A lot of credit for this fic goes to glitteratiglue, who understands my obsession and let me stalk CS around Birmingham without putting out a restraining order. As always, I own nothing except the plots my twisted little mind comes up with. I hope everyone who donated to get this compilation enjoys this story.
It had all been so perfect, and now everything was going wrong.
Jacob had been burning up for days, his skin growing hotter, the fabric of his clothes itching across his skin. He knew he was getting sick, probably the stomach flu bug that had been making the rounds through most of Forks and La Push, and that he should really stay home and rest up, but Bella had invited him out to the movies and he was going to be there no matter what.
She was beginning to let him in, he knew it. He had made his devotion to her clear over the time they had spent together and now he was beginning to feel like she was making him a bigger part of her life. Hell, she was even introducing him to her friends from school, blurring the lines even further.
The presence of the guy from the beach who couldn't get a clue didn't even bother him. Although Mike seemed like an ok guy, if you liked that sort of thing, Jacob could tell that Bella wasn't interested in him, her whispered comment about him being hard to discourage had raised his hopes for the two of them. And it was all going great. Bella had shared his enthusiasm for finally completing the work on the Rabbit and let him hold her hand after high-fiving it. She had blushed prettily (and if anyone told his friends that he had actually though that word, he would smack them down) when he had told Mike that she didn't like music anymore, revealing just how much he paid attention to her when she was hanging out with him in the garage. She had laughed with him at the ridiculous gore on the big screen at the theatre, egging him on as they had mocked the acting, fighting and increasingly ridiculous death scenes.
She hadn't held his hand during the movie and she had shrugged off his arm after when he tried to wrap it around her shoulders, but she had let him touch her later, she had sat with him and allowed him to take her hand and admitted that she liked him better than anyone else that she knew.
Jacob wasn't stupid; he knew that it was far from a declaration of love, but he could be patient. He was on her radar now and he was going to stick around for as long as it took for her to be over that Cullen dude and admit how much she really liked him. She already did, he knew that, but he also knew that it would be a while until she was ready to move on, and in the meantime he would be there for her.
He had this feeling about Bella Swan. He didn't know what it was exactly, but something about her called to him. He loved being around her, just her presence made something deep inside him feel content, and he knew that he could make her happy too, when she was ready for it.
But then on the way home everything had started to feel strange for him
At first he hadn't thought anything of his high temperature, except to feel pleased when Bella had snuggled up close to him in the Rabbit, pressing closely against him, using his body heat to stay warm. Sure, he had been a bit worried about the state of his car given that Mike kept throwing up into a popcorn bucket, and he felt the need to turn around and check that his car remained unscathed. It'd suck to have just got the Rabbit in good working order, only to then have to ride around with the stench of vomit stinking up the interior. But when he was driving Bella back from Mike's he began to feel off, his vision swimming in front of him for a second before settling back down again.
When he had called off going inside to spend more time with Bella in favour of going home to get some rest, she had begged him to call her to let her know how he was.
And then he had opened his big mouth.
"...I wanted you to know that I'm always here. I won't ever let you down – I promise that you can always count on me..."
Instead of cringing away from him like he expected, Bella had offered him a hesitant smile and a reassurance, and he had been unable to stop himself from beaming back at her. She knew what he was saying, she understood the connotations behind his declaration, and she hadn't slapped him.
He could have danced for joy, he could have grabbed Bella in his arms and spun her around until they were both dizzy. Instead, he had hunched over, one hand grabbing the steering wheel for support, as his body hunched over, a painful ripple echoing along his bones.
"I really think I'd better go home now," he fought not to let the pain in his joints show in his tone of voice.
Bella had slid out of the car pretty quickly at the prospect of catching something, yelling at him to remember to call once he got home, and he had driven back to the reservation as quickly as possible. All the time his skin felt tight as if something inside was stretching out, pushing at the boundaries of his body.
Jacob raised a hand to his forehead. He didn't feel too hot to his own touch, but he definitely seemed warm and Bella had seemed to think that he was burning up. As if to prove her right, a bead of sweat began to trickle down the back of his neck and he wiped it away impatiently, cursing when his hair stuck to his skin.
