A/N: I am a humongous lying liar and in general just a horrible person. But finally, a chapter emerges from the depths of my hard drive and weakly crawls onto the internet.

Ch. 20: Scratches

Joe drove.

Trust me, I argued loudly. I told him over and over that Jake would castrate him if he saw Joe driving the Spirit. But Joe was not having it. So I reluctantly relinquished my rightful spot as driver, making Joe promise to let me drive home. At least this way I got to finish my coffee.

As soon as we got into Forks proper, I was glad I had stayed in La Push all this time. There was simply nothing to DO here. Seriously. At least the Rez had beaches and cliffs and, you know, supernatural protectors. Forks had a grocery store. There's only so many times you can run down aisles in shopping carts before you get mortally bored.

I officially interviewed Captain Swan, who confirmed that there really wasn't much to do in Forks. However, he did tell us about some small places tourists could stay, which we also visited and photographed. It was a quiet town: nice, quaint, and definitely not for me. I nearly danced with glee when the sun started to set and Joe agreed that we had seen all there was to see in Forks. He grumbled all the way home as I happily drove the Sprint back toward La Push.

As soon as we pulled up the Blacks', I could tell something was off. Joe didn't seem to notice; he was on the phone with Andrea, placating her, leaving me to put the bike in the shed.

The shed was silent and dark with impending dusk. The sinking sun cast everything into partial shadows. It was weird; usually, Jacob spent every second of spare daylight working on either the Bus or the Rabbit.

After putting the Sprint in its normal place along the wall, I dialed Embry's cell phone; it was the only number I had. It rang through to voicemail. As I waited for the message to play out, I walked back into the house. Billy was in the living room watching a basketball game. He turned and smiled at me as I hung up the phone.

"How was Forks?" he asked.

"Boring. Where's Jake?"

Billy nodded toward the kitchen, his eyes fixated on the television.

In the kitchen, I saw his back arched over the top of the refrigerator door, obviously looking for more food. I tiptoed behind him and jumped on his back in a hug. I was seconds from kissing him when he yelled.

His large warm hands grabbed my wrists tightly and he flung me off his back. I squeaked in terror, spinning under his hands from the force of his throw.

That's when we both realized something.

I wasn't an attacker. And he wasn't Jacob.

Quil pulled me roughly away from the counter I was careening toward. So instead of slamming against hard, cold Formica, I slammed against hard, warm man-beast.

"Sorry," we both mumbled at the same time.

"I – I thought you were…" Quil continued.

"Jacob," I muttered.

"Oh, er…yeah. No, he's…he's out on patrol."

I looked up. Quil was rubbing the back of his neck nervously. Our eyes met and we both quickly looked away.

"Should be back around midnight," Quil added.

"Oh."

I didn't know about him, but my face felt warmer than usual. Could his face get warmer? Or, you know, any part of him…

"But yeah…" Quil cleared his throat. I realized I was staring and quickly looked him in the eye. "Leah caught a really strong vamp smell around the house so Jake sent me over to make sure you got back okay."

"More vampires?"

Quil nodded. "Looks like the leech's called in reinforcements."

I sighed and leaned against the counter. I heard a cheer from the television, shortly joined by Billy's own cheer. Quil and I stood silently and separately in the kitchen. I needed a hug. I hugged myself.

"Um, what are you doing?"

I looked up at the sound of Joe's voice. He was standing in the doorway, looking curiously at Quil and I.

"Nothing," we both said simultaneously.

Joe frowned then grabbed a cheeseburger from a platter on the stovetop. He walked out silently.

Super. Uncomfortable. Silence.

"Right, well," Quil spoke suddenly. "Should probably head out."

"Oh, you can stay. Have a burger. Watch the game." I rushed.

"Nah, you go ahead. I'll let Jake know you're back." He snatched up his truck keys and walked toward the front door. I followed him quietly.

"Stay inside," he muttered as he walked toward the door. "Please. Jake'll murder me if I let you leave the house."

Billy perked up as he opened the front door. "Not staying, Quil?" Billy turned away from the TV, but kept his eyes on the screen. "We've got plenty. And the game's getting good."

"No thanks Billy. Gonna go help Emily with Claire," Quil spoke up. He lowered his voice, his eyes flicking over to Joe on the couch. "Anything happens…you hear, see, or smell anything, you call me. Or call Emily. Billy's got both numbers."

I nodded.

And Quil was gone. He closed the door and he was gone.

I must have stood there for a bit too long because one of them cleared their throats. I turned. Joe was looking at me strangely. I ignored him and walked back in the kitchen.

I was going to be ok. Jake wouldn't leave me alone unless he knew I was safe. And in the bright lights of the kitchen, with Billy yelling at the TV and Joe typing on the computer and a cheeseburger on my plate, I did feel safe.

