Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Suggested Listening (is especially important for this chapter it wouldn't have gotten finished without them): Autumn Leaves by Ed Sheeran, This Light by Dan Andriano in the Emergency Room, 'I Know You Care' and 'Halcyon' by Ellie Goulding, Good Arms Vs Bad Arms by Frightened Rabbit (holy shit, this SONG), Landfill by Daughter, Broken Crown by Mumford & Sons, I'm Not Yours by Angus & Julia Stone, Bones by Ben Howard, Daydreamer by Adele.


Chapter Thirty-Six: That's Alright, Honey

Daydreamer

With eyes that make you melt

He lends his coat for shelter

Plus he's there for you

When he shouldn't be

But he stays all the same

Waits for you

Then sees you through

You can find him sittin' on your doorstep

Waiting for a surprise

And he will feel like he's been there for hours

And you can tell that he'll be there for life.

Bella POV

"Space cowboys," I said flatly.

He puffed out a breath, single eyebrow rising at the look on my face. "It's not like it sounds, okay? Just... Look, have I steered you wrong yet?"

"I guess if I trusted you with 'scary' condiment containers with British accents..." I mused aloud, teasing even though we both knew I'd give in. Any excuse to keep him around for the day. "You know it's because I think you're cute, right?"

He practically preened. "I would have gone for devastatingly handsome, burly man-flesh - Oh! Man-flesh. Lord of the Rings should be next on the list, for sure - but yeah. And because," he continued, chin jutting out proudly, "You love me."

I tried for an exasperated sigh, really, I did, but even then I could feel the smirk pulling at the corner of my lips.

"That's a big part of it. Yes."

I'm pretty sure he thought I turned away, flipping over the DVD case before the tiny victory punch he jabbed by his side.

"It doesn't mean you get to take advantage of it, though," I added, just for good measure. "No fair, using your powers for evil." His lips parted with a smile, but I cut him off before the inevitable happened, holding a finger up in front of his face. Dark, mischievous eyes practically crossed looking at it. "And no, you do not need to quote Spider-Man at me now, I'm aware of your 'great responsibility'."

The words caught in his throat, cut off by a blinding grin. "God, I love you," he breathed, tugging me close, nose brushing at the skin of my neck as he chuckled.

Pulling back slightly, I pressed my forehead into his with a smile. "So what's with phase two, no wait, three, of Educating Bella?" I asked. I had an idea, but Embry somehow had the ability to surprise, even when I though I was starting to get him all figured out. He shrugged.

"It's kind of easier to keep my hands to myself when there's something vaguely more interesting than The Food Network playing in the background," he said sheepishly, which, see? Not the answer I was expecting. "Besides, what better reason for a little escapism than the constant threat of-" he swallowed, "inter-species war?"

There it is.

I tried to smile at that, through the dark feeling of dread settling in the pit of my stomach, but even I wasn't that good at faking 'okay' yet.

"And the reminder that someone who used to be both of our closest friends is acting like a power-crazed jackass?" I said ruefully. Embry's face fell, and he cleared his throat, making a non-committal noise. I regretted bringing it up instantly.

"So," he dodged brightly, throwing himself onto the couch and toeing his battered skate-shoes off like he belonged there. He stretched back luxuriously, shirt rucking up slightly to expose a sliver of caramel flesh and the dark, distracting line of hair leading into the waistband of his pants. I couldn't really care less about the TV show anymore. "Let's see how many episodes it takes for me to start competing for your affection with Captain Mal Reynolds."

I punched at the pillows and turned on to my back, sighing so hard a tendril of hair flew away from my forehead. I watched it fly. Who was I kidding? There was no way I was getting any sleep when he was outside. So... close.

Not even replaying the previous day with Embry was doing its usual job of lulling me into contentment.