He didn't want to get sick; he couldn't get sick. Saturdays were Bella's day at work, but she was supposed to be coming down on Sunday so he could have another attempt at teaching her how to ride the motorbikes, although given how often he ended up carting her along to the ER, he was beginning to think that she would never fully master the skill. But even as he pulled his hand back, he could feel the fine trembling that wracked through his body.
Jacob took a couple of deep breaths before getting out of the car, resisting the urge to slam the door like his muscles unconsciously wanted too. That there was a sign that something was wrong; he had worked hard for over a year now to get the Rabbit up and running, so why did he suddenly feel the need to destroy and crush anything he could get his hands on?
He was still shaking lightly when he entered the house, shudders taking hold of his body every other breath. Jacob inhaled sharply, trying to steady his body enough to stop the tremors, but it was as if it was no longer within his control. He silently swore as it dawned on him that he would probably be spending the next few days in bed. That was all he wanted, to have to stay in bed, weak as a kitten with the flu, while the girl of his dreams ran around getting into God knows what kind of trouble.
The sound of his father's voice made him flinch, it sounded too loud. He tried not to let his irritation show in his voice when he replied.
There was silence. Obviously Billy had caught the rattled edge to his tone. He leant against the kitchen table as his breath began to quicken, each inhalation of air rasping painfully along his chest and into his lungs. The quiet in the little house was slowly deafening him, the tick of the clock on the wall getting louder with every stroke. And under it all was another sound, a faint wet pulsing sound beating unsteadily in the other room where his father was.
Finally Billy called out. "Jake could you come in here for a second please?"
Jacob huffed loudly. It might have sounded like a polite request but he knew it was really a command, as if his father didn't make enough of those as it was. Every footstep towards the living room felt heavy, like lead, weighing him down.
"Jake?" Billy eyed him warily, taking in his son's shaking frame, the sweat beginning to drop down his forehead. "Are you feeling alright? You look a little strange."
Always pushing. Always questioning.
Anger flashed hot through him...and then the world exploded.
Jacob cried out loudly as his body seemed to tear apart, his skin shredding as a sharp force ripped and slashed at his insides. His blood felt like it was boiling inside him, his bones splintering as they broke apart from each other and then melded together again in a way that just felt wrong. He needed something to hold on to, something to cling to, just so that he could ride this pain out, but when he reached out, there were no hands, no fingers to grasp with, instead there were only sharp claws that stretched out, flailing dangerously close to his father's face.
His screams of human pain deepened into howls of rage and hurt. Everything seemed sharper, brighter...harsher.
The lines of horror across his father's face were thrown into sharp relief and Jacob immediately cowered back against the fear he could smell. His father was afraid of him, afraid of whatever he had turned into.
Everything was blurry...and confusing...and painful.
The earth was spinning on its axis and there was nothing left for him to cling to. The shuddering in Jacob's body hadn't gone away, only now his anger was gone, now all he wanted was comfort, for someone to help him, to explain what had gone so horribly wrong. He took a step towards his father, begging for help, only instead of a plea he only heard a whimpering noise, and instead of pulling him into his arms and telling him that everything would be alright, his father hurriedly rolled his wheelchair back a few metres.
All he could think of was that his father didn't want him; his father wouldn't help. He shook his head. What was he supposed to do? Where was he supposed to go?
A name whispered through his mind.
Bella would know what to do. Bella would help him.
She had to.
He barrelled through the closed door, barely registering the splinters of wood that flew all around him, and sprinted into the woods. He was running crouched down... No, he was running on all fours. The paws where his hands should be sunk into the damp earth as he skirted easily around the trees in front of him.
In the back of his mind, Jacob knew he shouldn't be able to run like this. He shouldn't be able to run this fast, shouldn't be able to jump over the upraised roots that threatened to trip him up with such ease, he shouldn't be able to hear all the creatures in the forest, shouldn't be able to smell the faint scent of family that was barrelling towards him from the left...
He ran faster, trying to get away from whatever was hunting him.
Bella. Bella. Bella.
He concentrated on her name, tried to remember his face, what she had looked like this evening when she had grinned with him as they mercilessly mocked that terrible movie.
