On the rare occasions I wasn't being tortured by my memories or by life-threatening questions I couldn't answer, I spent my time trying to remember.
Everything that had happened since I'd seen the sword punch through her body was a mixed up, confusing blur. When I'd first woken up, I had, for a moment, had no recollection of it all whatsoever; all I'd known then was that I had Thea carefully clutched to my chest. And then, in an instant, everything came crashing back down on me.
Dead. Dying. Bleeding. Screaming.
I had realised, in one heart stopping moment, that Thea wasn't just sleeping in my arms; she was unconscious. It had taken far long to remember how she'd gotten to be in my embrace; to remember ignoring Carlisle's protests as I collapsed on the medical table beside Thea's broken body. To remember ever so gently pulling her back to my chest, leaving an inch or two of space between us because even though I was seconds from collapsing, I knew better than to touch her cut marred back. To remember resting my hand on her hip because that was one spot that wasn't injured, before burying my face in her neck and whispering one last desperate plea.
'Please don't die on me.'
And she hadn't. When I had woken up, she had still been alive… barely. That hadn't surprised me though; there was no way she could heal from being that injured in such a short period of time. I had, however, been surprised at how bad she still was.
When she had first come to La Push a week ago, Quil had sliced her with his claws; not knowing, of course, who she was. It was only a small cut, three lines across her arm, and yet still they had set me on edge. I had watched carefully to check that they were disappearing; and disappear they did. In less than 12 hours they were gone, not even a line to blemish her beautifully smooth skin.
I couldn't say the same this time.
They were all still there, every one. Every single line still red across her skin, still causing her pain. They were no longer fresh now, the savage cuts crusted over, but they were still there. And all because Thea physically didn't have the energy to heal that fast anymore. She had been too hurt, too injured; it was too much for her body to handle.
And, apparently, too much for mine.
Experience across the years said that for a shapeshifter, just about any injury could be healed in three days. When I had had half the bones in my body crushed by a vampire, I had been up and walking around less than three days later. For flesh wounds, it took even less time; by rough estimation, my wound from the sword should have been pretty much healed by the time I'd woken. Should have being the key phrase, because it hadn't happened. Sure, I had been far more healed than Thea, who still had layers and layers of gauze wrapped around her chest, but the angry slash through my chest had still been raw and red, when it should have been naught but a faint pink scar.
Which was further unwanted and unneeded proof of just how close to death Thea really was. If she needed my strength, if she was so injured and weak it was stopping me from healing, that was bad, very bad. Not because it was draining me – I would happily give her my energy, give her anything, to save her – but because she was still dying.
And that… that could not happen.
In the days since I'd woken, I hadn't left her side. The moment Doc had said her back was healed enough for me to touch her, I had pulled her tightly against me and hadn't let her go since. And it wasn't so much that I didn't want to, but that I couldn't; I could not let her go. Not now, not like this, not after everything. I couldn't leave her, not anymore.
I could not leave her.
And so I spent every hour of every day holding her. Sitting on the bed with my back against the wall, I held in my lap, her head tucked safely under my chin with the rest of her body draped ever so carefully across mine. She was the perfect size for it, her every curve matching my harder planes, her skin against mine. It was something I normally would have revelled in, because she was so wonderfully warm and soft, and right now she was showing off much more skin than usual without a shirt. But today… today I didn't notice any of it. I couldn't notice it, couldn't enjoy it.
I was too scared. And hurt. And worried.
I was so very, very guilty. Because all of this, every bit of it, was my fault.
All my fault. It was all my fault.
Guilt. Guilt was everywhere, strong and fierce, tearing me apart.
I had caused this. If I had just stayed with her that day, it never would have happened. I had known he was coming, known how much danger she was in; and yet I'd left her all alone. I had left her alone, and I should have known better. I should have asked one of the pack to patrol the house, but I had only planned to be away for a few minutes; the thought hadn't even crossed my mind. And it should have; it should have.
Because then, she wouldn't be dying.
She was dying, because of me.
