Sam started moving the others into formation while I was still on the ground. Embry and Quil were at my sides, waiting for me to recover and take the point.
I could feel the drive, the need, to get on my feet and lead them. The compulsion grew, and I fought it uselessly, cringing on the ground where I was.
Embry whined quietly in my ear. He didn’t want to think the words, afraid that he would bring me to Sam’s attention again. I felt his wordless plea for me to get up, for me to get this over with and be done with it.
There was fear in the pack, not so much for self but for the whole. We couldn’t imagine that we would all make it out alive tonight. Which brothers would we lose? Which minds would leave us forever? Which grieving families would we be consoling in the morning?
My mind began to work with theirs, to think in unison, as we dealt with these fears. Automatically, I pushed up from the ground and shook out my coat.
Embry and Quil huffed in relief. Quil touched his nose to my side once.
Their minds were filled with our challenge, our assignment. We remembered together the nights we’d watched the Cullens practicing for the fight with the newborns. Emmett Cullen was strongest, but Jasper would be the bigger problem. He moved like a lightning strike—power and speed and death rolled into one. How many centuries’ experience did he have? Enough that all the other Cullens looked to him for guidance.
I’ll take point, if you want flank, Quil offered. There was more excitement in his mind than most of the others. When Quil had watched Jasper’s instruction those nights, he’d been dying to test his skill against the vampire’s. For him, this would be a contest. Even knowing it was his life on the line, he saw it that way. Paul was like that, too, and the kids who had never been in battle, Collin and Brady. Seth probably would’ve been the same—if the opponents were not his friends.
Jake? Quil nudged me.How do you want to roll?
I just shook my head. I couldn’t concentrate—the compulsion to follow orders felt like puppet strings hooked into all of my muscles. One foot forward, now another.
Seth was dragging behind Collin and Brady—Leah had assumed point there. She ignored Seth while planning with the others, and I could see that she’d rather leave him out of the fight. There was a maternal edge to her feelings for her younger brother. She wished Sam would send him home. Seth didn’t register Leah’s doubts. He was adjusting to the puppet strings, too.
Maybe if you stopped resisting…, Embry whispered.
Just focus on our part. The big ones. We can take them down. We own them! Quil was working himself up—like a pep talk before a big game.
I could see how easy it would be—to think about nothing more than my part. It wasn’t hard to imaging attacking Jasper and Emmett. We’d been close to that before. I’d thought of them as enemies for a very long time. I could do that now again.
I just had to forget that they were protecting the same thing I would protect. I had to forget the reason why I might want them to win.…
Jake , Embry warned. Keep your head in the game .
My feet moved sluggishly, pulling against the drag of the strings.
There’s no point fighting it, Embry whispered again.
He was right. I would end up doing what Sam wanted, if he was willing to push it. And he was. Obviously.
There was a good reason for the Alpha’s authority. Even a pack as strong as ours wasn’t much of a force without a leader. We had to move together, to think together, in order to be effective. And that required the body to have a head.
So what if Sam was wrong now? There was nothing anyone could do. No one could dispute his decision.
And there it was—a thought I’d never, never wanted to have. But now, with my legs all tied up in strings, I recognized the exception with relief—more than relief, with a fierce joy.
No one could dispute the Alpha’s decision—except for me .
I hadn’t earned anything. But there were things that had been born in me, things that I’d left unclaimed.
I’d never wanted to lead the pack. I didn’t want to do it now. I didn’t want the responsibility for all our fates resting on my shoulders. Sam was better at that than I would ever be.
But he was wrong tonight.
And I had not been born to kneel to him.
The bonds fell off my body the second that I embraced my birthright.
I could feel it gathering in me, both a freedom and also a strange, hollow power. Hollow because an Alpha’s power came from his pack, and I had no pack. For a second, loneliness overwhelmed me.
I had no pack now.
But I was straight and strong as I walked to where Sam stood, planning with Paul and Jared. He turned at the sound of my advance, and his black eyes narrowed.
No, I told him again.
He heard it right away, heard the choice that I’d made in the sound of the Alpha voice in my thoughts.
He jumped back a half step with a shocked yelp.
Jacob? What have you done?
I won’t follow you, Sam. Not for something so wrong.
He stared at me, stunned. You would… you would choose your enemies over your family?
