A/N: Breaking away from the user name that has haunted my every step for half a decade involves a whole damn identity crisis aka changing pseuds as many times as ao3 allows (weekly), your patience is appreciated
Getting into the Clearwaters' house is something of a performance, one that does nothing to allay the unsettling sense of deja vu Jacob is suddenly hit with when Embry opens the door and finds him tussling on the doorstep with his big sister.
This, he expected: Embry's usual insistence to act as Leah's first line of defence means that his face is the first Jacob tends to see whenever he's royally fucked up.
Embry says nothing— also expected. His stance is casual enough that anyone looking on might not understand he's half a step away from premeditated murder, but Jacob understands perfectly.
He's dead meat.
If he's unlucky enough, half of the reservation (or rather, half the pack) are likely waiting in the wings, mobilising to fight over the scraps of the body Embry leaves behind, all in agreement that Jacob is (was) the biggest idiot to walk the planet. And somewhere behind them, Leah is probably sitting back with a look of pure satisfaction on her face that only comes with knowing someone is about to reap what they sow.
Knowing these things is something that comes with experience, and Jacob has plenty of that share. He's pretty certain by now that one of these days he's going to irritate Leah so much that she'll have no choice except to phase— not because she has the right genetics, but because she's determined enough to kill him herself.
(Jacob morbidly thinks he'd rather prefer it that way; death by Leah is far more appealing than being ripped to shreds by his brothers.)
Rachel's voice is the only thing new in this all-too-familiar scene. She straightens almost immediately when she realises they have an audience, looking at their welcome party with a smile that quickly morphs into a deeply incredulous expression.
Embry barely spares her a glance, too focused on monitoring his target. "Hi, Rach. Heard you were back in town."
Jacob braces himself for the onslaught. The fact that his brother hasn't even made a teasing remark about Rachel's eye— still swelling, darkening with every minute that passes— is enough cause for concern. Perhaps Leah hasn't yet had a chance to regale him with a play-by-play of her latest victory.
"I knew it was drugs," Rachel mutters.
"What?" Embry asks absently, distracted.
Rachel is oblivious; she shakes her head, mumbling something or other— probably that she has more pressing matters to deal with than questioning sudden growth spurts, though Jacob has a feeling that will all change once she sees the rest of the pack. He's dreading it.
"Where's Leah?" she asks then.
"Inside." Embry jerks his head, stepping aside and leaving just enough room to allow Rachel to awkwardly squeeze by. He flings his hand out when Jacob moves to follow. "Not you, jackass."
Embry is stone-faced, unperturbed as he steps forward and pulls the door shut behind him, unceremoniously pushing Jacob further out of Leah's general vicinity. "Yes. Jackass."
"You don't even know what—"
"I'm also a fan of idiot, loser, jerk, asshole . . ." Embry continues, idly ticking the names off on his fingers. "The simple ones work just as well— probably because you are simple," he remarks, more musing to himself now.
"Although, thinking about it, I'd say my new favourite is probably rat bastard. Paul suggested that one. Or, better yet," Embry says, turning back on him, "how about you shit-for-brains, stupid, stupid fucking son of a bitch—"
"Also rude," he says.
"Shut up, asshole," his brother snaps, and Jacob has to agree— the simple ones are just as effective. "How do you keep on fucking this up? Aren't you imprinted idiots meant to be all—" Embry waves a hand at him, a look of pure exasperation on his face that he can't get his words out "—you know?"
Jacob raises a single brow, perfected after months of studying Leah and all the ways she conveys an array of emotions— usually disappointment, or annoyance. "Surprisingly, I don't."
"Well, you should! You're supposed to be all sickening in love and shit, not still crying over a leech lover!"
"Are you done?"
"And for the record," Embry says, which Jacob takes as a resolute no I am not finished, you rat bastard, "I think you're—"
Embry doesn't get a chance to finish his next insult. A piercing scream from inside the house cuts him off, the sound reaching them as easily as if the door had been left open.
Jacob moves first, all but pushing Embry to the ground and breaking the door off its hinges as he races inside, his heart a wild beat in his chest. If he looks closely at himself, he'll probably see the ripple underneath his skin, the slight tremor to his hands as they blur out of shape— all a sure sign he's about to split his skin and charge down the hallways on four legs— but his control remains intact, even in the face of potential danger.
