***Companion story for Breathe Again. Goes with Post #61: Chapter Thirty-One: Confessions.***

(Charlie's POV)

There's something about having Bella that just puts it all into perspective. On the surface, I spent the entire night chasing down fires, yelling out orders, and calling in every available man we had (and a few who'd retired) just to keep the peace. But on the inside I didn't give a damn about any of that. I just wanted to know my little girl was safe.

I tried calling Billy's place every chance I got, but these idiot townsfolk were all in a panic, talking up a storm, and tying up the only way I had of reaching her. Our town's little phone system was completely overwhelmed, and there was nothing I could do.

When the blaze at Newton's was finally under control, I almost turned left out of that parking lot, forgetting about everyone else that was counting on me, needing more than anything to just find her and make sure she was clear of the chaos. But the radio went off again. The church fire was getting out of hand, and some apparently suicidal onlookers were getting too close. So I took a deep breath, told myself Jake would take care of her, and turned right.

Of course, being the Chief of Police does have its upside, and all my men had strict orders to radio me every time one of them passed my house. And each time they told me her truck wasn't there. I didn't actually want her to be there. I didn't want her to be anywhere near Forks at the moment, but my heart sunk a little further with each one of their reports. Her not being there meant I didn't know for certain where she was. I just hoped Jake was with her. I may not have liked the serious turn those two seemed to have taken, but if I knew anything, it was that he wouldn't let anything happen to her.

When all the craziness died down I called Billy's, and just as I'd hoped, she was there. It probably should have occurred to me to ask her what she was still doing out, but my nerves were shot, and at the moment I just didn't care. I could assume she was there for safety and nothing else.

She offered to stay at the Young girl's house, but that wasn't good enough. Those kids weren't much older than my Bells, and even though they were pretty mature for their age, it just wasn't right, not after the night I'd had. It had been fine before, but …well, this time was just different. This time I needed her to be with the only other person I really trusted: Billy. Of course, there was the not so small matter of Jacob, but I just had to count on Bella using good sense.

It's not like I'd never worried about her before. But she lived with Renee, and as crazy as that woman was sometimes, I knew she'd die before letting anything happen to our daughter. And Bella was always so quiet anyway. I only saw her a couple times a year at most, and usually just for a short time in the summer, but I could tell long ago that she wasn't going to be one of those kids that sought out trouble. Sure, if there was a flat surface, she'd find a way to trip over it, but aside from that, Bella wasn't the kind to give anyone any problems.

Of course, it was a bit different when she moved in with me. No, she still wasn't the type to go sneaking out or coming home drunk. She did what she was told, cared about how people felt and what they thought, and basically put everyone else's kids to shame. But that didn't stop me from worrying.

I did everything I could to keep her safe, but there was little I could do when it came to the rest of the world. I put chains on her truck when it iced, and that Crowley kid nearly ran over her instead. I let her go out with that Cullen kid, seeing as he'd never been in trouble for anything, and what happened? She got in a fight with him, ran away, and took a hell of a tumble down a flight of stairs. I wrote it off as emotional teenager stuff, and gave her another chance, only to have her become the walking dead when the Cullens moved away. And now she was dating Jacob Black.

If you'd asked me a year ago, I'd have shoved those two together. Jake was practically family anyway, and I trusted him a hell of a lot more than any other kid in town. The Cullen kid was nice, but something about him just creeped me out. He was always polite, seemed responsible, and never gave me any reason to doubt him, but it was always just a little too convenient. When I had a particular concern, he always had the right answer. When any other boy his age would have stammered and stuttered and lied about something, he had no trouble looking me in the eye and completing his sentences---too well, actually. The way he talked sometimes…it just didn't sound like a teenage boy. It sounded like a grown man with a classic reading habit. Something about that boy was just off.

Of course, back then, Jake had been more…normal. His latest growth spurt had him looking like he was in his twenties, and his whole demeanor had changed. Yeah, he was still the same kid with the big grin most of the time, but then he'd get this hardened, serious look, and I almost didn't recognize him. And for some reason, Billy didn't seem to give a damn when the boy stayed out all hours of the night. From what I had heard, he wasn't out stirring up trouble, but it just didn't make sense for a boy his age not to have some rules.

I knew she was safe, but that didn't take away from the relief I felt when I finally made it over to Billy's and saw her with my own eyes. Dinner was good, as it always was when Bella cooked, and relaxing in front of the TV was a welcome distraction. The kids were all pretty nervous about the whole arson mess, but I really couldn't blame them. That sort of thing just didn't happen around these parts. Or so we thought.

