Bonds Made and Broken
Things were more or less back to normal. "More," because we had school again. I made a show of getting Bella to apply to different colleges and universities, as if she would go on to have a normal life. Charlie would only allow me to visit at designated hours; Bella was grounded, and I was frankly surprised I even got "visitation" at all.
"Less" because although Bella had dropped everything and jumped on a plane to come halfway across the world and literally save me from myself, she was still obsessed with her new "puppy," Jacob. She religiously called him every night, fretting and worrying over the lame excuses she got from his father, and his apparent insistence to be left alone.
I hoped that both of those problems would be resolved soon, and if everything went as I planned, they would be. There was only one kink in my plans, and I was really only doing it because of Carlisle.
"You know, Edward," he mused after Bella had gone to sleep, Charlie had unceremoniously kicked me out of the house and we had gone back to the Cullen house, "I wonder just how attached Bella has become to you."
I instantly became guarded. "Why? What kind of wager have you thought up now?"
He waved his hand. "Nothing this time. I think we've had quite enough of wagers for the time being. I just want to make sure now that Bella will indeed be bound to you when the time comes."
I squinted suspiciously. "What are you thinking?"
"See if she'll marry you." Totally deadpan.
I stared at him for several seconds. "Have you gone loony?"
"I'm serious, Edward. In a vast majority of human cultures, including this one, a great deal of pressure is placed on the marriage bond. It is one that, while not unbreakable, one is strongly discouraged from breaking it. So, she'll be 'bound' in this life as well as in the next one, so to speak. Come on, Edward. For Me."
I staggered on my feet from the weight of his edict. He didn't usually exert our bond in this way. I didn't know why he was suddenly doing this, or why he seemed so hell-bent on this matrimony, and he was shielding his thoughts from me very effectively; whatever the reason, I had no choice now; I was bound to him, and he had taken advantage of that bond; I had to do my level best to get Bella to marry me.
Now I just needed a script, a good reason for her. It took me all night.
When I judged we had gone far enough into the forest, I turned toward her and took a deep breath. "Bella, those days when I thought you had died...they were the worst days of my life. I don't ever want to be apart from you again. And furthermore...I want you to marry me."
She stared at me, waiting. "Okay. What's the punch line?"
"Bella, I just proposed to you, and you think it's a joke?"
"Edward, please be serious."
"I am one hundred percent serious." I put on my best "serious face."
"Oh, c'mon," she said, "I'm only eighteen."
"Well, I'm nearly a hundred and ten. It's time I settled down."
"Look, marriage isn't exactly that high on my list of priorities, you know? It was sort of the kiss of death for Renee and Charlie."
"Interesting choice of words." My voice was harder now.
"You know what I mean."
I inhaled deeply. "Please don't tell me that you're afraid of the commitment."
"That's not it exactly," she hedged. "I'mâ€¦ afraid of Renee. She has some really intense opinions on getting married before you're thirty."
"Because she'd rather you became one of the eternal damned than get married," I said sarcastically.
"You think I'm joking."
"Bella, if you compare the level of commitment between a marital union as opposed to bartering your soul in exchange for an eternity as a vampire..." I shook my head and turned as if to walk away. "If you're not brave enough to marry me, then..."
"Wait!" she interrupted. "What if I did? What if I told you to take me to Vegas now? Would I be a vampire in three days?"
I smiled. "Sure," I said, calling her bluff. "I'll get my car."
"No! Just...hold on," she pleaded. "I can't get married before I'm even out of high school, and even if she's against it, Renee still wouldn't forgive me for not having a 'proper' ceremony..."
I tilted my head toward her and cupped a hand behind my ear. "Is that a 'yes' I hear?"
"Ugh! Yes, I suppose."
"Not exactly the most romantic acceptance ever, but I'll take it." I bent down and lightly kissed her lips. "Thank you. You have no idea how happy this will make me." The kiss made her blush, and she ducked her head, embarrassed.
Then she lifted her head and gave me a hard look. "You better keep up your end."
"I wouldn't dream of doing otherwise, my love." Girls love sweet talk and all that shit, right?
I guess she did, because she smiled and blushed and turned her gaze downward again. "We better get back. I bet Charlie's wondering where I am, or he will be soon."
I smiled. "Ok. You and he will both have a lot of thinking to do in the near future."
We started walking back to the house, when I sensed-Damn!
I know you can hear me, bloodsucker. The 'voice' came from up ahead. It was puppy-boy, and he was growing up; he outsized me now.
