Author's Note: The small town mentioned in this story is a real place. Also, this is a very dark Jake, but it ends with an HEA. A bit alternate universe, too.
The room is smoky and dark. He scans the shadowy corners as he makes his way to a far table, his instincts on alert and searching for danger. They tell him that none of the drunks and lowlifes in this room can truly harm him, which is a damned shame. When he's in the perfect mood to kick some vampire ass, there's never one around. His instincts submerge and his eyes take over, and what they see makes him smile. There's a whole lot of loneliness, pain and misery in this claustrophobic hell hole. His kind of place.
He chooses the farthest table and slides into the hard chair that faces the room. He wonders briefly why he's even bothering setting up an imaginary perimeter in his head. It seems stupid, since he plans on getting so shit-faced that he won't even know what world he's in, let alone what town or what shithole bar. But it's those fucking instincts of his. They never rest.
A washed-up waitress with hollow cheeks and hopeless eyes comes to take his drink order. He tells her he's not picky, just bring him something ass-kicking strong and keep it coming until he gives the word. She doesn't even react to his strange request. She's probably seen a lot of men in this place just like him: men at the end of their rope and trying to forget their mistakes the easiest way possible, men running from life as fast as they can and getting nowhere.
He's not even a third of the way to the bottom of his first glass when some random woman suddenly appears at his table and just sits her ass down without even asking his permission. He glares at her. Bleach blonde hair piled high in a pathetic attempt to look glamorous, not enough makeup to cover the imperfections in her face, tits way too big to be natural, a strange, almost predatory, gleam in her eyes: she has whore written all over her. Something about her makes him think he's seen her somewhere before, but then, he's seen a ton of whores in the past four years. They all look alike to him now.
"What's your name?" she asks.
He considers telling her to go fuck herself. He's not in the mood for a blow job in a dirty bathroom stall. But he doesn't tell her to go away, and he has no idea why. Maybe he's lonely? Just the thought makes him want to break out in hysterical laughter, which would definitely ruin the ambience in this smoke-filled den of depression. Of course he's lonely, but that is his choice.
"Jacob Black," he answers, eyeing her over the rim of his glass.
"I'm Leigh, but they call me Heaven Leigh around here. I know it's cheesy, but I like the name. It fits."
He doesn't know what to say to that, so he takes another drink instead, wishing she'd just leave and go bother some other loser.
"Where're you headed?"
"Somewhere else," he answers.
Running is all he's done since the wedding. Run, stop for a night or two, and then run to somewhere else. He doesn't even know what town he's in tonight, nor does he care. The only thing that matters is that he's far away from them.
She smiles. "I've been to Somewhere Else," she says. "The food sucks, but the cops aren't dicks. That's always a plus in my book."
It shocks the hell out of him to hear a laugh actually slide out of his throat. How long has it been since that's happened?
"You're pretty funny," he says, chuckling. For a whore, he thinks.
"Spreading happiness and good cheer. That's my job." She winks and gives him a crooked grin.
He downs the rest of the amber liquid in his glass in one gulp. It burns a fiery trail down his throat. Once it settles in his stomach, the warmth begins to spread, softening the hard edges of his bitterness just a little. A few more glasses and his ugly reality will be completely gone, replaced by an unrealistic, but beautiful, alternate reality: Jacob Black married to Bella Swan, building a future with her and loving her for the rest of his life. All he wants is to be alone so he can enjoy his drunken fantasies in wasted bliss.
"I'm not in the market for happiness and good cheer tonight, so you need to move on."
"I can see that," she says, studying him closely.
He expects the tired, washed out eyes of a woman who has seen too much and lived too hard, but hers aren't like that at all. They're a strange gray-blue, clear and very intense. He stares into them and sees his home, the waves of First Beach gently lapping the sand on those calm days that are so rare. He sees the gray sky overhead, clouds breaking apart briefly, revealing the blue that lies behind them before they merge together again. He feels their cool drops on his skin as he runs bare-chested through the rain. His heart hurts. His soul aches. He misses his home, but he can't go back ever, because they're there. He looks away and down at the table.
"Looks to me like you need a friend worse than you need a fuck," she says softly. "You're in luck. I'm running in the black this month, so I can afford to take a night off."
He rolls his eyes and signals to the waitress to bring him another drink. A friend is the last thing he needs. A rolling stone gathers no moss… or friends or wives or children. It just keeps rolling along aimlessly until it slams into something big enough to stop it. He's searching for that something big. He hasn't found it yet, but he knows it's out there somewhere. When he finds it, he's damned sure not going to hit his brakes at the last second. He's going to let himself slam into it full force. The running will finally be over.
