I deserve a fucking Oscar.
I'm serious. I make the most earth-shattering, life-changing, devastatingly horrible, yet somehow elating discovery of my entire life, eclipsing even the moment I morphed into a giant, grey, shaggy wolf, and I didn't even wobble in my cheap, ugly shoes. I kept that smile plastered onto my face and marched my bow-and-flaminco-ruffle covered butt up to my designated place and kept it there while Sam and Emily exchanged their dismally sappy vows. I smiled and laughed and said all the right things to them and everyone else afterwards in the receiving line and the limo ride to the reception with the wedding party.
And inside, I was screaming like I'd been flayed and dropped into a vat of lemon juice. I'd dreaded that day for so long, and now, now of all times, I had to discover how very insignificant my little infatuation for Sam had truly been.
That in itself would be wonderful, but finding it out only because I could now compare it to real love, the honest-to-goodness, 'I will love you til my dying breath' kind of love, totally sucked. It was completely ironic that the wedding day I'd been dreading getting through I was now dreading coming to an end, because it meant I'd have to face Embry.
All I'd have to do was act completely normal. That shouldn't be too hard. I would just pretend that I never realized that I loved him, and we could just go on being B-Wolf and Tank. Life would go on as normal, and blah, blah, blah.
Yeah, I could tell myself that on repeat, but it wasn't going to stop the waves of panic whenever I thought about being alone with Embry again. Now that I couldn't lie to myself anymore, I knew that spending any time with him would only make things so much worse. I loved him. I wanted him. I wanted all of him, and I couldn't keep going the way we had been because I could never have him. Not in the way I needed to have him. So, the only thing I could do was to cut myself off; be cool and distant and just a bit bitchy and disinterested. Push him away, push everyone away, like I'd done before.
But knowing that I needed to do that and actually doing it were two incredibly different things. That's why I was currently hiding out in the women's bathroom, staring at my reflection in the mirror and silently ordering myself to get my shit together already.
A toilet flushed behind me, and Kim joined me at the sink. I schooled my face into a bland mask as she flicked her gaze up at my reflection and grimaced.
"Oh, I'm with you, girl. Being out there in this awful dress is mortifying," she said consolingly, nodding her head wisely like she totally understood why I was hiding in the restroom.
I couldn't help but crack a small smile at her. Kim was completely trashed, and when Kim got trashed, all of her quirky personality came out in full force. Without bothering to wait for my reply, she kept prattling on.
"I have never worn something so damn ugly in my entire life- where the fuck is a towel? oh this'll work-" she proceeded to dry her hands off on one of the ruffles edging her skirt without missing a beat, "I mean seriously. I don't care how perky my butt is, this damn bow makes it look all droopy. Don't get me started on what it does to my boobs. They're tiny as it is, and this thing squashes them flat."
"They don't do mine any favors, either," I agreed, grinning.
Kim squinted at me, pouting. "Oh, please. You could wear a Santa suit and still look like sex in black boots. That's it, this damn bow has got to go."
She grabbed onto the giant bow on the back of her skirt, and I raised my eyebrows.
"Are you sure?... What if it just rips a big hole?"
"Then Jared gets a lap dance for the rest of the night," she replied loudly. I thought I faintly heard Jared cheering somewhere outside the door. "This thing can't get any uglier, no matter what I do to it."
She had a very good point. Shrugging, I watched as she ripped it off, leaving behind a very small, unnoticeable tear. Kim grinned, dropped the floppy, torn bow into the garbage, and proceeded to rip off the two ruffles along the bottom of her dress as well. When she was done, her dress just barely covered her butt, and she surveyed the frayed edge with satisfaction.
"Time for that lap dance, Jared," she declared, and exited the bathroom with a flourish.
"Emily's going to have a fit," I whispered, quietly giggling at the thought of her scandalized face when Kim waltzed out in her mangled dress. The giggle faded, and I realized that I couldn't hide in the bathroom any longer without raising some serious suspicions from my Packmates.
Sighing, I squared my shoulders and glared at my reflection. I was a Clearwater, the Leah Clearwater, grand bitch of them all. I could push anyone away. I had done it before. This would be no different.
Except that it was different. As I wound my way back through the reception hall to my Packmates, I felt anything but cool and distant. Panic bubbles fizzed and popped in my stomach as I slid into the open seat between Jacob and Embry at their table near the dance floor. Embry grinned at me, and I managed a vague smile back in his general direction, unable to fully meet his eyes.
