A/N: Oh, God, I can't believe I just wrote this fanfic.

Seriously. I quit fanfiction three years ago. Cold turkey. It was hard, but I did it, and life became a happier and more beautiful place. And now, after all that, it's Twilight that pulls me out of retirement? For a present-tense Bella stream of consciousness? Twilight? When I'm on Team I-Read-This-Series-On-A-Dare-And-Why-Didn't-Someone-Link-Meyer-To-The-Mary-Sue-Litmus-Test? What. The. Fuck. I am so confused right now.

Bear in mind that I prefer the movies, because Bella whines less there. Oh, and because of Charlie - I love movie!Charlie. Purists read at your own risk.

This is cross-posted pretty much all over.


Postcards


lead me to the truth and i will follow you with my whole life
Mumford & Sons, "White Blank Page"


"What if we ran away? Just you and me. What if we left home, and left Sam behind?"


His eyes go wide with shock. "What?"

"Let's just... go," she hears someone say in a voice that sounds a lot like hers. "Tonight. Right now." On impulse, she reaches forward and grabs his hand, and it stings her cold skin like a candle flame. "We can do it. I can do it." A strange sensation washes over her, a certainty she hasn't felt since before she first came to Forks, the steadiness of having a clear, definable goal. "Run away with me, Jacob."

He opens his mouth, but no words come out. A breath. Two. Three. Finally - with all the effort in the world - he inclines his head into a slight nod.

It is good enough for her.

With firm arms she sits him down on the bed, determined to ignore how hollow he suddenly seems. When she pulls her duffel bag off the top shelf of her closet, it knocks her in the head; she waits for him to laugh and tease, but it doesn't come, and that scares her as much as anything that has happened so far that day. Her motions are mechanical, not rushed, or thoughtful, or particularly planned - she may as well be packing for a trip to Jacksonville. A handful of underwear and bras. Some socks. A pair of shorts and two pairs of jeans. Pajamas. Short-sleeved shirts. A hoodie. Sandals. Sneakers.

She looks at her desk and knows she is going to leave without her cell phone and her laptop. She empties her purse of everything except her wallet and a handful of hair ties, grateful for at least those concessions to her appearance - she doesn't dare go to the bathroom for toiletries in case she wakes up Charlie.

Charlie.

"I have to write a note." She glances at him, but he doesn't look up from his feet. "I can't leave the way I left last time." It takes a moment, but he nods minutely. "Do you want to leave something for your dad?" A tiny shake of his head. "Okay."

She pulls a piece of paper from her desk, grabs a pen out of the purple cup, and starts to write.

Charlie-

She stares at the word for a moment, feels disgusted with herself, then crumples up the piece of paper and throws it in the trash.

Dad-

Jacob and I have to go away. I'm sorry I'm not
saying goodbye properly. I don't know when
we'll be back. Tell Renee and Billy that we'll be
fine. Please don't chase us or worry too much.
You didn't do anything wrong. You were
right - I need to get out of Forks for awhile.
I'll write to let you know we're okay.

Love, Bella

Good. That's good. On impulse, she adds:

PS. I'm taking my pepper spray.


He gets into the truck like an old man, like every movement is painful. When he's finally in, she closes the door for him, comes around to the driver's side, turns the key in the ignition. It is one o'clock in the morning.

His head is bowed almost to his knees. She notices his knuckles are white where he is gripping the edge of the seat, and she reaches over hesitantly (since when is she hesitant with him?) and covers his left hand with her right. For the first time - but not for the last - she wonders whether this is a good idea.

But then he looks up at her; his face is tortured, and she sees for a moment how very, very young he is. She wonders how she forgot that he's just sixteen. Sixteen and somehow overnight the whole weight of the world dropped on his broad shoulders, and it's not fair and she has to get him out of here. So she will.

As she pulls out of the driveway, she catches a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror, and it occurs to her with a shock that eighteen isn't really that old either.


They've driven an hour east before he speaks. "Bella?"

"Yes?"

"Where are we going?"

She decides to be honest. "I don't know. Away."

A beat. "Far away?"

"I think so." She wishes she could look at him, but it's dark and she doesn't dare take her eyes off the road. The trip will be cut rather short if she crashes into a tree.

Another beat. "For how long?"

The words come out of her mouth: "Until the truck falls apart." That hadn't been her plan - there isn't any plan - but she knows it's the truth, somehow. They'll just keep going and going until there's no way to continue.

Something comes out of his mouth that almost sounds like a chuckle, and she wants to weep in relief. "That could be a long time. I can always fix it."

"Probably so." She bites her lip. "Is this okay, Jacob?" He deserves a chance to say no. Even though she'll probably ignore him if he does.

She catches his shudder out of the corner of her eye, and reaches for his hand again. His skin is on fire. "Yes," he whispers, the word choked, as though someone has a noose around his neck.

She steps on the gas.


At the first motel she pays with her debit card. It's more expensive than she expects; next time they'll have to find something cheaper, but she's driven for four hours and her adrenaline rush is long gone and this was the only place they'd passed in twenty miles. He and she both collapse into their separate beds without taking off their clothes. For a half second, she wonders with an ache what Edward would think of all this. Then she passes out.

When she wakes up at noon, he is still there. He's even gotten complimentary coffee for her. She looks him over and realizes something in a flash. "Jake," she says, "we need to buy you a shirt."

