A/N I would suggest reading over the last chapter if you haven't recently, just for a re-cap.
Also, this chapter is basically just a Brief History Of Paul, and may punch you in the face with feels.
This is why Paul can't be sure he really loves Bella.
Hollow . - noun
an empty space within anything; a hole, depression, or cavity.
Paul watched her sleep, knowing it was creepy, knowing she wouldn't like it. He watched the rise and fall of her bare chest, the spill of her hair against her pale skin, the swell of her breast, the curve of her hips. He drank it all on, let it fill him up, and didn't feel any more or less in love with her than before.
That's how things broke down now; before and after.
Dressing in silence, Paul slipped out the door without a word. What was their to say? Embry watched from the window, eyes keen and curious. Paul couldn't explain, didn't have the words. He went where he should have at the first sign of trouble.
He went to Billy Black.
"Come on in." Billy wheeled back into the livingroom, and Paul followed. "Can't say I was expecting you. You're not in trouble with the Chief, are you? Because my good word will only get you so far, and I hate to admit it but Charlie's pretty good at calling me on bullshit."
Paul flopped down on the couch, took comfort in the way it molded to him, like it knew his shape. It did; Paul spent a lot of time here. "Actually, I think Chief Swan might like me. We've got the same priorities in mind, at any rate."
Paul shrugged. He wouldn't deny it.
"Well, Charlies' a good judge of character," Billy told him, with the barest hint of a smile. "Jakes out, if that's what you're waiting for. Go a head then, kiddo. Spill."
Kiddo. No one, no one but Billy Black could get away with calling Paul kiddo. "Jake knows actually. He's uh...he's why I'm here. As much as it pains me -and it really, really does- I think the kid's inheriting your predilection for good advice."
Leaning back in his wheelchair, Billy pulled a face. "Jake told you to come talk to me?"
"No, it was something he told Bella. Something I shouldn't have heard," he added. "But it reminded me that there's never been a problem you haven't helped me solve, Uncle Billy."
Billy blinked at him, wide eyed and surprised. "You haven't called me that in years. Not since Sarah passed."
It wasn't a secret. Sarah Black had once upon a time been Sarah Windlow, half sister on their fathers side to Leila Windlow, who would eventually become Leila Lahote. She was, effectively, Pauls Aunt. "When Aunt Sarah died, I thought it meant we weren't family anymore. Because we didn't share blood." He'd been young, and stupid; it had taken years and the pack to prove what family really was.
His mother hadn't really been inclined to make of Sarah and Aunt for Paul. They weren't close, raised separately and five years apart in age. They weren't sisters in anyway but blood. But Sarah, Sarah had heard of Paul's birth shortly after having the twins. She'd insinuated herself into their life and never looked back. Paul remembers her with only pained fondness. She was the cookie-baking, bubble-bath giving, shoe-tying, pant-mending, blanket-fort making type of Aunt. She'd been, once upon a time, Pauls favorite person.
"You share blood with Jacob, with the twins." Billy sounded hurt, and that...Paul could barely stand it. There was a reason this hadn't come up in the years since his Aunt had passed. "Family is more than blood, Paul."
"I know that now." And he did, though no one could say there wasn't a mix of blood in the pack. Look at poor Embry. Still, family went beyond that. Family was what you made of it. Paul had blood-family, and they'd done him far less favors than say...the man sitting in front of him.
"We tried to adopt you," Billy said suddenly, looking away. "When you were five or so. The first time your father was arrested and they couldn't find your mom-"
"Mom loved me," Paul cut him off, feeling hot and cold at once. Embarrassed. It wasn't something he was overly fond of; you needed shame to be embarrassed about anything, after all. "Billy."
"I wasn't saying she didn't." Billy reached over, and patted Paul on the knee. "I'm just saying, Sarah was crazy about you. She looked to you like her own, even when she knew she shouldn't. I did too. I..." He smiled a little, flashing Paul a look he couldn't decipher. "I never really stopped. Hell, you and Jacob even fight like brothers."
Paul flushed like that, because hadn't that always been the way? He'd nagged, and picked at and occasionally beat-up on Jacob like his little brother since before he could remember. He called Jacob his brother, and Jacob had done the same and it had been about the pack, but it had been more too.
Billy looked him in the eye, grave but understanding. "Tell me what's wrong."
Suspecting Billy already knew most of it, Paul jumped to the heat of the matter. "I don't want Sam handing over the Alpha rights just because of my problem."
"He blames himself," Billy replied, proving that he did infact know. There were no secrets in the Pack and even less in the Black household. "You suffer because of his order."