There was a gnawing in my gut that I'd somehow managed to dull down over the past few days, letting Embry be that glorious distraction from the shit-storm that seemed to be my life. He was unbelievable; never wavering in his faith in me, giving me that push I needed to make the right decisions, or being there to catch the wrong ones. He looked at me like I was some surprise he wasn't sure he quite believed he'd been given, but wasn't going to complain about it. It felt good to be looked at that way - especially when I felt the same. Sometimes I thought that he was some kind of gift from the universe for giving me a pretty bum deal when it came to relationships. Of course, nothing was really perfect - the people in my life were still in danger and still I was powerless to stop it. I tried my best not to lose heart - for him, and for us - but it was these moments, on the cusp of sleep but still a mile away from any real rest, that the walls closed in, and I grasped desperately at the better memories and hope like it was some crazy ideal.

Coming out of my Embry cocoon was like stepping back into oncoming traffic after a period of blissful, silent rest.

Should I really be surprised that my life had come back to this? A pack of kids were about to march into a battle that they had no business even knowing existed. The wolves snarled at the confines of their human enclosures. The skittishness of Sam's and Paul's were obviously just a precursor for the rest - or the imminent danger to Leah had had something to do with it, but that had a whole Pack bonding, pre-imprint element that I was in no way going to examine - like sensing a thunderstorm or feeling the vibrations preceding an earthquake. Embry said it felt like an out-of-reach itch, or the aftermath of a burn which hadn't quite blistered yet, so there was no way of really telling how widespread the damage was. The Pack was on edge, and despite my efforts to calm and hopefully prepare them them, the reprieve didn't last for long. Embry and Leah seemed to be the only ones not struggling - or maybe they just hid it the best.

I'd changed things; re-written my own history to avoid losing those I loved, but it felt like I was right back to square one again. It was the same every night now. Now that the dreams had left me, now that I'd seen what would have happened if I'd continued down that path.

Marrying Edward. Giving myself to him. Feeling an ache in my heart and in my stomach when Carlisle confirmed what we knew - that somehow I was carrying a child. Our child.

I felt the maternal instinct that barrelled through me, unwilling to even consider losing something that Edward and I had created together. Felt the weakness of my devastatingly human body as my resolve became the only thing which wasn't chipped away. Then the blankness of the days following. The worry and betrayal in the faces of the two men I loved most on Earth. Edward's eventual, awe-filled acceptance, and then...

Then-

Nothing.

I knew what that meant. I knew that not dreaming of anything but Victoria, watching me from the tree line (or the cliff-top, or through the window of Newtons, but all completely imagined) in over a week, and feeling this... tether to that other life snapping could only mean that I hadn't survived. I allowed myself the better part of a day to mourn my life before I realised how absurd that was.

How could I possibly lament another course of events when I woke up each morning to Embry grinning at me expectantly through the glass paneling of the back door before I invited him inside. Even Charlie seemed to be getting used to his presence when he happened to be around for breakfast.

It was still food for thought, though. I wondered how different things would have been had I gotten to know Embry properly in that other world. Would his words have been enough to convince me to save myself?

I couldn't fault the decision I'd made; to carry Edward's and my child, to allow it to grow and give it the best chance at life possible, despite what others had to say, especially when I saw the longing in Rosalie's face. The hesitant joy from Esme. I couldn't have willingly given up the one chance to become a mother until the very last moment.

And seemingly, that's exactly what I did.

If I was ever looking for further confirmation that I was better off here, that was it. At least here, I was alive.

But for how long?

My inner voice hadn't sounded like Leah in quite a while. I missed that. I missed her like a limb, and I worried that what had happened to her wasn't something she was going to bounce back from. Even after Sam, after her father and changing and losing so much, she had never lost that fierce spark in her eyes. These days, Leah was a little less quick at her retorts. A little less cutting in her jibes. A lot more withdrawn and just... tired. I couldn't help but feel like the light in her was dimming, and I didn't have the luxury or know-how to do anything but spend time with her and treat her like Leah, not some breakable, precious thing that needed to be treated with kid gloves. Even though seeing her in that bed made me want to.

And that was one more thing to feel guilty about.

I'd let this happen to her, encouraged her to let Paul into her life when she wasn't ready, hadn't tried hard enough to convince her to come home, and now she was stuck in that room as her life force drained away. It was a wonder Paul could still even speak to me.