His concentration broke though when something else flashed through his mind, a sighting of a red wolf running perpendicular to him in the forest. It felt wrong though; it didn't feel like his own thought. There was no red wolf in front of him. O red wolf anywhere he could see.
He was going crazy – it was the only explanation for what was happening.
Bella. Bella. Bella.
'Jake! Stop, dude! You gotta stop, you gotta calm down!'
A strange growling sound came out of his throat and he briefly stumbled over a fallen tree before he sprung forward again, pushing his legs as hard as he could, feeling the burn of overexertion spread up his arms because it wasn't just his legs running anymore.
And now he was hearing things in his head, no, not things...Embry. Embry who hadn't talked to him or Quil in weeks except to just nod at them across the cafeteria as if nothing was wrong, as if nothing had changed.
Bella. Bella. Bella.
'Jake, dude, you just gotta calm down and stop running. Jared's gone to get Sam; it'll all be ok soon, he'll explain everything, you just need to calm down.'
Jacob swore that he was imagining things. Only that couldn't be right, because why would he be imagining Embry's voice so clearly, why wouldn't he be imagining something better, something... less confusing.
Something like Bella.
There was a gap in the trees and Jacob shot through it, vaguely recognising the stretch of road as he sprinted along it. He was going in the wrong direction. He needed to turn around. He needed to get to Forks...to Bella.
'Shit, Jake! Watch what you're doing! And get off the road! Someone could see you!'
The red wolf that wasn't really there was back in front of him and he began to gain on its hindquarters. He was so close to it that he could feel his breath on the back of its legs.
But they were his legs, not the wolf's.
He could feel the heat of panting against his feet, only to have them knocked out from under him the next second. Whatever was behind him barrelled into him, sending him flying towards the side of the road, back into the tree cover.
The red wolf fell too, twisting unnaturally as it fell before scrambling unsteadily to its feet once more.
Jacob stood up and turned to face his attacker only to be faced with the largest wolf he had ever seen. He backed away only for the brown wolf to walk towards him carefully, its head bowed down slightly, its eyes staring at him in an all-too-human manner, the sympathy clear in them. Only that couldn't be possible, because wolves couldn't be sympathetic. Wolves couldn't be anything other than wolves.
And then there was the other one, the red wolf, whose face appeared superimposed over the brown wolf's, its hackles raised, it's snout curled back over its teeth as it prepared to defend itself. He bared his own teeth against the imaginary threat...
'Jake.' The brown wolf ducked his head as he heard Embry's voice come out of nowhere again. 'It's me, dude. I'm not going to attack you; I'm just trying to keep you out of sight until the others get here.'
Jacob shook his head again; he was going insane, he knew it. He went to run his hand over his face, only to freeze when a giant reddish-brown paw came towards him.
The strange red wolf who didn't appear to exist, that red wolf who ran like he did and fell when he did...
'Yeah, sorry. I should've probably told you that part before you freaked out. You're a werewolf, Jake. So am I, and Sam Uley, and Paul and Jared too. And we can hear each other's minds, which is why you can hear me talking to you.'
Sam. Paul. Jared. Embry. Bella. Bella. Bella...
And he was a werewolf. A werewolf!
He wouldn't have believed it, didn't want to believe it, but then he remembered the claws, those sharp claws reaching out towards his father... The brown wolf wasn't smiling anymore.
'He's ok, you know. He called Sam after you left the house to warn him that you'd phased.'
Phased. Jacob fought through the confusion in his mind to try and understand how this wolf, how... – he couldn't even believe that this was his friend – Embry knew what was going on.
'It's the mind-reading,' the disconnected voice rang through his head again. 'I can hear what you're thinking and you can hear what I'm thinking too. Sam, Jared and Paul just phased, that's how I know what your dad said. Can't you hear them?' The brown wolf cocked its head curiously once more and Jacob found himself trying to shut the panicked whispers in his head up so he could hear what was going on.
There were other voices, now that he thought about it. He could hear them as clearly as if they were stood near to them.
'Nice work, Embry.'
'...good thing he stopped running...'
'...little Alpha's finally changed. There's no way I'm...'
The first voice was the loudest and strongest though and Jacob thought he recognised the deep, commanding voice of Sam Uley.