She slides her hand on top of his and squeezes. His first instinct is to jerk away. Her touch is too intimate. Sweaty anonymous sex in dark no-name places is the only type of contact he's had with women in the past four years. Her comforting touch feels foreign to him, but he doesn't want it to end. It must be the alcohol.
"I'm a complete stranger, Jacob, but I'm a good listener," she says, still holding fast to his hand. "You're such a beautiful man, but obviously very troubled."
He laughs softly. "Beautiful? Maybe to you, but to her, I wasn't pale and ethereal enough to be beautiful. I was strong, but my strength wasn't the right kind. I was always there for her, even when he left her completely broken, but that kind of loyalty wasn't what she wanted. I tried everything, even manipulation, but nothing worked. I lost her."
He closes his eyes and looks into the past, the smoky room and the touchy-feely whore fading away, morphing into a perfectly manicured lawn, with twilight overhead, and Bella in his arms. The wedding is such a distant memory now that it's sometimes hard for him to clearly picture her face. The warm feel of her body against his as they dance, the smell of her perfume, none of that feels real anymore. He looks at the man in his memories and wonders who he is. It's like it all happened to someone else and he's just watching a bad romcom with equally bad actors.
"Tell me everything," the whore urges him gently. He hears her voice, but it sounds so far away. "Let go of your burdens. It'll help, I promise."
Can't she just leave him alone? All he wants is to drink a few more glasses of that amber liquid and then fire up his motorcycle and burn up the highway, full throttle fury, as fast as that hunk of metal can go. Who knows? Maybe that something big he's been searching for will jump out in front of his motorcycle tonight and finally stop him for good. A deer. Some old drunk geezer swerving left of center. A tree. A guard rail. A well-placed pot hole. Any one of those will do the trick.
"Jacob!" She softly, but urgently, calls his name, squeezing his hand even tighter until it almost hurts.
He comes to his senses and meets her eyes again. He wants to look away but he can't. Her gaze is almost hypnotic, or else that drink was stronger than he thought and he is well on his way to being totally shit-faced earlier than he expected.
"Please tell me," she says, her eyes pleading.
He glances at the huge Budweiser clock glowing red over the bar. It's 2 am. He wonders if Bella even thinks of him anymore. Probably not. He tries to imagine her in her bed, thick brown hair spread all over the pillow, her face serene in sleep, long lashes brushing her cheek. Sleep beautiful, Bells. He tries so hard, but her face just won't come into focus. He can't even hold on to her in his dreams. It's not fair.
"Tell me, Jacob."
This time the whore's voice is hushed, but very strong. It almost feels like an alpha command, but she's just an ordinary person. She can't possibly control him that way. He thinks about ignoring her, but strangely finds that he can't. He instinctively knows that something's not right, but he's too buzzed to care. He obeys and tells her everything, from his first glimpse of Bella the day he delivered her truck to her house all the way to the humiliation at her wedding. He leaves nothing out and makes no attempt to gloss over his own mistakes. He purposely omits the fact that he's a shapeshifter—even though he hasn't phased in nearly four years— and also the fact that he lost the love of his life to a vampire, a creature who shouldn't even exist, let alone walk around pretending to be a normal man while preying on innocent human women.
"Have you spoken to her since the wedding?" she asks.
He'd left the wedding in human form and within minutes, no longer able to stand the feel of his own skin, had given himself over to his wolf. He'd wandered in the wilds for nearly a year before finally deciding he needed to become Jacob Black again. There were only a finite number of ways to be miserable as an animal—starvation being the main one—and since his instincts were too strong to allow him to starve himself to death, he was forced to phase back. And as he'd discovered in the past four years, there were an infinite number of ways to be miserable while human.
"You should contact her," she says.
He shakes his head. "No, I shouldn't. I don't think she ever loved me anyway."
There. He finally says it out loud. Sharing his hurts with another human being is supposed to help heal his soul. That's bullshit. He's not healed. He's crushed.
He downs the last of his drink and shoots up angrily from the table, the empty glass toppling over and then crashing onto the dirty floor. "I'm out. Nice talking to you."
She grabs his arm and tries to stop him from walking away. He shakes her off. He's done with this place; time to move on. He usually beds down in some flea bag motel and heads out in the early dawn, but tonight he wants speed. He needs to feel the warm night wind in his face as he leaves this no-name town behind him. His motorcycle can't go fast enough to get him away from this shit hole. He emerges out of the smoky bar and into the fresh night air.
