Chapter 3: Newcomer
"Want a rundown of who's who in the pack, or would you rather let them all introduce themselves?" Cody asked me.
"How many people are there?" I asked.
"Eight wolves total," said Cody, "six imprints, four squirts, and me."
"Eight wolves?" I asked. "I thought it started with Jacob, Jared, Victor, Quil, Sam, and Darren, and then I guess you explained Brady when you explained Pera - who's number eight?"
"That's Zachary," replied Cody. "He wasn't activated in the first wave, and he wasn't in La Push when the Volturi started kidnapping and killing people - nobody could get him to drop by for a visit. He was in Albuquerque. We got to him before the kept wolves did. Jake made me lick his nose so he'd activate."
I giggled. "I think I know about all the imprints..."
"Might know their names, but what's that without the color commentary?" asked Cody lightly. "You met Pera, she's Brady's girl like I said. "Pera" is short for "Esperanza" and she's from Mexico and she taught everybody Spanish, but except for the shorties and me and Brady, they suck at it. The other wolves can't even borrow Brady's fluency, because wouldn't you know, they're only telepathic when they can't talk. I guess he can understand stuff for them when they're all wolves, but they can't speak more than a few phrases really."
"So you know English and Spanish and what else?" I asked.
"Smatterings of Quileute - nobody in the pack really speaks the stuff, but we have a few words. About six sentences worth of French that Thea remembered from high school. You?" he asked.
"Fluent in English, Spanish, American Sign Language, Norwegian, Portuguese -" Cody was looking at me strangely. "Marie taught me all the languages she - ever learned," I said, carefully dancing around the tense problem with knows versus knew. "Italian, French, Ukrainian. Conversational but not really fluent in Finnish and Swedish and Gaelic."
"Don't be surprised if the parents and Quil are all over you to teach their spawn and imprint, respectively," said Cody, impressed.
"You said there are four... children?" I asked. I assumed that was the meaning of "squirts" and "spawn".
"Yeah. Maureen and Victor have a toddler and a newborn, Ruth and Natalie. If you want Maureen to love you forever, offer to babysit. She's a great mom but her kids are a handful. And Sam and Emily have Paige, and Darren and Thea have Noah - those are almost a year old each, born really close together."
"But Claire's young too, right?"
"Technically she's older than you or I. Isn't that weird?" he remarked, shaking his head. "Yeah, Claire you could almost mistake for one of the anklebiters. But she's an imprint, and she bosses her Quil around like he's a stuffed animal. Emily's her aunt and I got Claire to call her "Auntie Em" and Emily still hasn't trained her out of it, it's really cute. Emily's Sam's imprint, of course."
"Sam used to be engaged to your sister, right?" I asked. I hadn't encountered anything that disconfirmed the version of history Mama had told me, but it was good to check.
Cody sobered when I brought up his sister. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Yeah, Leah and Sam used to be engaged. And Emily's her cousin and they were really close until Sam imprinted. I know more about my sister from them than from anybody else. Or at least how things were with her before... stuff happened. I include myself in the category of happening stuff," he said, a little of the original frivolity returning. "That's me, I'm a happening guy."
"I can tell," I said, smiling a little. "Do... you prefer if I not bring up your family?"
He shook his head; the motion was energetic enough to toss his ponytail over one shoulder. "No, it's fine. My parents are dead vampires, my brother and sister are kept wolves, and that's... not going to get any worse if you talk about it."
"Okay," I said, but I changed the subject anyway. "Jared and Kim are together, right?"
"Right, but Kim hasn't got the baby-crazies, or not yet," Cody replied, "so it's just the pair of them. It was sort of funny. Maureen decided she wanted a baby, once we were pretty sure we were safe hiding with Pera. Ruth got born, delivered by a midwife that Pera hid and Victor bullied into helping. And then suddenly Emily and Thea wanted babies too, like it's contagious."
"But not Kim, or Pera," I said. Quil was out of the question; his imprint was seven years old. And human. Mama had explained to me how this was supposedly not something to be concerned about, and I did believe her, but it would have been more convincing if Quil had an actual girlfriend in addition to his imprint, which he apparently didn't. His options were nonexistent, though, under the circumstances.
"No, not them," Cody said. "I was basically raised by the whole pack, but Kim did more than anybody else. So she either hated the experience and never wants to be a mom for real," he said with a self-deprecating smirk, "or I was such a fantastic child that she thinks no human baby could ever compare and she'd be inevitably disappointed." I laughed, and he added, "I think Pera might want kids, but there's no good way to tell if that'd interfere with her witchcraft, and, well, having a kid is a little dangerous. Maureen and the others can take the chance for themselves, but we'd all be in serious trouble if Pera were in a bad way. I mean, if she were even just laid up for a couple of weeks, there goes our inconspicuous theft. I haven't actually talked to her about it, but that's what I think's going on."
