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Dream Jacob/OC. Post-Eclipse. Elizabeth Foster is your typical grad student. When she interns on a summer research project looking for dire wolves in the Olympic Peninsula, she finds more than she bargained for.


8. Now and Forever

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PART EIGHT: Now and Forever

[Elizabeth POV]

Dr. Cullen said that I was doing well and he was comfortable letting me go. Without my having to ask, a sweet-faced nurse brought me a set of scrubs to replace my ruined clothing. She closed the door, took the shirt from my shaky hands and helped me put it on. I'm not good at that, asking for help. If I'm okay, then I don't need help. If I need help... Well, you get the picture.

They had a sling for my right arm, to prevent me from using the torn muscles in my shoulder. It itched at the back of my neck, and I was grateful when the nurse quietly offered to braid my hair. I sat still, eyes half-closed as she pulled a brush through the long, unruly curls. It reminded me of being a child, of simpler days when my mother had done this for me. I had always found it soothing then, too. The nurse separated out the strands and began to twist them, and I wondered idly where the others had gone. Kat had been working herself up to a fury. Jake... I frowned. I wasn't sure what he would do.

Jake. How was I supposed to handle that? In the light of day, when I was alone, the drugs mostly gone and the pain less intense, it seemed easy to call it all a big misunderstanding. I'd been delirious, he'd gotten the wrong idea, end of story. Right?

I looked down at my left hand. My empty, lonely left hand. The hand that had never looked right since the day I'd taken my ring off. White gold, with an oval diamond and two smaller sapphires, one on each side, I could still see it with perfect clarity in my mind. Josh said he'd picked it because the sapphires made him think of my eyes. I clenched my hand into a fist, refusing to feel the weight of that phantom ring. It was still in my jewelry box at the apartment, hidden away in a small velvet pouch. I'd cried for three days after his mother refused to take it. She'd said it was mine, that Josh would never have forgiven her if she took it from me. She didn't seem to understand that I didn't want his ring... I wanted Josh.

The tears were in my eyes as the nurse tied off my hair. I smiled at her, murmured my thanks. I think she asked if I wanted to wait in the room for my friends to come back. I just nodded, trying to get my balance back in that place where I could be okay. I was so close, but Kat was the first person through the door. She took one look at my face, and damn her, she knew me too well; I couldn't hide it. When I closed my eyes, I felt the tears roll down my cheeks.

Without a word, she turned around and herded the three giants on her heels back out into the hallway. The moment I heard Jake's voice, vigorously protesting, I started shaking. "Embry... Please." Kat's voice was an urgent whisper. "Help me, help him. Give me a few minutes to pull her back together. Please." The door shut firmly, and then Kat was running across the room to me. There were no questions, she knew the answers already. She simply gathered me into her arms, rocking me back and forth as I sobbed against her shoulder.

"Shhh, it's okay. It's okay, Betts. That's right, just let it go." I hadn't done this in nearly a year. I don't know that I could ever call myself cured, but I had felt reasonably bulletproof. That was before the wolf dreams, before the forest, before the silver cord sang in my head, trying to reach through the walls to find its match. "Elizabeth, what am I going to do with you, missy?" Kat was trying to keep her tone light, but I could hear the tears in her voice, too. "Dragging me up here, making me deal with those rude boys, and now you're getting my shirt all wet." She rested her cheek against the top of my head, her arms tightening around me. It hurt the wounds on my back, but I didn't care.

"I'm sorry..."

"Sorry for what?" She laughed softly. "For an excess of love? Literature is full of all the tragic souls who can't live without their loves. You are living, Betts. I know how hard it is, everyday. But you're still fighting. You're still here." More laughter, but now I knew she was crying. "Screw Juliet, what a pathetic little wimp. You're the heroine, Betts."

I took a shaky breath. "I don't feel like one." I felt damaged, incomplete; like a very weak, pathetic little girl. "I miss him so much."

"I know."

When Josh had lived and breathed, I had never once looked away from him. Not even for a moment. Once he...stopped, a part of me had stopped, too. A very large and vital part of me. I'd been alright with that, I'd had my chance and ruined it, a lifetime of penance didn't seem long enough. But now something inside of me was trying to wake up. I'd come to Washington expecting to face my fears and put them to rest. Instead I'd stuck my hand in a hornet's nest, pain and fear poised to sting me at the first wrong move. Beneath it all was the relentless thrum of something deep and immutable, something that connected to me to Jacob Black in a way I wasn't ready to face. I already had a soulmate, I didn't need another.

