Author's Note: Merry Christmas! (Or Happy Holidays if you don't celebrate Christmas.) I probably won't post again until after New Year's, but I hope everyone has a safe, awesome one. :) As always, a huge thank you for the reviews. They mean so much to me. Many, many thanks to PTB, the wonderful Twimarti, and the awesome sweetishbubble. They've helped me as a writer in more ways than one. It's a great thing they do for authors and the Fandom. Be sure to check them out. Hugs for my pre-readers: xconfessedx, from Sparkly Red Pen, and Arianna-Janae, who is the sweetest of friends.
WARNING: Horrific but necessary consumption of human blood (sorry), child death (extremely sorry), and a load of dark angst (for this, I'm not sorry). *hides*
"Hymn for the Missing" by Red — "Lithium" by Evanescence — "Bittersweet" by Apocalyptica
I tensed as I heard the call pick up on the other end, a voice ringing loud and clear. "Hello?"
My shoulders relaxed at the familiar voice I was expecting, but I still had to swallow the lump in my throat before quietly replying, "Hi, Billy."
"Um, hello. Can I help you?"
I frowned, not used the formal tone, before I realized that he didn't know it was me because I no longer sounded like me. I stomped down sprouting irritation. It wasn't his fault I was changed. I gritted my teeth, trying to get a grip before I sighed. "Uh, Billy … it's Bella."
I heard the air whoosh out of him, followed by a relieved sigh of my name. Abruptly, sounding farther away from the phone, he yelled, "Paul, get Jake!"
I gingerly picked at the bottom of my silk shirt, suddenly nervous, but then, at hearing the familiar thud of the screen door, a smile tugged at the corner of my lips. I could practically picture the chipped red paint falling off the door and speckling the front stoop.
When Billy returned to the phone, he was suddenly distraught. "Bella! Bella? Are you there?"
I cleared my throat. "Yeah."
"Are you … are you all right?"
I knew what he was trying to ask, even though there was no question I was now a vampire. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm …" I hesitated "… I'm all right." I'm … alive.
There was another smack from the door hitting the jamb before I heard, "Bella?"
I grinned, knowing exactly what the new person on the other end did. "That was rude of you, Paul."
He waved it off, and probably with a hand gesture. "I won't have long before Jake comes storming in, and Billy knows we all want to hear from you. Though, you don't really sound like you."
I growled. "I know."
He laughed in that awful, superficial, and condescending way of his. "Ooh, Bambi can actually growl now." He paused, abruptly serious. "So, I take it you don't like it?"
I smiled fondly. This was the Paul I liked and was privileged to see every once in a while.
"I don't know. I kind of gave up on the whole idea a while ago, you know?"
"Yeah … Thank fuck. Look, I can hear Jake closing in. I just wanted to tell you that I'm trying to be one of those who visit you first. Remember what we always said to each other, 'Nothing's gonna change—'"
"'So get the fuck over it,'" I finished automatically. I smiled and shook my head, recalling the day I had first said that to him. I had been so tired of hearing him complain about being a wolf that I had just snapped, and on one of my more pitiful days, he had snapped the words right back. From then on, they became a mantra between the two of us. Paul wouldn't put up with my self-pity and self-deprecating, just like I wouldn't put up with his, forming an odd and unlikely friendship. He had helped me in ways no else could—not even Jake. "You know, I miss yo—"
He interrupted. "Yeah, yeah. Just be ready. We'll be doing some rage therapy when I get there. You probably need it."
I rolled my eyes, but laughed. He had no idea.
But then again, he did. A sudden image of Paul and me fighting swooped in, causing a whirlwind of memories to flutter up. Paul's therapy had consisted of "fighting and fucking" —his words, not mine. He knew I didn't do the latter, so I had stuck to kickboxing, and usually only with him. Paul, in that uncanny way of his, had been the best at riling me up, getting me to expound and release everything I was feeling. He made me realize and accept how I truly felt about some things. One was being out of control—more specifically, not having control. It was something we both had in common, especially now. I was turned into something I wasn't exactly happy with, similar to him when he had first shifted.
"Wait," he said, backtracking. "You're not fucking him already, are you?"
"No! Of course not!"
He grunted. "Good. Now, here's Jake."
I shook my head. I knew he cared, yet he had no tact whatsoever. Belatedly, I realized he knew about Caius. Before I could ask how he knew about the platinum blond, I heard rustling and the phone being dropped. I smiled, thinking of Jake fumbling before I heard him scream, "Bella!"
My face fell. My chest constricted as my stomach dropped. I missed him. I really, really missed him. Even if he couldn't be here, simply hearing his voice soothed and warmed me. But, I was also terrified. I was now his supposed enemy and his best friend, and I didn't know where that left us. It scared me to think that this phone call was the beginning of strengthening of what used to be an unshakable foundation, and here I was, keeping a profound secret from him.
I blinked, expecting tears but having none. I didn't know what to say and if I was making the right choice by not telling him.
His voice was soft and hesitant, and I realized he was just as scared as I was.
Finally, I took a breath and exhaled. "Jake …"
I shook. I could practically see and feel him grabbing and embracing me. I gripped the edge of the settee, hearing it crack beneath my hands, and I cracked along with it. "Jake. Oh, God, Jake. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
I didn't—couldn't—say anymore than that, but I never had to. Jake would know; he would understand. I was sorry for everything—for suggesting we cliff-dive that day, for leading Victoria straight to the Rez, for the circumstances we now found ourselves in, for Sam.
For not telling you about your mother …
"I know, Bells." He sighed. "I am, too."