Afterward, Bella and I didn't make it home till after ten. I'd been up for the better part of two days, and between the lack of sleep and the full stomach, I don't even know how I made to into my bed. But exhaustion doesn't trump worry, and even though I needed sleep more than anything, I slept fitfully, waking up every so often and having to remind myself that Bella was home and safe. A couple of times I even got up, wanting to just go in and check on her, but Bella wasn't the soundest sleeper, either, and I would have felt bad disturbing her.

When my alarm went off, it was actually a relief. I knew I could catch a nap at the station if I really had to, and I was just too worked up to lie around in bed any longer. I got dressed, put on some coffee, and stepped outside to see the damage in the light of day.

We were lucky, I guess. I could see at the end of the street where one of the fires had burned through most of the trees in the Collins' backyard, as well as a part of their fence. Henry was certainly going to have a fit over that. But none of the homes on our street had sustained any real damage, and we still had a nice, green patch of woods in our backyard. It looked like a branch had fallen, though.

I walked over to check it out and was surprised to see it was green. It would've made sense if the tree was dying off, and I just hadn't noticed in time, but this was living wood, and everything around it was undisturbed. There was no way that could've fallen on its own. I looked up the side of the house to see if it had caused any damage on its way down. Nope, everything looked fine. Shingles were in place, siding was unscathed, and Bella's window was…open? Well, it had been a little cool out. Maybe she just wanted some fresh air. Unless…

I was up the stairs before the thoughts pieced themselves together in my head. I paused outside her bedroom door, second guessing myself. What if I was wrong? Surely I didn't want to just go accusing her. And she was a good, responsible kid for the most part. Hell, she told me she and Jake weren't sleeping together. Then again, that Sotterman girl had probably told her parents the same thing, and now they were stuck raising her twins. No, no, Bella wasn't like that. She was smart and good and responsible. I supposed it wouldn't hurt to just crack the door open, make sure she was okay…

That worthless little piece of--! What the hell did he think he was doing in my daughter's bed?! I took one quick step forward, ready to rip his damn head off, and then stopped short when Bella rolled over. She looked peaceful and even a little…happy. How long had it been since I'd seen her like that?

Until recently, she'd been sleeping fitfully. She would have nightmares, waking up screaming bloody murder, with her eyes wide and empty. I'd sit in the rocker, just watching her sleep, dreading that moment when her breaths became labored and she began to toss and turn. Waking her up before the screaming started never worked. She'd just fall back asleep and it would start all over again. Unless I planned on sitting up all night every night, waking her every half hour or so, the nightmares were just something I was going to have to get used to. But lately…

Come to think of it, she hadn't been having nightmares for a while now. It had probably been a couple of weeks since I'd heard her scream. And the only thing that had really changed in that time was her relationship with Jacob. Had he been here every night? No, that couldn't be. Some of my guys had seen him out at night with his friends, never causing any trouble, and miles away from our house. I didn't even want to know what he was doing here now.

I stood there, a little stunned at both the sight of him in her bed and the thought that maybe he had something to do with her getting better. I watched as her brow wrinkled and she twitched a little in her sleep, usually the first sign that a nightmare was beginning. But in an instant, Jacob's arm wrapped tightly around her, and she sort of curled back into him, relaxing with a small sigh. It was a little too intimate for my liking, but it wasn't exactly inappropriate. Maybe he was more use to me alive.

And that's when I started noticing other little details. That boy couldn't seem to figure out what shirts were for, but at least his shorts were on. And all the covers were wrapped around Bella while Jake was just sort of lying on top of everything. A quick look at the floor didn't reveal any discarded clothing or…wrappers of any kind, thank God. And Bella's foot was hanging off the side of the bed, sweatpants clearly visible.

So yeah, there was a boy in my daughter's bed, and I wasn't entirely sure he deserved to see another day. But now that I saw everything, it didn't look like they'd been doing anything but sleeping. And it had been too long since Bella had done that with any success. As much as I wanted to kill him, I just couldn't bring myself to wake her up. I'd have to deal with this later.

I was pouring myself another cup of coffee when I heard him walk into the kitchen behind me. Without turning around, I just pointed in the general direction of the table and said, "Sit."

I was already at work when I realized I'd forgotten my checkbook. It wasn't something I usually carried with me, but I needed it today. Bella's graduation present had finally come in, and I was planning on picking it up and paying for it at lunch. What I didn't expect was to find the two of them mauling each other on the bathroom floor when I got home.

"Charlie---" he began.

"Chief Swan," I corrected him. "And you don't get to talk."

He looked a little surprised, but he closed his mouth and waited while I tried to figure out exactly what I was supposed to say. Bella was eighteen, and she was about to graduate high school. In a few months she'd be leaving for college, where…well, I didn't even want to think about what she'd be doing there. But she was still a kid, still living at home, and there definitely needed to be some restrictions in place.

