Okay, so I found it didn't matter at all if I was in that wood alone or with a wolf the size of horse, which walked in front of me, showing me the way. I was tripping anyway. After the first fall the wolf in front of me sharply turned and whined. I swear he looked worried, even though I was certain I couldn't actually see any expression on a wolf's face.
"I'm fine," I grumbled, picking myself from the ground. He still looked at me sceptically.
"Really, Embry, I'm perfectly fine. If Jacob didn't tell you yet, you should know I am unbeatably talented at stumbling. I'm perfectly capable of falling over on a straight road. I got used to it."
Embry continued walking, but this time he went a bit slower. I shook my head at his back slightly - or rather, I shook it at his tail, which was swinging before me from one side to the other with every step he took. I almost laughed - I'm following a tail.
Great, a good advice for life - no laughing and distracting myself when I need to give my full attention to the road, I growled silently, when I found myself picking myself up from the ground the very next moment.
I winced a little when something big pushed against me and I felt warm air gushing against my skin. Embry returned to me and was probably trying to help me get up.
"I don't know why I thought Jacob wouldn't make it," I told him, slightly uncomfortable. I knew he wouldn't hurt me, but really, just an hour ago I wouldn't deem such a big wolf head close to me safe. I hoped Embry didn't somehow sense the sudden prick of fear I felt when I saw him next to me. "This way it'll be evening before I get home."
Embry supported me with his nose and I straightened up. He looked nearly sad, when he looked at me. I bit my lip. Hell. Edward used to tell me I was not a good actress. Did Embry catch it? I really didn't want to hurt him with some not-thought-over reaction if I could help it.
"Would it bother you if I held onto you while walking? It might help me."
A minute later I was congratulating myself in my head. Not only did Embry look happier, I was falling down less when there was something to lean onto if I lost my balance. I only fell once, and that was when I leant on Embry just as he took another step forward. He looked at me apologetically when I got up again. The rest of the walk was fall-less. The second Embry felt me leaning on him stronger, he slowed down.
"Look, there it is," I motioned with my hand at the red pick-up a bit further down the road from where we emerged from the forest an onto the unused road.
"Thanks for helping, Embry! We made it almost exactly on spot!" I smiled at him. "Do you think Jacob will make it? Shouldn't I wait for a bit?"
Determination, which accompanied the wolf's head shake hinted that Jacob might have already called.
"Okay, then," I said, and let go off him almost unwillingly. He was really rather handy at keeping me on my feet. "So I guess we'll see each other tomorrow at Sam's place?"
The wolf nodded and waited until I got in my car and turned it around. Then he slowly backed into the wood. I waved at him once more through the window and drove off. With some luck, Charlie won't be in an overly bad mood.
When I made it home, Charlie was sitting in the living room, watching TV. He called out to me the very second I closed the front door. I bit my lip and walked to the living room doorway. I might as well get it over with.
"Hi, dad. I'm sorry I didn't call you, it completely slipped my mind. I was in La Push."
"Yeah, I know, Jacob called. So you two are talking again?"
"Seems so. Apparently, he's perfectly okay now. Said he didn't want me to come over for so long because he didn't want to infect me. Even though the doctor told him he was completely healed and not spreading the disease for ages," I rolled my eyes. "I met two of his friends while I was over. Embry Call and Quil Ateara, do you know them?"
I thought it a rather good idea to mention them, and Embry, now. If Embry... imprinted on me... then we'll probably spend more time together then we did previously. It'd be better to have Charlie think I found more friends on the reservation. And, I didn't mention them to him when I really met them the first time several weeks ago.
"I know old Quil, Jacob's friend is his grandson. His father died when he was little. I don't know Embry. Are they nice boys? Jacob's all right, but I don't want to have you..."
"They're okay, dad," I assured him quickly. "Quil seems to be a little too self-confident maybe, but I think Embry and Jacob keep him in line. I agreed with Jake to come see him tomorrow after school. I think he's trying to atone for keeping his distance for so long. He and the other two are going to show me around the reservation."
"Oh. Well, that's fine by me, go on. I have some of that steak you did yesterday left, so I'm all set for dinner. Will you be back by nine?"
