Kudos to my beta, ShadowPast620. Wolfy hugs and kisses to those who have reviewed. :)
Sitting in the Clearwater's dining room, Claudia tried not to grin as she pretended to ignore her wolf's presence sitting less than three feet away, slouched in a chair with his legs sprawled out in front of his massive form as he ate a sleeve of Ritz crackers.
"Seth, would you please stop?" She asked a few minutes later, the rhythmic crunching noise stopping instantly.
"Not eating, silly," she clarified, flipping through several pages of her text book. "The staring."
Swallowing his latest mouthful of crispy, buttery goodness, Seth replied, "I'm not staring, beautiful. I'm studying and observing. Artists throughout time would be blinded by jealousy if they had an opportunity to stare at someone as breathtaking as you are and then have the chance to paint or make a statue of you."
"You're distracting me, sweetie."
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked, standing up to stretch and leave should his imprint request it. "You're right; I shouldn't be disturbing you like this. It pains me to have to leave, though, since I didn't get to see you all morning on account of work and then I had to wait for you to get here and Mom and Dad to leave.
Claudia laughed freely, finally looking up from her books. "You can stay if you can stop staring. Otherwise I'm going to have to insist that I place a pillowcase over your head."
"That sounds kinky." Grabbing Claudia's hand, he tried to pull her up out of her seat. "Let's go to my room and try out the pillowcase thing. Naked."
"And as promising as that sounds, Seth, I still have seven more chapters to study before tomorrow's class." Seth didn't let go as she pulled her hand back, following the movement by leaning closer.
"We'll take turns then. One of us can read out loud while the other does things with their hands and mouth. It'll work."
"You're doing that now, Seth, and it's not working," Claudia answered, still giggling at Seth's cuteness and displays of affection.
"You're right," Seth agreed, letting go of her hand to pick her up. "We should switch our playing field and try out in the bedroom. Plenty of pillowcases in the bedroom along with sheets and plushy mattresses and a door we can close so no one accidently just stops by and sees us in our glory."
"Seth!" Claudia shrieked, her pen hitting the table before rolling off to clatter on the floor. "I'm being serious. Please, put me down."
"Sure, once we've gotten to the bedroom. I'll even let you go first." Randomly grabbing the first text book within reach, Seth proceeded to haul his laughing imprint to his room.
Once he placed her down on the dark colored comforter, Seth stepped back to peel off his shirt, still grinning and immensely enjoying his imprint's laughter.
"No, Seth, no nakedness." Stopping his movements, it was the pleading look he gave Claudia that had her modifying, "At least not until later, when I'm done. I'll even let you pick the pillowcase and who gets to go first."
Trying not to sigh at the brush off, Seth sat down at the end of the bed, still grinning. "We could still get naked to study. You don't need to wear clothes to read."
"You're right, I don't. However, me being naked causes you an incredible distraction and not in the good way."
"I promise. You get naked and I won't distract at you at all."
"For like, ten seconds. Then you'll be panting and groaning."
Seth smiled even wider at the way this negotiation was heading. "If it's too much, I'll let you pant and groan, too," he whispered, trying to slither his hand underneath Claudia's sweater.
"Please stop, sweetie," She requested, gently placing her hand on his roving fingers. "I promise we can have some alone time later on, but I really need to be prepared for this week's midterms."
Immediately retracting his hand, Seth looked contrite. "I'm sorry, Dia. Let's go back to the dining room. I'll behave and you can study. Maybe I should go on over to Paul's and see how he's doing. I was really surprised to see how fragile Arial really is. I mean, I know she's probably been through a lot, but she's safe now. I can't wait until Christmas. Hopefully by then, she'll be comfortable enough to hang out normally with us. She's good for Paul and by spending more time with the girls in the next few weeks, Arial's bound to make Paul nicer than he has been in the past. I wonder if-"
"Wait. What?" Claudia interrupted, well used to Seth's long windedness and her ability to key in on the main points only.
Grinning sheepishly, Seth helped Claudia off the bed as the two walked back to her study area. "Christmas is awesome, but Paul always looks kind of unhappy. I'm hoping that this year he won't be such a bastard to everyone and will actually smile during happy times and not just because Quil accidently electrocutes himself with holiday lights, or the house has to evacuated because Leah accidently sets the oven on fire. It'd be neat of we draw Paul as the gifting couple, though. I bet Arial would be happy with whatever they received and if she's happy, Paul won't feel the need to be rude and-"
"Not that," Claudia huffed as she resumed her earlier seat. Holding out her hand she waited until Seth handed over her book before continuing. "The part about Arial hanging out with us imprints for the next few weeks."
