One moment, I was overcome by my memories, unable to tear myself away from the pain. And the next, they were all gone. I was jerked back into reality, surprised and disoriented as I blinked wildly, frozen in position under the command. There was still someone pinning me down, I was still trapped against the bed, but there was no pain; not in the way I was being held, not from burning lines on my skin, not even from a cold knife slicing freshly into me. And at first, I couldn't figure out why. I couldn't figure out why Leon wasn't hurting me, because that was all he ever did. It wasn't until my eyes finally locked onto the face above mine that it suddenly made sense.
The werewolf holding me down was Jake, not Leon.
Jake, not Leon.
In a rush, everything else came crashing down upon me. Memories of waking up empty, memories of having forgotten everything. Memories of Jake explaining the simplest things to me, and other harder things I couldn't for the life of me understand. And at the top of them all was my memory of the word Jake had not five minutes ago spoken.
I remembered. I remembered everything.
I remembered too much.
I couldn't make sense of it, of any of it. I wanted to just bury it all back down again to think over some other time, but the memories wouldn't go. They were unstoppable, whizzing about my brain in every direction, bombarding me and giving me an instant head ache. There was only one thing, one thing, that I could focus on. There was only one thing I really, truly, knew.
Jake was here. Jake was here, speaking words I wasn't hearing as he gaze down at me with concern. Concern that meant he would look after me. He would keep me safe. As long as he was here, I was safe.
'Jake.' I didn't plan to say his name. It spilled from my lips almost instinctively, my voice faint and packed full of emotion. So many emotions, all bundled up and twisted so that I couldn't figure out what they were, couldn't distinguish one form the other. Confusion mixed with pain. Relief mixed with sadness. Fear mixed with shock. After days and days of emptiness of nothing, it was suddenly slamming down on me. And it was too much.
Because in an instant, the emotions were overwhelming me, and I was bursting into tears.
I hadn't meant to say the words. I had long since lost control of what I was saying, solely focused on trying to still a frantic Thea. Usually, it would have been easy to stop her, but not today; not while I was still reeling from the fact that I had finally gotten her to remember.
She remembered. She remembered. She remembered.
The words were like a broken record in my head, repeating over and over again. Despite desperately hoping that ordering would work, I hadn't really thought it would. I had wanted her back so bad, I had been sure it was just wishful thinking. And yet, here she was.
Here she was, fighting tooth and nail to get away for me. I had realised immediately that it wasn't me she was trying to get away from; it was him. It made sense; the last thing she had really been properly aware of was probably him driving that sword straight through her chest. But just because I knew why she was fighting, it didn't make it any easier to watch. In fact, it was borderline tortuous.
She was afraid. She was so, so afraid, so desperate to do anything, anything at all, to get away. And I couldn't stop myself from imagining how she must have looked like fighting when Leon really had been here, fighting but not being able to escape. I could see it so clearly, see him overpowering her, and hurting her, and–
No. No, I had to stop thinking about it. But it was so hard. The visions sickened me, the leaden feeling in my stomach mixing strangely with the relief and worry that was already burning through my veins. Worry, because Thea had completely frozen at the order, her breaths stopping while her eyes blinked furiously as if waking from a dream. For a few seconds, she just stared at me blankly, still lost in whatever terrified haze had overtaken her. But then, all of a sudden, she was speaking.
'Jake.' My name. I almost sighed hearing her finally say it, really say it. She said it the way she had before, when she had been my Thea and not empty Thea, packing all of her feelings into the one simple word. And there were so many emotions; fear and pain and shock and confusion and others that were too weak for me to identify. I doubted she could either, because I could feel how completely overwhelmed she already was by it all.
So overwhelmed that with a strangled sob, she burst into tears.
'Oh, Thea.' I breathed. In an instant, I stopped restraining her, shifting to lie on my side as I pulled her to my chest. She clutched desperately at my shirt, burying herself in my embrace as she sobbed into my shoulder. Not quiet sobs, but loud, heart-wrenching cries; cries that tore me apart.
She was upset. She was so overwhelmingly, unbelievably upset. I could feel it through the imprint, which had suddenly flared back to life the moment Thea had remembered. And it hurt. Seeing her like this, feeling her pain and confusion and fear… it was awful. All I wanted to do was to make it stop, because hearing her, hearing my imprint, cry was torturous. The sounds like were hot blades in my heart, each one making me flinch as I hugged her closer and tighter. And it was made all the worse because I knew, with certainty, that there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I wanted to. I wanted to stop it, to help her, so so badly, but this was out of my control. This, as much as it pained me to understand, had to happen. After everything that had happened, after all that pain… she had to let it out. She had to feel. She had to finally let down her carefully guarded walls.
