AN: As always, sorry for the long wait, and thanks for sticking around! Or coming back! Or whatever! Love you guys :)
Chapter 14 – Separation Anxiety
We reached the Summit well before noon, this trip proving far less eventful than my first journey into the wolves' capital. The countryside north of the mountain stronghold seemed more sparsely settled than the southern reaches through which we had passed days before, the forest quiet and serene for miles around us. Paul ran out in front of us, loping through the trees in his hulking wolf form like some great silvery shadow while Jacob kept his human shape and carried me in his arms.
We didn't speak along the way. The weight of Sam's claim on me hung heavy around us, stilling my tongue and sealing my lips. There was nothing left to say or do now but hang on to Jacob and wait for the end.
Some looked up from their business as we ran through the dense cluster of settlements that ringed the base of the mountain, and a few even paused to call an angry or insulting remark after us, but for the most part daily life seemed to go on regardless of our passage. The majority of the people had already moved on, their interest in the foreign princess apparently lasting as far as Sam Uley's display, but no farther. I had never felt so relieved at being forgotten.
We went straight up to the main entrance in the Summit just as we had done before, the great cave opening now seeming less like a terrible dragon eager to swallow me, and more like a resigned, even bored yawn. There was nothing grand or historic about this arrival; I felt rather like a dog crawling back to its master with its tail between its legs.
Jacob set me on my feet just inside the threshold, though his arms remained around me, holding me to him, protective as he scanned the interior of the dim hall. Paul rolled his eyes at us and slunk off into one of the many branching corridors with a disgusted snort. I was just beginning to hope he was gone for good when he emerged again, human once more and clad in the simple leather trousers that all the Shifters seemed to wear.
"Sam's out on a run with Leah," he told Jacob as he approached us, "but they're on their way back now. He wants you in his study when he gets here."
"Fine," Jake said shortly and started to move deeper into the cave, but Paul stopped him.
"Just you," he said, as his hand closed around my arm. "Not the leech."
Jacob snarled and I jerked away from Paul, my free hand reflexively coming up to try to bat him away, even though I knew I was no match for his strength. My fingers had barely brushed his, though, when he suddenly released me, yanking his hand back as though he'd been burned.
Paul looked strangely at his hand for a moment, but then thrust it back down by his side, turning his glare on us once more. "You've got a lot of nerve, Black," he spat. "You think you can pick and choose which of the Alpha's commands to follow-"
"I said I was coming here to protect her. That was our deal," Jacob growled back, the sound reverberating through me from my head to my toes as he tightened his arm around me.
"I don't think Sam will care what kind of stupid deal we had to make under your father's authority – what little of it there is-"
Jake looked about ready to swing at his brother-in-law again, and the people going about the king's business in the rest of the great hall were beginning to take notice of us, so I decided it was time I stepped in. "Jake, it's okay. I can wait for you in my room downstairs," I said, craning my head back to look up at him, squashed against him as I was. Perhaps calling it my room was a bit of an exaggeration, but I'd gotten the sense that the small chamber to which I'd been escorted on my last visit, where I'd been dressed for Sam's dramatic, grisly show, was supposed to be my long-term residence, at least before Jacob had whisked me away to his family home. I added, my voice softer, reminding him, "I don't want to get you into any more trouble."
Jacob's dark eyes flicked down to my face, studying my features skeptically. He looked about as excited as I felt at the prospect of being separated from him.
"I'll be alright. I promise," I said again, and managed to conjure up a small, forced smile.
He looked away, chewing the inside of his cheek for a moment, before finally giving in with a minute nod. "Alright, fine," he said grudgingly, "but I'm coming to get you right after I talk to Sam."
"Good," I said, and meant it. I didn't want to be alone in this place for any longer than I had to be.
"Well, isn't that cute," Paul muttered, watching as Jacob stepped around him to lead the way over to one of the back corridors. "The leech is looking out for you." He didn't follow us, but he did let out a loud growl when Jacob raised one hand in a rude gesture over his shoulder, just before we were swallowed up by the hallway.
Ness's scent was faded, days old now, but it still stood out like a beacon to him as they wound their way down through the tunnels under the Summit. He found her room easily enough – it was located deep under the mountain, along a lonely stretch of otherwise deserted hallway, yet strangely near the dorms that housed the many women who worked in the Alpha's household. Not for the first time, he wondered what Sam intended to do with Nessie, and why he would insist on her being here. Why couldn't he just leave them alone, let Jacob take care of her, like he was supposed to-
He smothered an irritated growl, pushing the door open for Ness. He'd be able to ask Sam all that and more just as soon as he got back from his little romp with Leah.
