Chapter 13 KILLER
IF IT WAS ANYONE BUT JACOB, I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, shaking my head as I drove down the forest-lined highway to La Push.
I still wasn't sure if I was domg the right thing, but I'd made a compromise with myself.
I couldn't condone what Jacob and his friends, his pack, were doing. I understood now what he'd said last night��that I might not want to see him again��and I could have called him as he'd suggested, but that felt cowardly. I owed him a face-to-face conversation, at least. I would tell him to his face that I couldn't just overlook what was going on. I couldn't be friends with a killer and say nothing, let the killing continue�� That would make me a monster, too.
But I couldn't not warn him, either. I had to do what I could to protect him.
I pulled up to the Blacks' house with my lips pressed together into a hard line. It was bad enough that my best friend was a werewolf. Did he have to be a monster, too?
The house was dark, no lights in the windows, but I didn't care if I woke them. My fist thudded against the front door with angry energy; the sound reverberated through the walls.
"Come in," I heard Billy call after a minute, and a light flicked on.
I twisted the knob; it was unlocked. Billy was leaning around an open doorway just off the little kitchen, a bathrobe around his shoulders, not in his chair yet. When he saw who it was, his eyes widened briefly, and then his face turned stoic.
"Well, good morning, Bella. What are you doing up so early?"
"Hey, Billy. I need to talk to Jake��where is he?"
"Um�� I don't really know," he lied, straight-faced.
"Do you know what Charlie is doing this morning?" I demanded, sick of the stalling.
"He and half the other men in town are all out in the woods with guns, hunting giant wolves."
Billy's expression flickered, and then went blank.
"So I'd like to talk to Jake about that, if you don't mind," I continued.
Billy pursed his thick lips for a long moment. "I'd bet he's still asleep," he finally said, nodding toward the
tiny hallway off the front room. "He's out late a lot these days. Kid needs his rest��probably you shouldn't wake him."
"It's my turn," I muttered under my breath as I stalked to the hallway. Billy sighed.
Jacob's tiny closet of a room was the only door in the yard-long hallway. I didn't bother to knock. I threw the door open; it slammed against the wall with a bang.
Jacob��still wearing just the same black cut-off sweats he'd worn last night��was stretched diagonally across the double bed that took up all of his room but a few inches around the edges. Even on a slant, it wasn't long enough; his feet hung off the one end and his head off the other. He was fast asleep, snoring lightly with his mouth hanging open. The sound of the door hadn't even made him twitch.
His face was peaceful with (deep sleep, all the angry lines smoothed out. There were circles under his eyes that I hadn't noticed before. Despite his ridiculous size, he looked very young now, and very weary. Pity shook me.
I stepped back out, and shut the door quietly behind me.
Billy stared with curious, guarded eyes as I walked slowly back into the front room.
"I think I'll let him get some rest."
Billy nodded, and then we gazed at each other for a minute. I was dying to ask him about his part in this.
What did he think of what his son had become? But I knew how he'd supported Sam from the very beginning, and so I supposed the murders must not bother him. How he justified that to himself I couldn't imagine.
I could see many questions for me in his dark eyes, but he didn't voice them either.
"Look," I said, breaking the loud silence. "I'll be down at the beach for a while. When he wakes up, tell him I'm waiting for him, okay?"
"Sure, sure," Billy agreed.
I wondered if he really would. Well, if he didn't, I'd tried, right?
I drove down to First Beach and parked in the empty dirt lot. It was still dark��the gloomy predawn of a cloudy day��and when I cut the headlights it was hard to see. I had to let my eyes adjust before I could find the path that led through the tall hedge of weeds. It was colder here, with the wind whipping off the black water, and I shoved my hands deep into the pockets of my winter jacket. At least the rain had stopped.
I paced down the beach toward the north seawall. I couldn't see St. James or the other islands, just the vague shape of the water's edge. I picked my way carefully across the rocks, watching out for driftwood that might trip me.
I found what I was looking for before I realized I was looking for it. It materialized out of the gloom when it was just a few feet away: a long bone-white driftwood tree stranded deep on the rocks. The roots twisted up at the seaward end, like a hundred brittle tentacles. I couldn't be sure that it was the same tree where Jacob and I had had our first conversation��a conversation that had begun so many different, tangled threads of my life��but it seemed to be in about the same place I sat down where I'd sat before, and stared out across the invisible sea.
