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The Natural Path

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I stepped out to the edge, keeping my eyes on the empty space in front of me. My toes felt ahead blindly, caressing the edge of the rock when they encountered it. I drew in a deep breath and held it … waiting.

Bella.”

I smiled and exhaled.

Yes?” I didn't answer out loud, for fear that the sound of my voice would shatter the beautiful illusion. He sounded so real, so close. It was only when he was disapproving like this that I could hear the true memory of his voice–the velvet texture and the musical intonation that made up the most perfect of all voices.

Don't do this,” he pleaded.

You wanted me to be human,” I reminded him. “Well, watch me.”

Please. For me.”

But you won't stay with me any other way.”

Please.” His voice was just a whisper in the wind and rain. “Don't do this. Just...Be happy.”

His last words made me hesitate. “What do you mean?”

Move on and be happy.”

As the adrenaline wore off, his voice quietened and disappeared. I still didn’t understand what he meant, so I lifted my foot experimentally to see if his voice would come back.

Bella! Stop this childish game.”

But I love you, and I need you in my life.” Now it was I who pleaded to him. It didn’t matter that he was just an illusion. It felt as if I was actually in a conversation with him, and I had to make him understand.

I'll always be in your life, but not this way. You'll just end up hurting yourself.” Tears started to slowly fall down my cheeks. I had wanted to hear him say that he loved me as well, but not even my mind could conjure up him saying it when it wasn’t true.

You broke your promise.” I was grasping at straws, trying to get a good argument as to why I was doing these things.

I know, but be the better person and keep yours. Think about Charlie and Renée.” I could barely hear his voice with the wind howling around me.

I took another deep breath and thought about his words. He was right, as usual. I had been completely selfish lately, putting myself in harm’s way over and over again, just for the sake of hearing the memory of the voice I loved.

Very slowly, and unwillingly, I took a step back and hung my head. I felt like a scolded child that had been caught doing something naughty.

BELLA!” Startled, I turned around, because it wasn't Edward's voice that called for me. It was Jacob's and he sounded scared, angry, and worried, all at the same time. “Bella, what the hell are you doing?!” Jacob threw his arms around me and carried me away from the edge. I fought against him as I wanted to get out of his arms and back to the cliff. I wanted to hear Edward's voice again, even though his words were still so clear in my head. He told me to be happy – to get over him and move on.

It took a few seconds for me to realize that we were no longer moving and that I wasn’t in Jake’s arms. We had arrived to the place where I parked my truck and Jake was in the driver’s seat, waiting for me to climb inside. I quickly did so because his expression told me that he didn’t have the patience for me to act difficult. He was very quiet when he started the truck and drove it in the direction of his house.

Are you mad at me?” I asked quietly when he hadn’t said anything for five minutes. That seemed to bring him out of his deep thoughts because he looked like he just remembered I was there too.

What? No, I'm not mad…Maybe a little, but that's not the big problem here.” I looked at him questioningly, hoping he would elaborate.

When he didn’t, I continued. “Then what is it?” It didn’t matter that he told me that he wasn’t all that mad at me. I could feel the tension radiating from his body.

Jake sighed. “It's Harry Clearwater. He had a heart attack this morning.”

I felt my heart drop to my stomach, and I suddenly wished that it had been me that Jake was mad at. A heart attack? Was he okay? What happened?

I tried to voice my thoughts, but they were all jumbled up. Eventually I was able to choke out a whispered question. “Is he going to be okay?”

Jacob didn't answer me. He just kept his eyes on the road, but his expression told me everything.

It was too late.

My eyes started to burn as tears formed. The news of Harry’s death made me realize how stupid I’d been on the cliff and I wanted to kick myself. What if I'd jumped? Charlie would have a stroke if he knew what I'd almost done. One of his best friends had just died, and if he found out what I’d almost done, he would think that I’d gone suicidal.

I didn’t want to put that on his shoulders, and I made a promise right there that I wouldn’t do anything stupid or reckless again, just for the sake to hear a long gone voice from my past. I made that promise to myself and to Charlie.

Instead of going to his house, Jacob drove me home. On the driveway, he killed the engine and it got very quiet.

I could only bear the silence for a few minutes. “Jake...I'm sorry for acting so reckless. I didn't know...” My voice trailed off when I tried to explain myself. It sounded so pathetic, so I decided to just shut up.

You should've waited for me,” he said and turned to me. “You scared the hell out of me when I saw you standing at the edge, ready to jump.”

Why?” I asked. “We were still supposed to go together, right?”

