"Take off your pants."

Her plan worked better than Nessie thought it would, probably because Seth was half-asleep and so used to taking orders that he didn't realize what he was doing when he stood up and tried to undo a belt that wasn't there. It would have worked even better if the buttons on her coat weren't being impossible.

Her growl of frustration seemed to snap Seth awake because he unfortunately stopped moving and started staring at her like she was crazy, instead.

"You okay, Nessie?"

"No," she muttered, giving up. The buttons had won. She was stuck in her coat. "They're just...I mean, really...I...ugh."

She stamped her foot for emphasis. As wonderful as her family was, they could be most tiresome, sometimes. A girl could not be held responsible for the insanity they inspired.

"Deep breaths," he reminded her. All Seth had on were a pair of ratty old jeans, his hair sticking up everywhere as he came towards her. The tired expression on his face was still there as he wrapped his arms around her. She stepped forward, arching up on her toes so she could kiss him, remind him what he was missing, taking off to hunt vampires for weeks at a time. Kissing was a much more productive way of working off her frustrations after the morning's disastrous family hunt—

Seth pulled back suddenly, blinking. "What was that?"

"Sorry," she hurried to apologize. Her powers were usually manageable, but apparently they had gotten confused. Just because they needed to talk didn't mean she wanted to show him her relatives. "Just ignore that."

"So that wasn't the reason you hunted me down at...wait, what time is it?"

"Three in the afternoon." Even though his rumpled appearance made him look adorable enough that she was disappointed her earlier command hadn't worked, Nessie wasn't oblivious to how exhausted he looked. A pack of nomads had been annoying the werewolves lately, ruining their time together. "I'm sorry I woke you up. Go back to bed. This can wait until you're better rested."

"I was awake; Leah called with the patrol time and I couldn't fall back asleep," he explained. Since she was in his arms, she melted against him as he gently pushed her hair from her face. "What's going on?"

"Maybe I just wanted to get your pants off," she muttered, knowing she was going to tell him everything very soon. It was not possibly for anyone to refuse Seth's puppy eyes. She did her best, however, staring at his collar instead. She didn't really have much choice, anyway, as she barely came up to his chin, even with the boots.

"While thinking about Emmett?"

"Emmett is—" she stopped herself, but couldn't contain the growl that escaped her. Not that Emmett bothered her the most, usually. She actually appreciated his openness to the rest of her family's belief that she was still to be coddled at all times. "He doesn't know how to mind his own business."

"Okay."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Nessie was aware that she was pouting; she could hear the whine in her voice. But impossibly sexy werewolves were not supposed to sound like they understood even when they weren't completely awake.

"Come on," he said, pulling her towards Embry's bed. "I'm too tired to keep standing and this sounds like it might take some time."

Embry Call's room was impossibly small. The single bed he had crammed in the corner took up most of the space. The covers had been kicked to the floor, but Seth picked them up, throwing them over top of the sheets while she tried to undo her jacket for the second time that day. She wished (as she so often did) that Seth had a permanent place to stay in town so they didn't have to trespass upon Embry's messy room when they came home for the summer.

"Maybe they are right and I am still a child. I can't even undo a stupid jacket."

Seth just chuckled, pulling her towards him as he sat down on the bed. "Come here and I'll help you."

"I should take off my boots first." The coverlet had seen better days but it wouldn't do to get it even dirtier. But before she could do more than tug at the footwear, he caught her around the wrist.

"Leave them on." The look in his eyes made her blush—but she left the cowboy boots on. "And turn around."

"You won't be able to see," she pointed out, even as she did as he asked. Facing the door, her back to the werewolf, she tried to keep her mind on her annoying family and not on how long it had been since the two of them had been alone.

"I'll manage." His arm wrapped around her, pulling her closer as he inhaled her scent. Werewolves and their rituals.

"I missed you," she whispered, snuggling further against him, squeezing his hands. The wolves had been back at least six hours before she'd hunted him down; he should have been better rested by now. "Where did you go?"