Two hours later, the game had ended. As usual, I couldn't keep up. I understood the rules and the principles, thanks to Joe constantly reminding me, but the teams never held my interest. I wrote it off as a male thing. My psychology teacher would have attributed it to primitive war instincts or something. I just blamed the broken chromosome.

Now I had holed myself up in my room, hoping that doing so would force me to get some writing done. After all, I had no Jacob to distract me for another few hours.

Only…now that I was completely alone, I couldn't remember the house creaking this much.

Seriously. I know houses creak. Especially old houses. And the Black's house wasn't exactly young. But it was creaking so often, I was sure it was trying to bury itself into the earth.

I didn't blame it. I felt like hiding too. I was already buried under a gigantic comforter and curled up in a corner on my bed. But it didn't quell the anxious feeling in my stomach: somewhere between food poisoning and hyperactive butterflies.

I tried to keep my mind on my notes. But for every sentence I wrote, I deleted two. My mind flitted around and my ears perked at every sound, straining for something familiar. I couldn't settle. Not with my mind running this rampant.

I wanted to run. I wanted to do something. The longer I stayed here in my corner in my blanket, the more insane I would grow. But if I ran, Randall would be on me the second I was out of Jacob's protective scent barrier.

Maybe if I talked to someone. Someone on the outside. Someone still completely and blissfully unaware of supernatural horrors. I picked up my phone and started to scroll through my contacts.

I could call my parents. My finger lingered over the house number as I weighed the consequences. My mom was usually great for conversation. I could talk to her about almost anything. However, she had an uncanny knack for hearing any minuscule hint of distress in my voice. The second she caught wind of my unease, I would be subject to her version of the Spanish Inquisition that would have made the Auto de Fe sweat. My dad, while less in tune with the fluctuation in my tone, still didn't hold much chance in placating me. If I was lucky, we might start discussing something, whether literature of current events; however, because I'd been secluded in La Push for weeks and he rarely had time to read leisurely, we'd probably fall into awkward and faltering small talk which neither of us had much interest in.

Ultimately, the fates made my decision for me. As I scrolled past my parents, my best friend Nessa popped up on my caller ID.

"Nessa?" I answered.

"Kathleen! I thought you were dead!"

I laughed. "No, just…preoccupied."

"What's up?"

"Uh…" Where did I start? I couldn't tell her about the wolf pack; Sam had sworn me to secrecy. And without the wolf pack, I had absolutely no hope of convincing her that a vampire was pursuing me. Nessa had little penchant for the absurd and unrealistic. She'd just fuss at me for letting my imagination get the better of me.

"Kathleen?" Nessa's voice brought me back.

"Sorry?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." I could hear the unnaturally high tone the second the word passed my lips. Nessa jumped on it.

"Kathleen," her voice went serious, "tell me what's wrong."

"Jake left me alone and I'm freaking out."

"Oooh, Jake? I don't know a Jake. Who's Jake?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but my words turned into a shriek. Something – or someone – scratched at the window.

"Hello? You ok?"

My heart pounded against my ribcage, begging to get out.

"Kathleen?" Nessa.

"Huh?"

"What happened?"

"Uh…"

I stared at the window in terror, half expecting the glass to shatter and to see Randall crouched in the frame, snarling at me. His solid, lank frame would be silhouetted in the moonlight, tattered clothes waving gently in the wind. He wouldn't move. Neither would I. The only reason I would know it was him – besides the paralyzing fear mixed with the paralyzing charm – would be the eyes. Glowing red. Or impossibly purple. Or dead black. I couldn't decide which terrified me more. Then, before I could gather enough control of my vocal cords to scream, he would pierce them. He would leap at me, landing silently on the bed like a cat. On the landing, his teeth would sink effortlessly into my neck. Ice would turn to fire as he began to –

"KATHLEEN!"

I jumped violently. Nessa's shout brought me from my murderous reverie. The window was still solid. There was no vampire shadow.

"Sorry…" I muttered. "I heard a noise."

"What was it?"

"Um…hang on, I'll look." I climbed out of my blanket and sidled toward the window, trying to stay out of direct view of anything that could be peering in. I inhaled deeply, trying to gather up my limited courage. Just before I looked out, my eye caught a shadow on the wall. It was long and spindly and big. It waved lightly in the wind but otherwise didn't move. It looked evil but I had a feeling it wasn't. Realization dawned.

"It was a tree."

The line was silent. "A…tree?"

I set my jaw and looked out the window. The offending branch scraped against the window again as I glared at it. The stupid thing was mocking me.

Meanwhile, Nessa was mocking me on the phone. "You screamed…at a tree. Somehow, love, I think that's a little less effective than an axe."