He doesn't speak, but he does smile.


They go to a bank and she writes a check to herself and empties her college savings account down to the last cent. Almost six thousand dollars, all in a thick pack of hundreds. It terrifies her to be carrying so much cash, and somehow he can tell; he takes the envelope from her shaking hand and puts it in his own wallet. "No one will try to rob me," he says with a wink, and it's the most normal he's sounded since they left, so she doesn't argue. Besides, he's probably right.

He has to wait in the truck while she goes to K-Mart, thanks to the sign on the front door saying No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service. She gets some clothes and shoes, but also toiletries - shampoo, razors, toothbrushes. She hopes he doesn't mind sharing soap. She hadn't thought to ask. She buys a pack of beef jerky in the checkout isle.

When she comes out, the truck is running. He's in the driver's seat.

Instead of sprinting, she walks slowly and deliberately to the passenger's side door, getting in as though she totally expected him to have his head resting against the steering wheel while sweat drips off his back. "Your turn?" she says lightly.

He doesn't respond. Guiltily.

"Would you rather I drive for a little longer?"

He takes in a deep, shuddering breath, then slowly raises his head. "No. I can do it."

"All right, then." She hands him the bag. "Put on a shirt first, though."

His smile becomes a puzzled frown as he digs through the bag. "Boxers? I'm a briefs man."

She'd guessed wrong, and looks out the window to hide her blush. "Buy them yourself next time, then." As he drives out of the parking lot, she points at the turn signal. "Left is east."

"Right." He swallows. "Sorry."


Dad-

Sorry, there's not much room on a postcard.
We're still okay. The truck is holding up fine.

Love, Bella


When they cross into Montana, he perks up considerably, to her immense relief. No more longing looks out the back window, no more clenched fists. He starts babbling happily about whatever pops into his head, and she's so thrilled to hear his voice again that she grins at everything he says.

He doesn't tell her what's wrong, though, doesn't tell her why they had to leave in the first place, but she lets it go for now. She'll ask later.

She lets him drive for a long stretch, satisfied he won't turn around while she's sleeping, and he looks proud to be weaving among the mountains at speeds that make her stomach lurch. He looks his age, even. She can survive the nausea because her heart feels lighter than it has in months.

A few hours later she throws up on the side of the road after a hairpin turn. He laughs at her, but he drives at sixty-five for the rest of the day.


In the motel that night she wakes up to a nightmare, and it takes her a fuzzy moment to realize it isn't hers. He's moaning in his bed. She's at his side in an instant, legs still twisted in the cheap blankets. "Jake? Jacob, wake up, it's okay." She gives him a little shake and he bolts upright, a strangled noise still in his throat. "Jake, look at me." When he doesn't turn, she climbs onto his bed and kneels in front of him, straddling his knees, cupping his face in her hands. "It's me. It's me."

Slowly his eyes begin to focus on her face, as if confused to see her there. "Bells?" His voice is hoarse.

"Yes." She can't see that well in the dark, but she can feel the scorching tears running over her thumbs. Whatever is left of her heart breaks. "Yes, it's Bella. I've got you."

He hesitantly reaches up to touch her hand, and then she is pulled flush against his body, his arms wrapped so tightly around her waist that she knows he'll leave bruises. His face is buried in her neck, she wraps her legs around his waist, and though she admits, has to admit that she thought they might one day wind up in this embrace, she never imagined it would be for this kind of comfort. "Bella," he sobs, and she rubs his back soothingly. "Bella, I have to go back."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do." His entire body is shaking now. She holds him tighter, tries to hold him still. "I can hear them in my sleep. I have to go back."

"Shh." Acting on instinct, she presses her cheek against the top of his head, smelling sweat and something earthy. "It was a bad dream, that's all. It's over now."

His head shakes minutely against her shoulder.

She knows him well. She knows what he needs to hear. "Jacob Black," she says with authority, "you are staying with me."

The trembling stops, and he pulls away from her, just enough to look at her face. "What?"

"You are staying with me," she repeats, enunciating carefully. "I am ordering you to stay with me. And I'm older, so you have to obey."

His bitter laugh is something like a bark. "It doesn't work like that, Bells."

"Yes, it does." Her hands are back on his cheeks and she holds his face firmly. "You're staying, do you understand? You're staying. Even if I have to force you to."

"And how are you going to do that, exactly?" Some of the tension begins to leave his body.

"I don't know, but I'm sure I'll think of something," she says with dignity.

"Handcuffs?" he teases, relaxing.

"If I must."

This time he laughs genuinely, and she giggles in spite of it all. She lets him untangle himself and lay back down on the bed, and she lays down with him, spooning herself against his back, arms wrapped around his heated body. He is not going to disappear on her watch.

Once his breathing has slowed, she finds the courage to ask, "Jake... can you tell me why?"

There is a long pause, then a soft, "No." She frowns, but then he continues, "It seems to get easier the further we go, though."

"Okay, then. We'll go further."

She doesn't leave his bed that night.


Three nights later she is the one who wakes up screaming, and he is the one who strokes her back and sleeps beside her to keep the bad dreams away.


Dad-

The nightmares are getting better.
I miss cooking.

Love, Bella


Weeks pass. Life settles into a strange sort of routine.

