A/N:I had so much fun writing and making my banner for Tricky Raven's 2014 holiday contest and I ended up winning 1st place Author and 1st place Artist. I'm still sitting here blinking because I wrote angsty Embrella for a wolf fic holiday contest and I won. WITH EMBRELLA. *grins* My other Embrella fic, "How do I love thee?" is, at best, the bastard red-headed step-child of my one-shots, so the win took me completely by surprise. Thanks very much to all the readers and voters at Tricky Raven and congrats to all the other holiday contest winners!

Title: Black & Blue
Pairing: Embry/Bella
Rating: M, for language
Genre: angst/romance

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


Festooned and gaily lit, the Uley home bulged at the seams as the pack gathered early one morning in mid-December.

Embry stretched, pencil flying across paper as he worked to tune out the ravening horde gathered at Sam's, eating the former Alpha out of house and home. Though he appreciated the support, it wasn't a big deal—being interviewed. As his artwork gained a following in Seattle, featurette pieces became frequent occurrences. His gratitude at being called rather than interviewed live couldn't be overstated.

Because fuck mornings.

"Shh…!" Jake ordered. "It's on."

The pack swarmed the living room, scuffling over the 'good' seats.

"Good morning, Seattle," came the chipper voice of KOMO-TV reporter, Katy Morningstar. "We're at Key Arena this morning with Rat City Rollergirls, Seattle's pride, the first professional rollerderby league in Washington. Rat City Rollergirls will be hosting its annual Black-and-Blue Brawl-and-Ball over the next twelve days, culminating in its signature New Year's fundraiser. Rat City Rollergirls has been a safe haven for young women in Seattle since its inception, a place to work out some aggression, but its newest initiative—a mentoring program for troubled teens and runaways—is spearheaded by a woman who knows all too well what it's like to be on the receiving end of that same mentorship. I'm here with Throttle Rockets Team Captain and teen league coach, Call of Booty."

The reporter grinned.

Embry snorted, recognizing Call of Booty as the promoter he'd been emailing for months while he worked on marketing materials for the New Year's Eve fundraiser and trading card designs for the league.

"Call of Booty is a stage name, obviously. Here at Key Arena, she's also known as the tough as nails Vice President of Public and Media Relations—

Coverage cut away from the reporter's sunny grin to a scene straight out of Hollywood. He followed Booty's jersey, cringing when she turned mother-wolf, defending a younger teammate after a blatant series of illegal hits.

The petite, curvy skater named Booty took exception with umbrage, her thick, ombre-teal braids whipping as she threw an elbow in the bitch's face and told her to pick on someone her own size if she wanted a good fight. When the skater tried to corner Booty, cocking her arm back to take that advice, Booty grabbed the chick's jersey, hauling her close and taking the hit in the face like a champ. Her head snapped back and she returned the hit like a volleyed serve, easily dishing out two blows to every one she took.

Embry winced at the pounding of fists on flesh.

The footage cut to the live feed, and the tiny tattooed terror. Head bowed, the skeletal figure of a Misfits decal on Booty's helmet tipped to the camera like a sinister mask.

A wry grin teased his lips.

Someone called out, "Bella!"

Jake's sharp intake of breath pulled Embry's attention from the drawing in his lap to the face on the screen.

Waving, she turned her body, and with it, his world—upside-down.

Bella.

Automatically, he cataloged the changes as the camera panned out. The brown-eyed girl next door was gone. In her place, a tattooed, badass butterfly unfurled its little punk wings.

Tattoos cascaded over creamy shoulders to padded elbows. A grey wolf—his wolf, he realized, startled—sprawled across a shoulder, it's muzzle nestled over the curve of breast. The Quileute pack tattoo in violet-blue occupied her other shoulder. Bold colors swirled down both arms. Opposite the wolf, trailing from eyebrow to clavicle, a minuscule pattern of black and blue stars framed the silvered lines of his mark.

Rasping breaths grated over fraying nerves. Unable to trust his eyes, he clenched them shut, shaking his head. "Tell me I'm seeing things; it can't be her."

Silence.

"Isabella Call is a single mother of six adopted children and two grandchildren, hailing from native tribes in Washington and Vancouver. A legend in downtown Seattle, she's a favorite bartender at the infamous Coyote Ugly, where she still works on occasion.

