Chapter 12 INTRUDER
MY EYES FLEW WIDE OPEN WITH FRIGHT, THOUGH I WAS so exhausted and muddled that I was not yet positive whether I was awake or asleep.
Something scratched against my window again with the same thin, high-pitched sound.
Confused and clumsy with sleep, I stumbled out of my bed and to the window, blinking the lingering tears from my eyes on the way.
A huge, dark shape wobbled erratically on the other side of the glass, lurching toward me like it was going to smash right through. I staggered back, terrified, my throat closing around a scream.
She'd come for me.
I was dead.
Not Charlie, too!
I choked back the building scream. I would have to keep quiet through this. Somehow. I had to keep Charlie from coming to investigate��
And then a familiar, husky voice called from the dark shape.
"Bella!" it hissed. "Ouch! Damn it, open the window! OUCH!"
I needed two seconds to shake off the horror before I could move, but then I hurried to the window and shoved the glass out of the way. The clouds were dimly lit from behind, enough for me to make sense of the shapes.
"What are you doing?" I gasped.
Jacob was clinging precariously to the top of the spruce that grew in the middle of Charlie's little front yard. His weight had bowed the tree toward the house and he now swung��his legs dangling twenty feet above the ground��not a yard away from me. The thin branches at the tip of the tree scraped against the side of the house again with a grating squeal.
"I'm trying to keep"��he huffed, shifting his weight as the treetop bounced him��"my promise!"
I blinked my wet blurry eyes, suddenly sure that I was dreaming.
"When did you ever promise to kill yourself falling out of Charlie's tree?"
He snorted, unamused, swinging his legs to improve his balance. "Get out of the way," he ordered.
He swung his legs again, backwards and forward, increasing his momentum. I realized what he was ttying to do.
But I ducked to the side, aecause it was too late. With a grunt, he launched himself toward my open window.
Another scream built in my throat as I waited for him to fall to his death��or at least maim himself against
the wooden siding. To my shock, he swung agilely into my room, landing on the balls of his feet with a low thud.
We both looked to the door automatically, holding our breath, waiting to see if the noise had woken Charlie. A short moment of silence passed, and then we heard the muffled sound of Charlie's snore.
A wide grin spread slowly across Jacob's face; he seemed extremely pleased with himself. It wasn't the grin that I knew and loved��it was a new grin, one that was a bitter mockery of his old sincerity, on the new face that belonged to Sam.
That was a bit much for me.
I'd cried myself to sleep over this boy. His harsh rejection had punched a painful new hole in what was left of my chest. He'd left a new nightmare behind him, like an infection in a sore��the insult after the injury. And now he was here in my room, smirking at me as if none of that had passed. Worse than that, even though his arrival had been noisy and awkward, it reminded me of when Edward used to sneak in through my window at night, and the reminder picked viciously at the unhealed wounds.
All of this, coupled with the fact that I was dog-tired, did not put me in a friendly mood.
"Get out!" I hissed, putting as much venom into the whisper as I could.
He blinked, his face going blank with surprise.
"No," he protested. "I came to apologize."
"I don't accept!"
I tried to shove him back out the window��after all, if this was a dream, it wouldn't really hurt him. It was useless, though. I didn't budge him an inch. I dropped my hands quickly, and stepped away from him.
He wasn't wearing a shirt, though the air blowing in the window was cold enough to make me shiver, and it made me uncomfortable to have my hands on his bare chest. His skin was burning hot, like his head had been the last time I'd touched him. Like he was still sick with the fever.
He didn't look sick. He looked huge. He leaned over me, so big that he blacked out the window, tongue-tied by my furious reaction.
Suddenly, it was just more than I could handle��it felt as if all of my sleepless nights were crashing down on me en masse. I was so brutally tired that I thought I might collapse right there on the floor. I swayed unsteadily, and struggled to keep my eyes open.
"Bella?" Jacob whispered anxiously. He caught my elbow as I swayed again, and steered me back to the bed. My legs gave out when I reached the edge, and I plopped into a limp heap on the mattress.
