the tension is here, between who you are and who you could be / between how it is and how it should be
Switchfoot, "Dare You to Move"


twenty-one.


(Leah)

She runs home, because she has nowhere else to go.

By some miracle the door is unlocked, and she throws herself through it, her heart pounding and her hands shaking as she bolts the chain. It won't stop any werewolves barging through it, breaking their way in, if they want to — but it's the act of locking them out, locking herself in that allows for a second of control. Clarity.

Just a second.

He knew he knew he knew —

Leah's head spins as she leans it against the cool, polished hardwood. It pounds as she hears her mother's voice travel down the hallway from the kitchen, where Leah suspects Sue has likely spent all night over a pan trying to perfect Harry's recipe. The house stinks.

"Lee, is that you?"

Fuck, she hates that name.

But she says, "Yeah," and winces when her own voice falls flat against the door. It's not her mom's fault.

It's another five seconds before Leah can bring herself to straighten up and school her face into something less . . . hurt. Because that's what she is — hurt by the person she'd started letting all those barriers down for.

(There was a time, once, when the thought of being with anyone other than Sam had been inconceivable. Of giving that much of herself, sharing that much with someone else. But that's exactly what she had started to do with Jacob.

Perhaps hurt is too small of a word to describe what she feels.)

"Where have you been?" her mom calls, and by the time Sue appears in the hallway Leah has managed to turn away from the door and square her shoulders. Mercifully, her eyes are clear. Her head is not.

But her mom is making an effort. So she will, too.

Sue doesn't look mad, which is a bonus, even as she frowns and wrings the dish towel in her hands. Just concerned, maybe a little bit interested. Still depressed and withdrawn, nervous even, although admittedly her face has a little more colour in it than it has had recently. "Did you go to a party?"

"No. I was out late with Jacob and crashed at his place." Truth — if only because Leah can't think to lie, even if her honesty has her mom's eyebrows shooting all the way up into her hairline.

Leah ignores it and kicks off her shoes, watching rather detachedly as one tumbles over the other by the foot of the stairs. It's testament to how worried her mother is that she doesn't reprimand her for such carelessness, such untidiness.

"Have you been up long? Where's Seth?"

"He's not here."

"When did you last see him?"

Sue shrugs, turning back around to clear the way as Leah starts making her way down the hall to investigate the carnage which is undoubtedly in the kitchen. And sure enough, it looks as if bags and bags of flour and cornmeal have exploded all over the countertops.

Leah raises an eyebrow. "Need help?"

Her mom suddenly looks mildly embarrassed. There might be some life in her, sure, but she's still a shadow of the fierce woman she had been two weeks ago. "I — I wanted to have a batch ready for when Charlie comes, but I didn't . . ." She frowns at herself, disappointed. "I couldn't remember whether I needed to use dried thyme or dried oregano."

"You need to use both," Leah says, and her mom sags a little bit with that same disappointment — or maybe it's relief in finally knowing the answer. "Charlie's coming over?"

"I called him. Late, last night. He didn't know the answer either."

It's the air of embarrassment still in her mom's tone that has Leah asking, "How late?"

". . . He was asleep," Sue admits, ducking her eyes and pretending to busy herself in one of the disaster areas by the sink. "He'll be here soon. He's going to drive us to Billy's. I, um . . . I think I need to apologise."

Leah blinks at her mom's back. Apologise? "What the hell for?"

"Language," she scolds — but only half-heartedly, and it's followed by a quiet sigh. "I need to apologise to you, too. And Seth. But to you the most, I think."

"There's nothing to apologise for, Mom."

"No, there is," Sue begins to protest, but Leah doesn't want to know what follows.

"Please, don't."

She takes another look around the wreck that is their kitchen, wondering if through all this Sue has gotten the recipe right. She's not all too sure she wants to be one to determine that, though. Isn't sure she will be able to stand eating fish fry ever again. The smells clinging to the room are bad enough.

"How long did you say Charlie was going to be?"

"Soon. An hour, maybe. It's Sunday," Sue says as if it's some sort of explanation, shrugging again.

"Okay." Leah rolls up the sleeves of her sweater. Harry's sweater. Anything to stop her mom from apologising. Anything to stop herself from thinking about . . . that. About anything. "There's oregano in the pantry. Middle shelf."

Sue takes the hint.


Thirty minutes after her mom and Charlie drive away in his police cruiser, the doorbell rings.

Although Leah has been expecting it, she has to put a hand against the tiled wall of the shower to steady herself underneath the near-scalding water.