She had to let herself be weak for once.
Thea was strong. Despite her small body, and how delicate she looked next to me, I knew she wasn't fragile. She had strength, inside and out. When Leon had had her prisoner in his arms, a knife at her throat, she hadn't fallen apart; she had been angry. I had no doubt that she had been just as resilient before I had finally managed to find her. But even she had limits. And this… this had surpassed her limits. God knew it had surpassed mine. Being hurt like that, over and over again; hell, if I knew I would be the same again, how much worse must it be for her? I didn't want to know.
I did, however, know that all that pain, that fear… she couldn't keep it bottled up. It was undoubtedly only made more confusing by the fact that a minute ago, she hadn't remembered any of it. I couldn't imagine what a shock that must have been. To go from being as empty as she had been, to suddenly being slammed with the memory of being tortured… I couldn't hold back a low rumble of displeasure. Displeasure, not just from remembering her pain, but from feeling it again now.
Because though I knew she needed to do this, that didn't make it any less painful. I couldn't stop myself from trying to reassure her, even if it was pointless, murmuring in her ear as I ran my hand soothing through her hair. The touch was as much to calm me as it was to help her; because, every so often, she would mutter words that were like a punch in the stomach.
Not again. Please, stop. Don't. Countless variations of the same plea, for Leon to stop, to just stop hurting her. Words that I knew I would never, ever forget. Words that had me tightening my grip, that had me locking her in my grasp and pulling her closer.
Words that had me swearing to myself over and over again that I would never, ever let go of her again.
Thea cried for hours. Long, seemingly never-ending, agonising hours. Even after her heart breaking sobs cut off, tears still streamed silently down her cheeks, tears she couldn't hide as they dripped onto my skin. Tears that I let fall, as I continued whispering promises and apologies and reassurances.
He's gone, Thea. He's gone. He's never going to hurt you again. No one will ever hurt you.
I'm so sorry honey. You have no idea how sorry. I promise, it will never happen again. Never.
It's going to be okay, Thea. I'll keep you safe. I'll never you leave you again. I'll stay with you, always.
I didn't know if she was hearing them. If she wasn't, that was okay; I would tell her again. And again and again and again. I would never stop. I would never stop apologising, never stop looking after her, never let it happen again. Promises to her, promises to myself.
Promises I would keep if it killed me.
I had only ever fallen apart like this once before. That had been 36 years ago, after barely escaping from Leon with my life. Cass was dead, I couldn't go home, and vampire venom was burning me alive. In the face of all that, I had crumpled. But this… this was different. I shouldn't be in tears about this. And I wouldn't have been, if not for the memory thing.
I could have pulled myself together if I had just woken up and remembered everything. Safely encased in Jake's arms, I could have handled it. But that hadn't happened. I had forgotten. I had spent the last weak confused, but blissfully oblivious of the hurt I had been subjected to. Hurt that I now remembered. Hurt that seemed so much worse now, because it was fresh and raw and after the emptiness of having no memories, I wasn't prepared. I didn't have anything to fall back on. I was struggling to sort through all my memories, trying to understand and remember properly, and yet I was being blasted with pain; pain and fear.
Pain and fear that I just couldn't take. And so I cried. I cried because I hurt, because my emotions were battering me from all sides and I still didn't even quite remember everything yet.
I cried, and for the first time, someone was there to hold me while I did.
Jake. Strong, steady, warm Jake. Jake who was holding onto me a tightly as I was holding onto him, who was stroking my hair and murmuring in my ear. I didn't hear what he was saying, but it didn't matter; the sound of his voice and the comfort it promised was enough. Enough to calm me down. Enough to turn my sobs into silent tears. And, once even those had dried up, and I was just lying drained and bewildered against him, enough to send me right off to sleep.
Waking up later was strange. Strange, because even though I was awake and alert just as fast as usual, for a moment I was extremely confused. For a moment, I didn't know where I was. For a moment, I couldn't remember anything; almost as if during my sleep, the memories had just trickled right back out of my head. But then, it was all coming back in a rush.
'Oh,' I breathed, blinking and shaking my head slightly as my mind spun. Beneath me, I felt Jake stiffen; I was draped across his chest, and he'd easily caught my movement.
'Thea?' He said softly, turning my name into a question. He sounded worried, and maybe almost… scared?
'I'm fine,' I replied quietly, squeezing my eyes tightly closed for a moment, before opening them again to meet Jake's searing gaze. 'It's just… going to take me a few days to figure this all out in my head.' Jake didn't look reassured.
'But you remember everything?' He asked softly, almost urgently.
