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Chapter 1 - Jake's POV

Dad wheeled himself into our TV room at double speed, knocking the lamp off the side table and gesticulating wildly, like an angry, disabled cat.

"Shove that crap in your maw! We're going to be late to see Charlie!"

I stuffed the last third of my Supreme Sausage pizza roll into my mouth. It wasn't my fault he'd fallen asleep in front of Wheel of Fortune. I possibly should have woken him up, but my mind had been somewhat preoccupied with drooling on the new US Tool catalog. Mmm... heavy-duty hand rivet squeezers.

"Come on, son, we've got to get to the hospital. His daughter won't be here till tomorrow and visiting hours are fixed. Move your ass!"

"Do they know who shot him yet?" I asked, cursing myself yet again for buying porn instead of that home fingerprinting kit from QVC. I bet I could have snuck around the cordon and done some investigating of my own. Possibly wielding my new hand rivet squeezer for defense.

"I don't goddamn know!" Dad seemed pissed as I pulled on some socks and a hoodie. "Just get the truck started and let's go!"

To emphasize the "go" he ran over my foot with his wheel. I bellowed in pain, and hopped around for a while rubbing my poor toes as he shrugged and grabbed his coat. I limped in an exaggerated manner all the way out to the Chevy, muttering "gangrene" and "crush injury" and "only son."

It was only when we were on the main road to Forks that what he'd said hit home. Charlie's daughter was coming tomorrow. Isabella. She was coming home. Fuck.

I'd been fantasizing about Isabella Swan since the last time I saw her in person. She was fifteen, I was thirteen and I'll admit it wasn't my best age. I was a lanky dickhead in a Metallica t-shirt (Sam Uley was educating me in hair metal at the time); she was five feet, four inches of perfection, from her long, soft, shiny brown hair right down to her baseball shoes. Everything about her seemed to give me an unwanted hard-on that summer, and I spent most of the start of it dodging behind crotch-level furniture.

Once I'd managed to persuade Little Jake to CALM-THE-FUCK-DOWN, however, I started attempting to hang out with her. To begin with, this was a hit-and-miss process. As a young teenage boy I was shocked to learn that carving woodland creatures and playing Ultimate Frisbee were not highly desirable activities. I was hoping to bowl her over with my underleg catch, designed to subtly draw attention to the groinal area; that failed when she looked at my disc like it had just shit on her shoes.

With my characteristic teenage exuberance, though - imagine a Labrador puppy with acne and you're pretty close - I managed to ingratiate myself and over the summer we got really close.

At first it was just little things. I found out about her penchant for stupid high school movies, so I let her educate me in the joys of Heathers (Winona's ass stopped me from falling asleep), Clueless (Billie Holiday isn't a man. It's true!), The Breakfast Club (jerked off to redheads for a month after)and Mean Girls (see previous comment) while I tried to teach her how to catch popcorn in her mouth (hopeless).

We went for walks on the beach and caught crabs (sadly not from each other) by fishing with bits of chicken tied to twine. More than once, we stole beer from our dads and got drunk in the garage. Bella would tease me about the car/hulk of unrecognizable promise I was working on, and my Anthrax albums.

"Jake... this car is stupid. It looks like David Hasselhoff's car. And what is this noise? Did you kick Quembry in the nuts and then record it?"

I would protest and she'd giggle so infectiously we'd both throw up foam.

By the time her six weeks were over, I was in love. And she went home.

She promised to write to me, or email, but after I sent a slew of letters and got no response I was persuaded to give up trying.

I never got Bella Swan out of my head, though. Every time dad and I went round to Charlie's for football games, or cookouts, or fish fries, there seemed to be a new picture of her looking more beautiful than the last. I think Charlie noticed me staring, because I caught the stink-eye off him a few times before I made my ogling a lot more subtle. Stealth spank banking, as it were.

Of course, the only people who knew all of this were Quil and Embry. But if she was going to be here, tomorrow... in the flesh... God only knew what was going to happen. I might spontaneously combust in a shower of entrails, fluffy hearts and come. Probably a bit melodramatic. Still, we were five minutes from the hospital now and I had to try and get it together. I was already torturing myself wondering how long she was staying.

I wheeled Dad in through the front doors once we'd parked - he liked pretending to be sicker than he was in hospitals because it "gets me the nurse tail." This was apparently a Black Family Lesson I ought not to ignore. He scowled once he saw the large, older woman behind the tall reception counter, though, so I took over.

"We're here to see Chief Swan, ma'am, brought in with a gunshot wound? He called and said he could have visitors now."

She smiled at me sweetly and gave me directions to his room.

"Any stairs on the way?" I gestured to my dad, who was now making faces at a little girl on the other side of the waiting room. She'd stuck out her tongue at him, so he'd pulled down his eyelids and pouted out his lips. The man was fifty-four. Just saying.

"Oh, I see dear," the receptionist replied. "No, you should be fine. You can just take your grandfather up in the elevator."

I snorted, and grabbed the handles on dad's chair to make a swift getaway, tossing a quick "thank you, ma'am!" over my shoulder as we rounded the desk. As I'd expected Dad was... a little pissed.

"YOU TAKE ME BACK TO THAT OLD BAG RIGHT THIS MINUTE, SON. I'LL SHOW HER WHAT AGE BILLY BLACK IS!"

He began lunging out of his chair, attempting to grab passing objects to slow us down, including a bench, an elderly gentleman on crutches, a trash can and, finally, successfully, a display of sexual health literature aimed at women of the night. The display wobbled once, twice, and then crashed with an almighty sound, covering us in informative leaflets entitled YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HE HAS. They were decorated with pictures of unused condoms littered in a public bathroom. One flapped about before landing on Dad's head, like an informative, deceased pigeon.

I collapsed, leaning over his chair and howling with laughter as Dad tried to claim it wasn't his fault, while pushing the leaflets off his lap and onto the floor. Still attempting to breathe, I crouched down and began picking up the papers, which had flown like folded planes into the air and down the corridor.

Yeah, this would be a memorable day. I almost felt like slipping one of the leaflets into my back pocket as a memento.

Sadly, it was there that the funny stopped and the please-kill-me-now began. Because walking down the corridor towards Billy and I, with a dark eyebrow arched and an amused smirk on her lovely, unevenly bowed lips... was Bella Swan. Fuck.

I paused in what I was doing and stood up as she approached, carrying a plastic grocery bag.

"This isn't what it looks like, officer," I began. "I was just helping Mr. Black here learn about the dangers of -" I scanned the brochure's contents, "-genital herpes."

My dad gave a grumbling sound, batted the paper from my hands and held out his arms with a sweet smile. "Hello, Bella."

"Don't trust a word he says." I warned, as she leaned to put her bag down and give the lucky bastard a kiss on the cheek. "He's been a menace all morning. Injured his only son, verbally assaulted a member of the nursing staff, and willfully destroyed hospital property... I'm ashamed, right now, to call him 'dad.'"

I pretended to sniff and turn away. Bella straightened up.

"Hey Jacob," she said, softly, amusement welling up in her tone.

All I noticed as she rose to press her mouth against my cheek was my dad's stupid gurning face - maybe he'd found another bored kid? - which somewhat ruined the moment. I was frozen, surrounded by a cloud of her cinnamon sugar smell and the feel of her hands as they held onto my arms.

Her kiss was short, but ball-achingly good. As she pulled her lips away, however, I felt her stop and turn slightly. Then start to giggle. She reached behind my head, her nose now level with my mouth and our eyes locked. I swallowed. Our bodies were less than an inch apart and it seemed like I could feel the warmth of her through my clothes. Her big, brown eyes went a little wider as they met mine, and she glanced down shyly. I wanted to tell her there was no reason to do that. But then I wanted to throw her onto the nearest bench and...

She stepped back clutching another leaflet, and handed it to me.

"It was, um, in your hood..."

She shuffled her feet.

"Thank you." It was all I could say. My brain had ejected its smartass drive and was running solely from my testes. Anything could happen.

My dad took it upon himself at that moment to wheel through the mess of brochures and away down the corridor.

"You two have fun with that." He called back. "I'll see ya with Charlie."

I glanced over at Bella. She looked at me. We both cracked up.

When we recovered, and started grabbing leaflets, I realized what was wrong with the picture.

"How come you're here today? Charlie said you'd be arriving tomorrow."

Bella rolled her eyes. It was cute. Damn it.

"Well, he got shot three days ago, as I guess you know?" I nodded. "He wanted me to come home tomorrow - his release day - to help him move back. But I hated the thought of him in the hospital - he hates hospitals -"

I knew the reason why. I'd once bumped into him in the emergency room when I'd broken a finger with a monkey wrench. He was trying to forcibly eject a drunk from the waiting area, who was railing on the destruction of society by the Reagan Administration. The nurse had slipped with her syringe of sedative and gotten Charlie's butt instead of the drunk's, and he'd spent twenty minutes swearing loudly, trying to slap the feeling back into his ass behind a flimsy, mostly transparent curtain. He'd sworn me to secrecy about the whole episode.

"-plus I need a day or so to make the house habitable." Bella paused. "I wonder when was the last time he ate a piece of fruit..."

I grimaced. "We had a bowl of Wild Berry Skittles for the Mariners versus Cubs game the week before last?"

Now she was rolling her eyes at me. So cute. And bending forward to try and lift up the leaflet stand. I grabbed it from her straining arms and easily righted it. She frowned.

"You know, anabolic steroids make your balls shrink. To the size of Wild Berry Skittles."

I made a face and retorted with, "I'm au naturel."

"Right," she replied, slotting leaflets into the holding pockets. "What else can you do in the breaks during Shark Week than pump iron?"

I shrugged. "Well, there's my female admirers, of course. They need a substantial amount of care and attention."

She raised an eyebrow and put her hands on her hips. Fuck, she looked sexy.

"Then there's my extensive personal grooming regime. I mean, seriously, you have no idea."

I replaced the last leaflets in the stand. I could see her lips wavering as she attempting not to grin.

"A back, sack and crack takes on a whole new meaning when you've got balls as hairy and huge as my babies."

A warm blush spread across her cheeks and down her neck as she coughed back a laugh under her breath. I bit my lip, and our eyes met for a second too long. I decided to break the tension, and extended my arm in front of us. She smiled quickly at me before picking up her bag and stepping out into the hallway.

We turned up at Charlie's room a little pink, but otherwise unscathed. I'd managed to restrain myself to butt-watching only one out of every three strides, and I felt that was more than a modest achievement, especially considering the caliber of the butt in question.

Charlie looked gray, and about ten years older, although those hospital gowns hardly showed off anyone's best aspect. He was hooked up to a heart monitor, a drip and a morphine pump, but his smile when he saw Bella seemed uninfluenced by any drug. She walked over to him and kissed him on the head, then proceeded to explain how she'd come across us in the hallway on her way back from getting snacks. He begged her to stop at the part where she described the contents of the leaflet, because his ribs were aching from laughing too hard.

Billy hit his foot with a slipper, and I decided to defend the Black name with some insider knowledge.

"Yeah, Chief, you laugh it up. Say, has Nurse Trigger Happy been around at all? I just want to be careful. You know, about where I sit down."

His face turned to stone. You know, the cop face. The face that says "you say shit and I'll stick my gun in your ass so hard you'll beg for a prison bathroom."

"I don't know who you mean, son."

I nodded, and winked at him. Bella and my dad looked confused, but after a brief pause B broke the tension by producing soda cans, packets of chips and candy bars from her bag. Charlie grinned and sighed happily, popping open a coke and ripping into a bag of Cheetos. He placed one on his tongue ceremoniously and let it dissolve in a swig of soda.

"Hospital food tastes like the ass of a mule owned by a lonely redneck."

"Dad!" Bella said, flushing.

Billy slapped his thigh in amusement, and I couldn't help but grin. Bella turned to Billy and me.

"What would you two like? We got Coke, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, and Doritos, Cheetos and Pringles. Or there's candy bars, too."

Billy went to reach for a Coke, but Bella handed him the Diet. He grumbled, then relented when she let him have the Pringles. I picked up the can of Mountain Dew I'd been eyeing.

"So, how'd you end up as this hot mess, Chief?" There was too much little boy playing cop in me not to ask. Charlie rolled his eyes. Clearly it was a family trait. Less cute on him.

"I've told this damn story a hundred times. Bells, you tell it."

Bella sat down on the edge of Charlie's bed, and I leaned against the wall and crossed my ankles, sipping from my can and waiting for her to begin.

"As far as I remember," she looked pointedly at her father, "Dad got a call in to say there was a robbery in progress at this grocery store in town - McHenry's? You know where I mean, on Spartan Avenue?" Dad and I nodded, so she continued.

"Well, Dad called for backup and drove over there with his lights and sirens. When he arrived, they were still inside, so he positioned his car at the entrance to the store, to assess the situation. From what he could see, two white men in tracksuits and ski masks were holding up the cashier with a .22. It practically looked like an air rifle, and they looked like there weren't out of middle school so, the Marlboro man lying here decided to pull some Raylan Givens crap and busted into the store, ready to arrest these kids.

"Unfortunately, the cashier, who always keeps a .45 under the counter but just hadn't been quick enough to get to it before, used the surprise to grab his gun and try to shoot the robbers. The bullet ricocheted off a metal supporting column in the shop and sunk right into Charlie's left lung."

My dad whistled. "That is some bad karma you got to get that one, Chief."

"Then," Bella continued, "my dad and the cashier proceeded to hold the two kids - who actually turned out to just be short, skinny, thirty-five year old brothers who were 'known to the authorities'" - she did the air quotes. It was very cute. - "for the next fifteen minutes till the cavalry arrived. They're sitting in lock-up right now, giving blow jobs for phone cards."

"Isabella!" Her dad's jaw had hit the floor, and Billy's wasn't far behind. I tried to disguise my snort of laughter. I'd forgotten how funny Bella was.

"What? You're allowed to say shit like that and I'm not?" She took a swig of soda and stuck her tongue out at him, clearly trying to dismantle any kind of overbearing father schtick he wanted to pull from the beginning.

He made a face and huffed through his teeth. I grinned at Bella. I loved her playful, teasing side, and I loved that college seemed to have brought out a little bit of a rougher edge to Bella Swan, who'd always been such a sweet, sheltered kid.

"Anyway," she hopped off the bed, "he's coming home tomorrow, so I need to get to the grocery store."

She kissed her dad on his forehead, before continuing.

"I'll come back later with dinner. Don't eat more than one candy bar or you'll ruin it."

He squeezed her hand and nodded, clearly and openly lying. Bella said goodbye to my dad and me - Billy got petted on the shoulder, but I just got a shy smile - then she walked out of the room and was gone.

I felt like running after her. My boots twitched on the linoleum floor, trying to drag me out, but I clung to the doorjamb, anchoring myself to the spot. Billy and Charlie were talking about fishing with Harry Clearwater as a form of recuperation therapy. I settled on staring longingly down the corridor, the way Bella had left.

I was quiet in the truck on the drive home, quiet through dinner and cards and TV, but Billy didn't ask what was wrong. He probably knew. He did tell me, though, that while Bella and I were cleaning up the leaflets Charlie had let slip she was staying till he recovered; he figured three months.

When I finally got to bed, I lay on my back and stared at the dimly moonlit ceiling. My heart wouldn't slow down, and neither would my breathing. Every time I closed my eyes I could almost feel her lips on my skin and her body so very, tantalizingly close to touching mine...

So, it was true, then. Bella was back for quite a long while.

And I wanted her more than ever.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Bella's POV

For a moment, when I opened my eyes, I wondered if maybe I'd woken up at a terrible early hour and had a while left to sleep in.

Then I remembered. Forks. Constant rain. Damn.

Except no! Wait! I sat up in bed, pushing my hair back out of my face and smiling as I remembered the night before. There was actually a reason to be glad I'd made the horribly long trek to Washington, besides taking care of Charlie, of course.

"Jacob Black." I tried out the name, trying to reconcile the sound of it with the gorgeous, muscular god-man who'd stood before me in the hospital hallway. For years, whenever I thought "Jacob Black," which was way more often than justified, the thought "just friends, definition of" immediately followed hot on its heels. It appeared my memories had been out of touch with current reality. It seemed incredible, but the geeky little string bean with long hair and baby fat on his cheeks had grown into a guy who oozed sex appeal. So much sex appeal, in fact, that apparently I'd completely lost my mind yesterday when I threw myself all over him and kissed his cheek. Excellent. Maybe next time we met I could flash him, in case he still labored under any delusions about my virtue.

I rose to grab the clothes lying on the rocking chair beside my bed and made my way down the hallway to the bathroom. The night before, I'd picked up some cleaning supplies along with food, since Charlie's cleaning regime apparently consisted of Clorox Wipes and eyes half shut thereafter. After a few moments with a scrub brush, I could actually step into the shower without fearing athlete's foot or worse. I got in and lathered up my hair before another thought struck me.

It wouldn't do me much good to be in close proximity to Jacob Black if he wasn't interested in me, too.

I thought about that as my fingers mechanically massaged my scalp. I'd thought we were friends following my last summer in Forks. After I went back, though, I had to immediately help Renée move into yet another house that she insisted had superior feng shui to our last location, and in the rush I'd misplaced his address.

No problem, I had thought. I'll just wait till he writes me and then get the address off the envelope.

But then he never wrote. I knew I shouldn't have expected differently from a thirteen-year-old guy, but for some reason his failure to follow through on his promises really hurt. I could have asked Charlie for the address, but instead I made sure that my father and I only visited in places that carried no chance of an accidental meeting with my former friend.

I rolled my eyes at myself as I poured bath gel on my washcloth, wishing as I did so that I'd remembered to pick up a new pouf while I was at the store. Well, the whole thing with Jacob was years and years ago. He must be... I did some quick calculating... eighteen now. Of course, he was absolutely out of my league now, too. Damn it.

I frowned while I scrubbed. I didn't break mirrors or anything, but I was realistic enough to realize that when I stood next to Jake one of us clearly outshone the other, and I wasn't the brighter beam.

And, okay. Maybe I was being a little hard on myself. My hair was good and my body was all right, if you could forgive the B-cups, which neither of the guys who had seen them in the past seemed to mind. I was smart, and as long as I didn't have too much to drink I knew how to hold my own in a conversation. It was just hard to regain my confidence after breaking up with Travis. Or, rather, after he broke up with me via a Facebook relationship status change after we dated for nearly a year. I hadn't even realized we weren't a couple anymore until my friends started leaving messages. That had been five months ago and I had yet to go on a date with anyone else since.

I looked at the unopened razor on the shower shelf, debating with myself. Finally, I sighed and ripped the thing open. Fine. I'd shave. I'd even wear a skirt for maybe the first time this year. And if Jacob Black showed no signs of noticing the effort, then I could... be grateful for the excuse not to shave again? Or something. Renée would be thrilled to hear it anyway; she was always railing about the oppressive patriarchy that mandated women changing their appearance to fit into an infantalized notion of true beauty. The fact that I preferred my men not to resemble bearskin rugs, either, held no sway with her.

After I dressed (stretchy V-neck top plus a black and pink plaid zipper skirt that made my legs look as long as someone five feet, four inches tall could boast) and put on my shoes, I grabbed my keys, wallet, and cell phone and headed out the door. When I got into my ancient Corolla and turned the key in the ignition, though, nothing happened. I tried the key again and again, but the engine didn't even start to catch. I checked to make sure I hadn't left the lights on or anything stupid like that, but everything was as it should be.

"Hey, Bella," said a husky voice outside the door.

I jumped and shrieked, then opened the door to glare up - and up - at the guy looming over the car. "Jake! What the hell are you doing here? You scared the crap out of me!"

He grinned, totally unrepentant. "I thought I'd drop off some of Dad's crutches that he can't use anymore, in case Charlie needed them to get around or anything. You can't be home twenty-four seven, and trust me, you do not want to have to be the one who helps him get to the bathroom anyway. That shit's just wrong."

I heard a giggle come out of my mouth before I could stop it. Damn. I sounded about fifteen when I did that. Well, maybe he went for younger (sounding) women and I just found my in. "You make a good point. Okay, here. I might as well let you inside, considering that apparently I need a tow."

