No time for an Author's Note or a .pdf right now. I'll be back with those, though. Promise.
Parade of Beasts
Parade of Beasts
There are so many ways to describe pain. Stabbing, searing, blinding, dulling, numbing, defining, absolute, endless, infinite. Familiar. This pain had become so familiar I almost wanted to give it a name all its own, like it was some companion I'd always have by my side. When it came on strong, it tapped into every bad moment I'd ever experienced. As Jacob carried me back to La Push, through the darkening woods, I flashed back to Arlington cemetery, Zack's coffin, the folded flag on my lap, the tears and shoulder pats from concerned family and friends. And then I flashed back to Edward leaving my house in Forks, just two weeks ago, when I thought I'd never see him again. And then over and over, I relived the moment he left me in the woods with Jake, defeated, the haunting agony in his eyes as we parted. The pain closed around me, a suffocating wave stranding me in the cavernous gloom left behind in the flight of my hope.
"Are you awake?" Jake asked, his anger subsided, his concern obvious.
"No," I said with my eyes closed.
"Are you still in a lot of pain?" he asked.
"No," I lied, tears now leaking from the corners of my eyes.
"Let's rest for a few," he said. "I'll phase and see how far the pack has gotten with the Cullens." He sat me down on the ground carefully and I curled into a ball and began sobbing. Jake put his hand on my back.
"I can't stop seeing Tanya's head," I said, shuddering. "It's a nightmare."
"She'll be okay," he said.
"Jake, you're delusional. Her head was torn off by a fucking bear."
"You have to burn a vampire to destroy it, Bella. They gathered all the pieces, so they can repair her."
"You really don't know much about vampires, do you?"
"I didn't believe in vampires until last week," I said. "Sometimes I still think what really happened is that I went into a coma that night I overdosed and this is all some crazy dream I'm having."
"Don't even talk like that," he said.
"Let me run with Edward," I whispered. "Please, once the Cullens are out of harm's reach, let me go to him." I saw his conflicted expression through the blur of my tears. He looked behind us, over to where five bears had stopped and sat watching. They had been following us ever since the battle.
"I can't do that," he said, but not coldly. "If I let you run, it would be war."
"I hate them," I said, fresh tears stinging my eyes.
"This is not their fault," Jake snapped. "You don't understand—Edward crushed the spirit of their tribe when he killed that bear. If I send you to him now, the bears will war on the Quileute thinking I've robbed them just like he did. I can't do that. I won't."
"This is fucked!" I said.
"I know it's fucked. You think I want to marry you when you're in love with him?"
"What are we going to do?"
"We're going to be grown-ups and get married and fucking deal with it. There's a bigger picture here we have to consider now."
His words angered me, and that made me feel better, because being angry felt better than feeling dead. I stopped crying.
"Can you phase now and see if they made it to Port Angeles?"
"Yeah, okay," he said, and then he got to his feet, stepped several feet away.
"Thank you for saving Edward's life."
He paused and gave me a hard look. "You're welcome," he said.
After confirming that the Cullens had reached the city limits and that the pack were on their way to meet us, Jake phased into a wolf again and I rode on his back, my arms draped around his neck, my hands grasping at the soft, thick fur of his chest to help secure me. My hips ached, my own back was sore and my mind was still reeling from the terrifying events of the day, despite learning that Tanya would live, and that most of the bears could be healed as well. All the way to La Push we were trailed by first five, and then ten, and then more than twenty bears. They made me nervous, despite their respectful distance. The rest of the pack joined us, forming another protective line between us and the bears. Jake took it slow, picking his way carefully over the forest floor, then wading across the Quillayute River as we crossed into La Push.
It was late at night when we arrived and Charlie came sprinting over to us from the tribal council office where he'd been waiting for any word of my whereabouts. "Thank God you're okay," he said as he lifted me off of Jake's back and carried me in the direction of his cruiser. The wolves phased back as soon as Charlie had me in his arms, their fur disappearing into the naked flesh of mortal men and Leah, the only woman in the pack. They all disappeared inside the council office, except Jake, who walked alongside of us toward the car. From up the road, I saw Sue come running towards us.
"Edward called and said you were on your way," Charlie said. "He said you fell out of a tree. I'm taking you to the Emergency Room."
"I don't need the ER, I just need to lie down so I can finish healing."
"What?" Charlie said, confused.