"Hey, are you okay?" Jacob asked, worry creasing his forehead.
I looked up at him, the tears not yet dried on my cheeks. "Why in the world would I be okay, Jacob?"
Anguish replaced some of the bitterness in his face. "Right," he agreed, and took a deep breath. "Crap. Well�� I��I'm so sorry, Bella." The apology was sincere, no doubt about it, though there was still an angry twist to his features.
"Why did you come here? I don't want apologies from you, Jake."
"I know," he whispered. "But I couldn't leave things the way I did this afternoon. Thar was horrible. I'm sorry."
I shook my head wearily. "I don't understand anything."
"I know. I want to explain��" He broke off suddenly, his mouth open, almost like something had cut off his air. Then he sucked in a deep breath. "But I can't explain," he said, still angry. "I wish I could."
I let my head fall into my hands. My question came out muffled by my arm. "Why?"
He was quiet for a moment. I twisted my head to the side��too tired to hold it up��to see his expression. It surprised me. His eyes were squinted, his teeth clenched, his forehead wrinkled in effort.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He exhaled heavily, and I realized he'd been holding his breath, too. "I can't do it," he muttered, frustrated.
He ignored my question. "Look, Bella, haven't you ever had a secret that you couldn't tell anyone?"
He looked at me with knowing eyes, and my thoughts jumped immediately to the Cullens. I hoped my expression didn't look guilty.
"Something you felt like you had to keep from Charlie, from your mom�� ?" he pressed. "Something you won't even talk about with me? Not even now?"
I felt my eyes tighten. I didn't answer his question, though I knew he would take that as a confirmation.
"Can you understand that I might have the same kind of�� situation?" He was struggling again, seeming to fight for the right words. "Sometimes, loyalty gets in the way of what you want to do. Sometimes, it's not your secret to tell."
So, I couldn't argue with that. He was exactly right��I had a secret that wasn't mine to tell, yet a secret I felt bound to protect. A secret that, suddenly, he seemed to know all about.
I still didn't see how it applied to him, or Sam, or Billy. What was it to them, now that the Cullens were gone?
"I don't know why you came here, Jacob, if you were just going to give me riddles instead of answers."
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "This is so frustrating."
We looked at each other for a long moment in the dark room, both our faces hopeless.
"The part that kills me," he said abruptly, "is that you already know. I already told yon everything!"
"What are you talking about?"
He sucked in a startled breath, and then leaned toward me, his face shifting from hopelessness to blazing intensity in a second. He stared fiercely into my eyes, and his voice was fast and eager. He spoke the words right into my face; his breath was as hot as his skin.
"I think I see a way to make this work out��because you know this, Bella! I can't tell you, but if you
guessed it! That would let me right off the hook!"
"You want me to guess? Guess what?"
"My secret! You can do it��you know the answer!"
I blinked twice, trying to clear my head. I was so tired. Nothing he said made sense.
He took in my blank expression, and then his face tensed with effort again. "Hole on, let me see if I give you some help," he said. Whatever he was trying to do, it was so hard he was panting.
"Help?" I asked, trying to keep up. My lids wanted to slip closed, but I forced them open.
"Yeah," he said, breathing hard. "Like clues."
He took my face in his enormous, too-warm hands and held it just a few inches from his. He stared into my eyes while he whispered, as if to communicate something besides the words he spoke.
"Remember the first day we met��on the beach in La Push?"
"Of course I do."
"Tell me about it."
I took a deep breath and tried to concentrate. "You asked about my truck��"
He nodded, urging me on.
"We talked about the Rabbit��"
"We went for a walk down the beach��" My cheeks were growing warm under his palms as I remembered, but he wouldn't notice, hot as his skin was. I'd asked him to walk with me, flirting ineptly but successfully, in order to pump him for information.
He was nodding, anxious for more.
My voice was nearly soundless. "You told me scary stories�� Quileute legends."
He closed his eyes and opened them again. "Yes." The word was tense, fervent, like he was on the edge of something vital. He spoke slowly, making each word distinct. "Do you remember what I said?"
