A/N: Sorry guys, I suck. My muse has been completely absent and my wrists have been a mess (damn you carpal tunnel!) But, I'm feeling a little inspired again and my wrists are starting to feel better. Forgive me if you will, and without further ado...

(Ya, ya... Twilight's not mine)


Bella had started walking back to the truck. It was obvious she didn't want to be here anymore and nobody was going to be able to talk her out of it. The rest of the pack was silent, somber. Jake looked worse off than anyone. Once upon a time he had sworn to her that he would protect her and fight for her. I didn't know what to say to any of them, so I just followed her to the truck.

She had already gotten in and was waiting patiently. I was so scared of how reliving it was affecting her. I only hope she wouldn't run from us now that we knew the truth. I really wanted her to rely on us to help her deal with all this. And I really, really wanted her to stay clean. I had no idea how to approach the subject with her. I had no clue what kind of reaction she was expecting from me. The closer we got to Forks, the more pissed she looked and I couldn't figure out why. Of course, she had bared her soul to all of us and all I could do was follow her around, waiting for her to start some sort of dialogue with me. And yet, me, a freakin wolf for fuck's sake, couldn't conjure up the balls to ask to speak with her. Avoidance had always been my strong suit when it came to stuff like this. We had arrived at her house, she had gotten out of the truck and was on her front porch before I finally sucked it up and asked, "Do you want me to stay? I don't think you should be alone right now."

She spun around on her heel, hair whipping around her face wildly. "Are you fuckin' serious? I've been alone for four years Paul. FOUR YEARS! I think I can handle one night! Oh wait, are you scared that weak little Bella is gonna cave? Are you worried that I'm gonna run right downtown for a fix? Are you worried that all the work you think YOU'VE done in the last week or so is gonna go to shit? Well guess what, Paul. That was all me! I'm better than you all think I am!"

I was dumbfounded. What the hell was she so pissed about? Ok, so maybe I didn't have a right to second guess her like that, but what the fuck? I had helped her out, hadn't I? I found myself suddenly doubting every one of my recent actions with her. I walked up a couple of the front steps so that I was eye level with her.

"Bella, I don't think you're weak, just the opposite actually. I just want to be here for you."

She had softened up, but only the littlest bit. She snickered and replied, "Be here for me? Look, I am grateful for you sticking around this past week. It's been nice having someone around while Charlie's at work. But please, for now, just leave me alone. I really just want to be alone."

"But, Bella, the guys and I..."

She cut me off, " You and the guys will get over it. You'll all be just fine, and so will I. Paul, I mean it, just let it go. I'll call you when I'm ready." She turned around and walked through the door. There was nothing I could do but get in my truck and drive back to La Push.

Meanwhile, back at the bonfire...


To say I was shocked would be an understatement. The way she thought she could just walk away from us after the bombshell she had just dropped was just, wow, I didn't have words for it. Willow was sobbing quietly next to me and I pulled her close to me, kissing the top of her head. She had a good heart and if I wanted to admit it to myself, her conscience pretty much made her a Quileute version of Bella. She eventually calmed down but she was just as speechless as the rest of us. My father finally broke the silence.

"You know, all those years ago I felt like I took it upon myself to make sure she was protected from the things her father couldn't know about. Bella has lived in two worlds since she moved here. I wanted to be the father figure she needed in her supernatural world, I tried to be that for her. I owed it Charlie to take care of her. Even though he had no idea, I owed it to him to watch out for her as if she were one of my own. I couldn't love her anymore than if she was my own flesh and blood. And I let her down. If I was stronger... if I was... if only I could have... I don't know! Dammit! I could have stopped this! I should have stopped this!" His voice had raised towards the end and he pounded his fist on the arm of his wheelchair. He was shaking with an anger that he just didn't know how to express. Sam was shaking his head, holding a weeping Emily.

"Billy, we all feel the same way. We all love Charlie like he is one of us, even though he is not allowed to know the secrets. We all knew that girl was something special and we all tried to make sure Bella was protected. But none of us could have foreseen this. This is beyond any of our wildest legends, or imaginations for that matter."

