Chapter 17: Rachel
I drove, and drove, and stopped for gas, and bought new maps, and drove. I wished I could have taken a plane, but that would have left traces it would be all too easy for inquisitive Volturi to track. I paid for my purchases in cash, wearing sunglasses and stopping earlier than I needed to when I hit an area with cloud cover or heavy shade. The car was nice and fast but not visibly interesting, as far as humans' reactions informed me. Unless Alice was looking at the wrong things at the wrong time, I wasn't leaving easy evidence.
When it was a sensible hour for humans to be awake and attending to their electronics, I called Rachel's number. She picked up on the first ring but sounded tired. "Hello? Who is this?" she asked, predictably not recognizing the number.
"It's Bella - remember me?" I asked. We'd last played together when I'd been ten and she'd been twelve; she probably wouldn't notice the change in my voice. I didn't bother disguising it.
"Uh, Bella... Swan?"
"I actually just got married a couple weeks ago," I said. "It's Bella Cullen now."
"Cullen? That name sounds kind of familiar." Rachel had gone to college early, and rarely went home; she would never have encountered my family during their most recent stay in Forks. But of course the name was known in the stories she'd heard growing up. "Huh. Wow, you're what, two years younger than me? That is young. Even Becky waited till she was eighteen to get married. But congratulations. So, um, why are you calling?"
Apparently Rebecca had started calling herself "Becky"; that was good to know. "I'm going to be in the area in a few hours and I have something awesome that I want to show you," I said.
"Uh... Bella, don't take this the wrong way, but if you're a missionary or an Avon lady or something like that..."
"No, absolutely not. I'm not selling anything. I have no religion to share with you. But if I tell you what I want to talk about when I'm not physically present and capable of proving it, you'll never believe me. Can I buy you..." I flicked my eyes to the clock, guessed my arrival time. "Lunch? I'll be in Spokane at about eleven thirty. We can go wherever you want and all you have to do is listen to me tell you a really crazy story while you take gratuitous advantage of my wallet, and then specify exactly what tricks you want me to do to prove what I will tell you."
"Um, okay... do you know the seafood place four blocks from campus?"
"Give me the intersection and I'll find it. Do you want me to pick you up, or meet you there?" I asked.
She named streets and said she'd meet me. "If this is a religion or a sales pitch I am making you buy me lobster," she promised, and then she hung up.
I bought an atlas outside Spokane, found the intersection, and was there two minutes early, which left me enough time to find parking. Fortunately, it was a cloudy day; I didn't have to take care to make sure that the route between my spot and the restaurant was shaded. (I'd bought an ugly, crushable, and broad-brimmed hat, and a pair of gloves from a clearance rack, in Montana. That would have to do if I needed to go into the sun. But for the time being they were stuffed into my purse.) I popped fresh contact lenses into my eyes. They were just barely tinging orange around the edges - not close enough to any human color to pass.
Rachel was there. In my computer, I'd had exactly three photos of my childhood self with the Black twins, and that was the beginning and the end of what I knew about what Rachel and Becky looked like. (Mercifully, they were fraternal twins, and I'd labeled one of the pictures with which was which.) But it wasn't hard, even with several years between the present and our last photo op, for me to pick out the nineteen-year-old Native American woman who looked like she was waiting for someone.
"Rachel!" I called, going up to her at a plausibly human pace and waving. "Hi! It's good to see you!"
She gave me an appraising look, that mix of aesthetic enjoyment and simmering envy that reasonably pretty women sometimes gave supermodels and vampires. "Bella?" she asked, incredulous. "Wow, you look great. And..." She took a breath and got an embarrassed, repulsed look on her face. "No offense, but you're kind of wearing a lot of perfume. I'd tone it way down if I were you."
Come to think of it, Rachel didn't smell human-typical to me, either. She was the least appetizing person with a heartbeat I'd encountered since turning - closer to the wolf I'd eaten for my first vampire meal than to any humans. Probably this was just a feature of the species. A race of werewolves that were historically the natural enemies of vampires wouldn't think I smelled pleasantly of freesias and honey, and I wouldn't react to one of them with the desire to approach more closely and sink in my teeth.
Well, that meant I could probably activate her. "Sorry if it's bothering you. Did I keep you waiting long?"
She shook her head. She had her hair just barely long enough to look fluffy, and it bounced with the motion. "I just got here. Let's go sit down."
The restaurant wasn't crowded, which was good - I didn't have to attract attention by asking the hostess for a more private table at which to have this conversation. "You look tired," Rachel said. "Were you driving through the night?"
"Yeah, I was," I said, not that this had to do with the darkness under my eyes. "I'm pretty good at pulling all-nighters, it's just not good for the looks."
"No, don't get me wrong, you really do look great, just like you could use a nap," Rachel backpedaled. She scanned her menu with half her attention - the other half kept her glancing up at me repeatedly. She definitely sensed that something was off. And she kept sniffing the air uncomfortably. "And maybe you should take your nap on the beach on a nice day. So, uh, I could kind of go for lobster even though you haven't tried to sell me anything yet - is that...? Or I could get the halibut, that looks nice..."
"It's completely fine," I promised her. "Go ahead and get anything you want. And if I try to get one penny out of your purse you can stab me with a fork."
Rachel chuckled darkly and summoned the waiter. I ordered the halibut she'd mentioned, in case she wanted some, and a glass of water. When he'd gone to put in our orders, she asked, "So what's the crazy thing you wanted to tell me so bad that you're buying me lobster?"
"You've probably heard most of it already," I said earnestly. "Do you remember any of the stories from your tribe about..." I paused dramatically, just for the hell of it. "Wolves?"
"Yeah, there's a bunch," Rachel replied. "Wolves, and spirit warriors, and cold ones, and all that junk. Why, what about them?"
"Can I see your hand for a sec?" I asked, holding out mine.
