Author's Notes: Please take note of the fact that Breaking Dawn is ignored. I haven't bothered to read the book yet, though I've read enough of the spoilers to know what happens. "Walk the Line" belongs to Johnny Cash, and the few lines of dialogue from the melodrama are inspired by an actual melodrama show I went to called "Showdown at Slick Rock Ranch." The E/B is very minimal, and this is mostly angst-free; it's romance with a little bit of humor - J/B style.


Fight or Flight

Bella once thought she was one of those girls with wind in her blood and a need for speed. Sleek cars, fast motorcycles, and a frantic, pounding heart—all dangerous in their rapidity and her addiction to them. She didn't realize that maybe all she was really craving was life itself, and a way to live it; that maybe all these things truly did was help her to escape.

Bella isn't a coward, but she's not above running away—not anymore, now that she's learned which addictions you should keep around and which ones just aren't okay. She knows there's more to flight than fear; the desire for freedom alone, after all, is almost enough to hollow your bones and give you wings.

Fight-or-flight. She remembers something about that from school—when you're faced with danger, will you go, or will you stay?

But what about when you're faced with something else, or nothing at all, or even something you can't name? No teacher ever taught her that, the other circumstances to which fight-or-flight applies, the way the words can be separated or twisted to mean something else entirely: When you fly for the joy of movement, when you pretend to fight, for the fun of the game, with someone you love—because you know everything will be alright in the end.

Bella has to learn these other definitions the hard way: on her own.

She once thought that it defined a person, whether you stayed or went. But what defines you, really, is only what you have left to stay for, and what's ahead to go running to. And no one ever considers the fact that they might just be intertwined.

-o0o-

She knows it's selfish because he only just came home—and that's her fault, too, isn't it?—but she wants Jacob to take her away.

When she shows up on his doorstep, Billy shoots her a look she knows she deserves, and tells her that Jacob is resting.

"He's been sleeping for three days straight," he says. Then he adds, because he feels like he has to, "He didn't come back for you."

Bella looks him squarely in the eye. "I know. But I came back for him."

Billy sighs, pretends she makes sense, because he recognizes that look and knows she won't leave unless he calls someone to drag her away.

Jacob, who has the hearing of a wolf—of course—is awake by the time she stumbles into his room.

"Hey Bells," he says, sitting up. His body is tired but his eyes are bright, and his smile never falters. "I heard you were looking for me."

She means to say hello, but the sight of him pushes out a breathy rush of: "Weshouldgosomewhere."

Jacob understands, somehow; and he's hopeful, then, but surprised. "Okay," he agrees. "We could probably go down to the beach, if you want—"

"No, I mean—" Bella bites her lip. "I mean, we should go somewhere."

-o0o-

Billy and Charlie are against it, at first.

"He's been through a lot, Bells," Charlie tells her, as if he knows more than he's been told. "The kid's got to rest."

Billy's words are hollow—there's plenty of room inside them for underlying accusations. (He didn't come back for you.) But even he admits that Jacob's looking better than he has in days, than he has, even, in the past few hours.

At points, it feels like they're fighting a losing battle—especially when Jacob mentions bringing motorcycles along, just in case, and Charlie looks like he might explode—but Bella can't stop smiling for anything in the world. On the couch beside her, Jacob is her mirror image. He's more than worth staying for, she knows, but she'd rather fly away with his hand held fast in hers.

Eventually, it comes down to the promise of no more than two days on the road and an update via cell phone every few hours.

"I'll even drive, Dad," Bella swears, when Charlie still looks uncertain.

Somehow, that manages to seal the deal.

Jacob whoops at the victory, causing Bella to jump before she laughs.

Charlie looks back and forth between them. "Just—" He grumbles to himself, fixing his gaze upon Jacob with false shrewdness. "Just try to wear a shirt once in a while."

-o0o-

They take Bella's truck, because it was once Billy's truck, and it makes them sentimental. She's missed the loud bellow of its engine, and the feel of the seat's uneven surface beneath her, the way its imperfections make it perfect. She's tired of fast cars with foreign names that, yes, she can pronounce, but they never feel quite at home on the tip of her tongue.

"It's kind of… broken right now," Bella admits when Jacob comes by to inspect it—he's promised not to complain about how slow it goes. "It stopped working a few weeks ago, before—"

She stops, shakes her head, and sticks the key into the ignition just to prove that it won't start. But when she turns it, carelessly because she's so sure of what will happen, the truck roars to life.