Sometimes they drive for ten hours a day, sometimes for just two, but they almost never stay the same place for more than one night. There are a few exceptions - the time she got food poisoning from the fish sandwich in Bangor, for example, or when he begged to stay a few extra days in Yellowstone. By and large, though, they move. They move to stay one step ahead of the demons.


He loves Boston; she hates it. She loves Santa Fe; he hates it. But they both love the sights and sounds and smells of New Orleans (where they hover for four whole days, until they've finally had their fill of cajun shrimp), and they agree that Cleveland is the armpit of the universe. She makes sure they never come within a thousand miles of Forks.


He is a morning person; she is not. One time, though, she wakes before he does, when they are sharing a bed - it happens more often than not now, but they always begin the night separately - and is shocked to feel his erection pressing into her lower back. She squirms from his embrace, waking him up in the process, and he explains to her (clearly trying not to snicker) the concept of "morning wood." She is stunned to realize that that's what the boys on the school bus had been talking about when she was twelve; she had always wondered what was going on, since Truman Middle didn't have any shop classes. When she tells him this, he falls out of bed laughing.


They eat at the greasiest diners. She runs around the truck one hundred times each evening in an effort to keep down the inevitable weight gain, but she's only partially successful - her body fills out to the same proportions it had been before her birthday, before everything fell apart. She complains about this to him, but he smirks and says, "No one likes a twig, Bells." He, of course, remains irritatingly perfect, no matter how many cheese fries he inhales.


His hair is beginning to grow out, and it sticks up adorably first thing in the morning. Her hair, on the other hand, cannot be kept under control; the truck has no air conditioning, and with the windows open all the time, the wind manages to snarl every single strand on her head. After yet another evening of trying to detangle the mess, she storms out, walks to the drugstore across the street, and returns to thrust a pair of scissors into his hands and demand that he cut it all off. His protests are in vain. She heaves a sigh of relief when the weight of ponytail comes away, leaving her hair barely touching the nape of her neck; his relief is even greater than hers when she assures him she really doesn't care that it's uneven. After that he apparently thinks it's safe to tease her about looking like a twelve-year-old, and only his quick reflexes save him from being stabbed with the scissors.


He hates when they can't get radio stations. She can't sleep if the television is on.


Dad-

We got a post office box in Topeka,
in case there's an emergency. #325.
Don't share it. I'm getting a sunburn
on my left arm.

Love, Bella


There are things they don't talk about, of course.

During the times that he is sleeping and she is driving, she thinks of Edward. She remembers Edward's face and voice and touch, and the hole in her chest keeps bleeding. She still cannot watch baseball.

But it's harder to call up the little details when the sun is shining and the road stretches in front of her. Nothing here reminds her of Edward. Her memories don't have any aid from the environment, and because of this, she often goes for hours without feeling any pain. And when he is awake, she can focus on him, and that makes it even easier.

Selfishly, she even takes pleasure in soothing his bad dreams, stroking his hair and holding him close as he fights some desperate instinct to bolt out the door. He still won't tell her why he wants to leave (or why he knows Edward's a vampire or why his body is always a furnace), and she doesn't press. She knows that his secret would change things and she isn't sure she wants things to change. It's just so good to have goals, even if those goals are as simple as going three hundred miles during this day and keeping him calm during this night.

Then they pass through Vermont where it rains soggily against thick pine trees, and she has nightmares for a week straight, as bad as they were in the beginning, ones where she wakes up choking on grief. He does his best to console her, but all he can really do is get her away from the wet forest where she wants to curl up and die. He drives them to Texas, where they bake in the sun until she can breathe again.


The truck sputters to a stop on the side of a county road in Kentucky. For a moment they both stare in disbelief at the smoke rising from under the hood. The truck can't die, she thinks blankly. It can't.

He gets his tool box out of the flatbed and disappears under the hood. She doesn't even let go of the steering wheel, just keeps looking through the windshield at all the red metal that now blocks her vision. The truck can't die. Not yet.

A million years later, or maybe just ninety seconds, she hears a relieved laugh. "It's fine, Bells. Just overheated. Next place we stop I'm gonna change the oil, though."

"Sure," she croaks.

He's perfectly happy when he hops back in the cab, as he always is after he's spent time with an engine. "We should probably get out of the mountains for awhile and go someplace flat, to put less strain on..." He trails off when he sees her face, and she tastes salt in her mouth. She hadn't realized she was crying.

His embrace is almost too warm, but she would never be unhappy with that. "Bells, we're all right. We're not done yet." She nods silently into his shoulder. There is no sobbing, no keening; just steady tears that run their course and leave a wet spot on his shirt. After she's done he plants a kiss in her hair, then another on her forehead, then another, very briefly, on her mouth. When he pulls away, she can tell he's waiting for some sort of response; she's too numb to give him one. He gets their map out of the glove compartment and tracks the fastest way to get to the plains.

That night, as soon as he is snoring, she counts what's left of their money. She's been careful to always find the cheapest motel, get the least expensive thing on the menu, buy the gas that's five cents cheaper to the gallon. All things considered they're not that bad off. But there's no getting around the fact that if something breaks on the truck, they can no longer afford to fix it.

Reality crashes in around her, snatching the breath from her lungs. This won't last forever. It can't last forever. They won't spend the rest of their lives sleeping in ratty motels, munching on beef jerky, looking at the ocean one day and at mountains the next, feeling their faces get grimy from the open windows as they speed along at eighty miles an hour. They'll have to stop.