'Just stay there until we reach you. You need to keep out of sight until we can get him to shift back.'
As well as the voices, Jacob could hear the sound of approaching footsteps thundering in his and the Embry-wolf's direction. He twitched. He didn't like this. It felt too much like he was being gradually hemmed in.
He needed to get to Bella, she would help him, he knew she would. He kept repeating her name to himself, trying to drown out the sound of the approaching boys.
Not boys. Wolves.
'...Great. Jake's fallen for the leech lover. That'll work out great...'
'Shut up, Paul!'
The command was harsh, reverberating through Jacob's bones. This was not a voice that you argued with.
Bella. Bella. Bella.
Jacob heard that strange whimpering sound come from his throat again and he bowed down, his front legs buckling. A flash of grey to his left had him back on his feet, circling warily. The Embry-wolf stayed standing where it was, untroubled by the prospect of being surrounded.
'Chill, Jake. It's just the guys.'
He couldn't relax though. Jacob's head swivelled round as rustling came from all around him. A dark brown snout pushed its way through the bushes parallel to his shoulders, and he was so busy watching it advance that he almost failed to notice the grey wolf that had snuck up behind him. He jolted round, the unfamiliar angle of his legs throwing him off balance.
'...aww, he's like Bambi...'
Jacob snarled, his lips peeling back over his teeth, the defensive growl sounding a lot more threatening than he intended it to.
What's going on? Need to get out of here. Bella. Bella. Bella.
The grey wolf threw its head and howled, and, confused as he was, Jacob could pick out the mocking edge to it.
The voices were back and louder than ever, deafening him. He spun around in a circle, trying to defend himself from every angle. The two new wolves kept advancing though, and there was another shape, a dark shadow that lurked just behind the Embry-wolf, just out of sight.
'...looks like he's about to bolt...'
'...calling you the Embry-wolf, doesn't believe it's you, dude...'
Long, dark hair blowing messily in the wind.
'...need to keep him calm...'
Scuffed sneakers with laces barely holding on.
'...probably Quil next if Jake's already gone...'
Delicate, scarred hands.
'... long is this gonna take. Kim's...'
Full, bitten lips.
'Jake, you need to listen to me.'
Wide, brown eyes.
'Jake! You need to focus. You have to listen to me unless you want to stay like this.'
Bella. Bella. Bella.
Sam's severe voice cut through all the noise, banishing the memory of Bella Jake had conjured in his mind.
'You need to calm down now!'
The command was forceful and sent Jacob to the floor once more. The next order found him shrinking in on himself.
'Phase back now, Jake! The rest of you too.'
The pain was back again. The bone popping and shaking that he had finally been rid of returning to bend his body backwards in an arch of agony.
Jacob collapsed, shivering as the cool night air brushed against his skin. His limbs were shuddering uncontrollably but when he looked down he was relieved to see hands once more, fingers trembling in place of claws.
He was cold, so cold, and naked. Nothing to protect him, nowhere to hide.
The others wolves had vanished too...all except one.
The dark shadow that had remained hidden before now stalked forward towards him. Jacob blinked blearily as his eyes adjusted to the sight before him.
A wolf, bigger than the others, almost as big as a horse or a buffalo from what he could see from his prone position. It didn't stay that way for long though. Instead, the wolf appeared to shrink in on itself, its outline blurring quickly before resettling into the shape of a familiar figure.
He looked grim, as he always did these days, and although he immediately reached for and pulled on what looked like a pair of cut-offs tied around his calf, his unclothed state didn't appear to bother him. It made Jacob more aware of his own nudity though, and with every muscle aching excruciatingly, he drew his legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his knees.
Everything hurt. Everything was hard and agonising and jarring.
He could see too much. He could feel too much.
He started at the sound of his name. This was coming from outside him, not inside his head like the other voices had been.
"Jacob, how do you feel?"
Jacob laughed inwardly, manically, but wasn't stupid enough to let Sam hear his hysteria.
Three other boys had now emerged from behind the tree line and were stood behind Sam. All three were wearing cut-off jeans and had the same haircut and grim look on their faces. It took him a second to identify which one was which. He found himself staring at Embry, trying to reconcile his childhood friend with the giant wolf that had stood before him.
