He was burning. If this was how death came for his kind, he would welcome it. Let him be consumed by her fire. Best way to go. Hot breath warmed his neck, made him feel almost human. When he settled a hand over her breast, Leah shifted in his lap and let out a whimper.
"Oh, God," she said. "You're driving me crazy. My apologies in advance if I start acting like an actual dog and hump your leg in my sleep tonight."
"Without buying it dinner first? Tsk. What sort of hussy do you think my leg is?"
"What, you want me to fetch you an elk? Cause I'll do it, if it ends in me having my way with any part of you." Hooking her fingers through his belt loops, she sighed. "I guess this isn't as frustrating for you, is it? No stupid hormones."
"Oh, it's plenty frustrating. Make no mistake: I want you. So much." Tilting his hips up, he pulled her closer. Even through their clothes, the heat between her legs was almost unbearable. "We could try something. Not sex. I don't think that would be safe. There's probably venom in..." Knitting his eyebrows together, he looked down at his own crotch by way of ending the statement.
Great. When had he transformed into a bumbling teenager?
"Really?" she said. "I wonder if it can change humans. Death by fucking."
"I don't think so. I've never heard of it happening like that. Anyway, as I was saying, actual sex probably wouldn't be the wisest course of action, but..." He cupped her breasts.
Leah grinned. "But we have hands."
"That we do."
She unbuttoned his jeans, almost ripping the thick denim when he took a second too long to raise up so she could tug them out of her way. The boxers were next, and then, at last, she touched him. Heat spread across his pelvis, blazing into torture. Garrett hissed. Kissing her or taking her hand was uncomfortable, but this was so far beyond that, it was all he could do to keep from shoving her away - to remind himself that she was trying to bring him pleasure, not pain.
"I'm sorry," she said, scrambling to release him. "Are you okay?"
"Y-yeah. Damn. That was... ouch."
"I'm just too hot for you, huh?" She tried to laugh, but he caught the wobble in her voice.
"You are. I already knew that, though. I'm sorry, baby."
"Why are you apologizing? I'm not the one whose dick was possibly damaged."
"You have a dick? I suspect we should be having an entirely different conversation, then. And for the record, mine wasn't damaged. It'll be fine."
"Does it still hurt?"
"Nah. Don't worry about it, okay?" Letting his eyes drift shut, he pressed his lips over her pulse. "I wanted this to work."
"Me too. Maybe... Hmm. Maybe it can. I have an idea."
Before he could ask what she meant, her weight vanished from his lap. A tank top and a pair of shorts hit him in the chest.
Naked. He'd caught glimpses now and then when she phased — almost entirely on accident — but this was new. This was standing in front of him, completely bare, shooting him a shaky smile, and streaking toward the river. This was breasts and legs and running and good Lord it'd been so long. A different ache built in his body — a heavy yearning, like he'd felt before she touched him.
Definitely not damaged. Good to know.
The water was evil. Or maybe the moon was to blame. Either way, even his eyes couldn't see through the reflected light on the surface of the river when Leah's body disappeared beneath it. Haloed by a cloud of steam, she swam to the center.
"Shit, this is cold. Okay. Okay. I can do this. It's no worse than cliff diving. Shit. Yeah, just hop into a river in January, Leah. Brilliant plan."
"What are you—"
"Trying to cool my skin down a bit. Now hurry up and get naked. Do you want a hand-job or not?"
For reasons he couldn't imagine, his fingers trembled as he removed his clothes. She watched him the whole time, her smile never fading, even when her teeth chattered. When he reached her, she ran her lips over the drops of water that beaded on his chest. Every part of her shivered.
"Hey," he said. "We don't have to do this. I don't want you to freeze."
Her hand wrapped around him again, stealing his breath, halting his thoughts. The river had worked. Her skin was cooler — no longer painful, but warm and soft and perfect. A groan slipped from his lips, meeting Leah's chuckle in the frozen air.
"What was that you were saying?" she whispered.
"Just that I'm a selfish bastard and I want to live in this river with you."
"That's what I thought."
The urge to bite her — to claim her and make her like him — tore through him. Instead, he dug his teeth into his own lip and swallowed a flood of venom. A bite wouldn't make her a vampire. If allowed to spread through her body, his venom would only snatch her away. Forever. He had to remember that. He had to be careful with this girl, with this love.
Her breaths were as ragged as his, fogging the space between them in rapid bursts. Her lower lip disappeared between her teeth, mimicking him, just before she drew in a deep gulp of air, held it, and submerged herself up to her chin.
"What are you doing?" he asked before she could disappear entirely.
Hooking her ankles around his knees, she raised herself up to place her lips near his ear. A wave of new heat passed over her skin, as if she blushed when she whispered, "I want to see you."
Her head ducked beneath the surface of the water, and that was it. Two more strokes, and he couldn't hold back — didn't want to hold back. Something like a roar built up in his chest, but all that came out was a sigh.
It wasn't until Leah bobbed back up that he realized his fingers were locked onto her shoulders in a punishing grip.
"Oh, damn," he said, jerking away. "I'm so sorry. Did I hurt you?"
She laughed. "Relax. I'm not that fragile."
Ignoring this claim, he kissed every inch of skin where his hands had been — where she would have bruised if she was human. Then, scooping her up in his arms, he carried her to the shore.
"This would probably be romantic if I could feel my extremities," she said, resting her head on his shoulder and swinging her legs.
"I could start reciting poetry, if that would help."
"I think it might hurt."