"Bella," I murmured. "Your new best friend is waiting up the path."
She looked eagerly ahead. "Jacob? He's here?"
"Yes, but Jacob Black wants to see me. That's why he's here."
"To talk?" she asked.
"More or less."
"Why is he here, exactly?" Her voice shook.
I stepped in front of her and smoothed her hair back from her face. "Don't worry, he's not here to fight me. He's acting as a spokesperson for the pack."
I looked at the house again, realized that we would have to meet Jacob, then tightened my arm possessively around Bella's waist and walked with her through the woods. "We should hurry. Charlie's getting impatient."
We didn't have to go far; Jacob waited just a short ways up the path. He lounged against a mossy tree trunk as he waited, his face hard and bitter. He looked at Bella, and then at me. Jacob's mouth stretched into a humorless sneer, and he shrugged away from the tree. He stood on the balls of his bare feet, leaning slightly forward, with his trembling hands clenched into fists. He looked bigger than the last time I'd seen him. Somehow, impossibly, he was still growing. He virtually towered over me now. He looked like a savage.
I stopped as soon as we saw him, leaving a wide space between us and Jacob. I turned my body, shifting Bella so that she was behind me. Even so, she leaned around me to stare at Jacob, to accuse him of leaving her.
His resentful, cynical expression reminded Bella of the last time she'd seen him, with tears in his eyes. Her anger weakened, faltered, as she stared at Jacob. The circumstances of their "reunion" were breaking her heart.
"Bella," Jacob said as a greeting, nodding once toward her without looking away from me.
"Why?" she whispered. "How could you do this to me, Jacob?"
The sneer vanished, but his face stayed hard and rigid. "It's for the best."
"What is that supposed to mean? Do you want Charlie to strangle me?"
Jacob winced, and his eyebrows pulled together, but he didn't answer, audibly. I didn't want to hurt anyone-
"He didn't want to hurt anyone," I murmured, "he just couldn't bear to be around you when you're spending so much time with me again," I said, explaining the thoughts Jacob didn't want to share.
Jacob's eyes sparked with hate as he glowered at me again.
"Aw, Jake!" she groaned. "I'm grounded! Why do you think I haven't been down to La Push to kick your butt for avoiding my phone calls?"
Jacob's eyes flashed back to her, confused for the first time. "That's why?" he asked, and then locked his jaw, like he was sorry he'd said anything.
I thought that monster wouldn't let you-
"He thought I wouldn't let you, not Charlie," I explained again.
"Stop that," Jacob snapped.
Jacob grimaced, and then gritted his teeth as hard as his fists. "Bella wasn't exaggerating about your... abilities," he said through his teeth. "So you must already know why I'm here."
"Yes," I agreed in a soft voice. "But, before you begin, I need to say something."
Jacob waited, clenching and unclenching his hands as he tried to control the shivers rolling down his arms. I couldn't fault Bella's taste. Though I personally didn't swing that way, physically at least, he was a looker; someone Alice might go for, if not for his smell.
"Thank you," I said, and worded my next statement carefully, trying to communicate as much as I could without outright saying it. "I will never be able to tell you how grateful I am. I will owe you for the rest of my...existence."
Jacob stared at me blankly, surprised. He exchanged a quick glance with Bella, but she was just as mystified.
"For keeping Bella alive," I clarified. For me. "When I...didn't."
"Edward...," Bella started to say, but I held one hand up, keeping my eyes on Jacob.
Understanding washed over Jacob's face before the hard mask returned. "I didn't do it for your benefit."
"I know. But that doesn't erase the gratitude I feel. I thought you should know. If there's ever anything in my power to do for you..."
Jacob raised one black brow. Die in a fire. Go away.
I shook my head. "That's not in my power," I chided him.
"Whose, then?" Jacob growled.
I looked down at Bella then. "Hers. I'm a quick learner, Jacob Black, and I don't make the same mistake twice. I'm here until she orders me away."
Don't ask me to leave again, I suggested, a whisper in her mind.
"Never," she whispered, eyes locked on mine.
Jacob made a gagging sound. She broke free from my gaze to frown at Jacob. "Was there something else you needed, Jacob? You wanted me in trouble; mission accomplished. Charlie might just send me to military school. But that won't keep me away from Edward. There's nothing that can do that. What more do you want?"
Jacob kept his eyes on me. "I just needed to remind your bloodsucking friends of a few key points in the treaty they agreed to. The treaty that is the only thing stopping me from ripping his throat out right this minute."
