Beta: Maria Vilson Pre-reader: littlefurrycannibals & maLorLa
Summary: Jacob and Bella have always loved each other, but even the strength of their love can't stop the changing of the seasons...
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.
A/N: This O/S was 100% inspired by a banner by evieeden. I saw it posted on JBNP and just fell in love with it! I wrote the O/S right away, but didn't do much with it. Following lots of demands from littlefurrycannibals, I edited and added to it to donate to JBNP's fundraiser for Autism Speaks. We raised over $400! It was amazing. Thanks for everyone who's contributed with the fundraiser! I'm overwhelmed by your generosity!
It was fall, and Bella was leaving for Phoenix. She didn't want to go, but she had to. The heartbreaking puppy eyes she was getting from Jacob weren't helping. She had told him that she lived there now, and there wasn't anything that could be changed about that. He had tried to convince her to stay, to move in with Charlie, but he knew as well as she did that Charlie would never ask Renée to change the custody arrangement. Whatever the reason, he'd never been able to stand up to his ex-wife.
Bella hated feeling guilty. She felt guilty for leaving her dad when she knew how much he wanted her here. She felt guilty for leaving Jacob, who hadn't even tried to hide how much he liked her.
They'd grown up together, and even at her age, she knew that their relationship was different than other kids. They'd spent hours on the beach, in the woods, and with their families. She knew more about him than she knew about herself, and not just what his favorite color was or what kind of music he listened to.
Bella knew that Jake's biggest fear was drowning, even though he was a good swimmer. He pretended to hate romantic comedies, but always agreed to watch the movies she picked out. He avoided making eye contact with people when he was uncomfortable, but could have a conversation with almost anyone. She also knew that it had taken him two weeks to cry after his mother died, and he'd been set off by Quil drinking the last Pepsi. He'd thrown a dish and a chair before sitting down on the floor with his head in his hands. She'd sat with him until his eyes were dry. She knew then that Jake was much, much more than just her childhood best friend.
Things had changed that summer. She and Jacob were 13, and even if Jacob's long, lingering stares hadn't been enough to convince her, their sloppy fumbling kiss on the beach the weekend before last had been.
"I've got to go," she mumbled, and climbed into the cruiser without giving him a second glance. She loved him, and probably always would, but she couldn't stay.
It was time for Bella to leave.
It was fall, and Jacob was leaving for California. He didn't want to go, but he had to. He'd gotten a scholarship to play football at Azusa Pacific University, and it was his chance to get an education. He'd been hoping and praying for something closer to home, but it just hadn't worked out that way.
Jacob hated feeling guilty. He felt guilty for leaving his dad, even though Rachel had just graduated and promised to stay at home while he was away. He felt guilty for leaving Bella, who'd begun hinting about wanting to settle down and make their relationship more permanent.
He'd been in love with Bella since they were in kindergarten, even though he knew it had taken her much longer to feel the same way.
One of his most poignant memories of Bella was when they'd been at the beach with their families, something the Swans and Blacks had done often. As children, the twins had almost always ignored them, despite Bella's best efforts to be included in their big girl activities. Usually, she'd trail after them like a puppy until they offered to allow her to carry their purses or asked to be made snacks, which often resulted in him finding Bella sitting in a corner, pouting, worried she'd always be too little.
But on that particular day, Bella had been the one to rescue him. He'd been searching for sea glass to add to his collection when he'd tripped over some drift wood, getting a mouth full of sand and salt water. He'd fallen to his knees, gagging, his eyes tearing up. She'd appeared at his side out of nowhere, hitting him on the back between the shoulder blades while he'd coughed and spluttered until he could breathe again. He hadn't needed to be rescued, but knowing that she'd cared enough to help had been overwhelming to his six year old self.
Things had changed again that summer. Now he and Bella were 18, and even if Bella's desperate hints about having children and finding an apartment for just the two of them hadn't been enough to convince him that she was trying to get him to stay, their fumbling, awkward, fantastic attempts at sex over the last few months had been.
"I've got to go," he mumbled into her hair, and he could feel her shoulders shake. He hadn't wanted her to cry; it would only make this harder on the both of them.