I paced back and forth slowly, wishing I had the advantage of the harsh lights and uncomfortable chairs in the station's interrogation room. Instead, I had my teenage daughter's idiot boyfriend just staring at me from my kitchen table. The least he could have done was act a little scared.

"Bella's a good kid," I began.

Jake opened his mouth to respond, and I just shook my head in warning. But the truth was that I didn't know what to say. "How'd she hurt herself?" I asked.

"She fell on the stairs," he replied.

"She's okay, though?"

"Yeah, just bruised a little, really. Look, Char---Chief, I---"

"Shut up."

What I wanted to do was tell him to get the hell out of my house and stay away from my daughter. But I couldn't deny that she was happy with Jacob, as much as I didn't like him right now, and the last thing I wanted was to watch her regress again. Or worse. She was normally such a sensible girl, but when it came to these boys…

I glanced toward the hall and realized that Bella, whose general lack of grace normally caused her to make at least some noise, was suspiciously quiet upstairs. I shot Jake a look, silently telling him to stay put, and stepped over to the stairs, just in time to catch her.

"Back upstairs," I said, pointing up toward her room. This conversation was going to be hard enough. I certainly didn't need her eavesdropping or interrupting. And if I changed my mind and shot the boy, she didn't need to see that either. Once I heard her door shut---and looked up to see that she was in fact no longer in the hallway, I turned back to the kitchen to resume my pacing.

"She ran away, you know," I said.


This time I just had to look at him, and his mouth snapped back shut.

"That Cullen boy…Phoenix…I can't have that happening again," I mumbled, more to myself than to him. Jake nodded, but was smart enough to keep his mouth shut this time. Only now he was looking at me like I was crazy, and I probably sounded like I was.

I was in an impossible spot. I could lay down the law, forbid her from seeing him, and risk Bella falling apart again…or running away. She looked at him the way she used to look at that Cullen boy, the way Renee used to look at me. Cullen ran off. Well, maybe it was because his parents moved, but he was still gone. And Renee…she certainly ran off. She ran off and took my kid and left me behind and… I wasn't blind. I knew what that look was. And Bella was too young for it, too young to wrap her life up in someone who…well, Jake wasn't a bad kid, but he was still a kid.

They could run off and live together…or get married…or she could get pregnant. She'd never finish college, and she'd never accomplish all the things I knew she was capable of. Okay, maybe that was taking it a little far. After all, Bella was smarter than all that---I hoped. And Jake…well, he did tell her to get dressed.

I glanced up at Jake again, only to see the oddest expression on his face. Shit. "How much of that did you hear?" I asked as I realized I'd been talking out loud.

"Ummm…well, enough?" he replied unsurely.

"Wear a shirt," I said, waiting until he nodded to continue. "And no climbing trees."

He nodded again.

"Look, son, I know you care about her, and I'm gonna assume you respect her---and me—enough to…well, you told her to get dressed and…" Shit! This wasn't going well at all. I needed to just start over. I walked over and dumped my coffee in the sink and turned back around.

"I know it's serious between you two, and I can't say that doesn't bother me. And Bella isn't exactly rational when it comes to boys. I watched her come apart for months after that prick Cullen left, and I don't think I can do that again. It's bad enough she's leaving for college, but if she runs off again…" I didn't even want to think about that anymore.

"I'm gonna be straight with you, Jake. You need to respect my daughter, and you need to respect me. If I think for one second that…You swear to me you were just sleeping?"

"I swear, Char---Chief Swan."

I saw a flash of guilt and honed in on it. "Jacob…" I warned, narrowing my eyes at him.

"We just kiss, Chief. I don't…I mean it's kinda weird telling you about it, but that's all. Really."

"I guess I don't have any choice, then," I sighed. "She's just now sleeping through the night, and I can't lose her again." I paused, second-guessing myself, wondering if maybe I was losing my mind. As a father, I had to say it. And as a father, it was one of the last things I ever thought I would say. "Fine," I said, leveling my eyes on him in warning. "You wear a shirt, you come in through the door, and you make damn sure I know you're here. And her door stays open. If I even suspect you're…"

"We won't," he replied quickly.

"And not every night. I can only put up with so much."

"You mean…it's okay if I stay over?" he asked, his surprise evident.

"No, it's not okay, but that doesn't seem to matter to either one of you." I paused for a second, wondering if I was making a mistake. Well, knowing nothing was going on under my roof was a hell of a lot better than knowing nothing at all. "I'm trusting her," I sighed, "and I guess I'm trusting you. Don't make me regret it."

For once, it seemed I'd shocked the boy into silence. And if I was being honest, I think I was a little shocked myself. Had I really just given my daughter's boyfriend permission to spend the night? I shook my head and grabbed my checkbook and keys off the counter, turning to leave before I made any other potentially stupid decisions.