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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.


62. Bleed

Rating 0/5   Word Count 6915   Review this Chapter

"I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well, I guess we're gonna find out." - Matchbox 20.

Chapter Sixty Two

Bleed

*Emmett*

So what?

So what if I've torn the mattress without any "help?" So what if I've given myself feelings that are meant to be felt with someone else? So what if the name rolling off my tongue hasn't been in the room with me for a good ten minutes?

It doesn't matter what kind of guy you are. When a woman with a body like that invites you through that special doorway, there's no way to pass the offer up. I'm no exception. The only problem is, my woman had to leave me on the doorstep, even after she'd opened the door.

Without getting too personal, I think it's safe to say I took myself through the rest of the way.

Guilty as charged. But hey, a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do.

I pace, alone. Window to door, wall to wall, corner to corner. With every step, my chest aches a little more. I mull over the same internal pep talk again and again, trying to coach myself out of it. Everything's okay.

So why the fuck does everything hurt?

Life is all motion. Everything moves right along without a boring day of nothing stretching between. The problem is, everything's rolling so fast, there's no place to stop for a moment.

There's no time for her to catch her breath.

Who's fault is that? Mine? Hers? Ours? No one's?

I try not to think about it. There's always going to be parts of Jordan that I can't understand. I get that. But right now, nothing makes sense. And in the land of walking steroids crying wolf and cousins bursting through closed doors like there isn't anything special going on, the chance of the house-breaking marathon that could let us forget everything for a while is small.

I mean small. Like, "Edwardian ego post-Bella cock block" small.

I'm about to give in to the looming impulse to release my frustration on the plaster and wood surrounding me when the soft tap of knuckles on my door touches my ears. I glance over my shoulder as the door cracks slightly. A tiny voice speaks through the space.

"Em? Are you, um . . . done?"

Chuckling, I wipe the frustration away. After a quick check to make sure my special areas are covered, I stroll to the door and pull it wide open. Spikes of black hair and gleaming gold gaze up at me. I grin, folding my arms and leaning against the door frame.

"What's up, short stack?"

Alice rolls her eyes, smiling and shaking her head in that Alice-y way of hers. "It's time to head to the clearing." She hums to herself, spinning back into the hall and glancing over her shoulder. "Coming, big shot?"

I crack my knuckles before pushing off the wall and following after her, grinning as if I've never had a care in the world. "Time to kick some ass."

*Jordan*

The pack crashes at Sam's. Many drop like flies the second they're through the door, while others have yet to burn off the buzz. The last few hours worth of energy lead to half-naked wrestling matches and drunk imprint sex in the guest rooms. After the voices fade into snores, I make my escape.

I pass through the living room with a bottle gripped between my fingers, stepping over piles of runts, their hanging mouths smeared with evidence of their late-night snack raid. Cans of soda, crushed Doritos bags, and the broken glass of what used to be a dozen beers litter the floor around them. Above my head, the synchronized snores drag on.

I waste the darkness away in the kitchen, alone, when there isn't someone rushing in to steal from the fridge or crashing through the doorway in a storm of cracking noses and spluttered threats. I pull bottle after bottle from the stash hidden above the counter until the purples, reds, and blues come to visit. They secure me through the moaning and giggling prodding at my self control and prying my iron grip from the edge off the counter. By the time my heat devours the burn, a dull light seeps through the shades on the windows. By then, I have enough sense to force my stiff legs to carry me out to the porch.

Humidity soaks the world outside, sticky on my skin. The greens and greys settle into place as I lean against the wall, holding everything together. For a long moment, everything is so quiet, I'm almost convinced the forest is a soft, gentle place with no struggle.

But then the door creaks open and a woman dressed in a thin white gown steps through, shattering my moment of false reality with a hesitant innocence to her smile that rises bile in my mouth.

There's a muffled click, followed by the groan of boards under the pressure of approaching feet. I grit my teeth as a soft greeting reaches my ears.

"Hello, Jordan."

I turn the bottle in my hands. The swish of the liquid washing against the glass fills the thick silence boiling in the air around me. Emily clears her throat, sagging against the wall of the house. She swallows, the bob of her throat roaring in my eardrums.