"So, this is it," Ness said wryly, stepping into the middle of the room and turning in a small circle to look back at him. "Home sweet home."
It was tiny, was what it was. Jacob almost felt like he'd have to duck his head to step inside. One small bed was pushed into each of the far corners, a doorway cut into the wall between them opening onto a little closet-like dressing room. The saddlebags that Ness's ill-fated horse and mule had carried from her homeland were stacked on the floor inside, taking up almost the whole space.
Ness was watching him, her hands clasped loosely behind her back, big brown eyes resigned and expectant. Waiting for him to leave, he realized.
"It's… cozy," he commented, stalling.
"It's not like I need a whole lot of space," Ness shrugged, dropping her gaze with a small ironic smile. "And I doubt anyone's going to want to share with me," she said, taking a step over to one small bed and indicating the other, vacant, one with a nod of her head. She sank down onto the mattress, elbows on her knees and chin in her hands, looking up at him again with those wide, expectant eyes.
Jacob cleared his throat, shifting his weight against the doorjamb. He needed to go meet Sam and they both knew it – but he didn't want to leave her.
"This really shouldn't take very long," he said, folding his arms. "I bet Sam just wants me to check in, like a formality or something. Then I'll come right back here."
Ness pursed her lips, nodded. "Still… you probably shouldn't keep him waiting."
Jake sighed, hunching his shoulders. Of course she was right. "Yeah… I'll just…" He reached across the threshold to grab the door handle and begin pulling the door closed. "I'll see you in a little bit," he said, trying to catch Ness's eyes again, but she just nodded without looking at him, and then a moment later the door swung into place between them.
Jacob stood for a beat, simply staring at the wood grain and feeling as though a vice had suddenly clamped down on their connection, strangling it, despite the very small distance that actually separated him from Renesmee. He knew it would only get worse with every step he took away from her, but he also knew that she was right – the sooner he got this meeting with Sam over with, the sooner he'd be able to come back here.
Squaring his shoulders, he managed to turn away and start back up the long, winding corridor toward the top of the mountain.
No one spoke to him as he passed through the Main Hall on his way back up to the Alpha's study, Paul thankfully having made himself scarce after they'd parted ways earlier. He'd probably gone to meet Rachel, or, more likely, to find an open beer barrel somewhere. Jacob snorted, feeling his hands automatically ball into fists as he lumbered up the spiraling path to Sam's office. He would never understand his sister's decision to marry that jackass, or her unwavering loyalty to him now…
The little room at the top of the climb was deserted when he pushed the door open, the candles unlit and cold. Sam had been gone for a while. He left the door sitting half ajar, letting the torchlight from the hallway in to illuminate a wide slice across the floor, and settled back against one of the low wooden bureaus lining the walls to wait.
He let his eyes fall closed, leaning back into the shadows that lingered around the edges of the room, and tried not to think about anything. Not about Paul, or about Sam, or whatever he might have planned for Nessie, or any of the crazy things Quil and Embry were afraid he was planning, or what his father thought, or anything at all. He slowed his breathing, clearing all these things from his mind just like he'd learned to in his training when he'd first become a Shifter. Thoughts came and went but were not allowed to linger, and finally they began to fade entirely, leaving his mind as still and calm as the surface of an undisturbed pool.
Finally, one image rose to the surface of his mind, and was allowed to float there: Nessie's face, the sun catching in her hair, her big brown eyes looking up at him through her lashes.
He felt his mouth curve up in a smile, drinking in the image, and after a few moments found himself feeling along their connection, pretending that he could follow it back through the air to her. He could almost see it in his mind's eye: white and glowing, stretching from the center of his chest, twisting away down the hall, darting between people and winding around corners until he found her, sitting in her room, looking at the door, waiting for him. In his imagination, she gave a small sigh and turned away to curl up on her bed, pillowing her head on one arm. The connection pulled taut, straining and making his chest ache as he watched her lying there, looking so small and sad. He wanted to be there with her, to make her smile and keep her safe, and never leave her alone ever again – but then the imprint gave a sharp tug and he was jolted awake.
He was disoriented for half a second, wondering groggily when he had drifted off, and then the sound of voices reached his ears, fast approaching up the path from the Main Hall. Jake pushed away from the wall, running his hands through his hair and shaking his head to rid it of the last wisps of sleep. He couldn't've been out for more than a few minutes…
"And I'm telling you, I don't want her!" a voice he knew all too well rang out a little ways down the hall, rising angrily above the previous volume of conversation.
