Disclaimer: The Twilight Series is owned/created by Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: This is very much a sequel to Open the Box, in that the prologue you are about to read actually takes place during the last Act of that story. Which is funny because I'm approaching them very differently. This isn't plotted out to the extent the other was, but it's going to have more plot. I hope that makes sense.
If you don't want to read OTB, here's a brief summary of what's going to be relevant: Two years after BD, sometime during late autumn, Embry sort of found himself and decided he was never going to know who his father was, but he was okay with that. That's what he said. Leah kissed Embry in order for him to imprint, which he did. The werewolves had a food fight and destroyed Billy's living room, which is why there's food everywhere and the furniture needs to be cleaned. Embry informed Jacob he (Jacob) was in love with Leah and that the two of them had been in mutual denial for a long time. The two of them (Jacob and Leah, not Embry and Jacob) stayed behind while the rest of the pack took off to clean up, so Jacob could have a conversation with her. The pack comes back and finds Leah cried, Jacob bled and they kissed. This is how all that happened.
For These Ones
Embry was an idiot.
For that, and other reasons, he was currently Jacob's least favorite person on the planet.
Sam, Edward, Blondie, creepy Euro-vamps—none of them had ever come close to being this low on Jacob's totem pole of hate.
"You're in love with Leah," Embry had said. Even though they had both imprinted and Embry should have known better. Imprinting meant you no longer fell head over heels for women who were out of your reach—the world turned on a fixed point and you were happy about it. There was no more mess, no more pain. Everything was simple.
Being in love with Leah wouldn't be simple. Jacob was lucky that Embry was an idiot—so obviously wrong that Jacob shouldn't even have to bother to point out why. Because if Embry was right...it didn't matter, because Embry was wrong.
Words had not yet been invented to properly express how wrong Embry was.
So what if Leah was funny and gorgeous and smart as a whip and tough as one too? He couldn't be in love with her because it didn't work that way anymore. Yeah, he might sometimes spend hours planning out their conversations so he sounded witty and wise and he might have thought about how pretty she looked when she laughed on more than one occasion and he might know that his very worst nightmare was seeing her hurt but...
Embry Call was an idiot.
And, you know...completely right.
Obviously, he was right. Embry might be the smart one, but Jacob wasn't brain dead. Obviously, he was in love with Leah. Who wouldn't be, if they had the choice? That was the problem. Jacob didn't. Jacob couldn't. Nessie meant there was no one else for him.
But Embry was right. Somehow...Embry was right.
Somehow, despite the imprinting, Jacob had managed to fall in love with the woman who was currently watching him impatiently from the couch.
"We don't have all day, Jake," Leah snapped. "Either spit it out or—"
"Just give me a second," he snapped back. She sat back down, arms crossed just like her legs. Perfect. She was defensive. Just the way he wanted her to feel before he confessed he was going nuts not being with her.
"Okay," he began, sitting on the armrest. It was as far away from her as he could get on the couch without fleeing it entirely and looking completely like a coward because it didn't matter what Embry had implied, Leah wasn't going to feel the same way and even Jacob couldn't handle getting his heart stepped on like that. "Okay," he repeated.
"Any day now."
"Okay! Jeez, Leah, hold on a second."
"I'm getting old here, Jacob."
This was a dumb idea. Embry was deader than dead. Jacob had to tell her how he felt now—she would find out soon enough because she could read his mind, but he wasn't the type to keep things like that to himself anyway. But this was a bad idea.
And not just because Leah still thought of him as Rebecca and Rachel's annoying kid brother sometimes. And not just because she was incredible and could do so much better. Jacob could deal with all that.
But Quil was soon going to be his sole best friend because now that Jacob acknowledged that he loved her, now that he had to tell her, he was just going to end up hurting her. Because Leah and him weren't going to work. Either she did feel the same way (Embry was wrong about that; no way Leah cared about him that way) and he ended up turning into fucking Sam, or she didn't and everything went to hell. Their friendship was important to both of them, almost as important as the pack was, and he was going to ruin both of those things very soon by making everything so unbearable awkward they wouldn't be able to deal. And that...really sucked.
Fuck Embry. At least that gave him a place to start.