Oh, God. Charlie's gotta be really glad I'm back on talking terms with Jacob. "I think that yeah, it's already dark come nine. There won't be much to be seen in the dark. So... I'll go up and change. Bye, dad."
"Bye, Bella," Charlie turned to the TV screen again. I ran up the stairs and into my room. Wow. In comparison with everything that has happened today, that discussion was a bit anticlimactic. But that was fine. I don't know how many more surprises I'd be able to take that day.
I sat down on the bed and stared at the purple wall of my room. I was real lucky I was seeing that room again. Laurent.
I trembled. I'll be seeing that look in his face and his eyes for a while in my dreams, I was sure of that. So close. If Sam and the others came just half a minute later, I'd be a corpse. Or they would interrupt him in the middle of feeding and I would be turning right now.
I sighed. Ever since I met Edward, I wanted to be like him. So that I could be with him, forever. Partly, I still wanted to be one of them now, after everything. Even if they weren't here anymore and left me behind like dirty clothes. It was a little tempting, to be beautiful, not have any problems with balance, be almost invincible. In the past I'd have added immortality onto that list, too, but now, without Edward, I think such a long life would be wearing me down. And the idea of me drinking blood was disgusting to me back then and right now, both. It stank something terrible, I don't see how I could ever drink that. Bleh.
Maybe it was better that they were gone and I could say goodbye to the idea of being a vampire. I was left with my clumsiness, averageness and vulnerability. I trembled again, when I remembered Victoria, who was out there somewhere, planning to kill me.
The next morning I was in a rather good mood, which may have something to do the fact that for the first time in I don't know how long, I slept without waking up once. I didn't even remember having any kind of dreams. I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock, completely rested and fresh.
I think my better mood could be seen on me, because my friends at school seemed more energetic than before. Although, it may only seem so to me, because I actually paid attention to them. Unfortunately, Mike took my sudden emergence from depression as a sign that I was accessible for romantic attempts again. He sat right next to me the whole lunch and tried to talk to me the whole time. He invited me to go to the cinema with him again.
"It'll be fun, Bella," he assured me eagerly. "There's a thriller up there tonight, it has superb reviews! It's starting at six this evening."
"Thanks, Mike, but I've something else after school today. I think Jessica mentioned she was free this evening though, maybe she could go with you? You wouldn't have to go see it alone then," I glanced questioningly at Jessica. She mentioned no such thing, but she was completely into Mike. I think he was the only one, out of our whole group, who didn't seem to know it yet. Jessica brightened immediately.
"Sure thing, I'd be happy to join you, Mike! I was getting worried of being bored tonight! Where d'you wanna meet?"
Mike wasn't terribly excited about that turn of events, but Jessica didn't let him say no. Finally he agreed, just so he would not have to reject her rudely. When they were clear on when and where they'd meet, she left him alone in satisfaction and he turned to me again. This time he tried a different tactic.
"So, guys, I've been thinking we could go to the La Push beech this weekend again, how about that? It's nearly March and it was quite warm lately. We could make a fire and grill something, too, if it was colder," he looked around the table for reactions.
"I'm up for that, I like it there," Angela looked at Ben questioningly. He smiled at her and nodded.
"Sure, why not," Jessica reacted happily. It's always a lot of fun."
"Count me in, my aunt's supposed to come over this weekend, I'll be glad to avoid he for one day at least," Lauren grumbled and made a face.
"Aunt Joan?" Jessica looked at her.
"Yeah," Lauren whined.
"My condolences," Jessica smirked.
"Bella?" Mike was looking at me expectantly. "Eric?" he added quickly, realizing he didn't say anything yet too.
"Why not. I'd be going over there anyway, I guess," I shrugged. I didn't really feel like going there with Mike, who'll most likely not leave me alone, but if Jessica's going to be there, she may twitter around him so much he'll be too busy than to think of bothering me. Not to mention, if I'll want to separate from them, I have my own set of friends in La Push. Even if Jacob was being busy I thought Embry would find some time. For me at least. However uncomfortable that imprint idea was, I could be at least sure he wouldn't leave me hanging.
"Sure," joined Eric.
"Perfect," exclaimed Mike happily. The first bell rang then and everyone started to leave. "We'll set the time tomorrow, 'kay?"