"Oregon, California, Arizona...we caught them in New Mexico then ran straight back, so I'm guessing Utah or something. But at that point I didn't really care. I missed you so much."

His breath tickled against her neck, which was why she was giggling as she repeated, "I missed you, too. You should have come to the house; we have plenty of room and I wanted to see you."

"I have to patrol at six. And I don't think I could have made it. Embry let me come here just because it was closest."

Embry hadn't been off hunting vampires the past week; he had been guarding La Push and giving her absolutely no useful information.

"I'm glad you're safe. And not all bruised up this time."

"We healed up on the way back," he said carelessly, not seeming to notice how her heart stopped when she thought of him injured. "So, you going to tell me where the sudden desire to jump me came from?"

"There was nothing sudden about that."

Nessie was rewarded with the feel of lips against her neck. Even if she couldn't see him, she knew him well enough to know he was smiling, even as he pushed her hair away to give himself better access. Shivering, she nudged him away with a shrug of her shoulder.

"You need to get this coat off, first."

"Fine. But start talking."

His arms wrapped around her waist as she leaned back against his bare chest; he was warm and solid and Seth and it made her smile even with her malfunctioning super powers. His hands felt their way over the linen coat and the curves of her body towards the cursed buttons. He had such beautiful hands. Even with the scars and calluses that came from hard living, there was still such grace in them.

"It's just...I get so tired, sometimes. I know I'm their niece and they changed my diaper and blah blah blah, but...I mean, I have super hearing. And they're sex fiends. How innocent can they possibly think I am?"

"I think a bit of denial might be involved."

"Denial I would be okay with. But when they start making their stupid jokes about how I'm too little to listen to their talk, when all they ever talk about is sex, it's just...I don't like it."

How did he make undoing the buttons look so easy? Oh well. He seemed to be enjoying slowly peeling the annoying garment off her. Alice would have disapproved of the way he dumped it on the floor, but it was just a jacket and she was glad to be rid of it.

"So you came here to prove you're old enough?"

"I came looking for you because I missed you," she said truthfully, turning her head so she could see him. He didn't look upset; in fact, there was a small smile on his face because he already knew. Or maybe the smile was because he had moved on to trying to undo the numerous buttons on her vest and had to go blindly searching when he lost his spot. She didn't mind his wandering hands, nor the way his mouth found hers. If she had started to believe her family was right about her innocence, the ideas that popped in her mind proved otherwise.

When was Embry coming home, exactly?

She broke the kiss, admitting, "The pants thing might have been to prove something to them."

"You have nothing to prove."

"I think it might be their way of...not punishing me, exactly, but—if I admitted to them we were sleeping together, they'd stop making fun of me."

They'd had this conversation before. Seth snorted; he wasn't going to change his opinion.

"They're going to make fun of you no matter what you say. That's what family does."

Being right was important to her—she was supposed to be the perfect child, after all, so she had to be right to keep up her reputation—but for some reason she didn't mind when Seth suggested she was incorrect. When she was in a particularly sentimental mood she sometimes imagined she had first fallen for him when he'd been the first person to ever say those fateful words to her: You're wrong.

"Have I mentioned how much it sucks that I can't win no matter what I do?"

"It does suck. I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault." Though perhaps her family wouldn't have been able to pretend that any other man could have refrained from touching her after being with her for so long. But she certainly wasn't going to complain that Seth had the patience of a saint. "Why is it so much to ask that they just mind their own business?"

"Family is supposed to annoy you."

"You're mother has never expressed interest in your personal life," except to mention that she did not believe anyone was worthy of her son. Since Nessie agreed, Sue had been content to let the matter drop.

"Someone has conveniently forgotten all the other people in my head."

"Even the werewolves are more mature than my family. Well, sometimes."

"The water gun fight was kind of immature. Awesome, but immature."

"I don't even mind it. I just...today Emmett managed to get under my skin."