Moving his own chair closer to Claudia's, Seth tried not to hover as she rearranged her notes and papers. "Well, last night Sam got all of us together to talk about helping Paul by having Arial spend time with the imprints when he's at work."
"We have to spend time with her?"
"No, of course not," Seth explained, wondering why Claudia sounded defensive. "Sam and Paul, reluctantly, agreed that it's strictly voluntary. I already told Sam that you probably couldn't since you have school, but that if he wanted, I'd spend time with her on days none of the other imprints were able to."
"You wouldn't have had to offer that if you joined me at school," she pouted. The subject was a sore one between the couple. Seth could see how demanding school was and he wanted to wait until Claudia was finished before he attempted classes.
Not wanting to risk an argument, Seth pretended like he hadn't heard her. "Paul said no. Actually he said a lot of expletives before and after no, but the bottom line was he didn't think it was a good idea for a guy to be around her. Sam didn't say otherwise, and you could see he really wanted to. Paul needs to let us hang out more with her, though. You can't get over your fears if you don't face them."
Claudia was still stuck on the idea that some of the girls wanted to spend additional time with Arial.
"Are you sure any of the girls agreed to spend their days with her?" She asked, trying to picture Denise and Regina's approval.
"Well, I can't say all of them agreed, but Emily and Leah, definitely. And Nadine would probably spend a day every couple of weeks with Arial; she's always saying how much more interesting it would be to have someone go with her."
"Uggh," Claudia cut in melodramatically. "That means Kim and Claire will, too, and if they agree, Dee will feel pressured and Gina would say yes just not to be the lone imprint out."
"Honey, it's okay. No one will think badly of you because you can't spend extra time with Arial. Maybe Paul will relent and we can spend a few hours every weekend with her. Or I could convince Paul to go out with me and you two can have your girl time, although I'd really like to get to know her, too. Well, we'll split it up! One weekend you guys can spend alone and the next we'll do stuff as a foursome. That could work out really good. We can slide in Arial's exposure to us wolves and then she'll feel better about the whole bunch of us."
Claudia held back before she could give herself away. She knew Seth had a soft heart and most of the time it didn't bother her when he rambled on about the misgivings of one person or another. But he obviously had yet to realize she had no interest in acquiring a new friend, imprint or not.
However, hurting her wolf directly by saying that was not something she wanted to do either. It wasn't like she had to try and be nice to the girl. As long as she made an attempt to make it look like she had spent time with Arial, she'd be admired by the others and maybe even figure out what Arial's intentions were by playing the helpless victim.
"That would nice, Seth, and maybe we can plan on doing that sometime in the future, but it won't work now. I have school and we both usually work on the weekends for our future house."
At the mention of their future home together, Seth forgot about everything else and reached over to give Claudia a hug. They had spent countless hours discussing the hazy future; Seth wanting to move in together, officially, as soon as possible and Claudia pointing out that it would be better to wait until they had some money set aside so they wouldn't have to struggle as hard as some of the other wolves did. In the end, Seth was willing to agree, especially since Claudia had promised they would eventually get married.
"You're right, you're right. We should hold back now and wait until she's better and then spend time with her…them. The holidays are coming up and we'll need to take off time for those and Emily is due sometime in February and we'll want to spend time with her and Embry. Actually, poor Embry will probably need all of us around to help distract him when Emily goes into labor. Mom says she hopes Emily doesn't have the same problem she had when she had Leah. Dad about went nuts when-"
"Seth, slow down. Yes, we need to be careful on how much time we request off and both us spending a lot of time with Lahote—although, why you'd want to is beyond me- and Arial probably isn't doable as a group effort. But, I have short days on Thursdays and don't work and could probably spend one a month with the gir—uhh!" Seth's arms were tightly wrapped around her, a bit tightly and causing Claudia to forget her train of thought.
"Thank you! I knew once you heard the plan, you'd want to help also and I didn't want to just assume and say you would, although I should have known better and told Sam then that you would. What Thursday do you want to try first? Probably not this week since you have midterms but maybe next week? Darn, I have to work, but if you guys go to lunch later, you could pick me up or even bring me lunch at work. No, that won't work either, way too many guys there and Paul would really beat the shit out of me if Arial was overwhelmed. I'm going to go call Sam right now and see if he has a schedule made. Leah would have one for sure. Okay, I'm going to go call and leave you here to study. I'll be right back," Seth said, pausing to take a deep breath before giving Claudia one more squeeze, a quick kiss and then jumped up to find his phone.
He was half way across the house before he yelled out to his stunned imprint, "What Thursday did you say? I forgot."