Fortunately, after lunch, I didn't have my last lesson of the day with Mike, but with Angela, Eric and Lauren. I mostly only talked to Angela. Lauren was bitchy as always when Jessica wasn't there, and I had an eerie feeling Eric would take any attempt at talking as me showing an interest in him. He was exactly as slow as Mike when it came to that.
"What are you doing this afternoon?" Angela asked me when we sat at our shared desk in the classroom. She sounded as if she truly was interested in the answer, and not trying to find out if I was really doing anything, as I told Mike. As I know Angela, she likely really wanted to know. I smiled at her.
"I'm going to La Push, actually. Jake promised to show me around, along with some of his friends I met yesterday. I know that I used to hang over there quite a lot when I was little, but I can't remember much of it. I have just the foggiest notion of what's where."
"That sounds interesting," Angela nodded supportively. I nodded.
I hurried to my pick-up straight after school. I think Mike called after me when I was nearly at the door, but I couldn't hear him very well over the wind, so I decided I could act as if I didn't hear him at all. If this doesn't stop and Jessica doesn't manage to hunt him down for herself soon, I'll have to use a less tender way of telling him I want him to leave me alone.
Jake was already waiting for me when I made it to his house. I didn't even completely stop the car and he was already sitting next to me, grinning from ear to ear.
"Hey, Bella! We off?"
"Just tell me where to go," I asked him. "We're going to Sam and Emily, then?"
"Right, just follow the main road, I'll tell you where to turn. How are you?"
"Fine, curiously enough. I didn't even have any bad dreams, which I should have after that experience with Laurent. Others at school seemed to be quite happy I was mentally present once again. What about you?"
"I'm good. Except for that thing with Embry it's OK."
"Why are you so upset with him? According to what Sam told me yesterday, it can't be helped. Embry didn't choose... that imprinting."
Jacob heaved an angry sigh. "Turn right, here," he said hurriedly, then continued. "I know he can't control it. It's just not fair. Never mind the fact that imprinting should be rare. Now, three out of five are imprinted. Not my understanding of rare. Now left. Behind that small blue house."
I turned the steering wheel and turned to a narrow dirt road leading between the trees. After a while, we emerged on a small meadow with a lonely little house standing on its far end. The road ended near the tree line.
"Should I park it at the house?" I asked. Jacob nodded. I slowly lead the car to a small space about five metres from the building. "I don't see any other cars. Is anybody here yet?"
"They're here," Jacob snorted. "Sam and Emily don't have a car and guys would rather run then drive. And Kim doesn't live that far away."
"Who's Kim?" I asked and got out of the car carefully.
"Jared's imprint. They're in the same year. Bella," Jacob turned his voice down suddenly as we walked over to the house. "When you see Emily, try not to stare, okay? It makes her uncomfortable and Sam doesn't like it."
I blinked in confusion. I didn't have time to ask anything else, though, we were already climbing the front steps and the door opened. Sam stood behind them.
"Hi Bella, Jacob."
I smiled at him weakly. When I thought about it, I actually rather liked him. Yesterday I thought him some gang leader, who who knows how lured Embry in and I didn't really trust him, but it was all completely different now. Well, that was to be expected I guess. You can't exactly hate someone who saved your life. Because that's how it felt to me, when he found me that day. And even thought I didn't have any preference to living back then, it still means something. Yesterday only added to that. If they didn't appear, I'd have ended up Laurent's dinner.
"Hey, Sam," Jacob greeted and entered the house. I followed him.
Kitchen was quite full. Paul, Jared and Embry were sitting at the table and a long-haired woman was on the other side of the kitchen, tending to the oven. A second woman was standing next to her, pouring orange juice from the box into a big jar. Both were black-haired and slim.
"Hello guys, we're here," Jacob called, entering the room. Embry was already grinning widely at me.
I couldn't help smiling back at him. In that moment, he resembled a child in a candy shop.
"Hi, Embry. Hello Jared, Paul."
Both returned my greeting happily and continued to watch the woman at the oven expectantly, she was pulling two big traces of cake out now. She stopped in the middle of that task when she heard my voice, and turned to me.
"Emily! We're starving!" Paul objected when he saw that.
