Title: Breathless

Author: Madame Naberrie

Rating: T (language and adult themes)

Summary: Kim Chitto is drowning in her insignificance, lost and alone. Jared Cameron wants to show her that she is all he can see, even if he has to fight every step of the way.

-:-:-:-:-

"Kim."

I vaguely registered the sound of my own name, but my awareness was consumed with Beowulf and Sir Conan and the Green Knight and oh shit this test is in 6 minutes and-

"Kim."

"What?" I barked out, tearing my eyes away from my frantically scribbled notes. Melissa stood before me, her hands on her hips, mouth drawn into a thin, indignant line. "This test is in like forty-seven seconds, Melissa, I really don't have time to talk right now."

"Jesus," she scowled, sliding down next to me onto the cold floor in the middle of the bustling hallway. "I was just going to ask you how your vacation went, I didn't realize I'd be unleashing the beast."

I ignored her jab and stared at the notebook, wondering wildly if I could retain the information via osmosis by just pressing the notes into my face. God, I was tired.

"You might as well give up," Melissa noted haughtily. "Killing yourself for the next three minutes is not going to be worth your grade going from an F to an F plus."

I spared a quick glance at her, making a face. "You are really encouraging, you know that?"

She rolled her eyes; perhaps I was being a tad bit dramatic about this English exam, but I was pretty certain that if I didn't pass this test I was going to fail this class and then fail out of school and then have to live with my parents for the rest of my life, which in and of itself was a terrifying enough thought to make me redirect all my attention back to trying to remember who the hell John Milton was.

The bell sounded with an ear-shattering clang, and I felt the first pangs of real panic in my stomach. "No, no, no," I groaned, but Melissa was already pulling me up by the elbow, trying to keep me from being trampled by the incoming horde of students.

"Time to go," she sang cheerfully, dragging me into the depths of hell itself.

As I tried to make my way to my desk -back row, third seat from the left- a huge mass bumped into me, sending me crashing into the desk beside me and spilling the contents of my backpack all over the floor.

Jared Cameron - all six-foot-two of him - stood before me, his mouth open in surprise. "Shit," he said, by way of apology, I suppose, before turning his back and going right along with his business.

Asshole, I thought, trying to nonchalantly gather my things from the floor. When I finally made it to my desk, the teacher was already at the front of the room passing out exams and I was definitely going to have to be a hobo for the rest of my life, I was sure of it.

The time ticked on in agonizing slowness. And then, because no matter what anyone tells you, it can always get worse, I brought my hand down on my desk top in frustration and indadvertedly flung my pencil off my desk to where it landed right next to...

...Jared Cameron and his friends.

Awesome.

Time seemed to move in slow motion as the pencil rolled to a perfect stop at his feet. I tried to meet his eyes, frantic, trying to communicate, oh my God, I'm so sorry for existing, oh my god-

He looked mildly irritated as he rolled the pencil back towards me, where I fumbled with it for a minute before getting a solid grip. I heard sniggering coming from my right-probably Paul, Jared's partner in crime and overall an even bigger asshole-and quickly muttered a hasty excuse to Mr. Johnson when he questioned if there was something going on back there that I'd like to share with the class (the answer was decidedly no).

Twenty minutes later, the whole ordeal was over - much like my academic career - and Melissa was dragging me towards the cafeteria with single-minded determination.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" Melissa asked, obnoxiously cheerful as always. She directed me to the back of the line, craning her neck to judge how long we would be standing there waiting to eat. "I mean, I didn't know anything for that last essay question, but I sure made it sound damn good."

"You have a talent," I acknowledged, folding my arms across my stomach, still feeling slightly embarrassed about the whole pencil-flinging incident. "Did you happen to see that whole thing with the pencil...?"

Melissa snorted. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure everyone did," she quipped, but after seeing my expression she hastily added, "it wasn't that bad, we were all pretty consumed with trying not to fail high school."

I stole a glance at Jared's table, and noticed somewhat sheepishly that he and his friends were glancing periodically at me and sniggering in way that was most likely not due to how awesome and hilarious they thought I was. I felt my cheeks warming; it was just a pencil. They were seriously overreacting about this.

"Are they staring at you, or is it just me?" Melissa questioned, echoing my thoughts.

"Probably just trying to figure out if I'm totally retarded or just mentally ill," I muttered under my breath, and Melissa let out a giggle. "What are they looking at?" I wondered aloud, feeling the heat in my cheeks spread down my neck and chest.