Claudia tried not to grumble at her wolf's enthusiasm. "I didn't say, Seth, but actually this coming Thursday is best since all of my tests will be done and I won't have any new assignments."
A soft 'yippee' followed by a slightly louder 'Shoot. I hope this Thursday isn't already taken' were Claudia's only response from the man she deeply loved.
Paul's vacation passed by more quickly than he thought possible, despite the many patrols and way too fucking many Alpha chats he'd endured. He had taken some of Sam's advice to heart –grudgingly, twisted and self-serving—and had used the idea of providing consistency, setting up small schedules to make Urchin feel comfortable by officially declaring Fridays as pizza nights and Sundays as doughnut mornings.
He had tried his ass off not to look like a proud fucking sissy when they drove back over to Port A to the bakery and she had painstakingly pointed out her own desire: a maple doughnut. It was such a small conquest on his urchin's part and he sure as hell couldn't brag about it to anyone. Not that it mattered. He could be singularly proud of his girl and fuck what the world thought.
It was on the drive home that last Sunday before he had to report back to work that Paul realized he still had to explain it to his girl what else his brothers had suggested and see what she wanted to do. The jeep was no fucking place to have this conversation, though. When she flipped, and there was no doubt she would, Paul wanted to be able to easily hold her and offer whatever fucking comfort he could.
Suddenly his joyous morning with his urchin felt like shit. Of all the things that could upset her and this one would be primarily of his doing. Shit, he wouldn't even be yelling or pissed off and she'd probably give him that look of mistrust and fear that melted his heart into a blob of pain.
He didn't want to be a pussy about it, but he sure as hell didn't want to ruin his last day of vacation with her either. Morning bled into afternoon and quickly into evening before he could no longer put if off and had to spit it out.
"Hey, Urchin?" Paul called from his bedroom doorway, trying to curb his antsy leg twitching. "Come on in here, I need to talk to you."
Stalking back to the bed, he plopped down, his leg starting a double fucking twitch as it bounced up and down. He was just about to punch himself in the thigh when Urchin appeared, dressed in pajamas and looking content.
Waving her over, he wondered if he'd freak Urchin out more by just grabbing her and lifting her into his lap before he started to talk. One look at her face as she voluntarily sat next to him and he was back to forgetting how to do simple shit like breathing. It wasn't until she blinked that he remembered to speak.
"So, tomorrow I have to go back to work which would mean you'll be here by yourself. However, Leah and some of the other girls asked if they could come over and take you out to keep you company," Paul explained, watching as her blank curiosity turned to panic.
"Not all together," he clarified, reaching for her hand. "Most of the others have jobs and two days a week you can go to Emily's since she isn't supposed to be on her feet much. Embry won't be there, but he's happy about the arrangement because then Emily won't be alone so much."
"And Nadine thinks it would be fun if you went with her on some of the photo expeditions she takes. She doesn't travel too far most of the time, usually just up and down the coastline, or the rainforest over in the state park."
His urchin did not look happy and Paul couldn't really blame her. It was like he was setting up fucking daycare for her or something. Clenching his teeth tightly, Paul had to remind himself that this was necessary. If Urchin was ever going to learn how to be accepted and accept the pack and imprints, she had to get individual doses of them and like it or not…he was kinda fucking forced to make her do this.
"It won't be that bad, okay? But like how Embry worries about Emily because she's pregnant and can't move very well, I worry about you and the fact that you don't speak. If you needed help or something, you wouldn't be able to use a phone."
Urchin's head dropped, almost like she was ashamed and Paul was cursing his pack mates right and left for this shit. They sure as shit might have thought they meant well, but if they were here, right fucking now and seeing the way she looked, they'd change their tune right fucking quick.
His free hand reached out to lift her chin and then stopped, dropping back uselessly to his side. Whatever she was feeling, she obviously no longer wanted to share and he had to give her that. Shit, it was the least he could fucking do after upsetting her like this.
"Urchin, I'm not mad, okay?" He finally whispered, squeezing her hand in hopes of a returned response.
There wasn't any sign that she looked like she was about to forgive his sorry ass and Paul tried to swallow the unexpected lump in his throat before he could croak out the bottom line.
"When you're ready to talk, you will. But until you can show me that you can, I need to make sure you're taken care of. Please don't be mad."
Paul continued to wait for her response. He wanted her to be mad or shake her head no, indicating that he was wrong so that he could explain it more or at least make her see that he meant well. Instead, she sat there resembling a whipped animal, scared that any move she made would result in further punishment.
Urchin's large gulp of air scared the shit out of Paul and he braced himself for her to start crying or yelling. The last fucking thing he expected was when she stood and tried to tug her hand away, stopping when Paul didn't immediately release his grip.
