A/N: Technically, I wrote this to fit during Chapter 28 of my story Familiar Gatherings, but I think it works just as well, if not better, as one-shot, so...here it is. Spoilers for that. And ugh, if someone has a better story summary, please tell.
Should she have waited by the window all four hundred and ninety-two minutes? Nessie wasn't sure. While she was worried (and terrified) like any person would be over the fate of the werewolves, she didn't see the logic in simply putting her life on hold to stare out the window at the unchanging landscape waiting for Jacob to come back to her.
She let her mother wait in her place and instead tried to distract herself from the fear the howling had inspired by playing mindless games with her uncles.
It turned out not to have mattered much in the end, anyway. Jacob sent Seth in his place.
The knock on the door, which she heard even from the back of the house, made her freeze for just a second. When werewolves went off to fight there were no guarantees. But it was pointless to stand around fretting when answers had finally come, so she hurried to the front hallway where Esme was letting Seth inside the house.
Nessie checked herself—as glad as she was to see him alive, hugging him right then would have been foolish. His torso was spackled black and purple and yellow, interrupted only by harsh red lines. His right arm should have been in a sling, she could tell from the way he was holding it, and he was favouring his right side when he walked. There was something wrong with his hip, she decided, and his ribs were bruised, if not broken, because each breath made him wince. Seth was in terrible shape.
But he was alive.
"Jacob's fine," he assured her quickly. Jacob usually came himself, as soon as it was safe. He'd promised her when she was a little girl that he would always come to her and Jacob hated breaking promises to her. He never had before. "In better shape than me. He just can't...he'll come as soon as he can. Carlisle around?"
Her grandmother went to grab her grandfather while her father beckoned Seth into the drawing room. Someone had to take a look at his injuries. The rest of her family dispersed, but she followed along even if she was unwanted. Because of her relationship with Jacob, she had a certain responsibility towards the werewolves.
"Have you seen a doctor?" Edward asked, then scowled at whatever he heard in Seth's head. But the scowl quickly faded. "I'm sorry."
She stayed silent because she was used to people not telling her anything in order to keep her safe. Seth was better than most, usually, but he seemed to be having a hard time focusing. She added concussion to her list of possible injuries.
"You're right," her father said to her. "Sit down, Seth. Carlisle is here."
"Thanks," he repeated. When he sat it was all the more clear that there was something wrong with his hip because he hissed in pain. Seeing as her father was more concerned with helping werewolf pride than in broken werewolf bodies, she went to help Seth herself. He took her arm gratefully, though his grip was much tighter than usual. She might even have bruises the next day. Painkillers, she thought, but her father shook his head. Whatever Seth had to tell Carlisle must have been important then, but she could only feel annoyed. It wasn't worth keeping him in pain.
"Good evening," her grandfather greeted the werewolf ambassador. It felt strange to think about Seth (who could spend hours watching the same magic trick over and over) in such an official role, but that's what he was, she realized. Something had happened—Jacob had sent Seth because no one else would come talk to the vampires for him. The other werewolves would have bristled at Carlisle's politeness; Seth just tried to smile.
Something had happened to his jaw, as well, she thought, noticing the way he winced at the movement.
"Sorry to barge in on you like this," the werewolf said. His customary cheerfulness was lacking. More than the bruises, his change in demeanour made Nessie nervous.
"What happened?" Carlisle asked gently.
The two vampires sat across from their werewolf guest, but Nessie perched on the armrest on the couch where Seth was sitting, just in case he collapsed or something equally horrific. The idea of just staring him down just then made her sick—it seemed paramount that she stay close.
"The nomads are dead. We got all six of them. Just not...Jared's dead. So's Zac. And we need a doctor. Nathan is in pretty bad shape and most of the others look like me."
"I would have come earlier, if I had known."
"It wouldn't have been safe for you. We're...a little on edge when it comes to vampires. But Jake used an Alpha order and everything, so no one should hurt you now."
"Reassuring," her father said. "I want to go with him."
"You can't." He turned to her then because he was one of the few people who talked to her instead of about her. "You can't either. I promise he's alright. But Leah's got him thinking that..."
"It won't help morale, reminding everyone that your Alpha imprinted on a half-vampire," she completed the thought. "She's right."
It had been her mother that had fostered the strange sympathy Nessie had for Leah Clearwater and her broken heart despite her acerbic tongue, but as she grew older Nessie found that her sympathy had been replaced by a gratitude she wasn't sure she wanted to explain. Leah helped Jacob and that was enough for Nessie to like her. Even if Leah made sure the La Push werewolves were okay without ever thinking about how Nessie herself might feel.