"Embry and I were talking last night."
"Yeah, Embry's not my favorite person right now," she admitted. "Don't really want to be talking about him."
"Can't kiss him now that he's imprinted."
That came out a whole lot more jealous sounding than he intended, but she didn't even notice, just rolled her eyes and ordered: "Drop it, Jake. It worked, didn't it?"
He hated when she sounded like that. When he couldn't draw the bitterness from her anymore he was going to have to kill Embry. Oh yeah. That part was happening pretty definitely.
"It was dumb luck and bad timing, Leah. It wasn't you. It's not like you're cursed. You have to stop thinking like that."
"As much as I would like to prove you wrong, I'm tired this morning and I'm pretty sure you didn't ask me to stay behind just to talk to me about my ability to bring imprinting wherever I go."
"No, I didn't," he agreed.
"So...? What were you guys talking about?"
"How I'm in love with you."
Leah blinked. Once. Twice. Maybe he should have blurted less and explained more. She looked down and snapped: "That's not possible."
"That's what I said." She looked up, surprised, and he grimaced. "I didn't think it was. But I—I can't deny how I feel." Not anymore, Embry. "I love you. Just so you know."
They stared at each other for a long time, Leah playing with the abandoned gummy worms on the couch. She twirled them in circles, not looking, not caring, just spinning them around and around until he wanted to snatch them away and throw them across the room and demand she look at him already.
"I'm flattered," she said finally. He felt a little sick. "Really, kid, I'm touched. But we both know you've got your pretty little baby leech, so whatever you think you feel about me doesn't really matter. But hey," she said, smiling up at him, "This doesn't have to be awkward. I want to be mature about this. No hard feelings, kid. What we've got is too good to fuck up over a little crush."
It would have been nicer, Jacob reflected, if she had just hit him. Would have hurt less, too. She was just so...understanding. He preferred Bella's out and out denial—at least, that he knew was a lie. This sympathy, this oh-so-sincere-sympathy, was intolerable.
"Yeah," he snarled, jumping off the couch. "Sorry for the inconvenience."
They moved to take the first cover off of the couch, but the way she was holding everything was just going to end up with all the chips on the floor, so he came over to show her the right way, brushing her arm as he went to move her hands.
So much for not making it weird.
Then she blushed.
Standing as close as he was, the red color of her cheeks was immediately obvious. For the first time in years, his brain finally turned on. A quick review of her speech—now forever burnt into his mind—revealed no denial. She had sidestepped her feelings entirely. And Embry had said she—Jacob almost wanted Embry to be wrong. Because if Leah did care about him, why the hell had he spent so much time on the other side of the couch?
"Leah..." he said, reaching for her.
She stepped back, trying to escape. That wasn't going to be allowed to happen again. This time when he reached out he grabbed her hips none too gently and dragged her forcibly in front of him. She hit his chest solidly.
"What the hell? I don't remember giving you permission to manhandle me."
"Leah," he began again. "I told you I loved you. Don't you have something to say to that?"
"I already said—"
"Something else." His arms tightened around her waist until she really was trapped. Good. Though he could feel her trying to pull away, there was no way she could get out.
She was staring at his neck, anger masking most of her face. But he hadn't spent years with this woman without learning how to read her just a little bit. She was scared. She had to know he would never physically hurt her, which meant she was worried about an emotional blow, which meant...
Embry had been right.
Not just about how he obviously loved her, but about Leah, when Embry hinted that she wanted him, that she cared, that it was killing her just like it was killing him. Warmth spread through Jacob, long forgotten but not unfamiliar. Hope, he identified it. Hope. And he grabbed hold of it with all the werewolf strength he had.
"Yeah," he agreed. "But we know how I feel about you. How do you feel about me? Leah? Tell me how you feel."
"Don't be stupid, Jacob."
"Leah," he whispered, right against her ear, even as he forced her face upwards so that when he pulled back they were just inches apart, eyes boring into one another. "Leah, I love you. How do you feel about me? Tell me. Please. Please, Leah...tell me."
Her breath came quickly, her eyes widened—he had her trapped now and she knew it. There was only one way out. The truth. So she took it.
