Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

Seducing Ms Swan

Summary:
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...


Notes:
Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


15. Control

Rating 3.9/5   Word Count 7458   Review this Chapter

Is there a light
At the end of the road?
I'm pushing everyone away
'Cause I can't feel this anymore
Can't feel this anymore
Have you ever been so lost?
Known the way and still so lost?

I don’t know exactly when I came back around. I don’t think it happened all at once, more like in short drifts.

I didn’t know where I was.

It felt as though I was wading through a thick fog that, try as I might, I couldn’t quite escape. Sometimes I thought I could see shapes or hear voices through the never-ending white, yet when I tried to call out to them I found I couldn’t speak. I tried to run towards the sounds and figures, but it was futile; every time I felt like I was getting close they would disappear, slipping through my fingers like mist.

I was alone; powerless; lost.

The voices around me continued to fade in and out of audibility like a poor radio transmission. Sometimes I thought I could hear someone talking directly to me. A man. His voice called to me, soft and familiar yet sorrowful- a bittersweet melody written in the key of guilt. I tried to reach out for to? him, but I couldn’t move. I wasn’t sure where I ended and the fog began.

In my isolation, I began to dream.

I dreamt that I was overlooking a forest somewhere by the ocean at twilight. In the distance I could see a brown-haired girl standing all alone. I could see that she was crying, shouting, shaking with an emotion somewhere between grief and terror. It seemed like she was searching for someone; I thought I could hear her calling a name into the trees but to no avail. I wanted to help her and I tried to walk towards where she stood but she began to stumble away from me into the forest. I tried to follow her, but I couldn’t move fast enough. I cried out, but my voice seemed to be the trigger; the woods suddenly began to melt away, swallowing the girl up in a twisting mass of darkness.

A series of images began to flick by almost too quickly to process. They all featured the same girl, sometimes alone, sometimes with a tall, dark haired boy with russet coloured skin, but always with the same expression of sorrow on her heart shaped face. The visions were imperfect, however; they were dotted and faded like slides from an ancient reel of film. They bloomed into sight before dissolving and being reduced to memory, just like the years they seemed to represent.

Then everything changed again. The pictures solidified and another scene was set.

The forest had gone; the backdrop of the ocean had been replaced by a beautiful house set by the side of a large lake. It was snowing now. The girl was older; a young woman, with weariness and betrayal etched into her tired eyes. She was standing opposite a pale-faced young man with bronze hair, and she was crying again but there was also anger there this time. She was shouting something at him, but the words were unclear. Then the man kissed her. In my head I felt my breath catch. Yet too soon it was over; she pushed him away and took a step back, her entire body trembling. Again, I wanted to intervene, yet again, I was powerless. She ran, then the image flickered and she was on a motorbike, riding fast despite the ever thickening snowfall. Too fast.

Not looking where she was going, not paying attention to anything but the thoughts inside her own head, she turned out onto the main road.

And then, I knew what was going to happen. The last vestiges of the fog were blown away, the voices cut out completely. My memory came back as clear as glass, causing my perspective to shift at the speed of light. I was no longer the onlooker and the girl was no longer a stranger; we were one and the same and I was back in my own head, on the bike, speeding away from Edward, straight into the path of an oncoming truck.

The screech of a horn cleaved through the snow covered air and as I turned I saw a monstrous cargo truck skidding towards me …I tried to swerve the bike out of the vehicle’s path, but I had turned sharply into a patch of thick black ice, made worse by the fresh coating of unsalted snow… The bike squealed under my hands and did a sharp pin wheel, leaning heavily to one side and toppling over with me trapped painfully underneath…As I smashed my head against the cold, hard surface of the road, I knew I was a goner…

As the flashback gripped me, I knew I was only seconds away from the impact of collision and from having to relive the accident again. So I escaped in the only way available to me; I ripped my eyes open, breaking out of my mind…

I was greeted by a harsh bright light. It blinded me, burning into my retinas and I instinctively shut my eyes again. Yet even then the light continued to pulse against my lids. For a few seconds I panicked, thinking that I’d been hit by the truck after all and was lying face down in the snow. Then I realized that I wasn’t cold, or lying on hard ground. In fact, I wasn’t even in any real pain. I was surprisingly numb, although I ached slightly. You’ve had worse, I thought, vaguely. Much worse.