"I love you," she whimpered, clinging desperately to his broad shoulders.
"I love you, too," he whispered. He loved her, and probably always would, but he couldn't stay.
It was time for Jacob to leave.
It was fall, and Bella was leaving for New York. She didn't want to go, but she had to. She'd gotten a job at a publishing company in the city, and she just couldn't pass up such an opportunity. She'd been overjoyed to receive the letter confirming her employment, but when she realized just how far away it was, her heart had sunken into her stomach.
Bella hated feeling guilty. She felt guilty for leaving the friends she had made in college, and she felt guilty for leaving Jacob, who'd just returned home from California the previous spring. They'd struggled through the four years he'd been away, but he'd been determined to make it work.
She hadn't expected a long-distance relationship to be so hard. It had sounded so simple in theory; phone calls, emails, video chats, texts and the occasional weekend to get them through the long weeks between breaks.
It hadn't been that easy.
Bella had never been a jealous girl, but she also wasn't stupid. She knew that Jake was smart, handsome, charming, and a football star. Azusa Pacific was a small college, but even small colleges had athlete-loving girls. It made Bella sick thinking of all the drunken sorority sisters that had thrown themselves at her boyfriend.
She trusted him, sure. Jake was, if anything, loyal. But what girl wanted to think of their man getting fawned all over?
But, Bella also knew that Jake had been equally as paranoid. She'd caught him glaring at the few male friends she had made, or asking about boys in study groups. She answered him gently and honestly, and kept that small amount of self-satisfaction over her boyfriend's jealousy a secret.
Things had changed that summer, in the months following graduation. She and Jacob were 22 now, and even if finding the engagement ring photos she'd noticed in the printer hadn't been enough to convince her Jacob wanted to start their lives together, their frantic, passionate, make-up-for-lost-time sex over the last few months had been.
"I've got to go," she whispered into his warm, broad chest. His hands were tangled in her hair, and she could feel that he was trembling.
"I love you," he said, and his voice was hoarse.
"I love you, too," she sobbed. She reluctantly pulled herself away from him and climbed into the car. She loved him, and probably always would, but she couldn't stay.
It was time for Bella to leave.
It was fall, and Jacob was leaving for basic training. He didn't want to go, but he had to. Given how the world had changed the last few years, he'd decided not long ago that it was time that he gave something back. He knew that enlisting in the Air Force would be one more obstacle between himself and Bella, but it was something he felt like he needed to do.
Jacob hated feeling guilty. He felt guilty for leaving his tribe, just when he knew they needed him most. He felt guilty for leaving Bella, who'd only just recently announced that she'd be coming back to Washington. She was unhappy in New York, away from her family and friends, but a recent opening in a publishing house in Seattle had sealed the deal.
Jacob had watched Bella blossom in her career field. She had gained confidence, and he often studied her when she wasn't aware of him. He was fiercely proud of the woman that she'd become, and he loved introducing her to others as, "This is Bella, my girlfriend. She's a publisher." Bella would blush and chastise him for bragging, but he knew she deserved every bit of her success.
He also knew that his own job prospects were bleak. He'd graduated with a business degree, hoping to go back to La Push and open up his own shop with Quil and Embry. But Quil and Embry hadn't had the same dreams; with a wife and baby on the way, Quil had eagerly accepted the chance to run his family's grocery store, and Embry had decided that La Push was the last place he'd wanted to be, and had joined the Peace Corps.
Jacob didn't like feeling as though he couldn't pull his own weight in his relationship with Bella. He wanted to be able to provide for her, provide for their future children. Doing odd jobs around the Reservation barely covered groceries, much less the rent or a mortgage.
Things had changed that summer. He knew how much it had hurt her that he'd enlisted without really discussing it with her, but they were 27 now, and even if her enthusiastic, ecstatic "YES!" to his proposal hadn't been enough to convince him that she was tired of waiting, her excited wedding preparations had been.
"I've got to go," he said, his jaw tight, determined not to cry. This has been his decision, and he needed to stand by it.
"I love you," she whispered, holding tightly to his hand, her thumb rubbing where his wedding band would sit.
"I love you, too," he murmured. He loved her, and probably always would, but he couldn't stay.
