For I Am Captured Straight To You

AN: I have a lot of people to thank for making this fic possible. All of my lovely pre-readers who have helped my brainstorm/make sense of/clean-up this story (by their LJ names): _argustar, halcyon_x3, kathy_rindhoops, lsjcandy, pnai_87, winter4555. Thank you for your patience!

And, of course, many hugs to my beta who is as talented as she is lovely: latetolove.

Background Info: Bella still arrives in Forks her junior year but before the Cullens make an appearance.


PART ONE

"Jake, we've been friends for a really long time."

"Yeah."

"I mean, we both pissed all of over Linda Carpenter when she tried to change our diapers, so that like makes us practically brothers, right?"

Snicker. "Yeah. Man, was she was an awful babysitter."

"How do you remember? Your brain was the size of a golf ball back then. Not that it's gotten much bigger with the passing of time…"

"Embry, I could always put a hole the size of a golf ball through your head."

"I'm just saying that you can't really pass judgment on her babysitting capabilities. The last time you saw her, you were teething on the corner of the coffee table in the living room. It's unlikely that—"

"Is this going somewhere?"

"Yeah, um, so we've been friends for a really long time…"

Jacob groaned, threw down the wrench in his hand and stared incredulously over at his best friend of sixteen years. "Yes. You. Me. Thick as thieves." He raised a questioning eyebrow. "Now fucking spit it out."

Embry drew in a deep breath, swallowed, and then exploded. "Sothere'sthisgirlthatIreallylike,andIcoulduseyouradviceonhowto,um,gethertonoticemeinthatway. That's all."

Jacob blinked. "I heard 'girl' and 'advice,' and that's about it." And that was enough.

Girls and Embry didn't mix well in general. Throw in a specific girl, and things were bound to get ugly. It wasn't that Embry wasn't a nice guy; it was just that, well, he was a nice guy. He excelled at two things: school and cars. Neither of those were exactly girl-friendly conversation topics. One got you labels—nerd, geek, overachiever—and the other got you confused looks—spark plugs? Is that where I plug in my IPod?

But Jacob was nothing if not a good best friend, so he would do everything in his power to steer his man away from disaster. He couldn't tell him which course to choose, but he could tell him to avoid the big-ass, fucking icebergs.

Wiping his hands off on the back of his jeans, Jacob opened the door to the rabbit and slid in. Leaning over to the passenger side window, he waved a hand. "Step into my office."

Embry snorted but complied.

"So," –Jacob elbowed him—"does the blushing beauty have a name, or should I continue to refer to her simply as 'girl?' Which you should never call her to her face."

Embry squirmed in his seat. "No, she has a name."

"Good. Nameless chicks are bad news."

Embry toyed nervously with a loose button on his shirt.

"Well?"

"It's um…"

"Oh my god, don't tell me it's one my sisters!" The thought was slightly nauseating. One was married and the other was destined to die old and alone.

The affronted look on Embry's face was evidence enough that he was equally disgusted. "Ew. Of course not! It's Bella."

Jacob frowned. "Bella? Bella Swan?"

This time it was Embry rolling his eyes. "Do you know another Bella?"

No, but Jacob was thinking really, really hard, hoping he'd missed one. Embry couldn't like Bella.

"Why not?"

Oops. He'd said that out loud, then. "Erm…"—Because I like her—"…because she's too…klutzy." A truth, but not a very good reason against her being dating material.

The dopey smile that crossed Embry's face looked like it'd been stolen from a Disney movie (one of those old, cheesy animated ones Rachel used to make him watch tied to a chair, while she babbled on the phone in her room, racking up three bucks an hour for 'babysitting' him—there were more horror storing concerning his sister than there were concerning Linda Carpenter, and that was saying something). "Yeah, but I think that's kind of cute."

Jacob tried not to gag. Tried.

"What?" Embry scowled at him, cheeks stained a light pink.

