Happy 12th December everyone. I hope you all like this story, the second of my Quartet of Pain, although apparently yesterday's advent story wasn't painful enough to deserve that title. I hope it's enjoyable anyway if nothing else.
Today, I have a surprise for you all in that my massive thanks and hugs and gratitude are going to the lovely goldengirl2707 who very kindly betad this for me. And as always, I don't own anything to do with Twilight.
'...like your father... Oh, wait, you don't have one of those either, do you?'
I couldn't escape the voice taunting me in my head.
Normally, I didn't mind patrolling. Everyone complained, but we were all in it together, so most of the time, we just got on with it and tried to enjoy each other's company.
All of us, except one.
Unfortunately, Leah liked to not only complain, but to make life hell for whoever was making the rounds with her as well. Sometimes, I wondered if she was this mean to Seth too, but then he was her precious baby brother. I doubted anyone could be intentionally mean to Seth.
She could be cruel to everyone else, and for some reason, I always seemed to bear the brunt of her anger. I guessed compared to everyone else I was the easy target. Her aggression towards me was beginning to wear thin. Sure, I was one of the more passive wolves, less quick to anger that Paul, or even Jake, but even I had my limits.
That sharp voice continued.
'Why do you think they never stepped up, huh? Why do you think they never admitted what they had done?' Her laugh was mocking in tone. 'I guess if you share the same daddy as Sam, you would be just as much of a bastard as he is.'
Embry continued to run his designated route, trying to block her out and focus solely on the well-run path in front of him.
Just keep going, just keep going, just keep going.
'Maybe they're ashamed of you,' she kept going. 'You're their dirty little secret to be swept aside so their wives don't know what they did.'
Leaf, root, rock, branch, left, forward, jump, right, duck.
Another grating laugh rattled through my head.
'Or maybe your daddy didn't know if you were really his. Maybe he thought if your mom would spread her legs for him, then she'd do it for any guy who came along..."
Something in me snapped.
I changed direction, speeding towards the east side of the reservation where I knew Leah was patrolling.
I could take her making jibes at me – she did it to everyone and it was something we just all put up with. In a way, we all felt sorry for her, sorry for the position she'd been put in having to follow her ex-fiancé and hear his obsessive thought about his new love. But for her to start on my mom like that...
It made my blood boil.
For her it was just words, chosen for maximum impact, spat out with little thought of what they really meant.
For me... It was my life.
I had spent my childhood watching my mom struggle, trying her best to support the both of us while working maximum hours for minimum pay. We managed, but nothing more. Throughout it all, we'd only ever had each other and that was all we needed. We didn't need some mythical, absent father figure to swoop in and save us. We didn't really need the whole mess of me phasing or the secrecy involved. But most of all, we didn't need some spoilt little brat who'd never gone without in her life before passing judgement on us like it was her right.
Leah was still ranting in my head.
'...wouldn't it just be a kick in the teeth if it was one of the elders...'
She was so busy being a bitch that she never saw me coming.
I barrelled into her with a snarl, sending her flying off the trail into the undergrowth. She whimpered as she tumbled over, before a tree halted her in her path.
I leapt towards her, trying to attack again before she could recover, but with a quick shake of her head, she met my lunge.
The voice in my head wasn't mocking anymore, it was panicked. 'Embry! What the hell...?'
I went for her throat, but she dodged me, and my teeth sank into her flank. With a kick and a twist, she managed to evade my mouth's grasp and backed away.
She had never realised though.
She knew that Sam had coddled her, kept her wrapped up in cotton wool, far away from any vampire activity. I didn't think she knew that the rest of us did the same. At first it was because we were following our Alpha's example, but later on, when it had sunk in that one of our fellow pack mates was female, we then took it easy on her because she was a girl.
When we trained, we would all fight, but none of us had ever pushed the advantage we naturally had over her. It had made her cocky. Leah was used to bragging about how she was the fastest in the pack, how she could run circles around her and no-one could catch her. What she had failed to recognise was that speed was only an advantage if you were looking to chase down your opponent.
