Theme: Phases of Life

Story Title: The Next Phase

Rating: T

Beta: Mr. Bigg

Word Count: 2535

FWAR pen-name: Mrs. Cope

The Next Phase

The rich earth bled between my paws, grinding beneath my nails. It was the soil of my home, all I'd known in this life. I pushed harder, willing the world away from me. Fronds of forest growth whipped my sides, but it didn't slow me down. The trees stood by like silent sentinels as I fled the beaches of La Push, heading for the straits of Juan de Fuca.

Freedom was just past the next hill, I could almost smell it. It was now or never, time to find what I wanted, what I needed. I wanted to be free; free from pity, free from torment, free from love, or the lack thereof. I needed to be away from here, away them all, away from him.

The forest thinned here, trees cleared for roadways and rangers. I slowed to a walk, sniffing the air for traces of human. The last thing I needed was a bulletin to go out for wolves, especially this far away from the reservation, where no one would make excuses or explain it away. And I didn't want the pack all over the woods, alerted to my departure. There was no one here now. No one had been here since before the last rain. I ran on.

I knew they wouldn't be able to catch me. There was no reason for a watch anymore, now that Jake and Reneesmee had united the conflicting sides. The others phased and slept, big men of the tribe, with no reason to run perimeter at night, and no reason to watch me. It was the perfect time to escape, to run, to be wild and finally free.

I'd given up on the notion of love. I had loved once, passionately. I had given myself over to that love with all that I had and all that I was. But it had all died, gone sour and stinking. I had to face the fact that no matter what I did, no matter what I gave, who I was, how I looked, that love wasn't enough. It hurt, deep in my soul, in my fiber, in every finger, down to the pit of my stomach – I wasn't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough – I wasn't enough.

And I couldn't even hate the reason I wasn't enough. I loved my cousin; a sweet and caring person, a good woman.

So I was left with emotion eating away inside me, tangled up and hurting, with no place to excise it from my heart or mind. I slept, ate, ran and breathed the pain; it radiated from me like cancer, infecting any who came near or heard my thoughts. And the worst of it? No one came near.

I had to admit that my phase of love had been just that – a phase. My own heartsickness was my stubbornness to give up on him, to let him be. I couldn't give up, not when I saw him every day. It had been so much easier when things were in turmoil, when danger kept us busy and separated. But now, the great peace had come. Peace for everyone, but me.

The trees hung in a thick canopy overhead though the rain still found its way to my fur. It felt good. It washed away the stench of pity that had covered me like filth, thrown on me by my mother and my former friends – even Emily pitied me. I didn't need that, I didn't need their pity or their care. The hope to be loved had been ground to dust clinging to my skin, my fur. I needed to be a woman alone, free, free to hurt or die or pine or cry. Whatever it was that was left to me, of me – I needed to be free to be.

Passing Cape Flattery, I ran along water's edge, staying close to the trees when I could, and running flat out when I was exposed. Here and there the shore disappeared and I swam, praying that fishing lines and tackles had been stowed for the night. The people of the Makah rez wouldn't be freaked out by a huge wolf, but I took no chances. You never knew when an elder might show up and make that one phone call that would get the pack following me. I laughed as the thought struck home: If the elders called, would the pack follow? Or would they be happy to see me go? Either path was pain. I pushed myself harder, praying they wouldn't phase. I didn't want to hear their minds and know the answer.

I let the run take over my thoughts, the moist, salty air burning my lungs. I imagined myself free from all of this, never coming back, never touching home again. I let that thought unravel before I could concentrate on it and bring the pain to life again. Instead, I pushed myself harder, knowing Port Angeles would be near.

*FWAR*

I could see the ferry landing as I changed to two legs. The dawn was just breaking. Mom would be rising to get breakfast on and the smell of coffee and bacon would fill the house. I thought it might be hard on her when she finally realized I was really gone and not coming back, but she knew I was going to leave sometime. I had contemplated leaving a note when I jammed my money deep inside my jeans, but I couldn't risk it. She would know why I left. She would understand.

I knew I looked odd in cut off jeans and a tank top, but it would have to do until I got across the channel. Maybe I could buy a t-shirt at the ferry so I wouldn't stand out as much. I ambled into the restaurant and got a cup of coffee, waiting for the ferry to open and start loading.

I hated having free time, it gave me too much time to think and remember my life so far. It hadn't been great, and the years to come weren't shaping up so hot, either. So much of my life was before me, much more than I'd already lived. Still, I felt lost and hopeless. Who would want a broken-hearted, enormous, muscular woman who occasionally lost her temper and turned into a giant wolf?

If Sam had just imprinted on me instead of Emily, all my problems would have been solved. We could have shared the world for as long as we chose, by each other's side, happy, strong, young forever. And if that ever got old, we could stop phasing and settle down. I knew my body wouldn't give him heirs, but I could live with that. We could adopt, we could… I shook my head and stared into the black coffee. No. It wasn't worth thinking about. It was never going to happen. I watched the swirl of my coffee as I stirred it and tried not to think.

The restaurant started filling up, a good indication it was time to go. I left a five dollar bill on the table, knowing it was too much but not wanting to hang around waiting for change. Maybe the waitress could use the money. Maybe she was nursing a broken heart. Maybe she needed to be free, too.

I stopped at the souvenir stand and bought the cheapest t-shirt I could find. I walked away, pulling the "I heart Canada" t-shirt over my head, feeling more like a tourist than I ever had before. My problem was I was a tourist in my own life – nothing seemed real wherever I went.

