I looked at Pera. "You unhid him?" I asked.
She nodded, sleepily. "He came through the door between our rooms, and woke me," she yawned, "said it was important, I unhid him and went back to sleep. I didn't think about it." I tried to think if Cody had put any special effort into getting the spot adjacent to Brady and Pera's room. I couldn't remember; it hadn't been worth paying attention to at the time.
Sam said, "He didn't come to let me know I could go to sleep at his usual time. When I went to check on him, his window was open and he was gone."
"Did he... leave a note?" I asked, although if he had, they probably wouldn't have been this alarmed. Depending on what the note said, anyway.
"Nothing," said Sam.
"Why did you wake me up?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"To make sure you were still here," murmured Jacob.
Pera said, "I was half-asleep. I might have forgotten, if he had asked me to unhide someone else too. Jacob wanted to check."
I shook my head. "He didn't even wake me. Where would he go?"
"No idea," said Sam.
"Are we going to try tracking him...?" I asked.
"Can't, while we're hidden and he's not," Sam said. "That's the other reason we woke you up. Our noses aren't good enough for serious tracking when we're not wolves, and we're in the middle of town so we can't exactly track Cody that way, but you look human. If Pera unhides you, you could see if you can follow him."
"O-okay," I said, "but I'm not very good at tracking. I've never really done it before."
"That's all right," Jacob said, soothingly. "But if you're willing, it's worth a try."
I nodded. Jacob offered to go with me, but I said I could do it myself; I didn't really feel up to a long awkward walk through town with him.
I followed Sam to the room Cody had been using. There were a lot of scents, layered on top of each other - I was pretty sure it was a smoking room, for one thing - but Cody's, left before Pera had unhidden him, was the one that smelled most like my own, with a layer of sweet venom like Mama's breath on top. I leaned out the window. There was a small courtyard he could have easily jumped down to, and a whole town he could have wandered through to cross his trail with every human's. "Okay," I said, turning to find that Pera and Jacob had followed, "unhide me and I'll see what I can find. I'll come back when I lose it, or if I find him."
Pera touched me on the shoulder, and she and both wolves disappeared. I gulped, and hopped out the window.
I was able to follow the trail farther than I would have guessed. It meandered through town, and fizzled out in a parking lot at the opposite edge of town. Losing it there, I turned around to go back and report on my findings, but then I smelled wolf.
I didn't know how to tell who it was, but I'd been with Jacob's pack all along, so it couldn't have been any of them. Even if someone had followed me, I shouldn't have smelled him while he was hidden. That meant a kept wolf had been nearby.
Gingerly, I followed that trail. It led from the parking lot down the block. There was a spot of sidewalk where the scent was thicker, like the person who left it had stood there for a few minutes before moving on, but it was a nondescript place. Just a square of concrete between a Starbucks and a trash can. And it wouldn't take a few minutes to throw something out.
I peered into the trash can anyway. There was a yellow legal pad there, sitting on top of the usual detritus. It was upside-down, but on the cardboard backing, I could see written in black marker, "HEY CODY PLEASE HEAR US OUT".
I picked up the pad, and read.
The first page also said, in the same marker, "HEY CODY PLEASE HEAR US OUT". I turned to the next one.
There were three sets of handwriting. The one that most resembled the capital letters started off. "It's just me (I'm Seth!) and Leah, Cody. We just want to talk to you," it said.
Neater, more angular writing followed. "You never sent me any messages through the alphas." I guessed that was Cody.
"Rachel wouldn't pass anything along," said someone with loopier penmanship, probably Leah. "We only just got permission to try to contact you." (This sentence was circled.) But we missed you the whole time, Cody-kiddo."
Cody wrote, "Chelsea wouldn't let you."
Seth: "Yes she would. She's not a monster. I mean, she's a vampire, but not a monster-monster. She's actually pretty nice."
Leah: "I don't know what kinds of stories Jake and company have been telling you about Chelsea, but let me tell you one. I don't think I would have ever gotten over Sam without her help, and I say "help" advisedly. I didn't technically need to be over Sam just to join up with the Volturi. I asked her to help me, and she did, and I feel better."
The medium didn't give me any impression of time passing, but Seth's writing next said, "Cody? Are you there?"
Cody wrote, "I'm here."
Seth: "You aren't going to wake everybody up and have them attack us, are you? We're really here alone. Demetri pointed the way, but he's not here."
Cody: "There were more than two wolves last night when we were out."