Even in the dark, he must be able to see the change in the color of my face. How could I ever forget that? Without realizing what he was doing, Jacob had told me exactly what I needed to know that day��that Edward was a vampire.
He looked at me with eyes that knew too much. "Think hard," he told me.
"Yes, I remember," I breathed.
He inhaled deeply, struggling. "Do you remember all the stor��" He couldn't finish the question. His mouth popped open like something had stuck in his throat.
"All the stories?" I asked.
He nodded mutely.
My head churned. Only one story really mattered. I knew he'd begun with others, but I couldn't remember the inconsequential prelude, especially not while my brain was so clouded with exhaustion. I started to shake my head.
Jacob groaned and jumped off the bed. He pressed his fists against his forehead and breathed fast and angry. "You know this, you know this," he muttered to himself.
"Jake? Jake, please, I'm exhausted. I'm no good at this right now. Maybe in the morning��"
He took a steadying breath and nodded. "Maybe it will come back to you. I guess I understand why you only remember the one story," he added in a sarcastic, bitter tone. He plunked back onto the mattress beside me. "Do you mind if I ask you a question about that?" he asked, still sarcastic. "I've been dying ro know."
"A question about what?" I asked warily.
"About the vampire story I told you."
I stared at him with guarded eyes, unable to answer. He asked his question anyway.
"Did you honestly not know?" he asked me, his voice turning husky. "Was I the one who told you what he was?"
How did he know this? Why did he decide to believe, why now? My teeth clenched together. I stared back at him, no intention of speaking. He could see that.
"See what I mean about loyalty?" he murmured, even huskier now. "It's the same for me, only worse. You can't imagine how tight I'm bound��"
I didn't like that��didn't like the way his eyes closed as if he were in pain when he spoke of being bound. More than dislike��I realized I hated it, hated anything that caused him pain. Hated it fiercely.
Sam's face filled my mind.
For me, this was all essentially voluntary. I protected the Cullens' secret out of love; unrequited, but true. For Jacob, it didn't seem to be that way.
"Isn't there any way for you to get free?" I whispered, touching the rough edge at the back of his shorn hair.
His hands began to tremble, but he didn't open his eyes. "No. I'm in this for life. A life sentence." A bleak laugh. "Longer, maybe."
"No, Jake," I moaned. "What if we ran away? Just you and me. What if we left home, and left Sam behind?"
"It's not something I can run away from, Bella," he whispered. "I would run with you, though, if I could." His shoulders were shaking now, too. He took a deep breath. "Look, I've got to leave."
"For one thing, you look like you're going to pass out at any second. You need your sleep��I need you firing on all pistons. You're going to figure this out, you have to."
"And why else?"
He frowned. "I had to sneak out��I'm not supposed to see you. They've got to be wondering where I am." His mouth twisted. "I suppose I should go let them know."
"You don't have to tell them anything," I hissed.
"All the same, I will."
The anger flashed hot inside me. "I hate them!"
Jacob looked at me with wide eyes, surprised. "No, Bella. Don't hate the guys. It's not Sam's or any of the others' faults. I told you before��it's me. Sam is actually�� well, incredibly cool. Jared and Paul are great, too, though Paul is kind of�� And Embry's always been my friend. Nothing's changed there��the only thing that hasn't changed. I feel really bad abour the things I used to think about Sam��"
"Sam was incredibly cool." I glared at him in disbelief, but let it go.
"Then why aren't you supposed to see me?" I demanded.
"It's not safe," he mumbled looking down.
His words sent a thrill of fear through me.
Did he know that, too? Nobody knew that besides me. But he was right��it was the middle of the night, the perfect time for hunting. Jacob shouldn't be here in my room. If someone came for me, I had :o be alone.
"If I thought it was too�� too risky," he whispered, "I wouldn't have come. But Bella," he looked at me again, "I made you a promise. I had no idea it would be so hard to keep, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try."
He saw the incomprehension in my face. "After that stupid movie," he reminded me. "I promised you that I wouldn't ever hurt you�� So I really blew it this afternoon, didn't I?"