I could hear voices again, the same ones from earlier. They were closer now and much clearer, but I was still finding it a challenge to understand what they were actually saying.

I decided to brave opening my eyes again. Peeking through my eyelashes, I could see that I was lying in a hospital bed in a small, white-walled room. To my right was a large window, covered by a blind. Through the slits, I could make out a cloudy, snow saturated sky.

So it had really happened, then? Everything I had just seen, or rather dreamt had actually been my memories- the snow storm, my argument with Edward, his kiss and my escape on my bike. I thought for a moment, trying to remember.

He had told me loved me. That he had left for my own good. My stomach physically churned at the memory. I love you - all this time, all these years- wanted you to be happy - the desolation of his leaving- I’m so sorry- the pain his lies caused- To keep you safe- the nightmare that was Victoria… the damage done to Brady.

The nausea intensified as I remembered everything that had happened before my argument with Edward- the missed calls from Jacob and frantic phone messages, the news that Brady had had a heart attack, the uncontrollable guilt… As it all went through my mind, I remembered the way I had stood in the snow, screaming at Edward, damning him, blaming him for everything that had happened with Victoria.

I remembered how I had broken down and admitted the truth, telling Edward that I loved him too. Then he had kissed me. It had been electrifying and terrifying at the same time, wonderful but terrible. It had scared me. I had pulled away and run to my bike, unable to deal with my own emotions or the potential repercussions of everything that had just happened.

The crash. That part must have been real too; that would explain why I was in hospital now. But, there couldn’t have actually been a collision, I decided; if there had been I surely wouldn’t be alive now.

So, despite all the odds, I had somehow managed to avoid most certain death. Again. It’s like I’ve just walked off the set of ‘Final Destination’, I thought wryly to myself. Joking aside, though, I knew that my miraculous survival could not have been pure luck. I had had outside help. I knew at once who had saved me, but that didn’t stop me from turning my head ever so slightly to check if my theory was correct.

And it was. Of course it was.

Standing a few feet to the left of me was the one person I simultaneously most dreaded and most longed to see. Edward’s fists were clenched and his beautiful face was contorted with emotion. His eyes were set on a spot somewhere by my head, out of my field of vision- the same place that the main voice in the room seemed to be coming from, but almost the very second that I moved my head, his eyes snapped to look at me.

I couldn’t help but shiver under the intensity of his gaze. As I looked into his darkened irises, the full force of everything we had said to each other the night of the accident - the last time I had looked into those eyes- came back to me, hitting me like a wave.

I forced myself not to cringe as I remembered the way I had cried and shouted, trying my hardest to break Edward in every way possible. I had said some awful things. I had lied, too; I had all but blamed him for Brady’s death, and that wasn’t completely his fault. It was mine, too. I had told the pack that Brady could protect me on his own; I was the walking danger magnet.

So I had lied, yet, somehow, I couldn’t find it within myself to feel guilty. Edward had lied too, and the scale of his lies made mine look totally insignificant in comparison.

He loves me.

I still couldn’t process it. I kept repeating it in my head, thinking that it would make more sense, or shed some light on the whole sorry mess that was Edward’s logic. He had lied to protect me. He had ruined my life to save it.

No, it still didn’t make any sense. It was still the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.

Somewhere, deep beneath the numbness of painkillers and confusion of waking up after being unconscious, I could feel some of my anger returning. It was distant and slow bubbling, yet there all the same. I tore my eyes from Edward, feeling that if I kept on looking him and remembering more of what he had said, I would soon start re-enacting our argument in the snow.

It was only as I stopped focusing on Edward, that I began to pay attention to the other people in the room. Edward’s family was here, but they weren’t looking at me, they were looking at someone else, listening to the same person somewhere beside me who had so caught Edward’s attention. For the first time, I concentrated on the voice, catching the tail end of a sentence.

“-out of words, leech? Dried up your well of empty apologies?”

The flash of recognition was immediate.

I know that voice.

But what was he doing here? He was supposed to be in Forks…

“Jake, is that you?” I croaked, realising for the first time how hoarse my throat was. With great effort I managed to heave myself up into a sitting position. Ouch.That really hurt. My heart sank- judging by past experience, I had broken at least one rib. As I moved, I sensed rather than saw Edward take an involuntary step forwards, as though to help me, but I pretended I hadn’t noticed anything. Instead, I looked up just in time to see none other than Jacob Black turning around to face me.