"That's no reason to...to..." To what? "Jacob doesn't want it, not yet. He's not ready, and I won't see the pack suffer as a whole because of my problems."
Billy looked decidedly tired at that, letting loose a great sigh. "You don't think they aren't suffering on your behalf? Your pain is their pain, Paul."
"It's different," Paul insisted, because it was. What they felt now as second-hand, but if Jacob took the Alpha rights to soon, before he wanted it- it would breed only resentment. They'd had enough of that between Sam and Leah. "Tell them to wait."
"What makes you think they'll listen?"
"They'll listen." Sam greatly respected Billy, and Jacob was still under the impression his father's word was law because he was his father, not because he was Chief. "Please, just buy me some time, okay? Jake shouldn't have to take the Rights, when Sam isn't even ready to give them up. It won't end well for the pack." There was the very real fear that Jacob wouldn't win. Sam couldn't throw the fight, it didn't work that way. And if Jacob lost...not only would he lose the right to ever be Alpha, he'd lose his place in the pack. He could, so the tales said, lose the Shift entirely.
And if he won...the odds were just as bad. He could simply force Sam to admit, take the Rights as Alpha, and rule the pack as the clumsy teenager he was. Or he could force Sam to bow down, take the rights and kick Sam from the pack. It wouldn't be Jacob, it would be instinct, one Alpha against another.
He could fight Sam, he could kill him.
"Buy me time," he said again, pleaded really, in a way that wasn't like him, But fuck, he was desperate. He just needed time. "Please?"
"You don't have to take every hit," Billy told him quietly. "You don't have to be the only one to get your hands dirty, Paul. A chain is only as good as it's weakest link. You're strong now, the strongest I know, but what happens when you break?"
"I won't." He couldn't.
"Visit your mother," Billy replied, but it was as good a yes as he was going to get.
The Reservations cemetery was tucked away from the tourist-y area, on a back road behind the Ateras' little market store. It was small, with gravestones of simple limestone blocks with brassy plaques and weeds that reached your knees in places. Many of the back graves - the older ones- were sunken in, their headstones crumbling, or gone completely.
He took a moment to pass the most recent gravesite. Mr. Clearwaters' headstone was still a brilliant marbled white, only three or so weeks old. A fresh bouquet of flowers laid across the plaque. Paul straightened the red ribbon on the stalks, and stole a single wilting daisy from the bunch.
Farther back, three rows and four graves in, Paul stopped. "Hi mom," he murmured, feeling as stupid now as he did the first (last) time he came here. He laid the flower on her little limestone block, traced the petals over the raised letters Lelia Elaine Lehote. That was all the stone said, just her name, birth and death date - no prose about loving mothers, or sisters, or wives. His mother wasn't any of those things, in the end. Not really.
"I'm a werewolf," he told the ground. "Vampires are real. Dad had a baby and named it Paul, which I don't care who he named it after, me or him, it's fuckin' weird." He sank to the ground, limbs splayed out over where she was buried six feet beneath. "I'm twenty now and I haven't been arrested, knocked anyone up, or developed any crippling addictions. I'd like to think you'd be proud, but you'd probably just be offended. I come by my temper naturally, after all. "
Paul snatched the daisy back off the stone, and plucked a petal from the head. "Jared met a girl - her name is Kim. She's...she's alright. Sweet as can be, the good kind of chubby, pretty eyes. Her dad's a lawyer. So you know, go Jared."
He plucked another petal off, and threw it at the gravestone. "Harry Clearwater died a few weeks ago. Maybe you already know that. Maybe. Probably not." Flopping back, Paul looked up at the sky, mutilated daisy pinched between his fingers. "I kind of hate you, you know? I don't want to be here. You're not even here. I don't know what I'm suppose to say." Why did Billy want him to come here? What was this suppose to accomplish? "Am I suppose to ask why you had to go and fuck me up so badly? Should I ask why dad could get better, but you couldn't? You just...gave up, gave in. Nothing was worth living for, not even me."
He wasn't bitter, hadn't really ever been. Maybe when she was a live, a litlte. Maybe when he could see her, sitting in her chair, not caring enough about anything to get up and live.
In truth, she got sick only a few years ago. Nothing any doctor could put a name on, just...sick. Couldn't -wouldn't - eat, didn't sleep, didn't bother to get dressed, or brush her hair. Paul hated that his last memories of his mother are that hollow, rotten, burnt out shell of a woman, because he remembers she use to be pretty. So pretty, like Jacobs mom, with long, dark hair, and dimples and perfect teeth. And then she just...wasn't. She wasn't pretty anymore, wasn't his mother anymore, wasn't alive anymore. She died long before she was buried. Years maybe. Paul wasn't sure anymore.
