Sorry for the wait, guys. I hope it was worth it!

It wasn't like when Bella had chosen Edward. There was no anger or resentment in Jacob now. What he felt could barely even be called pain. He was empty. For the past four days, ever since he had watched through Seth's eyes as Sierra haphazardly threw all of her belongings into the back of her car and took off with a tearful 'goodbye,' he had been wrecked. Without his reason for living, nothing was worth doing. He didn't eat. He rarely even left his room. He missed his patrols. They weren't even sure he couldphase if he wanted to.

The entire pack was lost. The inner turmoil of their alpha caused confusion and distress within all of them. Without his leadership, they were falling apart at the seams. It was all Leah could do to keep patrols running in his pseudo-absence.

"Jacob, this isn't the time for you to have a breakdown," Leah complained, pounding incessantly on his bedroom door. "There's something serious going on out there and we need you." There was no answer. "Jake you can't just shut us out forever," she said, still banging on the door.

"It's not locked," he said in a low monotone that would have been imperceptible if not for Leah's superhuman hearing.

"Oh," she mumbled, turning the knob and entering.

The small room was uncharacteristically tidy. There was none of the usual clutter on top of his dresser or clothes strewn about the floor. On a table beside his bed, there was a half empty cup of water and a plate of untouched food that had long since gone cold. Leah had a sneaking suspicion that nothing had been moved, or even touched, since Emily had come to 'check in' on Jake when he first became catatonic.

Jacob was sprawled out on the bed, wearing the same black sweatpants and white t-shirt he'd had on the last time she'd seen him. He'd lost weight. She hadn't seen him looking so scrawny since before he'd grown into his body – pre-wolf. His face was covered in a thick stubble that she rarely saw on any of the guys and he had dark purple circles under his eyes.

"Dude, you look like shit," she commented.

"Thanks," he replied, his sarcasm lacking its usual bite. His gaze was fixed on a spot on the ceiling where the paint had begun to crack. His eyes did not move when Leah entered, nor when she spoke.

"Jake, you've gotta get up."

"What's the point?" he said flatly.

"The point?" Leah exclaimed. "The point is, Most High Alpha," she spat the title at him. "That there's some freaky vamp shit going on right now, and we don't know what it is. So we need to be at the top of our game to deal with it or else we could be responsible for the death of all of our friends and family. That means we need a strong leader who's running at 100%, so stop being a selfish fucking pussy and man up. Think about someone other than yourself for once in your life, Jacob." Her words were harsh, her tone angry and disdainful. Leah was the master of antagonism. She knew everyone's weak spots and could get a rise out of anyone, especially Jacob. She no longer took morbid pleasure in the practice, but she was certainly still good at it, and Jacob needed someone to snap him out of his mental disconnect. This time, however, he didn't take the bait.

He shrugged blankly. "You be alpha," he said with no hostility or challenge in his voice.

Leah sighed in frustration. Obviously she would have to take a different approach. "What if she comes back, Jacob? What are we supposed to tell her when she sees you here, wasting away like this? How are we supposed to explain, convince her that we're here to do good when you won't even get up to defend your people when lives are at stake?"

Jacob looked at her for the first time since she had entered the room. She could see the hollowness behind his eyes. "She's not coming back, Leah."

Sierra stared out the unfamiliar window. Rain was falling on the sprawling campus of the University of Washington. She had been in this limbo for four days now and she still didn't know what to do. Going back to Boston would be admitting defeat – that her mother had been right and she was not ready to be out on her own, or that somehow this had been the wrong decision. Well, she wasn't exactly sure it had been the right one, but she wasn't about to go and tell her mom that. Besides, every time she considered it, every time she sat at the computer to look for plane tickets, her chest seized up and she felt like she couldn't breathe. But she couldn't exactly go back to La Push. Not after what she had seen. And then taking off like that, leaving her job at the school without any explanation. She wasn't even sure she'd be welcome if she went back.

She'd had no plan when she left La Push. The only person she knew in Seattle was a girl from school, Alexis. Alexis was in both of her classes and they sometimes got coffee or studied together. While they got along very well, their relationship had been mostly on the surface until Sierra had called her up needing a place to stay. Now, after spending four nights on Alexis's couch, the two girls had gotten much closer.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

Sierra started at the sound of her friend's voice. She turned around and forced a smile. "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks again…for letting me stay."