Leah: "Those were some of Becky's, not us, and they weren't even here for you, they were here about a coven in Omaha with a different guard. Us and Demetri just got here. It's a coincidence that Becky's bunch ran into your group."
Cody: "What do you want?"
Seth: "We want to bring you with us. You're family."
Cody: "Why now?" I guessed that this might have been when the sentence above was circled. And then, "But why did you get permission now?"
Leah: "Vampires take a while to get impatient, but Jake's pack is starting to annoy them. They're going to get creative. I asked Chelsea to appeal to the higher-ups for me and she did, and we were allowed to come try to get you out first. You're a free agent, no imprint, no alpha voice in your head. You were only a baby when they took you, Cody-kiddo."
Cody: "If Jake hadn't taken me, the Volturi would have killed me."
"No!" Seth wrote. "They wouldn't have. You're not a human, and you didn't attack them, so they wouldn't have hurt you any more than they hurt the pups that came with us back then. Oh, "pups" are the kids who can't activate yet. But some of them have gotten old enough since."
Cody: "I don't want to help the Volturi. Not to hurt Jake's pack or do anything else."
Leah: "That's fine. We won't even ask you to touch Aro - you don't have to tell us anything you don't want to. We just want you out of the way before things get iffy. Out of the way as in not involved, not as in on our side. Will you come with us? Please say yes."
Seth: "And hurry. Someone might wake up and see you writing this."
Cody: "I need time to think. And someone may be up soon."
Leah: "When should we come back?"
Cody: "We're going east. We'll probably stop in a town. Get Demetri to tell you which town and wait in front of a Starbucks, there's bound to be one. I'll find you if I want to go with you."
Leah: "Okay, Cody-kiddo. We love you."
Seth: "Me too!"
That was the last line of writing. Clutching the yellow legal pad, I jogged back to the hotel.
Everyone was awake - although they mostly looked unhappy about it - by the time I got back to the hotel. Pera re-hid me as soon as I got to the correct hallway, and I handed over the yellow legal pad to Jacob, averting my eyes. "I found it in a garbage can," I murmured. "Outside a Starbucks. Cody's trail went cold in a parking lot nearby, and then I smelled a wolf and followed that there. I think they were standing around for a while."
Jacob read it, and the others crowded around him, trying to get a look at it too. I held out my hands: "I can show two people who don't want to wait," I offered. Kim and Jared stepped forward and I showed them the memory of what I'd read. Meanwhile, Jacob's expression grew steadily darker, and some of the color left his face.
When everyone knew the contents of the written conversation, there was a short silence, and then everyone was talking at once. I made out Pera's stammered apology, Darren's demand to know how the kept wolves could have known when to catch Cody alone, Kim's sob about the abandonment, Emily's wispy murmur of fear, and Zachary's confusion about why the legal pad had been so easy to find.
"Hush," said Jacob, and there was a little steel in his voice - just barely enough. "One at at time." Everyone quieted, and he turned to Pera first. "Pera. This isn't your fault. On any other day, if Cody had suddenly wanted to be unhidden, it would have been for a good reason. You don't need to be our gatekeeper. Please don't beat yourself up." She pursed her lips unhappily and turned towards Brady, who willingly gathered her up in his arms to comfort her.
After that Jacob went around the circle of people in an orderly manner, asking them to repeat their questions and comments as necessary. "Darren, remember that they did spend some time with Cody when he was very young; they'd know his sleeping patterns and might have just gambled on them remaining the same. Kim, I don't think Cody wanted to hurt you or any of us. It's... natural that he'd miss his brother and sister, and would want to go to them if they could offer any plausible way he could do it safely. Emily, I don't think we're in particular danger from Cody's absence. They can already find us wherever we go. They're already neck-deep in witches. The risks are what "creative" ideas they're impatient enough to try, and this way we at least have some warning. Zach, my guess is that they had the pad on them while they waited outside the coffeeshop in case Cody arrived hidden and wanted to write to them. When he showed up unhidden, they tossed it. It was careless, but this is definitely Cody's handwriting; even if they faked it somehow, they had his help. I think we can safely assume that it's what it looks like." He quelled more nervousness, professed ignorance on a few more details.
Then he turned to me, gazing steadily into my eyes. "Thank you, Elspeth," he said.
"You're welcome," I murmured, avoiding the temptation to flinch away from his too-enraptured, too-focused face.
Quil, who had been whispering translations of the events in simpler language for Claire's benefit, asked, "What's next, Jake?"
"Well..." Jacob began, but I must have twitched, because his attention flicked right back to me. "What is it, Elspeth?"