While she was rolling her eyes and snarking good-naturedly back at him, I noticed her face. Emily was beautiful, but one side of her face was disfigured by two long scars, shooting all the way from the hairline to her jaw. The one on the inner side was pushing one corner of her lips down in a permanent grimace. Goose-bumps ran down my spine. She must have been attacked by something. And with scars like that... those had be deep wounds. It got to hurt like hell when it happened. That's why Jacob told me not to stare. Poor Emily.
"Hello, Bella, I'm Emily. You're the vampire-girl, right?" she approached me and held out her hand. I winced a bit, but I shook her hand and offered her a small smile. I was trying to look into her eyes.
"Maybe I was once. Yesterday, one tried to eat me again, so I guess I'm not anymore. It's nice to meet you, Emily."
Emily was smiling. "That's Kim, Jared's girl," she introduced the other girl, who just threw out the box and walked over to us.
"Nice to meet you, Kim. I am Bella Swan."
Kim nodded and shook my hand, too. "Jared told me a bit about you already. Nice to meet you, too, Bella.
"Can we get our cake now, Emily?" Paul asked impatiently. Emily rolled her eyes again and walked back to the oven.
"It's hot anyway, Paul, you're wasting your excitement over nothing," she remarked. "Would you hand me those big plates from the bar, Bella? The sooner they have it in front of them, the sooner they'll be able to talk about something else than food and hunger. Our boys are always hungry like a pack of wolves."
"For whatever reason," I took the plates from the bar and joined her at the stove with them. She started cutting the first cake into equal portions. I placed the first plate next to her. I was rather glad she set me to work right away. When I had enough to do I didn't have time to get back into my shell to avoid strange people.
"Say, Bella," the boy named Paul called out to me when they had the cake sitting in front of them. "What was your deal with the leeches, anyway? You trailed after them long enough."
"Paul," Sam scolded him in annoyance and glanced at me apologetically. It didn't help much, my heart still constricted when hearing them mentioned off-handedly like that. I wrapped my arms around myself again.
"I was in relationship with Edward," I got out weakly.
"God, Jake, I thought you were joking when you said that," Paul grumbled disgustedly. I gritted my teeth. I really didn't want to talk about this.
"Paul, shut you gob if can't be more tactful. As if you weren't there and didn't see her. I'm sorry, Bella," Sam looked at me again. "Out of all of us, Paul has the biggest problems with self-control, and as we all, he hates vampires. We don't have good experiences with them. And the fact that we change because of them doesn't help."
That got my attention and I looked at him. "Because of them? How?"
Sam shrugged his shoulders. "We don't know how it works, really. That gene only activates when there are vampires close by, though. Cullen did set up a treaty with the last pack, but every time he and his clan comes here, descendants of the last pack start to transform."
"And it's insanely terrifying when you just suddenly transform into a big, furry animal, you keep hearing voices in your head and your mood's prone to change with every word said by practically anyone," Jared grumbled morosely. "Other than that it's not so bad. We're fast and strong like never before."
"It's even more terrifying, when you transform and don't hear any voices," Sam remarked darkly. He looked at me with that unreadable dark look of his, which I recognized him by. "We talk to each other telepathically when in wolf form, but I was the first to change. There was no one to tell me what's going on, I thought I've gone mad. It took me two weeks to calm down enough to change back."
I grimaced sympathetically. That had to be horrible. "I'm sorry, Sam."
"Not your fault," he shrugged and bit into another piece of cake. "You weren't the one to lead the Cullens here. And, compared to the last time, there are two more of them. That blond-haired male and the little black-haired female weren't with them the last time, according to what our chieftains told me."
"Jasper and Alice," I said automatically. "I think they only joined them seventy years ago or so. Alice was my friend. She's terribly cute," I relaxed for a while and my eyes brightened when I was reminded of the small energetic figure of my possibly best friend. Then I went out again, when I remembered how it ended. "Except, she left without saying goodbye. Everyone left without saying goodbye. Except for Edward." I made a face.
"If you call that saying goodbye," Sam's voice was carefully void of emotion and so were his eyes, when I looked at him in surprise.
"Don't forget I was the one to find you, Bella. I know very well what state that goodbye of his left you in. That's why we stayed behind until the doctor checked you, when we got you to your house. I wasn't sure if he didn't hurt you in other way than emotionally."
