With everything that had happened, Bella’s emotions were in high gear. Most of the time she couldn’t keep them in check but worry trumped all of them and it drove her to keep her cool. It was actually the coolest she’d ever been but a war was waging underneath that would eventually bubble up to the surface. After a good night's sleep to keep away the hangover, Bella made her way to the infirmary with a bottle of scotch tucked under her arm. The flowing blouse was tucked into a pair of very flattering slacks and a smile rose when she saw him up and awake.
“Hey stranger.” She pouted her lips lightly and pressed a small chaste kiss on his cheek. “I thought maybe the medicine they’re giving you here might not be strong enough so I brought you some scotch.”
From across the room Kieran called out her name. “Bella. Now what did I tell ye about alcohol in the infirmary? Do not give him any.” She’d known the good doctor since was little, he’d never seemed to age but he did have to scold her every once in a while. “Sorry Doc. I forgot.” She said, offering Paul a wink.
It was an act, an act she thought she was keeping up well, the facade of sanity. Though it seemed like there were small cracks forming in it as she tried her hardest to be happy, she didn’t falter.
Paul felt heavier than usual.
It was as if he acquired more weight to the mountain that already perched high upon his broad shoulders. Kristoph was dead. The wolf had been distracted - thank the stars - and yet somehow he’d not been able to do anything to save their leader. Another life slipped through his paws and it was eating at his core, twisting knots into his stomach.
Until he’d met Ilyana, Paul had never felt such a burden nor a state of depression. He thought he’d been working toward an end goal, trying his best to tip the scales back into his favor, and then something like this happened. What if next time it was someone he cared about in danger? What if next time there wasn’t a next time?
He could smell Bella long before she reached him. Her footfalls were like music but part of him didn’t want to see her. Paul experienced a tornado of feelings, emotions, and he didn’t want anyone to see that ache that dimmed the light in those blue eyes.
But he turned to look at Bella regardless.
An arm would loop around her waist, fingers burying into the flowing fabric of her blouse. The other arm would come around her, too, and Paul would lower his forehead to rest upon her shoulder. Eyes would squeeze closed and there he was, strong yet fragile, with Bella in his grasp. He would pretend to be stronger for her in a second - she had her own set of problems and didn’t need his - but she was comfortable, familiar, and just then he felt his knees buckle from the invisible weight. He needed that moment of support and silence to quiet the tumble of his mind.
Bella wasn’t calm, not really, but the weight of Paul against her body proved that she wasn’t the only one hurting. While she never seemed to admit it to him, Paul was one of the only people who seemed to truly understand her, all the best parts at least. Willis knew all the stuff she never wanted anyone to see and that hurt was always there with her. She tried to control the onslaught of emotion as it broke down those well constructed barriers. She didn’t sob like she wanted to and instead her mind sent the bottle of scotch out from under her arm and against the ground ten feet away.
Tears fell easily from her eyes as she wrapped her arms around him and responded in kind. Nothing needed to be said because they were both lost and helpless. If it hadn’t been for Kristoph, neither of them would have survived.
Finally after a few choked back sobs she spoke again. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. I’m never going to be good at my gift without him, without knowing that someone believes in me.”
Her frame quivered in his grasp; while he never tried to show emotion, especially to any he held close, Paul couldn’t help but realize she was hurting too. Selfish, he was being selfish. Finally he would lift his head. Eyes were circled in red puffiness but no other sign of what he was feeling inside was present. Paul looked at Bella, unwound an arm and lifted a hand to touch her face gently.
“You’re going to be fine,” he assured her. “I believe in you, I know a lot of other people do too.”
The skin of her face was soft and warm. He took comfort in that, making no movement to break away completely. “How does my hair look?” The question was posed with a measure of amusement, his attempt to lighten the mood. He didn’t want her to hurt, to feel badly but he wouldn’t tell her not to grieve when he was doing that very thing too.
Even though she was grieving Paul’s words couldn’t help but make her laugh a little. She wiped the tears away from her eyes and placed a hand on his face. “Honestly? Like shit. I should probably grab a comb for you.” She teased and used her hand to push the hair out of his face.
She knew what he was doing, because she tried to do it herself. He wanted to pretend like he wasn’t in pain to save her from whatever pain she was feeling but that wasn’t going to work. Her pain was layers upon layers of pain that would take years for someone to chip away and the only person she ever wanted to do that for her was the same one giving her much of it.
Her quip made him laugh. She always seemed to know what to say to elicit a smile even in the darkest of situations. As her fingers brushed through his hair felt a bit of calm begin to settle over him. There was no denying the game he was playing; he was aware she knew because they played it all the time.
