5 Times Bella Swan Almost Drowned

(And One Time She Didn't)

1. In the Bathtub

Bella Swan is five and a half years old. If you asked her, she'd tell you that the half part is very important; it's what distinguishes her from being a baby and pushes her much deeper into the realm of being a big girl with lots of important responsibilities. Like putting new litter in the kitty's box. And picking up her crayons.

But it's bath night, and Bella's new responsibilities are the farthest thing from her mind because Nana sent her a Mermaid Barbie for her birthday, (despite Renee telling her mother that Bella wasn't the least bit interested in dolls,) and Bella's surprisingly eager to play with her for the first time. See, she's not boring like the other dolls that Becca and Reilly, the girls next door, are always trying to make her to play with. She doesn't come with purses or shoes that you can change. Instead, she looks like Ariel from the Big Book of Fairy Tales. So Bella and Barbie and a capful of bubble bath all go into the tub.

Renee grabs a copy of Glamour and sits on the bathroom floor while they splash, her back pressed against the vanity. It's their weekly ritual, always on Wednesday nights, when Renee doesn't have school and Bella doesn't have that art class at the community center. Bella gets to play and Renee gets to read, and when they're finally done, they go for sundaes at the Dairy Dream. It's a quiet bubble of reprieve in the life of a single mom and her daughter.

And, as usual, life decides to interrupt it as frequently as possible.

Renee's just tackling the knots in Bella's hair with a hand full of Johnson & Johnson when the phone in the living room rings.

"Damnit," she cusses under her breath.

"Awww, Mommy said a bad word," Bella says accusingly.

"I know, and Mommy's sorry," Renee says, looking around frantically as the phone continues to ring in the background. Ordinarily, she'd just let it go, but Susan Withers is due any day now. And, once she leaves, it could mean three months straight in a classroom instead of just substituting all the time. And, if the school likes her at the end of those three months, it could mean a permanent position, regular hours, and a paycheck, along with the ability to get them both out of this cramped apartment.

So when she can't find any towels in the linen closet, she grabs her fuzzy robe off the hook by the door and sweeps Bella out of the tub and into it, soap and all.

"I'm not ready to get out yet!" Bella protests loudly, rivulets of soap running down her face. "I wanna keep playing with Barbie!"

"I know, baby," Renee says, sitting her on the hamper. "But Mommy just has to answer the phone really quick, and then you can get back in. I'll put in fresh bubbles and everything, just…stay there." Renee wipes away some of the soap before it can get in Bella's eyes and then bolts out the door.

"Hello?" Bella hears her mother say down the hall. "Yes, this is she. No, you're not calling too late at all. What can I do for you?"

And Bella screws up her face impatiently, fumbling to get down off the hamper. Renee left the door open and she's shivery and soapy and it's not fair that she has to get out of the tub when Barbie gets to stay in and play no matter what.

From a particularly fluffy pile of bubbles, the doll taunts her. Barbie doesn't have a Mommy to boss her around. She doesn't have to brush her teeth or eat all her broccoli or make her bed.

So, right then and there in the bathroom, at the ripe old age of five (and a half,) Bella decides she wants to be a mermaid instead of a Bella. She shrugs off the robe, which is sticky and damp and matted with shampoo, and scrambles back into the tub. She decides that if she's going to be a mermaid, she had better start practicing right away. So Barbie goes under the water, and so does Bella.

She opens her eyes, and everything looks kinda pink and squibbly, and the soap kinda makes them sting. But Barbie's eyes stay open underwater, and so Bella fights to keep hers open too. She decides this underwater thing is cool – it's nice and quiet and she can't hear mean old Mommy talking in the hallway anymore.

A few bubbles escape her nose, and Bella's chest starts to feel all hurty, but she decides that, like the stinging in her eyes, it's just something she'll have to get used to. Ariel and Flounder and everyone talk and sing underwater, after all. She must be missing something. A few more bubble escape from between her lips, and Bella tries to suck them back in.

Instead, the soapy bathwater rushes into her lungs, and now the hurty feeling is everywhere, and it feels like that time when she got a piece of string cheese stuck in her throat. She coughs and sputters but that only gets more water in her mouth where she doesn't want it. Instinctively she sits up and leans over the edge, hacking and sputtering. She wants to call Mommy but no sound comes out.

