We've been in Forks for nearly four years and as our time here is drawing to a close, I feel a small pang of regret at the thought of leaving.
With a few exceptions, things have been blessedly uneventful, though the Quileute wolves may not agree. At least Carlisle was able to negotiate the peaceful departure of Laurent and his family, before anyone was hurt. Despite our past grievances, I've come to regard some of the wolves as friends.
Seth Clearwater and Jacob Black first came to us as envoys for the pack, a necessity to ensure open lines of communication, but the boys quickly became regular fixtures in our home. Esme keeps the house well-stocked with food for them and Carlisle is still trying to convince Jacob to attend college. His commitment to the pack and his people makes that an unlikely future for him. While it saddens Carlisle, I understand Jacob's choice.
"You know if you do that too long, your face will stay that way forever." Leah Clearwater's voice pulls me from my thoughts. I turn, stifling the smile that I know will only annoy her, and do my best to ignore the fact that she's naked.
"Good evening, Leah." I say it casually, not letting my discomfort with her nudity show as she moves closer. Just as she pretends that she didn't purposely shift to human form to illicit a reaction from me. Leah is nothing, if not tenacious in her endeavor to rattle me.
"What are you brooding about tonight, Leech?" she asks, as she sits down on the log next to me. I turn to look at the full moon and allow the smile to cross my lips. "Doesn't feeling sorry for yourself - for what is it, eight decades? - get old after awhile?" she asks, with a sneering hiss in her tone. I used to take offense at her manner, but after several months of these nighttime conversations, I've come find her candor amusing and almost charming.
"It actually becomes rather comforting." I shift my weight, hitting her shoulder hard enough to throw her off balance, making her fall off the log. I am careful to respect the boundaries established by the treaty. Still, I keep finding myself skirting the edge on the evenings when I know that Leah's on patrol.
She easily recovers as she lands in a crouch on the forest floor. She gives me a hard look and I quickly unbutton my shirt, casting it aside. Tonight, I want to feel the wind on my skin. I see a wide, predatory grin pull her lips back from her teeth, just before she launches at me. Her body explodes into wolf form in midair, but I'm gone before she even gets close to touching me. I race through the night, through the forest, taking care to stick to the borderline, so she'll catch my trail.
We've been playing this game for long enough that she's gotten better at guarding her thoughts, so that she blends in with the forest animals and she's learned my habits. I know she'll catch me soon. I feel a cross breeze, catch her scent in the wind, and slow down to change course, just as a large tree trunk rises up to strike my face. I roll and tumble backwards, coming up in a crouch to get my bearings.
You should have seen the look on your face.
Laughter like tiny bells tints the tone of her thoughts as I catch her scent again and close in on her location. I launch myself across the distance, landing against the tree just as she jumps from the branch above me to the forest floor and runs. She's miscalculated - by shifting back to hit me. Changing again so soon, is a waste of energy that she needs to keep up the game. I'll catch her quickly. I'm disappointed by the silly mistake, but it doesn't slow my pursuit. I close in on her and slow my pace a little. Her skin glows in the moonlight, hair whipping in the wind that's washing her scent over me.
I'm just getting started, old man.
I laugh without slowing. Leah is the only person that has ever referred to me as old. The contradiction of my appearance means little in her eyes. Since the first time she inquired about my true age, she's seen me as an old man. I asked her why she choose to call me by that strange nick name she just shook her head and smiled.
"It suits you," she had said with a shrug. "The way you sit around like all the best years of your life are gone. Like the elders in the home, that have given up and have to be force fed." She'd meant it as a challenge to spurn me into another chase or fight, anything to get me moving. There's a kind of kind of unpretentious wisdom in her harsh words. I've come to treasure it as much as our game.
I quicken my pace, but just as I'm ready to leap over the distance to tackle her, she disappears. The trees and earth cut away, dropping down into a sheer cliff. I come to a clumsy stop and watch as she hops from branch to rock, making a quick descent.
"Eat my dust!" I hear her call out as she nears the bottom. I laugh before leaping over the edge.
