Story Title: Breathe Again by ysar
Chapter: 23. Homecoming
Genre: Twilight – Romance / Hurt/Comfort
Warnings: Strong Language, Violence,
Status: Work In Progress
Summary: “If Alice hadn’t seen Bella cliff-dive, what would have happened? Would Bella have given in to her feelings for Jacob? Was she even capable of moving on? Victoria’s hunting, Edward’s coming back—and that’s just the beginning!”
We sat there forever, maybe even longer. Rachel cried and Billy stared, and I just tried to keep breathing. The night was quiet, eerily so. Even the insects had gone silent—not even a flutter of tiny wings could be heard. Aside from the occasional rustling of wet leaves in the mild breeze, the only sounds were of the three of us, sitting, waiting, hoping.
Rachel’s sobs had quieted to occasional sniffles. She straightened up a little, pushing back the long black hair that had become stuck to her tear-stained cheeks, but she still clung to me tightly. I did my best to comfort her, but I was just as worried as she was. It felt backwards. She was supposed to be the adult, the one who’d gone off to college and was now planning a future with someone. I was the kid, still in high school, dating someone who’d only recently earned his driver’s license. How was it that I was the one comforting her?
“They’ll be okay, right?” she asked quietly, her dark eyes wide with fear as she looked to her father for reassurance. Her tone was as lost and desperate as I felt.
Billy didn’t even seem to hear her, so I answered, “Yeah. Jake says this is what they’re made for.” It was what he’d told me, and though it hadn’t done anything to calm my nerves, maybe it would do something for hers.
“But he’s just a kid,” she cried. “They all are.”
“I know, but they’re ready. They’ve done it before.”
“What?” she asked, a look of shock on her face.
And now I was shocked. She didn’t know? I’d assumed Paul had told her everything. Or that people who were at least close to the pack were aware. It seemed strange that Paul and Rachel were so serious, and yet she knew very little about them. I had understood why they’d been reluctant to tell me anything. After all, I was known for having a relationship with the only vampire family in town, but it was definitely a surprise to learn that I knew more than Rachel did. “There was one here before, and they…well, they took care of it,” I told her.
She didn’t say anything for a moment. It looked like she was just trying to digest everything, and I could certainly understand that. I was sure it was all just as strange and unbelievable to her as it had been to me.
“I don’t think I can stand waiting here. What if something happens?” she asked.
She was verbalizing everything I was feeling, and despite my words to the contrary, I felt no confidence. I had faith in Jake, faith in the pack. But faith did little to override my fear.
“There’s so many of them. Victoria doesn’t stand a chance,” I assured her, wishing I believed my own words.
“Victoria?” she asked in confusion.
“You know her?” she asked, pulling back to look at me with wide eyes.
“I sort of met her once…,” I admitted, “When I was with the Cullens.” I wasn’t sure just much I should explain to her. Everyone I’d met on the reservation usually reacted badly whenever I brought up the Cullens.
“So why is she here now?” she asked. “They left. What does she want?”
“Me,” I choked out.
“Jake won’t let that happen. You’re one of us now,” Rachel said, hugging me close again. So I held her to me, maybe because I needed to cling to someone a little, too, and we waited some more.
“Soon,” Billy’s said softly, nodding into the distance. I whipped my head up, scanning the darkness for a sign of something, anything to tell me that everything would be okay, but all I saw was night. I turned back to Billy and watched his eyes. They were moving slowly, following something again, but his face was expressionless. I wondered what he was seeing, how he was seeing anything at all. Was it a Quileute thing? A wolf thing?
I knew Billy wasn’t one of the wolves, but maybe he would have been if vampires had shown up during his time. Was there some strange werewolf gene that enhanced his hearing or his vision just enough that he knew what in those woods while his daughter and I struggled to keep our sanity? Or was it the fact that he was Quileute? Everyone always said Native Americans noticed more, saw more, heard more. They paid attention to the things that the rest of us never bothered to see, almost like they had a sixth sense. But that was probably just rumor or legend. Then again, I’d always thought werewolves and vampires were simply legends. My internal musings were cut short by a strange rumbling noise.
It was far off, a low whisper in the distance, but it was growing closer. Within seconds branches were snapping, something was pounding into the ground without rhythm, and then I just begin to make out what I was hearing. Panting.
My heart caught in my throat as I watched the enormous figures emerge from the woods, a black one and a russet one in the lead. Sam and Jake. Others followed, but the sight of them barely registered with me. I was too busy shoving Rachel out of my way and running to get to Jacob.
