Jacob is dying.
And no, that's not a metaphor.
He knows that his situation isn't really all that different from other people, and he knows that there are others who have it much, much worse. That's why Jacob doesn't talk about it, and that's why he says the word 'dying' in a dismissive voice, like he's only telling a bad joke that has no hope of getting even a single laugh.
There are other reasons why, of course, but that's the reason that Jacob most often tells himself.
Still – he is. It's something he first heard of when he was young – back when his mother would bake him cakes and creams, back when she would tuck him into bed with a soft kiss on the forehead. She told him, one night, of how his father was sick, and that no, it wouldn't get better. He doesn't remember any sort of understanding – only a childish curiosity at her choice of words. "You'll see one day," she said, and he remembers her eyes glistening a little brighter than was usual.
Later, after he'd already seen the last of his father, along with caskets and flowers and a sea of black-clothed strangers, he thought he understood.
The doctors diagnosed him with the same, a few years later. Genetic, they said. It's a gradual thing, they told him, and he'd have plenty of time before things got truly bad. Years – a number of years, if he was lucky.
That was years ago.
Now, Jacob tries his hardest to live like he's not running out of time.
Things aren't that bad, all in all. Sometimes, he forgets about the sickness entirely. It doesn't affect him physically, at this point, so it doesn't even take that much of an effort. He fought in the war. He did his duty. He came back. He still finds things to smile at, so it's not all bad.
The canning factory, though – it's hard to smile, there. It's in that place that he really feels like he's dying; the walls close up all around, and the ceiling presses down from overhead, and Jacob can hardly breathe at all. Everyone else keeps a blank face, like they're all just walking around with their minds shut off. Jacob finds himself frowning at them, sometimes, and he watches the clock. It ticks onwards, ceaselessly, and somehow it seems like it's counting down his every hour left.
He has to get out. Jacob comes home one evening, after a long day of holding his breath and watching blank faces and averting his gaze from the ticking clock – he sits down on his creaky bed, and thinks. He remembers the pastries that his mother used to bake him – he remembers how they used to put every unpleasant thought from his mind, dispelling every doubt with each sweet and succulent bite. A bakery, he thinks, and a hopeful little plan assembles itself in his mind.
A nagging sensation bites at his heels – time's running out. Jacob shrugs it off, though, and vows to keep finding things to smile at until his very last second.
Jacob does find things to smile at – he searches them out, unearthing another piece of joy every time. He finds a smile in baking, during those optimistic days in which he plans for the shop he's going to open – he finds a smile in giving, too, and he grins all the wider whenever a friend or neighbor accepts one of his pastries with an eager nod or a delighted laugh.
It's the best of times whenever Jacob manages to find something that takes his mind off of ticking clocks and time running out. Baking, giving, smiling – Jacob talks with strangers, and throws breadcrumbs to pigeons, and eats sumptuous meals with seconds and thirds. It's marvelous, really, for Jacob to get caught up in doing something so enjoyable – and it's wonderful, and also not, to suddenly realize that he's forgotten to think even once about dying in all that time. Baking does the trick especially – he could bake for hours, basking in the mix of delicious smells and rosy warmth and powdery fingertips, and not think even once of time running out. He thinks that the bakery will be wonderful – he imagines hours blending into days blending into weeks, all spent blissfully free of those kind of thoughts.
Dying doesn't really bother him that much, honestly. The truth of it doesn't bother him – it's really more about living. He wants, more than anything, to live fully and happily, and not dwell on dying any more than he needs to. There isn't any point in it, seeing as how it's inevitable anyway. That's why he cherishes in the sort of actions that take his mind off of it.
That's one of the reasons why he so enjoys the company of a strange British wizard, and why he loves every second of the bizarre adventure that accompanies him.
It starts in the bank – with annoyance, yes, but it's a funny kind of bewildered annoyance, and by the end of it Jacob finds himself so dazed and confused that he actually goes and hits him, grabbing hold of the wrong case in the process. His walk home is terse and full of disbelief – what in the world had all of that been? What was that creature? And that egg? And all of the ridiculous things that the man had done, with his frail little stick or wand or whatever it was? He gets home, grumbling at the insanity of it, and throws his case onto his bed.
He doesn't even realize, then, that he hadn't thought of dying once.
The next thing he knows, impossible creatures and dark shapes and explosive shadows are bursting from 'his' case, and he's only got time to think oh no before things go truly insane –
He might've thought about dying at least once while he was moaning on the floor, after the Murtlap bite – he doesn't remember, but he thinks that he might have done. If he had, though, it was only for a fleeting second, and he doesn't remember it because of all that follows. Because after that, there's the Goldstein's place and then Newt's case after that and then their half-cocked dash through New York, chasing down the mischievous Niffler and the terrifying Erumpet. It's amazing and exhilarating and unbelievable, in equal parts, and the entire time, Jacob has no time to think. It's all run and go, all rushing and racing and accepting preposterous things with only the slightest bat of an eye. In all that time, he only thinks of dying once.
