I've been racing the clock / and I've run out of steam / I am ready for my final symphony
athlete – black swan song
The world outside was just starting to wake up as Jacob turned on his side for the millionth time, the very little sleep he had been granted over the night leaving his body more exhausted than an entirely sleepless night.
Jacob felt as if his brain was literally going to combust, the too many impressions from the day before achingly slowly burning themselves into his memory. The images of the mourners gathered around his father's grave, the familiarity of the forest, the unchanged, almost holy sight of his old garage would not leave his conscience.
But what occupied his mind most…was Bella. Their walk through the forest and back to the car, as well as the hour long drive to Port Angeles, had been marked by awkward silence, words lingering between them that neither dared to speak out loud. Instead of focussing on the road, Jacob had fought hard to ban the memories from flashing through his mind – the feeling of her cold skin, the unfamiliar heat of their lips pressed together, her hands desperately clutching his shoulders, the silent whisper of his name…
As they had arrived back at their hotel, Bella had locked herself in the small bathroom for half an hour, stepping out newly dressed, her black eyes dangerously threatening in the dim room. Excusing herself with a few sharp words, she had left the room to go hunting, leaving Jacob sitting on the edge of his bed, his head pounding.
He had taken too hot showers – the mere consideration of a cold shower causing him to shiver uncomfortably. One right after Bella had left, scrubbing his entire skin harshly with the washcloth, and a second very early in the morning, after he had woken up from a restless slumber, sweat drenching the sheets. But no matter how much soap he used and how hard he scrubbed, her scent would not fade away. And neither would the memories.
The night had dragged on like a cheap parody of Jacob's life, the clock ticking mercilessly, while he twisted and turned in the sheets, trying to think of something, anything, to forget what had happened. He knew that those were fruitless efforts, but Jacob would not give up fighting this easily.
None of this should have happened, it was all so twisted and wrong. How were they going to deal with this, how would he ever be able to look her in the eyes, or Edward, or Renesmee? He had cheated on everyone he knew, but mostly on himself. All these years he had fought so hard to keep her at bay, to not let her in, to keep a safe distance in order to protect himself.
Now he had crushed all this, had made his every single effort in vain.
His eyes were burning from the lack of sleep, dry, aching, and he groaned, sitting up straight in the small bed.
The sound of cars passing by reminded him that there was a world outside, and suddenly, Jacob felt the unexplainable urge to take a look, to drink everything in. Like a sleepwalker, he tumbled out of bed, walking straight over to the window, opening it mechanically.
Fresh, cold morning air filled his nostrils, cooling his overheated skin. The burning street light did no more use, the invisible sun casting a foggy, grey light upon the already busy city.
Jacob found no sane explanation for it, but he could not help but feel eerie looking out the window, watching the world outside come to life. He had no time to think about it any further, for he started hearing quiet steps in the hallway, before the door to the room opened.
"You're already awake?" Bella asked, closing the door quietly behind her. Jacob did not dare looking at her, afraid that the torture in his mind would only become more cruel if he laid his eyes upon her.
"You were out long," he answered instead, not moving his eyes from the deserted sidewalk in front of the book store across the street.
Yeah," Bella sighed, and Jacob could hear her stepping closer, the temperature in the room sinking immediately, the change too small for a human to recognize, "It's relatively densely populated here. I had to run a while until I stopped hearing people around."
Jacob shuddered as fantasies and actual memories of Bella hunting flashed in front of his inner eye.
"You wanted to visit Charlie today, right? I don't think I'll come along, leave you two some time for yourself. I'll be in La Push. Haven't really gotten a chance to say goodbye yesterday," Jacob said emotionlessly, almost apathetically, his eyes drifting away from the music store towards the end of the street.
"Okay," Bella said quietly, but Jacob hardly listened to her voice. His eyes were focussed on a pair approaching on the sidewalk. An old couple, the small woman's hand holding on to her husband's arm, her head resting against his shoulder. Their steps were careful and slow, but their faces were still glowing with life and love, beaming at each other.
The lump forming in Jacob's throat threatened to suffocate him, his fingers grasping hard onto the windowsill. This was the future for Stella and her husband, old and in love, their son and maybe their grandchildren waiting for them to come over for breakfast.
Not for him, though. Not for Bella, who stood so close to him now that he could hear her meaningless breathing.
"Jake," she murmured, and Jacob could almost see her reaching out her hand hesitantly, pulling it back and dropping it helplessly again, "We should-"
"Definitely get going," Jacob interrupted her, knowing she wanted to talk. He remembered his Bells, always so quiet and avoiding long speeches, but demanding an explanation for things he could not bear to speak out.
"But-" she began, as Jacob closed the window, turning towards his open suitcase on the second bed that was not needed.
"We should get dressed," he stated shortly, grabbing the first clothes that got caught between his fingers, rushing into the bathroom.