I got into the line for the foot traffic, paid my fare, and got on the ferry. It was a typical day in good old Washington: cloudy, raining, and apt to stay that way. I thought it was fitting that my home would be unchanged by my departure, seeing that I'd made little impact on it myself. I walked to the front of the ferry, and took a post along the prow away from everyone else. I tried to look cold – not easy to do when even the t-shirt was too warm – and wrapped my arms around my waist. Maybe the other passengers would think I was crazy; maybe they'd point and laugh. Maybe they'd take no notice of me at all. It made me wonder: Am I really escaping, or simply changing scenery?

The steam horn sounded, and the ferry pushed off. I looked back to shore and felt the guilt and loneliness break across my chest. Goodbye, Washington. Goodbye, La Push. Goodbye, Jacob, and Seth, and Mom. Goodbye, Sam. The land seemed to beckon to me, calling me home, but I knew that was a lie. It was my own fear of striking out on my own, of being alone, of leaving dreams of life with Sam on the shore in search of hope… The sum of my fears was trying to coerce me to stay. I closed my eyes, and turned my head to the sound.

I had to remember this was a new age for me, a time of and for myself; a time without regret, without pity, without need. There would be no one except me on the other side, and any of those feelings followed me, they would be of my own making. No, I wasn't going to do that. I'd had enough of hot flashes and spasms into the inhuman, enough of being unwanted and unnecessary by those who should care, enough of not being in control of my emotions and feelings. Those days had to belong behind me now. I cared. I wanted me. I was necessary – and I would make it so when I stepped off this ship. I allowed myself to remember the kisses Sam had given me when I was all he wanted, the plans we'd made, the love we'd shared. This was my goodbye to my life behind.

I opened my eyes to see the city of Victoria sprawling before me, and thought, what a lovely day to start a life.

*FWAR*

The coins jingled down the trap as dial tone roared in my ear. It had been a lot of work trying to find a pay phone – everyone had cell phones these days. The police dragged criminals in behind me as my shaking finger dialed the number.

"Mom?" She sounded good, strong as ever when she answered, although now her breath came in short gasps. "Yeah, it's me. How are you?"

The barrage of questions fell from the receiver like a torrent of rain. I glanced around the station, as if the guilt washing over me was somehow evident, marking me with the emotional crimes I committed. But no one paid any attention to me; my crimes were too personal and private. Her worry and fear lapped at my ear, and I hung my head, unable to answer. Let her ask everything, get it out of her system. She would realize soon enough I wasn't answering. Her concern and love poured out to me across the miles, until at last she came to a question I could answer. "I'm safe, Mom.

"I know it's been a long time, and I'm sorry for that. I just wanted to let you know I'm alive and well," I said, trying to hold back my own flood of questions and emotion. "I have a job and a house and a…" I paused, searching for the good things in my life. "A garden. And I don't change anymore, Mom. I guess there's no need. It's really nice."

I waited for the inevitable story of my disappearance, the search and worry that plagued the pack. Turning my back to the phone, I glanced at the short line beginning to form behind me as I listened. A young man, tall and dark-haired drug his feet across the stationhouse floor, his eyes black and wary. He regarded me curiously as the officer tugged his elbow, motioning him to sit, and looked away only as he threw himself into the chair, belligerent and defiant with his hands cuffed behind his back. I snapped my eyes back to the floor before me, and concentrated on her words.

"Mm-hmm, that's nice. Was it a big wedding?" I tried to sound disinterested, happy, but I just couldn't fake it. She stopped her story, asking the one question I knew would come, the one I dreaded the most.

I turned back to face the pay phone. "No, Mom, I'm not coming home." The words stung and dug into my resolve, attempting to slice away the confidence I'd so carefully constructed for myself, to reveal the hurt and lost girl I'd left behind. I tipped up my chin and straightened my shoulders. "I have my own home now. I have a life, a life I can be proud of. I just wanted you to know.

"I love you, too, Mom. Tell Seth I love him.." Her tone shifted, understanding creeping into her voice as she sensed the call's close. My heart was torn by the sadness in her voice. I remembered the day I'd first found out, how she'd held me, wrapping me in the blanket grandma had made, soothing my hair. She swore she'd take the pain if she could, make the world stop spinning to save me the heartache. She knew then that the only way out was through it all, and she'd pushed me forward. Now, she spoke her love to me, a sweet song of regret and goodbye as she posed her final question.

Nothing in La Push could claim me now. "I don't know when, Mom. Maybe one day. I don't know." The biker chick behind me kicked the heel of her boot, her arms crossed in impatience for the phone. "Be happy for me, Mom. I'm happy now."

I glanced at the handcuffed man across the room one more time as my mother crooned her final goodbyes. Idly, I wondered how the squat officer typing the processing paperwork had made the arrest. The man was tall and muscular, with a fierce expression and long and wild-looking hair. He seemed familiar to me, though I knew I'd never seen him before. His features reminded me of someone, something… someone from my past, lost and forgotten; a phase I'd outgrown and left behind.

I gently placed the handset back to the hook and turned to leave. The woman behind me let out an exasperated huff. "Finally!" she spat as she reached for the phone, her violent, unnatural orange hair flying as she moved. She pushed past me brusquely, colliding into my shoulder, her demeanor daring me to pick a fight.

With exaggerated flair, I brushed the arm of my jacket and moved to the door, leaning back on it to open. She wasn't watching me. She had picked up the phone and begun to conduct her own business, dismissing the annoyance as quickly as it had come. She had no idea I'd been talking with my mother, or that it'd been three years since we'd spoken. She didn't know, and she didn't care.

And that was just fine with me.