"At twenty-six years old, Bella was named the youngest VP in Key Arena's history. Arena owner, Jeff White speaks proudly of her contributions and fresh ideas, calling her an integral part of both their corporate team and their ground-breaking professional rollerderby league. Her trading card will be the first professional WFTDA card made available to the public at Key Arena. Meet and greet autograph-signing sessions will be he held throughout the Black & Blue bouts and events at Key Arena over the twelve-day tournament. Her children and grandchildren—

The footage cut once more to a group of teenagers and toddlers clustered around Bella. A huge one, built like a wolf, covered from neck to wrists in tattoos, hugged her gently, the words 'so good, Mom' unheard, but easy to read on his lips.

"—Drew, Thad, and Kit Lahote; Jessa, Chloe, Colton, Annie, and Joey Uley—wish their mother a great season and look forward to seeing her show Seattle her mettle and skill this week. For more information, visit Rat City Rollergirls DOT com . Back to you, Ron."

"Dude…" Jared swallowed, clutching his phone. "I checked the website. It's really her."

Collin looked confused, murmuring, "But this is good, right…?"

"She's in fucking Seattle, but she hasn't called him," Paul hissed.

Jake murmured in wonder, "'Call of Booty' … Call … She's using your name, man…"

"I know." The words were subhuman, guttural. Stumbling to the door, Embry growled, fighting for control, toeing off his boots and snarling final orders before the wolf exploded,"I'm going to find her. Nobody interferes."

In a burst of dark grey, he leapt into the woods.

Eight years' waiting, wondering if he would see her again, it all dissolved in the space of a heart beat.

His mate had returned and he intended to give her good reason to stay.


The pack converged on the forested outskirts of the little city by the sea, Kingston. They settled beyond the treeline at the edge of Sunset Hill Farm, according to public record.

"Horses, chickens, a pair of goats wreaking havoc, orchards, pumpkins, corn maze…" Collin phased in to report on his research. "Supposed to be a good investment. She bought it at auction in August."

Embry 'hmm'd, the pack privy to the wolf's approving rumble, pleased she spent the money investing in her future.

"What money…?" Jake couldn't help but ask.

His mind filled with dates and numbers, the satisfaction of making another hefty deposit, setting aside tens of thousands of dollars earned from art sales in an account for Bella.

The wolf pushed Embry to hunt all over Seattle for months after she left, pulled by the bond, eventually locating a social worker who admitted she knew Bella Swan. Meg agreed to deliver an envelope stuffed with bank cards and checks under the names Embry and Bella Call, tribal documents signed by Chief Black and Elders Ateara and Clearwater, naturalizing Bella Call as a member of the Nation of the Quileute Tribe by virtue of tribal handfasting.

And a note.

"My mark is a promise to take care of you, not only yesterday, but whenever, however I'm able. Let me do this much, so you're never hungry or cold. Call if you need me. -Emb"

"Embry…?" Jake asked, recalling the little he knew about what happened eight years ago.

In a desperate attempt to save the life of his best friend's love, Embry sat Bella down, spelling out the painful reality. "Humans are susceptible to vampire thrall, Bella—potentially dependent—with a leech smothering you twenty-four, seven."

"Like a drug?"

He nodded.

"I always wondered … if it was him or if I really am a sheep…?" she whimpered. "How can I tell?"

"I don't think you can."

Embry's words devastated Bella, but an alternative existed.

"Marking." He explained the only known antidote to thrall.

He continued, "Jake isn't around to do it before the wedding, but—"

Bella cut him off, "Does it have to be Jake?"

"No," he whispered, "but it only works if you're … intimate, so…"

"Sex… with you," Bella supplied, understanding, yet ignorant of its significance.

Embry knew, but worried about the effect on her if he confessed the permanence, the binding connection they would create.

Forever.

She would be free, even if it killed him.

Embry lost his breath as the wolf flooded his mind with memories from that night.

Slender arms around his waist, her little knees hugging his hips—

The blissful beauty of her face and kiss-swollen lips as he covered her body with his own—

Shock at discovering the resistance of her virginity—

Silent tears kissed away—

"Embry, please!"

Sinking his teeth into her throat like sinking into her welcoming heat—

Cinnamon eyes clearing as awareness rose from the ashes of thrall—

Those same eyes glazed with desire, for him—

Curling up in bed for hours after loving and marking her again—

Nose pressed to healing, pink skin—

Waking to an empty bed and the clawing emptiness of finding one's mate before she's ready to belong to anyone but herself—

The note on his nightstand—

"You're amazing, Embry, but too kind, too selfless for a burden like me. I don't deserve you. I want to become the kind of woman who does, but I'm not her yet. You have my friendship, forever. -All my love, Bella"

Incredulous, Jake breathed the words filling his head, "All this time…?"