"Are you mad at me, Urchin?"
Her head shake was barely perceivable to his eyes and didn't do squat to relieve him of his goddamn nervousness.
"Are you tired?" he asked in desperation, glancing at the clock. It was barely past eight, way too fucking early for either of them to sleep.
"You don't have to leave," he…well, he was fucking begging damn it! It went against everything he had ever stood for, but there was no other way to explain his intense tone.
Urchin still stood there with her head bowed, failing to give him any type of signal. Slowly he let go of her hand, watching it drop passively to her side.
"If you want to stay in here and watch some TV, that'd be fucking awesome," Paul tried to encourage with something close to a begging tone. "But if you're really tired, you can go to sleep, too. Either in your room or…here, if you want to. It really doesn't bother me."
She stood there for so fucking long, Paul had to wonder if maybe she had really fallen asleep standing on her feet. His arms were outstretched and his ass was five inches off of the mattress when Urchin began to trudge towards the door.
She had just cleared the door when Paul called out in a hopeful voice, "Tomorrow, Leah will be here around eight to pick you up and then I'll swing by there after work, okay?"
As she left him sitting on the bed without any type of nod or shrug, Paul had to wonder just how fucking okay it would be.
Leaving his room, Bella wanted to cry. She knew people had to work to pay for stuff like food and the unnecessary amounts of clothes she wore. What she couldn't understand was why he wanted her to be with other people while he was gone. She knew how to take care of herself, had pretty much been doing so for so long that she couldn't remember a time when there had been someone else watching out for her unless she considered the demons.
A sharp shiver raced down her spine at that thought. The demons had tormented and abused her, making her do things that normal people like the Paul man would hate her for. She hadn't fully realized that until coming to live here with him, where people didn't tell her to touch them or worse yet, force her hands to while they ripped her clothes.
And then he had told her she was to stay with the Leah lady, the one person she had almost thought she could be friends with. Who would want a friend that couldn't help them, though, when guys tried to hurt them? Bella had blanked out faster than she thought possible and then awoke to being cradled by her Paul man. Despite seeing Leah walking around and laughing, Bella figured that Sam person had hurt her, if not harshly at that moment then later after they had left. Tomorrow, the Leah lady would probably bring her to him to get hurt, too.
The worst part was unknowing if her Paul man knew that was going to happen. He had apologized a lot, like he had been told she'd be hurt tomorrow by the Sam man and wanted to make sure she knew he wasn't okay with it, but would take care of her afterwards….
Assuming he did come back to get her.
Crawling into her bed, Bella tried to force herself to sleep comfortably. No doubt whatever she experienced tomorrow would hurt a lot and it'd be many more nights, if any at all, before she'd get to sleep without the pain of torn and discolored skin.
There wasn't any way to tell time, but Bella knew it had to be late when she finally gave up trying to sleep. Considering the house was dark and silent, her Paul was probably asleep and Bella wanted to remember this night as being warm and comfortable even if he hurt her feelings. There wasn't an explanation of her bizarre desire to be close to him, it was instinct. Her time in the Underground had taught her to never ignore what felt right, even if it didn't make sense.
He was there, in bed and…OH! He wasn't wearing any clothes. Averting her eyes back to the ground, she didn't want to stare at him like that. Plenty of men had done that to her and she always felt dirty and vulnerable. Her Paul may never realize that she had the opportunity to stare at him like this, but she would know.
Like nights in the past, she inched her way to the bed, rounding the end of it and approaching the far side with only momentary glances at him to make sure he was still sound asleep. By the time she looked up again to begin crawling onto the bed, he had rolled over! Still asleep and his eyes were closed, but somehow he had turned over without her realizing it.
Standing there just inches away from the bed and Bella struggled with herself again. He probably moved a lot in his sleep and this was just normal, something she hadn't noticed before. What if it wasn't, though. What if he was really awake and waiting to…Bella no longer knew. He was a really big guy and probably wanted to hurt her, but didn't because she wouldn't survive.
Scoffing at that idea, she tried to think as to why he wouldn't hurt her. So far he'd been really good and protected her from the other guys. Heck, he hadn't even demanded his own payment, although, at this point, Bella knew she'd give him whatever he wanted and be happy about it. She didn't know how to label this odd…feeling? It felt like more than one feeling, though. Lots of feelings that for the first time felt promising and good.
Sadly, she gave up the struggle of trying to figure out what was the best thing to do and with one last look at the sleeping face, she left the room.