"N-nothing," Jacob chortled. "You just sounded like a twelve year old girl." He shrugged. "Nothing out of the norm."

Jacob cursed—loudly—when Embry's fist connected with his bicep. The guy may not have been an athlete, but he spent 15 hours a week hauling lumber on the far side of the Rez, so the mother fucker had one hell of an arm.

Embry snickered as Jacob winced and rubbed at the red flesh. "Consider that a premature thank you for all your 'sage advice.' Now spill."

Still smarting, Jacob grumbled, "Spill what?"

"Come on, Jake, you have to give me some insight here. What does she like?"

Classic books, old romantic movies, beat up Chevys…basically anything that was slow and ancient. "Um…"

"You think she's out of my league, don't you?" Embry asked somberly, shoulders slumped.

Say yes. Say yes. Say yes. "No." He diverted his eyes to the dash. "I just don't know what to tell you."

This affirmation seemed to liven him up some. "Anything. Ever since she moved back here, the two of you have been hanging out non-stop. I mean, these last few weeks I've hardly seen you without her." A strange, uncertain look creased his face. Jacob swallowed and knew that he'd been found out. "Wait, do you like her?"

Say yes. Say yes. Say yes.

"No."

Oh, for the love of God!

At Embry's unconvinced expression, Jacob rolled his eyes and tried to play it off. "Don't get me wrong. Bella's nice"—really nice—"and pretty cool"—like the coolest girl he'd ever met—"and kinda hot"—the understatement of the century—"but we both just want to be friends." He glanced out the car window, half-expecting to find a dark specter—possibly in the form of his sister—sent to cut out his lying tongue.

Next to him, Embry let out a sigh of relief. "I don't know. There's just something about her. She's not like the girls on the Rez."

Jacob risked a glance over at his friend and was surprised to see the small, affectionate smile quirking his lips and the soft, far-off look in his eyes as they traced aimless patterns across the windshield in front of him.

He'd never seen him like this. Normally when Embry liked a girl, he spent a week semi-stalking her, sweating it out and trying to gather up the courage to say something beyond an ineloquent "hey." Most of the time he never had the balls to follow through or he'd lose interest before things even really got started. The one girl he did ever ask out went on a handful of dates with him before unceremoniously explaining that she was just using him to try to make her ex jealous. The poor guy had an ugly track record concerning women.

But this forwardness wasn't characteristic of the typical weekly obsession. The fact that he was going through the trouble of attempting to find out more than her class schedule and what she ate at lunch screamed that something was different. What he felt for Bella was different.

Embry really liked her. And if he wanted any hope of not falling on his ass this time around, then he would need his help.

Jacob must have done something very, very heinous in a past life. Because he was fairly certain that some day he could love Bella Swan. In fact he was already well on his way there—well past crush and adoration but not quite to worshipful.

But he'd loved Embry for seventeen years. They both peed in Linda Carpenter's freckly face. So, as far as allegiances went…

"She hates pink."


"I don't think I can do this."

Jacob sighed. "Fine. Then don't. I'll have Quil do it instead."

"No!" Bella jumped back from his outstretched hand, maneuvering the scissors behind her back and beyond his reach. The glare she managed to work up nearly had him snorting out loud in amusement: she was like a distressed baby chipmunk.

Armed with pointy shears.

"Why do you even have to do this?" She somehow managed to scowl and whine at the same time, and Jacob mentally added that to her lengthy list of freaky talents.

He rolled his eyes. They'd been over this about a dozen times. "A bet's a bet, Bella."

"But…but, it's so…juvenile."

One of Bella's freaky talents happened to be pointing out the obvious. "That's because we made the bet when we were twelve."

"Exactly!" Suddenly the scissors were being waved frantically in his face, and Jacob hastily retreated two steps backward. "That was five years ago. You're smarter now. I've reformed you!"

Jacob couldn't quite comprehend what he was being accused of. "So…?"