When it came to a fight, brute force was much more important that speed, and every single male wolf in the pack, including me, was physically stronger than Leah.
I reared up, my front paws coming off the ground and ramming into her shoulders. On my way down, one of my claws raked down her ear and neck. She made a yowling sound and tried to retaliate, but I managed to twist my body around, evading her teeth and kicking out with my back legs.
'Embry! Embry stop!'
There was screaming in my ears that I could hear, but not comprehend.
Leah managed to avoid my next attack, but as she turned, her back paw got caught in a rabbit hole.
She went down hard on her haunches, her throat exposed.
A warm body slammed into me from the side, and I felt a couple of my ribs crack under the pressure.
I spun to face this new opponent, only to come eye to eye with my best friend. Just behind him, Sam and Paul paced back a forth, another barrier between Leah and I.
'Embry!' Jake's voice finally penetrated my haze of anger. 'What the fuck are you doing?'
Leah, limping, had finally made it back to her feet and I snarled at her, uncaring that my chances of getting past my pack mates were now nil.
That was an order I had to obey, and still growling softly, I lay down in submission, still ready to leap up and attack at any minute.
'What happened?' Sam asked. His voice curled the question so that it was a demand.
It all flooded out.
All of my memories of the taunting and cruelty I'd had to put up with over the last month. All of the jibes, the snide comments, and the constant mentions of my fatherless state. With it all, came my memories of Leah's insults tonight, including her insults towards my mother.
I couldn't have stopped them all hearing it, even if I'd wanted to.
I'd finally had enough. Now Sam needed to finally act like that Alpha he was and put an end to it all. Someone needed to stop Leah before she pushed us all to our limit and if he wasn't willing to do it then I couldn't promise that I wouldn't attack her again.
She needed to learn.
The three other males all reacted to the images that streamed through our collective mind and Leah whimpered again.
'Damn girl! Don't blame the boy for going for your throat.'
'Paul!' Sam warned.
'No,' Jake intervened. 'You saw what Embry's put up with Sam. No-one should have to just deal with that.'
The red wolf stepped to one side and stared at the smaller grey wolf.
'Sort it out. This ends now or someone's going to get hurt.'
The other wolves starting arguing among themselves about what to do next. Leah remained strangely quiet for once. I glared at her, my top lip rising, as she tried to lick her wounds clean. A part of me was incredibly satisfied that although I hadn't managed to get her throat, I had at least drawn blood.
As the arguments rose around me, I drew my anger in around myself and phased back to human.
My quick change startled the other wolves, but I ignored them as I pulled my cut-off up my legs and over my hips.
Barking quickly, Sam phased back too.
Giving him a hard glare, I stalked away from the whole sorry scene.
Sam stumbled after me, trying to get dressed at the same time.
"Embry," he called. "Embry, wait up."
He grabbed my upper arm and I spun around with a snarl. "What?"
He hesitated. I was usually one of the calmest members of the pack, one of the easiest for him to deal with. I wasn't about to make it easy for him now.
My upper lip curled back. "You saw what happened."
He drew his arm back from my arm slowly. "She didn't mean it, Embry."
It was the last straw.
"Well, if she doesn't mean it, then she needs to stop fucking saying it. I'm not unreasonable, Sam. I've put up with a lot of shit from her. But I will not just sit there and let her say those things about me or my mother anymore."
He clenched his jaw, but didn't say anything.
I forced myself to be calm, forced myself to lower my voice. "I'm not patrolling with her anymore, Sam. I don't care who you swap me with or which shift, but you stick me with her again and the next time she runs her mouth I'm going to kill her."
Sam ran his eyes over my expression and then, with a sigh, nodded.
"I'll sort it out," he said.
The tension in my shoulders leeched out at his promised.
"Hell," he laughed. "Maybe I'll stick her and Paul together. At least they're as bad as each other."
