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The Mythical Creature's Guide to Modern Warfare (24/26)

 

"We've travelled too far, and our momentum has taken over; we move idly towards eternity,
without possibility of reprieve or hope of explanation."
Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead


Chapter Twenty-Four, X-ray

I was trying very very hard not to yell at the customs agent, which I decided would probably be a bad idea. "What is your purpose?"

I'd not slept at all since before Bella had foisted the tickets upon me. We had ended up leaving Thursday, just before midnight, and now it was two in the morning on Saturday, technically four hours before we'd left Seoul... I had spent this time in deep, emotional thought, further harried by a flux of semi-human hormones seeing to it that the twins I carried were growing at something like twice the normal rate of growth. I felt tired, nauseous, bleary-eyed, and filled with fear, adrenaline, and ginger ale.

"I'm going home," I said, with as much calmness as I could. It wasn't much.

"You're passport says you only left... barely a day ago, on a twelve hour flight."

Tight jawed, "I was going to visit friends in Seoul, and had just landed when I got a voice mail that Vanessa's father had been in an accident, and we needed to get home quickly because he might not make it."

"Accident?"

"Yes, car accident. And he might be dead already, only I can't get reception in here to check my phone, all I know is that we took the first fight back we could find. Didn't even leave the airport."

"Did you bring any perishable items with you-?"

I pulled a bag of M&Ms out of my purse. "That is the only thing I brought with me, and I bought it here, on Thursday when it was my intent to visit friends in Seoul I've not seen since graduation. The only thing I bought in Seoul was a pair of tickets back here." Nessie tugged on my pant leg. I gave an internal sigh, and then, "Forgive me if I'm being rude, but I can't help but think it's cruel of you to make us go through all of this when her father is in the hospital, dying from what little I've heard, and-!"

At last, we were waved through. And I didn't even need to threaten to sue.

Nonetheless, I picked up Nessie and started jogging to the exit to the parking structures. Once outside, I broke into an all out run, reaching the Audi in no time (thank you God and Dad for the werewolf genes) and all but throwing ourselves into it. We were going fifty before we'd even exited the parking structure, and I'd gunned the engine south, not trusting the ferry to be open at this time of night, and taking the long way around the Puget Sound, crossing it at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and speeding through sleeping city streets.

"Breathe, Aunt Leah," Nessie insisted, curling up in the front seat. "Remember to breathe. We'll be of no help to anyone if you have an anxiety attack and crash the car before we get home."

I was trembling, whether from exhaustion or fear or from the twins wanting me to phase, I do not know. "Your mother is an idiot. An elephant-eating, hamster-hanging, kelp-catching, balloon-banging, grape-garrotter who I was an idiot to listen to in the first place. She probably had Esme drug me. Or drugged me herself when I wasn't looking. And I'm hormonal! I shouldn't be expected to make life-altering decisions in a snap!" Rage was better then worrying about what had happened during our foray into the future... or, would happen, or had yet to happen, whatever the proper order of things was any more.

Understandingly – and, most annoyingly, sounding like a TV psychologist about to ask me "how that makes me feel," - she said from her half-sleeping place, "She was afraid."

"Fear leads anger. Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering. Mainly mine." A quick, stupid thought flew into my head, one that said that Bella hadn't been sending us off for our own safety, but getting rid of us because she'd finally realized what a douche-bag her mind-reading, unpractising homosexual husband was and wanted Jake to "take her back," not that they'd ever been together... I shook that thought out of my head so hard it made black spots dance before my eyes. Bella was many kinds of whore, but an idiotic one. She couldn't have planned something so devious if she tried. "Remind me to fill all her shoes with tapioca when we get back, and, you know, haven't been killed by Italians with awful taste in clothing."