I hated to see how this was getting to my dad. He didn't deserve this kind of guilt. None of us did. We tried, didn't we? We tried to get her to understand what she was getting herself into. We tried to make her see that their kind were monsters. I know I busted my ass to try to get her to see the dangers of burying herself in that life. But Sam was right. What had happened to her, was beyond all comprehension. And there was really nothing we could have done.

"Dad, Bella is as headstrong as they come, stubborn as her old man. You know that. I know that. We tried. The only thing we can do is be there for her now. She deserves that much."

The next reaction surprised the hell out of me. Leah stood up, shaking. She was seconds away from phasing. "Really, Jake? We tried? Is that going to help you sleep at night? All of a sudden she deserves for us to be there for her? Are we all going to ignore the fact that we hated her for what she chose? But the big bad wolves are going to be there for her now, so that's going to make it all better? I don't know about you, but that's not good enough for me." With that remark she took off running for the woods. We all heard the sound of shredding clothes as she shifted the minute she hit the treeline.

"Just ignore her, Jake," Quil was saying, "She always had a bug up her ass about Bella anyway. You're absolutely right. We need to be there for her now."

Just then, Paul walked up to the circle. He looked shell shocked and addressed Quil like a man defeated. "She doesn't want that. She told me to leave her alone, that she didn't need anybody. I'm afraid of what she's going to do."


With only that remark, I jogged to the forest, calmly removed my clothing, and quietly phased. I needed to run. I always seemed to think better when I was phased and with the rest of them still at the bonfire, I knew I would have time to myself. I hadn't taken the time to notice there was someone missing from the circle as I heard another wolf's thoughts cycle through my head.

Damn, if that wasn't some fucked up shit. Nobody deserves that, not even the leech lover. Poor girl went through hell and somehow managed to claw her way back here in one piece with some of her sanity intact. Shit.. does that make me a hypocrite? God knows Bella Swan grated on every last one of my nerves while she was here. Couldn't stand her. But man oh man, we can't just leave her alone, can we? Oh well, we probably won't have to deal with her very long anyway. That's her M.O. isn't it? Blow into town just long enough to stir the pot and then take off. She'll leave again and we won't have to worry about it.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was Bella really going to take off again? I doubted she would. More like, I hoped with everything I had that she wouldn't. Leah heard this and realized she wasn't alone anymore.

Paul, what is up with you anyway? What the hell is it about Bella Swan that has everyone so enamored with her all the time? It doesn't make any sense! She's nothing special!

I thought for a minute because I didn't know the answer either. There was just something about her.

I don't know Leah. She just has this way about her that gets under your skin. She tries to be all tough and strong all the time but she still looks small and vulnerable and just, ugh! It's a million different little things that just make her the way she is. Ya, I didn't really give her a second thought when she first moved here, but she's just... I don't know!

I could see that Leah had stopped and if a wolf is possible of showing surprise, she had the look down. Shock was the only thing I could pick up from her.

Oh my god, Paul. You like her don't you? You fell for the leech lover?

It was my turn to freeze. I didn't like her, not like that anyway.

What? No, I'm just... helping her out. I mean,

Alright, time to be me. There was no way she had changed me that much. There was no way that I fell for her. I had to convince Leah of that. Well, Leah, or myself.

Look, she's a cool chick with a hot ass alright! And like I said, she's going through a rough time.

She was just alone and going through a rough time. She was in the middle of a mess that I could somewhat relate to. That's all it was. I mean, all those things about her didn't affect me. I am Paul Walker for fuck's sake and I am NOT soft like this!

Huh, I never pictured you with a leech lover, Paul. She must have something going on.

I just wanted Leah to shut up. If I was smart, I would have phased back so I didn't have to deal with her. But, I was, after all, Paul Walker. I talked tough, but I wasn't always that smart. And then something hit me like a goddamn freight train.

Oh shit.

I like her.

I like her a lot. The past week flew through my mind before I could control it. So far the only one who had seen any of it was Jake. Bella was going to be pissed. God, I suck.

