AN: Beta'd by SweeneyAnne and pre-read by aerobee82 & AlexisDanaan. I love these gals so much. Go read their stuff, they're amazing.
Don't own Twilight. Don't own the quote. Don't really know who to attribute the quote to, but since everything I've found lists the source as 'Unknown', I'm just going to go with that.
"Sometimes we put up walls, not to block people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down."
He first reads the phrase in some sort of pseudo-inspirational e-mail from his sister, and for some reason, it immediately makes him think of her. The way she shies away and pulls into herself—the way she put up all those goddamn walls and turned herself into a fortress. He's only caught one glimpse of her since it happened, at the exact moment Sam Uley broke through the trees surrounding her house, but that one look is all he needs to know that these words, they just scream Bella. He finds the notion a little strange, because according to Charlie, Bella's not really even talking. Maybe he's finally found a real-life example of irony.
He knows Rebecca probably meant to imply that he was the one with the walls, instead of the other way around. Lately she's been harping on him so much to start talking about what happened back when he was a kid. He's never been able to find any solace in talking—but knowing that there's someone out there who's in worse shape than he is does something to make him feel a little better about the whole thing. So what if his mom drove to the store one day and never came home? Who cares that he hasn't seen his sister since he was thirteen? Bella just got her heart obliterated, was ditched out in the middle of the woods, and almost died. That's gotta be way worse.
The rest of the brief e-mail is some nonsense about how he should come to visit over the summer and a subtle hint that he should try to start getting over the misfortunes that have fallen on their family. He thinks she's one to talk. She's the one who bolted and hasn't come home in years.
He thinks if he's got walls, his sister has a fucking moat surrounding a barricade built around the safe she's keeping her heart in. Even before that particular metaphor came to his head he'd thought that no one could ever give Rebecca a run for her money in the emotionally disconnected department, that is, until Bella shows up at his house with a couple of motorcycles in the bed of her truck. That girl's got a moat surrounding a barricade built around a fence encircling a... maybe this comparison was getting a bit out of hand.
If he had to assign a single to word to describe Bella on that day, it would probably have to be 'disaster'. She looks sick, and that's about all he can really say. She just looks... ill—like those people he sees on TV who are dying, and they know they're dying, and they're just trying to hold on long enough to do what they gotta do before it's all over. She smiles at him like she's surprised that it's so easy, and yeah, it's kind of like it is on TV, like she's sick.
He can't really find any traces of the girl he'd gotten a bit of a crush on last year swirling in all these depths of misery, but he finds that he doesn't actually care. He can almost see a bit of himself as he watches her out of the corner of his eye and leads them around the back of the house to show her the only thing that really gets him excited nowadays.
Maybe she'll find something in it too. Maybe it's just that he wants to brag to someone who hasn't heard it all before. Maybe it's a little bit of both, or maybe it's actually that deciding to take a sledgehammer to Bella's walls helps him knock a few bricks out of his own.
She doesn't really talk a whole lot, but he doesn't mind. He remembers it like it was yesterday, that hollowness that grew and expanded inside him to close off his throat and made him feel like all the words he could think to say were just wrong. He remembers how every single bit of sympathy and pity felt like being slapped in the face, and he can recall precisely how piling up bricks and mortar didn't necessarily make him feel any better, but it made him hurt less, and that was something.
He doesn't pry. He just lets her sit in the garage drinking a warm soda while he gets his hands dirty and throws questions out there. She answers some of them, ignores most, but each and every one feels like poking a little pin-hole in the walls between them, even if they're never talking about any of the stuff that put up those barriers in the first place.
They don't talk about his mom, or his wayward sisters.
They don't talk about her ex-boyfriend.
It's all easy topics like Harleys and brake-lines, and after a while her shoulders aren't quite so stiff and instead of looking like she's surprised she's smiling, she doesn't seem to really even notice she is. He wonders if that's how he looks sometimes, if his friends notice these little things about him on the days when car engines and meaningless conversation don't quite hold all his demons at bay.
He's used to navigating mine-fields in conversation. He doesn't actually have anyone to talk to where no topic is taboo. With Bella it's no romance and no Cullens; with Embry and Quil, no names, no parents; with Billy, no Rebecca, no Mom, and for some bizarre reason, no Cullens either. That family is kind of the bane of his existence.
They just let themselves be simple, and each day that rushes by makes him feel like maybe he's a bit more complex now. Like he's becoming a real person or something. Maybe there's more to him than that kid whose mom died, or the younger brother of that girl who skipped town and never looked back and how dare she; doesn't she realize her family needs her?
When he tells his friends about how she came over twice this week and if they know what's good for them they'll keep their distance tomorrow, they give him a look like they can't really believe he actually means it. It's the first time he thinks that maybe she's not just helping him break down his walls in the sanctuary of the garage behind his house; because he's sure he's never really said anything with such genuine enthusiasm to anyone since... well, since before.