He can't even stop to take a moment and feel proud of himself. Six months ago, he'd thought it impossible to master himself like this, bloodlines be damned— but then, six months ago, he hadn't imprinted on Leah. Imprinting has grounded him and given him the kind of control that their kind only dreams of, control that some of his brothers still do not possess six, seven, or twelve months down the line.
Or maybe that's just Leah, he thinks. Maybe it's not imprinting itself, but rather who he has imprinted on.
He bursts into the Clearwaters' living room before the scream has left his ears, Embry not far behind him, almost running into Rachel and knocking her clean off her feet. It's only instinct that has his hands snapping out to steady them both. Thankfully Embry seems to be paying a little more attention, or else they'd all be a heap of tangled limbs on the carpet.
Jacob's eyes invariably seek Leah out first, blind to the rest of the bodies in the room. He finds her sitting cross-legged on the couch next to Quil, the spot on her other side empty (no doubt recently vacated by Embry), and it's not until he is certain that she's unharmed and her heart is still beating that he finally breathes.
He slowly lifts his hands from Rachel's shoulders, wary and confused. "What happened?"
Leah's answer is a wide and brilliant smile. Unnerving, too. It doesn't hold a single hint of her frustration with him— she actually seems closer to laughter than anything else, though whether it's aimed at him or with him remains to be seen— and the sheer amount of possibilities of why isn't she pissed and what is going on force Jacob's mind to white out under the pressure.
"Oh no," he hears Embry groan over his shoulder, apparently one step ahead of him in all ways but one.
"What do you mean, oh no," Rachel demands. Seems she's been left in the dark, too; Jacob can't decide whether he's relieved about that or not, largely because he's as clueless as she is. He has no idea what pack secrets are at stake here. The small ones he can probably deal with— he might be able to keep up a few white lies until she leaves again— but the big ones . . .
He looks around, searching for answers, and he finally takes notice of a body in Harry's old armchair—
Leah just grins. "Welcome to the family, Rach."
Over the last few months, the Clearwaters' kitchen has become a stage for some of the most important scenes in Jacob's life to date. Some days, it's busier than Emily's kitchen, bursting at the seams with all their comings and goings and the drama that is their lives, and so he is unsurprised when he finds himself trailing Leah and his sister down the hallway.
"Maybe we should go to Emily's," Leah says as he sinks into his favourite dining chair and instantly drops his head onto the table. He is so done with this day, and it's not even noon. "She'll explain it better. What do you think?"
An anguished moan against the polished wood is Jacob's only answer. The mere suggestion of actually having to teach someone these kinds of things— that someone being his sister, of all people— is disconcerting. Horrifying.
Okay, yes, he's glad he doesn't have to keep his life a secret from Rachel, especially when she seems to be intent on staying home for a while (maybe forever, now)— because at some point or another, she will undoubtedly catch him sneaking around— but still, it's weird.
It's even weirder that she's technically part of the pack now. Not as a wolf, but imprint.
It just had to be fucking Paul, didn't it?
(Rat bastard, his brain supplies.)
"Emily?" Rachel asks, aghast. "Emily who stole your boyfriend, the same girl we plotted to push under a moving vehicle? That Emily? But we hate her!"
Jacob shuts his eyes, feeling a headache prickling at his temples. He thinks he makes another pained noise because Embry claims the chair beside him and begins patting his shoulder in what is (probably) supposed to be a comforting gesture.
Thank God that Quil had a stroke of genius and herded Paul out to find Sam, or else blood would have been shed by now. And it wouldn't have even been Jacob's fault— they'd all seen the way that Paul had been looking at Rach, the way that she had angrily looked back at him when he just wouldn't stop staring. It wouldn't have been long before she lashed out.
"We don't hate her anymore," Leah says, bustling about doing who-knows-what, and Jacob pictures the smile that he knows has worked its way into the corner of her mouth. "We're best friends now, practically joined at the hip—"
"But I'm your best friend!"