The last statement was quiet, but I heard the underlying self-blame. I shot up and growled. "You have nothing to be sorry for. It's not your fault! Do you hear me? You didn't know. You couldn't have known! She was underwater, dammit! So do not—I fucking repeat—do not blame yourself."
I paced, fuming as I thought about how typical it was of Jake. He would hold everything that happened—Sam's death, my capture—upon himself. In his eyes, if he had done what he was born to do earlier—if he had been the Alpha and protected the entire tribe by killing all vampires—none of this would have happened. And he always wanted to protect me, even when it wasn't possible.
A snapshot of Edward swept up from the recesses of my mind, disturbing the calm space, and a snarl escaped me. Yes, Jacob would always blame not just them but himself. Under that sunny, jovial exterior, he was as bad as I was at self-deprecating bullshit.
He exhaled loudly. "All right. All right."
I knew he was nodding, trying to believe it and convince himself he wasn't to blame, but like me, he would need time to accept it and move on.
"So …" he started, sounding uncomfortable.
I hated it. It wasn't him. Or us.
"How's everything there in Italy?" he asked, tone false and upbeat. "Are those Italians treating you all right?"
I huffed. "Jake."
"I know, I know. I can't help it. This is a little awkward." He paused, taking a deep breath. "Okay, let me start over."
Then, in the same happy tone as before, he said, "Hey, best friend! How is it, bein' a bloodsucker?"
I scoffed, but then laughed. "You are such an ass."
He chuckled. "Yeah. I got you to laugh, though. That's what counts. And I bet you're finally smiling."
I nodded. I was, and it felt good. Normal.
"In all seriousness, though, how are you doing? Have you … have you fed yet?"
I blew out a sharp breath. I was expecting the question, just not so soon.
"I'm … fine, considering I didn't know any better. The Cullens never really explained, and I thought … I thought it would be different." I grabbed my scalp. "My head—my brain—is in overdrive. There's so many senses taking over and so much to process. It's disquieting, almost to the point that my head hurts. It's like I'm being ripped in two. I don't know how to feel, what to think. I …"
"What?" he prompted. "You, what?"
"I feel …" I took in my unblemished ivory hands in my lap, the perfect clothes, my rigid posture, the unfamiliar presence inside of me, alert and simmering. I rubbed my chest, now without my heart beating beneath, as I tried to find the words that could explain.
I hesitated, not knowing if I should say it and how he would take it. But this was Jake, my best friend, and if I couldn't tell him, to whom could I?
I sighed. "I feel … different. Like some fundamental part of me changed, and I can't get it back. It makes me think of how the pack described what they felt after that first shift—that the essence of you shifted. I never really understood before—I'm surprised I even remember it—but I do, and I understand now. I know it's not what you want to hear, that it sounds horrible, especially in this situation. But it's the truth, and there's no other way I can explain it."
And was met with only silence.
Closing my eyes, I bit my lip and heard it crack. I had said too much.
Hearing a resonating click resound in the silent room, I looked up. The long hand of the clock marked that it was now 9:16. The ticking of seconds, loud and ominous in the otherwise still room, scored. I stared. I swore the ticks were getting slower and farther apart as I watched. I could imagine the battery failing, dying. At 9:20, I couldn't take it any longer. "Jake, please. Say something."
"I … uh …" He swallowed. "I understand."
"Yeah," he whispered. "Like you said, I know that shift. Things became more important, more … meaningful."
Yes, food, survival, safety became more important. Life was so much more meaningful that it was poignant. But, that hadn't exactly changed from before. It was simply more profound—the things that mattered and the situation. There was something about me as person that had turned and been … remade, and it seemed we weren't going to acknowledge it.
I wanted to ask if he was angry, but I knew that wasn't the right emotion. It was more. More wounding, more along the lines of guilt and regret. It weighed heavily, and it simply wasn't regret for the circumstances, but of the not knowing if you truly wanted things to go back. A piece of me had been altered and then had been replaced with something just as vital, and I couldn't wholeheartedly wish that it wasn't the case. I would miss it, just as I now missed that piece of humanity I had lost.
I never realized how something so seemingly insignificant could matter, that it could be what made you, you. I wanted to ask if the fact that I was different mattered to him.
But I knew. Of course, it did.
"Hey," he said, interrupting my thoughts. "We'll figure something out. I know you haven't changed completely—none of us did. It's … it's just going to take some time getting used to, you know?"
I nodded. "Sure, sure."
But I wasn't sure.
He laughed, yet it sounded sad. "See? Not everything's changed."
Feeling anxiety, but not only my own, I looked at the closed door with the light shining beneath it.
He was speaking with someone in yet another language, and although I wondered what he was saying and what was happening, he made me think of someone … along with the loss.
I swallowed, trying to stop the clenching in my stomach before I asked, "How's Emily?"
"She's … she's at a loss—with herself, with the house … with the baby."
I gritted my teeth to stop myself from crying out and looked at the ceiling. It was a stupid question and, again, I had known the answer, but it didn't stop me from asking, nor the despair from piercing me with the confirmation of both her and the baby. She had suspected days before I was captured, and it had been her joy and anticipation that prompted me to reflect on the future I wanted—the one I couldn't miss and had decided upon at those cliffs.
Resentment lashed at me, forcing me to stalk around the room as I tried to squelch pain and the desire to destroy something. Everything. She hadn't even gotten the chance to tell him! He wouldn't be there. The pack's first baby and the pack's first death. The unfairness, the cruel reality. Along with the stronger and overwhelming emotions, the changes, the differences, that miniscule space in time, the secret that wasn't supposed to be mine—it was all too much for me to handle.
