Fire Becomes Ice

15. Sacrifice

I came to tell you about the intruder.

She read the words on the paper, shaking her head questioningly, and then wrote down her response.

What are you talking about?

There was a vampire in your room a few nights ago. We don't know who it was or what they wanted. Whoever it was took your things, maybe for your scent.

Her mouth fell agape, and Bella felt a shock of fear pulse through her body. Her pillow, blouse, and socks had not been found since she'd returned from Alice's slumber party. And now thinking about it, she was realizing how that sneaky clairvoyant had been so insistent on driving her to school the past couple of days…and Jacob had been ordered to guard her the night before. But from what?

The Volturi?

She angled her query before him, but he shook his head. Bella did not hesitate, reaching the paper once again and scribbled her next questions.

Then who? Victoria?

A shiver ran through her. Although she had been miles away, sleeping peacefully in Edward's room and safely tucked away from her home, Charlie had been in danger.

No. But we don't know who yet. So, Alice is watching, and we're all on alert.

We're all on alert. Of course, she thought. Edward and Jacob had been communicating. It made sense, and all at once, Bella was flooded with anger. Apparently, she was the target and as always the last to know. Her brows drew together, and her fingers absently rumpled the paper.

Unaware that the video was over, she was surprised when the lights were switched on, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the contrast. She looked to Edward, who was still leaning toward her, elbows facing her way and lips pressed tightly together once more. Struck by panic for her father and this whole newer threat, Bella had forgotten being in danger from a certain thirsty boyfriend. And as much as she loathed having to say it aloud, he needed to be reminded.

"Breathe!" she hissed, her heart pounding as the realization of the threats to her life flew at her full force. Edward seated there like a hungry statue would make everybody suspicious, and he should have known that without her having to tell him.

Mr. Knox was recapping the contents of the film and assigning them homework. Unable to focus on the teacher's instructions, Bella closed her eyes, feeling the dreaded danger from Edward's stare…and once again, his granite fingers were biting into the desk, but this time tiny chips of wood were falling to the floor. She could already imagine the anger in Alice's face as she burst into the classroom…again.

As dread welled in the pit of her stomach, tears sprang to her eyes, but thankfully the bell rang. Alice had not arrived, but the storm of emotions brewing in Bella's heart and in her head was too much. She felt tired, and sad, and afraid. After collecting her things, she leaped from her chair, and as the class filed out, Bella did not look back, hurrying forward and heading out toward the entrance to the school. He called out to her, but her feet carried her away from the campus, through the parking lot, and into the mouth of the forest, knowing he would be following behind her.

The grey clouds had passed overhead as he kept a steady pace, his feet moving smoothly through the damp underbrush while keeping Bella in sight. Jacob did not want to appear threatening and remained a safe distance behind. As he breathed in the fresh rainy smell, taking in the other mingled scents of the forest, it was easier to clear his head of her irresistible aroma and redirect his focus away from his deadly urges. He could see she was angry, and Jacob was not sure if it was because of him or the news of this intruder…or a combination of both.

"Bella," he called out, but she did not answer.

A short distance away, the canopy of branches gave way to a clearing, and it was there where the sun's rays spilled out upon the lush green of the surroundings. And, for the first time, Jacob caught the glint of sparkles shining from the tops of his hands. Alarmed at first, he was then reminded of that hateful glittering effect that shone off the bloodsuckers' skin, giving them an almost holy glow. He could still recall that detestable gleam that radiated off that evil redhead as she gave chase to the wolves so many times before. And now, here he was, almost as bad as she, pursuing Bella like a sparkly predator hunting its prey. Pushing away the disgust, he could hear the rhythmic pounding of her heart, the forceful exhalations of her breath.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "I promise, Bella."