There's a crash in the hall and a split second later, Renee comes flying back through the door. "Bella!" She grabs her under the arms and hauls her unceremoniously into her lap, getting water all over herself and the bathmat. With a deft swing, she hits her daughter sharply between the shoulder blades, and Bella erupts water all over them both before taking a shaky gasp. "C'mon, baby," Renee coaxes her, her own tears mixing with the water all over her face. Then, suddenly angry, "What were you thinking, Bella?! I told you to wait!"

Bella just clings to her mother wetly and sobs and sputters into her shoulder. The panic and the fear and the anger in her mother seem to ebb, and the two sit there and hold each other for a long time.

"You can't do things like that, Bella," Renee whispers into the top of her daughter's head. "You can't scare me like that. You're all I've got in the world, baby." For the second time that night, she pulls the damp robe off the hamper and throws it around them both.

"I'm sorry," Bella cries, shaking and hurty and scared all over. She hates the bubbles, and the water, and the stupid Ariel in her book, and the stupid Barbie in the tub behind her. "I just wanted to be a mermaid."


2. In the Pool

Bella Swan is eight years old, and Renee's beginning to worry that the Phoenix environment isn't teaching Bella all the things that she'd been learning in California at her daughter's age. So she signs Bella up for swimming lessons at the local YMCA, despite Bella's most ardent protests.

"You can't make me go," Bella shouts out of a locker room stall. She and Renee have been fighting the entire way here.

"Technically, sweetheart, I can make you go until you're 18," Renee explains in exasperation. Bella thrusts her street clothes out past the curtain in a heap, and Renee takes them from her. "But that doesn't mean I want to make you do this. Just try it, that's all I ask. Who knows, you might even make some new friends…"

It's been six months since they moved to South Phoenix and into the new school district that Renee's now working for. But that move seems to be going more smoothly for her than for her daughter. Bella has yet to bring any little friends home from school, or be invited to any sleepovers, or to play. Her teacher confesses to Renee that Bella's having a little trouble coming out of her shell, and spends most recesses with her head buried in a book. And since Bella has flatly refused Girl Scouts, Renee figures some new classes, and new faces, might be just what she needs.

However, when her daughter awkwardly emerges from the stall, pigeon-toed and wearing a bright blue swim suit with the tags still on, Renee begins to rethink her plan.

"Just try and have a little fun," she tells Bella when she drops her off at the sign-in table by the edge of the pool. "And listen to your teachers."

Bella sulks at her mother's back as she leaves.

Her teachers are all a bunch of high school kids with chipper faces, who talk to her in squeaky, excited voices like she's a baby. With undue enthusiasm, they divide the entire group according to experience, then line them up by the side of the pool to listen to instructions.

The boy sitting next to Bella is a little taller than she is, and he has sandy brown hair and a chicken-pox scar on his chin. He smiles at her, and Bella immediately looks down at her toes. "I'm David," he says.

"I'm Bella," she whispers to her feet.

He just laughs. "You're funny. I like your swim suit. Blue's my favorite color."

She shoots a quick glance over at him out of the corner of her eye. "Thanks, I like yours too."

"You like G.I. Joe?"

Bella panics. "Um, yes. Love it."

"Cool," he says. "I love when they get to jump out of planes in the show, like WHOOSH! I'm going to do that one day, after I get old enough to do that," he says excitedly, pointing at the high dive platforms against the wall at the deep end of the pool. "I'm a piranha, by the way." He holds up his hand, showing her the red wrist band his instructor gave him, indicating his swimming group. "What are you?"

Bella glances down again and looks at the green band on her wrist with disappointment. The instructor with the brown hair told her that she was so inexperienced she'd have to start with the little kids in the guppie group. Bella moves her hand behind her back. "I'm a piranha too," she tells him quickly.

David smiles again, showing off the baby-tooth gaps in his teeth. "Awesome. You want to be my partner for kickboards? My brother Danny usually swims with me, but he's home sick."