"Are you okay?" Kat's hand rubbed my arm, and she pressed a kiss to the top of my head. I realized that the tears had stopped and that I was leaning against her, spent and quiet.

"Do I have to answer that question?"

"No," she said gently. "I'm just not sure how much longer we can expect the three stooges to wait out in the hallway."

I sat up, wincing as my stitches pulled. "Oh god, we have to run the gauntlet to get out of here, don't we?"

"That's one way of putting it," she replied wryly. Then her eyes became serious. "He wants to see you, Beth. Whatever you want, you know I'll back you all the way." She hesitated, smoothing her hand down my braid. "But my instincts say you're too raw right now."

"My instincts say you're right... but that it doesn't matter, he's not going to accept that answer." I closed my eyes.

"Depends on how much you want to hurt him," she murmured, and I shivered. "Okay, well, what I'm thinking is that we take my car for now and go back to the motel the research team is using. I think you need to rest for another day or so before you try to drive a car for seven hours."

She meant drive to Corvallis, of course. The one place I most hated to be in the summer. Okay, I didn't have to face that for another few days at least. One thing at a time.

"Yeah, that sounds like a good plan." I tried to remember if there was anything in my car that I needed. "My purse is in the Accord. Does someone have my cellphone?" She didn't answer me for a long moment, and when I turned to look at her, she was blushing. "Kat..."

"Um, yeah. I can get it back for you." She was playing it way too nonchalant. I knew her better than that.

"Uh-huh." I arched an eyebrow. "So... where did it run off to?"

"Hmmm..." Getting to her feet, she took great care in smoothing her skirt. "I think Embry has it right now." She glanced back at me over her shoulder, the soul of innocence, as I followed her. "You have night-time minutes on your plan, right?"

"Yeah, nights and weekends."

"Oh good."

Okay, there was no way she was getting off scot-free, not when she was dropping those sorts of hints. I would have grilled her on the spot, but the forbearance of the boys waiting in the hall had run out. The door swung open and Jake filled the doorway, massive and imposing. I rocked back on my heels, nearly staggering as I rushed to avoid his gaze. A tremor went through me, and I realized that I was fighting the desire to be close to him. Jaw clenched, I fought harder, silently blessing Kat as she stepped firmly in front of me.

"Not right now, Jacob Black."

His dark eyes dropped to her face, and for just a moment... his expression wasn't quite human. Something predatory slid behind his gaze and looked out at her, contemplating how to dispatch the obstacle she presented. Fear seized my heart, and I moved to intervene. "No Jake," I whispered. "Please." I felt his eyes on me, and a compulsion to look up at him so strong that it made my neck ache to resist. I gasped but kept my eyes down, and the tension became unbearable.

"Are you alright?" his voice was tightly controlled, but just breaking the silence dissolved the tension enough that I could breathe again.

"I'm okay." My voice was shaking, I wanted to run, hide, be anywhere but here. But yeah, I was peachy.

What he did then shocked me. Reaching out, his hands took mine, nearly swallowing them in their too-warm grasp. "I'm sorry, Beth." I could sense he was making an effort to keep his voice soft and gentle. "I know you don't understand all of this. I don't completely, either. I know I've pushed you. I'm going to try my best to let you decide how we do this from here." The sincerity in his voice, the desperate plea in his words pulled at my heart, and before I could catch myself, I met his eyes.

I drowned in their dark, velvet depths, and suddenly I was in the woods again... standing so close to the giant wolf that I could have reached out and brushed his whiskers with my fingertips.

"Beth... Beth, are you okay?" Kat had a hold on my arm, shaking me gently.

I blinked, shook my head to clear it, and looked to find Jake just as staggered as I was. But when our gaze met the second time, he smiled, a look of fierce relief in his eyes. My heart was pounding as I let Kat steer me out of the room, all three boys stepping politely aside for us before falling in at our heels like a guard of honor. I had the ridiculous impulse to salute as our procession made it through the lobby and out the doors.

Kat settled me into the front seat of her burgundy Xterra before collecting my keys and cellphone from Embry and fetching my purse. As we pulled away, bound for the motel, my eyes strayed to the three of them. They were standing like statues at the treeline, and I wondered how they were planning to go wherever it was they were going. I glanced at Kat, thinking to ask her, but when I glanced back to the place they'd be standing... they were gone, almost as though they had never been there at all.