Bella had changed in the room, and Jacob had to fight back the memory of her pale, creamy legs wrapped around his waist from distracting him as he strode straight to the door, grabbing the car keys and card for the hotel room from the bedside table.
She followed him wordlessly down the dark corridor, and for a moment Jacob wondered if he was not being much like Edward in this situation, keeping her from talking for herself. But he could not help himself.
Trying to focus on the rainy road, Jacob tried to keep the guilt at bay. This was unlike any situation he had known Edward and Bella to be in. A selfish part of him told him – reassured him – that he had a right to stop her here. That is was a natural mean of self-preservation to stop her from pulling him in deeper. He did not want to hear her apologize, or tell him she regretted what had happened when he himself was so caught between shame and wonder about it.
He knew for sure that no words she could utter would make him feel better. They would only have the power to crush him more.
It was not until they passed the sign welcoming everyone to Forks that Jacob dared to peek at Bella. Her elbow was pressed against the window, her chin resting on her balled fists. Jacob was surprised to see her hair unruly and twisted, and he was shocked by the need to secure the loose strand behind her ear. The look in her eyes as they passed the familiar sign was taken from a sappy novel, her eyes full of longing and sadness. He found no better word than homesickness to describe Bella at the moment.
When Jacob pulled up in front of the familiar white house at the end of the street, he slowly stopped the car, turning off the engine with numb fingers. Turning his head slowly, he saw Bella staring at her old home before she became aware of Jacob's stare, looking back at him.
For the quiet moment they shared, Jacob wished so much that he was human and dropping Bella off at home on a regular day, the painful need kiss her here, in this car, overflowing his mind. Bella breathed deeply, that sound between a sigh and a gasp for breath, her pale fingers reaching out to open the door.
"I'll see you later," she whispered, intimidated, obviously fearing his reaction to any of her words. Before Jacob could register his guilt and hold her back, take her hand, make her forget, she had climbed out of the car and slammed the door shut.
The windows had started to film over, and all Jacob could see was Bella's fragile figure moving through the mist, gracefully climbing up the stairs to her father's house.
With a low grumble, Jacob started the engine, turning the car into the opposite driveway, feeling the gravel vibrate beneath the pedals, not daring a look into the rear view mirror as he sped off the familiar road to La Push, raindrops casting against the roof of the car, the unsteady dripping sound hypnotizing him.
The graveyard in La Push was deserted and quiet, hidden from the world within the trees. Most of the stones lining the muddy path had turned mossy over the years, the constant rain weathering them earlier than necessary. Some names were hardly recognizable anymore, but Jacob knew exactly where he needed to go.
He had walked the path so many times as a boy, much too often. A boy did not belong on a graveyard, for no reason, ever. The muddy path took a slow turn, one that had no impact while you were walking it, but became apparent to the eye when you turned around your head to look back.
Most of the graves were grey and lifeless at this time of the year, no one bothering with wasting money on flowers that would die so soon that is would be morbid to place them upon the graves. Still, there was one exception, a small ocean of bright flowers covering one grave a few yards away, just before the path took another turn, sharper this time. Jacob had never followed the path further than the spot that was marked by the flowers, though.
Jacob felt a rush of electricity in his spine as he realized that the two graves next to the one he had been looking for were different than the ones he remembered. New. People whose names he did not know. Looking into a mirror made it hard for Jacob to understand that everything around him was aging, that graves were being replaced.
But the light grey stone he had been looking for looked just as he remembered – almost. It was cleaner than it had been during his last visit, all the moss neatly removed. And there were three names engraved onto the stone, six dates.
Jacob faintly remembered the first time he had stood in this exact spot, fumbling with the collar of the shirt his sisters had put on him, the itchy fabric reminding him so much of the fact that his mother would never have forced him into it. He remembered not really understanding why his mother was not holding his hand and kissing his forehead, and why he should believe that she was in this wooden box that they were slowly easing into the hole in the ground.
He had never understood why she had left for the store a few days before, and had never come back home. Until that day, Jacob had thought that saying goodbye to someone meant you would see them again soon. But that day, he had to learn that that was not true.
Raindrops were gliding down Jacob's cheeks, and he did not care that they probably mixed with salty tears on their way down. Slowly, he sank down onto his knees, never taking his eyes of the three names engraved neatly onto the stone. He was an orphan. All alone.
Fumbling with the petals of a lily, Jacob searched his mind for the rights things to say, for the best thing to do. But he found no answer. Even if he was old inside, in this moment, standing in front of his parents' grave – his own grave -, he felt as much as a little boy as the day his mother had left him forever.
He had never actually seen his mother's gravestone after his own name had been engraved, and he felt strange looking at it now. It was not too different from looking at his obituary note, but standing here, seeing his name together with those of his parents, made him wish that he was really reunited with them. Not just a restless soul, but an honest name engraved on stone.