She's still frozen with fear by the time the third echoing ring of the bell dies off, the sound impatient and demanding.

Of course he knows she's here. He can hear the shower. Maybe even her panicked breathing. Thank fuck she had the sense to bolt the door again after her mom left. Then Leah remembers the back door, the gate at the side of the house leading into the yard, and she feels like she might puke. When was the last time she locked those? She can't remember.

Shit.

Does he know? Does he know what she's been told?

Unless . . . it's not Jacob at the door. Maybe it's Sam, here to trample over the last pieces of her failing heart. Or maybe it's Seth. Hell, she'd even take Embry and Quil invading her space at the minute. Anyone but Jacob.

It's only the thought she may have locked her poor brother out that Leah manages to strengthen her legs, her spine, and move her hand from the wall to wash the last of the shampoo from her hair, cursing herself for being such a coward all the while.

Three minutes later, she has hurriedly dressed and is standing at the top of the stairs with her long hair dripping water onto the carpet. Coward she may be, but she's no fool. She's not going to answer that damn door until she knows who's on the other side of it.

Maybe they've gone. Maybe he's gone.

Except, Leah has never, ever been that lucky.

There's a slow, tentative but firm knock at the door which feels like it reverberates off the walls. "Leah?"

After two, stuttering heartbeats, she seriously weighs up letting him in. She shifts her weight upon the top stair in deliberation. Then Jacob knocks again, a little more forcefully this time. "I can hear you in there, Leah. C'mon, let me in."

He doesn't sound like she thought he might. Not worried, or even upset. Just confused. He obviously didn't — doesn't expect to be kept out like this. Not by her. His imprint.

Imprint.

Her heart jolts again.

As quietly as she can, she descends the stairs and creeps past the door. She pokes her head into the kitchen — quickly — to peer out of the window and check the back is secure, too —

— but the gate to the yard isn't locked, and Jacob is faster.

In that moment, Leah absolutely, utterly, completely, thoroughly despises herself for being so frightened. Of Jacob, of Sam. Of this — this mess. She has never hidden away like it in her life, but . . . honestly, is it really too much to ask the world for a bit of time and space? All she wants is more than a few fucking measly hours to think and sort her head out. Before she receives this next slap in the face.

But she's never been that lucky, remember?

Jacob hurtles into the kitchen.

The outside gate is still swinging, bouncing noisily off the brick wall from how quickly he has blown his way through. And — damn herself to hell, her knees buckle. It's all she can do to keep herself from running. Or falling, right where she stands. Running seems like a good option. The easy option.

Jacob pauses long enough to scan her face, concern displayed upon his own. Leah wants to know if it's real, his concern, or if it's something forced. But then he's closing the space between them in two easy strides, and his hands come down on her shoulders as he bends to look at her more closely.

She avoids his eyes because she can't bear to fall victim to them again.

"What's wrong?" he demands. "Why didn't you answer the door?"

"I locked it." She can hardly hear herself, but Jacob does.

"Why? What's wrong?" he asks again.

Leah feels the words dangling there — feels herself dangling as if she's standing on the edge of the cliffs on First Beach and about to dive. She was so angry when Sam told her . . . Had Jacob found her then, she knows she would have screamed at him. Would have demanded answers from him. But now? She's not sure she wants the answers. She needs more time.

She'll probably still scream at him, though. She can feel it building, the longer he looks at her and acts like . . . like he cares.

"Leah, honey, you're scaring me. Please say something." Jake's voice is just a pitch away from begging as he tucks a finger underneath her chin with a type of gentleness which has her wanting to cry — if only it were real! "Talk to me. What's happened?"

Despite knowing there's nothing but jagged rocks waiting for her at the bottom, Leah takes the plunge and looks him in the eye. "How long?"

"How long what?" he asks, but — there. A flash of panic. Then he blinks and it disappears, and she wonders if she imagined it.

"How long," she repeats slowly, deathly quiet, "have you known that I'm your —" She almost chokes on the word, unable to say it. Imprint. Mate. She swallows harshly. "How long?"

Jacob pulls himself up, hands falling gracelessly from her shoulders. "Who told . . . ?" His face darkens. "Sam. It was Sam, wasn't it?"

How he's figured it out, she doesn't know. Doesn't care. "How long?"

"Leah . . ."

"How long, Jacob!"

He flinches, but he doesn't look away. "Since Harry's funeral," he says, voice soft and controlled. "After the burial. When you — when you came home, and I saw you walk through the door. When you looked at me."

She remembers. He didn't smile back at her but had followed her into this very room only minutes afterward. And she had demanded answers from him then, too. "When were you going to tell me?"

