'The way I see it, you have three options.' Sera's voice cut through my depressing reflection, her tone matter-of-fact as she addressed me.
'Option 1: You leave right now and get as far away as you can, and don't come back.' We both balked at that, her voice breaking slightly, and me shuddering. I didn't like it; if I did as she suggested, I would not only never see La Push again, but I would hardly ever see her and Ani; both outcomes filled me with sadness.
'Option 2: You stick with whatever your original plan was, and ignore him as much as possible.' It was nowhere near as unappealing as Option 1, but I doubted it was going to be possible. I couldn't ignore him; even now I could feel him, was thinking about him, remembering him; a fact that was a flaw in both 1 and 2.
'Option 3: You make the most of your three days, and then leave.' I'd be lying if I said three days with Jake wasn't appealing as hell. I liked him far more than I should after just one conversation, and with the imprint pulling at me, it was hard to resist the urge to spend time with him. But as much as I liked the sound of this option, I wasn't sure I'd be able to carry it out; if I didn't want to leave now when I didn't even know him, I certainly wouldn't want to after spending more time with him.
'You didn't list Option 4.' I said quietly, and she gave me a fierce look.
'That's because it's not an option.' I had to agree with her. Option 4: not leaving and dying within the week; it just wasn't a possibility.
'Now, I'll be honest; I don't like Option 1, and I'm pretty sure you don't either.' She looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded.
'So that leaves Options 2 and 3, which really boil down to just one decision; do you like him? ' She gave me a look with raised eyebrows, her eyes bright with curiosity, and I couldn't help but smile at her question.
'Is that a yes?' She asked, and I grinned, nodding.
'Option 3 it is!' She exclaimed, but her excitement faded as she took in my sad expression.
'Thea?' She asked carefully, giving me a concerned look.
'I don't think I can do it.'
'Leave.' I breathed sadly, staring at the floor.
'You have to.'
'I know, but-'
'No buts! You like him, he likes you, you have to see him. And you have to leave afterwards.'
'It's not that simple.' She softened at my dejected tone.
'I know. But it's the only way.' She said, before perking up once more. 'And just in case you can't bring yourself to leave, I'll tie you up in the back of my car and drive you out of here myself.'
I couldn't help but laugh at that.
The hours that followed passed in a blur; a blur filled with smiles and talk and laughter. After just a month apart, Sera and I had a significant amount to talk about; though the topic of imprinting and shape-shifters stayed well off the agenda. Sera knew, without having to ask, that I needed not to think about that situation. But being ever the talker, and a master at distraction, she had no trouble at all keeping me occupied.
We stayed up late – too late, considering she had an early start in the morning – before our conversation eventually dried out. Midnight had come and gone before I found myself collapsing onto the guest bed, sighing into the soft mattress. It wasn't surprising that I fell asleep almost instantly; even hours after my earlier collapse, I was still slightly feeling the effect of the imprint.
What was surprising – and probably shouldn't have been – was the fact that I dreamt about Jake.
Leaving was hard; too hard. Too hard considering that I'd met her less than an hour ago, considering I barely knew her. Imprint or not, it shouldn't be this hard; but it was.
I didn't care that I had to tell the pack what had happened. I didn't care that I could feel their curiosity because they knew something had happened, but not what.
All I cared about was her; Thea. Thea, who felt leagues away, even though I'd only just entered the trees and she couldn't be more than 15 metres away. Thea, who I had a million and one questions for.
Questions that were going to have to wait, as I heard Embry's soft howl heralding his arrival. He slid through the trees with ease, his large grey form slipping into step with me as he butted me curiously on the shoulder, his eyes a silent a question. I shook my head slightly, and he gave me an annoyed look.
'I'll tell you all at the same time when we get to Sam and Emily's.' He growled lightly at that, rolling his eyes, but I could tell he was intrigued. Anything that warranted a pack meeting was important information, and therefore interesting.
He gave me another nudge, this time levelling me a pleading look; he wanted to know now. I laughed quietly, shaking my head again, and he glared. Huffing, he nudged me a third time, now not so gentle, before stalking off again; leaving me once again alone with my thoughts. Thoughts that weren't focused on Embry, or even where I was going, but on something else entirely. On a woman with golden brown hair and bright blue eyes that no matter what I did, I just couldn't seem to get out of my mind.
The meeting with the pack – and the following meeting with the elders – had been interesting, to say the least.
The pack had been happy – and a mixture of other emotions – but mostly happy about the news. How much of that was them and how much of it was me, I couldn't tell; if the alpha was happy, the pack was inherently so. But despite that, I was sure that it wasn't just me making them glad; they were genuinely happy for me. They were glad I had found her; the one I was supposed to be with. The pack liked imprints – thrived on them even – and so it was unsurprisingly they were glad to have another. And like me, they seemed utterly unfazed by the fact that she was only half human.
As shape-shifters, we weren't really in a position judge someone else for being supernatural. And as for the vampire aspect, relations with the Cullen's were better than ever; the pack had long since come to realise that not all vampires were our enemies, and not all vampires killed humans, as legend would have it. Add in the fact that Nessie – the only half-vampire we knew – seemed about as dangerous as a flower, and was just as innocent and pure minded Seth, then it was all too easy to accept that Thea was supernatural.
But as much as the pack was happy and accepting, they were also confused, and I couldn't blame them. Thea was most certainly a mystery, as I had so casually told her. There were so many questions – mine and theirs – that needed to be answered.