"What, are you going to read my palm, or something?" she joked, but she held out her hand. I held it just as though fortune-telling were what I had in mind, but all I'd wanted was to let her notice my body temperature. Her own was unusually warm. No one would send her to the hospital if she popped a thermometer under her tongue, but she ran a bit hot.
Rachel jerked her hand back, and I didn't try to stop her. Clutching at her chilled hand with the other, she stared at me, eyes round with shock. "Bella, I don't believe in cold ones," she said, with a vaguely didactic tone that didn't match the fear on her face.
"You don't? Oh, okay, then," I said.
She blinked at me, put her hands in her lap, blinked again, and said, "I really don't."
"That's fine," I repeated.
"Vampires don't exist," said Rachel.
"So I've been told," I said agreeably.
There was a silence. I smiled at her pleasantly, and she looked at me, at all the telltale features. The pale skin. The dark circles under my eyes; my eyes themselves, which were ringed with the faint lines of my contacts. She inhaled shallowly, deliberately, detecting the "perfume". Perhaps she was thinking about my voice, how clear and chiming I sounded.
Our drinks came, my water and her iced tea. She clutched at her glass and had a sip, almost spilling. There was no protocol in her memory for what to do when a vampire took her out for lobster.
I took a swallow of water. Although Rachel didn't smell tasty, that didn't shut down venom production - if anything, it had gone up a bit, perhaps in preparation for a fight. That, and there were the waiter and the other diners. The air had some kick to it.
The food arrived.
"If you want any of this, you can have it," I said, gesturing at the halibut and the sides accompanying it. "I'm not hungry."
"Bella, those stories are all fictional," Rachel said. "Imaginary. Made up."
"That may be," I acknowledged. "On an entirely unrelated topic, did you know that there are a lot of fictional stories in which the Earth is populated by creatures called "humans"? I understand it's a popular genre."
Rachel gaped at me. She didn't even touch her lobster.
I waited patiently, and eventually the steam wafting up from her plate overrode her shock. She started dipping bites of crustacean into butter and mechanically chewing them. But except for the minimum attention to keep lobster juice from dribbling down her front, she was focused on me.
"Your eyes," she observed, a quarter of the way through her plate, "are brown."
"I'm wearing contact lenses," I told her, and fished the box out of my purse to show her.
She looked at the box of cosmetic lenses like it was a horrible spider, and started eating faster. She finished all of the easily accessible lobster, although delicate work with the pick could have gotten more out of the shell. "You said Cullen, right?" she asked, starting on her asparagus.
"That's my married name, yes," I replied. "My husband's name is Edward."
"And how old is Edward?" asked Rachel, pronouncing the name with some distaste.
"Older than I am. Looks remarkably well-preserved, though," I told her. She swiped one of my halibut fillets as I'd invited her to do and plunked it into the tartar sauce it had come with. "Did you have breakfast?" I asked.
"Yeah, I did, I'm just... really hungry all of a sudden..." muttered Rachel, sounding as puzzled by her appetite as I was. She ate the fish and took another piece. From across the table, I thought the warmth emanating from her was getting hotter...
I didn't have any information to the effect that activation came with enhanced appetite. Perhaps it had never seemed important to mention it next to the "turn into a giant wolf" part. Or she was just hungry for no particular reason. It seemed very fast.
But better to err on the side of caution.
I reached into my purse, peeled out a hundred dollar bill, and laid it on the table. "Rachel, we need to get out of here now."
"We are in the middle of Spokane and you are exhibiting a peculiar symptom after having spent some time hanging out with... me," I said. "Let's stop being in the middle of Spokane. Right now."
Rachel looked at me like she'd been punched in the stomach. Like I had punched her in the stomach, maybe - shocked, hating that she believed but believing anyway, she couldn't have been more distraught if she'd learned that her father wasn't or that her twin was dead or something equally horrible.
I failed to check one twist of guilt, but the need to get her someplace safe was stronger than the need to apologize for what I had already done, and it wouldn't kill her -
"Rachel, we need to go," I said. And finally, she got to her feet, looking woozy. She managed to follow me to my car without my having to carry her, and sat in the passenger seat without even looking at the seatbelt. I didn't bring up her bad safety habit, just pulled out and wove through traffic as fast as I could. I ran four red lights, taking I-90 back the way I'd come at speeds even Edward would approve of. Rachel shook in her seat, sweating, but not transforming. Maybe the process took a while and she was only in the beginning stages.
I crossed the state line into Idaho and drove into the national forest, where I pulled over and abandoned the car. I pulled Rachel by the hand into the trees, but she stumbled, and I was desperate to get her out of sight. Keeping my ears open for hikers or forest rangers, I picked her up and fled into the deep woods.
I found a place that didn't look or smell like humans had visited it much - at least since the last rain, which didn't mean much, but it was something. Rachel looked sick, but not deathly ill. Her heart was beating fast, but not faster than healthy ones beat under stress. She was breathing oddly, but not more oddly than she had when she'd only been trying to avoid my "perfume". She sat on the ground cross-legged and held onto her ankles, looking vacantly at a tree.
"How do you feel?" I asked, after we'd been in the chosen spot for two minutes without speaking.
"I had a class this afternoon," she said faintly.
"You take the summer semester?"
"Don't like going home," she said. "Reminds me of Mom..."
I'd known that Billy's wife was dead, although for some reason I'd never processed the translation that his children were motherless. "How do you feel?" I asked again.
"Wrong. Too - too something. Alone," Rachel said.
"I'm right here."
"I know you are," she snapped. "You asked me how I felt and I'm telling you, not about whether I knew you were there!"
"Well, what do you mean, alone?"
"It's - it's like - It's the way I always thought I'd feel if something happened to Becky," she whispered. "In stories, not the true stories, other ones, there are magical twins who know how each other are feeling, know if anything's gone wrong - and we don't have that, once Becky broke her arm falling down the stairs and I was out climbing trees and didn't know until an hour later. I didn't feel anything. But I pretended I did and this is how I pretended it would feel if she died," Rachel whined. The words came out of her in an unfiltered rush.