"Leah —"

"When were you going to tell me?"

"I don't know. I wanted to. I should have, but I couldn't do it. You've been dealing with so much, trying to look after everyone: your mom, Seth, Quil. Me." He doesn't break his gaze, not once, not even as his guilt takes hold and the words start pouring out of him. "And when I told you about Sam and Emily, you said — you said it was disgusting. It made you sick, Leah, physically sick, and I couldn't . . . I couldn't blame you. I hate myself for what I've done to you," he pleads desperately. "I never wanted to imprint before this, but —"

"Who else knows? Apart from your pack of mutts. Who else?"

"Billy. Old Quil. I think Dad might have known for a few days, actually, or he at least suspected that I had . . . Well, you know. But he found out for sure the day Quil phased, same as everyone else. Emily and Kim know too, I suppose. They would have been told."

Billy knew. He knows. And Seth . . . she'd figured he knew, too, but hearing it is so much worse. Yet still, with ice-cold calm, she says, "Quil phased nearly a week ago."

"They couldn't tell you. The order that I gave that day — I told them not to tell you. I wanted to be the one —"

Not good enough. "Orders don't apply to your father."

"No, they don't," Jacob says all too-agreeably. It's infuriating. "But he respects them. The traditions . . . they mean something to him, Leah. To the Council. They consider it the worst kind of dishonour to —"

"I don't care," she spits, unable to contain herself any longer. Finally she has hit those rocks at the bottom of the cliff — and she does not think she will ever resurface. "I deserved to know! And you were going to carry on keeping it a secret from me! You gagged everyone you could and —"

"It wasn't like that —"

"— and you weren't going to tell me! Why! Because you didn't want me, or because you thought you knew best? You just went on ahead and decided what was right for me and what you thought I could or couldn't deal with!"

"I didn't —"

"You did!" she screams. "You don't get to make those kind of choices for me, not when it affects my whole fucking life!"

"But it doesn't have to affect your whole life," he begs, "not if you don't want it to. You can do whatever you want, you can tell me to be whatever you want and I'll do it. Please, Leah."

His words from that second day, that god-awful day in the kitchen resurface. The wolf will be anything, do anything she wants. It's not exactly tested, but . . . who can resist that level of commitment? Nobody's been told to just be a friend before, he'd said to her.

Who can resist that level of commitment.

Nobody's been told to just be a friend before.

"Tell me what you want," Jacob continues to beg, "and it's done. I swear it. Please."

One word from her and this could all go away. Friend. Brother. Enemy? Lover. Stranger.

No. It's abhorrent — all of it. She won't. She won't do it. She does not choose this. She will never make that choice.

"I'm not Emily, Jacob." What about his choice? "I won't do to Bella what she did to me —"

Jacob pulls back. It's almost startling to realise how close they'd been, to no longer feel his breath washing over her as he says, "Bella? This has nothing to do with her."

"It does. You — you love her, don't you? Just because she's with what's-his-face, that doesn't mean that she doesn't feel like you do. You two, you could be together. Properly. Like you wanted."

"That won't ever happen." He says it as if the very idea disgusts him. "Never. I don't love her."

"But it could have happened, Jake, that's my point! Sam said . . ." His awful confession springs to mind, and Leah has to chase that part of it away, chase those words away. "He said . . . feelings like that — love —" she corrects herself "— can't be erased by imprinting. I'm not Emily," she says again, "I won't be her."

"Love?" Jacob repeats, staggered — but confused, too, by her poor retelling of Sam's confession. "I told you, I don't love . . . Wait, what feelings? What exactly did . . ." His eyes spark in horrible realisation. "He didn't."

Leah doesn't answer. And whether he sees the answer in her eyes, her face, or even in just the moment of silence, it is all the affirmation Jacob needs.

His chest heaves as he takes slow, deliberate breaths, though they are shaky, and he squeezes his eyes shut in what looks like painful concentration. That's when she notices the tremors slowly starting to take over his body, and she knows what it is he is struggling to fight.

She doesn't move, can't move, paralysed in spite of her own rage. She waits. And waits. And then, ". . . Jake?"

His eyes snap open at her voice. Nothing but unending, icy rage. Pure focus and determination. Sudden unwavering resolve. "I'll kill him."

It's an effort not to flinch at the snarl which rips itself from his lips, at the utter rage in those three words before it. But she manages to steel herself — somehow. "You can't."

He growls again. "I nearly did it once. I'll do it right — this time."

