Hope Springs Eternal Contest

Number of Prompt Chosen: 7

Pen name: XXX

Title: Contact

Word Count: 4624

Rating: M

Pairing: Bella/Paul

Summary: Contact with others is a basic human need to stave off the loneliness.

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight unfortunately...although sometimes I secretly pretend I do.


Contact

He longs for contact.

Not the kind that he's used to – punches to the head and kicks to the ribs – although he supposes that those were better than nothing. Even that miniscule attention left though the second he grew up and became strong enough to fight back. His old man hadn't liked that very much and so had scarpered off after the bitch as fast as his legs could take him.

And now he had a new family. His brothers.

He enjoyed their company – something he'd never admit to them – but at the end of the day, they still retreated back to their families, their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. They have lovers waiting to wrap them in their arms and hold them tight.

They have comfort.

He doesn't have that. All he has is the rough-housing – the half-hearted biting and scrapping of the fights he provokes. Only now that mini-Alpha has joined the pack there's a lot less of that too; everyone's so much more fucking zen now the right and true Alpha has finally got off his leech-lover-obsessed ass and phased.

Instead, the little contact he did have, the pushes to the shoulder, the smacks round the back of the head, have dwindled, and he feels bereft...alone.

Not that he'd ever admit to it, of course. He's not a fucking pansy just yet.

So he watches with barely concealed envy as his Alpha and his pack mate laugh and joke and hug their mates. He takes in every brush of skin against skin hungrily, he analyses each kiss and he dissects every fond glance shared between the couples.

And he desperately wants what they have. Sure he likes Emily and Kim well enough – they're perfectly nice girls – but it's not about them, not really.

What he really wants is what they represent: someone to love, someone to take care of, someone who'll love and take care of him in return. Someone he can touch without feeling guilty or dirty.

He doesn't get that though, doesn't get an imprint, doesn't get a Kim or an Emily who greet him with a smile and an embrace every time he enters the room. What he does get are girls. Shy ones, flirty ones, girls with piercings, girls with love hearts on their underwear, Res girls who he grew up with and Forks girls who giggle to their friends about slumming it with a Native.

They touch him, and for a while he can forget that he's not so alone, but they don't care about him, they don't want to spend time with him. They just want to use his body, the strong new body he gained when he phased for the first time, and then go home and everything about him except remembrances of the pleasure he brought them.

So he takes what they offer, not comfort, but still human contact. He fucks them and he enjoys when they moan and gasp and rake their nails down his back, like they could actually do any damage to him. He always makes them leave straight away afterwards; they've got what they came for, there's no need for them to hang around.

After they've gone he always feels a little emptier instead, and the yearning for someone who actually cares tugs at him.

So he stares as those of his pack who have imprinted, those who are happy, and he hopes that someday there will be someone like that for him.

In the meantime, he sinks into almost a depressed state.

He provokes his pack, taking several beatings and dishing them out in return, relishing each time they land a hit against his body. He fucks the girls brave enough to approach him, only now he takes no pleasure in it. He takes them roughly from behind, hands on their hips stopping them from turning around – there's no chance of them touching him now. As he drills into them he thinks that sex has become almost a punishment; for him, to remind him of what he doesn't have, and for them, because they took what he offered without bothering to really see him for what he is.

He hates these girls now, sometimes he even hates the pack, but it's nothing compared to just how much he hates himself.

He hides it well though – not the fact that he's seriously messed up, they all know that – but that deep down he's a pit of seething rage towards everything that makes up his life. The jealousy eats at his soul while the longing strips him of his defences.

Then one day she appears.

She trails warily into Sam and Emily's kitchen behind the mini-Alpha, a look of unease splashed across her face. Lover Boy doesn't notice this, of course; he's too busy congratulating himself of bringing her out of her misery, getting her to smile and interact with people again. Jacob doesn't notice the pain and despair and still glistening in her eyes.

He sees it though. He recognises it for what it is.

Bella Swan is slowly drowning in her desolation, and he's the only one who notices.

He's seen the hollowness of her smiles before, he's heard the slight hitch in her voice as she unconvincingly fakes a laugh, he's watched someone in a crowded room slowly retreat back into themselves so that they're alone once more, even with an entire wolf pack around her.

He's seen the signs...they're the same ones reflected back to him in the mirror every morning.