"Jake," Sam repeated. "Do you feel alright? Do you understand what's happening?"
What was happening? He had just turned into a giant wolf, that's what was happening!
Bile rose heavy and thick in his throat and he managed to uncurl long enough to throw up, coughing and spitting out the sick taste in his mouth long after the vomit was gone. The other boys all wrinkled up their noses but didn't move away from him.
They didn't move towards him either, and it was the lack of comfort or caring that made Jacob want to cry.
He wanted to go home, he wanted to go back to the beginning of the evening when he was out with Bella and, God, even her paleface weakling friend. He wanted to go back to that feeling of happiness when she had promised him that she wasn't going anywhere and that he could stay with her for as long as he wanted to.
But he couldn't go home because he had nearly ripped his father's face off and he couldn't go back to that triumphant moment because his head had been invaded by this pack of wolves and he just knew that he would end up like Embry... Unable to talk to his friends, unable to hang out with Quil, unable to spend time with Bella.
...and he had promised her that he wouldn't leave her, like her other boyfriend had. He had promised her so faithfully that wouldn't let Sam get to him, that he was there for the long haul to comfort and protect her.
Bella. Bella. Bella.
And he could see the brief flare of regret in Sam's eyes as he looked down at him sternly before turning to the other boys and beginning to plan.
"...need to tell the elders, if Billy hasn't already. They'll want to know. Jared, tell Old Quil to prepare for the marking; we'll bring him in tonight now that he's phased back. I'm actually quite impressed that he managed it so quickly, I thought it would take days..."
Their words fluttered around his mind, he understood the words they were saying but he couldn't grasp the context. He knew they were taking him away though, taking him somewhere he didn't want to go. I mean, what the hell was the marking?
He didn't want this, didn't understand it. He could still hear their voices inside his head, still feel that...creature that was inside him pacing around. It didn't like any of this either. It especially didn't like Sam. He smelt wrong, looked wrong, sounded wrong. The red wolf stretched inside him and Jacob choked back a cry of distress.
He wanted... He wanted...
He wanted Bella.
He had to escape from this gang first though.
They were still murmuring quietly amongst themselves, laughing, bantering and insulting each other in equal measure. Jacob knew he would have to be careful, to try and get a head start on them. He didn't think it would be possible though. Every part of his body hurt and if they were wolves, there was no way he would be able to outrun them before they took him down.
Hopelessness and desperation took hold of him and he began to pant heavily as his distress rose even more. Jolts of anguish shook his bones, and then his body wasn't his own any more. The rest of the pack were staring at him in shock, taken aback by his sudden change.
This was his chance! Jacob took advantage of their momentary surprise and shot past them, powering every last bit of energy he had into his limbs. He was fast, he noted with satisfaction. Very fast. He could hear the others scrambling behind him to catch up, could hear the moment that they changed shape too as his mind was suddenly flooded with their voices.
'Slow down, Jacob!'
'What the hell do you think you're doing pup?'
'You need to stop! Now!'
The last command pulled at him and made him hesitate, stumbling over his alien paws, but the thought of what lay ahead of him was stronger and helped him recover his footing. He focused on her name; if only he could concentrate, could get to her then he knew he would be alright.
Bella. Bella. Bella. Bella Bella Bella Bella...
The cries of the other guys got further away and Jacob began to recognise landmarks heralding the approach to Forks...and to her.
He kept to the forest lining the road. He didn't want to lose direction, but he had seen in the Embry-wolf's mind just what he looked like now; there was no need to scare anyone out on the road senseless if he could help it.
He was so close though and he couldn't help the mournful howl that left his throat as he emerged from the woods into the Chief's backyard. There was no sign of Charlie's patrol car where it usually parked by the side of the house, so he assumed that Bella was in the house by herself. He tried to call out to her, but could only manage a forlorn howl.
Jacob whined frantically; he didn't know how to change back, last time Sam had done something to him to shift him back into his own body. His panic welled up inside him once more.
What if he was stuck this way? What if he could never change back? What would happen to him if he could never go home?
He could hear the others approaching fast and he staggered up the final few steps onto the back porch, one paw coming up to scratch and scrape at the door, whimpering to himself.