"Why tapioca?" she asked absent-mindedly. Maybe she was wondering what we'd find when we got to Forks. Jake and Seth and Kate and all the rest could be dead... Or the Volturi could be there, in the process of leaving until we show up, and kill us all the moment we arrive. Or they could just be almost there, ready to kill us all, and we'd have come back just to be killed by them. And we'd have been so close to escape, only to-

No! No, Leah! Don't think about that. Think about... Think about other things. Like how it's better to go back and know, then never know what might have happened to my pack, my family. Like how it was Nessie's fight for existence, this war, and she deserved to be there to fight it – like she was the only one who could fight it, in her own way. Like how I can't live without Jake, and might well have imprinted on him for all I need him in my life. Like how it might be the death of me and my babies, but at least we'd die beside my husband, their father. Like how the pack was the pack, and we were never to be separated, no matter how how much Embry might be a jerk sometimes, or Quil drove us all mad with his Claire talk, or it was annoying to have my little brother around allthe fucking time, or have the pups to take care of now too. We were family. And the family that goes to war together stays together.

God! Holy sweet God! By Q'wati, who the Elders tell us created the Quiluetes by transforming two wolves into people, and because of this we would always be brave and strong. By Bayaq and T'ist'ilal, and every other god out of the myths and legends! Let them be alive!

The pups had to live, because Mr. Mora had trusted me to keep Matthew and Judith alive, and they were like my second-cousins-in-law, so I owed it to the family to see that they stayed that way. Alive, that is. And Zack was too – the second cousin part, not the in-law – and was sweet on Judith in a way that I couldn't deny. They were all so young besides. I couldn't let them die, not at fourteen, and especially not at twelve. I was their pseudo-mother while we were at the rock, their Aunt Leah, and I'd just gone off and left them without so much as a goodbye. I shouldn't have done that. They didn't deserve that. Matty I think would make a great teacher, like his dad, and Judy would be good at anything she did, and Zack, well, I don't know him as well as the other two, 'cause he's kinda silent like Embry and I think would be something of an outcast at the Rez school if Judith didn't like him so much. They deserved their chances to finish school and fall in love and do something with their lives – it wasn't their fault we hadn't caught up with Irina Christmas night, or that the only way to protect ourselves was to bring in more leeches.

And if the pups had to live, so did Quil, 'cause they'd need someone to take care of them, and, when I wasn't pseudo-mothering them, telling them to do their homework and pick the leaves out of their hair before school and stay on the border when we ran (my afternoon shift, the least dangerous one for the moment, largely being taken up by keeping an eye on the three as we ran; Jake had moved to share Embry's morning shift, and Quil and Seth still ran evenings, or so it'd been for the last few weeks), it was Quil. The new Beta, he'd been given the task of teaching them how to fight, largely because he had the patience to do so. And Quil needed to live for Claire, even if she was what? Four now? No – her birthday wasn't 'til March. Or maybe May. It was certainly the eighteenth of one of those months. Claire was a sweetheart, even if she was Emily's niece. Stupid Emily. What kinda name is Emily anyway? Why, if one of the twins is a girl, I'll not be naming her Emily or anything like that, that doesn't sound like a nickname. Or anything as terrible as Renesmee. Buffy – after Buffy the Vampire Slayer – would be hilarious, but I'm not sure I'd want my kid having a joke as a name... and plus it sounds like a nickname, just like Emily.

And that insanity aside, if Quil lived, Embry would have to, 'cause the two are like best buds or something, and if it weren't for Claire, I'd be screaming "Bromance!" to the hills. But Beth Call really doesn't deserve to have her only son killed by vampires. It's bad enough that Embry's father probably was Joshua Uley and ran out on her like he ran out on Sam's mom. You just don't go around killing women-who-have-been-walked-out-on's sons. It's just not kosher. And Embry needed a chance to get over the worst of his leech hatred, at least enough to embrace Esme's cooking. I mean, if I'm putting up with leeches, so can he.