"Sure," Bella smiles, struggling to slip her wristband off behind her back. When it falls to the floor, she quickly brushes it backwards into the water of the kiddie pool, where no one will see it. A moment later the instructors start to divide the groups up, and Bella follows David eagerly towards a group of older kids at the deep end of the pool.

Her instructor is already in the pool, a young woman with curly black hair and the same, overly bright smile as the rest. But she doesn't notice that Bella's not wearing a wristband before she shouts. "Alright, piranhas, let's get wet!"

David shoots her another gap-toothed grin before bravely plunging feet first into the water. Bella looks down nervously at the 10ft tile beneath her feet, indicating how deep the pool is, then back at the water. Wet heads and grinning faces are beginning to emerge from the splashes, and Bella summons all her courage when she sees David bob to the surface. After all, how hard can it be?

She holds her nose closed with one hand, takes a deep breath, and hurls herself off the edge and into the water.

It's not so bad at first. She points her feet pencil-straight and cuts through the water quickly, straight down to the bottom. Feeling the tile beneath her, Bella dares open her eyes, and glances up at the waggling feet above her. Just like she saw the other kids do, she bends her knees and propels herself up towards the surface. But she doesn't move in the weightless way she expected. Her kicks carry her up a few inches, but don't send her shooting to the surface the way she expected. Panicking, Bella desperately tries to mimic the arm movements she sees the swimmers making on television, but it's no use. All her thrashing does is spin her about helplessly and bring her to the attention of her instructor.

A moment later the teacher with the curly black hair has her hooked over her arm and is hauling her to the surface. A pair of strong arms reach down from the side of the pool and take her from her rescuer while Bella sucks greedily at the air.

"Are you alright?" a male instructor leans over and asks. He turns her face up, staring intently at one eye, then the other. "Do you feel lightheaded?"

Before Bella can find the breath to answer him, she hears shouting beyond the crowd that's gathered around her. "Move, let me through! That's my daughter!" Renee breaks through the circle of bodies and is instantly at Bella's side, pushing away the young lifeguard.

"Baby, are you okay?" she asks quickly. Bella can only nod, her panic quickly dissolving into humiliation. She sees David's face amongst all those staring at her, wondering what's wrong, and she feels her chin start to wrinkle, her bottom lip quivering. A second later, Renee hauls her to her feet and storms out of there, muttering things like "inadequate supervision" and "lawsuit" under her breath, while Bella wants to crawl into a hole and die as a hundred sets of eyes watch her get dragged from the poolside.

She never goes back to swim class.

She never sees David again either.


3. In the River

Bella is ten years old, and her father has somehow talked her into accompanying him on a fishing excursion: something about sunshine and fresh air being good for her. To say nothing of the fact that he's hoping that Bella and Leah will hit it off, and maybe that'll give Bella more of an inclination to come and visit him.

"God, you are so BORING!" Leah says for what feels like the billionth time as she flops backwards onto the grass. Bella doesn't even bother looking up from her book. It's not her fault that Leah didn't bring something to read. "Don't you ever say anything?" the other girl demands, this time pushing Bella's book down so that she has to look at her. Leah's got a wild face hidden behind a tangle of wild hair, and Bella's secretly jealous of her. Not because she's running around in a bikini top, but because she actually has something to fill it up.

Bella just shrugs. "When I have something to say, I say it."

"I mean, don't you ever just sit around and, you know, shoot the breeze?" Leah asks again. "I mean, what do you talk about with your friends?"

Bella looks down at her book again. It's easier than trying to explain to Leah that she doesn't really know – she doesn't have any real friends to speak of.

But Leah is insistent as ever. "Do you have a crush?"

Bella just shakes her head.

"Do you like movies? Did you see that one that opened last week with Brad Pitt?"

Bella shakes her head again. Beside her Leah practically groans in frustration.

"I'm going to get a soda," she says in a huff, marching to where their dads are fishing down river. Bella's read the same paragraph a half-dozen times, and feels like a record where the needle is stuck too far in the grove, but she can't get past it.

And she's doesn't just mean the paragraph in the book.