Rage, so sinister in its dark, burning depths, rose and latched around my body. I recognized the sensation surrounding me. It had happened before when I had first found out about Sam. Yet this time, instead of feeling a release, I felt confined. I rapidly strode from one end of the room to the other, trying to shake it off, but it wouldn't let go. It merely fueled me, grating and taunting me to do something about the circumstances as it grew deeper, thicker—more menacing.
The room vibrated, its embellishments rattling atop smooth surfaces. The furniture quavered in a frenzied panic. The horrid clock clattered against the walls' answering groans, mocking in its higher pitch.
I seethed, a growl erupting.
I snarled, startled—but more than anything—furious and ashamed. I had forgotten so easily that he was there, and my uncontrollable behavior wasn't helping his opinion of the new me, nor of the … race I now found myself a part of. Reaching up, I ripped the Bluetooth from my ear, only to crush it easily. Staring at my hand, I watched the pieces fall from my fingertips, finding the movement oddly similar. It echoed what happened—what was happening. Life, chance, choice slipped between fingers and disintegrated to dust. My relationship with Jake—once strong and whole—was just as deeply fragile, and the phone call proved as much.
I eyed the room, its stillness glaring in such a way that it was wrong.
I roared, trying to displace the transcendent air. It was a response—the room's, the world's, mine. Everything was wrong! Not balanced. Not right. Not even merely askew, but … wrong.
Slowly turning and taking in the room, my mouth dropped open. A sudden, slow feel of descent washed over me. It was death—the creeping sensation and the realization that came with it—and it was neither peaceful nor becoming. A piece of me was dying. My friendship with Jake, my only connection to the life I had … The human part of me …
With a loathing I never thought capable of me, I hated it. The room, the world. Myself. Nothing was as it should be. There shouldn't be tranquility, because the world was anything but. I had to get away. I had to escape, flee. I ran towards the balcony, its doors slamming open before I reached them—courtesy of my gift.
And I hated it, too, as unknown and uncontrollable as it was.
I passed the threshold and stopped, closing my eyes and tilting my face up. The sound and the raging winds of the storm comforted me like a friend who understood and was going through what I was. The rain pelting my face and body matched the sensation of my soul being punctured. It was fitting, and that soothed and touched me. Outside—out of that perfect room—I felt … at home. Even the smell enveloping me—clean, fresh, and salty in its velvetiness—was like Forks.
I soaked it all in, becoming drenched in the emotion, touch, and smell. I savored it—the peace found within the tumultuous storm. I couldn't turn back time, but I sure wished that I could pause it. Just for a moment to have everything stop.
I hissed, my head snapping in Caius's direction. He had been standing on the balcony as well, watching me in silence. Like always, I felt him—could still feel him. But now, he was slowly walking toward me with an inscrutable expression on his face. I feasted upon his otherworldly beauty, so golden yet dark with his black clothes. His suit, ruined from the rain, was unbuttoned, and I could see his shirt cling to every ridge and contour of hard muscle. I swallowed before my eyes narrowed on his hand slipping his phone into his pocket.
He raised his hands and continued cautiously toward me.
I backed away, inching further out onto the balcony, away from him, from the door, even though the very center of me pulled in his direction.
He stopped, his own eyes narrowing. "Isabella."
Desire flared at the sound of my name upon his lips, and I snarled, squelching it.
He took in my stance, it crouched and defensive, before he stared at me and searched my eyes.
I stared right back, trying to figure out what he was thinking and what he would say. I knew he had heard my conversation with Jake, and I didn't want him to tell me that everything would be okay. I knew it wouldn't be. I didn't want him to say that I did the right thing, either, because it sure as hell didn't feel like it.
I wanted to ask him if he was satisfied. I hadn't said a word about Sarah, not that I had the time, control, or desire to do so. But I wouldn't have had the chance anyway, I suddenly realized. If I had changed my mind and tried to tell Jake, Caius would have stopped me.
I shook my head at him, disappointed and furious. I had always trusted people too easily.
His hands balled into fists at his sides before he looked away, his lips forming a grim line and the tick in his jaw protruding with each clench of his teeth. Eyes darting, he searched the dark horizon. For what, I had no clue, but I wasn't about to find out. Yet, before I could take another step back and just run, his soft murmur stopped me.
He met my gaze, and even though his face was hard, his eyes were sad. "I said, forgive me."
Although apologies were expected at a moment like this—when someone was caught deceiving, not exactly lying but omitting—his tone was nearly pleading. The sincerity was there, in his voice, his eyes, his emotions. Compassion and regret radiated from him. I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to ignore the piece of me that softened. "Are you asking? Or are you demanding?"
His lips twitched before he frowned and glared. Seemingly cold, he eyed me and took a slow, gliding step. "Both?"
I snorted, but tried to hide a smile myself. Pushing my hair out of my face, I studied him. His presence alone had a more comforting effect than the storm. I didn't truly know him, but he was here, and he was the balm to my soul.
"You are right to be angry. I am, too."
"Oh, really? Why are you angry?" I didn't see how he had a reason to be.
His eyes hardened. "Sarah. She rarely listens. I did not want her revealing herself so early. She should have known better. It was careless of her to come and see you after you had just awoken, but she was simply too excited to see you—someone she knew from her human life and the best friend of her son, no less. Plus, she has no patience."
Why did I have the feeling that that statement was like the pot calling the kettle black?
I shook off the thought. "So, what? You wanted to hide her from me, too?"
