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Monster

Summary:
I'm nothing but a monster burning in a hell that only exists in my head. There's no hope left until one harmless glance chances logic and binds two eternal enemies together in a twist of fate. Can the escape from this hell be found in an infuriating dimpled grin? Or is this another dark, dirty trick of my own mind? A forbidden passion, heat, and intense anger—this is no fairytale.


Notes:
[Disclaimer: Monster is an originally plotted fic. The ideas within this fic are not to be copied in any way, shape, or form—I have not given my consent to any manner of copying. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. All canon concepts and characters are the property of the Twilight Saga's author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Similarities are for the sole use of fan fiction, and no profit has been or will be benefited from the posting of this fic.] Emerging Swan Award 2012, nominated into Fandom Choice Awards.


58. Underlying Matters

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"Your time will come if you wait for it, if you wait for it
It's hard, believe me I've tried
But I won't wait much longer 'cause these walls they're crashing down
And I won't wait much longer 'cause these walls they're crashing down
And I keep coming up short." - Imagine Dragons.

Chapter Fifty Eight

Underlying Matters

The Black house is a hell of a lot smaller than I remember it. I've only been here once or twice. Then, I was a short, nervous girl peeking through the door to ask if Nicole would be coming home for dinner. Now, I've nearly doubled in size and I have to duck in the doorway just to fit through.

I have no nerves. All of them have long since been expelled from my body. Now, I hold myself surely with solid confidence. When I find Jacob sprawled out in a chair in the kitchen, seated in front of a table too small for his legs to fit under, I don't wait for his attention. At first, he looks surprised to see me, but his expression hardens as he registers my expression. When I demand that anyone with a voice gets their ass over here as soon as possible, he doesn't question.

Nicole arrives first, having been Jacob's first priority. She instantly starts to question, but I don't bother to find my voice yet. She and Jacob stay close together, fingers brushing, bodies close, voices low. Billy takes a little longer, apparently caught up in something at the Clearwater's. He suggests that Sam comes along in return for driving him home and adds another ten minutes to his arrival time. Jared is the last one to trudge to the door, his hair messy and his shirt inside out and backwards. Having been with Kim, none of us are surprised.

I pace over the hard floor, adjusting my weight to avoid creaking the house with every step. Sam watches me, pressed stiffly into the couch, his eyes following my movements. Jared snores lightly on the opposite side, his legs spread out and his mouth hanging open. Jacob and Nicole exchange gestures and words in the kitchen while Billy shifts his wheelchair, getting comfortable. Questions and worry hang in the air, masked only by the drone of Jared's snores.

Eventually, Jacob and Nicole end their conversation with a short kiss, finally joining the rest of us. They stay in the doorway to leave space, holding each other's hands. Sam nudges Jared, waking him with a start. He mumbles an apology, sitting up and rubbing his face.

And all at once, every pair of eyes set on me.

I pass the T.V one more time and pivot to head the other way. I plant my feet on the wooden floor, standing close to the plastered white wall. There's a fuse hanging above our heads, just waiting to be lit, and I know better than to be standing close to anybody when it sparks.

"What is it that's bothering you, Jordan?" Billy asks. He speaks deeply, wearing a warm smile though his eyes crinkle at the edges with genuine concern.

Relaxing my fingers, I direct my gaze into the chocolate stare waiting to be met. "We have a leech problem."

Jared snorts. "No shit. What's really going on?"

I clench my jaw, moving my steady gaze into his. "This is bigger. Something's coming for us."

"For Bella," Jacob corrects. He squeezes Nicole's hand as she gives him a look, and amends with, "So it isn't even our problem."

"We know about the . . . group of them coming," Nicole adds. "Sam had to call Carlisle earlier. He mentioned something about them coming here in a few days." She glances at Sam.

"Three days," he specifies.

"Three days too many," Jared grumbles.

