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The Persistence of Gravity

Summary:
"Everyone knows his father was a complete screw-up who hurt and abandoned everyone who needed him, but he tries very hard to be a good kid, a good student, a good friend and son. And he swears to himself as he watches Leah sleeping now that he'll always be good to her." The untold story of Sam/Leah starting from before he became a werewolf.


Notes:
A ridiculously old WIP I'm finally finishing. Because I'm really interested in Sam and Leah as characters and their relationship we don't know many details about, I wanted to write a fic trying to show their story in a very personal way that would make the heartbreak it caused Leah (and also the guilt Sam has over it) very real and understandable. But I was totally unprepared for how invested in this I actually became and how much it ran away with me and got much longer than expected, so I'm really crossing my fingers that there will be readers interested enough in these supporting characters to enjoy this fic in a bittersweet way like I enjoyed writing it.
As a nitpicky note, I know Seth's age in this is way off. At the time I started it I somehow had the idea that he's only about three years younger than Leah, and I just left it because it's a kind of integral detail in one part that would have been hard to work around fixing.


6. Part 6/7

Rating 0/5   Word Count 7042   Review this Chapter

The next morning Sam finds Leah walking to school and catches up to her. As he comes to her side, he notices that she looks a little weighed down somehow before he says, "Hey."

She looks up at him, makes a weak attempt at a smile and says quietly, "Hi."

"You alright?" he asks, lifting a hand to her back, and then they both start to slow down.

Frowning deeply, she lets out a long and weary breath and then turns to him as they both stop. "I got into a big fight with my dad last night," she explains, not looking directly into his eyes and sounding embarrassed to say it. "He wants me to stop seeing you."

Sam goes very still. Even though he knows not to take it personally and probably should have expected this, it is still a bit of a blow. He hasn't even been thinking much yet about what the elders told him he has to do, and he realizes now it's because he already made up his mind not to listen and that was a much too troubling decision to face sooner than later. But no matter how much he hates to go against Harry's wishes as an elder and as her father, not to mention put her at risk without her knowing it even if it's a risk she would probably accept, he knows as much as he could weigh the consequences of either choice there is a part of him that is fixed too firmly in the present position to budge. After a while last night he was so overwhelmed he could only sit stunned in that chair at the Ateara place nodding and saying "Yes" to everything because there was nothing else to do, but saying it and actually looking her in the eye and doing it are different things. It's almost like they might as well have asked him to put a bullet in her chest, or if that isn't dramatic enough, in his own. Is he just some stupid teenager who thinks he and his pain are special enough to deserve to be excused from the way the world is? He can't seem to care. Maybe he should get to keepsome kind of innocence, and he knows some things are worth risking everything and just trusting himself. That's just about all he knows anymore.

After they start walking again, Leah goes into a slight tirade angrily explaining how it went, giving unsurprising details about how Harry obviously used the questionable reputation Sam has been gaining after going missing and the way it's affecting her as his reason, and he just listens in a daunted silence. When she is done recounting it she crosses her arms, shaking her head in a pause of silent frustration, and then when she looks up at Sam her anger is suddenly directed at him a little.

"Don't you have anything to say?" she says.

He slowly shakes his head to express his bewilderment. "What can I say? He's your dad."

"Yeah, okay," she says flatly. "So maybe if he just decided now that I'm not allowed to date at all, it would suck but at least be something I can begin to accept he has a right to do. But who the hell thinks they can just pick their daughter's boyfriends for her based on their own limited judgment? You know, unless it's like she could be in actual physical danger from somebody, otherwise that's insane."

Sam has to look away from her for a moment, innerly cringing at her choice of words, and his spirits start sinking even more deeply. What is wrong with him? What is he thinking? He isn't a person who does this. Maybe he is turning into a monster...

"Aren't you going to stand up for yourself at all here?" she demands then in a tired tone, looking closely at his glum face. "Do youwant me to listen to him?"

"No!" he replies right away, and his previous thoughts almost completely disintegrate with the present concern. "Why would you think that?"

She frowns, looking down at her feet for a while. "It's just...you're always like this," she says disconcertedly. "You always act like it's natural somehow for people to think badly of you, as if there's any good reason for that. I can't believe you don't even seem that surprised that my dad suddenly buys the kind of crap some people are saying about you and would actually think you don't care about me!"

