All of our efforts had been concentrated on finding the Chief's daughter... and on my part, they had also been equally concentrated on ignoring Sam's thoughts. His guilt was so intense that it made me lose focus, nearly hitting my head against a tree - at the speed I was going it could have taken some time to heal, but at least I would stop hearing him. Although I understood the strong pull of imprinting now that I knew the stories were true, the whole ordeal had felt like a slap in my face - wasn't it supposed to be rare? Why did it have to be Emily, of all people? On top of that I had been the first of the tribe to phase, as a female. Old Quil nearly had a heart attack when he saw me phase, like my father did. Rage was roiling inside of me at the thought of injuring my father; I nearly killed him. Jared's voice seemingly came from afar, pulling me from my thoughts:
I sense something.
Seth was trailing behind him. Sam had chosen to break apart from us, scouting the northern area. Our growing pack was composed of four others beside me: Sam, Seth, Jared and Paul, who had phased for the first time only two days ago. I had given him some time to adjust before he accompanied us on any kind of mission, as he was too unstable to be of any use.
Billy Black had called me personally to arrange a rescue squad for the Chief's daughter from Forks, Bella Swan. She had gone missing ever since she had gone to the bloodsucker's place for her birthday party according to Chief Swan, and the elders had been concerned that the treaty had been breached. From what I had gathered, they had been in a relationship for some time and then the family left her behind, possibly injured or... worse. The Cullens had never caused any trouble before, but becoming close to a human was walking on thin ice; the moment one of them hadn't had enough to drink and Bella injured herself... I shuddered just thinking of it. I'd heard Jacob ask if he could come in the background and that had made me roll my eyes. If the legends were true, he would probably join us soon, and he would have a claim as the Alpha because of his lineage. I was a nobody, while he was the grandson of Ephraim Black. I didn't know if I wanted to him to take over just yet. As strange as it sounded, I felt like being the Alpha was one of the only perks that came out of the whole shapeshifter thing: I could order Sam to stop moping around all the time. The speed was close second.
I think I found her, Leah.
This time it was Seth speaking. He jumped over a rock and yipped triumphantly, urging me to come see for myself. I followed him slowly, Jared on my flank. She was curled up in the fetal position, her pale hands balled up into fists. I could sense that she had been crying as she was so tense, her eyes closed forcefully. I didn't want to startle her so I remained at least five feet away from her and told the boys to let me handle it from here and to go back to Emily's place - she had suggested it and as much as it pained me to see her, it was our only option for now if we wanted to remain on the down low. I phased back to my human form and put on the pair of shorts and tank top I had tied around my left leg. She remained asleep the whole time. When I touched her shoulder, she mumbled Edward and repositioned herself. I lifted her up in one motion and started walking towards the city.
After around a mile, Bella slowly opened her eyes and looked at me, and in that moment everything around me stopped, and all I felt something warm envelop me from deep inside. I looked back at her and everything made sense. I felt at home, at peace, all my worries evaporating as I stared into her chocolate brown eyes, which had now become the center of my universe. Was this how it was for Sam? I was too startled to speak, but she did:
''Who are you?''
''I'm Leah,'' I said quickly, and I hoped she couldn't hear my heart because it was beating faster than ever. ''I found you asleep in the forest.''
''Oh,'' was all she said. She was shivering and I did my best to envelop her in my arms.
''Your dad's been looking for you all night,'' I added.
''Are you Quileute?'' she asked, eyeing me up and down. I was a good six inches taller than her.
''Yeah, I am.''
The rest of the ride was spent in silence, safe for Bella's quiet sniffles. I could sense her agitation underneath her composed traits, sending a small tingling wave through our bond - it felt like she was tugging at something inside me. As we approached her backyard, a question was burning on my lips. I wanted to know if she wanted me to stay, to protect her. I knew she had just met me, and she probably didn't want me around, but I couldn't help it. Instead of being too forward and scaring her, I settled for a middle ground:
''If you, uh... ever want to come by to the rez, to see me... feel free to, um, yeah,'' I finished lamely, mentally kicking myself over my inability to align words in front of Bella Swan, who no longer than twenty minutes ago was known as the leech lover in my mind. I almost pitied Jacob Black for having a crush on her and now, I had imprinted on her, for crying out loud. ''
''Maybe,'' she said, her voice cracking, and it was the last word she spoke to me that night. Chief Swan quickly took matters into his own hands.