"We haven't forgotten," I said at the same time that she demanded, "What key points?"
Jacob! Really?! Oh wait, you said 'throat,' not 'thing.' My bad.
In your twisted dreams, disco ball.
Jacob glowered at me, but he still answered Bella. "The treaty is quite specific. If any of them bite a human, the truce is over. Bite, not kill," he emphasized. Finally, he looked back at Bella. His eyes were cold.
It only took her a second to grasp the distinction, and then her face was as cold as his. "That's none of your business."
"The hell it-" was all he managed to choke out, then his mind spasmed-or at least, that's how it seemed to me. What?! You can't possibly mean-they're monsters, how can you want to-then you'll be just like them-why would you leave me that way?-there's no way we could-after that-Why?-I love you-I hate you!-I love you-I want you-
Her answer sent Jacob into near convulsions. He pressed his fists hard against his temples, closing his eyes tight and curling in on himself as he tried to control the spasms. His face turned sallow green under the russet skin.
"Jake? You okay?" Bella asked anxiously. She took a half-step toward him, but I caught her and yanked her back behind me. "Careful! He's not under control," I warned her, and at the same time mocking Jacob's own predicament.
Jacob was already somewhat himself again; only his arms were shaking now. He scowled at me with pure hate. "Ugh. I would never hurt her."
I oughta kill you!
Bring it, wolf boy!
"BELLA!" Charlie's roar echoed from the direction of the house. "YOU GET IN THE HOUSE THIS INSTANT!"
All of us froze, listening to the silence that followed.
Bella was the first to speak; her voice trembled. "Crap."
Jacob's furious expression faltered. "I am sorry about that," he muttered. "I had to do what I could...I had to try..."
"BELLA! I SEE HIS CAR AND I KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE! IF YOU AREN'T INSIDE THIS HOUSE IN ONE MINUTE... !" Charlie didn't bother to finish his threat, but he was obviously very impatient-and probably quite angry.
"Let's go," I said.
Bella looked back at Jacob, torn.
"Sorry," he whispered quietly. '"Bye, Bells."
"You promised," she reminded him desperately. "Still friends, right?"
Jacob shook his head slowly. "You know how hard I've tried to keep that promise, but... I can't see how to keep trying. Not now..." He struggled to keep his hard mask in place, but it wavered, and then disappeared. "Miss you," he mouthed. He reached out a hand toward her, his fingers
outstretched, like he wished they were long enough to cross the distance between them.
"Me, too," she choked out. Her hand reached toward his across the wide space.
"Jake..." She took a step toward him. She would embrace him.
I pulled her back, restraining her.
"It's okay," she tried to tell me, looking up to me face with trusting eyes. I would understand, right?
My eyes were undoubtedly cold. "No, it's not."
"Let her go," Jacob snarled, furious again. "She wants to!" He took two long strides forward. A glint of anticipation flashed in his eyes. His chest seemed to swell as it shuddered.
I pushed her behind me, wheeling to face Jacob.
"Come on! Charlie's mad!" Her voice was panicked, but not because of Charlie now. "Hurry!" She tugged at me. I relaxed and pulled her back slowly, always keeping my eyes on Jacob as we retreated.
Jacob watched us with a dark scowl on his bitter face. The anticipation drained from his eyes, and then, just before the forest came between us, his face suddenly crumpled in pain.
And right there she vowed to herself that she would see him smile, and soon. She would find a way to keep her friend. That would mean more trouble for me.
I kept my arm tight around her waist, holding her close. I didn't envy Bella her problems, and she had some serious problems. Her new best friend counted her with his enemies. If she didn't become a vampire soon, she thought the Volturi would kill her.
And now it seemed that if she did, the Quileute werewolves would try to do the job themselves, along with trying to kill the rest of us.
Very serious problems. So why did they all suddenly seem insignificant when we broke through the last of the trees and she caught sight of the expression on Charlie's purple face?
Easy. She was still open enough to me to allow me to sneak assurances into her mind, that she most likely thought came from her. I squeezed her gently. "I'm here."
She drew in a deep breath, and I spoke more of my assurances into her mind, drawing her toward her inevitable acceptance of fate.
Edward is here...
That's true. Edward is here, with his arms around me.
I can face anything as long as that's true...
I can face anything as long as that remains true.
We're meant to be together-it's practically destiny...
She squared her shoulders and walked forward to meet her fate, with her "destiny," the instrument of her future subjugation and bondage, solidly at her side.
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