"I don't know, Leah, he..." Sam sighs. "It's just hard for me to have anything against Harry, you know? You're right, this really isn't what I'd expect from him. So I'm sure he must have his own good reasons for thinking this is what he has to do. I can't really blame him for caring."

Something in her face softens a little, even as she keeps looking sullen, and she closes her eyes a second as she shakes her head again. "Right," she says relentingly with an empty smile, obviously trying to lighten up a little. "I guess I'm just being kind of a brat, expecting you to pitch a fit with me when you know I'm lucky I've got a dad who actually cares enough to still be here at all."

He comes to a stop again, looking a little abashed with his mouth dropping open slightly, and then says, "Oh no, Leah—that's not what I meant to—"

She holds a hand up to stop his words, shaking her head and waving it away, and then just starts to look resigned and sad. "Oh, Sam," she says in a sigh, leaning into him and bringing one arm around him. "You don't even know how good a person you are."

He blinks slowly as he fights the dark thoughts making a pit in his stomach again. "Don't be ridiculous," he mutters, trying to sound a little joking about it, as he brings his arms around her shoulders.

"I'm serious. You can make me feel so lazy and narcissistic and just plain selfish by comparison. Have I ever told you that?"

"...No."

"Well, I don't need to know every single thing that's in your head to be able to say that." She pulls away from him a little and looks up directly at his face. "I just wish I understood what it is about yourself you seem so afraid of sometimes."

Her focused and unbreaking gaze is breaching him, dissolving his defenses, and he starts breathing a little uneasily and isn't sure if it's enough that she can see how nervous he is just about admitting this much.

"I'm afraid of hurting you more than anything," he says softly, and he realizes all at once how many seemingly endless different ways it is true now.

As Leah stares, her expression becomes less piercing and strong, wavering in its constant hold as she shifts and moves like she's uncomfortable, rearranging her feet a little and looking down for a brief split second.

"I know that doesn't make much sense because...why then can't I just not do it?" he says, his eyes full of the conflicted frustration. "But that was always true, since long before I ever actually did anything to mess things up. And...I don't know why. It's like I'm just not meant to have anything good and I always knew it."

"That's ridiculous," she says, shaking her head quickly. "You know, everybody messes up sometimes or has to be selfish at some point in their life. I can deal with that. Even if I imagine the very worst that seems remotely possible about whatever it is you think you have to hide from me, it's hard to imagine I couldn't live with it. But I need you to at least act like you believe we can make this work, even if it means we have to lie and see each other in secret from now on. Because sometimes it's like you're only half with me while another part of you is trying everything to convince me I should get away from you, and I can't stand it."

His face starts to look pained and he just holds onto her shoulders tightly as he looks down at her. Then he can only say sadly, "Okay. I'm sorry. I don't mean to..."

She just gives a short shake of her head and says, "Just kiss me."

So he leans over and does it without waiting a second, forcing his worries and indecisiveness to wash away for now so he can be all here, just with her, with nothing else in the periphery of his mind, if it is possible. It quickly turns into an intense kind of kiss that does not usually happen outside in broad daylight early in the morning, with both of them eagerly pulling each other as close as possible and breathing very audibly. He knows this is not everything, this does not make everything fixed and okay, but if he can't at least show how much he still wants to be here when he kisses her then everything else is hopeless.

Sam knows he is being selfish and reckless by staying with Leah and it eats away at him all the time, but he can't let go of her now. He had to turn down his college scholarship now that leaving home is out of the question, and he still hasn't quite figured out what he's going to tell her or anyone else about that. Most of his friends will still talk to him when they see him at school, but none of them bother trying to get together with him anymore and it's probably for the best. He has lost his job after failing to explain all his absences. It seems like the only important thing in his life he has managed to hold onto through all this is Leah.

But it is a slippery and loose grip. He can always feel the thread between them straining. Even though she is trying to accept that he is clearly keeping something from her, he can see that it's still hurting her. He can't go too long without phasing or it only makes it easier for him to lose it and do it unintentionally, and it has gotten to the point that he can never really make her promises about when he'll be there for her. He feels like he has to see her to stay even somewhat calm and sane and this is one reason he can't even imagine giving her up now, but he also can't stand the thought of letting her be around when he could hurt her, and some days he just isn't in any state to completely trust his self-control.

