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The Mythical Creature's Guide to Manners and Decorum (1/22)


The Mythical Creature's Guide to Manners and Decorum
Blackwater at Cullen Manor


"Life which disappears once and for all, which does not return without weight...
and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime...mean[s] nothing."
Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Chapter One, Alef

The music was loud and pulsating, vibrating in my chest and shaking my breath, until all that was in the darkness was the feeling – the bass, heavy and real, his hands on my hips, his body hot as he stood behind me – and none of the thoughts and none of the fears. Just the feeling.

We were in Seattle. We had to leave, if only for one night. None of us could handle La Push today, not after this morning. We had to get away. If only for tonight.

The club we were in was called Catch-21 and had something of an ocean theme going on. It was also a twenty-one and up club, but between my natural hotness and the fact that the boys looked older than me, none of us were carded, not even Seth. And now Embry was at the bar, trying to get wasted but forgetting the werewolf metabolism. Where my brother and Quil were who knew, but I didn't care. I had Jake and we were making our way around the throngs of people towards the bathrooms.

It was February fifteenth. Matty's birthday.

When we reached the dark and shadowy hall beyond the bathrooms, Jake turned me around and pinned me to the wall, one hand against the wall just above my shoulder so I couldn't move even if I wanted to, the other travelling down and brushing the sides of my breasts, which were getting to be uncomfortably sensitive. My arms went around his neck, fingers tangling in his dark hair, and my lips crashed against his in the way that two people have always used to forget their troubles – hard and insistent and incessant, our tongues almost immediately joining in epic battle for dominance – while pressing myself as close to him as I could considering the two tiny people growing inside me.

We couldn't bear to think today.

Today was the day we put Matty in the ground.

It was the log that did him in. When it fell it bruised his ribs, yes, and through "shearing stresses" I didn't understand but I think meant the weight of the wood, his airways and blood vessels tore... He couldn't tell; maybe thought it was just a catch in his throat making breath hard to come by, or the bruises, or the cold air, but the blood and air gathered quickly in his lung, as if drowning him, and, because our werewolf hearts beat so much harder and faster than a normal humans while our lungs have remained the same size, what could have normally been corrected in less than an hour became fatal in the minutes it took for his body to heal the tears...

Blood and air remained, though, and collapsed his lung under the pressure of it, and, when Carlisle re-inflated it, the air somehow managed to get into an artery and into his heart...

Death was almost instantaneous at that point.

How do you explain to a person's parents that they'd died, not fighting an evil they didn't believe really existed, but because a stupid log fell on them? When the boy was not even fourteen? When you had promised to protect him and his sister? When part of you was screaming out with joy that you were alive, your babies were alive, and that everyone you cared about – except their son – was alive? What did it matter whether the vampires were free of their tyrants and free to have whatever government they chose when it was their son who'd paid the price?

I don't know. None of us did. It seemed wrong for us to be so happy that we'd lived, and that the dictatorship that had nominally ruled the mythical world was gone. Hell knew what would replace it, but God damn it all, at least we were alive. We were sad for Matty, grievously sad, and by turns we'd be fits of exuberance or wells of depression, unable to be anything moderately normal for the length of time it took to phase.

The funeral was today. It was unbearable. Afterwards we got into the Rabbit and Jake just drove because none of us could stand to be anywhere where people would tell us how sorry they were or tell us how they knew how we felt and before we knew it we were halfway to Seattle – we being the pack minus Judy, who was with her parents, and Zack, who was with Judy – and thought that a nice stiff drink or nine was what we needed to deal with today. For them at least. I couldn't drink, even if I'd wanted to – Jake saw to that.

Thus the club. Thus Embry at the bar on his who-knew-how-manyth beer. Thus Seth and Quil up to who-knows-what with who-knew-who God-knows-where. Thus Jake and I making out in the back hall of the club, his hands now travelling under my clothes and seeming baffled by the fabric he found there.

"God, Lee, I didn't even know you owned a bra any more," he protested, kissing my neck just below my ear. His breath was like fire and I swore I'd die if he pulled away.

"Apparently it's uncouth," I whispered with a slight moan, my hands sliding under his shirt to run up the washboard there, "to attend funerals without wearing underwear." I felt like I was burning everywhere he wasn't touching me. I needed him to touch me. I needed him.

"Oh, really?" he breathed, breath hitching as my hands moved southerly.

"Uh-huh," I said, undoing the button on his pants, "but you're in luck."

"I'd noticed that," and lips met again, hard and heavy, his mouth tasting of beer and sweet and sour sauce and that something that was so uniquely Jake, our hands still doing their own investigations, his cupping my breasts and holding me tight to him, mine dipping inside his uncharacteristic black slacks. We were still in our vampire-provided funeral things, the boys in black dress pants and black dress shirts, looking more like bouncers than mourners, their dark trench-coats left in the Rabbit, sleeves rolled up and collars unbuttoned; me clothes I would never wear normally, a knee-length dress that, with the addition of a addition of a long jacket and stupid veiled hat, completely hid the fact I was pregnant unless you knew I was and was looking for that curve... The hat was gone now, and the jacket, but the dress was still there, for the moment, and I felt like an actor at some horror movie funeral in it – no, like I'd been wearing a red dress instead, and all the eyes were on me, accusing me of not taking enough care of Matty, that it was my fault he died, my fault that I couldn't keep him alive when I promised Richard and Mary Mora that I'd keep their children safe...