The scissors arched through the air, the blades catching the light streaming in from the kitchen window. "So, making a bet when you're twelve that you'll lose your virginity by your seventeenth birthday or cut off all your hair is juvenile and stupid, and I can't believe that you're going to actually go through with it!"

Jacob blinked. "Did you just call me stupid?"

Her anger faltered, guilt and remorse smoothing out her perturbed brow. "It…sorry."

Man, she was sooooo easy.

"But in this case, what you're doing really is st—foolish. I mean, Jake, your hair is so beautiful." The scissors descended safely back to her side, as she moved forward to finger a lock of his waist-length ebony hair.

Seeing the fondness in her eyes was almost enough to convince Jacob to call up Quil and Embry and tell them to take their bet, go to Hell, and get their hair singed off that way. But then he remembered that he was a man, and there were laws about these sorts of things. So, instead he promised, "It'll grow back."

Her hand fell away as she sighed. "Yeah, I guess." Giving him one last dismal look, she gestured to the chair set close to the window atop a scattering of newspapers-turned-drop-cloths. "Well, I guess we should get started."

She sounded like they were marching to the gas chamber.

"You know," Jacob began slyly while falling onto the seat, "there are still six hours until my birthday. It's not too late for me to win the bet."

She scoffed at his suggestive tone, and Jacob tried not to feel offended. "Are you implying that I might know someone who'd be interested in helping you out?"

That depends. Are you interested?

But Jacob easily curbed his lecherous tongue. "You are on good terms with Jessica Stanley, after all."

The hand that whacked his shoulder packed surprising force. "You are not having sex with Jessica Stanley," she huffed. "You're too good for her."

"Darn. And I was looking forward to contracting multiple STDs on my first go."

The hand struck again, but it wasn't nearly as forceful, and he fell for her just a little bit more.

Shit. Embry.

"What about him?"

Oops. Guilt ebbed in. "He's great."

She'd picked up the comb from the counter and started pulling it carefully through the length his hair. Toothed plastic had never felt so good. "Yeah, he is."

Jacob sat up straighter. "You think Embry's great?"

Her chuckle tickled his ears. "Sure."

Not even the slightest hesitation. This wasn't looking good.

"How, um…"—he schooled his tone to nonchalance—"How great is 'great'?"

"What do you mean?" The frown in her voice was audible. Bella had a total spidey sense when it came to calling him on his bullshit, and she was on to him now.

Abort! Abort! Abort!

"I mean…'great' as in 'he's a great guy who deserves a great girl'? Or 'great' as in 'he's a great tenor and should consider taking up with a barbershop quartet'? You see, there're varying degrees of greatness, so I'd appreciate it if you specified."

"Hmmm." Even when all the knots were gone from his hair, she continued to run the comb through it. "I'd have to go with the first one then. I've never heard Embry sing."

"Then you're in the privileged minority." Ugh. She'd picked the first one.

Yes, he most definitely must have been a kitten skinner in a past life.

"So," Jacob hedged, "Embry's a great a guy."

"And…he is paying you to advertise this? Is there a quota you're trying to fill?"

"What? No. No. Of course not."

Because that didn't sound defensive.

"It's just that he's a great guy. And you're a great girl, er, woman."

"Aw, thanks, Jake." She finally set down the comb and picked up the scissors. "You're pretty great yourself."

He was glad she couldn't see the dopey grin that stretched across his face from ear to ear. He probably resembled a more handsome Embry.

"Oh," she snorted, "and 'great' as in 'you're a great friend who deserves better friends than the kind who make you chop off all your beautiful hair in a display of misplaced machoness.' I still think all of this is ridiculous."

Great friend. He was a great friend.

Someone, please direct him to the nearest pike so that he could impale himself. Over and over and over…

"Well," Jacob said, clapping his hands together in feigned enthusiasm. "Let's start getting this machoness misplaced then." He relaxed back in the chair.

Silence.

Continued silence.

More silence.

A cacophony of silence.

