29. Whatever it Takes
"This is it," Alice told them, matching the landscape to the image in her mind as the rest of the Cullens' pace slowed to meet her in a clearing fifteen miles south of their baseball field. "Tomorrow, here, the first three come, two men and a woman, followed by three more about twenty yards behind them." She turned to the pine to her right. "Jas, you'll take down the first one from the tree top…." She then pointed in the opposite direction toward Emmett. "See that large boulder? You'll hit the other two in one shot."
"Yes!" Emmett called out, hungry for action.
The group listened to the clairvoyant as she translated her mental pictures, and afterward Carlisle called for the group to take cover for the night from the cluster of storm clouds gathering.
Jasper put his arm around his mate, squeezing her to him as the others rushed ahead of them. "It sounds good," he said, smiling and planting a kiss on her cheek. He was struck by the fright in her expression and the accompanying anxiety coming off her in waves. "What's wrong?"
"It's not good, Jas. We take down the newborns, but…." She didn't even want the words to pass from her lips.
"But what? What happens to Victoria?"
"Emmett and Rosalie reach her south of the campsite and tear her limb from limb...but it's too late. By that time she's already…Bella doesn't make it."
"We could change the location, maybe move them further up…we still have time," he suggested.
"It doesn't change anything."
"Well, what if we have Esme or Rosalie stay with Jacob and Bella?"
Alice shook her head. "We can't spare them. We win, but not by much. Without them to help us fight we…Esme and Emmett…," she trailed off, her eyes shut. "No. We can't spare them."
"It's gonna be okay," he told her even though he had his own doubts about Jacob's ability. He knew the outcome would be different if only Edward were back in his own body. "It's going to work out. Jacob's going to pull through. He'll protect Bella."
"I hope so, Jas. He's her only hope."
As Alice had anticipated, the temperature dropped, and Edward rushed with Bella in his arms, scaling the rugged terrain in the dim light of the evening sky shrouded thick and grey.
Before parting ways, Jasper insisted that either Edward or another wolf should remain with Bella and Jacob, but had given no explanation. Without the advantage of reading his mind, Edward was at a loss for Alice's insights and reasoning, knowing Jasper would only disclose what was necessary.
Meanwhile, Bella's silence left Edward cold and empty. He hadn't expected to be on the best terms with her after the breakup, but he missed the sound of her voice. And he tried to fight the dread that was weighing his heart down like lead. Alice must have seen something.
From a half mile away, he saw the tent set up high on a hill west of them and began feeling a little relief. Bella shivered in his arms, and he reflexively pulled her closer to him, wondering if this was the thickest jacket she had brought.
"Are you okay?" he asked her, noting the accumulation of pink on her cheeks and nose in contrast to her fair skin.
Without a glance in his direction, she nodded.
"We're almost there."
The wind howled through the trees, scattering strands of Bella's hair flat against her face, and Edward wondered if it wasn't too late to turn back and seek shelter on lower ground. When he caught side of Jacob's Edward figure in the distance, he knew it was necessary to stick to Jasper's plan.
"I want you to know, Bella, that after everything that's happened between us the past few days, my feelings for you are exactly the same. No matter what tomorrow may bring."
To Edward, it seemed necessary to say this while their future seemed so uncertain. His heart felt like lead in his chest again at her continued silence and at the tears that formed in her eyes.
"Take good care of her," Edward told Jacob, setting Bella down on two feet when they were level.
Jacob smiled to him and pulled Bella close. "I plan on it."
As Edward descended from the campsite, he noted the playful normalcy in Bella's tone as she spoke to Jacob. For now, he couldn't allow himself to be plagued by jealousy. And that's what he told himself as he headed back to meet the wolves.
Jealousy was what kept Edward outside the shelter as the wind threatened to yank the tent from the stakes in the earth. He convinced Sam that he and Seth would switch places tomorrow during the fight, but that if some unexpected threat were to arise during the night, Bella would be safer with both him and Jacob.
In wolf form, Edward lay outside the tent's entrance as the arctic breeze violently pushed the air around them like a giant fan. His head rested upon his paws, and though his eyes closed to resist the drying effect of the wind, he was barely affected by the unreasonable weather conditions. For now Bella was safe, however, it was unsettling the way her teeth were chattering.
She doesn't sound so good in there. Is there anything I can do?
Jacob ignored Edward's thoughts and wished instead that Seth was there outside as they had planned. Jacob had already been worried enough as Bella trembled inside the sleeping bag he'd set out for her…with his icy hands. Everything he'd brought was tainted by the cursed coolness of his touch. And now, Jacob was struck by the guilty notion that he hadn't packed nearly enough for her.
"I'm so sorry, Bella," Jacob told her, helplessly hugging his knees to his body against a corner and wishing he could do something – anything to help her. "I should have brought some extra blankets, or warmer clothes, or…or…a space heater."
"I-i-i-i-i-i-i-t's ok—kay. I'-m-m-m-m-m f-f-f-f-f-i-i-ne."
Edward's Jacob voice emerged from the other side of the opening. "Did someone say something about a space heater?"