Hours and miles disappear beneath our feet as we play our game, until finally Leah grows tired. I tell her that I need to stop, knowing that she would stubbornly continue until her body gave out from exhaustion. She slows to a jog before finally stopping in a small clearing and collapses at the foot of a spruce. I sit down, setting my back against the trunk of the tree as I watch her pant on the ground.
"You did really well this time," I say in a quiet voice.
That didn't sound condescending at all.
I smirk at how she's able to infuse sarcasm into her thoughts. I try to figure out how to best compliment her in a way that she won't take negatively as she rolls away from me to rest on her side.
"I'll kick your ass next time," she says, as her breathing starts to slow.
"I'm sure you will," I say lightly, though I know we only have a handful of nights left for her to practice. My acceptance letter came from Harvard and graduation is drawing closer everyday. She knows it, I can feel it, though her thoughts seem to be focused on the sounds and smells of the forest. Almost as if she's trying to avoid thinking about something.
Something is wrong. Although her posture is normal, there's a strained quality to her thoughts that seems suspicious. Silence builds between us, making my muscles coil as I wonder what's wrong.
I can do this. I am stronger than this.
"Leah?" My voice seems to catch her off guard. Her body jerks and she rolls to knees. She hides her face as she quickly moves to her feet.
No, no, no...
"I need to go." She starts to walk away, but I can't let her leave in this condition.
"Leah, wait." I'm at her back, hands on her shoulders, before she has time to react. I catch her by surprise, and her thoughts roll over me like a tidal wave.
My only friend is a leech and he's going to leave soon enough, just like Sam... and Dad. Empty, alone, hollow, nothing. That's all I am.
I turn her around, confused and suffocating under the weight of her despair. Leah has been sad and angry for as long as I've known her, but this time it's stronger, desperate.
"What is it?" I ask, as I look into her tear-filled eyes. She doesn't speak, just gives me a look brimming with anger, resentment, and pain.
The strangling sympathy stabs at my chest as I pull her into my arms. Leah has lost so much, but this, of all things, cuts the deepest. I'm familiar with her inner struggle; I can't help but hear it when I'm near her. I know how she fears that she is infertile, and that she will always be alone.
I ease her down to a small blanket of grass on the forest floor. She doesn't fight me, which twists something in my chest even more.
"Stop it," I whisper, as I struggle to find words that will help her. I hope that my cold embrace with will be of some help to her. As I hold her to me, the turmoil of her thoughts begin to quiet and I take a small semblance of comfort in that fact.
As we lay against each other, I can feel the steely strength beneath her soft human skin. She presses her hot cheek to my chest and I hear the breath slide from her lips in a long hiss. I now realize that in all this time, we've never touched like this, that I've never felt the searing heat of her skin against mine. It's soothing and invigorating at the same time. I gently take her wrist and slide her arm around my chest. Leah quickly tightens her hold on me, her body pressing along the length of mine. I wrap my own arms around her, letting my fingers comb through her thick hair as I press my face to the top of her head.
Before, I thought she had an unpleasant, musty, canine scent like the others of her pack, but all I smell now is the clean earth, spruce trees, and damp grass. Leah smells like the forest. She smells like life. Life. With each breath she takes, I feel her warmth press against me. Her breasts press against my bare chest and I feel my own body respond. I grimace and try shift away slightly. I feel the soft huff of her chuckle.
Am I making Edward Cullen uncomfortable?
The familiar touch of mirth in her thoughts fills me with hope that her mood is improving. She pulls her face from my chest and I look down, meeting her deep brown eyes. Slowly, she moves up, closing the space between us, her mouth just touching mine. I do not move or respond, but she's not dissuaded. She presses harder against me, her tongue sliding between my lips, past the dangerous edge of my teeth.
You taste like honey.
I shudder and feel myself open my mouth to her, as her leg wraps around my hip. The scent of her arousal tickles my nostrils and I relent. I move my tongue against hers, my lips moving as I tighten my fingers in her hair.