"Edward's venom gave her regenerating ability." Jake said.
"I could use some Percocet."
"No fucking way," Jake said. "Not a chance."
"Come on," I said. "It hurts like hell."
"Too bad," Jake said. "Charlie, don't let her take that shit."
"I'm not a child," I said.
"Okay, stop arguing," Charlie said.
"I'll do some healing work on you, honey," Sue said taking my hand and giving it a squeeze. "I can probably get some of the edge off that pain."
"Take her to my house," Jake said. "The Ani Tsa gu hi need to believe she's my mate so she's got to stay with me."
"Damn it," I said, my voice cracking. "Dad, what am I going to do?"
"Bella, I don't know," he said. "We'll have to figure out what your options are but right now, I think you've got to do what Jake says. Where's that translator from the UW?"
"Anna Marie? She's still looking through our archives," Sue said.
"We need to talk to her to find a way to get Bella out of this mess," Charlie said. He carried me into the Black's house, into Jake's room and sat me on his bed.
Jake pulled on some jeans and a t-shirt and tossed me some sweatpants and a t-shirt of his. Charlie walked out of the room and I changed and got into bed. I was very stiff and achy still when Sue sat down next to me. She folded her hands in front of her and chanted quietly for a few minutes. Then she placed her palms, now hot with healing energy, on the top of my head.
"You're so cold," she said, looking gravely down at me. "You really came close this time, sweetheart."
I closed my eyes and felt the heat from her hands sinking down into me, from my skull down behind my eyes, into my shoulders. I closed my eyes and could hear Charlie come back in.
"I want to talk to Edward," I said and saw Jake tense up. "Dad, how long ago did you speak with him?"
"A few hours ago," he said. "They were setting sail."
"What the hell am I going to do?"
"Rest now," he said, taking my hand in his. "Then we'll sort it out, okay? First things first."
"You have to marry Jake," Sue said, moving her hands down to my shoulders, where they continued to radiate heat through me. "There's no other way—they'll take you as one of their own otherwise and when you can't phase, who knows what will happen to you?"
"We'll talk about it after Bella gets some of her strength back," Charlie said, pulling up a chair and sitting down nearby.
I rolled over in Jake's bed and stared out the window, now blackened by the dark night. How far had Edward sailed by now? When would I hear from him? Before or after I was Bella Black?
There had to be a way out of this, I thought. There had to be.
I slept hard, but still felt exhausted in the morning. At least most of my pain had subsided, and I now had the strength to walk. I got out of bed and crossed the room to the old stuffed chair where Jacob was sleeping, hunched over. I shook him gently.
"Why did you sleep here?" I asked. "You're going to have a stiff neck."
"You were having nightmares," he said, yawning and stretching as he stood up. "Just wanted to keep an eye on you."
"I don't remember them."
"That's probably a good thing."
We dressed, ate, and then went over to the tribal council office to meet with Anna Marie and members of the Ani Tsa' gu hi. Jake, Billy, Charlie, Sue, and Quil Atera Senior all sat around the conference table where several of the Ani Tsa’ gu hi, now in human form, sat wearing old bath robes that I supposed were stocked in the tribal council office to be given to the wolves when they phased in cooler weather. They looked more like unlikely spa guests than an ancient tribe of indigenous people, sitting around in various styles of terrycloth and cotton. Then the old man, my abductor, came into the room stopped before me. I reacted with more fear than I would have expected, recoiling from him, now recalling how he'd nearly suffocated me several days before. Charlie stood up and stepped between us as the man began to speak to me in earnest, though I had no idea what he was saying.
"I don't understand, I don't understand," I kept saying to him until I felt tears in my eyes again.
"Step away," Charlie said, and the man backed off and took a seat across the table from us. He would not take his eyes off of me.
A younger woman, tall and beautiful with shining black hair and palpable enthusiasm dashed into the room. "Is this her?" she asked, "Is this Hala?"
"Bella," Jake said. "This is Anna Marie Gladwell, the post-doc from the UW." Jake had explained that Anna Marie had been working with the Ani Tsa' gu hi all week to try to help locate me and to explain Jacob's claim that I was his intended mate. She was also a member of the Cherokee Nation, so she was particularly interested in the tribe, who were an ancient Cherokee clan.