Bella looks at Jacob in shock. She'd call it a miracle, but the way she sees it, that's just too convenient.

When the Cullens left—and it's no surprise to her anymore that the name doesn't hurt to think or say—she'd thought they hadn't left anything behind. But maybe, just maybe, they'd given her a parting gift, after all.

Or maybe not. But Bella doesn't dwell on it; it's taken her a while to learn what sorts of things should be questioned. And what shouldn't.

-o0o-

There's sun on her skin and wind in her hair as they ride the Pacific Coast Highway toward California. Bella knows they'll never make it in two days, not in this truck, and she doubts that Jacob cares. She doesn't care, either. The funny thing about life nowadays is that you don't need a destination, just a direction; it's part of the excuse that keeps you going.

She takes her eyes off the straight road ahead to spare a glance at Jacob. Sprawled out as he is, he just barely fits in the passenger seat. But it takes a lot more to make someone like him uncomfortable—he's still grinning and has his head partially out the window, like a dog in heaven.

Bella laughs. "You can go to sleep, you know," she says. "If you want."

He looks at her like she's crazy, of course, playing up the incredulity until she hazards a swat at his arm.

"Hey!" he cries, unsuccessfully dodging the blow. "Both hands on the wheel! You're supposed to be the responsible driver, here."

Briefly, she hears snatches of what's playing on the radio—I keep my eyes wide open all the time… They'd turned the volume down earlier, because only one station comes in, and it doesn't seem picky about what it plays. Every now and then, though, when the wind and conversation quiets, they actually bother to listen to it.

Jacob taps his fingers against the dashboard. "Because you're mine," he sings along, purposely off-key, "I walk the line." He bobs his head in time to the beat until Bella catches his eye.

For some reason, she blushes; but it's not in the way that makes her want to turn invisible and root her feet into the ground. Instead, it feels a little bit like breathing for the first time.

And maybe a little bit like flying, too.

For a moment, she's on top of the world, and while her head's not up in the clouds just yet, it's a long time before she feels like coming down.

-o0o-

"I think we should get something to eat," Bella says. The windows are rolled up to keep the cold night air from chilling their bones, but she's still almost cold. It's partially, though, from the memory of the freezing ocean tugging at her ankles three hours ago (there's still sand between her toes).

"I'm starving," Jacob admits.

They'd brought food, but Bella forgot that she was supposed to pack for three boys instead of one. (She doesn't eat much, herself.)

By now, they're in the middle of who-knows-where—that old, familiar place, Bella thinks wryly—and they've hardly stopped all day. (Just that once.) She can tell Jacob's itching to get outside, has been for a while, and she can hear the hunger gnawing at his empty stomach. It's more for him than anything that she wants to stop; it's different, being around people who are almost normal—she's starting to remember better now, though, don't think she isn't.

She scans the side of the road for signs, but it's Jacob who finds one.

"You ever been to a melodrama, Bells?"

She hasn't. "Have you?"

"I hear there's food," he shrugs. "It's dinner and a show."

"It sounds kind of like a date," she teases.

Jacob frowns, suddenly serious. "It doesn't have to be."

They've been down this road before, she knows, but they're on this trip to leave the familiar behind. Besides, she doesn't like the way he's more careful with her now; she's tired of being treated like she's going to break or slip away, preventing Jacob from doing and saying what he wants, (even though she knows she deserves it). But it's time to take a different turn.

Bella signals and pulls off, following the signs. "I know."

-o0o-

The room is small, and it's crowded and hot, too many people in a place that insists on holding them. They almost don't manage to get tickets, and it's even more difficult to find a seat; but Jacob's eyes are better than hers in the dimmed lighting, so he locates a table toward the front and in the corner, somewhere between the piano and the door.

He makes sure she's sitting, then: "Stay here, okay?"

Bella realizes what he's doing, and tries to stop him. "Jake—"

But he flashes her a grin. "If this is a date," he informs her, "or 'kind of like a date,' at least, then I'm going to buy you dinner."

She tries to frown, to look reproachful and pretend like that grin doesn't seep under her skin and melt her heart like wax. It's another losing battle she shouldn't bother to fight. "Only if you let me pay for gas," she says. "All of it."

"Deal," he agrees. He shakes her hand like they've just united two warring nations, then starts weaving between the masses of too-close-together tables to get in line for food.