“Thanks. I feel so much better,” he laughed, making a face. His hair was important to him though presently it was the last thing on his mind.
Paul didn’t realize he was nearly clinging to Bella until he felt her frame pressing upon his harder than it should’ve. It was then he eased up. She could pull back it away if she wanted to, like always.
“You’ve been okay?” Maybe it was dumb to ask but he truly did care about her. “Need me to beat Willis up for you?”
She raised a brow at him, albeit an amused one, and shook her head at him. “You touch a hair on his head and I’m going to have to make that face of yours not as pretty as it is. Don’t make me make you ugly. This whole arrangement we have goes out the window if you’re not pretty enough.” Of course it was a jest, Bella would never do anything to hurt him and that was the truth. Anyway, she could let him listen to her problems but she would never let Paul intervene.
“I’m fine I guess. We had a heart to heart and I sought forgiveness for something I did.” Truth of it was that she was more confused about him than ever. One minute he’s angry at her and then next he’s calling her beautiful and kissing her on the forehead. Why the man couldn’t just make it easy on her was beyond her but she fought to keep him in her life every day. “How about you? I saw what you did out there, it took a lot of courage.” She was of course referencing the way he shifted or whether weres called it.
Her words earned her a smirk coupled with a shrug, “I don’t make promises I can’t keep.” He would leave it at that. Willis irritated Paul to no end; while he had only Bella’s version of the story, Paul was interested only in that. He and the good Reverend didn’t exchange words outside of church and even then contact was limited. He would never say anything to Bella but Willis’ scent was off, wrong somehow.
Paul made a face as she confessed to seeing him change, nearly flinching out of her grasp.
A breath would be taken. His eyes squeezed shut and it took a moment for Paul to regain his focus. Finally he looked at Bella, expression series and void of the playfulness it had moments before. “Next time you see me like that you have to promise to run and stay out of sight.”
There would be no losing Bella to the wolf. He could hardly function knowing he’d murdered someone and now lost Kristoph too.
Confused, Bella stood as Paul completely detached himself from her. “But Paul, why would I do that? It seems to me if I need protection you’re the one I should try to stay the closest to. I saw what was happening out there with those…” What were they? She couldn’t possibly know, she just knew there was something horrible about them. “..those things. If I have any hope of surviving it’s going to be if I join the fight.”
Bella wrestled with herself the past few nights, feeling the trauma of the whole situation do something wild to her telekinesis. She felt stronger and more angry and nearly lustful for revenge. “You think just because you turn into a wolf that you could do any harm to me?” The power made her thirsty but she couldn’t quite wrap her head around it yet.
“No!” He nearly shouted, shaking his head at her. This time he did pull back, only to grab her hands and squeeze them, lifting them up some. “I could kill you, Bells. I can’t control myself like that - it’s why they lock me up after I change.” The emotion in his voice was thick, nearly clogging up his words. “I can’t protect you from the wolf. You have to promise me you won’t get anywhere near me.”
Honestly, with her power, she could would probably stand a chance at least of defending herself or distracting the monster but Paul wasn’t taking any chances.
His gaze was intense, the brightness in his eyes had returned somewhat. “I could hurt you, I’d never forgive myself.” The break in his tone finally came, shoulders would slump.
She ripped her hands away from Paul, her eyes still puffy and dead set on his. “You don’t get to tell me what to do. You’re not my husband, you’re not my owner and you’re not allowed to say what I can do and what I can’t.” She yelled at him, pacing in the spot next to the cot where he was sleeping. “I could throw you across a room if you came near me, and don’t think that I won’t.”
Now the tears began to flow again, her arms crossed over her chest, trying to her best joy to rattle all the surgical tools in the infirmary. Sadly she was having little success and from across the room Kieran began to worry about his tools. “Why is it that men think they can just order me around? I’m not your slave!!” And with that a jar of medicine fell to the floor and littered the ground with pills.
He let her tear away, fighting the urge to reach out and grab hold of her again. The void between them was charged and he felt emptier for it. His heart was banging loudly in his ears but he didn’t back down. He couldn’t, not on this subject. “I don’t want to be,” he nearly snapped, realizing the ordeal he’d been through and the subject at hand was making him irritated and unlike his usual self.
Before he said anything else that would hurt both of them, Paul set his jaw and sighed. “I’m sorry,” he breathed, shaking his head. His gaze would go to the floor and he studied it, looking for the right words.
