A/N: This was originally written for a Jacob x Bella fic exchange in The Air The Sun - a Livejournal community dedicated to Jake and Bells. Prompts were sent in and then distributed, and I was lucky enough to get MeraNaamJoker's:
1. "Love suffers long and is kind." 1 Corinthians 13:4a, NKJV
2. "I wonder how you live and drive your demons away / See your love is bold and underlined." Bold and Underlined by Future of Forestry
Huge thanks must go to the awesome sadtomato, audreyii-fic and cretin (that's her username, I'm not being a shit) who pre-read, beta'd, advised and generally made this fic far, far better.
WARNING: It probably goes without saying that Love suffers boldly is more than a little anti-Edward. *cough* So, DO NOT READ IF YOU LIKE THE MARBLE-FACED ONE WITH A LIMITED APPRECIATION OF SECOND WAVE FEMINISM.
Or if you do, you can't say I didn't warn you.
Love suffers boldly
Nothing would stay put in Bella's hands. The only things she'd been able to shove haphazardly into her duffel bag were a few changes of clothes, her cellphone charger, her passport (she was considering ripping out the Italian border control stamps, but they were so pretty she held back) and a pair of hiking boots.
Charlie stood at the bottom of the stairs, chewing his mustache and gripping the handrail with translucent knuckles.
"Are you sure you know where he's gone, Bells?"
Her head popped out around the corner of the hallway.
"No," she'd only explained this ten or eleven times, "but I have a good idea." And Seth and Leah's mind reading. "I just... Dad, it's Jake. He's on his own out there. And he's sixteen."
Charlie nodded, although his drawn in brows showed his remaining uncertainty.
"I still don't understand why Billy won't let me call in some favours, you know? At least. I get why he doesn't want to file a missing person's, but-"
"It's my fault." Bella interrupted, hoisting the bag up onto her back. "Billy knows why he's gone. Everyone knows." She dropped her head, consumed with remorse and anxiety and need. She needed her Jacob. "It's because of me."
"It is. I led him on, used him. I love him, dad and if anything happens to him..."
She trailed off, the horror of losing Jacob - either physically or mentally - too much for either of them to speak out loud.
Charlie pulled her into a tight hug, kissing the top of her head and rubbing her back.
"Be careful. I want a phone call every single day. And text message updates. If you can't find him in a week, I want you to think about coming back. And don't worry about... Edward."
He said the name like he'd just drunk a shot. Bella knew her dad was not-so-secretly pleased that the wedding had been postponed; Edward had stormed out of the house last night after their first major fight.
"He's my best friend, for God's sake, Edward."
"He's a wolf. He can take care of himself."
"But he's hurting, and he's not got anyone to help if he injures himself or-"
"He's dangerous. I simply cannot allow-"
At that word something inside Bella snapped. It was a small muscle which had held her tongue so many times before, and it hurt like hell when it broke. But it had been weakened by too many stolen choices and bitten back complaints.
"You can't allow what? This is life, Edward. It's dangerous and uncertain and sometimes it hurts so much you feel like you'd rather be dead. I was there once, and Jacob's there now."
His marble face was shocked into movement; his forehead wrinkling with anger, worry and guilt.
"He spent months rescuing what was left of me. The fact that there's anything here now... anything for you to allow... that's all down to him."
Edward's silky voice was so low. "Bella, when will you let that go? Let him go?"
She raised her eyes to his. He needed to see she was serious, to take her at her word, because she was becoming very certain of it.
"I don't think I ever will."
The silence as she closed her mouth was broken only by the sound of the window falling shut, flakes of old paint floating to the floorboards the sole indication that he had been there at all.
A text message from Alice a few hours later had let her push it all into a corner of her mind, so she could focus: "I'll postpone everything. Good luck, Bella."
At the door Charlie handed over the rucksack he'd packed quietly while she flailed. She was about ninety percent certain it contained at least four cans of pepper spray.
"Bella, people aged sixteen... eighteen... they feel so strongly. Suffer so much. I remember my first love. Hell, I've spent more than a decade getting over her. But people can love again. And it might not feel the same, in fact it won't. But that doesn't mean it's less." He paused and let out a gust of breath. "Anyway, I'll stop making nonsense. I'm glad I could see you off this time, at least."
She cringed. Maybe the Swans just weren't good at forgiving and forgetting. Then again, her dad did seem to have moved on. Perhaps.
The drive to Port Angeles was oddly frustrating; the scenery felt so familiar. It was like her mission hadn't really even begun until she'd bought her ticket on the little ferry at Port Townsend and was watching the mist part around the bow.
