"Where is the life we have lost in living?"
T. S. Eliot "The Rock"
Chapter Twenty-Two, Victor
The wonders of werewolf pregnancy continued into the first week of February. The twins had found an annoying tendency to phase – even though Edward assured me there was no way in hell or its breadbasket that I could feel paws or notice them phasing when neither was even five inches long yet, which shouldn't have happened until I was fourteen weeks along, not... well, whatever I actually was – whenever I got angry. Which caused me to phase, 'cause, for those of you lucky enough not to experience shape-shifter birth, having wolf cubs inside you when you're human, or human babies inside a wolf, is not comfortable. Nor, should I mention, is having one of each in either form, but, luckily, the twins were of one mind enough not to do that too me too often.
I was by terns languid, laying on the leeches' porch or at the rock with my head on my paws and listening to whoever was phased chatter on about pine trees and squirrels and snow, and energetic, at one point actually voluntarily going with Rose (Alice, Jasper, and Kachiri having been stuck, for no adequately explained reason, at least not one explained with me, in Brazil) shopping for maternity clothes before coming to my senses halfway through the second store, when she was helping me into a shirt that read "Double Occupancy," and I'd phased in the dressing room... which made for a tense half-hour before the twins were content to be human foetuses once more. I mean, what do you say to someone about why there is a giant wolf in the dressing room, surrounded by piles of maternity clothing?
This, of course, was after the requisite calls from Mom and Billy, whom Charlie had naturally informed once Bella told him why I'd gone insane and phased while trying to find out if one of the non-veggies had mauled someone north of Forks. They hadn't, and it turned out to actually be a rabid dog, but still.
The conversation with Mom, for which she'd actually paid Seth to steal one of the Cullen's cars, kidnap me, and deliver me to the house, ensuring Jake didn't follow or come with – a plan only somewhat undermined by Seth telling me what Mom wanted him to do and asking if I'd be more comfortable in the Rabbit or the Audi, - went something like this:
Mom, yelling (I'd inherited most my temper from her): "What on God's green earth were you two thinking?"
Me, sitting on the couch next to Seth, who takes his uncle roll too seriously and stayed even though Mom asked him to wait in his room, trying not to think of anything that would anger me and knowing already I'd fail: "We weren't. The official opinion is that a 'hormonal impetus' or something temporarily overcame us and... long and short, we got married. There really wasn't that much thought put into it."
Mom: "Are you trying to give me a panic attack?"
Me, glancing down at my belly, which was just beginning to pooch (pause to consider the fun-ness of the word pooch. How many times in your life do you have an excuse to use such a fun-to-say word as pooch?): "With the baby thing? No. I'd no idea they'd want to phase when I got angry. No idea they could phase. Jake's over the moon, of course, and I think I might be happier if it wasn't the most hornet-hunting painful thing in the world, them doing it..." I didn't know what to be. Happy, sad, anxious... my mind wouldn't let me think anything past that day, which had to be coming soon, when the Volturi would come. It was impossible our survival, even with twenty-seven vampires and eight werewolves to scare them into pausing. They might pause, all right, but what good would that do when I'd heard whispers of the powers of The Volturi themselves – three men and two unknown wives, and their large contingent of guards, mostly taken from Eurasia and the rainforests of Africa, where tall trees could hide their tell-tale sparkle – paralysis, pain, complete mind-reading, manipulation over fire, something evil-sounding called The Voice. They might pause, but only to put off our deaths for a few moments... no matter how much I wanted otherwise.
Mom, now collapsing onto the chair to the left of the couch: "Twins?"
Me: "Oh, shit," and after a moment Mom got back to the yelling about the irresponsibility of it all, told me she was going to talk to Sam about this ridiculous agreement of ours, got weepy-angry over the fact I'd not seen fit to tell her about it for over a month, invited the pack in general and me and Jake in particular to dinner any time we felt like it, and then, pushing me out the door before it got too dark for "poor Seth" to drive me back, telling me that if we happened to name one of the babies after her or dad, she'd not say anything against it.
End with me blinking the car ride back, asking my brother if I'd managed to get through an entire conversation with Mom without yelling, sinking into three-part curses, or phasing. Seth nods his head, then we drive off in the opposite direction of the sunset...
The conversation with Billy was much shorter, carried out over the phone, however he'd gotten the number, after I'd yelled hopefully loud enough for everyone to hear that whoever made "Who Let the Dogs Out" the latest in the line of annoying ringtones to plague my "borrowed" iPhone, and lasted for all of forty-eight seconds.