Taking one more step, he closed the distance between us and sighed. "Yes."
I looked down and shook my head. I hated being kept in the dark, and even though I could appreciate his honesty, it stung that he would have. But I had to admit that a part of me also wished I didn't know about her, that I didn't have to carry the weight of guilt, knowing she was alive and keeping it from my best friend.
I watched Caius's hands reach out before he pulled them back. God, I knew how he felt. We were both angry, but a part of us wouldn't let us be entirely. The mated side of us needed and wanted the contact, the comfort. I itched to touch him and to have him touching me, yet we hardly knew how to go about doing it and how the other would react. We were simply too new and unfamiliar with each other. It was awkward and maddening, but in a way, reassuring as well; I wasn't the only awkward one.
He shifted and then sighed before reaching out again and gently pulling me against him. Placing my hands on his waist, I leaned my forehead against his chest and breathed him in. My shoulders relaxed, and I felt Caius's face on the top my head, his nose in my hair, breathing me in deeply. I shuddered as he exhaled, a tingle rippling down my spine. His thumb rubbed my lower back.
"I called Jacob after the phone call disconnected." His voice was quiet and muffled in my hair. "I told him you would call him later."
I squeezed him and said, "Thank you." Even though I didn't know when later would be and if I'd be ready.
I shook my head. No, he didn't. And if he did, it wasn't in a good way.
Caius squeezed me. "He does."
I sighed. I wanted to believe that, but I just couldn't.
"Jacob is surprisingly reasonable. He was with your change. Do not doubt him now."
A sob escaped me. I didn't doubt Jake. He was so inherently good. When it was between life and death, Jake would always choose life. With him, it was about righteousness, and that was what scared me the most. There was nothing right about him not being told about his mother. Lies—omissions—only prolonged the inevitable. The truth would come out eventually, and he might very well hate me when it did.
"I want to know who changed her." The statement slipped from my lips before I could stop it. I wasn't entirely sure if I wanted to know, but I felt I needed to. I might be able to convince the person to speak to the others and tell Jake.
When Caius didn't answer, I looked up.
It must have been what was he was waiting for because his gaze didn't falter from mine as he answered, "I did."
My heart sank.
I searched his face to see if he was joking or lying, maybe covering for the person who had, but his face was neither deceptive nor remorseful as he met my probing gaze head-on. He seemed almost … proud in his unflinching and resolute demeanor, his chin raised and face expressionless, eyes unfeeling, unblinking. It almost seemed like he was waiting, challenging me to react, and I did. I couldn't help it.
I ripped away from him and hissed. "You! You changed her?"
"Taha Aki, her husband, is my best friend. I was there with him, 13 years ago in Washington, when he found and imprinted on her at the crash scene. She was dying. He asked me to change her." He raised his chin even higher. "So I did. For my friend, who has suffered enough loss, I did. She was the first and only other person I have changed."
I leaned forward, my mind sharpening as it focused on the term. "Did you say, 'imprinted?'"
Caius ground his teeth, probably realizing his slip, before he answered, "Yes. Taha Aki is Quileute. He was the first Spirit Man to change into a physical wolf. Maybe you remember their legends. They call him the Great Wolf."
I dimly recalled the legends, only remembering the third wife and the first encounter with the Cullens, how Jake told me of them at First Beach. There was another memory, albeit a fuzzy one, but it was abruptly pushed aside as a sudden thought struck me.
"Where is he? Taha Aki. Where is he?"
Caius's face hardened. "Washington."
My chest rumbled with simmering disbelief. No … He didn't mean …?
Coldly, he nodded and specified, affirming. "On the reservation … training the new Alpha."
My stomach lurched. I groped for the ledge behind me and shook my head. "You bastards."
Caius stepped toward me.
I raised my hands and shook my head, not wanting him to touch me.
I couldn't even imagine how Jacob would feel when he finally found out. First, his alive, human-blood-drinking mother, and then the man—an ancestor who had probably already gained his trust and admiration, but who was also his supposedly dead mother's wolf … Talk about deception and omissions. And what about Billy? How he must feel, seeing that man every day and watching him work with his son …
Caius took another step toward me, his expression severe but hands extended toward me as he tried to speak.
My fingers splayed widely and shook as I begged without words for him to stop. I could barely stand to look at him, let alone have him near me, talking to me, distracting me. What they had done, what they were doing, allowing … it was cruel and selfish and cowardly. The whole lot of them were.
Just like me.
The thought was a whisper in my mind, but the truth was a punch to the gut. Bile rose at the back of my throat, and I covered my mouth. I had agreed not to say anything. Even though I had known better—or not, as the case may be since I didn't have all the facts at the time—I had agreed. My intentions were good, yes, but they mattered little. I looked down and stared blankly at the ground, trying to figure out how we could rectify the mess they had made, how I would tell Jake and as soon as possible.
But it shouldn't be me! I wanted to yell. Jake needed to hear this from the people involved—from those he cared about most, and it would be a way for them to redeem themselves. It would make it easier for Jake to forgive them.
"Jacob is young. He and the pack need all the help they can get after losing Sam."
"Oh, don't give me that shit! You think that'll matter when Jake finds out? Because I'm telling you right now, it won't." I gripped the sides of my head, totally at a loss on what to do, before I snarled and pointed a finger at him. "And you! You didn't tell me earlier! I mentioned it. I knew it had to be someone here. I just …"
Didn't think it'd be you.
I stared at him, pained. I had wanted to trust him; an irrational part of me had and still did.