As soon as Bella had been escorted safely inside her house, I went back to the forest and phased, not caring that I was ripping up my clothes in the process. I needed to go for a run, to refresh my mind. There were so many questions popping up in my head: had Bella sensed it, the bond that had formed between us? Was she safe now? Did the leeches really leave her behind, or were they coming back? Would she accept me? Did she want to be more than friends? Was she even into women? I ran for a couple of miles in no particular direction and stopped near a small hill with a waterfall. I found a flat spot under a tree and sat there, waiting for a sign that it was all a dream, but no such sign came and after a while I grew tired of waiting. I phased back into human form and punched myself in the arm, wincing at the stab of pain I experienced shortly thereafter. Although spirit wolves did heal faster than humans, we still experienced pain like everybody else, and my strength didn't make it easier on me. Only yesterday I had been cursing the damned concept of imprinting, resenting Sam for not fighting the imprint bond hard enough, and now... here I was. Wasn't it supposed to be rare?
''Is this your idea of torture?'' I shouted menacingly at the sky. I needed someone to blame for all of this, even if it was the Spirits themselves.
As the night grew colder and it started to rain, I phased into wolf form and fell into a deep sleep. After what seemed like a couple of hours, I was woken up by the sound of small steps crushing leaves.
You've imprinted on Chief Swan's daughter?
It was Seth. Of course, it was. I wanted to be left alone and my first instinct was to get up on all fours and growl. Seth's eyes looked pained, but he relented.
Okay, okay, it's alright I won't talk about it. We were just worried, is all. Do you-
I cut him off:
Don't make me order you to go, Seth. Please.
He made a squeaky sound but bowed and went away, and I was once again left alone with my thoughts. Earlier I had a nightmare about Bella and her leech turning her and stealing her away from me and that made my blood boil. I had to protect her, at all costs, most of all from those demons. But first, I had to learn about her, because apart from being an obvious magnet for monsters, I knew nothing about Bella Swan. The rational part of me surmised that she probably didn't want to welcome me in her life right now, but I could be persistent... and I had all the time in the world. I stayed in the forest for at least a week, mostly in wolf form except when I took the time to bathe in the stream. Seth came to see me from time to time, telling me everything that transpired since I had gone - spoiler alert, it had not been much. As my beta, Sam had taken my place in my absence. I originally hadn't wanted him to take on that position, but between him and my little brother, the choice was obvious. Leah, it's time you come back now, Seth pleaded on the eighth day.
It's not the same without you here.
I woke up around six and sneaked into my bedroom by the window, so as to not wake anyone up. I sat up in my bed and stared at my clock. Once it showed 9:00 I got up and bolted through the house, practically tearing the phone off the wall as I picked it up. I dialed Billy Black's number, which I knew by heart these days.
''Hello Billy, it's Leah,'' I said, unable to hide the excitement in my voice. ''Is your son there?''
''You want to speak to Jacob?'' he asked, dumbfounded. We had never been close, him and I - quite the opposite, actually. I understood why he was a bit puzzled. The people on the rez I was close to were Emily and Sam, and Seth of course. I had a couple of acquaintances at school as well, but they were the kind of acquaintances that didn't know about my furry problem, like Seth called it, so it made things all the more complicated as I had to lie to them constantly since my first shift five months ago.
''Uh, yeah,'' I simply said. He yelled for him to come pick up the phone and it must have taken him at least five minutes to do so.
''Hi,'' he said groggily. He must have been woken up by my call. Too bad I didn't care one bit.
''Hey, Jacob. I need a little help here with hum... some stuff,'' I finished in a whisper. ''Think I could come over in a couple of hours to talk about it?''
He didn't reply, but gave out a small laugh.
''Amazing, expect me at noon,'' I said and hang up before he could process what I had said.
I arrived at the Black residence earlier than I had said and knocked three times. To my surprise, it was Jacob who answered.
''Care to tell me what this is all about?'' he asked, a hint of annoyance creeping up in his voice.
''We should go for a walk,'' I said while vaguely gesturing at Billy, who was watching TV in the living-room. I didn't need him to connect any dots just yet.
We had gone to a small creek, a couple of miles away from his house, and Jacob was looking at me expectantly, no doubt curious about what I had to say. I had debated on whether or not I should tell him about the bigger picture or lie to him outright. In the end I decided that twisting the truth a little while casually dropping hints was the best course of action.
''You know... I don't have a lot of female friends,'' I began. Jacob nodded. Everyone knew I always hung out with Sam, Jared, Seth and Paul now, forming a sort of gang. Emily and I still hung out but for a while it had not been quite like it was before, ever since Sam had imprinted on Emily. I was looking forward to us hanging out without the ghost of my relationship with Sam ruining things.
''Well, I want to change that,'' I began slowly, ''but all the girls here on the rez think I got cheated on by Sam and that I'm sleeping with Jared and Paul as retaliation and... you know Bella Swan, she's not from around here.''
''Uh, yeah,'' he replied and I could see that his cheeks had gotten a red tint. Oh yeah, I had almost forgotten about that. Jacob Black did have a crush on Bella. Even though I knew I had a claim on her, I couldn't stop my gut from twisting with a tinge of jealousy.
''So, do you think you could maybe... call her and make plans with her, that include me?''