I saw Paul's mouth open, heard him shout, "Kim!" across the cafeteria, and was being urged towards their table by an insistent Melissa before I could even realize what was happening.

My hands fumbled awkwardly inside my sweatshirt pocket as I approached their table, trying to keep my backpack from sliding off my shoulder. I felt myself growing even warmer as I took in Paul's (unfortunately) handsome face, noting that Jared and a few other boys sat around the table behind him, looking like a mix between irritated and amused.

"Hey," I muttered, and tried not to look terrified. "What's up?"

"That test was something, huh?" Paul said, leaning back in his chair like talking to me was the most normal thing in the world, like I hadn't known him since kindergarten and this wasn't the first time he'd even acknowledged my existence.

"Um," I started, unsure of why on earth he was trying to make small talk with me. "Yeah, I guess."

The boy to Paul's left- Embry, maybe- snorted, and I wanted to shrink into the earth and die. "You probably always get A's though, right?" Paul mused. "So I'm sure you have nothing to worry about."

I wanted to ask him why he assumed I got A's all the time- I mean, just because I was completely unpopular and antisocial didn't mean I was also in the marching band or incredibly gifted at academics. I was probably worse at school than he was- but instead of saying that, I found myself just nodding stupidly.

"Well, look," Paul said, shifting to lean forward, elbows resting on his knees. "A couple of us are planning on going into Port Angeles on Friday night," he began, and I wondered where on earth this conversation could be going. "It would be cool if you came with."

"With...you guys?" I squeaked, and I was sure they were classifying me in the mentally ill category by now.

"Yeah," Jared piped up, flashing me a grin. "It'd be fun. There's nothing to do down here at the rez. Are you free?"

Of course I was free. My Friday nights usually consisted of horrible 80s chick flicks and pizza with my little sister, but I wasn't about to say that, so I pretended to consult my inner schedule to see if I could possibly fit them in. "Um, yeah, I think I'm free then," I said, still mildly shocked at the fact that this conversation was even happening.

"Great!" Jared said, still grinning. "You live like a block from me, right?" I nodded. "We could carpool. To save gas, you know. Paul and Embry will be at my place anyway, so..."

"So you want me to drive you?" I asked, the question tumbling from my lips before I could help myself.

Jared hesitated, and then shrugged so casually I wondered if I'd seen him hesitate at all. "We just never hang out," he said evasively. "I thought it'd be fun. And you have that van anyway, which is the only car that would fit us all."

I felt a curling, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, but tried to ignore the feeling. This was possibly the first time anyone had ever invited me to anything socially acceptable, and besides, if it was just about the ride, there was probably a hundred other people they could have asked. Maybe they were just tired of being assholes all the time.

I found myself agreeing before I could really stop and think about the implications. "Ok," I said, and nodded. "What time should I come by?"

Embry, Paul and Jared stole glances at one another, before Paul suggested, "8:30?" and said they'd call me later if plans changed.

When I walked back numbly from their table to Melissa's place in line, she was glaring at me with all the fury of hell in her eyes. "What was that?" she hissed, her hands on her hips.

I shrugged, trying not to let her see that I was just as shocked at she was. "They just wanted to know if I was free Friday. They want to...hang out."

Melissa's eyes widened comically. "Hang out? With you?"

I snorted, trying to cover up the slight pang of shame I felt in my chest at her comment, but she quickly recovered. "Not like that, Kim, you know that I think you're totally awesome," she said, smiling, "...it's just that, they're usually such bastards to everyone. All they do is flirt with the dumb upperclassmen and go get drunk together. I didn't picture them inviting anyone new into their group."

"Maybe they're tired of the same old thing," I offered, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. "Being a jerk all the time is probably exhausting."

Melissa rolled her eyes, taking her plate of tacos from the sour-looking lunch lady. "Whatever. Just don't get an STD and let me help you pick out an outfit that isn't totally disgusting. And then tell me all about it afterwards."

I grinned, thanking the powers that be that there was at least one other person on this earth that was just as much of a freak as I was. "Deal."

-:-:-:-

"What are you doing?"

I tried to peer out at my sister behind all the hair in my face, but Melissa moved my head determinedly back into place. "Hold still," she muttered, trying to make my stick-straight hair look something close to alluring- though why she thought that was necessary was beyond me.

"Melissa's trying to make me look good," I informed my sister, settling for her reflection in the mirror instead. Through the mess of hair around my eyes, I saw Amy cross her scrawny arms across her chest.

"Doesn't look like it's working," she observed in her typical matter-of-fact fashion.