"Hey Mom…Dad. It's me, it's Jake. I don't know if you can hear me wherever you are, but that's not really the point, is it?" Jacob whispered. Although he knew that no one was around listening to him, he was afraid the wind might carry away his words – words that were meant for no one else but his parents buried deep underneath the cold earth.
"You're probably surprised I showed up here, right? I'm sorry I haven't been visiting you more often, Mom."
With the years, his visits to his mother's grave had decreased. He still remembered walking to the graveyard every single day for several years, always carrying a letter for his mother that he had written on his own. And every day he would come to find the letter had gone and he would smile, talk to his mother, ask her if she had liked what he had written, after a while not caring anymore that she never answered him.
Eventually, he had grown old enough to know that his mother was just a corpse in the earth, and that someone else had taken the letters. Jacob never asked what his father and his sisters had done with them, but he wanted to believe that they never opened a single one.
"And Dad… I am so sorry that… I didn't know – I shouldn't have left."
The tidal wave of guilt came rushing back, tearing at the seams of Jacob's sanity. If he only knew his father could hear him, know that he was forgiven.
"I deserted you although you needed my help and I should have been there for you. But I had no choice… I had to leave, you have no idea how strongly I was being pulled away from you," he said with a tear-broken voice, swallowing down the lump in his throat, "I know that I disappointed the both of you. But, if it's not too late to apologize, I would really like you to know how sorry I am. And that I was always thinking about you."
Tears were now freely running down Jacob's russet cheeks, making a turn, trailing along the edge of his mouth, before dropping down his chin, the downpour immediately washing away their trails of sorrow.
"Mom, I… miss you so much. I've always missed you so much and I never… understood why you were gone," Jacob admitted for the very first time, never having written about his helplessness in his childhood letter – mostly because he had lacked the words to express how lost he felt, "You would have killed me if you had still been around when I left, I know. God, I know you would have kept me away from… Bella. I'm sure Dad told you all about her. Charlie's girl."
Jacob knew that Bella had been over at his house a few times, even after her parents got divorced. But he had been so young then, and he did not really remember a single day. There were blurry memories of mud pies on the beach, but he was unsure if those were actual memories or mere fantasies of his mind. But his father had once told him that his mother had always liked to look after Bella when he and Charlie went fishing. Even if Bella had admitted to him once that she did not remember his mother, Jacob knew she had known her. And that meant more to him than he would ever admit.
"Dad probably told you it was all her fault. Maybe it was, but, really Mom… there is no point in holding a grudge against her. You should see her these days. I think… she's not that better off than I am. Maybe you know all that already, though," he ended vaguely, realizing how in the dark he was about his parents. Did they know? Or were they just dead, cold, gone?
"But, you should have known her better, Mom. She was… You would still have really liked her. I'm sure. I guess fate just played against us. Yeah, I know it's a poor excuse. But still…"
Jacob's voiced trailed off into silence, his hand absentmindedly reaching out for the heavy stone, his fingertip tracing alone the deep lines that were prove of his loneliness. Carved into the stone until the rain would wash them away along with his tears.
"I hope it's nice where you are, and that Dad can watch football all day long. You could say hello to grandpa for me, if that's no trouble and he's not chasing through the clouds."
Although Jacob had been confronted with death much too early and much too often in his life, he had never given much thought about what happened after death. Never had he questioned the meaning of the hereafter, had never once asked his father where his mother had gone to. There were no beliefs he could cling himself to, no notions he took for the truth, wishful thinking about an afterlife. Deep down, Jacob knew his parents were just gone. But a flicker of hope inside of him wished – although he could not quite believe – that they could see their son kneeling in front of their grave and hear him talking.
"Anyway, I didn't come here to bother you. Being the fantastic son I am I probably have done that enough while you were alive. I really just stopped by… say goodbye. And apologize."
One last time, Jacob followed the curve of his mother's name on the cold, wet stone, before he stood straight again, regretting that he had not brought flowers.
Jacob did not know how he passed the rest of that day. He vaguely remembered leaving the graveyard behind him, walking back to the car through the dark green forest, no sunlight breaking through the heavy clouds, waiting for Bella before remembering that they never decided where to meet. After that, his memory failed him, blurry images of the forest, of a cabin in the woods he used to hide in with Quil and Embry, a path that lead to the cliffs, a rocky plateau with a weathered bench, a hiking trail, the backs of houses facing the forest.
Somehow, the hidden sun had started to fade, the already grey light turning into a light touch of blue, twilight and the still heavy rain keeping the people in La Push inside their houses.
It was not until Jacob felt sand give in underneath his bare feet that he realized he had instinctively walked to First Beach, his feet leaving trails in the rough sand. The rush of the windy ocean washing across the shore sounded so familiar. Jacob felt as if he had never really left this place behind, the cold wind rushing past his ears, the salty smell that filled his nostrils causing him to inhale deeply again and again.
He was really back home. And something inside of him, an eerie and deranged part of himself, told him that he should never leave this place again.
Still, he knew he could not stay.