They aren’t— I shook my head, clearing it—they aren’t our enemies. They never have been. Until I really thought about destroying them, thought it through, I didn’t see that.
This isn’t about them, he snarled at me. This is about Bella. She has never been the one for you, she has never chosen you, but you continue to destroy your life for her!
They were hard words, but true words. I sucked in a big gulp of air, breathing them in.
Maybe you’re right. But you’re going to destroy the pack over her, Sam. No matter how many of them survive tonight, they will always have murder on their hands.
We have to protect our families!
I know what you’ve decided, Sam. But you don’t decide for me, not anymore.
Jacob—you can’t turn your back on the tribe.
I heard the double echo of his Alpha command, but it was weightless this time. It no longer applied to me. He clenched his jaw, trying to force me to respond to his words.
I stared into his furious eyes. Ephraim Black’s son was not born to follow Levi Uley’s.
Is this it, then, Jacob Black? His hackles rose and his muzzle pulled back from his teeth. Paul and Jared snarled and bristled at his sides. Even if you can defeat me, the pack will never follow you!
Now I jerked back, a surprised whine escaping my throat.
Defeat you? I’m not going to fight you, Sam.
Then what’s your plan? I’m not stepping aside so that you can protect the vampire spawn at the tribe’s expense.
I’m not telling you to step aside.
If you order them to follow you—
I’ll nevertake anyone’s will away from him.
His tail whipped back and forth as he recoiled from the judgment in my words. Then he took a step forward so that we were toe to toe, his exposed teeth inches from mine. I hadn’t noticed till this moment that I’d grown taller than him.
There cannot be more than one Alpha. The pack has chosen me. Will you rip us apart tonight? Will you turn on your brothers? Or will you end this insanity and join us again? Every word was layered with command, but it couldn’t touch me. Alpha blood ran undiluted in my veins.
I could see why there was never more than one Alpha male in a pack. My body was responding to the challenge. I could feel the instinct to defend my claim rising in me. The primitive core of my wolf-self tensed for the battle of supremacy.
I focused all my energy to control that reaction. I would not fall into a pointless, destructive fight with Sam. He was my brother still, even though I was rejecting him.
There is only one Alpha for this pack. I’m not contesting that. I’m just choosing to go my own way.
Do you belong to a covennow, Jacob?
I don’t know, Sam. But I do know this—
He shrunk back as he felt the weight of the Alpha in my tone. It affected him more than his touched me. Because I had been born to lead him.
I willstand between you and the Cullens. I won’t just watch while the pack kills innocent— it was hard to apply that word to vampires, but it was true—people. The pack is better than that. Lead them in the right direction, Sam.
I turned my back on him, and a chorus of howls tore into the air around me.
Digging my nails into the earth, I raced away from the uproar I’d caused. I didn’t have much time. At least Leah was the only one with a prayer of outrunning me, and I had a head start.
The howling faded with the distance, and I took comfort as the sound continued to rip apart the quiet night. They weren’t after me yet.
I had to warn the Cullens before the pack could get it together and stop me. If the Cullens were prepared, it might give Sam a reason to rethink this before it was too late. I sprinted toward the white house I still hated, leaving my home behind me. Home didn’t belong to me anymore. I’d turned my back on it.
Today had begun like any other day. Made it home from patrol with the rainy sunrise, breakfast with Billy and Rachel, bad TV, bickering with Paul… How did it change so completely, turn all surreal? How did everything get messed up and twisted so that I was here now, all alone, an unwilling Alpha, cut off from my brothers, choosing vampires over them?
The sound I’d been fearing interrupted my dazed thoughts—it was the soft impact of big paws against the ground, chasing after me. I threw myself forward, rocketing through the black forest. I just had to get close enough so that Edward could hear the warning in my head. Leah wouldn’t be able to stop me alone.
And then I caught the mood of the thoughts behind me. Not anger, but enthusiasm. Not chasing… but following.
My stride broke. I staggered two steps before it evened out again.
Wait up. My legs aren’t as long as yours.
SETH! What do you think you’re DOING? GO HOME!
He didn’t answer, but I could feel his excitement as he kept right on after me. I could see through his eyes as he could see through mine. The night scene was bleak for me—full of despair. For him, it was hopeful.
I hadn’t realized I was slowing down, but suddenly he was on my flank, running in position beside me.
I am not joking, Seth! This is no place for you. Get out of here.