Sometimes he thinks of the last day they spent together before everything went so bad, when before they got soaked in rain they were sitting in the car just listening to the heavy sound of it along with the mellow Red Hot Chili Peppers song playing on the radio, and it was like they could hear each other's thoughts as they stayed mostly in a peaceful silence not speaking much or even kissing but just being together. The perfect day that ended too soon and should have been the first time they made love. The memory literally burns him to think about like some cruel punishment, in some ways much worse than the memory of when they finally did go that far, and he wonders if they will ever be able to return to having that kind of complete trust and closeness they could feel between them that day.

One night when he comes to her window and taps lightly on the glass, as he does somewhat regularly now, she looks quite tired like she was just starting to fall asleep. But she goes to the front door to let him in as usual and waits until they have both crept back to her room together before she says anything.

"This secret midnight rendezvous thing isn't as romantic and fun as you'd think it would be after a while," she whispers tiredly, but the words are not accusatory. He is a little relieved and encouraged to hear her say something in an attempt to make light of the situation.

"I don't have to stay long," he says apologetically as they sit down on the end of her bed. "I was awake so I just thought I might as well see if you were up...I missed you."

The painfully swelling sincerity in his voice makes her smile at him for a second. Then she shakes her head, her face filling with the complete bewilderment that has become very familiar to see in her eyes when she looks at him, and she reaches out and smoothes her hand down his arm. "It seems like half the time I'm able to see you now it's when you show up here late at night," she says. "Don't you get much sleep anymore?"

He swallows heavily, not because he can't tell her how he doesn't have to sleep as much as other people, but because what he is going to tell her is true. "Actually...when I try to these days, it doesn't always work out so well."

"You can't sleep?"

"I can but...I get a lot of these really freaky dreams now. They wake me up. And then they just really...stay with me. I can't relax."

She starts to look concerned. "Freaky how? What would you be having nightmares that bad about?"

"Oh, it's just..." He shakes his head, trying to brush it off like it's unimportant. "It's nothing. They're just weird, random dreams."

He sees the deep disappointment creeping into her features as she can clearly tell he's pretending, just locking her out as usual. It is always like a punch to the gut when he is obviously hurting her like this in small but constant ways.

Screw it, he thinks. If it's one thing he can actually share with her...

"They're about my father," he says softly, looking down at the bed sheets as he is somehow unable to meet her eyes while saying it. "I'm always...fighting and killing him."

Leah's eyes slowly go wide. "You're having dreams about killing your father?" she says, sounding a little breathless and horrified. "Like...vivid, scary ones? That sounds horrible."

He shakes his head, trying to put on a good show of confusion, as she brings both her hands to his. "I don't understand why something like this would be bothering me now."

Something makes her suddenly frown a little after his words—perhaps a realization that she can possibly imagine a reason. But she still looks sympathetic and worried, stroking both his hands with her thumbs as she holds them. Then she starts scooting back on the bed and pats the spot next to her, inviting him to lie there next to her as she relaxes across the bed on her side. After he follows, she snuggles up close to him under his arm that he wraps around her, draping one arm around his waist.

"I hate seeing you like this," she says. "You always seem so strung out now."

Sam sighs a little, somehow uncomfortable about the turn this is taking, and shakes his head at himself. "I didn't come here to make you feel sorry for me, you know," he says. He realizes the full meaning of the statement only after it's out, and adds hesitantly in a much heavier tone, "I...I never come to you meaning to do that."

Leah sounds very calm in her reply. "I'm your girlfriend," she says. "I'm supposed to feel bad for you. You're supposed to talk to me about these things...Maybe you've been making it pretty hard for me sometimes, but you also beat yourself up pretty bad, you know. I can see that. All you do is keep feeling sorry about everything all the time. But if you really still want me, you can't just stop coming to me at all. You can't completely protect me from everything you're going through."

He looks closely at her face. "I do still want you. Just so you know. I don't have nearly enough of you yet."

She shakes with a very small, silent laugh, the corners of her lips turning up just barely.

Now Sam is looking at her like he is thinking more about it after saying it, and the rest of his words come out like he is speaking partially to himself. "I think I'd spend every waking hour of every day with you if I could...and if you'd let me."

The look on her face becomes very gentle, and then also serious again. "I know you're sorry about coming to me that night," she says quietly. "After you came back...But I'm not sorry about that."

In the way the words sound, he can easily hear the rest even if she won't say it: Not yet. But it still means something to hear it. Maybe the way it felt when they were together that night is actually one thing that has kept her from giving up on him by now. Maybe she trusts her instincts in believing that that was genuine and as meaningful as it seemed at the time and everything that started coming between them afterwards has been the only secrets and lies.

