A/N: Hugemongous thanks to BellaFlan, cretin, grrlinterrupted, HoochieMomma, Naranwien, and WolfGirlAtHeart for pre-reading and beta'ing.
Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer, despite my liberal and shameless lifting of her work from chapter seventeen of New Moon in this chapter of my fic. Before you go chastising me for anyone's dialogue, please to check canon to be sure you know who to blame. ;-)
Song for this chapter WAS going to be something else, but since HoochieMomma squeezed her eyes shut and pinched the bridge of her nose, I'm changing it to "E Ajnabi" from the Dil Se soundtrack just to mess with her. (Really, though, it's "Flame Turns Blue" by David Gray don'thatemeHoochie.)
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"Stop!" I gasped. "Stop, Sam, stop!"
He totally disregarded my order, continuing around the corner. "What?"
"It's not Victoria! That's Carlisle Cullen's car! Carlisle Cullen's!"
He pulled over and turned to stare at me. "That isn't what I would call encouragement to turn around, Bella."
"No, you don't understand." I crawled across the seat and knelt next to him. "If he's here, Alice might have seen something I need to know. Something important."
Sam shook his head in bewilderment. "Seen something?"
"Oh." He was so much a part of my thoughts nowadays that I sometimes forgot he didn't know everything I did. "Alice can see the future."
"What the fuck?" Gaping, he turned the engine off. "Which one is Alice?"
"She's tiny, with short black hair." She was my best friend, until Edward told her not to be. It occurred to me to wonder if Jessica would give me up as a friend, if somebody in her family told her she should. No way. "Her abilities aren't definite; what she sees changes depending on decisions people make. And other stuff. It's kind of confusing, actually. But anyway, if Carlisle came all the way here from wherever they've been, it might be because they know something's going to happen and want to warn me."
"If she could see the future, then she must have known what their return would do to us," Sam replied, expression gone grim.
I made a face. "Only if they thought to ask her to check. She wasn't here the last time the rest of them were."
Clearly, that answer didn't help much. He took a deep breath, re-centering himself. "I don't want you to talk to them."
For the first time, the full reality of the situation hit me. I was about to talk to one of them. Even if it was only Rosalie—though God knew what messed-up chain of events would lead to that unlikelihood—it would be overwhelming. "I don't want to either," I gasped through the constriction in my throat. "But… Sam, what if it's about Victoria? Something that could help you fight her?"
He growled, but pulled me into his arms at the same time. "I don't need a leech's help to kill another leech."
Oh. This was partially a pride thing. Well, that made sense. Choosing my words carefully, I asked, "Okay, but what if it's something that could help you get Victoria sooner? Before more guys' phases get triggered?"
A steady rumbling in his chest tickled against my ear, but he stayed still, thinking about it. I took advantage of the moment and burrowed against him as tightly as I could, letting his steadiness lend me a little of my own. I hadn't forgotten that night in the store, and Sam's worshipful voice as he spoke Emily's name. What if I did the same thing to him? I didn't even have an imprint to blame. I'll choose to be apart from her, and near to you, every time. I swear it. Should I be choosing to be apart from whichever Cullen had appeared on my doorstep? I couldn't guess whether or not the risk would prove worth it in the end. After all, I couldn't see the future. Silently, I decided that if Sam didn't agree, I wouldn't go. I couldn't trust my own judgment in this case.
With a groan, he let his head fall back against the rear window of the truck. "I want a normal life."
I raised my eyebrows. "Where did that come from?"
"It's my birthday in a week and I want a normal life with normal problems. I want my biggest worry to be about winter quarter final exams, or whether or not my girlfriend liked her hook-up with her bi fuckbuddy more than she likes having sex with me." Disregarding my gasp and fiery blush, he closed his eyes and continued, still in the same weary tone, "I want to sleep at night and I want to wear a shirt and some goddamn shoes and I want cologne to smell good again and I want my parents to give me shit about dating a white girl and I want a motherfucking normal life." He sighed. "Instead, I gave up my scholarship, I got four hours of sleep in the past twenty-four, I haven't seen either of my parents in I don't know how long, I have a bunch of old men breathing down my neck because of a fucking vampire and the girl she's after—who I'm in love with, by the way—and now that same girl is asking me to take her back to her house so she can have a sit-down with another vampire. Goddamn it."
