A/N: Another story. This is the last one, I swear. I'm done after this. I can quit any time I want!
i really fucked it up this time, didn't i, my dear?
-Mumford & Sons, "Little Lion Man"
There were days that Bella seemed okay. Sometimes she would ask a bunch of questions about the bikes, or about what he was reading in school, or how he managed to eat an entire deep-dish pizza in one sitting (her running theory, she said, was that he had a TARDIS stomach -- and then she'd lectured him for not knowing his British TV). There were even times that he made her laugh. Those were good days. Jacob kept all those days filed in his head (on Monday the 16th, she hummed along with the radio) and replayed them every night before he went to sleep.
Then there were the bad days, when Bella would sit against the wall with her arms wrapped around her knees and stare at nothing.
This was one of those days.
"Hey, Bells? Can you hand me that?" Shit, the crescent wrench was just out of reach, and if he let go of the bolt now, the whole damn engine would fall apart.
Great. "Bella?" Jacob said loudly, waving his free hand in front of her face. "Wake up, Bella."
Her eyes cleared as she blinked at him in confusion. "Hmm?"
Yep, definitely one of those days. "The crescent wrench?"
"Oh, right. Sorry." She reached for the right wrench and handed it to him, and he felt a surge of pride. The last time he'd asked her for a crescent wrench she'd given him a pair of pliers. He was just about to tease her about how this was an exponential increase in mechanical skills, when she settled back against the wall and stared off. Again.
Sometimes, Jacob wished his sisters were around, so that he could ask them what you're supposed to do with a moping female. Is it better to just leave them be? Should you distract them? Should you try and get them to talk about it? But he knew what would happen; his sisters would give him shit for the rest of his life. They'd be having Sunday dinner sixty years from how, all wrinkly and smelling like Vicks Vapor Rub, grandchildren playing on the floor, and Rachel would grin around her dentures and say, Hey, remember the time Jake asked us how to get that Bella chick to like him, and we told him to write poetry in iambic pentameter? That was great!
He'd also considered asking Quil and Embry what they thought. But that conversation was so pre-destined that he didn't even need to go through with it. You are totally pussy-whipped, Embry would say. Nah, Quil would respond. You have to be gettingpussy to be whipped. And then Jacob would have to break their noses and that wouldn't go over well. (At least you can punch your friends. You can't punch your sisters. At least, not once you've hit puberty and outweigh them by sixty pounds.)
So he was on his own with the Bella Situation.
I'm never going to get this right, he thought savagely, twisting the bolt on with a bit more force than was strictly necessary. He tried to convince himself he was thinking about the bike.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Sure." Fuck, he was going to need another bolt before--
"Do you think there's one person for everyone?" Bella asked.
Jacob nearly dropped the engine. "Um..." Oh, shit. This had Very Important Discussion written all over it. "Why?"
"I was reading Shakespeare again," she said, her voice not entirely there, "it's, well... Romeo and Juliet, for example. Seems like they were meant for one another."
Oh shit oh shit oh shit. Quick. Think of something.
"Haven't looked at it since freshman year," Jacob said, "but wasn't Romeo in love with some other girl first?" He hoped he came off casual, because he had the sinking feeling that everything he'd ever wanted hinged on how he handled this conversation.
"Yeah. Rosaline." Bella sounded so miserable, and here he was, hands holding a motorcycle together, unable to hug her. "I wonder what happened to her."
"She probably found someone else and turned out fine." Oh, please, let this be the correct response. Jacob nodded at the bike. "Like... cars. You can't always find the original parts. But sometimes you find other parts, different parts, and those parts make the car run even better than it did the first time, when it was new." Oh, God, what the hell was he saying? "Engines can be rebuilt from junk and become something awesome, you know?"
Jacob heard Rebecca's voice in his head. Car analogies. Good job, twerp. Next you should tell her how breakups are like the Eagles' nickel defense! He resisted the urge to bang his head against the concrete floor.
"Engines are different than people, though." Bella's voice was low and sad.
Leave her be? DIstract her? Get her to talk about it?
Leaving her be would leave her sad. Completely unacceptable.
Distracting her would work for now, but they'd be in the same place tomorrow. Not bad, but not great, either.
Getting her to talk about it would move him to a place even worse than friendville -- he'd become her therapist. His chances with her would diminish to nothing.
Leave her be. Distract her. Get her to talk about it. Time to choose, Jake.
She sniffled, and his decision was made. "Bella," he said, hands still trapped in the fucking bike, "do you want to talk about it? Tell me what I need to do. I..." he swallowed, "...I really hate seeing you like this." The hell with his chances. He'd be whatever she needed him to be, and that was that.
Bella blinked and shook her head. "Right. I'm sorry." Then she smiled, but it was a sad smile, so that didn't count for the list. "I'm really bad company today," she said, standing. "I'll see you later."