"Um, Bella?"

A muffled, gaspy noise carried over his shoulder. Jacob frowned. She was either sniffling or intently smelling his hair. Both were rather unsettling possibilities.

Her breath hitched again. His eyes widened.

"Are you…crying?"

Her voice quivered tellingly when she blubbered, "N-no."

Okay. Jacob had read something about this somewhere. A magazine article about women and mixed signals…If he remembered correctly, in the end, the advice for men had been to beg for forgiveness.

"I'm sorry?"

"No, no." Bella patted his shoulder, still sounding weepy. "It's not your fault. I mean, it is, but I can't really hold it against you because you're supposed to be young and stupid." She cleared her throat and took a deep, slow breath that didn't ease his nerves in the least. "Okay, now I'm ready."

Jacob didn't bother with pointing out that she had called him 'stupid' again.


10:31

He was late. Embry was out on a date with Bella, and he was late. Her strict curfew on school nights was 10:30, so he'd advised Embry to have Bella home by ten in order to get in good with the chief—Charlie appreciated acknowledgments of his jurisdiction like that. Post-date rendezvous point was his room at 10:30, and Embry was now one, no TWO minutes late.

A lot could happen in two minutes.

What if he was late because they were so busy staring dreamily into each other's eyes that they didn't notice the time? What if they were…kissing? Jacob quickly squashed that mental image and the unpleasant tugging on his stomach, only to be bombarded with even worse scenarios. What if they weren't just kissing? What if they were full-on making out? What if they were rounding third and heading towards home? What if they'd decided to elope? What if she was in labor with his child? What if they were buying a house with a cute little picket fence and a dog on the porch? What if—

"Jake!"

He blinked up at Embry who was staring down at him in concern. "You okay? Wait, don't tell me. You were having one of your Megan Fox fantasies again, weren't you? Well, I feel that since you gave me some solid girl advice, it's only fair that I return the favor: aim lower. Much, much lower. In fact, don't aim at all. Just close your eyes and hope for the best."

Yeah, except every time he closed his eyes he saw Bella. "So, how'd it go?"

With a shit-eating grin Embry flopped down on the bed next to where Jacob was sitting, and rolled onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. "Perfect," he sighed. "Did you know that she's remarkably smart? She just whipped through her English paper on Elizabethan literature like it was nothing. I helped her a bit with Calc, and she gave me some solid pointers for my 'Lord of the Flies' essay. She really knows her stuff."

Normally, hearing someone rant about how amazing some girl was wouldn't have been very appealing to Jacob, but he found himself nodding along despite himself. Bella was amazing.

The two had gone on a "study date"—yeah, wouldn't have been his first choice, but somehow it just fit Embry and, in a strange way, Bella—at the Forks library. It was a slow start, but at least it was something. Besides, the library was Bella's natural environment.

"So?" Jacob prodded.

"So what?"

"So how did things go?" Jacob did his best to sound interested—which he was—and hopeful—which he wasn't.

Embry shrugged his broad shoulders. "I told you: perfect. We got a lot done and we had a good time."

Of course. Jacob had to remind himself that Embry wasn't some prick who just wanted to get into Bella's pants—though that would certainly have made things a lot easier for Jacob; he could punch a perverted prick. He couldn't punch a well-meaning Embry.

So, of course he didn't try to make a move on the first date—with loose application of the phrase 'date.' He knew Embry better than that.

Damn it.

"…cool with you?"

Um. Sorry, I was too busy contemplating knocking your teeth out to catch what you said. "Sure."

"Great. We'll probably get here around 7:00."

We?

The next night promptly at 7:00, Jacob opened his front door to find a heavily bundled Bella haphazardly sliding around on the thin layer of ice coating the Black's concrete front porch. An attempt to smile up at him while simultaneously staring down at her skating feet caused her face to contort into lopsided half-grimace that very nearly split her face in two.

"Hey, Jacob!" Adorable as hell.