"Cody knows Mama is alive," I whispered. "Cody knows where she'll wait for me. I don't believe that they won't read his mind. Even if Aro really doesn't do it, Del could copy Aro and do it for him."
Jacob stared at me, his face full of horror. And then a grim determination settled over his features, and he turned back to Quil to answer his question.
"We're continuing to New York," he said. "As fast as we can go."
I tried to protest that the entire pack didn't have to cater to my needs, and that I could go by myself to find and warn Mama.
I wasn't very good at it.
A few people seemed willing to take me at my unbelievable word, and let me go to the city alone while the pack made its own defensive maneuvers. But Jacob wouldn't hear of it. It was obvious that what I really wanted was company, and a chance of getting to Mama first or fighting off anyone who wanted to hurt her. And as long as that was obvious, and Jacob had the power to see that I wasn't alone and defenseless, he would do it.
"Mama probably isn't even in New York yet," I said. "She'll be at least a couple more days."
"Then we can beat her there," Jacob said, "if we hop a plane."
It took a few hours of running to get to the nearest airport. I was rather worried that such a large group of people sneaking onto an aircraft might cause issues of weight tolerance, but they'd apparently managed the feat before without crashing. We went around the apparently-deserted security stations, not wanting to set off any of their devices, and found a flight bound for LaGuardia. We wove around eerily self-propelling suitcases and levitating bags, but once we were on the plane we could sit in whatever seats we wanted as long as we sat forward of the seatbelts. Mostly we accumulated in first class, although Claire preferred to clamber around on the seats in coach (probably alarming anybody who noticed the way she'd jostle everything she touched, but on an airplane there was always another passenger or turbulence to attribute the motion to. "Invisible seven year old" was low on the list of possibilities.)
I borrowed Ruth, as an alternative to sitting alone. Maureen yielded her readily, and I showed the toddler storybooks and scenery and music and whatever else she asked for. Ruth was two years old, and simple and easy to please, and she didn't stare at me like I was the center of the universe or like my decisions were of immense importance to her community holding together.
Eventually Ruth tired of me and asked for her daddy. Victor sat down next to me to take her. "How're you doing, Elspeth?" he asked, bouncing Ruth on his knee to make her giggle.
"I'm okay, I guess," I said. "...Victor?"
"That's my name, but shh, don't tell anybody, it's a secret," he said with a smile.
"You're the one who imprinted on purpose," I remembered.
He nodded, casting a fond glance at Maureen where she was nursing their younger daughter. "Much as one can, yeah. Noticed there had been a couple of Makahs, thought their rez would be a good place to look for my own imprint. Worked for me. Not for Albert or Collin, though - they came with me to try the same thing but I was the only one to imprint."
"Why did you do that?" I asked.
Victor considered the question for a moment, as though it had been impertinent to ask, and I was about to apologize when he said, "Well, I suppose it's not really a secret. I am - or was, it's confusing - gay. Nothing wrong with that, or so some sources'll tell you, but..." He shrugged. "It was hard. I'd been in the closet but once I activated and there was telepathy flying all over the place, I couldn't be, not in the pack. Nobody gave me a hard time about it, exactly, Rachel wouldn't have it, but I never got to choose whether to tell them, and I figured it was only a matter of time before somebody let it slip to my parents, who - great folks. They were great folks. But they'd have taken it hard. And I figured, well, if anything will fix it, imprinting's supposedly to make sure the werewolf gene gets passed down, that kinda limits the pool, and I could tell how strong it was for the ones who'd found their girls already."
"So you found Maureen," I murmured.
"Yep," Victor said, sounding pleased with himself. "Worked like a charm. She's the best thing ever happened to me." I glanced at Maureen, who was sitting close enough to hear, and she had a very smug expression on her face.
"What's it like?" I asked. I almost didn't want to know. Almost preferred to be ignorant of what I was costing Jacob by my twitchiness.
But only almost, and so Victor hesitated, but didn't refuse me an answer. He closed his eyes, remembering, and said, "It was like everything that tied me to the world, all my relationships and cares and worries, released me, and instead there was Maureen, my one anchor. A stronger anchor than all the old ties put together. The heart of the world, that everything else revolved around. It was the most beautiful experience of my life. The symmetry of everything is clear when you see what's in the middle of it all." He looked at Maureen again, and she preened, adjusting her short hair behind her ears. Clearly she had found it very welcome to discover that she was so vitally important.
"What if... things had been different, and she hadn't loved you back?" I murmured.
