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The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (23/26)


"Here must all distrust be left behind; all cowardice must be ended."
Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy: Inferno


Chapter Twenty-Three, Whiskey

It was eleven thirty at night. The business class passengers were getting on the plane now. We'd been sitting outside terminal eight on the south satellite for about an hour now. Nessie and I (Nessie pretending to be my five-year-old daughter quite well, constraining herself when she asked me to buy her some boring looking new hardback to asking me via her weird though-projection way) had lingered in the airport shops, buying this and that, eating and stocking up on things to eat at fairly short intervals. But now we were waiting.

Jake hadn't called.

I thought he might, to beg me to come back. I wasn't sure he would, or I would listen if he did, but I expected him to call nonetheless. To yell at me, maybe, for not saying goodbye properly, with a parting quick one and a chance to tell me not to do anything stupid, or maybe to thank me for doing right for once in my life.

Well, I thought in that part of my mind that wasn't the traitor who'd convinced me of this mission, which was growing less and less strong with every passing moment, though not near fast enough, not "for once." I was right to join Jake's pack to begin with, and right to let myself fall in love with him. I was right to marry him, and right to make these two with him. I looked down at my stomach. That pooch barely visible, but I knew it was there. They stirred about a little, as if they knew I was paying attention to them, but stayed human foetuses for the moment. Yes, they were the best thing I had ever done. It may have been accidental and it may have been a shock, but they were part of me and part of Jake, and everything that was Jake was good, no, great, and amazing and would do well in the world, even if I was a bit of a failure.

Leanne Jocelyn Wolfe. That was who I was now, according to the paperwork. And she certainly wasn't a failure. I'd looked through the paperwork, hidden in a bathroom stall. Degree from NYU – Gender and Sexuality Studies, which I supposed you couldn't do much which, but I didn't know much about anything you could do anything with, so I supposed it worked – with a transcripts to match, and a 3.8 G.P.A. There were papers for me, saying I was born in April of '82, married "Jason Isaac Wolfe" in 2002, and birthed "Vanessa Rochelle" in January of '04, and been widowed no more than a month ago. I'd almost dropped the papers at that point, seeing the death certificate for Jake's facsimile, and fearing it would be true all too soon... I'd rolled the portent up again, and stuffed the papers into the duckling-shaped backpack I'd purchased for Nessie, and the cash, passports, and tickets into a cheap macramé purse I'd gotten for myself. Then I'd gone out the sinks, where easily a dozen women and young girls lingered, and carefully applied the make-up I'd bought as well, trying to look less like a girl who'd lived half-a-year by a rock and more like Leanne Wolfe, the college graduate from New York. "Ivy League" eye shadow, mascara, and "Ruby Spell" lipstick," each more dramatic then I'd ever have normally chosen, if I was the kind of girl who wore make-up before this. I braided my hair and pinned it into a bun. I'd already taken my grass-stained dress and exchanged it for a pair of pink sweatpants with a flower motif down one leg that near made me barf and a non-descript grey hoodie. The perfect cross a girl like Emily or Kim or Rachel would choose for long plane rides – comfy and lazy clothing, with always-perfect make-up.

In the hour of waiting, I'd painted my nails – and Nessie's - "Red-A-Go-Go" and did her hair into pigtails complete with pink ribbon. Her white dress had been changed for clothes not too different from mine, and both our dresses had been shredded and hidden in the used pad and tampon receptacle in one of the bathroom stalls on a different concourse.

The only thing we had left tying us to the pack and the Cullens was the iPhone still in my hand. It was eleven-thirty-nine now, and I could not bear to wait any longer. I dialled the number for the phone they'd given Jake, and, after three tense rings, he picked up.

"'Lo?" he said sleepily.

But how could he be sleeping at a time like this? "Jake," I whispered frantically, hopefully low enough that none of the other passengers waiting to board heard me.

"What's up, Lee? How're Sue and Charlie?"