“Bella!” he cried, “you’re awake!”

Well, obviously.

“Um, hi,” I said, lamely.

“How do you feel?” Jacob seemed anxious.

“Sore,” I said. I twisted my torso slightly, trying to test the rib theory, and winced. This time, there was no doubt about it- Edward definitely moved towards me. He seemed to think better of it, though, and attempted to mask the movement as him simply shifting from foot to foot. The whole thing was so unlike him with his usual poised demeanour, that I couldn’t help but stare. He’s nervous, I thought to myself with amazement.

I watched Edward for a couple of seconds. He looked overwhelmed by emotion. His eyes were on me as though he was transfixed. It was unnerving.

I looked back at Jacob and noticed for the first time that he, too, seemed different. His face was flushed, and his breathing very slightly faster than usual as though he had been shouting. I wondered how long they had been like this, in my room, before I’d woken up. I began to wonder what had happened, and what they had said to each other. I had never expected- or wanted- to have Edward and Jacob in close proximity to each other ever again, and now that it had happened I was unsure how to react.

“So, um, what’s the damage?” I asked, tentatively. I didn’t actually want to know so much as I simply wanted to break the silence. I looked at Carlisle as I said this.

From his spot next to Edward, Carlisle reeled off a list of my injuries, none of which sounded dramatically serious. I said as much, but nobody looked at me; they were all watching Jacob.

“What’s going on?” I asked, confused, “Jake, what are you doing here?”

He didn’t miss a beat in answering. “I’m saving you from being devoured by a bunch of leeches.”

His words made me gasp. “Jacob!” I admonished, looking quickly at the Cullens, who were all glaring at him with severe dislike. I heard somebody- I was pretty sure it was Emmett- growl something along the lines of “If he says that one more time-

“Jake, you know the Cullens aren’t like that,” I said, intervening before Jacob could spark off inter-species warfare. “They don’t drink human blood, you know that. They wouldn’t hurt me.”

“Wouldn’t hurt you?” Jacob almost choked in on? his indignation. “Then please explain to me why you’re here.”

Before I could say anything, Edward spoke again. His voice was low and quiet, but with a deadly edge to it. “We’ve already been through this, Black. It was a motorcycle accident.” He stopped there, but the rest was implicit; and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop accusing us.

Forget Final Destination; this was swiftly turning into The Godfather, albeit a supernatural re-make.

“Whatever, bloodsucker. Even if you didn’t have anything to do with the accident, you can’t try and plead ‘not guilty’ for the way she looks. If ‘emotional mind-fuck’ was a perfume, Bella would be on a billboard ad in Time’s effing Square.”

Um, what?

“What on earth are you talking about?”

Jacob looked at me, his eyes full of concern. “Bella, no offence, but you look awful, even without the injuries. I haven’t seen you look this sad and run-down since… well, since they left the last time.”

“Wow… thanks,” I said blankly. I didn’t know how else to respond.

“I’m just trying to say that even if ‘Edward’ didn’t hurt you physically it’s blatantly obvious he’s done some sort of emotional damage!”

I opened my mouth but then closed it again, finding myself unable to speak. I wanted to correct Jacob. I wanted to tell him, as I had done in our first phone call after Edward’s arrival in my classroom all those weeks ago, that Edward would never hurt me, but I couldn’t; I couldn’t make the words come out, because it simply wasn’t true anymore. Edward had hurt me; he had caused ‘emotional damage’, as Jacob put it. He had willingly and consciously lied to me in a way which had ramifications for years afterwards- in a way which was still hurting me to this very day. You could even say that what Edward had done was worse than simply causing physical hurt. Scars can heal, but the pain he had left me with had proved to be much more long-lasting.

I could feel everybody’s eyes upon me, Edward’s especially. I knew how the fact I had failed to defend him must look, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie just to save his feelings.

I tried to change the subject before the awkwardness of the pause could get any worse.

“Jake, even if I am hurt, that’s no reason for you to come all this way. They need you in Forks. Carole and Brady need you.”

“I-they-that doesn’t matter,” Jacob seemed thrown off course by my words and tried to change the subject. “I should have come here weeks ago. I should never have let you convince me that Cullen wasn’t dangerous. Everything that’s happened just shows that you’d be far safer at home, in Forks, which is what I’ve been saying all along.”