The thumping music made it easy for me to sit back and mostly ignore the conversation around the table. It was easier to sit back and pretend to be watching the dancing than join in the jokes and laughter flowing around me. In reality, the only thing I was concentrating on was the awareness of Embry's arm draped casually over the back of my chair, not touching me but near enough to feel the heat from his skin. It was only with serious willpower that I kept my spine stiffly straight, and did not lean back into him.
"What's up?" Embry's low voice ghosted my ear, and I visibly jumped. I flashed him a guilty look, and quickly looked away.
"Nothing. Just bored," I replied, and hoped he didn't hear the faint wobble in my voice. Apparently he didn't, because he quirked an eyebrow and smiled at me as the music changed to a sappy love song.
"In that case, let's dance."
Dance? With him? For one split second, I had a vivid daydream of dancing with him, pressed up against him with his arms tightly wrapped around me… My brain short-circuited from the sheer sexy overload, and my body took advantage of the moment to go willingly along with Embry as he tugged me to my feet, pulled me onto the dance floor, and into his arms.
The feeling of us pressed together, gently swaying in time to the music, was pure bliss. It was everything I wanted, condensed into one moment in time, where I could pretend that we were two normal people, in love and happy. But that was all it was. Pretend. Abruptly, I pulled myself away from him, out of the circle of his arms.
"I… I want to get some fresh air," I mumbled, not quite meeting his confused gaze. Quickly, I turned and pushed through the crowd on the dance floor and out into the night air.
I knew without looking that Embry was following closely behind me. I heard his footsteps stop abruptly, but I did not turn around. My palms were sweating as I fidgeted with the clasp of my ridiculous little purse, and I sent up a silent, fervent prayer to any deity that was listening for him not to ask me what was wrong.
"B- listen. I've always been the guy for taking chances, right?"
Okay... that wasn't what I was expecting. It confused me enough that I turned around to look at him with a frown. "What- like as in bets? You didn't make some stupid bet with Emmett again, did you?"
"No. I'm talking risks. The leap of faith kind," he replied quickly, his eyes trained on my face. He didn't even crack a smile, and that scared the shit out of me. I heard him draw in a ragged breath, and suddenly his fingers speared through my hair and his face was inches from mine.
"So... I'm leaping..." he whispered harshly, his expression contorted between hope and fear. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but his lips covered mine before I could form any words. My body betrayed me; every nerve ending came singing to life even as I melted into a pile of half-done jello right there in his strong, hot hands. But it wasn't right, no matter how much I wanted it. It was stupid and dangerous, and I wasn't going to do this to myself again!
Both my hands come up, and I pushed hard against his chest with a strangled 'no!'. Caught off guard, Embry stumbled back two steps before regaining his footing. The look of pain and slight desperation on his face nearly did me in, but I stopped the answering sob in my chest before it could make it's way to the surface.
"Embry, stop. We can't do this," I told him, but my tone was more pleading than firm.
"Yes, we can. We can, Leah."
His hands were back on my arms now, holding on with a determination that was mirrored in his eyes. I mustered up my iron Clearwater resolve and tried to push him away again. He didn't let go, and all it got me was my hands on his chest, which didn't help my determination. If it wasn't for the heavy, wild pounding of his heart under my palm, I might've felt like I was pushing against solid rock.
A volcano of panic erupted inside me and poured out in my words. "If we just stop right now, we can forget this ever happened. We can go back to the way we were, we can just be friends-"
"I love you."
I stopped. I stopped talking, stopped pushing against him, stopped breathing, because oh my god he'd said it. Out loud. Just threw those words out there at me to wrap around my heart like a god damned vice. His eyes bored into mine, and I could feel all the blood draining out of my face. His hands gripped me tighter, hopefully.
"Yeah, you heard me right. I love you, Leah Clearwater. I'm in love with you. And that's not gonna change. No matter how hard you try to push me away."
My mouth worked open and shut like a dying fish, but no intelligent sounds came out. My heart was ripping itself into tiny little pieces. I wanted to hear him say that he loved me, and I knew I would relive this moment every day for the rest of my miserable existence. Oh, how I wanted to tell him that I loved him even more, but that's just not the way things could ever be. Nothing had changed. He truly believed he loved me, I could see it written as clear as red ink across his face, and maybe he'd go on believing he loved me. That is, until he came across his 'soulmate' and imprinted. I had to cut off this cancer now before it spread any farther. Before it could kill me.