"She's fucking with you, Rach," Jacob interjects, not bothering to lift his head even as he begins to work his arm free of the wretched sling—
—just as Embry pipes up, an undeniable sound of pure hurt in his voice, and says, "I thought I was your best friend."
"God help me," Leah mutters. She takes a deep breath; Jacob imagines her squaring her shoulders, preparing to go into battle. "Okay. Let's start from the beginning."
"So when you say he'll do anything . . ."
"Jacob, you answer this one."
"I think you're more than qualified to explain, honey," comes a muffled voice, full of defeat.
"Coward." A sigh. "Yes, Rach. Anything. He will fall over his own feet to give you whatever you ask. Tell him to jump, and he'll ask how high; tell him to swim to Alaska, and—"
"I like that idea," a fourth voice chips in, far too cheerful for anyone's liking. "Let's do that. All those in favour of—"
"Shut up, Embry."
"I vote for Japan," says the muffled voice, its owner's head still buried in his arms.
"You can shut up as well. This is your sister—"
"He's got a point, Lee. Japan is farther away, and if we're lucky Paul might get lost—"
"All of you shut up! Please. Just for a minute."
"We're just trying to help—"
"But you're not! This is crazy! You're telling me that . . . I don't even know this kid, and you're saying because he's— imprinted, or whatever, then he'll do whatever I want, just like that?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Gross, isn't it?"
"Embry, for God's sake, shut up." Another sigh. "I think we might need to ask for some help."
Much to Leah's eternal aggravation, and Jacob's amusement, she remembers a little too late that it's not just Billy Black who refuses help when offered, but his children too.
Billy Black is a man who quite rightly— or wrongly, depending on what side of the treaty line you happened to be on— drove his children to Seattle to get their booster shots the moment they turned sixteen, all because he didn't them to be within a hundred miles of a doctor called Cullen when their arms bled. It's something that Jacob can understand, even appreciate, now that he knows the truth, though he'll still mock his father for it any chance he gets.
Unfortunately for Leah, Billy Black has raised the same stubborn streak in his children to the point that they all pride themselves on it. So it shouldn't come as a surprise when she reaches for the phone to call Emily and Rachel damn near pitches a fit in the middle of the kitchen, but it does.
His sister is still holding a grudge, it seems, still determined to prove her loyalty to Leah— and until Leah convinces her that it's all water under the bridge, she is loath to show Emily any forgiveness for breaking Girl Code so thoroughly.
Though Billy would surely be proud, Jacob can tell that Leah is both flattered and frustrated by it. She also seems to sense that Rachel is back in flight mode, so once she orders Embry to go and inform Sam of the latest news (that is, of course, if Quil and Paul have not managed to do so already), she steps away from the phone and comes at the problem from a new angle.
"What do you want, Rach?"
The question is gentle, much like she's trying to soothe a cornered animal— which, Jacob thinks, is not a far cry from the real situation at hand. The memory of Leah's reaction to imprinting will stay with him for the rest of his life.
Rachel seems incapable of sitting down; she repeatedly paces the length of the kitchen, running her hands through her hair and chewing her lip until it's in danger of bleeding.
"I don't know," she says eventually. "This is . . ."
"Too much," Leah says. "I know."
"How can I know what I want? I don't even know what to think."
"That's fine. I didn't know, either."
Rachel halts in her tracks, gaze snapping up from the floor as if the realisation has just struck that someone else understands exactly what she's going through. "You didn't say."
Jacob feels more than sees Leah as she gravitates towards the table. Her hand reaches out and curls over his shoulder, apparently anticipating another blow-out from Rachel, but she at least has the decency to twist her smile into something that appears a little rueful.
"I assumed it was obvious," she says, still using that same gentle tone.
Rachel does not look worried. If anything, she looks mildly repulsed. "I thought you were joking about the sister thing. I didn't realise you meant sister-in-law."
"Well— yeah, sort of, but it's not a done deal, you know?" Leah says. If she feels Jacob tense underneath her palm, she pretends to not notice. "I mean, you and Paul, that is. Just because he's imprinted on you doesn't make him Jacob's brother-in-law now."
Jacob and his sister groan in unison. "Oh, God."