Seeing Jacob like that��innocent and vulnerable in sleep��had stolen all my revulsion, dissolved all my anger. I still couldn't turn a blind sye to what was happening, like Billy seemed to, but I couldn't condemn Jacob for it either. Love didn't work that way, I decided. Once you cared about a person, it was impossible to be logical about them anymore. Jacob was my friend whether he killed people or not. And I didn't know what I was going to do about that.
When I pictured him sleeping so peacefully, I felt an overpowering urge to protect him. Completely illogical.
Illogical or not, I brooded over the memory his peaceful face, trying to come up with some answer, some way to shelter him, while the sky slowly turned gray.
Jacob's voice came from the darkness and made me jump. It was soft, almost shy, but I'd been expecting some forewarning from the noisy rocks, and so it still startled me. I could see his silhouette against the coming sunrise��it looked enormous.
He stood several paces away, shifting his weight from foot to foot anxiously.
"Billy told me you came by��didn't take you very long, did it? I knew you could figure it out."
"Yeah, I remember the right story now," I whispered.
It was quiet for a long moment and, though it was still too dark to see well, my skin prickled as if his eyes were searching my face. There must have been enough light for him to read my expression, because when he spoke again, his voice was suddenly acidic.
"You could have just called," he said harshly.
I nodded. "I know."
Jacob started pacing along the rocks. If I listened very hard, I could just hear the gentle brush of his feet on the rocks behind the sound of the waves. The rocks had clattered like castanets for me.
"Why did you come?" he demanded, not halting his angry stride.
"I thought it would be better face-to-face."
He snorted. "Oh, much better."
"Jacob, I have to warn you��"
"About the rangers and the hunters? Don't worry about it. We already know."
"Don't worry about it?" I demanded in disbelief. "Jake, they've got guns! They're setting traps and offering rewards and��"
"We can take care of ourselves," he growled, still pacing. "They're not going to catch anything. They're only making it more difficult��they'll start disappearing soon enough, too."
"Jake!" I hissed.
"What? It's just a fact."
My voice was pale with revulsion. "How can you�� feel that way? You know these people. Charlie's out there!" The thought made my stomach twist.
He came to an abrupt stop. "What more can we do?" he retorted.
The sun turned the clouds a slivery pink above us. I could see his expression now; it was angry, frustrated, betrayed.
"Could you�� well, try to not be a�� werewolf?" I suggested in a whisper.
He threw his hands up in the air. "Like I have a choice about it!" he shouted. "And how would that help anything, if you're worried about people disappearing?"
"I don't understand you."
He glared at me, his eyes narrowing and his mouth twisting into a snarl. "You know what makes me so mad I could just spit?"
I flinched away from his hostile expression. He seemed to be waiting for an answer, so I shook my head.
"You're such a hypocrite, Bella��there you sit, terrified of me! How is that fair?" His hands shook with anger.
"Hypocrite? How does being afraid of a monster make me a hypocrite?"
"Ugh!" he groaned, pressing his trembling fists to his temples and squeezing his eyes shut. "Would you listen to yourself?"
He took two steps toward me, leaning over me and glaring with fury. "Well, I'm so sorry that I can't be the right kind of monster for you, Bella. I guess I'm just not as great as a bloodsucker, am I?"
I jumped to my feet and glared back. "No, you're not!" I shouted. "It's not what you are, stupid, it's what you do!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" He roared, his entire frame quivering with rage.
I was taken entirely by surprise when Edward's voice cautioned me. "Be very careful, Bella," his velvet voice warned. "Don't push him too far. You need to calm him down."
Even the voice in my head was making no sense today.
I listened to him, though. I would do anything for that voice.
"Jacob," I pleaded, making my tone soft and even. "Is it really necessary to kill people, Jacob? Isn't there some other way? I mean, if vampires can find a way to survive without murdering people, couldn't you give it a try, too?"
He straightened up with a jerk, like my words had sent an electric shock through him. His eyebrows shot up and his eyes stared wide.
"Killing people?" he demanded.
"What did you think we were talking about?"
He wasn't trembling anymore. He looked at me with half-hopeful disbelief. "I thought we were talking about your disgust for werewolves."