Hatred burned and coursed through my body. I had no control whatsoever. My body, my emotions, and reactions—none of it was mine to command. I had no choice on if I was mated and to whom, or even how I felt about him. I knew next to nothing about the man in front of me—what he had done, who he really was—yet, I was inextricably bound and drawn to him.
I cared for him, I suddenly realized. In a brief amount of time, I actually cared about him. Deeply. It was what made everything frustrating, but more than that, it made his actions affect me all the more.
The previous black chasm of soul-wracking pain, fury, resentment, loneliness, hope- and helplessness whirled around and within me, closing in and threatening to swallow me whole. Like before, I could do nothing to stop it. My hands clenched at my sides. I didn't want to.
I slowly raised my head, my gaze connecting with Caius's. I had to get out of here.
His eyes flashed before he snarled and shot toward me.
I turned and jumped atop the stone banister. I didn't hesitate to launch myself into the plummeting, murky black. I wanted to escape. I needed to.
Spinning end over end, I watched specks of light zip across my vision and the ground blink closer with each turn. The wind roared in my ears as it pulled at my clothes. I gritted my teeth, concentrating on getting upright. In an instant—with just the thought—I was.
I smiled, and I was dimly aware of its sinister edge, but I didn't care. I felt triumphant, something inside of me growling in approval. As I saw the ground raise up closer and closer, I knew I wanted to conquer it, as well, to somehow ruin and beat the earth, the forces-that-be with my supremacy. The feeling was heady, intoxicating, an adrenaline rush for my kind.
A familiar hum coursed from the base of my brain to the pit of stomach, flooding my body with strength and power. Rain and wind ceased to beat against my skin. The air shimmered with mist and energy, invisible but detectable as rain streaked across the surface.
Instead of hating it, I reveled in its destructive quality. Focusing on it, I pushed out from the center of me and felt it expand. As the ground zoomed up to meet my feet, I braced for impact and growled. A deafening blast rumbled through the air. The ground shattered around me, soil exploding up and outward as I landed on a knee and fist and drove down.
I stopped and stared. My fist was entrenched in the wet clay of the earth as I balanced on the balls of my feet. I listened to the dirt settle and the patter of rain upon the earth. It was peaceful, soothing. The part of me that I had restrained and buried resolved and reconciled with what I had become. I no longer felt at war with myself and that animal simmering just beneath the surface and always whispering in my ear. Crouched as I was, I surrendered to it, meeting it head on before embracing it.
I looked up, finding myself in a twenty-foot hole. A breathy, triumphant growl escaped my lips. I savored the feel of destruction and essence of freedom. Satisfying—the sensation, the thought.
It didn't last.
Rocks began to fall from the edge above, and I knew exactly what—who it was.
Caius. He hadn't jumped after me, but he was following me down.
I ran and bound from one side of the earth to the other, swiftly reaching the top. As I swung over the edge, I noted the crater I had created before spotting Caius swinging alongside the cliff. His platinum hair glowed like a beacon against the dark wall of stone, and I couldn't help but appreciate how magnificent he looked, so lithe and sure with each graceful movement. He was predatory, feral as he spun around, his back against the face of the cliff. His pale hair blew back wildly behind his broad shoulders, revealing the snarl upon his perfect lips and the fire in his eyes.
God, even pissed he was gorgeous.
And I wanted him. The instinctive, primal side of me needed him, called for him.
With a growl, he kicked back, away from the cliff, and landed not twenty feet from me. His eyes blazed brightly, fiercely. Even as angry as he was, satisfaction, pride, and desire oozed from him. He wanted to catch me, take me, contain and consume me.
I wanted it, too.
His hands, strong and capable on my bare marble skin, exploring, holding, straining, not just our exposed chests pressed together like before. I wanted hips to hips, flesh to aching flesh, pounding; our legs entwined with hands gripping, nails scoring as he drove into me, hard and uncontrolled; to hear our growls surround us, from pleasure and want.
I craved—it, him, me—raw.
Heat seared down the front me, making my nipples hard and the apex at my thighs ache. Caius's pupils dilated, engulfing the crimson completely as his chest rumbled. He knew what I was thinking, what I wanted. He would give it to me, too.
But I wasn't going to let it him. I wasn't going to give in.
I also wanted to keep what freedom I could, and I knew that surrendering to him would only bind us tighter together. I wasn't ready, and I was still angry with him. At the thought of what he had done, I snarled and heard his echo behind me.
I pushed my legs to go faster, my newborn strength making it easy to outrun him. Power surged throughout my body, and the familiar shroud of invisibility veiled my vision, making me feel safe as it ballooned around me. Fallen leaves whirled and zoomed past and around my shield, yet I could still see the details in each, so vividly sharp and beautiful in their crisp oranges and glossy yellows, crinkled and torn. Even the deadened deep brown ones were lovely.
Briefly, an image of a russet wolf's head pitched forward and bobbing as we sprinted through the woods came to mind. I thought of Jacob and how different running on my own was compared to riding on his back, how I didn't have to depend on him. I was using my own two legs and supernatural speed. The very notion combined with the power, the speed, and without the need for breath or the weakness of getting tired was an adrenaline rush all on its own.
I laughed. Running through the forest was exhilarating.
It was freeing.
It was natural.
I broke through the edge of a forest just as beaming lights seared the night. I halted—froze on the spot, my senses instantly alarmed and alert as headlights illuminated me completely.