"What's wrong?" Her whisper is careful, almost as if she's asking herself. "Why are you so . . . angry?"

Shaking my head, I lean my weight back and flip the cracked glass in my palm."I'm a raging bitch." I drag a blaze through a neck of the bottle, snorting. "Hell, I'm a self-aware raging bitch."

It's almost a lie. I don't have a damn clue what I am. But my words do push Emily a few steps backward, and that's a good start.

"I wanna make a good impression."

My lip curls around my words. "You made half the world aware of you and Sam's attempt at monkey sex, or whatever the hell that was." I swallow back the bitterness lingering in the corners of my mouth. "And I'm still not impressed."

Heat pulses from the small figure shrinking behind me. In the corner of my eye, I see her bite her lip through the curtain of black waves hiding her face. She clears her throat once more, stifling a cough. "I. . . I asked Sam not to go too hard on you. You know, when you accidently broke that window." She inhales, and the light pressure of her gaze on my neck disappears. "I know you were doing your job."

My head's a clutter of needles clinking together as their tips touch, stabbing and prodding my brain—pricks of reality searching for a way in.

I dry the bottle. Its bite claws down my throat, thick, hard, and sharp. In moments, the needles shatter, just like the brown glass raining through the spaces of my fingers. Numb, I flex my empty hand and shift closer to the edge of the porch, picking out patches of brown beneath the damp moss coating the trees.

Emily presses on, persistent. "Jordan, I. . . Look, you know I really do care about you, like it or not. And really, I want you to know. . ."

Weeds and vines snake around the trees, clinging.

"Okay, so that doesn't sound good either. What I mean to say is. . ."

Leaves shudder beneath the dull sky, shaky in the early breaths of morning.

"And if you ever, ever need anything at all, even just a snack or a roof over your head. . ."

Dew shines on blades of grass, reflecting the traces of light creeping into the grey above.

"Remember that Sam and I are always going to be here for you."

Emily's smile touches the back of my neck again, giving off an air of pleased relief. I clench my hands, my pulse thrumming steadily in the base of my palms. I tick the seconds away to the beat of approaching footsteps, my gaze frozen on the stretch of grass separating the yard from the woods.

"Am I missing something?"

Over my shoulder, I keep an eye on Sam while he trudges toward the porch. His hair, shaggy and ruffled with sleep, brushes the top of the door as he pushes through. His long arms circle Emily the instant she's in reach, and he presses his lips to her forehead. His broad shoulders shift as he steps between us, shielding Emily with his body. I shake my head with a silent snort, turning back to the trees.

They talk quietly in murmurs for their ears only, but my hearing catches every word.

"How'd you sleep?"

"Great, thank you." Emily giggles.

Sam chuckles with her, then sighs heavily, swallowing. "She didn't. . ."

"No, Sam. I actually had a very nice talk with her."

There's a short second of silence. "Do you think you can manage making breakfast? I'm sure Nicole would help keep the pack out of your hair."

"Of course! I'd love to."

"Okay." Boards creak beneath shifting weight. "I love you," Sam mumbles.

Their lips touch, and there's nothing else for them to say. Hurried hands fumble with the door, yanking it open. Emily's brisk footfalls pass through the door and down the hall. Sam hesitates for a second, the sound of his breathing as light as his questioning stare on my turned back. After a heartbeat, his steady strides trail after Emily, and the door clatters shut behind them.

()()()

Stuffed to the brim with sausage gravy and the grease of Emily's fried breakfast, the pack files out, one by one. My shoulder nicks the edge of each passing tree as I pace the tree line, my paws soft against the brittle ground. Jacob and Nicole hold themselves high by the porch with Jared flanking them, counting the wolves barreling off the steps and throwing themselves into their wolves. Each shimmer jolts my mind as the pack link fills with each racing set of thoughts. Jared exchanges comments with Jacob, keeping up a casual conversation about something too important to have ever reached my ears.

Collin and Brady stagger outside last, groaning and pushing against each other. They stumble down the stairs, nearly tumbling over the rails. Collin lands sprawled on his stomach, and Brady crashes down on top of him. Their thoughts throb, distressed and distracted.