But, oh god, he was looking at me the same way Sam looked at Emily, only this was a thousand-fold stronger, a thousand-fold more heartbreakingly real, and ten thousand-fold more filled with hope, and fear, and pain.
"Look me in the eyes," Embry half begged, half ordered. "Just look me in the eyes and tell me you don't feel the same about me."
I looked at him, wavering, but my brain screamed at me to lie. Tell him I didn't love him, hurt him to save him from worse guilt and hurt later, and save myself from the pain of losing him. I couldn't lose him if I never had him…
"No," I whispered.
"No what?" Embry demanded. "No you won't tell me or no you don't love me?"
I swallowed hard against the pain. "No, I don't love you."
Dammit. He always saw through me! But this was one lie I had to convince him was true. I lifted my chin and called on every reserve I had to pull out haughty, bitchy Leah Clearwater once more.
"Don't fucking tell me how I feel, Call! I said, I don't love you." I snarled. It hurt, it hurt so much when he dropped his hands from my arms and backed off just a fraction of an inch. He shook his head, but even as his mouth narrowed in stubborn determination, the hope was fading out of his eyes.
"What the fuck are you so scared of, Leah?"
"What am I scared of?! What the fuck do you think?" I shrieked, then struggled to lower my volume when I realized every Wolf in the reception had probably heard me. "Did you forget what we are? We don't get to love who we want. We don't get to pick our soulmates!"
Embry was angry now, and I could see him struggling to hide the slight tremors rippling through him. "That's bullshit," he hissed through clenched teeth. "I don't believe that. I make my own fate, or whatever the fuck you wanna call it. And I love you, and no stupid magical force can change that. Because I choose you. And you can choose me, too, if you just stop being so scared of getting hurt."
I wanted to believe him. I wanted to more than I'd ever wanted something in my life. But I couldn't. Years of pain and loneliness had taught me that just because you want something, and want it with your whole heart, didn't mean you could have it. There were some things I could never have. I stepped back, feeling the mask of anger and indifference that I'd worn for so many years hardening my face once more.
"I'm sorry. I just can't believe that. I won't take the risk. Once you've been burned, you learn to stay far, far away from the fire. Love can rip your heart right out of your chest, stomp on it, shred it, and feed it to you scrambled for breakfast. I know- I've lived through it-" and if it happened again with him, with my Tank, it would be unspeakably worse- "and I will go turn myself in to the Volturi as a science experiment before I even dream of risking that again. You have no idea what that's like."
"I do now."
The raw pain in his voice destroyed me. When I died and went to hell, I would be condemned to relive this moment over and over for all eternity. Maybe I was already there.
But my mask didn't falter, because if there was anything I was good at, it was hiding my pain behind a look of haughty, bitchy, indifference. And I had never, ever tried so hard to make it as undeniably convincing as I was at this moment. Embry, my Tank who knew me so well, stared at me, waiting- hoping- for me to betray one hint that I was lying, and I could see the last vestige of hope in his eyes flicker and fade away. The forest was only a few strides away, but he barely made it to the tree line before he phased in mid-step and ran.
As I stood there, frozen, every instinct in me shrieking at me to run after him, a slight movement near the building caught my eye. Jacob, Seth, and Quil were standing there, and my insides recoiled from their looks of shock, pity, anger, and pain as if they were a physical blow.
I don't know how I managed to turn my back on them and put one foot in front of the other as I walked away. I don't know how I didn't fall on my knees and beg their forgiveness. I felt oddly disconnected from my body, from the searing pain kniving through my chest from the look on Embry's face as he turned away, or the way my Packmates had looked at me afterward. I had no recollection of walking home, but I found myself standing alone in my bedroom, surrounded by Embry's scent. I stared at the bed, where only this morning he'd kissed me, and my eerie composure disintegrated into panicked despair.
I needed help, and I had nowhere to turn. I was a monster. I had always been. I had tried to be happy, to let people in, to be who I was before I turned Wolf, and look what I did. I was so stupid. I wanted to be loved so badly that I let Embry get close to me, I let him love me, and now I hadn't only broken myself. I'd broken the kindest, most caring man on the planet. I had known that I would from the beginning, because someone like me should never be allowed to be around someone as bright and full of life as Embry, and now he had to live with a dark stain on his past because of me.