“I don’t own you, I’m not your husband, and I don’t want to control you, Bella. You’re not wrong. I’m your friend, and that means we look out for each other. I’m dangerous. I’ve killed people.” He’d never told anyone that before, but now it was out there.
“I don’t want to be the one that hurts you but I can’t control what I become.” His voice had taken a softness to the tone, a squeak, much like a mouse instead of a man. His eyes never left the floor.
Normally when Bella had a temper tantrum, people liked to argue and poke her, tell her how wrong she was and not give her the time of day she deserved. Even Willis who she swore was the love of her life never once tried to reason with her like this. She stopped in her tracks and looked down at Paul. And just like that her anger subsided and she sat down next to him again. She didn’t know what to say or what he wanted to hear and that made her sad. Paul had always been a good friend, a friend she trusted enough to screw around with, the aromantic pal who she could release all of her sexual frustration on. It didn’t occurred to her that maybe just maybe he cared for her like he would a good friend.
“I’m sorry too.” She finally said, using her fingers to right his gaze back to her instead of at the dirty ground. “We’re a pair aren’t we? Seems like neither of us are ready to deal with all this.” She wasn’t sure she’d ever be, but if she could help Paul get there then maybe all of this was worth something.
In the corner of the room, Kieran began righting all the medicine into another unbroken jar before sweeping up the remains of her anger.
She didn’t have to say anything, that was the curse and the beauty of it. It spoke volumes enough for itself as it was. But getting the admission of guilt out in the open took a bit of that weight from his chest and he felt able to breathe a little better. He was a mess, he knew it better than anyone.
Paul would look up at her. “Two peas in a pod.” A fucked up pod, but a pod regardless. Helping Bella was something to look forward to, a distraction from his own issues. Maybe that was why he could never truly commit to anything or anyone, he was afraid to lose them to the monster. Pushing people away was safer, distance was safer. They had a unique friendship built on understanding that distance was necessary but being close once in a while was good and necessary too. For both of them.
A headache was coming on, he could feel it’s claws digging into the recesses of his mind. The exhaustion was back, too. “I wanna get out of here,” he would murmur, shaking his head. “I’m going crazy.” Beth wasn’t keen on letting him go just yet, though.
Her eyes softened at his and she brushed her fingers along his face. “I feel like I’m going crazy all the time.” She admitted to him, her eyes downcast only for a moment before she reached his eyes. “But I fight through it, every single day because what’s going on in my mind is not what’s going to control me.” She’d lost to it many times but she still kept fighting.
Pressing a kiss to his brow she leaned back and gave his face a small tender slap. “But what’s most important right now is that you get better.” She explained, bringing her hand back down to her lap. “That way, you can have your strength to fuck me really good once you’re out of here.” She teased, offering a wink at her incentive. As far as she knew, Paul still played the field and she was going to take advantage of that as much as she could. Truth was, a lot of the men there tended to stay away from her and if she was totally honest, Paul had been the best lay she’d ever had anyway.
Her words offered a bit of strength and he found himself better for them. If Bella could do it, he knew he could too. While he couldn’t make things fly off of the shelves with a thought, he could ruin an entire town. Either way they were both dangerous to an extent, yet they seemed to find their way through normal lives regardless. He found himself bearing the loaned strength, grateful.
“I know you do.” Nothing in the world made him any better than she was, any more special.
And then he was smiling again, turning his head in a playful response to the collision of her hand upon his cheek. Returning his gaze to hers, Paul would collect her hand in a more gentle way this time. “As long as you don’t hate me by the end of all of this I’ll consider myself the luckiest guy in town.” A laugh would leave him at her crudeness. “We’ll see about that.”
Before all of this, Paul had been trying to get closer to Beth. Right now his head wasn’t much in the game of courting but he’d feel more like himself once he was out of the infirmary and back to real life.
She shook her head at that. “I could never hate you.” She replied and rubbed his arm.
From across the room Kieran saw the look on Paul’s face, like his head was beginning to hurt and he made his way over to the cot. “I’m sure Paul’s happy to have seen ye today Bella but I think it’s time for him to get some rest, aye?” He gently lifted her from the place she sat.
She scrunched her face at Kieran, but obeyed his orders anyway. “I’ll see you around Paul. Don’t hurt yourself more.” She teased and allowed Kieran to walk her away from the tent.
Paul would lift his head and look at Kieran. There was protest already building but he knew better than to utter what lingered. Instead he kissed Bella’s fingers and let her hand go. They would see each other again soon, he was sure of that.
“See you around,” he echoed, nodding.
As soon as Bella was gone Paul dove into the slump again. He stretched out on the cot and rested, willing the headache to go away and for things to start to look up for him.