I slam my fist into the picture by my head, sending it skittering across the floor and under Billy's wheelchair. "Forget about her! This is bigger than the leech pet's dramatics." I lean forward, finding all of their gazes at once. "I'm talking about a crazed leech, on our lands, out for revenge. It was her—the blonde Cullen—in our lands. She's nuts, and now she's here again, right around the same time all these other leeches keep appearing on our lands after months of nothing. Pretty damn ironic for a funny coincidence."

Silence falls for a brief moment. My breathing picks up as I look between the five of them, their expressions softening as they process my words. Billy breaks the silence, his frown highlighting the wrinkles around his mouth.

"The Seattle killings are continuing, which means the group of them up there aren't coming any closer. It can't be that group on our lands."

Jacob frowns at his father. "So we wait for them to come here, and then we get rid of them. Just like we've planned."

Frustration floods my veins, entering my tone. "Forget Seattle! That shit's already sorted out. I'm not talking about that leech problem. I'm talking about the 'suckers on our land, right here and now. I'm talking about the threat to our people."

I step forward, holding Jacob's narrowed gaze. "Are you hearing me? There's more to it! This is bigger than the Seattle issue. This is a direct threat to us, not Bella Swan! Kids aren't phasing because of whatever's going on in Seattle. The phases are triggering because there's something here that's threatening our people. Not only that, but leeches get thirsty, and there's a pretty nice supply of throats to suck dry around here."

There's a heartbeat of quiet filled only with four quickening pulses. Nicole's glare rests on the side of my face. "So we run our patrols without messing around and take care of whatever needs to be taken care of."

"We expand our routes too," Jared suggests. He glances at Sam. "Run closer to the trails we used to take when the Cullens weren't around."

"That won't do a damn thing," I spit. My hands rake through my hair, trembling against my scalp. "Our families, or any human on the rez, could head out to the mountains for a harmless little picnic and end up sucked bone dry. Is that what we're supposed to do? Bury bodies and stand on the sidelines until something's right in front of our faces?"

Nicole frowns, her eyes loosing their bright persistence. She turns her head to Jacob, who sets his jaw and glances at Jared. Jared shrugs, fixing Sam with an expected look. Sam sighs, nodding to Billy. I raise an eyebrow. He twirls his thumbs before answering.

"Any conflict within the Cullen family is out of our hands."

The sparks in the room dull at Billy's words. I glance at the rest of them, searching for reactions. Jared shrugs, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "We've always done it that way, even when it was just Sam and me in charge. No reason to change now."

No one else objects. I laugh humorlessly and lean the rest of the way forward, leaving just a foot of space between the others and myself. When I speak, my words come smoothly, my tone lowered and dangerous. "We're made to protect. To defend. And if a ravenous leech, out for Quileute blood, with a purpose far beyond hunger is not something we should be taking in our own hands—" I stop breathing for a moment, pinning the others without even raising a hand. "I don't know what is."

After a pause, every gaze rests on Sam. He's been oddly quiet, keeping to himself this whole time. His expression tightens slightly. He opens his mouth, then closes it and clears his throat before speaking quietly.

"Honey, I think you need some rest. You've done . . . a lot lately."

I cast him a look, my expression finally clouding over. I shake my head, muttering disbelief under my breath. I can't stay cramped in the room with them any longer—I'm about to explode.

I jog briskly for the door, sliding through Nicole and Jacob without bothering to take in their expressions. I round the corner and all but sprint for the door, taking time to fling it open, hard enough that the knob cracks the wall. I rip off my clothing, winding a strip of my shirt around my ankle to tie it together. I wheeze with every passing second, taking in the air—light, airy, and stirring just like it is before a storm hits—and leap off the porch, throwing myself into the wolf.

Landing crouched in the creek, I huff and rise, jogging onto the soft grass. I inhale and exhale at the same time, stretching and contracting my body without a pause. I start to build up speed as I near the trees, but a voice from the porch stops me.

"Jordan!"

I press my paws into the ground, jolting to a halt. My lip curls as I fix my gaze on the blades of grass below, bent from the pressure of my steps. Sam's scent hits me just as his voice finds my ears. He speaks only two words without waiting for me to look at him.

