'Love Actually' Contest

Title: After the Storm

Characters: Bella/Jacob

Disclaimer: Twilight does not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.

Image that inspired me: Mostly Picture 12, with a little bit of Picture 17

Summary: After receiving news of her father's death, Bella returns to Forks, finding comfort in the arms of her best friend. Entry for the 'Love Actually' Contest. AU/AH. Rated M.

The wind is crisp as it whips through her hair. Salt water mists in the air, stinging her already flushed cheeks. The ocean's spray mixes in with her tears. She knows that she should feel cold, that the thin sweater hugging her body isn't adequate protection against the elements, but she feels nothing.

She is numb.

The roar of the waves on the shore drowns out the sound of his approach, but she feels his presence coming closer. He stops beside her, and she doesn't even flinch. Her eyes are still trained on the surf, unfocused.

"Hey, Bells," Jake greets her softly.

She says nothing.

"Sue was worried about you. I told her you probably went out to the beach."

She still doesn't speak but finally turns her head, acknowledging his presence with a quick glance of her red-rimmed eyes.

He stands next to her silently for a few minutes as she returns her attention to the horizon, watching the ocean. The waves lap at the sand in a hypnotic rhythm. Even though he has lived beside the shore his whole life, Jacob is still entranced. He has spent many long hours on this beach, staring out into a seemingly endless expanse, just thinking.

From his experience though, the deepness of the ocean always leads to the darkest thoughts.

He knows he needs to pull Bella back to the familiar shore.

"Remember that summer?" Jacob asks quietly, finally breaking the silence.

"Yeah," her voice cracks, thick from all the tears shed and words unspoken over the past week.

Has it only been a week?

"We spent every day out here on this beach," Jacobs voice is gentle as he tries to draw her in.

"While our dads-" her voice cracks at the word, even though she called him 'Charlie' for as long as she could remember.

Jacob puts his arm around her shoulders and squeezes gently in response. He mentally chastises himself, but there is no way to avoid it. It was their fathers' fishing trips that were the catalyst for their friendship. Charlie's imprint is everywhere.

It hurts Jacob, too. Losing Charlie was like losing a second father. After his mother died, Charlie was there for all the important milestones in his life, especially when Billy couldn't be. He came to school programs and track meets. He was the one who convinced Jacob that he should apply to community college in Port Angeles. He even lent Jacob money so he could start up the garage he now ran in Forks.

The pain of loss cuts him deeply, but he knows that Bella needs him to be strong.

So he continues.

"I remember you trying to collect seashells, but we didn't have anything to carry them all in. You ended up just keeping one. You said it was going to be your good luck charm."

She instinctively reaches her hand into her pocket. The shell is still there as it always is – rough ridges on the outside, smooth as silk on the inside. A charm from a life she never quite got to live.

She pulls it out of her pocket and uncurls her fingers, holding it out in her palm for Jacob to see. He gasps softly at the white token that Bella has kept in her possession for over 15 years.

"I'm not feeling very lucky anymore," she whispers angrily, glaring down at her palm as if the tiny piece of calcium and carbon was the reason for her broken spirit.

Jacob brings his free hand up and closes Bella's fingers over the shell.

"Keep it," is all he says.

Those two simple words are enough to make the dam break. Bella turns suddenly into Jacob's chest, a wracked sob shudders through her body as she begins to cry tears she thought had already been shed. He pulls her in even closer, like a pillar she can cling to as the waves crash around her.

His shirt is speckled with wet spots when she pulls back, lifting her head up to meet his eyes.

She shakes her head as she speaks, "I'm not ready to go back. I can't go back and pretend that everything is okay."

"No one expects you be okay. We all love you, Bella."

His heart breaks a little at the idea that even now she is looking out for everyone else, not wanting to be a burden on anyone. He brings his hand around to the back of her head and gently pulls her back into him. She presses her ear against his chest, the steady beat of his heart a reminder of the gaping hole in hers.

"No," she mumbles into his body. "Not ready to go back to New York."

"Stay," Jacob whispers, bringing his lips down to ghost against her hair. "Just a little while longer. Thinking about you alone in that huge city- I- I don't like it."

She doesn't reply in words, clinging to him instead.

In the darkness he is like her own personal sun.

The real sun fades as night begins to fall. With sunset the temperature drops, and Jacob sees her begin to shiver. She doesn't notice it herself, her body immaterial, but she agrees to go back to the Black's house.

She takes one more look out at the water before turning back toward La Push.