I opened my mouth to explain. I couldn't. There was no way to relate my terror. She'd never understand. But Nessa didn't seem to want an explanation.

"So who's Jake?"

"Just a guy. Guy I'm staying with."

"You're living with a boy and you didn't tell me!"

"It's not like that!"

"Like hell," Nessa mumbled. "You're moving too fast, I can tell. You've known the guy, what, two weeks? And already you're living together?"

I could feel a smile growing on my lips as she berated me. "It's not like that, I swear. He lives with his dad. Joe and I have been staying here instead of a motel."

"He lives with his dad?"

"He's eighteen."

Nessa whistled. "Robbing the cradle, that's new," she taunted.

"He's very mature for his age," I managed through muffled laughter.

"Uh-huh. And you going mental because he's gone is the picture of health."

"Yeah, yeah," I sighed.

"All right, I'm done. So where is the boy toy tonight."

"Out. With friends."

"Uh-huh. And the assignment?"

I groaned. "Nes, there is literally nothing to do here."

"Except Jake."

"…if you were here right now, I'd smack you."

"I know."

"But seriously. I just can't think of reasons why someone should visit Forks when there's so much more to do in La Push."

"Like Jacob."

"Upgraded to a punch."

We laughed. Laughing felt good.

"Well, I'm just saying if Jacob's half as amazing as you gush and he's gotten you as distracted as Joe gripes about, I can see why you'd prefer where he lives."

I made a face. I knew she was right but I wasn't about to tell her that.

"How's college?"

Nessa groaned. "Dull, dull, dull. Can't wait to get out of here."

"Yeah."

We talked for a while until her phone battery died out. Then I was alone again.

I managed to force out a blurb about Forks, mostly about the smallness of the town and the friendliness of the people. I left out the grocery store, figuring tourists could discover for themselves the joys of shopping cart races. But I couldn't come up for anything else to say. There's only so many times you can talk about the oppressive number of trees before you sound like a lunatic.

I saved my work and put my laptop back on the desk. If I couldn't run outside, I could at least get out of my room. Maybe coffee would inspire a few more lines of fake gushing on Forks' supposed wonderfulness.

Billy had retired to his room after the game and I could see the light off from under the door. Canned laughter from some late night talk show echoed from the television but Joe seemed to have dozed off. I padded into the kitchen and began making coffee. I was just contemplating whether or not to add flavoring when I heard a noise.

This wasn't a scratch. It was a snap of gnashing jaws, followed by a low growl. The ruckus died out suddenly. Then a loud snarl at the window, as if the creature was standing inches away from me.

The door crashed open. I jumped.

"Oh, sorry, hon. Didn't know you were down here."

It was Jake. Jake was home. I exhaled shakily and released the mug. My fingernails had left marks on my palm from my death grip on the handle.

He came up behind me and hugged me. I fell into him gratefully, giving him the hug I had accidentally given Quil.

"Are you okay?" He pulled away a bit to look at me worriedly. "You're shaking."

"I'm just jumpy tonight."

"So you're making coffee?" A hint of a cheeky grin peeked through his worry.

I opened my mouth, but no retort came out. Instead, I turned back to the pot as it finished percolating. "So what was all that about?"

"Huh?" I heard the refrigerator open. "Oh. Got in a small argument with Leah. No big deal. She was baiting me."

"What else is new?"

"Right?" I turned to catch his grin. "So how'd you like Forks?"

"Ugh," I grumbled. "That's what it was. It was ugh."

He chuckled deeply. "Told you so. Hasn't your time been much better spent staying here?"

"All doubts are squashed. No matter how many crazy supernatural things are after me."

Jacob pulled me close to him again, his warm hand on the small of my back. "But some of those supernatural things aren't all bad, right?"

I shrugged playfully. "Eh. A couple of them are growing on me."

He chuckled again, cheeky smile in full bloom and mirrored in my own smile. He wrapped my hand in his and we walked upstairs, pausing only for me to switch off the TV.

He walked into my bedroom without invitation. I grinned and jumped on his back. He chuckled at me and kept walking without pausing.

"So how's my baby?" I asked, resting my chin on his shoulder.

"Much better. The new distributor came in today."

I kissed his cheek. "I was talking about you, silly."

"So was I." He turned quickly and snuck a kiss, his face blooming into a cheeky smirk.

I smiled into the crook of his neck and breathed in deep. His natural woody, earthy smell was more pronounced than usual and I fancied I still smell the musk of his wolf coat on his skin. It was comfortable, natural. Organic.

"So is it in yet?"

"Well not yet, but if you're in the mood…"

I glared at him playfully. "The distri…thingy. For the Bus."

"No, we'll have to go into town for it tomorrow. Sorry, sweetie, but you gotta go back to Forks."

"Ugh."

...

A/N: Review please. In exchange, I will try to write faster.