The gangly tan wolf snorted.I’ve got your back, Jacob. I think you’re right. And I’m not going to stand behind Sam when—
Oh yes you are the hell going to stand behind Sam! Get your furry butt back to La Push and do what Sam tells you to do.
Is that an order, Jacob?
His question brought me up short. I skidded to a halt, my nails gouging furrows in the mud.
I’m not ordering anyone to do anything. I’m just telling you what you already know.
He plopped down on his haunches beside me. I’ll tell you what I know—I know that it’s awful quiet. Haven’t you noticed?
I blinked. My tail swished nervously as I realized what he was thinking underneath the words. It wasn’t quiet in one sense. Howls still filled the air, far away in the west.
They haven’t phased back, Seth said.
I knew that. The pack would be on red alert now. They would be using the mind link to see all sides clearly. But I couldn’t hear what they were thinking. I could only hear Seth. No one else.
Looks to me like separate packs aren’t linked. Huh. Guess there was no reason for our fathers to know that before. ’Cause there was no reason for separate packs before. Never enough wolves for two. Wow. It’s reallyquiet. Sort of eerie. But also kinda nice, don’t you think? I bet it was easier, like this, for Ephraim and Quil and Levi. Not such a babble with just three. Or just two.
Shut up, Seth.
Stop that! There are not two packs. There is THE pack, and then there is me. That’s all. So you can go home now.
If there aren’t two packs, then why can we hear each other and not the rest? I think that when you turned your back on Sam, that was a pretty significant move. A change. And when I followed you away, I think that was significant, too.
You’ve got a point, I conceded. But what can change can change right back.
He got up and started trotting toward the east. No time to argue about it now. We should be moving right along before Sam…
He was right about that part. There was no time for this argument. I fell into a run again, not pushing myself quite as hard. Seth stayed on my heels, holding the Second’s traditional place on my right flank.
I can run somewhere else, he thought, his nose dipping a little. I didn’t follow you because I was after a promotion.
Run wherever you want. Makes no difference to me.
There was no sound of pursuit, but we both stepped it up a little at the same time. I was worried now. If I couldn’t tap into the pack’s mind, it was going to make this more difficult. I’d have no more advance warning of attack than the Cullens.
We’ll run patrols, Seth suggested.
And what do we do if the pack challenges us? My eyes tightened. Attack our brothers? Your sister?
No—we sound the alarm and fall back.
Good answer. But then what? I don’t think…
I know , he agreed. Less confident now. I don’t think I can fight them, either. But they won’t be any happier with the idea of attacking us than we are with attacking them. That might be enough to stop them right there. Plus, there’re only eight of them now.
Stop being so… Took me a minute to decide on the right word. Optimistic. It’s getting on my nerves.
No problem. You want me to be all doom and gloom, or just shut up?
Just shut up.
Really? Doesn’t seem like it.
He was finally quiet.
And then we were across the road and moving through the forest that ringed the Cullens’ house. Could Edward hear us yet?
Maybe we should be thinking something like, “We come in peace.”
Go for it.
Edward? He called the name tentatively. Edward, you there? Okay, now I feel kinda stupid.
You sound stupid, too.
Think he can hear us?
We were less than a mile out now. I think so. Hey, Edward. If you can hear me—circle the wagons, bloodsucker. You’ve got a problem.
We’vegot a problem, Seth corrected.
Then we broke through the trees into the big lawn. The house was dark, but not empty. Edward stood on the porch between Emmett and Jasper. They were snow white in the pale light.
“Jacob? Seth? What’s going on?”
I slowed and then paced back a few steps. The smell was so sharp through this nose that it felt like it was honestly burning me. Seth whined quietly, hesitating, and then he fell back behind me.
To answer Edward’s question, I let my mind run over the confrontation with Sam, moving through it backward. Seth thought with me, filling in the gaps, showing the scene from another angle. We stopped when we got to the part about the “abomination,” because Edward hissed furiously and leaped off the porch.
“They want to kill Bella?” he snarled flatly.
Emmett and Jasper, not having heard the first part of the conversation, took his inflectionless question for a statement. They were right next to him in a flash, teeth exposed as they moved on us.
Hey, now, Seth thought, backing away.
“Em, Jazz—not them ! The others. The pack is coming.”
Emmett and Jasper rocked back on their heels; Emmett turned to Edward while Jasper kept his eyes locked on us.