"It'll always be her," wolf and man answered as one, settling muzzle over paws to wait … and learn about their mate.


Noting Bella's two older boys were bulking up, possibly weeks from phasing, the pack kept a round-the-clock watch on the rambling hundred-year-old farmhouse.

The artist in Embry appreciated the clean, unfussy lines of her home's craftsman style. It suited her.

He never imagined she bought a farm when he saw the big withdrawal a few months ago. The records said she got it for a song at auction.

Another point to Embry's pride—to provide her the means to buy the place for her kids and move home to the Peninsula.

He hummed in contentment when home-heating oil was delivered. She paid with a check—the checkbook he sent all those years ago.

And when her boys needed work boots, he overheard her reading off the card number for their account while the boys placed the order online.

"She's using you for money. It doesn't bug you?" Quil worried. "She's a big deal VP, moonlighting as a pro athlete, and bartending for huge tips on weekends. Then she buys this farm—"

Embry ran out of patience, taking aim and unloading both barrels of frustration on his best friend. "Did it occur to you there's a reason a single mom works four jobs? The two boys living at home can't work anywhere but on the farm. She thinks they're going to phase, so she keeps them busy here and works herself into the ground.

"Her oldest daughter has two kids and no child support. The middle girl, Annie, is sick—a chronic medical condition. The bills eat up every spare dollar. Kit, the youngest girl? Bella only found her a few months ago. The kid is fourteen and pregnant. The father bolted, and her mother abandoned her because she repeated her mother's mistake.

"Yeah, she uses our money to take care of our kids—the pack's kids, because it's no coincidence they're all Uleys and Lahotes. She works with CPS, looking for more kids she suspects carry the wolf gene. She's been on a fucking mission to keep what happened to me from happening to any of them, preventing kids from phasing ignorant of their legends. And she's raising them with love.

"So no, it doesn't bug me she uses the fucking money! I'd willingly give every dime to heat her home and take care of her kids. What bugs me is she won't ask for help. She has my number, Quil! I could be out here at the asscrack-of-fucking-dawn, tossing feed and straw like Superman. She could sleep—lay her exhausted body down for four solid hours of rest for once, but she doesn't fucking want me!"

"Emb…" Jake crooned, inky Alpha-bass unruffling bristled fur.

"Can't believe that's Swan," Paul muttered as Quil and Embry settled in to their watch-posts.

Her bike rumbled up the lane, grinding to a halt. Old and worn, it purred as well-maintained bikes should, most likely because of the man waiting on the porch.

"Drew!" she squealed, swinging off the bike as he barreled down the steps to meet halfway, sweeping her up in a hug.

"You always sound surprised when you see me." Burying his nose, he nuzzled soft curls.

"Not surprised, just delighted to have all my babies under one roof. I worry about you in Seattle."

"And I worry about you." Cradling her head, he pressed a hand to her back, wincing when his fingers found protruding ribs. "Thad and Joey tell me you're still restless. You never sleep. You do too much, Mom. I should move out here—"

"No. You have a shop, clients… Nobody gets tattoos out here."

"Says the tattooed lady," he smirked, pressing cheek to temple, thumb stroking the tip of the wolf's ear at her clavicle—the first patch of flesh he tattooed on another person. "You could hire some part-time help. I'll pay for it."

"Drew, we agreed—"

"Or you could call him," he said with quiet conviction.

"Who?" she played dumb, unable, though, to fool her son.

Nor the man sketching in the woods.

The pad of his thumb ghosted over the mark at her throat, "The one who loved you."

He smiled into her hair when she moved unconsciously away from the wrong man's touch.

"Loved? Oh, honey… You misunderstand. The mark, these tattoos… They're reminders to myself, to try to be the kind of person—the kind of friend he was to me. A friend. A selfless, wonderful friend who helped me escape a destructive relationship."

"You could still call him."

"I think he's keeping his distance out of respect for my wishes."

Embry grumbled, wondering how pissed she'd be if she discovered a wolf sleeping on the porch roof outside her window. At this point, though, her health was worth risking her anger if she caught him.

"Why do you say that?" The kid was curious.

"Intuition, restful dreams… When I do sleep…"

"You dream of him?"

"All the time," she whispered.

Embry moaned, pressing the heels of his hands to his eye sockets until spots appeared.

Because he dreamed of her, too.