She crawls into his bed, presses her face between his shoulder blades, and eventually falls into something like sleep.


When they pass through Topeka again, she checks their post office box. There is a package waiting. When she opens it, she finds a note folded on top of crumpled newspaper.

Bella-

Here are some things that might be useful.

I told your mother that you graduated early
and are on a road trip with friends. If you talk
to her, you might want to stick with that story.
She's not thrilled.

Billy said he was going to file kidnapping and
statutory rape charges against you, but I talked
him out of it. So he asks you to tell Jacob that
everyone is okay, that the boys are handling
things but they miss him, and that when he
comes home he's getting a switch taken to his
backside.

People here ask about you and I tell them
you're trying to get a tan.

Love, Dad

PS. Tell Jacob I'll have my shotgun when I
see him again.

She takes the box to the car and sorts through it while he reads her father's letter. (Halfway through, she swears she hears him say "I wish" under his breath.) There is a new can of pepper spray, a pre-paid cell phone with an AAA membership card taped to the back, a copy of renewed car insurance on the truck (which she realizes she'd completely forgotten about - what if they'd been pulled over?), and a white envelope with twenty-five hundred dollars in cash.

Tears prick her eyes, because her father understands.


Dad-

Thanks. I'll work on tanning
so you don't have to lie. Jacob
says he'll buy a flak jacket.

Love, Bella


It becomes something new the day she wonders, randomly, about when he masturbates. She knows he must be doing so, of course - he's a teenage boy - but she's never heard anything at night, and he's rarely out of her sight for any length of time. Through simple process of deduction, she concludes he must be doing it in the shower. What starts as an idle curiosity quickly consumes her whole mind.

She tries not to stare at him while he bitches about the monotony of the cornfields as they drive through Iowa. Is it every day, or just once in awhile? Does he use their soap? What does he think of? Who does he think of? And what, exactly, does he do? This line of thought continues until he snaps his fingers in front of her face, asking where her mind has gone. She pleads exhaustion, yawns unconvincingly, and pretends to go to sleep.

As soon as their bags are dropped at the motel that evening, he's into the bathroom, complaining about the smell of exhaust from the sixteen-wheeler they'd been stuck behind for over an hour. She stops breathing when the shower turns on and listens carefully. Nothing but the noisy patter of water drops in the tub. Then she thinks she hears something like a groan, but it's probably just the pipes in the walls.

Her hand is between her legs and she orgasms before she even realizes what she's doing.

He comes out of the bathroom a few minutes later in his sweatpants, toweling off his hair; she has wiped her fingers on the sheets and is pretending to watch the forecast on the Weather Channel. He warns her that the hot water seems to run out quickly here - then he stops mid-sentence, as abruptly as if he'd been slapped in the face. She freezes as he glances around the room in confusion, watches him take a long, deep breath, tries not to react when his eyes light on her with shock and recognition.

"Bella?" he says hesitantly. He knows. She doesn't know how he knows, but he does.

"What?" She is thankful that her voice doesn't crack.

Whatever innocence she is trying for obviously doesn't work, because he takes a step towards her, his expression changing from shock to something else, something that makes heat coil through her abdomen. "Bella," he says again, an octave lower and barely above a whisper. His voice has so much hope when he says her name, and it makes her feel like the lowest form of life imaginable. Because she's not ready for things to change. She might never be ready.

So she says, "Good night, Jacob," and rolls over to face the wall.

To her immense relief, neither of them have bad dreams. She knows what would have happened if they were in the same bed that night.


She finds that things have a way of changing whether you're ready for it or not.

It's different - it's subtle, but it's different. His touches go on just a little bit longer, like how he leaves his hand on the back of her neck after she asks him to shoo away a mosquito. Now when he hugs her he always kisses her forehead, every time. He pushes at the boundaries slowly, gently, just a tiny bit each day, as though she's a beaten dog who cringes when someone reaches to pet her. She hates that comparison. What she hates most is that she knows it's accurate.

If there are nightmares, though, he never pushes, not even a little. She finds herself both grateful and slightly disappointed. For every time she is afraid he'll move his stroking hand from her stomach to her breast, there is a moment when she hopes that he will. But that combination of feelings only serves to remind her how deeply dysfunctional she is and she usually spends the next morning in a funk. At least until he finds a way to pull her out of it, which he always does.

One afternoon she's in a bad mood; she's watching him eat three pieces of butterscotch pie at a diner, when that very morning she'd discovered that her smaller pair of jeans no longer buttons. "How do you do that, Jake?" she says crossly, trying to eat a house salad made of wilted iceberg lettuce. "How can you eat so much and never gain an ounce?"

He shrugs as he shoves in another bite. "Can't help it if I have great metabolism," he says, mouth full. "It's the privilege of being teenage and male, I'm told."

"Well, it's annoying," she pouts. "You're annoying."

"Bells, you know you love me." She looks up in shock and he is grinning cheekily at her, but there is something more than teasing in his tone, something that surprises her in its confidence.

She flushes and goes back to picking at her salad. "Yeah, well," she grumbles. "Save me a piece of pie, then we'll talk." He gets her her own slice and doesn't seem surprised when they don't actually talk. He seems satisfied with just doing a tiny bit more each day, waiting for her.