I tried to suppress my giggles but I couldn't. He was usually the definition of "stoic;" seeing him this way made me want to cuddle him until all the bad things went away. Throwing my arms around his neck, I pressed kisses all over his face and then said, "I'm sorry. Everything sucks and it's not fair. If you don't think I should go, I won't."
Sam slowly lowered his head to my shoulder. His hands stroked my back. "I'll never want you to go. But you're right; if this could end up giving me a tactical advantage then I'd be an idiot to give up the opportunity."
Hesitantly, I reminded him, "I might… I might lose myself, in there with them. When he left…"
"I know. Breaking an imprint." Lifting his head once more, he kissed me and said, "I'll understand. No matter what."
"Okay." The possibility made me shiver. "I just have one thing to ask before we go back. No, two."
I slid my hand down his arm and entwined my fingers with his. "First, don't let me leave without you. I'm telling you now, while I'm sure I'm in my right mind." He nodded in understanding. "Second, don't let me go. I mean, don't stop touching me." Abruptly, the reality of what I was about to do sank in, and I started trembling. "They'd never hurt me, Sam. Not on purpose. But I'm so, so scared."
"You don't have to do this." He kissed the top of my head and then pulled me even closer.
For a second, I wavered. I could just have him take me back to the reservation, where he'd told me the Cullens could never go, and leave all this behind. I'd come up with some excuse to give to Charlie if I had to, or just lay down the law and tell him I was eighteen and ready to live on my own. I wasn't ready for that, though. And I wasn't ready to walk away from anything that might help Sam kill Victoria and remain unharmed.
"Let's go back," I said finally, moving away because I knew he wouldn't be the first to let go. "And just so you know? Don't think I'm going to ignore the fact that you told me it's your birthday in a week. You're not going to be a teenager anymore. That's a huge deal, and I'm pretty sure it's in the girlfriend code of conduct that I have to do something… memorable."
A tiny smile played around the corners of his mouth as he started the engine and turned around. I bit my lip so my own smile wouldn't become too obvious.
Of course, as soon as I caught sight of the house and the car in front of it again, any urge to smile was completely destroyed. I swallowed down the saliva pooling in the back of my mouth, again and again. When Sam parked and opened the door, I slid over to his side so I could clutch his arm.
Even though he had to be able to hear my heart thudding frantically in my chest, Sam didn't ask if I wanted to turn back, for which I was grateful. He just grasped my hand and led the way to the door, waiting for me to unlock it before pushing it open and going in first.
I had braced myself for Carlisle. I'd even allowed myself to hope he'd be alone. What I saw instead made me freeze in misery.
Alice sat on the couch, holding hands with Jasper.
"Bella," she began, making a quick movement as if she were going to jump to her feet, but I hid behind Sam and squeezed my eyes shut as I pressed my face to his back. Not Alice. Why did it have to be Alice? Sam stood motionless, letting me use him as my shield.
"Bella," Alice said again, her musical voice echoing with grief and worry, and I started gasping. I didn't notice when the gasping turned into something else—I only realized I was sobbing when Sam dragged me to Charlie's ancient lounge chair and pulled me into his lap. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another aborted motion from where Alice sat, and heard Sam growl in response.
"Careful, mutt," Jasper drawled, casually rising to his feet and rocking back on his heels. That was all, but Sam stilled like an animal eyeing its prey before it sprang.
Fear allowed me to stop crying and swivel to face the vampires, though I kept the fingers of one hand fisted in the material of Sam's shorts. He relaxed slightly and rubbed the small of my back in a gentle rhythm as I asked, "Why are you here?" Realizing how that sounded, I fumbled to recover. "I mean, I'm happy to see you, of course…" My voice wavered and collapsed before I finished talking, and I started bawling again.
"It's okay, Bella. Everything's okay," Sam murmured to me.
Alice sighed. "I'd forgotten how exuberant you are," she said, and her tone was disapproving.
I looked up at her through my streaming eyes. Alice's mouth was tight, and her gaze flickered over my face and form as if to check on me. Suddenly, I understood what she'd meant: she thought I was crying because I was happy. The depth of her misconception shocked me into silence. I turned to Jasper; obviously he didn't labor under the same delusion, but he was too busy staring at Sam to correct her.