He holds out his hand and she grabs it. It's easy and natural, their hands swinging between them. It reminds him of the summer days of their youth. When holding hands was an order given before crossing the street. When it didn't mean anything. When the touch of Bella's bare skin on his didn't make Jacob feel as though he was on fire.

They walk slowly back to the house. Jake no longer tries to make conversation, the silence is comforting to both of them.

Jacob knows they will talk eventually, about Charlie, about losing a parent, about all the things they share, but for now she just needs his presence.

Whatever she needs, he will be.

When they arrive back at the house, it is quiet. Sue has gone home and Billy has gone to bed. There are leftovers in the refrigerator, but Bella turns down Jacob's offer to reheat them. Her appetite disappeared a week ago.

He doesn't push the matter but makes a mental note to force breakfast on her in the morning.

They put in a movie, something completely innocuous.

Bella yawns but adamantly refuses when he suggests going to bed.

Bella knows she won't sleep. She hasn't slept without sleeping pills since she got the phone call that shook her foundations. She knows that as soon as she closes her eyes, the "what ifs" will start. What if she hadn't left for New York after graduating? What if she had stayed closer to take better care of him? What if she took over for the editor-in-chief of the Forks Daily instead of chasing her dream to work for a news magazine? What if she forced him to get regular checkups? What if she cooked healthier meals?

What if Charlie wasn't gone?

But he is.

The father she only became reacquainted with six years prior when she moved back to Washington is gone.

She'll never hear any more of his stories about the mean streets of Forks. She'll never learn how to cast a line, like she always promised she'd let him teach her. She'll never sit in the diner with him over dinner, hearing the regulars tease him, not believing he could have "such a beautiful daughter."

She'll never again enjoy the easy silence they could share, the silence between two people who are so alike words need not be spoken.

She sits helplessly in Billy Black's old recliner. Searching the room frantically for something to distract her, anything to keep her mind from running her ragged, crazy, into a tailspin of regret.

Her eyes fall on Jake.

Jacob Black.

Her best friend in the world.

The first boy she held hands with. The first boy she kissed when she came to visit her dad for the summer when she was 11, when she still wasn't completely convinced that boys didn't have cooties. The first boy to ever tell her she was pretty.

The only boy who was always there when she needed someone.

Without thinking, she launches herself out of the chair and into his lap, straddling his muscled thighs and pressing wet, frantic kisses against his neck.

"Bella," he says sharply.

For a second she regains her sanity and pulls away embarrassed.

This was Jake. Her best friend.

She begins to shift off his lap, the tears threatening to consume her again like flames licking at her heels.

"I'm sorry, Jake. I'm sorry," she cries as the tears start to spill out. "I just need... something."

She moves to get up, but Jake holds her in place. He knows she doesn't understand. He wonders how she could have gone this long without truly knowing how important she is to him.

She never did see herself clearly.

"Bella, I-" He can't do it without her knowing the truth.

She tries again, "Please, Jake. I don't want to feel this anymore."

Jake hesitates, searching her brown eyes for truth. He only sees pain.

"Please," she repeats. The desperation pours out of her as she tries to convey to Jacob her need. "It's either this or I go jump in the ocean."

He knows that she is serious.

Even so, Jacob hesitates. He doesn't want to take advantage of her. It shouldn't be like this.

But he can deny her nothing.

So he will have to show her.

He takes a deep breath, trying to calm the hammering of his heart.

Jacob takes his strong hands and gently cups her chin, tilting it up. Her eyes are red-rimmed and wet with tears still on the precipice.

If she wants to feel, he has to try.

He lowers his lips and presses them to hers softly, gently, but not tentatively. Their first kiss happened so long ago, long before he understood that it wasn't childhood proximity. It wasn't simple experimentation or curiosity.

Their souls were intertwined.

He pulls back and opens his eyes. Hers have fluttered closed and her lips are parted slightly. Chapped from the wind, they are pink and starting to peel and Jake now knows they taste like home.

Closing the distance once more, he brings his arm to wrap around her back.

She surrenders into the embrace.

It is different from the way he held her on the beach. His arms aren't supporting her, they are encasing her, shielding her from everything outside. He wants to keep her protected inside a bubble created just for them.

He wants everything – her pain, her regret, her guilt – to go away.

He pulls her sweater over her head, now hesitant in his movements. She counters his timidity by violently tearing at the buttons of his shirt in response. This is what she wants and there is no going back. It might be a disaster, but for a lucid second she knows that if any two people in the world can deal with the aftermath of whatever this tryst is, it is them.

He reaches around and fumbles at the clasp of her bra. She doesn't seem to notice though, and begins pressing her lips against his skin wherever she can reach. He is already flushed with heat and Bella, for the first time, realizes how cold she is.