Yet, all my energy was spent keeping up the facade of normalcy for Charlie. Staying strong, being the girl Embry fell in love with. Keeping it together. Just in case.

More than anything, I just wished I could get some damn sleep. I wished I'd stop dreaming about red hair and crimson eyes and the panicked howling of wolves. Maybe then the whole 'acting normal' thing wouldn't feel like so much of an undertaking.

I stared at the ceiling, picking out the sounds outside my window. There was nothing but the rustle of the trees, the odd little interlude of wildlife, and the extremely faint hum of intermittent traffic. But I could hear him. The restless fidget of boots on wood. Pacing, quietly, but still loud enough to hear in the silence of the early morning hour. I squeezed my eyes shut, indecision warring within me, but there was still that betraying part of me who cared. Who knew that if I simply laid here, there was a chance I'd regret it for the rest of my life.

I let out a frustrated grunt, threw back the covers, and stepped out of bed.

His silhouette was hulking, imposing itself over my porch – over my life - uninvited. That clench, that involuntary spasm that I wasn't sure was nerves or fear or anxiety rippled over me. Being on the end of that temper had given me a wake-up call. Having never had to fully bear the brunt of his wrath before, my eyes were opened. There was no sunshine, easy smiles, innocent hand-clasps or awkward flirting here. I was once-bitten, twice shy, and the thought of the endless emotional jibes that could roll off his tongue and crawl inside my head now that we were alone once again was catching my breath. He couldn't be here to take another, final, swing at me, could he?

I pressed my back to the front door, watching him watch the moonlight, sat on the top step with his back to me and pretending that he hadn't heard me come out. Pretending he hadn't thrown himself down on the step as soon as my foot hit the floor of my bedroom.

He'd been there for hours, just waiting. In my attempts at sleep, I was hell-bent on ignoring him until he went away. I could remember watching the clock turn three-am at least a half-hour ago, and by that stage it had started to feel ridiculous. He was just as stubborn as I; of course he'd still be here.

Never in my life had I felt so out of place around Jacob Black. The four or five steps between us could have been an ocean, or a six-feet-thick stone wall. It seemed like eons since I'd really spoken to him; had a real conversation which wasn't awkward and stuttered or didn't descend into a screaming match preceded by an exchange of abuse. Our friendship – no, our love – died a long time ago, and we'd both done a pretty thorough job of hiding the remains under a mound of professed mistrust and hatred shown by snide remarks or jealous outbursts.

I released a breath through my nose, fastening my jacket around me in an attempt to prolong the moment. I was still livid with him, sure, but it didn't mean I wasn't scared. His hold over me frightened me. It terrified me how he still knew, after all this time, exactly what to say to get inside my head. How, even with his own life figured out, all the happiness he could want displayed before him, he still had the power to take away mine.

I was lucky that having Leah and Embry around was enough to knock some sense into me. If it hadn't been a combination of her words and Embry's... actions - the memory still gave me delighted shivers - then I'd probably still be cutting myself off, trying to keep away from The Pack when I should have been supporting them. Part of my little lesson the other day was the need to prove my place in their lives. In Embry's life - because if Jacob, as his alpha, couldn't learn to accept that, then I didn't know how long he'd stay. I may have hated the fact that Embry had to put himself in danger every day, lie to his mother and scrape together four hours of sleep most nights he wasn't patrolling because he was still trying to keep up with school assignments, but I didn't want to be the reason that he lost something from his life. Embry's pack was his family, and as an only child of a single parent for most of my life, I didn't take that lightly.

He'd fought for me, and never stopped, and it was my duty as the person he chose to be with to fight back just as hard.