"You call that mark a friendly gesture, but you dream of him all the time during the hour or so of sleep you squeak by on…? And I'm the one who misunderstands…?"

They stared one another down, the future wolf winning this round.

She sighed, relenting, "I was already making my way back home with you before Meg called me about Joey and Thad. They needed me, too. That was … five years ago…? It's not easy to pack up a house with eight kids, two dogs, a ferret, and those demon-goddamned-goats."

"He'd come if you asked."

Embry begged to differ—he'd pack his bags, sell his house, and camp in the front yard if she asked.

"My sweet boy, worrying about your mom. Lemme make you some waffles,"she ended the discussion, tugging his arm.

He sighed. "You go ahead. I'll get the bike."

Smiling when he bent to her level, she pecked his cheek.

He waited until the door closed, then pulled an envelope stuffed with cash out of his pocket, stashing it in the bag she left on the porch.

Embry watched Drew roll the bike into the barn. Checking the oil and tires, he moved with quiet efficiency, completing the early morning chores, too. Drawing it out long enough for Bella to doze off at the counter, arm clutching a bowl of unfinished batter.

The grey wolf rumbled approval when the boy put away the batter and carried her to bed. Bella made a half-hearted, sleepy protest, insisting she take the couch—he could have her bed, murmuring 'termites' and 'guest room'.

"You're not sleeping on the goddamn couch—or the floor. Christ, Mom, you need a week's worth of meals and a vacation."

"Midwife, nine, n'town." she mumbled.

—the rub of denim, cotton—

"I'll drive Kit. You sleep in. Want shorts?"

"Mmm…" —a blanket snapping and settling— "Got Drew's shorts."

He chuckled, "I'm Drew, Mom."

"Mmhmm… Lv'you."

—whispering— "Love you, too, Ma."

—another voice, echoing, the teen, Joey— "Jessa's taking Chloe to bed. I'll go crash in The Pink Palace. You can have mine."

—whispering— "The insomnia is getting worse. She sleeps, at best, an hour or two a night."

"Yeah." —scratching— "You think he'd come if we asked him?"

"La Push?"

"Yeah."

"Dunno. Maybe."

The household settled for the night, Embry's gaze flickering window to window, keeping vigil over Bella's brood, wondering, not for the first time, at the reference to La Push.

Phased out, sketchbook in hand, he listened to her heart. Drawing on years of meditative practice, he paced his breath to hers, relaxing and forcing-feeding it through the bond. He drew her from memory, focusing on her mark to muzzle the wolf's restless need from bleeding through as well.

The house creaked, buffeted by wind. Stately and weathered—proof of withstanding harsher winters—its pale green siding and white trim only looked a little shabby. He imagined himself with busy work on weekend afternoons to ease her burdens; sanding, painting shutters, edging overgrown walkways, tuning up the tractor the boys were rebuilding. The pack could come over one warm Saturday to build a swing set and sandbox for the little ones in the side yard—where Bella could watch them play.

Focusing on calming his mind, Embry phased less often, sitting human and quiet in the woods. Dozing off mid-patrol, he benefited almost as much as Bella when her restlessness ebbed. She slept better and at length, with him so near and calm.

When Drew came to visit, she'd curl up in the family room with her kids in a puppy pile, but only when all of them were home.

When Embry was in the woods.

Drew told the older ones his suspicions, that it was a pack thing, that she could only sleep well with all her chicks around her. He was half-right, anyway.

Paul saw something in Drew that gave him pause, an undeniable resemblance to Embry.

"She loves him, but not just because he looks like you—and that's weird for reasons I'm not ready to discuss, so don't poke that shit with a stick yet, Call," Paul sneered. "She loves my dad's brats, despite being related to me, and she's raising them as her own, like it doesn't matter."He stretched, grinning toothily over his shoulder as he rose to phase and run a loop,"If you don't marry that woman, I will."

Embry sat, camouflaged by tall grass in the morning pasture, gazing at the twinkling spectrum of lights in her window. He imagined the comfort of sliding into bed beside her, the joy of being welcome there … laying in the dark and holding her.

Again.

He wanted it, more than anything.

To love her, to be welcome after all this time, to shower her with affection and attention, and to shoulder her burdens.

To feel a greater sense of purpose.

To work this farm and yell at her ornery goats…

To raise these kids…

With her.


Days later, on the eve of the new year, the air crackled with anticipation.

Soaked in sweat and blood, smudges of lipstick and mascara peppered raw bruises—a rainbow of them from shoulder to knee. She hissed, wincing from the sting of fresh rink rash, hip aching like a bitch in heat.