Paralyzed, I watched the silver SUV—not ten feet from me on the dark yet shiny, rain-battered pavement—swerve, its driver and passenger's eyes wide and panicked, their bodies tense and braced, mouths gaping as screams belted from them. Its back end clipped my side, jolting my mind but barely moving my body. I blinked, before my head snapped in the direction of metal connecting with wood. The sound of crushing aluminum, splintering wood, and blood-curdling screams ripped through the air, disrupting and disturbing the night.
Then the previous peaceful silence swiftly returned, and all was still. Afraid but worried and curious, I inched toward the hissing of an engine, smoke wafting from the hood. I found the stillness and the tinkling of rain odd after such clamor. I stopped and my brow furrowed. Leaning forward, I zoned in on another sound: accelerated, uneven pounding—a whooshing of double-timed thumps and pumps.
My nostrils flared, a scent so luscious hitting me and making my mouth water.
Later, I would wish that I could say I hadn't been thinking, but I had been. I would replay the events of the night repeatedly and wonder if they could have been prevented, or if there would have been a different ending. But I had known the answer, which was ironic because the answer would be the same reply I had for Caius when I learned the story behind his action tonight, and the same reply I would give Jake when he asked, during what would be one of our last conversations: if I could change anything in the past, would I?
No, probably not.
With a single purpose and hungry-driven thought, I ripped off the door and yanked out the driver. I didn't even look at the man before I sank my teeth into his neck. The delicate human flesh broke easily. Blood so pure and rich ruptured from the wound and gushed under my mouth. I swallowed greedily, moaning at the creamy taste and the way it coated my tongue, my throat. So warm, so succulent …
My eyes flashed open as Caius broke through the trees. I pulled back and hissed.
He stopped and raised his hands. With his eyes on mine, he cautiously edged toward the other side of the car. Intently, I regarded him, ensuring he wouldn't encroach too close and take what was mine. He opened the other door and plucked out the woman with the weak pulse, a barely-there murmur in her veins. Certain that he wasn't going to stop me but still eyeing every movement he made, I lowered my head to continue my meal, which was growing cold.
Not partaking himself, Caius strictly watched as I gorged myself. I wanted to question him; he was letting her go to waste. I wanted to groan, my fingers squeezing fragile sinew and making the blood rush and fill my mouth. I wanted to rip the woman from his arms and have her after I had this one.
But none of that happened. Instead, a small whimper floated to my ears—and it wasn't from me.
With a roar, Caius twisted the woman's neck, tossed her aside, and wrenched the car away from me just as my eyes connected on the small, frightened ones in the backseat.
Before I could think, react—pounce—Caius threw the car down the street and dashed after it. I followed instinctively, angrily, my mouth pooling with venom, my mind frenzied, befuddled, screaming.
I wanted a taste. It was mine. How dare he. I was willing to share, but how dare he!
The silver SUV landed and bounced in place as he tore off the rear door. With his back blocking my view, I didn't see it, but I sure heard it.
A cry before a yelp and a sickening crack.
Unlike with the woman, the sound made me flinch to a stop before bringing me to my knees. My hands slapped forward against the wet pavement as the rust-colored spell I was under lifted, and for one second, the sound echoed in my head and a myriad of images swooped in and flashed across my vision: the cabin, a girl the same age as the one in the backseat, faces of evil and disgusting enjoyment. The images swiftly faded to black with the shocking crack of bone.
My mind went startlingly blank. Silent. Calm.
It was at that moment, I comprehended I felt nothing. Just a cold apathy remained. And it was at that instant, I also realized I didn't like the fact. I would rather care too much and feel revulsion than nothing but indifference. So I searched for it. Within the depths of my soul, I searched for some glimmer of emotion. I was barely aware of Caius moving around me, him shuffling and running, while I sought for something good, something humane—something human.
There. A girl, human and bland with ordinary brown hair and dull brown eyes, hid in a corner. Deep in the shadowed crevices of my mind and soul, she hugged her bent legs as she rocked back and forth. She was so very vulnerable; she made me ache just to look upon her. But that was it. It was just a twinge of pain, nothing more than a sting of a paper cut, but with devastating results—an emptiness that hardened the heart and plagued the soul.
With a harsh grating noise trailing behind him, Caius came over to me, grasped my arm, and hauled me up, his other hand gripping under the front end of the SUV.
"Move it. We need to get you away before another vehicle comes along." Without a care, he dragged me alongside him and towed the SUV behind us as we trudged through the forest. "Demetri will be here shortly with a few others to clean up the mess you've made." His hand clenched tightly around my arm. "I hope you enjoyed that for the both of us, since I will not have a feeding for a while on your behalf."
I had no idea what he was talking about, and I really didn't care at the moment. I didn't enjoy it—not anymore, not with the bitter aftertaste of guilt in my mouth. I wrapped my free arm around my body, trying to hold on to the emotion, not wanting to let it go and slip away. Caius kept talking, his accent growing more pronounced because of his anger, but I paid him no attention. Instead, I stared ahead and focused on the ache centered on my chest, it slowly being crushed by the emotion seeping in.
Stopping, Caius shook me roughly. "Isabella."
Dazed, I looked up and met his glare, which abruptly softened.
He dropped the car, released my arm, and slowly reached up. His hands cradled my face, before his thumbs began to gently swipe under my eyes and over my cheeks. I wasn't crying—I wasn't able to any longer. It was merely pouring rain. Yet the thought, the image was there. Drenched from head to toe, hair plastered down with clothes sopping, our faces glistened, rivers of rain streaking down and drops gathering on the wet eyelashes that lined sorrow-filled eyes.
So beautiful … him, the illusion, the care behind the action and beneath the regret. It was wistful—the longing, the touch, the idea.