It was time for Jacob to leave.
It was fall, and Bella was leaving Georgia to go back to Washington. She didn't want to go, but she had to. When Sue had called to tell her that Charlie was sick, she booked a flight for the following weekend. She'd stopped listening when she heard the word cancer. It had made her whole body go numb. He'd seemed as vibrant and energetic as always when she'd seen him at Christmas; she was still in denial.
Bella hated feeling guilty. She'd left her old publishing firm despite Jake's protests and followed him south so they could be together while he was on base. It had taken months, but they'd just settled into a routine. Now she felt guilty for leaving so soon, since he had just returned from a 16 month deployment in Afghanistan, and she felt guilty for leaving a job she'd just begun. She'd promised him they'd finally be able to get married; something that would have to go on the back burner once again. He wouldn't be able to go back with her. He would have to stay on base; his enlistment wouldn't end for another year and a half.
War had changed him. Gone was the happy-go-lucky, sunny boy she used to know. In his place was a distance, cold, private man that rarely wanted to have a conversation with her. Jacob had always been a physical person, both as a friend and a lover, but now she was lucky if he hugged her regularly.
She saw the pain in his eyes, something that she'd hoped had disappeared twenty years earlier, following the death of his mother. She tried to pretend like she didn't hear him weeping while in the shower, or that she didn't notice how often he changed the sheets to hide the fact that they were soaked in sweat from his nightmares. She begged him to let her help, but intruding had only pushed him further away.
Her Jacob was gone, and Bella was at the point where she wasn't sure if he was ever coming back.
Things had changed that summer. She and Jacob were 29 now, and even if his sudden mood swings hadn't been enough to convince her that active military duty had changed Jacob, his excessive drinking had been.
"I've got to go," she said. He was sitting on the couch, another bottle in his hand. He didn't even look at her.
"I love you," she whispered, tears now flooding her eyes, hoping that he would do something instead of just ignoring her.
When she didn't get an answer, she turned and walked out the door.
"I love you, too," he whispered. He loved her, and probably always would, but he couldn't let her stay.
It was time for Bella to leave.
It was fall, and Jacob was leaving for rehab. He didn't want to go, but he had to. He hadn't seen Bella in almost a year, and she'd stopped returning his phone calls three months ago. Not that he blamed her. When he couldn't deal with the things he saw while on active duty, he'd begun drinking. Being numb was better than being terrified.
Jacob hated feeling guilty. He felt guilty for abandoning his crew, because he knew they expected him to re-enlist. He felt guilty for leaving Bella, who was running herself ragged taking care of her father, who'd just been released from another hospital stay. He'd been a shitty fiancé, and they both knew it. He was surprised she'd stuck around so long.
It had never occurred to Jacob that he could truly lose Bella. It was naïve and selfish of him to think that she'd just continue to allow him to stomp all over her like he had for so many years, but it had been far too painful to consider the alternative of being alone.
Until it happened.
Jacob realized then that he'd never really known what it was like to truly be alone until she'd left him.
He'd hit rock bottom, the alcohol and depression driving him down until he'd found the bottom of the barrel, literally. One of his crewmen had found him out at a local bar at dawn, passed out in the parking lot, covered in his own blood and vomit. The doctor in the ER had said he'd been lucky to escape whatever he had gotten into with only a concussion.
The fear over another whiskey induced black-out and the pain of the head injury was enough to convince him that enough was enough. He no longer had the military or Bella. He was thousands of miles from home and teetering on the brink of self-destruction.
It was then that Jacob decided it was time to change.
He'd called his dad, begging to know how Bella and Charlie were. He'd called Quil and Embry, who were only too happy to talk to their old childhood friend. Both were also ready for some life changes, and wanted to hear more about Jacob's mechanic shop business plan.
Things had changed that summer, and he hoped that this time, it was for the better. He and Bella were 31 now, and even if the unreturned phone calls and unanswered text messages hadn't been enough to convince him that she was tired of waiting, her flat refusal to allow him to come help had been.
"I've got to go," he said, but this time, he was talking to himself. He couldn't lose her; not again.