"If you tell me her number, I'll call her right now and make sure she's all right," I offered softly.
"Are you going to do this to her too?" snarled Rachel. "What's wrong with you? You knew this would happen, didn't you? Bella, what the hell, I had a god damn class this afternoon."
"There are other vampires," I said quietly. "The last time they found out about a species of werewolves, they wiped them out. I wanted you to be able to defend yourselves. As far as I know, Becky is alive. I want her to stay that way, and you, and your brother, and everyone else I can get to."
"Your solution to the existence of vampires who don't like werewolves is to create werewolves?" Rachel demanded incredulously. The excess heat was really pouring out of her; I definitely wasn't imagining it. It was like being next to an open oven.
I repeated my spiel about how little it would matter to the Volturi if she were active or not. Rachel listened, but didn't look impressed. She just glared stonily at me when I ran out of disparaging things to say about typical vampire ethics and the lack of protection being inactive would offer her. I tacked on, "I hear that when you shapeshift regularly, you won't age. You can live forever."
"Like this?" she asked miserably. "You want me to live forever feeling like I've got a few big holes in me?"
"Maybe it'll go away when you properly transform," I said encouragingly. "Or when there are more wolves. I think you're supposed to come in packs; that could be all it is, that you don't have a pack yet."
She whined and slumped forward. "Leave me alone."
"I don't think that's a good idea - you might be disoriented when you transform, or it might take a long time and I might have to bring you food, or -"
"I said leave me alone!" howled Rachel, and then she exploded.
The transformation was insanely fast. Only vampiric visual processing let me catch any detail. Rachel disappeared in a cloud of cream-white fur, which whooshed outward for a radius of a couple yards in all directions. Shreds of cloth were forced away from her, leaving tatters of her clothes dangling from nearby twigs and strewn on the ground. The fur pulled in as though vacuumed, farther some places than others, and formed the shape of a wolf. But no ordinary wolf: she was at least six or seven times the size of the Eurasian one I'd eaten in Norway. She was the size of a bear - a large bear.
Too fast for me to react, she shot a paw forward and clobbered me across the face.
Deep gashes opened across my cheeks; my right eye was put out of commission and my field of vision shrank by a third, losing depth. Pain sliced through astonishment -
Rachel was snarling and pulling her foot back, and my mind was a war zone between the urge to kill her and the instinct to flee. Between the wounds and the shock and the fact that she smelled much more strongly than she had, smelled dangerous, like an enemy, there was no room for me to wonder if she could be calmed down. If she only planned to hit me once. If she'd actually intended to do it at all.
And Rachel gave chase, and she was faster than me - but even with one eye unresponsive, I was still smaller, nimbler, better able to get through the trees without running into them. I heard small branches snap off in her coat as she pursued me. They slowed her down enough that I was able to keep ahead of her.
I hadn't even picked a direction when I'd taken off. Nine seconds into the chase I recovered a little presence of mind, added up all the clues about our location, veered right, and led her deeper into the woods - the last thing I needed was to encourage her towards downtown Spokane. She followed, crashing through brush and growling.
Gradually, as the cuts in my face pulled themselves closed, my ability to think crept back to me. At first I only applied this to running away more effectively: I could turn on a dime even at top speed. She had a wider turn radius and more weight to add inertia, so I zigzagged and she fell behind a little at a time. I could afford to quit pumping one arm and prod my damaged eye. It was healing too, although the vision hadn't started to return. I reminded myself that vampire venom was supposedly the only thing that would leave a scar.
I started yelling her name, over and over. "Rachel! Rachel!" I hollered at her. I thought I heard her slow a little, and though I didn't let up on my own pace, I added, "Calm down!"
She slowed to - relatively speaking - a jog. I dared to look over my shoulder, and somehow she appeared puzzled, with liquidy black eyes standing out in confusion from her eggshell-colored fur.
Indistinct light made it through my hurt eye as it glued some of its connections back together. I risked halting my run, and instead I scrabbled my way up a tree. Rachel didn't look like she'd be able to climb, and I could fling myself to another treetop without being too easy to follow, if she became hostile again or tried to knock over my perch.
She slowed to a brisk trot, and approached my tree. She paced around it, sniffing, and finally sat.
"Are you okay?" I asked her. She was very fluffy. If she'd been a lot smaller and less toothy, she'd have made a popular stuffed animal. I began to be able to see the edges of shapes with my right eye.
She scratched a branch out of the fur on her neck with one hind leg and made a whining noise.
"...Can you talk?" I asked her, adjusting my hold on the branch I clung to.
Ponderously, she shook her head from side to side. She made a little grumbling sound.
"Then I guess I can't very well ask you why you swatted me," I said. "Or much of anything. I suppose I could make guesses, and if I can't figure it out, we can go through the alphabet and you can spell it?" She made a laugh-like snorting sound, and her tail wagged once.
"Okay, nod or shake your head for the usual reasons, and, uh, bark at me if it's close but partly wrong or incomplete?" I suggested. She nodded, and so I started guessing. "Do I smell revolting? Like something you've instinctively got to fight?"
She nodded again, emphatically, then stuck out her tongue in a remarkably humanlike expression of disgust.
"So it helps that I'm up a tree, I'm guessing? Harder to smell me from up here?" She nodded once more, repeated the laughing sound. "Is that the only reason you attacked me?" It wasn't. "Are you pissed off that I activated you?" She was, but that wasn't everything. "Still feel like you've got a few big holes in you?" She barked.
My vision resolved to its normal acuity in the injured eye, and I blinked twice. My contact lens from that eye was completely gone, and the other was about halfway through dissolving; I plucked it out and flicked it away, not in Rachel's direction. "I really didn't expect you to transform that fast," I said apologetically. "I was told it was a gradual sort of thing - I figured I'd be able to drive you all the way to La Push before anything happened."