Bella watches him, her fingers tingling with residual warmth. He doesn't ask her what she wants, and out of context, it's all wrong; but Jacob knows things, knows her. He knows the right answer—what's best for her—when she can't manage to make a decision herself.

And it's funny, she thinks, how Edward Cullen could never read her mind, but Jacob, without possessing anything close to a vampiric gift, figured out how to do so, anyway.

She kicks at the mixture of hay and sawdust on the floor, and feels chill air seep through the door to tug at her hair. This is the last time she'll bother to compare them, Jacob and Edward. There's no point, really, when she's already managed to move on.

Because she loves Jacob, she realizes. But not as an addition; he's all there is, now, and that's all she wants. It's amazing, despite the stifling air of the room, how lucid her thoughts are when she thinks this.

Jacob Black clears her head.

-o0o-

"Spaghetti," Jacob declares triumphantly, setting down a heavy paper plate before her. "The last one. I had to fight for it, but there you go. It's yours."

She's in the middle of thanking him when her stomach loudly interrupts.

Jacob laughs. "Huh. I guess you do get hungry."

He's balancing five corndogs and a hamburger in one hand, two sodas and a slice of pizza in the other. She stares.

"I didn't have any hands left for a salad," he jokes.

But Bella's grinning again. "There's always intermission."

He gives her one of the sodas.

-o0o-

Ragtime music floods her head as the curtains open and the actors fill the stage. It's probably the most ridiculous thing she's ever seen, from their Old West costumes and overdone accents, to the purposefully overdramatic delivery of their lines. And maybe she shouldn't enjoy it, but she does, and even lets out a loud boo and hiss or two with the crowd when the villain enters the scene.

She'd hate it, probably, if she was supposed to take it seriously, all those sappy declarations of love and soap-opera-twists. But it's all for fun, all tongue-in-cheek, and everyone knows it.

Satire, she thinks. Making fun of human vice or weakness.

"Hey there, little lady. I think you've got something on your lips."

"Oh? And what's that?"

"Mine."

Bella giggles. She wonders whether, if someone set her life—her old life—to a sheet of ragtime, it would be perfectly at home on a stage like this. It all seems so absurd now, the complete seriousness of everything. She remembers feeling like Juliet, and the comparison was right, just not for the reasons she thought; everyone thinks of Romeo and Juliet as being the ultimate love story, but really, when it comes down to it, it's just a warning about what happens when two crazy kids think they've found forever.

You shouldn't need forever, she thinks, when you've already got the gift of right now.

Bella glances across the small table at Jacob, and realizes that he's staring at her. There's an odd look in his eyes, and though he coughs and tries to hide it, she catches the tail end of what was there.

He's nervous.

It's funny, the way people look at you when they think you're not looking back.

She doesn't think twice before she takes his hand, lacing her fingers into his.

"Hey," she says. "It's okay."

"You were looking tired," he bluffs. "I was worried you might fall out of your chair, or something. Then I'd have to figure out how to get over there and catch you without knocking over all these tables."

She smiles. "Maybe I deserve a good bump on the head."

"Not gonna argue with that."

She sticks out her tongue, then returns her focus to the melodrama, her hand never leaving its newly-rediscovered place.

"I just don't want to mess up," Jacob says quietly, suddenly.

Bella looks at him in surprise. "I've messed up enough for the both of us, so whatever you do, I can probably let it slide."

"Sure, sure, but—" His face is troubled again.

"I mean it," she says. "I'm the one who's getting the second chance."

"But—"

"You never let go," she interrupts. "You didn't give up on me. Not ever. Even when you should have."

He chuckles lightly. "I can be pretty stubborn, I guess."

She can say a thousand-and-one more things: tell him that she loves him, that he saved her life, babble on about all her flaws and mistakes, and how he deserves better. But she doesn't.

"Yeah," she says instead. "Luckily for me."

They grin at each other until their cheeks hurt, and they feel sappy and maybe a little bit melodramatic, themselves (and a little boy at the next table starts discreetly making gagging noises). It used to scare her, being in love this much. And the idea that she could love someone so much again might have sent her running, once upon a time.

But their entwined hands upon the table ground her there.

With Jacob, everything isn't about life or death, it's just about living. No Romeo, no Juliet, no Paris. No forever, no destination, just movement and simply being. Just the sensation of wind beneath your wings and freedom in your heart.

And then there's the feeling of knowing, no matter what, that you've made the right choice.