Jacob, on the other hand, had never fought for me. In this life, he had never experienced what it was like to have me taken away by another – until Embry did it, and it wasn't until that happened that Jacob Black, alpha werewolf, world-at-his-feet, knew how it felt to lose. Ironically, the only tangible indication of how strong and pure Jacob's feelings for me had really been were the actions of another version of him. The Jacob who squared off with vampires, snarled protectively at beings much older and world-wise than himself. The Jacob who fought for my humanity by any means necessary. That Jacob was the one I still thought of, one of the many facets that made up the man I'd lost from my life. maybe the burden of too much knowledge was detrimental to the healing process, because somewhere deep down, I knew the person he could be, and how much I still felt the absence, though my feelings for him had been put to rest. Melanie was right – the more I thought about it, as much as the imprint had torn us apart, I had grieved for us, put us in the box marked 'past' and moved on.

Jacob? He'd never done that.

I pulled in a steadying breath, wondering why her words were such a source of insight for me briefly, before smiling at my own idiocy. Of course. Perfect mate. This girl knew Jacob better than I could ever hope to, and all I could do was listen.

"Can you sit?" he asked, cutting into my thoughts.

I bristled instinctively, both thrown off by the still-foreign timbre of his voice, and remembering why he was here. I just wanted to know the outcome of this.

"I was wondering what was keeping him away," I said, moving to stand beside where he sat, but not quite obeying the instructions. Fuck him – I wasn't his little imprint or one of the furry members of his Pack. Just because I had a relationship with his Beta - was Embry even his Beta? - didn't mean he got to order me around. Every time he spoke to me these days I just had this fierce burst of defiance licking up my spine. I couldn't even explain it. I looked down at the top of his head, which, granted, still came up to my upper-arm when seated. "Your doing?"

His mouth twitched. Guilt. At least I remembered some things. "He knows I wanted to talk to you."

"You mean you ordered him away from me," I said, shaking my head in dismay.

"No," he said. "I would never- I might have baited him... telling him if he was so secure about the two of you then he wouldn't mind leaving us to talk in private." He looked out into the trees guiltily, where I didn't think even he could see any signs of life. "He isn't far, though."

I sighed heavily. "Any chance you could have done that without being an ass about it?" There he goes again, using his words against us.

I searched his appearance for the Jacob I didn't want to slap in the face - but the fact that he still seemed to be growing and maturing into his alpha self was nothing short of unnerving when it hit me in that moment. Each time I saw him, he was a little bit further from how I pictured him in my head; his shoulders held such bulk and his brow was so heavy that I couldn't quite make myself look much longer.

"I talked to Sam," he said after a prolonged moment, like that explained everything. "The guys... the Pack? I wasn't doing what I'm supposed to, and he's been there. With the-With Leah, and stuff. I need to..." he trailed off, grunting frustratedly like for the first time, words didn't come easily to him - his emotions weren't cut and dried. His hands wrung together in the space between his folded knees.

"I just really wanted to talk this out," he said finally, features ceasing as he turned his head facing front again. "I'll apologise to Embry later."

I sighed, finally relenting at the nervous tone of his voice. "Yeah, well, I wanted to sleep, but it's kind of hard when you're scared the neighbours are gonna report a suspicious figure on the porch."

His eyes crinkled at the corners, a lame shadow of his smile flitting off into the darkness before it could fully form. My stomach twisted uncomfortably at the sight of it. There he was - just a glimpse, but that smile was all Jake. I felt my lungs exhaling resignedly.

I just missed him. Was that so bad?

"I couldn't leave it any longer, Bells," he confessed, dropping his chin onto his fist wearily. The gesture seemed off, a teenager fit into an adult's body. In reality, he was.

I took a step down, finally giving in to the tiredness of my legs and planting myself on the step beside him – not close enough to touch. "What, your grovelling apology?"

He looked at me from the corner of his eye as I sat, still stiff and unfamiliar with the proximity, with the house, and with me. There was a strange energy tinging the air between us; I was hyper aware of where he was, but rather than being pleasant, it was a foreign feeling. The feeling of unease, of being forced to share space with a stranger. The moonlight painted the edges of his jaw, nose, lips; like a rendering of the person I knew which wasn't quite accurate. If someone had told me this was Jacob's older brother or cousin, judging by appearance alone, I'd have believed them. His eyes were on his laced fingers then, and he threw out a shrug.