Rachel sat back on her haunches and put one forepaw on top of the other in the air. Trying to mime something? "Do you think it's because I touched your hand?" I guessed. "That could be it, could speed things up." She nodded. The last of the pain in my face faded, everything having knitted to its proper smoothness.
My phone rang.
I apologized to Rachel, and she waved a paw as though to graciously permit me to take the call. It was Alice. I held the phone to my ear.
"Bella?" she asked, panicked. "Is that you? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Alice. What is it?" I asked.
"What the hell happened just now?" she asked. "I can't see you at all."
"Really?" I asked. "I'm fine, I promise. You didn't panic Edward about this or anything, did you?"
"No, I tried you first, I'm glad you're okay - what happened?"
Seventy years before, Alice hadn't been part of the Cullen family...
"Maybe it's a new development of my power," I suggested. Blatant lie. I didn't think it was any such thing. The timing was too convenient for it to be anything but Rachel. "You can't see me at all?" I decided that after I hung up the phone, I'd ask Rachel to stay put and run a mile or so away, then back.
"Not a bit - no, wait, I'm getting something now. You'll be in the woods, somewhere... It's just a flash, you're running and stopping and turning around and disappearing again."
"I guess it doesn't work consistently, at least not yet," I said. "I'm not trying to be invisible to you too, Alice, promise. But I'm okay and you shouldn't panic or worry anyone else."
"Okay," Alice said uncomfortably. "Wait, now even that flash has gone!"
"I'm fine, Alice," I told her again. "I have to go." Reluctantly, she bade me goodbye and I put the phone back in my pocket.
"Sorry about that,"I said to Rachel. "I think your species is invisible to my psychic sister."
Rachel uttered another wolfy laugh. Then, abrubtly, her form contracted and she was human-shaped again, standing naked in the middle of the woods. "Ack!" she yelped.
"Hey, you did it!" I said approvingly. "Uh, I packed some clothes, they're in the car - you're taller than me, but better than nothing until we can get you to your place?"
"I don't think I had better go home, or to a store. What if I phase again?" Rachel asked. "I don't have it under control, at least not now..."
"Okay, fair enough," I said. "I can pick up some things for you. What do you need?" She gave me a rundown of how to find her room and what she wanted from it, and - given that she seemed liable to go through a lot of clothes - a summary of new items she wanted purchased. I told her my best estimate of how long the two-way trip, the pickup, and the shopping would take all together, and she went on a small rant about how she wanted to be able to do her own shopping, and how this was stupid and didn't make sense, and how she'd had a class. Mid-sentence, she "phased" back, disintegrating the plant she'd been using for cover and reattaining her puffy cloud of fur. She snorted.
"I'm going to stay up in the trees, just to be on the safe side," I told her. "Follow me to my car - but stay back from the road, I don't think we want reports of polar bears flying around - and I'll get you an outfit for when you change back again, and then I'll drive into town and get you your things." She whined, but followed.
When we got to the clearing where she'd originally transformed, she barked at me several times and started sniffing around. I watched from the trees rather than jumping down or continuing to my car. Eventually, she found her purse. The strap had been destroyed, and it hadn't done much good to the rest of it to be thrown into a tree at such high speed. Rachel growled at it, but then picked it up in her teeth and flung it in my general direction.
I caught it, and looked inside to see what she was trying to show or give me. It contained a wallet, a phone, her class schedule, keys, gum, a pen, two band-aids, a package of tissues, and similar purse-dwelling items. "Is it just the keys you wanted me to have?" I asked, rattling them.
She shook her head, barking. "I don't know what you want me to do with this," I said. "Uh, does it start with an A...?"
Spelling in this way was tedious, but eventually she got me to spell "TELREGESTARIMDROPINGSUMMRCLASES". I wasn't sure if she normally had bad spelling or just found it difficult to keep track of letters the way we were communicating - or deliberately skipped some for efficiency reasons. The schedule was probably necessary to give credibility to the notion that I was entrusted with this task. "Okay, I'll stop at the university and take care of that," I told her. "I'll tell them you're deathly and contagiously ill and can't sign things yourself, how's that?" She nodded approvingly.
I swung myself from tree to tree and finally reached my car. Fortunately, it hadn't been towed or vandalized. In the trunk, I found my suitcase where I'd left it, and took out an outfit that might fit Rachel in spite of her being half a foot taller than me. I left it in a bush well out of human sight from the street, called her towards it so she could find the clothes, and then got in my car to make the trip.
Rachel's roommates weren't home, so I didn't have to endure awkward explanations while I went through her stuff and got what she'd asked for. I did leave a note on her door so they wouldn't think she'd been robbed - "Rachel is very sick & asked me to get her stuff. Call her dad to confirm if you want." I added Billy's phone number.
Her place wasn't far from campus, and I found the registrar's office. They gave me trouble about dropping her classes for her, and I found it necessary to threaten them with the prospect of having to clean up vomit if Rachel were obliged to come in in person. Yes, I said, she was contagious; yes, she would be too sick for too long to catch up in her classes; yes, they could send her e-mails to get this information directly if they wanted but she might not get back to them for a while because it's hard to type while doubled over with stomach cramps and trying to keep toast down. Eventually they put in the drop requests, noting for me that it would be a hassle but not impossible for Rachel to get her enrollments back if she got better.
I hit up the nearest clothing store and got some of everything Rachel had described, walking out with enough bags that some people were looking at me funny for bringing them to my car without stumbling.
When I got back to the forest, Rachel had managed to turn herself human-shaped again and was wearing the clothes I'd loaned her. They didn't fit well - she was much taller than I was, and had ropy muscle where I had undefined smoothness. In fact, I almost thought she might have grown over the past several hours. I wasn't sure if it was my imagination, an illusion of the ill-fitting clothes, or a werewolf thing; I didn't think she'd know either, so I didn't ask.