"I know you didn't want to do it, Jake. It's okay."
"Thanks, Bella." He took my hand. "I'm going to do what I can to be here for you, just like I promised." He grinned at me suddenly. The grin was not mine, nor Sam's, but some strange combination of the two. "It would really help if you could figure this out on your own, Bella. Put some honest effort into it."
I made a weak grimace. "I'll try."
"And I'll try to see you soon." He sighed. "And they'll try to talk me out of that."
"Don't listen to them."
"I'll try." He shook his head, as if he doubted his success. "Come and tell me as soon as you figure it out." Something occurred to him just then, something that made his hands shake. "If you�� if you want to."
"Why wouldn't I want to see you?"
His face turned hard and bitter, one hundred percent the face that belonged to Sam. "Oh, I can think of a reason," he said in a harsh tone. "Look, I really have to go. Could you do something for me?"
I just nodded, frightened of the change in him.
"At least call me��if you don't want to see me again. Let me know if it's like that."
"That won't happen��"
He raised one hand, cutting me off. "Just let me know."
He stood and headed for the window.
"Don't be an idiot, Jake," I complained. "You'll break your leg. Use the door. Charlie's not going to catch you."
"I won't get hurt," he muttered, but he turned for the door. He hesitated as he passed me, staring at me with an expression like something was stabbing him. He held one hand out, pleading.
I took his hand, and suddenly he yanked me��too roughly��right off the bed so that I thudded against his chest.
"Just in case," he muttered against my hair, crushing me in a bear hug that about broke my ribs.
"Can't��breathe!" I gasped.
He dropped me at once, keeping one hand at my waist so I didn't fall over. He pushed me, more gently this time, back down on the bed.
"Get some sleep, Bells. You've got to get your head working. I know you can do this. I need you. to understand. I won't lose you, Bella. Not for this."
He was to the door in one stride, opening it quietly, and then disappearing through it. I listened for him to hit the squeaky step in the stairs, but there was no sound.
I lay back on my bed, my head spinning. I was too confused, too worn out. I closed my eyes, trying to make sense of it, only to be swallowed up by unconsciousness so swiftly that it was disorienting.
It was not the peaceful, creamless sleep I'd yearned for��of course not. I was in the forest again, and I started to wander the way I always did.
I quickly became aware that this was not the same dream as usual. For one thing, I felt no compulsion to wander or to search; I was merely wandering out of habit, because that was what was usually expected of me here. Actually, this wasn't even the same forest. The smell was different, and the light, too. It smelled, not like the damp earth of the woods, but like the brine of the ocean. I couldn't see the sky; still, it seemed like the sun must be shining��the leaves above were bright jade green.
This was the forest around La Push��near the beach there, I was sure of it. I knew that if I found the beach, I would be able to see the sun, so I hurried forward, following the faint sound of waves in the distance.
And then Jacob was there. He grabbed my hand, pulling me back toward the blackest part of the forest.
"Jacob, what's wrong?" I asked. His face was the frightened face of a boy, and his hair was beautiful again, swept back into a ponytail on the nape of his neck. He yanked with all his strength, but I resisted; I didn't want to go into the dark.
"Run, Bella, you have to run!" he whispered, terrified.
The abrupt wave of deja vu was so strong it nearly woke me up.
I knew why I recognized this place now. It was because I'd been here before, in another dream. A million years ago, part of a different life entirely. This was the dream I'd had the night after I'd walked with Jacob on the beach, the first night I knew that Edward was a vampire. Reliving that day with Jacob must have dredged this dream out of my buried memories.
Detached from the dream now, I waited for it to play out. A light was coming toward me from the beach. In just a moment, Edward would walk through the trees, his skin faintly glowing and his eyes black and dangerous. He would beckon to me, and smile. He would be beautiful as an angel, and his teeth would be pointed and sharp��
But I was getting ahead of myself. Something else had to happen first.
Jacob dropped my hand and yelped. Shaking and twitching, he fell to the ground at my feet.