Everyone else disagreed. Everyone else was adamant that this was all completely and utterly Leon's fault. He was the one that had hurt her, not me. He was the one that had taken her, not me. They were facts I knew to be true. But why, why had been able to do those things?
Because I hadn't stopped him. I had tried hard, so hard, to end it, to get her back. But it had taken me too long. I had been too late, too late to spare her, to save her; and Thea had paid the price. My imprint, my mate, my other half, had paid the price. She had paid for my mistake.
Which was something I could never, ever, forgive myself for.
I felt like I was in a dream. No, not a dream; a nightmare. A nightmare where the outside world didn't exist, where there was only Thea, clinging to life in my arms. Occasionally though, as I hoped beyond hope that Thea would live, other things snuck into my nightmare; whispered conversations I wasn't meant to hear. And I didn't hear them, not really, the words simply flowing through on ear and out the other. But still, they were there.
'How is she?' Someone asked; I couldn't quite pick who.
'We don't know.' A sad and strained voice replied, again unfamiliar. 'The cuts on her back are healing, though much slower than normal for her. Her arm is improving slowly as well.'
'And her chest?' The first voice again, sounding hesitant this time. With a start, I realised it was Embry.
'Still? It hasn't healed at all?'
'Nowhere near enough. It's the venom… it's stopping it.'
'And there's nothing you can do?'
'Not until it leaves her system.' A heavy sigh.
'How much longer?'
'I wish I knew. It's been four days now, and I was hoping it would only take three.' Another worried sigh.
'I'm sorry. I wish I could do more.' The voice that wasn't Embry said. 'But I'm afraid all we can do is wait.'
Waiting. Right now, that was the one thing I couldn't stand to do. When it came to her, I had no patience, and with her just inches from death… it was killing me. Not knowing what would happen, not knowing if she would live; it was torture.
Because I wasn't so much waiting for her to get better, but rather waiting for her to die.
I burned. For a long, long time, I burned. Time ceased to exist; there was only the burning. There was only the fire in my heart, the fire in my veins, that fire that would not go away.
Until, suddenly, it did.
Like a candle being blown out, or a lantern being snuffed, it just simply disappeared. There was no warning, no fading heat or sudden flare. One moment it was there, the next it was gone.
It was gone, and I was empty. I was hollow. I was nothing.
And so I drifted.
I was a leaf gliding along a river, a cloud floating through the sky. I was weightless, my mind free and roaming, swirling and circling. I had no purpose, and I didn't need one; I was simply revelling in the fact that the fire was gone. And as long it stayed that way, nothing else mattered.
I would have been perfectly happy to never stop drifting. I would have been content to just stay like this, stay mist in my own my head, until the end of my days. It was peaceful, so peaceful; no fear, no worry, no pain.
But apparently, fate had different plans.
Because I wasn't just drifting anymore, but rising. Floating higher and higher, floating up through the layers of my mind. And at first I didn't realise what that meant; didn't realise that the nothingness was fading piece by piece, that I was slowly but surely growing more and more grounded. All I knew was that I suddenly felt heavy, so very, very heavy.
And then, with a lurch, I was thrown back into my body.
I gasped, my eyes flying open in surprise. Dizziness immediately overwhelmed me, the world tilting and blurring and twisting in a way that made my stomach churn. Squeezing my eyes shut tight, I couldn't hold back a groan.
Too much. It was too much. Going from nothing to everything in an instant; I felt as if I would be sick from the sudden overload of sensation.
Sight. Sound. Smell. Touch. Taste. All of them had been gone, and now they were suddenly back. I had a sour taste in my mouth. I could smell the sharp scent of disinfectant all around me. I could hear my quiet breaths, my thumping heartbeat.
And I could feel. I could feel my body again; my weak, frozen, almost unfamiliar body. It seemed restricting, after the freedom of nothingness. It did however, have something the nothingness did not; warmth. Not the terrible, burning fire from before, but a soothing, mellowing, body melting warmth. It almost made the loss of my drifting seem worthwhile.