"He's fine," Seth reassured her.
"Are all the other imprints there?"
His eyes fell. Yes, then. Everyone was there, reassuring their soul mates. And she was not because it would just make everything worse if she went. His responsibility was to his men tonight, the men that saw her as their enemy.
"Tell him I'm glad he's all right."
"Of course." He turned back to Carlisle before she could say anything else. "Can we leave now?"
Carlisle went to grab his supplies, leaving Nessie and her father alone with Seth. From the look he was giving her, Nessie deduced her father wanted to be left alone with his best friend (as the only human Edward had tolerated in a hundred years, Seth had earned the moniker by default, but it didn't make it less true). But she found herself unable to move.
"You should stay here," her father said eventually. "Let me look at you while Carlisle goes to Sam's without you. You shouldn't be aggravating your injuries by moving."
"I can't stay here. They need help."
"It's not your fault."
The most annoying thing about listening to Edward have conversations with people is that he often responded to thoughts, not words. It forced her to do a lot of guessing.
But he didn't. Not really. Nessie was terrible at understanding emotions and even she knew that one.
"I'll get you something for the pain," Edward finally decided. "I'll be right back."
"Not like I could run away."
Even though her entire family could still hear everything, Nessie waited until her father had left the room before speaking.
"You look terrible."
But it made him smile, just a little, so she was pleased with herself. Most of him looked like hamburger but his left shoulder was decently intact, so that's where she rested her hand.
"I'm sorry about Jared and Zac."
"I'll tell Jake that, too. Thank you."
"I'm sure my father's right. It's not your fault."
"You don't even know what happened."
"I know you." There was dried blood along his hairline, so she brushed that away and worried about a concussion some more. "If you can't come back for a while, we'll understand. You wouldn't want to be seen with the enemy at a time like this."
"You're not the enemy," he said decisively. Like Jacob, Seth had impossibly dark eyes, even if it was usually less noticeable because he was always so cheerful. Today, with his friends dead, they looked foreign in his face, dull the way Seth never was.
"Maybe I am."
Ever so gently she felt along his jaw. There was some swelling, but not too much. If it had been broken, it had been set properly. With a few more hours, it wouldn't bother him.
"Please. You're too sweet to be evil."
She barred her fangs, but it just made him grin. There was a hesitation that was never there (Seth always seemed to embrace his own happiness wholeheartedly), not to mention a hiss of pain a second later. All she could do was sit there impotently.
"We'll work on it," he promised. "Jacob will come up as soon as he can, but it'll be a couple of days. He can't leave the bodies. Or the others."
"But you and your sister will look after him."
"And who's looking after the two of you?"
But he never answered because Edward came back just then. Seth took the pills as instructed, asked her if she would tell anyone if he kissed her father (werewolves and their excessive gratitude), and then took off with Carlisle. Left alone with her father, she could finally get the answers she wanted.
"Jared and Nathan were surprised on patrol. Nathan was like a brother to Zac; they think that's why he was distracted enough to get bitten."
"Why would Seth feel guilty for that?"
"He couldn't get the venom out of Zac."
"It's almost impossible to do that."
Her father shrugged. Nessie did not understand humans, sometimes, not even Seth. "What else is wrong?"
"What do you mean?
Pushing down the sigh, Nessie just said: "Father. Please."
"There are some tensions within the pack about our continued presence. You shouldn't worry."
Nessie has been told that her entire life—it was starting to get annoying. But her mother came in to share in her joy that Jacob was all right, so Nessie pushed the feeling down for the moment.
Time seemed to crawl by the next day and by the afternoon Nessie had no choice but to announce, "I'm going for a walk."
"You can't go see Jacob," Bella reminded her. "He'll send for you when it's safe."
"I won't go and see Jacob," she promised, kissing her mother goodbye. "I'll stay off Quileute land."
Edward said nothing as she headed to Charlie's house.
Sue didn't bother with a greeting, just scowled. "Ungrateful brats," she muttered when her back was turned, letting Nessie know that the Clearwater siblings hadn't come by to Sue's satisfaction. Charlie was watching television when she came in, so she sat herself beside her grandfather and took out her book. When Sue needed help for dinner, Nessie found herself recruited.
They were making too much food for two people and a picky half-vampire, but she didn't say that to Sue. Nessie liked breathing.
After dinner, Sue put the leftovers in the fridge. Nessie had finished her book by the time there was another knock on the door.
For a human woman, Sue Clearwater was remarkably fast. The door was flung open and Nessie could hear her wrap her arms around her son and heard Seth muttering, "Not so tight, Mom."
