Summary: Jacob, Bella, and the years keep slipping past.
Author's Note: Unbeta-ed.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
We Could Steal Time
Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness; it is not excitement; it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love," which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
— Louis de Bernières
Bella dreams. Bright colors that bleed and blend into the forest of La Push, into the Pacific. She dreams of two black haired children, their tiny hands held securely in hers. They laugh, the sound of it tickling her insides, and tug her gently toward the water. She chases them through the surf, sea foam licking her ankles.
When she wakes, Bella rolls onto her side and tries to fight off the stifling loss that threatens to suffocate her. Edward's comforting hand on her exposed shoulder only makes the feeling worse.
As times passes, the details of Bella's dreams begin to haunt her conscious life. While talking to Alice her mind wanders to warm little bodies pressed tight against her sides; when Rosalie asks what she'd like for dinner Bella recalls grumbled complaints about not liking hot dogs. One day she spends hours in front of the mirror after exiting the shower. She stares hard at her face, imagines its slow transformation as she ages.
Bella sees laugh lines and crow's feet. She sees dark circles under her eyes from not enough sleep. She can picture her hair turning gray, one strand at a time, and her fingers bent and aching from arthritis. She turns the lock on the bathroom door, stands sideways before the mirror as her towel falls to the floor. Her hand flits over her flat stomach, and if she closes her eyes she can feel it swell beneath her hand as a new life burrows deep within her womb.
"Edward," Bella whispers as she crawls into bed that night. "I want children."
"That's the last of it," Rosalie says, dropping a cardboard box onto the floor of Bella's new house. It's a small white cabin, a parting gift from Edward.
"Save it," the blonde vampire interrupts. "I'm not doing this for you."
Bella glance down at the floor, fingers knotting nervously. "I know," she sighs. "I'm sorry."
Rosalie laughs, shakes her head and levels a steady gaze at the top of Bella's ducked head. "Goodbye, Bella Swan."
There's the faintest of brushes along Bella's jaw, and she looks up to find herself in an empty living room. She shuts her eyes, breaths in deep. This is mine, she thinks, blinking in the white walls and green sofa. The thought makes her smile.
She remembers her promise to Charlie while unpacking her cooking utensils, and dials a number she once tried to forget.
"Dad?" The sound of Charlie's voice as he greets Bella makes her knees weak, and she has to sit down on a dining chair for fear she'll fall. She swallows thickly against the swelling of her throat. "Yeah, I'm fine…I was unpacking when I realized I forgot to call you."
Bella gets a job at a café. It's nothing special, and she doesn't need the money, but she likes the work. It makes her feel needed and productive, and at the end of the day that's enough.
Her coworkers are nice, in a bland sort of way. Janice, her boss, invites Bella to Astoria's various open-air markets. After four months, Bella finally agrees to go. She has a good time, and soon it becomes a regular thing.
As Thanksgiving approaches, Bella begins to pull further and further within herself. Holidays remind her of the Cullens, who used her as an excuse to celebrate everything. Because Bella locks herself within her mind, she doesn't notice the secret calls Janice makes or the not so subtle questions Luis and Chan throw her way. (What's the best side dish you ever had? Which do you prefer, cranberry sauce from a can or the homemade kind? Turkey or ham? Turducken?)
On Thanksgiving morning Bella tries calling her parents, but neither answers. She feels lonely, so when Janice calls from the bakery with an emergency Bella is only too eager to accept the invitation to not be by herself. When she arrives to find her parents and Phil sitting at mismatched tables with her coworkers she promptly burst into tears. It is the best Thanksgiving Bella has ever had.
Bella runs into Jacob a Newton's Outfitter. It turns out they're both buying fishing gear for their fathers. They fumble through conversation, and as Jacob leaves to pay Bella invites him to Charlie's for Christmas dinner. He turns slowly to face her, and her heart leaps into her throat. She's suddenly frightened of rejection, but Jacob just smiles and the world quickly rights itself.
When she arrives back at Charlie's house she gives him a hug that leaves him blushing from the unexpected display of affection. "We're having company for Christmas," she murmurs into his neck, before disentangling herself to prepare lunch.
The holiday passes, and before Bella makes the drive back to her small home in Oregon she stops by La Push. Her and Jacob exchange numbers. Then, as Bella is halfway in her car, two hot arms wrap around her from behind. She sinks into the touch, lets Jacob hold her until her body is drained of tears and he whispers "I missed you."
Rebuilding a friendship is hard.