"And I'd do it again," she adds. "Otherwise, why would I still be with you? It's not because I feel sorry for you or something like that, so you better know that."

Sam just slowly nods.

She lets out a long sigh, closing her eyes for a moment. "I don't care what happened to you," she whispers, a hard edge of desperation in her words even as they're so soft and she sounds so tired. "I don't care what you're doing or where you are when you disappear for so long. I wish you could trust that you can tell me, but I know I can trust you. I know it isn't for nothing that I love you so much..."

Closing his eyes tightly in a pained way, he turns his head down to kiss her forehead.

Then Leah opens her eyes, looks right up at his face. "I don't care what it is," she says. "I just need to know that I still come first."

The guilt rips him apart all over again as he takes in her words. If only she knew. The only reason he is here at all right now is because she does come first. She shouldn't, she really can't, but he's cheating. He can't do the really hard thing. But in this moment as he looks at her, he finally believes more than ever that it will have to pay off eventually. It is as if without knowing it, she is telling him not to give up.

"You always come first, Lee-lee," he says quietly into her ear. "You're one of the only good things I've got. I love you. And I promise none of this—not anything at all—is ever going to change how I feel about you."

She closes her eyes again, seeming assured as she holds him a little tighter.

"And things might still be pretty complicated for a while, especially with us hiding this from your parents now," he says. "So maybe they'll never be exactly the way they were before, but things are only going to get better from now on. I'm sure of it."

And he is. It is much easier to imagine getting used to this life now that the elders have taught him so much about what to expect and how many others have lived this way before. It won't always be necessary for him to be isolating himself from people as much as he can. After a while he'll have enough control over the wolf to maintain the right balance between his normal life and this secret responsibility, and if he and Leah can keep their relationship out of the open just until that time then Harry and the other elders can't have any objection to him reconnecting with her then. Until recently it felt like he was only getting closer and closer to ruining everything he had, but now he can clearly see that it won't be this hard forever. Not at all.

Leah slides her arm up from his waist and raises her hand near his face, twirling some of his hair that is grown almost past his neck around her finger. It reminds him that he has been meaning to get it cut—he's been wanting to test a theory about how it might make a difference when he phases and allow him to move through the trees more quietly when he has to stay hidden. Of course he can't tell Leah this, but maybe some time soon he'll have to ask if she wouldn't mind cutting it for him. She has given him haircuts before; she's pretty good at it and might like to work in a hair salon some day if it ever looks possible to put herself through beauty school. It seems like they hardly ever talk about mundane everyday things like this anymore, and they especially never seem to talk about her, but he knows these kinds of things about her. He likes to remember it now and think that even with the messed up things he has seen and been through now, she can keep him grounded in the normal world where everything is neat and sane and hairdryers come in boxes with warnings on them and wolves are there as warnings in fairy tales but all the real harm never seems near.

Yes, he would like spending an afternoon feeling her fingers gently handling his wet hair and hearing the scissors snip pleasantly like he remembers it was when she did that in his bathroom before, not thinking about the loneliness of wandering the forest at night and the Cullens' devastating presence here like an infestation of the supernatural that spreads and destroys. And maybe it will ultimately be better if it is always like this and he never has to try to tell her anything. He doesn't want her to change any more than he may have already changed her.

He does not realize how much his thoughts have drifted away until she suddenly opens her eyes and takes a deep, exhausted breath, seeming to pull herself out of her inattention, and then looks up at his face. "I'm glad you came," she says. "I'm sorry I'm falling asleep..."

He shakes his head and says, "It's okay. Go ahead and sleep. I promise I won't pass out here by accident."

She smiles as he turns his head down to kiss her softly. "I wish you could just stay here," she says as her last tired and barely audible words, closing her eyes again. "Maybe then you wouldn't have nightmares..."

The thought clutches tightly around his chest, making him look at her sadly. As he watches her relax and start to slip away into sleep, a part of him prays silently for something out there that causes such impossible and remarkable things like what has happened to him to come through and somehow let things be okay for them, to rearrange the way the world is if it has to, to just give him a break. He can accept what he is now, the burden it gives him, and everything it means he has to do if he can just have a life on top of it. If he can just have something good as relief from it all and be able to sleep easily again.

