A/N:

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight; it owns me. Underlined text is copied directly from Breaking Dawn.

This story picks up in Chapter 4 of Breaking Dawn - Jacob's perspective just after talking to Bella at her wedding. From there it's AU.

Imprinting always felt like a lazy way to have Jacob get over Bella. This AU story lets him work through it before he meets his imprint.

Isabella Marie Swan is going to be the death of me. Ugh! Isabella Marie Cullen. I'm sure I've thought that before, but this time was really going to be it.

I considered myself a generally laid-back guy, not counting the whole turning-into-a-werewolf thing. And even including the werewolf thing, I'd always been better at controlling myself than my wolf-brothers.

I thought it would kill me when Cullen came back and Bella ran right back into his arms, not caring at all about me and the months we'd been… well, whatever we had been. I survived it.

Surely I should have died when Bella told me all about the plan to change her into a bloodsucker just like Cullen. I kept breathing.

The agony I felt after kissing Bella, really kissing her, and feeling her kiss me back, and Bella even being able to admit to herself that she truly was in love with me only to choose Cullen – again – would have been enough to kill a lesser man. But my heart kept beating.

Did the pain of hearing that Bella had agreed to marry Cullen kill me? Nope.

Somehow, I had even found the strength to go to Bella's wedding, see her in her beautiful white dress, see the happiness on her face now that she was Mrs. Cullen. I'd even tried to be good.

I loved Bella so much that I suppressed my urges to ruin the wedding, to kill her new husband, to kidnap Bella and take her somewhere that she would be safe from leeches.

I thought I would make it out of there okay. Surely there was no new way Bella could find to hurt me.

But she's Bella and I'm Jake, so I should have known better.

Why would she tell me about her honeymoon plans?

I'd always trusted that Bella didn't mean to hurt me, so I'd done the same – always doing my best to put my own feelings second and Bella's first.

I couldn't do that anymore – not now that she'd felt the need to rub it in my face that not only would she soon be a leech, not only would she soon be sleeping with Cullen, but she was going to let him fuck her while she was still human.

She put my feelings last, telling me this bullshit. Her own feelings and safety came next up on the list, apparently, leaving a parasite at the top. Bella would do anything to please him, even let him kill her.

I wanted to kill him. More than ever.

When I'd thought that he loved her and wanted her to be safe, it had been easier to let him have Bella, but this proved that he didn't really love her at all.

And that was truly more than I could take. It was going to kill me.

I shouldn't have let my brothers pull me away from him. But Bella had been too close. And even after all of this, I couldn't take a chance that I'd hurt her.

I gave in to the wolf trying desperately to get out as soon as I was a safe distance away.

Just wait, bro, you'll get your chance to kill him.

You'd regret it if you hurt the girl; save the fight for later.

My wolf-brothers voices filled my head with things I already knew; things that didn't change the way I felt.

I didn't want to wait to kill him, at least not past however long it took me to get him away from Bella.

I should not have come back for this. Trying to keep Bella happy was kicking the crap out of me.

We're glad you're back, bro.

But sorry that she hurt you again.

Shut up! I thought back at them, not even caring who had said what.

I knew that I couldn't stay. As much as I wanted to be here when the pack was finally able to kill Cullen without breaking the treaty, I knew that I couldn't wait around for it.

Worse than that, I knew that when the time came, Bella would die trying to protect her favorite leech. And even though she would already be dead, I couldn't watch my brothers attack her. I couldn't help them do it.

You can't leave again, bro. You just got back.

What about Billy?

We'll get him alone, so you won't have to hurt her.

You've only been back for a couple of days; you can't leave again yet.

I didn't want to hurt Billy, but I couldn't be much of a son to him like this anyway.

The decision made, I immediately took off. The faster I ran, the sooner I wouldn't be able to hear the pack in my head.

If I phased, I couldn't hear them, but then I wouldn't be able to live as a wolf; to try and block out everything human so I wouldn't feel the pain of Bella.