Bella's and Jacob's Edward eyes turned toward the entrance as the zipper was tugged down from the other side three quarters of the way open to find Jacob's large body in human form squeezing through the not nearly large enough opening while wind and now snow fought mightily for the smallest gap to break through.
"You're letting the cold in!" Jacob protested. "Get back outside!"
Paying no attention to Jacob, Edward zipped the opening closed and set his eyes on Bella huddled inside her sleeping bag, shivering, her body nearly convulsing.
"I brought her coat," he said, holding it up. "It's too cold to use right now, but it's better in here than out there right now." Edward laid the nearly frozen parka on the corner opposite from her.
"Thanks," Jacob said. "You can go now."
Edward made no move to go, eyes still on the trembling lump on the floor in front of him.
No, I think I'm just what she needs right now.
"Bad idea," Jacob argued stubbornly against the lunacy in Edward's thoughts.
"No, it's not a bad idea, and you know it."
In the blink of an eye, Jacob rose and poked his finger into Edward's Jacob chest. "No way. Not in my body."
"S-s-s-s-stop f-f-f-fighting, you t-t-two," she managed through chattering teeth.
"She's freezing, you fool! Can't you see that? You'll have to get Carlisle in here to tend to her hypothermia."
Jacob's brows drew together, defeated, and he moved back and crouched back down into his corner. "Fine, but remember you're in my body. No funny business."
A few minutes later…
"Would you stop?"
Smiling, Edward cuddled Bella's form into his own and ran the heat of his palm against her frosty sleeves. After a few moments, her body temperature was finally beginning to climb.
This is what he always longed for- to be able to hold her this closely, unabashedly, uninhibited… but… without an audience. Now, knowing there was the possibility that he wouldn't hold her like this again only made it more bittersweet. Her body was no longer shaking, and her breathing pattern had stabilized. "I apologize. Look, since I can't really have her you can at least allow me my own thoughts."
"Well I would, but your little fantasies- it's like you're screaming them at me."
The two were silent for a moment before Jacob continued, "You know if we were back in our own bodies, I would be in there instead of you." There was definite bitterness in his tone.
"That fact hasn't escaped my attention."
"You know, we might just be stuck like this."
I realize that.
"I think you have more to gain than me."
"Yes, being human and a wolf definitely has its advantages. But, somehow, it's a strong possibility neither of us are skilled enough to survive today."
"I've thought of that. So, if we've both sacrificed Bella, why are we still in each other's bodies?"
I don't know. Edward stroked her long dark hair and held her closer, only she didn't cuddle into him as she normally would have. She may have been asleep, but Edward had the feeling that despite her exhaustion she was still angry. "Maybe you haven't truly accepted the idea of giving her up."
"Hey, I don't know what gives you the idea that you love her more than I do."
"Who am I to judge you or your feelings?" There are a lot of things I didn't understand about you before.
"Agreed. How come you never…loved anyone else? I mean, has there ever been anyone else? Another vampire?"
"No. In my one hundred seven years of existence there's never been anyone else. You're still young; you have a lifetime ahead of you." And you haven't yet imprinted.
Jacob could see how Edward was the seventh wheel in his family. Each couple of the Cullen clan appeared perfectly matched. And though none were related by blood, there was a definite sense of unity among the Cullens. It made him miss the tightness of the members of his pack, the good old days when his sisters were living at home, when his mother was still alive…
Bella had an intriguing interpretation of the sacrifice. It had more to do with acceptance of our situation. But, honestly I don't know if she's right.
"I read that in your thoughts earlier," Jacob said thoughtfully. "And you've accepted it."
"No. Maybe. No." Jacob shook his head. "Your family's great and all, Edward, but I miss my life. I miss my dad, my friends, my sisters…."
Edward nodded. "I hadn't realized how much I'd missed my family until the graduation party. And now it seems they like you better than me," he joked.
"There are good things, I guess, about being a vampire. You never have to sleep, you never get tired, you never have to eat. Those things are such a pain sometimes."
"Eating and sleeping are things I will definitely miss." Pizza – he would definitely miss pizza.
"I like the heightened sense of awareness. It's like everything is in high definition."
Super strength is nice too…sometimes…unless it comes to dealing with humans. And the perfect memory?
"It's good and bad. Some things I can see not wanting to remember so well."
Edward let out a yawn as a cloud of fatigue settled into his bones. "I'm tired. Long day."
"Okay, well you should get some sleep then," Jacob said, injecting as much sarcasm as he could into his words. He was tempted to tell Edward that Bella was warm enough now and he could leave, but knew better. "Sure, don't worry about me," he said bitterly, "I'll just be here…awake."
With another yawn, Edward burrowed further into the nonexistent space in the sleeping bag. "Alright, thanks."
"You know, I really hate you right now."
No, you don't.
"Yeah. Whatever. Goodnight," Jacob muttered.
Good night. And though neither of us know what will happen tomorrow, I want you to know that I think you have a good heart, Jacob. If we never change back and Bella never forgives me…well, I know you'll make her happy. You're a good man.
Jacob was struck by the honesty and raw emotion in Edward's thoughts as the former vampire trailed into unconsciousness.