The vest joined the coat on the floor and she leaned forward, pulling her hair to the front, so he could undo the zipper on her back. The dress was one of Alice's designs, which meant she couldn't get in and out of it without help. The dress was proof that her family was trying to make sure she never had any fun.

"Do you want me to talk to him?"

The words came out slowly, though it was a good plan. Seth had near miraculous powers when it came to talking to her family; they listened to him in a way they still wouldn't listen to her. When they had first started them, she had expected nothing less than an engagement ring would have placated her family with their ideas of eternal devotion. So when she brought him over she suggested that he embellish any feelings he might have had, just to buy them some time. But when faced with her family all Seth had done was shrug and say "I like her and we want to see what'll happen" and somehow that had been acceptable. It really wasn't fair. She had argued for days and her mother still thought she belonged with Jacob, but one word from Seth and even Alice was okay with the change, even though the wedding invitations already had Jacob's name on them.

The zipper was cold against her back, especially in contrast to his warm hands as he slowly exposed her back to the cool air of the bedroom.

"No," she finally pushed out, trying to stop her voice from shaking. All he was doing was playing with the zipper (and her hair, but that went without saying; he was easily distracted by shiny things and seemed to think her hair was the shiniest of all) so she could ignore the distraction. "It wasn't really his fault. I just...I've been feeling guilty lately."

"And this is different from normal because...?"

"Not funny," she pouted, even as he brushed the dress from her shoulders. "I don't always...shut up."

"Shutting up."

His tongue found her ear and then she really was having trouble remembering why the guilt had come. Still, she managed to push out, "I feel guilty that I haven't told them."

That stopped the assault on her ear, which she protested with a tiny breathless moan. Not that he listened. His hand found hers, their fingers interlocking even though his were so much larger.

"Then tell them."

It wasn't that she was ashamed of what they did together, she had started to explain to him once, but he never let her finish. They were her family, after all, he said. She could tell them how much or how little as she wanted. Besides, he said, rolling his eyes, he never had and never would sit his mother down to talk about his sex life. He hardly expected her to do the same.

Even Seth with his limitless understanding didn't always quite get why she got certain ideas into her head (from her family, usually; the stubbornness she got from the werewolves). It didn't stop him from listening or from trying to help her through it, though. All without pushing her behind him, demanding she stay put, and rushing off to fix it for her, which was nice and not just because he was the only one.

"Did I tell you my mother gave me a talk, the other day?"

The dress tickled as he pushed it down, freeing her arms, letting his hands drift over the recently exposed skin. Even though they were theoretically the same temperature, she felt as though he was radiating heat of some sort, the sort of heat that was spreading through her body, even though all he was doing was gently stroking her forearms.

"No."

His attention soon moved from her arms, to her shoulders, and then to her back. His fingers were walking up and down her spine; she didn't bother to ask. Seth was often distracted by the strangest things. Lately it had been her knees (she was used to being endlessly complimented, but he could still make her blush at the wonder at his voice when he tried to work out how she could have such sexy knees) but she supposed her spinal column was his next amusement.

"She said it was worth it to wait until you were with the person you wanted to be with forever."

He snorted, even as he undid the clasp of her bra. She felt the lace material go slack against her, but she left it where it was. She was too distracted by the way he was nuzzling her neck, in any case. "Your dad wants you to get married because he thinks you'll go to hell, otherwise. You're mom's just trying to guilt you into saving yourself for Jake."

"Seth!"

"She didn't say anything like that when you were with him."

"Because he treated me like I was six," Nessie snapped. To be fair to Jacob, she had technically been six (and a half, thank you very much). Even if...no, Jacob said he was all right with her exploring other options. He had convinced her mom that he was fine with it. Even if neither was particularly supportive, they weren't trying to sabotage anything. More likely Bella had begun to suspect that Edward knew something more about their daughter than she did and was fishing to see what it was. "And so what if she's on his side? It's only fair. Dad's on yours."