"That's sad," I said quietly.
Cody nodded. "We rely on Pera a lot, and it's sort of hard on her. She never unhides, either. Do me a favor and be her friend, at least till we get to New York? You're the only new person she's met in a long time."
"I'll try, but - why doesn't she ever unhide?"
"Mmm... okay, I'll tell you her story since she hates telling it," Cody said. "So Pera's nineteen years old and hanging out in Mexico, living her life, practicing witchcraft in her spare time, right? And this vampire lady finds her and says "nice to meet you, I'm Del, I'm a vampire, I can copy powers, would you object terribly if I copied yours because it's new and interesting?" Pera never met a vampire before that, she didn't know what to think, but she let Del copy her power and they hung out and were basically friends for a few weeks. Del's actually the one who helped Pera be as skilled a witch as she is now. They practiced together and bounced ideas off each other and stuff. Before Pera met Del she could only hide herself, not other people and certainly not objects."
"Del was the friend who betrayed her?" I asked.
"Right in one. Del got bored after a few weeks of being friends with Pera, and left, and Pera went back to hanging out in Mexico and living her life etcetera. And then skip forward six years, Pera's twenty-five and still hanging out in Mexico, and who should come knocking but Del. Pera trusted Del. But as soon as she let Del touch her to copy the power again, Del's like "gotcha, I work for the Volturi now and I'm taking you to them so they can brainwash you and turn you into a vampire." And since they had the same power then, Pera couldn't just hide to get away. She's human; without the hiding advantage she couldn't do anything Del didn't let her do."
"So Del brought her back to Volterra, and Pera wasn't bothering to hide since it wouldn't help, so Brady could see her," I murmured.
Cody nodded. "Del did the whole supervillain-reciting-the-evil-plot thing on the way to Italy from Mexico. So Pera knew about the wolves and she was able to react pretty fast once Brady started giving her imprint face."
"You'll see it when you see a wolf and his imprint together. It's pretty distinctive. It's this look they get in their eyes, really focused and intense and tender. Says, you are the center of the universe and I worship the ground you walk on and your wish is my command and I will defend you with my life. It'd be corny if they weren't so sincere about it. I'd compare it to vampire mates, but I do remember my parents, and they didn't stare at each other like that. So either it's different basic stuff, or vampires just don't have the face to go with it."
"Huh. So Brady gave her "imprint face", and then - let me guess. She told him she wanted out, and he defected packs and she hid him and he was able to clobber Del well enough that they could get out?"
"Close. Everybody was unhidden at the time, Pera told Brady what she wanted, and he threw Del at another vampire. Her copying thing is involuntary - whenever she touches a witch, she gets their power, she doesn't have to do it on purpose," Cody said. "It was still really lucky that he was able to catch her off guard, though. So she lost Pera's power and got someone else's, and before she could get it back, Pera hid herself and Brady. Del couldn't touch Pera to steal her power again, so the rest of the trip to join up with the pack was pretty simple."
"It was? It doesn't seem like it would be," I said. "Demetri could tell where they were - even if the Volturi couldn't directly capture them, couldn't they down their plane or sink their boat or whatever?"
"They didn't think of that until they'd already snuck onto a plane," said Cody, "and it landed okay and the pack was there to meet them and get hid too. We think the Volturi were hoping to find some way to get Pera still, and didn't want to kill her. Since then they've tried a few times to do us in that way - they set trees near us on fire and stuff. But we've always been able to get to safety in time. Wolves are fast."
That made sense. The Volturi put up with my aunt Alice not working for them for a long time, because they thought eventually they could get her to change her mind. When that didn't work, they killed her. But Pera was able to keep herself and the whole pack pretty safe.
"Is Pera the only witch in the pack?" I asked.
"Unless one of the midgets grows up and learns to shoot lasers out of his or her eyes, yes," Cody says. "Far as I know there are no witch wolves, and the imprints are all basic humans, and I'm the least interesting half-vampire you'll ever meet."
"There are only six of us," I pointed out. "You could still be very interesting."
"Well, there might be a whole colony of half-vampires in Bermuda or something and we wouldn't know, right?" he said. "But if they're there, I guarantee you, every one of them is more interesting than me. Fascinating bunch, the hypothetical Bermudan half-vampires."
I giggled. "Where do I fall in this interestingness spectrum?" I asked.
"I'm interested," he said. "Come on, I've been telling you the ins and outs of everything to do with my dull and boring self and social circle, you tell me something."
I wanted to. I really wanted to.
Mama says that powers depend on and interact with how their witches think about them. In a way, Mama's power and my power and Daddy's are all opposites of each other. Mama keeps her mind to herself, and that's how she likes it. Daddy could read everybody else's (except Mama's).
I can share mine. I want to.