When he reached the cold water, Jacob let it wash over his feet for a few minutes, cherishing the refreshing sensation as the water retreated and washed back over his warm skin. The soft sand, wet from the foam of broken waves, felt solid underneath the soles of his feet as he surely followed the shore, his steps stern and purposive.
It did not take him long before he saw a familiar piece of driftwood in the close distance, the scenery in front of him unchanged like his old garage. Everything looked the same, the branch, the beach, the ocean, the cliffs in the distance.
Dreading the loss of the water against his feet, Jacob crossed the beach, the sand now sticking even more to his feet, until he stood directly in front of the ancient piece of wood, mossy and broken.
It felt like a closure, his parents' grave and the constancy of this place. Like he was finally coming full circle.
Unlike the branch by the creek in the forest, Jacob did not dare to sit on the driftwood on First Beach. A phantom fear inside of him kept him from sitting down, from touching the weathered wood. It hurt that he could not remember when he had last sat on it, the memory washed out of his brain from a time when pain and loss were more omnipresent than ever again.
His former favorite spot on the beach had turned into an exhibit, a relict from old times. Like in a museum it lay still before him, protected by invisible glass from his touch.
Just as Jacob was about to walk back to the water – anywhere, just away from yet another debris of his past – the wind carried the sweet scent he had tried to avoid since he had inhaled it so deeply in the garage yesterday.
He should have known that this would be one of the first places for her to look for him. Standing completely still, eyes focussed sternly on the driftwood, he waited until he could hear her stepping over the sand, so very quiet mixed with the angry turmoil of the pacific.
"How is Charlie?" he asked before she got the chance to make any remarks about this place, ask questions, drill deeper.
Bella came to a slow halt next to him, her head turned into the very same direction as his, her eyes fixed on yet another reminder of their shattered past.
"He's okay. He and Sue actually got married, but she died last year. Cancer. And your father's death…Well, he's not at his best, but you know Sue. She made sure for him to leave the house and he's not all alone now."
Bella's voice sounded grim, apart from her obvious relief that her father got along.
"What did he say when he saw you on his doorstep?"
"He didn't look surprised at all. It seems like… he expected me to show up one day. But… he would not stop staring at my eyes. But I told him that you're here, too and about Renesmee and I showed him a picture of her and… I think he accepted it."
Neither of them said anything after that for a long time, the weight of the scenery too heavy on both of their minds. But Jacob could not help but revive the memory of his parents' grave, the question leaving his mouth before he could really consider it.
"Did you tell him goodbye? For good?"
He could feel Bella tense beside him, but he resisted the urge to take her hand, which was lifelessly hanging by her side. So close to his own.
"I think… He knows I probably won't come back again. We both know. There was no need to… say it out loud."
"Okay," Jacob murmured, knowing that there was just as little need to discuss this as there was to speak it out loud. Things that were set in stone like the names on his parents' gravestones. Irreversible.
"I love you, Jake," Bella suddenly whispered, her voice so close and her words so far.
"Why are you saying that?" Jacob asked, the familiar rage once again starting to boil hotly inside of his veins. Why could she not just let this be?
"Because it's true."
Jacob suppressed his unhumorous laughter, raising his voice just a little bit louder, still not looking at Bella.
"But why now? You said it to me before."
"I'm in love with you," Bella stated with a firm voice, and Jacob could see her head turning in his direction from his peripheral vision. He did not dare to mirror that action.
"You said that before, too. It doesn't matter anymore."
"It matters to me."
"If it matters so much, why didn't you realize it thirty years ago when we still had a fucking chance?" Jacob asked angrily, his hands instinctively balling into fists. The pointlessness of the situation seemed so intense to him, that he could not understand Bella's persistence.
"No, Bella," Jacob interrupted her, "You can't do this to other people, playing with them like you're God. You chose him. So why do I suddenly matter to you?"
"You always mattered to me, Jake," she insisted haggardly, her stare piercing Jacob's side, the sound of his name on her lips in combination with this place too much to bear.
"Don't call me that," he said quietly, more like a begging plead.
"Because you're not… the same person who used to call me that."
"But I am, Jake. Don't you see? It's still me – in here," Bella said gently, her fingers catching his unwilling hand, pressing his palm against her motionless chest.
The feeling of her beneath his touch disgusted Jacob deep down, yet, he could not pull away. Something kept pulling him closer instinctively.
"Your heart isn't beating anymore, Bella."
"I wish it was, though."
The weight of her words rested heavily against her chest, and although Jacob could feel no heartbeat underneath the palm of his hand, he could feel her deep breathing, for a second making it feel like this was real and normal.
"You really… meant it? Do you… regret your choice?" he asked, remember her words in the garage yesterday. During the restless night, her words had echoed in his ears many times, but he was unsure what to think of them. She had looked so absent and dizzy, that he had no clue if she was talking the truth or hallucinating.