Coasting to the locker room after the final bout, she glanced into the stands to find her kids, breaking into a grin when she caught a glimpse—Colton on her oldest son's shoulders, his tiny hands cupping Drew's jaw, fingers pinching at his neck—

She choked.

No neck tattoos.

Not Drew.

Paul…

Scanning the stands, she spotted the rest of her kids when they jumped to their feet.

Surrounded by the pack.

Her heart stuttered.

"Woohoohoo, Nana Booty!" her growing fan club cheered. Chloe stood in Sam's lap, held at the waist, waving a 'Call of Booty' pennant in the air, their delighted grins a matched set. Colton sat on Paul's shoulders with a mile-wide grin and his own pennant, narrowly missing the Alpha's eye as Jake stood hooting and hollering with her three girls.

Her eyes jumped from face to face, searching, suddenly desperate for reasons she couldn't explain to see one face in particular among the familiar.

"I didn't think you'd want to see me," a voice whispered from her past.

Heat race up her spine, skin prickling with proximity.

"Embry…" She closed her eyes, the tension of separation dissolving so rapidly, she felt boneless.

Cradling her head in both hands, she turned, sick, shoulders trembling, almost too overwhelmed to face him at all.

"We saw the interview." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "Don't get pissed, but we put a patrol on the farm. Your boys looked ready to phase on TV and— I know that's a shit excuse, too, but I needed— I was gonna call— They beat me to it," he confessed, relieved the kids were on the same page; they all wanted what was best for Bella. "Drew called Billy, demanded my number, threatened him—"

"Don't get pissed? I'm not pissed. I thought you'd be—" She blinked. "Wait. Drew threatened Billy?"

"The kid knew where to look, not who to strongarm. Resourceful." A wry grin. "I'm glad he did. You can be pissed at him; I don't think he'll mind." Embry's half-smile melted her heart.

She worked up her nerve. Their eyes met and she gasped for air, surfacing from the abyss.

"They arranged for tickets, cornered Jake in Port Ang when he agreed to meet them, and demanded to know where I've been for eight years… You've got some good kids, Nana Booty," he chuckled.

She smiled, dropping her gaze to the floor between them, thick waves of aquamarine spilling over her shoulder.

He cleared his throat.

"You going to the party?" He jerked his chin at the signs leading to the New Year's fundraiser, ignoring the elephant in the room.

"That…?" she rolled her eyes. "—not my thing. Dancing in my leather minidress and thigh boots? No. Just part of the stage persona—promo pictures. My kids want to make pizza and popcorn. We play cards on New Year's. I try to give them…" She trailed off with a guilty look, realizing he knew them better—had been them, at one time.

"—a slice of normal." His blinding smile lit the room. "It sounds … kind of perfect. We could—"

"My kids are my life, Embry."

He knew that, more than anything.

Worried she'd get the wrong idea, he rushed to agree, "I'm not saying they shouldn't be. What you're doing—"

Moth to her flame, he closed the distance.

"—for your kids—it's amazing."

She flushed—his Venus, pale pink and lovely.

His fingers itched to be buried in her mermaid locks, to tip her head back and claim her throat all over again. Years of scant memories rationed to sustain a hollow soul had not prepared him. She was, as she had always been, a feast for the eyes.

Clenching, he released his fist, reaching for her, halting splayed fingers millimeters from lustrous skin.

Before he could drop his hand, she submitted, nestling into the curve of his wide palm, inviting its warm pressure.

Surrendering to her need, he cradled her jaw, sliding his hand into silky cerulean waves and inhaling her lush perfume.

The wolf sat up, taking notice, too.

His thumbnail drew a curious circle around the tiny star tattoo at her temple.

The whispered "Sirius" had his brow furrowing in confusion.

"Your star…" she exhaled, her breath laced with pheremones and the delicate scent of her latent arousal. He resisted the urge to open his mouth for a taste, but it wasn't easy. "The Dog Star of Canis Major—the brightest star in the night sky, the closest one to … me."

"And this one?" He traced a pattern over the constellation beside her lower lashes, watched the quiver of her bottom lip. His thumb stroked the delicate curve of cheekbone.

"Canes Venatici, 'the hunting dogs'—for the pack." His finger blazed a trail of heat to the next and she shivered.

Pressing her lips together, she made an effort to compose herself.

Finally, he stroked the collection of stars framing his mark.

"Lupus." Wavering, she inhaled, then released, "the wolf—my wolf."