"I'm sorry."

His words sound funny, soft and quiet though spoken though a deep voice. I take them in, process them, but can't understand what they mean. I feel my heart start to pump faster again, and so I swallow my snarl and leave him standing there on the steps.

I'm infected almost immediately. Just six miles into the woods, the monster snatches my brain and starts to take the reins. I throw my weight around, my legs bracing to balance my body as my strides falter. I gnash my teeth, twist my body, slash my paws—anything to get her away from me. It's almost useless at this point; I don't have enough control left to take over.

I lunge straight into the middle of a trail and drop into human form, crouched on the balls of my feet with my knuckles pressed into the ground. I expel a hot breath, trying to figure out why the hell I've done that.

Then I hear it.

A feminine, carefree hum coming from just around the bend, followed by the squish of the trail as a little body skips along.

My hands move without any order. I rip off the strip of my shirt and slide into my clothes, slowly rising to my feet as I do. I only have a few seconds, but it's enough. The girl rounds the corner without even peeking to make sure it's safe. She spots me instantly and she stops. Her hands rise to her mouth as she gasps. Her brown eyes travel up my body to find my face. She looks into my eyes for a long moment, her own flaring. Then, she drops her hands.

And squeals.

"Hewwo!"

Shit.

The girl runs up to me, her chubby arms extended as she comes closer. She tilts her head back to look up at me again, pausing just a few feet away. "Hmm. I's seen you befow! You bwig!"

A stab of recognition enters my skull. I narrow my eyes, unable to form a smile. I'm only thinking of Quil racing around the corner after her and scooping her up to take her far, far away from me. There might not even be time for that—the time bomb above my head's already started ticking.

"I Cwaire! I bad, bad girl!" She covers her mouth again as she giggles, looking over her shoulder and then down at her sparkly pink shoes. Her voice drops to a whisper.

"I out awwwwwwll awone while Unt Emwy cook din-din! Mmm!"

She smiles at me with her little baby teeth, rubbing her belly. When she pulls back her hand, most of the glitter from her shirt sticks to it. She hums under her breath, wiping it off on her wet jeans before looking up at me again. I hear her babbling, but there's something about it that strengthens the sound of the tick, tick,ticking in my ears. I grit my teeth, tense my back, curl my toes—anything to hold myself together for just a moment longer. Just a moment longer for someone to save her.

But nobody shows up.

Claire's smile disappears. She takes a small step forward, saying one more word before she hugs my leg, pressing herself up against me. The world around me sharpens suddenly, my lungs emptying as I go cold.

And then I—

The monster

comes ferociously back to life.

She sucks away

light and thought,

filling me with heat and

turning me

inside out.

I feel wasted.

Floating and sinking;

secure and exploding;

breathing and drowning.

I see the innocence in the young girl before me, as bright and real as the fear tainting her scent. The monster paints a red target over her round face and stamps her fate across her forehead. I drag a breath through my teeth, trying—wanting—to acknowledge the fragility of her youth.

But I'm blindsided.

I can only throw my voice to the sky as my body morphs, covering her shrill scream.

()()()

Heated seconds.

Dragging minutes.

A stretch of time washed red.

And then, another part of the forest awakens and the world comes rushing back. An agonized howl raises above the treetops, echoing in the winds. I taste a salty, hot wetness on my tongue, watching scarlet flow from the split skin of the figure at my paws. The tiny shape isn't even a body—it's a corpse too broken to have ever been alive.

I stare, my veins on fire, trying to make sense of the thousands of buzzes in my head; a radio playing every station at once. The forest goes into a frenzy as a bolt of movement disrupts the calm, flying through the green with pounding paws and snarling jaws. I hone my senses, raising my lip and preparing to strike, shifting and bracing myself.

Just then, one station overrides the rest, blasting through my head with undefinable force.

Go! Get out of here now, and don't turn back!

My gaze sweeps the forest, even as another round of flames flicker deep within. I can't be pierced—fear is abstract and nonexistent. But the rope of control knots around my throat regardless and pulls me away from my kill, guiding me into the green and leading anywhere but here.

