Coming Home Chapter 6
This is it, folks. I hope you've enjoyed this story as much as I have. Read, enjoy, review!
After spending much of the day rehearsing in her mirror, feeling ridiculous, (and like she was sixteen again) Claire was still frazzled when it came time to leave for Emily's. Adam had spent the rest of the morning on the phone talking with his friend in Seattle. He had been offered his choice of several interesting jobs, so he was pleased with the prospects. He was most excited about an international liaison position where he would split his time between the three company bases, Seattle, Bangkok, and London. He had been chattering excitedly about his new opportunities throughout the afternoon. Claire felt a little bad about her minimalistic responses, but Adam appeared unperturbed and seemed to realize why she was so on edge.
Though she was pretty sure that dinner at Emily's was as informal as ever, Claire found herself spending over an hour obsessing over her small wardrobe. She finally decided on another sundress, this one a deep, dusty pink. Everyone would be in jeans and t-shirts if memory served, but she wanted to look nice, or rather she wanted Quil to think she looked pretty.
She worried over her hair, wondering if she should try something new and different. For the first time she could remember, she thought about changing her perpetually long, straight, shiny black hair. She entertained thoughts of short cropped hair, permed curls, shocking red hair dye, and so on, but, in the end, she brushed her waist length hair until it shined and wove it into its usual French braid. She, like her mother before her, had worn her hair long and plaited for nearly her entire life. With everything else she had to worry about tonight, she did not want to feel out of place in her own body. Playing with the thick tip of her long braid was a nervous habit of hers, and she figured that, in her time of need, she shouldn't be deprived of such simple indulgences.
She was resolved to have a long talk with Quil at Emily's that night. She was not going to let him slip out like the other times. She would be poised and rational and well spoken. She would make him listen, and she would figure out exactly why he was so upset. Once that had been determined and hopefully resolved, then she would tell him that she was in love with him. She was still a little anxious about how he was going to react to that. Eternal shunning and hatred seemed a bit harsh for Quil's style, but thinking that he would scoop her up in big, strong arms and declare that he was madly in love with her seemed optimistic to the point of idiocy. However, she tried to put those thoughts out of her head. Whatever would be would be. She needed to embrace a new que sera sera attitude and achieve inner peace. She doubted those could be accomplished in one day, but she would give it an honest effort.
With one last glance in the mirror, she decided to stop fussing about her appearance—she looked as good as she was going to—and focus on something else. She joined Adam in the kitchen, pouring herself yet another cup of coffee from the fresh pot he had just brewed.
"I figured you could use one more cup before we head off to face your destiny." His expression was half concern and half smirk, an odd combination at which Claire could not help but smile.
"You figured right." Claire tried to configure her features into something at least resembling a confident grin, but she was pretty sure that her efforts fell short.
"Relax, Claire. It's all going to work out. You'll confess your undying love and devotion. He'll confess his. The sky will erupt in a never before seen display of rainbows and shooting stars. Birds will sing sweet songs of forever. And, with any luck, the whole scene will distract your friends just long enough that I can manage to score seconds on lasagna."
Claire glared fiercely at his dismissive attitude. Adam smirked wickedly at Claire's irritation, knowing that she was far too close to the situation to be able to see it clearly. She glared. He smirked. The whole scene was so dearly familiar that, for a moment, Claire seriously entertained the idea of just staying right there, where she was safe and comfortable and would never need to face the possibility of rejection. Knowing, however, that she would forever hate herself if she did, and that Adam would never let her get away with it anyway, she summoned every remaining ounce of courage and sheer stupidity that she possessed, and, pausing only to gulp down the rest of her coffee, she led the way to the car.
Adam kept up a constant chatter during the short drive over to her aunt's house and had her vacillating between snickers and full on belly laughs. Though she was slightly out of breath from laughing so hard, he had effectively managed to disarm most of her nerves. After parking along the side of the gravel road in front of Sam and Emily's house, the two of them dashed through the rain with arms held ineffectively above their heads in an attempt to shield themselves from the weather. Face flushed and eyes bright, Claire threw open the door, allowing them to duck inside.