"Is it too late?"

I looked out into the dark street. That was a loaded question. "For a lot of things, yeah."

His eyes closed at my reply, and a long, slow breath came from his parted lips. "I don't know what happened to me. Or how."

Frowning, I felt my mouth tighten, waiting for the rest of the explanation to come. If he wanted to talk, he should talk. I didn't owe him anything after all that he'd said.

"It's like... I came here so hopeful that day. After I saw you at the party, and you were so you again, I couldn't stay away. I've missed you so much, Bells," he confessed. "My life changed and I had all this stuff to contend with and yeah, I had Mel, and she's been fucking amazing, but there's always something missing; always that absence you left. Since the first change, I always believed you'd be around for the next one."

His head turned vaguely in my direction, but his eyes were downcast.

"I mean, I figured if I ever did step up, as alpha, I believed you'd go through it with me... but everything got so fucked up between us and I just wanted my best friend, you know?"

I didn't answer. I'd needed him too, but how could he expect me to stick around, just when I'd discovered how huge that need was - only to have it ripped away and to get busted down to second, when he was still my all?

"And I know – I know it was too much to ask... but I thought," he sighed again. "I thought that maybe enough time had passed and we could be friends again." His eyes met mine briefly. "I was there for you, even when you loved someone else, and I thought maybe you cared about me enough to return the favour."

I bit my lip, a surprising stab of guilt piercing through the armour I'd forged upon discovering he was here. He had a point – Jacob had been selflessly by my side, putting me back together through some of the hardest times in my life, never pressuring me for more than I was willing to give. It was only when things became hopeless on his side that I'd felt any nudges to my affection - but I knew, after living through it, that Jacob's desperation was less about winning me as a prize and more about keeping me alive.

"That's not-" he backpedalled, shaking his head, "I'm not laying a guilt-trip on you or anything, I'm just saying how it was. For me."

I chewed on the inside of my cheek, dipping my chin. It was something, at least, for him to say he wasn't trying to play mind-games. It didn't take away from the fact that they weren't far off from working, though.

"And then I got here... and I thought I scented him, and I thought, 'Maybe it's too late – maybe she's already replaced me?'. It was hard enough thinking that he'd become your new shoulder to lean on. When I saw him holding you-" he clenched his jaw, a head shake to calm the stiffness in his muscles, "And his hands on you, kissing you, like I'd barely ever had the chance to, I just..."

He turned to me, looking in my eyes and then thinking better of it, redirecting to my hands on my lap instead.

"I lost it, Bella. I lost control and I wanted to pull you away and take you somewhere else. I wanted to break his arms, snap his fingers off. I wanted to fucking kill him," his voice was bitterly cold now. "Even though you're not even mine. I said everything hurtful I could – because I could. Because he wasn't good enough. And it's not that it's him, nobody is because-" he huffed out a breath, meeting my eyes fully now, the words tumbling out faster than he could even catch them.

"Because you're all I'd ever wanted and it's only now that I get how tragic that is. All I ever wanted, but all I'll never have."

There was silence between us.

I was reeling. Complete shock at his words sent my mind into a tailspin. The jolt to my attention made the grogginess in my head disappear. It was one thing, Melanie telling me he felt this way, and another for Embry to theorise the same - but for him to actually say it, baring himself to me when he had so much to jeopardise in his life knocked the air from my lungs.

"Jacob, I..." I began, but he held a hand up in front of his face.

He huffed out a bitter laugh to the sky, shaking his head once more, embarrassed. "And don't bother telling me how fucked up that is, because I know. I already have everything."

I nodded. "You do. You have everything you could ever need," I said in reprimand, barely blinking as I seared my gaze on the side of his face. He turned to look at me with a sad little smile. It was fond and made my breath hitch at the sight of it.