Jacob makes a comment about the redheaded vampire that keeps encroaching upon their turf and Bella makes a choking sound.

"I know what she wants, what she's after... Me."

He rises slowly to his feet, her explanation full of vampires and bites and ballet studios raising his temper.

"So what you're saying, is that if you hadn't been so wrapped up in your fucking leeches that this never would've happened? You wouldn't have had the redhead's mate after you, so she wouldn't still be here now?"

"Paul..." Sam warns.

"No," he brushes his Alpha off with a wave of the hand and continues to advance on the shaking girl. "Do you know what you've done? How many people she's killed around here already? Were you stupid enough to think that all those hikers' deaths were caused by a fucking man-eating bear?"

She's crying now – not loud sobbing, but silent, restrained tears that run down her cheeks without a whimper, and he silently admires her for not crumbling. His anger, however, is not abated.

"Do you know what the fuck having her around has done to us? Your precious Jacob wouldn't be a fucking wolf if she hadn't kept coming back here after you."

She flinches at that and turns to her friend. "Jake, is that true?"

He shuffles uncomfortably. He's already told her about how he hates being a wolf, about how it's ruined everything he thought he would do with his life. She's listened and sympathised and cried with him, and now she's being confronted with the fact that it's her fault.

Well, her and those precious leeches' of hers.

"Jake?" She sounds devastated, and while that's partly what he wanted, he didn't realised how much worse he would feel afterwards.

Lover Boy rushes to reassure her. "It's not like that, Bella. I mean, yeah, this isn't the life I would've chosen for myself, but it's not your fault either. Don't listen to Paul, he's pathetic, he doesn't know what he's talking about."

Jacob scowls at him and he sneers back.

"You keep telling yourself that, pup. Just keep on making excuses and pretending we don't see the truth in your head every fucking day..."

"Paul!" This time the harsh edge in his Alpha's voice tells him that he really needs to shut up now.

He huffs loudly and then stands up, taking time to stretch his limbs out before he turns towards the door. "Fine. I'll shut up. Doesn't change anything though."

He leaves before the mini-Alpha tries to rearrange his face for upsetting his precious leech lover – the key word there being 'tries'.

He does a quick sweep of the west side of the forest – where the redhead has been making most of her incursions lately – before he phases back to human, enjoying the cracking down his spine as his bones rearrange themselves, and heads home.

It's not a home really, there's nothing that shows he does anything other than exist there. The walls and floors are bare, so is the kitchen most of the time. The only sign of living he has committed to is a flatscreen with surround sound. Even his bed is mostly bare, just a few sheets between him and his mattress; anything else is too hot with his body temperature. The only thing he really does here is sleep and watch the occasional game.

When he wakes up the next day he's immediately alerted to the fact that something's wrong. There's a fast heartbeat outside his house that shouldn't be there. Silently, he slides to the floor, moving stealthily crouched down low. He sees her through the screen door before he has an opportunity to pounce though and straightens before swinging the door open abruptly.

She startles at the sudden noise, scrambling to her feet and turning to face him, her eyes wide. He notices that even as she opens her mouth to speak, she wraps her arms tighter around her ribs, her grip so tight that the skin stretched over her knuckles is mottled white.

He is momentarily struck dumb by her appearance. She's the last person he ever expected to show up here; he didn't even know she knew where he lived. He wonders where Lover Boy is today and why he left her alone to confront the pack's most volatile member.

"What do you want?" he sneers.

She blanches at his open hostility. Her breath catches and her face turns pink as she struggles not to hyperventilate.

He feels like a bastard even as he presses her. "Well?"

As she fights her own body to calm down, he sees that his earlier analysis of her was right. Bella Swan is slowly drowning, disappearing into her mind until there's nothing left.

He envies her; he longs to feel that numb.

When she finally speaks it's quiet, so quiet that if he wasn't a wolf he wouldn't hear her.

"I'm sorry."

He scoffs. "Sorry for what?" He crosses his arms and leans against the doorjamb.

She fidgets then, her hands tugging at the sleeves of her shirt, covering her wrists up. He wonders if her deadness comes from being a cutter.

"You were right. What you said yesterday."

He arches an eyebrow at her confession. She keeps on talking, her words coming fast now as if she's trying to purge herself.