"What I mean," Leah continues with a slight huff, equal parts exasperated and amused, "is that you have a choice. I had a choice. Emily and Kim had a choice."
Hope brightens Rachel's eyes. "Really?"
". . . In theory, yeah," Leah says. Her words come as slow as the comforting patterns she has begun to absent-mindedly trace against his shoulder, his neck, her hand trailing upwards until her fingers are playing with his hair. "Just because we all chose the same doesn't mean that you have to."
"You could have chosen differently?"
Leah leans against him, digging her fingers deeper into his scalp as she considers her answer. It does nothing for Jacob's concentration; he is already fighting to remain present, and he has to wind an arm around her waist just to keep himself upright.
"I think so, yeah. Jake said so."
"You could," he says quietly.
"But you didn't want to," Rachel says.
"No," Leah says. "I didn't. I don't," she adds emphatically because she understands what he'd been trying to say even though Rachel didn't.
"I need some air," Rachel declares after a few minutes of thoughtful silence. "I need— space. Time to think."
"Stand on First Beach and scream at the ocean if it makes you feel better," Leah says. "Usually works for me."
Jacob takes one look at the expression on his sister's face and wonders if this is it, if this is the thing that is going to send her running again. Fight or flight. Her temper might rival Leah's— and Paul's for that matter— but in the end, she tends to have only one response.
The question escapes him before he can think to hold it in. "Are you coming back?"
This, at least, Rachel seems to understand. She smiles without humour. "Don't worry, squirt. I haven't booked that one-way ticket yet."
He keeps his arm around Leah as he listens to Rachel go, wanting to go after her but knowing that she'll hate him for it. He hopes she can get far enough— but not too far— before Paul inevitably tracks her down, though he thinks he'd feel much better if he were able to send Embry or Quil after her and keep their brother away for as long as she needs.
"Weird being on the other side of it," Leah remarks quietly once they're alone, hands still idly carding through his hair as if she has all the time in the world to be doing just this. "Are you worried?"
"Yes." His ass is numb against the kitchen chair, but despite his words, his body is relaxed, limp with pleasure, and he leans his head against her shoulder with a deep sigh. "I don't want her to leave again."
If there's one person who can hold their own against Paul, he thinks, it's Rach. He believes it. Hopes that whatever comes of this, it will be because Rachel has chosen it. His sister won't suffer Paul's shit gladly.
But he's still worried.
"Are you?" he asks, knowing the answer already.
"No. Paul's a good kid." In this Leah is firm, resolute; Paul is her cousin, however distant, and they have only become closer since she joined the pack. "It'll work out. We just need to make sure it's what she wants."
"You really think it will be?"
"Someone's gotta believe she can do it. I believed you." She tenses at his side, hands pausing in their ministrations. "Or are you saying I didn't really have a choice after all?"
"You did." Jacob winds both arms around her waist and pulls her down before doubt has a chance to creep in, relieved when she doesn't protest or try to wriggle free. "You still do."
Any tension about her is already a distant memory; she drapes her arms around his shoulders as she settles upon his lap, looking at him closely like she might be judging the truth within his words.
Whatever she finds seems to satisfy her. It pulls at the corners of her mouth, draws her closer until their noses are almost brushing and they're breathing the same air. "Good thing I'm happy where I am then, isn't it?"
He returns her smile, a small thing, a tentative challenge. "Even when you're mad at me."
"Even when I'm mad at you, yes," she says, rolling her eyes.
"What about right now? Are you still mad?"
"Depends," she hums, gaze dropping down to his lips, staring long enough that desire begins to pool in his gut. "Are you still being a jerk?"
"More than normal, you mean?" he asks. He won't make a move until she does— but it can't hurt to play into her good books in the meantime; God knows he needs all the help he can get. "Or just today?"
Her smile turns positively saccharine, an answer in itself, and she leans just far enough out of reach so that he can't give into temptation and kiss her. They both know he'd break first.
His grip tightens around her waist before she can get too far. "Evil."
"I know," she says, pleased enough that he knows she considers it a compliment. "I'm not going to apologise."
Jacob has a feeling that they're no longer talking about the same thing. "You don't need to," he says. Careful, his addled brain warns, sobering as quickly as he would if a bucket of ice had been tipped over his head.