"Fucked up, I know," he said, raising his brows. "I mean... with Mel, it's like... I can't live without her, like she was literally carved from a part of my soul. She knows what's right for me before even I do. Every single thing about her makes me crazy and calms me at the same time. She's peace, and a reason to fight all at once. And I love her." He looked me in the eyes, unapologetic. "I really fucking love her. Bells."

I studied him, trying to make out where he was going with this. The words didn't hurt as much as they once could have... because this was it.

Closure.

Finally, he was acknowledging that we'd had something that merited more than a passing thought before he let it be broken apart and the pieces shattered. That I was worth the fight he didn't put up because I deserved to be in his life - but someone else had shown me that already. I no longer needed Jacob's approval when I had Embry's - but more importantly - my own.

He was giving me an explanation - that what he felt for Melanie was too shocking and powerful to do anything but break our bond, no matter how upsetting that was - and it was, for both of us, even if it was just now that the grief hit him. We hadn't stood a chance. After a moment of silence, it clicked.

"You need her."

A nod. "I've never needed someone so badly before. It's..." he let out a breath, "Crippling."

"But you wanted me." It wasn't a question. If Jacob wasn't who he was, didn't have the duty he had, he'd have his choice. I knew first-hand what that decision would be.

His brows rose sadly. "You were the only thing I'd ever wanted for myself, Bella."

"Jacob," I let out a breath, eyes closing. "Maybe at some point, I would have been right for you, but what happens to us makes us who we are, and our paths diverged from each other. It's just how things...go." I fixed him with a look, his eyes intent and hanging on my every word. "But just because your choice was taken away, doesn't give you the right to punish others for it."

"I wasn't trying to punish you-" he began, but a glance at my withering look had him relenting. "Alright, well it wasn't a conscious thing... I'm so fucking sorry, Bella. I- It was one thing, hearing that you'd moved on, The Newton guy - complete douche, whatever, I could get behind it - but seeing it with my own two eyes... and another wolf? I just- You're talking about fate and all of that... but you know what could happen here. You know what he could do to you."

"And so could Mike, Jake. There's a risk in everything, not just because you're magic and whatnot," I said. "I've thought about this a lot over the last week. I've thought about little else since the first time he kissed me. Embry's proven to me, time and time again that he's chosen me and that I'm worth any hardships he may encounter... do you know how amazing that is?" I gave him a small, disbelieving smile. "That someone can be willing to go through so much to return your feelings? Why the hell should I deprive us both of what we have, just because there's a chance he could some day leave me. Maybe we comfort ourselves when we believe he won't be forced to, but the chance is still there with anyone else, even if it's not as high."

He chewed over my words with a pained expression, the muscles in his jaw flickering. I hoped he was really listening this time, that the absence of blind, possessive rage would help him focus on my words. Focus on fact that this wasn't some whim for me - the idea of Embry and I wasn't going anywhere.

"I just- How I treated you, Bells. It was unforgivable. And I'll try to make it up to you... but I just can't sit back and do nothing when the same thing could happen again. Not when you might not want me around to help make things better for you," he confessed, just before he took a deep breath, closing his eyes, steeling himself once more. "Just, I'll say it one last time. Please, be careful. Be sure, about everything. And if you are, then I'll back off. Just be sure. For you."

I reached over and put a hand on his arm, feeling a rush of nostalgia and affection all at once. "Jake. I've taken risks in my life. Probably more than is sane... but Embry's the best one yet."

The look he gave me was dubius for a long moment, his eyes searching mine before it melted into quiet acceptance, and the sounds of a still-asleep neighbourhood filtered around the two of us. I took a breath, daring to feel relieved that this problem was finally at an end.

Jacob swallowed thickly, a short nod into the darkness the only visible response.

"He's crazy about you," he said, as if voicing it for the first time. "He keeps things locked up. His private things, about the two of you. But- I guess he slipped up... I saw... I saw you telling him how you felt?" His voice cracked at the end, like he wasn't quite sure we were at the point where talking about it was okay.

My head dipped, hiding a smile at the understanding of what he was referring to. I refused to be ashamed of it.