The Paul man had left early when it was still dark, but Bella had heard when his alarm went off and she had crept back to her room. She hadn't dared to crawl into his bed last night knowing he'd wake up before she did and then he'd be mad. Instead she had opted to sleep in the hallway, the thick comforter she had retrieved wrapped tightly around her.
She had meant to get up once he left the house so that she could try to get some food to hide away for when her Paul man got bored of her and sent her away. Gosh, that thought hurt a lot and with the pain, she had drifted back to sleep, unaware of him checking on her several times and giving her a small kiss on the cheek.
"Hey, Arial," Leah greeted her over excitedly later that morning, startling her awake. She hadn't known anyone could get into the house, unaware that Leah had been the only person Paul had entrusted with an extra key.
She sat up quickly, still trying to process what was happening when Leah spoke again, bouncing her hands on the mattress.
"Come on, girly, we've got places to go and people to see."
Bella watched Leah as she looked around the room and then settled back on Bella's face. "I'm going to let you get dressed and while you do that, I'll make you a quick sandwich or something to eat on the way. Just whistle or something if you need me, okay?"
At her hesitant nod, Bella watched as the Leah lady smiled brightly and then left the room, leaving her to get dressed. In no time at all, she put on some of her new clothes, a bit startled to see that they had been washed and refolded. It was her sock selection that held most of her attention, however. Reverently she ran her fingers along the thick coverings, immensely ecstatic that the material was so soft and dense.
Back out in the kitchen, she found her Leah friend frowning at the toaster.
"Damn, Paul has some shitty appliances. Does it always take this long for toast?" The sudden popping noise had both girls jumping slightly, Leah laughing for no reason.
"Finally!" Grabbing the pieces she threw them on a plate and then looked at Bella. "Do you prefer ham or turkey? I know it's not traditional and next time we can make something at my house more suitable, but we need to get a move on."
Having no idea, Bella just shrugged indifference, watching as Leah placed a piece of cheese and ham between the bread and then partially wrapped it in a paper towel.
"Grab your coat and put your shoes on so we can head out, okay?" Leah asked as she followed Bella out into the hallway to do just that. Once she was prepared, Leah handed her the sandwich.
"Let's do this, Arial!" Leah exclaimed, pushing a confused Bella out the door and into the chilly morning air.
Three hours and seven stops later, Bella and Leah finally pulled into a familiar driveway.
"Geez, that took forever. I'm so glad to finally be home," Leah told Arial as she got out of the SUV and shut the door.
Cautiously Bella exited the vehicle as well, constantly looking around for a stranger or one of those really large guys to appear to take her. It was cloudy outside and slightly foggy, making the area beyond one hundred feet or so look sinister and threatening.
Once inside, Leah told Bella to relax on the couch while she made them some lunch. Moving from the chair to the couch and back to the chair, Bella remembered the last time she had been here and the angry Sam man. When Leah rejoined her sometime later with bowls of food, she tried to observe if her maybe friend was limping or stiff looking at all. She didn't have any bruises on her face, although Bella knew first hand that men often left the worst of injuries in places people wouldn't normally see.
"Arial, are you okay?" Leah asked, concerned that the girl kept staring at her oddly and wasn't really eating.
"I know it's only pasta, but if you don't like it I can get you something else. Do you want a sandwich instead?"
Shaking her head no, Bella tried to eat more while still staring at her Leah friend. When she was finally finished, Bella also sat her bowl aside and then cautiously stood up to approach the other woman.
"What's up? Do you want to watch some TV or maybe a movie? We have a ton of movies although I'm usually stuck watching some lame ass action flick because Sam doesn't like to do the chick flick thing…OH! I know. We can watch a Disney film. Have you ever seen The Little Mermaid?" Not waiting for an answer, Leah jumped up to head for a cabinet.
Upon opening it there were rows and rows of what looked like mini plastic books to Bella. Still hovering close to where her Leah friend had been sitting, she watched as the woman ran her fingers across the spines of the odd looking cases and then pulled one out, flashing the front cover of what resembled weird fish creatures in front of a castle.
"It's the original DVD. Quil spent half a day one time trying to convince everyone that the castle was a bunch of," Leah stopped talking suddenly and looked directly at Bella. "Well, he thinks the picture isn't as innocent as it's supposed to be. I swear, that perv could argue a field of flowers was something overtly graphic."
Bella had no clue what Leah was trying to tell her, but she didn't let it show. She waited until Leah had taken her seat again before doing the same, deciding not to look for any more possible injuries. If her Leah friend had been hurt, she either healed really fast or was hiding it because she didn't want to share and Bella had no room to butt in.
