Imprinting could not be more fucked.
I ran as fast as I could without attracting attention as I moved through the parking lot. The ache I felt in my chest grew stronger with every step I took away from her. I was grateful that the woods still encroached on every building in town as I disappeared into the shadows of the tree line.
I'd almost phased right there, in the entryway of the grocery store. I was just running in to pick up dessert to take to Mom and Charlie's; the same shit I'd done every Sunday for the last two years. I'd felt it, the pull, before I even got out of the car. I shrugged it off, caught in the urgency of being late again.
The last few months, I hadn't taken on the wolf form very often, and my control was slipping. I took my share of patrols, but they were almost never needed. Jake and Seth were spending all their time with the Cullens, while I returned to my studies and slowly re-built the life that had been destroyed when all of the mythical shit hit the fan.
Soon, the Cullens, and most of our pack, would be moving on from Forks. Jake had agreed to release me from my obligations before they left. Some modicum of normalcy and success had finally begun to settle over my life. Therefore, it only made sense that it would all be ripped out from under me. Just when I thought I had a chance at escaping, my entire world focused down to a pair of mocha eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses.
When I'd walked through the whooshing automatic doors I may as well have run into a brick wall. My breath caught in my throat and I could feel myself start to shake; every nerve in my body was humming, every hyperactive sense seeking something, aching for completion and fulfillment, guiding my steps.
I knew what was coming before she even turned around, but when she did, everything stopped. It was like one of those retouched photos where everything else is faded except for the color in her eyes and the blush on her cheeks. The entire world was black and white and she was a burst of spring wildflowers. I reached to touch her without even thinking, like I was drowning in the sight and smell of her. I shook from the strain of not touching her. I needed something from her or I was going to explode into a silken grey coat of furry failed control.
She said something, I have no idea what, and the ringing in my ears stopped. The tone of her voice washed over me bringing with it a wave of calm. I felt lucid, centered, and capable for the first time in years. So of course I responded to my first impulse.
I phased as soon as I was out of sight. It was worth losing a change of clothes to get into a form where I could burn off the adrenaline coursing through my veins. Instead of the relief I sought, I quickly found that with every step the tightness in my chest constricted. I pushed myself harder, punishing my body to keep the urge to turn around at bay.
My strength ebbed after several miles. Finally, I allowed myself to sink on my haunches to the leaf-litter on the forest floor, my breath panting, and my body exhausted. As the burn in my lungs began to ease, the panic started to creep in around the edge of my mind. I rested my muzzle against the forest floor, inhaling the scent of damp earth and wishing it could calm the storm inside my head. The need to return to her was suffocating.
I heard the crunch of leaves at the same time I smelled him. Soon I could feel the ground vibrate with a heavy-stepped approach.
"So, you've imprinted." Jake's unspoken words were stated too matter-of-factly for my taste. He made it sound simple. This wasn't simple. This was extraordinarily fucking complicated.
"How did you know?"
"I'd know that ache anywhere. Who is it?"
The image of the girl flashed though my mind; long silky, black hair pulled into these two adorable pigtails, and those old fashioned purple poodle hairclips. The oversize mauve, wool coat that looked like it was out of the 50s. All of it seemed to fit so perfectly with her cat's eye glasses, and yet none of it measured up the two dark pools of her eyes. A person could swim in those eyes. Hell, it felt like I'd been drowning in them.
If he was surprised by her gender, Jake didn't show it. "She's lovely."
"She's...everything. Already. I don't even know her name."
"Are you okay?" he asked, his mental tone one of concern.
"I'm pissed. I should have a say in this." The words in my head were decidedly acidic, but my emotions were all over the map. Having conjured her face in my mind, I couldn't shake the image or the warm calm I felt just by thinking of her. It seemed to be fighting to extinguish the anger I felt at being committed to a stranger. To say I was confused was an understatement.
"Yeah, well...It could be worse."
Jacob's thought brought to mind his situation and I was immediately chagrined at my tantrum. He hadn't even had an erection since Renesmee was born, which was reassuring to everyone involved, including Jacob, but was still pretty shitty for him. I could tell from his thoughts that he didn't mind, and was perfectly satisfied acting as house pet to the Cullens and best friend to the kid until she needed something more from him. But at twenty-one, he should at least be entitled to want more than that.