"No, I won't let you! You're not a murderer, Jake, you'll go to prison!"

"If they catch me."

"No!" Leah lurches forward, hands reaching out to grab any part of him they can, and she clings to him, feeling the vibrations from his body underneath her palms, her fingers. "This is not your problem!"

"Hell it isn't," Jacob seethes. "You're mine."

"No, I'm not! I'm no-one's! Not yours, not Sam's!" Fuck, she wants to shake him. And she would have, if she knew he'd feel it. "I'm not some . . . some possession you can lay claim to just because you've imprinted on me!"

Jacob is unfazed. "Do you love him?"

The question throws her off, and she jerks back enough to be able to meet his stare. "What kind of stupid, dumbass question is that?"

"Do you?"

She doesn't blink. "No."

Neither does Jacob. "But he loves you. Still."

Leah pushes away from him completely, disgusted enough that she's heard those words from Sam's lips let alone that she's having to listen to Jacob repeat them. That same feeling of wrongness crawls over her, working its way up her spine. "Surely you knew that. Being inside each other's head."

"Loving you as opposed to being in love with you — that's different."

"Is it?" She scoffs. "Because I don't think he is. I think he panicked. Just like you are."

Jacob scowls deeply. "I'm not panicking —"

"Bullshit," she snaps. "You are. You're throwing the same goddamn hissy fit that he did just because you both think you've got some claim on me. Because you're jealous. Or, at least, this . . . thing is making you that way. Well here's a new flash for you, Jacob." She jabs a pointed finger at him. "I don't belong to you. You obviously don't even want me to, otherwise you would have told me the truth!"

"I told you why —"

"Yeah, I know. You wanted to, but you couldn't because you thought me weak."

And there's the truth of it. Underneath it all, maybe she is. Maybe he's right, even if he refuses to admit it. Maybe . . . maybe all these emotions she's been sensing from him, which now she understands has been real all along and not a figment of her imagination . . . Maybe he feels what she feels, too. He can sense that weakness in her.

"I didn't —

"You're a fucking liar."

Jacob throws his arms up. "Will you let me finish! I didn't tell you because I think you're weak, I didn't tell you because I knew you'd react like this! I knew you'd hate me! And I can't believe that after all this, after how much time we've spent together . . . You actually think that I love Bella, don't you?"

It's hypothetical, she knows, but she nods, sinking into a chair at the kitchen table.

"Well I don't. Believe me. I thought I did, maybe, but I was wrong. It's not the same as . . . It's not the same."

"The same as what?"

"Sam," he says simply, his irritation flaring again as he looks across to her. Who will win, if they fight again? "If I loved Bella like I thought I did, then I'm pretty sure I'd be fighting this. I know myself, Leah. I know what I want. Who I want."

"Do you even have a choice? You might have decided for me already, Jake, but I won't — I refuse to do that to you! To anyone! Don't you see how wrong it is?"

"Yes." A beat of silence. Then a moan as he drags his hands through his hair, yanking hard. "No. Oh, I don't know! A part of me says it is, but the rest of me . . . I didn't want to imprint, ever, but now that I have it's impossible for me to see it that way. I don't want to think like that, and I'm pretty sure the imprint wouldn't let me even if I wanted to. The only reason I don't like it is because what's it done to you. Look at how much pain it's caused you! Of course I don't want that."

"Because that's what I want, right? You want what I want."

"Yes," he moans again, coming closer. "Please, Leah, I'll do anything. I want — no, I need you to decide. You have to tell me what to do otherwise I'll go crazy. I can't live like this anymore, not now that you know. I thought I could stay away from you but then you found me at our camping spot and I knew, I knew I couldn't. I felt better the moment you sat down beside me —"

She remembers. Remembers the words he had spoken into her skin, the apologies he had made. The pain he had been in. "You said it hurt you. You meant the . . . the imprint."

Jacob nods miserably, tears finally escaping and rolling down his cheeks as he lowers himself down in front of her. "Staying away, not knowing if you were . . ." He leans on her knees and scrubs at his face with another hand. "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I was desperate to see you, but I knew if I gave in then I'd end up looking for you and telling you everything. But then you found me. I bottled it."

"You should have. You should have told me."

He shakes his head. "You would have left, and I — I needed . . ." He doesn't have to finish; she knows what he is trying to say. You would have left, and I needed you. Because he had been hurting that badly in trying to keep away from her. "I was weak. I am weak."

A protest bubbles in her throat, and she is reminded once more of the too-intense feelings of protectiveness, of possessiveness she feels, of how her mind and body has continually jumped to his defence in recent days — weeks, even; didn't she snap at Sam the day of Harry's funeral, that very first day — the day Jacob had imprinted?