"If it wasn't for me then this wouldn't have happened to you, any of you. There would be no need for you to turn into wolves because there would be no vampires around. And those hikers wouldn't be dead, and their families wouldn't suffer and..."

Her speech cuts off abruptly as she tries to stifle a sob unsuccessfully. A prickle of shame runs up his spine as he watches her dissolve in front of him.

"Don't cry." It's not the most sympathetic of condolences but she obliges him, straightening her back and brushing her tears away impatiently.

They stand facing each other awkwardly. He doesn't know what to say.

"It's not your fault that we're wolves," he finally settles for. "Well, not entirely. Sam, Jared and I changed before the redhead came around, thanks to the Cullens." He spits out the name and she flinches. He doesn't apologise for it though, he's not that sympathetic. "The hikers, however..."

He about to cut into her again when he abruptly stops. She's huddled up where she stands, her shoulders hunched, bracing herself for the blow of his words.

She looks like he used to right before he took a hit from one of his parents.

"Never mind."

She nods, but her posture doesn't change. The awkward silence returns.

"I'm sorry," she repeats.

"Jesus Fucking Christ! What for this time?" His ever present anger bubbles over once more.

Her eyes are fixed to a spot on the ground a foot in front of him.

"I'm sorry for slapping you that time, when you were at Jake's. I was angry and I lost my temper with you and I shouldn't have. I never apologised to you for that. No-one deserves to be hit like that."

He remembers that time; it was the sole occasion he actually saw her get angry about something, actually show some spirit in her eyes instead of the dead look she currently wore. He can't begrudge her that.

"It's alright."

"No, it's not."

He scowls. "Look, I said it's alright so just drop it. It's not like it's the first time anyway." He inwardly curses himself. He hadn't meant to let that slip. It was one thing to have his memories picked out of his mind by the pack, but an entirely different thing to volunteer the information himself.

The leech lover has her hand clasped over her mouth now. "That's horrible."

"Life is horrible." He shrugs.

"I'm..."

"Don't you dare fucking apologise again!" he cuts her off. "I don't want to hear it."

She nods, and she's got this weird look on his face like she gets what he means by that. After a second she turns and stumbles back down the driveway toward the main road. He just shakes his head and goes back inside.

Nobody's ever apologised to him before.

Bella Swan's actions are completely incomprehensible to him.

Over the next couple of days he tries to put the strange encounter out of his mind...except when he's on patrol with Jacob of course, then it's just funny to replay every detail in lurid Technicolor. He even manages to goad the mini-Alpha into attacking him at one point, although Sam soon puts a stop to it.

Still, it's something that he puts to the back of his mind as just a weird conversation where nothing much was really said.

So it's with some surprise that he comes home from patrolling early one morning to find Bella Swan sitting on his porch, biting her nails. A pot of something that smells like chicken is sat beside her.

He stares blankly at her.

"I brought food," she offers. "Chicken stew."

He blinks and then walks past her.

He leaves the door open.

She follows hesitantly, stew clutched tightly to her chest. Without asking him she finds her way to the kitchen and puts the pot on the hob, re-heating it. He automatically reaches up to grab two bowls from the cupboard.

"I'm not hungry."

He ignores her. She doesn't argue when he dishes out two portions of the stew – his three times the size of hers. He goes back for seconds when she's still picking unenthusiastically at her first. He doesn't try to force her to eat, but he's damned if he's going to sit there stuffing his face alone while she hovers around the table like a famine victim.

When they're finished she stores the leftovers in the fridge while he washes up.

Just before she leaves she touches his shoulder gently. "Thank you, Paul."

He can't help leaning into her touch minutely, but he doesn't know what she's thanking him for. He reaches up to gently stroke over her fingers and she doesn't recoil from the contact.

When she's gone, his hand still tingles.

That night when one of the girls from school shows up with a smile and no underwear, he shuts the door in her face.

The leech-lover touched him and he should be angry about it, but he isn't. She didn't smack him in anger, or grab his cock in lust. It's stupid for him to feel so fucking sappy about a hand on the shoulder, but at the same time he's not going to brush it off like it meant nothing.

He's not so surprised the next time she shows up the next time, a pot roast clutched in her hands. Or the time after that with the fixings for fajitas.

On each occasion they share a meal and then she leaves. They hardly ever talk.

