A/N: Sorry for the long delay, but unfortunately I just don't have as much time to write as I expected when I started posting this story. The story is all plotted out (looking like about 25 chapters at this point), it's just the process of putting it "down on paper" that is taking forever. I'm not exactly happy with this chapter; parts of it are extremely awkward and it was actually supposed to be a lot longer and cover part of the next day as well, but I just couldn't get the transition right. As the story picks up time will move more quickly, and hopefully chapters will come in more around the 5000K-7000K mark.


"All I want is to be able to take your pain away, and you don't know what it does to me to know that I can't, that this isn't something I can fix. How can I listen to you say you're sorry for breaking my heart, when I would gladly rip it out of my chest, set it on fire and watch it burn if it meant you would stop hurting? So please, Bella, if you have any concern at all for my sanity, please don't say it."

Wow.

"How…how…" I swallowed and shook my head slightly, causing Jasper's head to move with mine. "What do I say to something like that? I don't know…that's just the most…I mean…" But then his thumb was pressing against my lips and he was pulling back so he could look me in the face again. There was a little half-smile on his lips, and I saw with relief that his eyes were once again the clear blue I remembered, and the corners were tilted up slightly in amusement.

"Bella?"

"What?"

"Shut up."

I sputtered indignantly for a few seconds, then Jasper was laughing in that soft little way that always made my heart melt as he pushed me off his lap to sit next to him on the step. Irritation forgotten, I leaned into his side with his arm wrapped around my back and my head against his shoulder. We had sat like this a thousand times before, and I immediately felt a sense of calmness ease its way through my body at the familiar feel of him surrounding me. I closed my eyes and sighed in pleasure as I relaxed against him, suddenly feeling tired and achy as the events of the last 12 hours caught up with me. It had been a long day, and I was more than ready for the peace that stole over me as we sat there in silence. It had been so long since I had felt this way, too long since I had been able to take this simple comfort that he offered, that we gave each other. It was so good to finally be home.

Home. Charlie. Oh crap.

I jumped up, my feet tangling together and almost tumbling me down the steps until Jasper grabbed my waist to steady me. "What time is it?" Jasper pulled his phone out of his pocket and glanced at it.

"A little after 5:00. Why?"

"Charlie should be home in less than an hour, I still need to make dinner, and I haven't even LOOKED at what he's got in the kitchen. Knowing him there's probably about 3 years worth of fish in the freezer, beer in the fridge, and not much else. Maybe there's some spaghetti noodles or something around from last time I was here."

I was mostly talking to myself by this time, headed into the kitchen with Jasper following me to lean in the doorway as he watched me open cupboards and dig through the fridge. I found the spaghetti noodles right where I expected, and took a moment to wonder if they really were 3 years old before I decided it didn't matter. Noodles have a long shelf life, right? By some miracle there was a jar of sauce shoved in the back of another cupboard behind 6 cans of clam chowder (don't look at the expiration date, don't look at the expiration date! I chanted to myself), and I even turned up a pound of hamburger sitting front and center when I opened the freezer door. I put the burger on a plate and tossed it into the microwave before I pulled the pasta pot out from under the counter, filled it with water and set it on the back burner to boil.

I was looking around for something to occupy the next 3 minutes until the burger was finished defrosting when I felt Jasper's hands settle lightly on my shoulders. "I'll keep an eye on things down here for a minute if you want to go wash up. No offense, but you're kind of a mess, and unless things have changed drastically in the last few years, I'm going to assume you would rather your dad not know you spent the afternoon crying."

Oh, God. My hands flew up to my face, feeling the hot and swollen skin of my cheeks and around my eyes. I didn't even want to think about the dried tears and snot that was probably decorating it as well. Mumbling a quick thanks I flew up the stairs and down the hall to the single bathroom to survey the damage. I almost shrieked when I first caught a glimpse of myself in the small mirror over the sink. I looked like…well, I couldn't think of anything to compare it with, but it was bad. My face was indeed swollen and covered with a blotchy red pattern all the way from my forehead down my neck. My nose was bright red and inflamed looking, and my eyes were no more than puffy red slits in my puffy red face. Splashing some cool water on it was NOT going to be enough, so I turned the shower on and stripped out of my clothes. Stepping in, I turned my face up into the spray and adjusted the temperature until the water was as cold as I could stand it.

I spent several minutes shivering under the frigid spray, counting the seconds off in my head (132 Mississippi, 133 Mississippi, 134 Mississippi) to keep my mind occupied and away from more dangerous territory. When I reached 300 I decided that subjecting myself to hypothermia was probably counterproductive, and turned the flow off. After drying off I turned back to the mirror and examined myself closely. I was still puffy around the eyes, but nothing too noticeable. The redness had been replaced by pallor, but being as I was normally quite pale anyway I thought I would pass muster. I quickly redressed and ran a brush through my tangled hair before making my way back down the stairs. When I reached the kitchen, I stopped and leaned in the doorway much the same as Jasper had done 10 minutes before.

He was standing in front of the stove, stirring the hamburger that was browning in the frying pan. The noodles were happily bubbling away, and the jar of sauce was opened on the counter. Normally I would have joked about not knowing he was so domesticated, but after everything that had passed this afternoon I just wasn't certain enough of where we stood with each other. As much as both of us had tried to move past his earlier bout of temper, his declaration was still there sitting quietly in the corner of my mind, just waiting to raise it's hand and demand that I acknowledge it's presence. I wasn't ready to do that yet, but at the same time the easy banter that we usually enjoyed just seemed a little out of reach at the moment.