He shook his head, still smiling. "What's going on? Let me take a look under the hood."

"She won't start at all." I reached down to pop the hood release.

"She? Does she have a name?" Jake walked to the front of the car and raised the hood with a quick, expert move of one hand. He didn't even have to look.

I scowled a little. It always took me five minutes and a flashlight just to find the lever. "Yeah. Ruby. 'Cause of the color, of course."

"Of course." He bent down and fiddled with a couple of things. "Have your lights been going dim, then getting brighter, while you drive?"

"No, they stay the same." I drifted over next to him as if I could supervise his work. As a totally unintentional bonus, ha ha, I got to unobtrusively sniff at him. God. God. Whatever he used for cologne should be sold with a pheromone warning. My knees were shaking already. I leaned my palm against the side of the car to steady myself and asked, "Why?"

"Because if they did it would mean the alternator was going out, and that would suck because those bastards are expensive." He looked over his shoulder at me. I tried not to stare at his arms and fantasize about them bracing me against the nearest vertical surface while he did dirty things to me under my skirt. Oh shit. Too late. I was going to need some alone time soon with my vibrator or the next time I saw Jake I might start humping his leg. That could be a little awkward if he was fussy about hygiene. "When's the last time you replaced the battery?"

For a split second, I thought he was referring to my vibrator and started to answer, "Last week, that thing goes through Dead Batteries like there's no tomorrow," before remembering we were talking about my car still. "Uh... I never have."

"How long have you had this car?"

"Two years." It was impossible to get around Phoenix without a car of my own, so I'd given in finally and used my student loans to put a down payment on Ruby during my freshman year.

He stood up with a sigh, running his fingers through his hair and leaving a streak of grease across his forehead. "Oh. Well, that explains it. You go to school in Arizona, too, right?"

"Right," I confirmed with a nod. "Here, let me..." When I motioned, he hesitantly ducked his head. I rubbed at the grease streak with my thumb, avoiding his eyes all the while. He kept talking, breath hot against the inside of my wrist.

"Okay, so probably nobody ever told you this, but when you're driving around in that kind of dry, extreme heat, you're gonna need to replace the battery every eighteen months or so." I withdrew my hand, and he tilted his head toward mine. We both stood motionless for a moment. I held my breath, but he just straightened and continued, "I'm kinda surprised it lasted this long. You're lucky it didn't give out on the way up here."

I stared at the battery as if I could regenerate it with the power of my gaze. Why couldn't I be an escapee from Professor Xavier's school with that sort of mutation? "Well, shit. Guess that means I'm out of luck for the moment. I have to go get Charlie, though. Does Forks even have a cab service?"

He looked at me as if I had started spouting gibberish. "What are you talking about? I'll give you a ride. We can all three fit in my truck."

"But on the way back we'll be..." I started to object, but then I remembered that I'd be sitting in the middle in that case, and that would mean being squished against Jake for the entire drive home. Oh, yeah. "Okay-sure-that-sounds-great-thanks-so-much," I said in a quick rush.

He gave me a slightly dubious look. "You sure?"

What had just happened to him wanting me to come with him? I nodded, trying to keep the intensity down to an appropriate level when all I could think was I get to touch his whole side for an hour! "Yeah, of course. I mean, if it's not too much trouble or anything. I know it's a pretty long drive."

"Well..." he said, sounding as if it cost him. "It is kind of a trip. Gas is expensive. And my dad's going to be home alone. I really hope he doesn't slip into a coma or fall out of his chair while I'm helping you."

I felt my eyes widen in dismay. "Oh, no! Then you definitely shouldn't leave. I'll just call a cab like I said - "

I stopped talking because he was laughing at me. "I'm just kidding, Bella. It'll be fine."

After a second, I punched his arm. "You jerk! I felt really bad!" I smiled when I said it, though. He didn't even bother pretending it hurt.

I climbed into Jake's classic pickup and watched him out of the corner of my eye as he pulled away from the curb. After a full minute of silence, I started feeling awkward. "Um. So. I really like your truck."

He raised his eyebrows in amusement. "Oh really? You don't strike me as much of a truck girl."

I felt the smile fade from my face. What was that supposed to mean? I soldiered on, though. "No, yeah, I like trucks. A lot. I know I drive that Corolla and everything but I needed something reliable and it was a good price because some older lady who was going into a retirement community couldn't drive it anymore. But I totally... When I graduate, if I get a decent job, I want to get a Nissan Frontier."

He snorted. "No way. If you get a pickup you want something with balls, like a Ford F-250."

Right. Obviously he knew more about this stuff than I did. Probably there was something wrong with Frontiers. Flustered, I stared at my hands, twisted in my lap. "I don't want to have balls," I managed to retort. "I like being girly." Well, I liked being a girl, anyway. I raised my face to look at him again.

"Girly." He nodded, not bothering to hide the skepticism in his eyes. "Sure."

Holy shit and what the hell? Why was he being so mean? Little teenage twerp. No. Nothing was little about him. I caught myself just before I peered at the front of his jeans to see if I could get a general idea about size. Time to redirect the conversation. "So what are you doing next year? You just graduated, right?"

Jake shrugged. "Yeah. I really don't know what the hell I'm doing, though. I'll be doing college online through U-Dub - that's University of Washington - but I don't have a major in mind. What's yours?"

I made a face. "General Studies."

He started laughing. "Are you serious? You're really getting a degree in General Studies?"

I crossed my arms and glared. "What's so funny about that?"

He wiped the amusement off his face, though his eyes still crinkled at the edges. "Nothing! Nothing. So I guess you'll be going to grad school then."

Now it was my turn to shrug again. If he already thought I was a loser, this was just going to confirm it. "I guess... Actually, I don't really know. I don't know what I would go to grad school for. I liked a bunch of my classes but none of the ones I liked really struck me as something with employment potential. It wasn't like one day I woke up and said, 'Wow! I sure would like to make a living out from analyzing Japanese ink paintings!' or anything."

He laughed again, but this time it was at my attempt at humor instead of me. That was better. "So you're kind of in the same position as me."

I'd love to be in any position with you, I thought, but I said, "Yeah, I guess so. Still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Difference is, my time's running out and you've still got plenty ahead of you."

That made the smile vanish from Jacob's face. "Yeah. That two years does make a huge difference, huh?"

Was he saying I was too old for him? Maybe all my internal drooling over him was coming across like some sort of pathetic cougaring display. Maybe he was trying to warn me off without being too obvious about it. Oh my God, I hadn't even considered the fact that he probably had a girlfriend. Nice, Bella. Show up for one day and start thinking about how to remove the guy from his current relationship. I aimed for as airy a tone as I could muster. "Oh yeah. When I graduated I thought things would be different by now. I thought I'd have everything about my future figured out. I thought my boyfriend and I would be engaged, if you can believe that."

I tried for a chuckle, but he wasn't laughing. "You have a boyfriend?"

That question carried an insulting level of surprise in its tone. Stung, I snapped back, "No, my last boyfriend dumped me. Online. His Facebook friends knew about it before I did."

Now he just looked appalled. "What a dickhead!"

Thank you. "I kind of thought so myself."

"Did he ever explain himself? Say he was sorry?"

"Oh fuck no." He started a little when I cursed, just like he had last night. Maybe he thought it was unladylike? Well, he was right about that. I might like being a girl but ladyhood wasn't much a priority for Renée's daughter. I talked like a grownup now and hopefully he wouldn't mind, because I wasn't going to go that far to impress him. "He did, however, start dating a grad student the next day. Although, I guess they were probably dating before that, because he was way too much of a douche to dump one girlfriend before he had another one lined up."

"Nice. Well, the asshole didn't deserve you anyway."

The words started up a tiny glow in my chest. To hide any trace of it that might show up on my face, I reached to roll the window down a little, since the rain had stopped for the moment.

"No, wait, Bella!"

It was too late. The second I moved the handle counter-clockwise, the entire pane of glass fell down with a crash inside the truck door. I stared, gaping, at the empty space left behind. "What the hell?"

Jake's face looked as if it had set into a permanent wince. "Yeah. That window falls off its track the minute you try to roll it down. I probably should have warned you. Sorry."

I felt sheer horror overtake my expression. "Oh my God. I am so, so sorry. Did I just completely ruin it?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I can fix it pretty easily. I just need to take the panel off the door..." He trailed off as realization struck.

"Which you can't do till you get back to your place," I finished, closing my eyes. "Great. I hope it doesn't start to rain on our way home. We'll just have to put Charlie in the middle and keep our fingers crossed..." I started laughing and couldn't seem to stop.

I glanced at Jacob in apology while I chortled - after all, it wasn't funny I had broken his truck, no matter how temporary the damage - but he only started laughing with me and reached across the seat to grab my hand. I tried to hide my start of shock at the heat of his grasp. "Don't worry," he told me between chuckles."I'll try hard to avoid any deep puddles so you don't get splashed. And maybe we can pick up a rain poncho or something once we hit Port Angeles so you don't get totally soaked."

His hand felt way too good around mine. I already am totally soaked! that part of my brain that turned everything into a double entendre replied. Shut up, Dirty B, I told her. I peered down into the gap down which the window had disappeared. Knowing I'd caused the trouble sobered me. "That sounds good. There's a Wal-Mart in town, right?"

"Sure, sure. We'll stop and pick up a couple things before we get Charlie." He squeezed my hand. "Hey. Don't look so upset, honey. It's happened before. I swear, it's no big deal."

Honey. That was something old ladies who relocated to Sun City for their golden years called me. The endearment sounded totally natural coming from his mouth, though. Probably because he called every girl that. "Yeah. I'm sure I wouldn't care if some weird girl I hadn't seen in years hit me up for a two-hour ride to get her invalid father and collapsed my truck's window while I drove her to the hospital. No big deal at all. The hurricane-force winds coming through the cab just add to the overall awesome, don't you think?"

Jake chuckled. His hand left mine and traveled up my arm to rub my shoulders. I resisted the urge to purr like a cat, but I couldn't stop myself from leaning into his touch. Oh, who cared if he had a girlfriend. Maybe she'd be interested in starting up a harem with all Jake's other inevitable conquests. "It's not bad, actually. Kinda reminds me of riding my motorcycle."

Right. Of course he had a motorcycle. I'd be willing to bet he rode it shirtless, too. I pressed my legs together at the mental image and tried not to moan. I apparently didn't entirely succeed, because he added, "For real. Stop feeling so bad. And anyway, you're not 'some weird girl,' you're Bella. And I'm, um, glad you're back. Window or no window. Whoa, you are seriously tense. No wonder, with everything going on with Charlie. Am I pressing too hard?"

"No, nope, uh-uh," I babbled. "Feels great."

He kept massaging the back of my neck. I closed my eyes and surrendered to an inescapable realization: Jacob Black probably wasn't interested in me, but I wanted him way, way too badly to walk away.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 - Jake's POV  

Bella seemed to have bought my ruse to see her, which I'd facilitated with every piece of walking apparatus we had scattered around our little house, but it was lucky I went, anyway, or she wouldn't have had a ride. Something I kept repeating to myself so I felt less of a creepy weirdo.

I'd come up with a plan of action last night - tentatively entitled Operation Swan Hunt - step one of which involved me digging crutches out of the crawlspace; not so easy when you're six feet five and built like Optimus Prime. Step two was getting her cell phone number, step three was to slowly ease into holding her hand, and step four was to find some sort of excuse to meet up with her at least weekly. I had lots of ideas for our at-least-weekly dates - a sunset bonfire on the beach, a movie night, pancakes at the diner, ice cream on the promenade in Port Angeles, riding my bike along the coast road... and maybe even just sitting in my garage like we used to - her reading, me working on something, good music and warm soda...

Of course, step five was the difficult one. Step five involved her admitting her feelings for me and kissing me. But I could be patient - I'd waited for Bella Swan for a long damn time - I wasn't about to rush things now. Steps one to four should definitely be implemented before step five. Probably.

I was snapped out of my reverie as I noticed her shivering a little and I turned to her as we pulled up at some traffic lights. I was trying in vain not to get caught staring at her bare legs, which she'd pulled up onto the seat and was hugging.

"You cold up on deck there, B?"

Before she got a chance to answer with more than a shy smile, I held out my arm. "I'm practically always around grilling temperature. I blame the Mountain Dew. C'mere."

Her eyes widened but her body seemed to respond before her brain caught up. Suddenly, I had a Bella nestled into my side. Yes.

I cuddled her in close with my arm as she breathed out in what sounded suspiciously like relaxation.

"God that's better." There was a pause, and she reached up to press her palm to my forehead. "Shit, you really are hot. Mountain Dew, huh? It does look radioactive."

I nodded solemnly. "It's actually a huge conspiracy to turn American teens Communist."

She took over. "Well, where else are you going to get enough uranium except embittered former Soviet republics? Still, it is a worry. I want you drinking nothing but bourbon from now on."

I chuckled, and she turned her nose into the fabric of my t-shirt. I thought I felt her breathe in, but I couldn't be sure. That was because I got distracted at the sight of her pushing her hands between her thighs. Presumably to warm up her fingers, said the part of my brain still allowed some dwindling blood flow.

B reached for the radio, and messed with the dials till a classic rock station came on while I tried to preoccupy myself with thoughts of long-haired, skinny white men to avoid pitching a tent before we got anywhere near camping equipment. It definitely helped, and by the time we reached Wal-Mart I was pole-free and ready to continue pretending to be an adult male with more than a modicum of control over his twenty-first digit.

Bella hopped out and sighed in relief at the sign. I raised an eyebrow, unsure why anyone would be pleased about visiting Wal-Mart. She must have seen the question on my face because she explained: "Whenever I came to visit I used to go hiking and fishing with Charlie - you remember? We used to go to this shop - Newton's Outfitters - and the Newton's kid, Mike, had a... big smile for me. As Charlie put it. He used to follow me around the store, and I was convinced he'd drilled holes in the changing room walls. I had visions of him jerking off to a CCTV camera using boot wax for lube."

I laughed but my hands twitched at my sides. Weird. I wasn't usually the jealous type.

The Sporting Goods section of the store was strewn with outdoorsy paraphernalia; camouflage nets and creepy mannequins stiffly showcasing the latest al fresco peeing techniques and dehydrated meal bags. Yum.

We rummaged through the racks for a while, Bella making little comments along the lines of, "my Gran has a similar carpet pattern, and that's with her aging kitty's leakage problem." Then I struck gold. Picking up a dark purple jacket with a hood, I held it out for Bella's approval. Ok, I may have gestured to the fine tailoring like a dick, but it got a giggle so it was more than worth it. So cute.

When she tried it on, the coat fit neatly on her delicate frame. She looked good; snug. I stood back so she could see in the mirror, and was about to ask what she thought when a man with spiky blond hair rounded the display, a predatory look on his face. I managed to stop myself from growling. Just.

"Well, who do we have here?" he smirked.

"Mike!" Bella made a strangled noise. "What the..?"

"I'm the manager here, Isabella! They snapped me up with my years of experience at the Outfitters. Hey, that looks really good on you, really good. Here, let me..." he trailed off and began flitting about her, "adjusting." Bella looked decidedly uncomfortable and I could feel my fingers curling up into fists in my palms, so I stuck my hand out.

"I don't believe we've met. I'm Jacob. I'm here with Bella." I may have put more than a little emphasis on the "with."

His handshake was limp and sweaty, but at least he'd stopped touching her. His attention was only briefly diverted, however, and he quickly turned back to Bells. "So, what are you up to back home, huh? Seeing the Chief, I guess. I heard about his... injury. If you need to talk..."

Bella slipped the coat from her shoulders and replaced it on the hanger. "I think I'll take this, Mike; we're in kind of a hurry, if you don't mind. Going to get the old man, actually. Nothing can keep him down!"

Finally, he seemed to get the message, and looked a little dejected, running his hand through his spiked hair. Huh, it moved. I would have felt bad for him, but then I noticed he was staring at Bella's now coat-free breasts. Frowning, she crossed her arms in front of her and headed for the registers, Mike scurrying after.

I surreptitiously watched the transaction while examining the crampons; I didn't want Bella to feel pressured or crowded. It seemed she was okay with that, since when she came back over she slipped her free hand into mine and gave me the cutest grin. "Ready to go, Jake?"

I just knew Newton was watching us and that I was pushing it, but I couldn't resist. I leaned down and brushed my nose with Bella's, just an Eskimo kiss. She started a little, but then her eyes closed and she nudged me right back. I felt my chest tighten and I squeezed her hand, wanting to try and convey that this was not all for show, that this was real, too. "I'm ready," I told her, trying for an intimate tone that would tell Handsy Mike that if he tried anything he'd be barging in on a private moment.

He waved halfheartedly from across the aisle. I grinned at him and nodded my head. "Bye Mark!"

Bella's eyes lit up with suppressed laughter, but we both managed to hold if off till we got to the parking lot. Then she grabbed my arm with the hand not holding mine and we both wheezed.
"Dear Lord, why me?" Bella complained to the sky, still giggling. "Why must you thrust Mike Newton into my path at every opportunity?"

"Mike?" I countered. "I dunno where he was, but my questions on what happened to Lance Bass have been answered. Times have clearly been tough since N'Sync."

She only let go of my hand once we got to the truck and punched me lightly in the arm. "I'm pretty sure Lance Bass is living in LA with his boyfriend, Jacob."

I shook my head, and she swatted at it while rolling her eyes, but as she went to clip me I caught her wrist and gently brought it to my chest. I leaned in a little closer and she caught her breath. Her eyes were so beautiful close up, with multi-colored irises like knots in polished wood. As her lips drew closer to mine I almost deviated from my plan and shot straight to step five.

Instead, I barely managed to hang on to a few particles of self-control and mumbled "that's what he wants you to think." She rolled her eyes at me and got back into the truck.

We arrived at the hospital about an hour later after an animated conversation on celebrities' sexuality (Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart - so gay), the best types of truck (F-350 and Ironhide) and my haircut (disastrous, apparently). I chopped all the length off a couple of summers ago. Bella pouted about this. I silently vowed to grow it out a little.

B practically jogged down the corridors as we made our way to her dad's room, and threw her arms around him when we got there. I'd forgotten how worried she must have been about him the past few days, especially last night, when she was on her own in the house. Charlie just chuckled and patted her on the back. He was in the best mood I'd seen him in in ages, which is to say he grunted hello and told the nurse not to forget to pack his toothbrush.

At that, Bella blushed and turned to her father. "You be nice to the nurses, dad, or I'm withholding your Vicodin."

"I am nice!" he protested, pretending to be shocked.

I helped Charlie out of bed and into a wheelchair, which he only accepted after I convinced him it was the fastest way out of the place. With Bella pushing, and me carrying his bag and discharge papers, we made our escape.

A light rain was falling outside the automatic doors, and we all turned our faces up to the drops, inhaling the freshness which blew away that horrible stale steel smell of hospital. I looked over at Bella standing in the rain. That was a mistake. Droplets had caught on her eyelashes and as I stared she poked out her pink tongue to catch a few more. Dear God. The girl who featured in approximately ninety-nine percent of my teenage fantasies was technically standing next to me, wet, with her mouth open. Technically. She was going to kill me without even trying.

Charlie interrupted my ogling with a grumbling cough, and Bella leaned down to fuss over him before moving off towards the truck. I swallowed and watched her go for a moment, trying to subtly readjust the crotch of my jeans. Thank fuck I'd bought the loose style. Hereafter known as the Bella Swan Is A Dick Siren fit.

I jogged over to the truck and helped Charlie on to the bench seat. He didn't even ask why we weren't in Bella's car; in fact he looked a little green. B's concerned face came back in force - it was really cute, featuring a slight pucker between her eyebrows and a bitten bottom lip - and she asked Charlie if he needed to go back inside. At that he sat up straighter and said he just needed fresh air. Bella giggled and motioned to the door.

"I sort of broke Jacob's window. We came here in his truck 'cos Ruby's battery's flat, but then I tried to wind down the window and it fell off the track thingy and down into the door. So you'll get plenty of fresh air on the ride home."

Charlie grunted, then nodded. Bella frowned and handed him a bottle of water from her bag before feeling his forehead and wrapping a big, fluffy blanket around his shoulders. He relaxed and let her care for him, taking small sips of the water and squeezing her offered hand.