()()()

I end up on the cliffs, naked and alone. Dark clouds roll in and the sky splits with jagged stabs of lightning. It's not long before the clouds open and releases their heavy rain, pelting each drop like bullets. The wind washes it over me in waves, soaking me in seconds.

I barely feel a thing. The chain of command wraps around my throat, crushing my windpipe. At first, I can only feel a sting of heat inside me, though it slowly spreads, becoming both excruciating and euphoric at once. My shoulders draw in to support the weight barring down on them. I curl my hands into fists as if the motion alone can hold me in one piece.

As time passes, I start to smile. This is so pathetic. I'm so pathetic. I grin against the rain, laughing under my breath as I watch the dark waves break and burst against the cliff. The monster's infecting me, invading me inch by inch, already working through my system as I stand there. My fingers twitch and I grind my teeth through my smile.

"Gotta outta me!" I growl to the flames.

My knees bend as the pressure strengthens, weighing down on my spine.

I spit. "Little bitch. This all you've got?"

My vision wavers as the flames burn brighter inside of me, pulsing through every part of me. I can't think straight as my thoughts jumble and clash, falling together then exploding in a billion different directions. I repeat the snarls, shouting into the sky. With each heated threat, my body bends a little more and I feel myself sliding a little closer to the edge of the cliff.

In the middle of my personal screaming match, I realize I have company. The pad of careful footsteps crackles the brittle brush scattered over the ground, barely audible beneath the claps of thunder. The familiar scent of her tickles my nostrils, drawing me back into reality. I rock back to stand straight again, twisting around just as the footfalls come to a halt.

Lightning lights the sky, welcoming Leah with a flash.

She stares at me, her dark eyes slanted and burning. She balls her hands into fists at the sight of me, choosing to look only at my shoulders. Her mouth moves, a hard line with icy words, but I can't hear a single thing over the ringing in my ears and another boom of thunder.

Snorting at my blank expression, Leah steps forward, her ratty sneakers squeaking against the rock. She leans in toward me without coming any closer and raises her voice.

"You almost killed her, you know," she shouts over the crackle of fading booms. "She's in critical condition. That's the second person you've sent to the hospital this week."

The jab in her voice doesn't hit me. I'm wordless, emotionless; nothing more than emptiness. I trace Leah's movements, searching for any sign of a challenge as she comes closer. The wind whistles through her cropped hair, the short locks flying out behind her.

"Guess Sam knows how you feel." A bitter smile etches on her lips. "Must run in your genes to rip off the faces of any innocent girl who presses your buttons."

The heat of Leah's presence presses against my skin, prickling the tiny hairs on my arms. My muscles tighten, preparing for action. She shows no teeth, no threat. Just a burn of hostility and loud words. She braces her toes on her heel as she steps out of one sneaker, then the other. She kicks them towards the trees before turning back to me and taking another step forward.

Her voice lowers when she speaks again, venom in her tone. "I hate your guts right now."

I'm indifferent, feeling breezes tease my hair and slip through the tight spaces between my clenched fingers. Rain patters against my chest and down my breasts. I see Leah in the corner of my eye, coming closer, but make no move to face her.

Leah barks a rough laugh, shaking her head against the rainfall. "You don't even know what the hell I'm saying, do you, Jordan? Because you stopped caring." Her jaw tightens. "I was counting on you to prove to me that there's reason to care. But you just gave up, didn't you? You just don't even understand what you're doing to other people because you're just as selfish as your leech. You were better off with alcohol as your crutch. He's ruining you."

Her words turn in my head, nothing more than sounds and breaths. My fingers flex again as I try to grasp my control, but it's fleeting, pressing into the far corners of my mind whenever I come close. The thunder explodes above our heads, followed by another white stab of light.

After a few heavy breaths, Leah sighs. "Whatever. There's no help for you, you sorry bitch."