"Yeah, you too."
"Where's Edward?" she asked Jacob, peeking through the tent flap and happy to feel the warmth of the rays as they touched her face.
"He left about twenty minutes ago to scout the area," he said as his gaze traveled along the green depths of the forest. "I packed some food for you. Are you hungry?"
Bella nodded, and Jacob followed as she retreated to the duffel bag tucked against the far side of the tent.
With wide eyes, she watched as he moved ahead, proceeding to unzip and unpack several items from the bag.
"Let's see…we got Twinkies, and Mini Wheats, oh, but I didn't bring milk...or a bowl." He shrugged his shoulders, smiling crookedly. "But we also have granola bars, and trail mix, and Doritos, and gummi bears, and bananas…."
"Hmmm…breakfast of champions, eh, Jake?" Bella asked, eyeing the bounty spread all over her sleeping bag.
"Only the best for you, Bells. Well, dig in," he said, gesturing.
"This is kinda weird," she remarked, choosing a banana and unpeeling it. "All your favorite stuff, and you can't eat it."
"Tell me about it. The sad thing is that none of it even appeals to me. Go figure." He rose to a standing position. "I'll be out there if you need me."
"Jake…wait. Don't go yet."
He looked down and found the familiar paleness of her features now a shade pinker. "What's wrong?"
She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. "You know, I expected Edward to give me up, Jake, but not you."
Surprised, Jacob shook his head and passed through the opening in the tent. To him it seemed a moot point. "What's the point in holding on, Bella? You said you'll always love him."
She followed him outside, shrugging her shoulders. "Maybe I was wrong."
Jacob stopped, hands on hips, head facing down. "What're you saying?"
"I'm saying that I can't trust him anymore. And here's the thing: I don't want to…not when…." she trailed off.
He turned to face the unfamiliar vulnerability shadowing her features. "Not when what?"
She moved toward him and locked her eyes onto his. "Not when… I have feelings for you."
Jacob shook his head again, unable to believe her words. "I think you're confused. I look like Edward, but I'm Jacob, remember?" he said, pointing to himself.
"No, Jake. That's where you're wrong. For the first time I'm really seeing clearly- seeing you clearly."
"Are you saying that once I'm back in my own body, you want us to be together?"
She leaned in toward him and brushed her lips to his lightly, noting the hesitancy in his posture, and then pulled back to study his expression. "I'm saying that I want you to kiss me, Jacob, right now."
"Bella…I don't know. Maybe this isn't the right-"
"Shut up and kiss me!"
This time her arms draped around the coolness of his neck, and she molded her lips to his, gentle but insistent.
It was no longer just her scent that he found irresistible; Jacob was heady from her warmth, from her lips, the passion of her embrace, and as his mind processed the storm of emotions, he arrived at one irrevocable conclusion. He would do anything for her…even remain a vampire.
At that moment, a seizing jolt took hold of his body, and in just a single moment, sent shockwaves of electricity flowing through his veins. In wolf form, Edward was halted by the paralyzing current, stopping him in his tracks on the way to meet Sam, and the next time he could clearly focus, Edward's eyes met the worry on Bella's face.
"Oh my God! Are you okay?" she asked, wide eyed.
Pulling himself out of his stupor, Edward smiled, thankful to be back in his own body once again. "I'm okay. I'm me again, Bella. I'm Edward."
Bella's smile stretched from ear to ear and she pressed her lips to his, relieved that this ordeal was finally over. "It worked."
You're back, Jake!
Welcome back, and not a moment too soon. We really need you today.
I can't believe Bella did that.
A shower of congratulatory thoughts drizzled through the pack's collective consciousness, but Seth's had been like a clap of thunder to Jacob. I can't believe Bella did that. Soon the others' began to flow along the same lines.
Yeah, that wasn't right.
It hurt Leah to feel Jacob's emotions for his unrequited love, but despite the fact that she had that in common with him, Leah was grateful that Bella kissed him; the sacrifice that Jacob made taught her a powerful lesson; even if Leah had successfully switched bodies with Emily, Sam still wouldn't have loved her.
Don't you idiots get it? She did it to break the spell.
Seth couldn't help himself. Yeah, but are you mad, because she pretended?
Seth, leave him alone.
But can you forgive her, Jake?
Of course he can. Sam interrupted. What's important is that he's back in his own body. Isn't that right, Jake?
Jacob forced his thoughts to agree. That is what is important. And I'm so glad I'm back.
Now, boys, we need to focus. Make sure we meet up at the creek by the southeast border. Those bloodsuckers are miles away, but I already smell them. Be careful, and watch your back.
Jacob mentally flinched at the word "bloodsuckers." Perhaps it had applied to these vicious newborns they would be facing, those who had no regard for human life, but not to the Cullens. He doubted he could ever think of them that way again.
Back in wolf form, he felt at home and free as his paws pounded the forest floor, sprinting at an enviable speed past the trees and brush. There was no time to process what had just happened. He was back in his own form, and truly that was what was most important. And now that he was in the comfort of his body, neither the redhead nor her army stood a chance.