They tease and make crude jokes, and he laughs along before telling them to knock it the hell off, because as much as he likes Bella, he doesn't like her being the subject of all this innuendo that would most definitely make her face turn the same color as her motorcycle. He doesn't want the guys thinking of her that way.
It's not that he was all doom and gloom before, he hadn't thought so anyway, but ever since that first day when Embry and Quil came storming into his garage to find him talking and laughing—with a girl!—they've been making these ridiculous comments and asking when the wedding is, and putting all these ideas in his head that go straight onto the list of stuff he's not supposed to think or talk about with Bella. She's still so raw.
He starts thinking about her again, like he did before she showed up at his front door, out of the blue and messed up to all hell, and he almost feels guilty for the things his imagination comes up with when he's sprawled out on top of his bed trying to satisfy some new ache that he'd never known before her. There's this dream he has where she's sitting on the countertop in his kitchen and she's got these jeans on that hug her hips and she reaches out to scratch her fingernails down his arm and it's closer, closer, closer—and he always wakes up before it really even gets a chance to begin.
She smiles more and more, and Billy keeps giving him these weird looks like he's not so sure what the hell is going on with his son right now, but he's sure it's something good. It's always so easy to tell which questions are his and which are Charlie's. He thinks that if they ever manage to smash it all down then he could totally fall in love with this girl. He doesn't even care that it would break that unspoken rule amongst all teenagers that dating just isn't as fun if your parents approve. He can almost taste how sweet it could be.
It's just that she makes him happy, and he doesn't really care why that is.
Another week goes by, and suddenly Embry is avoiding him like he has the plague, and the garage is sheltering him from a friend suddenly absent and more questions than he can count as to why all the people he cares about don't seem to have any trouble leaving him.
Part of him never wants to finish working on the motorcycles. They keep his mind off the way Billy's been staring and the way he feels like he's got eyes glued on him every time he leaves the garage. When he's got something to work on he doesn't have to feel like he's got something to hide. It's not like when he's down at the beach with Embry and Quil and its all walls up and secrets safe.
So he keeps working on fixing what comes easy, even though he has no idea what's going to happen once she finally learns to ride this thing. She might have some grand plan to throw what's most important to her in a backpack, hop on her bike and ride south until she can't go any farther. Just like Rebecca did. He thinks that he probably would have, too, if he'd been old enough.
At first she was around so much because of the bikes and they both knew it, even if he wanted to think it was because of him, but then it starts shifting just a bit with each day that passes. They stop spending all their time in the garage, and soon enough it's homework at her kitchen table and dinner in front of the television with Charlie. It starts turning into something just a little bit more real world than it started out, and he feels a cinder block drop.
Charlie asks how Billy's been handling things, and it's not like all the other times he's been presented with this same question. This time it means something, there's depth to it, and he doesn't just brush it off like he used to. When Charlie smiles and pats his shoulder he thinks that maybe the question wasn't really about Billy at all.
As much as there are good days, every now and then comes a bad one, and sometimes he can't quite make himself overlook how one-sided the whole thing is if he looks at it from certain angles. Sure, he's trying to blast holes through that fortress of hers because he likes her, because he wishes someone had been around to care about him when he needed it the most, but what she's doing for him? She doesn't even know she's helping. She's not trying, and she's not deliberately ripping all that hollowness out of him—but he thinks that maybe if he keeps at it, that someday it'll be intentional. Maybe someday she'll care enough to try with him.
Maybe none of that is really the point, and he remembers where he got this whole idea from in the first place.
That's the best part of a fantasy; it only needs the smallest of shoves to keep it going.
He kind of misses the way his friends used to poke fun at him for spending almost all of his free time with Bella. They'd make faces and croon sappy words as they kicked sand up and down the beach, and he'd brush it all off on the outside but be secretly pleased that they noticed he has a thing for her. He'd been happy that they seemed to like her, but not too much, not enough to be branded as competition. It's too bad Embry's pretty much disappeared, and Quil's just not the type to get the ball rolling.
It doesn't feel so much like closing himself off this time. It's more like sinking.
And then the weirdest thing happens; she asks him what's wrong, and she really, really means it. It's so fucked up that all he can think is that she almost reminds him of his mom. It's there for just a moment in the way she hugs him so tight, like he's hers—and then it's gone as quick as it came. Two seconds later and she's brushing him off and moving the strand of hair he'd so carefully tucked behind her ear. It's back to hiding behind barricades, back to approved topics of conversation only.
He should have known that the first thing she'd do when she got on that motorcycle is crash it—and his heart stops and blurry blue and red lights come flooding in from the sides and all that emptiness that she's pulled out of him in just a few short weeks comes flooding back in like a tidal wave and holy fuck—it's like watching it happen right before his eyes when all he'd ever seen before is the wreckage.
He's totally screwed. He's just... he's so fucked—and then she has to do something like cover their tracks like a pro and call him beautiful. Sort of beautiful. Whatever, it still makes his stomach tighten and mind race. He thinks it's a little disturbing, how well he manages to pretend like it didn't send his entire self into overdrive.