"I don't think we'd better put you in the car," I said consideringly. "I don't care about it, but I'm not sure what it'd do to you if you phased inside it - and it'd be just about the most conspicuous thing you could do, if there were anybody else on the road."
Rachel nodded, tight-lipped. "So, what, then? Do I live in this forest forever?"
"I originally intended to bring you to La Push," I reminded her. "Remember, you're supposed to come in packs. That's where you'll find the rest of yours - I strongly suspect that it'll fill in a few of those big holes. If your school won't let you finish your degree long distance, I'll personally pay your tuition someplace that will. Or I might be able to get rid of the threat to your species sooner than I think I will, and then as soon as you've got your shifting under control you can get back normally."
"Stop saying "your species"," said Rachel. "I'm a human being."
I blinked. "What would you like me to call the group of people who, like you, can turn into giant wolves, then?"
"We can be werewolves, but I'm still human," she insisted. "My heart is still beating."
"Okay, but if you aren't a species of werewolves, what are you? It's not like you have a disease, or registered as a member of the Werewolf Party."
"A tribe, I guess," she said, shrugging.
"But not every Quileute's going to be able to shapeshift, unless your dad was wrong about the age maximum. Even ones who are young enough might not have the right gene."
"Look, whatever, just - I'm human. Period," said Rachel, folding her arms, and then she destroyed the borrowed clothes in a burst of fur.
"This," I said, "is going to be a challenge."
I went to a public library, got on the Internet, and found someone selling a horse trailer. The car I was using had a hitch, although it didn't look like it had been there originally - Rosalie must have added it for some reason. I bought the trailer, and a futon to lay on the bottom and make it comfortable and a curtain to prevent anyone from seeing inside, and Rachel traveled in there. It was cramped and dark, but not in danger of bursting open if she phased. She grumbled, and then halfway through grumbling turned into a wolf, but got in and let me close it up after her.
Throughout the trip I could hear and feel her phasing back and forth - the soft whoosh and the way it changed the weight of the vehicle were very distinctive. I called Billy on the way - he answered on the first ring. Waiting anxiously by the phone?
"Hey, Billy," I said. "Rachel and I are on our way. Your old stories are wrong."
There was a silence, and then a husky whisper: "She's changed, then?"
"Yep. And took a swipe at me, but I'm all better now and she hasn't been obviously out of control since, except she keeps shifting back and forth at random. Our guess is that it happened so fast because I touched her hand - but that's good, now I can just go down a line and give everyone a high-five and we'll be all set. I want to fly Becky in from Hawaii, though. We'll probably have to bring her husband into the loop."
"The treaty still stands, and doesn't allow you on our land," Billy said. "You can't come here to activate anyone."
"Someday, I will need to actually read that thing," I said. "Doesn't it allow any provision for exceptions?"
"Well... yes," he said. "The chief of the tribe was specified to have the authority to allow Cullens on the reservation."
"And who is that?" Talking to Billy was like pulling teeth - he made me work for every piece of information, and it left me impatient.
"That was seventy years ago. Now we are governed by a council of equals... except..."
"Except?" I insisted. "Come on, talk to me, please."
He sighed heavily. "Tribal law says that the alpha of the pack is the chief."
"So I guess that's Rachel, until there's more wolves? Or will she get to stay alpha?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. I told you that women never transformed before," said Billy.
"Aren't you on the council?" That much I knew from talking to Charlie. "You can probably hazard a reasonable guess about how tribal law you interpret applies to your daughter."
He harrumphed to himself. "Jacob..."
"He's a child," I said.
"He's not that much younger than you."
"I'm going to be seventeen forever. I can be seventeen and a kid forever, or I can be seventeen and an adult forever. I pick the latter. Jacob's what, fifteen? And still growing. He can be a kid without it being an eternal sentence."
"You haven't finished high school either."
"I'll borrow Rosalie's notes and textbooks from senior year sometime and memorize everything in them," I replied. "I'll probably go to college once or twice or thirty times when things have calmed down in my life a bit. Anyway, is there any reason to prefer Jacob as chief over Rachel, or maybe joint chiefhood between the twins, other than the fact that Jacob is a boy?" Billy didn't answer me, so I took that as a no. "Rachel was first," I said. "If for some reason she wants to hand over being-in-charge-ness to someone else that's her business. If, due to some mystical mojo, the being-in-charge-ness visibly floats to Jacob or whoever's next in line for it once there are more wolves, well, I don't think it's very efficient to argue with mystical mojo when there's so much else to do. But if tribal law says pack alpha's the chief, and Rachel's a one-girl pack, that says to me that she's chief now."
"You are a very exasperating girl," Billy informed me.
"You are welcome for my thinking of your family's safety when I could have just lived in idyll with my husband in our fairytale cottage in Norway and forgotten you existed," I said brightly. "You are welcome for my caring about fairness to all of your children and not just the one who has chromosomes traditionally associated with nifty magic."
Billy didn't say anything.
"I'm going to drive first to the Cullen house in Forks," I told him. "Then once she's capable of talking I'll ask Chief Rachel for permission to go on the tribe's land. If she says yes, you'll see me soon. If she says no, I'll invite everybody who might be able to activate over for a little turning-into-giant-wolves party and hope none of them take off my head with an energetic swat. You are welcome for my willingness to put up with newly awakened werewolves clawing chunks out of me in exchange for your and their safety."
I was being obnoxious, and I knew it - maybe there was someone who pushed my buttons less than Billy who knew just as much, that I could talk to instead. Rachel was fine; maybe once she'd gotten accustomed to her powers and re-read all the old legends she could be my contact person among the Quileutes.
"Oh - and don't tell my father that I'm in town, please," I added. "I've been keeping in touch with him by phone. But I look different, even with contact lenses in, and he'd need an explanation. I am going to try to find a way to initiate him into the mysteries, but I want to do it carefully and with certain sorts of help."