Breakfast would have been a good idea, but there was nothing to buy onboard, so she fiddled with the phone in her pocket and tried to keep her eyes on the horizon in an attempt to stop her stomach lurching.
Leah had grudgingly informed her she would help following some disturbingly successful puppy dog eyes from Seth. Bella supposed it came with the territory. They had swapped numbers the day before, when Jacob's little nascent pack had decided it was clear he wasn't coming home; he hadn't spoken to a soul in a week and even the pack mind connection had started to disintegrate.
Bella hadn't ever seen Leah looking worried; she faced vampires with the same upturned chin and expression of mocking defiance she always wore. But she'd wrung the hem of her t-shirt as she stood outside the Black's little bungalow, and her voice shook as she'd said: "I can't stand you, you know that? You did this. You broke him, and he's disappearing from us all. Fucking... just... fucking fix it."
It was yet another testament showing what Jacob meant to his friends. A text message buzzed against her hip.
Nr Whistler - I saw the ski lifts when he stopped to rest. You'll have to go faster.
Bella took out the map her dad had packed and scanned it, quickly locating the resort inland from the fractured coastline. Jake was still in British Columbia, at least, in fact in a week he couldhave gone much further. That gave her some hope.
She wasn't sure when he'd catch on to her following him. Leah had said she'd try and keep it from him for as long as possible, as neither of them had known for sure how he'd react. But she'd also warned that hiding secrets from the pack mind was about as successful as holding water in cloth: sooner or later, it got wrung out.
While Bella was adrift in thought, Fort Casey emerged so suddenly from the fog that it startled her. The ferry, of course, docked irritatingly slowly, but as she drove towards Bellingham Bay - and the Canadian border - she felt oddly calm. The pressure of the wedding, change and subsequent horror had fallen away, dissolved into the fog, and the pleasure of being alone and lost surrounded her.
She wondered if this was what Jake was feeling; a soft, numbing barrier between pain and uncertainty and impossible decisions.
Vancouver was big and bustling, but there was no avoiding it, really, and her stomach informed her that if she didn't fill it soon it would begin industrial action. She stopped briefly in a parking garage (pausing to snap a picture of her old, beat up truck next to some cute little shiny cars to text to her dad) and headed out into the city.
After changing some money, and enjoying a little smile at the Queen's serious expression which adorned the bills, she found a coffee shop and ordered a huge plate of pancakes. Her mind wandered as she waited for her food. Did Jake have any clothes or cash at all, or was he constantly living as a wolf? What if he was injured and needed medical care? Or if he couldn't find food..?
A text message from Leah interrupted her tortured thoughts.
"Where are you now? He's heading up to Mount Currie."
She ate fast, then drove north with a heavy foot.
The scenery on the Sea-to-Sky Highway was... extraordinary. The mist which had dogged her journey along the Washington coast lifted as the day progressed, and by mid afternoon Lions Bay glinted and winked in the sunlight as Squamish approached. It was hard to imagine anything more beautiful, but the mountains, which wrestled the view from the ocean as the road continued, breached the stage between land and cloud with an epic majesty.
She reached Whistler around five, and stopped for gas and a burger. While in the restaurant, she clenched her teeth and forced herself to call Leah.
"Hey, I'm almost at Mount Currie. Any ideas where he is now?"
There was silence, then the phone was handed to Seth.
"Bella! How are you doing? Is it pretty up there?"
Her mouth unconsciously bent into a smile.
"Hi there Seth, yeah, it's stunning - you'll have to come up one day. Is Leah wolfing out?"
"Uh huh. I'm not looking cos that would just be eww."
She laughed and chased a few remaining fries around the carton until Leah's voice took over the phone again.
Bella's stomach dropped.
"What did he do? Did he run?"
There was a snort. "No, he just seemed confused." There was some mumbling in the background, and the phone got passed again. Seth's voice was high and sweet over the slightly crackly connection.
"The thing is, Bella, he's been nothing but a wolf for a while now... pretty much since the last time he saw you... and he's not really thinking like a person as much as usual. Does that make sense?"
Bella frowned. "Could you describe it to me?"
Seth put on a comically deep, and bizarrely Southern accent. "It's hunt-sleep-water-pack-hunt... there's not so much of that in between stuff that humans do. It's simpler."
"So what did he think when he saw me in Leah's thoughts?"
More shuffling, repeating of questions, then Seth's boyish tone moderating Leah's undoubtedly pissy response.
"It hurt him." Bella winced. "But he was also surprised - she felt his head jerk, as if you were going to come round the corner that minute. Wolves live in the moment, you see."
"But he didn't just start running?"