Nicole snuffs, shaking her head as she rests her gaze on the two of them. Neither of you will be coming along. The order comes clipped with irritated bluntness.

Brady raises his head off of Collin's shoulder blade, his bloodshot eyes opening wide. What! Why not?!

Collin whines into the mud. Yeah. What. . . He flinches against a stab of pain splitting his pounding thoughts. What about the others? There are two . . . three wolves smaller than us!

Nicole glowers. The other wolves' pacing slows, minds sparking with eager excitement. The pack's attention sharpens, centering on the runts collapsed in the grass and the alpha glaring holes into their pelts.

Jackson, Daniel, and Grant have all put a good effort into their patrols and have trained without slacking. She pins back her ears, her lip twitching over her teeth. And we will pretend to have forgotten that little alcohol incident at the beach last night. For now. Unless either of you would like to deal with that now?

Excuses bubble in Brady's head, but a shove from Collin quiets them. Brady shakes his head, rolling off the dark wolf below him. Ha, yeah. . . We're good.

That's what I thought. Nicole shakes her fur, huffing. You two will stay back and make sure nothing comes by here. Quil's mother will be bringing Kim and Claire by soon.

With a nod, Nicole returns her attention to her russet companion. Her thoughts warm. Are we ready now?

Jacob lifts his head. His dark eyes scan the pack, jumping through the wolves gathered in the yard before finding me pacing in the tree line. His gaze hardens as it connects with mine, though it flickers away before it can settle. We're ready.

And just like that, everything's in motion.

I flank Nicole, blasting through the brush on her heels with Jared at my shoulder. We move in sync, fueled by the excitement swapped from mind to mind. It sings through our veins, electrifying the instinct to hunt and kill in even the most innocent of us. The morning forest parts around me, giving way to rocky slopes and towering pines. Jacob races through the mountainside, following a scent ingrained in the fading corners of his memory.

Jacob flicks his ears when the terrian roughens, nosing the side of Nicole's face before breaking away from the pack and disappearing around a pine. Nicole presses forward, shifting to run in the center as she leads the pack. I cast a suspicious glance at Jared over my rolling shoulders. He shrugs dismissively, focused straight ahead.

Nicole leads us through a path made up in her own head. The trees start to thin, and so does the air. A growl slips through my teeth, my stretched muscles tensing. I taste the stench of leech on my tongue. Wolves rile from farther back, but Nicole ignores it. She leaps over a slab of bare rock, nodding for Jared to fall in place beside her. I lunge after Jared, landing soundlessly on the ground at his side. The rest of the pack files in, with Paul wordlessly filling the place to my left.

I don't acknowledge him. I stretch the scents in my nostrils as we creep forward, my senses on high alert. Pines press into my fur as I pass through, moving forever closer, until finally, I find myself braced against hard ground and gazing into a clearing nestled into the side of a steep slope.

What gives? Paul grumbles. His ears perk as he pushes through a pine's prickled branches. We aren't here to stand around.

His words don't disrupt my focus. I study the shape of the tent built against the mountainside, my nostrils honing in on it. Through the blue fabric, shapes shift and move. My nostrils twitch as a snarl cracks through my teeth. The pack link floods with unease, but Nicole holds her ground, silent.

Hearbeats later, Jacob emerges from the trees on the other side of the clearing, the sunlight lighting fire to his russet fur. The shapes shrink as three figures step into the clearing one by one. I snort as the leader, smiling warmly like Jacob's here for a friendly chat, moves forward. The stiff board of Edward shadows him with the frail, pale figure of the Queen of Forks' attached to his side, crunching across the ground like a lost moose. She tips her head down, averting her gaze as they come to a halt before Jacob.

Carlisle makes himself comfortable in the stretch of space between him and the wolf peering down at him. The sun's beams gleam off the venom of his teeth as he forms another smile. "Hello, Jacob. Do you have any questions regarding the matters of this afternoon?"

Edward's body freezes. My eyes slant as his expression blanks out completely, fading away from reality. His skin glitters, perfectly in need of a few deep gashes and rearrangements.

Jacob huffs, glancing between the two ice cubes. His ears flatten as his thoughts form, blunt and impatient. We'll take our share, if not more. There won't be any problems as long as you stay outta our way.