What he can't tell Leah about why he has trouble sleeping well is that in these dreams he is the wolf, and his father is a wolf, too. They are both gigantic and black-coated, almost indistinguishable, but Sam is larger and stronger than the other. He is larger, but he is still always terrified to fight him, part of him wanting so much to run away because his fear of the other wolf is so overpowering. But when his father attacks and the fight starts, it is so fierce and ravaging that there is no running, he has to fight back, and to the death. By the end he lets the animal completely loose, like he has forgotten himself, because that is what he has to do to be on equal ground with the other. His teeth tear at their own will and they have to go for the throat because they can heal too fast for anything else to do enough damage, and he's ripping ripping and their blood covers the ground all over and blends together, the same, until by the time he's won he might have bled more than the other in the struggle and he can't even tell.

He has to do this to protect everything he loves from himself. But when he wakes up there is a terrible lingering feeling like he has cut away some part of himself that he is lost and forgotten without. No matter what the reason, the struggle is a wrenching and twisting pain in his insides, as if it would be easier and so much less painful to lie down and let himself be torn apart and defeated. To let go.

Now Emily.

This can happen, the elders explain to him. A supposedly rare phenomenon for his kind to experience when they meet someone for the first time after making the change. They tell him about the parts of some their legends which describe protectors of former generations having the same thing happen to them. Finding the same thing. Her.

He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn't know how he can ever explain to Leah and make her understand. He doesn’t really understand. And worst of all, Emily can’t either. She looks at him in complete shock like he disgusts her, like it amazes her that her no-fool cousin trusts and loves this man so much, and says, “You don’t even know me. You don’t know anything about me.”

He can't possibly explain how that has nothing to do with it. To him, Emily is not her favorite color or whether or not she believes in the afterlife or what she likes to do when she has nothing to do or what words she tends to use a lot in conversation. Emily is not a person. She is a life. She is a vast continent. She holds the entire ocean of understanding in her arms. Her voice permits time. The angles and curves and contours of her body are shapes molded to support existence, the planes and valleys and mountains of the earth he walks on.

To him she is not beautiful so much as she is beauty itself. Everything from now on will only ever be beautiful in the ways its proportions can be likened to her. Then all the sudden, as if it completes this entire otherworldly change of his life, he has snapped out from the inside of himself and hurt the only thing in the universe he would have thought could never be made less perfect. She will have gruesome scars for the rest of her life on one side of her body. The dark and light side of the moon. Of course this would happen because even the ultimate love is not just about the good. Now everything can only be truly ugly in the ways it looks like her, too.

In this way she is everywhere, and even if he were capable of wanting to get away she would always be inescapably with him. Stunning sunsets ignited with the bright colors of orange fire and purple veins of blood are Emily. Rotting dead animals on the side of the road are Emily. Every happy, bright memory he has from his childhood is Emily. Addicts with sunken eyes full of the nothingness of needing only the bottle or the needle are Emily. The warm safety of the womb and the painful and stripping descent from innocence are both Emily.

Even Leah is Emily. The door into this world has been following him everywhere his whole life, hiding in the corner of his eye as he gazes at the face of who they will now just call his high school sweetheart, his first love, the beautiful girl with the sharp knowing smile that will now be meant for no one if it was ever really there at all. Now everything that was hidden before behind this elusive door has all spilled out in an instant and rearranged all the maps, and the only directions he can find his way going are ones leading to her.

It doesn’t make any sense. His whole life does not make sense anymore if it is not her.

After it happens, after Emily is in the hospital and he knows he won't be able to stay away forever but can't stand to be there any longer for now, he gets in his car and drives for a long time. He isn't sure what gradually pulls him with a slow lack of effort and energy to her house of all places, and if he was in any kind of state to have better judgment he would know this is a terrible idea. But after all, it's the worst kind of punishment he can possibly imagine, when he can hardly stand to look at her face anymore after what he has done—to see Leah. This is already the worst night of his life, so it feels like anything else he does right now cannot matter at all and might as well not be real.

It is Seth who answers the door, looking surprised to see him but not exactly in a negative way. Leave it to this kid to be one of the only people who seems to be reserving any judgment about him now.

"Hey, Sam," he says, and then starts to look concerned. "Has something happened?"

It must be written all over his face. Everything has happened. The world ended and he's the only one who feels it. He just shuffles his feet around awkwardly, finding himself speechless, like he suddenly isn't even sure why he is here. He very nearly turns around to leave.