"No, Jake, no. It's not that you're a�� wolf. That's fine," I promised him, and I knew as I said the words that I meant them. I really didn't care if he turned into a big wolf��he was still Jacob. "If you could just find a way not to hurt people�� that's all that upsets me. These ate innocent people, Jake, people like Charlie, and I can't just look the other way while you��"
"Is that all? Really?" he interrupted me, a smile breaking across his face. "You're just scared because I'm a murderer? That's the only reason?"
"Isn't that reason enough?"
He started to laugh.
"Jacob Black, this is so notfunny!"
"Sure, sure," he agreed, still chortling.
He took one long stride and caught me in another vice-tight bear hug.
"You really, honestly don't mind that I morph into a giant dog?" he asked, his voice joyful in my ear.
"No," I gasped. "Can't��breathe��Jake!"
He let me go, but took both my hands. "I'm not a killer, Bella."
I studied his face, and it was clear that this was the truth. Relief pulsed through me.
"Really?" I asked.
"Really," he promised solemnly.
I threw my arms around him. It reminded me of that first day with the motorcycles��he was bigger, though, and I felt even more like a child now.
Like that other time, he stroked my hair.
"Sorry I called you a hypocrite," he apologized.
"Sorry I called you a murderer."
I thought of something then, and pulled away from him so that I could see his face. My eyebrows furrowed in anxiety. "What about Sam? And the others?"
He shook his head, smiling like a huge burden had been removed from his shoulders. "Of course not. Don't you remember what we call ourselves?"
The memory was clear��I'd just been thinking of that very day. "Protectors?"
"But I don't understand. What's happening in the woods? The missing hikers, the blood?"
His face was serious, worried at once. "We're trying to do our job, Bella. We're trying to protect them, but we're always just a little too late."
"Protect them from what? Is there really a bear out there, too?"
"Bella, honey, we only protect people from one thing��our one enemy. It's the reason we exist��because they do."
I stared at him blankly for one second before I understood. Then the blood drained from my face and a thin, wordless cry of horror broke through my lips.
He nodded. "I thought you, of all people, would reali2e what was really going on."
"Laurent," I whispered. "He's still here."
Jacob blinked twice, and cocked his head to one side. "Who's Laurent?"
I tried to sort out the chaos in my head so that I could answer. "You know��you saw him in the meadow. You were there��" The words came out in a wondering tone as it all sunk in. "You were there, and you kept him from killing me��"
"Oh, the black-haired leech?" He grinned, a tight, fierce grin. "Was that his name?"
I shuddered. "What were you thinking?" I whispered. "He could have killed you! Jake, you don't realize how dangerous��"
Another laugh interrupted me "Bella, one lone vampire isn't much of a problem for a pack as big as ours. It was so easy, it was hardly even fun!"
"What was so easy?"
"Killing the bloodsucker who was going to kill you. Now, I don't count that towards the whole murder thing," he added quickly. "Vampires don't count as people."
I could only mouth the words. "You�� killed�� Laurent?"
He nodded. "Well, it was a group effort," he qualified.
"Laurent is dead?" I whispered.
His expression changed. "You're not upset about that, are you? He was going to kill you��he was going for the kill, Bella, we were sure of that before we attacked. You know that, right?"
"I know that. No, I'm not upset��I'm��" I had to sit down. I stumbled back a step until I felt the driftwood against my calves, and then sank down onto it. "Laurent is dead. He's not coming back for me."
"You're not mad? He wasn't one of your friends or anything, was he?"
"My friend?" I stared up at him, confused and dizzy with relief. I started babbling, my eyes getting moist. "No, Jake. I'm so�� so relieved. I thought he was going to find me��I've been waiting for him every night, just hoping that he'd stop with me and leave Charlie alone. I've been so frightened, Jacob�� But how? He was a vampire! How did you kill him? He was so strong, so hard, like marble��"
He sat down next to me and put one big arm around me comfortingly. "It's what we're made for, Bells. We're strong, too. I wish you would have told me that you were so afraid. You didn't need to be."
"You weren't around," I mumbled, lost in thought.
"Wait, Jake��I thought you knew, though. Last night, you said it wasn't safe for you to be in my room. I thought you knew that a vampire might be coming. Isn't that what you were talking about?"