Because I still had one sense left: sight. Sight, which I wasn't liking so much right now because my head just would not stop spinning. I couldn't see anything anymore with my eyes closed, except for the dull red glow of the backs of my eyelids, but still the dizziness would not go away. It would not go away; and all because I had tried to take one look around me, one look outside.
My curiosity flared at the thought, at the silent question in my mind. What was outside? Before, I hadn't had a chance to see where I was, a chance to see anything; the only thing I had registered was the colour white. And that… that told me nothing. Whiteness could be anything, could be anywhere. It didn't tell me where I was, and I needed to know. I had to know.
I had to know.
Braving the dizziness, I opened my eyes.
Whiteness. Blinding whiteness. Cringing, I blinked several times in quick succession.
Still, I saw white. But it was more a fuzzy white, everything blurred as I struggled to make it all out. I blinked again, straining my eyes, fighting back the dizziness that wanted to return.
And, ever so slowly, the world came into focus.
White walls. A grey bench. A white cabinet. Fluorescent lights that made me squint.
And a man. His skin was so pale it almost matched his white coat, his blonde hair and gold eyes the only real colour in his face. His face…
'Do I know you?' I whispered slowly, staring at the man as he froze at my words. 'You look familiar…' I said with confusion, unable to tear my eyes away. When I'd first caught sight of him, I'd felt a brief hint of recognition. But now…now, I wasn't so sure.
'No.' The man said quietly, his expression unreadable. 'We've never met.'
Never met. I nodded. Now that he'd said it, I completely agreed; I had no memory whatsoever of ever seeing him before. Why on earth had I thought I'd known him?
'How do you feel?' He asked, giving me a careful look. As if provoked by the question, the dizziness that I was struggling to repress suddenly burst forth, my vision swimming as I groaned.
'Dizzy.' I murmured softly, pressing a hand to my forehead. 'Really dizzy.' I mumbled, letting my head fall back against the bed; only to realise, with surprise, that it wasn't a bed beneath me. Beds were not as hard and solid as what I was laying on. Beds did not mould to my body, or radiate such fierce warmth.
And beds did not have limbs. They did not have long legs that were resting beneath my own. They did not have arms – tanned, muscled arms – one of which was draped across my stomach. No, I wasn't lying in a bed; I was lying on top of someone. A man. And I hadn't noticed. How had I not noticed? How could I have possibly missed that?
'Thea?' I froze at the whispered word, my scattered and confused thoughts coming crashing to a halt. That voice… it had come from above and behind me, from the man I was lying on. And it was familiar, so familiar; I knew that voice. I had heard it before, I was certain of it, but I couldn't remember when…
Suddenly, there was a face above me. At first, it was nought but a russet blur, my vision blotched as my head spun, yet I knew who it had to be; the man. The man who had spoken, who was saying something else I couldn't quite catch. He was coming slowly into focus with every blink of my eyes, my sight clearing as I forced back the haziness.
And then, he was there. His face was just as familiar as his voice, more so even. His short black hair, his tanned skin, the worried set of his mouth; I had seen it all before. But it was his eyes that struck me, that drew me in; piercing brown, deep and dark and never-ending as he stared at me. Eyes I had looked at before, so many times. The recognition was instant, the name of the man rising up from my mind and bubbling to my lips. I could feel it on the tip of my tongue, begging to be spoken out loud, my mouth saying the word.
I said it. I felt myself say it, felt my lips shape it. But it wouldn't – couldn't – come out. There was no sound, only silence. My voice was gone.
And so was the name.
It had been there, right there. I had thought it, known it, I was sure of it. But for the life of me, I couldn't remember it. I had been so close, so close, to saying it. But now… it was gone.
The name was gone. I didn't know his name. The man was right there in front of me, but I couldn't remember his name. But not just the name, everything. I couldn't remember anything. Not one tiny detail. I knew I knew him, but I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember.
I couldn't remember.
I didn't know who he was.
I didn't know who he was. But I needed, needed, to know. The need was overwhelming, my voice returning in an instant as words I hadn't decided to say spilled from my lips.
'Who are you?'