"Who's your friend?" she wanted to know, aiming a less-than-thrilled look at Sam.
I edged back, feeling the reassuring heat emanating from Sam's body suffuse my own, as I tried not to breathe too deeply. It was the scent of her I feared most. "He's Sam. Uley."
"He's a werewolf," Jasper added, not looking away from Sam.
"A werewolf?" Alice exclaimed. Distaste flickered over her delicate face. "Well, I guess that explains the smell. But does it explain what I didn't see?" She frowned, her porcelain forehead creasing.
"The smell?" I shared a mystified glance with Sam.
"You smell terrible," she said absently, still frowning. Then her eyes widened and she stared at me, shocked. "Are you two together? Are you dating a werewolf, Bella?" I nodded. "How long has this been going on?"
"Not that long," I replied defensively. Did she think I had moved on from Edward the second they'd left town?
She glowered at me. "Edward was right—you're a magnet for danger. Leave it to you, Bella. Anyone else would be better off when the vampires left town. But no, you have to start hanging out with the first monsters you can find!"
"There's nothing wrong with werewolves, Alice," I objected, stung by her critical tone. Sam's hands trembled for a moment, and then stilled.
She rolled her eyes. "Until they get angry. He was a fool to think you could survive alone. I've never seen anyone so prone to life-threatening idiocy."
I flinched at the accusation, but before I could say anything I was suddenly on the chair by myself and Sam was on his feet, blocking my view of Alice. "Careful, leech," he warned in a perfectly even tone. "Say whatever you want about me, but I won't sit there and listen to you talk to Bella that way."
I didn't want to argue with Alice—I was still trembling with shock that she was really, truly here, that I could hear her bell-tone voice—but she had it all wrong. Leaning around Sam so I could see her again, I retorted, "You're right about one thing. I wouldn't have survived on my own at all, Alice. If it weren't for Sam, Victoria would have killed me the day after you left town."
"Victoria?" she spat. Jasper straightened to attention simultaneously.
"I followed Edward. The day he said goodbye to me, he walked into the woods and—but I guess you know that part already, don't you?"
She shook her head in bewilderment. "What do you mean, he walked into the woods? Why would he do that?"
Why had he done that? Even now, as I forced myself to remember the circumstances of our last conversation, I still didn't understand it. "I'm not sure. But he left me still in sight of the house. I tried to follow him, but I couldn't catch him, and I got lost."
Alice had gone statue-still with distress. "How long?" she managed to ask, but her lips barely stirred.
"I'm… not sure…" Everything about that time had faded into a blur of anguish. I looked up at Sam. Even though he didn't return my gaze, one big hand moved to stroke my hair. I leaned my head against him. "I think a couple of days or something?"
"I found you the night after."
"Victoria found me first," I continued, looking back at Alice. "That's how I got these." Turning my cheek to her, I traced the faint lines with my fingers. "She was playing with me. And then Sam saved me. He chased her off, but she nearly killed him." I didn't like the speculative looks Alice and Jasper turned Sam's way, so I tugged on his hand until he moved back, then rose to sit on the arm of the chair while he sat beside me. "She's come back, trying to find a way to kill me—she thinks Edward and I are together still, so she thinks she'll hurt him if I die." I chuckled, bitterly, at the notion.
"Our leaving didn't help you at all, did it?" Alice murmured, eyes glazed over as she thought.
I contemplated that. Had their departure helped? If they hadn't left, I wouldn't have met Sam, or at least gotten together with him, and that would have been a terrible loss. On the other hand, I wouldn't have tried to nearly kill myself with dangerous activities… But I might have been a vampire. A Cold One. Sam's mortal enemy, the one thing he was sworn to kill. I wouldn't have been able to see my parents, let alone sleep, or make love (except to another vampire), or eat… and I wouldn't have been able to do any of those things with and for Sam. Just the thought had me cringing.
"I think it did help, my dear," Jasper said, his uncomfortably perceptive gaze seeming to go right through me. I tried to fight the urge to shrink away from him, but of course I couldn't do anything about how I felt.
"You did say we shouldn't interfere," she agreed. "But I just wish I knew why I couldn't see Victoria attacking Bella. It's so disturbing to have gaps and not understand the reason…" Without warning, she glared at Sam. "It's you. You're the reason I can't predict Bella's future."