The second Jacob's thought forms, Edward speaks, his toneless voice floating around the clearing. "We'll take our share, if not more. There won't be any problems as you get too close."

Carlisle nods slowly. "Fair enough," he reasons evenly. "We're already waiting for them. If you could line your pack south of the battle field so the newborns are unable to spot you at first, it would dramatically decrease the chance of changed plans and possible injuries."

Jacob dips his head, his paws working in the grass. We can do that. He glances between them again, ignoring the girl in Edward's arms. So, that it?

Edward's yellow eyes dart up to Jacob, tightening ever so slightly. "Anything else?"

Carlisle takes a half-step backward, pressing his hands together. "No, that will be all. Thank you."

Jacob doesn't move at first, even as the small meeting comes to a close. The leader paces back toward the tent, giving off an effortless calm. Edward braces himself, his yellow eyes unblinking. Jacob meets his leering stare, holding his gaze. With each passing second, his heartbeat quickens, and his lip twitches a little more, showing another millimeter of sharp white teeth.

In the middle of the tension, the pale girl by Edward's side looks up. She wraps her arms tight around the rock beside her, taking a tentative step forward. Nicole's ears perk beside me, and her silver form slinks out of the trees and toward the human's back without a second thought. Jacob's gaze lightens as he glances up, staring straight through the girl to peer over at Nicole's approaching form.

Seeing the russet wolf begin to relax, Bella smiles. I growl lowly as Paul shifts forward beside me, suddenly charged. Oblivious, the girl takes another step forward, her arms slipping from Edward's torso.

"Jacob," she breathes.

Jacob's dark eyes rest on Bella for half a second. Her shoulders slump further, losing their tension. "Oh, Jacob, I'm so sorry." She stretches a hand out toward him, reaching to touch his face.

Jacob's muzzle wrinkles as he cracks a wolf grin and pushes right past Bella's outstretched hand to join the silver she-wolf behind her in a gentle wolfish reunion, bumping muzzles and affectionate rumbles. Nicole pushes her head into Jacob's broad neck, her icy eyes flashing smugness.

Bella gapes, frozen, her trembling hand slowly dropping back to her side. Her dull eyes blink furiously as she gawks at Jacob and Nicole's wolves, together, with her forgotten and left to her ice cube. Her sickly pale face reddens as realization starts to settle. She glances back at Edward, his face a solid mask of bottled anger. He hastily wraps a stone arm around Bella's waist and sweeps his stuttering pale stick away before the water works hit.

The instant they're gone, the pack animates. Chortles and coughs of barked laughter sound through the trees, while comments and close-ups of Bella's shocked expression progress from mind to mind. I rumble in amusement as Paul replays the situation in reverse.

Karma's a bitch, and I love it for that.

Alright, guys. That's enough.

Jacob snuffs as he faces the pack, his gaze focused as he drains the distraction with a single look. Nicole backs him up with a huff of her own, slamming a paw into the crunchy grass beneath her. I snap my teeth lightly as flares sprint up my spine. Paul echoes the sound, shifting impatiently against the pine beside him.

You heard the Cullen, Nicole barks. She nuzzles Jacob's chin before twisting around and bounding into the forest, taking the point with Jacob at her side.

I snarl, coiling before throwing myself forward. The pack breaks into motion, moving as one as we thunder through the mountain in a sea of flashing teeth and beating paws. Again, the spark ignites, humming in my ears and pumping through my veins. I leap a boulder, crashing through a thick coat of bramble with Paul at my shoulder. We choose to run together, swapping scents and heated promises of the hell that we'll be bringing down on the parasites.

They won't know what hit them. But they'll feel it, raw and sharp as their damned life is torn clean out of throats and chests.

One moment, we're charging forward, together, and the next, we're coming to an abrupt halt. I kick up a spray of dirt and grass as I slam myself into a stop between two trees. Paul skids up next to me with a huff, the rest of the pack stumbling in and slowing to a stop. Jacob and Nicole pace the trees in opposite directions, their smooth movements shaken with their own adrenaline rush. Nicole glares into my gaze as she passes, her clear eyes reflecting the burn of instinct flaming in my irises.