So instead of cracking wise, I walked up beside him and silently held my hand out for the spatula. He handed it to me and stepped out of the way so that I could take over. I thought he would retreat to his place in the doorway, but he surprised me by moving in behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist while resting his cheek against the side of my head. Once again I felt the steady calm creep through me, and relaxed back against him as we stood there in front of the stove. After a minute I took a deep breath and leaned my head back against his shoulder.

"Jazz?" I whispered, eyes closed.

"Hm?"

"Thank you." For everything. For holding me and letting me cry. For all the weird, wonderful, corny as hell things you said earlier that I will spend hours analyzing as soon as I let myself think about them. For knowing that I wouldn't want Charlie to see that I fell apart as soon as he left me alone, and for taking care of dinner while I tried to repair the damage. For being the best friend I ever had, and for hearing and understanding all these unspoken words that accompany the two small spoken ones.

"Anytime."

I don't know if I would have said more or not, but right then the timer went off for the noodles. I drained them while he mixed the sauce in with the burger and set it to simmer on the stove. When everything was settled I turned to face him as he stood there with his hip leaned up against the counter and his thumbs hooked in the front pockets of his jeans.

"Do you want me to stay?"

"I would, but with it being my first night back and all, it might be best if it was just me and Charlie tonight. Can I take a rain check?"

"Sure" he said as he straightened up and came toward me. His arms wrapped around me in a gentle hug for a few seconds before he headed for the door. Halfway out onto the front porch he stopped and turned to me. "It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow."

I felt the surprised smile on my face as I replied. "All day?"

"Slight chance of evening showers. But other than that, yeah, all day."

I though for a second. "I really have to hit the grocery store in the morning, how does noon sound?"

His answering smile nearly took my breath away. "Sounds good."

And he was gone.


If I had harbored ideas that Charlie's uncharacteristic verbosity of this afternoon might continue into the evening, those thoughts were laid to rest soon after he walked through the front door a little before 6:00 that evening. I had been sitting at the kitchen table when I heard his cruiser pull up, and standing up, made my way through the doorway into the living room just as the front door opened and he walked through. Looking up, he acknowledged my presence with a grunt, then looked back down as he shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the coat rack beside the door, following it with his gun belt.

Then we both just stood there for a few moments, not looking at each other and not knowing what to say, until I finally broke the silence by announcing that dinner was ready.

Charlie frowned a bit. "You didn't have to do that, Bells."

"It's okay, I'm used to cooking."

And that was it. Dinner was spent in a not-uncomfortable silence broken only by the sounds of forks scraping against plates, and we didn't speak again until I was headed toward the stairs on my way to bed for the night. I stopped 2 steps up and half-turned to face the living room, where Charlie was sprawled in his chair with a beer in his hand, watching some kind of sports programming.

"Hey, Dad?"

"Yeah, Bells?" He looked up briefly from the screen, before once again focusing in on two guys with headsets arguing back and forth about something or other.

"I was thinking of heading over to the market in the morning, take the truck on a test run."

He looked a little embarrassed as he told me I didn't have to do that, that he could pick up some groceries on his way home from the station.

"No, it's okay, I want to. Besides, he-or I guess she-who is on dinner duty should probably be the one to do the shopping, anyway."

"Well, if you're sure. I'll put some extra grocery money in the jar so you can get whatever you think you need."

"Okay, thanks. 'Night Ch..Dad"

"'Night, Bells."

A little while later I stood under the shower (blissfully hot this time) and wished for a nice big bathtub--or at the very least a handheld showerhead--as I piled my hair on top of my head and tried to position myself so that the water could beat down on my lower back. I thought about the amber bottle I had stashed in my nightstand earlier, trying to decide if I would need it tonight. I really hated the way the pills made me feel, and I especially hated taking them at night--the dreams they brought on were extremely vivid and intensely disturbing--but the way my back and leg were crying, I was pretty sure I would need one if I wanted to sleep at all tonight.

And since the alternative to sleeping was to lay awake thinking, I swallowed the pill.


The first thing I noticed was the music, soft and muted, but there in the background if you were listening for it. I shifted and heard the familiar squeak as the seat shifted under my weight, felt the pressure as the restraint pulled against my front. I kept my eyes tightly closed and started humming under my breath; block out the music, don't look around, pretend you're somewhere else…anywhere else. Not here. Not now. There's nobody in front of you, just a couple of feet away. Nobody is turning their head to look back at you. Nobody is opening their mouth to say

"Bella?"

Earsplitting noise--screeching, screaming; jarring, frenetic movement--spinning, twisting, flying; overly bright, impossible colors--exploding, fragmenting, then slowly bleeding away to black.

"Bella?!"

Pain. Impossible, overwhelming, unbearable. Alone in the dark, can't move, can't speak. Silent screams, immobile writhing.

"BELLA!!"

I bury myself in the pain, pull the blackness over me like a blanket--wrap myself in a cocoon of suffering and agony and refuse to leave. The pain is unendurable, but I want it, crave it, need it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, behind the screaming and the burning, I know that this is where I belong--that if I can just stay here in this place and time that everything will be okay. There is no future, no past, no world but the searing and the burning and the utter darkness, and my only wish is to live in it forever.

But life sucks, and then you don't die. The pain fades, and I open my eyes.