The beginning of Jacob and Bella's tentative reunion is filled with heated words and tears. Once, they spend three months without saying a word to one another. The silence becomes too much for Bella, and she drives hours to show up on Jacob's doorstep with a weepy apology. Slowly though, the scars they inflicted on each other begin to heal.
Bella rearranges the phone wedged between her shoulder and cheek, laughs as Jacob shares details from Embry's latest attempt at dating. She tries not to cut off her fingers as she chops vegetables for her dinner, she's always been awful at multitasking.
"Jacob," Bella interrupts, dropping the knife onto the cutting board and pressing the cordless hard against her ear. "I'm moving back."
She cringes away from the sharp thwack of plastic hitting the floor as Jacob drops the phone with a swear.
"Bella? Bells?" Jacob's frantic voice fills her ear. "Are you still there?"
"Okay," Jacob breathes, repeats. "Okay."
"Hi," Jacob greets as he opens the door to his house. His movements are slow, cautious.
"Hi," Bella parrots back softly, takes a step forward. "You're shorter."
Jacob shrugs, eyes dropping down to his socked feet. "I stopped phasing."
Bella sucks in a sharp breath between her teeth, staggers back a step. "When?"
Bella doesn't have to ask which Christmas. A slow smile works its way across Bella's lips as she closes the gap between Jacob and herself.
Jacob's hands shake as they trace the flare of Bella's hips.
"Are you sure?"
Bella nods. She doesn't trust herself to speak. She's certain that the moment she opens her mouth to talk Jacob will realize just how terrified she is. It's not that she's a virgin, that ship sailed long, long ago. It's the fact that this is Jacob. Jacob who she loves with all the pathetic pieces of her heart, and what scares Bella is how much she wants this. Wants him.
Bella leans into Jacob, kisses the underside of his jaw. "I'm sure." And her voice is steady.
They talk about marriage only once.
"I kind of like living in sin," Bella murmurs, half asleep after hours of serious discussion.
Jacob watches her lashes flutter. "C'mere," he whispers, pulling her body up along his. His lips fall softly against hers, and she sighs into the kiss.
Bella lies awake in bed. All of her aches, and sleep won't come. She hears the rustle of sheets, and a moment later Jacob's hand is on the small of her back. His fingers push the fabric of her nightshirt up, brush along her skin. Bella reaches behind her, shoves Jacob's hand away.
"Touch me again and I'll kill you," Bella growls.
Her threat is met with an amused snort. The mattress dips as Jacob's body curves around hers. He pushes the hair away from the nape of her neck, kisses the exposed skin there. Bella rams her elbow back, and Jacob chuckles at her poor attempt of an attack, nips lightly at her shoulder. Despite Bella's blatant dislike of Jacob's proximity, her traitorous body is acutely aware of every inch of him within her reach. One of Jacob's hands slips around Bella's body, palm pressing gently against her swollen midsection.
"Yeah." Bella's voice is tired, and she turns her head awkwardly to look at Jacob. He smiles at her, and Bella's heart swells. "I love you," she says softly.
Bella has always thought she's know what love is. She thought wrong.
Jonah is perfect. Ten finger, ten toes. He is wrinkly and absolutely hers. She traces his tiny fingernails, the curve of his ears. She brushes the soft shock of black hair on his head. She wants to cry she's so consumed with love for him.
Beside her hospital bed, Jacob shifts in the stiff chair he's sleeping in. The parenting book he'd been reading earlier slips from his lap.
"That's your daddy," Bella says in a hushed voice. "And he loves you very, very much."
Jacob and Bella fight. About dishes and the garbage, vacuuming and yard work. And bills, always about bills.
"I just want some help," Bella sighs, sinking into a dining chair with a cup of coffee. "I go to work and I come home ready to relax only to find the house a mess. I need help, Jake. Can't you just pick up the toys once?"
"I do pick them up," Jacob says, stirring a bubbling pot on the stove. "I can't help it if Jonah and Sarah keep taking them out."
"But it's more than toys. It's the dishes too. I go to serve myself some water and we don't have any clean cups. Do you know how frustrating that is?"
"Yeah, well, I thought we'd agreed I'd be in charge of taking care of the outside of the house while you took care of the inside."
"We did. But sometimes a little help would be welcome. God, I shouldn't even have to ask for this. Shouldn't you want to help me?"
"You know what? Never mind. Forget I even said anything."
"I think we should take a break."
Bella shouldn't be surprised. She's not stupid, this has been building for a long time. Still, having Jacob voice her thoughts out loud makes her heart stop and her blood turn icy with panic.