We'll wait here, Jacob announces from far down the line. Until they give the signal.

Be ready, Nicole adds. She trots back to the middle, finding the point again and resuming her position with Jacob by her side. She appraises the rest of the pack, eyeing the paws tearing anxiously into the loam below with unease.

Jacob says something else, but it never touches my mind. I peer straight over the shoulders in front of me as a blur of white streaks flit into the clearing. They talk to each other in low whispers, deep in a conversation I couldn't give a damn about. It's not their whispers that distract my attention. It's the burly figure strolling in among them, towering over their heads as he steps through the trees with a confidence that shines bright in his eyes.

His golden gaze darts over to my stare almost instantly. He flashes a grin, his dimples popping.

"Hey, hot shot!" Emmett crows. "Gonna come give me some good luck?"

By now, the steady stares of every gaze in the pack avert my way. I shake them off with a warning snarl, raising my lip as I glance side to side. When I look back, Nicole's crouched before me, her silver form moving into my path. I snort as she moves in, leaping to the side and brushing straight past her without a second thought.

My body stiffens, every nerve on end as I jog into the clearing. I focus only on Emmett as he darts forward to meet me in the middle. I almost tackle him with the force of my speed, but he keeps his footing and braces his hands against my chest to keep the two of us from toppling over.

"Damn! Now this is how you say I miss you."

I exhale lightly, the warmth of my body settling as it mixes with the ice of him. I nuzzle his neck, huffing against his skin. Emmett chuckles, shaking his head, and making some comment about not having any treats on him. I snap playfully at his ear, too caught up in the light, easy feeling that pounds in time with my heart to take offence. We joke for a few minutes with simple touches and playful gestures until the tension radiating from either side seeps into us and our smiles start to dim with reality.

Emmett's icy fingers skim through my ruff, pushing through my rough fur as his golden gaze locks with mine. He leans forward, his sweet, icy breath whispering across my face as he speaks slowly. "Okay, onto business." He nods once. "Game plan is simple. Three K's—keep head straight, keep close, and kick ass." He searches my gaze, bobbing his head. "Sound good?"

Inside me, the wolf protests, and my neck muscles contract beneath his hand. I huff through it, nodding and cracking a wolfish grin to ease the traces of hostile warning creeping into my expression. Emmett flashes his dimples and drops his hand.

"That's my lady. Come on, let's warm up."

Just like that, Emmett's beaming again, bouncing back on the balls of his feet and hopping like a boxer circling his opponent. I circle, keeping low and picking out the weak spots in his stance, waiting for the right moment to make my move. He curls his fists to his face, ducking to the side before throwing a blur of white straight for my muzzle. I deflect the punch with a jerk of my head, my body ready as I lunge for him. Emmett pauses, freezing on the spot as I connect with his body, slamming into a wall like brick muscle. I snuff at his widened gaze, wrapping my head around the back of his neck and holding him against the warmth of my body.

Emmett relaxes almost instantly. He pats the top of my head, chuckling. "Love you too, babe."

I start to pull back, but a sudden movement brings me to a stop. From the corner of the clearing, a small figure breezes in. She skids to a stop by the rock, her eyes wide. "They're coming!"

From there, everything zips by in fast-forward as I lock my mind in place and channel my thoughts into complete focus.

I nudge Emmett's forehead before slipping back into the pack. Embry's the first to pick up on the approaching suckers—he gags and hacks at a scent that has yet to reach any other noses. The pack riles, whimpering and baying and lunging rashly, but Jacob and Nicole herd the frantic wolves into place. I tear into the ground below me, shifting from side to side and knocking everything and anything—including a spluttering Paul—away. My gaze focuses in on the clearing on the other side, piercing through the line of gathered Cullens and into the trees.

In just over a minute, the whistle of dozens of whispering feet hits my ears. The scents of too many leeches at once hits the pack in a cloud, driving me closer to the edge. I block out the rest of the world, my vision tunneling as I channel every ounce of strength and raw power stored in every inch of my body into my waiting legs. Each short breath counts another second, inching my closer and closer to the edge of a static buzz that'll set me on the brink. Icy clarity sweeps my vision as adrenaline fires me up.