He stopped loving her long before that.
"I met this girl, a junkie." He watched a cloud go by, shapeless and dull. "Pretty thing, a pale-face, . You'd fucking hate her." Rolling over onto his stomach, Paul stared at the gravestone, and spoke soft, and calm and clear as day. "I think I love her. I mean, I know I do. Or I think I know I do, and I think that's your fault. Because Jesus Christ, I'm pretty sure you loved me once upon a fucking time, but I can't remember. I don't remember loving you, but I know I must have. I sure as hell don't right now. I don't even know how, anymore. What kind of man can't love his own mother? I fucking hate you."
He didn't. Not really. He didn't feel anything for her at all, and that was so astonishingly worse, Paul would rather hate her. He'd been so sure he loved Bella Swan, so fucking sure, because he could feel it. Warm and right and everything, but then the imprint, the fucking imprint. It made more sense, than Paul falling in love. It made him doubt.
She'd died only a month or so after he phased. Stress, her doctors had said, but really she'd just lost the will to live at the tender age of thirty-three. It had been him, really. He'd been bad to her, resentful, hateful, hurtful and angry in his shift. He'd been spiteful, and she'd let him . She hadn't cared, hadn't shown that she'd cared and honestly Paul doesn't think she did. She hadn't been capable of emotion in some time. She simply...gave up, one evening, sitting in her beaten-up recliner, cigarette between her lips.
And like he had for so long, Paul had taken care of her in death too. He'd known as soon as he'd looked at her, she was gone. He couldn't hear her heart beat, or the puff of her breath. He hadn't felt much at all, as he'd plucked the half-ashed cigarette from her mouth, stubbing it out on an old salad plate on the side table.
He'd brushed her hair out of her face, fixed the buttons on her cardigan, and cleaned the living room of the stacks of dirty dishes, and mouldering cups of coffee-and-cigarette butt soup. He packed away the orange bottles of pills into the cupboard in the bathroom (benzopiren, lorazepam, prozac, life-suckers), and tossed the half-hazard row of wine bottles into the trash. It wasn't unlike all the nights he'd put her to bed, except this time the bed would be a coffin and he'd never have to do it again.
There had been no proper funeral. No fond send-off like Harry Clearwater's goodbye. His mother wasn't exactly held in esteem on the reservation. Jesus Christ, she was barely liked. His mother...his mother was a cliche, an alcoholic Native who dwelled in a spectacularly shitty trailer on the edge of the Rez, lived off the government shamelessly, married an addict and raised a notoriously delinquent son.
She wasn't a very nice person either.
She had been, once upon a time. Once upon a time she'd been beautiful, and kind, and probably loving. Those memories are fuzzy though, peppered too often with abandonment and domestic disputes. It's just...there are memories of her, reading to him, hugging him, holding his hand. But somewhere along the line, it stopped being her. It was Aunt Sara, in her garden, showing him how to pull weeds. And then it was Aunt Jeanie, tucking him into Jareds bed and telling him his mom would come see him tomorrow. Paul honestly wasn't sure where the lined blurred between the women in his life, where it stopped being his mother. Sometimes he wondered if it was ever her to begin with.
"I'm sorry I wasn't a better son." Paul wasn't sure how much it would have changed things. His mother was gone far before Paul started hating life. She checked out around the same time his father did, around the same time the orange bottles appeared in the bathroom. Only, his dad got better. She gave up. "I'm sorry there wasn't anything worth living for."
He'd decided, even before her passing, that he'd never be like either of them, his parents. He'd never give anyone a reason to expect much from him, to be disappointed in him. He would tell no secrets, tell no lies. He'd live honestly, if not rightly. He'd depend on no one. Relying on others only ever ended in disappointment. He'd live for the benefit of himself, and no one else. He didn't need anyone else, never had.
He had the Pack of course, and he accepted this as his fate. There was no denying them. And they knew of course, his every aching thought. They said nothing, a silent shared respect between them all. Secrets stayed secrets. Still, he ran faster, pushed further, and fought harder than any one of them, lest he fall behind, lest he fail, lest he stumble, fall and never get up.
He dropped another daisy petal on the gravestone. "Well this has done exactly nothing to help me," he said, as he stood. He stared down at the brassy plaque, Leila Elaine Lehote. "Thanks for nothing."
A/N So. Yeah. That happened.