"You can't go!"
He turns around just as she bolts out the door, her face bleak, her expression panicked. Before he can even open his mouth to tell her she isn't his fucking boss and he can do whatever the hell he wants, his back is up against the brick building, her body is molded perfectly to his and she's kissing the fuck out of him. It feels good, but he's just not in the mood tonight. He roughly pushes her away. He's desperate to get on the road.
"Don't go yet! Please!"
She sounds just as desperate as he feels. He shakes his head and walks around her. He sees his bike. Freedom is just a few parking spaces away.
"Damn you, Jacob Black! NO!"
She grabs his arm and yanks him around. He's completely taken off guard by her strength. She's supposed to be a worn-out whore, but she's dragging him to the corner of the building and into a dark alley and he's fucking letting her! Where the hell is his wolf?
"Let go of me! I don't take orders from anybody anymore!" He snarls at her, flinging her arm away without even thinking he might rip it off in the process.
Then he finds himself up against the wall again, the rough bricks grinding into his back. The stars whirl in the black sky like the entire universe is on an out-of-control merry-go-round. Her fingers work at his jeans while she kisses him hard and deep. "I need you," she murmurs desperately against his mouth. "Please, Jacob. Don't' leave yet. I want you. This one's on the house, baby. Please."
The world gyrates wildly. He's fucking dizzy. Something's wrong, but he doesn't know what. Even his instincts have gone to shit, apparently.
Her mouth smothers his pitifully weak objection. She may not be that pretty, but she's a damned good kisser, and her tits feel nice against his hands, even through the thin fabric of her dress. As far as whores go, she's better than most. When her hand slides through the opening in his underwear and wraps itself around his hardening cock, he decides the open road can wait a few minutes. The blood rush is heavenly. He laughs aloud at the irony of his thoughts. Heaven Leigh.
"You're laughing now, but you won't later," she says in a breathless, husky voice. "This is important."
Before he can respond to her strange comment, she yanks his jeans down around his thighs, and bunches her dress up around her waist. His laughter fades, and takes his curiosity with it. He hoists her up, her legs wrap around his hips, her arms circle his neck, and he slides deep inside of her in one slick, smooth stroke. She's unusually tight and hot, and she knows how to work it. She's definitely a rung or two up the evolutionary ladder from most of the whores he's fucked the past four years. He grabs her ass and pushes in hard. This is the best he's had in a very long time. He can't explain it—she's not even his type—but this woman feels right, and something whispers in his head that that's so very wrong. He ignores that voice. He closes his eyes to the spinning stars and enjoys the heavenly ride, even though it's going to be a disappointingly short one. It's been too long for him.
"You can say her name," she whispers in his ear. "Let me be her. It's okay, Jacob. Let me be her."
She keeps repeating the same thing in his ear; she whispers it over and over again against his mouth while she kisses him. Let me be her. That's one thing he's never done. He's never imagined any of the women he's been with to be her. He's never even imagined making love to Bella, not after the wedding. The wounds are too raw. It hurts too much to think of her that way. His daydreams about having a life with her always fade to black when he gets to the intimate part.
"Let me be her," she says. Then she starts grinding her hips hard against his.
He can't control it any longer. He relaxes his body against the bricks and gazes up at the spinning black sky. The stars are moving so fast they're a blur. He's confused. He can't be that drunk. He's only had two small glasses of liquor. He shifts his gaze back down to the woman who's clinging to him. He gasps in shock when brown eyes stare back at him instead of blue-gray. Mahogany hair is blowing in his face, strands of it getting snagged on his day-old stubble. It's Bella, and she looks so real. He must be totally smashed.
"Yes, I do think of you. All the time." She whispers so softly that he thinks he must have imagined it. Even her voice sounds real. "I love you, Jake. I do love you." Her mouth fits to his perfectly. She kisses him deeply, the way he's always longed for Bella to kiss him—like she loves him, and loves only him. There's no Edward in this kiss, only him, Jacob Black.
He buries his face in the thick hair that blankets her neck, wraps his arms around her small, warm body, and then hoarsely screams her name as he fills her with his love, his hopes, his dreams, and even his heartache. He clings to her long after it's over. He's afraid to pull his face out of her hair, terrified of breaking the spell.
"Let it out, Jacob," she whispers, and it's not Bella's voice.
He opens his eyes and Bella is gone. The whore, Leigh, is staring at him, her blue-gray eyes so full of love that he can't even comprehend what he's seeing. She hardly knows him, and he knows nothing about her, yet he's drawn to her in a way he can't even begin to explain.
