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One New Message

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You have one new voice message. Message received today at 4:36 PM. 

“Lee, it’s Q. Uh, Quil. I just wanted to call and say hi, and I miss you, and I hope you’re doing okay. It’s only been a week, but I think I’m going crazy here. Things are so boring without you. That’s all, I guess. Call me back. You know where to find me.”

You have one new voice message. Message received Monday at 12:28 PM.

“Hey, stranger, seems like I missed you again. God, your schedule is crazy these days. I think it’s been, what, a month, since we talked? Before you try it, that text you sent me doesn’t count. Six words is not a real conversation, Miss Clearwater, and I’ll stand by that. Call me, chica, this place is slower than a whorehouse on a Sunday.”

You have one new voice message. Message received today at 2:13 AM. 

“Quil, give me the phone.”

There’s rapid rustling, followed by a series of quick footsteps and muted curses. Eventually, there’s an all-too-familiar voice.

“Leah,” he slurs, dragging her name out into a multi-syllabic murmur. “I need to hear your voice. I don’t get what happened to you, what happened to us. We were it ,” he mumbles, momentarily quietening.

His breathing fills the line for a soft few seconds.

“I loved you, Lee, and you left. It’s over, and I never had the guts to even try.” He clears his throat. “I hope Washington is good for you. I wish you could have been happy here.”

Suddenly, a sigh. “Okay, dude, it’s time to hang up. Say goodbye.”

“If you don’t call me back, I’m going to stop calling you. Just...let me know you still want me around. Please, Lee, give me something.”

“Okay, Leah, take care. I’m hanging up for him now.”

And then: silence.

Leah doesn’t call him back.

True to his word, he doesn’t call her again. Winter melts into Spring, the flowers come to bloom, and it’s almost like the world is moving on. After all her years in the world’s tiniest version of Hell, she’d started wondering if there was such a thing as life off of the Rez. Leah’d floated the idea of leaving a few times after high school, as if testing the words on her tongue, and the answer from her family, her friends, had always been a dismissive no. 

Protectors didn’t leave.

Leah was a protector. It was ironic, really: she had needed the most protection, from broken hearts and dead parents and dream-ending explosions of fur. In a single second of inexplicable anger, she’d killed the person she loved most, destroying her own, and her baby brother’s, futures. If Leah was anything, she was efficient, and this was the final, insulting, nail in the coffin. And to add insult to injury, as if the sudden transformation wasn’t disorienting enough, she was burdened with the knowledge that she’d be chained to her ex, to her hometown, for the rest of her natural life

She’d lost her chance to run before she’d even had a chance to lace up.

Life became mechanical. Her days consisted of running immeasurably bland patrols, of watching over her pest of a brother, of compressing her turmoil into a palatable little ball of emotion that she could bury deep within her mind, politely concealed from her pack brothers. It wasn’t living, but it was surviving, and it was enough. 

It had been enough, up until the day that the world’s most irritating shifter - honestly, fuck Ateara, and fuck that shitty ass motorcycle he rode in on - had paused to help her after an overly rough sparring session. Constant sparring was Sam’s mandate; being battle-ready had somehow become a way of life, and so days ended with her muscles aching and breath stolen from her lungs. Getting her ass kicked was just part of the routine, and over time she’d learned to haul herself up, to cover her wounds just like she covered her worries. None of her packmates tended to give her a second glance, anyway.

Leah Clearwater, the bitter bitch with a spoiled heart. 

Her reputation was the only protection she got these days. Even so, Quil had shifted back after dealing his final blow, his body stretching and shimmering into a familiar form. She’d watched him through half-lidded eyes, her vision distorted by a mess of blood and sweat and dirt. He’d approached her slowly, crouching low as he drew near, raising his palms in a gesture of surrender.

“Let me help you, Lee. Phase back.”

