oh brother, we'll go deeper than the ink beneath the skin of our tattoos / though we don't share the same blood, you're my brother and i love you / that's the truth
Jacob and Paul handover wordlessly. Sometimes it's better that they don't speak; they might be brothers, but their dislike for each other has reached new heights since Jacob took over as Sam's Second.
When Jared had been in the position by default, Paul was close to assuming it for himself before Jacob turned up. Not long after that (less than a day, in fact) Jacob had been offered the top spot, and when he'd hastily refused it Sam insisted that he at least take on second-in-command instead — if only because they all knew that anything less wouldn't have soothed Jacob's unbearable need to take take take.
So Jared had stepped down, all too happily accepting Third instead, meaning that Paul's nose had been pushed further out of joint. It gets under his skin something fierce, that he'll never be given the chance to flank Sam's right side. It has his grey wolf loping off with a disdainful snort, refusing to look back.
Jacob lets it slide, wishing that the world was as easy-going as Embry as he usually tends to do when his most volatile brother is around, and he sits down at the mouth of the cave. The kid's in there, somewhere, whimpering and shivering. He can almost feel Seth's bones rattling, and knows that it's not from the cold which he cannot feel.
Seth lets out a low whine into the night.
"Don't worry. Just figured you could do with some peace and quiet, is all," Jacob lies. The peace and quiet is for him, not for Seth, who is undoubtedly listening to the mindless hum of Embry's thoughts, the angry tint of Paul's. Poor kid. At midnight Jared will take over from Paul, and after an evening of having Kim underneath him he will probably make Seth so sick that it might even force a phase.
Jacob stretches his legs out over the uneven ground. Paul will probably rat him out to Sam about being on two legs the first chance he gets — not that any of them know why, though they will soon, and he's undoubtedly seven kinds of dead when they do. He won't be able to get away with not phasing for long. Soon he'll have to take a patrol or the redhead will show up again or Bella will come back with blood-coloured eyes . . .
It was an odd feeling when he'd told Charlie about her taking off with Alice. Like he'd cared, but not really — at least not like before, because his heartbeat is different now. Le-ah, Le-ah, Le-ah.
It's all wrong. He'd had a plan with Bella, which is ruined beyond belief. He's imprinted, and she's been whisked away by that pixie of a leech. She's probably dead already. The thought of which doesn't have him pieces like it once would have. It doesn't have his heart in his ass like it was when she threw herself from that cliff.
This imprint has sealed more than just his fate. Because whatever Leah chooses, whoever she chooses, whether that's him or Sam's ghost or even nobody at all, Jacob's got about as much luck of turning his back on her as Sam's got of leaving Emily for her. And Bella . . . well, she can't have made her decision any more clearer to the world than she has. She's not the type to pick herself, even Jacob knows that; it would have always been him or the leech. Now it's just the leech — that's the only option she'll see with him out of the picture. Being with a leech, becoming a leech.
Jake wonders whether he'll be able to look Charlie in the eye when he's forced to kill her. If the leeches break the treaty . . . if Bella becomes a threat to the reservation — to Leah — then she'll have to die. Again. He's got no choice.
The rational part of him knows that thinking like this, even considering it is not right. Bella is still human — for now. She is his father's best friend's daughter. She is his best friend, and he loves her. Granted it's not in the same way anymore. Whatever he felt has twisted and morphed and bent into a love like the one he has for Rachel and Rebecca, but still. It's not right.
Or is it? The other part of him, the imprinted wolf part, vividly imagines tearing Bella's head off and howling victoriously.
It's sick, yeah. But if it ensures Leah's safety . . .
Jacob tears at his hair, his two bodies in a battle of wills, painfully conscious of the fact he's steadily losing sense of what is right and wrong. Maybe it's already gone.
"S'alright, Seth," he replies with a ragged breath. "I'm alright." He straightens his back, if only because he knows that his other brothers will be able to see what Seth sees. "How are you doing? No. Scratch that. Stupid question."
A huff from the darkness.
"I know. Sorry."
Jacob pulls his knees up. He's just about settling in for a long, long night ahead of him when he hears Seth inching closer, crawling along slowly on his belly until he can be seen properly — at least by Jacob, with his new ability to see and smell from miles away. He's still adjusting to these heightened senses.