Victor raised a sympathetic eyebrow. "Worrying about Jake? Well, here's what would've happened. I would have gone home. Would have been prepared to wait for her, forever, in case she ever changed her mind. Would have thought of her always, wished for her always. But... it wouldn't've killed me, and I could've built the rest of my life back up again. And I would never have wanted her to feel like she had to do anything she didn't want. I'm hers to keep, not the other way round."
"You wouldn't have wanted her to feel like she had to," I whispered, "but you wanted her to want to."
He considered this, seeming puzzled by the phrasing, but then shrugged and nodded. "Nothing magic about that," he pointed out. "Every Joe Normal high schooler getting ready to ask his crush to prom wants her to like the idea."
I nodded, slowly. Maybe I was overthinking things. But it was hard not to be reminded of how not normal the situation was when every time Jacob looked at me, it was painfully obvious that he'd walk in front of a bus if it'd make me happy.
Five-year-olds are not supposed to have that kind of responsibility. Even sixteen-year-olds are not supposed to be able to ask people to fling themselves into traffic.
Nobody is supposed to be able to do that.
How did Mama handle it? Mama, how did you do this? Please tell me what to do, Mama, I don't know what to do...
Victor got up, Ruth perched on his shoulder, and sat beside the center of his universe.
I turned around to peer over the back of my seat, and asked Emily if I could hold Paige.
I hate being alone.
The plane landed, and we followed the last few rolling suitcases onto the jetway and into the terminal. Mama almost certainly would have traveled on foot, and while she's fast and doesn't sleep, she is not as fast as an airplane. We would probably beat her to Central Park.
We ran through the city, and into the rectangle of green, and I led the way to the correct bench. Pera saw no vampires at all, or kept wolves, when we arrived. I showed her what Mama looked like so she'd recognize her.
"I guess I'll try to stay on your schedule, so we don't miss her if she shows up at six in the morning," said Pera.
"Thank you," I said. "I'm sorry I wake up so early."
Pera shrugged. "I was up early this morning. I'll go to bed tonight when you do, and you can wake me when you wake if I am still asleep then. It will be enough sleep."
She was as good as her word, and while we camped out in the park, she followed my schedule and kept an eye out for Mama - or other vampires, or wolves, who might be there for the same reason.
I talked to Jacob, a little, while we waited. We didn't directly address the fact of his imprinting. He never asked me to show him anything, or otherwise arrange for us to touch, and I didn't offer. But it was possible to work around the subject, within the limited medium, and have a conversation.
"So you've been to New York before?" Jacob asked me, after we'd been sitting near my rendezvous point for a short while and it was nearing dark.
"Of course," I said. "Mama showed me this place so I would know where to go if we were separated."
"Is that all you did here?" he asked.
"Pretty much," I said. "It was before Mama got her job, so it would have been too expensive to stay in a hotel. That meant we couldn't stay overnight; you can't really camp out in a city unless you're hidden like this. Also Mama is pretty sure there are vampires around here, although we didn't meet any. Big cities are likely to have them because there are so many people that a few can go missing without attracting attention."
"You guys avoided other vampires?" he asked. I nodded. "Why?"
"If they were anyone Mama knew, they'd find out she was alive, and it could get back to the Volturi. And people she didn't know might have attacked us." I paused. "Or both. We never go to Tennessee because my uncle Jasper lives there, and when Mama ran into him - before she found me when I was six months old - he had gone crazy. He attacked her. She only escaped because he was too crazy to fight seriously, and she managed to convince him that she was somebody else and he was hallucinating."
"I didn't know vampires hallucinated," said Jacob.
"Mama's never heard of it happening to anybody besides Uncle Jasper," I said. "She thinks it might have happened to him because he's an empath sort of witch, and he had to feel his wife die."
Jacob shivered. "Nice family history you grew up with."
"Mama doesn't keep secrets from me," I said. "That means some of the stories I heard weren't very nice. I like it better this way. When I lived with Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Emmett, they didn't tell me hardly anything. Even though they thought Mama was dead they didn't say so. They didn't tell me about Daddy, either."
He shifted uncomfortably. "Cody was almost a year old before we really explained to him what had happened with his parents and his brother and sister," Jacob murmured.
"What did you tell him? He must have asked."
"Well, he remembered his parents handing him over, demanding that we take him away," Jacob said. "I think the phrasing Kim used that we all picked up was that they hadn't asked us to bring him back yet. And she used to tell him that Leah and Seth were "working" in Italy without being specific about it. When he learned to ask more specific questions he got more specific answers. And he'd overhear us talking, sometimes - kid has good ears."