He nodded, not bothering to hide his amusement at her predicament. "Need some help there, Bells?"

She looked up at him hopefully. "Please?"

Wrapping an arm around her tiny—even with the excessive layers of clothing—waist, he easily lifted her over the threshold into the small, toasty house. She began stripping immediately, removing a backpack, gloves, a hat, scarf, down coat, snow boots, wool sweater, snow pants, and two pairs of socks.

"Jeez, Bells. Planning an Arctic excursion without me?"

She sniffed, raising her small, red nose in the air. "It's a lot colder here than Phoenix."

"Sure. Sure." He had a feeling it had more to do with the fact that she was just so small. Not much body heat to be had.

And as if she heard his insincerity, she rolled her eyes heavenward and smiled in amusement. Then she lugged her book bag back up over her shoulder. "Are we setting up shop in the kitchen?"

There was that 'we' again.

When he remained silent, she frowned—which she always did with her entire face—and headed off in the direction of the kitchen anyway. "You are studying with us, aren't you?"

Why did people keep asking him questions he didn't know the answer to? "I don't wanna intrude."

She ducked back into the living room sans books. "Unless you plan on doing your chemistry homework out loud, I really don't think that'll be a problem."

"Oh, you know how I feel about elements. You start talking protons and neutrons, and I just can't contain myself. The periodic table is meant to be screamed, not read."

She shook her head and disappeared into the kitchen again. Her voice was muffled when she called, "You want marshmallows with your hot chocolate, Jake?"

He grinned. "Am I the best lookin' guy in town?"

"So that'd be a 'no'."

Jacob nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of Embry's voice behind him.

He whirled around, a hand pressed to his chest. "Gah! Would it kill you to make some noise?"

Embry dropped his backpack to the floor and swept his arms dramatically in front of him. "All hail the arrival of the mighty Embry Call! He sweeps into the house like a blizzard claiming the Sahara! O, divert your eyes from his blinding brilliance! Seek refuge if you dare—"

Jacob swatted him upside the head. "Shut the fuck up."

"Hey, Embry." Cautiously making her way into the living room, Bella took slow, measured steps while balancing a tray of three hot chocolates. Jacob and Embry both quickly moved to relieve her of two of them.

Staring down into his mug, Jacob smiled smugly. "Oh, look, Embry. Marshmallows."

He didn't quite catch his friend's muttered response.

"Oh!" Bella jerked, slightly sloshing hot chocolate unto her thumb. Wincing, she shook the burned appendage before jamming it in her mouth. Jacob fought the urge to take the mug from her hand, instead allowing Embry to claim it a moment later.

"You all right?"

"Yeah," she muttered, moving into the kitchen to turn on the tap. The boys followed, taking their places at the table. Jacob consciously took a seat on the opposite side of where Bella had dumped her things earlier. He had a sinking feeling that he wasn't going to get much done in the way of homework.

Bella joined then a moment later. "Sorry about that. I'd just remembered that I brought you something."

Embry's eyebrows shot up. "Something for me?"

"Yes." She pulled her backpack up into her lap and began rummaging through it.

Embry caught Jacob's eyes over the table, mouthed, 'Should I have gotten her something?'

Jacob could only shrug. He might've been more experienced than his friend when it came to girls, but he wasn't exactly sure what the expectations were as far as 'post study date' gifts went.

"Ah ha!" Bella held a worn paperback book triumphantly in her hand. "Lord of the Flies. I read it for class a couple of years ago. My teacher was really big about us taking notes in the margins and underlining things. Like here it explains the allusion and here're all the metaphors in the passage. So I, um…" She flushed as if just then realizing how nerdy she was being. "Well, uh, you know, if you'd like to look over it…or not."

Embry took the novel from her hands with all the reverence of Moses accepting the Ten Commandment from God Almighty. Jacob was kind of wishing for him to start sprouting white hair.