As soon as the movie started, Bella was one again captivated by the screen and utterly stunned when the main character's name was what these people had decided to call her: Arial. The irony only increased when the poor mermaid lost her voice and Bella couldn't help but stop to stare at her Leah friend.
"Yeah," Leah said softly, flashing a weak smile towards Bella as she hit a button to make the movie freeze. "You kind of reminded me of her, not being able to talk or, well, not wanting to. And Paul was just going to call you Urchin so I figured you deserved a prettier name from the rest of us. Are you pissed about that?" She asked candidly as if either answer Bella gave her would be acceptable.
Bella wasn't mad at all that they wanted to call her Arial. Not only did that still somewhat protect her identity for when this new life finally dissolved, but it was a really pretty name, much nicer than any of the others she had been called before. Shaking her head, Bella smiled back at Leah to show her appreciation.
"Good," Leah said before picking up the remote again, "and just so you know, if you ever want to tell me what your real name is, I won't tell anyone else if you don't want me to. Not even your ogre, Paul."
Stunned, Bella could barely concentrate on the movie, thinking about what her Leah friend had just said. Her Paul wasn't an ogre and it kind of hurt her feelings that Leah thought so. If anyone was an ogre it was that Sam man. He was really mean looking and gruff and had tried to hurt Leah! Bella knew she was missing something very obvious to this whole ordeal and she couldn't help but try and figure out what that missing something was.
As the credits started to roll, Leah stood up, announcing they needed drinks and popcorn before watching the next movie. Standing to stretch also, Bella politely nodded. Her Leah friend had already fed her lunch. She didn't want to take more food from her and hoped that a drink wouldn't be more than some plain water.
Bella's jaw dropped open when Leah came back with a bowl of popcorn big enough to sit in and two glasses of what looked like soda. Despite her resolution not to take anything else from Leah, Bella found herself sipping the large glass of liquid, a surprise look crossing her face as she pulled it away to look at her Leah friend.
"Sorry, I probably should've asked, but it didn't occur to me. Do you like Dr Pepper? Sam drank the rest of the cola and is supposed to bring some home tonight. There might be some ginger ale out back if you want me to check?"
Hastily Bella indicated no, pleased yet still surprised at the taste of this weird beverage. If she had ever tasted it before, she couldn't remember. It was good, though and she had to wonder if she was suddenly being greedy by enjoying this more than water.
By the time Leah had put in a different movie and moved back to the couch, Bella had joined her, abandoning her previous chair position so she could steal a few tiny pieces of the popcorn. Unlike with the soda, the popcorn she was careful with, taking one handful every so often and stashing some in the pockets of the coat she had yet to take off. The first handful of popcorn nearly hit the ground when the new character's name was said: Bell.
That was awfully close to Bella's name and she tried not to panic, casting her Leah friend a wary glance in hopes of her not guessing.
"It's another Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast," Leah offered before sighing happily and settling further into the cushions. "This one is my favorite. Actually most of us girls can probably relate to this film."
The pointed look Leah gave Bella only increased her anxiety and as she watched the film, it got worse. There was a growly creature in it and it was mean, scaring both the character Bell and Bella alike. What had Leah meant about relating to this? Did she know about the demons, too, and was trying to tell Bella that she needed to go back to them?
Too caught up in the idea of having to go back to the monsters and the odd similar name thing, Bella missed the growing romance taking place in the movie as she struggled to not just bolt out the front door or curl up and fade away into her fuzzy mind place where the outside world couldn't affect her. She didn't even notice when the scary Sam man came home and asked Leah to join him in the other room.
"Leah, I don't know what happened, but I think you need to turn that movie off. Whatever it is, it's scaring the hell out of Arial."
"What the hell are you talking about, Sam?" Leah asked back quietly, trying to look down the hallway into the living room. "Arial hasn't moved an inch since we started it. I think she likes it; she did okay with the Little Mermaid and even guessed that's where her nickname came from."
"Leah, listen to me. Her heart rate hasn't slowed below 140 since I've gotten home. I almost ripped the door off, thinking you guys were in trouble until I realized it was just her panicking and then thought it was because of me."
"So maybe it is because of you. I don't know, Sam, I've never heard of anyone freaking out over a Disney movie," Leah offered doubtingly.
"But she was like that before I even came inside and her heart rate didn't increase at all when I came into the living room, despite her looking right at me. It's like she didn't even see me, really. And then," Sam abruptly stopped talking, his stare towards the living room as if he were studying something.
"Jesus," he breathed out slowly, scared to admit that Arial's heart rate had increased even more, just for a few seconds before dropping back to around 140.
"Sam, now you're really freaking me out. What's wrong?" Leah demanded.