To be able to cry would be … heartbreakingly wonderful. And to have someone wipe those tears … more so.
I hadn't realized that I had closed my eyes until Caius softly brushed his lips against the lids of them. It felt amazing—the momentary spread of warmth. I gripped his wrists, wanting to feel more, more than abysmal emptiness, a pang of pain, or illusive nostalgia. His nose grazing mine caused another burst of tender heat, and I pressed myself closer to him, seeking whatever he could and would give me.
When he didn't move, I lifted my lids and sucked in a sharp breath. I was met with a stormy bottomless sea of garnet, swells of directionless waves, anxious, scared, and angry. And it was there that I saw myself. Reflected back at me in the eyes of a man who chose to feel more than nothing at all was … me. Lost, unanchored me.
Then in the midst of it all, in the blink of an eye, there he was. Under the surface I saw him—lost, unanchored, and vulnerable, but fighting, searching. Whether he intended it or not, Caius just bore his soul to me with his eyes. His destitution—years of it—matched my own, but beneath all the bitterness and hate, I saw a flicker of light, one he had tried to snuff out and bury.
It was hope, a glimmer of hope. Maybe even for hope.
I wanted the same.
Pushing up onto tips of my toes and pulling myself up by my grip on his wrists, I crashed my mouth on his. I felt him stiffen before he returned the kiss. I quickly deepened it, trying to draw out some kind of emotion in myself, to find and feel that burning light I knew we shared. A spark of desire shot through my body as his tongue met and stroked my own, but it wasn't enough. The excitement was momentary, fleeting. He embraced and squeezed me to him, lifting me up before turning us and slamming me up against the side of the car. Another jolt pulsed.
It was with a sad, possessed desperation that waterlogged clothing was swiftly peeled off, layer by layer. Sweaters were pushed back from shoulders, shirts pulled up and then over our heads. Slacks were tugged down. My underwear was ripped off, followed by his. He pulled away, and an ache stung briefly. He dropped to a knee and lifted up my leg. I placed my hand on his shoulder, my other on his head, not to steady myself but to keep some kind of connection with him through touch. My head fell back as he slipped the sock from my foot while kissing, tasting the skin of my shin, the inside of my knee, the flesh of my thigh. A thrum began.
He dropped that leg and my head snapped forward. I watched him repeat the motions on my other leg, but instead of stopping mid-thigh like he had before, his tongue peeked out and trailed up the front of it, gathering the taste of me and rain on his tongue. He paused on the outside of my hip, where he gently nuzzled it with his nose before leaving one soft, open-mouthed kiss. A flame rekindled, and I squeezed his shoulder.
He remembered, and he ached for me.
Meeting and holding my gaze, he stood, and although his eyes were black from anger and desire, there was tenderness in the way he pushed back the soaked tendrils of hair from my face. I studied his expression as his gaze followed his hand smoothing down the front me, the backs of his fingers gliding the side of my neck, over my collarbone, and between my breasts. His anger dissipated, his desire flared, and devotion radiated from him. My body ignited.
He kissed me then, with that passion I had found painfully alluring, and while he gripped my waist, he lifted me. I tried to wrap my legs around his waist, but pulling his hips back, he pressed his chest against mine before he hooked his arm under my leg and then did the same with the other, my knees settling at the crooks of his elbows. With his hands braced against the car, he raised me, my back sliding up against the window of the vehicle while his mouth moved from mine to my neck. He sucked the new mark. Pride flared. I moaned and clutched his head, trying to keep him there as I ground into his pelvis, feeling him below my ass. I wanted—needed—more.
But he lifted me away, higher. My body curved back, following the contours of rain-slick metal before resting atop the roof of the car, and all the while, his mouth skimmed down my body, only stopping to swirl his tongue around my nipple before engulfing it completely and pulling away, tugging with soft enclosed lips and a light drag of the teeth. He continued shifting me up as he moved down my stomach, his tongue flicking into my bellybutton and making me writhe. I reached down and grasped his wrists, his hands now planted on the roof of the car and under my ass. Terror flared. Insecurity lashed.
I've never …
I squeezed his wrists in response.
"Look at me."
It was a murmured request, almost a plea. I raised my head and looked down, meeting his dark stare. His mouth hovered right above where I wanted him but was also too uncomfortable and inexperienced to have done to me. Indecision joined my fear. I felt exposed, not only physically but emotionally, as well. He hummed and then shifted, his face turning so that his nose brushed up my inner thigh just as I felt his thumb slowly graze up and then down my slit, over and then over, achingly slow and sinking deeper with each pass. Within, his thumb circled before gently pressing down and pulling out. My head dropped back and a guttural moan rumbled in my chest and the back of my throat. Brief embarrassment bloomed at the sound, but it left quickly as I heard him deeply inhale before giving me growl.
His hands curled from under my legs and latched onto the top of my thighs, pulling me toward him as he took one long, drawn-out lick. My back arched and a lusty growl escaped my parted lips. With my fingers digging into metal, I writhed as he devoured me, his tongue circling, plunging, flicking, lapping, his mouth gently sucking and pulling or his nose rubbing on a spot that made me burn—him only allowing me to enjoy whatever he was doing for a moment before he started something new. My hands grabbed his head, gripping those now golden-pearl locks glistening and brushing against my sensitive thighs, and my heels dug into his upper back. I pulled myself closer to him, my legs widening, before I rubbed against his face already shoved between my thighs.