Any other time I might have considered my actions. A pack of unnaturally large wolves was thundering straight toward me, and my first instinct was to run to them. That couldn’t be sane. What if they were different when they were in this form? What if they didn’t realize it was me? Would Jake even know me? But before the doubts were complete in my head, I was pressed up against an enormous russet figure, my face buried in the shaggy fur of his shoulder.
He smelled of musk and woods and…dog? I supposed that made sense. And I didn’t care. He was back. He was still in one piece as far as I could tell. He was safe.
Something cold and wet nudged my shoulder, startling me, and I flinched back a little. I suddenly felt self-conscious, and I looked around to see we were being watched. A couple of the guys had already phased back and were standing there in their trademark shorts. They were eying me curiously, no doubt expecting me to faint or something. The others, those still in wolf form, were also watching, though I couldn’t really make out their…expressions? Billy hadn’t moved from his place at the doorway, and he was leaning forward, watching me intently. Rachel, on the other hand, was standing behind Billy, a look of combined horror and awe on her face. I wondered if I’d looked that way when I’d first seen the pack in the meadow that day. It was then that I ventured a look up at Jacob.
“Jake?” I asked, hesitantly.
He cocked his head to the side, his tongue rolling out of his mouth as he lowered his body first to a sitting position, and then to lie down in front of me. I slowly reached one hand out, brushing my fingers across his muzzle as he stared at me.
His posture was non-threatening, almost submissive. He didn’t move as I searched his face for some sign of recognition. But I couldn’t tell. Maybe he just knew I wasn’t a vampire, maybe that’s why he wasn’t snarling or snapping or growling. It’s not like he was wagging his tail or anything. But then I looked into his eyes. They were Jacob’s eyes, my Jacob. His eyes were narrower, larger…but he was in there. I could see it.
I looked around us again. One…two…there were only seven of them.
“Leah?” I asked, unable to keep my voice from trembling.
“She’s getting dressed,” Jared said, nodding his head back toward the woods.
“Oh. Oh!” I’d forgotten about that part. They couldn’t very well phase back with me just standing there. Well, maybe they could, but that would just be…awkward. “So go get dressed,” I said, pushing against Jacob’s chest.
He snorted, quickly rose up to full height, and then immediately dropped to his side, rolling completely over before he sprung back to his feet and trotted back to the forest. It was impossible not to laugh at him. Yes, my boyfriend was a gigantic werewolf, capable of shredding almost indestructible vampires. And he was rolling around on the ground like a mutant puppy.
Everyone was still staring at me, and I supposed they had every right to. I did look a little crazy. So I did the only thing I could think of. I marched right back over to the house and grabbed Rachel by the arm, pulling her inside with me.
I lost her when we hit the water. I was a powerful swimmer, but she was quicker. And when I got too close, she made an impossible turn, throwing her stone-like body back on top of me and pulling us both down beneath the choppy waves.
I fought to hold her, but her skin was like wet marble, slipping from my teeth and leaving me with the taste of spoiled brine in my mouth. It was only when my lungs screamed out for oxygen that I realized my mistake. The leech didn’t need to breathe. She could stay here, completely submerged, for years if she wanted. I, on the other hand, was rapidly losing strength as I labored to surface. My lungs were burning, my chest tightening, as my panicked body begged for air. I could no longer hear the pack, although I knew they were close. My mind could only focus on one thing: Bella. The threat to her was gone, and I had to get back to her. I had promised.
I threw all my weight behind one last strike, pitching her to the side and closing my teeth against the unyielding flesh of her back. It was not an attempt to destroy her, or even to damage her. I had no thought except to escape her. The seconds stretched on for a lifetime as she thrashed and struggled to break free. And then, in an instant, she was gone, the cold sea blanketing her in darkness as I kicked upward, straining for air.
Suddenly I was breathing, my lungs frantically gulping in oxygen as I paddled to stay afloat. The night was strangely silent, no sound except for the lapping water and the occasional cry of the wind. I phased at will, trusting my human body to carry me quickly to shore, and I glanced one last time over my shoulder. There was no sign of the leech.
As soon as my feet touched sand I phased back. Sam and Quil were standing on the shoreline, their gazes intent on the water as small waves lapped at their feet. Jared and Paul hung back toward the forest, while Embry trotted up triumphantly carrying in his mouth the arm of the creature that had nearly done me in.