“What, with you?” Edward seemed to have reached his breaking-point. I didn’t totally blame him; Jake was being especially trying.

“Yeah, with me, you pathetic piece of-”

“If you think that I’m going to let Bella run around with a pack of jumped up hormonal puppy dogs then-”

“’Let’ her? ‘LET’ her? It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you. You don’t own her!”

“Neither do you!”

“I know her a lot better than you do!”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, really!”

“How’d you work that one out?”

“Because I never would have been stupid enough to think that leaving her and breaking her heart would make her happy!”

Edward winced, as though he had been slapped. Evidently, they had already covered this whilst I was asleep. “You know I’d do anything to take that back.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s done, it happened and we’re all still trying to live with the consequences. Just accept that you had your chance and you blew it. Let her come home.”

“She isn’t safe with you. You’re a werewolf!”

“And you’re a vampire!”

“AND I’M A FUCKING VIRGO!” I practically screamed, almost scaring the two of them out of their wits.

Everybody in the room looked at me, shocked, but I didn’t care. I was mad. My head hurt, my bones ached, I was covered in gauze and bandages and attached to frikking tubes and instead of simply being allowed to sleep like I wanted, I’d found myself thrown into the middle of a superhuman squabbling match between two people who were most definitely old enough to know better. I glared at them so fiercely, I actually saw Jacob take a step back.

“I am not a piece of meat,” I said, enunciating each syllable with painful clarity. “It is not up to either of you to decide what I do or where I go.” I looked at Edward, “I don’t care that you’re a vampire,” I looked at Jacob, “and I don’t care that you’re a werewolf. I’ve never given a crap about any of that. All I care about right now is that you are both acting like a couple of total dicks.”

I half expected them both to point at each other and shout ‘he started it!’, based on how immaturely they were both acting. They said nothing, however, just glared at each other. I groaned.

“You know what? This isn’t going to work. It’s obvious you can’t be in the same room with each other without fighting, so I’ll talk to you separately.”

I had no doubt as to who I wanted to speak to first. I still wasn’t happy with the explanation Jacob had given as to why he had left Brady’s side to come here, even though he had known that my injuries weren’t life threatening. Furthermore, I was no where near ready to confront Edward just yet. I still had no idea what I was going to say to him. Calming down Jacob would buy me more time.

“Jake, stay here. Everyone else…” I looked at the other Cullens. I felt a bit embarrassed that they had to witness this. It was a bit like being in charge of two naughty toddlers who kept acting out in the supermarket.

Luckily, Carlisle seemed to understand my discomfort. “Okay everybody, time to leave.” Alice, Emmett and Jasper all turned to leave immediately, barely even pausing to throw a parting glare at Jacob. I had a feeling that they were relieved to escape the tension which had built up in the small room.

Edward, on the other hand, didn’t move a muscle. “I’m not leaving you with him.”

I rolled my eyes. “Please, Edward. I pretty much spent the last two years of my adolescence alone with Jacob. If he was a threat I think I would’ve discovered it before now.”

Edward looked like he wanted to object, but a few well chosen words from Carlisle managed to persuade him. Guided by his father, he took a few jerky steps towards the door. He paused to look at Jacob.

“I’ll be right outside here, Black. If there’s any trouble…” he trailed off, his intent clear.

Jacob didn’t seem to be able to resist another smart comment. “Bite me. Oh wait, on second thought, don’t.” Edward growled.

“Oh for God’s sake,” I groaned. “Jacob, sit down and shut the hell up. Edward, it’s fine. I’ll talk to you later. Good bye.”

I stared at him, trying to make my eyes as persuasive as possible. I hoped against hope that my promise to talk to him after Jacob had left would be enough to win him over. Finally, it seemed to work. Edward turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Jacob rounded on me. “What are you doing? Why did you let him go? I’m not done with him by a long shot; if he thinks-”

I ignored him. I had had enough of Jacob and his smart mouth for one day. My patience with him totally exhausted, I said bluntly: “What are you doing here?” My question cut Jacob off mid-rant. He looked at me, open-mouthed, the many rude names he had devised for Edward still hanging in the air.

After a few seconds, he regained his composure, pretending to look hurt by my question. “What, so a guy can’t check that his best friend is okay after she’s been in a life-endangering ‘accident’?”