Living with people who gave into her every whim had not prepared Nessie much for being patient, but she was very good at trying to do things when she put her mind to them, so she stayed on the couch while Sue chastised Seth for not coming sooner. It didn't make it an enjoyable experience, however, so she stood up from the couch, making room for Seth if he was ever allowed to get through the door.
He did, eventually, looking better than before. Werewolves had remarkable healing powers. His limp was even less pronounced, though his arm was now in a sling (what damage had he done by not treating it right away?) and he was still far too many different colours for her liking.
"Hey," he said. Was he pleased to see her? He was too tired to be pleased, but he didn't look upset either.
"I wanted to get a better look at you," she said, gesturing to the couch. Rolling his eyes he sat down, while she again perched on the armrest above him. She had to make sure someone had cleaned away the blood from his hair.
"How is everything going?" Sue asked. "And where's your sister?"
"She's staying with Jake tonight. I think they're going to switch off running patrols. Embry and Paul are going to help, since they're in the best shape. She said she's fine, she'll come by when she can. Oh, and they want to use your house for some sort of meeting tomorrow."
"If it's my only chance to see her."
"Leah kind of has her hands full right now."
"I know." Sue glanced down at her rough hands, then stood. "I'll get you more food."
"Awesome." But the smile didn't reach his eyes. "So Charlie, what's on TV?"
They made her watch football for hours, so she managed to finish another book. Sue seemed content just to gaze at her son, in order to convince herself that he was all right, and Charlie was content to do nothing but hold Sue's hand. Nessie was just about desperate to demand answers, but knew that's not why she had come. Whatever the nonsense symbols Seth was drawing on her knee were they seemed to be giving him some comfort and she tried to be content with that for now.
Still, it seemed that Charlie and Sue took forever to go up the stairs.
He asked her. After tearing six nomads to pieces and losing two of his blood brothers, the first thing that happened when they were alone was him asking her if she was okay. Sometimes Seth made her want to scream.
"Can I ask what happened?"
"You dad didn't tell you?"
"He told me the facts."
Seth understood because he rested his head against her side, almost in her lap, and took her hand, crushing it in his own. "They just caught us off guard—we've been getting too careless lately."
His hair was silky against her fingers. How many times had she wanted to run her fingers through it? And now that she could she was miserable because she couldn't take his pain away.
"We should have been there. We should have helped them."
His voice cracked as he started to shake. There was nothing she could do but hold him tighter. Being sympathetic had never come easily to her. Human emotions were not something that could be easily explained or understood or solved. So she stroked his hair and wished she could do something more.
"Jared died thinking we weren't coming. And Zac...he was just a kid, Nessie. Just a stupid kid who made one little mistake. I should have...I could have..."
"Once the venom gets in the bloodstream, it's almost impossible to stop."
The shaking got worse as he started to sob. His tears were hot against her leg, his fingers too tight, as she leaned over him, pressing a kiss to his forehead. The werewolves were always happy—everyone was always happy around her. To see Seth breakdown like this scared her the way that the werewolves calling for battle had not. At least in battle they could fight back; what could she do now, except hum quietly under her breath, trying to sooth him in the small way that she could?
When he had stilled, mostly, with only the occasional shaky breath forthcoming, she ventured to say, "If there had been a way to save him, you would have managed. Since you didn't, it was impossible."
It sounded like he was choking.
"Impossible," she insisted. "You would have figured out a way if it was possible and since you didn't save him, it was impossible. This is a fact, Seth."
"Are you trying to tell me I'm wrong? Because you know how well that works out for people."
It was a small chuckle, but it was laughter. He even raised his head off her lap (she felt cold all of a sudden) to look up at her. A large hand came up to cup her face, his thumb playing against her cheek.
There had always been something too familiar between them, considering they were both technically Jacob's (maybe because of that). But now wasn't the time, even if she couldn't help blushing, a little.
"Whatever you need," she said as she took his hands in hers.
"I think I can do that."
In the end, they ended up in her mother's old room, sitting on the bed that kept getting passed around, while she watched him eat his way through two tubs of ice cream. She called her mother, at some point, told her she didn't want to walk home from Charlie's and that was that. He seemed grateful that she hadn't left and that was enough for her.
Mostly. But she was trying not to think of herself right now—or what her mother would say when she found out how the truth had been stretched a little.
"You're making it melt too much."
He just stuck his tongue out at her. "You're melting it just as much."
"Besides, it tastes better that way."
"You're so gross."
The silence that descended over them was comfortable and she took the opportunity to help him shrug off the sling for his arm. It seemed like he could move it all right, though she warned him to get Carlisle to check it tomorrow just in case.