Here. In Phoenix. It doesn't matter, she can't get anyone to like her, to understand her. Leah's only trying because she's trapped and her dad told her to. But she's not the kind of girl who needs friends like Bella. She's the kind who can talk to anyone she wants, say anything she wants. No one's going to mess with her anyways. Boys might even stop to listen to her when she has something to say.

But, despite her parents' best efforts, that's not the kind of girl Bella is.

She pushes her nose even further into the ancient Nancy Drew volume, almost wishing she could fall right into the pages and wake up on the other side to find herself a different person. Stronger. Braver.

Prettier.

"Hey, Bella!" someone shouts, and she looks up.

A second later she's hit with a torrent of water, straight in the chest.

Leah stands a few feet away, cackling madly and holding an empty little lap cooler that, moments earlier had been completely full of river water. "You can't come to the river and not get a little wet," she teases as Bella fumes. "It had to happen one way or another."

"You're a jerk," Bella tells her, realizing that her book is no longer in her hands. She glances behind her and sees it floating in the shallows at the water's edge. She scrambles to retrieve it, but before she can grab the cover a swell frees it from its rocky confinement and sweeps it out into the middle of the river. She turns and scowls at Leah.

"What?" She shrugs, still holding the cooler. "You're already wet. Just go after it."

Bella hesitates – she's never really liked swimming. She's too accident prone to really enjoy it. But the river's shallow enough for her to stand in, and it's not particularly fast-moving. She should be able to just carefully walk out into the middle and save Nancy Drew from where she's become lodged against another rock.

"Are you seriously that scared of a little water?" Leah teases again.

Bella groans, and starts wading carefully out into the shallows. It's still pretty cold, despite the fact that it's mid July, but the water is moving gently and she doesn't mind it that much. By the time she makes her way out to the cluster of rocks, though, the riverbed has become so thick with greenery that Bella crawls the last few feet to her prize on her hands and knees, lest she lose her balance walking.

But her book is easily enough retrieved and, despite being waterlogged it looks no worse for the wear. She's feeling triumphant as she makes her way back toward the shore. Overconfident, she tries to stand up, pushes off the bottom too hard, and feels her feet slip against the algae covered rocks on the river's floor. Her momentum sends her tumbling forward, and before she has time to get her hands up, (or maybe it's just her instinctive reaction not to let go of her book again,) she slams headfirst into the side of an impressive boulder nestled into the river bank.

Everything is a blur, a whirl of confusion in which the pain plays a distant second to the disorientation. She tastes copper and salt and the tang of the murky water. She tastes the darkness as it swims in and out of view. Up and down, it doesn't matter. The world is spinning, and she's caught in up in the tumble. And through the din, all she can hear are voices disguised as noise.

"Bella! Can you hear me?"

"Charlie, give her some air. She's alright."

"Okay, just breathe, Bella. Everything's gonna be fine."

It's a few minutes before her world has a horizon line again and gravity starts to make sense. But even then, her tongue feels thick and her lips feel heavy, and the words that come out between them don't sound like her own. "What happened?"

Something cool presses against her face, and she looks up into the worried eyes of Harry and her dad. "I don't know. Why don't you tell me," her Dad says in a stern voice that can't quite mask the worry on his face.

Leah drifts into view, standing behind both men, and dancing nervously from foot to foot. She wears an expression that every kid recognizes: that fear that takes over when innocent mischief descends into something more. When they know that punishments will be handed out more severely than predicted.

"I…" Bella tries to sound convincing. The bleeding and the swollen mouth help sell the story. "We were just playing. I lost my book and went in after it..." Above her Leah has the gall to look relieved.

Charlie reaches down and helps her to her feet, still holding his sweatshirt over the side of her face. "Well I think that's enough fun for one day," he says to Harry. "Can you manage to clean up so I can run Bella over to the hospital?"

"'Course."

"Dad," Bella interjects. "I'm fine. I don't want to go--"

But Charlie is adamant. "You're going to needs stitches on your cheek, and I want to make sure you don't have a concussion."

"But Dad--"

"I don't want to argue about it. We're going, Bella, end of story." He grabs his vest and his keys, and they start the hike back to the car together, both of them silent and sulking.