"I know things aren't easy for you. I'm sorry."
"I'm not," he said, his voice heavy with patience. "Just pointing out that there are circumstances which you might find less appealing than the one you find yourself in."
"You're spending too much time with Edward. You're starting to sound like him."
I looked at Jake, and even in this form I could see the weight of experience had aged him, but never really changed him. It was moments like these that I knew I had made the right decision when I'd followed him the night the packs had split. My thoughts were safe with Jake, and I was thrilled that I didn't have to share this... share her, with Sam.
I waited for the mental recoil which usually accompanied thinking about Sam, the bitterness which still threatened to choke me. This time, however, it just wasn't there. I reached out, looking for it, prodding gingerly into my mind like a tongue against a sore tooth. Waiting for that moment when the hurt and anger would bubble to the surface.
Jake braced himself, familiar with the old wound and the agony which I unintentionally shared with our pack every time I thought of Sam. It took effort to bring him to the front of my mind. It still hurt, but there was no agony. The traces of anger felt deflated, lackluster; just an empty space where that fierce bitterness had been. Testing myself, like a true masochist, I thought of his face when he'd told me that Emily was pregnant- a moment which had resulted in a substantial investment in Jim Beam, and two days I don't remember well.
"Nothing?" Jake's thoughts were tentative, but tinged with relief that I echoed.
I felt lighter, unburdened. I mentally pulled up a dozen memories of the most dramatic moments from the dark time after Sam had left me, what had been my personal hell, to find that each was devoid of the intensity I'd gotten used to. The emotions were there, but I was detached, a third party to the experience.
"I think I love her already," Jake thought, his relief showing clearly on his face.
Just a glance from this girl had brought me healing that time and distance had not. I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the imprint. The tightness in my chest from having walked away from her began to feel like a crushing weight. Despite the strain there was a tinge of hope and lightness just thinking of her.
Then the panic set in, and my mind swam with questions. " What if she leaves? Does she even live here? I've never seen her before. Maybe she's just passing through."
Jake's reply held humor and reason, "Or maybe she works at the grocery store. Don't get ahead of yourself. Go. Find out. Find her."
It was a gentle command, but a command nonetheless. I felt myself turn to go without consideration, but froze when another question plagued me.
"What is she going to want from me?" I asked Jake," Will I automatically want it too?"
"You'll want to give her what she needs," he said, looking at me seriously. "Whatever that is."
My mind progressed in its panicked line of logic, thinking of Paul and Rachel, Jared and Kim. Mature imprints were always mated. I'd only ever been with Sam. I'd never been attracted to a girl.
Jake had the sense to allow me the illusion of privacy by not answering... or maybe he didn't have any answers for me either.
The instinctual desire to be close to her built as my thoughts lingered. Combined with Jake's insistence that I go to her, I was overtaken by an overwhelming need to move. I wanted a moment to breathe, to think, and hoped that a slower form could buy me a moment. I phased, any sense of modesty around Jake having long ago dissolved. I brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them, holding myself together. A moment later I felt him sit next to me, the shoulder of a man nudging mine, letting me know he was there when I was ready to talk.
"So I don't have a choice?" I whispered.
"I'm not intimately familiar, but I've never known of anyone who fell for a person of the same sex who felt they were given a choice in the matter," Jacob replied.
"I don't even know her." What if she doesn't want me?
It was a thought I was grateful he couldn't hear.
He eyed me with the intense patience of an alpha, and said, "You can fix that, you know. Your best option is to be what she needs. That's the only part you don't have a choice in. Everything else will work itself out in time. She was meant for you."
Hours later, I sat in my house and stared at the curl of her writing on the note card I'd taken from the bulletin board. I brought it to my nose to inhale her soft subtle scent left on the paper, and relaxed for a moment.
Jacob's words swirled in my head as I held the phone and started to dial.
I would be what she needed, and right now, she needed somewhere to live. I could be a home for her.