What are you doing with your tongue?
I smirk a little as I swirl my tongue around her mouth and shift our bodies, setting her on her back.
I can feel you. Oh yes, press harder.
I respond, abandoning propriety for the pleasure rushing through me as we move against each other. I can feel her heat and wetness seeping through the fabric of my thin linen pants. Her hands grip the stony flesh of my shoulders, the strength of her grip fanning the flame of my desire. Even in this form, she is formidable, which makes the soft whimpering moans that I'm driving from her all the more musical.
Her hands slide between our bodies and I don't clearly interpret her intentions until she's undone the front of my pants. Rationality pours into me as I lean back, grabbing her wrists and holding them away from me.
"No! We can't." I try to sound stern as the weak fabric of my pants slides down my legs, revealing how my own body is contradicting my words.
"Why?" Her dark eyes fix on me and I feel like a fool.
"I don't want to... You deserve more than..." I struggle with how exactly to explain my moral dilemma, especially since my current state of arousal and undress are making it rather ridiculous. Then the tension is broken by a violent eruption of laughter.
Leah's head is thrown back, her mouth wide as she laughs with a kind of open ease I've never seen in her before. The sight of her happiness saps some of the strength from me.
"I'm not a virgin, Edward. Far from it," she says as her laughter fades, and I see a sliver of sadness creep into her eyes. I release her hands and reach out to touch her face, drawing her eyes back to me.
"I don't want to hurt you." My voice is quiet and seems to stick in my throat.
You're impressive, but I think I can manage.
Her smile returns, as does the humor in the tone of her thoughts. I laugh, shocking myself with the sound, but the need to explain, to make her understand, is strong enough to help me reply soberly.
"I have enough sins of my own to carry. I won't-" My well rehearsed speech is interrupted by Leah's laughter, and I feel a rush of annoyance fill me.
Somehow you look even sexier when you're angry.
Her thoughts confound me and I begin to move away.
Her hand takes hold of my wrist and I stop.
"I'm sorry, it's just... Edward, I'm not Christian." She looks at me with such earnestness that I feel my heart crack a little, but it's my blatant oversight of our obvious cultural differences that leaves me slightly agape. "I don't believe in sins or Hell, aside from the ones we put ourselves through here." Her sadness returns and shame, over my arrogant assumption, fills me. I seize the hand that's holding my wrist and I pull her to me, wrapping my arms around her. My thoughts are muddled and confused. I've never considered this, never wavered in my belief in the divine, as I've always known it. I am a monster, a killer, and yet, the existence of my kind is not the only aberration in this world.
As my mind argues and battles with itself, the facts become clear again. The woman I hold in my arms is neither human nor vampire. She is a shape shifter and protector of her people, transformed by the mere presence of my family and myself. Be it by the will of her god or my own, the weight of her current state still rests upon my head and soul. I see each piece of her tragedy as it has fallen, tracing the line back to myself.
No more pity.
Anger burns through her thoughts as she starts to fight my hold. This grief and self-hate is so familiar, it could easily be mistaken for my own. I cannot take her pain away, anymore than I could wash away my sins with the blood of animals. I start to release her, feeling regret and helplessness overwhelm me.
Even a leech can't bring himself to want me.
Her thought stings and sparks a fire in me. I grip her shoulders and hold her.
"Let me go," she growls. I feel the air crackle with something dangerous and intangible.
"No," I hiss back at her as I meet her hard stare. Her muscles tense and flex beneath my hands, but she doesn't try to break my hold.
What do you want?
There's a small pinch at the corner of her eyes. I feel it stab my chest as I lean into her, crushing my mouth against hers. I have no answer for her question.
Leah falls back to the forest floor beneath me, and I press myself against her nude, pliant body. Her heat and vitality sear my skin as her tongue tangles with my own. I break the kiss, shifting to draw my tongue down her throat to her breast. I take her nipple into my mouth, careful to keep my teeth from the tight bundle of sensitive skin.
Feels so good.