"Hey, hey, Dad," she spoke in a soft voice, "this sucks, huh?" Charlie huffed in agreement. Bella's lips lifted at the corner of her mouth in a sweet half-smile. "And this trip's going to be really crappy, but just keep focusing on three things, okay?" He looked up. I busied myself tying Charlie's bag under a tarp on the bed. "Your recliner, my lasagna, and Sports Center."

He managed to bark out a laugh. I decided to join in. "Don't forget getting to wipe your ass on soft paper."

"Jacob!" Bella snorted.

"And sleeping in your own bed."

"Damn straight about that, son."

B jumped up into the cab and tried to get Charlie to move into the middle, but he motioned her away. "Let me sit near the window, Bells. It might be, uh, useful if we go over too many bumps."

Her eyes widened as she nodded, and she came around to my side and slid into the middle of the seat, helping her dad buckle in, then clipping her own lap belt into place. I got up into the cab tentatively, wondering quite how close this was going to make Bella and I, and how much I could get away with in front of her father. Our thighs were pressed together as we set off, and Bella's arm brushed mine every time I changed gear, but we weren't nearly close enough for my liking. Still, Charlie actually seemed tired out by the move and fell asleep pretty quickly leaning up against the door, so B put the radio on low. I was about to put the moves on - maybe another of my patented Jacob Black back massages (sometimes, I was even surprised at my own level of teenage boy lame) - when I looked at Bella. She seemed really upset, and I was pretty sure I knew why.

"It's fucking hard seeing him like that, isn't it?"

A tear rolled down her cheek and I held out my arm. She snuggled into my side. I tried to suppress a groan at the contact, but I couldn't help my speeding heart. Every time Bella touched me it was so good.

"It's just... he's such a..." her voice broke. I hugged her in tighter to me and stayed quiet, wanting her to finish her thought. She took a deep, shuddering breath. "He's just... strong and capable and infuriatingly independent and Charlie. He's not him like this."

I nodded. I knew just what she meant, and what she probably needed to hear. "But this won't last forever, B. And even if it did, even if he ended up like my dad, you'd be fine... because you love him."

"What if I can't cope? It's just me and him there, Jake... what-"

I held up my hand. "I'm going to stop you right there. You call me. Whether it's noon or three in the morning, you call me and I will come and help."

"I can't expect you to-"

"I don't want to tell you to shut the fuck up, Bells."

She giggled, then frowned and took to fiddling with the hem of my t-shirt. "When was your dad's accident?"

"2000."

"Could you tell me what happened? Not if you don't want to, of course."

I smiled and squeezed her arm again. "It's fine, Bells. It was pretty straightforward. My dad went off the rails a little after my mom died. That was when I was eight. He couldn't cope for a few years: cried a lot; drank even more. Wouldn't let anyone or anything comfort him. One day he was driving back from a bar after he had a few too many and took his car off the road into a tree. They had to cut him out."

Bella turned to look up at me, her expression filled with sadness and empathy. "I'm sorry, Jake."

I shrugged. "It was a good thing, in the end. It stopped him drinking and forced him to get help. He was in hospital for six months and had grief counseling along with his operations and physiotherapy. When he came home he hadn't recovered, of course, but it seemed like he could breathe again without pain. Almost as if losing his legs was payment for surviving mom." Bella gasped. I made a face and added, "I know that sounds sick, but I really think he felt so bad for surviving when she died. Almost as if the wrong parent got left behind."

She nodded. "It's a pretty common thing. Who looked after you while he was in the hospital?"

"My sisters, mostly, and Sue and Harry Clearwater. And your dad."

Bella looked up at me, her eyes wide.

"Yep. He went to see Billy almost every day, made it part of his rounds. And he'd come get me, Becca and Rach twice a week to visit with him, then take us for lunch at the diner afterwards."

On hearing of her dad's kindness, Bella's smile became small and wondering and there was a lull in the conversation. We both glanced over at a lightly snoring, well bandaged Charlie as we wove along wet, pine-lined roads.

Bella's voice broke the silence. "What's it been like taking care of your dad?"

I laughed a little. "Challenging. Most days I want to murder the bastard." She laughed and shoved me in the chest. I caught her hand and laced her fingers with my own. "Nah, it's fine. I have a routine - laundry, groceries, cleaning up. He does his share, too. We're a good team."

"But do you ever wonder what your childhood would have been like without... all the..."

"Shit?" I finished for her.

"Well... yeah."

"Sometimes. I try not to. But if I'd had a more... normal time of it I wouldn't be me. I'm not saying it's been some dumbass character-building trial or whatever, but being pissed off about your life is pointless - it just makes you sad and bitter and I never wanted to be like that. I love my dad. The time I had with my mom was amazing. And though I miss my sisters, I know they'd move mountains to get to me if I needed them. I'm damn lucky."

Bella was looking at me as if I was speaking in tongues. "Jake... you're amazing."

I could feel my face beginning to burn, so I just ducked out of the way and kissed her head. "I'm all right. Plus, now that you're back I have someone new to play with."

She raised an eyebrow, and I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the road.

We got to Bella's shortly after that, which was probably for the best. I'd spilled enough of my guts. Charlie woke up with a start as I pulled onto his uneven drive and seemed very pleased to finally be home. I helped him down, and we shuffled towards the front door as Bella ran ahead to open it and clear the path. He seemed to visibly relax once inside his own front door, but I didn't let up supporting him till we reached the living room.

Charlie sank down into his recliner with a deep groan. Once the pain of moving had subsided, he looked at Bella and I and gave us a huge grin, then pulled the recline lever. We both laughed at his enthusiasm, but I turned away quickly, trying not to butt in on the father-daughter moment. "I'll grab Charlie's bag from the truck."

She nodded. "I'll make some coffee."

When I came back in with the duffel I laid the bag down in the hallway and followed the delicious smell of brewing coffee into the kitchen. I heard Charlie's snore before I even realised he was asleep. Bella shook her head. "I think it's a police thing. He can pass out within seconds of lying down, and he can sleep anywhere. I once caught him leaning against the fridge, totally out, with half a chicken leg in his hand."

B poured two cups, and put out a jar of cookies that looked homemade. I sat down at the little wooden table by the bay window and started on the jar. The cookies were oatmeal and raisin and so freaking good - moist and chewy, with just a little bit of crunch.

"Be-wa, di' oo mak thes?" I mumbled as I stuffed my face.

B grinned. "I was all worried yesterday. I bake when I'm worried. You like?"

I nodded vehemently, attempting not to spray her with crumbs as she put a cup of hot coffee in front of me and took a cookie for herself. I was wondering how I could engineer staying longer, when my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was Dad. Damn it. WEN R U BACK? he wanted to know. CANT REACH WAFFLES IN FREEZER. GOING INTO DIABETIC COMA. ALL YR FAULT. PS BRING A 6PK OF VIT R.

"I better go." I showed Bella the text and downed my coffee before kissing her on the head. I'd gotten away with it twice now. Win! She nodded, a contemplative look on her face. I was just about to suggest I call her later to see how she was doing when I realized... I had no way to get in touch with her.

"What'syournumber?" I stumbled out way too fast. "In case, you know... emergencies." She smiled, and recited it. I punched in the number then called her phone so she had mine too. Step two completed. Heh heh heh.

I got my first text from her when I was half-way home, after I'd picked up dad's beer, and a bag of cool ranch Doritos from the 7-11. From Bella: You've got oatmeal in your hair x.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 - Bella's POV

The minute I sent the text to Jake, I wished there were take-backs in the real world. You've got oatmeal in your hair? Really, Bella? For God's sake, come up with another way to sound like a total big sister figure, just in case he didn't already think of you like that. The way he couldn't wait to get out of the house after we brought Charlie home should've been my first clue. At least he'd stuck around for the cookies - if the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, I was halfway there. Personally, I was pretty sure it was through his dick but I could be wrong. Maybe I'd get the chance to try the theory... probably not.

For a second in Wal-Mart I'd wondered if maybe the attraction I felt wasn't a one-way street. When he leaned in and brushed my nose with his own, I almost went for his mouth instead, but then he squeezed my hand and I realized it was a show for Mike's benefit. That didn't stop me from wanting to take advantage of the situation. When he told me "I'm ready" with the sex voice, I nearly jumped him right there in the store with the excuse that he was my pretend boyfriend.

I went into the kitchen and washed my hands, still thinking about it. Well, okay. Probably I wouldn't really have jumped him till we got back to the truck... where he held my hand to his chest and stared at my mouth. That all screamed pre-kiss behavior to me, but he broke the spell with that crack about Lance Bass and then kept the conversation determinedly superficial for the rest of the trip. Not that I objected to small talk. It was easier to cope with than mixed signals. And anyway, I didn't trust myself not to willfully misinterpret them.

I put the frying pan for the meat on the stove and turned the burner on. As I opened the fridge and started taking out ingredients, I rolled my eyes at myself. Most likely, he was just one of those guys who had so many girls throwing themselves at him that touching them was part of his normal conversation with females. If I'd been forty and had a goiter, he still would've hugged me when I started crying about Charlie like a big baby. And kissed me. On top of my head. Like a sister. Damn it, damn it, damn it. I grabbed a knife, cut into the ground meat with unnecessary force, and nearly sliced my finger off in the process. Thank God I wasn't as clumsy as I used to be or it would've been another trip to the ER for me. I dumped the meat into the frying pan and smiled. It was funny now. Renée used to joke she was going to buy stock in Banner Health Systems when I was in high school.

Oh shit. Renée! I hadn't called her since the obligatory "I got into town" conversation to let her know the trip hadn't killed me. I washed my hands of raw meat and picked up my cell again to dial.

She answered on the fifth ring. "Hey, baby!"

I smiled. "Hey, Renée. What're you doing?"

"Oh, you know, it's Thursday so that's tai chi. I'm pulling into the driveway at home now. How's Charlie?"

Where the hell did I put my Bluetooth? "That's cool. Learn anything new?" While she enthused, I walked upstairs and started pawing through my bag. I always kept it in the outside pocket of my purse... except it wasn't there. Weird. If I didn't flip that meat, though, it would burn, so I had to quit looking and head back downstairs again.

"And that's when Andrea said that if I didn't start focusing on balancing my yin and yang - "

"Renée," I interrupted, chopping garlic while cradling my phone against my shoulder. "Did you remember to put on your hormone cream today?"

"I... think so..."

She didn't sound too sure. "Well, did you mark off the check box on the calendar thingy?" The "calendar thingy" was actually a huge desk calendar that I gave her every year for Christmas (along with other, less lame presents) so that she had a visual reminder of everything she needed to do. Of course, I also ended up filling in all the agenda, but that was okay.

"Hold on, baby, I just walked in the front door. Let me check... No, I didn't."

Jeez. She needed a freaking babysitter when I wasn't around. "Well, check the other days before this. Did you mark them off?"

"Um... yes."

"So probably you didn't do it this morning." Careful to keep my tone in the "mild suggestion" range, I added, "Why don't you go ahead and put it on now, so you don't get distracted and forget?"

"Okay, sure, that sounds good. Oh! I almost forgot! Did they release Charlie today?"

I suppressed the momentary flash of anger that wanted to flare up at her carelessness while I dumped the garlic off the cutting board into the sizzling meat. Renée was Renée, and that wouldn't change, so there was no point in getting pissed off at her at this late date. "Yeah, they sure did. Ruby needs a new battery so I had to catch a ride with Jacob Black. It was really nice of him to do that because Dad was in Port Angeles and - "

"Jacob Black?" she interrupted, and my heart sank. I knew that particular tone of voice. "As in, Billy and Sarah Black's son?"

"Uh-huh." Please don't ask please don't ask -

She asked. "So is he as good-looking as his dad used to be? My God, Billy had these abs that you just wanted to paint with barbecue sauce and lick like a - "

"Oh my God, Mother! Please stop, now, before I throw up!" I suppressed a full-body shudder. "I don't know what his abs look like."

"But would you like to?" she pressed. I realized then that her best friend instinct had kicked in; through the information divulged in two sentences from me, she had somehow divined how I felt about Jake.

The urge to confide in someone was unbearable. I checked to make sure Charlie was still asleep and, while I chopped onions, gave in to the stupid giggles that wanted to attack every time I saw that boy. "Yeah, I sure would. Seriously, you would not believe how hot he is now. Last time I saw him he was a little heavy-metal nerdling and now he's all, like, Quileute god with mad mechanical skills and arms like... I don't even know what they're like because every time I see them, my mind goes blank."

Renée squealed. I smiled in response as I added the onions to the pan and went to rinse off the cutting board. "I knew it! Bella, this could be exactly what you need to get over that tool Travis - "

"Renée, please don't ever use the term 'tool' unless you're referring to auto repair."

"Whatever. He is. I say you use Jacob as your sex slave the entire time you're visiting your dad - "

I couldn't stop laughing. "Oh my God, are you really saying this to me or am I trapped in a terrible nightmare?" I teased.

" - of course that's assuming he has the time, because if he's at all like Billy I'm sure he's got girls pretending to 'break down' in front of his house so they can make a phone call or whatever they say now that everybody's got cell phones, so Jake's bound to have just as many begging for him to - "

I jerked my head in shock and my phone fell into the sink. "Shit!" I screeched, grabbing it out of the running water and staring at it. Yup, totally fried. "Shit, shit, shit."

"What the hell is wrong in there?" Charlie demanded from his chair.

"Oh God. I'm sorry, Dad, I didn't mean to wake you." I turned around and waved the phone at him in despair. "I dropped my phone in the sink."

He made a sympathetic face. "Do you have a warranty?"

"I do, but there aren't any stores for my carrier here in Forks. I'm gonna have to go back to Port Ange and..." Crap. Except for that teeny little detail of... "My car battery's dead." Why hadn't I picked up a new one while we were at Wal-Mart? Oh, that's right. Damn Mike Newton and his grabby self. If I hadn't been so eager to escape from him I might have remembered.

"I'd offer you the cruiser, but..."

"Yeah, but." There was no way in hell I was taking that cruiser anywhere. While I called Renée on the land line and reassured her, I turned my options over in my head, but there was no getting around it. Once I hung up the phone, I turned to Charlie. "Dad, what's the Blacks' home number?"

I finished making the lasagna before I called, but once I stuck it into the oven I couldn't put off picking up the phone any longer. I hated talking on the phone to anyone besides my mother. Texting was invented specifically for me. Come to think of it, this might have something to do with why Travis had dumped me via online methods. Maybe he'd tried to call and I had my phone on silent.

Nah. Renée was right, he was a tool.

Okay. I could do this. I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt - Jake hadn't seemed to notice it one way or another so I couldn't decide if it had been worthwhile - and picked up the receiver.

Billy answered. "Hello?" He sounded surprised, probably because nobody ever called their landline anymore.

Don't think about Billy's abs don't think about Billy's abs - shit. Too late. "Um, hi, Billy. It's Bella. Swan." Oh God, I was such an idiot. Like he knew any other Bellas.

"Hey there Bella! How's the Chief?"

"He's not too bad, just taking a nap. Um, actually, I was wondering if I could talk to Jake? Is he there?"

He chuckled. "For you, I'm sure he will be."

Yeah, I'd just bet Jake was ducking phone calls from unwanted admirers all day long. I waited while Billy called his son. When I heard Jake respond, my heart confirmed its stupidity by speeding up to dangerous levels.

"It's your girlfriend," I heard Billy say, muffled. My cheeks got hot.

"Which one?" Jake responded, laughter in his husky voice. My heart stopped pounding and sank into my stomach.

"Bella Swan."

"No shit? Give me the phone. Quit it. Dad, I'm serious, give me the damn phone. Holy hell, you're so annoying." Some staticky noises, and then finally, "Hey, B. How are you?"

"I'm okay, I guess." That sounded so pathetic but I couldn't muster up anything better. "I have a huge, huge favor to ask you."

"Anything," he answered instantly.

That made me smile. He was so... not nice, because that was something people said about emasculated guys with reedy voices. Kind. That was the right word, and I didn't care how cheesy it was that I thought it. "I broke my phone, and - "

"Bad karma for that message you sent me," he interrupted.

I laughed. "My mom would probably agree with you. Anyway, I dropped it in the sink and now it's drowned, so I need to go to the store in Port Angeles and get it replaced, if you're up for giving me a ride. Plus maybe we could stop by Auto Zone or something and get a battery for Ruby. I'll pay for the gas and everything. Oh, plus I'll have lasagna if you want to have dinner, after. And I'm really sorry I didn't think to get one when we were at Wal-Mart before."

"Who could blame you for wanting to get away from Newton as quick as possible? It's no problem. What time should I pick you up?"

After we worked out the details, I hung up the phone. Charlie woke up again and looked up at me. "What's got you so happy?"

I realized I had a goofy grin on my face, caused by the prospect of two hours alone in a truck with Jacob Black. I tried to get it under control, probably with minimal success, and walked over to the lounge chair to pat his head gently. "Nothing. Just glad I'm here with you."

"Yeah, right," he snorted, but he looked pleased.

Getting Charlie up the stairs, in and out of the bathroom, and into bed was exhausting for both of us, but totally worth it once he settled back with a huge grin on his face. "Hell, yes," he muttered, closing his eyes. "A mattress that isn't covered in vinyl."

He fell asleep before I got out of the room. I tried to imagine Jacob, helping his dad with this sort of thing every day since he was barely out of elementary school. How had I not noticed when I was up here before? Well, guess I was a typical self-centered kid back then. Now, though, I was a grown-up and I was having a very grown-up reaction to the boy. Man. Whatever. I was ready to nominate him for sainthood after hearing about all that he'd been through with his dad. Too bad I didn't having anything on a similar level with which to attract Mr. Perfect. So I ran my mom's life and showed up once in five years to help my dad when he got shot. Big deal. That was nothing compared to Jacob.

I worked myself into a tizzy of insecurity by the time I finished getting ready for bed. Once I flipped off the lamp beside my bed, I stared at the ceiling overhead for what seemed like forever. Even when I closed my eyes, trying to force my brain to shut down, all I saw was Jacob's face, Jacob's arms, Jacob's hands, Jacob's back when his t-shirt rode up as he bent over Ruby's engine... Oh God. I crossed my legs against the throbbing ache that had developed between them, and then wondered why I bothered. Like ignoring it would help anything. Sighing, I rolled over to pull open my nightstand drawer and took out my vibrator. At least this way I wouldn't pull Jake into a full-body embrace the instant I saw him, out of sheer desperation.

Although, that sounded pretty good. No, no, it was a bad idea. Good Lord, Bella, have a little self-respect. The thought had me wound up so tight, though, that when I slipped my hand inside my underwear, I bit my lip to hold back a moan. If only he could just magically show up in my room. I almost laughed at the thought, even as my fingers moved through the gathering moisture there - what was he going to do, jump through the window? - but then I remembered that it didn't really matter how he got inside as long as he joined me in bed at his earliest convenience. I was pretty sure I'd be close to coming the instant that big, hard body overlaid my own. If he so much as kissed my neck, I'd go up in flames, and if he put his hands on me... I slid a finger inside myself and moaned. Oh God, I was so wet now that I was going to have to change my panties. Surrendering to the inevitable, I kicked them off and flicked my vibrator on, pressing it to my swollen clit. It didn't take much time - Jacob's hands on my breasts, Jacob pushing inside me, Jacob's expression when he gripped my shoulders and came - before I shuddered through my orgasm, doing my best not to make any noise that would force Charlie and I to endure the most awkward breakfast of our lives in the morning. I dropped my vibrator on the mattress next to me and fell asleep almost before the aftershocks faded.

The next morning, I woke up wondering why I was so excited. Then I remembered: Jacob was coming to pick me up at ten. I dressed with way more care than was warranted, given his total lack of reaction yesterday, and then got Charlie fed and situated in his chair. Once he had his coffee at hand, plus a sandwich for later and a copy of Field and Stream, he seemed happy enough.

When the knock came, I had been standing next to the door for ten minutes, but I forced myself to count to five before swinging it open. "Hey! How're you?"