But then he hears Leah talking to Seth as she follows him to the door. "Who is it?"

She comes into view behind him and stops, seeing Sam. At the sight of him, the profound vulnerability settles into her face for just a second before she then just seems to harden all over, her expression going stoic and blank. Seth gets the idea very easily that he should get out of the way and leaves them to go into the kitchen. Leah slowly comes forward to the door and looks at him, hesitates a moment after touching the doorknob and looks back toward the kitchen in brief thought, and then resolves to join him outside on the doorstep and closes the door behind her.

She draws her arms around herself, crossing them in a seemingly self-guarding kind of position. She is dressed for bed—What time is it now?—and her arms are bare, her hair down loose around her shoulders, the neckline of her shirt sinking in a deep V that would draw someone else's eyes downward for a couple seconds, he supposes. He can remember, if he thinks about it, how sometimes just looking at her could make him feel warm all over and like something was gently prickling every inch of his skin, that he used to not be able to see her smile without wanting to touch her. His mind and heart may be so distanced from her now in a way he would have thought impossible to change in one fateful moment, but it seems like at least his body should remember hers. He should feel some reflexive and conditioned physical reaction to the proximity to her. It was him joined with her once that night that can never be taken back, them coming together as closely as it is possible for two to be, but now it might as well be that he never knew her that way. She could be any woman, or more like any person at all who he knows well and cares for. That is how it is now: there is Emily, and then there is everyone else. Women as a collective and their varying shapes and hues and ways of moving that he used to watch attentively have all dissolved from his awareness.

He doesn't know why he is practically searching for any kind of remaining trace in him of the attraction and feelings he had for her before. If his path has finally started to make so much more sense ever since he found Emily, he doesn't know why it can still be a little unsettling to realize whenever he sees her now how something that was so much a part of him could just get cut away with no lasting effect. He knows that just weeks ago she was everything but can no longer feel that she was like it was just something he experienced passively through someone else. Maybe he just can't seem to live with the injustice as long as he feels guilt but absolutely no real pain and sense of loss over the sudden separation that she will have an unimaginably hard time getting over.

"Hey," she says. "What was that about earlier?"

"What?" he asks, his mind working slowly.

"Apparently that was you on the phone asking for my dad?" she says. "He talked to you and then he took my mom aside to tell her something really quick and they rushed out of here like it was some kind of emergency."

So she found out it was him who called. Harry was the only person he could think to contact after it happened, and she must have overheard something about who was on the phone after Sue answered. He doesn't think he could stand to actually say the name Emily right now to begin to tell her what it was about, even vaguely. Soon enough she will find out anyway, though all she will hear is that she was attacked by a bear.

"Uh...yeah, there was a situation," he says, looking down at his feet. "He can explain. He got it under control."

Leah starts looking very closely at him, so distracted by what she sees that she doesn't demand any more of an answer, and then she shakes her head with a look of slight shock. "My God. You look fucking terrible."

Her concern is unbearable. It still comes naturally to her to be worried about him despite how he hurt her, all the promises to her he broke, how easily he suddenly gave up on them. This is not what he came here for. Not for her concern. The coldness and complete disconnection he feels with her compared to what he used to feel for her is just making him feel even more abandoned and lonely, with nothing to reach for.

"It's not your mom, is it?" she asks, looking for some answer to why he would look so destroyed by whatever he's just been through. "Nothing's happened to her?"

He frowns, shaking his head. "No, it's nothing like that."

Leah sighs a little. "Well...I guess you have the right to keep your secrets now," she says, obviously trying to sound a little cold and dismissing, but the deep sadness comes through in her voice anyway.

He looks at her with overwhelming sorrow, for as long as he can stand to look directly at her. He practically has an aversion to the sight of her now; it is like looking at himself in a mirror, having to examine the ugliest and most shameful parts of himself much too closely and clearly.

"What do you want, Sam?" she asks, finally trying to make him get to the point. Even now the way she speaks to him is not cruel or angry, just confused.

"I want..." He makes himself look at her, taking in a deep breath. "I want you to stop trying to be so tough."

"What?" she asks, not understanding. Or pretending to not understand.

"For the love of God, stop acting like you don't feel unforgivably hurt and betrayed over all this," he says, and with that the words start reaching her and she is now the one who has to look away. "You don't even act like you're mad. You're trying so hard to be understanding and...but you can't be! What I've done...Nobody does that! And you're just doing everything to put on this show and make it as easy for me as possible, and I don't get it!"

