She's lost track of how long he's been gone—at least, that's what she tells everyone. In reality, every moment that passes without him is a ticking noise like a clock in the back of her head, and she doesn't have to count, she just knows—it's been seven months, two weeks, five days, and six hours. Maybe a different girl would tick off the days methodically with a calendar hanging on the wall. Leah doesn't have to.

The rest of the pack keeps a metaphorical eye on him. Seth glances at her every night, and she tells him not to bother—she doesn't want to know. What's she gathered from their conversation is more than enough—he's alive, and he's in wolf form every time someone makes the change, which probably means he hasn't changed back since he left. She doesn't think about what this means—how fucked up he's still got to be, even after all this time

As for her, she avoids the change. It's difficult, when it's such a part of her, but it's more difficult to feel the waves of pain that send her reeling with the memory of her own broken fairytale. It's more difficult to realize that she's letting this happen to her, again, and her angry and frustrated tears do nothing to dispel the situation. She is strong, yes, but not a block of granite. There are some things you can't fight, and this isn't just one of them—it's first on the list.

One day Embry's in the house, flinging open the front door without a thought. "Seth! Leah!" he yells without bothering to find them. "He's on the way home! Everyone's going to Billy's to wait for him!" He runs back out, slamming the door behind him. In the next room, Leah hears a flurry of motion, and Seth's gone less than a minute later.

She remains on her bed, legs crossed in what most people call the 'Indian style,' staring at a point above her window as the sun slowly sinks.

The silence in her mind is filled with ticking, and she bites down on her scream.

*

The sky is inky and strewn with blinking diamonds when she finally makes her way to his house. Empty beer bottles are littered across the lawn, the disarray letting her imagine the celebration that must have greeted him upon his return. She grinds her teeth and opens the door. No-one knocks or rings the doorbell around here anymore.

Billy's glued to the television set, alone on the couch. "Is Jacob home?" she asks in a quiet voice, and he turns to look at her for only a moment. "Yeah, he's upstairs," he answers vaguely, waving a hand in that direction before returning his attention to the screen.

Leah turns and takes the steps three at a time.

When she passes through the doorway, she freezes in place, wrapping her arms tightly around her torso. Jacob sits on his bed, looking out the window in the direction of Forks, and the bottom drops out of her stomach. She knows what he's thinking about.

He looks up, and she offers no greeting or smile. They lock eyes for what seems like hours before she finally speaks, and once she does, the questions come like rapid-fire.

"Why did you come back?"

Her gaze is penetrating, but he merely shrugs, glancing away to avoid it. "It's been a long time. I missed home."

"Are you over your fucking self-pity?"

For a moment, he looks as though he's about to argue, but he lets it go with a simple answer. "Yes."

"Why did you leave?"

Jacob begins to speak, but she cuts him off. "I'm not asking what happened—everyone knows. That's not enough. What do you think gave you the right to just leave? You're not the first person to hurt like that, and running away isn't the answer. There's no excuse for it."

He rubs the back of his neck. "There was nothing left for me here."

"That's where you're wrong," she growls, crossing the room in a blur—she doesn't think, just moves, and he doesn't resist. To say either of them melted into each other could not be further away from the truth—it's a clash of strong wills as she straddles his hips and pushes him back on the bed, as he grips her waist with strong hands that will leave bruises. Their lips meet, and it's heat, it's fire. He tastes like salt and earth, and her desperation mounts. He matches it, perhaps mistaking it for passion—she doesn't know or care.

She breaks away and kisses a wet trail across his jawbone, bites his neck; he moans. "I'm not your fragile little princess," she whispers against his skin. "You're not going to break me." He growls, and seizes her forearms, flipping her onto her back. Burning fingertips make their way under the hem of her blouse, and she smiles against his lips before slipping her hands up his chest and tugging off his shirt. The rest of their clothing follows in quick procession.

It's not making love—it's fucking. Somewhere in the mix is anger, need, desperation, pain. Leah's reaching out for him with reasons she can't make sense of herself, and there's no denying that at this moment, he's drowning his sorrow and she's exactly the outlet he requires. On the surface, it feels good, but neither of them is paying attention to that—this is about filling the chasm of loss, and for a moment, it's working.

(But that's only a moment.)

Leah's head isn't ticking anymore, but she doesn't notice, because each moment passes nonetheless.

*

She's perched in the windowsill, rumpled clothes pulled back on, not even bothering to attempt fixing her hair. Jacob sits on the edge of the bed, his back slumped and his head cradled in his hands.

"I don't understand how you—" she pauses, growls in her throat, and starts over. "You said you were over it."

He laughs, and the sound is hollow; she flinches. "I told you I was done with self-pity," he says. "That doesn't mean I'm over her."

Leah punches the sharp corner of the wall that juts out next to her head. It scrapes her knuckles, and blood drips from her hand. "She left you, Jacob. By now, she's been in Alaska with her husband for half a year. Do you think there's anything you can do about that fucking leech now?"

Anger seeps into his voice. "I can't help it, alright? I didn't choose this anymore than you chose what happened with Sam and Emily."

She bristles. "That," she says icily, "is in the past."

"Don't try to tell me that doesn't play a part in this," he growls, and she doesn't reply. He sighs and lowers his head even more. "I don't want to be what he is. This is all so—you don't deserve any more than you've already been through."

Leah stands and walks to the door. This time, there are no tears in her eyes, just a hardened look and throbbing pain in her throat from holding back. "Forget it. I've learned this one the hard way—you can't help who you love. And I'm not going to fight it again. It's useless."

Jacob threads his fingers through his hair and pulls. Frustration hums in his voice. "But that's not fair to you."

"It never is," she mutters.

The only reply is the ticking of a clock on the wall.