I shivered and bit my lip. I stared at the ground again. Emily stood up from the table, walked over to me and hugged me around my shoulders.
"You're gonna be all right, Bella. You'll see."
I smiled at her unevenly.
"And we'll take care of that Victoria," Jacob confirmed darkly. Others made agreeable noise.
"I had hoped it was over for me for good, when I woke up in the hospital and they told me James was dead. I could have known I wouldn't be that lucky."
"Why were you in a hospital? Billy said something about a hotel and a window, but he seemed to find it suspicious. Maybe he knew something about those strange vampires," Jacob said. Paul laughed contemptuously.
"Of course he knew. Sam warned the chieftains right after we smelled them in the area."
"I was alone with James for a while, before the others came," I mumbled.
"You were what?" Jacob exclaimed in outrage, while others also showed their disagreement loudly.
"Embry!" Sam's voice rang through the general noise like a gunshot, similarly as it was yesterday at the meadow, and I turned sharply to look at the long-haired boy. He trembled in the chair, and the hand rest that he was gripping in his hand was creeling ominously.
"Embry," I said his name quietly. "I'm okay."
He looked at me in absolute outrage.
"What were the Cullens thinking, leaving you alone when they knew a vampire was after you?" he hissed through clenched teeth.
"They didn't leave me. I ran away and went to him on my own."
Embry stared at me, looking shocked and terrified.
"I thought he had my mum. He said that if I came alone, without the others, nothing would happen to her. I had to go."
"Bella, what exactly happened?" Sam said slowly, and he stared at me intensely. "I think you should tell us everything, from the moment you met that vampire."
I sighed in resignation. I knew someone would ask me about it. At least talking about that was a little easier than talking about my relationship with Edward. But - I almost lost the problems I had when I had to say their names. It just continued twinging in my chest when I heard someone else say them.
"Once in the evening, I was on the meadow with them when they played baseball," I started unwillingly. "They used to play during storms, when there was thunder, because when they beat the ball away or they crashed into each other, it made a terrible noise. Then at one time, they suddenly stopped playing. Those three nomads heard them play and they wanted to join in. It was a last-minute decision and Alice couldn't see it before then. There wasn't time to get me away, they were too close. Edward... told me to let my hair loose and they lead me slightly to the side, and further from the others. But it wasn't enough. They came and talked to the Cullens for a bit, Carlisle asked them to refrain from hunting in this area because it could cause problems for them. Sometime then the wind turned and they smelled me. James was their leader, even thought back then Laurent presented himself as the leader, and the reacted immediately. He was a tracker, Laurent later said he was lethal and that when he set off once, there was no stopping him. I think he used his talent as a hobby, if he ever smelt an interesting scent, he went after it until he caught up to the originator and killed him. At first he thought me a desert, which the Cullens brought with them, but when he crouched for a leap, Edward jumped in front of me and defended me. That was a mistake," I shivered again. "It only excited James more, suddenly it was a perfect game. Edward can read thoughts, it's his talent, and he knew right away we had a problem. The nomads pretended they were leaving the area, but Edward knew the truth, and Jasper and Alice probably knew, too. They met in their house and planned their next course of action. Then Laurent came, he wanted to separate from James and came to give us some information. Carlisle sent him to another vegetarian clan in Denali because he showed interest in their way of life. In the end, Carlisle and the others decided to create three groups to confuse James. Esme in my coat ran in one group, and Edward was in another, they were trying to lure him to follow them while Alice and Jasper took me to Phoenix. I had to tell Charlie I was leaving and a lot of other bad things, just so he would let me go and I stated I would go to Phoenix, because James was close by and he heard. I knew if he heard it, he would know it was a trick and would never think we'd really go there. I stayed with Alice and Jasper at a hotel for a few days, but somehow he found out I was in none of those two groups in Forks. He came to Phoenix. Alice saw he was coming, and I quickly called my mother's home, where we lived before I left to live here, because mum left me a message they may return to Phoenix if Phil didn't find a job soon. I left a message on the phone machine at home, if mum came there, she was to call me back immediately. I didn't want to have her fall into James' hands. But then James found our house and the old tapes mum recorded when I was young. He found my message, too, but he didn't know where I called from, so it didn't help him much, but then Edward and the others got on a flight to Phoenix and Victoria, James' mate, told him. Then he knew I was there, too, and he made a plan. He called back my number and when Alice picked it up, he played a bit from the tape, where mum was calling my name. Alice gave me the phone and James explained to me that he had my mum and if I wanted to keep her safe and unharmed, I was to shake off Alice and Jasper and come to our family house. I didn't have a choice. I didn't know it was a ruse. Edward was supposed to arrive soon, so on the airport I said I needed to use a toilet when the plane was landing, and ran. It was a miracle that I slipped by both Alice and her talent, and Jasper looked a bit suspicious from time to time, too, but I managed. At my house I found a paper with a number on it and I called it, James told me to go to the ballet studio where I used to come as a child. Alice had had a vision about that place before, maybe it helped them a bit when they found out I ran away. They hurried after me, but I was too far ahead for them to get to me before I got there. When I got to the studio..."