Her father had even tried to be okay when he found out—because she couldn't keep things from him, even if he did swear he wouldn't confirm the speculation from the others until she was ready—that, well, things a father didn't need to know about his daughter. She knew murder had not resulted only because her father liked Seth more than he liked...anyone, really. And he trusted Seth, even if the werewolf was rather open about not wanting to marry her just yet. Perhaps because he was so open; her father liked Seth's honesty. Seth said he loved her and everyone knew that since he said it, he must really have meant it. And in a strange bout of maturity, her father had accepted that it was enough.

"Your dad just wants you happy," he said, pushing the thin straps down her arms, trailing kisses in their wake, his lips burning against her skin. Her posture stayed stiff, even if her body was telling her to just give in because she needed him desperately right then; he understood, for he spoke quickly, "Just like your mom does. You know I think that."

"I know." She tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck, telling him he could resume kissing her with impunity; her fingers dug into his thighs when he took the hint. "I was just...checking."

"They all just want you to be happy, even if they tease you."

"I know," she admitted, even if her breathing was becoming erratic. "I just wish they were actually funny when they joke I'm innocent."

She turned her head, lips seeking his. Her arm had to stretch a bit, but her hand was in his hair, finally, holding him to her as her tongue explored his mouth. This time when she showed him what she was thinking, it wasn't about Emmett.

Strong arms pulled her unto his lap, right up against his hard body. She arched against him; there was something else she had wanted to say, but she couldn't quite remember, because nothing was more important than getting her dress off from where it had bunched around her hips.

She had known they were going to run into this problem from the very beginning, but he didn't seem to mind, just laughed as she got all tangled up in her dress and his arms trying to turn around. He didn't even complain when she accidentally hit him in the stomach, trying to get him on his back and on top of him and undressed all at the same time, he just pulled her closer, his large hands everywhere, making her feel warmer than before.

"What is it?" he asked, when she broke the kiss.

She couldn't quite keep the smirk off her face: "Take off your pants."


After, she couldn't help saying: "I should have taken off the boots."

"Never," he whispered in her ear. She was tucked against him, staring at the wall, one of his arms pillowing her head, the other wrapped tightly around her waist. "They look too good on you."

"I suppose you have to wash the sheets anyway."

"Don't remind me," and she could suddenly hear the exhaustion in his voice. When was the last time he had more than a couple of hours of sleep at a time? "Not that Embry would mind."

Which is exactly why she knew he would do his best to make sure the only thing you could smell in the room was bleach.

"This wouldn't be a problem if you actually had a place here."

"Why do I need a place here? I'm only in La Push when it's an emergency."

"Your mother wanting another dinner guest so there's an even number of people is not an emergency."

"She would disagree." He nuzzled the back of her neck again. "Besides, I can't afford a place here and one in Seattle. And there's this girl in Seattle...and I'm kind of crazy about her."

"She might not be there forever, Seth."

Eight months and then she was free to find a job. Anywhere. For the first time since she had arrived, Seth stilled for a moment. Then: "I ever tell you how proud I am of you?"

"All the time." Her hands clutched at him until she was afraid she would hurt him, but she had to make sure he didn't think she wanted to leave him. It was just...how many brilliant doctors did Forks need? She could do so much more away from here. She brought his hands up, kissing them. "Seattle's actually pretty great. Maybe I will end up staying there."

"Or I could just go with you. Anything to get out of these stupid patrols." But he didn't mean that; there was a sadness in his voice that he didn't bother hiding from her. "I don't know," he admitted. "I love you, I love your family, I just..."

"You love your family, too. I know," she hurried to reassure him. She loved that about him, the way he loved them all, so easily. "I don't want you to leave them."

She was never going to ask him to leave them, no matter how much she might want him to stay with her—she wouldn't be the one to force him into making that decision. A decision she had always been afraid of, the reason why it was stupid of her to get involved with a werewolf after turning down Jacob. Because one day (eight months or eight years or eighty years from now) she was going to leave permanently...and he probably wouldn't want to come with her.