And all at once, leeches pour into the clearing from the other side. The Cullens charge to meet them, and with a howl from Jacob, I tear through the clearing, leaving the pack behind.

The Cullens stick to the far side of the clearing, working together to take out the first round, while the pack moves to take our half. I meet Emmett in the middle of the field, working between each side. The sounds of combat—striking bodies, ripping skin, furious shrieks and pained howls—fill my ears, slowly starting to take me over with pleasureable shudders and a heat that tears out all sensible thought and reason.

But Emmett is there through the heat, working with me, his grins and enthusiastic hoots and hollers holding me together.

The pack makes quick process. Paul works alone, swiftly taking out any leech that rushes for the wolf side. The rest of the pack teams up: Jacob and Nicole; Leah and Seth; Quil and Embry; Jared and Sam. Once the opponents start to thin, I notice Jackson, Daniel, and Grant off to the side, scrambling and yelping excitedly as they tear a struggling she-leech piece by piece.

After minutes, the fighting slows, coming to an end. My eyes catch the white streaks of leeches fleeing into the forest. I snarl out to grab Emmett's attention, setting my sights on a male vampire turning on its heel and heading from the wolf side of the clearing straight toward the Cullens. I throw myself forward, meeting its widening gaze as I catch the sucker on the side and yank it clean out of his stride.

My teeth sink deep in its torso. The parasite struggles, kicking and trashing and screeching as it claws through empty air. My jaws close, scraping bone as I twist and jerk, grinding in deep. Goosebumps race over my skin with each of its agonized screams that drive my hold in deeper. I perk my ears as a rush of movement breezes in behind me, throwing my weight to the side to raise the body of my prey high in the air.

The dull light catches the thrashing shape, igniting millions of diamonds on its skin. As it meets the sky, the knuckles of a clenched hand meet the side of its head, splitting the leech's face like ice. Emmett hops back as the force of his punch brings the head of the leech tumbling to the ground.

I jerk the headless body back, turning away to mangle the figure on my own, crunching and smothering as I make and a beautiful mess of bloodsucker puzzle.

Once I'm finished, Emmett steps in to smack the head on the top of the pile of leech scraps. He glances at me with a smug grin as he leans back, winking. "It needed a cherry on top to finish it off." He wipes his empty hands on his black jeans, giving the pile of our kill an approving nod. "Mmm. Yeah, that was definitely the work of my woman."

He reaches out with a balled hand, and I bump the side of my head against his fist. There's warmth in the tips of my fur igniting in every nerve of my body. Emmett laughs whole-heartedly, a proud gleam in his eyes as they grazy my form for any injuries. I huff at the thought, unable to stop the amused grin spreading around my jaws as my heart beats a little harder in my chest.

Emmett glances over his shoulder, distracted by the call of his little pixie. I glance over his shoulder at the tiny Cullen waving frantically at him. "C'mon, Em! We really gotta get going!"

Emmett shakes his head, sighing slightly to himself as he glances back at me. The right side of his mouth curls into a smirk as he searches my gaze one final time. His deep bass lowers as he brushes his finger tips along the side of my face. "I'll see you at midnight. The usual."

He winks, and then twists around and barrels after his family, gone in the blink of an eye.

The tingling heat evaporates, disappearing with him as time crawls at its normal pace and the static buzz morphs into thorns and knvies.

The pack mind becomes a live wire at the Cullens' departure. I jog through the flurry of movement, taking crushed limps and chunks of bodies in my jaws and flinging them into flames. Tunnels of purple smoke swirl into the sky above as the fires grow taller and taller. Energy crackles with the flames, though there's no room in my head to pay any mind to it. I grasp the tiny bits of warmth left, replacing the sickening stench of leech with the sweet traces of Emmett's scent trapped in my fur. Fragments of conversations—mostly endless questions fired from Brady and Collin, Daniel's boasting as he parades around the forest to look for straggling leeches for Jacob, and small talk about how Bella's sorry ass got cut up a little bit in the red-headed leech's escape—seep into my thoughts, but the rest is a hum.

Until one thought envelopes the pack mind, closing off all other thoughts and flooding my head. All movement stops as the pack stills, deaf to everything but the alarmed howl sounding a few miles into the distance.