“He can, but that’s what a telephone is for.” I chose not to acknowledge the scepticism he had attached to the word ‘accident’. “People don’t usually fly two thousand miles to visit someone in the hospital for a couple of broken bones, especially not when they’ve got as much going on at home as you do.”

Jacob looked stung. “Are you accusing me of being a bad alpha? Or husband? Is that what this is?”

“No,” I replied calmly, “I’m just trying to work out why you’re here.”

“I told you, I’m here to stop Cullen from turning you into casserole!” He said it in an angry, patronising tone, as if it was obvious.

I shook my head, “No, that’s not the only reason. There’s something else.”

There was a pause. “Bella, are you trying to be annoying? Just spit out what you’re trying to say.” He was getting angry, but then again so was I. I was too tired for these games, and I was sure he was making getting to the bottom of this difficult on purpose.

“You’ve known all along that Edward wasn’t going to do me any harm. Ever since he arrived in Rochester I’ve been telling you that he was safe for me to be around.” Even as I said it, I knew Jacob would object.

“Safe?! Bella, I keep saying this but for God’s sake just LOOK at the state you’re in! Broken ribs and burns and God knows what else and all because-”

I groaned. Here we go again. “This wasn’t Edward’s fault! It was a motorcycle accident; it’ could’ve just as easily happened in Forks. He might be guilty of many things, but my hospitalization is not one of them. He saved me from that truck and he’s the only reason I’m not smeared across the highway right now!” Jacob flinched at the visual and I felt satisfied. I wanted what I was saying to hit home.

“Look,” I continued, lowering my voice to a more sociable tone, “think about it rationally. The Cullens have been here for over a month. If any of them really wanted to hurt me they would’ve done it before now. Don’t try and tell me that you thought they were just biding their time for the last seven weeks, because I don’t believe you.”

Jacob was suddenly avoiding my eyes, his gaze fixed on a random spot on the floor. “I don’t understand what you mean,” he said, clearly trying to keep his tone casual. However something about his body language told me he had an idea of what I was implying.

“I’m saying that I think everything you’ve said about coming to Rochester to protect me from Edward and his family is just a cover- an excuse. It’s not the real reason you’re here.” I couldn’t help but marvel slightly at my own boldness. It was totally out of character for me to be this blunt, but I felt it was necessary. I suppose that finding out the truth about Edward and our resultant shouting match had knocked some sense in to me, or at least it had shown that the only way to avoid misunderstandings was through complete honesty.

“Then what is the real reason?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. Jacob snorted, but I ignored him. I knew that there was something up; something he wasn’t telling me. It didn’t add up. Sure, I was hurt, but that didn’t justify Jacob blowing all of his savings on a plane ticket to Rochester and leaving his pregnant wife and dying friend behind just to see me. That was how the old Jacob would have behaved- the rash, hot-headed 15 year old he had been when we were teenagers. It wasn’t who he was now; becoming alpha and meeting Carole had calmed him down and made him more rational, so I was at a total loss as to why he was acting like this. What could possibly have made him decide to abandon all his responsibilities in Forks and come running to me?

Unless… unless it was the responsibilities that were the problem? That the pressure from being in charge at such a difficult time had just been too much to take, to the point where running felt like the only option? And, as I thought this, it clicked. Everything began to make sense.

“Is this…” I hesitated, unsure of how to say what I was thinking without upsetting Jacob any further. “Is this… has this got something to do with Brady?”

Jacob didn’t answer. I could only see a small portion of his face now; he had turned away from me so that he was facing the opposite wall. His features were stiff and expressionless, but I could tell that he was listening.

“It has, hasn’t it? That’s the real reason you’re here.” It might’ve been a question, but I wasn’t expecting an answer. Jacob didn’t give me one. “You’re scared,” I continued. “You’re scared for Brady. You’re scared that he might die.”

He still wasn’t looking at me. It was as if he was trying to move as far away from me and my words as possible; as if by ignoring what I had to say, he could make it untrue.

I thought about it some more. Now it all made sense. That was just so Jacob. Thinking that he had to be strong and brave the entire time, and freaking out the moment he got scared. Refusing help or guidance to the point where he almost caved under the pressure.

“You want to do something, but you can’t,” I said slowly, thinking out loud, “you can’t stop what’s happening to Brady. You can’t stop the rest of the pack from expecting the worst. You’ve never felt so powerless and it scares you.” I looked at him. He had turned around and was staring at me.