"Nope." Leah again. "And I think I got where he was - he let it through in surprise. You won't like it, though."
Bella waited for her to continue.
"East of Whistler, there's a national park - it's called Stein Valley by white people. He's there, near a big lake last I saw. You won't be able to drive it, you'll need to hike."
"How do I find him?"
Silence filled the line.
"You don't. I can't help you when there's no reception on your cell. He'll have to find you, if he wants to. I'll let him know where you'll be, and that's all I can do."
Bella swallowed. She'd half known this was a possibility - toyed with it while always hoping she'd be able to find him near civilisation. Scenes had played out in her mind where she'd catch him crossing a highway, or skulking around a town late at night. But she knew in reality the chances of that were almost non-existent. Wolf Jacob wanted solitude and distance, and he'd need them, too, so he wouldn't be spotted.
The choice now was one of faith. Jake knew she would be there. How long would she wait in the wilderness until he found her? And how good were her camping and survival skills? She knew the park would have grizzly and black bears... mountain lions.
It'd be a Cullen paradise.
The thought made her chest ache.
She'd wondered all through the day if they'd been following her. She likely wouldn't know – after all, he'd left her truck alone this time - but she doubted Edward would allow her to do something like this truly unmonitored. Maybe he'd be watching over her in the park? Maybe he'd be watching her for the rest of her life?
She'd never realised how easily watchingover turned into watching. There was something incredibly frustrating about trying to make a toothless choice on something so fundamental. She wanted to be able to walk out into the wilderness and risk herself to find her best friend. And it was her right to make that decision, no matter how painful or foolish it might seem to those that loved her.
"I'm going." She replied to Leah, while collecting her trash onto the tray. "If you can talk to him again please tell him I'll follow one of the trails. I'll text you which one. Tell him... just find me. I don't want to do anything but talk. I'd even take just seeing he's all right..."
The phone went dead.
The Lower Valley trail was strikingly beautiful. Tall mountains, snowtopped even in June, curtained the horizon as the stone-strewn path wound its way gently up and away from the lake. Bella hadn't ever really been much of a hiker - her mom hadn't exactly encouraged it - but she realised that perhaps it was the sport for her, requiring simply an appreciation of natural beauty and the ability to walk. Okay, so that last part didn't always come easily, but it was a whole lot simpler than attempting to circumnavigate terrifying opponents while depositing a ball somewhere netted.
She breathed deeply, sucking in huge lungfuls of clean, crisp air and for the first time in days realised that even if her shoulders and thighs and feet were aching, her jaw wasn't clenched. There wasn't much she could do now, except walk. That's what her dad had said on the phone the night before, when she'd stayed in a little motel just off the highway.
"Hey, it's me."
"Bella! Good to hear from you. How are things?"
"I'm just outside of Whistler, and I spoke with Leah about an hour ago. She knows where Jake is."
An exhale of relief. "Thank God. Where?"
"He's in the Stein Valley national park," the crinkling of a map sounded in the background, "I'm going to head in there tomorrow."
"Do you know where he's camping?"
Bella paused. She'd realised she'd probably have to lie at some point, but she wanted to make it as innocuous as she could get. She was fed up with telling lies to people she loved.
"No, I don't. Leah's trying to persuade him to find me, though, so I'm going to walk along the Lower Valley Trail over the next few days. Hopefully we'll meet."
"You may get no signal at all in the park for your cell, you know that, right?"
Bella nodded. "I'll do my best to keep in touch, but I've got all the gear you packed and I'll stick to the trail."
"I'm glad my old outdoors kit will be getting some use. Get some of those God awful boil-in-the-bag meals before you set off. Any camp shop'll carry them. And keep drinking lots of water. And don't camp under a tree, or on an ant hill. And stay on the trail."
"Okay, boil my ants and don't get lost and eaten by a bear. Got it, dad. But thanks, you know, for the kit. I owe you."
There was a note of pride in Charlie's voice as he said, "Bullshit. I trust you. You've got a level head, Bells. Use it."
Up this far north in the summer the light stayed until late in the evening, but Bella's feet, unused to the miles she'd put under them, were loudly complaining around four o'clock. She struggled on to the next campsite, and dumped her pack at the furthest, most hidden and secluded place she could find, before collapsing on top of it, chugging water. There wasn't anyone else around - obviously serious hikers were still going for it - so she left her rucksack and trotted off to use the bathrooms.
It was bliss after a day shouldering forty pounds of kit. She'd left her duffel bag and most of its contents in the cab of her truck, but even so, walking without her pack felt like springing on pockets of air. As she washed her hands in the little steel sinks beneath gloomy mirrors, her phone buzzed in her pocket - indicating the first signal she'd gotten all day. It was a voicemail from Alice.