"What?" Bella asks.
"Bells, this isn't…Lately things have been—Damn-it, this isn't how I planned to bring this up."
Bella swallows, looks down at her hands. With a heavy sigh she straightens her spine and meets Jacob's apologetic gaze. "When do we tell the kids?"
"This is so stupid," Jonah mutters. He's stretched out on Bella's bed, legs crossed at the ankles, as he watches his mother get ready for a date. "Do you even like Mike Newton?"
"Mike's fine. We went to high school together."
Sarah brushes Bella's hair back, exposing the thin blue shoulder strap of her dress. "You look pretty."
Bella turns toward her daughter, smiles. "Thank you, Sweetie."
As Sarah helps Bella buckle the ankle straps of her heels, the doorbell rings.
"Oh," Bella breathes, cheeks flushed. "He's early." She quickly grabs her clutch, makes sure her cell is resting inside. She turns to Jonah, who's frowning openly at her. "Don't let your sister near the stove." She turns to Sarah, kisses her cheek. "Daddy will be here soon, okay?"
Her kids follow her to the door. Mike Newton stands on the porch, flowers in hand. Sarah squeals in delight while Jonah scowls, mutters darkly "What a marshmallow."
Hours later Bella stumbles into a dark house. Jacob and Sarah are sprawled on the couch, asleep. Jonah is seated on an old recliner that used to belong to Charlie, nose buried in a mystery novel lit by a tiny book light. He glances up when Bella sits on the arm of the chair.
"Well, what's the verdict?"
Bella sighs, reaches down to take off her heels. "Mike Newton is a marshmallow."
"Dad went on a date," Jonah exclaims the moment he enters Bella's car. "And she's ugly."
Bella rolls her eyes, fights down the hurt that swells within her. "Jonah, be nice."
On Christmas, Bella somehow ends up alone in the kitchen with Jacob. It is the first time it has been just the two of them in the same room since March. His close proximity makes her whole body shakes, and she cries over the dirty water in the sink.
"Jake," she murmurs. "I hate sleeping alone. I hate how empty the house feels, and I miss you. I miss you like crazy. Come home. Please."
She can sense him come up behind her, arms slipping around her waist and face burying into her neck. "God, Bells." His voice is chocked, and she can feel the dampness of his breath on her skin. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting for you to say that."
When they walk into Charlie's living room they're holding hands. It is the first time Jonah has cried in years.
Bella and Jacob get married on the beach.
The reception is held in their backyard, and halfway through a heavy drizzle starts. Most people run inside for cover, but Jacob keeps a firm hold on Bella. They dance in the downpour, happy and in love. Jonah cuts in, and Bella holds him close, strokes his face.
"I love you, Mom," Jonah whispers, kissing her cheek.
"I love you, too," Bella grins.
Next to them, Sarah throws her head back and laughs as Jacob attempts to lead her in a fumbling cha cha. "Duh-ad," she squeals as Jacob lowers her in a dramatic dip.
"I'm pregnant," Bella announces as her family shuffles around the kitchen in search of breakfast. They are tired from staying up late to watch the ball drop on television, their movements slow.
"What?" Jacob and Jonah stammer in unison.
"Holy shit," Sarah blurts, cereal bowl falling from her hands. Fruit Loops scatter across the linoleum flooring. "Isn't that impossible? You're old!"
"Thanks, Sarah," Bella deadpans, adds on quickly "And watch your language."
"I don't mean old like old, old," Sarah back peddles. "I just meant older. Like a woman. An older woman. And can't you die now? I mean, isn't being pregnant at your age risky?"
"A baby?" Jacob croaks, sagging against the counter. "We're having a baby?"
"Yes. We're having a baby."
Jonah grins suddenly, slaps Jacob on the back. "Well I'll be damned. I didn't think you had it in you, Dad."
Bella rushes to meet Jonah, Jacob and Sarah scurrying close behind her.
"Slow down, Mom," Sarah pleads. "You might fall."
The crowd they're navigating parts, and Bella catches sight of her son. He smiles at her, sprints forward; his graduation gown fans out like a cape. Tears work their way from Bella's eyes as she cups Jonah's face between her palms.
"My baby boy's a high school graduate," Bella sobs. Jonah ducks his head in embarrassment. Bella laughs, kisses both his cheeks. 'I'm so proud of you."
"He's so tiny," Sarah whispers, stroking Ian's forehead. She glances up at Jacob, who's holding the baby in his arms. "Look how small he is. It's crazy."