Her thoughts and the vision of my mouth on her body through the filter of her mind are intoxicating. I've seen pleasure through the minds of others countless times. However, seeing myself as the provider of that pleasure, seeing how beautiful she feels while I touch her, is a potent aphrodisiac.
I sit up to look at her dark eyes, heavy with arousal, and I turn my gaze to her lean, copper-skinned body laid out below me. My body is hard and ready; it's my mind that is still fighting, making me hesitate.
Her warm hand touches my cheek, lifting my chin so I can look at her reassuring gaze.
Her hand disappears from my face and I feel it slide between our bodies, and take hold of me.
My body nearly convulses at the feel of her hand on me, so hot, as she places me at her entrance. I tremble slightly as the wetness bathes the tip of my head, making me slide a little, creating a kind of pleasurable and maddening friction.
"Edward." She breathes my name in a long, slow shudder that stokes the fire within me.
Just one small move.
Her thoughts cease as I shift my hips and begin to slowly push. My own thoughts become a startled roar of triumph as I'm enveloped inside her blazing heat and wetness. Pleasure erupts through me as I continue to move, not able to stop, my own greed driving me faster. She moves beneath me, lifting her legs up to slam her hips against me with enough force to raise my legs off the ground. Her display of strength startles me and calls to something deep inside me. I smooth my hand over the firm slope of her bottom, continuing down the back of her thigh, to push her leg towards her chest. The angle allows me to sink deeper, making me a growl as my fingers curl into a flesh of her thigh, and I hear an answering growl.
I open my eyes to look down at her and the sight sends a screaming shock of electricity down my spine. Her teeth are bared, eyes wide and wild. I push into her again, making her eyelids flutter for just a second.
She contracts around me, and I groan, increasing my speed. A new greed grips me as I place her leg against my chest so I can kiss the smooth skin of her calf. She smiles and pulls me down, bringing my hand to her mouth. She slides two fingers past her lips. The feel of her mouth seems to magnify the feelings of being inside her, making me gasp for breath I haven't needed in eighty years.
You should see what I can do with my mouth.
The teasing thread of her thought makes me stare at her and growl again. She slides my wet fingers from her mouth, rewarding me with a smile as she places my fingers down to where our bodies are joined. I understand her intent instantly and begin to rub the small jewel of flesh above her entrance.
Her thoughts become a primal scream as her body lurches and tightens around me, driving all reason out of me in a long, low cry. My own climax answers hers, making me slam into her body, but I quickly gather enough reason to slow down, before I cause her harm.
I gaze down at her sweat-coated body - her eyes are closed, but her lips are curved into a small smile. With a little regret, I slide from her and lie down beside her, still watching and waiting, though I'm not sure what I hope to see.
Stop staring at me.
I smile, and do as she asks, shifting to my back. Sunlight is beginning to filter through the trees. I wonder how long we've been here.
Leah bolts upright, dashing a few paces away. She steps into a pool of sunlight, her eyes cast up towards a break in the canopy. I stand and quickly join her, placing a hand on her shoulder. I watch my skin catch the light, reflecting tiny rainbows across her copper skin, and for the first time, I think of its effects as beautiful.
I have to go. Need to bathe before they smell you on me.
The thought slithers past my pleasant mood as I pull my hand away. Leah turns to look at me and an ugly smile crosses her face.
"You planned to go home smelling like a dog?" She gives me an accusing stare.
If you can truthfully say that you don't regret what we just did, I'll apologize.
I turn from her gaze, the truth of her unspoken words shaming me. I keep my eyes downcast as she walks past me.
I look up, but her back is to me. My own guilt choking me, keeping me silent as we stand there.
She turns her head, looking at me over her shoulder. Her dark eyes are soft and wet.
In a flash of brown hair she's gone.
I read once that the true torment of Hell is not a fiery, burning inferno, by rather the cold emptiness that comes from the absence of the divine. I taste that bitterness, as I am left standing naked in a pool of sunlight.
Note: Thanks to both of my awesome betas for this story, MsKathy and Kimpy0464.