"Am I supposed to apologize?" he asked. His hands trembled again; I gripped the one I held with both of my own.
"It must be because you're a mutant. That explains why I didn't see you coming, Bella—I was so surprised when I heard your truck's engine…"
"Yes, but now we've assuaged our concerns about Bella's well-being." Jasper didn't sound impatient in the slightest, but I couldn't escape the conviction that he was utterly bored with this entire conversation.
Alice scowled at the floor for a moment. "Well… I guess I acted impulsively today. I probably shouldn't have butted in. It's just... I saw you and it was today and you were standing on a cliff's edge and I could have sworn you were looking down like you were thinking of... but I should have known better."
"We promised Edward we wouldn't interfere," Jasper agreed.
"But, Jasper, werewolves?" She looked at him beseechingly, as if Sam and I weren't even in the room. "I told him this would happen, but he didn't believe me. 'Bella promised.'" Her voice imitated his so perfectly that I froze in shock while the pain ripped through my torso. Jasper's head rotated oddly to look at me as he reacted to my emotions—of all the Cullens, he was the one least interested in maintaining the human charade. Sam turned to me at the same time. "'Don't be looking for her future, either,'" Alice continued to quote Edward. "We've done enough—'"
"Stop," Sam ordered, still gazing at my face. "You're hurting her."
"I do believe you are." Jasper's beautiful voice sounded more curious than anything else.
Alice immediately shut her mouth.
"Alice, I'm safe with Sam," I pleaded, once I found my voice.
"He doesn't believe that," Jasper interjected. Something about us had caught his attention. He stepped a bit closer. "But you do."
"Sounds familiar," Alice said dryly.
"I was right then, and I'm right now," I stated as firmly as I could. "The only way Edward hurt me was when he left me. That's the only way Sam could hurt me now." He leaned into me as I spoke.
She started to argue, but Jasper, for once, interrupted a lady. "Excuse me, my dear, but if you won't believe Bella, will you believe me?" They began a low-voiced conversation, too rapid to understand and on a frequency human ears couldn't really catch. Sam remained expressionless, but I sensed him following every word.
At last, Alice turned to me. She still looked unhappy, but Jasper appeared to be satisfied. "All right, Bella. I'm sorry to have… intruded." I wanted to reassure her—I still missed her, so much—but she continued, "We'll be leaving again tonight."
She floated to her feet, and I rose along with her to walk the two of them to the door. When I opened it, Alice motioned for Jasper to go ahead. He appeared inside the Mercedes on the driver's side without me ever seeing the door open.
"At least you look well," she sighed, examining me from head to toe as she spoke. "Sometimes I would catch sight of you at first and you seemed so thin… But now you're all right? You promise?"
I nodded firmly. "Yes. I promise. You don't need to worry, Alice. I've… well, I am figuring out how to take care of myself."
"Good to know."
And then, without giving me a chance to back away or hold my breath or anything, she leaned to embrace me. I'd forgotten how hard she was; it was like being hugged by a cool stone, but a stone that contoured comfortingly to the shape of my body. Before I knew what I was doing, my arms were locked around her, and I was gasping to inhale as much of the scent of her skin as possible. It wasn't like any naturally occurring fragrance in the world—not floral, spice, citrus, or musk. Even the most priceless perfumes couldn't compare. My memory hadn't done it justice.
All too soon, I heard the car door slam and realized she was gone. Dazedly, I swung the door shut. My stomach had dropped into my feet. "Alice," I whispered. My fingers clenched and unclenched spasmodically as I began to hyperventilate. I couldn't find my lungs.
Behind me, I heard a deep voice say, "Bella?"
Whoever it was sounded all wrong; his voice was far too rough, housed in muscle and bone instead of granite and ice.
"Alice," I said again, stupidly.
"She's gone," the voice told me, closer now. I turned toward it, but I couldn't see the speaker. All my thoughts were taken up by the memory of Jasper and Alice's faces. I had to go—I had to find them—
I almost screamed as what felt like two brands rested on my upper arms. It was too hot, everything was so hot, I wanted to be cold because cold was the best feeling in the world…
"Bella." Now the voice sounded desperate. I hoped, with detached concern, that he wasn't worried about me. "Come back."