"Yes," she answered determinedly, her own hand still resting on top of Jacob's.
"Every part of it?"
Jacob knew he was pushing the boundaries here, entering fields that should remain private, hidden, silent.
Her honest, almost cold answer surprised Jacob, his eyes widening for a second. She loved Renesmee, her daughter being the only thing Jacob was sure she would never give up. Yet, her words told him a different story now.
"Why?" he asked faithlessly, searching Bella's eyes for any evidence of a lie.
"Because I'm a terrible person, and I know that," she explained with quick, rushed words, "Because I hate the way you look at her – and not because she's my daughter and I'm worried, but because I wish I was her. I envy her – my own daughter. For the imprint, that you two share something we never did."
Jacob roughly jerked his hand away from Bella's chest, staring at her in utter disbelief.
"Bella, do you have any idea how the imprint makes me feel? Do you honestly believe I would ever have wanted to feel that way about you? It's… I can't do anything with her around, not on my own will. She has her strings attached so deep inside of me and she doesn't even know," he exclaimed loudly onto the deserted beach, ignoring the painful look on Bella's face, relieved to finally have said out loud what had been tearing him apart for so long, "I hate it, Bella. And I loved you."
"Loved?" Bella repeated with a whisper, his emphasise on the past tense causing her eyelids to fall heavier.
"You are not… I loved the girl you decided not to be."
"I am not enough?"
Why could she not let this go? What did she think would be the end of this? Leave this unbearable weight here on the beach and let the ocean wash it away and go back to life her happily ever after? How twisted had her mind become?
"What do you want, Bella?" Jacob asked in defeat, completely at loss.
"I want to turn back time and chose you and grow old with you, have children, and stand here worrying about the wrinkles around my eyes, knowing you would always love me," Bella answered with such choked words that Jacob looked deep into her eyes, almost expecting to see tears gathering there.
"You know that will never happen. You have to let those dreams go. They won't ever come true."
He tried not too be angry, knowing that it would be cruel to crush her dreams. She needed to know to let go.
"I know. And… I'm so… deeply sorry for ruining your life along with my own."
Hearing her broken words, her chin directed on the ground, Jacob grabbed Bella's upper arms, shaking her, forcing her to look him into the eyes.
"This is not a life, Bella! I keep on living because I still have hope that somewhere inside of you that girl I once loved so much is still waiting for me. But then I look into your eyes and all I see is a stranger. Do you even know how badly I would like to forget everything that has happened? To start over? But then I look into Renesmee's eyes and all I see is that girl from my memory. And I want her back so damn much."
At his last desperate words, Jacob gave up his inner fight, wrapping his arms tightly around Bella's cold body, crushing her against him, burying his face in her hair, not caring that his nose burned painfully.
Bella sighed sadly in his arms, her small hands gliding along his stomach and onto his back, holding on to him like he was holding on to her.
"I'm right here, Jake," she whispered against his chest, the beating of his heart against her cheek.
"You died, Bells. You're dead. I was there – I saw you bleed out and die without being able to help. I heard your heart stop beating."
Memories of that day, the horrid images that would never be erased from Jacob's mind, the disturbing sight of his Bells dying, caused Jacob to only hold Bella tighter, his nose nuzzling the top of her head, his hands gently brushing up and down her spine.
"But you said… you would wait. Even then. That's what you said." The fatal hope in Bella's voice caused Jacob to loosen their embrace just enough to look down at her face, the expression in her eyes reminding him of a day in a downpour just like this, when he had to actually break a promise, send her away to protect her and she had begged for him to not break her heart.
"I never promised I could, Bells. So, please. What do you really want?"
"I just want you to love me back again," she whispered sadly, one of her hands softly travelling up to his neck.
"I never stopped loving you, Bells," Jacob whispered back, lowering his head to softly brush his lips against hers, the feeling of her fingertips caressing his neck causing him to shiver in her arms.
It was a slow, lingering kiss, Jacob's lips memorizing the smooth skin of her mouth, a small sigh escaping her when his hand cupped her cheek gently, his thumb brushing her cheekbone, feeling the tips of her lashes tickling his fingertip.
His other hand slowly roamed around her waist, his fingers dipping beneath her blouse, trailing his hot fingers across her icy skin, which caused Bella to cling to him tighter, her hand that was not massaging Jacob's neck mirroring his, sneaking beneath his shirt.
Jacob could feel goose bumps all over his skin as she trailed her fingertips feather lightly across his stomach, lingering for just a wink of time at the waistband of his jeans.
"Jake," she sighed as he broke their kiss, her hands gripping onto him when he started to kiss the corners of her mouth, the tip of her nose, each closed eye, her temples, her forehead, her jaw and chin, before he trailed his lips to her ear, nuzzling his nose behind the shell, hearing her low moan right next to his ear, where she gently pressed her lips against his burning skin.
"God, I missed you so much," he groaned against her neck, his tongue tracing circles on the skin, causing Bella to press herself closer against him, his teeth ever so carefully napping at her earlobe.