Me: "What do you want?" I asked, glaring at the phone in exasperation. I had been napping quite nicely, in human form for once, on the Cullen's porch.
Billy: "You and Jake tied the knot, then?"
Me (nervously): "Yeah."
Billy: "And you're knocked up?"
Me (with a sigh): "Yeah."
Billy: "Good," and with that he hung up.
It had gotten better the last few days, tough, and Carlisle, using, I'm sure, this as an excuse to make me his lab rat/wolf/thing, said it was probably because they had thumbs to occupy themselves with. Whether that meant the twins were using these new-found appendages to have thumb wars with or had just gotten to that point where they realized clawing up mommy's insides was not a good way to get a large allowance, I don't know.
Still, I was lying in a nice, hot bath in the Olympic-sized tub in one of the guest rooms, and that seemed to help. (I'd discovered one bath on the first floor, three each on the second and third, and, though I was told there was another, had yet to find it, nor even guess where it might be hiding, unless somewhere in the basement.) I was also trying not to hear anything floating up from below... Edward talking to Bella, I'm pretty sure, and maybe Nessie. "The Volturi aren't supposed to be villains, the way they seem to you. They are the foundation of our peace and civilization..."
But how do you get peace through so much war and death? They killed Kate's creator, and who knows how many others. They must have killed hundreds of thousands of humans throughout the ages just to feed... How is that peace? What makes that civilization? Why, the Cullens are more civilized then these old and ancient corpses seem to be...
Don't think about it, I told myself. These arguments were becoming more and more frequent, and I was half-afraid I was going mad. In fact, I think I might already be. Things are the way they are.
But do they have to be? We've a chance of fighting them-
-a chance of winning-
-and the Cullens could take over-
And have a vampire court right here? How many more kids will phase then? And will I just be popping out larger and larger litters to feed our pack's need – and Judith too, when she's older? How many leeches can Forks support, even if they all suddenly go veggie on us?
-and the vampires can learn how to be civilized at last... Carlisle would be a good leader...
Yes, he would... but absolute power corrupts absolutely, isn't that how it goes? Even as good a man as Carlisle couldn't be in charge forever without thinking to use his power to help humans... and you know how his "helping" of Edward and Esme and Rosalie and Emmett worked out...
...and the packs could join back together again, and Jake can be the true Alpha of all the werewolves once all this bother with the vampires is over-
Sam would never let that happen. He'd die first.
-and you'll be Alpha female of all the wolves – that'd show Paul and Jared and everyone else who used to make fun of you when everyone was all one pack. It'd show Sam-
I don't want that kind of power. Neither does Jake. We just...
Just what? You don't even know, do you? You haven't talked about the future, you haven't discussed baby names or plans for getting a real place other then a lean-to by a rock-
It's a nice rock, I protested to myself, dunking my head underwater as if that'd block out my traitorous thoughts.
-or of any idea how you're going to get the money, and raising cubs takes money, or of what you're going to do if there get any more of you... It may work out well with you and Jake at the head and Quil Beta, but how many more before pups before that gets too much? And how young will they be? Sixth graders next? Even younger? You can't keep an eye on so many young ones... You need plans. But you haven't-
We've plans for the battle!
But what about after?
But I ignored the voice, the part of me that thought there might be an after. It was too terrible to contemplate.
The water was getting tepid, or, it felt so to my burning skin. With great reluctance, I climbed out of the massive tub and pulled on a fluffy towel, letting the water drain while I brushed my hair, not looking into the mirror for fear of the haunted look my dark eyes might pierce me with.
I was only twenty-one. I know there are people who've done great things by the time they're my age, or just settled down properly and had a normal sort of life with a job and a house and dog. But I'm not one of those people. I might turn into a great hairy wolf, but I'm still a normal girl, and not ready in any way to care for babies or a pack of children or deal with vampires who argued about ancient wars and centuries old feuds in languages whose names were dead nothings to me. I just want my life back, the way things were before anyone started phasing, when Dad was still alive and there was none of this gross Charlie-doing-my-mother business to think about and I still had decent clothes and dressed like someone who wasn't the world's cheapest drug-whore who'd do you for one good snort...
But then you wouldn't have gotten together with Jake.
Shut up! Shut up! By God's withered and wrinkly ass, shut up!