She was really that bad off?

Lee, you have no idea. It was just kind of sad really. I had to help her. I couldn't turn my back on her. And now, I don't know, I guess she's growing on me.

I gotta tell you, Paul, I'm impressed. Who would have thought Big Bad Paul had a soft spot? I might feel kind of bad for her too, but I still can't stand her though. She's got a lot of work ahead of her if she's gonna get on my good side. So what are you gonna do?

There wasn't much I could do at this point. For whatever reason, Bella had turned on me tonight. Granted, I knew unloading all that shit was going to be hard on her, but I didn't expect her to shut me out like that.

If I was you I'd just give her some time. She's gonna end up working her way back into the pack. Anyone can see that.

Time. It seemed like such a huge thing when you didn't know where the end was.


Two weeks had passed since the bonfire. I was still pissed off. I knew how they all felt when I left. I wasn't stupid. I knew they were furious about what I had done to Jake. Hell, I was furious with myself about what I had put him through. I knew they didn't agree with my choices. But of course, the imprints start crying at a bonfire and all of a sudden everything about Bella Swan is just fine and dandy. Well, fuck them all. I don't need them.

Charlie was concerned, though and I felt really bad about that. Paul or Jake would call, and I would have Charlie tell them I didn't want to talk to them. They would stop by, but all I had to do was shake my head and walk upstairs and Charlie knew that I didn't want to see them. Part of the reason Charlie was uncomfortable with my treatment of the guys was that I think having Paul around helped him skirt the subject of my little problem. Not that it was much of a problem anymore. He knew how stubborn I was. I got it from both him and Renee. I had put my mind to it that I wasn't going to touch that shit anymore and that was that. Although, it sucked not feeling in control of my body when cravings would hit or when I would have a bad day. Paul had definitely helped with that. Yeah, I missed him a little bit. But in spite of everything he had done for me, I lumped him in the same category with the rest of the pack. He never really liked me before so it made no sense to me that some vomit and a scary story would suddenly change his mind about me.

Which brings me to today. Charlie was at work and I had done some cleaning around the house. I had just settled down for a smoke on the back porch. I was eventually going to have to quit these things too. Nasty little habit, they were. The sun had decided to show it's face today and I was basking in it, trying to relax a little bit. I was having such a good day. I was gifted with a brief moment of peace.

I should have known it would go tits up eventually.

The whole goddamn pack walked out of the woods in 'V' formation like they were a flock of geese for Pete's sake. Just like that, my afternoon of serenity was screwed. I put on the best mask of indifference I could manage, even though I wanted to bust up laughing at sight. Their expressions were priceless. They looked so dejected; like someone had just kicked their puppy or something. Jacob, Paul, and Sam walked forward and I thought, here we go. I figured I'd try to get the first word in though.

"So, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"

"Bells, why haven't you been taking our calls? We've stopped by to see you, only to get turned away by Charlie. I think you owe us an explanation."

Now I did come out and laugh. A full, boisterous, laugh from deep in my belly. Because this shit was hilarious.

"I owe you? Are you kidding me? The only thing I owe any of you, I already gave up at the bonfire. So all you fuckers can get off your high horses and leave me the hell alone."

That was when Leah stepped forward, fuming. Oh, she wants to go? Fine with me. I wasn't the timid, mousy little Bella that had left four years ago.

"Save it Leah. I don't want to hear it from you. You have no right, so just step on back, missy."

"Listen, leech lover! The guys have something to say to you and you are damn well gonna listen. If I have to hold you down, you are GOING to hear them out. Now, do we understand each other?" She had gotten right in my face and she really was kind of intimidating. If I hadn't been so mad about my great day being ruined, I probably would have caved. I mean, I was close to half her size and had not been blessed with natural muscle tone. I was probably just begging to get my ass handed to me by Leah, but I ignored that little voice in my head that was saying 'back down Bella' and took a step forward, toe to toe, nose to nose, with the only female in the pack.

"Well god knows your fat ass is big enough to crush me anyway, isn't it?"