She backs up, shedding her shirt and bracing herself against a rock. She flexes her arms, positioning herself in a racer's crouch before sprinting forward. She brushes by me as she leaps off the cliff, arching her body and stretching her hands as she falls, disappearing inside a rising wave.

Once I hear her hit the water, I tip my head back, baring my teeth and releasing the enraged snarl that's been lodged in my throat. I burst into my wolf skin, sending a sprinkle of water spraying over the drenched cliff. I've clutched the last thread of my control for the past few minutes, and now I just can't hang onto it by myself anymore.

The next twenty minutes is lit with flame, lightning, and the growl of the rolling thunder. I charge through the green, my legs all but disappeared beneath me as I fly, high on some sort of feeling that this mind doesn't know. At some point, the lightning makes its way through the trees, a white streak against the purple sky that pales the world around me. In that same moment, another wolf, dark brown and crazed in his agony, appears on the other side of the wood, running straight at me. Just a heartbeat later, a lighter brown one catches him by the ruff and drags him down before he can even get closer.

As the storm chases me farther, images swim across my vision. A young girl, her copper skin paled slighty, seeming to have more blood outside her body than in. I see the stitches across her face marching down her body in three perfect lines, barely missing that vital mark in her chest. I hear the awful wails of pain and despair she makes as a large, gentle hand tries to touch her. I feel her fear as she whimpers, flinching away.

All of it feeds the monster, causing the flames to burn hotter inside me. Another deafening crash sends my ears ringing as I rocket over a river. I have to slam on my brakes, jerking back to stop myself. I haven't realized how far I've gone.

The rain isn't any lighter here. It's heavy enough to have almost masked the bloodsucker stench radiating out of the forest around me. Melting into my human skin, I breathe though the small part of my lips and move in, ducking into the brambles and allowing them to snag in my hair and tug at my skin. I don't give a damn that I'm uninvited to the warm, comfortable house before me. Just the thought of going in there without him there to lighten the stench makes me sick.

I study the mansion through the spaces of the gnarled branches and leaves. I'm still simmering enough to warm the rain around me with my body heat. Thunder shakes the ground and lightning pierces the sky again, this time bringing out the shine in the glass wall, leaching the inside of the house grey. I don't pick out any bodies in the split second of sight. A moment later, a pitch blackness closes around the world again, leaving me alone and caught in the brush.

Or so I think.

The next flash reveals a broad-shouldered figure striding toward me. I only take a single whiff of the air to catch his scent and my body starts to settle. I feel him in my ear as he pushes the bramble aside and steps behind me, his firm body pressed against my back. He speaks softly and convincingly enough that when his satin hands cup my elbows and guide me toward the back door, I don't protest.

His family's there, all of them standing with expectant stiffness. As we enter, they take one look at Emmett and then another at my bare skin dried only by my heat. They don't need a hint to know to flit away, disappearing into separate rooms. Emmett smiles a little to himself, takes a step back, and pulls his shirt over his head. My eyes follow his movements as he comes around in front of me. His lips move as he holds the shirt out for me, only offering.

I take a minute to hear his words. He's saying, "—figured you could use it. Especially since I don't want anybody else seeing my beauty." He smiles without teeth. "Well, that and McCarty's giving me ideas that aren't just friendly conversations in my family's living room."

Nodding, I step to the side, allowing him to guide me to the couch. He pulls around a seat to sit across from me, allowing me to see every inch of him at once. I know it's only to keep my head straight, but my eyes are much more interested in his bare torso than checking for threats right now.

Our feet touch as we settle into our seats. Emmett wiggles his toes through his socks, nudging my bare feet. As I look up, he averts his gaze, leaning around the couch to look behind him as if expecting someone to be there. I smile slightly at his childish flirting, unable to help myself. Emmett chuckles under his breath and glances over at me. He returns my smile draining the rest of the tension between us.

Leaning back into his seat, Emmett draws in a short breath, his voice low. "I know all of us being around isn't really your favorite," he begins. His tone alone suggest that he's trying hard to get some sort of conversation between us, but there's something else mixed in there that proves there's more than that. "We had a visitor."

