Remember that joke I made in my last chapter? About hopefully updating before "next Christmas" (a.k.a. last Christmas)? yes, that was supposed to be a joke. Not so funny anymore, though, is it?
I am going to graduate next semester and then there will be no more homework and no more exams and possibly no more bathing. We'll see how lazy I get. But I can't promise this won't happen again. I'm a confused, busy bitch with three roommates, two jobs, and the attention span of a grain of rice.
I want to thank everyone who sent me messages and reviews (I read all of them) and I want to apologize for being so unreliable.
And I'm so lame and narcissistic, I got a Twitter: iwaspromisedpie. It's main purpose is to see if I can continually make myself laugh in 140 characters or less. But it will also allow you to keep track of my movements and periodically scream at me if you want to.
(And yes, all of my screen names involve food. I'm also a fatass.)
"Now, that's just not sanitary," Emmett added with mock disapproval as he appeared in my line of sight, staring straight down at us. From my prone position on the ground, he seemed especially immense, towering over us like a mountain.
It seemed like now would be a good time to remove my hands from beneath Edward's shirt. But I didn't want to.
"I don't want to hear it," Edward said, pushing himself up and grabbing my hand to help me to my feet, "from the man who ran around Louisiana swamp land for three days with Jasper, came home smelling like a Dumpster, and then had sex with his wife—without taking a shower."
"Eeew," I gasped, horrified.
"What?" Emmett asked, offended.
"Why on earth would Rosalie put up with that?"
Emmett puffed out his chest. "She knows how to appreciate manly musk, that's why. Besides, it's not like we did it in a swamp," he added defensively. "We were on a bed."
"My bed," Edward said, irritably.
"Yours was closer," Emmett said matter-of-factly. "Our rooms were all the way on the third floor and yours was conveniently right there on the second. It was either that or the hallway floor. I chose the less offensive of the two."
"You two were in there for seven hours," Edward growled, his hands busily brushing dirt and leaves off my clothes…and lingering unnecessarily. "I had to burn my sheets!"
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice for the greater good, bro," Emmett said solemnly. "Stop being so damn selfish."
Edward, apparently tired of arguing senselessly with Emmett—and face it, there was no other way to argue with Emmett—finished dusting me off and wrapped himself around me, pulling me into his chest and nuzzling his chin into my hair. "I've missed you so much," he sighed, kissing the crown of my head, and gently rubbing his thumb into that one tense spot that had been bugging me for the past few months that I could never quite get.
I groaned, going boneless. Oh, yeah. He still had it.
"If you two are going to get pornographic, at least go behind a bush or something."
"Emmett," snapped Esme, who, frankly, couldn't pull off snappish very well. "Leave them alone. Bella, sweetheart, I'm so glad to see you!" She looked as if she wanted to embrace me but wasn't sure how to go about it with Edward covering 80% of my surface area.
Reluctantly, Edward stepped away enough to let Esme have a turn, but kept his arm wrapped carefully around my waist.
"How did you all find me?" I asked over Esme's shoulder. "I wasn't even near the house yet!"
Esme stepped back to get a good look at me. I'll never understand why people do this. What does she think has changed since she last saw me? Grown some spare nostrils? Cultivated interestingly shaped facial hair? No. I have not.
"I've been checking in on Charlie every night," Edward said, swooping in as soon as a space opened between my body and Esme's. Esme rolled her eyes, but stood back so that Edward could get a better grip. "I was already close by when I caught your scent."
I looked up at him in surprise. He'd been keeping an eye on Charlie for me? "Really? That's sweet of you."
His answering smile was calm and unassuming, but something about it was off.
Before I could pounce, Rosalie called (from somewhere behind Emmett's hulking frame), "I like you guys, but these boots are new, these woods are gross, and I'm going home."
Edward sighed. "We should probably discuss this at home. Your clothes are ripped."
"What am I gonna do, freeze to death?" I joked.
"I can see your underwear."
I gasped and gripped the back of my dress trying to pull the ends together to cover myself, while Edward's eyes flashed with amusement.
I glared at him. "You know, at times like these I wish I had heat vision. I'd turn your head into a big ball of burning and discomfort. You wouldn't be laughing then."
"Or you could wish for meat vision," Emmett suggested. "If he pissed you off you could turn his head into a sausage."