"Wow, Bella. This is great." He began gently leafing through the dog-eared pages. His eyes solemnly met hers. "I promise to return it to you in perfect condition."

Was he kidding? The thing looked like it'd already been through the washer. Twice.

Bella waved him off. "No worries. You can keep it."

"You sure?"

"Positive."

The two shared a small, mutual smile that said things Jacob couldn't hear, and he cleared his throat uncomfortably.

Bella visibly flinched back into reality and began pulling notebooks out of her bag. Embry just as casually cracked open a textbook.

Jacob had been correct in assuming he wouldn't get any real work done. He was much too distracted trying not to look like he was watching the two people across the table from him.

He was surprised. No, he was more than surprised. He was shocked.

Embry was playing it cool.

Embry—the guy who was infamous for word-vomiting all over members of the opposite sex—was playing it cool with Bella Swan. He didn't babble about German artillery when she asked him a question about tactics in WWI, and he didn't keep up a constant stream of mindless chatter to fill the silence, only soliciting her opinion on his paper every once in a while and once asking if she wanted something else to drink.

But as much as he wasn't talking, he was definitely doing other things.

Like every time Bella asked Embry for help, he'd lean in and use her pencil to draw an example, even if it meant he had to lay down his own fully-functional one. Their chairs kept getting closer, and closer, and closer until finally, they stopped being two chairs and became a single bench seat—who the hell uses a bench seat at a kitchen table anymore?—and Bella and Embry were wedged shoulder to shoulder. This ended up being quite the predicament because Bella was right-handed and Embry was a lefty, so their elbows kept knocking together. Once Embry actually winced when she "accidentally" caught him in the ribs, and they both promptly dissolved into a fit of giggles when he accused her of using Totalitarian tactics.

Whatever the hell that meant.

But what was really impressive—and Jacob had to applaud Embry here—was the following exchange:

Bella: "My teacher looked over my rough draft and said that my paper lacked a 'voice.' He said I didn't sound sympathetic to the Jews' plight."

Embry: "Well, are you?"

Bella: "Yeah, I mean, what they went through was so atrocious that I can't even imagine the effect it had on them. And that's the problem. I can't empathize."

Embry: "Hmm. Have you ever seen Schindler's List?"

Bella: "No, but I heard it was really depressing."

Embry: "So, it'd be perfect. We actually have a copy at home. You could come over tomorrow and watch it, while I finish up the final draft of my English paper. My mom won't get home till late, so she won't bother us."

Bella: "Actually, that'd be great. It'll be Friday, so Charlie won't mind me being out late."

Embry: "Perfect. And when we're sitting, alone watching a depressing movie, you can cry on my muscular shoulder while I subtly try to make a move towards first base."

Bella: "First? Let's just save some time and head straight for home. Please, Embry, take me!"

Okay, so, maybe the last couple of lines weren't exactly said aloud, but it was implied with another one of their secretive smile things.

Jacob couldn't believe that Embry had just gotten Bella to agree to come over to his house alone, while his mom wasn't home, to watch a movie—in the dark—with him, alone. With no one to hear her screams.

Of terror. Screams of TERROR.

Jacob wished he'd just word-vomited on her instead.


Jacob never found out what actually happened that Friday night—Bella got an 'A' on her paper, so it couldn't have been too much fun—but a week later, at the bonfire on First Beach, Bella and Embry arrived together. Holding hands.

Jacob wasn't the only person not exactly thrilled.

"What! Embry? Embry!" Quil huffed. "But I totally had dibs! Not cool."

Jacob's muttered "tell me about it" went unheard.

"This breaks at least three Man Laws. Wait, no, FOUR Man Laws!"

Paul snorted. "You know you actually have to be a man for the Man Laws to apply, right?"

"I think they're good together."

Jacob turned bug-eyed to his sister. Had she just…said something nice?

Rachel sniffed. "Well, she's not that pretty, and Embry's kind of annoying, so it evens out."

Nope. False alarm.