Although she was unconvinced, Alexis knew better than to push the issue. Sierra had shown up on her doorstep looking haggard, her entire life packed into that little Honda. She had insisted that everything was fine, that she had simply had a disagreement with her roommate and needed a couple of days to find a new place to stay, but despite her confident denials, Alexis could tell that something had happened to deeply disturb Sierra. This wasn't the same girl she had known, who chatted and joked so easily before class, and then always rushed home afterward to hang out with her new friends, her new family. She was jumpy now, and quiet. Over the past few days, Alexis sensed that Sierra's friends in La Push were a bit of a sore subject, not that she had ever talked much about them before. Sierra was always somewhat closed off when it came to talking about her own personal life.

"Of course," Alexis said. "Where would I be without you in class? Bored out of my mind." She answered her own question.

"Probably getting A's," Sierra laughed. She knew that she had a tendency to distract the people who sat neat her.

"Well I'll just have to copy off you…now that you have so much free time to spend studying." The comment seemed innocent enough, but both girls knew it was pointed.

Sierra sighed and flopped down on the couch in the living room that had been her bed for the past few nights. "Yeah, it's weird not going back there every night…and I do miss the kids." Alexis nodded, hoping her silence would encourage Sierra to say more. It worked. "You know I didn't even tell the school anything? I just didn't show up on Monday. I bet they're pissed."

"You could call now," Alexis suggested. "Explain."

"Yeah, but what would I even say?" Sierra asked, looking as though she were truly expecting a response, even though, not knowing what had happened, Alexis couldn't possibly answer that question.

"Well, that is the question, isn't it?"

They sat there in silence. Sierra folded her arms protectively across her chest and fiddled with a loose string on her shirt. Alexis just watched her. Waiting.

"I should just tell them to ask Jacob," she said finally, rolling her eyes. "He could explain it all better than me anyway."

"Jacob? Is that the guy who used to come pick you up sometimes?" Sierra nodded. "Did you guys get into a fight or something?" Alexis lowered her voice even though there was no one else around to hear her. "Did he…do something to you?"

"What?" Sierra cried. "No! Jake's harmless!" She said it out of instinct, but once the words had escaped her lips, she realized that they weren't true. Not exactly. Jacob Black was a huge wolf, with enormous claws and long sharp teeth made for tearing and destruction, and the annihilation of…well she wasn't quite sure what. That was why she had left. But the type of harm that Alexis was thinking of – regular human harm – that was something completely different, something that deep down Sierra knew Jacob wasn't capable of.

"Okay," Alexis shrugged, taking her word for it. "But…well, he doesn't look that harmless."

"Well, he can certainly take care of himself," Sierra said, her bitter undertone not lost on her friend, yet not understood either.

"So if it wasn't him, then what did happen?"

"It's no big deal, really. I guess there were just…some aspects of the lifestyle that…that I couldn't really get used to."

"What, did you just find out they sacrifice their first-born sons to the devil or something?" Alexis joked, remembering the horrified looked plastered across Sierra's face when she had arrived. The look on her face now told Alexis her joke had hit a little too close for comfort. This was when the alarm bells really started going off in her head. "Sierra, what the fuck is going on? Are they killing people over there or something? Is it some sort of weird cult?"

"Alexis," Sierra cut her off urgently, suddenly feeling defensive of the guys, of everyone who had been so nice to her in La Push. "No. It's nothing like that! No murder. No sacrifice. No devil worship."

"Well then you've got to give me something to go off of, girl! Because the way you looked when you showed up here, it's hard not to assume the worst."

"No. The guys are great. Everyone I met in La Push was great." Sierra paused as the weight of what she was saying sunk in. More for herself than for Alexis, really. No one in La Push had ever been anything less than absolutely welcoming to her. They had treated her like family from the day she had arrived. She reflected upon the fact that none of them had or ever would do anything to hurt her or anyone else…if they could help it at least. "I loved being there," she continued quietly. "It felt sort of like what I always expected home to feel like." Except for one little detail, she added silently.

"If that's the case, Sierra," Alexis shrugged helplessly, "then to be honest, as long as they're not murdering anybody, I really don't see what could trump that." Sierra didn't say anything. She just looked down at her hands folded in her lap. Alexis tossed her the apartment phone. "Call the school. Tell them you had a family emergency and you'll see them tomorrow."

When Sierra showed up at the Tribal School the next day, she was relieved to be greeted by Tommy Davies as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. "It's good to have you back, Sierra," was all he said.

Her students were all glad to have her back, but none more than Claire, who had become more than just a student to her, but a companion at family events or around Jacob and Quil's house, and a friend. Her face lit up as soon as she walked into the classroom and saw Sierra in her place behind her desk. "Sierra!" Claire cried. "Everyone's going to be so excited to see you."