He looked confused for a minute, and then he ducked his head. "No, that's not what I meant."
"Then why didn't you think it was safe for you there?"
He looked at me with guilt-ridden eyes. "I didn't say it wasn't safe for me. I was thinking of you."
"What do you mean?"
He looked down and kicked a rock. "There's more than one reason I'm not supposed to be around you, Bella. I wasn't supposed to tell you our secret, for one thing, but the other part is that it's not safe for you. If I get too mad�� too upset�� you might get hurt."
I thought about that carefully. "When you were mad before�� when I was yelling at you�� and you were shaking�� ?"
"Yeah." His face dropped even lower. "That was pretty stupid of me. I have to keep a better hold on myself. I swore I wasn't going to get mad, no matter what you said to me. But�� I just got so upser that I was going to lose you�� that you couldn't deal with what I am��"
"What would happen�� if you got too mad?" I whispered.
"I'd turn into a wolf," he whispered back.
"You don't need a full moon."
He rolled his eyes. "Hollywood's version doesn't get much right." Then he sighed, and was serious again. "You don't need to be so stressed out, Bells. We're going to take care of this. And we're keeping a special eye on Charlie and the others��we won't let anything happen to him. Trust me on that."
Something very, very obvious, something I should have grasped at once��but I'd been so distracted by the idea of Jacob and his friends fighting with Laurent, that I'd completely missed it at the time��occurred to me only then, when Jacob used the present tense again.
We're going to take care of this.
It wasn't over.
"Laurent is dead," I gasped, and my entire body went ice cold.
"Bella?" Jacob asked anxiously, touching my ashen cheek.
"If Laurent died�� a week ago�� then someone else is killing people now."
Jacob nodded; his teeth clenched together, and he spoke through them. "There were two of them. We thought his mate would want to fight us��in our stories, they usually get pretty pissed off if you kill their
mate��but she just keeps running away, and then coming back again. If we could figure out what she was after, it would be easier to take her down. But she makes no sense. She keeps dancing around the edges, like she's testing our defenses, looking for a way in��but in where? Where does she want to go? Sam thinks she's trying to separate us, so she'll have a better chance��"
His voice faded until it sounded like it was coming through a long tunnel; I couldn't make out the individual words anymore. My forehead dewed with sweat and my stomach rolled like I had the stomach flu again. Exactly like I had the flu.
I turned away from him quickly, and leaned over the tree trunk. My body convulsed with useless heaves, my empty stomach contracting with horrified nausea, though there was nothing in it to expel.
Victoria was here. Looking for me. Killing strangers in the woods. The woods where Charlie was searching��
My head spun sickeningly.
Jacob's hands caught my shoulders��kept me from sliding forward onto the rocks. I could feel his hot breath on my cheek. "Bella! What's wrong?"
"Victoria," I gasped as soon as I could catch my breath around the nauseous spasms.
In my head, Edward snarled in fury at the name.
I felt Jacob pull me up from my slump. He draped me awkwardly across his lap, laying my limp head against his shoulder. He struggled to balance me, to keep me from sagging over, one way or the other He brushed the sweaty hair back from my face.
"Who?" Jacob asked. "Can you hear me, Bella? Bella?"
"She wasn't Laurent's mate," I moaned into his shoulder. "They were just old friends��"
"Do you need some water? A doctor? Tell me what to do," he demanded, frantic.
"I'm not sick��I'm scared," I explained in a whisper. The word scared didn't really seem to cover it.
Jacob patted my back. "Scaled of this Victoria?" I nodded, shuddering. "Victoria is the red-haired female?" I trembled again, and whimpered, "Yes."
"How do you know she wasn't his mate?"
"Laurent told me James was her mate," I explained, automatically flexing the hand with the scar.
He pulled my face around, holding it steady in his big hand. He stared intently into my eyes. "Did he tell you anything else, Bella? This is important. Do you know what she wants?"
"Of course," I whispered. "She wants me." His eyes flipped wide, then narrowed into slits. "Why?" he demanded.
"Edward killed James," I whispered. Jacob held me so tightly that there was no need for me to clutch at the hole��he kept me in one piece. "She did get�� pissed off. But Laurent said she thought it was fairer to kill me than Edward. Mate for mate. She didn't know��still doesn't know, I guess��that�� that��" I swallowed hard. "That things aren't like that with us anymore. Not for Edward, anyway."