Knowing where her thoughts were heading, Seth just pulled her closer. "We'll worry about that some other time."

"Sure." Trying to come up with a change of topic, any change, really, she blurted out the first thing that came into her head. "I feel a bit like a stuffed animal, right now."

"You would look really hot covered in fur."

He always could make her giggle. "And with a tail?"

"This is making me a lot less tired."

She stopped his hand from going lower, knowing that he needed to sleep. It was just after five, he had another patrol in an hour and she really should let him get some rest. But there had been a reason she had hunted him down and not just because he had been busy hunting vampires the past week.

"I'm going to tell them," she said quietly. "Emmett annoyed me so much today because I had made up my mind to tell them and now it's going to look like I'm just saying it to shut him up. But I'm still going to do it."

"Okay. You warning me to lay low the next couple of days?"

"They won't hurt you. Well...but they'll probably be more angry with me, from not telling them sooner."

"What changed your mind?"

She didn't really have the luxury of privacy in this world that they lived in. There were too many people who could read minds around her. But she had wanted to keep these feelings private.

They would know (unlike the werewolves), when she told them, because she was too much of her father's daughter to give in to her body's demands for some simple gratification, exactly what he meant to her. If she hadn't felt this way, if she hadn't felt like she had to share everything with him, if he hadn't made her believe he felt the same way, then she would have done what was expected of her. She would have waited until eternity was official.

But she hadn't. And maybe he would still break her heart, or maybe she would break his one day, but even accepting that those were real possibilities didn't make her sorry for what they had done. Nothing her family could say would make her regret it. Even if everything went wrong later, she still wouldn't regret it. Right then, that second, not the thousands of millions of years of eternity that she was supposed to have, it felt right, being with Seth. Anyway she could.

"I didn't want to listen to them explain how I was confused about my own feelings. I hate being told I'm wrong. But I finally realized..."

She turned over, so she could look him in the eye. He was playing with her hair again, the loose waves a little curlier than usual because of the sweat. The bronze strands wrapped around his finger absent-mindedly as he gazed at her, in no hurry for her to get to the point. It was remarkable how he could make her feel like this with just a look.

Her fingers traced the contours of his face, the strong cheekbones and kissable lips that she loved so much. Her face was beginning to radiate heat, she was blushing so hard, but she pushed on, "I just...I want to be with you, every way, and I want them to know that. They know all the unimportant things about me. It's only fair they know the most important."

He kissed her fingertips, then her wrist. There was a look in his eyes (he had such dark eyes they almost looked black, sometimes) that made her blush further.

"Sleep," she ordered, kissing him goodnight.

"Stay?"

"Only if I'm not taking up too much room."

"You're tiny." Only in comparison. "Besides, I sleep better when you're around."

Seth could sleep anywhere, anytime. Whether she was there or not made little difference. All she said was, "I'm not going anywhere."

"Good."

She turned back over; he never seemed to mind having her hair in his face. Their legs tangled together as his arm supported her head, as she let her mind wander to the lab report she wanted to finish that night. Sleep would come for him soon.

"Nessie?"

"That's not you sleeping, Seth."

Their fingers were locked together again, a strange pattern of dark and light that made her smile to see.

"Just...I mean, Jake and Leah still need a referee sometimes, but they won't always..." He placed a light kiss on her shoulder and continued on, surer than before. "I think I'd go anywhere, if it was with you. Just saying."

"You don't—"

"Leah's going to kill me for thinking it; I might as well tell you."

She was blushing again, worse than before. Even with his voice heavy with sleep, he still managed to make her tremble. It was the sort of reassurance she had once expected to have at the beginning of a relationship. But she didn't mind having to have earned the quiet sentence and all that it could one day mean. Her whole life, she never had to earn much of anything—she felt absurdly proud of herself right that second.

"Thank you," she finally remembered to say. Then: "Sleep."

But he was already snoring in her ear.