“What’s their problem?” Emmett demanded.
“The same one as mine,” Edward hissed. “But they have their own plan to handle it. Get the others. Call Carlisle! He and Esme have to get back here now.”
I whined uneasily. They were separated.
“They aren’t far,” Edward said in the same dead voice as before.
I’m going to go take a look, Seth said. Run the western perimeter.
“Will you be in danger, Seth?” Edward asked.
Seth and I exchanged a glance.
Don’t think so, we thought together. And then I added, But maybe I should go. Just in case…
They’ll be less likely to challenge me, Seth pointed out. I’m just a kid to them.
You’re just a kid to me, kid.
I’m outta here. You need to coordinate with the Cullens.
He wheeled and darted into the darkness. I wasn’t going to order Seth around, so I let him go.
Edward and I stood facing each other in the dark meadow. I could hear Emmett muttering into his phone. Jasper was watching the place where Seth had vanished into the woods. Alice appeared on the porch and then, after staring at me with anxious eyes for a long moment, she flitted to Jasper’s side. I guessed that Rosalie was inside with Bella. Still guarding her—from the wrong dangers.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve owed you my gratitude, Jacob,” Edward whispered. “I would never have asked for this from you.”
I thought of what he’d asked me for earlier today. When it came to Bella, there were no lines he wouldn’t cross. Yeah, you would.
He thought about it and then nodded. “I suppose you’re right about that.”
I sighed heavily. Well, this isn’t the first time that I didn’t do it for you.
“Right,” he murmured.
Sorry I didn’t do any good today. Told you she wouldn’t listen to me.
“I know. I never really believed she would. But . . .”
You had to try. I get it. She any better?
His voice and eyes went hollow. “Worse,” he breathed.
I didn’t want to let that word sink in. I was grateful when Alice spoke.
“Jacob, would you mind switching forms?” Alice asked. “I want to know what’s going on.”
I shook my head at the same time Edward answered.
“He needs to stay linked to Seth.”
“Well, then would you be so kind as to tell me what’s happening?”
He explained in clipped, emotionless sentences. “The pack thinks Bella’s become a problem. They foresee potential danger from the… from what she’s carrying. They feel it’s their duty to remove that danger. Jacob and Seth disbanded from the pack to warn us. The rest are planning to attack tonight.”
Alice hissed, leaning away from me. Emmett and Jasper exchanged a glance, and then their eyes ranged across the trees.
Nobody out here, Seth reported. All’s quiet on the western front.
They may go around.
I’ll make a loop.
“Carlisle and Esme are on their way,” Emmett said. “Twenty minutes, tops.”
“We should take up a defensive position,” Jasper said.
Edward nodded. “Let’s get inside.”
I’ll run perimeter with Seth. If I get too far for you to hear my head, listen for my howl.
They backed into the house, eyes flickering everywhere. Before they were inside, I turned and ran toward the west.
I’m still not finding much, Seth told me.
I’ll take half the circle. Move fast—we don’t want them to have a chance to sneak past us.
Seth lurched forward in a sudden burst of speed.
We ran in silence, and the minutes passed. I listened to the noises around him, double-checking his judgment.
Hey—something coming up fast! he warned me after fifteen minutes of silence.
On my way!
Hold your position—I don’t think it’s the pack. It sounds different.
But he caught the approaching scent on the breeze, and I read it in his mind.
Vampire. Bet it’s Carlisle.
Seth, fall back. It might be someone else.
No, it’s them. I recognize the scent. Hold up, I’m going to phase to explain it to them.
Seth, I don’t think—
But he was gone.
Anxiously, I raced along the western border. Wouldn’t it be just peachy if I couldn’t take care of Seth for one freaking night? What if something happened to him on my watch? Leah would shred me into kibble.
At least the kid kept it short. It wasn’t two minutes later when I felt him in my head again.
Yep, Carlisle and Esme. Boy, were they surprised to see me! They’re probably inside by now. Carlisle said thanks.
He’s a good guy.
Yeah. That’s one of the reasons why we’re right about this.
Why’re you so down, Jake? I’ll bet Sam won’t bring the pack tonight. He’s not going to launch a suicide mission.
I sighed. It didn’t seem to matter, either way.
Oh. This isn’t about Sam so much, is it?