The house was already full of familiar faces watching Adam and Claire's dramatic entrance with rather more shrewdness than she would have thought them capable. Emily immediately began fussing and rubbing them with a towel she had seemingly conjured out of thin air. Claire begged off the aggressive toweling, trying to rearrange her wrinkled dress into something presentable.
Looking up, she found Quil gazing at her intently, which caused her already red face to flush further. A smile ghosted across his face before he turned back to Embry, who was clearly in the middle of some exaggerated tale, judging by the grandness of his gesturing.
Adam poked her in the ribs, making her inhale sharply and calling her attention back to Emily, who had obviously been talking to her for a bit. She did not, however, notice how Quil's head had turned sharply back toward her when she'd gasped.
Emily drew Claire into the kitchen, where she was soon busy buttering ten huge loaves of French bread, while Emily tore up lettuce for salad. Claire noticed that Quil and Embry were talking to Adam in the living room, and was unsure whether to be glad they were giving Adam a chance or just plain worried. Emily soon distracted her with questions about which European cities Claire had visited. The line of questioning made her feel a bit guilty about the extremely long communication hiatus she'd taken, so she tried to answer with extra enthusiasm, in the theory that she might get extra family brownie points for effort.
In the middle of a rambling answer about Luxembourg, a sudden commotion behind them caused Emily and Claire to spin around with reflexes borne from years of raising children and dealing with all manner of crazy airline passengers respectively. They turned just in time to see Adam flying across the living room and Embry and Seth holding back a struggling Quil.
Pausing only to shoot an affronted glare in Quil's direction, Claire rushed over to Adam, who was sprawled across the carpeting.
"You could have killed him, you stupid, childish dog!" She hissed in a voice audible only to the werewolf population in the room and saw Quil wince at her words before he allowed Embry to lead him outside.
Turning back to Adam she switched into first aid mode, gauging the extent of his injuries, relieved that they were only minor. Clearly Quil had not put his full supernatural strength behind the punch, or Adam's cheekbone would have been shattered and the situation far more serious. Cradling Adam's head in her lap, she wiped it with a cool cloth handed to her by Emily and gently pressed an enormous bag of frozen peas, also proffered by Emily, against the massive bruise already blooming across the entire left side of his face.
"You know, Claire, I think you might be right about me not making a very good first impression." Adam's sarcastic tone came out weaker than usual, and Claire laughed faintly, thankful he was at least conscious.
"Of course I'm right, but, then again, I didn't think it necessary to mention that picking fights with guys twice your size is unwise. Obviously, I was mistaken. What on earth did you do to piss him off enough for him to toss you across the room? Quil's not exactly known around the rez for throwing punches—so you must have said something, you stupid, sarcastic fool."
"Just my typical brand of charm. He asked what my future plans were, I told him about that job offer and said I was looking forward to living in Bangkok, he asked if you were coming with me, and I said that I hoped not. Next thing I know I'm seeing stars—my god, that boy can throw a punch!" Adam rubbed ineffectually at the bag of peas attached to his face and gave her a rather pitiful look.
Claire sighed, leaning down and touching her forehead to Adam's hairline. "You should know better than to antagonize him like that." Adam made some unintelligible objecting noises and she shushed him. "No, no. I know. I'm sorry. You going to be all right?"
"Yeah, help me up here, will you?" She dropped a brief kiss on his temple before rising and helping him over to the couch, which was suddenly clear. After settling him on the sofa, she looked around and saw all the silent, searching faces of her friends and relatives. Sam, Embry, and Seth were standing together near the door, and seeing them reignited her fury. Striding purposefully over to them, she started yelling.
"Aren't you supposed to be fast—where are those damn reflexes of yours? Why didn't you stop him?!" She jabbed at Embry's chest before turning on her uncle. "And aren't you supposed to be in control? Good job with that." With that, she stormed out the door in search of the source of her ire.
She did not have to look far, as Quil was standing in the middle of the yard seemingly oblivious to the rain. Much of the rain evaporated upon contact with his skin, and, as he stood there in only a pair of cutoff jeans, he was surrounded by an evanescent vapor that blurred his outline and made him appear utterly otherworldly. She paused for a moment to absorb the sight, stunned into silence by his clearly supernatural beauty. His eyes remained closed, his face tilted toward the heavens, but she knew that he knew she was there. She tried to regain control over her extremely distracted brain and focus on the knowledge that he was undeniably in the wrong here and needed to be thoroughly told off for his egregious offense.