His sunny smile was almost better than a break from Forks' rain. "Awesome. Are you ready to go?" At my nod, he peeked around the door to say, "Hey, Charlie! Feeling all right?"

Charlie grunted.

"Good to know!" Jacob responded. I giggled. Again. Damn it. He grabbed my hand and led the way down the steps. I tried to keep my breathing even while I followed him out to the truck. Get over it, Bella, he holds girls' hands all the time. Probably to keep them from grabbing his ass.

The one concession he'd made to modernity in the truck was to install a CD player instead of the ancient push-button radio that had undoubtedly occupied the space before. "Want to pick?" he asked, handing me a CD book before pulling out of the driveway.

I flipped through the pages, half-dreading finding Metallica's entire musical library from cover to cover. Instead, he had a pretty decent selection of different genres. There was a lone Metallica: Greatest Hits in the mix but I decided I could overlook that. I pulled out Thrice's Alchemy Index: Volume II and showed him. "Is this okay?"

"Sure. I wouldn't have it in there if I didn't like it." He took the disc from me and put it into the player. "Did Charlie sleep okay last night?"

I nodded. "He did all right. I heard him get up once but probably he's so relieved not to be catheterized anymore that he was just pissing for fun." Jake burst into laughter, and I grinned with accomplishment. "He swore he'd be okay for the couple hours it'll take to do this, but I don't want to take too long." Translation: I didn't want to take up too much of Jake's time. He was being really nice, but I knew he had to have other things (other girls) to do. And holy crap, could I be any more obsessive about the other women thing? I needed to quit this or I'd drive myself crazy.

His eyebrows furrowed. "Oh. Okay." He pressed down on the accelerator a little more; it was only then I noticed that he'd been going five miles under the speed limit.

He didn't seem to want to say anything else. The Silence of Doom fell over the cab, unbreakable without increasing the awkwardness. This was so weird. Jake and I had always been able to talk to each other before, always.

Finally he cleared his throat. "So how were your classes last semester?"

I turned to him eagerly, grateful for the opening. "Oh, they were great! Well, except for Political Geography. That was probably the most boring course I've taken since I went to college, and that's including Probability and Statistics. But my other courses were fun."

"What were they?"

"Communication, Literature Critical Appreciation, Art History, and..." I trailed off as I realized where I was going with this.

"And what?" he asked, turning to me.

I sighed internally. "Human Sexuality."

His response was everything I'd expected. He was an eighteen-year-old guy, after all. A huge grin spread across his face as he exclaimed, "Seriously? I bet that was awesome! I wish you still had the textbook; I'd want to look at it. For educational purposes."

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," I pretended to agree. "I bet the up-close-and-personal color photographs of different vulvas from twenty women would help you finally find that thing they keep asking you to rub."

"I found that a while back," he replied, still grinning. Was I imagining the quick sweep of his gaze down between my legs and back up again? "I wouldn't object to a similar spread of other guys' junk, though. It's always nice to confirm that the third ball is perfectly normal."

I gaped. I wanted to make a snappy comeback, but instead I felt my face get redder and redder as I tried and failed not to picture his undoubtedly non-mutant balls and... everything else. The amusement faded from his face when he glanced over. He was probably thinking I was the lamest girl ever. "It must be nice... to have pictorial proof," I finally croaked out.

He shook his head in disapproval. "Not up to your usual standards but it'll have to do. What was the most useful thing you learned in that class?"

Guilt-free masturbation and how to properly pronoun-ize transsexuals was the answer to that one, but there was no way I was going to share it. "Probably the different societal factors that go into people's perceptions of sexuality. Like, there are these people - I think they're Pacific Islanders but I can't remember for sure - where it's totally normal for a boy to lose his virginity at around age thirteen to an older woman. A much older woman..." Oh my God. What the hell was I saying? How did I keep doing this to myself?

"Older women. Nice." He was smirking at me. That was definitely a smirk. Did he think I was hinting? Had I been hinting?

"Yeah, um... So that was interesting." I stared at my hands, twisted white-knuckled in my lap, and bit my lip. I'm not usually this dumb, I wanted to tell him. I'm not that awkward fifteen-year-old girl who had to get drunk to have fun with you. I can talk and everything now. Just not to you, for some unknown reason.

But I couldn't say it. I felt stupid and un-fun and incompetent. Fucking Travis. If it weren't for him I wouldn't be sitting here waiting for a teenager to break my self-imposed silence. I would just leap into said teenager's arms at the slightest sign of interest. I'd never engaged in casual sex and now seemed like a good time to try it. Only, with Jake I had a feeling it wouldn't remain casual, at least not on my side.

"Hey." His hand intruded into my visual space, overlaying my own. "It sounds really interesting. And I'm not just saying that from the horny guy perspective." He rubbed my fingers with his thumb. "Did you like your professors?"

He kept the conversation flowing the entire way into Port Angeles, and eventually I loosened up enough to be able to tease him the way I normally did. When we hit the outskirts of town, he asked, "So what was your favorite part of the Appreciative Criticism thing?"

I laughed. Somehow I'd ended up squashed against his side again but I couldn't remember how. "Critical Appreciation. I loved the poetry unit. We learned to analyze all sorts of great poems. Some were really beautiful. It helped me look at a lot of songs differently. Like, did you know the last song on this CD is a sonnet?"

"I did know that." He paused. "Because I read the Wikipedia entry on the band."

That made me giggle again, but I was past worrying about it. "And I learned about Theodore Roethke, which would've made the class worthwhile in and of itself."

"Who's he?"

"A poet. He wrote one of my all-time favorite poems, 'The Waking.' I even memorized it, so that I would always have it on hand." The instant the words left my mouth, I winced. That sounded so ridiculous.

Jake didn't seem to think so. "Say it for me, then." He put on his blinker and turned into a strip mall parking lot.

"No, you won't like it, probably." I shrugged uncomfortably. Somehow revealing my tastes in poetry felt intimate, like showing my underwear or something.

"Why wouldn't I like it?" He sounded a little indignant. "You don't know that. C'mon, tell me."

He was right. I was making assumptions. I took a deep breath and obediently recited the whole thing while he parked and shut the engine off, ending with: "This shaking keeps me steady. I should know./ What falls away is always. And is near./ I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow./ I learn by going where I have to go."

"That's really cool," he said after a moment, and I suppressed a brief twinge of disappointment before he continued, "So he's saying that the only way you can learn what you need to know for your life is by living your life and not overthinking everything."

"Right," I said, trying not to look too shocked at his analysis. "He's pointing out that our fate is unknowable, and so to fear it is pointless."

"So we should just roll with life?"

I smiled. "Yeah, literally. Like he says 'I wake to sleep' - he's talking about the beauty in cyclical, animalistic, simple ways of living, and equating our experience of the arc of life with other forms of being."

The furrow in Jake's brow fell away. "Because we shouldn't think of ourselves as outside of nature, we should be part of it." He paused. "That's a great poem. I love it."

I realized a moment too late that we were both grinning at each other like idiots. And that any vague hope of me not falling in love with Jacob Black had just evaporated like rain in the desert.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 - Jake's POV

I stared at Bella's lips as she recited the poem. So sue me. But when she explained the significance of the words I started... concentrating. Like, actually taking in her explanation. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I found myself thinking she'd make an incredible English teacher.

She was so beautiful like this, too. A little flushed, totally absorbed, grinning at me as I clumsily tried to dismantle the meaning behind the words. The way she'd recited it, though, it was much easier to work out what the writer was getting it. Or it seemed that way. Maybe it was just because Bella was the one making me concentrate, but I'd never been so engaged when I was in classes at school. Then again, my English teacher had had a baritone voice and an aggressive fungal infection (he wore sandals - horrifying sandals) rather than a cute accent and a lip biting habit.

I concluded I was thinking with my cock, but that apparently it could understand poetry. Who knew?

As B came to the end of her thoughts I didn't want to break the spell, but we were parked, damn it. I saw the smile fading from her cheeks as she unbuckled her seatbelt and reached for the door and I made a mental note to bring up her favorite writers later, when we'd sat Charlie and Billy in front of the flatscreen.

This was an amended part of the Plan. I wanted to find out about college, maybe make her blush a little more with questions about her sex course (seriously - where the fuck do I sign up?), and... something else was niggling. I wanted to know why she never wrote me back when we were kids. The last time we'd hung out she'd given me her address in Phoenix and I'd sent her letter after letter. I eventually had to give up when Quil and Embry had bribed the man at the general store not to sell me any more stamps. Bastards. Apparently I needed to "move on."

I tried not to let them know that had never happened in the intervening years. I mean, I wasn't a monk - I'd had three actual girlfriends and gotten off with plenty more - but every time I stood in the shower or lay back on my bed and reached between my legs I saw wide brown eyes, long, skinny legs and a shy smile. Sometimes it annoyed me, especially when I was actually in a relationship. A few times, in protest, I'd tried to imagine other women, almost chafing my cock raw with the effort to try and come to thoughts of blonde hair or blue eyes or tan skin, but it was pitiful compared to the feeling when I thought of Bella.

I imagined stroking her long, dark hair, which shone with red strands in the light; the little noises she would make as I licked and sucked her pale brown nipples; the way she would taste between her legs. My cock would get so hard the pulse through it from my hammering heart would match the speed of my strokes, and when I came, mumbling her name wrapped around a string of curses... well, nothing ever felt as good.

I didn't care what Quil or Embry said about unhealthy obsession; there'd only ever been one woman for me.

"I guess we'd better go in." Bella said quietly, breaking me out of my daydream and looking at me from under her eyelashes. God, that look killed me. It was like she was trying to get me to jump her bones, right here in the parking lot of a strip mall in Port Angeles. She really shouldn't tempt me like that. I didn't mind a few strangers seeing my naked ass.

Instead, I stepped out of the truck and round to her side, taking her hand as we walked into the store... and straight into Leah Clearwater. Fuck.

"Jacob!" She stalked over to me like a cat. "Now why would I find you in here? They don't sell chest wax or fan belts."

"Hi Leah."

Bella snorted. She might be perfect but she was also, clearly, a traitor.

Lee appraised Bella with a glint in her eye. "Are you..?"

"Bella Swan." B finished, and held out her hand.

"Ah, well." Leah winked at me. This was not good. Not, not, not good. "I finally get to meet the girl of Jacob's dr-"

"Look! iPhones!" I grabbed Bella's arm and dragged her across the store to the sound of Leah's cackling laughter. I looked back and tried to give her my "do not fuck with me" eyebrow. She stuck her tongue out and then made kissy faces. It was nice to know I was as menacing as ever.

While I was preoccupied, a sales assistant had descended and was currently standing well within B's personal space (I know, because I like to occupy as much of it as possible) trying to get her to sign up to a contract. His name badge declared him as "Tyler," which should have been a synonym for "patronizing", considering the way he was talking to my Bella.

"You dropped your phone in the sink? Aww, no. Occupational hazard of having breasts!"

Bella turned to him with a terrifying look on her face. Her lips were a thin line and her eyes were blazing.

"I'm sorry," she began. "Were you trying to get me to buy a cell phone? Because I thought I just heard you make an offensive, sexist joke. Which wouldn't make any sense at all, considering how much commission you'd lose if I were to walk out of the store."

Tyler swallowed hard. I leaned back against a shelf to enjoy the show.

"Now," Bella continued, "seeing as you probably don't need a high school diploma to work in the renowned, yet sadly dilapidated Port Angeles franchise of Verizon, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. I mean, who knows? Maybe you don't still think your overpriviledged dick somehow adds to your brain cell count? In any case, I think I can work out the App Store myself."

I almost felt sorry for Tyler as he tugged at his collar, sweating despite the air conditioning, and tried to retrieve his dignity from about five minutes ago, when it had abandoned his pitiful ass.

"Hey, B, if you got a smartphone you could use the e-Books apps to read up for that Masters degree you were thinking of."

Heh heh heh. I said almost.

Tyler let out a faint whimper. "I'll just let you get back to browsing."

B was busy playing with the phone's features, and barely looked at him. "You do that."

As we strolled over to Wal-Mart twenty minutes later Bella handed me the phone she'd bought and asked me to program in my number. My grin lasted across the lot, through the doors and right up to the motoring section, until a certain blond asshat who should clearly be on some sort of police register materialized from behind the anti-freeze.

The sporting goods and automotive sections were right next to each other, but really - there was no need for him to jog up to Bella. She made a pained noise, so I decided to lay it on thick, and slid an arm around her shoulders murmuring, "go with it," before nuzzling her sweet-smelling hair.

She turned into my embrace, and looked up and suddenly there I was... right in the position I'd been dreaming of, jerking off over, obsessing about for years.

About three inches. That's how far I'd have to move to feel her lips against mine. I reached up and cradled her neck in my free hand, stroking the soft skin with my thumb. She shivered, and ran her hands up my arms. Three. Fucking. Inches. Thr-

"Bellissima! Couldn't stay away from the Newt, huh!"

Bella shut her eyes and turned from me. "Mike."

I was torn (and horny as hell, but disregarded that for the moment). If I grabbed the battery we could leave quickly, but that would entail me abandoning Bella to deal with Mr Is That... Hair Gel? I decided to test the water, and pulled away slightly. Bella's remaining grip on my arm tightened into a vice-hold so I happily stayed put, drawing her in closer to my side.

"Here for some lube, are we?" Mike winked at Bella. I felt sick.

"Actually, we're here for a car battery." Bella answered, completely deadpan. "They really make my vibrator sing."

I couldn't help it; Mike's face was such a picture I snorted (and filed away the images of Bella with sex toys for later in my folder entitled "Holy Fucking Fuck!"). While he was still too shocked to speak I pulled B over to the battery display and grabbed the right one. I may have researched the best quality-versus-price battery for a 1998 Corolla at length online previously. Ahem. We walked, still giggling, to the check out and then made our escape.

The ride home was a lot of fun, Bella playing DJ, and doing a disturbingly good impression of Newton from her, uh, experiences. Apparently he'd once tried to get into a sleeping bag with her when she was fifteen to demonstrate the "capacity" and she'd kneed him in the balls. Accidentally, of course. Charlie had bought her an ice cream sundae at the diner afterwards to celebrate, "so, of course, I asked for plenty of chopped nuts." I'd almost had to pull over, I was laughing so hard.

By the time we arrived I was grinning from ear to ear. Fuck, she was so easy to be with - as easy as breathing. We'd only been hanging out for a short time, but already we'd fallen into the relaxed, happy, groove we used to have as if a skipping needle had just been nudged gently back into place.

As I pulled up, B hopped out and went to say hi to her dad - I heard "Salut Papa! Comment ça va?" and an answering grunt - before she said "catch!" from the doorway and threw Ruby's keys at my head. The sky was darkening and oppressive and I wondered if I could change the battery ahead of the inevitable rainstorm. I decided to risk it, and grabbed the bag I'd stashed behind her seat when I'd left home, with my wrenches, brush and grease, before leaning into Ruby and pulling the hood catch.

Bella came out ten minutes later, just as the drizzle was starting, with hot coffee and a plate of those crack-laced homemade cookies. She swiped a finger across the old battery, now sitting on the grass by the car, and then painted my nose with the dirt. I resisted the urge to kiss her for approximately the three hundredth time that day and concentrated on brushing some corrosion from the cables, rather than pushing her small body back against the car door and humping her like a mongrel. Damn it.

By the time I'd scarfed down the last cookie and leaned in to turn the engine over I was pretty soaked. The rain was coming down hard and fast and it wasn't exactly the best conditions to be tinkering with wiring. Why couldn't my damn tribe be from Arizona?

I ran around to the front of the car, but in my haste to get the hood down before any water hit the battery I let the damn thing close on my hand. The catch bit into the skin on my palm, cutting a jagged gash as I pulled free.

I yelped at the pain, clutching my fingers and trying to see the damage through the rain. The water was mixing with the blood, and I pulled off my flannel shirt and wrapped it around my hand to stem the flow.

I still had to check the car started okay though, then gather up my tools and wrap and store the old battery in my truck, so by the time I reached Bella's front door - mug and plate in my useable hand - I was a drowned rat version of Jacob, complete with stupidly flattened hair and a t-shirt you could see the color of my nipples through. Fucking fantastic.

Bella opened up the door as soon as I rang the bell but then just... stood there, sort of gaping. I handed her the crockery and she took it, but stayed put, her eyes strafing me from head to foot as I dripped on the wooden porch. By this point my nipples had taken to poking out against my t-shirt with the cold. Christ. Maybe I should see about doing a photoshoot for Out?

"Um, Bells..." I started tentatively, "could I maybe come in?"

She nodded soundlessly and then moved back, before turning a shade of red not dissimilar to her automobile. I closed the door behind me and stood on the mat, not wanting to soak her whole hallway, before pulling my t-shirt over my head and toeing off my boots. I squelched down the corridor, meeting Bella coming the other way with a towel and a frown.

She led me into the kitchen and sat me down next to the radiator, before wrapping the huge, warm towel around my shoulders. I practically moaned; it felt so good.

"Hey," she said gently, tugging on the flannel shirt in my hands, "can I have this to put in to wash?"

"I, um..." I started, trying not to sound like an idiot with chattering teeth as drops from my wet hair ran down my neck. "I cut my hand."

"Let me see?"

As if I would deny her anything. I held out my arm and she peeled back the fabric slowly, drawing in a quick breath as blood came into view. Then she laughed. I raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, Jake that sucks," she said, sympathetically, and squeezed my shoulder. "But hey, at least I can stand blood nowadays. Let me clean you up." She tossed my flannel shirt on the table and got up to grab some gauze and a bowl of warm water. I swallowed, trying not to get emotional, or to think of the last time someone looked after me like this. It was years, at least. Fuck, it felt good.

"I remember your... phobia." I offered. "You hurt your head when we took the dirt bikes out that time and almost fainted." She smiled, nodding as she wiped the cut clean of blood and grease then dried it off and sprayed the shredded skin with antiseptic. It still oozed a little, but seemed placated. Kind of like its owner.

"Yep," she replied, with a wicked smirk. "I seem to recall you'd just got your first set of dumbbells and you decided that the best way to clean my cut was to take off your entire t-shirt." She glanced down at my chest and stomach, exposed by the gap in the towel. "How things change, eh?"

I swear I turned pink; I was so busted. Still, two could play that game.

"Well, seeing as you survived, and recovered pretty well, I'd say my methods are beyond reproach. So how about it?" I reached forward with my good hand and tugged on the hem of the top she was wearing. My fingers brushed over her stomach and I felt the muscles tighten under her skin. Christ.

But instead of playfully batting my hand away like I expected, Bella froze. I jerked my arm back as she swallowed hard, seeming to force herself to look up at me. Her eyes were huge, and so sad... and I had no idea why. I frowned in response, and dropped my hand into my lap, trying to show her that I'd meant no disrespect and wishing so hard that I could rewind time. Such an idiot. Boundaries, Jake. Goddamned boundaries.

She finished bandaging my hand in silence, but I couldn't leave things like this.

"Bells, I'm sorry, I shouldn't ha-"

"All done." She interrupted, patting my wrist then pressing a quick kiss to my palm, almost as a peace offering. "I'll just go and get you some, uh, dry clothes."

My eyes widened, unsure of how to act. Had she accepted my apology? Either way, I couldn't stand to see that look in her eyes again, especially if I was somehow the cause, and I resolved to try and talk it out with her later, no matter how embarrassing it might be.

I looked ridiculous by the time I was changed, wearing Charlie's too-small sweats, but they smelled like Bella so that made up for it. I kept surreptitiously sniffing the sleeves of the hoodie she'd given me and cursing my own stupidity some more. Once I was warm and dry, I left to go fetch Billy for tonight's dinner, letting Bella dictate the contact we had. She hugged me gently then pulled away, wrinkling her nose but smiling.

"You looking like Charlie is so wrong."

A disembodied voice came from the lounge.

"Hey! It's better than his usual muscle shirts!"

We grinned at each other and I finally took a full breath. Although I did wonder quite how much Charlie'd heard of our exchange. Disturbing.

My dad was cleaning his fishing kit when I got home, and looking altogether far too excited by some sparkling, hard plastic lures.

"This, son," he began with a dangerous glint in his eyes, brandishing a purple fake minnow with a depressed expression on its face, "this will catch me a whopper the size of your hairy ass!"

