"You need help with that?"
Serena waved away Paul's hands as he tried to take her bags from her. "I've got this."
"You're going to fall," said Paul, sighing wearily. He backed off, however, and watched her descend the stairs critically. Serena tried to ignore how one of his hands was always within reach, as if to grab her in case she fell.
"If I do, can you make sure my camera doesn't break?" she asked. "Bones heal. Lenses are expensive."
Paul snorted. "You're such a comedian."
"You love me."
"You still love me."
"Only a little," said Paul. His hand finally gripped her arm on the last step, guiding her down and forcefully taking her bags from her once she was off the stairs. "I'll put these in the car. Say bye to your mom."
Serena rolled her eyes, but flounced off to the kitchen where her mother was packing food for their drive to La Push – it made no sense to her since they would barely have enough time to stop anywhere, but she was sure Paul would make a dent in the basket before they got home. She gave her mom a hug and a smacking kiss on the cheek.
"You better be in Seattle by tomorrow," warned Serena. "I'll call Aunt Eva first thing in the morning, you know I will."
"I believe you," Mama Wilder smiled and handed over the basket. Serena almost swore at the weight. "Will you call me?"
Serena rolled her eyes. "I always call you, ma."
"Will you call me every day?" persisted Vanessa.
"Mom, come on –"
"She will," Paul poked his head inside, and gave Vanessa a warm smile. "I'll make sure she does. Thanks for having me, ma'am, and thanks for letting her come back with me."
"Oh, aren't you a sweetheart," cooed Vanessa. She enveloped Paul in a hug, which Serena found hilarious because her mother was at least three feet shorter than her boyfriend, who had to practically crouch down so she could reach his shoulders. "Make sure you call me too, okay? I packed some extra stuff for your dad as a thank you, let me know what you guys like and I'll send some more stuff next week. And look after my baby, she forgets to eat when she knows she can photograph some pretty things, and she's –"
"He knows, mom," Serena cut in, turning slightly pink at her mother's continuous talking. "I'll call you when we get home. Bye, love you!" and she ran out the door before anyone else could engage her in conversation.
Serena was already sitting in the car flipping through music on her phone when Paul joined her a few minutes later. She smiled at him, and he gave her a quick kiss in answer, backing out of the driveway and slowing down long enough to wave goodbye at the kitchen window before increasing his speed.
Serena let out a sigh of relief once they had left her street. "Is it weird that I'm looking forward to going back?"
Paul smiled. "Can I take the credit for that?"
"Since I'm basically your prisoner for the next few weeks, I guess so."
"Hmm, I like the sound of that."
Serena snorted. "Eyes on the road, buddy."
"I can multitask pretty well, you know."
"So can I," she gave him a look that made him blink, cough and turn red simultaneously. Serena giggled. "What are we doing today anyway ?"
Suddenly evasive, Paul shrugged. "Whatever you want. I don't have plans."
Serena narrowed her eyes. "You're lying."
"Promise me you're not lying?" his hesitation was all the answer she needed. She huffed. "Spill. What is it?"
"Bonfire," said Paul reluctantly. "There's one tonight, but it isn't a big one. The weather's just supposed to be nice and the Cullens have gone to Alaska for a week so Jake's here too. We don't have to go," he added hastily. "Everyone gets that you don't want to see them and I'm not going to force you either, you know I'm totally on your side and –"
"Shut up," groaned Serena. "God, stop being so nice about it, Paul. Just say you think I'm a bitch for this."
"I don't think that," said Paul defensively. "I get it, Serena. We don't have to go if you don't want to."
"But you want me to go," for some reason, the thought that Paul wanted to go to the bonfire, however hidden that desire was, annoyed her.
"I want to stay with you," her annoyance quickly dissipated at his sincere tone, and he reached over and squeezed her knee. "We'll go see everyone when you're ready, okay?"
Serena sighed. "You promise you'll tell me if I'm being a bitch?"
Paul chuckled. "I promise."
"Have I mentioned how happy I am that you've decided to stick around here for a while, Serena?"
"A couple of times, Dave," Serena hid her smile behind her hand as Paul rolled his eyes. To say that his father was happy to see Serena would be an understatement – he had been waiting at the door when they arrived, he'd insisted on giving her a hug and hauling all her bags upstairs to the small guest-room himself, and he'd found numerous ways to make her smile in the past five minutes alone. It would have been annoying, if it wasn't for the fact that Paul could see how much Serena enjoyed his father's efforts. Even now, she put the lid back onto the pot and turned to face the older man, wiping her hands on a tea-towel. "Want some coffee?"
"Yes, please," Dave smiled goofily and ruffled her hair as he walked past. "Also, whatever you're cooking smells amazing."
"Thank you, it's –"
Paul interrupted. "Dad, lay off."
"Shut up," without missing a beat, Dave smacked his son upside the head. "Remember, you have the early shift at the garage tomorrow."
"Why do I have to go?" protested Paul. "It's Jared's car!"
"And Jared is paying you full price to fix it," Dave accepted the mug that Serena offered him and ignored his son's annoyed look. "Don't worry, boy, Serena will still be here when you get back."