His eyes opened and she found herself fixed with his piercing stare, his eyes as dark as coal burning into her, his eyelashes beaded with raindrops, his face expressionless. She had opened her mouth to speak but found herself at a loss for words, her mind only able to focus on the unfathomably beautiful man in front of her. Words failed her, and one tiny stream of her mind seemed coherent enough to be irritated at that. Who was he, after all, to render her speechless? How dare he stand there and steal the words from her mind! The more rational part of her brain, which normally would ignore such obviously immature, unreasonable, and utterly idiotic tripe, was far too hypnotized by the ethereal beauty of Quil Ateara shirtless in the rain with his eyes blazing into her and turning her insides molten to do its job properly.
"You could have killed him, Quil! How could you do that? You're a grown man—you're supposed to have some self control!" Her voice was strange, even to her, like she was trying not to scream or not to cry, but she wasn't sure which.
Tortured eyes burned into her even more intensely as he responded. "I know, Claire. I know. I'm so sorry. I should never have hit him." There was no way to doubt the sincerity in his apology, but his eyes clouded over with anger as he continued.
"He said he was going to leave you! Jet off to Asia and doesn't even want you to go with him! The stupid, smarmy bastard…"
"He's gotten a great job offer there! Why shouldn't he go? He's not leaving me! Besides—he'd be in Seattle often enough, so it's not like I would never see him! And I certainly have no desire to live in freaking Bangkok! Thailand is awesome—so much fun to visit, but I sure don't want to live there! He's not leaving me and this whole conversation is ridiculous! Even if he were, it wouldn't give you the right to beat him up! You know better than that!" Claire's voice had risen in pitch steadily, and she was dimly aware that her shrieking would soon reach a range where only dogs would be capable of hearing it but was undeterred, knowing that the person she was screaming at possessed canine hearing anyway.
"Well, excuse me for defending you! I've watched you lose your father and your mother and leave me, and I sure as hell am not going to just stand aside and watch your snotty boyfriend leave you too! My god, Claire! You just can't ask that of me!" Steam seemed to radiate off him as he yelled right back at her.
"I don't need you to defend me, Quil! I'm a big girl, all grown up now, and I don't need you to fight my battles for me!" Claire could barely see through the haze of fury, frustration, and precipitation. The rain ran in rivulets down her face and plastered her hair to her head.
"I know you've grown up, Claire!" Quil threw his arms in the air muttering a string of obscenities that she couldn't make out before gesturing wildly at her. "I can see you've grown up. ARGH! Why do you keep doing this to me, Claire?"
Claire glanced down at herself, realizing belatedly that her pink sundress was now soaked through and clinging to her body, displaying very clearly womanly curves that she definitely had not possessed the last time she had been in La Push. Embarrassed and indignant, she crossed her arms over her chest before yelling back at him.
"I'm not doing anything to you, Quil! You're making up stories where there aren't any! Adam is not my boyfriend and he is not leaving me and you are turning this into some sort of sordid soap opera! You're such a drama queen!"
Quil's expression was a comical mix of affronted and disbelieving. "Not your boyfriend… drama queen." He spluttered, apparently unable to form actual sentences.
"Ugh! Obviously I need to snag Emily's cast iron skillet to bludgeon some sense into that thick, thick skull of yours!"
Incredulous, Quil's words exploded out of him like they'd been simmering inside him for years.
"You're the one who left! You left and you stopped writing and then you show up out of the blue with the little boy wonder in there and you're upset that we made assumptions! Maybe if you had taken time to stay in touch we wouldn't have to try to figure it out on our own! Sam thinks you're getting married, did you know that? You cart that lout across the country with you, what do you expect us to think? I don't think you get to claim the high ground here, Claire!"
"I never claimed 'high ground!' You're putting words in my mouth again!"
"Well, someone has to! You don't talk to any of us anymore, so we are left making assumptions if we want to know anything about you anymore! Maybe I shouldn't have hit your new best buddy, but you left—you don't get to come back and have everything just the way it was! It doesn't work that way!"