The corner of Jacob's mouth quirks upward. His face is still drawn and pale from almost losing Bella during the birth. He glance at her sleeping form for reassurance that she is, in fact, still there before turning back toward his daughter. "You were smaller."
"What about Jonah?"
Jacob shifts the baby in his arms, watches in amazement as he opens his mouth in a yawn. He still can't believe this is real. "Jonah was fat and wrinkly."
"Hey, now, that's not very nice," Jonah chastises from the doorway.
Sarah turn to him with a smile, beckons him forward. "Come meet our brother."
Jacob passes Ian over to his older brother. Jonah looks absolutely frightened of the baby in his arms. He lets out a whistle. "He's so small."
Jacob smiles at the wonder in Jonah's voice as Sarah gloats "I was smaller."
Ian lies on his stomach, one leg and arm thrown over Jacob's midsection. Bella watches the two of them sleeping. She tries to store every detail in her mind. The rise and fall of Jacob's chest, the way Ian's hair curls against his neck, the shadows Jacob's lashes cast against his cheeks, and how Ian's small fingers curl against Jacob's collarbone. This is mine, Bella thinks as a warm swell of love fills her whole being.
She thinks back to her younger self. She remember how in love she was with Edward and the rest of the Cullens. She remembers how slowly the love changed into something else, how it wasn't enough in the end. She remember how she almost gave this life up.
Bella tries to picture her life without Jacob and her children. She realizes she can't. She shuts her eyes, leans tiredly against the headboard of her and Jacob's bed. She can picture clearly Ian's firsts steps, Sarah's first heartache, holding Jonah in her arms for the first time, and how she'd pretended to be asleep the first night she was with Jacob just to hear him murmur how he loved her, couldn't imagine his life without her.
Bella reaches out, stokes the arm Jacob has wrapped around Ian. "I love you," Bella confesses. "I love you so much. And I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to grow old and wrinkly with you. I want you, Jake, for as long as you'll have me. And that's enough. It's more than enough."
"Why are you so fat?" Ian asks, hands flush against both sides of Sarah's protruding stomach. Jonah laughs from where he's perched on the arm of the couch; he reaches out to ruffle Sarah's hair, snickers "Fatty."
"I'm not fat," Sarah scowls. "I'm having a baby."
Ian's eyes widen. "Right now?"
Bella stands back, watches as Sarah and Jonah fumble through an explanation of a baby's conception with Ian. Jacob joins her, arm sliding around her waist.
"You think we should save them?" Jacob whispers, kissing Bella's neck. She relaxes against him, turns in his hold with a smile.
"Eh. They got it covered."
Bella catches her reflection in the mirror as she exit's the shower. She realizes, with a shock, that she's aged. She traces laugh lines and crow's feet, runs her fingers through her graying hair.
"Jacob," Bella calls. She hears his heavy footfalls, and soon he's right behind her.
"What's wrong?" Jacob worriedly asks.
Bella turns around, leans against the bathroom sink. She reaches out for Jacob, and gets another shock. Jacob's body has softened with age, and Bella feels the familiar swelling of her heart.
Jacob chuckles, dips his head so that their foreheads touch. "So am I."
"How romantic," Sarah sighs, bouncing her newborn, Ava, on her lap. She turns to Jacob. "Did you drop down on one knee?"
"No," Jacob chuckles. "Just popped the question while we were watching one of your Mom's Lifetime movies."
"Hey," Kevin, Sarah's fiancé, says as he pulls out a chair. "What'd I miss?"
"Mom and Dad are renewing their vows. Dad asked last night."
Bella smiles a thanks, reaches across the table top for Jacob's hand.
"Hey, husband," Bella murmurs.
She and Jacob are lying side by side on a hotel bed in Hawaii. The room was a wedding gift from Jonah and Sarah, who is currently watching Ian while Jacob and Bella share a second honeymoon.
Bella smiles, turns her face into the pillow. Her cheeks are pink with embarrassment as she looks up at Jacob. "Is it dumb that I'm nervous?"
Jacob strokes Bella's cheek, dips forward to kiss her. "It's not dumb at all."
Bella lets her body settle into the mattress, twines her fingers with Jacob's. "I'm glad I'm here," she confesses.
"Me too," Jacob chuckles.
Bella shakes her head, says with more emphasis than before. "No, Jake, I'm really glad I'm here."
"Oh." Jacob's brows furrow, his voice dropping low as he answers. "I'm really glad you're here, too."