I rolled my eyes. And then rolled him back from the table.

"Hey!" he protested, till I told him we were going round to the Swan's for baseball, beer and Bella's lasagna. He perked up considerably after that, and instructed me to "go put on some damn clothes you didn't get from Goodwill." I decided not to argue, and changed while dad packed up his kit.

The ride back was slow; the rain was getting crazy now, and the radio forecast a huge storm coming in off the ocean. I was still unsure about how to broach my apology to Bella, but as dad and I chatted about the Mariners' crappy season I relaxed some, and suddenly we'd arrived. Billy and Charlie high fived when I wheeled him into the lounge, and launched immediately into Sports Center, while I went to help B in the kitchen.

She was chopping tomatoes and singing along tunelessly to a Hank Williams CD, her ass swaying a little as she tried to yodel. My chest hurt; she was so cute.

"Hey Bells." I ventured.

She whipped round, blushing. "I'm going for American Idol next season. I'm thinking Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves for my audition song."

"Excellent choice," I answered, stepping closer and sweeping a few locks of hair from her eyes, tentatively seeing if she was okay with me touching her. "Cher's part Native, y'know - Cherokee, I think."

B nodded. "I don't know if my butt could pull off the short shorts though..."

"Oh, I don't think that would be a problem at all." I grinned, more than relieved that things seemed back to normal between us. "Although you might need just a little bit of, um, vocal coaching."

Bella hit me with a wooden spoon. I deserved it. "Jacob Black, go and take your father a beer. Then get back in here so you can make yourself useful."

I straightened up and saluted.

The lasagna, when we finally got to eat it after hustling our dads away from the game, was fucking heavenly. I ate four helpings, practically an entire loaf of garlic bread, and two bowls of fruit salad, much to Bella's horror, and then sat back moaning and holding my poor, abused stomach.

Once we'd put the dishes in to soak and Charlie and Billy were back commenting on batting averages, B grabbed my hand and dragged me out onto the back porch. Lightning was flashing across the dark gray sky, which was low with clouds like sea foam on angry waves. The fresh air cleared my carbohydrate-addled brain a little, and I pulled B onto the wooden bench, making her sit so I could lie down and rest my head in her lap.

"Do you think you'd explode if I sat on you right now, Jake?" she said, while stroking her fingers through my hair. I made a moaning, whining noise, and nodded. Bella wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and I tried not to think how close my mouth was to her thighs, or the fact that she'd just brought up sitting on me. We snuggled in companionable quiet for a while, just watching the sky and occasionally pointing out obscenely shaped clouds, till I realised I couldn't put it off any longer.

"Bells, I want to apologize for earlier, in the kitchen. I shouldn't have touched you like that when you didn't want it. I'm sorry."

She was very quiet for a moment, then leaned down and kissed my forehead. I closed my eyes as I felt her lips on my skin for the second time. It was perfection.
"It's okay. It was me, really. I just..." she paused, and took a breath. "Just need to move on."

My brain went into overdrive. Move on from what? To what? To who? And then I remembered the other thing I'd wanted to ask her and it seemed apt, when I was already overthinking her words, to bring it up.

"Bella?" I said, trepidation choking my throat.

"Hmm?" She'd begun fashioning my hair into a mohawk with her fingers. It felt distractingly good.

"How come... you never wrote me back?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 - Bella's POV

The minute I heard the words, "explode if I sat on you right now" come out of my mouth, the part of my mind I privately referred to as Dirty B kicked in with every single double entendre she could come up with in the space of sixty seconds. Jake had mercy on me though - or maybe he was just too full to think of any body part below his waistline - and took it the way I'd intended.

A few minutes later, what was left of my mental processes came to a stammering, stuttering halt when he asked, "How come you never wrote me back?"

How come.

I.

Never wrote.

Him.

Back?

I sat with my mouth gaping open, staring blindly at the sky, my fingers frozen in his hair. My mind rabbited around in circles. I never wrote him back? I never wrote him back? He wasn't a liar or manipulative, not like that - although he used to love to lay on the guilt trip just to see me frantically backpedal and then laugh at me - so he must really have written. But why on earth would I never have gotten his letters?

"Bells?" He sat up, frowning. "Did you just go into a coma? Are you having a stroke? Say something. You're starting to freak me out. I need to know if I should get aspirin."

"I..." I began, trying to form a coherent response. "I..."

Jake was starting to look seriously worried. "B. Do something. Move."

Move.

"Oh my God. We moved."

He looked simultaneously relieved, probably because I was finally responding, and confused, probably because I was making no sense. "We... did?"

I huffed in exasperation. "No, not us, Jake, me and my mom! Right after I came back that summer. I mean, I stepped off the damn airplane and there she was telling me she had to go by the grocery store to pick up more banana boxes." Seeing his eyebrows furrow even more, I explained, "They make the best moving boxes because they have lids that slide off and... That isn't my point. Anyway, we moved the day after I came home and I bet she never filled out the forwarding address forms at the post office. Damn. That is just like her." I looked at him apologetically. "Your letters must've just gotten lost or whatever. I'm so, so sorry."

He didn't look very happy. "Yeah, but..."

I waited. When he didn't continue, I prompted, "Yeah, but what?"

Jake looked like he was eating something sour. Maybe it was just lingering dyspepsia. "You never wrote me. I mean, you had my address too."

I shook my head frantically. "No! No, I mean, I know I had it when I left but in all the rush from the move - you've never moved, so you don't know what it's like, but you lose half your life every time and if you're lucky you find it six months later, when you finally unpack the last box. Renée was so damn determined that we were going to move every piece of furniture a thousand times until the feng shui was right that I never did get a chance to fully unpack before we moved again, and... I guess I just never found it."

He still had a skeptical expression on his face. "And... you couldn't ask Charlie to give it to you? It's practically his second home. I'm pretty sure he could've rattled it off in thirty seconds."

Unable to come up with a decent response, I jerked my shoulder a little in half a shrug.

"What's that?" Jake demanded.

"What?" I was starting to feel defensive now. Seriously, wasn't it enough that he came in all soaked and gorgeous and shirt-sticking-to-amazing-body and pretending he didn't notice the effect it had on me? And then wasn't it enough that he made that crack about me taking off my shirt like he was actually interested in seeing what was - or wasn't - underneath? Just because he was ten times better looking than me didn't mean he had to get all demanding about what I did or didn't say to him.

"This." He imitated my shoulder movement. "Look, B, I don't mean to be a whiny brat about this, but I thought we were friends at the end of that summer." He paused, and when he spoke again his voice had gone so low I almost couldn't understand him. "I thought we meant something to each other. You left - " He abruptly cut himself off, started over. "You left..."

I waited once more. Again, he seemed unable to finish. The look on his face made me drop my eyes in shame and confusion. After a moment, I pulled myself out of my own turmoil and look at things from his point of view. You left. Well, of course I had, it wasn't as if I lived here... Except I had promised to keep in touch. I hadn't said, "As long as you make all the effort first."

You left.

He'd been like a younger brother to me that summer. Maybe I'd been like an older sister?

His real older sisters had left, too. So had his mom, however unwillingly.

Well, holy shit, he wasn't the only one with family issues. Together, our issues had worked to produce a perfect climate of dysfunction. I always expected guys in my life to be way less interested in me than I was in them. It was easier to pretend to everyone, including myself, that they just didn't matter all that much to me either. Now that I was grown up, I could interpret Charlie's reserved nature correctly, but when I was a kid I hadn't been able to see anything outside my own head. Which might possibly explain why I hadn't thought about how Jake would see my failure to pursue his friendship. Damn. I sucked.

"B?"

I realized I was staring into space again when Jake waved his hand in front of my face. "Yeah? Oh! Sorry. I was just... Look, this is going to sound really dumb." I took a deep breath and almost choked on it. I hated telling people the reasons behind my screw-ups. It would be so much easier to just pretend I'd meant to do whatever was wrong... but that wouldn't work here. I couldn't let Jake think I'd meant to ditch him. "I guess I just thought that if you didn't write, it meant you didn't like me as much as I liked you. You were thirteen, and I was more Rachel and Rebecca's friend before that, and I figured you were busy with school and your friends and... girlfriends..."

He laughed a little. "Girlfriends?"

"Well, yeah, I mean, you're good-looking, you must have had some girlfriends, right? Or... a lot..."

He was looking at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "Yeah. Girlfriends."

I stumbled forward down the conversational tunnel, trying to find something to make him understand. "Jake, I know I must seem flaky but you have no idea what it was like living with Renée. She's constantly flitting from interest to interest, job to job, house to house, man to man - I can't believe Phil and she have made it last this long, the guy has the patience of a saint - and I was always trying to stay just one step ahead so I could save us both from the consequences of her impulsiveness. But now here I am, I'm twenty years old and I've been so busy living her life that I don't know what to do with mine! I'm such a loser. I mean, General Studies? Really? I was supposed to be picking a major and instead I was talking my mother out of a three-month-long course in deep crystal insertion. So I never really got around to checking the pre-reqs for the majors that interested me. And then I just couldn't muster up the energy to pick something. How lame is that?"

He was laughing again, this time genuinely, shaking his head at me.

"What?" I demanded, crossing my arms and glaring.

"You're so funny. You don't need energy, you just need someone to go with you to pick up the paperwork, don't you? But you wouldn't ask because that would mean you had to admit that you never declared your major."

I gaped again. "How did... how did you..."

"B." He scooted closer, and when I met his eyes with my own the tenderness I saw there shocked me. "I know you."

"I don't know why you want to," I heard myself whimper, like a pathetic little girl instead of the grown-ass woman I pretended to be. "I can't believe I did that to you."

He shrugged, edging even closer. He was invading my personal space, and I didn't mind at all. "I could've asked Charlie to make sure I had your address right, but I was too embarrassed, so, it's not all on you. I like you. You're funny and you're beautiful, and even when I was thirteen I was just barely smart enough to know you were awesome. Now I know it even more. I have no clue why you don't know what you're good at. When you were explaining that poem, I got it. Do you know how hard it is for me to understand something that doesn't come with an owner's manual? My teachers at the tribal school will tell you: almost impossible. But you explained it to me in thirty seconds. And you loved it! You should go to grad school and get your master's in education."

I tried my best not to stare at his mouth, but it was really damn hard. "Um. Wow. That sounds pretty... I hadn't thought of that."

"Easier to plan someone else's future than my own." He shrugged again. "Especially when a lot of mine's already planned for me."

"What is your future supposed to be?" I asked, curious.

"Well... I'm supposed to go to college, but then I'm supposed to come back. A lot of times if one of us goes to college, he or she never comes back. The girls marry outside the tribe, which sucks because we have a rule that if a baby isn't born on the rez then it can't be called Quileute, so we lose a lot of potential members that way. So I have to come back or my dad'll never speak to me again. And then I'm going to be on the tribal council after my dad passes away, which hopefully won't be till I'm fifty or whatever."

Tribal council? That didn't sound promising for me. A sudden, ridiculous surge of panic fluttered in my throat. "Tribal council? Does that mean you, um, you have to marry a member of your tribe, too?" Or possibly only date her?

He laughed. "No, as long as whoever I end up with is willing to live on the rez, which is usually a tough sell. And automatically rules out a lot of non-Native chicks. But it's not like I haven't been with white girls in the past or whatever, so I guess it's a possibility."

Oh.

Well.

That made me draw back and drop my gaze to my lap. "You've been with... a lot of girls, then?"

The instant I said it, I regretted it, knowing how it sounded, but there was nothing I could do to erase the words from where they hung in the air between us.

When he spoke, I could hear him choosing his words carefully. "I wouldn't say a lot, exactly. I mean... You're older than me, so you've probably been with way more guys, right?"

I couldn't decide whether to be more upset about the "older than me" or the "way more guys." Was he saying I was an aging skank, or was he implying that if I hadn't been with a ton of men by this point that clearly I was a loser? "Define way more, Jake."

He shrugged. "You know. More than, like, ten."

Ten. Try two. I swallowed, still staring at my interlaced fingers. After a moment, I managed to croak out. "Yeah. No."

He was laughing again. "Which is it, B?"

"I haven't been with ten guys." I said it fast in a monotone.

"Oh."

He sounded shocked. I jerked my head back up and fixed him with a piercing stare. "You've been with ten girls, though, haven't you?"

His mouth opened. No sound came out for a second. At last he said sheepishly, "It's not as if I counted."

I raised an eyebrow. "You mean you lost count."

Jake gave me a deprecating look. "You've got to be kidding me. What sort of guy do you think I am? Next thing you know you're going to be asking about notches on my bedpost."

"You have notches on your bedpost?" I knew it!

"No! Holy shit, B!" He scooted close again. "Why? Does it matter to you?"

No, I just tried to pin down the sexual history of every hot guy I'd ever met. "Yes! Because... I'm just worried! About... your health. It can't be good... I mean, it's probably bad for you... Hell."

His arm went around my shoulders. Despite myself, I leaned into him and immediately felt better. I suddenly realized, no matter how screwed up my mental processes, touching Jacob was the quickest route to feeling settled. When I turned my face into his chest, I felt his heart thudding a little too fast. My arms encircled his waist. We sighed in tandem, then chuckled.

"I don't want you to think I'm an asshole like your ex," he said, voice rumbling against my ear. "I never cheated on my girlfriends - I've had three, by the way, since I was thirteen - and anybody else who slept with me, it was because that was all she wanted from me. I didn't lead anyone on and I swear I've never broken up with anyone online. Or by text. Or... whatever."

That made me feel a little better. "You don't owe me any explanations. I don't even know why I care."

"I think I know why you care."

"You... do?" I waited for it. If he called me out, I'd be forced to agree. I couldn't lie to him. Why yes, Jake, you're right. I am totally crushing on your good looks and saintly capacity for self-sacrifice. Let's make half-Quileute babies.

Admit everything was rapidly climbing my "Desirable Outcomes" list, falling only beneath Jake performs striptease while declaring undying devotion.

"Well, you know. You used to play with Rachel and Becca all the time and you probably feel like a big sister to me too, right? I know that Rachel's always on my case every time she calls. It must be an older sibling thing."

I stopped breathing. I'd been afraid of this, but I hadn't really prepared myself for the reality. Older sister proxy?

All right, Isabella. Suck it up and be honest. Tell him how you feel. This is the moment.

I tried. I even opened my mouth and attempted to say the words. But I couldn't do it. If just one thing between us was different... Oh hell. Who was I kidding? Even if he gave me an engraved invitation to the party in his pants I'd probably still be asking him for clarification on the time and date.

In the end, I agreed weakly, "Yeah. Sure. Just... another big sister. Since those two punked out on you. Need any ass-kicking? Some complaints about your slovenly habits? I'm your go-to girl."

He heaved a big sigh, but pressed into his shirt, I couldn't see his face when he replied, "Maybe later."

I had the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach I'd experienced when I was four and let the dog out the back gate so he could make new friends. He'll never come back and it's all my own fault.

Jake kissed the top of my head. I could've cried.

# # #

The next day was a gray blur of laundry, comfort baking and The Price is Right, only briefly interrupted by a horrifying moment when I walked in on Charlie wearing only his mustache. Every single minute outside that was occupied with thoughts of Jacob. What was he doing? Or, perhaps more to the point, who was he doing? I slept restlessly that night, my dreams inhabited by hot skin pressed against mine and then me always, always, embarrassing myself into rejection. I tried to sleep in the next morning, but it was a lost cause, so I shuffled out to the mailbox instead. When I checked the interior, an envelope with a Forks postmarkcaught my eye, mostly because it was the only piece of snail mail I'd received since coming to Washington. After tossing the junk into the recycle bin and setting the bills on Charlie's armchair for inspection, I opened my letter.

It was from Jake, handwritten in his nearly illegible scrawl. B, there's something you need to know. I don't feel like a little brother about you.

Oh my God.

I never have and I never will. If you want to be friends and that's it, I'll take it because it's way better than nothing. But I can't think about you like a big sister. You're my big sisters' hot friend.

Hot? He thought I was hot?

I wanted to explain it to you, but it seems like every time we talk I end up saying the wrong thing and we end up misunderstanding each other, and I'm too chickenshit to just grab you and kiss you.

Oh my God that sounded so good.

So instead I'm enclosing this. It's... kind of evidence. Evidence of how much of a geek I was, but also evidence that this isn't the sort of thing that's going to go away. You're my standard for every girl I meet.

With a gulp, I fished in the envelope. I pulled out.. an old piece of paper? When I carefully unfolded it, though, my heart jumped into my throat. It was a letter from fourteen-year-old Jake. I looked at the date in the top right-hand corner. He'd kept writing for a year after the last time we saw each other. And then he'd kept the undeliverable results till now.

Hey Bells -

Aw. He almost never called me that now, but he'd never called me anything else that last summer. Except when I pissed him off, which was when I became Bella.

Embry and Quil want you to know that if you don't respond to this letter they're "staging an intervention." I don't know what that means exactly but I'm scared to find out. So if you don't want them to lock me up or whatever an intervention means then you'd better write me back this time.

I laughed, then clapped a hand over my mouth.

I've been working on a Rabbit. It's not a bunny though, it's a car, just so you're not wondering if I turned into a mad scientist who experiments on rodents. Quil says that with the way we've been growing it's going to look like a clown car if we ever ride in it, assuming I ever get it running, which is assuming a lot.

I giggled as I read the whole thing. From beginning to end, it was Jake, not as confident as he was now but still so funny and endearing. I'd never let anyone have a record of my correspondence from when I was fourteen. It would be too embarrassing. But here it was, a testament to his unrequited efforts to get in touch, sent over in an effort to get things straight between us. He'd basically left himself exposed to my malice or affection in the unjustified hope that I returned his feelings.

He was fucking brave.

It was time for me to develop some balls of my own. I reached for my cell phone to call him, but that wasn't enough. No, this sort of thing required face-to-face interaction. I grabbed my keys and phone, and then got into Ruby to head up to the reservation.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 - Jake's POV

I took dad home from Bella's in a daze, almost massacring a family of squirrels as I drove the truck around the familiar twists and turns on autopilot. My head was echoing with her miserable analysis of our relationship...

You've been with... a lot of girls, then? You have notches on your bedpost? I'm just worried! About... your health. Just... another big sister. Just... another big sister. Just... another big sister...

I went straight to my room when we got in, determined to spent the rest of the night drowning in my own sorry thoughts. Possibly with the accompaniment of Johnny Cash and a garbage bag full of Reese's Pieces. I wheeled my dad in front of the TV, got him a beer, and then shut my door and flopped down on my bed.

That was when the truth of the situation really hit home. Isabella Swan had been my fantasy, my goal, my version of perfect for so long that even contemplating an existence without her as my lover was... empty.

I mean, here I was; not the skinny, idiot kid she'd known but a grown man... and she still didn't want me. I felt my nose tingle and smart as I fought back tears and buried my face in the crook of my arm. My t-shirt smelled of Bella. Fuck. I breathed her in, turning my arm this way and that to capture as much of her scent as I could. The sweet cinnamon fogged my head. I closed my eyes and decided that, in my utterly pathetic current state, a little more masochism couldn't hurt.

I imagined her here with me, curled up into my side. Her long, dark hair would lie over the pillows as her naked legs twisted with mine. I'd pull the covers up over her tightly, keeping her warm and pressed against me, and I'd kiss her, tasting toothpaste on her tongue as we drifted off to sleep together...

Fuck. I stomped out of my room to the kitchen, grabbed a family bag of candy I'd hidden out of reach of anyone under six feet and pressed play on "All Aboard The Blue Train".

For a few blissful seconds when I woke the next morning I forgot what had happened the day before. All I thought was "Jesus bear, my mouth tastes like I licked a squirrel's ass." Then it crept back in and there was nothing else I could think about. Well, that and my impending date with the dentist's drill once I took in the sea of candy wrappers strewn around my pillow. I forced myself up, stripped off and got into the shower before I succumbed to a day of wallowing in bed. As the scalding water hit my skin I scrubbed at my face and tried to work out where the hell to go from here. Bella didn't want me, that much she'd made almost transparent. Almost... fuck. Almost.