Jacob. That was Sam, and he was using his Alpha voice; the one that none of the rest of us could say no to.

Instantly, I was a man again, running through the woods naked, having ruined the only clothes I had with me at Bella's wedding. I changed my course, headed back to Billy's.

I knew that Sam was going to order me stay. He left me no choice but to leave as a human, and I hated him for it. He couldn't get in my head when I was human, which meant that he couldn't order me not to go.

When I was far enough away I could try phasing back.

I got to Billy's and ran inside quickly, hoping that my sister Rachel wouldn't be in the living room.

When Rachel'd come home from Washington State at the end of the summer semester – graduated early, the nerd – my biggest worry'd been that it would be hard keeping the secret around her. I wasn't used to covering things up in my own home. It made me real sympathetic to kids like Embry and Collin, whose parents didn't know they were werewolves. Embry's mom thought he was going through some kind of rebellious stage. He was permanently grounded for constantly sneaking out, but, of course, there wasn't much he could do about that. She'd check his room every night, and every night it would be empty again. She'd yell and he'd take it in silence, and then go through it all again the next day. We'd tried to talk Sam into giving Embry a break and letting his mom in on the gig, but Embry'd said he didn't mind. The secret was too important.

So I'd been all geared up to be keeping the that secret. And then, two days after Rachel got home, Paul ran into her on the beach. Bada bing, bada boom – true love! No secrets necessary when you found your other half, and all that imprinting werewolf garbage.

For once in my life, I caught a break, and no one was home.

I went straight to my room and threw on the first pants I found. Then I grabbed my backpack and turned it upside down over my bed, shaking out everything that I'd left in there since school had ended in June. I threw whatever clothes I could find inside; I didn't have a whole lot left that fit what with tearing through them when I phased on accident and growing to nearly seven feet tall in such a short time.

I debated putting a shirt and shoes on but decided not to risk them when I was still so upset. I only had one pair of shoes anyway; they went in the backpack. I grabbed a few things from the bathroom and threw them in on top.

In the kitchen, I scrawled a quick note to Billy.

Dad,

I thought I could be here, but I can't. I'm sorry.

Love, Jake

He would understand. He wouldn't like it, but he'd understand.

I promised myself that since I was leaving as a human anyway, I'd find a way to stay in touch with him – probably not phone calls; that would give him a chance to tell me things I wouldn't want to hear. But I could try to write to him, just to let him know I was okay.

I threw a quick sandwich together for the road and ate it before I made it out the front door. Throwing my backpack over my shoulder, I headed out to the garage. I opened the drawer of my toolbox where I kept my wallet – and what little of my allowance I hadn't blown on fixing the Rabbit – and then debated where to put it.

If I phased, there was no way to keep it with me. The pants I had on would be ruined, leaving the wallet somewhere on the ground under the shreds. The backpack would rip off my shoulders but stay intact, but it was also more likely that if I left the backpack somewhere while I ran off the anger that it wouldn't be there when I got back.

That decided me on my next dilemma. I wanted to take the bike because it was faster, but it also reminded me of Bella and had nowhere for me to leave my stuff to keep it safe. I would have to take the Rabbit. I threw the wallet in the backpack and then threw the backpack in the back seat.

With one last sigh of regret, frustration and despair, I started the car and left the only home I'd ever known. I knew my brothers were in the woods, running with me, as I drove from La Push to Forks, where I would catch the 101. I didn't look at them; there was no point.

North or south? I didn't really care. I'd run north when I left last time, as a wolf. South as a man then.

I didn't pay attention to anything but the road as I drove. I didn't want to see all the familiar sights that would remind me of Bella and all that I was leaving behind. Driving as fast as I was, it didn't take long before I was out on the open road – still a road that was familiar, but away from all the reminders of Bella.

I chuckled at my own stupidity. I would never really get away from things that reminded me of Bella.