We were sprinting through the trees on our way home when, without warning, I was slammed up against a massive oak trunk, Edward standing pretty much on me with his face buried in my neck.
I froze. In fact, everyone froze. Esme looked like she'd rather not witness whatever was about to happen.
"Um…Edward? You're, you know, sexy and irresistible and all that stuff, but I'd have to be some sort of creepy sex-fiend who got off on some seriously dark, kinky stuff to want to do this in front of your mom."
I stopped, looking perplex, as Edward held up a hand and said, sharply, "Wait." Then resumed what was turning out to be more of an inspection than a make-out session.
"Can I ask," I said drolly, "why you're standing on my foot, breathing all my air?"
Edward straightened up, with a look on his face that made me shrink back against the tree, despite that fact that I knew I wasn't in any danger.
I mean, what was he going to do? Hit me?
Besides the fact that I'm pretty sure he'd shoot off his own hands first, I was now perfectly capable of severely fucking him up.
Not to brag or anything.
But I could pretty much end him without a lot of effort on my part.
He was holding up a lock of my hair. The situation was too recent, too fresh in my memory, for me not to associate this weird new behavior with Paris, who had stood in the same place not more than two hours ago, letting the same lock of hair slide through his fingers.
Edward wasn't letting it slide. He was gripping the strands of hair in a tight fist, looking furious. Somewhere in his subconscious, Sane Edward was making sure to leave some hair lax between us and a good thing, because otherwise, judging by the look of that death grip, I might have ended up with a serious bald patch.
"You met Paris."
I frowned up at him. "You know that guy?"
"Where?" Edward asked, startling me with his volume. I could tell he wasn't angry with me and I doubted he was aware of the fact that he was making me very nervous, but something about the situation was making him just a little bit crazy.
Well. A lot crazy.
"In…in the forest," I said weakly. "About eight miles east of here. Edward, what…?"
Something in my tone made his face soften. I could see his grip on my hair loosen, and his posture became less aggressive.
Not less close, though, I noticed.
"Sorry," he said, with deliberate calm and honest apology in his eyes. "I just…" He let out a sound of frustration and ran a hand through his hair. Then he seemed to come to a decision.
Gripping my upper arm, he said, "We'll do this at home. I don't want to be out here any longer than necessary."
"Why?" I asked, protesting slightly at his he-man treatment as he dragged me out of the tree like some sort of Stone Age cave dweller.
"I'll explain when we're at home." The reply was short and decisive, allowing no room for argument.
I sighed and followed quietly behind him as he headed for home.
Don't get the wrong idea here. I wasn't giving up.
I wasn't going docilely into the night simply because I'd been told to wait.
I was pissed.
But I've come to learn that ass-kickings—no matter how tempting the idea—won't get me anything but the silent treatment.
He can be so touchy sometimes.
If I didn't love him so much, my solution of choice would be a brick.
But bricking your loved ones is wrong.
Don't ever try that at home, kids.
Unless you have an Alice in your life. Then it's just the sensible thing to do.
I forgot how much I missed this place. It's completely creepy and empty now, aside from the old furniture and gathering dust, but it still brings back fond memories.
Like that stair between the kitchen and the living room that I constantly missed.
And that little outcropping in the wall. The one I kept ramming my liver into.
And the coffee table I tripped over every damn morning until we moved.
Yeah. I really missed that.
On second thought, why didn't we just burn this place to the ground?
I settle myself onto the sofa, clearing a spot in the layer of dust. Pulling my knees up to my chest I ask, "So? What aren't you telling me?"
Esme and Rosalie sit down across from me, Emmett standing behind Rose, hands on her shoulders, looking less animated than usual.
"Hold on," says Edward, easing me forward on the couch so that he can tuck himself behind me and pull me back against his chest. He calls toward the stairs, "Jasper! You'll need to be down here for this."
There is a soft rustle of clothing from upstairs and suddenly Jasper is beside Edward, looking much more disheveled than I've ever seen him. There are tiny tears in his button-down shirt and a bright pink smear on his jaw that looks suspiciously liked the mark an open tube of lipstick would make when thrown at maximum velocity.
"Been baby-sitting Annie?" I ask, as the pieces click together.
A miffed grunt is all I get in response as he eases himself into the armchair.