Oh, shit. "No, no, Bells, that's not what I meant!" There was nothing for it -- he let go of the engine and tried not to wince when pieces of it clattered to the floor. He needed his hands for something more important, and that was pulling Bella into a hug, which he did before she was able to take a single step away. "I don't want you to go," he said into her hair. "I just want to help."
She sighed against his chest, her breath warm. It felt good. This felt good. He just needed to find the right words to tell her that. "Jake... what could you do?" She chuckled, but it was sad too, so it also didn't count. He hated it when her smiles and laughs weren't good things. "I'm pretty sure I'm beyond help, here."
"Now, why the hell would you think that?"
There was a long pause, then Bella mumbled something into his shirt.
"Sorry, didn't catch that."
She wet her lips -- he knew because he could feel it through the fabric. That felt good, too. Focus, dammit. "I see him," she said, so quietly that he could barely hear her. "When I'm doing something that's-- I mean, I really see him, Jake."
Oh. Jacob tightened his arms around her as he felt an old, familiar pain in his heart. "That's pretty normal, Bells. It's the environment, you know? When things look the same, you just... expect to see certain things. When I was a kid I used to wake up and think my mom was in the kitchen, cooking pancakes. But it goes away after awhile."
Her voice was muffled as she said, "I don't want it to go away."
This is not a healthy girl, his sisters would warn. Watch yourself. But it was way too late for that advice -- and after all, Jacob reasoned, any guy who falls hard for such a not-healthy girl obviously has a few screws loose himself.
Bella sank back down to the floor. He sank right with her. Damned if he was going to let her shut off again now. "He took all my pictures," she said after a moment, staring at the concrete.
"He came into my room while I was out and took all my pictures of him. I don't have any proof he was real. If I don't see him anymore, then how will I know he was ever here?" She smiled at Jacob through eyes filled with tears, and it was the worst thing he'd ever seen. "Sometimes I think I've gone crazy, like it was a dream or something. Like he didn't exist at all. After all, best case scenario, I imagined that he loved me when he didn't. That's pretty bad, right?" She tried to laugh, but it came out choked. "I'm crazy, Jake, I really am. I see things that aren't there. Something is broken in my head and I can't--"
Before Bella could finish, he pulled her roughly back into his arms. She settled almost into his lap and rested her head against his shoulder, trembling.
Edward Cullen did this, Jacob thought. Edward Cullen made Bella Swan think she'd lost her mind. Edward Cullen made Bella Swan believe there was something wrong with her.
Edward Cullen was a dead man.
First he'd grab the asshole by his stupid bronze hair and smash his face into the wall. When Cullen went down with a broken nose, writhing and moaning, Jacob would grab the tire iron and--
"Jake?" Bella gasped. "Can't breathe."
He instantly loosened his grip. "Oh. Sorry." Focus. He'd come up with a list of ways to kill Cullen later. A long list. He had dozens of ideas. "Listen, Bells, you're not crazy, okay?"
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do." He allowed himself to kiss the top of her head. "I saw him, remember? He was real." And he was a fucking douchebag. "You're gonna be okay, Bella. You're just... grieving, that's all. You'll feel better soon, and when you do, you'll stop seeing him. And that," he said firmly, "will be a good thing."
Bella was silent for a very long time. Congratulations, Embry would say. Now you're her shrink. Totally pussy-whipped. Then Quil: I told you, you can't be pussy-whipped without pussy, and Jakey here's gonna die a virgin at this rate. And that was... oh, God, it was probably true. But if Bella was happier, it would be worth it. Mostly.
Finally she pulled away. Jacob held his breath, praying he hadn't fucked this up.
"Yeah. I think... maybe... yeah." Bella seemed to relax a little. "If I didn't... maybe I'd feel less crazy all the time and-- maybe that would be a good thing."
"Yes." Less crazy meant less sad.
"Maybe," for some reason she looked shy, "do you think I could just spend more time, you know, around here? With you? It seems to help. I feel... better when I'm here."
Then she smiled at him. Just a little. But it was the good kind of smile.
Jacob was speechless. What was there to say in response to that?
"Sure, Bells! You can definitely come over more! In fact, instead of going home at night, why don't you just stay here with me forever and by the way I think about you all the time and if you could maybe see your way toward loving me just a little bit I promise I'll spend my whole life making sure you never have anything to be sad about ever again? We can start on that right now if you'd like!" Because professing his adoration like a total idiot was obviously what would work here.
But he needed to say something.
Rebecca would be rolling eyes right about now. Then, remember when that Bella chick said she wanted to hang out with him more, and the lovesick twerp just sat there and stared at her? Then she ran out the door and never came back? Rachel would laugh. That's our baby brother: the most hopeless dork in the history of the rez.
Bella's face had started to fall. "But, if that's a problem, that's fine, I mean, I'm over here working on the bikes a bunch of the time anyway, so if you don't want--"
"--of course I want." Jacob was painfully aware of how eager he sounded ("Whipped!") but there didn't seem to be much he could do about it, because he did want. All he felt anymore was want. "Spend as much time here as you feel like. Every day. I'm not going to get tired of you, you know."