"I could feel," he clutched at his chest. "It's the just the same as I... I had no right to dismiss what you have, just because it's not an imprint." He shook out of his reverie. "You're it for him. It's hard, but... can't blame him can I?" he said, eyes bright, a subtle little curve of his lip. I felt it deep within my chest, tried to return it, because the Jacob I knew still tried to smile when his heart was breaking.

I squeezed the warm flesh beneath my hand, either giving strength or gathering it, I wasn't sure.

"It's the same for me. He's just-" I began, not sure how the hell I could pin Embry down in one sentence, or even several. "I've never met anyone like him. It's like, he's fierce and strong and loving and sweet all at once... and his mind? He approaches things and has this train of thought that is so unique but the most intriguing thing I've ever known... Like I just want to hear what he'll say next because even if I don't agree, I just need to know."

I closed my eyes, drawing up each amazing memory of an impossible guy, holding them to my chest with a clenched fist like I couldn't breathe without them. It should have felt wrong to blurt all of this to Jacob, but he wasn't the only one to lose someone when we were at odds. Jacob always strived for my happiness, no matter what.

"He just sees right into me, and he's got this look, you know? Like he knows. And I can't ever be anything but honest with him. Even if I try, it's not worth it, because I want him to know me. There's no piece of me I'd want to hide away, because he's seen it all, and for whatever crazy, messed up reason, he seems to think it's something he wants to be around."

I gave a soft, self-deprecating laugh, aware he was just watching my face, taking in the emotions displayed on it. There was something in his expression, somewhere between pain and and fondness and settling on bittersweet.

He pressed his lips together. "Em always was the smart one," he said after a moment, knocking my shoulder gently with his own. I smirked. "And loyal, trustworthy. He never really saw what a great guy he is. I probably should have done a better job of telling him that," he said with guilt. "It hurt, I'm not going to try and lie about it now, because it fucking clawed at me... but I guess out of anyone, I'm glad it's him." He looked at me straight in the face, jutting his chin up with conviction. "He deserves you, Bells. I was just talking utter shit to hurt you before. He probably deserves you more than I ever did."

My face crumpled, and I felt my head lean to the side, bowled over by the raw honesty in his words. This was the Jake I knew - the Jake I'd fallen for, even before I knew I fell for him. Somewhere on the planes of that grown-up face was that gangly fifteen-year-old who had healed my heart with nothing more than his smile and his presence, and I could see him now, like the moon had come out from behind a cloud and shown his true face.

"We weren't meant to be, Jake," I said softly, my face betraying how bittersweet it made me feel. I cleared my throat, slipping my hand into his. It felt achingly familiar, but also the start of something brand new. A new us. New friendship. "I went back, to save Charlie. I needed to do something, to keep him alive... but what gave me the strength to do that was you. I believed that a world without Edward would give me you. Without monsters and magic, the natural path," I confessed.

His brows rose. "You came back for me?"

"Partially," I nodded, noticing how he now spoke like he believed in my abilities. "I guess I found it easier to give up Edward and that whole life together if I was getting you as part of the deal. I'd reached the point where I couldn't pretend my heart just belonged to one person anymore."

I watched him for a beat, chewing my lip and wondering whether to continue.

"You were a different person there, Jake. Bitter and sarcastic and willing to say anything for impact, and sometimes I hated you for it, especially when I saw the difference in you with Mel," I confessed, and he listened intently like it was one of Billy's stories. "Edward coming back into my life and becoming a wolf both contributed to it, sure, but there's only so much you can be out through until you break. When this all happened with Embry, and you became that guy right before me, I realised what that last straw is for you. The common denominator to your anger."

He looked to me, and I think he guessed what was coming next.

"It's me. I thought if we got a proper chance then you'd never have to become that person, but it didn't work. No matter what happens, we're always going to hurt each other, and its not right. We're just not supposed to be together, Jake. I think, deep down, you know that too."

His eyes dropped and he nodded, worrying at his lip, looking like it hurt to agree, but he did anyway.