“You’re w-wrong,” he said. He was trying to appear unmoved by what I was saying but the tremor in his voice gave him away.

“Am I?” I questioned, looking at him closely. “I don’t think so, somehow. You are scared; I can see it in your eyes, Jake.” I thought about everything he was going through, trying to put myself in his shoes. “It’s like you’re trying your hardest to be strong for the rest of the pack and support them, but inside you feel like screaming. You feel lost and isolated, but you can’t admit it to anyone because that would be admitting that you’re not in control. You don’t know how to deal with everything that’s happening, so you’re trying to ignore it and push it away by focusing on something else.”

By focusing on me.

Because that was it, wasn’t it? By coming here, under the cover of ‘saving me’, Jacob was essentially just putting off dealing with what was happening to Brady. He would think about that later, some other day- right now he had Bella to save, Bella to worry about. I would be a lot easier to ‘save’ than Brady, especially seeing as, deep down, Jacob knew I wasn’t in any real danger.

“I think that you wanted so badly to be doing something, instead of just sitting and waiting for bad news that when you heard about my accident you jumped at the chance to make yourself useful and take control,” I said quietly. I looked at Jacob, and I knew I was right. It was written all over his face.

I paused, not wanting to voice what else I thought. I also suspected that somehow, the situation with Brady had worsened Jake’s insecurities to do with Carole’s being pregnant and his becoming a father, but I wasn’t going to say that. It was one thing for me to talk about Brady, where we both had common ground, but Carole was a totally different area. I had no right to speculate about their relationship; that was something which was private and precious to the two of them. Anyway, Jacob was already shaken up enough by what I had said.

He was staring wildly at me, searching in vain for words with which to rebuke my accusation.

“Shut up!” he finally said, unintentionally coming across as a ten-year old. Had I been anyone else- except, obviously, for Carole- Jacob would’ve sworn at me, or threatened me. But I was Bella, his oldest and closest friend, which left him in a total dilemma as to how to respond to what I had just said. This internal conflict was clear, as he continued to speak. “Just...just shut up. That’s not it, that’s not how it is at all…” he ran a hand through his hair, his hands trembling. “You can’t just lie there and say this kind of stuff… or try to tell me what I think or how I feel, like it has to be true. You don’t know me, you don’t…” he trailed off. I think he realized, even as he said the words, that he was talking crap.

Because the thing was, I did know him. I knew Jacob Black like I knew myself; years of friendship had made me used to every little movement, gesture or thought. If he’d been a subject, I would have passed with top grades. That’s how I could tell what was going through his head; that’s how I knew that all this bravado about ‘murdering Cullen’ was just a cover- an alibi for what he was really doing. Running. Trying to leave himself and his responsibilities behind.

I watched Jacob. He was determinedly not looking me in the eye. I think he was trying not to cry. I instantly felt guilty. This is your fault, I scolded myself. Here’s your oldest friend, he’s been worried sick about you and this is how you repay him? By ripping away his defences and psycho-analysing him within an inch of his life. Yes, I felt bad.

But, at the same time, I’d come to realize that by not confronting what was going on with Brady, Jacob and I were just making things harder for ourselves. Six weeks ago, I could barely even say Brady’s name without crying, but that was before my argument with Edward; that was before I had been forced to tell the story to the Cullens. Now, after having relived everything that had happened that night with Victoria, I felt more able to deal with it. It was as though ignoring the problem had just allowed it to grow bigger and more suffocating. Facing it head on had somehow helped dispel some of the pain.

However, that didn’t mean I wanted to see Jacob break down. “Jake…” I said quietly, using all the strength I could muster to try and shift myself in the bed, leaving a small space on the edge for him to perch on. He just shook his head, his eyes still downcast.

“No, I’m fine, I don’t need your sympathy,” he muttered. That hurt, even though I knew I probably deserved it. There were definitely tears pricking the corners of his eyes now. The guilt intensified.

“Jacob,” I repeated, firmly. I had to stop this; I had to help him. Forget everything else; forget the fact that the Cullens were standing outside, or that I was strapped to a hospital bed with multiple injuries. The most important thing in my life at the moment was ensuring that my oldest and best friend was okay. At the repetition of his name, Jake reluctantly looked at me and the sight of his eyes, red and wild almost made me break down in tears myself. “Come here,” I whispered.