"It's poison. You've got to let it out. I'm here for you, and I won't judge you. That's not my job."
A Quileute wolf is strong. He doesn't show his weakness to anyone but his pack, and even then, he controls the worst of it. He's seen worry in Sam's human eyes, heard the regret and sadness in his wolf thoughts when he thinks of Leah, but he's never seen Sam break down and cry.
Fuck it. Sam's not here. None of his pack is. They don't matter anymore. He wants this.
He collapses his full weight against Leigh and lets five years of heartache pour out of him. The depth of his pain over losing Bella stuns him. His anguished animalistic cries echo in the empty alleyway, as his wolf grieves with him. Leigh holds him together, comforting him while he falls apart. He clings to her as she whispers tender assurances that this is what he needed to do, and that things will be much better for him from now on.
Feeling cleansed and strong for the first time in five years, he finally pulls away from her. His eyes widen. Shouldn't the alcohol be wearing off a little by now?
"Who are you?" he asks, staring dumbfounded at the white, ghostly glow that surrounds her entire body.
She smiles and smoothes down his hair. "I'm your guardian angel."
He looks up at the sky. It's not spinning anymore, and the stars are glued in their rightful places. He looks back at Leigh and the glow is still there. This is not a drunken illusion. He's stone-cold sober. She says nothing, just smiles and waits patiently for whatever dumb shit is about to come out of his mouth.
"My guardian angel is a whore?"
She laughs, letting out a very unladylike snort. "Yep. This time. I take whatever form is necessary to get the job done. Remember that Alpha who attacked you five years ago while you were in wolf form? The one who thought you were trying to horn your way into his pack and steal his woman?"
His mouth drops open. "That huge gray wolf who came out of nowhere and attacked him and then disappeared… that was you?"
She nods, smiling. "I'm usually a lot more subtle, but I had to get a little extreme that time. The majority of the time, you never even realize I've intervened in your life."
He knows this isn't funny, but he can't help but laugh. "So, becoming a wolf was extreme, but fucking me up against the wall of a bar isn't?"
She strokes his cheek tenderly. "I told you, this was important. I had to use whatever means at my disposal to keep you here for the necessary amount of time. I saved your life…again." She smiles as she rearranges her dress. "That's my job."
That awkward moment when someone realizes that they're practically naked in front of their guardian angel? Yeah, he's there. A hot blush steals up his neck and flushes his face. She chuckles and turns her back to him while he pulls up his pants.
"Don't be embarrassed," she says as she waits. "I did this out of love for you. Not carnal love, but spiritual love. Your soul is mine to protect for as long as you live. I cherish it more than my own, and will do whatever I have to do to keep you safe. And besides, it wasn't me you made love to just now. It was her. I was just the vessel."
He can't even begin to wrap his head around what she'd just said. She turns and he's still confused, but thankfully all zipped up and presentable.
"You're running out of time," she says, her voice suddenly urgent. "You need to go."
He frowns. "Go where?"
Her words make no sense. "But Leigh, I don't—"
"Go!" she shouts, pointing in the general direction of the parking lot. "You don't have much time! Hurry!"
She's using her authoritative voice again and he feels compelled to obey. He races to his cycle, plunks his helmet onto his head and secures it. The engine roars to life. He revs it as he glances back towards the alley, but it's dark and he sees nothing.
He doesn't even think. He lets his instincts take over, hanging a right out of the parking lot and heading out of the small town until all he sees is black sky and trees. He feels like the only person alive as he roars down the deserted country road, the wind whipping at his clothes. He's relaxed for the first time in five years. He's calm, focused. The anger that has been tightly coiled inside of him since the wedding is gone. The dark cloud of depression that has hidden the sun for five long years has finally lifted. Even in the inky black of night he feels the world is suddenly brighter.
He rounds a curve and the darkness up ahead turns to emergency flashes of blue and red: an accident. He slows as he approaches, alert for any first responders who may be standing in the road. An officer gradually appears in his lone headlight, his palm up, directing him to stop. He pulls off the road to investigate. As he removes his helmet, he sees the medics using the Jaws of Life to extract someone from a car crunched up like an accordion against a tall tree. If Leigh hadn't intervened and he'd left the bar a little earlier, would he have been involved in this wreck? Would his body be smeared all over the road right now in a bloody, unrecognizable mess? A couple of hours ago, he wouldn't have minded it that much. But now, just the thought of dying sends a cold chill down his spine and he shivers.
"What happened?" he asks the patrolman standing in the road.