When Newt asks him why he decided to be a baker, Jacob takes a breath and lets the answer sink back into his stomach, reclaiming its familiar resting place. "Well, um – because I'm dying," says Jacob, letting the words roll off his tongue in that dismissive voice – and then, he keeps talking, finds more to say. "In that canning factory – everyone there's dying, it just crushes the life outta you…"
He hurries to ask Newt about canned food, and he doesn't say the word again. Dying. Jacob doesn't know why he leaves it like that – maybe because of how Newt had acted with his creatures in the case, or maybe because of the hopeful, inquisitive expression that the wizard wears while he's looking at Jacob. Newt cares, he cares about everything, and Jacob can't find it in himself to elaborate on the dying thing. He leaves it as a funny choice of words, a rash metaphor, an odd joke that fell flat. It doesn't matter, anyway, because as soon as that conversation moves on to new, happier topics, Jacob doesn't think of it again.
And there's so much more to think about, so much that Jacob can barely keep up –
When Newt and Tina are led away to be interrogated at the MACUSA headquarters place, Jacob sinks onto the uncomfortable prison bed and feels everything slow around him again. The word pops back into his mind, in the absence of wonder – his thoughts circle rather gloomily, and it's all Newt's going to be in terrible trouble, isn't he and the creatures, all those crazy wonderful creatures, what's gonna happen to them and Tina's alright, she's alright really, and what'll happen to Queenie if things go bad? But somehow – dying, I'm dying, I'm dying aren't I – the thought of the other thing isn't quite so bad. It seems distant, and unimportant in the light of everything else, and there's so much more to be worried about, really.
And honestly, there isn't time. Before he knows it, he's on Queenie's arm again, and everything's rushing forward like before. His thoughts are very much occupied – she's incredible, she's an angel, her smile that beautiful smile – and from that point on, he doesn't think of it even once.
They visit a magical speakeasy. They track down an invisible monkey and an enormous, tiny winged snake. They watch a terrible dark cloud smash its way through the streets of New York, furious and destructive and so very magic. It's all terrific and exciting and sometimes awful and terrifying, but it makes Jacob feel more alive than he ever has, throughout his entire life.
It's all wonderful, right up until the very end.
They stand there underneath that gloomy subway entrance, paused in what seems like an endless moment, and at the same time it's over far too soon. Jacob can't say that he understands this whole memory thing – that he'll just forget seems ludicrous, and yet everything about the past twenty-four hours or so is equally unbelievable. He's trying to press every single detail into his head, and he's trying to not think about what he'll 'wake up' to underneath that deceptively normal drizzle – Queenie forces a tragic smile onto her face, and her eyes are red and teary. Newt calls Jacob his friend, and for the life of him Jacob can't think of anything but his old life, the canning factory, the bakery that he'll probably never get a chance to open, dying –
His mind's all muddled and blurred, and he's glad for it because he doesn't want Queenie to catch on. It's an inevitable hope, really, but Jacob doesn't think he could bear to be the cause for another of Queenie's tears – a beautiful angel, she's perfect she shouldn't be crying – and so he blinks and takes a steadying breath and tries to smile.
He steps out into the rain, and it washes away so much more than warmth.
He feels a hand on his cheek, a kiss on his lips. Of all the things that race through his mind, dying isn't one of them.
When he wakes up the next morning, his thoughts are only why do I ache so much and oh it's Thursday, it's Thursday isn't it, I hate Thursdays and another five minutes, surely that won't hurt, oh I really don't feel like going to the canning factory today. After a minute, he thinks dying, I'm dying, I'm dying again aren't I, and then he thinks dying, I was always dying, wasn't I?
It feels like it should be a new sensation, but he can't remember why.
At the factory, a perfect stranger crashes into him and dumps a suitcase full of silver eggshells at his feet.
He opens a bakery and fills the little shop with his strange dreams, with all of the unbelievable and incredible images that press on the backs of his eyelids. It's wonderful, the shop – he loves it, he loves baking, he loves making other people smile. It doesn't seem to be enough, though – the word still flits across his mind, even here, and clocks still tick at him threateningly. It feels like something is missing. Jacob is happy, yes, but there seems to be something he's forgotten.
He wakes up every morning with what's on the menu today and gotta get those ingredients from Bill's place before noon and dying, I'm dying. He goes to bed at night, tired but pleased with the day's work, and thinks Grandma would be proud and don't forget to sell off the rest of those biscuits tomorrow, they'll get stale and dying, still dying.
When a perfect, beautiful angel walks into his shop, smiling that impossibly familiar smile, Jacob finds all thoughts of incompletion being chased from his head. He smile back, and – well, it's not that everything comes rushing back, because he can't really say everything when he doesn't know how much is missing, or how much everything even is anyway. He remembers being happy, and really really living, and not thinking about dy-
Queenie's smile turns a little tragic, then, and Jacob forces the word out of his mind even though he knows it's a little too late.