Her smile turned sad again. "You might."
"No," he said positively. "I won't. Not ever." Then Jacob did something really, really stupid.
He kissed Bella Swan.
He brushed his lips across the sad smile (she was softer than he'd imagined, how was that even possible?), just long enough to feel her gasp against his mouth, then pulled back, his skin tingling.
Bella stared at him with wide eyes.
So, Rachel would say. You decided to be a good friend and comfort the girl through a period of extreme sorrow, then once she opened up to you, you used her emotional vulnerability as a chance to cop a feel. Bravo, little brother. Glad to see you've grown up to be a total ass.
Man, that was brilliant. He could practically see Quil and Embry grinning. Of course, if we like it, it probably was a dick move.
Jacob swallowed. There was no way to salvage this. "Uh, Bells, I--"
"You're warm," she interrupted. She was still looking at him in shock, but her tongue darted out to wet her lips, and Jacob stopped breathing for a moment. Then -- then! -- she reached up slowly, cautiously, and touched his mouth with her fingertips. "You're warm," Bella repeated, as though it were the strangest thing in the world.
"I... guess." Warm didn't really cover it. He was pretty sure he was going to burst into flames if she kept looking at him like that.
Her eyes didn't leave his mouth, and she still seemed... confused? "Do you mind," she said softly, "if I--"
"I definitely don't mind," he assured her.
Bella's lips met his this time, moving against him gently, one hand coming up to brush his cheek. She kissed him like she was looking for an answer. Jacob just held still, ten percent of his brain chanting don't fuck up don't fuck up while the other ninety percent was a steady stream of bella bella bella bella bella...
She broke off a moment later, bit her lip, and looked at the floor, the wall, anywhere but him.
Let the girl talk first, Rachel and Rebecca would say. Yeah, keep your damn mouth shut, Quil and Embry would add.
Jacob stayed silent, his heart pounding in his chest. Don't fuck up don't fuck up don't fuck up...
"So," Bella finally said. "Um... yeah." She still wasn't looking at him, and he thought his chest would cave in under the strain. Another long, painful beat, then she finally met his eyes, which were sad again. "I'm sorry, Jake, that was--"
"--good," he broke in, heart still racing. "That was good." If he was screwed then he was screwed, but he was at least going to be honest.
Bella blinked for a second -- Jacob tried to keep breathing -- and then... she smiled hesitantly. "Yeah," she said, sounding a little surprised. "It kind of was."
There were a lot of things Jacob wanted to do in that moment -- he'd need to make another list -- but he settled for reaching forward and gently tucking a strand of hair back behind her ear. She closed her eyes and leaned, very very slightly, into his hand.
Then she said, "I should get home." His face must have fallen, because Bella added quickly, "It's late. Charlie's going to be wondering where I am."
They stood up together, and Jacob looked over at the clock on the wall. Huh. Eight-thirty. How'd that happen? "Yeah, I suppose so. You'll be fine getting back?"
Bella rolled her eyes. "I can drive, Jake," she said, falling into familiar banter.
"Uh-huh. What about that deer last week?"
"It's not my fault it was suicidal! It came out of nowhere!"
"No, it came out of the woods, which is where deer come from. Try to dodge Bambi this time, all right?"
She snorted, and Jacob figured that they were never going to speak of this again. But he'd kissed her -- he'd kissed Bella -- and even if he didn't get to speak of it, no one could make him forget it. He'd remember the feel of her lips until the day he died.
Bella gathered up her stuff while Jacob examined the engine pieces that had fallen from the bike and broken apart. Easily two days of work undone. It was worth it.
He looked up. Bella had paused at the garage door. "Yeah, Bells?"
"If I do come around here more," there was that shy look again, "that's still okay, right?"
"Of course it is." How could she imagine he'd think otherwise?
"And, um..." Bella studied the wall like it was covered in Renaissance paintings instead of powertools. "If... good things... happened while I was over... I mean, sometimes, not all the time... would that be okay, too?"
Would that be okay.
Jacob stood up, wiped his hands on his jeans, strode over to the door, bent down, and for the third time, he kissed Bella Swan. He kissed Bella Swan like he'd never doubted for a moment whether it was the right thing to do.
When he pulled back, she smiled -- the best smile he'd seen yet. And then she was blushing and stammering something like "I'll see you tomorrow" and escaping out the door in a flustered mess. He heard the truck start, and he leaned out the door and waved to her. Bella hesitated, but gave him a little wave back.
Then she was gone.
Holy shit, Rachel and Rebecca would say, shaking their heads, he got it right.
Holy shit, Quil and Embry would say, completely flabbergasted, he got it right.
Holy shit, Jacob thought happily, I got it right.
This was a good day.