I look away from the grey tips of his socks, meeting his yellow gaze. I see the answer in his eyes, but I ask anyway just to give him words. "Who was it?"

He grimaces, resting his hands on the arm of the couch. "It was Rose. Carlisle wanted to talk to her, to try to reason with her and let her know she's still apart of our family. We never caught up with her."

I clamp my hands on the edge of the couch. I know I should have a lot to say about this, but I don't. I can only think about how close she is and how she keeps slipping away. It's like she wants us to find her, but not catch her. It's as if she's planned out every minute of the past few weeks and those to come.

Emmett glances at my hands. "Don't be breaking anything without me now."

Amusement stirs inside of me despite my tension. I look up at him with another smile, unable to help myself. He returns it with his dimples and safely moves closer, close enough that our knees brush and there's not a dozen miles of space between us. My grip gradually loosens.

"Carlisle wanted to talk to you too," Emmett murmurs. He watches my expression carefully before continuing. "You don't have to, though. I know it's a lot more to ask than it seems, especially since you just got here. But I figure if I let you know how sexy you look right now, it'll boost your confidence enough to make you agree." He winks, beaming hopefully.

And again, I find no reason to say no.

Emmett holds my hand, gripping my palm while keeping my fingers free. He takes a minute to glance down at the "floor" a few times to check for "slivers" before guiding me into the kitchen. One vampire waits, alone, leaned up against the counter. I have to try to keep my smile up now, but at the sight of Carlisle with his concerned yellow eyes and too warm smile, it disappears.

"Please, have a seat," he insists. His words come smoothly, as if he's a practiced host reciting lines he's spoken a gazillion times over.

I don't move. I pierce his honey irises, demanding him to show his intentions. My trust is a nonexistence pool inside of me, shrunken further by his friendliness. Emmett allows me a minute locked in a one person stare down before stepping forward and pulling out two chairs. He pushes them together, creating a makeshift couch. His hands rest on my sides as he waits for me to move. Reluctantly, I step around the chair and lower myself to sit. The surface presses against my bare legs, cold and polished.

Carlisle smiles yet again, nodding to the two of us. He moves his gaze from Emmett to me, seeming to have sensed what would happen if he put his full focus on a heated, half-naked werewolf.

"I'm here to talk to the two of you about the vampires coming around here." He seems slightly unsure of himself though his words come without a breath or pause. "There's a lot of them coming and we're still counting on the pack for help. Our extended family has refused us, a sacrifice we have made to accept the pack's assistance."

Those yellow eyes rest on my steady gaze. "I know the pack might feel overwhelmed or focused when that is not the case. Is your pack still planning on participating?"

Participating. He makes it sound like a damn business conference. I breathe out slowly, narrowing my eyes. "We wouldn't miss the chance to rip up a couple of leeches for anything."

Carlisle smiles again as if the idea pleases him. I think he might as well be green. "Yes, I would think so. It's wonderful to hear you still intend on coming. It will be a tremendous favor. What can we do to—"

"Get rid of the other leeches around here," I say instantly. Emmett's rubbing my hand gently in two of his, an ice pack to seal the outlets of my heat. "I doubt you're missing the scents in the mountains."

I could have just as easily asked Emmett about this. There's a larger sense of thoughtless truth in his words. But something about hearing it from the leader itself makes it official—like it really is a problem that needs acknowledged and not a nagging voice tugging at my instinct.

Carlisle's perfectly molded expression hardens slightly. He frowns, his gaze flickering over to Emmett for a moment. Emmett nods, resting the sandwich of our hands on his thigh to smooth out my flexing fingers beneath the table.

"Volturi," Carlisle says finally. "Those scents are strikingly familiar to Volturi scents."

I raise a brow, but Emmett jumps in to answer.

"They're royalty in our world," he explains slowly. I meet his eyes, hanging on to the sound of his voice and letting his words get caught in my memory. "A group of ancient vampires with sticks up their asses in love with their idea of the law."