Cautious movement on the inside of the house drew his attention and he sniffed the air warily.
It was Bella. He could smell her; he could recognise her.
He whined again, greedily inhaling the soft, feminine scent that resided within the house, and something shifted inside him.
The change was less violent this time, less painful, more natural. There was no time to marvel over the transformation though, the growls from his pursuers were getting louder, and he barely managed to lift one arm to thump weakly at the wooden panels of the door.
"Bella!" His voice was hoarse and weak, his throat scratchy. "Bella, please!" He coughed harshly.
There was no more movement from inside the house, and Jacob's heart sank as his chance for escape from Sam and his cronies slipped from between his fingers.
Then the door opened and she was there.
"Jacob?" Her voice wavered, small and uncertain.
"Bella." His only held relief.
His energy was gone though and he couldn't even lift his head long enough to look at her. Instead he stared at her bare feet, on finger darting out to trail over her instep.
"Bella." It was all he could say.
"Jake, what's going on? What's happened to you?"
He could smell her fear now and he flinched back as if she had struck him.
"Help me," he whispered. He could hear them now, changing back to their human forms, coming ever closer. "Please, Bella, help me. Don't let them get to me."
Bella sank to her knees in front of him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Don't let who...? Jake, I don't understand."
A splash of moisture landed on his neck and he slid his hand up her arm, using his memory of her body to guide him onwards until he touched her face. She was crying. She was crying for him.
"Jake?" she begged.
Bella gasped at the sound of the new voice, her body tensing next to Jacob's. Pushing past the ache, he shifted around so that he could see the approaching threat, guiding Bella behind him protectively.
"What the fuck are you doing, Jake? Huh? Bringing the leech lover into this?" Paul stalked forward menacingly, ignoring Bella's gasp of hurt and Jacob's warning growl.
"Paul!" Sam held out a hand to halt him in his tracks. Jared and Embry kept glancing between him and Jacob, obviously unsure how to handle the situation. The older man sighed and rubbed his hand tiredly over his face and Jacob momentarily felt a twinge of sympathy towards him.
"This is getting ridiculous," he finally said. "Jake you need to come with us now. This has gotten out of hand. We need to get back to the reservation now!"
He whimpered again, evidently it was a sound that translated across species, because Bella's arms tightened around him in comfort at it.
Sam began to slowly walk across the yard towards them. "Let's go, Jake."
"Leave him alone!" Bella's arms fell away from Jacob as she rose up, stepping over his body where he lay, putting herself between him and Sam.
"This doesn't concern you, Bella," Embry's voice had never sounded so cold.
"Yeah," Paul interjected, a snarl on his face, "run along back inside, paleface."
The anger on his face scared Jacob. He had to get Bella out the way, only when he tugged on her ankle, she refused to move.
"Jake," she spoke in a low voice, but he heard every word clearly. "Go inside the house."
Paul began to shake and look even more furious than he already did if that was possible.
"Bella, I don't think..."
"Get inside, Jacob." When he looked like he would hesitate any longer, she added, "Please, Jake...for me."
His legs now felt like jello, so he used his arms to drag himself over the threshold. Bella backed slowly into the house behind him, keeping her eyes fixed on the boys in front of her in case they tried anything. She gripped the edge of the door, ready to slam it shut as soon as she was out the way.
"Bella," Sam raised one hand pleadingly, "please don't do this. You don't know what Jacob's going through right now. We do. We can help him."
Instead of cowering or looking afraid though, Bella raised her chin, staring the almost-men in the garden down
"You don't know anything about him, Sam. He doesn't want you lot anywhere near him. And as long as he wants to stay away from you and your friends," she spat, "then I'll be standing here between the two of you."
Sam grimaced. "Bella, please..."
"Don't make me get my father's gun, Sam. Just walk away and leave him alone."
Jacob was so proud of her in that moment; she was absolutely magnificent in her ferocity to protect him.
The older man lost control then for a second, a snarl crossing his face before he regained his composure.
"Go!" Bella shouted, pointing back to the woods. "Get back to wherever you came from! You're not coming here and you're not taking Jake with you!"
Everyone froze for a moment while angles and tactics were considered and discarded. Finally, with a snort, Sam broke the stand-off.