Quil wanted to know how the hell she knew who he was, when he was sure they'd never met before. Jared wanted to know how long she'd been hanging around before we'd found her, and how she'd gotten passed us in the first place. Leah was confused about the fact that she had family here, because she had always thought Sera was an only child. The pack's questions mirrored my own, and those were just the tip of the iceberg; when I had eventually left the pack to visit the elders, they had still been throwing around questions left, right and centre.
The visit to the council was much the same. Billy was happy; happier than I'd expected, to be honest. When I told him so, he chuckled, before saying since Rachel and Rebecca didn't seem like they were ever coming back, I was his only child left, and he'd be glad to have a daughter in law; a prospect that shouldn't have made me as happy as it did.
Still, I shouldn't have been surprised he felt that way. He'd been nagging me incessantly over the last few months about finding a girl, saying I was putting too much time into the pack. I disagreed; the pack was mine. Mine to look after, mine to control. I could feel them, every single one of them; it was impossible not to gravitate towards them. As for finding a girl, well, that was an issue much debated in the pack.
Imprinting was supposed to be rare; though four out of seventeen didn't seem rare to me. But was there any point in waiting around for an imprint if she wasn't going to come? And what to do in the mean time? None of us wanted another Sam, Emily, Leah situation, but if imprinting was never going to happen, none of us particularly wanted to stay alone forever. For many of the younger wolves, they didn't particularly seem to care about it; finding someone to be with forever wasn't really on their minds.
But for the older ones – Seth, who was now nineteen and desperately wishing for an imprint to share his kind-heartedness with, and a few others – imprinting was very much on their minds. Should they just forget about it for the moment, and go about life as normal, dating women as normal guys? Or should they wait, always hoping?
Me, I'd kind of compromised. If I met someone, I met someone; and if I liked them I'd date them, imprint or not. Not actively seeking someone out, but not avoiding it either. But though I'd long since lost my love and obsession for Bella, I had yet to meet anyone who caught my eye; until today.
Today, everything had changed.
While it didn't take me at all long to fall asleep, staying asleep was a completely different story. At first it was the thought of Jake – fresh on my mind from my dream – that kept me awake. But then the memories started; memories of a time long ago, memories about why I wasn't allowed here, memories about how it had all come to pass. They haunted me; swirling through my mind, flashing before my eyes in a never-ending stream.
But even worse were the memories about my father. I wanted to remember him – truly, I did – but that didn't make them any less painful. Remembering that which I could never have, but oh so dearly wanted; it was bittersweet to say the least. And with today being the anniversary of his death, the sadness was even sharper, and more consuming, than usual.
The combination of exile, Jake, and my father on my mind was too much to bear.
Slipping from beneath the covers that were tangled all around me from my restlessness, I easily slipped through the dark house. Though I'd never been here before today, my eyes were better than most, and it was without trouble that I found the front door, unlocking it and pulling it open. The cool breeze that washed over me was nice on my bare skin; I was wearing just a singlet and pyjama shorts as I headed outside, closing the door behind me with a soft click.
La Push air; I loved La Push air. There was just something about it – maybe it was the fact that it was forbidden, maybe it was the familiarity, or maybe it was the intoxicating mix of ocean and forest – that never failed to make me smile. For a moment, for a second, I forgot all about the reason I was out here standing on the porch in the first place.
But then the moment ended, and my memories came surging back to the forefront of my mind, and my smile turned into a frown. With a huff, I dropped down onto the wooden stairs, leaning back against the side railing as I stared off into the night, clutching my legs to my chest and resting my head on my knees. The sky was dark and black; the usual Washington clouds covering the stars and moon, and rendering the trees surrounding me nothing back indistinguishable silhouettes.
And so it was, with nothing to distract me, that I began to think; and just as I expected, my mind when straight to one of the topics didn't want to think about.
Sera and I had talked about my options; options about what to do about Jake before I left. We had both refused to consider staying in La Push as an option, because it really wasn't; we both knew that leaving was inevitable. But there was an option, a compromise of the two, that we both avoided like the plague.
We avoided even thinking about the possibility of alternating; of staying in La Push a few day, leaving for a few days, and then repeating. I wasn't going to lie; on the surface, this option looked like a dream come true. It let me stay in La Push – in a fashion – and it let me live back home; without dying because of it.
The key words in that sentence were 'on the surface'. While the idea itself was good, there were other factors that made this option even more unappealing than option 4: staying and dying. Because not only was I going to die if I tried it, but I was going to die painfully. Dying of poison didn't sound particularly appealing, but it was better, a thousand times better, than the death that would come at his hand.
The hand of the man who had been responsible for exiling me from La Push in the first place.
Just banishing me had never been enough for him. He hated me; hated me with a passion that I just couldn't understand. 36 years ago, when he had cast me out, he had tried to kill me. He had tried very hard to kill me. And if he hadn't be so dead set on dragging it out, on killing me slowly and painfully instead of just getting it done, he would have succeeded. As it was, I escaped with my life; barely. I would always bear the scars he had given me, but that wasn't the problem.
The problem was he was still alive, still a werewolf, and still trying to kill me. Though, admittedly, I didn't think he was trying very hard. As a werewolf, it would be all too easy for him to track me, but I had run into him only a few times over the years. And almost all of those times had been in and around La Push.
He watched La Push, I knew it. He regularly visited; often not showing his face in town, but lurking in the forest. He was good at that; lurking. He had knack for hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right moment; and then appearing out of the blue before you even knew he was there.
He was the other reason that staying in La Push, or even near La Push, for more than three days was never an option. Because while the poison wouldn't kill me if I obeyed by the rules, given the chance, he most certainly would.