"I'm not going to beg, either."
"Totally out of character," he agrees. Careful. So careful.
"Unless we're talking about you risking life and limb, of course," she adds, suddenly focused on tracing a spot on his shoulder with her fingertips, "or unless it involves— you know. But if I were to very sincerely ask . . . That'd be different."
He thinks of creamy-white wedding invitations, a girl walking down the aisle to gladly meet her death. Thinks he's not going to survive this conversation if he gets it any more wrong than he already has, and says, "Of course."
"So if I did ask— nicely, I mean, with absolutely no begging at all— and said that maybe something was a really bad idea—"
"I'm not going."
She pauses. Blinks. "Because I sincerely asked, or because you don't want to?"
"Both," he says. Only then does she lift her gaze, hand clutching his shirt like a lifeline. "I'm sorry you thought I was considering it. And even if I was about to, even just for a second, it was because Charlie was right there. He's always been there. And I feel bad for him, and—"
"Shut up" is all he hears, and suddenly Leah is flush against him, her mouth warm and insistent against his own as she grapples for purchase, pouring everything that she cannot say into kissing him instead.
Jacob can't help but think maybe he will survive this after all.
Not Mandatory FFn AN: Only a few more chapters to go. I could easily plan to stretch this story out beyond Eclipse, only I fear I don't have the strength to actually write it.
I hate long ANs, and I will probably move this to the end of the story once it's complete, or delete it, but there have been questions recently that are deserving of explanations (as well as huge apologies that I still have not replied to some reviews/comments personally):
- I was *this* close to Embry imprinting on Rachel (sorry SF, I even wrote the damn scene), but there seemed to be an unconscious vote that took place in various corners of the internet and it was in favour of Paul
- Some have asked for Leah to phase. She won't in this story, but we did write a short "AU of the AU" that can be found on AO3: archiveofourown dot org (/) works (/) 40875951
- Yes I recognise Bella is arguably OOC but we love the drama
- Yes I can be a slow writer, mostly due to lack of free time but also brain power. I read a fic the other day that was 150k long and had been written in 12 days— safe to say I am not one of these people. I can post short chapters more frequently or post (slightly) larger chapters (lol) that might take four to six weeks, there is no in between
- Yes Bella will still become a vampire and have Renesmee, though it'll be after this story ends
- Yes I will finish this story even if it kills me (I'll look stupid now if I don't)
- There has been some suggestion that Jacob doesn't deserve Leah/doesn't love her enough, or he is just a general idiot (I agree) who still loves Bella (he doesn't anymore, but I've tried to keep up a general running theme in this story that imprinting isn't— or shouldn't be— a magical fix and doesn't always give people a clean slate).
Answer: I fudged up the ages somewhere in previous chapters, and I often regret not ageing these characters up a little bit (or at least evening out the playing field), but Jacob is "canonically" sixteen years old. He might look twenty-five and has been forced to mature more quickly ie looking after his dad, joining the pack, etc, but he's (insert tiktok sound) just a baby so we're giving him a little leeway here as he learns what a healthy relationship is (because that's not Bella— or at least it's not in this 'verse).
- And last but definitely not least: I am BEYOND grateful for the reviews/comments that you take time out to write, for the recommendations you make (high five Redditors), for your patience and support, all of it. I often pour over your nice words when I need motivation to continue, forever stunned that this story has reached insane numbers I did not think possible when I started this. Thank you thank you x100000000000000
Please know that your critique is always welcomed, but (and I can't believe that in this day and age we still have to say this) also remember this is fanfiction and supposed to be fun. One of the reasons that this fic has taken a while to complete is because the negativity received is often discouraging (I have deleted so many comments/reviews over these last couple years just to retain some semblance of mental health) when all I want to do is share a story. Constructive criticism is to be expected, and welcomed, but I'd be happier if we could stop with the general "I hate this", especially under the guise of being Anon/Guest. If you want to talk about something that's upset you, I will happily reply, discuss, debate and/or work to improve if needed. Use a dud account if you have to.
PS sorry again for all the username changes I literally have nightmares about 'riveriver' the end