Leah swallows the words burning to get out and defend Jacob. Her mate. Imprint.

Her mind whirs on for minutes, thinking and feeling too much, much too quickly. It's too much for anyone to be able to comprehend. Too much. Too much.

How much of what she feels, what she has felt . . . How much of that is real?

"Please say something," Jacob whispers, his voice hoarse, thick with his tears.

It's silent for another minute. And then, with all the courage she has, Leah looks down at his miserable face and says, "I don't want to tell you what to do. Who to be." She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, praying that her own voice remains steady. "And if I can't do that . . . How bad will that be for you? I don't want to be the reason you're in pain, Jacob. You said you need me to decide. But I'm not sure that I can. Not even if I was going to lie about what I want."

It's enormous, this weight that's hanging over her. The pressure. The power. If what he says is true . . . If Jacob is going to be hurt, will that mean she will be, too? If she turns him away?

"I don't know," he replies honestly, sniffing loudly. "It's better now you know. It was killing me. Literally. Fighting it . . . I don't think that's something I can do. I tried."

"And if I want you to?"

"If it makes you happy and it keeps you safe," he says without hesitation, gripping her knees, "I'll try again. I'll keep trying."

"And you? What do you want?"

"It doesn't matter what I want. That's the point of the imprint."

"Of course it matters," she snaps. "What do you want?"

He doesn't answer for a long, long minute.

"I don't want to fight it," he whispers finally, staring back up at her with such burning intensity that she knows exactly what Jacob wants. Who he wants.

He wants her.

As broken and as mean and tired and unhappy as she is, as opposite as they are in so many ways, this kid . . . Jake, he wants her. And Leah knows if she gives in, if she gives Jacob what he wants . . . It would be so, so easy. So easy between them.

"Why?" she asks. Why do you want me? "Is it because you're being forced by the imprint?"

Jacob sighs and stands to his full height, but he's only absent long enough to pull on the chair beside her. He sits so closely that her skin burns. "Maybe," he says. "Or maybe it's just shown me what could have always been there. These last couple weeks with you, all we've done together . . . I'm pretty sure I'd want you even if all the supernatural stuff didn't exist."

"If all the supernatural stuff didn't exist," she says, looking down at her bare feet, "then I'd still be with Sam. And you . . ."

She can't finish that sentence, can't say that girl's name again.

"Maybe. Maybe not." He doesn't sound troubled by the possibility — even as long dead as that possibility is. "If the bloodsuckers hadn't come back, then yeah, I guess. But they have, and this is what we've got. I'm not sorry about it." He turns hesitant. "Are you?"

Leah watches as Jake takes her hands in his and twines their fingers together. She keeps her grip loose, but she doesn't stop him or pull away. "I don't know. I don't know what to feel."

"That I am sorry about."

She concentrates on her breathing for a long while, staring at their hands and letting the sound envelope the kitchen as she tries desperately not to cry. It could be so easy . . .

"I don't love Sam," she says eventually. Clearly. "He knows that. But if you want me to say I love you . . . I can't do that."

She can hear the frown in his voice, and she feels his disappointment as he drops his head against the top of her still-wet hair. Not because she can't say it — I love you — but because she knows he doesn't want her to think that way. "You don't have to ever say that. Especially not if it's something you believe I want to hear."

Jacob says it with such conviction that she knows it to be true, and when she nods, the only response she can give, she feels the tears finally beginning to well.

She closes her eyes, inherently grateful that he can't see her face. "He was looking for you. Earlier. Said he wanted to sort things out."

"Yeah." Jacob sighs, lifting his head from hers. "I was getting ready to go, but then Charlie arrived with your mom and she looked at me a bit . . . Well, she looked at me weird, in all honesty. Did you tell her?"

Bravo, Sue.

"No. Just that we were out late, and . . ."

"And?"

Leah surprises herself by huffing a laugh. She feels the tiniest of smiles appear on her face. "And I stayed the night. She probably thinks . . ." Oh, God. "People are going to think that, aren't they?"

She finally lifts her head and closes her eyes again when Jacob pulls one of his hands away to wipe the stray tears from her cheeks with the pads of his calloused fingers. "Probably. Lucky for you," he says teasingly, "the age of consent in Washington is sixteen."

Her eyes fly open in alarm, and, when she swears at him with enough violence that she half expects her dad to appear and shout at her something stupid, Jacob simply tips his head back and roars with laughter at the ceiling.