"I always thought that if none of this ever happened, then you and me would get our shot. Like maybe if there weren't any vampires or no Pack then I'd be that natural path for you... But I think we'd still manage to find a way to make it difficult."

I found myself smirking ruefully. "Nothing goes exactly the way you plan it to," I said, gesturing to my chest," Take it from someone who knows."

He gave a half-hearted smile and licked his lips.

"Mel's it for me. As much as I wanted it to be you... I couldn't live a life where she wasn't part of it. She makes me... real. It's like everything quiets around her, and I'm not being pulled in four different directions and worrying about her ninety percent of my time," he quirked a smile at me. "I'm me with her. Like the guy I was before all the claws and war and pain."

"I know," I nodded. "As much as I'd like to think I would have been that person for you... eventually...there was too much of me to fix, Jake. You need a strong foundation under you, to bear the weight of all-" I gestured vaguely, "This. I'm just not that person for you." I stroked at his hand soothingly with my thumb, watching him, missing this, our talks and the inherent closeness I'd always felt with him.

He was still the person I remembered - though changed by life and love and developments - but that guy I'd met, who could fix anything if he just tried hard enough, still lurked under there. Jacob could change the damn world with his hands behind his back. He was strong, resilient, protective, and he still wore his emotions like a badge for all to see. Let the world buckle under their intensity because Jacob could love with his entire heart and the depths of his soul, and once you were a part of his life you always would be.

"But maybe I can be by your side while she is."

His head rose again and he stared, and it had been so damn long since he had looked at me that way that I felt tears brimming. His eyes darted between mine and one large, warm hand came up to brush a trendril of hair from my vision. Reverently. Delicately.

"Are you sure?"

I nodded. "No matter what happens, I'll always want to be in your life, Jake. You and me, Jake 'n' Bells, right?"

His eyes softened, a dim smile dawning over that beautiful face. "You know that - other than Mel, of course - you'll always be my girl. Not second place, just... You."

"I know. I think you're stuck with me now," I quipped, sniffling, squeezing his hand and attempting a watery smile. He returned it genuinely, puffing out a soft laugh and ducking his head. I couldn't let it go like this, though, not when there was a war to fight and two best friends barely speaking. I wet my lips, fixing him a hard look.

"But there's one thing. This thing between you and Em? It's the last thing I ever wanted to happen. It's killing me to see you both like this. You're practically brothers."

He sighed. "I know. I fucked up, alright? I hate that he hates me."

"I don't think he has it in him to hate," I said, lip quirking up on one side. "No matter how much he may try to convince himself. He's just protective and hurt. It's not something he was ever going to take lying down."

"And he shouldn't have to," he agreed. "I'm gonna- I have to fix this with him. I still want him by my side. Him and Quil. Always. He's my bro." He gave me a little grin I couldn't help but return.

"Yeah, it's probably fucking up the universe, Three Amigos at odds."

He laughed softly. "Something like that," he nodded. "I'll make it up to him. I swear, if I have to spend the rest of my life trying."

"I think an apology would be a good place to start," I responded ruefully. "You manage to get my boyfriend back talking to you civilly again, and you and I are golden."

He leaned forward, resting his forehead on my shoulder. There was a sigh of relief as he breathed me in and just... rested. Rested for the first time in - what I assumed was - weeks. I pressed a kiss into his hair. Chaste. Loving. Fraternal.

"Love you," I said, and I really, with all my heart, meant it.

I closed my eyes, savouring the stillness, until Jacob broke away urgently.

His head jerked to the side, eyes squinting into the darkness, like he'd heard something he wasn't expecting to. I followed his gaze - although I wasn't sure why, since I wouldn't be able to see anything - and felt a strange jolt of unease. I mean, who could really blame me - my house was being guarded by wolves. A soft squeeze to Jacob's shoulder softly drew his attention back, and he frowned, shaking his head helplessly. He took another glance at what must have been my worried expression and wrapped a long arm around my shoulder. I leaned into his heat, into the familiarity of it and let out a long breath.

"Love you too, Bells," he said.


A/N: This chapter was my love letter to the character of Jacob Black.