"I know," she answered, sounding oddly out of breath, clinging to his neck now, gently pushing him backwards.
Jacob had a vague idea what she had in mind, carefully taking a few steps backwards, never parting his lips from Bella's skin, his hands now tracing over every ridge in her spine and securing the wild strands of her wet hair behind her ear. When his calves knocked into the familiar piece of driftwood, Jacob let himself fall backwards, finally finding the courage to sit down on this reminder of their past.
How often had he wished to kiss her while sitting here, her head against his shoulder, his own arm wrapped shyly around her, probing her borders.
"I love you so much," Bella whispered, straddling his thighs and pushing herself against him, reconnecting their lips for another slow kiss.
He groaned as she scraped her fingernails down his throat and along the collar of his shirt, the sweet mixture between pain and gentleness causing him to bury his head back in the crook of her neck, his hands clutching her waist tightly, never wanting to let her go.
"I love you, too, Bells," he sighed, resting his head against her collarbone, feeling her fingers move up to his skull, gently running through his hair.
And then, entirely out of the blue, he knew exactly what he needed to do.
Pulling back his head, looking Bella deep into her darkening eyes, he leaned forward, running the tip of his tongue along her slightly parted lips for a mere fragment of a second before Bella quickly pulled her head away from him.
"Be careful," she warned him and Jacob had to choke back tears as he imagined the blush that would surely be tinting her cheeks if she were still alive, her heart still beating.
Jacob's whispered demand was so quiet that he could hardly hear himself, the rain drumming against everything around them, the violent rush of the ocean a few yards away drowning out every other sound.
"What?" Bella asked confused, her hands cupping his face, leaning in closer to push the tip of her nose gently against his.
"Kill me," Jacob said more clearly, his eyes closed, trying to drink in every sensation he was granted with her like this, in his arms, loving him.
"That's not funny, Jake," Bella said calmly, pulling back enough to look at Jacob's closed eyes. He knew she was not taking him seriously, and so he opened his eyes, pushing his hands underneath her shirt to hold on to her bare waist.
"I'm not joking."
The expression in Bella's eyes suddenly changed as she realized that Jacob was actually asking of her what she had heard, and she dropped her hands from his face, letting them fall into their laps.
Jacob leaned closer to gently brush his lips against hers, so easy it was like the touch of a butterfly's wing.
"It's the only way to end this, Bells," he whispered against her lips, "This can't be. Ever. Although we have all of eternity to try, it can't be. You made a different choice. It's too late for us. And this… life is not for me. I should be married by now, aged, have children. But I'm not."
"You still can. Even if we are lost forever, you can still go on. I can't. But you can," Bella said, leaning back, despair evident in her voice.
"You don't understand. I can't. Literally," Jacob said, his head now buried in the crook of her neck again, her hair forming a falling curtain to hide behind, "It would break her heart."
He knew she understood who they were talking about, he could not bear to say her name out loud.
"But getting yourself killed wouldn't?" Bella whispered unbelievingly, her hands now rubbing up and down his upper arms.
"She's far away, that's why I can even say it out loud. You would do it, not me. You're my only way out."
"I'm not going to kill you, Jake."
Bella sounded full of determination, and Jacob pulled back to look at her with a stern expression, catching one of her hands in his.
"You already did when you left me lying on that bed and stepped out of my door all those years ago. You might as well finish what you started."
He hated to see her flinch in pain at that memory, the guilt practically carved into her skin, and he trailed his fingertip over her eyebrows to calm her down.
"I can't, Jake. This is… insane."
"This is not how things should have gone. I want to fight – hell, I fought all these years. But I can't anymore," Jacob explained gently, trying to make Bella see sense, "I'm getting old, Bells. Inside. And I'm so tired. So please, save me. I'm not your Jake anymore. He died the second your heart stopped beating, but you made me hang on, forced me to stay. Let me go, please."
"How can you ask this from me?" Bella asked reproachfully, resting her head against Jacob's shoulder to feel the heat of his body and the beating of his heart.
"Just think about what you asked of me all this time. I'm asking you to do something good."
"I can't kill you, Jake."
Jacob had begun to run his hand up and down her back, whispering directly into her ear, kissing the shell every now and then.
"Don't look at it like that. You really are saving me."
"Can't you try to break the imprint?" Bella asked desperately, trying to find any kind of way out of their misery, "Or tell her? We can tell her. She loves you so much, she'd let you go. You could start over. Stop phasing, age. Do everything you were supposed to do."
Jacob sighed at the mere idea of that.
"She won't. She'd say that she'd let me go, but deep inside – she can't," he said bitterly, kissing the top of her head again.
"We could run away, Jake. Just you and me."
The echo of her human voice saying these exact same words to him sounded in Jacob's memory, a different time when she had tried to save him from something she had no control over.