Slowly, shakily Jacob crossed to my bedside, where he sunk to his knees. Tears were falling silently down his cheeks now and his hands were shaking as I took them, reaching out with my left, undamaged, arm. He was saying something, but I wasn’t sure what; it was too quiet to hear. It could’ve been anything from an apology to a prayer. Whatever he said I had an inkling that it wasn’t for my ears; I wasn’t the one he wanted to speak to. That person lay inert and unreachable, speeding away to somewhere neither of us could follow.

I felt something hot roll down my cheek and realised that I was crying too.

“He’s dying, Bella,” Jacob finally managed to say, his voice muffled.

“I know.”

“He’s only eighteen.”

“I know. I… I’m so sorry.”

There was a long silence. I didn’t know what else to say. So I just sat with Jake as he knelt by me, his head resting against the side of the bed, his cheek touching the mattress. I rubbed his arm, trying to be consoling.

After what seemed like an eternity, Jake’s breathing began to slow. I didn’t speak; I knew he’d talk when he was ready. More moments passed then, with what seemed like extreme effort, he straightened up and looked at me.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I don’t know why you’re apologizing.”

“You were right, I shouldn’t be here.”

“That’s not what I said-”

“But it’s true all the same.” He sighed, getting up and pressing both hands against the wall. He leant against it, staring blankly at the space in front of him. When he spoke again, he didn’t seem to be addressing me in particular, more just thinking out loud. “I…I just wish there was something I could do.”

“I wish there was a way to help him…but there isn’t. That’s the hardest thing to accept; that everything is beyond the pack’s control, even though whatever happens will affect all of us.”

I just nodded. I knew how much it sucked to have the power to control your own future taken away from you- to have something or someone else make your choices for you. I couldn’t help but wonder if Edward was listening to this conversation.

“I don’t blame you,” I told him, after a while, “not for any of it, especially not for being scared. I was terrified when I got your phone messages the other night- I was planning to get a plane home straight away, but then… well, this happened.” I gestured at the monitors and wires that surrounded me. I shook my head. “You were right. I really am a liability- a walking disaster.”

Jake laughed, albeit weakly. “You weren’t totally right, you know,” he said, after a pause. He was playing absent-mindedly with the edge of my covers, but looked up at me as he said this. “I was worried about what Cullen might have done to you. You have to admit, the circumstances seemed pretty sketchy. It is totally out of character for you to have an accident on that bike, let alone decide to ride it in a snowstorm. I mean, who does that, Bells?”

I grimaced. “That was… an oversight.”

“An ‘oversight’?!” Jacob said, unable to keep a hint of incredulity from his voice. “It was bat-shit crazy! Cullen-induced insanity.”

I laughed, despite myself.

There was a pause, before Jacob spoke again. I saw his expression had grown more serious and I felt my smile melt away, knowing what he was going to say.

“I know you don’t want to hear this,” he began, “but… well, I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said I don’t think it’s safe for you here. I really think that you should come back to Forks with me, when you’re better. It doesn’t feel right leaving you here with them.” I raised my eyebrow at him. “Okay, with him,” Jacob admitted.

I sighed. I didn’t want to be having this discussion again. Despite my evident distaste, Jacob continued.

“He doesn’t love you.”

“Thanks, Jake.”

“I’m sorry, but if he did he never would have left. He might think he does, but-”

“We aren’t having this discussion,” I said firmly. I couldn’t talk to Jacob about this, not when Edward was standing right outside the door.

“What, so you’re just going to take him back?” Jacob asked, hotly. His temper was building up again. “After everything he’s put you through, after all the damage he’s done?” He glared at me, a mixture of exasperation, concern and anger on his face.

I kept my mouth firmly shut. Just as I hadn’t commented on Jacob’s relationship with Carole earlier, I was not prepared to discuss what was happening between me and Edward with anyone but the man himself.

On realizing that he had hit a dead end, Jacob changed tactics at the speed of light.

“Come on Bella, come home to Forks. I know you miss it; you’ve said so enough times.” He shot me a persuasive look, which I resolutely ignored. This was a line of argument that was much more likely to wear me down, and we both knew it. I resisted, however, knowing that it was just a ruse- another ploy in Jacob’s master plan entitled, ‘Get Bella Away From Cullen’.

Jacob, however, seemed relentless in his dedication to said plan.

