The rest of our trip through the forest was quiet. Both of us were too consumed by our thoughts to talk; Jake no doubt contemplating what I was about to tell him, and me trying to find the words to do so. It was a good thing Jake was carrying me, because I wasn't paying any attention to where we were going; I didn't even realise we'd stopped until Jake spoke.
'We're here.' At first, I couldn't figure out where here was. It looked like any other spot in the woods, filled with trees and bushes and green, except for the large fallen over tree trunk Jake was heading for. And when I say large, I mean large; if I'd been standing up, it would have been as I high as my hips. It made for the perfect seat, I discovered seconds later; sitting this high off the ground, I was only a foot shorter than Jake. Jake, who wasn't sitting down next to me like I'd thought he would, but who was instead just standing in front of me, his legs pressed up against mine. His right hand was on my waist, his eyes again locked on the white gauze wrapped around my body. Judging by the frown on his face, I guessed he was remembering what I'd told him just minutes earlier.
'Will they really never heal?' He whispered just moments later, confirming my thoughts. I pressed my lips together at how pained he sounded, not sure how to reply; not until his gaze lifted to meet mine. His eyes were burning with so much emotion, I couldn't not speak, couldn't not nod.
'Yeah. They're going to stay like this.'
'Because of the venom.' The words were hard for him to say, and he already knew the answer, but I got the feeling he needed to hear it again; to be absolutely sure of what I was saying.
'Because of the venom.' I repeated quietly. I could see Jake stiffen as the words, the muscles in his arms and shoulders growing taut.
'When did it happen before? How– What– Did he–' The words were almost a growl, and I stopped him with a finger over his lips.
'It was back when he first tried to kill me.' I said softly. Jake flinched at the words 'kill me', but I kept talking. 'That was 36 years ago now. We'd been fighting, and I was hurt, so… so I don't know where or how he got it. Not from the sword like this time.'
'The sword.' Jake said thoughtfully, his eyes flashing with a mixture of pain and curiosity. 'I've been wanting to ask you about it. What is it? Where the hell did you get it? Why did get it?' The questions started off slow, but soon they were bursting out of him. Again, I had to silence him with a finger over his mouth.
'The sword was what he was after. That… that was why he was hurting me. He wanted me to tell him where it was.' Jake's eyes widened at my words.
'Why? Why did he want it so badly? Why did you have it?'
'I didn't have it, Jake. I just knew where it was hidden. My father showed me, decades ago, before… before any of this happened.' I sucked in a shuddering breath, trying to keep myself calm. 'As for why he wanted it… well, I thought that would have been obvious. How many swords are laced with vampire venom? How many swords could kill a vampire, or a shapeshifter?'
'Wait, what? It could kill a vampire?' Jake said, sounding stunned, staring at me in disbelief. I nodded.
'It's made of some rare, super strong metal. Combined with vampire venom, it's strong enough to kill any supernatural creature. Including…' My voice faded to a whisper. 'You.' Jake froze at my words.
'Me. That's why you saved me.' Jake said, his voice strangely flat. Again, I nodded. 'Didn't you trust me to kill him before he killed me?' I sighed at the hurt in his voice.
'I know you would have beaten him, Jake. But odds are, he would have nicked you with the blade in the process.' I said quietly, remembering the awful moment when I'd seen Leon about to slice Jake with the sword. Jake looked like he was about to protest, to say something along the lines of one cut not going to kill him. But just as he opened his mouth, he suddenly snapped it shut again, his faze flooding with realisation.
'Wait, are you saying that would have killed me?' I nodded my head, clenching my hands into fists.
'Vampire venom is fatal to werewolves.' I whispered.
'I know, but…' He sighed, raking his hand through his hair in frustration. 'Why did you have to throw yourself at him? Why did you sacrifice yourself for me? You… you could have been safe. I would have killed him. I was trying to protect you, but you just leapt right into danger! Why?!' I could tell he was trying not to be angry, but by the end of his rant his words were packed with rage. Rage that was just barely restrained, his gaze burning with it as he stared down at me, his eyes screaming at me to give him an answer.
'I couldn't let him kill you, Jake.' I said quietly.
'But it was okay for him to kill you? It was okay for you to die?'