The guy speculates, with an unconcerned shrug, that the person was most likely drunk. There's a bar a few miles up the road where Jake was headed. Alcohol and a curvy country road are never a good combination.
Jake's head whips around, searching for a face to match the voice. He can't see anything in the darkness beyond the red emergency flares. Then a person emerges out of the blackness and Jake is stunned speechless.
"They're transporting. He's deceased. Call it in for me, okay, while I finish up the report?"
The patrolman nods. "Sure." He walks off, leaving Jake standing open-mouthed with shock. The female patrolman is standing less than six feet from him. He can't even believe his eyes.
Her head snaps up from the clipboard she's carrying. She searches his face in the red glow surrounding them until she finally puts the shadowy pieces of his features together and comes up with a match.
The clipboard clacks to the pavement, forgotten. She's in his arms and he's holding her as tight as he can. This has to be a dream. It has to be. This entire night is just one long Tequila fueled dream and he's going to wake up any minute in some piece of shit motel with the mother of all hangovers.
She pulls herself from his arms and steps back, looking him over. This is a dream, he keeps telling himself. Bella is married to Edward. That's fact. He was there. She's not a policeman in whatever the name of this town is. She's Isabella Marie Cullen now, not I.M. Swan, as it says on her badge.
"What are you doing here?" he asks.
She raises her eyebrows and smirks. "Working. What are you doing here?"
He searches for an answer that won't make him seem like a total loser. He can't find one in the few seconds he's allowed. He needs some drinks in him before he can even begin to make sense out of the mess his life has become.
"I don't know," he answers, shrugging and sounding stupid. "Just passing through."
Her eyes search his, and he wonders what she's looking for.
"After I get the paperwork finished on this, I'm done for the night. There's this little diner that opens in about an hour. It's not the greatest, but it's edible. Want to get breakfast and talk?"
He asks about Edward. She informs him that there is no Edward now, only Bella. Her answer only raises more questions, so he agrees to have breakfast with her. He tries not to get his hopes up as he follows her cruiser into another small town, a carbon copy of the one he just left about ten miles behind him. Just because there's no Edward doesn't mean there's a Jacob either. He made a lot of mistakes back then, and he's not even sure he deserves her anymore, especially after the disgraceful way he's conducted himself the past four years. He pulls into the parking lot of the diner and waits nervously for her return.
The food is terrible, but the company makes up for it. As they eat, she begins the story of how she went from Bella Swan to Bella Cullen and then back to Bella Swan again.
"Our marriage started to collapse in the car, right after we left the reception," she says, gently laying down her fork and meeting his eyes. "It was the howling, Jake. I heard it, even through the closed windows of the car. Your grief broke my heart. That mournful sound, it haunted me from that point on."
He hadn't done it to punish her for her decision. That was his pain manifesting itself in the only way it was able to at the time. He was a wolf, and he couldn't have held those cries in his body if his life had depended on it. His only regret was that his suffering had hurt her. He'd never intended for that to happen.
"Things got progressively worse after that. By the time we arrived at Isle Esme—that's where we were going to spend our honeymoon—it was obvious, even to him, that I was unhappy." She shrugs. "Long story short, we talked. I was completely honest. We both made the decision together to split up. We never consummated our marriage." She sighs. "I'm not going to lie to you. Not now. Not after all we've been through. I loved Edward, and hurting him tore me apart. He was very understanding, as always, and that hurt me even more. The guilt over hurting him, hurting you, it nearly killed me. We divorced and I left Forks. I had to get away from the memories. Start over fresh somewhere else."
He smiles crookedly. "I've been to Somewhere Else. The food sucks, but the cops aren't dicks. That's always a plus in my book." He silently thanks Leigh. Not only had she saved his life, but she'd made sure he'd been at the right place at the right time by hurrying him along his way.
She laughs at his joke. He loves the sound.
"I thought of you all the time," she says softly, laying her hand on top of his. "I love you, Jake. I do love you."
At that moment, when she speaks the same words that had come from Leigh's mouth, he finally realizes that, somehow, it really was Bella he'd made love to back at that bar. He doesn't understand it, but he's not sure he needs to. He tells her he loves her too, and that he never stopped.
"So, what's the name of this place?" he asks, embarrassed that he doesn't even know where he is.
"Heavenly Hills, California."
How perfect, he thinks.
"Do you want to start over, Jake?"
He grins. "Hell yes."
That something big he's been searching for that would finally stop him? He's found it and he's not going to hit his brakes at the last second. He's going to let himself slam into it full force.
His running is finally over.
* The End *