she and her furry friends took down the queen bee and her men
Of Monsters And Men, "Dirty Paws"
Bella gapes like a fish out of water at the three of them standing on her front doorstep. Her wide eyes pass back and forth over the boys, roving from their heads to their toes – to their hair, their ripped chests, their brazen smiles – and then to Leah, who stands in between them and stares back at Bella with a level of disdain she usually only reserves for Sam and Emily.
"Is that Leah, Bells?" Charlie shouts from somewhere inside.
Her hand tight on the door, Bella jumps and only just manages to tear her eyes away from Leah's at the sound of her father's voice. Leah snorts – I win – and receives a hard nudge from Embry for her efforts.
Embry gives her a Look when she stares incredulously back up at him. A Look which only makes Leah wants to roll her eyes and snort again. Honestly, as if Embry is telling her to behave!
"Uh – yeah," Bella calls back.
"Well, let her in then!"
Bella nervously steps to the side, pulling the door wide open along with her. It doesn't help, much; Leah imagines that the boys will still have to duck as they enter, the way she's noticed Jake has to duck wherever he's walking. It's a wonder the boys' balance is in tact with how much they've shot up.
"How goes it, Bella?" Embry chirps as he takes the lead and steps past her. "Heard you went away. Get a tan?"
For the first time since he stepped out in front of the Rabbit, Leah finds herself inherently grateful for how annoyingly juvenile the kid has proved he can be — because the way that Bella flushes is absolutely sublime. Truly. And Leah really hopes the girl turned that colour when they spoke on the phone, because it'd make her feel a thousand times more triumphant than she already does.
"Where is Jacob?" Bella asks instead of rising to Embry's jibes. The words sound more like a demand. "That's his car. Why are you driving it?"
"He gave it to Leah," Quil casually answers for them all, and Bella's eyebrows sky-rocket as he, too, steps past her.
But she's not staring at Quil. "He gave it to you?" she blurts, her wide brown eyes on Leah once again.
"Yes," Leah answers tartly, not caring to clarify that it was only intended to be a short-term thing. Let the girl think what she wants, assume what she wants. Maybe it'll even get her off Jacob's back if she's that upset about it – who knows.
You've made your choice, she wants to tell Bella Swan, so why are you still so hung up on him?
Or more to the point, Leah then asks herself, why do you care so much, Clearwater?
It seems she's not done such a good job of convincing herself that Jacob is just her friend as much as she thought she had. But she does have some self-awareness, at least. Enough to know that people find her unkind at times, if not downright rude. So she smirks unkindly at Bella, triumphant, and follows Embry and Quil into the house.
(Harry had always said that such behaviour was unbecoming, but, well, Harry didn't exactly approve of Bella's life decisions either. So maybe he would have turned a blind eye to his only daughter's . . . impudence. Just this once.)
Bella still looks uncomfortable when her father rounds the corner from the living room, and when Charlie's eyes fall on Leah they seem to light up with a large smile. She finds herself smiling back with genuine feeling.
"Hey, kiddo, it is you! You made good time. I hope you weren't speeding otherwise I'll have to . . ." He trails off, only then taking in the two extremely large boys who have positioned themselves behind her. His face instantly falls.
" . . . You two," he says flatly. Embry and Quil have had that much of a growth spurt that Forks' Police Chief has to pull his head back to look up at them. "You're friends with that Sam Uley boy."
Leah remembers that Charlie wants to throw these boys behind bars for what his daughter has told him. It forces her to find her best smile for her dad's old friend in an attempt to change his mind, because really — they're annoying as hell, but Leah's actually really starting to like these kids. Over the years, it has always been easy to be mean to them, but it's also becoming just as easy to be nice.
"Charlie. You know Quil Ateara," she says, gesturing behind her. The boys look as if they are ready to flee; they can all see Charlie's gun hung up on the hook, not too far out of reach. "And Embry. Jacob's friends."
Charlie isn't appeased. "And your friends?"
"And Seth's," she says pointedly.
"Mr. Swan." Quil extends a hand. "Nice to see you again, sir."
A polite man, Charlie shakes Quil's hand — though he looks reluctant to do so, and Leah wishes that she could throttle Bella for whatever she has told her father. If Charlie starts treating Seth differently . . .
"They were out running when I passed them," Leah explains as Charlie begins shaking hands with Embry. She readjusts her features into nonchalance and tries to ignore Bella entirely. "They asked if they could tag along so they could catch up with Bella. I hope you don't mind."