"I'm not going to tell him," said Billy darkly. Maybe he thought Charlie would be disappointed in me or something? I didn't ask; I didn't want to extract another six unhelpful sentences out of the man one at a time before learning his motives. I did trust him to keep my father in the dark when he said he would, and that was all I really needed.
I drove up to the Cullen house. It was fuzzily familiar, like everything I'd seen only while human. I parked the car in front of the house because I lacked a remote for the garage. Then I let Rachel out of the trailer.
She walked out bipedally, wincing as she inhaled. "Pah, you really do smell pretty awful - I mean it's not your fault, I guess it's a vampire thing, but it's like it's burning my nose."
"If you have any clever ideas for what I can do to stink less, let me know," I said. "I called your dad on the way. He said that the alpha of the werewolf pack is the chief of the tribe. Cool, huh?"
"Wait, what? We actually have werewolf-based laws on who's chief?" asked Rachel incredulously. "That's really bizarre. I don't want to be chief anyway, I don't like coming home, that's why I took summer classes..."
"I'm sure you'll have the hang of phasing by the time the fall semester rolls around," I said. "This is the best place for you to be until then, though. But I don't see why you should have to live at La Push itself if you don't want to. You can use this house if you want." I waved at the family home, assuming I was as entitled as anyone to dictate its use while it stood empty. The property was surely in Carlisle's name, but the family moved its resources around between members freely. It had come in very handy for me - when I'd wanted Ilario turned, for instance, the coven had pulled together to arrange that, even though most of them had no personal stake in his welfare. Eventually someone else would need something accomplished for which I'd be useful and I'd step in. In the meantime, there was a house.
Rachel looked at the house, then went up and tried the door. It wasn't locked. Without anyone to monitor the place, there was no way a lock would stop even a human thief. (There was a security system, but not one that connected to an agency and beeped when the door opened - vampire senses beat anything like that, and vampire power beat any armed goons such companies sent out. When the place was devoid of inhabitants, it contained expensive furniture but nothing readily stealable, and we tended to have houses too far out in the wilderness to be popular targets for vandalism.)
"It smells like vampires in here," announced Rachel loudly.
"Really, still? We've been away for weeks now."
She nodded, and then phased - just her nose was through the door, so she didn't injure the frame in so doing. She backed off the patio and flopped down onto the lawn, rolling her eyes.
I couldn't resist: "You're so fluffy," I told her.
A wolfy laugh and a wag of a tail - and she was a naked girl again. I fetched her an outfit. "Maybe you should take up wearing togas or something, that might survive a shift," I proposed. "I'm not going to break the bank buying you clothes, and it's the least I can do, but there'd be fewer scraps of fabric to pick up."
"We'll see how long it takes," she said, pulling on the clothes. "I was trying to practice on the way - I think I got from regular to wolf on purpose once but it could have been a coincidence."
"Nice," I said. "So here's the thing about you being chief..."
I explained the treaty - or what I knew of it - and that I needed Rachel's permission to go onto Quileute land.
"You really think that more wolves will fix the... holes?" she asked, a forlorn expression creeping onto her face. She'd been able to act rather impressively normal, considering, but the discomfort was apparently still there.
"That's my best guess," I said. "I'd also like you to give me the go-ahead to fly Becky in and activate her. Even if she wants to go on living in Hawaii once she's been brought up to speed, she'll be safer with the ability to turn giant and toothy."
"Who put those Volturi leeches in charge, anyway?" growled Rachel, and then she phased, still growling.
"They put themselves in charge, I think. They have some very powerful allies. I'm working on it, though," I promised her. "So is it okay with you if I visit the reservation?" She nodded. "And if I fly Becky - and her husband if she wants to bring him - up here?" She nodded again.
"Well," I said, "I think we can avoid being seen if we go this way..." I pointed. We ran.
Rachel phased less than a minute into the trip. "I can double back and get you some towels or something from the house," I offered. "People are probably going to come have a look at you, and it'd be faster than getting into an entire outfit."
"Right, that's good," she said, and then she took a deep breath - either to psych herself up or to get a good whiff of me, I couldn't tell - and popped into wolf form, probably deliberately.
I fetched two towels - most of the things like that had been packed, but there were a few left in the bathroom on the top floor. I also detached a curtain that I vaguely remembered Rosalie disliking and brought that, and picked up all the bags of clothes and the ones I'd gotten from her place.
Rachel was human-shaped again when I got back to her. "I think I've almost got the hang of this," she said. "It helped that I sort of knew it was coming before it happened. I can only imagine trying to check myself into a mental hospital if one day I'd walked downwind of a random vampire and transformed a week later having no idea what was going on."
"Yeah," I laughed. "Want these now, or are you trying to phase back?" I held out a bag.
"Trying to phase back - or I will when I'm done talking. I feel... really, really full of energy. I actually don't think I'd get tired if I just walked to the rez like this. Maybe not if I walked all the way back to Spokane. But it's faster on four legs." She paused. "I'm glad that you are a girl. And married and everything. This would be super awkward otherwise."
"No kidding," I said. "Just another reason why it's good I started with you and not Jacob."
"Oh, lord, Jacob," moaned Rachel. "He's got the gene if I do, doesn't he? Ugh. Little brothers. Be glad you're an only child... Half the pack is going to be boys."
"You're Alpha," I pointed out. "You can boss them around. Tell them to turn around and stare at a tree." I wanted her to like being a wolf, if possible. Her safety was the first reason I wanted her activated - her possible use as an ally in a fight with the Volturi, if it came to that, was my second. If she resented me, it would be harder to secure her help.
"Hm," she said speculatively. "Maybe it's worth being chief just to make my brother do what I say occasionally." She didn't sound serious, so I laughed, and she smiled at me. "Okay. Trying to go wolf now."
"Wait a sec," I said, and she glanced at me curiously. "Based on who'd be descended from past werewolves, what kind of pack size do you think we're looking at? And how do you want to handle telling and activating them? I mean, no hard feelings, but you tried to take my face off - I'd rather avoid situations where anybody will succeed at that with me or a - non-magical person. I like having a face. And you know better than I do what might have kept you calm to start out."