An image, sharp and defined, spreads through the pack link, passing from mind to mind to mind. I shake my head violently, blinded as the picture of two pairs of wide crimson glares hit me. I'm immediately in motion, whipping around to head in the direction of the fading howl.

Jacob steps forward at the same time, skidding on the ground as I dart in his way. I snap my teeth, warning him back, but he blocks my path once more. I'm motionless, my lip peeled with my wordless threats. His dark eyes hold mine, reflecting the diseased hunger sparked inside them.

His thought blares, rising above mine and Daniel's frantic shouts. Daniel, stay back! Don't try to get that alone. He glances over his shoulder, jerking his chin toward the trees. Grant, Lee, wanna get that?

The small wolf perks in the background, glancing around Jacob's shoulder. I twist to stare the blue-grey runt down, pinning him in place—daring him to make a single move. He quivers, his small eyes darting. Um. . . I-I think—

Got it, Jake!

The sandy shape of Seth bolts through the brush, his heart soaring with pride. Jacob starts to protest, but it's useless. I drag a paw deep into the worn ground below, tearing out a deep groove of earth that could have easily been the runt's throat. Impulse taints my thoughts red and purple as I snarl and spit, chained to the ground by the alpha's will. Jacob doesn't look away as he backs away, pretending the shakes racking through my body are invisible.

A snap echoes in the back of my head as a nimble grey she-wolf stalks toward the brush after her brother, her fur standing on end. Don't think so, squirt. Get back here!

Jacob sighs, shifting again as he takes another half-step away. Give him a chance, Leah. He glances at a cowering Grant, tipping his head to the forest again. The runt whines once, trembling, but quickly jumps forward, hurrying into the brush after Leah.

I'm left to stand alone as the pack retreats around the rock, spreading out to dive into senseless conversations while we wait for the alpha's next orders. Nicole trots in and takes Jacob away to the trees with her, their thoughts fading. Once Jacob's attention fades, I seize my chance.

I snap my teeth in the direction the two wolves disappeared in before lunging into the brush, headed after the warm scent of wolf.

I blur through the trees, winding and lunging. The ground spreads in sheets beneath me, and the trees sprout arms and reach out to catch me, but I never pause for any of it. The scent of various leeches is strong, striking a blaze in my nostrils. Hisses, snaps, snarls, and the occasional tear and crunch hit my ears just before I burst into a tiny clearing.

Seth fights alone against a single opponent, his agile figure ducking and darting around a she-leech's blows as it swings and kicks at him, infuriated. I stalk in a wide circle on the perimeter, my gaze set on the tiny bloodsucker, waiting for the slightest sign of retreat. The leech dances, twirling and leaping and diving, its rhythm evasive. Seth charges and slashes and gnashes his jaws, all without making a dent, until the leech makes a mistake.

I breeze around the perimeter, a ghost of silent stealth. After minutes of pulsing eardrums and heated thoughts of twisted 'sucker, I duck into the clearing, standing still and tall on the edge. The she-leech lands in a crouch, spits, and shoots a glance my way. It tips its head back, its mouth twisting as her eyes widen.

And in that second, Seth knocks it flat on its back, clamping his jaws into its shoulder and tearing in deep. I nod, rumbling at the jolt of pleasure following the screeches and shrieks as Seth tears into the vampire's side. As the sucker's struggle weakens, he risks a hopeful glance over his shoulder, hoping to find a russet figure watching him from the green.

As he turns his head, a streak of white strikes him square in the jaw. Blood spurts, and Seth yelps, hopping away. He whimpers, shaking his head and spewing droplets of crimson on to the grass. I see straight through him, my thoughts static as the she-leech turns and dashes toward the perimeter. My heart pounds adrenaline through me as I lunge over Seth, landing hard. I bunch my muscles on impact, zeroing in on the peak of the leech's spine, its hair whipping behind it as it nears escape.

I push off with a snarl, bringing my muzzle down as I meet the fleeing figure. My teeth slice through skin, crunching bone as gravity pulls me in.

I drop over the broken figure with a thump. A moment later, the leech's head falls beside me, its glazed, graping scream gazing up at me as its face rolls into the muck.