Suddenly I stopped talking and glanced at Embry hesitatingly. I didn't know how he would react to what James did to me, but I knew it'd be nothing good. He already growled several times throughout my account of those few days. I slowly moved to stand behind his chair and moved my hand to rest on his shoulder before I continued.
"In the studio James played me the video he used to lure me there. Then he apologized to me that he lied to me, and informed me he didn't actually have my mum. That was possibly the only good news I got there. Apparently though, he felt it was too easy, luring me to him, and he hoped Edward would present him with a better game. He had a camera and planned to record a video for the Cullens and Edward - of how he's playing with me before he eats me."
Embry growled and shook strongly, so I gripped his shoulder a bit tighter. I waited until the tremors passed, before I continued. "He hoped it would enrage Edward so much he'd go after him, but I wrote him a letter before and pleaded with him not to do it if I didn't come out of it alive. Well, I didn't really want to co-operate with James in the making of that tape of his, but he didn't really require it. I guess I was a bit lucky that he didn't manage to hurt me that much - he didn't count the blood in when making that plan of his. He basically only managed to break my leg, then he pushed me too hard and I broke my head on a mirror. I started to bleed and the smell of open blood made him thirsty. He bit me, but before he could kill me by feeding on me, others came. When they found out there was venom in me, Edward tried to suck it out. Others, those that weren't taking care of James, tore him from me when they no longer smelled the venom in my blood. Then they finished with James, destroyed the supernatural proofs in the studio, and they got me to a hospital. Victoria disappeared."
Embry's shoulder was trembling under my hand. I awkwardly patted it.
"I'm all right, all that I have left of that is a cold scar. James' dead," I added, mainly for his sake.
"And now Victoria decided she wanted revenge," Sam concluded darkly.
"So it seems."
"We heard they tend to really flip when their mates are killed," Paul remarked cheerfully. "This may turn out to be a great fun yet."
Emily and Kim both hissed at him.
"I'd be happier if there was no fun to be had, thanks Paul."
"It might take her a bit to get here herself when Laurent'll fail to report," I said with shaky voice and wrapped my arms around myself again. "I don't want her to hurt any of you."
"More than one leech's needed for that," Paul snubbed confidently.
I glanced at him nervously, but said nothing. Paul seemed to be sure about their superiority, but something unforeseen could still happen. And it nearly always did, things seldom happened exactly as planned. I had a bad feeling about this. I didn't want Victoria to hurt any of them. And Jacob was one of them now. When I imagined Victoria could hurt him, or even kill him, I felt sick.
AN: OK, so obviously I decided to continue this fic and see where it goes. Much of it may have to do with the substantial support the original one-shot attracted - a big thank you to you guys, the notifications of favs, alerts and review submissions were the highlights of my days! Sorry it took so long for the second chapter to make it out, I don't really have that much time on my hands and I have to say this chapter was fighting me teeth and nails when it came to the direction I wanted it to take. Add that to the fact that I still don't exactly know where to take it (it was supposed to be a one-chapter thing) and you get yourself a writing nightmare :)
Anyways, it's here now and I think I finally have a bit clearer image about this fic in my head, so I call it a success on my part :j Enjoy, leave feedback if you feel up to it, and I'll try to be a bit faster with the third chapter...