He stood there, in the middle of the clearing, waiting, praying that she would come to him. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel hunted. She was close by; he could hear her breathing one hundred feet away, and out of the corner of his eye, he spotted her as she appeared to collect her wits and emerge from behind the shade of an oak tree. Her eyes were red as she swiped away tears, and he heard her sniffling as she moved toward him. Bella appeared to be gathering her wits.

Remorse sliced through him as he watched her, and he hated to see the fear that was pooling in her eyes. When she was halfway between him and the tree, she stopped and flung her backpack to the ground…and waited.

A breeze swept through, lifting her hair and carrying a gush of her delicious scent. The flame in his throat roared, making him mad with anticipation. Jacob found himself possessed by that horrible scrumptious scent, already contemplating lunging out at her in one leap…but a small urge inside him raged against the temptation.

She stood her ground, but Jacob noticed the way her body trembled as she met his eyes.

"I don't want to hurt you, Bella," he told her gently. "But, why did you lead me out here?" They were alone, Bella was unprotected, and Alice was nowhere within sight. Maybe that was a good thing...

"The way I see it is we have two choices," Bella said, her voice shaky. She took a few steps closer. "And I really hope you choose the first one."

With all his might, he focused on that unsteadiness in her voice. Bella's voice. He had loved her for so long. She was so human…so weak…so fragile. And he hated the way the venom was coating his teeth in preparation. He swallowed it back, fighting the impossible urge to strike. "What is it?"

"You already know. Make me... like you, Edward…or allow Carlisle or Alice to do it."

"No, Bella! NO!" He felt the anger swell and swirl inside his mind. It seemed that her every thought revolved around becoming one of them. And Jacob would not have it - not while he was in this body. "What is the second choice?"

Her eyes flashed angrily at his response, and Bella lowered her collar, exposing the creamy flesh of her neck. "Then kill me...right now." There were tears in her eyes when she said it.

Jacob's eyes widened, and he shook his head, lucid now by her sobering offer. "No! Are you crazy? No!"

He could not even bring himself to consider it. Jacob felt like a barbarian. Maybe he really was one. She stood there, holding her collar open, and he watched the tears slide down her face. His heart shattered as he imagined himself led purely by his monstrous instinct, hungrily tearing into her blood, draining her life while she remained still and accepted her fate.

"I can't stand this, Edward…I would rather die than have you look at me like that. I hate this…I…." Her voice broke as she continued, "…don't want to be afraid of you anymore."

"There has to be a better way," he told her, still wincing at her admission of fear. "I'll leave…."

"You can't leave me! Not again! I don't want to be apart from you," she screamed, her voice echoing her pain through the walls of the forest. "This is the only way…don't you understand?" Her life seemed to be a string of threats, and remaining mortal left her feeling as though she were condemned to live as a mouse trapped in a cage.

This wasn't the only way, he realized. He understood it, finally, as he willed his focus away from the burn in his throat.

Change me…or kill me…

Her words had been like a slap in the face, a kick in the crotch, a thunderbolt right between the eyes.

And for once he was seeing clearly…seeing her clearly.

The burn in his throat had seemingly been tempered by her sacrifice, making the flame merely throb rather than scorch. And as her shoulders and body shook with her sobs, Jacob moved toward Bella experimentally, wanting to do no more than comfort her. Standing before her, he was careful, aware with relief that her blood, though still deliciously tempting, was no longer provoking the clawing urge to claim her life.

He had to be careful still, and as he gently placed his arms around her waist and felt her warm body cling to his, he found that he had the strength, that he could resist the urgency of the thirst.

"It's okay, Bella. See?" he said, hearing his own voice hoarse as he spoke. "I'm better now. I'll never hurt you. Do you hear me?" he said, even more convinced now as he stroked her hair and the heady fragrance of her came at him in waves. Please don't be afraid of me. Please don't be afraid of me. He lifted her face to his, wiping away the wetness of the tears with his thumbs.