That's what they had told him then? That I'd taken Ness to see Mom and Charlie? Overnight? And he'd believed them? Well, to be fair, he'd no reason not to, but... My voice was flat when I told him, "I'm not with Mom or Charlie."

"Bothering you already? Want me to wait up for you or-"

"I'm at Sea-Tac."

There was a pause. And then, "Why?" I think his voice crackled, but that just could've been the connection.

They were calling our section to board now. I got in the back of the line, holding Nessie's hand tightly, like any "mother" would, and holding the phone just as tightly with my other. "Long story. Bella begged me. To keep Ness and the twins safe."

"Lee-" he began hastily, but the line was moving oddly fast, or me oddly slow.

"I love you," I breathed into the phone, and shut if off. As I reached for the tickets and "my" id, Nessie took the phone and, with a movement I could not see, popped out the SIM card, tossing it into the trash can at the flight attendant's feet. On the ramp to the jumbo jet, Nessie took the phone and, in her tiny little hands, crushed it to dust, letting the pieces fall off her hands and harmlessly to the ground. Against the dark grey carpet, it was unnoticeable.

"The G.P.S. inside," she whispered to me, after holding up her arms like she wanted to be held, into my ear. She sounded sad, more sad then I'd ever heard her. "If we're going to do this, we've got to do this right."

We found 3D and 3E quickly, and took our seats. Before long, the attendants were giving us emergency landing instructions, and I was thinking grimly about how badly Ness and I would actually get hurt if the plane were to fall in a fiery ball of smoke and metal into the sea. The pair of us could probably survive if the currents weren't too bad – at least, long enough for the helicopters that would come to investigate to find us.

And then we were in the air, flying away from the pack and the Cullens and the war I should be fighting, but couldn't because Bella, for once in her whorish, dick-sucking, clam-baking life was right and that Nessie deserved to live, as did my cubs, and I couldn't let them get killed in some war that would never have happened if Irina had just girded her loins, gotten over the fact the original pack had killed her mate, and come for Christmas with the rest of her coven.

Maybe, if the Volturi came and there was no "Immortal Child," no one would die, and the crowd would disperse, and we could go back and I could see Jacob again, and Seth, and Mom, and even Kate and Charlie too. I could be back home in just a few days.

Maybe, if no child were present, they would listen to the testimony of Tanya and Kate and Carmen and Eleazaar and Mary and Paul and Charlotte and Siobhan and Maggie and the rest. Maggie knew lies when she heard them, and they couldn't doubt that. And didn't one of the leeches say that one of the old wrinkly leaders could read all your thoughts with a touch? If so many had the same thoughts, maybe they wouldn't kill them all... and Zafrina could make illusions too, so she could make it out as if there were much more of them then there actually were, so they'd have to pause...

Or maybe they'd think they'd destroyed the "child" already, and would leave them be...

Or maybe they'd say that the Cullens had threatened their "peace" and "civilization" with gathering twenty-one blood-suckers, besides themselves, to one place, and kill them anyway.

Or maybe they'd let the Cullens live, but since they, apparently, didn't like werewolves much, would just kill the pack...

I could play the what-if game better then anyone, and my horrible fear of the future, once reserved for possible imprints visiting La Push from Belize or Trinidad, created battles and death scenes taken from every movie I'd ever seen.

At least you got to say goodbye to Jake, that annoying part of my brain thought, and you are carrying his children. The future of the pack. Maybe the future Alpha. Maybe two boys, ones you can name Jacob and Henry, for their father and grandfather. Maybe two girls, sisters for Nessie, that you can name Susan and Sarah, for their grandmothers. Or one of each. Think of them. You're keeping them safe.

But I didn't know if I wanted to be safe, not when Jake wasn't going to be. Not when I'd left my little brother in danger. Hadn't I always looked out for him? I'd beaten up bullies more than once for his sake, and had joined our Olympic pack to keep him safe.