Ever so faintly, she finally admitted, "I'm crazy about you."
Before he could enjoy it, before the warmth in his heart could spread to the rest of his body, before he could even begin to kiss her senseless, her fist swung up and hit him right in the nose.
"Are you happy now? Fucking happy now?"
He clutched his nose, trying to catch the blood. The bone wasn't broken and the blood would stop soon enough. It was stupid of him to forget how fast she was. Especially when cornered.
"What the hell is your problem?" he yelled.
"My problem? Fuck, Jake, what the hell have you done?"
"What do you mean what? You've—you've—"
"Do you know how long I've been telling myself I don't care about you?" he demanded, grabbing her again. "I've been making myself nuts. I don't want to pretend anymore. I won't. I'm in love with you, you're in love with me. We should be together."
"We can't," she whispered.
The word took him by surprise and that stupid smile was on his face before he could stop it. Leah looked at him sadly.
"See. You've imprinted, Jake. You've imprinted and I don't share."
"Then I'll stop."
"That easy? Just like that?"
She was mocking him a little, but he didn't care.
"There's got to be something. I can at least try and stop." As soon as the words flew out of his mouth, Jacob felt lighter than he had in years. He could almost hear the steel cables snapping. "I'll stop. I'll stop the imprint."
"I will. I'll stop. You have no idea how long I've wanted to say that. I'm going to stop imprinting." He was almost laughing he was so giddy. "I'll stop."
He was so happy, Jacob leaned over and kissed her without even thinking about it.
For a second, she just stood there, lips too hot against his. For a second. And then her hands wrapped around his neck and she pulled him closer, furious, demanding, and undeniably Leah. When she ran her fingers through his hair, he had to deepen the kiss and then he wasn't sure what was going on, not really, because the giddy feeling had exploded everywhere but it wasn't a bad thing, no, it wasn't a bad thing at all.
And when she pressed just a little bit closer, he silently promised that Embry was going to get the best birthday present ever. Why hadn't he done this sooner?
Even werewolves had to breathe and so she pulled back eventually and the two of them just stared at each other, panting, unsure of what this all really meant. And then her eyes filled with tears.
"Shut up," she ordered. She was shaking and then to his horror the tears began to fall, fast and furious, turning her cheeks glossy and he hated himself a little bit more. He could only watch as she rubbed her eyes, then bit her palm, then just talked through the tears when nothing seemed to be working.
"Why do you always do this? How do you make me believe things?"
"It won't work, Jake. It won't. It's not possible for you to stop, it's not going to happen. But you make me think it can, you make it so all these stupid, impossible things make sense. And you have to stop. Because you can't. You can't."
Suddenly it didn't matter that all he could smell was the copper scent of blood—he should have let her hit him harder. He was just like Sam.
But no sooner had the thought came than he dismissed it. Sam had loved Leah, hurt Leah, left Leah, but Jacob wasn't going to. He wasn't going anywhere. If he made her cry than he was going to hold her until she stopped. Jacob wasn't leaving her. He just had to make her see.
"Leah," he began, brushing away the tears. "We turn into werewolves. We do crazy, impossible things all the time. Why is this so different?"
It was selfish. Totally. Completely. Even as he said the words, he knew it. If he couldn't break the imprint, he'd just go kill himself. But this conversation insured that it was no longer all about him. It was about her too now, and if he made her hope and then crushed that—could he risk Leah? Did he have the right?
But he couldn't leave her. Jacob couldn't leave her when she said she cared; when what he wanted was so close he couldn't just stop. So he waited for what felt like forever as she bit her lip and took deep breaths and tried to get herself under control. Finally, she whispered:
"You really think it could work?"
"It will. And if it doesn't, I'll find you someone," he said quietly. "Someone who might actually deserve you and he'll take care of you—"
"I don't—" Her eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to bait me so I get too mad to argue?"
"Is it working?"
That finally got a smile out of her as they stood wrapped together in the middle of the battered room, watching each other carefully. She sniffled a little, but the tears had stopped.
"I'm scared," she said plainly. So nakedly honest it was painful to see. "Terrified, actually. But—I do...I do love you. I'm so goddamn stupid, I love you."