I couldn't see the face that Melissa directed at her, but I could imagine it was nothing close to sweet. "I think she looks beautiful. As always. And you're a lame sister for not agreeing."

Amy flashed a toothy grin, looking pleased-as usual- that she could get under Melissa's skin so easily. "Don't take it so personally," she said flippantly. "I was joking. Kim, you are beautiful." I wasn't, but she was sweet for saying so.

"Thanks, Amy."

"And where exactly are you going that requires that you look so stunning? Do you have a date or something?"

"No," I was quick to reply before Melissa could interject any of her horribly inaccurate commentary. "I'm- I'm hanging out with friends."

"Boys," Melissa said pointedly, finally pulling my hair out of my face. "There. I'm a genius. It almost looks like you have 10 hairs on your head now instead of 3."

"Ha, ha," I laughed dryly, but had to admit that my hair did look somewhat swishy and nice, instead of its usual stringy and plain. I touched a hand to my head tentatively, noting how smooth it felt. "Thanks, Melissa. You're gonna have to teach me how to do this myself."

She beamed. "You're welcome. Ok, it's almost 8. What are you going to wear?"

"Whatever you tell me to, of course."

Amy chuckled at me as I trailed Melissa back into my room. I ruffled her hair affectionally and tried to be older-sisterly and told her to do some homework (It's Friday, Kim. Don't be such an idiot. Eyes rolling).

Melissa threw various clothing articles at me, chattering incessantly. I ignored her jabbering and tried to read an article in Seventeen, but I felt so horribly inadequate after five minutes of staring at blonde goddesses that I closed the magazine and settled for staring at my ceiling instead.

Finally, we- Melissa - settled on a pair of khaki pants, casual flats, and a dark denim jacket. It was 8:20, and being late to things generally gave me mild panic attacks.

I rushed downstairs and grabbed my keys off the counter. "See you later," I shouted at my mom for good measure, ignoring Melissa's insistent calls of you'd better call me the second you get back.

I hopped in my car, noting somewhat belatedly that there was stuff-sweatshirts, papers, empty pop-tart wrappers - everywhere, and then tried to remember that they were boys and probably wouldn't care.

Boys.

I arrived in front of Jared's house - the tiny brown one surrounded by wind chimes and flowerbeds - approximately 7 minutes later, and wondered if I should park and knock on his door, or if that felt weird and too formal.

Luckily, Jared and his boys emerged from the house a moment later, laughing loudly and shoving each other all the way down the driveway. I felt a persistent lump in the back of my throat, and tried to swallow it away. I was so not socially skilled enough to be hanging with these people.

Jared thrust open the passenger door and slid in, followed moments later Embry and Paul and another boy I vaguely recognized from around school. Their booming voices and presences filled up the previously silent car, and I felt something akin to mild suffocation.

"Hey Kim," Embry chimed cheerfully.

"Hi," I muttered, already feeling stupid. Why had I agreed to do this?

"You know how to get to Port Angeles, right?" Jared asked, shoving his shoulder-length hair behind his ears. Someone in the backseat chuckled.

"Um, I have a GPS," I said by way of answer, pointing to the device resting on my dashboard. Truthfully, getting hopelessly lost was pretty high up on the list of Ways This Night Could End Disastrously, but I figured voicing this was probably not going to help my case.

"Cool," Jared said, fishing something out of his pocket as I pulled out from the curb. "I brought my iPod. Can I put on some music?"

"Play whatever you want," I said truthfully, trying to navigate out of Jared's street without damaging any parked cars. The music would be a nice way to alleviate some of the tension that I felt (though it seemed to me that no one else quite noticed it as much as I did).

Conversation progressed steadily throughout the ride, though I was pretty much a non-participant. I listened in on their inside jokes and crude humor, feeling extremely out of place, and instead focused my energies on driving. So far, no one had said anything particularly asshole-ish, though, so I took this as a good sign and figured no one could laugh at me for saying something stupid if I said nothing at all.

When we arrived in Port Angeles, Paul directed me along some small side streets until we came across a parking structure. I drove to the top floor (please oh please don't let me hit anything, please oh please) and successfully (astoundingly) pulled into a parking space. I let out a breath as I turned the key in the ignition.

"Awesome," Jared said, and grinned at me. Goddammit, I couldn't help the curling feeling in my stomach at how handsome he was and admitting it made me want to be sick. It was hard to stick with the whole he's-a-horrible-human-being viewpoint when he looked so goddamn good.