Before her eyes, the colors of his irises had transitioned from black to dark golden. Bella breathed a sigh of relief, happy to feel the ice of his fingers back on her skin again. She had known the weight of her sacrifice, and as foolish and hasty as it was, she had been willing to accept either fate. But deep inside she knew that he could not go through with it. Unfortunately, he still had not agreed with her first choice, and she hoped that by graduation that he would follow through with his word.

She leaned her cheek against his hard chest, savoring his sweet smell that had been denied to her for what seemed like an eternity.

"Much better," he cooed as the warmth of her fingers ran up and down the fabric clinging to his back. Sweet Bella, he thought. Holding her…this was the way it was supposed to be. He pulled his head back from her, staring into the affection in her brown eyes, smiling and elated that she was looking at him this way.

It had only been two days, but she had missed this – the contact, and despite the fear that she had felt only minutes before, Bella found herself mesmerized by the look in those butterscotch eyes that never failed to dazzle her. Her heart was already turning to mush, and she could not help it, leaning her chin up toward his face, begging him with her eyes to kiss her.

Jacob could hardly resist the lure of her lips, not caring that in her eyes he could see the reflection of Edward. His face leaned toward hers slowly, but before their lips could meet, his senses were assaulted by her scent…tempting that fierce beast from within. Closing his eyes, he pulled away and shook his head as if to scare away the urge, and ignored the fresh burn which was quickly escalating to a fiery, hot blaze.

"Too soon," he uttered, closing his lips, and shaking his mindset from the burn.

When he opened his eyes, he could see she was shaken by his reaction, though this time not by fear, but more by rejection. To comfort her, he set his arm around her neck and pulled her as close as he could handle. "It's going to be okay, Bella."

"I'm sorry," she said, shaking her head at her stupidity. She was forever apologizing for her actions. Bella had wanted things to go back to the way they were, but now she understood. Like before, it was going to take time. And for now, being this close to him was good enough.

"It's okay." He could not imagine how she could possibly apologize for something as crazy as wanting to kiss him. Bitterness washed through him; she would never have to apologize when he was in his own body.

She nodded and took her hand in his. "I don't see Alice."

Jacob allowed himself to smile after this unbelievingly long morning. "That's a good thing."

Bella smiled, feeling the stress of the last few days dissipate. "It's a very good thing."

He located her backpack, picked it up, and began to lead her back from where they came.

Trying to avoid tripping over branches, she walked with him, gripping his hand tightly and never wanting to let go. "So, about this intruder?"

Jacob stopped and faced her. "We have this under control, Bella. I don't want you to worry. We're coordinating efforts with the wolves, and you will always be guarded."

It was still hard for her to believe that some kind of arrangement could be made, but Bella was pleased with this new alliance between vampires and wolves. "What about Charlie?"

"Charlie will be protected, too." Even when he was not being guarded at the house, Alice had promised to watch for the Chief.

Alice would guard Bella with her life, Jacob knew, and he felt safe about walking her back to Forks High.

It was lunchtime, he guessed from a distance as Jacob heard the buzz of voices as the students headed toward the cafeteria. And once more, he was inundated by the chunks of swarming thoughts and notions of nearby humans. It was too much all at once, and it was grating at his head. He walked Bella to the front entrance and gave her one last hug before letting go while his throat flamed once again at the closeness. That nagging reminder never seemed to let up.

Her brows drew together at the separation. "You're not coming?"

He shook his head. "Nope, not today," he sighed.

"Why not?"

"Because I gave Alice my word."

With a small smile, she waved, imagining that after this morning's fiasco that Alice had used every manipulative tactic in her bag to rein him in…and Bella was grateful. But, in the end, Bella was very pleased with her own results. "See you after school?"

"Yup."

"Nope" and "yup" were not words she recalled Edward using, but she quickly filed this away with whatever correspondence was taking place with the wolves…with Jacob.

She waved to him as he walked away, still standing there at the entrance of Forks High until the blur of his perfection disappeared into the forest. "Bye."


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