Seth's not quite at the cave's entrance, but it's closer than he's been since he scarpered into it. From here, even in the dead of night, Jacob can see the kid's tangled sandy-coloured coat and the hot breath escaping from his long muzzle. His paws are freakin' ginormous, nevermind the rest of him. He's like an oversized colt with shaggy hair, unsure of his footing.
"You need a haircut."
Seth bares his teeth.
"Yeah, I know. It sucks. I cried like a bitch when Sam cut my hair off." It had been his pride. "But you'll rip it out when you run and it'll hurt."
Seth holds Jacob's eyes as he lowers his head to the ground, in between those massive paws. He's trembling.
"Bet it feels like you'll never stop," Jacob tells him. He holds up his hand. "But it does, see? The shaking. Unless you get mad and lose control . . ." His hand drops. "That'll happen a lot. It gets better. Phasing back for the first time is the hardest bit."
The most important bit, as well as the hardest. It's the one time that an Alpha can't force a phase, because the body hasn't learnt how to do it yet. It's why Jared took three days to fall back on two feet and why Seth's been here for nearly as long. Thankfully he didn't go too far out. After he'd taken off he had mostly run around in circles, whereas Jacob had passed Sacramento his first time. Regardless, nothing else can happen until Seth decides that he's ready.
Jacob believes he's ready, though. He's got an extra pair of shorts because he's so sure of it.
This is the third time he's sat with the kid, the first time that he's not tried to coax Seth out mind-to-mind. It's a lot harder than he thought it would be, but he's going to hell if he lets Seth, of all people, hear his mind as it is right now.
"S'pose the guys have all been imparting their own bits of wisdom since I last saw you, huh?"
Seth huffs again at that, but Jake continues anyway. "Just take a breath, kid. Shut your eyes and tune them out. Think about what you want to do, what you want to be instead of focusing on what you don't want to be. The rest will follow."
The sandy wolf keeps staring at him, body vibrating.
"It's alright. It'll come to you, I know it."
Eventually it does. An hour or so later, the wind is whipping at Jacob's ears, bitingly cold to somebody who might be able to feel it, when Seth's form on the rocks starts blurring. He's trying to phase, willing himself to shed this second skin. He whimpers and whines, grunts and growls, but — there, there's the patch of skin Jacob's been waiting for. It's quickly consumed with fur again as he coalesces back into his wolf, but Jacob will take what he can get. It won't be long now.
There's nothing worse than an audience than somebody blathering on pointlessly to fill the silence. Jacob can't do much about the first part, so he keeps quiet and occasionally turns his eyes to the moon, acting as if he's got all the time in the world.
As if something's not calling him to go back, to leave his post and—
It's fine. He'll wait.
Another hour. Two. More skin, appearing and disappearing, taking longer and longer each time until finally, finally Seth is sprawled face-down and naked on the rocky ground, gasping for breath. Jacob is at his side instantly.
Far in the distance, howls immediately fill the air. Embry and Jared. They'll wake Sam and Paul, though they don't care about that. They're happy, and Jacob lets himself smile even as Seth moans from underneath his blanket of wayward hair.
"Hey. Hey. You're fine. You did real good, Seth. Real good." But he needs to keep the momentum going, keep himself in the here and now, so Jacob says, "Come on, up you get. You'll catch a cold." Not likely. "Come on."
He wrangles Seth into the pair of shorts he's brought with him and stands him on his unsteady feet.
"My fault," the kid mumbles over and over through his clacking teeth. "All my fault."
"Hold on to me. We're gonna walk, 'kay?"
"It's my fault."
"Seth, focus." It's not quite an order, but Jacob is Second and Sam's not here. He doesn't like doing it, but he can force what he needs if he decides. Seth needs direction. "Work with me," he says more gently. "One foot after the other. Easy does it."
Seth's knees wobble with effort. "I can't."
"Sure you can." Jacob pulls Seth's arm up and over his shoulders, and slowly but surely Seth starts walking. "Good. Let's go."
It's a only a two hour walk south back to the reservation. Now is as good of a time as any to start Wolf 101. And with every passing mile, "It's my fault, all my fault," turns into questions as Seth is drawn back to reality. He asks about his mom, Leah. Then Sam, and Paul, all of his new brothers.
He never asks about Harry.