Somehow, now that his arm was free, it ended up around her waist. It was hard to mind, so she just leaned her head against his shoulder instead.
"They'll be pissed that I'm with you," he muttered against her hair.
Because of Jacob? Perhaps. But she focused on the other reason instead—vampires were unwelcome now, even if she was only half.
"Do they expect us to move?"
"They want you gone. Most of them always wanted you gone." He looked apologetic, but she had known her entire life that she and her family were unwelcome. "Jacob won't ever let them make you leave."
Jacob might if he could see her then.
"That's why you think they might blame you," she realized suddenly. "Because you wanted to help us."
"I still do." Despite the sorrow in his eyes, Seth sounded firm. Did he still not understand there were consequences for his actions? Or did he just not care, not when it would mean ignoring what he believed was the right thing to do? She never could tell. "Having your family gone wouldn't have helped."
"The nomads might not have come if we weren't here."
"Then it's even more important that we don't just abandon you if you need protection."
"We don't need protection."
"You don't abandon your friends."
"We aren't their friends."
"My brothers just died and you won't let me be right?"
They were just staring at each other again, foreheads pressed together. When he sighed she could feel his warm breath on her face.
"Don't go," he begged.
Her fingers traced the new scars on his arm. Sometimes she wasn't sure where his adoration for her father ended and his friendship with her began—perhaps he didn't know himself. And then there moments like tonight when she was sure that Edward had nothing to do with them anymore.
"With the pack on edge like this, Jacob won't visit," he said. That's how it had started, so long ago. They both loved talking about Jacob. Now she wasn't sure what would happen if they went too long without talking about the man who had imprinted on her.
"Just give him time."
"Okay. Tell him I'll be waiting to see him."
He was tired, so she made him lie down. The bed was small and his left arm wasn't too badly injured and she needed to observe his ribs, so she lay down beside him and watched the way his chest rose and fell and listened to the way his heart beat underneath her head.
"Tell me about them."
So he did.
Jared had helped him when he first transformed because he was one of the oldest and Seth couldn't take orders from Leah's ex-boyfriend until it made his sister stopped being quite so violent. When Zac transformed, at the ripe old age of twelve, Seth had been the one to take him under his wing because the older boys were swamped by all the young boys who were transforming. He was a good kid, Seth said, a little shy, but he did this impression of Sam that could make anyone howl...
Seth was always good at telling stories, Nessie thought, and she liked listening to him. By the time he stopped talking, to heartsick to continue reminiscing, she felt like she knew Jared and Zac. She knew and liked them and wished that they were still here to make everyone's lives just a little bit better.
"Jared was going to have a baby."
It made her shiver and she clung to him tighter. That could have been her fate, a world with her father, if the werewolves hadn't helped convince the Volturi to leave the Cullens alones. She understood, then, why Seth was crying again for the fatherless child.
"He or she will have the best uncles around," she promised.
"It's not the same."
She wasn't sure it was true, but she didn't doubt for a second he believed it wholeheartedly, so she threaded their fingers together and wished (again) that she could make everything better. He stopped eventually, wiped his nose and dried his hand on the pillow (she let it go; tonight she let it go). His fingers starting playing with her hair, absently running through the curly strands.
"You know—" and there was laughter in his voice, slightly hysterical but amused "—after everything that's happened, I think this might be the closest to death I've come in weeks."
"You think I'm dangerous?" She tilted her head up to look at him, ignoring the way their legs were tangled together.
"I think..." He sighed, but his expression was kind. Seth was always kind. "Death by cuddling doesn't sound so bad."
She settled her head back on his chest and let his arm tug her even closer to his side. "This isn't cuddling. This is snuggling."
"And Jacob won't mind if I snuggle with anyone."
"Why else would he keep buying me those animals if he didn't want me to snuggle with something?"
"I'm a little big for a stuffed animal."
Ignoring the way she was blushing, Nessie had to ask:
"Do you want me to go?"
He didn't say anything to that. Their hands were resting on his stomach, rising and falling with each breath. His fingers were darker, rougher, bigger—when her hand was in his, it was dwarfed completely. But he didn't tell her to leave and she thought, though she never would have said it out loud, that her hand looked right in his.
Before she left she made sure he knew he could come over if he ever wanted to talk (and not just to Edward). He promised he understood, even though he didn't ask why she had come over that night. Nessie wasn't exactly sure she could have explained. Seth might have been the closest she had to an actual friend, but it was still a friendship defined by her parents and Jacob. Still, he let her help and that was more than she would have been allowed to do for the other werewolves.
Sue didn't say anything when Nessie walked out the door the next morning, either. The older woman just handed her a piece of toast and told her to look after herself.