Seth's usual enthusiasm doesn't come. I gnash my teeth, pivoting back to see where he's run off to. Seth's on his feet, frozen behind me. As I step toward him, I see the glaze in his empty dark eyes as he sees something that isn't even there.

I become stone, pushing into the pack link.

A crashing wave of splitting cracks and tears crash through me, the impact like a train speeding downhill and connecting with my skull at full speed. I tumble into the blackness with the agonized mind of another, falling a million miles downward in a single second.

I snap back up in a second as reality hits. I throw my weight against Seth's side, charging over him. He scrambles in the mud before shooting after me, his breath hot on my flank. The pack mind bursts into a frenzy as we rush in from all directions, headed toward the pull of a presence. I push myself faster, tearing through the flat lands as the thoughts grow clearer.

First the tang of blood, then the soft whimpers, and finally the crushed brush around me. I charge through it until I find myself charging straight towards Leah's nimble grey form hunkered down into the grass. She bleeds out her muzzle, and patches of fur are torn from her shoulder, but nothing sticks out more than the light of unspoken panic in her brown eyes.

When I slow enough to bunch my muscles and near her, I see why.

On the ground at her feet, the shape of a small male wolf lies limp, his giant paws kicking weakly at the ground. Blood streams from his ears and leaks out his muzzle, mixing with the dirt and grass caught in his blueish-grey pelt. The white coloring of his hide is matted with blood gushing from his split torso. His ribs point to the sky, torn and twisted.

And on his neck there's a slash, a line of punctured holes the shape of a jaw.

But his dark eye still blinks and his heart still pounds, even as he bleeds the warmth from his body.

There's only a heartbeat between my appearance and the rest of the pack's. They circle in through the trees, stopping as they catch a glimpse of the mangled mess of Grant. Many minds fill with a sort of shocked disbelief—something I've long since become immune to. Nicole shoves through the pack, though she freezes in her tracks at the sight of the blood. Only Jacob has the guts to inch closer, avoiding the red flesh strewn in the ground.

He was bitten. Leah rushes. She sinks back as Jacob nears, her black eyes flickering. I tried to tell him to move, but he just stood there, and the damn thing got him. I-I didn't mean for this to happen. He—

That's enough, Leah. Jacob's forelegs tremble as he leans down, oblivious to my presence. He gazes blankly at the body, his heart pattering in his chest.

I snap my teeth, snarling out at him as I move in, pressing my nose to the faint pulse in Grant's throat. Jacob's muzzle lowers, inches from my face, but he doesn't show teeth. I spread my jaws, grazing the tip of a sharp tooth against the sealed bite wound.

We gotta open it the damn wound up! I roar. I glance at Jacob's russet face, piercing his unwavering dark gaze. We have to let the venom out. He won't heal.

Jacob's eyes slant. He watches Grant pant and paw at the ground, motionless. No. We can't do that.

Bursts of pent rage crack inside me. I release a sharp bark, throwing my weight to knock the stiff russet body away. I twist back, reaching my open jaws for Grant's neck. Before I make contact, Jacob counters, knocking into me before I get the chance. I land in a hard crouch in the ground, snarls ripping through my chest and throat as I start to turn on him.

The weak pressure of another paw against my own stops me.

Grant's eye rolls to gaze at us. His thoughts, dampened with exhaustion, don't make it through the pack link. He presses his paw into my claws, kicking at it. Desperation taints his flared pupils, screaming; it's too late.

I reach for his throat again anyway, the movement swift, and this time grab his neck before Jacob can react. I tear open a strip of his flesh, leaning away as blood spills into the mud. Grant's kicks slow, his hind legs twitching. Jacob freezes, his breathing stopping. I narrow my gaze, holding my ground as blood dribbles off my chin. The pack doesn't breathe. Silence fills the clearing as an eternal stretch of seconds tick by.

After a long second of nothing, the thundering rhythm of Grant's pulse stutters, and his body consvulses. He tenses, and breath whooshes from his lungs, deflating his sides in the release of his warm breath. His body slowly relaxes into the grass as his lids fall and his tongue lolls from his jaws. He twitches, his foreleg giving a final weak kick into the smeared mud below him.

And he doesn't move again.