Though he ran faster than he ever had on two legs, Jacob could not reach Bella before her hand made contact with Paul's cheek. He watched with undisguised horror as Paul's form began to shudder. Bella, heeding Sam's warning, began to step away from the growling man in front of her, but she wasn't fast enough. She was just too close, and Jacob knew that even if he phased now he would only endanger her further. Jacob heard Sam begin a hasty alpha-command, but all Sam got out was "PAUL STO...", before the man in question exploded into a foamy mouthed, raging silver behemoth of a wolf. A small cry of shock escaped Bella at the sight before her while all the wolves held their breath. Jacob, for one, couldn't believe Paul hadn't shredded Bella, considering how close he transformed to her.
They were literally nose to nose.
Paul's wolf body was still wracked by violent growls, but Bella held her ground. Jacob eased his way stealthily around, hoping to find an opening to help the friend he had hurt so deeply with his absence. His heart twisted painfully in his chest when he got far enough around to see Bella's face. There was no paralyzing fear like he had expected to see. No, what he found was much worse. Upon her face, her lovely broken-angel's face, was an expression of unholy glee and acceptance. The kind of look one gets when they win the lottery - not one a completely sane individual would adopt when pitted against a giant murderous wolf. He continued to inch forward, his mission all the more urgent now that he knew he was attempting to diffuse two dangerous people instead of just one. Paul's glare was unwavering, but within the length of half of an indrawn breath he froze, prompting everyone else to stop breathing. He lifted his head infinitesimally and inhaled once more before his eyes zeroed in on something that everyone, up to this point, had missed.
Bella was not, in fact, completely unscathed. Her right-hand jacket and shirt sleeves had been sliced open by a single claw. The thin hole was slowly dampening with blood that trickled from a shallow wound on her wrist. Jacob and his pack brothers watched as the hothead of the pack snuffled at the wound. He and the others heard Bella's sharp inhale as the wolf in front of her swiped a long hot tongue up her forearm, clearing the sluggish trickle of blood and exposing the pale skin below. Jacob's tension multiplied to almost unbearable levels when Paul growled and captured Bella's hand between his razor sharp teeth. The wolf then lifted her hand, bringing the arm into the light. As one, the pack expressed their shock and disbelief at what they saw, their forms ranging from shockingly explicit profanity to silent gaping disbelief. Jacob's mind was pulsing. Bella had been bitten by one of those leeches! But she was still alive. Jacob thought he knew the pain his friend was working through, with Bella having lost her friends and first boyfriend, but something much worse had clearly taken place and Jacob had left her stranded dealing with the fallout. He cursed Sam Uley in his mind. If Sam hadn't ordered him to stay away from Bella, she wouldn't have been hurt just now, and they might have already had a chance to move their friendship into something more, something deep enough for her to share the secrets of her pain and despair. If he had been allowed to tell her about the wolves, there would have been no need for continued secrecy on her part. Jacob hoped fervently that now, at least, she would share her burden.
While Jacob had been dwelling on Bella's demons, Paul had been standing motionless staring into chocolate eyes that met his own with a mix of sorrow and peaceful resignation. Then the silver wolf did something more astonishing than not killing her instantly after his spontaneous rage-induced phase. He dropped her hand and reached his giant head around to grab a mouthful of coat hood and lifted Bella clean off her feet. She squeaked, most likely in fear, and dangled helplessly as the wolf trotted off in the direction of the treeline. Jacob panicked and phased the moment Paul's back was turned, only to let out a sharp whine and immediately phase back.
"Dafuq man!" Quil exclaimed. "What the hell is going on?"
Jacob's mind reeled with the influx of thoughts and feelings he had witnessed during his temporary cohabitation of Paul's mind.
"She's safe." Jacob managed. "He won't hurt her."
He had known, from random thoughts of Sam's and Jared's, that Paul had not had a stable home life growing up. He wondered if anyone really knew the things hidden in Paul's memories. Jacob knew that those things had never come out while Paul had been phased with the rest of them. Even now all he could tell, through the maelstrom of screaming and painful memories, was that Paul felt a new and deep connection to Bella. A kindred loyalty that revolved around scars and rejection.
When the pair stopped moving the pack heard Paul's giant wolf body plop down, crunching dry leaves under him. They made their way slowly in that direction and found Paul curled around Bella, who had her head resting on a large silver shoulder. When Jacob got too close, Paul gave him a warning growl.
"It's alright Paul. We'll give you some space." Sam spoke up. "You two make your way to my place in a while. We'll wait for you there." The silver head bowed to the alpha then curled around to rest on his haunches, completely encasing Bella with his body.
As the group made their way to Sam and Emily's, Sam placed a large hand on Jacob's shoulder. "You're taking this awfully well." Sam said. "Are you really ok with them?" He asked, motioning toward the trees.
"Ok with them what?" Jacob asked.
"Paul imprinting on Bella," Sam clarified. "Isn't that what just happened?"
Jacob realized that, to the rest of the pack, that explanation was probably the most obvious considering Paul's past opinion of Bella and the drastic change in his actions toward her. But that wasn't it. Jacob, through the pack mind had seen that even though Paul now felt a kinship with Bella, he was not tied to her the way an imprint bound a wolf's soul to its mate. His connection was entirely based on his own past and the things he saw and recognized today in Bella. Whatever Paul saw struck a nerve deep inside him. No, he didn't magically love Bella, but he would most likely be a friend to her now, whether she wanted it or not.
"No, he just sees her different for some reason. I don't know how to explain, his head was too screwed up for me to stay, but he saw something that shook him up, really changed his mind about her."
"Sure sounds a lot like an imprint to me." Jared piped in.
Jacob shrugged. "Ask him when they come in, but it's not an imprint." It did make him feel odd and maybe just a little jealous to think of her curled up with Paul in the woods - Jacob was in love with her after all - but he also knew that any connections and friendships she could form would be very important in helping her heal from the pain the leeches put her through.
When they reached the porch of Sam and Emily's, Jacob reached into a large lidded basket on the porch and pulled out one of the pack's many pairs of emergency shorts and slipped them on. Inside, he smelled Emily's blueberry muffins and his mouth watered. He and Embry elbowed each other, both trying to push through the door at the same time. They finally burst through the door laughing, to find a patiently exasperated look on Emily's face.
"You know if you break my doorframe, you're fixing it yourself." She said sweetly.
"Yeah, we know." Both boys mumbled in unison.
"Good. Well come get a snack to hold you over until dinner's ready."
Jacob reached for a muffin and began eating ravenously as Sam filled Emily in on what had just happened between Paul and Bella.
Emily gasped. "You left her out there hurt?" She admonished.
"It was just a scratch." Quil said around a mouthful of muffin. "Paul licked her clean." He added, wiggling his eyebrows.
"Ugh, nevermind. I'm surprised she didn't run screaming when Paul phased and almost attacked her." Emily mused.
"Chick's sure good with wierd, you gotta give her that." Jared said shaking his head. "She ran with vampires and then stares down an irate Paul. Wolf or no wolf, that's some scary shit there!"