Jacob decided to wait it out. High school relationships didn't last forever. They'd be over it in a few weeks.


Jacob was kneeling over the front bumper of the Rabbit, buffing out the wide array of scratches that littered the used part, when a slim pair of arms drooped around his neck from behind and a warm set of lips whispered, "Three minutes."

The affection of the breath stirring along his neck caused him to shiver uncontrollably.

Turning, he grinned at the set of sparkling chocolate eyes. "Perfect."

He grabbed Bella's hand, towed her out of the garage and pulled her in through the back door of the house. The sheer volume of the raucous that greeted them was overwhelming.

Pushing through the crowd of bodies, Jacob scanned the living room for… "Quil!"

The brawny teen greeted them with a raised glass. "Bella! Jake! This party is going to be wicked. Someone spiked the punch!"

"Quil, Big Boy ETA two minutes."

He cursed and climbed up on one of the kitchen chairs. A shrill whistle pierced the air, and everyone turned to stare at him in annoyance. "Hey! Big Boy is touching down in one minute!"

There was a beat of silence before the room doubled in volume, people chaotically scurrying around trying to find decent places to hide. Bella started toward the back of the couch, but Jacob snapped her back in the opposite direction with a shake of his head. "Too obvious."

Instead he opened the door to coat closet where Seth Clearwater was crouched amongst the rain boots. "Out," Jacob ordered, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Seth pouted. "But I was here first."

"My house. My closet. My hiding spot. Out."

Bella frowned after Seth as he scurried towards the kitchen. "That wasn't very nice."

Jacob shrugged and pulled her into the closet. "Sometimes, Bells, in dire situations you have to resort to brutal tactics to get what you want." The door closed behind them with a quiet click.

"And this situation is dire enough to exorcise your hero status on an impressionable 14-year-old boy?" she whispered, subconsciously lowering her voice in the dark, confined space.

"Now, I don't think Seth would appreciate you calling him impressionable—wait, you think I'm heroic?"

A sharp pain shot through his toes.

"Oops."

Well, that was the most insincere 'oops' he'd ever heard. And if he squinted, he could sort of see the outline of her smile through the darkness. "You know two can play at tha—" He was cut off by her fingers on his lips.

Jacob's brain short-circuited for a full five seconds.

He couldn't count the number of times he'd thought about touching Bella with his lips—on her hair, her temple, the tip of her nose, along her neck, her full pink mouth—and now that it was happening, he sort of forgot where he was, and why he was there in the first place. His mouth parted infinitesimally, causing the tip of one slim finger to just barely slip inside…

And then the door wrenched open, allowing in the blinding light. "Surprise!"

He blinked then remembered to step out from behind Bella, who was grinning at a wide-eyed Embry. Jacob forced a smile. Everyone else erupted from their own hiding places—The floor lamp? Really, Jared?—breaking out in sporadic exclamations of "Happy birthday!"

Embry continued to gap incomprehensibly. "What…I don't…me?"

Quil stepped forward, clapped him on the back. "You know, most people get more articulate with age. It seems you've regressed. Regressed means 'the backward movement—"

"I know what regressed means!" Any insult he may have felt was overruled by the smile fighting to stretch across his face. With shinning eyes he turned back towards Bella who was smiling shyly at him. "Sweetheart?"

When Embry called Bella "Sweetheart" it didn't sound cutesy and obnoxious; it sounded like he was saying "Bella," just with different syllables. In fact the two words became so indistinguishable that sometimes Jacob slipped and called her sweetheart too.

"Do you like it? I mean, I thought the streamers and balloons were a bit much, but Jake insisted that at long as they had Batman on them, you would…"

Embry wrapped his arms around her, and pressed a gentle kiss to her babbling lips. "It's perfect."

Bella flushed but looked immensely pleased.

"And you!" Jacob jumped when he realized Embry was pointing at him. "You, sly bastard. Come here!"