Jake looked at his hands on the wheel. “A storm’s rolling in and the current gets really strong right below the cliffs. If you’d jumped, the water would have pulled you under and you wouldn’t have been able to fight it.” Something dark passed over Jake’s face before he continued. “But that wasn't the main reason.” His head turned and his dark eyes bore into mine with an intensity that made goose bumps erupt on my skin. “We found a fresh trail today, but when we found the leech, she ran off like something shot from hell. We pursued her for a long time, but she took off in the water and we weren't able to follow her anymore.” When he inhaled, his nostrils flared and I could see that he was trembling slightly. He was still staring at me as I slowly lifted my hand and put it on his arm to calm him. He looked out the windshield again and leaned back heavily against the seat. “I knew that you often walked around down at the beach, so I hurried home. When I ran past the cliff and saw you stand so close to the edge, you very nearly scared me to death.” He looked completely exhausted when he finished.

A cold wind went through the cabin. I shuddered, and Jake looked at me apologetically. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to keep you out in the cold. Let's get you inside.” He got out of the truck and opened my door for me.

As we walked toward the front door, he casually slung his arm around my shoulders. It felt good to feel his warm body close. Suddenly, I didn't feel as opposed to his closeness as before. It was almost like something had changed.

Without consciously deciding it, I snuggled closer to him, and his arm tightened around me.

I couldn’t see his face from this angle, but I was most certain that he was smiling. It was so easy to make Jake happy.

That thought made me realize something. Was that what my hallucinatory Edward meant? That I should be happy with Jake ? Everything was so confusing, but I still gave it some serious thought. I didn’t even notice when Jake sat us down on mine and Charlie's old couch.

He once again put his arm around my shoulders, and I liked the feeling of it. It felt normal, like it should feel between a guy and girl.

You know that tingly feeling when someone you like gets really close to you? Yeah, I had it.

When Jake sat with me like this, it didn’t feel completely platonic, but I didn’t shy away. I knew that if I turned my head and kissed his cheek, there would be no turning back, and that thought didn’t scare me, weird enough.

I loved Jake, of course not as much as I loved Edward, but it was still something there that just felt right . Like this was the path my life should take. I loved Jake and it was nothing wrong with it.

I loved Jake.

With those three words at the forefront of my mind, everything just clicked, and I saw everything. Everything my life could be if I just let go of the past and moved on.

I saw Charlie and Renée mixed into a strange collage with Billy and Sam and La Push. I saw years passing, and meaning something as they passed, changing me. I saw the bobbing heads of two small, black-haired children, running away from me into the familiar forest. When they disappeared, they took the rest of the vision with them.

The vision made a longing start to grow, and I wanted it. I wanted it so badly. All I had to do to make it real was turn my head and kiss Jacob’s cheek. I knew what that move would tell him and how he would react. He would put his hand on my cheek and hold my face in place as he touched his lips softly to mine.

But at the same time, I was unsure if I was really ready for it all. Even though Edward was the one who left me – the one who told me he didn't love me anymore – it still felt like cheating on him. I didn’t have the courage to see what would happen, until I heard his voice once again. This time, it was quiet and soft, completely different from the last time, but still the same.

Be happy.” That was all the voice said, and then it went quiet.

I could actually feel the change these two words made. It was almost a physical transformation. Suddenly, I just knew that it was the very last time I would hear my hallucinatory Edward's voice.

The small part of my heart that had healed by being with Jake had moved on, and I could feel how it worked to revive the rest of my heart.

It was a strange feeling to suddenly be able to breathe again. I took a deep breath and turned my head. I prepared myself to do the last thing in order to make my life right again. I started to slowly lean toward Jake.

Then the phone rang.

I let out a frustrated sigh when Jake shifted away from me so he could get up and answer it.

Swan residence,” Jake said into the receiver. A pained expression came across his face. “Hi, Charlie. How's it going down there?”

I gasped when I heard Charlie's name. Once again, the thoughts of my own happiness and how I felt had made me totally forget about Harry's heart attack.

I got up from the couch and reached out my hand to show Jake that I wanted to talk to my dad. After saying this to Charlie, he passed me the phone and went back to the couch.

Dad?”

Yeah, Bella?”

Are you okay?” I was so worried for him. Charlie was the same age as Harry, and I did not want to lose him, too. I don’t think I would have been able to bear it.

Yeah, I'm fine. It's just so hard to believe that he's gone. I've known him for so long.”

I'm really sorry, Dad. How are Sue, Seth, and Leah?” My heart ached for Seth. When I met him at that dinner party, he looked so young and innocent. It must be hard to lose his father at such a young age.

Sue’s holding it together. She’s a very strong woman. The kids are not here. Sue said that it got too much for them and that Sam’s with them at the moment.”