I want to tell everybody I meet everything. I want everybody to know who I am and what I'm like. When I was really little, I could sort of do that. I could show my family memories, and later I learned to attach feelings, and a couple of months later I could show them things I'd only imagined. I still had to be discreet with the neighbors, but at least there were a few people I didn't have to keep secrets from. It seemed to plateau there.
I think the only reason my power got any better after that was because Mama picked me up and suddenly I had only one person I could be totally honest with. My power sometimes seems like a second person living in my head, and that second person wants to talk to more people, tell them more things, hide less, share more, misdirect less. It's like it was throwing variations of itself at me, hoping to find something I could use with people besides Mama safely.
I plateaued again when I was four, and got the hang of letting my power pick my words so people wouldn't misunderstand me. That's something I can use with anyone. Have to, actually, unless I lie outright. But it still doesn't cooperate all that much when I'm holding back or using a nickname or leaving things out.
"Elspeth?" said Cody.
"Oh - sorry," I said. "I'm trying to think of - of what to tell you."
"Take your time," he said, sounding amused. "It's such a weighty question, after all."
Why shouldn't I tell him everything? Pera could hide him from the Volturi. He didn't want to hurt me. He was friendly and helpful and nice and the only person of my own species I'd ever met. Why shouldn't I just reach over and put my hand on his face and let him have it and not be cooped up inside myself? I wouldn't see Mama again until I got to New York or even longer if I got there first, she was always my outlet for this but she wasn't there...
The second person in my head was kicking and screaming and demanding attention. I want to talk to someone, I could imagine her wailing. I'm so lonely. It doesn't count if you do it with words, I want to show things to someone, I want to do it right.
"I'm a witch," I said softly after a lengthy silence.
"Yeah? What kind?" asked Cody.
"This kind," I said, and I touched his cheek.
Cody wasn't used to it like Mama was. He hadn't spent a solid month watching every memory of my early life go by like she had when she was catching up. He hadn't watched all of my dreams for the past five years. He didn't have quite a vampire's processing speed.
I tried to start gently, not dropping him into the middle of my life without explanation. I offered up stuff I can remember from when I was a baby. That isn't a secret from anyone, really. So sharing it might have suffered the same limitations as when I did something sneaky like going by "Anna", which is part of my real name but not all of it. But it didn't, I could feel it. I wasn't holding back, I was just starting at the beginning. I'd pretty much decided that I wasn't going to hide from Cody, even if Mama wouldn't have approved.
"Wow," Cody gasped. I almost pulled my hand away, afraid I'd upset him somehow, and the second person in my head merrily sent that concern to Cody too. He put his own hand up to hold mine in place. "Not saying to stop," he managed, "just wow."
"I could slow down," I said, "if you need me to. Or tone it down a little -"
"This is fine... This is amazing."
"Stop me if you need to," I whispered. "I haven't done this exactly this way before."
"I - don't even know what you're doing," he admitted.
"Showing you the abridged story of my life." Mama hadn't wanted the abridged version, when she'd found me. She'd wanted every single waking second, all its detail intact. It had taken as long to share it with her as it had to live through, but there was less to see then and we spread it out. I didn't expect to be transmitting to Cody for the next five and a half years, though, so I was letting my power decide what it most urgently wanted me to share. It was fast-forwarding, compressing similar moments into summaries, glossing over repetitive bits as needed.
Even so, it was averaging ten minutes per day I recounted. By the time I'd gotten to the part where I was on the plane to Alaska from my birthplace, the sun had gotten quite a bit higher in the sky. Cody's stomach grumbled loudly.
I let my arm fall to my side, and he let out a little breath as though he'd been holding it. "You didn't eat anything," I said. I was pretty hungry too. My popcorn and granola bar had only taken the edge off. Solid food isn't as satisfying as blood, weight for weight, and I hadn't had much.
He shook his head a little, to clear it more than to communicate. "That," he said, "is true. Not that I couldn't have forgotten about it for another couple hours to keep watching - and hearing and whatnot. You're obviously the most interesting half-vampire I'll ever meet. Wow."
I grinned, thrilled at having gotten to finally let my power do what it was supposed to do and at getting such an appreciative reception. I wished I could purr. I didn't have the same vocal equipment as a vampire, and couldn't, but it would have been so appropriate. I said, "I guess we should probably hunt, huh?"
"Guess so," he said, but neither of us moved.
We stood there, alone together in the forest, and then suddenly Cody leaned forward and kissed me right on the mouth.
It was a swift, impulsive thing, and he seemed to change his mind three-quarters of the way through, because he pulled back with a sheepish look on his face and mumbled, "It seemed called for."
"It... it did?" I asked, not sure what to make of the kiss at all. I wasn't sure if I should be thinking ha, a boy kissed me and Mama's not here to say he can't! or where did that come from?, or maybe just a nice all-purpose AAAAAAAAH!.