“Charlie would love to have you back home, and even if he didn’t then you’d be welcome to come and stay with us. You could crash on the couch or something- I’m sure Carole wouldn’t mind.” He looked at me, hopefully.

I rolled my eyes at him. Men. They really were clueless. “I’m sure Carole would mind,” I corrected him. “You’re married, she’s pregnant and you have twins due in June. No woman wants her husband’s ex-girlfriend coming to live in their sitting room, especially not one who has two humans growing inside her uterus.” Even Carole’s tolerance had a limit.

“Oh, yeah,” Jacob conceded. “Maybe that isn’t such a great idea.”

“Nope.”

“But like I said,” he resumed, not to be deterred, “Charlie would love to have you… or Seth! He’d love to see a bit more of you.” Here, Jacob waggled his eyebrows. I sighed, not amused.

“I’m not going to come back to Forks with you,” I said plainly. Jacob tried to object, but I cut him off. It was time to put a stop to this, once and for all.

“Look, Jacob,” I began firmly, “this is the last time I’m going to say this.” I was getting so bored of having this same discussion, both with him and Edward. “You have to let me look after myself. It’s my life and it’s up to me to decide what’s best for me. Not you, not Edward. I know you’re never going to trust Edward; I know you’ll always think that he’s dangerous and that he doesn’t deserve me. I accept that. But if you can’t trust him then you do at least have to trust me and my ability to look after myself.”

“Believe me when I say that I would never consciously put myself in danger. Have enough faith in me to make my own choices.” Despite what certain people thought, I was perfectly capable of deducing what was ‘for my own good’.

“You’re my friend,” I continued, “and if you really do care about me as much as you say you do, then it shouldn’t matter to you whether I leave Edward tomorrow, or whether I’m with him forever. It’s my choice. I need to know that you’ll stand by me, whatever I do. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’.”

I looked at Jacob levelly and he returned my gaze. Finally, he sighed, the muscles in his face loosened and I knew I’d won.

“Okay. Okay,” he said, in a beaten voice. “Fine. Do what you want. Just don’t expect me to be doing cartwheels if you take the leech back.”

“I won’t,” I sighed. I wasn’t stupid; I knew a line had to be drawn somewhere. Whatever happened in the future, Jacob and Edward would never be friends.

“So… you’re going to stay here,” Jake said, in a resigned voice. It was crystal clear he wasn’t happy with my choice, but he wasn’t going to challenge it, not after my speech.

“Yes.” At least for now. “I have things I need to discuss with Edward.” Who knows what I’ll want after that?

“What things?”

“You know I’m not going to answer that.”

Jacob shrugged. “It was worth a shot.”

I laughed again; I couldn’t help it. Jacob half grinned at me, getting to his feet. I wanted to stand up with him, but remembered at the last minute where I was. All the drama had almost distracted me from my injuries. I looked down at my bandaged arms, and ran a hand very gently over my torso. I winced, as I touched above one of my broken ribs. I noticed Jacob watching me. Not wanting him to think I was too weak for him to leave, I hastily asked:

“You’ll be okay?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

I made a face at him and he sighed. “Fine. Yes, I’llbe okay. I’ll call Carole and get an update on Brady... apologize for being such a shitty husband… then I guess I’d better arrange for a flight home.”

“I’ll pay some of your fare,” I said, immediately, “I feel bad that you spent all that money to come here.”

Jacob just waved his hand. “Don’t be stupid.” He leant down and kissed me carefully on the cheek. “See you later Bells,” he said, just managing to crack a sad sort-of smile, “I’ll come say ‘bye before I leave for the airport. Check Cullen hasn’t interpreted my absence as an opportunity to eat you.” I scowled at him and he laughed, “just kidding.” He rose again, moving towards the door.

“Keep me updated on Brady,” I said quickly. Now that the time for ‘goodbyes’ had come, I suddenly felt scared for him to leave. His going meant that I would have to confront Edward. Jacob just nodded, but carried on walking away.

“And Jake?” I called after him. He paused, his hand on the door handle, looking back at me over his shoulder.

“Yeah?”

I took a breath, “despite what I said… I was still glad that you came to see me… it meant a lot. Thank you.”

“Any time, Bells.”

And then he was gone, and I was alone again, with nothing left between me, Edward and the dreaded discussion I knew would have to come.