"So," I say decisively. I will not be put off again. Edward is going to explain this situation with Paris and he is going to explain now or I am going to reconsider my problem-solving brick.
"So," says Edward, and I can feel his long fingers gripping my waist, his thumbs smoothing back and forth absently. "I should start from the beginning if this is going to make any sense at all to you, so bear with me, alright?"
I nod silently.
"Back in July, not long after we left La Push, the Pack was out hunting when they came across as an unfamiliar scent, a vampire scent, in the forest not too far outside their land.
"Paris," I say, sure it is true, and Edward nods stiffly.
"They could tell it didn't belong to one of our family, so they began to track the newcomer. To warn him or kill him, I suppose it doesn't matter which. But after only a few yards, the trail simply ended. There were no traces anywhere of the vampire. No sign of it within a two-mile radius and no water anywhere nearby to mask a scent."
"How is that possible?" I ask, but Edward shakes his head at me.
"Let me explain everything before you ask your questions," he says.
I nod and he continues.
"No one was able to figure out how the trail had disappeared and no amount of speculation would help them in their search. So, after a few days of watching and waiting with no sign of anything out of the ordinary, they assumed that the vampire had left. Life went on as usual. Everything both inside and outside of La Push's boundaries remained normal. The Pack began to relax again.
"Until the end of the month. According to Sam, Quil was the one who found it. He was on his way back from school when he caught the same scent as before. Right there on the Main Road."
Edward glances down at me, to make sure the enormity of what he is saying has registered.
"Paris got into the reservation?" I gasp. "But how—?"
"They didn't know. Patrols haven't relaxed at all since we left. There is almost always someone patrolling the borders. But, yes, somehow the vampire had found his way into La Push, and when the Pack went out to investigate they realized that it wasn't a coincidence or an accident. The trail they followed stretched from one end of the reservation's boundaries, straight through the middle of town to the other and then vanished. The vampire hadn't randomly stumbled into the reservation; he had deliberately left his mark in the middle of their territory."
"How could he—?" I stop myself this time. "Sorry. Keep going."
Edward's fingers have stopped moving now. "The wolves were frantic. They gathered the entire pack together and went in search of him, but turned up nothing. Again the trail just ended, exactly where the reservation's borders ended. No one could figure it out. How was he masking his scent and why? They couldn't find an answer, but security was tripled. Someone was placed on guard at all times. And this time, Paris didn't go away. We think that first trail they found was an accident. Paris probably got careless. But when he figured out that someone was trying to track him, he began to see it as a challenge."
"Edward," I interrupt. "I know you want me to save my questions, but you're not making any damned sense. What do you mean it was an accident? How was his scent disappearing?"
To my surprise Edward looks to Jasper for the answer. Frowning, Jasper replies, "Paris is an old…friend. He and I met in France a few years ago. He, like many of us, is gifted."
"Well, what's relevant in this case is it that he can mask his scent or reveal it at will. At times he can choose to leave a trail and other times make himself undetectable."
"He can control his scent?" I ask incredulously.
"It's how he managed to get in and out of La Push undetected," Edward continues soberly. "Paris could be standing three feet behind you and, unless you heard him, you would never be able to tell. His first trail was an accident, but the ones that followed were taunts. He could tell he was being tracked and saw it as a challenge. So he began to stalk the pack, deliberately leaving bits of himself behind in town to stir them into a panic. A short, ten-foot trail on the sidewalk outside of Embry's house. I smudge of scent on the flagpole outside of the post office. Small whiffs of himself on the handles of Jared's car. They would hunt and find nothing. They called dozens of meetings with the elders. No one could figure out what to do, or how to make him stop.
"Until finally, Paris pushed it too far. One night Sam came home and found Emily asleep in their bed with a hint of Paris's scent on her cheek."
My breath catches in my throat as I imagine the horror Sam must have felt, coming home to that and knowing that Paris had been inside his house, had actually touched Emily without her ever waking, without him ever knowing.
"That's when they called us," Edward finishes.
"They want our help?"
"I think we're their last resort," Edward says. "Trust me, they didn't sound thrilled when they called Carlisle, but they were out of options and out of patience. Sam hasn't told Emily what happened, but the incident drove him over the edge, what with the baby and all."
"But I don't understand why Paris is doing this? Why is he here? What's in it for him?" I can't quite wrap my head around it.