"So, um, where are we going?" I asked as the boys battled against one another's limbs to get out of the car.

Paul and Jared glanced at each other. "We're going to this bar place," Paul said, and I felt my stomach drop to the ground. What.

"Uh," I said, twirling my keys anxiously around my wrist, trying to keep up with their long strides. "How exactly are we...getting in?" I may have been 18 (ok, almost) but I didn't look a day over 14, and why the hell had they asked me to come here with them?

Embry and Jared were punching each other in the shoulder, laughing uncontrollably, and I wanted to be home. Paul spared a glance my way, and said, "We come here all the time, it's easy to get in."

Oh, god. Oh god oh god oh god. I followed them through the streets, stumbling every few feet. The lights in the shops seemed to blur together into streaks of yellow and white, and I felt like I was going to vomit.

I couldn't go to a bar. No. First of all, I looked 14 and there was no way I was getting in. Not to mention the fact that the thought of being confined in a small space with a crowd of drunk people was the most anxiety-producing thought I'd had in a long time (which, considering that every therapist within a hundred-mile-radius of La Push was able to diagnose me with severe panic disorder after about 34 seconds of knowing me, was really saying something).

I took a deep breath, knowing that I was about to commit social suicide, but I was about to have a goddamn panicked attack because there were so many people and I was a pussy and I could not do this.

"Wait," I said, my eyes squeezing shut. I halted my movements and stood still on the sidewalk. When I opened my eyes, four confused boys were staring at me like I was growing an extra limb, which I honestly might as well have been, because I was the lamest person in existence and they were all about to hate me. "I- I can't. I can't go in there."

Their eyes met, and I could feel their wordless irritation at this nuisance standing before them. "Why not? It's not a big deal," Quil- the boy I had barely recognized - said, shoving his hands deep in his jean pockets.

I swallowed thickly. "It's just...not my thing. Sorry. You guys can go ahead. I'm just going to...hang out." Lame.

Paul snorted in annoyance. "Fine, we'll see you later then," he muttered, and the guys followed him wordlessly towards their destination, leaving me standing like an idiot in the street without a moment's hesitation.

I stood there for a long moment, feeling my heart hammering against my chest. I felt tears gathering in the corners of my eyes, and I felt like a fool. They had needed a ride. I had been hopelessly in love with Jared since kindergarten. Like anyone with an ounce of brains, they had put two and two together; I had just been too damned stupid to see the blindingly obvious.

Feeling dizzy with embarrassment and shame, I quickly retraced my steps, wanting to sit in my car and rest my head against the wheel and remind myself that I was nothing, that I was an inconsequential speck in the universe, that I was going to drown and die in my insignificance.

I made it halfway up the first flight of parking structure stairs when I collided with something solid. I jerked back, cradling my arms against my chest, when I found myself staring into the eyes of a man that I did not recognize.

I backed against the wall. "Sorry," I muttered, and attempted to move past him, but he stepped in front of me, blocking my path without hesitation.

"Hey baby," he sneered, his face contorting into something ugly. "Where ya going?"

Fear began to flood into my mind like a drug, putting all my senses on high alert. Lie, the adrenaline screamed at me.

"I'm meeting my boyfriend upstairs," I growled, and tried to paint a mask of nonchalance on my face. He's a nuisance, not a danger. Show him you aren't afraid.

"I'm sure you are," he said cooly, his lips curling into an eerie grin, tossing my lightweight lie aside. He reached forward and grasped my wrist, his fingers sweaty and cold against my skin. "Come on, I have some friends who'd wanna meet ya."

I felt the panic settle into my stomach like a solid rock, weighing my body down, rendering me immobile. I did the only thing left I could think to do- I screamed. I thanked god that my voice hadn't died inside my throat (like it always did in the nightmares) and I screamed so loud that my own ears were ringing. I struggled frantically against his grip, clawing against his arms, every instinct within me screaming that I had to fight.

A sweaty hand clamped around my mouth, and in that second I knew I was going to die. I was going to meet my end here tonight, and I hadn't told my sister I loved her, hadn't told my mom I'm sorry he doesn't love you anymore but please be my mom again, I need you-

Before I could register what was happening, I was yanked out of the man's grip and thrown down the stairs. I tumbled down in a tangled heap of limbs, knocking the back of my head against the metal railing and hearing a sick crunch, and oh, god, there was blood-

And darkness pooled in my mind like a thick syrup, filling in every crevice of awareness until I was nothing.

-:-:-:-:-

To be continued...

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