"Bella, I can't seem to get in touch with you, so I'm thinking you're out of cell phone range but... Edward left us today. None of us are sure where he's gone. He keeps changing his mind over and over again, so I can't see his destination, but I know it's a long way from here... and he's moving south. I've stopped looking for a little while. He obviously wants some privacy. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She gripped the cold, tiled counter as her stomach clenched, her previous desolation snarling at the edges of her mind. She saw herself distorted and tormented by the mirror, and had to look away. Why did he always do this? Make everything so black and white, either or, us or them? Then again, maybe he just wanted to be away from her... the thought brought anger seeping in.
Dazed and exhausted, she wandered back to where she'd dropped her bag, but when she got there it had vanished. She glanced the way she'd come, checking she hadn't wandered in a completely wrong direction, but there was no one about, and her footsteps in the dusty ground were clear. She could see the smudge where she'd dropped her pack, too... and a drag trail leading towards the woods.
Despite her growing numbness, her heart jumped into her throat. Perhaps a bear had smelled her food and taken it? She ventured just to the edge of the site, peering into the forest, and trying to squint into the thick, gloomy undergrowth when suddenly she saw it.
Big as a horse with russet fur shining stood Jacob, her rucksack at his paws.
She tried to stop herself, honestly, but her natural exuberance had always forced itself through at times like this. She ran forward, tears quickly forming, and threw her arms around his nearest leg, burying her face in the fur of his chest.
A few seconds passed where they both seemed to wait, savouring their first real contact... then he flew out of her grasp, bounding back and snarling low. She righted herself and took a deep breath, trying to stop the tears which had begun streaking her dusty cheeks.
He growled a little, moving his paws up and down where he stood. At least he was staying put, and slowly his growls faded to a soft whine.
"I'm sorry," she began, holding up her hands. "I didn't mean to freak you out."
The huge animal was motionless, then reluctantly bobbed his head up and down. Her relief cloaked her.
Moments later, he picked up her rucksack in his mouth. Bella knew they wouldn't be able to stay where other people might stumble upon them; Jake obviously wasn't shifting back any time soon. She'd half expected that might be the case, especially after Seth's description of a wolf's mind shielding itself from complex thoughts.
She wished very strongly that she could do the same – briefly pondering that she'd make a nice, nut brown wolf - then cleared her throat and gestured in front of her.
"Lead the way."
Progress through the dense undergrowth was slow, for Bella at least. More than once she tripped over a fallen log, or caught the toe of her boot in low lying brambles. It didn't help that Edward's last, pleading words were repeating themselves in her head.
"Bella, when will you let him go?"
Perhaps he'd thought he might as well leave again, if she wouldn't forget the first time anyway. She blinked rapidly, pushing tears back behind her eyes.
Jacob proceeded with an infuriatingly beautiful loping elegance, of course. After the third time she'd landed on her knees, she called ahead to demand a rest, and Jake circled back to drop her pack at her feet. He sat on his haunches, while she rummaged around for her canteen and a cereal bar, then began eating with gusto, trying not to imagine hooking him up to a sled and being dragged the rest of the way. One thing was for sure, despite its effortlessness, walking on her own two feet was a lot better than being picked up like a two year old.
"How much further?" she mumbled while chewing.
Jake looked pained.
"Oh, sorry." She swallowed her bite. "One mile?" Nothing. "Two?" He moved his head in a rocking motion, seeming to indicate a rough estimate. "Okay."
She offered him the uneaten half of her snack and he sniffed it delicately before nosing it across her flat palm towards her. She snarfed it down in seconds, remembering briefly that he'd never really liked papaya and it was tropical flavoured. This boded well for the rest of the box.
They moved on quickly, Bella forcing herself to recollect the weight and size of the rucksack and the nausea of being carried every time her feet complained, and finally emerged on a bluff overlooking a roaring, white-frothed river. The view for miles around was awe inspiring, with ragged mountaintops and sharp, swaying pine forest as far as she could see.
Behind her, Jacob placed her bag on the ground by what looked like an opening in the rock. She walked over and examined it, ducking inside and waiting for a moment while her eyes got used to the gloom.
The base of the cave was strewn with dried out grass, which smelled sweet and faintly doggy. She collapsed onto the soft bedding, moaning appreciatively and heard a faint barked chuckle from outside. She knew she should cook, should change her clothes and set out her sleeping bag, but right then and there an exhaustion the like of which she'd never felt ripped the breath from her body. The thought of moving even a few feet, of doing anything, seemed so monstrous she simply let her eyes close and her body drift into unconsciousness.