You can't just think about yourself any more: you're going to be a mother. You're already Nessie's adopted mom. Who'll take care of her without you? She may be more or less able to do so, but who in their right mind would let an apparent toddler wonder around by herself? Think of the cubs – imagine them! That'll make them real! Think! Chubby-cheeked baby boys with Jake's dark, never-ending eyes and a smile like yours, when you use it, that everyone says was taken straight from Mom that'll grow up in to tall, handsome, strong bronzed men with the same way of shaking the hair out of their eyes that Seth does... They'll live on through you!

But I don't want them to "live on"! I want them to live!

The attendant was serving drinks, and I went through several servings of ginger ale, unable to quell my thirst or stomach. Nessie explained it to the harassed-looking woman by saying, "The baby in Mummy's tummy make her sick lots," which earned me smile and Nessie a packet of animal crackers for being, "Such a good big sister already."

Think! It insisted. Think of baby girls with wisps of hair the same colour as yours, as Jake's, and caramel-coloured eyes! Think of them growing up with Nessie, playing together like real sisters! Think of the beautiful women they'll be... you've seen yourself in the mirror, when you take the time to make yourself presentable. You're beautiful, and nothing more amazing then Jake exists in the world; they'll be beautiful.

But I don't want beautiful babies if Jake isn't here to raise them with me.

The flight was twelve hours, and Nessie sat quietly, if not contentedly, beside me the whole time. I knew her thoughts were centred around the same things, and could do no more to comfort her then I could calm myself – surely a bad start to my attempts at motherhood.

I tried to think... If there would end up being vampires coming after us, as Bella had feared there might be, they'd be able to trace where we'd gone through the tickets, if they knew what we looked like and were able to get the security camera feeds from Sea-Tac. I didn't know the Volturi's capabilities or their level of obsession, I couldn't take any chances. Not if I was going to do this properly. When we got off at ICN, we'd have to leave behind our bags and get off the terminal. Let our bags go to Bangkok and Mumbai, and take a different airline... Delta, or... No! We would get off and we'd go to every ticket counter they had and get two tickets to bright, sunny places from each of them. Johannesburg, Sydney, Melbourne, Alexandria, Jerusalem... Buy tickets at every counter with the credit card Bella gave me, and get as much cash out as we could, and just pick one of them and go, and take a bus or train or something hours away from that city, and maybe another plane, and then...

I can't do this!

You have to do this!

No! I was going half-mad, I think, unable to sleep for the thoughts running through my head, though I'd easily been up the better part of two days now, and there were too many babies crying and old men coughing and low hums from iPods and mp3 players of music that would have been slightly distracting to anyone else and were a tangled cacophony to my ears. I felt ill, either from morning or air sickness, and dazed and hormones were all a jumble in me, telling me different things. I am Leah Clearwater! I've never run from things before, and I don't plan to start now!

Too late too late too late, part of my mind echoed, while the annoying part said more sensibly, it's already started. Bella wouldn't have sent you away right then if she didn't think the Volturi would be there soon.

This is Bella we're talking about. Brain the size of a crumb too small for even a mouse.

You have to-

I don't "have to" do anything-

They might already be dead.

They might not be.

If they're not, it's only to die soon. The Volturi killed Kate's sire, remember? They murdered her for creating an Immortal Child. They would have killed Kate and Tanya and Irina if they'd known about the kid. But they know about Nessie, as does everyone else there, and none of the others have tried to tell them about it, or kill her themselves. The Volturi will kill everyone. There's no hope!

I was sitting in my seat, Nessie on the inside of the middle aisle, a heavy and snoring man on her other. There was a children's book open in her lap, but on the inside was an issue of Harper's Magazine. The tray was down in front of me, half-a-glass of ginger ale and an untouched packet of cheese crackers. All around me, people were sitting, reading, sleeping, watching in-flight movies or just waiting. I felt unbearably warm in the coldness of the air plane, and the sound of the engine was ridiculously loud.