Lee had always been off-limits to the pack - it was fifty percent of the way to Sam’s trademark pet name, and nobody could compare to him. Still, her name rolling off Quil’s tongue had a kind of comforting lilt that gave her pause, stalling her desire to turn away from him.

She phased back.

He’d cleaned her wounds with fresh river water, achingly icy against her tender flesh. She’d hissed in pain, twisting and contorting at the contact of his fingers, and he’d soothed her, murmuring words of comfort in their native tongue. 

Later, they’d walked side by side through the forest, naked as the days they were born. They didn’t say anything then, and they never talked about that fight.  At their next pack meeting, she’d stalked across the circle to rest by his side, positioning herself by his shoulder without hesitation. Quil was surprised, sure, but he was content. With Leah, he was always content. They did everything together after that, both as wolves and as humans. Being with Quil was as easy as breathing. Being without him, though, was much harder, and the days melting away in her college dorm was slowly pushing her to the edge. The Clearwaters were not weak in any capacity - Leah had come out of the womb kicking, and Seth had followed similarly. They’d fought tooth and nail ever since, banding together when it came down to the wire. In the days that followed, it was Seth, unsurprisingly, that was the turning point in her relationship with Quil.

You have one new voice message. Message received today at 3:14 PM.

“Look, you can avoid Ateara and all, but you better not be screening my calls. I’m sure Mom would love a road-trip upstate, courtesy of yours truly. Anyway, I’m calling to tell you to stop being a fool. I know you like Quil. Don’t waste your breath arguing, Lee, it’s been obvious for months. Call him back before I come there and make you do it. Oh, and I ate your snickerdoodles that you hid in the freezer. Maybe call Aunt Joy, too, and ask her to make you some more.”

Leah went to sleep that night with worry in her heart and annoyance in her mind.

The next time her phone rings, later that week after her Stats class, she actually picks up the phone. 

“Leah, I know you’re never going to listen to this message, but I’m going to leave it anyway-”

“What happened to not calling anymore?” she asks, equal parts teasing and serious.

Quil falls silent. “I thought I got your voicemail again.”

“Nope,” Leah says, popping the p. She’s being an asshole, and she knows it, but she can’t make herself stop. 

He clears his throat awkwardly. She can picture him, phone cradled against his ear as he stretches out on that ugly patchwork house in his living room, scrambling for something reasonable to say. He’s always been bad on the phone, blurting the first thing that comes to mind without any real sense of the consequences. Then again, impulsivity tends to be his calling card, whether it’s over the phone or in person.

She loves that about him.

“Why are you avoiding me?” he asks finally, his voice impossibly quiet. “The night before you left-”

“It was a mistake, Quil. You know we can’t be together.”

“Why?” he bites, his voice drawing out into a whine. “Why does it matter? I like you, you like me. That’s it.”

“You have Claire,” she says. She hates how she sounds, the way her voice comes out in a little whimper that screams weak . After Sam, she’d promised herself that there would be nobody else. To be broken, you had to allow weakness, and she would never, ever, fall prey to a man again.

“Claire’s basically my kid sister. You’re in an entirely different category, Lee,” he says, pausing momentarily. “You’re in a category of your own.”

“What if you change your mind?”

“What if I don’t?” he breathes, letting hopefulness edge into his voice. “See, you can give me that bullshit time again; you can say we're better off without each other and all that crap. Thing is, where's the fun in that? How long do I have to love you before you give me a chance?

“I’m too far away.”

“I can run like, a hundred miles per hour.”

“I don’t know if I want to come back to La Push.”

“I can move.”

“I don’t like the name Ateara.”

“I could be a Clearwater.”

“Are you ever going to give up?”

“I let you go once, Lee, and that was quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not giving up on you, not until I know that you don’t feel the same way.”

“And if I do?”

“Then I’ll run all the way up to see you the moment you hang up the phone.”

“Well, I guess you’d better phase, then,” she says, ending the call before she can change her mind.

Quil’s never been so pleased to hear a dial tone.