"It's done, Leah," Sam answered back evenly, an annoyed growl barely suppressed in his voice.
Jacob rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache building up there. And they weren't even in the room yet.
"Well, undo it," Leah snapped, not bothering to suppress her own growl one bit.
Gods, this was gonna be a long meeting.
The happy couple appeared a moment later, Sam pushing the door open the rest of the way and Leah following a step behind him, glaring daggers at his back. When she caught sight of Jacob, though, her expression darkened into a full-blown scowl.
"This is all your fault, Black," Leah snarled, taking up a position across the room from him with her arms folded angrily.
Jake pulled a face, his nose wrinkling up on one side. "What the hell did I do?"
"Have you been sitting up here in the dark all this time, Jacob?" Sam asked mildly, ignoring their exchange as he went to light the lamp on his desk. Bright gold flooded the room, making them all squint for a moment.
"Just for a couple minutes," Jake mumbled, shrugging and waiting for his eyes to adjust.
"I'm amazed you were able to pry yourself away from your little vampire friend," Leah sniped, still scowling at him.
"She's not a-"
"Stop it," Sam said flatly, cutting them off, his voice tinged with warning. Jacob snapped his mouth shut again, while Leah turned her scowl on the door, her jaw set defiantly.
Sam sighed and leaned back against his desk, crossing his ankles as he regarded them, Leah on his right and Jacob on his left. "Leah does bring up a good point, Jacob," he said quietly.
Jacob frowned. "What do you mean…" he began, but Sam held up a hand, and he fell silent.
"I told you to stay away from the girl before, when she first arrived. I could see you were becoming attached to her. But I never thought…"
"Sam, I told you," Jacob said from between gritted teeth. He cast a wary glance at Leah, wondering how much she knew. How much could Sam keep from her? "I can't help it."
The Alpha's face immediately darkened, all traces of compassion and understanding vanishing. "Yes. You can," he said, the statement sounding almost like a command.
"Enough," Sam growled, his hand slicing through the air as though physically cutting through Jacob's words. "You're going to take the new group of younglings out to the coast this afternoon so they can train with Ishmael. I won't have you hanging around here anymore, around her. Understood?"
Sam's eyes flashed. "Excuse me?"
"I'm not leaving her here by herself, Sam! What if something happens to her-"
Leah scoffed. "I should be so lucky," she muttered, rolling her eyes to the ceiling.
Jacob rounded on her. "Why the hell are you even here?" he demanded.
"Jacob-" Sam tried to call him back.
"I'll tell you why," Leah growled, glowering at him from across the room. "Because Sam wants me to babysit your precious little bloodsucker while you're away!"
His instinctive reaction was to snarl at her for calling Nessie that, but then the meaning behind her words sunk in. "Is that true?" Jake asked, turning bewildered eyes on Sam.
The older wolf let out a loud breath, frowning down at his feet for moment before answering. "You need to get away from her, Jacob," he said quietly but firmly. "It's not healthy. I don't know what kind of power she has over you, or where this obsession came from, but it needs to stop. That's why I'm sending you to Ishmael – take some time, get some distance, clear your head. And then get back to work."
Sam shifted his weight uncomfortably then, glancing over at Leah once before looking back at Jacob. "I am, however… not unaware that certain elements of our society would wish the girl harm."
Jacob folded his arms, scowling slightly. "After the other night, I almost thought you were one of them."
Sam snorted. "Please. That was for the crowd's benefit. I don't care one way or another what happens to her."
"This isn't really convincing me to go," Jake remarked, frowning further.
Sam flushed, his eyes narrowing on Jacob. "You're not here to be convinced," he replied harshly. "I'm not asking you, Jacob – I'm telling. You can either go willing… or you can go when I order you," he said, his voice deepening into the Alpha tones.
Jacob tensed, resisting the instinctive urge to cower before the Alpha's authority. "What if…" he said haltingly, trying to think. "If I go… could she come with me…?"
Sam made a sound of disgust, shaking his head once. "No. Absolutely out of the question." He paused, pinning Jacob with a hard glare before continuing. "You're one of my best Shifters, Jacob. That's why I chose you to go to the Cullens. I need you back at the top of your game now – not mooning over this girl… and not making me question your loyalty."
Jacob sucked in a sharp breath. "I am loyal," he said hoarsely.
Sam's gaze didn't waver. "Prove it."
Jake clenched his teeth, felt himself collapsing inward under the Alpha's power. Inside him, the imprint cried out, almost in pain. "Fine," he spat. He could hardly breathe around the ache in his chest. "I'll go. But it's not gonna change anything."