She was woken a couple of hours later by the persistent chime of another message. It was Alice again, still frustrated by the intermittent signal - the cell must have gotten a few bars back on the hike up here.
"Bella, I'm very angry with Edward now, and I wanted to tell you something. I know you've heard this story once before, but I doubt you've thought of it in this context. Jasper was in love before he met me. He was crazy about a woman called Maria, utterly devoted to her. I'm not sure she ever truly loved him, although he most definitely adored her. But he left her utterly heartbroken, roamed, and eventually we met and he fell in love with me."
There was a pause.
"I know Edward's told you we're like stone, we don't change once we've found our one true love... but I disagree. I don't really believe in that stupid soulmate concept anyway. We do change - he's changed so much since he's known you, so have I. And we can love different people in lots of different ways. Just because you might not be his girlfriend or fiancee or wife doesn't mean he won't love again. He's just melodramatic, oversensitive Edward. In so many ways, he's still a seventeen year old because he never let himself move on emotionally till he met you."
She took an unneccessary breath.
"Okay, I'm done. And this thing will probably cut me off soon, too, damn phone companies. Anyway, just bear that in mind. And also that I don't care what he says this time - I will never ever stop being your friend. Ever. I love you."
Bella dropped the phone, and it landed with a soft thud in the hay. At that moment she would have given her right arm to have Alice there so she could talk to her. Instead, she lay back down, shut her eyes, and tried to calm her chaotic head. A lot of things were falling into place, becoming inevitable, which she knew would be so painful. The little cracks that had been veining her and Edward's grand romance had become chasms, largely without her even noticing. She was glad she was alone as she sobbed and sobbed and wiped her eyes with her dad's flannel shirt.
Jake was still a wolf as darkness fell. He'd spent the afternoon hunting, and had returned with a bloody muzzle and wet, matted fur, nudging her with his nose until she'd stirred from her anguish. The day had been sunny, but the hike had covered her in sweat which was now chilling her skin. She sat, quiet at last at the mouth of the cave as Jake shook out her pack and dragged over her little cookstove and bag of food.
He was so cute nudging bags of chicken curry across the den with his paw, that she acquiesced and set up the burner. The water from her canteen took longer to heat than normal, the altitude forcing it to smoke on the edge of readiness for frustrating minutes before the bubbles forming on the base of the pan detached and rose. When it was finally ready, the hot food tasted far better than she was expecting, even if it looked like stuff an astronaut might eat.
Once she was finished she cleaned up, then laid out her sleeping bag and a fresh sweater and socks on the hay while Jake trotted off out into the woods to let her change. When he returned he found her snuggled down into her bag with only her nose and one eye visible.
He huffed a little, laughing to himself, and lay down between her and the opening to the cave on his side. She rolled into him, and he gently placed one huge leg over her chest, securing her into his belly. Warmth was slow to seep through, but eventually the wolfheat allowed her to feel comfortable, and as they watched the moon rise through the cave's entrance the silence moved from easy to pensive.
Bella had been trying to work out for days what to say to Jacob. In the end, annoyed at her own indecision and how Edward had managed to intrude, she just spoke what was on her mind. It was what Jake'd always done, after all.
"I'm glad you came and found me."
He shifted, drawing her in closer to his deep, bowed chest.
"I missed you so much, even just for a week. I didn't realise how much of you was me, now."
Night birds' hoots and howls interrupted her, and she used the moment to arrange her thoughts.
"I've spent my whole life taking on other people, letting them use up space inside me. When Edward left after my birthday, I felt ripped open, but what was worse was that it was like there was nothing inside to pour out. You seemed to be able to coax back some of me, but it felt so good I ended up using you, taking from you. You're the only person who's ever given as much to me as I've given to other people."
She was crying, but the straw soaked up the drops which fell sideways into it.
"I let Edward decide we were getting married, and I made it into a compromise in my head. When he came back, claiming I should have known he still loved me, even when he told me otherwise, I accepted it as my fault, not some mind game he invented to help his own guilt."
She stared at the relief of the stone ceiling, freckled with lichen and fronds of moss.
"I looked after my mom for years, and made it into my duty. If I left her, just like if I left Edward, I'd be causing some sort of huge collapse, as if my presence was the scaffolding to their lives and hearts. And it's bullshit."
Jake flinched. Bella swore about as much as a convent sister, so the severity of her statement wasn't lost on him. She rolled over and stuck her face into the fur of his neck. She was done, at least for now: it was too much; too hard. She fell asleep to Jacob's quiet, even breaths.
