lip and carefully put her arms around his waist, resting her cheek on his bare chest. She felt him shiver. "I'm the one who involved us all with vampires, remember?" she asked. Because she remembered it very well. Hours upon hours of time to do nothing but think, and she had thought hard about what had got her into this mess in the first place. It was all because she'd gone to watch vampires play baseball. She laughed at the absurdity of it and repeated the thought to Jacob. He didn't find it as funny, but at some point his arms had come up to hold her, and she hoped that meant she was offering him some comfort. SHE felt comforted.

"It wasn't your fault, either," he said quietly. He'd spent a lot of time over the course of the summer forcing the pack to see the truth of that statement, but he'd never thought he'd have to make Bella see it, too. He held her tighter, and tried to enjoy it. She wasn't the same, and the chill from her skin seemed to be seeping into his bones. But she was still Bella. Thoughtlessly, he pressed his lips to her hair, and let himself inhale deeply. He’d always loved the smell of her hair. He released her an instant later, his whole face crumpled up as if he'd tasted a lemon. He’d known better.

Bella just looked at him, surprised for an instant, before they both chuckled. "So now you're saying I stink?!" she asked indignantly, knowing it would break the tension, and not allowing herself to actually be offended. This was Jake, who accepted her no matter what. Jake, who had protected her when no one else would, and who was her only companion. She owed it to him to be strong while he was absent, instead of making him feel guilty.

As the sun set, they were walking back towards the fir trees they'd first sheltered under. Bella had decided to walk with him as far as she could. His second trip to Alaska had yielded her a compass and map of the immediate area, and those had come in very handy. She knew how far she could travel before she was too close to civilization.

He told her the latest pack scandal, and she was shocked. "Quil imprinted on a two-year-old?" she parroted. "How is that even possible?!" Jacob explained solemnly that Claire was the luckiest toddler on the planet.

"He'll be whatever she needs. For now, he's like a guardian - watching out for her, protecting her. He loves to help feed her. Later, he'll be like a big brother, teaching her to ride her bike and chasing off boys with crushes. But eventually, it'll be for them just like it is for Sam and Emily." Like it should have been for us, he added silently, but Bella heard the wistfulness in his tone, and didn't need to hear his thoughts to know them.

"Someday, that will happen for you, Jake," she whispered. "And just think what it would have done to me when you imprinted," she continued, before he could deny it. "I was nearly destroyed when he left. I couldn't have handled losing you, too, even though I know you deserve someone with a whole heart to give you."

He was squeezing her hand so hard that if she'd been human, he'd have crushed it. Hard enough that she noticed. She didn't allow herself to squeeze back. "Maybe it's better this way, then," he admitted finally, swallowing hard. "I wouldn't have forgiven myself for that."

They walked in silence for a long time, both lost in thought. They walked too long. It was good he had such a firm grip on her hand because they were walking calmly one moment, and in the next the wind shifted, blowing in from the West and Bella tensed. Then she lurched in that direction so hard that she dragged Jacob with her several steps. She'd released his hand, but he hadn't let go of hers, and fortunately for them both, he was fairly quick on the uptake. He couldn't smell the humans himself, but he knew that must be what caused it.

He grasped her upper arm with his other hand, and hauled backwards, stopping her forward motion. She wheeled on him and snarled, teeth bared and glinting dangerously. Jake had killed a few vampires in his time, but hearing the sound of Bella's rage, seeing her face twist into that familiar expression shocked him. He let go.

She was gone in a second, and he had no hope of catching her on two legs. He morphed without a second thought and chased her down.

Bella was halfway to the town when an enormous weight landed on her back, and she realized she'd underestimated him. They fell to the ground, rolling, and Jacob pinned her for an instant. She wasn't worried. She was about to throw him off when he resumed his human form, and instead of shoving his elbow into her throat to keep her pinned, he put it under her nose. Her first instinct was to bite him. "Breathe, Bella," he demanded. The phrase was so familiar that she obeyed without thinking.

The scent of werewolf, that close, was overpowering, and it completely obscured every other scent, even the incredible one that had taken both her sanity and her self control. She gagged on it, but stopped struggling. She took another deep breath, and then she sobbed, feeling the horror of what she was for the first time. There was no question in her mind what would have happened if Jacob hadn't been able to catch her.