"From what we can tell, he was drawn here by the summit," says Edward. "And hasn't left since."
"Is he part of a clan?" I ask.
"Not at all. Paris has trouble keeping friends," says Jasper. Something in his tone makes me think that his pause before describing Paris as a "friend" earlier hadn't been an accident. "His motives are nothing more than entertainment. He likes to taunt, and to test himself."
"So he's like James," I say.
"Not exactly." Jasper's frown deepens. "Paris's abilities extend a bit further than what you've been told. His main power is not to hide his scent. Rather, that's a side-effect of his power. From what I've been told, it seems as though Paris was a bit of a Lothario before his change and that carried over into his new life."
I wait for the explanation to continue.
"Have you ever heard of an incubus?" Jasper asks.
I raise my eyebrows. "Are you saying Paris crawls into women's beds at night, screws their brains out, and then steals their souls?"
Jasper coughs lightly, trying to hide a smile. "Ah….not exactly. But his scent acts as an aphrodisiac. That's his key ability. He can release incredible amounts of pheromones at will and use them to seduce women, sometimes of their own free will, but sometimes…not."
"Like rape?" I exclaim, indignant and just plain grossed out.
"Something like it, though from what I can tell he is never violent when his motives are only to seduce and he considers it a point of pride that the women he's with enjoy it. But whether they enjoy it or not, he isn't really giving them a choice when he asks their permission and for him the game is often about power. So yes, something like rape."
"What an ass," I say bluntly.
"Yes," says Jasper dryly. "Well, what I was getting at was…you must be aware that those of who are reborn with abilities have to learn to control them. Left unchecked, they would be intolerable. Edward would be overwhelmed with indecipherable thoughts at full volume. I would b—"
"A senseless, useless mess, similar to Jell-O?"
"Exactly. So learning to control his scent wasn't really an option if he didn't want any woman past puberty throwing herself at him."
"So learning to block his scent entirely was just a side-effect?"
"And now that he knows we've joined in the hunt, it seems he's trying to send us a message."
I blinked, into the resulting silence, waiting for an explanation. None was forthcoming.
"And that would be….?" I prompted.
"You," said Jasper.
"Me?" I was startled.
"Your hair," Edward clarified, reaching forward to lift the lock he'd been so fixated on earlier up to my nose.
The scent hit me all at once, familiar in the way it dropped straight to parts South.
My expression must have been something between "I am going to murder someone" and "Boy, I could really go for some SEX right now" because Emmett laughed, Edward sighed, and Jasper gave me a knowing look.
"Right, so, um," I say, searching for some sort of close-at-hand conversation diversion that doesn't involve explosions or random loud car alarm noises. "He left the scent on me on purpose?"
"As a warning or a taunt," Edward says. "To show us that he's nearby and to get us worked up.
"I think he's getting bored," says Jasper.
"So what are we doing about it?" I ask.
"Now? Nothing. Carlisle is hammering out the terms of our very brief and very tentative truce, but the Pack has made it clear that they don't mean to allow us much more freedom than we had before. Just enough to help them solve their pest problem."
"Well, that's gratitude for you," I say, disgruntled. "So right now, as in right now, the rest of you are…?"
"Waiting," says Jasper.
Emmett grunts. "We could be waiting with video games and movies, but your husband is a huge vagina and is morally against stealing from the video store."
Jasper has just about wrapped up his explanation when there is a sound from somewhere upstairs.
This sound can only be described as pure, unadulterated destruction.
"Annie," Jasper sighs, looking so forlorn I reach out to pat his hand.
He sighs as he gets to his feet. "She's going to make me play Dinosaurs again."
"Dinosaurs? But that sounds cute! What do you do?"
"She's a T-Rex. And you are meat."
Alright. This kid is just messed up.
I can hear the muffled patter of her bare feet on the floor as she whispers, in the most menacing voice I have ever heard come out of a kid that small, "Come out, Unca Jashper. I am going to eat you in the face."
Oh god. I'm torn between going up there to save him and sacrificing him for the Greater Good.
It probably isn't clear how my thoughts took the complex journey all the way from saving Jasper to sex, but trust me, there was a path there.
Am I really going to put my own base needs ahead of Jasper's suffering?
Am I really such a selfish, disgusting, dishonorable person?