I made the turn at the end of my patrol. I caught Seth’s scent where he’d turned last. We weren’t leaving any gaps.
You think Bella’s going to die anyway, Seth whispered.
Yeah, she is.
Poor Edward. He must be crazy.
Edward’s name brought other memories boiling to the surface. Seth read them in astonishment.
And then he was howling. Oh, man! No way! You did not! That just plain ol’ sucks rocks, Jacob! And you know it, too! I can’t believe you said you’d kill him. What isthat? You have to tell him no.
Shut up, shut up, you idiot! They’re going to think the pack is coming!
Oops! He cut off mid-howl.
I wheeled and started loping in toward the house. Just keep out of this, Seth. Take the whole circle for now.
Seth seethed and I ignored him.
False alarm, false alarm, I thought as I ran closer in. Sorry. Seth is young. He forgets things. No one’s attacking. False alarm.
When I got to the meadow, I could see Edward staring out of a dark window. I ran in, wanting to be sure he got the message.
There’s nothing out there—you got that?
He nodded once.
This would be a lot easier if the communication wasn’t one way. Then again, I was kinda glad I wasn’t in his head.
He looked over his shoulder, back into the house, and I saw a shudder run through his whole frame. He waved me away without looking in my direction again and then moved out of my view.
What’s going on?
Like I was going to get an answer.
I sat very still in the meadow and listened. With these ears, I could almost hear Seth’s soft footfalls, miles out into the forest. It was easy to hear every sound inside the dark house.
“It was a false alarm,” Edward was explaining in that dead voice, just repeating what I’d told him. “Seth was upset about something else, and he forgot we were listening for a signal. He’s very young.”
“Nice to have toddlers guarding the fort,” a deeper voice grumbled. Emmett, I thought.
“They’ve done us a great service tonight, Emmett,” Carlisle said. “At great personal sacrifice.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just jealous. Wish I was out there.”
“Seth doesn’t think Sam will attack now,” Edward said mechanically. “Not with us forewarned, and lacking two members of the pack.”
“What does Jacob think?” Carlisle asked.
“He’s not as optimistic.”
No one spoke. There was a quiet dripping sound that I couldn’t place. I heard their low breathing—and I could separate Bella’s from the rest. It was harsher, labored. It hitched and broke in strange rhythms. I could hear her heart. It seemed… too fast. I paced it against my own heartbeat, but I wasn’t sure if that was any measure. It wasn’t like I was normal.
“Don’t touch her! You’ll wake her up,” Rosalie whispered.
“Rosalie,” Carlisle murmured.
“Don’t start with me, Carlisle. We let you have your way earlier, but that’s all we’re allowing.”
It seemed like Rosalie and Bella were both talking in plurals now. Like they’d formed a pack of their own.
I paced quietly in front of the house. Each pass brought me a little closer. The dark windows were like a TV set running in some dull waiting room—it was impossible to keep my eyes off them for long.
A few more minutes, a few more passes, and my fur was brushing the side of the porch as I paced.
I could see up through the windows—see the top of the walls and the ceiling, the unlit chandelier that hung there. I was tall enough that all I would have to do was stretch my neck a little… and maybe one paw up on the edge of the porch.…
I peeked into the big, open front room, expecting to see something very similar to the scene this afternoon. But it had changed so much that I was confused at first. For a second I thought I’d gotten the wrong room.
The glass wall was gone—it looked like metal now. And the furniture was all dragged out of the way, with Bella curled up awkwardly on a narrow bed in the center of the open space. Not a normal bed—one with rails like in a hospital. Also like a hospital were the monitors strapped to her body, the tubes stuck into her skin. The lights on the monitors flashed, but there was no sound. The dripping noise was from the IV plugged into her arm—some fluid that was thick and white, not clear.
She choked a little in her uneasy sleep, and both Edward and Rosalie moved in to hover over her. Her body jerked, and she whimpered. Rosalie smoothed her hand across Bella’s forehead. Edward’s body stiffened—his back was to me, but his expression must have been something to see, because Emmett wrenched himself between them before there was time to blink. He held his hands up to Edward.
“Not tonight, Edward. We’ve got other things to worry about.”
Edward turned away from them, and he was the burning man again. His eyes met mine for one moment, and then I dropped back to all fours.
I ran back into the dark forest, running to join Seth, running away from what was behind me.
Worse. Yes, she was worse.