"I said this before, all those years ago. I would run away with you, Bells. If I could. I tried, remember? Running away. Why do you think I came back? Because I felt the pain I had caused in her and I couldn't move a step further away from her," he said, carefully pushing Bella away from him to look at her, gripping her shoulders, "You are my only chance."
"But… what about me? What am I supposed to do? Go back and tell them, or lie and pretend? I can't, Jake. I can't just go back."
"You'll find a way," Jacob assured her, kissing her cheek softly, dreaming of a different future in which he had aged with Bella, had children with her, maybe even talked her into marrying him on this beach.
"But… I don't know where to go."
Her whisper was quiet, empty of all hope and he pulled her close against him, wrapping himself around her, as if he was trying to protect her from the storm and keep her warm.
"No one knows. But, I'll wait for you. I promise."
"I'm immortal," she answered bitterly.
"Time here is not. And you know I'm very patient."
Jacob smiled slightly as he heard her dry chuckle at that remark, and he realized it was the first honest smile in a very long time.
For a while they just sat there, holding on to each other, Bella's lips occasionally ghosting over his neck, her hands painting pictures onto his back.
"Can I tell you a secret?" she whispered against his neck, the soft vibrating of her voice leaving behind a wave of goose bumps.
"Is there still a point in asking?"
Bella took her time to talk, and Jacob knew that she was about to tell him something that she must have kept a secret for a long time, another weight she had carried all on her own.
"I thought about it, too. Just… ending this. Going to Italy. It would be… so simple," she told him, her voice far away, her thoughts somewhere else, in warm, Mediterranean cities with red flags and a clock tower and a fountain enlightened by the sunshine.
"Why didn't you tell me all this before?" Jacob sighed, not just talking about her unmade decisions, but everything that had happened within the last two days. Revelations that should have been made so much sooner, when they still had a chance to change anything.
"How? I am supposed to be happy," Bella said, and Jacob remembered he had thought of her as happy and pretty much unworthy of being unhappy not too long ago. If he had only known all this before…
"Why did all of this even happen in the first place? It's so wrong."
He remembered her sitting in his garage, eyes empty, no words spoken, he remembered taking her for a ride with the bikes, to a cinema, reconnecting with her after he had literally burst apart, letting her run off to Italy, watching her give up her entire unlived life for his archenemy, trying so hard to make her realize what other options she had, and eventually failing in the end.
That was the hardest part for him. Knowing he had failed her.
"I was so sure that I could not live without Edward that I completely forgot that I wasn't dead when he left me. I didn't know, Jake. I thought that loving Edward would be enough to forget you. But it wasn't."
They fell back into silence again, the beach now tinted in a deep dark blue, the sky almost black, no stars shining through.
"I don't think I can do it, Jake. I'm lost without you."
"You've always been, honey. But these are the consequences. This is it."
Bella pulled back, kissing him on the lips gently, her nose bumping against his before resting against his cheek, her fingertips playing with his hair.
"My forever?" she whispered against his lips with a bitter, mirthless voice, the warmth of Jacob's breaths superficially warming her lips.
"It's in your hands, Bells."
"Right now?" she asked, swallowing hard, kissing him again, pecking his lips again and again.
"Not here, honey. Come," Jacob replied, catching her fleeting lips with his own for another lingering kiss before carefully standing up, Bella's legs sliding down his own until she stood on her own feet.
He cradled her hand in his, reluctantly parting his lips from hers, before wordlessly walking back across the beach, towards the only place he knew this could end.
Jacob could see realization hit Bella as they left the muddy road to climb up an even muddier, but steadily rockier path upwards. She said nothing, her hand still intertwined with his, clinging to his side, soaking up his warmth.
Night had fallen completely now, the darkness enveloping everything underneath the sky.
Feeling his heart beat unusually fast, Jacob slowed his steps, which were still determined. He was rushing Bella into this, he could see it in her eyes as she cuddled herself into him, her sure steps never faltering.
He affectionately kissed the top of her head, feeling the mud entirely give in to a rocky plane beneath his feet the closer they got to their destination.
The rush of the ocean sounded distant yet close, wind blowing through Bella's hair, single loose strands tickling Jacob's face every now and then.
"I don't think I want to do this, Jake," Bella whispered the second they reached the rocky plateau, the edge of the cliff becoming one with the darkness.
Jacob turned around, never letting go of Bella, raising her chin gently, his fingertips lingering against her skin.
"I can't force you to do this. I'm just asking you."
Bella turned her head slightly, not enough for Jacob's fingers to drop, looking around in the night.
"Why here?" she whispered, and Jacob could see that she was dwelling in darker memories than this night, her eyes slightly pulled together.
"It ended here the first time, feels like a closure to me," he mumbled against her cheek, dropping little kisses from her eyes to her jaw and ear, "Plus, no one ever comes here. It's too dangerous."