“You’ve no idea how widespread this is,” Anna Marie chattered after shaking my hand. “We are really onto something big here.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“As far as we can tell, this whole spiritual crisis is not just affecting the members of Ani Tsa' gu hi tribe here at La Push,” she said. “We think we might be talking about the whole black bear population of North America. They are all descendants.”
“What?” I was stunned by the heft of what she was claiming. Had I really been mistaken for the spirit guardian for an entire species?
“What about other bears? Grizzly? Polar?” Billy asked.
“No relation here,” she said. “Affiliated, but not human in essence as far as we know. We’re not sure about Pandas. They might be an Asian descendant of some sort. We haven’t begun to research it but we have our suspicions.”
"And they think Bella is some sort of spiritual leader?" Charlie asked.
"Yes," Anna Marie said. Then she turned to the old man and said something. He nodded and pointed at me. "Hamani says that you are his daughter, Hala," Anna Marie said. "He's never seen you as a human. He says you're very beautiful."
"I'm not his daughter."
"She's my daughter," Charlie said, irritated.
"It's a misunderstanding," I said. "You have to explain this to them."
Anna Marie scowled at me and then turned and spoke to Hamani for several minutes. Their voices rose in pitch, making me nervous.
"He says the cold one has stolen your memories from you. They still don't understand or approve of the Quileute treaty with the cold ones, Jacob."
"Too bad," Jake said. "My great grandfather established that many years ago and we honor it as long as they honor it."
"But the cold one bit Hala. See the mark on her neck there?" Anna Marie said. "Hamani says this is how the cold one stole Hala's memory of who she truly is."
"Well tell him it's not true!" I snapped at Hamani, now at the limit of my patience. He said something to Anna Marie, who shook her head and frowned.
"Bella," Billy said. "You're dealing in the world of legends now. The truth isn't the important thing here. The story is."
"That's right," Anna Marie said. "What they believe is their truth. This is what I'm trying to tell you."
"What the hell am I supposed to do with that?" I said. "I can't be something I'm not."
"Well you're going to have to try," she said, irritated. "An entire bear population is counting on you."
"I am not a bear, God damn it! Can't I take a blood test or something?"
"Hamani will allow you to marry Jacob and stay with him here at La Push," Anna Marie said. "But only if you truly love him. He doesn't want you to be unhappy."
I laughed cynically. "Are you kidding me? He has no authority over me."
"Do you love him?" Anna Marie asked. "Hamani wants to know. He's a little worried Jacob is just looking to consolidate power here."
"What the hell?" Jake said. "We've been protecting them on our land for months, and now he decides not to trust me?"
"What if I don't?" I asked.
"That's fine," Anna Marie said. "They'd prefer to take you out of here, but they'd like you to phase. Human form is more fragile in the wilderness and they want to move you back to the north. They feel they can keep you better hidden up in Canada."
"Okay, I've heard enough," Charlie said standing up, putting his hand over his gun, still in the holster. "Let's go, Bella."
"Charlie, no," Billy said. "Wait a minute."
"They're not taking her anywhere, Billy. This is my daughter we're talking about and I won't just give her up, I don't care if it is every last damn bear in the country who wants her."
"I need to speak to Bella alone," Jake said, standing up and taking me by the hand. I followed him to a small room down the hall and we stood across from each other, two nations poised over a nuclear warhead. The clusterfuck of my circumstances made me feel insane. For a moment I just wanted to go back to being pathetic, depressed Bella the high school counselor, engaged to the wrong guy, nursing an inappropriate crush on a student, and not this mistaken bear-queen Bella who was being forced into marriage with a werewolf in order to save her vampire lover and his family from annihilation.
Jacob and I sorted out our options. He couldn't let me run, I understood that and I didn't want to bring war on the Quileute. The reason he'd told Hamani he was my mate was to get me back before they discovered I wasn't a bear. He'd done this to protect me. It was the same reason he'd told the Cullens he was marrying me—so that they wouldn't harm me for fear of retaliation. But it had never been necessary with the Cullens. With the Ani Tsa' gu hi, it didn't even matter to them that I claimed not to be Hala. They just refused to listen to me. I railed at Hamani's stubbornness, his denial, his inability to accept the death of his daughter and then I caught myself. I knew his pain of loss—it was my own. How could I be so calloused? But I was still so angry at being in this position, just as I thought I was going to get my happily ever after with the man of my dreams. My disappointment swallowed my compassion and I felt bloated and sick with my own resentment.