"Then how does it work, Quil? Because your mood swings are leaving me baffled here. You're hot, you're cold, you're happy, you're mad— you're driving me crazy! Why are you acting like this with me? I'm sorry! I'm sorry I left you, I'm sorry I'm a crappy correspondent, I'm sorry I've been a crappy friend, a crappy niece, and an altogether crappy person! I get it—I'm crap. I know that, Quil!"
"You're not crap." Quil mumbled, his words barely understandable, the quiet tone almost drowned out by the constant patter of rain.
"I am! And I know that and you know that, but what I don't understand is why you're acting like this! I know I've been a self-centered jerk, but I guess I stupidly thought that you'd forgive me and that you'd actually be happy to see me." Claire's voice broke on the last few words and she was not sure if the wetness on her cheeks was a byproduct of the weather or her own tear ducts; she guessed it was both.
"You drive me crazy, Claire. And I'm confused and frustrated and a little angry—but I am always happy to see you. I just don't understand what you're doing here. It seems like you just brought Mr. Wonderful out here just to throw him in our faces, to show that you've moved on and don't need us anymore. And that…"
Claire let loose an actual scream at that point, throwing her arms above her head in utter frustration.
"Quil Ateara! AGH! You insanely melodramatic, oversized, colossal moron!" Claire's shrieking had suddenly transformed into her flight attendant emergency evacuation voice, and it reached an unbelievable volume usually achieved only by professional opera singers and rang out with such absolute force of command that the huge werewolf in front of her actually cowered.
"I needed to get out of here! You knew that, you know that! And I did and I flew all over the world and saw all sorts of brilliant things and I loved it and don't regret a minute of it, but I'm tired and I'm lonely and I missed you and I just don't work without you."
Claire paused, out of breath from her high decibel outburst. Her screaming had drawn a crowd, and she noted fleetingly that everyone was crowded around the edge of the house watching them. Quil stood frozen and his intense, inscrutable gaze pierced through her balloon of hysterics. Spent from screaming and resigned to the hopelessness of the situation, her ire deflated. She continued in a much quieter and more subdued tone, eyes downcast.
"I came back home to tell you that I love you, Quil. I've loved you all along, but I was too stupid to realize it and too distracted by my mom and school and my crazy wanderlust. Adam's here because he's the one to blame for this whole declaration, because he's the one who clued me in about the whole me being in love with you bit, and he's the one who convinced me to come back here and tell you all this—and I'm sorry. I know that it's crazy and I know that you don't feel the same way, but I…"
Her words were cut off as Quil, finally breaking out of his entranced reverie, closed the distance between them with inhuman speed, and his lips crashed into hers.
All of the well-reasoned arguments she had been about to express flew out of her mind when she saw the look in his eyes, and she gasped as their lips met. One of his warm hands was splayed across the small of her back crushing her almost violently to him while the other cradled her cheek with exquisite gentleness, brushing along her brow and making her skin tingle. His lips were hot as they slid over hers, and the sensation of their rain-soaked mouths connecting was unlike anything she had ever felt. Fiery tendrils of desire radiated out from her lower belly, and her stomach flipped languidly as his lips continued to caress her own, the desperate movement of his mouth communicating more than words could ever quantify. The kiss started hard, full of need and pent-up emotion, but soon it evolved into something quieter and infinitely sweeter.
Quil pulled back slightly and Claire heard herself let out a whimper at the loss of contact. He kissed her lips very softly once, twice more, before pressing his lips gently to her forehead and once more, ever so lightly, against her lips. He pulled back only a few inches and his gaze was like lava, burning into her. Claire had to blink several times to bring herself back to reality. She realized that her hands had woven themselves into Quil's short hair, but she felt no immediate need to move them, as Quil was still clutching her waist.
"I loved you from the first moment I saw you, Claire." His voice was hushed and deeper than normal. Claire stared up at him, lost in the intense emotion in his eyes and the flush of feelings, anchored by the strong arm wrapped around her, and she rose up for a brief moment to press her lips against his once again.
His smile was strange and he looked almost guilty as he continued. "We're soulmates, you know? It's true—just one more legend come true to change my life. I'm a magnet for the supernatural, I guess. My world was literally rent apart the first time I saw you, and I knew then and there that you would one day grow up to be the love of my life. This sounds stupid—I'm sorry."
