A/N: Hello, I know that those of reading "Unprecedented" are waiting for the next chapter: don't worry! It's coming! But in the meantime, this was a scenario that I couldn't get out of my head!
Thanks very much to bronzehairedgirl for beta-ing!!
Disclaimer: Not mine. Stephenie Meyers' ideas, characters, etc. I just mess with them.
Ugh, that smell.
It was everywhere, even here in the middle of the woods, the slightly burned, sickly-sweet stench. I wrinkled my nose, sneezing, and shook my body like a dog does when it's wet, twisting light gray fur in all directions. It was an involuntary action, as though that would free me from the horrendous, pervasive odor rising from the bonfire in the clearing less than a mile away. Yuck.
The air was so concentrated with the awful scent that it was actually stifling, claustrophobic, putting me on edge and making me jump at every noise or movement. Of course, it could also be that the very recent battle was causing adrenaline to continue pumping through my body, preparing muscles and tendons for a swift fight-or-flight reaction – excluding the "flight." I was, as always, ready to fight.
I tried to ignore the smell, and attempted to compose myself – with no obvious success at either – then started off leisurely (if uneasily) through the trees, weaving around trunks and over fallen branches toward where the rest of my pack was grouped. They waited in the sparse tree cover near an edge of the clearing for my brother, Seth.
I guess the stink was to be expected, considering the bonfire's fuel. I allowed a small sense of pride to gleam through the bitterness and hatred that typically clouded my thoughts. We had won the battle with ease: even my baby brother – who had experienced the most difficult fight, completely unaided except for that vampire – had triumphed. Judging from their thoughts right now, in fact, all of the guys were rather impressed with him.
I can't believe Seth actually beat that thing! It's so awesome! I can't wait till they let me fight! I snorted. Brady, waiting impatiently back at the reservation, was embarrassingly impressed with all of the older wolves.
Ok, yeah, he did a good job, but I could have done just as well, and probably better! Why didn't I listen to Bella and stay there like she asked me to? I could have protected her myself! Jacob's thoughts were utterly predictable; they were, as usual, centered on Bella. It was really getting out of hand.
Then his thoughts: Seth could have easily been hurt; I should have left someone more experienced with them. Although he did surprisingly well for such a young wolf, and is even improving with more and more practice…I mentally shied away from Sam's thoughts. They just brought up a past era, happier times, that would not ever exist again…
NO! No, no, no. DON'T think about that.
I shook myself again, and continued at a slower pace towards the pack. I wasn't that anxious to join them, knowing that they could hear every thought I was thinking, even at this moment, just as I could hear as they praised Seth.
They were sure that he showed such promise, defeating a vampire on his own, at such a young age. They couldn't wait to see how he would improve, they were all so proud of him…
And then, in a natural course, their thoughts turned to Seth's sister.
In fact, as I drew near I could hear those thoughts now, although all of the guys – especially Sam – were outwardly ignoring me.
I growled; I had heard it all before: I was such a disappointment, a mistake, an enigma. A freak. Why was I one of them? How was it possible? And on top of the mystery of existing as a female werewolf, I was malicious, self-centered, and annoying.
I get the message, I shot back at them. It's too bad that I don't care.
I was just as good as them, just as strong, and fierce. I was even faster than most of them! I snorted. And they considered me inferior.
I abruptly changed my mind; I was almost among them, but I no longer felt like regrouping with my pack. I wheeled around, turning my back on them and their glares, and ignoring their cautionary thoughts. I was feeling rather rebellious as I darted back through the trees; I hoped Sam wouldn't order me to stop. I would wait by myself for my brother, the only one who showed any sympathy at all.
How sad. I had to rely on my little brother for sympathy.
I settled down at the base of an enormous fir tree, and pointed my nose in the direction that I knew Seth would be coming. I was getting rather annoyed at those boys, what did they know? They were nosy and pushy and ate all the food…
I started. Suddenly, the smell had changed. I pressed my nose into the wind; my body went taught, slightly quivering. There was something different in the air; a fresh waft of the burning, disgusting stink that signaled "vampire." But it wasn't coming from the bonfire.
And it wasn't burning.
I didn't stop to consider calling the guys. They hadn't even noticed that I'd discovered something, as they tried to ignore me as much as possible. Jerks.