Charlie, busy scrutinising Quil — who obviously looks like a completely different person to when they saw each other last, at the funeral — frowns. "I didn't realise you were all so close," he remarks carefully.
"They're Jake's friends, Dad," Bella says with the barest hint of frustration. But it's clearly not her dad who she's frustrated with — at least, to everyone except Charlie, that is. "I told you — it was just a misunderstanding."
"Hmph." Dissatisfied, Charlie looks away from his daughter and attempts to give Embry and Quil his best show of authority. "I'm afraid that Bella's grounded — for the rest of her life," he tacks on in a mutter, eyes glancing dangerously to his daughter. "You're all welcome, of course, but she won't be able to socialise for long."
"That's okay, Mr. Swan," Embry says. "We just wanted to make sure Leah was alright, in all honesty. We can wait outside and see Bella another time."
"Well, that's —" Charlie nods once, his expression softening just a little, and Leah knows that they have won. "That's really nice of you boys. I'm sure Sue appreciates that."
"It's no trouble, sir," Quil assures him earnestly.
Embry salutes Bella with a lazy flick of his fingers. "See ya, Bella. Bye, Mr. Swan. Thanks."
"Yeah, thanks, Mr. Swan. See you around, Bella."
"Bye," the girl mutters.
Embry and Quil brush Leah's shoulders reassuringly as they turn back the way they came. She swears that Embry even gives her another Look, warning her to keep her attitude in check. "We'll be by the car. Take your time."
Leah nods, watching them go, but she still can't help notice that Bella is staring at the Rabbit again when Charlie shuts the door behind them.
"Those boys," Charlie says five minutes later, jerking his head towards the kitchen window through which Embry and Quil can be seen loitering on the end of the driveway. Bella has scurried upstairs and is probably watching them from her own window, too. "One of them your boyfriend?"
Leah's eyes widen, and then she laughs. Loudly. "Really? Them? No. They're just . . . friends. Sort of."
Ever the cop, Charlie questions, "What do you mean, sort of . . . ?"
"I've only just started hanging out with them, really. They're nice kids."
"Kids. Right." Sceptical, Charlie opens the freezer. "I thought they were Sam Uley's friends."
"Oh." Scepticism turns to confusion. He presses further on. "But you and Sam, you're not—"
"God, no. It's a whole separate thing."
(Separate in that Leah still very much wants to murder her ex-boyfriend but will let Embry and Quil live — that is, if they stop keeping their secrets and tell her where the hell they have been all week. Where Jacob has been.)
"Right," Charlie says again. Then he shakes his head. "Sorry, kiddo, I guess I'm getting a little bit — well, you know, with your Dad gone now, I feel like I should . . ." Charlie has never been a man of too many words, never one for emotion or speeches or affection. He shakes his head. "As long as you're okay, I guess, that's all that matters."
Leah shrugs noncommittally as Charlie wraps up the fish and begins rooting around for an old grocery bag.
"And your mom?" he asks. "Seth? Are they . . . okay?"
"Mom hasn't . . ." Leah struggles to find the right words. She knows Charlie better, perhaps, than even her blood-uncles, better than the two boys who are dutifully waiting for her outside. Charlie is a practical man, not an emotional one. "She hasn't been great, but she's getting better. Thanks so much for doing this again — it's the first thing she's shown any interest in since . . . well, you know."
Charlie hands over the bag with a look of shame. "I am sorry that I haven't been to see you all. What with Bella and all, I've not been the greatest friend to your family."
"S'ok. Once she gets this —" Leah says, holding up the paper bag and trying not to think too much about what is exactly inside (she may have been her father's replacement fishing buddy during those summer weeks Charlie spent with Bella in California, but she didn't exactly enjoy it — especially not the part which came after) "— then I'm sure she'll want you to be the first to taste whether she got the recipe right or not."
Charlie nods, still looking apologetic. "I hope so. I'll visit soon, I promise."
"Must have been bad," Leah hedges shamelessly, her chin lifting slightly to the ceiling. She wonders if Bella is trying to listen in on the conversation, or if she's just too busy staring at Embry, Quil and the Rabbit from her bedroom window.
"You've no idea," Charlie sighs. "She skips two states — she went all the way to L.A. I kid you not, just to chase after a boy who left her without a care in the world!" His cheeks turn a little red in clear anger. "But of course I didn't know that until she came home two days later with that same boy in tow, all because of a misunderstanding or something. I don't know. It doesn't sit right with me."