" . . . giving us the runaround since, but I think she's caught on that the others turned up. Well — one of them at least. We haven't picked up a trail for a few days," Jacob explains as they walk through the reservation. Seth is walking on his own now. "She'll be back, though. Probably."
"Because she wants to eat Bella."
"Yeah. Mate for mate, or something."
"Which wasn't the leech with the dreadlocks you said you killed."
Just over two weeks ago. It feels like two months, two years even, not mere weeks. He had emptied his guts afterwards until there'd been nothing left and it'd not just been because Bella had been a hair's breadth from piercing, venomous teeth.
Seth nods. He's getting it now his head is his own again. "Do you think she'll come back? Bella? I mean . . ." He looks a bit awkward, and Jacob realises that the kid thinks he's got his pants in a twist over her still. After all, he hasn't heard any differently. "I wouldn't come back, if something like that was after me."
"If she survives whatever it is she's gone off to . . ."
There's a very good chance that they will eliminate us all, the small and strange leech had said very casually to Bella. Too casual for his own liking. Though in your case it won't be punishment so much as dinnertime.
"Then yeah. She'll come back."
Things will either become exponentially harder or easier when she does. It doesn't feel like there will be an in between. There never had been for him with Bella.
Seth frowns. "But she'll bring back all the other vampires when she does."
"Yep," Jake replies, lips popping.
"But that . . . that's so unfair!" Seth suddenly explodes, and despite himself Jacob takes a few long strides away from the boy who has begun to blur around the edges.
He splays his hands in surrender as Seth takes deep, gulping breaths, his body heaving. Jacob's own heart starts thundering at what might happen — at what could happen. "Seth. If this is too much . . . If you can't deal, then you can't go home, okay? Not yet."
The idea of Seth exploding too close to Leah . . . Jacob can't stomach the thought. And Seth doesn't know that Jacob's now bound by some stupid sacred law to retaliate if Leah's ever hurt.
He's not sure he's got the stomach to kill her brother — his brother, now, too.
"What if I can't . . ." Seth's looks at his trembling fingers with undiluted horror before crossing his arms and burying his fists into his armpits. He swallows audibly and squeezes his eyes shut as he tries to regain control. "Jake, I might not be able to stop."
"You will. You won't hurt anyone." You can't. Because if you do I'll have to hurt you.
"But . . ."
"You're fine, kid. Trust me." Jake crosses the distance and slings his arm over Seth's shoulders, pulling him close and ruffling his tangled hair. "You got this."
Seth cracks an eye open. He doesn't look like he believes him. Shit, Jacob doesn't believe himself, but he's gotta try.
"Well. Perhaps more night won't hurt, though, y'know? There's no shame in it. I've got a hammock in the garage."
Seth glances at the house across the road where his mom and Leah are sleeping. It's several minutes before he shakes his head, all of which Jacob feels like he's holding his breath.
"No. I can do it."
The kid will probably break if he thinks nobody believes in him, so Jacob says, "Alright," and does his best to sound more sure about it than he feels.
They walk along the pathway, through the door and up the stairs without incident. The door really needs to be looked at. It's not like anyone will try and break in; La Push tribal Officers have a near-perfect crime rate — zero, especially since the most temperamental boys (Paul) have phased — but still . . . Jacob's nerves are shot to pieces as it is. He doesn't need to be worrying about an unlocked door to his imprint's house.
At the top of the stairs, Seth looks back and forth between his mother's and sister's doors.
Jacob clamps down on a rising challenge — it smells like Sam up here — and says quietly, "They're fine."
He chances a glance at one door in particular anyway, listening closely. It would be so, so easy to wedge it open and . . . What? Whisper her name, and freak her out? Yeah, no. She'll see the dirt Seth has trailed through the house soon enough. Until then, Jacob will let the kid sleep for a few hours before his family comes crashing down on him.
"C'mon, kid. Sleep time."
Seth doesn't move. "It was today, wasn't it?"
What little light is left in Seth's eyes vanishes. "I missed it."
"Yeah," Jacob says again. It's all he can say.
"They wouldn't show me. The others." Seth's shoulders drop impossibly lower. "Every time they thought about it, they stopped."
Another one of Sam's finest Alpha Orders. Not. But Jake doesn't tell Seth that. "It would have upset you. We had to get you back," he explains instead, pushing at Seth's back and herding him into his room. He doesn't want to answer anymore questions in the hallway, lest they wake Leah and Sue up. From the looks of them at the service today, the look of Leah when she came home, she and her mom have been getting even less sleep than the pack. "C'mon."