There came a knock at the door. I made sure the robe tie was, well, tied – not that anyone in this house hadn't seen all I had to offer, what with my phasing – and called, "It's open," knowing from the bittersweet smell and the time it wasn't Jake or someone decent from the pack I could deal with, but a vampire. The slight hint of strawberries (which, though she'd insisted she'd changed shampoos, still lingered) told me it was that cursed creature, Bella-trix Le-Swan, who'd got me all in this mess to begin with. Pity Nessie was so cute; her mom'd be a lot easier to hate if that was the case. Oh well. Nessie was probably playing with little Maggie or Kate or Garrett, who seemed to find the idea of a half-vampire child the coolest thing he'd ever seen. "What do you want, dearest soon-to-be-stepsister of mine?" I half-wondered if she going to drag me off to look at bridesmaid dresses on-line (not that I thought either of us would end up being Mom's bridesmaids, if she ended up having any at all; the frilliest froo-froo thing I can recall Mom ever getting were some coasters with ocean scenes on them that I never used anyway) before I remembered that this was Bella we were talking about. She was probably going to martyr herself to me.
I took the liberty of sitting down by the porcelain throne, just in case the strawberry smell got to be too much for me. There was silence for a moment and then, quite non sequitur, "I went to Seattle today."
I blinked at her – my all purpose reaction, I know. This time it said, "Why the fuck do I care, you humanity-betraying, icicle-humping, Bambi-killing freak-of-nature-who-I-hope-burns-when-th
I blinked at that thought, and shook my head. Sleep. I needs it. I needs it bad.
"I..." she swallowed instinctively, still new enough that she'd not yet lost all gestures... She was vain enough to try and forcibly loose them, trying to mock marble and stone so truly it was disgusting to my eyes. I'd run away screaming if someone offered the same fate to me – after I'd beaten their ass so far in they couldn't find their nose – no matter how much I want to live. Flesh and hot, live blood – that's what I wanted. That's what I had. And she'd willingly thrown it all away for a chance at eternal life. Idiot. I wanted to live as long as I could, yes, but at least there was some hope things could change for me.
A future. If only you'll think about it. With Jake. And the cubs. And-
Shut the mother-fucking, condom-sucking, ass-draining hell up!
She would be eighteen forever, and idiot forever. And whoever was around her was going to be stuck with this insufferable vampire vanity and annoying I-can't-say-anything-outright-now-can-I.
I idly picked at a piece of fuzz on my robe. Egyptian cotton or something expensive along those lines. I'll never understand the desire for expensive bath things, not when they all end up getting wet anyway. Bella finally began again. "I picked up some papers," she seemed to be rushing to say it all at once now, and tossed me a manilla envelope. It was heavy, and I found myself actually missing the girl who would have missed, or possibly maimed, with such a throw. Obviously, it's the hormones. "I," she paused again. I opened the envelope.
There were several sheets of paper of varying sizes and thickness inside, but the heaviest by far were two leather-covered folios about the size of a pamphlet folded in half. I knew what they were before I opened them, though not what they would contain.
Passports. And stuck into one were plane tickets. I opened that one first. Two tickets to Mumbai on Korean Air, with stopovers in Incheon International and Suvarnabhumi, wherever they were. Seats in the middle section of the plane, away from all windows, near the front. Tickets for Wolfe, Vanessa R. and Wolfe, Leanne J.
I looked up, not sure what to say. Mock the name "Wolfe" as the best she could come up with? Ask what the fuck she was thinking-?
No, I knew what she was thinking. They were coming to kill her daughter. So she was going to have me take Nessie and run.
"I can't let Renesmee stay here," she said unnecessarily, her voice growing high and rather annoyingly so, "to be killed, and I know Jake has fears about you fighting in your condition," I wanted to tell her that, while he had them, he acknowledged it was my fight too, and wouldn't stop me, but didn't, "so I had papers made for you and Nessie. Birth certificates. Driver's Licence. Immunization records. School transcripts. Passports. They say you're Renesmee's mother. There's about two thousand dollars in cash, and a credit card connected to a bank account in no way connected us us."
"Bella," I said slowly. I was staring at the passport, my photo next to a name and birthday and social and whatnot that wasn't mine, and blinking blinks of confusion. I didn't know what to day. I was Leah Clearwater. Leah Black. Not Leanne Wolfe, age twenty-seven. But could I be?
"Once you get to Mumbai, take a flight anywhere – except Europe – hide, somewhere where they can't find you. If we make it through this, we'll find you, somehow. If not... there's enough money in the bank account to keep you for a long while."
I looked up from the passport slowly... "I can't do this," I said. "You can't just ask me to do this, to leave my pack behind."