"Emmett," Carlisle murmurs. "The Volturi are focused on what they think is the greater good. Please don't look at them so critically."

Emmett shrugs, rocking back on his seat, unbothered. "You know what they say about opinions: to each his own."

Carlisle shakes his head, but agrees and lets it drop. "Very well."

I like Emmett's description of pissy leeches much better.

"What the deal with them?" I press.

Carlisle looks up again, his expression. "I assume they're here to check up on the issue in Seattle. We can't be positive unless we manage to find one of them and ask ourselves."

"They're too far away to be just interested in Seattle."

"Maybe they're checking up on Bella," Emmett suggests. "Seeing if she's still human. This could be about her too."

I hold back a snort, though I do mutter, "Figures."

Carlisle doesn't acknowledge my comment. "They could be intending to check up on Bella as well. Either way, we can't make assumptions unless we speak with one of them directly."

Emmett nods in agreement. I study Carlisle for any other hints, but he's become neutral again. Emmett smooths out my hand and flips it over, tracing the lines on my palm with his thumb. After a few strokes, his thumb starts to 'miss' the lines, swerving off and brushing along the skin of my thigh. I swallow to avoid making too much of a reaction with his father standing right in front of us.

"Well," Emmett booms. "Anything else to say, Pops?"

"No, Emmett. That will be all." He smiles again, nodding thankfully before turning his attention on me. "Thank you, Jordan. It was nice to speak to you on good terms."

His words strike another flash of heat up my spine. I ball my free hand into a fist, imagining it closing around his shirt and shaking answers out of him. There's something Carlisle's leaving out, keeping from both me and Emmett. Something he thinks he knows.

I don't get a chance to make my move, though, because Emmett says his final words and locks his arm around my waist, darting upstairs without giving me a chance to decide whether to act.

A while later, I find myself completely relaxed, nestled into Emmett's side. I turn so my hip presses into the thin sheets, keeping the blanket thrown over our shoulders. Emmett strokes the hair thrown over my back, holding up a conversation without needing me to say a thing. I close my eyes, hearing his voice echo in his chest as he speaks.

". . . and we'd just go. Just like that. I'd be Dale and you'd be Morgan. Clever, huh? And we'd just fall off the earth, only for a little while until you're all better. Sound good to you?"

I know he doesn't expect my answer, but my thoughts have slowed, and it's not hard to find my voice anymore. I smile against his marble skin, tracing the line of his abdomen. "Any place with you is perfect. But if we found each other here, I think we were meant to be here."

Even though that's all I say, I know it runs deeper than that. The wolf is bound by the magic in my veins here. Leaving would be cutting that part of her away—rebelling against her. It would drive her mad and waste all of his careful efforts. Emmett fingers the fabric of his shirt before running his fingers up the dent in my spine and finding my hair again.

"I think everything happens for a reason."

Just like that, the talking stops. I breathe a little quicker, even more aware of the feelings brought by his touch. Emmett hums low in his chest and I raise my head, wanting to get a better glimpse of his expression. My thoughts hover on my tongue, waiting to be released. Emmett turns his head, grinning as he sees my gaze. He leans down towards me and pauses, waiting for me to make the next move.

I lean up, moving in until we're close enough that our breath mixes between us and the tips of our noses touch, allowing me to look directly into the bright pools of his eyes. I rest my hands on the strong plane of his bare chest, smiling in the inch of space between our lips. Suddenly, I can't hold back the words waiting behind my mouth. They spill out, breathed as a whisper.

"I might not have ever loved someone before," I say, "but if there's one thing I can be sure of, it's that I'm in love with you and that can't ever change."

Emmett grins, his lips spreading wide enough to pop his dimples again. His eyes shine, full of the sort of happiness I've always searched for, even though I've never thought this is what I've needed to find. He lifts a hand and runs it gently through my hair until it hits a knot. He gently pulls my face closer, closing that small distance between our lips for just a second.

As we break apart, he holds my gaze, smiles, and says exactly what I need to hear.

"I know."