How could I, when the life I'd longed for was driving away?
One of the brands lifted, and then returned to press on my chest. "I'm sorry. You told me to not let go of you and I did—but I didn't think seeing her out would do this to you. Fucking leeches."
The words stirred a memory, so distant it might have originated years in the past. Don't let me go. I mean, don't stop touching me. I had said that. To…
With a gasp, I came out of my daze enough to focus on the face before me. My lips were numb, but I managed to speak. "Sam."
"Thank Christ." He leaned down, closer. "Are you all right?"
"Sam, help me." My entire being had been split in two. One part wanted to chase down the Mercedes and do whatever it took to make sure they never left me again, was convinced that I would die now with them gone. The other part needed Sam. That part was freezing. Dimly I noticed that my body quaked from head to toe.
He rubbed my chest comfortingly. It was too hot. No, it was perfect. No, it was too hot. "I'm here. Tell me what to do."
Find them, Bella! the dazzled part of me screamed.
"I need you," the part of me that belonged to Sam told him, unsteadily because of the shaking.
He stilled, looking me over for a second, and then he nodded. "You've got me." In one smooth motion, he lifted me into his arms. I lay there, as limp as the first time he'd carried me, while he climbed the steps and, for the first time, stepped into my bedroom.
When he set me on my feet, I still clung to him. "I can't remember. Sam, help me remember that I'm okay without them. I'm so cold. So cold."
"I will." Moving carefully, so as not to dislodge my fingers, he took off his cutoffs, and then worked open my coat, shirt, and pants. "I'm going to take these off now." I cooperated as best I could, but it was probably a pretty sad effort. When we were both naked, he picked me up again and lay me down on the bed, holding me tightly as he pulled my body against his own and drew the cover over us both.
The uncontrollable tremors made the entire bed quake. "Can't," I managed to choke out, digging my fingers into his skin. "Not enough." Half my body wanted to take off and run away, from the heat and everything else human. The other half ached with foreign chills.
"Okay." He turned my head and kissed my face: my nose, my cheeks, my chin. "Tell me what you want."
"I need you." Operating purely on instinct, I tried to pull him on top of me, but he was too strong. "Inside. Please?" He could undo the glaciation of my skin by holding me, but winter still encased my heart.
Sam's face went expressionless. I tried not to see Alice and Jasper and Edward in my mind's eye as he thought it through, but it was no use. At last he replied, "All right."
"I'm scared," I confessed as he overlaid me. What if I couldn't come all the way back and lost time the way I had when Edward first left?
"I know. It's going to be fine, though. Just hold onto me."
Obediently, I wound my arms around his neck and entwined my legs with his. Everywhere our skin came into contact, the frost retreated from my veins, but it wasn't enough. With an impatient noise, I arched my back to urge him on. Leaning on one elbow, he reached down with his free hand to line himself up with me, rubbing against me until I was wet enough to take him in.
Once he was fully inside, he leaned back a little on his knees and one hand so he could kiss me. My mouth had thawed enough to kiss him back. The gentle pressure of his lips against mine chased away the remnants of vampiric chill. Abruptly, I returned fully to myself, in the present, with the man I loved over and around and within me. I cradled his face in both my hands and spoke wonderingly as I remembered, "I love you."
Sam smiled, relief dawning on his features. "I love you too."
With my restoration, a small flame of arousal began to burn. Lifting my hips to his, I kissed him again, long and deep. When we broke apart for air, I told him, "Don't stop."
He stroked in and out, setting a steady cadence but in no particular hurry. The lack of foreplay meant my buildup was slow, but he whispered over and over again how much he loved me, how happy he was to be with me, how beautiful I was, while his hands roamed over my body, hitting every right place until finally he reached between us and sent me into my orgasm. Even then, he waited until I was done and smiled up at him sleepily before he came too.
When he rolled beside me, I rolled too, to throw the arm and leg closest to him over his chest and stomach, burrowing my head against his shoulder. "God. That was so damn scary. I honestly forgot how I felt about you."
Sam drew my head close and kissed my hair. "You knew what you needed to do to remember, though. If there's ever another time, I'll know how to act right away." I could hear the smile in his voice as he added, "It's a burden to have to have sex with my girl, but I'll make the sacrifice."
"You're such a good guy." I sighed against his skin.