Bella sighed against his neck, and Jacob could not suppress the long forgotten anger he had felt when she had jumped without him, when he had failed to be there in time, setting a series of events in motion that had eventually led them back here. To end it. Once and for all.
"I wish you had never jumped after me that day," Bella said with morbid determination in her voice, resting her head against Jacob's chest, arms wrapped tightly around him.
The rain had gotten so light that it was just a faint sprinkle, the strong wind on top off the cliff enough to blow it past them.
"Because I would have died, drowned, crushed against the rocks, maybe Victoria would have gotten me before either of that. And you would have been sad and would have blamed yourself. But in the end, it would have been grief, and that passes. You could have gone on with time."
Jacob leaned down to kiss Bella, not wanting to imagine the pain he would have felt if he had been too late that day. The kiss started out gentle, just their lips brushing against each others, both of them careful, trying to secure the moment, one of their last. Make it last. But eventually, despair and fear took over both of them, realization that there was no more need to be careful, and so they pushed more firmly against each other, Jacob's tongue gently tracing along Bella's closed lips, his hands roaming across her waist and stomach.
"I can't do this, Jake," Bella moaned against his skin as he started to nibble down her throat, biting her resistant skin gently.
"Bella, please," Jacob sighed against her skin, dropping to his knees on the hard rock, pulling Bella with him, pushing himself as close to her as he could, "Please."
Bella retreated her head, her eyes full of sadness, cold fingertips gently tracing along his cheek.
"I love you so much," she whispered, before leaning close, burring her head in the crook of Jacob's neck, nuzzling her nose against his steadily pulsing carotid artery.
Everything suddenly seemed so much more beautiful, the wind almost peaceful, the darkness of the night comforting, the coolness of Bella's skin feeling like warmth beneath his hands, her smell erased by the salty rushes of the rumbling ocean beneath them.
"I love you, too," he whispered against her hair, feeling her lips press gentle feather light butterfly kisses along his throat, never really touching, almost teasing him playfully.
"Jake," she sighed, parting her lips, and Jacob could feel something sticky, not really wet, but still catching the cold of her breath, against his throat. Bella's parted lips pressed more stern kisses along his skin now, her hands wrapping themselves around his middle, pushing herself twisted into his lap, "Hold me."
Jacob closed his eyes as he wrapped his arms entirely around her, pretending his heartbeats ere mirrored in her chest pressed against his, her tender kisses leaving him more peaceful in their wake.
"Bells," he whispered with a heavy voice, finding no words to say goodbye, kissing the top of her head instead, feeling her soft hair underneath his lips.
He could feel her lips press more firmly into his skin, his heart beating slower now, calming down, accepting its fate silently.
"I love you," she repeated, but before Jacob could really let her pain-filled words sink in, he felt a sharp, stinging pain breaking the skin of his neck, clutching his arms tighter around Bella. For a splint second the pain faded away, the superficial sting not too deep, not too severe.
But then a slow fire started to spread through his veins, staring around the bite marks Bella now placed gentle kisses in, running down his throat, across his collarbone and face, down his arms, burning his chest from the inside out. By the time the fire had reached his legs, Jacob did not realize the spreading anymore.
His heart was beating so fast that the pounding threatened to tear apart his eardrums, the fire achingly slowly burning down his every raw nerve, red light flashing in front of his closed eyes.
Somewhere, distantly, he could hear Bella's hushed voice, could feel her cold hands brush against his sweaty skin, her lips pressing against every free inch of his body, felt her in his arms.
The small corner of his mind that the pain had left sane knew that she was holding him upright, could hear his own screams mingling with the rush of the ocean. The agonizing fire that pumped through his veins with every rapid beat of his heart causing his mind to swirl, images rushing by that he could not identify as hallucination or reality. They felt familiar, like memories, but his mind was not capable of thinking straight.
Time stopped mattering, the pain stopped pounding in time with his heartbeat, turning into a constant drill. Needles were being pumped through his veins, razorblades that cut him open from the inside relentlessly, always more, more, more.
And then, just as suddenly as the pain had come, for a splint second, Jacob regained control over his body, feeling the pain stop for just a fragment of a second, like a hummingbird spreading its wings just once. His eyes opened, the sun shining brightly from the blue sky, the ocean rocking gently against the cliff below. Everything was quiet, peaceful.
Then, a last twitch of pain, a million times stronger than the constant labour that had pushed him through the starless night, ran through Jacob's body, piercing his heart, and he tightened his arms in pain, trying to hold on, hearing a soft, familiar whimper and the sound of shattering glass, before everything turned dark, numb, and his heart stopped beating.
I want to thank everyone who stuck around until the ending of this, because I know how difficult these post-Breaking Dawn stories can be. I intentionally left the ending open to interpretation, and I would love to hear your thoughts.
Here is the playlist for this chapter:
Athlete - Black Swan Song
Eowyn - Unfinished Memories
Sia - Lullaby
Clint Mansell - Together we will live forever
Mariah McMagnus - Unarmed