Sierra's stomach did a flip-flop thinking about seeing the guys. She had no idea what to say to them about her disappearance. She had overreacted. Had basically told them that the burden they bore to protect their friends and family was so repellant to her that she couldn't bear to be around them, despite how wonderful they had been to her. It was almost hard to believe that, after all that, they would still be excited to have her back. She gave Claire a weak nod and a grin. "Go sit down," she said gently.

Claire nodded with understanding and turned to walk away. She stopped before making it two steps. "I'm really glad you decided to come back," she whispered over her shoulder before running over to her seat.

After school, Sierra saw Quil waiting for Claire in the parking lot as usual. She caught his eye and gave an apprehensive wave. As soon as he saw her, he let out a joyful whoop and ran over to her swinging her up in the air. "Sierra! Oh my God, you're back! We thought we'd never see you again. You've got to come by the house."

She couldn't help but laugh. She'd never seen Quil get this excited about anyone but Claire before. "Wow, miss me?" she joked.

"You have no idea."

She gave him a sideways look, not understanding his reaction. She remembered that there were still a lot of things that she didn't know, but also reminded herself that she was determined to keep an open mind this time. Like Alexis had said, as long as they weren't murdering people, what could be worth losing these guys? "Alright," she consented. "I've just got to go by Sue's place and talk to her about moving back in."

"It will be fine," Quil insisted. "Sue will just be thrilled you're back. Come on." He practically dragged her to the car once Claire came into sight. It was the only time she had ever seen Quil make Claire sit in the back seat.

"Jake's in his room. Go say hi. Don't bother knocking. He won't answer. Just go in. I'll make snacks." Quil was barking instructions as soon as they walked in the door.

"Okay," Sierra said hesitantly, obediently following his orders. She knocked on Jake's bedroom door out of habit, but didn't wait for a response before easing it open. The room was so silent she almost thought Quil was playing some sort of trick on her – that Jake wasn't really in there. Then she saw him. He was lying on the bed looking pale and emaciated. The sight of him was shocking but her sharp intake of breath was not enough to catch his attention. "Jacob?" she whispered.

His whole head turned toward her. "You're back," he said, a glimmer of light behind his sunken eyes. He tried to stand to greet her, but five days of not eating had taken a serious toll on his body. His head spun and he had to lie back down.

"Yeah," she said, sitting on the edge of his bed, holding one of his hands in both of hers. "I'm right here. Jake, are you okay? What's wrong with you?" It was terrifying seeing him so weak, so frail looking.

"The flu," he lied. He knew he couldn't keep it from her for long, but he didn't have the energy to tell her the truth at the moment.

"Oh Jacob," she sighed, stroking his face. His skin felt warm, but strangely not as warm as it normally did. "You should be under the covers," she said suddenly. He was happy to oblige. "Can I get you anything? Tea? Juice? Soup? Are you hungry? It doesn't look like you've eaten," she said, noting the untouched plate next to his bed. "Oh you look terrible."

Jacob laughed. He wasn't even sure why exactly he was laughing. The feeling was unfamiliar. He hadn't felt anything, much less the urge to laugh, in days. He felt like he had just landed back on earth after being stranded, floating around in nothingness. It was amazing. He could barely even stand, but he felt like he could fly. She had come back. "That's just what every man wants to hear," he said, his playful sarcasm coming back almost instinctively.

Classic Jacob, Sierra thought with a smile, practically lying on his death bed, yet still cracking jokes. She looked down at his wide grin, the twinkle in his dark eyes, and she knew that she had made the right decision coming back. Life wasn't the same without Jacob. She wasn't quite sure how or why. All she knew was that for some reason life was better when he was around, and she wasn't planning on giving him up any time soon. "Quil said he's making snacks," she said, standing up. "I'll go get you something." She swooped down and kissed him on the forehead before hurrying out of the room.

Like it? Hate it? Things are FINALLY starting to go their way! I know I'M excited. haha. They're not quite in the homestretch yet, but I'll try not to drag out their agony and tension too much longer. (What do you think? Are you ready for them to finally get together already?)

Just want to give a special thanks and shout out to my faithful reader/reviewers, especially ajtotheeds, amroberts17, and xBelekinax. You guys are awesome!

To everyone following, I hope you continue to enjoy. And of course, I always love new readers! If you've made it to chapter 10, I hope it's worth continuing to read :)

I'd love to hear what any/all of you think! Thanks!