Leah has a feeling that Charlie hasn't had a chance to vent to anybody else about this yet. She wonders how mad he'd really be if he knew the truth. How can he not know the truth? Or rather, how can Bella lie to him like it? Leah doesn't know much about vampires (and, she thinks, she doesn't really have the inclination to learn — not after what they have done to the boys, and her ancestors before that), but she's not all too sure she'd be able to let her boyfriend around her parents if she knew what he really was.
"Is that you talking as Chief, or her dad?" Leah asks.
". . . Both," Charlie decides. "He left her dangling without a word for all those months. I mean, you saw it at Christmas, and you can bet that I told that sister of his as much before she took off with Bella — it was like the night of the living dead around here," he continues, though it sounds like he's ranting to himself now, more than anything. "And the nightmares! . . . No. I don't trust it. I don't trust him."
"Wow, Chief," Leah butts in before the man can explode. He's positively purple. "Come to the Rez for a bit. Seriously. You need to get out more."
The colour from Charlie's face slowly starts to fade, and he smiles a little ruefully. "Sorry, kiddo. I bet you didn't give your old man this much trouble, huh?"
Leah smiles back, if only because it's nice to hear someone talk about Harry without apologising for it afterwards. Her father died nine days ago and it's already starting to feel as if he never existed, as if people are frightened to acknowledge that he ever did.
"I wouldn't be so sure. I nearly set the house on fire burning old things of Sam's once, photographs and stuff, you know. I'd never seen Dad so mad. Except for when I told him that I wasn't going to college anymore, maybe."
Charlie chuckles. "I remember him telling me about that."
They share another smile. And though Leah's chest feels a little tight, at least she's not on the verge of tears. It means she's able to turn away without feeling awkward, and wave her free hand in the general direction of Quil and Embry. "I better go before the children get into any trouble."
"Children," Charlie scoffs, but he follows her out of the kitchen anyway.
They find Bella sitting at the bottom of the stairs. "Are you going?" she asks, and Leah nods warily, wondering how long the girl has been there for. Not that she particularly cares. In fact, she hopes Bella heard what her father has had to say about her. "Okay. I'm just going to wave them off, Dad."
Charlie sighs. "Edward's on his way, isn't he?"
"Probably. It's nearly time."
Leah blinks innocently. She can play dumb, if she wants to; Charlie didn't specify that they were back together. Probably because he doesn't want to acknowledge it even if they are. "Oh. Is he back in town for good, then?"
"He is." Bella raises her chin with what's probably meant to be pride — or defensiveness, perhaps — but it has the opposite effect: Leah has to press her mouth in a tight line just so that she doesn't laugh.
"That's nice," she says, her words polite enough that she couldn't possibly be accused of being rude.
"Yes," Charlie says with no small amount of displeasure about the fact that the Cullens have returned. "But you're still grounded, Bells — just because I let him into this house —"
"Dad," Bella moans. She pointedly looks at Leah. "Not now, okay?"
Charlie harrumphs loudly, but Leah just smiles sweetly. "Thanks again for the fish, Charlie. As soon as Mom gets the recipe down I'll send some right over."
"You do that, honey." He pats her back a little awkwardly. "You're welcome anytime. I'll be up to see Sue as soon as I can, okay?"
"Sure, sure. See you. Thanks."
Bella scowls. "I'll walk you out."
They walk in silence out of the house and onto the weather-worn porch; Bella is already focused on the red car, on Embry and Quil, and her scowl deepens impossibly further.
"I'm just borrowing it," Leah tells the girl, putting her out of her misery.
"I wasn't—" Bella starts, but she is cut off by the sound of an engine's deep, resonating growl as a silver car peels around the curve in the road at speed. Its engine is barely turned off before the door is opened, and out of it jumps —
Leah has never seen one of the Cullens before. She can see the appeal, she guesses — Edward's messy hair, his pale skin, his perfectly aligned features, those dark purple shadows around his eyes which compliments the edgy, 'emo' sort of look, but she knows who he really is. What he really is.
Edward's eyes snap to her as he passes, but he doesn't stop. He just carries on, walking faster than is probably normal. But, then, it's not really like anyone is watching. Not anyone who would think it was weird, anyway. Charlie has probably stomped his way back to the television.