"Bella," Leah cries out from somewhere behind her. "Wait!" She sprints over before Bella can get into the passenger door. "I just wanted to…" She digs a toe into the soft dirt at the road's edge, looking embarrassed. "Well, thanks for not ratting me out. I'm sorry you got hurt – I was just messing around." She says it softly enough that Charlie can't hear over the sound of the cruiser's engine kicking to life.

Bella's shocked by the sudden show of remorse. But her face is throbbing and her book is ruined, as is the rest of her night if her previous hospital visits are anything to go by, so she doesn't take the apology to heart. "You owe me a new book," she mutters, before climbing into the car and slamming the door as hard as she can.

She's surprised when, a few days later, a new hardcover copy of Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Lighthouse turns up in her mailbox, with a bar code from a bookstore in Port Angeles.

Charlie never makes her go fishing again.


4. When She Meets Edward Cullen

Bella Swan is seventeen years old, and she's just left behind her mother (and best friend) to come to a place that she associates with rain, fish, and memories of her parents' broken marriage. Charlie's home is like a mausoleum of regret and lost chances. School is just another social black hole, a maze of a world that she's never been able to navigate.

She's cut the cord between herself and her mother, and now she's drifting away, looking for someone, anyone to connect to.

Then Edward Cullen pulls her from under a car. Edward Cullen spends the night in her bed.

Edward Cullen doesn't have a pulse, or body heat, or a single imperfection on his skin, and yet he looks at her like she's the destination at the end of the path he's been walking for over a century. He looks at her like he's finally home.

And something inside Bella is awakened for the first time.

He kisses her on the stairs, and it doesn't matter that his lips are ice cold against hers. What matters is the way he tastes, and the way that his eyes feel like they bore back into her head, and stare into the deepest recesses of her soul. It's unnatural and unnerving, but for the first time, Bella finally understands what all those love stories she's read were talking about. She understands the stupid high school drama, the passion, the angst. She understands that it's all in pursuit of this, of finding someone who looks through you, into you, and sees the person you really are, and decides they're going to make that person the center of their world, their existence.

That kind of terror, and that kind of power - it's a rush, an adrenaline high the likes of which eighteen years of life threatening clumsiness could never have prepared her for. Because Edward's mouth is pressed against hers and it feels like the world is falling away as they stand there, leaving nothing untouched except their bodies. They are the center of the universe, and that's a kind of worth that Bella has never known.

Her body funnels all her energy into her lips, shocking her nerves and muscles with more force than she's ever felt before. It's a lightning strike, and she's incapable of feeling anything else. It isn't until Edward pulls away that she realizes that the blackness creeping into her vision and the spinning of the room have nothing to do with the feel of his skin on hers.

"Breathe," he whispers, lips pressed against her ear, and just the strength behind that single word makes her feel like she's about to melt into a puddle in his arms. "You still need to, Bella."

As if at his command, her heart kicks back to life, and Bella heaves a breath the likes of which she's only taken when being pulled from the bottom of a pool. "I just…forgot." And she laughs, because it sounds absolutely crazy but she doesn't care. It's like her body doesn't know how to function in his presence.

But she trembles as he gingerly presses a hand against the left side of her ribcage, just below her breast. "What if I told you that the sound of your heartbeat is the only thing reminding me of my own? That the one thing keeping you alive is also the only reason for my living? Would that help you remember?" he asks, with a sad, crooked smile.

The next time he kisses her, Bella's heart responds so fiercely, it feels like it's about to beat its way through her skin, leaving her with nothing but a hole in her chest.

She thinks she'd be okay with that. If her heart is what Edward wants, it's his to take.


5. When She Loses Edward Cullen

Bella Swan is eighteen years old.

And she is not afraid to die.

Not that she's thinking about death as she stands on the precipice over the Pacific Ocean. But she's thinking about Edward, about the rich, alluring feel of his voice reverberating in her ears and in her brain. And at that moment, Edward is thinking about death.

"Don't do this, Bella," he pleads with her, the ghost that's always at her back. She revels in the sound, deaf to everything else – the whipping wind, the cry of the gulls.

That part of her brain that begs her to stop this while she still can.

All she can hear is him. "You wanted me to be human!" she screams into the wind, a declaration of rebellion. A battle cry.