"Let me think," she said. "There's Jake, he's fifteen now, the Clearwater kids are eighteen and thirteen..." She went through more names, coming up with a couple dozen Quileutes between twelve and twenty-five who she'd expect to have the gene. "I'm not sure if you should activate the really young ones, though," she added. "I mean, they kinda shouldn't be getting into any fights. And if this is going to be a thing you'd need to make another trip in some years to activate the ones who are really young now anyway."
"You're the boss of them," I reminded her. "They can still stay home and play video games instead of trying to kill bad vampires even if they're activated."
"I guess. Now I feel like maybe I should be worrying about parental consent or something."
"How's this for a plan," I said. "I hang back in the middle of the woods. You go in - on two feet, if you can hang onto it, and you're getting better at it all the time. You talk to anybody you need to talk to, get any permission you need - and I just stay put and shake hands with whoever you bring me and then you take them someplace else before they go floof." I added a gesture to symbolize the explosion of fur that was the human-to-wolf transition. "All at your discretion about who knows what and who I meet. You're handling everything really well and you know everybody there better than I do - and you can make judgment calls in person without accidentally floofing everybody floofable just by being there, like I would."
Rachel giggled manically at the term of art "floof". "That sounds good," she acknowledged. "And after that's dealt with I'll call Becky and see if I can get her to come up. Plane tickets are expensive from Hawaii, though..."
"I've got it covered," I told her. "Don't worry about that or anything else that can be solved by throwing money at it. I have a psychic sister, remember? She can't see you, but you aren't the CFO of a publicly trading corporation, either."
Rachel laughed again. "Okay. So I guess I should get dressed and see if I can avoid floofing for a while, instead of running there."
"Up to you, Chief," I teased, and she snickered. I handed over the clothes.
"Keep cracking jokes," she added. "I think it helps - if I'm right about how it seems to work, I go like this when I think things are funny and I go wolf when I'm pissed off, even a little."
I obliged as best I could, although I hadn't read any joke books since turning, and most of the material I could produce on demand without situational prompting was Emmett's brand of off-color insinuation. Accompanied by anecdotes for context, this seemed to suit Rachel well enough, and she didn't burst out of her khakis.
Rachel was reasonably familiar with the woods around the reservation, and pointed out where she wanted me to wait before I'd even caught the scent of humans other than her. I stood by the landmark rock she'd indicated. "Oh, and Rachel," I called after her.
"What?" she asked.
"If there's anybody who you aren't sure about having the gene, but who you'd want to activate if they did, you may as well bring them by. I'll be able to tell by smell without having to give anything away except the part where I'm a weird girl standing in the woods waiting for you to introduce me to people."
"I smell funny to you, too?" she asked, sounding nonplussed. "Huh. Okay. I think I thought of most everybody, though. Although I guess there've been some rumors about the Calls..."
"I don't know the Calls, but it doesn't cost me anything to shake hands with them."
"Just the one. It'd be the son, not the mom. Nobody knows who his dad is - she showed up from the Makah reservation, pregnant, people assumed she'd left the father there but she never got child support or talked about a dead lover or anything. So I'll bring her kid - last, though. He's Jacob's age, I think they're friends." I nodded. "Anyway," she said, "if anybody changes faster than I did and goes for you before I get them where I have picked out, lead them that way - there's a sharp dropoff, not that it'd be hard to get out of, but it'll at least provide a clear border. I don't want some fifteen-year-old racing into the village without thinking and taking his mom's arm off because she grounded him or something. And you can get around in the trees pretty good - well enough that you'd be tricky to catch, if you keep your wits about you."
I nodded again, and she turned and walked out to retrieve her packmates, one at a time.
She brought Jacob first. I heard them talking a mile away - he was incredulous that she was even there, let alone claiming to be a werewolf. He was also having trouble keeping up with her long, tireless strides.
When they reached my rock, he was saying, "Raych, if this is some kind of joke... uh..." He stared at me. It didn't look like he recognized me. His hair was very long. I wondered suddenly if Rachel's fluffy coat was related to her fluffy haircut. If so, Jacob was going to need to visit the barber or he'd look like a cross between a wolf and a mop.
"Hey, Jacob," I said.
"Do... I... know you?" I hadn't put any contacts in; my eyes were their brilliantly crimson selves, albeit with the encroaching orange at the border of the iris. And of course my face was too symmetrical and smoothly planed to belong to my human past.
"We've met," I said. "I'm Bella."
"Bel- Charlie's kid?" He gaped.
"The same," I said. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him I was here, though. He's not informed of... things."
"Things - is that what you call it?" he spluttered. Rachel bristled.
"Sure, why not? Come, join us, be a Thing," I said, hoping to crack her up and delay the need for a new outfit. She smirked and didn't phase. I held out one white hand to Jacob. There was a long pause.
"Jake, kiddo, you can smell her from where you are, right? You're gonna activate whether you touch her or not, this just speeds it up so I can stash you in the ravine and go get Leah," Rachel said.
Her brother stared at me with horrified eyes. I looked back as benignly as I could, still holding my arm forth - it wasn't going to get tired or anything. Eventually he reached out, touched one knuckle with one fingertip, and pulled back as though burned. "You're cold," he said.
"If you're trying to tempt me into saying you're hot, it's not going to work," I replied. Keep Rachel laughing. She did, a little, although she looked nervous once Jacob had touched my hand.
"Eheheh," said Jacob, flicking his eyes to his sister. They walked towards the ravine, Jacob occasionally looking over his shoulder to throw me incredulous glances.
I could hear all the way to the ravine, and I listened as Jacob complained incredulously of the shivers - but not, interestingly, of the emotional discomfort Rachel had described. It took him almost forty minutes to shift, going by when I started to hear barking. Two voices yelped and yowled at each other - so at some point she'd phased too. The "floof" noise was too soft to carry that far, so I didn't know when.