Edwards bears down on Bella, hands running lightly over her hair, her shoulders, her arms. "You're okay," he murmurs, as if reassuring himself. "Alice, she couldn't see you . . ."
Leah can't hear the rest. She carries on walking down the driveway, towards Embry and Quil who have become living statues as they both lean against the rear of the Rabbit and watch the scene before them with narrowed eyes. Only Quil blindly extends a hand towards her, beckoning her further towards them both. Hurry up, he seems to be saying, although his eyes do not stop tracking every movement of his enemy's.
"Let's go," Leah mutters, opening the front door. She puts the bag of Charlie's fish down in between the handbrake and the gear stick for the minute, hoping it will stay steady enough until she can either pass it off to one of the boys to hold onto while—
Embry breaks the chilling silence with a derisive scoff. "I thought he'd be bigger, honestly."
Quil hums his agreement. "Bit flash, isn't he? Shame he spent all that money on that silver piece of shit. Bet he could afford an Aston Martin or —"
"All that fuss," Embry carries on musing over the sound of his friend. "If Jake hadn't — hadn't you know what, then I reckon he could have taken him. Easily."
"Reckon he still could. We still could."
There is a pause, and then Embry says, "You're right."
In an all too-decisive move, he pushes himself off the Rabbit just as Leah spins round. No! "Embry," she hisses, "don't you dare!"
Embry just grins. He is suddenly all the more confident in his new body; he squares his shoulders and straightens his back, the picture of someone ready to meet his fate — and Quil, following his friend's lead, snaps to attention and steps forward with him at exactly the same time. Leah thinks that this is probably more wolf stuff, working in tandem like this. Everything she's learned so far about what they can do, their abilities, it all falls into place seeing them like this. They're in sync with barely a thought to it, without even needing to communicate with one other.
"Leah," Embry says over his shoulder. "Go and start the car."
She runs after him, pushing her way between his and Quil's hulking frames, ready to pull them back if she must. "You can't —" she begins to protest, but Embry's arm snaps out to stop her.
No, not to stop her, she realises. To hold her back.
"Edward," Bella is saying as she, too, hurriedly rushes to put herself in between a vampire and two wolves, "you don't need to do this now."
"I'll just be a moment, love," he replies and, as they stare at each other with an intensity to burn the trees behind them, a small noise comes from the back of Leah's throat which might very well be a gag. It has Edward looking over at her with no small amount of disapproval. Or maybe it's disgust. She's not sure, but the result is Quil's hand tightening over her shoulder in response.
Edward closes his eyes for a moment, and takes a deep, deep breath. When he opens them again, he looks like a different person entirely. Almost as if he's . . . nice, and kind.
Leah knows better.
He takes the last few steps forwards and greets them. "Gentlemen," he says, nodding to Quil and Embry. Then he looks down at Leah — honestly, he looks down at her, like she is a speck of dirt on his shoe — and adds, "You must be Leah Clearwater."
It is very easy for Leah to firm her chin and stare back with similar hatred. "What of it?"
"You upset Bella this morning."
"And she's upset my family," Leah fires back. This is the creature which has changed her brother's life. Jacob's life. Her life. If this . . . thing hadn't moved into town, then she would still be with Sam. Fuck, she wishes with her whole being that she could split her skin like they call can. She wishes that she was taller and stronger, that she could fight this with them.
It's not a fight she would lose.
"I am not keeping a scorecard, Leah Clearwater." And when Quil and Embry bare their teeth at him, he says, "Perhaps I should start."
When he doesn't receive answer that is not a snarl, Edward pulls himself to his full height — as if it will really make a difference, standing before Embry and Quil who are almost a whole foot taller than he is. Leah feels a laugh bubble in her chest.
"Who of you is authorised to speak for your pack?"
Embry and Quil look at each other over the top of Leah's head, the look on their faces rivalled in fury, and she stares at Embry until his eyes eventually flicker downwards and meet hers.
"Depends what you want, leech," Quil is the one to say.
Edward's face tightening in response is the only indication that the word might have stung. "I would like to speak with Jacob Black, if you are amenable."
"Not happening," Leah growls. She has no idea where this comes from, this fierce protectiveness she suddenly has for Jake — she felt it when Quil phased for the first time and she has tried so hard to not think about it since. She's been trying to not think about a lot of things, where he is concerned.
"Where is Jacob?" Bella asks for the second time that hour. "I mean. Where is he really?"