"Fine. But he'll have to come home eventually Bella. He can't hide behind you forever."
Nodding at the boys behind him, he grabbed one of Paul's arms, Jared taking the other, and dragged him back into the forest. Embry spared his friend one last look before shaking his head and running after them.
Bella waited until they had disappeared from her sight before she shut the door, collapsing against it as the adrenaline began to fade, her breath coming out in pants as she tried to calm herself down. Jacob shifted so that he was lying alongside her. They stayed where they were, the clock in the living room slowly ticking time away until Bella pulled herself together enough to stir.
"That was..." she paused, unsure of what else to say.
Jacob reached out to grab her hand, squeezing it within his own. "Thank you. For standing up for me...for not letting them get to me..."
Bella frowned. "I still don't exactly know what just happened, Jake."
"I don't either really," he confessed. "I was at home talking to my dad, and then..." The trembling was back again, but this time it quickly waned when Bella began to run her hand up and down his arm, the contact with his bare skin soothing him.
"Shh," she hushed him. "You don't have to tell me anything yet; we'll deal with that later, ok?"
He grinned up at her adoringly. "You're amazing, Bella, really."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Sure, sure. I'm a saint. And you're..." She suddenly blushed. "...kinda naked, Jake."
He'd forgotten about that and he felt his embarrassment rise, grateful that it wouldn't be splashed across his face like hers. "Sorry about that," he mumbled.
Bella's eyes darted around, unsure of where to look. "Ummm, I'm sure Charlie's got some shorts somewhere that you can borrow. You should probably have a shower first though. Look at you, you're covered in leaves and dirt."
She stood up and held out her hand, letting him lean on her unsteadily as he struggled to his feet. Throwing an arm across her shoulders for support, the two of them shuffled precariously up the stairs and into the bathroom. Gaze averted, Bella handed him a towel to cover himself with while she ran the hot water for a bath. When she was done, they stood awkwardly in front of each other.
"Well..." she began, and then paused. "Umm, just shout if you need anything else. I'll go and find you some of Charlie's clothes to change into."
She escaped the room pretty quickly, and despite the horror of the evening, Jacob laughed in delight at her flustered reaction. Her quick glance back at his semi-clothed form had not gone unnoticed.
It felt good to wash away the remnants of the evening though. Each swipe of the washcloth banished another memory: the shame of failing his father, the damage he had left behind at La Push, the look of disappointment on Embry's face.
It wasn't until he felt Bella's arms wrap around him once more that he realised that he was sobbing uncontrollably, crying for everything he had lost that evening. And throughout it all, she was with him.
Bella didn't judge, didn't tell him what he should or shouldn't do. She just helped him up, wiping his tears away with her hand. He felt numb and lifeless as she carefully dried his body, although she steadfastly avoided the area surrounding his groin, and helped him into a pair of shorts that smelt like her father.
Entwining her fingers with his, she led Jacob towards her bedroom, pressing lightly on his shoulders so that he sat heavily on her bed. Carefully, she guided him until he was lying down and then vanished. She didn't go far. He could hear her moving around, getting ready for bed and brushing her teeth in the bathroom.
When she returned, she switched off the light and climbed into bed behind him. As if she could sense his need for reassurance, Bella curled her body around his, wrapping one of her arms around his waist.
She was quiet for a moment.
"I was really worried about you tonight," she whispered. "When you said you were sick, I got this horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, like if I let you go home then, I would never see you again. And then when you didn't call me when you got home..." She swallowed heavily. "I was scared, Jacob."
Jacob reached back to clasp her hand where it lay on his hip. "I was scared too. Everything was just so wrong, and all I could think of was that if I could only get to you then everything would be ok, I would be safe."
"You will be," she vowed quietly. "I heard you earlier when you said that you were here for me, Jake, that you would wait. I can't... I can't guarantee that I'll ever be ready for... But I'm here for you too, Jake. I'll fight for you if I have to."
He clutched her hand tighter, not needing words to convey his gratitude. Bella's body eventually relaxed into slumber, her breath evening out, and Jacob carefully raised her hand to his mouth, gently kissing her knuckle.
"I'll fight for you too, Bella. Always."