The next morning she wasn't sure if she'd ever felt so disgusting. Her hair was tangled and dirty, her skin tacky with sweat and salt and oil, her mouth was so dry she couldn't swallow and she needed to pee so badly she thought she might die.
She struggled around under Jacob's enormous limb until she was able to scramble free of both him and the sleeping bag, and bolted for the woods, unzipping her pants on the way. As she squatted, attempting to keep herself and her clothing away from any splashes, she wondered if Jake would turn back today. Or this year. Or ever.
They couldn't have a two way discussion about him returning with her if he stayed that way, barring some kind of semaphore system, but then maybe the only discussion that really needed to go on was in her own head. Jacob's reasons were clear enough; painfully so.
She could go back to Edward, and the smothering love he'd offered her; endless, locked together, obsessive adoration, if it was still there. There wasn't any risk, or uncertainty with him, or there hadn't been, not until he'd made disappearing a habit. But if she was changed, Jake, her parents... her whole human life... would be reduced to fuzzy memories, like a familiar house caller viewed through frosted doorglass. The less abstract that became, the harder Bella found it to ignore.
Or she could be with Jake, who loved her so deeply, who was practically a part of her family, whose only crime was not making her hurt with desire.
Finally, there was no contest, although she had absolutely no idea how to make Jacob understand.
One thing she definitely knew she needed to do was pull up her damn pants. She stood stiffly, shaking herself of final drops as she resituated her underwear and walked a few steps away. Jake rounded the corner and came close, and she let him approach to sniff her. She was sure he could smell her pee, but figured he must have a pretty good idea of what she was doing, anyway.
It amused her that she somehow felt totally at ease sharing painfully human stuff like that with him. Maybe it was because one side of his fur was rumpled still with sleep and he had bad breath. He nosed her cheek gently, then rubbed his head against her chest. She reached up and stroked his velvety soft ears, as he growled his appreciation in a low, rumbling tone.
"Good morning, Jacob."
His answering yip made her smile. He bit her sweater in his teeth and pulled her a little, so she took the hint and followed him back to the cave, where he picked up her backpack again, now less stuffed without her sleeping bag, and set off down a needle-carpeted path through the forest. Bella struggled on with her boots and hobbled after him, calling for him to slow down.
They trotted along for ten minutes or so, and just as sweat began breaking out at Bella's hairline Jacob came to an abrupt halt. In front of them was a vast blue lake, shallow at the edges but with a shoreline which meandered for what must have been miles. Jacob dropped her pack, and took a few steps back. He pawed at the ground, bent to stick his ass in the air, then sprung forward and belly flopped into the water, barking and yapping and throwing spray in a high arc which flashed in the morning sun.
Bella threw her sweater over her head, toed off her half-laced boots and pulled down her pants. She wanted to yell out to him if it was cold, but with him having no way to answer her she simply stepped up to the water's edge and rushed forward, squealing as the first wave of cold tightened her skin.
She dived beneath the surface, letting the sting fade from her face, and opened her eyes to see... a pair of thick, brown-skinned, hairy, human legs.
Blowing water from her mouth, she swam frantically up and surfaced, greeted by Jacob's toothy grin and thrown-open arms. She dived at him, letting the overwhelming sense of relief thrill her, and as his skin touched hers, his incredible warmth soothed the goosebumps away.
"Hi," she said into his shoulder, and it was echoed back from the wall of Jacob's throat and the rock faces all around them.
Later, after floating and swimming in the shallows – where she'd finally been able to forget herself and just play - they lay on the sunny shore. She'd averted her eyes as he'd stepped out of the water, but couldn't help sneak just a little look. She immediately wished she hadn't as a flush of heat tingled between her legs. Everything about Jake was sort of beautiful, even the parts she'd never seen before.
He'd grinned like a jackass at her blush, but wrapped her towel around his waist anyway.
"So," he started, turning his head and flicking water droplets from his short hair into her face, "I hope you like rabbit, cos that's all they've got at this Wal-Mart."
She smiled and rolled to rest her head on his chest.
"I am a bit hungry, but... I've got chocolate in my bag."
She could feel him twitch.
"What sort of chocolate?"
"Oh, you know... a few bars of Fruit and Nut..."
He was out from under her and scrabbling through her pack in seconds while she watched, laughing. As he tore off the wrapper and bit into the candy, his face contorted into a grin of pleasure.
"Dear Lord, I have missed human food..." he admitted, reaching for another bar. "Want one?"
Bella smiled. "Throw me a cereal bar. It's way too early for chocolate."