"Don't skip work because of me," Serena added as she turned back to the stove. "I wasn't planning on doing anything interesting anyway."
"Nah, she's going to spend time with your old man tomorrow," Dave stirred more sugar into his coffee absently, missing the surprised look that passed between Paul and Serena. "We'll hang around the house, grab some lunch in Forks, and I've got all those baby pictures I need to sort through, remember?"
Serena laughed. Paul groaned. "Dad!"
Dave chuckled. "Okay, okay, no more embarrassing you. I get it. Shouldn't you two be getting ready to head to the bonfire soon?"
Serena's shoulders tensed, and Paul scowled at his father behind her back. "We're not going," he answered, trying to keep his tone even.
Dave frowned. "Why? You kids are always complaining about the weather. It's supposed to stay dry all night, isn't it?"
Paul shrugged. Serena didn't answer. Dave seemed to pick up on the general mood and swiftly changed the subject. "So, should I crack open those albums now, then?"
Serena laughed. "After dinner," she promised. "Do you mind if I go and lie down for a while until food's done?"
"Make yourself at home," Dave waved a hand dismissively. "I'll watch the game until then. Paul, show her up and leave the door open."
Serena laughed again, and Paul rolled his eyes, indicating for Serena to follow him upstairs. She was still smiling as they left the room, but she did tug at his arm to stop him when they were out of his father's sight.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"Don't be," he touched her cheek gently. "Do you actually want to lie down or did you just want to get out of there?"
"Both," Serena smiled sheepishly. "Will you stay with me?"
Paul grinned. "I thought you'd never ask."
"Do you want to go see her?"
"Beth, maybe you should –"
"Stop," snapped Beth. She stood up from the table aggressively and stormed out of the dining-room, closely followed by Embry, who shot Emily an apologetic look. Emily merely sighed and leaned back in her chair.
Sam rubbed his wife's arm reassuringly. "She'll come around."
"Who, Beth or Serena?" Emily snorted. "She hasn't answered any of my calls or messages. And Beth's acting worse than if Serena was yelling at her."
"They'll both get over it," said Sam. He didn't know what else to say. "You should eat."
"I will," Emily tried to smile, but failed miserably. "Do you have patrol again tonight?"
"Yes," Sam sounded apologetic. "But Paul will take over for me early."
Emily hummed in acknowledgement, but didn't say anything. She picked up Beth's half-empty plate and her own full one and drifted off into the kitchen, leaving Sam alone with the other occupant of the room.
He gave Leah a wary look. "You okay?"
"Fine," said Leah. She didn't snap, and she didn't sound upset. She sounded almost bored. "You should stay with Emily. I'll take your shift and Paul can relieve me by dawn."
"You don't have to –"
"Consider it an early birthday present," Leah almost smiled at him as she stood up and pushed away her own plate. "I'll go home and leave from there. Tell Em thanks for dinner."
Sam nodded wordlessly, and Leah left the room, the sound of the front door closing alerting him to the fact that she had indeed left the house. Confused as to what to do now, Sam picked up the rest of the plates and joined Emily in the kitchen.
She discreetly wiped her eyes when he came in, and he sighed. "Em, come on."
"I'm sorry," she sounded unbelievably sad. "I just feel so guilty."
"You shouldn't," said Sam firmly, taking the plates from her hands and setting them to one side. He wrapped his arms around her and allowed her to bury her face into his chest. "This isn't on you, Emily. Paul and Serena are grownups, they make their own decisions."
"We're a pack, Sam," Emily sighed. "And I knew Serena even before we were a pack. I shouldn't have encouraged it, I should have let her fall for him naturally. I pushed her and that's why she's mad at me now, I know her."
"She'll get over it," said Sam firmly. "She loves you, you know that. Paul says she already feels bad about coming back and she's not ready to see us yet, but she will be. You need to be patient, okay? And you need to stop getting so upset," he pulled back and gave her a pointed look. "It's not good for you. Either of you."
"I know," Emily smiled a little bit. "Light at the end of the tunnel, right?"
"Right," Sam kissed her forehead. "Leah took over my patrol, by the way," he grinned at Emily's surprised look. "What do you want to do tonight?"
Emily's eyes glinted. "Well, I can think of a few things."
Sam groaned. "Please don't ask me to look at paint samples."
"Don't piss off the pregnant lady," chastised Emily, dragging her husband by his hand into the living-room. "Nurseries don't paint themselves, you know, even if you've got a pack of werewolves to do your bidding."
"You know they'd never let me hear the end of it if they knew what I was doing with my free time," scowled Sam.
Emily folded her arms across her chest and gave him a pointed look. Sam almost winced. "Alpha-order them to weed the garden this weekend and I'll pick the paint on my own," she said finally.
Sam frowned. "That's a major misuse of authority."
Emily didn't even blink. "I know. I don't care."
Sam felt a slow grin spread across his face. "I knew there was a greater reason I'd fallen in love with you."
Emily's smiled brightly. "So do we have a deal?"
"We have a deal, Mrs. Uley."