Jacob Black reclined on his couch reflecting on a life that had been anything but normal, considering all of the twists and turns and surprises life had offered before leaving him, finally, at this point -- his impending death. In his youth, in the first flush of his discovery that mythical creatures did indeed exist and that he was one of them, this place, the wait for death, had been the farthest thing from his mind. All teenaged boys are fairly sure they are immortal. As part of a pack of young werewolves, he had been indestructible, immortal, invincible. All of that had, in time, come to be a burden as well.

He recalled his childhood as a vague series of events both comforting and unsure, like all adults most likely did about a time they both yearned for and were glad to be done with. Life, though, had shifted into high gear when he'd met Bella again that day at First Beach. He had been attracted to girls before, of course, but he'd never been so alert to the presence of one girl. They had met while children, but she had just been a girl, and a boring one at that. But on that day, he found himself aware of every single thing about her. The color of her eyes, the smooth curve of her neck, her hand gestures, the way her voice always gave away how she felt... Bella consumed him. Simply put, from that moment, he had belonged to her and waited for her to realize it.

Later, after all of the drama had died down and life had dragged on without Bella, he wondered if life would have been any different if he had already changed on the day he met her. Would he have been able to imprint, and if so would that have changed anything? If he was honest with himself, he suspected not. She had already met Edward. She had been a lost cause from the start, and he had simply been to blind, too stubborn, too self destructive to realize it. Even when she had given in to the inevitable and admitted her feelings about Jacob, it had been with qualifiers, not the rapturous, ecstatic declaration of love he'd imagined in his daydreams. And she had been able to go from kissing him with a passion that had shaken him to his very bones to begging Edward to make her forget her own name. He could still hear it. Even now, it hurt.

After Bella's wedding, he'd begun what he now looked back on as his "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll" phase. He had found no more real comfort or distraction during that time than Bella once had in riding motorcycles and cliff diving. Being fairly indestructible meant that he wouldn't be able to simply carouse himself to death. After a few years of the bitterness of another night of drinking and meaningless sex with someone who was never her, never right, he was done. He went back to school and decided to return home, to take up the responsibility he'd left behind. It hurt to come back, but it hurt less than staying away.

He ended up teaching auto shop classes at the Quileute school. He ran with the pack again, though with the Cullens gone, their encounters with enemies were limited to a few stray and quickly disposed of traveling vampires. That was always mildly vengeful fun for him.

His friends had all married and found happiness in their family duties. Billy had passed shortly after his return, and though he deeply regretted leaving him for so long, he knew Billy had understood. Jacob resigned himself to his simple, routine life until the first day of school two years after his return. He heard a new voice in the hall, remembered they were getting a new language arts teacher and turned around to see what she was like and that was all it took. He would never, ever have expected it to happen. She wasn't anything like Bella and he was oddly grateful for that. Imprinting was strange. It wasn't anything like what he'd felt for Bella. That had been ache and fire and wind and desire so strong it made his mind spin. But this -- it truly did mean just being what she needed. He would have done anything, even leave her completely alone if it would have made her happy.

In the end, he didn't have to leave her alone. She was a widow, who had lost her husband and two children in a car crash. She was frank about her past and he was open about his, and he knew that she could see in his eyes the same things she saw in his: pain for the past, and low expectations for the future. They had needed each other more desperately than either had been aware of. Both had been at sea for so long and now, in each other, they'd found solid land again. They had married quickly and it had lasted.

Their relationship would have been difficult to explain to others. It wasn't just the two of them. Jacob knew that a part of him, even though it became less and less of an ache every year, would always belong to Bella. He would always wonder "what if..." and wish that it could have happened the way he had wanted it to. He would always smart at the loss of her to Edward. His wife would always know that if it weren't for that one fatal trip, she would be living a very different life which wouldn't have involved him and she would have been happy in it. Jacob knew she loved him, but her husband and children were always there, on the periphery. On holidays and anniversaries of things in her first life, she would be vacant and he knew she was keeping faith with the things and people she had lost. He waited for her to come back to him, but he couldn't resent her absences. He knew that, at times, she had to share him as well.

Even with no children of their own, since she couldn't help but feel that having more would be 'replacing' those she'd lost and he could never quite bring himself to picture anyone but Bella as the mother of his children, they had a crowed home. Four ghosts, constantly lurking, but after so many years becoming friends rather than something to be feared, their students, the pack... it was a noisy, cozy, full life. They had been happy, content, passionate, and comfortable. It had been more perfect than he could ever have imagined. But she had slowly gone grey and his muscles had softened with age. Their time, which he would have been content to have last forever, was limited. She had died just a month ago and with her death, he knew he did not have long left.

In those first years away from Bella, he had been obsessed by fantasies of her returning at his death to offer to change him, to make him immortal like her. He had alternated between self-righteous revulsion towards it and desperate longing for just one more chance with her. Now, though, he knew that if he did see her again, he would not be tempted. It would have been nice to see and touch her one more time, but he knew that the Bella in his mind was more real that whatever she was now. She had become to him the most important of a series of memories from his youth, but he was no longer her captive. Instead, he would go to join his ghosts: his father, his mother, his wife... and embrace his mortality. How comforting, at the end of it all, to be free.