He rooted around, then handed one to her while taking another bite and speaking with his mouth full. "Iss thever too early fuh choclat."
"Jake..." she began, once they'd both eaten enough, "can I ask you something?"
"Sure Bells. At least ten inches when erect."
She threw a boot at him as the flush inspired by his body spread down her throat.
"Um, what's it like being a wolf? Seth sort of explained to me, but..."
"Yeah, I saw that last night when he phased."
"Uh huh. He filled me in on how you drove here - it had just been fragments before. I was trying to distance myself from La Push, and from you..."
Bella flinched with the pain that bloomed in her chest at his statement, but stayed silent.
"I guess I was hoping to outrun it all. I'd tried being bold, confronting you and telling you how I felt. I'd said it over and over, underlined it, it seemed. But nothing helped. Until I left."
He smiled ruefully. "I wish I'd ran off long before."
Bella swallowed. She almost wished he had, too. The panic it had invoked, the desperation in her to find him, bring him back, have him with her... it had been utterly overwhelming.
"Being a wolf helps block emotions out. You do still feel sadness, happiness, confusion, but it's muted in line with survival priorities. There's no point being sad if you need water to drink. That's why I stayed a wolf when I first saw you. I couldn't trust myself as a human, I wasn't sure how awful it would feel, and it was obvious you were going through your own hell, too. It just seemed simpler to be a silent listener. It helped me think more clearly."
She hugged him to her, holding him as close as she could get.
"Sometimes, being human sucks."
"Yeah." He kissed her head. "But wolves don't get to eat candy."
After breakfast they braved the lake water again, this time armed with soap. Jake, desperate to wash himself with another method than the dip'n'shake, had assured Bella, despite environmental protests, that one cleaning session would not poison the entire lake and kill all the fish. Or any cute turtles.
Bella waded out till the water lapped just under her armpits, then decided that if she wanted to really get clean she was going to have to get naked. After assuring her he couldn't see anything, she pulled off her tank top and underwear and began running the soap over her bruised knees, across her sore toes and between her legs, ignoring the slippery wetness she'd felt worsen as Jake had walked on the beach, droplets of water running down his broad chest from his thick, cropped hair.
As she soaped up her arms, neck and breasts, she'd felt eyes on her, and turned. Jake immediately looked away, the blush visible even through his dark skin.
"Can I use the sixteen year old boy excuse?" She could practically picture the hopeful wince he'd be displaying.
There was no point telling him off, anyway. She'd just been doing the exact same thing, and it was niceto have someone actually appreciate her that way; Edward seemed to spend all their time together avoiding any kind of intimate contact with any physical part of her.
"Turn around, Jake." The surprise on his face was adorable. "You can plead the sixteen year old boy excuse if I can have the eighteen year old girl one?"
His eyebrows practically hit his hairline, but he strode towards her.
"In that case... can I wash your back?"
She grinned. "I thought mutual grooming was more of a cat thing?"
"Shut up, Bells."
He grabbed the soap, currently bobbing nearby, and lathered up his hands. As his fingers began kneading her aching shoulders, Bella groaned and leaned back against him. She knew as soon as she felt it that he was hard. Jake coughed quietly, but carried on rubbing the suds down, along her spine, and she stood her ground enjoying the proof of her sexuality pressing gently into her back.
She tried to remember if Edward had ever gotten an erection around her, and came up blank. Most likely he wouldn't have let himself, or if he had he'd have been devastatingly upset and embarrassed by the whole thing.
"Uh... just rinsing now." Jake gently cupped water in his hands and began pouring it over her exposed skin. Bella leaned back fully, pressing her whole body against him and felt him swallow.
She wasn't sure what might happen if she turned around. Would he kiss her? She suddenly realised that God, she wanted him to. For the first time, sexual contact didn't feel like a difficult, complicated, dangerous thing. It just seemed like teenagers with natural hormones and complimentary body parts enjoying themselves far away from the confusion their lives had become. And she was so tired of feeling sad and ugly and imperfect and slow and clumsy and all the other things being with vampires inspired.
Decisions were hard, Bella decided. Actions were easier. She turned and put her hands on Jake's waist, her thumbs tracing the deep lines his muscles etched inwards. How was it possible to be with this man and not want him?
His brows drew together, as he tried to work out what the hell she was doing, and how to react. He seemed at war with himself, then suddenly his uncertainty resolved. He had his arms around her and his mouth pressed to hers seconds later, lifting her easily with the water's help to his height.
Bella's responding moan wasn't even something she'd expected. She slid her arms up from his hips and pushed her fingers into his hair, tilting his head to kiss him harder, more desperately. When they both pulled apart, chests burning from lack of breath and lips red with abuse, they simply stared at one another. It was Bella who blurted out what she'd been thinking, what had filled her thoughts as his tongue filled her mouth.