Who was I kidding? I wasn't ready to give up on her until I heard it from her lovely, pink mouth. She needed to understand how far back this went, how many years I'd spent dreaming about her, thinking about her, obsessing over her. How many times I'd pissed off Quembry by dismissing girls who tried it on with me because they weren't anything like her.

Sure, I'd ended up with other girls - after years of moping by fifteen my teenage cock was about to file for divorce from my ass, so I gave in. In the back of my mind, though, I wasn't ever really invested in them. And anyway, with the Rez girls I never really knew if it was just about Ephraim Black and the goddamn council. And with the white girls I couldn't tell if it was just about fucking around with a Native man who resembled Tarzan's big brother for some kind of thrill.

None of them ever even came close to my quiet, funny, skinny, dark-haired girl with wide eyes, who was just... my friend... before anything else.

Fuck it. I was done. I stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel around my waist, yelling "morning" to my dad and dripping all over the lino as I rounded the corner to my room. I was in front of my wardrobe in moments, and reached up to the plastic storage box on top. I tugged it down, ignoring the dust which billowed around me and digging through it for what I knew was there.

Buried under school jerseys, baseball game programs, photographs and misshapen trinkets from when I was learning to carve was the final letter I ever wrote to Isabella Swan. I'd written it as a last-ditch attempt to keep in touch, but when I'd gone to the store to buy a stamp the clerk had told me he hadn't got any left.

I'd taken the letter home, telling myself I'd try again tomorrow, maybe hitch a lift into Forks with one of the older guys. It was only when Quil and Embry sat me down that I finally decided not to send it. I could still remember their words.

"How many of these have you sent?"

"I don't know, maybe five..."

"Bull. It's twenty at least."

"How many has she replied to?"

"Well..."

"Jake, it's embarrassing, man."

"But..."

"No. You have to stop this. There are women drooling over you all over the fucking county and you just walk around oblivious. This girl is a bitch."

"Hey!"

"Ok, sorry, that was harsh. But she hasn't even written you back to tell you she's not interested. That's just mean."

"Maybe..."

"Maybe what, Jake? Maybe she's not getting your letters? Then why write? If she's not sent you anything in a year, she's not going to."

I shook my head, trying to throw off the memories. At least the truth turned out to be the kinder option. I grabbed a pad and pen and started writing.

Bella, I don't know how to say this...

That sounded like I was going to come out.

Isabella, I fucking love you and have for about a decade, so please drive over at your first convenience because I need to propose, then get you naked so we can reenact my pubescent fantasies at length.

Yeah. No. Think, Jacob. Last night reappeared in my mind and I tore off that sheet for a fresh one.

B, there's something you need to know. I don't feel like a little brother about you. I never have and I never will.

I should have been scared as I bought the goddamned stamp at the shop but it seemed more like history was finally righting itself. As if all these years without her I'd been turning off-groove. Now, regardless, I'd played my final card. The ball was in her court. And plenty of other metaphors of imminent demise. Shitballs.

When I sloped up the path home, Quil and Embry were hanging out on the porch, picking at our peeling paint and kicking an empty can back and forth.

"Jakey!" Quil caught sight of me first and held out his arms. "Come give your brother a hug!" I grabbed him and twirled him around, laughing at his horrified expression.

"Hey! I thought I was your sweetheart!" Embry pouted.

I put down Quil and took a deep breath. "I'll let you both know my final choice tomorrow, and not before, so don't panic buy the shop out of lube yet."

Quil held up his hand and Embry raised an eyebrow. "Duuuuude..." he began in a questioning tone, "what's tomorrow?"

I couldn't stop the stupid, frantic grinning. I felt like swatting at my own head. It was too late, anyway.

"I know that face," Quil said, doing his best McNulty. "You look like you've dropped ten IQ points and you're drooling a little onto your shirt. Bella's back, isn't she?"

"Fuck you both."

Embry whooped and high fived Quil, who looked extremely smug. Bastard.

"So, come on. When did it go down? What happened?"

There was a shuffling noise from inside the house, and all eyes turned back.

"You know Charlie got shot? Well, Bella came back to look after him."

My supposed friends wrenched open the screen door and crowded around my dad.

"He's been wandering around in a goddamn daze ever since. He either looks like he's on horse tranquilizers or like someone's just stabbed him in the nuts."

Embry was bouncing up and down trying to prise more information from pop, but Quil was frowning. I could tell he was building up to a serious business conversation about my overly monogamous junk. Wow. Today was just getting better and better.

"Come on Em, Jake - let's go down to the beach. That okay, sir?"

Yep, there it was. Billy patted him on the arm. Traitor. "Go ahead boys. See you later, Jake." He winked at me, knowing full well I was destined for several hours of interrogation. Maybe even some cavity searches.

I sulked all the way, to show my maturity, but to be fair to them at least the boys managed to make small talk on the short walk till we got out of my dad's earshot. By the time we reached the old white tree, however, Embry was practically foaming at the mouth. The questions started once we'd all sat down on the twisted, pale branches. They were clanking like bones in the breeze, which seemed fitting for my own personal judgement day.

"So, what's she like now?" Embry began, with an altogether too leery look on his face. Dirty fucker.

"Sexier, more confident, less... uncoordinated..." I sighed, truthfully, "but she's still Bella, you know? Sweet as hell, sarcastic, nose mostly in a book, feeding everyone, going pink at the slightest provocation..."

"Shit, man." Quil interjected. "I could always tell you'd never gotten over her. All those girls who prostrated themselves under your dick, and you just stepped over them like they were flattened raccoons on the highway."

I looked down at my shoes, coated with fine, gray sand.

"Hey! I've had three actual proper girlfriends!"

Quil snorted.

"Let's examine the evidence, shall we? There was Michelle - remember her? She bit her lip a lot, wore chuck taylors and had a tattoo which read "Mrs Darcy" on her ass."

I swallowed. This was not going to be pretty.

"Then there was Isobel - Quil, remember her?"

Quil's stupid face broke into a grin.

"Remember how he used to introduce her to everyone? 'This is Bella.' and she'd be like 'Jacob, I'm Izzy, you weird-ass fucker'."

He did an impression of the Hulk while impersonating me.

"Okay, so I tried to give her a new nickname!"

Quil hit me over the head.

"Then - Christ - the worst was Sara. Long hair, palest Quileute I have ever fucking seen, who spent all her time murmuring and wouldn't go anywhere without you."

I cringed. I fucking hated that they were right. I hung my head and Quil finally relented. "I just don't want you to get hurt, man." He put a hand on my shoulder. "I wish for once you could break free of her..." he trailed off, shaking his head.

I decided to come clean. "We did have a conversation last night that scared the hell out of me."

Quil frowned and Embry's jaw set hard. "If she hurts you..." he muttered through his teeth.

"It's too late, guys." I pushed my hands into my hair and choked on a rueful laugh. "This is Bella. Any time she doesn't return my fucking smile gets me worried. I want her so much it's ridiculous. I'm a lost fucking cause..."

They were silent as I rubbed my tired eyes.

"I don't know where we stand at the moment. We've hung out a lot the past few days, and I think I've felt... something more... between us. More than just falling back into our old friendship. But then last night she... well, there was an indication that she..." It still hurt to say. "...feels like a big sister to me." Embry whistled low and Quil squeezed my shoulder. "Tell me about it. I couldn't fucking handle it. So I wrote her, and-"

"Whoa!" Embry interrupted. "Retro. What did you write?"

"I told her the truth - how I really feel. I fucking hate all this does-she-doesn't-she crap that's been going on the past week."

I swallowed.

"I'm in love with her. I never stopped being that way. When she reads it she'll know and she can choose to be with me, or..." I stared down at the sand. There wasn't anything after the "or" yet. I hadn't even begun to be able to really think about that.

Quil and Embry jumped me from left and right and I was wrapped up in a huge hug.

"Fuck that shit." Quil mumbled against my shoulder. "If she doesn't want you, it's not the end."

"Yep," Embry agreed, jumping off the tree to demonstrate. "You just call us and we'll be there faster than the Flash, drunk on the Fourth of July with a firework in his ass for a bet."

"We promise," Quil finished while rolling his eyes, "don't we Embry?" Emphatic nodding. "That whatever happens, we will provide liquor and dick jokes till you either pass out or start smiling again should the worst happen."

I frowned. I knew they'd be there for me - of course they would, it was just the uncertainty in their voices which got me. They were practically preparing for it. I could see them mentally clearing their planners and asking Sam Uley to get them a bottle of Jack, a keg and a funnel. Shit.

I spent the rest of the day desperate to distract myself. I washed the windows, cleaned the bathroom, swept the floors, put fresh sheets on my dad's bed and my own, tidied the place up and got through a mountain of laundry while wondering if it was ironic or just expected that a man in a wheelchair could produce such accomplished skid marks. When my dad caught me dusting the TV, he forced me to sit down.

"What were you just doing?" he asked, a perturbed look on his face.

"Um... dusting."

"I didn't know it was that bad."

"It is a gateway drug." I answered, sarcastically.

His eyes narrowed. "If you don't watch some baseball with me right now, I might have to put my foot down. Dusting." He shook his head. "I won't stand for this sort of behavior."

By the time I was tired enough to go to bed, I'd run through about three hundred different scenarios and watched 2.75 baseball games. My poor brain got sort of mixed up halfway through the third innings of the Mariners vs the Brewers - potentially as a result of the chemicals in Bathroom Power - and I started imagining Bella wearing a stripey jumpsuit and hitting my genitalia with a bat. But what I did recognize, in the midst of my stupor, was that this was my last night without knowing. Tomorrow night, I'd either be the happiest, most irritating man in the Pacific Northwest, or I'd be driving towards the Canadian border listening to Meatloaf.

I guess all the man-hugs and domestic servitude must have tired me out more than I thought, because I woke up late the following morning, coming straight out of a dream in which Bella posted my letter back with "RETURN TO DORKY, PENCIL-DICKED SENDER" scrawled across it in red lipstick. I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. Bella didn't even wear lipstick. She'd have to go to the shop just to buy it to write with. And anyway, she wasn't mean like that.

I may have been overthinking things.

Luckily, at that point my dad yelled a string of obscenities from the kitchen, and I leaped out of bed to his aid. He'd managed to spill sausage fat on his crotch from the skillet, so helping clean that up was a distracting bonding experience, if nothing else. Once we sat down to coffee and sausage sandwiches - mine drowned in ketchup, his in butter - he decided we should have a talk about "the girl." Thankfully, talks with my dad were invariably short and to the point.

"Are you sleeping with her?"

"No, dad! I don't even know if she likes me."

"Use protection if you do. I don't want Charlie shooting your dick off."

"Agreed."

"If she comes round, I don't want shenanigans while I'm in the house."

"Christ. Okay."

"So we're clear?" He was smirking. Asshat.

"Crystal. No hiding my sausage without a skin. No loud noises during said activity."

"Jacob."

I grabbed our plates and headed for the sink.

"Look, dad, I don't know how she feels. She might never want to see me again."

Billy bristled. "Don't be ridiculous. Why wouldn't she want you? Us Black men are always in demand for our good looks and general air of leadership. Your great-grandfather Ephraim Black, for example, was quite the ladies' man. It's said his muscular physique and ability to skin a skunk singlehanded enticed women across the Northwest. And your mother and I were quite the-"

"La la la la la!" I yelled as I set the plates to drain and ran from the kitchen. Dad had a habit of... oversharing... about his and mom's clearly energetic private life prior to the accident. I could hear his laughter even in my room. Bastard always had the upper hand.

Still, I was glad breakfast had effectively shunted the remnants of my dream from my head. I stripped off and wrapped a towel around my waist, before stepping into the bathroom and starting up the shower. While I waited for it to warm, I brushed my teeth and stared critically at my reflection. I'd never really been one for self-abuse, but all I could see were reasons Bella wouldn't want me.

I was stooped in front of the mirror because I was stupidly, freakishly tall. I was two years younger. I could hardly grow a damn beard, for God's sake. When I found myself frowning at a mole on my stomach and wondering about corrective surgery, I decided that was enough insanity for the morning and stepped into the shower, losing myself in the warmth and the steam.

By the time I finally got out my fingers and toes were wrinkly and I was possibly the cleanest Jacob in the continental USA. But I couldn't really stay away from my phone any longer. What if she called? She'd probably call, right? To say thanks but no thanks?

I pulled on a pair of boxers, then jeans and an old grey t-shirt, and sloped out to the garage. If there was one place I could try to find some peace in my desperate head, it was there. I was just unnecessarily changing the truck's oil, about half an hour later, when I heard a car approaching. I felt like throwing up. I grabbed a rag and wiped down my hands before shutting my eyes and trying to take a breath. When I opened them again, a red car hove into view. I clenched my jaw, holding on to my last few moments of sweet, uncertain ignorance.

The car lurched to a halt outside of the house. I found I was moving forward without conscious effort - I was half way across the garage when I heard the car door slam and all the way into the doorway when her small body careered so fucking deliciously into mine.

My hands instinctively moved to her waist to steady her as she pulled back just enough to see my face. Her hair was a mess, her dark eyes were tired and she was biting hard at her bottom lip. She had never looked so beautiful. I could feel my control slipping; if she didn't do something in the next ten seconds, she was going to find herself pinned to the hood of my truck by my hips. This had to mean she was mine, right? Right?

Then she pushed up on her tiptoes and kissed me.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 - Bella's POV

When I pulled up in front of the small house, I knew right away where I would find Jake. He had to have been dying inside since he sent that letter, and there was only one place he went to find peace of mind when he was off-center. Jumping out of the car, I dashed to the doorway of the garage, only to smack right into a familiar tall, hard body. Broad hands splayed across my hips, steadying me. Before I pulled away to look at his face, the thought occurred to me that I hadn't even bothered to run a brush through my hair before diving behind the wheel. Oh well. Too late to primp now. Maybe he'd be distracted from the bedhead by the declaration I was about to make.

Looking up, I saw deep circles like bruises beneath Jake's long-lashed eyes. Remorse stabbed through my chest. Poor guy. If only I'd had the guts to tell the truth, I could have spared us both a hellish couple of days. His chest heaved against me as he searched my face for a clue. I couldn't decide what to say. "Yes!" or "Ohmigod that letter!" or "Take me, take me now?" For an endless moment, I wavered with nerves, and then made up my mind to leave him in absolutely no doubt about the way I felt—for once. I launched myself upward to kiss him. It took him about a second to respond, a second in which his lips were motionless with what I could only guess was shock.

After that, things moved really, really fast.

Jake's fingers slid under my ass and dug deep into my thighs, yanking me up against him. I scrambled higher up his body, locking my arms and legs around all that muscle and heat—he wasn't going anywhere without me—and opened my mouth beneath the insistent pressure from his. He grunted and held me impossibly tighter, hefting me effortlessly as his tongue slid against mine, teasing and stroking and making my head swim with delighted lust. Holy crap, he was good at this. I raked my fingers through his hair. He shivered, nipping at my lower lip. I did it again, just to see how he'd react, and was rewarded with a groan as he pivoted to stagger back into the garage.

A moment later, he set me down on the truck bed's lowered gate, and really got to work.

Freed from the need to support me, his hands were everywhere, moving over my shirt up and down my back in feather-light strokes, over my ribs, tracing heat across my belly and making me twitch with anticipation when he ran his fingers under the waistline of my jeans. Slowly, he moved the hem of my shirt up, out of his way, as his lips found the dip of my collarbone and then started working up my neck.

I heard myself moan when he brushed the underside of my bra; it sounded like somebody else's voice. Every inch of my body ached for his touch. When he palmed both my breasts, I practically purred with satisfaction and pulled him closer with my legs, rubbing myself against him like a teenager who'd just discovered the joy of the dryhump. Jacob groaned again. His hands trembled as he unhooked my bra's front clasp with expert ease. I gasped against his chest, hooking my fingers in his belt loops to hold him where he was as I arched into his grasp. Oh God, I absolutely had to, had to touch him right now, had to be skin-to-skin with him, or I would fall to pieces. I tore at his shirt, frantically trying to raise it over his head, until he pushed my fumbling hands away with a grin and did it himself, then did the same to me and tugged my bra off too.

I'm half-naked with Jacob Black floated through my thoughts, but I couldn't pay much attention to the realization because he was so beautiful and I couldn't reach him sitting like this and I needed to touch him, all of him. I clambered up on my knees and pressed myself to his chest. Goosebumps that had nothing to do with cold pebbled my skin. I ran my tongue up his neck once, twice, three times. He clutched my ass, holding me tight, and cursed. The helpless note in his voice sent excitement spiraling through my body to between my legs. I could do that to him, could make this strong man sound weak with wanting me. The power was going to make me drunk. Or orgasmic.

Orgasmic sounded good.

I leaned back to give him access to my boobs again, mind racing as he willingly took the hint. I hadn't had help in the orgasm arena for way, way too long, and here was Jake, face lowered to my chest, licking and sucking on my nipples in between whispers that sounded like "so fucking pretty" and "Bella Bella Bella" and "tastes so good." I dug my nails into his shoulders, holding on for dear life and trying not to shove myself into his mouth too obviously. His tongue was reducing my thoughts to a few dominant themes: yes and must get him inside me now now now.

Accordingly, I dropped my hands to the button of his jeans and worked it open. He froze as I drew the zipper down and pressed my palm to the erection bulging through his boxers. I tilted my head, trying to see his face as he leaned his head against my shoulder. His eyes squeezed shut while I watched. He breathed hard between gritted teeth; when I pulled the elastic at the waist away and slipped my hand inside to caress him he made a noise like a cross between a growl and a whine. His hips jerked forward. I dropped my gaze to see his hands curl into fists on the truck gate.

I heard the words come out of my mouth before I could stop them. "Jake, you're fucking huge—"

He laughed, cutting me off before I could embarrass myself further, but it sounded desperate. "You've gotta stop, B, or I'm gonna—fuck," as I curled my fingers around his length and stroked up and down, "oh fuck, honey… You don't understand, I've literally dreamed about you doing that for literally years and I'm literally trained to come like Pavlov's fucking dog with the bell if I see… you…" I ran my thumb over the tip, spreading the slick moisture that had already gathered there. "Shit!" Moving faster than I could see, he pulled my hands away from him. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled on our shirts in the bed and he was kneeling beside me, frantically working my jeans open.

"Jake…" I pouted, reaching for him, but he smacked my hands away again.

"Quit that, woman. You're going to single-handedly destroy my reputation."

For a bare second, a flare of doubt lit up in the back of my mind, but his hand sliding into my underwear promptly extinguished it. He knew exactly where to go, gently sliding up and down before concentrating on the bundle of nerves at the top, finding the right speed and pressure within seconds like he could read my mind. Since he wouldn't let me touch what I wanted most, I settled for digging the nails of one hand into his wrist as he circled and stroked and rubbed, and used the other hand to shove my jeans lower to give him better access. I was so turned on that his motion created embarrassingly loud, wet sounds, but Jacob seemed to like it, watching with rapt attention and smiling faintly whenever I would moan or whine—which I did a lot. It was as if my mouth didn't even belong to me anymore. He wouldn't let me give him the same thing and I wanted to do something together. So I slid my fingers down to intertwine with his… and that was exactly what I needed. I came so hard, I yelled with the force of it, clamping my thighs tight over our hands and writhing while I throbbed and arched off the clothes beneath my back.

"Oh my God," I gasped, opening my eyes again and turning to look at Jacob, whose face had gone expressionless except for a ruthlessly tightened jaw. "Oh my God, Jake, that was—that was—"

"Fucking amazing," he grated out, and yanked off my pants and underwear with one quick motion.

Resisting the urge to pull a Venus Rising from the Sea in response to my sudden nakedness, I instead stroked his sides and his forearms, neutral territory, as his gaze roved over my entire body. It stopped at one particular point, and his eyes narrowed just before he scooted down to hover less than an inch away from where I still ached and trembled.

"Bella," he murmured. I flinched at the sensation of his breath against my skin. "I've—kinda wanted to do this since I was thirteen—" Without another word, he spread my thighs wider and caressed me open with his thumbs, then ran his tongue up my soaked flesh, bottom to top.