"Listen, I know that you love Edward," Jake said, looking down at the engagement ring I still wore on my left hand. His own pain was clear in the edge to his words, the look on his face. "But you need to consider your options here very carefully. I don't want to see you get hurt, and I don't want to see Charlie get hurt doing something stupid to defend you."
"How can you marry me knowing I want to be with Edward?"
"What are my choices? Marry you or let you get dragged to Canada to live in the wilderness with a pack of bears?"
"You're going to hate me for the rest of our lives if we do this," I said. "It'll suck."
"Well, you're going to hate me back, so at least we'll be even."
"What will they do if we don't get married?"
"I don't know, Bella. Hopefully they'll just leave, but they won't leave without you. I will fight to protect you, but I don't think we can win against so many."
"I do love you, Jake," I said. "You know that."
"I'm glad there's one memory Edward didn't steal," he said.
"But I don't want to marry you."
"I don't want to marry you either, Bella. But I will marry you, if it will keep you safe."
"I don't deserve that."
"Don't be stupid."
We walked back into the conference room. Hamani stood up and gestured to me to come near. I was really beginning to hate the sight of him.
"So?" Anna Marie asked.
"I love Jacob and I want to marry him and stay here with him at La Push."
"What does that mean?" Charlie asked.
"It means they're now the proud new leaders of an entire species of North American mammals," Anna Marie said. "Congratulations, Jacob and Hala."
"Bella," I said through gritted teeth.
We set the date for the wedding for a week from that day, Saturday. The day before Edward's birthday. It was too soon, I argued. There were things I needed to do to prepare. I needed a dress, a caterer, a haircut, I said. But what I really needed was time. Time to think. Time to figure a way out. But Hamani insisted the wedding take place before the new moon, and Jake did not want to make the Ani Tsa' gu hi anymore anxious or suspicious of his own intentions, and I knew one thing. Edward would come for me soon, before I married Jake, or he wouldn't come for me until the very end of my days.
"Why do you hate Edward so much?" I asked Sue as we were fixing dinner at her place that night. She paused over the coleslaw and let out a heavy sigh.
"He's not good for you," she said.
"He's a good person and he loves me," I argued.
"He's not a person, Bella. He's a thing of darkness. Whatever his intent, he cannot change what has been done to him and he should not take you with him to that fate."
"It's my decision," I said. "Not his."
"You've chosen wrong," she said. "Think of your father, Bella. Think of Zack. Imagine being parted from them and everyone you ever loved for eternity. Forever. That's what Edward offers you. Spiritual exile. For what? You can love many men. Why throw away eternity on just one?"
"You're wrong about him."
"Well, what if I'm not? Are you really willing to take that chance?"
"Let's not talk about it, then. I can't stand to hear you say those things about him. It breaks my heart."
"You've been through so much," she said, putting her arm around me. "Bella, I know what it is to lose a husband, you know? I know the pain you carry. And I also know this—you love Jacob, and if you allow yourself, you will get over Edward. In time."
There was no point in arguing with her. I knew she meant well, however wrong she was. Charlie and Jake walked in the back door of Sue's house with a cooler. Seth was pushing Billy up the sidewalk. Leah was setting the picnic table. We were all going to have dinner together, just like any other summer evening. Like it was all normal. But I felt far from normal.
"What's wrong, Bella?" Jake asked, looking at the expression on my face.
"Nothing," I said, my heart going softer at the sight of him.
I hadn't had any alcohol since the night of my overdose, so the first Rainier I had at dinner went right to my head. And it felt good. Real good. Too good. So I had another. And then another. And then I was putting the stereo on and convincing Seth to make margaritas and getting Leah to dance on the front porch with me, as I watched about seven curious bears just off the perimeter of Sue's property study us.
I spun drunkenly in their direction, awkward and out of time with the music. "Did you hear Leah? I am a fucking bear goddess," I slurred.
"You're trashed, is what you are." She laughed.
"I'm the biggest lie in the history of the indigenous peoples of North America, baby. I'm a god damned legend now."
I fell back into the railing and Jake came out and caught me by the arm just before I slipped down the stairs.
"Get me another beer, husband," I said, and felt slightly nauseous. "You're going to love being married to me, aren't you?"
"Let's go home," he said. "I think you've had too much already."
"No, I want another," I said.
"Bella, you're done," Jake said.
"You're not my fucking father."
"Charlie," Jake called into the house. "Bring me some water?"