Sometimes she lies awake, hating every cell in her body, wondering why she can't just get off the fence and climb into his bed and do what he wants, what she wants. Then Edward's face flashes in her mind and she feels sick. She's never even pictured having sex with anyone else, so what if she thinks of Edward as it happens? He deserves better than that. She is simply too messed up.

After all, if they were just friends (aren't they?) and he came to tell her about some girl he liked who was hung up on her ex... well, she'd have no choice but to run that girl down with her truck. She wouldn't let him be hurt by someone damaged. Least of all herself.


Dad-

I like seeing how summer is different
in different places.

Love, Bella


Much, much later, when she understands a lot more, she's amazed it took so long to happen.

It's after one in the morning. He's unconscious but she's in some strange place where she's too exhausted to sleep, just bone-tired after driving for six hours, nothing is on the television, something in the sheets is making her itch, and to top it all off, her period is starting and she's out of supplies.

She puts her shoes on and goes to the parking lot in her pajamas. To her immense relief, there is one tampon left in the glove compartment. It will spare her the embarrassment of having to send him to the drugstore in the morning. Again.

"Hey, there."

She jumps in surprise. A guy is standing behind her, a little too close, older, built in that wiry way that tells her he would be surprisingly strong. He reeks of beer.

There are times that this would terrify her, but quite frankly, she's too exhausted to give a crap. "Go away."

The guy catches a glimpse of what's in her hand. "On the rag, are you?" He winks at her and her face flushes red. "Some guys mind that, but it doesn't bother me."

Emotions start stumble around inside - annoyance, anger, disgust - but more than anything else, she is mortified that he knows something so personal her. "Go away," she says again, trying to hide the tampon and her humiliation. She wonders if she can get her pepper spray out of the glove compartment without turning her back to the guy. "Go home and sleep it off."

"I've still got plenty." The guy points to his Chevy on the other side of the lot. She can tell he's not some psychopath, but he is very drunk and very stupid and that is dangerous enough. "I bet a drink will make you feel better. Cramps, right?"

"No thanks." She takes a quick second to evaluate her options, then shuts the truck door behind her, slides past the guy (the smell makes her want to gag) and walks quickly towards her motel room. Unfortunately the guy is steadier on his feet than she expects, and he keeps pace with her all the way to her door. "Good night," she says firmly, squelching the tendrils of fear that are finally curling through her tired body. There is a slimy wetness between her legs.

"You're going to bed? Come on, it's still early." The guy leans in and presses a sweaty hand against her cheek.

"Get off me!" she yells, jerking her face away. Only two men have ever touched her like that. This guy is the third, and it makes her feel like something dirty. "Get the hell out-"

The room door almost comes off the hinges as it opens.

She doesn't even see how it happens. One moment the guy is standing in front of her, blinking in surprise at the freakishly tall, half-naked teenager in the doorway; the next moment the guy is groaning in a heap on the other side of the parking lot. Shocked, she says, "Jacob, did you throw..." But she can't continue when she looks up at his face and sees murder there.

"Jake," she whispers to him. He's shaking. He is shaking so badly. "Jake, it's okay."

He responds with a growl.

"Jacob, it's Bella," she repeats, using the same tone she's used in his bed for two months now. "Listen to me, Jacob. It's okay. I'm here. It's okay."

"No," he grinds out through clenched teeth, shoulders hunched, breath coming in sharp little pants, but at least he doesn't bolt. "You're bleeding."

"What?" She glances down at herself and sees the red spots appearing against her pajamas. "No, no, no, Jake, it's my period. He didn't do that. He was creepy but it's okay. He didn't hurt me. I'm fine. Leave him alone. I've got you and we're fine."

The guy has made it into his car and peels out of the parking lot. She hopes the Chevy doesn't hit anything on its way home.

"Do you hear me, Jake?"

Finally he looks down at her, and she sees some of the fury die away. But the shaking doesn't stop.

"Jacob?" She reaches for his arm. He flinches away from her touch and looks over her head at the trees bordering the motel. She knows this time he really is going to run and there is nothing she can do to stop him.

"I'm sorry, Bells," he chokes out, and she closes her eyes in despair. When she opens them - it's only been a split-second - he is gone.


She doesn't sleep - how can she sleep? Instead she stands in the shower under the hottest possible water and scrubs every inch of her body until her skin is red and raw. She soaps her cheek five times where she was touched. She cleans up the blood and soaks her pajama bottoms in the sink. She sits against the headboard and watches five hours of Law and Order reruns.

He stumbles in at six, just as the sky is turning rosy over the mountain peaks. He's trembling, covered in mud and bruises and long, jagged scratches, and he's pale beneath bright red fever spots on his cheeks. He's also completely naked. Wordlessly she wraps a blanket over his shoulders and steers him into the bathroom, and while he cleans up, she finds his other pair of sweatpants and hangs them on the doorknob by the drawstring. Then she climbs into bed and waits, wondering if maybe she's no longer capable of feeling surprise.

It's not long before he's standing next to her, radiating heat and uncertainty. "Bells?"

"Get in," she says, more tired than she's ever felt in her life. He slides under the covers, folding himself around her body, and she sinks into his warmth like a hot bath.

As her eyes flutter shut, he whispers, "Can we go to Miami?"