After a few minutes, he sat up with heavy sigh of his own. "I can't stay. Embry needs me, and Jacob really is going to phase any minute. I need to be there if he does."
I curled around him. "I'm glad you were here."
"Me, too." He reached to stroke my hair back. "I'll see you soon. Paul's going to take the next shift."
"Goody. Mister Sunshine." The thought of Paul dispersed my post-sex glow. Standing, I picked up my clothes and started getting dressed again. "Have you ever dug the reason he hates me so much out of his landfill of a mind?"
"Paul doesn't hate you; he hates that he can't have you." I went immobile with shock, and he hastened to elaborate. "He doesn't want you, Bella Swan, he wants somebody who takes care of him and that he can take care of without it all getting thrown back in his face." Sam shrugged, buttoning his cutoffs. "He wants somebody who feeds him. The hunger thing hits him the worst. I don't know why. He wants somebody who'll stay. When he looks at you, he sees everything he doesn't have."
"Oh." Now I felt like a jerk. "I can feed him."
"You don't have to do that. You're my girlfriend, not pack chef."
"If I want to, though, that's okay, right?"
He laughed and threw an arm around my shoulders so he could draw me close and nuzzle my neck. "You can do whatever you want, baby girl. It's your food. But you're nicer than he deserves no matter what."
I followed him down the stairs and kissed him goodbye at the back door. "Be careful."
After I watched him disappear into the tree line, I turned back to the kitchen and started cooking. By the time an hour had passed I had a decent amount of food prepared, if one counted enough chicken teriyaki, plus rice and stir fry, to outfit a buffet as "a decent amount." Well, Charlie would be happy, assuming Paul left him… on second thought, I decided I'd better just go ahead and package up Charlie's portion. Once that was done, I opened the back door again and called, "Paul?"
Well, I'd expected that. I felt stupid, but said quietly, "If you're hungry, I have, uh, some extra food from what I made for dinner tonight." When he still didn't respond, I rolled my eyes and exclaimed, "For God's sake, dickhead, don't do something that'll make your life easier or anything."
He appeared in front of me a second later, a disaffected expression ruining his otherwise good-looking face. "Did somebody call me? Looking to get some action on the side while Sam's not around? I'm all yours, but I gotta warn you, I'm not all that fucking great at keeping the Lord High Alpha out of my head."
I snorted and stood aside. "If you're hungry, come in and eat. Believe me; I get more than enough action without your help."
Paul's mouth twisted. For a second I thought he would turn on his heel and leave, but instead he sneered and walked past me to sit at the dining room table without another word. With a sudden ache in my chest, I remembered talking to Edward about how men got grumpier when they hadn't eaten recently.
Paul ate in silence while I scrubbed up the pots and pans, and then, to my shock, he rose, put all the dishes into the sink, and began to wash them. We only had one sponge, so I had to watch as he cleaned the entire kitchen, still without speaking. Once he rinsed out the sink one final time and hung the drying towel on the oven door, he opened the back door and headed for the forest once more.
He hadn't gotten more than halfway across the open area when he suddenly exploded into his wolf form, scraps of fabric flying in every direction as he tore through his clothes. I gasped; this was the first time I'd actually witnessed the transformation from man to wolf in progress. It was so fast. One second he was human, the next a giant silver wolf crouched before me, snarling, as he swung his head back and forth, nostrils flaring.
"What…" I breathed, but my question was answered a second later, as Victoria streaked across the open space and fastened onto Paul's neck. He barreled sideways, slamming her into a massive tree trunk. It splintered with the impact. Paul ducked out of the way, backing up so rapidly I didn't see him until he reappeared twenty feet away. Victoria darted toward me this time, but screamed as Paul lunged and caught her leg. I screamed, too, paralyzed by terror. Victoria collapsed, and for a moment I thought Paul had won, but it was a feint. Once she lay on her back, she kicked him between the eyes with her free foot and then, when he dropped her leg in shock, she sprang to stand and grab his head.
One quick backflip and yelp—I screamed again in impotent horror—and she turned away from Paul's limp body to smile with predatory satisfaction.
"Now we'll have some fun," she announced brightly. My throat felt as if it were surrounded with ice once more. I realized that she had put her hand around it to squeeze. Her red eyes were the last thing I saw before I blacked out.