Author's Note: I had to take this down and repost it because I'm horrible and forgot to proof-read. The entire first line of the fic got repeated somewhere along the second paragraph. Yikes, I'm so sorry about that! So errors fixed, no more repeats, lol. Inspired by the song "The Runaway" by Something Corporate, italic lines are parts of the song. Enjoy!

Since returning to the WWE, Jeff Hardy had made more friends than he'd had when he left. He talked to everyone he saw, stopping for a minute or two to engage in casual conversation. However, no one - not even his own brother - knew about the deep-seated insecurities that kept him clammed up about his life below the surface. He had one closely trusted confidant, the most unlikeliest of persons. Maria Kanellis. The two enjoyed hours of conversation and Jeff found her endearing, intriguing, and above all open-minded.

Maria wasn't the ditz everyone took her for. She had things to say, and intelligent ways to say them. Jeff often questioned why she stayed in the role she was in, and she'd simply smile and reply: "A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do". He couldn't blame her, refusing a chance to be seen in this company was like ripping your hard-earned contract in half. Second chances were hard to come by, but Jeff was the new poster boy for said second chances. And he hated it.

He hated the skeptical looks he got when he returned. He hated the dubious whispers, the rumors. He hated the way everyone walked on egg shells around him, as if he'd snap if someone mentioned his three-year hiatus. He was willing to talk about it, just as long as people were forthright with their questions. Maria was the first person to sit him down and say "What really happened, Jeff"? He appreciated her for that. She didn't ask him in a way that was harsh, it didn't make her seem like she was looking down her nose at him. She was genuinely curious, wanting to know about his past and what he planned for the future.

The first day he met Maria they talked in catering for an entire two hours before RAW began. Maria was so entranced in Jeff's story that she dared not crunch on the single baby carrot stick she held between her dainty fingers, her pretty mouth in a soft 'O' shape at his stories.

His accent made Maria want to listen. Something about the southern twang had her swooning over his words. She watched his mouth as he talked, his lips were perfectly pink for a boy and soft looking. While she was drawn in by the sound of his speech and the lips that formed this words, the stories that he told kept her sitting, listening, appreciating. It saddened her to hear how self-depreciating Jeff could be at times. Sometimes it was a joke, sometimes it wasn't. Each time he blamed himself in a new way for 'fucking up' his dream. Yet he stood by his claim that substance abuse was the least of his problems.

"Then what's the truth, Jeff?" Maria had asked.

The intensity behind her hazel eyes made him squirm. She wasn't being intimidating but the genuine curiosity in her voice was a shock. She really wanted to know, she was asking him for his truth, his story, and processing it all with her eyes and mind open. Never did a judgmental word fall from her tongue about him. She knew it wasn't her place to call him a bad person because she'd known him for less then a day. But she appreciated and respected his talent and growing legacy and his honesty.

Jeff couldn't deny his growing adoration for the beauty. The two were inseparable and it set their colleagues tongues wagging. Jeff kept his feelings for Maria under lock and key, buried deep within himself, not to be opened by anyone but the lively brunette. Maria simply smiled at the accusations, never uttering a word of admission or dismissal at the accusations. Jeff felt a pang of jealousy at how she was able to so easily deflect the teasing. For Jeff it made him uncomfortable, stirring those dormant insecurities that people were talking behind his back to life again.

Soon enough, Jeff felt himself reverting to his old lone wolf habits. He gave passing smiles and waves to people he once stopped and talked to. His conversations with Maria were cut short, ending awkward and abrupt. She knew something was wrong. His soul was screaming - this man was in agony. She tried to pry open his mouth for the story why, but Jeff had even begun to shut her out.

Maria didn't want to take it personally, but she did. Spending huge amounts of time talking to one person for six months at a time can cause you to develop significant feelings for said person. Her heart ached to see Jeff just going through the motions. She saw his lively spirit fading, the smiles he always gave her disappearing, the Jeff Hardy she'd come to love slipping away. Most hurtful of all, she heard the way people talked about him. Accusing and lacking belief and trust. Brutal words about him being 'back on the drugs' made her want to slap each person she heard utter such words. She believed him, addiction wasn't his problem. He was hurting for another reason, and she was determined to find out why.

There were spared a rare day off after a freak water main break in the arena literally flooded out their show. Set in her ways to find out the issue with her friend, Maria gave three loud, forceful knocks to his hotel room door. She heard an annoyed muttering before the door opened. Jeff, looking paler than usual and sleep-deprived blinked at her presence.

"What's wrong with you?" Maria demanded gently.

"I'm fine."

"You're not. Jeff, please talk to me. I can feel it, all the pain, all the pain that you hide from me everyday. Please..."

"I'm not hiding anything from you, Ria. I wouldn't..."

"Don't lie to me! Jesus Jeff if anything I look forward to in our friendship is the honesty you always give me, don't start lying now."

"Please don't do this. Don't treat me like everyone else does."

"Jeff. Oh, Jeff I wouldn't do that to you. I love you! My intention is never to hurt you. Never. I want to help you. But you're running away from me. Stop. Tell me what's wrong."

Shocked by her admission, Jeff tugged her inside the room, shutting the door and locking it. Maria blinked in the darkness before the light was flicked on. Her eyes were drawn instantly to a glittering on the bedside table. A razorblade, shimmering and new sat there, mocking. Maria spun on Jeff, brown hair flying, an accusation on the tip of her tongue, but she stopped.

"Go ahead. Tell me how much of a loser I am."

Her anger dissolved, her heart cracking. "I won't. I won't, because you're not. You're human, Jeff. I'm not going to berate you. Just tell me why."

Jeff groaned and sat on the edge of the bed, dropping his head into his hands. "Because... my life has been turned completely upside down. My girlfriend... my ex-girlfriend thinks I'm sleeping with you. Ria that was six long years and now it's gone. She was my life, so much to me. Just gone. Ripped in half. Put on top of that how bad I hurt, how everyone talks about me like I don't exist, how they think I'm a fucking drugged up loser. Wouldn't that kinda make you wanna die? Because it sure as hell makes me feel that way."

Maria covered her mouth, tears streaming down her face. She felt partially responsible. His ex thought he was cheating on her and it wasn't the case. He was torn apart emotionally, mentally, and physically. She couldn't begin to imagine how he felt. All she could do was throw herself forward and embrace him, sobbing.

"Jeff I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"

He held her around the waist as she squeezed her arms around his neck, tears running like waterfalls along his back. Overwhelmed by her honest emotion, he fell in love with her at that moment. Realizing how she cared, how she wanted him to be safe.

"I'm sorry for scaring you. I'm sorry for running away."

"If you ran to the end of the earth, I would catch you and you would be safe."