Jacob didn't seem too weirded out by my idea. In fact, his face lit up and he smiled.
''Sure. According to Charlie she hasn't been... well, these days,'' he added in a dark voice. ''Ever since the Cullens left. I think she could probably use some girl company, you know. I've wanted to call her ever since dad told me about it, but he said I should wait.''
I nodded absently. I was once again lost in my thoughts.
An awkward silence fell between us. I stared at a some seaplane carcass in the distance, trying to ground myself in the moment. The pain I felt at not being able to be near my imprint was getting harder to ignore.
''What is she like?'' I found myself asking before I could stop myself.
''Bella?'' Yeah, you idiot, Bella, I wanted to yell, but didn't.
''She's a bit of a klutz, but that's part of her charm. She likes classic lit and plants. Um, she owns a cactus - she lived in Arizona with her mom for a couple of years before getting back to Forks. She always sees the best in people, even in that guy Cullen,'' he spit out his name with some venom and I couldn't help but agree with the sentiment. ''From what I heard, he broke her heart pretty bad - she's not eating and she has nightmares according to Charlie.''
I really wasn't prepared for that. it felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest. I momentarily lost my balance and Jacob put a hand on my shoulder to steady me.
''Are you sure you're okay, Leah?'' he asked, concern evident in his voice.
''Yeah um, I didn't sleep well last night,'' I told him. What a lame excuse, I thought.
''Right,'' he mumbled sarcastically.
We went back to his place afterwards and Billy invited me to dinner - we ate pork chops with fries and he offered me a beer, which I gladly took. It felt good to be away from the pack for a while, but not on my own, and Jacob wasn't all that bad when he wasn't waxing poetic about my Bella.
''What's it like, Emily, to be an imprintee?'' I asked her once as we were sitting down on her porch. Everyone in the pack knew that I imprinted on Bella since that night, and everyone was forbidden to bring up the topic until further notice, well everyone except Emily that is.
''It feels... right. At first I tried to fight the bond, you know, just like I told you when it all went down, but as the weeks went by, Sam never backed down. And after I finally let him in, I started feeling the bond more, and it grew from there. It all happened so fast, though, and now we're getting married...'' she said, laughing softly. ''But that's my story with him, yours might be different.''
She looked like she was in deep thought for a moment.
''You know, there are many theories as to why imprinting exists. Sam thinks it has to do with genetics,'' she snorted, and it was obvious she objected to that. ''Billy Black, on the other hand thinks it has to do with making the Wolf Spirit stronger. I... I think that imprinting exists to make you better men overall- and woman,'' she hastily added as I silently scolded her.
''Thanks, Em,'' I said and wrapped her in a hug. It felt so good to be able to do that without any trace of resentment. We were back to being as close as we were before, and I couldn't be happier.
When I released her she got up and went back inside.
''I better start cooking something, you wolves are always hungry,'' she complained.
''I can help,'' I said.
A week later Jacob called me, telling me that he and Bella were going for a swim at La Push beach. I asked Emily what I should wear, panicking because I had not worn a bathing suit since I was 15, and she lent me a black two-piece suit that made my boobs stand out in a way that I hoped was not too revealing. I hitched a ride with Jacob, who had only just gotten his license.
When we got there, Bella was sprawled across a towel, reading a book - The Picture of Dorian Grey. She wore a white summer dress with sandals. As we approached her, she looked up from her book and folded the corner of the page she had been reading.
''Oh, hi Jake. And you're Leah, right?'' The girl that saved me that night, in the forest. was left unsaid, but her eyes told me all I needed to know.
''Do you guys surf?'' she asked.
''No,'' I began,'' but we could do it next time perhaps?''
I was hoping that there would be a next time.
''I would like that,'' Bella said, and Jacob nodded. ''You guys go ahead and swim, I just came here to read my book on the beach.''
''Oh come on,'' Jacob scolded her. He removed his shirt, urging me to do the same. As I discarded my clothes on the sand, I felt Bella's gaze upon me. When she realized she had been caught, a small blush crept up her cheeks. Since she was so pale, the contrast between her skin and the blood rushing to her face was accentuated - it made her look so damn adorable.
''Okay, okay, you win, I'm coming too! But I'm only dipping my toes,'' she said, laughing.
We ended up spending the whole afternoon in the water then as we moved towards the beach, I got bolder. I felt like I couldn't keep the whole imprint ordeal to myself any longer. I owed it to Bella to talk to her about our bond, but now was not the place.
''Would you like to go to a bonfire tomorrow?'' I asked.
Bella looked uncertain.
''There's this exam on Friday I need to study for, and Charlie-''
Jacob cut in:
''Charlie's hanging out with my dad tomorrow, they're watching a game again. And I can help you study.''
Oh boy was I glad that Jacob was there right now.
Bella smiled. ''I believe we have a deal,'' she said, extending her hand to Jacob.