"Okay," she says.

"I'm sorry, by the way. About everything."

"Shut up and go to sleep, Jake."

His relieved chuckle makes her back vibrate, and they don't wake up for eighteen hours.


Dad-

It's true. 90 and humid is worse
than 110 and dry.

Love, Bella


It takes them three days. It's their first time through Florida; she's quietly steered clear of everything except the westernmost tip of the panhandle. The guilt gnaws a hole in her stomach as they pass by Jacksonville, and she is silently appreciative when he drives fifteen miles over the speed limit to get them away as fast as possible.

They arrive Miami after dark; he skirts around downtown and heads for the beach, driving until they reach a stretch of sand they can have to themselves. Wordlessly they take off their shoes and walk down to the noisy crashing waves. The salt in the air tickles her nose.

She waits.

"This is about as far away as we can get, isn't it?" She can't see his face; the hotels behind them backlight his body.

"Unless you can turn the truck into a submarine."

He shakes his head. "Don't have the parts." Then he is silent again.

Finally, she takes his hand. "Come on, we can go a little bit farther," she says, and pulls him forward gently, walking a few steps into the surf. The water is delightfully warm and the waves suck the sand out from under her toes. She stares out into the ocean, thinking about how the southern Atlantic is nothing like the northern Pacific, hot instead of cold, soft instead of hard, then his lips are on hers and the difference is the same as the seas.

"Werewolf," he murmurs against her mouth.


She doesn't speak as they find a cheap motel on the outskirts of the city. He glances over at her a few times, clearly becoming more and more anxious, but she doesn't say anything to reassure him. Her mind is too jumbled.

Once they are in their room, she sits on the edge of the bed and stares at floor. He paces nervously for a minute, then drops to his knees in front of her, trying to meet her eyes. "Bells? Please, Bells, please, please say something-"

"You were going to leave the other night," she states flatly.

He sucks in a breath.

"You were." She doesn't even recognize her own voice. "Don't lie."

"Yes," he says thickly. "I was."

It's like a magic eye poster, a slightly different focus and now she can see what was there the whole time; the Cold Ones and the wolves. "Because you're a-" strange how it doesn't even surprise her "-werewolf."

"Yes."

Then she hits him. She doubts it hurts much, but he still flinches back, eyes wide.

"You were going to leave." She hits him again and he takes it. "You were going to leave without telling me why." Again. "Because of some stupid werewolf thing." Again. "Why? To protect me?" Again. "Because you don't trust me?"

"Bella," he whispers.

"Don't!" Something old and black bubbles up inside her, and she's standing over him, screaming, "You didn't trust me!" It's awful in her throat but she can't stop. "You didn't trust me you were just going to leave and I would never have known why and you didn't tell me you don't want me he left and I don't know why-" she can't breathe it hurts too much "-why don't I mean anything why am I so wrong why am I so easy to leave?"

"But I didn't leave," he says. His hands come up to rest at her waist. "I'm here, aren't I?"

She collapses in front of him and cries. She cries because Edward left her alone in the woods. She cries because Charlie didn't fight to see her more than once a year. She cries because Renee loves Phil more. She cries because she's sure that if she was better, no one would give her up.

She cries until the black thing in her chest has drained from her body.

She tells him about how she'd forgotten who she'd been without Edward, and how the pain had made it impossible to breathe. (He shakes a little at this.) She tells him about Edward's taste and smell, and how she kept getting pushed away for her own good, how ashamed she'd felt of her desires. (He grumbles under his breath about "bloodsucking douchebags.") She tells him about hearing Edward's voice whenever she did something dangerous, and how that had been her original motivation to fix up the motorcycles. (He starts to say something then chokes it back.) She tells him how for months all she'd wanted was to die. (His arms tighten so much she swears her ribs will break.) She tells him how she's severely messed up in the head, and that he deserves someone sweet and undamaged. (He calls her an idiot.)

He tells her how ripping Laurent's arms off with his teeth had been exhilarating as a wolf, but how when he'd shifted back into human form he'd thrown up for hours. (She strokes his hair and feels a little sick herself.) He tells her about hearing other people in his head, and how he couldn't keep a single thought for himself, how everyone had known everything about him no matter how much he didn't want them to. (She thinks she could kill Sam.) He tells her how the rules of Alpha work, and how he trusts her more than anyone but had been literally incapable of telling her his secret until they were far enough away. (She knows she could kill Sam.) He tells her about how he feels like the worst traitor for running, how hard it had been to disobey, how it had been like a wound in his chest. (She says no one should dictate his life but him.)

Then she is silent for a long time, and he says, fidgeting, "What are you thinking about?"

Someone else asked her that question long ago, but she brushes the memory away with stunning ease. "Nothing."

"Liar."

She leans in conspiratorially. "Do you really want to know?"

A smile plays at the edge of his lips. "Definitely."

"I'm thinking," she pauses dramatically, "that I really should have just dated Mike Newton."


When they are in bed - the same bed, of course, there is no longer any question of sharing - she says, her face pressed against his spine, "Jake?"

"Mm-hmm?"

"If it was so hard to run, how did you manage it?"

Long moments pass, and she thinks maybe he didn't hear her, until he says, "You told me to stay."

She kisses the back of his neck and he shivers in response. It's all different now, and finally, she's ready for it.


Dad-

I'm doing great.