I recognized an opportunity when I saw one; I would show them that I was just as good as they were, and find the source of this smell. I was ready for anything, not at all winded from the battle, and angry enough to destroy whatever crossed my path. Nose in the air, I began tracing the scent, determined to succeed.
Jacob (idiot) was the first to notice the new tenor of my mind, and he began to follow me. I sped up. This was my discovery, and I would be the one to fix it.
This particular odor wasn't coming from any of our temporary allies – the "vegetarians" – in the clearing (although I could certainly smell them all from here) or from their so-called captive. I sneered at the idea of leaving any of the intruders alive, as I absentmindedly headed toward a cluster of rocks under a large pine tree. After all, they had threatened our town, our community – my people. But then again, I guess the leeches wouldn't understand things like loyalty; I had had my doubts about them from the beginning.
Nevertheless, I had to admit that they had been useful. Their assistance had made destroying the other bloodsuckers a picnic. I hadn't had that much fun in a long time.
"Not since Sam," the traitorous part of me whispered. I grimaced. I was fighting a losing battle with both my mind and my heart. My own body was against me.
I was so distracted by the civil war within me that I hadn't become aware of the scent growing stronger, of the soft, barely noticeable sound of half-dead leaves and pine needles being pressed to the ground by feet made of stone. I was oblivious, lost in the melancholy of my thoughts, as I turned around a boulder. Where I was suddenly face-to-face with vivid red eyes, burning with rage and bloodlust, above snarling, razor-sharp teeth, dripping with venom.
And I in my stupidity and mindless fear forgot that I could attack, and froze.
Several things happened then in a few short seconds.
The vampire crouched back onto its legs with its arms flung wide, ready to hurl itself forward and squash me into oblivion with a deadly embrace.
The pack had finally figured out that something was going on, and variations of "Leah? What are you doing?"echoed sharply and uneasily from nine different minds as the wolves near the clearing turned and pounded through the woods in my direction.
A tenth mind shouted with Jacob's voice: "No!"
The mental shout coincided with an enraged growl that sounded very close, but I couldn't turn from the mad, glowing eyes in front of me to see where, or who, it came from.
And a single coherent thought came from the panic overtaking my mind as the vampire moved, launching itself toward me: I was about to die.
I flinched, no longer even fighting to live, but instead of colliding face-first with stone I was rammed in the side, and shoved roughly away by something covered in fur. For a half-second I lay sprawled on the forest floor, but with the spell of the creature's horrendous eyes broken I was able to jump up immediately, to search for the reason that I was still alive.
I found what I was looking for in the shape of the russet wolf trapped in the crushing vice of the vampire's arms – where I would have been, where I should have been because of my own idiocy. A second of silence seemed to last for eons, as I realized what had happened. Jacob had pushed me out of harm's way, only to meet his own death.
And then Jacob howled, roaring with pain, incarnating the horror within my own soul.
I echoed him, howling in anguish, allowing the suffering that ripped through my body, mind and heart to escape in a surge of reverberating sound. The physical pain, transmitted telepathically from Jacob's body to mine, and intensified tenfold by the rest of the pack, was horrible enough; the resonant crunching, snapping noises of Jacob's body echoed in my ears.
But the emotional pain – the shame, and the sorrow – was agonizingly, excruciatingly worse. Because everything was my fault
It was all my fault. It was all my fault. The mantra branded itself into my brain, searing me with an ache that rose above all else. I couldn't escape from the unbearable truth, couldn't just blame it on someone else. I had done this to Jacob.
I was so stupid; if I hadn't gone off alone before we were sure they were all destroyed, if I had just brought backup, if I had been more careful…
The rest of the wolves finally arrived and rushed to help Jacob, but I couldn't move; I was again frozen, this time with self-loathing. I couldn't stand it; I howled again, releasing all the agony possible in that one horrible, deafening moan.
But it wasn't enough. It was never enough. I could never do what was right; I could never foresee any consequences. And this time, more than me alone was paying for it. I had truly messed up, and I would never hear the end of it. But this time, I deserved what I got.
It was all my fault.
A/N: Thanks for reading, I hope it made you think a little differently about Leah. Like it? Hate it? Disagree? Tell me! I want to know!