"Lots of weddings coming up," I said as I broke away to breathe, kissing his jawline, his neck as he buried his face in my neck, shuddering from the movement of my hand, "and you can, apparently, get by at weddings without any..."

Abruptly, Jacob stepped back, and, breathing heavily, looked around.

"What is it?" I asked, sniffing the air, half-expecting a vampire or, God forbid, Seth coming upon us in the tenebrous hall. I smelled nothing, and as I turned back, questioning look on my face, he was putting his shoulder to a nearby locked storage closet and forcing it easily. It'd be just our luck too.

Grabbing my hand, his voice was low and heavy, almost wolfish, with desire as he tugged and pulled me in the closet after him. "I need you now."

"Patience is a virtue," I chided, even as I reached around for the zippier of my dress. Before long, it was just us in the closet, surrounded by cleaning supplies and stacks of folding chairs, making love in the dark like there was no tomorrow, because, while we'd managed to survive the war, we still didn't know if we could make it through the battle that was life, ever single beating hour and minute of it.

We were going to live. We were going to have a proper wedding for Mom and Billy to cry at (Alice was planning it for 1 May and being ridiculous about it already, though she'd only be back from South America for a week. If I had to look at another colour swatch of some shade of pink or white I would scream, to say nothing what I would do if I were asked about my calligraphy preferences for the invitations). We were going to have these twins, whenever they deemed themselves grown enough to be born (popular money was on sometime in April, don't ask me why), and we were going to find names for them and raise them and hopefully do a decent job of being parents, though we were only two for three on the pup count... And we'd get jobs or live off the Cullen's money forever (serve them right, the money-laundering, forever-living sparkly dolts) and we'd live happily ever after...

We could do it, I really think we can, we just have to try really hard. We're not cartoons, so it'll be difficult. I'll name the twins, I dunno, after Disney princesses if I thought it might help, 'cause I'm sick and bloody tired of dealing with the raw, monkey-assed deal life had given us. I wasn't even talking about the werewolf thing – it had turned out be quite pleasurable. I don't know what specifically it was, but I wanted to live in a world where we didn't have to fight and kids had to die a week before their fourteenth birthdays because of stupid, frog-humping logs and tyrannical monsters had never existed in the first place...

There was a pounding on the door. "I know what you're doing in there," Seth yelled loud enough to be heard over the sternum-thumping music and his pounding on the door, "and I'd rather not have to be close to it myself, but they've cut Embry off and we need you to settle the tab so we can get out of here."

Jake and I rolled our eyes at each other, parting with another hard, burning kiss that earned us another series of "knocks" on the door. The burdens of leadership, I tell you.

A moment later (after being greeted by Seth, who was holding both hands over his eyes), I was at the bar, paying the tab with "Leanne Wolfe's" credit card, it and the driver's licence the only things I'd kept from my brief foray into being reasonable. "How many did they let you drink?" I asked, gesturing to the tall, empty cans of Bush stacked around him.

"Twenty," Quil said, slipping one of Embry's (who flashed me a wink before going back to pretending to be passed out, 'cause that's what people who had twenty beers in one sitting were supposed to be) arms over his shoulder and hauling him towards the door. Seth, after glaring at Jake and me as if it was our fault he was sent after us while we were doing the deed, joined him.

"I wonder if he even got buzzed?"

"I dunno. They he had what? Three at the Chinese place and something like that at the Italian?" Werewolves going out to eat proved a natural problem, 'cause four or five trips to the buffet tend to be looked at rudely by the management of such places and the extra-large servings and multiple appetizers of other places only go so far on a wolf's stomach. Of course, the... extracurricular activities Jake and I had ended up engaging in at both places had helped work up our appetites. No idea about the others, but they always ate like vacuums anyway.

"It doesn't matter. He'll be sober before we get home."

"One good thing," I said as Jake and I left the club and headed out for the car, where Embry was now joking around with Quil and my brother, "about being a wolf: no hangovers."

"One day we'll have to see how many drinks it would take for us to get wasted. A purely scientific endeavour, of course."

"Like your 'biology project'?" I laughed. "We'd have to stock up on vodka. Comes in all kinds of crazy flavours too: vanilla, grapefruit, pepper, mango..." Let me just say three words: Rebecca's bachelorette party. "God, we're going to have to stop and find some mangos."

We were at the car now, and Seth, back to his happy, normal self now that Jake and I were both fully clothed, was laughing at me. "What? No more wheat thins and pickles?"

"I'll have you know it was triscuts and pickles. With cream cheese."

"Pregnant people are strange," Quil said definitively.

"Just wait ten years for Claire to grow up..."