It is only the fear of having to take either Embry or Quil home with one of their limbs missing which stops Leah from telling Bella what she really thinks. See here, you selfish bitch, she'd probably start, you and I are going to —
Things still go to shit, very, very quickly. Before Leah has blinked again she sees Edward has taken a step forward without her really seeing it, which is the strangest thing. His body has dipped into a slight crouch, and the low snarl which rips out from behind his bared teeth makes the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
Embry and Quil react in kind: they push Leah back until she is blocked by both of their hulking frames, their skin radiating warmth which is almost suffocating, and she is reminded of the moments before Quil phased in the middle of his backyard.
Well, at least she's not on the floor this time.
"Back off, bloodsucker."
"Walk away, parasite."
"Do not," Leah can hear said bloodsucking parasite spitting through his teeth over them all, "think of Bella in that manner."
Embry looks at Quil, and then down at Leah. "What are you talking . . . Oh, for . . ." He shudders, head snapping back to Edward. "You're the mind-reader. Fuck. Jake said something about that."
"Doesn't mean he has to listen in, does it," Quil says, voice low and dangerous.
"It's not as if I can help it," Edward snaps back. "And, it seems, neither can you. Your . . . hive mind sounds very interesting, I have to admit." He pauses, during which Leah tries to push her way back into the middle of Quil and Embry. Their bodies are tense, and Quil — poor Quil is trembling, obviously trying extremely hard to contain himself, and it is a stark reminder of how new to this life he is.
"Stay out of our —"
"What is an imprint?" Edward asks then, head tilting curiously.
"That's none of your goddamn business, you self-righteous—" Embry starts with a terrifying growl, at exactly the same time Bella pipes, "A what?"
"Really?" Edward sounds genuinely intrigued, sounding as if he has ignored them both and is carrying on another conversation, and Leah realises that he has plucked something from one of the boys' heads which they have probably inadvertently thought of. She can't blame them, really. Not when her own thoughts are what has put them in this situation.
Quil's lack of control allows Leah to work her way through the tiniest of gaps between him and Embry, and she shoots the most foul look at the vampire. The bloodsucker. Leech. Parasite. "If that's true and you're just going to pick your way through their brains then —"
"I've already explained that I can't help it," Edward shoots back in that disgustingly rich voice. He shakes his head, and then rights himself again. He looks directly at Embry, who Leah supposes is the one with most authority out of the wolves present. "When your pack has stabilised, please inform your Alpha that I would speak with him at his earliest convenience about Victoria. I'll only ask: We've found no trace of her on our side of the line — have you?"
Whatever the boys think must be satisfactory, because Edward nods before they can answer. He takes Bella's hand, and he leads her into the house without any farewell. Only she looks back, but Edward drags her on until they've disappeared inside.
She breathes in once, twice, watching the door close behind them. And then she opens her mouth, finally having thought of the right words she wants to yell, but Embry says, "Wait. Get in the car. Quil — cut it out, man. Calm down. We're done here."
It is not enough to stop Quil's tremors.
When Embry snatches the keys from her fingers and sits himself in the driver's seat, Leah does not fight him. Quil, who is still visibly struggling, gets in before her and sprawls over the backseats, his head buried in his hands. He makes no other sound.
Breathing deeply again and ignoring the slightest smell of fish already defrosting, Leah snaps her seatbelt into place and waits all of one minute of listening to the blood pound in her ears before—
"Embry," she demands quietly, which is decidedly more dangerous than yelling as planned, "what exactly did that . . . thing mean when he said 'stabilised'? Has something else happened you're not telling me about? And don't give me shit about I've been ordered not to tell you, because I don't want to hear any more of your crap excuses —"
"Calm down, okay?"
"No! I want to know what happened — what the fuck that was about! Why the hell was he talking about imprints —"
Embry speeds through Forks. "I can't tell you everything —"
"Fine! What can you tell me, then!" Leah's noise of frustration fills the car.
Behind them, Quil lifts his head from his hands just enough to be heard properly and says, "Tell her, Em."
"If it's to do with Jake, then I . . ." She stops, because she honestly doesn't know how she was going to finish that sentence. She would what, exactly? What is she going to do that's going to make any kind of difference?
"I need to know," she finishes lamely. "Just — tell me. Please."
A/N: Hey Sentinel, what was that you said about cliffhangers? Love you, kid.
Thank you again, everyone. The insight you all have — absolutely phenomenal. You will see Jacob in the next chapter, I promise.