"Please." My voice shook so badly that the word was nothing more than a broken whisper. The howl of the wind, and the thunder rumbling in my ears, along with the onslaught of rain on my body and what Caius was doing to me set my heightened senses on overdrive. Worse was the fire—that light—within. It was burning me in pleasure and pain. It was the utmost desire, unfulfilled, my body and soul both telling me without mercy what I already knew. I needed more. I had to have him, feel him, all of him. With my hands clenching his hair, I whimpered louder. "Please."
He was so swift and graceful, I was barely aware of us moving on the roof of the car, him sitting back on his haunches with me straddling him, before I screamed, feeling and hearing me tear.
And there it was. My own personal omission. Even though I was sure that most thought otherwise, I was violated in only one of the worst ways possible. Not that it mattered, but …
I trembled, burying my face in Caius's neck as an image of a chair leg slithered into my mind. It wasn't for pleasure that they had hurt me that way. Those types of atrocious acts rarely were—if ever. They wanted to lord their power over me and with one act that had ultimate agony, debasement, and shame as the result, while slowly killing my spirit and any hope if I were to survive.
I squeezed Caius, an odd keening sound erupting from me as Victoria's words running in my head. You bitch. Edward won't want you now. No one will.
God, I had known she was wrong on all counts when she had said those words to me. It wasn't that Edward wouldn't want me—he already hadn't—it was that I hadn't known if I wanted him any longer if he did, and I had known it wasn't true that no one would want me because of what I had experienced. I knew it simply made everything—trusting, telling, and being with someone—that much harder. Yet, even though I knew all this, it didn't always feel that way.
I felt Caius's clenching and unclenching grip on my thighs, his body shaking beneath mine. He was angry—rightly so—but it wasn't directed at me. He shifted, and I clutched him. He stilled, his hands shaking on my waist, his chest heaving against my own as I felt his sharp pants on my shoulder and his jaw ticking on the side of my head. I hugged him closer. I need him not to move, but I also needed him—emotionally and physically—and I knew he felt the same way. My heart ached, and I sought for comfort in the most basic of ways—through touch, by the feel of someone tenderly caring for me, loving and accepting me, and willing to share a burden.
But there was also that damn greedy light still scorching my soul and body, demanding as it throbbed, and it grew worse when he moved. I could still feel him inside me, and God, I could imagine what he looked like, gloriously hard and swelling. The way he filled me …
Minutely, I shifted and bit back a sob and a moan. Pleasure and fulfillment, an ache and a burst of joy ripped through my body all at once. Caius hissed before his chest rumbled. His hands moved from waist, hesitantly, an arm encircling my waist, the other sliding up and across my back before his hand clasped onto my shoulder. Clutching his head and with my fingers tangling in his hair, I rose slowly, this time the breath of sob escaping as I trembled from the force of emotions racking throughout my body. I wanted to sink back down on him, but I didn't know if I could handle any more. Yet, I craved it all the same.
I felt Caius's face turn into my hair and his nose grazing my cheek as he leaned back to look at me with heavy-lidded eyes. They were blazing black—desire and sadness. I brushed my lips over his reassuringly. I was fine, and I was ready. I just didn't think I could do it on my own.
He kissed me then, so damn tenderly, and it contrasted with him slamming me down. We both gasped and pulled at each other, before I quickly rose and he pulled me down again, both of us holding onto each other for dear life as we steadily quickened the pace. It was bliss and agony, the fire building—climbing—as it seared. The sound of me slamming down as he thrust up pounded in my ears, hard and deep. The ball of lust in my belly grew and expanded, and we squeezed each other impossibly tighter, as if we could adhere our bodies, somehow absorb a piece and keep it forever while holding on to our only lifeline.
It was pain and ecstasy, snarls and choked back cries with mouths hovering as the light seemed to fold in on itself, concentrating, before it exploded, and we soared. I screamed. He roared. The fire scalded.
It dwindled to a torch, a beacon. My body, my head, my soul calmed, a knitting sensation—feather-light—diffusing and carefully cinching together the raw edges. And he was etched there, in the very heart and soul of me, woven inextricably.
Later, as I watched him carefully dress me in his shirt, I marveled at the gentle yet stronger thread that bound us together. It was peace, a contentment I had never known, but there was also one little snag, a restlessness fluttering as it nagged my mind. He hadn't met my gaze, and there was something I needed to say.
I brushed a wet strand of dark platinum-blond hair from over his eye and murmured the words he had spoken earlier this evening.
It wasn't that I was trying to keep it from him, or that I didn't want to tell him. We just didn't know each other—we didn't have the time behind us to know each other—and it wasn't as though I had planned this, but I should've warned him. I should've said something.
I watched his body deflate, the tension leaving him, before he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into him. Our bodies sighed, and we took a moment to just be. With arms squeezing me, he leaned back. I lifted my head and slowly met his gaze. His eyes were still blazing black, and though anger and sadness seemed to live there, pride and gratefulness, joy and a quiet peace exuded from the depths of them.
"You have nothing—absolutely nothing—to be sorry for, Isabella."
My lip quivered, and, leaning up, I pressed my forehead against his. He had no idea how much I needed to hear those words right now, but for some unknown reason, even though comfort blossomed as he brushed his nose against mine, the words sounded ominous. The restlessness tugged the base of my skull, and as we silently walked back to Volterra, hand in hand, it grew. With each step closer, I realized with an odd sense of foreboding that I was missing something—no, I was supposed to do something.
We emerged from the tunnels that wound under the hilled city, stopping in yet another new hall, and I frowned, ignoring Aro, Jasper, and two others who stood there to greet us. The niggling feeling was trying to tell me something, and I looked at Caius and cocked my head as two simple words began to register.
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