I sobbed with gratification. He did it a couple more times, but then I grabbed his hair and tugged, begging, "Please, Jake, please, I need you inside me, don't make me wait anymore."

"Can't." He angled to hover over me, elbows on either side of my shoulders as he nuzzled my neck. "Condoms."

Oh, shit. Well… I was on the pill…

Except I had no idea how long it had been since the last time he'd slept with someone else, and now seemed a really bad time to ask. "You don't have any here?"

He laughed into my hair. "In the garage? I'm not the manwhore you think I am, B. Believe it or not I don't actually expect that I could get laid anytime, any place and store condoms accordingly."

"Go inside."

"Not gonna face Billy right now with a raging hard-on and nail marks on my wrist. Swear to God the man has Sex Radar even without the obvious clues."

I kissed his ear and caressed his hair. "I have some in my purse… Dammit. Except I was in so much of a hurry to get here after I read your letter that I forgot it. Good thing the local police force has been cut in half lately." We both sighed. "Well, there's only one thing to do."

"What's that?" he asked suspiciously, pulling back to meet my gaze.

Give you the most memorable blowjob of your life,was the correct answer, but I managed to keep a straight face as I replied, "We need to talk about your feelings, my feelings, and the status of our relationship. Seriously."

An expression of sheer incredulous horror flashed across his countenance, but he wiped it clean almost before I could take note of it and said, "Oh-okay. Um… Well, I guess you kind of already know how I feel, though. I mean, that letter I sent is my pathetic crush in literary form."

Aww. I angled up my chin to kiss his mouth. "Not pathetic at all. Do you know what I've been thinking ever since I got here?"

He sounded distracted as I kissed my way across his jaw. Good. "Uh… no, what's that?"

"About how different you are from when you were thirteen, and how you've turned into a really fantastic man, and about how good you look, and about how well you take care of everyone around you, and how I could persuade you to get naked with me at the first available opportunity."

He grinned, but chastised, "Well, shit, honey, you couldn't have given me a sign or something?"

I ducked my head in embarrassment. My hands were busy, pulling aside his boxers so they could get back to what they needed to do. "You're out of my league now! I'm just a nerdy cougar with no social life and no real major."

"Out of your league!" He helped me move the waistband and pushed my hand to his erection. We shuddered together. He groaned when I wrapped my fingers around him again but managed to continue in between labored breaths, "That's really… ridiculous… you're my dream girl, Bella, the… most awesome person… I've ever… oh fuck oh shit oh God—" as I licked the head. "Do that again." I obeyed, swirling my tongue and then sucking him deep into my mouth and throat. "Fuck."

I hummed around him in satisfaction as he raised his hands to rest on my head. After a minute, I set him free with a "pop" and said, "That letter was the best idea, ever. When I go home we'll have to have letter sex." I licked from bottom to top, relishing his gasp. "It'll be like phone sex but with way more delayed gratification. We'll be the Tantric Letter Sex gurus. Sting and Trudie will be phoning us for tips. Or, you know, writing." I took him back into my mouth.

He had stiffened from head to toe, though, and not in the right way. "When you go back?"

I looked up and blew out as I moved up. He twitched, but didn't look away, so I leaned back to say, "Well, yeah. When I leave. You know, to go back to Phoenix? Finish school? Like we talked about the other day? I mean, if I want to get into grad school I want my grades as perfect as possible so I can get scholarships and that means... Wait, what? Why are we talking about this right now? I'm giving you head, you freak."

He pushed away a little, pulling up his underwear. I watched in sad disbelief as all that lovely cock went away. "I'm sorry to pull a chick-worthy freak-out, here, B, but you don't exactly have the best track record with staying in touch after you're not in Forks anymore. Out of sight, out of mind... Is this sounding familiar?"

"Well, your dick is out of sight and I'm still thinking about it," I pointed out, sitting up.

He didn't laugh. "It isn't really encouraging when, then first time you go down on me, your main comment is about what'll happen when you're gone, Bella."

Bella? He was Bella-ing me? My jaw dropped in righteous indignation. "You have got to be kidding. I was joking! And for the love of God, Jake, do you honestly think I'm going to stay in Forks? That's like asking to end up at the bottom of a dead-end road. Population 3000, hello? I mean, you're not gonna stay, so quit acting like I led you on." He jerked back a little, and I bit my lip in remorse. His words from the last time we talked echoed in my mind: I have to come back. I hadn't meant I wouldn't come back with him...

Before I could apologize, a draft gusted through the open doorway. Shivering, I grabbed my underwear and pulled it back on, then dragged my shirt over my head. I still felt completely exposed, so I dropped my head to let my hair cover my face as I reached for my jeans. "I can't believe you. Honestly. You say I'm your dream girl but then you go and pull something like this while I'm doing that?" A sudden thought occurred to me. "Oh my God. Am I just really bad at it?" Neither of my other two boyfriends—or maybe I should just say "my two boyfriends," no "other" required the way things seemed to be headed—had complained, but then again neither of them were exactly studs in the bedroom department so maybe they just hadn't realized.

He looked genuinely confused. "Bad at what?"

I indicated his general crotch area with a fluttery wave of my hand. "You know. Blowing you."

He snorted as he zipped up his fly. "No. You're great at that."

Why didn't that make me feel any better? Probably because he was pulling his old gray t-shirt back over his head. "Then tell me what the hell is going on!"

He ran his hands through his hair, making it stick out in crazy tufts. "I'm so fucked up in the head right now. Look, Bella, I appreciate you driving up here, but I'm not sure this is the right thing to do."

The fuck? I slid down off the truck and stood before him, glaring up with my hands on my hips. "The right thing to do, Jake? The right thing to do? Should I pretend you never wrote that letter? Pretend you never sent it? Pretend you didn't just strip me naked and give me possibly the best orgasm of my life just now? Why don't you go ahead and clue me in here?"

"I don't know! I just know that I can't—"

The words seemed to stick in his throat. Before he could work them out, I heard the front door of the house slam and Billy yell, "Jacob! Heading to Harry's for some fish fry!"

"Okay, Dad," Jacob replied, not looking away from me.

"Tell Bella I said hello! And remember what I said—sausage casing!"

Jacob winced. I wrinkled my nose in puzzlement. "What's he talking about?"

"Nothing. Listen, I think maybe you should head back to Charlie's for a while. I need some space to think. I'll call you?"

"Sure, sure. Maybe you could write." I watched, incredulous, as he walked out into the beginnings of yet another rainstorm. "I'll just... drive home then!" I called after him, waiting for him to tell me not to go, but he didn't. Once I heard the front door slam again, I collapsed into a befuddled heap on the cold concrete floor, trying to figure out what to do and how to reassure him. I wasn't going to leave; clearly that was the wrong route to take, and anyway I didn't want to.

I pulled my knees up to my chin, staring out into the misting rain without really seeing anything.

After about ten minutes of fruitless mental rehashing of events, I sighed. Note to self: Do not mention leaving to Jake, especially when involved in oral activities. I should've known better after our last conversation. This was ridiculous. I was just going to have to go after him and lay it all on the line. There was no reason this couldn't work out. After all, relationships like ours were the reason Skype was invented.

Rising, I dusted myself off and picked up my bra. I threw it into Ruby on my way to the porch, and then paced back and forth for a minute or two, trying to work up my nerve. I was about to knock, but then it occurred to me that Jake might refuse to open the door to me, so instead I gently pulled it open and stuck my head inside. When I did, I heard a low-pitched sound, followed by, "Bells…"

Hm. How could he have heard me come in? I slipped in, closing the door soundlessly behind me. Before I could call his name, I heard another choked moan.

"Bella…"

What… the…

I tiptoed down the hall to the door I remembered was his bedroom, and stopped dead, eyes widening.

Jake lay stark naked on the bedspread, one hand fisted in the blankets, and the other wrapped around his still-massive erection. He moved rapidly, clearly close to coming, eyes squeezed shut and teeth bared with intensity. I watched the way he gripped himself, fascinated and instantly, painfully aroused by the sight. He was so much less careful than I would have been, so much more harsh with his own body than he had been with mine. The veins in his arms and... elsewhere... bulged, making me want to run my tongue over each one. I pressed my thighs together against the ache as his fingers tugged, pulled, and...

"Bella," he gasped out again, and I made up my mind. Leaving my clothes in a hastily doffed puddle on the floor, I padded to his bed and climbed up to straddle him. Before I got my leg over his stomach, his eyes popped open and almost out of his head.

"Holy fucking shit!" He flailed backward in a frenzied movement, but I wasn't going to let him get away this time.

I grasped his hair with both hands and whispered, "No. Just... lie there and shut up."

He snapped his mouth closed. Before he could say anything, or could send me away for good, I lowered my lips to his.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 - Jake's POV

Still half in shock, I grabbed her hips as she kissed me, pulling her body onto mine. Her bare thighs quivered in my hands as the head of my cock brushed her still-wet pussy lips. Our mouths broke away as we both gasped a breath.

"Fuck... Bella..." I moaned, incoherently.

"Yes, fuck Bella."

I almost giggled, but managed to get away with a grin, and kissed her hard as I fumbled to open my bedside table. B pulled back and swatted my hand away, sitting down on my thighs as she grabbed a condom from the open drawer and extracted it from its packet.

I watched in silence, mesmerized as she rolled it down over my ridiculously hard cock. She moved back over me slowly, stroking my thighs, then kissing my belly button, chest and scruffy chin in quick succession. I threaded my fingers through her soft hair as searing warmth began to wrap around the head of my cock and closed my eyes, groaning as she sank down, our bodies finally connecting fully.

Bella's eyes went wide as our hips met, her tongue poking out of her mouth a little in concentration. I wanted to lick it. "Whoa, Jacob... just give me a sec... I need to... adjust. And take that smirk off your face."

"Never." I knew I was grinning like a chump, but I was putting all my energy into staying still and not following my urge to grab her waist and fuck her into next week. She felt utterly perfect around me, but I refused to do this at anything other than her pace. I gently ran my hands up and down her back, as she leaned forward and rested her head in the crook of my neck. She slowly lifted her hips, testing her reaction, then pushed back down. My breath stuttered though my teeth as pleasure rolled through me.

"Bells..." I mumbled, lost in sensation, "you feel so - ungh - fucking good..."

Now she was the one smirking, as she lifted her hands and put them on my shoulders. She looked glorious above me - her little, pert breasts bouncing slightly as she began to grind. I almost lost it when she cried out and began to move faster, but the brief reprieve had allowed me to gather myself, and to hold back just enough, hopefully, to not make this as embarrassing as it could have been.

As Bella began to find her rhythm, our eyes met. The intensity, the emotion there, was overwhelming and I pulled her body down to mine, needing for our skin to connect. I knew I wouldn't last much longer; her nipples brushing my chest, her little gasps of breath each time I pushed inside her, her wetness still lingering on my hands, the scent of her arousal, of our sex, soaking the room, the fact that it was Bella... it was Isabella Swan and I loved her so, so fucking much...

I held her to me tightly as I came harder than I ever had before, still trying desperately not to thrust too deeply and hurt her, but that grip on my restraint was tenuous at best. Bella cried out as I spilled myself inside her, growling out her name and a string of curses which could probably be heard in Alaska.

By the time I came down from that incredible high, Bella was smiling softly, planting kisses on my eyelids and nose and lips as she maneuvered herself off my body and on to the bed beside me. Finally catching my breath, I rolled off the condom quickly and tied the end, before dropping it to the floor and immediately turning to Bella. She looked a little sheepish.

"Look, I know you said you needed time. And that I just barged in on you and that wasn't right... I just... I couldn't leave and... I'm sorry, Jake..."

I kissed her gently, stopping any more apologies. "I'm not."

She punched me in the arm."After all that! Such a guy."

"No, I mean... well yes, but not just because being inside you is pretty much my version of perfection." I absently stroked the soft roundness of her stomach between her hip bones, frowning and pulling up the covers over her when I felt how cool her skin was without mine to warm it. "It's just... I don't know if you understand what you are to me, Bella." I frowned, trying to find the words. "Maybe I should get Quil to explain..."

She rolled over onto her side, and snuggled into my chest. Fuck, she felt so good there. "I know we've gone down slightly different paths to get here, Jake, but if we're going to be together you've got to start trusting me at some point."

I nodded, and kissed her hair, knowing she was right - that if this was to have any chance at all I had to let go of what had happened five years ago. And get over my embarrassing tantrum of five minutes ago. Shitballs.

She returned my kiss with one to my collarbone and continued. "I'm convinced we can work this out. I do need to go back and finish college because... well, do you really want me to abandon my degree?"

I shook my head.

"Just because we're both unsure about our futures doesn't mean I'm unsure about us. I don't think I've ever been more sure about anything, Jacob."

I pulled up just a little, needing to see her face, because my God, had Bella really just said that? I answered her with my truth.

"I want to be with you. It's all I've been able to think about."

She rested her forehead on mine, and our hands grasped each other's bodies closer. We fell asleep like that, the raw emotion of the past few days, hours, minutes thoroughly exhausting us, but I couldn't think of a time when I had ever felt happier.

The next week was a whirlwind of activity. Now that Bella and I had declared ourselves it seemed as if she was determined to find a way for us to be together. It made my chest hurt in the best way every time she discussed another option for cheap flight tickets or road trips or Skype dates, making neat notes in her planner along with her term dates for when we could meet up. It was fucking adorable.

We'd started tentatively deciding on our majors, too. Mine wasn't hard to pick - I flirted with American Indian studies for a while, but my dad crapped on that idea, informing me that he could teach me more than any "overeducated, bearded fart of a poindexter in a lecture hall."

It was actually Charlie who suggested mechanical engineering when Bella and I were sitting at her kitchen table poring over the U-Dub prospectus.

"Son," he said, patting my shoulder, "sometimes I forget what you damn well look like, your head's stuck under a vehicle so often. It seems like it might be your thing."

He was right - I practically drooled as I read the description from the literature out loud.

"Look at this - I'd cover thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, machine design, turbomachinery, combustion, heating, ventilating..."

Bella and Charlie grinned at my grease monkey enthusiasm and she stuck a bookmark in the page as he limped off for his afternoon nap.

Her choice was quite simple, too, once she started reading through the comparative literature program. At the mention of "Romantic novelists", "Elizabethan drama" and "twentieth century poetry" courses her eyes glazed over with a faraway look, and there was no need to do any further research.

What I hadn't realised, either, was that Bella was actually a year ahead for her age - which was why she was so late picking her major. She'd taken accelerated courses in high school, and was going to enter her senior year in the fall. I smiled at this and pulled her into my lap, wrapping my arms around her waist.

"My girl's damned smart."

She rolled her eyes. "It's good one of us is. You stick to grunting with a wrench and lifting large pieces of metal, Jakey."

I stuck out my tongue. "Well, as long as the kids get my looks, we'll be fine."

She raised her eyebrows. "Kids?"

"Yep," I nodded. "I'll require at least a brood of six - Quileute tradition, you see - and I've worked out their names."

"Oh, you have, have you?"

"But of course! We're going to have three of each. The boys'll be Firebird, Lincoln and Impala -" she was laughing at me now, "- and the girls'll be Skylark, Crossfire and, um, Camaro! I named that one for you."

"I got that," she nodded, grinning, and leaned down to kiss me.

After reading through all the campus amenities information two human beings could handle, we snuck beers out onto the back porch to celebrate finally making our minds up about more than each other. Her dad had been doing much better with Bella's help and home cooked meals - he could walk around now unaided, and was able to shower and change himself fine. It was so good to see his attitude creeping back into his posture as the tension of it all seeped out of Bella's shoulders.

"What will happen to Billy while you're in college?" Bella mused, playing with my fingers as she rested her head on my shoulder. I shrugged, smiling at our parallel trains of thought.

"There's plenty of support around while I'm away. Sue Clearwater's said to me a few times that she'd help out. So's Emily Young, and, well... Charlie has offered, too, obviously only when he's fully better. I'll set up a schedule to help with grocery shopping, cleaning, hospital appointments, so people aren't overburdened, and I'll come home as often as I can. And I was thinking of maybe applying to get him an assistance dog."

Bella's head popped up in surprise, and then her mouth set in a cutely stubborn line.

"I can help too. Whenever I'm home, I'll go over. I can cook him some meals he can freeze and help with tidying up and maybe even show him how to order groceries online. Hmm... maybe I could sort out a-"

I pulled her back to me and kissed her gently. "I love you, Bella Swan." I'd been telling her constantly over the past few days, unable to hold back the years of pent up, unsaid sentiment.

She grinned at me. "Damn right."

Late the next morning, I lay on my side in Bella's stupidly small bed, my back against the plaster of the wall. It was cooling, which was useful as the entire front of my body was touching Bella and fuck that was hot. She was lying with her back to my chest, her head tucked under my chin, our feet entwined.

I sighed involuntarily as she shifted to get closer to me, and tightened my hold around her waist.

"What was that noise for, mister?" She sounded cute and playful, and I nuzzled the back of her neck, making her squirm.

"Wasn't my fault," I replied, running my lips over the shell of her ear, then kissing the lobe. She rolled over towards me, all messy hair and big brown eyes.

"Oh, so I suppose it's mine?" Bella moved in close, so her breath fanned across my neck. I could feel my cock stiffening with each movement of her chest.

"Yes," I agreed, reaching down to tilt her chin up with my fingertips. "You force ridiculous and horrifying noises from my mouth every damn time you're near me."

"Like this?" she asked, brushing her lips across mine and simultaneously grinding her hips into me.

"Unnnngh," I articulated, watching as her expression turned from faux innocence into downright mischief. I rolled her onto her back, and kissed her neck hard, licking over the spot my lips had left red.

"I can't be the only one making stupid noises..." I moved down her body, briefly pausing to suck each pretty nipple into my mouth, eliciting gasps. "Nope, not stupid enough."

It was only when I pushed her thighs open and licked apart her pussy lips that I got what I wanted - a truly incoherent, jumbled moan of pure pleasure. I felt her fingernails gently scratch my scalp like a cat flexing its claws as I explored further, licking above and below her inner lips, teasing the hood of her clit and sliding my tongue as far as I could inside her.

By this point, Bella had shoved the top of her duvet cover inside her mouth but it was clear she was panting. That was, until Charlie knocked on the door.

"Uh, Dad? I'm... getting changed..." she said, half frantic. I buried myself under the duvet and bit down on her thigh to stop from laughing out loud. She swatted me away with a hand so I grabbed that instead, and sucked on her fingers.

"Good. You know we've got to leave for the hospital in twenty minutes, then?"

A strangled, "Yes!"

I tried really hard not to snort. I did. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stop myself.

"Bells, are you ok? Did you just... snort?"

I could almost hear her rolling her eyes.

"Yes Dad, I snorted. Sorry. I think I might be coming down with something. Mucus, you know."

How Charlie managed to make his following "humph" seem skeptical I don't know, but he did.

At the sound of his retreating steps I poked my head up from under the covers, and Bella and I burst into the worst attempt at concealed giggling. I decided the easiest way to shut us both up was to continue where I left off, and bobbed back below.

"Jake, there's no time, I have to- fuck!"

I grinned at the sound of her pleasure. There was no way I was turning her on then sending her to a hospital full of conventionally attractive doctors who'd love to get their stethoscopes around my Bella.

Once I'd built her up to panting again, I began to tease her with my fingers, too, just stroking at first, then pushing inside her. As she began to fuck herself on my hand, rocking back and forth with barely hidden moans, I felt my cock harden and my balls tighten up. I tilted my fingers up, so I was stroking her more forcefully.

"Jesus, Jacob... just keep doing that... and your tongue, there, right there, on my clit... yesss!"

Having Bella instruct me was beyond sexy. I shifted to the side a little - my cock now so hard that it was painful to lie on. I heard the start of her orgasm as it built up, little breathy pants and uncontrollable moans leaving her parted lips, but as I felt the rolling waves of her muscles clench on my fingers my cock began pulsing with want, desperate to be inside her. I decided right then that I needed to make her come while I was inside her very, very soon - I couldn't even begin to imagine how good it'd feel.