Ardently, stridently, passionately even, "Yes, I do! I have to! Renesmee's my daughter – my flesh and blood, my only child. I'd do anything to protect her – and I cannot let her stay here! Not if it means there's a chance the Volturi will kill her, or take her away to be studied, or demand we go with them back to Volterra to be watched, as Carlisle says they sometimes do-"
"Then take her yourself!" I said, my voice stronger now. I loved Nessie to pieces, but... "You escape with her."
Bella shook her head fiercely, the movements so quick her perfect features blurred for an instant, a dim echo of their lost human form, "Demetri – one of the Volturi's guards – is the best tracker in the world. He knows me. He could follow me, possibly. But he's not heard you, or any of the wolves. He might not even be able to follow you," like Alice couldn't see us, "and you'd be able to keep her safe... You and your children safe too."
"I'll..." I thought furiously. I couldn't leave, and let the pups – or Jake, or Seth – be hurt. Not when I might've stopped it.
"You have to Leah! For Renesmee! For your twins! I can't just stand here and watch you all get hurt because of me!" If she could cry, I think she might've. She was either very earnest in her desire to see the group of us safe, or had a bigger martyr complex then, well, anyone. "Go somewhere sunny, somewhere crowded with people to hide, or devoid of life to better spot trackers. Stay out of Europe – and probably China too, if the coven there has truly been destroyed – but just go! Keep yourselves safe!"
My eyes dropped down to the tickets once more. The first flight left tonight, ten minutes before midnight. It'd take at least four hours to get to Sea-Tac, and that was if we could catch the Kingston-Edmonds Ferry. Maybe only three if I pushed the speed limit. At least that if I ran, Nessie clinging to my back and carrying nothing but the manilla envelope, though no doubt the people at the metal scanners would look at us funny if that was the case, and we'd probably end up searched if we checked in with no luggage at all on such a long flight... And the airports liked you to be there like three hours early, and with Seattle traffic... They'd want me to leave no later than three, and it was almost time for the pack to be back from school, so it had to be three now, more or less...
If I did this, I'd have to leave now. I might never see Jacob again.
"You can't ask me to do this. You can't!"
"You have to go, Leah." She went from where she was standing to kneel by me, still sitting my the toilet, waiting for the morning sickness to overcome me. Venom she couldn't cry was sparkling behind her tawny eyes. "I beg of you. I know We might not have ever been friends, but, please, as sisters. As one mother to another."
You've got to decide, Leah...
I'm trying to think!
What's more important to you: your husband, who you can only die beside, or your babies?
I heart stalled for a moment, I think, but I could not tell around the sounds of the twins' beating their alternating rhythm thud thud, thud thud. My breath certainly caught, and I felt confused and dizzy and lost. Could I just leave? I know I'd been gone from the Rez for months; I know I've practically severed all ties with everyone that isn't a gruesome monster in their free time, and that everyone might live through this and I could bring Nessie back from wherever we'd hidden in days or, if not, come back in a few years and see if anyone was still around...
Don't you want to live? Go! Take Nessie and run! If not for her or yourself, then for your babies. You can keep them safe. The pack can live on in them...
"I packed you and Renesmee a bag. I put some old jewellery and things in there too, to sell." She took a keyring out of her pocket. It didn't have anything amusing on the ring – nothing from Star Trek, or something about penguins – just yellow tab and a long, dangling key. "Take the Audi. It's the fastest. You just have time to get there." She sped out of the room, bringing clothes to me in a blink of an eye.
I dressed stupidly, mind racing. I wanted to fight – but the what-ifs were powerful and real. What if the twins wanted to phase while we were fighting? What if I got hurt so bad it hurt the twins? Would I be able to live with myself if I lost them? Would I ever be able to have any others if that was the case? Would I ever see Jake again? What about Seth? He was my brother, but I loved him...
Did I want to do this? Didn't I?
I was in the garage. Bella was kissing Nessie goodbye. Kate was at her side, holding my hands. "You are a character, Kiwi. I will not forget you," she said, kissing both my cheeks in that French fashion.
Three hours to Sea-Tac. Sea-Tac to Seoul. Seoul to Bangkok. Bangkok to Mumbai. Mumbai to...
"I don't want to go, Aunt Leah."
"Neither do I, Ness.
"Then why are we going?"
"Because it is the best thing to do."
The Twins stirred in my belly but did not phase. They did not like this any more then I did. "Sometimes running takes more bravery than fighting." I could only hope I was doing the right thing. And that I could live with myself afterwards.