A kid, about Judith and Zack's age, was listening to English lessons on his iPod not to far away. His parents were stirring, looking at their watches and starting to get their things together. I guess it meant that we were almost at Seoul. I didn't know, and had been far from paying attention. But it was one of those learn-English-by-studying-speeches things that was popular overseas, or, at least, so the TV had told me. And, almost in response, to my thoughts, the boy nudged the volume up just enough so I could make it out clearly over the buzz from everything else, "...the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have the courage to remake the world as it should be..." before the captain's voice came over the PA, saying we'd be landing at ICN within the next twenty minutes, and that local time was currently three-fifty-three in the morning, two days after we'd left Seattle.

We shouldn't've had to be forced out of our homes by some bully that didn't understand that, sometimes, the world didn't go according to plan. In fact, they'd the same penguin-pecking problem as Sam "I'm Too 'Sexy' For a Brain" Uley! They couldn't get it into their heads that they weren't the biggest kahunas out there. They wanted everyone to follow them and, when they said jump, the rest of us were supposed to ask how fucking high.

Kate had said they were older than anybody, except maybe the Romanians. But the actual Volturi had been around for as long as anyone could remember... everyone said since about 1800 or 1700 B.C. That was about the same as the Romanians, though no one could be really sure 'cause no one really had a universal calendar until much later. They were old and powerful and surrounded themselves with powerful vampire guards – there was no doubt about that – but, maybe...

The plane landed, and as soon as we'd disembarked, I'd picked up Ness and walked as fast as I could without attracting stares out of the terminal and to the ticket counters. She showed me an image of my original plan, tickets to Amsterdam and Beirut and Kuala Lumpur flashing quickly through my mind, as I jogged, but I didn't answer. I just got in the shortest line, even though it was for Gold Star members or some other horse-fucking shit, and said, before the woman asked to see my membership card, for the fastest way back to Sea-Tac that she could get me.

She asked for my membership card. "Damn it!" I said, feeling the twins share my rage and Nessie's hand, now reaching up to touch my arm from where I'd set her down at my feet, sending questioning images at me, as well as warning for getting angry enough the twins might want to phase. "Look, I know it's rude, and technically you're not allowed to do it, and you might get in trouble, but I just got off flight twenty-four fifty-eight from Seattle and checked my voice mail, and there's been a terrible accident," I lied, "and the doctors say he probably won't make it, and I have to get back as soon as possible, so please," I begged the woman behind the counter. "I'll pay anything, any fees – I'll even become a member if that's what it takes – just get me home before it's too late!"

I was drawing a few stares, and one woman, waiting in line for the next counter, pulled a packet of Kleenex out of her Louis Vuitton purse and handed it to me. I dabbed my eyes absent-mindedly, all my attention on the the woman at the counter. She looked like she did not need this, but, seeing "my" driver's licence, credit card, and the passports I'd thrown on the counter, collected these and quickly typed. A moment later, she handed me a computer print-out with a temporary membership card on it a brochure on being a premium member. As I pulled the Kleenex away to collect these from her, I was surprised to find it was damp, and smudges of the mascara I'd applied so carefully two days or maybe only fifteen hours ago...

"Thank you," I said earnestly to both the woman behind the counter and the one with the expensive bag.

"Seattle-Tacoma Airport?"

I nodded. Nessie seemed more and more confused, the images she was sending me – scenes from cartoons and old movies with people with question marks floating over their head – but also seemed to be happy with my decision, if she was reading it right, and scent me pictures of people hugging in gratitude. And pictures of both our families and our friends.

"The quickest way Mrs-?"

"Wolfe," I remembered to answer.

"Mrs. Wolfe is a non-stop flight leaving in two hours. There's also a flight leaving in forty-minutes, for LAX that I could-"

My mind worked, trying to calculate the distances... leave eighty minutes later, with a two hour drive if I gunned the Audi (left in the long-term parking structure) and encountered no police... or take a flight to Los Angles, rent a car, and drive how long to Forks? Could I drive fast enough the what? Eleven, twelve hundred miles to make it worth it?