"What was it like?" the kid asks after Jacob's forced him to lie down on his unmade bed — which, Jacob can't help but notice, smells like Leah, as if she's lain upon it at some point in the last few days.
"Jake?" Seth prompts.
"It was . . ." Jacob tries not to breathe in through his nose and thinks of Sue's vacant eyes, of Leah's face at the graveside as she'd watched her dad being lowered into the ground. She'd not looked away, not even as her mom had been carried away by Sam. "Nice. It was real nice, Seth. Old Quil held the service."
"Did anyone read? My mom?"
"No. But your sister picked a poem, which Old Quil translated."
Jacob blows a breath. The kid's clearly not going to get some rest until he knows. "If I tell you, will you go to sleep?"
Seth immediately shuts his eyes, and Jacob almost smiles. "Okay," he says then. This is the reason he'd paid such close attention, after all — not because he can barely remember his mom's funeral, but because he'd felt the weight of Sam's Order in his chest as Old Quil had droned on and on and he knew that it hadn't been fair. He hadn't wanted Seth to feel the same way about his dad's funeral as he feels about his mom's. That it was slowly being forgotten.
"Okay," Jacob says again. He has a wolf's memory now. He sits down on the carpet, his back against the wooden bed frame. "Do not stand at my—"
"Can you do it in Quileute?" Seth whispers. "Please."
Jacob tilts his head back to the ceiling and looks at the sunlight from outside which is starting to creep across it.
"Do not stand at my grave and weep," he begins again — in Quileute, this time. "I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain, the gentle autumn rain . . . When you awaken in the morning's hush, I am the swift uplifting rush — of quiet birds in circled flight, the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die."
Seth is quiet behind him, but Jacob can hear the tears that are there.
"She picked good," Seth says, his voice hoarse.
"Yeah. She did."
Seth falls asleep pretty quickly after that, but it's five minutes or so until Jacob is able to force himself to his feet and leave. Force himself to put one foot in front of the other as he had urged Seth to do, because it's the only way he's going to get out of this house and get Leah's scent out of his head before he does something that will be out of this world kind of stupid.
But she's there. Sitting just by Seth's door, head against the wall with her legs crossed and looking straight up at him. Her ponytail hangs limply to the side, loose and messy as she tilts her head and wisps of her hair fall over her face like she's been tossing and turning. A suspicion only confirmed by the way her shirt is crumpled and riding slightly up her back, exposing the smallest stretch of smooth skin. And those goddamned shorts she's wearing are—
Out of this world kind of stupid.
"I didn't hear you," is all Jacob can think to say, his mouth suddenly dry.
He gapes at her. Shit, shit, shit. "Huh?"
"For the hinges," Leah explains like it's obvious. "Stops them squeaking. Haven't you ever snuck out before?"
"No." He can't stop looking at that patch of skin. "But I guess it explains why Dad never caught Rach and Beck."
Leah snorts with the barest hint of a smile. "Who do you think bought the hairspray? I didn't."
(He bets his sisters didn't think of spraying it over their doors, though. That's all Leah.)
"Was this around the time they turned my room into their hair salon?"
"Yeah. Think so," Leah replies absently. She turns her head and peers through the doorway, over her shoulder and at her brother who is now deeply asleep.
Jacob stares at her bared neck as she stretches round, stares at that tempting column of her throat which tests what little he has left of himself.
"Is he okay?" she asks, voice uncharacteristically soft.
Jake tears his eyes away, but meets her own when she turns back. "He will be. What about you?"
"Have to be." She shrugs and begins idly wrapping her ponytail around her wrist. "Thank you. For bringing him back. I wasn't sure . . ." She stares at the loop of her dark hair and runs her slim fingers over it. "You know."
"Sure. No problem." It vaguely registers that this is the part where he should leave. This is the danger zone, not so much the point of no return but pretty fucking close to it. Yet he can't pull himself away, can't help saying, "Hey, Leah, I—"
"Are you hungry?" she asks suddenly. "I'm hungry."
"I . . . Uh," he starts lamely, but she's already on her feet and waving at him to hurry up. "Okay, then."
He shuts Seth's door before he follows.
Out of this world kind of stupid indeed.