I nodded, but wasn't really in the mood for joking.
Sensing that, Sam's smile faded and he lifted his chin sharply.
"Go home, Embry. Take the next couple of days off. Get your head back in the game. I'll send Jake or Quil over when we need you again."
I didn't bother saying anything else. There was nothing else I could say. The marks I had left on Leah expressed my anger and frustration perfectly; words couldn't express anything that they didn't.
I was grateful for the temporary reprieve from patrolling though. I could go home, put on some clean clothes, maybe go to school. I could spend some time with my mother – valuable time when I didn't have to run off unexpectedly or make excuses about why I really needed to leave the house in the middle of the night.
I was nearly at the edge of the forest behind our home when I heard footsteps running after me. I ignored them. I didn't want to talk to whoever it was right now.
Fucking hell! What now? Why couldn't she just leave me alone?
Leah was close enough now that I could feel the heat emanating from her.
"Go away," I said quietly, seriously. I kept on walking.
I was almost to the back door, when her hand came down on my shoulder. My body reacted automatically, grabbing her hand and twisting her around so that she was slammed face-first into the back wall.
"I told you to go away," I hissed.
She wriggled in my grip for a moment before giving up. I could have already told her that she wasn't going anywhere until I said so.
"So for once in your fucking life, listen to what someone else wants and get lost."
Releasing her, I shoved her back across the yard towards the trees.
I had my hand on the door handle when she spoke again.
"I'm sorry, Embry."
I turned to stare at her incredulously. Really? After everything she was really going to try this? Like I would just accept her apology and everything would be swept under the rug and ignored once more?
She limped forward. Her ankle was clearly still hurting, but the bite I had taken from her looked like it had healed over quickly. To my gratification, there was still a raised, red mark trailing down the edge of her ear and across her neck.
Shaking my head, I gave her a scornful look.
"Don't come around here again, Leah. I won't be patrolling with you again and I don't want you near my mother's house."
A flash of what looked like hurt crossed her face for a second, but I easily dismissed it.
I had been sympathetic towards Leah in the past; I had tried to accept that she was having a hard time... I wasn't playing by her rules anymore.
Despite my dismissal, she tried again.
"I really am sorry, Embry. I didn't mean what I said about your mom, or about your father. I just...lashed out."
She sounded sincere and maybe one day when I was feeling less raw, I would be inclined to forgive her. But not today.
I met her eyes, wanting her to see the pain she had caused, wanting her to know I was deadly serious.
"I don't care if you don't mean it. You thought it and you said it and that's bad enough. God, the crap I've taken from you... Do you know all the things I could've said about you...?"
I forced myself to stop, forced myself not to say it.
Leah already tormented herself over the nature of her father's death, bringing it up would be unnecessarily cruel. She may have not cared about my feelings, but I would never want anyone else to feel the way I did right now, not at my hands.
"Go home, Leah," I finally bit out. It was the safest thing to say.
I looked away so I wouldn't see her pained retreat.
A part of me wanted to run after her, to reassure her that I'd forgiven her, but I'd been nice for far too long. It was sad, but I just didn't have it in me.
Shuffling into the house, I heard a clatter come from the kitchen.
"Embry, is that you?"
I smiled at the sound of that warm, familiar voice.
"Yeah, Mom, it's me."
My mom bustled out of the kitchen and caught sight of me. "Look at you, you're a mess, boy. You look like you've been rolling around in the mud or something."
Her voice trailed off when she looked more closely at my face. I dreaded to think what she saw there. I just felt completely numb.
"Come here." Her voice was softer now. She beckoned to me.
Hunching my shoulders, I moved forward and let her envelope me in a hug. She folded her arms over my shoulders and one hand stroked my head. It reminded me so much of when I was little and the kids at school had teased me about not having a dad. It was amazing to realise how little had changed.
One thing had stayed the same though; it was still Mom and me against the world.
Only this time, she wasn't the only one fighting for us.