Bella had insisted on sending me away that night. Or the night before last. Whatever the fuck you wanted to call it with the idiotic international dateline making things so stupidly complicated. But it had been then, meaning she'd reason to think the Volturi were coming soon, even taking into account Bella's inherent stupidity and failure to acknowledge the consequences of her actions. Maybe she'd a call from Alice, who'd seen something and managed to find a signal somewhere in Brazil she could use. Maybe Edward had already heard their thoughts coming, and we'd left just in time. I do not know, but she had a reason. So time was of the essence, and no matter how many land speed records I broke, the later flight was still the best way to go.

"The non-stop one, please."

She nodded, and a moment later swiped "my" credit card. Slowly, trying to remember the letters, I signed, Leanne Wolfe, and then there were two crisp tickets in my hand. "Terminal Nineteen," she said. "Follow the bridge down... right at the end of the hall. You can't miss it."

"Thank you." I felt about to sink with emotion.

If I wasn't a werewolf, I wouldn't have heard her whisper, "I hope you make it in time."

Oh, God! Yes! Let us be in time! Let the Volturi not have come yet! Let everyone still be safe! Let this, my biggest mistake of my life, become the worst as well! Cat-tossing, mouse-riding, armadillo-drinking, peacock-bagging hell, let everyone be alright!

I could call, get a phone card, find a pay phone-

-but I didn't know the international calling codes. Nessie might-

-but what if Bella or Kate picked up? What would I say? Would they talk me out of it? I'd still the tickets for the next leg of the journey, to Bangkok, and, if I remembered correctly, it was leaving from terminal twenty-one twenty minutes after ours back to Sea-Tac. We could still change our minds... it wasn't too late... I could be brave, and do the right thing, and take Nessie somewhere we'd be safe...

But I couldn't be brave! It wasn't cowardice, or fear, or anything else I could name, it was just the right thing, whatever you wanted to call it. If the pack and the Cullens were going to stand before the Volturi, well, fuck it all, I was going to stand by them.

We were in a coffee shop by the terminal, several ceran-wrapped tipple chocolate muffins and large, whip-cream-topped hot chocolates in front of us that I don't remember ordering or paying for and doubt Nessie could have done, pretending to be five and all. But I suppose I must have. I feel dizzy and lost, not sure if I'm doing the right thing, with no parent or friend or some wise person beside me to tell me it'll be alright. Is this how adults feel all the time, like lost little children, waiting for someone to tell them they're doing the right thing? I don't know if I can handle it if it is. I never want to grow up if I have to feel like this all my life.

Quietly, quickly, "I thought you said running away was the bravest thing, Aunt Leah."

"It is," I told her, slowly pulling at the plastic wrapping around one of the muffins. It didn't want to come undone, hidden inside its protective hole, but it needed to be... It's purpose in life was to be eaten, and mine to eat it...

Holy-fucking mother-of-God! I'm finding meaning in muffins now. Something is wrong with me. Or with the muffins. I dunno. But I need to get home, where muffins don't try to tell me the meaning of life, which stays carefully hidden away in a corner where I don't have to think about it.

"Does that mean we're cowards for going home?"

I shook my head, still picking at the plastic wrap.

"What does it mean, then?"

I shrugged.

Taking the muffin away from me, Nessie deftly unwrapped it under the table and passed it back, ready for me to eat. "If we must die, O let us nobly die, so that our precious blood may shed in vain; then even the monster we defy shall be constrained to honour us, though dead," she whispered. Then, seeing my expression, said, "It's a poem by Claude McKay."

"No," I shook my head, suddenly filled with an idea "That's not why we're going back."

She tilted her head confusedly, picking at her own muffin. "Then why?"

"'Cause we would rather fight and die beside those we love then live without them."

Nessie thought about this, then nodded, whispering once more, "Love is watching someone die."

I picked at my own muffin, and together we waited in the unfamiliar airport, watching the clock for six-ten, to travel back in time, to yesterday, and hoping that we were not too late.

Chapter Twenty-Four