Sam?” I turned around and locked eyes with Jake. He had on an expression of total indifference, but I could see that it was something there.

Yeah, anyway, I should be home in an hour maybe. I’m just going to stay with Sue a little longer.”

Without taking my eyes off of Jake, I continued my conversation with Charlie. “Okay. Do you want me to start on dinner?” He would probably be hungry when he came home.

You don't have to cook dinner tonight, Bells. I can bring home a pizza.” I couldn’t help but smile at that.

Dad, it’s no problem, I can cook. Besides, it’ll get my thoughts on something else for a while.”

Right. I’ll see you later then. Bye.” Charlie ended the phone call and hung up.

I turned my back to the living room and hung up the phone. I felt Jake’s presence behind me, but I didn’t turn around.

What was it that caused Harry’s heart attack?” I asked him and hoped he would actually give me a straightforward answer instead of dancing around it.

He’s always had a weak heart.” I could hear it in his voice. It was so obvious that he wasn’t telling me the whole truth.

Why are Seth and Leah with Sam?” I pressed on.

He’s their third cousin. Of course he would want to help.”

I turned around and stared right into his eyes. “Jake, stop it! Just tell me. I know there’s something you’re keeping from me.”

Jake sighed and put up his hand on the wall next to my head to support his weight on. He came very close and leaned his head against mine. His eyes were closed, so there was no way he could see how he was affecting me at the moment. “Harry had a heart attack because…because Leah phased in front of him. The commotion distressed Seth and he phased too. That’s why they are with Sam.”

I had suspected that maybe Seth had phased, but not Leah and I tried to wrap my head around it.

Leah?” Jake nodded with his eyes still closed. “Has that ever happened before?”

He inhaled sharply and leaned away from me. My thoughts cleared up the minute we weren’t touching anymore. “No. That’s why there’s so much going on right now. It’s never mentioned in the legends about female wolves, which gives us cause to believe that it’s never existed before. Sam is trying to calm Leah and Seth down; get them to phase to human form again, but it’s challenging.”

I bet. They just lost their father.” Jake finally opened his eyes and I could see what all of this did to him. He looked calm on the outside, but inside, a war was raging. What he wanted the most at the moment was to get out there and help, but he also felt the need to protect me from Victoria since she was still free out there.

I closed the distance between us and hugged him tightly. He squeezed me almost painfully, but I only answered by hugging him even tighter.

I felt him sigh into my hair before he leaned back to look me in the eyes. “Bella, you confuse me. What is it that you want?” He looked adorably confused. Almost like a child who had lost his mommy at the mall. He looked so cute, and I didn’t even hesitate when I put a hand on his cheek and stood up on my toes to gently press my lips against his for a second.

It seemed like it took several seconds before my action sunk in completely. When it did, his eyes lit up and he crashed his mouth down on mine, much more forcibly than I’d had.

Even though the kiss was not soft, his lips were and it felt slightly strange for about a second. I wasn't used to the feeling of soft and warm lips on mine, but I liked it.

Jake’s hands were on my hips, and he used some of his strength to pull me even closer. There was absolutely no air between our bodies and I could feel that Jake was getting quite excited. Still, I didn’t pull away. I didn’t want to pull away. Instead, I wound my arms around his neck and stood up on my toes.

I could tell that he did not anticipate my response. This kiss had probably been a test to see if I would pull away. He was happily surprised when I didn’t.

When he opened his mouth, I could feel his breath on my face, moist and warm.

A noise escaped me and it made Jake press our bodies even closer together. My back was up against the wall and I had nowhere to go. I felt all warm inside and when I felt his tongue lick my lower lip, I opened my mouth to meet him halfway.

Both Jake and I were breathing heavily, and I could feel the oxygen in my brain slowly draining away. I felt lightheaded, and I knew that I was going to faint any second.

At that exact moment, Jake broke away from the kiss and leaned his forehead against mine.

Our chests were heaving as we tried to catch our breath.

Jake swallowed thickly before speaking. “Wow, Bella. So I guess you want to give me a chance after all.”

I giggled and whispered in his ear. “Yes, definitely giving you a chance.”

Jake shivered. “Thank you.”

I cast a glance at the clock. Charlie would be home in forty-five minutes, and I needed to start dinner. I leaned away from Jake.

Do you want to stay for dinner?”

Jake smiled my smile and stroked my cheek. “I'd love to.” Then he kissed me again, very softly.

It wasn't as urgent this time. This kiss wasn't about need or to confirming our feelings for each other. It was only about us and neither of us wanted it to end.

But I really had to start dinner, so I broke away and took his hand. “Seriously, I really need to start dinner now.” Jake laughed and followed me into the kitchen.