Bella Swan is a pathetic girl, Leah thinks. And it makes her angry because she used to be a pathetic girl, too.
She never asked for this. She never asked to babysit the daughter of the white guy her dad hangs out with. But her dad said, “You know what it feels like to be in her shoes. You’re her best hope,” and Leah can’t bear to let her father down after he weathered her meltdown after Sam left, so she agreed. And now Bella is sitting in her living room in a hoodie than hangs off her too-thin frame and barely breathing.
Jacob Black has been sniffing around the house, but Leah chased him off with her dad’s rifle after the fifth time he knocked on the door. “If she wanted you,” she spat, “she woulda asked. Get off my property.”
Everyone around her–her dad, her teachers, her friends–are babying her. And Leah doesn’t think that’s what she needs, because it’s definitely not what she needed. So she barks, “Hey, Swan, you like cooking, yeah?”
Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, Bella lifts her head and meets Leah’s eyes with her own. “Yes,” she says, so quiet Leah almost can’t hear her over the sound of the waves nearby.
“Good.” Leah throws the fridge door open and gestures vaguely to the insides. “Mom’s working a double tonight and none of the rest of us can tell our ass from a frying pan. If you’re gonna be hanging around here, you might as well pull your weight.”
Leah waits for the command to register, and watches with no small amount of satisfaction as Bella slowly rises from the couch and makes her way to the small house’s small kitchen. “Allergies?” she asks, sounding a little more sure of herself now that she has a task.
Biting back a smug grin, Leah says, “We’re garbage disposals. We’ll eat anything.”
Leah isn’t gentle with Bella Swan. She doesn’t talk to her in a soft voice or walk on eggshells around her. She’s loud and commanding and crude, because that’s what she wanted when she was mourning the loss of Sam and his love.
And, lo and behold, not babying an almost adult and making her confront her feelings actually works. Who fucking knew?
Leah looks at the two trashed bikes in the bed of the old truck, then to Bella, then back to the bikes, then back to Bella. “Are you high? What makes you think I know anything about bikes?”
Bella doesn’t cower like she used to when Leah snapped at her. “What? Are you afraid of getting your hands dirty or something?”
“Where’d you even get these pieces of shit?” Leah asks, not willing to dignify her taunt with a response.
“I found them on the road.”
“And you just picked them up?”
“No one else wanted them, obviously.”
“Yeah, I wonder why.”
“You can bitch at me and hold a wrench at the same time. Let’s see if we can get these babies up and running.”
And, well. A snarky, swearing Bella is a lot more entertaining than a zombie Bella, so Leah rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.
Bella brings a printed out tutorial for riding motorcycles to the rez after the bikes are fixed up and they spend a few days teaching themselves how to ride. When Bella falls off and scrapes her knee and passes out at the sight of her own blood, Leah runs back to town to buy her knee pads. The only kind the closest store has are kiddie ones, but Bella’s definitely small enough, so Leah buys a whole set of sparkly Barbie elbow-and-knee pads.
Bella laughs when she sees them, and the sound makes Leah’s heart thud a little harder in her chest.
Leah’s over at Bella’s for once, sitting with criss-crossed legs on the cool tile of the Swans’ kitchen floor while Bella whips up a lasagna that smells so good her mouth is actually starting to water, when she finally feels comfortable enough to open up.
“Do you ever wonder why your dad called my dad instead of Billy?” she asks.
Bella pauses in her layering and tilts her head down towards Leah. “Not really. Why?”
“Because he knew I know how you feel.”
Bella freezes. “What do you mean?”
And so Leah tells her about a girl and a boy, and about a life they were supposed to spend together, and about the girl’s heart-sister who took her happily ever after away.
She doesn’t even realize she’s crying until Bella’s arms (still too thin, god, she needs to eat more, what the fuck?) snake around her shoulders and pull her head to rest on her pale shoulder, exposed by her too-big Mariners shirt that is probably actually Charlie’s. “I’m here,” she says in a soothing voice that somehow doesn’t make Leah feel like she’s being pitied. “I’m here.”
It takes another twenty minutes for the lasagna to make it into the oven, but Leah doesn’t complain.
Despite her newfound friendship with Bella, Leah feels her temper rising. Little things like Seth using up the rest of the milk or her mom not closing her door when she leaves her room send her flying off the handle. For a few weeks she thinks it’s PMS, but when her period comes and goes and she still feels angry all the time, she starts to worry.n
It all comes to a head one night when her dad gets upset with her for a bad grade on an English test. What could have been a quiet, if heated, confrontation becomes a shouting match that makes Seth (little Seth, who’s grown what seems like a foot in a month) start edging towards the gun mounted on the wall.
Then her dad says, “Maybe I should call Charlie and tell him not to send Bella ‘round anymore if you can’t focus on your studies–” and that’s what does it. Anger tears through her like a bullet and suddenly her bones and muscles are snapping in unnatural directions and her clothes are shredding and where she was once a young woman she is now a gray wolf.
Leah knows she killed her father.
That’s why she doesn’t answer Bella’s phone calls. That’s why she keeps her door locked when she smells Bella coming into the house.
Her father had a heart attack because of her. And she’ll never forgive herself.
Maybe being in the boys’ heads and the boys being in her head is her punishment. Having to see Emily living the life she was supposed to live is how she can pay for her father dying.
(Except it doesn’t hurt, seeing them together. She doesn’t want Sam anymore. She doesn’t think she has in a while. The worst thing about the pack mind is Jacob fucking Black and his 24/7 Bellathon.)
(She refuses to think about the implications of that.)
(Because Bella already loves someone else. A very male, very leech-like someone else.)
The day of the funeral, Bella has finally had enough.
She pounds on the door to Leah’s bedroom. “Fuck you, Leah Clearwater!” she shouts. “You don’t get to abandon me! Not like Edward! I won’t let you!”
“Leah.” She winces at the sound of her mother’s stern voice. “Bella’s right. I understand you’re hurting, but you can’t cut yourself off. Get your ass out of your room and come to the funeral, or else I’m gonna tan your hide.”
Leah’s already dressed in her funeral dress that’s a few inches too short on her, even though she wore it to old man Joseph Featherstone’s funeral six months ago. Must be the werewolf thing. She looks at herself in the hand-held mirror she nailed to her wall by the handle in an attempt to recreate a vanity a few years ago and sighs. “Time to face the music, Lee Lee,” she mutters to herself, and she stands up and throws open the door.
As soon as her eyes meet Bella’s, her whole world crumbles and rebuilds itself, with a skinny, pasty, leech-loving white girl at the center of it all.
“Fuck,” she says. and before either Bella or her mother can react, she pulls Bella into her arms and buries her nose at the point where her shoulder slopes up to her neck and inhales, and, for just a moment, things aren’t terrible.
One day, they might even be kind of alright.