It takes him a while to work out that she comes to him because she can be quiet.

He knows that Jacob rarely shuts up when she's around, and from his shifts watching her house he can tell that her relationship with her father has become strained. But here, in his house, with its stark walls and unwelcoming atmosphere, she can sit in silence, wallowing in her own misery and he doesn't expect anything from her. After a while he even gets used to her being there.

The part that he relishes though, the part that he looks forward to every time, is at the end of her visit, when she touches his shoulder, if only for moment, and he can feel human again.

Sometimes it enrages him, that she can have this power over his mind, that when she's there he's just waiting for the moment when her palm brushes against his skin.

"Why are you even here?" he barks at her one day.

She's pottering around the kitchen, restocking his fridge with enough food to last him over the weekend even though he didn't ask her to. He doesn't think she's going to reply at first, but eventually she speaks.

"Because you never expect me to be."

Other people might not get it, but he understands immediately. That night, before she leaves, he reaches out runs his fingers through her hair. She freezes. It's the first time that he's ever touched her; usually it's her that reaches out.

He can't help himself though, and when she doesn't object, he does it again.

She leans backwards, her head tilting to follow the path of his hand. A small sigh leaves her lips.

When she finally walks out he stands there and the night draws in around him.

He touched her. He touched her.

And she didn't push him away.

She didn't laugh at him, or hit him, or tell him to fuck off.

He puzzles over this for the next few days, his thoughts unguarded for once as he struggles with what it means. The pack doesn't know what to make of him and Bella Swan. The mini-Alpha isn't happy, but there's not a lot he can do about it. The rest of them just laugh uneasily as he obsesses.

On her next visit he builds his courage all day, finally daring to reach out to run his hand through her hair again... Only she moves and he ends up brushing over her back. She turns around, eyes so wide they look like they might pop out, and stares at him. He glares at his hand like it just betrayed him.

Cautiously, slowly, she takes a step towards him. He doesn't know what she's doing, but instinct tells him to keep unnaturally still. They both gasp when another step presses her chest against his.

It's too much. It's not enough.

She runs away before he can do anything. She doesn't come back for a week.

He sits at home drinking beer. If anyone asked he'd say that he was relaxing, but really he knows that he's just biding his time until she returns.

On the fourth night Sam visits him.

"What's going on with you and Bella?"

He blinks. "Nothing."

"Bullshit!" his Alpha scoffs. "She's here nearly every day. You think that beast of a truck of hers is easy to miss."

"She comes, she brings food, we eat, she leaves."

Sam runs a hand over his face tiredly. "Seriously, Paul, what's going on? None of us know where your head's at lately and this friction with Jake isn't good for the pack."

He gets angry then. "Well then, Jake will just have to learn that he doesn't own the damn girl then, won't he? Then there won't be any friction." He slumps back onto his sofa, his momentary burst of anger dissipating as quickly as it arrived.

"You don't even see it, do you?" Sam shakes his head sadly. "You've changed since you've been hanging around her. You're not so angry, you don't jump down our throats all the time, you're no longer starting fights..." Sam hesitates.

"I didn't imprint on her if that's what you think," he snaps into the pause.

"Then what is it?" Sam shoots back.

Paul glowers at him. "Are you mad because I've stopped picking fights?"

"No."

"Good. Then don't fucking complain about it. And while you're at it, tell Jacob to get a fucking life of his own instead of worrying about mine."

Sam looks disappointed but doesn't argue and leaves him alone once more.

He misses Bella. He hates admitting it, but he's too pathetic right now to deny it any longer.

When she finally shows up he breathes a sigh of relief.

Things go on as they did before, only now it's like a barrier has been removed between them. They hug, they brush against each other in his small kitchen, she takes his hand when she wants to show him something.

They still don't talk much but that doesn't seem to really matter; they don't want to drag up the past with every word they speak to each other. One day she laughs and then immediately claps her hand over her mouth, as if she was caught saying a bad word. The expression of shock on her face makes him laugh at her in return and before they know it, they're both cackling hysterically. When she leaves his ribs hurt, but in a good way.

She stops wrapping her arms tightly around her waist, no longer needing to physically hold herself together. Every now and then, her fists still clench, but it's an improvement.