Jake glowered at him for another second before pushing off from the bureau and marching toward the door. His vision was beginning to blur around the edges, his movements quick and shaky, almost like he was hovering on the edge of a change. The imprint pulled at him, urging him to get away and refusing to acknowledge what he'd just agreed to, what he knew he had to do. He couldn't disobey Sam, not when his very loyalty to the Pack was called into question… And not when Nessie's safety might hinge on his obedience.
Maybe some of Quil and Embry's paranoia had rubbed off on him. But maybe they weren't that far off the truth either.
He stopped, his hand clenched around the door handle, and looked up to catch Leah's sour glare. "If anything happens to her…" he growled, leaving it hanging.
Leah just rolled her eyes. "Weren't you leaving?" she asked acidly.
Jake growled at her again and then stomped out into the hallway, yanking the door shut behind him. He'd show them he was loyal. A part of him couldn't believe Sam would even question him, not after the things he'd done, after he'd sworn to follow him and recognize him as the Alpha, after he'd renounced his own claim on the throne… He could have fought for it, he could have taken it for himself – but he didn't. Because he was just so damn loyal.
The ever-present crowd of scurrying lackeys and clerks in the Main Hall parted before him as he emerged from the corridor, glaring daggers at the floor or anyone who didn't get out of his way fast enough. His connection with Nessie spurred him on, burning in his chest and fueling his anger, simultaneously drawing him back toward her and egging on his thoughts. Before he knew it, he was at the doorway of the tunnel leading down to Ness's room, the smell of her still floating on the air there, calling to him. He was just taking a step toward her when a hand on his arm stopped him, and Leah's scent assaulted his nose.
He pushed her hand off his arm, pivoting away with a snarl. "What the hell do you want now?"
"Thought I'd stop you before you did anything stupid," she replied, folding her arms. "And Sam wanted to make sure you know the younglings are waiting for you… right now."
Jacob glared at her for a moment and then glanced past her – back at the end of the Main Hall, where Sam stood at the mouth of the corridor there, watching them with hard eyes. He felt his expression darken, rage filling him, but he still had enough sense not to pick a fight right there in the middle of the Main Hall. Growling in frustration, he spun on his heel and stalked the rest of the way out of the cave, the imprint crying out and tugging painfully at him as he left Nessie behind.
"Jake! Hey, Jake!"
He was nearly at the bottom of the mountain, about to descend into the clusters of dens and shops at its base, and looked up to see Quil and Embry jogging toward him, coming out of the settlements to the north. Scowling, Jake looked back at the ground and continued trudging on. If he even thought about stopping, the pain of the imprint's pull would be too much for him, and he'd end up turning around and going right back up there to find Ness.
"Jake- Hey, wait up, man!" Quil called, catching up to him and matching his stride.
"What happened?" Embry asked, falling into step on his other side.
"Yeah, we went up to my family's place this morning since we were in the area, and when we got back, you two were gone," Quil said. "Billy told us you'd left – with Paul?"
Jacob nodded curtly, not slowing any. "Yeah. Sam sent him to bring Nessie back here."
"And you- Dude, hold up a minute, would you?" Quil griped, pulling him to a stop with a hand on his shoulder. "You let him take her?" he demanded.
"Is she alright?" Embry jumped in.
Jake glanced at them both and then back up at the Summit, half expecting to see Sam and Leah standing at the cave opening still watching him. He felt stretched thin, like a cord pulled tight and ready to snap. He couldn't leave her here, all by herself, with the likes of Leah and Paul and so many others who would do her harm if given half the chance.
"She's fine," he croaked, trying to convince himself more than anything else, and finally tore his eyes away from the mountain. "Paul didn't lay a finger on her."
"Oh… good," Embry said, sounding relieved, if confused. "She's up in the Summit now?"
"So then where are you going?" Quil asked.
Jacob scowled at him, folding his arms and hunching down defensively. That's exactly what the imprint had been screaming at him since he'd left Sam's office – where the hell did he think he was going? How could he leave Ness behind, leave her to fend for herself- But he had to follow Sam's orders. He had to show he was loyal to the Pack and to the Alpha. He didn't have a choice. "Sam's sending me out to the coast with the new recruits," he said through gritted teeth.
Quil swore. "That could take days!"
The connection gave an especially sharp, painful yank on his sternum. "Thanks for pointing that out," Jake growled sarcastically. "I had no idea."
"He's separating you from her," Embry said, shaking his head. "Intentionally."