I didn't hear signs of fighting; there were no snarls or pained howling. I waited for her to return, amusing myself by snapping a chunk of rock off of the boulder I stood near and inexpertly sculpting it into a little replica of wolf-Rachel with my fingertips.
I was just scratching in the fur on the tail when the white wolf trotted back. She looked happy. I blinked at her curiously, and held out a bag of clothes.
Very deliberately, or so it seemed to me, she phased and accepted the proferred bag. "Did you know we're telepathic?" she asked me. Then she furrowed her brow, puzzled at something. "...In wolf form?" she added, apparently having just noticed the absence of her newfound power.
"I didn't," I said. "Big holes in you all sewn up?"
"Yup!" she replied. If she'd had a tail at that moment it would've wagged. "All gone. Although it is sure weird sharing my head with my little brother." She shook her head, laughing softly. "So I guess I'm the only one who ever has to live with that. I'm half tempted to stop here, just the two of us - but Leah'll think this is cool, I bet. And her fiancé is on my list too, and her brother, she'll want to bring them in. Jake filled me in on that. Hope Leah and Sam don't saturate the mental soup with too much mush." She paused. "No pun intended. Anyway, I'm going to go get her. Hey, neat little statue. Is that me?"
"Who else would it be? I don't know what Jacob looks like when he's wolfy."
"Sorta rust-colored, and my god, his fur, it's so long!" Rachel said. "Not as big as me, at least not yet, but he's a kid, he'll grow. I told him to hang out in the ravine and then if he phases back quick enough, he can coach Leah and so on, and I can just keep making trips instead of hanging out through the whole process every time. I'll want those towels and the curtain, though."
"Sure thing," I said. And she grinned at me, making only a little face when she inhaled vampire-scented air, and trotted back to the reservation.
Leah Clearwater, who had the sort of eyelashes that other women medicated themselves to get, was skeptical. But she followed Rachel into the forest readily enough, shook my hand with only the barest hesitation, and complained about my stench only fourteen times between meeting me and getting shaky enough to want to quit talking. I heard her yelling, "Oh, for crissake, Black, put some clothes on!" at Jacob when she arrived at the ravine, and Rachel offering her brother a towel. Apparently he'd dewolfed but not left his place. Rachel turned around as soon as she'd gotten them set up, and then went to retrieve the younger Clearwater.
Leah's little brother Seth was thirteen, and a pleasanter child one could not hope to meet. He didn't make one remark about my temperature, odor, or supernatural weirdness, just introduced himself as polite as could be, thanked me for helping him "either let my sister play a really elaborate practical joke that'll make a good story later, or turn into a werewolf", and traipsed off to join the others. When Rachel doubled back, she reported that Leah-the-wolf was gray.
Leah's fiancé was a man named Sam Uley, a solid, somber sort who seemed only to be playing along because Leah had already gone with Rachel. He accepted a handshake, grimacing but not commenting when he touched my skin, and proceeded to the phasing location with resigned exasperation. I finished my sculpture and picked up a large fallen branch to try working in wood instead; Rachel swung by en route to find another pack member and told me that Seth's wolf form was sandy-colored.
It was at this point that her efforts met with less success. She came back alone and told me she was going to risk sending Jacob to get Quil Ateara and Embry Call, and Leah to get two girls named Marilyn and Olivia. It was in more or less this way that the rest of the pack came through, and through some combination of luck and Rachel's trick of humor, there were no sudden phasings in the middle of the village (although Rachel did need to go into Billy's house and get some of Jacob's clothes so the boys could do this looking less ridiculous than they would have just wrapped in towels). I promised Jacob as he walked by that I'd replace any of his possessions that got ruined.
In all, I activated twenty-six wolves, fourteen female, twelve male. (Embry turned out to be one after all, leading to considerable gossip punctuated by occasional floof-induced sentence truncation about who his father could be.) It was after dark by the time the last was brought through. Rachel had a list of nine more people, including Becky, who weren't living on the reservation but were still under the twenty-five-year-old threshold and could be expected to have the gene.
"Are we sure that threshold is true?" I asked when she gave me this list. "I mean, some of the other stories weren't true. Every girl we tried was able to activate, and that wasn't supposed to happen at all."
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "I guess I could carry Dad out here and see if you can get him to turn into a wolf. He already knows everything."
"I guess you could ask," I said dubiously. I'd agreed to leave this up to Rachel, and I had only a few weak objections to trying to activate Billy. He wouldn't exactly be worse off if his wolf form were disabled too; the fact that I had some trouble getting along with him personally wouldn't become significantly more of a problem if he were one of the pack. "Would you mind waiting until tomorrow? I want to call my husband, and hunt, and buy plane tickets for all these people." I waved the list of absent Quileutes.
"Yeah, sure, we could use a rest anyway," Rachel said. "I'll ask Dad tomorrow. Have fun, uh, hunting." She paused. "What is it you usually eat?"
"Me personally? Killer whales, when they're handy," I told her.
"Right, bag a tasty whale, but go easy, because you are what you eat," she snickered. "See you in the morning. I'm going to stay out overnight - I don't want anybody breaking their furniture phasing in the middle of the night, in case that's a thing that happens, so we're camping. You might wanna avoid the ravine. Sam and Nina and Paul are having some extra trouble getting ahold of themselves and it wouldn't surprise me if one of them went for your throat."
"Traditionally, I'm the one who goes for the throat."
She laughed. She looked so much better since the pack had ceased to be a solo act - she was practically radiating health and power, and that excessive heat seemed more like a glow than a fever when it accompanied a smile. "Okay," she said, "I'm gonna floof and go to bed. Still love that word, by the way." She got out of her clothes, safely away from the eyes of her packmates, and (entirely deliberately) adopted her white-furred form. I watched her lope off into the night.