‘Thought you might want this.’ He dropped the still-moving limb at my feet. It was a sad trophy of my failure.
‘No’ said Sam, reading my thoughts. ‘She’s not dead, but she’s defeated. Alone, injured…I doubt she’s an immediate threat.’
‘She’ll be back,’ I said.
‘We’ll be ready.’
I grabbed the arm and ran toward town, the rest of the pack on my heels. It would be easier to dispose of it in one of the many fires, and the acrid stench of burning vampire would be lost among the plumes of smoke that rose throughout Forks. The last thing we wanted to do was start a fire here and attract the attention of the overly-vigilant officials in town.
Leah joined us when we were only a mile from home. She’d had the same idea about the fires in Forks, and she and Seth were taking turns running large pieces of their leech into town to be burned. I’d underestimated them. Even when they knew the danger was over, they had not left Bella unprotected. Leah was immediately annoyed at my observation, so I turned my attention to Seth. Through his eyes, I could see my family, worry etched on their faces, and I increased my pace.
Bella was safe. It was the only thing that mattered. But even though I knew she was okay, I needed to see her with my own eyes, feel her in my arms, and hear her voice. Sam tried to lead the way, but I couldn’t be slowed, and the best he could do was run alongside me. The rest of the pack followed, none of us taking care to hush our footfalls or silence our approach. In my haste I forgot I was still in wolf form, but I was shocked back into reality when I saw my sister standing slack-jawed beside Dad.
Bella, on the other hand, surprised me…and filled me with pride. Her eyes fell on me instantly, and she tore across the yard toward me, paying no mind to the wolves that surrounded her. I hadn’t expected her to run away screaming or anything, but I certainly didn’t expect this. I stopped short, not sure if my size or form would frighten her, but she stumbled right into me and held on.
I could smell the salt of her tears as she pressed her face into my fur, and had I not been concerned with a lack of clothing, I would have phased right then and there just so I could wrap my arms around her. As it was, I held still, waiting out her reaction.
Jared and Seth stepped out of the trees behind us, having forethought enough to get dressed. Leah lingered behind, waiting till the coast was clear before she phased and dressed. Fortunately for her, the rest of the pack was preoccupied with the strange sight before them.
‘You okay with this, Jake?” Sam asked. We normally didn’t interact with anyone outside the pack when we were phased, and I knew what he was really asking. I’d just come out of a fight, and while I was no Paul, I wasn’t known for keeping my cool. But it didn’t matter how worked up I was. I would never do anything to hurt Bella.
‘Dude, that’s kinda weird.’
‘Huh…she’s cool with it.’
‘Why’s Rachel looking at me like that?’
The thoughts of the pack swarmed through my head. No one had ever approached us like this. Even the few elders who had seen us phased kept their distance, more out of respect than fear, but the effect was the same. We weren’t used to this, to contact with others when we were in our wolf forms, and it seemed everyone was surprised and a bit fascinated. When Bella had been still for too long, I nudged her gently with my snout. She flinched, and my heart plummeted. She was afraid of me after all.
I stayed as motionless as I could so I wouldn’t startle her as she took in her surroundings. Only she didn’t look frightened. She just looked…curious. Her eyes darted back to the house where Dad waited while Rachel stood dumbfounded. Once again, my heart filled with pride as I noted the differences between the girl who pretended to be strong and the girl who actually was.
Bella’s gaze returned to me, and she looked up at me, searching my eyes.
“Jake?” she ventured.
It understood that she didn’t really know me in this form. She’d seen me as a wolf only twice, and both times I had left before she really had a chance to process any of it. In fact, the first time she’d been terrified, and the second time she’d looked like she was going to be sick…well, at least that’s what it looked like when they guys remembered it later. So I lowered myself gradually, finally lying at her feet, although my shoulders still nearly reached hers. Her hand rose slowly as she lifted it to my face and her fingers brushed lightly across my fur.
I remained still as she continued to study me, her fingers absently stroking my face. She looked around again, and I watched, puzzled, as a pained look crossed her features.
“Leah?” she asked, and I mentally cursed my inability to speak.
“She’s getting dressed,” Jared replied for me.
“Oh,” she said, relief and understanding filling her expression. “Oh!…So go get dressed,” she demanded, pushing me.
If I could have, I would have laughed. Her reaction was just so…Bella. Instead, a weird snort came out, and I sprang up then dropped to my side and rolled over. I heard her laughing as I loped over to the woods to phase.