"I don't know. Something about that movie is sending her into a tailspin and every so often at odd times, her heart beat picks up even more before dropping off."
"Well, that tells me absolute shit," Leah said. "What am I supposed to do? Attach a heart monitor to her and see if I can figure out what's making her upset? And how do we even know it's the movie? It could still just be you."
"You're right, it could be just me. Go turn the movie off before—"
Another door slammed from outside and Sam inwardly cursed. "Too late," he mumbled, hoping this would go easy. "Paul's here."
Leah sprinted back down the hallway, Sam right at her heels as the front door swung wide, Paul launching through it with his eyes focused on Arial, who seemed to be in a panicky trance.
"Urchin?" he asked, dropping in front of the girl. "What's wrong? Why do you reek of fear? You're almost fucking panting." Grasping her shoulders, he trailed his hands down her arms in search of an unknown injury, noting that she was wearing her jacket.
Were they trying to kick her out?
"What the fuck is going on?" Paul hissed too quietly for anyone but Sam to hear when his Urchin stared right through him. This wasn't a zombie thing although it was really fucking close and not the way Paul had dreamed of finding his imprint at the end of a workday.
"I have no idea, Paul," Sam answered back. "Man, I only just got here like three minutes before you did."
"Leah?" Paul snapped louder, his head swiveling around to get the answers he needed.
The instinctual growl Sam issued from hearing Paul's tone sent the scene downhill fast. Urchin's current state of mind either nose dived or came back online as that horrific eeping sound burst out, causing Paul to immediately pick her up.
"We're leaving. You figure out what the hell happened and then fucking call me," Paul demanded as he walked outside to his jeep where Urchin seemed to wake up and snap out of her funk. He had no sooner sat her down on the seat than she was trying to get back out to go in the house, an idea that Paul thought was beyond shitty.
"Come on, Urchin, let's just leave, okay? You have no reason to go back in there and I'm sure as fuck not asking you to."
Shaking her head wildly, Bella had no intention of leaving, not again when she knew that Sam man was there alone with her Leah friend.
Paul tried to keep the aggravation out of his voice. "Urchin…let's just go. It's not healthy here for you. You're wigging out and it's kinda fucking freaking me out here."
Talking to the fucking wind, Paul thought as he moved aside rather than risk struggling with his imprint. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she was off with an irritated Paul shadowing her.
"Arial?" Leah questioned, opening the door before she could knock. "Are you okay? Did you forget something?"
Freezing in spot, Bella wasn't sure how she could communicate her concern. Hesitantly she peered around her Leah friend to see if the scary Sam man was there. He was, just barely a few feet behind Leah and much too close for Bella to feel comfortable.
A fraction of a second after Sam stepped further away from Leah, Paul did the same with Arial but it took a lot longer and came with a series of growls. Leah figured that they had probably dog whispered each other to get the other one to move. Turning to look over her shoulder, Sam gave Leah a smile and pointed to the backyard. She nodded her ascent and he left, Paul also disappearing around the side of the house as well.
"Come back inside, Arial," Leah encouraged, reaching out to grab her hand in encouragement.
Paul flexed his hands as he walked to the Uley's back yard. Goddamn it, but he was still thinking this was a fucking bad idea, to leave Urchin alone again with Leah. The only plus he had going for him was that if Urchin freaked again, he could take a few swings at his Alpha to help release the aggression.
"Just what the fuck is going on, Sam?" Paul asked as soon as he saw the man on the back steps. "And I sure as fuck don't appreciate you demanding that my ass come out here to have friendly crap chat. Urchin needs to go home. You guys have fucked her up enough for one day. Actually, I'm thinking you guys should just stay the fuck away from us altogether."
"You're being unreasonable, Paul. Like I said, I don't really know what is going on. As soon as I got home, Arial's heart rate was spiked; steady but high. I took Leah into the kitchen to see if she knew, but she said Arial hadn't shown any outward signs of distress."
"What the hell was going on when you did get here? Was your imprint freaked as well? Or do I need to have a one on one with Leah about shit she shouldn't push Urchin on?"
"Back up and off, Paul. We'd already agreed that this wasn't going to be entirely easy, Arial spending time with the girls one on one, but that it is necessary. You can't just go around ready to pop off everyone's head because Arial might be anxious."
"She wouldn't be upset at all if she had stayed at my place!" Paul yelled, stepping up directly into Sam's face. "She knows the house and where to get food. There's not a goddamn thing there to freak her out!"
With a careful force, Sam pushed Paul away a few feet. "And then we're right back where we started: A cloistered female who will never be able to function normally."