"What does Claire know?" I asked, wrenching the conversation away from Cody. I couldn't sort out how I felt about him anymore. Maybe I could have understood it if I'd had any brothers or sisters, or if I'd been raised by my relatives and not Mama for my whole life. Was it only that, that he missed Leah and Seth? Was that why it had taken so little, such unenforceable assurances, before he would skip off and leave no note behind?
"Not a whole lot," admitted Jacob. "I... I don't think she remembers her parents. As far as Claire's concerned, the pack is the whole world."
"Why wouldn't you ever go back to Washington, and at least write messages, even if you didn't want to risk unhiding?" I asked.
"So you're acquainted with your grandpa Charlie, then?" asked Jacob. "Send him Christmas cards?"
I got up and walked over to where several pack members were playing cards and asked, stiffly, to be dealt in. I ignored Jacob calling after me, "Wait, Elspeth, I didn't mean - Elspeth, I'm sorry -"
I got his point, of course - contact, even the possibility of it, meant turning people into potential hostages - and once I thought about it I understood why they couldn't just pick up and hide Claire's parents and integrate them into the pack. The parents would have relatives they wouldn't want to cut off, too, who would in turn have relatives, and the pack needed mobility that depended on its wolf-to-human ratio. If they couldn't run away, fast, when a Volturi guard set their campsite on fire, they would die.
But he didn't have to say it that way, about Grandpa Charlie. I know Mama hates that he has to think she's dead and I'm missing. And Grandma Renée doesn't even know that I was born in the first place.
I didn't understand why he'd said it like that. What would make it seem like a good idea?
"It's your turn," Thea said, elbowing me in the side, and I played a card and was confused.
I didn't try to talk to Jacob after that, and he let me be. It took two nervous days before Pera saw anyone.
"Elspeth," Pera said, as soon as I got back from my hunt the morning of the third day, "your mother got here a few minutes ago. She's sitting on the bench right there," Pera pointed, "but there are people nearby."
"Why didn't you send someone to find me?" I exclaimed.
"She doesn't look like she's going to leave," said Pera. "And I have seen no other vampires or wolves, only her. I would have hidden her, if joggers would stop going by every half minute," Pera sighed.
I contemplated how to tell Mama to go somewhere less visible, and finally I just put my hand roughly where her face would be if she sat where Pera had claimed. "Tell me if she blinks," I said. Mama, it's me, please blink twice if you can hear me, I attempted to send, wondering if my power would cross the divide between hidden and unhidden like Demetri's could.
"Nothing," Pera said.
"Drat. The joggers aren't looking close enough to see me writing if I write to her, are they?"
"No," said Pera. I fetched the yellow legal pad, tore a clean sheet out from the back, and was then stumped by my lack of a pen. Pera could tell what I was frowning about, though, and found one in her purse for me. I scribbled a note for Mama.
Mama, it's me. I found Jacob's pack. They are all safe from the Volturi because they have a witch with them who can hide them, and she hid me too, which is why you can't see me. Please go someplace where no one is looking, but where the (human) witch will be able to touch you, so she can hide you and we will be able to see each other.
Pera took the note when I'd finished, and trailed it through the air while she unhid it so it would appear to be carried on the wind. It was seized out of the air by an invisible hand - Mama's - and gave Pera a papercut. Pera drew in a sharp breath. "Is your mother -"
"She won't hurt you," I promised, "not even if you're bleeding - but I should warn her in the note so it won't surprise her." It's impossible to avoid human blood reliably if you're going to be around humans. They're very fragile. Mama has very good control and always has, but it would be better not to startle her with the scent. It does smell awfully yummy even to me, but I've always been on my best behavior about it and never try to drink it.
I grabbed another page. The witch got a papercut and it's bleeding a little bit, just to warn you, I wrote, and I handed the page to Pera, who unhid it and handed it to Mama. Mama had apparently gotten up from the bench and begun to hunt for a hiding place, but she plucked the second note out of the air too. Pera followed Mama, and I followed Pera, and finally we were in a space that Pera deemed not visible to humans in the park.
I noticed the wolves, some in human form, some not, clustering behind us, and Brady shifting from paw to paw nervously. They'd overheard, and obviously wanted to be present when a vampire entered their hiding place.
Pera reached forward and Mama, completely bald but otherwise whole, sprang into place -
And immediately lunged for Pera, teeth bared, thirst in her dark eyes.< Previous Next >