And if Quil and Embry are going to live, then Seth had better, because he like adores them or something, and he is my brother. My baby brother. Rules say I have to die before him. That's how the world works. He has to be the one to bury me, if any of us end up getting buried, if someone finds our bodies strewn across the Cullen's baseball field. Besides, Mom would throw a fit if he went, and might go crazy and do something stupid, like have replacement kids with Charlie, and that's just gross. And he's still not asked Ruth what's-her-face out. Now that I've been paying more attention, it's easy to see he's muzzle-over-tail for her. She's in his English class and they have lunch the same period, and is apparently like a chemistry whiz, because he has that class with her too and, even though they get to choose their own partners, he always sat at the lab set up behind her. He talked to her, knew her well even, but never had asked her to be his lab partner, let alone on a date. He needed the chance to live, so he could, so even if she said no (which she'd be a fool to be; I mean, I know I'm his sister and everything, but even I know he's adorable. In a grown-up, masculine way, of course. And he's not an absolute idiot, and has a skill, even if it's not a marketable one, but it's a skill. And we have a rock, which is more then most high school seniors have), have that opportunity. He had to live because, if he didn't, I think I might actually go crazy. Seth's just always been there, you know? He's my little brother. I've always kept him safe, watched him, made sure he didn't stick his tongue to flagpoles on snowy days, that sort of thing. He'd always been so happy, so ridiculously happy, and sometimes I'd honestly thought that there was some sort of container inside Mom marked "Happiness" and another marked "Bitchiness" and, rather then take more or less the same from each jar, I'd taken all the "Bitchiness," leaving only "Happiness" for Seth when he came along later. Or something like that. I wanted to see him graduate at last, and maybe go to Mount Rainer Tech and get a degree in something that would let him work somewhere besides the cannery or an a tourist boat on the sound. Maybe we could all go and get degrees in forestry or something and become park rangers at the Olympic National Park. We'd be the best rangers ever...

And, of course, if they lived, Jake had to live too, 'cause someone had to lead them, and Jake was a good Alpha. Perhaps the greatest there'd ever been, but I knew nothing about Ephraim Black or those who came before, so I settled on the best Alpha I'd ever known. He was nice, and cared about he pack and their opinions, and never Alpha-commanded us to do anything, and was willing to do anything for us, like tell his English teacher about his secret life as a wolf, just so we could all be together. On the boyfriend/husband/mate level, he was just amazing. Like make a cast of him, fill it with gold, and worship it amazing: a) He had an amazing body, from eight-pack to arms to everything else there was to have, b) he knew me and loved me and didn't care if I was a bitch or a hormonal wreck who'd shouted at him the day before we left because he'd forgotten the soy sauce or cried over spilt ice cream or hung out with Ness and Kate more then anyone should and lied to customs officers who were only doing their job, c) when he kissed me, it made me feel like a Goddess, worshipped because I was divine, and deserved everything he offered, which was everything he had, d) when he touched me, it was like heaven, because his hands lit me on fire with the simplest of touches, and my hand in his or his cupping my breasts or his muzzle brushing against mine were all the same, all equally full of passion and devotion and intense and unalterable love, e) we'd gotten married, and though he had to have known all the same reasons I did for why we shouldn't, at least not then, he'd ignored them because he wanted to be with me, for ever and ever, and didn't care about convention or anything besides what we wanted, f) when we found out I was pregnant, he'd been shocked, yes, but mostly happy, happier then I'd even seen Seth, and he would've spun me into a dance if he'd thought I'd put up with it, g) ditto for finding out I was carrying twins, h) double ditto for when they started phasing, i) lather, rinse; repeat. He had to live, 'cause I might go the Juliet route if he didn't (or was it Romeo? I'd always hated that play and didn't pay much attention during those classes after realizing Juliet wasn't yet fourteen at the time of her "romance"). I wasn't saying I couldn't live without him, just that I didn't want to. He'd awoken parts of me I thought I'd long destroyed. Jake needed to be alive for the twins, who I refused to have never know their father. He needed to be alive to beat up Bella for me, 'cause I was honestly too tired to destroy at this moment.

If I could run faster then the Audi, I would. If I could fit it through the spaces in the trees and drive straight through the Olympic National Forest, I would. But I can't, so it is all I can do to hope that they are alive, and, if not, that I've enough tears for my sorrow.