Jacob was distracted by that, his face torn between several different expressions. "Is that what
happened? Why the Cullens left?"
"I'm nothing but a human, after all. Nothing special," I explained, shrugging weakly.
Something like a growl��not a real growl, just a human approximation��rumbled in Jacob's chest under my ear. "If that idiot bloodsucker is honestly stupid enough��"
"Please," I moaned. "Please. Don't."
Jacob hesitated, then nodded once.
"This is important," he said again, his face all business now. "This is exactly what we needed to know. We've got to tell the others right away."
He stood, pulling me to my feet. He kept two hands on my waist until he was sure I wasn't going to fall.
"I'm okay," I lied.
He traded his hold on my waist for one of my hands. "Let's go."
He pulled me back toward the truck.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"I'm not sure yet," he admitted. "I'll call a meeting. Hey, wait here for just a minute, okay?" He leaned me against the side of the truck and released my hand.
"Where are you going?"
"I'll be right back," he promised. Then he turned and sprinted through the parking lot, across the road, and into the bordering forest. He flitted into the trees, swift and sleek as a deer.
"Jacob!" I yelled after him hoarsely, but he was already gone.
It was not a good time to be left alone. Seconds after Jacob was out of sight, I was hyperventilating. I dragged myself into the cab of the truck, and mashed the locks down at once. It didn't make me feel any better.
Victoria was already hunting me. It was just luck that she hadn't found me yet��just luck and five teenage werewolves. I exhaled sharply. No matter what Jacob said, the thought of him coming anywhere close to Victoria was horrifying. I didn't care what he could turn into when he got mad. I could see her in my head, her face wild, her hair like flames, deadly, indestructible��
But, according to Jacob, Laurent was gone. Was that really possible? Edward��I clutched automatically at my chest��had told me how difficult it was to kill a vampire. Only another vampire could do the job. Yet Jake said this was what werewolves were made for��
He said they were keeping a special eye on Charlie��that I should trust the werewolves to keep my father safe. How could I trust that? None of us were safe! Jacob the very least of all, if he was trying to put himself between Victoria and Charlie�� between Victoria and me.
I felt like I might be about to throw up again.
A sharp rap on the truck's window made me yelp in terror��but it was just Jacob, back already. I unlocked the door with trembling, grateful fingers.
"You're really scared, aren't you?" he asked as he climbed in.
"Don't be. We'll take care of you��and Charlie, too. I promise."
"The idea of you finding Victoria is scarier than the idea of her finding me," I whispered.
He laughed. "You've got to have a little more confidence in us than that. It's insulting."
I just shook my head. I'd seen too many vampires in action.
"Where did you go just now?" I asked.
He pursed his lips, and said nothing.
"What? Is it a secret?"
He frowned. "Not really. It's kind of weird, though. I don't want to freak you out."
"I'm sort of used to weird by this point, you know." I tried to smile without much success.
Jacob grinned back easily. "Guess you'd have to be. Okay. See, when we're wolves, we can�� hear each other."
My eyebrows pulled down in confusion.
"Not hear sounds," he went on, "but we can hear�� thoughts��each other's anyway��no matter how far away from each other we are. It really helps when we hunt, but it's a big pain otherwise. It's embarrassing��having no secrets like that. Freaky, eh?"
"Is that what you meant last night, when you said you would tell them you'd seen me, even though you didn't want to?"
"You're also very good with weird. I thought that would bother you."
"It's not�� well, you're not the first person I've known who could do that. So it doesn't seem so weird to me."
"Really?�� Wait��are you talking about your bloodsuckers?"
"I wish you wouldn't call them that."
He laughed. "Whatever. The Cullens, then?"
"Just�� just Edward." I pulled one arm surreptitiously around my torso.
Jacob looked surprised��unpleasantly so. "I thought those were just stories. I've heard legends about vampires who could do�� extra stuff, but I thought that was just a myth."
"Is anything just a myth anymore?" I asked him wryly.
He scowled. "Guess not. Okay, we're going to meet Sam and the others at the place we go to ride our bikes."
I started the truck and headed back up the road.