No one hears it echo against the rocks but her.

She waits, not knowing for what, but for…something. An abstract, an ideal that lies just beyond her reach. She's waiting, praying, for something unobtainable. And she knows it.

He's not coming.

He's not coming back.

He's never coming back.

"Well, then…" it's barely a whisper this time, harsh and under her breath and cut off by tears. Spiteful. "Watch me."

Below her the white tips reach up, beckon her. But there's a rational part of her mind that protests, that sees the sharp rocks and the long drop and feels a shred of fear. Bella pushes it away – she's always afraid now. She's tired of being afraid.

There's nothing below her feet now but the ocean, rushing up to meet her. To crush her. To consume her.

She closes her eyes and waits for its icy embrace.

The water slams against her with the force of a moving vehicle. A van careening wildly out of control. It pushes past her, around her, into her. Forces its way into her nose and her mouth and her lungs. There's pain and the burning of the salt.

And it's glorious.

Bella lets her momentum pull her down until the waves take the last of her speed. It's eerie to look up and see the shadows of the surface so far above her. Eerie and dark. She's not scared though, she's been though worse. And after all, it's quiet down here. No parents she's letting down. No friends she's abandoning. Nothing, just her and the water.

The current kicks her about. She doesn't fight it.

"Swim, Bella." Edward's voice is sharp in her ears, sharper than it should be with all the water. It almost feels like he's there with her, like the kiss of the chilled water is his skin on hers.

She closes her eyes, and it almost feels real.

"Fight, Bella." He's begging now, pleading. "Please…"

"I'm coming," she tells him. "I'll be there soon." The words are soundless as the last of the bubbles slip away. The hurty feeling is back, flaring out of that hole in her chest, and all around her. It's too far to the surface.

"Soon…" She almost doesn't feel the rocks as she's thrown back into them.

And afterwards she doesn't feel anything at all.

"Bella, damnit!" someone shouts. "Breathe!"

Hush, she thinks to herself. She wants the quiet back. She wants the hurty feeling to go away. For good.

It hurts worse than ever, now.

"No, no, no. Don't do this to me. Bella, breathe!" Something hits her sharply between the shoulder blades. And when her lungs seem reluctant to take the advice she feels scorching lips press against her cold, blue mouth and force the air inside.

It burns like acid as it pushes down her throat. It leaves a trail of heat down into her chest, and a second later, she rolls to the side and heaves and coughs and chokes up the saltwater inside her.

She has eyes again and a mouth again and a mind again and she's crying with all of them, silently, wordlessly, until she falls back against his arm and the dam breaks.

And with the first shuddering breath she wails, she sobs against him, for this thing she's become. This hollow person, this empty doll. She sobs because deep in the recesses of her mind, where she buries the things she doesn't want to remember, that she cannot admit to herself, she feels the overwhelming sting of guilt.

She wanted to sing underwater.

She wanted to breathe in the bubbles.

She's old enough to know the consequences.

And so she cries. She feels the pieces of herself beginning to fracture because there's no point in holding them together anymore. But Jacob tries, for her sake. He wraps her up in his too-warm arms and he cradles her limply against his body while she cries. And when at last it feels like she's empty, like she's mourned enough to refill the ocean, he looks at her with his burning eyes. Really looks at her.

"We could've lost you," he says, but she knows what he really means. "What were you thinking?"

"I'm sorry," she lies, her voice barely audible through salt-caked lips. "I just wanted to be a mermaid."


6. When She Falls for Jacob Black

Bella Swan is nineteen and a half. If you asked her, she'd tell you the half part is very important. Every day is very important, because each one represents a milestone passed. A small recovery made. And, slowly, she's learning that she must take each one as it comes.

Slowly, she's learning that she can.

Including this one.

"Just jump," Jake calls up to her.

Bella presses herself back against the rocky wall behind her. "I'm having second thoughts," she calls down to him.

He just laughs and shakes the water out of his hair. "What, you think I'd let anything bad happen to you? C'mon, Bella, after everything we've been through, you really need to have a little more faith in my ability to keep you alive."

He has a point. Rogue vampires and territorial wolves. And almost drowning.