She came alive beneath his touch.

At the first heated curl of breath, she resisted the urge to shy away, offering her throat with a tip of her chin. Her lashes fluttered as he reaquainted himself with her face and body, devouring her with his eyes, cataloging every lash and curl to duplicate later.

In case she disappeared again.

Nerves nearly overwhelmed her, but she had to make him understand it wasn't an exercise in vanity.

She rode his breaths, steadying her nerves.

His skin seared her palms through the thin T-shirt he wore and she gasped, unaccustomed to his blazing heat.

Unable to to say the words when his eyes stole her breath, she closed her own and gave him the hope she carried with her, what got her through long, dark nights and troubled days, "You were always with me, Embry. When I couldn't sleep, you were in the stars above when I walked on endless nights. When I dreamed—" she touched Lupus, "your wolf was there, standing between me and the nightmares. When I was lonely—" fingers ghosted over his mark, "I remembered your promise and my resolve to come home worthy of it one day."

"To me? Or for closure?" His hand covered her fingers, stroking the mark. She bit back a groan when arousal yanked at her solar plexus.

"To you. Always you," she gasped.

But she still saw it.

His eyes bore witness to the pain of eight long years' loneliness.

Pain she brought to him, her savior.

So quiet, afraid to breathe, afraid of being the one left behind this time, she confessed, "You're so much more than a means to an end to me. You're the man I trust. I didn't want you to worry, but I needed to go. I needed to live by my own rules and decide what was best for me. And I did."

He reeled her in to press a kiss to the crown of her head and confess his need, "I know, and I would never begrudge you leaving—but I can't keep pretending I'm living without you in my life. You're this close. You could use my help, even if it's only as Uncle Embry to your kids."

Bella smiled. "When I missed two weeks of work a few years ago, taking care of a houseful of kids with the flu, I stressed over the usual stuff—bills to pay, mouths to feed. Your mark, the checkbook—both reminded me of your promise to take care of me. I wished you were there, but I had sick kids depending on me and no time to mend broken fences to beg for help."

"Bella, if you needed me—" He took a resetting breath. "My note said to call if you needed me. It wasn't conditional."

She fidgeted. "I couldn't… I just couldn't. I've given you no reason to forgive me or believe in me. I couldn't ask you to bail me out again when things got tough. I needed to show you I kept my promise, too, before we try to fix us."

"Who says anything needs fixing or forgiving?"

She withdrew, old insecurities making way for doubt. It couldn't be as easy as he made it sound, like forgiveness was hers for the asking.

"You're too hard on yourself, Bella Call." his voice was soft, insistent.

Heart fluttering as his lips caressed her name, she asked to be sure, "So I'm forgiven, just like that?"

"There's nothing to forgive."

"Nothing?" she exhaled.

"Never was." He shook his head, gathering her close.

She tucked her head under his, listening to the beat of his heart.

"I'm good," he promised. "This, right here … I never need more than I have in this moment, with you."

"So, we're friends…?" She tried not to laugh when he squeezed her in reprimand. "—who snuggle," she amended.

"Lovers," he supplied, lips nipping at her ear. "We were pretty good at that."

"L-lovers…" she moaned, yielding, closing the distance.

"Family." —the warmth of his mouth, the heated stroke of fingers— "Your family. Ours. Tell me how I can help. Tell me what you need, Bella."

"I don't need help. I just need you."


In the final moments of the year, Bella sat beside Embry, sipping a mug of cocoa. "I swear you bring it with you."

"What?"

She bit her lip, eyes going sly and cheeks pinking up.

"Magic." She shrugged.

He toed the floor, the porch swing swaying while shimmering snowflakes began to fall on the yard over her shoulder where the pack and kids ran wild, howling a raucous countdown to midnight.

"Uh-uh, you have that backwards," he insisted, plucking the mug from her fingers to set aside.

He slid across the bench, pulling her legs over his lap. "The magic's always been yours. I'm incidental."

"Hmm… You should stay."

"I could stay," he agreed, lips hovering over hers, "but I heard the guest room has termites."

His breath warmed her lips.

"Bummer. Guess you'll have to bunk with me."

"Okay, but I call top bunk."

She laughed. "Shut up and kiss me."

His mouth closed over hers as the old year died, giving birth to the next, and she realized they were both wrong—

Because this—coming together—it was the real magic.


E/N: I really just want to lay down and roll myself up in the blanket of feels and fluff at the end there; don't you? Leave me some love in the comments if you enjoyed Embrella, too!