I was a freak. Unnatural. Broken. Cursed.
I suddenly couldn't breath. Embry's scent was stifling; the entire Rez felt like a trap closing in on me. I needed to leave. I needed to run free, break away from my Pack to let them live in peace without me. And if Cyrus found me out there, well, so be it. It would only be what I deserved.
I didn't bother packing a bag. It didn't matter when I was only heading into oblivion, anyway. My panic oozed away, replaced by an empty numbness, as I headed down the stairs and flung open the door to race out into the night.
And came face to face with Jacob Black.
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?" he demanded, grabbing my arm and hauling me back into my living room before I could slam the door in his face. I yanked my arm away with a scowl and mentally calculated my chances of getting past him. If I could just get into the woods, he couldn't possibly catch up to me.
"I'm not going anywhere," I hedged.
"Cut the bullshit, Leah. You were going to take off, weren't you?"
We glared at each other, but the only sound was the creaking of his teeth from how hard he was grinding them together. Despite myself, my eyes slid away from his first. He swelled, shaking, and I was sure he was going to lose it.
"What. The. FUCK. Leah! What is wrong with you? There's a crazy bloodsucker out there just waiting to catch you alone, and you're just gonna run off like a brain-dead idiot and let him? I get that you want us all to think you're a heartless bitch that doesn't give a shit about anyone or anything, but you gotta care more about your own life than that."
I stared at a point somewhere over his shoulder. "It doesn't matter, Jake. I'm leaving."
"The fuck you are!" he shouted, and the windows rattled. "You're staying here, and you're going to fix this."
"I can't!" I shouted back. "There's nothing I can do to fix anything! I wreck everything, Jacob Black! Making me stay here is only going to make things worse. You have to see that."
"What I see is you hurting two people I really care about because you're being stupid and stubborn. You're hurting Embry, and you're hurting yourself for no reason. So, no. You're not leaving. You're going to stay here, and you're going to work this out."
"Is that an order, oh mighty Alpha?" I challenged. "What's next? Are you going to order me to be in love with Embry, too?"
He visibly winced, and I knew I'd hit a nerve. "That's not what- I would never do something like that!"
"Then let me go! Otherwise that's exactly what you're doing!"
"There is a huge difference between trying to control you and trying to keep you from a suicidal run-away attempt!"
"If you make me stay and try to fix something that can't be fixed, you might as well," I argued. "Look, I get it. Embry's your friend and I hurt him. This whole thing is my fault, the stress between the Packs is my fault, Cyrus is my fault, and the only thing I can do to try to make anything better is to leave. Everything and everyone will be fine if I just disappear."
Jake looked at me like he thought I'd completely lost my mind. "No, you don't get it. You don't get it at all. Yeah, Embry's my friend. And yeah, I hate that he's hurt, and this whole thing just sucks. But you're my friend too, you stupid idiot. You're important to a lot of people And the last thing any of us want is for you to disappear. What the fuck is wrong with you that you'd even think that?"
I stared at him, the empty numbness spiraling through me again as an old memory spilled through my mind and out my mouth. "I ruin everything… I do. I tried, I really tried to be happy- but Seth was right, so… I am going to leave. And if you try to Alpha command me, I'll break it. I'll leave the Pack and go rogue. So, don't. Just… don't."
Silence stretched between us. I could see Jake guaging how serious I was, mentally trying to figure out a way around things. Poor Jake. He always wanted things simple and straight-forward, with a happily-ever-after for everyone.
"Okay," he finally said slowly. "Okay. I think you're making a huge, stupid mistake, and I don't like it at all, but I won't try to stop you. But I'm not gonna let you go alone." I opened my mouth to protest, and he held up a hand to stop me. "No, shut up, Leah. You may not give a shit about yourself, but I do. I let you run off alone and something happens… Don't make me live with that. I'm asking you as a friend."
His words broke through a little of the emptiness, and I had to swallow hard a few times. Still, I shook my head, determined to hold my ground.
"I'm serious, Leah. I won't Alpha command you, but I'm not letting you walk out of here alone. Unless you want me calling the Pack and the Cullens to help me lock you up, you better agree."