Jacob has saved her a lot. He's getting very good at it.

And this is supposed to be a good thing, a moment of catharsis. But the butterflies in her stomach seem to be telling her otherwise. They remember a time when she stood much higher on the cliff, and stepped off it without regard. They don't realize that things are different now.

Now all she can see in her head are her father and mother, her friends, all the other things she stands to lose if this goes badly. That's a good sign, she tells herself. Still, the water below her seems so much farther away than before…

"C'mon, Bells!" He beckons her down with both hands. "You can totally do this. You're a badass, remember?"

He's been spending the last two weeks trying to convince her of that, telling her each time they walk off the beach and plunge out into the surf. She's not sure she believes him yet, but at least it's nice to hear. She takes a deep breath and looks out at the horizon, rather than down below her. Holding the air in her lungs, she closes her eyes, and lunges off the rock wall as hard as she can.

When she hits the water twenty feet below her, she's ready this time. The water rushes up, frothing up and over her head. Bella exhales out her nose on the way down, keeping the water outside her body, where it belongs. She opens her eyes briefly beneath the surface, braving the salt. Jake swims down beside her, grinning like a maniac.

Then, just like they practiced, Bella rights herself, facing the sky, and kicks with purpose. Her hands claw the water out in front of her, dragging it back around her body. She doesn't linger – through practice they've discovered that she just doesn't have the lung capacity for that. But it doesn't matter, because this time she's moving through the water, not being pulled along with it. And she knows the surface is close, even with her eyes now tightly shut.

She feels him in the water beside her, their arms keep brushing against one another with each stroke. She can feel the current coming off his body. He's slowed down to wait for her, but Bella's climbing steadily.

And more importantly, she's doing it on her own.

They break the barrier just inches apart, and Jake grabs her in elation. "I told you you could do it! Wasn't that a rush?!"

Bella can't help but grin in response, but before she can say anything a whitecap breaks over her head, then recedes, leaving her hacking to get the salt water out of her mouth.

Jake has the decency to look mildly chagrined as he wraps his arms around her, keeping her afloat. "Hey, I might be able to teach you to swim, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to teach you to duck. You're on your own with that one."

She splashes at him, and only then realizes that she's wrapped her legs around his waist in response to his proximity, that he's treading water and keeping them both afloat. "Sorry," she babbles and tries to untangle herself. Jake just wraps his arms more tightly around her waist.

"Please, I'm more than strong enough to keep us afloat," he assures her. But his smile has softened and lost its humor, dissolving into something marred by hesitance and anticipation. Like he can sense something happening.

Bella doesn't know what that is, but she tastes the skin of her lip between her teeth as she looks at him, as she feels the warmth of his body chasing away the cold of the water around them. His shaggy hair is plastered against his face, and she reaches out and brushes it out of his eyes, since his hands are currently otherwise occupied.

His skin burns against the tips of her fingers, and he shivers at her touch.

It's not that strange. They're friends, she tries to convince herself. They're naturally close. They've always been tactile. Her memories of Jacob are consumed with the feel of his hugs, or the way he lets her lean up against him on the couch. She lightly brushes his cheek again.

None of those times felt like this.

And she doesn't know what she's doing when she wraps her arms around his neck, or stops chewing on her lip, or leans in so that their faces are a hair's breadth apart. But at the end of it she's got her lips pressed against his, and she's got her fingers tangled in his hair, and he's drawing her deeper into their embrace. And it's like someone's lit a fire inside her; all she feels is heat and light and Jake. And all she can taste is the salt on his skin. It's unexpected and familiar at the same time, and when it finally ends, she feels Jake grin against her lips.

"Well, it's about damn time," he whispers.

But Bella holds him tightly, breathes as deeply as she can, and remembers she's alive.


A/N: Just a little one-shot that came to me randomly, and it wouldn't leave me alone until it got written, so yeah. And yes, I've taken some liberties with Bella, Renee, and Charlie's histories. Oh yeah, and don't forget to check out myself and Blueandblack over at www[dot]adifferentforest[dot]com, where we're your proud J/B representatives :)

Oh, and thanks to Ceci for quick beta :)