"So did you just turn into a wolf now, to talk to Sam?" I asked, curious.
Jacob nodded, seeming embarrassed. "I kept it real short��I tried not to think about you so they wouldn't know what was going on. I was afraid Sam would tell me I couldn't bring you."
"That wouldn't have stopped me." I couldn't get rid of my perception of Sam as the bad guy. My teeth clenched together whenever I heard his name.
"Well, it would have stopped me," Jacob said, morose now. "Remember how I couldn't finish my sentences last night? How I couldn't just tell you the whole story?"
"Yeah. You looked like you were choking on something."
He chuckled darkly. "Close enough. Sam told me I couldn't tell you. He's�� the head of the pack, you know. He's the Alpha. When he tells us to do something, or not to do something��when he really means it, well, we can't just ignore him."
"Weird," I muttered.
"Very," he agreed. "It's kind of a wolf thing."
"Huh" was the best response I could think of.
"Yeah, there's a load of stuff like that��wolf things. I'm still learning. I can't imagine what it was like for Sam, trying to deal with this alone. It sucks bad enough to go through it with a whole pack for support."
"Sam was alone?"
"Yeah." Jacob's voice lowered. "When I�� changed, it was the most�� horrible, the most terrifying thing I've ever been through��worse than anything I could have imagined. But I wasn't alone��there were the voices there, in my head, telling me what had happened and what I had to do. That kept me from losing my mind, I think. But Sam��" He shook his head. "Sam had no help."
This was going to take some adjusting. When Jacob explained it like that, it was hard not to feel compassion for Sam. I had to keep reminding myself that there was no reason to hate him anymore.
"Will they be angry that I'm with you?" I asked.
He made a face. "Probably."
"Maybe I shouldn't��"
"No, it's okay," he assured me. "You know a ton of things that can help us. It's not like you're just some ignorant human. You're like a�� I don't know, spy or something. You've been behind enemy lines."
I frowned to myself. Was that what Jacob would want from me? Insider information to help them destroy their enemies? I wasn't a spy, though. I hadn't been collecting that kind of information. Already, his words made me feel like a traitor.
But I wanted him to stop Victoria, didn't I?
I did want Victoria to be stopped, preferably before she tortured me to death or ran into Charlie or killed another stranger. I just didn't want Jacob to be the one to stop her, or rather to try. I didn't want Jacob within a hundred miles of her.
"Like the stuff about the mind-reading bloodsucker," he continued, oblivious to my reverie. "That's the kind of thing we need to know about. That really sucks that those stories are true. It makes everything more complicated. Hey, do you think this Victoria can do anything special?"
"I don't think so," I hesitated, and then sighed. "He would have mentioned it."
"He? Oh, you mean Edward��oops, sorry. I forgot. You don't like to say his name. Or hear it."
I squeezed my midsection, trying to ignore the throbbing around the edges of my chest. "Not really, no."
"How do you know me so well, Jacob? Sometimes it's like you can read my mind."
"Naw. I just pay attention."
We were on the little dirt road where Jacob had first taught me to ride the motorcycle.
"This good?" I asked.
I pulled over and cut the engine.
"You're still pretty unhappy, aren't you?" he murmured.
I nodded, staring unseeingly into the gloomy forest.
"Did you ever think�� that maybe�� you're better off?"
I inhaled slowly, and then let my breath out. "No."
"'Cause he wasn't the best��"
"Please, Jacob," I interrupted, begging in a whisper. "Could we please not talk about this? I can't stand it."
"Okay." He took a deep breath. "I'm sorry I said anything."
"Don't feel bad. If things were different, it would be nice to finally be able to talk to someone about it."
He nodded. "Yeah, I had a hard time keeping a secret from you for two weeks. It must be hell to not be able to talk to anyone."
"Hell," I agreed.
Jacob sucked in a sharp breath. "They're here. Let's go."
"Are you sure?" I asked while he popped his door open. "Maybe I shouldn't be here."
"They'll deal with it," he said, and then he grinned. "Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?"
"Ha ha," I said. But I got out of the truck, hurrying around the front end to stand close beside Jacob. I remembered only too clearly the giant monsters in the meadow. My hands were trembling like Jacob's had been before, but with fear rather than rage.
Jake took my hand and squeezed it. "Here we go."
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