I stopped for gas in Hoquiam and realized just how little money I had. I couldn't worry about it though. What choice did I have? If I got far enough away, I could phase and hunt for food, leaving all my money for gas. I cursed Sam again for forcing me to leave as a man. I bought a map to help figure out when I would be far away enough to phase safely.

Driving across the Astoria bridge and into Oregon brought a smile to my face; there was something satisfying about being in a different state than all the things that were haunting me.

Succumbing to my hunger, I turned off the 101 in Yachats, Oregon and onto the Yachats River Road, heading into Siuslaw National Forest. According to my map, I should be more than 300 miles from La Push, and according to our tests, I was probably out of range of the minds of the pack.

I pulled over on the side of the road. It was late, and there weren't any other cars around. I stepped out of the car, locking it behind me, just in case, and tucking the key up under the wheel well. It was the best I could do.

I walked into the woods out of the view of the road and took off my pants. I took a deep breath before I phased. I couldn't just give in to my anger because if I heard the pack, I would need to phase back before Sam could give the order to go back home.

I phased and stayed still and quiet for a few minutes, waiting to see if I could hear anyone.

When I was pretty sure I was in the clear, I took off to hunt. I ate more than I needed to, both because I was enjoying myself and because I didn't know when I would eat next. I slept in the woods as a wolf; it was more comfortable than the Rabbit would have been. Also, the wolf stomach had no problem processing raw meat, but if I phased with such a full stomach, I might not be getting any sleep at all.

Jake!

Wake up, bro!

The voices in my head weren't part of the dream I'd been having, but it took me a moment to realize that they were my brothers.

Without another thought, I phased back. I pulled the pants I'd strapped to my ankle on and walked back toward where I'd left my car. I pulled the keys out from the wheel well and unlocked the car, climbing in. I retreated up the road and back to the 101. I filled up again in the small town there.

Back on the highway, I wondered how the pack had been able to reach me this morning but unable to last night. Were they following me? That didn't make sense because they could easily run faster than I could drive.

Remembering the voices in my head, I became conscious of how different they'd sounded. Distant? When we'd tested at 300 miles, I couldn't remember the voices being distant. Maybe whatever mental antennas connected us had a strong signal for 300 miles and then it tapered off?

It didn't really matter. I had to get further away.

I crossed the line into California with so many different emotions I couldn't even name them all. I stopped in Crescent City to get gas. Without even enough money to fill up the tank, I put in just a few dollars – saving a little bit of cash for an emergency – and wondered what I should do. Knowing that I didn't look like a sixteen year old runaway was helpful. I could probably find a job somewhere here in town. I could live out of the Rabbit until I had more money, then I'd decide whether I needed to keep going or I could look for a place to stay.

I put on a clean shirt and my socks and shoes and went back into the gas station to ask the man behind the counter about a job. He looked me over and then handed me a form to fill out without saying anything.

I didn't know what I should do about all the info on the form that I didn't have: address, phone number, work experience. Maybe this was going to be harder than I thought.

"Sir?" I asked politely. "I'm really just passing through and don't have an address or phone yet." I slid the form back to him, still blank, and turned around to leave.

"Wait, kid," he said grudgingly.

I turned around. "Yeah?"

"I have a couple odd jobs I could let you do; you look like a strong kid. I'll pay you in cash, and we can skip the paperwork."

I smiled at him. "You won't regret it," I promised.

Frank, the gas station's owner, had me move the Rabbit around to the back of the store and start helping him out right away. He didn't ask any questions, and I was grateful. The busy work and heavy lifting kept my mind busy. Around dusk, another man showed up, Tom, the first night shift, I was told.

Frank gave me $100 for my half a day's work and told me that if I was back tomorrow morning that he'd have more for me to do. "And it's all right with me if your car stays around back all night," he added quietly, correctly assuming that I'd be sleeping in it.

I used my new cash to buy a couple of pre-stamped postcards, several frozen burritos – using the microwave in the back to heat them up – and a jug of water. I took everything out to the Rabbit and ate in silence. When I was done, I fished a pen out of the glove box and filled out a postcard to Billy.