"No- Well, yes, but- It's not like-" He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think around the imprint's insistent pull. "Sam's having Leah look after her. She'll be fine."
"Since when do you trust Leah?" Embry asked incredulously, folding his arms as well.
"I don't," Jacob snapped, then immediately regretted his tone. He took a breath, trying to calm himself, and looked at them both again, an idea starting to form in his mind. "But I trust you guys."
Quil and Embry glanced at each other and then back at him. Quil was already grinning conspiratorially. "What have you got in mind?"
I woke to dim, flickering light, and it took me a moment to realize that it was the torch set into the wall next to the door – and it was about to go out. I leapt off the bed, rushing across the small space to try to save it before the room could be plunged into total darkness.
I didn't remember falling asleep, I thought as I pulled the torch from its sconce, gently blowing on the cooling embers around the edges of the flames. I was able to coax some of them back to life, blowing away the ashes that had clogged them so that the flames could spread to the fresh kindling beneath. The light slowly steadied and brightened, and I replaced the torch, no longer worried that it would die at any moment.
How long had I been asleep? A few hours at least, it would seem, for the torch to have burnt down so much… Where was Jacob? He'd said he would be right back… Fear gripped me suddenly – why wouldn't he have come back? He'd assured me that he wouldn't be in trouble, that he wasn't in any danger from Sam's wrath. What if he was wrong? What could have happened to him in all this time that I'd been curled up here in my room, sound asleep and dreaming? My fears seemed to coalesce in the center of my chest, the familiar ache building there, threatening to choke me, and without a thought I found myself yanking on the wide metal ring of the door handle, growing only more desperate when the door resisted for a moment, sticking in its frame, but then it popped open, swinging wide – and I found myself face to face with Jacob's friend Embry.
"Ah, so you are alive in there," he said, grinning and not moving from his position leaning against the opposite wall.
I stared at him blankly, my panic of moments ago fizzling slightly. "I… Where's Jacob?"
Embry's smile turned just a little forced. "He just had to go back to work. You know, on Pack business. He'll be back in a few days."
"A few days?" I repeated stupidly. My brain still hadn't quite caught up with my mouth, and I spoke without thinking, "Why don't you have to work?"
Embry smiled in earnest again, apparently not offended by my accusing tone. "I'm doing it right now," he said lightly, spreading his hands to either side as if to take in his whole person and somehow indicate that his laid back was posture was, in fact, quite taxing.
"Doing what?" I asked, stepping around the door a little more and trying to temper my tone, honestly curious now though still skeptical.
"Why, looking after you, of course, princess," he grinned.
I blinked. "Oh… Did Jacob ask you to do that? While he's gone?"
Embry shifted his weight, that uneasiness touching his expression once more. "Well, technically, it's Sam's orders. But Quil and I volunteered," he added quickly, looking like he was trying to reassure me. "So you don't have to worry. We won't let anything happen to you."
"Oh," I said again. "Thank you."
Embry pursed his lips, looking at me carefully. "There is one other thing. You're actually going to be spending a lot of time-"
"With me," a female voice cut in, drawing our attention to the end of the corridor, where a tall, dark, fierce-looking woman was striding toward us.
"Leah," Embry said, and I could have sworn I heard a note of fear in his voice.
Leah spared him a passing glance as she approached, turning her dark, hawk-like eyes on me as she drew near. She was dressed in the same fitted leather trousers as the other Shifters I'd met, along with a sleeveless leather vest that was laced up the front and under her arms with leather cording. And I had no doubt that she was a Shifter – her height, her build, the very way she carried herself – everything about her screamed that she was a warrior, and she could, without a second thought, put me out of my miserable little life.
"You're Leah," I said, resisting the desire to back up a step as she stopped between Embry and me. "Sam's lover."
She blinked, and then her eyes narrowed and her lip curled back from her teeth. "And you're the little bloodsucker that just made my life more complicated than I like it to be," she snarled.
I did back up a step then, half expecting her to try to bite me.
"Leah-" Embry started, trying to step between us.
"Can it, Call," she snapped at him, sparing him barely a glance before turning her glare back on me. "Well, come on then, little leech. I've got a job for you."
AN: I know some people are frustrated with Jacob and his avoidance of certain issues... He's a butthead, what can I say. At this point, he wants to have the nice parts of having imprinted (being with Nessie) without any of the not-so-fun parts (being Alpha). Don't worry, that's not going to last. He's going to have to face the music soon. He's not going to go down easily, thoguht, because, like I said, he's a butthead. ;)
Until next time!