I slowed my mouth and fingers as her breathing settled, until I was just planting kisses on her soft hair, and revelling in her sated scent. I licked my fingers clean as I climbed back up to her, and she grinned before pulling me to her and kissing me hard. By now, my cock was practically holding a ballot with my balls on whether or not to abandon me and get itself off, which returned a resounding "yes" when I felt B pull away to get dressed. The duvet fell back a little as she got up, and her eyes bugged out at the sight of me.

"Charlie could transport himself to the hospital, right?" she said, eyes focused on my crotch.

I stood up and wrapped my arms around her as she pulled on a t-shirt.

"Is it okay if I have a shower here after you go?" I asked kissing the top of her head as she bent down to pull up her jeans. "Cos, you know, it'd be sort of hard to drive like this."

She nodded solemnly. "I think you should. Otherwise you'll just end up mistaking the gear shift for Little Jake, and that will not end well."

She slipped her feet into sandals as we both bit back laughs, then grabbed my hand and pulled me behind her. She cracked the door open and surveyed the hall and landing, checking to be sure Charlie hadn't come back upstairs, before sneaking into the bathroom. Bella somehow managed to brush her teeth, instruct me on how to use the shower and find me a clean towel simultaneously, and all too soon it was time for goodbyes.

I pulled her into me, kissing her lips, then her cheeks and nose and murmuring good luck for Charlie's check up.

"I think we got away with it." Bella murmured, biting her lip with a mischievous grin.

She darted out of the bathroom and down the stairs, and I waited patiently for the door to close and the car to speed off before starting the shower. Just before the latch clicked shut, I heard Charlie's unmistakable drawl yelling "Bye Jake!"

Damn it.

Still, he hadn't sounded mad. I stepped into the shower, starting the hot water and sniffing the various shampoos and shower gels for something non-girly when suddenly the scent of Bella filled my nose - sweet and cinnamon and delicious. I poured some of the shampoo into my hand, absently deciding I'd have to buy her at least year's supply of this stuff, and, with the warm water cascading down my back, I finally let my fingers grip my cock.

It didn't take long.

A month later, "inseparable" was probably the only term which could legitimately be used to describe Bella and me. Charlie and Billy were both amused and supportive of our relationship, grumbling to each other about "things you just don't want to know/hear" on a regular basis over the acquisition of halibut.

Charlie was still progressing very well, especially as Sue Clearwater seemed to be helping out rather a lot in his, uh, recovery. This was a useful counterpoint to any comments he threw at Bella, which was exactly the situation I stumbled upon when I came to pick her up for a picnic on the beach. I could hear their voices through the open kitchen window, and decided to be an asshole and listen in for a while before ringing the doorbell.

"Did Sue sleep over last night?"

"Uh." There was an incoherent mumbling noise.

"Daaaaaaaad!" I could hear the mischief in B's voice, and my matching, conspiratorial grin was involuntary.

"Sue and I are very..." Coughing, clearing of throat, scraping of chair legs. "You can't ask these questions when I can't move fast enough to run away."

I decided to save him and rang the doorbell. The relief in Charlie's voice was palpable.

"Isabella! Your boyfriend's here!"

"This isn't over, father," she replied, as I heard the lock being turned.

I could feel that naughty grin she was wearing against my lips as I kissed her hello and pouted as she pulled back. She whispered into my ear, "Can't give the old bastard too much ammunition," just as Charlie gleefully called "Oh, howdy Jacob!" from his familiar position in his recliner.

"Hi Charlie!" I called back, licking Bella's earlobe and causing her to give me the stink eye. So worth it.

In the early evening light we drove down to First Beach, parked, and spread a blanket on the sand in front of the wizened, white tree. Bella had packed the picnic, and I was making the mini bonfire - just enough to keep us warm, rather than the towering blazes of the usual tribe meeting fires. We cuddled close as we munched on salt beef and pickle sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, and sipped contraband Rainiers.

The multicolored flames of the driftwood fire flickered over Bella's face, casting her fair skin in blue and green shadows as the light breeze tossed her dark hair around her shoulders. We only had a couple of weeks left before she had to go back to Arizona, something I'd been dreading, but still - we had Bella's detailed contact plan, and only really fifteen weeks till the end of her next semester. I'd got it all marked up on a calendar in my bedroom.

I turned to her, tilting her chin up to kiss her and nuzzle her nose. Our lips brushed as I spoke.

"So, I have something for you."

She frowned, pursing her lips. "But J-" I remembered this from when we were kids; no one was as bad at accepting presents as Bella.

"No buts." I interrupted. "I didn't spend much money on it. It's not big or electronic or alive or worth the GDP of an African country. It's just a small gift from your boyfriend, alright?"

The corner of her lips twitched. "You know me too damn well, Black."

I pulled the little bag from the pocket of my cut offs and handed it to her. Her fingers traced the pattern, her mouth losing its pout. "It's so pretty!"

"It's in the bag, Bells."

"Oh." She looked at me and bit her lip, fiddling with the ties and pulling it open. When the bracelet fell into her lap her eyes widened.

"Jake... did you... make this?"

I kissed her shoulder and murmured assent as she turned over the braided leather, running her fingers along the plaited strands and silver clasp.

"It's a Quileute promise bracelet." I said, softly, as I helped her try it on. The contrasting tan of the leather against her pale skin made me smile. "You braid it a certain way, to symbolise the strands of friendship, faithfulness and love you feel for someone."

The sweetness of her expression as she looked up at me made my heart hurt.

"Thank you, Jake. It's so beautiful."

Then she launched herself into my lap, kissed me breathless and told me she loved me, too.

Chapter Text

Four Years Later

As I pulled up in front of the small red house in the pouring rain, I caught sight of suitcases on the front porch and rolled my eyes with a smile. So typical. The boy drove home from his own college graduation ceremony and couldn't wait long enough to unpack before heading to the garage. I stared at the door, trying to steel myself for the conversation ahead. This was going to be hard. As I got out, I debated whether or not I should go inside and say hi to Billy first, but in the end I couldn't wait. It had been six hours since the last time I kissed him. I was having withdrawal pains.

"Jake?" I called, picking my way over patches of mud and fallen branches from the last wind storm. My clothes clung to my body by the time I got to the door. "What are you - " I turned the corner and stopped dead, then started laughing in disbelief. "Are you serious? I thought you just bought that shirt!" Jake lay under his truck, still in his graduation outfit of button-down white shirt and suit pants, although the shirt was unbuttoned all the way from what I could see. Holy shit. I've got to get my hands on him.

He slid out from under the chassis and sat up with a grin. "I'm being careful."

"Yeah, right." I shook my head as I walked toward him. "Just keep telling yourself that." With one thumb, I rubbed the grease mark on his cheek and pulled it away to show him the evidence.

"Whoops," he muttered, and rose to his feet. "I'd better go change. Do you want - "

"No way are you changing." I slid my hands under his shirttails to spread across the small of his back. "You know how seeing you in a button-down shirt makes me. God. You're so - " I kissed his chest, " - damn - " another kiss, "hot. How long has it been since the last time I got you naked?"

He buried his hands in my hair and tilted my head back. My heart clenched a little when I saw the unguarded emotion on his face. "Way too damn long, even if it was ten minutes ago. Want to go inside? Dad's at Harry's."

I smirked at him and pulled away. He made a little noise of protest as I stepped out of his grasp, but then his eyes lit up as I said, "I need to get out of these wet clothes now. I can't wait." He started to take off his shirt too, and I gave him a stern look. "What did I tell you? The shirt stays on, mister."

"It's gonna be hard to do anything if you make me keep my pants on too - oh my God and holy fuck, B. Is that new?"

I looked down at the nearly transparent red lace of my push-up bra. "Yup. You like?"

"'Like' doesn't begin to cover it - hey, hey, why are you taking it - never mind, I don't know what I'm complaining about," as I drew the straps down and dropped it to the floor on top of my shirt. "Come here."

I shook my head and put one hand on his chest, pushing him against the wall. "No, I've got plans for you. It's not every day that a guy earns his diploma. You get a freebie."

"A freebie? Really? It looks like a two-for-one - " His voice cut off in a strangled yelp. I'd dropped my pants to the floor and kicked them off. "Oh. Wow. Matching."

I giggled. "Yeah, it was a set. You want them on or off?"

"Nrgh."

"I think that means 'on' in Turned-On Jakespeak, so okay." I dropped to my knees in front of him, working at his zipper and then taking his cock out of his pants. Jake gaped down.

"B, what - but we're in the garage and you said we - oh fuuuuuck."

I licked him again and then said, "This is a special occasion, so I can break my own rules. It's my right as your girlfriend. Just like when you said we weren't going to do it in the back seat anymore because of your knees and then one week later you had my ankles over my head."

"And it was fucking hot, too."

I grinned up at him and took him back into my mouth, drawing him in as deeply as I could and using my hand to take care of the rest. Jake's head fell back against the wall as his eyes drifted shut. One of his hands came to rest on my shoulder; the other moved across the back of my head, stroking my hair. I hummed my approval against him and he groaned.

"Holy shit, B, your mouth is so... oh God, your tongue is gonna make me lose my goddamn mind."

One thing I loved about Jake, even after four years of dating him, was how much he talked during sex. It sent a rush of arousal shooting straight down between my legs. I moaned in response, sliding my free hand under my panties to rub my clit. His hips started to move in tiny little jerks as he tried, I could tell, not to shove himself down my throat. I picked up the pace, following his rhythm and throating him as deeply as I could while he mumbled and gasped disjointed praise above me.

"Fuck, yes, oh fuck, honey, that's so good, you're so fucking good at this, you're so damn sexy, I love to watch you do that - I can't..."

I whimpered and rubbed myself harder as I pumped and sucked him. Finally his hand clenched a fistful of my hair. He gritted out, "You're making me - oh shit, I'm coming, honey - " I swallowed around him as he came, loving the way he shook and dug his fingers into my skin. Jake barely caught his breath before he knelt beside me and kissed me fiercely, shoving his hand inside my underwear to join mine. He'd had plenty of practice in getting me off by now, and it wasn't long before I cried out, writhing under his touch. He slowed his fingers, then pulled away just enough to wrap me in an embrace. For a minute, we clung to each other and swayed back and forth a little, trying to keep our balance in the post-orgasmic dizziness.

Finally he kissed my forehead, cheeks, and nose. "I love you so much."

I nuzzled the crook of his neck. "I love you too. You're amazing, Mr. Graduate."

We both sighed and reached for my clothes. As I dressed, I asked, "Have you heard back from any of the apartments we called yesterday?" Before I could put my sopping-wet shirt back on, he handed me his own.

"One, but it was the bottom of the list. I think we might need to go and visit them in person. I don't even know how often the managers check their voicemail."

"That's cool. One way or another, we're getting into a bigger place. I want to have our dads and friends over for dinner and a studio won't cut it."

"Now that I've got a job finally we can swing a two-bedroom." He grinned. "Not too much demand for non-lumberjacks in Forks. You sure you don't want to live in Port Angeles? Since we'll both be working there..."

He stopped because I was shaking my head. "I don't want to live that far away from Billy. Halfway there is as far as I'm willing to go."

Jake pulled me back into his arms and kissed the top of my head. "You're the best son's girlfriend a cranky old bastard could ask for."

His words sent a lurch of sick nervousness through my stomach. Okay. No more holding back. I'd been planning this for weeks and this was the moment I'd been waiting for. "Yeah, about that..."

"Look, I've told you before we're not keeping Billy in a cupboard under the stairs. Just saying."

I laughed at that, smacking him a little as I turned to walk to the truck. "No, moron, I already told you he's going to stay in the broom closet. I just..." Taking deep breaths, I lifted myself onto the lowered truck gate and stared at him for a moment.

Jake quirked his eyebrows. "You just... what, honey?"

I was going to pass out. "I-don't-want-to-be-your-girlfriend-anymore," I blurted.

He laughed. "Uh-huh. Well, it was nice of you to end it with a bang. Wanna go inside and find something to drink?"

"Jake! I'm serious. Come here."

Now he looked a little nervous himself. Walking over to me, he took my hand and said, "Yeah?"

"I don't want to be your girlfriend anymore because..." I lifted his hand to my lips, kissing his knuckles. "I want to be your fiancée."

Silence. When I looked up, his throat muscles were working as he swallowed convulsively.

"Hey." I raised my free hand to his face, pressing against his cheek. "Hey, if this is too much, too soon, don't feel bad. You're only twenty-one. If you don't want to get engaged right now I'm happy just to, you know, live in sin with you." To my horror, I saw tears pooling in his eyes. "Oh Jake, don't, it's okay." I went up on my knees and hugged his neck.

He hugged me back so hard all the breath left my lungs in an undignified whoop. "I can't believe you asked me." His voice came out shaky as he spoke into my shoulder. "Yes."

A bolt of pure joy electrified me from head to toe. "Yes? Really?" He didn't lift his head as he nodded confirmation. "Oh my God! I'm so happy!" I kissed him all over his head, then leaned back so I could get his face too. "You're such a sweet guy. I love you love you love you."

"I love you too, B."

"Oh! Oh wait! I have to go get something out of the car. Hold on." I dashed out into the rain, grabbed what I needed out of the glove box, and then dashed back. He stood at the door waiting eagerly. "Look what I got! I saw this set and I just paid off one of my loans so I had some extra cash and I just had to get them." Flipping open the box, I displayed the matching wedding rings.

"Wow." Jake took the box from me and pulled out the man's ring. "I like the weight of it. This is really nice, B. You have to let me give you half though."

I shrugged. "With your first paycheck or whatever. Or we could just let it be my engagement present to you. I don't want to buy a ring so - "

"We don't have to!" he interrupted eagerly. "I've been trying to figure out when would be a good time to ask you if you wanted to get engaged - "

"Oh shit. Are you mad? I should've waited." I bit my lip in remorse.

"Do I look mad?" he demanded. "Shut up and listen." I laughed and he continued, "I asked Dad for my mom's engagement ring. Neither of my sisters want it. It makes them too sad, but it makes me happy because I know she would've loved you, B. Plus I might, uh, possibly have gotten it re-sized. Just, you know, in case. C'mon." He grabbed my hand and dragged me into the house. After a moment of digging around in his dresser drawer, he pulled out an old velvet-covered jewelry box. "Check it out. And if you hate it, it's okay."

It was a simple square-cut diamond in a four-prong setting. "I love it," I assured him. "Is it - can I -"

"Let me," he replied, and slid it onto my fourth left finger. We both laughed from sheer excitement once it was in its place. "That's awesome. I wish guys had engagement rings. I can't believe I'm engaged to Bella Swan."

I frowned a little in thought. One thing I'd learned about Jake over the years was that he loved physical representation of feelings. The boy was always carving charms for me and giving me tiny gifts that "reminded me of you." "Do you remember that leather cord you used to use to tie back your hair? Do you still have it?"

"Sure, sure." He walked to the closet and pulled it off a hook where it hung with neckties and other things he rarely used.

Taking it from him, I threaded the cord through his wedding ring, looped it securely, and then tied it into a necklace. "Put your head down." Obediently, Jake lowered his head. I hung the cord over his neck. "There you go. You can wear it like that till the ceremony. It's probably safer anyway since you've always got your hands in engines and stuff like that."

"I'd rather have my hands on you," he said, voice gone low as he pulled me against him.

I laughed at his punning and shivered at his touch. For some primitive reason, having his ring on me - and mine on him - was turning me on. "Absolutely. I'm pretty sure it's a tradition. Get engaged, get busy."

"Good thing for you I'm a traditional guy. And good thing for me you're wearing that bra because I have got to get another look at your tits in that thing. Take this shirt off."

"Lock the door in case Billy comes home!" I remonstrated, even as I complied with the order. Billy had no problem busting in on us if he happened to come home in the middle of extracurricular activities. He claimed it was our own faults for not bothering to make sure he couldn't get in. Jake hurried to flip the lock and then grasped my waist, looking at my boobs in admiration.

"Seriously, B. Fucking amazing." He bent to run his tongue over the underwire-enhanced dip of my cleavage. I shuddered and grabbed his belt loops. "Hey, wait - this time I'm taking off my clothes too. I want to feel all of you." Accordingly, he unzipped and stepped out of his pants and boxers while I stripped down to my lingerie. "No, take off the underwear. I just want the bra."

Ooh. I liked it when he got all bossy. It hardly ever happened but it was hot as fuck when it did. I took off the underwear.

As if he could read my mind, Jake suddenly asked, "Wait, is this... Should I be more..."

I knew what he meant and leaned up to kiss him. "Any way you want to do this is good with me. There aren't any rules."

He gently pushed me down on the old twin bed and then knelt between my legs, sucking my nipples through my bra while his hands caressed my thighs. I grabbed his shoulders to keep myself upright. "God, Jake... that feels so good." He groaned his agreement and slid his hands up to brush across my breasts and ribcage.

"Lie back, B." I settled on the mattress and proceeded to slowly lose my mind as he directed all his attention to my breasts, sucking and licking and nipping while he stroked my belly and the tops of my legs. He worked me into a panting, moaning mess, but every time I tried to shove his hand where I wanted (or lower my own to do the job for him) he wouldn't allow it. "No. Not yet," he told me again and again, until at last I hit his shoulder and begged.

"Come on Jake! Please!"

"Yeah?" His low-voiced question sent shivers through me. He rested one hand lightly between my legs. I groaned and arched up but he didn't return the pressure. "Is this what you want?"

I reached down and pushed his fingers where I needed them. "I want you."

He licked my neck, and I whimpered. Sometimes when we made love, he would do that over and over. It felt good - it felt right - but it was a funny just-Jake thing all the same. "I want you too, Bells."

Aaww. My insides turned into mush with the old nickname. "I'm yours, honey," I whispered. I knew he loved it when I called him that.

I could feel his smile against my shoulder as he answered, "I'm all yours, too." He pulled me down to my knees on the floor and bent me over the bed. On the rare occasions when we slept together at his house, this was the only way we'd figured out how to do it without rug burns on one of our backs or his bed falling to very loud pieces. "God, I love you."

"I love you too..." He leaned over me and kissed my back, one shoulder blade to the other, while he moved my legs farther apart. I whimpered again and fisted my hands in the bedclothes as he slowly, slowly slid inside me. "You all right, B?"

I nodded emphatically, squeezing my eyes shut to concentrate on the feeling as he just as slowly slid almost all the way out. "So.. all right... oh fuck, Jake, I... you're..." He started to thrust a little more quickly once I adjusted, and I moved one hand to stroke my clit and the place where he and I came together. I knew that got him excited like almost nothing else. Sure enough, he practically growled as he sped up even more. His hand closed over mine, and he rocked me into our fingers until finally I came in a whining, gasping rush. He only lasted a few seconds after me before clutching me in his arms and groaning against my hair as he pulsed deep inside.

I was going to melt into the bed beneath me. My body had gone boneless with satisfaction. "God, you're good at that."

"You too." He tightened his grip a little and kissed my back again while we both caught our breath. After a second he asked, "So... you want to break the news to our dads that you decided to make an honest man out of me?"

"I'll tell Billy, you tell Charlie."

"Hell, no, I'm not telling Charlie. Well, maybe after he's had a few beers and I've sneaked his gun holster into the trunk of his car. Why do you get the easy dad?"

"Because I have to tell Renée and listen to her lecture about the evils of early marriage for the next year and a half, or however long it'll be till we get married."

"Good point." Jake brushed his lips across the top of my head and moved. I made a dissatisfied noise as he slipped away, but accepted his offered hand to rise to my feet.

After we cleaned up, and he got me into an old t-shirt of his - I had to put back on the wet jeans - Jake pulled me into his arms once again and looked down. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me, B. I'm so fucking glad I sent that letter to you."

I leaned up and kissed his chin. "Me too. And I'm even more glad that you'll never have to send me another one, because I have every intention of keeping you within a twenty-minute drive at all times for the rest of our lives."

"That's totally fair."

He bent to kiss me, but before he could make contact the front door slammed and Billy groused at the top of his lungs, "You two better not be naked back there! I'm an old man and my eyesight's failing but I want to keep what little I've got!"

I burst into giggles and said to Jake, "Come on. Let's go make the old guy the happiest man on earth." He'd been bugging us to make it official for months.

"Second happiest," Jake corrected me, and opened the door to lead the way out.