"I love you," he whispered, staring at the framed photo that sat on their bedside table. It was a bed she'd left, but Jacob was determined to prove to her that she still belonged there. He loved her, and probably always would, but he couldn't stay.
It was time for Jacob to leave.
It was fall, and Bella was leaving. Her fingers were trembling, and she could see nothing but a field of white. Her head was spinning, and she felt like she was floating, overwhelmed and anxious. Her vision tunneled, and her chest was tight. She was unable to believe that this day had arrived, especially after everything that had happened. So many things had changed in the last few years that she almost couldn't recognize her own life anymore.
Above all else, Bella hated feeling guilty. Between her father's cancer and Jake's alcoholism, she'd barely been able to keep her head above water at work. But she'd kept going, desperate for the future she'd once dreamed about; she and Jake, together with children, watched over by Charlie, Sue, Billy, Renée, and Phil.
Things had changed that summer. She and Jacob were 33 now, and even if Jacob's sober return to Washington hadn't been enough to convince her that he was ready to start over, his gentle care of Charlie during his very long and slow recovery had been.
"It's time to go." Renée's warm voice carried through the doorway. Bella gasped, shocked out of her daze. Turning towards the voice, she watched her mother smile. "You look beautiful, baby."
She blushed. "Thanks, Mom." She leaned into her mother's embrace. "I love you," Bella whispered softly, blinking back tears.
"I love you, too," Renée replied, pulling away. "Let's go, baby. It's time to get ourselves married!" She sniffled. "Can't believe it's my little girl's wedding day!"
Bella took one last glance in the mirror, still in awe of the white dress she wore. Today was the day she would become Mrs. Jacob Black. She loved him, and always would, and she couldn't stay here. She had a church to get to!
It was time for Bella to leave.
It was fall, and Jacob was leaving. He couldn't believe where he was going. If someone had told him five years ago he would have made it this far, he never would have believed them. He might have laughed in their faces.
Jacob hated feeling guilty. He'd never imagined he could feel like this, these overwhelming feelings of terror, excitement, nervousness, and happiness. He felt guilty that he could be this happy. He and Bella were about to become parents.
Things had changed that summer. He and Bella were 34 now, and even if the nausea, cravings, nesting, spontaneous crying, and mood swings hadn't been enough to convince him that he couldn't love Bella more, her ever-growing round belly, swollen with his unborn son had been.
"I've got to go," he said to himself, checking their hospital bag one more time. He heard Charlie down in the living room, helping Bella out to the car. "I've got to go. I'm gonna be a daddy."
"I love you," he whispered, taking one last look around the lovingly and painstakingly decorated blue room. The soft colors of nature surrounded him, and he smiled again as he looked at the framed photos and stuffed animals. It had once been an office, a room where he'd spent many hours poring over medical paperwork for his father, numbers for the mechanics shop he ran with Quil, or reviewing tribal documents with Sam. But now… now he was ready to move on to the next stage in his life. He loved Bella, and probably always would, but he couldn't stay. Their baby was coming.
It was time for Jacob to leave.
It was fall, and Bella and Jacob found themselves on the front porch of their home, the same home they'd lived in for almost forty-five years. There was nowhere for them to go now. Their children were grown, living on their own, and often the grandkids came to their house, so there was little traveling for the Blacks these days.
They were content, feelings of guilt and fear far behind them. They were content with their quiet lives; Bella with the time she spent puttering in her garden, tenderly watching over the small vegetable plants she'd grown from tiny seeds, and Jacob in his wood shop, his wrinkled hands making slow progress on carefully crafted tribal carvings.
Things had changed that summer. She and Jacob were 80 years old, and even if Jacob's dementia hadn't made their independence profoundly difficult, Bella's ever increasing struggles with diabetes had finally been enough for their children to start pushing for assisted living.
Bella glanced to her right, placing her hand gently over her husband's. "Do you think it's time to go, Jacob?"
He squinted thoughtfully, and he was quiet for a moment before he answered. "No, Bells. I don't think so. We're home now."
Bella watched their youngest grandchild streak across the grass, her mouth open wide, filling the yard with laughter. Such simple happiness made her smile, so she said, "You're right, Jacob. We are home now."
And home is where they stayed.