"What do you want me to do?" she says, softly but in a very fast outburst as she looks right up at him. "No matter how unfair it is—I love Em. I love her, and you made a point of making it very clear that whether or not you have any kind of a chance with her, everything between you and me is over. So there's obviously no point in getting in the way, if she does actually want...if she's just pretending for my sake to be way too angry over what you've done to me to even consider it. What else can I do but try not to rub it in how hard this is for me so I won't make her feel too guilty?"

"Well, she isn't here now," Sam says. "It's just me."

"So?"

"So what do I want you to do? I want you to get pissed at me. I want you to yell at me, say what you really think of me now. Hit me for all I care. I deserve it. I don't deserve for you to sit by and watch while I pursue your cousin because you don't want to make it hard for anybody else. Stop letting me off so easy!"

Her eyes just start to fill with a helplessly lucid sadness as she looks closely at him, and she slowly shakes her head. "I don't want to hit you," she says in a very weak, defeated kind of voice. "And I don't want to yell at you...I want you to be happy. Withme, but obviously it can't happen that way, so...I can't make it hard for you, either."

Sam's posture sinks hopelessly, his breath falling out heavily. He should have known this was all he would find if he came here. He wasn't thinking at all.

Leah's lips tighten as her eyes start tearing up almost unnoticeably. "Maybe it would be easier if I could just hate you and be really angry. And maybe for a long time now it's felt sometimes like I hardly know you anymore...But I do know you. And this...it's not something you do. It's not the kind of thing you'd ever do without a good reason, even if I don't understand it. And I know for a while now you've been through a lot. You've been in pain over...something, and I know it's definitely not like I've been the only one suffering. But the times I've seen you and Emily together, it seems like there's something there I can't even explain. Just when you look at her, it's like all of that suddenly just floats away and you look like a whole new and completely healed person. And it makes me feel so small. And that's how I know...I just have to let you go. That's why it's so hard to be angry..."

Her voice has started cracking a little, and she crosses her arms again, drawing herself in tight the way she does sometimes when she tries not to get too outwardly emotional. He turns to the side, standing with his back to the door, and says, "I'm sorry." How many times now has he had to tell her sorry? "I shouldn't have come here, it was stupid and selfish and...God, I keep telling myself I'm done hurting you, and then I can't seem to stop being horrible to you and making everything worse."

She shakes her head, starting to look a little more put together again. "No...You haven't been horrible. Not really. People do much worse. I know you don't mean to be this way."

He knows what she is thinking is how that's all part of what makes it so hard, that everything they had hasn't been made to mean nothing because he isn't just some complete bastard but is still the same person she's always loved deep down. But she is trying to make him feel better in whatever way she can. He has to get away from her understanding, her sympathy. Now. She doesn't even know what he did to her cousin tonight, it's so misdirected, she has no idea.

"Listen, I promise, I'm going to leave you alone from now on," he says firmly. "You'll be able to get away from me after this and I won't keep showing up and making it hard again."

Something about those words makes the hurt start showing nakedly in her face all over again. "Like I said, I'm pretty sure you never mean to do these things," she says, her voice now sounding dull, "but just...try to keep something in mind every time you make me another promise? I'll probably always believe you."

He can't look at her again before she turns to go inside. As he heads slowly back to his car with his head hanging, his ears pick up everything happening inside the house behind him. Seth says Leah's name in a worried voice as her slightly rushed footsteps carry her to her room, where she shuts herself in, and then he can hear her breathing getting tight and uneven as she starts crying softly.

When he's in his car and starts driving away, through the silence in his head it takes a while for his attention to become attuned to the quiet music on the radio. But soon he realizes the song playing now is "Under the Bridge." And it should feel cruelly and ironically meaningful in a moment like this, bringing the associated memories into sharp detail with a wistful or at least regretful pang. But in response to it, he just feels nothing. He is emptied and detached, left adrift and with nowhere to go, like the lonely soul of something that was never born at all.

For one unbearably long and wretched night, there is nothing. His love for Leah is lost, and Emily will never love him now. There is no beauty or ugliness, no darkness or light, no moon at all, no push and pull keeping the sea in motion. No center of gravity.

There is no Sam Uley. That seventeen-year-old boy who talked quietly and smiled only a little when she sat next to him in the gym one day has been dead a while now.