It was seriously hard work to not bust up laughing at the expression on Leah's face. I don't think there's really a word to describe looking pissed and dumbfounded all at once...piss-founded maybe? Either way, I had done it. I had stood up to the vicious she-wolf. She paused for a moment, then with a nod and a smirk she moved back to her place in the pack line-up. If I had known it would be that easy, I would have tried that four years ago. Would have saved me a lot of nervousness at those damn bonfires way back then.

Sam decided to put his two cents in as he stepped forward, "We know that you know how we felt about you leaving. It's no secret. But, once upon a time you were like family to us and we would like to be that for you again. We want to help you in any way that we can. We take care of our own, Bella."

I shook my head. That's where they were all wrong. "Sam, don't you get it? I appreciate everything you all did for me back then. But I'm not one of you. I'm not Quileute, I'm not a wolf, and I'm not an imprint. Ya, there was a time when I considered you guys all my family. But I don't see how that's going to work again."

Jacob looked crestfallen. "Bells, we wouldn't be here if the guys didn't want you around. They miss you." He looked down, kicking at a patch of grass and finished softly, "I miss you."

I shouldn't have done it, but I knew I was going to. I was giving in. I missed all of them, really, and these last two weeks had been some of the loneliest in my life. Not like my time with the Volturi. Then, I knew that I was alone. Since the bonfire, I was aware of the fact that I had people who wanted to support me just right up the road and I had shut them out. Charlie was around, but he was clueless to the reality of my life so I basically had nobody. As much as I wanted to be normal, who could I really rely on right now? Even that twit Jessica, had moved on from this sleepy little town, not that her shallow persona would have been anything I could tolerate. I could even finally admit that I missed having Paul around. Like it or not, we really had bonded over a bucket of puke and a scary story. It was the kind of bond that you didn't find every day.

"Alright fine, you guys want to be around, then fine. But there will be rules! No pity! I don't want to catch a single one of you looking at me with that 'oh poor Bella' look or I swear to all that's holy I will smack that shit right off your faces. And no treating me like glass either. When I was younger, yeah, I guess I may have gotten off on that shit, but no more! I'm hanging on by a thread here guys and I just want to be normal." The conversation had been too heavy and was in danger of completely tanking my awesome day, so I decided to let my sarcastic bitch, alter-ego out to play. "Leah, I assume you won't have any problem with any of that?" I quirked my eyebrow at her. She looked back at me with her eyes narrowed, fighting off her version of a smile and replied, "Hell no, I can't stand your whiny ass."

The boys let out a tense laugh and began to file up to join me on the porch. I opened the door and motioned for them to come inside. There were pats on the shoulder and light hugs that made me stiffen with residual fear, but I chanted to myself in the back of my mind that I was safe and they weren't going to harm me. The last one to come up to me was Paul. He held his arms out, knowing that I would feel better if I was in control. He wrapped his arms around me, lifting me up and spun me in circles. I was getting dizzy and my weak stomach was making itself known. I whacked Paul on the shoulder and said, "Stop, or I'll start throwing up on you again. You sure you wanna ride that train again?"

He put me down, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, "Glad you finally came around." A kiss, hmm, I would have to reflect on that later, but for now I other things to worry about. I walked into the kitchen with him and called out, "Alright now boys, who's hungry!"

A/N: Well, there it is. Aw, a cute little kiss on the cheek :) It's a start, right? Can't have them hopping into bed right away, can I? Or... can I *evil laugh*

I can't tell you how frustrating it was to write this. Not mentally, but this laptop that I'm using has been a pain in the ass. I can't tell you how many times my wrist accidentally brushed over the touch pad, causing some kind of accidental button pushing carnage where I would lose the screen and with it, some really good shit that I had down. Hopefully my tired brain was able recover most of the good stuff. And, there's an extra 1000 or so words in here to hopefully make up for my epic updating fail. By the way, I don't have a beta so, hey, I'm doing the best I can with plot, grammar, and spelling. If you forgive me, hit the button down there :)