It could've been hours or seconds later when I answered Nessie. "It's the most annoying pudding," but she was asleep, the poor thing, and my only response was the static of the radio as I searched for a something to calm my frayed nerves. I found nothing but a warning for severe weather and shut it off again, travelling in silence until I a sign whizzed by that said "Welcome to Fairholm" and another soon after that proclaimed Forks to be only twenty-nine miles away. I was almost there.

The digital clock glowed a soft acid green as it flickered to twelve-past-five.

I gunned the engine a little harder, hoping against hope that Charlie was busy with my bother tonight and not patrolling the sleepy streets, the – the what? anticipation? fear? dread? terror? melancholy? were there words enough to describe what I was feeling? maybe one of those quasi-mystical words they only have in German and Portuguese Nessie once told me about, saudade I think it is – feeling in me spreading trails like lightening through my veins, so I could feel it clapping in me with each too-fast beat of my heart. Nessie, still asleep beside me, was whimpering quietly, and no gentle touch on the arm or mangled "Rock-a-bye Baby" could settle her, and though I could not bear to see her suffer, I could not make myself wake her quite yet.

And then the turn-off for the driveway, taken fast enough that we fishtailed the first quarter-mile around the sharp twists and bends in the narrow lane.

And then (heart pounding so it was all I could hear, breaths coming shallow and sharp; nerves burning with electric fires) we were slamming to a stop in their yard beside twin white Jeeps, looking at the manor before us, glowing with warm yellow light pouring from nearly every window, shadows of figures occasionally crossing the light.

We were back.

They were still alive.

I turned off the car and sat there for one breath, two, trying to take in the reality, dismissing all the fears that had crowded my mind. My heart was thudding madly, and the twins, doggy-paddling in my stomach, settled into treading water. Instinctively, in a motion I'd never have imagined myself doing, I released one clenching hand from the steering wheel and lowered it to that low place on my belly where they grew. "It's okay, guys," I whispered. "They're okay. We're okay." Then, slowly, I put my hand on the door handle and pulled.

The air was sharp, and tiny flakes of snow here starting to fall, melting an inch or two before they hit me. I began to turn towards the passenger side, to get sleeping Ness, but Edward was already there, the door open and his daughter in his arms. He was clutching Renesmee tightly, and I think he was saying something about how glad he was that we were back. If I'd been in proper frame of mind, I'd've realized then that this was the most emotion I'd ever seen from the blood-sucker. But I wasn't, only dimly registering that Bella had, apparently, not told her husband of her plans either. The rest of me was intent on looking, sniffing, feeling through the darkness for-

And there, hastily coming out of the woods, Embry three steps behind him. My legs found secreted strength as I rushed towards him, and a moment later I was wrapping my arms around him, burying my face in his shoulder as he put arms on my waist and spun me to discharge our momentum.

"I couldn't do it," I said over and over again. "I tried, but I couldn't leave you." He was holding me tightly, saying how I was forbidden from ever trying anything like that again, and it felt so good to be with him again, because with him I knew we had a chance, because I would rather fight and die beside him then live the rest of my life without him, because he was so perfect and I was just Leah, always Leah, and could never be that Leanne Wolfe with her perfect make-up and 3.8 G.P.A., no matter how hard I tried. Trying to explain, "We got to Seoul, but I just couldn't go through with it, and-" and I was babbling from all the confused emotions, making no sense at all I'm sure, and, if Major Care Bear had been here, I'm sure he'd be overwhelmed and begging for a Valium. God knows I was.

"No!" came a shout from the doorway to the Cullen's house, and we all whipped around to stare at the figure, nothing more than a shadowy outline against the light from inside, but none of us really needed to see to know who it was. "No! You can't-!"