Jake breathed a sigh of relief when she stopped fighting and sat up, pulling her into his lap and wishing he'd thought to bring an extra pair of sweats. He rocked her as the tearless sobs tore out of her uncontrollably. He rocked her just as he had when the pain had been physical.

"I'm so sorry, Jake. Did I hurt you? Are you alright?" she demanded finally, her nose pressed to his neck so she could breathe without catching the scent of humans again.

"My only wound is to my pride," he assured her. She looked up at him, confused. He shook his head and looked away, smirking. "I've got nothing to wear home," he explained.

Bella was out of his lap and facing the other way so fast he couldn't track the movement. But away from him, she didn't dare breathe. "Run back a ways with me?" she asked, her eyes carefully averted. He would have laughed but he was already morphing. He barked amusedly instead. He was a lot more comfortable in his skin than she was looking at him in his skin, apparently.

They ran back towards the lake, and he went with her the whole way. He wasn't really ready to go home yet, anyway. He spent another night, this time in wolf form. Bella, who had long since grown used to his scent and now, suddenly, had decided she liked it a great deal, lay with him throughout the night, reveling in the warmth. She was about to face three months without it. She spent the time laughing quietly to herself about the fact that his snores weren't nearly so loud in this form, and thinking.

She thought hard about the tragedy Jacob had averted tonight. And about what she had become. She realized that these last few months she'd been living in a bit of a fantasy world. She couldn't spend all eternity killing bears in the woods. For one thing, someday there would be no Jacob to bring her books and stop her from visiting the towns.

She analyzed the bloodlust that had so completely overcome her. It was like being another person entirely. Every trait that she recognized as part of herself had been dominated and rendered moot from the moment she smelled human blood. How could anyone learn to control such a thing? Inevitably her mind turned to him. She had successfully avoided thinking of him for months. But now, faced with something she knew he had overcome, she wondered how he had done it. How had he taken that monstrous urge and assimilated it into himself, where he could control it? How much had it cost him to admit that he WAS that monster. Could she ever admit that the monster WAS her? She grimaced in the darkness and snuggled closer to the huge wolf beside her.

Jacob left the next morning without saying goodbye. He howled it, instead, knowing that morphing would embarrass Bella more that it would embarrass him. She hugged him around his shaggy neck and thanked him several times. He licked her ear, and then pretended to spit out the sickly sweet taste. Bella laughed.

When he’d bounded off Southward, and she could no longer hear the whisper of his paws through the first fallen leaves, she shouldered her bag and traveled in a vaguely Northeastern direction. She wanted to put some more distance between herself and the town. The memory of the bloodlust was strong, and she knew that with her strangely enhanced mind, it always would be. Time would dim her human memories – was already doing so, she realized – but everything that had happened since her change would always be crystal clear in her thoughts, easily accessible.

As she hiked, she made a point to picture Charlie, Renee and Phil, Angela, Jessica, Mike, everyone she could think of. She even pictured Lauren. She wished she’d asked Jacob to bring the scrapbook Renee had purchased for her last birthday, though that would have been conspicuous in its absence. And then she stopped walking abruptly, realizing she had no idea what day it was, but it had to be nearing September again if school was beginning soon. Her shoulders drooped and she forced her feet forward again. She’d be spending her birthday in the woods this year. She wondered if vampires ever thought of their birthdays, or if they counted their age based on the date they were changed.

Hiking was a lot easier than it used to be, and she was in the area she’d set out for by midday. She climbed a beautiful maple tree and perched her bag high among the branches. Then she set out in search of the local wildlife.

She was at a greater altitude than she’d been before, and a new scent found its way to her. She tracked it more out of curiosity than interest. On quiet feet, she followed the rocky trail until the animal was in view and discovered a mountain lion. She bit her lip and hesitated for an instant. Bag a mountain lion for me, she’d told him once. It irked her that her memories of him - the memories that hurt her the most – were also the most vivid. Suddenly angry, she launched herself at the animal and was shocked when it shot out from between her outstretched hands and hissed at her from a higher position, perched on a huge boulder. She stared at the beast, her pain forgotten, for a moment too long, and IT attacked HER. She didn’t even move out of the way, but she DID catch its front paws before it could shred her shirt. Three months without Jacob to bring her a new one would be very inconvenient.