If he could find a completely out of sight surface in the hospital to bang his head against until he either blacked out or woke up, then he would have. This whole thing would be so much less messy if he could just fix her as easily as he did those bikes.
It's not until much later that night that he realizes it can't possibly be a good thing that first she wanted to ride a motorcycle, and now she wants to jump off a cliff. Connecting the dots really sucks sometimes, and now he can't really not see all those little things about her that are just off. There's more to her story than what meets the eye, but they have a silent agreement not to talk about the things that hurt them the most, so it's not like he can ask.
The next time they take the bikes out he watches her more carefully, and he sees it, something in the way she grips the clutch and kick-starts the engine so violently that makes him wonder what exactly this is all about for her. So he keeps watching, keeps driving her to the ER, and keeps trying not to laugh at all the crazy excuses she comes up with for why she's always falling down in his garage.
He finds it comforting that if he's watching her so carefully he doesn't have to look very closely at himself. He doesn't have so much time to wonder why he feels like maybe he's changing in more than just the obvious ways. He doesn't have to agonize over why Billy is still staring and why Sam is suddenly trying to talk to him and why Embry may as well just be gone. If he's got it all focused on Bella he can brush of Billy's comment that maybe he's getting too attached as his dad seeing what even he can't deny any more; Bella isn't all in. Not yet.
He refuses to let it bother him, because what nobody but him gets to see is the way she's inching forward with every hole he breaks in that wall of hers. Someday it's going to all come crashing down. One day the rubble and smoke is going to clear, and what's going to matter is that after all they've been through he's going to be the one who never left—and so will she.
It's not really a question of when or if he's going to fall in love with her anymore.
He wants to pretend that he doesn't know she's up to something when they have to cool it on the bikes, and she suggests hiking instead. Like Bella would ever actually want to go hiking. He chalks it up to being a moronic teenage boy too full of hormones when he agrees without even trying to convince himself not to. It's probably a good thing she hasn't realized that she's going to get whatever she wants out of him.
That night he fights with his Dad so hard that he almost takes Bella up on her offer of sleeping on her couch. If he wants to go stomping through the woods with Bella all weekend, then that's exactly what he's going to do. He's not going to let some super-bear stop him.
Embry was always way better at hashing this shit out than Quil. Instead of trying to talk to either he decides his car needs to be finished, like, yesterday.
She starts to come back to herself, but it feels like all the seams are about to start unraveling, like he's just one wrong step from losing what little he has left. That lack of misery fogging her vision means that now she sees through stupid shit like conversation hearts and grabbing her a soda from the fridge. Now she's starting to realize she can see through the surface, and it's not looking so good for him anymore. The fantasy ebbs just like the surf, and he starts to understand that it's not really all about breaking through to her or picking up the pieces; she's got to want to put herself back together again, and he doesn't know if she cares enough to.
She's got this weird way of knowing the instant she brings him down too hard.
The fun part of being just a little optimistic about a girl is that it doesn't take much to make it seem plausible all over again. It only takes one demonstration of how he knows her better than she or anyone else expected, and he's right back in. Just one little victory and he realizes that if he wants to start opening up avenues and kicking down the last bits and pieces of what keeps her apart from the world, then he's got to put himself out there, too. He can't just expect her to make the first move, not when he's been sitting back and keeping a tight grip on his share of what they don't talk about.
So he goes for it. He lets just the faintest trickle start bleeding out, and he prods at what she tries so hard to keep wrapped up and secret, tucked away somewhere dark and deep, where it can't hurt her anymore.
And here's the thing—right now it's the other guy, it's probably going to be the other guy for a while, too—but someday it's going to be him. He can feel it. One day when shit is done raining down, and Bella's finally pulled herself through this mess, it's going to be him and her left standing, and it's not just some teenage pipe-dream that makes him think so. It's not just the way she smiles or the curve of her hips. It's that they make each other happy. They make each other better. They don't even have to try.
It figures that just when it all seems like it's going to come together, everything falls apart instead. Or explodes. It's definitely more like an explosion. Actually, what it's really like is being ripped inside out in the blink of an eye. It's like this movie he saw once, where pictures, lights, and words flash and bombard and suddenly he knows all these things that he didn't before. He knows what happened to her. There's the ghosts of legends solidifying and this thing tearing through his muscles, and so, so many voices screaming in his head.
He's got chains lashing him down to La Push and he's lost all that he gained and only gotten back some of what was taken away in the first place. He has Embry again, but now there's no Quil. Now he has to be the one who leaves.
The voices say there's no use in fighting it. There's nothing left to fight for anyway.
And the more words spin, the higher up the piles of bricks and mortar and concrete and wrought iron go... and if Rebecca has a moat and Bella is a fortress, then he's going to build the Great Wall of China all around himself. And nobody's ever gonna come to knock it down.