Edward was moving at human pace towards his wife, but I was already turning around in Jake's grasp and shouting, "You bitch!" I pulled out of his arms to stalk towards her, my relief at being home fading as fury overtook me. "You cock-sucking, bat-banging, shit-eating, drug-whoring bitch! What right have you – what God-damn right – to show up at people's doors with falsified documents begging them to save your child?" (I was less than then feet from her now, as she'd walked towards me, the look on her appalled and anxious face making me hate her more and more). "You fucking think people will do everything for you, princess, and I'm sick and tired of it! 'Oh, I want to be a vampire, but I still want kids,' and, 'Oh, Charlie doesn't matter, no matter how much he'd done for me,' and, 'Oh, let's trick Leah into going to Mumbai with my kid, la-de-da-de-da!' I mean, what the fucking hell is going through your head, Swan, or are you just that retarded? Did your parents just drop you on your head a lot as a baby, or did what little tarty slice of brain you had dry up when you decided you'd rather live forever then be alive? I mean, when you fucking drop things on people like that, it tends make it hard to think about how stupid it all fucking is!"

Bella seemed to quiver for a moment, lip trembling with words unspoken, before finally she said, "I was trying to keep my daughter safe."

"By God's fucking striped leotard-!" I began, but she was still talking, pointing out, "It's Cullen, not Swan," and for some reason this annoyed me more than anything else she'd done to me. Yes, she'd sent us away, but it was to try to keep Nessie and the twins safe. I could understand that. Yes, she'd sprung it on us, but that was to make sure I did what she asked. I could understand that, in a way, too. But hadn't she already given up enough to her supercentenarian statue of a husband? Wasn't it enough she'd forfeited her mortality, her family, her friends, everything she used to be for him? That I couldn't understand. So what if she'd changed her name from "Swan" to "Cullen"? She was still Isabella Swan by birth, and that would remain until the day the world ended or someone, mercifully, killed her, whatever other names she might take.

I flung myself at her, phasing mid-air, the stupid pink sweatpants and pullover lost confetti in the thickening snowfall. I reached her before she'd time to react, the lily-livered piece of dingbat dung, and pinned her quickly to the ground, scratching at her chest and shoulders with bright red nails, and feeling satisfaction when – at last! - I felt one, no, two claws sink into the flesh of her left shoulder, right below the clavicle on her left side. So what if she was an animal-drinking vampire? So what if she was Charlie's daughter, Nessie's mother? She was an idiot who could have cost me everything, all because she'd wanted to be a Cullen and damned the consequences. Look around you! I screamed, See what you've done to all of us! To Matty and Judith and Zack! To the pack! To your Denali cousins, to your family, to all the other vampires that might die here tomorrow! The foetuses inside me fought too, clawing at my womb in attempt to get at the one who'd angered me so, and my anger was their anger, spectacular and unstoppable.

I'd made a two-inch laceration down her side before the others reached me, Edward with ice-cold hands snarling and pulling his wife back, and Jake, phased, at my side, forcing me away. It's not worth it! he told me forcing me farther and farther back, trying not to hurt me but unwilling to let me make a war out of the issue. Bella may be Bella, but it's not worth the trouble killing her would cause.

Yes it is! I protested, blindly at first, and then weakly, reaching the porch railings and having no where more to go, She's responsible for all of this! She's the reason behind everything that's gone wrong these last two, three years! If it wasn't for her, things would've gone on as they had before with the leeches, and there'd have been none of this trouble and none of these wars or problems or anything... Tired, so tired, I flopped myself down next to the foundation plants and rested my head on my paws, still covered with sick-smelling vampire's blood. Everything would've been just fine without her...

Glancing back over his shoulder, as if to see what the leeches would do, or maybe indicate something to Embry, it was with a slightly sad look that he turned back to me. Maybe, maybe not, Jake said, moving to curl up next to me. But at least we're together again... Don't ever leave like that again, I'll make that a command if I have-

I won't, I promised, just let me sleep and, when we wake up, maybe this will all just have been some bad dream...

I wish... Everyone's been watching the weather channel all day. They say that the biggest snow since '96 is coming... And, he didn't need to add, with it, the Volturi...

Chapter Twenty-Five