He looked at her, his eyes begging her to understand and looking terrified that she would run away. She made soft shushing sounds as she stroked his cheek, trying to reassure him with her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Claire. I'm sorry that I've been acting like this, but, oh god, you have to understand that I'm nothing without you. The last four and a half years have been hell for me—and I am so happy that you got to go see the world, but I've been an unmitigated disaster without you, just ask the peanut gallery over there." He nodded slightly at their audience by the house. "And then you finally came back, and I didn't think that you would, and I was such a complete mess, and you had dragged him along and I thought… I don't know."
"I… I really didn't know, Quil. I'm sorry—I had no idea it would be like that for you. I'm so selfish! Ugh!" Claire averted her eyes, guilt churning through her system, but Quil's hand guided her gaze back to him, and the look on his face was utterly sincere when he spoke.
"No, Claire. Don't even go there. It was the best thing for you to get out of here, and I know that. I wanted to follow you, I wanted to drag you back here and tell you how much I loved you, but I knew that I couldn't, because it wasn't what you needed. I know that, I really, really do. I never want you to feel guilty for going after your dreams—wasn't I the one always telling you to do just that? And I would gladly go through all of that ten times over if it meant just having this one moment, right here."
Claire made a valiant attempt to smile but tears filled her eyes, blurring her sight. Then Quil's warm fingers were there, brushing them away, and he was kissing her face. Dropping light, ghosting kisses all over her face, wet with forest rain and salty tears, he murmured over and over words of love and reassurance, filling her ears with ardent I love yous and forevers and whispering her name with such absolute cherished devotion that she felt dizzy.
With hot emotion coursing through her veins, she realized with relief that she was not dead inside, like the girls back in New York had claimed, and she was not emotionally stunted. No, she had just been living without Quil, and she could never truly be complete so far away from him. She had never put much stock in the idea of soulmates, but somehow it now seemed inevitable and right, now that she looked back it all. She could not help but cling closer to him, and, with his warm arms around her, she barely noticed the cold Washington rain. She had never felt more alive than she did at that moment. Arms snaking around his neck, she beamed up at him, her smile brighter than she had ever known it could be.
A loud victorious whooping sound caused Quil and Claire to wrench their eyes away from each other and turn to the crowd of friends and family watching them. They both started laughing at Embry's ecstatic exultations, and Claire nearly doubled over in giggles as he broke into an impromptu celebratory dance.
Adam winced when Embry grabbed his arms and dragged him forward, but started laughing in earnest when Embry yelled dramatically, "We could never have done it without you, kid!" With a roll of his eyes, he joined Embry's ridiculous spectacle, which appeared part Irish jig and part war dance. They danced violently, limbs flailing.
Quil picked Claire up off the ground and, spinning her wildly, closed the distance between them and the others. He set her carefully back on the ground before flashing her a radiant and mischievous grin. Kissing her again, this time fast and hard, he ran off to join Embry and Adam in their crazy celebration, his unbridled glee radiating off him and making him appear far younger, healthier, and more beautiful than she had ever seen him.
Emily wrapped an arm around her, squeezing her in a quick one armed hug, to which Claire responded with a glowing smile. As they watched, several other pack members and most of teenagers joined in the mad dance in the rain. Mud flew about as feet pounded heavily into the rain-soaked ground, and the sound of joyous laughter resounded through the air and bounced off the trees. Claire laughed so hard that tears of mirth rolled down her face. And as she stood there, soaked to the bone in the pouring rain, her aunt's arm around her, laughing from deep within her soul as she watched her family, her best friend, and the love of her life flail about like complete fools, she felt completely content and at peace. She was finally home.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you liked it, and I would love to know what you think-- of this chapter and of the story as a whole. Did it live up to expectations, fall short? I wanted to write something with a good balance of romantic angst and humor, and I hope I managed it. I hope I did the characters justice and that no one was too scarred by my prominent use of an OC and my wandering version of Claire (leaving La Push of her own free will as an adult is rarely if ever seen in fanon and a lot of people seem to dislike her for it) Again, I'd love to hear your thoughts-- and if you've made it this far, thanks for reading! You've been awesome. *blows grateful kisses into cyberspace*