This is going to take a lot of thought—
3:14am and 30 seconds
Esme just left to call Alice. Rosalie and Emmett are heading for the garage. It's just me and Edward.
I know myself too well.
There is no way this is not going to end in sex.
May as well do it now.
I'll just subtly mention to Edward that I've brought some souvenirs to show him and maybe we can go upstairs and look at them.
Turned to Edward and said, "Let's go upstairs. I want to have sex."
I'm so glad I have such an obliging husband.
Just as Edward was gearing up for Round Two, kissing his way down toward my navel, the oversized underling of Satan came bursting into our room.
I WAS NAKED.
AS IN, FULLY BARE-ASSED NAKED.
Although my immediate instinct (after screaming) was to get up and break him in half, the fun of it would have been ruined by my lack of proper clothing. It is absolutely impossible to look intimidating with no clothes on, especially when you're me.
So instead I was resigned to pulling the sheet all the way up to my nose (unseating Edward, who rolled to the other side of the bed and reached for his pants) and screaming, "EMMETT, AS SOON AS I PUT ON UNDERWEAR I AM GOING TO LIGHT YOU ON FIRE."
I don't handle murderous rage eloquently.
But Emmett wasn't wearing his usual shit-eating grin. In fact, he looked deadly serious as he glanced over my head at Edward. "Can you hear them?"
Edward, whose features had turned to stone, nodded stiffly. "They're right outside."
"What the hell are you two talking about?" I asked absently, straining to reach my clothes on the floor, maintain my grip on the bed sheet, and make sure one of my boobs didn't pop out all at once.
"The Pack's here"
I fell—spectacularly—off the bed.
The blanket did not come with me.
I am sad and full of post-naked embarrassment and I'm pretty sure the entire pack has heard me having sex.
This is not a good day.
When I get downstairs, everyone has gathered in the living room. The atmosphere is something you might find at a wake: very somber and serious.
"Carlisle is back," Edward says to the room at large, "and they've come with him. They preferred to meet on our land than let us onto theirs."
Emmett snorts. Esme throws him a look that plainly says, Behave.
I'm still simmering in mortification, wondering how close the Pack is and how good their hearing is and if I'm really as loud as I'm almost positive I am during sex. The whole situation is snowballing into a pile-up of future insecurities. I'm re-evaluating a lot of my life decisions right now.
"Are they coming in?" Esme asks, and you can just tell her hands are twitching to be in the kitchen, making some sort of Peace Offering Pie. I don't have the heart to tell her the wolves would never eat it.
"That would mean abandoning their wolf forms. I don't think they'll give up their best weapon in our presence." Edward's eyes are distant as he focuses on the multitude of thoughts outside. "At least, not all of them. They might send in a liaison, though. Yes….they're deciding." He pauses, as if listening.
His eyes find mine. "They can hear me relaying their thoughts."
"Let me guess," I said sarcastically. "They aren't fans."
"Not really, no." Then, undoubtedly addressing Sam, he says, "I'm sorry, but it's necessary."
There are a few minutes of silence in which I begin to sense that, without the distraction of an immediate threat, Emmett's attention is waffling between alertness and the desire to give me hell for my previous state of naked-pissed-off-ness. I can only image the sort of obscene, graphic jokes he'll come up with, and I cannot, cannot have him telling any of them with Jacob nearby.
I try to send him this message mentally, as Edward says, "It looks like we're going out to meet them. But they don't want to speak through me. Sam's changing."
With that he grabs my hand and begins to head for the porch.
Impromptu Werewolf/Vampire Summit (that nobody warned me about)
I meant to be diplomatic. I meant to walk outside and stand regally by Edward's side while he and Carlisle hashed out the details of our assistance, maybe adding the occasional ingenious idea or witty joke.
None of these things happen. Instead, I walk into the clearing a few hundred yards away from the house where the wolves are waiting, automatically hunt down Jacob with my eyes, storm up to his hulking frame, and shout right into his big, stupid wolf face, "YOU'RE AN ASS, JACOB BLACK."
And then, because the force of my pent-up hurt and rage is so much more than even I was aware of, I do the worst thing I could possibly do:
I forget myself and hit him.
In less than a second I am yanked off my feet, massive jaws clamped around my upper arm, crushing me, and the entire clearing goes insane.