He was floating now. He had been sure, in his way, before, but it was nice to hear her say it. More than nice. In fact, it might have been the most beautiful thing he had ever heard. No one had ever said that to him before, said it and meant it the way Leah had, but it felt even better than he had ever imagined it could.
"Damn. What if I can't beat this?"
He hadn't meant to blurt it out, but she didn't start crying again. She stroked his hair and brought his head closer to her so he could feel her breath against his lips. "Then in four years I will give the best damn wedding toast the world has ever seen. But that's not going to happen. You're not getting rid of me that easily, Jake. I'm yours now...or maybe I've always been. Alpha and Beta until the end." Her eyes might be red, but there was fire burning in them now and her voice was sure. "You will beat it."
"Yeah. I have to. I'm so sick of living like this."
It was like just after waking up after too many hours of sleep and the whole world was a little hazy and the numbers on the alarm clock wouldn't come into focus—he wouldn't spend the rest of his life like that. He wouldn't not know what was going on in his own damn head, imprinting or no imprinting.
But his thoughts stopped when she giggled—Leah Clearwater honestly giggled. His head snapped back in surprise.
"You've got blood on your face," she said, licking her thumb and trying to rub it off.
"Thanks to some psycho I know."
"Don't be a baby, Jake. You deserved it."
He growled and she laughed again, before pushing him backwards. He stumbled, but the couch broke his fall and before he could complain that she was going to get him killed one of these days, Leah was straddling him and he forgot that he was upset. Her legs were on either side of his hips, her chest pressed to him, her lips on his...
As much as he liked the way she nibbled along his jaw—and god, did he like it—sitting passively by didn't work for him. It was almost too easy to lift her up and she clung to him tightly enough that they managed to shift positions without breaking contact. Much better, he thought, as he lay on top of her. Now he could feel her underneath him, hard and soft and somehow just right...
He pulled back and brushed her bangs off her face. The fine strands tickled his fingers before he abandoned them for tracing the side of her face.
"Any other objections?" he teased.
"There is the fact you graduated high school less than six months ago," but her tone matched his. They were both twenty-five most of the time, anyway. Sometimes it made him sad that so much of his childhood had simply phased away, but it did have its perks.
"You never did give me a graduation present."
"You have some suggestions?"
He thought he had been aware of her body underneath his before, but now it was like a switch had been flipped and it was all he was aware of. Leah's legs around his, her hips pressed just so into him, her breasts against his chest...
"They won't dare come back for at least forty-five minutes."
She giggled. It was sort of sweet to see. "You couldn't handle me, Jacob Black."
"I'm going to try," he muttered, kissing her again, his hand snaking up her shirt. There were crumbs and dried sugar clinging to the warm skin, but he was still dangerously close to becoming addicted to the feel of her anyway.
"Now that is a good objection," she murmured and he stopped because he could figure her out even when he was more hopped up on hormones than he could remember being in a long time. This was still too new, too strange. They needed a game plan to deal with everything and that meant all exploration had to wait until after they had talked with the others. "Do you think they'll be pissed when they get back?"
"Embry and Quil will just be happy for me, us. Seth..."
"Seth is more in love with you than I am," Leah said, only half joking. "I want to be the one to break it to him."
"Actually, we won't have to tell them much. Embry's probably told them about our conversation and they have to know this ends one of two ways."
"Death or sex?"
Since she had suggested it...but she laughed and caught hold of his hand, lacing her fingers with his. They simply kissed, long languid kisses that seemed so familiar that they could have been doing this their whole lives. Years of learning to anticipate each other's every move was being put to good use.
"Remind me to torture Embry for a bit," she murmured against his mouth. "Sticking his nose where it didn't belong."
"Kill him, for all I care. Though I can't believe you denied it at first."
"I had to try," she admitted. Her hand was on his face, black eyes staring into black eyes. "We really do have something great here, Jake, and we very well could fuck it up and lose everything. You get that, don't you?
"I know," he said somberly. He knew only too well what he could lose—and what he stood to gain. If he wanted easy, he would take Nessie and soulful perfection. But he would take impossible any day of the week, as long as it included Leah.
How bad could it get?