They're now eating together every other day. Hell, he's even met Chief Swan. That was an uncomfortable conversation, but both men came out of it respecting each other. Neither is a man of many words.

Jacob continues to pout and scowl at their odd friendship. He still can't understand why Bella doesn't feel the same way about him that he feels about her. In a rare burst of conversation she tells Paul that if she was less damaged she might give him a chance, but that she doesn't fully trust him after he brushed her off when he first phased.

Against his better judgement, he reminds her that the gagging order wasn't Jacob's fault.

"I know," she muses. "I mean, a part of me knows and understands that he couldn't talk to me, but the rest of me wishes he'd fought a bit harder. I fought for him."

"I remember." He runs a hand thoughtfully over the cheek that she slapped.

She blushes guiltily, but wisely knows not to apologise. He's forgiven her; he didn't mind. If she tried to say sorry again he'd just get annoyed.

They settle into a strange kind of routine, and for once he feels content.

For the first time he feels like there's someone there who actually cares about him, who worries when he's on patrol. Her attention fills part of the gaping neediness that's been a part of his make-up for as long as he can remember. He gives up the mindless fucking. He gives up the pointless fights.

He overhears his pack mates talking about him one day.

"...it's strange. It's almost like he's imprinted on her or something."

"He says he hasn't," Sam informs Jared, "and I'm inclined to believe him. He's seen the imprinting pull enough times with the rest of us; I'm sure he'd recognise it if it happened to him."

"What do you think is going on between them then?"

Sam sighs heavily. "Maybe they're just what each other needs right now. It certainly doesn't seem to be doing either of them any harm."

He ponders this later when he's alone. He knows he hasn't imprinted on Bella. He cares about her though; he's man enough to admit that at least. He's pretty sure he'd die for her. She makes his life more bearable and he's pretty sure he does the same for her.

He decides that it doesn't matter. Whatever they have, whatever they are, it works for both of them.

Then in late spring she vanishes.

Through the pack mind he learns from Jacob that one of her leeches showed up in Forks again and she disappeared with them. The gaping hole in his chest returns.

She comes back five days later. The dead look in her eyes comes back with her.

He watches as she approaches from his seat on the porch. Her arms are wrapped around her waist again.

"I thought you were dead," he says.

"I thought I was too," she replies.

He swallows, his mouth suddenly dry. "Did your leeches come back with you?"

She finally looks up and meets his eyes. "Yes."

"Then what are you still doing here? According to Jacob, you chose them instead of us."

That provokes a reaction. She steps forward, her arms dropping to her sides. "I didn't choose anyone, so you can get that idea out of your head right now."

The fire disappears as quickly as it emerged and she sinks back into herself once more.

The silence between them is uncomfortable now. It never used to be.

"Why are you still here?" he eventually asks. "Why aren't you with Cullen right now? You love him; I thought you'd never want to tear yourself away again."

She bites her lip indecisively and then decides to talk. "He didn't want me to. He wanted me to stay with him."

"But..."

"I wanted to feel safe and warm." The dead look is gone now, replaced by a challenging one.

He understands then what he didn't grasp before. He thought it was just her who filled the empty spaces in his head; he didn't realise that he did the same for her. It was understanding and caring...for both of them.

"Come here." He holds out his hand as he stands up, daring her to take it.

She meets him boldly. They both sigh with relief at the contact.

She doesn't protest when he leads her to his bedroom. He doesn't stop her when she calmly removes her clothing.

She gives him her body and he thanks her without words for the privilege.

He thinks that this is better than the anger, the fights, the rage. This is better than the lust, the nameless face, the same old routine.

As he moves over her, he's overcome; he would give her his heart if he was sure that he had one. They both cry when they peak, silent tears that roll down their faces. When it's all over they cling to each other, lying skin to skin, so closely intertwined that you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began.

Lowering his head, he finally dares to kiss her, enjoying her moan when she sweetly responds.

Afterwards, they're both quiet, unwilling to talk and break the spell that's fallen over them.

Eventually, she moves.

"Thank you, Paul."

He blinks drowsily. "For what?"

"For touching me."

She knows what it means, the contact; she knows that his body can at least say what his mouth can't. She knows that he cares.

And he knows that she cares for him too.

They fall asleep pressed as tightly together as they can possibly get. And the emptiness vanishes.


A/N

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