Love, Bella


The first time they make love, it's awkward - neither of them know quite what to do beyond the basic mechanics, he's as gentle as he can be but it's still painful, and just as she's starting to enjoy herself he can't hold out anymore. But he's a teenage boy and a wolf besides, so he's ready to go again within half an hour; they spend the entire night experimenting with each other and with themselves. She's most comfortable on top, where she can control the speed while he circles his thumb over the place he has found between her thighs, and he is adorably proud of himself when makes her climax with a shuddering moan. He begs, actually begs when she teases him with her mouth and swallows around him, making her feel like the most powerful being in the world, though she's the one begging a few minutes later when he flips her over and enthusiastically returns the favor. As the sun starts to rise his scorching weight is pressing her into the mattress, his chest against her back, his hands sliding under her body to grip her shoulders, his voice murmuring a mantra of love you love you love you into her hair. She comes so hard that she's surprised she doesn't have a stroke.

When she wakes up around noon she feels like a human wishbone. He's gone, but there's a note on the nightstand promising he'll be back in an hour. He returns with a bag of fast food, a huge coffee, a bottle of aspirin, and the largest box of condoms she's ever seen; he's bouncing on the balls of his feet, grinning, looking like an overgrown puppy. She groans and pulls a pillow over her head. It takes a long bath and three aspirin before she'll admit that she's feeling awfully... relaxed.

After all that they've been through and told and felt and done, it's when he hands her the coffee that she finally says she loves him. And she means it.


They keep traveling, but not quite so far each day. Somehow, they're always at a motel by four in the afternoon, and they don't check out until eleven in the morning. And the box of condoms runs out a lot faster than she expected. She stops in a clinic and picks up a free sample of birth control pills; it's even better with no barriers, though it takes him a few tries to grow accustomed to the added sensation and regain his self-control. She kisses away his embarrassment and says they'll just have to do it again, won't they?


Slowly, they get more creative. She splurges on a lacy piece of underwear, and realizes her mistake when he tears it in his impatience to get it off. Her curiosity is finally satisfied when she climbs into the shower with him and asks him to demonstrate his masturbatory technique (he does use soap). He talks her into some light bondage, using the bedsheets as makeshift ties; to their mutual shock, he is the one who likes being tied up, while she is the one who has the most fun raking her nails down her chest and tormenting him by hovering just out of reach.

On a particularly boring stretch of highway, she unbuttons his shorts and drops her head into his lap - he nearly drives off the road, and then a passing trucker sees what's happening and gives them a thumbs-up. She leaps back in mortification, but he just honks to the trucker and waves cheekily, not in the least bit chagrined. For the rest of the day she grumbles and swears she'll never have sex with him again, but after an hour in bed of teasing caresses, she's forced to admit that she may have been a little hasty in her original judgment.


There is an evening that she is shirtless in bed, being driven mad by his hot mouth on her breast, when he skims his hands down her sides and she giggles.

He stops what he's doing, the jerk, and looks up at her. "Are you laughing at me, Bells?"

"Of course not. Keep going."

Watching her face closely, he brushes his hands down her side again, barely touching her ribcage. She bites her lip and tries not to twist away. He smiles a slow, wicked grin, one that shows all his teeth. "You're ticklish."

"Am not," she says, aware that she's a terrible liar, especially when she's half naked.

"Yes, you are. You're ticklish." His index finger digs into her ribs lightly and another giggle escapes from her throat. "How did I not know this?"

"You're usually thinking about other things when I'm naked," she points out. "Things that you should be doing now, by the way." She arches her back a little, hoping to get him back on track.

But it's too late, and then she's gasping for breath and squirming as he tickles her relentlessly, both of them laughing uproariously like the teenagers that they are.


One day, after a shower, she looks in the mirror and realizes she's gotten the tiniest wrinkle next to her left eye - a laugh line. It doesn't bother her.

Maybe she's not growing old, she thinks. Maybe she's just growing up.


The letter is waiting for them when they return to Topeka.

Bella-

Billy says to tell Jacob, and I'm quoting directly,
that "it's gone, things have stopped, everyone
is feeling better, so come home dammit." I have
no idea what that's about, but Billy seems to
think Jacob will know what he means.

I'm having trouble keeping your mother at
bay. You may want to call her or something.

If you bring Jacob back, it would be great if
you stop by, even if it's just for a little while.

Love, Dad

As he reads it his face is grim, and he burns the tires as he speeds away from the post office.

She waits for an hour, but eventually she gets tired of waiting for him to volunteer and asks him flat-out what Billy means. He explains that once the vampires are gone, werewolves settle down and become more human again, since there's no more instinct telling them to fend off the enemy.

"Does this mean they'll be out of your head?" she asks.

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Will you still have to obey orders?"

"I'm not sure." His knuckles are white against the steering wheel. "I wish I knew."

They drive in silence for a little longer, until she says, "Do you want to go home, Jake, and find out?"

"I... maybe." He takes his eyes off the road to look at her. His expression is full of dread. "But not if it means this will change."

"Change is part of life," she replies, and she wonders how she became the girl who is able say those words. The real world is closing in on them, she can feel it.

He makes a noise in the back of his throat and shakes his head forcefully. "Then no, Bells. We're not going back."