'Yeah. I remember.' I said with a touch of melancholy. Jake sighed, and I couldn't tell if it was in relief or sadness; maybe it was both.
'I'm sorry.' He replied, his gaze softening his hand snapping forward to brush my hair off my forehead. 'I would have liked to have done it differently… to have eased you into it. I didn't want to just suddenly force it onto you.'
'Jake, it doesn't matter–'
'Yes, it does!' He said, his voice surprisingly strong as he gave me a fierce look. 'Thea, this is just the start of everything I've done wrong, everything I've got to apologise for.'
'None of this… none of this should have happened. I knew how much danger you were in, knew how convinced you were that you were going to be hurt. But I… I just couldn't accept it. I couldn't face the idea of you even leaving my side, much less dying. If I'd been thinking clearly, I would have had my wolves guarding you night and day. But I didn't; I was too caught up in myself. And because of that, I lost you.'
'I felt it the moment it happened; your fear burning into me, so terrible and painful… God, I'll never forget how that felt. I came after you, almost mindless with my own panic. But you were gone. The imprint kept telling me you were in the middle of the woods, but I searched that spot of hours; you were nowhere to be found. Of course, I know now why. You were underground. Perhaps, if I'd just stopped and thought about it, I would have figured that out. Except, once again, I didn't. And because I didn't, you were hurt.'
'Do you know what the last thing you said to me before you were taken was? You said that the next time we saw each other, you weren't going to be red. But when I finally found you, limp in his arms… You were so red, Thea. I've never seen so much blood in my life. Your whole body was covered by it, red smeared across your skin, your shirt soaked with it. You were hurt. God, Thea, I don't know how you were alive. What he did to you…' A loud snarl tore free from Jake's throat, his eyes burning with pain and rage. 'I've never seen, never felt, anything worse. All I wanted to do was make it stop, but I couldn't. You needed it so badly, but I couldn't help. I'm supposed to protect you, but I failed. I failed. Because it was you that got me to find you, not me. He stopped when he decided to stop, not because I was there. But that wasn't the worst part.'
'I had him, Thea. I had him. I could have killed him dozens of times. But I didn't. I didn't, because I was god damn angry all I could think was that I had to make him pay for what he did. I couldn't kill him, not until he knew the same pain he'd put you through. And because I couldn't let it go, he got away. He got away, and shoved that sword right through your chest. And it was my fault. Everything else; I don't know if I could have stopped that. But this… this I could have stopped. You never should have been stabbed by that sword. The sword never should have touched you. But it did, because of me. You almost died, because of me. And that… that, I can never, ever make up for.'
A stunned silence followed Jake's fierce words. His gaze was burning into mine as I stared at him in surprise, unable to find words to respond. What he'd said… I couldn't believe it. He blamed himself for this? For something that had been happening for years? For something that he'd saved me from?
'Jake, why are you apologising?' He blinked at my words, not understanding my confusion.
'Didn't you just hear? I… I'm the reason you were hurt–'
'No, you're not. You're the reason I'm alive.' I said firmly. He opened his mouth to argue, but I cut him off.
'You saved me, Jake. You searched for me, fought for me; you got me away from him.' Again, he tried to protest.
'You. Saved. Me. You're the only one who's ever saved me. You didn't leave me, didn't let him take me. You came for me.' I said softly, and I couldn't stop my voice from breaking slightly. I had wanted him to save me so badly, but part of me… part of me had been terrified that he wouldn't. And knowing that he had, that for once, someone had cared enough to help; that meant a lot. And Jake needed to know that. I wanted to tell him, thank him, but he had finally stopped trying to interrupt my words, and was now giving me such a powerful look that I couldn't help but squirm under his gaze, wordless. There were so many emotions in his eyes – disbelief, pain, tenderness, fear, passion, guilt, confusion – that I couldn't figure out what he was going to do, what he was going to say. But then suddenly his hands were on my waist, pulling me up his body until my face hovered just inches over his, his hand cupping my cheek.
'I will always save you, Thea. I'll never let anyone hurt you again. And I will never leave you.' The words were strong and passionate, a fierce promise that I could tell he meant with every fibre of his being. Again, I would have liked to reply, to tell him how much it meant and how much I wanted it; and again, I didn't get the chance. Because before I could even open my mouth, Jake's lips were meeting mine. At first they were so soft, brushing just the lightest of kisses onto my lips; almost as if he wasn't sure I wanted to kiss him. But then, in a rush, soft became hard, sweet became fierce. I forgot what I wanted to say, I forgot everything. There was only him, his mouth slanting against mine, as he sealed the promise he had made.
To always save me. To never let anyone hurt me. And to never leave me.