"Fuck normalcy, Sam. Being normal sure as shit doesn't mean your fucking heart is half a beat away from leaving your chest."
"I don't think it was anything Leah did directly, though. I think something in the movie they were watching reminded her of the past."
Paul scoffed loudly. "Please. Unless Clearwater swings both ways and popped in a porno while trying to sexually assault Urchin, nothing on the TV could've freaked her out like that."
Not for the first that evening, Sam snarled. "Could you put a damn filter on your mouth when talking about my imprint, Lahote? We both know that's not what happened and I'd thank you ever so fucking much if you could remember that."
Trying to shake himself of the feelings of just punching Paul in the mouth for his shit talk, Sam tried again. "From what I could tell, they were watching that Disney flick Leah tortures the pack to watch twice a year. Arial was certainly nervous and I couldn't see the TV, but one of the characters really upset her and would spike her fear."
"Well, no shit, Sherlock," Paul spat out, unamused at Sam's logic. "Lemme give you a hint: wolf; Seth; approaching Urchin. Sound fucking familiar to you?"
Rubbing his eyes in defeat, Sam looked directly at Paul. "You're probably right, but it's still worth a shot, right? Take the movie home with you and watch it together. That way you'll be able to tell exactly what's setting her off. If you think it's because of Seth's earlier approach, then we'll discuss explaining the imprint to Arial as soon as possible."
"Jesus Christ, Alpha! Who the fuck are you trying to kill; Urchin or me? Or both of us? One minute you want to introduce her into a normal environment and try to help her adjust to socializing and the next you want to show her our furriness? I swear, I'm about to lose my damn mind at your helter skelter approaches with this shit. I really am."
"I don't know either, Paul. I'm trying to do what's both right and for the best here concerning Arial but you said it yourself. She isn't normal."
"Fuck you, Uley. Just because she doesn't fit into your category of normalcy doesn't mean there's a damn thing wrong with her."
"Wake the hell up, Paul. All of us want you to have a nice life with the girl you imprinted on, but she is not like any of the others were and you damn well know that. None of us are mad that special steps needed to be taken when dealing with Arial, but you need to back the fuck off when mistakes happen or a wrong approach is made."
"Then stop telling me she's not normal. For fuck's sake it isn't brain surgery."
"Neither is trying out ideas we approach you with for Arial's well being. Just because it doesn't work or you think it's a bad idea doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. For fuck's sake," Sam snidely repeated, "it isn't brain surgery. Watch the damn movie with your girl and see what happens."
"Fine, " Paul agreed through clenched teeth as he stormed back to the house, intent on grabbing Urchin and leaving. "But for every time her heart rate spikes, I'm taking it out on your ass. Get ready for a beat down in a few days."
Paul disappeared into the house and Sam sat down heavily on the grass. He'd give the wolf a fight if that's what Paul needed, but damn how many fights would it take to get his shit together?
"Leah," Paul greeted when he walked into the living room where his urchin was…what the fuck?
Leah was sitting on the couch, both of her sweater sleeves pushed up and Urchin standing back a few feet and staring. The Alpha's imprint looked like she was about to fucking cry and Urchin's scared as shit meter went off the charts as soon as Paul had spoken.
"Is everything okay?" He asked watching Leah push her sleeves back down and Urchin stare at him with a haunted look.
Leah looked like she wanted to share, but instead an emotion of hurt crossed her face as she glanced at Arial and then back to Paul.
"Everything's fine, Paul," Leah said, clearing her throat a couple of times. "We were just saying good bye and discussing if Arial wanted to stay with me again on Friday."
Paul knew he had ten different ways of saying hell no to that shitty idea and all that it entailed. It was Urchin who answered for both of them by nodding a yes.
"So…Friday?" Paul both questioned and agreed to, looking mostly at his girl. Apparently it was a done deal, Urchin walking over to him carefully to study his face. He wanted to give her happy, but under the circumstances, blank was as good as it got.
By the time they pulled up back at his house, Urchin had calmed down and was looking around as if trying to figure out how they had gotten here.
"It's okay, Urchin," Paul offered, rubbing her hand soothingly. "We're back at home," he explained thinking that maybe she didn't recognize it in the dark.
Shrugging, she waited for him to help open the door for her, his hand seeking hers again as they walked to the front of the house and entered silently.
Paul didn't want to push his luck and bombard the shit out of her with questions, but he wondered why the fuck he was so frazzled and Urchin wasn't, considering she had been plenty upset earlier. By the time they had eaten and were lounging on the couch, he forgot most of it and concentrated on just being there with his girl. She was dead asleep by ten and it was an ecstatic Paul who quickly picked her up to take to his room and snuggle all night with.