"Jacob!" I screamed, but he was gone.
In his place was an enormous, red-brown wolf with dark, intelligent eyes.
The dream veered off course, like a train jumping the tracks.
This was not the same wolf that I'd dreamed of in another life. This was the great russet wolf I'd stood half a foot from in the meadow, just a week ago. This wolf was gigantic, monstrous, bigger than a bear.
This wolf stared intently at me, trying to convey something vital with his intelligent eyes. The black-brown, familiar eyes of Jacob Black.
I woke screaming at the top of my lungs.
I almost expected Charlie to come check on me this time. This wasn't my usual screaming. I buried my head in my pillow and tried to muffle the hysterics that my screams were building into. J pressed the cotton tight against my face, wondering if I couldn't also somehow smother the connection I'd just made.
But Charlie didn't come in. and eventually I was able to strangle the strange screeching coming out of my throat.
I remembered it all now��every word that Jacob had said to me that day on the beach, even the part before he got to the vampires, the "cold ones." Especially that first part.
"Do you know any of our old stories, about where we came from��the Quileutes, I mean?" he asked.
"Not really," I admitted.
"Well, there are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Flood��supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive, like Noah and the ark." He smiled then, to show me how little stock he put in the histories. "Another legend claims that we descended from wolves��and that the wolves are our brothers still. It's against tribal law to kill them.
"Then there are the stories about the cold ones." His voice dropped a little lower.
"The cold ones?"
"Yes. There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land." Jacob rolled his eyes.
" Your great-grandfather?"
"He was a tribal elder, like my father. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf�� well, not the wolf really, but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors. You would call them werewolves."
"Werewolves have enemies?"
There was something stuck in my throat, choking me. I tried to swallow it down, but it was lodged there, un-moving. I tried to spit it out.
"Werewolf," I gasped.
Yes, that was the word that I was choking on.
The whole world lurched, tilting the wrong way on its axis.
What kind of a place was this? Could a world really exist where ancient legends went wandering around the borders of tiny, insignificant towns, facing down mythical monsters? Did this mean every impossible fairy tale was grounded somewhere in absolute truth? Was there anything sane or normal at all, or was everything just magic and ghost stories?
I clutched my head in my hands, trying to keep it from exploding.
A small, dry voice in the back of my mind asked me what the big deal was. Hadn't I already accepted the existence of vampires long ago��and without all the hysterics that time?
Exactly, I wanted to scream back at the voice. Wasn't one myth enough for anyone, enough for a lifetime?
Besides, there'd never been one moment that I wasn't completely aware that Edward Cullen was above and beyond the ordinary. It wasn't such a surprise to find out what he was��because he so obviously was something.
But Jacob? Jacob, who was just Jacob, and nothing more than that? Jacob, my friend? Jacob, the only human I'd ever been able to relate to��
And he wasn't even human.
I fought the urge to scream again.
What did this say about me?
I knew the answer to that one. It said that there was something deeply wrong with me. Why else would my life be filled with characters from horror movies? Why else would I care so much about them that it would tear big chunks right out of my chest when they went off along their mythical ways?
In my head, everything spun and shifted, rearranging so that things that had meant one thing before, now meant something else.
There was no cult. There had never been a cult, never been a gang. No, it was much worse than that. It was a pack.
A pack of five mind-blowingly gigantic, multihued werewolves that had stalked right past me in Edward's meadow��
Suddenly, I was in a frantic hurry. I glanced at the clock��it was way too early and I didn't care. I had to go to La Push now. I had to see Jacob so he could tell me that I hadn't lost my mind altogether.
I pulled on the first clean clothes I could find, not bothering to be sure they matched, and took the stairs two at a time. I almost ran into Charlie as I skidded into the hallway, headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" he asked, as surprised to see me as I was to see him. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Yeah. I have to go see Jacob."
"I thought the thing with Sam��"
"That doesn't matter, I have to talk to him right now."
"It's pretty early." He frowned when my expression didn't change. "Don't you want breakfast?"