Now it was my turn to silently gauge the seriousness of his threat, and it didn't take long to be convinced he meant every word.
"Fine," I finally managed to get out grudgingly. "As long as I still leave tonight. Now."
Relief tinged with surprise flooded his face. "Okay. Just- just give me a few minutes to figure something out."
I nodded, and turned to start heading up the stairs. Jake's enormous hand instantly clamped around my arm again, bringing me to an grudging halt.
"Relax. I'm just gonna go pack a bag," I muttered. He let go sheepishly, and I made my way back up to my room while he took out his cell phone.
My room. The last place I wanted to be, with all it's memories and Embry's scent lingering heavily in the air. I could hear the murmur of Jake's deep voice rumbling quietly downstairs, but I couldn't make out the words and had no idea who he had called. I didn't even particularly care.
If only I'd been a few minutes earlier, I would've escaped. But then again, deep down, I knew I really didn't want to die tonight, even though I deserved it. Not by Cyrus' hands, which would've been more likely than I wanted to believe if I had taken off on my own. And as wrong as it was, part of me still hoped that someday, maybe after Embry had imprinted and was living his happily-ever-after, that he'd forgive me.
I came downstairs to find Jake on my front porch, having a hurried conversation with a disheveled-looking Seth. The bare torso and twigs in his hair were a dead giveaway that he'd just phased back from Wolf-form, and it took all my restraint not to ask him where Embry was.
"How you doing, Sis?" he asked, but his voice was strained and his smile was a pathetic mockery of itself. When I didn't answer, he cleared his throat and tried again. "So… you're taking off for a while? You sure you wanna do that? I mean-"
"Yeah," I interrupted him harshly. "Things will be better for everyone if I do."
Seth screwed up his face, obviously trying to find the best words. "But, what if you just… I mean, there's gotta be some way to make it work, you and Em-"
"There's nothing to make work," I cut in. Seth looked pleadingly at me, but my bitchy, indifferent mask was firmly pasted on. He sighed in defeat.
"Alright. But just come back soon. And Leah, take care of yourself. I don't want anything to happen to you," he paused, looking like he wanted to hug me but was scared I'd reject him. Swallowing, he backed off the porch and edged towards the trees. "I'd better get back to… well, I'd better get back."
He gave me one last kicked-puppy look before disappearing into the shadows, and I closed my eyes for a moment against the guilt.
"If you're determined to go through with this, then let's get going."
Jake's deep growl made me snap them back open, and I followed him wordlessly to his car.
"I was planning on just going Wolf," I said after we had driven in silence for a few moments.
"You really wanna shift at the same time as Embry?" Jake grunted. "'Cause personally, I think that's a bad idea. Unless you're actually gonna try to work things out with him. Which you should be doing, instead of this idiotic running away."
"There's nothing more to say so just drop it," I stated flatly. "What's the plan, anyway?"
"We're meeting up with Emmett and Rosalie and heading to the airport. Rose is going with you to Denali to stay with Tanya's group there. That way if Cyrus follows you, he still won't be able to get at you," he hesitated and glanced over at me. "You wouldn't seriously have just run off and let him kill you tonight, would you?"
I looked down at my clenched fists. "I'd deserve it."
Jake said nothing while he pulled the car off to the side of the road at the border of the Rez and stopped. I could see the headlights of Emmett's jeep heading towards us, and the lights illuminated the harsh, angry lines on Jake's face. When he spoke, his words came through gritted teeth.
"I don't know what kind of bullshit you have going through your head right now, Leah Clearwater, and I don't really want to, because that's your shit to deal with. You wanna run away and hide, fine. I get that. I did the same thing with Bella. But I will not let you go looking for death just because you have some bullshit idea that you deserve it. I've got enough to deal with without worrying you're going to roll over and let some leech kill you. So listen up. If anything happens, anything, I order you to fight with all you've got. And yeah, that's an Alpha command. You fight, and you live. Got it?"
I didn't look at him, couldn't look at him because I was sure I would break. Tightlipped, I nodded, not taking my eyes off of the jeep pulling to a halt fifty feet away.
Jake blew out a heavy breath. "Okay. Then let's go."
Silently, I followed him out of the car and climbed into the jeep. No one spoke, but I know we all heard the wolf cry as we pulled away from the Rez.
I stared out the window and knew the sound would be burned into my soul forever.