Dad,

I'm safe. Please don't worry. I'll try to stay in touch.

Love, Jake

I set it on the dashboard and held the other postcard in front of me. Why had I bought two? Bella. I pushed the idea out of my head. Bella did not deserve a postcard letting her know I was okay. I wasn't okay, and it was Bella's fault. Where would I even send it?

Without my consent to, my hand scribbled a note to Bella at Charlie's address. If she was a leech now and couldn't see Charlie to get the postcard, that was her fault, not mine.

Bella,

Don't waste time worrying about me. I'm doing what you wanted. This is how I get on with my life without you.

Your Jacob

I shouldn't send it; I hadn't even meant to write it. I hated that I could be almost 600 miles from her and still go out of my way to try to make her happy.

I wondered then where she actually would be by now. It'd been just a little over 24 hours since I'd seen her – since she'd been married. Where would Cullen take her to try and get some before he killed her?

My hands started shaking. I threw the pen back in the glove box and slammed it closed. Reaching into the backseat to grab the backpack, I pulled my wallet out. I stuffed what remained of my earnings into it and shoved it into my pocket.

Climbing out, I stuffed both postcards in my back pocket. I locked the Rabbit and put my keys in another pocket. I walked down the street, assuming I'd find a mailbox and unsure what else to do with myself. The neighborhood wasn't the nicest, but I didn't exactly have anything to be afraid of.

A bouncer sitting on a stool outside of a bar inclined his head once at me in greeting, obviously assuming I was headed into the bar. I nodded back at him as I approached and, on a whim, walked inside.

The bar was pretty crowded considering its poor location. I couldn't help but notice that there were only a few guys; most of the bar's customers were girls. Women, I mentally corrected myself.

It occurred to me then that if one of these women were my imprint, I wouldn't care about Bella anymore. I might be opening myself up for a whole new world of pain, but it could not be worse than this.

I didn't want to blow all my money drinking while hoping to imprint on some random chick, but I'd look weird if I stood here just looking around the room much longer. I spotted an open seat a ways down the bar and went and sat. When the bartender came, I ordered a beer; I didn't really know what else to ask for, and I figured I could make a beer last a while and get a chance to check out everyone in here before I headed off.

I stared into the face of every girl who passed anywhere near me, making myself really look, noticing who was pretty and who had blue eyes andwho had way too much makeup on. I tried to find something interesting about each face, so that I would know for sure that I'd really tried. Things like: This one had a really straight nose; that one should pull her hair out of her eyes; this one could do lipstick ads if the rest of her face was as perfect as her mouth…

Sometimes they stared back. Sometimes they looked scared – like they were thinking, Who is this big freak glaring at me? Sometimes I thought they looked kind of interested, but maybe that was just my ego running wild.

Either way, nothing. Even when I met the eyes of the girl who was – no contest – the hottest girl in the bar and probably in the city, and she stared right back with a speculation that looked like interest, I felt nothing. Just the same desperate drive to find a way out of the pain.

As time went on, I started noticing all the wrong things. Bella things. This one's hair was the same color. That one's eyes were sort of shaped the same. This one's cheekbones cut across her face in just the same way. That one had the same little crease between her eyes – which made me wonder what she was worrying about…

When the bartender pointed to my empty glass and asked if I wanted another, I declined and gave up. What were the odds that my perfect match would be here, in a bar I couldn't name, at exactly the same time that I was?

As I made my way toward the door, I was stopped by a soft hand on my arm. I turned and met the eyes of the girl I'd decided was the hottest here. She had hair nearly the same color as Bella's, and her eyes were brown, though they weren't Bella brown. She was even about Bella's height and weight, and it made me wonder if my reasons for thinking her the prettiest here were the wrong kind of reasons.

"Are you really gonna leave without even saying 'Hi'?" she giggled.