Unable to resist, Garrett cleared his throat. "There once was a man from Nantucket..."
Giggling, she pressed the back of one hand to her forehead in a fake swoon. "Oh, baby. Take me now."
"Hmm. If only."
Laughter evaporated as he set her down next to the pile of discarded clothing. His outfit looked like it'd keep her warmer, so he slipped his shirt over her head and tugged his jeans over her hips. He would survive walking back to the house in his underwear. Bad enough Edward would see Leah naked via mind reading; Garrett didn't want to give the whole family an eyeful of her in a flimsy, wet tank top and shorts.
"Where are we going?" she asked as he took her hand.
Smiling, he dropped a quick kiss to her lips. "I have an idea, too."
Garrett sat on his bathroom floor, next to the tub. One of his hands dangled in the hot water next to Leah — not touching her, this time. Just swirling the bubbles around and being with her. Next to the river, this was his favorite place.
A week since their first, fumbling attempts at their new version of sex, and he still hadn't gotten used to it. Maybe it would take more time. The strategic use of ice packs made everything perfect when she touched him, but every time he placed his fingers between her legs, a jolt of pain screamed up his arm. It was too hot there — too much.
He would never tell her.
Stretching out one of her long legs, she rested her heel on the edge of the tub and picked up her razor. Garrett interfered, stealing the shaving cream and spreading the lather over her leg. Not that Leah seemed to mind. The actual shaving, on the other hand, she insisted on doing herself. As she passed the blades over her knee, the scent of pine needles and damp earth burst into the air. Her blood.
"I wonder what it would do to me," he said, wiping a finger over the smear of red.
"What, if you drank it?" She shrugged. "Jasper spat it out when he sucked the venom from my arm. It's probably not the best idea to try it. Could be dangerous."
"Hmm. I suppose."
The next time he smelled her blood, it changed everything.
Later, when they were out of Edward's hearing, Jasper would tell Garrett how funny it was that for a second time, a paper cut altered his life in huge ways. The moment Leah's thumb sliced open, Jasper just looked at Garrett with an amused, knowing expression and told him he wouldn't advise drinking it.
"You can try it if you want," Leah said. "I know you won't stop wondering until you see what it's like for yourself."
Garrett paused, his thumb pressed over her wrist. "You sure?"
"Yep, but be careful with the venom. I'd rather not die just to give you a drink of something you'll undoubtedly think tastes like shit."
So, he did. As promised, it tasted foul — like wandering into a garbage dump and proceeding to explore the place with his tongue. Words fell from his mouth, unheard by him. Ice shot through his chest. Everything he knew dissolved into pain.
The last thing his panicked mind registered was Leah's scream.
The smells faded as the pain got worse: Leah and Jasper, on either side of him. Manufactured calm settled in his bones, hardly making a dent in the frigid agony. He never thought cold could hurt. Not like this. It made the familiar ache of Leah's sunshine heat seem like a bee sting. Nothing had ever hurt like this — not since the burn of venom cutting through his veins, transforming him into a vampire.
Garrett tried to tell Leah he was okay — to lie — but something thudded beneath his ribcage, pounding and tearing and making him certain he was going to die. He couldn't even shout anymore; a whine took all of his strength.
"Carlisle?" a half-familiar voice said. Almost like Leah. Hands ran over his arms and chest — warm, but not quite hot enough. They didn't make discomfort curl in his belly. It couldn't be her. "Is he...? He feels... and smells like..."
That almost sounded like Carlisle. Strange, to be surrounded by people who sounded so similar to his loved ones. Garrett opened his eyes.
"Hmm?" he said, but it came out strangely — stretched and lazy, like a human's yawn. The woman hovering over him with tear-misted eyes could only be Leah. Only she could look at him that way, make that flutter start up in his chest. Still, there was something new — something softer and out of focus. "Hey, sweetheart. You look different. Did you—"
She kissed him as she'd never kissed him before, without a shred of restraint. It swept Garrett away, freezing his objection about safety in his throat. His world shrank down, excluding the half-circle of vampires who watched them with wide eyes. Nothing existed but her.
After Leah pulled away, Carlisle touched Garrett's wrist with cold, cold fingers.
"Jesus, Carlisle! You're freezing." Garrett placed an sweat-slicked palm over his own chest. Sweat. His sweat. An impossible life thudded beneath his hand. "Th-this isn't possible. Is it? I'm..."
The forest was alive, and so was he. For the first time in over two hundred years, birds sang in the branches above his head, hardly bothered by his presence. The house was still in sight, but he couldn't hear the screams of the others as they went through their own changes.
"I told you it would be dangerous to drink my blood," Leah said with a little laugh.
"Pft. It was worth the risk."
She beamed. "Yeah."
Holding her close, he basked in the warmth that seeped into his skin. Every part of her fit every part of him. No more clashing, no more battling temperatures. He couldn't get enough of the way she smelled.
"Remember when I said I thought I wanted to make a home with you someday?" she asked.
Hiding her face against his chest, she spoke her next words in a whisper. "When you were changing... I thought... Gah. Scariest three days of my life. I should've tried to make a home with you a long time ago." Her body quivered. "Marry me?"
Perhaps the request should've surprised him, but it didn't. His answer rose up with his smile, as easy and natural as telling her he loved her.
"Of course," he said. Placing a finger over her lips, he held his mouth just out of her reach. "On one condition."
"We don't invite Jacob to the wedding."
Leah kissed him through her laughter again and again, brighter and more beautiful than she'd ever been.
"Deal," she said. "Jake can go fuck himself."