"Yeah. I'm..." It sounded like he was about to say he was sorry, and then decided that would be off-putting or untrue. "I won't do it again if you don't want. It just... seemed to make sense."
"I - I - I should probably have warned you before I -" I motioned with the hand I'd used to send him memories. "It can make people think they know me better than they do, even if I'm not using it at full strength. People like me more than they have reason to, and -"
Cody shook his head. "I liked you before that."
"No, there is no before that," I said. "If I'm talking, I'm either lying through my teeth or there's at least some of that. Sometimes I even feel it if I'm just... making facial expressions, or something, but it's harder to keep track of then."
"Then," said Cody, "that is part of the you I like, isn't it?"
I blinked. Then I decided to kiss him.
I was not quite so quick about it, but I did break away soon. I was awfully hungry. Cody had a big, goofy grin on his face when I pulled back. "Let's hunt," I said, vaguely aware that I was smiling in a probably-silly way too.
We took down a pair of deer and drank up. We split the meat from his kill, since the wolves couldn't eat anything with his venom in it. My deer they could eat, since I was venom-free, and a couple of the wolves had a taste for raw meat. "Darren especially," said Cody. "He's gone as long as a week at a time without eating anything we got from a store. I'm not sure if that's because he actually likes eating deer for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or if he's just especially guilty about all the stealing, but he'll probably call dibs on the food."
"Fine by me," I said. I made to sling the deer over my shoulders, but Cody picked it up first.
"I got it," he said, grinning. "I'm surprised enough that you managed to get fed without messing up your hair; carrying a deer on your back all that way would definitely break your hot streak."
I tossed my hair; heavy waves of it flounced into the air and drifted back down. "It's probably full of snarls. You just can't tell because it's so wavy to begin with that it all looks like part of the normal texture. It's really annoying, actually."
"If you don't like it, why don't you cut it?" he asked, adjusting the deer and striking out for camp with me at his heels. "Not that I advocate the plan. Even if it's really full of snarls it's pretty awesome hair."
I was momentarily paralyzed by the question. Yeah, I'd decided to tell him everything and damn Mama's rules - but if I brought up Mama when I wasn't ready to have a couple hours of conversation and show-and-tell about her, it would be really awkward; he thought she was dead, after all. Would he mind very much if I saved it for later? Could my power put up with a few more incomplete weasel-sentences after having been promised honesty?
"My hair is like my daddy's," I said. It felt normal for a true but partial statement.
"Well, you could keep it in a braid or something if it gets in your way, even if you don't want to cut it. I braid my hair sometimes and it's only a little past my shoulders," Cody said.
"Sometimes I do," I replied. Mama actually braided my hair for me more days than not. But when we went to a town we planned to stay in for a while, I always started presenting myself with my hair down and then changed a few days later. Over a month I don't grow noticeably too much, anymore, but my hair does; switching styles a few times makes that less obvious, or at least Mama thinks so. That's why I had my hair down, two days after coming to Kora's town. "But I'm not good at braiding my own hair because I can't see what I'm doing."
"Bet you Kim'll braid it for you if you ask," Cody said. "Everybody's probably awake by now."
"That would be nice of her."
We jogged back to the cluster of tents, where indeed everyone seemed to be up and it looked like the three unhidden wolves had returned. Cody said, "Hey, all, this is the lovely Elspeth Cullen, world's most interesting half-vampire. Elspeth, let me connect some names to faces for you..." He pointed at the nearest woman, the only white person in the place besides me. "That's Thea. Staring at her is Darren - hey, man, want this deer? Certified free of vampire juice, here you go - and spitting up on her shoulder is their little Noah. Sam and Emily are over by the rock, trying to get Paige to say "dada". You saw Quil, but he was furrier at the time; that's Claire sitting on his shoulders pretending he's a spaceship. Victor and Maureen are chasing Ruth over there, and looks like Kim is holding Natalie for them, and Jared is the one next to her tying his shoes - I guess they just got back, or he forgot to put on shoes again. Zachary's there with Brady and Pera, boring them with... Zach, dude, are you seriously talking again about football? When did you even see a game to talk about? And last, but not least given that he's Alpha and everything, is Jacob Black, head of the pack... Jake? Jake, what's..."
I caught up to Cody's introductions, looking at and memorizing each face, and finally looked at Jacob. Like all the wolves, he was a big guy - six foot seven, at a guess, and made of muscle, and looked twenty-five even though I knew he was really at least four years short of that. It was subtle, but everyone oriented themselves around him: he was clearly in charge, and the pack, wolves in particular, were ready to drop what they were doing and obey him if he said jump.
Jacob wasn't giving any orders, though.
Jacob was staring at me.
With a look that said, you are the center of the universe and I worship the ground you walk on and your wish is my command and I will defend you with my life.