"Let's have sex."
Jake's eyes widened.
This was her out. If she wanted to, she could laugh and apologise and they would be embarrassed virgins, packing up her kit and heading home.
It seemed like such a waste.
Jacob grabbed her hand and pulled her forward, out of the water and onto the shore. When they stood next to her belongings, naked and dripping onto the sand, he took her other hand in his.
"Are you sure? Bells, we don't have any condoms. We don't even have a bed. Or... mood lighting..."
He was making himself laugh, and she was starting to join him.
"I've been on the pill for years, but nope. No rose petals either. And I don't have any fancy lingerie. And God, I haven't shaved anywherein days..."
Jake's eyes travelled the length of her body.
"I don't think there's even an alternate me on another planet who could give a crap about that, Bells."
He stepped forward, pulling her into a tight hug.
"I mean it, honey. I want to be with you... you know I do... but I want you to be with me because you want me."
Bella's lip twisted in her teeth, but there was no real pressure behind it. Jacob's embrace was just too solid, too loving for her to build any angst. She pulled back a little, resting in the cradle of his arms, and spoke her truth.
"I've made so many mistakes, I know that. And I've been unforgivably reckless with your heart. But I want to fix them - I came here to fix them. And to find you and tell you. And maybe it's too soon, and maybe we need time, and I'll take this at whatever speed you want, but I'm not going to marry Edward. I'm not, Jake. I love you."
She waited silently, as emotions passed across his face like shadows over rock. She knew he was trying to work out if he could trust her, and she knew she had her answer when he kissed her like she was the first gasp of air to a surfacing soul.
With one hand splayed behind her shoulders, Jake lowered her onto the towel he'd discarded earlier, hardly breaking the kiss. Their tongues flicked together as he grew harder, just as Bella could feel the tops of her thighs slicken as she squirmed with want.
"Oh God, Bells..." The head of Jake's cock had brushed against the wetness between her legs, and a sort of desperation had overtaken them both. She reached down and took him in her hand, guiding him into position and mumbling "please, now".
The sensation of being filled was both totally new and instinctively right. That aching, hollow feeling she'd experienced every time she'd pushed things a little bit further with Edward... this was what she'd needed.
She wrapped her legs around Jake's waist, anything to get him deeper, and threw back her head as he began to fuck her. His moans became more ragged until, moments later, he howled out his climax into the quiet, lake side air.
Afterwards, he hid his face in her neck as his breathing steadied.
"Shit Bella, I'm sorry."
She couldn't see his face, but she was pretty sure it was crimson.
"Being a four pump chump." He sounded miserable. "You didn't come, did you? And oh God, did I hurt you?"
She began to giggle, and pulled his face up to hers.
"Well, you are a sixteen year old boy, so I wasn't exactly expecting stamina."
He winced in agreement.
"And no, I didn't but I was sort of hoping we could work on that now."
His frown turned into a ridiculously sexy smirk in seconds. Boys were so easy.
"Also, um... my mother, in her infinite wisdom, purchased me one of those Rabbit vibrators about a year ago, so there wasn't really much of anything to... break... anymore."
Bella was pretty sure she was as red as him, now.
"I'm saving that knowledge for future use," he warned her. "But right now there's something more important."
He pulled out of her and rolled to the side, before stroking her stomach gently.
"Where should I start?"
She hadn't really thought this far ahead, and suddenly the idea of Jake actually seeing her touch herself was a little too scary.
"Just kiss me?"
He eagerly obeyed, taking her head into his huge hands and pressing his hot mouth to hers at once. His kindness and enthusiasm had always been such a turn on for Bella; she was too timid for her desires and too easily relegated herself to agreeing with Edward's prudishness.
As his fingers slid gently down her neck and began to caress her breasts, Bella started to rub her clit in tight circles, and when his mouth left hers to lap and suck her nipples, she could feel herself start to get close. She grabbed Jake's hand and led it between her legs, knowing what would push her over the edge.
Her hips jerked as his long fingers slid inside her, but it was his teeth closing down around her nipple which sent her crying out her pleasure and arching up towards him off the ground.
Even before she opened her eyes, she felt his kisses on her ribs, shoulders, cheeks, and when their eyes met the softness in his expression made her feel this was the time. So she asked.
"Come back with me, Jake?"
Her request was quiet, but from the little pucker in his brow she knew he'd heard her.
Eventually, after a very long moment, he rested his head into the hollow of her neck and answered, "Yes."