"Why does it always come down to Claire, Embry? Why?"

"One, 'cause it drives you crazy, two, 'cause it's hilarious; three, 'cause it's true."

"She'll only be thirteen in a ten-"

"Fine, fifteen, whatever. You're still be like twice her age. Some people might call that robbing the cradle."

"Cradle, that's kidnapping the mom before the baby's even born."

"Well, at least I've Claire. You're still goggling over Ruth Huntly. Keep it up much longer and her dad's going to come after you with a baseball bat."

Mr. Huntly, in addition to having played football in high school and college, was also the Rez director, meaning the guy Olympia thought ran things in La Push. His time was mostly spent issuing fishing licences, giving "chats" about the importance of staying in school, and administrating the Thursday night bingo game in the old church.

"God, you've not asked her out yet, little brother? You're a bigger pansy than I thought."

"I'll have you know, Lee," Jake said, putting his hand on my knee for a moment before starting the car and backing into the lot, "it's a lot harder than you'd think." I snorted, but, then again, considering Jake's own Hamlet-esque asking and his bizarre proposal, maybe it was. "So where we going? Wanna find another bar, or you want to try and find somewhere to eat? Mexican maybe?"

"I could go for some Mexican, defiantly."

"Or IHOP. I'm feeling pancakes."

"It's like two in the morning. Are there anything besides bars open?"

"IHOP's twenty-four/seven, I think."

"Well, if you know where a fucking IHOP is...?"

I adjusted myself on the front seat, curling my legs up by the door and resting my head on Jake's shoulder, listening to the boys argue in the back. Idiots, all of them, but my family. My pack. My boys.

"Let's see... we have Andy's Steakhouse, Hooters, and some place called 'Basil Twist' on the right that still look open."

"Basil Twist sounds awfully fruity to me."

"And I veto Hooters, on the sheer fact Seth's too young for us to corrupt that way."

I heard Seth groan in the backseat. The night lights of Seattle glowed and sparkled in the rain that fell and gathered on the windshield like diamonds, and the worn fabric of the bench seats was just so comfy and warm and smelled like pine and earth and unwashed boys and the radio was playing "Kashmir" and I was feeling sleepy and sort of fuzzy for the first time in days... "I'll be seventeen next month!" he insisted. "Can't you make fun of Quil or Embry instead for once?"

"Quil has Claire and therefore the certainty of getting some at some point in his life. You cannot even ask out someone your own age."

"Well what about Embry?"

"Dude, I'm cool. You? You're a science nerd."

I yawned. "My brother's not a nerd."

"Thanks Leah. See, somebody likes me."

"Only enough to say our a dweb, not a nerd. Don't want to give nerds a bad name now do we?"

"I hate you."

I snorted.

"There's some place called the The Lone Horseman. Wanna try that?"

"Sounds like some sort of conspiracy theory place, like The Lone Gunmen."

"Have you seen the evidence? There had to be multiple shooters when they-"

"He was talking about The X-files, nutcase."

"Remember the one where they pretended to be married? Mr. and Mrs. Petri?

"That's a classic. Shame they jumped the shark."

"Why do they always do that?"

"I dunno."

"O! La Hacienda. Mexican! Let's go there."

"Hey, you just drove past it!"

"I was in the wrong lane, douche-bag. Let me do a U-turn- God, Leah, is that your phone?"

Half-sleep to the sound of their voices, I almost missed the sweet sounds of The Spice Girls coming, however muffled, from a pocket in my jacket. The may have gotten me a new phone to replace the one Nessie dusted, but they'd not stopped the ringtone game. Swearing, I answered. "What d'you want, bloodsuckers?"

"The Stock Market to rise again, world peace, a pony – no, I want to talk to you, Leah."

"I'm sorry, Leah's not in at the moment. This is her secretary, Bridget. Now hang up and I might tell her you called."

"You're hilarious."

"Look, Alice, I don't know what wonderland you subscribe to, but call me back when I'm actually awake enough to insult you properly."

"I would, but I thought I might tell you your mother called. The Elders expect your pack at a council meeting at nine and I assumed you might actually want to be back and, possibly, sober, for it."

"Fuck almighty," I spat, signalling for Jake not to turn into the parking lot for the restaurant, but to continue on as I hung up the phone. "The Elders want to talk to us."

"Fuck."

"Flaming fuck in a Ferrari, that's what it is."

"About what? Did the leech say?"

"Three guesses." Matty. The leeches. The packs. "Actually, scratch that. If you can think of something they might not want to talk to us about..."

"Camembert."

"Gazuntite."

"No – the cheese. I doubt Grandpa and Billy and Sue'll want to talk to us about cheese."

"They could want us to help at a community wine-and-cheese fundraiser."

"Or want to know what kind of cheese Alice'll be serving at the reception."

"Or what type of cheese Emily should serve at hers."

"Okay! So they might be talking about cheese. Just trying to help."

"Xanex might help. Or maybe vicadin."

"No, nothing will help."

"We're doomed."

Chapter 2