Jacob finally succeeds and tosses the bra to the side. He cups her breasts in his large hands and brushes his thumbs over her nipples. They are hard still from the chill in the house, though he hopes that they also signify arousal.

She exhales roughly at his touch and forces her lips back onto his in a languid kiss.

He moves his hands and uses them to wrap her legs around his waist before standing. Her weight barely registers to him, but she throws her arms around his neck anyway for balance.

He carries her into his bedroom. It hasn't changed much since the last time Bella was in it, nearly five years ago when she came home for winter break from college. Jacob spends most of his time in the garage, only remaining at home for Billy's sake. He doesn't see the point in redecorating.

Moonlight spills through the window, caressing the bed in soft light. He gently lowers her to the mattress, and she scoots up back toward the head of the bed. He crawls toward her, holding himself over her body, not wanting to put his weight down on her.

He plants a soft kiss on her forehead.

Their eyes meet and Jake silently tries to ask her if she has any doubts. She nods almost imperceptibly, but it is enough to spur him into action.

His lips trail down her body, stopping along the way at each breast, her belly button, finally hitting the waist of her jeans. His hands fumble again, this time with the top button of her fly. She moves his hands out of the way, taking over as she releases the buttons one by one. She raises her hips, and Jacob helps her pull the denim off, stopping only to remove her socks as well.

He leans down and presses another kiss against her stomach, before slipping the cotton panties down her slender legs.

He is sitting on his heels at her feet and he can't help but gasp. She is lying bare before him. For a moment he just stares down at her, utterly bewitched and transfixed by her creamy skin and fragile body.

He wants to taste her but hesitates. It seems too intimate for the moment somehow, as if it is something she should give him freely, not now when she is marred by grief.

Instead he returns to her lips, softly teasing them gently with his tongue until she parts them. He deepens the kiss, trying to distract her while his fingers drift down to her core. He fondles her teasingly and she groans deeply into his mouth.

His fingers are wet as he pulls them away, and it takes him a second to rein in his desire.

It is Bella who won't let him pause. She sits up and reaches for his own waistband, and quickly they divest him of his pants until he is just as exposed as she.

She rakes her fingers down his broad chest, and he can't wait any longer.

He reaches under his bed for the box he knows he will find there. It is nearly full, only purchased for the sake of a one night mistake months back.

He tears open the foil packet and rolls the condom on unceremoniously.

Then he settles himself between her parted legs. Their eyes meet once more, and Bella bites her lip in anticipation. Even in the faint light, he can see her skin flush pink, and he wants nothing more than to feel her heat.

He pushes into her slowly, biting back the groan that threatens to escape. He has to remind himself that he isn't doing this for himself; he's doing this for her.

She whimpers at the intrusion. It has been awhile since anyone was inside her. New York City is full of eligible men, but they are all so intimidating and sophisticated. Bella could never belong with any of them. Even as her self-confidence grows, she still feels alienated from the hipsters and scenesters in the city that never sleeps.

Jacob hesitates, but she shakes her head.

"It's okay," she whispers.

He knows her well enough to know she's not lying.

So he pours his heart into every thrust. With all he has, he to share with her his truth.

His fingertips began to trace all over her body, setting her nerves alight. When she looks up at his face, he seems entranced, as if he is trying to memorize every inch of her skin. The intensity of his gaze is almost unbearable, and for the first time, Bella's heart seems to leap up into her throat.

She isn't given time to think about his expression, because just then he brings his thumb down to where they are joined and begins to rub circles in just the right spot.

"Oh," she inhales sharply. "Oh, don't stop."

Her voice is deep and throaty.

It is a spark of life. Hope shoots through Jacob like wild fire.

Jacob speeds his ministrations, and Bella begins to lose control. Her thighs start to quiver against Jacob and her moans become more and more wanton.

For a moment there is bliss on her face as she pulses around Jacob.

He had been holding back, her need the only thing that mattered.

But now she is completely undone before him, and he can't stop it. Tears threaten his eyes as he comes. They don't escape Bella's notice, but she is too overcome to speak.

He wants to collapse on top of her and cling to her and never let go, but she is still broken and the last thing he wants to do is overwhelm her.

He pulls out of her slowly and peels off the condom.

She reaches for her panties and slips them back on. Too spent and drained to bother with the rest of her clothes, she settles back on the bed.

Jacob grabs a pair of shorts before joining her under the covers. He pulls her body against his, and she makes no objection. For the first time since Charlie passed, she feels her heart beating in her chest again.

He loves me, is the last thought in Bella's mind before sleep overtakes her.