A genuine grin made its way onto Jacob's face, as his friend pulled him in for a massive bear hug—any guilt he felt over almost sucking on his girlfriend's finger had to be pushed down deep with other forbidden emotions. "You aren't going to kiss me too, are you?"

"Of course not. It's my birthday, Jake, not yours. You don't get any gifts." He released him with a chuckle and drew Bella back to his side. "I should have known you two were up to no good. All that skulking around you've been doing together the last couple of weeks had me worried that I'd have to beat the shit out of you, Jake."

I really, really wish you had a reason to. It'd so be worth it. "Sorry to disappoint you, Embry, but Bella and I aren't running off together until your 19thbirthday. And, trust me, you won't see it coming."

Bella's lips pursed together in mock irritation. "And how come I'm just now hearing about this?"

"Oh," Quill easily jumped into the conversation, "that's because Jacob left out the part where you won't see it coming either. He figures that you'll be much more cooperative if you're drugged and unconscious when he steals off with you in the middle of the night. And I tend to agree."

Jacob frowned. "Wow, Quil, thanks for making me sound so incredibly desperate. Of course I wouldn't drug Bella. I'll just tell her that I lost my dog and ask her to get into my car in order to help me find him. If that doesn't work, I plan on bribing her with Skittles."

Quil looked pointedly at Bella. "Two words: stranger danger."

Chest puffed out impressively, Embry stepped forward, shielding Bella behind his splayed arms. "Don't worry, Sweetheart, I'll protect you from the sticky-Skittle-fingered man looking for his so-called 'dog'—which I can only assume is some sort of perverse sexual reference because as we all know, he doesn't even have a dog. Don't you fret your pretty little head over it, baby."

"I could always get a dog."

"Hey, Bella," Quil leered, "when you're done helping Jacob find his dog, you wanna help me find mine?"

She peeked out from beneath Embry's shoulder. "Um…I don't think I want to help either of you, really."

"All right," Embry interceded, "it's time to say goodbye to the bad men now, Bella. I smell cheesecake." He easily hoisted her up over his shoulder and marched away with a jostled Bella waving back at the amused duo.

The house couldn't contain two dozen rambunctious teenagers for long, so eventually the festivities spilled over onto First Beach. It was summer, the weather warm enough for swimming, and when it started getting dark, a wobbly Quil deemed it imperative to get a fire going in case any of the tipsy girls got the inclination to strip off their clothes and dance around it naked—it was at this point in time which Jacob was forced to dump the rest of the mystery punch over the rocks (if Quil fell unconscious into the open flames, he would be the one to get shit for it).

All in all it was a pretty good time.

And Jacob was having a good time. Really. After all, Bella-watching was one of his favorite activities. But that evening as he discreetly followed her with his eyes, he couldn't help but feel…uneasy.

She looked beautiful—she always looked beautiful—stumbling around in her little white sundress that Emily had made her, as she chatted pleasantly with guests and played hostess (only Bella could find a way to do that at a public beach). At one point she got pulled aside by Leah Clearwater for a ten minute heart-to-heart, but mostly she stuck to Embry's side, quiet and smiling as she held his hand.

Every once in a while she'd pass close enough to the fire so that the light would play over the paleness of her skin, causing it to glow tantalizingly. And every time Jacob felt his heartbeat stutter.

He'd been in love with Bella Swan for two years.

He'd loved Embry for 17 years.

Bella and Embry had been dating for six months.

And no matter how the numbers got added up, Jacob was completely screwed.

Bella and Embry were his best friends. End of story.


AN: So this isn't going to be a long, drawn out affair. Gonna try to keep things moving, and I imagine the story will end up being six or seven parts long, depending on how it gets broken up. I plan on posting one part a week (probably even through the holidays) unless something crazy happens in RL. Thanks for reading, and don't be shy about leaving feedback. :)

This story can also be read on A Different Forest and LiveJournal (links in my profile). I post teasers and ramblings via my twitter: majestamoniet