It's too late - she's thinking rationally and resignation is settling into her chest. The money is nearly gone and the truck has been making funny noises. She feels like she's waking up from a dream. "We can't do this forever, Jake. You know that."

"No," he says.

"If we go back now-"

"No!"

"-then it can be on our terms."

With a violent jerk, he pulls over into the grass on the side of the road, almost running into a field of soybeans, barely taking the time to put the truck in park before he pulls her into his arms and buries his face in her hair. "I won't give you up," he says desperately, hands fisting into the back of her shirt. "I won't. If I have to rob banks and steal cars to keep us going, then that's what I'll do, Bells. I'll do anything, anything except give you up."

His skin is fiery hot through his clothes. "Oh, Jacob," she says, saddened by his panic. "Do you really think being in Forks means you won't have me?"

Under her cheek, she feels the breath stop in his chest. "What?"

She pulls back from him, just a little, just enough to look into his eyes. "Do you think," she says slowly and clearly, "that this is conditional on cheap motels and tanks of gas?"

He searches her face, looking for something. He is sixteen. "Not for me," he whispers, "but you... you might..."

She grabs his face and crushes his lips to hers, and then they are scrabbling out of their clothes and she barely feels the steering wheel bruising her back as he thrusts into her, clutching at her body as though she might pull away from him at any moment. She doesn't.


Dad-

We're on our way home.
See you soon.

Love, Bella


Maybe it has been waiting to be "christened". Maybe it is like a old family dog, knowing somehow that it needs to pick the right time to go. Maybe it is just coincidence. But two days later, the truck sputters to a stop just outside of Milwaukee, wheezing like an old smoker suffering from emphesyma. He works on the engine, a doctor continuing to shock a patient's heart long after it has stopped beating, but deep down they know there is no point.

He hugs her tightly as the truck is towed away.


The Greyhound bus takes forty-seven hours to get from Milwaukee to Port Angeles. They negotiate the whole way.

He agrees to graduate from high school, as long as he can get into the online program that will allow him to finish in one year instead of two - and he only agrees to this much because it will take her until December to graduate anyway.

She agrees to drop everything and leave again if her nightmares start to come back.

He agrees to not turn into a wolf if Charlie shoots at him.

She agrees to not throw bricks at Sam.

He agrees to get the Rabbit to pristine condition, so it will last them for a long time once they decide where they want to go, since they can go anywhere.

She agrees to research the job markets and cost-of-living in the cities that they liked.

He agrees to believe her when she says she'll love him no matter where they are.

She agrees to believe him when he says he'll always come back.


Eighty-two days, sixteen hours, and twenty-one minutes after they left, they arrive home. She is the one who puts the quarter into the pay phone, the receiver feeling foreign and strange in her hand. She hasn't used a phone since they left.

"Dad?"

There is a long pause, then, "Bella?"

"Yeah." She swallows. "We're at the bus station in Port Angeles. Any chance you can come pick us up?"

"Sure." Charlie's voice is calm. "I'll be there in an hour."


The trip back to Forks is predictably silent. Charlie makes him sit in the back, and the sensation of riding next to someone else is disconcerting. She stares out the window at all the damp greenness, and she thinks of Edward walking away from her through the trees; there is an ache, but the pain isn't real, it's only a memory of pain. She supposes that that will never entirely go away. It's okay. It's part of who she is.

In front of the house, Billy is waiting for them in his truck with a set jaw and thunderous eyes. Charlie gets out of the cruiser, walks over, and she hears a muttered, "Give them a second." She is heart-wrenchingly grateful.

They walk to the other side of the front yard for just the tiniest bit of privacy, and somehow it's awkward, like they're not quite sure what to do.

She says, "Can you hear them?"

He closes his eyes and frowns, seeming to concentrate. "A little. Feelings, really," he says finally. "It's not so bad. They can tell I'm back, and Sam's planning to punch me in the face." A beat, and then he smirks. "Quil and Embry just want details."

"Don't you dare," she warns.

"C'mon, just a few? You won't deny me the chance to look good, right?" He gives her an innocent, earnest look that she knows to be entirely fake.

She rolls her eyes. "Fine. But no specifics." Then she places a hand on the back of his neck and pulls his lips down to hers, kissing him gently. "My bedroom window will be open," she says. "You'd better be there."

He smiles. "Not going to start sleeping alone now." He leans in for another kiss - and then they hear someone lean on the horn, making them both jump. With a grimace she takes his hand and leads him back to where Charlie and Billy are waiting.

She stands in front of her father, who looks at her hard for a long minute. "She looks happy," Charlie finally grumbles. "So I won't shoot you. Now get out of here before I change my mind."

He lets go of her hand (she feels a painful loss of warmth) and gets into his father's truck. The windows roll up and she can hear Billy yelling, though she can't make out the words. What she can make out is that he seems unabashed and confident - she knows he's not sorry about what they've done. Neither is she. And though she misses him already, she's not afraid. She knows he's coming back.

Charlie waits until the truck is out of sight, then asks, "Are you married?"

"No."

"Are you pregnant?"

"No."

"Are you staying?"

"Yes. For awhile. A year or so."

"Have you called your mother?"

"Not yet."

"Did you need your pepper spray?"

"I tried it on a hamburger once."

"How was it?"

"Disgusting."

"Okay."

And, for the first time in her life, her father pulls her into a bone-crushing hug.

the end.