Still the force of its jump drove her to the ground, and she grappled with it for an instant before it was subdued, and then she drank. It wasn’t better than bear, but it was sufficient. And at least there had been a moment of challenge. Nothing had been difficult for her in so long that she enjoyed the experience a great deal. Her enjoyment was short lived, however. Her over-active mind had drudged up an image of something she had never seen. She pictured him hunting this creature. Imagined what he would have done. She was fairly certain he wouldn’t have missed on the first attempt. However, the image that came to her was so perfect that it brought the pain tearing from her chest as surely as if she’d been confronted with him standing before her again. She dropped the lifeless carcass and sobbed brokenly, drawing her knees up to her chest and clutching them to her as if it might keep her dead heart from aching.

How long she sat, hysterical but tearless, she had no idea. A day could have passed, or two. Flies had come for the dead animal, but she hardly noticed. Finally, though, she felt her breath coming easier, and the pain that had taken up residence in her chest again was forced out of her thoughts by the stench. She needed to bury the damned cat before she started an epidemic or something. “What am I doing?” she asked herself defeatedly as she uncurled from the ground and stood.

“I believe the correct term is ‘poaching,’” a voice supplied quietly, with just a hint of an accent. Bella whirled.

Perhaps twenty feet away stood a fabulously beautiful woman with straight, black hair and exotic eyes. Bella blinked, comprehending instantly that this was not a human. She cursed herself for a fool for being so distracted. How could she possibly have missed the unmistakable scent of vampire?

“What?” she asked, though of course, she knew what poaching was.

“You’re hunting on our land,” the woman replied, narrowing her eyes. She clearly didn’t think much of Bella’s intelligence. For a few seconds Bella didn’t think much of her own intelligence either, but for some reason she was captivated by the woman’s eyes. Not dazzled, but certainly interested. They were the strangest eyes she had ever seen. They were black with thirst, but beyond that was something much more.....and the woman was too far away for Bella to really see it.

“I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I wasn’t aware there were – others – nearby.” A flash of memory caught her then – Laurent promising not to hunt on the Cullens' land, as if it would be discourteous for him to do so. Not that James had been in any way fussed about it. But she comprehended that she had broken a rule of vampire etiquette. What the consequence was to be, however, she did not know.

The woman seemed at a loss by this response. She changed the subject. “Your eyes are red, yet you clearly fed on that animal,” she gestured disdainfully at the decomposing mountain lion, her nose wrinkled.

“I was changed only a few months ago,” Bella replied nervously, still tense, as if her body expected an attack. When the woman asked her who had changed her, however, she tensed further. “She’s dead,” she replied evenly.

To her surprise the woman only nodded, as though she didn’t care at all. Perhaps she had not known Victoria, as Bella had first feared. “My name is Kate,” she said finally, stepping towards Bella hesitantly.

Bella tried to smile, and gave her name in return, forcing her hands to unclench. She watched Kate’s eyes widen in surprise and recognition, though the expression was quickly hidden.

“You’ve been living in the forest since your change?” she asked, and Bella nodded. “You should come back to the house with me and meet my sisters. I’m sure you’d enjoy a hot shower.”

If Bella could have blushed, she would have. She knew that in spite of the hairbrush Jacob had brought her, she looked a mess. Her clothes were torn (but thankfully not shredded), and worn. Her hair was a mess. “That’s very kind of you,” she said. “But you’re clearly thirsty. Perhaps we should hunt first?”

Together, they buried the mountain lion, and then they hunted. It was a silent pastime, which gave Bella time to think. Did she really want to go to this woman’s home? How close was it to humans? And how did this woman know her name? Had she seen the article in the paper that Jacob had brought to her? But then, she was certain she wasn’t in Washington anymore. Surely news of her ‘death’ hadn’t found its way into the local newspapers? By the time they’d each caught something, and buried the remains, Bella had determined to go with Kate and meet her sisters. After all, she couldn’t live in the forest forever. She wouldn’t impose on them. She had to be back in the pine grove to wait for Jacob anyway. But it would be good to have other allies. She retrieved her backpack before they set out, and then followed Kate, at a ridiculous speed, East and down into the valley.