My father walked out onto the porch, his face heavy with concern. He handed me a glass and I took a long drink and kept my mouth shut.
"You all right, Bella?" he asked. "Why don't you go lie down in Sue's room."
"I'm okay," I said. "I'll go back to Jake's and go to bed."
"Good idea," he said.
I stumbled down the stairs and Jake steadied me but I pushed him away from me.
"Don't touch me!" I said and he backed away from me a few steps. My outburst caused the bears who'd been off in the distance to come nearer. "Go away!" I yelled at them.
"Calm down," Jake said, putting his arm around me and steering me towards the road.
"Fuck you!" I hauled off and punched him for no reason at all, not even noticing how close the bears came to where we stood. I landed my fist squarely to his jaw and heard a crack, and wasn't sure at first if it was my hand or his face, but I didn't care. I just kept swinging. I hit him in the stomach, then I hit him in the chest, and then I kicked him until I realized he wasn't stopping me. He wasn't even defending himself. He was just taking it. "Fight back," I said, shoving him. "Come on. Hit me back."
"Are you done now?"
"Come on, hit me. Please?"
I stumbled forward, cradling my hand, now aching from the repeated blows to Jake's upper body and felt fresh tears blurring my vision. I tripped again, this time over the curb and smacked my face against the post of Sue's fence on my way down to the ground.
"Holy shit," Jake said, leaning over me. "Let me see you." He moved his fingers tenderly over the spot where I'd hit. "You're going to have a black eye."
"Great," I said, crying. He pulled me to my feet and then lifted me in his arms and carried me down the dark road back to his house, three of the bears still trailing behind us. I wanted to lash out more, but it wasn't helping because he was being too nice. "Can you please, please be more of a dick?" I asked. "I really need to be mad at you right now."
"Sorry," he said, not even cracking a smile.
"Why? Why couldn't you have just told me everything last year? I was so in love with you then, you asshole. And you just blew me off. We could have avoided all of this."
"It wouldn't have mattered," he said, sadly.
"What do you mean?"
"You would have met Edward," he said, bitterly. "And you would have broken my heart anyway."
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do," he said.
"Look," I said, and then paused. I wanted to believe that I was the kind of woman who would have honored a commitment to Jake, even in the face of Edward Cullen. But knowing about Alice's vision, could I really say that was true? Had I married Jake before I met Edward, would things have turned out any differently? I just didn't know. "I'm sorry, Jake," I said.
"Yeah, me too."
We arrived at his house and he carried me into his room and lay me on the bed. I kicked off my shoes and rolled onto my side and tried not to think.
“Do you have any tequila?” I asked. “I want to pass out.”
“You don’t need any tequila,” he said.
I squeezed my eyes shut and stuffed my head under the pillow. Jacob left the room and came back with a tall glass of water and two Advil. I took them and then felt waves of nausea wash over me. But it wasn’t the alcohol. I began to cry, my body shaking as I tried to control myself. Then I felt Jacob’s warm arms encircle me, felt him press his face to the back of my neck.
“Please don’t hate me,” he whispered.
“I don’t hate you, Jake," I said, turning around and hugging him back. His warm hands brushed the tears from my face, but his touch just made me cry harder. "I love you," I said. "I really do love you."
"But just not enough," he said. "I know."
In the morning, I lay alone in bed quietly, praying my headache would not last the whole day. I could hear hushed voices in the living room. "She just needs time," Sue was saying. "I do think Edward has her enchanted, it's their way, you know? Once she's away from him for awhile, she'll remember how much she loves you, Jake."
"It doesn't matter," Jacob said.
"She will get over him," she said. "Trust."
"Sue, it doesn't matter. I have to marry her whether she gets over him or not, or we'll never see her again."
"Do you think he will to try to come for her?" Billy asked.
"If he does he'll get himself killed," Jake said. "The Ani Tsa' gu hi are all over our lands and they'll never let him near her."
"What about our pack?" Billy asked. "Will they kill him?"
"They'd better not," Charlie said. "You know what that would do to Bella. It'd be Zack all over again."
"But if Edward gets her, he'll turn her, Charlie, don't you realize that?" Sue said. "She'll have no access to the next world. She'll be lost."
"Can you reach him?" Jake asked Charlie.
"Yeah, probably," Charlie said.
"Warn him then," Jake said. "Because there's no way he's not coming for her."