"Not hungry." The words flew through my lips. He was blocking my path to the exit. I considered ducking around him and making a run for it, but I knew I would have to explain that to him later. "I'll be back soon, okay?"
Charlie frowned. "Straight to Jacob's house, right? No stops on the way?"
"Of course not, where would I stop?" My words were running together in my hurry.
"I don't know," he admitted. "It's just�� well, there's been another attack��the wolves again. It was real close to the resort by the hot springs��there's a witness this time. The victim was only a dozen yards from the road when he disappeared. His wife saw a huge gray wolf just a few minutes later, while she was searching for him, and ran for help."
My stomach dropped like I'd hit a corkscrew on a roller coaster. "A wolf attacked him?"
"There's no sign of him��just a little blood again." Charlie's face was pained. "The rangers are going out armed, taking armed volunteers. There're a lot of hunters who are eager to be involved��there's a reward being offered for wolf carcasses. That's going to mean a lot of firepower out there in the forest, and it worries me." He shook his head. "When people get too excited, accidents happen��"
"They're going to shoot the wolves?" My voice shot through three octaves.
"What else can we do? What's wrong?" he asked, his tense eyes studying my face. I felt faint; I must be whiter than usual. "You aren't turning into a tree-hugger on me, are you?"
I couldn't answer. If he hadn't been watching me, I would have put my head between my knees. I'd forgotten about the missing hikers, the bloody paw prints�� I hadn't connected those facts to my first realization.
"Look, honey, don't let this scare you. Just stay in town or on the highway��no stops��okay?"
"Okay," I repeated in a weak voice.
"I've got to go."
I looked at him closely for the first time, and saw that he had his gun strapped to his waist and hiking boots on.
"You aren't going out there after the wolves, are you, Dad?"
"I've got to help, Bells. People are disappearing."
My voice shot up again, almost hysterical now. "No! No, don't go. It's too dangerous!"
"I've got to do my job, kid. Don't be such a pessimist��I'll be fine." He turned for the door, and held it open. "You leaving?"
I hesitated, my stomach still spinning in uncomfortable loops. What could I say to stop him? I was too dizzy to think of a solution.
"Maybe it's too early to go to La Push," I whispered.
"I agree," he said, and he stepped out into the rain, shutting the door behind him.
As soon as he was out of sight, I dropped to the floor and put my head between my knees.
Should I go after Charlie? What would I say?
And what about Jacob? Jacob was my best friend; I needed to warn him. If he really was a��I cringed and forced myself to think the word��werewolf (and I knew it was true, I could feel it), then people would be shooting at him! I needed to tell him and his friends that people would try to kill them if they went running around like gigantic wolves. I needed to tell them to stop.
They had to stop! Charlie was out there in the woods. Would they care about that? I wondered�� Up until now, only strangers had disappeared. Did that mean anything, or was it just chance?
I needed to believe that Jacob, at least, would care about that.
Either way, I had to warn him.
Or�� did I?
Jacob was my best friend, but was he a monster, too? A real one? A bad one? Should I warn him, if he and his friends were�� were murderers! If they were out slaughtering innocent hikers in cold blood? If they were truly creatures from a horror movie in every sense, would it be wrong to protect them?
It was inevitable that I would have to compare Jacob and his friends to the Cullens. I wrapped my arms around my chest, fighting the hole, while I thought of them.
I didn't know anything about werewolves, clearly. I would have expected something closer to the movies��big hairy half-men creatures or something��if I'd expected anything at all. So I didn't know what made them hunt, whether hunger or thirst or just a desire to kill. It was hard to judge, not knowing that.
But it couldn't be worse than what the Cullens endured in their quest to be good. I thought of Esme��the tears started when I pictured her kind, lovely face��and how, as motherly and loving as she was, she'd
had to hold her nose, all ashamed, and run from me when I was bleeding. It couldn't be harder than that. I thought of Carlisle, the centuries upon centuries that he had struggled to teach himself to ignore blood, so that he could save lives as a doctor. Nothing could be harder than that.
The werewolves had chosen a different path.
Now, what should I choose?
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