'I was already going to die! I figured that out days before he took me, remember? I told you, told you the corner I was backed into. Whether from leaving La Push, staying and being poisoned, or by Leon's hand, I was going to die. I knew that, and I'd accepted it. And so when I saw that he was going to hurt you, I stopped him. Because dying to save you was better than dying any of those other ways!' I retorted loudly, pain making my voice sound almost as angry as Jake's. Jake, who looked stunned, and was now staring at me not just with anger, but with guilt and confusion and fear and pain.
'But you still would have been dead.' He whispered, his voice breaking. 'Do you have any idea what that would have done to me? How much you being dead would destroy me?' He choked out, his eyes wild as he lurched forward, pulling me tightly into his embrace. He buried his face in my hair, one of his hands stroking up and down my side as he sucked in deep breaths.
'I'm sorry. I know I'm being an asshole right now. But every time I think about you dying, I just…' He cut off his low murmur with a growl. But not just angry growl; an undecided one. He was debating whether or not to say something. I could feel it through the imprint, guilt and anger warring at one another; until, suddenly, he spoke.
'Why didn't you let Brady save you?' I stiffened at his words, pulling back from his embrace so that I could meet his gaze. 'You just said that you were willing to risk your life to save mine, but you wouldn't risk it to save your own?' I felt my face turn hard.
'No, it's not. There was a chance that you two could've have gotten out of there, but you refused. You ordered him to leave you there. Why?' His voice demanding.
'Because I didn't want to watch him kill Brady right in front of me!' I snapped.
'What?' Jake asked, his expression morphing into one of shock. 'But he said–'
'That he couldn't kill him because the pack would find the body? Leon just made that up. If he'd really wanted Brady dead, he would've killed him and hidden the body in the same cave I was in. No, Brady there was there for an entirely different reason.'
'You don't know that.' Jake said, sounding shocked.
'Yes, I do.'
'Because he's done it before! 20 years ago, he caught up to me, and had me trapped in a warehouse. But I wasn't alone. There was a woman with me, one I'd never met before. She had nothing to do with it; nothing except that Leon had decided he liked playing with me more than killing me.' I said quietly, my voice hard.
'First chance I got, I broke me and her out of our chains. Leon was nowhere to be found, so we bolted. We got a whole block away before he suddenly appeared from around the corner and snapped her neck. Just like that, she was dead. Then he dragged me back, kicking and screaming, and locked me up again. And you know what he did? He brought her body back with us. He left the dead woman right in front of me, her blank eyes staring right at me. And for days, that was all I saw. Nothing but her dead eyes.' My voice broke at the end, and I felt my hands trembling as I remembered. Hands that were being enveloped by Jake's far larger and warmer ones as he once again pulled me close, my face burying into his chest.
'Oh honey, why didn't you tell me?' Jake murmured into the top of my head, his fingers tracing comforting circles onto my body. 'I knew that he'd hurt you before, but I guessed two times, maybe three. Not eight. Eight is…' A low snarl slipped from his throat. 'Eight is unimaginable. Awful. If I'd known that… god, I never would have left you. I really would have locked you up, done anything to keep you safe. But I had no idea. Why didn't you say something?'
'With everything that was happening before, I didn't… I didn't want to remember. And you were already so upset about it all–' I started to mumble, until he cut me off.
'Wait, you didn't say anything because you were worried about me? Thea, no. You can tell me anything, anytime. You're the one who's important, not me. I want to know.'
'No. You don't want to know this.' I said firmly.
'I didn't mean it like that, Thea.' He said softly. 'I don't want to hear you tell me how he hurt you. I don't want to have proof for the awful things I'm imagining. But I do want to help you. I want you to tell me, so you're not alone in this. I know how much remembering still bothers you, and when you're upset, I want to know why instead of guessing. I want you to be able to talk to me about it.'
'Jake…' I said unsurely.
'Please? Please tell me? Trust me? Trust me so that there's nothing like this between us anymore.' He asked, his voice pleading. Still wrapped in his arms, I couldn't see his face, but I knew what it would look like; his eyes burning with a desperate need, screaming at me to just tell him everything. But what he wanted to know… I didn't want to say it out loud. I didn't want to have to relive it, relive the pain. They were scenes more than worthy of a nightmare or a horror movie, forever etched into my brain. But if I did, if I told Jake everything… I wouldn't be alone. And I wanted that, so, so badly. I wanted him. But I couldn't have him, not if he didn't know. He had to know. He had to know.
He had to know.